Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018): A Fun Ride With No Payoff

 “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is alright. This is a film that if you enjoyed the first one you will probably enjoy this one. It hits a lot of the same notes, has a bit more of ensemble cast, but is much less focused and the first film had a much better villain and climax. This film stays at the level of good, but never rises to great throughout its entire run.

The film was directed by Peyton Reed, and has five writing credits, one of whom is Paul Rudd. Given that, no wonder it never quite rises to greatness. Films written by committee don’t tend to have the singular focus and vision that makes those unforgettable films.

The story follows Hank Pym and his daughter, Hope, as they attempt to invent a machine to bring back Hank’s wife, Janet, from the Quantum Realm. They discover the key lies in Scott Lang’s memories, so they kidnap him. He must help them get the supplies they need to finish the machine, while dealing with a gang who wants their lab and a mysterious threat called The Ghost, who is also after the lab for her own ends.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action for this film is solid. There are some captivating action set pieces, from the shrinking lab, a fight with a gang in hotel kitchen, and a car chase. All of which, make use of the shrinking and enlarging powers that the Pym’s hold through their tech. The fights with Ghost are also captivating, too, as she warps all over the place and is the hardest character to hit because of her quantum powers. The one thing I’ll say against this though, the action didn’t really feel like it pays off. It is all good action, but it never gives the climax I was hoping for.

Ant-Man and the Wasp – Ant-Man and the Wasp (Scott Lang and Hope) and the original (Hank and Janet) have some of the best dialogue and chemistry in the film. In Scott and Hope, we have Scott trying to live a normal life so he can be with his daughter after his time under house arrest is up. Hope is driven by the desire to save her mother by any means necessary, and is far better at the hero business than Scott is. For the original, Janet is the compassion to Hank Pym’s ornery distance. When they are together you see how the guilt he feels has driven him to distance himself from people, and she brings out the good in him. I really enjoyed their reunion and the flashback scenes. Lily, Rudd, Douglas and Pfeiffer are the best parts of the film.

Frank Pym’s Arc – Frank is the one character out of all the main characters who has an arc. His arc is to save his wife, and in doing so, save his family and redeem himself. He carries regret for not stopping the missile that she stopped by shrinking, and entering the Quantum Realm. I would have liked more exploration of this, but this is the throughline of the film and what made the film good in the end.

The After Credits Scene – In the after credits scene, Scott is shrunk down to get Quantum energy to help heal Ghost. While he is down there Thanos’ snap from Infinity War occurs and he is stuck. It is a powerful scene and one of the better Marvel After Credits scenes in any of these films.

Okay:

The Finale – I feel like the original knew how to better handle the climax and villain. Yellow Jacket was a fun villain, and the anti-Ant-Man who was only out for himself. He had elements of Iron Monger, from “Iron Man,” and like Iron Monger went out in a big fight that made use of the shrinking technology. It was funny and it rocked, where this finale was run of the mill. The most interesting element of the finale was Hank Pym shrinking into the Quantum Realm to find his wife. Outside of that, the characters fighting could have been anyone and it wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Cons:

What Consequences? – Ghost gets saved and stops fighting our heroes… it is implied they can save her for good, which in turn has turned her into an ally. The Pyms are still on the run from the government, so nothing has changed there and Janet is fine, even after being in the Quantum Realm for years, and she has Quantum powers now. This was a film with zero negative consequences. It took Thanos in another movie to create consequences, which is a major con. A great film needs stakes, and by the end I felt like they were non-existent or just weren’t high enough.

  If you enjoyed the first “Ant-Man,” you’ll enjoy this one. The writing is decent enough, the acting and action are mostly great, and it has a good amount of humor to keep the film going when it slows down. This is a good summer blockbuster escape, but I wouldn’t rate it any higher than that. This is a film that could have been more if it had bothered with stakes and had consequences for the actions of the characters.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solid summer escape.

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – The Power of a Compelling Villain

“Infinity War” is easily in my Top 5 MCU films. This is a film I saw a second time before writing this review, and the only other Superhero films that have been that lucky were “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” As you can tell from those and this film, I enjoy my superhero films depressing or bittersweet. This is a film that hits you over the head with loss, and doesn’t stop until the end. Thanos is the villain, but also the protagonist, as his actions drive the film and force our heroes to make choices that define them before the loss comes. I’ll get into spoilers deeper into the review, but for now, this is a film I highly recommend.

This film was directed by the Russo Brothers, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, while being produced by Kevin Feige.

The story involves the Avengers trying to stop Thanos from getting all the Infinity Stones (cosmically powerful stones born at the Big Bang, and scattered through the Universe), as when he does, he plans to wipe out half the universe.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – It is the Marvel Cinematic Universe… a universe full of aliens, cultures, clashing personalities, heroes, villains and in the end consequences. There is a reason I’ve become so drawn into the comic books. What Marvel and Disney have done is to interpret so much of that beautifully on the screen, and each new film I like returning to this enjoyable and fascinating world.

The Superhero Teams – The driving action of the film is the team-ups between different heroes. Characters clash and have to work out their conflicts in order to take on Thanos to keep him from destroying half the population of the Universe. I’ll cover what I liked about the teams below.

Bruce Banner and the Secret Avengers – The film kicks off with Thanos killing Loki and knocking out the Hulk. The Hulk is saved by Heimdall and sent to Earth where Hulk retreats into Bruce Banner. From here we see Banner reunite with the Avengers, and have to depend on his brains to take on the Black Order, as Hulk is afraid to come out after losing to Thanos. It is wonderful seeing this dynamic in action, with those in Wakanda, as he fights in Tony’s Hulkbuster armor against the alien swarm. Banner has always been the outcast in the Avengers, and now that he’s back he can’t even depend on his power as the Hulk. This forces him to adapt to thinking things through as Banner, as he realizes he has deeper issues to explore with the Hulk. I can’t wait to see where his arc goes with the Hulk and the Avengers in “Avengers 4.”

Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Iron Man – This dynamic is fun. To kick things off, Doctor Strange is the one who doesn’t care about people (he tells Tony and Peter that he will let them die before he gives Thanos the Time Stone). Spidey is full of pop culture references that annoy Tony, and Tony Stark is always trying to take control, which leads to conflict with Doctor Strange because of it. They succeed in taking out a member of the Black Order, but face deadly fallout when they reach Titan, Thanos’ homeworld, to battle the Mad Titan himself.

Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax and Mantis – 3 of this group eventually team up with Spidey, Strange, and Stark against Thanos… which happens after Gamora is kidnapped by Thanos, as she knows the destination of the Soul Stone. She has some powerful scenes with Star-Lord, and some funny scenes with Drax.

Rocket, Groot and Thor – This was my favorite team up, it happens after the Guardians of the Galaxy rescue Thor from his destroyed refugee ship. Thor’s ship was destroyed by Thanos when he picked up the Space Stone from Loki, before Thanos kills Loki. It is the death of Heimdall and Loki, and half of Asgard that have Thor full of anger and broken. This leads to Rocket stepping up to be the Captain and helping Thor through the process of healing, as they head to the legendary location of Nidavellir, so that Thor can create a god killing weapon. Groot is a teenager and full of attitude, but steps up to the plate when he contributes part of himself to making Thor’s new weapon.

The Story Arc of Thanos – Thanos is the protagonist of this film. It is desire for balance in the universe (which he believes can only come about through genocide after his planet is destroyed from running out of resources and overpopulation) that drives his desire for the Infinity Stones. Each stone costs him, as the members of the Black Order are all eventually killed by the Avengers. To get the Soul Stone he has to sacrifice the only one he ever loved (Gamora), and getting the Mind Stone out of Vision nearly costs him his life, when Thor attacks him with the God killing weapon. In the end he wins and wipes out half the universe. Where his story goes from here remains to be seen, as he achieved his goal, and as far as he knows… he is the monster who brought balance to the universe. Josh Brolin truly did a masterful job and is easily one of the best villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Okay:

The Black Order – These 4 look really cool but weren’t as effective as they could have been. I would have liked at least one of them to kill one of the good guys. They might be back now that Thanos has all the Infinity Stones, so they could get more development later on… we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Battle in Wakanda – The Battle in Wakanda is pretty generic compared to most of the other fights in the film. Most of the other fights involve use of the environment and powers to try and stop the Mad Titan, where here it is a bunch of expendable aliens against a group of superheroes and soldiers all lined up. It is like every other “big battle.” It still looked good, but the genericness of it all kept it from being a truly memorable part of the film. It was the kind of action we see in every other MCU film.

Pacing – The first time I saw this film I didn’t notice any pacing issues. The second time I watched I thought the beginning could have been cut down and happened faster, the Battle of Wakanda is too long, and Thanos needed more scenes with people. Each film develops him further, and with better pacing we could have gotten more of that, or least more exploration of his faction, the Black Order.

The team ups, the comedy, the action, the characters and their arcs… there is so much I have to recommend about this film. This is a film that could have been a gigantic mess, given how large the cast was, and all the different parts that are in play. The Russo Brothers managed to pull it off. Once again, showing why they are the ones shaping the story of the MCU. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, do it. This is a film that is well worth your time and shows just how powerful stories can be.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

 

Black Panther (2018): Seeking Justice in a Broken World

       “Black Panther” is easily one of my Top 5 favorite MCU films. This is a film that expands on the lore of the MCU, has great characters with amazing arcs, some of the best action and villains in any Marvel film. It also explores deeper themes of resistance and sovereignty adding up to a movie that is well worth your time.

The film was directed by Ryan Coogler who co-wrote it with Joe Robert Cole and produced by Kevin Feige.

The story involves T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), after “Captain America: Civil War,” as he takes the mantle as King of Wakanda but suddenly finds his world transformed as an enemy from Wakanda’s past upsets the status quo they’ve known for so long. This forces him and his allies to confront the past and what the choices they make will mean for Wakanda’s future.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros:

Wakanda – Wakanda is such a cool country. This is a Afro-Futuristic nation with advanced technology, hidden by a cloaking device that intermixes ancient tradition with tech. Wakandans are ruled by the King and a Tribal Council whose upholding of tradition drives the primary conflict in the shaping of Wakanda’s future. Each tribe differs in ideology, whether it is defending the King, the Border or trade. This world is rich and fully realized, each tribe is distinct and I wanted to know more about their histories in the foundation and development of Wakanda.

The Characters – The characters are definitely one of the most enjoyable parts of this great film, with Boseman once again killing it as T’Challa. Whitiker is fantastic as the Tribal Shaman whose history is intertwined with Wakanda’s past sins. The other minor characters, like the tribal leader W’Kabi, also have intriguing performances as well. In many cases it is these characters prideful choices that drive the conflict that T’Challa must untangle. Below, I’m going to explore some of my favorite characters of the film, as it was who they were that drew me into the story the most.

Okoye – Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, is Wakanda’s General and she owns this role. Not only does she one of the major focuses is some breathtaking actions scenes every action scenes, we see how important her role is for her as at one point following tradition has her on the opposite side of some of our heroes. She serves the Crown and Wakanda, and that is a complicated dance when T’Challa is believed dead and the sociopath Killmonger is now King of Wakanda. I can’t wait to see more of her in future films.

Shuri – Shuri is the Princess of Wakanda and T’Challa’s sister. She is one of the most intelligent characters in the MCU, as she is the inventor of the advanced technology of Wakanda, she is very much the Tony Stark of Wakanda.  Like Stark, she doesn’t care about tradition and is far more invested in the relationships around her and the beauty of discovery and invention. She has some great scenes, and like Okoye, she was one of the main reasons to see this film. 

Ulysses Klaue – Andy Serkis has a lot of fun as the weapons merchant who is almost Joker-like in how little he cares about anything. This is a guy who is selfish, and racist, and every reason why Wakanda is isolationist. He is an insane character and his chaotic and manipulative nature leads to some explosive conflict in the first act of the film. It is also great to see Serkis in anything. 

Killmonger – Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger might be one of Marvel’s most complicated villains. This is a boy who grew up homeless in Oakland when T’Challa’s father kills his father, who was connected to the royal family through blood. He is driven by revenge from this moment on, but also by a desire to help the oppressed, driven by all he has lost. Killmonger is also a complete sociopath (his body is covered in self-inflicted scars for every person he has killed), but that doesn’t stop him from being complex. You can see where he is coming from, even if his way of going about it is all wrong.

Isolationism and its Consequences – The main idea explored is isolationism and the consequences of it is the main theme of the movie. T’Challa’s father commits a grave sin to keep Wakanda hidden from the rest of the world and it is up to T’Challa to face the consequences of his father’s sins. As Killmonger reminds T’Challa there are Africans both on the continent and in the world that Wakanda left behind. Wakanda let great evils like slavery, apartheid and countless other atrocities take place, when they could have done something to fight it. The primary conflict within Wakanda is to become an Empire to help oppressed groups (Killmonger’s vision), or stay hidden and protect Wakandan technology from those who would use it for ill (T’Challa’s father’s vision). T’Challa’s arc is finding that balance between perspectives and owning the mistakes of the past…and it is beautifully executed.

Okay:

Final Fight -The final fight is fine but compared to the rest of the film comes off as weak, especially in regards to the relationship between Okoye and W’Kabi. The emotional setup earlier in the film does not add up to the payoff during this fight, and so much more could have been done with some of the locations.

Okoye and W’Kabi – These two are star-crossed lovers who are on opposite sides and leaders of their tribes. I wanted more with both of them as they are both great actors, but we never got to see them in love, it is only ever given to us through exposition. Fully fleshing out their relationship could have given us the perfect film. 

This is a film that had the Marvel problem only in that Act 3 was still a battle, and there were some plot holes that I wish had been expanded upon. Regardless, this is a film that is deserving of all the hype and praise it has been receiving. It really is that good and I can’t wait to see what else they do with T’Challa and the Wakandans in later films. This film has social awareness you don’t always get in action films and at the core it seeks justice in a broken world.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10 One of my favorite films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

If you noticed something different about this review it is because I am now working with an editor! He is friend Brandon Cabusas and you can find him on instagram @brandoncabusas. If you need editing work, you should check him out.

“The Punisher” Season 1 – A Powerful Exploration of PTSD, Trauma and Life After the War

       “The Punisher” is one of the best things to come out of the Netflix Defenders continuity. It is easily the furthest removed from the MCU in regards to super powers, super soldiers and a level of comedy underlying most of the other works…and it works because of it. At the end of the day this is a show that covers the consequences of war, PTSD and just how difficult the process of healing from trauma after war is. This is a beautiful show and I really hope it gets renewed for a Season 2. I have not read the comics so I’m not sure how true the characters are to their comic book adaptations but I found them to be the most compelling aspect of the show.

The series was created by Steve Lightfoot as part of the MCU.

The story Frank Castle uncovering the government conspiracy surrounding the death of his family as he must learn to trust as others like Micro the hacker and the DHS agent Midani who are also seeking to uncover truth.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Action – The action is amazing! The closest thing it reminded me of was “John Wick” and the “The Raid” with how brutal the gun and knife action is. If you like action movies this is your show for this reason alone. Fair warning though, this gets brutal, very few characters come out of this not having done something bad.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of the show and the reason you should watch it. I’m going to go into the 3 main leads and the most compelling villain as they are the ones who drive the action and it is their arcs that kept me involved in the show.

Dinah Midani – Amber Rose Revah does an amazing job as Dinah Midani a Federal Agent who is seeking to uncover the murder of her contact in Afghanistan, who she discovers was murdered by an American hit squad after Micro sends her the video. From here she has to confront the corruption within the government and her own agency to take down those responsible.  She goes from trusting many to trusting few as her life becomes a bit like the Punisher’s when she loses those close to her in uncovering the conspiracy and finds out those she trusted betrayed her.

Billy Russo – Billy Russo served with the Death Squad in Afghanistan with Frank Castle and was his best friend. He was also knee deep in the corruption and he is the man who works with Agent Orange to cover up the conspiracy and kill those who find out. He tricks Midani for a good portion of the show and almost tricks Frank. He is a character who was an orphan and has used his pain to detach himself from caring about anyone but himself. This makes him compelling as he does try to care as best he can, even though he’s a sociopath so in the end he only serves himself. In the end he is taken down, but not killed as Frank messes up his face and leaves him for the government to take in. After reading up further it looks like he is going to be Jigsaw, which I’m really interested in seeing if the show gets renewed.

Micro / David Lieberman – Micro like the Punisher is on the run from the government and believed to be dead by most people. His arc is revealing the conspiracy so he can be with his family again and also reminding Frank of his humanity and that he has reasons to live. They start out as adversaries as there is so much paranoia between the two of them but they work together as they both want the same thing, even though it takes Frank a while to realize that. In the end Micro does get to be with his family but there is an unspoken pain there given that he faked his death to protect them and that betrayal of trust is something that I don’t think he’s fully wrestled with fully.

Frank Castle / The Punisher – The Punisher’s arc is finding a purpose beyond his pain and revenge. We see him when he is done and he is obsessed just breaking walls down. He doesn’t exist beyond reaction and it takes the conspiracy to pull him back in. He is the character who needs a mission and after his revenge is done he finds that mission again in the fake identity the government gives him and helping vets from falling down the mental hole of despair and trauma that he was in. What gets him there is a kid inspired by his actions who targets government and media where Frank realizes just how much influence he has and had as the Punisher and when he is given another chance to live he uses it so others don’t fall into the trap the young vet did. It’s a powerful story and him sparing Russo’s life means something given how clear his code was for killing bad people…it is his final turning point and when Frank Castle finally comes back.

When the War Consumes – Frank Castle the Punisher, the young terrorist vet Lewis Wilson (who is living in a fox hole when he gets home, and doing so voluntarily), Agent Orange and Russo…all of them are consumed by the war in different ways. Whether it is wanting to live it like Castle and the terrorist were or hiding it while still living it like Agent Orange and Russo who hid what it had done to them except for when it served their ends.

Finding Peace After the War – The main arc is Frank Castle becoming Frank Castle again and finding healing beyond what the war made him into (The Punisher). Lewis couldn’t find peace, he had to find a reason to fight, Russo and Agent Orange never left Afghanistan either as they kept their roles up even when they were home. In the end Frank like Curtis finds some semblance of peace and it is is facing his own pain and loss and the actions he did during the war and helping others to face themselves too. It is a powerful arc and theme and part of what makes the show so powerful.

Okay: Agent Orange – He is standard “Ends justify the means” baddy…Russo is far more compelling as a villain but he worked. He was privilege incarnate and he clearly relished being a baddy, which made his defeat so enjoyable when it finally came.

Karen Page – Karen is Frank’s contact through the series and at a few points needs to get rescued by him. I put her as okay for that reason. The role of journalism in regards to terror attacks is explored briefly but I felt that so much more could have been done with her role in this. She really doesn’t show up that much as Midani has taken over that major character role in the show. If it gets a Season 2 I hope we see more Karen.

The characters are the strongest part of the plot, as I knew Russo was going to be bad pretty early and long before his reveal, I also knew they would make him complicated as he fit the Mordo, Loki, etc…former friend villain archetype that Marvel likes to use. The plot is predictable, brutal and a lot of fun. So much of what drives the dynamic is you have all these characters who are paranoid having to learn to trust and that dynamic is what I loved most and can’t wait to see if the show gets renewed. I highly recommend this show.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

 

 

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – A Great Movie Trapped in a Good Movie

   This was a movie that could have been one of my Top 5 Marvel Cinematic Universe films. I really wish this could have been a Planet Hulk type film as the Hulk and Sakaar are the best parts of this film are everything having to do with the Hulk, the good is the Thor movie this film is trapped in, which is very much a Marvel by the numbers. It wants to be “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” but the last films didn’t do the work for us to get that emotional investment. I’ll get into what I mean deeper into the review. For my non-spoiler thoughts though, it is well worth checking out, it is a good movie that is a lot of fun.

The film was directed by Taika Waititi, written by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost while being produced by Kevin Feige.

The story involves Thor (Chris Hemsworth) who is exiled from Asgard by a returned Hela (Cate Blanchett), who seeks to conquer Asgard and the known universe. Thor finds himself broken and is forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena on Sakaar for the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). Now in a race against time he must get back to Asgard and find allies to save Asgard from Hela.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Cinematography and Soundtrack – The cinematography is colorful and pulls you in immediately and when tied with the soundtrack creates the feel of being in an 80’s rock album. Especially with ACDC’s “Immigrant” as the main theme song of the film. The style of the film is unique too, it looks like a B Movie done with an A Movie budget.

The World of Sakaar – I wish the entire film could have taken place here. Everything interesting takes place on Sakaar. It is where Valyrie is living as a mercenary collecting fighters for the Grandmaster and also playing with Hulk. This world is fascinating as the trash and beings from all over the universe fall into the portals above this world. The Grandmaster played by Jeff Goldblum is also a real treat and should have been the main villain of this film and the film should have taken place here. Hela should have been saved as a bigger bad for later, there are enough “Conquer the universe” villains in the MCU.

Loki – Loki is wonderful in this. His reveal of being Odin happens early on when Surtur tells Thor that Odin is missing. Loki is so much fun in this, he is sometime ally and sometimes enemy but always is serving himself and his ego. This makes when he gets tricked by Thor near the end all the more enjoyable as well as his relishing of Hulk’s pummeling of Thor. When he is exiled like Thor in the fight with Hela he gets in with the upper class of Sakaar easily, which is completely in character. He does eventually team up with Thor and Valkyrie as we see his good come out when he comes back to save the people of Asgard (though it largely because he wants to be loved by them…he did build a statue of himself when he was pretending to be Odin and do a play of “Thor 2” and his “redemption.” Hiddleson continues to nail this character as he continues to be the best part of the Thor films.

The Grandmaster – Jeff Goldblum plays the wonderfully insane Grandmaster in this. What we learn is he came to Sakaar back in the beginning and built it up to be his own source of entertainment. From the tournament, from references to his orgies this is a guy who doesn’t care about anything about his own amusement. He really is a great character and is a fun villain as his own ambition (cheating so Hulk will win the fight and keeping Thor locked up with Hulk) lead to his undoing and his people rebelling against him. He shows up at the end in an after credits scene so I hope he will show up in the future.

Asgard’s Past and What Asgard Means – A major theme of the film is that Asgard is not a place it is a people and that what a people are is important. Hela is the warrior who was with Odin when they made the 9 Realms and spread the will of Asgard through them. It was after peace time that she was trapped and erased as she wanted to keep fighting. I wish Hela had been addressed as we never get why she loves battle and war and her erasure from history is an evil that Odin is never called out on and Thor never recognizes. She was a female God who was Odin’s Right Hand in the end it meant nothing because Odin changed the past. Odin was toxic patriarchy and that is never addressed. I’m still putting this in the pro area for what could have been covered and for the importance of a people meaning more than a place. People are what make a place matter.

The Hulk Story and Hulk’s Relationships – Hulk is the best part of this film, he is friends with Valkyrie who trains with him and his relationship with Hulk is funny as he sees Thor as both a friend and a threat. Hulk is like a giant child who just wants to fight and win but we see him become more and become Banner once more after hearing Black Widow’s last video. From here Banner’s story comes in and in the final sacrifice becomes Hulk again to take on Hela and her undead army. This is by far the best Hulk movie and it is the great film trapped in the good film. I wish we could have got Planet Hulk from the comics.

Okay: Surtur – Clancy Brown’s voice is perfect for the God of the Fire Demons but he is a pretty useless villain. Thor easily defeats him and he exists only as a plot device to bring about Ragnorak, which is the only way to destroy Hela. I wish more had been done with this guy and that we’d received more history and motivation. He seems driven by prophecy but he is hypothetically so powerful, there is no reason he should be driven by that.

Hela – Cate Blanchett is a great actress and she wonderfully vamps this role up…but she gets no development. We never get why she wants to conquer or how Odin shaped her into the person she is, she simply does. This is lazy storytelling and the only reason she isn’t a con is because Blanchett is such a great actress and the costume design is on point. She looks like Maleficent and her giant wolf is Fenrir and army of the Dead are a lot of fun.

The Thor Story – Thor goes through the hero’s journey again. This time it is him realizing he doesn’t need the Hammer to be Thor as he is the God of Thunder. It is after discovering this he helps Valkyrie find herself as a defender of Asgard again and helps Hulk become Banner once more. He also shows Loki what it means to be a good ruler. This is all good, it isn’t bad but it is also Marvel by Numbers. There is nothing done here that wasn’t done butter elsewhere. I would have preferred more development of Valkyrie so she wasn’t just a support character or Hela having a reason for what she did. These are things that could have made this a great rather than good Thor story. The great story is Hulk and Thor trapped on Sakaar being gladiators that we don’t get nearly enough time with as in the end the Thor and Ragnorak story is what drives the plot, and that is only good, not great.

The Asgard story is a marvel movie by the numbers. Villain has world conquest plot but is stopped by the hero when he discovers the power of friendship and his own internal power. Thi is “Iron Man 3,” “Captain America” and the last 2 Thor films. This is a shame as Hela and Sakaar both could have been so much more than what we are given. Things change with the people of Asgard being nomads now, but it doesn’t have the same weight to it as the loss of of SHIELD in “The Winter Soldier” or the death in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” Hell the great movie taking place on Sakaar could have led to a Planet Hulk type film with Thor, sadly at the end of the day this is a Thor film and that is what keeps it from reaching greatness. I’d still recommend this film, it is beautiful and fun and easily the best of the “Thor Trilogy.”

Final Score: 8.7 / 10

“The Defenders” Season 1 – One of the Best Teams in the MCU and a Worthy Threat

    “The Defenders” is the best show I’ve watched in the Defenders Universe it is a part of since “Daredevil” Season 1. The ending isn’t as good as Season 1 but the characters are more dynamic, everyone grows and even Iron Fist is made into a more likable guy. The strongest part of the show is still the side characters though and we finally have a lot of questions answered that have been hinted on through both “Daredevil” and “Iron Fist.” As far as my non-spoiler thoughts, you don’t need to have watched any of the prior shows to enjoy this one. It stands strong on it’s own and is one of the best creations to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

The show was created by Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez.

The story involves the leaders of the Hand coming together under Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver) as the Defenders (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage) must come together to stop them and their apocalyptic aspirations for New York City, as well as finding out what it they seek at the bottom of the city.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Action – This is a series that brings back the best of the action we saw in “Daredevil” Seasons 1 and 2. There are a lot of great action beats as Colleen Wing, the Defenders and others face off against the Hand and those they are manipulating in Hell’s Kitchen. The final fight at the bottom of the city in another world is also really cool too as well as when the leaders of the Hand face off against the Defenders.

The Hand and their History – There are Five Leaders of the Hand who were exiled from K’un-Lun for seeking the cure for death and finding immortality. They find it in the bones of Dragons we discover in this and that is the substance that keeps bringing them back when they die. By the time of this series they use the last of it resurrect Elektra as the Black Sky but it does not go as planned as she kills Alexandra to take control of the group. There are 5 members of the Hand each representing a finger and area of the world, Alexandra, Murakami (who was controlling the Yakuza in Season 1 and 2), Bakuto (from “Iron Fist” is brought back again) and Sowande or “White Hat,” who has been using Harlem to recruit and Madam Gao who has been recurring through a few of the series. Learning about their exile and the reasons they went to K’un-Lun are powerful and I loved seeing them face off against the Defenders. “White Hat” and Murakami are the least memorable but Gao once again shows why she is in my Top 5 MCU Villains given her ability to survive and the tragedy of Alexandra is a nice touch as her personal desire to have Elektra as her daughter, blinds her judgement. All of them are at least interesting even if Murakami and “White Hat” go mostly unexplored.

The Defenders and Coming Together – The Defenders are like a mixture between The Guardians and Avengers. You have the Captain America / Luke Cage / Star Lord leader type, you have the sarcastic damaged fighter in Rocket / Jessica Jones / Bruce Banner, you have the Child Soldier in Black Widow / Iron Fist and Drax who are shaped by personal loss and you have the Iron Man / Daredevil / Gamora in the conflicted hero trying to do good. There is a lot of overlap and I’m curious what lines you’d draw to the similarities between heroes but these were the ones that got me. Seeing the dynamic come together on a small gritty level was wonderful and I can’t wait to see where the show goes from here and how our characters are shaped in their own shows and how that plays into their next team up, which will probably be against Kingpin.

Awareness of the People of Hell’s Kitchen – There is much more awareness of the people of Hell’s Kitchen in this. From Knight and the cops calling them out on being vigilantes, in Luke Cage calling out Iron Fist for beating up scared kids who got pulled into the Hand just looking for a job to survive and how his billionaire privilege shows he doesn’t get it (as well as his race, class and name – Rand). I loved it and I hate how we don’t see this enough in Batman. Bruce Wayne is doing exactly what Iron First was put besides Alfred sometimes and Dawes in “Batman Begins” I can’t think of a time where he’s been called out. This was needed and a lot of this show is calling out Danny for his arrogance and in turn forcing him to grow and truly become a hero. This show is amazing.

The Women of “The Defenders” – The women of the Defenders Universe are the best written characters on this show. Alexandra is dying of cancer but can’t let go of the world she left behind leading it to her protecting Elektra even into her death, Madam Gao is surviving and understands just how powerful the Defenders are (only Hand member who really does) Jessica Jones is working through her trauma and trust and having to work on a team and Colleen Wing is working herself through her Hand conditioning as well as doing all she can to be there for people who push her away. These women made the show amazing and are the best parts of the MCU, especially in this show.

Facing Trauma – So many characters have to face their trauma in this (a running theme of the Defendersverse) with the strongest being Wing’s final defeat of Bakuto (and working through the mind control the Hand put her through) when she is trying to save Danny and blow up the building that holds the substance but we also have Daredevil confronting Stick and his abuse as well as Danny working on his own failure to save the monks. These three best illustrate this theme this season as Jessica Jones is very much doing her own thing and the trauma is so bad she has trouble being close to anyone, even friends.

Okay: The Ending – The ending is okay. This is one thing that the first season of “Daredevil” has over this one as the ending involves the team moving on and Daredevil is believed to be dead (the cave collapses on him and Elektra) and when he wakes up we get hints at the show taking a darker path as everyone he knows believes him to be dead. His sacrifice was okay but we knew a “Daredevil” Season 3 was coming and no one had been set up to take up his mantel if something like this happened to him. These take away from the loss of the moment even though I did enjoy the good-byes and how the character relationships have changed because they’ve all finally interacted and grown from one another, becoming “The Defenders.” The Hand is shut down as an organization at this point though Murakami and Gao survived and both of them have the substance that gives them immortality, so I’m curious how all of that will play out, as well as Elektra’s and Matt’s future.

This was the best to come out of the “Defenders” Universe and is my Second favorite Season if I put them all side by side. Season 1 of “Daredevil” is still perfection for me in this Universe but this gets most of the things right and only really falls short on the ending. It is great to see the Hand explored and truly appreciated as a threat and most importantly I loved the character dynamics between the Defenders and the members of the Hand. These character moments are why this MCU series that Netflix has created is so amazing and it is why I’ll keep coming back. If you haven’t gotten into this universe yet, this Season, like “Daredevil” Season 1 is a great way to do so.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

 

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – A Solid Return to the Basics of “Spider-Man”

      Sony sharing custody of Spider-Man was the best thing that could have happened to the character. After they tied to go “Dark Knight” with Spidey and failed miserably as they ended up focusing more on franchise management rather than story…it is good that they let the studio who knows story shape their character’s future. This is film that isn’t great, but it is good and it is one I’d highly recommend. The villain and support characters are wonderful and there is a lot of good setup for future films. Before I get into spoilers, if you like the MCU or are a fan of Spider-Man, chances are you will enjoy this film as I did.

The film was directed by Jon Watts, who co-wrote it with 5 other people (hello Sony and Marvel Studios) and produced by Kevin Feige and Amy Pascal.

After the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” Peter Parker is given a new suit by Tony Stark but soon finds himself left behind. As he finds himself pulled into thefts of alien technology around the city he must take on the mysterious Vulture while dealing with Tony Stark wanting him to stay out of it as he tries to juggle being Spider-Man and his complex social life at school and taking on the threat of the Vulture.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World of the MCU – The MCU is a world full of consequences. SHIELD was disbanded, the Avengers fell apart, some characters have died for good (though none of the biggies yet sadly) and each of the films plays into one another while still standing strong on their own. Spider-Man is one of my favorite comic book heroes, along with Batman when I was growing up and I’m glad he is in this Universe that is so rich and full of lore that now his amazing lore can once again be apart of as well.

Vulture – Michael Keaton is one of the best MCU villains to date. This is a guy who wants to look after his family after he loses out on a government contract to clean up New York after the events of the “Avengers.” You can understand his chip on his shoulder and he has a twisted sense of honor as even after he learns Spidey’s identity, he keeps it secret. His character manages to be both empathetic and threatening making him so very human…I’m glad that Marvel didn’t kill him off and can’t wait to see him in future Spidey films.

With Great Power – One of the key traits of Spider-Man is that, “With great power comes great responsibility” and this film illustrates it really well. The main arc is Spidey wanting to join the Avengers but he continues to mess up even as he tries to do good. So many of the problems that he has to fix are ones he created and his arc is the constant struggle with this as his social and super hero life collapse around him and he has to own up for his mistakes. It is his character and what defines him and the main arc that drives the story. Tom Holland really is wonderful in this role. This is a return to the basics of the character, which we needed after all the conspiracy Oscorp crap in the “Amazing Spider-Man” films.

Changes and Avoiding Past Pitfalls – There are things in here that I really liked that exist because the writers avoided doing what had been done before. We don’t have an Uncle Ben origin story death, there is not a Goblin to be seen, Peter doesn’t mope and the finale isn’t Spider-Man saving the love interest from the baddy who wants to destroy the city. These changes were masterful and in doing so let them do knew things like his friends Ned and Michelle, Ned who finds out he is Spider-Man and Michelle who ends up being a wonderful re-imagining of M.J. Seriously, Zendaya is the best part of this film outside of Vulture.

The Cons: The Point of Aunt May – Everybody creeps on Aunt May and I hate it. If the character is a guy he will comment on how hot she is and that is all she exists as. It is objectifying and annoying as she is Peter’s guardian and mentor and they could have done so much more with that. She has one scene where she comforts him but she almost wasn’t needed in this film as Tony Stark functions as a surrogate guardian.

The Uncle Ben Shaped Hole – Aunt May has been through a lot but we never know what happened to Uncle Ben or if he is even still alive in this version of the lore. I’m glad we didn’t get his death again but he should have at least been mentioned or dealt with as he is such a huge essential part of what drives Peter Parker and his becoming Spider-Man.

This is a solidly good film and one that I will probably go back and watch as I am a fan of Spider-Man. I hope we see more done with the characters and villains that are setup throughout the film as Spider-Man has one of the best rogues galleries outside of Batman and I can’t wait to see how the reveals done in this film payoff later as Marvel and Sony further develop one of the best characters to come out of Marvel Comics in the amazing world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Final Score:  8.2 / 10 Solidly good.