Tag Archives: Avengers

Avengers: Endgame

25 Apr

‘Avengers: Endgame’ was a long time coming, and it’s another exceptionally long time going

 

And so it begins, or ends, and no matter how you see it, it’s a long one. “Avengers: Endgame,” the de facto part two of “Avengers: Infinity War,” clocks in at more than three hours – 30 minutes longer than “Infinity” and chock full of maudlin eddies that should have been pared back. That said, “Endgame” gets the job done, passing the baton as it closes out a long-running chapter with some sentimental eye rubs. Where Disney’s Marvel Universe goes from here is likely a focus on new blood such as Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). They’re both in “Endgame,” tossed in as inert garnish.

In case you need a rewind: At the end of “Infinity War,” Thanos (Josh Brolin), blessed with the unholy alignment of all six infinity stones (the power of a god to create and destroy), has eradicated half the life in the universe and, with that, half of the Avengers crew. We catch up with Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) floating near-dead in space, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) searching desperately for his wife and children and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) spit out unceremoniously of a five-year time warp – in a beat-up Ford Econoline or the like, to boot. The film moves along sluggishly for the first half-hour, and I’d be wrong to tell you fully how it flies, but the simple answer is: The remaining Avengers crew need to somehow turn back the clock. Given that this is Marvel, and a superhero fantasy (the opening with Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” is nearly as ingenious as the use of “Mr. Blue Sky” in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” – is there some mandate for classic rock songs with “Mr.” in the title in the Marvel Uni?) that time travel quest – with semi-hilarious film references to “Back to the Future” – happens sure enough, and the “Infinity War” with Thanos gets something of a do-over.

Before that the film notches some of its greatest self-deprecating wins, namely in that the buff god of thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), some five years after Thanos’ win in Wakanda, is now a potbellied booze bag looking like the portly Val Kilmer, “large mammal” portrayal of the latter-years Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors.” Or take the Hulk/Bruce Banner, (Mark Ruffalo) who has gotten his raging greenness and mild manner intellect to come to terms. And then there’s Hawkeye, who’s been bestowed the worst hairstyle imaginable – an unholy marriage of a mullet and a mohawk. How and why this choice was ever made is never explained and demands a film of its own, but yes, it’s a weird alternate reality out there, and not necessarily a bad one. As one observant Avenger points out, with half as many humans on the planet the water in the Hudson is now so clean, pods of a resurgent whale populations are hanging out where there were once toxically polluted slurries.

Ultimately “Endgame,” like “Infinity War,” both directed by the brothers Russo (Anthony and Joe, who made the far cheekier and superior “Civil War”) turns into a major CGI boggle of superheroes battling a herd of creepy-crawly things from another planet. Amid all the chaos there’s one gratuitous yet neat scene where an all-female phalanx of supers try to get the final wold-saving run done, and yes, Captain America (Chris Evans, with the requisite square-jawed woodenness)  is there to anchor the whole shebang; in very (too) small metes, we also get Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Redford and Tilda Swinton. It’s a very crowded affair.  Some big names and friends move on and out with a tear or two to be shed, but I was more struck by other matters looming at the edges of the frame, including nature’s resurgence in a less populated world, curiosity for how far Brie Larson and the “Captain Marvel” franchise can realistically go and, most of all, that haircut Renner is saddled with. It’s indelible and unshakable. If his Hawkeye could travel back in time to the 1990s there would be NHL hockey teams north of the border that would surely inject him in the first line based on hair alone.

Captain Marvel

9 Mar

‘Captain Marvel’: Back to the start, and 1990s, to introduce a powerful player in story’s end

 

Image result for captain marvel images

After much online debate and conjecture, “Captain Marvel” finally lands in theaters. After seeing the film I can say that all the hubbub is totally undeserved, a totally unnecessary distraction – including the attempts by trolls to sabotage box office through “review bombing.” It’s a fine enough superhero flick that in narrative arc is a lot smarter and more sharply developed than most, and on the emotional front it serves up a fitting and warm embrace of Marvel comics mastermind Stan Lee, who passed away late last year. The opening title sequence is rightfully all about Stan, and gets in a brief cameo that may just be his last. (Though with “Avengers Endgame” on the horizon, who knows?)

The film, the first in the Marvel Comics Universe to feature a female superhero, begins humbly, if not awkwardly, on an intergalactic outpost of the Kree (humanoids with blue blood) where the sets and fabric feel “Logan’s Run” levels of cheesy and ersatz. Vers (Brie Larson, and it’s pronounced “verse”) and her mentor, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), get up in the middle of the night for a round of sparring; it seems Vers has weird dreams that keep her up at night, and she needs to work them out. Vers, we learn, is blessed with photon-charged hands that can blast an opponent across the room; as a result, she’s a big asset as part of an elite force on a mission to battle the evil Skrulls – wrinkly faced green aliens that look like a cross between a Klingon and the foreigners in “Alien Nation” (1988) – that have the ability to disguise themselves as most carbon life forms they encounter.

Blah, blah blah. It’s not until Vers lands on Earth (known as planet C-53, and “a real shithole” to the Kree) that the film starts to build real forward propulsion. It’s a wonderful sight gag when the intergalactic warrior plunges through the ceiling of a Blockbuster video (we’re in L.A., circa 1995) and one of the VHS boxes she peruses happens to be “The Right Stuff.” It’s sly foreshadowing, because in shards we begin to understand that in some form of a former life Vers was an earthling, and something of a Chuck Yeager-fashioned flight maverick. The film jumps to life when agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), just launching S.H.I.E.L.D., arrives on scene, incredulous, boisterous and scene-chewing as only Jackson can be, and it’s the biggest and wisest use of Jackson in any of the Marvel films to date. In terms of timeline, it makes “Captain Marvel” something of a prequel to the whole Avengers series.  Continue reading

Ant-Man and the Wasp

7 Jul

 

There’s plenty big and small in “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” and I’m not talking about the diminutive or gigantic sizes its superheroes can achieve – and do, often and to great effect – but the elements of film. On the small, there’s a hive of plot activity, but little of it resonates or at least feels fresh or smart. On the big (or gigantic) is a kick-ass ensemble that plays off its sharp leads smartly, with fervor and punch in every frame.

For those of you who missed the cornerstone “Ant-Man” a scant few years back in 2015, you don’t need to back up and catch that less interesting flick before diving in. What you do need to know is that “Ant-Man” is part of the whole Marvel Universe run by Disney and that the hero known as Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) sans the suit, is serving the end of a two-year house detention mandated by the FBI for his participation in a fracas over in Germany, seen back in “Captain America: Civil War” (2016). It’s also why Ant-Man didn’t put in a show in Wakanda this year for “Avengers: Infinity Wars.”

All of the crowd-pleasing heat of the film flows through Rudd and his quirky, blue-eyed likability, be it Lang’s wisecracking antagonism of an FBI caseworker (Randall Park, bringing the same sourpuss charm he’s made a career of on “Fresh Off the Boat”) who pops in for random house searches, or his parries with testy ant-suit inventor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). The on-again-off-again romantic dynamic with Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), which gave the first film a reason to be seen, bears fruit again and elevates Hope to superhero status as the other half of a bill that can shrink or enlarge. Hank’s also got a magic remote that can shrink cars and even entire buildings if properly configured; and there are those German shepherd-sized ants with massive mandibles that help run Hank’s shrinkable lab.

Fun stuff, but Hope and Hank newly believe they have a chance to rescue mother/wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer, who’s not in the film enough) from the quantum plane purgatory she’s been lost in for the past decades (there’s plenty of highfaluting mumbo-jumbo like this, and it’s best to just roll with it). The key to getting the right coordinates to her locale is implanted in Lang’s head through a dream or something of an out-of-body experience. To get there’s something akin to “Fantastic Voyage” (1966), but also one of the least interesting plot threads. Meanwhile, Lang, saddled with an FBI ankle monitor, has gone AWOL and there’s a Tom Wolfe-style restaurateur (Walton Goggins) who moonlights in black-market technology and wants Hank’s shrunken lab, while an entity known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), ever angry and able to walk through walls, wants to disrupt the quantum plane quest for her own ends. Perhaps the most daunting obstacles are Lang’s ex-wife (Judy Greer) and daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) who pop in via FaceTime at the most ill-timed moments looking for soccer cleats; even better is Lang’s security firm business partners, Luis (Michael Peña), Kurt (David Dastmalchian), and Dave (Tip “T.I.’’ Harris), who are both burdens and saviors, and quite effective as comic relief.

Peyton Reed, who test drove the cast for the 2015 outing, feels more comfortable and in control this go-round. The action sequences are seamless, funny and, with their use of big-small toggles, ever surprising and fresh. As much as Lilly gets near equal time – and she’s more than worthy – this is the Rudd show, and that’s not a bad thing; he’s just more the loose cannon, while the former “Lost” star anchors the film with emotional stability and grit. The combination of the personal and uproarious scenes such as Ant-Man summoning winged ants for transport that get picked off by a seagull put “Ant-Man and the Wasp” in the comedy-cum-action camp with the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Deadpool.”

19 May

‘Deadpool 2’: Everything is bigger this time, matching his mouth, but not quite as fresh

 

“Deadpool” is back, and with all the irreverence of the last silly slap. But where the original was so uproariously self-deprecating, scintillatingly scatological and fresher than a boatload of day scallops, the part deux follow-up feels more like daily gruel. That’s something of a deeper disappointment because it’s helmed by stunt-dude turned action director David Leitch, who scored big with “John Wick” (2014) and “Atomic Blonde” (2017), but here seems content to simply extenuate what came before. The same happened with fellow Marvel upstart “Guardians of the Galaxy” (it’s from the Marvel Comics Universe under Disney, versus 20th Century Fox and Marvel Entertainment doing “Deadpool” and “X-Men”) and its sequel, a clear issue with the genre – brand something in a new and ingenious way, get the fans fired up and then keep feeding them what they know and desire until they gag on it. Then it’s back to the drawing board for a reboot or the next super franchise idea. Continue reading

Avengers: Infinity War

27 Apr

‘Avengers: Infinity War’: Marvel’s universe has built to a climax, which isn’t this movie

 

Some might find this a bit of a spoiler, but it’s really more of a public service announcement: If you go into “Avengers: Infinity War” thinking it’s a neat, trim chapter like “Avengers: Age of Ultron” or “Captain America: Civil War” let me set you and the record straight – this is a “Part One.” Somewhere around the two-hour mark of the two-and-a-half-hour running time, I thought to myself, “How that heck are they going to tie this all up in less than 30 minutes?” They do, kind of, with a massive smackdown on the grassy plains of Wakanda pitting warriors and superheroes against a limitless pack of mutant space dogs, but how it ends isn’t an ending. It’s not even like Han Solo getting frozen in “Empire Strikes Back”; the last scene simply ends. You expect another scene, but the credits roll.

“Wah!” you might think, but a quick walk through IMDB shows myriad actors employed by the Marvel universe have signed up for a mysterious “Untitled Avengers Movie.” I can help all the people at Disney and Marvel: Your untitled film’s title is “Infinity Wars, Part Deux.” Continue reading

Captain America: Civil War

6 May

The good news about the latest Marvel project to land on the screen is that it’s livelier and more entertaining than the other “Avenger” offerings – even if this one technically waves the “Captain America” banner. “Captain America: Civil War” is a follow-up to the last Cap adventure, “The Winter Soldier,” with Cap’s troubled old pal and fellow modified, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) at the heart of the drama again. If you don’t recall, Bucky’s a Manchurian candidate of sorts, a brainwashed mercenary with a bionic arm who’s just as nails-tough and superhuman as Cap. In short, he’s lethal, and because his brain’s been scrambled and put back, he’s a sleeper cell who’s been in the hands of wrong-minded parties.

050516i Captain America- Civil WarThis has ramifications across the Avengers’ alliance. Bucky’s been underground since Cap put him down, but shadowy images show Bucky pulling off an assassination in Africa and there’s something about a 1991 incident for which we keep going back to video footage and getting new insight what happened and how the pebbles of one cold act ripple through time.

In the now, those ripples have become waves that put the square and righteous Captain America (Sudbury’s Chris Evans) at odds with old steel claptrap, aka Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), first over an accord that seeks to limit the Avengers’ doings because too much collateral damage has befallen the world (a diverted bomb blowing up a building full of innocents, for instance) and later because of darker reasons tied to that mysterious 1991 incident.

When Stark and Cap square off, the teams line up for a street rumble of sorts. You could think of it as the Sharks vs. the Jets. It’s more chest pounding and posturing, and while there’s no Hulk or Thor in the mix, Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), newly drafted, steal the show with wide-eyed naiveté and mini-man maxims. it’s a delicious add to the regular bang-boom-pow auto cycle. Many of the usual suspects, such as Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and other additions, such as Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), fall into the background; Vision (Paul Bettany) like the similar-colored and suited Spider-Kid, gets some of the best dialogue, especially cooking a meal for the Scarlet Witch to ease her anxieties – the kicker being that he has no idea what paprika or food tastes like, as he’s never eaten. Continue reading

Avengers: Age of Ultron

30 Apr

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’: Jam-packed amusement park ride moves too fast to feel


Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is a a big noisy actioner that storms into theaters this week to kick off the blockbuster season. It’s perfect summer fare: not too deep, with plenty of action and a dash of sexy; destined to make a killing at the box office and the merchandising table. But as far as owning the opening kick, “Ultron” is a bit late to the party – the equally noisy “Furious Seven” has been cleaning up for the past three weeks, and it’s a far more genuine and heartfelt affair even if stripped of the sentimental nostalgia built around tragically deceased star Paul Walker.

043015i Avengers- Age of Ultron“Ultron” begins with a wham-bam as Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and the whole Avenger cadre battle camouflage-veiled troops in a forest somewhere near what most recall as Transylvania. There’s a castle to storm and an “infinity stone” (six to rule the universe) to nab, but not without some resistance from an evil syndicate known as Hydra (something far less interesting and formidable than Spectre from the Bond series) in the form of a pair of embittered twins – the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) – who cause the motley crew of righteousness some lingering headaches.

The siege and bloody ebb and flow is all done with nimble, dizzying CGI effects. It’s like an amusement park ride: You can’t just focus on one thing, and if you do, the whole backdrop will have changed by the time you elect to pull back. Much of the plot is like that too. Just when you think you’re making sense of who or what Ultron is, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) lets on he’s got a wife and kids out in the cornfields of the midwest or the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner/Hulk start having life-partnering talks.

Johansson, already a star attraction with her fetching form firmly packed into snug-fitting black lycra, knocks it out of the park in this go-round with a husky, sultry coo while flirting with Banner. She’s one of the film’s few gems, along with that infinity stone that gets embedded into a synthetic uber-being played by staid and somber Paul Bettany, but that’s a whole ’nother plot thread that crops up and fades in the rear view, only to crop up again like so many things in this fate-of-mankind tempest where skilled thespians are reduced to such cerebral throwaways as “let’s do this” and tired maxims about being united as a team and righteousness. The deepest-reaching dialogue comes from Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark (Iron Man sans the iron), enumerating on a colleague’s comment about a long day, tagging it “Eugene O’Neill long.” It’s one of the few witty ah-has that sticks.   Continue reading