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May 2012 May 31, 2012

Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, progress reports, 2012 , add a comment

May has proven to be a tough month, for various reasons. None of them directly relating to my film viewing (though writing off my car fully put paid to belated plans to see The Avengers; it’s a definite BD watch now), but they’ve just generally got in the way.

So May becomes this year’s low viewing month, with just five new films watched. Could be worse, and at least I remain a few films ahead of target (five, to be precise).

And I think I posted more reviews this month than I have for a while, so that’s good too… even if it was only seven. Oh dear.


May’s filmsThe Scarlet Claw

#42 The Return of the Musketeers (1989)
#43 The Negotiator (1998)
#44 Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)
#45 Scre4m (2011)
#46 The Scarlet Claw (1944)


Next time on the all-new 100 Films in a Year monthly update…

Just four more films in June would see me stay on track, but hopefully next month will pan out a little better than that and I’ll remain ahead. I’ll let you know in 30 days…

#15: Priest (2011) May 28, 2012

Posted by badblokebob in : Horror, Action, Fantasy, Sci-fi, adaptations, 2 stars, 2010s, 2012 , 4 comments

Scott Stewart | 84 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

PriestIn a dystopian church-ruled future (could there be any other kind of church-ruled world), in which a war between men and vampires raged for centuries but has recently been settled (in man’s favour), no-longer-needed warrior-priest Paul Bettany is called upon to go against his vows and leave the city to rescue his niece after her parents are murdered and she is kidnapped in a vampire attack. I could go on, but it’s the kind of plot that sounds far more complicated in a short summary than it is to watch on screen.

This marks Bettany’s third turn as a Christian killer, after an albino monk in The Da Vinci Code and a deliberately fallen angel in Legion. One’s a villain, one’s the hero; here he’s the good guy again, tipping the balance towards Bettany’s filmography being in favour of Christians Who Kill For A Cause. Legion was also directed by Scott Stewart, so perhaps they share a penchant for kinda-Christian action movies? God knows why.

It begins with a contextless, pointless 90-second ‘flashback’ action sequence. Then there’s a bloodily violent animation re-shaping history’s major wars (Crusades, WW1, more) as one long fight against vampires. Quite good, that bit. It’s designed by Genndy Tartakovsky, creator of Dexter’s Laboratory, Samurai Jack and the 2D Star Wars: Clone Wars series. Then there’s another pre-titles-style bit. For a film under 90 minutes long, it takes its time to get going.

Biker PriestAnd after all that meandering, the story is a bit rushed. It tries to generate character and tension, but hasn’t spent enough time building them to earn it. There’s lots of awful dialogue, flooded with clichés… as is a lot of the plot, and the stock dystopian future setting, and the overuse of slow-mo. There’s some ideas with promise, but they’re largely shunted aside in favour of something from The Big Book of Standard Character Arcs. And I say “promising” — you know exactly how they’d play if the filmmakers had bothered to make more out of them.

Plus there’s a blatant “end of Part One” ending — the story isn’t even close to resolved. It flopped though, so there’s no chance of it being sequelised. And the world doesn’t make complete sense: if “everyone” lives in big cities, why do so many people live in Old West-styled townships in the wasteland? Why are there vampire reservations, why not just kill them all? Etc.

It’s like someone thought of lots of Cool Bits and strung them together irrespective of world or story. And, in fairness, some of the cool bits achieve their aim, in a largely derivative way. And the story’s not that badly constructed — I’ve seen plots that hang together much less well.

Judge DreddNone of this is helped by weak acting, which considering the largely quality cast is probably down to the script and direction. How unlikely is Paul Bettany as an action leading man, eh? I thought Jason Statham was odd enough… And if you want a preview of Karl Urban as Judge Dredd, I imagine his early scenes — face in shadow, gravelly voiced — will be a fair indication.

Visually, I don’t know what’s going on with the lenses used — people’s faces are occasionally noticeably stretched. I at first wondered if my chosen viewing method (Sky Movies Anytime via Virgin Media On Demand — potentially less reliable than a DVD or BD) had for some reason squished or stretched the film, but in most shots things look fine. Maybe I was imagining it, who knows. And while he was getting his lenses muddled, it seems the DoP forgot to bring any lights for most of the shooting. The climax takes place in daylight, but a lot of the rest of it…

I dread to think how it fared in 3D. It’s perhaps telling that most of the action sequences are staged either outdoors or in previously-dark locations that somehow gain a bit of a glow; or, to put it more bluntly, “here’s where you’ll want to see the 3D so we’ve made it brighter”. And 3D is so essential to the film that I didn’t remember it had been released that way until the mysteriously bright cave fight over halfway through. It was post-convered too, so I doubt it looked great.

This always looks coolPriest isn’t bad per se — well, depending on your tolerance levels. It’s no Max Payne, put it that way. And it’s better than Legion. If you can withstand a clichéd plot, laughable dialogue and sorely underdeveloped characters in order to get your fix of brain-in-neutral action, this is a quick (under 80 mins sans credits) and moderately satisfying way to go about it.

2 out of 5

#21: Legion (2010) May 26, 2012

Posted by badblokebob in : Action, Fantasy, 1 star, 2010s, 2012 , add a comment

Scott Stewart | 96 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

LegionThe first of two Christian-themed action movies directed by former visual effects man Scott Stewart (this his first feature as director) and starring British thesp Paul Bettany (here he plays a gun-toting angel, next time it’s a warrior monk) — I don’t know if that’s a conscious theological choice of some kind (there’s no Book of Eli-style heavy-handed God-bothering in either film) or just an almighty coincidence. Even if not, the quality of the pair is consistent, for better or worse.

In the first of the Stewart-Bettany diptych, we find that for some reason it’s the end of days, and for some reason there’s a diner in the middle of nowhere, and a deliberately fallen angel turns up to defend the inhabitants of said diner from the celestial forces that are for some reason gathering to kill them. Something like that, anyway.

It doesn’t really matter, it’s all rubbish. It’s penned by writers who think speechmaking equates to character. All of the dialogue is appalling; even Big Lines — just before an heroic death, that kind of thing — are irredeemably bad. It’s performed by actors who aren’t even capable of delivering that tosh. They all overact in one way or another, especially a gurning turn from Dennis Quaid. Later on it aims for some kind of epic fantasy stuff, but it manages to be both underdeveloped and overplayed. The ending shoots for a ‘the story continues’ vibe, though goodness knows where anyone thought the story had to go.
Legioners
Even the action sequences not up to much, just guns firing and things exploding in the dark with almost no choreography. As an action movie you might forgive it some of the plot and character points if it could manage that, but it can’t.

Also, there’s a character called Jeep… who’s a mechanic! Oh come on.

There are some scraps of good bits. The beginning is moderately cool, if a bit of a rip from the Terminator franchise. There’s some good creepy villains — to say how or who would ruin some of the film’s rare good bits, should you for some reason decide to watch it. Which you shouldn’t.

Legion is disappointing on pretty much every level. There’s some potential in the basic idea, but it’s not even close to being realised. Even the siege-based rendering of it they’ve gone for feels half baked.

Avoid.

1 out of 5

#6: Rush Hour 3 (2007) May 19, 2012

Posted by badblokebob in : Comedy, Action, Thriller, Crime, 2000s, 2 stars, 2012 , add a comment

Brett Ratner | 84 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | Germany & USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Rush Hour 3Belated sequels are often the worst kind, an actor/director/studio returning to past glories in the hope of creating new success. Even when they work, they’re not a patch on the original. (I’m sure there must be exceptions, but nothing comes to mind.) The third entry in the Rush Hour series was moderately belated (it was released six years after Rush Hour 2), but, perhaps more significantly for this review, it’s the best part of a decade since I watched the other two. I enjoyed them back then, but after a significant period of growing up, I have no idea if I’d be so fond now. The other point of that is, I don’t think I can accurately say if Rush Hour 3 matches, surpasses or falls short of the quality of the other two.

Judged in its own right, then, it’s a film of variable quality. The plot jumps around tenuously, an excuse to string together acrobatic action sequences and stale comedy routines — one involves two Chinese characters named Yu and Me. Imagine the hilarity. It does manage a few good gags, now and then, but it’s not one to watch for consistent laughs.

Gratuitous photoIt’s ostensibly a thriller (albeit a comedy-action-thriller) and so there are plot twists, but they’re wholly predictable. It also lacks clarity in its villain, I felt — who it is, what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and so on. It weakens the film, especially the ending: there’s the usual big action climax, followed by a little bit of business that dilutes the impact of the ending. It’s just badly structured.

Ratner’s direction lacks total competency. Never mind allowing unfunny routines to run too long — or meritless ideas to even be included — his framing is off at times, making his 2.35:1 frame sometimes look cropped from something taller, sometimes something even wider. It’s kind of impressive, in a bad way. Jackie Chan’s fights are mostly well shot though, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the man himself had a hand in that.

Those fights aren’t amongst Chan’s best action sequences, but they’re still quite entertaining. I love sword fights and I love Chan’s acrobatic choreography, so a climax combining the two — Fight!plus some sparing atop the Eiffel Tower (or, I presume, a surprisingly good set thereof) — is occasionally spectacular and single-handedly almost justifies the entire film’s existence. A car chase/fight through the streets of Paris is the other best bit, buoyed by both unusual choreography and Yvan Attal’s French taxi driver George, who’s probably the film’s best character.

Rush Hour 3 isn’t a good film — it’s too inconsistent, too indulgent, too unfocussed in its storytelling — but it has some fun bits, mainly thanks to Jackie Chan. If only for some of his bits, I’m glad I bothered with it.

2 out of 5

Rush Hour 3 is on Channel 4 tonight at 9:45. Which is a coincidence because I was going to post this review anyway.

#44: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) May 14, 2012

Posted by badblokebob in : Action, Thriller, adaptations, 4 stars, Adventure, Sherlock Holmes, 2010s, 2012 , 2 comments

Guy Ritchie | 129 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Sherlock Holmes A Game of ShadowsIf 2009’s Sherlock Holmes was Batman Begins — a re-introduction to a well-known hero and his entourage of secondary characters as they tackle a (second-string/unheard-of) menace in their home city — then A Game of Shadows is The Dark Knight: a globe-trotting epic against the famous, formidable nemesis attempting to drive the world to destruction. Unfortunately, the analogy doesn’t extend to the film’s extraordinary step-up in quality.

Before the first film’s release, accusations flew that Ritchie’s take on Holmes wasn’t faithful enough. Some of these persist, but as I noted in my original review I think they’re pish: yes, this series gives a blockbuster action/comedy spin on the character, but it remained a Sherlock Holmes tale. This is less true of the sequel. There’s still some detective work, but it comes in brief flashes here and there. The big denouement does pick up on scattered (deliberately-)easily-missed clues from throughout the film, but only to provide a standard Explain The Villain’s Grand Plan scene. A ballroom scene where Sherlock looks around the room, seeing “everything” through a series of quick-pan fast glimpses of stuff, highlights an inferiority to other current versions — where those certain others let us in on what Holmes is learning from his quick glances, here we just see some stuff. In short, it’s not Sherlocky enough.

Most of the other elements that made the first film a success are present and correct though. The banter between Robert Downey Jr.’s Holmes and Jude Law’s Watson zings as well as it did first time, though perhaps not always as memorably, A game of smokeand Ritchie crafts an array of interesting action sequences. Some still accuse it of being a sub-Matrix rip-off, which I personally think shows a lack of attention or imagination on the part of those viewers — there’s more to what’s going on here than that. There’s a wit The Matrix films never had, for one thing, and more twists on the format. The trick of having Holmes explain what he plans to do as we see it in slow-mo, before executing it at full blistering speed, is repeated but also subverted in multiple ways.

Plus the action is just finely staged full-stop — there’s a fun alleyway fight to open proceedings, a sprawling brawl around a London gentlemen’s club, a fun duel around a moving train (much seen in the trailers), and a stunningly unusual race through some woods away from a German munitions factory (coincidentally (I imagine) a bit like Captain America, but with better CGI; and also much seen in trailers). Those are the big numbers, but smaller-scale sequences come and go throughout. In many ways it pings from one action scene to another, a plot cropping up occasionally to provide a link between them.

A game of beardsYet for all that, that climax is a game of chess: Sherlock and Moriarty come face to face while in the room next door Watson and gypsy Simza try to spot an assassin. It’s one of a couple of scenes where Downey Jr.’s hero comes face to face with his nemesis, played by Jared Harris, and these scenes are definitely some of the film’s high points. Harris makes a perfect addition to the cast, the only disappointment being that we don’t get to see even more of him. Downey Jr.’s become such a Movie Star recently that it’s easy to forget he’s a multiple Oscar-nominee, and he and Harris give as good a hero-villain act-off as you’re likely to find in a blockbuster.

Other big-ticket cast additions include The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo herself, Noomi Rapace, seriously underused as the aforementioned gypsy fortune-teller Simza, who turns out to be central to the plot. The size and scope of her role actually fits the story, pretty much, and it wouldn’t have mattered if they’d cast a European ‘unknown’, but by making a fuss of casting That Acclaimed Actress From Those Acclaimed European Films and giving her third billing attention is drawn to how little she has to do.

A game of cameosBetter served is Stephen Fry as Mycroft, a role normally rendered as a brief cameo. And indeed it’s little more than that, but there’s more of him than I was expecting (certainly so in one (pointless aside of a) scene that I’m sure you’ve heard about), and Fry of course excels — it’s the kind of role he was made for. Meanwhile the award for best agent goes to Eddie Marsan’s: Lestrade appears late on for all of two shots, but Marsan is still billed high enough to be on the poster, above most of the cast.

A quick mention also for Hans Zimmer’s score. I enjoyed his work on the first film and he delivers again here. Zimmer’s one of those big Hollywood blockbuster composers whose work can all sound the same (I watched The Lion King just the other day and could definitely hear Piratical elements in there), but here he injects a bit more variety into his oeuvre. It’s not just the departure from his usual style that works, it’s that there’s a mixture of styles within the movie itself, each well suited to their own sequence while still blending as a whole.

A game of drinksA Game of Shadows comes out as a fun ride with stand-out moments, but not as a particularly exceptional version of Sherlock Holmes. It’s very enjoyable as a comedy-action movie with amusing characters and entertainingly-staged action sequences, but while my affection for the first has grown to make it one of my favourite movies, this is just an entertaining follow-up.

4 out of 5

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is out on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK from today, and in the US from June 12th. Ha-ha.

#60: X-Men: First Class (2011) May 12, 2012

Posted by badblokebob in : Action, Thriller, Sci-fi, 5 stars, Adventure, superhero films, 2010s, 2011 , add a comment

Superhero films have been a significant regular part of the summer movie season for over a decade now, but this year really looks like it’s going to take the biscuit: The Avengers obliterated box office records Stateside last weekend, and has spent most of the week knocking down more worldwide; there’s a Batman sequel/finale to look forward to, which everyone has been expecting to do the same; and sandwiched somewhere between the two is a Spider-Man reboot that, provided it doesn’t get dwarfed by the other two and/or poor reviews, is likely to make a pretty penny. (If I recall correctly, the initial Raimi Spidey film was the first movie ever to make over $100m in its opening weekend; and now, 10 years later, The Avengers is the first to beat $200m — how neat.)

But that’s all still to come (I haven’t even seen The Avengers yet myself, and I won’t now until at least sometime next week, for various reasons. Grr.) Instead, here’s a review of my personal favourite from last year’s crop of comic book adaptations — indeed, I ranked it the second best film I saw all year.

Matthew Vaughn | 132 mins | cinema/Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 12A / PG-13

X-Men First ClassI made sure to see First Class soon after its cinema release back in June 2011 — an increasingly-rare cinema trip for me (previous one before this was Inception in July 2010), and even rarer to go so quickly, but it earnt it as probably my most anticipated movie of the summer. I’ve been a fan of the X-Men since the ’90s animated series was a defining part of my childhood; Matthew Vaughn has become one of my favourite filmmakers thanks to Stardust and Kick-Ass, both of which earnt 5 stars and spots on my end-of-year top 10s (and Layer Cake was 4-star-ly entertaining too); and the idea of doing a superhero film that was definitively set in a specific point in the past (namely the early ’60s), rather than the perpetual Now of every other entry in the sub-genre, is the kind of thing creative fans long for but risk-averse studios rarely greenlight. Plus the trailers looked brilliant.

So my long-held high anticipation (unlike many whingy comic-continuity-obsessed inexplicably-Vaughn-dubious internet fanboys, who needed the trailer to even consider thinking the film might be good) led me to the cinema quickly. Why so long to post a review, then? Because I’ve been waiting for Blu-ray to see it properly.*

As “Film fans”, rather than “movie consumers”, we’re supposed to believe 35mm cinema projection is the best way to view a film, rather than the cold hard digital realm that’s taking over, or the home cinema that is increasingly the viewing location of choice as people seek to avoid inflated ticket prices and noisy crowds, and gain a huge degree of convenience in the process. Well, sod that. I saw X-Men on 35mm. Blurry film? Grr!It was blurry, the sound was muffly. I saw a clip in a summer movies trailer just a few days later when I saw Pirates 4 in 3D (i.e. digitally projected), and had a genuine moment of, “oh, that’s how it’s meant to look”. So thank God for Blu-ray — never mind prices, crowds or watching when I want, the real advantage is seeing it as sharp as a pin and being able to hear everything the characters are saying. I can enjoy the cinema experience, but at the end of the day it’s about the film, and if the only way to see, hear and appreciate it properly is to watch it 5+ months later on a much smaller screen from a digital source, so be it. The fact that it’s usually cheaper to buy the Blu-ray to own forever than take two people to see it just once doesn’t hurt either.

But I digress massively. X-Men: First Class takes us back to the origins of the X-Men (at least, the movie-universe X-Men): it’s the 1960s, mutants aren’t widely known about yet, Charles Xavier is uncovering some interesting ideas at Oxford, and Erik Lehnsherr is travelling the world taking revenge for Nazi atrocities. But when some Evil People are plotting to do Something Nasty, the US government winds up bringing them together, and the road to establishing the X-Men begins…

I should give up on plot summaries again, I never write good ones. There’s so much more to First Class than that might suggest. Firstly, it’s very much a prequel to the other X-Men films, rather than a reboot. So no Cyclops and co in the original team-up, which really annoys some fanboys, but pfft, it doesn’t matter. It’s fair to say the characters who make up the eventual first X-Men team aren’t as iconic or memorable, Not Patrick Stewartbut that’s fine because here they’re just supporting characters. This is the story of two other young men, Xavier and Lehnsherr, aka Professor X and Magneto.

You need some pretty fine talent to replace two of our greatest actors — Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, of course — and in Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy you certainly have that. Fassbender carries much of the emotional weight of the film, and certainly received much of the praise from critics, but it’s thanks to McAvoy’s support that the film is lifted to a higher level. He provides calm, humour and fundamental decency to balance Fassbender’s rage and emotion. What’s fascinating about them as characters is that they are half-formed people. That is to say, while they are Wise Old Men by the time of X-Men, here they are still flawed and finding their way; witness Charles’ insensitivity toward Raven, for instance. That’s quite aside from all the little character-building touches. It all builds to the fantastic, heartbreaking climax on the beach. I’d also say it adds weight to the relationship between McKellen and Stewart in the original X films. Not significantly, perhaps, because those films are about other things, but I think you can feel their shared history more keenly.

The rest of the cast is suitably well equipped. There’s 2011 Best Actress Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence as Raven, aka Mystique. Little more than a henchman designed to bring sex appeal in the trilogy, here she’s given a significant degree of backstory that makes her an important piece of the overall series. Indeed, she comes across as woefully underused if you watch X-Men after this — Fassbender, Michael Fassbenderthe flipside to the Xavier-Lehnsherr relationship working better, if you will. There’s also Kevin Bacon, playing his second superhero villain in as many years, who does sterling work as a former Nazi seeking world domination — remember the ’60s, when world domination was a valid aim for a villain? There’s more than a little Bond in the mix here.

Rounding out, we have the likes of Vaughn regular and perpetual “I’m only doing it for the money”-er Jason Flemyng, in an almost dialogue-free part that, while visually striking, doesn’t fare much better than his Kick-Ass ‘cameo’ in terms of screen time. There’s also a very flat (in every way apart from her frequently highlighted chest) turn from January Jones as a villainous sidekick, feeling every bit like the last-minute casting she was (after various other actresses walked away — considering the small size of both the role and costume, I can see why). Plus Rose Byrne, who’s always worth mentioning.

Much was made in some circles of a rushed production schedule leading to some of the film’s flaws. I think that’s only an issue because people know it could be one, because (on second viewing especially) I noted no such problems. The earlier parts are probably the film’s best — with Lehnsherr and Moira being all Bond-y, and Kevin Bacon’s Shaw being very much a Bond villain, making it feel more like a big ’60s spy thrillerRose Bond, I mean Byrne than a superhero movie in many ways — and when it tries to introduce an X-Men team made up of second-string leftover characters it loses its way slightly. But balance is everything with ensemble casts like this, and watching the film again gives a better perspective on its pace and its actual balance. First time through these things are distorted because you don’t know how far through the story you are, how long’s left, how long each scene will last, and so on; a second time, with an idea of where it’s going and so forth, you can better appreciate how it’s all actually weighed up, and I think First Class achieves a balance better than most have given it credit for.

Also worthy of a mention is Henry Jackman’s score. He gives us brilliant driving, menacing action themes, alongside some evocative ’60s stuff too, especially when they’re on the hunt for mutants for instance. I love a good blockbuster movie score, and this is definitely one of those.

Perhaps the thing that most impressed me about First Class, however, was its genuine sense of spectacle. The climax features master-of-magnetism Magneto hoisting a submarine out of the ocean with his powers. That’s not a spoiler, it’s in the trailers — so we’d all seen it going in. And we’re in an era of anything-goes CGI — nothing looks impressive any more because we know not only that it can be done, but how it was done too (greenscreen and pixels, essentially). But that’s not what happens, at least for me, especially on the big screen.

Spectacle

Between Vaughn’s direction, Jackman’s score, Fassbender and McAvoy’s performances, plus those of other supporting cast members, and sterling work by the visual effects team(s), the moment when that submarine floats dripping into the sky is hair-raising. It played to me as a moment of genuine cinematic spectacle; the kind of thing you used to get when big stunts had to be done for real somehow. It’s not a feeling I expected to get from a new film ever again.

I’ve mentioned a couple of times how it ties in to the earlier (set later) films in the series, and how some complained about it messing up X-Men comics lore. But this is an adaptation — it’s not beholden to what’s established in the comics. And it’s working around fitting into the world of the later films, so of course they’re not going to have Cyclops in a ’60s X-team, and so on. Look familiar?It’s a complete non-issue for non-fans, and the same for any open-minded fans who realise they’re not trying to faithfully bring the X-Men canon to the big screen. Earlier films should already have shattered that illusion anyway.

As to the former, it largely fits well with the earlier films. There might be some questions about ages and events not lining up precisely (especially with the flashbacks in The Last Stand), but these are minor points that I think we can overlook for the overall quality of the film. Largely, a use of certain effects, call-forwards, cameos and little touches here and there really tie it in to the existing films. You don’t need to have seen them to get this — indeed, I imagine the ultimate way to experience it would be with no foreknowledge whatsoever of where Charles & Erik’s relationship is going — but for all those of us who have, it works very nicely.

Yet despite these links, and the 40(-ish)-year gap between the end of this story and the start of X-Men, if First Class never received a follow-up it would work perfectly as a standalone ’60s X-Men film. But I’m ever so glad we’re getting more, because I want to see this crew and this cast tell us more stories of the X-Men.

FrenemiesAfter seeing First Class in the cinema I thought to myself that, while I would dearly love to give it a full five stars, in all good conscience I couldn’t; for whatever reason, it didn’t quite come together enough. Watching it again on Blu-ray, however, I’ve completely changed my mind: I wouldn’t change a thing. All my anticipation is more than paid off — I love this movie.

5 out of 5

* That was released back in October 2011, I know. The rest is general tardiness. ^

X-Men: First Class placed 2nd on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2011, which can be read in full here.

#7: With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story (2010) May 9, 2012

Posted by badblokebob in : Documentary, 5 stars, Biography, superhero films, 2010s, 2012 , 3 comments

Terry Dougas, Nikki Frakes & Will Hess | 80 mins | TV | 16:9 | USA / English

With Great Power...Stan “The Man” Lee is indeed The Man when it comes to the world of comic books. In the 1960s he revolutionised the medium in the US, introducing complex and realistic characters to a world that had previously focused on perfect super-humans like Superman, Batman and Captain America. In a period of just two years he co-created the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man and the X-Men, and after that rejuvenated Captain America (cancelled a decade earlier) for a modern audience. If there’s anyone in the comic world deserving of a dedicated feature-length documentary, it’s Stan Lee.

Fortunately, co-directors Dougas, Frakes and Hess have crafted a brilliant documentary, both about the man and his works. It’s packed with big-name interviewees, both comic-book-world-famous and genuinely famous: Avi Arad, Kenneth Branagh, Nic Cage, MIchael Chiklis, Roger Corman, Kirsten Dunst, Danny Elfman, Harlan Ellison, Jon Favreau, Kevin Feige, James Franco, Samual L. Jackson, Jim Lee, Tobey Maguire, Todd McFarlane, Frank Miller, Joe Quesada, Seth Rogen, Bryan Singer, Kevin Smith, Ringo Starr, Patrick Stewart… even Paris Hilton. And that’s just some of them. They leave you in doubt of Lee’s impact and importance.

Even better are the many interviews with Lee himself, plus his associates and his family, which form the backbone of the film to tell the story — the wheres, whens, whos, hows and whys of all he’s done, both in his Marvel heyday in the ’60s as well as before and since. Spider-StanIt also really digs in to his personal life at time, getting very emotional. That Lee and his family appear and tell these tales mean it doesn’t feel intrusive.

All of this is illustrated with a mass of archive footage, photos, art and letters. It’s actually quite stunning. The research must have been enormous, but it really pays off, making the film richly detailed both in terms of the facts it imparts and the visuals it employs.

At just 80 minutes it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome; indeed I, and I’m sure many other fans, could’ve taken a whole lot more. The big question, though, is does it have that crossover appeal to ‘Not-We’s that (arguably) the best documentaries should have? Truthfully, I don’t know. But I imagine it would be difficult to watch without gaining an appreciation for how significant Lee is, and how genuinely brilliant he is too. Highly recommended.

5 out of 5

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