Category Archives: Marvel Cinematic Universe

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.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017): The Greatness of These Characters

 “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is on par with the first film, being it is once again comedic, dramatic and character greatness executed beautifully by James Gunn once again. For my non-spoiler thoughts…this film goes deeper into developing the characters, the action is solid and for once Marvel has a great villain in one of these films! I highly recommend this film and won’t be surprised if it ends up being in my Top 5 Films of 2017.

    The film was written and directed by James Gunn, while being produced by Kevin Feige.

  The story picks up a few months after the first film, with the Guardians protecting the Sovereign’s batteries, which are being targeted by a giant space creature. After the battle they receive Nebula as payment but soon find themselves being pursued by the Sovereign after Rocket steals their batteries after insulting them. After the battle the team is separated as Rocket and Baby Groot deal with the Ravagers, Gamora and Nebula face off and Peter meets his Father.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is wonderful and fascinating once again! We get to see the Ravager homeworld where they take up contracts and have fun, we meet the high strung Sovereign driven by genetic perfection and Ego, a being who is a living planet who wants to consume the Universe and cares about his son Quill. Each of these groups gets exploration that shows part of the reason why this is the best part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Soundtrack – Tyler Bates did the soundtrack and we once again get some amazing hits that are masterfully woven into the fights, the character interactions and the tone and feeling of different scenes. I think the first film used the songs and feel slightly better, but this was still a blast.

The Action – The action is amazing! In this we see  smaller fights to clever traps laid by Rocket, to a giant faceoff with the Guardians facing Ego and the Sovereign. It is a lot of fun and the action serves a purpose as any time we get it it is advancing the plot.

The Characters and Their Arcs – James Gunn is a great writer and it is fully on display in this film as it is the character and their arcs and relationships that drive the action and story of the film. He is dealing with a lot of different character groups this time, but each of them has a huge emotional payoff in the end.

Drax and Mantis – Drax meets Mantis, who is Ego’s assistant who helps him sleep. She senses emotion and it is in their relationship we see her learn about the complexity of feelings as well as Drax finally opening up as we see his jokes hide how much he misses his wife and daughter. Their friendship is wonderful and platonic and has some of the best jokes.

Nebula and Gamora – Nebula and Gamora’s arc involves them opening up about the trauma Thanos put them through (we learn Nebula was torn apart and had her body replaced by machine parts every time she lost a fight to Gamora). In the end they forgive each other and realize they aren’t the enemy, Thanos is and from that they truly become sisters rather than weapons of Thanos.

Rocket and Yondu – Rocket and Yondu were outcasts who grew up with no one. Yondu was a Kree Slave who was rescued by a Ravager captain and in turn became one as well (until he loses it all over the course of the film) and Rocket is pushing everyone away until Yondu calls him out, letting him know it isn’t worth it and that he gets it too (what he only realizes after he’s lost everything). This arc was powerful as we see how rich their friendship is because of all they’ve lost and their devil may care attitude towards life. These two are my favorite characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Films and possibly the MCU as a whole.

Peter and Ego – Peter really wants a father and learning Ego is his father is what he always wanted…until he realizes that Ego only cares about him as a means to an end. This leads to their fight as Peter gets beyond his need to be loved and accepts the love that he already has from the Guardians and Yondu an rejects the absolute power at that Ego is offering.

Ego – Ego is a Celestial and because of this is eternal and immortal. It is from this mindset that he came to the realization that he matters the most so all should become him. You can see where he comes from as he has outlived countless lives and species, but also how he misses the point that all life matters. He clearly cares for Peter but that is because Peter is a part of him. Like his name Ego never sees beyond his Ego and that is what leads to his destruction. If he valued others he would have lived and most likely become an ally or a powerful neutral force, instead he wanted it all and that was what lead to his destruction. Kurt Russell does an amazing performance, putting Ego as one of the best villains in the MCU.

Yondu and the Ravagers – Yondu’s main arc begins when the other Ravagers reject him for the child trafficking he was doing for Ego. His exile leads to him being taken out by Nebula who helps a rival among Yondu’s crew named Ravager take control of the ship and leads to the capture of Baby Groot and Rocket. In the end Yondu takes responsibility and we see him take the fight to the monster that is Ego and that he stopped trafficking once he realized that Ego was killing them (this is when he takes on Quill). In the end he realizes that he can’t atone for what he’s done and stands with the Guardians Ego, sacrificing himself to save Peter, his son, which leads to the Ravagers giving him a Ravager funeral and accepting him back in and honoring him in his death. Rooker really is fantastic.

Family is Greater Than Blood – Family being greater than blood is the main theme of the film besides letting go of the ego. We see this in how Yondu is the father that Peter’s actual father never was and that the Guardians are family with one another…they fight with each other but in the end they always have each other’s backs.

The Killing of the Ego – This idea functions as both a metaphor (Peter letting go of his need to please his Dad and his forgiving of Yondu) and Yondu losing everything but finding what matters moist…Quill and the Guardians…he finds family after his old family…the Ravager Captains exile him…Though he gets them in the end too as they find him redeemed in his fight where he helped defeat Ego and saved the Guardians. Ego is the antagonist and wants the Universe to be him and for a while this appeals to Quill when he sees eternity, until he realizes that it was Ego’s selfishness that lead to Ego killing his Mother which sets off the fight against him and saving the Universe again.

Okay: Some Actions Sequences Go Too Long – The final fight against Ego could have been cut in half and still had the same power behind it. I didn’t care about the Sovereign arriving and felt that they were unnecessary. The best parts of the fight were the times that Ego was trying to sway Peter, when that wasn’t happening it looked cool, but the action stretched on too long for me to call it a pro.

Slow Down Shots – There a few times in the film where the action slows down to near standstill. I found this super distracting from the flow of the action that blended seamlessly with the music, with the exception of these sequences.

Motivation of the Sovereign – I get that these guys are easily insulted, but I was surprised they didn’t call up the Guardians first and attack only after Rocket would have most likely insulted them again. In this way they were way too reactive. They still worked as secondary antagonists but they weren’t as compelling as the Ravagers because of their motivation.

  This is a film that I highly recommend. This is where the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains fun and for once we get a story that has nothing to do with Infinity Stones, which in turn leads to us getting time to get to know the characters better. We also have a villain with motivations and a connection to our heroes that matters, and he feels like an actual threat as well as loss and character payoff that comes with a rocking soundtrack. As a side note, my friend was in one of the scenes at the end as one of the Ravager Captains bodyguards/lieutenants! I hope they do more with those Captains and their crew in Volume 3! I really enjoyed this film and it is definitely on par with the first “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Which is rare in Marvel Movies as often their sequels aren’t as strong as the originals. So if you haven’t watched this film yet, I highly recommend that you do.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

“Iron Fist” Season 1 – The Side Characters are the Best Part and “The Hand” Finally Works Though the Show has Other Issues

     Marvel’s “Iron Fist” is a flawed show. It isn’t great but I also enjoyed the journey that the story put me through, though the problems are one that are big within Marvel and just compounded with the story and presentation of Danny Rand. This is a character who is so many played out tropes, billionare orphan goes to Asia and becomes a Ninja/Seer, etc. Playing into exoticizing Japan, China, South Korea, etc. I’ll get into examples deeper into the review but this lazy writing really kept the show from being great, even though I did still find it base good.

 The show was created by Scott Buck.

    The story involves Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returning from the monastery K’un Lun in order to get back his fortune and take on the enemy the monastery has trained him for, The Hand. All is not as it appears to be in regards to who his real enemies and friends are and his role as the Iron Fist.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of the Defenders gets even richer in this show as we learn more aspects of the world, especially in regards to “The Hand” who are insidious for the first time (never bought them as a threat in Season 2).

The Action – There are some great martial arts battles this season, so that is one thing that this season has going for it. I enjoyed all the action and it showed what can be accomplished with a limited budget but strong martial arts can carry scenes.

The Support Characters – The support characters are the strongest part and for the most part, I can’t wait to see what further exploration they receive. Madam Gao is back! (my second favorite MCU villain) as are some of the other great minor characters from the other “Defenders” Shows. These were the characters that brought me back to the show.

The Meachums – The Meachums are the family friends of the Rands and Harold was Danny’s Father’s partner of Rand Enterprises. He’s around as the primary villain outside the Hand and his children complicate things for our heroes.

Joy – Joy is the character who may have had a relationship with Danny before but has moved on from it. She is a powerhouse in Rand Enterprises and is the sibling with her act most together. This leads to her father, who was brought back to life using her after his son tries to kill him for all his abuse. She never gets to see just how insane her father has become but she ends up blaming Danny for how all she knows goes up in flames, making her a possible villain going into the Defenders.

Harold – Harold is the Meachum who killed Danny’s father and tries to frame and kill Danny at the end of the Season. He is an immortal thanks to the Hand (as long as he has his body with his head attached, he can come back). He is a sociopath but has moments of caring. He is clearly bad but he is vulnerable even when he’s taken over…though he is once again another evil MCU Corporate Boss with Hammer, Monger, Yellow Jacket, etc. He’s a played out trope but David Wenham gives what depth he can to the role and makes him a lot of fun.

Ward – Ward looks like “American Psycho” meets Donald Trump Jr. as in a sleezy tool looking character who is only out for himself. We learn that he was abused by his father and in turn abused Danny. His turn around is after his drug addiction breaks him and he kills his father, only for his father to get revenge on him. After it is chess match between him and his father with Danny as the Knight. Ward wins and is left to look back on all the evil things he’s done. He’s won and gained his soul that he had never had before. He also kills his dad and burns the body finally ending Harold’s reign.

Bakuto – Bakuto is Colleen Wing’s Sensei and a leader in the Hand. He is very much a Ra’s al Ghul type figure who wants to destroy all power structures leaving only the Hand and what he believes to be true justice with all a part of the Hand or serving it in some way in a Utopia. He is a fun character and was a great villain until he is defeated by Colleen after he betrays her trust and ends up being killed by one of the K’un Lun Monks Davos.

Davos – Davos is Danny’s childhood friend who wanted to be the Iron Fist. He is a fanatic for the cause and in the end it corrupts him. He is along the lines of Mordo in “Doctor Strange” as in the end his inability to change leads to him believing that peace can only be achieved by ending the Iron Fist since the Iron Fist won’t kill the Hand. He isn’t wrong since Danny doesn’t kill, so it gives an interesting dilemma going forward.

Hogarth – Hogarth is back! She is a great ally through the series to Danny and helps him in his war against the Meachums. It was great seeing her again, though I wish she’d gotten more exploration. She is there as support but not much else.

Claire Temple – Claire is back and plays a big role in this as we see her take on vigilante qualities too as she learns to fight from Colleen Wing in her dojo and working with Danny and Colleen whether they are fighting the Meachums or the Hand. She is as much a Defender as any of the others and is much more interesting than Danny Rand. Rosario Dawson is once again fantastic and plays my favorite Defender hero.

Madam Gao – Madam Gao is my second favorite villain the MCU (https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/top-5-villains-of-the-marvel-cinematic-universe/). In this we get to see just how old she is, as she references facing other Iron Fists and is able to predict things because of how long she’s been around and how well she knows people. She is a major leader in the Hand and in the end her faction wins out over Bakuto’s faction as she manipulates Joy and Davos to take out Danny Rand. She is playing a long game and is the only character always winning. I really enjoy this character and can’t wait to where her story goes.

Colleen Wing – Jessica Henwick is fantastic! I wanted this show to be about her (she deserved it, her story isn’t as played out as Danny’s for one thing). This is a character who has to prove herself time and time again both in the arena and against what she considered family (She is a Hand agent until they betray her when she won’t betray Danny). I felt for her character the entire time and can’t wait to see where her story goes. She is a lot more interesting than Danny.

Okay: Danny Rand – Finn Jones annoyed me for the first half of this season. He looks perpetually bored and isn’t very good at emoting. He grew me on me over time but he is not this show’s pro. This is a character that because he is a played out trope (rich white billionaire orphan becomes ninja/monk, etc. – Doctor Strange, Batman and related Wolverine, Daredevil, Elektra, etc.). His story is orphan becomes master of his craft and reclaims his fortune…I enjoyed it for simplicity but I was annoyed too. This was a story that could have done with change, starting with Danny Rand.

The Cons: Asian-American Representation in the Marvelverse – Name a Marvel hero in the MCU who isn’t on Agents of SHIELD who is Asian? Outside of Wong (another great support character) in Doctor Strange there isn’t one. Colleen Wing is almost made Danny’s partner at times in this in who they face and the choices they make but she is still just a supporting character. Given this lack of representation and the pulling from the different Martial Arts from Asia to tell Danny Rand’s story, why not give Danny some level of history? He could have been from Hong Kong and been new money and from there more layers with the Meachum and the history of discrimination towards Asians in the United States through laws. You wouldn’t have to change too much but any change like this or similar could have added more layers. The Defenders have always been a show tackling important issues from racism (Luke Cage) to rape and sexual assault (Jessica Jones). Danny Rand is much weaker than Daredevil which at least tackles philosophy at times. Representation could have let them do that, taking a risk with Danny Rand.

Playing it “Safe” and the Lack of Risks – Danny Rand on Netflix is a complete lack of risk. He is played out tropes from the orphan billionaire trope in comics, to becoming a ninja in Asia and reclaiming his fortune. If any of these things had been changed it would have been a risk that would have made the show potentially great.

   Whether you should watch this show or not really depends on how much you like the Defenders project and journey as a whole. I liked it but I don’t think it’s necessary, you’ll get the core elements and characters in “The Defenders” first season and even though some of the problems of The Hand are fixed, new ones are brought up in this version of Danny Rand. This actor is okay but he needed to great and had to be written a lot better for this to work and be great. This was a show that if it had taken more risks, could have made it great. If in the end you don’t take risks you will never achieve greatness in your story, especially if all you do is pulled on tropes that have been done before.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10. Enjoyable but Danny is the weakest Defender by far. This is a show worth watching for the supporting cast.

Top 5 Villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

mcu-villains

     I’ve always been drawn to the villains in films and shows, and comics are a host to some of the best rogues galleries in fiction. Whether it is Batman and also his villains who are some level of crazy or Spider-Man and his foes ranging from alien parasites to hunters…each group of rogues brings something different to the table. Now, when it comes to the Marvel and Disney Marvel Cinematic Universe the villains have usually been the weakest part, with the exception of those within “The Defenders” Universe on Netflix. It is here where I draw from a lot of my Top 5 as the people they kill don’t come back to life and there are consequences. Not all the characters are from Netflix, but there are enough of them that it shows. This review will also contain minor spoilers though I will aim not to reveal too much in case you haven’t watched the series yet and will stick with the vague.

     This is also my second Top 5 like in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the other being my Top 5 Favorite MCU Films list that I did last year, which I plan to update with another after “The Infinity War.”.: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/top-5-films-of-the-marvel-cinematic-universe/

   So without further ado, here are my Top 5 Villains in the MCU.:

kilgrave-discussespower-s1e8

5th) Kilgrave 

      Fifth place was difficult. I was honestly torn between Zemo and Kilgrave (Mordo may replace both of them after he has the chance to do stuff) but chose Kilgrave because of the creepy factor (he’s probably the most unsettling villain on this list) and his kill count. This is a character who is winning up until the end and even when he loses is able to manipulate himself out of almost any situation due to his ability. To go with the power of controlling with voice though he doesn’t pull a Joker and try to cause anarchy, his theme is obsession and abuse and like any toxic relationship he can’t let go and defeating him is defeating and continuing the process of healing from trauma and abuse. Jessica’s fight against him is rewarding and he proves to worthy a foe time and time again, though his final showdown was underwhelming and he should have done more with his power, those are the big things that keep him from being higher on this list. David Tennant really did a great job and I hope we see this character again.

cottonmouth_profile1

4th) Cottonmouth 

  Cottonmouth is the most tragic character on this list for many reasons. Born Cornell Stokes all he wanted to be was a musician but due to the corrupt Harlem Gangsters who raised him turned him into a killer. Now he only lives for experience and power. The man has an aura of threat about him that never leaves him, even when he’s losing and his ability to laugh at anything gives him a charm that Luke Cage doesn’t have. Without giving that much away, he isn’t the primary antagonist on the show so he doesn’t stick around all the way through, which was a shame as he is much more compelling than Diamondback and a better foil than the ones who take his place. This is a character who really should have been Luke Cage’s foil all the way through as he is everything Luke Cage is not but has just as much if not more complexity than Luke Cage. Mahershala Ali is great in everything I’ve seen him in and “Luke Cage” is no exception.

madame-gao-profile

3rd) Madam Gao

      Madam Gao is the greatest mystery in the “Daredevil” series as so much of her past is unknown, yet she knows so much and isn’t above working with the heroes if it will serve her ends. She is the one character who is unafraid of the Kingpin and easily takes out Daredevil when Daredevil attempts to capture her. She also is able to make a win out of any situation, whether it is a Kingpin implosion or the rise of her competitor the Blacksmith…she plays her cards to come out on top and I can’t wait to see how her game plays out. She is a character who is an antagonist but has shown she is more than just a villain. Wai Ching Ho is amazing in this role and she’s one of the best parts of the “Daredevil” series.

loki_ttdw_poster

2nd) Loki 

      Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie villains really haven’t been all that memorable. Yeah, they fill in all the boxes of having a decent motivation a lot of the time or are sufficently hammy to make things interesting…but compelling? Outside of Loki none of them stood out and there was a reason none of them are on my Top 5. Even Zemo was unable to kill an Avenger, but that goes for all the others too. Loki kills a major lore character if you discount “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” though and he is easily the most complex. Hiddleson and the writers created a character who is out for power but for often times what seem good ends. In “Thor” he manipulates his biological father the Frost Giant King in order to kill him and end the threat of his people against Asgard, in “Avengers” it could be argued he’s trying to stave the worse coming storm of Thanos by being a benevolent dictator and “Thor 2” he shows he’s not above sacrificing for his brother Thor. Loki is one of the best parts of the MCU and I look forward to seeing him once more in “Thor: Ragnorak.”

kingpin

1st) Kingpin 

      The Kingpin…the Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet create a more complex or effective villain. This is a man who over the course of his series manages to take out most of his rivals and those who could reveal his corruption to Hell’s Kitchen. He’s one step ahead of our protagonists and even when it looks like he is out, Season 2 shows that you don’t mess with the Kingpin as whatever world he is in, he rises to the top of and plots his agenda further from there. He is the only one on this list who truly loves another as well…Vanessa is a character who challenges and forces him to reveal his darker self and also his idealism as all his destruction is for the greater good of bringing about stability and cleaning out the corruption and abuse that so scarred him as a child. Vincent D’Onofrio truly owns this role and whatever moves the writers have him do next it is going to have ripples through the Defenders Universe and possibly the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. Kingpin is truly number 1.

“Luke Cage” Season 1 – Of Oppression, Race, Power and Hope

luke-cage

  Marvel’s “Netflix” shows are the best thing to come out of the MCU. The shows are relevant, topical and have fully fleshed out characters and stories. “Luke Cage” is no different and the more powerful with the election of Trump and resurgent KKK and Alt-Right. This is a show about African-American characters and their power, be they heroes or villains. The story takes place in Harlem and is honest about racism and poverty in the story that unfolds. I’ll get into that more with the assessment, but for how relevant this show is now, and shows like it can not be unsaid….stories matter.

      “Luke Cage” was created by Cheo Hodari Coker.

    The story is about Luke Cage, who after the events of “Jessica Jones” returns to Harlem and has gotten out of the hero business. This until the actions taken by the gangster Cottonmouth pull him back in as Cottonmouth’s corruption leads to the loss of his mentor and the harming of Harlem.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of “Luke Cage” is close to our own (like what most of Marvel strives to be like in the “Defenders” world, but from the lens of Harlem manages to tackle topical issues as well as still giving us fantastical elements like a HAMMER suit and the fact that Luke Cage is a Super Hero. The world is like ours enough to be relate-able but fantastic enough to allow escapism.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and is great at showing the beautiful areas of Harlem. Whether it is Cottonmouth’s club or the Church or even the city streets. Every scene is alive.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is amazing and is a great mixture of R and B and Blues. Cottonmouth’s Club has some great performances and they are in the background and give themes to some scenes. Younge and Muhammad really did a great job putting this score together.

The Writing – This is Marvel, Marvel is great at choosing good writers and this is on display here. There is all show rather than tell and the themes of race, oppression and power are intermixed in subtly and beautifully.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of the film, though “Luke Cage” does have the MCU villain problem where the primary antagonist just isn’t that compelling in the end. Outside of that though I loved these characters.

Misty Knight – Misty Knight is the detective who sleeps with Luke in episode 1 and is working to capture him or save him as she learns her partner was working for Cottonmouth and that Luke Cage is innocent of what others keep trying to frame him for. She even manages to convince her boss of Cage’s innocence though when Luke is revealed as Carl and that he escaped from Seagate, there is nothing she can do.

Shades – Shades served time with Carl Lucas/Luke Cage in Seagate and was one of his tormentors. Once he gets out he is working for Diamondback and trying to get Cottonmouth to better follow Diamondback’s lead. Eventually Diamondback turns on him (after Shades helps Mariah cover up the murder of Cottonmouth) leading to an alliance between her and Mariah to overthrow Diamondback and become the new leaders of the Harlem Underworld. They win. Can’t wait to see more of this guy.

Mariah Dillard – Mariah was raised by one of the past leaders of the Harlem gang (Mother Mabel) scene and was meant to be the brains while her cousin Cottonmouth was meant to be the muscle. She succeeds but goes through great trauma first as she was raped by her Uncle as a kid and Mabel did nothing. She kills Cottonmouth when he blames her for her Uncle and rightfully she kills him. This leads to her working with Shades to overthrow Diamondback and taking over the political scene and crime scene fully. By the end of the season she’s one as Luke Cage is taken in once more by Seagate.

Cottonmouth – Cornell Stokes, or “Cottonmouth” is the main antagonist in the first half of the series and I wish he’d stayed the main antagonist. The reason why is he is very much Luke’s foil in every way. Where Luke is stoic, Cottonmouth talks a lot and takes pleasure in everything. He is also a man who losing it all doesn’t stop him from owning his power. This dynamic would have forced Luke to kill him in the end but it never happens since his cousin Mariah does after he victim blames her. This is a character who was a musician but gave it all up to take over the crime scene and all his scenes on the piano are full of regret. Mahershala Ali (Remi from “House of Cards”) is once again amazing!

Claire Temple – Claire is back! Rosario Dawson is easily the best hero of the Defenders as she is flawed, complex but good at the end of the day and she doesn’t carry the martyr complex most of the heroes carry at it. She’s the one whose grown the most and it is great seeing her use her connections to help Luke Cage fight Diamondback throughout the series.

Luke Cage – Luke Cage, known as Carl Lucas before was framed for murder by his half-brother Diamondback and spends most of the film running from that until he finally gets to confront his step-brother and the truth comes out leading to him going back to Seagate. Luke Cage is a story of resistance, it doesn’t matter that he was framed, at the end of the day he is seen as a threat and him tackling the racist underpinnings of that (from vigilante white cops wanting to kill him and the prison warden) Luke Cage’s story is that of reclaiming power that was lost and from that he represents the fight for equality from within the United States.

Racism and Power – This is a running theme through the story, from the fact that money isn’t really coming into Harlem (leading to Cottonmouth, Mariah and Diamondback’s rise) and a huge part of that is because it is the African-American quarter of New York and as history has shown those areas existed because of the groups in power not wanting to be with the groups who didn’t have power (Red lining, denying housing to groups that weren’t white, etc.). This is implicit in the story and lends power to the narrative as Luke works to change things from within the city.

Okay: Diamondback – Diamondback is Luke Cage’s crazy half-brother who has tons of daddy issues and believes himself to be in a religious quest to purge Harlem of the corrupt and rule it. At the end of the day he is crazy and is never given any more dimension than that, which is fine but he isn’t great and is one of the weakest parts of this series. I wish Cottonmouth had stayed the big bad.

Pops – Pops is the mentor character but never felt fully fleshed out. He wasn’t bad and was a good guy but he works more as the ideal of Harlem and how all are in it together as family. In that way he works as well as being the call to action.

The Cons: The Final Fight – Diamondback and Luke Cage are fighting in the streets of Harlem and a crowd gathers to cheer on Cage. This felt so corny that it ruined the tension.

   The main cons that really bring the story down are the death of Cottonmouth (which made sense and I still really like Shades and Mariah and I’m glad they are still around) and Diamondback not being all that compelling. He’s crazy but he can’t carry it, especially since the first half of the series is setting up Cottonmouth as Luke Cage’s foil. His death was a major loss to the MCU and I think was overall the wrong choice due to how it shattered the great narrative pacing that had happened up to that point. I’d still recommend this series, it is a favorite and even though it is no “Daredevil” Season 1 I’d put it above “Jessica Jones” and “Daredevil” season 2 in the “Defenders” stories we have seen so far. We will need more stories like this in the future and I look forward to Season 2.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

Doctor Strange (2016): Fantastic Universe and Protagonists With Sadly Forgettable Villains

doctor-strange

      “Doctor Strange” is a really fun, this is a film that would have easily gotten into my Top 5 if it had managed to get over the hurdle that most Marvel Cinematic Universe films face…as in having a compelling villain who exists as more than just a hurtle to be defeated and if the love interest had actually been more than a plot device. These are problems that this film has right off the bat and I’ll get into more details with the spoilers below. Suffice to say, this is still a great film you should see…the protagonists are all fantastic and the world is a compelling one that I can’t wait to return back to.

     The film was directed by Scott Derrickson who co-wrote the screenplay with C. Robert Cargill and was produced by Kevin Feige.

       The story involves Doctor Strange, a famous surgeon whose world is thrown upside down when after a car accident he can no longer use his hands, which forces him to seek out help leading him to the Ancient One and a universe full of dimensions, magic and threats.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is amazing! This is a world where other dimensions and being exist, where people can create magic from energy from those worlds and the limits of imagination are explored (something I wish we could have got more of in “Inception”). The World is easily the biggest reason to see this movie.

The Special Effects – How the world is visualized is through the magic of special effects and these are the best ones I’ve seen and unlike “Inception” which sticks with the grey of the city this one embraces the acidic trippy roots of “Doctor Strange” and does in fact go “Far out.” It’s a trip and a good one.

The Action – The action is wonderful largely due to the effects and how magic is visualized in this universe. It takes the idea of energy and uses it to empower artifacts and to create weapons and gateways. This leads to some fantastic sequences as reality, time and dimensions are twisted in quite a few fantastic fight sequences.

The Protagonists – I’m not including the love interst in this because she’s a disposable prop like the villains, but the sorcerers are amazing and compelling, each in their own ways.

The Ancient One – Tilda Swinton does a wonderful job as this complex master of Celtic origins who is of unknown age. She manages to show compassion and also bluntness and vulnerability and strength, be old and young and appear genderless. She is the Ancient One and her relationship with her pupils is compelling in how those relationships grow or fall apart over the course of the film. One issue that the film tries to skirt and never addresses is the fact that the Ancient One was was originally Tibetan. They attempt to skirt this with an endogenous female Ancient One in Swinton, and she does a good job in the role but it does white wash a group (Asian Americans) who are rarely represented in Hollywood and rarely represented in this film though the location of Tibet is still used as the home and Headquarters of the Ancient One and her organization.

Wong – Benedict Wong plays my favorite character in this Universe. We are introduced to him as the new Librarian after Mads Mikkleson (villain name is irrelevant and he isn’t compelling enough to call him by his name) kills him so he’s strict about the rules of the Library. Over the course of the film we see that he has a sense of humor, such as when Strange reverses time to save him and the world and he embraces it showing living matters more to him than any rules and he loves the fight.

Mordo – Mordo is a Paladin, he’s all about the rules and what is right and when he finds the Ancient One was bending the rules and dealing with the Dark in order to fight it it leads to his loss of faith, especially after Strange also makes a deal with the Dark as he leaves them deciding that there are too many magicians and that he needs to reestablish the Natural Order that they are all upsetting.  Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the fall so well and I can’t wait to see him as an antagonist in future films. He was my second favorite character in this film, the third being Doctor Strange.

Doctor Strange – Doctor Strange is an arrogant dick who using the loss of his hands was the best thing that happened to him since it offered him to see beyond himself and his ego. This is his arc and what separates him from Tony Stark is he comes off as a much bigger dick than Tony even in “Iron Man 2.” In this way his bending the rules even after he’s learned makes sense and why he’s willing to face eternal pain to save the world. He realizes just how much of a monster he was and makes amends. Benedict is great in this role and I can’t wait to see more of this character.

The Ending – Strange crosses into the Dark Dimension to make a deal with the Dark One Dormammu and gets killed many times before Dormammu makes the deal Strange has been offering the entire time. It is humorous and fitting and I really like that it wasn’t a fight scene. It showed that Strange is a mind based hero and sometimes you can’t beat the big bad you can only keep it away or outsmart it.

The Cons: Disposable Characters – The villains could have been anyone and Rachel McAdams’s character could have been played by anyone. These characters exist as props to advance the plot of Doctor Strange, nothing more.

The Love Interest – She saves his life and makes him realize he cares about people….that’s it. What is her family life like? No idea. We here about when her and Strange hooked up….Why? We never find out. Why does she like Doctor Strange? No clue. She is a plot device and the plot didn’t need her which is a shame because McAdams is a great actress.

The Villains – Mads Mikkleson is an evil wizard who wants to bring the Dark One to Earth and have immortality. Beyond that and his falling out with the Ancient One it is never explored further. Dormammmu is just kind of there, an evil Special Effect and together they could have been any Villain of the Week (Like Mads’s character). There is no reason to care about either of these characters and neither of them ham it up like Ronan enough to make it interesting. But you are seeing a Marvel Movie, you got to go into knowing they don’t know how to make good villains usually and this film is a shining example of it.

    This was a great film but the problems that underwrite it as a Marvel Film that doesn’t take risks keep it from becoming more. This is a film that if the villain had been more humanized (as Mordo is leading to his fall) or the love interest had been more than a plot device would have elevated it into my Top 5. For now I’d say it’s below “Ant-Man” for sure but above some of the sequels like “Thor 2” and “Iron Man 2,” as it could have been so much more if characters had been disposable in the plot, be they the antagonist or lover. You should still go see this film, just know these problems going in and you’ll have a better experience all the more for it. This is a film that is standing proof of just how well the Marvel Model works and I can’t wait to see more of this character and his world.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Amazing Characters in a Story That Explores War and Responsibility

Captain America Civil War

        “Captain America: Civil War” is easily one of the best films of Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is the film that deals with the fall out of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and the past Marvel Films. At the core this is a film that tackles the nature of responsibility to self and to the larger world and what that means in regards to the Avengers. In some ways it could have been handled better (especially if they’d gone with the “Registration Act” of the comics and had X-Men in this Universe) but for what they have and the conflict at the core of the film, it is handled really well. I also wanted more loss, but that is just me.

      The film was directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and produced by Kevin Feige.

   SPOILERS ahead

    The story involves the United Nations forming the Sokovia Accords so that the Avengers have oversight after a mission leads to a lot of civilian deaths. The Avengers soon find themselves divided on the issue as things escalate when the King of Wakanda is assassinate and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is believed responsible leading Captain America (Chris Evans) and his group going rogue while Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and his team become enforces of the Accords.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and actually manages to be distinct for a Marvel film, which really shows how great the Russo’s are at expressing their vision of these stories. Trent Opaloch did a great job on this.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack feels epic and allows you to feel more fully the events on the screen. It isn’t the greatest of these soundtracks but it still a plus and compliments the film beautifully as it carries elements of “The Avengers” and the past “Captain America” films within the sound. Henry Jackman did good work on this.

The Action – This film has the best action sequences out of all the Marvel films besides “The Winter Soldier.” Part of this is due to the fight having actual meaning and us caring about the players because we’ve got to spend so much time with these characters and have come to care about them.

The Writing – For a movie that has a lot of ground to cover (introducing Spider-Man and the Black Panther) as well as the Civil War storyline and within that both Iron Man and Captain America’s arc…it does it seamlessly. Where “Age of Ultron” and “Batman v. Superman” were cluttered, this one manages to weave together all the elements in this fascinating character drama.

The Characters – The characters are why we keep coming back to these films and here they each have their moments where we get to know them and see how the last films have changed them. The only one who feels tacked on it Sharon Carter.

Thaddeus Ross – We haven’t seen this guy since “The Incredible Hulk” and how he’s running the United Nations…I really like that they did this as he more than anyone knows what the consequences are of letting those with power run around unchecked. For this reason his going to extremes and locking up all those who joined with Captain America makes sense. This is a guy ruled by fear in a Universe full of creatures that could destroy Earth easily.

Crossbones – SPOILERS, I wish he’d killed Captain America like in the comics. He has a small role in this where he is trying to get a bioweapon, and in doing so shows us that HYDRA is still active, and he puts up an awesome fight against Captain America too and nearly kills him when he tries to blow up himself. Disney, this is a character I’d like to see come back, your films don’t have enough good villains and he was a great one.

Zemo – Zemo is the one manipulating everything and turns the Avengers against each other to avenge his dead wife and child. I got his sadness and I’m glad they didn’t kill him off. He’s shown he can be a great villain as his plans succeed, he just needs someone to give him direction for future films.

Peter Parker / Spider-Man – Tom Holland might end up being my favorite Spider-Man. He’s awkward, nerdy and has great quips and conversation during his fight sequence. I’m looking forward to “Homecoming” as I’ve missed seeing Peter Parker and Spider-Man captured so well…he hasn’t been this real since the Rami ones. I like that Tony Stark is his mentor and that he is someone who is poor and does whatever he can to live. Spider-Man is about facing adversity and standing up to those who do too.

Scott Lang / Ant-Man – Paul Rudd gets to stretch his comedic chops in this and is great as the Captain America fanboy who manages to be the best weapon on the battlefield as he makes himself both large and small and wins most of the fights he gets in. Seeing him again reminded me of why I enjoyed his film.

Vision – Vision is really a fantastic character. He is very much the alien and Spock of the crew who doesn’t fully understand humans so looks at things from an empirical and logical point of view. I really liked him and Bettany does a wonderful job in the role.

Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch – Scarlet Witch like Ant-Man is one of the powerhouses in this as once she finds her confidence she saves most of the characters in the battle. She is also the one everyone fears because of how powerful she is and for her being front and center in the fight against Crossbones and her stopping him lead to the bomb he became killing civilians in a building. Her arc is embracing herself and no longer caring what the others think of her.

Clint Barton / Hawkeye – He’s back and he’s alright. I mostly like him for calling Tony Stark out (though he rightfully gets called out too). He’s sarcastic and quippy and you get that retirement didn’t really work out all that well for him.

Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow – Black Widow is the double agent in this as she believes in the Accords and oversight but believes in Captain America more as she helps Bucky and Steve escape in the large battle at the airport. I would have liked to hear more of her thoughts. Scarlett Johansson is once again amazing.

James Rhodes / War Machine – War Machine believes in the Accords and you get why as he military and military is all about oversight and he’s also seen the danger of Hulk and even the villains they’ve fought (and of course Ultron). He gets injured in the escape of Steve Rodgers and has to learn how to walk again. Cheadle is great as usual.

Sam Wilson / Falcon – Anthony Mackie plays one of my favorite characters in this universe and it is wonderful to see the reasons why he follows Captain America as like the Captain he believes in individuals and doesn’t trust organizations (after his experience with HYDRA and SHIELD makes sense). He is captured in the end but broken out by Captain America to end the film.

T’Challa / Black Panther – Boseman has me excited for the “Black Panther” film. In this we get his motivation as he believes Bucky killed his father the King and in turn he dawns the Black Panther armor to avenge his death. This leads him all over the world until he sees how revenge has consumed Zemo so he chooses not too and instead ops to turn Zemo in as he has let go of his rage.

Steve Rodgers / Captain America – Steve is both smart and stupid in this. Smart because the Avengers do need some sort of oversight (you have Gods running around who can do massive damage if something takes control of one of them or they lose control) and his trust of Bucky is dangerous as Bucky nearly kills his friends multiple times in this. I get why he fights this though as Thaddeus locks up the Avengers who joined him in a high security prison showing that he doesn’t care about balance or even using the Avengers to protect, which is the point of them. Chris Evans owns this role and his scenes with everyone are gold as well as what he represents in the fight against Liberty and Security, which in turn is the continuation of the debate started in “The Winter Soldier.”

Tony Stark / Iron Man – Tony is a man consumed by demons (Pepper left him, missing his parents, regret over his wrongs) who realizes that most of the problems the Avengers have had have been caused by the Avengers (creating Ultron, etc.). This leads to him getting behind the Accords and fighting Steve over it. In the end he is able to make peace though as he lets Captain America break out the Avengers Thaddeus had put away as we get the idea he wants the balance that is at the core of the Accords and that he forgives Steve to some degree for all that went down.

Responsibility and Oversight – This also relates to the Social Contract and Liberty v. Security. This is the core issue going on this film and why the Civil War exists in the first place between the Avengers. Oversight makes sense and the dangers of oversight are illustrated too. Who watches the watchers? The film is good at leaving this open too.

War and Consequences – Zemo and the Accords arose from the consequences of the war and the power of weapons. The Avengers are weapons and the collateral damage they cause to save lives goes addressed here. There is no going back from the trauma war brings and in the end you can end up like Zemo seeking revenge or T’Challa finding peace.

Okay: Sharon Carter – She felt shoe-horned in because of her relation to Agent Carter. I liked some of her scenes but her romance with Steve that was thrown in at the end felt tacked on. Her character wasn’t needed and wasn’t as fun as Spider-Man or Ant-Man (on the same subject of characters who weren’t needed to tell the story). It never really shows when they hooked up either.

 The Cons: Scarlet Witch and Vision Romance – Romance is once again this issue and it again feels tacked on! We never get when this love blossomed and they felt more like friends than lovers.

Lack of Loss – I wanted someone to die. We are getting close to the “Infinity War” and the lack of main character death that is permanent is annoying me. This of all films was perfect as Captain America is killed in the comics during this arc, so why not in the film too?

   For me the one thing that really brings it down is that Marvel has not been able to kill off any character for good. I was rooting for Bucky or Steve to die in this one so that Tony would fully feel the cost of what he was doing and so we’d fully feel the hit before the “Infinity War.” So often in these films characters die but not for good, unless they are a villain. This is a Marvel Problem but it is one that doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the film, and this is really the sequel that “Age of Ulton” should have been as it captures the spirit of the first “Avengers” film. “Civil War” is well worth your time and I’m super excited for the “Black Panther” and “Spider-Man” film. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10