BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (2022) – Fitting Memorial to Chadwick Boseman and Tribute to Black Panther Character

0

The best part about BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (2022), Marvel’s latest superhero movie and sequel to one of its all-time best, BLACK PANTHER (2018), is that it captures the right tone of mourning and respect for late actor Chadwick Boseman, who passed away in 2020. It also successfully handles the transition to the future of the Black Panther character.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER opens with the offscreen death of Wakanda’s young King T’Challa, aka The Black Panther, and so at the outset we follow main characters in mourning, most notably T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and close friend Okoye (Danai Gurira). Their feelings regarding T’Challa’s untimely death mirror the audience’s feelings of mourning for actor Chadwick Boseman, and so these early scenes have great resonance.

Wakanda is chastised by the United Nations for not sharing its precious natural resource, vibranium, an element which gives the nation all of its special powers. Ramonda pushes back saying Wakanda doesn’t trust other nations with this power, and also warns nations to think twice about becoming aggressive with Wakanda in light of The Black Panther’s death, as she says the country is still strong and quite capable of defending itself.

However, the United States launches a plan to seek out vibranium on its own, and locates some under the ocean, but their salvage mission is thwarted by a mysterious force of underwater fighters. The U.S. suspects Wakanda, but soon the Wakandans are invaded by these same underwater people, led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta), who, along with his people, possess superior power and threaten Wakanda with invasion unless they kidnap the young scientist who invented the device which helped the Americans find vibranium, which they also possess.

The Wakandans are not used to people being able to get through their defenses, and also do not take kindly to being threatened, and so eventually these two powerful races become involved in an all-out war, with the future of Wakanda and perhaps the world at stake.

Director Ryan Coogler, who directed the first BLACK PANTHER movie, once again presses all the right buttons here. The film’s somber tone is perfect, and it was also refreshing in light of the recent inferior Marvel movies which have all tended to strike comedic silly tones, which sadly haven’t worked all that well, movies like THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) and DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022).

The film plays out like an homage to both actor Chadwick Boseman and to the Black Panther character. It all works beautifully.

Coogler co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole, and the story told in this one is a good one. Both these guys co-wrote the screenplay to the first film as well.

First off, the story is rock solid, and the villain Namor, is as formidable as the come. Tension runs high many times during this movie, which was most welcome after the recent spat of silly Marvel movies in the past couple of years. I also enjoyed the way the film transitioned the Black Panther character into the future. The character who takes over is fitting, and it makes perfect sense for things to play out this way.

The main character in WAKANDA FOREVER is T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri, who was already a dynamic character even when she was playing just a supporting role in the earlier BLACK PANTHER movie. Letita Wright had already made her mark playing the character in BLACK PANTHER, and in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) and AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019). WAKANDA FOREVER simply gives her a bigger canvas on which to paint, and she doesn’t disappoint. Shuri is driven by vengeance and bitterness over her brother’s death, and she uses these feelings to her advantage, but it’s a complicated journey because in her heart she knows she can’t be confined by revenge or consumed by grief. There’s more to being a leader. It’s a great story arc for Shuri, and Letita Wright does a phenomenal job with it.

Much of the same cast from the first BLACK PANTHER movie return to reprise their roles and they all do admirable jobs. Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, who plays a particularly important role in this movie, and Winston Duke as M’Baku all return, and they all make their mark.

Martin Freeman returns as well as CIA agent Everett Ross, but it’s kind of a throwaway role in this movie, as his character only appears fleetingly. And then there’s poor Julia Louis-Dreyfuss who’s stuck in a terribly written role as Ross’ no nonsense superior, who also happens to be his ex-wife. It’s a pretty sad role, and Louis-Dreyfuss deserves better.

But it’s Tenoch Huerta who stands out the most in this sequel as the villain, Namor, who seems as all-powerful as Thanos at times, and like some of the best movie villains, his back story emits sympathy, and so the audience relates to where he is coming from, even as he causes ample death and destruction.

Speaking of death and destruction, the battle scenes in BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER are expertly handled and some are very suspenseful, especially the fight to the death between Namor and Shuri.

I really enjoyed BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER. It’s a step above the recent silly Marvel misfires, and also a step in the right direction towards getting the Marvel movies back on track.

It’s also a successful send-off to the original Black Panther character and a fitting memorial for Chadwick Boseman.

I give it three and a half stars.

Wakanda forever!

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

WEREWOLF BY NIGHT (2022) – Marvel’s Werewolf Movie a Visual Treat but Not Exactly Horrific

0

WEREWOLF BY NIGHT (2022) is a curious creature.

This very short movie, which runs only 55 minutes and is a standalone film, not an episode of a TV series, is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s also a horror movie. Based on Marvel’s Legion of Monsters comic series, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is being billed as an action, adventure, horror comedy.

Talk about your vegetable soup!

Anyway, I’d been hearing a lot of good things about this one, mostly from horror fans, who have been saying WEREWOLF BY NIGHT reminded them a lot of the classic black and white Universal monster movies. Sadly, I didn’t see or feel that connection. The only similarity I saw between the two was they were both shot in black and white. For me, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT, which premiered on Disney Plus and is now streaming there, plays like a Disney/Marvel family friendly hybrid with a few mild and tame horror elements thrown in. While I appreciated the visual elements of this movie, I was basically unimpressed with just about everything else.

Indeed, the best part about WEREWOLF BY NIGHT and the main reason to see this one is the work by director and music composer Michael Giacchino. Giacchino is one of my favorite film composers working today, and he has composed a ton of memorable movie music scores, including music for THE BATMAN (2022) and THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022). He has written the scores for other Marvel superhero movies, for the recent JURASSIC PARK films, for the recent PLANET OF THE APES series, for the recent STAR TREK movies, and on and on! Two of my favorite Giacchino scores were in horror films, the Hammer vampire movie LET ME IN (2010), and one of the all-time best giant monster movies, CLOVERFIELD (2008). His very memorable theme in CLOVERFIELD doesn’t appear until the end credits, but it’s worth the wait. He also wrote a pretty memorable score for ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016).

So, yeah, he’s scored a few movies.

WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is Michael Giacchino’s directorial debut, and it’s a good one. Visually, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT is a real treat to watch. The black and white photography is atmospheric and effective, and Giacchino even includes a la STRANGER THINGS the grainy look of film, even inserting the infamous cigarette burns— the little dot in the upper half of the frame– which used to appear in all movies to alert projectionists that it was time to start the next reel. Of course, there’s no need for those anymore since today’s movies are all digital. Giacchino does use some color, most notably for the very red bloodstone, which is integral to the movie’s plot.

Oh yes. The plot.

It’s pretty standard and also at 55 minutes pretty quick.

Basically, a group of infamous monster hunters gather at the castle of the recently deceased Ulysses Bloodstone, the most famous monster hunter of them all. These hunters are all tasked with hunting a very dangerous creature, and the one who slays the beast, will inherit the glowing red bloodstone, which will give its owner the power and right to be the master monster hunter. Blah, blah, blah.

The two main characters are Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal), a hunter who isn’t quite who he says he is, and Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), the estranged daughter of the deceased, and these two form a pact during the hunt to work together so Elsa can get the bloodstone, and Jack can get what he really wants.

Things don’t go as planned, and during the film’s second half, the werewolf element finally emerges.

Since this is based on the Marvel comic by Gerry Conway, the screenplay by Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron pretty much tells an action-adventure story. While the horror elements are there, they are downplayed. The film also contains some witty snappy dialogue which Marvel superhero movie fans have come to expect.

But since I am also a huge fan of werewolf movies, I have to say that the werewolf stuff— both the actual werewolf and all of the werewolf sequences in this movie— was a bit of a letdown. I wasn’t impressed with the actual werewolf, and the scenes were just meh. The biggest problem I had with the werewolf scenes comes down to the movie’s plot, about hunters trying to slay a beast, which isn’t even the werewolf, by the way. The story is all rather mediocre.

But Giacchino’s work behind the camera is definitely not mediocre, nor is his music score, and it was fun to watch how he integrated the music with his film direction. The timing was impeccable.

I enjoyed watching WEREWOLF BY NIGHT, even though I found its story to be something of a snooze, and as such, and I for one was glad it was only 55 minutes long.

I give it two and a half stars.

—END–

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) – Fourth Thor Movie A Misfire From Start to Finish

0

So, THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) opens and in the first scene we see a thin bald humanoid on a barren desert landscape, and for a split-second my mind flashes back some thirty some odd years to the opening of STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989) which opened in a similar way. I chuckle and quickly dismiss the memory, but then a funny thing happened over the course of the next two hours.

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER, the latest Marvel superhero movie and the fourth Thor movie, goes full throttle with the humor, most of it silly, and sadly, most of it misfiring, which once more reminded me of that STAR TREK movie of old, STAR TREK V, which is generally considered to be the weakest in the original STAR TREK movie series. STAR TREK V followed the immensely popular and successful STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME (1986) which had a superior script and at times was laugh out loud funny. STAR TREK V tried to recapture this formula, but with a far lesser script, its humor didn’t really work, and the film suffered from a bad case of the sillies which sadly didn’t translate into laughter.

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER also suffers from a bad case of the sillies.

The bald humanoid in the opening scene is Gorr (Christian Bale) who, after watching his young daughter die, gets to meet their god, only to be disappointed when he learns from this god that his and his daughter’s life means nothing to the gods. When Gorr denounces the god, the deity tries to kill him, but an all-powerful dark sword reaches out to Gorr, and he uses it to slay the god. Not only this, but Gorr decides to make it his life’s goal to kill all the gods in the universe.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is still hanging out with the Guardians of the Galaxy, busily saving different planets and civilizations from disaster, but when he receives a distress call from Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who’s running the new Asgard on Earth, he leaves his guardian friends and returns to Earth with his rock buddy Korg (Taika Waititi). There they learn that Gorr is in town, and he’s taking no prisoners.

Thor also learns that the love of his life, the woman who he has not been able to forget, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) has changed her look a bit: she’s now wielding his old hammer and dressed in fighting garb, and she calls herself The Mighty Thor. While he’s impressed, he’s also confused, but it turns out that Jane has cancer, and she doesn’t have much time left, and so when she felt the hammer reaching out to her, she accepted it, hoping that perhaps it could restore her to health. And while it does give her great strength and the ability to fly, it’s not doing anything to rid her of the cancer.

Gorr wants Thor’s new hammer, Stormbreaker, to use it to access unlimited power in the universe to destroy all the gods, and when he manages to steal it away from Thor, it’s up to our heroes, Thor, Jane, and Valkyrie to chase Gorr to the ends of the universe to get it back and save the gods.

I’ve said this before, but I’m just not a big fan of fantasy plots in superhero movies, and the Marvel films have increasingly gone this route, being more about witches, evil spells, gods, and a whole host of other things that are so far outside any sense of reality. So, the plot here in THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER did nothing for me. In fact, I was quite bored. I did like the theme of the uselessness of gods, of how they really don’t help humanity all that much, and much of what Gorr has to say in this movie makes a lot of sense, but the film downplays this theme.

The rule of the day in THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER is silly humor, and unfortunately, it just isn’t all that sharp. I saw this is in a fairly crowded theater, and it was a fairly quiet theater. No loud laughter, cheers, groans, just silence. Even after the two post-credit scenes, the audience departed quietly. No chatter, no buzz, no excitement.

It’s no surprise that humor is a huge part of this movie, since it was written and directed by Taika Waititi, a very funny guy who wrote and directed one of my favorite movies from 2019, JOJO RABBIT (2019). Waititi also directed the previous Thor movie, THOR: RAGNAROK (2017), a film I enjoyed more than THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER, mostly because the humor in that movie worked better.

Here, it’s one misfire after another, from Jane’s constant search for a catch phrase, which was more sad than funny, to Thor’s banter with the Guardians of the Galaxy, which for the most part fell flat. Speaking of whom, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and friends are completely wasted in a glorified group cameo that has nothing at all to do with the rest of the movie. Unlike the appearance of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in THOR: RAGNAROK, who was integral to the plot of that movie, the Guardians of the Galaxy here in this movie have no importance whatsoever other than to exchange some quips with Thor before they disappear for the rest of the proceedings.

Then there’s the screaming goats— yes, you heard that right. Screaming goats—, two animals which Thor receives as gifts early in the film. For some reason, they can’t stop screaming, this horrendous high-pitched wail. They do this nonstop throughout the movie whenever they show up. It’s supposed to be funny. It’s not.

The humor reaches its lowest point when Russell Crowe shows up as Zeus, in one of the most unfunny tries-too-hard-to-be-funny scenes in the history of the MCU.

So, the humor is a complete disaster. The screenplay which Waititi co-wrote with Jennifer Kaytin-Robinson struggles to get laughs, and also doesn’t really have much of a story to tell. The whole thing just felt muddled from beginning to end.

The other theme that is prevalent in the movie is love, as the love story between Thor and Jane makes up a huge chunk of the film, and for the most part, I like these two characters and their story is interesting, but sadly, it’s not much of a love story. We have barely seen them on screen together, and when he have, it’s not like they were steaming up the theater. And the overall theme, that love is the reason for everything, as Thor tells Gorr at the end of the movie, and that it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, largely falls flat. It all just seemed superficial.

Chris Hemsworth has never looked better as Thor. He’s in super shape, and he looks like he’s as powerful as the character he is playing. But the forced humor in the script doesn’t do him any favors, and gone are the days when his awkwardness with humanity would be funny, simply because he’s no longer awkward and that source of humor no longer exists.

Natalie Portman largely hams it up as The Mighty Thor, and while she may have been having a good time in the movie, it doesn’t translate all that well to her character. Her best scenes are when she is Jane, dealing with her cancer.

Tessa Thompson fares better as Valkyrie. She has a more natural story arc throughout the movie, and Thompson makes her formidable, and she’s very comfortable playing this exceedingly strong female superhero.

But the most intriguing performance and perhaps the best in the movie belongs to Christian Bale as Gorr. Yes, the Dark Knight is now a dark villain! Bale is now the second movie Batman to play a villain in a Marvel movie, as Michael Keaton played the villainous Adrian Toomes in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017). Playing Batman must be good practice because both these actors, Keaton and Bale, have been some of the best Marvel villains yet!

In Bale’s case, he doesn’t fare quite as well as Keaton did in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING for the simple reason that unfortunately his Gorr isn’t in the movie very much. But when he is, Bale is very, very good. He looks as if his character from THE FIGHTER (2010), boxer Dicky Eklund, donned some silver make-up and gained some superpowers! Gorr’s story is certainly the most intriguing in the movie, how he felt slighted by the gods, how they didn’t save his daughter, and so he has decided to take them all down, in the interest of making the universe a better place to live. There are times when it’s difficult to argue with that logic.

But like I said, as good as Bale was as Gorr, he’s not in the movie much. Instead, there’s plenty of Thor and Jane/aka The Mighty Thor, and gods, and silliness, and more silliness, and a pair of screaming goats.

I saw THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER in IMAX, and I can’t say that it added a whole lot to the movie experience. It was a bit louder, yes, the screen a bit larger, but the film did not have any element in its story which IMAX enhanced, unlike another Christian Bale movie from a few years back, FORD V FERRARI (2019), in which he co-starred with Matt Damon (who has a cameo here too by the way playing an actor who plays Loki on stage) in which IMAX made the racing car scenes even more authentic, and I really felt as if I were in those cars with the actors.

Marvel is officially in a slump. Since AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019), they have really struggled to reclaim their mojo, and other than SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021) haven’t made a film that I’ve truly enjoyed since.

THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER means well but is a misfire from start to finish. Whatever seriousness its story wants to project is lost in humor that doesn’t work and in a plot that suffers from a very bad case of the sillies.

It simply tries too hard to be funny, so much so, that for the most part, the audience forgot to laugh.

—END–

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022) – Underwhelming Doctor Strange Sequel Keeps Marvel Slumping

0

The title says it all.

Multiverse of madness, indeed. That’s how I felt watching this one. As if I were stuck in a multiverse of bad Marvel adventures which after two hours eventually led me to madness.

I don’t know. Maybe, like a lot of you, I’m finally growing tired of the Marvel formula. Or maybe DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022) just isn’t that great a movie.

Anyway, I finally sat down to watch the second DOCTOR STRANGE movie, which premiered in theaters in May and is now streaming on Disney Plus.

The movie opens with a long and not terribly exciting battle sequence with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a teenage girl (Xochitl Gomez) fighting a giant monster which ends with Strange waking up— ah, it was just a dream! Actually, it wasn’t. Because later, the girl, whose name is America Chavez, shows up in real life and tells Strange that it wasn’t a dream– that it was real but in a different universe. See, America possesses the ability to travel through the various multiverses, but the trouble is she doesn’t know how she does it. It only happens when she’s scared, which is a lot, since she is being chased by some unknown villain who wants her powers. She also tells Strange that dreams are real. They are just things that are happening in other universes.

Wait, what? Stop. Stop right there. Dreams… are real? Dreams… are events from other universes? Hmm. There are some pretty weird universes out there, that’s all I can say.

Anyway, back to our movie. Doctor Strange and his buddy Wong (Benedict Wong) decide they have to protect America— that’s the character, not the country— from this unknown villain, but since doing so involves witchcraft and evil spells, Strange decides he needs the help of an old friend, and so he seeks out Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) aka The Scarlett Witch. But it turns out good friend Wanda isn’t over her “WandaVision” trauma, and much to Strange’s horror, he discovers that she’s the villain who is after America’s power, which she wants in order to travel to other universes to find her sons who do not exist in this universe.

The battle lines are drawn, and the battles takes our heroes and villains through all sorts of multiverses and multiple versions of characters, which sounds like much more fun than it actually is in the movie.

Yeah, at the end of the day, I just wasn’t all that impressed with DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. I had much more fun with the most recent SPIDER-MAN move, SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021). That film also involved the multiverse, but it had a much more playful attitude, and what it did with the various universes in that movie, like bringing back previous versions of Spider-Man and previous villains, was much more fun than what happens here in this second DOCTOR STRANGE movie.

Speaking of previous Spider-Man movies, DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS was directed by Sam Raimi, who directed the three Tobey Maguire SPIDER-MAN movies. Of course, Raimi is mostly known for helming the EVIL DEAD horror movie trilogy. There are some neat Raimi touches here, like Doctor Strange having to resurrect himself as a corpse, which later has a key scene in the movie. And with evil spells and some violent ends to some of the heroes, along with some well-timed humor, there were plenty of moments that had me thinking more of the EVIL DEAD movies than a Marvel film.

But it wasn’t enough for me, largely because the screenplay by Michael Waldron I found to be a snooze. Granted, I’m a bit biased, because I’m just not a fan of magic, fantasy, or supernatural when it shows up as the main plot point in a superhero movie. These stories ultimately don’t work for me. So, there’s that. But I also didn’t find the dialogue very effective, and it certainly wasn’t the snappy kind of dialogue one has become accustomed to in a Marvel movie.

Yes, I appreciated the story arc of Doctor Strange having to learn how not to do everything himself and at the end defer to America, but at the end of the day it wasn’t terribly exciting. I actually preferred Wanda’s story arc, where she is driven to find her children, who in reality don’t exist because she invented them in a fantasy, but as she tells Strange, they do exist, in other universes, and she knows this to be true because she’s dreamt about them.

On the other hand, none of the other characters, including teen America, did much for me. And the storyline following Strange’s failed relationship with Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) was disappointing in that it didn’t really go anywhere.

You know things are bad when even Benedict Cumberbatch is boring. The guy is a tremendous actor, and I believe I have enjoyed every performance I’ve seen him play, but this time around as Doctor Strange he plays second fiddle to the special effects, which of course, are first-rate. But effects alone are not enough to carry a movie.

As I said, I enjoyed Wanda’s storyline more here than Doctor Strange’s, and as such I really enjoyed Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda/The Scarlet Witch. Not only was her story the most compelling in the movie, but she also makes for a heck of a villain! Part of her effectiveness is because she was an Avenger, after she wasn’t, and so there’s the whole back and forth element for the character, and we’ve seen her enough to understand that she wants to do well by others, but life keeps knocking her down and giving her sh*t, and finally she snaps and says she’s not taking it anymore. As I said, I really enjoyed Olsen here.

But the rest of the cast not so much.

Xochitl Gomez was fine as America, the teenage superhero, but the character was pretty boring. Benedict Wong adds nothing new to his Wong shtick, and Rachel McAdams, another terrific actor, is stuck in a bunch of redundant dull scenes as Strange’s former love interest Christine Palmer. Chiwetel Ejiofor reprises his role as Baron Mordo from the first DOCTOR STRANGE movie but does nothing terribly exciting here.

A bunch of other folks show up in bit scenes and cameos, to little avail, including Haley Atwell as Captain Carter, Lashana Lynch as Captain Marvel, John Krasinski as Reed Richards, Patrick Stewart as Professor Charles Xavier, Charlize Theron as Clea, and Bruce Campbell as Pizza Poppa, to name just a few. But none of these portrayals and reprisals do much for the movie.

The whole tone of the movie is underwhelming. The DC movie, THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021) is a film that also featured a ton of superheroes and crazy shenanigans, but that film had a script that rocked, and the movie just took off. DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS just sort of runs in place as it jumps around from one multiverse to another, with nothing particularly memorable happening in any of them.

I remember liking the first DOCTOR STRANGE (2016) movie well enough, but I didn’t love it. Similarly, I liked DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERS OF MADNESS less, but I didn’t hate it.

And yes, I’m still a Marvel superhero movie fan, and I’m looking forward to the next release in two weeks, of THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022), but there’s no denying that these folks have been in a slump lately. With the exception of SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, they have really struggled to get the ball rolling after they wrapped up their initial story arc with AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019).

With DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS, that struggle continues.

—END—

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021) – Third Tom Holland Spider-Man Movie Playful with the Multiverse

0

I finally caught up with SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (2021), Marvel’s super successful Spider-Man movie, the third with Tom Holland in the lead, which hit the big screen this past December and is currently available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video.

Like the previous two Tom Holland Spider-Man films, NO WAY HOME is exceedingly playful, and definitely belongs with the lighter Marvel superhero fare. Of course, one of the main reasons it performed so well at the box office was its exciting and creative decision to play with the multiverse and bring back characters from previous unrelated Spider-Man movies, including the two previous movie Spideys, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, as well as their villains.

This happens because in SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, which begins right where the previous film SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019) ends, dying villain Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) reveals Spider-Man’s (Tom Holland) true identity as Peter Parker, and the moment is captured on video and broadcast to the world by Spider-Man nemesis J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), who also frames Mysterio as a hero and Spider-man as his murderer.

The result not only is massive hating on Spider-Man but on his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon). So, Peter Parker pays a visit to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and asks if he could use some time travel magic like he had wielded to save the world in AVENGERS: END GAME (2019) in order to help him out, to which the good doctor scolds him for suggesting such a thing, adding that even if he wanted to he no longer possessed the time stone. However, Strange suggests he could cast a spell which would make everyone forget Peter was Spider-Man, to which Peter agrees before he realizes he still wants MJ to remember him. And then there’s Ben, and Aunt May… Peter basically interrupts Doctor Strange’s spell and inadvertently causes him to screw up, and as a result, portals open from different universes, letting in villains like Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), and Electro (Jamie Foxx), to name a few.

Spider-Man and Doctor Strange then work together to capture these villains in order to send them back to their proper universes, until Spider-Man realizes that back in their prospective universes they all will die, and so he decides to find a way to “cure” them in the here and now in order to send them back with the chance of surviving, an idea that Doctor Strange disagrees with, but Spider-Man is undeterred, until the Green Goblin makes it known he has no intention of being “cured.”

Eventually, two other visitors arrive through the portal, Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield) and…. Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire). and they decide to work with the Spider-Man in this universe in order to send everyone back home to their proper places.

So, pretty much the plot in SPIDER MAN: NO WAY HOME is nothing more than cleaning up all the messes made by Peter Parker and Doctor Strange because they decided to play around with the multiverse. No villains trying to take over the world or the universe. Nope. Just fixing what Parker and Strange messed up, and since this is a Marvel movie, you can rest assured that at the end of the day, all will be well. Did I mention that this was a playful movie?

I have been a huge Marvel movie fan since their amazing run started with IRON MAN (2008), the film which introduced Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark to movie audiences, and while others have been bemoaning the frequency of their movies and complaining that the formula for success has gone stale, I haven’t been one of them. However, since AVENGERS: END GAME wrapped up nearly every storyline their movies had been telling for over ten years, Marvel has struggled to keep it going. I was tepid on both BLACK WIDOW (2021) and SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021), as neither film worked for me. I didn’t even see THE ETERNALS (2021).

Now, SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME worked better for me than the two movies mentioned above and went a long way towards recapturing the magic of the Marvel superhero movie. In short, I had fun watching it and enjoyed it a lot. However, the main reason I enjoyed it was watching the two previous actors who played Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire, on screen with current Spidey Tom Holland. When all three are on screen together, the movie rocks.

Likewise, I enjoyed watching the return of all the villains, most notably Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, who remains with apologies to Thanos, as one of Marvel’s best movie villains ever. Dafoe is excellent once again, and for my money, delivers the best performance in the film. He has such an evil presence as Green Goblin. I wish there were more superhero movie villains with this kind of edge. Dafoe is a master at it, and it’s sad to think that this is only the second time he’s been able to strut his stuff as the character. He did have cameos in the second and third Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies, but that barely counts.

So, while nostalgia rules the day in SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, it doesn’t exactly look forward, unless there are plans to keep these resurrected characters in the mix. It does of course set up the next DOCTOR STRANGE movie, which hits theaters this week, DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022), as it looks like Doctor Strange is still working on cleaning up the multiverse mess he started in this movie!

My favorite of the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies remains the first one, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017), as that one not only featured Holland’s high-octane Spider-Man for the first time in his own movie, but also Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark and Michael Keaton as a nifty menacing villain. SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME is my second favorite of the Holland Spider-Man movies. All three were directed by Jon Watts, and he imbues all of them with an energetic and high-spirited style.

One of the reasons the Marvel superhero movies have been so successful is they have for the most part sported some amazing casts, and SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is no exception.

Tom Holland has been a bright spot as Peter Parker/Spider-Man since he first played the role in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2017), and he’s amiable once again here. Likewise, Zendaya is perfect as MJ, and she and Holland really generate chemistry in their scenes together. Jacob Batalon is back as well as their best buddy Ned, and as they have been doing since SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, they generally entertain when sharing the screen.

Then you have Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, Jamie Foxx as Electro, Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan— a role he’s been playing since IRON MAN, in addition to directing that Marvel trend setter! —and of course Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Charlie Cox even shows up as lawyer Matt Murdoch from the Netflix’ Marvel show DAREDEVIL (2015-2018).

For my money, the two best parts of SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME are Willem Dafoe’s scene stealing performance as the Green Goblin, and watching Tom Holland, Tobey Maguire, and Andrew Garfield share the screen together. Their scenes are the best in the movie, and they really capture their individual Spider-Man personas and work seamlessly together in this movie. They really do seem to be three Spider-Man brothers here.

Last week I finally saw THE BATMAN (2022), Matt Reeves’ ambitious reimagining of Batman, a film I enjoyed for two of its three hours before it ran out of gas and stalled. It’s interesting to compare these two movies. THE BATMAN was by far the more ambitious and innovative of the two, and had more to say, but it went on far too long and ultimately lost me during its final hour. SPIDERMAN: NO WAY HOME was a much lighter and less ambitious flick that while also running fairly long at two hours and twenty-eight minutes, did not lose me. This film, with a screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, kept things simple and grounded in its characters, specifically its three Spider-Man characters. As such, the end result was much more satisfying.

The Marvel superhero movie universe still hasn’t found its full footing since ending its major storylines with AVENGERS: ENDGAME, but SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME provides a nice diversion as well as a friendly homecoming for some prior Spider-Men.

It’s a highly entertaining movie that shows that the Marvel movies are not quite finished yet. There are more stories to be told. Even if some of them, as was the case here, are older ones that are dusted off, revisited, and re-imagined.

—END—

SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021) – Superior Action Carries This Marvel Adventure but Weak Characterizations Prevent It from Soaring

0

I finally caught up with Marvel’s SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021) now that it’s streaming for free on Disney +.

And while I liked it better than BLACK WIDOW (2021) I can’t say that I loved it.

People have been complaiing that the Marvel superhero movies have run their course for a long time now, but I haven’t been one of those voices. I’ve loved the Marvel superhero films. Since IRON MAN (2008), they have been on a remarkable run churning out one quality superhero movie after another. In fact, most of their movies have made my top ten lists during the years of their releases. One, BLACK PANTHER (2018), transcended the genre and was as insightful a movie about race as any other serious drama.

All this being said, it’s been a while since I’ve really loved a Marvel movie. They are definitely struggling to reclaim their mojo after AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) wrapped up most of their initial ongoing superhero storylines, which begged the question, where do they go from here? Well, so far, they haven’t really gone anywhere. They seem to be running in place.

But that’s not to say I didn’t like SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS. I did. I just didn’t love it.

One of the reasons I didn’t love it is I’m just not a huge fantasy fan, and the bulk of this movie’s plot revolves around fantasy elements rather than superhero components.

Shaun (Simu Liu) is a young man in his twenties who lives an unassuming life, working as a valet with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). But in reality, his real name is Shang-Chi, and he’s the son of two powerful warriors, Xu Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) and Ying Li (Fala Chen). Thousands of years ago, Xu Wenwu gets his hands on the Ten Rings, mystical weapons that give him unstoppable power. He goes through the centuries wielding that power in selfish ways, doing whatever he pleases, until he meets and is bested by Ying Li. They fall in love, have two children, and life is grand until people seeking vengeance against Xu Wenwu murder Ying Li, and they’re able to do this because as parents, Ying Li and Xu Wenwu had given up their powers.

Afterwards, all bets are off as Xu Wenwu vows revenge against these murderers and asks his young son Shang-Chi to help him. But, Shang-Chi doesn’t see himself as a junior version of his father, and so he runs away to the United States where he changes his name to Shaun and tries to live the good life. Which is what he does until his father comes looking for him. See, it seems daddy had heard from mommy, but mommy is dead so…. story-wise, the third act of this movie becomes muddled and is by far the weakest part of the movie. It involves battling dragons, a special effects extravaganza, but hardly compelling storytelling.

I also had to keep reminding myself that this movie’s title was SHANG- CHI, not XU WENWU, because at times the story is much more about Shang-Chi’s father than him.

Also, it’s another origin tale which is almost unnecessary. The final reel has Shang-Chi meeting some familiar Marvel faces explaining to him that they need him and that his life is about to change forever. Had this movie begun this way, now that would have been interesting!

By far, my favorite part of SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS was its action sequences. It contains some truly memorable scenes. The chase scene on the bus is exceedingly well-done and exciting. Likewise, the chase scene at the fight club is also rousing. However, the climactic battle during the film’s third act falls rather flat. Overall, I enjoyed the work of director Destin Daniel Cretton here. Visually, this one does not disappoint.

But the script by Cretton, Dave Callaham, and Andrew Lanham isn’t quite up to the usual Marvel standards. The humor is there and largely works, but the story is meh and the characterizations mediocre at best. A lot of the time I just didn’t know what the characters were thinking or feeing, especially Shang Chi and his father Xu Wenwu. Not a good thing in a movie. And at times, the story couldn’t decide whether Xu Wenwu was a villain or a sympathetic character. The characterizations were not clearly defined.

Dave Callaham co-wrote the screenplay of MORTAL KOMBAT (2021) which shared a lot of the same thematic and story elements with SHANG-CHI. He also co-wrote the deplorable WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020). I enjoyed SHANG-CHI more than these two movies.

Simu Liu is okay as Shang Chi. He’s likable enough, but that’s about it. I can’t say he ever wowed me here.

Tony Chiu-Wai Leung fares somewhat better as Xu Wenwu, although he too suffers from writing that does not clearly define his character. Is he a villain or sympathetic? In the film’s opening moments, when we learn what he has been up to the past thousand years, he certainly seems like a clear-cut villain. But then he becomes a daddy and gives up his evil ways, only to revert to them to seek vengeance for the murder of his wife, a decision that in many stories could be a sympathetic one. But here, it doesn’t help that the film’s hero, Shang-Chi, kinda hates his father.

Awkwafina is better than both these two as Shang-Chi’s best friend Katy. She’s funny and lively throughout. Unfortunately though, she’s reduced to being just a sidekick.

Fala Chen is very good as Shang-Chi’s mother Li, but she’s mostly in this movie via flashback. At first, especially since it’s her voice telling the story in the film’s opening moments, you think she’s going to be a more prominent character, but she’s not. And she pretty much disappears during the film’s second half. A head scratcher.

Meng-er Zhang is solid as Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing, but sadly she plays second fiddle to Shang-Chi throughout this one.

And Michelle Yeoh shows up as Shang-Chi’s aunt, Ying Nan, and she’s fine in this supporting role.

Finally, there’s poor Ben Kingsley playing Trevor Slattery, a character he played back in IRON MAN 3 (2013). Slattery was the main villain in that one, until it was revealed that he wasn’t, that he was an actor who was only pretending to be the bad guy. Here, he’s imprisoned for that transgression, but he helps our heroes escape, and he spends the rest of the movie as light comic relief. And he’s fairly funny, but it’s Ben Kingsley for crying out loud!

The action sequences in SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS are so good they are definitely worth a look, but with a mediocre plot and weak characterizations, the film is certainly not one of Marvel’s better superhero movies. While it had its moments, and there were a few times when I was really into this one, taken as a whole, it’s only slightly better than average.

Unlike many of its Marvel predecessors, I don’t think this one will be making my top 10 list at the end of the year.

—END—

BLACK WIDOW (2021) – Scarlett Johansson’s Standalone Black Widow Movie Just An Average Entry in Marvel Superhero Canon

0

With apologies to Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh, who both deliver excellent performances, BLACK WIDOW (2021), the long-awaited standalone movie for Marvel’s Black Widow, is not excellent. In fact, it’s all rather by-the-numbers and ordinary.

Not my favorite Marvel superhero movie. Not by a long shot. Fans of Black Widow, and of Johansson’s portrayal of the character, deserve better.

Another issue I have with BLACK WIDOW is it’s a prequel, in that it tells a back story of the character with events taking place in between the ending of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) and the beginning of THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018), and in the process, shedding light on Black Widow’s origins as well. I’m simply not a big fan of prequels, especially when we already know the main character’s ultimate fate, as is the case here, with Black Widow having died in AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019). I would have much preferred a story in which the future of the character was still unknown, so in a way, it’s a shame that Black Widow didn’t get her standalone movie earlier.

Anyway, BLACK WIDOW, which was released theatrically in July after being delayed for over a year due to Covid-19, is now streaming for free on Disney Plus.

Natasha Romanoff/aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is on the run as the Avengers are now fugitives from justice after the events in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. Romanoff is contacted by her estranged and adoptive sister Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) who seeks her help in taking down a secret Russian organization led by the mysterious Dreykov (Ray Winstone) that is using mind-altering drugs to brainwash young girls into becoming deadly assassins the world over. Both Natasha and Yelena are familiar with this organization because they used to be a part of it.

Natasha agrees to help her sister but decides they also need the help of their former adoptive parents, Alexei (David Harbour) and Melina (Rachel Weisz), and so they seek out these folks, and eventually, as a family, they square off against Dreykov and his army of brainwashed assassins. And that’s pretty much the plot of BLACK WIDOW, and as plots go, it’s pretty standard. In fact, the premise of this one I found dreadfully dull, which is surprising, since generally the Marvel movies are scripted much better than this one.

Sure, there are plenty of specifics I’m not mentioning here, from Red Dust, to Red Room, to Red Guardian, but at the end of the day, the screenplay by Eric Pearson is just a standard tale of a family of assassins finding each other at long last and reconciling their differences in order to take on the super bad guy pulling all the strings. It also strangely doesn’t overly focus on Black Widow. The film is every bit as much about the rest of her “family” as it is about her. Pearson was also one of the writers who wrote GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021), a movie that had a screenplay that was far worse than the one here in BLACK WIDOW. And he also co-wrote THOR: RAGNAROK (2017) which featured a better screenplay than the two aforementioned movies.

Where BLACK WIDOW soars is with its action scenes. They are phenomenal. The fight sequences here are fast, furious, and expertly edited, especially the ones where sisters Natasha and Yelena square off against each other. Director Cate Shortland gets the actions scenes right. But it’s a rarity for a film to be enjoyable based solely on its action scenes. You need a good story as well. And that’s the case here with BLACK WIDOW. Great action sequences, but they’re not enough to lift this one.

This is Scarlett Johansson’s ninth time playing Black Widow, and she has wowed audiences every time. Her performance here in BLACK WIDOW is no exception. Unfortunately, in her standalone film, she’s stuck in a subpar story and with the most mediocre dialogue I’ve seen in a Marvel movie in quite a while.

Florence Pugh is equally as good as assassin sister Yelena. I’m almost tempted to say Pugh’s performance overshadows Johansson’s because Pugh is that good, but I won’t, because Johansson as Black Widow is still a wee bit better.

But these two actors dominate the movie, and the good news is they are on screen most of the time, and they pretty much save this one and keep it from being a snooze fest.

So, you have two outstanding actors delivering kick-ass performances, and topnotch action sequences to boot, but at the end of the day, that’s pretty much all you have, and with a mediocre story and dialogue, the film struggles to become anything all that special.

Also, unusual for a Marvel film, neither Johansson or Pugh get much help from anyone else in the cast. David Harbour is fine as Alexei/Red Guardian, and he enjoys some fun comedic moments, but there aren’t a lot of these moments. And while Rachel Weisz is spot on as the humorless Melina, the character is humorless. Nuff said.

I did enjoy Ray Winstone as Dreykov, but in a movie that runs two hours and fourteen minutes, his evil on screen presence only takes up about ten minutes of it.

One of my favorite bits was Florence Pugh’s Yelena teasing Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow about her constant need to pose before she starts a battle. That was a funny gag.

By far, the best parts of BLACK WIDOW are the performances of Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh, and the energized polished action sequences, but a surprisingly lackluster script weighs the whole thing down throughout, so when all is said and done, BLACK WIDOW remains just an average entry in the Marvel superhero movie canon.

It’s difficult to pose this one as anything else.

—END—

MOVIE LISTS: CHADWICK BOSEMAN Movies

0

chadwick boseman

Chadwick Boseman tragically passed away this past Friday, August 28, 2020 after a four year battle with colon cancer. He was 43.

Boseman was a very talented actor, most famous for playing the lead in Marvel’s BLACK PANTHER (2018), which happens to be my all-time favorite Marvel superhero movie, and second all-time favorite superhero movie ever, behind only Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT (2008).

My favorite part of BLACK PANTHER and what makes it so special is that it transcends the super hero genre. It says more about race relations and the plight of the African American male and race in general and does a better job of it than most movies made with that singular purpose in mind. It features two knock-out performances, Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, and Michael B. Jordan as his nemesis Erik Killmonger, but the lines between hero and villain in this movie have never been more gray. The argument can be made that the most sympathetic character in the movie is Killmonger. However, Black Panther retains the upper hand, not because of superior might, but because he undergoes a transformation which allows him to accept and understand Killmonger’s plight and source of anger.

The performances by Boseman and Jordan are both brilliant.

It’s always sad when artists pass away so young, but in this particular case, it’s very sad that an actor with as much talent and potential as Boseman will not grace the big screen any longer.

Here now is a partial list of Boseman’s 34 screen credits:

THE EXPRESS (2008) – Floyd Little – after appearing on TV for several years, Boseman debuts on the big screen in this drama about college football player Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman trophy.

42 (2013)- Jackie Robinson- the first time I saw Boseman in a movie was here in 42, where he played Jackie Robinson. And while I enjoyed Boseman well enough, I have to admit Harrison Ford left more of a lasting impression for his exceptional performance as Branch Rickey.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) – Black Panther- first appearance as Black Panther in this superior Marvel superhero adventure, which plays more like an AVENGERS movie since so many of the Marvel characters appear in this one.

MARSHALL (2017) – Thurgood Marshall- Boseman plays the title role in this bio pic of Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.

BLACK PANTHER (2018) – Black Panther- Boseman stars in Black Panther’s first standalone movie, in what for me is the best Marvel superhero movie yet. Superior action sequences, amazing photography and color schemes throughout, brilliant acting by Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, and the best part, a story about race that transcends the superhero genre. I would argue that when teaching race relations, this movie is must see viewing.

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)- Black Panther- Third time playing Black Panther is the most tragic, as he is part of Marvel’s bold decision to have the villain, Thanos, win, at the expense of many of Marvel’s most beloved superheroes, Black Panther among them, who perish in one of the darkest endings of any superhero movie. The sold out audience I saw it with groaned aloud throughout the final few minutes.

AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) – Black Panther- All’s well that ends well. Yep, through some time manipulation by the brilliant Doctor Strange, the tragic conclusion of INFINITY WAR is reversed. Sort of. But enought to satisfy fans, many of whom cite this movie as their favorite AVENGERS film. I still prefer the dark INFINITY WAR, as I still think its ending was one of the boldest filmmaking decisions in many years.

21 BRIDGES (2019) – Andre Davis- Boseman plays a NYPD police detective in search of cop killers in a movie that is ultimately done in by an inferior script, as the plot becomes contrived and convoluted by film’s end.

DA 5 BLOODS (2020) – Stormin’ Norman- Spike Lee’s superior film— my favorite Lee film in years— about four African American vets who return to Vietnam years later to reclaim the remains of their fallens squad leader. Boseman plays that leader, and so his scenes are all in flashback, but as always, he’s excellent in the role. Lee also made the curious decision to feature the same four actors in the flashbacks, so they all appear old alongside the younger Boseman, effectively highlighting the notion that Boseman was never allowed the oppotunity to grow old, now a sad example, where art imitated life.

While DA 5 BLOODS is Boseman’s final movie that has been released, he was working on a couple of other film projects before his death, and so it’s possible we will see him again on screen, posthumously.

Chadwick Boseman was an extremely talented actor, and if you have not seen his movies, you definitely should. His presence on screen will definitely be missed.

Chadwick Boseman

November 29, 1976- August 28, 2020

As always, thank you for reading.

—Michael

 

 

EXTRACTION (2020) – Netflix Original Best Action Movie In Years

0

extraction

EXTRACTION (2020), a Netflix original action flick starring Thor himself, Chris Hemsworth, premiered last week on the ubiquitous streaming service with a ton of hype and promotion. In fact, the film’s ads definitely had the feel of a theatrical release.

Does this actioner by a first time director known for his stunt work on the Marvel superhero movies live up to the advertising?

The answer is a resounding yes! Not only is EXTRACTION one of the best Netflix-made action movies yet— I enjoyed it much more than last year’s TRIPLE FRONTIER (2019), for example, but it’s also one of the best action movies I’ve seen in a while. Period.

It’s the best non-superhero action movie I’ve seen in years.

EXTRACTION takes place in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where the most powerful drug lord of the land kidnaps the young son of a rival drug lord, who happens to be in prison. This rival drug lord tells his right hand man, Saju (Randeep Hooda) that if he doesn’t rescue his son, his own son will die. Saju knows he can’t do the job on his own, so hires a group of mercenaries to do the job for him, all the while knowing he can’t afford their price, and so from the  get-go he’s planning to double cross them.

The mercenaries are led on the ground by Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth), a fearless soldier haunted by some personal demons from his past. Nevertheless, Tyler is very good at what he does. He’d give Rambo a run for his money. And he does successfully find the boy, Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) but extracting him from Dhaka proves difficult, because the all-powerful drug lord Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli) shuts down the city, and since Saju has double-crossed the team, Tyler is surrounded on all sides with little hope of getting the boy out of Dhaka.

But Tyler has no intention of letting the boy die on his watch.

The best part about EXTRACTION are its action scenes. The action sequences here are second to none. These are hard-hitting violent R-rated fight scenes, and they are shot exceedingly well, including one very long sequence done in a single take, reminiscent of a similar sequence in ATOMIC BLONDE (2017).

The fact that these sequences are so expertly handled comes as no surprise since director Sam Hargrave worked as a stunt coordinator and second unit director on many of the Marvel superhero movies. His expertise is on full display here. It’s an exceptional directorial debut. The camera gets in close to the action, and things happen with such speed you really feel like you are right there in the middle of the combat with the actors.

Hargrave worked as Chris Evans’ stunt double in the CAPTAIN AMERICA and AVENGERS movies. He was the stunt coordinator on CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) and AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019), as well as the aforementioned ATOMIC BLONDE. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. He has 80 stunt credits going back to 2005. He was also the second unit director on ATOMIC BLONDE and AVENGERS: ENDGAME.

And these action sequences had better be good because the film is almost nonstop action. The first hour is an incredible fight-filled thrill ride. It’s relentless. Things slow down midway so the audience can catch its breath, before picking up again for an intense conclusion. Action fans will not be disappointed.

Nor will fans of good storytelling. The screenplay Joe Russo, based on the graphic novel “Ciudad”by Ande Parks, tells a riveting story that never lets up. Chris Hemsworth’s Tyler Rake is a likeable character, in spite of the bloody path he carves out, and his mission here, to rescue a young boy, even when his superiors tell him to cut his losses and leave the boy behind, is an admirable one. The dialogue is also first-rate.

It’s an excellent screenplay by Russo, who of course is known as a director, as he directed CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, and AVENGERS: ENDGAME.

So, yes there’s a big Marvel connection here, solidified even more with the presence of Chris Hemsworth in the lead role. It’s an outstanding performance by Hemsworth. I liked him here every bit as much as I’ve enjoyed watching him play Thor in the Marvel movies.

Randeep Hooda is also excellent as Saju, an ex-special forces soldier who finds himself having to double cross a team of deadly mercenaries pitting him against Rake and rival drug lords in order to protect his own son. The fight scenes between Hooda and Hemsworth are some of the best in the movie.  Had this movie been made back in the 1980s, you could easily imagine Schwarzenegger and Stallone in these roles.

Priyanshu Painyuli makes for a surprisingly suave drug lord Amir Asif, and Golshifteh Farahani stands out as the sexy yet ice-cold coordinator of Tyler’s team, Nik Khan.

And David Harbour who plays Police Chief Jim Hopper on STRANGER THINGS (2016-present) shows up midway through as an old friend who steps up to give Tyler and the boy safe— eh hem—harbor.

I really liked EXTRACTION. It’s one of the best action movies I’ve seen in years, with some of the most exhilarating action sequences ever put on film. It’s that good.

The only drawback is I wished I had seen this one on the big screen. In IMAX. It’s worthy of that kind of viewing.

With EXTRACTION, Sam Hargrave has put himself on the map as a premier action movie director, while Chris Hemsworth has solidified his standing as a truly bona fide action star.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

STUBER (2019) – Likable Leads Lift Uneven Comedic Ride

0

 

stuber

I tend to like “buddy movies,” that comedic genre which takes two unlike personalities and thrusts them together in comical situations where they often have to put aside their differences to work together, which is why I believe I enjoyed STUBER (2019) more than I should have, because when all is said and done, STUBER is just an okay movie.

It relies heavily on the talents of its two leads, Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani, who try their best to rise above the material, and for the most part, they do.

STUBER opens with police detective Vic Manning (Dave Bautista) and his partner Sara (Karen Gillan) chasing a deadly drug dealer Oka (Iko Uwais) which leads to a shoot-out in which Sara is killed. Months later, Vic undergoes laser surgery to correct his vision since during the chase which cost his partner her life, he had lost his eyeglasses in the scuffle and was unable to take the decisive shot which might have saved Sara’s life.

After the surgery, his doctor advises him not to drive or do anything else strenuous because his full vision will not be restored for several hours. But just before he’s to take an Uber ride to his daughter’s art show, he receives a tip on the whereabouts of Oka, and so when he gets inside the car, he commandeers the driver, Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) to take him to his new destination.

Stu is a mild-mannered Uber driver who when he’s not driving is stuck in a nothing day job while trying to get his best friend Becca (Betty Gilpin) to notice him romantically. He is not built for police work, but before he can protest, he’s suddenly dragged into the middle of a drug war between Vic and Oka. Let the comedy ensue!

What?

That doesn’t sound funny? I agree. Which is one of the biggest knocks against STUBER. Its story is not all that funny.  Watching Vic bully Stu around for most of the movie didn’t naturally instill laughter.

The screenplay by Tripper Clancy does its best by giving its two stars plenty of one-liners, especially Nanjiani, and a lot of these work, but still, the film is far from uproarious. For one thing, the plot definitely gets in the way. It struggles to be credible. I never really bought that Vic would go that rogue, that he’d trust an Uber driver to help him rather than call for police back-up. This is sort of addressed later when the revelation is made that there is a mole on the force on Oka’s payroll, but Vic doesn’t learn this till the end of the movie.

Likewise, the plot device of having Vic temporarily blinded from laser surgery, which is there only to set up his need for an Uber driver, didn’t work for me either. If his eyes were that bad without his glasses, it didn’t make sense to me that he’d be a police detective. I also found it hard to believe that as a detective who wore glasses he never ran into this issue before.

I did laugh during STUBER, mostly because of the two leads. Dave Bautista, the former wrestler, who I first noticed in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) and who has gone on to make a lot of movies, including the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and AVENGERS movies where he plays the popular character Drax, possesses an easy-going and light style which makes him a natural in front of the camera. In short, he’s got charisma.

His portrayal of Vic is a bit darker and rougher than some of his previous performances but he still keeps his signature amiable style in tact.

Kumail Nanjiani probably gets the best lines in the movie, and Nanjiani is more than up to the task. Whether he’s having a heart to heart with a male stripper, holding a dangerous drug dealer at gunpoint, or exchanging barbs with Bautista, Nanjiani is consistently likable and funny. That being said, I enjoyed Nanjiani’s previous film, THE BIG SICK (2017) much better than this movie.

And the two actors really do have some memorable exchanges, like when Stu asks Vic if he’s ever taken a bullet for someone, and Vic deadpans “you think there’s time after someone has pulled a trigger to actually jump in front of a bullet? There’s no slow motion in the real world.” And later when Stu complains that he’s being repressed by a white guy, Vic reminds him, “I’m not white.”

Some of the physical comedy is also pretty funny, but sadly the story is not. Director Michael Dowse definitely emphasizes the action elements here over the comedic, and as a result the film is rather violent. I wish more effort had been made to make this one more humorous. That would have made it a better movie. I mean, as action movies go, it’s rather lame.

Bautista and Nanjiani don’t get a lot of help from their supporting cast, which isn’t really the actors’ faults, since there really aren’t any other meaty roles in the film. Natalie Morales does stand out, however, in a small role as Vic’s daughter Nicole. In her limited screen time, she’s very good.

Mira Sorvino plays Vic’s superior officer Angie in a thankless role that had this been a better written movie would have had more relevance. Betty Gilpin is given even less to do as Stu’s love interest Becca. And Iko Uwais makes no impact whatsoever as bad guy Oka. That’s one big blaring weakness in this film, in that it doesn’t have much of a villain to speak of.

On the other hand, Karen Gillan, who like Bautista, is also in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and AVENGERS movies, as Thanos’ daughter Nebula, is very good here as Vic’s partner Sara, but she’s killed off in the opening moments of the movie.

STUBER has its moments, and it benefits from its two likable leads, Dave Bautista and Kumail Ninjiani, but taken as a whole it’s a flawed comedy that spends too much time on its crime elements and not enough on its comedic parts, which results in a mixed bag of a movie.

If you enjoy buddy comedies, you’ll find this one amusing, but if you’re looking for a brilliant laugh-out loud comedy, you should look for another Uber ride.

—END—