It’s been a good few weeks for BIG movies at the flicks. There are many huge explosions, stunts, fights and action galore. Occasionally there are characters too.
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
The most utterly lush and gorgeous thing I’ve seen at the cinema since, oh – probably the first one. It is astonishing that a film can have such texture, both in the mashup of animation styles but also in the richness of its storytelling and character development. It’s a powerful statement of what superhero films can be. While I imagine having a decent knowledge of the many different Spider-Men (Spider-Mans…?) would be beneficial, it’s not a huge leap to grasp that they’re often quite different in their own dimensions, and they are delightful, wacky (cowboy and his steed, also wearing a Spider-Man mask), sometimes scary and all feel unique. This time we’re introduced to the world by Spider-Gwen, which is a lovely change of direction. We later revert to the equally brilliant Miles Morales as he encounters his next villain of the week, Spot. That’s also (possibly) the very best and most imaginative fight sequence from any film ever – he’s covered in spots which are little portals so if you punch him, you may punch yourself, but it goes waaay beyond that. Such cleverness simply never ends as we enter the very best version of the multiverse so far seen on-screen (yes, even more so than Everything Everywhere All at Once), so much more so than the MCU’s version which saddens me further every time it comes up. In the Spider-Verse, what happens in the other universes actually does matter, and the introduction of “canon” – core events which make Spider-Persons who they’re supposed to be become hugely important, driving the plot and the whole of the next film forward.
I can’t think of many films which are so welcoming and directly invite you into their story, using all the best of comic structures to label characters, offer backstories and directly talk to the viewer/reader. This is undoubtedly the best film I’ve seen this year. If you don’t already know – this is the first half of a two-part film (Beyond the Spider-Verse is out next year), and if you’re the sort of person who is driven to fury and sulking by a film ending halfway through, be prepared. The teenagers behind us were not ready for this and were hilariously outraged by paying to see half a film. Honestly, their absurd reaction was almost as good as the film. I’m kinda with them though, I felt the same at the end of Infinity War. Genuinely unmissable, but rewatch Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse first.
This is the perfect WWII spaghetti western set in Finland. Honestly, it’s brilliant. One old man, sick of war, goes off to mine gold high up in Lapland. He’s successful, but on his way back to civilisation to cash in his nuggets he’s fucked over by a bunch of Nazis who are busy razing Finland to the ground. They steal his gold, kill his horse, and he goes wild. This is a pure action movie, following the utterly relentless ex-soldier (who turns out to be a legend, having already massacred the Soviets, to the extent that Nazi command advise their officer to leave him the hell alone and count themselves lucky), who is drowned, blown up, hanged and more but just will not die until he’s reacquired his gold and taken his vengeance. He barely says a word, but Jorma Tommila’s face shows you every shade of pain and suffering. It’s extraordinary and highly cathartic to watch. There is not a lot of story to talk about since it’s just one man against the enemy, grinding them down even harder than they grind him. We’re given great action scenes, mixing horrific violence with comedy and great timing and it’s all just so damn good. The whole film is immensely satisfying, and if you don’t want to watch it immediately after seeing the trailer then I don’t know what’s wrong with you.
Ten times faster and ten times furiouser than The Fast and the Furious, the seemingly endless and pointlessly growing faaaaamily saga is slowly drawing to a close in yet more bloated and oddly boring action movies. We keep going to see these for a couple of reasons. The first film was fun, a snappy Point Break-ish cop going undercover in a street car racing gang to nab some muscle-vest wearing idiots who nick DVD players from moving trucks. Fun, fast, cool. Nine films later, Vin Diesel’s family of former enemies have lovely meals in his back garden while they’re resting from their missions for the super-clandestine Agency (the laziest and dumbest carbon copy of SHIELD I’ve seen onscreen for a while). That’s right, the car-racers are now secret agents. Also, they’re absolute morons – without exception. Is there a story here? Yes, but the film’s universe has been so poorly explored despite running to dozens of hours that they’ve had to retcon the events of a movie halfway through the franchise to create Dom’s ultimate nemesis: Aquaman. Well, not Aquaman proper, this is heavily queer-coded Jason Momoa, who is plainly having a lot of fun. To get a proper villain who could never simply be adopted into Dom’s family they’ve had to make the baddie as camp and murderous as possible. No way could he be one of his friends! Nope, Dom’ll take CIA, assassins, cops with a grudge, hackers, morons, other people who try to kill him, but not this guy. Anyway, Aquaman’s gonna destroy Dom’s perfect life because they retconned him into the film where his dad (who didn’t used to be his dad, because there wasn’t a son in it) died, and five films later he’s back (for the first time).
Like the last few films and the Michael Bay The Transformers movies, it’s impossible to figure out what’s happening or why because it’s all shot exactly the same way: super intense, super-exciting. No idea what matters, and the film ending came as a slight surprise because there had been no sense that it was wrapping up or building to anything. So what’s good about it? There are some fun car chases, albeit half-CGI and those bits look kinda ropy. Not enough of the moron characters (all of Dom’s faaaaamily) get punched in the face, though some do slap each other in a shitty London internet café. Lettie (Michelle Rodriguez) gets a good fight, earned solely through her own stupidity: told by Charlize Theron’s character (why are these people in this?) that they’ve got three minutes to escape, Lettie instead has a huge fight with her, tries to escape, fails and returns to the waiting Charlize and they escape together. One of the best things is Momoa (even if he does exactly the same thing in every scene), who people say is channelling Heath Ledger’s Joker but that’s way over-stating things. He’s mincing a bit, biting his lip and doing horrible things to people, for example the pair of Agency Agent corpses he’s putting nail varnish on. This is always true – the best characters in this franchise are the new ones, because they haven’t yet been brainwashed into the family and turned into morons. Also, John Cena – who I totally forgot was supposed to be Dom’s brother – who is not in any way playing his character and is just having a lovely silly time looking after Dom’s kid (oh yeah, that’s in the plot too). Shame he dies pointlessly. Sorry – spoiler. Oh, and the massive man playing Reacher on Amazon Prime shows up with a shit haircut, and he’s quite fun. I honestly never thought I’d miss Paul Walker so much – he was not a good actor, but he seemed like a really nice guy and he was the only character in the series that Dom’s character had any real fraternal chemistry with. Maybe the whole show has been Dom searching for a new and better brother but finding only absolute cretins and men who are twice his size.
There’s at least one more of these fucking things, and I desperately hope they all die in a fireball during it.
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 3
This is a found family which I love returning to. In contrast to Fast X they’re all supposed to be morons, and they are, except they’re all super-competent in different ways and idiots about how they relate to each other. Here we finally resolve an awful lot of the relationships, hopes and dreams of these characters. They’ve been through a lot, both in the first two volumes of their trilogy, Infinity War / Endgame and odd, sort of pointless Christmas Special. I say pointless, but as it turns out, spending an additional forty minutes with some of these guys, Drax and Mantis in particular has genuinely fleshed out their characters further. At last the story turns to Rocket, injured by Adam Warlock (splendid force-grown golden dude with the brain of a child) and we finally get his much-hinted at backstory. He is indeed a raccoon. In a lot of ways this is a big ad for PETA, because animal vivisection does not come off well here – for parts of it I’d rather watch Watership Down again. The High Evolutionary’s attempts to develop intelligence and accelerate evolution is horrifying, and the story around his fellow animals, Lyla the otter, Teefs the walrus and the rabbit Floor, is absolutely devastating. Most of the film is the rest of the Guardians doing typical Guardian shtick while chasing down the MacGuffin which will let them fix Rocket. Along the way they really do become the heroes they’ve sought to be, despite their Ravager tendencies, rescuing all the High Evolutionary’s test subjects. The film is packed with gorgeous space environments, exciting action scenes, cool new Groot, and more, yet all I truly remember are the perfect character notes and conclusions for each of them. The thing I was most pleased and impressed by was their treatment of Gamora – Quill’s former love interest who died in Endgame, replaced by an earlier version of herself who never met or fell in love with Quill. It’s a wild concept anyway, and you can see why Quill struggles to handle being around someone he loved but has no interest whatsoever in him. And they don’t make her fall in love with him again. That alone is a goddamn victory for Marvel, whose habits in killing off female characters (including Gamora) and not acknowledging their deaths while having a full-cast funeral for Tony Stark has been atrocious. This is a wonderful finale for these characters and I can hardly wait to watch it again.