VENOM is the red-headed step child of 2018 comic book movies. It’s in the off-brand world of Spider-man supporting characters still controlled by Sony but not allowed into the official Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a character that was hugely popular with a certain type of dude twenty-some years ago, but not really in line with current tastes in super heroes, and arguably having lost some stature after being played by Topher Grace in the unpopular (though I liked it) SPIDER-MAN 3. And many have noted that the script – credited to the diverse trio of Jeff Pinkner (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, THE DARK TOWER), Scott Rosenberg (DISTURBING BEHAVIOR, KANGAROO JACK) and Kelly Marcel (SAVING MR. BANKS, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY), based on the character by David Michelinie (made Tony Stark an alcoholic) and Todd McFarlane (SPAWN) – doesn’t seem that different from what it would’ve been if this was made in the late ’90s.
Let’s not get carried away though. The digital FX are like ten thousand times better than SPAWN’s, and you can’t call it a ’90s throwback if it’s not copping the style of THE CROW. This is filmed in normal locations and the end credit songs are by Eminem and Run the Jewels instead of, you know, Incubus or whoever it would’ve been. (read the rest of this shit…)
(Honestly it would be hard to spoil everything major that happens in this movie, because it’s hard to keep track of it all. But this review is loose and reckless with SPOILERS)
I learned in 2012 when THE AVENGERS came out to never underestimate Marvel. So on the third AVENGERS movie, INFINITY WAR, I figured they could pull it off – they could combine most of the main characters developed over 17 previous movies (people from the IRON MAN movies, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, the CAPTAIN AMERICA movies, the THOR movies, the AVENGERS movies, the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies, DOCTOR STRANGE, SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING and BLACK PANTHER) into one big super hero monster mash. But back when I had first learned that lesson, when they introduced the purple CGI space monster villain Thanos after the credits, I gotta admit I was still skeptical. I didn’t know how they were gonna make that guy cool.
They did it. To me he’s their best villain outside of Killmonger. It’s a cliche to say that comic book characters are the Greek gods of the modern age, but Thanos (Josh Brolin, JONAH HEX) is the villain that most lives up to that description. In fact, one minor problem I had with the movie is that he seems so convincingly powerful I wondered what the hell the Avengers and the Guardians thought they were doing repeatedly going after him. Like, come on Star Lord (Chris Pratt, ZERO DARK THIRTY), why are you pointing a laser gun at this guy and acting like that’s gonna do anything? Are you stupid? (read the rest of this shit…)
BLACK PANTHER is the first Marvel movie I was anticipating mainly because of the director. FRUITVALE STATION was very good, but of course it was CREED that made me think Ryan Coogler is one of the most promising young directors we have. Best and most miraculous movie of 2015 that didn’t star Charlize Theron with a robot arm. I’d be up for whatever Coogler wanted to do next, but this seemed like a particularly good match for him after CREED’s mix of moving personal drama, immaculate filmatistic style and 21st century pop mythmaking.
#2 reason: Chadwick Boseman. The guy playing the title character shot to the top of my most exciting actors list when I saw his incredible performance as James Brown in GET ON UP. I didn’t know how anybody could pull off playing The Godfather and here is this actor I barely heard of before transforming himself into crazy old man James Brown, young James Brown, all kinds of James Browns. And dancing and strutting and grunting and referring to himself in the third person and pulling it off. He didn’t get all that much acclaim for it, definitely not any awards – somehow he got to skip that step before becoming a super hero.
If you want to call him that. T’Challa isn’t a vigilante or anything, he’s the King of Wakanda, a culture where part of the job is getting supernatural strength and wearing a panther costume to defend the kingdom. It’s like if the president also had to be Superman. What’s cool about this is that Black Panther has to think about things none of his peers do. He has to be a symbol much like Captain America, but with the responsibilities that Thor skipped out of when he turned down the throne. Here he’s challenged to not only defend his rule from a dangerous usurper, but convince his people to shift the direction of the country in order to make a better world. (read the rest of this shit…)
Recently some friends and I were choosing favorites between Marvel’s three Chrises. It’s a tough call because Evans (the Captain America one) has the best Marvel series in my opinion, plus he seems like a cool guy in real life and starred in SNOWPIERCER. But Pratt (the Star Lord one) is the funniest and most down-to-earth Chris, and he has the more irreverent Marvel series. I even like his hypermasculine hold-on-I-need-to-roll-up-my-sleeves-so-you-can-see-my-forearms turn in JURASSIC WORLD.
Still, I chose Hemsworth (the Thor one) as my favorite Chris, because here is the most potentially embarrassing of the major Marvel characters, and frankly their least memorable series, but they got this Australian guy I never heard of who looks like He-Man and still was able to fuel the entire first movie on the power of his charisma. I really realized I was a fan when he did Michael Mann’s BLACKHAT. Not only is it a movie I really liked, but it was the first time in a while that one of these new guys displayed the type of manly magnetism that inspired me in the action movies of the ’80s and ’90s. I’m older than him but he made me want to grow up to slick my hair back and do hand stand pushups and read about philosophers.
So thank God his signature character Thor finally gets a movie worthy of his charms. Taika Waititi, the New Zealand writer-director best known for WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS and the great HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, completely reinvents the series as a colorful comedy much more in the vein (and sci-fi landcape) of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY than of the previous THORs. He quickly makes him funny, destroys his hammer, puts him on another planet and has cyborg Stan Lee cut his hair short. So it’s different. (read the rest of this shit…)
I liked the Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN movies (1, 3) and I liked the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN that I saw, but this new SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is the first one to convince me that hey, I like Spider-Man. This is easily my favorite version.
Continuing the story of Peter Parker (Tom Holland, phone voice of Tom Hardy’s son in LOCKE) shortly after he got to fight with the Avengers in CAPTAIN AMERICA V. THE CIVIL WAR, this is an upbeat, funny slice of life in a previously unseen part of the Marvel Universe: the high schools.
Thanks to being discovered by Tony Stark (Saturday Night Live Season 11 cast member Robert Downey Jr.), Peter is now armed with a high tech costume and the prestige of being able to talk about “the Stark Internship,” but he’s still a dork. He gets made fun of even within his Academic Decathlon team (thanks alot Flash Thompson [Tony Revolori, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL]), his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) talks to him about Legos in front of cheerleaders, and he annoys the shit out of his Avengers pointman Happy (Jon Favreau, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET), who doesn’t return his way-too-many calls and texts about wanting a new mission. (read the rest of this shit…)
Troma boy made good James Gunn (SUPER) returns as director and this time sole credited writer to bring us GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, the continuing adventures of Marvel’s literally-colorful team of intergalactic reprobates. Gunn doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, he just coasts on the charm and humor of the world and characters he set up in the first one. But this time they hit the ground running, already a team, and Groot (Vin Diesel, FIND ME GUILTY) is a baby tree man instead of a giant one, so they only have one big enforcer guy instead of two, and they have to take turns babysitting.
Think about it: wouldn’t it be weird if in one of the FAST AND FURIOUS movies all the sudden Tyrese was a 2-year-old and they still had to take him with them on their missions? It’s a pretty different dynamic.
“You obviously do not know who you are fucking with!”
On one hand, it’s hard to believe that BLADE II was fifteen damn years ago. I mean – I reviewed it when it came out. And I’d already been around for a few years. Am I really that old? On the other hand, an awful lot has changed since the movie came out.
Let’s start with Wesley Snipes (“Blade”). He made a part 3, had a falling out with the writer, they made a Blade TV show without him, he got relegated to DTV, got busted for tax evasion, did time, got out, now is sort of back and still the Man and hopefully will achieve more greatness. Guillermo del Toro (director) became better known and beloved for his specific visual style and obsessions, was nominated for a best screenplay Oscar for PAN’S LABYRINTH, continued to alternate between Spanish language art films and Hollywood productions, but never did a for-hire gig again, unless you count THE HOBBIT, which he toiled on for a few years before quitting. David S. Goyer (writer) directed part 3, co-wrote Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy and went on to mastermind the DC movie universe, as if trying to earn the extreme hatred many comic fans had long held for him for some reason. Donnie Yen (martial arts choreographer, “Snowman”) had a huge career resurgence at home in Hong Kong, particularly with the IP MAN series, and recently finally had success in English language movies playing the best characters in ROGUE ONE and xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE. Norman Reedus (“Scud”) also became a geek icon by playing Daryl on The Walking Dead, as did Ron Perlman (“Reinhardt”) by reteaming with del Toro to play Hellboy in two live action films and two animated (plus starring in many seasons of Sons of Anarchy). Luke Goss (“Jared Nomak”) was a former pop star from the boy band Bros who had been in a few movies. This breakthrough role led to playing the elf equivalent of Nomak in del Toro’s HELLBOY 2 and eventually being a frequent face of DTV, including starring as Frankenstein in DEATH RACE 2 and 3. Matt Schulze (“Chupa”) – okay, he didn’t become a big thing, but to me he’s an icon because he’s the villain in Seagal’s OUT OF REACH and Vince in THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS and FAST FIVE.
Maybe more notably than any of this, the techniques del Toro pioneered to combine live action stunts with animated doubles for super-powered fights and camera moves evolved into the modern style of comic book action (and blockbusters in general). His smart ways of adding digital effects to practical ones have also been influential. Getting a genuine visionary to do the sequel to a movie like BLADE is one of those things you always wish for as a movie fan but shouldn’t hold your breath for. This time you could’ve, though. It happened. (read the rest of this shit…)
In his latest vehicle, the King of DTV Action Scott Adkins plays “Lucian / Strong Zealot,” the right (or possibly left) hand man to a dark master of mystical world-bending sorcery magic spell power beams named Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen, VALHALLA RISING). Kaecilius was once a student of The Ancient One (international martial arts superstar Tilda Swinton, CONSTANTINE) but now suspects she is siphoning dark magic to extend her life and therefore steals a magic ritual from a special book of ancient something something, etc. So Lucian / Strong Zealot and another person are sent after The Ancient One’s new student Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, WAR HORSE) to try to destroy his magic apartment in New York and they have a fight in a hospital where they’re both ghosts but it’s kind of weird because (SPOILER IN FIRST PARAGRAPH OF REVIEW) Benedict Cumberbatch defeats Scott Adkins.
Okay, the truth is this is not a Scott Adkins movie. His character is small enough that when his big scene is described in an Entertainment Weekly article they don’t bother to credit him. It’s weird that as Marvel Studios continue to build this vast universe of re-usable characters they chose to use
1) Idris fucking Elba as “magic bridge operator”
2) Ray god damn Stevenson as “one of Thor’s friends that he has back home”
What you gotta do with some of these movies, you gotta wait a year, so it’s after it already came out and the director publicly disowned it and it flopped and everyone said it was a piece of shit and dissected how the studio reshoots ruined or failed to save it. That’s what I did and then FANTASTIC FOUR didn’t seem as bad. I’d go so far as to say I kind of enjoyed watching it.
The opening threatens to be GREEN LANTERN, with its kid versions of two of the four. But it’s okay, it just establishes that Reed Richards (Miles Teller, FOOTLOOSE) is a genius inventor prodigy and Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell, SNOWPIERCER) is his working class buddy who helps. When their high school science project actually warps matter to another dimension, Reed gets a scholarship to The Baxter Institute, where Sue Storm (Kate Mara, TRANSSIBERIAN) and her dad Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey, THE MACHINIST) plus grouchy ex-student Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES) are working on a similar project. With Baxter’s son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan, CREED) taking Ben’s assistant role, they build a dimensional portal to be used by NASA.
That’s when they make a poor decision: they get drunk and call Ben and try the thing out themselves. (Not “The Thing.” The dimensional portal thing.) That’s pretty original, actually. I believe Ultron is the only other comic book movie character with a scientists-had-a-few-too-many-beers origin. (read the rest of this shit…)
EXPLANATORY INTRODUCTION PARAGRAPH: I have noticed that some of the movies coming out this summer are based on pre-existing characters or stories. In this off and on series we’ll look at earlier versions.
I don’t know if the young people know about this now, but in 1989 Tim Burton’s BATMAN (do people even watch that anymore?) was a gigantic explosion in pop culture. This was way back when “geek” was considered an insult and “actually some comic books aren’t just for kids they call them graphic novels” was considered interesting trivia. A movie about a super hero hadn’t been popular since SUPERMAN twelve years earlier, and that had seemed like an isolated incident. Now all the sudden the world was captivated by billboards and merchandise of just the bat symbol. It was on cereal boxes and racks of bootleg t-shirts in parking lots. Batman was worn by skateboarders, celebrated in weird Prince videos on MTV, welcomed back nostalgically in reruns of the ’60s comedy series starring Adam West. Intrigued newcomers picked up paperbacks of the groundbreaking ’80s work of dark Batman that were considered sacred texts from publication until the exact moment when musclebound Zack Snyder picked up the ball (the dodge ball?) and ran with it. (read the rest of this shit…)