Tag: Benedict Cumberbatch

Avengers: Infinity War (Movie) Review 1

Avengers: Infinity War (Movie) Review

After the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel Studios moved into Phase Three of their ever-expanding cinematic universe, fragmenting the relationships between Earth’s mightiest heroes all while growing its roster of powerful and relatable characters in the process. However, developing in the background for nearly a decade’s worth of heroic adventures lies the reveal and location of the six Infinity Stones. No matter how brief or lengthy their appearance, each of these stones has impacted this fictional universe in numerous ways. Now true believers worldwide finally get to see this lengthy quest for power conclude in the catastrophic showdown known as Avengers: Infinity War.

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Doctor Strange (Movie) Review

Doctor Strange (Movie) Review

As the Marvel brand slides into blockbuster ubiquity, the studio needs to take care in ensuring that they aren’t just the most successful superhero factory on the block, they are also the best. Enter Dr. Strange, a movie that conforms to the usual superhero origin tale beats, yet tells them through such beautifully unhinged imagery that they feel fresh. After keeping all of the previous MCU flicks tethered to the ground through gentle sci-fi, this one dives into mysticism and magic, going full geek in ways comic book fans never dreamed was possible in a blockbuster even a decade ago. Dr. Strange proves that Kevin Feige and co. still have some tricks up their sleeve with this endless Marvel cinematic odyssey, and the future looks strange indeed.

Dr. Strange (Movie) Review 3Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the weirdo physician, Dr. Strange. He opens the movie as New York’s star brain surgeon—as arrogant and brilliant as Tony Stark but in scrubs. After an unfortunate car accident claims his amazing hands, suddenly Strange’s life seems to have no purpose. Desperate to find a cure for his damaged fingers, Strange flies across the globe and ends up in a temple run by Tilda Swinton’s The Ancient One. She’s essentially a Yoda figure, who trains Strange in inter-dimensional magic that can be used for anything from traveling through portals to beating up bad guys. At the same time one of Swinton’s former students, played by Mads Mikkelson, has gone to the dark side of these magic ways, with a plot for world domination hidden behind his dark eyes. That means that good ol’ Dr. Strange best learn his tricks quickly. there’s going to be a big ol’ battle by the end of this thing.

One of the reasons it’s taken until now for Kevin Fiege to even dare to step into Dr. Strangeland is that this world is far less user friendly than that of most Marvel characters. Conceived in the 60s primarily by Marvel artist extraordinaire Steve Ditko, Dr. Strange was rooted in the mysticism and psychedelic drugs of the era. The character is hinged on the spiritual lessons and mind-bending imagery that kept hippies glued to comics as they aged. In Sinister/The Exorcism Of Emily Rose director Scott Derrickson, Feige has found the perfect filmmaker to bring this distinct world to the big screen. Derrickson is an openly spiritual filmmaker and though he’s primarily focused on horror in the past, he’s always used a sense of the surreal and the uncanny to underline his houses of horror. Dr. Strange lets Derrickson cut loose with his wildest obsessions while still staying true to the Marvel formula and it’s pretty magical to behold (pun intended, with apologies).

The imagery in the film is absolutely astounding. Cityscapes bend and contort to suit the spells. Walls of buildings spiral out into kaleidoscopic eye candy designed to keep viewers off balance. It’s an astounding recreation of the type of psychedelic comic book imagery that Ditko made famous in these books in the 60s, only vividly made real through the kind of digital manipulation that’s only become possible on this scale in the time since the MCU was created. Throw in some gentle eastern philosophy to tickle brains and you’ve got a superhero movie that should appeal to a diverse audience looking to have their minds warped. The way the spells and rubber reality plays into the action scenes also allows Derrickson to deliver superhero beat ‘em ups the likes of which we haven’t seen on the big screen before. The filmmaker delights in toying with the expectations of superhero spectacle since he can deny them all in this world if he so chooses (and especially has fun with his twisted solution on the usual “evil falling from the skies” MCU climax).

Dr. Strange (Movie) Review 7As usual, performances are also top notch with Benedict Cumberbatch clearly relishing the mixture of sarcastic one-liners and spiritual rebirth that the film provides. He’s another new big-brained genius with superpowers and attitude to add to this sprawling cast of super folks and he should be able to bicker with them satisfyingly once the crossovers kick off. He gets just the right amount of existential angst mixed in with the heightened cartoon heroism and even his initially dodgy American accent snaps into place by the end. Tilda Swinton is amusingly odd and all knowing as The Ancient One in a brilliant bit of cross gender casting. Chiwetel Ejiofor can feel a bit wasted as her second in command, but since he’s clearly being set up for bigger things in future movies, it’s forgivable. Mads Mikkelson has a typically two-dimensional no-name Marvel villain to play, but offers such a quietly disturbing/powerful presence that he turns the lack of backstory into mysterious strength. Unfortunately Rachel McAdams is stuck with a thankless “girlfriend at home” routine, but fortunately she’s a strong enough presence to make that human and likely has more substantial work coming in future MCU efforts.

Dr. Strange (Movie) Review 6If there’s a problem with Dr. Strange it’s just down to the MCU formula becoming increasingly predictable. It’s not like there’s any suspense regarding whether or not Dr. Strange will become a hero and save the world. Likewise while the usual sardonic MCU humour is present and welcome, the story and world are so dark and serious that the comedy can occasionally feel unwelcome and inappropriate. There were clearly a few growing pains in contorting this new type of Marvel movie into the established brand, but not many. For the most part, it’s what makes Dr. Strange so different from the usual Marvel hero that makes this flick such a pleasure. You will indeed get all of that usual MCU comfort food, only wrapped within a genuine headtrip of spiritual philosophy and mind-numbing surrealist eye candy that feels unlike any blockbuster cranked out of the House of Mouse (the Inception comparisons are overstated, Strange goes further). This movie is a delight and after the victory lap all-star quality of Civil War, it’s nice to see the studio still has room for expansion and experimentation within the obscenely bankable Marvel movie formula.

The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (Movie) Review 1

The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (Movie) Review

 

It all comes down to this. After nearly six hours of set up, The Hobbit has finally been allowed to climax. By now, it’s safe to say that viewers already know what to expect from the concluding chapter of Peter Jackson’s second Tolkien trilogy. The biggest flaw of the series to date has always been the ill-conceived decision to split a story into three movies that’s too slight to sustain that running time. There’s no fixing that for the third movie. That flaw is baked into the series and unavoidable. However, the film is pure payoff to everything that’s come before, both the good and the bad. The excitement lacking from the first movie is front and center in this third entry. It might be a little exhausting, but it is certainly an impressive accomplishment. The Battle Of The Five Armies is likely the strongest and most entertaining of all the Hobbit films. Even if you’ve been disappointed with the series to this point, it’s safe to say that this one will be more satisfying. This isn’t a Star Wars prequel situation where the series went so far and so spectacularly off the rails from the start that there was no saving it. Nope, The Hobbit trilogy has always been deeply flawed, yet successful in its aim of bringing Tolkien’s genre-defining fantasy universe to the screen in the most spectacular and expensive ways possible. They’ve all been worth watching even if they didn’t quite match the majesty of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy and this one is no exception. If Jackson’s second crack at Middle Earth has never been quite as successful as his first, that’s likely because you can only break ground in blockbuster filming once. In other words, once you’ve been there, it’s hard to go back again.

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The Desolation Of Smaug ended on one big fire-breathing dragon cliffhanger, so this sucker picks up with the peddle to the metal. There’s no need to set things up. A dragon is flying towards a city with plans for incineration. Now, we get to sit back and watch the fire hit the fan. After a thrilling dragon-beating opening, the movie slows down once more for long speeches setting up a titular battle (with five armies, natch). Once the dwarves that Bilbo (Martin Freeman) has followed for two movies have finally found their legendary riches, greed immediately consumes them in a particularly Tolkien way. Specifically, Richard Armitage’s Thorin becomes possessed by greed and refuses to share beyond all reason. As word spreads throughout Middle Earth that Smaug has been slain and the great treasure sits unprotected, factions start to arrive to lay claim to the riches. Elves appear (led by the always bland Orlando Bloom and some equally bland others), as do humans (led by Luke Evans’ dragon slayers whose people now have nothing following Smaug’s attack), dwarves (led by Billy Connolly in a spectacular bit of stunt casting), and of course some goblins n’ orcs. There will be a battle. There is a battle. It lasts over an hour. Then things wrap up and the movies weaves towards a conclusion that ties directly into the opening of The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring. The circle is complete.

The film is undeniably thrilling and satisfying in a way that a concluding chapter to a trilogy ought to be. Ian McKellan and Richard Armitage are able to conclude the arcs they started two moves ago and do so to varying degrees of success (see their names to figure out who does the better job). Everyone else concludes their tiny arcs with little heft, while sadly Bilbo ends up shoved aside for much of the running time, despite Martin Freeman offering easily the finest performance of the trilogy. The plots that didn’t work also conclude and stop the movie dead in its tracks, especially Evangeline Lilly’s interspecies love story with a dwarf that ends on a line so cheesy that it should be booed. New additions to the cast don’t get much time to register in the rush to the finish line, but seeing Billy Connolly appear in full dwarf make-up calling goblins “buggers” is an undeniable joy. Everything comes together with a minimal number of story-padding digressions. The one major glaring addition that feels out of place at least involves both Cate Blanchett’s elf queen and Christopher Lee’s White Wizard, so it’s hard to complain too much. The film is even the shortest of the entire franchise at a merciful 2.5 hours, so it feels like a proper movie and less like endless Tolkien fan service. There are grand, sweeping battles to inspire “aws,” magic enhanced fights to inspire “ooos,” and some final confrontation fights to provide closure. Yep, there’s a great deal to enjoy, not the least of which is the work of a brilliant filmmaker given near limitless resources.

THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
Peter Jackson is one hell of a director of special effects and spectacle and this movie is a chance for him to play with all of his favorite toys. As a work of pure spectacle and imagination, there’s no denying the incredible achievements on display. It’s a gorgeous movie to behold and the hour-long battle at the center sustains enough excitement to avoid tedium. However, there’s also no denying that we’ve been here before. When Jackson delivered his original Rings trilogy, he genuinely revolutionized fantasy filmmaking. Audiences had seen nothing like it and were enthralled. As impressive as the climatic sequences are, they feel expected now (perhaps even a little complacent). It’s nice that Jackson was able to return to Middle Earth and complete the Tolkien cycle with these Hobbit movies, but it’s far more exciting to know that he’s finally finished with this chapter of his career. Jackson used to be an exciting, unpredictable, risk-taking voice in genre filmmaking with titles like Bad Taste, Dead Alive, Heavenly Creatures, and The Frighteners. The Lord Of The Rings was a fantastic cap off to his growth as a filmmaker. King Kong was wheel-spinning. The Hobbit movies were regression. Now he needs to move on and I can’t wait to see where he goes next.

When The Lord Of The Rings trilogy ended, it was an emotional moment. The movies felt like a genuine cultural event and it was sad to see something so special conclude (so much so that Jackson couldn’t stop ending his own movie). When the credits roll on the final Hobbit movie, it feels more like a relief. That’s not to say that this trilogy was a mistake or a disaster. It just wasn’t a masterpiece. It started at its lowest point with a film that wasted an hour on a dinner and thankfully over the next two increasingly improved movies the trilogy has ended well. These movies aren’t masterpieces like their predecessors, but at least they play as a pleasant appendix for those who aren’t willing to leave Middle Earth after the first twelve hours. Had Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro been allowed to make The Hobbit as one or even two films as initially planned, we might have gotten a franchise extension to be proud of. That didn’t happen, but at least we didn’t get a disgrace. These movies were fun and effective, probably what was expected of the LOTR trilogy before it transcended all expectations. Perhaps the big mistake was the viewers expecting more. The Hobbit was always the cute preface to the full Lord Of The Rings meal. Eating an appetizer second is never good idea, but that doesn’t make it bad on its own. I’m certain the whole series will play better when consumed in the right order and without the burden of expectations that were always impossible to fulfill.

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (Movie) Review 2

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug (Movie) Review

Last year the geek community swooned in anticipation of Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth. The very Hobbit-like director’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy had been the millennial Star Wars trilogy that both George Lucas’ prequels and The Matrix series promised and failed to deliver; a new fantasy epic that pushed the boundaries of what was technically possible in filmmaking without losing sight of the compelling characters and story that set up the sexy FX shots. Then An Unexpected Journey came out and all of the fansboy fears came true. The film was overlong, needlessly stretched out to facilitate an epic trilogy structure. It relied far too heavily on digital effects and the much-mooted new frame rate proved to be a headache-inducing, eye-poisoning disaster. It wasn’t a bad movie, just a deeply disappointing one. Now it’s a year later the second chapter The Desolation Of Smaug has finally arrived. Thankfully, the sequel rights many of the wrongs perpetrated last time even if the flick still fails to live up to the impossible standards set by the masterful Lord Of The Rings trilogy. This new series should have been a single movie and could have been great one. That didn’t happen and will never change. However, at least some stuff actually happens in the sequel and it proves to be an entertaining fantasy adventure romp without a proper climax. I suppose that’ll do for now.

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The plot picks up instantly after the “really, it’s over?” finale of An Unexpected Journey. Martin Freeman’s Bilbo and a collection of Time Bandits-lite dwarves are continuing their endless quest to that mountain with a dragon and this time they actually get there (spoiler! Unless you’ve read the book of course). The film stays pretty close to the narrative Tolkien weaved many moons ago, with a few new additions that thankfully don’t just feel like padded running time in this chapter. A visit to the Woodland Elves realm introduces the first original character that Jackson and his screenwriters have introduced to the Middle Earth landscape. Her name is Tauriel, she’s a bad-ass warrior elf played by Lost’s Evangeline Lilly who Orlando Bloom’s returning Legolas (who was not in the book) pines for, but she actually falls for Adrian Turner’s pretty boy dwarf. The subplot reeks of Twilight-style soap opera, but thankfully works thanks to strong writing and stronger acting from Lilly. Elsewhere, Bard The Bowman (Luke Evans) is transformed from a plot device into a noble warrior feuding with Stephen Fry’s amusingly corrupt Lake-town dictator. Thankfully, both additions to the story actually add intrigue and action to a sagging middle act and then all roads lead to a dragon. Yes, Smaug finally appears, and between the gorgeous Guillermo Del Toro-inspired design and soothingly evil Benedict Cumberbatch voice performance, the big guy with fire breath doesn’t disappoint. It all ends in a cliffhanger, but at least this time you’ll leave the theater excited to see what happens next rather than disappointed that the film stops short of the punchline.

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Watching The Desolation Of Smaug, it’s clear both that Jackson was sensitive to all the complaints launched at the last chapter and that he also had a plan all along. There’s no endless meal sequence this time around. The first 25-35 minutes drag a bit, but after that the director ensures there’s at least one massive action sequences every few minutes. The story is ramping up as well, so it’s not like its forced spectacle either. But at the same time every extended plot and new character builds to an additional action scene and that’s not a coincidence. Beyond injecting a little estrogen into the all-male tale, Evangeline Lilly’s Tauriel is actually an intriguingly conflicted character who gets a chance to cut loose in the best action scene of the series so far (she’s also dressed like Link in a few scenes, which should fuel some fanboy fantasies). That barrel-bobbing chase feels like a sequence from a Hobbit spin off videogame and Jackson’s digitally-liberated cameras swoop all over the action like a cinematic rollercoaster. The actors are also consistently wonderful. The dwarves may still feel like stock comedy players, but that’s as much a fault of Tolkien as the filmmakers. However, Martin Freeman continues to work his light comedy magic as the burgeoning hero Bilbo, Ian McKellen gladly returns to his iconic portrayal of Gandalf, and even Orlando Bloom’s limited skills are suited perfectly to the emotionless Legolas. Then of course there’s the dragon.

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The last 40 minutes of the film are dedicated almost exclusively to Bilbo’s confrontation with Smaug and it doesn’t disappoint. The Weta wizards crafted a stunning CGI representation of the character. He has mass and scale beyond most digital creations and the unique design of the creature feels like a leftover contribution from original Hobbit director Guillermo Del Toro in the best possible sense. Cumberbatch’s slithery vocals give the character the refined sense of evil he needs and the whole sequence is such a magical mix of characterization, effects, and action that the entire Hobbit series finally hits his stride once the character hits the screen. The biggest problem with An Unexpected Journey was that it was all labored set up and now that the films are starting to pay off in chapter two, those problems are starting to vanish. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect film or an equal to the LOTR trilogy. The flick is still too long and suffers from the typical second-part-of-a-trilogy issue of existing without a proper beginning or ending. However, the goods news is that the flick is entertaining and even magical this time and is well worth the price of admission. Seeing the series finally hit its stride, it’s more clear than ever that it should have been a single movie. The last flick would have been a perfectly acceptable first act and this movie could have easily been sheared at least in half as well. Had Jackson been able to make a single Hobbit flick, it could have been an equal to The Lord Of The Rings. Sadly, we’re always going to be stuck with this bloated trilogy, but at least it’s finally starting to come together into something entertaining, if not instantly iconic. The Desolation Of Smaug is a thrilling fantasy epic worthy of the Tolkien brand and with a massive battle and dragon city-smoldering yet to come, it’s safe to say part three will be just as good if not better. The worst of this series is over people. It’s all fantasy fun from here on out and actually worth sacrificing three hours of your Christmas vacation to experience.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Movie) Review 3

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Movie) Review

Ten years ago a pleasantly plump New Zealand filmmaker (who had earned cult fame off of a trilogy of bad taste splatter comedies, a dark teen girl serial killer drama Heavenly Creatures, and the still deeply underrated The Frighteners) shocked the world by being given a then unheard of $300 million budget to film J.R.R. Tolkien’s unfilmable Lord Of The Rings. The result was an instant box office and cultural phenomenon that broke $$ records, swept up Oscars, and provided those who had been heartbroken by the Star Wars prequels and The Matrix sequels with the new holy geek trilogy they craved. It was inevitable The Hobbit would follow. There was too much cash too be made and a great story to tell.

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