2) Black Panther: Devolving into a Dreary Arcade Beat ‘Em Up
Given that movie studios are engaged in a perennial game of one-upmanship, it’s hardly surprising that every superhero release must now culminate in a noisy, overly busy fight sequence. After all, you can’t afford to look like your under-delivering in such a crowded marketplace, which is why “City-Block Destroying CG fuckathons’” have become a dime a dozen.
Yet just because they’re commonplace and expected doesn’t mean they’re all created equal. For instance, there’s a massive gulf in quality between the turgid action of something like Justice League and the spectacular climax of Avengers: Infinity War. Whilst the former is insipid, ugly and criminally tedious, the latter is easily distinguished by its impressive scale, inventive use of powers and slick staging. In short, it has everything that we want from this breed of cinematic escapism.
For the most part, the MCU has consistently delivered top caliber spectacle. However, they don’t always knock it out of the park, as evidenced by the underwhelming mano e mano that bookends Black Panther. Indeed, after building up an enthralling face-off between T’Challa and the surprisingly complex Killmonger, the film gives up at the final hurdle, cobbling together a flimsy, video-game-esque duel that wouldn’t look out of place in a Stephen Sommers film.
You’re not remotely convinced by anything that’s being presented to you: not the lackluster green screen; the cartoony character models; or the floaty physics. All in all, it’s a bum note to end on for what had otherwise been a quality offering. Oh, and the less said about those shitty CG rhinos the better.
1) Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald: Visual Cancer
Migraine-inducing and virtually impossible to follow, the opening set-piece of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald functions as a garish microcosm of the entire movie. For those who steered clear of this audio-visual nightmare (and thus spared their sensory organs a great deal of pain), it supposedly depicts the eponymous outlaw escaping from custody, as he is transferred from one maximum-security prison to another.
There are quite a few intricacies to the villain’s plan, but it essentially boils down to him switching places with one of his acolytes and then clinging to the bottom of his transfer carriage (Max Cady style), so that he can hijack it mid-flight. Along the way, some kind of murderous critter is unleashed, Grindelwald dispatches his guards, and then the carriage is submerged in water. On paper there’s nothing inherently wrong with that premise. It’s certainly packed with incident and could probably be quite exhilarating were it executed with even a sliver of competence.
Unfortunately, some asshat at Warner Bros. decided that this explosive opening would be better served if it all took place at night and in extreme weather conditions. We are consequently left with a confusing ordeal, wherein everything is obscured by either an overwhelming lightening effect, a thick haze of rain, pervasive fog, or murky darkness. It is, suffice it to say, a ball ache to sit through. Presumably we’re expected to be on the edge of our seats throughout the disorienting cluster fuck, because the deafening score is going absolutely berserk. Yet, it’s hard to feel too invested in proceedings, when you feel like you’re stuck inside of a washing machine, whilst some joker incessantly plays with the light switch outside.
On that note, it’s worth pointing out that there’s nothing inherently wrong with employing a strobe light to give your action a bit of ethereal flair. Some films have even managed to use this device to enhance their set-pieces, such as Kick-Ass, Aliens and this year’s Incredibles 2. However, each of those movies understood that flickering lights are dazzling enough on their own, without feeling the need to add in other effects. In fact, they went out of their way to minimise any discomfort caused by the strobe. For example, Hit-Girl’s warehouse rescue compensates for the flashing by making sure that all the other visual elements are crisp and that the camera-work is steady throughout. Not to mention it’s quite brief too, so you’re not being subjected to it for too long.
Fantastic Beasts on the other hand makes no such concession and layers all of this other shit (the ADHD editing, water splashes and mist) on top, as if they were trying to produce the most nauseating images possible. Meanwhile, it also doesn’t help that the wizarding world’s de facto action beat is a beam of coloured light being fired out of a wand, so there’s no reprieve from all the stobe. The end result is one of the ugliest set-pieces ever to be featured in a tentpole blockbuster.
Frankly, it’s mystifying that this got signed off, because the direction is sloppy, the CGI is weak and the whole thing is plain obnoxious.