Movie Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)


Title: Spider-Man: Far From Home
Release Date: July 2, 2019
Director: John Watts
Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

The 23rd entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the follow-up to Spider-Man: Homecoming, also serves as a coda to Avengers: Endgame. The movie shows the world dealing with the aftermath of The Blip (the term being used to describe people disappearing for 5 years and then returning) and grieving over the loss of multiple Avengers, most prominently Iron Man.  Peter Parker and many of his friends had to start over the year of school that was interupted by The Blip and share a class with kids who’ve aged 5 years in the interim.

Peter wants to escape the constant questions of whether he will step into Iron Man’s role and simply enjoy his school’s summer vacation to Europe and express his feelings for MJ (Zendaya).  Unfortunately for him, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) tracks him down to fight a series of invaders known as the Elementals.  He joins Quentin Beck/ Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to fight the Elementals and is carried on a whirlwind journey across Europe from Venice to Prague to Berlin to the Netherlands to London.  The movie blends genres among comedy, romance, road trip, and superhero action film.  The supporting cast is strong and adds to the strengths of the film, particularly Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend Ned, Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan, and Martin Starr as Roger Harrington, a teacher/chaperone who’s doing his best trying to manage the nuttiness of the school trip.

It was pretty clear that Mysterio would turn out to be a villain, although the twist about his actual background was unexpected. I also enjoyed that Peter and Quentin got to have some important heart-to-hearts about being superheroes and hope that Peter can find someone to talk to about such things who won’t double cross him. Like many a sophomore effort, there’s a slump from Homecoming to Far From Home, mostly due to the need to raise the stakes that ends up with more superhero fightin’ and less nuance and charm.  But generally this is an entertaining movie and a good addition to the MCU oeuvre.

Rating: ***1/2

MASTER LIST OF MCU REVIEWS

 

TV Review: Jessica Jones (2019)


Title: Jessica Jones
Release Dates: 2010
Season: 3
Number of Episodes: 13
Summary/Review:

I kind of felt compelled to watch the third and final season of Jessica Jones on Netflix, despite my disappointment in the previous season.  This season starts of strong with some well-paced, character-focused episodes but about a third of the way through the season, the carpet is pulled out, and once again we’re stuck with ludicrous plot twists and lazy characterization.

The season starts with the newly-powered Trish (Rachael Taylor) working on becoming a hero by solving her own cases.  Naturally, Jessica  and Trish begin following the same guy and sooner than you’d expect they begin to work together and sort-of reconcile.  Jessica also has a new “hook-up” (it seems too much to say “romantic interest”) in Erik (Benjamin Walker), a man with the very mild power of getting severe headaches around evil people, a power he uses for blackmailing, but becomes key in helping Jessica and Trish solve cases.

After a few false starts, a big bad is revealed in the form of serial killer Gregory Salinger (Jeremy Bobb).  Salinger is played like every stereotypical psycho killer you’ve ever seen on a detective procedural show, and is fine when his machinations are backdrop to the main characters’ actions, but BORING AS FUCK when he’s on the screen for more than 15 seconds.  So of course, he’s allowed to eat up tons of screen time over the season.  I also don’t understand why Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) is still in this series because her story of trying to win back an old lover, while well acted, feels like an entirely different tv show has been spliced in.  When she takes on Salinger as a client and decides to take on powered people through the law, it feels like a desperate attempt to shoehorn her character into the story.

But the worst element of this season is that (SPOILER) they decide to make Trish an eviiiiiiiil powered person who just ups and start killing people for no good reason (/SPOILER).  I think what bugs me most about this show is that it comes so close to being a great use of superhero tropes and detective stories as an outlet for exploring deeper human relations and behavior, but they never seem to have the confidence to follow-up on that. Instead the show relies too heavily on ridiculous plot twists and undermining character work for shock value.  Oh well, at least there won’t be any more Jessica Jones to underwhelm me in the future.

Related Posts:

Movie Review: Avengers: Endgame (2019)


TitleAvengers: Endgame
Release Date: April 26, 2019
Director: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

The twenty-second installment in Marvel Cinematic Universe is the culmination of several plotlines and story arcs established in the previous movies. Obviously the pay off is going to be better the more invested you are in the previous 21 movies.  Almost every review I’ve seen of this movie says it’s a finale, which is puzzling because more MCU movies are coming, but it does tie up ongoing storylines for the original 6 Avengers in satisfying ways. The movie also sets up storylines that I expect will be followed up on in future stand alone movies for the more recently introduced characters.

While Avengers: Endgame is over three hours in length, it never feels boring or padded, and it includes a lot of excellent character work.  I think of it almost as three movies in one.  The first movie focuses on the aftermath of Thanos snapping half of sentient life out of existence as each of the original Avengers deal with the trauma of their failure, grief over the people lost, and adjusting to the new normal (or not).  In the second movie, the Avengers try a daring plan to reverse the Snap, which plays out as a heist movie with a lot of action and humor, but also some great relationship moments.  The final movie is … well, hard to describe without using spoilery words, but it is epic!

11 years ago when the MCU began, I had no interest in watching superhero movies.  I didn’t even watch any of them until four years ago.  Now, I’ve managed to see all of them at least once, and I’m impressed how the MCU has improved in quality in leaps and bounds over time.  They’ve also created something unique and innovative in film storytelling that reaches it’s culmination in Endgame.  If you’re a doubter like me, I highly recommend giving (some) of the MCU films a chance and then checking out Endgame.

Rating: ****

 

HEAVY DUTY SPOILERS

Okay, so here are some various thoughts about Endgame for people who’ve already seen the movie or don’t care to be spoiled:

  • After watching Infinity War, I proposed the idea that if the 50% of beings in the universe are killed in The Snap, what if Thanos himself was arbitrarily dusted?  After seeing Endgame, I think this would have worked quite well as the Avengers end up killing a powerless Thanos early on in the movie.  Imagine the drama if we’d spent the past year wondering how the Avengers were going to reverse The Snap if we knew that Thanos and the stones had disappeared?
  • I liked how the early parts of Endgame focused on how people on Earth were dealing with the loss of half the population, and I think it would be interesting if the idea were explored further in a stand-alone MCU film set in the five-year gap (see below).  But some aspects puzzled me:
    • In San Francisco, we see abandoned cars and missing persons signs. In New York we see abandoned boats docked around the Statue of Liberty (presumably left by refugess fleeing to New York?) and learn that the Mets no longer exist.  In both cities, the streets are bereft of people.  50% of humanity is a lot to lose, but New York alone would still have over 4 million people! Surely in five years, someone would’ve cleaned up this mess.  And there would be plenty of people left to restock the Mets roster and fill the stands at Citi Field (MLB survived the Great Influenza and WWII, after all).
    • In Infity War, we see cars and a helicopter crashing and presumably people die from these crashes who did not turn to dust.  Do the inifinity stones magically account for these collateral deaths in the 50% or are they an addition to the 50%?  Do the people who died indirectly as a result of The Snap get restored.
  • Thor, in his grief and trauma, drinks too much and gains a lot of weight.  It’s played for jokes and he looks like The Dude from The Big Lebowski, but I appreciate that Thor doesn’t magically lose weight and become fit and cut again when he starts fighting.  Fat guys can be heroes too.
  • One of the strengths of the “Time Heist” portion of the film is that there are great character relationship moments.  Thanks to time travel, Thor gets to talk with his mother about his gried, and Tony Stark gets to connect with his father about parenthood.
  • As much as it was totally predictable conclusion, the moment when Sam Wilson leads in all the restored-from-dust Avengers was completely awesome.  I also like how they pass the gauntlet around as a way of focusing on individual characters in the midst of a confusing battle.  And the scene where all the women heroes team up, while a bit pandering, was pretty awesome too.

The future of the MCU

Endgame is being touted as the finale of a 22 film series, but clearly it is also setting up new stories to be told in future films.

  • It’s clearly the end of the line for Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, and while it’s always possible to bring them back in some way, I think it would ruin a satisfying ending to their story arc.
  • Natasha Romanoff dies in the movie, which is not so satisfying, but the MCU can be redeemed if they follow up on producicing the promised Black Widow solo movie.  With the character dead that will be a challenge, though. The obvious solution is a prequel showing Natasha’s origin story although I don’t think that would be too interesting.  Another option would be a story set in the five year gap of Endgame which I think would offer more interesting character possibilities as well as a chance to further explore the world after half the population vanished.  The downside is that whatever problem Natasha would have to face in this story would seem small-scale compared to The Snap.
  • Clint Barton is likely done and happy to head into retirement with his family. I suppose a longer film about his “Ronin” period could be made but that would be pretty grim.
  • Bruce Banner, now Professor Hulk, never got a trilogy but had his story arc spread out over various other films which worked surprisingly well.  I don’t know if there are any more stories about Hulk to tell, but I wouldn’t complain if we saw him again.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, vol 3. is being set up to be a search for the past version of Gamora who traveled to the future with Thanos.  And, it looks like Thor is along for the ride!  Except, in real life, Chris Hemsworth says that he’s finished with Thor.  I’d love to see Thor and the AsGuardians have a movie together (heck, I’d watch a Thor/Rocket/Groot buddy road film) so I hope he’s not being fully honest.
  • Steve Rogers hands over his shield to Sam Wilson to be the next Captain America and it will be great to see a movie where Sam takes on the role.  One of the oddities of Endgame is that old Steve doesn’t talk with Bucky on screen, which seems out of line with the importance of Bucky to Steve in all the Captain America movies. I do think it would work if Bucky is a supporting character to Sam’s Captain, and perhaps more of what Steve & Bucky talked about off screen is revealed.
  • I really like Tessa Thompson as Valykrie and now that she’s ruler of Asgard, I want to see that played out in a Valykrie movie.
  • And of course Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel will complete their trilogies.

MASTER LIST OF MCU REVIEWS

 

Movie Review: Iron Man 3 (2013)


Title: Iron Man 3
Release Date: May 3, 2013
Director: Shane Black
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

I could say that this is the best Iron Man film, but that would be damning it with faint praise. I find it puzzling that Robert Downey, Jr. and his take on Tony Stark are so good in collaboration with the other Avengers, but his solo movies are just self-indulgent excess.  And there is a lot of excess in this mess of a movie, just tons of stuff thrown at the screen to see what works.  Which makes it so weird that it’s actually somewhat entertaining.

Following up on the Battle of New York in The Avengers, Stark is dealing with PTSD.  This is the main plot of the first act of the movie, but then seems to be discarded along the way when it comes time to start blowing stuff up.  The second act gives Stark a kid named Haley (Ty Sympkins) for a sidekick, with some interesting surrogate father/son dynamics.  This is also discarded before the third act.  For much of the movie Stark is forced to work without an Iron Man suit, which is also an interesting approach as we get to see Downey, Jr. working things out with cleverness rather than technology.  But the absence of the Iron Man suit is atoned for in the explosive finale where he and Rhodey (Don Cheadle) win with a metric shitton of Iron Man suits.

The villain in this movie is Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), a mad scientist who sought Stark’s help 14 years earlier, but Stark rejected him, and so he becomes a supervillain to get revenge.  This is totally the premise of The Incredibles and I’m not the first one to observe this.  Killian and his henchpeople are pretty absurd and largely forgettable.  There is a character played by Ben Kinglsey who is at the center of one of the movie’s big twists, and Kingsley plays him so weird that it’s actually delightful.  Maybe they should’ve cast Kingsley as the Big Bad instead.

And so I’ve done it!  I’ve watched all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and by the time this post goes live, I will have seen Avengers: Endgame as well (and I’ll post that review tomorrow).

Rating: **

Movie Review: Iron Man 2 (2010)


Title: Iron Man 2
Release Date: May 7, 2010
Director: Jon Favreau
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

I had strong feelings against Iron Man, which I found jingoistic in its support of Bush-era foreign policy and overly fawning of neoliberal ideals equating wealthy enterpreneurs with natural leaders.  But, from watching all the Avengers movies, the character of Tony Stark clearly mellows and evolves.  And I can’t deny that Robert Downey, Jr. is a talented actor who puts his all into the character.  So, I thought I’d give Iron Man 2 a chance.

And, omigod, Tony Stark is possibly even more irritating in this movie than in his debut. Much of the film depicts Stark wallowing in his fame and basically becoming a burden to everyone he knows and cares about him.  His transfer of Stark Industries to Pepper Potts is logical and deserved, but there’s no way she would want to form a romantic relationship with him.  And politically, this movie again panders to a right-wing vision of America, and even has cameos by Elon F’in Musk and Bill F’in O’Reilly.

Ok, calm yerself.  So, the villain in this piece is Ivan Vanko who is played laconically by Mickey O’Rourke, which I did find an entertaining performance, although the “evil genius dead set on personal vengeance for no clearly articulated reason” trope is rather tiresome.  As someone obsessed with the New York World’s Fairs, I was also pleased to see that in the MCU the Flushing Meadows fairgrounds were home to the 1974 Stark Expo which Tony reopens during this story.  Even better, Tony watches an old film of Howard Stark talking about the Stark Expo which is clearly modeled on Walt Disney’s promotional films for EPCOT.  This film was in production before Disney acquired Marvel, but I wonder if the filmmakers sensed what was coming and did this as a purposeful tribute. This movie also marks the debut of Scarlett Johannsen in the MCU.  I’m curious if anyone was surprised by the reveal of her true character when this was first released.

So, I don’t know, your mileage may vary, but I found Iron Man 2 a mediocre action movie with bad politics that left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Rating: **

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World


Title: Thor: The Dark World
Release Date: November 8, 2013
Director: Alan Taylor
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

This movie is an improvement on its predecessor.  Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, fresh off their key performances in The Avengers, have really settled into their characters and have a great chemistry playing off one of one another as Thor and Loki.  Loki in particular does really well as the trickster in this movie and his shifting allegiances keep one on one’s toes, although they’re never written in a way that’s illogical to the plot.  Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is back and has a more meaningful role as a character in her own right, as does her assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings).  Thor’s mother Freya (Rene Russo) and the bridge sentry Heimdall (Idris Elba), who I didn’t even mention in my Thor review, are also fleshed out a lot more.

Unfortunately, the plot of this movie is meh.  The villains this time are Dark Elves who seem interchangeable with the Frost Giants.  Christopher Eccleston is a talented actor wasted in the role of Malekith, who is just another dude with heavy layers of prosthetic makeup who wants to destroy the universe.  The film’s Earth setting replaces New Mexico with London, and the battle scenes feel derivative of a Doctor Who finale.  The Dark Elves even look a little like Cybermen and Eccleston, a former Doctor, is there.  The romance between Thor and Foster never really takes off as an interesting plot, so it’s not surprising that she seems to have been written out of the MCU.

Looks like third time will be the charm for making a really good Thor movie.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Thor (2011)


Title: Thor
Release Date: May 6, 2011
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Watching the MCU movies out of order means coming to Thor and realizing that at this point in the series they actually played it straight and with very little humor.  It comes off as odd, and less than satisfying and makes me grateful for the tonal changes they made to the characters in the Avengers movies and Thor: Ragnarok.  Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston just haven’t really found their way into the roles of Thor and Loki yet.  And from the retrospective view, the fact that they tried to hide Loki’s villainy and make his heel-turn a big twist is unintentionally hilarious.

The basic plot of the film is that Thor is eager to wage war, and uses the opportunity of a break in by some of Asgard’s ancient enemies The Frost Giants, to in turn lead a band of friends and Loki to attack the Frost Giants.  Thor’s father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) punishes Thor by stripping him of his power, enchanting his hammer Mjölnir so that it may only be picked up when he is worthy, and exiling him to Earth.

On Earth he’s befriended by astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and Marvel once again admirally casts a talented woman in a role as a scientest and then shamefully underuses the character as mainly a love interest.  The movie could’ve also used more of Foster’s assistant Darcy (Kat Dennings) who brings some needed comic relief to this overserious movie.  The plot is pretty boring and generic, and I think this movie is pretty skippable, even if you really love Thor and Loki in the latter movies.

Rating: **

Movie Review: The Incredible Hulk (2008)


Title: The Incredible Hulk
Release Date: June 13, 2008
Director: Louis Leterrier
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

To prepare myself for Avengers: Endgame, I spent part of my April watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies I hadn’t seen yet.  It helped that some of them recently became available to stream without a premium charge.

The Incredible Hulk is tonally unlike most every other film in the ongoing series.  In retrospect, the MCU pretty much disowned it so not much introduced in this movie was followed up on. Edward Norton would be replaced by Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, and while Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America would all get trilogies of their own, the Hulk would only appear in ensemble films.  I would say both of these decisions paid off.

The movie condenses the whole origin story of the Hulk to a wordless sequence of images in the opening credits.  The story begins five years later with Bruce Banner hiding in Brazil and working in a bottling plant while sending computer messages to a mysterious Mr. Blue who may be able to cure him of his Hulk-ism.  Banner is discovered and it leads to a cat and mouse game of chases in Brazil and then back in the U.S.

The Hulk takes his time to appear on screen. In the first action setpiece, we get glimpses of the Hulk akin to a horror film like Alien.  The second action setpiece presents him more like King Kong.  By this time he’s reunited with Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), a scientist and love interest, who sadly doesn’t get much to do besides sterotypical women roles.  The final battle is set in New York City and brings a lot of collateral damage to Harlem, but somehow never gets mentioned in Luke Cage.

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are sometimes the heroes, sometimes cannon fodder, and sometimes comic relief.  Here they are the bad guys, relentlessly hunting Banner down to use the Hulk as a weapon.  They’re lead by the villainous Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt), who is one of the characters who’s gone on to appear in other MCU films, but I always forget about him.  Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) is an even more ridiculous over-the-top character, a Russian soldier who becomes addicted to supersoldier serum in order to become a killing machine.  His plot is pretty much copied in the Jessica Jones series with the character Wil Simpson.

Norton does a good job of displaying the fraility and anxiety of Banner, but the film doesn’t really give him the opportunity to explore relationships or emotions.  And there’s none of the humor we associate with Ruffalo’s Hulk, as this film is basically humorless.  I have only vague memories of the 1970s Hulk tv series, but as this movie reminds me of contemporary MCU tv series like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage (in both the good and bad senses), I wonder if Norton’s Hulk may have also worked out better as a television series.

Rating: **

Movie Review: Captain Marvel (2019)


Title: Captain Marvel
Release Date: March 8, 2019
Director: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

The latest Marvel superhero debut movie is kind of origin story in reverse where we meet a superhero in action and unravel her past along the way. Vers (Brie Larson) is a member of the alien people known as Kree, has superstrength, and serves on the Starforce, fighting a generational war against their shapeshifting enemies, the Skrull.  Vers cannot remember her past, but has a recurring nightmare about being in a battle with an older woman. On a mission, Vers is captured by the Skrull, and making her escape, crash lands on Earth in 1995.

Defying orders from her commander and mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), Vers begins to investigate a link between her dreams and this strange planet she’s landed upon.  She also attracts the attention of the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg).  With Skrull on their heels, Vers befriends Fury (younger and more cheerful and naive than we’ve seen him in other films) and they head on a buddy road trip.  Along the way they pick up a clever, orange tabby cat named Goose (the MVP of this movie who deserves a spinoff), and  former Air Force pilot Maria Lambeau (Lashana Lynch), with her adorable and scene-stealing daughter Monica (Akira Akbar).

There are some big twists in this plot line, of course, which I’ll go into in the spoiler section below.  This is the first MCU film with a woman as the lead character which is a little bit surprising partly because Wonder Woman felt like it belongs in the Marvel universe and partly because there are a number of prominent women characters in the Marvel universe.  Nevertheless, this is an about time moment for Marvel, and the plot hinges on the fact that in patriarchical societies women with great talent, intelligence, and power are held back from reaching their full potential by men (and sometimes even by other women).  Apparently there are members of my gender out there who were too dim to see this plot, though.

The movie is set in the 1990s, so the soundtrack is scored well to some alternative rock hits of the era.  There are a few jokes based on being in that era (Vers falling into a Blockbuster video, Vers disguising herself in a grunge outfit, the great impatience of waiting for a computer to open a file), but they don’t everdue the nostalgic memory of an era in place of the reality that some movies do.  I’m particurlarly fond of how well Larson and Jackson work together, as they have a lot of chemistry, which is nice since they are basically the new kid and the veteran of 8 MCU films thus far.  Lynch is also a character who works well with both Larson and Jackson, and I hope we’ll be seeing more of her in the MCU.

There are a lot of action sequeneces as you would expect from a superhero epic, although I think they’re secondary to Vers journey to becoming Captain Marvel.  Although, as an archivist I do appreciate that there’s a fight scene set among compact library shelving.   This is an entertaining, humorous, and inspiring film, and among Marvel’s best work.

Rating: ****

 

SPOILER SECTION

x

x

x

x

x

Okay, if you’ve scrolled down this part, you’re ready for my thoughts on some of the film’s plot twists.  First of all, I totally misled myself on where the story was going even though the clues were there.  I was convinced that Vers was actually a Kree and would take on an Earth identity as Carol Danvers as opposed to her being born on Earth.  Very dumb of me, I know.

I also felt that the transition from the Skrull being villainous and hunting down Vers to actually being refugees attempting to escape the Kree happened very suddenly.  Maybe there were clues and I just missed them, but it seemed abrubt when Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) wandered in wearing a turtleneck and sipping a soda, and suddenly everyone believed him.  They also laid it on thick with the cute Skrull kids in the refugee camp on the space station, which is just a cheezy the way to build sympathy.  I’m not saying I don’t like the way the story went though, just got a little whiplash.

Movie Review: Ant-Man and Wasp (2018)


TitleAnt-Man and Wasp
Release Date: July 6, 2018
Director: Peyton Reed
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

The second Ant-Man film and part 20 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe sees Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) making the best of his house arrest with much improved relations with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), as well as his ex-wife and her new husband.  With three days left until his release, Lang is pulled into a plot by Hank Pym (Michael Douglass) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly with a better haircut) to help rescue Janet van Dyne (the original Wasp, played by Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm.  In a madcap series of adventures the trio find their plans foiled by a series of foes including mobster Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), another of Pym’s former colleagues Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), a woman who can phase through objects called Ghost (aka Ava Starr, played by Hannah John-Karmen), and FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park).  Any one of these antagonists would’ve been boring and cliched in a typical MCU film, but rotating through them so that our heroes are constantly on their toes is done very effectively.

The ending is foreshadowed well enough in advance to not be a surprise (spoiler: they rescue Janet and Janet heals Ghost), so the fun is seeing how they get to that point in a series of hijinks and chase scenes, using the Pym particle devices.  I’m reminded of visiting San Francisco with my father as a child and him telling me that they like to film car chases there because of the hills, used effectively in the movie.  But the key to Ant-Man and Wasp is the humor which is laugh out loud funny.  The MVP here is Michael Peña as Luis, Scott’s friend and business partner who brings the laughs and save everyone’s butts.

Rating: ***1/2

Previous MCU Films: