Lucifer – Movie Review

Lucifer, an intriguing political power struggle between ‘evil and lesser evil’, is a primer on how to make a good action masala movie.

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Lucifer kicks off with the death of chief minister PK Ramdas, leading to a political Game of Thrones with potential contenders jostling for succession. When Ramdas’ son-in-law Bobby, played by a suave Vivek Oberoi, tries to take advantage of the ensuing power vacuum, there is only one man standing in his way – Stephen Nedumpally/Lucifer (Mohanlal). The first half is an intriguing political drama with well fleshed-out characters, pursuing agendas of their own. The second half, while being mostly fanservice, works because Prithviraj, who makes his directorial debut after 17 years of acting, doesn’t play to the gallery from the opening credits, and takes his time in setting up his chess pieces.

Much like Petta, which was a tribute to Rajini, Lucifer is a tribute to the Malayali superstar from Prithvi, a self-confessed fanboy himself. Since my exposure to Mohanlal is limited to a few Tamil movies and other dubbed movies, most of the references went over my head. There was, however, one reference which I thoroughly enjoyed. When someone asks ‘Enna periya MGR ah nee?’, it was a delightful nod to Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar, where Mohanlal plays MGR.

While the movie’s title gives scriptwriter Murali Gopy the license to take cues from mythology and scripture, he draws inspiration from other iconic pop culture as well. It comes as no surprise that Mohanlal’s car number is 666. Like Marvel’s Daredevil, which borrows heavily from Catholicism, Lucifer takes a lot of cue from the Bible, with Mohanlal even reciting the iconic Ezekiel 25:17 verse, immortalized by Samuel Jackson in Pulp Fiction. When Mohanlal tells a priest that he cannot ask forgiveness for the sins he is yet to commit, it subverts the opening scene in Daredevil, where Matt Murdock seeks forgiveness for the sins he is going to commit.

While some of these lofty ideas feel forced, other subtle references work rather well. Prithvi’s brother, who plays Govardhan, a social media crusader trying to reveal the dirty secrets of politicians, has books on Assange and Snowden, the most infamous whistle-blowers of modern times. While Manju Warrier’s character, daughter of patriarch PKR and wife of Bobby, was explored quite well, characters like Govardhan and PKR’s son, played by Tovino Thomas deserved better treatment.

With a runtime of nearly 3 hours, the movie, to its credit, never sags till it reaches its climax. Vivek Oberoi shines in a meaty antagonist role and is a fitting villain against Mohanlal in the political power struggle between evil and lesser evil. The final arc, featuring an obligatory cameo from a beefed-up Prithvi, feels rather long-drawn. But, there’s a neat little twist at the very end that ties up the loose ends in a satisfying manner. Striking a fine balance between socio-political references and crowd-pleasing moments, Lucifer is a primer on how to make a good action masala movie.

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Avengers: Endgame – Movie Review

Avengers: Endgame brings a decade of worldbuilding to a satisfying and spectacularly epic conclusion.

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Avengers: Endgame is a thoroughly rewarding experience for longtime fans, as the plot offers plenty of scope to revisit key moments from earlier movies. There are also so many subtle nods to the larger MCU that totally justified my decision to rewatch the origin stories and Infinity Stones-centric movies. The time-jump to the Battle of New York was particularly awesome and just unbridled fan-service. It felt like a series of Shawarma scenes as we get new perspectives of the Avengers doing mundane things. I whooped in delight when Endgame revisited the iconic elevator scene from Winter Soldier with an inspired twist.

At the heart of Endgame are the heroes we’ve been following since the very beginning. While Infinity War felt crammed with too many heroes, Endgame does a remarkable job of balancing its character arcs that it seemed like each hero got their own solo movie. Despite a runtime of over 3 hours, the movie whirs past at lightspeed, playing out as a series of exciting time-heists before the epic, climactic battle.

Even though the Avengers are only fighting CGI monsters, the battle is quite simply spectacular and works so much better than the Battle of Wakanda, since it is tempered with so many character-focused moments. The internet has theories, but the post-credit sceneclip is still undecipherable. I’d been hoping for a ‘Snikt!’, as there could be no better way to mark the Disney/Fox merger, but it was not to be.

Despite tackling ambitious projects with mounting stakes, the Russos have always managed to deliver movies that are loved by fanboys and critics alike. With an unprecedented mass hysteria accompanying Endgame’s release, it’s quite staggering that the movie managed to exceed expectations. It bears further testament to the Russos’ mastery of assembling tentpole movies that their portfolio of MCU movies (Winter Soldier, Civil War, Infinity War, and Endgame) is now good enough to rival even The Dark Knight, arguably the greatest superhero trilogy of all time. Nolan’s trilogy ended on a thunderous, satisfying note when the end credits ushered in Batman’s heir. Endgame somehow manages to emulate that by giving us a wondrous sense of closure as the MCU comes full circle.

In terms of sheer scope and ambition, the Infinity Saga (the first twenty-two films in the MCU) is a staggering accomplishment that has revolutionized cinematic storytelling. Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios can look back with pride as Avengers: Endgame brings a decade of worldbuilding and interwoven stories to a satisfying and spectacularly epic conclusion.

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Marvel Cinematic Universe – Top 10 Movies

The concept of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) began as a simple idea, thrown in during the post-credits of the first movie, Iron Man. Nick Fury was addressing the audience as much as Tony Stark, when he uttered the words. ‘You’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.’

With the Infinity Saga – which includes the first twenty-two films of the MCU – drawing to a close with the release of Avengers: Endgame, here is my ranking of the multi-billion dollar franchise’s best movies so far.

10. Ant-Man

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Paul Rudd is just perfect as Ant-Man. Though the idea of an ant-sized superhero is quite ludicrous, the movie works because of its self-contained plot and drastically smaller scale. Despite the movie largely following Marvel’s origin story template, Ant-Man is a breath of fresh air in the MCU.

9. Black Panther

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Despite claims of Black Panther transcending the superhero genre, the movie feels like a familiar Marvel origin story, albeit set in a vibrant, rich and imaginative realization of Wakanda.

8. Spiderman: Homecoming

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Thanks to the collaboration between Marvel and Sony, Spiderman finally had his ‘homecoming’ in the MCU. Despite so many reboots, Spiderman: Homecoming still manages to feel fresh by steering clear of the origin story arc. The inspired casting of Tom Holland as a teenage Peter Parker and the injection of the charismatic Robert Downey Jr. make it a very enjoyable web-slinging ride.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy

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Guardians of the Galaxy is a surprisingly heartful, funny, and amazing sci-fi adventure with a motley bunch of characters – ranging from a talking raccoon to a sentient tree – whom you just can’t help but love. This galaxy-spanning saga is another reminder that there are more ways to tell a superhero story.

6. Iron Man

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Iron Man will always have a special place in my heart because this was the movie that started it all. Even after 10 years, Iron Man still remains one of the best Marvel movies ever. The movie’s blueprint for a superhero origin story has been adopted faithfully in so many MCU movies. Like Hugh Jackman, it seemed Robert Downey Jr. was born to play the role of Tony Stark.

5. Thor: Ragnarok

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After two lackluster solo outings, Thor finally strikes gold when Thor: Ragnarok embraces the inherent silliness of the character’s cosmic roots. With a dazzlingly colorful aesthetic and a brilliant ensemble cast, Ragnarok is an absolute laughter riot. The sight of a glowing Chris Hemsworth descending on the Bifrost battle to the rousing tune of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant is probably my most favorite scene in the MCU.

4. Avengers: Infinity War

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It was always going to be hard to cram every major MCU character (barring the ones from the TV shows, of course) in a single movie. But as was evident in their earlier MCU movies, the Russo brothers have a penchant for crossovers and Infinity War is no different as characters from different movies collide into each other in the best possible ways. Another big plus for the movie is Thanos, whose snap will go down movie folklore as one of the biggest wins for the bad guys since Empire Strikes Back.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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The Winter Soldier is not a typical superhero movie. It’s intense, suspenseful, and ominous, as befitting a political espionage thriller. With a taut script and electrifying action sequences, this was the movie that made Captain America cool. The elevator fight scene leading to Cap’s escape from S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters was quite simply spectacular.

2. Captain America: Civil War

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The plotting of Civil War may not be as tight as Winter Soldier, but the airport scene when both camps of superheroes come to blows and throw barbed insults at each other is just pure comicbook bliss and makes up for any of the movie’s perceived flaws. In terms of superhero-vs-superhero action, this movie was everything that Batman v Superman wasn’t.

1. The Avengers

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The original Avengers is still the gold standard of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Joss Whedon balances high-stakes action with Marvel’s trademark humor, while juggling such a wide variety of characters with impressive deftness. Thanks to Marvel’s organic world building, the character interactions work great and never feel forced.

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Marvel Cinematic Universe – Top 10 Powerful Characters

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is home to gods, aliens, wizards, androids, and other enhanced individuals. This is a countdown of ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ in terms of how powerful they are.

Note: This list is confined to only the movies, so it won’t include anyone from the Defenders, Inhumans, or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It is also restricted to only superheroes, and doesn’t include overpowered supervillains like Dormammu, Ego or Thanos.

10. Spiderman

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Spiderman made his bow in the MCU with Captain America: Civil War and has quickly proved that, despite being a teenage kid, he packs some impressive powers and is more than capable to take on seasoned villains (and heroes).

9. Captain America

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Captain America’s combination of serum-enhanced super strength, fighting prowess and a virtually indestructible vibranium shield have proven incredibly potent in combat.

8. Black Panther

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As the Black Panther, T’Challa is granted incredible speed, agility, and strength, and can easily hold his own against most heroes in a fight. He also gains an edge from his vibranium suit, which is decked with the latest technology from Shuri’s lab.

7. Iron Man

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From Mark 1 to Mark 85, Iron Man’s suit has undergone several upgrades and enhancements, with the latest version capable enough to trade blows with Thanos himself.

6. Vision

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Vision iswas the physical embodiment of J.A.R.V.I.S, capable of flight and changing his physical composition at will. He could also fire powerful beams from the Mind Stone, from which he drew his power.

5. Scarlet Witch

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Considered as an Omega-level mutant, Scarlet Witch is widely regarded as one of the most powerful characters in the comics, as she demonstrated during the events of House of M, when she very nearly wiped out the entire mutant population just by uttering three iconic words ‘No more mutants’.

In the MCU, Wanda’s telekinetic and psychic powers have not been fully explored yet. If she unlocks her true potential, she might make a case of being the most powerful Avenger.

4. Doctor Strange

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The Sorcerer Supreme is an incredibly powerful wizard, who can create weapons and shields out of thin air using magic, use his Sling Ring to travel between dimensions, and can fly using the Cloak of Levitation.

3. The Hulk

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The Incredible Hulk is easily one of the most powerful heroes in the MCU and has been the Avenger’s trump card on several occasions. The angrier he gets, the more powerful he becomes, and things/people invariably get smashed.

2. Thor

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As the Asgardian ‘God of Thunder’, Thor is naturally considered strong and a capable fighter. But his powers have grown exponentially since the events of Thor: Ragnarok when he fully embraced his true potential. In Avengers: Infinity War, he was able to withstand the full blast of a star and very nearly defeated Thanos, even when the Mad Titan was wielding all the Infinity Stones.

1. Captain Marvel

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Armed with superhuman strength, energy manipulation, and energy absorption, Carol Danvers can blast away most people with hyper-charged photons. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige recently admitted that the most powerful character in the MCU is indeed Captain Marvel.

She’s one of the most powerful – and one of the most popular – characters in our comics, and will be the most powerful character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.’

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Shazam! – Movie Review

Despite an overblown action-packed finale, the movie is ultimately fun and uplifting.

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As we live in the golden era of superhero movies, it’s the fantasy of every fan to develop superpowers and fight evil. In Shazam, a teenager Billy Batson gets to live this fantasy, when he is granted magical powers by a bearded wizard. All Billy needs to do is say the magic word “Shazam!”, and he is transformed into an adult (Zachary Levi) in a superhero suit. Billy might have the powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury, but like any 14-year old, he uses his newfound identity and superpowers for buying beer (before promptly spitting it out), paying a visit to a strip club, and making viral videos on YouTube. Zachary displays the same exuberant enthusiasm which Grant Gustin had embraced in early seasons of The Flash.

Some of the jokes feel childish, which is understandable considering it’s a kids’ film, starring kids. Billy’s roommate at the foster house, Freddy is a superhero nerd who helps his fledgling ungeeky superhero friend discover his powers, by running a series of hilarious superhero tests. Billy’s camaraderie with his other foster siblings is also wonderfully Stranger Things-ish.

While the movie smartly deals with exposition by tying it with the villain’s backstory early in the movie, Mark Strong’s Dr. Sivana seems to be straight out of a Mummy movie, as he conjures up bland, dastardly CGI depictions of the seven deadly sins. It’s understandable given director Sandberg’s history with making horror movies (Annabelle: Creation), but I would have preferred more imaginative versions of the deadly sins.

The movie’s laden with Easter Eggs, as was evident even in first look posters. Shazam may not be the refreshingly original superhero movie which the trailer had promised, but the movie is undeniably fun, and its core message of finding one’s family is conveyed sweetly. The movie overstays its welcome with an overblown action-packed finale, but Shazam is ultimately uplifting and another step in the right direction for the DCEU.

Super Deluxe – Movie Review

Super Deluxe is a slow-burning drama that finishes with a flourish and raises some existential questions.

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Thiagarajan Kumaraja’s first movie Aaranya Kandam was an underground cult sensation that didn’t get the recognition it deserved. Thanks to the inspired casting of Vijay Sethupathy, better marketing and the stamp of approval bestowed by critics, Super Deluxe has generated enough buzz to reach a much bigger audience.

Super Deluxe is an anthology of seemingly random, but interwoven stories, featuring a stellar ensemble cast. There is a recently married couple (Samantha and Fahad Fazil) trapped in a failing marriage, a gang of teenagers who want to watch a porn movie, a former porn actress (Ramya Krishnan) coming to grips with a religious zealot of her husband (Myskin), and a doting wife (Gayathri) awaiting the return of her husband (Vijay Sethupathy), who returns as a transgender. There is also a corrupt cop whose sleazy activities, while making your skin crawl, crisscross through the different storylines.

The director parades a plethora of pop culture references, making a rewatch essential just for Easter Egg hunting. There are delightful nods to his first movie, including airplanes in the sky and a key hanging in the car. I badly wanted to pause and zoom a scene featuring a wall plastered with posters, and examine each one carefully. I loved the Carnatic rendition of the Star Wars theme. Even the subtitles were very creative in translating crass dialogues for a wider audience. (More Star Wars!)

Branded with an “A” certificate, Super Deluxe can afford to be uncompromisingly dark, but it’s at this juncture that the director gets a little carried away. With almost 3 hours of runtime, the movie feels overlong at times. The scenes featuring the corrupt cop, portrayed rather well by Bagavathy Perumal, could have steered clear of repetitive clichés. While the warehouse sequence provides both Samantha and Fahad an opportunity to showcase their acting chops, the buildup was just way too overlong. There’s a supernatural twist at the end that feels slightly out of place, but helps shepherd the movie to a logical conclusion, and also raises some thought-provoking questions.

While the film’s core message on equality was rather explicit, it also brilliantly explores existentialism, the idea that our lives are nothing but a series of random events. It’s a difficult idea to eschew, even as your mind connects the many dots and patterns in the movie. But when the camera takes to the sky and gives us a sweeping big-picture view of the lives of our motley bunch of characters, our preconceived notions are shattered and it all makes startling sense. I cannot remember the last time, if ever there was one, when a Tamil movie raised so many existential questions about the very meaning of life.

Captain Marvel – Movie Review

Captain Marvel takes a while to get going, but once she finds her stride, it makes for a fun and enjoyable ride.

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Captain Marvel is the 21st entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also marks a parting of ways with the origin story template Marvel had been using Phase One. Rather than telling how Vers/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) got her powers, the movie lets the audience piece together Captain Marvel’s origin story through flashbacks, against the backdrop of an intergalactic Kree-Skrull war. Carol Danvers is living amongst the Krees in an alien world at the start of the movie. A series of incidents lead her to Earth (Planet C53) where she runs into a digitally de-aged Nick Fury. Brie Larson’s chemistry and easy comradery with Samuel Jackson is a big highlight in the movie.

Ben Mendelsohn can add his portrayal of Talos, a Skrull warrior, to his interesting resume that includes Rogue One and Ready Player One. There are no doppelganger villains like in most MCU origin movies (Iron Man vs Iron Monger, Black Panther vs Killmonger, Ant-Man vs Yellow Jacket). Jude Law makes his bow in the MCU, donning Kree colors, as Carol’s haughty mentor. However, the true star of the movie is Goose, Carol’s cat who steals every scene she’s in.

The MCU is now so rooted in contemporary pop culture that Marvel can take liberties in cramming as many easter eggs as they want. I watched the movie only a week after release and the movie theatre wasn’t exactly what you would call sophisticated. So, it came as a surprise when the crowd was able to appreciate even obscure references to the larger MCU. While Carols’s quips didn’t always garner the amount of laughter Tony Stark would take for granted, it will be interesting to see how she fits in the Avengers team. If what we have seen so far is any indication, it is going to be amazing. The post-credit sequence was just pure comicbook fun!

The hype had been relentless for Captain Marvel, ever since excited fans saw Nick Fury page Carol Danvers at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. It was never going to be easy and the movie could have easily floundered under the weight of so much expectation. Admittedly, the first hour is a bit flat, making it seem like a filler episode before the big Avengers finale, bringing to mind Eleven’s unnecessary visit to Chicago in season 2 of Stranger Things. But the movie picks up from the second act, and it makes for a fun and enjoyable ride as it sets up Avengers: End Game perfectly.