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Tag: super heroes

Doctor Strange (2016)

Surrender, Steven !

For a Marvel joint, Doctor Strange is remarquably squeamish about tampering with the space-time continuum and the multiverse, even though the purpose of its script – and the function of its CGI – are precisely just that. Let’s just say that the Ancient One’s (SWINTON!, one of the two reasons to watch the film) terse warning that that shouldn’t be done comes a little late; I don’t know who’s planning the expansion of the Marvel Extended Universe but that particular Big Bang is a bit messy.

Three quarters ludicrous exposition and one quarter the expedited resolution of a dimensional clash threatening the very existence of the world, Doctor Strange is nevertheless quite enjoyable. Of course, the arc is the same as usual, a powerful character reduced to pulp by trauma only to become a god-like figure having to chose his of the Force, training scenes, time travel, cities folding on themselves, more training scenes, a mirror dimension, a cape, nefarious instoppable villains defeated by fisticuffs, and yet more training scenes. As usual, rooms full of priceless relics in glass boxes have been built for the express purpose to be shattered in said fisticuffs, the vilains of the piece takes order from un uber-vilain from outer space and time (Dormammu is coming and he’s ANGRY!). Also, one specific aspect of the movie kinda swallow all others, this time the polemic about casting Tilda Swinton as an originally Asian character. Which is, by the way, the wisest decision made here: just watch her graciously ackowledge that yes, this is good tea, and succumb to her sublime presence; she actually makes for a credible mentor/antagonist, as was the case in Constantine.

Doctor Strange‘s other saving grace is great production design (apart from this Dormammu guy, who looks like the writers described it as “generic evil CGI entity). Sets and costumes look great – and expensive, magic is not too shabby either. Casting is prestige Hollywood all over. Oh, right, casting, so easily outshone by Miss Swinton that it’s like she’s actually able to manipulate screen time.

Benedict Cumberbatch keeps on auditioning for the Bond role, driving a sports car over the speed limit in a tuxedo, which owns him the stupidest accident ot recent memory (a neuro-surgeon checking CAT-scans while driving at night, really?) and equipped with a rotating display for his collection of super expensive wrist watches. Forget about his smug attitude and God complex, the rotating wristwatch display says all about what a self-imbued, callous moron Steven Strange is: definitely, the new James Bond will be a throwback to the Roger Moore era. His love interest is played by Rachael McAdams, which has the virtue of answering the question what she has done lately, not that it was a very interesting one. Madds Mikkelsen plays Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner with his customary inexpressiveness, with the help of “Strong Zealot”, “Tall Zealot”, “Blonde Zealot” (one can’t help loving that one) and lots of glitter. Chiwetel Ejiofor looks gloomy about having to feature in the sequel, and Benedict Wong plays Wong, because the writers couldn’t come up with a better Chinese name.

The final showdown is rather good for once; the vilains stop their annoying antics and get their comeuppance like nothing had happened. Comedy scenes rub shoulders incomfortably with lines like “Who are you in this vast multiverse, Mr Strange?”, an instant contender for 2016’s worst dialogue. The nature of reality is once more questioned, only to be swiftly put aside as a perfunctory plot point. After the movie ends, all sorts of questions remain unanswered, the least of which not being how The Ancient One built three sanctums (Suspiria, anyone?) in New York, London and Hong Kong,& centuries before these cities even exist. All in all though, a decent entry in the Marvel canon.

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Suicide Squad (2016)

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Stupid Squash

Another example of a movie delivering the exact opposite that what its hype and teasers promised, Suicide Squad is the big 2016 summer letdown, a tentpole crashing under its own weight and an absolute bore. It’s like watching a train wreck, only it’s a toy train carrying action figures instead of characters, like watching the paint dry only it’s pale beige, like watching an hourglass measuring the sad fashion you have elected to waste away two hours of your life. Two hours later you will have gained absolutely nothing and you will wish for ten minutes of quality time with the makers of this beached whale, carrying Harley Quinn’s baseball bat. But you won’t get them.

This thing gives the term “mindless entertainment” a whole new meaning, considering it’s neither one nor the other. It’s far from mindless, as you can hear throughout the wheels of a declining  industry churning to please an audience already saturated by superheroes antics (genius idea: bring in Will Smith!), and not entertaining in the slightest because should have they conceive a torture device for Guantanamo, it would look, sound and feel more or less exactly like this one, in a loop.

What does it say about Hollywood when a movie high concept, “bunch of villains sent against an even worst foe” is treated so cowardly that the result plays like the loosely connected cinematic sequences of a PC game? With most of its avatars on pause, most of them provided with the bare schematics of a character which make eunuchs and no-lifers of them all, with no antagonist to speak of but a fashion model and no threat whatsoever to their little, desperate, insectile life, you bet you understand what it says: here’s you garbage flick of the week, morons; see it in the theater because downloading is evil.

Viola Davies, unable to be bad even she tried real hard (what she does here with her mouth full) carries around a thick top secret portfolio of coloured-by-numbers villains her dream is to assemble in an anti Justice League, because she didn’t have the opportunity to come up with the Justice League idea in the first place. Fortunately for her, a scientist from the Tara Reid school of Like, Serious Archeology mistakes an ancient clay bottle for a can of pop and frees The Enchantress, a goth chick with severe hygiene issues whose brother trapped in the next bottle have like, a mean God complex. Together they wanna build a McGuffin to rule the world and enslave the human race, so it’s time to kick them in the butt real good. Superman is gone, Batman is having a sabbatical, so the next best thing is to flank Willsmith with a quartet of mildy deranged goons, controlled by an explosive device implanted in… oh whatever.

Willsmith was arrested (not branded, natch) by Batman, as was the case for Margotrobbie, so movie can enter the Batman canon as a “Whatever happened to them?” memorial programme. Willsmith is on board with the dual objective to long for his adorable daughter (fortunately not played by his own) and utter the title at some point. Yes, they also did that. Even Batman v. Superman didn’t have Bruce Wayne say “I’ll be damned, is this the dawn of justice?”, right? Right? He’s also a sniper who can’t miss. Nobody does is better, makes me feel sad for the rest. And they are quite a sad bunch.

So, from memory: a mutant Cindy Lauper who only wanna have fun, a latino pyrokinetic, a crocodile man providing infra-bass, an Aussie with a boomerang (too bad he didn’t bring a didgeridoo), a Japanese with a katana (same remark about a koto) team up with Willsmith in order to defeat the Enchantress’ budding reign of terror, under the mild maintenance of a war veteran called Flag. Yep, how’s that for super heroism? Oh, and there is also this guy who almost misses the chopper, crosses the screen and dies. Really scrapping the bottom of the barrel with this one, Viola. One wonders how many such losers were in your thick portfolio of Evil.

Anyway, helicopters are repeatedly taken down, not unlike frappucinos are gulped at your nearest Starbuck’s, the super ordinary dreams of super heroes are revealed by the Enchantress, whose heart is not in it (there, see what just one did? Lol). She nevertheless has the best scene when she accomplishes her transformation and instantly revert to Fashion Week catwalking, Cara Delavinge’s background.

Is one missing something? What? The Joker? One doesn’t know what you are talking about. The Joker is not in this movie.

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X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

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Three’s A Crowd

If three’s the charm in real life, it is more of a curse at the movies. Just think: The Godfather, Star Wars, Spiderman, The Lord of the Rings, Batman, Iron Man, the first X-Men trilogy… the list goes on forever. And now completes the second X-Men trilogy. Crammed to the brim with lesser supers coloring by numbers various anecdotical vignettes, that thing is a panicked attempt at closure as much as it is an exercise in frustration. The patient fan will weather its foolish writing and mediocre CGI; the occasional spectator might feel more than a little bored by the stiff, uncharismatic portrayal of characters much better deployed in Brian Synger’s two original movies, the irony being that he’s back in the director’s seat.

The pre-title sequence brings us back in Egypt, the country where they are quite lousy at anything but building pyramids. Wizard En Sabah Nur is venerated like a God but the heresy successfully aborts his transition from one body to another, a process requiring magic, sun and a very ineffectual crew. One perused comments on the movie deploring that a God was too powerful an antagonist for the X-Men, and one would like to suggest that someone who can be defeated by a few blocks of stone and desert sand is not exactly of divine essence, but whatever. Apocalypse, as he’s fortunately not called during the movie, is buried in limbo until his expected, well, resurgence.

After a weird credit sequence jumping to the end of the 20th century by way of Jesus Christ, Mona Lisa and a subway train, the film proceeds to character exposition, so here we go meeting Nightcrawler (looking as German as the Taj Mahal), Angel, Cyclop, Havoc, Jean Grey, Yadda, Yadda, and Yadda. Most of them gloomily assemble at the Xavier School for Creepy Mutants, then En Sabah Nur is released and apocalypse ensues until he is defeated quite the same way than the first time around, another clue that either Gods have short memory or that the guy is just an old mutant well past his prime.

While most of the movie is puzzling to say the least, some key points of the screenplay are indeed apocalyptic for their awkwardness. Consider the fact that an explosion in Egypt is felt in Poland, that the Auschwitz concentration camp, still in shambles in the 80s when it was already a museum in the 50s, is destroyed by an Egyptian “God” spending half his time debating good and evil when he’s by essence beyond both, or the inept Wolverine cameo. But most of all, try to wrap your head around the fact that En Sabah Nur enables his Four Horsemen (AGAIN?) to defeat him by tuning them like quads; or that Jean Grey, who’s presented by Xavier as having “the most powerful spirit in the galaxy” is played by Sophie Turner (Games of Thrones‘ Sansa). Let’s take a moment to let that sink.

If Miss Turner has proven something with Games of Thrones, it’s her ability to wear ludicrous costumes, and that ability is well used here. But you know you have a problem when she’s written as the most powerful spirit of anything, let alone the galaxy. As most of the new class, she has the charisma of a kitchen appliance. You plug her in, she acts, you hear nothing but a monotone buzzing. Storm is the same but worse. Psylocke, who escapes at the end, better should not be the villain next time because she has the screen presence of a puppet finger.

One quite likes the X-Men, much better actually that the Avengers’ ragtag posse of a smug cyborg, a Nordic God, a Jeckyll & Hyde brute, a vintage Republican soldier and a Russian assassin. Their powers are more focussed and the Professor Xavier / Magneto rivalry adds a layer of character complexity to their story. But alas, not this time. Better watch again the two first movie: if two is company, three’s a crowd.

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

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What’s Sup?

The problem with DC Comics compared to, say, Marvel’s is that their superheroes are mutually exclusive. Bringing them together is therefore a difficult task, to say the least. It just doesn’t work in this instance. Also, DC is very late in the convergence business, when the other team, for all its onscreen sins, has developped most of the Avengers characters into their own franchise, allowing for a passable team spirit with occasional bouts of dialogue brilliance. Nothing of the sort here.

The movie, already bloated at 150′, also exists in a 180′ minutes “full” version, the deleted scenes giving some screen cred to some of it most baffling scenes but doing nothing to improve pace or character development. If Zach Snyder remains gifted with this rarest of quality in action movie directing, i.e. spatial consciousness, allowing the audience to follow who is fighting who, where and sometimes even why, his writing crew, who already presided over Man of Steel and the Christopher Nolan-helmed Batman trilogy, attemps at mixing oil and water and trips until it crashes under the weight of their portentous project.

For a movie opposing an omnipotent flying boyscout and a sociopath multibillionnaire with all sorts of vehicles at his disposal, Batman v Superman is shockingly pedestrian. Worse, it respects roadlights and zebra crossings. So, what is the heck happening in two and a half hours?

After we are treated to the uptenth version of the scene in which Master Bruce is saved by a Batnado, he growns up into Bat Affleck (doing his best Christian Bale impersonation and appearing smug in the process), who fills Gotham’s prison with criminals he brands with red iron, meaning “certain death” at the end of their fellow convicts. Not only this is an idiotic idea, but it subverts the League of Justice purpose by reintroducing death penalty through the back door, while the State looks the other way. Hollywood, you are going on a dangerous limb.

The State acts in the opposite way in Metropolis, where Superman’s proclivity to bring home his Kriptonian buddies for urbicide and countless civilian casualties comes under scrutiny. A “Kentucky junior senator” (Holly Hunter) wants him to answer to a federal commission and be harnessed for the greater good, to which Sup (Henri Cavill, gloomy) reacts by sulking. No doubt she’s a democrat and she wants more State intrusion into the American people’s constitutional rights. Only, in Kentucky.

Under the pretence of caring for collateral victims – an interesting idea in itself, if possibly quite boring in its ‘The State vs. Superman” execution – the movie succumbs to its own hubris, shared in equal measures by its producers and its characters. Lois Lane (Amy Adams, bland) has never been so stupid – she interviews yet another African warlord (why are they popping out in every blockbuster this year?) and her first question is “Are you a terrorist?”. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, interestingly mannered) is obviously deranged but no one seems to mind. At some point he mates with General Zod’s corpse in a red pool and gives birth to “an abomination” called Doomsday, which could be doing an internship from any Kaiju next door, since it’s just a mass of pixels, unkillable until it’s killed.

So the Gotham Bat, as they call him, and Superman fight for a while, kryptonite kriptonite kriptonite, Batman knocks Superman out with a bathroom sink. Appear briefly The Flash (unnamed) and Aquaman (Jason Momoa). Also, Wonder Woman (Gad Gadot, sleek) comes to the big boys’ rescue, allowing a “Bruce, I am your brother” moment who does not only feel embarrassing but the mark of writers at the end of their tethers, unable to elevate the material to its God-like ambitions.

What else? There is a lot of tuning, Bruce Wayne sporting a bat logo on his civilian car and Superman his logo on the coffin he’s beyond the shadow of a doubt not buried in. Lois Lane dies but not, as required by her character. The Army nukes Doomsday, misses and the charge – apparently a mild one – falls on an “inhabited” island in the middle of the bay separating Metropolis from Gotham (asking all sorts of questions about why an encounter between Supie and Bat Boy didn’t occur before and cautiously not answering any of them). There is a bit of King Kong, a bit of Tarzan and whatnot. Best of all, there is Jeremy Irons as Alfred the Butler, a considerable step up from Sir Michael Caine.

Oh also, there is what one prefers to think is a touch of meta humour, by courtesy of a open jar of urine labelled “Granny’s Peach Tea”. As a metaphor for inspiration, it works rather well. Come on, get back to the writing table already. It’s already absurd with two and a half superheroes, how could it possibly be better with five?

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