Category Archives: marvel

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” a fun adventure

Tom Holland is now the third Spider-Man in the last 11 years, startling evidence of how mismanaged the character has been under Sony’s stewardship. But thankfully, with the webslinger integrated into the MCU, Holland has now established himself as perhaps the best iteration of the character.

Directed by Jon Watts, “Homecoming” features Peter Parker trying to prove himself to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to become worthy of admission into the Avengers. Stark however, just views Peter as a kid who needs a good bit of seasoning before taking that leap. Peter suffers normal high school troubles: bullies, teen angst, girl issues, after school activities and supervillains. When he discovers a group of thugs selling highly-dangerous alien technology weapons on the black market led by the Vulture (Michael Keaton), he tries to track them down and prove he is a worthy superhero.

The film focuses on a very clear storyline and doesn’t waver too much from that. It’s a relief to see such an intimate story in this age of superhero-city destruction. It’s really just about Peter discovering that he shouldn’t try to grow up too fast. That’s it.

The actors are all good, and the characters are charming. As a fan of the comics and the old cartoon TV show, it’s the closest that iteration of Spider-Man has ever made it to the big screen.

It’s almost a shame that the film is bogged down a bit by the need to incorporate it into the MCU with Robert Downey Jr. and Jon Favreau’s characters not really serving the story that well. But if that’s the price to get some creative ingenuity into the Spider-Man films again, then so be it.

Some of the action scenes are not exactly groundbreaking and the character journey is nothing you haven’t seen before, but there are a few twists and turns that keep it interesting. And it’s not another origin story. We don’t have to go through Uncle Ben dying and Peter learning how to use his powers and what great responsibility mean. It’s just a movie about a kid trying to prove himself and realizing he’s not ready. With superheroes.

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‘Deadpool’ proves not all superhero films have to be the same

With superhero films flooding the marketplace, it was only a matter of time before someone made the anti-superhero film, a movie that takes all the signature tropes of the genre, presents them to the audience and then, almost literally, takes a steaming dump on them. That movie is “Deadpool.”

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a smart-mouthed mercenary who falls in love with a stripper named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). When he is diagnosed with terminal cancer, he volunteers for an experimental procedure run by a madman, Ajax (Ed Skrein). The procedure mutates his appearance, cures his cancer and gives him instant healing ability, but Ajax intends to use Wade as a slave. He escapes, but is horribly disfigured. This pushes him to don a mask and become the “superhero” Deadpool.

Much like Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, it is hard to picture anyone else other than Ryan Reynolds as the titular character. He inhabits the role of the snarky, wise-cracking hero with ease, simply becoming the character that fans have envisioned for years.

The violence is extreme, the language and innuendo filthy, and there are so many inside jokes about the genre that some might go right over the casual moviegoers head, but it all works because of the lighthearted tone and the charismatic lead. It is a near-perfect blend of Hollywood glamour meets counter-culture, a big-screen extravaganza that appeals to the disillusioned outsider in all of us. While it is not ground-breaking or terribly original in terms of plot, it is a lot of fun and serves as a welcome breath of fresh air in comparison to the more droll and serious fare of superhero films (*cough* Batman v Superman *cough*).

‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ a disappointment

The X-Men films vary all over the map from very good (Days of Future Past) to okay (The Wolverine) to downright terrible (X-Men Origins: Wolverine). It’s a shame that the latest team entry, “Apocalypse”, teeters more towards the latter.

Set ten years after the events of “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, the film, directed by Bryan Singer, follows a new villain, the dastardly En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), the first mutant, as he awakens for the first time in thousands of years. Disgusted with the world, he sets about recruiting four followers (horseman) to help him “cleanse” the earth, including Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). The only individuals left to stop him are Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his X-Men, including Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters), as well as a reunited Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).

As the first sequel after the terrific “Days of Future Past”, the film is a giant step back. While that film was dramatic, moving and based in science fiction, “Apocalypse” is silly, overstuffed, action-packed nonsense. You almost have to wonder if that was what the filmmakers were aiming for.

The film takes forever to get going, with the only action really at the end of the film. Starting the film right off the bat would have served the story well. Without giving too much away, Apocalypse needs to gather his horsemen in the first fifteen minutes of the film rather than the first forty-five minutes. He needs to introduce himself to Xavier and the X-Men much sooner, gain his foothold as a dangerous opponent and set the stakes for the rest of the film. Since this confrontation is delayed so long, the film loses steam and the emotional engagement in the final battle is only half of what it should be.

In addition to setting the stakes, a clearer protagonist was needed. If “X-Men: First Class” was primarily Magneto’s story and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” was Xavier’s story, I would think that “Apocalypse” would be Mystique’s film. After the events of the previous film, Mystique is balancing the two halves of her consciousness: the desire to do the right thing and her hatred of mankind. When the opportunity arises in “Apocalypse”, she must either follow Charles or Magneto’s way, fight with the X-Men or with Apocalypse. Her decision would fill the film with meaning as she realizes her identity.

Mystique’s arc is briefly mentioned in the film, but it does not carry much emotional weight because of another major flaw; there is simply too much going on. The film simultaneously tries to achieve the following: establish the story of En Sabah Nur and his resurrection and attempt to destroy the world, finish Magneto’s emotional journey reaching back to Auschwitz, conclude the building of the X-Men team as we know it, finish Mystique’s story of self-discovery, show Xavier learning the importance of the X-Men, set-up the next Wolverine movie, introduce younger versions of characters such as Cylcops and Nightcrawler and Jean, bring Quicksilver back and establish a storyline about his patronage and set all this against the backdrop of 1980s Cold War paranoia. There is so much thrown at us that nothing sticks. We can not ride the roller coaster because it is so cluttered.

The story should be focused on a very simple narrative: After centuries trapped underground, a “god” has re-emerged to find that the world is teetering on chaos. He finds disillusioned souls and recruits them to a higher purpose, the need to make a better world. This contrasts starkly with Xavier’s vision of peace and stability, and Mystique is caught in between and must finally make a choice: to save the world or tear it down. She must lead the X-Men, young and full of issues, towards that purpose she cast out long ago.

Everything outside of this plot should be discarded. Magneto, Wolverine and Quicksilver do not need to be in the story. Cyclops, Jean and Nightcrawler could all start at Xavier’s school rather than be recruited, starting the confrontation with Apocalypse sooner. Little things like that cut out five minute scenes that really add more flow to the narrative.

The action at the end makes up for a lot of the doldrums of the beginning, but like most of the film, it is not handled particularly well. There are several enjoyable moments of unintentional comedy mixed in with some interesting action. Seeing the modern X-Men assemble for the first time ties everything together nicely. It’s just a shame it happens in this flimsy, overpacked jumble.

It would certainly appear that Bryan Singer and company, after their fourth film in the franchise, are starved for ideas. New blood in both casting and the creative team should be given a chance to flex their muscles and really explore this world further. “Deadpool” and “Logan” are just reminders that superhero films don’t all have to be cookie-cutter, save-the-world-from-the-evil-mastermind type fare. They can be funny, dramatic, farcical, romantic, action-packed or terrifying. It’s time for the X-Men to establish themselves in a new way. “Apocalypse” is a strong reminder that change is needed.

 

“Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2” a deeper look into the heroes

In my opinion, the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” film is the best entry of the MCU. It pokes fun at the superhero tropes that have become so familiar while offering some truly emotional moments (the death of Star-Lord’s mother, the death of Groot, the heroes joining together as a makeshift family after so many years of hurt). So I’m happy to say that it’s sequel still has that extra deeper layer that makes it more than just another forgettable superhero movie (sorry, Dr. Strange).

The film opens with the Guardians working for hire. Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) all return and encounter a new threat to the galaxy that comes from a more personal place. While the first film had a rather bland villain, the sequel tackles an antagonist that reveals a personal connection to Star-Lord and in so doing draws in each of the Guardians. This emotional heft adds to the story.

Also along for the ride are a returning Yondu (Michael Rooker) in an expanded role, Peter’s long-lost father, Ego (Kurt Russell) and his assistant, Mantis (Pom Klementieff).

Writer/director James Gunn obviously has a close attachment to these characters and it shows as he gives each of them a deeper context. All of them must grapple with their past (Peter’s parentage, Gamora’s sister issues, Drax’s lost love, Rocket’s anger, Yondu’s regret) and the results are not clear-cut or easy to accept. They feel real, more real than a super soldier, a billionaire playboy or a thunder god. Perhaps we feel such a strong attachment to these characters and empathize with their journey more because they are so flawed and so similar to us.

Many critics say that the film is forgettable, but I wholeheartedly disagree. There are real stakes in the narrative beyond just life and death and that sticks with an audience. Themes of parentage, familial bonds and regret are tested and the characters emerge changed from their journeys. The growth in Peter especially from lost youth to surrogate father to baby Groot is great to witness. This makes these films deeper than the standard Avengers fare, where a viewer can generally miss an entry here and there, and be no worse the wear in the grand scheme of things because the characters do not change.

This is not to say that “Guardians 2” is perfect. There are pacing issues, some jokes that don’t pay off, a little too much going on, some relationships that needed to be beefed up to generate a stronger emotional impact, too many explosions and a villain twist at the end that is entirely predictable. The first film in general is stronger.

But this second entry does what any good sequel should do: elaborate on the first’s themes and delve deeper into the characters.

‘Captain America: Civil War’ a strong entry in MCU

It seems as though a new superhero movie is coming out every few weeks. Most of them pass by and out of memory just as quickly as they came, but there are a few superhero films that stand above the rest, that peak more interest than the normal reboot/sequel, and fans had circled “Civil War” on their calendar ever since it was announced.

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, the film features Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) struggling to keep the Avengers together as the government cracks down on their exploits as civilian casualties pile up. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is in favor of registering with the United Nations and the proposed Sokovia accord, but Steve is not sure. When his friend Bucky/the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is implicated in a terrorist plot, the Avengers fracture between those siding with Captain America and maintaining their independence and those siding with Iron Man and starting public accountability.

Some of the action scenes are a bit nauseating as shaky cam takes over in place of actual dynamic action, but the set piece between the two rival teams of superheroes is one of the greatest in any superhero film; fun, interesting, action-packed and dramatic.

Marvel has always had a problem with maintaining dramatic stakes in its films. They are not going to kill off Iron Man or Captain America (they are worth billions of dollars) so how do you keep a movie engaging when there is literally no chance of your heroes biting the bullet? “Civil War” solves this issue by focusing on the relationship between Captain America and Iron Man. The characters may not die, but the relationship between them may come apart and the audience is kept interested by focusing on how Steve Rogers and Tony Stark develop as friends, turn enemies and how they will ultimately end.

Captain America is not a complex character. It is difficult to give him an internal dilemma and once he makes his decision in “Civil War”, there is not a lot going on internally. This is a detriment, but not a fatal one for the film. His actions serve as a counterpoint and seeing how far he is willing to go to maintain his friendship with Bucky and his independence is engaging enough.

And no MCU film has quite gone to the lengths of digging deep into the character’s soul a la Batman in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy. Doubtless this is to keep the audience as wide as possible, but there are moments for “Civil War” to go a bit deeper, especially with Iron Man in particular. With Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) out of his life, guilt plaguing him and his best friend leading a resistance against him, the film suggests the depths of his sorrow, but could go even deeper, perhaps hinting at his alcoholism as it does in the comics. It is a wasted opportunity to build some escalating themes into his character.

For those who enjoy the MCU films, “Captain America: Civil War” will be an enjoyable experience, one of the best of entries alongside “Avengers” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” But for those who have issues with the previous MCU films, those issues (lack of deep character revelations, franchise-building, cluttering narratives, uninteresting villains- though that is better in this film) will find more to complain about to some degree.

But kudos to the studio for making “Civil War” more than just another superhero film. There’s heart, fun and dynamism here.

Are the X-Men the new preeminent superhero franchise?

Ever since the proliferation of the superhero genre, sequel-making and universe-building have overtaken movie studios. As rights are sold and potential franchises rise and fall, from the dust, three central pillars have emerged as the tentpoles of the superhero movement: Disney’s Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor), Warner Bros. DC Extended Universe (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman) and Fox’s X-Men (Wolverine, Deadpool, Magneto- they also technically have the Fantastic Four, but no one likes them). There could also still be a case made for Sony, who have the rights to Spider-Man, but they have signed a deal with Marvel, and Spider-Man is now essentially part of the MCU.

It has been widely assumed for years that the MCU was the best that superhero films had to offer. Marvel stuck to a strong formula, building up their heroes in individual films before releasing team features. They utilized strong wit, relatable characters and easy-to-digest narratives to build their brand and it has worked, delivering billions of dollars in sales and strong critical response.

Meanwhile, the DCEU is still trying to get itself together. Attempting to differentiate itself from its Marvel cousin, their films are darker, more intense and full of characters right from the get-go. Unfortunately, audience and critical response has been more tepid. By trying to appeal to so many people while being different, the films are a mess of half-ideas, rushed plotlines and shallow characters. They feel more like board room projections, broken down into audience demographics, rather than singular visions made by committed storytellers, especially in comparison to Christopher Nolan’s preceding Dark Knight trilogy.

And in the background, Fox’s X-Men, one of the first franchises to start the superhero extravaganza, has lingered. Never the biggest in terms of box office, the critical and commercial response has ranged from great (X2: X-Men United (2003)) to terrible (X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)). And yet in the past few years, the landscape has started to change, and it’s worth proposing a new thought: Are the X-Men now the best superhero franchise out there?

Diehard MCU fans would likely guffaw at such a notion, but something is starting to seep into the MCU that wasn’t there before: blandness. While the quality of the films has not deteriorated, innovation has not been present either. “Doctor Strange” was far too similar to “Iron Man.” “Captain America: Civil War” was equally similar to being an Avengers film, which are also growing more and more alike. And the lack of stakes is starting to decrease the interest in the characters. Marvel is never going to kill Tony Stark or Steve Rogers. So putting them in more and more dangerous adventures is not really keeping us emotionally involved. It’s becoming more and more a case of been-there, done-that, and it’s starting to seem that while Marvel continues to excel at making decent movies, they are just making the same movie over and over again.

Meanwhile, Fox’s X-Men have been changing the formula towards what the DCEU was presumably trying to do: darker and edgier. But where the DCEU failed by trying to appeal to the same demographics, the X-Men have decided to ignore the “traditional” superhero audience. Here, they may have discovered something very interesting; while other studios continue to view the superhero audience as kids and parents, the kids who grew up watching the original “X-Men” (2000) and “Spider-Man” (2002) have actually grown up. They have stayed fans of superherodom, but being in their twenties and thirties, their palettes have evolved and mature films with mature themes are no longer a detractor for them. As one of those kids, I have witnessed the effects myself.

What started with “X-Men: First Class” in 2011, which featured spy drama and Nazi hunting continued with “The Wolverine” in 2013, which was set in a non-Western locale and bared the weight of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki. And 2014’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past” delivered a thoroughly satisfying sci-fi rumination on genocide and transformational hope. But what really blew up the formula was last year’s “Deadpool.” Here was a hard R-rated flick complete with cursing, violence and sexuality. And not only did critics love it, audiences made it the highest grossing R-rated movie of all-time. This was definitive proof that superhero movies did not need to be “fun-for-the-whole-family” type of affairs; they could be badass, violent, mature films as well.

Sure, “X-Men: Apocalypse” was a bit of a disappointment following such a run of success, but a fall every now and then is inevitable. Just this year, the X-Men have dialed up the ante even more, delivering another massive, mature success with “Logan”, a film that carries more visceral emotion than any superhero film ever made. It is violent, it is dour, and yet it is a beautiful story harkening back to the Western, a true innovation for the genre.

And appearing alongside “Logan” is the equally surprising TV series “Legion.” The first TV show based on the X-Men since the various animated series back in the 1990s and early 2000s, “Legion” is confusing, disturbing and wonderfully strange. The viewer has no real idea of what is real, what is fake, who is a friend or enemy, even what is happening at any given moment. There’s never been a TV show like it. It seems to belong more in the real of student surrealist exploration and yet here it is, presented on basic cable, with millions of dollars backing it and a second season already confirmed. Marvel’s TV series, “Agents of S.H.E.L.D.”, on the other hand is a far inferior, kind of bland experience.

And down the pipeline, the X-Men are looking at a second Deadpool film, an X-Force film, another live-action TV show and a rumored X-Men film with the younger cast featuring Dark Phoenix, a bizarre, cataclysmic character given poor treatment in “X-Men 3.” With confirmation that future X-Men projects will stray away from the Xavier-Magneto relationship and with castmembers Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and presumably Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender calling it quits, the X-Men are literally transforming in front of our eyes. It is very exciting to see the franchise adapt towards something new, something interesting, something beyond just the standard “family-adventure” type of affair.

So have the X-Men become the preeminent superhero franchise today? That is up for debate. The MCU continues to be the biggest box office draw, and the DCEU may somehow pull themselves up and deliver on the promise of the Justice League (I’m not holding my breath on that one though).

But when it comes to the MCU versus X-Men, you really have to ask yourself; is it better to settle for standard fare that hits just enough of the right notes or is the occasional risk that sometimes falters, but really tries to be more than its genre, more deserving of your love?

‘Logan’ a haunting ending for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine

To call “Logan” different from any other superhero movie would be a disservice. It shouldn’t even be considered a superhero movie at all. A tale this sorrowful and this bone-deep can only be considered a Western and set across the backdrop of the American West, that is exactly what it is.

Directed by James Mangold, “Logan” begins with the titular character (Hugh Jackman) in a rut. No mutants have been born in years. He works as an limo driver just to make small change. He cares for Charles Xavier who is ancient and suffering from some sort of mental deterioration. When a young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), comes to him for help, Logan takes Charles’ advice and tries to deliver her to safety from a group of thugs known as the Reavers.

Both Jackman and Stewart have stated that this is their last hurrah in their famous roles and it’s easy to see why, as it gives both characters closure in highly dramatic ways. With a relationship that started in 2000’s original “X-Men”, the film completes the complex arc between them: teacher and student, captain and soldier and father and son. Charles has been trying to find Logan’s humanity throughout the course of nearly ten films and to help him feel joy and completeness once again. Is Logan more animal or man and can he ever recover from a lifetime of pain? The film finally answers that question. Indeed, the finale shows Logan literally fighting¬† with “himself.”

Filled with despair and longing, “Logan” is radically different than previous X-Men films, so much so that it is a tad disorienting. It is welcome in one way because it offers closure, something so few superhero films do anymore. This is definitively the end of the modern-day X-Men as we know them, a blistering monologue on the value of life in old age and the pain of regret. It is incredibly heavy stuff.

And it is incredibly well-timed. It is a film about inclusion, about accepting hope in a bleak world. Logan has to save the last remnants of mutantkind as they search to cross a border to a better world, eerily evoking current times and our need to be a haven for those struggling.

It is not a perfect movie, with some of the violence taken a bit too far and even drawing a few laughs for its over-the-topness. And the lack of any hope really drags on the viewer as I checked my watch a couple of times with just a few too many look-at-the-valley shots. It seems to revel in its misery too much.

I personally enjoy a bit of humor and fun in my X-Man movie, but there’s no denying the emotional power and beautiful story that Mangold and crew have made here.¬† It is a haunting journey of finding retribution in a world of despair, one that will linger with you for long after. Knowing the X-Men universe, death is never really permanent, but for Jackman and Stewart, their journey with these characters ends here, and it is solemnly graceful.