Interesting that Marvel/Disney goes out of its way to tell potential ticket buyers on the internet that the Black Widow is “A film about Natasha Romanoff in her quests between the films Civil War and Infinity War.” You could have fooled me.
One of the lesser Marvel characters, Scarlett Johansson, has appeared (by my count) eight previous times as the Widow since 2010, the thirty-six-year-old making her ninth appearance in this opus which should firmly establish the star worldwide as a major part of the Marvel pantheon. The Black Widow as a motion picture is calculating and, actually, the filmmakers do to the audience what the master villain (and he’s perfect) Dreykov (played by Ray Winstone) is doing to the women he kidnaps. Mind manipulation and control.
Marvel comics reinvented Black Widow in April of 1964, just about when this writer started buying the Marvel product, and whether the Widow’s crazed Dreykov went on his mad spree of world domination first, or if it happened to be Ian Fleming’s Blofeld in the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (part of the Bond/Blofeld trilogy, written in April of 1963 (I’ll put my money on Bond,) both stories were custom made for the #METOO movement over half a century later. Women controlled by men are turning the tables on the oppressors! Dreykov’s kidnapping and abuse of women in Black Widow echo the accusations made against Harvey Weinstein and others. Men of power controlling subordinate female kind. The subliminal message, if it exists, or the feel of it muddies the waters. Muddies them as much as the over-action with things exploding and two sisters acting like Joan Collins and Linda Evans slugging it out in the Dynasty swimming pool. Only this time with knives and stabbing weapons to paraphrase Arnie in the Terminator.
Punching, car demolitions, planes, and citadels collapsing, crumbling, and making for some dizzy, dizzy viewing – borrowing heavily from the Mission Impossible series, is the height of redundancy. The Black Widow is one film where Marvel is counting on its vast following to gobble it up for some summer fun without following the elastic plot in dire need of a scorecard.
While Bond’s magnificent 1969 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service toyed
with the audience and had more cat and mouse restraint under director
Peter R. Hunt’s supervision, Cate Shortland’s rough and tumble approach
to The Black Widow seems guided by unseen hands. For a film promoting
women, Cate Shortland seems like a prop rather than a director, and one
assumes that the powers that be at Marvel/Disney wanted to follow D.C.’s
lead after the success of the first Wonder Woman. Female director,
female star, Wonder Woman in a land of ladies, The Black Widow a
manufactured artifact the result of women kidnapped on a grand scale.
Films designed to get boyfriends to bring their girlfriends to science
fiction comic book movies.
007 1969 vs. The Black Widow 2021
Peter R. Hunt had edited previous Bond films. He was the perfect supervisor for this legendary Bond entry, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, though it was his first outing as a director. He kept the storyline clean (and close to the Fleming novel) while – at times – Cate Shortland’s The Black Widow has everything but the kitchen sink, trying to be all things to all people. The most interesting thing for this critic, though, is the plot following the 1969 Bond film so closely… and how the villain saves the film from mediocrity. It’s just too bad that Marvel didn’t sit Shortland down to watch the Bond film a hundred times or more. Wikipedia gives information on the 007 classic: “Bond learns Blofeld has been curing a group of young British and Irish women of their livestock and food allergies. In truth, Blofeld and his aide, Irma Bunt, have been brainwashing them into carrying biological warfare agents back to Britain and Ireland to destroy the agricultural economy, upon which post-World War II Britain depends.”
In Black Widow, villain Dreykov is far more driven and ruthless than the seemingly kindly Count that Telly Savalas played in (as stated) one of the all-time best Bond films, George Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). That Savalas, as Blofeld, blows away Bond’s wife (Avenger actress Diana Rigg) at the end of the film exposes Blofeld as the murderer that he is. The goal, of course, exactly like Dreykov in this Black Widow: world domination. Director Cate Shortland’s muddled beginning almost sends the film off the cliff.
As a critic stated about Batman vs. Superman, it was like putting your head inside a beehive. Well, I won’t be that lethal/brutal on Marvel’s newest entry to its film legacy, not so much with The Black Widow’s first 45 minutes, which – at worst – are convoluted. BUT!, with multiple superb villains, it pulls itself from out of the rubble and becomes a decent and fun motion picture about halfway through to its conclusion. You can see the dysfunction in the May 2020 trailer from fourteen months ago. Yes, it is beautifully, splendidly filmed, but other than the location of Norway why go to Budapest and Morocco when the scenes in those countries could’ve been generated almost anywhere? The July 2021 trailer fares somewhat better but is still inundated with visual cacophony.
Why the botched intro? Again blame director Cate Shortland. Her resume was thinner than Patty Jenkins (director of Wonder Woman and Wonder Woman 1984). Though the COVID pandemic hit the Wonder Woman sequel, it would be hard to match the spectacular 822.3 million Wikipedia claims the first WW made on a budget of 120-150m. Wonder Woman 1984 cost 200m while The Black Widow’s Wikipedia estimated expenses at 150-200m. Marvel rarely misfires however we are living in a brave new COVID weary world. Will people want to go to IMAX to beat the heat and see this slam-bang feature? Will the pandemic impact the 150-200m estimated gamble?
This critic’s perspective is that people are aching to get back to the theaters. The Revere (Massachusetts) Cinema complex is shut down…which is a shocker, and masks are still requested even if people have been vaccinated. All of this, of course, must have been thought out in board meetings and test marketing. The Marvel product has a massive following and what The Black Widow offers is a convergence of so many films (beyond the 007 mentioned above) that it is dizzying. Cars chasing cars (take The Matrix and Terminator 1, 2 or 3,) Star Trek’s The Cloud Minders from 1969, even Johansson’s wonderful 2014 Lucy film, which made a huge fortune on a small budget, seems to be a guide for Johansson’s Widow in this release.
If Rocky and Bullwinkle were human, they would be the parents of Natasha Romanoff (the real Black Widow) in this science fiction chick flick. Obviously, Marvel paid notice to Wonder Woman resurrecting the sideways Warner Brothers / DC wilting universe and, in what is out of character for producer Kevin Feige (p.g.a.) is how the film sometimes veers off course…sometimes smacking into D.C./Warner Brothers flaws.
What brings it back on course is how The Black Widow channels Ant-Man and the Wasp. The dysfunctional family tries to figure out if it is a family or every man and woman for him and herself. At the end of the day, it is something to do during a summer desperate to escape the grasp of a worldwide pandemic.
Special mention goes to the brilliant performance of Rachel Weisz, looking so different than her mastermind schemer in Runaway Jury lo those many years ago. That Weisz is the wife of Daniel Craig, who updated On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is pure irony. Also on TMRZoo.com http://www.tmrzoo.com/2021/74485/a-film-review-the-black-widow
CIVIL WAR, THE WINTER SOLDIER
Captain America Reviews by Joe Viglione
The Age of Ultron
Review by Joe Viglione
The Avengers The Age Of Ultron – It Delivers as Promised
By Joe Viglione – May 1, 2015
Originally appeared in TMRZoo http://www.tmrzoo.com/2015/66155/review-the-avengers-the-age-of-ultron-it-delivers-as-promised
he Age of Ultron is a terrific comic book come to life. It is an exquisite adventure with perfect character development and splashy dynamics that will satisfy fans of Marvel and D.C. and independent comics, as well as those who appreciate loud, explosive films.
Back in the day Marvel Comics used to release comic book “annuals,” double or triple the size of the monthly comics, these highly anticipated extra-length stories were a delight… and that’s exactly what these films do for the older crowd. We who remember summers with a Fantastic Four or Avengers annual to read by the lake relish the onslaught of comic book heroes come to life on the big screen. But our disappointment in the Fantastic Four movie series (including the Roger Corman “lost” FF film,) the flaws in the X-Men flicks, the difficulty in finding the five Spiderman movies holding up to repeated spins, is mitigated when, for the action/adventure connoisseur, this new Age of Ultron arrives and fits the bill.
What the film companies failed to grasp – all of them – was that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The scripts found in the comic books themselves were and still are high art. Rather than just make a motion picture around a perfect comic book story, Hollywood goes over, under, sideways and down, resulting in X-Men 3. Though the Spiderman series initially would grab key moments from the original literary works, it just didn’t utilize enough of those wonderful plots. And here’s where Age of Ultron really shines, the story doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a fun romp, period. And you know those regrettable costumes for the Green Goblin, the Lizard and Spiderman himself that marred other Marvel Comics movies? In Age of Ultron the costume is king, the make-up and those wearing it all shine. The actors playing the roles of these famous pop art characters – including a long (for him) Stan Lee cameo that is absurdly funny – and the clothing that they wear – might even do revered comic book artist Jack Kirby proud. It works. They look the part and you don’t have to suspend belief when the “cringe” factor would come in when poor Michael Chicklis became chick-less as a clunky “Thing” in the Fantastic Four 1 and 2.
What will really bring them into the theaters is the availability of the perfect casting/perfect costumes found on YouTube with the multiple trailers. Freeze frame the Age Of Ultron trailer #3 at 14 seconds in and watch Iron Man’s spectacular yellow glow from his hand, the golden glow, right after Robert Downey Jr.’s head is immersed in J.A.R.V.I.S., his artificial intelligence butler. It is an amazing sequence of half Matrix/half Marvel, and when the Avengers indulge in Neo/Trinity/Morpheus stop-action jumps, you can see where director Joss Whedon absolutely gets it.
Knowing going in that this would be a box office smash there will be critics who will want to compare it to “high art.” But what is a perfect movie? Is there any such thing? Citizen Kane, Bride of Frankenstein, Gone with the Wind, each in their respective genre receive high marks. Is The Wizard of Oz the untouchable Holy Grail? To some degree that’s a matter of perception. What makes The Age of Ultron work is the level of seriousness the actors and all involved brought while filming the project to make it so much fun. Is the opening slam/bang sequence too cluttered? It doesn’t matter, the camera loving the Jurassic Park look of the Hulk, turning him into one big lovable and equally fierce T-Rex is a far cry from the disappointing “CG” Ang Lee Hulk that took away from an otherwise underrated picture. A motion picture that fizzled when it should have sizzled leaving the best elements lost and left on the table, and a superb Eric Bana giving way to …Edward Norton? Norton fit the role of a sleuth in Hannibal, but Norton as the Hulk? A far cry from his smooth psycho path in Primal Fear. Mark Ruffalo does an excellent job picking up where Bana left off, and what is truly fun is to see the team-up of Tony Stark and Dr. Bruce Banner as mad scientists playing with Pandora’s box.
James Spader is better seen in these days in a costume, all due respect, for he seems to have caught a bit of William Shatner’s chunkiness after the two close friends appeared in Boston Legal. All that drinking, perhaps. The flow that is the birth of Ultron and Vision works because we are not burdened with each character’s “origin.” It just comes naturally in the film, as part of the evolution of the scientific experiments. But you must also suspend belief. The seemingly all-powerful Ultron, just as flawed a concept as the artificial intelligence in the Matrix and the Terminator series, couldn’t be so easily defeated with the ultimate power the scriptwriters chose to give these various entities. That’s the big hole in all the plots to so many fantasy realms in a variety of motion pictures.. There’s no real logic to defeating something so extraordinarily powerful, unless you tap in to Thor’s god-like powers which, of course, would totally muddle the stories.
Thus we just enjoy the roller coaster ride. High marks go to the splendid performances of Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch Wanda Maximoff (Olsen was Elle Brody, wife of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Ford Brody in 2014’s Godzilla) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as her brother (hmmm…from husband to brother from one film to another…) Quicksilver, Pietro Maximoff. This “double casting,” if you will, sort of like Halle Berry in a James Bond film and then into the X-Men or Zoe Saldana in Avatar and then off to Star Trek, is something fans would have appreciated back in the day. Indeed, this writer watches old Perry Mason movies as much for the wonderful prototype of Law & Order: SVU plots as he does for all the original Star Trek bit players who show up. It is fun stuff. That current filmmakers finally realize it creates an invisible thread from one film dimension to the next. And here’s the really good news, Olsen’s Scarlet Witch has some of the best special effects you’ll see for a superhero. The red streams from her hands are dazzling and quite satisfying, as is Pietro’s quicksilver lightning speed, perhaps the special effects for a best pairing of a dynamic duo put to film yet – at least from the Marvel world’s “house of ideas.” Aaron Taylor-Johnson doesn’t even look like Ford Brody from Godzilla, he does that Ethan Hawke chameleon thing that good to great actors are so versatile with, creating different identities and not becoming a Jack Nicholson/Al Pacino/Robert De Niro larger than life figure that kind of subtracts from the vision of whatever characters those great actors play in these days. If Lou Reed’s Transformer was, as one critic put it, Lou Reed playing David Bowie playing Lou Reed, then director Tim Burton’s use of Jack Nicholson was The Joker playing Jack Nicholson playing the Joker. A too famous person overshadowing the character despite the superb acting job Nicholson did. He couldn’t remove the painter from the painting. These younger stars seem more rooted in their ability to be the character they are playing — Taylor-Johnson, Jeremy Renner and, most notably Robert Downey Jr. all very believable in their roles. Of course it is easier for Downey Jr. because he gets away with the borderline Jack Nicholson thing – and that’s because Downey Jr. is as much a Tony Stark type as Jean Luc Picard of Star Trek The Next Generation (actor Patrick Stewart) is the perfect Professor X for the X-Men. I find Stewart a better Professor X than star ship captain, very much in line with Stan Lee’s creation.
As always, my film “reviews” are more observations around the circumference of the motion picture rather than all the traditional reviews you can find online and in print. That being said, Wikipedia has excellent “scorecards” for you to match up the characters, so rather than be redundant those sites are listed here.
Enjoy the film. It is dazzling, it is on target, it delivers as promised. It is a 1960’s “Avengers Annual” hurled ahead 50 years into the future, and it is exactly what it should be. A very well-conceived and delivered roller coaster ride.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.
erminator3: Rise of the Machines
Review by Joe Viglione
When Arnold Schwarzenegger lost half of his arm fighting Robert Patrick towards the end of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” one might have thought that Skynet and Cyberdine would come back to life via that route. Out the window went such an opportunity along with series creator James Cameron, original actress Linda Hamilton and even the second John Connor, Edward Furlong (his older self never given more than a few seconds onscreen anyway). What has resulted is a film with great texture that can stand on its own or as a component of this saga which takes decades to unfold. 1984 seems so George Orwell and without actors from the original flick, Michael Biehn, Rick Rossovich and Bill Paxton (who were about as unknown as this cast way back when), it’s an entirely new change of scenery – well, except for Schwarzenegger, of course. Not only was actor Nick Stahl only about five years of age when the first Terminator film crushed the little toy in the street before shooting one of his Sarah Connor victims, so was Claire Danes. Arnold doesn’t look like he has aged at all, and what is totally surprising about Terminator 3 is that the plot, the mechanics, the cinematography, the pacing, the clever script, prove that the franchise has also aged very well. While the series it spawned, The Matrix–a film program which owes more to The Terminator than anything else– gets heady and complex, Terminator 3 just crashes through the screen doing what Charlies Angels: Full Throttle tried so hard to do, and failed so miserably at. It delivers the knockout punch. Even more impressive is that Ang Lee’s The Hulk had so much potential and despite Eric Bana’s opportunity, parallel to Nick Stahl here, The Hulk is diminished by Terminator’s staying power. That shouldn’t be the case. The Hulk is an American icon, a marvelous Marvel comic which had Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Lou Ferrigno going for it. But just as the Batman series failed to put Adam West, Caesar Romero and Frank Gorshin into pivotal roles in more serious updated versions, Hulk didn’t recognize its legacy, either. The revisionist history leap Ang Lee took is a huge step backward while Jonathan Mostow is in a position predecessor James Cameron found himself in when given 18 million in 1986 to create Aliens. Shaking things up and making the most of opportunities is the key to the success of both Aliens and Terminator 3. There is some heavy handed humor, Schwarzenegger too often quoting past Terminator trademarks, but subtle comedy as well, the feline being taken to the vet is “a cat named Hercules”, a line out of an Elton John song from his Honky Chateau album. The remote control mayhem of T-X Kristanna Loken is very cool – police cars, not with minds of their own, but the mind of the new Terminator directing them to cause extreme mayhem that Matt LeBlanc could only promise, not deliver, in Charlies Angel’s FULL THROTTLE. The emasculation of LeBlanc – such a virile sci-fi star in Lost in Space – is a statement on Drew Barrymore’s lack of vision. It shouldn’t be so hard to give the people what they want and Schwarzenegger and company do it with relish. The robots out of control are on a mission, and they succeed. Where Matrix Reloaded boasts a car chase scene that may never be duplicated, the barbaric truck ride T-X takes T-800 on while chasing Stahl and Danes is far more effective. Reloaded gets the award for deep, thought provoking science fiction while Terminator 3 wins hands down for action, unexpected twists, and a brilliant surprise ending leaving the door open for lots more electronic thrashing. It’s an intense demolition derby with terrific carnage – it is a Marvel Comic come to life, and despite the same old plot line from 1984 and 1991, the magic is in the new perspective – Terminator 3 truly takes us further down the rabbit hole of this Catch 22 of Artificial Intelligence initiating full scale war. Note the differences between Terminator and Matrix. Terminators are real robots, Lost In Space metallic entities with evil on their mind, while Matrix a.i. are computer programs. The mechanics behind the robots is key and that both film franchises are on the playing field at the same moment in time is truly an amazing conversation piece for future film historians. This is revolutionary science fiction – the Ozzie & Harriet sleepover Kate and her fiance have, in bed and fully clothed – the 4:30 a.m. phone call allowing us to peer into their private life, is in stark contrast to Kristanna Loken’s point blank effortless murders. The original Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator was a hulky bulky machine, the Wizard of Oz tin man with an axe to grind, while Kristanna Loken takes even Robert Patrick’s icy knifings to a more brutal extension – she points the gun and fires – bang, bang, bang. Terminator 3 doesn’t celebrate violence as much as use it to show how unfeeling mankind is. The nuclear weapons were made for protection but create an imbalance. Only the Terminators make sense, equal power against equal power when Arnold turns the future weapon on another futuristic weapon at Robert Brewster’s command central. The moral of the story is found in Matrix Reloaded when The Oracle and a human both surmise that working together is the only possibility. Mankind can’t get along and the violent solutions mankind creates fulfill David Andrews prediction that he has opened pandora’s box. Terminator 3 is as successful as Aliens in terms of taking a logical step forward. It is more successful than Aliens because there is a deeper meaning coated with enormous dazzle and anticipation. There was a buzz on the street and in the press the moment this film hit the big screen – it is one of the few movies to be far more exciting than its trailer. Would love to see this one on an Imax screen – it makes The Hulk come off like Finding Nemo – Bruce Banner can say “you don’t want to see me when I’m angry” – Schwarzenegger is much more menacing when he notes “anger is more useful than despair”, the paternal robot finding emotions in John Connor which piss him off and give him a reason to live. Fascinating stuff on many levels. There’s a weird father/son thing between the Hulk and Nick Nolte, reiterated by his girlfriend Betty Ross and her dad, the Captain Ahab of the Hulk. Claire Danes and David Andrews have the other side of that – he’s too busy to see his daughter, she falls apart at the thought of losing him. But the T-800 is still there for John Connor. Which means Mr. Anderson/Neo in Matrix is truly an orphan, the anomaly hatched by machines, and called in Matrix 1 by his teacher “a machine.” Which means, Hollywood has gone beyond stealing ideas from each other, these films have serious overlap that may be the start of some future movie fusion. Spiderman meets Superman? It’s already been done in the comics, and to pull it off, Terminator 3 is going to have to be the prototype. (c) 2003 by Joe Viglione
A Film Review by Joe Viglione
X-2 is one of, if not the, best comic book put to
film. Perhaps that’s why a Joyce Kulhawik might not
understand the relevance. For years and years and
years serious fans of Marvel and DC comics have had to
put up with alterations to successful stories and
captivating artwork, Hollywood often forgetting the
importance of the ideal: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix
it. Adam West and Burt Ward made a great Batman and
Robin, and Caesar Romero WAS The Joker. Take that
Jack Nicholson! Where the TV show went wrong was that
it turned one of the darker characters of comic books
something Alfred Hitchcock could relate to – and made
it a comedy. It was desecration on the level of
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Boris Karloff’s
brilliant performances in Frankenstein and The Bride
Of Frankenstein spoofed by a Hollywood that thought
nothing of turning Lon Chaney Jr. or Bela Lugosi into
Frankenstein’s monster. Let’s have Madonna sing some
Dixie Chick Tunes.
X-2 rises above all our fears about sacred territory
not allowed to translate to the big screen. Patrick
Stewart IS Professor X. It was always the hope of the
true fan that the dude who was too stiff to play a
Starship Captain would be allowed to play the role he
was born to bring to life. Ian McKellen is a superb
Magneto (you say Magneeto, I say Magnet-Oh) – the one
flaw in the film – and to this writer it is a big one
– is the plastic Magneto hat. Please! It should be
metal, sturdy, like a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica
in its flow and glow. But the acting is grade A.
Academy Awards won’t be handed out, though they should
be. Stewart and McKellen have that symbiotic
love/hate thing going on, and are wonderful.
But having the likes of Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman
settling INTO the role as opposed to Jack Nicholson in
the aforementioned other Batman overtaking the role,
now that takes guts and humility. These are actors
who know how to act, for they jump into their roles
with relish and become the part, rather than
force-feeding the audience a George Clooney, a Jim
Morrison wannabe and the always dreadful Michael
Keaton, all three in their attempts to play Batman as
awkward as Lugosi in the role of Frankenstein’s
monster. Adam West would have been the guy to put
some demonic sparkle into Tim Burton’s original
Batman, and Caesar
Romero did (like Frank Gorshin, Eartha Kitt, Julie
Newmar, Burgess Meredith and the gang) what Berry,
Jackman, Stewart, McKellen, Marsden and crew do here –
they bring a comic book to life.
Spiderman may have been the biggest film of last year
in terms of sales, but the costumes, the acting, the
condensed plot, it was not satisfying to someone who
grew up on the hero. Tobey Maguire is a great Peter
Parker, but by not taking the hint from George Lucas
and having someone else be Spiderman, the film lost
much. Darth Vader was David Prowse (he himself a
Frankenstein in a Hammer film) as much as he was the
voice of James Earl Jones. Christopher Reeves as
Superman came close, it held the crown until this X-2
burst on the scene. A 12:30 AM showing with a 3/4 or
more house is pretty telling, fans were in the lobby
of the Woburn Showcase cinema chatting after the film
ended, so this franchise is doing what Star Wars did.
Professor X is a better version of Captain Picard, and
these X Men are like his second generation Star Trek
the Next Generation. Is Wolverine not Whorf? Jean
Grey just Dianna Troy? James Marsden a much better
(and cuter) #1. Which brings us to the Queer As Folk
aspect of the film. The blatant homosexual aspect of
the movie does not take away from its power, it adds
to it. Mutants in the closet, nature or nurture, all
the sound bites hit so very close to home, and the
chemstry between Marsden and Jackman as they both seek
the affections of Famke Janssen – Jean Grey doesn’t
need to be a mind reader to see the jealousy between
the two blokes is sexual tension between the two male
stars…ok, ok, I’m getting carried away here, but
that’s the beauty of this film, it has stunning
visuals and allows the imagination to take flight.
Also a plus are the beautiful sets straight out of
STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT, arguably the best of the
latter generation Trek films. The kind of stuff you
expect to see in Star Wars, all derived from
Metropolis, of course, a good science fiction film
needs to have those generators, that underground
dungeon/science-gone-wrong lab, all the bells and
whistles. X-2 has all those bells and whistles and
more. Great acting, good script like a comic book
episode, it stays focused, and it is easy on the eyes.
X-MEN are characters much like Spiderman and The
Fantastic Four, really special heroes which deserve
really special treatment. Comic book fans finally get
their due here, and if “critics” and the masses don’t
get it, that’s ok, because the fans deserve this one.
For the fans, it is simply great.
(c) 2003 by Joe Viglione http://www.pmpnetwork.com/ReviewsData/movies.htm
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Film Review by Joe Viglione
Film Review by Joe Viglione
Prior to seeing this a friend predicted that the creepiness of the old Universal films would be absent, and he was so right. What this film needed was the star power of a Karloff, and there’s only one man alive who can deliver that. Let me tell you, Christopher Lee’s absence is felt. To those Batman fans who saw Timothy Burton’s bastardization of our hero as blasphemous as Oliver Stone’s desecration of The Doors, well, Imhotep isn’t as sacred as those icons.
Brendan Fraser is no Ben Affleck, and his handsome physique suffers the same fate experienced in Monkeybone. These are comedies that want to be dramas. Monkeybone was too adult to bring the kids to, and too childish for adults to be amused by. But, where Whoopi Goldberg delivered a wonderful wicked witch as Satan, there is no one, not a living soul, who punctures the cardboard characters in this charade. There are highlights – the special effects are decent, although a bit careless. You can feel where real life merges with the artwork, and this isn’t Monkeybone’s mixture of live action with animation. With action a plenty, the audience is going to shell out close to ten bucks to get a roller coaster ride, and the premiere on May 1st was packed to the rafters (this critic had to ask the manager to see if there were extra seats. There were, but not many). Audience reaction after the film was positive, but here’s the problem with that: people are basically accepting what is thrown on the screen, and look at the dearth of good flicks so far this spring. No X-Men, no Matrix. And speaking of The Matrix, when Fraser utters the line “Sorry, wrong guy” – it is a direct rip – both Keanu Reeves as “Neo” – “the one”, and Brendan Fraser as Rick O’Connell (what a vapid name for a hero!) reject the mantle of saviour they must wear. Ho hum. Gimme the arrogance of James Bond, thank you very much, false humility drains both pictures. Fraser also gets the Keanu Reeves award for lackluster acting, proving Woody Allen wrong about 85 or whatever percentage of it all is just showing up. The press release calls this “adventure action and violence”, but the violence is bloodless. The only death that matters in the film is that of a pet – it’s the only human moment in a film where you really want Arnold Vosloo as The Mummy to rip newcomer Freddi Boath limb from limb. The annoying little Alex O’Connell, son of Fraser and Rachel Weisz is the worst child “star” since Arnold (Schwarz, not Vosloo) faced that forgettable brat in Last Action Hero. At least Furlong and Kulkin know how to be young and clever by doing real things, displaying true antagonism. Alex is not scared of Imhotep, his annoyance of the man guarding him is more cat and mouse.
The tragedy of this film is that, like Monkeybone, there are moments of real genius here. The “magic carpet ride” to the lost world is stunning filmmaking. Rick O’Connel’s brother in law should have been left out. He adds nothing, is a major distraction, and if the filmmakers were thinking of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein they would be better served by resurrecting Abbott & Costello.
You’ve seen it all before, in the first edition of THE MUMMY. There is absolutely no character development, the acting is terrible, the soundtrack is loud, the special effects passable – but there is one redeeming quality this film has which will insure it will be a hit this summer. LOTS OF ACTION. That is it. The secret ingredient. Forget a decent plot, Writer / Director Stephen Sommers put more thought into the dramatic score running over the credits. Breaking the bad guy’s heart is a neat idea, if you have a villain that you can love, or hate. But Vosloo is no Hannibal Lecter, he doesn’t have that Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde charm of Anthony Hopkins, or the macabre elegance of Christopher Lee in “Dracula Has Risen >From The Grave” – a film with more drama and passion than this, a lost classic from Hammer.
Hammer Films gave the Universal Pictures legacy new meaning. Universal wants to bring in the hundred million plus by prostituting the old monsters. This film is the magazine FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND come to life, where Forrest J. Ackerman and the fans desperately wanted a serious film magazine a la Cinefantastique, and – was it the publisher, Warren, who wanted the twisted humor to appeal to the kids – to sell magazines?
With six billion people on the planet, one would think a good, well-paced, perfectly scripted, finely acted Night Of The Living Dead or Frankenstein or Freaks or Lugosi as Dracula, a tremendous film with vision, passion, art, a Star Wars of horror films, would find an audience.
Had Brendan Fraser demanded a film that began with the Hot Air balloon sequence (there are two references to The Wizard Of Oz – Imhotep as a male Wicked Witch turning the hour glass upside down, and the Hot Air balloon – which most fans of The Wizard of Oz never got to travel in.) There are flavors of The Matrix, Oz, Spiderman – especially the black suit Spiderman which would ooze across enemies – the black shadow consumes the desert in this flick, and the battle which looks like an out-take from Liz & Dick’s big scale Cleopatra or Ben Hur is, as mentioned above, just so totally bloodless.
The Scorpion King is not frightening, the little mummies walking on walls would be very effective if they weren’t chasing a double decker bus in a film that can’t decide if it should be a terror vehicle or light-hearted family fare.
Stephen Sommers comes off like Ed Wood with a big budget. So sad. This sequel, like the film that spawned it, had the potential to revitalize a genre in need of modernization. Fraser needs to be associated with a series that will establish him as more than a pretty boy, and Hollywood needs to take a book and bring it to life the way the author intended. The space alien version of Spiderman which Marvel developed to change Peter Parker’s suit would be a “marvelous” thing to behold transferred to the screen as originally conceived.
The Mummy Returns is a roller coaster ride which is good for a spin or two, but repeated viewings on cable will become boring because of the very bad comic relief. The Army of Annubis should’ve killed all the actors in this film and overtaken the Earth, but perhaps that’s asking too much. Then they could’ve brought Fraser back from the tomb, and maybe his shirt, and the shirts of the other actors, would have some real dirt on them instead of the make-up applied to their clothing, so ho hum, so unrealistic, so – Hollywood. Mindless escapism.
(c) 2001 by Visual Radio Productions
(c) 2001 by Visual Radio Productions