Review: Deadpool 2 (2018)

deadpool-2-1

Mooning the fourth wall: Twentieth Century Fox/Marvel Entertainment

Two years ago, despite thoroughly enjoying his cinematic debut, I said it was a shame that they dialled back on this portrayal of Deadpool’s schizophrenia. Thinking back I realise if you really go for mental illness angle in a comic book movie you end up with SUPER, which while interesting is a harrowing, difficult watch. I’m not surprised Wade has been given a heart and (slightly) more control to turn this franchise into a crowd-pleaser.

Wisecracking immortal mercenary Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is in a bad place, and it’s not because he hasn’t gotten over now looking like a testicle with teeth. To find a new purpose to his endless surplus of life he protects a gifted but dangerous child (Julian Dennison) from time-traveling assassin Cable (Josh Brolin) and forms his very own super-team to avoid actually having to sign up with the goody-goody X-Men.

DEADPOOL 2 is a pretty hard movie to review well, even more so than the first really because the novelty has worn off somewhat. I laughed nearly constantly (except for the sad bits because I’m not a sicko) but I don’t want to ruin all the best jokes by regurgitating them here. The issue is that the film is at least 75% jokes. It’s all very meta in a juvenile sort of way, with DP referencing/insulting other actors’ careers and who their character remind him of (chiefly Brolin) or turning to camera to acknowledge when the film is getting a bit predictable, which it sometimes is.

My favourite joke from the first film is given a great punchline here, and without spoiling too much let’s just say Wade gets to right some great wrongs by the end of the film. In addition to plenty of X-Men franchise lampooning (and grudging praise for LOGAN) there’s a disturbingly funny BASIC INSTINCT reference, childish humour goes dark when film industry abuse is referenced (“All these pictures of old white men…I should have brought a rape whistle”) and when Wade’s healing powers are briefly suspended (“now I have the power of unbridled cancer!”).

The things this man can do with a knife block… You can definitely tell ATOMIC BLONDE’s David Leitch is behind the camera this time with a lot of the action amped up with (bone) snap, crackle and pop. I kind-of miss the scrappiness of the first film’s fights, the moderate budget prompting creativity, but the sequel doesn’t go all-out on the spectacle either, for every standard superhero bust-up there’s an entertaining subversion to balance it.

How great is it to see Julian Dennison getting to be in big Hollywood movies? New additions Cable and Domino (Zazie Beetz) are both class acts, their performers clearly relishing their roles almost as much as Reynolds. It is a shame that Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) isn’t given enough to do to steal the show again, though shiny straight arrow Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) is still good value for money. The Deadpool series is continuing its programme of rehabilitating X-Men wronged by previous movies and there are obscure references for fans to spot throughout and a surprise or two in store for viewers of all stripes.

While the Merc with the Mouth’s views are usually pretty progressive for a killer who enjoys pissing people off, the film around him does resort to shortcuts in character portrayal that are, frankly, beneath the filmmakers. Unless I missed it, Pool doesn’t reference Trump coming to power since his last outing either, which seems like a wasted opportunity at an open goal. The odd disappointment in storytelling and misjudged portrayal aside, Deadpool 2 is a hugely entertaining follow-up and the ideal stage for Ryan Reynolds to do what he does best (and what he does is really funny). SSP

Posted in Film, Film Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017)

mary-and-the-witch-web-dubbed-final-1200x600-c-default

Accio Little Broomstick!: Studio Ponoc/Chukyo TV

MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER, the first film from Studio Ghibli successors Studio Ponoc looks stunning, but it does feel insubstantial. That’s not to say it’s bad, it’s just not really about much. I’m prepared to forgive a lot because I’m not the intended audience for this, but just because something is aimed younger doesn’t mean it can’t have layers.

Young Mary (Hana Sugisaki) escapes her life of monotony living with her great aunt in the country when she stumbles across a rare flower that bestows magical powers. Mistaken for a real witch she travels to Endor College where Madam Mumblechook (Yûki Mamami) and Doctor Dee (Fumiyo Kohinata) seem to be up to something besides teaching magic.

Whereas Miyazaki seemed equally preoccupied with conveying a childlike wonder and criticising what the modern world has become, Mary and WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE director Hiromasa Yonebayashi seems far more fascinated with the passage of time and how we view each other over decades. Both Marnie and Mary feature scenes of different generations of a family communicating across space and time, and these moments really connect.

A stunning dynamic chase scene to open aside, the initial stretch of the film is a little faltering and awkward, not helped by the fact that this is a very Japanese take on British culture. Studio Ghibli got away with it in ARRIETTY and HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE through lightness of touch and keeping time and place vague respectively, but Mary if anything over-emphasises its rural Englishness. It’s mannered and stale and touristy with villagers proudly tending their flower beds and making deliveries to each other along the winding country lanes by bicycle, but with quite jarring cross-cultural additions like traditional Japanese meal and tea-drinking etiquette only with Earl Grey and something with mashed potatoes.

It’s far more successful when Mary’s journey begins in earnest and there are some wonderfully orginal visuals in the Endor college sequences, from traveling Glinda-style by bubble via the trainee magic user’s physics-defying gym to Doctor Dee’s plethora of wheeled and spider-legged devices used to avoid having to walk himself. Obviously the time limit imposed by the titular magical plot device doesn’t allow for an extensive stay but it would have been nice to see Mary get to grips with witch college life a little before rushing off to save the day. We just have to make do with a short stop, a few sights and a fox-man broomstick stable hand dressed as Robin Hood.

Unusually, by the end of this particular magical adventure, very little has changed. Yes (spoiler?), the baddies are defeated and the world saved, but Mary doesn’t discover that the power was within her all along, it really was the magic plot device and when it goes so do her powers. Presumably, she just goes back to the boring life that she railed against at the beginning of her journey, only now with a new friend. As for why the evil-doers were doing what they were evil-doing, who knows?

I think that is the real problem with Mary and the Witch’s Flower: there are no real character arcs. Everyone starts and ends in exactly the same place. Aiming your story at kids is fine – many adults still appreciate animal mascots and comedy sidekicks as well – but that’s not to say this couldn’t have taken a bit more depth, some different shades in the writing. It’s a beautiful diversion though, something you can get lost in the pristine, detailed splendour of, even if it likely won’t stay with you long afterwards. It’s not Studio Ghibli, but it’s not a bad start at all for the fledgling studio with plenty to build on. SSP

Posted in Film, Film Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review in Brief: It Comes at Night (2017)

This would make one hell of a double-feature with THE SURVIVALIST. Bleak, slow-burning and intense both, but IT COMES AT NIGHT is far more tricksy and ambiguous a thing. Nightmares, visions, hallucinations – whatever they’re supposed to be – bleed into the actual events of the plot (such as it is). Joel Edgerton ties the whole thing together but the show is stolen by Kelvin Harrison Jr, a really striking young actor. So little explanation is given for this world beyond the fact that there’s something contagious going around and you’d be wise to be suspicious of any stranger’s sudden appearance. Like something like 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, this is a horror built on paranoia where it’s far scarier a prospect if nothing otherworldly is actually happening for the implications that would have on human nature. I’m sure many will find this an immensely frustrating watch, but for me the intense performances and the hallucinatory atmosphere makes it. SSP

Posted in Film, Film Review | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review in Brief: Psychokinesis (2018)

What does Yeon Sang-ho, do after directing companion zombie thrillers TRAIN TO BUSAN and SEOUL STATION? Why a comedy-soap-superhero movie, of course! PSYCHOKINESIS follows a deadbeat dad (Ryu Seung-ryong) using telekinetic superpowers acquired from meteorite-contaminated springwater to save his daughter (Shim Eun-kyung) and her neighbours’ shopping arcade from greedy business developers. A common theme among Korean comedies is family dysfunction and that’s in abundance here, with Roo-mi unwilling to take her dad, who abandoned her as a child, back, no matter what useful powers he’s bestowed with. Amusingly everyone who gets a demonstration of power acts shocked and amazed apart from Roo-mi, who just tells her dad to stop messing around. The action is pretty well executed for the budget, peppered with slapstick and chucklesome details (the henchmen all wear hard hats in the fight scenes because they’re the henchmen of a building company). Your mileage on this one will be pretty dependent on your tolerance for soap opera over-acting and goofy humour, but I really enjoyed it. SSP

Posted in Film, Film Review | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Few Thoughts More: Infinity War

infinitywar2

Brazenly flouting the time-honoured rules of the thumb war: Marvel/Disney

The following piece contains major spoilers for AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.

So now the dust has settled and most people who really want to see Infinity War will have done, lets dig into what happened, who died and what could be on its way in next year’s Avengers follow-up.

Infinity War should have a second subtitle: A series of stupid and costly mistakes. The most heartbreaking thing about the film is that our heroes could have saved the day, but because they’re human (OK, some of them not literally) they screw up, they act rashly and give into their impulses. Thanos was banking on this and he knows as long as he keeps going and sticks to the plan someone among the twenty-odd remarkable individuals facing off against him will give him his opening.

Like all great villains, Thanos is convinced he’s right, that his wiping out of half of existence is for the greatest of greater goods (“I offered them a solution”). From the genesis of his grotesque relationship with Gamora, he priming her for succession. Nebula got all the physical abuse, what Thanos did to Gamora out of professed love is far more monstrous.

We see that Doctor Strange has resigned to his fate by the end, he knows what’s coming. It would have been kinder to Tony to kill him than have him live through this. I would imagine the deaths pre-finger snap are going to stick. Heimdall, Loki and Gamora, probably vision too, are gone. Everyone who was dusted out of existence – Bucky, Scarlet Witch, Black Panther, Falcon, Star-Lord, Drax, Groot, Mantis Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Nick Fury post-credits – who can say? Well the Guardians, Panther and Spidey will be back because they’ve got sequels to get to.

So Red Skull’s just been bumming around on that rock for 70+ years, huh? It was an unexpected cameo, and it’s a key scene, but is it particularly relevant that it’s this character given that role?

The sequel has got to involve time-travel or reality-jumping. I wouldn’t be surprised if after this, realities didn’t remain separate and we’d have the main emotional punch of the sequel being not a punch but a forced separation of our heroes for the sake of the universe a-la DOCTOR WHO’s “Doomsday”.

For those who say it’s not especially thematically deep, I’d agree Marvel have done more layered and zeitgeist-y stories, but Infinity War draws on one big and affecting idea: the relative value of life. Cap warns Vision they would never “trade lives” to win the day, Thanos takes the life of the one person in existence he had feelings for to reach his goal, so in turn Quill endangers the entire galaxy because “the one” has been taken from him. That’s playing with some pretty heavy emotions right there. SSP

Posted in Film, Film Feature, Film Review | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Ghost Stories (2017/18)

ghost stories

Dead stylish for a stroll on the moors: Warp Films/Altitude Film Entertainment

From SIN CITY to WILD TALES at the movies and INSIDE NUMBER 9 on TV, I do like a good anthology piece. Alas, TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED and THE TWILIGHT ZONE were before my time, so perhaps I need to dedicate some serious YouTube time to catching up. Presenting a collection of stories as such inspires creativity and thinking outside the box, and GHOST STORIES thinks outside the box in order to try and scare the bejesus out of us.

A paranormal skeptic (Andy Nyman) interviews three witnesses and investigates their stories of terrifying supernatural encounters. But what do the experiences of a nightwatchman (Paul Whitehouse), a teenage boy (Alex Lawther) and a rich businessman (Martin Freeman) have in common?

There’s a mundane answer to all these creepy goings on (if you don’t like fun) but any real explanation is kept entertainingly illusive. To start with it’s all very ALAN PARTRIDGE, but before long reality, mock or not, gives way to the eerie. I’m much more of a fan of the supernatural tormentor using spirits from throughout time to punish a guilty man take than the “it was all in his head” theory. Ether way you’re reading it, the repeated motifs and clues sprinkled throughout draw you in and keep you guessing.

The first story is an old fashioned one of a guy in a creepy place who goes looking for scary things in the dark armed with a temperamental torch. Here the ghosts, as is traditional, work better in the darkness so keep turning the lights out and mess around with the radio to make Whitehouse’s nightwatchman brick himself. The second one is odder and more self aware, leaving its creepiest aspects unexplained but following a lead who, though unstable, knows exactly what happens to you if you don’t leg it and lock the door (Lawther’s nervy, unstable introvert is a definite highlight). The final one upends everything and makes you reconsider everything you’ve just seen in a new context and lets Freeman play perhaps the most interesting role of his career.

It was a lot subtler a horror than I was expecting, the echoing drip of water against pitch blackness that opens it perhaps the only thing that really made me shudder. Of course there’s jump scares (audio and visual) but they tend to be done in-camera like the rest of the effects, popping in midway through an extended camera move or just strolling into shot only veiled by the time-honoured and strategically deployed shallow focus. This worked for me as a horror, the creeping dread and oppressive mood to it (similar to something like IT FOLLOWS) though I’m not sure it’ll be to everyone’s taste.

I’m always a bit more compelled by indie films made in my neck of the woods, and Nyman and Dyson have selected their locations around Yorkshire (eerie woods, imposing moorland and scarily empty working men’s clubs). Who’d have thought the vast cellars of a world heritage site attraction would make such a good stand-in for an abandoned asylum?

Co-author Jeremy Dyson, of course, is one quarter of The League of Gentlemen, and some of the gags, from slightly pervy ghosts to one character feeding something revolting to an unseen, likely deformed baby, are very Royston Vasey.

The question I always come back to with horror films is is it scary? With Ghost Stories I have to conclude the answer is “sort-of”. Mostly it’s more creepy than frightening, the ideas making you shudder after the credits more so than the imagery. I’d be interested to see how it compares to the stage play it adapts (also by Dyson and Nyman) but as a calling card for their future filmmaking careers, it’s certainly promising, certainly its own twisted, mischievous thing. SSP

Posted in Film, Film Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

May the Fourth Review: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

empirestrikesback

The Fourth is with you young Skywalker…: Lucasfilm

Yes, this Star Wars day I’m reviewing the big one.

With the original STAR WARS, George Lucas discovered that magic formula. But because he stepped back from his creation, the first sequel grew beyond him and became the most balanced and emotionally resonant film in the entire series, and a clear fan-favourite. It also used to be the darkest and most complex too, but then the divisive LAST JEDI came out and brought with it some moments that made the finale of Empire look positively straightforward and jolly in comparison. While I’ve probably seen Empire more than any Star Wars film (I agree that it’s the best by quite a margin: no bucking the trend for me) I still get that same unadulterated thrill I got when I watched it on VHS as a child.

The evil Galactic Empire has regrouped after the loss of their ultimate weapon the Death Star and a fleet lead by the merciless Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones) drives their rebel foes out of hiding. As Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) goes searching for Master Yoda (Frank Oz) in the hope of completing his Jedi training, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) flee for their lives with the vengeful Imperial forces in hot pursuit…

A lot is made of the challenge of getting Ford and Fisher to fit in the same shot given the foot in height difference. I’m sure it was fun getting Hamill and Peter Mayhew in shot together as well considering their height difference is half again what it was between the star-crossed lovers. When Vader enters Echo Base he doesn’t look quite as badass as his introduction in the previous film as he can clearly be seen watching where he is stepping (after Prowse tripped and faceplanted on a previous take). Another less cool Vader moment has him order his ship to divert to a clearer sector of space so he can get full space-phone signal. Let’s be honest, a lot of the Degobah stretch is muddy (storytelling as well as scenery-wise) but we now know keeping characters’ understanding of the Force as vague and generic as possible works better than the Prequels’ over-explaining of everything.

Empire features my favourite scene transition in Star Wars: wipe edit from “We’d better start the evacuation” to the amassing Imperial fleet and the slow reveal (via all-encompassing shadow) of Vader’s Super Star Destroyer and the first use of John Williams’ unimpeachable “Imperial March”. I also love in this scene how quickly Vader re-asserts his authority not only to his men, but to us the audience after ending the last film in such an undignified position. While the officers squabble about the latest batch of probe data, Vader takes a quick glance over their shoulder and immediately knows “That’s it, the rebels are there!” and orders a swift, surprise attack. No other Star Wars film gets across Vader’s relentlessness and chilling clarity of purpose as well as Empire, from his casual offing of clumsy and stupid subordinates to wonderful sardonic and not-so-veiled threats like “Perhaps you feel you’ve been treated unfairly?” In a lot of ways this is Vader’s film as he drives almost everything that happens in it.

The Battle of Hoth is the perfect Star Wars action scene, combining miniatures, stop-motion and live action elements so seamlessly it’s only just starting to show its age after 38 years. It’s also a hell of a lot of tense fun. The climactic lightsaber battle from atmospheric carbon freezing chamber to claustrophobic maintenance tunnels and out to the yawning chasm over Cloud City’s outer shell for that revelation is perhaps the finest finale in any of the Star Wars movies. Williams’ score is also his richest and most memorable work over eight movies of rich and memorable work. The galaxy far far away is sorely going to miss him after EPISODE IX.

The little character details Irvin Kershner added to make our heroes feel less like a typed page of script rushed through hair and makeup certainly helps the key moments of character development to land. Dialogue becomes more fluid, ebbing in and out and overlapping with action as apposed to stopping dead when someone has to do something (with Lucas’ writing you can practically still see the stage directions). Han manages to thump the Falcon lights back to life before attempting more permanent repairs in the bowels of the shipping all while never once letting it interrupt his argument with Leia, Chewie and Threepio. Han and Leia’s blossoming romance only works because Kershner worked on Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan’s script, and with the actors, so they sounded human. All the best movie romances start from a point of loathing until, try as they might, all resistance breaks down and they give in (“I love you” / “I know”).

There’s a reason this has become the go-to great sequel template: it expands its universe and grows its characters with far more humour and pathos than the film it followed. Have fun revisiting whichever Star Wars episodes you choose to, unless you’re the kind of sicko who chooses to watch ATTACK OF THE CLONES again. May the Fourth be with you. SSP

Posted in Film, Film Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

infinity war

That better just be a really loud pizza guy at the door: Marvel/Disney

What a mind-boggling juggling act this is. So many characters, powers, locations, histories and they all have to be brought together in a coherent, entertaining and emotionally satisfying way after ten years worth of setup. An lo and behold, the creative team behind AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR did it…almost. I’ll have to watch this again soon with a less distracting audience, but for now I’m of the opinion it’s a very good, well performed superhero epic with a few flaws.

All has been leading to this. The Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) comes to Earth to complete his acquisition of the six Infinity Stones, which will allow him complete control over time and space, life, death and reality. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes the Avengers, bolstered by the Guardians of the Galaxy, the nation of Wakanda and the planet’s magical defenders, finally unite and make their stand.

“You’re embarrassing me in front of the wizards!” I worried that so many different tones and styles from the individual films wouldn’t fit together, but I needn’t have. Like the previous Avengers movies it’s big personalities butting heads that provides the most levity (Stark and Star-Lord, Stark and Strange, basically Tony brings out the worst in everybody) and from the off the veritable army of characters are split off into smaller groups with their own unique mission to accomplish. These team configurations are sometimes unexpected but usually engaging and, because the story spans the Galaxy, many Avengers never share the screen with each other.

Here’s what I’ll say about the deaths: there are some.

I know we like to rib Cumberbatch for his unconvincing New Yoik accent, but Doctor Strange almost completely steals the show here, boasting the most rounded performance among some truly imposing competition, becoming unexpectedly central to the plot (not unlike Adam Warlock’s role in the comic) and boasting about three times as many cool displays of power as anyone else. If Marvel really go to town on his weird, psychedelic corner of the universe in future movies then we’re in for a treat. A close second comes Brolin’s surprisingly nuanced vocals, somehow managing to get across that the big purple dude who wants to wipe out half the population of the universe still has a beating (but very twisted) heart. Most heroes get their time to shine (notably Thor, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch and Gamora) and fit as comfortably back in to these roles as you’d expect from an ensemble of many years. Obviously characters have got to fit in where they naturally can in the given story, but some (Black Widow, Black Panther and his supporting cast) do feel inevitably hard done by.

The Russo brothers have blended the style from their Captain America films with what Joss Whedon previously established for THE AVENGERS. The word of the day is “epic” and as such everything is made to look as imposing as possible with grandly staged, cleaner and less crunchy action. It’s perhaps why characters like Doctor Strange and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) tend to have less trouble standing out against the Armageddon, their powers being bigger and flashier than most of their teammates’. A few smaller moments stand out as well, like disastrous mistakes heroes make when their hearts overtake their heads and especially when we see the most disturbing image from the comic rejigged and brought to distressing life.

It can’t help but be conventional at times. The set pieces in the first two acts (the inventive and globe-spanning skirmishes with the very nasty “Children of Thanos”) are a lot more interesting and different than those in the third (pretty standard boss fight and big battle between armies) and are we really still not past “girl fights” as an action movie cliché? Oh look, they’ve got a woman on their team (a woman, one hastens to add, who is fully capable of tearing your spine out) better send our team’s ladies in!

It’s nigh-on impossible to dig into what works and what doesn’t in the plot without talking about, y’know, the plot. But people don’t want to know what happens so soon after release, so I’ll leave it at this: while a fair few moments carry weight due to how many movies we’ve spent with these characters, it does seem like there’s an all-too-easy out for what should be the gut punch of the movie. I’ve seen comparisons to EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and, yes, it’s tonally similar, but I get the feeling the fallout from Infinity War’s apocalyptic events will end up being far from permanent. We’ll find out next year exactly what tricksy ways they get around it, but for now sit back and enjoy the dazzling spectacle and partial payoff, because this was just the overture. SSP

Posted in Film, Film Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The MCU: Six Thoughts for Six Stones

It’s been a decade since Tony Stark first made a scrap metal suit of armour with a fancy pacemaker to fight terrorists, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows no signs of slowing down, even with their Magnum Opus AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR just around the corner. What follows are six trains of thought on what makes the MCU what it is (for better or worse), loosely based on the six infinity Mcguffins this whole hullabaloo has been about…

mcu1

Strike a pose: Marvel

1. Space (use of) Aside from the obvious fact that some of Marvel’s best offerings have been set among the stars, the series has used space in-camera consistently well too. From complex, multi-tiered action blocking exemplified by THE AVENGERS‘ Battle of New York to the more recent films’ Bond-esque globe-trotting (or Trek-esque planet-hopping). Each new instalment and director also tended to bring a distinct aesthetic tied to whichever subgenre the superhero movie is being spliced with this time. What visual influences Infinity War will draw on remains to be seen, but surely it can’t just be bigger, can it? We could all do with a few less explodey sky battles in modern blockbusters, so here’s hoping the vast team-up offers something a little different to keep things fresh.

mcu2

He hasn’t thought this through: Marvel

2. Mind (and motivation) I’m not going to claim that the MCU movies are dumb (OK, IRON MAN 2 is pretty dumb) and I’m not someone who thinks superhero movies are nothing but irrelevant escapism, but I will say that the Marvel films tend to have serious problems with their villains. In the vast majority of cases (Killmonger and Zemo being the exceptions for having layers, Ronan and Kaecilius for being entertaining) their evil plans and/or reason for being doesn’t make sense and carries no weight. Apply any level of scrutiny and things start to crumble: I’ve always had many, many problems with the end of WINTER SOLDIER and I still don’t really know what Malekith or Red Skull’s end games were supposed to be. After being teased for so long, Thanos better be compelling and his masterplan needs some dark majesty.

mcu3

Shot not appearing in this film: Marvel

3. Reality (marrying of many) While each Marvel film works on its own internal logic (within reason), the problem with the concept of a “shared universe” is that sooner or later when characters meet their respective realities also have to merge, and it’s not always a comfortable fit. The worlds of Thor and the Guardians will marry well, having been cut from the same space-operatic drapes, ditto for the tech-enhanced Iron Man and Spidey, post-Avengers Cap and Widow doing the old gritty espionage thing etc. But with Infinity War, Hulk-smashing together so many competing styles and tones could very easily overwhelm it, and it’s not something they can get past with quips alone (though past examples of characters making fun of each other, such as “Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?” have been highlights).

mcu4

You dropped something: Marvel

4. Power (levels and distinctness) Movies of the MCU pride themselves at inventing new ways to represent superpowers and the clashes between heroes and villains and heroes and heroes. With super-strong, super-gadgety and super-weird characters aplenty, everyone needs their own way to stand out from the ever-swelling crowd. Some of the most “wow” moments of the series so far have come from unexpected displays of power (Vision casually handing Thor his hammer in ULTRON, Thor weilding lightning with his bare hands for the first time in the Rainbow Bridge battle in RAGNAROK) and I’ve no doubt that the Russo Brothers has a fair few surprises for us in Infinity War on that score.

mcu5

Behold, my fancy watch!: Marvel

5. Time (lines and consequences) For all the effort in constructing this vast and varied universe, the MCU timeline is a bit busted isn’t it? IRON MAN 3 firmly established the time frame of Tony’s story, and we obviously know when Cap went on ice, but the rest is anyone’s guess. Stephen Strange gets namechecked as a person of interest in Winter Soldier but this is pre his own origin story, so why would he be on a spy agency’s watchlist before he had his powers? Maybe it’s a timey-wimey infinity stone thing, but I think this kind of thing mostly comes from Kevin Feige giving each director a long leash; great for creativity, but not so good if you’re avoiding contradictions in continuity. While it’s also been criticised that we haven’t had any significant (permanent) deaths in the MCU, collateral damage to the world has always been in evidence (it was the non-Bucky reason for CIVIL WAR, after all) and those ultimate heroic sacrifices are coming, I feel.

mcu6

If only every funeral was this colourful: Marvel

6. Soul (emotion and drive) I’ll be fascinated to see how the final infinity stone manifests itself as soul really does take us back to what makes the MCU work. Whatever pyrotechnics and genre play each film puts on for our amusement, the only real reason this mega-franchise is still going so strong after a decade is that we care so much about these characters. They can do amazing things to save the world, but they still go through very human experiences, from embracing their responsibilities, going through severe PTSD, finding their place in a new and changed world, choosing between absent parents and present surrogates or simply learning not to be an ass, these heroes are us. Everyone answers the call to save the day for variations on a theme (it’s the right thing to do) but the whys are ever-changing and evolving in response to the state of the world and where the characters find themselves. Except for Cap, who still does all this because he doesn’t like bullies, which is something simple we can all root for.

See you on the other side of Infinity, the Marvel Cinematic Universe may (hopefully) be forever changed. SSP

Posted in Film, Film Feature | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review in Brief: Blade of the Immortal (2017)

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL is one-man filmmaking army Takashi Miike’s 100th feature and arguably his largest scale project to date. I doubt the man who makes Ridley Scott look sluggish even broke a sweat (only a film a year, Ridders? You lightweight!). This is about the closest you can come to seeing a living anime, heightened action, graphically striking compositions, ultraviolence and ridiculous hair all-inclusive. It should really be Blade of the Immortals, because it’s basically the Japanese HIGHLANDER, only not crap. It’s as OTT as we’ve come to expect from Miike, but the melodrama, flying limbs and spurting claret is balanced with a unique sense of humour (Manji may be immortal, but he definitely feels, and gets really annoyed by, sustaining another mortal wound) and some down-to-earth chemistry between Takuya Kimura and young Hana Sugisaki. It’s an unexpectedly sweet little relationship between these two, perfectly in contrast with how amoral and angry everyone else in this story is. SSP

Posted in Film, Film Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment