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***½

As I live and breathe, “the Wolverine”.

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Finding a quotation without lots of profanity was difficult. I am not sure why it is so pervasive here, but it certainly is. Maybe just to show this was not the same world, not at all the same world as the other X films. At least it is not thematically the same world. Instead of being meta and satisfying, as many reviewers have proposed, I just found it a bit confusing. It is still a good movie and a fitting swan song for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.

The only other thought I have is that this was not an adaptation of “Old Man Logan” as you may have read. The upcoming Thor movie with Thor facing the Hulk seems to have as much in common with that story as this did—at least that has villain Hulk fighting. Tying things up with the Hulk was a fitting idea since Wolverine’s first appearance was in Incredible Hulk #181. Last thought, it is funny to go online and read crybaby rightwingers who think this movie filmed before the 2016 election was an indictment of Trump and Republicans because future US is a corporate garbage state where people have fewer rights than corporations.

X-Men: Apocalypse

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****

Who the fuck are you?

Michael Fassbender as Magneto/Erik Lensherr in X-Men: Apocalypse, © 2016 Fox.

Michael Fassbender as Magneto/Erik Lensherr in X-Men: Apocalypse, © 2016 Fox.

Just as in X-Men: First Class, the one F-bomb got the biggest laugh. Then it was  Wolverine–Hugh Jackman–saying it to Magneto and Charles Xavier–Michael Fassbender  and James McAvoy, respectively. This time is is Magneto, in tears1, about to slay his human co-workers for exposing him. So how does that line rank amongst the 8 X-Men films? Amongst the 3 back-in-time X-Men movies?2 How do other aspects and actors compare too?

The line itself, along with its delivery, ranks about equal to Wolverine’s. Fassbender’s Magneto is great, as always, and his young Magneto is as good as Ian McKellan’s old one. McAvoy’s Professor X is not as good as Patrick Stewart’s, but it is still very good. McAvoy really inhabits the character well, with his fumbling flirtations operating as a charming inconsistency—why is he less confident now than he was as a college student when he already knows a woman liked him?

As in First Class, Wolverine has one scene, but it’s a much more physical fan service scene than his “Go fuck yourself.” If you are a big enough fan to get the reference, then you will not be surprised when he appears in the film, and in the capacity in which he does so. The X-Men, comprised of Beast, Mystique, Quicksilver and Moira MacTaggert—portrayed by Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Evan Peters, and Rose Byrne, respectively, have been captured by young William Stryker–Josh Helman, who is no Brian Cox. Stryker takes them to the Weapon X facility in Canada…goose bumps yet? This is recognizable since Wolverine heads there in X2. When we finally see Wolverine he is straight out of Barry Windsor-Smith’s “Weapon X” storyline. He proceeds to, as he did in the comic, butcher his way through every soldier and scientist in the facility. It was much cooler than just one great line. That said, by freeing him Jean Grey—Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner—is at least partially responsible for the murder of dozens and dozens of people. This is not addressed, nor does it appear to affect her, despite being telepathic (and empathic) and not sociopathic.

Sophie Turner as Jean Grey at the Weapon X facility, with Nightcrawler (Smit-McPhee) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), © 2016 Marvel & Fox.

X-Men: Apocalypse is clearly set in the 1980s. Sophie Turner in a blazer with shoulder pads as Jean Grey at the Weapon X facility, with Nightcrawler in a jacket designed for Michael Jackson or Eddie Murphy (Smit-McPhee) and Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), © 2016 Marvel & Fox.

Beast is still Beast, although Kelsey Grammer’s Beast in X-Men: The Last Stand3 provides a wonderfully cerebral representation that Hoult’s lacks. Also this Angel is as okay as Last Stand’s, but gets better scenes. In East Germany Angel–Ben Hardy–fights Nightcrawler–Kodi Smit-McPhee–in an underground mutant gladiator ring, until Mystique frees them both. Smit-McPhee does a good job as an awkward teen, but he is no Alan Cumming. After freeing Nightcrawler, Mystique brought him to a mysterious mutant named Caliban. I was certain that he was portrayed by Oscar winner Jared Leto. Nope. Tómas Lemarquis plays Caliban in a much more cutthroat way than I have always envisioned the mutant detecting mutant, but he definitely fits into this dark world. He loses his bodyguard, Psylocke–Olivia Munn, to the sway of Apocalypse.

Speaking of Apocalypse and the women of the film, this brings us to an awkward place because Apocalypse is choking Mystique in some of the publicity, which in our culture seems inappropriate because of the violence against women. While ironically the irreverent Deadpool did a better job of dealing with violence against women, this tone deaf approach actually works within the film itself. Apocalypse transcends gender and sex, which can be said at times for Mystique too, thus their shapeshifting violence did not bother me and films should not be judged by their ad campaigns.4

Mystique (Lawrence) losing a battle with Apocalypse (Isaac).

Mystique (Lawrence) losing a battle with Apocalypse (Isaac).

One thing that giant action serial movies can be judged on are their special effects. Firstly, this captured the excellent apocalyptic future of Batman v Superman—Dawn of Justice. While the colors were better than in Batman v Superman, there were a couple of X-Men Origins: Wolverine moments, specifically the flying intermodal shipping containers, and Evan Peter’s amazing Quicksilver trying to get through Magneto’s sphere of metal bits. On the plus side there is literally every other moment of Quicksilver moving at superspeed. Every. Single. Moment.

One way this film is better than First Class and Days of Future Past is by its villain. Oscar Isaac’s En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse comes across like a more powerful Bane (The Dark Knight Rises). I could not foresee the man becoming the force of nature that is En Sabah Nur. Wonderfully the opening in Egypt does not show a giant, or a monster, or even a man in his peak of power. Instead he is covered in armor and a headdress that masks his old, frail body. He was everything that Ultron (Avengers 2) should have been. Isaac’s performance created a surprisingly subtle character, who outdoes both Bane and Ultron. Probably Isaac’s best performance, although I have not watched Inside Llewyn Davis.

In closing5, the end exchange between Fassbender and McAvoy almost finishes verbatim from the end of X-Men! The McKellan/Stewart exchange gave me goosebumps. So this gave me goosebumps and through the power of nostalgia brought a tear to my eye. I leave you with screenwriter David Hayter’s words:

Magneto: Does it ever wake you in the middle of the night? The feeling that one day they will pass that foolish law or one just like it, and come for you? And your children?
Professor Xavier: It does, indeed.
Magneto: What do you do, when you wake up to that?
Professor Xavier: I feel a great swell of pity for the poor soul who comes to that school… looking for trouble.

Apocalypse’s screenwriter Simon Kinberg changed the lines, removing “that foolish law”, and turning “that school” into “my school”. He created a similar ending, but in some ways a more hopeful one with Magneto walking away from Xavier’s School For the Gifted and not Xavier wheeling away from Magneto’s plastic prison. Sixteen years apart and they are still making wonderful X-Men movies. How astonishing! How uncanny!

1 I love crying Michael Fassbender as much as the next person, but he shed a lot of silent tears in this movie.
2 Oh, the problems with naming this…series. If I say “the original X-Men” one might think of the original X-Men movies. If I say the First Class X-Men, one might think I was making a qualitative judgment. If I say prequel X-Men, that would ignore the worldchanging ramifications of X-Men: Days of Future Past.
3 Thanks a lot Brett Ratner. I did think that Beast could have been physically more imposing.
4 The exception to this rule is when a movie promises something in previews that does not occur in the actual film. For example, I will never forgive Murder at 1600 for cutting the preview line, “Murder at 1600…an address that changes all the rules.” And I do not know if I approve of the posters with Jennifer Lawrence being choked. I understand the appeal in having your biggest star and the villain together, but it still feels a little funny.
5 I didn’t even get to how good Storm was! Alexandra Shipp was much better than Halle Berry’s Storm. I never even wrote the words “Four Horsemen”! There is just too much here to discuss! 

Captain America: Civil War

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Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War L to R: Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) Photo Credit: Film Frame © Marvel 2016

Our people’s blood is spilled on foreign soil. Not only because of the actions of criminals, but the indifference of those who pledged to step them. Victory at the expense of an innocent, is no victory at all.

Call it what you want. Captain America 3, Avengers 2.5, Civil War, this movie kicked ass. This has everything that people loved about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and so much more. This has the elements of espionage that people liked in 2, but has action that rivals The Avengers. I use that as the gold standard, but is it? A discussion for a different time. In the moment I thought, “these are the greatest action sequences I have ever seen”. They were well spaced out. All looked perfect. Each action scene served a function and hit its marks. The internal logic of the action was pretty much consistent, which is pretty damn rare. For instance, Captain America is amazing with his shield. He is Minnesota Fats with it.1  But one character2 says to him, “That thing doesn’t obey the laws of Physics at all!”  I like having a cinematic world conscious of this quirk, which allows me to have the pleasure without the guilt.

The best way to describe this film in two words is “ethical dilemmas.” The premise is the world is grateful to the Avengers, but also afraid of them and the collateral damage they cause. They operate without any sovereign authority and thus the Sokovia Accords are created and shall be ratified by the United Nations [UN]. The Avengers would come under the auspices of the UN, which would have the sole authority to dispatch them. Iron Man feels guilty because Ultron was his fault and (Stark) wants to be controlled. Captain America was a pawn for the American government and after the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. from Hydra within it, he does not trust any governments. As Cap says, it comes down to this, “What if this panel sends us somewhere we don’t think we should go? What if there’s somewhere we need to go and they don’t let us?” This is similar to the question posed by Batman v Superman earlier this year.

This was a much, much better movie than Batman v Superman, however, that does not mean that this movie presented a more interesting question. Because this causes the Avengers to schism there can be no Hulk and no Thor, because their power levels are too high. I guess. I bought that line initially but Scarlet Witch and Vision are 6/7 on the powers scale.3 Batman v Superman has an unpowered, less armored Iron Man facing an amalgam of Thor + Hulk + Vision. Both films did a great job of creating reasons for heroes to fight each other. Batman v. Superman asked, with unlimited power, great collateral damage, and no authority, should there not be some sort of restraint? Batman followed up by posing an even tougher question, “He has the power to wipe out the entire human race, and if we believe there’s even a one percent chance that he is [humanity’s] enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty… and we have to destroy him.” The same could be said of the Avengers. However instead of posing this as a question in the film, the villain, Zemo—Rush‘s Daniel Brühl—tries to destroy the Avengers for personal vengeance.

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Daniel Brühl (the German guy in the beginning of the Bourne Ultimatum whom Jason Bourne tells that he, meaning Bourne, killed in the middle of the last movie) as (not Baron) Zemo, in Captain America & the Winter Soldier 2: Civil War 1, © 2016 Marvel.

The largest criticism of this generally well received film was the villain’s plot. Some people care about the feasibility and logic of plans. People like that reject The Dark Knight because the Joker’s plan was ridiculous on almost every level and every stage. Then there are the majority of people who loved The Dark Knight and only demand enough logic so as to not end the enchantment we call the willing suspension of disbelief. Lastly there are people who like Transformers—a/k/a people who seek a wholly visual and subconscious movie experience. The good news is that this film should please all of those people. Zemo’s elaborate plan was achievable and relies on Bourne levels of espionage. When Martin Freeman with an American accent asks, “So how does it feel? To spend all that time, all that effort, and to see it fail so spectacularly?” Zemo retorts, “Did it?” I get chills just typing that out and that is what makes this film great. Even after all the action, his hypothesis might prove to not only be correct, but to have succeeded where gods have failed.

An empire toppled by its enemies can rise again, but one which crumbles from within? That’s dead… forever.

This might be a record for quotations in one of my reviews, especially since none are super badass. The film is just so well written, so well acted, so well cast, and so well executed. So kudos to the screenwriters—Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely—and to the directors—the Russos. For me, this felt like how Captain America 2 felt to most people.

****½

Mini-review of the Mid-Credits Scene: Well, it serves a purpose to explain why that character will not be back in the future, and gives Chadwick Boseman—Jackie Robinson—another opportunity to sound awesome as T’Challa–the Black Panther.

Mini-review of the End-Credits Scene: Not worth the wait. It is the guy who talks about physics and the shield looking at a ceiling because his watch now has his superhero logo.

1 First, I initially wrote Fats Domino. Second, Minnesota Fats is a real life billiards hall of famer, made more famous by his fictionalized version appearing in the The Hustler. Obviously, he shows an amazing ability to bank shots, just as Captain America can, but with a pool ball, instead of a vibranium shield. Know what vibranium is? It comes up a lot in this film.
2 Trying to avoid a spoiler here, but the last preview gave him away, here’s a hint, in one universe he went by Ben Reilly.
3 According to Marvel’s wiki Thor has the maximum in strength and speed, Hulk has the maximum in strength and endurance, whereas Vision has 6/7 for durability and energy with a 5/7 for strength, and Wanda Maximoff only has 6/7 for energy. But Scarlet Witch did depower almost the entire world’s mutant and created a false reality for the entire world…that is almost limitless power.

Ant-Man

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I was super psyched for Ant-Man for two reasons. First, because Hank Pym is an interesting character and a founding member of the Avengers. His exclusion from Marvel’s The Avengers was bullshit since they decided to do the we-need-the-Hulk-to-stop-Loki story like in Avengers #1.1 Second, I love Edgar “Hot Fuzz” Wright and he was announced to direct! Well Hank Pym was not the star of this movie and Edgar “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” Wright quit. That left me with not the movie I wanted written by four people—generally a bad sign—and not directed by Edgar “Shaun of the Dead” Wright. So I waited.

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Not Hank Pym, but still an Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), © 2015 Marvel Cos.

***

Wait I didn’t steal anything! I was returning something I stole!

To be clear, I enjoyed this movie and I am glad I watched it. Paul Rudd has a charisma and charm that fit Scott Lang/Ant-Man perfectly. He took some weak jokes and made them mediocre, which shows genuine skill. I would say he probably gave some better performances left on the cutting room floor, but the movie seemed well edited, whatever that means. Michael Douglas was perfect as Hank Pym—the genius inventor of the Ant-Man suit2. The one benefit to having an older Hank Pym was that Michael Douglas–Wall Street–portrayed him excellently. The rest of the cast make up a fine collection of actors, whom I usually enjoy (Michael Peña, Evangeline Lilly, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Anthony Mackie and Corey Stoll).

So what keeps this from being a great movie? And whom do I blame? Well, with a great cast, if the performances are bad, I think of Garry Marshall3. Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross comes across as more whiny than threatening. His alleged genius seems ignored by the director—Peyton Reed, The Break Up. For Peña, he plays his ex-con cute. That works in scenes, but overall undermines the gravity of the situation, and thus the suspense. If Reed, and the writers, wanted to make the stakes of the film (Hank Pym’s shrinking technology remade by Cross as the laser wielding Yellowjacket suit) seem so dire and potentially earth shattering, and they did since they had Hydra4 as the purchasers of the tech, then they needed to strike a better balance. For a Marvel movie that does this well, check out  Guardians of the Galaxy.5 Evangeline Lilly—The Hobbit’s Tauriel—gets a potentially nuanced character, but she does not get to do nearly enough. At least she gets the Van Dyne last name of her mother. Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale played vanilla people who act predictably as Scott Lang’s ex-wife and her new boyfriend. And Anthony Mackie’s performance is fine as Falcon. Well at least the post-credits part with him is pretty cool.

The result is a dish made from a familiar recipe with too many cooks trying to leave their signature flavor. It is like an okay pizza with inappropriate and non-harmonious toppings, that often work well in isolation or in some other combination. Ant-Man was that pizza. Even mediocre pizza is still pizza, and I love pizza. Having blamed Peyton Reed’s directing in the above paragraph, let us move on to the screenwriters: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay & Paul Rudd. Wright and Cornish probably co-wrote the first draft. When conflicts arose with the production side, Wright bowed out as director and in came Adam McKay. McKay just won an academy award for co-writing/adapting The Big Short. But I note that most of his career has been spent providing Will Ferrell with vehicles with either terrible or formulaic plots (Anchorman (2), Talladega Nights, Step Brothers). That mold shows up here, but maybe it was already in place before he got the script. Or maybe he generic’d it. Lastly Paul Rudd has a writing credit and his Scott Lang really works, which I bet is no coincidence.

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Falcon’s gun and an ant sized Ant-Man.

Now for the plot I derided above. How about the shoe-horned in appearance by Falcon? Ant-Man flies into the new S.H.I.E.L.D. facility because of old Ant-Man’s old intel. When he arrives he is greeted by Falcon, who can see him thanks to fancy goggles. The fight eventually goes better for Ant-Man than Falcon, but—as shown above—Falcon opens fire with an updated freaking Mac 10 or uzi on Ant-Man. Hello unarmed trespasser…I am going to kill you. This is in the film for the shot above, and because it looks cool, and to reinforce that it is part of the Marvel movie-verse, but what the hell?! Later Falcon is cool and wants to find Ant-Man, so we are supposed to be like, “It’s cool, I don’t remember you literally trying to kill him 45 minutes ago.”?? It is very lazy filmmaking and relies on the audience rooting for whomever they see the most, or have presented as coolest. The movie starts with two misdirection gags, one of which pays off. But the tone it presents is one of the Will Ferrell controlled absurdity variety. This first arises with Scott Lang punching a huge inmate in the face, and then getting punched harder. That is how they say goodbye at this prison! Eh? Get it? You thought this was a serious fight! It also gets used to set up Michael Peña as almost a “one punch machine gun” when Peña picks him up, which is important later when Peña takes men out with single punches. He should teach Daredevil to throw that punch! Then Lang cannot find a job except at Baskin-Robbins, where he gets lauded by his boss for secretly being a whistleblowing anti-corporate greed martyr…but then says, “of course you’re fired.” Still not very funny, but it sets up the repeated line “Baskin-Robbins always finds out,” which is indeed quite funny. I would go on, but even going through the plot for holes just bores me and tarnishes the overall average impression the movie left on me.

So I gave this movie *** and I believe it earned them. It was fun to watch and had a couple genuinely enjoyable performances from Rudd and Douglas. I cared about their characters. The end teaser was great and showed me that I did want to see more Ant-Man. I may have laughed fewer times than I had hoped, but I was still laughing.

1 As I noted in my Accuracy in post, along with the exclusion of the Wasp. They did have one woman on the team, so it is probably for the best they did not drive away the audience by having more than one. (People realize that is sarcasm, right? Should I use italics for sarcasm? Comment below!)

2 In the original Avengers Hank Pym was the genius and Tony Stark was still in the closet about being Iron Man.

3 That is where the expression “Garfy Marshall Level Bad” comes from. Having the ingredients for a sundae, and somehow giving you a bowl of mayonnaise covered in shit. For proof, read the cast list of Valentine’s Day and then do not watch the movie. Watching the movie would show how I am right, but you might break your tv, or try to escape from the plane you are watching it on.

4 Hydra has been the bent on world domination villain in Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

5 I gave Guardians 4 stars and put it at #8 of 2014’s top 10 (between Maleficent and Interstellar). Put another way, I thought it was overrated–it is currently ranked #234 on imdb’s top 250 (between Pirates of the Caribbean 1 and A Fistful of Dollars). Hmm, now that I read that, maybe I do not overrate it since those films are on the same level. It is the 7th ranked film on that scale. It turns out Interstellar is the one I underrated (#31 on the list!). I would delete this, but it is a footnote and footnotes are where the real learning happens.

Deadpool

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***½

Just promise me you’ll do right by me, so I can do right by someone else. And don’t make the super suit green. Or animated!

Two Ryan Reynoldses. Green Lantern and Deadpool. Comparison shot from moviepilot.com.

Two Ryan Reynoldses. Green Lantern and Deadpool. Comparison shot from moviepilot.com.

So, so many references! There are references to Deadpool’s comic book origins. References to his first cinematic appearance in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That quotation above references Ryan Reynold (Deadpool) starring as Green Lantern in the disappointing film of the same name. Personally, I like references because they validate my life choices. If that seems overly dramatic, think of getting references as an attaboy from the content creators to me the content consumer.

Before this review becomes something about me talking about me, I want to talk about Karan Soni’s performance as Dopinder the cab driver. I recognized him and geeked out because he is so good as Capt. Stewart Lipinski on Other Space. He made me laugh in both instances with his similar trouble with women. It reminds me that I need to watch more of that show, but lack the Amazon Prime account to do so. I refuse to incriminate myself by acknowledging that I might “borrow” a “brother’s” login/password.

Deadpool and Dopinder (Karan Soni) talking in the cab.

Deadpool and Dopinder (Karan Soni) talking in the cab.

But enough about me and Deadpool, now I want to talk about how I know Deadpool. By the time I learned of his existence he had already debuted in New Mutants, had two miniseries, been seriously messed up in The Age of Apocalypse storyline¹, and been semi-forgotten. I figured that he, like Deathlok before him, had peaked and would probably just appear randomly every few years to little fanfare. But no, Wade Wilson used his healing powers (he is like a non-mutant Wolverine, except in the movie they make it a triggered mutation, because that’s the cinematic Marvel thing, just like the Inhumans are mutation based on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) to come back to life while I was not looking. His career went from promising motor mouthed mercenary, to unemployed mercenary, to Spider-Wolverine. What I find amusing is how he was meant to be an annoyance, not a star. Cable² was Fabian Nicieza’s and Rob Liefeld’s star. And Cable hated Deadpool from the start. By 2004 they had their own monthly comic book together! The trivia I love is that Wolverine was meant as an attempt to make the most unlikely superhero, with his first appearance coming in a battle with the Hulk. He is 5′ 3″, hairy, Canadian, and angry. To underline how unpopular those things are, just think of Hugh Jackman, the man made famous by his portrayal of Wolverine—6′ 2″, does have mutton chops in the role, Australian, and cranky. Funny how some things just work out.

The incomparable Morena Baccarin as Vanessa with the uniquely suited Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, in Deadpool (2016).

The incomparable Morena Baccarin as Vanessa with the uniquely suited Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson, in Deadpool (2016).

Now back to Deadpool the movie. It jumps all over the place, kind of like this review. It has its moments, but I was left wishing it had been a little bit better, kind of like this review. But seriously, Ryan Reynolds deserves ****½ for his Deadpool. He has the humor, the athleticism, the attitude. He has everything needed to make Deadpool into a star. His lady love is played by Morena Baccarin of “Firefly”, “Homeland”, and Spy fame. I hope this turns her into the movie star that she, like Reynolds, ought to be. T.J. Miller is really funny as Weasel, but I did not like how his role differed from in the comics. I mean, imagine if Wayne Knight—Seinfeld’s Newman—had been a bartender as Micro in Punisher: War Zone and not an arms dealing ally? Oh jeez, have I lost everyone yet? If so, that is fine because what I am about to say will be pretty controversial—Colossus was a disappointment. In a movie that references the Green Lantern suit debacle, Colossus could have looked better. Does anyone else remember when Wolverine first pops his claws in X-Men? That still looks amazing 16 years later. But in the Origins movie he looks at his claws in a mirror 9 years later and they look worse. The voice actor–Stefan Kapicic–also played Colossus very simply as a moralistic, well-meaning schmuck, not like the X-Man who courageously left the X-Men to care for his foe Magneto.³ And the only other X-Man is a female version of Nitro4 with the name of Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Brianna Hildebrand does a good job with NTW, but with literally over 150 combined members of the X-Men, X-Force, X-Terminators, X-Factor, Excalibur, Generation X, and Young X-Men this movie goes off the board with not an X-Man?! They do have a nice joke about being unable to afford more than two, and that is what saves it. Lastly, the villain was just okay and it was another damn origin story. It is a hilarious, yet flawed, awesome movie. Do not bother staying for the post-credits sequence unless you love Ferris Bueller.

 

¹ The Age of Apocalypse was my favorite crossover storyline ever. X-Universe #2 is one of my favorite comics of all-time, particularly when Rogue saves Magneto (and not Gambit) after Gambit sacrifices himself to save Rogue. I have literally cried reading it before. That was what I hoped for in the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse, but that is not what I will get. Imagine the opening part of X-Men: Days of Future Past, but for the majority of the movie. Hopefully the real movie is still good. Oh, and Deadpool is “Dead Man Wade”, a comedy-free enslaved assassin in that world.

² Cable is the alternate timeline child of Cyclops and Phoenix (Jean Grey). He is part viral machine and has telepathic/kinetic power on the level of his mother and Professor X. He is destined to stop Apocalypse.

³ I am oversimplifying, and I am conflating a couple things, but in the Fatal Attractions story arc Colossus’ little sister has died from a Mutant killing virus and Magneto has decided to leave Earth. As Mutants the X-Men are all invited to live on the orbital asteroid Avalon, with/under Magneto. Colossus shockingly consents. But he does not stop the X-Men from sneaking into Magneto’s chamber for a final showdown where Professor X mind wipes, or cerebrally assassinates, Magneto. But not before Magneto disgusted with Wolverine’s folly and nuisance, rips all of the adamantium out of Wolverine’s body, leaving him a bloody mess whose healing factor seems unable to repair damage. That Colossus is an interesting character with shades of gray.

4 Nitro is a villain whose power is to explode and then not be dead. In the upcoming Captain America: Civil War (aka Avengers 4) Ultron’s attack on Sokovia coming from Tony Stark’s creation of Ultron leads to the Superhuman Registration Act (which is reminiscent of the Mutant Registration Act from X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men the movie). In the comics it comes from superheroes fighting Nitro and him exploding next to a school bus, killing 60 kids. If they all tie in, somehow, then I am back on board with Negasonic Teenage Warhead.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

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***

He’s fast. She’s weird.

The quotation, from Maria Hill—Cobie Smulders, Robin on “How I Met Your Mother”—demonstrates the level of simplification this movie has. Still, Age of Ultron was almost as fun as it was expensive. As with the first Avengers movie, this one tried to be everything in one. Yet while the first one was the culmination of years of planning, this feels like a stop gap measure. See the below picture for an example. This is a cute scene where the rest of the Avengers fail to lift Thor’s mighty mjolnir, as none are worthy! At least Captain America was able to make it budge a little! It’s amusing to watch, but upon closer scrutiny has glaring flaws. Two lifting should be better than one, but what possible good is wearing a glove and gauntlet? They’re not trying to crush the hammer or shoot the hammer, so just wearing it does nothing but add the weight of what those two mortals had to lift.

Cute, but so dumb.

Tony Stark (Iron Man) and James Rhodes (War Machine), trying to lift Thor’s hammer, mjolnir. Robert Downey, Jr. and Don Cheadle in Avengers: Age of Ultron, © 2015 Marvel.

The villain, Ultron, seems like an immortal since he was an artificial life form, but the voice and digital actor was James Spader—Stargate. He was Lore. We all know Lore, right? Lt. (Cmdr.) Data’s twin brother. Lore has emotions and all the failings that human beings with them have. Brent Spiner played both of them and while his Data was excellent, his Lore tended to be a bit over the top. And Ultron was over the top and inconsistent. Sometimes he was fun, or moving, but most of the time his actions and speeches seemed simply arbitrary. Perhaps if there had been some indication that Iron Man had been working on creating Ultron, this would have felt more important, but him telling Bruce Banner—The Kids Are All Right‘s Mark Ruffalo—that he has been working on this for years feels untrue as he never mentioned it in the prior four movies.

The raison d’être¹ of Avengers 2 is clearly money. But excluding the financial motivation behind the creation of any movie, the motivating factor is a metric shit ton of money. Yet if we can truly look past that, then it serves the purpose of setting up more Marvel movies. For those who were not aware of the grand scheme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as revealed to comic book nerds in the mid credits scene from The Avengers, it is to have Thanos attempt to create the Infinity Gauntlet with ultra powerful objects, known collectively as the infinity gems.² If successful Thanos could make or even unmake the universe as he saw fit. In the comics this happens and when the Avengers times ten show up they are hopelessly outmatched. So this film helps move closer to that point, as much as the last season of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” helped Avengers 2—by about 30-45 seconds of screen time. There is one other reveal, just a reference really, to set up the introduction of the Black Panther, which was nice, but similarly worthless beyond the intrinsic pleasure of its recognition.

Infinity Gauntlet #1, cover art by George Pérez, © Marvel.

Infinity Gauntlet #1, cover art by George Pérez, © Marvel.

The two of the new characters I was most excited for were Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver—Elizabeth Olsen and Kick Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Still, Paul Bettany is my favorite actor of the new four, but his performance as the CGI character the Vision had less potential than Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver. If Quicksilver sounds familiar then you probably watched X-Men: Days of Future Past. He is the fastest man alive in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Marvel Universe, and the X-Men franchise. That particular power creates major cinematic challenges, similar to Superman’s. In X-Men DoFP, Evan Peters’s Quicksilver gets two scenes, both in the 1970’s. One of them stole the show. I used a screen grab of it as the first image in my review thereof. Eschewing ultra slow motion, director Joss Whedon–”Firefly”–opts for “zoom-zooming” shots where a blur represents Quicksilver and then a reveal shot to show the result of his zooming. At the time I was not impressed, but thinking over the whole film Whedon actually varied it up more than I thought. For instance, sometimes the reaction shot would be the same frame, like Captain America getting punched or something. Yet for all the difficulty that speed presents, Scarlet Witch presents even more. Avengers 2 describes her powers as similar to the X-Men’s Jean “Phoenix” Grey’s telekinesis, but truly, her powers fluctuate. In the comics they are called “hex powers” and they basically can increase or decrease the probability of something happening. Or she can shoot red beams from her hands. Also, she once took away 99% of the world’s mutants powers by merely saying “No more mutants.” Got it?

And that sums up the 141 minute movie. It is fine for what it is, but it is also a step back for Marvel. Or at least not the step forward that Cap 2, Thor 2, Guardians and the first Avengers made.

¹ I could not figure out how to say this in English, but we use raison d’être in English too, so, well, here we are.
² I am fact checking none of this. So please leave corrections in the comments so that I may correct this review and give you credit in this space here. Also, from the cover here are some of the characters you might recognize: Thanos in the middle, then upper right is Mephisto, then Silver Surfer, Gamora, Adam Warlock, Firelord, Hawkeye, Sersi, Hulk, Captain America, Nick Fury, Spider-man, and Dr. Strange.

Guardians of the Galaxy

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****

Believe him? Well, I don’t know if anyone can really be 100% dick.

Karen Gillan as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy, © 2014 Marvel Ent.

Karen Gillan as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy, © 2014 Marvel Ent.

This was a really fun movie. Kind of like Star Wars: A New Hope. Except that Obi Wan Kenobi is an asshole and the Empire is a bunch of well-meaning tools. Both films have, essentially, one female character who kicks ass. In this flick her name is Gamora. Trodding this extremely familiar territory is Uhura from the rebooted Star Trek movies, Zoe Saldana, who gets to play the lone main cast female character. At least she is a bad ass this time, as is her “sister” Nebula. Under the blue makeup and no-hair I had trouble recognizing Karen Gillan, whom I know from NTSF:SD:SUV¹. Most people know her from Dr. Who, but not me. I know her as the redhead who joined NTSF from Dr. Who. She was actually quite good in her smoldering rage. Saldana was fine as Gamora, but she was a hot and cold character. Either threatening to the extreme or dumb and about to get killed. Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer was much the same way. But he is Bautista from WWE so kudos on pulling off “fine” in a movie like this.

Those guardians of the galaxy! Left is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), then down front is Rocket (animated with the voice of Bradley Cooper), Groot in the back (animated with the voice of Vin Diesel), in green is Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), and Gamora is also green (Zoe Saldana). © Marvel Ent. 2014.

Those guardians of the galaxy! Left is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), then down front is Rocket (animated with the voice of Bradley Cooper), Groot in the back (animated with the voice of Vin Diesel), in green is Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), and Gamora is also green (Zoe Saldana). © Marvel Ent. 2014.

Oh, and Chris Pratt is as amazing as everyone says he is as Peter Quill, aka “Star-Lord”. He is more fun to watch than Luke Skywalker from A New Hope—and yes, I have now cast Quill as both Skywalker and Kenobi, it’s not a perfect analogy. His introduction is memorable, but before that the opening scene that introduces us to child Peter Quill is on par with Up for the immediate punch to the tear ducts. I believe we have co-writer/director­² James Gunn to thank for this. Ironically, I believe that it was his lack of sentimentality that drew Marvel to him. His last feature, Super, has a Batman/Punisher style vigilante—The Office’s Rainn Wilson, yes, Dwight from The Office—with a Robin, who wants to have sex with him and winds up like Jason Todd more than Dick Grayson or Tim Drake—Ellen Page of Juno fame.³ That probably had a budget of less than $10,000,000, but what it did have was a cast that rivaled the one in Guardians.

Guardians cast versus the Super cast:

Chris Pratt — first starring role in a major motion picture, most famous for “Parks & Rec” versus Rain Wilson…hmm, both were supporting comedians from hit shows on NBC. So, get ready for Jane Krakowski as Ms. Marvel next!
Zoe Saldana — burgeoning star who gets all the roles, as discussed above, versus Ellen Page who was nominated for an Oscar already and got to finally kick a little ass in Inception. Pretty similar stardom for Page in 2010 as Saldana in 2014.
Lee Pace — who has been in several things, including the new Hobbit movies as King Thranduil versus Kevin Bacon. Yeah, Bacon is a bit more famous than Pace.
Dave Bautista — former WWE champion whom most people hated versus Nathan “Everyone Loves Him” Fillion, who has been the star of “Castle” and Gunn’s first movie Slither. Both were probably very nice to work with.
Glenn Close — she probably has an Oscar and an Emmy, but even in this post-peak stage of her career she is a big name versus Liv Tyler who was in the Lord of the Rings and Armageddon. That is a close one, but I think Liv takes it.

And since he could handle that cast in Super Marvel trusted him with $100+ million for Guardians. Not a bad choice! Super might be a better movie, but this is a much, much, much, much, much more fun one. I would gladly watch either one again, but my money says that I will watch Guardians at least thrice as often as I watch Super.

¹ National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego: Sport Utility Vehicle.
² Nicole Perlman co-wrote this making her the first woman to get such a credit on a Marvel film. Progress, I guess.
³ Batman: A Death in the Family. But not with the Joker swinging a pipe and leaving some bombs.

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