Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

12 07 2017

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It’s weird to say that the sixth Spider-Man movie (that kicks off the third reboot) is not only a good idea, but exactly what we needed, but here we are. After the disastrous Amazing Spider-Man movies, with their overly brooding tone yet cheesy villains, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a breath of fresh air. It’s not free of problems, and hasn’t replaced Spider-Man 2 as my favorite spidey movie, but it fits neatly into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while also feeling like a standalone film.

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When Tony realizes his chances with Aunt May are gone.

Tom Holland makes an excellent Peter Parker, depicting the best high-school era version we’ve gotten (sorry,  Andrew Garfield was a terrible “nerdy” high school student). He seems like a normal teen blessed with powers who got to join an epic event (remember when he stole Captain America’s shield?), and then gets antsy and frustrated when it all seems to have ended. His Peter Parker was relatable, quippy and sufficiently awkward, just as it should be. His friends were also awkward but effective, particularly his hilarious best friend Ned (AKA The Guy in the Chair).

Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man acted the benefactor/mentor character quite well in his own trademark style (his opening banter with Peter in the car was especially entertaining). However, he was appropriately off to the side- this needed to be focused on Peter Parker, not Tony Stark. I appreciated how they realistically explained why he wasn’t around more, and showed that he wasn’t completely leaving Peter unsupervised, thanks to the (invasive) surveillance and “training wheel” protocols (Happy still could have been a little more accommodating with the whole “liaison” thing though).

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You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

I really enjoyed watching Vulture as the villain. Michael Keaton was a thousand times better as an antagonist than any garbage bad guys the two Amazing Spider-Man movies tried to offer (remember how terrible those villains were?!). Vulture actually had some motivation, with helping his family and workers, and that blue-collar-everyman status earned him sympathy from the audience (at least until we saw his swanky house). His portrayal of the Vulture brought back warm fuzzy memories of Molina’s Doctor Octopus from Spider-Man 2. He was also more menacing than expected, with palpable tension present in the car scene.

I’m also glad Vulture didn’t die. It would have just been another tragic friend/girlfriend’s parental figure who died indirectly because of Spider-Man, who would then beat himself up over again. That story-line has been used so many times already in previous Spider-Man films, it’s become its own trope.

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Forget the Washington Monument- it’ll take weeks to rebuild that Lego Death Star,

Besides the epic new version of the old Spider-Man theme song we got in the beginning, the score wasn’t too memorable. However that does seem to be par for the course with Marvel Avengers movies, or maybe Hans Zimmerman spoiled me with the Dark Knight trilogy. There was also plenty of CGI, but nothing too obvious or glaring- this is about a guy swinging on a web fighting a mechanical bird man, after all.

I enjoyed the “street level” feel of the movie- no alien invasion or giant warships here, just a gang selling weapons with modified alien tech from the Avengers New York fight. It was also nice to have a Spider-Man movie where he doesn’t go through 10 levels of drama fawning after a girl; this was more like a high school crush. I’m still not down with this version of Aunt May, and don’t even get me STARTED with “MJ,” who’s completely different in appearance and personality than any other version of Mary Jane. I understand wanting to make things different, but those two character interpretations are so out of left field it’s distracting. And yes, I’m aware that they stated later she’s actually not Mary Jane, but that just makes her line a big, dumb Easter egg that’s not even a real Easter egg. Zendaya’s character was perfect without confusing everyone with a cheap twist.

All in all though, I really enjoyed this movie. It was colorful, humorous, and entertaining, unlike the last three Spider-Man movies (did I mention I hated those?). I’m excited to see where they take this, and how Peter’s world might change after the next two Avengers films.

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My face, when she called herself “MJ.”

 

 





Doctor Strange- Review

27 11 2016

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Put on your 3D glasses and prepare for wand-less magic, ’cause it’s time for Doctor Strange! Roughly the 200th entry in the Marvel franchise, this time it’s British Cumberbatch starring as that superhero you never heard about. Surprisingly (and unfortunately), Benedict as Dr. Strange puts on a sometimes-strained American accent, vs. his beloved British one. Even more surprising (for me) is that Doctor Strange is a solidly entertaining movie that makes some bold creative moves- moves that pay off.

To get the obvious point out of the way, yes, hopefully the creators sent a nice thank-you note to Inception. If bending buildings and multiple realities didn’t trigger any memories, you probably never saw that Nolan film. However, Strange rides the crazy train a few more stops with the visual insanity. Taking a queue from Ant Man‘s other dimension, Stephen Strange teleports and travels through multiple universes filled with randomness and tripiness. The hands. Oh, the hands! Sparking portals, dark dimensions, and weapons pulled out of thin air made this my favorite 3-D movie to come out in a long time.

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Besides Benedict, the highlight for me was Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One (which by the way, should not be a name you give to a woman). She brought a character who was unassuming but confident, and serious with an ever-present under layer of humor. It’s a nuanced performance that stands out in a movie of big, big villains and forgettable girlfriends. Speaking of villains, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), though played by a fine villain actor, is here simply an average bad guy, which makes him one of the top 3 villains in the Marvel movie universe. If we had maybe a few more minutes of screentime with him, and maybe a bit more clarification on his motives, this could have gone from a good movie to a great one.

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Like most of you, I had little to no previous knowledge about the comic series of Doctor Strange, but this thankfully was not a stumbling block. I felt like I was keeping up, and even when things got really weird, I could just watch the pretty things fly by in 3D. It also played out like a normal superhero origins movie at its core (complete with training montage), but was mixed with enough acting and writing talent to keep me entertained.

Altogether, for me Doctor Strange was one of the stronger standalone Marvel movies. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, it didn’t bend over backwards to advertise every other Marvel film, and it bucked a bit of their normal story formula, focusing instead on being its own movie. Heck, they even rebuild the city in the climactic fight instead of tearing it down. However, it maintains the humor, action, and world-building prowess of the Marvel film universe, and proves that there’s still magic up their sleeve (har! har!).





The Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

19 05 2015

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First of all, sorry about the late review. I’ve assembled (zing!) twice now in the theaters to see this popcorn blockbuster known as Age of Ultron, but life happens, and it’s not like anyone was waiting for my opinion anyway. BUT, I do want to talk about this latest entry. Ultron is less straightforward than the first Avengers film, but that’s actually a good thing in my view. I like that they created their own greatest fear (pointed out by Ultron), and also the whole twin subplot. In addition, we got everything most people want in these movies. More heroes and villains? Check. Easter eggs and crazy action scenes, including that sweet slow-mo sequence around the “key”? Double check.

That’s not to say this was a perfect movie. The weakest parts of this and most current Marvel movies were the awkward setups for another movie. Hey look, Asgard is going to pot for some reason. Don’t really care now. Go fight Ultron. I’m going to watch the next Thor movie, Marvel. Just quit reminding me that there are more movies with these characters, because that really takes the tension out of this one.  Please just make a solid, standalone movie, preferably one without a random cave sequence with a side character (steps down from soapbox).

In other news, Black Widow has no idea who she likes. I mean, first Avengers, who is she paired with? That’s right class, Hawkeye. And remember how she flirts and kisses Bruce Banner in Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Oh wait, that was Captain America. Anyway, if you accept this left-field mood swing (who HASN’T had this happen in a relationship? Sorry, bitter.), it’s not too unbearable. Call me whatever you want, but the scenes with their awkward flirty banter dragged on too long for my tastes.

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Don’t get on his Black List.

The original magic of seeing all the separate heroes in one movie is gone, but honestly there’s no way that could be replicated. Perhaps the new Avengers at the end will help in the next one? I actually enjoyed how we could jump straight into their team fighting a massive battle in the first scene. And, despite what I said about Thor’s visions, the Avengers’ fearful dreams caused by Scarlet Witch’s manipulations were a brilliant way to deepen each character, while still advancing the plot. I’m looking forward to more of the new recruits, but it will be depressing if we don’t get to watch the originals’ fun dynamic anymore.

James Spader and Elizabeth Olsen were my standout favorites. Elizabeth Olsen (thankfully not the twins) hasn’t been in a lot of big movies, and that actually helped her character’s innocence in a way. She and Quicksilver were convincing along their personal journeys. James Spader basically played Robot James Spader, and that’s a good thing. Some comic book purists apparently took issue with him not being as menacing as in the comics, but he DID nearly destroy the entire Earth, right? Not too shabby, all while being zany in a creepy way. Look, when have we ever been worried that the villain will win in these movies? There’s way too many more movies to make. Finally Vision was interesting, but I have no idea where they’re going with his character, especially after a random god reference. Don’t expect him to help out in any solo movies soon- he’s way too powerful.

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I seem to remember Quicksilver from a separate movie universe…

Hawkeye also got some great moments with meta one-liners and self-deprecating humor (We’re fighting an army of robots, and I’ve got a bow. None of this makes sense.)  Speaking of humor, the jokes never stopped dropping. Some worked, and some didn’t, but nothing was as painful as say, Transformers’ idea of humor. For example, the hammer lift sequence was a genuinely funny moment that played off each character in a natural way. And of course Robert Downey Jr. starred as his rich, funny self.

Overall, there were tons of eye-candy, action scenes, humor and just about every Marvel character that’s been in this universe (besides Loki). There were so many random story lines and characters (literally) flying around I’m surprised it wasn’t a complete mess, but I guess that’s a testament to Josh Whedon. Unfortunately, yes, this is his last entry in the Marvel Movie Universe (sigh). Will he jump over to DC? Who knows, but it’s going to be hard to match his style of film-making next two Avengers, since it seemed to complement the theme and tone so well. Either way, he’s given audiences the two of the more enjoyable blockbusters of the last few years, and that’s worth some revelry.

If only this had happened.

If only this had happened.





Guardians of the Galaxy- Review

15 08 2014

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I’ll be honest, I was not expecting to enjoy this film as much as I did. The trailer is still cheesy to me, and honestly, had YOU ever heard of the Guardians of the Galaxy before this movie?? Probably not, and that’s because they’re not in the Marvel A-list team that Spider-Man and Captain America occupy. So how do you make a movie about unknowns like this work? Marketing the trailer and poster frequently to establish familiarity, give a heavy dose of 80’s nostalgia, and then create a super-funny script that doesn’t take itself too seriously but still continues to deliver “wow” moments. Given that I was a late 80’s baby, the nostalgia fell flat for me, but the 80’s soundtrack still worked perfectly to set the tone, and I still appreciated references to Kevin Bacon. By far, however, was the successful formula of the guardians themselves.

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Never call him a thesaurus.

The core team was strong, drawing a comparison to The Avengers. However, while everyone loves the Avengers together, one of my drawbacks with that movie was how contrived their immature conflicts were before they finally worked together. The Guardians’ bonding feels more believable and is more fun to watch. They go from joining together out of necessity/rewards (which makes sense for outlaws/mercenaries) to willing to sacrifice for each other after seeing who they really are. To top it off, they’re all pretty dang likable.

Chris Pratt as Star Lord/Peter Quill had to have gotten his inspiration from Nathan Fillion in Firefly and Han Solo, and while I still like those original characters more overall, I think he nailed the part. Picture him as the jerk version of those two individuals.  Dave Bautista was the biggest surprise to me. I was afraid he was going to be a Rock-wanna-be as another wrestler dabbling with acting, but instead he nailed the balance between dangerous and earnestly hilarious (“Nothing ever goes over my head- my reflexes are too fast and I would catch it.”). Bradley Cooper as Rocket the raccoon was another stellar choice, and neither he nor Groot (Vin Diesel) got in the way as CGI characters. Their interaction with each other were the highlights. And Gamora was solid too, but was unquestionably the least interesting to me. This is probably due to Zoe Saldana playing basically the same take-no-crap kick-butt woman in each film she’s in, which is fine, but doesn’t do anything to make this particular role stand out for me.

 

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Did she ever stay with one motivation longer than 20 minutes?

 

The villains were largely peripheral, which was probably the best move for this first film. The team needed time to form. Also, while Ronan (Lee Pace) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) were both threatening enough, essentially they were the weakest characters in the film. Ronan simply wasn’t memorable in any way, and while Nebula was definitely more interesting, it was simply impossible to get a grip on what her motivation was. She’s with Thanos, than screw Thanos for Ronan, than she hates Ronan after nearly sacrificing herself for her, and now she’s going off by herself- not to mention she has a really big, unexplained hatred for her sister. These unexpected changes combined with her fury made me think the writer was thinking about an ex when scripting her.

 

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I bet this looked cool in 3D, but this was already a 12 dollar ticket.

So all in all, we have a movie that never took itself too seriously and focused on the fun. This was a great choice, because honestly, how can you play a talking raccoon and tree with purple people with a straight face? It’s an odd little movie. At the same time, underneath all the gags and special effects, the writers still had time to explore the characters’ relationships with each other and their own motivations. I’d put it up there with some of the best Marvel movies to date. Not bad for a movie about The Giving Tree and his hamster.

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Talking raccoon or not,this should have broken his back.