Avengers: Infinity War

April 29, 2018 at 5:09 pm | Posted in 2018 | Leave a comment
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After a decade of teasing and flirting, “it” has finally arrived. And when I say “it,” I mean the culmination of 15 years of planning on the part of Marvel Comics to lift themselves out of bankruptcy and make their cadre of superheroes relevant again. And, relevant they have certainly become. “Avengers: Infinity War” has just had the highest grossing weekend of all time, at $250M. That is quite the turnaround for a company that was basically dead by the end of the 90s. The question, though, is, “can this film live up to a decade of hype?” You could certainly be forgiven for thinking that no film could, especially one of this scope. With over 30 named characters who have been central to previous films, there were a lot of moving parts this story had to manage. It’s a credit to the Russo brothers (who cut their teeth directing the “Captain America” films), that this story is as coherent as it is. There is not a single wasted minute in it’s 2:40 play time. From the first scene, it is up and running at full tilt. It can do that partly because no exposition is needed. They can assume that every audience member knows every character already. The biggest unknown was Thanos, and movies fail on poorly written villains. Fortunately, he is one of the best we have seen in the genre. He is incredibly powerful and complex. Though he wants to do monstrous things, it seems to genuinely come from a twisted sense of compassion. That makes him a fantastic character to watch. It can almost feel like a shame that he has to share screen time with so many others. Wisely, the Russos never bring all the characters together in the same scene; that would have been chaos. Instead, the film toggles between disparate scenes all over the galaxy, each with its own characters, goals, and story arc. This effectively allows each member of a huge cast to shine to some degree. The pace may be too much for some people. A legitimate criticism might be that the film is relentless. But, for a true fan, this will feel like payoff, especially in the final minutes of the film. It’s remarkable how tightly guarded the script has been. The internet abounded with theories as to what would happen; I am pleased to say that most were wrong. I was not expecting how the final 10-15 minutes played out. If I have one criticism, it is that I think they overplayed their hand a bit in the final scene. It might have been more impactful had it not been so extreme. When it started, I heard gasps in my audience. By the time it was done, we all knew the long-term implications would be more blunted than they initially appeared. Small quibbles aside, this was a fun ride that definitely left me ready for more. I can’t wait for Phase 2 of the MCU to unfold. If it is anywhere near as successful as Phase 1, we’ll be watching superheroes for decades more to come.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming

July 9, 2017 at 10:53 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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The Spider-Man franchise, in its various incarnations, has been the gold standard for superhero franchises, having brought in just over $4 billion in its 15 year run. Not bad for a kid in tights. So, expectations have been high for this reboot, especially after the Andrew Garfield one failed to take off. Right from the start, they were off to a good start because Marvel was back in control of the franchise and they have shown a deft hand at translating even the goofiest of characters to the screen (think “The Guardians of the Galaxy), where others have failed, even with hugely popular characters (think “The Fantastic Four”). Marvel chose to bring Spider-Man right back to his roots. What made him unique when he debuted in 1963 was that he was an awkward teenager, so unlike the cool and supremely talented heroes we had seen in comics to date. I think this is part of why Garfield’s Spidey never worked; he was too cocksure and smirky. Nothing about him read awkward teen. This time, Marvel hired the youngest actor yet to play Peter Parker, 21 year old British actor Tom Holland (“The Impossible,” “In the Heart of the Sea”). Unlike previous actors, Holland is able to believably play a 15 year old. In fact, the real contribution of this film to the genre is in just how different its hero is. This Spider-Man is every bit the nerdy, self-conscious, angst-ridden teen. He is impulsive, eager to please, clumsy and incredibly endearing. Holland’s charm as the character is what makes the film work. The storyline is not particularly better or worse than any of the other films. Again, the writers have dragged out a couple of classic Spider-Man villains. This time it is The Shocker and The Vulture. Robert Downey Jr’s cameo as Iron Man adds some humor and deeper context, but only if you are a fan who has watched all the other Marvel movies. Otherwise, he looks like a confusing add-on. Far funnier were Chris Evans’s cameos as Captain America. They were brilliantly clever (make sure you wait until after the final credits to see the last one). But the real star to watch was Michael Keaton as The Vulture. Keaton is having a well deserved revival after “Birdman” reminded everyone of how brilliant he is. He imbues this villain with just the right balance of menace, cynicism and blasé attitude. He is the perfect foil for Spider-Man’s goofy energy, wide-eyed wonder and perkiness. I found their in-costume battle scenes to be a bit dull, but when they were face-to-face, sparring verbally, that was just a joy. Keaton commanded every one of those scenes, but that’s okay because he should have. This geeky boy, despite his super powers, was no intellectual match for his enemy. I love that Marvel was willing to give us such an incomplete hero here. Usually, super heroes are all so automatically super and heroic. Even previous Spider-Men (Men? Mans? What’s the right grammar here?), had a “learning my powers montage” or two and then were remarkably proficient. I loved that this film chose to tackle the character so differently. As an action movie, this was about par with the most of them and not nearly as good as the likes of last month’s “Wonder Woman.” But, as a character study, this is really one of the best superhero films we have had to date.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

May 7, 2017 at 9:55 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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Vol. 2 is the right signifier for this film, not only because it cleverly hearkens back to 80s mixed tapes but also because this really is just a retread of the first film. It is exactly as entertaining as that one but not an ounce more. James Gunn is the right director/writer for these films. His sense of timing, humor and pacing are well-fitted for this series. But he has found his formula and doesn’t seem the least bit interested in breaking out of it. Given the films’ success, I can’t really blame him. He has gathered the same crew of actors (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker and Karen Gillan) and essentially put them through 2 ½ hours of more of the same. It is a fast-paced fun ride, full of good laughs, but it isn’t anything different from the last one. We are treated to a dazzling special effects overload (I was particularly impressed by the CGI used to make Kurt Russell look younger– it’s the best I’ve ever seen) and an over burdened plot that is equal parts silly and irrelevant. Marvel has dug deep to introduce us to some pretty obscure characters here (most of whom had a brief moment of notoriety in the 70s), including Ego, Mantis, the Watchers, Howard the Duck, the Grandmaster, and what appears to be a reference to Adam Warlock. In addition to obscure comic book characters, we are treated to a variety of random actors playing them (sometimes just as voice overs), including Sylvester Stallone, Michelle Yeoh, Seth Greene, Ving Rhames, Rob Zombie, David Hasselhoff, Miley Cyrus, Jeff Goldblum, Stan Lee of course, and the entirety of James Gunn’s family. And, like all Marvel movies, this one has post-credit scenes. In fact, it has 5 of them. So, if you are interested in that sort of thing (some of them are very funny), you will want to stay until lights up in the theater. It may all seem like a bit much, but that is part of the fun. The absurdity of it all just adds to the experience. The first film was a great, fun way to spend a couple of hours and this one is also. It isn’t anything new but, then, I guess it doesn’t really have to be. Especially when what it is works so well.

Deadpool

February 16, 2016 at 9:56 am | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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From the opening credits, you know this is no Christopher Reeves movie and superheroes have come a long way, baby. Even our icons of idealized heroism now reflect how jaded we have become. They also reflect how self-aware we are in the internet age; we now live our lives as though we were actors performing for a perpetual audience (and, indeed, many of us are). And “Deadpool” is the perfect barometer of all of that. Hedonistic, cynical, casually violent and utterly self-involved, Deadpool is the hero we seem to want. We don’t trust “good guys” because we suspect they are all hiding something; we now trust those who are crass, unfiltered and without nuance and, hence, “Deadpool” has become the highest grossing February movie of all time. Ryan Reynolds (“Green Lantern,” “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) is perfectly cast as the titular hero/mass murderer. He has shown an ability to play nuanced characters (“Adventureland”) but is really at home being the smart-ass and this films rests entirely on that performance. With the exception of a delightful Leslie Uggams as his blind, coke-addicted roommate, nobody else plays any character of any real consequence. Morena Baccarin (TV’s “Homeland” and “Gotham”) plays the tough as nails girlfriend but that role could have gone to anyone, as could every other role. The film works because of Reynolds and the razor sharp dialogue. True to the comic, Deadpool continually breaks the 4th wall, talking to the audience with snarky, clever asides, during which he references everything from other comic characters, Reynolds’s other films, current events, popular actors, and the list goes on. Many of these jokes land squarely with an audience that’s in-the-know, though so many come flying at you that you’re likely to miss some (yes, that was a reference to Jared from Subway). To that end, the film does exactly what it is trying to achieve: it is riotously funny, clever, shocking, cartoonishly violent and stuffed with a surprising number of masturbation jokes. If that is your type of movie, you will love it. If not, then you won’t.

 

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