Friday 21 October 2022

Black Adam (Movie Review)

The DCEU continues the expansion of its cinematic universe with Black Adam, the latest comic book hero to join the likes of Wonder Woman and Aquaman on the big screen. This is following a lengthy development that had many fans wondering if the film was ever going to see the light of day. But with Dwayne Johnson starring as the titular antihero, there is no doubt that he must have been instrumental in getting the project off the ground. Now that the film is finally out for all to see, the question arises of whether or not it managed to live up to the hype.

Set in the fictional city of Kahndaq, the film centers upon the origins of Black Adam, a man who is bestowed with godlike powers by the Council of Wizards during his people's time of need. But after he misuses those powers in his pursuit of revenge, he gets imprisoned by the group for his actions. Flash forward 5,000 years and Black Adam is set free into a world that is very different from the one he knew. 
However, his resurrection also draws the attention of a group of heroes known as the Justice Society of America, who also believes he is too dangerous to be let out of his prison. Meanwhile, his city has since fallen under the subjugation of Intergang, a crime syndicate that rules over its people with brute force. And so Adam must choose whether or not to become the hero the city needs, or the villain some already see him as.

The DCEU has been on a roll of late with a string of crowd-pleasing entries, from last year's The Suicide Squad to its TV show spinoff, Peacemaker, earlier this year. So the hope going into Black Adam was that the film would continue that winning streak by delivering another worthwhile superhero romp. But even more than that, fans in the know have been edged on by The Rock himself into believing that this could very well lay the groundwork for something bigger. And while most people might be eager to learn more about that aspect of the film specifically, I am not here to reveal if or how well the movie sets up that epic showdown.
Instead, I am only going to be speaking on how well the movie works on its own merits. That said, you'll definitely want to stick around to watch the mid-credits scene in all its glory. All teasing aside, Black Adam is what I would call yet another middle-of-the-road entry in the DCEU. It does everything it can to tick all the requisite boxes that make such movies enjoyable. There's plenty of action of the excessive CGI-all-over-the-screen variety, as well as your typical moments of levity and comic relief. The problem comes in how all of this is delivered to the audience. 

The dialogue often fluctuates between hamfisted and laughably bad, even though the actors themselves are clearly doing what they can with the material that was given. Most of it is just heavy exposition dumps anyway, as they try to fill us in on all the requisite lore and backstory. Except they seem to forget that they needed to have some lines left over that would work to endear us to these characters. This effectively takes away any feelings of dread or fear for their safety that I might have had, and even the big emotional moments that came later on in the film couldn't help but feel flat as a result.
The members of the Justice Society of America barely leave any kind of impression, which is a far cry from the rich characterization we had in The Suicide Squad last year. The same thing could be said about the film's villain, who was just as forgettable and cookie-cutter as they come. Then there was Black Adam himself, who was basically the same character Dwayne Johnson had played in other films, only nowhere as funny or charismatic. He did have some of the best lines in the film overall, but none of that was enough to save what felt like a phoned-in performance.
Black Adam is yet another DCEU movie that fails to reach its full potential. The film can be described as average at best, and even borderline mediocre at worst. All of that is not to say that there isn't enjoyment to be had with the movie, as I can easily see it pleasing crowds of moviegoers who simply want to have a good time at the movies. But for those wanting more, they'll just have to look ahead to future DCEU projects like The Flash and Aquaman 2 and hope that those manage to deliver the goods.

Friday 14 October 2022

Halloween Ends (Movie Review)

Michael Myers returns to terrorize horror fans in Halloween Ends, the third and final film in the new Halloween trilogy. And much like the previous film, Halloween Kills, Universal Pictures has chosen a hybrid distribution model that sees the film debut simultaneously in theaters and on their streaming service, Peacock. Whether this is reflective of their faith in the movie's financial prospects is anyone's guess. But the more important question is how well does the new film bring the aging franchise to its supposed close.

Set four years after the events of the previous film, Halloween Ends finds the residents of Haddonfield still struggling to heal from the most recent killing spree wrought by Michael Myers. This is despite the fact that the masked psychopath had not been sighted since that last round of bloodshed. And with the townsfolk somehow blaming his favorite victim, Laurie Strode, for all that has happened, it is clear that they'll be no moving on, at least not while everyone was still living under the fear of his potential return. But when he eventually does so, Laurie must do all that she can to bring an end to his reign of terror once and for all. 

If that plot synopsis sounds suspiciously like the one from the last film, then that is because the two films effectively share the same basic premise. This is not to say that the new film does not throw a few curve balls along the way. But to discuss any of that here will be to risk immediately failing into spoiler territory. The film's marketing had itself played coy with the full scope of events in the film, so I'll be respecting their wishes by not saying more about the plot than I already have. Not that any of it means anything, since the film itself is just as nonsensical as the last one.

Despite what could be considered a relatively strong start, it takes forever before things truly kick into gear. And even when they finally do, you'll be assaulted by all the typical cardinal sins seen in most low-brow slasher films. This includes people acting dumb and putting themselves in compromising situations, simply because the script dictates that they do so. The story defies all manner of logic, making the characters very hard to root for or ultimately care about.

Not even Jamie Lee Curtis herself is spared from this. It is clear that the actress is putting everything she can into the material that was given, but her talents can only carry the film so far before the whole thing gets bogged down by its own ridiculousness. At least she doesn't get relegated to the sidelines like she had during the bulk of the previous film. I wish I could say the same thing about Michael Myers though, who was pretty much MIA for more than half of the film, which no doubt contributed to its overall lack of excitement.

Like the two films that preceded it, there are plenty of callbacks to the original 1978 movie. But unlike those films, this one simply lacks the thrills needed to sustain its nearly two-hour runtime. Instead, the movie attempts to take a more philosohical approach by trying to dissect the very nature of evil itself. Is it a result of one's unique experiences or something that was always there to begin with, just bubbling under the surface? Sadly, it fails to tackle the very question it posits in any meaningful way, resulting in a story that simply falls flat in its execution.

But chances are you aren't here for any of that. In fact, most of the storytelling shortcomings in such films can be forgiven if the film itself manages to deliver on the promise of its trailers and the overall expectations of the genre. And to a degree, it does, earning its R rating with kills that range from somewaht creative to fairly pedestrian, all of which culminates in a decent final showdown that could very well satisfy long-time fans. Except it takes too long to get there and there weren't enough of those kills to sustain the movie's momentum along the way.

Halloween Ends fails to live up to the promise of its title through its failure to bring the aging franchise to a satisfying close. This is not due to a lack of trying though, as the filmmakers clearly had their sights set on something that could be considered greater than the sum of its parts. It is just unfortunate that their movie is neither thrilling enough to be considered a good slasher film, nor is it clever enough to satisfy anyone asking for more than that. One way or the other, we can all rest with the knowledge that it is all over now, at least pending when next someone else cooks up an idea for another sequel or reboot.

Friday 7 October 2022

Werewolf By Night (Movie Review)

As we prepare for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever to bring the fourth phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a close next month, many are left wondering what direction the once-universally-beloved franchise would be taking going forward. We've had everything from new alien threats and multiverses introduced in the last couple of films, making it unclear what exactly Kevin Feige and crew are currently building towards. But just when we thought we'd seen all the MCU had to offer in the current phase, it hits us with what is probably its most puzzling addition.

In Werewolf By Night, a group of seasoned monster hunters gathers at the mysterious Bloodstone Manor for a chance to claim the Bloodstone, a magical artifact that would imbue its wielder with supernatural abilities. These include Jack Russell (Gael Garcia Bernal), a man whose quiet demeanor is only betrayed by his impressive kill count, as well as a woman named Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly), the heirloom's rightful inheritor. But as they begin the hunt that would determine who gets to keep the Bloodstone, it soon becomes clear that not all who are gathered there are who they claim to be.

Michael Giacchino takes the director's chair for Werewolf By Night. This is following his work as a composer on films such as Spider-Man: No Way Home and more recently Matt Reeves' The Batman. Presented in stunning black and white, his film is at once a love letter to the classic monster films from the first half of the 20th century. And while that in itself might be a turn-off for viewers with more modern sensibilities, you'd be doing yourself a disservice by dismissing it based on its looks.

In fact, one might argue that it is its throwback presentation that immediately helps to set it apart from everything else that came before it. The TV special (as it is being billed) has some of the most satisfying horror-infused thrills seen in the MCU since its inception, even managing to surpass the likes of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in certain aspects. It is also the most creatively audacious the MCU has been since those early episodes of WandaVision, employing every trick in the book to replicate the look and feel of classic monster films.

But aside from its gorgeous cinematography and impressive practical effects, it also manages to tell a surprisingly heartfelt story. To say more about this would be to risk spoiling its eventual outcome, but I can at least say that at the core of that story is one of the best bromances I've seen in the MCU. And so my main criticism would be that I wished we had gotten to spend more time with these characters, as the film barely clocks in at 52 minutes in length. On the flip side, this ensures that the movie never overstays its welcome, while leaving room for more stories to be explored in the future, should they choose to do so.

Werewolf By Night is the Marvel Cinematic Universe at its most daring. It takes viewers on a wild adventure that proves that the franchise has space for the occasional standalone endeavor. So while it might not serve to steer the MCU in one direction or the other, it still acts like a breath of fresh air as it shakes up a formula that many have begun to find stale. And even more than that, it captures the spirit of countless horror classics, which should undoubtedly go a long way in helping you get in the mood for the festivities this spooky season.