Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 movie posterSynopsis
After a botched job, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the Guardians are being chased by the Sovereign. They are found by a man named Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter’s long-lost father. They go to Ego’s planet to search for the truth behind Peter’s mysterious heritage.

Review
In 2014, Marvel put their blockbuster powers to the test, releasing Guardians of the Galaxy. It was filled with lesser known characters, even to some regular comic readers, who are unique unto themselves. It turned out to be one of Marvel’s best films and now comes the inevitable sequel. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has all of the qualities that made the first so much fun and enjoyable, albeit without the surprise of what to expect.

As I said, everything that made the first film so fun and enjoyable has returned. Everything and everyone are just as quirky and zany as you have come to expect. Chris Pratt as Peter Quill is the main funny man, but Dave Bautista’s Drax get his fair share of comedic moments. Zoe Saldana is the green-skinned bad-ass Gamora. Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, is more adorable than ever and Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, wants to get a hold of everyone’s prosthetics simply to see their reaction. All the while, it has a rocking soundtrack in the background.

Doctor Strange is probably Marvel’s most visually vibrant films to date, but this movie give that one a run for its money. The most notable is Ego’s planet. The moment the team sets foot on it, it just pops. The fauna are colorful, the buildings are shiny and bright, even the soil is a vibrant color unlike what you would expect. However, it’s not just Ego’s planet. The opening battle between the guardians and an interdimensional creature (a big part of the trailers) and scenes where Yondu’s ship is jumping through several wormholes are also vivid scenes worth mentioning. At the very least, your eyes won’t be disappointed.

One of this films best characteristics is its character development. Most of the second act is spent really diving into the characters and their relations with other members of the team. Some you would expect, like Peter and Gamora, but there are some that you wouldn’t, like Rocket and Yondu or Drax and newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff). These interactions do a great job of building the characters and lead to some strong, emotional moments.

Much to my surprise, Yondu (Michael Rooker) has one of the greatest arcs of the film. His moments with Rocket and their similar histories really tug at the heartstrings. As Peter’s adopted father, he had to deal with Peter finally meeting his real father, Ego (Kurt Russell). In the previous movie, he felt like a throwaway character; someone who was there when the plot needed it but didn’t feel like he had much importance. This time, he is front and center and gives the film’s most emotional scene. Speaking of Russell, he was a great as the living planet Ego. Like most villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he isn’t going to have any lasting presence, but Russell gave one of the more memorable villainous performances is the MCU. The relationship between Peter, Yondu, and Ego would make a great conversation starter between step-children and step-parents.

I wasn’t as in love with the soundtrack as I was with the first Guardians movie. It was still bouncy and fun and integrated into the movie well but it wasn’t as entrancing as before. Maybe it’s because I was unfamiliar with more of the songs this time around or maybe it was that I expected a rocking retro soundtrack and it wasn’t as much of a surprise. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t blown away but I still was rocking out nevertheless.

This might sound contradictory, but despite all the great character development throughout the second act, it also felt like the weakest part of the move. Weakest isn’t the right word but I’m not sure exactly what word I’m looking for. During this time, the team is split into two groups. The bouncing back and forth between the groups, as well as the balancing of those serious moments with the humorous ones gave it a really weird pacing. Whenever the movie slowed down to give the great character moments, it immediately went into a joke / gag or changed scenes. I liked that they managed to get as much development in as they did but the jumping around made my head spin after a while.

I thought Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was GOOD 🙂 This movie is a good example of a movie studio giving a director the freedom to do their movie their way. James Gunn brought as much heart and soul into Volume 2 as he did in Volume 1. A slow and somewhat oddly paced middle act does not deter from what this movie does well: great characterization, a fun soundtrack, and plenty of humor to rival any comedy film. It can feel like much of the same but if you liked it the first time, you’re going to like it here as well. Once again, I left the theater excited to see where these characters go next.

Favorite Quote
Yondu: He might be your father, but he ain’t your daddy.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
James Gunn – Director / Writer
Tyler Bates – Composer

Chris Pratt – Peter Quill / Star-Lord
Zoe Saldana – Gamora
Dave Bautista – Drax
Vin Diesel – Baby Groot (voice)
Bradley Cooper – Rocket (voice)
Michael Rooker – Yondu
Karen Gillan – Nebula
Pom Klementieff – Mantis
Kurt Russell – Ego
Sean Gunn – Kraglin
Elizabeth Debicki – Ayesha
Chris Sullivan – Taserface

Doctor Strange Review

Doctor Strange movie posterSynopsis
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a highly skilled, but arrogant, neurosurgeon. After a car crash leaves him unable to perform surgeries again, he heads to Nepal seeking the Ancient One (Tilda Swinto) to help heal his hands. Strange gets drawn into a world of sorcery and mystic arts while under the Ancient One’s tutelage and must protect the world from being destroyed by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).

Review
I’ve heard people say that Doctor Strange is Marvel’s next big risk, introducing magic into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), as well as a relatively lesser known property. But really, from a film studio that has a talking raccoon, a hero who can communicate with ants, and Asgard, is magic really that big of a step? Is a film centered around a lesser known character really going to stop the juggernaut that is Marvel Studios?

I’ll be honest, when I heard Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as Stephen Strange, I wasn’t one hundred percent behind the choice. I knew that he is a great and versatile actor but I had a hard time picturing him as Strange. However, knowing Marvel’s past casting history, and my usual willingness to give every casting choice the benefit of the doubt, I trusted Marvel to find the best Strange they could. Now, I’m not going to say that Cumberbatch fits Strange like a glove the same way Robert Downey, Jr. fits Tony Stark, but I am having trouble remembering why I was having doubts in the first place. He was absolutely fantastic.

Besides Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange contains some very good talent. Tilda Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One was surrounded by controversy but I think her casting worked really well. Swinton has this soft but authoritative aura about her that fits perfectly in the mentor role of the Ancient One. Rachel McAdams is sweet and funny as always but she doesn’t have much screen time. I’m interested to see more of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, Strange’s fellow student under the Ancient One and ally against the film’s villain. The best surprise as was Benedict Wong as… Wong, the librarian of Kamar-Taj (the temple in Nepal where Strange learns about being a sorcerer). I was expecting the film to be humorous but several of his lines made me laugh the hardest.

Now fourteen movies in, Marvel Studios has established a formula for their films, whether you love it or hate it. One reason why they keep reusing a similar structure is because it works. We begin with our hero, they come by some tragedy and go in search of a way to heal themselves. They get gain powers and begin to use them for good, with the film ending in an outrageous fight scene between our hero and the villain. This structure can be seen from Iron Man to Thor to Ant-Man to Doctor Strange. How well this works for you depends on if you are tired of seeing this formula done or not. For me, it has worked so far and I still enjoy seeing the hero’s journey from human to superhuman so I like it. Especially since Marvel injects so much humor into it.

Like many of the previous MCU films, the laughs come naturally and organically. Never did I think “Oh, I was supposed to laugh there.” Wong (the character) was the surprise comedic relief of the film. Every scene of his contained at least one moment that generated a laugh. McAdams even had a moment or two. It still remains refreshing how light Marvel Studios makes their movies, without compromising the maturity of the film, despite all of the destruction happening in them.

The easiest why to describe Strange’s magic appearance in the comics is “psychedelic.” Many wondered if Marvel Studios would be able to bring that brand of oddness to the screen without feeling too odd. The effects in Doctor Strange feel they were brought straight off the page and onto the screen. Everything is gorgeous and stunning. The scenes when the sorcerers were fighting in the city and manipulating the architecture around them looked like they were straight out of Inception. The Dark Dimension puts some of the more “out there” visuals from the Thor films to shame. This is one of the few films that I would really recommend you see in 3D if possible.

Like many of the prior MCU films, this movie’s villain, Kaecilius, is not developed very deeply. Yes, he has his motivations, but they are as basic as many of the other villains that have been seen so far. He is not the worst but he is far from the best.

I thought Doctor Strange was GREAT :-D. I was first wary about Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange but in normal Marvel Studio’s fashion, they proved they know what they are doing when it comes to casting. Although the film doesn’t shake up the superhero movie formula they have created too much, Doctor Strange is very entertaining, finding itself as one of the better films of the MCU.

Trivia
In the comics, the Ancient One is an old man; in this film, the Ancient One is played by a woman. This was a deliberate decision as Scott Derrickson felt the Ancient One was a title rather than a person. -Via IMDB

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Scott Derrickson – Director / Writer
Jon Spaihts – Writer
C. Robert Cargill – Writer
Michael Giacchino – Composer

Benedict Cumberbatch – Dr. Stephen Strange
Tilda Swinton – The Ancient One
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Mordo
Benedict Wong – Wong
Mads Mikkelsen – Kaecilius
Rachel McAdams – Christine Palmer
Michael Stuhlbarg – Dr. Nicodemus West
Benjamin Bratt – Jonahtan Pangborn
Topo Wresniwiro – Hamir
Linda Louise Duan – Tina Minoru
Mark Anthony Brighton – Daniel Drumm

If you would like to join in on the group post I am putting together at the end of the month, you can find all the information here.

X-Men: Apocalypse Review

X-Men: Apocalypse movie posterSynopsis
In Egypt, the ancient mutant En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaacs) awakens and enacts his plan to create a world where only the strongest survive. The X-Men must once again ban together to save the world.

Review
Of all Fox’s Marvel superhero properties past and present, the X-Men franchise has been their most consistent and their longest running as a result. Now nine movies in if you include Deadpool and the two Wolverine films, the X-Men franchise shows no sign of letting up. Some would argue that X-Men: Days of Future Past was the best in the series yet. Can X-Men: Apocalypse keep the train running? Yes. Yes it can.

First, I like to mention that in terms of the franchise’s timeline, this was the perfect time to do the Apocalypse story. In the comics, the Age of Apocalypse event occurred after a character named Legion goes back in time and changes the past. This caused Apocalypse to show himself earlier than he originally did. What happened in Days of Future Past? Time travel and history changing. Whether or not this was intentional or Fox simply felt it was time to introduce one of the X-Men’s biggest villains, it worked out well for comic book nerds such as myself.

One of the highlights of Days of Future Past was Quicksilver’s super-speed scene. Naturally, he got a similar scene in this film, and it is just as great. This film has him running through the school, saving the students from an explosion while listening to Eurythmic’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Quicksilver also has a much bigger role this time around, which is fantastic since he was very underutilized in the last film.

Like all of the X-Men films not named after Wolverine or Deadpool, Apocalypse introduces several new characters, or at least new versions of them. The First Class trilogy is inching closer to where the original X-Men film kicked off, so we are meeting younger versions of many of those characters. Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Storm all get younger selves, as well as a younger Nightcrawler. I especially liked seeing Nightcrawler again since he is my favorite X-Man. In a film with many subplots, it seemed like theirs received a significant portion. Hopefully the next one will be more tightly focused and look at this new team and their dynamic as they grow together.

These new actors do pretty well, especially the new X-Men. Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, and Kodi Smit-McPhee bring these characters to life. Turner gets one of the best line of the films, saying third installments are always the worst. The new mutants who serve as three of Apocalypse’s four horseman don’t fare so well. Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp, and Olivia Munn’s characters pretty much just get names and that is about as far as their development goes go. With so many introductions, some development was bound to be pushed to the side and in this case it fell on the new villains. It’s too bad that most of the young actors weren’t given much room to show what they could do.

Something that bothered my probably more than it should have was the physical appearance of the characters who have been around since First Class. Apocalypse takes place roughly twenty years after First Class and characters like Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), looks exactly the same. In First Class, they are roughly in their early twenties, that would make Beast and Mystique forty-ish, and Xavier and Magneto even older, in Apocalypse and yet they look exactly the same. I know it shouldn’t be that big of a deal but it did take me out of the film a little bit.

X-Men: Apocalypse contains many different plots throughout the film. This is mostly due to the large roster. As a result, the first half feels like it drags on because of all the character introductions. Once all the players are on the board, it moves along more evenly.

Oscar Isaac is a pretty well rounded actor but he felt stuck in the confines of the role of Apocalypse. Like most of the actors of the other new mutants introduced, he wasn’t given the room he needed. It reminded me of Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending. Both are great actors who just had the unfortunate luck of being trapped in a one-dimensional character. Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t seem as emotionally invested in Mystique like she was in First Class or even Days of Future Past. I’m not sure if she is getting tired of the role or if she was having an off movie or what but she felt off this time.

I thought X-Men: Apocalypse was GOOD :-). The more I was writing this review, the more I realize I had less positives to say than I originally realized. However, you can call me a sucker for explosions and summer blockbusters because I still had a good time watching this film. This isn’t on the same level as First Class or X2, but it still offers a fun ride for you to sit back, relax and munch on some popcorn.

Also check out my reviews for X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Bryan Singer – Director / Story
Simon Kinberg – Screenplay / Story
Michael Dougherty – Story
Dan Harris – Story
John Ottman – Composer

James McAvoy – Professor Charles Xavier
Michael Fassbender – Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto
Jennifer Lawrence – Raven / Mystique
Micholas Hoult – Hank McCoy / Beast
Sophie Turner – Jean Grey
Tye Sheridan – Scott Summers / Cyclopes
Kodi Smit-McPhee – Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler
Evan Peters – Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver
Lucas Till – Alex Summers / Havok
Oscar Isaac – En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse
Ben Hardy – Angel
Alexandra Shipp – Ororo Munroe / Storm
Olivia Munn – Psylocke
Rose Byrne – Moira Mactaggert
Lana Condor – Jubilee
Josh Helman – Col. William Styker

Marvel Cinematic Universe Discussion (Featuring MovieRob)

Hey there, dear readers!

Happy Memorial Day to those of you in the US! And to the rest of you, Happy Monday!  As I’m sure many of you may know, I am a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  Marvel has accomplished nothing short of a miracle bringing so many of their properties to the big screen, intertwining them together to form one large, interconnected tapestry of stories.  Captain America: Civil War was the kick-off for what is know as Phase Three (Phase One was Iron Man to The Avengers and Phase Two was from Iron Man 3 to Ant-Man).  To celebrate this awesome milestone, my fellow movie blogger, Rob from MovieRob, and I had a discussion about our love of comic books and comic book movies.  Rob is a reviewing powerhouse, at the time of this post having reviewed 2250 movies on his site. And that number is only growing! If you don’t already follow him, go check out this reviewing madman’s site.  Now, let’s get to it!

Me:

I know that you read comic books when you were younger (or do you still?). How excited were you when you found out Marvel was trying to create an expansive shared universe with their heroes?

Rob:

Yes, I was a huge comic book fan as a kid. I remember when I was about 7 or 8, we had a HUGE box of comics in the basement that I would spend my spare time going through.  It had all kinds of titles there and I would read and reread them over and over.  Two of my favorites (that I can recall) were The Empire Strikes Back comic book adaptation and a Spider-Man vs. Hulk deluxe comic.

Spider-Man vs. Hulk

As a teen, I once again got very much into comics but usually only read war or army titles like Sgt. Rock and GI Joe.

When I saw the Armageddon 2001 series that came out in 1991, I got hooked on DC superhero comics.  Because it was a DC crossover series featured in all of the annuals of that year, I got a great taste of all of the different DC titles.

This actually started my love for the DC universe of superheroes and my perchance for reading Marvel titles here and there was abated.

For the next few years, I became obsessed with DC comics and amassed over a thousand titles.  When I moved out of the states, it made it more difficult to keep up and I eventually just stopped collecting. When my folks sold their house a few years later, they sold my comics to a local shop (with my permission of course).  I kept some of my favorites though.

I somewhat regret that decision to sell the remainder, but looking back, I still know it was the right decision.

When I got divorced in 2006, my ex threw away my comics and told me that she couldn’t find them, so I now have no comic books to my name.

For some reason, after all these years, I still have that preference in my mind between DC and Marvel even 25 years later.

When they announced the MCU movies, I was happy, but since we just had The Dark Knight come out, I thought that no matter how good the MCU will be, it’ll never be able to be better than what Christopher Nolan brought us with his TDK series.

I still dreamed that one day, they would make a Justice League series featuring all of my favorite heroes from the DC universe, but knew it would be too difficult to get such an array of stars to join in.

As I read more and more about how they were planning to do the MCU, I realized that they were essentially trying to do for Marvel what I had always hoped would be done for DC.

It’s been slow going since then because it obviously takes much more time to build a movie universe than a comic book one.  Since they only can make 1 or 2 movies a year (maximum 3), it has taken nearly 9 years to get to where they are at, but it’s been a great ride so far.

The fact that they could make origin movies for the top superheroes (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America) and then bring them all together in an Avengers movie within just a few years really adds to the impact of each of those characters.  The MCU keeps expanding yearly and I for one can’t wait to see where it’s all going especially since they keep adding more solo movies to the fray which will make things even better as we keep going forward!

What about you? What is your comic background?

Me:

The Amazing Spider-Man #539

I started getting into the comic book superheroes in the 90s.  My Saturday mornings and time after school were usually spent watching the animated Spider-Man, X-Men, and Batman series, as well as Justice League in the late 90s / early 2000s. So I’ve always been exposed to the characters but I really didn’t start reading comics until about ten years ago.  When I was in high school, the collectable card game Yu-Gi-Oh was in its heyday and I would participate in weekend Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments at a comic shop not too far from my house.  Later in high school, I was doing some fundraising for an out-of-country trip with some classmates and went into the comic shop to see if they would donate some money for an event we were hosting.  While I was in the comic shop, the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #539 caught my eye.  This was around the time of Spider-Man 3 *shudders* so of course Marvel put Peter back into his black suit for a short time.  This particular issue had a this awesome, full body picture of Spider-Man in his black suit as the cover. Now, the black suit is my favorite Spider-Man outfit, so I picked it up and enjoyed it and started reading the Amazing Spider-Man series.  A few months later, Uncanny X-Men hit their 500th issue so I picked that up and began reading Uncanny X-men. Then the rest, as they say, is history.

My preference has always been more towards Marvel than DC.  The characters are more relatable, or at least as relatable as one with superpowers can be.  They feel like they deal with more everyday people problems than DC.  DC heroes are more larger than life, which I know is some of the appeal to some people, just not to me.  However, I still enjoy both and I keep up with the DC characters, whether that is television series, movies, or even catching up on comic story arcs using Wikipedia.

When the MCU started with Iron Man in 2008, I had no idea it was going to be as expansive as it was.  At that time, staying until the end of the credits for an extra scene wasn’t really a thing yet but luckily my buddy and I did.  When Nick Fury shows up and says “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative,” I got SUPER excited.  Here I was thinking that this was going to be an isolated franchise, like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films or the X-men movies.  But no. Marvel was actually going to bring together the Avengers on screen.  I was ecstatic to say the least.

What would you say are the MCU’s strengths?

Rob:

That’s actually quite funny. You gave away my answer in your final thought on the differences between Marvel and DC.

I think more people can relate to Marvel characters BECAUSE of the fact that they are flawed humans with super abilities as opposed to the Larger than life super heroes of DC.

Most of the Marvel heroes are men and women who got their powers through some kind of freak accident, but still retain their human emotions and problems.

The members of The Avengers are just that…

Examples:

Captain America was a skinny patriot who was given a super soldier serum
Hulk was a researcher who got zapped by gamma Ray
Spider-Man was a teen bitten by a radioactive spider
Iron man was a weapons manufacturer who created a suit to keep himself alive after a freak accident

The fact that each of the main Avengers got their own origin movie plus a few follow ups, gives us a much clearer picture as to who they all are and we get to also see their human emotion in almost everything that they have done.

I think that really is the strength here; the emotional character development of the characters.

This development made it much easier for us to understand the individual character decisions in the recent Civil War film.

Because we are more emotionally connected to the characters, we want to see how they work together as a team and also on individual levels.

The fact that they have also included other characters that aren’t directly related to the Avengers (i.e. GOTG) is also great because they really are trying to create a whole new universe for us to embrace.

What has endeared you to the MCU?

Me:

Haha Sorry about that. I couldn’t help myself. 😛

That’s exactly what it is. I remember in collage a friend of mine sent me an article about why the article’s author preferred the DC heroes over the Marvel heroes and every point they listed on why they preferred DC were all the reasons why I prefer the Marvel heroes (I can’t remember many of them besides them being larger-than-life I mentioned before).  In the right hands, any hero can be a part of good story. However, fundamentally, Marvel heroes are better characters, mostly falling back to all the points you just listed.

I tried not to make any comparisons to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in my review of Captain America: Civil War, but they are too similar not to.  I think the character developments you mentioned are the reason Civil War was so much better than Dawn of Justice.  There was no character build-up prior, or even during, Dawn of Justice.  The headlining fight between Batman and Superman had no emotional weight behind it so as the audience, we didn’t much care about what the fight meant.  On the other hand, we spent so much time with the characters on both sides of the “war” over the last eight years that we were invested in the conflict between these heroes and friends.  That’s not to say that Batman and Superman each needed years of build-up before finally clashing. Dawn of Justice just needed to be trimmed and more focused instead of trying to cram in so many plot lines for future movies. I feel like I’m getting off track so I’m going to end that rant there.

Guardians of the Galaxy movie poster
Ant-Man movie poster

What I have enjoyed most about the MCU is how lighthearted it is.  It can still be serious but it never becomes so dark that a few quick one-liners can’t draw out a laugh.  I think much of that is a unique combination of the writers and excellent casting.  Actors like Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Pratt and Paul Rudd are great comedic actors to begin with and might not seem like superhero movie material but Marvel somehow made it work brilliantly.  Even in movies with a serious atmosphere, like The Winter Soldier or Civil War, there is still plenty of humor to prevent it from becoming too serious.  Marvel perfected this balance in The Avengers and they have been very successful in replicating the mix of action and humor ever since.

What do you think are the MCU’s weaknesses? What can Marvel improve and do better?

Rob:

Great point about the lightheartedness.

The comics of DC are more humorous, but the movies take things a bit too seriously.

I’m a huge fan of Pratt and Rudd and definitely would never have thought of casting them beforehand, but now they feel like the perfect choices.

Well, even though the MCU films are all quite good, there definitely are some weaknesses.

The fact that we have been introduced to so many new characters movie after movie, it feels that when they do get together for an ensemble movie, most of them still get lost in the crowd and are relegated to what would seem like just cameo duty.

Take Civil War for instance.Captain America: Civil War trailer

It’s supposed to be a Captain America film, but due to the bigger storyline, they need to include lots of Avengers, new and old and then we lose focus on most of them because in just two and a half hours, they need to establish a capable story (which they do), but also highlight over ten different superheroes.

I believe that this is part of the reason that Thor and Hulk are absent here; too many characters that they needed to send them off on other quests in order to not have two more main characters with little to do but fight each other.

This is the main reason it’s so hard to do this as a movie series as opposed to a TV show or comic book. In a TV show you have 22-24 episodes a year in order to lay out your plan of attack, develop the players and then execute the final confrontation. If each episode is roughly 45 minutes, that gives them between 17 and 18 hours to tell a full story arc a year instead of just 2.5 hours (maximum).

I haven’t yet seen Dawn of Justice, but from what I’ve heard, they try to cram too much into such a short span of time that things get entirely lost. Civil War as a similar runtime, but they have already used so many films to build things up that it doesn’t feel as wasted.

With a comic book, there is even more flexibility to create a greater story arc because there are titles that have 50 comics a year and something like this would allow for crossovers with the added bonus of not having to pay actors high salaries to appear for 5 minutes of screen time.

Another problem with the MCU is that the general arc feels focused, but until Infinity Wars, we won’t know the full extent of it all and that is frustrating that one must wait over 10 years; Frodo and Sam did it in 3.

What do u think the weaknesses of the MCU are?

Me:

I am disappointed that WB is keeping the DC TV shows and movies as separate universes. I have always said for the last couple years that they should be shared. The TV shows could be use to build the characters, then the films used for crossovers and their big names, like Superman or Batman. That would help with the problem of needing to fit the characters’ development into 2+ hours. Plus that would make it feel very comic book-y, where each episode is an issue and each film is a crossover event. At least for DC.

For me, I’m really looking for Infinity War’s payoff. The big picture has been teased for so long now I can’t wait to see what all of it has been building towards. The only thing I am worried about for beyond Phase Three, though, is how do you top a galactic conflict like the Infinity Gauntlet storyline? I feel like the scale of anything after Infinity War is going to feel so small compared to it. There is a long way to go until we get there so I’m not losing too much sleep over it… yet.

I liked the way Captain America: Civil War balances all the characters. The two core aspects of the film are Steve and Bucky’s relationship and the conflict between Steve and Tony. In both of those, Steve is a part of it, making it the Captain America movie it should be. Excluding Black Panther and Spider-Man, we have already spent time with the other characters so there wasn’t a need to see a lot of screen time from them for development since that happened in their own movies. As for Black Panther, he received the development we needed to see why he would enter the conflict and gave us just enough of him to be excited for his upcoming film. Spider-Man was the only one that remotely felt shoe-horned into the movie.

LokiThe biggest weakness I see with the MCU after Phases One and Two is that there is only one significant villain: Loki. Not all movies need deep, Magneto- or Loki-style villains. For example, Guardians of the Galaxy was just fine with a very flat villain. His sole purpose in the film was to bring the team together and he accomplished that. I have heard many people talk about the lack of good villains in the MCU films for a while but it didn’t really bother me until Ant-Man. Darren Cross was in the perfect position to be an evil mirror to Scott Lang. He and Scott could have been two sides of the same coin. With Cross’ history with Pym, he could have been this deep(ish) villain, showing what could happen to Lang if he is not careful and building on Pym’s character with his past mistakes. Instead, Cross was evil for evil’s sake and that bothered me for the first time since the MCU started in 2008. If we can get more villains to stick around going through Phase Three and be developed more, that would make me so happy.

What do you hope to see out of Phase Three?

Rob:

Your DC crossover idea is great. It’s not easy to do a movie/TV crossover but that could actually work well and serve the greater good… too bad it probably won’t happen.

I also agree that after Infinity War, it might be hard to go grander, but I guess we need to hope (and pray) that they know what they are doing and that Phase 3 won’t kill the whole thing.

I liked the intros that Spidey and BP got in Civil War, but we’ll have to wait and see how they are developed further in the future.

I think the lack of great villains is on purpose because they are all supposed to just be pawns in a huge game of chess. Thanos is basically the supervillain playing the puppeteer in order to get what he wants, the Infinity Gauntlet, so the lack of great villains doesn’t bother me as much.

Thanos

I think the DC universe has better “minor” villains than Marvel and I would love to eventually see some of them in future DC movies; Monarch, Eclipso, or even Hal Jordan’s transformation into Parallex.

Regarding Phase 3, I can’t say I have much expectations either way. I’ve liked the path that they have taken so far, and I think we need to rely on the fact that they know where they are going with all of this and that they will continue to entertain us along the way.

My biggest concern tho is that since the MCU movies have so far been spread out over a decade and the end is still not in sight (thankfully), I wonder how they plan to keep the same actors for so many years (both contractually and physically). Yes, The Hulk has so far been played by 3 different actors, but that’s one character, to start changing them all might be more problematic. The comics have been around for decades, but drawings don’t age, actors do…

What do u think would be the best way to continue the continuity of the actors and characters over another decade of movies?

Me:

That is a good point about Thanos being the puppeteer. But that doesn’t mean all the other villains need to be flat. It’s not like Thanos is directly manipulating them like he was Ronin in GotG.

The easiest thing for Marvel to do to continue for a decade or more of movies is to cast younger actors, like they have done with Tom Holland. However, the most practical thing for them to do is when the actors become unable to play the parts, pass the mantle along to another character, and therefore another actor. Mantles are being passed on all the time in comics so it wouldn’t feel out of place if it happened in the film. Recasting actors that we have become so ingrained to us as these characters would not feel right. Plus it would take away from this thing they are doing where the MCU timeline occurs in real-time if they bring in a younger actor for the same role.

To wrap up, what are your top five MCU films so far?

Rob:

I know that DC hands off mantle’s but I’m not familiar enough with Marvel to know who has done that. But that does seem to be more prudent than just recasting the characters with younger actors.

Here’s my Top 5

1. Guardians of the Galaxy – This is actually the only MCU movie I regret not seeing in the theater (I’ve actually seen none of them in the theater). I loved the characters and the way that they created a whole new populated and “lived in”. Can’t wait for the sequel…which I plan to see in the theater!

2. Captain America: Winter Soldier – Cap has always been my favorite Avenger due to his honesty, bravery and patriotism. This film showcased it all when he had to battle Hydra lingering within SHIELD.

3. Captain America: Civil War – Great addition to the MCU because it gives the characters a moral dilemma that they must decide which of two sides to join where neither is really the wrong choice.

4. Captain America: First Avenger – Being a HUGE fan of Cap, I loved his origin story that was told so well for us to understand what he went thru back in the 1940’s and then his arrival in the 21st Century.

5. Avengers: Age of Ultron – This was the movie that ignited the whole Civil War storyline and they helped introduce is to some great characters who would have a larger impact on the MCU moving forward.

How does ur Top 5 pan out?

Me:

That’s a lot of Captain America! My top five are:

1. The Avengers – The big payoff after four years of set up, bringing all the characters from Phase One together. It had humor, action, and drama all together and well balanced and was simply a ton of fun.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy – This is probably the funniest of the MCU films. It showed that Marvel can do great with even their lesser known properties. GotG is how you do an ensemble origin story.

3. Iron Man – The one that started it all. Robert Downey, Jr. was spot-on casting. Like GotG, this is the perfect superhero origin story.

4. Captain America: Civil War – The Civil War comic is one of my favorite events from Marvel. Marvel adapted it very well, keeping the elements that made the story great even with the smaller scale. Not to mention the airport fight scene is one of my new favorite action pieces.

5. Ant-Man – By the end of Phase Two, the MCU films became very intertwined. Ant-Man establishes itself in the universe but is able to maintain a certain level autonomy. Paul Rudd was an unexpected casting choice but he could not have been more perfect. Plus Michael Pena as Luis alone is worth the watch.

Thank you so much for the discussion, Rob. The MCU is one of my favorite film franchises so this has been great to talk in depth about it.

Rob:

I’m so happy this worked out. This was lots of fun!


Many of the points I talked about I have said in discussion with my friends but I haven’t written them here on my blog so this was a great way to finally share them with you all.

How about you? What are your thoughts on the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Its strengths? Weaknesses? Things you like or didn’t like? Favorites?

Cheers!

Captain America: Civil War Review

Captain America: Civil WarSynopsis
During a conflict in Lagos between the Avengers and Crossbones (Frank Grillo), an explosion takes the lives of many civilians. After this incident, the United Nations create the Sokovia Accords, which will put a UN board in charge of when and where the Avengers are deployed. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) feels that superpowered individuals should be held accountable for their own actions and the UN board will prevent the Avengers from helping the people that need it. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) thinks that the heroes need to be supervised. This difference of viewpoints creates a rift between the two friends and sends Steve on the run after his friend, Bucky (Sebastian Stan) is accused of causing an explosion at a UN meeting.

Review
I think it is safe to say that Captain America: Civil War is probably the movie I have been looking forward to the most in the first half of 2016. Not only is it a Marvel movie but it is heavily influenced by my favorite comic event to date (and it introduces Tom Holland as the new Spider-Man). There was a lot for it to live up to and it passed with flying colors.

First, I want to address one of my fears going into this movie and it may be considered spoiler-ish, and is entirely based on my geeky side, so keep that in mind. When I heard that Frank Grillo would be returning as Crossbones and the movie would star Daniel Bruhl as Helmut Zemo (aka Baron Zemo), I was really concerned. In the Civil War comic, there is no villain. The conflict is entirely between Tony and Steve and their two viewpoints. I was concerned that towards the end, the two heroes would make up, hold hands and fight the pair of villains. That’s not what the Civil War story was about. It is about the difference in ideologies and at the end of the comic, both Tony and Steve were left in very interesting places. So I didn’t want the film to turn into this team-up at the end and not have any sort of ramifications going forward. That did not happen at all. By the end, there were real consequences that will have a huge impact on the MCU going forward. Thank you so much Marvel for understanding what made the source material one of your best events.

Although this has “Captain America” in the title, many superheroes made an appearance, it’s pretty much like a mini Avengers movie. However, since it does have “Captain America” in the title, much of the focus was on him. Even having Tony (Robert Downey, Jr.), a headliner of his own franchise, Steve (Chris Evans) was still front and center the entire time. Many of the other heroes didn’t linger on screen longer than they needed to. They did their part to move the story forward then got out of the way to allow Steve to be in the spotlight once more.

Despite its more serious story, Civil War still manages to inject Marvel’s signature humor into the film. It helps when Paul Rudd and a Spider-Man are in it. But all the humor didn’t come from these two. RDJ has always had a quirky Tony Stark, who gets a several joke in (though not as many as previous movies) and even Evans garnered a few laughs. Some might be getting tired of Marvel’s humor but I like it and I think it prevents their films from becoming too dark.

Speaking of Spider-Man, I think we might have our best movie version yet. Both Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield were good Spider-Men but they didn’t have the humor quite right (although this is more on the writing than it is on them). Tom Holland is the youngest Peter Parker yet and does absolutely wonderful. His discussion with Tony about why he became Spider-Man is very emotional and when he is fighting the other heroes, he talks non-stop, geeking out about being around the other heroes and their powers and gear. I was excited for Spider-Man: Homecoming before but now I am even more excited which I didn’t think was possible!

Kicking off Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the perfect time to make this movie. There aren’t any more Captain America movies on the horizon, nor are there any Iron Man movies happening anytime soon. Telling this story now gives a good perspective on how much these two characters have grown since we first met them eight years ago. This film builds off of the previous two Captain America, three Iron Man and two Avengers films. By the time Steve and Tony come to blows, we have a deep understanding of these characters, so their conflict has a ton of emotional weight behind it. Still being able to develop a character after about four movies is an amazing feat but doing it with two characters is truly impressive.

I thought Captain America: Civil War was GREAT :-D. Way back when, shortly after the release of The Avengers, I began thinking of story lines Marvel could adapt for their Avengers movies and Marvel’s Civil War was at the top of my list. However, I didn’t think It would happen because of the scale of the event (it literally touched every book Marvel published for months). But Marvel found a way to shrink down the event’s scale and still keep the core of the story, and what made it an engaging story, intact. The MCU is once again shaken up and leaves me excited to see what its future holds.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Anthony Russo – Director
Joe Russo – Director
Christopher Markus – Screenplay
Stephen McFeely – Screenplay
Henry Jackman – Composer

Chris Evans – Steve Rogers / Captain America
Robert Downey, Jr. – Tony Stark / Iron Man
Scarlett Johansson – Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
Sevastian Stan – Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier
Anthony Mackie – Sam Wilson / Falcon
Don Cheadle – Lieutenant James Rhodes / War Machine
Jeremy Renner – Clint Barton / Hawkeye
Chadwick Boseman – T’Challa / Black Panther
Paul Bettany – Vision
Elizabeth Olsen – Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch
Paul Rudd – Scott Lang / Ant-Man
Emily VanCamp – Sharon Carter
Tom Holland – Peter Parker / Spider-Man
Daniel Bruhl – Helmut Zemo
Frank Grillo – Brock Rumlow / Crossbones
William Hurt – Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross
Martin Freeman – Everett K. Ross
Marisa Tomei – May Parker
John Kani – King T’Chaka
John Slattery – Howard Stark
Hope Davis – Maria Stark
Alfre Woodard – Miriam
Kerry Condon – FRIDAY (voice)

Ant-Man Review

Ant-Man movie posterSynopsis
After getting out of prison, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) tries to leave his life of crime behind him. However, when he has trouble providing for his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), he takes a job with his old cell mate, Luis (Michael Pena). Inside the vault he breaks into, Scott finds the Ant-Man suit, hidden by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) decades before. Being impressed with Scott’s skills, Hank hires Scott to steal the Yellowjacket suit from his former protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), much to the disliking of his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly).

Review
Ant-man was predicted to be Marvel’s first flop, both critically and financially. But let’s be honest, if they audiences would buy into a story about a space faring team consisting of a snarky kid stuck in the 1980s, a sexy green alien femme fatale, a red alien warrior who takes everything literally, a talking kleptomaniac raccoon, and a talking tree who only says one sentence, how hard would it be to sell a hero who can shrink and talk to insects? It may not have been a huge money maker for Marvel like many of their other films but you can’t deny it is a humorous, fun, and quirky movie.

After the gargantuan, globe-spanning epic that was Age of Ultron, it was nice to step back and have a smaller, self-contained story. There are many references to the expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe (HYDRA, Iron Man, the events of Age of Ultron, even a fun fight scene between Scott and one of the New Avengers), but that is to be expected at this point. Marvel has built such a large world that references help place the story inside that world. It can be a catch 22 between letting the film stand on its own and using established characters and events to remind the audience where this world exists. Ant-Man does a terrific job of balancing these two sides.

For a film that is only around two hours long, Ant-Man was able to include a lot of Ant-Man history into the film. In the Marvel Comics, there are no less than three characters who have held the Ant-Man moniker. Hank Pym is the original and most well known, followed by Scott Lang (and a third named Eric O’Grady but he’s not important right now). Pym specifically has had a type of literal identity crisis over the years, taking up several costumes and code names, which include Ant-Man and Yellow Jacket. And he is short tempered, which has caused friction with other heroes. As a comics fan, it is great to see so much of the characters’ history effectively incorporated some way into the movie.

In their Phase 2 films, Marvel has mixed up what genre their movies are. They are part superhero but also something else, such as spy thriller or space opera, allowing each film to feel fresh. I have made it no secret that I am a huge fan of heist movies so I really enjoyed that aspect. The montage of the heist planning had a duel purpose of Scott, Hank, and Hope planning the heist but also quickly showing Scott learning how to use the suit and its powers. Two birds with one stone, if you will. Then the heist itself was pretty fun. Not many (if any) involve a the thief shrinking down and going through computer circuitry to accomplish their goals. It’s pretty unique and enjoyable.

Paul Rudd may not scream superhero material but he was the right fit as Scott Lang. The movie plays to his strengths and timing as a comedic actor, elevating the film. However, the stand-out star is Michael Pena as Scott’s partner-in-crime, Luis. His monologues about how he discovered the jobs for his group of Robin Hood-esque band of criminals is side-splitting. Michael Douglas is here to give gravitas and legitimacy to the film, like Glenn Close in Guardians of the Galaxy. That doesn’t stop him from doing a fantastic job. Corey Stoll and Evangeline Lilly do the best with the roles they are given but are not as strong as the other leads.

It would have been cool to see more of Pym’s history. His quarrels with SHIELD are talked about constantly and he regularly warns about the dangers of constant exposure to the Pym Particles (the device that allows the suit to shrink), but they aren’t really shown and are only given in exposition. Same with his relationship with Hope. If the audience would have gotten to see these stories, it would have helped show who Hank Pym was and why.

Other than Loki and maybe the Winter Soldier, Marvel hasn’t had great success with their villains, Ant-Man is no exception. In many of the past films, I have been like Elsa and let it go. However, I had a hard time doing that with this time. The film’s Darren Cross had a strong history with Pym which they tried to explain was his motivation but it could have been so much deeper and he could have been one of Marvel’s better villains (which is honestly not that tall a bar to hurtle). Instead, he has become forgettable like many of the others.

Ant-Man is the most refreshing MCU films since The Avengers. Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas are perfectly cast as the Ant-Men Scott Lang and Hank Pym, while Michael Pena steals every scene he appears in. The light, not-serious tone and self-contained story let this film be accessible to a large audience and is a nice break between the previous Avengers film and the sure-to-be-epic scale of Captain America: Civil War.

Rating
4.5/5

Also check out my reviews for the other films in Marvel’s Phase 2: Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter SoldierGuardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Peyton Reed – Director
Edgar Wright – Screenplay / Story
Joe Cornish – Screenplay / Story
Adam McKay – Screenplay
Paul Rudd – Screenplay
Christophe Beck – Composer

Paul Rudd – Scott Lang / Ant-Man
Michael Douglas – Dr. Hank Pym
Evangeline Lilly – Hope van Dyne
Corey Stoll – Darren Cross / Yellowjacket
Bobby Cannavale – Paxton
Judy Greer – Maggie Lang
Abby Ryder Fortson – Cassie Lang
Michael Pena – Luis
David Dastmalchian – Kurt
Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris– Dave
Wood Harris – Gale
Haley Atwell – Peggy Carter
John Slattery – Howard Stark
Martin Donovan – Mitchell Carson


And I’m back. I know I wasn’t really away, you know with the usual weekly features and my entry in the Film Emotion Blogathon, but after the Christmas in July Blogathon and Anniversary Week 2, I needed a break to catch up on some gaming and overall do-nothingness. Besides the blogathon entry I was able to put together in the time between getting off work and my soccer game that night so it was almost no time at all.  This is the first of several films from earlier this summer I have lined up.  Next will be Inside Out followed by Jurassic World.  After those, I will catch up on some awards and review the horrid Rage. Until then, cheers. 🙂

PS, Splatoon is so ADDICTING! Do any of you play? If you do let me know, maybe we can organize a time to play together.