Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) – Movie Review

into the spiderverse

The worlds of superhero movies and superhero comics are not as similar as they seem on the surface. Currently, film studios are all about the “extended universe”, seeing how many different titles and characters they can shove into one franchise (Avengers, X-Men, Justice League), making for an easy way to squeeze a few extra bucks out of their lesser known properties. Comics have this as well, of course. However, they also have something modern movies haven’t really tapped into yet: story one-offs, a chance for a storyteller to create a unique tale and not be constrained by the implications on or from the larger universe. Spider-Verse gets to do just that, while playfully taking on the fun (if convoluted) absurdity of extended superhero universes. Listen, I hear you. “How could we possibly need another Spider-Man movie?” Spider-Verse understands that question and has a take on it. Yes, Peter Parker is here. In fact, there are two Peter Parkers. There’s also a Spider-Woman, a Noir Spider-Man, an anime Spider-Girl/Robot, and a Spider-Pig. At the center though is Miles Morales, an Afro-Hispanic Brooklyn teen who must help these other Spider-People get back to their own planes of existence. He fights with his cop dad, he adores his shady uncle, hates being simply the smartest kid in the room, and just wants to do something that matters. Being Spider-Man wasn’t his idea, but hey, when a radioactive spider gives you powers, what choice do you have? Look, I don’t have any sort of hot take on this movie. It looks great, the humor pops with surprises, the voice casting is beyond perfect. It’s simply a stylishly exciting and refreshingly unique take on the superhero genre, and sometimes that’s more than enough.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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X-Men: First Class (2011) – Movie Review

xmen first class

After two disappointing instalments, X-Men fans needed some heroes themselves, people who could revitalise the series and luckily, we got that with the director of the first two films and the man who was originally picked to direct X-Men: The Last Stand. The Bryan Singer/Matthew Vaughn combo was able to give the series the kick it needed, making a fun and action-packed film.

In 1962, the privileged Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has graduated from Oxford University with a PhD in Genetics and has a very close relationship with his adopted sister, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence). On the other side of the coin is Erik Lehnsherr (the always awesome Michael Fassbender), a Holocaust surviving, hunting Nazis around the world, overall badass. Both are recruited by CIA agent Moira MacTarget (Rose Byrne) to help stop the Hellfire Club, lead by Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) and his group of powerful mutants; Emma Frost (January Jones), Azazel (Jason Flemyng), and Riptide (Alex Gonzalez). As the Hellfire Club manipulates the United States and the Soviet Union towards nuclear war, Charles and Erik go on their own recruiting drive to train mutants for their team, including Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult), Alex Summers (Lucas Till), and Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz).

From what should have been a disaster of a film, Vaughn pulled it out of the bag and made a really fun summer blockbuster. Compared to Singer’s whose X-Men movies were dark, in both story and style, Vaughn made his X-Men film a lighter and more colourful film, with a strong mix of drama and comedy, very much like Spider-man and Iron Man. Because of the quick production time some of the CGI is a bit ropey, but Vaughn proves himself a talented director with a great visual style, from his montages that interject comic book visuals to his action scenes. Vaughn ensures that there is plenty of mutant versus mutant action and just like in the Singer films, mutants use their powers logically. Some of the comedy is predictable, but still funny and the action scenes were tense, unlike Brett Ratner’s approach in X-Men: The Last Stand who broke up action sequences with humour.

The plot itself is very similar to the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, since it comes down to an outside force trying to start a war for their own ends. Continuing with the Bond film there is a certain feel in the early part of the film with Erik’s global travelling and the scene with Moira in bra and panties, which was very much like something from a Bond or even Austin Powers movie.

X-Men: First Class is a film that focuses on characters and relationships, a strength of any good action film, or as I see it, an X-Men film with action in it. There are strong ideologies being formed with Shaw taking the place of Magneto in this world. There are also ideas about how government circles and intelligence agencies would react to the discovery of a new breed of humanity. The Nazi Scientist was very much like the Emperor in Star Wars, pretty much saying “let the anger consume you”.

What X-Men: First Class needed in order to be successful was a strong chemistry between McAvoy and Fassbender, which we got. They have a yin and yang relationship as they share a goal but have two different ways about how to achieve it, yet you can still believe they are friends. Many of the supporting cast members were strong, Bacon is of course, intelligent and powerful with a sinister Southern accent and capably assisted by the beautiful January Jones. Some of the characters were sidelined, but I am sure they will be developed in the sequel.

As a fanboy, I could make a list of things the filmmakers got wrong from the comics and continuity with the first three films, but it was so well made as a stand-alone movie it doesn’t really matter. Really, it’s just as much a reboot as it is a prequel. There are also plenty of cameos that will keep fans happy. X-Men: First Class is the best X-Men film since X2: X-Men United.

 

4 out of 5 stars

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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – Movie Review

mad max

After a few deceptively fluffy and kid-friendly outings, George Miller returns to the Mad Max universe, 30 years after Mel Gibson turned in the keys to the tune of Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero”. The question on everyone’s mind before the first trailer unleashed an internet frenzy was, in this age of needless reboots, has Miller sold out or has he used this opportunity to finally realize his full vision for the famous saga?

By now you will know that the latter is true, but you might not appreciate to what extent, and how little this implies that you are guaranteed to actually like the result. Miller hasn’t just provided an update of Mad Max, or even a reboot. In fact this plays like just another episode in the wild life of his antihero, relegating back- story or origins to one or two short opening lines and brief flashes of past violence. It’s also much more than a modernized take: it is early 21st century filmmaking taken to its furthest possible extreme.

Since most blockbusters today are at least partially bathed in Michael Bay’s patented orange/teal palette, Fury Road pushes that beyond its aesthetic limits, to quasi-fluorescent territory, creating the impression of a very violent Tex Avery cartoon, or at least one viewed while doing some serious drugs. Plot-wise, it doesn’t get any more streamlined than this, or economical, and what you’re left with is a hellish landscape populated by astonishingly inventive grotesques, conflicted heroes (our protagonist Max is arguably not THE hero of his own film) and a sustained action sequence.

If this sounds like something you wouldn’t enjoy, don’t waste your time. If the trailer had you hyperventilating though, what awaits is pure nirvana. The action – most of it the result of practical effects and stunts – sets an unprecedented standard, as does the level of perverse originality in the baddies’ physical and moral decrepitude: even in the hallowed company of other Mad Max entries, these are some weird freaks. Finally, the lead duo is pitch-perfect. Most of the attention has fallen on Charlize Theron’s fearless Furiosa, but special mention should go to a very subdued Hardy, who beautifully anchors the film and gives it an almost calm, simmering center. Whether grumbling at sights of his stolen gear or fighting for his life in one of the meanest brawls in cinematic history, he makes us believe in this twisted universe, and feel the pain.

This is a journey through hell, Dante’s inferno without the sanctimoniousness: distilled to its essence and spiked with cocaine. A wilder ride you will not find this year, perhaps even this decade.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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