MS. MARVEL (2022)

Among the better Disney+ Marvel series.

Super sweet and charming, plus it’s refreshing to have a completely different perspective in the MCU.

Strong emphasis on culture, history and family from a Pakistani/Muslim perspective, made accessible by an extremely charismatic performance from Iman Vellani.

There’s a bit of a change-up in her powers compared to the comic, but I kinda get why. It makes her a bit more unique in the MCU, since Reed Richards is due to arrive in the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, and Marvel seems pretty much allergic to using The Inhumans for anything. It works here to tie them back to her heritage, and by the end of the season she’s using them in a way that’s practically the same idea, only done with sparkly gemstone type effects instead of stretchiness/Embiggening.

The villain arc is a bit weak, but it’s got youthful energy to spare, and a lot of fun production design.

Young Avengers lineup is looking promising!

Still, it’s fair to feel fatigue with the endless parade of superhero stuff, and it’s nice to have something lighter on the roster.

Recommended.

THOR: LOVE & THUNDER (2022)

Good, but inconsistent.

I think this is the first time that an MCU film has been soundtracked by a single band, and Guns ‘n’ Roses fits the 80s Flash Gordon heavy metal kinda vibe perfectly.

Probably the most symptomatic of the Marvel “pandemic” phase, where things feel rushed to fit with unreasonable scheduling pressures.

Messy in tone, writing and pacing, BUT it’s also a lot of silly, irreverent fun. It’s choppy on both the micro and macro level — could have been improved with another pass on the script, less reliance on improv, and a bit more time given to the villain.

Still, it’s a light, campy escapade. Jane Foster gets a cool power set and a tragic arc, the production design is excellent, and the villain is creepy (even if Christian Bale is underused).

A good time, despite being undercooked and feeling like it was assembled too quickly.

Worth a watch.

UMBRELLA ACADEMY // s03

Keeps going from strength to strength, and this was the season that finally tipped me over from just really liking the characters to loving them.

Yet again there’s an apocalypse to avert, so yet again the Academy has to work together to save the world. Only this time, they’ve managed to erase themselves from the timeline so there’s another family of dysfunctional heroes with weird powers to contend with as well.

Everyone’s grown and changed in some way, and so having the season remain relatively static in terms of locations allowed for more focused character work, dressed up in probably the best that the already-great production design has been for the show.

Casting and performances are pitch perfect, VFX are fun and creative, story’s weird and fun.

This is up there with Stranger Things and Dark as the more consistent Netflix fare, so hopefully we’re getting at least one more season, since it really feels like it’s moving towards another big shakeup going forwards.

Recommended.

MOON KNIGHT // s01

More of an archeological adventure with superhero elements than a straight superhero show.

Definitely draws some influence from the 90s version of The Mummy, and the globe-trotting adventures of National Treasure and Indiana Jones. As such, it feels very disconnected from the rest of the MCU, but this only works to its own benefit.

Oscar Isaac is really giving everything to his performance, split between two distinct personalities at odds with one another while in the service of the Egyptian god of vengeance.

It’s this focus on character, while using the capes and magic stuff as set dressing, that puts this a cut above the rest. It’s short too, coming in at just six episodes, so it packs everything in without overstaying its welcome.

No prior knowledge of any other Marvel stuff required, just a fun standalone little adventure. Hopefully more of the Disney+ shows work to this kind of structure.

DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022)

Messy and weird, with Sam Raimi’s fingerprints all over it.

Yep, Marvel finally actually let a director push out against the edges of its age rating. It’s got weird camera angles, honest-to-goodness horror, and actual gore! This is absolutey the least kid-friendly of any MCU—at times genuinely disturbing and frightening.

At its best when it’s at its most Raimi. Some really fun and creative sequences, mostly packed into the back half. Suffers from some pretty blunt exposition and clunky dialogue, but it’s aiming right for that sweet spot of hammy and cheesy, and mostly lands. It’s kinda schlocky!

As a multiverse film it’s… surprisingly underwhelming? But coming off the back of the absolutely exceptional masterpiece that is Everything Everywhere All At Once, any multiverse film is going to feel lacking. There’s the usual rollout of Marvel cameos and teases, but here it doesn’t feel so much like an obligatory setup for the next set of films as it does an excuse for some ridiculously violent action sequences spiced up with fan service. Honestly, I wasn’t blown away by the four or five big cameo appearances (beware spoilers online!), but it also didn’t feel like it was trying to drop them as gotchas so I kind of appreciated that. Ends up meaning far less for the MCU going forward than I was expecting, but that’s actually good?

Overall, a big fun carnival ride. It’s different enough from standard superhero fare, while also feeling like a distinctly superhero film. Danny Elfman’s score really elevates it into this too, and there’s a few sequences with really fun use of music in the action.

Deviation from MCU norms mean that it won’t be for everyone, but those out-there moments are when it really shines. I’m curious to know how successful it’ll be, given the focus on horror elements, and I’m glad they actually took a chance in this direction for once.

Recommended.

THE BATMAN (2022)

This might be the best cinematic incarnation of Batman ever. More Noir crime thriller in the vein of se7en or Zodiac than your standard action blockbuster fare.

That’s likely to turn some people off it, but when that Batmobile roars to life like a godsdamned demon or The Bat walks down a black hallway lit by only the gunshots of the goons he’s taking on, it’s hard not to pick up what it’s putting down.

Pattinson’s Bat is brooding and serious, but he also recognizes he is supposed to help people. He’s also a brilliant detective — something often overlooked in favour of grander spectacle. The Batman takes place almost exclusively at night, over the span of about a week on the trail of a serial killer loose in Gotham City. It’s long and it’s slow and it’s deliberate.

The city itself feels like a strange hybrid of not quite New York, not quite Chicago, all gothic architecture and constant, miserable rain.

The Batsuit, Batmobile and all his detective gadgets all have a handmade, reappropriated feel that really adds to the grounded tone.

Soundtrack is great. Performances are all excellent. Cinematography is understated, but frequently impressive.

Could probably have been trimmed down a bit, since the final act feels a bit superfluous after a big string of satisfying resolutions, and there’s an unnecessary cameo right by the end that feels like a studio note.

Still, this feels like an absolute step in the right direction. Doesn’t quite have the big punch of the Nolan films, but I actually kind of prefer this style. Very, very promising for sequels.

Highly recommended.

PEACEMAKER // s01 (2021)

James Gunn has an inimitable talent for elevating rejects and burnouts into some of the most compelling, complex characters in modern pulp fiction.

Even indicental characters get more development than half the leads of modern blockbusters, in a mix of deep pathos and hilarious irreverence.

Peacemaker is no different — an anti-hero at his heart, John Cena brings a gravitas to this sad asshole that makes him much more fun than your standard comic fare.

Ultra-violent, frequently disturbing, and leaning into Gunn’s penchant for visceral body horror spliced with dark humour, it’s a wild ride and a tonne of fun.

If you liked the recent (and also excellent) The Suicide Squad, you’ll like this.

Recommended.

SPIDER-MAN: No Way Home (2021)

A brilliant conclusion to the Tom Holland/Jon Watts “Home” trilogy, that is almost impossible to discuss without severe spoilers for the back half of the film.

Best appreciated knowing as little as possible beforehand, but I’ll still keep from spoiler discussion until after the click-through below.

The shortest spoiler-free review is: it’s bloody great, go and see it.

Fundamentally, this is taking MCU Spidey and directly addressing the criticisms levelled at this incarnation (Iron Boy Jr, a lack of Uncle Ben, too many advantages compared to the traditional depiction) and playing hardball with them to set up what may well prove to be the most wonderully accurate cinematic Spider-Man we’ve ever seen. Personally, I’ve always loved this Spider-Man, but to see how they’ve maneuvered the franchise into what it will be going forward is an absurdly impressive feat. Everyone gets their cake.

Some CG is a little wonky, but it’s balanced out by some fantastic Dr Strange sequences (Multiverse of Madness hype!) and wonderful character work. I genuinely believe Tom Holland will win over a lot of his haters with this one.

Look, spoilers are all over the internet, try and get out to see it as soon as you can. Otherwise, I’ve barricaded spoilers behind the jump.

Highly recommended.

SPOILERS BELOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Continue reading “SPIDER-MAN: No Way Home (2021)”

VENOM: Let There Be Carnage (2021)

I don’t even have much to say about this one.

It’s a tight ninety minutes worth of weird creative decisions, bland monster stomping action and awkward melodrama strung up around what barely passes for a plot.

Doesn’t even have the decency to be outright terrible, it’s mostly just uninteresting.

Sony really doesn’t know what they’re doing with Venom as a character, starting with having his origin separated from Spider-Man and running right through two films now where the primary antagonists are just gooey monsters of a different colour.

Venom is meant to be a body horror creature, and Carnage is that idea taken to the extreme. Some of the effects are wonderfully gristly and meaty, but it’s completely wasted on a bloodless PG-13 rating.

Nothing really happens. Players just move from scene to scene and then there’s a CGI fight that’s generic, but worst of all, forgettable.

Not worth the time.

MARVEL’S ETERNALS (2021)

So different to the usual Marvel fare that it’s understandable the audience reaction is so mixed.

I really enjoyed it though! Don’t believe the haters, there is really something distinct here.

A cosmic epic spanning millennia, centering on a group of immortal beings sent as caretakers for humanity to gently guide their development.

Yes, it’s very slow and often dense with exposition. I would argue it might have been better served as a prestige series to allow it more time to breathe, but it does a lot with the time its given even if the pacing is uneven. Even at two and a half hours it feels like some decent sized chunks were lost in the edit.

The characters are great and their “family” dynamic is full of well executed moments and humour. Their powers are all distinct and visually striking, some of the most interesting in the MCU. The visual design is on a whole other level, there’s a kind of scope and scale here that’s wonderful to behold. The lore, while heavyhanded, is fascinating and rich.

Not without its problems, but I’m willing to forgive a lot for the sake of ambition on display. Doesn’t require any pre-existing knowledge of Marvel stuff to get into it, this is actually impressively standalone for the most part. It’s taking chances I want to see more blockbusters take.

Not for everyone, but certainly not the disaster some are hyperbolically painting is as.

Recommended.