Title: Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania Release Date: February 17, 2023 Director: Peyton Reed Production Company: Marvel Studios Summary/Review:
In the third (and final?) Ant-Man movie, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) along with Scott’s teenage daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) and Hope’s parents Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank (Michael Douglas) are transported to the Quantum Realm. They find that the life forms in the Quantum Realm suffer under the tyranny of an exiled variant of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors, playing a character introduced in Loki) and his enforcer M.O.D.O.K. (Corey Stoll). The fivesome find themselves caught between trying to escape and find a way home and aiding a rebellion against Kang and prevent his ability to conquer other universes.
This movie introduces a wonderful visual feast of landscapes and alien characters reminiscent of classic Sci-Fi movies from the 1950s to 1980s. It moves quickly, has a lot of action, and typical of the Ant-Man series, is also humorous. The one thing I didn’t like is the storytelling convention of a character refusing to share their knowledge simply for dramatic effect, in this case Janet withholding what she knows from her experience of spending 30 years in the Quantum Realm. I’m surprised that this movie has been excoriated by critics and fans. It may not be among the best of the MCU movies, but it is still very entertaining and fun.
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: 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: 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: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Release Date: April 18, 2014 Director: Marc Webb Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Entertainment | Arad Productions, Inc. | Matt Tolmach Productions Summary/Review:
While not quite the steep dropoff in quality of Spider-Man 3, this sequel is mediocre compared to its predecessor and for many of the same reasons. To wit, there are too many antagonists competing for screen time and a lack of focus and pacing to deal with them. Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has to deal with the arrival of Max Dillon/Electro (Jamie Foxx) after yet another accident at Oscorp (this one ludicrously involving falling into a tank full of electric eels!). Meanwhile, Peter’s old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) makes his debut in this series and immediately adopts the Green Goblin persona (instead of dragging it out over three movies like James Franco).
Max is more of a sad figure than a threat so there’s not much pleasure derived from seeing Spidey fight with him. Meanwhile, Harry is so obviously a creepy ass villain that it seems unlikely that Peter would be friends with him. Gwen (Emma Stone) has a good role in the movie, helping Peter as much as he helps her, but she’s [SPOILER] dead by the end of the movie [/SPOILER] which feels very fridgey to me. Plus the finale of the film is overwhelmingly hokey. Why do people in New York in these movies stand around watching superheroes battle supervillains with their small children anyway?
Title: The Amazing Spider-Man Release Date: June 13, 2012 Director: Marc Webb Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Entertainment | Laura Ziskin Productions | Arad Productions, Inc. | Matt Tolmach Productions Summary/Review:
Despite only five years passing Spider-Man was rebooted in a new franchise with Andrew Garfield taking over the lead role of Peter Parker. This move goes even harder into the origin story by including Peter’s parents and a younger Peter in the prelude and flashbacks. Once again, Peter’s transformation into Spider-Man and the creation of his main antagonist, Dr. Curt Connors/Lizard (Rhys Ifans), happen nearly simultaneously at Oscorp.
Despite the fact that this seems to be way too soon after the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man trilogy for a reboot AND the fact that I’m generally not interested in origin stories (AND because the Lizard is a really silly monster), I actually feel that this is a quite good Spider-Man movie. Garfield brings a more modern feel to Peter without losing the anxious outsider feel of the character. Luminaries like Martin Sheen and Sally Field bring more gravitas to their roles as Uncle Ben and Aunt May. And Emma Stone, who I always like, plays a more interesting and capable female lead as Gwen Stacey.
Of the pre-Tom Holland era Spider-films, I’d say that this is the best one alongside Spider-Man 2.
Title: Spider-Man 3 Release Date: May 4, 2007 Director: Sam Raimi Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Entertainment | Laura Ziskin Productions Summary/Review:
Like many blockbuster franchises, Spider-Man 3 reaches the point where they need to raise the stakes while neglecting to make a good movie. Thus we get a movie with three villains. First, Peter Parker’s (Tobey Maguire) friend Harry Osborne (James Franco) finally takes on the mantle of his late father and becomes Goblin, Jr., deadset on gaining revenge on Spider-Man. Next, there’s an alien symbiote that first infects Peter’s Spider-Man suit giving him both increased powers and increased assholery. Later the symbiote attaches itself to Peter’s photographer rival from The Daily Bugle, Eddie Brock (Topher Grace) who becomes Venom. Finally, an escaped convict with a dark connection to Peter, Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) falls into a particle accelerator which turns him into Sandman.
While Peter enjoys a newfound popularity at Spider-Man, his girlfriend Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) struggles personally and professionally. This leads to tension in their relationship, something that’s exacerbated by the symbiote. The movie also features Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard) as a romantic alternative for Peter Parker. There’s so much going in this movie that it feels more like a clip show of a Spider-Man tv show than a cohesive story in its own right.
There are some good parts in this movie. I especially like the effects of Marko turning into Sandman. But overall it is meh, and a sad end to the Raimi/Maguire era of Spider-Man.
Title: Spider-Man 2 Release Date: June 30, 2004 Director: Sam Raimi Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Enterprises | Laura Ziskin Productions Summary/Review:
The second installment in superhero franchises tends to be better because they’ve gotten past all the origin story and are able to focus on more of a straightforward story while ratcheting up the stakes. This is the case with Spider-Man 2 which I think is the best of the trilogy. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is finding that his crime-fighting activity is getting in the way of his college studies, his job, and his struggling relationships with Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst) and Harry (James Franco). Soon he finds himself beginning to lose his spider-powers at inopportune times. While not explicitly stated, it ends up being a good superhero depiction of someone dealing with depression and anxiety.
Meanwhile another scientist at Oscorp, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), experiments on himself with disastrous results. Four mechanical tentacles are embedded in his body take control of him and becomes the mad Doctor Octopus. Doc Oc is probably one of the best Spider-Man villains and Molina portrays his Jeckyl/Hyde personality well. There are also some great action sequences including a fight on an elevated train hurtling through the city.
On the downside there is not much for Mary Jane to do besides scream a lot. There is so much screaming in this film, and lot of sequences (like a failed surgery on Doc Oc) are filmed like a horror movie, perhaps betraying Raimi’s past work on the Evil Dead series. Overall though, this is a solid superhero movie with good pacing and a straightforward plot.
Title: Spider-Man Release Date: May 3, 2002 Director: Sam Raimi Production Company: Columbia Pictures | Marvel Enterprises | Laura Ziskin Productions Summary/Review:
Despite having become something of a Marvel Cinematic Universe completionist, it was not that long ago that I was someone who was “not interested in all those superhero movies.” The turning point was watching The Avengers with my kids in 2015. Anyhow, since Spider-Man: No Way Home featured enjoyable performances by earlier actors who played Spider-Man, I figured it was worth checking out the older films.
This iteration of Spider-Man features the origin story that’s familiar even if you haven’t read any of the comics. On a school trip to the Oscorp labs, Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bitten by a genetically-modified spider giving him spider-like abilities. Maguire’s Peter is perhaps overloaded with nerdy signifiers, but I also appreciate that he can be kind of a selfish jerk. It feels realistic to a teenager who suddenly has “great power” and the responsibility that goes with it.
The villain in this film is scientist/businessman Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe), the head of Oscorp, whose experiment with a performance-enhancing chemical drives him insane. He turns into the giggling Green Goblin riding a hoverboard. In one of the many coincidences of this movie, Peter is best friends with Osborne’s son Harry (James Franco). Peter and Harry are also vying for the attention of their classmate Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst).
Overall this is an entertaining film with a good balance of action, character development, and heart. I felt Maguire and Dafoe were the standouts, but the other actors aren’t given much to do. This is especially true for Dunst whose Mary Jane just seems to need to be rescued over and over in way that was old-fashioned even in 2002. Although probably true to their depictions in the comics, Peter’s Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) and Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson) seem comically way too old. J. K. Simmons is great though as the comically obnoxious and corrupt newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson.