Is ‘Logan’ The Best X-Men Movie?

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The Last of Wolverine

No, I don’t think Logan is the greatest comic-book movie since The Dark Knight (which isn’t even great to begin with). But it’s probably the best X-Men movie yet. I used to agree with the general consensus that X2 was the best of the lot, but Logan is also a remarkable movie and it gets Wolverine right. And that for me, says a lot.

While the first two X-Men movies by were generally well-loved by both critics and fans, I’ve always find them lacking. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen as Professor X and Magneto respectively, brought gravitas to these surprisingly earnest comic book movies (the much maligned third movie had actually more fun to offer, especially with Juggernaut, Mystique and Multiple Man). Hugh Jackman took the role of Wolverine, and made a career playing the fierce but sensitive mutant from Canada. Unfortunately, the other supposedly key characters (Cyclops, Storm, Jean Grey, Beast) were sidelined, and nearly forgettable. While Rebecca Romijn, in her very physical and almost dialogue-free role as Mystique, steals the show from almost every one of them. Sure, Bryan Singer has style, but it’s a style that muted the colors and voices of these supposedly motley crew of outsiders.

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Yes, these movies touch on relevant issues (i.e., xenophobia, LGBT). But so did the comics and the ’90s cartoons, which, arguably did better doing so than the movies. In fact, that is only to be expected of these movies. What I did not expect was how Wolverine-centered they were. Were they called Wolverine and the X-Men, I won’t be complaining how the rest of team didn’t get to do much. Also, I thought these movies were just too serious for their own good. Logan was allowed to make jokes, but at the expense of the other characters, like Cyclops and Beast, who were both badly underwritten. And sometimes, the seriousness lapses into something silly, unintentionally (i.e., X-Men‘s amusing third act fight scenes, Prof. X saying goodbye to Cyclops in X2 (couldn’t Jean talk to Scott directly?))

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Same couldn’t be said of Logan, Hugh Jackman’s third solo and final outing as Wolverine. While James Mangold’s film has a setting similar to Days of Future Past—takes place in the future, the few remaining mutants hiding, hunted—Logan works as a kind of post-apocalyptic drama, where the fancy stuff in Future Past—the Sentinels, time travel, Warpath, Bishop and Fan Bingbing (characters I’d love to see in another movie) never happened. Here, Logan is old, his body’s regenerative ability is failing, and he drives a limo to buy medicine for an aging Prof. X to keep him from killing half the world’s population with his Alzheimer’s-inflicted brain. Think of it as a movie about old people taking care of old people, them sticking together, wading through the odds.

xmen3I know that for a lot of people Hugh Jackman is Logan/Wolverine. For me, his “too pretty, too soft” portrayal of the man with adamantium claws, secret past and weird hairstyle, is one of the many things past X-Men movies didn’t get right. The hurt look on his face, his full of guilt “I really hate killing people” facial expression every-time he fights, had always run in contrast to the Wolverine I grew up with. You see, I’m more into that “Come and get me, Bub” kind of guy, the bad-ass berserker who relish cutting anything with his claws, and hides the pain behind that nasty grin, instead of showing it.

Jackman’s portrayal makes Wolverine look vulnerable, much more than Cyclops, Jean Grey or Storm, but that doesn’t make his character complex, rather contradictory. Why? Because vulnerability should be the last thing one should expect from a mutant who’s lived hundred years, fought and survived countless wars and is nearly unkillable. Wolverine should be more like the T-800 than Harry Potter, but Jackman’s Logan is closer to the latter.

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Gaaad! I really hate killing people.

What I’m really trying to say is, finally, here’s a movie where Hugh Jackman’s softhearted and world-weary Wolverine fits and belongs to. A movie that has enough drama to justify the R-Rated violence. A movie that has the proper tone and weight to tackle intolerance, violence, and inequalities. If you take away the part where an evil corporation experiments on mutants, it’s hardly a superhero/comic book movie.

And that’s why the best part of the movie isn’t the final showdown between Logan and his clone X-24 (also played by Hugh Jackman). Nor is it the father-daughter relationship between him and Laura/X-23. (Actually, when Logan tried to push her away, it brings to mind bad memories from The Last Stand i.e., Dark Phoenix, the Logan-Jean Grey romance.) The best part of the movie happens in the farm, when Prof. X, Logan and Laura were accepted as guests by a family they helped in a traffic accident. Prof. X finally felt home (after a long time, here he is under one roof with the humans he spent his life protecting) while Laura befriends the teenage boy in the family. Logan on the other hand tried to reciprocate their kindness by helping them get rid of the greedy farmers from the nearby corporate farm. It touches on a number of relevant issues and while it ends with ultraviolence, it’s one of those fights where blood, death, and violence, really meant something.

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Dismay (Joel Lamangan, 2016)

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There are only two good things in Joel Lamangan’s Siphayo (Dismay): one of them is the subplot about shopping malls killing small business establishments and the conversion agricultural lands into commercial centers. The movie opens with a terminally-ill Fely coming home from the hospital with her husband Dante and their two sons. On the way home, they stop by the rice-fields and she tells his two sons to help their father till the fields and never ever let go of their land—even if it means a whole lot of money if the mall owners would buy their property.

Conrado, the eldest son, slaves in his father’s rice mill while his wife Sol cleans and cooks for them. Conrado wanted to work abroad, but decided to stay after he fell victim to illegal recruitment. Roland, the younger son, is soon to graduate from college and has no interest in dirtying up his hands. One day, Dante brought home Alice, a young pretty nurse—not to look after Fely, who died few days prior, but to take care of Dante’s nightly business. Yes, she’s the same nurse he brought home earlier and took care of his dying wife one day before she died. Conrado’s outraged and plots to roust Alice. Sol on the other hand, is just happy she could finally work in the nearby mall while Alice stays at home to do the chores. Roland, who’s made to look like a hulking hunk in a high school uniform earlier and an idiot for the most of the movie, is just happy to be complicit in his brother’s plan.

The movie’s overall clunky, with Sol the most grounded character in the story. Sol’s character, like the aforementioned subplot about shopping malls, adds something of interest to this overly familiar story. But it’s lost as the movie tries too hard to be an erotic-thriller and ends up mostly devoid of thrills.

This cuts the movie further down to its erotic elements. And it might have been better, had the movie dropped the “thriller” part and just focused on the family drama and in the bed department. Because as Nathalie Hart’s first big movie, it is a bit disappointing. Because Elora Espano’s lone bed scene packs more heat than all of Nathalie Hart’s nude scenes. Simply, Sol felt more like a real person compared to Hart, whose mestiza looks, big boobs, and thin frame, weren’t enough to compensate for Alice’s paper-thin character. Still, the movie would have been OK. If only the third act isn’t so silly and trying-hard, to put the “thriller” in erotic-thriller. It could have been an erotic-drama instead, but without the laughably contrived ending—which just feels weird, unnatural—like a well-endowed pair, made of silicone pudding.

 

*Screenshot from here.

What if Marvel gets Tarantino to do a Captain America spin-off?

Here’s what—should Marvel hire Quentin Tarantino and give him 100% free rein:

It would be set in the near future where the world is enslaved by Loki and the formation of Avengers never happened. Why? Because a deadly assassin killed Nick Fury in the ’70s. Doctor Strange would send Captain America back in time to stop the assassination.

Fury would be portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson in Jheri curl. He still has two good eyes, but he’ll lost one by the end of the movie. Cap would have few but important lines; Samuel L. Jackson would do most of the talking.

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To get to Fury, Cap would need to hook up with hookers, nuns with guns, and sexy spies. Expect lots of T&A and few glimpses of untrimmed hair because this is the ’70s! Cap’s magic shield wouldn’t work in this movie; he has to do a lot of heavy action scenes and sweaty bed scenes without CGI, green-screen, shaky cam and frantic editing.

There would be a scene where SHIELD’s Agent Skye shows Cap her voluptuous… vinyl collection. And Cap would unsheathe and play her delicate… Delfonics LP. Off-screen, she’d be heard whispering OMG’s ever so softly.

The assassin’s identity would be revealed as Cap, Fury, and Skye find themselves on the wrong end of a brutal fight. Cap would do the ultimate sacrifice to save Fury. (Cap dies during climax.) The assassin would escape through a time portal created by Doctor Strange.
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Epilogue: Present day. Bucky opens the door and enters his apartment, groceries on both hands. He finds Fury waiting inside with gun aimed at him.

Bang! Bucky’s hit between the eyes and falls on the floor.

A rodent crawls across the window.

Roy Buchanan’s “Sweet Dreams” fades in. Black screen. Credits.

Kita Kita (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, 2017)

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Kita Kita (I See You) could be a distant relative of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise; only it isn’t presented in real-time, it’s set in Japan instead of France, and the male lead (Empoy Marquez) hardly resembles Ethan Hawke. And KZ Tandingan’s version of Air Supply’s “Two Less Lonely People” frequently plays in the background. Okay, the two movies are probably more different than similar. Kita Kita tells of a bittersweet love story between Lea (Allesandra de Rossi), a Filipina tour guide in Japan, who suffers from temporary blindness and her unlikely Prince Charming, whom she met after. The story follows this unlikely couple as they wander around the picturesque where-to-go attractions in Sapporo and Hokkaido. The movie happily forgoes typical romantic comedy tropes and mostly features its two leads talking to each other—the dialogue most likely improvised. In short, it’s not your usual rom-com with the best-looking couple, manufactured conflict, and predictable plot. And just when you think that that is all, it burst its own bubble by telling the B-side to the story in the second half. Truly, love is blind. And only in darkness can we see the stars. Or in the case of Tonyo, only after he got wasted drinking 24 cans of Japan’s famous Sapporo lager. Consider this as Philippines’ “thank you” to Japan for featuring San Miguel Beer in the original Ghost in the Shell. Oh, there’s a part that reminds me of Il Mare. Don’t ask, it’s a spoiler

 

Ai Fai.. Thank You Love You (Mez Tharatorn, 2014)

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Language barrier is a bitch. Kaya (Sora Aoi), a Japanese chick in Thailand leaves for the US after graduating from her English class. Then, she dumps her Thai boyfriend Yim (Sunny Suwanmethanon), via a recorded message (in English), thru the help of her friend/teacher/translator Ms. Pleng (Preechaya Pongthananikorn). You ask, how did they become lovers in the first place? Kaya probably speaks a little Thai, but according to Yim they’re really in love (they’re sleeping together). Thus, Yim gets desperate to learn his ABC’s just to win Kaya back. Pleng, who’s reasonably hesitant at first, eventually agreed to help Yim—but only after she received grave threats from the latter. There really isn’t much with movie’s will or won’t they plot. And it doesn’t need the whole movie for girl and guy to realize they’re meant to be together. Who would you rather: pretty, bubbly, and wholesome teacher Pleng or far and away and not a little bit promiscuous Kaya? It’s obvious (but I’m not gonna judge you if you choose former JAV idol Sora Aoi). If the romantic aspect isn’t much, is the comedy any better? The movie isn’t free from rote slapstick routines, but it’s funnier when it’s just the two leads together. One time, Yim tells Pleng’s ex-boyfriend/suitor that they’re married and she’s pregnant, only so he’ll stop seeing her. There’s also this really funny scene where one poor school boy shit his pants after Yim caught him in the act of taking upskirt picture of Pleng.

Logan (James Mangold, 2017)

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I don’t get this bias towards serious comic book movies. A movie has some convincingly Oscar-worthy drama, then all of a sudden it’s the best comic book movie since The Dark Knight. People heap praises on these two movies yet no one bothers to mention Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan’s subdued superhero drama and follow-up to his more popular debut The Sixth Sense. Why cream your pants over Logan and not Deadpool? When Deadpool had more success at being irreverently funny than Logan did with its sob story. Don’t get me wrong, Logan is a fine movie. It probably has the most memorable portrayal of both Logan and Charles Xavier in all of X-Men movies. Logan’s old, resigned, half the beast he used to be while Xavier’s annoying, old, and sick, which makes him more dangerous. And I liked the dynamics between these two characters (the plot concerning the young mutants, not so much); like in the scene where Xavier needs to take a leak. And with a little detour, it is able to give what should have been the true essence of every X-Men movie—humans and mutants—which made the movie for me. But the movie’s really about X-23, old man Logan, and their kind of forced father-daughter drama, and those other young mutants—it is more than OK, but nothing to get too crazy about.

Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow, 2012)

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Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass) is a weird guy. He posted an ad in the local newspaper looking for a time-travel companion. “Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed”, it said on the ad. Enter Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza), a disaffected geeky intern from Seattle Magazine, who posed as a candidate, only so they could set up Kenneth for an interview. And guess what, they clicked in no time. Kenneth proceeds to train Darius in preparation for their trip, while Darius’ boss Jeff (Jake Johnson) and the other intern pass time. There’s also a sub-plot where Jeff tries to reconnect with his old flame which mirrors Kenneth’s reason for wanting to go back in time. Meanwhile government agents are growing suspicious of Kenneth’s activities which includes but not limited to stealing pieces of technology from a laboratory. Is he nuts or is he not? Was expecting a low budget science-fiction thriller and this is what I got: an endearing well written science-fiction comedy. There may be no eye popping visual effects, but the characters are 3D.

The Karate Kid (2010)

the-karate-kid-jackie-chanThis was showing on the bus again. Sure, Will Smith Jr. couldn’t act yet in this movie. But it’s an underdog story. And everyone loves an underdog story. Plus points for knowing how action movies work (i.e., the protagonist’s best move was never revealed until the final round). Nevermind the improbable. Beating the Chinese kids in their own turf? Maybe? Winning the tournament with one broken leg? Are you fucking kidding me? Nevermind that the kids were too young to really be in love. Because amidst all things that make this a typical Hollywood fluff, is Jackie Chan’s kung fu master with a tragic past. Jackie Chan’s always fun to watch. But here, he does drama and not the usual physical comedy. Nevermind that Jackie taught the kid kung fu and not karate (didn’t realize that until somebody pointed it out). Jackie Chan’s rare turn in a serious role is somewhat riveting, providing the much needed weight, if not heart and soul, to this otherwise forgettable remake.

Doctor Strange (Scott Derrickson, 2016)

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I’ve Seen Stranger Things

Like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, Stephen Strange went to Asia looking for the cure (unbeknownst to the former doctor, the band resides in England—y’know, Three Imaginary Boys, 1979). Unlike Christian Bale’s Wayne, Benedict Cumberbach’s Dr. Strange has a slick sense of humor (“Just Wong?… Like Adele… Or Aristotle? Drake? Bono? Eminem…”) He didn’t find the cure (but later encountered their black-eyed goth followers). Instead, he got into the world of sorcery, or in his ex-girlfriend’s words, he joined a cult. Just like this movie joining the cult of fairly entertaining but underwhelmingly average MCU movies.

At the outset, the movie looks impressive (i.e., architectural wonders folding and unfolding like clockworks). Marvel definitely put their money where their mouth is—that is, on SFX, bold and capital. Still, Doctor Strange isn’t the Ditko/Kubrick/Miyazaki/The Matrix mind-trip Kevin Feige said it needed to be.  Ditko, sure, a li’l bit from The Matrix and a lot from Inception, minus the well established logic of the latter and the Wachowskis’ stylish kung fu mix. In short, it looks different from all other MCU movies. Yet, for some reasons, it also feels and looks the same—it’s lightweight, jokey, and heavy on CGI.

Doctor Strange isn’t as mind-bending as Kevin Feige thought it should be. Why? Because it takes more than fancy 3D eye candy to be truly mind-bending. It never quite absorbs you into its world in the same way The Matrix and Inception do. In comparison, Thor’s rough sketch of the Tree of Nine Realms was more interesting—yes, it sounds BS—but at least that movie understands no one’s supposed to take it seriously.

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But they got Doctor Strange’s character right. Tilda Swinton, who anchors the movie’s more serious moments, disappears into her character as expected. Rachel McAdams, who plays Strange’s ex-lover, is just lovely and fun to watch—too bad she’s underused in the movie.

Nevermind that the villains fell into the typical MCU hole. I liked that Strange made great effort to master sorcery solely for his personal gains—that he studied it the way he did to get his M.D. and Ph.D., only this time learning at a much faster rate since he could pull-off all-nighters while he sleeps. That he learned an important lesson that Tony Stark probably hasn’t learned yet even after Civil War. That he trained in mystical kung fu all the while wondering what the heck was it for. That he was unwilling to fight. And that when the big fight comes, he was barely prepared for it.

Actually, just the first few minutes of it. I mean, come on, this is Marvel, the guys who made averting world-ending scenarios look so cool and easy. Nothing’s going to be really that hard for our hero. And no villain would be so threatening who can’t be easily defeated in the end. The villain’s threat was hardly even felt in the first place. The scenes showing those people in Hong Kong in grave danger gave a hint of that threat, but too little too late. Then we got a third act battle that’s quite clever—but is also kind of weightless. (There’s more weight and fun in seeing Tom Cruise try, fail and die in Edge of Tomorrow—a much better movie.) And after Thor showed up in the mid-credits, the said final confrontation felt more like: “Dormammu, just give it up already! So we can get rid of these stingers, move onto the sequels and make more money!”

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Scott Adkins was in this movie?! That guy could kick some serious ass. With him, Marvel could have mixed the sorcery elements with some real martial a… Wait, he’s the guy who died fighting that sentient cloak? Aargh! They just wasted him in this movie.

 

Bliss (Jerrold Tarog, 2017)

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Bliss is a well-crafted little film, an elaborate tease tinged with mild voltage of shock, a psycho-sexual thriller that approaches but never quite reaches the level of mind-fuck. The movie’s a clever play on parallels: Iza Calzado’s showbiz career with that of Jane Ciego; Jane’s to that of Abigail, the protagonist in Bliss; Jane’s real-life husband Carlo to the actor who plays her husband in Bliss, played by Ian Veneracion; Bliss’ indie writer-director Lexter Palao (Audie Gemora) to Jerrold Tarog; and that bald TV host played by Michael de Mesa to real life TV host Boy Abunda. But the most important of all is that of Jane Ciego and the nurse played by Adrienne Vergara. One child gets to live her dream of fortune and fame. The other child lives to share her nightmares with the other.

Jerrold Tarog’s script leaves clues and peanut shells along the way, makes sure you don’t get lost in the strip tease. Movies like Misery, Persona and Inception were mentioned in the film, but not Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress and Perfect Blue. Bliss may be lacking in full-sized thrills and effective scares, but intrigue, gratuitous nudity, and moments that are strictly not for the squeamish, more than makes up for it. That being said, claims that the film’s ending spells mind-fuck are grossly exaggerated. Bliss is nothing but a tease; like a bomba film that didn’t go full “pene” but just slides in the tip. It’s like minutes and minutes of foreplay without the actual sex.

But no sex is OK, especially when one is tired and badly needs to sleep. Like Jane at one point in the movie, getting tired of all her showbiz routines. I thought she’s much like the local movie theaters and the movie goers, already tired of looking for something different, feeling shortchanged most of the time. There should be more choices in our cinemas; not just the usual studio love teams, tepid rom-coms, and the predominant but mostly unimaginative Hollywood movies.

Perhaps this is what Bliss is: it’s the evil nurse pushing us away from the comfort zone, sending voltage of shock and sensation, rousing us, leaving us gasping for air, asking for more. There are lots of good local indie movies out there waiting for a wider audience. Bliss is just one of them. If only the local theater owners would realize, we’re more than willing to pay to see them.

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Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughn, 2010)

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With great firepower comes great kick-ass finale

Damon Macready (Nicholas Cage) was a good cop out to get NY kingpin Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong)—who in turn framed him for drugs and got him incarcerated. Macready lost everything while in prison, save for his little girl—thanks to his buddy Sgt. Marcus Williams (who showed up in the movie for a few minutes just to read Macready’s first graphic novel and reveal what this movie is all about: Macready’s revenge). Of course, Macready has since returned. This time as the masked vigilante known as Big Daddy. Big Daddy together with Hit-Girl a.k.a. his now 11-year old daughter Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz), are on to destroying D’Amico once again. They’re no super-heroes; they’re only out for blood.

Elsewhere, there’s Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his friends wasting time geek-talking about superheroes—how no one’s attempted to wear the mask and fight crime in real life. When Dave finally decided to don the green unitard and take on the streets, the results ranged from “nothing happens” to downright bone-crushing. In other words, he got his own ass handed to him a few times. And then he went viral and eventually conquered MySpace. (MySpace, of course, would eventually lost to Facebook, as can be seen in David Fincher’s brilliant Mark Zuckerberg movie, The Social Network.)

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I can make my own graphic novel out of screenshots from this movie!

On the side, there’s Lyndsy Fonseca as Katie Deauxma, the requisite (not that I’m complaining) love interest, Dave’s long-time crush and Kick-Ass‘s own MJ (an improvement over Spider-Man‘s Kirsten Dunst).

When Big Daddy and Hit-Girl finally crossed paths with Kick-Ass, Dave’s super-heroics took a backseat, together with his (and the movie’s) thought balloons about superheroes, comic books and genre deconstruction. And this is when Kick-Ass shifted gears into a straight action movie.

But what an ass-kicking action movie it is. Fluid cameraworks, great fight choreography, Matthew Vaughn’s cartoonishly violent action sequence—that’s what really sets this apart from other comic-book movies. Christopher Nolan’s Batman action scenes would look like something from a Kevin Smith movie if you compare them. While Vaughn’s spy movie Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015), could shred every James Bond movie from the last ten years to pieces if it wants to, Kick-Ass makes most of MCU movies look “strictly for kids”.

The best sequence of them all, the movie’s dramatic high point, is when Hit-Girl rescues Big Daddy and Kick-Ass from D’Amico’s men—Big Daddy’s burning and tied to a chair, shouting coded instructions (e.g., Go to Robin’s Revenge!) while Hit-Girl takes the henchmen down one by one. The sequence packs so much emotions, bullets, blood and style (i.e., POV shots, fast cuts and glorious slo-mos) and brings to mind bits from the best John Woo movies (i.e., The Killer, Hard Boiled).

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Another hallmark of a good action movie? The main villain, Frank D’Amico, has the best fuckin’ lines (e.g., God, I wish I had a son like you).

When all is said and done, it’s all about revenge. And Matthew Vaughn’s stylish action sequence. Nevermind its premise, or the first half, or Dave Lizewski’s thought balloons about being a superhero. You’ll forget about them anyway, once you see Hit-Girl engage Frank D’Amico in a brutal hand-to-hand combat in the movie’s kick-ass finale. And don’t forget, the part with that “one weird sounding bazooka” is a total winner.

No, Kick-Ass, though more kick-ass than Deadpool, doesn’t quite work on a similar level of either Super or Deadpool. Not a send-up or anything. It’s just a straight shoot-and-slice-’em-up revenge story disguised as comic book movie about comic books and superheroes. No chimi-fuckin-changas—just first-rate action movie is what it is.

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Ant-Man (Peyton Reed, 2015)

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The Top Secret World of Ant-Man

I kept thinking. That this could have been funnier like Shaun of the Dead. That this could have been geekier like Scott Pilgrim. That there could have been more inventive fight scenes—had Edgar Wright stayed to finish what he started. Just take Luis’ (Michael Peña) crafty way of telling his stories, for example, or the many times where Ant-Man fights, shrinks and puffs up—all of which could have been much much more engaging with Wright at the helm. I was thinking of things Marvel could have done to address this issue—this lack of panache on the director’s end. Perhaps, they should have made poor Scottie steal some sugar cubes like Arrietty and her Dad in that Ghibli movie. And made this a heartwarming children’s movie. Or better, made him watch Ms. Marvel (Brie Larson) while she . . . she . . . wait, she isn’t even introduced yet in this universe, so that would not be possible.

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What we got is a movie that follows the basic premise of Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man (a version of the movie that, sadly, we’ll not be able to see). Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and a scientist who distrusts Howard Stark (and by extension Iron Man and his cohorts), wants to pass the torch to a protege. And that protege is Scott Lang, a well-meaning thief, an ex-con who needs to secure a job for his young daughter Cassie. And it’s also a heist film that has Lang and lots and lots of ants break and enter a highly secured facility to “steal some shit”. And of course he has to fight the villain Darren Cross, who’s easily the most convincing bad guy in the Marvel universe (he turned one co-worker into a sushi earlier in the movie, in a scene probably inspired from the original RoboCop).

But that’s only half the movie, more or less. The other half is what Peyton Reed, Adam Mckay and Paul Rudd, contributed to the script: the music, Luis’ tip montage, Falcon, Quantum Realm, adding more of Hope Van Dyne in the story, and streamlining the whole movie to make it more fit to the pre-existing bigger story. Allegedly, all this in lieu of the crazier stuff, the more far out ideas Wright and Joe Cornish had originally. Still, the movie ends up like a B-side—disconnected but not totally unrelated—to all the towering destruction from all the other Phase Two movies. Which only adds to the disappointment—that we didn’t get to see the crazier stuff—given this wouldn’t have much impact on either the crossover or the other standalone series.

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It all boils down to a certain set of rules, imagined or otherwise, that restrict all movies set on Earth from having deeply varying tones. I get it. With Wright, this would have ended like the fourth installment in the Cornetto trilogy than a Marvel movie. Right.

Surprisingly . . . it actually works. Ant-Man is an enjoyable romp. And it’s better, even if only a tiny bit better, than the other MCU movies with household name heroes. Thanks in no small part to Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly and the rest of the cast. After all the massive destruction, billions worth in collateral damage, and unaccounted casualties in Age of Ultron, The Winter Soldier and Iron Man 3, Ant-Man is a welcome change of pace, a refreshing retreat. A movie capable of going really small, without sacrificing a big heart in the middle. In the end, this isn’t much about being a superhero or saving the world, as it is about fathers and daughters, mentor and mentee. It’s all about Hank and Hope, Scott and Cassie, one interrupted kiss and that “messed-up looking dog” (a giant ant) Cassie kept, at the end of the movie.

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Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017)

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Ms. Marvel

Near the end of Wonder Woman, I couldn’t help but think of that hapless lady, who found Diana Prince hiding behind the shrubbery, and subsequently gave her dress to her. I wonder what happened to her. Or in case she’s well and alive, how would she explain to her friends, what happened there in the woods.

Of course, the whole thing happened off screen. After that, we see Diana enter the party in a long blue dress, the god-killer sword concealed behind her back. And this was after Diana was told that she “can’t do this, can’t do that”, for the nth time—with Steve Trevor and the rest of team leaving her alone in the woods. Some found this empowering, that throughout the movie, she does what she needs to do and not what she’s told, and the fact that this was helmed by a female director. While some noted the total absence of male gaze, totally refreshing. Me, I was ready to revamp my top ten superhero movie list. Was already thinking which among a number of movies—Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, and Deadpool—should go down a notch or two.

Did I just make it sound like Wonder Woman is really an awesome movie? In parts, yes, it is awe-inspiring—more than some of the more popular superhero movies (i.e., The Avengers, Civil War, The Dark Knight). The other time Diana was told she can’t do something—that she can’t save those people caught in the crossfire—I literally had to pick both my heart and jaw up from the floor. Because what happened next is simply the most marvelous sequence in the whole movie. This is when Diana rose from the trenches and charged towards the enemy lines . . . wearing nothing but . . . her signature Amazonian armor and indestructible bracelets, bringing sword, shield, and the Lasso of Truth against machine guns. But that’s not before she wore her aunt’s tiara and winked at the audience in a wonderfully subtle superhero change-outfit turnaround. (For the record, there hasn’t been a scene like this in a superhero movie for quite a while. I was thinking of that scene in Spider-Man, where Peter chased the killer right after the death of Uncle Ben.)

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While clearly a product of DC movie-verse, Wonder Woman is surprisingly blithe for a good part of it. The real world is predictably all grey, more than fifty shades of it, contrary to Themyscira’s otherworldly beauty—crystal clear waters, azure skies, and white sand beaches. When Diana got her first taste of ice cream, I desperately wished for the sun to come out and shine even for a moment, just to see clearly the smile on Gal Gadot’s face. Which is to say, outside of Themyscira, the movie is unmistakably Snyder-esque. Except for the humor.

There are lots of intended comedy here: most of them having to do with Diana being unaccustomed to the real world, and men in particular. At one point, she even admits to have read 12 volumes of what sounds like “ancient texts on Grecian erotica”. And this works for the most part, effectively fleshing out the characters while also underpinning the chemistry between the leads. Luckily, this light-hearted approach works despite the perpetual grey clouds of gloom hanging over.

It also helps that the movie skips over-explaining everything (like, “Really, an uncharted paradise island full of women?”) and just went with the basic plot that the heroes needs to go to the frontlines and help end the war.

And then it ends ugly—-not the war. I mean, seriously, the final third kind of sucks. Aside from the revelation that feels put-on, the final battle is just big, loud, dark, ugly and relies heavily on computer-generated I-don’t-know-if-I-can-call-them imagery, which also dumbs down the movie’s final message—something about love and faith in humanity. It never gets down to Michael Bay level, but I remember Optimus Prime saying a similar line at the end of the first Transformers movie.

That said, Wonder Woman is still pretty good, easily the best DC-based live-action movie since Batman Returns.

****

Wait. What? Okay, okay, I hear ya.

****

That said, Wonder Woman is still pretty good, easily the best DC-based live-action movie since The Dark Knight. (Sorry, I have to change that. I heard somebody scream “No” the way Superman did right after killing Zod.)

Revisiting The Dark Knight (Almost) Ten Years After

tdk2You Could Have It So Much Better

If I have to pick my favorite scenes or sequence in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, one would be the part when Batman failed to save Rachel Dawes, second would be the opening bank heist, Heath Ledger’s Joker bombing the hospital would be third and lastly, Batman interrogating the Joker.

The Dark Knight is not a bad movie—isn’t that great either. On paper, it’s probably the best big screen Batman adaptation. But since Batman is hardly the detective/ninja he is supposed to be in this movie (despite his rigorous training in Batman Begins), and TDK hardly a decent action-thriller, despite glimpse of greatness in the Heat-inspired opening sequence, I’d say it’s a little overrated.

Christopher Nolan can’t shoot action—let’s get that out of the way as early as possible. The action scenes in TDK are a jumbled mess, badly edited and poorly executed. Just take the part where Gordon was shot on stage. It happened so quickly and executed so poorly, that that sequence alone didn’t make much impact. It did make its point, that another major character died, but not much else. (Without the scene where Gordon’s wife was informed by the cops, it’s not too hard to miss what the hell happened there.) Which renders the reveal, or the prestige if you like, of this particular sub-plot later—that Gordon is alive and thus, was able to arrest the Joker—much less impact, like a poorly executed magic trick. They could delete that scene and the result would be the same. Also, Gordon’s death hasn’t even sink-in yet (for me at least), before it is revealed that he’s alive. Of course, all Nolan was trying to tell is that Batman, Gordon and Dent thought they were able to trick the Joker; turns out he was already ahead of them—this I’ve realized, only after watching the movie again.

Then, there’s the supposedly climactic battle where Batman tried and miraculously succeeded—despite fighting like an under-cranked ninja—in saving the hostages from Gordon’s men. Oh I forgot, he was wearing a specialized visor that renders Ethan Hunt and the rest of IMF totally old-school. Of course, the Joker’s ploy was brilliant, and Batman made a commendable job finally having realized that with the Joker, “it isn’t that simple”. What most tend to ignore, is the fact that this supposedly spectacular final battle, was awkwardly executed and visually flat.

If there’s a bigger schemer here, it’s Christopher Nolan himself—not Dent, not Batman, not the Joker. Joker’s disappearing pencil has got nothing on Nolan’s favorite trick: misdirection. While the Joker lays his plans like dominoes ready to tip over and fall one after another, Nolan layers poorly edited set-pieces with lazy exposition and badly executed action scenes, and toss them with Hans Zimmer score that should imply relentlessness and sustained tension. He loads the script with a lot of things enough to distract you from thinking how the execution—especially in terms of action film-making and visual storytelling—could have been so much better.

All this would result, nonetheless, to Nolan’s greatest inception—instilling many the idea that this ambitious but deeply flawed sequel is the Godfather II of the comic-book moviedom.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Is the Joss Whedon Sequel We Never Had

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Before The Avengers became Marvel’s biggest hit (to the tune of $1.5B), Joss Whedon was asked about making Avengers 2 and gave his thoughts on what makes a better sequel. He said that the sequel should go smaller, more personal, instead of just repeating what worked in the first. Then came Avengers: Age of Ultron—it’s not quite the kind of sequel Whedon said he’d like to make.

(Presses fast-forward button…)

Marvel’s favorite A-holes are back.

From the opening title sequence, where they fight the Abilisk to the tune of ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky” (yes, an expanded version of Star-Lord’s “Come And Get Your Love” number from the first) to the moment Ego reveals himself to be Peter Quill’s father, the Guardians have managed to be the two things we love about them: being the “heroes” they are now known after the Battle of Xandar; and minutes later, the bunch of assholes they were known for before saving Xandar. First, they save the Sovereign the trouble of fighting a giant squid-like battery-munching monster; then on the next, they fight among themselves, crash their own ship, insult, offend and eventually, earn the wrath of High Priestess Ayesha and the rest of the Sovereign—the same people whose precious batteries they have just “saved”.

They’re just being themselves, I guess. Compared with the Avengers’ banter-heavy work-like team dynamics, the Guardians’ we’re-a-happy-family kind of shit (a Ramones reference, by the way) is, just on another level—of crazy. For them, doing the right thing, saving the world or saving one’s own ass isn’t always top priority. They’ll do it for the money, sure, or in exchange for something valuable. Sometimes, it’s just for the simple “Fuck it, we’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, bitch” reason. And that’s probably why Drax was dangling from outside the Milano, during one of the space battles—just like Han Solo in Air Force One. They’re erratic and unpredictable, and unfortunately for you, Andromedans, they’re the savers of your galaxy.

And that’s the primary reason James Gunn loves these characters so much. Or is it the other way around? That Gunn loves them so much that’s why… Nevermind. There’s definitely a lot of love going on here—in the movie and in making this movie. So much that Gunn made Vol. 2 just like the first—only in reverse. Less on saving the world and McGuffins, more on the characters and their backstories—expanding them, revealing hidden lines, connecting the dots.

Awesome Mix Vol. 2 takes the same dip, highlighting obscure titles and Gunn’s personal favorites in as much as the hits. If the first sounds like some hipster mix-tape you play in front of friends so you’d look cool, the new set is truly your parents’ music. They’re the songs you listen to when you’re alone and misses the times when you’re still small, being with your folks, playing with your He-Man action figures, and the songs your parents love, were playing in the background. It’s kind of sad and beautiful… Like a picnic in the park, or your family watching Empire Strikes Back at home, on the old Betamax.

So Quill finally meets his old man, a Celestial named Ego, a god with small ‘g’, played by the inimitable Kurt Russell. All those years growing up with the Ravagers, Quill just wanted to play catch with his Dad. On the other hand, Gamora just wanted to end her feud with her step-sister; but Nebula wants something else, actually, she wanted more. Elsewhere in the galaxy, Yondu, the guy who kidnapped young Quill many years ago, vows to right the wrongs he did in the past. While Rocket, still the meanest A-hole in the team, gets to meet his match.

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By the end, everyone’s given his/her own “drama queen” moment (because this is what Guardians is all about—the drama, it’s Marvel’s own soap opera), except Baby Groot, who stuffs the movie with cuteness overload and funny one-liners. Yeah. Funny. One. Liners. While Drax mostly served as muscle and gas throughout the movie, there’s one brief scene, with him and Mantis sitting by the pond, that’s really “touching”.

All this makes Vol. 2 a lot more personal, more intimate. And in a way, smaller, as the movie splits the team in two and focuses on each character’s personal issues. Then, the narratives meet in the middle, intertwine and unravel in the most organic way possible. Nothing here feels tacked on, as all were established, or at least hinted at, in the first movie.

Of course, Vol. 2 also doubles down on the other things we love about the first: dick-jokes and jokes about a mechanical eye and really big turd, the ’80s references, the eye-popping set-pieces, and action sequence set to really awesome music. There’s the Ravagers slam-dancing to “Southern Nights”; Quill and Co. landing on Ego’s Planet to the tune of “My Sweet Lord”; the arcade-inspired Sovereign Fleet with their “Wham Bam Shang-A-Lang” disco-hive attack, just to name a few.

If all this does not a perfect sequel make, then I don’t know what. A political thriller perhaps?

Then, it all fails—if only because we need to measure it with the same stick we used with the first. Or simply because there ain’t a scene as powerful, corny, kick-ass, funny, and dramatic—all of these combined, as when the Guardians vanquished Ronan in the first movie. If these two movies were a pair of rock albums, Vol. 1 is the surprise smash hit debut, and Vol. 2, is its decidedly different, less immediate follow-up (think about Weezer’s Blue Album and Pinkerton). It’s heavier, deeper, and has more layers. And probably requires—and hopefully gets better with—repeated listens.

Vol. 2 doesn’t need to better or outdo the first to be the perfect sequel. It is a perfect sequel. I have only one complaint: I expected Star-Lord to make a giant Skeletor. Or a big blonde Heather Locklear.

 

*GOTG Vol. 2 mugs from here.

Kong: Skull Island

kong_skull islandThe year is 1973 and the US troops are leaving Vietnam. A US senator reluctantly funds a scientific expedition to Skull Island, an uncharted island in the Southeast Asia. An expert hunter-tracker, a photojournalist, and a helicopter squadron join the scientists in the expedition, braving a cloud system of perpetual thunderstorms that covers the island. Once in, the group started dropping seismic bombs. Everything goes well until… Well, let’s just say the movie climaxes too early and never recovers.

Kong: Skull Island, the second movie in Legendary Pictures’ monster-verse, is a mishmash of old Kong movies, Apocalypse Now and Jurassic Park. Despite sharing the same fictional universe, this Kong has very little in common with Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014). Kong plays more like a B-movie about war and monsters, compare to Edwards’ superb rethinking of the kaiju classic. Most of the human characters are half-written, save for John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow, whose levity counterweighs Samuel L. Jackson playing Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Preston “Man Is the Monster” Packard. Tom Hiddleston makes for one good sword-slashing sequence while Reg Slivko provides the nifty soundtrack; but it’s Brie Larson’s anti-war photojournalist that kept me awake amidst the movie’s CGI overload and utter lack of suspense. In terms of sense of wonder, there’s none except for the one brief scene involving a giant water buffalo emerging from water.

Kong: Skull Island is loud, fast, and full of in-your-face monster mayhem. That sounds really appetizing. Unfortunately, it’s undone by haphazard filmmaking that leaves not much room for tension, surprises or memorable set pieces. The best part of the movie happens thirty minutes in: one uprooted tree flies towards one of the choppers and skewers it—easily the movie’s most inventive sequence. Then, Kong appears and battles the helicopter squadron, swatting them one by one, tearing and sending them down to the ground. After that, the movie retreads the old and familiar (i.e., the movies mentioned above) and the proceeding monster battles, never reach the same highs—just a bunch of big fights we’ve already seen before.

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X-Men Origins: Wolverine (Gavin Hood, 2009)

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When it comes to the worse Marvel-based movies, the B-grade X-Men Origins: Wolverine is easily among the front-runners. As a comic-book movie, Wolverine is one serious offender. It has no regards for a lot of things: the first X-Men movie (where Sabretooth appeared), the Weapon X series, the other X-Men characters (i.e., Gambit, Deadpool). But outside its irreverence, is a somewhat tightly constructed B-movie (particularly the first half) that knows its own thrills. If you think about it, the story was nothing more than a silly excuse to get Logan in Wolverine-mode. As a low budget action movie (they didn’t even bother to get back Brian Cox to play Stryker), it actually works—kind of. While there are still plenty to ask for in Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine (he’s too soft, too pretty), at least his own movie is so bad—ass; not only does it cut its ties with both comics and other X-Men movies with ease (talk about the script’s adamantium quality), it also almost killed and forever shut-up the one exciting character that Fox has: the snarky anti-hero known as Merc with a Mouth.

Blind Fury (Phillip Noyce, 1989)

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The idea seems ludicrous enough—that of importing Zatoichi to Hollywood and have a blind man fight gunmen with a sword. Thought it would be no different than those clumsy and unintentionally funny American Ninja movies I liked as a kid. So I gave Blind Fury a pass one time it was airing on cable. Turns out, it’s by Philip Noyce, the guy responsible for no-nonsense thrillers such as Clear and Present Danger, Salt and, uhm…Sliver. And with Rutger Hauer as the blind sword-wielding war veteran, giving it a try the second time was not so bad an idea. Blind Fury doesn’t take itself too seriously. I mean, there’s one sequence where Hauer’s character drives a car like he isn’t blind. The action scenes were typically slower than the average action flicks of today, but at least they weren’t confusing or over-edited beyond recognition. The movie was able to throw in a few laughs as well: during a sword-fight, Hauer touches the face of his opponent (Sho Kosugi) and exclaimed, “Ha, Japanese!” And it has some surprisingly poignant moments too. It’s hardly a great action movie; but for something borne out of seemingly silly idea, it’s surprisingly well executed and fairly entertaining.