Thursday 31 March 2022

Morbius (Movie Review)

Coming fresh off of the success it had gotten with Spider-Man: No Way Home last Christmas, all eyes are on Sony and the third film in their villain-centric Spider-Man Universe, Morbius. This is after several delays that saw the film get moved out of its original 2020 release date, all the way to April 1st, 2022. And as trailers continued to sell us on the film's connections to Spider-Man and the other villains in his rogue's gallery, so also did our interest continue to grow. But like a cruel April Fool joke that nobody saw coming, the movie finally arrives to show us that things are not quite what they seem.

The film stars Jared Leto as Michael Morbius, a doctor who was born with a rare blood disorder. In his quest to find a cure for his illness, he begins to conduct experiments with a peculiar breed of bats he believes have the enzyme needed to reverse his condition. But the experiment ends up also giving him some of their other vampire-like qualities, including their insatiable thirst for human blood. Now Morbius must wrestle against becoming the monster people already see him as, before he ends up hurting those who are dearest to him.

On the surface, Morbius looks like a film with lots of potential. We have a fairly popular antihero from the Spider-Man comic books being played by a more-than-capable Jared Leto. We also have the promise of connections to the larger Sony Spider-Man Universe. Most importantly though, we have an origin story that looked like it would deliver both the heart and thrills we've all come to expect from these comic book movies.

And sure enough, the movie starts off with all of the aforementioned promises intact. But it doesn't take very long before the whole thing quickly loses its way with an incoherence that needs to be seen to be believed. Everything from the dialogue, to the one-dimensional characters reeks of a script that needed more than a few more passes in the writing room.

The one area where the film could have scored any kind of redemption points is in its action scenes and even those are marred with a CGI-heavy style that seems ripped straight out of the mid-2000s. It is difficult to tell what is happening at any given moment and most times you just want the whole thing to stop before you develop a headache trying to decipher any of it.

But the movie's biggest offense in my opinion is its utter failure to live up to expectations. The film was heavily marketed as a part of the larger Sony Spider-Man Universe. But any connection it has with the recent Spider-Man films is tenuous at best. In fact, many of the scenes and connections shown in the trailers are nowhere to be seen in the actual movie, in what is probably the most egregious case of false advertising I have seen in recent memory.

It is not all doom and gloom though, as the film did have one or two areas that managed to shine through the murk. First there is Jared Leto as Morbius, whose performance was heartfelt and restrained. Then there was the opening bit like I said, which looked like it should've led into a far better movie than the one we got. Except none of that is enough to save what is essentially another movie more concerned with building an interconnected universe than actually telling a coherent story.

To say that Morbius is a barely comprehensible mess would be putting it lightly. It is, quite simply, one of the worst comic book movies to grace cinema screens since Vin Diesel's Bloodshot. Anyone planning to catch the film on the big screen is advised to do so with heaps of garlic and holy water in tow. And even then, you'll be hard pressed to glean any kind of enjoyment out of its 1 hour and 44 minutes, other than perhaps chuckling at just how bad the whole thing ends up becoming.

Friday 11 March 2022

Turning Red (Movie Review)

Pixar Animation Studio continues to deliver the goods with Turning Red, their latest coming-of-age adventure film. The movie is helmed by Domee Shi in her feature film directorial debut, whose work on the 2018 short film, Bao, had earned her an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. So anticipation for her latest project was always going to be high, which has only been further heightened by its intriguing premise and good-looking trailers. But does the film itself live up to those expectations, or does it manage to exceed them?

In Turning Red, 13-year-old Mei Lee seems to have everything figured out. She's a straight-As scoring student that balances her free time between helping out her mum at their family-run Temple and hanging out with her close-knit friends, Miriam, Abby, and Priya (not to mention the bond they've forged over their shared obsession with the terribly misnamed boy band, 4*Town).

But beneath her cool exterior lies a girl still struggling to accept the changes that come with adolescence, least of which includes her sudden attraction to members of the opposite sex. And things become even more complicated when she also starts transforming into a giant red panda whenever she experiences an emotional outburst. Now she must learn to keep things under control or risk having her once-straightforward life come crashing down around her.

When it was first announced that Turning Red was going to be skipping theaters in favor of a Disney+ debut, I'd initially felt a jolt of disappointment. This was after all one of the films I was looking forward to the most in 2022, and the third straight Pixar film being sent to the streaming service following both Soul and Luca. But much like those other films had done in 2020 and 2021 respectively, this one also manages to shine despite being relegated to the small screen in key territories.

This has a lot to do with the movie's overall charm and its strong message about the value of friendship. Even though that message would appear geared towards teenage girls, much of what is depicted should be instantly recognizable for anyone who grow up in the late 90s or early 2000s, especially during the height of boy band mania. And while Mei Lee's hijinx are often played for laughs, watching her and her friends navigate adolescence and its inherent messiness is something we can all relate to on some level.

On the production front, Turning Red is completely gorgeous to look at. But I'm pretty sure you already knew that, given Pixar's past work and their tendency for producing top-of-the-line animation. A talented voice cast helps to bring that animation to life, including Sandra Oh as Mei Lee's mother, Ming. Brother and sister duo Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell also populate its soundtrack with some period-accurate pop songs, while Ludwig Goransson rounds out the score.

Turning Red captures enough of the old Pixar magic to make it a worthwhile watch for the entire family. It serves as a great metaphor for the various changes that accompany a young girl's transition to womanhood, while still resonating with young and older audiences alike with some of the funniest gags to make it into an animated film under the Disney umbrella. Above all, it is a film about accepting one's self, even if that might not fit into the broader expectations of others or the ones we care about the most.

Saturday 5 March 2022

The Batman (Movie Review)

It is no secret that The Batman was my most anticipated movie heading into 2022. Following in the footsteps of the 2019 film, Joker, this latest iteration of the Caped Crusader was intended as another standalone DC project, existing outside of the DCEU and divorced from everything that came before it. And from the time that the very first trailers dropped, it was clear that director Matt Reeves had a vision for the film that was steeped in film noir sensibilities. But does all that style translate into a worthwhile movie or is this yet another case of style over substance?

The movie finds a world-weary Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattison) in his second year as the masked vigilante known as Batman. But this is Batman as we've never seen him before on film, a hard-boiled detective that isn't afraid to crack skulls to get answers. He has formed an uneasy alliance with the Gotham PD, through police commissioner, James Gordon (Geoffrey Wright). Their relationship becomes even more strained though when a serial killer known as the Riddler (Paul Dano) starts adorning his victims with personal messages addressed to Batman. But as they race against time to catch the criminal mastermind before he claims more victims, they uncover a trail of corruption threatening to shake the very foundations of the crime-ridden city.

My expectations were always going to be sky-high going into a movie like The Batman. After all, we've had to endure a more than 5-month delay following production troubles during the height of the coronavirus outbreak. And in all that additional time, my anticipation had only continued to grow, spurred on by solid trailer after solid trailer. So the movie certainly felt like it had a lot to live up to. This was not only promising to be a fresh take on a truly beloved DC icon, it was also coming in the wake of the high bar already set by the excellent Dark Knight trilogy. Even the DCEU had already shown us what a world-weary Batman would look like. So it was always going to be a question of whether or not this new film will be able to hit that bar, or at the very least, justify its existence.

Well, I'm pleased to say that the movie definitely didn't disappoint, at least going by the experience I had during my initial viewing. Notice I'd said initial viewing because quite frankly, this is one of those films that simply demands to be seen more than once to fully appreciate. At almost 3 hours in length, the movie is packed with so much detail and interconnected story threads that it often teetered on the edge of becoming overwhelming. That said, I did appreciate that all of it was well-paced and the movie never started to lose any steam or feel like a slog. Most of that is due to Matt Reeve's deft handling of the script, which remained captivating from the opening monologue up until the credits started to roll.

Speaking of monologue, we do indeed have to touch on Robert Pattison's portrayal of both Bruce Wayne and Batman. The seasoned actor continues to prove his acting chops beyond his early Harry Potter and Twilight days, giving us what is easily one of the most grounded versions of Bruce Wayne and Batman we've gotten in live-action. It was impressive the amount of emotion he was able to convey with very little dialogue, as we could still feel all the pain and conflict he was going through in every single scene. All that emotion and overall broodiness might come across as excessive for some though, but I felt it worked in the context of the story the movie was trying to tell.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't say something about Michael Giacchino's score for the film, which was every bit as rousing as one would expect from a film of this scope. But I think where the film shines the brightest is in its visuals. And no, I don't mean that ironically, as the decision to set most of the film at nighttime certainly plays a role in how the city of Gotham was perceived. Its griminess is almost palpable, like a cesspool that is on the very edge of imploding. The actors are also constantly draped in shadows, with plenty of silhouettes and shots that looked like they could have been ripped straight off the pages of a graphic novel. The film is definitely a looker and one that deserves to be seen on the biggest (and hopefully brightest) screen available.

The Batman might not be the DC hero's best cinematic outing to date, but it certainly ranks as one of his most ambitious. It captures a side of the "World's Greatest Detective" that is often neglected in film while peeling back layers of his character that offer more insight into his dual personas and the toll one takes on the other. Most importantly, the film makes yet another case for why comic book movies that exist outside of established cinematic universes need to be greenlit more often. Because that is where true creativity has the freedom to blossom. And yes, I realize that another shared universe is already being planned around this new film. But it was still refreshing to see Matt Reeves take a clean break from everything that came before to craft something truly visionary.