Tag Archives: Super Hero

Black Panther

20 Feb


So does it live up to all the hype and the “revolutionary” tag? Well … somewhat, and no. “Black Panther” is definitely a different kind of superhero film, imbued with the trappings of the Bard while hitting all the usual superhero pratfalls for the fanboys and delivering the requisite wham-bam smackdowns fueled by a glut of CGI FX. In short, it’s a game go, with some nicely layered-in barbs about the state of race relations, and there’s a mound of Oscar gold to be found among the impressive (mostly African-American) cast.

As far as the latest Marvel entry being the first superhero flick to revolve around a black hero, and thus a beacon of hope for young African-Americans seeing iconic representations of themselves on the screen: In the wholesome, square-jawed, side-of-good sense (think Superman or Captain America), that is so, but there have been other black superheroes to grace the screen. Take “Spawn” (1997) or “Hancock” (2008), though those films featured conflicted and tormented protagonists who didn’t fit neatly into the kind of archetypal superhero cape that most want to wrap themselves up in. Messy and flawed is not the way to go for blissful escapism.

“Black Panther” revels in its celebration of African culture and pageantry but also digs at social blight in America (though not deeply enough), making it a mainstream engagement clearly marked by the color and culture of its hero.

The film, based on the comic serial by Stan Lee (who conceived it in 1966, before the similarly named U.S. activist group lead by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton seized headlines), begins with a quick, cool animated rewind of how the fictional African country of Wakanda came to be. Hit by a meteor of vibranium (the stuff Captain America’s shield is made out of), Wakandan tribes have leveraged the all-powerful material to build radically advanced technology (supersonic transports that look like something from a “Guardians of the Galaxy” chapter, a train system that rides on a magnetic field and comm devices that are tiny little gumdrops behind the ear) and use it to remain invisible and impervious to the rest of the planet, even as world-shaping events (slavery, world wars and so on) carry on around them. Think of the cloaked island of Amazons in “Wonder Woman,” off the grid and out of sight until Steve Trevor crash lands there during the Second World War, and you have it. Continue reading


Justice League

18 Nov


The new super adventure inspirationally labeled “Justice League” is an extremely crowded affair littered with jumps in plot, and things end up exactly as one might expect: in a giant CGI beatdown with an arch-villain. Still, after the turgid “Batman v Superman” it’s good to see Zach Snyder fit a lot into a neat two hours, and finally do justice to the floundering DC Comics franchise. (An encouraging trend, considering the sharp and fun “Wonder Woman” directed by Patty Jenkins.)

Things pick up in the immediate aftermath of “BvS,” with Superman (Henry Cavill) still dead or comatose and his mortal darling Lois Lane (Amy Adams) burdened by grief and suffering reporter’s block. That leaves fellow “Leaguers” Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Batman (Ben Affleck) to fend for the world as alien ghouls with dragonfly wings descend upon the planet in slow strokes, kidnapping folks. Batman (what is it with these movies where Christian Bale and Affleck talk in constipated growls from behind the mask, but are smoothly eloquent in Bruce Wayne mode?) deduces astutely that the nasty bug-beings are part of a bigger plot – to unite the three Mother Boxes (like the Infinity Gems over in the Marvel Universe) and give an entity known as Steppenwolf – not to be confused with the band founded by John Kay (“Born to be Wild”) or the novel by the tortured German novelist, Hermann Hesse – the ultimate power to terraform the earth and wipe out humankind. Continue reading

Thor: Ragnarok

4 Nov

The “Ragnarok” of the title may have you scratching your head some, but early enough in the latest “Thor” installment we learn it’s the term for the apocalypse about to hit to Asgard, home of the Norse gods and heralded heroes. Can gods actually be terminated by mass extinction, you might wonder, once the prophecy is told. The answer to that comes in the form of fiery giant demon that typically lurks in the lower abyss of a Medieval-themed video game.

It’s probably best to forget your learned lore; this is the Marvel Comic universe, and a goofy, fun one at that. The handsome and hulking Chris Hemsworth again reprises his God of Thunder role with manly man bravado that’s comically undercut with a devilish dash of cheeky nod-and-wink deprecation. This deity is just as happy to solve a disagreement over a beer as he is to smite the opposition with his mighty hammer. His good-natured, turn-the-other-cheek-first attitude, rounded out with hangdog friendliness, endears. It’s a winning combination that makes the “Thor” series more engaging than, say, a “Captain America” chapter. Levity may be more essential to saving the universe than teeth-grinding grit – just look to the original “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which won audiences on so many levels.

Of course Thor, in his defense of the realm, has one heck of a backup team: the Hulk (a CGI image, and Mark Ruffalo when in human form), his double-crossing brother Loki (Tom Hiddelston) – what else would you expect from the god of mischief? – and boozed-up warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Also in the mix as papa Odin we have the estimable Anthony Hopkins and, as Thor and Loki’s sister who’s been sent to the corner for a near-eternal timeout, Cate Blanchett as Hela (she’s absolute Hell), the goddess of death who looks like Maleficent on steroids.

The intoxicatingly strange brew – the third “Thor” flick, and fifth Marvel film that the Norse god has appeared in – gets nicely stirred by quirky New Zealand auteur Taika Waititi, who’s helmed such idiosyncratic ditties as “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” (2016) and “What we do in the Shadows” (2014). And if that’s not enough, Doctor Strange(Benedict Cumberbatch) pops in briefly to pull Loki and Thor through a portal in Manhattan. The reality-bending interaction between the three is so pickled and pleasing it nearly sets the rest of the film up for failure. The best, however, is Jeff Goldblum as an entity referred to as the Grandmaster, an omni-powerful being on par with Hela, but one who takes far greater joy in his station, hoisting gladiator contest on a trash heap of a planet called Sakaar. Thor and the Hulk get pitted in the ultimate fight contest. It’s a juicy role akin to Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman in “The Hunger Games” and he bites in deep. Blanchett does too, and Hemsworth cements it all together in a rollicking good time that, predictably and somewhat sadly so, ends in a CGI slugfest.

Wonder Woman

3 Jun

The beleaguered “Justice League” franchise, barely off the ground with the turgid “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” beatdown last summer, gets a much-needed shot in the arm from the feminine side side of the tracks. Fans can breathe a sigh of relief with the release of “Wonder Woman,” which proves far sharper and more fun than any of its DC predecessors. The big question will be whether a woman win over the fanboys who – if we use box office as an indicator – like their super beginnings beefy, cut and baritone.

A peek into the Magic 8 Ball says yes.

The film may be long for what it is (nearly two and a half hours) but it’s also lithe and imbued with deft nuggets of humor, and it keeps moving. The opening scene, in which we meet Wonder Woman/Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) in the present, proves to be a Justice League tie-in. It’s an odd, disjointed bit, but we don’t linger before getting whisked back to a young Diana on the island of Themyscira, which for all intents and purposes is the DC reimagining of the Isle of Lesbos as it’s occupied solely by female Amazon warriors led by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nelson) and General Antiope (Robin Wright). Besides being beguiled by Nelson and Wright, who speak with a weird accent and have fine, sculpted physiques that folks half their age would be lucky to have, we get mumbo jumbo about the rivalry between Zeus and Ares and the circumstances that produced Diana – the only child born on an island void of men. (A page from Amazon literature informs us they’re good for reproduction, but not pleasure.) Continue reading

Doctor Strange

6 Nov

What is it about superhero movies that takes top-shelf thespians and reduces them to two-dimensional ashes? Patrick Stewart was able to maintain his poise in “X-Men,” and Robert Downey Jr. formed an amiably snarky extension of himself as brash billionaire Tony Stark in “Iron Man,” but mostly actors slap on the muscle suit and spout platitudes. Don’t get me wrong – I love seeing Chris Evans square-jawed and righteous as Captain America, but what’s he like first thing in the morning? Is he a grump, does he loosen up after two beers, and does he ever have a bad hair day? Answers mortals need if they’re to relate.

110216i-doctor-strangeFor all their power and pop, these tales of the übermensch are pretty pat affairs; backstory and arch-villain, that’s how they go, a two-step do-si-do. “Doctor Strange,” sadly, is no exception, despite the more cerebral and human orientation of its protagonist and the inspired casting of Sherlock Holmes himself, Benedict Cumberbatch, as the doctor. It’s not for Cumberbatch’s lack of effort, but anytime you have a team of writers – three, in this case – tying to communally distill the tortured essence of an uber-being grappling with a newly acquired superpower, loss of former self and world annihilation by some unhinged megalomaniac with his hand on the button and a battalion of minions on call, you’re in a dark place. And we’re not talking about inner conflict.

The film begins promisingly enough, with Cumberbatch’s Dr. Stephen Strange showing off his cutting-edge skill as a neurosurgeon – grandiloquently so. He’s an arrogant can-do with a god complex, and would either bond immediately with Downey’s Tony Stark at a cocktail reception or get locked in a nasty head-to-head vying for the alpha male spot. Everything’s hunky-dory – there’s even playful banter and a spark of romance with the fetching, overworked ER doc (Rachel McAdams) – until Strange’s Lamborghini goes off the road, the result of distracted driving (looking at cranial scans while bobbing and weaving at 100 mph). In the crash, the doc’s life-saving hands are shattered, recovery is frustratingly slow and no procedure, no matter how experimental, can get him back to his scalpel jockey self. Broke and broken, Strange heads off to Kathmandu after hearing of a mystic cult where the mind heals the body. Continue reading

Suicide Squad

8 Aug

There’s a drought across the land, and I’m not talking about the arid state of farming or sweeping brush fires, but the strangled flow of quality films on their way into theaters. We’ve already suffered through“Batman v Superman,” and Matt Damon, while jacked up for “Jason Bourne,” was hogtied by an inert script. Now here comes “Suicide Squad,” another DC Comics entry (think Superman and Batman), looking to take a bite out of the Marvel pie (think Captain America and The Avengers). Hyped as a quirky anti-superhero flick, the project showed great promise during incubation; now, in realization, it’s a busy, bombastic bounce that bites off more than director David Ayer can chew.

080616i Suicide SquadIf you’re not familiar with Ayer, he’s a guy’s guy, the testosterone-probing hand behind such brooding character studies as “Harsh Times” and “Fury.” He doubles down here, tackling script-writing duties as well, and in that you’d think he’d own the material and put his stamp on it. But what becomes clear in the first few frames, as we get a seemingly ceaseless recap of the potpourri of criminal personas that will become the Squad, is that Ayer’s not a very nimble multi-tasker. We’re left down deep in the liftoff-weeds water when there should be action, heroics and a sardonic edge – i.e., plot and forward motion.

Continue reading

Captain America: Civil War

6 May

The good news about the latest Marvel project to land on the screen is that it’s livelier and more entertaining than the other “Avenger” offerings – even if this one technically waves the “Captain America” banner. “Captain America: Civil War” is a follow-up to the last Cap adventure, “The Winter Soldier,” with Cap’s troubled old pal and fellow modified, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) at the heart of the drama again. If you don’t recall, Bucky’s a Manchurian candidate of sorts, a brainwashed mercenary with a bionic arm who’s just as nails-tough and superhuman as Cap. In short, he’s lethal, and because his brain’s been scrambled and put back, he’s a sleeper cell who’s been in the hands of wrong-minded parties.

050516i Captain America- Civil WarThis has ramifications across the Avengers’ alliance. Bucky’s been underground since Cap put him down, but shadowy images show Bucky pulling off an assassination in Africa and there’s something about a 1991 incident for which we keep going back to video footage and getting new insight what happened and how the pebbles of one cold act ripple through time.

In the now, those ripples have become waves that put the square and righteous Captain America (Sudbury’s Chris Evans) at odds with old steel claptrap, aka Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), first over an accord that seeks to limit the Avengers’ doings because too much collateral damage has befallen the world (a diverted bomb blowing up a building full of innocents, for instance) and later because of darker reasons tied to that mysterious 1991 incident.

When Stark and Cap square off, the teams line up for a street rumble of sorts. You could think of it as the Sharks vs. the Jets. It’s more chest pounding and posturing, and while there’s no Hulk or Thor in the mix, Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), newly drafted, steal the show with wide-eyed naiveté and mini-man maxims. it’s a delicious add to the regular bang-boom-pow auto cycle. Many of the usual suspects, such as Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and other additions, such as Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), fall into the background; Vision (Paul Bettany) like the similar-colored and suited Spider-Kid, gets some of the best dialogue, especially cooking a meal for the Scarlet Witch to ease her anxieties – the kicker being that he has no idea what paprika or food tastes like, as he’s never eaten. Continue reading