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Non-Review Review: Captain Marvel

The biggest problem with Captain Marvel is one of spoiler culture.

“Spoiler culture” is a fascinating cultural phenomenon, and one that is interesting as a facet of cultural consumption that arose parallel with the internet. It is perhaps a logical extension of the manner in which information flows these days. Information travels instantly and in all directions, quickly consumed and quick disseminated. In the nineties, it was easy (or easier) to avoid spoilers to films like The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense. After all, there was no Twitter or Facebook to share information. If somebody had already seen the film, they had to be physically talking to somebody else to discuss it, and it was posisble to establish the ground rules for the flows of information before the conversation progressed.

In an era where simply being on the internet exposes a person to torrents of information, the advent of “spoiler culture” seems logical and rational. People want to be surprised. People don’t want to know the finer points of a story before witnessing it first hand. People do not want the easter eggs given out or the finer details dissected. This is an understandable response. Having an experience described is no match for actually having that experience first-hand. So a culture has grown up online about preserving surprise and controlling the flow of information. This is fine. This is healthy. This is good. Mostly “spoiler culture” is just common courtesy and common sense. A reviewer should not reveal anything to a reader that they themselves would not want to know.

As with any philosophy, there is a tendency to take things too far. Sometimes “spoiler culture” descends into self-parody. Reviewers were famously told not to reveal any information about the plot of Blade Runner 2049, which ironically made it very hard to sell the movie to a potential audience. Some more extreme adherents felt betrayed when Sony released a trailer for Spider-Man: Far From Home before Avengers: Endgame, as if the fact that Sony was making another Spider-Man movie would give away the resolution to the cliffhanger from Avengers: Infinity War. Naturally, Infinity War came with its own massive spoiler-warning from the studio, with reviewers told that “Thanos demands [their] silence.” This despite the fact the ending was lifted directly from a comic.

Captain Marvel embodies the worst impulses of “spoiler culture” because it confuses a logical and organic narrative development for a big twist. There is a reveal that comes around the half-way mark of the two-hour film which fundamentally changes the nature of the story being told. It plays against the story that had been set up to that point, and is positioned as a game-changer. It is a “twist.” It is a “big” moment. It is the kind of development for which Thanos would demand silence. Except it’s not really. It is not an actual twist. It is a plot point. It is a story beat. It is a part of the story that makes a great deal of sense in the context of the story as it is being told. However, Captain Marvel decides to play this game-changing story beat as a revelation.

There are a couple of big issues here. Most obviously, the actual narrative development is quite literally the only way that Captain Marvel could go without becoming something completely and irredeemably monstrous, so it is entirely predictable. (The twist is only a surprise to audience members who genuinely believe that Marvel’s first female-led superhero movie is likely to play out as extreme white nationalist propaganda.) More than that, though, it creates a larger problem with the flow of the story. The decision to play this story beat as a twist means the film has to conceal its hand for the first hour and fifteen minutes. This means that Captain Marvel is almost half-way over before any member of the cast gets any real character development.

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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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Non-Review Review: Black Panther

Black Panther is something special.

In a lot of ways, it is a very typical Marvel blockbuster. The familiar formula is in place, and the movie follows the rhythms that audiences have come to expect from these films. There is a certain tempo and structure to the film, the sort of clean efficiency that delineates most of the movies produced under the banner of Marvel Studios. For a film advertised using a remix of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, it is striking how conservative Black Panther is.

The Panther Strikes!

However, there is a lot to be said for the film’s more understated revolutionary qualities, the depth of understanding that the production team bring to the adaptation. Black Panther is acutely aware of what it means to construct a superhero fantasy epic about an African prince who leads a utopian society in the context of 2017, and there is something reassuring in how confidently and efficiently the film works within that framework. It is not merely that the existence of Black Panther is important, it is that Black Panther‘s assertion of its identity is important.

Black Panther is superior blockbuster by any measure, constructed with a great deal of care and thought about what it means. Much like its title character, there is a sense that the weight of expectation is upon Black Panther, and the most remarkable thing about the film is how seriously it takes that obligation without ever feeling burdened.

Heavy lies the head that wears the cowl.

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52. Thor: Ragnarok – This Just In (#179)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, 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, Taiki Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok.

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Daredevil – The Dark at the End of the Tunnel (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

Adaptation is a tricky business.

One of the more interesting aspects of the comic book movie boom that occurred in the years following Blade (although really kicking into gear with X-Men and Spider-Man) has been the discussion over narrative fidelity. It seems like a comic book adaptation is no longer truly judged on its own merits, but weighed against how faithfully it recreates its source material. It is not enough to produce a good superhero film, it is expected that most contemporary production teams should produce a good superhero adaptation.

Trinity.

Trinity.

This would have seemed ridiculous during the nineties. After all, Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns stand as two of the most successful superhero films of the decade, and they are arguably better described as “Tim Burton films” than “Batman films.” There was a point at which Tim Burton was planning to direct his own Superman film that would have been (very) loosely inspired by The Death and Return of Superman written by Kevin Smith and starring Nicolas Cage, a giant spider, and some polar bears.

Largely driven by the success of the Marvel Studios business model, however, it seems that contemporary superhero films and television shows are expected to show their work and to emphasise their connection to the source material.

"Let's turn this town into a warzone. A Punisher: Warzone."

“Let’s turn this town into a warzone. A Punisher: Warzone.”

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Jessica Jones – AKA Take a Bloody Number (Review)

AKA Take a Bloody Number is the penultimate episode of the season, and continues the process of narrowing the focus.

There is a sense that Jessica Jones is largely clearing away the clutter as it moves towards its final episodes. AKA Sin Bin found the show building to critical mass, and subsequent episodes have shrewdly decided to begin letting the air out slowly rather than bursting the balloon. AKA 1,000 Cuts resolved Jeri’s divorce subplot and killed off Hope Slottman. AKA I’ve Got the Blues disbanded the survivors’ group and took care of Will Simpson’s supersoldier plot. AKA Take a Bloody Number brings back Luke Cage, allowing the show to focus on the relationship between Luke and Jessica for the first time since AKA You’re a Winner! Luke seems to have missed the show’s climax, but he is still a matter than needs addressing.

jessicajones-takeabloodynumber29a

One of the strengths of Jessica Jones is a willingness to let its cast drift into and out of focus as the plot demands. Characters like Luke Cage and Jeri Hogarth are absent from consecutive episodes, and stretches of the season. This is likely due to actor availability issues, with Mike Colter soon to be headlining Luke Cage and Carrie-Anne Moss arguably the biggest star (and certainly the most recognisable “film” star) in the cast. Nevertheless, it does allow Jessica Jones a narrative expedience. Instead of having to constantly check in on various characters with a drip-feed of character development, the show can decide only to use them as is strictly necessary. It is a technique that works out quite well for the show. (Indeed, the show might have done better to adopt it with Kilgrave.)

AKA Take a Bloody Number works as a fairly streamlined piece of television, resisting the urge to escalate the scales (and the scope) of the story as it approaches its endgame. The climactic confrontation between Luke and Jessica is arguably just as effective as the climax of AKA Sin Bin, despite the smaller number of intersecting plot threads and involved characters.

jessicajones-takeabloodynumber10a

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Non-Review Review: Avengers – Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a hot mess.

It is fun, witty and fast-moving. However, it is also disjointed, uneven and awkward. Age of Ultron is a big and bombastic summer blockbuster, but it feels like Marvel learned very little from The Avengers. Rather than simply taking what worked in the first film, it often seems like Age of Ultron doubles down on every part of its predecessor. There’s more action, there’s higher stakes, there’s bigger conflict, there’s more Tony, there’s even less of an idea what to do with Thor, there’s more continuity.

"Hey, at least I beat the Terminator prequel to cinemas, right?"

“Hey, at least I beat the Terminator prequel to cinemas, right?”

“More” seems to the be the word here. Age of Ultron is bigger than its predecessor in just about every way. The film boasts an ensemble so large that it threatens to collapse under its own weight – a fact perhaps wryly acknowledged by the genocidal robot’s evil plan at the climax. While it is nice to have more diversity in the cast – The Avengers are no longer a bunch of white guys and their token female colleague – it does seem like Age of Ultron strains and groans under all that Joss Whedon and Marvel heap upon it.

Bigger is not always better.

You know, "pull Thor's hammer" is probably not a family friendly party game...

You know, “pull Thor’s hammer” is probably not a family friendly party game…

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