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Spider-Man: Homecoming – Review

15 Jul

It’s hard to believe that we’ve reached our 16th Marvel movie, and it’s finally one that stars my favorite superhero of all time: Spider-Man. In Captain America: Civil War, Tom Holland was introduced as Peter Parker, also known as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. It was really exciting to see a new iteration of the character that wasn’t awful (Yes, I’m looking at you Amazing Spider-Man). Now, Holland’s back and he’s front and center in Spider-Man: Homecoming, which is one of my most anticipated movies of the year. I have to say, I love the Web Head, and this was a really good movie that’s here to kickstart his own series of stand alone films. In that way, it works really well and I can’t wait to see it again, but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed in the end result.

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) seems like a mild mannered teenager just struggling to fit in at school. His best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), is socially inept but lovable, but what Parker really can’t get his mind off of is Liz (Laura Harrier), the girl of his dreams who he fears he doesn’t stand a chance with. Seems like pretty normal stuff for a guy his age, but after school he also fights crime in anyway he can as the superhero, Spider-Man. He can’t seem to get too far in his crimefighting endeavors with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) constantly on his case about his safety and how his abilities have progressed. Things get even riskier when Spidey finds out that Chitauri weaponry is being sold on the streets of New York, and the culprit is one Adrian Toomes, aka Vulture (Michael Keaton). Peter is determined to get these weapons off the street and stop Vulture, but despite his good intentions and will power he still doesn’t have the full range of his powers nor his suit, which will make this particular mission very difficult to accomplish.

I had really high hopes going into this movie just because my favorite superhero was finally getting a proper MCU treatment, but also because of all the rave reviews I was hearing about from screenings before the official release date. I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me and think I thought the movie was bad. That’s simply not the case, and I’d go so far as to say it was really good. Let’s get the negatives out of the way immediately so we can get into the good stuff later. My biggest complaint is that a lot of the story focused on Peter’s school. I understand that Spider-Man is a younger hero, especially compared to some of the other Avengers (that means you, Cap), and it is a good idea to show his interactions with kids his own age. All of the actors were very good, but it just wasn’t nearly as interesting as what was happening with Vulture and the Chitauri weapons. I’m also not thrilled when superheroes in their films don’t have full control over their powers. I know this is Spidey’s first film in the MCU and he has a lot of growing to do, but it was such a tease to see him webbing all over New York while I was thinking he was capable of so much more. I will say, however, that I’m excited to see the character evolve more in the movies to come.

Now that we got the negatives out of the way, it’s time to have some more fun. Let’s start with the cast. Tom Holland is clearly the best choice to play a young Peter Parker. He’s full of the nervous energy that defines Peter, but once you get him in that Spider-Man suit, he all attitude and brimming with that lovable arrogance that only the Web-Slinger could pull off. There’s also scenes that get pretty heavy on the drama and Holland also manages to pull those scenes off with relative ease. At this point, there really is no one else for this role. He completely owns it. Michael Keaton as Vulture was also unsurprisingly great, but what is surprising is just how well rounded Vulture was. The MCU doesn’t always have the strongest villains, especially since Loki in the first Avengers movie. Keaton gives what could be the best villain performance since Hiddleston. His character has some real depth and understandable motivation, but that motivation could have certainly been explored just a little bit more. Who surprised me the most out of the whole cast was Jacob Batalon as Ned. He had some of the funniest lines in the movie but he wasn’t there solely for comedic relief. He actually got into the adventure with Spider-Man/Peter Parker and it made his character all the better for it.

Let’s get to the action, since that’s something these movies rely so heavily on. Is the action in Homecoming fantastic? Sometimes. It definitely has its moments, but like I said before, Spidey doesn’t have complete control of his powers yet. Vulture’s suit does look awesome in these sequences though, and Jon Watts does have a good eye for directing large action set pieces, which is certainly not an easy thing to do. Adding to the pleasing aesthetics of this movie is Michael Giacchino’s excellent score that fits every piece of action, drama, and comedy perfectly. I’ve always liked Giacchino’s work and this entry into his catalogue is extra impressive. Finally, we have to take a look at how this movie fits in with the others of the MCU. Well, to put it simply, it fits very well. Tony Stark being in the movie works great, but the character that really pulled me into the world building even more was Happy. He provided some excellent comedic relief and also helped push the overall story of the MCU forward. This movie doesn’t just get me excited for more Spider-Man movies, it also gets me pumped for whatever comes next in this universe we’ve all gotten so attached to. Finally, and without spoiling anything, keep an eye out for some of Spider-Man’s most iconic villains that share some screen time with Vulture.

Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t quite the movie I wanted it to be. It focused a lot on Peter’s high school life while I could’ve used a bit more with the villains and their evil schemes, and even some more time with Tony and Happy. This is Spider-Man’s first feature length movie in this universe, so I understand the character building, but it didn’t excite me the way I wanted it to. Luckily, Tom Holland and Michael Keaton’s performances were outstanding and the action sequences along with the music were as thrilling as they could ever be. The Wall-Crawler definitely has a good future in front of him in terms of the big screen and I can’t wait to see the next installment.

Final Grade: B+

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Review

6 May

In 2014, Marvel took a gamble and released Guardians of the Galaxy, which featured a team of heroes that were way more under the radar than any of the Avengers. Since it’s release, everyone can confidently say who Star Lord or Groot are because the film was so much fun. It made a killing at the box office and stands as one of the MCU’s greatest entries. It was inevitable that a sequel would be made featuring the beloved intergalactic crew, and it was up to James Gunn to once again capture everything we love about the first film and make something new. While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t quite as excellent as the first film, this is still a worthy sequel that provides a lot of laughs, action, and heart.

Peter Qull (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are known far and wide as the Guardians of the Galaxy. After helping the Sovereign race to protect important batteries from a space monster, and robbing them soon after, the Guardians find themselves stranded on a planet with Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), as their captive. They are soon met by Ego (Kurt Russel) and his assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Ego informs Quill that he is his father and brings the Guardians back to his planet. As the team learns more, they begin to discover that this planet may not be what it seems, so they have to set aside their differences and team up with Yondu (Michael Rooker) to stop a force that threatens the entire galaxy.

There’s plenty to talk about with this movie because this is kind of an odd entry into the MCU. It has all of the energy that the original film did and it’s excellent to see the characters all together again, but the story in this one if very different than the first one, which is actually kind of a good thing. Let’s start with the negatives. For one thing, the pacing of this movie is really off. Things start off with a bang, but the team soon splits up and the story kind of loses track of itself. There’s what’s happening on Ego’s planet, but than there’s also a story involving Yondu, Rocket, Groot, and some Ravagers who hold a mutiny. Both of these stories seem equally important, so I was unsure where the movie was going. Luckily, the narrative finds itself again after some time and really makes up for some of the odd pacing. Another issue I had with this movie is the fact that it got a little mean spirited. Sure, the original movie had a lot of off color humor, but this one makes some of the characters (mostly Drax and Rocket) just come off as obnoxious and overly rude at times. It was a bit of a departure in tone, and I wasn’t really fond of it. Fortunately, this happens in just a few scenes and isn’t really a big deal for most of the movie.

Despite some weird narrative issues, when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 decides to let loose, it gets crazy. This movie has some really wild action that made me smile so hard I thought my head would rip in two. The best part of the movie features Yondu, Rocket, and Baby Groot getting the best of some mutineers. That scene alone was just blockbuster perfection and is the reason why these movies are so beloved by fans. For all of the action and humor, this movie also has a lot of heart to it that gives it the emotional weight these comic book movies really need to be taken seriously. Forget how Captain America: Civil War made you feel. This movie has some real drama that may not leave a dry eye in the theater. It’s one thing to make a major CGI fest that focuses on wowing you with the action and the spectacle, which Guardians does, but it has so much more to it than that.

Speaking of CGI, this movie has some of the best special effects I’ve seen all year. The ships whizzing through space engaging in over the top dogfights made it hard to blink. There’s so much happening in some of these set pieces, it’s hard to believe that actual humans created these scenes. What’s excellent about this movie, and this is no surprise knowing who James Gunn is, there are some really excellent practical effects and make up as well. The Sovereign race is painted gold, but it looks perfect. The same can be said about Gamora and Yondu’s make up. I spent some of the time just trying to find one flaw with the make up, but there were just none to be found.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 isn’t quite as good or exciting as the first film. The first one was honestly just perfect. It was such an epic story it would’ve been hard to beat. Still, this is a really good sequel that captured the heart of the first film and reworks it to create something different. The story feels a bit smaller and disconnected from the rest of the workings of the MCU, but it also feels more personal to the Guardians. Any fan of this universe should have a blast with this movie. I know I sure did.

Final Grade: B+

Doctor Strange – Review

6 Nov

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown and expanded so much more than I ever expected since the days of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. After showcasing those more mainstream heroes, including Captain America and Thor, it was time for Marvel and Disney to add something new to the mix and bring in some lesser known heroes. Ant Man was the first to really go somewhere strange, and the inclusion of Black Panther in Civil War was just awesome. Now, with Doctor Strange, we’re going down a wormhole that I never expected to see in an MCU movie. This is probably the most unique film in the entire franchise, and is most definitely one of my new favorites. Who woulda thunk it?

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Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an accomplished, world renowned neurosurgeon who may operate on other people, but it only working for himself and his own inflated ego. After a devastating car accident leaves him with permanent nerve damage in his hands, Strange tries every medical technique he can find until he hears about this mystical clan in Kathmandu that helped a paraplegic walk again. Upon arriving at the secret training ground, Kamar-Taj, Strange is shown the secrets of multidimensional existence by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and is appointed a teacher, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Though reluctant at first, Strange becomes a star pupil and soon has to put everything he’s learned to the test when the treacherous magician Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelson) returns to unleash dark lord Dormammu and the Dark Dimension onto the earth.

I knew next to nothing about this character before going into this movie, so my expectations were a little weird. I was expecting something entertaining and disposable like Ant Man, but I got something so much more. This is more than just a comic book action film. While it works as an adaptation of a Marvel comic that builds on a universe that keeps on growing, it’s also a really impressive and mid bending fantasy. Listening to the characters talk about muliverses and mirror dimensions along with the lingering presence of the Dark Dimension and Dormammu just sounded so cool. It made even the extended scenes of dialogue feel just as exciting as the scenes with magic. The world that the screenwriters crafted with Doctor Strange is so fantastical, it’s impossible to complain at all about the lack of imagination put into superhero movies.

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So while the dialogue is all really cool, it wouldn’t be worth it if all the magic and special effects on display couldn’t match what they are all talking about. This is where Doctor Strange shines the brightest. This film has some of the best special effects I’ve seen all year. There was one point in the movie where Strange, Mordo, and Kaecilius are fighting and running through a city that is completely folding in on itself and coming apart like a kaleidoscope. Some of that scene was shown in the trailers, but it’s so much crazier than the trailers ever made it out to be. It was like Inception on steroids and LSD. The climax of the movie also plays out much differently than in most movies like this. It fits in very well with the rest of the movie and will certainly not disappoint.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as a Bostonian in Black Mass was a little awkward to say the least, so I was a bit concerned with how he’d handle the accent for Stephen Strange. My concerns were unwarranted since it’s clear he is the best choice for this character. He’s funny, arrogant, and sympathetic at the same time which makes this a fully realized character that is brought to life by a great performance by Cumberbatch. Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor also give very good performances, but I have to give an extra special shout out to Mads Mikkelson as Kaecilius. While his character didn’t have nearly as much screen time as I may have wanted, he stole every scene he was in and is one of the more memorable villains in the recent MCU.

 

Doctor Strange has so much imagination, action, fantasy, and humor crammed into it that it sometimes feel like it might burst from the awesomeness. The actors all do a splendid job with the roles and the special effects are going to make you feel like a kid on Christmas. This is definitely one of the better movies in the MCU, and while it may not be the best, it’s definitely one of my new favorites in the franchise.

Final Grade: A

Captain America: Civil War – Review

10 May

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has turned into one of the biggest franchises of all time, and it just keeps on growing with new shows and movies coming out all of the time. Some people are down right sick of it all, but I welcome any and all new comers as long as they’re made well and are still entertaining. The last film released in the MCU was Ant-Man, a relatively minor movie but still a whole lot of fun. Now with Captain America: Civil War, we’re back to the epic scale and cast of characters we haven’t seen the likes of since Avengers: Age of Ultron. To put it simply, Civil War might just be the best Marvel movie to date for the action, the story, and the character development.

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After the incident in Sokovia and a more recent incident in Lagos, both of which resulted in the deaths of innocent people, the governments of the world have decided that it’s time to put the Avengers in check. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) comes to Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) with a UN agreement that places the Avengers under the control of a government panel, which will be responsible for where and when the group of superhumans would be put into action. This doesn’t bode well with Steve, but after his long lost friend Bucky/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is seen assassinating a government official, Steve has to decide to become a fugitive to help his friend. This causes a great divide between the Avengers which leads to a showdown for the ages.

This is a pretty hard movie to summarize in just one paragraph because there is so much that happens, but it’s all told in a manner that flows nicely and never becomes boring. While the movie is a sequel to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it also acts as a sequel for Age of Ultron while also setting up characters like Black Panther and Spider-Man, both of whom I will get to later. I don’t want to distract myself here, but I can’t help thinking that this is what Batman v Superman was supposed to be. This is a film that has a core premise that it never strays away from while also introducing new things to this constantly growing and changing universe. It makes me excited to talk more about Civil War, but also what’s to come.

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The directors of this film, Anthony and Joe Russo, were also the film makers behind The Winter Soldier, which finally gave ol’ Cap the treatment that he deserved. It was an excellent film and they were really the obvious choices to continue the story with Civil War. They bring a sense of reality to the superhero genre that people have tried to do and not succeeded. It isn’t as real world as something like Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, but the things that happen in this film are done in such a way that I could almost picture it happening in real life. I know that must sound absolutely absurd since this is a superhero film, and I agree it is absurd. Isn’t that the job of movies though? To take the viewer and make them believe what they’re seeing. The Russo brothers do an excellent job at making this film, for all of its bombastic set pieces, have a grounding in the real world where there are consequences for your actions and a large gray area between right and wrong.

Every hero in this movie gets their own time to shine, and that’s pretty important when the cast is this huge. Captain America, the Winter Soldier, and Iron Man are at the forefront and clash well both with words and violence. We all know that these actors were made for these parts, so I don’t even need to get into it. The real scene stealers were Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). These three heroes are the newest editions to this universe so it was important that they got time to show off what they can really do. Black Panther kicks an outrageous amount of ass, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is the best I’ve seen yet, and Ant-Man is just a ridiculous amount of fun.

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Captain America: Civil War is the most important of the Marvel films to date, in terms of the overall story, and it’s also one of, if not the most well made of all the movies. Anthony and Joe Russo are excellent blockbuster film makers, and the cast all help create characters we can stand behind. If super hero movies keep up this level of entertainment, then they can just keep on coming. This is not only my favorite Captain America movie, but also my favorite movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Ant-Man – Review

26 Jul

Every years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe just keeps getting bigger and bigger, which I guess meant that the next hero had to be the smallest one of them all. Before watching this movie, I really had no prior experience with the characters of Hank Pym, Scott Lang, or Ant-Man. Just a few minor detail and notes were all I had to go on, so I didn’t really know what to expect, and I was actually a little bit nervous about the whole thing. Luckily, Ant-Man is a welcome addition into the MCU, and aside from a few minor complaints, this is one of the most fun films of the franchise that dons the same kind of feel that Guardians of the Galaxy did.

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After being released from prison, professional thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is working hard to find a job in order to pay child support for his daughter so that he can finally spend time with her again. He is finally backed into a corner and decides to take a job given to him by his friend Luis (Michael Peña), which involves breaking into a house to rob a mysterious vault. Turns out that this job was actually set up by former S.H.I.E.L.D agent and scientist Hank Pym (Micahel Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). They explain to Scott that they need him to don a special suit and become Ant-Man in order to break into Pym’s old research facilities and steal a prototype for a Yellowjacket suit that will be used by the villainous Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) to wage world wars. Of course, it’s never as easy as it seems with job culminating in a fight to the death between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket.

Just a few months ago I was writing my review for Avengers: Age of Ultron, which is probably the most epic film in this franchise thus far. So, we’re going from that to Ant-Man, which is (no pun intended) a lot smaller. Luckily, the creative talent behind this movie was more than capable for making up for all that. This is a Marvel movie the likes I’ve never seen before. It’s a lot more than just a good guy against a bad guy. In fact, I would argue that that isn’t even the main focus of the movie. The main focus is actually the planning and execution of the heist to secure the Yellowjacket suit. The bottom line is that this is a heist movie starring a superhero. How cool is that?

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Like with Guardians of the Galaxy and both of The Avengers movies, the writing in Ant-Man is really sharp and quick. I credit a lot of this to the original screenwriter and director Edgar Wright, but I can’t discount the rewrites done by Adam McKay and Paul Rudd. All of these guys have shown their talent for both comedy and drama, and all of that comes together in a nice clean package here. This film is both funny and often dramatic, but never overwhelming in either of these departments. There’s a healthy balance between the two ends of the spectrum, and between those two ends is a lot of really great and inventive action. The character of Ant-Man may seem a little silly, but seeing him in action, wether he’s riding on ants or shrinking down to utilize his super strength, is just a joy to behold.

I just want to take a moment to address some of the not so great parts of this movie, because unfortunately there are some. For example, Darren Cross isn’t exactly a great villain. They just sort of explain that his brain has been poisoned by the formula that can make the suits shrink, but they don’t actually dive into that and examine him as a character. All you need to know is he’s bad and Scott Lang is good. That’s kind of disappointing. Also, there gets to be a point in the movie where things just start to happen so the story can keep progressing. I get that that may have been done to make sure the movie didn’t get overly long, but it also just felt kinda weak at the same time. These are, thankfully, pretty minor complaints overall.

So in a world where superhero movies have flooded theaters all over the world, I’m happy to say that Ant-Man is a more than welcome addition. It’s filled with humor, action, nice drama, and all of the references you would come to expect watching a movie that’s part of the MCU. Not only is it a great stand alone film, it also makes me really excited about what’s to come. Don’t miss out on this one.

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Review

3 May

Sure, this is only going to be the biggest movie event of the year. No pressure. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become one of the biggest money makers in the last decade, and you can see why. Because it’s so fantastic, you can’t help but love it. Anyway, it’s time to talk about the movie that I’ve been most excited about for the past year, Avengers: Age of Ultron. After almost completely destroying New York City in the first film, there was a lot that had to happen in this movie to make it really stand out, and of course a lot of people have been saying it’s underwhelming. To those people I ask, what movie were you watching?

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After everything that’s happened since the last film, the Avengers are reassembled to finally reclaim Loki’s scepter from a HYDRA outpost. After calling the mission successful, the team is faced with an entirely new problem. Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) artificial intelligence program that has been in the works becomes fully aware and takes on the form of the arch villain Ultron (James Spader).  After seeing the fallacies of the human race, Ultron begins his plan to enact a mass extinction so the species can hopefully evolve into something better, but that doesn’t sit well with the Avengers, and it’s up to them with the help of a few others to end the Age of Ultron.

I sometimes feel the need to say this, and this is definitely one of those times. That was a very difficult summary to write, and I know for a fact that I didn’t do it justice. Let’s face it, so much happened in this movie. Like a ridiculous amount compared to other movies, but what do you expect? We’ve all come to love these characters and really care about what happens to them, and now they’re all in the same movie once again. This time, however, Joss Whedon takes the characters and gives them more to do and more of a backstory for us all to appreciate. Another big plus that really stands out is that Hawkeye gets way more to do in this movie, and in fact has become one of my favorite characters.

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As with the other film, the writing in this movie is spot on, but it’s also where my only complaint really arises. James Spader does an excellent job as Ultron. They really couldn’t have found a more appropriate voice. The thing is, is that he was too funny. I would have loved to see a much darker villain, but it was almost as if they were substituting him for Loki. Loki was funny and it was appropriate. I can’t really say the same for Ultron. Still, the humor everywhere else was great. All of the characters interacted with each other very well, and you could tell that they’ve been working together for a while. Even secondary characters from other movies were written in and written in well. These additions of other characters makes Age of Ultron feel like the biggest Marvel movie yet.

While this movie is very funny, it also works great with the dramatic aspects. Sure, there’s more than enough action, chases, explosions, and destruction, but what may be even more interesting than that is what happens to the characters. We see more of their private lives and what makes them tick and where they all came from. Even Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch get great backstories which makes the audience actually care about them. If they succeed at their mission, we feel great, but if someone gets injured or dies, we’re going to feel that pain as well. This is what really makes these Marvel movies stand out amongst summer blockbusters. The characters, no matter how fantastic they are, are so three dimensional and solid that we really do care and want to see them succeed.

To put it simply, Age of Ultron may not be as great as the first film, but still it’s an amazing movie. It felt so great seeing all of these characters come together again to duke it out against Ultron. What I want people to take away from this review is that these Marvel movies are about the characters. The action and special effects in this movie are amazing, but what really hits home are the Avengers themselves. I not only loved watching this movie, but I loved the feeling of excitement that came after when I began thinking about what was next. What a great way to start the summer movie season.