Notes On A Film: Doctor Strange

Despite all the horrible things that are happening in the real world at the moment, there are some things that help – the fact that we live in a world where a Doctor Strange film is in cinemas and is an anticipated event is one of the nice things. The fact that it’s an entertaining and enjoyable film makes it even better. Although this is the Doctor Strange origin film according the formula laid down in the MCU (setting up the character, introducing the superhero element, fighting a done-in-one villain, links to the MCU and teases for future films), it’s done with visual panache, humour, a perfect cast and it’s a full-blown Doctor Strange movie, taken from the comic books and put on the big screen.

Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon (the ‘Doctor’ is because of the PhD he did simultaneously with his MD) who loses the use of his hands in a car accident. Trying to find anyone who can fix his hands, he ends up in Kathmandu where he meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who reveals the infinite dimensions that exist and the world of magic that uses energy from these dimensions to power spells that alter reality. Strange agrees to be trained in the ways of sorcery, helped by another advanced student, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), while a former pupil, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), is trying to destroy the magical protection around the Earth so that the powerful other-dimensional entity Dormammu can take over Earth …

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Notes On A Film – X-Men: Apocalypse

I meant to write about X-Men: Apocalypse when I saw it the week it came out, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I think it was mostly because I didn’t have anything to say about it – the film was the cinematic equivalent of the ‘meh’ shrug, just existing as a thing that wasn’t truly awful but wasn’t very good either. The fact that it was the follow-up to X-Men: Days of Future Past, a really good film (which I really enjoyed) that was entertaining and had a point for its 1970s setting and had something to say about the character, made this film feel even more inessential. The build-up of the film and the villain – Apocalypse sounds like a clear statement of intent – couldn’t live up to the reality: a dull villain with a bland world-ending agenda, set in the 1980s so that it could be a period piece without the X-Men at full power.

I include a vague plot summary but it’s barely worth it: Apocalypse is a bad guy who gets woken up in 1983 (primarily because it is 10 years since Days of Future Past, which is mostly ignored after a few period touches, because someone thought that the 10-year gap would be good for the prequels/sequels) and decides to get on with the day job – collecting four Horsemen (mutants he gives a level-up to, despite the fact that he has loads of powers himself) in order to destroy the world and start it again. Because reasons. The X-Men try to stop him because Apocalypse is thematically attuned to the concept of the genetic aspect of the X-Men, erm, I mean because he wants to destroy the world and he’s using Magneto to do it. That’s about it – not particularly complicated. There is a lot of altering of the world and massive destruction (the world-ending stuff in the climax is staggering – the global economy afterwards would be in tatters and the state of the history of this world changed for ever) but, spoiler alert, the good guys win.

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Notes On A Film: Suicide Squad

The US critics seem to have been particularly harsh towards Suicide Squad – I’m not sure what they were expecting, but it could have been anticipation that has built up over what seems like ages in a very clever marketing campaign to introduce mostly unknown comic book characters to the wider public. (And when writer/director David Ayer talks about making the film ‘for the fans’, exactly how many fans does he think the comic book has? Comics do not have a very large audience, and Suicide Squad is not a popular book, so unless they’ve been a big hit on the various DC television shows, he’s talking about a few hundred thousand, tops.) The film is not a disaster by any means – it’s perfectly serviceable entertainment, even if it has flaws and shows the joins where reshoots and studio edits have shuffled things around (based on previous Ayer films, the lightening of the tone was probably a good thing, because he tends towards dark and doesn’t have a great sense of humour).
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Book Review – Warlock Holmes: A Study In Brimstone

Warlock Holmes: A Study In Brimstone cover

Written by GS Denning
Published by Titan Books

The extent to which you will enjoy this book depends on how much you smile when you read the title. I’m amazed nobody has come up with that play on words before – I’m genuinely jealous. The opening lines of the book set the tone:
“The dominion of man is drawing to a close. The age of demons is upon us. This, I recognize, is largely my fault and let me take just a moment to apologize for my part in it. I am very sorry I doomed the world. Really, just … absolutely, horribly sorry.”

The narrator is Dr John Watson – a doctor retired from the army after being shot in the shoulder in Afghanistan – who is introduced to Warlock Holmes, repeatedly striking a corpse with a cricket bat in the morgue of St Bart’s Hospital, as someone in need of a man for shared lodgings. Together they move into 221B Baker Street, with their landlady Mrs Hudson. Despite the similarities, things are different – Warlock is no master of deduction (that role belongs to Watson, in keeping with the real-life inspiration for Doyle in the original Sherlock Holmes stories); Lestrade is Detective Inspector Vladislav Lestrade, a nihilist vampire; the other detective inspector friendly to Warlock is Torg Grogsson, an ogre; and Warlock has the spirit of Moriarty trapped in his head. Warlock acts as a consulting detective for Lestrade and Grogsson, not for fame or money, but to keep the supernatural hidden from the public so that his own peculiar abilities with the supernatural are never revealed.

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Catch-up Comic Book Reviews – Rivers of London: Night Witch #1

Rivers of London: Night Witch #1 cover

Written by Ben Aaronovitch & Andrew Cartmel
Art by Lee Sullivan
Colours by Luis Guerrero
Letters by Rob Steen
Edited by Steve White
Published by Titan Comics

The Rivers of London series of books is really terrific, telling the adventures of Constable Peter Grant as he becomes the first new member in years of the Folly, the branch of the Metropolitan police that deals with crimes to do with magic. I’ve been a big fan of it and Ben Aaronovitch since the first book back in 2012; I even went to see him at Manor House library, where he was funny and smart and charming. I was excited to hear that Aaronovitch was bringing the stories to comic books – this is the second mini-series, after Body Works – but this series is of particular interest to fans of the novels because it continues storylines that are the main overarching thread of the series.

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Notes On A Film – Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War still

Things have been hectic at Clandestine Critic Casa, with lots of decorating and gardening and associated stuff getting in the way of reading and reviewing comic books (I’ve got a stack of first issues to write about that’s piling up, so consider yourself warned). So it was nice to have an afternoon to view the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most reliable place for comic book films at the moment. This was especially true when the last comic book movie I bore witness to was Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Captain America: Civil War was the perfect antidote to the Warner Bros/DC mess, covering a similar conceit (hero versus hero, governments working to control heroes) but doing it immeasurably better, highlighting the gulf that exists between the two superhero universes. Captain America: Civil War is packed with great action, great characterisation, great jokes, in service a good story which makes sense and which delivers emotional moments; it’s a near-perfect superhero movie.

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Notes On A Film – Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice poster

I usually discuss my thoughts on superhero films because it’s in the centre of the Venn diagram of this blog, namely comic books and movies, and especially when I go to the cinema to see them. However, my reaction to seeing Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was along the lines of, ‘Oh dear’, which doesn’t make for a fascinating or interesting insight. Several weeks after seeing it, I felt compelled to get the thoughts out of my head so I no longer had it ruminating in there.

I can’t tell what was more annoying while watching the film: the lack of thought put into the story, or the two kids behind me constantly talking through the action of the last third after their bored silence of the first two-thirds. At least they weren’t traumatised like the younger children sitting further down the aisle from me, asking their mum in tremulous voices about what was happening on screen …

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Book Review – Powers: The Secret History of Deena Pilgrim

Powers: The Secret History of Deena Pilgrim cover

Written by Brian Michael Bendis and Neil Kleid

I remember the excitement back in 2000 around the arrival of Powers the comic book, co-created by Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming – Bendis was a rising star of indie crime comics and the book seemed to be a perfect fusion of his noir approach and superheroes. Fortunately, the excitement was justified – Powers was a great comic book from the start, about detectives in the Chicago Powers Homicide Division, a book filled with sex and violence and swearing and death, but also infused with love for the genres and a serious sensibility in Oeming’s moody art. Powers also introduced two great lead characters: Detectives Christian Walker and Deena Pilgrim. Walker’s long history was examined in the comic book in the infamous ‘monkey-sex’ issues (and I love that a comic book with shagging monkeys has been adapted into a live-action television series, even if we’ll never see that incident on the show …), but Pilgrim’s history was not. Until now.

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From A Library – Star Wars: Shattered Empire

Star Wars: Shattered Empire collection cover

Star Wars: Shattered Empire #1–4
Written by Greg Rucka
Art by Marco Checchetto (and Angel Unzueta and Emilio Laiso)

I didn’t expect to see Rucka writing a Star Wars comic, especially one that starts at the end of the Battle of Endor; what I did expect was that Rucka would write a good comic book, and at least I was right about that. Lieutenant Shara Bey is an Alliance pilot in Green Group, fighting Imperial ships outside the Death Star; she comes close to accidentally shooting Luke Skywalker as he exits the Death Star following his battle with the Emperor. She is married to Sergeant Kes Dameron, part of the Pathfinders team assigned to Han Solo, which is how she ends up volunteering as a pilot for his team when it goes on a clean-up mission after the celebrations. Her adventures in the weeks after see her acting as a pilot for Leia and Luke on separate missions, as she also struggles to come to terms with being a rebel but who wants to settle down with the husband she barely sees and their baby they haven’t seen since joining the rebellion.

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Notes On A Film: Deadpool

Deadpool movie poster

From the opening joke credits through to the knowing post-credit sting, Deadpool is hilariously, filthily, irreverently funny. Nobody is safe from ridicule: the producers are credited as ‘Ass-hats’, the director is ‘An overpaid tool’, Ryan Reynolds mocks himself and his career, the budgetary restrictions of the film are noted, the confusing timelines of the X-Men movies are referenced, the breaking of the fourth wall is mocked; even the ‘gratuitous cameo’ is hilarious and mocking. The Deadpool movie has perfectly captured the comedic sensibility of the Deadpool comics at their best and created something enjoyable in a cinematic format. I’m so glad that the film has had the highest opening of an R-rated movie of all time, because it means we will definitely get a sequel.

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