Doctor Strange Review: Cosmic craziness


Director: Scott Derrickson

Writers: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton

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Release date: October 27th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA 

Running time: 115 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The energetic performances.

Worst part: Another weak MCU villain.

Unquestionably, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an unstoppable machine. Disney won big after purchasing the comic book/movie juggernaut. Since the series’ humble beginnings, with 2008’s Iron Man, Disney and co. have delivered mini-franchises, spin-offs and origin stories without quit.

Doctor Strange is the latest B/C-list character – following Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy etc. – to receive a breakout blockbuster. The opportunity gives Marvel characters new time in the spotlight. The franchise’s latest adventure delivers yet another major superhero origin. We meet egotistical neurosurgeon Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) conducting a miracle procedure. The award-winning, super-rich professional places reputation ahead of connection. On his way to a presentation, Strange is mangled in a horrific car accident. Nerve damage prevents Dr. Strange from continuing his life’s work. He heads to Nepal, convinced the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and secret compound Kamar-Taj, can cure him. Whilst working alongside side-mentor Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and librarian Wong (Benedict Wong), Strange meets dark-magic-afflicted former student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).

After 14 installments, the MCU formula is more pronounced than ever. Almost all of them feature a cocky hero brought down by a tragic experience, re-building themselves with money and powers, encountering a plucky love interest, finding the villain/s responsible and destroying the world-ending/blue-beam-in-the-sky threat. Doctor Strange follows said template to the letter. In fact, this one cherry picks specific elements from each movie. Like Iron Man, the first third develops our lead character as being super smart and even more unlikable. He can do anything: pick and choose intricate surgeries, bound around with a boisterous smile, list every song and its history etc. Director and co-writer Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil), along with fellow writer C. Robert Cargill, expertly depict his rise and fall via heart-wrenching, somber montage.

Doctor Strange‘s multitude of realms and abilities is overwhelming. Derrickson and co. continually transition between origin story tropes, training montages and exposition. They revel in trippy dream sequences and flashbacks. However, the astral plane/mirror dimension sequences are jaw-dropping. As Strange delves deeper, Derrickson provides more time-and-space-bending set-pieces. The prologue provides a kick-ass introduction to MCU’s cosmic ether. The Ancient One and Kaecilius fragment London streets. From MC Esher city sequences to impressive production design, the movie truly reaches for the stars. Its A-list cast give nuanced performances in out-there roles. Cumberbatch is a welcome addition, down-playing every note with verve. Swinton and Ejiofor are charming in valuable roles. However, Mikkelsen is the latest white, middle-aged character-actor portraying a forgettable MCU villain.

Doctor Strange is a hyperkinetic and enjoyable MCU extender. Derrickson wrangles a starry cast, falls into line and fits Jon Favreau’s breezy tone. It provides enough nuances to stand out from the pack. However, this franchise might just have peaked with Captain America: Civil War.

Verdict: Another enjoyable MCU instalment.

 

Suicide Squad Review: Not-so-supervillains


Director: David Ayer

Writers: David Ayer

Stars: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman

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Release date: August 4th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Will Smith and Margot Robbie.

Worst part: Jared Leto’s Joker.

Nothing in modern cinema is more divisive and distressing than the DC Extended Universe. Man of Steel divided critics and audiences but made enough coin to kick off the franchise. However, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was a laughable misfire and fundamental misunderstanding of the genre. The series relied on Suicide Squad to pick up the ball and continue running. Sadly, it hits the ground with a deafening thud.

Suicide Squad is a prime example of overwhelming potential obliterated by underwhelming execution. Writer/director David Ayer, despite being given 6 weeks for the screenplay, had reportedly made a cracking flick. However, after BvS’s disastrous critical response, the studio went into overdrive with reshoots and marketing schemes. DC’s latest misfire sees Ballbuster Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) dusting off a unique idea to combat the Metahuman threat kick started by Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman etc. Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Katana (Karen Fukuhara) task supervillains/Belle Reve Penitentiary inmates including hit man Deadshot (Will Smith), deranged chick Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), pyrotechnic ex-gangbanger El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), Aussie thief Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), monster Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and mercenary Slipknot (Adam Beach) with completing a deadly, government-sanctioned mission in Midway City.

Suicide Squad begins with several interesting concepts and fun moments. Ayer – whose previous efforts include WWII-thriller Fury and LA-gangland movies like End of Watch – is suited to its team-up premise. The movie hits a rollicking pace during the first third. Kooky character bios, flashbacks, narration and music cues deliver thrills and funnies. However, studio meddling quickly overruns Ayer’s lean-and-mean vision. Attempting Guardians of the Galaxy-style action-comedy, it’s light, breezy tone undercuts the ugly narrative and themes. The story jumps between past and present, warping an otherwise straightforward men-on-a-mission story. The tone lurches wildly from black comedy to action-thriller without relevance between scenes. Endless montages – Waller’s character introductions, getting the team together etc. – delay the mission itself. The mission, however, boils down to generic plot twists, a thin story structure, and an underwhelming villain. Dr June Moone/Enchantress(Cara Delevingne)’s plan, to resurrect her deity brother Incubus to take over the world, makes her 2016’s most uninspired antagonist.

Suicide Squad also disappoints fans of the Joker and DC’s broad range of superheroes. The famous antagonist appears randomly in flashbacks and action sequences. His and Quinn’s nasty relationship, worthy of its own feature, is wedged in. Jared Leto’s portrayal compares poorly to Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson’s. The broad, irritating mannerisms and ghetto bling/gangbanger style are baffling. Ben Affleck’s Batman and Ezra Miller’s Flash appear briefly to connect instalments. Ayer’s tough, brawny direction extends to the visual style; cramming fluoro colours, grimy exteriors and wacky costuming into every space. Ayer shoots and choreographs the action with textbook precision. His creation is partly salvaged by its actors’ raw enthusiasm. Robbie conquers Quinn’s first cinematic appearance. Smith, after several bland performances, is back to his charismatic best. Meanwhile, Davis, Courtney and Kinnaman succeed in underdeveloped roles.

Suicide Squad represents everything good, bad and ugly with Hollywood. The talented cast and filmmaker put 110% into every wild and wacky second. However, studio meddling and lack of depth make it one of 2016’s many ‘dark and gritty’ blockbuster disappointments.

Verdict: An ambitious misfire.

X-Men: Apocalypse Review: Super-meh


Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Simon Kinberg

Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac

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Release date: May 19th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 144 minutes


3/5

Best part: The stacked cast.

Worst part: The weak villain.

Halfway through the ninth X-Men franchise installment, X-Men: Apocalypse, four characters walk out of a cinema having just seen Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. One character discusses the A New Hope‘s ground-breaking aura. Another praises The Empire Strikes Back‘s darkness and complexity. Finally, another snarkily retorts: “At least we can all agree the third one is always the worst”. Although a throwaway jab at X-Men 3: The Last Stand, the line perfectly sums up my feelings about this latest entry. Sorry Apocalypse, you shot yourself in the foot.

This series, kicking off back in 2000, set the bar for action-adventure storytelling and superhero cinema with a modest and mature first installment. Since then, the genre has launched into the x-men-6-2bc1b619-fbb6-4faf-9a71-45464932d131stratosphere. The franchise has been on a rollercoaster ride of stellar (X-Men 2), unique (The Wolverine), and terrible (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) entries. Following up the kooky X-Men: First Class and exhilarating X-Men: Days of Future Past, Apocalypse dives into the 1980s’ brightly coloured, discomforting void. The world has grown weary of mutantkind, with the events of Days of Future Past now
etched into modern history. Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) has built his college for gifted students in Westchester County, New York. Meanwhile, Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) learns of old frenemy Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto(Michael Fassbender)’s return to the war between them and humanity.

That synopsis barely scratches the surface regarding Apocalypse‘s multitude of plot-threads and character arcs. All-powerful being En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), inadvertently awoken by CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert(Rose Byrne)’s activities, gathers his ‘Four Horsemen’ – Lehnsherr, Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Warren Worthington III/Angel (Ben Hardy), and Elizabeth Braddock/Psylocke (Olivia Munn) – to help obliterate the world. Earth-shattering events draw Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters), Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Michael-Fassbender-X-Men-Apocalypse-TrailerTill), Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), and Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into the battle.

Sadly, X-Men: Apocalypse pales in comparison to trend-setters Days of Future Past and Captain America: Civil War. The movie cherry-picks plot-strands, sociopolitical messages, emotional moments, and memorable sequences directly from earlier X-Men flicks. The overall narrative (end of the world, blah blah blah) is lifted from countless blockbusters before it. Director Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, Days of Future Past) and screenwriter Simon Kinberg, once again, explore Xavier and Lehnsherr’s push-me, pull-you dynamic, Raven’s wavering allegiances, William Stryker(Josh Helman)’s shady dealings, new mutants brought into Xavier’s school, and recurring characters making googly eyes at one another. It’s not bad, just too familiar. In fairness, thin sub-plots including Lehnsherr’s Polish family life torn asunder and younger maxresdefault (1)mutants becoming friends make for several interesting patches.

At an exhaustive 144 minutes, Apocalypse feels overstuffed, underdeveloped, inconsequential and bloated simultaneously. The nihilistic worldview, washed-out colour palette and dreary atmosphere permeate. Worse still, Despite the terrific Quicksilver, nuclear warhead, and Auschwitz set-pieces, the third act becomes a mind-numbing blend of mutant powers and cataclysmic destruction. For all the bluster of exotic locations, pretty performers, Logan/Wolverine(Hugh Jackman) cameos, and millions of dollars, the movie crumbles thanks to its titular villain. After a blistering opening sequence, depicting Apocalypse’s Ancient Egyptian origins, the character is given nothing but cheesy dialogue and vaguely defined abilities. Isaac, one of Hollywood’s most promising talents, is stranded under layers of costuming, prosthetic make-up, and voice modulation.

The low-three-star Apocalypse survives primarily on its cast’s enthusiasm and inherent charisma. Pulling themselves through silly dialogue, McAvoy and Fassbender are compelling leading men. Imbuing Xavier and Magneto with warmth, both thespians treat the material with respect. Dodging the Mystique maxresdefaultmakeup at every turn, Lawrence brings her deer-in-headlights/contractual-obligation facial expression to an underwritten character. Fortunately, Hoult, Peters, Smit-McPhee, Sheridan, and Tuner get just enough screen time to develop chemistry and lasting impact. However, Munn, Shipp and Hardy barely register in glorified henchman roles.

Despite going through sequels, prequels, and reboots, the X-Men franchise needs yet another shake-up. X-Men: Apocalypse, like Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, just cannot compete against the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Less really is more, and Deadpool is starting to look a lot better.

Verdict: A middling, overstuffed superhero flick.

Captain America: Civil War Review: Braun vs. Iron


Directors: Joe & Anthony Russo

Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Stars: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan

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Release date: April 28th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 147 minutes


4½/5

Best part: The airport showdown.

Worst part: Minor leaps of logic.

Let’s face it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has eclipsed everything DC Comics/Warner Bros. could possibly hope to achieve. In its 13-blockbuster run, this franchise has set the bar for every other studio now clamouring for their own extended universes. With Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice turning from promising idea into jumbled, obnoxious mess, Marvel is still going strong. Can you believe it’s been eight whole years since Iron Man came out? Neither can I, neither can they.

instaCaptain America: Civil War looks set to be the most fulfilling blockbuster of 2016. The movie succeeds on every level, delivering on its promises and refusing to show fear or cynicism. The plot itself is more intricate and meaningful than your average MCU installment. Following up from the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Civil War opens up with the new, unique Avengers squad on its latest mission in Lagos. Tracking down weapons trader Brock Rumlow/Crossbones (Frank Grillo), their efforts end with multiple civilian casualties.

The world looks set to turn against our troupe of sexy, spandex warriors, convinced humanity is better off without them. Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) are scalded by US Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) for their shocking collateral damage, aiming to push United Nations sanctions into effect. Whereas the team feels justified in their actions, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Bettany), and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) side with the government. After Steve’s frenemy Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is blamed for a catastrophe, Cap goes on a one-man mission to find answers.insta

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo along with long-standing screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, coming back after The Winter Soldier, have successfully taken the reigns from Joss Whedon. Their latest provides a sense of balance most blockbusters either avoid or can’t quite grasp. Its plot, unlike most cluttered superhero epics, follows one streamlined path from beginning to end. From the prologue and opening action sequence onwards, its character turns and narrative twists remain steady. Like the original Civil War storyline in the comics, the UN bill – titled the Sokovia Accords here – starts a ticking time bomb to the team’s obliteration. The conflict splits the story between both sides evenly – fusing its narrative, thematic, and emotional resonance throughout the exhaustive 147-minute run-time.

Team Cap and Team Iron Man have significant points of view. Cap and co. believe it’s their responsibility to protect the world and bring justice to anyone on the wrong side of the law. Cap – divided between the worlds of yesterday, today, and tomorrow – believes a bit of ‘ol’ fashioned’ goes a long way in this paranoid, surveillance state era. Stark’s troupe, however, points out the mass casualties already caused. The former weapons/tech. giant turned humanitarian warrior puts his foot down, outlining the escalation in worldinstawide violence and shady bureaucratic border-hopping. Both agendas are reasonable, literally and figuratively tearing the franchise’s two most beloved characters apart.

The Russos take on the monstrous task of following on from previous installments and setting up new ones. The pre-established characters and talented performers are given their due, with all sub-plots fitting together like intricate jigsaw pieces. Threads including Steve and Sharon Carter/Agent 13(Emily VanCamp)’s dynamic, Natasha’s diplomatic work, Sam and Bucky’s quarrels, Vision and Wanda’s impending relationship, Stark and Rhodes’ everlasting friendship and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scott Lang/Ant-Man(Paul Rudd)’s involvement make for numerous light-hearted gags and soul-crushing moments simultaneously. It even throws in new characters including vengeful Wakandan prince T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), spunky youngster Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and scheming, sympathetic human villain Helmut Zemo (Daniel Bruhl) with textbook precision.

This globe-trotting, ambitious adventure delivers some of the MCU and modern Hollywood’s most inventive action sequences. The much-talked-about airport set-piece marks the franchise at its absolute peak. This impressive sequence brings our 12 major superhero characters together with aplomb, showcasing the astonishing array of fighting styles, abilities, and personalities. Pouring gravy onto instathis already hearty steak, the opening sequence, car chase, and heart-wrenching finale provide some ass-kicking delight in between the political discussions and character-driven interludes.

Captain America: Civil War successfully highlights Cap’s never-ending conflict with the 21st Century and The Avengers’ struggle to reassure the human race of its importance in the universe. Thanks to esteemed direction, a stacked cast, fun character-actor cameos, big laughs, and even bigger emotional rifts, this is the franchise’s most mature and momentous installment yet. Fingers crossed Infinity War Parts 1 and 2 can live up to our ridiculous expectations.

Verdict: Another rich superhero epic/fulfilling MCU installment.

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Audio Review: Divided They Fall


Director: Zack Snyder

Writers: Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer

Stars: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg

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Release date: March 24th, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 151 minutes


2½/5

Review:

Daredevil – Season 2 Review: Red & Black


Creators: Doug Petrie, Marco Ramirez

Channel: Netflix

Stars: Charlie Cox, Deborah Ann Woll, Elden Henson, Jon Bernthal

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Genre: Action, Crime-drama, Superhero

Premiere: March 18th, 2016

Country: USA


4½/5

Best part: Jon Bernthal.

Worst part: A few too many episodes.

Last year, Netflix and Marvel’s first collaboration, Daredevil, set the bar for superheroes on the small screen. With Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War taking over the big screen in 2016, Marvel and DC Comics/Warner Bros. continue their ongoing war for supremacy and positive reviews in our homes. Eclipsing The Flash, Gotham, Agents of SHIELD, and Arrow, Daredevil – Season 2 is the best superhero show and one of contemporary TV’s biggest surprises to date.

Daredevil – Season 2 kicks off acknowledging the back-breaking, bone-crunching events of Season 1. With Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Vincent D’Onofrio) behind bars, Law firm Nelson and Murdock, held up by colleagues/best friends Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) and Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson), is – despite sending Fisk to the slammer – facing a swift tumble down the plughole. Murdock, donning the red, leather Daredevil costume every night, is forced to decide between a quaint existence alongside Nelson and assistant Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll) and ongoing vigilante/saviour responsibilities.

Of course, topping the quality and events of the previous season, Daredevil’s second outing introduces higher stakes and several alluring new characters. Frank Castle/The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) is a man driven to the edge of sanity by the death of his wife and child. With Hell’s Kitchen gangs hunted down one by one, the public soon turns against Castle and Murdock’s forms of citizen justice. Castle, depicted in several lacklustre big-screen iterations previously, is treated with respect here. Like his comic-book counterpart, this version is a cunning, thought-provoking anti-hero unafraid to twist the knife. Their action sequences provide that ‘dark & gritty’ aura most blockbusters fumble, informing each character’s persona and the show’s hyperkinetic atmosphere.

Daredevil and Castle’s conflict provides the psychological and thematic backbone other superhero adaptations typically lack. Castle provides a no-holes-barred approach, eviscerating criminals with military precision whilst making sure they never get back up. Daredevil, however, beats people to a pulp but leaves them for the police to put behind bars – eventually facing the consequences of their actions. From the scintillating courtroom sequences to thunderous set-pieces, this debate adds new layers to the genre whilst keeping the audience guessing.

Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) slinks out of the darkness to give our favourite blind lawyer/vigilante, and her old boyfriend, a run for his money. A significant part of the season’s second half, the character is too given an honourable treatment compared to previous iterations (Sorry, Jennifer Garner). Utilising her sex appeal, tenacity, and ferociousness to her advantage, her persona pulls Murdock into a befuddling world of ninjas, scheming villains, and spiritual awakenings. She, balancing out Castle’s impact on the narrative, is a force to be reckoned with and worthy of a spin-off before joining The Defenders.

Most importantly, Cox provides a delightful, multi-layered performance as the Devil (angel) of Hell’s Kitchen. Similarly to Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers/Captain America, the performer creates a unique, nuanced divide between superhero and alter ego. Creating a physical specimen and vulnerable everyday citizen, the creators, writers, directors, and Cox combine to develop an arresting lead character – carrying all 13 episodes with ease. With Murdock facing off against physical threats, Nelson and Page aptly balance the warfare with wit and flair throughout their all-important sub-plots.

Sitting comfortably alongside Season 1 and Jessica Jones, Daredevil – Season 2 is a tight, taut continuation of one of TV’s best shows and the Marvel Television/Cinematic Universe.

Verdict: A major notch above Season 1.

Deadpool Review: Blood-soaked Bro-down


Director: Tim Miller

Writers: Paul Wernick, Rhett Reese

Stars: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T. J. Miller

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Release date: February 11th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 108 minutes


 

3½/5

Review: Deadpool