Tag Archives: action

No Time to Die (2021)

I’m still not entirely comfortable with the fact that all of the Daniel Craig Bond films have shared a continuity and an ongoing story arc. I mean, yes, it’s great from a storytelling perspective. But it’s not really how James Bond movies work, traditionally?

The main thing to know about No Time to Die, aside from that yes it is a part of the same continuity and same ongoing story, is that it’s the last of the Craig films. What that will mean for future storylines is at this time unclear to me, but this arc has come to a satisfying conclusion.

It’s extremely hard to want to say anything else at all, which is from my perspective a good sign about the depth and breath of storytelling at play. But okay, here goes: Bond has retired from service, an outcome that is not entirely shocking given the conclusion of Spectre. But an old friend pulls him back in, just in time to discover a plot involving some of the most dangerous near-future tech imaginable, wielded with surgical precision by a man with a bone to pick.

Later, lots of spy stuff happens, featuring chases, explosions, gun and fist fights, etc. It’s a James Bond movie, yo. Also, there’s an emotional arc, and all of the women have agency and intrinsic value outside of Bond’s sphere of awareness. So it’s perhaps not your father’s James Bond movie.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I’m not here for the idea of making links to a bunch of previous movies, but some quick and uncertain mental math tells me that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings relies on four previous and mostly unconnected MCU movies[1] to explain its backstory. (Six if you care about the Blip.) None of these movies include Shang-Chi in a credited role, or even acknowledge his existence. And I mean… I’ve read within a small rounding error of 100% of 25 years’ worth of Marvel comics, so I’m obviously here for it, but that is noticeable weight of continuity to labor under, you know?

Anyway, the plot is the plot and yes I want to see it again, but nobody is interested in an MCU spoiler review, not even two weeks late like this one basically is. But between a pre-verbal child and Covid, it’s harder to get to the theater on time than it used to be, you know?

What I am interested in is the things that were cribbed from the comics, with which I have a more than passing familiarity[2]. Master of Kung Fu (as a comic) focused on two things. First, both in importance and chronology, a generation-later retelling of the old Fu Manchu stories with a lot of those characters still in play. Fu Manchu is as yellow-perily as ever, and the British spies who oppose him are likewise as clichedly British. Only, now he (Fu) has a daughter set up as his heir apparent[3], and a finely-honed, kung fu assassin trained son who has turned against him for being, y’know, evil and whatnot. And second, once the comic wasn’t all Fu all the time, it also focused on being a British spy agency story in which Shang-Chi traveled the world with James Bond’s nephew[4] doing superhero-adjacent spy stuff and living out a spy-girlfriend relationship with a Fleetwood Mac soundtrack.

The movie only focuses on the first of those, except obviously not using Fu Manchu and instead pulling in the so-called Mandarin and his ten rings, by way of the terrorist organization we’ve seen before, all the way back in the very first MCU movie. But then it also pulls in a lot of Iron Fist’s mythology, what with an extra-dimensional kung fu city that you can only get to every so many time intervals, unless you know secret ways; and also, their kung fu is magical wuxia kung fu. Sad to be the guy who played Danny Rand in the Netflix show, but zero percent sad to see the expert martial artist not be some random white dude.

My point, if indeed I had one, is that if you were going to cram a mildly problematic Iron Man villain named the Mandarin together with Marvel’s two martial arts characters, this is pretty much the best way to have done so. And furthermore, if you weren’t going to cram those together into one story but instead spread them out among three, well, probably you should cram them together instead.

[1] And a “Marvel One-Shot” that I’d seen before as a Blu-ray extra, which was released on Disney+ two weeks before Shang-Chi’s release date, to minimal fanfare.
[2] While that is a verified fresh statement, I honestly didn’t remember most of these things until the end of the movie. I spent like 2 hours saying to myself “I don’t remember Shang-Chi having a sister,” for example, until suddenly I was all “oh yeah” instead.
[3] Not that he intends to ever do anything so gauche or pedestrian as dying, but still: contingencies.
[4] Among others, but the more important point is that I’m serious about that.

The Suicide Squad

I remember liking Suicide Squad better than most people did, even if mostly by comparison to other DC movies on offer in the same continuity. And my just glanced-over review bears that memory out.

The Suicide Squad is kind of an oddly named sequel? It’s maybe slightly closer to reboot than sequel even though there is character continuity and it’s clearly still part of the DC Cinematic Universe. Basically, it feels like James Gunn came along while he was briefly persona non grata with Disney[1] and said hey, DC, you know what would make this movie better? Leaning into the comedy part and out of the grimdark part. And they listened!

There are a few things he did especially right. First: it is over the top. The plot is over the top, the violence is over the top, the character are all aware of these facts and embrace their ridiculous, hyper-violent, insane world for what it is. Second: it is funny. This is another thing the characters embrace. I don’t know how to explain exactly what I mean. It’s not like they’re trying to outfunny each other. But there’s an absurdity to everything that’s going on, and they lean into it instead of staying aloof from it[3]. Third: would be a giant spoiler to actually say, but trust me. Gunn understands the world in which he is operating, and I do not mean DC at large, I mean this series in particular, of which I hope to see more.

This is the new best DC movie, and their trendline has been so solid that I legitimately want to see whatever they make next. …I mean, as long as it’s not another Superman.

[1] For historical purposes: he got “canceled[2]” by right wing people who were tired of seeing their heroes be “canceled” for things they were doing in real time, so they dug up things Gunn had done years earlier, and Disney briefly listened to this and took it as the same kind of thing, instead of noticing that he had learned from the past and was no longer doing those sorts of things. Later, they got over it and there will be a third Guardians of the Galaxy movie after all. Still, I cannot hate the outcome of his personal digression.
[2] For additional historical purposes: canceled is when you did something wrong, and people called you out on it, and consequences ensued. Prior to a few years ago, the people calling you out part rarely happened, and consequences ensuing happened so rarely as to be basically never.
[3] Well, except for Amanda Waller as the orchestrator of the squad and its varied missions, who takes everything and herself just as seriously as she did last time. But even this is an important aspect of the story being told.

Black Widow (2021)

I have only a handful of thoughts about Black Widow, I think because it’s been in a holding pattern for so very long. I know practically nothing about the next several movies, and I’ve known practically nothing about the onslaught of Marvel TV shows, but this one: it’s just been hovering in the atmosphere, out of sight but you knew it was there. It’s had to be there, somewhere, for just years now.

As imdb sparsely has it: “A film about Natasha Romanoff in her quests between the films Civil War and Infinity War.” And it is definitely that. It’s the best kind of retcon, where you can look at it from every angle, and it just fits.[1] It has a well-realized version of a villain that I would not have expected to work, it has a solid dynamic between every character, and it has… well, okay, the plot was fine, at best.

The thing is, the movie is not about its plot, and is instead about its characters. It’s a love letter to the Black Widow, in the midst of a film about what family means. There simply haven’t been many quiet, homey movies in this series, and maybe there should have been? I like about the comics that you always eventually get to see the characters on their days off, and this was like that, even though there were like two huge set piece fights and several more small set piece fights.

Not that you asked, but I also think I’ve talked myself into liking this better as a retcon than maybe I would have had it come out in sequence between other movies as indicated by its place in the timeline. It just works better retrospectively, I think?

And finally, in response to a lot of talk I’ve seen along the lines of “too little too late”: a) I will definitely not argue about too little. I think that Winter Soldier was always halfway about Natasha, and while I won’t defend her taking this long to get a movie, I do think her character got solid development over the course of this long series of movies. (Way more than, say, her non-powered counterpart Hawkeye.) But intent matters, and visibility matters, and she never got much. b) I will 100 percent argue about too late, though. In addition to my thoughts above that this maybe plays better here as a retcon in the first place, I also solidly reject the idea that it can be too late to care about something, or to do the right thing.

Very very lastly: IMAX is still pretty cool. People buying tickets adjacent to ours, however, is wildly uncomfortable. I think I’ll have to find emptier theaters or stricter policies, now that I’ve experienced that misery.

[1] Well. The coda that was designed solely as “and then she re-entered previously established canon” was about as forced as I made it sound just now. But otherwise!

 

Godzilla vs. Kong

After three previous movies, one of which I didn’t see, the second of which I liked pretty well[1], and the third of which I liked less, since it was so closely related to that first movie I never saw… after all those movies, it was inevitable that I would eventually see the capstone movie where the two main titans clash it out[2].

So yes, I saw Godzilla vs. Kong (at home, even though we’re seemingly in the home stretch), and yes, I liked it, because y’know… monster fights! But I didn’t love it, because of how I spotted basically the entire plot within the first ten minutes, and also because of a spoiler regarding characters[3]. But the set pieces were pretty great, and the monster fights!, and did I mention footnote one?

I think it’s because I like to root for the underdog, and, despite physical appearances, that’s who Kong has always been, in every role he’s garnered.

[1] But then, I’ve always liked Kong movies
[2] To be fair, I like Godzilla movies okay too, even if I did miss that one somehow.
[3] See footnote four, below the cut[4]

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Wonder Woman 1984

So, I got HBOMax, finally. This is good, as there are a pile of shows I want to watch, and bad, as where will I find the time? But the tipping point, of course, was the release of WW84[1]. If you are looking for a comics movie that leans really hard into the four-color aesthetic and into being a comics movie, look no farther!

I said (unless someone else did, but I’m pretty sure I did too) that Into the Spiderverse was the first movie I’d seen that felt like reading a comic, and that is still true.  Nevertheless, there have been plenty of MCU movies that lean really hard into both the comics aesthetic (anything with Thor) and comics sensibilities (anything with Peter Quill). But this is the first DC movie I’ve seen that did so.

It’s not that the plot didn’t make sense, like I’ve heard plenty of people claim. It hung together quite well, start to finish, with only one big complaint on my part[2]. But everything that happens relies of accepting that the logic of comic books is not the logic of the real world. Things happen that are not really magic, which is what a lot of people rely upon to suspend disbelief; instead things happen that rely on accepting that comics science is not the same as our science (much less when you mix science and magic together!), and that is maybe a harder proposition.

In a nutshell: what if we fast forward Diana to, say, the ’80s, where she is working at the Smithsonian on the strength of her knowledge of artifacts and like 130 languages (living and dead), and also she still isn’t over Steve Trevor yet 70 years later? And then she runs into a magic rock at the same time that a mousy new co-worker and an oil tycoon with a secret also run into said magic rock? And then the writers lay down a righteous comic book plot over these facts, with nary a care in the world for if it could even mildly happen or be fixable back to some kind of status quo that allows her to show up in Dawn of Justice even if it could happen in the first place?

In the end, that kind of thing either makes you want to punch some writers, or it’s your bread and butter. It wasn’t particularly good, but it was pretty damned amazing.

[1] Weird thing, with weird corollary. The movie is never referenced in any way besides WW84, at the start and end. Likewise, Diana Prince has never been referenced as Wonder Woman in either of these movies. Was she in her other DCCU appearances? I have literally no way of knowing!
[2] And that was more science-based than plot. Technically a spoiler: if you are going to electrocute someone for something, then you have to electrocute them for doing something equally electrocutable 30 seconds earlier, or else you don’t get to electrocute them now! Consistency, that’s all.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

It’s not uncanny valley levels of weird, but it is nevertheless weird to see digital animation versions of real actors that you are already very familiar with. To wit, Cal Kestis, who is played by the Joker from Gotham and one of the Gallagher kids on Shameless. And he’s, like, just extremely recognizable, both character and voice. And in Jedi: Fallen Order[1], I’m controlling his jumps and pushes and lightsaber swings, and it’s weird, is what, in a way that a random character would not have been at all.

The game itself is… fine? As has been said by others elsewhere, it’s basically a modern Tomb Raider ripoff, but without that part of the gameplay being as polished. Tradeoffs are that the Force skills parts are in fact pretty cool, and that the plot eventually slides from generic to compelling, somewhere between the halfway and two-thirds point.

If you feel like those tradeoffs (especially the second one) aren’t good enough to make up for the initial complaint, well, I will not try to convince you otherwise. Even for me, as happy as I was to be doing a new Star Wars game for the first time in forever, I occasionally wondered if it would really kill the high and mighty Jedi to pick up a blaster sometimes, instead of fighting through another four or six hand to hand storm troopers.

But the Force skills are pretty cool, except when your Force meter runs out and you can’t use them anymore. And except for wishing you had access to them for the whole game, instead of only starting to get to the good stuff right at the end. (But that’s a problem with all games of this type. See also Ezio re-learning how to be an assassin in two sequels.)

[1] which EA would like to helpfully remind you is a Star Wars property, no matter how awkward it makes the title of the game

Bushwick (2017)

I’ve been to New York City once, in the late ’90s before things got “cleaned up”, whatever that means. So I saw Central Park when it was scary, and based on the looks I got in my giant cloak, apparently I was the scary person in the park. Which is okay. And I saw all the peepshow spots on what I have to assume some 20 years later was 42nd Street. The posters in the windows say “a quarter”, but you cannot get into those places for a quarter. Which is false advertising, but “cleaning them up” for false advertising seems a little harsh. About the only other thing I did was, because I was young and foolish, go to the Hard Rock Café. I’m cooler now than I was then, in most ways.

Nevertheless, I have a point to make with all of this, which is that despite my well-traveled worldliness as documented just now, most everything that I know about New York City, I know from Marvel comics. And a place Marvel has never put a spotlight on, at least as of winter/spring 1985, is the Bushwick neighborhood in Brooklyn. So this is definitely a sort of “today I learned” moment, for values of today equal to a couple of days ago.

Anyway, Bushwick is a neighborhood kind of story, in which blonde grad student Lucy emerges from the subway into a war zone. Why are there black helicopters and commandos everywhere, blowing things up and shooting people? Between the targeted violence and the random opportunism, can she make it the few blocks to her grandmother’s house? Will Dave Bautista save her? Will she save him?

The funny thing is, this comes across as a high octane pulse-pounder, when really it’s a quiet portrait of two people just trying to get along in a quiet portrait of an urban neighborhood that Mayor Rudy forgot to “clean up”, except that the quiet introspective moments that fill the portrait are punctuated by explosions and gunfire. I can see why this is a movie that would make fans of exactly no genres happy, but for me, it was a very rare kind of mash-up, and I dug it.

Guns Akimbo

I have heard of Guns Akimbo before, so the Amazon Prime rule does not apply.

So, remember BumFights, where people would pay bums to, y’know, fight each other, and record it on their phones, and then upload those videos and charge people to watch them, and voilà, instant albeit troubling profit[1]? Imagine that world advanced by technology and the decline and fall of civilized society, and you have Skizm, a website where people pay to watch random folk hunt and murder each other.

Now imagine that Harry Potter hadn’t been a wizard, so he ended up as a mobile game software developer with a way too cool girlfriend who came to her senses and dumped him, and now he’s got nothing going for him, so he trolls the Skizm website insulting its viewership one at a time. Until he insults the wrong person, and ends up home-invaded, knocked out, and wakes up with a pair of guns literally bolted to his hands, because he has become the latest contestant, with 24 hours to kill or be killed by his opponent.

Sure, the plot is a little deeper than that, but you know everything you need to know. Either that’s hilarious and you want to watch it, or you’re a better person than I am.

[1] I did a modicum of research and determined that it was too long ago for phone recordings, was released on DVD, and also maybe what I’m remembering was more backlash hype that reality. But that’s not important to the metaphor.

Far Cry

You know the rule about movies that you can’t make a good adaptation of a video game? It’s not 100% true, but it sure mostly is. I’m pretty sure I played the video game Far Cry since the inception of this blog, a fact which will be confirmed or denied by the link or lack of link just above, at the reference point.

Anyway, I have come here mostly to say that Far Cry (the film) lives down to those expectations. Its sins include: giving away way too much of the plot way too soon – the game was so great about the slow reveal; cartoonishly evil characters – like, at some point, when you’re a mercenary army and someone outside your hierarchy is disciplining your members by shooting them in the head, and you’re all armed and outnumber that person by 20 to 1, you just take the person out and blame it on the insurgent guy who everyone already knows is running around the island; extraneous and unfunny sidekicks; unnecessary to the plot sex scenes; even worse, unnecessary to the plot sex scenes where you skip the actual sex part of the scene.

There are probably more sins than these, but I was working and not being very distracted by the movie from working (which is both good and disappointing at the same time), so I reckon I had plenty of time to miss some. I didn’t even know they made this movie, to be honest, and finding it on Amazon Prime Video definitely feeds my theory about the contents of that service!