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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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.

Guardians of the Galaxy

August 9, 2014 at 11:10 am | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment
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With this summer romp, Marvel has thrown their hat into the sci-fi ring, bringing to this genre the same tongue-in-cheek and referential humor that has helped them make superheroes accessible to more than just adolescent males (of all ages). Science fiction can often struggle under its own weighty self-importance and where “Guardians” is at its best is when it is upending that formula. The film takes its audience through the typical high-paced, effects-ladened thrill ride with enough acumen to appease the standard sci-fi junkie but there is nothing particularly new or interesting there. The visuals are great (all the aliens, ships, cities look cool) but not impressive. There were no “wow” moments on screen (in fact, there rarely are these days). And the plot itself has nothing to recommend it; it’s ridiculously convoluted and ultimately unimportant (other than to set up a baddie for future movies in the Marvel pantheon). Yet, despite all of that, the film is anything but mediocre. It is, in fact, a hell of a lot of fun. Credit goes first to the whip-sharp script by director James Gunn and screenwriter Nicole Perlman (not only is this Perlman’s first Hollywood script but she is the first female scriptwriter that Marvel has ever employed). They manage to create line after line of clever, charming or bitingly funny dialogue. Lead actor Chris Pratt (“Parks & Recreation”) is especially effective at delivering the lines with a world-weary/naive goofiness that is a sheer pleasure to watch. In fact, he is the other key piece to the film’s success. The other actors are solid but their performances do not particularly stand out (though the fantastic Lee Pace– “Pushing Daisies,” “Halt and Catch Fire” — makes a fun and cartoonishly ominous villain). It is Pratt who seems to inherently understand the pacing of the film’s humor; he delivers every line without overselling it. The movie got unfortunately bogged down toward the end with some unnecessary sentiment that felt like it was written more for the audience than for the characters. We didn’t need that and I, for one, didn’t want it. That aside, I enjoyed this film from start to finish. This is what a blockbuster is supposed to be: Fun. And I haven’t had this much pure fun at a summer movie in a while.

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