Avengers: Infinity War Review

Avengers: Infinity War movie posterSynopsis
When Thanos (Josh Brolin) travels throughout the universe to collect the powerful infinity stones, all of Earth’s heroes and the Guardians of the Galaxy must come together to stop him, before he can end half of all life in existence.

Review
Well, here we are. 10 years, 18 movies, and one comic fan’s wet dream later, Thanos has finally arrived. Thanos has been teased at since the end of The Avengers in Phase One, intermittently throughout Phase Two, and was pretty silent throughout Phase Three… until now. The buildup to his arrival has been one for the cinematic history books. A shared universe between movies is nothing new; Universal’s monster universe from the 1900s, the Alien and Predator films, Nightmare on Elmstreet and Friday the 13th, the list goes on. However, what is unprecedented is the scope and interconnectivity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Marvel Studios needed to make the culmination of their journey to be great, at the very least, in order to properly payoff all of the threads they have been dropping since 2008. Avengers: Infinity War not only meets expectations but surpasses them.

You know what to expect from this film right off the bat. Within the first ten minutes, my jaw was on the floor. And it stayed there. The excitement never let up. But that’s not to say the action was turned up to eleven like a Michael Bay movie. No. The Russo brothers did a fantastic job of balancing action, drama, and humor. They’ve shown they can do so with a large cast in Captain America: Civil War and they’ve done it yet again here. While it may be the longest MCU film to date, clocking in at an hour and a half, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

One of my biggest gripes about Thor: Ragnarok was that it didn’t know when not to be funny. It didn’t take the time to let the somber moments be somber or the dramatic moments to linger before cracking a joke to break the mood. Not so in Avengers: Infinity War. Yes, it is funny and there are plenty of jokes and humorous moments are abundant. However, it isn’t afraid to take a step back and be dramatic, to be emotional, to let your jaw hit the floor and stay there for a moment. Like a fine wine before drinking, these moments are given the time to breath before moving on to the next great action piece or quip. It is some very disciplined story telling from the Russo brothers and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely to balance the different story elements so well.

But best yet, the characters feel balanced.

With nearly thirty characters to juggle, it’s amazing how shared the screen time is between all of them. Throughout the film, the characters are in several groups with many unique combinations, such as Thor, Rocket, and Groot, or Tony Stark, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man. These groupings made for some pretty great moments, either humorous or unexpectedly heartfelt. Despite the large cast, no one feels like they get short–changed on screen time. There are those those get more time than others but no one feels over-shadowed.

There might be a good reason for that.

Throughout the film, Thanos gets just as much screen time as all the heroes, probably even as much as all of them combined. He is treated like a main character. Much of the film’s run time is devoted to him, allowing his character to be deeply explored. He’s not just a stereotypical MCU villain that fits the one-dimensional format that plagues the franchise. Like the movie as a whole, Thanos is balanced between building his back story and driving motivations, as well as showing how formidable he is. He has easily and quickly become one of the MCU’s best villains (not that it was a high bar to hurtle).

While showing Thanos and all these heroes on screen, the tone felt balanced as well. Having spent several outings with many of these characters, each of their individual movies had their own tone and feeling. There is definitely a common, humorous tone between them that Marvel has refined over the last decade but they still had a uniqueness to them. Again, the Russo brothers and the writers managed to make these tones flow together smoothly. So when we jumped from the Guardians to Iron Man to Thor, it wasn’t jerky or awkward.

Slight spoilers in this paragraph. Given that this is considered part 1, with Avengers 4 being part 2, of the fight with Thanos, it should be no surprise that this ends on a cliffhanger. Normally, I’m not the biggest fan of cliffhanger endings in movies. However, I don’t necessarily think it’s a cliffhanger in the traditional sense. In a way, this is Thanos’ story, not the heroes’. While it ends on a cliffhanger for the heroes, Thanos’ story is completed. It’s a fairly unique way to end a film, allowing me to put aside my usual feelings towards cliffhanger endings.

I thought Avengers: Infinity War was GREAT πŸ˜€ Calling this anything short of ‘epic’ would not do this film justice. Even that almost doesn’t feel appropriate to fit the scope and grandeur of what happens on screen. I love this film for the same reason I love The Avengers: it feels like an event. It brings together threads that have been laid out throughout the MCU films up to this point. And let’s not forget, this is only the beginning of the end of the buildup. We still have the conclusion in the as-of-yet untitled Avengers 4 next year. Marvel has proven time and time again they are expert story tellers and know what makes their characters tick. They’ve just proven again why they are continuously at the top of the box office.

You can also check out a spoiler-free audio review of this film in theΒ Avengers: Infinity War episode of the Film Focus podcast, guest starring me!

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Anthony Russo – Director
Joe Russo – Director
Christopher Markus – Screenplay
Stephen McFeely – Screenplay
Alan Silvestri – Composer

Robert Downey Jr. – Tony Stark / Iron Man
Chris Hemsworth – Thor
Mark Ruffalo – Bruce Banner / Hulk
Chris Evans – Steve Rogers / Captain America
Scarlett Johansson – Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
Don Cheadle – James Rhodes / War Machine
Benedict Cumberbatch – Doctor Strange
Tom Holland – Peter Parker / Spider-Man
Chadwick Boseman – T’Challa / Black Panther
Karen Gillen – Nebula
Tom Hiddleston – Loki
Paul Bettany – Vision
Elizabeth Olson – Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch
Anthony Mackie – Sam Wilson / Falcon
Sebastian Stan – Bucky Barns / Winter Soldier
Peter Dinklage – Eitri
Benedict Wong – Wong
Chris Pratt – Peter Quill / Star- Lord
Zoe Saldana – Gamora
Dave Bautista – Drax
Vin Diesel – Groot (voice)
Bradley Cooper – Rocket (voice)
Pom Klementieff – Mantis
Josh Brolin – Thanos
Terry Notary – Cull Obsidian
Tom Vaughan-Lawlor – Ebony Maw
Carrie Coon – Proxima Midnight
Michael James Shaw – Corvus Glaive

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Black Panther Review

Black Panther movie reviewSynopsis
After the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) takes his place as king of the technologically advanced and secluded country of Wakanda. His succession is in jeopardy when the mysterious Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) challenges T’Challa for the throne.

Review
I think it’s safe to say that Black Panther is one of Marvel Studios’ most anticipated movies to date. Chadwick Boseman stole his scenes in Captain America: Civil War, a lot of time and effort was put into researching different African cultures for inspiration for Wakanda, and the cast consisted of fan-favorite black actors including Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gunra, and many others. Black Panther had the world’s eyes on it. It stood its ground, didn’t falter, and brought one of the most compelling experiences to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

One thing Marvel films have always been good at, in my opinion, is having great action. Black Panther is no exception. Whether it’s a car chase through the streets of Korea, a large-scale battle on the plains of Wakanda, or a one-on-one battle between Black Panter and Killmonger, every action piece is well choreographed and well shot. The camera does a good job of staying on what’s important in the scene and framing the action. At no point did I feel lost or didn’t understand who was where and doing what.

This film really stands out because of its cast and their chemistry. Letitia Wright played T’Challa’s genius little sister, Shuri. She and Boseman felt like siblings. They had this playful banter that felt natural and didn’t feel like it was written in a script. The same can be said for whenever Boseman, Nyong’o, and Gunra shared a scene. I had a smile on my face when these three were together.

Going into Black Panther, I was most interested in seeing Michael B. Jordan as the villainous Killmonger. I haven’t seen him in an antagonistic role before so I wanted to see how he would do in the part. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. Jordan oozed swag. His character was intelligent, cold, and calculating and Jordan pulled it off with ease. Admittedly, Marvel has had a bit of a villain problem. Outside of Loki, not many have been compelling. Killmonger is a perfect foil to T’Challa. The two of them have similar goals but approach them different ways, much like Professor X and Magneto in the X-Men franchise. For being unsure what to expect, it’s hard to imagine another actor filling the role as well as Jordan did. He might have stolen the entire movie for me if it wasn’t for one actress: Letitia Wright.

Wright hands-down made this movie several times better than if she wasn’t in it. Her take on Shuri was better than I ever could have imagined. She was witty, sassy, strong, and intelligent. I mentioned it before but her and Boseman’s chemistry was uplifting. She wasn’t afraid to give the king a hard time and to ground him when necessary. She brought a lot of the film’s humor. I can’t wait to see what is in store for Wright in the future.

Wakanda is a technologically advanced country located in the heart of Africa. Director Ryan Coogler vision for the country is breathtaking. I know this sounds like a clichΓ© but the country is almost a character unto itself. It is this mix of futurism and African tradition. Clearly, a lot of time was spent visualizing this β€œcharacter.” Whether in the Golden City or on the country’s plains, you won’t believe your eyes.

With the MCU consisting of nearly twenty films, there is a lot of interconnectivity between the films and it can be daunting to jump into one of these movies β€œin the middle.” However, Black Panther does a great job of standing on its own. Yes, the death of T’Chaka, T’Challa’s father, that essentially kicks of this story happens in Captain America: Civil War, but this movie recaps the events nicely. Other than that, there is very little that new viewers won’t understand. This film can stand alone but if you have seen the other movies, it will help you understand its place in the series overarching story.

Since The Avengers, most of the movies proceeding it have had a similar style of humor. I brought it up in my review of Thor: Ragnarok because it was almost too much in that film that it undermined many of the more serious moments. This movie has that trademark Marvel humor but it uses it much more effectively than most MCU films. There was only one time that I really felt it was interjected at the wrong time.

As much as Killmonger didn’t fit the traditional MCU villain mold, Ulysses Klaue, aka Klaw, did. He feels extremely underutilized. As someone who knows his significant history with Black Panther, it’s disappointing to see him not used to his full potential. And Andy Serkis does wonderful in the part. It probably would have been hard to have two well-built villains in this movie but it hurts a little that Klaw had to end up shorted.

I thought Black Panther was GREAT πŸ˜€ As Chadwick Boseman made a great impression as a supporting character during his debut in Civil War, many of Black Panther‘s supporting cast have unforgettable roles. The action is well shot and choreographed and the villain is actually complex and empathetic. Black Panther shows that even ten years later and eighteen movies in, the MCU still has plenty of steam.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Ryan Coogler – Director / Writer
Joe Robert Cole – Writer
Ludwig Goransson – Composer

Chadwick Boseman – T’Challa / Black Panther
Michael B. Jordan – Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens
Andy Serkis – Ulysses Klaue
Lupita Nyong’o – Nakia
Danai Gunra – Okoye
Martin Freeman – Everett K. Ross
Daniel Kaluuya – W’Kabi
Letitia Wright – Shuri
Winston Duke – M’Baku
Angela Bassett – Ramonda
Forest Whitaker – Zuri
Florence Kasumba – Ayo
David S. Lee – Limbani
Nabiyah Be – Linda
John Kani – T’Chaka
Sterling K. Brown – N’Jobu
Atandwa Kani – Young T’Chaka
Ashton Tyler – Young T’Challa

Thor: Ragnarok Review

Thor: Ragnarok movie posterSynopsis
In his search for Odin (Anthony Hopkins), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) discovers he has been hiding on Earth and takes Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to go retrieve him. When Thor and his brother locate their father, they learn of the goddess of death, Hela (Cate Blanchett), who will be responsible for the destruction of their home of Asgard. In their fight with Hela, Thor gets transported to the planet of Sakaar, where he runs into his Avengers teammate Hulk (Mark Ruffallo). Together, they try to escape from Sakaar and return to Asgard to save it from Ragnarok.

Review
I’ll admit that the Thor films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) are not very high on my ranking of said MCU films. Nonetheless, I still have found them to be an enjoyable fare. Two things made me excited to see Thor: Ragnarok: Jeff Goldblum and the scene with Thor and Hulk saying how they each were like a fire. What came from director Taika Waititi might just be the best Thor film yet.

Off the bat, I have to say how much I enjoyed Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster. He absolutely nailed the role of the gladiator ring overseer and was the perfect choice to put into this movie. Goldblum is one of those actors that is essentric and goofy and over the top in nearly everything he does. He is one of those actors that has a unique personality that you can’t really find anywhere else. I enjoyed every minute of his scenes and left definitely wanting more. His personality was a great addition to the film. In this movie, Jeff Goldblum is the most Goldblum he has ever Goldblum’ed.

In the trailer for this film, it gave a pretty good idea about how the interaction between Thor and Hulk will be different than previous movies. It was very playful and much more friendly banter than before. Not necessarily in the comics but in other media, such as the television shows, Thor and Hulk tend to have a more friendly, competitive relationship. It was nice to see that bromance of sorts brought over to lighten the story.

The gladiatorial part of Thor: Ragnarok was inspired by the Planet Hulk storyline that ran in the mid 2000s. One of the major characters from that arc was Korg, who had a similar role than what he had in the film of organizing a revolution. While I’m not very familiar with his comic book form, this was a very different Korg than I was expecting, but in an extraordinary way! He is easily my favorite new character in the film, even more so than Goldblum’s Grandmaster (gasp!). Korg’s humor is straight-faced and slapstick delivery had me in stitches every time.

The trailer’s music had a lot of synthesizer and strong 70s feel to it. Often times, the score in the trailer is different from what is found in the film. Not this time. Composer Mark Mothersbaugh maintains that same beautiful and intriguing sound throughout the film. It reminded me of the sound of Led Zeppelin (granted Immigrant Song plays at least twice so that might taint my view a little), which really fit with the fantastical setting of the movie.

By a third movie, the stakes need to be bigger and bolder than the previous movies and Thor: Ragnarok does just that. Hela (Cate Blanchett) is one of the strongest villains in the MCU and opponents for Thor. At times she does feel too strong, easily dispatching nearly the entire Asgardian army by herself. I have mixed feelings on her strength but in the situation of a big threat for Thor, and all of Asgard really, she works. However, it’s a shame that a character who has a history with Asgard doesn’t feel like she got the emotional depth that she probably deserved.

Something that bothered me about this film was how rushed Thor and Loki’s search for Odin felt. It was one of the first things that happened in the story and was wrapped up pretty quick. Using Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) feels like the easy way but much like Hela, it also worked in the context of the story. It was an interesting and amusing way to move the story quickly to get the the more critical parts of the story, as well as cement Strange’s role in the greater MCU.

Minor spoilers warning for this paragraph. While I like the general tone the MCU films have taken sinceΒ The Avengers and the humor in this movie is great and hilarious, it feels like it undermines some of the more serious moments, something I have began to feel of last few movies. Scenes like Odin’s death, Hela’s attack on Asgard, and Hela’s killing of several major characters doesn’t necessarily have the strongest emotional impact.Β  Either these events happen so quickly they don’t get the attention they deserve or a joke is made to immediately lighten the mood. As I said, I laughed a lot during this movie and enjoyed its humor and understand that it needed to be lighthearted because otherwise it would have gone to some very dark places.Β  However, I would have also appreciated time to process or feel emotion towards certain events that happened.

I thought Thor: Ragnarok was GOOD πŸ™‚ Much like Steve Rogers and Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War, its characters have been significantly impacted. This movie did something that the previous Thor movies could not: make Thor exciting. I can’t wait to see him and Banner join back up with their Avengers team in Infinity War. Only thing to do in the mean time is sit tight and wait for Black Panther.

Favorite Quote
Thor: My hammer, Mjolnir I called it, was quite unique. It was made from this special metal from the heart of a dying star. Every time I threw it, it would always come back to me. It could harness lightning, make energy blasts, and when I spun it really, really fast, it gave me the ability to fly.
Korg: You rode a hammer?
Thor: No, I- I didn’t ride the hammer.
Korg: The hammer rode you on your back?
Thor: No, no, no. I usually spin it really. It would pull me off the –
Korg: Oh my god. The hammer pulled you off?
Thor: The ground. It would pull me off the ground up into the air and I would fly.
Korg: Sounds like you had a pretty special and intimate relationship with this hammer and that losing it was almost comparable to losing a loved one.
Thor: It’s a nice way of putting it.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Taika Waititi – Director
Eric Pearson – Writer
Craig Kyle – Writer
Christopher Yost – Writer
Mark Mothersbaugh – Music

Chris Hemsworth – Thor
Tom Hiddleston – Loki
Mark Ruffalo – Bruce Banner / Hulk
Tessa Thompson – Valkyrie
Cate Blanchett – Hela
Karl Urban – Skurge
Jeff Goldblum – Grandmaster
Rachel House – Topaz
Taika Waititi – Korg
Anthony Hopkins – Odin
Idris Elba – Heimdall
Clancy Brown – Surtur (voice)
Benedict Cumberbatch – Doctor Strange

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming movie posterSynopsis
Two months after helping Iron Man in Berlin, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) tries to balance his life as a high school student and fighting crime as the masked hero Spider-Man. When he learns that the Vulture (Michael Keaton) has been stealing alien technology and re-purposing them into weapons and selling them to criminals, he tries to stop the Vulture’s operation despite his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) telling him to let it go.

Review
Spider-Man is one of my all-time favorite characters. So of course, I am always excited to see a movie with him so I don’t exactly feel the over-saturation of the character that others might be feeling. But with that said, how does Spider-Man: Homecoming compare to the other iterations of Peter Parker we have seen since 2002? Well I’d say pretty damn good!

Each actor who has donned the red and blue tights have brought a different flavor to the character. Toby Maguire set the tone of what to expect from an on-screen Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield brought a little more humor to the character, and now it’s Tom Holland’s turn to bring his own take on the character. Holland’s Peter / Spider-Man feels like the best of both Maguire’s and Garfield’s versions, mixed with his own unique elements. His Peter is very innocent and excitable. He gets awestruck when he sees the other super humans, despite being one himself. He’s awkward around girls and gets frustrated for being treated like a kid. This might be the most accurate portrayal of Peter that has graced the silver screen yet.

As great as Holland was as Spider-Man, Michael Keaton was equally as great as The Vulture. Keaton is sinister without feeling melodramatic, yet he still has a family-man side to him. When he first confronts Peter face-to-face, his demeanor switches like that (imagine me snapping my fingers) and it’s amazing to see Keaton make that switch so seemingly effortless. His Vulture is a much more grounded villain in terms of his ambitions than other villains from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). He just wants to make money, plain and simple. Other than maybe Darren Cross in Ant-Man, most villains in the MCU have world-dominating plans. But not, here. The Vulture is much more street-level, which fits very well into the roots of the character, both the Vulture as well as Spider-Man.

I was really excited to see how many elements from the comics were brought into the film. For example, the shot where he holding the boat together with his webs has been done many times in many forms of media throughout Spider-Man’s history. Another iconic moment is when Peter is buried under rubble and has to use all of his strength to lift it up, which is taken straight from The Amazing Spider-Man issue 33. It’s the small things, too. Like running out of web fluid and changing his web cartridges mid-fight, leaving his clothes webbed against a wall when he suits up, or going to great lengths to hide his secret identity, even from his friends and family. There are many more but my point is it feels like there was more attention spent bringing more of the little things from the comics into the movie.

For me, and I’m sure many other Spider-Man fans, one of Spider-Man’s greatest draws in the comics is that, for the most part, it is very lighthearted. Every now and there may be a darker story or narrative, depending on the writer, but it usually doesn’t last long before the book is back to its bright, cheerful self. Spider-Man: Homecoming took inspiration from this and kept its story bright and cheerful, too. There were scenes were the movie became became more serious but never a point that I would call β€œdark.” Soon after these moments, the film would shift back to the fun, bouncy story.

There wasn’t much that I can complain about it this film but I did find it a little disappointing that his suit is decked out with all of the bells and whistles of Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit. It feels too good right now. I understand that it was Tony who created Peter’s suit but Peter is smart and ingenuitive and it would be cool to see him create much of that on his own at his own pace. The portion of the film when Peter was in his original homemade costume was cool because it showed he can operate on just his powers alone. Maybe this is small but I think he should have gradually gotten there amongst his movies rather than get it right off the bat.

Speaking of his powers, I was bummed that Spider-Man’s spider-sense wasn’t more prominent. His spider-sense is one of his most unique skills and it is hardly on display, at least not in an obvious way. If they make it more apparent in future films, I can see viewers who are not that familiar with the character thinking this is a feature of his suit and not part of his inherent power set.

As a long-time fan of the character, it was strange to see much of Spider-Man’s supporting cast changed in some way. MJ has a very different personality than her comic counterpart, Gwen was nowhere to be found, and Liz Allen isn’t one of Peter’s love interests. The best friend role is fulfilled by Ned Leeds instead of Harry Osborn, who is traditionally Liz’s love interest and also happens to be missing. Adrian Toomes is more like Norman Osborn, Harry’s father, than Adrian Toomes and Flash Thompson is more of a rich prick instead of a stereotypical sports jock. I have another more to say about why I don’t like this version of Flash very much but I should wrap this review up soon. In any case, there is a lot of character changes to process for die hard Spidey fans such as myself.

I thought Spider-Man: Homecoming was GREAT πŸ˜€ My pal Curt said this feels like Spider-Man: Year One rather than Spider-Man: The Beginning, which is a great way to describe this film. We don’t get another version of Peter learning with great power comes great responsibility. Instead, we get a movie where he is already embraced his role, where is is learning his place in a world already filled with superheroes rather than how his powers work or how he should use them. There have been aspects from the previous iterations of Spider-Man I have enjoyed but Spider-Man: Homecoming finally gives the most accurate and consistent version of the character yet. And personally, I cannot be happier.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Jon Watts – Director / Story
Jonathan Goldstein – Screenplay / Story
John Francis Daley – Screenplay / Story
Christopher Ford – Screenplay
Chris McKenna – Screenplay
Erik Sommers – Screenplay
Michael Giacchino – Composer

Tom Holland – Peter Parker / Spider-Man
Jacob Batalon – Ned Leeds
Laura Harrier – Liz Allen
Zendaya – Michelle
Tony Revolori – Flash Thompson
Marisa Tomei – May Parker
Robert Downey, Jr. – Tony Stark / Iron Man
Jon Favreau – Happy Hogan
Michael Keaton – Adrian Toomes / Vulture
Bokeem Woodbine – Herman Schultz / Shocker #2
Michael Chernus – Phineas Mason / The Tinkerer
Michael Mando – Mac Gargon
Donald Glover – Aaron Davis

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 πŸ™‚ 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 β€œOh, 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 β€œpsychedelic.” 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 β€œout 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.