Tag Archives: Marvel

Saving the Best for Last

After more than ten years and twenty-one movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe reached a capstone with the release of Avengers: Endgame. While many movie franchises have met with varying levels of success over the years, none have been as successful as the MCU. Warner Bros. misstep with the Justice League is a perfect example. Even the 007 series pales by comparison to the storytelling and cinematics exhibited in the Marvel series of movies. Avengers: Endgame is a perfect knot tying together all the threads that had been woven by the preceding films. It is not to be missed.endgame

When last we saw our intrepid heroes, they were licking their wounds from their ignominious defeat at the hands of galactic bad guy Thanos, played by Josh Brolin. The dedicated viewer will remember that at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos had reduced half of all life in the universe to dust, including some of our favorite heroes. Endgame starts by showing us how that snap of the fingers affected the one avenger that did not take part in the Infinity War, Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner. We then get caught up on how life has marched on for the survivors, including newcomer, Captain Marvel, played by Brie Larson. Under the direction of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the surviving Avengers try to figure out a way to reverse the disaster but are unable to do so.

Meanwhile, in another Galaxy, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Tony Stark (Robert Downy Jr.) are drifting lost in space in a damaged ship without power. Just as things look bleakest for the pair, fortune smiles on them.

Meanwhile, in another dimension, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) drifts without direction in the tendrils of the Quantum Realm until a bizarre happenstance returns him to our dimension, where he finds himself alone and unaware of what happened in his absence.

Meanwhile, in another part of the Earth, Thor is dealing with his failure in typical Asgardian fashion.

Meanwhile…well, you get the idea.

There are a lot of plotlines going into this movie, and the filmmakers do their level best to stitch them all together into a cohesive continuity. They succeed. The pacing is just right to allow for proper character and plot development and the cuts are just enough to keep the viewers interest without leaving them confused by the many plotlines. This is no easy feat and was only achieved by the film’s 3-hour runtime.

Yes. That’s THREE HOURS.

It seems unlikely they film makers could have delivered a story that was as satisfying in less time. While some might say the film drags in some places, it is a nice respite from the insane level of action that is going on the rest of the time.

Avengers: Endgame is a perfect capstone for the franchise. The viewer will leave this film satisfied that, if they never made another MCU movie, it would be okay. This story is finished. Anything that follows this movie is a whole different story. Endgame will be met with gasps, laughs, tears, and cheers, plus one scene that leaves the entire theater in utter stunned silence. The typical Marvel humor is sprinkled liberally throughout the script and the performances are spot-on consistent with the characters that have become beloved by fans. Of course, the special effects are top notch, even the Hulk’s effects, while new, are quite realistic.

If there were a downside, it is that some of the characters don’t get as much screen time as might be preferred. But given that it took three hours to give them that much, any more would require breaking Endgame into two separate films. That would not have been as satisfying. That said, every character that has been introduced in the MCU in any film seems to make an appearance in this movie, even if it is just a few seconds of screen time. Still, any more and it might have been too much. No, Avengers: Endgame is just fine the way it is. Go see it.

 

 

 

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Not So Marvelous

Captain Marvel PosterDisney has officially kicked off Marvel’s phase 4 of the MCU with the release of Captain Marvel in cinemas Thursday. The much-hyped film, touted as the new standard bearer for the Marvel franchise, features Marvel’s first female super hero to get her own title. As such, many feminists have joined a chorus touting the film as a feminist anthem without the benefit of actually watching the movie. This follows the hype of Black Panther as offering the first black super hero to get his own movie. Even before Captain Marvel was released, the movie was being bashed online by one group while being vociferously defended by another. It is unfortunate that Captain Marvel does not fair well by the comparison.

The film tells the story of Carol Danvers, an air force pilot who rankles at being denied the opportunity to be a combat pilot because she is a woman, taking a female scientist (Annette Benning) on a flight in an experimental aircraft and encountering unexpected problems. The film starts with our heroine fighting along side a noble band of warrior heroes already introduced in the MCU as the Kree. Vers—as she is called by the Kree—has an aggressive, emotional fighting style that frustrates her mentor played by Jude Law. She also has powers and abilities that no other Kree seems to possess, and she has no memory beyond six years prior. Through the course of her adventures, she uncovers the secret of her prior life and how she came to the Kree and how she obtained her awesome powers.

The Kree are engaged in a long-fought war with a race known as the Skrull; shape-changing aliens who can assume any identity down to the DNA. The war reaches Earth, where Vers encounters agents of SHIELD Fury and Coulson, who help Vers unravel the mystery of her origin and the secret behind the war.

The movie is full of CGI special effects, as all Disney movies seem to be these days. The age-regression on Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson are superb. They don’t look a day over 35. The fight sequences are fantastic and visually stunning, as are the Skrull transformation effects.

The story is set in 1995 (Vers crashes into a Blockbuster Video store loaded with VHS tapes) and has a lot of popular cultural Easter eggs for those who like searching for them. There is no discussion of or reference to any other super heroes or mutants, though at the end of the film, we see Fury typing the first draft of his “Avengers Initiative.” It makes no reference to Thanos, but it does include Ronin, who we first met in Guardians of the Galaxy. The first post credits scene does tie back to the events in Infinity War as Captain America and Black Widow are trying to see who Fury was texting right before he disintegrated. This is the only tie in to the greater MCU story arc, which was a bit disappointing.

The film is somewhat long, running at 124 minutes, but seems longer. Despite the incredible, gratuitous action sequences, the film does drag in spots. The plot is straightforward, if somewhat predictable and offers no insight on the deeper motivations of the main characters. Why the villain does what he does is never discussed. What is the primary motivation for the Kree war? Why did the Kree keep Carol Danvers on Hala and more important, why conscript her into their army? These could have been great story arcs to explore and made a more compelling movie than the string of action sequences the film provides.

There are also some continuity errors.  In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we learn that Fury lost his eye infiltrating a terrorist camp to save Alexander Pierce’s (Robert Redford )daughter.  In Captain Marvel, there is an alternative history.  Also, the Tesseract appears in this film, with no explanation of how it got there, when last we saw it (timeline-wise) it was lost in the arctic.

Brie Larson’s portrayal of Carol Danvers is problematic. Larson is a fine actress; her Oscar win for “The Room” is a testament to that. Carol Danvers is a great character in the comic books, full of heroism and faults like the pantheon of Marvel heroes before her. But we don’t see Larson really bringing Danvers to life. She isn’t given the opportunity to explore the frailties that drive Danvers to excel as a hero. Also, Captain Marvel is so powerful in the film that an even a space armada cannot slow her down. She never doubts herself or her role in what is happening to her and around her. There just isn’t any emotion from her at all. I don’t think it’s Larson’s fault. I think it is the staff of writers and directors that all had their fingers in this pie that was trying to please fan boys and feminists too much that they failed to satisfy either. This is why both groups are fighting online so much.

Hopefully, Endgame will give Captain Marvel more material to work with and allow the viewers to see more of the humanity of what is right now the most powerful hero in the MCU. Having said all that, Captain Marvel is an entertaining film. While not as funny as Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok, it has the occasional chuckle. It plays out like a comic book, which, considering the source material, is a good thing. But it could have and should have been so much better. It falls in the middle of my ranking of MCU titles.

 

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Thanos Is A Good Guy

The latest big bad on the big screen has to be Thanos, the purple giant of the MCU playing havoc with Earth’s mightiest heroes in this week’s Avengers: Infinity War. The character comes directly from the comic books where he has been a villain for most of Marvel’s cadre of heroes since his inception in February 1973 in Iron Man #55. Thanos’ biography in the comics is varied and random, owing to the fact that he has been written by several writers over the years; each adding to the back story as needed by the story they were writing at the time. Invariably, he is depicted as having little regard for any life other than his own and willing to kill anyone or anything to achieve his goals. This attitude is most commonly characterized as pathologically evil—a label not entirely unearned, but actually not as accurate as one might think. When looking at the MCU version of Thanos within the scope of RPG morality, many would assign the chaotic evil alignment to him, but actually, Thanos falls more accurately in the alignment of extreme Chaotic Good.

In role playing games, there are nine alignments; three variations of each of the two principle categories of good and evil and a neutral alignment smack-dab in the middle. The sub categories are lawful, neutral and chaotic, making the alignments chaotic good, neutral good, lawful good, lawful evil, neutral evil and chaotic neutral and true neutral. Lawful characters act within the confines of established law and societal morality. They do good or evil according the laws under which they operate. Chaotic characters have no regard for the laws of civilization, nor any societal morals or imperatives. Chaotic evil is characterized by a complete disregard for any life and a willingness to kill anyone who would get in the way of whatever goal the character has set. They are only concerned with achieving the goals. While this description fits the Thanos of the comics, the version brought to the big screen differs in one key aspect. For chaotic evil to apply, the goals must be evil or entirely selfish in nature. The big difference between Chaotic Evil and Chaotic good is the motive for the goals. Both alignments have no compunction about killing or destroying, rather they differ on the reason why.

In the film Infinity War, the character is portrayed by actor Josh Brolin, albeit with a CGI facelift and body shape. Through a very nuanced performance, Brolin brings a deeper thread to the Titan’s back story and actually creates a sympathy for his situation. The writers gave Thanos a motive for his nefarious goal of instantaneously wiping out half of the universe’s population with a snap of his infinity-gauntleted fingers. Thanos was raised on Titan, a paradise of peace and prosperity for generations until greed and excess threatened to destroy the planet if things didn’t change. Thanos warned his people that overpopulation and over consumption would destroy them if they didn’t reduce their population by half. They ignored him and continued until his predictions came true. Driven by this tragedy, Thanos then went out with his forces and began culling the population of the universe whether or not they wanted or needed his help. Of course, he met much resistance to his efforts and that is when he realized he needed the infinity gauntlet to achieve his goals of mercifully putting the races out of their misery. His underlings, on the other hand, are more in line with lawful evil as they act out his orders for their own selfish reasons, while spouting Thanos’ desire for mercy.

That need for mercy is how Thanos falls into the alignment of chaotic good. He thinks he is performing an act of mercy for the greater good as he sees it. No one ever said “good” was a universal concept, especially when considering a chaotic alignment. In his perception, he is saving the universe from itself and anything he does to that end is justified, including sending mercenaries to take the stones and kill anyone who would stop them. It is for this reason that he is chaotic good and not chaotic evil.

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The Black Panther Claws the Box Office

A second super hero movie has the internet all atwitter this week with accolades such as “historic” and “triumphant” pretty much for the same reasons.  Last year’s Wonder Woman was the first female super hero movie and the first directed by a woman.  This year, “The Black Panther” is touted as the first super hero movie with a Black protagonist and directed by a black director.  Now the veracity of that claim can be and has been debated, but that is irrelevant to the quality of the film.  The Black Panther is a character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (not the only black one) that interacts with the Avengers.  His character was introduced in 2016’s Captain America Civil War and played a major role in the events of that film.  In this movie, we learn more about the Black Panther and his alter ego, King T’Challa, ruler of the fictional African country of Wakanda, but the focus of this movie is not really T’Challa or the Black Panther.  One could argue the movie is actually about Wakanda.  As Wakanda is in Africa, it follows that this movie will feature predominately black characters.  In fact, the only principle characters that are not black is Andy Serkis’s Klaw and Martin Freeman’s Ross.  Given the setting of the movie and the characters, one would expect certain social commentary about race relations.  This film does not shirk in this regard, and in fact, is a bit “in your face” about it, almost too much so, which is the only problem I have with this otherwise enjoyable action movie.

One observation that bears notice is that story told in “The Black Panther”, while set within the MCU, has absolutely no bearing on the greater MCU story arcs. There is no mention of the Infinity Stones, the Avengers or any other heroes at all.  In fact, it almost seems as though Freeman’s Ross was tacked on just to tie it in, as his presence really doesn’t move the plot much.  Having said that, he does offer a bit of humor.

The rest of the cast turn in solid performances.  Chadwick Boseman reprises his role as King T’Challa and brings the same brooding strength to this performance.  His likeable naiveté dares the viewer not to like him.  His skills as the Black Panther, while impressive, are still developing and he finds himself in dire straits on more than one occasion.  Boseman conveys this and portrays T’Challa’s learning process convincingly.

Angela Basset stars as T’Challa’s mother and brings out his humanity along with Letitia Wrght’s performance as Shuri, T’Challa’s sister.  We also meet his ex-girlfriend and the general of the king’s guard, who all serve to help T’Challa face his first major challenge as king: A literal challenge for the throne from his American cousin, Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan.

The story is full of intrigue and more than one plot twist and if the writers and producers had left it at that, it would have made for an outstanding movie.  But with the current social climate, they couldn’t resist attacking the perceived “white-dominated” power structure in the world that was only serving to keep down “those who look like us,” as Killmonger says.

Of course, the film will win the box office.  It is an MCU film, after all, and opening on a weekend bereft of any real box office competition.  The movie was enjoyable, but it doesn’t rank as high as Civil War or Guardians of the Galaxy, and while it is good, it is not quite historic or triumphant.  Movies should earn those accolades with plot, character and message, not by the gender or the color of the skin of the actor or director.  I still give it a thumbs up.

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Suicide Squad is Killing It

I found myself doubting the appeal of the latest DC super hero movie to hit the theaters when it was first announced for several reasons. First, a story of a collection of B-rated super villains that team up to save the world when there are already so many super heroes available to do that seemed problematic. Second, the announced roster of villains wasn’t all that impressive and the casting seemed designed to pull seats rather than to do the story justice. When the first previews were leaked at comic con last year, I was increasingly dubious. The film just didn’t hold any appeal to me, so I doubted very much that I would go. Now, I had the same reservations when Guardians of the Galaxy was announced, and it was the best Marvel film until this year’s Captain America: Civil War, so in keeping a similar open mind, I went to see the film, despite the poor reviews it received. I am glad I did. Despite its depressing and ominous title, Suicide Squad is the most fun DC movie to date.

With Man of Steel and Batman Vs. Superman, DC brought in director Zack Snyder, who has really gone dark, trying to add more gravitas to the stories, apparently thinking that movie goers won’t take a superhero film seriously unless it delves deep into the darkness that inhabits the human soul, and reveals the conflict therein. Both of those films do that in spades, to the point of being rather depressing and making it difficult to appreciate the heroics. Suicide Squad was directed by David Ayer, who also has a bent for making dark films such as Training Day, SWAT, and Fury, but also knows how to inject levity into the film to counterbalance the darkness (although I never did find anything funny in Fury). Zack Snyder does have a directing credit on Suicide Squad, probably for the scenes that set up next year’s Justice League.

The plot is rather simple: in an effort to head off the next Doomsday scenario in a world where Superman died fighting the threat, the government decides to create a task force of meta humans that they can control if they ever need to use them. The Suicide Squad is supposed to be made up of the worst of the worst super villains in captivity. Each is implanted with an explosive capsule that will detonate and kill them if they try to escape and the only chance for a reprieve is to accomplish the task given to them. The plot is bleak and a little thin, though I love the irony that the threat the squad is tasked with eliminating is a threat that the government created in building the team.

The real salvation for Suicide Squad, however, is the cast, which is ironic considering I was doubtful about them to begin with. Will Smith is a fine actor, but I always raise an eyebrow when producers change the ethnicity of an established character because mostly it is done out of some misguided sense of political correctness, or in the case of Wild Wild West—to sell more tickets. But Smith does work as the hit man for hire, Deadshot, in this film. The breakout star, without any question, however, is Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. I cannot imagine any other actress assuming that role as accurately, as beautifully and as true to the story as Robbie. She made the film for me. Viola Davis takes a menacing turn as Amanda Waller, the head of a covert government agency tasked with doing things the government can disavow when needed. I’m not used to seeing her as “the bad guy” but she pulls it off easily in this film. Jai Courtney and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, also star as Captain Boomerang and Killer Croc, respectively.

One of the more public discussions is Jared Leto as the Joker. He doesn’t have as significant role in this film as some fans would like, and those fans are being quite vocal about their displeasure. One person is even going as far as to file a lawsuit against Warner Brothers (DC’s parent company) for false advertising. Unfortunately, any real fanboy knows that Joker was never a part of the Suicide Squad. His role in this film serves only two purposes: One, to provide a motivation and back story for Harley Quinn and two, to foreshadow the next Batman movie. He also does interact with the plot in a major way during one of the film’s key sequences, but it is not his movie.

While there are some problems with the script and the dialog, it is good to see a DC movie with plot and character development that consists of more than wrestling with inner darkness. It is also good to see a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, like Batman Vs. Superman did. If the next plate of DC films can continue in this vein, they might just close the gap on Marvel’s cinematic universe and give movie goers a whole different set of films to spend months and years anticipating. Let’s hope that Zack Snyder learns something from this movie in time to make Justice League better than Dawn of Justice, because I would have to say that Suicide Squad is arguably the best DC film yet.

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Rewriting History X-Men Style

In this age of comic-book-based movies ruling the multiplex, it is little wonder that the reigning box office champ is X-Men: Days of Future Past, the latest in the 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise. The movie effectively wraps up the last four X-men movies in a nice little package, incorporating the actors from the first three X-Men movies and the actors who played the younger versions of them in the last one. It is all very neat and tidy, except for two glaring discrepancies that just about every fan noticed: the claws and Professor X.

Continuity is that aspect of storytelling in which facts and events set up in early stories are accounted for in later stories using the same characters. It is essential in soap operas and movies sequels and to a slightly lesser extent in TV series (of course the TV serial has made a resurgence, hence the “previously on [insert show title here]). When something significant happens to a major character, the viewer has to accept it as a fact of life for the character. This is why writers rarely kill off a principal character: the viewers then expect not to see them again (exception for Southpark’s Kenny).

The character Wolverine, played in all movies by Hugh Jackman, has two spinoff movies of his own, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine. In the latter film, Wolverine’s adamantium claws are severed (an impossibility, by the way) by the Silver Samurai, to be regenerated as bone claws by his mutant healing ability. At the end of that film, in a post-credits scene, Wolverine is approached by Professor X and Magneto asking for his help.

Jump ahead to X-Men: Days of Future Passed and Wolverine is helping the X-Men fight a losing war against mutant hunting robots called Sentinels. The problem is that Wolverine has his adamantium claws back. This begs the question of how that happened. The movie says nothing of it, he is just happily shredding away as if he never lost the metal claws.

Of course, the plot of the film involves Wolverine sending his consciousness back in time to take over his younger body to prevent the advent of the Sentinels in the first place, and in this younger body, he had not yet acquired the adamantium in his bones. But the future self has the metal claws. Brian Singer, the director of the X-Men films offered a half-hearted possibility: perhaps Magneto helped restore his claws. He did not say this definitively what happened. He said nothing definitive.

The other issue is Professor X. He was killed by the Phoenix in X-Men 3: The Last Stand. Although in the end, we hear some other person speaking in his voice; we saw the Professor’s body disintegrate, so it cannot be his body the voice is coming from. Yet at the end of The Wolverine, Professor X is back in his body—complete with wheel chair—asking Wolverine for help. Now, comic book characters have an affinity for coming back from the dead. Barry Allen’s Flash was killed in the 90’s and he got better. Superman was killed by Doomsday and he got better. But in every one of those cases, the resurrection was explained (albeit sometimes very flimsily) by some plot device like time travel or alternate realities or parallel universes or cloning or something. In X-Men: Days of Future Past, there is no explanation of how this happened. Perhaps Brian Singer will suggest that Professor X is related to Kenny.

So, while Days of Future Passed is a very enjoyable film, it leaves two unresolved plot holes that the viewer will have to fill in on their own.

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Fighting For, and In, Red, White and Blue

Another superhero made his big screen debut this weekend in a summer of comic book adaptations and sequels. Xmen: First Class, Thor and Green Lantern have all pulled large audiences to the theaters in 3D and this weekend Captain America joined the ranks. In fact, during the trailers previews for next year’s Batman sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spiderman heralded more to come. While I have bemoaned Hollywood’s lack of true originality, these comic adaptations have, for the most part, produced some of the better movies of the season and Captain America: The First Avenger is one of the best of the bunch.

Captain America

Captain America was created in 1940 as propaganda material for the pro-war effort and enjoyed great success during the war. After the war, the comic’s popularity fell and it was cancelled only to be revived in the 60’s. The character bears a costume with a conspicuously patriotic theme but little practical functionality. As such, it doesn’t typically translate from the comic page well. Two failed TV series in the 80’s and 90’s attest to the difficulty in bringing Captain America to life. The costume just looked to cheesy, to comic-bookish for movie audiences to buy into. Other hero films manage to explain or redesign the superhero costume to make it acceptable for the audience such as the battle uniforms for the X-Men, the flight suits for the Fantastic Four or Batman’s armored bodysuit. For Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel Studios revisions the costume as an adapted Battle Dress Uniform, similar to the fatigues soldiers wear but with the patriotic flair.

The film stars Chris Evans as Steve Rodgers, AKA Captain America, a frustrated, patriotic wanna-be soldier who gets denied from World War II military service because of health reasons. He instead becomes a test subject for a super soldier serum designed to create the perfect human being. After creating the first successful test subject, the scientist (Stanley Tucci) who developed the serum is killed by a German agent of Hydra, a scientific terrorist arm of the Nazi party. Hydra is headed by The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) who was the first (albeit not entirely successful) test subject of the serum. Rodgers joins the war effort to thwart Hydra’s nefarious plans. The hero’s origin story is only slightly different from the comic book and holds true to the character development set forth in the comic series with some updating. The writers combined several of Captain America’s adventures in this film, including how he came to the modern age from 1943.

The Captain is not Chris Evans’ first spin in superhero tights. He was also cast as Johnny Storm, AKA The Human Torch, in the Fantastic Four movies. In this latest film, Evans’ face is CGI’d onto a skinny little body for the scenes before the procedure. His portrayal of Steve Rodgers is quite different from his Johnny Storm. While Storm was a wise-cracking party animal, Rodgers is a thoughtful, compassionate patriot who cannot abide a bully. This is a critical component of the film’s success; the audience cannot help but emote with Rodgers and root for the allied fight. Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci and Haley Atwell round out an outstanding cast, all of whom turn in convincing performances. Hugo Weaving’s Red Skull is sufficiently sinister and makes a convincing villain. In fact, of all the adaptations in film and TV over the years, Weaving’s Red Skull is by far the best.

Captain America is arguably the best super hero movie of the year and stands with Iron Man as one of the best ever. It also serves as an introduction to next summer’s The Avengers which will team up Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and Nick Fury and some other super heroes to save the world. This movie is a must see.

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