Tag Archives: Marvel

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.

Oscar-palooza

24 Feb

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Looking back on a year of film reviews, here’s how I rank the Best Picture nominees critically. As far as tonight goes, it’s wide open, with “Roma,” “Green Book” and “A Star is Born” the favorites. If “Roma” wins it, it will be the first foreign language film to win Best Picture and is only one of five films nominated for both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture—“Z” (1969), “The Emigrants” (1972), “The Postman” (1995), “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) and “Amour” (2012).

  1. BlacKkKlansman
  2. Roma
  3. A Star Is Born
  4. The Favourite
  5. Black Panther
  6. Green Book
  7. Vice
  8. Bohemian Rhapsody

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Aquaman

21 Dec

‘Aquaman’: Once we’re in the swim of things, there’s too much for newly hip hero to handle

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On film, DC Comics heroes seem to have heavier backstories than those from the Marvel Universe. You know: Most comes from another planet or an isolated island or underworld and could crush a human with a super burst of flatulence, yet somehow they love us, and there’s deep lore and rules we must be spoon-fed for at least 45 minutes before they ingratiate themselves into our society and ultimately take on the noble task of saving us from certain annihilation.

“Aquaman” is no different. Even before the buff surfer dude – Jason Momoa, who looks like The Rock draped in long tresses and with an extra battery of tribal tats – dips his toe in the water, we get a lighthouse caretaker named Tom (Temuera Morrison) toiling away in the chilly northern coast of Maine and one stormy day finding a beauty washed up on the rocks, glistening trident still in her clutch. This fantastic vision, something of a blend of Daryl Hannah in “Splash” and Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman” is, in fact, Nicole Kidman with a touch of CGI to make her look more in her 20s than her current vintage – not that she needs it. Kidman is Atlanna, the escaped sea warrior daughter of one of the kings of Atlantis. After eating much of Tom’s goldfish Daryl Hannah style, the two become lovers and bear a son: Arthur, who on a class trip to the New England Aquarium is able to summon the biggest shark in the tank to scare the bejesus out of the class bullies.

The film, directed by James Wan – who cut his teeth on the “Saw” and “Fast and Furious” franchises – is a busy, busy affair. Think of it as swimming through an endless school of silvery fish. Atlanna is kidnapped from the rocky coast of Maine, a pirate by the name of Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is out to kill the now mature Arthur/Aquaman in a poorly justified blood feud and there’s the seven kingdoms of Atlantis that Arthur’s half-brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson) wants to unite to destroy us land dwellers because of all the plastic and shit we dump in the sea. I can’t say I disagree, and in a neat payback trick he sends wave after wave of plastic bags, bottles and beer rings awash onto our beaches. Willem Dafoe has a role as Aquaman’s avuncular counsel and Amber Heard, toting a shock of Christmas-red hair, gets wedged between the bros as love interest. Dolph Lundgren even lends his square-jawed mug for a few nanoseconds as one of the seven kings.

Since this is an “aqua”-tale, much of it takes place below the ocean’s surface, except those early scenes in Maine and and one later in Sicily where the senseless destruction of ancient relics and structures will make archeologists in the audience reach for a vomit bag. The big undersea finale turns into the kind of wham-bam animated affair we’ve become accustomed to with films such as “Ready Player One” and “Avatar.” The wow factor is gone – it’s a bubbly undersea yawn.

Aquaman traditionalists, yearning for the stiff and square-jawed incarnation from Saturday mornings, are unlikely to be roped in. Momoa, who played the beefy barbarian incarnation Drogo in “Game of Thrones” as well as Conan in an ill-advised “Conan the Barbarian” reboot (2011), plays the part with a hip, feral flair. The character’s never given much of an opportunity to speak before his hands are busied. In shards, we know he has a sense of humor, making a “Fight Club” crack to break the ice with Heard’s undersea princess. The film’s funniest moment comes when our wet superhero walks into a New England biker bar. He can drink like a fish and the scene’s wrap-up is a smart departure, but after that it’s all down the drink.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

15 Dec

‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’: Bite later, heroes abound and with so much in common

 

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“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’’ is a wild spin with a web of plots that not only passes the torch but also reinvents the Marvel comic on screen for a new generation and set of eyes. For starters, it’s animated, a cool blend by directors Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman that’s a bit of the old TV cartoon, a bit of the blurry three-color printed comic and a lot of the creamy rich CGI we’ve come to know since Pixar punted out “Toy Story.” Also, there’s more than one Spider-Man – in fact, there’s a posse of spider-people, but more on that later – and this “Spider-Verse” includes a coming-of-age tale about a Brooklyn kid name Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore) who, like Starr in “The Hate U Give,” is an African-American kid attending a private school outside the neighborhood. Dad’s an overly cautious cop (Brian Tyree Henry, so good in “If Beale Street Could Talk”) and uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali, “Green Book” and “Moonlight’’) strikes a hip big-brother figure, though pa considers him something of a black sheep.

Miles is a kid at the crossroads of figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. Uncle’s tips on how to woo the other new kid at boarding school, a cute, sassy girl named Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) doesn’t work out so well. But by now you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with Spider-Man? Well, one night Aaron and Miles break out to tag a wall in a subterranean annex and Miles, after laying down his final aerosol flourish, is bitten by a radioactive spider. Paper, a girl’s hair and even some pigeons stick to his palms – talk about adolescent confusion – and he can walk on walls. In a return to the site, Miles encounters Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Chris Pine) fighting a giant demon goblin and a someone known as the Prowler. Spidey wants to shut down a collider set up by a mad mastermind with the self-aggrandizing tag of Kingpin (Liev Schrei­ber), but needs Miles’ help, while Miles needs Spidey’s help to make sense of his new powers.

Long and short, the collider goes off and uni-“verses” (Marvel’s, something Looney Tunes adjacent and slivers from the past and future) blend and merge. Now we’ve got a new Peter Parker/Spider-man (Jake Johnson), a paunchier, saucier version. The quest to shut down the collider remains, though this gruffer Spidey has ill-timed glitches the way Venelope does in the “Wreck it Ralph” films. Also now there’s spider folk from the pulpy noir past (Nic Cage, voicing an incarnation that seems right out of “Sin City”) a Japanese anime lass (Kimiko Glenn) and her trusty spider-bot and a wise-cracking spider-pig-toon (John Mulaney) who carries a massive mallet in his pocket. Lily Tomlin’s also in there as Peter’s take-no-shit aunt; Katherine Hahn is naughty and nice as a dour lab director with a deviously far-reaching grasp; and Stan Lee’s voice and countenance make a perfect last appearance in perhaps his best cameo ever. 

The directing trio and writer Phil Lord (“The Lego Move”) do a deft job deconstructing both the film franchise and the comic series with wit and verve. If you’re a Spider-Man fan, there’s lots packed in here for you as insider nuggets while it all shoots off in a new direction. It’s packaged to cut smartly across cultural and generational lines, with animation that’s also something new and something old. “Verse” takes the web-head series to a new level that looks bound to catch on.

Oscar move not so popular

13 Aug

Oscars make room for ‘popular film’ category, ignoring that great popular films already win

Marvel film stars Chadwick Boseman and Chris Evans present the award for Sound Mixing at the 88th Oscars in 2016. (Photo: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences via Instagram)

Brows were raised Wednesday when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the organizations that puts on the Oscars) announced that a new “best” category – “outstanding achievement in popular film” – would be added to its awards slate. The move, clearly to keep the award and its ceremony relevant as TV ratings and viewership continue to slide to historical lows, would give such popcorn pleasers as “Black Panther,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” “Deadpool 2” and “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” a chance to come to the fore and collect a bald, golden Adonis.

Questions abound: Just how do you classify “popular”? Is there a box office bar that needs to be notched or, like the MTV awards, do filmgoers get to cast a ballot? In the eyes of cinephiles and serious filmmakers the move dimmed the shine of the golden pate. A fellow film critic said it makes the Oscars “less relevant than the Golden Globes,” a ceremony largely considered to be more about pop and celebrity than art. 

According to the Academy letter, “Eligibility requirements and other key details will be forthcoming.” The category will be introduced this year and be part of the ceremony airing Feb. 24 on ABC. That’s also where things get interesting. Disney – the company behind “Black Panther,” a clear front-runner in the new category, the bigger Marvel Universe and the “Star Wars” franchise – also owns ABC. Seems like a nice little fix: Pick up an Oscar while propping up sagging television ratings. 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.”

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

Black Panther

20 Feb

 

So does it live up to all the hype and the “revolutionary” tag? Well … somewhat, and no. “Black Panther” is definitely a different kind of superhero film, imbued with the trappings of the Bard while hitting all the usual superhero pratfalls for the fanboys and delivering the requisite wham-bam smackdowns fueled by a glut of CGI FX. In short, it’s a game go, with some nicely layered-in barbs about the state of race relations, and there’s a mound of Oscar gold to be found among the impressive (mostly African-American) cast.

As far as the latest Marvel entry being the first superhero flick to revolve around a black hero, and thus a beacon of hope for young African-Americans seeing iconic representations of themselves on the screen: In the wholesome, square-jawed, side-of-good sense (think Superman or Captain America), that is so, but there have been other black superheroes to grace the screen. Take “Spawn” (1997) or “Hancock” (2008), though those films featured conflicted and tormented protagonists who didn’t fit neatly into the kind of archetypal superhero cape that most want to wrap themselves up in. Messy and flawed is not the way to go for blissful escapism.

“Black Panther” revels in its celebration of African culture and pageantry but also digs at social blight in America (though not deeply enough), making it a mainstream engagement clearly marked by the color and culture of its hero.

The film, based on the comic serial by Stan Lee (who conceived it in 1966, before the similarly named U.S. activist group lead by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton seized headlines), begins with a quick, cool animated rewind of how the fictional African country of Wakanda came to be. Hit by a meteor of vibranium (the stuff Captain America’s shield is made out of), Wakandan tribes have leveraged the all-powerful material to build radically advanced technology (supersonic transports that look like something from a “Guardians of the Galaxy” chapter, a train system that rides on a magnetic field and comm devices that are tiny little gumdrops behind the ear) and use it to remain invisible and impervious to the rest of the planet, even as world-shaping events (slavery, world wars and so on) carry on around them. Think of the cloaked island of Amazons in “Wonder Woman,” off the grid and out of sight until Steve Trevor crash lands there during the Second World War, and you have it. Continue reading

Justice League

18 Nov

 

The new super adventure inspirationally labeled “Justice League” is an extremely crowded affair littered with jumps in plot, and things end up exactly as one might expect: in a giant CGI beatdown with an arch-villain. Still, after the turgid “Batman v Superman” it’s good to see Zach Snyder fit a lot into a neat two hours, and finally do justice to the floundering DC Comics franchise. (An encouraging trend, considering the sharp and fun “Wonder Woman” directed by Patty Jenkins.)

Things pick up in the immediate aftermath of “BvS,” with Superman (Henry Cavill) still dead or comatose and his mortal darling Lois Lane (Amy Adams) burdened by grief and suffering reporter’s block. That leaves fellow “Leaguers” Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and Batman (Ben Affleck) to fend for the world as alien ghouls with dragonfly wings descend upon the planet in slow strokes, kidnapping folks. Batman (what is it with these movies where Christian Bale and Affleck talk in constipated growls from behind the mask, but are smoothly eloquent in Bruce Wayne mode?) deduces astutely that the nasty bug-beings are part of a bigger plot – to unite the three Mother Boxes (like the Infinity Gems over in the Marvel Universe) and give an entity known as Steppenwolf – not to be confused with the band founded by John Kay (“Born to be Wild”) or the novel by the tortured German novelist, Hermann Hesse – the ultimate power to terraform the earth and wipe out humankind. Continue reading

Thor: Ragnarok

4 Nov

The “Ragnarok” of the title may have you scratching your head some, but early enough in the latest “Thor” installment we learn it’s the term for the apocalypse about to hit to Asgard, home of the Norse gods and heralded heroes. Can gods actually be terminated by mass extinction, you might wonder, once the prophecy is told. The answer to that comes in the form of fiery giant demon that typically lurks in the lower abyss of a Medieval-themed video game.

It’s probably best to forget your learned lore; this is the Marvel Comic universe, and a goofy, fun one at that. The handsome and hulking Chris Hemsworth again reprises his God of Thunder role with manly man bravado that’s comically undercut with a devilish dash of cheeky nod-and-wink deprecation. This deity is just as happy to solve a disagreement over a beer as he is to smite the opposition with his mighty hammer. His good-natured, turn-the-other-cheek-first attitude, rounded out with hangdog friendliness, endears. It’s a winning combination that makes the “Thor” series more engaging than, say, a “Captain America” chapter. Levity may be more essential to saving the universe than teeth-grinding grit – just look to the original “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which won audiences on so many levels.

Of course Thor, in his defense of the realm, has one heck of a backup team: the Hulk (a CGI image, and Mark Ruffalo when in human form), his double-crossing brother Loki (Tom Hiddelston) – what else would you expect from the god of mischief? – and boozed-up warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson). Also in the mix as papa Odin we have the estimable Anthony Hopkins and, as Thor and Loki’s sister who’s been sent to the corner for a near-eternal timeout, Cate Blanchett as Hela (she’s absolute Hell), the goddess of death who looks like Maleficent on steroids.

The intoxicatingly strange brew – the third “Thor” flick, and fifth Marvel film that the Norse god has appeared in – gets nicely stirred by quirky New Zealand auteur Taika Waititi, who’s helmed such idiosyncratic ditties as “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” (2016) and “What we do in the Shadows” (2014). And if that’s not enough, Doctor Strange(Benedict Cumberbatch) pops in briefly to pull Loki and Thor through a portal in Manhattan. The reality-bending interaction between the three is so pickled and pleasing it nearly sets the rest of the film up for failure. The best, however, is Jeff Goldblum as an entity referred to as the Grandmaster, an omni-powerful being on par with Hela, but one who takes far greater joy in his station, hoisting gladiator contest on a trash heap of a planet called Sakaar. Thor and the Hulk get pitted in the ultimate fight contest. It’s a juicy role akin to Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman in “The Hunger Games” and he bites in deep. Blanchett does too, and Hemsworth cements it all together in a rollicking good time that, predictably and somewhat sadly so, ends in a CGI slugfest.