Doctor Strange – Ayoub’s Spoiler-Free Review

Doctor Strange is not a character I’m overly familiar with, so the latest movie from Marvel Studios had very little to live up to in terms of character canon for me. Of course, it still had to live up to all the other Marvel Studios films.

This film has all the ingredients of the other films in the MCU; humour, a human story, action, and good versus evil, but it felt as if the balance was different. It’s a darker tale than any of the others so far. I have a feeling this was intended as a poke in the eye to the DC bunch – here is a darker story, and yet there are sprinklings of humour, often in the most unexpected of places (when you see it, you’ll see what I mean). At it’s core, however, this is a martial arts film. If there were an Iron Fist movie, it would be somewhat like this one.

While the bad guy is obvious as the bad guy, the film also deals with the concept of using dark power for good, and it deals with it well, but all of that makes the bad guy little more than an excuse to have a film. Other than Loki and Ultron, the bad guys in the MCU haven’t been that impressive, and this film is no different in that respect. Not that this detracts from the story as much as it could.

Now, before I get too tempted to throw in spoilers, I give the film 4/5 stars easily. When you go watch it, there are two end credits scenes. One hints towards Ragnarok, and the other hints towards Doctor Strange 2.

DC vs Marvel – A Tale of Two Theories of Filmmaking

Having seen both Batman vs Superman and Captain America: Civil War, I felt it was time to talk about the differences between the cinematic approaches made by the two biggest comic book dynasties around.

The most glaring difference (without having seen Suicide Squad) is that DC’s films are much more dark and serious in tone than Marvel’s efforts. It’s as if DC saw Marvel’s success and wanted to emulate without cloning, and that was the best way they could think of doing it. I think it goes a little deeper than that.

DC’s Batman comics have been dark and serious for a while, and Superman has also gotten grittier, but both still have more humour in one issue than Batman vs Superman. These stories are working in comic book form because humour, even wry humour, adds another dimension to the characters. Without that the characters would be two-dimensional cardboard cutouts, and that’s how they appeared on the silver screen.

Meanwhile, Marvel’s comics have also changed in some ways. Comparing the first Secret Wars to the latest event, just in the way the stories were told, shows a shift in language: the depiction of the heroes back then had them all sounding much like Thor – Heroic, loquacious, and serious. Today’s Marvel comics, while still action packed, show more well formed characters in that they are people who talk like we do. The comics show all sides, dark and gritty as well as light and fun. They’re more three-dimensional. Marvel have managed to translate this well in their films.

DC’s films tell a story, but one filled with mostly angst-ridden characters who seem to think that all there is in the world is the serious business of fighting crime. Even the people they love pull away from them in tragic pose to try to kick them out of their personal well of angst, but all it does is drive them deeper. It’s almost Twilight-esque (and anyone who knows me knows that is the worst insult I can give a film). Only their villains show any hint of humour, and yes, even that’s dark. They wear their pain on their faces all the time, such that even the rare moments of levity have the weight of pain behind them. It’s the same mistake that Sony made with the first Spider-man trilogy: they took away his wit and replaced it with duty.

Marvel films, while telling a story, present characters. They humanise their heroes. Civil War is so much better than Dawn of Justice because it’s not two relative strangers going head-to-head, it’s two friends. That’s what Zack Snyder forgot in his cursory read of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns. In that comic, Superman and Batman were friends, but estranged. They had a long history, which made their estrangement complex and beautifully nuanced to anyone who had read even a smattering of the many crossovers the two giants have had. All of that was abandoned for a wafer-thin reason to show almost exactly the same fight from the comic in the film. DC, in their rush to catch up with Marvel, tried to do in one film what took Marvel six, and ended up with a mess. It’s that legacy that also helps Marvel stay ahead – The Marvel Cinematic Universe is already rich with texture. If The Avengers had been made with none of the previous five films for context, it would have been a mess as well, but it would have still been fun to watch.

This led me to a realisation:

DC wants you to care about the events of their films, while Marvel wants you to care about the characters.

I say this because I found myself having a hard time caring in the last few minutes of Batman vs Superman. I should have cared. I should have felt something for a character that did what he did, but after all the angst, it just seemed a little uncomfortable. I’m skirting around spoilers here, and I don’t want to spoil anything. I’ll expand on this with anyone who messages me on Google+. My emotional response to the confrontations in the two films highlighted this difference between the approaches taken with these two films, and it is because of that difference that Marvel will continue to get better reviews than DC.

The problem for DC now is that, if they listen to their critics and go in a more Marvel-like direction with their efforts, then they will have still lost. They will only ever be remembered in cinema history as the other superhero franchise. They need to make people care about the characters in the films, but not by copying Marvel’s formula, and the first thing they need to do to achieve that is to get rid of Zack Snyder. They need someone running the show that understands the characters, and isn’t solely interested in elaborate set pieces. They won’t do this, however, because of the money they made from Batman vs Superman. The initial bubble in ticket sales for that movie inflated it’s gross, and that’s all Warner Brothers and DC care about right now, so it’s not likely that they will change a thing.

Zack Snyder has done what I previously thought impossible: He made a worse Batman film than Batman and Robin. It’s sad, because Ben Affleck did a good job with the material he was given, and while Batman vs Superman has some good points about it, it’s flaws are only magnified when compared to Captain America: Civil War. Maybe the folks over at DC should have a closer look at the universe that Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl are building on TV and take their cues from there.

Captain America: Civil War – Ayoub’s Spoiler-Free Review

I just saw Captain America: Civil War today, because it was released in the UK early, and I’m going to try to calm down and write something that’s not just a long list of words that amount to OMGOMGOMGOMG!

Suffice it to say that the movie gets 5 out of 5 stars from me!

There are three major items I want to discuss, without spoiling anything, and the first of which is T’Challa, the Black Panther.

Black Panther

Chadwick Boseman‘s portrayal of T’Challa was flawless. I had concerns with how the character was progressing initially, but by the end, I was satisfied that he was written faithfully. There were a great deal of fantastic performances, and to stand out in the company of Robert Downey Jr. is not easy, ever, so yeah. It would have been very easy to have T’Challa descend into one of any number of stereotypes, and as it went on, I feared that would happen, until, without fanfare or anything that seemed out of the ordinary, he suddenly gained a whole lot of depth.

The next major item is Spidey.

Spider-Man-3-1200x632

Tom Holland has already achieved one thing, as far as I’m concerned, with his portrayal of Spider-Man – he has acted in the best Spider-Man film to date. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield did decent acting jobs with the material they were given, but neither one of them were given material that evoked the same emotional response I had (and still have) when reading Spidey in comic book form. He wasn’t in the movie for a long time, but many of the basic details about the webhead were covered well. I do have one issue, however, and it’s a minor one: Aunt May is not supposed to be sexy! “Aunt May” and “sexy” shouldn’t even be in the same state, let alone the same sentence! But, you can’t take the sexy out of Marisa Tomei… A very minor quibble, to some, but Aunt May has always been portrayed as more of a grandmotherly figure. It will be interesting to see other opinions of that at some point.

Finally, I want to talk a little bit about the story itself. The bad guy in the movie is bland. He’s not memorable at all, but then he’s not really supposed to be. This isn’t a simple tale of good versus evil, like Age of Ultron, or The Avengers. It had much more depth than any of the other Marvel films that came before, and unlike those, has considerably more depth if the other films have been watched. While the other films benefit a little in terms of depth of reference, I feel that there is too much about this one that will go over the heads of people who haven’t seen at least the previous two Captain America movies as well as Avengers and Age of Ultron. This may be an action packed special effects extravaganza, heavily laced with humour and everything else you’d expect from a Marvel Studios film, but I will admit that going in, I feared I would find it lacking in a post Deadpool world. I’m glad to report that it wasn’t lacking at all. I doubt Marvel will be able to pull off an equally deep and engaging story in a hurry. That would be too much to ask, I think. It’s not that the future Marvel films will not be good, far from it, but this was more than a black and white tale of good versus evil.

Like I said above, this film gets a full 5/5 from me. All I can say is that if you’ve enjoyed the Marvel films to date, go watch it as soon as you can!

Matt vs Batman Vs Superman: The Review of Justice

(Note: This review contains no story line spoilers that were not obvious in the trailers)
So when Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice premiered in Hollywood, the fan reaction was amazing. People were posting far and wide about how amazing it was. That is until the critics had a say. A movie that premiered on Rotten Tomatoes at 95% Fresh (based on viewer response and is currently 71% for that same metric) only comes in at a 31% Fresh for critics. So who is right, the audience or the critics? I am here to tell you both.
Lets start with the good.

  • It is a beautiful movie with a lot of very cool artistic sequences that I am positive will be translated by someone to the comics, if not other media. One particular scene at the very beginning of the movie struck me as a great twist on something we have seen many many times. Also, the scene where we show Superman’s battle with Zod and crew from Bruce’s standpoint is a sight to behold.
  • Batman, while not incredibly comic book accurate, is EASILY the closest version to the comics to date. When the movie “Batman” (2020) starring Ben Affleck finally releases, I suspect it will take the place of “Batman” (1989) as my favorite Batman movie. He is dedicated, he is incredibly smart, he is a complete asshole and he beds random women. More to the point, he is a detective who has dedicated his life to fighting the bad guys. More on my opinion on that can he read here.
  • Superman LEARNED from Man of Steel. My biggest gripe about that movie was how he handled the fight in it. While not directly, it is addressed in this movie. Superman IS much closer to the pillar of virtue we expect him to be.
  • We introduce a female superhero and no one is screaming (or even inferring)  “equality”. It does not seem shoe horned in and it seems natural that she is there. Lets face it, we need more female superheroes and believe me when I say, Wonder Woman kicks some major ass!
  • The Batmobile is ALMOST as cool as the Tumbler from The Dark Knight movies, making it the second coolest Batmobile ever.

Batman_V_Superman_2787473f

Now the bad:

  • There were three sequences, all linked, that were horrible. Like actively upset me and made me want to yell at the screen type of stuff. They were all related to Batman and if they were cut I would have been MUCH happier with this movie.
  • Batman killed people. That is my one problem with his character in this movie.
  • There were a couple sequences where you didn’t know where someone was. Is Gotham right across the water? Are we in Metropolis now? Where are people going? What is going on? There is a lot of that in this movie.

Notes:

  • Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor is much better than expected. Not great, but lets be honest, we have never had a great Lex Luthor on the large screen. (Spacey did the best acting, but it was written extremely poorly).
  • The pacing was done much better than most “someone vs someone” story lines. Often times those stories don’t give enough time (or too much time) to the true villain of the story.
  • About three quarters of the way through the movie, a VERY obvious comic book fact is mentioned that I never realized and I feel like an idiot because it’s so obvious (and has been since 1938). By the sounds in the theater, I am not alone in not realizing it. Keep an eye (ear?) out for it.
  • People were upset that Gal Godot was playing Wonder Woman. They were worried that someone with such a small frame could not play the part of a warrior. Stop worrying. She did great and looked the part.

So yes, it was a fun movie to watch, I might even go see it again, this time in 2D (as you tend to lose details in 3D). I do suggest comic book fans go to see it, just don’t expect greatness and prepare for some brief scenes that you wish weren’t there. Don’t listen to the critics, make your own decision about the movie. IMHO, this was much better than Man of Steel, and not just because Batman was in it.

I give this movie 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Deadpool – Ayoub’s Opinion

This is not a review of the Deadpool movie. There are a great many of them around, and many of the positive ones have covered any points I would make in the way that I would make them. What I’m writing here is an opinion on what this movie means, and why we should celebrate that it saw the light of day.

Outside of Marvel’s own movies, too many of the other films based on comic books have been one director or another’s “interpretation” of that comic. Take for example the portrayal of Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, where some writer or director decided that the Merc with the Mouth shouldn’t have a mouth, or Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, where Galactus was turned into a cloud. These two are examples of a lack of respect or knowledge of the characters by the people making the films.

Deadpool marks the first non-Marvel Studios movie that attempts to be somewhat faithful to the source material. From one point of view, the Deadpool movie is more faithful to the character simply because the @#!&ing language isn’t censored the way it is in the comics. The biggest departure from the source material is the dead pool itself. In the comics, the dead pool was part of the Weapon X facility. Also, the absence of Ajax’s boss, Doctor Killebrew, seems odd. It’s clear in the movie that Ajax has a boss, but he or she is never mentioned.

Despite the changes, watching the Deadpool movie feels like reading the comic. The movie gets away with breaking all the rules because that’s how the character works in the comics, and the only way to make a Deadpool movie that will not be universally panned by every fan is to make it this way.

But why is this a good thing? Why should it be celebrated?

Because the success of this film should be a wake-up call, not only to the other studios with rights to comic book characters, but to Marvel Studios as well: It proves that making a film without major changes to a beloved character can work. It proves that making changes for the sake of making changes, or purely through the hubris of the studios thinking they can “improve” on the source, is not necessary. Deadpool works because it has been made by people who care about the source material, and by people who seem to be fans. They aren’t experimenting, and they aren’t setting off on creative tangents.

If the studios are paying attention, they’ll hopefully see that they need to rein in their teams, or find teams who are actual fans, and see what they can come up with in terms of telling the stories in a faithful, yet impressive way, otherwise we’ll never see a good Fantastic Four film, or a good Punisher film. I’m also hoping that Fox themselves pay attention and stop trying to stray too far from canon in the X-Men films.

The people behind Deadpool, led by Ryan Reynolds, have broken the mould by staying faithful to the mould, and that is why this film is important. Let’s hope for more of the same.

Rob reviews The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight, 2015

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demian Bichir, James Parks, Zoe Bell, and Channing Tatum.

SYNOPSIS:
In post-Civil War Wyoming, bounty hunters try to find shelter during a blizzard but get involved in a plot of betrayal and deception. Will they survive?

The Hateful Eight (the eighth film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino) is unlike anything currently in theaters. There hasn’t been an experience like it in over 50 years, and there’s a strong chance that if you miss out on one of the 70mm, Ultra Panavision projected Roadshows, it’s an experience you will never have in your life.

From the overture of Ennio Morricone’s hauntingly tense score, to the intermission at the midway point that allows viewers to chat it up with strangers discussing various elements of the narrative (most probable will be the “who-dun-it” aspect of its Agatha Christie reminiscent plot), also giving you a chance to free your bladder and refill your beverages (at 187 minutes you’re going to be thankful for the opportunity), The Hateful Eight is a cinematic event. Not necessarily in the same vein as a cultural phenomenon like Star Wars, but something for unabashed cinema aficionados, Quentin Tarantino fans, Western fans, moviegoers in search of something different, and generally, anyone that likes a good fucking movie.

Even if by some small miracle, someone can’t become enamored by the hints of betrayal and mistrust, punctuated by multiple sequences of lengthy politically fueled conversations and ruptures of mass bloodshed, the cinematography on display is beautiful to an unparalleled extent due to the aforementioned stylistic filming decision chosen by Quentin Tarantino. Some may come under the impression that it’s only the white hell of a blizzard and other nature panoramic shots that benefit from the much added depth and detail on-screen, but even the two hours or so set in Minnie’s Haberdashery have uses found for the technology.

Hateful Eight (3)

If you’re unfamiliar with the setup of the story, there are all sorts of people from all walks of life holed up in a cabin from different races, genders, and post-Civil War backgrounds. Factoring in that there’s a bounty hunter handcuffed to his prisoner of $10,000 in value, under high alert with the impression that one of the other six individuals in the room, or maybe even multiple parties, are not who they say they are, but rather are in cahoots with murderous outlaw Daisy to free her, and it’s no surprise that claustrophobic tension rises. Thanks to the 70mm Ultra Panavision projection, that essentially allows a 15% increase on the screen’s width, viewers are able to watch characters more carefully, which becomes of the utmost importance once the building is sectioned off into North and South territory, also containing neutral ground.

What transpires here is that transcendence from all of these players acting as characters, to becoming real life grounded counterparts to the American populace at the time. In that regard, a lot of the back-and-forth banter comes across as Quentin Tarantino’s most assured and mature work to date; there’s something raw and real oozing out of the orifices of nearly everyone involved. To fully appreciate The Hateful Eight in both thematic context and as an engaging mystery, it will undoubtedly require multiple viewings; the conversations are rich (despite the fact that Chapter 3 might go on for too long than its own good) while the cinematography offers up many instances of clues that will easily be missed the first time around. The very beginning of Chapter 4 is actually Quentin Tarantino narrating a brief moment that I’m almost positive was actually in the frame, yet so many people will miss. There’s also much to debate; some conversations are left ambiguous due to unreliable circumstances, which most intriguingly add new layers of characterization to the personas present.

10-hateful-eight-yelling.w529.h352.2x

And speaking of those personas, well let’s just say Quentin Tarantino is working with what is arguably the greatest ensemble cast of his career. Samuel L. Jackson plays the sassy back-talking black man you would expect him to play, while Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins chew up the scenery and spit it out. Kurt Russell has been around the block, but Goggins is the revelation here, putting in a performance so eccentric and filled with a strange vibe of glee for the situation he finds himself in as the sheriff of Red Rock, he’s a pure delight. Sure, he stole some scenes in Django Unchained, but given a major role now, the man takes the ball and runs with it, making you beg for Quentin Tarantino to cast him as a pivotal character in every film from here on out.

It’s Jennifer Jason Leigh though, who not only turns in a more subdued and restrained performance (after all, the first half of the movie basically sees the captor getting physically abused anytime she speaks or makes a sudden movement), that walks away as the show-stealer, and your potential front-runner for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Coming back around to that 70mm projection, watch all of her facial expressions and slight mannerisms whether she is in the foreground of a shot or the background. None of this is even accounting for her rough, raspy voice, elevating the character into something more than a prisoner in distress, but someone who almost deserves every bit of punishment flung her way after once having your sympathy. It’s a flawlessly measured performance.

Everyone else is serviceable, and you’ll definitely remember them, whether it is Bruce Dern’s quiet portrayal of a Confederate general vile racist of a human being, or Channing Tatum who has a surprise role (I won’t spoil what it is) that will assuredly please. The Hateful Eight has characters with depth portrayed by actors that, under the wildly off-beat direction of Quentin Tarantino, come alive in ways that are the very definition of unforgettable. Everyone here is despicably charming, filled with amusing bits of dialogue that will have audiences howling with laughter. They are also products of their time yet contain a slice of social relevance to the world today.

goggins-820x410

As you would expect, the movie ends in a cacophony of bullets piercing flesh, but what’s most fascinating is that this is somehow Tarantino’s most violent film next to Kill Bill, which is probably impossible to top. Nevertheless, the gore and brutality on display here continuously ramp-up throughout the hour-long climax that flies by in what feels like 10 minutes. The first three chapters may be deliberately slow paced, but in the end it’s all worth it.

Each half complements the other in ways that contrast the dialogue heavy portion with the inevitable extreme violence, justifying the surface-level absurd length in both thematic and entertainment value. By the end of The Hateful Eight it’s crystal clear that you have witnessed something epic, and for as overused as the word “epic”is in modern journalism, this is one such film where it fits the bill. Furthermore, the closing scene, amidst harrowing brutality is poetically powerful, and is without a shadow of a doubt, Tarantino’s crowning achievement as an auteur.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. Follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook