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.

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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

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): The Scars We Carry and the Potential To Heal

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-Poster

“Age of Ultron” was great, a lot of fun and actually had some amazing points to make about motivations and how we as people relate to one another as well as how those wounds we carry relate to our relationships and the choices we make from them. It also is not the best of the new Marvel Properties. “Winter Soldier,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Marvel’s Daredevil” are better, though I can’t deny that Ultron is the first villain besides Loki and Kingpin I’ve actually cared about and found truly interesting and memorable.

The film was directed and written by Joss Whedon and produced by Kevin Feige.

SPOILERS from here.

The story involves Banner and Tony creating the Ultron program in attempt to retire the Avengers after they find Baron Von Strucker’s files and capture him after raiding a H.Y.D.R. A. base and choose to use it to create an A.I. to guard against future space invasions and enforcing the peace at home. Sadly this doesn’t go as planned as Loki’s Scepter and the Program Ultron take control of J.A.R.V.I.S. and begin attacking the Avengers. They soon find themselves alone and isolated as Ultron works with Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver to destroy the Avengers from the inside as he plots his own agenda for the fall of humanity.

The Pros: The Dialogue – This is Joss Whedon and the dialogue is not as funny as the first “Avengers” but just as witty. Characters still have great banter with one another with the party scene where different folks try to life Thor’s Hammer as one of the best examples of this, but there are these moments throughout the film. Ultron has them too with each of the Avengers as he is a very human A.I.

The Action – The action is fantastic, though in the case of Iron Man vs. Hulk it goes on for a pretty long time and could have been shorter. The action in general I would have traded for more character moments as each of the moments we get with our characters are fantastic, be they hero or villain. We are given reasons to care about what happens to them and we see how the choices they make motivate who they are and what they become.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful in this film and we get to see the darkness the characters carry with them in the fear induced visions that Scarlet Witch gives them and in the actions of Ultron as he creates fear and chaos around him. Ben Davis did a good job.

The Characters – Most characters in this film have great development and we get to see them change or get glimpses into their past. Given that “Avengers” set the stage so well, this was one of the only directions the film could be taken and Whedon succeeds in his task in giving us wonderfully complex characters once again.

War Machine – Rhody is pretty cocky in this and we see how Tony has rubbed off on him but also accepted him onto the team too as he is in the last battle and takes part in the battle in the Avenger’s Tower against the first Ultron bots. He is great and we see how insecure he feels around the big guys, especially Captain America and Thor when they don’t even blink about his story of showing up a general who asked him to deliver a tank. There is promise for him at the end though. Cheadle is still good in this role it’s just the role needs more development.

Falcon – Falcon is tracking Bucky for Captain America and takes part in the fight in the Tower against Ultron’s first attack. We don’t see him again until the end but he is secure working behind the scenes showing that in many ways he’s an unspoken S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in mentality. Really like the twist at the end and I’m rooting for this guy to be the new Captain America after Steve Rogers most likely gets assassinated in Civil War. Mackie is fantastic and is one of my favorite characters in this Universe.

Nick Fury – Nick Fury is the teacher in this and pull Tony out of his ego to actually deal with taking down the threat at hand. He also comes with the New S.H.I.E.L.D. which is there to protect and save civilians, not target potential threats. It’s a wonderful moment and we see how Captain America has changed him as a person and his ends justify the means approach he once had. Once again, you can’t go wrong with Samuel L. Jackson in this role.

Scarlet Witch – I was impressed with Elizabeth Olsen’s acting in this. Her Scarlet Witch is both powerful and vulnerable and we see her destroy the Avengers and later choose to be a part of them even though she is afraid for her life and afraid to work with the people that she had caused so much pain. In the end they accept her when she chooses to fight and saves Hawkeye. Sadly her brother dies which leads her to killing Ultron Prime to show him what it is like to die. I really want to see her dynamic with the Team and the others in the future. She is the most compelling new character besides Vision introduced in this film who is for sure still around.

Thor – Thor is shown to be a leader in this. We see him go to the Pools of Vision to understand his dream induced by Scarlet Witch which leads to him going against Captain America to help Banner and Stark create Vision. We also see his insecurity when others like Steve Rogers (who moves his hammer) and Vision (can use it fine) are shown to be comparable in physical power to him. Hemsworth truly masters this role and I’m curious to see where they take it as Thor is the one who sees the bigger picture now and knows the full threat of the Infinity Stones and what it means for the future. This is the most active Thor has ever been.

Black Widow – In this we see what the Black Widow Program does to the girls it makes assassins. In Natasha’s fear induced dream we see her train as an assassin, see her made sterile and her first kill. She knows the monster that was created in her and this leads to her being able to relate to Banner and the monster that lives in him. Their romance is powerful but in the end the Mission is what drives them apart as well as Banner’s fears of hurting her. Natasha lives for the mission still while Hulk just wants to be away from it all, no longer hurting anyone.

Hulk/Bruce Banner – Banner’s story is a tragedy again as he murders civilians as the Hulk after Scarlet Witch sets him off. He doesn’t come back from it until Iron Man beats him in his Hulkbuster Armor and we see how he can’t trust himself anymore and all the progress he made with Natasha is now gone. In the end he leaves everyone behind, afraid to hurt them even though even as Hulk he is now in control of himself once more. The regret and shame at the murders he caused as “The Big Guy” in the end are too much.

Iron Man/Tony Stark – This story follows the idea from “Iron Man 3” where Iron Man wants to create an army of suits so he can settle down with Pepper and not Super Hero anymore. Sadly things go wrong when he uses the power of the Infinity Stone to do so and it leads to the program Ultron getting free and reeking havoc upon the world. This doesn’t stop Tony though as he goes about creating Vision who is the next evolution of J.A.R.V.I.S. who has been protecting the world from Ultron even though everyone believed him to be dead when instead his program was just shattered but not destroyed. It is this creation of new life and realizing he can’t watch everyone die that leads him leaving the Avengers at the end dealing with the loss of Banner and his lost dream where the risks from Space are real and there isn’t a real defense against it. Tony is lost and his leaving is the only way to deal with it and the consequences of his creation of Ultron.

Captain America/Steve Rogers – Steve is the cautious one and is the one most angry at Tony for not getting their endorsement when he was going about creating Ultron with Banner. In this we see Captain America lives for the mission and being a man out of time he lost his chance for peace and settling down. Like Black Widow at the end, all he has is the mission and acting as the guardian of the world which becomes his motivation as he is the official leader of the New Avengers.

Hawkeye – Hawkeye is the glue that holds the team together as he is the only one who wasn’t put through a traumatic program or experimented upon by any organization. In this we learn he has a family and it his family who was protected off the books by of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Nick Fury that leads to the healing process as they are reminded again of who they fight for. In the end it implies that Hawkeye might be retiring and settling down like Tony too as we see the danger he is in and how it affects the relationship he has with his family. Hawkeye is the one Avenger who isn’t “special” in any superpowered or cursed way and this gives him perspective and helps him see what the other characters sometimes have trouble seeing through their scars and pain. I finally cared about this character after this film. Also he’s the only one not to have any mind games done too as he gets Scarlet Witch before hand referencing how much he hates mind manipulation and never wants it done to him again.

Vision – Vision is the next evolution of J.A.R.V.I.S. whose parents are Tony Stark, Ultron, and Thor who all made his mind in some way and Helen Cho who created his body. We don’t get to know Helen all that well but her compassion as a healer is a major part of Vision’s character. He is the one who has no problem lifting Thor’s Hammer and is an idealist about humanity even though he sees them as doomed he is honored to be an android among them and their to protect them. He is a slave to no one and is the one who finally ends Ultron who had been the one planning to use the body he now inhabits.

Ultron – James Spader is fantastic in this role! He is funny, scary and is sympathetic too as he thinks humanity can’t be saved because all he sees is conflict and war and himself and those he chooses to be the best bet for the evolution of mankind. He is like a child in many ways too and has a personal vendetta against Tony Stark who sees as a slavemaster for only seeing him as a puppet for his own ends and hates the rest of the Avengers too as their task is so pointless as humanity will always be the problem in the end. For me Ultron is now up there with GLADos and HAL 9000 as memorable A.I. enemies who I hope we see in the future or future incarnations. Only disadvantage is I wish he’d had a higher body count and had killed mroe named heroes besides Quicksilver.

The New Avengers – The New Avengers who are lead by Black Widow and Captain America are Scarlet Witch, War Machine, Falcon and Vision. I actually care about these new folks, some of whom we have met before in past films and would watch a television show of what they do. I hope we get to see them in action before “Infinity Arc.” All of them rock.

The Message – The core message is that the scars we carry with us can force us to stop making a difference and to leave everything behind (as Bruce Banner does and Tony Stark too) or to use it to grow as we see happen with Scarlet Witch when she avenges her brother’s murder by Ultron and becomes a member of the New Avengers. This dynamic is powerful and from within it or potential to protect (Vision) or destroy (Ultron). These A.I. are meant to reflect us and it is presented really well how they do.

Sign of Things to Come – Thor has a vision induced by Scarlet Witch and goes to the Pools of Vision and learns about the fact that 4 of the 6 Infinity Stones have been revealed. This leads to his decision to create Vision to protect the stone and his leaving Earth in order to find the final stones since he knows the full damage their power can cause. In the after credits scene we see Thanos put on the Infinity Gauntlet and decide to take matters into his own hands so we see that Thor is right and destruction is coming.

Okay: Baron Von Strucker – This leader of H.Y.D.R.A. is confident and smart and ends up dead far too quickly. For a guy who was the leader of a powerful organization he was taken out too quickly for us even to get to know him. He was okay for what little time we saw him but never registered as a threat.

Quicksilver – Quicksilver is killed by Ultron when he defends a child and Hawkeye. He is the angriest of the twins and we see him rock against the Avengers when he faces them and put up a good fight against Ultron too. His death was sad but still wasn’t as powerful as the death in the first “Avengers.” I did like how it changed Scarlet Witch though, so there is that.

The Soundtrack – Brian Taylor and Danny Elfman did the soundtrack and I couldn’t even tell that he was behind it. The only unique thing that didn’t quite work was “No Strings on Me.” The soundtrack was going for creepy but I can’t remember the soundtrack. It was forgettable, but not terrible.

This was a great film and Marvel has once again created a favorite film. I’m going to hold off on my list of MCU films from Worst to Best until I see “Ant-Man,” but this one will be pretty high on the list. The characters are great, the villain is great and though there are problems it did not stop from enjoying the film. This is a film I would buy and shows that Disney and Marvel still know what they are doing with their story and Franchise. Even if you haven’t seen any of the other films, you don’t need too. This film is great as a stand alone film.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10.

Chef (2014): A Celebration of Good Food and Finding Dignity

chef poster

Besides “Iron Man” this is probably my favorite film so far that Jon Favreau has directed. He also stars as the main character this and wrote the film, which gives me even more respect for the guy. This film clearly came from a place of passion and love of for the creation of good food. This film also does a great job of showing how social media shapes how films can be presented too, but I’ll get into more of the details of what I mean in the  actual assessment. One final note here as well, as someone who lives in Oregon, I have a great passion for food trucks and this movie does a wonderful job showing what they do and can do.

“Chef” was directed, written and produced by Jon Favreau, with the other producers being Karen Gilchrist and Sergei Bespalov.

The premise of the story involves Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favraeu) losing it after a critic Ramsey (Oliver Platt) gives him a bad review after his boss Riva (Dustin Hoffman) pressures him to keep the menu safe, rather than to experiment. This leads to him quitting when his boss refuses to let him cook anything beyond traditional menu leading him to seek out help from his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and returns him to the dream of owning a food truck and having full control over what he gets to cook, over the course of this he finally builds a relationship with his son.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Like I said at the beginning, there is a beautiful presentation and love of the food that is cooked. Whether it is a simple grilled cheese sandwich, an Italian dish or a rich meat dish…all the food is presented beautifully on screen. Kramer Morgenthau did a great job with it all.

The Soundtrack – I really enjoyed the soundtrack! It has a lot of jazz of all kinds, Cuban music and drums that give it a very active feel, which fits as it doesn’t show being a Chef as easy. It shows just how difficult the work is and the pressure of people waiting as their dish is completed. Lyle Workman did a fantastic job!

The Characters – The strongest part of this film are the characters. No one is really a bad person in it and everyone is given exploration, even the critic. This is something that you usually wouldn’t see in a movie that follows these beats as it would usually end with the critic or antagonist being shamed, this film doesn’t though because it gives the critic as much respect as Carl.

Molly – Scarlett Johansson is great in this role! She is the lover of Carl but in the end mostly more of a friend. We never see her in the romantic role except when Carl makes them dinner once and she is there to help kick him back into gear when he depressed and explodes at the critic who gave him a bad review.

Riva – Review is the owner of the business in which Carl is the Chef for. He’s not a bad person, but he’s afraid of change and that creates tension with Carl who is always experimenting. Dustin Hoffman adds a lot to a role that could have been just a cruel man afraid of change, instead we have a man who cares about his restaurant and the customers and that is the reason he fears change.

Marvin – Marvin is the ex-husband of Inez who has a cheating problem (it implies he has a lot of bastards probably) but is also a nervous wreck afraid of dirt and everything else. He respects Carl though and funds his Food Truck idea. He has a small role but his character is interesting as he is like a man trying to learn how to feel. Robert Downey jr. of course does an amazing job!

Ramsey – This is another role that could have just been antagonistic, but we soon learn that their drama arose out of Carl’s lack of freedom in his job and lack of tech. savyness when he replies on Twitter and thinks that it is an email. They resolve things at the end though and Ramsey mentions how he was backing him from the beginning but wasn’t going to lie about the terrible experience at the restaurant, Carl deserved honesty…and he’s right. I like when critics are given constructive roles like this and aren’t just demonized. Though I am biased, being a reviewer myself. Oliver Platt is great.

Inez – I haven’t seen Sofia Vergara in anything outside of “Modern Family” but I hope that I can see her in more after this. She is really good as the Single Mother who is a professional who is still friends with her past relationships. She is the most mature character in the film and the one who most knows herself and her dreams. For Carl it is a discovery.

Martin – It’s been a while since I’ve seen John Leguizamo in anything, but he is great in this! He is both Carl’s co-worker and friend and when he hears the passion about the food truck Carl has, he goes to join him and together they are the main team that travels the United States together. He is a good guy and is more relaxed than Carl, giving them a nice contrast. He also acts as an older brother to Carl’s son too.

Carl – Jon Favreau really has a lot of range and is talented for pulling off everything so well with this production. You can see how much he cares about food and the characters as there aren’t any one dimensional antagonists. Everyone has reasons that are shown and not told and Carl represents that really well. His character starts out as a man unhappy in his job and disconnected from those around him to one who is really connected by the end has has built his relationships and with it his self respect. It really is a great movie to see.

The Message – The main message is that you have to respect yourself first and foremost and that is how others will respect you. Ramsey the critic echoes this at the end and points out that there was no love in the meal he at Riva’s restaurant, while here he can taste how good it is and now wants to back it. It is powerful and shows what self respect and perseverance can accomplish.

Okay: The Ending – The ending was a little too happy and felt a little rushed. I wouldn’t have had Inez and Carl get back together, or if they had too I would have shown them actually communicate more and have it be a process. We never see that process so it’s almost more of a wish fulfillment for there son when we never get to know why the relationship ended in the first place or what changed for them to get back together again.

I would highly recommend this movie. If you have a love of food or complex characters, you will probably enjoy this film. The fact that my only real issue with it is that it is too happy is saying something. Everything else is spot on and characters change and grow. The one thing that could have made it perfect beyond the ending would have been to give us more time with characters and their relationships as those moments were so strong as it was, we just needed more of them to complete a perfect picture. Regardless, this is a favorite film and I can’t wait to see what project Jon Favreau does next.

Final Score: 9. 6 / 10.

Iron Man 3 (2013): Consequences from the Past

Iron Man 3

“Iron Man 3,” is the next movie on the Disney Marvel Franchise review list. It like, “Thor 2,” is more enjoyable after a second viewing. The film is directed by Shane Black, who focuses on the human level of the character and the post-Avengers world.

The premise of the film is Tony Stark is dealing with PTSD because of battle in New York City while dealing with people who he has slighted in the past who have come back for revenge as well as the new threat of the Mandarin. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Introduction – Tony Stark is recounting how his demons have come back to bite him and later brings it full circle at peace in himself.

The characters – Shane Black is great at directing actors and this is a great character piece…from the exploration of Tony and Rhody, to the antagonists of Killian and Maya. I’ll go into more details further into the review.

The Action – The action is quick and even has Tony suitless having to fight against Extremis soldiers (super soldiers who regenerate and can breath fire). It always feels like something at stake at the action rises believably throughout the film.

Pepper Pots – She is a pro in this, though she gets less exploration than “Iron Man 2,” and the first one. We see her trouble with dealing with PSTD Tony, but also her strength when she fights the baddie at the end.

Rhody/The Iron Patriot – I hope we see the Iron Patriot used by someone else and War Machine become War Machine again…it is even shown in this movie that Rhody hates the new name. This is a movie where he needs to be saved most of the time he is in the suit, but when he is out and about is as competent as Tony. He even manages to save the President after the suit had been used by Killian’s dragon to capture him.

the kid Harley – There is a kid who lost his dad who helps Tony repair his suit after the Mandarin blows up his house. He even distracts the Extremis soldiers during the battle in his town. It ends with Tony upgrading his barn since he sees the kid is an inventor like himself…and also thank him since he is pretty funnily cold to the kid throughout the film. So glad he doesn’t team up for the final battle…he feels like an actual character not a wizkid or damsel needing saving.

Extremis Plot – Created by the main baddie Aldrich Killian with the help of Maya Hansen, these soldiers are seeking to take over the government by using the soldiers as both terrorists and the soldiers fighting the terrorists. The Mandarin was created as the fall guy in the situation since it is just an out of work loser actor who is taken advantage of to create the character. What sets Tony Stark against them initially and openly (telling the Mandarin where he lives) is when his bodyguard Happy is almost killed.

The Locations – A fight in a small country town before Christmas, a fight on an oil rig on Christmas, a rescue from an exploding plane…the locations of action are fantastic in this.

Maya Hansen – One night stand with Tony, taken in by Killian and eventually sees that she can still see the consequences of the work she is doing with Killian so tries to stop him. A great complex character who should have got more time for us to know. Rebecca Hall does great.

Aldrich Killian – Guy Pearce does a fantastic job as the slighted scientist out for revenge. His motivations seem real since he was the guy who was invisible and bullied. It makes his super soldier transformation believable…he’s like the Anti-Captain America. I liked that he fought to the end and that it took everything Iron Man through at him and Pepper Extremised to defeat him. One of the best baddies in this universe.

House Party Protocol – J.A.R.V.I.S. “House Party Protocol,” is fantastic and I can see why it wasn’t used sooner beyond it being a game breaker (and can’t wait to see how this plays into the creation of Ultron later possibly). Iron Man was in the panic PTSD mode, he wasn’t thinking clearly, it doesn’t occur to him until he’s found himself again…and when he does…all his suits fighting for him is one of the coolest scenes in this entire franchise.

Tony Stark/Iron Man – From using the suits as a cocoon to hide from the world (his own words) in dealing with PSTD and eventually letting his suits go in the final battle and accepting them as a part of him and that he is Iron Man regardless, is a fantastic arc. We see Tony the inventor who wins through his wits and also Tony at his most believably desperate and paranoid. Robert Downy jr. once again owned this role.

Okay: The President – He doesn’t do much, he’s just there to be rescued and used.

The Mandarin – Is there to be a fall guy. How he is used is interesting, but as a character he isn’t interesting at all. Luckily the actor is told in one of the short films “All Hail the King,” that the Mandarin is the true leader of the Ten Rings (the terrorist group from the first film) and wants to meet him. Can’t wait to see where this goes. Also, can understand why they got away from making him the traditional mandarin since it is some of the worst of the Cold War propaganda and paranoia. How they make him in this film (and how he might be in this universe) might get away from it though.

Bruce Banner reveal – We see Tony recounting this story to Bruce who has fallen asleep. Would have preferred the Ten Rings short film reveal instead. This is cute but it doesn’t serve the plot or arc of the universe in anyway. We knew they became friends from “The Avengers.”

Cons: No one died – The President’s cabinet gets killed…and Maya who changes allegiance to good but Happy and Pepper live…if one of them had died it would have mad the ending more bittersweet. It is almost too happy for all that goes down.

“Iron Man 3,” is a sold film and worth the praise it receives. In many ways it is better than the first film since it is structured better. Wish they’d worked Extremis into what we learn about the universe in “Winter Soldier,” though. Extremis would have tied in perfectly to that plot…who knows, maybe it was and we won’t find out until “Age of Ultron.” Regardless loved this film, especially Robert Downey Jr. for the greatest range I’ve seen him take the character and for Shane Black for making an entertaining adventure.

Final Score for this film is 9.4. It is solidly good, some actual loss would have made it better though…and it still a favorite film.

The Avengers (2012): Bringing the Team Together

The Avengers

“The Avengers,” is the accumulation of Phase 1, bringing Thor, Captain America, Hulk and Iron Man together…along with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Hawkeye and Black Widow to stand against Loki and his army. It is directed by Joss Whedon, one of my favorite television directors for his work in “Buffy,” “Angel,” “Dollhouse,” and “Firefly.” This is the movie that all past movies in the Disney Marvel Franchise Retrospect were working towards, and it is worth it.

Here is my assessment of the film:

Pros: Introducing Loki – The film begins with S.H.I.E.L.D. doing experiments on the Tesseract, which we saw they had discovered in “Thor.” During the test Loki arrives, kills a bunch of agents, takes control of Hawkeye and Dr. Selvig. This sets bringing the Avengers together. We see Agent Carter protect the tech. and agents as her and Nick Fury try to bring down Loki before he escapes.

Bringing the Avengers Together – We see Bruce Banner hiding out in India who is brought in by Black Widow who was on a mission undercover, we see Tony Stark brought in after he creates an infinite energy source in Stark Tower and Captain America with Agent Coulson who reveals that Captain America is who inspired him to be an agent in the first place.

The Avengers – Mark Ruffalo owns the role as the Hulk and manages to be just as good if not better than Edward Norton. Robert Downey jr. is great once again as Iron Man, Johansson as Black Widow, Renner as Hawkeye, Jackson as Fury, Hemsworth as Thor and Evans as Captain America are fantastic.

Drama – The drama in this is good. From Captain America hating Stark for his arrogance, to Bruce Banner feeling trapped, from Thor feeling like an outsider whose peoples’ wishes aren’t being respected since he came down to bring Loki back to Asgard to be judged. It is great and has some great fight sequences leading to them eventually come together. We see Loki use this when he uses the Joker’s trope of getting caught in order to turn the team on each other. The drama sets off Hulk which leads to Thor knocking him off the ship and later getting captured by Loki and dropped to Earth.

Captain America and Iron versus Thor – This is a great fight and on a visceral level the movie is worth it just for this. We see Iron Man use Thor’s lighting energy against him to power his suit and we see Captain America block the hammer and the fight finally end. It is fantastic and is real to all the characters. From Iron Man calling Thor, “Shakespeare in the park.” etc.

The Battle of New York – First, it isn’t a great plan. Considering a nuke would have stopped the invasion of the Chitauri….though the human cost would have been great. A nuke is what stops them in the end when Stark leads a nuke through the wormhole and it destroys the Mother Ship which shuts them all down. This is a great battle for seeing all the team in action. Every team member is great and does damage. Highlights of the fight are Hulk punching a Chitauri beast bigger than a building to death and slamming Loki to the ground after being mocked and doing a comeback of “Puny God,” and when he punches Thor between fights after Thor had kicked him off the ship when he is set off during their fighting. Loki’s defeat is rewarding, though we are left wondering if that was the plan all along.

Loki – Was a great enemy who was good at playing the long game…Hell he probably is still playing the long game as far as we know. Loki never loses considering all his plans within plans. “Thor 2” implies he probably is playing a long game.

The Reveal of Thanos – This was all a plot by Thanos who was using The Other to control Loki to do the Chitauri invasion in the first place. It is implied he wanted the invasion to fail since it was just to test the strength of Earth’s heroes…and maybe to get Loki back to Asgard too as a bonus given what happens later.

Agent Coulson – Agent Cameo finally becomes a character and is fantastic in his role as the fanboy who can also kick ass. He dies…and it means something, but they bring him back. This is one thing I hate that the Marvelverse does this. Death should be permanent. For what it is worth “Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” does a good job exploring him as a person more, which he deserved. I just wish this could have been through prequels.

Thor and Loki – Their dynamic is great…from Loki feeling powerless as Thor tries to reach out to him…to their arrogance and vulnerability trading places as they trade barbs throughout the film.

The Music – Captures the epic feel of everything so well.

The Humor – Joss Whedon’s dialogue is witty and brilliant per usual. Tony Stark has some of the best dialogue besides how Hulk is used (in the scenes mentioned above). If “Age of Ultron,” can keep this and the drama it may be the perfect film.

Okay: Chitauri – They are Space Orcs with a hivemind. They have a great design but aren’t the best enemies. They are about as deep as the Frost Giants when it comes to opponents.

S.H.I.E.L.D. – Could have been great, but this is about the Avengers. S.H.I.E.L.D. really shines in “Winter Solder,” though…which is good. They are okay in this, but they are hurt the most by Loki, making them rather obsolete in the final battle. Agent Carter is fantastic in this in what scenes she is in and I can’ wait for her to get her own show.

“The Avengers,” is almost perfect…the main thing is that we don’t know if it was Loki’s plan to lose all along and the Chitauri just aren’t that amazing as a threat and us not knowing if Loki was supposed to get caught or not makes the final a little less rewarding than it could have been. This is what keeps it from being perfect since the narrative flows really well. I highly recommend this film, everything that was being worked towards in Phase 1 in the MCU really pays off and it is one of my all time favorite films in the Disney Marvel Franchise Adventure.

Final Score for this film is 9.7 / 10. Nearly perfect.

The Incredible Hulk (2008): An Introspective Hulk Film

The Incredible Hulk

I have never been a fan of the Hulk. The idea intrigued me initially but there is only so much you can do with a big giant monster inside of a man…the story is really in that of Bruce Banner, a man trying to deal with what was done with him and no longer be a danger to himself and others. But more often than not it becomes “Hulk vs “Big Bad” or “Other Tough Hero,” which is weak storytelling.

“The Incredible Hulk,” is the next leg on our Disney Marvel Franchise Adventure, though this too predates Disney’s buyout of Marvel Studious. It was initially released by Universal. I’m including it though because it gives us the backstory of Hulk/Bruce Banner before he joins the Avengers. The movie was directed by Louis Leterrier and had music by Craig Armstrong.

The premise of the film is Bruce Banner is a test subject in a scheme by the military to create super soldiers. It goes wrong and he becomes the Hulk and is on the run from the general who is the father of the woman he loves.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: Bruce Banner/The Hulk – Edward Norton does a fantastic job as Bruce Banner and the Hulk. He gives the role in introspection it needs to elevate beyond a mindless monster mash and his relationships whether they be at the factory Brazil he is working at while hiding, his girlfriend Betty played by Liv Tyler and the General and Emil Blonsky. Edward Norton was good but I got to hand it to Mark Ruffalo for carrying on the role so well and making it his own.

Emil Blonsky/The Abomination – He is is a soldier for hire who is actually compelling. You see a guy who cares about his troops and loves fighting but eventually the adrenaline rush from the super soldier serum and later the Hulk Serum overwhelm him making him an addict living only for the fight and destruction. Abomination’s design is pretty cool, though I wish Tim Roth as Blonsky proper could have defeated the Hulk without it. He is eventually captured and turned in when Hulk is used against him when he is destroying the city. Tim Roth owns this role and is spectacular.

The music – The music has so much tension in it…and an introspective feel. It captures the Hulk done right, perfectly.

The Reveal – Tony Stark goes to General Ross and tells him “I told you the Super Soldier Program,was a bad idea. I’m putting a team together.” Tying us into the Avengers and where this movie is in the Franchise. It is a great scene, but most scenes are with Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark.

Okay: Betty – Liv Tyler does alright but she doesn’t elevate anything. She is there to show the Hulk can be tender as the Hulk and that is about it. She should have got more to do or been a greater threat to her father.

Dr. Sterns – Is the man trying to help Bruce Banner control his condition. He is Mr. Blue throughout the the film (an anonymous person helping Banner find a cure). His story ends with Banner blood getting in his head implying he may become The Leader in future films. He is okay, the idealist who is also reckless and curious…he just isn’t memorable.

The Writing – It isn’t strong, there is a fair amount of telling and not showing…but it isn’t bad either. It is the definition of okay.

Cons: General Ross – He is the mindless military guy, we don’t even have a justification for why he wants super soldiers (cause that could never go wrong…). The only good moment is when he lets Hulk take on Abomination.

The Final Fight – To big monsters fight each other and they aren’t even Kaiju…not really my thing. Interesting fights have strategy which I didn’t see much of from Hulk or Abomination.

The film was alright. It isn’t quite solid good because some of the bigger problems of either characters like Stern, Ross and Betty not being fully explored…but it does have some good ideas. It was as good of movie a “Hulk” movie could be at this point…though I would like to be proven wrong. I just don’t think Hulk can properly carry a great film on his own.

My final score for this is 7.5 / 10.