Title: The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special Release Date: November 25, 2022 Director: James Gunn Production Company: Marvel Studios Summary/Review:
In this goofy special, The Guardians learn about the Earth tradition of Christmas and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) decide that they need to cheer up Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Their plan involves going to Earth and abducting Quill’s favorite person, Kevin Bacon (Kevin Bacon). Hijinks ensue.
Centering the special on two of the secondary characters is an interesting opportunity to give them some development (Klementieff succeeds more than Bautista), and Bacon looks like he’s having a blast playing himself. And less Chris Pratt is an advantage. While I doubt this will become an annual holiday tradition, it was a fun bit of whimsy to watch this year.
Title: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever Release Date: November 11, 2022 Director: Ryan Coogler Production Company: Marvel Studios Summary/Review:
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a sequel that has to contend with death of it’s charismatic star and generational talent, Chadwick Boseman. The movie begins with T’Challa dying of an incurable illness much like Boseman in real life, handling the problem with greater gravitas and respect for the deceased actor than Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker did for Carrie Fisher. The women of Wakanda step into the void both as leaders of Wakanda and as the series’ protagonists, particularly scientist and T’Challa’s sister Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright), warrior general Okoye (Danai Gurira), Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and former spy and romantic partner of T’Challa Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o).
T’Challa’s opening Wakanda and its technology to the world has the downside of world powers seeking sources of vibranium. This in turn leads to the emergence of the Talokan, another hidden society of people descended from the Maya whose discovery of a source of vibranium and the herb that grows from gives the ability to live in a kingdom under the ocean. Their king, Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), seeks an alliance with Wakanda to destroy the rest of the world. With Shuri unwilling to carry out mass destruction, the two kingdoms go to war. Wakanda and Talokan each offer an interesting perspective on how colonialism has hurt the non-white people of the world and the lasting trauma contributing to ongoing violence. Namor is also like Kilmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in the first film in that he’s a villain with a very good point, and the question remains how to channel that revolutionary fervor to constructive rather than destructive ends.
There’s also a sideplot with Shuri and Okoye needing to protect a scientist from Namor because she’s invented a device that can locate vibranium. It turns out that the scientist is Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) a teenage prodigy who studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This means that as a Bostonian we finally get to see the greater Boston area in the MCU, although they never quite make it across the bridge to Boston proper. Riri also is able to build her own armored suit like Tony Stark and takes on the superhero name Ironheart. I have a feeling that with Cassie Lang, Kate Bishop, America Chavez, Love, Kamala Khan, Riri, and others that we’re totally being set up for a Young Avengers team.
The original Black Panther is still the best movie in the MCU, in my opinion, and Wakanda Forever had a lot to live up to under the best conditions. At nearly three hours in length, it is like a lot of MCU movies in being just too long. I also feel that despite the great performances by all the stars that the movie suffers from not having a single protagonist for much of the first two acts as well as too many sideplots. That aside, it is still an enjoyable and heartfelt film and a worth successor.
Title: Werewolf By Night Release Date: October 7, 2022 Director: Michael Giacchino Production Company: Marvel Studios Summary/Review:
I felt a pang of nostalgia when Werewolf By Night was preceded by a “TV Special” title card reminiscent of the bygone days of TV movies and miniseries that were a big deal in the era before streaming. The movie itself is filmed in black & white and pays homage to the classic horror films of the 1930s and 1940s, although the black & white also covers up a higher level of gore than would’ve made it onscreen back in the day. At 55 minutes long, Werewolf By Night is incredible efficient at setting up the premise, the character’s backstories, and the action set pieces so that the lead characters even have time for long conversations. The creators of the often overlong MCU movies can learn something from this.
The story relates to the powerful weapon known as the Bloodstone. After the death of its owner, Ulysses Bloodstone, his widow Verussa (Harriet Sansom Harris) invites five monster hunters to compete in a hunt with the winner/survivor inheriting the Bloodstone and all its powers. Among the hunters are Jack Russell (Gael García Bernal) and Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly) who is Ulysses’ estranged daughter and Verussa’s stepdaughter.
Not surprisingly, among the characters at Bloodstone Manor on the night of the hunt is a werewolf! The hunt leads to some interesting alliances and some clever twists. I really had no idea about Werewolf By Night, so I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but it is all very good. And I just love Ted (Carey Jones).
Title: She-Hulk: Attorney at Law Release Date: August 18 – October 13, 2022 Creator/Head Writer/Showrunner: Jessica Gao Episodes: 9 Production Company: Marvel Studios Summary/Review:
Up-and-coming Los Angeles lawyer Jennifer Walters (Tatiana Maslany) is traveling with her cousin Bruce Banner, a.k.a. The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) when a car crash causes her to be exposed to Bruce’s blood and thus acquire Hulk powers. Turns out that Jennifer is much better at controlling her Hulk powers than Bruce but has no interest in being a superhero. But her powers are revealed in the most public way possible, and she ends up having to work for a law firm defending super-powered beings while in her She-Hulk form.
This show ends up being something we haven’t seen from Marvel and don’t really see much of at all anymore, an episodic sitcom. And a very funny one at that. Following the precedent set by the She-Hulk comics, Maslany to comment on the story. It ends up kind of being a superhero story crossed with Fleabag and Ally McBeal (but in a good way). This approach is something that could’ve flopped hard but Maslany’s charm and talent win the day. I’ve heard a lot about her great work on Orphan Black, a show I’ve sadly not yet watched.
In addition to spoofing legal dramas, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law satirizes the dudebro culture of gatekeeping that all too often manifests itself as misogyny against women in superhero media. The final episode makes fun of the Marvel formula in a very funny way, although I felt a bit cheated that they didn’t offer an alternate resolution. Apart from that disappointment this was a very clever and entertaining series. Maslany is boosted by strong supporting cast and guest stars, including:
Ginger Gonzaga as Nikki Ramos, Jennifer’s paralegal and best friend.
Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky / Abomination, the villain from 2008’s The Incredible Hulk (and the first time in a long time Marvel has acknowledged the events of that movie) who has become considerably more chill.
Megan Thee Stallion as herself.
Benedict Wong as Wong, because everyone loves Wongers!
Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock / Daredevil, Jennifer’s fellow lawyer/superhero who comes from New York for a team-up and a hook-up.
And the breakout character of the series, Patty Guggenheim as Madisynn King, who turns being a drunk party girl into a superpower.
Title: Ms. Marvel Release Date: June 8 – July 13, 2022 Creator/Head Writer/Showrunner: Bisha K. Ali Episodes: 6 Production Company: Marvel Studios Summary/Review: Ms. Marvel, one of my favorite comic series, comes to life in this limited series from Disney+. Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) is an ordinary teenager in New Jersey, obsessed with the Avengers (especially Captain Marvel), the child of Pakistani immigrants, and a faithful Muslim. A magical bangle reveals that she has powers and she begins to learn how she can be a superhero while uncovering her family history back to the Partition of India and Pakistan.
Vellani is perfect as Kamala capturing the conflict and joy of teenage life. The rest of the cast, including Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur as Kamala’s parents, Matt Lintz as Kamala’s best friend Bruno, and Yasmeen Fletcher as Kamala’s good friend Nakia are also perfectly cast. The style of the show is great with colorful, comic book animations in the credits and backgrounds of the show, and magnificent soundtrack of American pop songs mixed with Pakistani music. Some people have criticized that Kamala’s powers are different from the comics but I like the change because 1) I don’t want to see the exact same story recreated, 2) I love how it ties in her powers to her family and cultural history, and 3) Marvels shows The Inhumans bombed so I can understand why they’d want to avoid that.
This was a delightful series and I look forward to Kamala Khan’s return in The Marvels next year.
Title: Thor: Love & Thunder Release Date: July 8, 2022 Director:Taika Waititi Production Company: Marvel Studios Summary/Review:
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) becomes the first Marvel superhero to have four solo features, with Waititi returning to direct after joining the series with the excellent Thor: Ragnorak. Like its predecessor, Love & Thunder revels in good humor and a general all-around weirdness. While not as good as Ragnarok, it still proves just the kind of fun adventure with a lot of heart at its center that I need right now.
Thor has suffered several traumas and the loss of several loved ones (as depicted in previous Thor and Avengers’ movies) and has embraced an emotional distancing to cope. He only allows himself to be called on to help people who need him to fight for them. The threat in this movie comes from Gorr (Christian Bale), a man who was betrayed by his god and has taken up a sword called the Necromancer to become the God Butcher. When Gorr adbucts all the children of New Asgard, it’s up to Thor and his surviving loved ones to save them.
Thor teams him up with s Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Waititi), and his former girlfriend Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), as well as a pair of screaming goats. And in a twist, Thor’s powerful hammer Mjolnir, once destroyed, has called to Jane and made her The Mighty Thor. It’s all a bit complicated but fun in a a weird way. Together they have some mighty adventures. The fights are good, the jokes are better, but the camaraderie is the heart of this movie.
Title: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Release Date: May 6, 2022 Director: Sam Raimi Production Company: Marvel Studios Summary/Review:
I wasn’t a big fan of Doctor Strange (2016), but Benedict Cumberbatch has done a good job with the character in various other MCU films including Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). So I did look forward to this film, especially since it also promised the return of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) after the events of WandaVision. The multiverse has been a recurring theme of Phase 4 especially in the tv series Loki and What If... and in No Way Home, and this movie leans into the “madness” of its title.
The basic plot involves a young woman named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who has the power to jump between universes although she is not able to control it. America arrives in the main MCU universe (Earth-616) pursued by a giant demon who is sent after her by someone seeking to take away America’s power, which would kill her. Doctor Strange and Wong (Benedict Wong) agree to help and defend America leading into a heavily action-filled adventure. In another universe, they are aided by Stephen Strange’s ex Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). They also meet a crowd-pleasing team of alternate universe superheroes with actors Chiwetel Ejiofor, Patrick Stewart, Hayley Atwell, Lashana Lynch, and Anson Mount reprising their roles from other Marvel properties and John Krasinski making a first appearance as a well-known character.
Director Sam Raimi is best known for his camp horror movies like Evil Dead and brings a horror aesthetic to this film as well. That means we see our protagonists chased by demons and a blood-soaked villain as well as scenes with a heavily-decayed zombie. There are a lot of brutal deaths in this movie which make it feel more dangerous than other entries in the MCU and may not be suitable for young children or anyone who is squeamish.
There’s a lot that I can quibble with about this movie, although it’s a definite improvement over its predecessor. I especially felt that the chemistry between Strange and Christine was never strong and it makes the “lost love” element of the plot a tough sell. America feels more like a MacGuffin than a character for much of the film, although she does get a good moment in the denouement. Despite the multiverse being a recurring theme in the MCU, this movie felt oddly self-contained as it had no connection with previous multiverse stories. I also felt that Loki and the non-MCU movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse did a much better job with the possibilities of the multiverse for storytelling. Ultimately, I enjoyed this movie as a it was pretty much nonstop action set pieces with a lot of visual flair.
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Title: Spider-Man: No Way Home Release Date: December 17, 2021 Director: Jon Watts Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Studios | Pascal Pictures Summary/Review:
Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has been one of the best parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so it was with great enthusiasm that I went to see the third Spider-Man movie (although it took me a while to get to theaters!). Following up on the end of Far From Home where the Rush Limbaugh-like J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons) reveals Spider-Man’s identity as Peter Parker to the world. Naturally, the publicity has a negative effect on Peter’s life, but also on his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), girlfriend M.J. (Zendaya), and best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon).
Peter asks Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help casting a spell that would cause the world to forget that Spider-Man is Peter Parker. When the spell goes wrong it draws in villains from other universes including Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), Electro (Jamie Foxx), Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), Lizard (Rhys Ifans), and Sandman (Thomas Haden Church). Peter, M.J., Ned, and May realize that returning them to their own dimension would cause their deaths, so they work on first curing them of the various maladies that turned them into villains in the first place.
Title: Hawkeye Release Date: 2021 Creator: Jonathan Igla Director: Rhys Thomas (episodes 1,2, & 6), Bert & Bertie (episodes 3-5) Season: 1 Episodes: 6 Production Company: Marvel Studios Summary/Review:
Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), is the overlooked Avenger, who not only never got his own movie, but was just kind of there when the first Avengers movie began. So this is a belated Hawkeye story that focuses on the aging superhero/dad dealing with the trauma of losing his friend Natasha Romanov as well as hearing loss. Enter Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), who as a child witnessed the Battle of New York in 2012 when her house in Manhattan was damaged and her father killed. Seeing Hawkeye’s heroics, Kate dedicated her life to learning archery and martial arts skill.
This series is obviously a “passing the baton” story as Barton just wants to get home to his family for Christmas but gets caught up in a crisis that center around Kate. They have a good chemistry and the show has a good balance of humor, action, and more reflective moments. It also has an surplus of villains including the Tracksuit Mafia, Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) – a deaf leader of the Tracksuits set on vengeance against Barton’s alter-ego Ronin, and Natasha’s sister Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), who was introduced in Black Widow and once again steals scenes left and right.
I won’t go into much detail but it’s an enjoyable series and another great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Title: The Eternals Release Date: November 5, 2021 Director: Chloé Zhao Production Company: Marvel Studios Summary/Review:
Eternals is the story of the immortal alien race known as Eternals sent to Earth to fight the Deviants by the ginormous Celestial Arishem. Over several millennia, the Eternals fight the deviants and defend human civilization. Eventually the group of ten dissolves and blend into human society in various parts of the world. The main story is set in the present day and involves the Eternal Sersi (Gemma Chan) “getting the band back together” when a new threat from the Deviants emerges. Along the way they make some startling discoveries about the truth of their existence, and face split opinions of how they should react to it in factions lead by Sersi and Ikaris (Richard Madden).
The biggest flaw of this movie is that it is way too long as it tries squeeze in a whole lot of exposition, world-building, and the stories of ten protagonists plus many supporting characters and antagonists. For a character-driven movie I feel that we really don’t to get enough time to know the characters, who are interesting in their own ways but mostly get short shrift. Perhaps some sweeping landscape pans and a gratuitous sex scene could’ve been cut for some character development. I liked a lot of the characters, especially Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, Lia McHugh as Sprite, Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, and Lauren Ridloff as Makkari, and really wanted to know more about them. I’m pretty sure Eternals was in production well before the launch of Disney+, but I feel that a lot of the problems could have been addressed by making it a short-form tv series.
Nevertheless, it is a solid film in it’s own right. It feels more grownup than other Marvel films without being dour and humorless. The film has an interesting theological theme under the story of the Celestials and the purpose of the Eternals. I didn’t like how the Eternals were shown influencing the technology and mythology of human civilizations because that rings too much of the Ancient Aliens canard, but I did like that parts of the movie are set among ancient civilizations of Babylonia, India, and the Aztecs among others. The movie is largely unconnected from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (although they do make a few mentions of what the Avengers are up to) so it could be a good film for people who have not watched any of the other films.
I feel in a year where Marvel has released classics like WandaVision, Loki, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, that Eternals isn’t quite up to par. Nevertheless it’s a solid if imperfect superhero journey in its own right.