Book Review: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe by Ryan North and Erica Henderson


Author: Ryan North (Author), Erica Henderson (Illustrator)
TitleThe Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe
Publication Info: Marvel (2018)
Summary/Review:

The first Squirrel Girl graphic novel offers the same offbeat humor and upbeat positivity as the comics. Iron Man has a mysterious technology that accidentally traps Squirrel Girl and creates an identical twin.  Obviously in any story with cloning technology there has to be an “evil” twin, and Allene (as Doreen’s duplicate is named) inevitably plots to take over the world. The twist here is that Allene has good intentions, noting that humans are destroying the environment and killing squirrels with their cars, so her plan is to have squirrels rule the world in place of humans.  Thus begins a series of gags where Allene uses her wiles and acquired technology to beat up every Marvel superhero while Doreen tries to stop her.  It’s fun, but it’s also a one-note joke, and the story seems just a notch below the quality of the comic book story arcs.

Rating: ***1/2

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Movie Review: Deadpool (2016)


TitleDeadpool
Release Date: February 12, 2016
Director: Tim Miller
Production Company: Marvel Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Deadpool is the eighth movie in the X-Men series and the first one (and possibly the last one) I’ve watched.  The titular characters, a.k.a. Wade Wilson, is a former special forces operative who becomes a mercenary.  His shtick is to constantly make crude jokes while carrying out his vengeance for hire.  He meets Vanessa, and they fall in love over their shared outsider status and crude sense of humor.  But when he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer he leaves Vanessa under the mistaken belief he’d be a burden to her.

Wilson is recruited to undergo treatment with a serum designed to activate mutant genes and also cure his cancer.  The secret lab is run by the sadistic Francis who tortures the test subjects to trigger the mutations, and plans to use the mutated humans as a slave army.  Wilson’s mutations give him super healing but also disfigure his body. He escapes and becomes Deadpool to avenge himself against Francis and his cronies.

All of this back story is told in flashbacks after an opening scene with Deadpool attacking Francis’ motorcade on a freeway. The effects of a car crashing in the midst of a gun battle in slow motion makes for a stunning opening.  Deadpool’s wisecracks and breaking the fourth wall do a great job at sending up superhero story conventions and Marvel movies in particular.  The characters of the overly sincere Collosus and the moody Negasonic Teenage Warhead are particularly hilarious (I’d pay to see a Negasonic Teenage Warhead solo film).

But the crude wisecracks lose their effect after a while, much like Howard Stern or South Park, it’s just stops being funny.  And after the great opening, Deadpool becomes more of a run-of-the-mill action/adventure superhero story with a lot of unquestioned macho BS to boot.  I’m also not much of one for excessive gore and violence.  So, I’ll give this a nice effort, but not for me.

Rating: **

Movie Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)


TitleCaptain America: The First Avenger
Release Date: July 22, 2011
Director: Joe Johnston
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

The Marvel Cinematic Universe adapts the origin story of how the earnest but weak Steve Rogers becomes the superhuman warrior Captain America.  It’s nicely done mix of a World War II historical drama (especially the sets of 1940s New York City) with pure fantasy of futuristic technology mixed in.  Is there a term like “steampunk” that applies to the World War II era.

My big criticism of Marvel movies is that they tend to overdo the fights, chases, explosions, etc. to the point that they lose any sense of what’s at stake.  But I think Captain America strikes a nice balance of quieter scenes developing Rogers’ character and his relationships with Bucky and Peggy, intermixed with well-choreographed action sequences.

There are a lot of parallels in the plot to last year’s Wonder Woman film – a superhuman and a ragtag crew of soldiers venture behind enemy lines in a World War and stop the production of a superweapon – and even though Captain America came first, I think Wonder Woman is still a better movie.

Rating: ***

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Movie Review: Iron Man (2008)


TitleIron Man
Release Date: May 2, 2008
Director: Jon Favreau
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

This origin story of Iron Man begins with weapons manufacturing heir, billionaire, genius, libertine, and all-around a-hole Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) traveling to Afghanistan to demonstrate his latest weapon for the US military.  His convoy is attacked and Stark is wounded and captured by an organization of international warlords called The Ten Rings. They force Stark to build them a weapon, but instead he builds a prototype of the Iron Man suit which he uses to escape.  Stark returns to the United States and announces that his company will no longer be producing weapons, and instead he dedicates his life to building…. a powerful weapon: a new Iron Man suit.

This movie is heavy on jingoism, militarism, and boosting the repellent, but popular, myth that the world will be saved by “wealthy geniuses” (see also: Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Bloomberg, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, et al).  This movie was made in 2008, a time when many Americans were aware of the lies and corruption behind the Bush Administration’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  But Tony Stark never objects that the US military is using his weapons against innocents, or the US government has directed the military into unjust wars.  Iraq isn’t even mentioned. There is one evil white American character – Stark’s business partner Obadiah Stane (a comically bad one-note performance by Jeff Bridges) – who is shown personally selling weapons to The Ten Rings, but otherwise the good and pure characters and the evil villain characters are purely drawn along ethnic lines.

The movie is well-produced, with clean and entertaining action sequences, and good performances from Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and Shaun Toub.  But it makes it all the more repellent that “liberal Hollywood” put their best effort and resources behind a right-wing propaganda film. Even worse, it’s the cornerstone on which the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe was built.

Rating: *

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)


Title: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Release Date:  5 May 2017
Director: James Gunn
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Here’s the rare case of a sequel being a VAST improvement on its predecessorVol. 2 actually gives time between the massive action set pieces for the characters to breath, and we get to learn a lot about them and see them grow.  This movie does a lot with relationships, Quill and Ego, Gamora and Nebula, Drax and Mantis, and Rocket and … well, everyone who makes him question being part of a team/family, that help flesh out all of these characters.  And Yondu, who seemed like a blue-faced parody of Michael Rooker’s character on The Walking Dead in Vol. 1, steals the show as Quill’s real “daddy.”  As for those action sequences, they are much better choreographed, and the visuals in the movie on the whole are stunning. There are bust a gut laugh moments and gravitas galore. And Baby Groot is so cyoot!  Let’s hope the trend continues and that Vol. 3 is even better.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)


Title: Guardians of the Galaxy
Release Date: 1 August 2014
Director: James Gunn
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

I’ve been meaning to watch this movie since it came out because it’s mix of humor and oddball characters seemed like the type of superhero movie I’d appreciate.  I ended up being a bit disappointed.  Much like The Avengers, this movie is basically non stop fight scenes, and since our heroes seem to be indestructible, there’s no drama at all among all the violence.  Not to mention that the quick-cut editing makes it difficult to understand what’s actually happening at any time.

What makes it frustrating is that Quill, Gamora, Drax, and Rocket are characters who interest me but the movie doesn’t give me much time to get to know them (I have no issue with Groot whom I love unreservedly). Basically, it would be nice to have them stop kicking ass now and then and spend some time developing character and story.  Guardians of the Galaxy IS good, but not great, especially after anticipating it so long.
Rating: ***

Movie Review: The Avengers (2012)


Title: The Avengers
Release Date: 4 May 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
Production Co: Marvel Studios / Paramount Pictures
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Action | Adventure | Science Fiction | Superhero
Rating: ***

On a sultry summer night my family and I escaped to a cool pub for supper.  The Avengers was on the tv with the sound off and my wife soon found herself relating the dialogue to the children and explaining what was going on. The next day, my son – who often proclaims that he does not like to watch movies – asked to watch the whole movie with the sound on.  So we watched and were introduced into the Marvel Universe.  As someone who knows little to nothing about comic book superheroes I felt that I got a basic sense of the characters, although I’m sure people who’ve watched all the movies get a lot of references.  All the actors are strong in their roles and are entertaining, funny, and suitably conflicted.  The theme of a team of rivals needing to find a way to work together is well-done without being hit over the head too much as well. On the whole, it’s entertaining, brainless fun.

One unexpected thing is just how militaristic the SHIELD/Avengers world is.  It’s a bit unsettling considering the unrestrained military spending in the real United States to think that in a fictional world there would be need for another whole level of secret military forces.  I also felt that the superheroes are immortal makes the non-stop fighting among themselves and against Loki rather lacking in drama.  The only thing at stake is the amount of collateral damage suffered in human lives, buildings, and vehicles.

A couple of nice touches at the end of the film address this.  First, the Avengers are physically and mentally exhausted after the battle (leading to the famous post-credit shawarma scene).  Second, is the montage of news reports showing some people celebrating the Avengers as heroes, but others questioning whether their responsibility in bringing such devastation to the Earth.  It’s good to have the film’s premise questioned onscreen even if it’s a small bit.