AVENGERS : INFINITY WAR REVIEW AVAILABLE AT BUZZ MAGAZINE

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I am very lucky to have had my review for Avengers: Infinity War published at Buzz Magazine. I am fortunate enough to have a lot of reviews of big blockbusters published over at Buzz and they don’t come bigger than this. Please feel free to click here http://buzzmagazine.com.au/avengers-infinity-war/ to read my thoughts and offer any of your own. I hope you enjoy.

Based out of Victoria, Buzz Magazine was one the longest running street press magazines in Australia being published in print from 1993 to 2010. Some fine writers have worked for Buzz over the years and gone onto successful careers in media since and there is simply no way to measure the contribution the mag made to local music over its print run. With such words and minimal advertising on the website the impression could be taken that Buzz is now semi-retired. Yet the site is quite prolific with new write-ups on a daily basis, the ongoing interest of fans old and new and contributions from some very talented people indeed.

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I’m very excited to say that I’ve reached a new milestone with this review at Buzz. This is my tenth review published with them following on from Black Panther, Star Wars: The Last JediBlade Runner 2049, Five Came Back, Atomic Blonde, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Wonder Woman, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Let me know if you had particular favourite.

-Lloyd Marken

 

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR IS MORE OF THE SAME WHICH IS AWESOMENESS

Marvel Studios can do no wrong or at least have not so far. Their slow world building towards their team up movie The Avengers has changed the landscape of blockbuster entertainment. Studios no longer want a trilogy they want a franchise. Why lock yourself into one star with one character when you can have various ones all part of the same franchise allowing you to release not one hit film every two years but at the bare minimum two films every year. As comic book adaptations continue to reign supreme they have a sizeable chunk of the market with their line-up of characters. Cynicism aside like Pixar before them part of the success comes down to the reliability of their brand. The studio is run by comic book people who love comic books and their characters. Whatever changes they’ve made in adapting to the big screen they’ve always strived to service what was likeable about a character or storyline. If you think about it, the spin offs before Avengers didn’t make as much money as their sequels, it’s easy to forget how much of a gamble this all was way back in 2008 but if you’re worst film is Thor: The Dark World you’re batting average is likely to be game winning. So the question becomes how long can this success last? If Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t quite deliver on high expectations Captain America: Civil War suffers no shortage of anticipation. Last November when trailers for this summer’s blockbusters debuted Civil War stood out for its more polished editing. The closing shot Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) looking emotionally pained as he slammed his shield down on Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) stood out to me. That close up communicated instantly what is at the heart of this story and also the success of the Marvel brand. They bring it back to the characters and what they are feeling rather than just straight spectacle.

Captain America: Civil War delivers on every front we’ve come to expect; there is a spectacular joyful smack down in an airport that has already become an instant classic. civil war trailer captain america civil warThere are multiple characters with their own motivations, story and stand out moments juggled effortlessly. Amidst all the special effects are some effective practical stunts, witty dialogue and heart. Heart first and foremost always in the telling of the story. If any of these films have flaws it is not for lack of heart which is an even grander achievement when you consider the assembly line production of them. There are pay offs here that are built on history that has been developed over 8 years and 12 films.

The film opens with the latest line-up of Avengers Africa to take down Cross Bones (Frank Grillo) but in the ensuing melee there is collateral damage and this raises the possibility of whether the Avengers do more harm than good. Enter the Sokovia Accords which would effectively mean only the governments of the world could approve the use of the Avengers unilaterally and could effectively lead to the misuse of the Avengers for those countries own ends. Captain America does not trust oversight given Hydra’s recent infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Iron Man can no longer stomach not taking some responsibility for their actions in a similar vein to when he ceased arms productions at Stark Industries. The rest of the team for various reasons fall down along these lines, neither is particularly wrong or right but as a fellow blogger pointed out there are more fascinating avenues this line of thought could have been developed beyond just collateral damage. In the end the film while being a powerful parable about the cost and cycle of violence is ultimately an elaborate excuse to see various heroes fight each other. Which is fine because the film is not really about the Sokovia Accords, it is about Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and what lengths Steve Rogers will go to protect his friend and fellow veteran while at the same time Tony Stark is trying to protect the Avengers as best he can. Stark and Rogers have always been at odds with their contrasting personalities and world view points. There is an extra layer there in the sense that Rogers is partially a creation of Howard Stark’s and a friend of Tony’s Dad. He’s perversely both father figure and rival son for Stark Senior’s approval. The ground work for this had been laid previously and in this film finally gets paid off.

With that in mind it is remarkable how two major new characters are introduced and immediately feel right at home in this universe and have their own storyline. Spider-Man is introduced with hot Aunt May Maries Tomei and features only in two scenes. One his introduction is a remarkable feat of economic storytelling in setting up his character and the second an unadulterated celebration of what we love best about that character in the airport scene. We know everything we need to know about this Peter Parker (Tom Holland) from those two scenes and we’re hungry for more. Featured more prominently is Black Panther who has his back story partially told and is set on a path for vengeance against The Winter Soldier which brings him into direct conflict with Captain America. He is not the only one and it says something about this franchise in where they are prepared to go with their lead characters. Certain characters may not get much to do, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) have certain moments that hark back to the comic books, Falcon gets a lot to do but is still mostly defined by his friendship to Rogers, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) looks great and is cool but doesn’t have a lot going on and the same goes for Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Black Widow though is this solid link throughout the story. Rogers and she have been through a lot, she may not be on his side but she looks out for him as best she can. Performances are all uniformly excellent.

If the film has a flaw it maybe that it kinda lacks a strong ending, the villain has been cited as weak even by Marvel standards but to me it fits given that in this film the enemy is within. Daniel Bruhl’s performance is effective at showing that character’s pain and it is an interesting idea for a villain.

Production values are great across the board; the directors Anthony and Joe Russo continue their impressive staging of action even if an early chase does employ some disconcerting shaky cam. While most scenes seem to be set in technology parks or airport hangars perhaps reflecting the need to maybe switch up the locations more in these films these really only are nit-picks. This studio has delivered for us again and again, that at this point a superior production in every way to their rivals is not enough for some fans. There is a hint of franchise fatigue with this entry, a little bit too much familiarity even if the quality remains high-people inevitably seek out something new and fresh. Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man delivered on those fronts and even Iron Man 3 because it remained steadfastly a Marvel and Shane Black film. Getting more strong auteurs in there may not be a bad idea but for now the future looks bright with a focus on new characters with Dr. Strange and Black Panther coming next. For now this is arguably as good as anything Marvel has done, check it out.

-Lloyd Marken

BATMAN VS. (WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT V ALL ABOUT?!) SUPERMAN RANT

PLEASE NOTE: A SHORTER REVIEW BY ME OF THE MOVIE CAN BE FOUND HERE.

Batman Vs. Superman (I am refusing to call it Batman v Superman) is not a very good movie. Man of Steel 2 is a very flawed film too. Dawn of Justice is not a great movie but gets you excited about seeing its sequel which Zack Snyder should be congratulated on because Warners had a lot riding on this. Batfleck is a fantastic short Batman film that shows an exciting new way to portray Bruce Wayne onscreen. Unfortunately, as the excellent Dan Murrell at Screen Junkies pointed out, all of four of these films have been made as one and released across cinema screens this past Easter with their varying levels of quality to be taken in at once.

Man of Steel for all its flaws told a story about a central character and gave that character an arc. Kicking off where that film ended with Bruce Wayne on the ground during the Metropolis battle trying desperately to reach his people in a Wayne Enterprises building is the best sequence of the whole film. The music and sound pounding in an Extreme Screen cinema has to be experienced as Bruce a highly capable mortal man commutes by helicopter then car then foot through the mayhem. His skills keep him alive getting out of the way of destruction repeatedly at the last second but his figure remains powerless in the face of such super beings. Bruce Wayne is also with the victims that we never really saw with Superman in the finale of the last film. It’s an inspired way to address criticism of the last film and set up the central beef Wayne has with Superman in this movie. It also well and truly proves that audiences can now see movies that fully evoke the horror and helplessness of September 11, 2001. Take that Al Qaeda!

Amy Adams is back at Lois Lane and is given some nice beats as a journalist and an anchor for Kal-El’s humanity but has to be rescued just a little bit too much. A scene where she is kidnapped rather late is also annoying; it is an example of the kind of plot conveniences that come up in the film at the expense of good characterisation.

Ben Affleck and Jeremy Irons as Batman and Alfred have some of the best scenes together with Alfred being naggy Aunt, armourer and moral compass. It says something that in the ninth feature film to star Batman after all the great actors who played these characters before that Affleck and Irons make these characters fresh and exciting creating an itch to see them in further adventures.

 

Holly Hunter who featured prominently in the trailers as Senator June Finch plays an important part in the film and has a great showdown with Lex Luthor with one of the best lines of the film. Significant time is given to their subplot and it is one of the better told stories.

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Gal Gadot who served in the Israeli Defence Force and made her name in the macho Fast and Furious series was heavily criticised in some circles for her casting as Wonder Woman because she was too skinny. Ah too skinny eh, I hate when that happens. We’ll see later if her acting range can hold up as a lead in her own feature film but as the enigmatic Diana Prince in this movie she spars well with Bruce Wayne and sells the physicality of the warrior princess in her fight scenes at the end against Doomsday. Plus she has some bitchin’ clothes. No I’m being serious, her wardrobe is fantastic.

Henry Cavill who struck out as a new type of erstwhile confused Clark Kent in his last outing here is mostly muted. Lacking any real agency in what was supposed to be his sequel. Basically the world doesn’t like him and he takes it hard. Christopher Reeve’s big blue Boy Scout in the original series of Superman movies was dynamically emotional and full of fear, doubts and believe it or not anger. Yet when he said “I never lie.” you not only believed it but you believed in the possibility and rightness of such a thing. He felt pain being belted into a building and outright desperation whenever Lois was threatened. Yet he was inherently good and awesome as a symbol too. Cavill strutting into the Senate hearing halfway through this film couldn’ve been an opportunity for Superman to say something but alas… Superman comes across as a nice guy but also one who is hurting and sad. Reeve would never have wallowed in self-pity or doubt as much. He would have made you hopeful, not gone to a death match bemoaning “Nothing good lasts in this world.” Perhaps in an era of man children, parental issues and arrested adolescent being prevalent on the screen we deserved this Clark Kent in the last movie but we’ve done that already. Make Superman a hero again, for fuck’s sake! If Reeve is too repetitive for you just shoot a glance over at former resident superhero smartass Chris Evan’s making Steve Rogers’ nobility relevant for the 21st century. Cavill I don’t mind, his Superman I don’t mind either, I just want him to grow up and become Superman.

Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor seems to be a sore point for most people who’ve seen the film. I’ll come clean, I didn’t mind it. I thought it was swinging for the fences in a great way. Comparisons to Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg make no sense; Zuckerberg was quiet, clever and socially inadequate in The Social Network. Eisenberg’s Lex is comfortable spinning tales to people and drawing attention to himself. He’s also batshit crazy, no pun intended….no seriously that wasn’t a pun. The only complaint I could level is that for a guy who manipulates Superman and Batman into a fight he is hardly Machiavellian. The way he is played you suspect Wayne would not fall for his tricks so easily and this before you consider how much Batman discovers about Luthor throughout the film. The two heroes shouldn’t have been played so easily by his schemes given they’re both investigators of sorts. Again Holly Hunter is the only one who calls him out. Considering also the unexplained plot moments like Batman breaking into Lexcorp but still being manipulated by Luthor’s scheme, Lex appearing at a Senate hearing but leaving before Superman arrives never being following up and Luthor’s main motivation while articulated well by Eisenberg in one scene never really explains why he would throw away virtually everything to take down Superman. Crazy is an explanation that could be offered but I am thinking it is another case of poor plotting in the film.

Finally a shout out to Diana Lane, even aged-up with make-up to play Martha Kent you bring some sexual chemistry to your scene late in the film with a certain someone. Don’t go changin’ you magnificent woman.

 

Batman vs. Superman comes down to a collection of stunning vignettes, who doesn’t want to see Neil deGrasse Tyson discuss our place in the universe with Kryptonians, but fails to connect them together with a streamlined plot that has holes bigger than Smallville. That pun was intended even though I know it was bad. You may be thinking at this point, hey Lloyd why don’t you tell us about the plot, all you’ve done is listed the characters and what happens to them. Well that’s kind of the plot.

Zack Snyder is a great filmmaker who made the Dawn of the Dead remake, 300 and Watchmen. These are good movies that looked great and blew the world away at the time. Sucker Punch, Man of Steel and Batman vs. (I’m not writing V-it’s idiotic-words have meaning!) Superman are not bad movies either. I am happy to see him do Justice League but I would point out a sequence in the Indian Ocean stands out not just for the colour in it but also because it looks like the real world!!! My advice is do a bit more of that in the next one Zack and then dream future sequences will have more impact. Hire a good screenwriter too. I am not signing any petitions though.

SPOILERS BELOW!!!!!

Like a lot of people The Death of Superman and Funeral for a Friend comics were important in getting me into comic books and away from the films they inspired. The event series played on 50 years of cultural history and resonated throughout fandom and the industry. The story when done well holds tremendous potential to be moving and uplifting on the big screen. To see it reduced to twenty minutes following a film where we barely saw Superman nor admired him is a terrible waste of source material. This movie is about Batman and Superman finally being on screen together. It was going to make money and hopefully will make a lot-IT IS NOT A BAD MOVIE. Yet it is silly to excuse its flaws by declaring it’s just a fun movie, or critics don’t like fun movies or comic fans just want straight adaptations. Hmph! mtv batman superman batman v superman dc comicsDeadpool came out a month ago. Comic fans loved it. Critics loved it. Everybody loved it. It was fun. How quickly we forget.

-Lloyd Marken