Tag Archives: Super Hero films

Unbreakable-2000

Unbreakable-2000

Director-M. Night Shyamalan

Starring Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson

Scott’s Review #1,260

Reviewed May 29, 2022

Grade: A-

Following the brilliant and massive critical and commercial success of The Sixth Sense (1999), M. Night Shyamalan hit his stride and became a household name known for mixing supernatural and psychological elements in his web of good storytelling.

Following 2002’s Signs credibility tapered a bit but Unbreakable (2000) is an overlooked gem falling in the shadows of The Sixth Sense which everyone remembers best when they talk about the director.

The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable are also strong counterparts because they both star Hollywood legend Bruce Willis who it can be argued started to gain respectability within the industry with the former.

He continues his superior acting and calm character approach.

Unbreakable is part thriller, science fiction, and superhero film, so I have categorized it accordingly. It’s part of an Unbreakable film series and was followed by Split (2016) and Glass (2019) which took years to develop and were decent if underwhelming projects.

Unbreakable is by far the best of the bunch.

David Dunn (Willis) is a regular guy who works as a college football stadium security guard. He is a former star college quarterback whose dreams of stardom never materialized because of a car accident. He lives a somewhat melancholy yet decent life with his wife Audrey (Robin Wright) and son Joseph.

One day David boards a train. The train experiences a devastating derailment with an enormous casualty number. David awakes in the hospital to find that he is the sole survivor of the wreck. He is left unscathed.

Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) arrives on the scene as a mysterious comic book expert who takes a liking to David and his experience. He offers a bizarre explanation as to why David escaped without a single scratch that counters Elijah’s health- he is a frail man who is constantly at risk of breaking his bones.

Elijah and Joseph begin to believe that David is a superhero. At first, David rebuffs this notion but slowly begins to realize he has extrasensory perception.

What is the link between David and Elijah?

I’m not always a big superhero fan and sometimes the storylines are riddled with cliches, stereotypes, and predictability.

But, Unbreakable is fascinating and unpredictable. It’s also dark, cerebral, and contains a surprise ending leaving me summarizing that it’s a different sort of superhero film with layers of cool elements.

It’s a non-traditional superhero film and I love that quality.

There’s a suspension of disbelief of course. How one character can rig a train accident and other crimes is a bit of a stretch but the characters of David and Elijah are compelling enough for me to forget those pesky little plot holes and enjoy the experience.

If the story sometimes falters, the riveting train sequence more than makes up for it. We see David quietly enjoying the train ride until all hell breaks loose. The shattered glass, derailment, and chaos are fabulous entertainment as well as wonderment of what comes next and what the sequence means to the rest of the story.

There are plenty of twists and turns in Unbreakable.

Almost as riveting but in a different way is the opening scene of Unbreakable which will immediately grab the viewer. It is 1961 and an African American woman is told that her baby’s arms and legs are broken. This is later a key to the story but at this time we know not what this intrigue has to do with anything.

Unbreakable (2000) is incredibly fresh and original. It can easily be watched in a double-feature with The Sixth Sense but is nothing like that film except for its director and actor.

But, they are M. Night Shyamalan’s best films, and Unbreakable provides tremendous thought and conceptualization while creating daring camera work long remembered after the first viewing.

Spider-Man: Far From Home-2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home-2019

Director-Jon Watts

Starring-Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson

Scott’s Review #916

Reviewed July 5, 2019

Grade: B

Having not seen the first two installments of the latest Spider-Man franchise nor with any prior knowledge of The Avengers franchise, or the cross-sectional connections of the characters to other films, I walked into Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) with little expectations and admittedly limited understanding of the Marvel universe altogether.

The film is no better or worse than a summer popcorn flick with enough adventure and nice locales to keep a non- super-hero buff entertained for over two hours without fidgeting too much.

The film begins with a nod to a past film where a mysterious “Blip” occurred erasing people for five years where they then return to normalcy has not aged. Shots of various Avengers characters including Tony Stark (Iron Man) who have died appear on the screen amid a musical tribute to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”.

Peter Parker (Spider-Man) (Tom Holland) still mourns his mentor as he embarks on a two-week European vacation with his classmates as part of a school trip. He plans to confess his love for MJ (Zendaya) atop the Eifel Tower in Paris.

Peter’s Aunt May (now reduced in age and sexy with the casting of Marisa Tomei) quickly packs his Spider-Man suit as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), a former director of S.H.I.E.L.D. attempts to enlist Peter’s help on a mission and provide him with Stark’s special glasses, named E.D.I.T.H. which possess all the databases of Stark Industries.

Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a master of Illusions is recruited to help Spider-Man and serve as a cool Uncle figure. These events all happen as Peter travels abroad.

The film is undeniably light and fun, with a bright and safe ambiance. The perilous scenes are not scary nor particularly dangerous despite characters being at risk of death.

The teen romance angle enhances this assessment as it is a main component of the film, even as much as the adventure and superhero antics are. Even before the teen classmates traversing throughout Europe, a triangle between Peter, MJ, and Peter’s hunky, high school football rival develops, as does love at thirty-five thousand feet between lovebirds Ned and Betty Brant.

Tom Holland is very well cast in the lead role and is charismatic and believable.  Charming with youthful innocence, he is a part nerd and part hero, but always empathetic and benevolent without this feeling forced.

As a viewer unfamiliar with the first two chapters, I was immediately catapulted into his world of teen angst, romance, and his responsibility of saving the world. The young actor could have a fine future ahead of him if he avoids any typecasting and chooses good roles.

The guts of the film, meaning the action sequences and the standard genre elements, are palpable and worthy of admiration on their own merits.

The visual effects are tremendous and crowd-pleasing, especially whenever Mysterio is involved. With a twisting, tornado-like blue and green swirling motion he flies in and out of sequences with enough pizzazz to put the Wicked Witch of the West to shame.

Similarly, the gusty unnatural storm, Earth Elemental, and the dangerous Fire provide magical and atmospheric power that helps the look of the film.

Comedy rather than dark and foreboding scenes are what the filmmakers seem to be going for with this project. As class trip chaperones and the student’s teachers, the comic duo of Julius Dell and Roger Harrington trade barbs with themselves and the kids, part bumbling and part incompetent, always offering comic moments of relief.

When Harold “Happy” Hogan becomes smitten with Aunt May, his awkwardness is cute and fresh rather than sappy and cliched. The supporting characters have the stuff to do but I would have preferred a bit more darkness or gloominess.

The sequences that rise Spider-Man: Far from Home above mediocrity are the wonderful and plentiful European scenes, a feast of riches for this fan of world travel and culture.

The canals of Venice and the magnificence of Prague are nearly rivaled by the sophistication of London and the history of Berlin. Sadly, the film does not culminate in Paris as I had hoped and was hinted at, causing a slight hiccup in my vicarious travel pleasures.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) is a film perfectly crafted for summer and fittingly was viewed on a scorching hot July day. The film is not a masterpiece, sticking to a formula tried and true, and limiting the dangerous possibilities when one threatens to destroy the world in favor of humor.

The cast is likable, the villain compelling, and the romance showcases more than just the main couple, being careful not to limit the cash cow of special effects and adventure the film heavily provides.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse-2018

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse-2018

Director-Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, Bob Persichetti

Voices-Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Lily Tomlin

Scott’s Review #881

Reviewed March 30, 2019

Grade: B+

There have been many film versions of Spider-Man.

To my recollection, the first series came in three installments and was directed by Sam Raimi: Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004), and Spider-Man 3 (2007) with Toby Maguire in the title role. These were the good, old, days.

Andrew Garfield took over in 2012 and 2014 to mixed reviews before the super-hero was merged into Captain America and The Avengers films as well as one or two additional solo outings. This is where I lose track.

Finally, through all the incarnations comes the very first computer-animated film based on the Marvel Comics character.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) was an enormous box-office success as well as a critical success winning the coveted Best Animated Feature Oscar. My choice would have been for the dark and sarcastic Isle of Dogs, but the former has impressive merits and grand animation that are astounding to the eyes.

Towards the climax, the film teeters into the familiar and predictable territory from a story perspective though admittedly the super-hero and animated genre is not my most cherished.

Miles Morales is a Brooklyn teenager, bright, energetic, and likened to your average city kid. His father, Jefferson Davis, is a muscled policeman who is no fan of Spider-Man, the heroic masked man who prevents city crime outshining the cops daily.

While close to his father, Miles is much more connected to his uncle, Aaron Davis, despite his father and uncle having a distant relationship.

When Miles is bitten by a hungry spider he immediately begins exhibiting Spider-Man-like abilities and stumbles upon others with similar stories.

The teen meets super-villain Wilson Frisk, (a not-so-subtle Donald Trump parody if ever I saw one) who is intent on accessing a parallel universe to retrieve his deceased wife and son. Events involving a USB drive and the “real” Spider-Man, Peter Parker, also living in a parallel universe come into play.

The overly complex story is not the best part of the experience and I began losing interest in the how’s and why’s especially when compared to the escapist and marvelous super-cool animations.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse deserves some great praise for making the film’s central character ethnically mixed (Hispanic and Black), never done before in franchise history.

This diversity, evident in Black Panther (2018) is all the rage now in the super-hero genre along with gender equality in a once deemed “guy’s movie” slogan.

This is a delight to witness with hopefully even more of a slant towards richer diversity. Are Asian, gay, or physically impaired character’s coming next?

The film looks amazing with creative and slick modern animation and graphics across the board that never wavers throughout the entire nearly two-hour running time, lengthy for an animated feature.

Styled and bright the film’s most brazen appeal is with its colors and shapes and sizes. The metropolitan New York City is a treat to witness as the creators not only focus on Manhattan, but on Queens and Brooklyn, boroughs were too often forgotten in favor of the glitz and bustle of Manhattan.

The clever re-titling of FedEx trucks to Red Ex is worthy of mention.

With a glitzy look, fast-paced action, and interesting villains, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) is an impressive feat and a deep-dive into the possibilities of incorporating more of the super-hero and animated genres.

This is around the corner due to the critical, audience, and awards notice that surrounds this film. If only the story contained more twists and turns and less standard genre-pleasing qualities, the possibilities would be endless.

Oscar Nominations: Best Animated Feature Film (won)

Black Panther-2018

Black Panther-2018

Director-Ryan Coogler

Starring-Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan

Scott’s Review #805

Reviewed August 23, 2018

Grade: B+

For the record, I am not a huge superhero fan nor an obsessive follower of the popular Marvel comic series. I see a handful of, but hardly any of this particular genre of film, usually those (if any) receiving year-end recognition.

Having heard many positives regarding Black Panther (2018) I was looking forward to something creative and left of center from the typical genre film.

While the film has some standard super-hero elements, the fact that most of the characters are ethnic is an enormous plus and worth the price of admission alone.

To elaborate further, admittedly Black Panther plays out like a superhero film is “supposed” to play out fight scenes, machismo, action, and villains, with the standard good versus evil storyline thrown in.

This is all well and good and will undoubtedly please the traditional Marvel comic book fan. However, the nuances that the screenwriters and director, Ryan Coogler sneak into the film are what sets it above a mediocre rating.

The fact that nearly all of the principal characters are black is tremendous, and the female black characters portrayed as strong is huge.

Furthermore, the visual treats of Africa, Korea, and multi-cultural clothing and colors are noteworthy. While I wish the actual story would have steered further away from the tried and true, I was left happy with the other qualities.

The film begins with a quick story of how one African nation, Wakanda, came to be and proudly brought into existence the first “Black Panther” with superpowers obtained from a special plant.

As the action moves to Oakland, California, circa 1992, we learn that the King of Wakanda is visiting his brother who works undercover.

Following the King’s death, his son T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) takes over the throne but is soon challenged by his cousin, N’Jadakan (Michael B. Jordan), who deems himself the rightful heir to the throne.

Another subplot involving a black-market arms leader named Ulysses Klaue, leads T’Challa, along with Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) to South Korea and back to Wakanda.

Black Panther feels ambitious to me- like seeing something of worth and something inventive and cool. The film is stylized and the direction that Coogler provides is spectacular, with bright, colorful, visual treats, especially as he features lavish African locales.

Admittedly, in a mainstream comic book film, laden with CGI effects, it is tough to know what is real or not real, but as a viewer, these aspects were a treat and pleasing to the eyes.

The plot of the film itself feels admittedly mediocre and tough to follow and a “been there done that” evaluation. By the same token, the story seems predictable, and is it any wonder that T’Challa will reclaim the throne as King of Wakanda?

After inevitable clashes with warrior-type men who want the throne and/or feel that they are the rightful heir to the throne, it does not matter too much.

This is not to say the film is not good, it is, but the plot is not the highlight of Black Panther, feeling fairly standard.

The male-female roles are an interesting study and progressive-minded. Granted the male characters (T’Challa, N’Jadaka, and M’Baku) are all testosterone-laden and fierce with machismo.

But despite being manly men they also contain some sensitivity and there is a unique family element to the characters.

On the other hand, the female characters are incredibly strong and empowering- a dynamic approach for a superhero film sure to be seen by millions. One female character is even an Army General! So the portrayal of women as strong warriors rather than merely secondary or arm candy is impressive.

The comic book or superhero genre is notoriously filled with gender stereotypes and specific, oftentimes generic aspects. With this work, it is nice to see some of these barriers broken down.

Between the recent Wonder Woman (2017) and Black Panther (2018), women and the black community have been represented positively.

Here’s to hoping that the LGBT community may be next.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song-“All the Stars”, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design (won), Best Costume Design (won)

Wonder Woman-2017

Wonder Woman-2017

Director-Patty Jenkins

Starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine

Scott’s Review #696

Reviewed November 20, 2017

Grade: B

Wonder Woman is a 2017 summer offering (and a mega success) that is firmly nestled in the comfort of the superhero, adventure genre but is unique in that it is directed by a woman in what is typically a male-dominated field.

This must be championed, and the film has a palpable, female-empowering quality that I adore since it is still lacking in most mainstream films.

However, at times, the film teeters too much around predictability and possesses many traditional superhero elements, such as good versus evil, climactic fights scenes, and stock villains. But liberties must be taken and overall I saw the film as a female-driven work.

The fact that Wonder Woman was celebrated by the masses is wonderful news.

Director Patty Jenkins, notable for having previously tackled weighty subject matter in films such as 2003’s Monster, is at the helm of this project and embodies her lead character with a good blend of earnestness, pizzazz, and heart.

“Wonder Woman” is a likable character and newcomer Gal Gadot, an unknown to me, is interesting casting. Certainly, there are a myriad of young Hollywood “names” who could have championed the part- Scarlett Johansson or Jennifer Lawrence may have been palpable in the role.

Seemingly a brave choice, Gadot takes command of the character and fills her with substance.

We meet “Princess Diana” as a young girl, living on the protected Amazon island of Themyscira- inhabited only by females. The time is around 1918, amid the harsh reality of World War I, though the members of the tribe know nothing about the war or any other current events- nor do any males live on the island.

Most of the women are trained warriors, presumably to protect the island from potential dangers. It is soon revealed that Diana has special powers, and after meeting a lost American soldier, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), she embarks on a mission to save the world from the ravages of war.

Mixed in with the main story is a briefly mentioned ancient legend of Zeus’s son Ares plotting to return and destroy the Amazons, whom Zeus created.

My only issue with Wonder Woman as a whole is with the story.  The plot is not weak, but simply put- it is nestled in Hollywood predictability rather than containing any surprises along the way.

Despite deserved kudos for the characterization of Diana, the story ultimately turns ho-hum like many superhero films do- peppered with the inevitable battle scenes.

The genre-specific “save the world” is played to the hilt as Diana takes it upon herself to stop the war with the belief that people are not entirely bad. With this thought, Diana finally learns a valuable lesson about the complexities of human beings- in this way Wonder Woman contains a moralistic tale- but then come more battle scenes.

The villains are mainly cartoon-like and what one might expect for a film of this kind.  Chemist Isabel Maru/Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya), dons a mask to hide a disfigured face (intentionally to test the poison gas), and General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Huston) plans to destroy all of mankind.

These characters are straight out of comic books and contain no redeeming qualities.

Contrary to where the main story may be a tad lacking, the romantic element is nicely done and the scenes involving Diana and Steve are sweet and romantic making them fun to watch and a good balance against the action sequences.

Gadot and Pine have great chemistry, adding humor, so the scenes are not forced. As Diana sees Steve naked for the first time a clever sexual flirtation develops and a sly lesbian backstory is briefly hinted at.

Diana remarks with a smirk that men are only needed for procreation and that the women on the island “can satisfy themselves”. The duo also has a play of words about his “manhood”.

Due to the success of Wonder Woman, a sequel, again directed by Jenkins is in the works. My hope is that because of the box office performance many more liberties can be taken by the talented director and she can further push the envelope as she did with Monster.

Wonder Woman is a good film, let’s hope the next installment is a great film.

The Dark Knight Rises-2012

The Dark Knight Rises-2012

Director-Christopher Nolan

Starring-Christian Bale, Tom Hardy

Scott’s Review #431

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Reviewed June 23, 2016

Grade: C+

The Dark Knight Rises is a sequel to the exceptional The Dark Knight from 2008 and, unfortunately,  is a complete letdown, especially compared to that film. Perhaps my expectations were too lofty- it is a sequel after all, and sequels, typically disappoint.

To be fair, the film looks great and has a fast-paced, modern feel- slick and action-packed. A summer popcorn film. The story, though, is uninteresting- the villains are not compelling, which is a major miss in a film like this where the villains are crucial.

Tom Hardy as Bane is miscast. Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, under-developed and one-dimensional. We never really know much about what makes these characters tick.

I did enjoy the twist at the end involving Marion Cotillard, which impressed me and I did not see coming throughout the story.

I might have rated The Dark Knight Rises even lower than a C+ had it not been for the group of top-notch actors appearing in the film.

Having loved the most recent Batman film, I expected more and received less.

Guardians of the Galaxy-2014

Guardians of the Galaxy-2014

Director-James Gunn

Starring-Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana

Scott’s Review #281

70301645

Reviewed October 9, 2015

Grade: C-

The summer blockbuster hit of 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy, a Marvel comics film popular among fans and critics alike, disappointed this viewer.

Too many superhero films are overly conventional, by the numbers fare, and this one certainly contained the aforementioned characteristics. Presumably targeted for teens (I would think), the film has cute jokes and decent special effects, but a bland, mediocre screenplay that lacks any edginess.

Handsome Chris Platt plays Peter Quill, a space pilot from Earth, who is abducted as a young boy by a pirate group named the Ravagers. Now a grown man, Peter attempts to steal a mysterious and powerful Orb known for special powers, for monetary gain. The Orb is desired by many, including the evil Ronan, and his daughter Gamora.

Predictably, events turn into a battle of good vs. evil as Peter and Gamora (who turns good) team up with misfits Drax (a strongman), Groot (a tree), and Rocket (a raccoon) to thwart intentions by Ronan of destroying a peaceful planet, Nova Empire.

The meat of the story involves the team’s journey from imprisonment and escape to their efforts saving the world.

As traditional with these types of films, there is inevitable romantic chemistry between Peter and Gamora, who at first are rivals, but slowly develop a fondness for each other when it is revealed that she is plotting against Ronan and his valiant efforts.

Strengths of the film are the 1970’s soundtrack and the incorporation of a cassette player and Walkman, unheard of in today’s modern world, to the story.

I loved how this was not simply backgrounded music, but referenced throughout the film in various situations. For example, when Peter comically explains to a clueless bad guy what his treasured cassette tape consists of and how he cannot bear to part with it, this impressed me.

The creative sets and bright colors are other high points of Guardians of the Galaxy. The Xander planet, specifically, is portrayed as clean, bright, and progressive, which counterbalanced the dark, dreary nature of where Ronan and his entourage live.

However, the film is too conventional and not the least bit edgy or out of the ordinary in any way story-wise. Let’s take the hero for example. He is clean-cut, all-American, and is humorous. But, why exactly is he the hero? He inevitably saves the world but makes him go from a pirate who is a thief to a golden boy leading a team to save a relatively unknown planet.

There is, of course, a scene involving a backstory of his mother dying of cancer and his regret over not taking her hand one final time. This is assumed to make him kind-hearted and one of the good guys.

This felt forced to me and what we have seen time after time in superhero films. The message I received from the film was basic- the powerful, strong, masculine guy with a sense of humor mixed in for good measure, saves the world from the bad guys while including a bunch of tag-along.

This is fine but albeit predictable.

I was left with some questions. What were Ronan’s and Tharos’s motivations? They were simply evil with not much explanation as to why. What led them down this path? Did they each want theirs to be the only planet remaining in the galaxy?

A tender moment towards the end of the film when one of the team members dies is done in a rushed way that was a missed opportunity for more emotion.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a mediocre superhero/action film, one that might have been better if further fleshed out. This film contains a blandness that left me forgetting about it soon after the credits rolled.

Oscar Nominations: Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Visual Effects

The Amazing Spider-Man 2-2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2-2014

Director-Marc Webb

Starring-Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone

Scott’s Review #2

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Reviewed June 16, 2014

Grade: B+

Super-hero movies are not my top genre (although admittedly, I end up seeing most of them). They are fun, popcorn-type films not to be over-analyzed or taken too seriously.

One thing that confuses me is the seemingly constant reboots of the franchises and forgetting the previous installments. Wasn’t this series just made with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst not too long ago?

That being said, the strongest part of this film is the chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, which is undeniable and great to watch.

Sally Field adds life to anything she appears in. The more “human” parts of the film are the best.

The special effects/CGI are admirable. I enjoyed how one “villain” is a close friend of Peter Parker’s, wonderfully played by Dane DeHaan. His character has many nuances.

The other villain, Electro, played by Jamie Foxx, is silly and his story almost seems botched. His motivations are weak. He hates Spider-Man and wants to destroy the city because of a contrived misunderstanding??

I do not want to over-analyze, as this is a fun, enjoyable summer film.

Enjoy.