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New Escapist Column! On the Horror of Joss Whedon’s “Justice League”…

I published a new column at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League this week, it seemed like an appropriate opportunity to take a look at the original theatrical cut of Justice League, which remains one of the worst blockbusters of the past decade.

What makes the theatrical cut of Justice League such an insidious film isn’t just what it is, although it is terrible on its own terms. It’s what the film represents. It’s a very conscious and very deliberate erasure of a distinct vision of an expensive creative project, in the hope of serving reheated nostalgic leftovers that fans might gorge themselves upon. It’s pure, empty, vacuous content – a pale imitation of what other companies do better, without a single unique perspective of its own.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On Why Chris Evans Returning to the MCU Would Be a Bad Idea…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Last week, there were rumours that Chris Evans might be returning to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, following his departure in Avengers: Endgame.

This is interesting, because it potentially undermines one of the more interesting facets of the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward. Comic books are largely shaped and defined by nostalgia, with beloved characters filling familiar roles in perpetuity, with any major change to the status quo eventually rolling back to the default. In contrast, a cinematic universe operates by different constraints: actors move on, age out and even die. This would force a long-form shared universe to evolve in a way that comics haven’t had to. This is a good thing, as evolution is necessary.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On How “WandaVision” Finds the MCU Coming to (and For) Television…

I published a new column at The Escapist last week, but didn’t get a chance to share it. With WandaVision now streaming on Disney+, it seemed like a good idea to take a look at it.

The most striking thing about WandaVision is how immersed it is in the language of television. Previous attempts to bring the MCU to television treated it as secondary to movies; Netflix shows like Daredevil or Iron Fist were treated as thirteen-hour movies, while Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter lived off scraps from the films that drove the shared universe. In contrast, WandaVision is not just a thriving celebration of television as a medium, it’s also an exploration of it. This is very firmly and very definitely the MCU coming to television.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On “Black Panther” and the Irreplaceable Chadwick Boseman…

I published a new piece at The Escapist today. With the announcement earlier in the week that Marvel Studios would not be replacing Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther 2, I took a look at why that was the right call.

The original Black Panther was a once-in-a-generation phenomenon, and Chadwick Boseman was a large part of that. The part T’Challa might eventually be recast in an alternate universe or in a reboot, but Boseman played the definitive version within the MCU. Replacing him would be equivalent to trying to replace Robert Downey Jr. or Chris Evans, both of whom were allowed to retire their characters at the end of Avengers: Endgame. Boseman deserves at least that respect.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On “Black Panther” and Childlike Wonder…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman over a week ago, I have been thinking a lot about Black Panther. In particular, what makes it special.

It isn’t simply that Black Panther was the first superhero movie on this scale to feature a predominantly black cast from a black director. It was also the extent to which director Ryan Coogler understood the power of superheroes. Very few superhero movies are written with an understanding of what superheroes represent and why they are important, instead often falling into the trap of power fantasies rather than empowerment fantasies. Black Panther is the rare superhero movie that dares to see its world through the eyes of a child, and is more powerful for that.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: X-Men – Dark Phoenix

It reflects the strange state of the modern multimedia landscape that X-Men: Dark Phoenix feels almost like a plucky underdog.

This is a major studio summer blockbuster with a budget of well over one hundred million dollars. More than that, it is the twelfth film in a series that has historically been both critically and commercially successful; the films have earned over $5.7bn dollars worldwide, eight of the twelve films have positive scores on Rotten Tomatoes, seven of those twelve have been popular enough to end on the Internet Movie Database‘s top 250 films of all-time. The current franchise stars a two-time Oscar winner. The last film in the series earned an Oscar nomination for its screenplay.

A hot property.

Dark Phoenix should be an event. Instead, it arrives with a relative whimper. The release date was pushed back repeatedly, first from November 2018 to February 2019, and then to June 2019. It has been hounded by largely unfounded industry gossip about terrible test screenings. It is tracking for the lowest opening weekend in the franchise. In the time between the film entering production and its eventual release, it has been somewhat overshadowed by news that Disney are to buy 20th Century Fox, and that this franchise will be rebooted.

“I am inevitable,” Thanos famously boasted in Avengers: Endgame, the literal manifestation of death and time who existed to be vanquished by the assembled heroes. He might have been speaking of the influence of Disney. Dark Phoenix crashes against that inevitability, shattering and snapping against those immovable objects. Dark Phoenix is a mess, a disorganised husk of a movie carved out in an editing booth and built from last-minute reshoots. However, it is not quite the disaster that it should be. Instead, it seems almost endearingly defiant, a blockbuster flavoured with passive aggression.

Raining on their parade.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2019) #17!

It’s time for the Scannain podcast!

This week, I join Jay Coyle, Grace Duffy and Ronan Doyle to discuss the week in film. Ronan has been away for a few weeks at the Irish Film Institute’s “Our Battle in Images” season, looking at (largely outside) perspectives of the Troubles and curated by Donal Foreman, and so discusses a few films that he saw as part of the season. Jay has been watching more Columbian noir on the Criterion Channel and took in the latest Liam Neeson action joint Hard Powder Cold Pursuit. Grace watched Colossal and took in her first Agnés Varda film. I watched The Dig, and took in a couple of classic Marvel Cinematic Universe films.

In film news, there’s a lot to cover, including the passing of director John Singleton. There is also the IFI Spotlight coming in early May, and the announcement of the latest batch of W.R.A.P. funding. As ever, we also cover the top ten and the new releases in a crowded week under the shadow of Avengers: Endgame.

The top ten:

  1. Five Feet Apart
  2. Little
  3. Missing Link
  4. Peppa Pig: Festival of Fun
  5. Wild Rose
  6. Greta
  7. Shazam!
  8. Wonder Park
  9. Dumbo
  10. Avengers: Endgame

New releases:

You can listen to the podcast directly here.

Non-Review Review: Shazam!

There’s a lot to like about Shazam!

Most obviously, there’s the sheer joy that the film takes in live-action superheroics. It is, of course, something of a cliché to suggest that a certain film or television show “makes superheroes fun again.” Even just among the recent crop of superhero cinema, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseIncredibles 2, Ant Man and the Wasp, Thor: Ragnarok and Spider-Man: Homecoming can all claim to have injected fun back into the genre. (Indeed, for their myriad flaws, the problem with Justice League and Aquaman was not that they weren’t trying to have fun. Quite the opposite in fact.) So it is disingenuous to state that Shazam! reintroduces the concept of fun into the genre.

Dab-bling in superheroics.

However, Shazam! still takes an incredible amount of joy in playing with the tropes and conventions of the genre. Part of this comes built into the premise. While the character of Captain Marvel could be seen as an example of the “flying brick” archetype most effectively embodied by Superman, the most appealing part of the concept has always been his secret identity. Unlike other superheroes who simply change costume to fight crime, the character physically transforms into a superhero through the use of the magic word. Captain Marvel’s secret identity is Billy Batson, usually portrayed as a child or a teenager. There’s something endearing about the wish fulfillment that anchors that concept. Shazam! invites its audience to look at superheroics through the eyes of a child.

The first two acts of Shazam! are (mostly) a joy, an engaging riff on a playful concept that understands a large part of the appeal of superheroes to their target audience. Unfortunately, the film fumbles the ball in its third act. While the relative innocence and simplicity of Shazam! are a large part of its appeal, the climax of the film gets a little bit too boggled down in cynical worldbuilding, indulging in a bloated and over-extended computer-generated fight sequence that feels lifted from a much less playful and exciting film. To borrow an old cliché, Shazam! almost convinces its audience that a man can fly, but it just can’t stick the landing.

Zap to it.

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114. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – This Just In (#26)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and with special guests Graham Day, Luke Dunne and Bríd Martin, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr. and Rodney Rothman’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 26th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Spider-Man – Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is an amazing Spider-man movie.

There is no other way to describe it. Into the Spider-Verse is a clean lock for the best superhero film of the year, neatly leapfrogging the superlative Black Panther. Into the Spider-Verse is also the best animated film of the year, placing comfortably ahead of The Breadwinner or Incredibles 2. In fact, it seems fairly safe to describe Into the Spider-Verse as the best feature film starring Spider-Man since Spider-Man II. Even that feels like hedging, and would be a very closely run race.

Just dive on in.

Into the Spider-Verse is a creative triumph. It is a fantastically constructed movie, in virtually every way. The film’s unique approach to animation will inevitably dominate discussions, and understandably so. Into the Spider-Verse is a visually sumptuous piece of cinema that looks unlike anything ever committed to film. However, the film’s storytelling is just as impressive if decidedly (and consciously) less showy in its construction. Adding a phenomenal cast, Into the Spider-Verse is just a film that works in an incredibly infectious and engaging way.

Into the Spider-Verse does whatever a Spider-Man movie can. And then some.

Suits him.

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