Tag Archives: comic book

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.

309 – The Suicide Squad

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

Apparently dissatisfied with the dismal reception of 2016’s Suicide Squad, DC has bravely decided to vaguely reboot the property with a spot-the-difference name change to The Suicide Squad, probably hoping that this new film will effortlessly send its predecessor down the memory hole. We ask whether it hits that whimsical tone it clearly wants to and discuss imperialism, satire, racism, gazing at males, rats, story structure, excessive volume and more.

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

305 – Black Widow

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

Marvel’s triumphant return to our cinemas is… a film that fills in a plot hole nobody cared about for a character who not only should have had a standalone film long before now but who has since been killed off. To say that Black Widow feels like a kick in the teeth is an understatement, but still, the MCU is back with us and we see what it has to offer.

And what it presents us with is something much more earthbound than the spacefaring antics in which Marvel has increasingly indulged: a good old-fashioned Russian spy story, and a family reunion of sorts, Natasha Romanoff driven to reconnect with the other undercover Russian agents who formed her surrogate family as a child. We ask whether the theme of family is done justice here, especially the father’s part in its expression. And, among others, we ask questions of the action filmmaking, the lack of humour in heroes, Romanoff’s conceptualisation, how the women are filmed, and whether it’s necessary to eschew edginess in order to pursue a progressive politics.

Black Widow is a film we enjoyed, though on reflection, picking out the reasons why is harder than picking at its flaws – but it certainly hasn’t dampened our willingness to continue following Marvel’s movies.

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

286 – Zack Snyder’s Justice League

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

In 2017, Justice League, DC’s answer to Marvel’s continuing Avengers crossovers, flopped. Director Zack Snyder had left the film several months before release, his role taken over by MCU regular Joss Whedon, and significant changes were made in an attempt to lighten the tone of what had so far been a rather bleak series. Immediately, talk erupted of a director’s cut – the so-called Snyder Cut – that would represent Snyder’s true vision, uncompromised by studio executives’ fears and directives. Initially no more than a meme responding to that film’s quality, it was given oxygen by Zack Snyder’s insistence that it did actually exist, and it now reaches us via online streaming in the age of Covid-19. There’s perhaps no other set of circumstances in which it would have been made real – on top of the original budget, the creation of this director’s cut cost some additional $70m – but what an opportunity to compare and contrast two versions of the same film.

At four hours in length, this is a version of Justice League that would never have seen a theatrical release, but the time it affords its characters to develop is welcome, and a huge improvement over the sketchy treatment some of them received in the original film – particularly Cyborg, played by Ray Fisher, who arguably becomes the central character in the Snyder Cut. We discuss and disagree on the decision to change the original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 to 1.33:1, which José loves but Mike considers a mistake, and look over a few key scenes and shots to explore the differences between Snyder’s and Whedon’s aesthetics.

And we discuss that new ending, additional scenes which help the Snyder Cut conceive of the overall story as epic, mythological fantasy, and more.

It’s a surprise to us both that we enjoyed Zack Snyder’s Justice League as much as we did, but there you have it. The four hours flew by and if this leads to the studio’s renewed interest in completing Snyder’s planned series, we’re up for it.

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

270 – Wonder Woman 1984

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

Despite a couple of charmingly enthusiastic performances from Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig, Wonder Woman 1984 disappoints, betraying what the title character stands for. We discuss the gender dynamics and representations, the Eighties setting, the Trumpian themes of greed, lust for power and the use of mass media to con, the opening scene that offers a glimpse of what the film could have been, and more. Although we criticise the film throughout our conversation, there’s still enough in it that we liked to force us into a mixed conclusion. But what’s wrong with it is really, really wrong indeed.

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

249 – The Old Guard

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

An ambitious, large-scale Netflix production, The Old Guard throws special ops, behind-enemy-lines-style action together with intriguing superhero-style mythology. Charlize Theron leads a team of immortal warriors, ranging from hundreds to thousands of years old, who find themselves on the run from corporate and military-industrial pursuers.

José is captured by the film from the beginning, his love for Theron’s action stardom and the film’s mysterious setup pulling him in; Mike takes an age to warm up to it, his inherent suspicion of all things Netflix keeping him wary. But when the story develops its romantic side, he softens, and both agree on what the film does best: the defiant declaration of love from one man to another, surrounded by armour-plated, heavily armed police. The Old Guard approaches representation of different sexualities and ethnicities in heartfelt, open ways, and the prospect of sequels that develop that further – perhaps even a universe – is promising.

Ultimately, José loves The Old Guard much, much more than Mike, but it wins us both over.

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

247 – The Dark Knight Rises

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

We finish off Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises, the most entertaining and enjoyable of the three films. In a Gotham free of crime thanks to the draconian Dent Act, passed in the wake of Harvey Dent’s murder at, so the story goes, the hands of Batman, who hasn’t been seen since, the intriguing, intimidating, revolutionary figure of Bane arrives to terrorise and occupy the city. A recluse since the events of The Dark Knight, the threat of Bane gets Bruce Wayne back in his cowl, but he finds he’s met his match.

We again question the film’s politics, Mike arguing that its fascism isn’t so much particular to this series as a core component of Batman in principle, and that maybe the most a Batman story can do is ignore it, rather than fix it. Its aesthetics come back into focus too, in its cinematic style and militaristic sensibility, José taking issue with both, though he loves the opening set piece. He finds a new appreciation for Michael Caine, and we take pleasure in the new additions to the cast, particularly Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway, and we leave the series in agreement that no matter our problems, it ended on a fun note.

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

246 – The Dark Knight

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

Having established a muted tone in Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s Batman series receives a welcome injection of flair in Heath Ledger’s Joker, the villain and main attraction of 2008’s The Dark Knight. Ledger’s Joker captured imaginations and helped the film to a billion dollar box office gross, back when hitting that milestone was rare. José, as with Batman Begins, never got The Dark Knight, while Mike was so hyped for it that he saw it twice in IMAX before its official release. We discuss what holds up today and what doesn’t, what the appeal is, the 70mm IMAX cinematography, how and why the film became a cultural meme, and what ideologically drives it.

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

244 – Batman Begins

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

Cineworld’s reopening brings socially distanced screenings of past hits while the studios figure out their strategies for new releases, and with the highly anticipated and imminent release of Christopher Nolan’s new sci-fi, Tenet, his previous blockbusters are once again showing. José chooses Batman Begins, hoping to understand what he didn’t get when he first saw it in 2005, and why it matters.

To Mike’s generation and demographic, Batman Begins is, if not a great film, an important one, as its muted aesthetic and attempt to render Batman and Gotham as plausible entities, capable of existing in the real world, signalled a significant difference from the outlandishness of both previous and contemporary comic book adaptations, and its tone conveyed a seriousness of purpose – how honestly or successfully is up for debate – that contributed to the idea that superhero films could begin to be taken seriously and even considered as Oscar contenders. And, although his previous three films had all been successful, Batman Begins was the first blockbuster of Nolan’s career, and the financial success and cultural impact of his work would only increase, making him a dominant figure in cinema for people like Mike.

But Nolan’s Batman trilogy has always left José feeling lost – something that might be true of Nolan’s work overall – and he’s keen to work out what he might be missing, whether it’s more than just a generational thing, or whether, indeed, it’s the children who are wrong.

We think through how Nolan reimagines Batman, and how differently Batman Begins feels now that it’s fifteen years old. Mike suggests that the benevolent billionaire figure of Thomas Wayne, Batman’s dad, is no longer believable, if indeed it ever should have been, and José turns a peeve about Nolan’s almost entirely European casting into a working theory about the Britishness of his film, and what that means for its fidelity to the themes and tone of the comic books on which it’s based.

We’ll be following this up with discussions of the two successive Dark Knight films, as well as Interstellar and Inception, in this impromptu Christopher Nolan season. It’s all thanks to finally being back at the cinema, where, as José loudly shouts in the face of everyone who think their big telly is great, all films are best seen – especially Christopher Nolan’s.

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

211 – Birds of Prey

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

Trying to build a portrait of patriarchal power and subjugation that shapes the lives of five women, Birds of Prey takes a solid enough foundation and executes it abysmally, lacking visual style, coherent storytelling, and really any imagination. It’s the worst time José’s endured at the cinema in a year; Mike heroically offers a couple of examples of moments he enjoyed – the flying sandwich – but there’s no rescuing these damsels in distress.

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