The most enticing moment in Avengers: Age of Ultron is successful because it is so elusive, and it may very well be the worst moment as well. When it begins, we are informed that the titular superhero smack-down squadron and consummate bickerers are off to Africa. We know we are going to Africa because the characters essentially say “we are going to Africa”. Smash-cut to a helicopter shot of a derelict shipyard. We know this is a shipyard because there are ships. It is also, one would assume, on a coast line, for that is where ships tend to reside. At this point, everyone’s favorite quasi-military font appears in lower screen with text that informs us, in as many words, “Shipyard, Off the Coast of Africa”, in case we were wondering if the ships were, in fact, airplanes, or whether they were docked in Nebraska.
So hand-holding and inelegant this text is, and utilizing the form of on-screen text which is already the laziest and least elegant storytelling mechanism in all of cinema, that it almost must be an intentional self-parody. All of these big time beat-down films rely on techniques like these to show us a story happening, and then to doubt us, and then to tell us what is happening all over again in case our eyes had deceived us, as though we audience members in our infinite wisdom could not figure out in fact that the image of unmoving ships placed right after we are told “Africa” is in fact, an image of ships docked off the coast of Africa. It is a comic, delicious moment nearly avant-garde in its laziness. It’s the sort of moment that asks the mind to wander: “why is this text here? It is providing no new information anyway, but movies like this are supposed to have military text every time they change location, so if that is what you want, here you go…” Continue reading →
There is so much good to be done with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, so much glee in its conceptual bones and in every ounce of its credentials, and it is altogether a crushing disappointment. Not an awful film, mind you, or at least not awful for the reasons we might expect, but it is most certainly not the film it could have been. To understand why, let us do our duty and note a thing or two about the film as it existed in the mind of a hopeful would-be fan of exploitation cinema, or as it existed before it was actually, you know, released. Continue reading →
It’s been a couple weeks, so here’s a double-dip of classic cult comic book movies for you, and some prime so-bad-its-good filmmaking on both counts.
It’s the most depressing kind of thing to discover a film that is popular only for its theme tune, only to watch it and realize that the theme works primarily because of the film it accompanies, and that it is the images and sounds of that film in unison that dance together a most magic dance. Wait, did I say “depressing”? I meant absolutely positively exciting and inspiring in the most enchanting possible way, although it is also depressing in the sense that I am confronted with the fact that we remember Queen songs these days more than we remember totally singular, inspired filmmaking. For, terrible as it is in many ways, there are aspects of Flash Gordon that are inspired in a way I cannot even begin to describe. Continue reading →
*For an attempt at something a tad lighter than my usual reviews, here’s the first in a month-long series of reviews of various superhero film franchises (because I hear these are popular nowadays).
While a somewhat unexpected choice at the time, in retrospect Sam Raimi was a perfect match to the goofy world of comic book fervor set up in Spider-Man. Taking a far larger budget than he’d ever worked with to create, of all things, a heavily marketed B movie, he ended up making one that works precisely because it is unabashedly in love with the fact that it is a B-movie, Snidely Whiplash-encrusted villain and all. While other films would come and go and do far more for comic book storytelling and character development in the process, Spider-Man does not bother with such trifles. For its whole running length, it is only itself, and it’s rather happy to be so at that. Continue reading →
By far the most notable thing about Joss Whedon’s TheAvengers, beyond all the self-righteous tent pole-blockbuster-theme park-cultural-seismic-indicator nonsense, is that Whedon shows a sense of mercy in consistently buoying the film with levity and humor to distract from all the pretense. The chiefest fun to be had is rather definitively not related to one-and-done special effects or action or the superpowers of the main characters themselves. It is, instead, Whedon’s way with words, his wit. Most of it is filtered through franchise MVP Robert Downey Jr., here his usual sardonic, witty self as Tony Stark/ Iron Man, with much of the humor coming from his playful attitude toward Nick Fury’s (Samuel Jackson) dogged attempt to “bring the team together”. Bruce Banner/ The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), used intelligently in more ways than one, has two dynamite laughs toward the end of the film, one with a literal punch-line. Continue reading →
Update 2018: I was skeptical of this film when it was released, but after having read the phenomenally astute political Molotov of a comic book of the same name, with its observations on state privatization and racial incarceration all folded into a 1981 critique of neo-conservatism and neoliberalism as fascism, the movie’s neutralized, domesticated politics and thoroughly un-transgressive social observations feel all the more banal and negligent.
Final paragraph edited for clarity’s sake
X-Men: Days of Future Past is an ambitious project, attempting to bridge two timelines, a boatload of characters and numerous political positions and wrap them all up in a cohesive, action-packed whole. Furthermore, the film seems to realize how ambitious it is. It’s all fairly confusing, but it at least rightfully understands it really doesn’t need to, and in fact shouldn’t, get involved with logical loopholes. Explaining things, as Professor X does in an early scene, often makes things worse, dragging down and only opening up more questions the film inevitably won’t have time to answer. It’s better to keep things simple and streamlined in films like this, lest everything get too self-important. Continue reading →