Tag Archives: Superman

Benedict Cumberbatch is Strange, but not strange enough

2 Nov
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Benedict Cumberbatch as Marvel’s Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts

“By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth, I say thee nay!” I was looking forward to hearing Benedict Cumberbatch wrap his Shakespearean diction round that catchphrase, at once ridiculous and sublime, but the new film of Doctor Strange failed to deliver – just one of several disappointments.

Doctor Strange was always an oddity in the Marvel Universe. Even Thor and his fellow Gods of Asgard sat better with the costumed superheroes than the dimension-spanning, spell-uttering, Eye of Agamotto-wielding Master of the Mystic Arts. The film goes to unnecessary lengths to shoe-horn him into that world, focusing overlong on his progression from man to mystic. Doctor Strange just is, all right? And if it gets weird, well, deal with it.

Given that Doctor Strange was the trippiest of all comics, first published in 1963 and doing as much as the Beatles to define the lysergic beat of that generation, it’s a pity to see its vaulting imagination muted. Worse, it’s derivative.

Strange’s apprenticeship in Kathmandu is like Batman’s in Batman Begins [interestingly, in real life the roles were reversed. As I wrote in my interview with Cumberbatch both on my blog and for  Canadian Buddhist magazine Lion’s Roar, he was once a teacher to Tibetan monks]; the bending space performed in the sorcerers’ battles is merely a more elaborate version of the folding cities of Inception; and if it was dumb when Superman turned back time in 1978 as an overly convenient climactic plot device, it’s much dumberer now. Even the most powerful scene in a particularly trippy journey into the astral plane is familiar from a YouTube video in which fingers sprout hands, whose fingers sprout hands, and so on.

An hour after the film, I found myself struggling to recall a truly memorable scene, original idea, or killer line of dialogue. Overall it was… adequate. I enjoyed it. There were good bits. It was well acted. But c’mon, Marvel: next time, take your foot right off the brake. Guillermo del Toro was once down to direct: now that might have been worth seeing. For a sequel, please?

Man Of Steel: repaint the ‘S’ on his chest with a ‘Z’

21 Jun

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What a colossal bore Man of Steel turns out to be. To get all Shakespearean on your ass, it’s a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It’s about as engaging as spending 143 minutes watching a statue.

Henry Cavill looks the part, sure; but he’s just not given anything interesting to do or say. The extended back story about his Kryptonian origins is about the most enjoyable thing, and even then not very — it’s all kind of rent-a-sci-fi, an origin without originality – and that only emphasises how resolutely earth-bound the rest of the movie is. Russell Crowe is good, and reminds you there was once some point to him. Michael Shannon, despite the hype, is wasted here on a one-note performance as General Zod that runs the gamut of emotions from intense, all the way through to even more intense.

It’s a shame. I wanted to love it, and I’ve read some pro reviews and seen the 8.1 grade on IMDB, but guys, guys, you have to give me someone to root for, something real to care about. It’s moral dilemmas, emotional conflicts that make even an action movie, not just the punch-ups. The only affecting scene in the movie from that perspective is the tornado (no spoilers by saying more). Superman deciding he was going to side with nice Earth people against mean Kryptonians was never an agonising choice.

So, Superman must save the world – in the guise of Metropolis aka New York — from destruction by an alien ship hovering above it. The climax of Avengers Assemble was spookily similar, only WAAAAAY more fun and inventive. If you’re going to give us a standard action-movie-type punch-up, at least make the choreography of it inventive, not just shot after shot of evenly matched superheroes punching each other through buildings. For instance: what really happens when an omnipotent force meets an immovable object? Put some thought into it, please.

The other problem is the production design. It’s as though Zack Snyder had heard that 50 Shades of Gray was wildly popular, but hadn’t realised the title was not meant literally. I’ve seen mime artists less muted than the colour palette of this movie.

And finally, Amy Adams. I like Amy Adams. Who doesn’t? But investigative reporters are not nice. Smart, yes, driven, yes, deceitful, yes. Nice, not so often. Casting her as some kind of latter-day Hildy Johnson just doesn’t fly.

And while we’re on the subject, what’s with this niceness epidemic? The essence of drama is conflict. But here, look at the people of planet Earth, not one of them is any less than thoroughly nice, apparently: Lois Lane, supercutely-nice; hard-bitten editor Perry White, yup, will selflessly risk his own life for his staff; even the army guys, after mistrusting Superman for about a second, get behind the cape and play nice.

Speaking of the army, that brings me on to a scene so extraordinarily stupid and casually sexist that, if it hadn’t come right at the end, I might have walked out. The notion that a woman, having recently won the right to serve alongside men in the military, having completed a gruelling training regime to weed out all but the leanest, meanest fighting machines, and having been entrusted with the position of aide to the most powerful general in America — the notion that this able, driven young woman would, on being confronted with the extraordinary spectacle of a God-like walking weapon in a cape more dangerous than any nuclear bomb, simply simper and giggle and say “I just think he’s kinda hot”… Shame on you, David S Goyer. 

Batman vs The Avengers

22 Dec

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Superheroes are currently locked in an epic struggle between the forces of darkness and the emissaries of light. I don’t mean good vs evil – I mean dark, depressing and dystopian, vs. primary-coloured escapist fantasy.

It was hard to imagine any superhero film topping Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series, which felt like the films we’d been waiting for ever since Frank Miller’s graphic novel appeared in 1986, and the last two of which made just over a billion dollars each. Then along came Marvel Avengers Assemble, with a staggering $1.5 billion ker-ching.

The reason for this blog? On the ferry to France, Batman and Avengers were playing simultaneously in the two on-board cinemas. I’d seen both before, natch. Which to choose for a second viewing? The culmination of a lifetime’s near-obsession, begun as a toddler, continuing with interviewing Adam West (http://www.dominicwells.com/journalist/west/) and then writing the first cover feature on the Tim Burton Batman? Or else the four-colour joys of Joss Whedon’s Avengers Assemble?

Slightly to my own surprise, Whedon won hands-down. To me, it’s an object lesson in screen-writing. It’s phenomenally hard to write a genuine ensemble piece which is generous to each character, but he pulls it off. We start with the Black Widow, tied to a chair and interrogated by sinister Russians. Then the penny drops for us, as well as the men, that she is interrogating them. The fight scene that follows, thrillingly choreographed as it is, is secondary to the message that this is a character with brains, as well as beauty and brawn. And that’s not all. Whedon piggy-backs on this scene to build up the next character: Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk. That this fearlessly able woman is patently panicked at the thought of meeting him gives us a terrific feeling of anticipation before Mark Ruffalo even steps on screen.

And so it goes on, the dialogue fizzing like Aaron Sorkin in a cape.  Even Pepper Potts, in her brief time on screen, is given zingers that show she’s more than a match for Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark. The Hulk has two bits of laugh-out-loud visual slapstick. As for Captain America, Whedon makes even his boringness interesting: “These guys are basically Gods,” he is warned of Loki and Thor. He replies: “There’s only one God, ma’am. And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.”

And a special prize for sneaking the insult “You whingeing c**t” into a 12A movie – which is basically how Loki’s Shakespearean insult “mewling quim” translates. At Time Out, our Marketing Director once snuck the words “f***ing hell” past the censors in a radio ad for the magazine, when Victor Lewis-Smith spoke of the “four quenelles” in a restaurant. Call me immature, but this gives me a similar kick.

What’s all the more remarkable is that this was planned so long ago. Five years ago I interviewed Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios (see full interview at http://www.dominicwells.com/journalist/marvel/). Tired of franchising his best characters to studios who kept messing them up, or perhaps worse, succeeding with them (like Spiderman) and pocketing most of the profits, he staked the company on a $550 million loan to produce the blockbusters themselves. Avengers Assemble is the final pay-off for a bunch of movies, successful in their own right, that were effectively glorified marketing campaigns for this team-up.

So you can keep your dystopia. Even Alan Moore is bored of the angst-ridden heroes he helped create, as he told me in several interviews, and returned to the old-school fun of his boyhood in his series 1963. As for Superman being Nolanised next summer – the new trailer does look great, but I’m not sure I want a gloomy, introspective Man of Steel, all tarnished and bent out of shape.

…What do you think? Comments please!