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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

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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.

Fantastic Four – Review

3 Sep

I always look at movies at having a certain kind of structure. Every movie I watch has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In that regard I have to hold Fantastic Four as one of the most complex experimental films I have ever seen. I’m kidding, of course. That would be the same as me saying that Fantastic Four is the best comedy of the year. Let’s be honest, though. This is a superhero “movie” released in the year 2015, and this is the best they had to offer. Fantastic Four is one of the most gut wrenchingly awful movies I’ve seen in a long time, if you can even call it a movie.

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Reed Richards (Miles Teller), who along with his close friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), have been working since childhood to perfect a device that could act as a teleporter. This catches the eye of scientist Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) at a high school science fair. They bring Reed and Ben to the Baxter Foundation, along with Franklin’s son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and outcast Victor von Doom (Toby Kebbell), to build it on a much grander scale. When the government wants to use their people as its first explorers, Reed leads his team on a rogue trip to another dimension where they accidentally receive superpowers, but also lose von Doom. As the kids are being utilized by the military thanks to their unique powers, the threat of someone now being called Dr. Doom looms in the next dimension waiting for revenge.

I have to give Fantastic Four a lot of credit for being a big budget blockbuster release without actually being a movie. This isn’t a movie, plain and simple. Let’s start at the beginning. We’re introduced to cardboard cutout recreations of the beloved comic book character. Since they seem to be completely devoid of all personality, it goes without saying that there is absolutely no chemistry between any of them. I can’t even blame the cast because they’re all very talented actors. Miles Teller and Toby Kebbell especially seem to be really trying to work with the lackluster material that was given to them. So with all of the characters introduced and all of the exposition given, the movie continues simply because it has to in order to get to the end, without any visible rhyme or reason.

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Now we come to the middle of the “movie.” Whether you like the 2005 version or not, you have to admit that it at least builds up some sort of suspense and relationship between the characters. In this version, there is none of that. After they get their powers, we skip to one year later, and they all have complete control over their abilities. Great. So one of the most fun parts of the “movie” doesn’t even exist. The characters who will later go on to be one of the greatest superhero teams in comic book history don’t even really spend any time together or talk at all, so when they are finally all forced to combine their powers (a scene which I am unfortunately getting to) it doesn’t feel cool because they haven’t been through anything together. It’s like the whole second act of the “movie” was scrapped which made me feel like I was missing a lot.

The third act of Fantastic Four may go down as one of the best punchlines ever put on screen. It so perfectly completes the joke. Instead of seeing a fight between the Fantastic Four and their arch enemy Dr. Doom, we see… I don’t really know what. It’s not a fight certainly. It’s not even a climax since nothing was really building to it. The scene just happens because it’s a “movie” about the Fantastic Four, so we need a final showdown where they all work together as a team. But they still don’t even really do that. What was everyone working on this “movie” thinking? Have they ever watched anything else before? What twilight zone an I in that something this ludicrous, muddled, and nonsensical can be released?

How can this “movie” even be called Fantastic Four when they really aren’t even in it. I saw no evidence of them or Dr. Doom or any of the other characters. This movie was in trouble from the start with the rights to the material, the studios making major changes, and Josh Trank’s apparent behavior on set. Fine, whatever. That’s not what I’m talking about. The fact that it’s 2015 and a superhero movie like this can be released is absolutely ridiculous. I can only hope that this acts as a punch in the face to studios, telling them that just because it has comic book characters in it, doesn’t mean it can’t fail miserably.

Guardians of the Galaxy – Review

7 Aug

It almost feels like Christmas when a trailer for a new Marvel movie comes out. Following the first viewing comes months of speculation on how the movies going to be and what might possibly happen based on our knowledge of the universe, the comic books, and the characters. When I first saw the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy, a title which I knew next to nothing about, I immediately began preparing and even went out and bought some of the graphic novels so I could learn the characters. My hopes were high going into this film and were raised even higher when I left the theater. This is a spot on Marvel film that nearly earns perfection.

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As a young boy, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is abducted by an alien ship and turns into one of the more underestimated space pirates in the galaxy. After finding a priceless orb, Quill, now calling himself Star Lord, becomes the bounty if his former mentor Yondu (Michael Rooker). Not only is Yondu after him, but so is a trained assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who is apparently working for the evil Kree Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a genetically engineered raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and his bodyguard, a humanoid tree named Groot (Vin Diesel). These unlikely future heroes soon collide and end up in a prison with the vengeful Drax (Dave Bautista), who is hell bent on finding Ronan and killing him for the atrocities done to Drax’s family. With the band of misfits finally formed, they begin to realize the power that the orb really has and who is the puppeteer who has his eyes on it as a weapon of macrocosmic destruction.

As soon as the trailer was first revealed, it was obvious that this was going to be a movie that isn’t even really in the same ball park as The Avengers. Yes, there are major connections to the previous films that are going to be important to the overall story, but the feeling of this movie is completely different. This is an excellent conglomeration of super hero action and science fiction wonder. There’s space travel, dogfights, aliens all in the universe of all the other Marvel heroes. Needless to say the universe that has been created already just got a whole lot bigger with Guardians of the Galaxy what with all the new characters and plots. This was a big project that was successful because of all the people that were involved and the intelligence with which it was produced.

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First of all, I have to commend the writing of this movie. Not only is it really cool science fiction, it’s also hilarious. The one liners in this movie are enough to make a Vulcan chuckle with mild delight. It’s mostly on point, but there were a few times where some of the jokes dragged on a little bit and lost the luster it never really had. It’s not good if a joke falls flat, but it’s bad if they keep running with the dead joke. This happens only once or twice in the movie so it isn’t even that big of a deal. But with the comedy and the action comes really good scenes of drama. The opening scene is dramatic enough to carry the entire movie, but when the Guardians are at their lowest, the audience feels it, and that’s due to the work of the writers, the director James Gunn, and the perfectly casted group of actors.

These characters are very distinct in their own way, and to nail them each perfectly isn’t an easy task. Pratt is the obvious choice for Peter Quill with both the way he looks and his personality, and anyone who saw The Iron Giant wouldn’t be surprised to see Diesel as the role of Groot. The only person who gets a little awkward at times is Saldana as Gamora, even though she evens it out with some terrific acting towards the end. The real scene stealers, however, are Bradley Cooper as Rocket and Dave Bautista as Drax. I was expecting Cooper to knock it out of the part as the wise cracking raccoon, and he did, but Bautista delivered some of my favorite lines in the movie. His completely serious attitude was perfect for Drax’s moments of being unintentionally hilarious.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a great looking movie, a well acted movie, and also expertly written and directed. Marvel took a gamble on this one. This isn’t the most popular comic book they ever created and it would’ve been easy to stick with the heroes they’re already using. Instead, they went out on a limb and made this film which has proved to be the definitive blockbuster film of the year, in my opinion. It has action, laughs, heart, and characters who are easy to love. This is an excellent film that I can’t wait to see again and again and again.

Iron Man 3 – Review

8 May

It’s so nice to see old friends again, granted the old friends I’m talking about are characters in a Marvel movie. But you know what, I don’t think that’s so weird. Through all the Iron Man films, I’ve grown really attached to Tony, Pepper, James, and even Jarvis. Here they are again, all returning for the highly anticipated Iron Man 3, the kick starter of the summer movie season. If this movie is any indication of what the summer’s going to be like, then it’s gonna be great overall, with a very punishing disappointment…

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Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) hasn’t been doing so well since the events of The Avengers, which makes a lot of sense since he went into a wormhole to set off a nuclear bomb and save New York City. The stress and anxiety has also took a toll on the love of his life, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow), who can’t seem to take the nervous outbursts and distance of Tony. Their world literally seems to come crashing down with the threat of a new global terrorist, the Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley), as bombs begin detonating all over America. Tony wages a one man war against the Mandarin, only to realize that his past is back to haunt him in the form of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who adds another layer to the Mandarin threat that no one could have expected.

I could start with what I really enjoyed about the movie and how it had some of the best moments than any of the Iron Man movies to date, but I think I’m going to start with something else. Yes, this part will contain spoilers, but it is absolutely essential for me to get this off my arc reactor.

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Ok, so halfway through the movie, Tony Stark finds the Mandarin’s hideout and goes there to kick some terrorist ass. Cool, right? The first meeting! It would be cool, except it turns out that the Mandarin is some low life, junky actor hired by Aldrich Killian to distract the powers that be from his nefarious plot. So… the Mandarin’s a joke? Is that it? He’s not real? Killian’s not the Mandarin, although he has some traits that can be attributed to the Mandarin. The real one isn’t real at all. What in the world were they thinking? At first I couldn’t take this. It was all just too much to handle, but as the movie went on I kinda got used to it and thought it was a little clever. There’s still this taste in the back of my throat that I just can’t get rid of whenever I think about how the Mandarin gets treated.

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The rest of this movie is really intense, though. In fact, I’d say this is the most intense Avengers tie-in to date. There are parts in this movie that really pull on your heart strings and remind you how much you really care for these characters. I can guarantee you that you will forget how to breath during a couple of Iron Man 3‘s more intense moments. Shane Black is an accomplished director who has a knack of creating action films that are charged with humor, his most popular being the Lethal Weapon series. My personal favorite of his is Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This movie is loaded with humor, even at the heaviest of moments just to remind us that Tony has it under control.

But he really doesn’t have it under control. The most effective scenes are the intimate moments of weakness that we very rarely see with Stark. The past three movies that he’s been in, he’s been the overconfident one who knows how to handle a situation. In Iron Man 3, there were times where I really didn’t think he was going to make it through this whole thing ok. That’s what makes this movie so good. Stark’s character is built to such a degree that I’m really curious where they’re going to go from here.

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Is Iron Man 3 better than the first? It just may be, if not, it’s very close. There’s only one glaring, obnoxious problem in the movie that I’m still very unsure of. The rest of the movie is top notch summer entertainment. I can’t really let one thing bring the entire movie down. Proportionally, that just doesn’t make sense. As a start to the summer blockbuster, it’s great and puts me right in the mood for the new Thor movie. Let’s keep these superheroes coming.

 

X-Men: First Class – Review

4 Nov

The saga of the X-Men, whether read or watched, is long, often tragic, and occasionally funny. X-Men and X2: X-Men United were testaments to this and powerhouse super hero films. X3: The Last Stand held its own despite its flaws, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine passed by the skin of its teeth, or maybe claws might be more appropriate. I have just watched X-Men: First Class all the way through for the second time, and I will still defend it as being the best X-Men movie to date, and easily holds a place in the upper echelon of superhero films.

 

Despite having different motives, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) share a unique bond, their own separate mutation, that allows them to find themselves as allies. When an old Nazi enemy of Erik’s, Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), resurfaces and threatens the world with the promise of World War III, Xavier and Lensherr are hired by a secret branch of the American government to put a stop to him. After acquiring a team of young mutants, including Raven Darkholme aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Hank McCoy aka Beast  (Nicholas Hoult). Once assembled, there is only a short time to perfect their powers and learn to control them.

What is arguably one of the most important aspects of this movie is the chemistry between Charles and Erik. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen worked so well with each other that the pressure was certainly on for McAvoy and Fassbender. Fortunately, they forge a complex and engrossing relationship with ease, never once feeling like a strained attempt at character drama. While on the topic of chemistry, Fassbender and Bacon also share memorable scenes as two sworn enemies who also have reasons to respect one another.

 

What else is important in an X-Men movie? Action, of course. Whether it’s on top of the Statue of Liberty or in the hallways of the X Mansion, this series has plenty of memorable action sequences for fans to choose from. First Class is no exception from this. In fact, the entire final battle culminating on a dramatic stand off on a small island is pulse pounding excitement from start to finish with an incredible AHA! moment at the end. Seeing Erik lift an entire nuclear submarine out of the water while holding on for dear life to the wheel of the X Jet is certainly satisfying.

Probably the most abstract area of enjoyment for me was just the way the story was told. The rhythm of the movie remained constant and every scene seemed necessary, no matter how minor it seemed. Not once did I stop to see how much time was left or get distracted by something else because there was never a truly dull moment. There may be quiet scenes that reflect the more intimate sides of these characters, but they serve as an extra layer that adds depth and sympathy.

 

For a movie of this genre to evoke such a strong emotional response is commendable. It’s challenging to put these characters onscreen because we all know them so well that it may be hard to imagine them being anything else that fictional characters. Matthew Vaughn has achieved something remarkable in making these characters seem more grounded in reality than any other time of this series, or even in any other Marvel movie. Seeing the bond grown between Charles and Erik only to have it break in the most devastating of ways definitely tugged on the heart strings.

In summation, X-Men: First Class is not only the best X-Men movie yet, but also one of the best superhero movies I have seen, along with The Avengers and The Dark Knight. While The Avengers had the action, The Dark Knight had the heavy internal conflict, X-Men: First Class is about relationships and acceptance. They’re deep themes for a comic book adaptation, and while it may take a lot of liberties when it comes to sticking with the source material, this is a high quality film that will offer the viewer an excellent two hour ride.

The Avengers – Review

4 May

One of the first thoughts I had after leaving The Avengers last night was, “How can I review this film and still give it justice?” I’ve been training for this movie since I was a kid by watching the television shows, playing the games, and reading the books of the various characters in this film. I have so much to say, and worried that I’m just going to start rambling about how awesome it is. I’ll give it my best shot, so forgive me if I sound like a giddy school girl.

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Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is back with a vengeance in The Avengers, with plans to take over the world using the energy of the mysterious and ominous Tesseract.  Now, the director of S.H.I.EL.D, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assembles his team of extraordinary individuals. These are: the millionaire playboy Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.); the demigod Thor (Chris Hemsworth); the super soldier Steven Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans); gamma radiated scientist Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); sharp shooter Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner); and super agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson). Together they are The Avengers, and Loki is in for one hell of a battle for Earth.

The outstanding thing about this movie is that every superhero gets their share of screen time. One isn’t more important than the other, and every single one plays a vital role in accomplishing the mission. Even Hawkeye and Black Widow, who didn’t get their own individual tie-ins get a lot of screen time and are just as significant as characters like Thor and Captain America. I can even say that each hero got their own moment of just jaw-dropping awesomeness that my friends and I are still talking about.

I was a little worried that this movie was going to feel like it went on for too long with a run time of almost two and a half hours, especially since I was at the midnight movie and I had a small inkling of concern that I was going to fall asleep. I had absolutely no cause for concern. First of all, the movie felt like an hour and a half tops. The fact that I was in that theatre for two and a half hours is mind blowing. I just did not want the movie to end. Also, when the film first started, I immediately was wide awake and ready to go.

The special effects here are absolutely phenomenal. New York City is almost annihilated at the end, and it looks great. The fight scenes were also brilliantly choreographed and edited so that we got to see how each member was contributing to the battle. There was one long take in particular that travels all throughout the Manhattan battlefield to show all of the Avengers taking on numerous villains. It was so satisfying.

The performance were top notch. Tom Hiddleston is fantastically menacing as Loki, making him a villain we love to hate. Downey Jr. is appropriately sarcastic, and Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth pull off the tough talking but heroic persona of a superhero. The scene stealer in The Avengers, however, is Mark Ruffalo, who I didn’t put enough faith into. His Bruce Banner is very mild and soft spoken, but when he Hulks out, the audience is treated to the best Hulk scenes to grace the big screen.

I know I’m going to get a lot of heat from this next statement, but I believe that The Avengers surpasses The Dark Knight. Go ahead and disagree. That’s absolutely fine, but I can honestly say I was never more entertained by the action and surprisingly deep characters of The Avengers, and it was awesome to see all these heroes onscreen at the same time. It is the best super hero movie ever made, by far, and the scene during the end credits make me very impatient for the next one. I 110% recommend The Avengers, and I can’t wait to go back to the theaters and see it again.