So far Marvel’s roster of villains has been good enough. Outstanding examples are few, but they rarely detract from the quality of the film and have never been so bland, poorly motivated, and misinterpreted as to match up to Jesse Eisenburg’s portrayal of Lex Luthor!* Most appear for a single film, and are gone for good by the end because most of the heroes in the cinematic universe aren’t so foolish as to keep their rogue’s gallery imprisoned, they just go for full blown obliteration.
Two villains have never completely faded. Loki has stuck around as beloved fan favourite and loose moral canon, and because Tom Hiddleston is having too much fun with the role. The other has yet to take his place in the front lines of action, but has been pulling the strings of Loki and Ronan the Accuser, and perhaps more since the earliest days of the Cinematic Universe. The Mad Titan, Thanos. (more…)
Here I admit Netflix had me concerned. The Defenders had been skiing very much downhill in my opinion, with a rapid decline beginning in the second half of Luke Cage ending in a blander than bland Defenders with only a handful of redeemable features. Now the Punisher had been a little underutilised in Daredevil Season 2, but we were still presented with a version of Frank Castle that we fell utterly in love with in Jon Bernthal, a series of his own was inevitable with the fan support.
Creating a series to appeal to the fans, outside of the initial plot, little to no pre-planning to work him into the larger, very successful Marvel Mediaverse… Yeah, I think I was entitled to my doubts, but we have rather proved that cutting yourself loose of a shared universe can make life a hell of a lot easier. (more…)
What happens when a Spider-fan, of almost three decades, walks into the most eagerly anticipated Spider-Man film since Spider-Man films were a thing? Well, they do so with a lot of expectation! They carry with them memories of the best bits of five previous Spider-films, a fantastic cameo in Civil War, the 90s Spider-Man cartoon (and its AWESOME theme tune) and a shed load of comic book knowledge. Any fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is aware that you can’t get too precious about any of that – there will be changes and you should expect things to be different.
But not like this.
Cometh the hour, cometh the Spider-Man, right back into the middle of the MCU where he belongs. No backstory, no spider bite – because it has been done – just straight into the life of a teenager irrevocably altered by comicbook logic. Instead we jump in with the Peter Parker straight after the fight in Civil War, hero-worshipping Tony Stark, fully kitted out and ready to get into a fight with someone a little more daunting than the odd bike thief or shoplifter.
After all of the backbiting and corporate petulance between Disney and Sony, it is so good to have Spidey amongst the ranks of the Avengers because without him it all has all seemed a little weird, but here we have a Spider-Man born of the Cinematic Universe, only a child during the New York Incident, and fully immersed in the unique-to-film narratives, lore and history. (more…)
The long anticipated and lesser known title to emerge onto the MCU’s steamroller of success is Doctor Strange, and despite a little controversy over the appointment of Benedict Cumberbatch to the role it’s everything we’ve come to expect from this media leviathan. Oh sure, it’s formulaic, but it’s Marvel’s formula, which has been working rather well for the last eight years and thirteen films. That’s halfway to the number of James Bond films there are in one seventh the time and barely any changes in lead actors.
Phase Three; Episode 2 delivers new levels of mysticism layered on top of the flimsy scientific justifications that Marvel has been getting good at, so long as you bear in mind a quote from the first Thor film you’ll be doing fine:
“Your ancestors called it magic, but you call it science. I come from a land where they are one and the same.”
Sounds about right.
Our hero is pretty much the centre of our formula, practically a carbon copy of Tony Stark all the way down to the facial hair: an egotistical genius who excels in his field who suffers a life changing event, and his pursuit to put things right eventually land him the role of a superhero, in this case a brain surgeon seeking to restore the use of his hands turns to mystic arts. There’s a lot of Sherlock Holmes in Stephen Strange, and not just because Cumberbatch played both, but the degrees of obsession, arrogance, intelligence, and cunning make a comparison inevitable.
Tilda Swinton appears as herself, an ageless mystic capable of incredible feats of contorting the material world. Her character actually raised bigger concerns about Hollywood whitewashing, but she actually cuts a very original take on the eastern sensei that breaks a few cliches that would have seemed hackneyed in modern cinema. It’s a performance that demanded great verbal, emotional and physical delivery, and Swinton delivers on all counts.
All told we have a fairly slim cast of characters. We have a love story that is blown through fairly quickly and leaves us with a rather interesting little slice of narrative that helps us develop Strange and something we might revisit at another time, although I feel it could have been abandoned altogether with minimal effort. I’m sure most of us will find love for Wong, the deadpan comedy foil and all-round awesome librarian. Mordo presents an interesting figure so far as sidekicks go, eluding to a rather unpleasant history that led him to uncover the mystic arts, something I’m sure we’ll learn more about in the future.
Dormammu I knew to be a major villain in the Marvel Universe, one of those elder-evil types, bigger and badder even than Thanos, so when my Marvel expert on-call said they shouldn’t jump straight to the big guns, they should leave some room to escalate the situation. However using a minor villain – Mads Mikkelson as Kaecilius – as a mortal vessel of the Dark Dimensions puts a limitation on Dormammu that makes him a fearsome enough adversary without overwhelming the new sorcerer. Kaecilius actually reminds me a lot of Tai Lung from Kung Fu Panda, the student who excelled so far before turning on their master for withholding some incredible power, only to be struck down by the new prodigy who seems more willing to learn the truth.
Keep your eyes peeled for the thinly veiled future villain. Trust me, he’s not hard to spot, and he gets more and more obvious as the film goes on. If you need it spelling out for you just wait until the end-of-credits scene, the second one. And if you’re one of those people who leaves before the credits are over in a Marvel film then I automatically assume you’re the kind of person who doesn’t recycle and habitually throw away large amounts of food; it’s wasteful and frankly rude.
Villainy and threat are often second fiddle to origin story in films such as these, it’s something to which Yellowjacket, Ronan the Accuser, and Francis all fell prey in their respective appearances, and Doctor Strange presents us with a similar case where focus on the hero leaves us with an underdeveloped and readily forgotten villain. Oh, not that any of them were bad villains, but they’re not what people will take away from their respective titles.
On seeing the trailers I was a little concerned at the shifting worldscapes might be too much detail to bombard the senses. Well maybe, but cinematography made life easier, flat colour palettes typical of New York architecture make the outlandish costumes of the main cast stand out a mile, camera work keeps the focus on the action, leaving the whirling details to emphasise the speed and dynamics of every moment. I also had my concerns about the Cloak of Levitation becoming a little too adorable and “mascot-ish” but it balanced personality with entertainment value without swallowing the whole show for itself.
Though the bulk of the film is visually stunning I found one particular fight a little hard to watch, a brawl between two astral projections that seemed a little too unreal for me to buy into the tension of the scene. The ghosts of the two combatants seemed to have almost a Casper-like glow and translucency about them, and while the setting may have been intended to feel claustrophobic it just made everything harder to follow where other, more elaborate scenes had done the job so much better.
Biggest question: we learn that there are three sanctuaries placed around the world that emanate suitable protection from extra-dimensional forces to cover the globe, London, New York and Hong-Kong. Nothing in the southern hemisphere? Why does Johannesburg not get a chapter?
It took me longer than I’m proud of to spot the Infinity Stone. I’m not entirely sure how so many of these are ending up on Earth but seriously can someone try keeping them separate? We have two, and that feels like too many. We now have five out of six with only the with only the stone of the Soul remaining, meaning Ragnarok should see the beginnings of Thanos’ collection, and if you stick around long enough you’ll see how it’ll all tie together.
In short, watch Doctor Strange, it is a good film, and while that may sound like an over simplification I can’t honestly say that there’s much more to Doctor Strange than that. Visually it is a spectacle of a standard we’ve come to anticipate, action takes standards laid down by the Matrix to their next logical step, drama gives us comedy and tragedy in fairly even handed measures, and we are left with a new character who no doubt will make the Avengers that little bit richer for his presence. It’s still looking like a boy’s club but given the source material they’re working on we can’t expect much else just yet.
It’s Strange, but who am I to judge.
Netflix drops another Marvel title, another one from the “lesser known” stack but one we’ve been waiting for now for a long time, ever since word first began about their Defenders series. Luke Cage makes his second appearance in the series following a rather heavy-handed cameo in Jessica Jones, and it looks like Mike Colter is settling in for a long run as the man with impervious skin. It’s every bit as noir and pulp-fiction-y as the Defenders have been so far, much dirtier and hardcore than the films, proving once again that the superhero genre isn’t just for kids.
I’ll not stand on ceremony here, let’s just launch straight into this. (more…)
I made a remark last week about this being The Defenders season 3 and I feel like I was right.
Our story picks up in the aftermath of Kingpin’s arrest, and the gangs of New York are scrambling for power despite the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen taking down their thugs every night in his shiny new suit. It’s causing some very serious issues at work now that Foggy knows he’s the vigilante putting fear of the devil into the low-lives flooding the streets, and his busy evening are making the practice of law increasingly hard work. Fortunately for Matt Murdock, there’s a new player on the scene, you may have heard… (more…)
I’ll start that again.
By and large we’re more normal than we’d care to admit, just as prone to the same habits as those we’d refer to as “normal people”, just as susceptible to hype and we still tend to spawn a cycle of trends. It may not be clothing or music trends as such, but there is one field in which we dominate the culture… or maybe the field impacts us more deeply than others?
Couldn’t say, cause and effect is a bit fuzzy here. Here’s a retrospective on genres in film and television. (more…)