Category Archives: Marvel

“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

 

 

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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.

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

“Wolverine and the X-Men” Season 1 – A Solid X-Men Series That Should Have Got a Season 2

Wolverine and the x-men

   “Wolverine and the X-Men” was an animated series created in 2009 by Marvel Animation and is one of the best Marvel Animated projects I have watched since the older “X-Men: The Animated Series” and “X-Men Evolution.” Animation has usually been the strength of DC, except when it comes to the X-Men, where Marvel has managed to capture everything that made these characters great and brought us to them in the first place.

    The series was created by Craig Kyle and Greg Johnson.

     The story involves the mysterious disappearance of Professor X and Jean Grey after a psychic explosion, leading Wolverine to return and reunite the X-Men as elsewhere Magneto plots from Genosha against humanity and Senator Kelly starts the Sentinel Program to capture and register all mutants.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The World of X-Men is strange and fascinating. In this we have characters from the weird alien Mojo, to the Brotherhood of Mutants, the future X-Men and a Sentinel run universe, Weapon X, The X-Men and Mr. Sinister.

The Brotherhood of Mutants – The Brotherhood are the main enemies until we learn that Magneto is the one controlling them, but even then they later change sides when Magneto disowns Quicksilver, leading to them helping the X-Men.

Avalanche – Avalanche is one of the most powerful members of the Brotherhood and seems to be a chill guy. I wish we could have got more time with him.

Domino – Domino is awesome and exists as both a Future X-Men and as a member of the Brotherhood who has a friendship with Rogue. She is the most receptive of the team to helping the X-Men as she is a true believer and just wants to protect the Mutants from humanity.

Quicksilver – Quicksilver is the leader of the Brotherhood and everything he does is to please Magneto and get into his good graces, that is until Magneto disowns him and he doesn’t care anymore…leading to him helping the X-Men until he later rejoins Magneto in exile after Scarlet Witch kicks Magneto off the Island for his crimes.

Future X-Men – The Future X-Men exist in the Sentinel run future that Professor X wakes up too and from where he communicates from to Wolverine in order to prevent the Future he exists in from happening as in the present he is still in a coma. It is a fascinating world.

Professor X – Professor X has to earn the trust of the Future X-Men and help them fight the Sentinels who now run the future. So much of what he is doing is trying to prevent the future he woke up from from happening and through that he works with Bishop and his Team to try and defeat the Sentinels and in the future present and the past. He provides a good mentor role.

Rover – Rover was created by Polaris and is a good Sentinel who Marrow befriends. In the end Rover gives his life for the Team when the Sentinels are taking them out. He was a great small character.

Polaris – Polaris is Magneto’s daughter who is overprotected in the past and in the future is the leader of a destroyed Genosha who has gone crazy. In the end she saves Professor X and helps defeat the Sentinels and rejecting her father’s philosophy to work with her sister Scarlet Witch and humanity for peace in the present.

Bishop – Bishop is awesome! He was raised in a Sentinel camp and is trained by Wolverine. He is a pretty great character and my favorite future character. He is a natural leader and knows the stakes and believes in Professor X.

Scarlet Witch – Scarlet Witch is the future leader of Genosha as she believes in mutant freedom but not when it means hurting them and causing conflict when there is peace (unlike Magneto). She is also Nightcrawler’s lover and they influence one another’s mindsets on things as her experience has made her distrustful of humanity where Nightcrawler still has hope.

The X-Men – The X-Men are fantastic! The only ones who didn’t get as much exploration where Iceman and Storm, but the rest managed to have some great shining moments or were given and interesting enough backstory to makeup for how much of a messup they are.

Storm – Storm deserved more of a story, she is a powerhouse and worshiped in Africa and manages to save the Continent from a force that is trying to use her, and we learn she used be a thief before meeting Professor X. After he introduction episode not much is done with her minus a somewhat romance with Angel.

Cyclops – Cyclops is obsessed with Jean Grey and we learn his issues tie back to her disappearance in the Phoenix Force and that it was that power and her that helped him become the leader he once was. Sadly we never get to see that leader as everything he does is in relation to Jean…but he was still a pro in this series.

Iceman – Iceman has a somewhat romance with Kitty and is the confident rookie in it all. He also sticks up to his family and leaves, coming out as a mutant. So that was cool, but we don’t get anything else like that after he rejoins the X-Men.

Kitty Pryde – Kitty is awesome! She saves the Team on multiple occasions and shows that she is a leader within her own right. I wish we’d gotten more time with her too as she is leaving to Genosha when the X-Men pick her up.

Rogue – Rogue is well, a rogue. She works with the Brotherhood for a while before leaving them and has to reestablish trust with the X-Men. She is a great character though and extremely powerful as we see her shut down the Brotherhood and any powerful mutant by touching them and taking their powers.

Angel – Angel is the son of one of the men behind the Sentinel program and a “Cure” for being a mutant. In the end his wings are taken away leading him to make a deal with Mr. Sinister, where he becomes unstoppable and archangel, but also no longer the calm man living the double life he was before. His story is a tragedy as he is with Mr. Sinister still at the end.

Nightcrawler – Nightcrawler is amazing and one of my favorite X-Men! In this he protects refugees from pirates, discovers Magneto’s fascist state is a ruse and that he is planning war with humanity and convinces Scarlet Witch to help him and the X-Men.

Emma Frost – Emma Frost works for Hellfire Club and is a double agent through most of the series as she helps the X-Men but also triggered the explosion in the first place since she wanted Jean Grey for the Hellfire Club so they could control the Phoenix. She has a change of heart at the end due to her love of Cyclops and sacrifices herself in the final.

Jean Grey – Jean Grey has no memory of her prior self and events that transpired until she is back with the X-Men and captured by the Hellfire Club. We see her past self though and that was always someone with strength and confidence as she defeated Magneto as a child when he was attempting to capture her to use her powers.

Beast – Beast is the mentor and Wolverine’s second-in-command. We see him protecting others and figuring out mysteries for much of the series. I like him a lot as he’s easily the calmest and most mature member of the Team.

Wolverine – Wolverine drives the story and from it we see his attraction to Jean Grey, his connection to Weapon X and his attempt to stop them, becoming leader of the X-Men when Professor X finds him to be the only one who can to stop the Sentinels and his past relationship with Mystique. He is really cool in this and was a smart choice to lead to the story.

The Antagonists – The antagonists outside of Mojo, are really fascinating and part of what makes this story so great. Each of them have distinct motivations and ways of going about their goals.

The Sentinels – Master Mold controls them and we see how highly adaptive they are as they are becoming more like X-Men in the future. They are only stopped by Peace and the Future X-Men destroying Master Mold.

Senator Kelly – Kelly is a warmonger who lives by fear until he sees that the Sentinels will destroy everything, when Wolverine has Professor X show him and Magneto the future. In this moment he shows he is racist  and fascist(has his own paramilitary force) but can accept reason.

Trask – Trask is the scientist who creates the Sentinels but also shows he can see reason when he tries to stop Mystique from using them to attack Genosha. I wish we could have gotten more of his motivations though.

Mr. Sinister – Mr. Sinister is seeking the perfect Mutant and those he can use. This leads to him transforming Angel into Archangel and collecting samples everywhere. We see he serves Apocalypse at the end as well.

Mystique – Mystique works with Magneto but also does her own things too as her taking out Weapon X was for personal revenge and love of Wolverine. She is a great character and manages to succeed at most of her missions.

Magneto – Magneto is an outright villain in this and even after Professor X shows him the future where they all lose…starts the war anyway. Luckily he loses thanks to the Phoenix Force from the Hellfire Club, Scarlet Witch and his people turning against him and the X-Men. He goes into exile with Quicksilver after. He was a good villain but I like Magneto best when he’s an anti-hero, not someone hurting his own people.

Days of Future Past – Professor X works with Bishop to communicate with Wolverine in the past to prevent the Sentinel run future while fighting the Sentinels in that future. This was this show’s take on the arc and it is awesome!

The Phoenix Arc – The Phoenix knocks out Professor X and causes Jean to lose her memory. When the Hellfire Club releases it Emma Frost captures it and dies versus in the comics where it is usually always Jean who dies.

Okay: The Hellfire Club – They appeared at the end and should have got more setup, especially since Emma Frost caused the explosion of the Phoenix in the first place.

Weapon X – Weapon X was an okay storyline. i didn’t care about the mad scientist or Sabretooth and the only interesting thing was Mystique was going to be an experiment until Wolverine saved her in the past…and we learn they were lovers but he has no memory because of what Weapon X did to him.

The Cons: Age of Apocalypse and Cancellation – Mr. Sinister was working with Apocalypse and in the end we see Apocalypse being worshiped. This was the setup for Season 2 and since there wasn’t a Season 2 became a con.

Mojo and his Pirates – Mojo is obsessed with his hunting show where mutants are hunted…and that is it. The guy makes no sense and clashes with the main stories that were going on in the show.

   This was a series that was solidly good and shouldn’t have been canceled. The fact that they were setting up “Age of Apocalypse,” hurt the final product in the end. It is smart for shows to have a good ending to a season and only set things up if they know they have a future. I still recommend this show though. It manages to cover at leas 2 major comic arcs (Phoenix arc and Days of Future Past, as well as Weapon X) and does it really well. What helps is the characters and the villains are complex and I cared about their choices and struggles. This is a solid series I’d highly recommend.

Final Score: 9 / 10

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – An Alright Made for Television Film

X-Men Apocalypse

  There is a comment that Jean Grey makes after her and the other X-Men leave the school to go see “Return of the Jedi.” She says, “We all can agree, the third film is always the worst.” Meant as a jab against “X-Men 3” by Bryan Singer, the same rule also applies to the new Trilogy that began with “First Class,” as this film is clearly the weakest in the new Trilogy. It isn’t a bad film, “Return of the Jedi” isn’t a bad film…but a lot of it doesn’t work and in the end it feels like an okay, made for tv movie in both production quality and filming.

       “X-Men: Apocalypse” was directed by Bryan Singer who was one of the producers and creators of the story. The screenplay was by Simon Kinberg who was also one of the producers and the other producers are Lauren Shuler Donner and Hutch Parker.

SPOILERS ahead

    The story involves the awakening of the first mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaacs) after he is trapped underneath a pyramid when his people rebel against him. From here it is up to the X-Men to stop him after Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) is kidnapped by Apocalypse and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is made into one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The Pros: The World – The world of X-Men is a wonderful world. There are so many factions and characters. This is a world that is always in flux and that a single X-Men can often change the shape of that world.

The Characters – The characters are fantastic and the strongest part of this series. Each of them is flawed and an outcast and it helps define their struggle, making them compelling.

Cyclops – Cyclops demonstrates why he will later become group leader in this, as we see him demonstrate courage after he makes friends with Nightcrawler and Jean Grey and mounts a rescue with them to save Mystique, Beast and Quicksilver from Striker.

Beast – Beast is back and is the adviser and friend to Xavier. His arc is making peace with how he looks and through it he helps Mystique do the same.

Nightcrawler – Nightcrawler is one of my favorite X-Men and it is awesome to see him here again! We are introduced to him in the Mutant Fighting Pits that Human supremacists run and later at Professor X’s school after Mystique rescues him. He shows courage on countless occasions.

Quicksilver – Evan Peters is a great Quicksilver and he is one of the best parts of this film. His relationship to Mystique and Magneto are fascinating and we see that he admires his dad but is ashamed of him too as he chooses not to tell him that he is Magneto’s son…He knows his dad turning on the villain at the end doesn’t rewrite all his past murders.

Mystique – Jennifer Lawrence is good as Mystique and her arc is making peace with herself again as we see her embrace her natural look by the end and become a member of the X-Men, helping to found the newest generation of them. She is a Mutant revolutionary in this as after the events of last film she represents mutant power to others and she continues to be the one who rescues them from harm.

Magneto – Fassbender is awesome as Magneto! In this we see him have a family in Poland only to lose it all when the locals panic, causing him to be manipulated by Apocalypse into one of his Horsemen. His arc is realizing that his friends are his family and that he isn’t alone. He still doesn’t trust people, and he has a lot of bad stuff he’s done…but by the end there is the man who will act for good for Mutants and all.

Professor X – Professor X’s arc involves him realizing how he is like Apocalypse (Apocalypse influences people to do his will) which leads to Xavier giving Moira back her memories as she is an ally (she sadly is just kind of there in regards to the script though…). Apocalypse captures him and wants to use his body as his next vessel so he can control everyone’s mind and see into everyone’s mind. Professor X fights it and with Jean Grey’s help is able to get Apocalypse out of his mind.

Jean Grey – Sophie Turner is a great Jean Grey and she actually has a decent arc! Her arc is releasing her full powers and in the process defeating Apocalypse. We see her afraid of what she sees and it mirrors Professor X’s journey. She is the best hero in this. Only complain is her American accent doesn’t always work.

Okay: Wolverine – Wolverine has a Cameo at Striker’s base and we see that he just got his claws. He reeks tons of havoc upon Striker’s forces and is only brought out of his feral state by Jean Grey, establishing why he’ll be attracted to her later. It wasn’t needed, but it wasn’t bad. Jackman continues to dominate this role.

The Other Horsemen – The other Horsemen are just kind of there and aren’t given much to do. Storm is a thief who later joins the X-Men, Angel is a fighter in a mutant fighter arena . Psylocke is an enforcer who turns against Apocalypse with Storm and Magneto at the end too. Though she might be possessed by Apocalypse’s spirit at the end, so I guess that is something that was done with her character at least.

Okay/Con: Apocalypse – Apocalypse seems bored most of the time.

The Cons: Direction and Cinematography – The direction looks like television…whether is the cheaper looking costumes or the cinematography that makes me appreciate the cinematography in “The Flash” more. When you are less than the CW, you are television level directing.

Stan Lee Cameo – The cameo happens when Apocalypse gets rid of the World’s nukes. It makes the scene funny when it should have been dramatic and serious.

Unfocused Narrative – The narrative felt unfocused at times, especially after we visit Striker’s base…

Costumes – The costumers look bad. The leather makes everything look big and it has none of the realism from the Marvel films or even the decent looking costumers the DC films.

Striker and his Base –  This whole side quest felt like a callback to X-2 as we are back at Striker’s base with a young Striker (didn’t Mystique replace him last film?) and he’s just there so we can have a human baddie to counter Apocalypse. More time could have been spent to develop Apocalypse and his motivations rather than this crap. Good action but pointless.

   As stated at the beginning this is the weakest in the New X-Men Trilogy that began with “First Class.” The production value doesn’t help, though the actors and characters add a lot to it and help elevate it beyond the cons making it a flawed but fun film that I wouldn’t watch again, but enjoyed while watching. This film is okay. If you are a fan of X-Men you will probably like it. Apocalypse could have been a much more interesting character and threat and his presentation just doesn’t work. The drama that works is when we are with the characters and their individual relationships trying to make their way in the world…and that is what made the film worth seeing.

Final Score: 6.4 / 10