Tag Archives: Super Hero

Black Widow

11 Jul

‘Black Widow’: She’s back for one final adventure that also returns Marvel’s universe to big screens

By Tom Meek Thursday, July 8, 2021

Finally the “Black Widow” backstory drops after long being held back because of Covid. It could be subtitled “All in the Family” or “Family Business,” as Black Widow Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) has a whole family of super spies with super abilities. Dad Alexei (David Harbour) is something of the USSR’s answer to Captain America, called the Red Guardian back in the day (more on that later); mom (Rachel Weisz, “The Lobster”) has crazy tech and disguise skills; and younger sis Yelena (Florence Pugh, “Midsommar” and “Little Women”) is a fellow widow (more on that later).

The film, directed by Cate Shortland, kicks off in early 1990s Ohio, where the clan is an embedded sleeper cell (with Ever Anderson and Violet McGraw playing the young sisters) akin to the Jennings in “The Americans” TV series. We’re barely understanding who is who when the feds come for them. After a shootout and flight aboard a rickety single-prop plane, they escape to Russian turf, where the sisters are drugged and sent to widow school (think the unenviable ordeal J-Law’s reluctant spy had to undergo in “Red Sparrow”). Turns out there’s something called the Red Room, a sky-high hidden fortress where a guy named Dreykov (played by Ray Winstone) cranks out a widow army and controls them with a drug that compels obedience to all his devious commands. He’s a pretty pat – and thin – heavy in search of a Bond film, but it’s up to Natasha and her fam to take him down. Of course, having li’l sis as one of the operatives under mind control means there’s skin in the game. There’s also some nonsense about a coveted red gaseous antidote and a plot for world domination or destruction; I kinda lost the point, as the last hour of the film is a loud, crash-bang showdown that goes on and on and on.

As far as Marvel fare goes, this one is done by the MCU template – Disney must have an app that cranks out the plot points – and as a result has little at stake. We know Natasha still has Thanos and the “Infinity War” to go, and there are several name drops of her Avenger friends, whom she says she needs to bring back together. Shortland, who showed so much promise with edgy arthouse draws “Somersault” (2004) and “Lore” (2012), connects the dots, but as with Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck doing “Captain Marvel” (2019), her intimate indie style is nowhere to be found under an unending stream of bombastic CGI effects. I did appreciate the intricate hairstyles given to the widows, especially Yelena’s neatly nested French braids that seemed almost like an armament in their own right. And Harbour, so good in the recent Steven Soderbergh noir “No Sudden Move,” brings the comic relief in spades. Sure he’s a menace early on, but in the present campaign against Dreykov he’s paunchy and shoehorned into his far-too-tight old red uniform and in constant need of some alpha male ego stroking. He and Pugh’s wisecracking younger widow keep you in the action even as the Russian accents drop and then suddenly return.

Army of the Dead

17 May

‘Army of the Dead’: We’re off to a Las Vegas heist, but technically it’s impossible to make a killing

By Tom MeekThursday, May 13, 2021

Zach Snyder, the man behind the cinematic resurrection of Superman and the launch of the “Justice League” franchise, cut his teeth on zombie fare with the 2004 remake of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.” One of the eye-popping twists in that update was that the undead weren’t your typical shamblers – they could move at superhuman speed, and had agility and much greater strength than the sagging bags of carrion in films that came before. In his new “Army of the Dead,” Snyder delves back into that bag of tricks, and in the process turns the Vegas strip into a hive of hidden horrors akin to the hellacious labyrinths plumbed in the “Resident Evil” series.

The film opens with a military convoy taking an asset to a secret location in the Nevada desert. As happenstance and an act of fellatio have it, the package – an alien-zombie incarnation that seems like an escapee from John Carpenter’s 2001 “Ghosts of Mars” – gets loose and turns Sin City into a zombie colony. Though it’s walled off by the U.S. Army, efforts to clean and reclaim the Strip fail and nuking it gets a stamp of approval. In that week before the drop, a wealthy mogul named Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) approaches former military ops hero Ward (Dave Bautista), now slinging burgers, to assemble a team for a mission to fetch $200 million sitting in a vault that only Tanaka has the blueprints for. Ward is doubly invested in the grab and go, as his daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell), is working at a camp outside Vegas where people assumed to be infected live in military-monitored migrant camps. 

From there “Army of the Dead” proceeds in a pretty straight-up fashion: Navigate the flesh-chomping hordes, a zombified Siegfried & Roy tiger and the zombie king (that alien) and his queen, get the cash, grab Kate and chopper out before the area becomes a mushroom cloud. Kinda like a video game, and likewise solid if predictable genre fun. 

Of the colorful recruits, the standouts are mostly Omari Hardwick (“Sorry to Bother You”) as the heady Vanderohe and Tig Notaro, bringing a dash of Jane Lynch comedic relief to the mayhem as the capable chopper pilot. The film’s best parts are that opening scene and the elongated credit sequence chronicling the fall of Vegas as a quirky cover version of “Viva Las Vegas” plays. I’m not sure if Snyder was reaching for something deeper with a zombie king and queen and the seeming foundation of a zombie civilization – they do seem to communicate and have lawful order. It adds a dash of intrigue and of course allows for the assemblage of the entity of the title. In it all, you know there’s a few hidden agendas (think “Alien”) and aptly at one point, The Cranberries’ “Zombie” rolls; it feels like a too obvious choice, like “Viva Las Vegas,” but they both fit poetically as flesh is ripped from bone by tenacious cannibalistic maws.

Wonder Woman 1984

27 Dec

‘Wonder Woman 1984’: Great hero, weak villains in this long-awaited sequel that feels all too 2020

By Tom MeekThursday, December 24, 2020

Patty Jenkins’ highly anticipated and massively delayed (thanks, Covid) follow-up to her 2017 “Wonder Woman” origin story is something of a letdown – less lithe, less focused and somewhat gummy. Over in the Marvel Universe, which seems to do these things more adroitly, Wonder Woman’s male counterpart, Captain America, kicked off kinda rangy with “The First Avenger” (2011), too square-jawed, self righteous and neatly pat, but gained footing through trial and grit when pushed in “Winter Soldier” (2014) and “Civil War” (2016, so ironic, it being Trump’s election year). That’s not the case here. The DC Universe as a matter of operating procedure guns for over-the-top when less is more. Just see “Aquaman,” (2018) “Justice League,” (2017) or “Batman v Superman” (2016) for illumination.

This “Wonder Woman 1984” checks in at a wondrous two and a half hours plus, and it doesn’t truly feel that long until it rounds the final bend … for the third and fourth time. We catch up with doe-eyed Amazonian goddess Diana (Gal Gadot) doing time as an archeologist with a nerdy coworker named Barbara Minerva (Kristin Wiig, of SNL and “Bridesmaids”) at the Smithsonian; in gold tiara and red, white and blue attire, she takes down random creeps here and there. Now that it’s 1984 (hello George Orwell) her beloved mortal mate, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), has passed, but when as Wonder Woman she thwarts a jewelry store heist, the recovered loot includes an antiquity known as the Dreamstone that will grant the possessor their wish. Diana’s brings a cost: Her super powers ebb, and when Barbara gets chance at the stone, she wishes to be like Diana.

Where things go from there is a ramshackle meander including something of a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” takedown of a military caravan, a #MeToo kick in which Diana and an enhanced Barbara give the same lech his due, and then there’s Maxwell Lord (“Game of Thrones” standout Pedro Pascal, who actually played in a 2011 “Wonder Woman” TV film that no one saw) as a TV personality and something of a Washington manipulator who gets his hands on the stone and becomes the arch villain. He’s something like Lex Luther fused with Donald Trump, with a small, caring Grinch heart awaiting the right stimulus. The more thrilling offset is Barbara, who morphs into the Cheetah and has more power than Diana. While this makes for a great super clash with cool FX and explosions, when Wiig shows up as the lowliest of all the apex predators on the Serengeti, she looks like something that escaped from the 2019 “Cats” debacle – and it’s hard to get over it. Also, Jenkins chose to shoot these scenes tight on faces, as if each actor was in their own separate green screen set. It lacks choreography and cohesion, which saps the action of energy.

Gadot, worthy of the role, stays in character and above the foibles, projecting compassion and magnanimity while still a goddess warrior. The disappointment here is Wiig. You’ve read about the two actresses bonding and making fun, entertaining YouTube comedy bits promoting the film, and we all know of SNL cast members’ comedic skill. But after an hour in, that’s all dried up, and Wiig is relegated to a two-dimensional shell of the geek who could be a god for a day. Chris Pine, like Gadot, holds tight. The two have solid chemistry, though I wished they let him wear something other than a stretched-out T-shirt that looks like the target of a fabric conditioner ad (you know that clueless, stretched-out, sagging neck guy on a date –  who wears a T-shirt to a sit-down meal out, anyhow?). They’re the reason to see “Wonder Woman 1984.” (Maybe that “Cats” spectacle, too.) Given all the release delays, it’s fitting that the film landed in 2020: We all know 2021 has to be better. There’s a lot to shut the door on, and this can be added to the list. There film does pack one final treat. I won’t say more, but do stay past the credits.

The Old Guard

17 Jul

The Old Guard’: Superheroes, after a fashion, who don’t quite pull off a mission to franchise

By Tom Meek

A fairly one-note pseudo-superhero flick, “The Old Guard” gets much of its occasional heartbeat from its irrepressible star, Charlize Theron, and some of the cast surrounding her. There’s no Lycra, X-ray eyes or bulging muscles here, just a quartet of immortals who form something of a special ops force that’s been doing missions together across the centuries. Two of the four (Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli) fought against each other during the Crusades, though they’re an item in contemporary times.

When asked, “Are you good guys or bad guys?” Theron’s Andy (Andromache of Scythia, in days of yore) responds, “It depends on the century.” In this century, what’s to know? The team’s looking for new blood, while the mad big pharma head (Harry Melling, who played Dudley Dursley in the “Harry Potter” films) wants to bottle the immortals and sell their essence on the market. Andy tracks down the newbie Nile (KiKi Layne, “If Beale Street Could Talk”) who’s just out of the military, giving her the heads up about her gifts and attempting to recruit her – which essentially comes down to a battle aboard a bouncy cargo plane. The real call to arms comes when Melling’s Merrick kidnaps those Crusade rivals turned lovers, Joe (Kenzari) and Nicky (Marinelli) and Andy turns to Nile and old ally Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts, his face etched with melancholy) to help free the lads.

Caught up in the emotionally inert mix is Chiwetel Ejiofor as CIA handler and X-factor. He was nominated for an Academy Award (“12 Years a Slave”) and Theron won one, but with the exception of them and Schoenaerts everyone in the film feels stiff, like they’re just waiting for the next smackdown to take place. Theron’s so good in all she’s done (“Long Shot,” and “Monster,” for which she won that gold statue) and looks lithe and purposeful sporting a short dark bob that accentuates her angular jaw and twinkling eyes; the fight scenes too are choreographed brilliantly – but if you want a real drink of Theron kicking ass, go with “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) or “Atomic Blonde” (2017). The film’s also a letdown because director Gina Prince-Bythewood showed such promise with a soulful debut “Love and Basketball” (2000) that plumbed the romantic relationship between two ballers over the years. Here it’s a by-the-numbers execution with few surprises. Sure it’s great to watch Theron thrown down or see one of the immortals fall out a 10-story window and, like Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, slowly pull their broken pieces together and painfully regenerate. What hurts here is that this aims to be a cornerstone of a franchise. I think I can wait another century for the next installment.

Birds of Prey

8 Feb
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Looking back at my dismissal of “Suicide Squad” (2016), I pined for a vehicle that would bask in the glorious kitsch and kink of Margot Robbie’s infectious sociopathic supervillain, Harley Quinn. Well, here we are with “Birds of Prey,” and I’ll just say that sometimes one’s desires are best left unrealized. In that DC spinoff, Quinn (say her name fast, Harley Quinn, Harlequin, i.e. a comedic servant), an S-Squad front-villain, was also the gal pal of the Joker (Jared Leto). Here, in a film with a subtitle celebrating the “emancipation” of Harley Quinn, we never glimpse the green-haired “jester of genocide” that Joaquin Phoenix so recently elevated to Oscar-worthy fare; instead we begin with Harley’s breaking up with him in hyper explosive fashion.

That freedom, however, means it’s open season on Quinn, who in her drunken celebration breaks the kneecaps of the driver of Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), the owner of the nightclub she’s taken over, and Gotham’s biggest organized crime boss. Everyone’s out to get Quinn: the cops, those she wronged while under the auspices of the Joker, even the brother of the exotic pet shop owner Quinn buys a breakup hyena at – creepy guy comes onto her, she feeds him to her new furry bestie. In her hungover state, all Quinn wants is the perfect egg sando from her favorite greasy spoon, but before she can have a curing bite, boozy Gotham detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez, fantastic) corners her and we’re off to the races with Quinn giving us fourth-wall narrative asides, “DeadPool” style. Continue reading

Joker

3 Oct

‘Joker’: Phoenix tries to hold it all together, but eventually film lets loose, breaks down

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Throughout Batman’s long history, the Joker’s been played by some pretty mighty performers. Standouts include Jack Nicholson, who pretty much hijacked Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989), and Heath Ledger, who won a bittersweet, posthumous Oscar for his deeply felt portrait of derangement in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” (2008) – and let’s not forget the comic genius of Cesar Romero during the 1960s TV series. Nolan and Burton felt like the right hands to shepherd a dark superhero/villain origins tale, but Todd Phillips, with such swinging steak comedies as “Old School” (2003) and the “Hangover” films to his credit? Odd as it may seem, it’s a somewhat logical evolution from drunken vomit awakenings to blood-splattered foyers with a panicked dwarf who can’t reach a chain bolt to escape.

The real reason Phillips’ “Joker” succeeds is simple: Joaquin Phoenix makes the anti-antihero psycho-saga all his own. There’s also the script by Phillips and Scott Silver that plays with the Batman mythology artfully without getting bogged down in the bigger picture – though we do briefly see Bruce Wayne at a young age, when dad and mom are with us – but without Phoenix, I don’t think “Joker” takes flight. It’s a bravura go, and Phoenix should be right up there at year’s end (like Ledger was) with Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio when Oscar nods are called out. With maybe the exception of Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” (2000) it’s hard to find a movie in which Phoenix doesn’t shine with brilliant quirk and dour doses of menace. He delivers all that here and more; it’s a total immersion. For the part of clown turned Gotham icon and sociopathic perp, Phoenix lost a ton of weight, something done with equal austerity by Christian Bale (who took up the bat cowl for Nolan) in Brad Anderson’s “The Machinist” (2004) or, inversely, when Robert De Niro added 50 pounds as Jack LaMotta in “Raging Bull” – and if as on cue (send in the clowns), the Martin Scorsese-forged actor shows up in “Joker” as beloved late night TV show host Murray Franklin, whom Arthur Fleck (the Joker’s birth name) and his not-quite-all-there mother (Frances Conroy, excellent in the small complicated part) watch religiously. Continue reading

Avengers: Endgame

25 Apr

‘Avengers: Endgame’ was a long time coming, and it’s another exceptionally long time going

 

And so it begins, or ends, and no matter how you see it, it’s a long one. “Avengers: Endgame,” the de facto part two of “Avengers: Infinity War,” clocks in at more than three hours – 30 minutes longer than “Infinity” and chock full of maudlin eddies that should have been pared back. That said, “Endgame” gets the job done, passing the baton as it closes out a long-running chapter with some sentimental eye rubs. Where Disney’s Marvel Universe goes from here is likely a focus on new blood such as Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). They’re both in “Endgame,” tossed in as inert garnish.

In case you need a rewind: At the end of “Infinity War,” Thanos (Josh Brolin), blessed with the unholy alignment of all six infinity stones (the power of a god to create and destroy), has eradicated half the life in the universe and, with that, half of the Avengers crew. We catch up with Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) floating near-dead in space, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) searching desperately for his wife and children and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) spit out unceremoniously of a five-year time warp – in a beat-up Ford Econoline or the like, to boot. The film moves along sluggishly for the first half-hour, and I’d be wrong to tell you fully how it flies, but the simple answer is: The remaining Avengers crew need to somehow turn back the clock. Given that this is Marvel, and a superhero fantasy (the opening with Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” is nearly as ingenious as the use of “Mr. Blue Sky” in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” – is there some mandate for classic rock songs with “Mr.” in the title in the Marvel Uni?) that time travel quest – with semi-hilarious film references to “Back to the Future” – happens sure enough, and the “Infinity War” with Thanos gets something of a do-over.

Before that the film notches some of its greatest self-deprecating wins, namely in that the buff god of thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), some five years after Thanos’ win in Wakanda, is now a potbellied booze bag looking like the portly Val Kilmer, “large mammal” portrayal of the latter-years Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors.” Or take the Hulk/Bruce Banner, (Mark Ruffalo) who has gotten his raging greenness and mild manner intellect to come to terms. And then there’s Hawkeye, who’s been bestowed the worst hairstyle imaginable – an unholy marriage of a mullet and a mohawk. How and why this choice was ever made is never explained and demands a film of its own, but yes, it’s a weird alternate reality out there, and not necessarily a bad one. As one observant Avenger points out, with half as many humans on the planet the water in the Hudson is now so clean, pods of a resurgent whale populations are hanging out where there were once toxically polluted slurries.

Ultimately “Endgame,” like “Infinity War,” both directed by the brothers Russo (Anthony and Joe, who made the far cheekier and superior “Civil War”) turns into a major CGI boggle of superheroes battling a herd of creepy-crawly things from another planet. Amid all the chaos there’s one gratuitous yet neat scene where an all-female phalanx of supers try to get the final wold-saving run done, and yes, Captain America (Chris Evans, with the requisite square-jawed woodenness)  is there to anchor the whole shebang; in very (too) small metes, we also get Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford and Tilda Swinton. It’s a very crowded affair.  Some big names and friends move on and out with a tear or two to be shed, but I was more struck by other matters looming at the edges of the frame, including nature’s resurgence in a less populated world, curiosity for how far Brie Larson and the “Captain Marvel” franchise can realistically go and, most of all, that haircut Renner is saddled with. It’s indelible and unshakable. If his Hawkeye could travel back in time to the 1990s there would be NHL hockey teams north of the border that would surely inject him in the first line based on hair alone.

Captain Marvel

9 Mar

‘Captain Marvel’: Back to the start, and 1990s, to introduce a powerful player in story’s end

 

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After much online debate and conjecture, “Captain Marvel” finally lands in theaters. After seeing the film I can say that all the hubbub is totally undeserved, a totally unnecessary distraction – including the attempts by trolls to sabotage box office through “review bombing.” It’s a fine enough superhero flick that in narrative arc is a lot smarter and more sharply developed than most, and on the emotional front it serves up a fitting and warm embrace of Marvel comics mastermind Stan Lee, who passed away late last year. The opening title sequence is rightfully all about Stan, and gets in a brief cameo that may just be his last. (Though with “Avengers Endgame” on the horizon, who knows?)

The film, the first in the Marvel Comics Universe to feature a female superhero, begins humbly, if not awkwardly, on an intergalactic outpost of the Kree (humanoids with blue blood) where the sets and fabric feel “Logan’s Run” levels of cheesy and ersatz. Vers (Brie Larson, and it’s pronounced “verse”) and her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), get up in the middle of the night for a round of sparring; it seems Vers has weird dreams that keep her up at night, and she needs to work them out. Vers, we learn, is blessed with photon-charged hands that can blast an opponent across the room; as a result, she’s a big asset as part of an elite force on a mission to battle the evil Skrulls – wrinkly faced green aliens that look like a cross between a Klingon and the foreigners in “Alien Nation” (1988) – that have the ability to disguise themselves as most carbon life forms they encounter.

Blah, blah blah. It’s not until Vers lands on Earth (known as planet C-53, and “a real shithole” to the Kree) that the film starts to build real forward propulsion. It’s a wonderful sight gag when the intergalactic warrior plunges through the ceiling of a Blockbuster video (we’re in L.A., circa 1995) and one of the VHS boxes she peruses happens to be “The Right Stuff.” It’s sly foreshadowing, because in shards we begin to understand that in some form of a former life Vers was an earthling, and something of a Chuck Yeager-fashioned flight maverick. The film jumps to life when agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), just launching S.H.I.E.L.D., arrives on scene, incredulous, boisterous and scene-chewing as only Jackson can be, and it’s the biggest and wisest use of Jackson in any of the Marvel films to date. In terms of timeline, it makes “Captain Marvel” something of a prequel to the whole Avengers series.  Continue reading

Glass

17 Jan

Glass’: In face-off two decades in the making, Shyamalan reveals he’s lost his powers again

 

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Back in 2008 I just about threw in the towel on M. Night Shyamalan after the pointless “The Happening” made its way to the big screen. Never before had something so deadly but mysterious (was it the trees?) seemed so silly and inane – “Bird Box,” similar in concept, is a massive step up by comparison. “Signs” (2002) and “The Village” (2004) were big finale-twist flicks that tried too hard to emulate the skillful sleight of hand that Shyamalan’s classic “The Sixth Sense” did in 1999, but the artifice was obvious too early. “The Visit” (2015) resurrected my faith. It was something different, a horror-in-the-woods psychological thriller B movie with “American Gothic” granddad and grandma as class A homicidal nuts with warm smiles on their faces and cups of cider in their hands. “Split” (2016) seemed another quirky turn for Shyamalan akin to “The Visit,” as it focused on a disturbed young man (James McAvoy) who takes young women hostages, horrifies and fascinates them with his 20 or so personalities and ultimately mutilates them with a superhuman persona known as The Beast (both a physiological and psychological transformation). It felt like an intriguing one-off driven by a fantastic performance by McAvoy, showing range and humor you suspected he had but had yet to see – but wait, what’s that at the end? A tie back to Shyamalan’s 2000 superhero-among-us flick, “Unbreakable.”

If you missed “Split” but are a fan of “Unbreakable” I can give you the green light to proceed here and see “Glass” without hesitation. Bruce Willis is back as David, Philly’s working-class man of steel who, as the lone survivor of a massive train wreck, is somehow able to fall from great heights without a scratch. He’s still lurking on the streets in his green rain poncho, doing minor bouts of vigilante good and pissing off the police. Samuel L. Jackson, as the evil mastermind who blew up the train in “Unbreakable,” reprises his title character, Mr. Glass. It’s a nice reunion, but what do these rivals have to do with McAvoy’s Kevin Wendell Crumb? Well, Glass has been incarcerated in an asylum and drugged up for 19 years, while David, investigating a slew of cheerleader massacres, susses out the Beast & Co., nabbing him on the cusp of his next slaughter; for the effort, he and The Beast end up with Glass in the ridiculously low-security asylum. Enter Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) who for some reason has three days to convince the trio that their superhuman skills are delusions – and then, it’s implied, they all get to go free? Cockamamie convolution to be sure, but Glass, more obsessed with comic books and superhero history than Kevin Smith, believes his arch-villain magnum opus will be to break David and The Beast out and have them wage battle on the new Osaka skyscraper towering above the Philly skyline. (I kept thinking Nakatomi Plaza, more a lingering effect from my repeated Christmas viewings of “Die Hard” than Willis’ presence.)

There’s more to the too-long-to-get-to-the-point buildup than I care to explain, including the fact David has a son (Spencer Treat Clark) and that one of the survivors from “Split” (Anya Taylor-Joy) shows up; while they’re fine, they only add more stumbling blocks to an already clunky confluence. (I never got why Willis’ David always wore that vinyl rain poncho. To hide his identity? A thick vinyl rain jacked is a sauna, and too flimsy and vision-obstructing for real combat.) It’s not that “Glass” doesn’t entertain, but it does so mostly on the performance by McAvoy and, to a lesser extent, Jackson and Paulson, who’s not given much to work with. Willis strangely mumbles his through the film and never raises a brow above nonchalance, even when David first encounters The Beast. The most eye-catching of all is Shyamalan, who in a brief Hitchcock insertion makes Quentin Tarantino look like Peter Finch – “stilted” is the word. The film wraps with what’s supposed to be a cathartic coming together, but even that, orchestrated in a Philly train terminal with folks having a universal iPhone epiphany, makes about as much sense as the whispering trees in “The Happening.”

Aquaman

21 Dec

‘Aquaman’: Once we’re in the swim of things, there’s too much for newly hip hero to handle

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On film, DC Comics heroes seem to have heavier backstories than those from the Marvel Universe. You know: Most comes from another planet or an isolated island or underworld and could crush a human with a super burst of flatulence, yet somehow they love us, and there’s deep lore and rules we must be spoon-fed for at least 45 minutes before they ingratiate themselves into our society and ultimately take on the noble task of saving us from certain annihilation.

“Aquaman” is no different. Even before the buff surfer dude – Jason Momoa, who looks like The Rock draped in long tresses and with an extra battery of tribal tats – dips his toe in the water, we get a lighthouse caretaker named Tom (Temuera Morrison) toiling away in the chilly northern coast of Maine and one stormy day finding a beauty washed up on the rocks, glistening trident still in her clutch. This fantastic vision, something of a blend of Daryl Hannah in “Splash” and Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman” is, in fact, Nicole Kidman with a touch of CGI to make her look more in her 20s than her current vintage – not that she needs it. Kidman is Atlanna, the escaped sea warrior daughter of one of the kings of Atlantis. After eating much of Tom’s goldfish Daryl Hannah style, the two become lovers and bear a son: Arthur, who on a class trip to the New England Aquarium is able to summon the biggest shark in the tank to scare the bejesus out of the class bullies.

The film, directed by James Wan – who cut his teeth on the “Saw” and “Fast and Furious” franchises – is a busy, busy affair. Think of it as swimming through an endless school of silvery fish. Atlanna is kidnapped from the rocky coast of Maine, a pirate by the name of Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is out to kill the now mature Arthur/Aquaman in a poorly justified blood feud and there’s the seven kingdoms of Atlantis that Arthur’s half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) wants to unite to destroy us land dwellers because of all the plastic and shit we dump in the sea. I can’t say I disagree, and in a neat payback trick he sends wave after wave of plastic bags, bottles and beer rings awash onto our beaches. Willem Dafoe has a role as Aquaman’s avuncular counsel and Amber Heard, toting a shock of Christmas-red hair, gets wedged between the bros as love interest. Dolph Lundgren even lends his square-jawed mug for a few nanoseconds as one of the seven kings.

Since this is an “aqua”-tale, much of it takes place below the ocean’s surface, except those early scenes in Maine and and one later in Sicily where the senseless destruction of ancient relics and structures will make archeologists in the audience reach for a vomit bag. The big undersea finale turns into the kind of wham-bam animated affair we’ve become accustomed to with films such as “Ready Player One” and “Avatar.” The wow factor is gone – it’s a bubbly undersea yawn.

Aquaman traditionalists, yearning for the stiff and square-jawed incarnation from Saturday mornings, are unlikely to be roped in. Momoa, who played the beefy barbarian incarnation Drogo in “Game of Thrones” as well as Conan in an ill-advised “Conan the Barbarian” reboot (2011), plays the part with a hip, feral flair. The character’s never given much of an opportunity to speak before his hands are busied. In shards, we know he has a sense of humor, making a “Fight Club” crack to break the ice with Heard’s undersea princess. The film’s funniest moment comes when our wet superhero walks into a New England biker bar. He can drink like a fish and the scene’s wrap-up is a smart departure, but after that it’s all down the drink.