Friday, May 26, 2017

Baywatch (2017) review

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Well, we’ve got another theatrical revamp of a classic TV series on our hands. In this instance, it’s an R-rated adaptation of the cult classic TV series about sexy lifeguards running in slow motion; Baywatch. Created by the trio of Michael Berk, Douglas Schwartz, and Gregory J. Bonann, Baywatch debuted in 1989 on NBC. It only lasted one season on the network but would see new life in syndication, ultimately ending at 11 seasons with a total of almost 250 episodes. The show, about a bunch of lifeguards who deal with all sorts of trouble, not just the stuff that happens on the beach, starred David Hasselhoff in the role of head lifeguard Mitch Buchannon. The show was also known for launching the career of Pamela Anderson, who starred in the role of lifeguard CJ Parker. Which brings us back to 2017 with this new adaptation that, as noted earlier, strives to be an R-rated action comedy. It certainly has some good people working on it; for one thing, it stars one of Hollywood’s most charismatic stars, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, in the role that Hasselhoff portrayed on TV. Add in other big names like Zac Efron and Priyanka Chopra and you have a promising ensemble cast. In the director’s chair is Seth Gordon, who’s had a solid career in the industry so far thanks to solid hits like his 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and one of the many surprise hits of 2011, Horrible Bosses. Seems like a solid assembly of cast and crew, right? Well, unfortunately, despite the best efforts of this film’s cast, this new adaptation of Baywatch is one of the most underwhelming comedies in recent memory.

On a sunny beach in Florida, Mitch Buchannon (Dwayne Johnson) runs the beach’s lifeguard division known as Baywatch alongside second-in-command Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera) and veteran CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach). During their annual recruitment session, they end up bringing in three new recruits; Holden’s friend Summer Quinn (Alexandria Daddario), nerd Ronnie (Jon Bass), who has a crush on CJ, and former Olympic swimmer Matt Brody (Zac Efron), who won two gold medals but embarrassed himself in a team relay event. Despite Mitch’s insistence that Brody doesn’t have what it takes to be a Baywatch lifeguard, his superior, Captain Thorne (Rob Huebel), encourages him to bring Brody onto the team to help keep the program running, as the city’s been repeatedly cutting their funding. While this is going on, Mitch and crew start to find traces of drugs all over the beach. Things get even more complicated when the body of a city official winds up on the beach as well. Immediately, Mitch deduces that all the recent troubles on the beach are directly tied to businesswoman Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra), the new owner of the local nightclub. Thus, despite being constantly reminded by his superiors that this type of work is beyond his jurisdiction, Mitch leads Brody and the team on an investigation into Leeds’ operation.

Now, for the record, I have never watched a single episode of Baywatch prior to seeing this film. From what I’ve read, many feel that while the show was quite cheesy (we are, after all, talking about the show that’s perhaps best known for the scenes where the lifeguards run in slow-motion), it was still rather entertaining to watch despite this. As for this new take on the franchise, though, from the perspective of someone who’s generally unfamiliar with Baywatch, it doesn’t seem like this film represents its source material in a positive light. Again, from what I’ve read, the show, despite its cheesiness, played things straight despite its rather ludicrous plot of lifeguards delving into non-lifeguard situations. The film, though, strives to be a comedy, which is perfectly fine… except the jokes REALLY don’t hit here. I mean, the film isn’t completely humorless; there are a few chuckle-worthy moments here and there. But overall, in terms of humor, this has one of the worst hit-to-miss ratios that I’ve ever seen in a comedy. I wouldn’t say that this is because the film tries too hard to be an R-rated comedy, complete with numerous sex jokes as well as some jokes that poke fun at some of the show’s campier elements. In fact, I’d dare say that the film is quite tame compared to other hardcore R-rated comedies. At the end of the day, it’s just a mediocre screenplay. And as for the film’s other element taken from the show, the action, it’s not much better. I mean, the chase sequences are handled fine for the most part. The fight sequences, though, are another story, as those suffer from some very erratic editing.  

It’s a shame, really, that the film is severely lacking in humor because it comes at the expense of a solidly assembled ensemble cast. While it seems like everyone on the cast had a lot of fun making this film, most of them get stuck with mediocre material; not just in terms of humor, but also in terms of character development, which is practically non-existent save for Brody’s arc of trying to redeem himself after his colossal screw-up at the Olympics. And even then, the film’s handling of that plotline is iffy at best. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Zac Efron do have great camaraderie with each other and both have proven themselves to be great in other comedies… but here, neither of them get anything to work with. The same goes for Priyanka Chopra as the main villain, Victoria Leeds. Again, she’s clearly having a lot of fun playing a villainous character… and yet she doesn’t get anything to work with. This is the same situation for the other female leads in the film as well, like Alexandria Daddario and Kelly Rohrbach. They’re generally underutilized in favor of Mitch and Brody, who of course as I just noted earlier, don’t get much to work with either. Ultimately, the biggest standouts of the film end up being members of the supporting cast. Jon Bass does get a lot of the best moments in the film as the nerdy Ronnie, mainly through his attempts to flirt with CJ. General newcomer Yahya Abdul-Mateen II also gets some funny lines as Sgt. Ellerbee, who constantly reminds Mitch and the Baywatch crew that they’re not the police; they’re just lifeguards. 
  
Oh boy… this one was a major dud. It’s a shame, really, because they were really building this film up to be the big comedy hit of the summer. Just look at all the marketing that went into this. Unfortunately, though, the film ends up being a disastrous adaptation of a popular TV show. I honestly don’t know what went wrong here; it’s not really because of the film trying to be an R-rated take on Baywatch. In fact, the film doesn’t even really live up to what it wants to be, as it’s one of the tamest R-rated comedies in recent years. If they truly wanted to make it a ‘hard-R’ comedy, they should’ve just gone all the way with it. And as for the humor, most of the jokes ultimately land with a thud instead of a bang. Thus, the film’s cast is stuck with mediocre material packaged around an equally mediocre plot (Disclaimer: I’m not going to compare this to the film adaptation of 21 Jump Street, which has a similar plot, like a lot of other critics have been doing). Like I said before, I’ve never seen the original Baywatch series. I probably will check it out someday, but as far as this film is concerned? Let’s just say that if you’re like me and you’ve never watched Baywatch before, this film doesn’t paint a positive image of the show at all! I mean, I know that the show is not considered to be a masterpiece or anything, but I’m sure that it’s at least better than this.


Rating: 1/5

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Alien: Covenant (2017) review

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In 1979, Ridley Scott directed a sci-fi horror film that would go on to become one of the quintessential films of the sci-fi genre; Alien. It was then followed by Aliens, directed by James Cameron, in 1986; that film would also become one of the most critically acclaimed films of the genre. After that, though, the Alien franchise admittedly started to go downhill. Both 1992’s Alien 3, directed by David Fincher in his directorial debut, and 1997’s Alien: Resurrection, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and written by pre-Buffy the Vampire Slayer Joss Whedon, went through rather tumultuous productions and that ultimately translated to both films’ mediocre reception amongst critics and audiences. And don’t get me started on the infamous crossover films that the series had with the Predator franchise in the early 2000’s. However, in 2012, the Alien franchise was revitalized by the man who started it all; Ridley Scott. That year saw the release of Prometheus, a pseudo-prequel to the original Alien that wasn’t directly tied to the events of that film but was still set in the same general universe. The film did perform solidly on both a critical and commercial level but would prove to be one of the most polarizing films of that year. It spawned an equal number of fans and dissenters, the latter of whom criticized it for leaving some plotlines unanswered in a philosophical-based plot focusing on the origins of humanity. And thus, here we are this year with Alien: Covenant. Scott returns to direct this follow-up to Prometheus, which claims that it’ll provide some of the answers to the unexplained mysteries of its immediate predecessor. Whether it does or not is ultimately up to the viewer, but Scott does deliver another enjoyable, if somewhat predictable, suspenseful adventure in this historic franchise.

In the year 2104, the colonization ship Covenant travels to a remote planet named Origae-6. Onboard are over 2,000 colonists, around 1,000 embryos, and a 15-man crew made up of advanced synthetic android Walter (Michael Fassbender) and several couples, including Captain Jacob (James Franco) and terraforming expert Daniels Branson (Katherine Waterston), First Mate Christopher (Billy Crudup) and biologist Karine Oram (Carmen Ejogo), and pilots Tennessee (Danny McBride) and Maggie Faris (Amy Seimetz). When a run-in with an unexpected neutrino blast severely damages the ship, even causing a few casualties in the process, the crew, forced out of stasis, begins to consider other options should something like this happen again. Specifically, they come across a mysterious transmission from a nearby planet that they learn has a seemingly viable atmosphere that they can potentially inhabit. Deciding that they’d rather not risk going through another stasis-based catastrophe, the crew heads down to the planet to investigate. However, once they arrive, they unknowingly unleash a collection of terrifying creatures that begin to hunt them down. Along the way, they also learn what happened to the surviving crew members of the Prometheus; Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and the android David (also played, once again, by Michael Fassbender).

As was the case with Alien and Prometheus, one of the absolute best parts about Alien: Covenant is its overall production design. From the scenic landscapes of the remote planet that the crew lands on to the cramped confines of the crew’s ship, as is tradition with the Alien films, the film has some excellent cinematography and special effects. Yes, the alien creatures are primarily CG this time around but from a technical perspective, this film is practically flawless. Admittedly, though, I don’t think that the film delivers on its intention of returning to the series’ horror roots. Sure, the action in Covenant outdoes any Alien film before it in terms of how gruesome it is, but overall, the film is more like Prometheus in that the plot is more based around mystery and suspense. And, for the most part, I do think that the film does succeed in having an engaging mystery plot. With that in mind, though, the question remains; does this deliver on its promise of answering some of the questions that were left unanswered by its predecessor? Well, I’m not entirely sure that it does, but it does continue to lay the groundwork for the events of the Alien franchise in fascinating ways. Though, admittedly, if I did have any gripes with the writing, it’s that the film ends on a rather lackluster note. For the record, this has nothing to do with the overall context of the plot or how it sets up a sequel; it’s more because of this one big reveal that the film ends on. And to be perfectly frank, without giving it away in this review, you’ll likely see this twist coming a mile away.

The film also boasts a solid ensemble cast. Sure, most of the characters are your typical ‘expendable’ crew members and the fact that there are around 15 ‘primary’ characters in this film sometimes makes it hard to keep track of all of them. However, at the same time, because most of them are paired up as couples, it does kind of make things a bit more interesting on an emotional level whenever one half of a couple is killed off. This is especially the case with Katherine Waterston’s character, Daniels. Right out the gate, she becomes one of the most sympathetic characters in the film, thanks in no small part to Waterston’s excellent performance in the role, after (Minor Spoiler!) her husband is killed in the neutrino blast incident that forces the Covenant crew out of stasis. But when chaos ensues, she easily slips into the same badass territory that the franchise’s iconic heroine, Ellen Ripley, has always been known for. Danny McBride is also great in an against-type role as pilot Tennessee, another likable member of the crew. And, of course, there’s Michael Fassbender, in a dual role, no less! He returns as Prometheus’ main android David, who’s still as enigmatic as ever and still one of the most fascinating characters in the entire franchise. At the same time, he also plays the Covenant’s android, Walter, who, despite being more advanced than David, still has some interesting quirks of his own. Fassbender does a great job of differentiating between the two characters and any scenes where the two share the screen together are a major highlight.

Well, it seems like we have another Prometheus on our hands as far as this film’s current critical reception is concerned. Just like its predecessor, I’ve seen plenty of responses towards this film, both positive and negative. So, where do I stand? Well, I’d say that I’m somewhere in the middle of this spectrum but am leaning more towards the positive camp. I can’t say that the film is perfect as there are some noticeable flaws, especially a rather predictable finale that’s based around an obvious twist. However, despite this, the film still manages to be an engrossing new story set within this universe, thanks in part to its solid ensemble cast and the same great technical merits of its predecessor. And, through it all, I’m still interested in seeing where they go from here (Scott has stated that a sequel is currently being prepped and will likely start production next year). Because despite the previously mentioned obvious twist that anchors the whole ending, to the film’s credit it does end on a rather ballsy note. And while it’s debatable over how much the film answers Prometheus’ mysteries, it’s still very interesting to see how it begins to set the stage for what we saw from the previous Alien films. Thus, while it won’t win over everyone who wasn’t a fan of Prometheus, Alien: Covenant is still an entertaining entry in this long-running franchise.


Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Alien Series Retrospective (1979-2012)

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In 1979, a sci-fi horror film was released to theaters, with one of the most iconic taglines in film history; ‘In Space, no one can hear you scream’. This tagline was for director Ridley Scott’s classic, Alien, a film that has gone on to become one of the most iconic films of the sci-fi genre while also spawning a highly successful media franchise in the years since. And this weekend, Scott returns to the franchise that he helped create with Alien: Covenant, a follow-up to the franchise’s 2012 ‘prequel’ Prometheus, which he also directed. By the looks of it, this new film is returning to the series’ original roots as an intense sci-fi horror flick. And in honor of its release, today we’ll be looking at the films in the Alien franchise when it was at its highest of highs… and its lowest of lows. Specifically, we’ll be looking at its four initial installments, which starred Sigourney Weaver in the role of Lt. Ellen Ripley, and Prometheus. I won’t be covering the two Alien vs. Predator crossover films that came out in 2004 and 2007, respectively, for multiple reasons. First off, if I did decide to cover these films, I’d have to look at the Predator films as well, and I’m saving that for the upcoming Predator film, directed by Shane Black, which isn’t set to come out until next summer. Also, I’m aware that both AvP films have attracted a generally negative reaction from both critics and audiences. So… I didn’t want to bother with them anyway. Though with that said, I guess that I will have to cover those eventually when I do that Predator post next year. Well, until then, grab your big guns and avoid those alien eggs because here is my look back at the films of the Alien franchise.

ALIEN (1979)

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We start things off, of course, with the original Alien from 1979; Ridley Scott’s classic tale of a spaceship crew who are awoken from stasis to investigate a mysterious transmission from an uncharted planet. This investigation, however, soon results in the crew being hunted by a terrifying alien creature that’s literally ‘birthed’ from one of their own crewmates. While initially polarizing amongst critics upon release, it has since gone on to become one of the most iconic films of the sci-fi genre, and rightfully so as it’s an excellently-made space-set chiller. A lot of this is due to Scott’s direction. His use of long, slow-moving, and uninterrupted takes helps add to the overall suspense, along with the general nature of the film’s setting. The film is primarily set within the dark and cramped confines of the crew’s ship, the Nostromo, and it results in an effectively intense and unsettling atmosphere because of the claustrophobic feeling throughout. Even moments that don’t involve the Alien, like when crew member Ash (Ian Holm) is revealed to be an android, have a great and suspenseful vibe to them. In fact, the Alien doesn’t even appear until just under an hour in. Like I said before, this is a slow-moving film but there’s never a dull moment in this. Thus, it’s easy to see why Alien is still regarded as one of the best films in both the science-fiction and horror genres. While I’m not that big a fan of the latter genre, this film does succeed in being a part of it thanks to Ridley Scott’s excellent direction and a solid cast that includes the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, and John Hurt. Heck, this wouldn’t be the last time that a sci-fi film directed by Scott would overcome initial critical reception to become a seminal classic of the genre… but more on that when Blade Runner 2049 comes out.

Rating: 5/5!

ALIENS (1986)

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After making a name for himself in 1984 with The Terminator, James Cameron was brought on to write and direct the follow-up to Alien, titled Aliens. However, Cameron faced some scrutiny during production from the primarily British crew, who felt that he was inexperienced for a project of this magnitude. However, upon release, Aliens would go on to become just as beloved as the original Alien. This, of course, leads to the primary debate of the franchise; Alien or Aliens? Me personally, I lean slightly more towards the latter. I’ll admit that this may be because I’m not a big horror fan but this shouldn’t take anything away from Ridley Scott’s masterpiece. As for Aliens, though, while Cameron does lean more towards the action genre in this sci-fi story, it doesn’t mean that he completely shies away from the franchise’s horror roots. There are still some incredibly tense and creepy moments throughout this film along with the same great dark and claustrophobic set designs that the first film had. Ultimately, though, this film is more action-oriented than the first and it delivers on that aspect brilliantly. Plus, this film has arguably the best ensemble cast in the history of the franchise. Of course, it’s all led by Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, who went from being the secondary protagonist of the original film to one of cinema’s most badass action heroines in this film. Heck, she was so good in this film that she got nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, a rarity for the genre. But the rest of the cast is excellent as well, including Carrie Henn as the scared young girl Newt, who Ripley becomes a surrogate mother to, and Lance Henriksen as this film’s android, Bishop. Even minor characters like Hudson (the late Bill Paxton (RIP); “Game over, man, game over!”) and Vazquez (Jenette Goldstein) are extremely memorable. In short, Aliens is just as much of a masterpiece as its immediate predecessor, but if you forced me to choose one over the other, I’d go with Cameron’s sci-fi action epic.

Rating: 5/5!

ALIEN 3 (1992)

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I’ve talked about this film before in my Directorial Retrospective on its director, David Fincher, way back in 2014 so I won’t repeat myself too much here. Bottom line; Alien 3 was, unfortunately, a disappointing follow-up to the first two Alien films, namely because it went through one of the most tumultuous productions of all time. Several writers and directors were brought in to try and figure out its overall plot, from William Gibson’s HIV-influenced storyline to Vincent Ward’s concept of a ‘wooden’ planet that held a monastery. Ultimately, David Fincher was brought in to direct; sadly, his directorial debut put him through hell. He was given little time to prepare and didn’t have a full script when filming began. To make matters worse, the studio blocked many of his ideas during the shoot; thus, it’s easy to see why Fincher has since disowned the film. I don’t blame him; the primary flaws of the film aren’t his fault. Alien 3 makes the questionable decision of going down a dark and gloomy route that goes against the optimistic ending of the previous film. Case in point, the opening scene sees most of the surviving cast of the previous film killed off, with Ripley being forced into an all-male prison. Of course, Fincher is well-known nowadays for his dreary thrillers but here, it just doesn’t translate as well. The supporting characters are all bland, partially because they’re predominantly a collection of similar-looking bald white men. Not to mention, these are all murderers, rapists, etc.; they’re not exactly a sympathetic bunch. Thankfully, Sigourney Weaver is still great as always as Ripley and the film’s ending is a highlight, as Ripley sacrifices herself when she learns that an Alien has manifested within her to keep the Weyland Corporation, the primary ‘evil corporation’ of the franchise, from using it for nefarious purposes. Had it not been for the next installment of the series, this would’ve at least ended the franchise on a decent note despite the film that it came from.

But now, let’s talk about the film’s alternate cut. Each of the first four Alien films has gotten a ‘Special Edition’ released over the years. But while the first two films didn’t add ‘that’ much to their Special Editions (though James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver have expressed preference towards the ‘Special Edition’ of Aliens for having more depth to it), the ‘Assembly Cut’ of Alien 3 adds in 30-plus minutes of material to try and improve upon the original theatrical cut. And for the most part, it does manage to do that. Some additions are welcome aesthetic changes, like having Ripley end up on the prison planet’s beach instead of being found in the crashed ship (which fixes a few plot-holes from the theatrical cut) and having the Alien emerge from an ox instead of a dog. But then there are some additions that improve the narrative, like a greater focus on the inmates’ religious beliefs and how Ripley’s arrival puts that into chaos, allowing for some additional character development for some of the main inmates. Crazed inmate Golic (Paul McGann), particularly, is focused on more in this version of the film as we see him become fascinated with the alien, so much so that he begins to compromise the protagonists’ efforts to destroy it. However, despite the improvements that it makes over the clearly truncated Theatrical Cut, I still can’t go as far as to say that it completely saves the film. Parts of it are still a chore to sit through, especially considering that the extended cut is almost two-and-a-half hours long. In conclusion, if you’re going to watch Alien 3, stick to the ‘Assembly Cut’ as it’s more in line with what Fincher was going for. Still, it isn’t enough to save the film, which will easily go down as one of the most hellish productions in film history, from being a mediocre conclusion to the Alien trilogy, a designation which lasted five years until…

Ratings: Theatrical Cut: 1.5/5 Assembly Cut: 2.5/5

ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997)

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While Alien 3 ended with the death of Ellen Ripley, the studio ended up reviving the franchise half a decade later with Alien: Resurrection. To bring back Sigourney Weaver, the plot involves scientists cloning Ripley, who gains ‘alien’ abilities due to her DNA being mixed with the Alien queen that was first introduced in Aliens. Like its predecessor, this film was primarily developed by a soon-to-be-famous filmmaker; in this case, the film’s writer, Joss Whedon, before he became known for his hit TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and way before The Avengers. And like with Fincher and Alien 3, the flaws of Resurrection are not primarily his fault. What we have here is a film that suffers from major tonal inconsistency. Whedon intended for the film to have a tongue-in-cheek feel to it; however, the film’s director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie), decided to play everything straight-faced. Thus, the film maintains a ‘serious’ tone throughout despite various moments that are extremely over-the-top, especially those that involve Brad Dourif as one of the scientists in charge of the whole process. This over-the-top nature also extends to the cast. Sigourney Weaver is still just as great as she’s always been as Ripley but the rest of the cast is hit-and-miss because many are just hamming it up. And while the supporting characters are more memorable than the ones from Alien 3, they’re still a generally expendable group. Overall, Alien: Resurrection is more ‘enjoyable’ than Alien 3, partially because it doesn’t carry the same grim tone. However, the film’s tone is all over the place, resulting in unintentionally hilarious moments that were trying to be serious. Thus, what was intended to be a better conclusion to the series than its predecessor just made the whole situation worse.

Rating: 2/5

PROMETHEUS (2012)

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And finally, we conclude with the film that has become one of the most polarizing films in recent years; the pseudo-prequel to the Alien franchise, Prometheus. Ridley Scott returned to direct this film which, for the record, is not technically a prequel to the original Alien. It takes place in the same general universe as the other films but it is, ultimately, its own thing (e.g. this film does not take place on the same planet visited in the original Alien, despite the clear similarities). And to the film’s credit, it does a solid job of being its own separate story in this larger universe. Its overall plot, which delves into the mystery of humanity’s origins, is a fascinating one and I wouldn’t say that there’s a dull moment in the entire film. The production design is fantastic, particularly due to Scott emphasizing the use of as many practical effects as possible. And the film’s ensemble cast is solid as well, particularly Noomi Rapace as main protagonist Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, a much different kind of character compared to Ripley, Michael Fassbender as the enigmatic android David, and Idris Elba as the ship’s charismatic captain, Janek. But while the film is well-made on a technical level, its writing has been the main source of its polarizing response. Many have criticized the film for bringing up tons of questions that went unanswered. My thoughts on the matter? Well, I do agree that there are some plotlines that were only given vague explanations, like why the crew comes across a gigantic statue of a head during their mission. I think it’s safe to say that the ambition of the filmmakers might’ve surpassed what they could do in just one film. However, from the looks of it, Alien: Covenant will at least answer some of the unexplained mysteries that this film explored. And overall, I wasn’t too bothered by some of the more mysterious elements of the plot; I’d argue it makes the whole film more interesting. Thus, you can say that, overall, I’m still in the camp that likes this film. Admittedly, it may partially have to do with the fact that I have a personal connection to this film because it’s the first R-rated film I ever saw in theaters, but I do think that it’s still worth checking out if admittedly more for its technical aspects than the writing.

Rating: Way back in 2012, my first year on this blog, I had reviewed this film and gave it a 4.5/5 rating. Upon re-watch, I decided to lower that initial rating down to a 4/5 rating, which is still a strong rating on my scale.


"Final report of the commercial starship Nostromo, third officer reporting. The other members of the crew — Kane, Lambert, Parker, Brett, Ash and Captain Dallas — are dead. Cargo and ship destroyed. I should reach the frontier in about six weeks. With a little luck, the network will pick me up. This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off."

Friday, May 5, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) review

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Flash back for a second to 2012, when Marvel Studios announced the then-upcoming releases that would make up Phase Two of their ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. There were the usual suspects, like sequels to Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, but then there was one notable entry in that list that piqued the interest of fans; Guardians of the Galaxy. And that was primarily because, when it was first announced, most people probably thought the same thing that Djimon Hounsou’s character Korath says in the film when the character that he confronts, Peter Quill, mentions his ‘other’ name, Star-Lord; “Who?” I’ll admit that I was one of those people. At that time, I had no idea who the Guardians of the Galaxy were and I bet that, back then, even some of the biggest comic book fans in the world had no idea who they were either. Marvel was literally going with what was, at the time, a ‘C-list’ superhero team to headline one of their big-budget blockbusters. Thus, there was arguably quite the uncertainty surrounding writer-director James Gunn’s then-newest film. And yet, at the end of the day, it’s safe to say that it far surpassed our expectations. Not only was it one of the funniest and most entertaining films of the entire MCU but it was also one of the most heartfelt and emotional. Gunn succeeded in making us, the audience, care about a group of outlaw protagonists that featured a talking tree creature who could only say ‘I Am Groot’ and a genetically-modified talking raccoon who liked to use big guns and explosives; no small feat, indeed. Plus, it also basically confirmed that the team at Marvel Studios were truly the kings of the superhero film genre, with a winning streak that most studios dream to achieve.  

One MCU Phase later, we’re back with everyone’s favorite bunch of intergalactic a-holes in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. James Gunn is back to write and direct, once again, and the main cast of the first film (those who survived, at least) return to reprise their respective roles. This time around, Star-Lord and company find themselves on a new adventure that reveals the truth about something that has bugged Peter Quill since the beginning; his heritage. At the end of the first Guardians of the Galaxy, he learned that while his mother was from Earth (or, as the cosmic side of the MCU puts it, ‘Terra’), his father, described by his mother as ‘an angel made of pure light’, was of a different origin. This explained why he could withstand the force of the Power Stone (one of the six Infinity Stones that have been gradually introduced over the course of the MCU’s run) that everyone was after in that film when he held it in his bare hands during the big climactic battle. This film ultimately explores that answer and then some as Peter finally reunites with the father that he never got to know before. But, of course, now the question is this; how does this film hold up compared to its immediate predecessor? Well, unlike many of the other reviews for this film, I’m not going to get into that debate. Instead, I’ll just talk about exactly what this film is; yet another fun entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that provides fans with the same great elements that they loved about the original Guardians of the Galaxy.   

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opens just a few months after the events of the first film. After successfully saving the galaxy from the Kree radical Ronan the Accuser, the Guardians; charismatic thief Peter Quill AKA Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), stoic assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the slightly maniacal warrior Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), hot-headed thug Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Rocket’s best friend, tree creature Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) who, following his sacrifice at the end of the first film, was revived yet is only an infant during this film due to the short gap between it and its predecessor, have since been working odd jobs for various intergalactic organizations. However, due to some trouble caused by Rocket, the team find themselves pursued by their most recent clients, the Sovereign, led by their High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). Not only that, but she ends up hiring the crew of Ravagers led by the Guardians’ occasional ally/foe Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) to chase after them as well. However, things get a little more complicated when one of Yondu’s lieutenants, Taserface (Chris Sullivan; And yes, that’s his name, Taserface), initiates a mutiny against his captain. While all of this is going on, Peter begins to learn more about his true heritage, namely when he finally meets his long-lost father, Ego (Kurt Russell), who is revealed to be a celestial being with unparalleled power.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 once again delivers many of the same great things that we loved about the first Guardians. Visually speaking, the film is gorgeous; hell, this is up there with Doctor Strange as one of Marvel Studios’ best-looking films. Obviously, it doesn’t go to any of the truly surreal places that Doctor Strange went but it still provides us with bright and colorful visuals throughout. After all, this was the first film ever to be shot in 8K, currently the highest screen resolution out there, and the results are fantastic. In terms of the trademark sense of humor that the original film (and the entire MCU in general) had, there are, of course, plenty of great humorous moments and bits of dialogue in this film courtesy of writer/director James Gunn. But, at the same time, the film also provides us with some great emotional moments as well, once again proving how much we care about this team and its members. And does this film have a kick-ass soundtrack, just like its predecessor? Abso-frigging-lutely! And, believe it or not, that’s about as much as I can say about this film because there is quite a lot that happens in it; so much so that if I start to talk about any of it, I run the risk of going into spoiler territory. Thus, you can expect a ‘Spoiler Post’ sometime later this month. What I can say here, in a non-spoiler fashion, is that Gunn does a solid job once again with the overall story. Sure, there are a few narrative hiccups here and there, maybe a bit of a slow start even. But like I said before, the emotional core is just as strong as it was in the first film, all tied to a great storyline in which Peter Quill finally reunites with his long-lost father.

The main cast is just as great as they were in the first film; Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel all slip back into their respective roles with ease and once again have terrific camaraderie. So now, let’s talk about the new additions to the cast. Well, technically, I’m starting out with the new additions to the Guardians that return from the original film; Yondu and Gamora’s vengeful sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan). Given that both characters, for the most part, acted as antagonists to the Guardians in the first film, it’s cool to see them transition into more central roles in this film’s overall plot. Rooker, especially, gets a fantastic arc to work with as Yondu. At the same time, though, Gillan gets more to do this time around as the film does a nice job of exploring the tense relationship between Nebula and Gamora. The other new addition to the team is Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who is first introduced as Ego’s assistant or perhaps, as Drax puts it, ‘pet’. Right out the gate, Klementieff proves to be a fantastic addition to the team as the empathic being who has some trouble when it comes to social interaction. But that is exactly what helps make her just as endearing as the rest of the Guardians. How about the villains? Well, this is another aspect of the film that I can’t delve into here because of the risk of bringing up spoilers. All I can say is that the ones who we were initially led to assume were the villains don’t factor into the plot that much. But the true villain of the film? Dare I say, this character is one of the best in Marvel Studios’ oft-maligned collection of villains.

I’m going to refrain from using a certain phrase that I’ve seen tossed around in quite a lot of the reviews for this film. In fact, I’m not even going to say it here; if you’ve seen any of the other reviews for this film, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Said phrase is the one that is commonly brought up when it comes to reviews for most sequels as it is the result of comparing them to their predecessors. Do I agree with this statement, in any way? Well, in some cases, yes, but I feel like this ‘argument’ is becoming increasingly overused in this instance. I’m not saying that this film is perfect; there are a few flaws here and there, namely some narrative hiccups. But that does not, at all, take away from my overall enjoyment of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I absolutely loved this film. It delivers exactly what fans of the original were hoping for. A solid story with a strong emotional core, great and endearing protagonists, fun new characters, exciting new developments for certain returning characters, beautiful visuals, hilarious dialogue, and a kick-ass soundtrack all come together for another great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, feel free to stop reading this review right now and go see this glorious entry in the superhero genre. Seriously, I’m just holding you folks back at this point. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll jam to ‘Awesome Mix Vol. 2’. What’s more important to note, though, is that you’ll have another great time in the expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe. Let’s see, where are they at now in terms of their track record with their films, 15 for 15? That must be some kind of record…


Rating: 5/5!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Top 10 Favorite Superhero Film/TV Villains

The time has come, once again, for the newest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This time around, it’s the highly-anticipated return of everyone’s favorite ragtag bunch of intergalactic a-holes, the Guardians of the Galaxy. Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hits theaters this weekend and is sure to provide us with another awesome space adventure set to a kick-ass soundtrack. And in honor of its impending release, today I’ll be doing a Top 10 list that I promised to do two months ago. Back in March, right before the release of Logan, I did a list of 10 of my favorite performances from superhero films and TV shows. However, that list focused entirely on ‘lead performances’, from Hugh Jackman as Wolverine to Chris Evans as Captain America. Today, I’m switching things around and will be discussing my Top 10 favorite villains from superhero films and TV shows. Because for many people, a great villain is just as important as a great hero. And I guess you can say that’s why, as I’ve gone over numerous times before in the past, the MCU has always gotten flak for its villains. However, as I’ve also stated before, I don’t think ‘all’ of the MCU villains are bad; in fact, I’d say some are rather underrated. But, for the record, don’t worry, this list won’t be made up entirely of MCU villains. I’ve got a few DC villains in there as well along with some non-MCU Marvel film villains. And unlike last time, where I didn’t do any specific rankings, this one will be an official ‘Top 10’. So, without further ado, it’s time to discuss the most notable adversaries of our favorite superheroes. These are my Top 10 favorite villains from superhero films and TV shows.

HONORABLE MENTIONS


For this list, I’ve got 5 Honorable Mentions to name. First off, from DC, we have an oldie but a classic; Gene Hackman as Superman’s arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor, from the original Superman films. Hackman was excellent in the part, giving the maniacal businessman an enjoyably campy vibe while, from a casting perspective, also giving the first Superman film some legitimacy (in a time before superhero films were as big as they are now) alongside Marlon Brando as Superman’s father Jor-El, hence why the two of them were given top billing over Superman himself, the then-unknown Christopher Reeve. He would then go on to appear in the second and fourth films of the original series, though on the former he did not film any scenes with director Richard Lester after the whole incident that resulted in original director Richard Donner, who directed the first film, getting fired from it. He even provided the voice for the other antagonist in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Nuclear Man… though the less said about Nuclear Man and that film in general, the better. Next up, also from DC, we have the ‘unsung hero’ of The Dark Knight’s fantastic ensemble cast; Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent AKA Two-Face. Obviously, with this film, everyone remembers Heath Ledger as the Joker but Eckhart’s take on the charming district attorney who is slowly driven to madness, especially after he ends up heavily disfigured by an explosion, was equally terrific. His fall from grace was incredibly well-handled and would set the stage for an unforgettable finale in which Batman ends up taking the blame for Harvey’s actions so that he can protect his image as Gotham’s ‘White Knight’ after everything that the city just went through with the Joker.


And now we head over to Marvel with Daniel Bruhl’s turn as Helmut Zemo in Captain America: Civil War. As I noted before, at first I felt that he was the weakest link of the film, namely because he was barely in it. However, because the overarching conflict between the Avengers in that film was so terrifically handled, I felt that this wasn’t that big of a problem. But, upon re-watch, I realized A. that he was better than I initially gave him credit for and B. why a lot of people were viewing him as one of the better villains of the MCU. Now, granted, I don’t want every MCU villain to be like him and have a minimal role in their respective films but, technically speaking, he’s arguably the most successful MCU villain to date. Because while he is taken into custody at the end of the film, he did technically succeed in his goal to tear the Avengers apart to avenge the death of his family, who died during the Battle of Sokovia in Age of Ultron. In short, it was another perfect example of how the events of Civil War were the culmination of everything that has happened so far in the MCU up to that point; in this instance, the Avengers, despite their best intentions, inadvertently created the monster that would end up tearing them apart. His monologue to Black Panther during the climax is particularly chilling (“And the Avengers? They went home.”) Next up, from the first Captain America film (disclaimer: I’m talking about The First Avenger, not the god-awful 1990 film), Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull. Simply put, Weaving was just perfectly cast in the role as his sinister presence was felt throughout the entire film. It’s a shame, then, that it looks like he won’t be returning to the MCU anytime soon. And, finally, from X-Men: First Class, Kevin Bacon as the leader of the Hellfire Club, Sebastian Shaw. Like Weaving’s Red Skull, Shaw was a sinister antagonist, with the cool mutant ability to be able to absorb any form of energy and then expel it in the form of devastating energy blasts. Not only that, but he had a big personal connection to Magneto as we see that he was once an associate of the Nazis who conducted experiments on Erik when he was a young prisoner at Auschwitz.

And now, onto the Top 10!

10. BRETT DALTON – GRANT WARD/HIVE (MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D)

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First up, we have Brett Dalton’s dual performance as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent turned HYDRA mole Grant Ward and the ancient Inhuman Hive from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. As many of you know, Marvel Studios’ first foray into television had a rather rocky start. While critical reception was solid (well, if you looked at the show’s Season 1 RT score, at least), audiences were far more critical of the show in its initial run for various reasons which, from what I can gather, range from its attempts to tie into the MCU films to the supposedly bland main characters. And of the series’ initial 6 leads, Brett Dalton got arguably the most flak as Grant Ward, the stern, by-the-book S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who is recruited to join the new team of agents led by Phil Coulson tasked with investigating superhuman-related cases following the Battle of New York in the first Avengers. However, I’d argue that Ward had some great moments in the early stretches of Season 1, mainly due to the humor that came at his expense for being so damn serious, like in the pilot episode when he and Coulson are interrogating Skye and Coulson uses truth serum on him instead of her. Apparently, though, that truth serum was fake based on what Ward tells Skye two episodes later. Still, it leads to a funny scene in which Skye and Ward end up switching roles and she ends up interrogating him about everything from his time in the field to whether his grandmother knows about what he does (“Gramsy?”). Another great humorous moment involving Ward occurs in Episode 6, ‘FZZT’, in which a running gag occurs where Fitz and Simmons imitate Ward in a boastful manner (“I’m agent Grant Ward, and I [insert badass move here]”). This then culminates in a charming scene near the end of the episode where, after Ward saves Simmons when she falls from the team’s plane, he even does it himself.

And then came Episode 17, ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’, the first episode of the series to come out after Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Thus, because that film revolved heavily around S.H.I.E.L.D., the episode implemented the film’s big twist in which we learn that the organization HYDRA, which Captain America fought during World War II, had infiltrated and taken over S.H.I.E.L.D. And as many will argue, this is the moment where the show effectively redeemed itself after its slow start. It is during this episode where we learn a stunning twist; that Ward was a HYDRA mole working alongside his mentor, John Garrett, played by the late Bill Paxton, who was also revealed to be a HYDRA agent. Thus, the HYDRA twist arguably helped Ward just as much as it did the show itself. After being taken into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody at the end of Season 1, he became the show’s wild card, leaving both the characters and us, the viewers, unsure of what he’s going to do next. And when he does do something, boy does he not hold back. He kills Coulson’s love interest Rosalind, locks Fitz and Simmons into a medical chamber and launches it into the ocean, resulting in Fitz suffering brain damage when he sacrifices himself to save them, and does many other despicable things to Coulson and co. along the way. In short, he was quite a despicable villain but I’d argue that perhaps the best villains are the ones that we love to hate. And if you ask me, Ward fit that bill perfectly as the diabolical foil to Coulson’s team. And it’s even more of a personal matter because of how closely tied Ward was to the team before the big reveal. Just look at the scene in Season 2 when Fitz confronts the imprisoned Ward over the incident that caused him brain damage.

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Ward’s story ultimately came to an end in Season 3, during which he worked to reassemble HYDRA following its collapse over the course of the previous seasons. During the season, he worked alongside fellow HYDRA agent Gideon Malick to bring back the ancient Inhuman Hive, whose worshippers were the original founders of HYDRA, to Earth. Coulson and co. eventually interfered with their plan, with Coulson finally killing Ward on the alien planet Maveth, where Hive was located. However, unbeknownst to them, Hive did end up escaping the planet and had taken over Ward’s body. Thus, with this twist, Dalton changed things up with his performance as he took on this new villainous role. Hive was a more stoic being compared to Ward, always speaking in a calm and collected tone, and Dalton handled this transition perfectly. He was also quite an intimidating threat to Coulson’s team, with the ability to coerce his fellow Inhumans into working for him. As such, one stretch of the season saw Daisy, who Ward was romantically tied to back in Season 1 before the big HYDRA reveal, put under Hive’s control. Thankfully, she was brought back to normal by season’s end and Hive was destroyed before he could take over the world by turning all of humanity into Inhumans. And thus, Brett Dalton’s excellent run on the show came to an end… or did it? Yes, right now, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is currently amid a story arc set within a virtual world known as ‘the Framework’, which has allowed Dalton to return to the series as the Framework version of Ward, who let’s just say is still very much the Ward that we’ve come to known over the previous seasons though in an unexpected way.

9. WILLEM DAFOE – THE GREEN GOBLIN (SAM RAIMI’S SPIDER-MAN TRILOGY)

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While I’m sure that quite a few will write off his performance in Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film as being ‘too goofy’, as well as having an overly cheesy costume to match, I’d argue that Willem Dafoe’s take on Spidey’s classic nemesis Norman Osborn AKA ‘The Green Goblin’ is still an iconic one in the history of the superhero film genre. Yes, that costume is admittedly rather silly, especially when you look at the initial concept art for the character’s costume design. However, Dafoe clearly had a lot of fun in the role; sure, he was completely hamming it up but in a good way. Still, at the same time, he did manage to have a few subtle moments here and there, primarily during scenes with his son, Peter Parker’s best friend Harry. Thus, his death at the end of the first film (by the way, I always love the moment where, right before he gets hit with his own glider, he remarks “Oh…”) would set the stage for the destruction of Peter and Harry’s friendship, as Harry vowed revenge against Spider-Man for the death of his father, even though Spider-Man wasn’t directly responsible for Norman’s death. Of course, this got a lot more complicated when Harry found out that his best friend was Spider-Man in the second film. Thus, during the ending of Spider-Man 2, Dafoe returns in a cameo as he appears to his son in a vision, yelling at him to avenge his death (“AVENGE ME!”). This leads to Harry discovering his father’s Green Goblin equipment and becoming the new ‘Green Goblin’ in Spider-Man 3. Dafoe, of course, would return once more in that film in another cameo/vision, reminding Harry of his vendetta against Peter after being temporarily stricken with amnesia. It goes to show how vital Norman Osborn was to the original Spider-Man trilogy, hence why he lands the Number 9 spot on this list.  

8. JAMES SPADER – ULTRON (AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON)

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I can tell that this pick’s probably going to be rather controversial, and that’s for two main reasons. First off, it’d be because, obviously, some people felt that Age of Ultron was a disappointing follow-up to the original Avengers. But, at the same time, it seems like some weren’t expecting the route that James Spader would ultimately take when playing the crazed sentient android, Ultron. The film’s first trailer implied him to be a serious threat, especially given the use of a dreary version of the classic song ‘I’ve Got No Strings’ from Pinocchio. But in the film, while Ultron is still a major threat to the Avengers, Spader ended up giving the character a surprisingly more comedic spin… and yet, I’m totally fine with that as I feel that it made him incredibly memorable. From him temporarily forgetting the word ‘children’ when remarking about how people make… ‘smaller people’, to his immediate apology to Ulysses Klaue after cutting off his arm (“Ooh, I’m sorry… I’m sure that’s going to be okay!”), he’s an absolute riot. I mean, I find it interesting that the previous MCU villain, Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy, got flak for being ‘too serious’ and yet Ultron was given flak for being the total opposite. Expectations, am I right? Seriously, though, like Green Goblin, when given a genuinely serious moment, Spader handles it excellently, like Ultron’s first encounter with the Avengers in which he rambles about how he ‘had to kill the other guy’ [Jarvis] and remarks that they’re all ‘killers’. In short, Spader was excellently cast in the part and while it may not have been what some were expecting, his take on Ultron is undoubtedly an unforgettable one. 

7. MICHAEL SHANNON – GENERAL ZOD (MAN OF STEEL)

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Another possibly controversial argument here, but taking the Number 7 spot on this list is Michael Shannon’s take on the notorious Kryptonian warlord, General Zod… and yes, I do kind of prefer his take on the character over Terence Stamp’s more iconic portrayal of Zod in Superman II (and, also, the opening of the first Superman). For the record, nothing against Stamp’s take on the character, as it is genuinely iconic (“Kneel before Zod!”), but I’d argue that Shannon’s version of the character had a bit more depth to him. As much I hate to say it, Stamp’s Zod is perhaps a bit one-note; he’s basically just a simple tyrannical figure hellbent on world domination. Shannon’s Zod, though, is one of the best examples in recent memory of a villain who tries to justify that what he does is for the greater good. In a similar manner to the original Superman films, Man of Steel opens with Zod attempting a coup on the rulers of Krypton. But in this case, he, like his former associate Jor-El, is aware that the planet of Krypton is on the verge of destruction and is also trying to save it. It’s just that, to do so, he attempts to start a new world order that will eradicate the ‘degenerative’ bloodlines that led to Krypton’s ruin. Obviously, that fails and Krypton’s ruling council sentence him and his subordinates to the Phantom Zone, just like Zod and his crew in the original Superman films. And in both cases, they’re ironically spared from the destruction of Krypton. Once freed from his prison, Zod and his cronies then begin anew on their quest to rebuild their race, ultimately coming to Earth and coming into conflict with Jor-El’s son, Kal-El AKA Superman. Cue a big fight in the city of Metropolis culminating in that infamous neck snap scene which isn’t really that big of a deal because Superman literally did the same kind of thing (albeit without snapping any necks, but you get the point) to Zod in Superman II. And while Michael Shannon did not film any scenes for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Zod’s body became a crucial plot-point in that film as Lex Luthor used it to create the creature Doomsday.

6. ALFRED MOLINA – DOCTOR OCTOPUS (SPIDER-MAN 2)

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As implicated earlier with the Green Goblin, a common plot thread amongst Spider-Man’s adversaries is that many happen to have a personal connection to him in some form. In this case, Dr. Otto Octavius, played by Alfred Molina, is a famous nuclear scientist who also happens to be Peter Parker’s idol. For his latest experiment, Octavius attempts to create a sustainable fusion reactor with the aid of robotic, A.I.-controlled arms. Sadly, the initial experiment goes wrong, resulting in his wife Rosalie’s death and the loss of control over the arms, which are now fused directly to his spine. As such, the arms begin to take on a mind of their own, corrupting him into committing criminal acts so that he can re-do the experiment. Out of all the villains in the Spider-Man films who are referred to as ‘sympathetic’ figures, Octavius is easily the most successful of the bunch. When we first meet him, he is shown to be a brilliant and likable guy who tragically loses everything in a single moment. Ironically, this more sympathetic portrayal is far different compared to how the character is usually portrayed in the comics, and yet here, it works, thanks in no small part to Molina’s excellent performance in the role. He handles Octavius’ fall from grace brilliantly, culminating in his ultimate redemption when he sacrifices his life to prevent the experiment from destroying New York, proclaiming that he ‘will not die a monster’. Plus, the character’s certainly a memorable baddie from a visual perspective thanks to his robotic, tentacle-like arms, hence the nickname ‘Dr. Octopus’. Clearly, a lot of complex visual effects work went into designing the tentacles and those effects still hold up well today. Thus, ‘Doc Ock’ lands the Number 6 spot on this list and, therefore, still stands as the greatest foe that Spider-Man has ever faced on film.

5. GUY PEARCE – ALDRICH KILLIAN (IRON MAN 3)

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Ooh, boy… when it comes to MCU film villains, this one’s even more controversial than Ultron and you all know why. Iron Man 3 attracted major blowback from comic book fans over its big bait-and-switch on the identity of the film’s true main villain. Initially, we were all led to assume that Ben Kingsley was playing the role of ‘The Mandarin’, the leader of the terrorist group known as the ‘Ten Rings’ that was directly responsible for Tony Stark’s kidnapping in the first Iron Man film. However, when Tony finally confronted him, we saw that he was, in fact, nothing more than a drunken British actor named Trevor Slattery. The ‘true’ Mandarin (and I use the term ‘true’ loosely as the MCU One-Shot All Hail the King implied that there is indeed a ‘Mandarin’ out there) was, in fact, Aldrich Killian, head of the organization A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) who Tony had crossed paths with years ago at a New Year’s Eve party in Switzerland. Obviously, this was a major deviation from the comics, hence why it was such a controversial plot twist once it became known. I mean, I think it’s safe to say that in recent years, the superhero film genre has been under greater scrutiny to be more faithful to the comics because of incidents like this. And yet, in this case… it works. Now, my best friend and fellow film critic Matthew Goudreau of The Young Folks recently did an editorial on why Killian was, in his opinion, the best MCU villain to date. I’ll be providing a link to that here because, to be perfectly blunt, Matt does a much better job than I’ll ever do at explaining why Killian is such an underrated antagonist. Still, here are my two cents on the whole debacle.

First off, as many have pointed out, it’s probably for the best that they didn’t do a fully ‘comics-accurate’ portrayal of the Mandarin. This is mainly because of the character’s generally racist characterization in the comics being a villain of Chinese descent. Clearly, it was a better idea for writer/director Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce to do something different with the character, which they did. Second, from a story perspective, this twist ends up making Killian one of the most complex villains in the entire MCU. By having Slattery appear on TV as ‘The Mandarin’, he could maintain an anonymous identity as the true mastermind behind the series of explosions caused by his company’s malfunctioning product, Extremis. Instead of it becoming known that Extremis is an incredibly faulty product, Killian has them pegged as terrorist attacks orchestrated by Slattery’s ‘Mandarin’. Thus, this plan of his, as you might have guessed, shares some noticeable similarities to real-life perceptions towards the War on Terror. And yes, during the final battle, he boldly proclaims that ‘he is the Mandarin’ but, again, as All Hail the King points out, clearly, he isn’t and the real Mandarin is out there somewhere. Will we ever see this character in a future MCU film? At this point, it’s unsure but nevertheless, this whole charade that Killian puts on proves to be an unforgettable one and it’s all buoyed by an excellent performance from Guy Pearce in the role. Plus, can we just take a moment to appreciate the fact that they managed to keep this whole plot twist secret throughout the entire marketing campaign? In today’s age of social media, where anything about a film could potentially get leaked online, we genuinely had no idea that this was going to happen. It’s just like what Slattery said in one of his performances as the fake Mandarin; truly, we ‘never saw this coming’.

4. TOM HIDDLESTON – LOKI (MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE)

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Yeah, some of you probably guessed that good ol’ Loki would make it on this list somewhere. I mean, let’s be honest, most on the internet would argue that Loki is the only real standout villain of the MCU films (emphasis on ‘films’, as we’ll see in a bit). Tom Hiddleston set the bar so dang high with his turn as Thor’s devious adopted brother in the first Avengers film that any other MCU film villain was considered a disappointment if they weren’t even remotely as well-received as Loki was. He basically became the ‘gold standard’ when it came to the MCU’s rogues’ gallery. And yet… he only lands the number 4 spot on this list. Why? Well, possible controversy in 3, 2, 1… I only thought he was an ‘okay’ villain in his first appearance in the first Thor film. Don’t get me wrong, right out the gate Hiddleston proved to be an excellent fit in the role and, therefore, made Loki a very memorable adversary for Thor, especially considering their status as brothers. Plus, his overall scheme in that film, in which he gets Thor banished to Earth and stripped of his powers so that, with him out of the way, he could prove himself worthy to their father, Odin, and become king of Asgard, was at least a solid one. However, once Thor did get his powers back, it seemed like Loki wasn’t much of a challenge for him; in other words, he kind of defeated him rather easily. Thus, I feel that in that film, Loki was more of a memorable villain in terms of his primary characterization, especially once he learns that he was, in fact, the son of the leader of Asgard’s mortal enemies the Frost Giants and that he was adopted by Odin following the big war between the two groups centuries earlier. It’s really a testament to how the Shakespearean overtones imbued by director Kenneth Branagh really helped give a story that could’ve been written off as cheesy some effective emotional depth.

However, at the end of Thor, the post-credits scene revealed that Loki survived his apparent demise when he fell into the abyss following the destruction of Asgard’s source of transportation across the Nine Realms, the Bifrost Bridge. This, of course, set the stage for his return in the first Avengers and, yeah, that was where he really began to stand out. He hits the ground running as soon as he arrives on Earth via a wormhole created by the mysterious artifact known as the Tesseract, claiming that he’s come ‘burdened with glorious purpose’. And, yes, the overall plot of the first Avengers was quite simple; Loki comes down to Earth with an army, the Chitauri, and the Avengers team up to stop him. But, at the same time, Hiddleston imbued the character with, dare I say, a newfound swagger that wasn’t apparent in the first Thor. Thus, it’s easy to see why the character became so popular amongst fans. This led to an increased amount of screen-time in the next Thor film, Thor: The Dark World. However, I think it’s safe to say that this came at the expense of the film’s actual villain, Malekith, resulting in him becoming the worst villain to date in the MCU films. This kind of correlates to my overall thoughts on Loki in the MCU. Yes, he is a great character and, as you could tell from this list and how it is ranked, he is my favorite MCU ‘film’ villain. However, unlike most on the internet, that doesn’t mean that I hold other MCU film villains to what I’d like to call the ‘Loki Standard’. Not every villain needs to be like Loki and ‘too much Loki’, as seen in Thor: The Dark World, isn’t exactly a good thing. Still, it’ll be interesting to see what they do next with the character in Thor: Ragnarok, especially considering that the ending of Thor: The Dark World saw him take control of Asgard over Odin.

3. VINCENT D’ONOFRIO – WILSON FISK (MARVEL’S DAREDEVIL)

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While the MCU film villains are constantly subjected to high scrutiny, the villains of Marvel Studios’ Netflix shows have fared much better with critics and audiences. You could say that it’s because the Netflix shows allow for more character development in a 13-episode season compared to a two-hour film. But, either way you look at it, the MCU Netflix villains have become just as popular as Loki, if not arguably more popular, and starting off that trend was Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, known in the comics as ‘The Kingpin’, in Daredevil. D’Onofrio was a perfect fit for the role, being no stranger to villain roles as evident from films like Men in Black and The Cell. When the show needed him to be intense, he brought the intensity in spades (e.g. when he kills a guy by slamming his head in with a car door, beheading him in the process). At the same time, though, there were instances where he could be regarded as a sympathetic character. In the best episode of Season 1, Episode 8, ‘Shadows in the Glass’, we learn that he had a rough upbringing in Hell’s Kitchen and this eventually led to him killing his abusive father. Plus, despite all the criminal acts that he does throughout the course of the show, we even get to see a bit of humanity in him through his blossoming relationship with art gallery curator Vanessa Marianna. Case in point, remember the moment when he frantically tries to keep her alive when she ends up getting poisoned at a gala? Moments like this made Fisk one of the MCU’s most complex villains to date and even though he’s sent to jail by Daredevil at the end of Season 1, he made an unforgettable return midway through Season 2, during which he partook in a brief partnership with Frank Castle AKA ‘The Punisher’ and had an intense confrontation with Matt Murdock. 

2. HEATH LEDGER/MARK HAMILL – THE JOKER (THE DARK KNIGHT/DC ANIMATION)

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Yep, you can’t do a list like this without including Batman’s most iconic adversary, the Joker. But wait a second… two Jokers? Yes, I’ll admit I’m cheating a bit here by picking two Jokers instead of one, but I wanted to highlight arguably the two most popular iterations of the Clown Prince of Crime. After all, it really is a testament to the fact that the Joker has been played by numerous actors over the years, both in live-action and animation. And, for the most part, almost all of them have proven to be great in their own unique ways. But for this list, I narrowed it down to two picks, one from the live-action films and one from animation. First up, there’s Heath Ledger’s unforgettable turn in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, which earned him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor though, sadly, it was posthumously earned as he passed away before the film’s release in January 2008. And as we all know, what ended up being one of the last performances of his career would ultimately be one of his best, as he gave Batman a truly intimidating opponent to face in that film. Now, for the record, Jack Nicholson’s equally iconic take on the character in Tim Burton’s first Batman film from 1989 was just as excellent, but I think Ledger’s Joker edges Nicholson’s out by a slight margin and primarily because of his overall characterization. In Burton’s Batman, we knew a lot about Joker before his transformation. Originally, he was Jack Napier, the right-hand man of Gotham’s main crime boss, Carl Grissom, before Grissom betrayed him once he found out that Jack was romantically involved with his mistress Alicia. During a botched raid, Napier crosses paths with Batman and ends up falling into a vat of chemicals, effectively turning him into the Joker that we all know. Not only that but in a deviation from the source material, we learn that he was the one who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents, the catalyst that led to him becoming Batman. Thus, these two were responsible for making each other who they are today.

With Ledger’s Joker, though, his origin is completely unexplained. There have been theories that have been spread around the internet, including one that suggests that he’s a former soldier with PTSD (which would explain why he’s so familiar with explosives), but in the context of the film itself, he’s a complete mystery. Just look at his trademark action of telling stories about how he got his scars; they’re different each time. One time, he mentions that they came from an alcoholic father and another time, he talks about a wife who he tried to please after she too got scarred up. Moments like these are why Ledger’s Joker is a much more intimidating figure than Nicholson’s Joker; the unpredictability of his actions makes him terrifying because he’s capable of striking at any given time. Plus, at the end of the day, the Joker technically wins even though he ends up in custody. Because even though Batman tells him that Gotham is full of people ‘ready to believe in good’, he reveals that he still has his ‘ace in the hole’; his successful corruption of Harvey Dent, leading to Dent’s fall from grace as he adopts the persona Two-Face. By proving that even the best people are capable of being corrupted, he will break the spirit of Gotham’s citizens for good once the details of Dent’s actions become known. It’s only through Batman’s decision to take the fall for Dent that this is prevented, at least until The Dark Knight Rises when Bane publicly reveals this lie that Batman and Commissioner Jim Gordon had been orchestrating for eight years. Thus, what Ledger and Nolan created became one of the most iconic villains in the history of the superhero film genre.

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Now, let’s move over to animation, where there have been plenty of actors who have played the Joker over the years, including Michael Emerson in the two-part adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns and Zach Galifianakis in The LEGO Batman Movie. However, many will agree that the best take on the character came from the critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series from the 90’s, where he was voiced by Mark Hamill. Yes, the same man who gave us Luke Skywalker could also be quite the diabolical villain and as fans of Batman: The Animated Series will argue, Hamill was not only the best Joker in animation but arguably the best Joker period. He just absolutely nailed the role, from the mannerisms to the voice; you name it, he brought it and, thus, delivered ‘total anarchy’ every time he appeared. And even after Batman: The Animated Series came to an end, he would go on to play the part in other projects. In the original ‘DC Animated Universe’ that Batman: The Animated Series was a part of, he would also appear in films like Mask of the Phantasm and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. Many years later, he would partake in one of the character’s most iconic storylines from the comics in the film adaptation of The Killing Joke. It’s a shame, then, that the film didn’t live up to the quality of his performance. Thankfully, there’s also Rocksteady Studios’ critically acclaimed video game trilogy, the Batman: Arkham series. While voice actor Troy Baker played the part in the non-Rocksteady produced outing Arkham Origins, Hamill would return to his iconic role in 2009’s Arkham Asylum, 2011’s Arkham City, and 2015’s Arkham Knight, once again bringing the anarchy and solidifying his status as the definitive animated Joker. 

1. DAVID TENNANT – KILGRAVE (MARVEL’S JESSICA JONES)

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While Daredevil is, at the time I’m writing this, my favorite entry in Marvel Studios’ lineup of Netflix shows, the main villain of Season 1 of Jessica Jones, the infamous Kilgrave, takes the Number 1 spot on this list. Because while Vincent D’Onofrio’s take on Wilson Fisk was phenomenal, David Tennant managed to take his antagonist to the next level. How? Well, by being one of the most diabolical villains that the genre has ever seen. First off, there’s his main power of controlling people’s minds. And when he does so, he can force his minions to do some truly messed up things, from committing suicide to killing someone. In the latter case, he does this to Jessica when he forces her to kill a woman who, as it turns out, was Luke Cage’s wife, Reva. Plus, it also becomes clear that he sexually abused her while she was under his control, making him even more despicable. So, with that in mind, it’s a testament to David Tennant’s talents as an actor that he still manages to exude some charisma in the role, namely through some dark humor. Don’t get me wrong, though, this isn’t a case like Wilson Fisk; Kilgrave is still a full-on scumbag at the end of the day. But he’s easily one of the best examples in recent memory of a villain who’s so reprehensible and yet totally commands the screen whenever he appears. And that’s why he ultimately lands the Number 1 spot on this list, as he truly is one of the most intimidating and unpredictable villains that the superhero genre has ever seen.

And those are my Top 10 favorite villains from superhero films and TV shows. Be sure to sound off in the comments below with your favorite villains from the superhero genre, especially if I didn’t bring them up here.