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Luke Cage – Can’t Front On Me (Review)

On of the most remarkable things about Luke Cage is just how much it enjoys being a superhero series, particularly compared to the other Marvel Netflix series.

The Punisher felt distinctly uncomfortable with its source material, and so instead tried to position itself as a low-rent 24 knock-off. Jessica Jones largely embraces the superhero genre as a vehicle for metaphors about trauma rather than as something to be enjoyed or appreciated of itself. Iron Fist made a strange choice to tone down both the most outlandish aspects of its character’s back story and the genre elements inherent in a kung-fu exploitation adventure. Daredevil is the only show to give its protagonist a costume, but it skews towards a much more sombre and serious school of superheroics.

All of these series contrast with Luke Cage, which eagerly embraces the trappings of the superhero genre, even as the second season remains deeply ambivalent about the very idea of a superhero. Showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker has described himself “a hip-hop showrunner”, and that sensibility infused the series. Hip-hop is a genre that heavily draws on sampling and remixing, so it makes sense that Luke Cage should draw on that tradition with its own stylistic influences, embracing the opportunity to create a deeply affectionate (and surprisingly traditional) superhero story around its hero.

For a story that inevitably goes to some very grim places, Luke Cage takes a great deal of joy in being a superhero television series.

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To Infinity and Beyond: Of Life (and Death) Without Meaning in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Avengers: Infinity War”

Avengers: Infinity War is a staggering accomplishment, from a purely logistical standpoint.

The film features approximately fifty major characters drawn from ten years of cinematic storytelling, all drawn together to face a major existential threat in a story that spans from a fictional African kingdom to the depths of outer space, all told within two-and-a-half hours, and all packaged in a neat and easy-to-follow delivery mechanism. Marvel Studios and the Russo brothers might make it look easy, but there’s no denying the level of skill and technique involved in shepherding a story like this to the big screen and making it work in a fundamental “this is entertaining” kind of way.

It’s important not to undersell this, not to dismiss the level of craft involved in stitching together a coherent narrative from the differing lengths of cloth. There is pleasure to be had in watching the various characters come together; in watching Peter Quill get insecure around Thor, in listening to Rocket joke about stealing the Winter Soldier’s arm, in the fact that Tony Stark and Stephen Strange spend the bulk of the movie attempting to out-Sherlock one another. Infinity War succeeds on these terms. It’s easy to be dismissive of this cinematic experiment, given how easy it looks, but that does not diminish the accomplishment.

However, there’s also something gnawing away in the background of Infinity War, an awkward question that the film never actually answers. “What is this actually about?” somebody might legitimately ask, and there are any number of possible answers. Infinity War is a film about a big purple dude with a magic glove. Infinity War is about paying off ten years of continuity. Infinity War is about proving that it is possible to make a movie like Infinity War. Infinity War is about ensuring that the next Disney shareholders’ meeting is a blowout party.

All of these are legitimate answers, but they dance around the truth. On its own terms, taken as a piece of popular culture projected on to a screen for two-and-a-half hours, Infinity War isn’t actually about anything. When people sit down to look at Infinity War in the years and decades ahead, to dissect and examine it, what will they come back with? What is it actually saying? What is it actually talking about? Not even in some grand “thesis statement about the universe” way, but in a more basic “this is the thematic arc of the film” manner?

Watching Infinity War, there is a deeply uncomfortable sense that Infinity War is about nothing beyond itself.

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My 12 for ’13: Iron Man 3 & Shane Black’s Christmas in April

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 9…

While Tim Burton’s underrated Batman Returns remains the definitive superhero Christmas movie, Iron Man 3 comes pretty darn close. Which is very strange, for a movie released in towards the end of April in Europe and in the United States in early May. This paradoxical festivity is just one of the many ways that Iron Man 3 feels more like a Shane Black film than a piece of the expansive and ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe.

And that’s a good thing.

ironman3a

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – The Well (Review)

So this is what a tie-in to Thor: The Dark World looks like. This is the episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. broadcast specifically to tie into the major motion picture blockbuster. In essence, this is as close as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will ever get to integrating with the shared Marvel universe. Given the fact that the show’s official title includes the prefix “Marvel’s”, that cross-media synchronicity is a large part of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s branding.

The result is… disappointing, to say the least. It’s just a generic “strange phenomena of the week” episode with even more crossed wires than usual, a tiresome bit of back story for a bland character played by a mediocre actor and an unwillingness to take advantage of any of the benefits of being a television show tied into a blockbuster franchise while remaining firmly anchored to the weaknesses associated with the medium.

Hot rod...

Hot rod…

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Geoff Johns’ (and Jim Lee’s) Run on Justice League – The Villain’s Journey (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

This should be the defining Justice League book of the 21st century. Geoff Johns is something of a DC comics super star, a writer who has worked on all manner of major and minor DC characters, and helped shaped the fictional universe for the better part of a decade. Jim Lee defined the look of DC comics, particularly with the revamped “new 52” character designs. He’s a super star artist who produces iconic superhero images. So pairing the two up on DC’s flagship book, relaunched as part of a line-wide initiative, should be something to watch. If Johns can turn Green Lantern into one of DC’s biggest franchises, imagine what he could do here.

However, their first six-issue arc, Origin, seemed troubled. It was a decently entertaining big-budget blockbuster of a comic book arc, but it didn’t really provide a clear vision of these characters and their world. New Frontier, for example, remains a more thoughtful and introspective origin story for the team of DC’s most iconic heroes.

The Villain’s Journey improves a great deal on Origin, but it’s still deeply flawed, with a sense that Johns and Lee are struggling under the weight of having to make these characters “relevant” to the modern world.

He knows how to make an entrance...

He knows how to make an entrance…

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