Black Panther (2018) – Movie Review

black panther

There are some films where you can practically hear the history books writing themselves – though if all history books were as outrageously fun as Black Panther, university campuses would be bursting at the seams. Accompanying 2017’s Wonder Woman as a triumphant one-two punch of unprecedented blockbuster representation finding record-breaking box office and critical success, Black Panther’s real shock is that… yes, it is exactly as good as you’d hope. A robust, whip-smart, emotional, and superbly entertaining thriller as unafraid to dive headlong into contentiously topical politics as unabashedly indulge in superhero silliness. Some things are worth the wait.

And yet, after a dizzyingly gorgeous animated prologue, establishing the MacGuffin mythology of fictional African technology haven Wakanda, we wait even longer, as director Ryan Coogler deviates into a seemingly tangential Prologue 2.0 set in the slums of Oakland, California. It’s a disorienting start (but don’t worry; it’s only moments more before T’Challa spin-kicks someone), but its coy foreshadowing heralds an important lesson: Coogler is an immaculately precise director unaccustomed to wasting a frame of film. No one could accuse Black Panther of being unambitious, with a plot encompassing human trafficking, international arms deals, salient commentaries on tradition vs. modernity, redefining power amidst a global economy, and roughly as many political maneuvers as an entire season of House of Cards (including brazen, poignantly tongue-in-cheek barbs about immigration and colonial history) – as well as, y’know, fight scenes, cool gadgets, and all that other superhero stuff. The seamlessness with which Coogler weaves together each seemingly disparate plot thread and theme is almost mind-boggling – and yet, his film is as much a cohesive entity as it is more than the sum of its parts.

Appropriately, for a superhero film whose production was inevitably delayed for decades due to its affiliation with a revolutionary political party, social politics comprise the core and foundation of Black Panther. Here, Coogler pulls no punches, but is never pedantic. We start out in fun but familiar territory, with a first act globetrotting takedown of Wakanda’s arch-nemesis Ulysses Klaue (a gleefully scenery-masticating Andy Serkis, arguably Marvel’s most downright fun adversary to date), reminiscent of a contemporary 007 romp (complete with T’Challa’s own ‘Q,’ in Letitia Wright’s hysterical, impossibly delightful Shuri). But, right when we begin to settle in and munch our popcorn, Coogler yanks the rug out from us, with a second act tonal shift that flips the film on its head, to the point where more than a few audience members will be left questioning the ethics and legitimacy of the hero we’ve spent the entire first half admiring as infallible. Enter Michael B. Jordan, who not only energizes the film with a furious surge of passion as he shifts from his early performative swagger to magnetic, fiery dogmatism, but shifts the conflict to a ‘Malcolm X vs. MLK’ critique of Wakanda’s isolationist inertia in the face of contemporary racism and post-colonialism. It’s a shockingly bold move for the normally sociopolitically safe Marvel, but it pays off, making the brewing climax not only breathtakingly tense, but an impressively nuanced conversation on ethics, empathy, and the real impact of a contemporary revolution. You won’t find that in Ant-Man.

Nonetheless, Coogler has his priorities straight, and Black Panther balances its political core with a raucously fun comic book ride. Aesthetically, it’s a triumph – the FX, art, and costume design are flooring in their imaginative intricacy, incorporating Tony Stark calibre technology into traditional African designs and costuming (force field cloaks?! cool!), lending itself to a pragmatic sci-fi futurism unlike quite anything we’ve ever seen in the movies before, while the pastel hues of the ‘spirit world’ are jaw-dropping in their beauty. The fight scenes are thrillingly fun, balletic as they are brutal (and while T’Challa’s new suit, and its explosive release of kinetic energy, adds a fun new level to the customary punching, kicking, and clawing, it’s in the hands, spear, and wig of Danai Gurira’s scene-stealing, steely general Okoye, that the film is at its most fun and thrilling), and Ludwig Gorasson’s musical score, layering traditional African chanting and instrumentation into brassy superhero swells, is addictively sumptuous. There are occasional fumbles – Coogler’s pace occasionally lags and sputters, with a more meditative second act verging on the lugubrious (and a couple of “Remember who you aaaaaaaaare” heart-to-hearts with John Kani’s deceased patriarch that can’t help but have their gravitas undercut by snickering comparisons to The Lion King). Still, Coogler sinks it home with furious aplomb, steering (just) clear of conventional Marvel third act ennui with a ‘kitchen sink’ climax so furiously tense and bonkers (two words: WEAPONIZED. RHINOS.) that all cinema armrests will be marked with the claw marks of being gripped by a captivated audience.

As the titular monarch, Chadwick Boseman delivers a remarkably grounded performance. Steering the film with a regal calm undercut with muscular emotion and crucially accessible doubt, the film revolves around his steady, magnetic presence, as the showier, scene-stealing bits are commanded by the trio of powerful women supporting him (the perfection of Wright, Gurira, and the luminous, passionately charismatic Lupita Nyong’o). Martin Freeman’s befuddled fed provides ‘fish out of water’ access to Wakanda with customary dry wit; he’s fun without overstaying. Finally, Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker, and Angela Bassett all elevate one-dimensional secondary characters with gravitas and class, while Winston Duke’s M’Baku is so ferociously terrifying mitigated by some of the most precise comedic timing seen in years, he damn near strolls off with the film himself.

A staggering accomplishment as fun as it is masterfully thoughtful, Black Panther may not quite settle into The Dark Knight territory of genre-transcending masterpiece, but it pounces proudly at its footsteps, this decade’s ‘thinking audience’s blockbuster with a conscience’ to beat. Soak in the well-deserved fun, and let the BET’s 2010 cartoon theme triumphantly play me out: “Black Pan-ther! Black Pan-ther!”

 

4 out of 5 stars

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Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – Movie Review

spiderman homecoming

“If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” Tony Stark to his intern, Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

If a superhero film such as Spider-Man: Homecoming can relay that being yourself is more important than being somebody, Director John Watts (director of the under-appreciated Cop Car with Kevin Bacon) and his crew of bright writers have succeeded. I don’t remember enjoying more such a focused, albeit young, Peter Parker/Spiderman (Tom Holland), whose emotional problems are those of any teen and not overly driven by angst over a girl, as Tobey Maguire so often portrayed.

While Peter experiences the challenges of teen love and Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), the film keeps it personal by having fewer explosions and more introspection. Emphasizing Peter’s existential responsibility to forge his own character makes this film a cut above even the estimable Wonder Woman

The spot-on humor is better than any other superhero adventure in memory, and I’m a big Deadpool fan. The difference is that Spidey humor is organic, emanating from the foibles and insecurities of a teen, while in Deadpool practically every other line is witty and seems the product of set pieces. In Spidey, for instance, Ned (Jacob Batalon) asks Spidey, “Can you summon an army of spiders?” That’s teen to teen with absurdity and worship as comedic ingredients.

In a fine bad-guy performance by Michael Keaton, playing Adrien Toombs, the writers give him the identity of Vulture, appropriate to an actor known for his portrayal of Birdman and reminiscent of Batman. Anyway, alluding to his most famous roles, the film has fun while enhancing the richness of the character.

At times it almost seems that Toombs is there to lend some gravity, albeit villainous, to the light-hearted proceedings. When he lectures his crew about the ruling-class indifference, he’s not just talking about Brooklyn; he’s referring to the world: “The rich, the powerful, like Stark, they don’t care about us! The world’s changed boys, time we change too!”

Spidey is not all laughs, however, for Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) tells Peter about adolescence while she unwittingly comments on his heroic burden: “You need to stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Comic Book Review – Thor: God of Thunder Volume 4: The Last Days of Midgard (2015)

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This volume collects issues #19-25.

The series takes an interesting turn as Thor faces off against Roxxon Corporate President Darren Aggers. Aggers is clearly polluting the environment and Thor is none too happy about it. Unfortunately, for the God of thunder he cannot swing his hammer at this foe as he is protected by an entourage of lawyers and the politics and bureaucracy of human kind. Thor does have help with rookie agent of S.H.E.I.L.D., Roz Solomon, who tries to help Thor battle Aggers through legal means, though the Odinson is not big on patience in that regard.

In the future, Old King Thor desperately is trying to reignite life on Earth, which is now a barren wasteland. His granddaughters plead with him to give it up, but two of the most enduring traits of the God is his love of Midgard and his stubbornness. To complicate matters, Galactus shows up, very worn down and hungry, and the Earth will be his meal. But, not if the King of Asgard has something to say about it, “Have at thee”.

This collection is bittersweet for a few reasons. First, it signals the end of Aaron’s “God of Thunder” era for this series. Marvel and Aaron made headlines and announcements from different media sources that there would be a Goddess of Thunder, which meant the cancellation of this series as well as the launch of a new one. It does look like it is off to a good start, the Odinson is still around, and is continuing on plot threads from this series. The other bittersweet issue is that Easd Ribic will no longer be the primary artist with Aaron for Thor beyond this volume. He is teaming up with Jonathan Hickman for next year’s Secret Wars event (an excellent combo) but breakout artist Russel Dauterman joins team Thor and is doing a fine job with all things Asgardian. Well, enough of the future of this series and on to the content here…

I love this series and I was never really a Thor fan before picking up volume one. Aaron and Ribic grabbed me with the whole God Butcher arc, through volumes one and two, and forced me into being a mighty fan of thee! Even volume three with Ron Garney on pencils, and Malekith as the antagonist, was quite the awesome journey. I would give the first three volumes a no doubt grade of A++. But this entry here, I would give an A- or even a B+. It is great but does not reach the same plain as it’s predecessors.

Thor’s battle with Aggers and Roxxon has it’s ups and downs but ultimately reaches an anticlimactic conclusion. As Aggers is a new character, it would have been nice to have some more background information on him and how is able to do what he does. Plus, Thor has been around awhile, quite awhile, it seems he would be a bit brighter for a battle with the CEO of a Midgard corporation and not be so stereotypically fooled. The outcome for Asgardia and Broxton felt like it had been covered before in the event Seige and even during Fraction’s run, but felt really forced as Aaron, whether from orders from higher up or not, sets up a new status quo for both realms.

The bright spot of this tale is the moments of action, which Aaron sets up nicely and Ribic and colorist Ive Svorcina make look legendary. Roz Solomon gets further developed which is a plus. She is a rocking new S.H.E.I.L.D agent. And although Aggers is a mystery and a too much of a cliche, he still made a nice villain for this story.

The main highlight for this collection for me is the story of old King Thor, that intersects with the modern tale, trying to revive a dead Earth only to have Galactus show up and be very hungry. Thor’s granddaughters are really cool and are a bunch of B.A.’s! And seeing old King Thor in action is sweet, especially against the devourer of worlds. Again, kudos to Ribic and Svorcina as they illustrate probably the best take on the big fella I have ever seen. The only issue I had here was that Glactus came off as spiteful and mocked Thor quite a bit. The best portrayals of Galactus are where he is cold and indifferent. He has no malice or feelings of revenge when devouring a world, he just does it because it is the will of the comos that relinquishes his hunger in this regard. But this is an undefined future and he looks extremely worn down. He did not even have a herald, so the personality change might have been to the centuries not being too kind to the big fella.

The final issue of the series is a combination of stories. One where a young Thor fights frost giants, another featuring the origin of Malekith, all while the granddaughters of Thor read on about these tales. Entertaining tales as they mostly are setup for the next era of Thor.

More love to Esad Ribic and the art teams here as they turn in incredible work. Ribic gets some help out at the end of this series from illustrators Agustin Alessio, Simon Bisley, and R. M. Guera.

So, for now, this is it for the God of Thunder and an amazing run, but the story does continue and as long as Jason Aaron is writing them and Marvel puts quality artists on them, I will stick with it.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Comic Book Review – Thor: God of Thunder Volume 3: The Accursed (2014)

thor volume 3

Yes, I said it, and no, it is not hyperbole folks. Thor has always been my favorite comic book character. Thematically, the Thor mythos is a perfect blend of norse mythology, epic fantasy, and superhero tale that seems almost catered to my tastes. That been said, I’m very well acquainted with the best writers in the history of the character. Lee,Straczynski, Langridge, and most importantly, Simonson. For the past year or so, I’ve now added a new name to the very top of the list right alongside good ol’ Walt, and that name is Jason Aaron. After his incredibly awesome debut run featuring a spine-chilling and fantastic new villain, Gorr the God Butcher, he has returned to tackle a classic villain, and I was a little nervous. With his own original creations, sure, Aaron was great, but could he handle the classic Thor mythos with the same skill and impact? Oh yeah, you better believe he can. This volume has cemented my admiration and respect for Aaron.

This is the third volume of the “Thor: God of Thunder” series, under the Marvel NOW! initiative. It does feel less beefy than Aaron’s first Thor volumes, The God Butcher and Godbomb, as it features two one-off issues to bridge the gaps between the preceding Gorr story and the Roxxon story that is currently on the stands. This in no way diminishes the quality of the volume, however, as every issue, whether part of a multiple-issues story, or just a one off side-story, are all fantastic.

The first issue, #12, features Thor returning to Earth and spending time there, interacting with the various human friends he has made over the years and performing the sorts of acts you’d expect a noble, honorable god like Thor would perform. It’s not an action-packed issue, at all. It is a character study of a god, and it’s a great change of pace. It’s hard to explain, but this issue really humanizes Thor in a way only the very best stories can. It actually reminds me a lot of Superman for All Seasons, and I mean that in the best way. This sort of issue could easily become preachy and/or cheesy to the point of being unbearable, and it definitely strides that line very closely at times, but the fact that it is, for the most part, so poignant and affecting is a testament to Aaron’s fantastic writing.

Issues # 13-17 features the return of Malekith the Accursed. This is the meat n’ potatoes of the volume and once again, Aaron hit it out of the park. I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, but needless to say, this is a great adventure story. It is filled with very compelling characters, as Thor is joined in his quest this time in the form of the “League of Realms”. This group, appointed by the “Congress of Worlds,” is comprised of appointed warriors to represent each main race in the nine realms. It’s an odd set-up, and could come across as a cheesy Thor-centric Avengers rip-off, but it really is an interesting idea. The amount of humor and intensity pulled out of such a motley crew working together to tackle a truly terrorizing villain is superb. Each character, whether it’s the fancy dual-pitol wielding light elf Ivory Honeyshort, or the more taciturn dwarf Screwbeard, son of No-ears, son of Headwound (he likes to make things “go ‘splode” lol), all have great, unique personalities that bounce off each other and Thor quite nicely. Lots of belly-laugh inducing humor in this one, as well as great tension. Aaron’s characterization of Malekith is easily as fantastic a villain as Gorr was, but very distinctly unique. Malekith’s psychotic sadism and sociopathic, seemingly-senseless plans are made even more unnerving by his lighthearted and eloquently refined manner. Of course, his handling of Thor is stupendous, second to none in my humble opinion. Again, I can’t say it enough, Aaron did an amazing job. The story here is tense, full of gravitas as well as a more down-to-earth grittiness than his past work. Bravo!

Issue #18 ends the volume with a fantastic one-off story revolving around young viking Thor, back in the past and partying with a drunken dragon, and then kicking its ass. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it? I’m partially kidding. It’s a great, fun romp, but it’s also pretty moving as well, heartbreaking even. I’ll just leave it at that. I find the idea of young Thor to be brilliant, as he is a way to show major character development without erasing decades of comic history. I love that.

The art in this volume is definitely the aspect with the least amount of coherency. This volume features three different artists working the pen. Issue #12 is done by Nic Klein, and it’s definitely the weakest of the bunch. That isn’t to say Klein is BAD per se, but it is definitely shaky in parts. Some places, where Thor seems to have a deformed baby face with a five o’clock shadow, distract from the otherwise stupendous story-telling.

The art in issues #13-17 is done by Ron Garney. For the most part, he did a fantastic job. Upon opening the book, I was really sad to see Esad Ribic’s gorgeous painterly art style from the previous Thor volumes was missing, especially when I saw his gorgeous covers in this collection. However, Garney actually comes fairly close to capturing Ribic’s fantasy style and quality, at least relatively speaking. The art in these issues has a fairy-tale like beauty combined with a detailed and powerful sense of fantasy, with some nice comic book superhero boldness from time to time. It’s vibrantly colorful too, which can be a strange contrast to the darkness of the story, but I like it. While it’s not all perfect (the last half of issue 17 in particular is incredibly sloppy to the point of looking unfinished compared to the rest) but overall, Garney did great with the art in this book. I am impressed.

Issue #18’s art was done by Das Pastoras. I was a bit worried about his inclusion in this book, as I always found his past work to be incredibly off-putting. Here though, he did a great job. The best way I can describe it is to have you imagine Maurice Sendak’s art style with a graphic novel detail, and then ratchet the intensity to a level befitting a story where viking Thor fights a freaking DRAGON. Awesome.

I also appreciate the decreased pricing for this volume. While the five issue Malekith story is definitely less substantial than the eleven issues that Gorr received, this volume actually contains more issues than either of those volumes did. Volume 1 had five issues, Volume 2 had six, and this collection has seven issues in total. It’s nice to see us fans getting more content for our money. Hopefully Volume 4 will have eight issues.

All-in-all, this is another homerun from Jason Aaron. The various artists that joined him on this run – Klein, Pastoras, and most especially Garney- all did a great job rising to the task of proving art for Aaron’s brillaint writing. I’m just so floored by the aptitude of the writing here. The story moves along at an excellent pace, is brimming with a brilliant sense of cinematography, and is full of compelling, well-developed characters. Perhaps the most exciting thing to me about this collection of issues is that Aaron plugged in some truly Simonson-level foreshadowing that indicates that his vision for Thor’s future will only get more epic and grand in scale from here on out. I can’t wait! Esad Ribic has also returned to the series as full-time artist, so the future of Thor is looking brighter than ever. If you ever read this Jason, know that I truly feel your name deserves songs to be sung in its honor in Valhalla. So whether you’re a major Thor fan, a big comic book fan in general, or even a newcomer to the character and want a good jumping off point, this (as well as God Butcher and Godbomb) is as good as any volume you’ll find written in the last several decades. As a massive fan of the Thor character, this gets my highest recommendation.

3 out of 5 stars

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Spider-Man 3 (2007) – Movie Review

spider-man 2007

This is a good film, but it is not on the same level as the first two. There are many good ideas to be found in the script by Sam Raimi, his elder brother Ivan and Alvin Sargent and it is quite well written but it is overstuffed. The film is surprisingly well paced considering its somewhat sprawling storyline and the fact that it is the longest of the trilogy. It is well directed by Sam Raimi but the action scenes are generally not the equal of the second film’s.

Tobey Maguire is again very strong as Peter Parker, who seems to have finally achieved the balance in his life that eluded him for most of the second film. In spite of J. Jonah Jameson’s best efforts over the years, the people of New York City have embraced Spider-Man as their hero. When it comes to his personal life, Peter is living the dream as he has been dating Mary Jane Watson for some time and he is planning to propose to her as soon as possible. Kirsten Dunst is good in the role but the material lets her down a bit. Mary Jane is having less success given that her career as a Broadway star died a quick death when she was fired. She thinks that Peter does not understand how she feels and that he tries to make everything about him as he often turns the conversation to his career as Spider-Man. The situation is not helped by the fact that Mary Jane is jealous of him re-enacting their upside down kiss with Gwen Stacy, a young woman whom he recently rescued as Spidey who just so happens to his lab partner as Peter. After a meteorite crashes to Earth, an alien symbiote bonds itself to Peter, amplifying his negative attributes. As the newly black suited Spider-Man, he goes from being a public hero to a public menace. He becomes callous and manipulative and is prone to outbursts of anger and violence. He also changes his image and begins to strut around the streets of New York trying to impress the ladies. These scenes were not really necessary but it was for the best that they were played for laughs. I am far less certain that this was the case when it came to his dancing in the jazz bar, one of the silliest scenes that I have seen in a film of this kind. Whether or not I was supposed to laugh, I did.

In the case of the three villains, the one in which I had the most vested interest was Harry Osborn, who discovered his late father Norman’s cache of Green Goblin weapons and gadgets and has taken on the mantle of the New Goblin. Much like Dunst, James Franco is good but would have benefited from stronger material. Armed with the knowledge that Peter is Spider-Man, Harry vows to destroy his erstwhile best friend in revenge for the supposed murder of his father. To that end, he attacks Peter in the skies above New York using his glider but falls from a great height and suffers a convenient loss of memory. In the process, he forgets all about Peter’s secret life and they resume their friendship, after a fashion. Things go a bit pear-shaped, however, when his memories reassert themselves and he forces Mary Jane to break up with Peter in order to save her boyfriend’s life.

Thomas Haden Church is a perfect fit for the Marko / Sandman role but the character is fairly uninteresting, particularly the clichéd sob story concerning his critically ill daughter. I thought that it was a serious mistake and ultimately rather pointless to retcon Uncle Ben’s death so that Marko and not his carjacker accomplice was the culprit. To a certain extent, it detracted from the first film’s storyline in a way that a sequel never should. Topher Grace is likewise fine but he does not have much to do as the obnoxious, sleazy and dishonest freelance photographer Eddie Brock who bonds with the symbiote after Peter frees himself from it, becoming Venom. I was pretty disappointed that Venom only had a few major scenes as he was always my favourite villain from the 1990s animated series. I would have been perfectly happy if they had saved Venom for a later installment and jettisoned Sandman altogether so that that the film would have involved a one- on-one confrontation between Peter and Harry, which the end of the second film seemed to be hinting at. I liked the redemption story arc towards the end but more of it would have been nice.

As in the previous films, I was very impressed by J.K. Simmons as Jameson and Rosemary Harris as Aunt May. Although his appearance as Uncle Ben is disappointingly brief, the film is notable as being Cliff Robertson’s final acting role before his death in 2011. Willem Dafoe’s cameo as Norman Osborn was even more evocative of “Hamlet” than in the second film, considering that he uses the phrase “Remember me” as did the Ghost of Hamlet’s Father. Had “Spider-Man 4” been produced, I assume that Bryce Dallas Howard would have reprised her role as Gwen Stacy and the character would have been killed off, in line with the comics. James Cromwell was wasted in his brief appearances as her father Captain George Stacy but they probably had plans for him too. As the maître d’, Bruce Campbell actually got to be a nice guy to Peter Parker for the only film in the series.

Overall, this is an enjoyable film in spite of its flaws but it could have been so much better

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Doctor Strange (2016) – Movie Review

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“Doctor Strange,” in my opinion, is Marvel’s first step into the uncharted. Sure, “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a bold undertaking, but the concept of gods and aliens had already been explored in “Thor” and “The Avengers.” “Ant Man” may have given us a glimpse into the Quantum Realm, but at the end of the day, it was little more than a comedic heist film with a taste of “Honey I Shrunk the Kids.”

Helmed by horror director Scott Derrickson, “Doctor Strange” invites us into Marvel’s world of magic and mysticism. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Doctor Stephen Strange, an arrogant neurosurgeon acclaimed worldwide for his medical achievements. After losing the use of his hands in a car accident, Strange desperately searches the globe for anything that will give him back what made him great. Strange’s search leads him to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a sorcerer who introduces him to the mystic arts and sets him on the path to becoming the “Sorcerer Supreme.”

While magic itself is a new element in the Marvel cinematic universe, “Doctor Strange” is still, at its core, a superhero origin story, meaning that all of Marvel’s tropes are ever present. There are several attempts at humor. Some of them work; some of them don’t, and the villain, albeit portrayed very well by Mads Mikkelsen, is once again underdeveloped.

In spite of this, Marvel made an ambitious move with this film, one that I believe paid off in dividends.

The bizarre visuals, dialogue and character interactions of “Doctor Strange” would not work without strong performances, and for this film, Marvel was able to enlist a plethora of quality talent. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo – an experienced, collected, yet damaged sorcerer studying under the Ancient One – compliments the sarcastic and ambitious nature of Strange well. Benedict Wong and Rachel McAdams as Master Wong and Nurse Christine Palmer, respectively, also have some nice character moments and provide a few laughs along the way.

The “white-washing” controversy surrounding Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One (who, in the comics, was a man of Asian descent), left my mind the minute she stepped into the room with Strange. Swinton’s acting choices bring her character to life, and her expert delivery adds dramatic weight to certain lines of dialogue that may have otherwise come across as poorly written.

Cumberbatch’s performance is already being compared to Robert Downey Jr.’s in “Iron Man” because of the similarities between the origin stories of Stephen Strange and Tony Stark. However, what separates Strange and Stark from the beginning is the charisma and humanity that shine through Stark’s arrogance before becoming Iron Man. He was a likable jerk. The same cannot be said for Strange.

In one scene, Strange tests his music knowledge with other hospital staff while performing surgery. He chooses his operations based on their level of difficulty, discarding ones that he deems unworthy of his time. Even after his accident, he pushes Nurse Palmer, the one person who truly cares for him, away as a result of his pride. The fact that Strange is so unlikeable at the beginning of the film makes it all the more satisfying to watch his transformation unfold on screen, and, as always, Cumberbatch brings his A-game to develop this character.

Scott Derrickson’s background in the horror genre benefits his direction immensely. From the villain’s makeup design to certain visual imagery in the final act, Derrickson’s touch is evident throughout “Doctor Strange,” and the work that he and his team put into the film’s special effects is impeccable, visually and conceptually.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Doctor Strange says to the Ancient One.

“Not everything does. Not everything has to.”

“Doctor Strange” could easily be viewed as typical Marvel fanfare. It takes a hotheaded protagonist and sends him to the darkest depths, only to have him rise from the ashes to claim his destiny. It sacrifices the villain’s character development to ensure a shorter run time and throws away potentially impactful moments for the sake of comedy. Overshadowing the film’s shortcomings for me, however, are excellent performances, visual flair and a bit of magic.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – Movie Review

avengers infinity warAnd so begins the end of an era. Everything that has happened so far in Marvel’s shared universe that began in 2008, everything has led to this moment. Avengers: Infinity War is where this decade’s worth of narrative & world-building is supposed to pay off. And that makes this film more than just another instalment in the franchise. It’s an epic moment, no less than a cinematic event.

The 19th instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and first of the two planned Avengers films that will conclude their Phase 3 plan, Avengers: Infinity War follows the all-powerful Thanos as he travels across the universe looking for infinity stones that would grant him the strength to impose his will on all of reality and finally faces the Avengers in a battle that would decide the fate of all existing lives.

Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, Infinity War begins where Thor: Ragnarok signed off and what unfolds in the opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the story. It’s no doubt an ambitious undertaking by the Russo brothers but Captain America: Civil War proved that it’s them who were best suited for tackling this massive assignment than anyone else. And for the most part if not all, they do a pretty neat job at it.

Having been teased only in small doses until now, Infinity War puts Thanos front & centre as if it’s his movie. There is more at stake here than previous entries and in Thanos we have a supervillain who lives up to the expectations. His motivation for the sick fantasy that he wants to turn into reality isn’t as strongly appealing but it’s still serviceable. However, the film actually lacks that smooth, perfect balance the first Avengers film exhibited in all aspects.

The VFX team deserves the maximum credit, for everything from the set pieces to numerous locations to changing backdrops & settings to characters’ appearances & outfits is an end result of their work. There are plenty of moments that will make the audience cheer at the spectacle they are witnessing but it could also be exhausting, for CGI-laden action segments don’t carry that lasting effect and may become tiring after a while, which is exactly what happens here.

Cinematography is splendid, utilising IMAX cameras to capture the images in sharp detail & crisp clarity, but it also fails to make the most of the available technology by operating them in conventional fashion. Editing is brilliantly carried out, making sure the action keeps surfacing regularly to keep the interest alive but there were several scenes that it could’ve trimmed from its already demanding 149 mins runtime. And Alan Silvestri contributes with a rousing score that effectively uplifts the film’s larger-than-life aura.

Coming to the performances, barring a few exceptions, the entire ensemble of the MCU return to reprise their respective roles of the Avengers, the Guardians & their allies but it’s Josh Brolin as Thanos who impresses the most. The years of careful threading that underwent into hyping him as the biggest & baddest overlord of villainy & darkness ultimately works out in the film’s favour, as Thanos makes up for one formidable supervillain who’s far more intimidating than past Marvel antagonists and Brolin’s conquering voice makes him stand out even more.

As for the rest of the cast, Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark (Iron Man) with all his charisma & magnetic charm in tact and delivers a confidently assured input. Chris Hemsworth is even better as Thor and is bestowed with the most interesting arc of all Avengers. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (Captain America) is no slouch either and carves his own moments to shine. Tom Holland is effortlessly captivating as Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and steals almost every scene he appears in. Others do well with what they are given but every single one of them is overshadowed by Thanos’ imposing presence.

On an overall scale, Avengers: Infinity War is an enjoyable, entertaining & satisfying extravaganza that somehow manages to live up to its enormous hype. There are plenty of unexpected surprises & unforeseen tragedies in store, plus the ending is going to hit the fans hard, but all of it would’ve left a more powerful & unforgettable impact if we didn’t already know that much of it will be undone in the next Avengers film. All in all, Avengers: Infinity War nearly pays off 10 years’ worth of investment with an exhilarating action-adventure spectacle and signs off by setting up a perfect stage for the grand finale.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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