‘X-Men: Dark Phoenix’

A confusingly claimed final instalment of the two-decade franchise, Dark Phoenix is something of a boring, anticlimactic mess.

The end of the prequels (set in the 1990s where the original X-Men first stepped in) sees a few changes to the storylines of future and past as Jean Grey (Sophie Turner – X-Men: Apocalypse, TV’s Game of Thrones) comes to terms with her mutation and a corrupting power that turns her into a Dark Phoenix. The rest of the team need to reach her before the alien Vuk (Jessica Chastain – The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) taps into that power and brings destruction to mankind.

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult et al are all ever present as our favourite mutants – but in writer/director Simon Kinberg’s directorial debut, all have little input as Jean goes on the rampage, angered as she is by McAvoy and his blocking of her truth of the car-accident that killed her parents.

Rating: 40%

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‘Avengers: Endgame’

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (Captain America: Civil War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), it’s a welcome sombre note to the Marvel proceedings, particularly after the wall-to-wall battles of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War.

After the defeat by Thanos (Josh Brolin) and destruction of half the world’s population, the surviving Avengers are (mostly) unsurprisingly resigned and introspective – even Iron Man himself (Robert Downey Junior) has settled into an idyllic familial rural lifestyle. But the sudden ‘spitting out’ of Ant Man (a very funny Paul Rudd) from the quantum realm changes everything.

It’s a fittingly gargantuan and fabulously grandiose conclusion of 22 Marvel films – but with its humour, pathos and not too much reliance on excessive battles, the result is Avengers: Endgame is suitably one of the best.

Rating: 69%

‘Captain Marvel’

Generic and somewhat flat, the latest in the Marvel universe is an uninspiring genesis film.

A generally unconvincing Oscar-winning Brie Larson (Room, Kong: Skull Island) finds herself on the wrong side of good in a galactic war that, slowly, reveals her human roots. Mentor Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes, Cold Mountain) encourages the latest superhero to overcome her emotions in the fight against the Skrulls – but contact with former (human) friends and SHIELD agents, including (a digitally enhanced) Samuel L Jackson, undermine her training.

The underlying humour (Jackson and the cat in particular) make Captain Marvel passable, but directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Billions, Half Nelson) are sadly out of their indie film/TV comfort zone.

Rating: 38%

‘Aquaman’

A visual feast of underwater delights as Jason Momoa (Justice League, Conan the Barbarian) makes the role of Aquaman his own.

On discovering from Princess Mera (Amber Heard – Justice League, Magic Mike XXL) he is heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, Aquaman must step in to stop his half-brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson – The Conjuring, Hard Candy), going to war with the surface polluters.

DC Comics has generally struggled in the superhero stakes against Marvel, but with more than a hint of Avatar in its visuals and a director (James Wan – Saw, Fast & Furious 7) better known for horror films, Aquaman has pace and narrative that results in an enjoyable popcorn movie.

Rating: 66%

‘Venom’

Venom_(film)_poster_007It’s telling when, in director Ruben Fleischer’s Venom, the most engaging moments are the two (short) scenes between Tom Hardy (The Revenant, Inception) and his local Asian female shopkeeper.

Venom is a unimaginative bombast of an origin film as Hardy acquires the power of an alien symbiote as an alter ego in his (initially reluctant) battle with power-crazed Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed – The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Nightcrawler).

In spite of all the CGI, the latest in the Marvel Comic oeuvre feels somewhat dated and wastes a great deal of talent. It’s an uninspiring yarn lacking any sense of the fun expected from a director responsible for Zombieland and Gangster Squad.

Rating: 35%

‘Deadpool 2’

deadpoolMarvel’s follow-up to the refreshing 2016 Deadpool is a templated repeat formula of the first film – but with no suspense, off-the-mark humour and a derivative storyline.

Ryan Reynolds is back as the foul-mouthed Wade Wilson – and it’s fellow mutants who need to band together to save the young Firefist (Julian Dennison – Hunt for the Wilder People, Paper Planes) from the time-travelling Cyborg, Cable (Josh Brolin – Sicario, George W.)

An interesting casting decision regarding Brolin as Cable and Thanos in The Avengers but that’s where any interest in Deadpool 2 begins and ends. A bore.

Rating: 30%

‘The Avengers: Infinity War’

avengers-infinity-war-ground-rulesThe behemoth that is Marvel Comics continues unabated with the next instalment of its superhero comic characters. Yet, in spite of new blood attached to The Avengers in the guise of The Guardians of the Galaxy, The Avengers: Infinity War is the same same and not really very different. Result is that, whilst occasionally funny and occasionally exciting, it all gets monotonously boring.

Thanos (Josh Brolin – Milk, Sicario) is looking to collect all six Infinity Stones to cull the universe: The Avengers needless to say are out to stop him. Problem is they’re spread all over the universe. And that’s how it predominantly stays with various superheroes separately in battle with Thanos or his sidekicks. The fractured nature of physical presence (were they all ever on the set at the same time?) is reflected in a fractured narrative that is repetitive and ultimately dull.

Rating: 44%

‘Black Panther’

Black-Panther-poster-main-xlThere’s no question that the latest in the Marvel Comic franchise is politically important with its virtually all-black cast. And director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) has bought more than a touch of meaningful social commentary with him. But you can’t help thinking that Black Panther is more than a little over-hyped.

It’s an incredibly slow start with its origin story and photogenic African savannah panoramas. And while the court of King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman – Get On Up, Captain America: Civil War) livens up considerably, a sluggish Black Panther is upstaged by his senior general, Danai Gurira (Mother of George, All Eyez On Me), as well as the villain of the peace, Michael B Jordan (Fruitvale Station, Creed).

Rating: 61%

 

Best of Year (2017) – Male Performance

mbts_27111-e14852560476521My review of films released in Australia continues with my top five male performances.

As with female performances, there were a limited number of stand-outs – and looking through films seen in the year made me aware that many of the highlights were ensemble pieces (Moonlight, Dunkirk, Danish film Land of Mine etc).

But my top five male performances for 2017 are:

5: Hugh Jackman: Logan
4: Josh O’Connor: God’s Own Country
3: Will Poulter: Detroit
2: James McAvoy: Split
1: Casey Affleck: Manchester by the Sea

Number five is something of a surprise – it was a toss up between Jackman and Joel Edgerton in Loving. But in his final appearance as Wolverine, Jackman introduced a level of humanity and vulnerability to a character who, in previous films, was something of a two-dimensional superhero.

Set in Yorkshire, God’s Own Country was described as an English Brokeback Mountain, and lonely, isolated Josh O’Connor was suitably dour and monosyllabic prior to the arrival of the Romanian casual labour, Gheorghe.

Whilst Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit was very much an ensemble piece, there was no ignoring that Will Poulter as the devastatingly sadistic white supremacist police officer and murderous psychopath was the stand-out.

A multiple personality disorder provides James McAvoy with a dream series of roles in Split – ranging from a nerdish nine year-old Hedwig, the reasoned Barry (a fashion designer) through to the menacing Patricia and disturbing Dennis. It’s a role McAvoy deserves to gain more accolades.

But it’s the quiet, nuanced Oscar-winning performance by Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea that gets my final vote.

‘Justice League’

justice_league_comiccon_keyartA ponderous launch of the DC superhero collective as a ponderous Ben Affleck looks to bring together the not-so-happy cohort. With the honourable Superman (Henry Cavill) no longer in the picture and crime on the increase, it’s no easy task for Batman and his latest ally, Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot).

The rise of Steppenwolf, dormant for 5,000 years, and the threat to mankind finally brings Aquaman (Jason Momoa), The Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) into the mix.

Justice League has its moments but as an entertainment, it needs a more convincing lightness of touch and humour. Battle scenes are pedestrian, the chirpy Flash humour not quite funny enough, the interface between characters needing work. The Zack Snyder (director) of Sucker Punch is needed!

Rating: 37%