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Non-Review Review: The Equaliser 2

At one point in The Equaliser 2, Robert McCall is listening to a radio forecast of a storm front sweeping through the north east of the United States.

“It’s coming in slow,” the meteorologist explains. “It’s taking it’s time.” In theory, so is The Equaliser 2. The storm is itself a metaphor for both the film and its protagonist, a force of nature descending upon the characters with a slow and steady certainty. The Equaliser 2 is a film that is very consciously taking its time, the script structured in such a way as to prioritise mood and ambiance over plot and pacing. The Equaliser 2 is meant to seem a stately and poetic meditation on violence and the men who commit it. At least in theory.

Yeah, we don’t know why it isn’t called The Sequeliser either.

It is clear what writer Richard Wenk and director Antoine Fuqua are trying to do over the course of the film’s two-hour-and-nine-minute runtime, building a mounting sense of dread towards a cathartic release. However, there is something deadly unsatisfying in this. The Equaliser 2 is not nearly clever enough nor intricate enough to sustain that more relaxed pace. What should be profound is instead belaboured, what should be considered is instead clumsy. Plot threads are broached and disappear. The one that reach their conclusion arrive long after the audience.

The Equaliser 2 forsakes the grotty do-it-yourself brutality of its predecessor, aspiring towards something moving and insightful. Unfortunately, all of that gets lost in a haze. The storm passes overhead, and it seems unlikely that anybody would even notice.

A storm is coming.

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Marvel and Netflix’s The Punisher (Review)

Given how Iron Fist turned out, The Punisher could have been a catastrophic misfire.

Iron Fist was a show that landed at the wrong cultural moment, a tale of thoughtless cultural appropriation landing right at the moment when pop culture was engaging with tough questions about the tendency of western entertainment to co opt foreign culture for its own amusement. Of course, Iron Fist was also a terrible television series on its own terms, with a variety of fundamental problems; an awkward lead, a convoluted plot, flat action sequences. The film’s clumsy blundering into the middle of that larger culture discussion was icing on the proverbial cake.

“The only person you’re punishing is yourself.”
Yes, the first episode includes this line. Completely unironically.

On paper, The Punisher seems ready to wade into a similar debate. By its nature, The Punisher is the story of an angry white man with a gun, and it will arrive on Netflix forty-seven days after what was arguably the bloodiest mass shooting in recent history and twelve days after another recent massacre. More than that, The Punisher arrives at a point in time when there are larger debates about the use of force in dealing with suspected criminals, and the lack of consequences for law enforcement representatives who have shot and killed minorities. This is a minefield for The Punisher to navigate.

The good news is that The Punisher (largely) avoids this potential minefield. The bad news is that The Punisher does this by largely not being a show about The Punisher.

Skullduggery.

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Daredevil – Regrets Only (Review)

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

And, just like that, the season’s middle act runs into trouble.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the second season of Daredevil is how carefully and meticulously the season is structured. Producers Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez have adopted a very clear three-act structure to the season, and great care has been taken to treat the year as a thirteen-episode origin story for the Punisher. Even within that, there is conscious mirroring and reversals that rely on the show reflecting its own continuity back at itself. For example, Frank addressing a defeated Daredevil in New York’s Finest is reflected in both Penny and Dime and .380.

Who punishes the Punisher?

Who punishes the Punisher?

There is great attention to detail, very careful craftsmanship. The actual plotting of the arcs on an episode-by-episode basis might not be particularly robust, but there is a definite and very precise plan laid out. However, all this delicate craftsmanship belies the fact that this structuring is built around a story with several beats missing or repeated. The second season of Daredevil is laid out like a three-act superhero story, but with the biggest issue being the nature of the story itself. There are missing structural elements that leave the formula feeling hollow.

The second season of Daredevil might consciously aspire to be a televisual version of The Dark Knight, but it actually lands somewhere closer to The Wolverine. And not just because it is a superhero love story that pits its protagonist against an assortment of ninjas.

The name's Murdock. Matt Murdock.

The name’s Murdock. Matt Murdock.

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Daredevil – Bang (Review)

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

The Marvel Universe has a strong attachment to New York City.

There are any number of examples that might be cited, from the lighting of the Empire State Building in blue and red to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man to J. Michael Straczynski’s cringe-inducing issue of The Amazing Spider-Man where megalomaniac (and occasionally mass murdering) supervillain Doctor Doom cries in the rubble of the World Trade Centre. The company and its characters have a long and rich history that is intertwined with the city itself.

Church Devil.

Church Devil.

At the same time, certain titles and characters have stronger attachments to particular areas and eras of the city. Spider-Man will always be rooted in Manhattan. The X-Men are symbolically tied to Westchester. Daredevil might be connected with Hell’s Kitchen, but he is anchored in a very particular version of Hell’s Kitchen; the gritty version of Daredevil pioneered by Frank Miller is tied to the dangerous neighbourhood as it existed against the backdrop of the seventies and eighties. (The Punisher is similarly rooted in seventies and eighties New York.)

Of course, Hell’s Kitchen has changed in the intervening years. It is no long as run down as it once was, subject to the forces of gentrification and modernisation. The first season of Daredevil touched on this idea, using the Chitauri attack from The Avengers to explain why the neighbourhood had been set back a few decades and turned into an urban hellhole. Wilson Fisk was suggested to be plotting a gentrification that had already taken place in the real world, casting out working-class inhabitants in order to remodel the area.

In with a shot...

In with a shot…

The second season of Daredevil adopts something of a different approach, which makes sense given the transition from producer Steven DeKnight to Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez. Although there are fleeting references to “the Incident” later in the season, the invasion is no longer used to explain the urban nightmare of Hell’s Kitchen. Instead, the season adopts an approach akin to a stylistic period piece. Although Daredevil is still unfolding in the present day, the series is populated with markers that place it in an earlier context.

Bang seems to suggest that Daredevil is unfolding a version of New York anchored in the summer of 1977.

Don't leave us hanging...

Don’t leave us hanging…

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Greg Rucka and Marco Checchetto’s Run on The Punisher, Vol. 9 (Review)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

The Punisher isn’t really a complex character.

Indeed, despite his popularity and appeal, there’s really only so much you can do with the character before it feels like you’re repeating yourself. He is a vigilante who brutally murders criminals, possibly because criminals killed his family. That’s part of the reason why Rick Remender’s Punisher run was so exhilarating. It genuinely felt unlike anything that had been done with the character before – even if Remender had to take Frank Castle off the reservation to do it.

Writer Greg Rucka and artist Marco Checchetto came up with their ingenious way of making the Punisher seem novel again. Realising that readers have probably become a little too over-familiar with Frank Castle and his world, Rucka and Checchetto shrewdly decide to look at Frank Castle from the outside, treating the Punisher as something like a force of nature, a terror glimpsed fleetingly as he stalks the concrete jungle.

A smoking gun...

A smoking gun…

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Garth Ennis’ Run on Punisher MAX – Hardcover, Vol. II (Review)

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, this month we’re going to take a look at Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis’ run on that iconic Marvel anti-hero, The Punisher. Check back every Friday and Wednesday for a review of a particular section.

There’s a dream I have from time to time. And in the dream I don’t stop. I kill the soldiers and the hitmen, the extortioners and racketeers, the dark old &%^@s who send them out to fight– I hold the trigger down until they’re all gone–

But I don’t stop.

The innocents are just watching, like always. The slack jawed thousands, gazing at the beast. My family lie red and shredded in the grass. I face the crowd and bring the weapon to my shoulder. If my world ends, I tell them, so does yours.

The recoil starts and I wake up.

It’s  just a dream, I always tell myself. It’s just a dream.

It’s just a dream.

– Frank Castle, Up is Down and Black is White

You know, I’m not entirely sold on the format of Garth Ennis’ Punisher MAX. It seems a strange thing to say, given how I’m slowly starting to appreciate what the writer is doing with the character, but I’m not convinced that the rigid six-issue structure that Ennis is adopting fits the character particularly well. Don’t worry, I know it’s a very strange and irrational complaint to have – partially because there’s so much else going on that merits discussion, and also because six-issue arcs have become the industry norm (because they fit the size of a trade paperback). That said, I think may have figured out why it bothers me so.

Gun play...

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Garth Ennis’ Run on Punisher MAX – Hardcover, Vol. I (Review)

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, this month we’re going to take a look at Northern Irish writer Garth Ennis’ run on that iconic Marvel anti-hero, The Punisher. Check back every Friday and Wednesday for a review of a particular section.

It’s Omaha Beach. Wounded Knee. Rorke’s Drift, The Killing Fields, the first day on The Somme. World War Three in North Jersey. And only now, pouring automatic fire into a human wall — do I feel something like peace.”

– Frank Castle, In the Beginning

I don’t like The Punisher as a concept. It’s not some out-dated “heroes don’t kill” or “I need a good guy to be morally straightforward”, it’s more that the character is extraordinarily childish. This is the very embodiment of the nineties anti-hero explosion, the bubble in the mid-nineties which say Wolverine become even more outrageously (and inexplicably) popular, turned Ghost Rider into a major player in the Marvel Universe, and saw The Punisher hold down three (yes, three) monthly comic books. This is a guy who wears a skull on his T-shirt and kills criminals… that’s his schtick. And somehow, he became “uber-kewl”.

Armed and dangerous...

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Non-Review Review: Punisher – WarZone

Punisher: WarZone is not a good film. But it’s not necessarily a poorly-made film, either. There’s a fair amount of skill on display here, but the problem is that the movie never seems to be sure how seriously it wants to be taken. Perhaps the closest point of reference is one of the well-made Steven Seagal films: it spends a great deal of its time delivering what amounts to ridiculousness while offering itself to the audience with a stoic face. It’s a fairly entertaining piece of disposable action fare, but it’s nothing to write home about.

Oh shoot, it's another Punisher movie...

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Civil War (Review/Retrospective)

This is the fourth in a series of comic book reviews that will look at the direction of Marvel’s “Avengers” franchise over the past five or so years, as they’ve been attempting to position the property at the heart of their fictional universe. With The Avengers planned for a cinematic release in 2012, I thought I’d bring myself up to speed by taking a look at Marvel’s tangled web of modern continuity. Get an overview of what I’m trying to take a look at here.

Civil War was Marvel’s big event of 2006-7, and – as this lovely deluxe edition loves to remind you – it was “the industry’s best selling series in over a the decade”. The premise of the series is straight-forward enough – it’s a conflict between the heroes of the Marvel Universe (it’s all there in the title) – and perhaps that is the reason that the series has arguably had more crossover mainstream appeal than the vast majority of comic book crossovers. Marvel have produced a lovely deluxe hardcover which contains just about everything you could possibly want from the event, it’s just a shame I’m not overly impressed by the event itself.

I'm sure we can iron this out...

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Should Marvel Look at Merging Some of Its Smaller Projects?

There’s been a lot of buzz generated about the new “shared universe” that Marvel is generating on-screen in the run up to The Avengers, being released in 2012. It has generated fantastic buzz and discussion given there are only really two scenes that have been screened suggesting how the the format might work: the presence of Samuel L. Jackson at the end of Iron Man, welcoming Tony Stark into a wider “universe” and the one-scene appearance of Robert Downey Jnr. at the end of The Incredible Hulk. Undoubtedly next year’s Iron Man 2 will feature even more treats (as will Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger), but it’s interesting to see the fuss that two tiny scenes have generated. I really do think that Marvel are on to box office gold here, and I also think it’s an interesting (and honest) attempt to transfer the medium of comics to film. However, these are all playing into one giant box office buster. Might it be worth taking the same concept and applying it to some of Marvel’s smaller screen franchises?

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Fighting over top billing...

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