Category Archives: Superhero

Doctor Strange

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Benedict Cumberbatch is an arrogant, lovable genius who solves problems against seemingly insurmountable odds. No, he’s not Sherlock, but Doctor Stephen Strange, one of the more barmy entries in Marvel Studios’ roster of superheroes. After suffering an accident due to his own arrogance, his job as a renowned neurosurgeon is put out of action. To return to work, Strange strives to restore the use of his hands, finally stumbling across a mysterious ‘cult’ based in Nepal…

There, with the aid of Tilda Swinton’s ‘The Ancient One’, an enigmatic figure with dark secrets, he trains his mind, in a rushed but intriguing 20-minute sequence. He’s arrogant and foolish, but his mentors, including Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo and Benedict Wong’s, er, Wong, see his potential. Will he overcome his own hubris to achieve greatness? Do I really even need to ask that question?

Strange’s narrative arc is a familiar one – the fall, the redemption, the shortcomings, the solution – but director Scott Derrickson manages to prevent this flick from becoming another stale offering in the Marvel universe. For one, it does away with the use of technical jargon and scientific explanations, and embraces the mesmerising, nonsensical world of magic while keeping a straight face. Its opening battle, where buildings twist and turn like bloodthirsty cogs, is only a fleeting glance at the world’s potential, and each burst of psychedelic brawling thereafter are intelligently differentiated from one another. It’s a world steeped in preposterous magical concepts of mirror dimensions and astral forms, but it works, because it’s just as believable as any other film in its franchise.

Sadly, with so many otherworldly concepts to get through, Doctor Strange does become bogged down in exposition. It’s still fascinating to listen to, much owing to Tilda Swinton’s reliably excellent delivery, but results in very little time afforded to developing characters such as, say, Mads Mikkelsen’s barely-fleshed-out baddie. It’s disappointing to see his character treated that way when Marvel finally shows a real awareness to its tired formula – the film may have found a cure to third act CGI-heavy explosive showdowns, but weak villains seems to be a recurring problem in need of similar treatment.

Yet when these mind-boggling concepts are put to use, the effects are often astounding. Running up skyscrapers, hopping between continents, reversing time – its visceral, excellent cinema, unique and purposeful, with enough ingenuity to prevent drawing any unearned comparisons to Inception. Further still, there are moments of quiet brilliance that shine through amid the crazed conflicts. A scene that takes place in suspended rain, with lightning sprawling across the screen like a cracked window, is both memorable in imagery, and extremely poignant. It’s sharp, mature writing, that functions as a worthy sendoff and a way to calm the film’s prior breakneck pace.

Oddly, despite the inherent silliness of the film’s ideas, its one of the most sensible Marvel films to date. Derrickson, who has worked beforehand on various horror films such as Sinister, makes clear in the film’s opening scene that there’s a real sense of menace and danger. Tragedy, desperation, and various inner conflicts are dealt with astutely, and Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange is as complex a character as any in the Marvel universe. Perhaps this also serves as reasoning for why the film’s comedic beats aren’t quite so successful, misplaced in almost every scene to give a light-hearted spirit that isn’t needed (save for a terrific exchange between Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius and Cumberbatch’s Strange).

It may not be quite as odd as its namesake, but the film is certainly as imaginative as any Marvel film has dared so far, offering visual splendour, an impressive amount of maturity, and a great character in Doctor Stephen Strange.

 -Gus Edgar

Guardians of the Galaxy

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The reaction to Marvel’s next superhero flick has been more positive than even the optimistic main actor, Chris Pratt could have hoped for. Insanely risky, even for Marvel’s standards, Guardians of the Galaxy features a talking raccoon, a green Saldana and a talking tree. To top it all off, it’s directed by James Gunn, notorious writer of both Movie 43 and Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. Despite all the potential for disaster (there’s plenty), the film has been hailed as an entertaining, feel-good Marvel caper that’s totally original. So then, why’s it more of the same?

There’s a prominent formula that Marvel are seemingly sticking to. An introduction of the main characters as they assemble, a good look at the central antagonist and his motives, and some partially-relevant high-action antics just before a final showdown where everything explodes and the heroes eventually prevail. The same applies to GotG, and even then it can’t clarify the villain’s motives (more on that later). It’s wrong to say that GotG is an original Marvel flick; it’s disappointingly unoriginal, glittered up with colourful aliens and a fantastic 1970s soundtrack.

The film takes place, as the title suggest, around a myriad of areas contained within the galaxy. Opening with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) as a child stating farewell to his mother, he is quickly whisked away into space and the rest is history. The opening credits feature his attempt to steal an orb with an unknown power set to Redbone’s Come and get Your Love (fantastic), setting the scene for what I expected to be an awesome watch. After his travails, he’s swiftly captured and reluctantly teams up with the aforementioned set of characters, Rocket the Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Groot (Vin Diesel) and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Batista). Of course, they’re rough with each other at first, but then grow to like their teammates and end up as an (admittedly odd) group of buddies.

Which leads to one of my major qualms of Guardians of the Galaxy – it’s incredibly clichéd and only has a facade of quirky characters to shield criticism from most reviewers. A good portion of the characters aren’t fleshed out, generic to the point where they become caricatures. The main antagonist – Ronan (Lee Pace) has incredibly unclear motives where it’s easy to assume that he seeks world domination simply because he’s assigned as the bad guy. His villainy is exaggerated tenfold, almost to the point where it’s ridiculous. The main protagonist, Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill has nothing interesting going for him. He’s arrogant and irritating, and sure, he develops to take responsibility and becomes a better person, but I still wasn’t invested in his character. Gamora, meant to be a strong female character, is identified fairly early on as Quill’s love interest and is set aside until the end for the predictable big kiss. The only other notable female character – Nebula (Karen Gillan) has barely five minutes of screentime (though I’m sure she’ll return for the second installment). Michael Rooker’s Yondu is incredibly irritating and stalls the film whenever he’s on screen. Similarly annoying is Rocket – intended to be portrayed as the badass of the group, this intention is laid on so thick that it’s hard to resonate with him. Instead, he comes across as obnoxious and only obnoxious.

Yet it’s not just the generic characters that Guardians of the Galaxy suffers from. Most of the film’s jokes fall flat – including nearly everything that Rocket says and a running ‘I am Groot’ joke that gets increasingly more boring every time it’s uttered. Sure, wit is present, and Drax’s moments where he takes everything literally is a great example of this. So why can’t there be more moments of this comedic ingenuity?

I want to clarify – I don’t dislike GotG as much as I purport. Despite my problems with the film, it has a decent entertainment value with some admirable sequences (the prison-escape scene comes to mind) and one of the best soundtracks of any film released in 2014. It may not be as good a film as you’d expect after all the praise dished out towards it, but Guardians of the Galaxy may still be worth watching if you’re looking for an enjoyable film with little substance but plenty of action.

– Gus Edgar

Man of Steel

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While the trailer for the new Man of Steel roared with entertainment and excitement, the film whimpered with waning enthusiasm. In truth, the film could’ve been a lot worse. Previous editions had failed to capture the power and riveting nature of Superman. This film gradually managed to achieve that, but it wasn’t without its faults.

The film indulged in destruction. Action scenes were never without a building or two crashing to the ground, windows being ripped off or stone pillars breaking in half. Sure, action is good. Right? Sadly, too much action leads to a boring, poorly directed film (see: Total Recall (remake)). Whilst it certainly wasn’t as bad as Total Recall’s unsightly remake, parts were unfortunately reminiscent.

A sad side effect of the relentless action was that the few sentimental scenes didn’t come into fruition. Instead, the film became boring and drab, its serious nature wearing off on the viewer. Superhero flicks, such as Iron Man 3, kept humour to keep the audience entertained; Zack Snyder’s choice to exclude it was poor, and one of the key factors as to why this film will annoy rather than impress.

That’s not to say that the film was entirely bad; each actor played their part sufficiently, Cavill being one of the better Supermen. And if you get past the Spy Kids-esque speed of the action scenes, the action is great. Unfortunately, a combination of action upon action, cliches being thrown at you and a drab overall feel to it makes this film is very much a forgettable one.

– Gus Edgar