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.

THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021)

Absurdly violent, ridiculously silly and very, very entertaining.

The smartest move was definitely to just ignore that they made one of these in 2016 and throw a whole pile of fresh C-list characters into the grinder.

Never once takes itself seriously, yet manages to take enough time to bring an emotional core to each of these assholes to make the stakes stick and the action meaningful.

Soundtrack’s great, characters are fun, story is appropriately bonkers. Most importantly, it’s a good time!

Easily the best DC film, requires zero comic knowledge to enjoy.

Definitely recommended.

LOKI (2021)

The best of the Disney+ Marvel shows so far.

Production design is outstanding, the cast is charismatic and strange. It’s a tight six episodes too, which is a real sweet spot for these series. Feels like the best parts of a Dr Who adventure mashed together with a big budget behind it.

There’s SO MUCH fan service drawing from the deepest, more ridiculous and obscure depths of Marvel Comics’ silliness.

Ultimately the story ends up servicing the next big phase of MCU projects, but it does so with style and the characters are fun. I mean, they weren’t exactly going to let Tom Hiddleston off the hook easily, were they?

Alligator Loki is MVP.

Recommended.

BLACK WIDOW (2021)

A great standalone spy film that’s biggest flaw is that it maybe came a few years later than it deserved.

It’s refreshing to have Natasha reframed and to have her backstory finally filled in, and the supporting cast here is one of the best things about it. It’s a made family of strong and capable women, plus a strongman clown, and the dynamic is great.

The action is among the best in the MCU, though arguable the Taskmaster is a little underutilised — fundamentally a Winter Soldier redux but with a more interesting moveset gimmick. Still, there’s room to push the idea closer to the comics going forward.

Does a lot to set up characters and potential for the next generation of Avengers, but smartly keeps focused on having Black Widow be its own film.

A good time, and great to see as a blockbuster up on the big screen.

Recommended.

JUSTICE LEAGUE: The Snyder Cut (2021)

Is this an improvement over the theatrical/Whedon cut? Yes.

Is is actually a good movie now? No.

Look, I’m happy for Snyder that he got to complete his film the way that he intended, but I really don’t like his approach to any of the characters, and the storytelling swings wildly from slow and dull to heavy-handed and pretentious. This did not need to be four hours long and it’s a shocking amount of self-indulgence that kept it above the 120min mark for what essentially amounts to a retread of 2012’s The Avengers but with barely half the charm and a tenth of the colour pallet.

Primary villain Steppenwolf gets an excellent design rework and more complex motivations, but he boils down to a grey/silver redux of Loki’s role less the mischief and wit. Hell, he’s even looking for cubes and comes complete with a mindless army and a hooded go-between to the true Big Bad: Thanos…. erm, Darkseid.

Darkseid is in this! Yep. That character nobody outside of pre-existing DC fans knows anything about is introduced in flashbacks and then shows up at the end to bait for a sequel that will never come.

Instead they burn 30-odd minutes on a weird flash-forward post-apocalypse sequence so that Batman can threaten to kill Jared Leto’s Joker (in his most Ledgery portrayal) and then angry Superman can show up again and the whole thing can end on a weird downer that undoes the victory of the final battle.

It all feels so pointless. Every thirty minutes or so is something that makes you go “oh that’s pretty cool” and then we snap right out of it when Snyder does another cringeworthy needle drop. Like, the songs themselves are good songs, but he always deploys them in the most ham-fisted, obvious way and I can’t think of another director that makes me physically recoil so hard from hearing a familiar song in a film. Oh, Aquaman is a king? Here’s a pompous Nick Cave song with lyrics about a kingdom and a king cut exactly to fit a slow-motion walk into the ocean. Like, fuck, that is about as subtle as throwing a bowling ball through a plate glass window. My eyes almost rolled out of my skull and I like both Nick Cave and Momoa’s Arthur Curry (despite the movies he’s in being mediocre at best). And there’s not one but two scenes of him walking into the sea to dramatic music within 20min of one another.

What of the other characters?

Batfleck is fine. He doesn’t show up as Batman until two hours in. Jeremy Irons is a great Alfred.

Cyborg has a significantly enhanced role this time around. Ray Fisher does a good job. Sucks to hear the shoot was a nightmare for him. But… why not make his cyberspace sequences more visually distinct from the rest of the film though? It’s the same brown/orange as all the fight sequences, the same as the flashbacks, the same as the apocalypse sequences. There’s no distinction between any of the visual design, which doesn’t make it consistent or cohesive, it makes it bland.

Wonder Woman suffers hard from the fact that her next movie to release after this was set decades before this and contained several plot points that contradict dialogue in JL, as well as making her character intensely, retroactively unlikeable.

The Flash has the best visual sequences in the film but Ezra Miller’s twitchy portrayal of Barry Allen wears thin quickly. There’s something to be said for the fact that we barely see him actually moving fast too. All his speed-force shots are in slo-mo, which gives a good sense of his perpective but we don’t get enough contrast for what it’s like for those around him or what a layperson would see. Slowing things down constantly absolutely shatters the pacing, especially when slo-mo is used at other times when Flash isn’t even present because it’s Snyder’s visual crutch.

Superman is the same as he was. The weird digital lip scene is cut, he gets a colour swap on his suit, and he basically shows up as a deus ex machina in the final fight to do some good punching and that’s all.

Overall, it’s bloated, self-important, self-indulgent and self-serious. This didn’t need to be three hours long, let alone four. The “chapters” only serve to break up the runtime but don’t have much of a narrative arc distinct to them aside from loosely clustering scenes that happen around the same time in the plot without distinct through-lines.

Now that this whole hashtag has run its course I hope everyone can just bloody move on and start making new things instead of shovelling 20 indie movie budgets at a monstrosity like this. For all those celebrating this an unquestioned masterpiece, I ask:

This?

This is what you have been insufferable about for the last four years? This is what was worth harassment campaigns and nearly ruining peoples’ lives? It’s not worth any of that. It’s not visionary or groundbreaking in any way that could justify its $400m+ budget. It’s not even very entertaining.

If you haven’t seen it, don’t burn four hours of your life on it. If you love it, I don’t understand you. Just let the Snyderverse die off now.

Shazam is still the best DC film. At least that one was fun to watch.

PS. The 4:3 aspect ratio is stupid. You’re not “getting more information” if you’re cutting a third out of every single screen this will be watched on. Want more height in the frame? Pull back further in the shot. Widescreen is standard now for a reason, dammit! It was shot for IMAX? It’s not being watched on IMAX!

PPS. What was the point of the “Unite the Seven” marketing? There are five characters in most of this film, six when Superman gets revived. The other DC characters that make appearances aren’t part of the Justic League for the entire film.

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020)

Eh.

Feels like an 80s movie through and through, from direction to VFX composition, it’s as much the aesthetic of the Donner-era Superman as anything else.

Thing is, there’s some super-sketchy political messaging in there regarding the Middle East, and the final hopeful climax of the film that sees all the people of the world renouncing their wishes to heal the chaos… well, it’s kinda far-fetched for 2020, even in a pulpy superhero film.

The pacing is slow and it treads on its own feet trying to tell you its themes rather than embodying them and there’s really no iconic moments that match the No Man’s Land sequence in the first.

As a blockbuster it’s fine. Serviceable, a bit naïvely optimistic and uncritical of the world it uses as its backdrop and regularly too-convenient in its plot devices. All tell, no show. Even the chemistry between Gadot and Pine is stunted compared to the last round. Pascal looks like he’s having fun, at least.

Dodgy CGI all over the place, but it’s a pandemic film so it’s hard to judge too harshly even though we have television shows with better output this year. Unfortunately it does the same videogame boss battle climax the last one did.

Overall, never really rises above “okay”. Hard to even find a lot to highlight — I watched this just hours ago and it’s already smudged together. Can’t even work up enough passion to rage post about it.

Probably skip it.

THE NEW MUTANTS (2020)

It’s hard to tell at what point of this film’s absurdly protracted release things started coming apart — clearly there was a distinct vision at one point and all the mess of its production just muddied that so much that what we got was just sort of a flat, disjointed and indecisive jumble of ideas that don’t cohere together at all.

Nothing in its premise stands up to the slightest bit of scrutiny, and the fact that it’s trying to squeeze five superhero origins and a romance and a horror film and a teen drama all into a tight 94min does nothing any favours at all.

100% would have been better served as a limited TV series where any one of those concepts could have had a moment to breath outside of rushed expository dialogue. As it is, each of the characters gets an introduction, a scene where they Don’t Want To Talk About Their Trauma, a manifestation of said trauma and then a moment of overcoming it in the climactic battle. On paper it sounds like everyone gets an arc but really it’s just a fill-in-the-blanks, paint-by-numbers rollout with zero nuance and a staggering lack of clarity or explanation.

I’m familiar with the comic run it’s based on and even still I struggled to keep focus. Some of the visual effects and design are cool but they’re not in service of anything.

Not even bad enough for a fun drunk watch, just skip it like you would all the late-game X-Men movies that aren’t Logan.

LEGION (s01-03)

It’s hard to pin Legion down, since it’s very proudly one of the least superhero-y comicbook-based TV series of the past decade despite being populated by very comicbooky characters and ideas.

It’s more of a psychedelic mind trip through gorgeous production design, S-tier cinematography and a plot and cast of characters that absolutely delight in and embrace all the weirdest things that the genre has to offer.

The cast is clearly having a ball, and it goes to show yet again how underutilised Dan Stevens is in the broader scheme of things.

Sure, there are action sequences and the like, but more often the central conflicts are resolved by compassion and strange conversations and a few times by psychic dance-battles. Oh, and a hippy cult smokes happiness from the udders of a gigantic pig at one point.

Yeah. It’s weird.

And that’s all to the benefit, because it’s not trying to be a regular sort of X-Men show, it’s a character study of a persona fragmented by trauma, wrapped in a dream-like 1960s aesthetic and often a very Lynchian desire to be willfully obtuse.

It’s unsettling and dark at times, gorgeous and strange and wonderful at others. The pacing overall is fairly off-kilter, but if you’re willing to forgive its self-indulgence you’ll find a tonne of reasons to fall in love with it.

It runs just long enough to tie itself up nicely without overstaying, but I wish more shows were this willing to embrace the absurdity of their own premises.

Highly recommended.