Category Archives: Comic Book

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X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) 3.9/5 (7)

 

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Rating: The Good – 74.9
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Duration: 132 mins
Director: Bryan Singer
Stars: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender

Director Bryan Singer brings an assured and classy touch back to the franchise he helped forge in this surprisingly gripping fantasy sci-fi in which two versions of the same X-Men are united across time in an epic showdown to save the Earth against a future army of robot “Sentinels”. Superbly balancing the multiple threads to the story so that the main plot pulses steadily and clearly from start to finish, X-Men: Days of Future Past counts as a rather impressive feat of story-telling. With Patrick Stewart’s “Prof. X” and Ian McKellen’s “Magneto” on one side of the temporal divide, their successors (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender respectively) on the other, and Hugh Jackman’s “Wolverine” straddling the two, we move between a nicely realised 1970’s and a desolate future as the older X-Men attempt to alter their own history and preclude the invincible Sentinels from ever coming into being. On the technical front, this movie is pillared by some genuinely striking action set pieces opening with an elegantly edited showdown between mutant and robot and peaking with an acutely impressive prison-break in the bowls of The Pentagon. This latter sequence, wryly soundtracked to Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle”, involves Evan Peters’ delightfully impish “Quicksilver” making a high speed mockery of the famous building’s security in a whirlwind of smile-inducing not to mention brilliantly conceived mischief-making. Alongside this brief cameo of what very well might prove to be the franchise’s most lovable character, what really sets Days of Future Past apart from the myriad of modern superhero movies is the sophistication of its construction. Though most of the future mutants offer mere cameos, Singer makes the most of their personalities and powers, deftly interweaving their trials and tribulations with those of their past counterparts and culminating in a suitably rousing finale. Given how uninspired and formulaic the genre has become, it’s genuinely refreshing to come across a simply well made movie.

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Man of Steel (2013) 1.9/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Bad – 25
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Duration: 143 mins
Director: Zack Snyder
Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner

Zach Snyder’s groaningly familiar Superman reboot in which the kid from Krypton finds himself all grown up on Earth and battling his space daddy’s enemy, General Zod. Along the way he….argghhhhhhhh, seriously, why bother? One could simply label this “thing” as nauseating drivel but so obvious is such a comment that there’s a frustrating feeling of redundancy to such critique. Instead, maybe it’s time we realised that these movies are not well…movies. They are a peculiar product in the guise of a movie but not meant to be critiqued on those terms. Not at all! Artistically speaking, superhero movies have been a fatuous affair for a while now but since their recent explosion in popularity it has become ever clearer that they are no longer even aiming to tell stories. Rudimentary plots, water thin characterisation, stiff dialogue all point towards a concerted lack of interest and investment in the writing of these films. In the mind of the studio execs, they appear to be nothing more than modules for delivering cost effective CGI action to young boys. Kind of like a very long CGI cartoon with big name actors prancing around in front of a green screen. Man of Steel is perhaps the most comprehensive illustration of this. A hectic rush to get a cliched backstory out of the way and then a breathless lunge into a series of mindless CGI battles unfettered by plot and linked together by their mere contiguity. And on the other side of the battle, not one of the main characters comes out any different than they went in. The main players simply dust themselves off and wait for the next adventure which instead of being an “episode”, will be packaged as a “sequel”. There’s no attempt to tell a story here. Lip service is paid to its signature premise in a manner that amounts to the central character’s brief and oh so tiresome consideration of his responsibility as a hero. But once that’s out of the way, it’s time for a long winded antiseptic showdown to unfold – one that will no doubt involve a lot of throwing of one’s enemy across streets, into buildings, on top of cars, across streets, on top of cars, into buildings, across streets……….

Any marks this one gets, is for spelling “Man of Steel” correctly in the opening credits.

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Wanted (2008) 3.19/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 60
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Duration: 110 mins
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Stars: Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman

It might seem redundant to state that a movie about a secret cult of weavers turned assassins is at best a guilty pleasure but so derivative is this one that it really does need saying. With its comic book premise that itself was cobbled together from dozens of better sources and with a sprinkle of madcap mayhem, James McAvoy stars as a painfully ordinary nobody who, after Angelina Jolie shows up to repeatedly beat the crap out of him, discovers his birthright is to be a super-assassin and avenge his similarly employed father. Absurdly obscure superpowers considered and colourless bad guy aside, this one kind of skirts along of the far boundaries of tolerance thanks to the rollercoaster of fun it serves up. So detached is it from making sense that you’ll gladly just give in and absorb the bullet-bending, car-flipping carnage and chuckle at the few decent jokes they manage to cram in between. McAvoy’s boyish charm helps a lot and when Jolie isn’t doing her smug “I-know-something-that-you-don’t” face, she cuts another fine action heroine. Together, they are fine but don’t expect the chemistry of Ford and Fisher. Noteworthy in his presence is Morgan Freeman who pops up in a (not atypically) curious cameo too but to little effect because Wanted is McAvoy and Jolie’s bag.

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) 2.5/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 73.4
Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Duration: 121 mins
Director: James Gunn
Stars: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Benicio Del Toro

Yet another comic book blockbuster from the Marvel stable of sci-fi fantasy. Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel are the eponymous heroes whose self-interests bring them together against a common foe who, like every other super villain these days, will settle for nothing else but the destruction of the galaxy. What saves this film from the black hole pull of a mind-numbingly familiar genre is the fresh sense of fun James Gunn brings to the script and its direction. The characters are drawn and played out with a care-free irreverence that drives the movie as a whole. There are no erroneously earnest pauses in tone to allow for some heavy handed emotional button pushing – well, none that aren’t cleverly rescued in time. Guardians of the Galaxy is a joke and everyone’s happy to play it that way. It all lays the groundwork for some genuinely side splitting humour, most of which, involves Cooper’s talking and brilliantly mental space rodent.

Though Pratt is a wonderfully unassuming lead with lots of self-deprecating charisma and Bradley is in rich vocal form, most of the credit must still go to Gunn. Making a funny movie doesn’t just require you to write funny but to direct funny and armed with his anthology of vintage pop tracks and a very wry sense of editing, he rocket propels the humour in his script. Okay, so a few of the jokes are taken a step too far but most are delivered with polish. And when we’re not laughing, the simply astounding visual effects ensure that we have something impressive to look at too and, while it never escapes the CGI look, the movie remains an immaculate piece of visual artistry. On this canvas, Gunn (particularly early on) crafts some dazzling action sequences and the ceaselessly fantastic gadgetry and conveyor belt of amazing aliens adds handsomely to their enjoyment.

Where the movie inevitably falls flat however, is in the wearingly repetitive plot that seems no different to that which the likes of Thor, The Avengers, or any number of the endless comic book adaptations (that we’ve been utterly plagued with these last five years) have offered up. Plots that seem to serve no other purpose than to provide a platform for endless battles and flashy explosions. For all the good this movie does with its character construction and comedic dialogue and for all the ingenuity of Gunn’s action, the brain eventually just switches off during these protracted sequences because the premise is too flimsy to support them. It’s part of Hollywood’s magic formula so it won’t soon change but anyone who doesn’t have the hormonal constitution of a 14 year old boy, is liable to find this movie’s visual narrative veering towards 3rd act tedium. Thankfully, Guardians of the Galaxy wraps up at just under two hours and while still perhaps 15-20  minutes too long, it’s a damn sight shorter than most other modern comic adaptations. Alongside its richer character and dialogue base, that saving grace, gives Gunn’s movie a significant edge on  the generic horde of superhero vehicles.

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The Punisher (2004) 2.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 60
Genre: Action
Duration: 124 mins
Director: Johnathan Hensleigh
Stars: Thomas Jane, John Travolta, Samantha Mathis, Ben Foster

Standard enough action fare as Tom Jane does the best he can with a fairly unadventurous interpretation of comic book hero Frank Castle aka “The Punisher”. There are some good actors on show here with John Travolta and Will Patton playing the bad guys and the late great Roy Scheider in a cameo appearance as Castle’s father. Ben Foster in an early appearance gives a good turn as Castle’s nervous neighbour. The story is predictable enough and the tension slips around the beginning of the final act but it nonetheless remains an entertaining watch.

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SUPER (2010) 1.29/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 75.4
Genre: Comedy, Crime
Duration: 96 mins
Director: James Gunn
Stars: Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler

One of those rare films which leaves you somewhat speechless, Super begins in the same vein as Mystery Men or the more recent Kick-Ass but ultimately becomes something much darker and much more serious. Rainn Wilson stars as a not very confident nor important working stiff who slips into madness when his wife (played by Liv Tyler) leaves hims for a dastardly drug dealer (Kevin Bacon in delicious form). After a painfully humiliating attempt to get her back, he funnels all his rage into the self-delusional persona of a crime fighting social avenger, “The Crimson Bolt”. Beginning with small time hoods or people who are just plain rude to him, and picking up Ellen Page’s even more eccentric sidekick “Boltie” along the way, he heads for the inevitable showdown with the bad guys who he believes have brainwashed his wife.

Kick-Ass flirted with the darker side of the super hero mythology by showing the violence and perils that come with donning a suit and mask but ultimately it didn’t aspire to be anything more than a satisfying action comedy. Super let’s you think it’s going in the same direction with only hints of what’s to come but then in the third act, it folds back on the genre to fascinating effect. Written and directed by James Gunn (who gave us the excellent Slither), this hugely original and even poignant film quite simply redefines the superhero genre.

Like the film itself, Wilson’s performance starts off in typecast fashion but ends up blossoming into some proper heavyweight acting. Page is annoying at times and genuinely hilarious at other times but that’s very much in line with her character’s personality. Michael Rooker and Tyler also score well but are somewhat underused. However, as usual Kevin Bacon is excellent and it’s fitting that it’s he who delivers the film’s defining line. You may not like where this one goes and the violence can be quite sudden and shocking but if you’re a fan of the genre, SUPER is a must see for its daring and originality. And in a world where action cinema is becoming synonymous with tiresome super-hero vehicles, a slice of cynical meta-analysis is just what the doctor ordered.

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X-Men (2000) 3.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 65.8
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Duration: 104 mins
Director: Bryan Singer
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen

Bryan Singer’s X-Men is an above average comic book drama due to a smart script, some stylish direction by Singer, and good acting all round by an ensemble cast of scene-stealers. The story follows a group of mutants who not only fight prejudice against their own kind but other other mutants who feels that such prejudice warrants violence against the rest of the human race. While the action is first rate and Singer captures it with an assured hand, the major strength of X-Men is without a doubt the witty script and the actors who seem to be enjoying every word of it. On that note, Hugh Jackman is the standout player as his Wolverine is both bad-ass and genuinely funny. Patrick Stewart makes an obviously good Professor X while Ian McKellen puts in a delicious turn as Magneto. Overall, X-Men stands apart from most of the comic-book films which were springing up at the time as Singer and co. employ a more restrained and clever use of the subject material and make the most of the opportunity to draw not too subtle comparisons between the anti-mutant prejudice of the story and real life prejudices.

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Spider-Man (2002) 2.93/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 66.4
Genre: Fantasy, Action
Duration: 121 mins
Director: Sam Raimi
Stars: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, Willem Dafoe

Credit to Sam Raimi. At a time when dark superhero movies were very much the in-thing, he not only bucks the trend but also his own traditionally darker leanings (Evil Dead, Darkman, etc.) and makes a colourful, cheerful, John Hughes like version of the web shooting hero. And most surprisingly it worked – thanks to a clever script, good young actors, good older actors, and some real electricity between his two romantic leads. Tobey Maguire is perfect as the dorky kid turned dorky superhero while Kirsten Dunst does the girl next door better than any other modern actress. The film even manages to survive Willem Dafoe’s ham-fest and even thrive on its funniness. The special effects are a little CGI obvious in parts but that is off-set by the startlingly authentic and almost hypnotic movement of Spider-Man as he swings through the city.

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Blade (1998) 3.14/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 78.8
Genre: Action, Horror
Duration: 120 mins
Director: Stephen Norrington
Stars: Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson

Ultra cool vampire flick with Wesley Snipes in the form of his life as the eponymous day-walking vampire who suppresses his darker appetites in favouring of beating 10 bells out of every other vampire he comes across. Director Stephen Norrington gives the film a stylish but menacing look (check out those muscular scenes where Blade is driving through the city) and crafts action sequence after action sequence that will blow your socks off (so much so that the Matrix may have even borrowed an idea or two). Kris Kristofferson excels as Blade’s gnarly old right-hand man and mentor while Stephen Dorff revels in the role of the nasty Deacon Frost. Blade is as slick and original as it gets and it’s is easily one of the best comic-book adaptations and/or vampire films out there.


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Batman (1989) 4.57/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 85.2
Genre: Fantasy
Duration: 126  mins
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger

Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson go toe to toe on the streets of Gotham as Batman and the Joker respectively in Tim Burton’s ingenious re-imagining of the famous comic book. Christopher Nolan and his films may be surfing on a wave of popularity at the moment but Burton’s original (and indeed his follow-up Batman Returns) is a far superior film to Batman Begins and even The Dark Knight. Coming from the mind of Burton, Batman’s darkness seems somehow more authentic than Nolan’s, yet it also remains more faithful to the comic book idea which Nolan was clearly moving away from. Burton’s vision of Gotham City and its colourful inhabitants are sumptuously brought to life through visionary set design, some of best dialogue in the business (seriously!), and terrific performances from all concerned. Nicholson’s Joker has one immortal line after another to chew on while Keaton’s hugely under-appreciated Batman is the most layered and intriguing portrayal of the Caped Crusader to date. Kim Basinger, Jack Palance, Michael Gough, Billy Dee Williams, and Pat Hingle all offer strong support but this is Keaton vs Nicholson all the way. The action set-pieces are all masterfully directed with the museum-escape sequence in particular standing out. Danny Elfman’s score quickly became the template for all subsequent superhero movies and the film as a whole changed the genre forever. Fantastic!

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012) 3.15/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Bad – 57.8
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Comic Book
Duration: 165 mins
Director: Christopher Nolan
Stars: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Morgan FreemanMichael Cain

Stunning but only in its capacity to underwhelm, The Dark Knight Rises may have had an army of fanboys defending its name on (and even before!!) its release but this supposed movie extravaganza is nothing but a damp squib. Christopher Nolan’s final contribution to the Batman franchise sees Gotham being held for ransom by a formidable foe named Bane (Tom Hardy) who hijacks the city under the threat of nuclear destruction. Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, a physically weakened Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) who has hung up his cape these last few years poses little threat to the savage Bane and must rediscover his zest for life in order to defend the city once again. Along for the ride are the usual assortment of characters from Michael Caine’s Alfred to Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon as well as a few newcomers, namely, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a boy wonder type, and Mathew Modine as a bigwig in the police department.

After struggling with the coordination and overall pacing of the multiple subplots in Batman Begins yet seemingly mastering them in the The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises is a return to the hectic, rushed, and just plain muddled film-making of Nolan’s first installment. Side stories are merely introduced and with no time to let them nor the characters they’re built around develop, they’re accelerated, truncated, and fleetingly revisited all with the intention of bringing them together at the end. Unfortunately, given their slipshod construction we could care less about any of those characters by the time they get there. Even Batman elicits little in the way of the audience’s concern as the interminable final act plays itself out.

The character who suffers the most in this is Hathaway’s Catwoman as her early sequences showed some promise as the potentially treacherous nemesis of the Caped Crusader. But like every other character in this movie, the tension she offers peters out and the treachery becomes jarringly ordinary. Yes, it doesn’t help that Hathaway is operating in the shadow of Michelle Pfeiffer’s seminal turn in Batman Returns wherein she came to embody the very essence of feline treachery but in truth she was never even given a chance to compete. Tom Hardy puts in an interesting shift as the bad guy and Nolan sets up his character and introduces him effectively. However, because his brooding menace culminates in nothing more than a bunch of physical beatings he dishes out, the character ends up stagnating and even diminishing in threat.

On the technical front, Wally Phister’s cinematography, Lee Smith’s editing, and the visual effects are undoubtedly spectacular but with such an insubstantial story underlying them, the movie begins to feel like nothing more than a slideshow of striking images. This becomes rather jading and the film feels more and more like a visual marathon. The set pieces are elaborately set up but such is Nolan’s tendency to truncate every aspect of this film that, with the exception of the reasonably impressive opening sequence, they’re never allowed materialise into anything like what we saw in either of the first two installments. In fact, if it wasn’t for Hans Zimmer’s thrilling score we would barely notice the tepid action that this movie repeatedly serves up.

In the end, the abiding memories of The Dark Knight Rises are of the endless yet entirely nondescript hand-to-hand battles (somebody finally teach Nolan how to direct a fight scene, please!) and of Batman flying very slowly away from those fights in his nebulously shaped flying machine (don’t ask!). In fact, one desperately struggles to comprehend why so many have raved about the movie. It’s true that Nolan hires the cream of the industry’s technical talent and so his films have a very shiny gloss indeed but with such confused and unfocused writing and direction it’s all just a bottle of smoke.

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Sin City (2005) 4.14/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 80.2
Genre: Crime, Action
Duration: 124 mins
Directors: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro

Robert Rodriguez’ adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel is a tour de force in conceptualisation and story-telling. Shot on digital video against green screen to give the effect of comic book pages coming to life, it tells three main stories that are interwoven into one overall tale of life in a city dominated by corruption, murder, sadism, and men and women of steel. This is hardcore squared as one mean mutha goes toe to toe with another until not one is left standing. Mickey Rourke’s Marv is the Alpha in this tale and the segment dedicated to his all-or-nothin revenge rampage is indisputably the best. Rourke is electric as the man mountain and with his gnarly voice being married to his digitally enhanced visual frame he becomes an awesome sight. The direction is truly inspired and elegant almost beyond belief. Rodriguez deserves the lion’s share of the credit obviously but he is aided by Frank Miller himself and Quentin Tarantino who did the tar pit sequence. The final sequence involving Bruce Willis’ character is the most visually arresting and wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Wilder or Welles film from the 40/50′s. Sin City is a singular film going experience and not to be missed if you’re a fan of graphic novels, film noir, action, or just plain great movies.

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