Tag Archives: comic book

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.