Movie Reviews: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)


Title: Spider-Man: Homecoming
Release Date: June 28, 2017
Director: John Watts
Production Company: Marvel Studio
Summary/Review:

The first Spider-Man solo film in the MCU dispenses with the origin story – praise be – especially since that was probably already covered in the 6 other Spider-Man movies this century. I can’t speak for those other movies since I never saw them, but I think Tom Holland does an excellent take on the dorky teen trying balance his every day life with exploring his new powers, and knowing that he’s capable of bigger things after being exposed to the Avengers.  Michael Keaton, decades after he was Batman, plays a compelling villain, a blue-collar worker who gets rich by illegally salvaging alien technology and is not too keen on Peter Parker getting in the way.  This movie has just the right balance of humor, heart, and action sequences, and I think it’s the best MCU movie alongside Black Panther. I hope in the next Spider-Man movie they further explore Peter’s Mets fandom and have him take on The Wall.

Rating: ****

Previously Reviewed:

Movie Review: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)


Title: Avengers: Infinity War
Release Date: April 27, 2018
Director: Anthony and Joe Russo
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Avengers 3 or Marvel Cinematic Universe XIX is the big crossover spectacular you’d expect.  It brings together both factions of the Avengers with Doctor Strange, The Guardians of the Galaxy, and all of Wakanda (including Bucky, now known as The White Wolf) to attempt to prevent Thanos from acquiring all of the Infinity Stones and destroying half of all the life in the universe.

With 21 main protagonists plus villains and minor characters,  it’s impressive that filmmakers are able to streamline their overlapping storylines and give everyone adequate screentime (although this is not a movie you can watch with no previous knowledge of the MCU).  I particularly like how people from different groups are matched up to work together, such as Thor with Rocket and Groot, and Doctor Strange with Iron Man and Spider-Man (and latter those three work with the remaining Guardians and Nebula).  I feel there were moments in the movie where typically the camera would hold a shot for a heroic beat, but instead there’s a quick cut to another storyline, as if the editors are just trying to fit in everything possible.  And that’s okay, because it keeps the movie from feeling bloated.

The movie does a good job of showing a more tender side of Thanos, albeit I’m still unconvinced that he’s capable of love.  I also question if he’s really thought his plan through (see spoilerly thoughts below).  I’ve not seen Doctor Strange before, but I immediately loved him when he called Tony Stark a douchebag.  The character most poorly served in this movie is Vision, who I thought had terrific character development in Civil War, but seems to be reduced to a bland plot device here.  I love that they cast Peter Dinklage as a giant.  Thor, Spider-Man, and Groot steal every scene they’re in.  Despite the grim subject matter this movie is very funny. Except for the ending which is appropriately solemn.

Avengers: Infinity War is not a great movie, but it is a great action adventure blockbuster, which is all we can ask of it.

 

Some spoilerly thoughts and questions:

  • It’s convenient that the superheroes that survive Thanos’ plot are the same ones from the first Avengers movie. Presumably, Hawkeye also survives and will rejoin them. I suppose that will make that sequel a bit more focused, though.
  • Too bad Doctor Strange doesn’t survive since he choses to be vague about what he saw in the possible futures.  May have been better if he’d said nothing at all.
  • It’s kind of a cheap move that Thanos survives because first Peter Quill takes the bait and ruins the plan to take the gauntlet, and then Thor waits until it’s too late to use his Thanos’ killing ax.  Those kind of tricks don’t make for good storytelling.
  • Does Thanos really eradicate half of all the living things in the universe? Half of all the ducks, half of all the trees, half of all the paramecium? Or is it just half of all the bipedal, sentient humanoids?  The latter would make more sense because destroying half the food sources and disrupting ecosystems would be contrary to Thanos’ belief that he’s doing a mercy to stop starvation.  But where is the line drawn between species that are halved and those that are left untouched?
  • If the eradication is truly randomized, there’s a 50% chance that Thanos himself would be disintegrated.  For a moment, I thought that was actually going to happen, and Thanos, his mission accomplished,  would be content to see himself disappearing.  I think that would’ve been an amazing twist and would’ve set up the next movie to be less “Let’s fight Thanos for 2.5 hours” and more “OMG, Thanos is gone, how are we going to reverse this?”
  • Red Skull’s appearance seems kind of … random … but hey, when your squeezing in almost every character in the MCU, why hand out a bit part to an unknown?
  • If the heroes lost in Infinity War are brought back by Stark sacrificing himself, I’m good with that.
  • Are Natasha and Bruce going to be able to rekindle their romance?

Rating: ***1/2

Previously Reviewed:

Movie Review: Black Panther (2018)


TitleBlack Panther
Release Date: February 16, 2018
Director: Ryan Coogler
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Black Panther is rightly celebrated for breaking ground in representation by depicting African and African Americans (and especially Black women) in a superhero/action adventure film.  That wouldn’t matter as much if also wasn’t an excellent superhero/action adventure film, certainly the best one I’ve ever seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The all-star cast put in excellent performances that balances the challenge of providing great character development,  motivations, and relationships with butt-kicking, blowing stuff up, and witty dialogue. The world of Wakanda comes alive, providing a “what if” view of how an African country uninterrupted by colonialism could develop a technologically advanced society from architecture to clothing to rituals to freakin’ awesome battle rhinos.

Introducing T’Challa in Civil War means that Black Panther doesn’t get bogged down with “superhero origin story” tropes, even as it shows him facing the challenges of coming of age, ascending to kingship, and realizing the nuances of right and wrong in governance.  Chadwick Boseman does a great job at examining this uncertainty and loss of idealism. Michael B. Jordan steals the show as Erik “Kilmonger” Stevens whose character is so very American in contrast to the rest of the cast, and brings up uncomfortable questions about Wakanda’s responsibility to oppressed and colonized Black peoples worldwide. (SPOILER: I’m disappointed Kilmonger chooses to die because I think his character could make a great “frenemy” in future films, allying with T’Challa as Wakanda opens itself to the rest of the world.  But I suppose Marvel is already telling that kind of story with Wanda Maximof).  Like most everyone else, my favorite character is Shuri, the young tech wizard played Letitia Wright who needles her big brother T’Challa (while secretly hero-worshiping him) and says inappropriate things at formal occasions.

You probably don’t need me to say it, but this is an all around terrific movie and has something for everyone.

Rating: ****1/2

 

Previously Reviewed:

Movie Review: Captain America: Civil War (2016)


TitleCaptain America: Civil War
Release Date: May 6, 2016
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Captain America’s name is in the title but this film feels more like a third Avengers movie, or perhaps more generically Marvel Cinematic Universe XIII.  The movie starts with the Avengers team working in Lagos where new member Wanda Maximof attempts to deflect the explosion of a villain’s suicide bomb, but instead it accidentally detonates in a nearby building where it kills Wakandan humanitarian workers.  This latest mishap leads to the United Nations passing the Sokovia Accords (ironically named for the place where the Avengers first attempted to avoid collateral damage) which will allow the U.N. to oversee and control the Avengers.

And thus begins the Civil War where the team splits over whether they will accept outside control.  Frustratingly, the filmmakers have douchey Tony Stark take the side I agree with, while it’s Steve Rogers who goes rogue in opposition to the accords.  Honestly, these choices seem out of character for both Stark and Rogers and the film never really justifies their decision.  Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop Civil War from having a lot of dramatic tension as Rogers puts together a team to protect his friend Bucky Barnes and seek out Helmut Zemo who framed Barnes for bombing the U.N., while Stark puts together a team to stop Rogers from breaking the Accords.

If there wasn’t enough going on, Civil War also introduces two new major characters. T’Challa, the Black Panther, enters the fight as a wild card third party seeking revenge on Bucky Barnes because his father King T’Chaka is killed in the bombing.  Meanwhile, Stark decides it’s a good time to bring a new, young superhero into the fold, Peter Parker (a.k.a. Spider-Man).  You’ve probably seen what happens next, as the clips of the big battle scenes as Avengers fight Avengers at a German airport have saturated popular culture.

There are some interesting twists I won’t spoil, but I was impressed and surprised by Zemo’s end game and manipulation.  And despite the grim subject matter, the movie manages a lot of humor and entertainment.  Oh, and I haven’t mentioned Vision – who seemed to just be tossed in as another character in Age of Ultron – who emerges as both comic relief and the humanitarian heart of Civil War.  There’s a lot going on in this movie, but ultimately it succeeds because it does justice to characters, even though there’s a lot of them.

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: ***

Related Posts:

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: Wonder Woman (2017)


TitleWonder Woman
Release Date: 2017 June 2
Director: Patty Jenkins
Production Company:  Warner Bros. Pictures
Summary/Review:

Talk about a movie living up to the hype! Gal Gadot puts in a great performance as Diana, the Amazon princess raised among the warrior woman of the island of Themyscira.  When the outside world arrives in the form of an American spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashing his plane near the island and an ensuing attack of Germans, Diana is drawn to leave home to end the war and defeat the god Ares.

Diana and Steve go to London and then to Belgium in the last days before the Armistice, with a plan to prevent a German plot to introduce a more dangerous form of mustard gas that would kill thousands and extend the war.  One of the delightful parts of the movie is the team of misfits Steve puts together to accompany them on their mission: Sameer, the Indian secret agent, Charlie, the Scotish sharpshooter with PSTD, and Chief Napi, a Native American smuggler.  The disparate characters alongside Steve and Diana add the “world” to the World War while transcending stereotypes of their cultural background.

There are comical scenes of Diana trying to adjust to the strange, patriarchal world of London, and there are some spectacular visual in the action sequences, particularly the scene in No Man’s Land in Belgium.  Gadot may not be the type of actor to deliver a striking soliloquy, but provides a lot of striking subtle touches such as her little smiles as she discover her powers, as well as her convincing portrayal of a warrior.  Pine also does a good job as a character who would typically be the superhero, but accepts being second fiddle as well as being full of wonder at Diana defying all that is accepted in his culture.

I have a few nitpicks.  While the music in blockbuster films over the past 40+ years has been inspired by John Williams bombastic classical-style score, this movie attempts to break the mold with a score of bombastic prog rock that just doesn’t work, especially in the World War I period.  The final battle between Diana and Ares seems unnecessary because it would’ve just made more sense for Diana to discover that humanity is violent on its own (and still worth saving), which is ultimately the conclusion she comes through after a stereotypical CGI-filled battle that just pads the film’s length.

Other than that though, this is a masterpiece. A stunning action film that shows a heroes journey, brings together a lovable group of characters, and makes a convincing case against war.  See it now or see it again.

Rating: ****1/2

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: ***