It would be remiss of me not to say I’m kind of burnt out on these comic book movies. How many have there been now? Yet the quality is (mostly) always so high they’re an easy option when there’s not much else to watch. This sequel has Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) finding his dreams invaded by a young girl called America Charvez, who it transpires can jump between other universes. When demons come chasing her though to claim her power, Strange has to step in to prevent a multiverse catastrophe.
Directed by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Evil Dead) this is energetic and chock full of imagination and at times jaw-dropping CGI. However, with its reliance on having a good knowledge of previous movies in the MCU, including TV show WandaVision, with its references and plot elements – this is not a movie for newcomers. Also America, a likeable new character felt under-developed. That being said the various set-pieces impress, mostly down to Raimi’s flamboyant style that he’s always been known for. He brings not only super-hero spectacle, but also his outlandish brand of horror, and it works. A stand-out Elizabeth Olsen also brings us a malevolent Wanda / Scarlett Witch more ferocious than we’ve ever seen before. Lastly, Cumberbatch is again great in his role and remains one of the most nuanced Marvel characters we’ve had.
Fans of MCU and Dr Strange will eat this up. It’s a great deal of fun. The plot is a bit simplistic and it’s too reliant on what came before. I also thought they could have gone much further with the multiverse concept than they do … but overall it was hard not to enjoy this.
Do I suffer from comic-book movie fatigue? To a degree yes. I still enjoy some super-hero smack down action but have felt underwhelmed by recent fare both through over-familiarity with the concept and the desire for something different and a little deeper. So we come to this epic instalment where it seems Marvel is throwing everything at the viewer for the ultimate battle against what appears to be the ultimate foe – Thanos. Hinted at and foreshadowed in previous movies, the intergalactic megalomaniac, played by Josh Brolin is finally out to claim the fabled Infinity Stones, of which if he claims all six will give him ultimate power over life and death in the universe.
So the stakes are immensely high and it’s up to a disbanded Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow etc) and any friends they can pull into their ranks (including Spider Man) to stop this powerhouse of a villain. In a movie like this it would be easy to go lazy and just fill the run time with fight after fight, which we get in spectacular fashion … but what takes this to another level is the depth to the characterisation I wasn’t expecting and even though it’s crowded with ego’s butting heads, somehow many of the characters get time to have their moment and stand out individually. Despite such a serious situation it also throws in moments of decent humour, especially with the inclusion of the Guardians of the Galaxy, with the scenes between Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Chris Pratt’s Star Lord proving particularly funny.
So we come to the central figure here, the long awaited and somewhat hyped appearance of Thanos, and Josh Brolin brings a surprising amount of pathos and grit to the character that makes him the closest Marvel has got to the level of Heath Ledger’s Joker. He really is that good, and in a movie with many surprises and bold plot developments, he elevates the movie into the realm of classic status. The fact the movie takes risks with a very familiar formula, especially in it’s closing moments just has to be applauded also. This is the best Avengers movie yet and could possibly be the best Marvel movie. So simply put, you have to see this one.
A brilliant neurosurgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) suffers a car accident that leaves him with injuries to his hands … his tools you might say. So with the fear his career might be in shambles, he seeks out some of the worlds greatest surgeons. However all refuse or fail due to the extent of his injuries, and so Strange is forced to seek out more spiritual methods and stumbles upon a centuries old battle to save the world.
Special effects have come a long way and pretty much anything is possible on screen. So here you get a kaleidoscope of visual wonder that seems to initially borrow from that ‘turn the city upside down on itself’ moment from Inception and run with it. It’s dizzying but opens up a wealth of possibilities only limited by a director’s imagination. Cumberpatch is perfectly cast, charismatic, a little bit arrogant and really looks the part complete with a great goatee. Supporting him is Tilda Swinton as a mystical ‘ancient one’ – think Morpheus from The Matrix if you think of Strange as Neo. Add to this welcome but under-used support from Rachel McAdams as Strange’s sort-of (but not really) love-interest, and also Mads Mikkleson as a rogue student who’s trying to bring about Armageddon more or less with the help of a giant CGI face.
It’s all wonderfully bonkers and should probably be taken as such as it lacks emotional weight or personal stakes and largely washed over this viewer, despite several exciting sequences (a chase through parallel dimensions for example). Thankfully Cumberbatch and especially Swinton help make everything work to an extent and this makes for good entertainment that’s also surprisingly funny at times. What the concept might bring to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (hinted especially during the end credits) is ripe with potential … but despite touching on such possibilities, only delivers a partially satisfying experience.
I think I’m not alone in being a little tired of Johnny Depp’s over-the-top caricatures in movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and Alice In Wonderland, even if he is often good in those roles. Occasionally however it’s nice to see him in a more normal acting role, and to some extent this is a perfect vehicle for him. He plays Boston gangster Jimmy ‘whitey’ Bulger; a ruthless and manipulative thug and leader of a local gang. One day however an old friend from the neighbourhood comes knocking to ask a favour, who also happens to be an FBI agent out to nail the local Mafia, and soon an awkward alliance is formed.
This gritty and occasionally very violent crime yarn based on true events is well cast and well directed and I was swept up by the realism and atmosphere. At first it takes a bit of getting used to Depp’s make-up and he stands out a bit compared to the other cast members for this, but thankfully an assured and gradually menacing performance shines through and Depp proves himself equally adept at villainous characters as he is light hearted ones. Also he’s not the only one who delivers a strong performance as the often underrated Joel Egerton (The Gift) is brilliantly conflicted as an FBI agent in bed with the devil. Benedict Cumberbatch turns up as Whitey’s politician brother but only adds marginal screen presence, and Kevin Bacon appears as a very shouty FBI chief. Yet it’s the uneasy relationship between Depp’s mobster and Egerton’s Fed that carries the movie and proves edge of the seat and powerful with a few moments that genuinely shock (the prostitute).
It may not be as complex or as layered as some crime epics, and how things wrapped up confused me a bit … but overall, I had a very good time with this and those after a decent crime thriller need look no further.
Although far from calling myself a Trekkie, I have enjoyed the movies and grew up with a brother who is quite passionate about them along with the various TV shows. When learning that director J J Abrams was bringing the franchise up to date with an all new, younger cast – I could understand why fans were somewhat nervous what the creator of Lost may do with their beloved saga. Rest assured though that 2009’s Star Trek was a resounding success and with a (mostly) perfect cast breathing new life into very old characters – I came away rather impressed.
This second outing had much to prove – could Abrams nail it twice in a row? The simple answer to that is … yes. We return to the crew of the Starship Enterprise who get caught up in a terrorist attack on Star Fleet and accept a mission to hunt down a rogue officer who seems responsible. Joining the likes of Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Simon Pegg this time is British actor Benedict Cumberbatch as the mysterious terrorist, who brings no shortage of sinister intensity to his role and really gives Kirk & co a run for their money.
The big-budget FX laden look of this is just gorgeous, set-design and locations all adding a wow factor (including London). Pegg has a little more to do this time around as engineer ‘Scottie’ and Quinto’s Spock is just excellent, capturing the spirit of the character as well as adding a few quirks of his own. Yet the sultry Zoe Saldana is a little side-lined, as is John Cho’s Sulu. Although not a big fan of Chris Pine, I think he is a perfect Kirk, arrogant but charming just like Shatner in his heyday, and the friendship between him and Spock is really well observed. For me the frequent nods and winks to Star Trek of old got a bit much, (“I’m a doctor, not a torpedo technician!”) bordering on satire, but were still fun. Also the script borrows a little too much from the older movies, yet still manages to make it work regardless … especially towards the end.
So a worthy sequel that in some aspects surpasses the last movie, whilst also managing to be a fine tribute to the Trek legacy as a whole. Recommended.
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