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comic book adaptation

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

DIRECTOR: Simon Kinberg

CAST: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Jennifer Lawrence, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain

REVIEW:

For his directorial debut, screenwriter Simon Kinberg has fulfilled a long-harbored wish to take a second stab at the Dark Phoenix storyline he previously tackled as co-writer of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, dissatisfied with the final product (which was directed by Brett Ratner). For fans of the X-Men comics, the Dark Phoenix storyline, written by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Dave Cockrum and running from the late 1970s into 1980, is regarded as one of the comics’ great narrative arcs (in addition to The Last Stand, it has also previously been adapted twice for animated television series). I’m not prepared to say a two hour movie has entirely done justice to a comic storyline which ran for years (reportedly Kinberg initially wanted to tell the storyline across two movies, but the studio declined), but comic book and film are different mediums. In its own right, Dark Phoenix has breathed a little more life into the loose reboot young X-Men series (began with 2011’s First Class and spun off into an alternate timeline by 2014’s Days of Future Past), more compelling than its immediate predecessor, the laborious Apocalypse and overall a better, if rushed and abridged, adaptation of the source material and the Dark Phoenix storyline than The Last Stand.

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The Avengers: Endgame (2019)

DIRECTOR: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Don Cheadle, Bradley Cooper (voice)

REVIEW:

This is it. After eleven years and twenty-two movies, the long-awaited “endgame” that came to a head in last year’s The Avengers: Infinity War comes to a conclusion, and with it so too does at least the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which began with 2008’s Iron Man and has since blown up into an interconnected universe more sprawling and ambitious than has ever been mounted before. It’s also no secret—and has not been for quite some time—that the appropriately-titled Endgame is the swan song for at least some of the MCU’s crowded cast of characters, including some of its biggest mainstays, a fact its fans have made their peace with long before setting foot in the theater. The MCU will go on, to be sure (this isn’t even the last MCU installment of the year), but it will not go on for everyone. Like the sign-off of the original cast of Star Trek, it’s the end of an era. Endgame fulfills its mission. The two-part climax of this first phase of the MCU is brought to a (mostly) satisfactory conclusion, but the movie’s real strength is serving as a well-crafted love letter both to the entire MCU up to this point and to the fans who’ve come along on every step of the journey.

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Shazam! (2019)

DIRECTOR: David F. Sandberg

CAST: Zachary Levi, Asher Angel, Mark Strong, Jack Dylan Grazer, Grace Fulton, Marta Milans, Cooper Andrews, Faithe Herman, Ian Chen, Jovan Armand, Djimon Hounsou

REVIEW:

With Shazam, the DC Expanded Universe plays about as far as possible from the dour dreariness of Batman v Superman. Shazam has its share of more conventional superhero action, but it’s not a straight entry; it’s far more family-friendly than the likes of Deadpool but exists in a somewhat similarly self-parodying vein (though even Shazam is not as openly satirical). The result is an effective mix of superheroics and spoofing thereof, and Shazam‘s status as a minor league player among the comic book superheroes who’ve been brought to the screen (no one expects it to compete against The Avengers: Endgame, but it’s not trying to) doesn’t stop it from being one of the fresher and more entertaining entries to crop up lately, especially from within the troubled DCEU. Were this MCU, it’d be a middle-of-the-road offering, but it’s the most unreservedly enjoyable entry to emerge from the DCEU thus far, and while it’s not a 100% straight comedy, it offers more laughs than some that ostensibly are.

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Captain Marvel (2019)

DIRECTOR: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

CAST: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Clark Gregg, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou

REVIEW:

Captain Marvel, the first but far from last Marvel installment of 2019, doesn’t ascend to MCU top-tier, but it escapes the purely perfunctory mediocrity that some may have expected from a superhero origin story that’s primarily being squeezed in before she serves as the deus ex machina she’s clearly being set up as for next month’s The Avengers: Endgame. A 1990s setting and sci-fi angle (shades of Guardians of the Galaxy, including a familiar character or two) lends a fresher feel that’s sorely needed in such an over-saturated comic book movie landscape.

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Aquaman (2018)

DIRECTOR: James Wan

CAST: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Dolph Lundgren

REVIEW:

Like Wonder Woman, Aquaman might look better in comparison by virtue of being an entry in the DCEU (DC Expanded Universe) that isn’t an abject trainwreck, but that might also be doing a slight disservice to the film, which like many a comic book flick, is silly but entertaining. Aquaman is style over substance, but a visual feast for the eyes and a fast whiz-bang pace make it a fun, if flawed, ride.

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Venom (2018)

DIRECTOR: Ruben Fleischer

CAST: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate

REVIEW:

First things first: Venom is not an especially good movie.  Nor is it the mind-bogglingly horrendous epic trainwreck of “Plan 9 from Outer Space” proportions some have inflated its notoriety into.  What arrives onscreen doesn’t merit any such strong reactions, instead residing in that cluttered middle ground of “meh” occupied by other comic book movie titles like Green Lantern The concept was a questionable one to begin with: despite his origin story being inextricably linked to Spider-Man in the comics, Sony in its eternal infinite wisdom has decided to slap together a solo Venom movie which is not connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe—or at least no connection is ever explicitly drawn—therefore existing in some netherworld of its own (though there’s still a Stan Lee cameo).  With its short length, dodgy CGI, and jokey tone, it feels like some throwback to the ’90s or early 2000s (there’s even an Eminem song over the end credits), the kind of comic book movie that might have been adequate in the days when there wasn’t much competition but feels outdated nowadays.  And for the character of Eddie Brock/Venom, last seen on the big screen in 2007’s likewise misbegotten Spider-Man 3 (where he was played by Topher Grace), Sony’s second attempt at bringing him to the screen is no more successful than the first.  To the extent that Venom works, it’s in its dark comedy aspect, not its terminally pedestrian and generic superhero (or anti-hero) narrative. Continue reading

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

DIRECTOR: Peyton Reed

CAST: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Hannah John-Kamen, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer, Randall Park, T.I., David Dastmalchian, Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, Abby Ryder Fortson

REVIEW:

After the grim finale of The Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp could be viewed as a sort of palette cleanser.  The follow-up to 2015’s Ant-Man maintains the same lightweight insubstantial tone, served up with more nifty visuals and one of the highest humor quotients of any MCU movie.  The result is nowhere near among the MCU’s stronger offerings but is an enjoyable enough diversion, especially for those seeking something a little lighter staggering shell-shocked out of the theater after Infinity War. Continue reading

Deadpool 2 (2018)

DIRECTOR: David Leitch

CAST: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Zazie Beetz, Morena Baccarin, Brianna Hildebrand, T.J. Miller, Stefan Kapicic, Julian Dennison, Terry Crews, Bill Skarsgard, Karan Soni, Shiori Kutsuna, Leslie Uggams, Rob Delaney, Eddie Marsan

REVIEW:

2016’s Deadpool was such a blast of kinetic, wildly irreverent R-rated fun that it was both inevitable that a sequel would be made, and that the same freshness level was unlikely to be recaptured.  True to expectations, Deadpool 2 serves up more of the same serviceably enough to be a fun, if overlong, time, but without quite the same pizzazz.  Even so, fans of The Merc With the Mouth are likely to enjoy his second big screen romp, if perhaps not quite as much as they did in 2016. Continue reading

The Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

DIRECTOR: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

CAST: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Pratt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Josh Brolin, Sebastian Stan, Benedict Wong, Dave Bautista, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Pom Klementieff, Danai Gurira, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Winston Duke, Letitia Wright, Benicio Del Toro, Gwyneth Paltrow, William Hurt, Peter Dinklage, Bradley Cooper (voice), Vin Diesel (voice)

REVIEW:

After a decade’s worth of movies (starting with 2008’s Iron Man which kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe), we’re finally coming to the long-gestating endgame which will purportedly serve as the end of an era at least for some of the MCU’s crowded cast of characters, but while continuing Marvel’s pattern of trying to outdo itself with each consecutive all-star team-up offering by throwing the kitchen sink and an ever bigger cast of characters at the screen in ever more outsized ways, the long-hyped Infinity War feels like half a movie.  This might be an inevitability given this “endgame” will be concluded in the as-yet-untitled Avengers 4 still twelve months away, but it leaves a feeling that’s a little hollow, flashy spectacle, splashy special effects, and battles large and small everywhere you look, but lacking a certain impact. Continue reading

Black Panther (2018)

DIRECTOR: Ryan Coogler

CAST: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown

REVIEW:

For those suffering from conventional superhero movie fatigue, Black Panther is different enough to feel a little fresher, even if it ultimately adheres to basic superhero movie expectations.  Before agreeing to co-write and direct, Ryan Coogler (a “serious” director who previously helmed Fruitvale Station and Creed) ensured that he would be granted a considerable level of freedom and independence, and this might account for Black Panther feeling more like a unique entity unto itself and less cookie cutter than the likes of Spider-Man: HomecomingThe movie is also not overly concerned with reminding us it’s a part of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Apart from some thin connective tissue, Black Panther can stand on its own as one of the few recent Marvel outings that could be watched without much confusion by a casual viewer who hasn’t kept up with the entire interconnected MCU. Continue reading

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