Tag Archives: action

355 – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Listen on the players above, Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Marvel’s invasion of the multiverse is now well under way, and in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness this dense network of alternate realities sets the stage for a race to save – what else? – the world. Which world? Dunno. Our world, the most important one, at least, but maybe all the others too.

While director Sam Raimi has history with superhero movies, having helped to bring the genre to a new maturity with his Spider-Man trilogy, it’s his low-budget horror experience he brings to bear on the MCU – there’s more than a little Evil Dead in here. It’s surprising and invigorating, and the low-rent, rough and ready feel it conveys integrates well with the expensive computer-generated embellishments we’re used to from Marvel. Multiverse of Madness is visually dazzling.

Sadly, it’s not dazzling anywhere else, its plot overstuffed, its thematic through lines unsatisfying and problematic. It relies quite heavily on specific knowledge obtained from previous films and television programmes in the series; the less of that context you have, the less this story will mean to you. And magic and the multiverse are quickly becoming the cheap, mechanical get-out clauses they’ve always had the potential to be, rather than thought-through, coherently applied storytelling elements: write yourself into a corner? Make up anything you like! Magic and multiverse can paper over any cracks your plot might have. The result is a disappointingly joyless experience whose visual splendour can only fleetingly distract from some fundamental issues with the story and themes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

353 – The Northman

Listen on the players above, Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Writer-director Robert Eggers, who previously wowed us with The Lighthouse, returns in style with a brutal, bloody Viking epic, based on Amleth, the figure in Scandinavian legend that inspired Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s the first of his films to see a wide, mainstream release and large-scale ad campaign to match, and it’s perhaps for that reason that it is in some sense less demanding that its audience put the work in to understand and interpret it – although there remains plenty of room for that, and it’s in a different league to the blockbusters with which it’s competing. It’s a film to put down what you’re doing right now and see at the cinema – it’s vicious, atmospheric, and beautifully shot, and you won’t regret seeing it where it’s meant to be seen.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

351 – Morbius

Listen on the players above, Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Sony’s Spider-Man Universe has given us a charming Venom origin story, a rather less charming Venom sequel, and now another film about a well-intentioned man inadvertently possessed by something that demands he feed on humans. In Morbius, Jared Leto’s brilliant scientist finds a cure for the blood disease that has tormented him and his best friend throughout their lives – except that it comes with a side of vampirism.

In short, Morbius is not a success. José describes it as what people who claim to hate Marvel, which has produced some very good films, truly do hate. It’s as blunt, CGI-laden and uninvolving as that kind of criticism implies. Mike tries to be fair to it – the hallway bit isn’t too bad – and we agree that there’s one actor to like in it, although we disagree on which one that is. José accuses the film of failing to appreciate that one thing a star should deliver is physical appeal; Mike accuses José of shallowness.

But as fun as it is to tease José, Morbius is not a fun film to have to sit through in order to get to do that. One to avoid.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

347 – Ambulance

Listen on the players above, Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

In the high-concept mould of Speed and Unstoppable, Michael Bay’s Ambulance gives us an ambulance, hijacked by bank robbers, that isn’t allowed to stop moving. It’s a real throwback to the era of genuine stunts, cars flipping over on fire, helicopters flying under bridges, and charismatic villains – with much less charm than you’d like, insultingly mechanical use of archetypes to manipulate your feelings, and low expectations of its audience. We discuss how well or badly it balances its actors, tells its story, uses its milieu to offer a portrait of the society in which it’s set, and more.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

346 – The Batman

Listen on the players above, Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

The latest in a long line of Batman reboots, The Batman claims the definite article for itself – and deserves to. Richly shot, dark, romantic expressiveness spilling from every frame, The Batman leans in hard on bringing the noir of the source material to the screen with unabashed sincerity. It’s the best Batman film of them all.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

344 – Uncharted

Listen on the players above, Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Having gone through fourteen years of development hell, the first of Sony’s planned videogame adaptations arrives – Uncharted, starring Tom Holland, turns the famously cinematic action-adventure treasure-hunting puzzle-solving games into surprisingly enjoyable action-adventure treasure-hunting puzzle-solving cinema.

Well, “famously” is relative – Uncharted is an enormously successful blockbuster series with which Mike is familiar, but José didn’t even know there was a series on which the film was based. With the benefit of his experience, Mike discusses how the film adapts five games’ worth of material and the expectations he had, and we consider the characters’ relationships and personal stakes, conceptualisation of the action, the similarities and differences to Indiana Jones, and Antonio Banderas’ villain.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

332 – The Matrix Resurrections

Listen on the players above, Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Listen to our episode on 1999’s The Matrix here.

After eighteen years away and vast changes in the blockbuster landscape in which it once broke incredible new ground, the Matrix series is back with a fourth film, The Matrix Resurrections. Keanu Reeves’ Neo is once again plugged into the Matrix as Thomas Anderson, but having trouble separating reality from dreams of events that happened twenty years ago… if dreams are what they are.

We discuss Resurrections‘ endless self-reflexivity, how it uses motifs and themes of the previous films, updating them where necessary and bringing more out of them (Mike is glad of the much improved use of mirrors). We also consider the film’s inclusivity, which is key to the Wachowskis’ work, and an uncomplicated joy here – it’s not difficult for people from a range of ethnic backgrounds and situated in different places along sexual and gender spectra to coexist in a blockbuster with no particular importance placed upon their identities, as Resurrections proves. You just have to want to do it, and the world that results is beautiful. And, at heart, it’s a middle-aged romance – for which José swoons!

Resurrections isn’t without its issues, and we consider those too – Mike asks whether the sense of wonder associated with the special effects of the original films is simply gone forever in a world in which literally anything can be done, and is, with all-powerful CGI, and we agree that the action is a Bourne-inflected disappointment, especially so in a series that itself spawned so many imitators of its own action scenes two decades ago.

But seen in its entirety, The Matrix Resurrections is an imaginative and interesting continuation of the story begun twenty years ago, and a holistic triumph of well-intentioned, positive and effortless representation. Whoever thought we’d get a fourth Matrix? And that it would be this different, and this good?

The interview with Jean Baudrillard referenced by Mike can be found here.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

322 – Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Listen on the players above, Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Venom returns after his surprisingly enjoyable, if trashy, 2018 solo debut, but we don’t find much of a way to have fun with this sequel. Its cast is underserved by both the direction and screenplay, Tom Hardy appears to want to be seen as a slob, there’s not a memorable shot throughout, and most of the comedy, while promising in principle, falls flat. Mike asks where the real carnage even is, the film scared to show anything even cartoonishly gory, while José decries the carnage generally present in American cinema in general, this film, like so many, unable to conceive of a way to generate excitement without blowing things up and causing destruction.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

321 – No Time to Die

Listen on the players above, Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Daniel Craig’s Bond bids us goodbye in No Time to Die, the culmination of his fifteen-year tenure as the gentleman’s spy – but is it really Bond? The character, and the films in which he appears, have changed in tone and attitude in recent years, in response to several factors, including criticisms of misogyny and the cinematic influence of the Bourne series, all of which results, for José, in a film that while good, just isn’t Bond any more. We consider what makes No Time to Die‘s Bond different, discussing his clothing, the intensity of serialisation from one film to the next, and the Bond girl – and, as Mike suggests, the character’s key change in attitude: Craig’s Bond takes things seriously and is capable of being outraged.

Although we pick at these things, the film is easy to recommend. The action is well-executed, Rami Malek’s villain beautifully played (if lazily written), and the entire affair is hugely enjoyable. Where Bond goes from here, who knows, but No Time to Die is a good send-off for Craig’s incarnation.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

316 – Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Listen on the players above, Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

A new day, a new entry in the MCU, and on this occasion we’re introduced to an entirely new set of characters and mythos: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings fills us in on the history of a young Chinese-American man and his dad’s magical jewellery. Like Doctor Strange and Black Panther, it’s a film whose connection to the wider MCU is light, establishing characters, a setting, and story elements that are certain to tie in to subsequent films, but free of the obligation to prioritise them at the expense of itself. And like Doctor Strange and Black Panther, that freedom works in its favour – it’s of a piece, interesting, pretty, and entertaining.

We discuss the film’s setting in a Chinese-American immigrant context, comparing it in particular to The Farewell and Crazy Rich Asians: all three films dramatise the cultural differences between the new and old country, and the ways in which the younger generation might face challenges in visiting or returning to their ancestral home. Indeed, Awkwafina appears in all three films, and, even in supporting roles, expresses this subject all by herself. We also think about the MCU’s use of the film to address its own past, a character from Iron Man 3 returning: Shang-Chi not only rejects the way the earlier film totally reconfigured him from the comics, but also addresses the Orientalism with which he has historically been associated.

And there’s more besides – Tony Leung’s beautiful, evocative performance of a character that nonetheless doesn’t quite work; the quality of the action, much of it a cut above what we typically expect from Marvel; and that classic Disney trick – if in doubt, animate a cute animal. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a promising start to the MCU’s next phase, and we look forward to finding out how its world will integrate down the line, but it’s worth seeing on its own terms.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.