Talking Movies [Sci-Fi Sunday]: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


January sees the celebration of two notable dates in science-fiction history, with January 2 christened “National Science Fiction Day” to coincide with the birth date of the world renowned sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, and HAL 9000, the sophisticated artificial intelligence of Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), being created on 12 January. Accordingly, I’m spending every Sunday of January celebrating sci-fi in all its forms.


Talking Movies

Released: 5 May 2017
Director: James Gunn
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $200 million
Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Karen Gillan, Kurt Russell, and Michael Rooker

The Plot:
After incurring the wrath of the Sovereign, the Guardians of the Galaxy are saved by Ego (Russell), a Celestial being who takes the form of a sentient planet. Claiming to be Peter Quill/Star-Lord’s (Pratt) true father, Ego promises to open Quill’s mind to the vast power and knowledge of the universe, but Quill’s adopted father-figure, Yondu Udonta (Rooker), reveals a far more sinister motive behind Ego’s seemingly benign nature.

The Background:
Despite being one of Marvel’s more obscure properties, and having undergone many changes over the years, the Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be a massive financial success after making their live-action debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Since the property was deemed to have strong franchise potential, and to even become as integral to the MCU as the Avengers, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the director and cast of the first film were soon revealed to be returning for a sequel. While determined to expand on the cast and lore of the first film, Gunn was mindful about overloading the sequel with a slew of new characters; Gunn went solo on the film’s story, which he planned to focus on exploring a new version of Star-Lord’s heritage, and was afforded a great deal of creative control regarding the direction of the story and its place in the wider MCU. Gunn also continued to push the importance of practical effects and set wherever possible, especially as the film would make far more liberal use of computer-generated effects to bring Ego (one of the most complex CGI creations ever) to life. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s box office gross of over $863 million surpassed that of its predecessor, but reviews were generally more mixed; while the film was praised for being visually impressive and telling a surprisingly touching story, the pace and tone received some criticism. Still, the film cemented the team’s importance to the MCU and its success easily justified not only a third movie but also a holiday-themed special.

The Review:
I was pleasantly surprised by Guardians of the Galaxy; despite knowing next to nothing about the team or the concept heading into it when it first came out, the trailers and marketing had won me over and appealed to my love of science-fiction romps and bizarre comedic superhero adventuring. The film was a real breath of fresh air for the MCU at a time when things were just starting to really gear up towards full-on cosmic shenanigans and it remains one of my favourite entries not just in Phase Two, but in the entire franchise. So, to say my anticipation was high for the sequel would be an understatement; once again Marvel had outdone themselves by somehow getting Kurt Russell onboard and just the idea that they would even consider doing a concept like Ego, a literal sentiment planet, really told you all you needed to know about the scope of the MCU going forward: nothing was off limits, not even the most bizarre cosmic element of the source material.

The team may function a lot better now but they’re still a dysfunctional and argumentative bunch.

Some time has passed since the events of the first film, and the Guardians of the Galaxy have become somewhat renowned as a freelance peacekeeping force, of source and are happy to help those in need…for a price. Thanks to having saved the galaxy, they can afford to charge higher rates for their services, but it’s undeniable that they’re a much more well-oiled team than the band of misfits and outcasts we saw in the last film. The family dynamic has been dialled up to eleven, with Quill and Gamora (Saldaña) acting as the parental figures of the group, Drax the Destroyer (Bautista) and Rocket Raccoon (Cooper/Sean Gunn) acting as petulant teenagers, and Baby Groot (Diesel) as the curious and mischievous child. However, while they have clearly grown as a team and a surrogate family, the Guardians remain flawed and troublesome characters: hired by the Sovereign to destroy the inter-dimensional Abilisk, the team struggle to get their shit together and attack the beast between bickering with each other over their priorities and weapon choices and expressing concern for Baby Groot, whom they are all fiercely protective of. Although far from his larger, more capable self from the first film, Baby Groot proves instrumental in helping Rocket escape from the Ravagers, but is primarily here to cute appeal and comic relief; young and childish, he has trouble understanding things sometimes, which leads to a number of amusing instances where he struggles to retrieve items or follow instructions.

Rocket angers the Sovereign and pushes away his friends with his abrasive attitude, something Yondu can relate to.

As before, the one member of the team with the most sense remains Gamora, who is the only one capable and clear-headed enough to deliver the killing blow to the Abilisk. To be fair, Quill was the one who recognised that the creature had a pre-existing wound on its neck for Gamora to exploit, but Drax’s best plan was to foolishly try and attack the beast from the inside. While their methods are often haphazard and lacking in finesse, they get the job done and it’s Quill who takes point in speaking for the team to Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), the enigmatic and alluring High Priestess of the Sovereign race. While Quill flirts with Ayesha and attempts to keep relations with the proud race amicable, they incur her wrath when Rocket steals a bag full of their incredible rare and Anulax Batteries; of all the members of the team, it’s Rocket who struggles the most to let go of his selfish and underhanded ways, which brings him into continued conflict with the team and Quill’s leadership. A grouchy and antagonistic character, he actively pushes people away, even those closest to him, to avoid being hurt by them; he finds an unlikely confidante in Yondu Udonta (Rooker), an embittered space pirate who has spent his life doing the same thing and urges Rocket to recognise that he has people who actually care about him and help repair his relationship with Quill and his misfit family.

An ages-old Celestial, Ego wishes to spread his influence across the galaxy to consume all life.

Overwhelmed by the Sovereign fleet, the Guardians are mere moments away from being blown to smithereens thanks to Quill and Rocket wasting time and energy bickering over their piloting skills. Although they are saved by the timely intervention of Ego, the Milano is crippled, but Quill finds something he has long been missing in his life: his father. A sentient planet, Ego reveals himself to be an ages-old Celestial, a being who has known nothing but loneliness for the longest time; his only companion is Mantis (Pom Klementieff), a naïve and sheltered character who strikes up an odd relationship with Drax and uses her empathic powers to help Ego sleep…and to ease his conscience. Thanks to some extremely impressive de-aging effects and a facial double (Aaron Schwartz), the film opens with Kurt Russell appearing in his prime years back in the eighties to woo Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock) and sows the seeds (literally and figuratively) for Ego’s true plot to spread his consciousness across the entire galaxy using seeds planted on distant worlds. To do this, he needed to sire a part-Celestial heir but was continuously met with failure; the bodies of his rejected children are literally piled up and hidden away on his planet, and his joy at finding Quill can harness his cosmic powers soon turns to anger when his son chooses to turn that very power against him to oppose his dreams of galaxy-wide conversion.

The Guardians face threats from all sides as enemies old and new conspire to enact their revenge.

The Sovereign turn Nebula’s semi-cybernetic stepsister, Nebula (Gillan), over to the Guardians. Nebula’s hatred and resentment of Gamora has only grown between films; as children, their adopted father, Thanos (Josh Brolin), had them fight for supremacy over and over, and Gamora won every single time, reaping in Thanos’s praise while Nebula was replaced a piece at a time with mechanical parts. Gamora is happy to return Nebula to Xandar to collect her bounty and rid herself of her brutal stepsister once and for all, but Nebula is driven by rage and bitterness and takes every opportunity she can get to break free and hunt her sister down. This leads her to forming a brief, mutually beneficial alliance with the Sovereign and Taserface (Chris Sullivan), a mutilated member of Yondu’s crew who might be a laughable threat with a ridiculous name but he incites a mutiny and flushes those who stand against him and his followers out into space. This only further complicates matters for Yondu, who raised Quill as a space pirate and thief after learning of Ego’s true nature and intentions for the young Quill, but his part in child trafficking left him and his crew dishonoured and ostracised from the wider Ravager community by prominent Ravager figurehead Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone). Betrayed by many of his crew, Yondu is forced to team up with Rocket to enact a merciless revenge with his fancy tricky arrow and rush to Quill’s aid when Ego’s true intentions are revealed, and an intense and brutal battle between Nebula and Gamora sees the two sisters reaching a mutual understanding and gaining the Guardians an additional unlikely ally for the finale.

The Nitty-Gritty:
As before, music and pop culture play an important part not just in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s soundtrack but in defining Quill’s character, especially in relation to his mother. The flashback at the start of the film shows how Ego assumed the form of an irresistible 1980s rogue: he’s got the mullet, the car, and the tunes to go along with it and easily wins over Meredith with his good looks and silver tongue. Ego’s undeniable charisma and ability to manipulate his form are made more explicit when he pours vocal honey into Quill’s ears with stories of his love for Meredith and even assumes the form of his childhood hero, David Hasselhoff (Himself), showing that Ego knows exactly how to manipulate people by playing to (and preying on) their likes, hopes, and dreams. Quill’s love for music stems from his mother, who put together mixtapes for him that he listens to endlessly on his Walkman and onboard the Milano; so great is his love for music that Rocket even prioritises setting up a loud speaker for them to listen to Quill’s tune during their battle with the Abilisk and Quills still firmly drawing his pop culture reference from his childhood and the seventies and eighties. Just as these elements help him to remember and feel closer to his mother (and bond him closer with his newfound family), so too do they help to quickly build up a trust between him and his father when Ego expresses a liking for the same music and pop culture that was so integral to Quill’s childhood.

Space combat and action might be fleeting but are beautifully brought to life with some stunning visuals.

I remember being a little disappointed by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 when I first saw it as I was expecting the film to be bigger and better than the first but, similar to Avengers: Age of Ultron (Whedon, 2015), it struck me as being just as enjoyable as the original, which actually knocked my rating of it. I have no problem with it telling a story more focused on the tea dynamic and exploring these characters further, I just hadn’t expected it when I first saw it, so I definitely appreciated it more on repeat viewings. However, there is still a decent amount of onscreen action and visual spectacle to keep viewers entertained: the Sovereign are a minor antagonistic force in the film existing mainly to drive the plot forwards and get our heroes to Ego, but they have a unique armada comprised of thousands (maybe even millions) of remote drones that are piloted very much like arcade machines and lead to some frantic space battles and an intense chase through a “quantum asteroid field” that’s like the asteroid chase from Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Kershner, 1980) on steroids! The hexagonal jump points help to add to the mysterious nature of the galaxy and result in an amusing scene where Rocket and Yondu are warped in bizarre ways by multiple jumps, and Ego pilots a sleek, egg-like ship that is unlike any other in the galaxy, but the true visual spectacle of the film is realised when the characters arrive on Ego’s planet. A lush, verdant alien world home to some bizarre, vegetation and an elaborate palace housing Ego’s memories and plans, Ego’s world is just like him: beautiful and alluring at first glance but hiding a dark secret beneath the surface that comes to fruition when Ego’s very face warps the planet’s crust.

Family is even more pivotal this time around as bonds are reforged or rejected in favour of true family.

The dysfunctional family dynamic between the titular team is a pivotal element of the sequel; although they’re far more trusting and accepting of each other, they still wind each other up and get on each other’s nerves. While much of this is embodied by Rocket, Drax’s blunt and literal perspective doesn’t help matters much and Quill is continuously distracted by his attraction to Gamora. Despite Drax’s assertions that Gamora isn’t interested in him in that way, she’s incredibly supportive of Quill and is touched by his stories of his childhood pining for a father who wasn’t there, which confuses and angers him when she suspects that something isn’t quite right about Ego’s planet and raises questions about what counts as true family, blood or those you are closest to. Naturally, the question of Quill’s parentage is a huge plot point of the film; after being left as a blatant dangling plot thread and piece of sequel bait in the first film, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 goes to great lengths to establish that Quill isn’t fully human, like his comic book counterpart, and is instead part-Celestial thanks to being one of Ego’s many progeny seeded across the galaxy. This afford him many fantastic abilities when present on Ego’s plant form, and potentially opens up the vats secrets of the universe to him, but his human nature and the nurturing of his mother, his oddball family, and his father figure, Yondu, prove to be strong enough influences on Quill’s morals and character and force him to reject Ego. Quill is further driven to this decision when Ego drops the bombshell that it was he who caused Meredith’s fatal brain tumour, thus dooming her and pushing Quill into an enraged defiance that sees him pull out all the stops to oppose Ego’s plan to terraform the worlds he’s seeded.

Ego is destroyed at great cost but an even greater threat looms in the Guardians’ future…

This means not only turning down the ability to construct greater things, and even life, using Ego’s cosmic power but also the virtual immortality offered by Ego’s planet; disappointed by sentient life across the galaxy, Ego realised that his destiny wasn’t to simply walk among men, but to dominate and consume them through “The Expansion”. His façade as a loveable, charismatic figure quickly gives way to a cold-hearted, self-centred parasite befitting of his name and capable of great love (for he truly loved Meredith and was tempted to give up his enterprise for her) but also intense anger. Fully capable of manipulating every element of his planet-form to his will, Ego is a monstrous, nigh-unstoppable God-like being comprised of pure energy but capable of bending matter as he sees fit to protect his brain at the core of his planet. Thanks to being part-Celestial, Quill is also able to manipulate the planet to a degree, leading to a visually impressive sequence where Rocket drills through Ego’s crust using lasers and Quill constructs a massive version of Pac-Man to go head-to-head with his father. With the Sovereign closing in and adding to the melee, Mantis strains her powers to the limit to put Ego to sleep while Rocket cobbles together a bomb to destroy Ego’s core. Although the threat is ended and Gamora and Nebula finally reconcile (and Quill and Gamora finally admit their true feelings to each other), Quill forever loses his immortality and Celestial powers…and also his true father when Yondu sacrifices himself to save Quill from Ego’s destruction and the vacuum of space for a surprisingly emotional and heart-breaking finale. However, Yondu is finally honoured by the Ravagers in death, and Kraglin Obfonteri (Sean Gunn) assumes command of his arrow and his crew; while the Guardians find dealing with a moody adolescent Groot to be a challenge in the post-credits scene, they remain unaware that Ayesha has vowed to destroy them by breeding a perfect instrument of destruction dubbed “Adam”.

The Summary:
It’s definitely true that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 holds up much better with each subsequent viewing; in many ways, it’s more of the same from the last film, but with a far greater focus on the characterisations of the titular team and the dysfunctional family dynamic they have. While it doesn’t necessarily match or expand upon the space-faring action and excitement of the first film, and may disappoint some viewers in that respect, the grounded, more personal story told here is a poignant and affecting one. Seeing Quill struggle with his heritage, his feelings for Gamora, and to hold the team together is what makes these outlandish characters so surprisingly relatable, and the banter and relationship between each member of the team is some of the most entertaining produced by the MCU. What we have here is a film that peels back the layers of one of the most obscure properties in Marvel, and the MCU, and makes even their most alien members human and vulnerable; expanding on Yondu’s character and showing how complex Rocket is as a character was a surprising highlight, as was the heart-breaking final reconciliation between Yondu and Quill. There’s plenty of amusing elements throughout the film thanks to Drax’s blunt nature and Baby Groot’s childish antics, and Kurt Russell seems to be having the time of his life being part of his big-budget production. The cosmic scope of the MVU was expanded even further with the introduction of the Celestials and laying the groundwork for the future dynamic and troubles coming to the Guardians and, while I don’t rate it as highly as the first film, that’s not to say that there isn’t a great deal to enjoy here and I’d say it’s well worth your time, especially for those who might not have been convinced by the Guardians’ characterisation in the last film and wanted to get to know these characters better.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? Were you disappointed that the film wasn’t as action-packed as the first or did you enjoy the more character-focused story? What did you think to the added emphasis on the team as a dysfunctional family? Which of the new characters introduced was your favourite? What did you think to Ego’s plot and the changes made to his character? Would you have liked to see Quill retain his cosmic powers or did you dislike that he was made part-Celestial? Which members of the team would you like to see included in the MCU later down the line? I’d love to know your opinion on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, so sign up to share them below or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure to check in next Sunday as Sci-Fi Sunday continues!

Talking Movies [Friday the 13th]: Friday the 13th Part 3


Long considered to be an unlucky day due to superstitions involving the number thirteen and religious connotations, Friday the 13th is perhaps equally as well-known as being the title for a long-running series of slasher movies. As a result, this is clearly the best opportunity to take a look at the Friday the 13th (Various, 1980 to 2009) horror series and to commemorate this unlucky and dreaded date.


Talking Movies

Released: 13 August 1982
Director: Steve Miner
Distributor:
Paramount Pictures
Budget:
$2.2 million
Stars:
Dana Kimmell, Paul Kratka, Tracie Savage, Larry Zerner, Gloria Charles, and Richard Brooker

The Plot:
Chris Higgins (Kimmell) and her colourful group of friends travel to her childhood home in Crystal Lake only to raise the ire of a local gang of bikers. This threat is quickly surpassed by the presence of nigh-superhuman killer Jason Voorhees (Brooker), who has taken refuge near the house after being wounded and is eager to continue his killing spree on a new crop of unsuspecting victims.

The Background:
After the release of John Carpenter’s Halloween (Carpenter, 1978), which essentially birthed the “slasher” genre, Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980) proved such a box office success (despite its many critics) that a sequel as pushed intro production, albeit without the involvement of producer/director Sean S. Cunningham. Although not as successful as the first film, the sequel’s domestic box office of over $21 million more than justified a third entry in the blood-soaked slasher franchise. Early drafts for the third film saw Ginny Field (Amy Steel) return, now confined to a mental hospital, and Petru Popescu was disappointed when casting for his characters became more about looks than actual talent. With 3D cameras and all the rage at the time, Paramount Pictures decided to capitalise and the experimental new technology meant even simple shots became a long, gruelling process more about hitting the camera than putting in a good performance. The script called for Jason to wear a mask and his now-iconic hockey mask was supplied by 3D effects supervisor Martin Sadoff; a Detroit Red Wings goaltender mask served as the basis for the face-covering, which would go on to become one of the most recognisable elements in all of horror. With a box office gross of over $36 million, Friday the 13th Part 3 managed to out-do its predecessor (while still falling short of matching the first film’s gross) but was met with the same mixed-to-negative critical response; the plot was considered derivative but the 3D effects were seen as an enjoyable inclusion that was sullied by the tiresome clichés. Despite its low critical impact and being planned as the series finale, the Friday the 13th Part 3 ’s box office success meant that a fourth film was pushed into production, one that absolutely, positively spelt the end for the franchise…for a time…

The Review:
Just as the last film began with a recap of the finale of the first film, so too does Friday the 13th Part 3 kick things off by presenting viewers with the final showdown between Ginny and Jason (then-played by Steve Dash) that saw her trick the bag-headed killer into submission by impersonating his deceased mother, Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), and leave him vulnerable to getting a machete stuck in his shoulder. We continue to get information regarding the events of the last film via a news report, which reveals that Ginny did survive but still leaves the fate of her boyfriend, Paul Holt (John Furey), unanswered. The third film properly begins with Jason pulling out the machete and heading out into the night once more, but now played by a different actor and stalking the nearby woods and area of Crystal Lake with his head exposed (though hidden from view, for the time being). Jason stalks with argumentative store owners Harold Hockett (Steve Susskind) and Edna (Cheri Maugans), an odd couple who receive a great deal of screen time considering they’re just there to get the body count started, throw some terrible 3D effects in our face, and establish how Jason acquires his new duds.

Chris returns to Higgins Haven, where bland ol’ Rick and some bad memories await.

Following this painfully long and pointless sequence (and some extremely funky title music courtesy of series composer Harry Manfredini and Michael Zager), we’re finally introduced to the new crop of twenty-somethings-posing-as-teenagers who will serve as our main characters this time around. Andy (Jeffrey Rogers) and his pregnant lover Debbie (Tracie Savage) are excited to be travelling down to Higgins Haven at Crystal Lake with their friend, Chris, a perky girl troubled by an incident at her family home two years ago but trying to not let the traumatic attack she endured ruin the weekend for her rambunctious friends. When the group get to Crystal Lake and Chris reunites with old flame Rick (Kratka, who seems way too old for her but who am I to judge?), we learn that, somehow, Chris was attacked by Jason (as he appears now) while wandering the woods near Higgins Haven. Horrified, she tried to escape and fight him off, only to black out and be found by her parents, who insisted that she must have imaging the entire thing. However, her memories are so vivid and her fear and disquiet at being back at Crystal Lake are so potent that it could only have been real, though it’s unclear as to why Jason spared her and the sexual implications of the attack are both unsettling and contrary to Jason’s usual characterisation.

Despite being an annoying prankster, Shelly shows some actual personality and forever impacted the series.

While Andy might be a bit of a generic, forgettable young man, his roommate and best friend, Shelly (Zerner), is memorable to the point of being an annoying pain in the ass. A born prankster and practical joker, Shelly suffers from an extreme lack of confidence in his looks and his body and makes up for it by wearing masks, playing pranks on his friends, and generally being an aggravating little shit. Unsurprisingly, his pranks and tomfoolery do little but annoy the others, who constantly berate his antics, and don’t exactly turn on his blind date, Vera Sanchez (Catherine Parks); however, he proves himself to be surprisingly brave and capable when he and Vera get on the wrong side of Fox (Charles) and her biker gang, and Vera warms towards him after seeing how much he loves his mother. While he might be one of the most divisive characters in the entire franchise (you literally either love him or hate him), he proves to be one of the most important characters as Jason acquires his iconic hockey mask after taking it from Shelly, forever cementing his significance to the series.

While the pot-heads don’t add much, the bikers make a big impression despite their limited screen time.

Chris and her friends are joined by a dope-smoking duo of hippies, Chuck Garth (David Katims) and Chili Jachson (Rachel Howard), who primarily exist just to be off their heads the entire time, added to the body count, and throw a few more screams and disparaging remarks towards Jason and Shelly, respectively, however, while shopping for supplies in town, Vera and Shelly run afoul of a mean gang of bikers: Fox, Ali (Nick Savage), and Loco (Kevin O’Brien), who harass them in the store and then smash up Rick’s car after Shelly accidentally knocks over their bikes. While this leads to a moment of bravery from Shelly after Ali pushes him too far, it comes back to bite the kids when the bikers track them down to Higgins Haven and drain the petrol from their van, thus limiting their escape options for the finale. Still, while they’re only onscreen for a short period of time, and despite being secondary antagonists, the three bikers actually showcase a surprising amount of personality; Fox expresses concern at Ali’s plan to burn down the Higgins barn to settle the score, and Ali actually proves to be a resilient and tenacious character as he somehow survives an attack by Jason to make an unexpected comeback for the finale that sees him getting his hand lopped off for his efforts.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Honestly, Friday the 13th Part 3 may have some of the weakest and most forgettable characters of the entire franchise; Shelly might be memorable for his boy-who-cried-wolf antics and the bikers might make an impression with their ripped denim and leather, but Chris is a disappointingly bland final girl. It doesn’t help much that Dana Kimmell really isn’t convincing as an actress here, but I find Chris’s meek personality makes her little more than a hysterical tart driven to the edge rather than a capable, independent young woman. Both Andy and Rick end up being unremarkable male leads; Shelly might be an annoying asshole, but at least he exhibits some personality and isn’t just a bland nice guy who you don’t even care about. Higgins Haven makes for an interesting change of scenery for the franchise as well; rather than the events taking place at an abandoned camp or the nearby town, much of the film is localised at Chris’s childhood home, which includes a massive barn full of hay and a quaint little house full of oddities and trinkets that allow the setting to be both unique and familiar at the same time. The gang do head into town, however, and we get to see a little more of the surrounding area, which is always nice as I find we rarely ever get a chance to explore the goings-on of Crystal Lake in these films.

The 3D effects are often awkward and blatant but of lead to a couple of awesome kills.

Of course, the big selling point of the movie is its inclusion of 3D effects; sadly, however, these are all egregious and pretty poorly realised and amount to shit like snakes, rats, baseball bats, popcorn, severed eyes, yo-yos, fists, and handles being thrust, waved, or shoved right in front of the camera lens in ; we get such “memorable” moments as a snake charging at the camera on a wire, a rat randomly crawling towards us on a plank of wood, a baseball bat held right in front of the camera lens in gratuitous and blatantly obvious shots designed to showcase the out-dated effect. It does, however, lead to two of the film’s more impressive kills when Jason fires a speargun at Vera and crushes Rick’s head, causing his eye to literally pop out of his skull! These prove to be two of the more over-the-top kills in the film as Friday the13th Part 3 opts for simple, brutal kills for the most part: Harold gets an axe to the chest, Edna a knitting needle through the back of the head, and Jason even scores a two-for-one deal when he recreates one of the most memorable kills of the first film and drives a knife through the pregnant Debbie’s chest. Andy is dispatched rather viciously when he gets skewered through the belly while walking upside down, and Shelly gets this throat slit offscreen, which is odd as even Chuck and Chili get onscreen deaths, with Chuck being tossed into an electrical box and the hysterical Chili being impaled by a hot poker.

Jason is a far more sexual and apathetic character and now imbued with superhuman strength.

Although the injuries he received in the second film don’t seem to have slowed him down or even crop up as a weak point here, Jason is clearly licking his wounds in the Higgins Haven barn; we catch fleeting glimpses of him standing in or near the barn, but no clear shots until he hides his grotesque face behind his signature hockey mask. The finale gets into full swing shortly after, meaning lingering shots of Jason’s hands or torso are replaced with full-body shots of him lumbering around with an almost bored swagger; sporting something of a hump and lacking even the wispy hair we saw in the last film, Jason has lost some of his sprightliness but gained the measured, near-superhuman brutality that has since become so synonymous with the character. We see a very different side of Jason this time around; there’s an odd sexual menace to him through the implication that he raped Chris, or at least messed with her in a way beyond simply physically harming her, and his pursuit of her seems to be both personal and sexually charged in a way we haven’t really seen from him before. He toys with her like all his final prey, but Chris is the only final girl that he willingly unmasks in front of; he even leers at her with a wink, showcasing a vindictive intelligence that was missing in the last film. While he grunts and even yells in pain this time around, Jason is now powerful enough to crush skulls with his bare hands and hoist himself up whilst being hung from the neck. Thanks to the timely intervention (and sacrifice) of Ali, Chris is finally able to get her shit together to actually fight back and defend herself,  burying an axe into Jason’s head and seemingly putting him down for good. However, in another homage to the first film, Chris is randomly attacked by the decomposing body of Pamela Voorhees in a dream sequence, and the entire experience seems to have driven her out of her mind.

The Summary:
It can’t be denied that the Friday the 13th formula was getting more than a little stale but this third entry; if you’ve seen the first two, you’ve basically seen everything this film has to offer with the exception of the largely terrible 3D effects. However, if you took away the blatantly weird camera shots and the wire-powered props, there still wouldn’t really be much new of offer in Friday the 13th Part 3. Ooh, it takes place in a barn, how exciting! It’s still the same thing of horny kids making dumb decisions, acting badly, and being picked off one by one by a relentless killer, and this third entry is honestly one of the weakest in the series for me. there are some good points to be found here: the speargun sequence and Rick’s head-crush are memorable (if ridiculous) kills, Shelly showcases more personality than all of the main characters combined, and the bikers are surprisingly charismatic characters who sadly don’t get enough screen time. If you’re a fan of Jason as a character, this isn’t too bad an entry either as he finally acquires his iconic hockey mask and Richard Brooker’s portrayal of Jason as a lumbering, sadistic, almost lackadaisical killer set the standard for others to follow, particularly during his time as a zombie. Still, funky soundtrack and enjoyable gore aside, Friday the 13th Part 3 remains a painfully unimpressive entry; Jason’s motivations are oddly tinged with a sexual menace, his face has taken a notable downgrade, and the overall quality of the performances has taken such a massive step back that it’s hard to really give a shit about anything that’s happening as the character’s we’re supposed to care about are so bland, hysterical, or poorly realised. This is one best rushed through, or skipped over, if you’re doing a Friday the 13th marathon.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Friday the 13th Part 3? How do you feel it holds up against its predecessors and its many sequels? Which of the new characters was your favourite and why, and what did think to Chris as the final girl? What did you think to the 3D effects used in the film and did you find they distracted from the kills? Which of the Friday the 13th movies is your favourite? Perhaps you prefer a different slasher film or franchise; if so, what is it? Do you consider Friday the 13th to be unlucky? Are you watching a Friday the 13th movie today? Whatever your thoughts on Friday the 13th (the movie, franchise, and day), sign up to tell me your thoughts below or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure to check in again for more horror content in the near future!

Talking Movies [Sci-Fi Sunday]: Guardians of the Galaxy


January sees the celebration of two notable dates in science-fiction history, with January 2 christened “National Science Fiction Day” to coincide with the birth date of the world renowned sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, and HAL 9000, the sophisticated artificial intelligence of Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), being created on 12 January. Accordingly, I have decided to spend every Sunday of January celebrating sci-fi in all its forms.


Talking Movies

Released: 1 August 2014
Director: James Gunn
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $232.3 million
Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldaña, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, and Michael Rooker

The Plot:
Abducted from Earth as a small child, Peter Quill (Pratt) grows up to become the intergalactic rogue known as “Star-Lord”. However, after stealing a mysterious orb, Quill finds himself relentlessly pursued by the war-hungry Ronan the Accuser (Pace) and forced to team up with a rag-tag group of misfits and criminals in order to oppose the Kree warlord’s plans to devastate a peace-keeping world.

The Background:
While I’m sure that the Guardians of the Galaxy had their fair share of fans before they made their debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), I think it’s fair to say that the intergalactic superhero team were one of Marvel’s more obscure properties, especially compared to heavy-hitters like the Avengers. Writer Arnold Drake and the immortal Stan Lee changed Roy Thomas’s concept of super-guerrillas fighting Russians and Red China into an interplanetary team of misfits, and the team was resurrected and given their much more recognisable line-up over the years, and MCU head honcho Kevin Feige first name-dropped an adaptation of the team in 2010 as part of the MCU’s continued expansion towards more cosmic adventures. Director James Gunn won out to helm the film, which whole-heartedly embraced even the most ridiculous characters and concepts from the team’s history; the film embraced its ensemble line-up and utilised both practical and computer-generated effects to brings its bizarre characters to life. Gunn also emphasised the importance of featuring large, practical sets and bolstered the film’s humour and themes through a referential soundtrack. Guardians of the Galaxy was a phenomenal success, grossing over $772 million at the box office and proving that even Marvel’s most obscure creations could be a box office success. The film was met with an overwhelmingly positive reception; critics praised the banter and comedy, the quirky uniqueness of the film, and for bringing something new to the genre. Others were a little more critical of the film’s pace and comedic elements, but Guardians of the Galaxy’s box office success more than justified a sequel and the Guardians of the Galaxy quickly became a popular and integral part of the larger MCU.

The Review:
My knowledge of the Guardians of the Galaxy was basically non-existent when the film was first announced and released. In all my years of reading Marvel Comics, I had never once encountered the team beyond reading the issue where they encountered Cuchulain the Irish Wolfhound as part of my undergraduate studies and happening to read a story where Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk fought an early version of Groot. Thus, when I first heard of the film and saw the trailers, I was a little confused but intrigued by the concept, which reminded me of the kind of space-faring snark and adventure I’d enjoyed in Serenity (Whedon, 2005) and Star Trek (Abrams, 2009), and willing to go along with this risky venture of bringing such an obscure Marvel property to life. Although the film is unquestionably an ensemble piece and introduces many bizarre characters to the MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy is anchored by Peter Quill,  a vain and self-centred space adventurer who, as a boy (Wyatt Oleff), was forced to watch his beloved mother (Laura Haddock) suffer and ultimately succumb to a cancerous tumour. Unable to bare the loss, he ran out of the hospital in his grief and was unexpectedly abducted by Quill Yondu Udonta (Rooker) of the Ravagers on the order of his mysterious father, whom his mother descried in her delirium as an “angel”. Rather than be delivered to his father, Quill was raised by Yondu as a surrogate son and taught the ways of the space pirates, growing up to become a thief and modelling himself after the film stars of his youth, such as Patrick Swayze and Harrison Ford.

Quill wishes to be as notorious as Gamora, a bad-ass warrior known as the daughter of Thanos.

However, Quill is not as notorious throughout the galaxy as he likes to think, despite having a bunch of gadgets and tech at his disposal (such as his blaster, gravity grenades, personal space helmet and rocket boots, and even his own ship, the Milano). While Quill may be a loser with delusions of grandeur, his greatest ability is convincing others to listen to his words and come together against a common goal; even though he doesn’t always have a plan (or even a percentage of a plan), he’s able to talk his newfound allies into setting aside their differences first in the name of survival and profit, and then to defend Xandar from destruction. Gamora (Saldaña) begins the film as a minion of Ronan the Accuser (Pace), on loan to him from her adopted father, the Mad Titan, Thanos (Josh Brolin/Sean Gunn), much like her cybernetic stepsister Nebula (Karen Gillan). There’s a rivalry and animosity between the two that extends beyond simply trying to impress their father; while Gamora is a renowned and notorious warrior, she secretly plots against her father, who destroyed her people and turned her into a living weapon simply for his own amusement. She is a non-nonsense, laser-focused individual who is riled up by Quill’s inane banter and  buffoonery, but comes to find a surrogate family with her oddball team mates; as much as she hates Thanos and desires to kill him, she has a real love and pity for her Nebula, who has become cold and merciless and driven by hatred and resentment since Thanos always favoured Gamora, which inevitably leads to dramatic conflict between the two. Gamora is eventually convinced to trust Quill when he puts himself at risk not only by summoning Yondu for aid but by braving the cold, suffocating vacuum of space to save her, which also goes a long way to proving his selflessness and worthiness as a hero (however unlikely) to his newfound teammates.

Rocket, Groot, and Drax become reluctant allies after being convinced by Quill’s quick-thinking.

Rocket Racoon (Cooper/Sean Gunn) and Groot (Diesel/Krystian Godlewski) are already branded as criminals at the start of the film, but operate as independent bounty hunters who are simply trying to et rich by bringing in marks and run across Quill and Gamora while staking out Xandar for bounties. Though Rocket appears to be the brains of the operation, Groot is far from a mindless creature, despite only ever uttering “I am Groot!”; Groot is insightful, curious, and compassionate and surprisingly gentle for such a lumbering brute, and adds to the film’s humour and heart thanks to his childish nature. Rocket also has a surprising amount of depth to his character; essentially a snarky, embittered raccoon-like creature, he was subjected to horrific experiments and takes a perverse pleasure in sticking it to those in positions of authority. After being arrested by the Nova Corps and locked up in the Kyln, these four are reluctantly forced to work together since all of the other inmates immediately target them because of their association with Gamora and her association with Ronan and Thanos. No other inmate has more of a vendetta against Ronan than Drax the Destroyer (Bautista), a musclebound warrior whose family were slaughtered by Ronan for sport and who longs to kill Gamora as recompense. Drax, who comes from a race of people that take everything literally and cannot understand metaphors, is convinced to spare Gamora by the fast-talking Quill so that they can join forces to lure Ronan out and kill him. Although reluctant to team up, Drax is won over by Quill’s reputation and Rocket’s plucky adaptability, but is so focused on having his revenge against Ronan that he puts his newfound teammates at risk by summoning Ronan to Knowhere, only to be summarily humiliated in single combat with his hated foe.

Despite his potential to be a decent recurring villain, Ronan is a disappointingly forgettable antagonist.

Each of the film’s protagonists has either a personal vendetta against, or comes into conflict with, Ronan, a Kree warrior branded a terrorist as he refuses to abide by the peace treaty between his people and Xandar, home of the Nova Corps. A maniacal zealot who wishes nothing less than the power to strip Xandar of all life, he makes a deal with Thanos, to retrieve the Orb for him in return for Thanos unleashing his might against Xandar, however he’s sadly another largely lacklustre villain; even killing the Other (Alexis Denisof) and making demands of Thanos does little to impress and he’s simply a large, malevolent force for the team to rally against. He does have some notable moments, however, such as delivering a massive beatdown to Drax and laying claiming the Power Stone that lies within the Orb, thus granting him incredible, nigh-unlimited power. Unfortunately, there’s really not much to go on with him; his fanatical vendetta against Xandar make him largely unsympathetic, he does a lot of posturing for someone so feared and revered by other characters, and is easily distracted by Quill’s hilarious dance moves and undone by the titular Guardians sharing the power of the Power Stone between them and atomising him. It’s a shame, really, as I feel like Ronan could have been a decent enough recurring villain, or even a reluctant ally, of the Guardians in subsequent films (or repurposed into one of Thanos’s Black Order), but instead he’s simply built up as this unstoppable bad-ass and then done away with before he can really earn that reputation.

A number of supporting character actors bolster the film’s scope, or steal the show with their antics.

The film is bolstered by a number of supporting characters, with Yondu being the clear standout; Quill’s mentor and, essentially, adopted father, there is an animosity between the two as Yondu believes Quill is ungrateful that he wasn’t eaten by the rest of the Ravagers and Quill believes that Yondu only kept him around because he was small enough to help steal stuff. However, there relationship softens over the course of the film and Yondu goes from placing a bounty on Quill’s head and wanting him dead to helping him push back Ronan’s forces, which is good news for Quill as Yondu can command a specialised arrow with just a few piercing whistles and cut down enemies in the blink of an eye. As home to the peacekeeping Nova Corps, Xandar offers some additional faces to the film’s line up, including the exasperated Nova Prime, Irani Rael (Glenn Close), who is frustrated at Ronan’s continued attacks against her people and the reluctance of the Kree to intervene, and Nova Corpsmen such as Rhomann Dey (John C. Reilly) and Denarian Garthan Saal (Quill Serafinowicz), who are both impressed and judgemental of the titular team’s notoriety and become reluctant allies of theirs for the finale. Another additional highlight of the film is the enigmatic Taneleer Tivan/The Collector (Benicio del Toro), a peculiar gatherer of oddities and knowledge who reveals the Orb’s true nature as housing an Infinity Stone and pushing the Guardians into leaving it in the care of the Nova Corps rather than selling it or allowing Ronan to lay claim to it.

The Nitty-Gritty:
All young Quill had to cope with his mother’s failing health was his music; she would compile mix tapes for him that he would listen to repeatedly to help distract him from reality and, after being kidnapped by Yondu, he was (somehow) able to keep his Walkman and tapes working by retrofitting space technology. Quill is so attached to the Walkman and his music that he delays his escape from the Klyn to retrieve it, much to Drax’s chagrin, and he finds solace in the music of Blue Suede, Redbone, and Marvin Gaye. Obviously attracted to Gamora, Quill briefly begins to win her over by letting her share his music, and he has spent his entire adult life putting off unwrapping his mother’s final gift to him, which turns out to be a new mixtape full of even more classic tracks from the seventies and the eighties.

Guardians massively expanded the scope and intricacies of the MCU’s galaxy.

Being the MCU’s first adventure to be fully set in the deepest depths of space, Guardians of the Galaxy continues to impress with is visual presentation; from the sets, props, and special effects, everything has such depth and variety to it. Xandar is slick and advanced, clean and with the best resources available, while Knowhere is a desolate, lived-in hellhole full of scum and villainy. The Milano is a beat-up mess not a million miles away from the Millennium Falcon (although it doesn’t look like the Falcon), while Ronan’s ship, the Dark Aster, is a dark and ominous vessel carving its way trough the galaxy. The Ravagers are a bunch of degenerates holed up on a huge, filthy ship and made up of a variety of representable races, and the differences between their ship and the advanced forces of the Nova Corps is vast. However, it takes the combined efforts of these unlikely allies to defend Xandar and push back Ronan using a combination of space combat, a massive energy shield that amounts to a suicide run, and breaching the Dark Aster in an unsuccessful attempt to kill Ronan. I really enjoy the visual style of the film, which quickly shows in a very short period of time that the MCU’s galaxy is full of history, technology, and races that we’ve still only begun to scratch the surface of. Knowhere is carved from the severed head of a Celestial, the Collector’s museum is stuffed full of trinkets and captives from across the vastness of space and Marvel lore, and there’s a real sense that we could see another twenty films set in MCU space and still not really understand everything about it.

Family is at the heart of Guardians as its misfits and outcasts find a purpose in the universe.

One of the most prominent themes that separates Guardians of the Galaxy from other films in the MCU is the sense of family; unlike other films in the MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy was given the unenviable task of introducing a whole team of new heroes all in one film and, while many of them are analogous to their Avengers counterparts, they manage to stand out from them thanks to their individual personalities and quirks. Quill is desperate to make a name for himself as notorious outlaw Star-Lord; until now, he’s being trying to do that by stealing shit and being a disreputable rogue, but he finds his true calling as a reluctant space hero and saviour by the film’s end and finally gets his wish when Korath (Djimon Hounsou) uses his codename. Quill is also carrying a tremendous amount of guilt over never getting to say goodbye to his mother and has been running from his past ever since; while he seems to have no wish to return to Earth and find a new family in the Guardians, he clings on to the pop culture of his childhood, and it’s his love for his mother that gives him the strength to endure the Power Stone’s power in the finale. The familial themes continue with Gamora and Nebula, stepsisters who have a bitter rivalry but are reluctant to admit how much they both have in common: bother were used and abused by Thanos and both wish to see him dead, but Nebula is too blinded by her hatred and resentment to consider working alongside her sister. Drax is completely motivated by love for his lost family, whose deaths haunt him and dictate both his vendetta against Ronan and his eventual acceptance of his newfound friends.

Despite heavy losses, Ronan is defeated and the galaxy is left in the capable (?) hands of its new guardians.

This band of misfits, degenerates, and losers finally finds something worth fighting for thanks to their common goals and interests, forced to work together for survival, their interests quickly turn from profit and revenge to putting their lives on the line for a greater good when they pledge to defend Xandar from Ronan and keep the Power Stone out of his grasp. Alongside the Ravagers and the Nova Corps, the newly christened Guardians of the Galaxy fend off the likes of Korath and Ronan’s Necrocraft in a co-ordinated attempt to kill Ronan. Unfortunately, Ronan embeds the Power Stone into his Warhammer, obliterating Saal and many of the Nova Corps and easily shrugging off Rocket’s specially made missile. Outmatched by the empowered Ronan, the Guardians are only granted a reprieve when Rocket punches a whole in the Dark Aster sending it crashing down to Xandar, and they’re only saved by the selfless and poignant sacrifice of Groot, who shields his newfound family using his own body. Thanks to the Power Stone, Ronan also survives the crash, but is so busy making speeches that he probably would have ben undone even without Quill’s distracting him with his dance moves. With Ronan’s Warhammer destroyed, Quill lays claim to the Power Stone, but its sheer destructive power threatens to teat him apart; memories of his mother give him the strength to hold back the damage and link hands with his newfound friends, who share the burden of the Infinity Stone’s power and allow them to triumph over Ronan. For their efforts, Quill makes amends with Yondu (despite again cheating him out of the Orb’s bounty, and Yondu taking with him the truth of Quill’s true parentage). The Nova Corps repair the Milano and wipe away the Guardians’ criminal records, and the head out into the galaxy to cause more mischief.

The Summary:
I am continuously impressed by Guardians of the Galaxy; I was pleasantly surprised the first time I saw it and, even now, it stands out as one of the most unique and entertaining entries in the MCU. Essentially a space adventure, the film has a visual style and humour that really helps it stand out from other films in the MCU. The film does a fantastic job of extending the scope of the MCU beyond Earth and really showing how much variety, lore, and different technology, races, and conflicts exist out in the depths of space. Tying everything together is, of course, the titular team themselves; reminiscent of their Avengers counterparts (a man out of time, a warrior female, a snarky mechanic, a monstrous brute, and an oddball meathead), the Guardians shine trough their unique characteristics and the sense of loss that drives them. Each has a past, with many of them having committed unspeakable crimes prior to the film, and is motivated by a desire to find a sense of belonging, put to rest their demons, and discover their purpose in the wide, dangerous galaxy. Of course, to begin with, none of them would ever really admit to this and they’re more motivated by profit or revenge, but being forced together turns out to be the best thing for this band of misfits and assholes as they’re able to put their egos, pride, and selfish desires to come together for a greater good. It’s not easy debuting an ensemble team in one film, but Guardians of the Galaxy is fantastically paced and gives everyone a chance to shine; even supporting characters like Yondu and Nebula get a decent amount to do and, while Ronan is squandered as a villain, the overall package shines just as brightly now as it did when I first saw it and I remember coming away from Guardians of the Galaxy extremely excited for the future of the MCU, which looked to be near-limitless at the time.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Are you a fan of Guardians of the Galaxy? Which of the characters was your favourite? Were you disappointed that the film didn’t feature the original version of the team, or a different line-up? What did you think to the MCU expanding its scope deep into space and with such an obscure property? Were you also disappointed with Ronan, or does he rank quite high in your list of MCU villains? What did you think to the hints towards the full scope of the Infinity Stones and the wider MCU peppered throughout the film? Did you enjoy the changes the film made to characters like Drax and the Nova Corps? Which members of the team would you like to see included in the MCU later down the line? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy, so please sign up to share them down below or leave a comment on my social media, and be sure to check in next Sunday for my review of the sequel as Sci-Fi Sunday continues!

Talking Movies [Mayan Doomsday]: Sunshine


Over the years, there have been many theories about when the world will end but one of the more prevalent was the mistaken belief that doomsday would befall us on December 21st 2012 based on the Mayan calendar ending on this day. Of course, not only did this not happen but it wasn’t even based on any actual fact to begin with but, nevertheless, doomsday scenarios have been an enduring genre in fiction so I figured today was a good day to explore this popular concept.


Talking Movies

Released: 6 April 2007
Director: Danny Boyle
Distributor:
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Budget:
$40 million
Stars:
Cillian Murphy, Chris Evans, Cliff Curtis, Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Mark Strong

The Plot:
In the year 2057, the Sun is dying thanks to a destructive Q-Ball; as a result, the Earth has entered a new ice age and humanity is on the brink of extinction. In a desperate attempt to ignite the Sun, a crew of scientists and astronauts is sent on a last-ditch effort to deliver a nuclear device into the star, but their efforts run into disaster when they stumble across another ship and find themselves stalked by a fanatical madman driven to insanity by the Sun’s mere presence.

The Background:
By 2007, British director and producer Danny Boyle had made a name for himself, most notably with the critically-acclaimed Trainspotting (ibid, 1996) and the post-apocalyptic zombie horror 28 Days Later (ibid, 2002), when he was presented with the concept for what would become Sunshine. The script, as conceived by writer Alex Garland, was funded partially by Fox Searchlight and numerous outside investors, which afforded Boyle a great deal of creative freedom. Boyle and Garland worked on the script for a year and consulted with one of my favourite scientific personalities, Doctor Brain Cox, regarding the scientific accuracy of the concept, who dismissed criticisms of the film’s science in favour of creative license. Boyle assembled an ensemble cast of international characters to show all of mankind uniting in the face of their destruction, and consulted with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) regarding the technology and presentation of the interior and exterior of the ship. Sadly, Sunshine’s $32 million worldwide gross made it a box office disappointment and the film was met with mixed reviews that mostly focused on the abrupt twist towards slasher movie territory for the ending. Personally, I found Sunshine to be one of the most poignant and underappreciated science-fiction movies ever made and am glad to see that it has developed something of a cult following since its release, and it’s my pleasure to revisit it for this review.

The Review:
Sunshine begins with Doctor Robert Capa (Murphy) outlining the basic premise and some of the history of the film; the Sun is dying due to unknown reasons, pushing mankind to the brink of extinction due to the Earth slowly freezing over. Seven years before the start of the movie, Icarus was sent on a mission to restart the Sun but was mysteriously lost before it could deliver its payload; Capa and the rest of his crew have spent the last sixteen months travelling towards the Sun aboard Icarus II carrying a “stellar bomb” with a mass equivalent to Manhattan Island in a last ditch effort to “create a star within a star”. The eight-person crew is an interesting mixture of personalities, nationalities, faiths, and specialisms, with each member having a specific field and function on the ship, while also operating not in a democracy but based on who is the most qualified and informed to make certain decisions.

Capa and Mace have a tumultuous relationship that leads to disagreements and conflict.

Capa is the genius behind both the stellar bomb and the mission to restart the Sun; a physicist who is something of a quiet outsider, Capa finds his nights haunted by horrifying nightmares of him falling, screaming, towards the surface of the Sun and his days preoccupied with checking and double-checking his calculations and simulations for the stellar bomb. Essentially, Capa is worried that the bomb won’t actually do the job since it’s obviously untested; the simulations are often inconclusive, meaning that he is working somewhat on faith in the scientific accuracy of the bomb’s payload, and thus he agrees that it is only logical for the Icarus II to intercept Icarus I and retrieve its bomb to double their chances. Capa is a humble man just trying to do the best job he can who fills his messages back to his family with reassurances, but comes into frequent conflict with the ship’s engineer, Mace (Evans), a rugged and confrontational individual who isn’t afraid to call others out on their mistakes and often lets his emotions get the better of him. As hot-headed and blunt as he can be, though, Mace is absolutely devoted to the mission, to the point where he is willing to sacrifice his life (and considers all of their lives expendable) in service of completing the mission and saving the world. Still, he is an abrasive and hypocritical character; tensions between him and Capa rise after they get into a fight over the communications system and, while they share an awkward apology over the matter, Mace continues to antagonise Capa, volunteering him for a dangerous mission to repair the ship’s damaged solar panels and then later blaming him for endangering the crew despite all projections suggesting that the risk was worthwhile.

Corazon keeps everyone alive and Cassie is the heart of the crew, but there isn’t much for them to do.

The crew are kept fed and breathing thanks to the efforts of biologist Corazon (Yeoh), who maintains the ship’s “oxygen garden”, and the ship is kept on track thanks to the efforts of pilot Cassie (Byrne). These two are the only female members aboard Icarus II and prove to be two of the more emotionally stable amongst the crewmembers; of the two, though, Corazon is probably the least developed and interesting. Although she’s the first to suggest that they need to trim their numbers in order to maximise their resources and reach the payload destination, Corazon doesn’t really have much of a presence or much to do beyond caring for the plants; she’s thus naturally horrified when the oxygen garden is destroyed, and unceremoniously murdered while trying to salvage some life from the torched garden. Cassie is far more prominent, but not by much; she also suffers from nightmares of the Sun and is very much the heart of the crew and the one who maintains the most humanity throughout the mission. She clearly cares about the entire crew, even an asshole like Mace, and has an obvious affection for Capa (though their relationship stays plutonic and professional throughout the film), and refuses to participate in their vote about killing one of their own to conserve their oxygen supply later in the film. Ultimately, however, Cassie really doesn’t have too much of an impact on the film beyond being a source of emotional support for Capa and a representative of the humanity the crew struggles to maintain out in the void, and push Capa towards seeing the mission through to its conclusion, even at the cost of their lives.

Harvey fails to live up to Kaneda’s example, while Pinbacker lost faith in the mission entirely.

Icarus II is captained by Kaneda (Sanada), a stoic and practical man without ego who is happy to defer to the expertise of the other crew members when it comes to certain decisions. Fully aware of the magnitude and risks of the mission, he appears to be a well-respected authority figure who does a decent job of keeping everyone focused and on track with the mission; when they enter the communications “dead zone” seven days early, he emphasises that it’s not something for them to get worked up about since they were fully prepared for the resulting communications blackout, and when they discover Icarus I he leaves the decision regarding docking with it to Capa, recognising that he’s the most qualified man to make that risk assessment. While maintaining a professionalism at all times, Kaneda grows concerned about their mission the closer they get to the Sun since Icarus I disappeared at around the same point as they find themselves at the start of the movie and he pours over Captain Pinbacker’s (Strong) video logs for some answer to what happened to the ship. Interestingly, when the Icarus II is damaged due to a misalignment of the shields, it’s Kaneda who volunteers to head out on a space walk to repair the damage, which isn’t something I would expect from the ship’s captain. Unfortunately, this proves to be a fatal decision as Kaneda is unable to make it back to safety and is incinerated by the Sun’s rays, which greatly affects the moral of the crew and the stability of their mission. With Kaneda gone, the chain of command falls to the far less respected and far more ineffectual Harvey (Troy Garity), a communications officer whose job is made completely redundant when the ship loses its communications antenna. Harvey struggles to make competent decisions and to be a rallying force; he also ends up suffering a horrific fate during a dangerous space jump between the two ships, which sees him floating off into the empty void and choking/freezing to death in the vacuum.

Just as Trey is consumed by guilt, Searle and Pinbacker are obsessed with the allure of the Sun.

Searle (Curtis) acts as the ship’s doctor and psychologist; a clinical and pragmatic man, he helps to maintain crew moral and mental health aboard the ship, which grows increasingly strained due to the seriousness of the mission and the isolation of being so far away from loved ones. These issues are primarily embodied by Mace, who exhibits violent and aggressive behaviour towards Capa on a number of occasions, but also by Trey (Benedict Wong), the ship’s navigator, who falls into a suicidal depression after endangering the mission due to a miscalculation. Searle attempts to maintain order on the ship through counselling but, as rational as he is, he has grown obsessed with the power, magnitude, and beauty of the Sun; he regularly sits in the observation room to view the Sun without protective filters and it’s here that we get the first hints towards the Sun as this overwhelming, almost God-like force that has a significant impact on each member of the crew. Both Capa and Cassie admit to having recurring nightmares about the surface of the Sun, and we later find that Pinbacker has taken Searle’s fascination with the Sun’s astounding force to dangerous and destructive levels. Forced to board Icarus I when the oxygen garden is destroyed by Trey’s mishap, the crew find a dead and lifeless ship; the remains of the crew sit immolated in the observation room and the payload has been sabotaged, but the ship hides an even more destructive secret. Pinbacker, a scarred and burned mess of a man, has managed to survive in orbit around the Sun over the last seven years; driven to insanity by the Sun, which he believes “speaks” to him and which he worships as a God, Pinbacker stows aboard Icarus II and sets about sabotaging the ship and murdering the crew since he believes that humanity is destined to meet their extinction at the hands of his God.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One thing I’ve always enjoyed about Sunshine is the bleak atmosphere of the film; like many doomsday scenarios, this is a story where, on paper, everything should have gone exactly as planned but, thanks to a minor miscalculation and an unforeseen element of danger, the entire mission is put into jeopardy and all of the crew become fatally endangered. It’s something about these films that I’ve always found incredibly appealing on an emotional level; Icarus II is literally the last chance for humanity as the last remnants of the Earth’s resources have been put into constructing the ship and its payload, so they cannot afford to fail, and the crew largely accept the very real possibility that they might not make it back from their mission or even succeed since the stellar bomb’s success is entirely theoretical. This bleak tone is perfectly reflected in the film’s presentation and the presence (or absence) of sound; exterior sound is notably more muted than in many sci-fi films, which is very much appreciated, and much of the events are punctuated by light, ambient sounds and a building score courtesy of Underworld and John Murphy. This culminates in the film’s most emotional and impactful orchestral number, “Sunshine (Adagio in D Minor)”, a poignant and stirring tune that has since been used in many other films and trailers and never fails to get an emotional response from me; most notably, it definitely makes Kaneda’s death, and the dramatic finale of the film, all the more impactful.

All of Sunshine‘s technology and equipment is very practical and grounded in reality.

Sunshine was easily Danny Boyle’s most ambitious and effects-heavy film to date, and something of a dramatic departure for him, and yet does a wonderful job of keeping things grounded in a scientific basis thanks to utilising practical effects wherever possible to bolster the CGI shots. Both Icarus and Icarus II are extremely functional in their design; essentially long, cylindrical missiles, the ships are designed to be as narrow and efficient as humanly possible. Every part of the interior has a purpose and the ships are protected from the Sun’s intense heat and deadly radiation by a massive set of solar panels that act as both shields and a power source for the ship. Naturally, being a science-fiction film, some creative liberties have been taken place regarding the ships’ realism; computer panels and monitors have pretty futuristic touchscreens and sport very sci-fi graphics on them but they’re probably not a million miles away from where technology would be at this point, the interiors are far larger and more accommodating than real-life space stations and shuttles, and feature a number of creature comforts for the crew. This includes the viewing room, where crewmen such as Searle and Pinbacker can view the Sun at varying degrees of intensity, a beautiful oxygen garden, where Corazon monitors the plants and natural habitat that sustains Icarus II’s oxygen and life support systems, and a “holodeck”, of sorts, where crewmen are advised to spend their downtime in order to stave off the mental toll of being adrift in the vast emptiness of space. Unlike a lot of sci-fi films, Sunshine’s space suits choose to be bulky and practical rather than sleek and sexy; comprised of a startling golden material and featuring bulbous helmets to reflect and filter out the harsh sunlight, the suits appear cumbersome but also realistic, and the frustration Capa feels when trying to manoeuvre in the suit towards the finale is one of the most relatable and agonising moments of the film thanks to how perfectly Murphy captures the character’s frustration at simply getting up after a trip.

The void of space holds many dangers, none more threatening than the looming and destructive Sun.

I find it disappointing that some regard Sunshine unfavourably; the film is a bleak, atmospheric mediation on humanity’s last, desperate attempt at saving themselves from extinction and a visually impressive piece of cinema. I love the depiction of the Sun as this all-encompassing, awe-inspiring entity; the power of its mere presence has a profound effect on every character and it constantly looms in the background of the endless void as this necessary, but destructive, force (the Sun even appears to “roar” when seen in full view or overwhelming its victims). The crew’s mission is one that requires them to journey closer to Sol than anyone has ever been before and jump start it back to life with the largest nuclear payload ever devised but, while the Sun is dying and is the key to humanity’s survival, it is also extremely harmful to the ship and her crew. The slightest shift, the smallest miscalculation, is all it takes for the ship to be damaged and the oxygen garden to be destroyed, jeopardising the crew, the mission, and our entire world and, in their dying moments, many characters choose to have the Sun envelop them, as if sacrificing themselves to Pinbacker’s God. I’ve heard that many were put off by the suddenly tonal shift at the end of the film, and I guess I can understand that to a degree; Sunshine starts out as something of a run-of-the-mill, space-based drama that focuses on character interactions and conflicts, but escalates when the crew stumble upon Icarus I and Icarus II is damaged trying to intercept it.

Although Pinbacker causes many deaths, Capa is able to complete the mission at the cost of his life.

Upon boarding Icarus I, the film takes a sharp turn towards a surreal, horrifying slasher, which appears to have put a lot of people off but I think actually adds to the tension and appeal of the film’s final act. At first, it seems as though the Icarus II computer itself (Chipo Chung) is sabotaging the mission; it constantly overrides Cassie’s manual control, leading to the destruction of the oxygen garden and Kaneda’s death, and then reports that they have too many crew members aboard the ship. However, Mace discovers that Pinbacker and his crew chose to abandon their mission due to the futility to challenging “God”, and Capa is horrified to find that Pinbacker is their mysterious extra crew member. A broken, fanatical man, Pinbacker is covered in severe burns and driven by murderous intent; constantly filmed using an unsettling and disturbing “shaky cam” style that makes him appear as little more than a monstrous entity (or an embodiment of the Sun itself), Pinbacker stalks Icarus II with an electric knife, directly killing Corazon and indirectly causing Mace to slowly and painfully freeze to death in an unsuccessful attempt to undo his sabotage. With no choice left, Capa is forced to disengage the stellar bomb from Icarus II and manually operate the device to complete the mission; he manages to fend off Pinbacker, despite suffering a deep cut, by ripping the scarred tissue from the former captain’s arm in a sickening scene and enjoys one moment of blissful serenity as he is caught between the blast of the bomb and the surface of the Sun before the star finally flares back to life and promises salvation for the remainder of humanity.

The Summary:
Sunshine may be one of the most intense and bleak science-fiction events I’ve ever experienced. I find myself continuously fascinated by the film’s visuals, soundtrack, and atmosphere; there’s just something about it that leaves an indelible impression upon me and I always find myself getting drawn into its grim depiction of humanity’s last chance at survival. While some characters are more one-dimensional and noticeably less memorable than others, I was impressed by all of the performances in the film, though Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans are the obvious standouts. Their differing personalities make for much of the dramatic conflicts between the characters, but it’s fascinating seeing the other characters be influenced by the increasingly dire nature of their mission, to say nothing of the Sun. The idea of the Sun slowly dying out and freezing the Earth is pretty terrifying, as is the nigh-impossibility of mounting a mission to restart it; it’s inspirational seeing a diverse collection of scientific minds and skills coming together to fulfil this mission, and their willingness to sacrifice themselves is as tragic as their many moments of conflict and the mistakes that threaten disaster for the mission. The late introduction of a murderous fanatic completely changes the tone and direction of the finale, but I think delivers some of the film’s most startling message: in the face of extinction, every person reacts differently, and Pinbacker completely gives himself over to the inevitability of humanity’s destruction and is as devoted to ensuring this as the Icarus II crew is to preventing it. An insane, homicidal maniac, Pinbacker is horrifically presented as being a monstrous force, as though the Sun itself (or whatever is eating it up) has taken physical form to destroy our last chance of survival, and ensures that the finale takes a dramatic and heart-wrenching turn as the crew is whittled down one by one and Capa is left to make the ultimate sacrifice. Overall, I find Sunshine to be as powerful and influential an experience as the Sun is presented in the film; I’m obviously no scientist but I see it as one of the most realistic and scientifically accurate depictions of a doomsday scenario and I never fail to be left an emotional wreck by the tragedy that befalls the characters. It’s maybe not for everyone, and possibly a little too slow and tonally confused at times, but I’ll never get sick of singing its praises and think that it’s definitely well worth your time if you’re in the mood for an intelligent and poignant sci-fi tale that’s laced with a little horror and a lot of introspective discussion on how much we take our most inexhaustible power source for granted.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Are you a fan of Sunshine? How do you feel it compares to other disaster films? Were you a fan of the concept or did you find the idea of the Sun dying a little unbelievable? Which of the characters was your favourite and what did you think to Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans’s performances? Did you like that Danny Boyle imbued the Sun with a form of malevolence and what did you think to the tonal shift towards a slasher horror for the final act? How important is scientific accuracy and realism to you in disaster films like this? How are you celebrating the end of the world today? Whatever you think about Sunshine, disaster films, and overblown predictions of the end of the world, sign up to drop your thoughts down below or leave a comment on my social media.

Talking Movies [Christmas Countdown]: Gremlins

Talking Movies

Released: 8 June 1984
Director: Joe Dante
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $11 million
Stars: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Howie Mandel, and Hoyt Axton

The Plot:
Struggling inventor Randall “Rand” Peltzer (Axton) purchases a mysterious, cute little creature known as a “Mogwai” as a Christmas present for his son, Billy (Galligan). The creature, nicknamed “Gizmo” (Mandel) comes with a strict set of rules that see it react in pain to bright light, multiply when exposed to water, and its mischievous progeny metamorphose into mean-spirited, destructive, aggressive little monsters that wreak havoc on Billy’s hometown on Christmas Eve.

The Background:
Produced at a time when blending horror and comedy was quickly becoming a popular trend in media and fiction, Gremlins was the brainchild of Chris Columbus, who was inspired to write a spec script after being creeped out by the sounds of mice in his attic. The concept has its roots in both Chinese mythology and Second World War propaganda warning of potentially faulty or sabotaged machinery, and the script was never intended to be a film but was pushed into production after Steven Spielberg became excited enough by the concept to buy the script. Joe Dante was brought in to direct and worked closely with Spielberg to design the look of Gizmo and the Gremlins, who were brought to life using puppets and animatronics designed by Chris Walas. The script was initially much darker, and Spielberg nixed the idea that Gizmo would transform into a villainous Gremlin, though the final film remained violent and disturbing enough to help forever change the way that films were rated. While the more violent aspects upset many parents, Gremlins was a massive hit; it made over $212 million at the box office and has been widely praised for its biting dark comedy and special effects. The film was succeeded by a great deal of merchandise, videogames, and a much more light-hearted sequel, as well as kicking off a trend towards vicious little creatures in horror cinema. Another of the formative films of my youth, Gremlins has long been a favourite of mine; it’s a staple of every Christmas, and I’m keen to see how the long-awaited third entry turns out.

The Review:
Gremlins begins framed as a story told to us by Rand, though his narration simply bookends the film to add to its whimsical nature as a kind of suburban legend, or campfire story, told to caution the viewer of the dangers of meddling with the unknown. Rand is an inventory, specialising in all kinds of wacky household doohickeys that are targeted at making life easier for the lazy and the dim-witted. A running gag in the film is the unreliability of his inventions, such as an orange juicer maker that explodes in Billy’s face, a remote phone (what a crazy idea!), and the Peltzer Smokeless Ashtray that produces a great deal of smoke! His pride and joy is the Bathroom Buddy, an all-in-one bathroom assistant that actually is pretty neat, but constantly malfunctions, usually right when he’s trying to sell it. Rand means well, and his heart’s definitely in the right place, and his passion and enthusiasm for science and inventions is certainly admirable but, sadly, he really hasn’t seen much in the way of success with his patents and is therefore heavily motivated to make up for his failures as a salesman and a businessman by getting his son a gift to truly make his Christmas.

As his father’s inventions are unreliable, Billy is forced to set aside his dreams to support his family.

After trawling the streets with no luck, Rand finds himself on the imposing streets of Chinatown, where a young boy (John Louie) leads him to the dingy, treasure trove of his grandfather, Mister Wing (Keye Luke). Mr. Wing’s shop is full of curios and antiques, and Rand is taken by the old man’s offerings, but is immediately besotted by a curious, singing creature unlike anything he’s ever seen before. Despite Rand slapping down $200 for the Mogwai, Mr. Wing refuses to part with the critter since it “requires much responsibility”. His grandson, however, slips Rand the Mogwai behind his grandfather’s back, desperate for the money to help the struggling shop, and emphasises the importance of following three rules to care for the creature: Don’t get him wet, keep him out of the sunlight, and never feed him after midnight. Off screen, Rand dubs the chirpy critter Gizmo and triumphantly returns home as a boisterous and much-loved figure to his wife, Lynn (Frances Lee McCain), and son Billy. While Lynn is a stay-at-home-mum and fills her days either struggling with Rand’s inventions or cooking, Billy is a hard-working lad in his early twenties (maybe?) A gifted artist, Billy works a full-time job as a bank clerk and is practically supporting his entire family with his meagre income; while the likes of Gerald Hopkins (Judge Reinhold) are far more successful and dynamic and local elderly miser Mrs. Ruby Deagle (Polly Holliday) constantly cause him headaches, Billy longs for more but is incredibly loyal to his family and willing to sacrifice his own dreams in order to support them.

Both Murray and Kate have their quirks, but at least Kate is quite the cutie.

It’s not all bad, though; Billy has a rambunctious dog, Barney (Mushroom), a loving family an supportive friends, such as local boy Pete Fountaine (Corey Feldman), who shares Billy’s love of comic books and is equally overworked as a Christmas tree delivery boy, and his neighbour, Murray Futterman (Dick Miller). A former World War Two veteran and fierce patriot, Murray likes a bit of a drink and tends to go off on rants about the unreliability of “Goddamn foreign cars” and other items produced outside of the United States, but also tells Bully a harrowing story about how “Gremlins” sabotaged bombers and other vehicles during the war. Billy largely ignores Murray’s ramblings, and many of his other issues, to instead focus on pining after Kate Beringer (Cates), his beautiful co-worker who also works a double shift at a local bar. Although Gerald arrogantly tries to win Kate over with his wealth and higher class of lifestyle, she is far from impressed with his bravado and is as smitten with Billy as he is with her. Kate also campaigns against Mrs. Deagle’s attempts to strip their sleepy little own of its most sentimental landmarks, and is hiding a bizarre childhood trauma that keeps her from celebrating Christmas.

The Mogwai may look cute but they’re mischievous little critters, except for the adorable Gizmo.

All of these character’s lives are forever changed when Billy excitedly opens his father’s present and is met by the cute little Gizmo. A strange little creature, Gizmo is inquisitive and adorable and surprisingly intelligent; he sings a little tune and purrs when he’s happy, plays with toys and musical instruments, and can even read comics and play videogames. Gizmo develops a fascination with television, and becomes particularly inspired by the racing classic To Please a Lady (Brown, 1950) and its depiction of fast cars and romance, and can even communicate using simple, childish words. Billy and Gizmo form an immediate bond and Gizmo delights in experiencing the delights of the modern world, but is mindful and responsible enough to be fully aware of the rules he must abide by to stay safe. When Billy enters a room that’s fully lit, Gizmo squeals “Bright light! Bright light”, he dutifully sleeps by Billy and Barney’s side rather than eating after midnight, and stays far away from water at all times because the last thing he wants is to get hurt or die…or worse. As capable as Gizmo is, however, he’s subject to the mishaps of the ignorant and, when Pete accidentally spills water on him, the Mogwai reacts in a violent and disturbing way that Billy certainly wasn’t expecting: a handful of smaller, equally cute but far more mischievous and ill-tempered Mogwai pop out from Gizmo’s back and, all of a sudden, Billy’s new pet becomes a litter of ill-behaved critters.

Cruel and vicious, Stripe desires only to lead his fellow Gremlins on a merry jaunt to cause chaos.

While Rand sees a potential business opportunity in marketing the Mogwai as a hot new family pet, Billy takes one of the batch to Pete’s science teacher, Roy Hanson (Glynn Turman), who immediately experiments on it and produces even more of the Mogwai and is far less mindful of the rules. Unlike Gizmo, the other Mogwai are loud and demanding and mean-spirited, hogging all the toys and being disruptive; they’re led by “Stripe” (Frank Welker), a cruel and vindictive little critter who easily manipulates events to ensure that he and his fellow Mogwai are fed after midnight. The result is Billy waking to find them all encased in disgusting cocoons, and Gizmo distraught at how quickly things have gone south, things go from bad to worse for him, and the entire town, when the cocoons hatch and aggressive, vicious little demons emerge. These Gremlins, led by Stripe, quickly spread across town and cause all manner of havoc from shorting out traffic lights, causing fires and explosions, and even resulting in some violent deaths as they send Mrs. Deagle flying out of a window! Stripe delights not just in causing mayhem but in torturing poor Gizmo, and leads the Gremlins on a merry jaunt to find more havoc, food, and water to increase their numbers and keep the party going.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Gremlins starts off as a quirky little family movie about a struggling family in a nice little town where the wealthy oppress the working class and the character’s main concerns are trying to provide for their loved ones and mustering the courage to ask out the pretty girl. Even when Gizmo arrives in Billy’s life, things don’t really change all that much right away; he treats the Mogwai as a friend and a pet but life carries on as normal and it’s only when Gizmo is exposed to water that things take a dramatic turn sideways. The Gremlins really shake up the film and turn it more into a dark comedy as the vicious little creatures turn the town into an absolute disaster area; the once quiet and peaceful streets are soon strewn with debris, burned out cars, exploded shop windows, and people fleeing in panic and terror as the Gremlins spread anarchy in their search for food, entertainment, and procreation.

The Gremlins cause havoc across town, attacking and even killing people simply for fun!

The Gremlins are impish, wicked little monsters who delight in causing trouble, pain, and destruction all over town. Although mischievous as Mogwai, they completely lose all their inhibitions as Gremlins and become obsessed with playing cruel pranks, gorging themselves, and reproducing at every opportunity. They’re also incredibly dangerous; Mrs. Deagle might have been a miserly old bat who deserved some comeuppance but they send her blasting out of a window at high speed to a cruelly amusing death, they string up Barney and leave him to freeze in the cold before Billy rescues him, and there’s a particularly harrowing scene where Lynn is attacked by a Gremlin hiding in the Christmas tree! Stripe is the clear alpha, directing the others in cutting the power to Billy’s clock so they can metamorphose and fleeing to the local swimming pool at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), where he savagely attacks Billy by clawing his chest before jumping in the pool and birthing a veritable army of Gremlins! While he delights in causing misery, Stripe is much more composed and sadistic than his brothers, best seen when they take over Kate’s bar and they’re all causing trouble, but he’s sat playing poker and executes a fellow Gremlin for daring to beat him. The Gremlins’ greatest strengths are their nimble size, sheer numbers, and vicious nature, but they’re quite fragile and easily bested if caught unawares; Lynn takes advantage of this to mince, stab, and explode the little monsters when they wreck her kitchen.

Extremely expressive puppets and animatronics bring the film’s unique creatures to life.

The Mogwai and Gremlins are brought to life through the finest puppetry and animatronics of yesteryear; incredibly expressive and capable of a range of motion (and emotion), the puppets do a fantastic job of showcasing a great deal of personality. With his wide eyes, expressive ears, and adorable little paws and chubby, fluffy body, Gizmo is easily one of cinema’s cutest and iconic little critters ever. His fellow Mogwai all look very similar to him, but are notably distinctive; they not only act very different but have different markings, with Stripe being the obvious standout. Two Mogwai at Mr. Hanson’s lab are particularly adorable as the knock on the walls of a box and they’re all just the cutest as they play with toys and games (even when Stripe is spitting orange goo at Gizmo). Gizmo obviously has the most personality and cuteness appeal; he looks absolutely terrified when the Gremlins are torturing him, which is almost as heart-breaking as his blubbering after he cuts his head and needs a bandage and his dismay at having given birth to his mischievous progeny. Although just a short little critter, Gizmo is determined to put an end to the Gremlins’ reign of terror and helps lead Billy to where Stripe and the others are hiding out. This culminates in him getting behind the wheel of a Barbie car and racing to save Billy before Stripe and shoot him and ultimately delivering the coup de grâce to his tormentor even while putting himself at risk.

With the town in disarray, Billy and Gizmo defeat Stripe and bid a tearful farewell to each other…

The Gremlins swarm across the town, leaving it in ruins, before settling down at the cinema to watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Hand, et al, 1937) . Even as Gremlins, their needs are incredibly juvenile; they like to dress up and cause disruption, attacking Santa Claus’s and even ploughing through Murray’s house in his beloved Kentucky Harvester, but are equally as happy to sit with a load of snacks and watch movies. Billy takes advantage of this weakness, however, to break open a gas pipe and essentially set a bomb that blows all of the Gremlins to kingdom come…with the exception of Stripe, who was out gathering snacks. Billy, Kate, and Gizmo pursue him to a local toy shop, where Stripe arms himself with a crossbow, a chainsaw(!), and even a gun to find Billy off. Thanks to Kate breaking into the security office and flicking on the lights, and the timely intervention of Gizmo, Billy is saved and Stripe is reduced to a quivering, disgusting mess of goo right in the middle of trying to spawn a new batch of Gremlins. In the aftermath, the Peltzer’s nurse their wounds and the town tries to recover from their long, dark night, something Mr. Wing is far from impressed by. He chastises Rand’s foolishness and arrogance and reclaims Gizmo, but notes that Billy has the potential to be a suitable guardian in time, and heads back to his little shop after allowing Gizmo a heart-breaking goodbye to his newfound friend.  

The Summary:
Gremlins is not only another of those movies that shaped my childhood, and my love of quirky horror stories, but it’s also essential viewing at Christmas time for me. It might be an odd, violent little dark comedy by the end, but my God is it an absolute Christmas, and cinematic, classic. The practical effects are superb and still hold up to this day thanks to being timeless and irreplaceable puppets and animatronics. Gizmo remains one of the cutest little critters to grace our screens, and the Gremlins are some of the cruellest little mischief-makers ever seen and it’s not hard to see why so many other films tried to emulate the viciousness and comedy of these demonic little buggers. One of the things I love the most about Gremlins is the mystery surrounding the titular creatures; we never really know or ever find out where the Mogwai come from, why they are this way, and I’ve always enjoyed how everyday, suburban life was completely disrupted by this mysterious creature from an unknown oriental background. I loved how Gizmo was fully aware of the danger he poses to others, but still delighted in enjoying himself and playing and befriending Billy, and all of the performances are really strong throughout. Rand and Billy and the others hear the rules but don’t really understand them; they respect them enough to actually follow them, though, and it’s only through a mishap that Gizmo is exposed to water. Once the Gremlins emerge, we’re treated to one of the most unique Christmas movies ever made as these vicious monsters ransack the town, spoiling the holiday cheer more than Mrs. Deagle ever could and leaving a lasting impact as some of cinema’s most wicked critters.  

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What do you think to Gremlins? Is it a Christmas tradition of yours or do you prefer another Christmas movie; if so, what is it? What did you think to the puppets and animatronics? Did you find Kate’s Christmas story an odd inclusion? Would you have liked to see Gizmo turn into a Gremlin as originally intended? Which of the Gremlins knock-offs was your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Gremlins, sign up to leave a comment below or drop a reply on my social media, and be sure to check in next Sunday for another Christmas movie review!

Talking Movies: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever 

Talking Movies

Released: 11 November 2022
Director: Ryan Coogler
Distributor:
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $250 million
Stars:
Letitia Wright, Tenoch Huerta, Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, and Martin Freeman

The Plot:
With Wakanda in mourning after the tragic death of their beloved monarch, T’Challa/The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Princess Shuri (Wright) is forced to step into the unlikely role of ruler and protector when her nation is threatened by their imperious K’uk’ulkan, Namor (Huerta), who wishes to wipe out the surface world.

The Background:
Readers of Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four were introduced to the first-ever black superpowered character, the Black Panther, for the first time in 1966. After a Wesley Snipes-led live-action adaptation languished in Development Hell for decades, the Black Panther finally made his debut in Captain America: Civil War (Russo and Russo, 2016), setting the character up for his own critically and financially successful solo film that impressed with its performances and candid themes of racial oppression. Sadly, the character’s future was thrown into doubt when star Chadwick Boseman sadly passed away after secretly battling cancer; Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige promised that the role wouldn’t be recast to ensure a lasting legacy for Boseman, surprising and devastating writer/director Ryan Coogler, who had been working with Feige and Chadwick to develop the character’s reign as Wakanda’s monarch. Rather than recast or utilise a CGI double, the script was reworked to expand upon the supporting characters and culture of Wakanda. The script also introduced Marvel’s first Mutant, Prince Namor McKenzie/The Sub-Mariner, to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), albeit with a heavily altered background; to avoid comparisons with Arthur Curry/Aquaman, the script changed Namor from a prince of Atlantis to the God-king of a hidden, underwater Mesoamerican subculture and leaning into star Tenoch Huerta’s Mexican heritage to bring the complex anti-hero to life, ankle wings and all. Switching Atlantis for Talokan, the film took visual inspiration from Mayan culture and Jack Kirby’s comic book imagery to bring Namor’s undersea kingdom to life, and employed anamorphic lenses to warp the screen with the fog of loss to reflect the cast and crew’s grief over Chadwick’s passing. Although COVID-19 didn’t affect the film’s release, a series of injuries and delays did interrupt filming and star Letitia Wright attracted some controversy after speaking out about the COVID-19 vaccination. Regardless, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever released to largely unanimous praise but reviews were a little mixed; critics praised the film as a celebration of Chadwick’s life and the individual performances but many took issue with the film’s length, worldbuilding and believed it struggled with Chadwick’s absence. Still, the film was a financial success, bringing in over $355 million at the box office and setting up not just another Disney+ spin-off but also sparking discussions for a third entry in the franchise.

The Review:
Like many, if not all of us, I was stunned to learn of Chadwick’s passing in 2020; it really did come out of nowhere and raised some uncomfortable questions about the future for the character of the Black Panther. Obviously, real world tragedies like this are more important than any fictional narrative but it was still a difficult situation for the MCU to address; a recast could anger Chadwick’s fans, ignoring his passing could be seen as disrespectful, and the question of whether anyone would accept a new character taking on the Black Panther mantle led to some pretty despicable shows of toxic masculinity across the internet despite the fact that Shuri has adopted the role in the source material. Personally, as much as I enjoyed Black Panther (Coogler, 2018), it almost felt as though it might be best to downplay Wakanda’s influence in the MCU going forward; perhaps merge any future stories into other movies, such as their upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, since the situation was so delicate. Instead, the decision was made to forge ahead and immortalise Chadwick’s legacy with a celebration of his life and to allow every involved, the creators, characters, actors, and the audience, to commemorate his life and mourn his loss collectively in this sequel. Even with this in mind, I was very surprised to see the film open on the eve of T’Challa’s death not long after the events of Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019); like the late Chadwick, T’Challa was stricken by a fatal illness and suffered in silence, with his condition being discovered far too late for Shuri’s advanced technology to be of any help. Indeed, she was so desperate to try and artificially recreate the mystical heart-shaped herb to cure her brother than she spent all her time in her lab and even prayed to the panther god Bast for help, only to be devastated to learn of T’Challa’s untimely passing despite her best efforts.

Wakanda mourns their loss, but none feel T’Challa’s passing more so than Queen Ramonda and Shuri.

The entire nation of Wakanda was united in mourning for their fallen king and protector; Wakanda’s traditions teach that death is simply the first step on a great journey in the afterlife, a belief that brings little solace to Shuri. With one foot planted in science and the other in spirituality, she’s conflicted over the loss, finding little comfort in the assertions of her mother, Queen Ramonda (Bassett), that T’Challa lives on in spirit around them. Instead, she’s abandoned her efforts to recreate the heart-shaped herb, believing that it and the symbol of the Black Panther are relics of the past that should be laid to rest with her brother, and has been busying herself crafting new weapons and technology for Wakanda’s all-female army, the Dora Milaje, much to the chagrin of her mother and General Okoye (Gurira). In the wake of T’Challa’s death, Queen Ramonda has had to forge on as Wakanda’s sovereign ruler; though the tribes of Wakanda are fully united and behind her, with even the hulking M’Baku (Duke) and his Jabari tribe now represented on the council, Wakanda has come under fire from the United Nations as the world’s superpowers begin to feel threatened by Wakanda’s advanced technology and exclusive access to Vibranium. Although T’Challa opened Wakanda’s borders and established a number of outreach centres across the glove to help oppressed and struggling people, Queen Ramonda resolutely promises swift and aggressive retribution against any party or nation that tries to take Wakanda’s resources (especially their Vibranium) by force, upsetting the geo-political perception of the nation and putting Wakanda at risk of all-out war.

Shuri forges new relationships to work through her grief, including protecting Riri from Namor’s reprisals.

Of all the returning characters, Shuri obviously receives the most obvious growth; in the first film, she was an outspoken rebel, as arrogant in her scientific acumen as Anthony “Tony” Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and who openly mocked Wakanda’s traditions. Now, she’s a broken young woman struggling with a burning desire for vengeance; grief is consuming her and has hardened her demeanour, yet her moral integrity is strong enough to oppose Namor’s desire to kill scientific prodigy Riri Williams (Thorne) after she creates a machine capable of detecting Vibranium, purely on a whim, and threatens to expose the lost underwater nation of Talokan to the world. Although clearly wanting to be seen as an intimidating figure, Namor makes an effort to appeal to Shuri, bringing her to the depths of Talokan and sharing both his backstory and some of the history of his aquatic people. Believing he’s found a kindred spirit in Shuri and that she will join him in launching a pre-emptive strike against the surface world, Namor proposes an alliance while both threatening Riri’s life and promising that Talokan’s superpowered forces, further empowered by their own Vibranium weapons, are no match for Wakanda. Ultimately, Shuri chooses to protect Riri, who meant no harm and poses no threat to anyone, incurring Namor’s wrath; his attack upon Wakanda sees the capital city partially flooded, eventually evacuated, and leaves untold numbers dead, including Queen Ramonda. With this act, Namor only further stokes the raging fire burning within Shuri; having literally lost her entire family, she now finds herself promoted to sovereign ruler and having to live up to expectations that were never asked of her before, and is finally compelled to continue her research into the heart-shaped herb so that the Black Panther can live again and give her the means to take her revenge upon Namor.

In addition to fleshing our returning characters, the film introduces a new child prodigy to the MCU.

T’Challa’s passing means a greater focus on Wakanda’s supporting characters; as mentioned, M’Baku and the Jabari are now fully integrated into Wakanda society, though he remains a proud and outspoken man mountain. He’s given greater depth, however, by him assuming the role of Shuri’s protector and confidante; charged by T’Challa with providing Shuri with council, he urges her to embrace her role as Wakanda’s leader and protector while also warning against provoking endless war against Talokan and killing their God-king since this would set not only her down a self-destructive path but bring ruin to their homeland. The stoic and implacable Okoye is equally devastated by her king’s passing; as loyal as ever, she convinces Queen Ramonda to allow Shuri to accompany her to Cambridge, Massachusetts to intercept Riri, only to end up being disgraced and discharged from her duties after failing to protect them from Namor’s forces. Despite her resistance to utilising Shuri’s technology, Okoye upgrades to a superhero persona of her own by the end of the film as she and fellow Dora Milaje Aneka (Michaela Coel) make use of Shuri’s “Midnight Angel” armour in the final battle against the Talokan warriors. While Riri’s involvement in the movie is somewhat akin to the introduction of Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to the MCU and has more than a few parallels to Iron Man’s origin, she quickly forms a bond with Shuri, Okoye, and Nakia (Nyong’o), with the four being united in their grief and common enemy. Since the first movie, Nakia has left Wakanda and become a schoolteacher; the pain of T’Challa’s passing was too great for her to attend his funeral, but she readily agrees to rescue Shuri and Riri from the outskirts of Talokan after Okoye’s dismissal. Everett K. Ross (Freeman) of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) also returns in a small role as an outside ally to Wakanda; with the United States legitimately considering going to war with Wakanda over their Vibranium, he tries to convince the Secretary of State (Richard Schiff) and CIA director Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) of the Talokan plot only to be arrested on charges of treason by Valentina, who’s revealed to be his ex-wife, further placing him in Wakanda’s debt. Ross is right to be concerned; Talokan is a serious threat not just to Wakanda but to the entire world. Their people’s origins are as seeped in mysticism as the Wakandans, with their ancestors being directed to the same heart-shaped herb by divine intervention, however this one was found near an underwater deposit of Vibranium and thus mutated the Talokan into a water-dwelling species.

While his enforcers aren’t very flesh out, Namor is a complex and alluring anti-hero who hates the surface world.

Establishing a fully functional city deep beneath the ocean, one seeped in Mesoamerica traditions and aesthetics, the Talokan have been ruled for centuries by their God-king, Namor, whom they refer to as “K’uk’ulkan” (or “Feathered Serpent God”). Born a Mutant, able to fly thanks to wings on his ankles and drawing both superhuman strength and oxygen from the water directly through his skin, Namor is the child of two worlds but has absolutely no love for the surface world. After witnessing first-hand the aggression of colonisers and invaders, he has prepared a dedicated and formidable water-dwelling army to strike back against humanity before they can even think about trying to raid Talokan’s depths for their resources and Vibranium. Although charming, alluring individual who makes intelligent and persuasive arguments, Namor is nonetheless an aggressive and driven warrior who’s willing to threaten not just Wakanda but also Riri’s life since he doesn’t want her creating any more machines that could expose Talokan. While the Talokans are far more tribalistic in their ways and strategies, they’re no less dangerous; they’re capable of luring targets to their deaths with a hypnotic siren’s song, boast superhuman strength and speed and Vibranium weapons, employ destructive concussive water grenades, and can both command water and travel through the sea on whales. Namor’s chief enforcers are Namora (Mabel Cadena) and Attuma (Alex Livinalli), two characters with little personality or development beyond forging a rivalry with Nakia and Okoye, respectively, but I can forgive this as the film rightfully forces on fleshing out Namor’s character. He’s a very layered antagonist, assuming more of an anti-hero role since he fights to protect his people and prove Talokan’s strength rather than simply for sheer bloodlust but, as understandable as his motives are, he still strikes a devastating blow against Wakanda and Shuri when both were already struggling with their grief and comes very close to sparking a global conflict.

The Nitty-Gritty:
As you might expect, a major theme in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is grief. Although Wakanda celebrates death and makes a big exhibition about honouring T’Challa and seeing him off to the Ancestral Plain in glorious fashion, it’s of little comfort to Shuri. Even Queen Ramonda and Okoye, who staunchly uphold the traditions and beliefs of Wakanda to the letter, after clearly shaken by their loss, and the pain was so great that it drove Nakia away from her homeland for six years. Since she’s a scientist first and foremost, Shuri struggles to find the same comfort in her spiritualism as her mother and isn’t ready to let go of her pain, fearing that it would mean forgetting her brother or lead her to resent the entire world in her grief. Although she’s putting on the face of a strong leader, Queen Ramonda has been deeply affected by the loss of her husband and child; when Okoye delivers news that Shuri has been lost as well, the queen launches into an emotional outburst while stripping the general of her duties, showing just how deep her pain runs. Shuri’s own pain is only exacerbated by her mother’s death; although she was awestruck by Talokan and felt a kinship with Namor’s tragic childhood, she resorts to pure, unbridled vengeance after he attacks Wakanda. Her determination to see Namor dead unsettles even M’Baku, who is resolutely against killing Namor and risking a lifetime of war against Talokan’s formidable forces, yet Shuri is able to convince…no, demand…his loyalty and assistance by finally asserting herself as Wakanda’s leader and protector, showing just how far her character has grown given the hardships she’s suffered.

Namor and the Talokan deliver some of the film’s most impressive visuals and action sequences.

Black Panther impressed with its picturesque beauty and its sequel is certainly no slouch in this department; Wakanda is bathed in the red-orange glow of dusk and bustling with celebrations and tributes to their fallen king, with new aspects of their culture being highlighted as a result of this loss. Their technological acumen remains as advanced as ever; Shuri now has the capability of replicating organic life, eventually extracting the essence of the heart-shaped herb from Namor’s bracelet to repopulate the flower, and has become far more reliant on her interactive artificial intelligence, Griot (Trevor Noah), in creating new weapons and tools for her people. Riri holds her own in this area as well; like Stark, he’s able to cobble together unimaginably advanced tech from spare parts and her own initiative, building not only a machine that can detect Vibranium but also a fully-functioning (if crude) Iron Man-esque suit for herself. Astounded by the resources on offer in Wakanda, she’s able to create a much more impressive armoured suit, one that’s sleek and aerodynamic and gives her the tools to play and active role in the finale but is inexplicably taken from her by Shuri so that Riri can rediscover her origins in her upcoming Disney+ spinoff. However, as impressive as all this is, one of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s primary goals is on establishing the underwater nation and race of Talokan. Their city, which is reminiscent of Mayan architecture and society, is hidden deep beneath the ocean depths; unlike Aquaman’s (Wan, 2018) elaborate and fantastical representation of Atlantis, Talokan is dark, devoid of tangible gravity, and is seeped in a tribalistic mentality the sees them worship the seemingly ageless Namor like a God. Namor brings light to his kingdom through an artificial sun, has equipped them with the tools to pose a significant threat to surface dwellers, and reveals in this worship, sporting ceremonial beads and pieces of armour, comprised of Vibranium, to cut an intimidating figure. While his race is depicted with blue skin on the surface, speaking in an ancient dialect and utilising special masks to breath out of the water, Namor is freely able to come and go as he pleases and speaks a variety of languages. Namor also delivers some of the film’s best action sequences; while the majority of the action is centred on wide-scale conflict between Wakanda and Talokan, Namor darts around the sky in a really unique way, cutting through bodies and vehicles alike and is both touted, and presented, as an incredibly formidable superhuman force against which Wakanda’s armies potentially stand now chance.

Ultimately, Shuri assumes her brothers role and leads her people in meeting the Talokan, and Namor, head-on.

This is, of course, unless Shuri is able to synthesise the heart-shaped herb; since all of Wakanda’s supply was torched by N’Jadaka/Erik Stevens/ Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in the last film, their enhancing properties and the mantle of the Black Panther had remained dormant as Shuri has focused on other things. Namor’s threat leads her to finally making a breakthrough and, as Wakanda’s ruler, drinking the herb’s liquid to enter the Ancestral Plane. There, rather than meeting with her beloved family, she has an emotional confrontation with Killmonger’s spirit as he tries to foster the rage building inside of her. Indeed, upon assuming he mantle of the Black Panther, Shuri is hellbent on drawing Namor out, weakening him with intense heat, and battling him to the death to make him pay for killing her mother and endangering her people. Despite showcasing a superhuman agility and a multitude of technological armaments built into her nanotech Black Panther suit, Shuri is no match for Namor one-on-one so she works with Riri not only to perfect her Ironheart armour but also to trap Namor in a super-heated prison that will sap his strength and even the odds. While her allies battle the Talokans in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Namor and the Black Panther have a brutal fight in the sweltering desert that leaves the K’uk’ulkan severely dehydrated and scarred by Shuri’s talons and the young princess impaled on a pole. Through sheer force of will, she’s able to free herself, sever (or, at least, severely wound) one of Namor’s ankle wings, and force him to yield after catching him in a burst of jet flame. Queen Ramonda’s spirit is able to calm Shuri’s rage and convince her to show Namor mercy and the conflict comes to an end; however, while Namora expresses disappointment in Namor’s surrender, he insists that it’s all part of a larger plan to allow Talokan with Wakanda for an inevitable conflict against the surface world and the question of Wakanda’s position within the geo-political climate is left up for debate. Although Shuri appears to step away from her role as Wakanda’s ruler, she finally achieves a measure of peace, burning her ceremonial funeral garments and discovering a lifeline to her lost family in the surprising appearance of Nakia and T’Challa’s young son, Toussaint/T’Challa (Divine Love Konadu-Sun) and having forged new relationships with both Everett Ross and Riri Williams and a newfound level of respect for the likes of Okoye and M’Baku.

The Summary:
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever had an unenviable task; not only did it have to follow up one of the most influential and well-regarded superhero movies of all time, but it had to tackle the tragic passing of its star actor. Fittingly, the film is dedicated to Chadwick and the first part, especially, is focused on giving him a celebratory send off and allowing us to all collective mourn his passing. It’s a tall order to ask anyone, man or woman (or otherwise), to fill his shoes and I think there’s always going to be that cloud of trepidation surrounding the character going forward, but the film did a really good job of exploring that journey and those emotions through Shuri. Her development into a much more hardened and well-rounded character was great to see, and hit a lot of similar beats to T’Challa’s journey in the MCU with her learning to work past her personal grief and rage for a greater cause. The film also nicely established that the MCU can continue trucking along quite nicely by building up secondary characters; increasing the prominence of the likes of Okoye and M’Baku gives Shuri a strong support network and introducing new characters lie Riri Williams continues to expand the MCU, even if her role could’ve easily been cut from the film without impacting the narrative all that much. For me, though, the true highlight was Namor; I loved the changes they made to his backstory and how multifaceted his character and motivations were. He continues the staple of having more human and understandable villains who are more shades of grey than purely black or white and added another new visual flair to the already jam-packed variety of the MCU not just in his appearance and portrayal but in the presentation of Talokan. I think we’ll come to find Black Panther: Wakanda Forever one of the most pivotal MCU films going forward, not just for establishing these new characters but also for the way it alters the existing lore; big things are clearly brewing, and I think this will be where that all links back to. Overall, this was an enjoyable experience; it was a tasteful tribute to Chadwick and treated his memory with dignity and respect while actually tackling the subject of death head-on in a way most superhero films simply gloss over.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Did you enjoy Black Panther: Wakanda Forever? What did you think to the way it handled Chadwick Boseman’s passing? Were you happy to see Shuri step into the title role or would you have preferred a different character take up the mantle? What did you think to Namor, the changes made to him and the presentation of his culture and abilities? Where would you like to see Wakanda go in the future? What do you think to the building intrigue surrounding Valentina Allegra de Fontaine? Whatever you think about Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, feel free to share your thoughts and memories of Chadwick Boseman in the comments below or on my social media.

Talking Movies [F4 Friday]: Fant4stic


In November of 1961, readers of Marvel Comics readers witnessed four intrepid explorers be bathed in mysterious cosmic rays and forever changed. On that day, they became known as the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s “First Family” of superheroes, and went on to be the first of many colourful superheroes for Marvel Comics as well as feature in numerous cartoons, videogames, and live-action movies. This year, I’ve been dedicating every Friday in November to commemorating the debut of Marvel’s most famous dysfunctional family.


Released: 7 August 2015
Director: Josh Trank
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $120 to 155 million
Stars:
Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, and Tim Blake Nelson

The Plot:
Genius scientist Reed Richards’ (Teller) research into teleportation attracts the attention of Professor Franklin Storm (Cathey), who invites him to help complete Victor Von Doom’s (Kebbell) “Quantum Gate”, which he recklessly travels through to a parallel dimension alongside his co-workers. Though they are transformed by their exposure, Doom is stranded and Reed becomes a fugitive, but he is forced to repair his fractured relationships when Doom plots to harness the dimension’s  power for his own nefarious ends.

The Background:
Considering that there is some controversy surrounding the creation of Marvel’s First Family of superheroes, perhaps it’s fitting that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s dysfunctional family of intrepid adventurers has had a rocky road towards a big-budget, live-action adaptation. Although German producer Bernd Eichinger’s attempts to get a film off the ground resulted in the production being shut down and the negatives being confiscated to keep it from seeing the light of day, director Tim Story’s efforts at least resulted in actual movies being released. While the films were both modest successes at the box office, they were met with mixed reviews, despite praise for some of their performances, and plans for further movies and spin-offs were cancelled because of this mediocre reception. 20th Century Fox first announced their intentions to reboot the franchise in 2009; the initial script included another interpretation of Galactus but, when director Josh Trank signed on to the film, he immediately set about reworking the script into something more grounded and realistic.

Attempts to kick off a live-action Fantastic Four franchise continuously stalled and failed to impress.

While Trank sought to evoke a specific tone and atmosphere with his new take on the Fantastic Four’s origin, other creators and producers offered contradictory statements regarding the reboot’s connection to Fox’s X-Men franchise (Various, 2000 to 2020), and the film attracted controversy by casting up-and-coming actor Michael B. Jordan in the role of Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, a character traditionally depicted as white (though Trank later revealed that he planned to make the entire Storm family black to create more diversity within the team). Additional problems occurred when 20th Century Fox ordered a number of reshoots after being dissatisfied with Trank’s efforts, and the film was further cut up and changed from Trank’s original vision in the editing room. The result was one of the most ridiculed superhero films ever made; Fant4stic’s underwhelming $167.9 million gross made it a box office flop and critics universally panned it, with even Trank actively distancing himself from the finished product. Although 20th Century Fox initially planned to produce a sequel, the film was quietly removed from their production slate; the characters subsequently became the property of Marvel Studios when Disney purchased 20th Century Fox in 2017 and another reboot was soon announced as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Review:
While Tim Story’s Fantastic 4 movies may not have bee the greatest superhero or science-fiction tales ever produced, they were decent enough in their own right and seemed to be heading in the right direction with the second film; a third movie, and a spin-off, seemed likely and I have to say that I was a little let down that we never got to see another entry in that series of films. When I first heard that 20th Century Fox were producing a reboot, I was sceptical until I saw the first few trailers; the movie seemed to be advertised as a cross between Interstellar (Nolan, 2014) and easily Trank’s most notable film, the excellent Chronicle (Trank, 2012), with its darker, gritter approach and focusing more on the scientific aspects of the team. I was actually okay with this, and some of the casting changes, and barring one exception everything seemed to be shaping up okay…until I started hearing that it really wasn’t very good and saw how poorly it performed. When I first saw it, I remember actually thinking it wasn’t that bad, but it’s true that it’s probably my least-watched of the three commercially released movies.

Reed and Ben’s prototype for a teleporter eventually catches the attention of Franklin Storm.

Fant4stic separates itself from its predecessors by beginning in 2007 to show us Reed’s childhood as a child genius (Owen Judge) who has aspirations of building a teleportation device; although he is mocked by students and even his teacher, Mr. Kenny (Dan Castellaneta), for his claims to already be building the device, he catches the eye of young Ben Grimm (Evan Hannemann). While Reed is unfazed by the mockery he receives, Ben comes from a rough neighbourhood and an even rougher home where he is continuously abused by his brutish older brother, Jimmy (Chat Hanks), and forms a fast friendship with Reed when he sees first-hand that the boy’s prototype (powered by a number of Nintendo 64’s and materials scrounged from Ben’s family junkyard) is able to transport matter to an unknown dimension (though it also causes a massive blackout in the process). Seven years later, the now grown-up friends confidently display their newest prototype at their high school’s science fair (despite clearly being in their mid-thirties rather than around seventeen/eighteen); although Reed’s device is still a little wonky and destructive, it nevertheless works but, oddly, Mr. Kenny continues to be unimpressed (labelling it as a magic trick), and Reed is left dejected at the response to his lifelong project.

Doom agrees to work with the team despite his distrust of the suits overseeing the project.

His sprits soon turn, however, when Dr. Storm and his daughter, Sue (Mara), approach him, seeing the potential in Reed’s research and impressed by his progress; Storm has been working on a similar project but has been unable to retrieve matter from the source dimension, and immediately offers Reed a full scholarship to the Baxter Foundation so that he can help them finalise an interdimensional transporter. Reed jumps at the chance to move to the city and be appreciated for his intellect for a change and, though it means being separated from his childhood friend, Ben fully supports his academic endeavours. Reed awkwardly tries to strike up a conversation with Sue, an intelligent young woman in her own right who uses music to help her concentrate on her work and specialises in “pattern recognition”. Still, Storm’s project attracts scrutiny from Doctor Harvey Allen (Nelson), who doesn’t subscribe to Storm’s claims of alternative dimensions, or his tendency to recruit children from science fairs or unpredictable wild cards like Victor Von Doom. Reimagined as a reclusive, unappreciated genius, Victor distrusts the military and governmental officials behind the Baxter Foundation but agrees to return to the project out of his affection and trust for Sue. Initially, Victor is so paranoid that he believes that Reed stole his research, but despite being critical of Reed’s childish drawings, is nevertheless impressed with his efforts; although he has little faith in the future of humanity or Storm’s dreams of using the Quantum Gate to repair the environmental damage done to the world, he’s willing to work alongside Sue and Reed on the proviso that they get to be the first ones through the gate to explore this mysterious other dimension.

The team is joined by Johnny and forever transformed by Planet Zero’s wild energies.

To complete the project, Storm drafts in his outspoken, hotshot son Johnny (Jordan), a rebellious youngster who’s more interested in street racing than putting his incredible engineering talents to good use alongside his father. Resentful of his father’s work, which has left him feeling undervalued, Johnny is forced to join the project after smashing up his car, but forms a fast friendship with Reed after he actually speaks to and treats him with some respect on a peer-to-peer level. In time, the four complete the Quantum Gate and successfully transport a chimp to this other dimension, dubbed “Planet Zero”, a primordial world of chaos that Storm believes holds the key to understanding human evolution and providing clean, renewable energy sources for the entire planet. However, the team is distraught and angered when Allen refuses to allow the four to be the first to travel to Planet Zero, resulting in them deciding the make the trip against orders after getting half-cut on alcohol. Intoxicated, Reed calls Ben and insists that he join them in making the trip, and in a bizarre turn of events Ben is transported alongside Reed, Johnny, and Victor while Sue…stays behind in the control room and wasn’t even asked to be a part of the experiment. In fact, she only finds out that they’re using the machine when her computer alerts her, meaning that she misses out on visiting the new world, which turns out to be an extremely hostile environment and home to a protoplasmic substance. However, when a series of eruptions force them back into the Quantum Gate, Victor is left stranded and the three are bombarded with the strange energy of the planet, which fundamentally alters their genetic structure to bond them with the four elements of the planet (with Sue being caught by a burst of energy from the returning gate).

The four’s powers are presented as monstrous, painful, and unstable genetic abnormalities to be feared.

Unlike in the 1994 movie and Tim Story’s first film, the four are immediately and horrifically changed by this process; Johnny is left a burning body, Ben is buried under a pile of alien rocks, Sue flickers in and out of sight, and Reed’s limbs are left strewn around the ruined laboratory. Following this, the four are subjected to a series of studies and tests by governmental officials as their powers rage out of control. Interestingly, in this version of the story, neither Ben or Johnny can control their powers; Johnny requires a specially-modified suit to regulate his flames, and even Reed struggles to concentrate on keeping himself in proportion, making the four’s abilities far more monstrous and dangerous as a result. Since she wasn’t at ground zero like the others, Sue’s powers are far more stable and, in time and with training, she’s able to control them, but Ben is left in constant pain and horrified by his rock-like appearance. Terrified and guilt-ridden, Reed flees the facility and goes on the run in a desperate attempt to stabilise his condition and find a cure for Ben’s hideous affliction, however this results in Allen manipulating Ben into becoming a weapon for the government and preparing Johnny for the same fate. After a year in hiding, Reed is finally tracked down by Sue, brought in by the enraged Ben, and agrees to complete a new Quantum Gate in return for the resources to cure his friends, and himself, of their dangerous powers, only to find that Victor also survived and has been irrevocably and dangerously altered by Planet Zero.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I mentioned above that Fant4stic is far more focused on the scientific content of the film, and that’s true; once Reed arrives at the Baxter Foundation, he is awestruck by the scope, resources, and technology offered by the facility and much of the film’s first act is devoted entirely to the fledgling team and Victor’s efforts to finalise the Quantum Gate. This involves a hefty montage of such science stuff involving Reed and Victor scribbling on a whiteboard, Sue creating the team’s protective suits, and the construction of the Quantum Gate itself. This is juxtaposed with the four slowly bonding over time, sharing meals and a real enthusiasm for the work they’re doing, though Ben is noticeably absent from the entire team-building process as Reed never once thinks to bring him in on the project.

The government takes an immediate interest in the military applications of the four’s powers.

Once the team returns from Planet Zero, the film takes a dark and dramatic turn; as a stereotypical governmental sleazeball, Allen is determined to not only take advantage of Ben, Johnny, and Sue to sell them as assets to the military, but to also mine the transformative properties of Planet Zero for similar uses. While Johnny is all for using his powers for something worthwhile, and pushing them (and himself) to the limit, Sue is determined to not be used as some tool for the government like Ben, who has become a despondent and stoic killing machine in Reed’s absence. While I question the casting of Jamie Bell in the role of Ben since he lacks the physicality and stature typically associated with the character, he does a pretty good job at portraying a loyal friend to Reed and the Thing’s torment at the emotional and physical pained caused by his grotesque transformation. Kate Mara is a much better fit for Susan Storm compared to Jessica Alba since she’s not some glamorous supermodel cosplaying as the Invisible Girl; instead, she’s a smart and slightly quirky scientist in her own right and has far better chemistry with Reed and Johnny than Alba’s version of the character. All I ever hear is people banging on about the reshoots and Mara’s wig but I can’t say it really bothered me that much or was even something I noticed; similarly, I really enjoyed Teller’s version of Reed as an awkward but likeable young man who is incredibly smart but still very relatable, and Michael B. Jordan delivered a great performance as the Human Torch thanks to his boundless charisma. The only real criticism I had about the casting was to do with some of the script and narrative choices; leaving Ben out of the team means that we don’t really get to see the same rapport between him and Johnny as in the previous movies and comics (Johnny generally directs his snark towards Victor instead), but otherwise this was a really strong cast.

CGI is used to bring the four to life, and for the most part it holds up pretty well and does a decent job.

One area where Fant4stic excels above its predecessors is in the CGI and special effects used to bring the titular heroes to life; while I have to say that I do prefer a practical suit to be used for the Thing, the CGI employed here goes a long way to emphasising just how monstrous and fearsome this version of the character is. A hulking, destructive being of superhuman strength and durability, the tragedy of the Thing is only heightened by his grotesque appearance and his being turned into a weapon by Allen. Similarly, the fire effects used to render the Human Torch are worlds better than in the previous film and probably some of the best fire effects I’ve ever seen, resulting in him being a fittingly blazing inferno. Sue’s invisibility is about the same, though there’s more of a blue tint to her forcefields and such; generally, her powers are used more to protect the others from harm and to allow the Thing to get the drop on Doom in the finale, meaning the vast potential of her abilities is again set aside in favour of trying to highlight each member of the time. Finally, there’s Reed; while he looks a little plasticy when he’s all stretched out following his return to Earth, his elasticity mostly looks much better (while his cobbled together suit isn’t massively comic accurate, it seems more suited to the CGI than the blue used in the last films) and we even get a scene that better showcases his ability to disguise his features.

Doom ends up being a raggedy, obsessive ass who wants to reshape the world in his image.

Rather than being a despicable monarch or a sleazy corporate scumbag, this version of Victor Von Doom is an arrogant, cynical slimeball who believes himself to be the most intelligent person in any room and who is obsessed with Sue (why that has to keep happening in these films is beyond me). Determined that the world will remember his name for his contributions to science, he refuses to be forgotten in favour of some hot-shot astronaut and his obsessions lead to him blundering into Planet Zero’s protoplasmic substance without thought for the consequences, causing the planet to erupt around them, granting the four their powers, and leaving him stranded on Planet Zero, where he is consumed by its strange energies. Infused with his suit and with a mysterious, otherworldly power coursing through his veins, Victor is transformed into a monstrous and vicious being who exhibits deadly telekinetic powers that he uses to explode people’s heads, repel bullets, and lay waste to the facility in order to return to Planet Zero. Driven mad by his powers and time in isolation, Victor takes the name “Doom” and plans to turn the destructive energies of Planet Zero against the Earth in order to forever transform it, reshaping it in his own image in order to avenge himself on those who have wronged him, killing both Allen and Storm in the process and refusing to listen to reason. To put an end to Doom’s plot to destroy the world using a black hole, the four travel to Planet Zero, where they find themselves overwhelmed by Doom’s command of the landscape; when their individual efforts to stop Doom are met with failure, the four set aside their differences in order to work together to defeat him. Following a co-ordinated assault using all of their powers in unison, the four are able to set Doom up so that the Thing can smash him into his own energy beam, disintegrating him and sparing the Earth (though the immediate area is left devastated). In the aftermath, the four are commended by the United States government and enter into an agreement where they are afforded the freedom to operate independently in return for lending their services for the good of the world as a superpowered team.

The Summary:
I’m a bit torn, to be honest; I feel there’s a lot of potential in Fant4stic, especially in the cast and the general direction that the film took. Focusing on the science and being this more gritty, grim retelling of the team’s origin was a good way to separate it from what had come before (which, to be fair, is essential for a good reboot), but I can see why this would have put off long-term or even casual Fantastic Four fans. There are some stumbles in the story that I seriously doubt even a director’s cut could fix; not having Ben be part of the Quantum Gate team until the machine is complete being chief among them, as is Sue not accompanying the team to Planet Zero, both of which were very strange choices to make. I liked that the film tied the team’s origin in with an adaptation of the Negative Zone to help mix things up, and having the Thing be tormented by physical pain and turned into a tool for the military was an interesting wrinkle to add to the story, as was the focus on the government desiring to harness and manipulate the team’s powers and those of Planet Zero. As ever, it’s the depiction of Doom where the film falters; had the script stuck to the original idea of him being a herald for Galactus, this may have helped with this new depiction of the character, but this is still a far cry from the maniacal despot of the comics and I almost feel like it would’ve been better to leave Doom’s fate unresolved and have the team battle a Planet Zero native, someone like Annihilus maybe, and tie up Doom’s loose end in the sequel. But, then again, I doubt even that change would have helped a sequel being produced, and that’s a real shame as I feel like a follow-up could have really improved upon the missed potential of this film and given everyone a bit more time to shine. Overall, I find myself actually enjoying this more than I expected, but it’s maybe a little too far away from the source material and the core of what makes these characters work, though I don’t actually think it deserves as much hate as it often gets.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to Fant4stic? Were you a fan of the new cast and their depictions of the characters and what did you think to Johnny Storm being race swapped? Were you disappointed that Ben wasn’t a part of the machine’s construction and that Sue didn’t travel to Planet Zero? What did you think to the depiction of Victor Von Doom this time around? Do you think CGI is a better way to bring the Thing to life or did you prefer the practical suits of the previous films? Would you have liked to see a sequel to this film, or an extended director’s cut release someday? How have you been celebrating the debut of Marvel’s First Family this month? Whatever your thoughts on Fant4stic, you can sign up to leave a comment below or let me know on my social media.

Talking Movies [F4 Friday]: Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer


In November of 1961, readers of Marvel Comics readers witnessed four intrepid explorers be forever changed by mysterious cosmic rays. On that day, they became known as the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s “First Family” of superheroes, and went on to be the first of many colourful superheroes for Marvel Comics as well as feature in numerous cartoons, videogames, and live-action movies. This year, I’ve been dedicating every Friday in November to commemorating the debut of Marvel’s most famous dysfunctional family.


Released: 15 June 2007
Director: Tim Story
Distributor:
20th Century Fox
Budget: $120 to 130 million
Stars:
Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, and Doug Jones/Laurence Fishburne

The Plot:
Now regarded as popular celebrities, Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic (Gruffudd) and Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl (Alba) find their attempts to get married constantly interrupted by a media circus. Just as they are about to tie the knot, an extraterrestrial dubbed the “Silver Surfer” (Jones/Fishburne) arrives, causing havoc with the team’s powers and catching Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom’s (McMahon) attention as it prepares the world for consumption by a cosmic being known only as “Galactus”.

The Background:
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s family of dysfunctional superheroes have had quite the chaotic journey to the big screen; their 1994 movie was never released and the eventual big-budget adaptation was met with mixed reviews after being in Development Hell for around ten years. Still, Fantastic 4s (Story, 2005) modest box office success of $333.5 million saw not only the release of an Extended Edition but also the return of director Tim Story and the entire cast for a sequel. Screenwriters Mark Frost and Don Payne came onboard to pen the screenplay and the duo drew significant inspiration from both the original “Galactus Trilogy” (Lee, et al, 1966) and an altered version of that same story seen in Ultimate Marvel (Ellis, et al, 2004 to 2006). The duo aimed to focus more on the enigmatic Silver Surfer than the Devourer of Worlds and there was a lot of speculation and anticipation surrounding the design of Galactus. Much of the film’s promotion was also focused around fan-favourite elements from the original Marvel Comics, such as the Fantasti-Car and the wedding between Reed and Sue, and practical elements such as Ben Grimm/The Thing’s suit were redesigned to allow actor Michael Chiklis to slip it off between takes. The titular Silver Surfer’s digital effects were the work of Weta Digital, who not only completely replaced stuntman Doug Jones with a sleek CGI model but also contributed to the design of Galactus. Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer made about $32 million less than its predecessor, coming in with a box office of $301.9 million; though the film’s average review score is higher than the first film, it was also met with mostly mixed reviews, although the general consensus was that it was at least more entertaining than the first film. Plans for a sequel and a spin-off for the Silver Surfer were eventually quashed due to the overall lacklustre response to Story’s films and 20th Century Fox made the disastrous decision to reboot the franchise some eight years later.

The Review:
Fantastic 4 wasn’t really a bad film, really, just quite underwhelming considering some of the outlandish cosmic adventures Marvel’s First Family often get up to. Do I expect them to battle the likes of Galactus and Kang the Conqueror in their first movie? No, of course not, but maybe exploring the Negative Zone and encountering someone like Annihilus could have been possible with a script re-write (Reed discovers the Negative Zone and that’s where they get their powers from, rather than them going to space) while building towards a showdown with Dr. Doom for the sequel (since he was so underutilised and bland in the first film) and maybe, maybe Galactus for the third and final movie. I can’t, however, say that I’m too surprised that Fantastic 4 got a sequel; back then, mediocre movies were getting sequels all the time and it just seemed natural to do, though I definitely am not a fan of the overly long and wordy “Rise of…” title (Fantastic Four: Doomsday would’ve been better in my opinion, but what the hell do I know, right?)

Reed and Sue’s wedding is disrupted by the arrival of the Silver Surfer, who causes global havoc.

Since the end of the last film, the Fantastic Four have become wildly beloved, popular, and successful superheroes; while Johnny Storm/The Human Torch (Evans) continues to revel in their celebrity status and indulge himself with merchandising and sponsorship deals, Sue is troubled by the constant media storm that surrounds their lives. It’s bad enough that the interference of the press has caused Reed and Sue to continuously postpone their wedding, but Sue worries about what sort of impact the attention they bring and the circus of their day-to-day lives will have on any children she and Reed may have in the future. Sue’s characterisation seems to have taken a bit of a step back in this regard; she actually seems to think it’s acceptable to prioritise her wedding day over the fate of the world, arguably costing Reed valuable time in finding a way to track the entity causing worldwide havoc, and while Alba seems more comfortable in the role of the team’s matriarch, something seems a bit…off about her this time around (I think it’s her dazzling contact lenses). The world is thrown into chaos when the mysterious entity known as the Silver Surfer arrives; wielding the same cosmic powers that gifted the Fantastic Four and Doom with their abilities (a neat little wrinkle that I actually really enjoyed), the Silver Surfer is able to dramatically affect weather patterns across the globe, drying up lakes, bring snowstorms to deserts, and disrupting electrical devices the world over.

General Hager isn’t impressed with Reed, or the four, whom he views as freaks.

Reed is troubled by the disruptions; despite promising Sue that he is going to focus on the wedding, he can’t help but investigate the disturbances and is intrigued to find a link between the cosmic radiation and their powers. Johnny is able to turn Reed’s fascination with the ongoing global disturbances to his advantage and blackmail Reed into having a bachelor party, and though Reed adamantly turns down General Hager’s (Andre Braugher) request that he and the four lend their expertise in solving the global crisis, he ultimately goes back on his word and develops a way of tracking the anomalies out of his desire to help and sheer scientific curiosity. Obviously, Sue is angered by this as she’s obsessed with having that one perfect day even if the entire world is being thrown into chaos around them; Reed is trying to please everyone, as always, but ultimately chooses to stand up to Hager’s abrasive nature and demand a little respect for him and his team if the military actually want them to help. When he sees how upset Sue gets by the whole media circus, however, Reed proposes that they leave it all behind after the wedding, but ultimately they’re both able to come to terms with their crazy lives by the conclusion of the film. The Thing, easily the heart of the team, is in a far better place this time around; having taken to wearing an array of clothes and noticeably much more comfortable with himself and being out in public, he’s developed a brotherly relationship with Johnny and has absolute faith in Reed, even when he predicts the end of the world and suggests the team go their separate ways.

Doom is still somewhat underutilised but comes across a bit better in this film.

Although Reed discovers that the Silver Surfer has been preparing worlds for their eventual destruction all across the universe, the entity’s arrival has a more direct impact on the team when it passes over Latveria and awakens Victor Von Doom. A scarred and ruined mess of a man, Doom begins the film in a much more fitting place than he left it (holed up in a grand castle, glaring at an array of monitors, filled with egotistical mania, and fully embracing his role as a scheming and bitter supervillain). After encountering the Silver Surfer, though, Doom’s appearance is sadly restored by the Surfer’s cosmic powers, ruining any menace he may have had in his armoured guise, and he goes right back to being a sleazy, suit-wearing scumbag. Doom even weasels his way into studying the Silver Surfer further by sharing his data with Hager, who orders him to work alongside the Fantastic Four, much to their chagrin. Of course, Doom’s intentions are far from virtuous; realising that the Silver Surfer draws his powers from his “board”, Doom seeks to separate the silver-hued entity from it, depowering the once-might Sentinel of the Spaceways, so that he can claim it for himself. This allows Doom to briefly come close to matching the formidable threat he poses in the comics, and even don a far more impressive and visually interesting set of armour and spit his famous “Richards!” line, but once again it’s too little too late and Doom gets far too little time in the spotlight.

Contact with the Silver Surfer causes Johnny to swap powers with his teammates.

Instead, much of the film is focused on exploring the impact that the Silver Surfer has on the Human Torch; although he seems perfectly happy living a shallow life of materialism and still likes to crack jokes at both Reed and the Thing’s expense as often as possible, Johnny doesn’t hesitate to take off after the Silver Surfer when he disrupts Reed and Sue’s wedding and finds himself changed as a result of physical contact with the entity. Consequently, Johnny switches powers whenever he touches his teammates, which allows the Thing a brief return to his human form (something that never comes up again, despite Ben’s promise) also causes chaos when the Fantastic Four try to intercept the Silver Surfer in London. Feeling isolated because of the danger he now poses to the team, Johnny is distraught to learn that Reed and Sue are willing to break up the band so that they can lead “normal” lives and is forced to learn to set aside his ego and put the team before himself. This all culminates in him absorbing the powers of the entire team in order to match Doom’s stolen cosmic powers in the finale, basically transforming him into a version of Kl’rt/Super-Skrull and kind of negating his character arc since it takes one individual with all of the team’s powers to defeat Doom rather than the combined efforts of the team proper.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Strangely, considering that Rise of the Silver Surfer essentially deals with the impending destruction of the entire world, the film’s tone is as light and whimsical as the last film, for the most part, but the comedy definitely lands a lot better this time around. Johnny’s wisecrack about the Thing’s blind girlfriend, Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington), potentially dying in a rockslide is hilarious, as is Sue using her powers to force Reed to listen to her, her “I’m on fire!” exchange with Reed, and Johnny’s all-too-brief transformation into a Thing-like creature. Having lived and operated together for some time now, the team has settled into their dysfunctional family dynamic quite nicely; out in the field, they tend to quarrel and discuss their personal dramas, which angers Hager, who sees them as freaks who can’t take threats seriously as they’re too busy bickering with each other. This leads to an impressive moment for Reed as he finally stands up for himself, and his team; in fact, Reed has adjusted to his role as the team’s leader extremely well compared to his characterisation in the first film. He’s still an easily distracted and awkward nerd, but he’s much more confidant in directing the team and keeping them focused in the field, at least until Johnny’s new powers cause disruption amongst the team.

The Silver Surfer prepares the world for this master’s arrival, who he dare not defy.

Sue ends up playing a pivotal role in humanising and characterising the mysterious Silver Surfer; a stoic and wholly alien lifeform, the entity is like living liquid metal, reflecting everything around him in his silvery skin and slicing through the air and even the vastness of space with a fluid-like ease. Impossibly fast and incredibly powerful, the Silver Surfer can not only cause chaotic events to happen all over the world and create ominous craters in the planet’s very crust, he’s also easily able to shrug off Doom’s electrical bolt, out-pace and exhaust Johnny in the upper atmosphere, and pass through Sue’s invisible barrier. Fascinated and intrigued by the Silver Surfer’s beauty, Sue questions the entity as to his motivations, which causes enough of a distraction to separate the Silver Surfer from his board and allow him to be captured by Doom and Hager. While the Silver Surfer has never exhibited such an obvious weakness in the comics, as far as I am aware, it’s necessary to render him vulnerable and exposit key information about the Silver Surfer’s master, the malevolent Galactus. Helpless and powerless without his board, the Silver Surfer reveals to Sue that he was once known as Norrin Radd and is bound to lead the entity to worlds for it to devour in order to spare his own, but takes no pleasure in this fact and finds himself besotted by Sue as she reminds him of his lost love. The Silver Surfer also reveals that his board draws Galactus closer, but initially refuses to use its power to repel his master since he dare not defy the World Devourer.

Some big set pieces and special effects keep things interesting, with the Silver Surfer being the highlight.

Surprisingly, the Fantastic Four’s costumes haven’t really been changed all that much from the last film; they seem a little darker, and maybe a little more refined here and there, but mostly appear to be identical, which is very unusual as superhero sequels usually always introduce new costumes for the characters. Thankfully, Doom definitely looks much better this time around; I could have done without seeing him return to normal in the middle there, but he definitely makes up for it in the finale with his more regal and detailed armour. The four have firmly established themselves in the Baxter Building and no longer have any money troubles; instead, they have all the resources they could ask for thanks to Reed’s patents and Johnny’s endorsement deals to franchise the team out to anyone and everyone. Reed’s focus is still on the science, and using his genius and the team’s abilities to help others, but he’s not above creating new toys for the team to use, such as the futuristic and criminally underused Fantasti-Car. While the Thing looks just as good as ever thanks to the impressive practical suit, some of the CGI and special effects have taken a bit of a hit, most notably Reed’s stretching powers (though this could just be because they’re showcased more often here). Still, the film has some impressive action set pieces on offer, such as the team’s efforts to repair the damaged London Eye, and the effects used to bring the Silver Surfer to life are absolutely top-notch. The Silver Surfer appears unsettlingly alien and unnaturally fluid; the chase between him and Johnny is quite exhilarating and the way he just kind of hovers and slips into frame is incredibly unnerving, and I think it was a wise move to spend more of the film focusing on the Silver Surfer as an antagonistic and mysterious force rather than the Devourer of Worlds.

Galactus may have just been a disappointing cosmic cloud but at least they tried to bring him to life.

Speaking of which, you can’t talk about this film without mentioning Galactus; one of Marvel’s most iconic and destructive cosmic entities, Galactus gained notoriety for being represented as a gigantic, abstract space cloud. I can understand the backlash about this as Galactus represents one of the most morally grey entities in the Marvel universe (he has to “eat” worlds in order to satisfy his great hunger, and does so not out of malice or evil but simply because he has to in order to survive and his existence is part of the cosmic balance of death and rebirth) and reducing him to a swirling, indistinct mass of cosmic energy is quite an insult to die-hard comic book fans. I can also understand the apprehension; these Fantastic Four movies are clearly drawing inspiration from Fox’s original X-Men trilogy (Various, 2000 to 2006) and going for a more grounded take on the comic’s more fantastical elements and the filmmakers definitely seem to have thought that a gigantic humanoid clad in purple armour stomping around New York City was probably a step too far. I, however, disagree and think these films (and any future Fantastic Four films) should totally embrace the more bonkers aspects of the source material, but I do have to applaud the filmmakers for even using Galactus in the first place. They didn’t have to do that and it’s pretty ballsy to jump into the character for the team’s second movie as how the hell do you top a world-devouring entity? Also, they seem to have pulled inspiration from “Gah Lak Tus”, the Ultimate version of the character that was a swarm of robotic drones rather than one massive being; the shadow and fiery silhouette of Galactus and his ship can also be briefly seen, hinting that the cloud is masking the being’s true form, and the proposed Silver Surfer spin-off was also supposed to reveal the character in full. Additionally, seeing  Galactus’ smoky tendrils devour that world at the start, watching it ominously advance through the galaxy and learning about its destructive history, and the shot of it preparing to swallow the Earth whole are all really effective at building a sense of awe and dread around the entity. I can definitely see that the filmmakers had some good intentions with the character but the execution does fall a bit flat; I think maybe it would have sufficed to see a gigantic hand reaching out from the cloud, or see hints of Galactus’ helmet poking through the storm and maybe his eyes glistening, but, again, I admire that they even tried to use the character, if nothing else.

After repelling Galactus, Reed and Sue finally marry and the Silver Surfer is freed from his master.

Despite the threat of Armageddon looming ever closer, Doom manipulates events to get his hands on the Silver Surfer’s board; conveniently cobbling together a wrist-mounted device that somehow allows him to assume control of the board, and thus the Surfer’s Power Cosmic, Doom kills Hager in spectacular fashion and refuses to give up his newfound power even in the face of worldwide destruction. In the process, Doom kills Sue when she takes a shot to protect the Silver Surfer, which finally convinces him to rebel against Galactus. After Johnny absorbs the abilities of his teammates in order to separate Doom from the board in an all-too-brief fist fight, thus restoring the Silver Surfer to full strength, the Silver Surfer uses the Power Cosmic to resurrect Sue and heads up into the atmosphere to confront Galactus as the titanic cloud prepares to drain all life and energy from the planet. There, in the centre of the swirling, chaotic mess of cosmic energy, he renounces his service and uses all of the board’s power to dissipate Galactus in a very obvious Christ metaphor, presumably transporting it away or destroying it outright, and is assumed dead from the exertion. In the aftermath, Johnny is returned to normal (though I think it would have been a nice touch to allow Ben to change to and from the Thing at will as a result of contact with the Silver Surfer), Reed and Sue finally marry in a small ceremony away from prying eyes, and the team resolves to stick together, even with the chaos of the superhero fame, while the Silver Surfer is revealed to have survived in the depths of space.

The Summary:
Well, this was certainly a step up from the last film; the cast, dialogue, and world definitely all seems to feel a lot more comfortable and work a lot better, and overall Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer feels like a much more enjoyable movie since it doesn’t have to be bogged down with an origin story or explaining and exploring the team’s powers. The characters all seem very familiar with each other and gel as a dysfunctional family, operating as a cohesive team in the field while still bickering and having interpersonal dramas regarding their superhero celebrity status. The banter between Ben and Johnny remains the clear highlight of the four, though I much preferred Reed this time around (leadership definitely suits him), with Sue remaining the weak link for me just because of the way Jessica Alba is presented and the fact that she’s so woefully miscast as the Invisible Girl. Doom looked and acted a bit more like his boastful comic book counterpart, but was again way too underutilised for a villain of his stature, but thankfully the film does a brilliant job of bringing the Silver Surfer to life. Mysterious, powerful, and inhuman, the Silver Surfer is also vulnerable and tragic and a true visual marvel. Yes, it’s massively disappointing that one of Marvel’s most enigmatic and iconic entities is reduced to a mere cloud, but I do admire the filmmakers for daring to even utilise Galactus and it’s clear that they had plans to do him justice in a later film, but again I feel like if you’re going to go big like that just go all-in and leave it all on the table.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer? Did you feel it was an improvement over the last film or were you just as disappointed with this effort? What did you think to the sub-plot of Johnny being able to absorb the team’s powers? Did you like the depiction and characterisation of the Silver Surfer or do you feel he was a little underpowered compared to the source material? What was your reaction when Galactus appeared as a giant cloud and would you like to see the character done justice in the Marvel Cinematic Universe some day? How have you been celebrating the debut of Marvel’s First Family this month? Sign up to share your thoughts on Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer in the comments below, or drop your thoughts on my social media, and check back in next Friday for one last Fantastic Four review.

Talking Movies [F4 Friday]: Fantastic 4: Extended Edition


In November of 1961, readers of Marvel Comics readers witnessed four intrepid explorers be bathed in mysterious cosmic rays and forever changed. On that day, they became known as the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s “First Family” of superheroes, and went on to be the first of many colourful superheroes for Marvel Comics as well as feature in numerous cartoons, videogames, and live-action movies. This year, I’m dedicating every Friday in November to commemorating the debut of Marvel’s most famous dysfunctional family.


Extended Edition

Released: 8 July 2005
Director: Tim Story
Distributor:
20th Century Fox
Budget: $87.5 to 100 million
Stars:
Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, and Julian McMahon

The Plot:
Doctor Reed Richards (Gruffudd), a genius but timid and bankrupt physicist, is forced to turn to the unscrupulous and wealthy Victor Von Doom (McMahon) to fund an expedition to a space station to study cosmic energy, though a miscalculation sees them bathed in cosmic rays and transformed into superpowered beings. While Reed works to find a cure for their condition, Doom becomes consumed by his powers, forcing the dysfunctional group to set aside their differences and join forces as a superhero team.

The Background:
While I wasn’t really a fan of the Fantastic Four’s debut issue, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s the concept of a dysfunctional family of superheroes went on the be a cornerstone of Marvel Comics, and even saw a decent amount of success in cartoon adventures outside of the comics. Their first effort at a live-action movie, however, didn’t exactly go as smoothly; not only was it hampered by a shoestring budget but the film never saw the light of day as Marvel executive Avi Arad shut down the production and confiscated the film’s negatives to avoid the film’s release tarnishing their brand. German producer Bernd Eichinger still held the rights to the characters, however, and the 1994 film’s universal derision and rushed production didn’t preclude him from continuing to push for a big-budget adaptation of Marvel’s First Family.

Producers continued to pursue a Fantastic Four movie even after the ’94 film got shelved.

With Arad now onboard as a producer, Chris Columbus was initially signed on to write and direct a new film the following year; however, writers and directors continued to join and drop out of the project over the course of around ten years. Eventually, Tim Story, a fan of the comics, signed on for the job and production began in earnest in April of 2004. Star Michael Chiklis lobbied hard for the role of Ben Grimm/The Thing and to don a practical suit to bring the character to life, though the film underwent significant rewrites after the release of The Incredibles (Bird, 2004), which was arguably the best Fantastic Four movie not titled Fantastic Four. Although the film’s $333.5 million box office meant that Fantastic 4 was a decent box office success, the film was met with mixed to mediocre reviews (although the chemistry between Chiklis and co-star Chris Evans was highly praised). To build anticipation for the upcoming sequel, this Extended Edition of the film was released on home media that restored several deleted scenes (including a longer opening title sequence and a strange cameo by Hugh Jackman) to the film, and that will be the version I look at today.

The Review:
Rather than dwelling on the past of its core characters, Fantastic 4 focuses on the present, which is great for getting things going but leaves a few questions unanswered; at the start of the film, Reed and his best friend, former pilot and astronaut Ben Grimm (Chiklis), are presenting to Victor Von Doom the opportunity to study a vast cosmic cloud that hopes to uncover the secrets of life and cure diseases. However, this isn’t the first time Reed’s made this presentation; having been turned down by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and with time and money running out, the two are forced to turn to the “larger than life” Doom for help as they’re in financial ruin. Reed’s finances are in such dire straights that he is forced to sign over 75% of the proceeds and all of the patents to the research to Doom just to get the project off the ground. Reed is even further dumbstruck to find his former flame, Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), working as Doom’s Director of Genetic Research, but sets aside any grievances he has literally because he has no other choice and is determined to help people with his research.

Desperate for funding, Reed and Ben turn to the egotistical Victor Von Doom.

While Ben and Sue get along amicably enough and embrace each other as old friends, there are clearly some lingering issues between Reed and Sue; here, they were college sweethearts who dated pretty seriously for a time, but the relationship fell apart after Sue proposed them moving in together and Reed couldn’t quite take that next step. Indeed, Reed’s major character arc is balancing his obvious genius with his awkward social skills; his focus is always on the maths, the research, and the science, to the point where he is more interested in the uniforms made from “unstable molecules” than he is in how hot Sue looks in them (or anything for that matter). Sue is frosty towards Reed at the start of the film, but her icy demeanour soon melts as she sees his genius in action; it’s obvious that she’s still attracted to him, but she wants him to be proactive, take charge of his life, and be a little bold rather than always being so timid and clinical. While Doom believes that he has a chance with Sue, and can turn her head with money and wild gestures, she’s not interested in him beyond a professional relationship; something of a scientist herself, Sue is perfectly capable at holding her own when it comes to the science, which allows her to be so much more capable and world’s beyond the blond bimbo she was characterised as in the last film and the early comics. Sadly, though, as attractive as Jessica Alba is, I can’t help but feel like Sue was miscast; there’s a reason why Sue ends up in her underwear, after all, and it’s got nothing to do with how smart she is.

Conflict brews between the arrogant, hot-headed Human Torch and the gruff, tragic Thing.

Easily the standout characters in the film are Ben and Sue’s hotshot younger brother, Johnny Storm (Evans); while Ben is as gruff and grim as his namesake, he’s a consummate professional when it comes to his job and a stern military man, which is the perfect foil for Johnny’s brash arrogance. Relishing the opportunity to be his former commanding officer’s superior, Johnny takes every chance to wind Ben up and get under his skin; a show-off and an adrenaline junkie, Johnny cares more about the limelight and the attention than any kind of moral or scientific implications and prefers to flirt and hook up with as many attractive young women as he can rather than stay devoted to one, like Ben. Consequently, Johnny is the first and only one of the four to actually enjoy his newfound powers, which he immediately sets out to showcase and use for personal gain; his showboating only further aggravates Ben, whose monstrous appearance causes him to be shunned and feared by all, including his fiancé, and Sue’s efforts to curb Johnny’s behaviour do little to spare Ben’s pain.

Doom, a corporate scumbag, gains electrical powers and organic metal skin that send him into a frenzy!

Undeniably, the most altered character from the comic books is Victor Von Doom; rather than being a bombastic, egotistical monarch with a penchant for monologing and dark magic, this version of Doom is my absolute least favourite type of villain: a sleazy corporate slimeball dressed in a suit. Wealthy beyond measure, and chairman of Von Doom Enterprises, Doom has accumulated a vast amount of money and power and established a foothold in a number of scientific endeavours, not the least being his orbiting space station. However, he’s greedy and lustful and always wants more, especially that which he cannot have; despite his lofty stature, he delights in watching Reed squirm when he comes asking to use the space station and in lording himself over Reed’s genius, and he goes to any lengths, including referring to a proposal as a “promotion”, to try and woo Sue away from Reed and into his arms. Since his ties to Latveria are only vaguely hinted at (he doesn’t even have an accent or appear to be of gypsy descent), just about the only personality aspects Doom shares with his comic book counterpart are his hatred of Reed and his egomania. Doom is frustrated at having received a small facial scar from his time on the space station since it blights his perfect façade, but ironically only ruins his appearance further by indulging in his newfound powers, which escalates the organic metal infection to the point where he’s forced to hide behind an iron mask.

The team have plenty of time to interact and build their dysfunctional family dynamic.

Much of the film revolves around the four discovering their awesome new powers and trying to figure out how to first control, and ultimately cure, them; gifted to them by a mysterious cosmic storm, all five gain abilities that link their personality quirks with the elements (Reed’s “always stretching” so becomes fluid, Johnny’s a hot-head, Sue feels invisible around Reed, Ben is rough and rocky, and Victor is vain and cold), but Ben is permanently affected as he was outside of the space station’s protective shields, which is a nice way to address that lingering plot hole. Like in the 1994 film, Ben’s transformation takes some time to take effect, which is used largely for a genuinely hilarious wind-up on Johnny’s part, and Reed is somehow able to recoup finances enough to move them all into the Baxter Building to conduct tests on their newfound powers. Determined to restore Ben to normal, Reed works around the clock to try and recreate the cosmic storm, but Ben allows his frustration and despair to get the better of him and comes to blows with his friend, which also makes him easily manipulated by Doom. Although he tries to hide his transformation, Doom soon comes to enjoy the destructive potential of his powers, and embarks on a vendetta against Reed, whom he blames for costing him his good looks and his company. To that end, Doom takes the Thing out of the equation by curing him, freezes Reed with liquid nitrogen, tries to kill the Human Torch with a heat-seeking missile, and doesn’t hesitate to turn his devastating electrical blasts against the Invisible Girl in order to overpower them individually, and it’s only by putting their differences aside and coming together as a team that the four are able to overcome their foe.  

The Nitty-Gritty:
Released at a time when superhero films were still struggling to break into consistent, mainstream box office success, Fantastic 4 falters a little when it comes to its tone and direction; clearly, it’s straddling a fine line between a fun family adventure and a slightly campy kids’ movie, which is fine as the concept is quite whimsical and the four are known for having very fantastical adventures, but the film also wants to keep things grounded like X-Men (Singer, 2000) and Spider-Man (Raimi, 2002), so it never pushes the concept as far as it could possibly go. After the four’s big debut on the Brooklyn Bridge, they become instant celebrities (despite the Thing causing the accident…) but then withdraw from the public eye so that Reed can run his tests, which is largely where the film flounders; the four don’t really do anything of interest in that time, beyond Johnny’s motorcycle stunt show, which isn’t too great in terms of exciting or engaging the audience.

Distraught at his monstrous appearance, the Thing eventually grows tired of waiting for Reed’s cure.

However, in those moments, the film does do a far better job of developing and highlighting the unique dysfunctional family mechanic of the Fantastic Four. Sue struggles to maintain order as the default matriarch of the team and to keep the “kids”, Johnny and Ben, from arguing and getting under each other’s skin, and to help Reed better balance his time between work and relaxation. Guilt-ridden at the pain and trauma he has caused his friend, Reed works tirelessly to cobble together a suitably Jack Kirby-esque machine that he hopes will revert the Thing to normal, and Reed is so distraught by his friend’s outburst that he tests it on himself and nearly kills himself in the process. Annoyed at the constant criticism and lack of appreciation for their superpowers shown by his new teammates, Johnny revels in showing off his new abilities for the world to see, which only exacerbates the conflict between him and the others, especially Ben. Distraught at his grotesque appearance, Ben is only further dejected when his fiancé walks away from him and to find that his new rocky body is cumbersome, awkward, and hideous to others. While he finds momentary reprieve in using his newfound strength to put right the accident he unwittingly causes on the Brooklyn Bridge, he allows Doom to get in his head and is enraged to find Reed cosying up to Sue rather than making good on his promise to help, despite the fact that Reed has clearly been dedicating his every moment to fixing Ben’s predicament.

A combination of CGI and practical effects do a decent job of bringing the Fantastic Four to life.

Undeniably, the Thing’s practical suit is the film’s most impressive visual effect; due to being augmented by rocky sound effects and subtle CGI, there’s a real weight and physicality to the Thing thanks to the suit, which keeps him from appearing cartoony and out of place like some CGI characters from that time, such as such as Doctor Henry Jekyll/Mister Edward Hyde (Jason Flemyng) from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Norrington, 2003). The Fantastic Four’s suits are also nicely translated to the screen; while they lean a little more towards the sexy onesie look than being realistically practical, the texture and colour look good and they’re a decent bridge between the bright, colourful costumes of the comics and the film’s more grounded direction. Doom eventually takes on an extremely faithful comic accurate look as well; however, it comes very late in the film and I feel his hood and outfit lacks detail in some areas, making him a far cry from the imposing despot who is one of Marvel’s most ruthless and formidable villains. Obviously, the CGI and special effects are going to be of a higher quality than the 1994 film, and for the most part the hold up pretty well (thanks, largely, to the film utilising practical effects, sets, and stunts that are merely augmented by CGI); the Human Torch’s flames look pretty good, though his flaming body effects can still be a little cartoony, and Reed’s elasticity is rendered quite well but again suffers from there being few instances where it can actually be of practical use. Sure, he rescues a man from falling off a bridge, ties Ben up, and helpfully directs a water hydrant in the finale, but Mister Fantastic never seems to get as many chances to shine through his powers as the others; the focus is always more on his genius, which is fine, but it can make for quite a bland character (in many of the promotional materials, for example, he’s just…standing there…). Sue’s powers extend beyond simple invisibility; she’s able to project invisible forcefields, which helps here to contain fire, form protective shields, and blast foes away, making her one of the most versatile in the team.

After some additional scenes, the four triumph over Doom and bask in their newfound glory.

This Extended Edition of the film also includes a number of new, extended, or alternate scenes; the first of these is seen right at the beginning where the film is proceeded by an animated set of credits showcasing the film’s key characters, followed by a couple of additional quick shots in the foyer of Von Doom Industries that establish what Doom’s company does and that it’s a bit of a snobby place to be. While some alterations are quite minor (such as Reed and Sue having a moment in his supply room, Johnny increasing the temperature in the lift to get women all hot and bothered, and Sue reading fan letters sent to the team), others are more poignant and add some punch to the film (like the Thing having additional interactions with blind artist Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington), Doom blasting a hole through one of his shareholders rather than simply electrocuting him, Victor trying to tempt Johnny away from the team with women and merchandising offers, and him being humbled while showing off). Of course, the most noticeable addition is a brief cameo by Hugh Jackman as Logan/Wolverine, which makes for quite an awkward scene as it’s basically a repetition of one that came right before it and the effect is more of a cheap CGI wash than Reed actually transforming his features. Still, the crux of the film remains unchanged; separately, the four are capable of great things but, together, they form an almost unbeatable team that is the perfect balance of power, intelligence, and charisma, though they struggle to build that rapport throughout the movie. Once Ben sees how vital his abilities as the Thing are to stopping Doom, he willingly subjects himself to the cosmic rays once more to battle Doom and free Reed, bringing the team together for a brief scuffle with Doom on the city streets that involves a lot standing around, exchanging blows and cliché lines from Doom, before Reed and the Thing knock their enemy off balance a bit so that the Invisible Girl and the Human Torch can superheat him and turn him into a living statue. In the aftermath, the four embrace their newfound powers and celebrity status as superheroes, with Reed and Sue rekindling their romance, the Thing accepting his new status quo, and Johnny reveling in their fame as Doom, who still shows signs of life, is shipped back to Latveria…

The Summary:
It’s not that Fantastic 4 is a bad film, it’s just that it’s a bit underwhelming considering the concept; I think it definitely played things a little too safe by leaning into that grounded sci-fi aesthetic of X-Men and could have benefitted from being a little more over the top and adventurous in its scope. As a fun, family movie, it works very well and I’m sure there’s a lot here for kids to enjoy, and there are a lot of positives to the film: the effects and presentation are really good, and Chris Evans and Michael Chiklis are fantastic in their roles. Of all the actors in the film, they perfectly capture their characters; Ben’s anguish is as much a highlight of the film as his rapport with Johnny, which basically saves it complete mediocrity. It’s a shame that they’re not in a better movie, to be honest, as they were perfectly cast and did a great job; Ioan Gruffudd is okay as Reed, if a little bland and wooden, and I like Jessica Alba but she really wasn’t right for this character. Of all the cast, though, Julian McMahon is the biggest misstep; I almost feel like it might have been better to save Dr. Doom for the sequel as he’s so neutered and lacklustre compared to the maniacal despot seen in the comics. Some decent comedy and fun action scenes help keep the film interesting, and it’s a reasonable first attempt at a big-budget adaptation of the team that’s bolstered a little further by the additions seen in this Extended Cut, but you’re not really missing much anything if you skip it, if I’m being brutally honest. I get that it’s a difficult and expensive concept to bring to life, but the Fantastic Four should be this wacky hybrid of science-fiction and fantasy, not a middling affair that plays it safe simply because grounded, semi-fantastical superhero films were the norm.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Were you a fan of Fantastic 4? Which of the cast and characters was your favourite and what did you think to the relationship between Johnny and Ben? What did you think to the film’s portrayal of Dr. Doom and do you think that the character got shafted a little here? Were you a fan of the direction the film took or do you think it played things a little too safe? How are you celebrating the debut of Marvel’s First Family this month? Whatever you think about Fantastic 4, let me know on my social media or sign up to leave a comment below, and check back next Friday for more Fantastic Four content.

Game Corner [Wolvie Wednesday]: X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Uncaged Editon (Xbox 360)


When readers were first introduced to the character of James Howlett, better known by the names “Logan” and “Wolverine”, it was in the pages of The Incredible Hulk. From his first full debut in issue 181 all the way back in November 1974 to him officially joining the X-Men in 1975, the character has become one of Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and enduring superheroes, regularly featuring in solo and team comics, cartoons, movies, videogames, and countless other merchandise.


Uncaged Edition

Released:  May 2009
Developer: Raven Software
Also Available For: Mobile, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2 PlayStation 3 PlayStation Portable

The Background:
20th Century Fox profited greatly after acquiring the X-Men movie rights from Marvel Comics. Under their banner, the first three X-Men movies (Various, 2000 to 2006) made over $600 million and, eager to capitalise on that financial success and the popularity of their star, Hugh Jackman, they quickly began production of a spin-off film focusing solely on breakout star Wolverine. While X-Men: Origins Wolverine (Hood, 2009) proved a financial success, reviews ranged from mixed to scathing (unfairly, in my opinion) but the same couldn’t be said about the obligatory tie-in videogame. Developed by Raven Software, the game was a violent hack-and-slash adventure that expanded upon the film’s storyline using elements from the comic books and emphasised frenetic, gory violence very much like the God of War videogames (Santa Monica Studio/Various, 2005 to present). X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Uncaged Edition was highly regarded by critics and fans alike as one of the most enjoyable and entertaining videogame adaptations ever made.

The Plot:
Decades before he joined the X-Men, Logan (a Mutant with retractable bone claws, a superhuman healing factor, and heightened senses) was a part of William Stryker’s Team X and operated under the codename Wolverine. After many years working alongside his half-brother, Victor Creed, Logan walked away from his violent life only to be forced back into the fight (and to undergo a radical procedure to bond indestructible Adamantium to his skeleton) when Victor killed his lover.

Gameplay:
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a hack-and-slash action brawler with very light platforming and puzzle elements that sees you cast into the role of the titular Mutant, who has the voice and likeness of X-Men star Huge Jacked-Man Hugh Jackman. The story can largely be summarised as taking “inspiration” from the movie, as the narrative constantly switches back to Africa to follow Wolverine’s final mission with Team X, and to the present day of the mid-1980s in a truncated and decidedly different, if similar, version of the events from the film. The gameplay is primarily geared towards slicing and dicing enemies with Wolverine’s bone or Adamantium claws in a variety of gruesome ways: Wolverine can attack with quick, light strikes with X, heavier attacks with Y (which can also be charged by holding the button), and string together successive presses of X and Y to pull off devastating combos (which you can review at any time from the pause menu) that turn Wolverine into a whirling dervish.

Lunge at enemies, unleash your Fury Attacks, and use Feral Senses spot environmental kill spots.

Wolverine can also jump with A, cling to ledges and climb certain walls, block, reflect, or counter incoming attacks with the Left Trigger, and grab enemies with B. Once grabbed, you can mash X to pummel them or toss them at other enemies (or into instant death environmental traps), or charge Y to perform a “Quick Kill”. Wolverine can also dash ahead with the Left Bumper but I found that this was a bit clunky and awkward as there is a delay between Wolverine stopping at the end of the dash and returning to a run, so it’s far better to press the Right Bumper and LB to perform a rolling dodge instead. One of Wolverine’s most useful skills, though, is his lunge attack. By holding RB to target enemies, you can then press LB to leap towards your target and attack them with X, B, or Y to quickly pounce across gaps and from target to target, which is endlessly satisfying when overrun by enemies. As you progress through the game, you’ll also unlock four Fury Attacks that can be unleashed when your Rage Meter is full and by pressing the Right Trigger and either A, B, X, or Y. Each of these can also be upgraded further and will see Wolverine fly into a berserker rage and becoming a spinning whirlwind of claws and death as you mash buttons to extend the duration of his onslaught. Wolverine also has the benefit of his heightened senses; by pressing up on the directional pad (D-pad), you’ll see the body heat of nearby enemies, climbable ledges and surfaces, footprints when tracking targets, and an ethereal blue light that points you in the right direction in a mechanic very similar to the Detective Vision from the Batman: Arkham games (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015), though much more basic.

Puzzles are pretty simple and amount to little more than button mashing or powering up consoles.

While the environments you find yourself in are quite linear, they are also made up of a lot of dark, grey corridors, so Wolverine’s Feral Senses are helpful for keeping you on track and spotting opportunities to instantly kill your opponents. I’m not sure why but the developers also allowed you to sheath and unsheathe your claws by pressing down on the D-pad; this doesn’t really seem to do anything but I guess it adds to the immersion of being Wolverine and, very rarely, you’ll be able to instantly kill enemies by sneaking up behind him and pressing either B or X. A good 90% of the game is made up of mindless hack-and-slash combat, usually restricting you to a set area and fending off waves of enemies who can seem never-ending at times. Other times, though, you’ll need to pull off some tricky jumps and awkward platforming; mostly, this isn’t a problem, but that are times when you have to jump from platforms and ledges or ropes and it can be very difficult to make even simple jumps thanks to the dodgy camera and invisible barriers nudging you to your death. Wolverine will also have to zip down wires to cross gaps, precariously walk across balance beams and girders, and occasionally pull or push large objects (usually crates or jeeps) by holding B. Other times, you’ll need to mash A to turn a wheel to open a door or find a crank or power source and carry it to a power node by picking it up with B. It’s all very simple and puzzles generally don’t become more taxing than that, standing on pressure pads, or scaling towers. Given his Mutant abilities, Wolverine is extremely durable, able to sustain prolonged gunfire and attacks and continue fighting. Your health bar will automatically regenerate if you avoid attacks for a few seconds but you can still be “captured” if your bar is completely drained and your vital organs are damaged so, while you can largely leap head-first into situations and groups of enemies, it’s best to keep an eye out from spiked traps and avoid being set on fire or pummelled by larger enemies.

Gameplay is mixed up a bit by a few different sections and mechanics, some more welcome than others.

Wolverine’s biggest danger in this regard is falling while trying to jump or navigating across bottomless pits or large chasms; if you fall, you’ll have to restart from your last checkpoint but, thankfully, checkpoints are quite numerous and generally always come right before a tricky situation. Gameplay is further mixed up by a few quick-time events (QTEs), mainly when opening doors, and slightly different camera angles and chase sequences, such as when Wolverine has to race down the spill well of the Alkali Lake facility and leap from jeep to jeep, dispatching enemies as a wall of water comes inexorably after him. Other times, helicopters will fire at you relentlessly and you’ll have to dart between platforms and cover to avoid fire or frantically run and jump across surfaces that crumble beneath your feet. In another mission, you have to lunge at enemies on speedboats down a racing river; if you fall in the water, you’ll have to restart but you eventually commandeer a machine gun turret and can fire wildly at your pursuers by holding RT. One particularly annoying mission has you dodging between metal shields as automatic turrets fire at you; you’ll need to activate a console to put the shields in place to stave off the heavy ordinance and use similar consoles to position teleporters around the sentinel facility.

Graphics and Sound:
Generally speaking, X-Men Origins: Wolverine looks pretty good; environments can be a bit bland and drab at times but you’re constantly hopping back to the jungles of Africa, which helps add a bit of visual variety to the game even if the environments remain quite linear and have very few opportunities for you to explore in a meaningful way. Character models are decent enough but the developers clearly put the most time and effort into the titular character; no other character from the movie save Victor Creed bares the voice or likeness of their actor, which is disappointing, and most of the enemies you encounter are largely generic soldiers with little to really make them stand out. As mentioned, Wolverine spends a lot of his time flashing back to Africa; here; you’ll run through the ruin-strewn jungle and encounter a number of machete-wielding natives and ancient booby traps and such. It’s a stark contrast to the boring, grey corridors of Alkali Lake (a location I could live with never having to see again) but the game claws back (no pun intended) some visual variety in the Sentinel facility and the casino where you pursue and battle Remy Lebeau/Gambit. These locations are much more interesting to look at, being a vast technological complex full of intricate machinery and Sentinel parts and a neon-drenched skyscraper that sees you climbing horizontally and vertically, respectively.

Environments can be dark, drab, and bland but some manage to stand out regardless.

It’s a shame, then, that the game doesn’t change the location of its finale, which sees you back in dull, concrete surroundings on Three Mile Island, but I did enjoy the visual of battling Wade Wilson/Weapon XI/Deadpool atop the cooling tower like in the movie. The game’s story is largely told during gameplay using the in-game graphics, often with Wolverine conversing with his superiors or allies via an earpiece (again, very similar to the Batman: Arkham games). There are some CG cutscenes here, though, which are quite blurry and muddy as you might expect from an Xbox 360 title. Similarly, the music isn’t really anything to shout about; it’s not exactly memorable or catchy and the only thing really salvaging the audio presentation is Jackman’s unparalleled work as the titular character. There was, however, quite a bit of slowdown whenever there was a lot happening onscreen and the game doesn’t do a very good job of masking its loading times; often, the game stops completely and you’re left with a “Streaming…” message while it loads the next area, which interrupted the flow of the game considerably at times. You’ll find some interesting audio logs and references to (and cameos from) some recognisable X-Men characters, though, and the final cutscene even places Wolverine in the “Days of Future Past” (Claremont, et al, 1981) timeline.

The game’s biggest appeal is in its graphic violence and gore in depicting Wolverine’s brutal nature.

Where the game excels, though, is in its unrelenting gore and violence; ironically, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is more violent and uncompromising than the film it’s based on, meaning that kids who enjoyed the film probably weren’t old enough to play the game at the time! As Wolverine takes damage, his skin and clothing is torn and shredded, revealing his Adamantium skeleton, which is both gruesome and fantastic to see. The wounds heal up over time but you’ll often be running around with a fully metallic arm or half a metal skull, which is something we really haven’t seen in the films yet. When attacking enemies, Wolverine can slice off limbs, impale them on the environment, and set them alight or electrocute them with environmental hazards and you’ll often see dismembered bodies writhing on the floor in agony and heads flying from their shoulders. One of the most brutal kills in the game comes when Wolverine rips a helicopter pilot out of his cockpit and forces him head-first into the blades! There’s no nonsensical censoring in this game; it’s bloody, violent action all the way through and this really helps to make the repetitive hack-and-slash gameplay more interesting and entertaining.

Enemies and Bosses:
As mentioned previously, the majority of the enemies you’ll encounter in the game are machine gun-toting soldiers; when in Africa, you’ll fight wild natives who wield machetes but you’ll also battle some rather generic-looking robots when breaching the Sentinel facility. It doesn’t take long for you to encounter more formidable variants of these enemies, such as the Machete Champion (who can set you ablaze), shield carrying soldiers (whose guard you must break with a charged heavy attack), soldiers packing grenade launchers (whose projectiles you must reflect back), and even invisible enemies (“Ghosts”) who carry shotguns and are be dispatched by grabbing them and tapping Y to blow their heads off. You’ll also come up against more monstrous enemies such as the lava-and-rock-covered Leviathan and the Weaponized Experiment Neurodindritic Incident Gamma Zero (W.E.N.D.I.G.O.) prototypes; these are best attacked with your Fury Attacks as they charge at you, deliver big damage with their swings, and can catch you in mid-air as you lunge if you don’t get around behind them. As you damage the Leviathan, it’ll protect itself with tougher rock and start tossing and smashing boulders at you so you’ll have to lunge at it whenever possible and you’ll soon be faced with two to four of these enemies at a time so it’s best to get a rhythm on.

You’ll be leaping at a lot of helicopters but especially to bring down the sharp-shooting Agent Zero.

You’ll also have to fight “Jungle Mutants” like Shifter, a blue energy being who teleports about the place, traps you in electrical prisms of light, and can duplicate itself (but is, thankfully, easily dispatched with environmental kills). The first time you encounter these enemies, they act as sub-bosses but quickly become regular enemies and you’ll often be faced with a variety of different opponents and forced to adapt to each on the fly. A recurring element in the game are the helicopters that are sent to bring you down; at least three times you’ll have to outrun these pursuers and then lunge at them, moving the left analogue stick to avoid being shot at and smashing your way into the cockpit with X or Y to bring them down. There’s a particularly gruelling battle that has you dodging helicopter fire as four W.E.N.D.I.G.O.s attack you at once but, thankfully, enemies can damage each other so you can position the beasts into each other’s attacks and the bullets from the helicopter. Prior to this battle, you’ll also have to contend with a pretty unique switch in perspective as David Nord/Agent Zero takes shots at you with his sniper rifle and you control Wolverine from the perspective of Nord’s sniper scope.

Creed is a far less pivotal or threatening figure in the game despite being fought twice.

The first real boss you’ll battle is Victor, Logan’s stepbrother (though this plot point, like a lot of plot points from the film, is nowhere near as relevant or emphasised as in the movie). You’ll fight Victor twice throughout the game, with the first bout taking place in and outside of a bar and the second inside of Stryker’s island base, just like in the film. Victor mirrors many of your own abilities and can lunge, swipe, and claw at you; he can also grab you to deliver combos and you’re in just as much danger of being impaled on the environment throughout the game as he and your other enemies are. Still, Victor isn’t much of a threat; although he boasts the same healing factor as Wolverine, I never actually noticed his health regenerating in either fight and it’s pretty simple to lunge at him, block and counter his attacks, and either use the environment or your Fury Attacks to whittle his health down and defeat him in both battles.

The Sentinel poses a formidable threat and must be attacked both on the ground and in mid-air!

As you might expect given that you end up in a Sentinel facility, you’ll have to battle with a Sentinel prototype as well. The first time you encounter the Sentinel, it’s in pieces and you have to solve a bit of a track puzzle to position its hand in place to attack its head but, despite your efforts, Bolivar Trask activates the prototype and you have to fight it outside the facility. The Sentinel is suitably massive and stomps around the place, leaps at you to cause shockwaves, fires laser blasts from its hand, and grabs you to blast you with its eyebeams in a homage to that iconic “Days of Future Past” cover art. To battle the Sentinel, you need to attack its feet and hands; this is best done by luring it towards the electrified panels on the floor, which will stun it for longer (though it’s difficult to tell that you’re actually dealing damage to it because of its high health bar). Once you damage it enough, it’ll take off and you’ll have to freefall down to it, dodging or ploughing through debris and guiding Wolverine to its thrusters. Eventually, you’ll do enough damage that Wolverine targets its main power source, which requires you to mash B to rip open its chest plate before it can blast you.

While the Blob is simple, Gambit leads you on an elaborate chase and is the game’s most frustrating boss.

Immediately after felling the Sentinel, you’ll fight with Fred Dukes/The Blob; unlike in the movie, this fight takes place in a supermarket full of destructible elements. The Blob is very similar to the Leviathan and W.E.N.D.I.G.O. enemies and will charge at you and repel your lunges with his drum-like belly. Once you damage him enough, though, he’ll try to squash you with a belly flop, which stuns him long enough for you to lunge or mount him and claw at him and force him into walls to bring him down. Immediately after that fight, you’ll have to battle what was, for me, the most annoying, frustrating, and long-winded boss of the entire game: Gambit. Gambit attacks with his staff and kinetically-charged playing cards, which must be countered and reflected back, respectively, to stun him. What makes this boss so annoying, though, is that you fight him a whole bunch of times and are forced to chase through up and through a skyscraper. Eventually, you battle him on giant neon letters, lunging at him when he charges and destroys them and mashing A when he tosses you over the edge. This was, honestly, the most exasperating part of the entire game as each fight with Gambit just went on and on and it seemed never-ending; of all the characters and Mutants in the game, I never would have expected Gambit to be so versatile, resilient, and challenging!

Deadpool will push your button mashing skills to breaking point!

After the finale battle with Victor, you are forced to battle Deadpool at Three Mile Island. If you haven’t seen the film, you might be a bit confused about who Deadpool is since he barely appears at all in the game’s story but he’s a pretty formidable boss in his own right. Fighting him is, essentially, the same as fighting Victor except that you’ll damn near break your wrist trying to mash A following a counter of his blades and it’s a two-stage boss fight. In the first, you fight him in an ordinary area of the island, avoiding his spinning blades and jumping attacks and whittling his health down with your Fury Attacks but, in the second, you battle him atop a cooling tower. Here, he demonstrates his ability to teleport and will blast at you with optic blasts that can destroy parts of the environment. Still, he’s pretty easy to defeat; you simply block his attacks, unleash your Fury Attacks, and lunge at him after he fires his eye beams. When you’ve dealt enough damage, the QTE becomes easier to pull off and is a great way to deal additional damage; while Deadpool’s health doesn’t regenerate during the fight, it will fill up at least once, which can make this rather long-winded and frustrating but it’s nothing compared to fighting Gambit!

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you battle enemies and destroy crates, you’ll earn red Rage Orbs to fill up your Rage Meter and experience points (XP) that will see you level-up in time. Levelling up increases your health meter and earns you Skill Points, which you can spend in the “Character” sub-menu. Here, you can increase your maximum health, Rage Meter, and the damage and duration and effectiveness of your Fury Attacks. Each one will cost you more Skill Points as you upgrade them, though, so it’s best to either stock up or focus on one attribute to upgrade at a time. You can also boost your health and earn additional Skill Points by finding power-ups hidden in each environment, generally just off to one side or the opposite way from where you’re being directed to go. Every time you fight and defeat enemies, you’ll also fill up a “Reflex” meter in the Character sub-menu; when each of these is mastered, you’ll find that you deal more damage to, and have a greater defence against, the game’s enemies, which adds an extra incentive to combat. Finally, you’ll also find “Mutagens” hidden throughout the game; up to three of these can eventually be equipped and each one can also by upgraded further to increase you damage, Fury Attacks, or regenerative capabilities as well as boosting the speed which you build up your Reflexes.

Additional Features:
There are fifty Achievements for you to earn throughout the game, the majority of which you’ll get just by playing through the story mode. You get Achievements for killing up to 2000 enemies, performing lunges and Quick Kills, tossing enemies from high ledges, and clearing each chapter of the main story. As you explore your environment, you’ll also find dead bodies and acquire Dog Tags for XP and which count towards Achievements and you’ll need to venture off the beaten path a little bit or attack enemies and bosses in specific ways to get some of the more obscure Achievements but you can track your progress towards them at any time from the “Statistics” menu. When you first start the game, you can select to play on “Easy” or “Normal” difficulty; you may as well pick “Easy” as the only difficulty-based Achievement comes after you clear the game and unlock “Hard” mode. Once you beat the game, though, you can replay any mission you like and pick a costume to wear beforehand but you’ll lose all of your saved progress and upgrades if you want to get the “Walking Death” Achievement so I’d recommend clearing the game and mopping up any Achievements you’ve missed tied to kills and Dog Tags and such before playing on Hard.

Unlock some cool classic costumes and beat the game to access a harder difficulty mode.

Also hidden throughout the game are a number of different Wolverine action figures; finding enough of these will unlock a special challenge from the main menu. Here, you’re pitted against three different Wolverines and, when you defeat them, you’ll unlock a new costume to wear including Wolverine’s classic brown-and-tan outfit, his yellow-and-blue spandex, and his awesome black-and-grey X-Force outfit. There are actually more action figures than you need but collecting them only awards you an XP boost rather than the likes of Wolverine’s Weapon-X outfit or movie costume, and there is a fourth challenge available but it seems that this was a Gamestop exclusive unlockable that would give you access to the X-Men’s Danger Room and it doesn’t appear to be accessible now. Sadly, that’s about it as far as bonus content goes; you can enter some codes to make the game easier but you won’t be able to get Achievements with these activated and it’s a shame that there aren’t more costumes to unlock.

The Summary:
I was very much looking forward to playing X-Men Origins: Wolverine; I’d heard time and time again that it was one of the best licensed videogames out there and actually better than the movie (which I have always considered to be pretty enjoyable and under-rated). However, I was surprised to find that all of the praise I had heard about the game didn’t relate to it doing a very good job of recreating the events of the movie. To be fair, a lot of licensed videogames falter a bit in this regard but X-Men Origins: Wolverine does a pretty lacklustre job of rushing through the film’s story, glossing over Team X and Wolverine’s relationship with the team and his brother, and simultaneously paying lip service to the film’s narrative while also awkwardly staying beholden to it in other ways. The game excels when it veers from the film’s plot, to be honest, and I can’t help but think it would have been better for it to act as a prequel and sequel to the movie rather than actually including events from the film. The sections in Africa are much more visually interesting than those in Alkali Lake (even though the developers tried to mix things up a bit by stripping you of your powers here) and I’d rather infiltrate a Sentinel production plant than visit Stryker’s bland island. This would also have given the developers the opportunity to include more characters, enemies, and elements from the comic books; they hint at this with the final cutscene but fall back on disposable grunts and characters from the movie rather than the likes of Mister Sinister or Omega Red. Thanks to its gore, violence, and frenetic gameplay, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is definitely a fun, if monotonous, experience; it’s probably the best and most accurate videogame portrayal of Wolverine ever made and is worth a play if only to see him hack up enemies and be stripped to his metal skeleton but there’s not a lot in terms of replayability and will probably be a mediocre distraction for fans of the hack-and-slash genre.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of the videogame adaptation of X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Did you prefer it to the movie? How do you feel it compares to other hack-and-slash videogames? Were you a fan of the gratuitous violence and gore? What did you think to the game’s interpretation of the film’s plot; were you also a bit perturbed by the truncated narrative or did you prefer the alterations presented in the game? Which of the bosses was your favourite or most frustrating? Which of Wolverine’s costumes was your default? Which X-Men or Wolverine videogame is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating Wolverine’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or Wolverine and the X-Men in general, drop a comment down below.