Film Reviews of Joe Viglione THE BLACK WIDOW

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

A Film Review -The Black Widow

Massachusetts native Chris Evans returns to Marvel Comics’ “House of Ideas” as Steve Rogers – Captain America, with a much different look than exhibited in the two films where he appeared as The Fantastic Four’s Johnny Storm. This important component of the Avengers collection, the final “prequel”, if you will, has to be at least as effective as Kenneth Branagh’s Thor: The God Of Thunder, and that it is. Director Joe Johnston has had plenty of experience with Science Fiction, from 1989’s Honey I Shrunk the Kids to Jurassic Park III. He does an elegant job of blending cliche after cliche in Captain America: The First Avenger, a forumla that has become a quite necessary merry-go-round of sorts for the variety of D.C. and Marvel superheroes launching out of the big screen. These are the spawn of the James Bond blockbuster pictures when Goldfinger was identifiable to the mainstream as Dr. Doom was to comic book fans in the pages of the Fantastic Four.

Captain America sports the film texture from Kerry Conran’s Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow with a bit of Josef Rusnak’s The Thirteenth Floor enhanced with a darker (and so obligatory nowadays) 3D. Let’s face it, the choice of director for these high stakes films is made with mathematical precision and Johnston doesn’t disappoint. The estimated budget of $140 million is in the ballpark for these Marvel epics, a rather daunting figure when The Matrix pulled in four hundred million more than the sixty-three million invested to start that series. Hugo Weaving is recycled yet again, and his vision for The Red Skull is most satisfying. Said to have been pulled, in part, from a James Bond villain, Maximilian Largo (if we are to believe Wikipedia), actor Klaus Maria Brandauer’s psychotic madman is a good study for Red Skull. Weaving’s malevolence far outpaces his Agent Smith from the Matrix…the calculating machine mind replaced by megalomania and a penchant for Norse mythology and the occult. He certainly uses his previous three movie stint as the computer virus as a foundation for this, and his hatred is far more believable here.
Back in the 1960s comics were for kids along with bubble gum cards and Monkees records. Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee had a vision of adults walking down the street with his comic magazines, not in brown paper bags or hidden in their suit jackets, but consumers proudly holding his creations for all to see. Decades after achieving that initial goal – establishing the colorful stories as legitimate literature, the successful author is as revered to his massive following as Alfred Hitchcock was to his, both icons making important cameos as a kind of on-camera signature, to the audience’s delight. The expensive action does get a bit hokey, my recollection of the 1960s Captain America didn’t have him this amped up. The film version gives the hero bonafide super powers that were not as evident in the comic book. This motion picture takes the liberty of giving Cap some of Daredevil’s instinct, Hulk’s strength and Spiderman’s gymnastics, probably to cope with the fact that he’s the most vulnerable super hero of the bunch. Think Superman with a bit of Kryptonite following him about 300 yards away.
As Johnny Storm the producers used Chris Evans for eye candy (though his acting skills rose above the scripts he was handed in both FF adventures).It’s not a stretch to see an actor go from one superhero to another as Marvel made it a habit to switch their comic book creations around…just as Medusa from The Frightful Four became Medusa of The Inhumans (two of the more underrated teams in Marvel history). Here he gets to transform his cerebral approach to Steve Rogers in the same way his body is morphed from stringbean to …well, Wolverine or Incredible Hulk…take your pick. These “origins” are very similar and the trick is to do it as flashy as possible. Marvel is well aware that the film going public has tired of the origin of Superamn, or how Batman came to be is told time and again. Having to address that for a figure unkown to the mainstream means keeping it brief, and adding a little contemporary terrorism to keep things modern and different.
To spice things up the audience is treated to a little Bride of Frankenstein mad scientist laboratory, a little dash of the early Batman serials from the 1940s and some military madness from the 1950s sci-fi film stampede. And while you’re at it, make it a World War II saga to boot. The two hours contain all of it and do it with enough action to make it the roller coaster ride it is supposed to be.
Captain America: The First Avenger has to follow the last Harry Potter film. That’s probably a good thing as the fantasy audience that is devouring Potter magic will, no doubt, want to get right back to the theaters. It’s no Deathly Hallows II, but it is pretty much what comic book fans want. The packed house in Boston waited to see if an Avenger’s trailer would follow the credits. Their disappointment that it did not only shows how devoted the audience for this genre still is.


Captain America Reviews by Joe Viglione

Review Captain America The Winter Soldier – This Adventure Works
April 5, 2014
UPDATE: July 11, 2021
Marvel/Disney states that the Black Widow is “A film about Natasha Romanoff in her quests between the films Civil War and Infinity War.”  

With the news that the Black Widow blew away the box office this weekend (and note, in my Black Widow review 2021  I was reserved and stated that the Marvel fandom would have to come out in droves; they did!)

My original April 5, 2014 review:

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo take over from Captain America: the First Avenger director Joe Johnston and come up with a unique, inspired and intelligent superhero film in an era where each new entry is required to deliver more bang for the buck. With 007 no longer having a monopoly on larger-than-life action films a special twist is required to keep the audiences coming back to this ever-widening genre. Think Brian DePalma’s use of Vanessa Redgrave as the mysterious “Max” in the 1996 Mission Impossible I (as exquisite as Anne Bancroft in 1993’s Malice) to bring a little cat and mouse intrigue into the over-the-top fireworks so necessary as part of the formula.

That Marvel has succeeded in taking its lesser heroes to the top – Captain America and Iron Man, specifically, is truly remarkable. While the Hulk and Captain America had TV movies (Cap getting the benefit of the immense Christopher Lee in one outing,) the Fantastic Four were not as embarrassed in public by the underground Roger Corman release of its film debut. Of course the two FF wide-release film vehicles fumbled badly, and the reboot seems headed in the same direction (Ben Affleck as Batman, anyone?) so treading on less-sacred ground makes for less of a risk. Well, now even lesser characters that we-who-love-Marvel always adored anyway – Dr. Strange and Sub-Mariner, won’t have the element of surprise in their favor. All Marvel characters are going to be received with the same amount of scrutiny.

This adventure works successfully because it employs, along with the Captain America mystique, the marvelous idea from Mad Magazine (dating back to 1961) – Spy vs Spy. Another 1960s idea (1966 to be exact) extracted from the Batman television series is at play here: the use of major film stars becoming part of comic book lore. Robert Redford and Gary Shandling (of all people; which one “of all people?” – BOTH!) appear in The Winter Soldier and the seriousness with which they bring to their respective roles hides the camp to make it a subconscious sort-of “tongue-in-cheek” – quite chic, actually.

In 1972 there was a documentary film, Winter Soldier, about the investigation into a darker aspect of the Vietnam war. The Washington Post noting ‘Winter Soldier’ is an important historical document, an eerily prescient antiwar plea and a dazzling example of filmmaking at its most iconographically potent. But at its best, it is the eloquent, unforgettable tale of profound moral reckoning.” Anne Hornaday

Which makes Captain America: The Winter Soldier new only in that it re-imagines many things from the past – as the Wachowski’s successfully did with the Matrix series – in such a way as to keep your attention and build the drama by balancing James Bond (and Sherlock Holmes’) stealth and sleuth with the immense extra-large combustion the Iron Man films deliver so successfully.

2016:Review Captain America: Civil War – It’s Got All The Elements
By Joe Viglione May 4, 2016


Captain America Civil War is the best Captain America and Avengers movie yet.  Ant-Man and Spider-Man add a new, much needed, dimension while – conspicuous in their absence – Quicksilver, Thor, the Hulk and Pepper Potts are intentionally M.I.A.

The key to the success of this film is the Marvel formula.  What sounds like it would be cluttered, twelve heroes, six on each side bashing each other’s brains out, is a smart new perspective on what is now a well-oiled machine.   Where Iron Man 2 had robot vs robot, Captain America III has fist pounding fist (and face,) which, of course, is better than a plethora of bullets flying – the quick fix for most action movies these days.

Yes, there are bullets, but not at the frequency that we’ve seen them of late and, as nice as the decrease in ammo may be, there’s the bonus added extra of Ben Affleck not being in this movie.

With Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice released on March 25, DC had a full six weeks to advance its mega battle prior to Captain America’s May 6th date, but as of this writing on May 4th Civil War has brought in over 234 million overseas prior to its American blitz (which is, perhaps, why the embargo on this review in advance has been lifted, reviews are coming in from foreign countries, of course, allowing us to publish this essay prior to May 6 opening.)  And while we are on the subject, with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman fighting highly questionable villains – Mark Zuckerberg (or the actor who played him) as Lex Luthor. Really?   – and a dark ooze creeping over the stale film like Mr. Smith from the Matrix sticking his hand into the mix and just draining it of all energy – the reverse happens in Captain America: Civil War.  The red, white and blue tones of Captain Steve Rogers are bright, as are the sunlit battles, friend vs a friend as the villain stays behind the scenes manipulating the war from within.

It’s got all the elements of Mission Impossible, double agents, and a flagrant nod to both The Manchurian Candidate and Star Wars.  In fact, it is so blatant that Tony Stark, synonymous forever now with Robert Downey Jr., just comes out and calls Bucky – the Winter Soldier – “Manchurian candidate,” saying what the viewer is thinking.  It’s like the old Golden Girls TV show, you saw the joke coming at you at 5 miles per hour and then Bea Arthur or Rue or Estelle or Betty would repeat the joke you are thinking in your brain – it was the delivery that made it so special and kept it from falling flat. That same intangible works here and that is why Marvel has it all over D.C. in the film game.  Oh, and did I tell you the good news?  Ben Affleck is not in this movie.

There are spectacular filming and great acting here, and the film succeeds because it doesn’t travel into any of the minefields that Batman v Superman jumped into with no sense of logic, good taste, or care for what the audience wants (Exhibit A: Christian Bale as the Batman.)  Precision acting from Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Paul Bettany as Vision, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch,  Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., William Hurt, Paul Rudd, Jeremy Renner, all provide the storytelling needed to keep your attention for two and a half hours.  Even newbie Tom Holland, the actor a mere 19 and looking all of twelve years of age, has Spiderman and Peter Parker down pat.  He looks like Tobey Maguire’s kid brother, and the emphasis on saving the Spiderman franchise (which Sony controls) gets its new lease on life in this Disney/Marvel platform.

And Marvel knows from experience to keep the genre exciting, each film is like another monthly episode of the comic, with summer heightening the excitement.  May 9 is the screening of the new X-Men Apocalypse, so the hits just keep on coming, though X –Men is a 20th Century Fox – not a Disney/Marvel feature, the franchise is too important for it to go the way of the Fantastic Four.  The scenery in Civil War is breathtaking, be it the “Perfect Storm” waters where the United States government keeps its superhero prison or the winter snows of Siberia. William Hurt as “Thunderbolt” Ross (played by Sam Elliott in 2003’s Hulk, Hurt taking over in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk) goes beyond his usual no-nonsense, let’s control this situation. Here he goes further than merely engaging his obsession with Bruce Banner (who is not in this film,) here Ross fixates on having complete power over every superhero, and Tony Stark caves in, the complicated Stark played so eloquently by the involved Robert Downey Jr.

It is all the contrasts that delight here, Marvel’s red white and blue Captain America beating the all-powerful red white and blue of DC’s Superman. Again.  And, along with being a terrific dawn of summer film, there’s the added extra bonus that Ben Affleck does not appear in it.

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

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 He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for,, 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.


Review by Joe Viglione
Daredevil is a special creature from “the House of Ideas”, Marvel Comics, though there is no denying he is based on Batman. Minus the wealth and young buddy, this vigilante one ups Bruce Wayne because rather than wealth to buy James Bond-ish cars and build a BatCave, Attorney Matt Murdock has heightened senses rather than “just” the intuition that the Bat relies on.
When Superman delivered Christopher Reeves, and the Batman TV series brought us Adam West, it spoke volumes about NOT bringing in a name actor to overshadow the colorful characters from the pulpy pages adored by millions. Not only did Michael Keaton destroy the strong image that actor West forced through the comedic routines, Jack Nicholson upstaged The Joker. That West and Cesar Romero didn’t get to play their mindgames inside the otherwise fine Tim Burton BATMAN is a cinematic tragedy.
Which brings us to Ben Affleck. You know, it’s not as frightening a prospect as the thought of a latter-day Nicholas Cage playing SUPERMAN, and Affleck does create a wonderful Matt Murdock. Not only that, David Keith was born to play the short-lived Jack Murdock, the similarities are very interesting. The problem with Daredevil is that when it stays within the world created by Stan Lee (who, when doing his Alfred Hitchcock walk on, is just stunning for Marvel Comics fans), it is fantastic. When it becomes The Matrix meets Tim Burton’s Batman by way of the Sopranos, it gets watered down by typical Hollywood colour-by-the-numbers dreck. Joe Pantoliano as Ben Urich is very good, but he gives out a yelp much like when Keanu Reeves came up behind him in Matrix, and isn’t Keanu the cinematic cousin of Ben Affleck – two actors with better looks than acting talent? Affleck’s stiffness works to Murdock’s benefit – who better to play a blind man than an actor still groping and wandering in the dark? Affleck could turn out to be the next Rock Hudson, an actor who – legend has it -made one of the worst screen tests in film history, a screen test allegedly shown to aspiring actors so that they would get a sense of how great an unskilled individual could become. The mob story gets more than just a clone of actor Robert Iler from The Sopranos as one of the bullies beating up on Scott Terra, the youthful Matt Murdock. Michael Clarke Duncan hardly resembles the lost soul from The Green Mile – as the powerful African American version of Kingpin (and what a unique take on one of Marvel’s most compelling villains!) his abilities add immensely to the mood.
The clip shown on the Jay Leno show of Kingpin meeting with Matt Murdock is simply brilliant, Duncan’s comment that “no one is innocent” details the master criminal’s philosophy succinctly and with a charm not in the comic books. What is becoming a bore today in film, though, is this incessant “Martial Arts” kick. From James Bond to all the Matrix clones you can imagine, enough is enough. There is a wealth of activity in the comics and why oh why won’t Hollywood go to that well and keep bringing fresh water to motion pictures?
Which takes this full circle back to Timothy Burton’s BATMAN. The parallel between the creation of these anti-heroes down to the red roses is too close to cloning. Colin Farrell hits a bullseye with Bullseye, his good looks removed for acting skill that upstages Ben Affleck. Farrell and Michael Clarke Duncan have true chemistry plotting their villainy, while the true sparks could’ve been generated if Bullseye had a “normal” alter ego and got buddy- buddy with Matt Murdock. If Hollywood is going to stray from the original concept at least they could do it with a bit of cleverness -see Ben Affleck’s quote in a February issue of Entertainment Weekly where he wants people to start a rumor he’s having an affair with Farrell.
Daredevil has much to be proud of; Affleck is finding his way as an actor and looks great as the attorney -the sets are dark and beautiful, but there’s a sense of restraint from director/screenwriter Mark Steven Johnson. A feeling of “let’s not stray from what we think the public wants.” This attitude certainly did much for Spiderman, to the chagrin of true Spiderman fans, and Daredevil does not get abused in the same way. But it still isn’t what those of us who grew up on the character expect, know or love. Maybe it will take Dr. Stephen Strange to break the mold and be a comic book hero that Hollywood doesn’t desecrate, a character that can be himself. Then a movie masterpiece can be expected. For now Daredevil is good escapism, a PG13 world full of action and violence with images of The Exorcist overflowing, so much Hunch Back Of Notre Dame Catholic Church stuff permeating the decor. And what a time to have so much Catholicism on celluloid – what on Earth is that all about? The Stigmata finale is also rather suspect, but all in all, Daredevil is a lot better than the fears many fans had regarding what the big screen would do to a beloved cult creature. When all is said and done it’s enjoyable and worth watching a few more times when it hits cable.
(C) 2003 by Joe Viglione

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

The Blacklisted Journalist
The Blacklisted Journal – Edited by Al Aronowitz







X2: X-Men United (2003) 





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Movie Review by Joe Viglione
When I was a young boy in St. Agnes School, the nuns would post the “Condemned” movies on the bulletin board. They would cut out the page from THE PILOT where the powers that be informed us how we would go to hell if we viewed the despicable films listed. To my impressionable mind, people were condemned – how could a motion picture be treated as if it were Charles Manson or Timothy McVie?
When David – as Biblical a name as you can get – touches the Virgin Mary and the idol comes crashing down – Spielberg’s message that even praying to an image for 2000 years is not going to make your wish come true. But it does come true, and as the film quotes Shakespeare – there lies the rub.
The statue of the Virgin Mary is actually the Blue Fairy from Pinnochio in some submerged New York long after Planet Of The Apes has happened – and let us check off the films that have influenced this epic:
The X Men – Mutants Vs Humanity

As the Mechas go for the bait – the spare parts from the Flesh Fairs, they face off against the enemy – humankind – right out of Marvel Comics and the recently released picture.
Star Trek The Next Generation
Jean Luc Picard gets both his identities in this flick. Data wants to become human throughout the series, and David reiterates the sentiment
Classic Star Trek
The Aliens are Close Encounters meets ET meets The Talosians from the Star Trek Pilot “thousands of us are probing his mind, Magistrate…” indeed

Poor David. When he sees the trademark on his name, and the little boy in the box shaking like a Mexican jumping bean, the (R) trademark symbol next to his name, he realizes he is not the prostitute that Spielberg declares he is throughout the film — even going to great lengths to have Jude Law make it clear the parents who buy this boy toy for love are as shallow as the clients who purchase a mechanical hustler — no, he is even lower than a prostitute – he is a product sold on a grocery shelf!
At least a prostitute can go home and deal with the reality of it all, this is really love in a jar.
That the Creator, William Hurt (and maybe Spielberg wanted the name Hurt to be even more blunt) chooses
the family of Monica and Henry Swinton —knowing — counting on the fact that they will reject the boy – is the first abuse of this new life form; the actual rejection is the second. Martin could have had the perfect little brother, but his jealousy evokes Cain and Abel
“Now Abel became a shepherd and kept flocks, while Cain tilled the soil. Time passed and Cain brought some of the produce of the soil as an offering for Yahweh, while Abel for his part brought the first-born of his flock and some of their fat as well. Yahweh looked with favour on Abel and his offering. But he did not look with favour on Cain and his offering and Cain was very angry and downcast.” And you know the rest of the story.
There was no need for Martin, dressed in his best Darth Vader attire, the half-man / half-machine, kept alive by Cryogenics, fitted with computer legs, trying to convince David he is organic, thus he is real. But that doesn’t stop David from holding on to his brother for dear life with the neighborhood kids put a knife to the robo-boy…KEEP ME SAFE is the theme, and when the
human family lets him down, he turns to The Blue Fairy. This is also the product of malice – Martin, with evil in his heart – demands his mother read Pinnochio, and it is the concept of the Blue Fairy which inspires David to do the impossible. William Hurt also uses this to his advantage to trap David again.
Hurt loves his creation – it is an extension of himself, but like Dr. Frankenstein he failed to impart any OF himself to the creature – thus he can be cold and detached – – his office full of pictures of the creation with himself are not part of David’s memory banks, even if David experienced this interaction with his maker prior to Monica imprinting her essence on his programming with the words that serve as the combination to unlock the love of this new life form.

Oh there’s Arnold’s SIXTH DAY in this with the helicopter scenes, as well as SIXTH SENSE. Haley Joel Osment is no McCauley Kulkin one hit wonder, his acting is brilliant and totally believable, he is both human and machine, and for
him to be able to be so believable in two major films shows a depth Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney could only envy – this is real Judy Garland stuff, just keep the kid off the drugs… There’s Terminator here, but no Matrix, there is lots of Wizard of Oz, lots of it, but no Dracula, when Monica gets her first glimpse of David it is a combination of Boris Karloff’s The Mummy (Beware the beat of the padded feet), The Thing From Another World, or even ET – a little ET obscured by clouds “Henry what have you done”…Uncle Henry, Anty Emm,
..and like Tommy Lee Jones in Double Jeapordy (talk about Double Jeapordy, Osment goes into the drink twice, not once!),Jude Law comes in mid-film – this becomes The Talented Mr. Ripley meets Sixth Sense – and the two actors deny typecasting with these marvelous performances.

But it is the Gladiator scenes in the Coliseum where Gigolo Joe and young David have to fight The Wicked Witch. In total film paradox, Spielberg has a Christian type evangelist feeding the Mechas (almost an hybrid of Messiah and Christ, Mechis…)to the lions. The Mechas resemble the Christians here, but in what is even more of a blatant attack on Catholicism, Spielberg,
in essence, is saying that the Catholic Church preys on its own.
And he’s right. It’s just that – it is supposed to be politically incorrect to make that kind of a statement unlessyou yourself are an ex-Catholic – and know first-hand the hypocrisy of a religion which refuses to adhere to the policies and ideas that Jesus set forth. But Spielberg is Spielberg, he can do this and get away with it, and the Catholic Church probably wil not condemn this because it is a “Family Film”, so a movie like PRIEST gets roasted while A.I. will be able to infiltrate impressionable minds.
Don’t you love it?

Exodus 2:3 “When she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him; coating it with bitumen and pitch, she put the child inside and laid it among the reeds at the river’s edge. His sister stood some distance away to see what would
happen to him.”

Well, the Darlene (R) doll never got to follow David as Monica rejected him and deposited him in the forest where the Tin Woodsman (Gigolo Joe) and Toto (Teddy Bear) would not find the Emerald City but the lusty red city, Rouge.
Gotta hand it to Steven Spielberg, subtle he is not. He isn’t a story teller, Spielberg is a story re-teller, but it is marvelous and very well photographed.

Like The Wizard Of Oz, this film will take years for people to appreciate its depth and its beauty – everyone is caught up in the ET and Close Encounters and Dr. Strangelove (or how about James Bond and Dr. No, I mean Dr. Know) – but what the filmmaker is saying is what Jim Morrison said “You cannot petition the Lord with Prayer”.
Then he turns around and says you can. although Mary Poppins (a marvelous Clara Bellar as a machine who truly loves the little lad, and smiles at him as acid is poured over her – this is NOT Tina Turner as the acid queen, but as Clara Bellar gets it, Tina Turner as Thunderdrome is a very real part of the equation as Mad Max Factors in heavily ).
The moral of the story : Machines can love better than people. Read Ray Kurzweil’s THE SPIRITUAL AGE OFMACHINES, and understand that Spielberg’s nicking of riffs from The Twilight Zone to Babes In Toyland is a true message with hidden meanings. That man is incapable of caring about anyone but himself, and if Dr. Frankenstein was stroking his ego by playing God, William Hurt was stroking his pocket book. Both had less than noble reasons for bringing life to the unliving, and
were hardly responsible for cleaning up the toxic waste after opening Pandora’s Box.
My opinion is that A.I. is an incredible motion picture on many levels,
and that few people will really get it until reading my review.

COPYRIGHT (2001) By Joe Viglione
This review may not be copied or
re-printed without permission from
the author

Film Review by Joe Viglione

2001 on PMPNetwork Site – Mark Snyder

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