Bro-Reviews: Venom

Venomous to the comic book film genre.

Since his introduction in 1988, Venom has held a special place in the hearts of “Spider-Man” and Marvel Comics fans alike. Venom reached iconic status, becoming one of Spider-Man’s most frequent adversaries and even reached anti-hero status in later iterations of the character. With his place in comics history cemented, many yearned for Venom to appear in film. That wish came to fruition when Venom made his film debut in 2007’s “Spider-Man 3”, but Venom’s appearance yielded mixed results at best. Sony took this in stride, however, attempting to make a solo outing for Venom despite the disastrous results of their “The Amazing Spider-Man” series, resulting in Marvel Studios acquiring some of the rights to Spider-Man. While Sony could have chosen to partner with Marvel Studios to make a solid film adaptation of the beloved symbiote fans deserved, Sony chose to bring us “Venom”, the first in what they hope will be a universe building film adjunct to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Spider-verse. 

“Venom” sees Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a sleazy ambush journalist with a checkered past based in San Francisco, investigating a start-up company called the Life Foundation, headed by CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). When Brock receives help from Dr. Dora Smith (Jenny Slate), a scientist working with Drake, Brock discovers the Life Foundation has been conducting illegal experiments on humans to bond human bodies with an alien substance called “symbiotes”. Eddie becomes infected by one of these symbiotes, and with Drake and the Life Foundation coming after him and everyone he loves, Brock’s symbiote alter-ego “Venom” awakens to wreak havoc.

There is no doubt Tom Hardy is one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood, and is more than capable of pulling off the legendary villain/ anti-hero. Hardy gives it his all, and one can tell he is having fun and definitely committed to the role. Venom himself is also an impressive special effect, as he is able to pull off a couple of cool action sequences and does manage to deliver some of his trademark quirky humor that made him a beloved character. 

Unfortunately, that’s where all of the positives end in this atrocity that would’ve been considered outdated in 2004. “Venom” features one of the most uninspiring stories in comic book film history, as having the focus of the film center on a shady organization conducting unethical experiments with the intent of saving humanity is an insult to the word cliche. And although comic book movies have made a habit of altering their heroes’ origins, so much of Venom’s origin is severely misguided without the presence of Spider-Man. For the uninitiated, the symbiote attempts to bond with Spider-Man/ Peter Parker, but Parker rejects him, leading the symbiote the attach to Eddie Brock, who has an axe to grind with Parker, instead. Without Peter Parker/ Spider-Man, “Venom” feels bereft of important story elements and character developments, rendering the symbiote’s first solo outing borderline pointless. 

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Tom Hardy in Sony’s “Venom”.

But the problems for “Venom” don’t end there. Most of the film’s secondary characters add nothing to the film, in particular Michelle Williams, who plays Brock’s ex, Anne Weying. Williams and Hardy have zero chemistry on screen, yet much of the film’s’ first half before we even get to Venom himself focuses on their real action ship along with other pointless aspects of Brock’s life. Those familiar with HBO’s “The Night Of” know what Riz Ahmed is capable of, but in “Venom”, his attempts at selling the crummy material he’s given make him come across as trying too hard. Combine these aspects with an anticlimactic final boss fight riddled with special effects, unexplored story pieces regarding Venom being a “loser” on his planet, and jarring tone shifts from serious action to slapstick comedy, and “Venom” is a total mess.


(WARNING: The following paragraph contains spoilers for “Venom”. Please skip this paragraph if you do not wish to read any spoilers).

“Venom” could’ve just been an outdated, trashy comic book movie a la “Daredevil”, but the film’s mid credits scene makes it one of the biggest wastes of time and potential in comic book movie history. In the scene, Eddie Brock travels to San Quentin State Prison to interview an incarcerated serial killer, Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson, who wears a red wig that makes him look like Carrot Top). Kasady claims that once he breaks out of prison, there is going to be “Carnage”. The audacity of Sony to tease a sequel and universe with Venom as the main character is beyond insulting, and those who are interested in a sequel or further developments of this universe should be required to wear dunce caps in order to highlight the fact they have no taste in films. 


“Venom” is a disaster that could have been avoided. Sony could’ve waited and teamed up with Marvel Studios to bring Venom to life in the new “Spider-Man” series that is part of the MCU. This way, not only would the character get the big screen adaptation he deserves, but would also allow Sony and Marvel Studios to makes millions or perhaps billions of dollars in the process. Instead, Sony’s greed clouded their judgement and resulted in them making a misguided project that should have never been green-lit and will make fans look back at Venom in “Spider-Man 3” more fondly than they could have ever imagined. “Venom” is an entry that represents the worst the comic book film genre has to offer, and one that continues to highlight Sony’s incompetence that resulted in them having joint custody of their beloved web slinger. Should the response to “Venom” be poisonous enough, that joint custody could extend to this beloved villain/ anti hero sooner rather than later. 

Rating: 1/4 Stars. Stay away.

“Venom” Stars Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Michelle Lee, and Woody Harrelson. It is in theaters now.

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Bro-Reviews: Deadpool 2

A funny, albeit not as fresh, worthy sequel.

Flashback to February of 2016, a time where comic book movies were in a strange place. Most of them took themselves too seriously, and Marvel had hit a bit of a lull with the disappointing results of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” This was also a time when the team-up of DC Comic’s biggest heroes in “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice” seemed like a sure thing. Meanwhile, audiences were welcomed by “Deadpool”, a fourth-wall breaking, quipping, Spider-Man looking superhero that was the least beacon of hope for Ryan Reynold’s career. Most importantly, it was the first mainstream R-rated comic book movie in nearly a decade, with the prevailing wisdom that such movies couldn’t be made and be financial and critical successes. “Deadpool” more than bicked the trend, it destroyed it, as the film went on to becoming the highest grossing R-rated film of all time and was beloved by critics and audiences alike. Neatly two-and-a-half years later, the long awaited sequel, “Deadpool 2”, has finally arrived in theaters, hoping to capitalize on the successes of the first film.

“Deadpool 2” sees the return of Wade Wilson/ Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), who continues life being the “Merc with a Mouth” as a contract killing anti-hero. While assisting in a mission with X-Men allies Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), he encounters a troubled youth named Russell Collins/ Firefist (Julian Dennison), who is being hunted by futuristic time traveler Cable (Josh Brolin). With Cable after Russell due to his dooming visions of the future involving the fiery mutant, its up to Deadpool to stop Cable and rescue Russell in order to alter the youth’s future.

Needless to say, Ryan Reynolds remains born to play the “Merc with a Mouth”, as his fourth wall breaking, foul-mouthed quips, and self deprecating humor distinguishes the character as one of the most memorable in the Marvel cannon. Even though we know what to expect from the character, Reynolds is also able to give Wilson enough humanity to make us empathize with him, something that even the Marvel Studios films tend to overlook in their sequels. His willingness to also make fun of his previous comic book movie sins also retain hilarity, and pay big dividends in the film.

Josh Brolin’s Cable may not be nearly as complex as Thanos, but he’s still able to deliver a solid performance as the antagonistic and physically threatening nemesis. Zazie Beetz’s Domino is also a welcome addition, as her comedic timing and screen presence make her a strong female hero that many will find relatable, and her star should undoubtedly rise to new heights after her turn in the film.

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Ryan Reynolds in “Deadpool 2”.

The action is definitely bigger this time around and has more CGI effects behind them. While still not a mega-budgeted comic book film despite the success of the first film, “Deadpool 2” has thrilling action that although sometimes strains its budget, still flows nicely thanks to director David Leitch. Leitch previously helmed “John Wick” and “Atomic Blonde”, and his star continues to rise as one of the best action directors in the business thanks to his capable direction.

While the humor definitely reeks of repeating itself and isn’t nearly as fresh the second-go-around, “Deadpool 2” is still quite funny. Sure, it follows many of the same tropes of the same genre it expertly made fun of in the first film, but its willingness to level with the audience and call itself out on its own storytelling makes it one of the most honest film franchises around.

The unfortunate fate the film suffers like many of its counterparts is a case of sequelitis. Not only do the filmmakers believe bigger is better, but the story is merely an afterthought and derivative of previous movie sequels. This leads to the underdevelopment and downright unlikability of Julian Dennison‘s Russell/ Firefist, who comes across as a mutant with fiery powers doing a impersonation of Rebel Wilson, not the desired result when considering the character’s troubled backstory.

Deadpool 2 at times comes across as a cash grabbing sequel it critiques, but as one of the few films willing to take risks with its R-rated thrills and jokes and isn’t afraid to communicate with its audience, it works more often than not. It’s clear Reynolds and company have love for the character and desire to continue on as the near antithesis of mega-budgeted films, but it the sequel can’t help but follow the same tried and true path as other comic book movie sequels. “Deadpool 2” may have its flaws, but its still a rousing good laugh and thrill ride that suffers the unfortunate fate of having to live up to the expectations of its groundbreaking predecessor, a fate even Deadpool himself could quip endlessly to his audience about.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars. Pay matinée price.

“Deadpool 2” stars Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, TJ Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić, and Eddie Marsan. It is in theaters now.

Bro-Reviews: Avengers: Infinity War

The Marvel to end all marvels.

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe thrilling us again and again with each new release. Over the last decade, Marvel Studios has meticulously built their universe to the point where each new release wasn’t just an event to behold on the silver screen, but also a necessity to see. Marvel’s gamble seemed to have paid off large dividends with the release of their first team up film, 2012’s “The Avengers”, breaking numerous box office records at the time and came with the promise that bigger and better was coming. Even with the disappointment of 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, audiences have waited in anticipation for Marvel’s promise to bring every single Marvel Cinematic Universe character and film together in “Avengers: Infinity War”. Even though the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the envy of Hollywood to the point multiple studios have tried copying the formula but to less than stellar results (*see the DC comics extended universe and Universal’s Dark Universe*), could the mighty MCU crumble under their own ambition of assembling most, if not all, of its heroes into one feature length film?

“Avengers: Infinity War” takes place immediately after the events of “Thor: Ragnarok”, where Thanos (Josh Brolin) is on a quest to collect the six infinity stones in order to restore balance to time and space. With the threat of doom to mankind and the universe at stake, it’s up to the heroes of earth and the galaxy to team up and stop Thanos before he accomplishes his task and the cosmos are affected.

Marvel has once again aptly sown all of its unique, intricate pieces together into the class of super hero movies. Much credit must be given to the superstar directing team of the Russo brothers, Anthony and Joseph, who have yet to make a bad MCU film. It’s wonder how the directors of “You, Me, and Dupree” have made arguably two of the best MCU films, “Captain America: The Winter Solider” and “Captain America: Civil War”, and yet have somehow outdone themselves once again by tackling the most ambitious and perhaps even the most expensive films ever made.

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Chris Pratt and Robert Downey Jr. in “Avengers: Infinity War”.

The stakes couldn’t be higher in “Infinity War”, and the film definitely illuminates the catastrophic consequences. One of the benefits of building a universe for a decade is the audience is attached to all of the intertwining characters and story lines, so there’s a true sense of loss and despair when the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Black Panther and company come face to face with impending doom. In regards to the film’s central villain, Josh Brolin’s Thanos may come with some trademark villainous background, but he’s easily one of if not the most complex and interesting villains the MCU has ever seen, and the exploration of his relationship with his adoptive daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) packs an emotional punch. But the film is not bereft of laughs at all, as Marvel’s trademark timely humor is also ever present and as belly aching as ever, a welcome necessity considering the dire outcomes facing the heroes we have come to grow with and love.

As mentioned early, the Russo brothers are somehow able to make sure every seemingly single character we’ve come across in the MCU over the last decade gets their time to shine. This lends itself well to the action sequences, which are breathtaking to say the least. The constant shifting from set piece to set piece could come across as jarring for most, but it feels like a natural progression in “Infinity War”. There’s no doubt the film is exhausting at two and a half hours trying to include everyone, but it feels almost necessary for the film to be this way, and the film’s ending cliffhanger leaves audiences asking questions and yearning for answers.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is the Marvel to end all marvels. Its blending of every single major Marvel Cinematic Universe film and character into one cohesive story that serves as only a part one to what should be a tremendous book end to an incredible era nearly tops 2012’s “The Avengers” and 2008’s “The Dark Knight” as the best comic book films ever made. Nobody does it better than Marvel Studios, as they have once again changed the game in terms of not only the genre of film they make, but Hollywood blockbusters in general. Sure, by the end of it you may feel distraught, begging for answers, and perhaps even needing a nap, but “Avengers: Infinity War” isn’t just a marvel to see unfold on the silver screen, but a tremendous achievement that sets a new standard in blockbuster filmmaking.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars. Pay full price.

“Avengers: Infinity War” stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Lettia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Tom Hiddleson, Idris Elba, Karen Gillan, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Peter Dinklage, Carrie Coon, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, and Josh Brolin. It is in theaters now.

Bro-Reviews: Black Panther

A marvel for the culture.

Despite its near blemish-less resume, there are some who believe the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, has grown a bit stale and complacent. With numerous sequels to already established properties and retreads when making new films featuring other popular Marvel Comics characters, some of those detractors aren’t necessarily wrong for wanting Disney’s Marvel Studios to be more flavorful than vanilla. However, when trailers dropped last summer for Black Panther, not only did Marvel seem to answer some of those critics, but also excited the already established fan-base and gained the intrigue of the uninitiated.  Months later, Black Panther has clawed its way into theaters as one of the most daring and original films the Marvel machine has ever released.

Black Panther takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War, as the new king of the secret African nation Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), assumes the throne shortly after the assassination of his father and former king of Wakanda, T’Chaka (John Kani). While T’Challa struggles with feelings of uneasiness in taking over, some of Wakanda’s greatest resource, vibranium, has been stolen by the nation’s arch nemesis and his unknown associate, “Klaw” (Andy Serkis) and “Killmonger” (Michael B. Jordan). With the prospect of their treasured resource being used as weapons to harm others and the threat of dark secrets of Wakanda possibly being revealed, T’Challa must don the armor of the Black Panther to put a stop to these enemies and protect Wakanda.

Black Panther is without a doubt the most involved film the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever produced. While some have noticed the parallels of recent additions to the MCU, such as Doctor Strange and its similarities to Iron Man, Black Panther takes one of the most beloved black comic book characters and gives him the most original film Marvel has released in quite some time. The setting of Wakanda is realized in a way no other Marvel world has ever been before, as its vibrant colors and cultural personalities of each of the Wakandan tribes living there are on full display, making the world feel like a character in its own right. Much praise must be given to director Ryan Coogler, as the young director has graduated from small to medium budget independent and studio films to blockbuster level films with astronomical budgets with ease. The fact that Disney, a studio who has been marred by controversial interpretations of race over the years, allowed for a $200 million budget for a film with predominantly black actors and filmmakers to express their artistic capabilities with one of the studio’s most prized money makers and didn’t meddle with the production is astounding, and the results are nothing short of revolutionary.

Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan in “Black Panther”.

Black Panther also weaves a complex plot unlike any blockbuster, let alone a Marvel film, before. So often blockbusters are only popcorn flicks, where the mindset is to turn your brain off, watch things blow-up on screen, and have a good time without thinking too much. Not only does Black Panther provide such thrills, but it also highlights key social issues that continue to plague the world today. Important social commentary on the subjects of racism, colonialism, and nationalism are present throughout, and the storytellers do not shy away from them. This makes Black Panther even more incredible and groundbreaking not only in the MCU, but for Hollywood blockbusters as well, proving filmmakers can not only put their cultural stamp on a big-budgeted film, but can also emphasize important historical subject matters as well.

The main benefactor from the aforementioned themes is the film’s main villain “Killmonger”, played by Michael B. Jordan. Jordan and Coogler have created magic in the past as collaborators in Fruitvale Station and Creed, and it continues in Black Panther. “Killmonger” is a villain the audience not only understands, but can empathize with on many levels. His arch and motives incorporate the social issues highlighted earlier, and while understandable, also makes him a diabolical villain. Make no mistake about it, Jordan breaks ground as the villain, the best the MCU has ever created, and trumps even the great Andy Serkis in the film.

Somehow, this makes Boseman’s somewhat stoic T’Challa one of the less interesting characters in the film, but we as an audience understand his plight as a king not only wanting to protect his nation, but also atone for its previous sins. Black Panther also features the strongest female characters in the MCU, most notably from Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright. It’s refreshing to see such strong female characters on screen, and the fact the film highlights them as Wakanda’s warriors and protectors is daring and pays huge dividends. The rest of the ensemble cast, rounded out by Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Winston Duke, and Angela Basset, also acquit themselves well in the film, as each character shines in their own way.

Black Panther matters. It proves predominantly black filmmakers and actors can not only make a movie oozing with black culture competently, but also in a groundbreaking fashion. It’s still jaw-dropping Disney in no way, shape, or form interfered with the production of the film and allowed the artists to fully realize their artistic ambitions, and the result is not just a beautiful and thrilling game-changing addition to the MCU, but for Hollywood blockbusters as well. If this glowing review along with the many others Black Panther has garnered results in huge box-office receipts, more films such as Black Panther should be on the way.

Rating: 4/4 Stars. Pay Full Price.

Black Panther stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Basset, John Kani, Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis. It is in theaters February 16th.

 

 

Bro-Reviews: Thor: Ragnarok

Ragnarok Rocks.

Ever since the release of 2008’s Iron Man from Marvel Studios, the Marvel movie making machine has not slowed down. The output of Marvel movies increased further when Marvel Studios was purchased by Walt Disney, as there have been at least 2 Marvel Cinematic Universe films released every year with the exceptions of 2010 and 2012. While most if not all of those films have been successful, the mighty Thor has somewhat struggled with critical acclaim. 2011’s Thor received mixed to positive reactions, and it’s sequel, Thor: The Dark World, is often regarded as one of the weakest entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the arrival of Thor: Ragnarok finally here, can the God of Thunder finally lay claim to his own great solo outing?

Thor: Ragnarok sees Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleson), discovering a secret buried deep within their family history involving Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death. Hela disposed of them quickly, and Thor finds himself on the planet Sakaar. There, he must recruit his former Avengers teammate and now celebrated gladiator, the Incredible Hulk/ Bruce Banner (voiced by Lou Ferrigno, portrayed by Mark Ruffalo), and a former Asgardian warrior, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), to battle Hela before she takes over Asgard and the cosmos.

While Thor is indeed an Avenger, he’s always felt like one of the B-level members of the team, and his solo outings don’t quite compare favorably to his teammates, Captain America chief among them. Thor: Ragnarok, however, finally delivers everything we’ve ever wanted in a Thor movie. Thor: Ragnarok is the most colorful, and quite possibly the funniest, Marvel Cinematic Universe film to date.

Chris Hemsworth may be exploited mainly for his chiseled abs and chest, but he’s always done an excellent job as the God of Thunder. He oozes charisma and has excellent comedic timing this time around, making his third outing as Thor his finest yet. Tom Hiddleson is as sleazy as ever as the God of Mischief Loki, making him an excellent counter to Hemsworth’s Thor. The combination of Lou Ferrigno and Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk brings the most laughs we’ve ever seen from the character, and it’s good to finally see Marvel take a more light-hearted approach while still delivering enough emotional baggage with the big guy.

Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, and Tom Hiddleson in “Thor:Ragnarok.”

Cate Blanchett may seem like she’s above material such as this, but she brings her Oscar caliber chops to the table as Hela. Sure, she suffers from the same issue seemingly all Marvel villains have, i.e. “I want to be the ruler of them all” syndrome, but she’s one of the more memorable villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tessa Thompson also gives a knockout performance as Valkyrie, proving she’s an actress to be reckoned with. While Jeff Goldblum is essentially playing the new internet parody version of himself as the Grandmaster of Sakaar, he’s equally funny as he is odd. Other supporting cast members including Idris Elba returning as Heimdall and Anthony Hopkins reappearing as Odin do their jobs as well, and even the Thing knockoff Korg played by director Taika Waititi is a comic delight. Even Karl Urban is able to add to the film in his small role as Skurge, proving that director Taika Waititi can get the most out of what is a stellar ensemble cast.

The real star of Thor Ragnarok, however, are the special effects and environments. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s creation come to life in Thor: Ragnarok, as one of the most vibrant and lively comic book settings are fully realized like never before. Asgard is as breathtaking as ever, and remains of the key staples to Marvel’s other worldly universe. The latest addition that takes the cake in terms of new environments is the planet Sakaar. Sure, on the surface it looks like a glorified landfill in space, but within the city and the palace of the Grandmaster is a colorful setting that transports you to another universe that is nothing short of breathtaking.

The action sequences also deliver in a big way. The battle between Thor and Hulk on Sakaar is one of the best fights Marvel has ever choreographed, and the final battle on Asgard is as compelling of a climatic battle as you’ll see on film. Director Taika Waititi delivers the most vivid and lively Marvel film yet, and that’s no easy feat considering it’s the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s clear he and Marvel decided to go all in on the visuals and effects for Thor’s third outing, a welcome move considering Thor is Marvel’s most creative and vivacious comic book. One must take full advantage by viewing the film in IMAX 3D to get the full scope of the landscape.

Thor: Ragnarok is gem. It’s got great performances, tremendous action, and vibrant visuals. Just when you think comic book movie fatigue may be setting in for moviegoers, Marvel delivers another must-see comic book movie. Thor: Ragnarok should rank towards the top of Marvel’s best films, as it is the perfect Marvel movie, and it may one day be widely considered one of the best comic book movies of all time. Make no mistake about it, Thor: Ragnarok rocks.

Rating: 4/4 Stars. Pay Full Price.

Thor: Ragnarok stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleson, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Hopkins. It is in theaters November 3rd.