Deadpool 2

Directed By: David Leitch 
Written By: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Ryan Reynolds (based on the comic book Deadpool created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld)
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Julian Dennison, Zazie Beetz, Morena Baccarin

Deadpool_2_poster_003Withstanding the hypocrisy of a film touting its reflexive send-ups of the ubiquitous comic-book blockbuster’s clichés, whilst itself indulging those same clichés, the first Deadpool signalled a blindsiding overachievement. Armed with an overdue performer in Ryan Reynolds— who had finally found his cinematic soulmate and through him broke not only the fourth-wall, but also the shackles—Deadpool parlayed the abandon and irresistible smarm of its titular anti-hero from the humble origins of a comic-book outlier, into the deformed face of an 800-million-dollar sleeper hit of proportions so atmospheric in height, that a sequel was rendered obligatory before the box office receipts could even be tallied.

The first time Ryan Reynolds donned that red and black latex in a film of his own, enough acerbic wit, intoxicating juvenility and belligerent reckless abandon was supplied to discern an illusion of genuine subversiveness. Deadpool beared the same mechanical inner-workings as every Marvel movie it purported to flip off, but it was also savvy enough to figure it might as well satirise those mechanics whilst they were in operation. Does being conscious of one’s crimes make said crimes any less criminal? I don’t believe it does, but Deadpool validated that if you can offer enough laughs along the way, one might just forget to punish those trespasses.

And now we get that obligatory sequel, which, to surmise, is a proper sequel, through and through. That is to say Deadpool 2 does the thing that corporately mandated successors so often do— eschewing the novelty of the original for an extra helping of whatever worked the first time around (replete with recycled jokes), except with a greater degree of bombast and a slightly inflated cast list.

There are more explosions in Deadpool 2, more set-pieces, more characters (Zazie Beetz’s Domino—who boasts luck as a superpower—being the worthiest addition,) more meta, more C words…and overall less fun to be had.

To the film’s credit there’s more of an attempt at heart too. The organising notion of Deadpool 2 is the instillation of humanity in our protagonist. It’s a plot born out of tragedy: Wade Wilson, for the first time since his power bestowing surgeries, has been lastingly wounded, catalysing the emergence of his long-veiled inner altruist. It’s an emergence which leads him to 15-year-old Russell (Julian Dennison, star of Hunt for the Wilderpeople), an orphaned, pyrotechnic mutant monikered “Firefist” who is in dire need of affection. It’s a quest which also leads Deadpool into combat with the militant, time travelling Cable, played with joke-begging inter-Marvel-movie villainy by Josh Brolin, whose sibling performance as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War does not, it seems redundant to say, go unmentioned.  

The most subversive element of Deadpool 2 is the desire from director David Leitch, renowned for his craft of action (John Wick, Atomic Blonde,) and the trio of screenwriters (Mr Reynolds himself, and the returning duo of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) to bring Deadpool to ground level; subversive at least, per the prior Deadpool’s standards. There’s sentimentality in this film, an allegedly family-friendly morality at its core, where wars are more effectively waged with love than with splattering violence (not that the splattering violence has been skimmed.) “Your heart is not in the right place” Wade is cryptically warned by wife Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), a notion which Leitch and company set about unpacking and rectifying— coupling sanguine and sentiment, profanity and profundity.

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It’s an admirable pursuit, but the scabrous, blood-bathed irreverence which made the first Deadpool such an uncompromising hit proves infertile soil for such sincere growth of character. Deadpool is hardwired for comedy, and it’s when the comedy is on centre stage that the film comes closest to recapturing its initial magic.

The first Deadpool, in spite of budgetary constraints and a tirade of higher-up scepticism, somehow felt liberated, as though it was free to march to whatever beat it wished. Wade Wilson and co obliterated fourth walls, undermined their own cinematic compatriots, dowsed the screen in crudity and gore, and had an evidently great time doing it. To the sequel’s detriment, that rough-edged liberality now feels more calibrated than organic. Those winking meta jabs are delivered less out of serrated satire than they are adherence to a winning formula. There are laughs in Deadpool 2 to be sure, but the presiding tone isn’t so much one of gloriously unchecked freedom, and more of bottom-line issued imitation. The wit is less acerbic, that juvenility less relished, that abandon less authentic, and soon those in-gags signposting CGI fight scenes and those references to the property’s franchise prospects start to play less like attempts at brazen humour, and more like bashful confessions.

The film does grow into its stride during its second half (beginning with Deadpool’s recruitment of the ragtag “X Force” to aid him on his journey to redemption,) the film opening up its comedic outlook to move beyond the overabundant imitative in-gags of the first act, and incorporate the physical comedy and giddy immaturity which contributed so substantially to the original movie’s novel scent.

It’s not until the final credits however that Deadpool 2 truly hits its comedic peak, taking aim at the eponymous character and the star that plays him by means savage and clever. It’s the sort of no-holds-barred humour that birthed Deadpool in the first place, and a reminder of what has been lost now that the series has caught the corporate eye. Sure, an amplitude of good intentions are employed to cater for any cynicism—attempts at pathos, an extra helping of spectacle (the extra 60 million dollars in budget is enshrined in the film’s bolstered action,) the efforts to bring us into Deadpool’s headspace. But that cynical waft proves inescapable, and good intentions never really were Deadpool’s style.

Rating:

2.5/4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Black Panther

There are a string of inevitabilitiesBlack-Panther-poster-main-xl tethered to every new instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Vast box-office receipts are a guarantee (Marvel has accumulated such a devoted fanbase that any director could sleepwalk to a three-hundred-million-dollar hit.) An elite, top-of-its-game ensemble is another. There’s a level of quality control too, below which it has become seemingly impossible for Marvel’s cinematic projects to sink below.

But flip the coin and one will find less flattering inevitabilities: a certain element of beaten path adherence, of structural routine and formula as sure-fire as a Stan Lee cameo, and the forever looming fear that each MCU instalment has the prescribed fate of dazzling fleetingly before consigning to the role of a cog in the larger machine.

How could each individual stroke of the brush not be awash in the larger canvas, when said canvas is this dense? We’ve had eighteen MCU movies now, all in quick order. Sure, James Bond has had 24 instalments, but at least they’ve been spaced out over nearly 60 years. Marvel’s self-produced series of movies have all come in less than ten.

The question then, is how a director can leave their fingerprints on a cinematic cosmos that dwarfs any one person. Taika Waititi made a valiant effort with his kinetic, off-kilter comedy in Thor: Ragnarok. James Gunn fared even better with his unabashedly nostalgic treatment of Guardians of the Galaxy (both volumes.) But no one has accomplished that unenviable task to the degree of Ryan Coogler, who, with Black Panther, has made for mine the finest MCU movie yet.

Here is a film that feels alive and new, paying its debts to the larger franchise that houses it, whilst standing discerned upon its own two feet. More than a Marvel movie made by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther is a Ryan Coogler movie made with Marvel resources, touting a look, sound and centricity on character that begets unprecedented shades of originality in this ever-expanding cinematic tapestry.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Coogler is such a fine fit for the job— he’s both a natural custodian of the onscreen black experience (an integral ingredient of Black Panther’s unique identity; never has a superhero movie immersed itself in black culture as this film does), and a natural at breathing fresh life into seemingly exhausted material, ala Creed.

Where the fresh life in that prior movie manifested itself in a staggering cinematic flair, an injection of new personalities and a reconfiguring of old ones however, Black Panther’s manifests itself in the grafting of an entirely original landscape that is populated with faces that are as engaging as they are pleasantly unfamiliar.

Wakanda is the setting, a third world African country to the naked eye, but one that underneath its guise is the most advanced nation in the world. The cornerstone of Wakanda’s secret advancement is vibranium, the most valuable, dexterous material in the world which happened upon the Wakandans via a meteorite crashing into their turf some centuries ago, and which the natives have subsequently laced throughout their technology and infrastructure to build a super civilisation.

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And it’s a pretty cool civilisation to look at. Think of Wakanda as Earth’s very own Asgard, rife with shimmering neons and labyrinths of towering skyscrapers, interspersed with stretches of lush green mountainsides and cascading waterfalls. It’s a sleek futurism carefully imbued with parcels of ancient Africana, where the tribal and space-age cross; an indelible blend. Imagine Blade Runner meets David Lean meets Madagascar. And the soundtrack follows suit, Ludwig Goransson’s score niftily underlining contemporary hard-edged hip-hop with primitive tribal rhythms. Even at base level, this is a film with a flavour all its own.

One element that is somewhat familiar is the Black Panther himself, who we first brushed shoulders with in Civil War. Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa, the man inside the suit and assumer of Wakanda’s throne, continuing Marvel’s implacable habit of note-perfect casting. Boseman serves as a model of quiet nobility and understated intensity in the title role, whilst lightly dashing that steely demeanour—“I never freeze” T’Challa tells his sister before embarking on an assignment, insulted he wold have his level-headedness queried—with the faintest traces of vulnerability as he grapples with his new duties as head of his people.

Boseman mines considerable vitality from T’Challa, but the truth is there isn’t all that much to the character outside of his proficiency in combat and his wrestles with Kingship. A less intelligent screenplay mightn’t have known exactly what to do with him. Thankfully Coogler, who co-wrote Black Panther with Joe Robert Cole, does. Together the two writers open-up their narrative’s field of vision to situate T’Challa in the drama not as a focal point, but as a central figure in a larger ensemble populated with characters who can each command the story when needed.

Letitia Wright plays Shuri, T’Challa’s kid sister and the Q to his Bond, running circles in the tech-savvy stakes around even Marvel’s own Tony Stark. She’s also a perennial scene stealer, her firecracker energy and budding sass allowing her to own the camera at will.

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If Shuri’s the brains, then fellow women Nakia and Okoye offer much of the brawn. Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Guirira play the warriors respectively, the former a spy and T’Challa’s ex-lover, the latter the head of Wakanda’s special forces unit, both bearers of a finely tuned moral compass and a penchant for bad-assery. These are women not to be messed with, and characters who Coogler isn’t afraid to task with much of the story’s heavy lifting. No need for assistance from the likes of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers here.

Daniel Kaluya (Oscar nominated for Get Out) has a more volatile moral compass, torn by his duty to Wakanda and his malice for colonialists. But no one intrigues more than Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, Marvel’s most compelling villain to date, a fierce warrior in his own right who invades Wakanda to irreparably up-end the nation’s status quo.

Rare is the action film that extends its villain this degree of empathy. Not only is Killmonger a viable threat to our heroes, but he’s also a man with an ethos and a scheme born out of an understandable logic. It’s certainly true that the violent means outweigh the end, but this is an end that, at least in small part, is to be sympathised with, ushering  with it a racial consciousness that film’s of this nature seldom have the nerve to hold—a complete subversion of the evil for evil’s sake antagonists even Marvel’s  most thoughtful writer’s so regularly resort to.

Not since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy has a comic-book film so seamlessly reconciled blockbuster and art-house sensibilities; has a filmmaker reconciled their own artistic ambitions with their studio’s. If there’s one demarcating factor for Black Panther, it is that; that breadth of vision, that scope of character, that leaving an auteuristic impression on a film that is inherently corporate in conception. Black Panther, more than a box-office venture or a precursor to the next Avengers movie, is a Ryan Coogler film; a sophisticated character study with its hands and feet locked in moral considerations. Black Panther is also as much the new MCU benchmark as it is a watershed moment for the genre in all. Suffice to say, Infinity Wars has its work cut out for it.

Rating:

3.75/4

 

Thor: Ragnarok

Directed By: Taika Waititi
Written By: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Kyle (based on the Thor comic books by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby)
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Mark Ruffalo

It’s long been a distinguishing thor_ragnarok_posterfeature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that comedic flair which underpins those lavish, CG fuelled action set-pieces and stirring melodrama. Ever since the effortlessly charismatic, incessantly zany, and quick-with-a-quip Robert Downey Jr. first donned the Iron Man suit in 2008, and with it fostered the rise of an entire studio and 16 resulting films, Marvel has long hung their hat on their ability to deftly blend tones of light and dark. Even when the Universe’s hottest commodities squared off in a calamitous brawl with mass political ramifications and which, somehow, along the way conjured near-tear jerking affect (2016’s Civil War), Marvel and their team of passionate writers and enthused Continue reading “Thor: Ragnarok”

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Directed By: Jon Watts
Written By: Jon Watts, Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers
Starring: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei

Watching Spider-Man: 20170706091137!Spider-Man_Homecoming_posterHomecoming, I found myself resigning to the fact that when it comes to comic-book blockbusters, derivative, overblown action sequences are a strict inevitability; something this type of film must feature if it is to fulfil its spectacle, popcorn friendly mandate. Upon reflection however, this isn’t so. Consider Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises and the first mono-e-mono showdown between Batman and Bane—the scene is stripped bare; there are no explosions, no swirling camera movements, no thunderous score. The scene is quiet, visually legible, still. There’s an intimacy there. By honing in more on the participants in the action rather than the rubble they’re Continue reading “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Directed By: James Gunn
Written By: James Gunn (based on The Guardians of the Galaxy characters created by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning)
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper

Compare Guardians of the Galaxy 9309ee7890499a5b4d7d825f02dbe80eVol. 2 with another Vin Diesel action blockbuster currently in release: Guardians employs the theme of family as the story’s bedrock, as its binding agent, one that is kaleidoscopically studied in the screenplay. Consider the genetically engineered racoon Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a loner by nature who deliberately attempts to sabotage himself as a member of the Guardians union because he’s unsure of how to belong to a family. Continue reading “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”