Category Archives: Fanboy Movie Review

Fanboy Movie Review #12 — Avengers: Infinity War

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single double triple viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

[No, really…I’m spoiling everything here. If you haven’t seen the movie, do not read this.]

Since November, I’ve had to take a break from this blog. I’ve had so many ideas, and even a few posts mostly fleshed out, but none that really gelled. I wanted to share my thoughts on The Last Jedi, Pacific Rim: Uprising and Black Panther. I’ll get to those in an abbreviated way soon, which is why we’ve skipped ahead to number twelve in our listing.

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This is going to end in tears, isn’t it? 

In any case, let’s talk about this magnificent supernova of heroism and sadness we call Avengers: Infinity War. Let’s do this.

First Impressions: This is the culmination of 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of the most (arguably the most) ambitious movie continuities to date. It all started with the original Iron Man. And while some of the MCU’s offerings haven’t been as strong as others, all of them have been entertaining. Since it all connects here, you could characterize my initial stance on this film as: “By the great beard of Odin, and the dark glasses of Stan Lee, please don’t let this suck!” A surprise to no one, I loved this movie, even if it made some deep cuts that will not fully heal until this time next year, and maybe not even then.

Thanos

“Let her go, Grimace.”

What I LIKED:

  • THANOS! I was a little concerned that he would be yet another CGI villain. Nope, I understand where he’s coming from even if I don’t agree with him. In many ways, Infinity War is his story. He acts and behaves accordingly, he passes all of my rules of villainy, and walks perhaps a darker version of Campbell’s hero’s journey. Even the credits say that “Thanos will return in Avengers 4.” I think he stands up there with Loki, Killmonger, and Alexander Pierce as one of the best antagonists in the MCU. Also this is some of the best digitally rendered acting I’ve ever seen. Josh Brolin is brilliant in bringing the Mad Titan to life.
  • The Scope of the Story – There is a lot going on in this film. Thanos starts out with one Infinity Stone and gains the other five in one film. If that weren’t enough, the Avengers reassemble under Cap’s banner, Thor gets a new hammer (and eye), Bucky gets a new arm, Wanda and Vision get together, and then quite literally break up. I think under any other directors it would have been too much, but the Russo Brothers balance it all quite nicely with drama, humor, and some of the best action sequences we’ve seen thus far. So many of my favorite characters in place, teaming up, fighting together, or exchanging barbed quips with each other, is just glorious. Which leads me to my next point.
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Whoah…

  • Not Everyone Gets Along – I like that Doctor Strange and Tony Stark don’t get along. They are both too alike, and used to being the smartest ‘go-to’ guy in the room. While they figure it out before their throw-down with Thanos, it was refreshing to see them grate on one another when their goals collide.
  • The Humor – I know I dinged Thor: Ragnarok a bit for this, but the gravitas of this story needed a little lightening up. Drax, Rocket, Bruce Banner, even Thor and Iron Man, and so many others. Even little moments like Rhodie punking Banner to bow before T’Challa. All nicely done. I never felt that the humor overpowered the moment, or undercut the drama.
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“Dude, you’re embarrassing me in front of the wizards.”

  • The Performances – The heroes faced some difficult choices. Seeing Star-Lord struggle to pull the trigger on Gamora, and her reactions. Same thing with Vision and Wanda in the final moments before the “Snapture.” (No, I cannot claim credit for that one.) The determination on Cap’s face as he struggles against Thanos’ might. The quiet defeat and anguish of Tony Stark in the aftermath of seeing Spider-Man crumble to dust in front of him. Loki’s final moments. I sometimes wonder if we realize how lucky we are to have this level of talent on the screen, portraying these characters.
  • The Soundtrack – Composed by the always great Alan Silvestri. I’m listening to it as I write this, and it’s breaking my heart all over again.
  • STORMBREAKER – Man, Thor gets quite an upgrade thanks to the timely appearance of a gigantic Peter Dinklage. I’m a big fan of Beta-Ray Bill in the comics, so it’s interesting to see his weapon become the Asgardian Kingsblade. And with an extra assist to Teenage Groot, who put down his Defender hand-held to really step up.
  • Wakanda – Even if we don’t get to see much of it, I’m glad we got to go back there so soon after Black Panther. Okoye, M’baku, and the ever-charming Shuri. Wakanda Forever! *crosses arms in an X*
Black Panther

YAAAAS!

  • The Black Order – They were all worthy opponents to our beloved heroes. And even though they were all CGI, there were moments where I truly felt they were real. Special props to the Ebony Maw for being such a powerful threat and for such wonderful physicality. “Rejoice, for even in death, you have all become children of Thanos.”
  • Return of the Red Skull – Last but not least, we find out where Johann Schmidt landed after being teleported away by the Tesseract. I don’t know if he’ll ever return, but I wonder if his experiences as guardian of the Soul Stone have changed his perceptions of the world.
Maw

“Rejoice, for even in the death you have become the Children of Thanos.”

What I DIDN’T Like:

[Just a note—this section is both the things that hurt a lot (but that I think were still great parts of the movie) as well as the things that I didn’t care for. So, it’s not all bad here.]

  • Thanos’ Plan – Halving the population of the universe instantly would wind up killing more than just half, and more technologically advanced cultures would be hurt worse. Almost certainly millions or billions more would die due to accidents, or just critical systems being left suddenly unattended. Consider that on Earth, the population in the year 1900 was approximately 1.6 billion. One-hundred and eighteen years later, we are at 7.3 billion. Even if we went down to 3.65 billion, we would be back up to our current levels or beyond in a (relatively) short while. So Thanos is going to commit an unimaginable atrocity to buy us, what, 50-100 years? The more you drill down into his plan, the less sense it makes. HOWEVER, he is the “Mad Titan”, and even if no one wants the Snapture to happen but him, Thanos absolutely believes it is the morally right thing to do. That much is clear.
Yeah, not a great plan.

“Yeah, not a great plan.”

  • Seeing the Heroes Lose – In Civil War, we saw Tony lose to Cap in that Siberian Hydra base. I thought that was difficult. Seeing the Avengers fight so valiantly only to fail to stop Thanos really stings. Steve settling to the ground and saying, “Oh God.” Yeah, he’s realizing that they just lost. Ouch.
  • Dusted – Bucky, Falcon, Black Panther, Groot, Scarlet Witch, Star-Lord, Drax, Mantis, Doctor Strange, Agent Hill, Director Fury…and Spider-Man. Wow, did that last one hurt, especially because he’s so young. And then that extra little twist of the knife in the credits, seeing “Avengers: Infinity War” fade away. Salt on the wound, guys.
  • Star-Lord Jumping The Gun – I realize that Thanos was destined to beat the heroes, but I hate it when heroes are self-defeating. Star-Lord sabotages the group on Titan at the worst possible moment. This, after he stopped Drax from a similar situation of letting a need for revenge cloud his judgment. I know that foolishly acting out of emotion is Star-Lord’s thing, but why not try to get the Gauntlet off first and THEN kick Thanos’ purple butt?
  • Heimdall’s Choice – Okay, thought experiment for you: You’re an Asgardian, you’re severely wounded, and you have just enough power to summon the Bifrost one last time. You can only save one person, and you know it shouldn’t be you. Should your final, heroic act be to save the life of your king, who has long been the champion of Agard, the God of Trickery, or a big green guy you’ve only recently met and barely know? There’s no logic to Heimdall saving the Hulk over Thor, save for functionally getting the Hulk to Earth early in the story. It seems more than a little inelegant and out of character.
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Dude…srsly?

  • Non ‘Snap’ Deaths – So, Heimdall, Loki, and Gamora. I think the first two are gone, even if our heroes undo what Thanos did. I think Gamora will be back, though I suspect someone may have to take her place in the Soul Stone if that’s how she returns. Still, seeing these three deaths was harsh.
  • A Year’s Wait – Infinity War is the first two-parter in the MCU. The way it leaves off, with the heroes defeated, demoralized, and in disarray, it’s going to be a looooooong wait until May of next year. And that leads me to my last point.
  • Contract Negotiation Time – I hope that the Infinity Survivors are able to restore the universe to a pre-snap condition. But with Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, and Robert Downey Jr. potentially leaving the MCU after the next film, I don’t look forward to seeing Cap, Thor, or Iron Man go down permanently. Let’s hope we get the characters retiring without dying, like Thor refounding Asgard, Stark becoming a father, and Steve passing the mantle of Captain America on to someone else, though right now his two successors are dust in the wind, dude.
Tony

“I’m sorry, Earth is closed today.”

Unresolved Questions (At This Point):

The biggest question, for me, is how do the Avengers undo the Snapture? And if they are able to bring people back, do all of them who turned to dust come back, or only some? What would a Spider-Man movie look like without Peter Parker? Are we talking Miles Morales? Same thing with Black Panther (Shuri?), and the Guardians of the Galaxy, who lost everyone except Rocket and I guess Nebula.

If the heroes bring the dusted back, are they also able to bring back Gamora, Loki, or Heimdall? Did Loki really die? It certainly seemed legit this time around, but Loki is the God of Trickery, so perhaps we shouldn’t count him out entirely. Did Doctor Strange have a plan? He certainly seemed to do an about-face on his duty to protect the Time Stone, and with the only stipulation that Thanos spare Tony Stark. Does that make Tony the turning point in the next film?

And what is the friggin’ NAME of the next Avengers film, already?! The Russo Brothers have said the name of the next movie is a kind of spoiler in and of itself. What is the ultimate fate of Thanos? Of the Infinity Stones? Will Adam Warlock burst out of this golden chrysalis on Sovereign and swoop in at the end? What will a post-Avengers 4 MCU look like?

Tony-Stark

The Butcher’s Bill

Since we lost so many characters in one movie (sixteen on-screen deaths), and there is so much to take in, here are the final statuses of our heroes when the credits roll.

First, the fallen:

– Heimdall

– Loki

– Gamora

– Vision

– Bucky

– Falcon

– Groot

– Scarlet Witch

– Black Panther

– Mantis

– Drax

– Star-Lord

– Spider-Man

– Doctor Strange

– Agent Maria Hill

– Director Nick Fury

Who’s left to fight:

[We know these characters survive the Snapture.]

– Iron Man (On Titan)

– Nebula (Also on Titan)

– Captain America

– Thor

– Bruce Banner

– Okoye

– M’Baku

– Black Widow

– Warmachine

– Rocket

[The ones we don’t see dusted, who could still be alive.]

– Shuri

– Pepper Potts

– Wong

– Ned

[The ones we don’t see at all, who could be potential reinforcements in the next movie.]

– Captain Marvel

– Ant-Man

– Wasp

– Hawkeye

– Lady Sif

– Valkyrie

– Korg & Miek

– Stakar Ogord’s (Sylvester Stallone’s) Ravager Crew

– Adam Warlock

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“I’ve lived by life by those sentiments. They’re worth dying for.”

Conclusions:

Holy crap! On so many levels—HOLY CRAP! I went in with mid-level expectations since I didn’t want to buy into the hype and be disappointed. As with many movies that I care about, I just didn’t want it to suck. Not only did Avengers 3 not suck, I was blown away by it. The scope of it, the action sequences, the humor, all the character moments, Alan Silvestri’s score, the pain and loss—wow. Even with the metacontextual knowledge that T’Challa and Peter Parker will almost certainly be back in time for their sequels, the ending hit hard.

Infinity War is a major jewel in the MCU’s crown, standing up there with Winter Soldier and the first Avengers, and it’s going to be a long, long wait until May of next year.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.

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Fanboy Review #8— Thor: Ragnarok

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

Marvel’s latest addition to their cinematic universe released recently, taking the world by storm (sorry, couldn’t resist). While ranking 11th amongst  Marvel releases, it is nevertheless doing better than either of the previous Thor movies. It’s ranked at 92% on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing. Let’s dive in.

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Stop…Hammer Time!

First Impressions: I found the first two Thor films entertaining, but nowhere near Marvel’s strongest offerings. For my part, it’s sort of a toss-up between Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World for worst movie in the MCU.  While I think that Chris Hemsworth plays Thor with just the right mix of power and humor, he wasn’t given much to work with in the first two installments. Director Taika Waititi has a fresh take on the character, so I’m in.

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What he said. 

What I LIKED:

  • THE SCORE! – When I got home from seeing this movie, I immediately downloaded the score by Mark Mothersbaugh. It’s so unexpected to have this strange, resonant sort of ’80s synth vibe going on. It’s like if Flash Gordon had taken place a decade later, mixed with the background of Stranger Things. It really adds something both delightful and different to the action sequences.
  • Thor and Loki – I loved seeing these two characters together again. Both Hemsworth and Hiddleston have fantastic comedic timing. We got to see that a little before, but here it’s all over the place. They feel more like brothers here, especially the way they try to get back at one another. I maintain that I would gladly see a Loki-centric movie. He remains one of the best villains, and best characters, the MCU has produced. Which leads me to my next point…
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Perhaps my favorite scene in the movie. 

  • HELA! – I’m used to Cate Blanchett in dramatic roles, which is why it’s a surprise she’s so funny as the Goddess of Death (yeah, not one I would have seen coming). To date, she is the most powerful villain we’ve seen on screen in the MCU. Without the Infinity Gauntlet, I doubt Thanos would stand a chance against her (more on that below). Wow, when she cuts loose on the Army of Asgard, it’s like Sauron and Neo in the levels of sheer badassery.
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  • Heimdall – Have I said lately much I love Edris Elba? His Heimdall makes me wish there was a whole other full-length movie of what he’s doing in the background. They say a few times that Asgard is a people, not a place. If that’s true, Heimdall is the true savior of Asgard. It looks like there are only a few hundred survivors in the aftermath, and Heimdall, fighting on his own, gathered them all to the Yggdrasil sanctuary AND kept Hela from getting his sword, so she was effectively bottled up in Asgard. LOVE. IT.
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No comment necessary. 

  • The Grandmaster – Jeff Goldblum perfectly fits in with the type of offbeat humor Thor: Ragnarok exudes. I’m always happy to see an appearance by one of the Elders of the Universe. It reminds me of reading Silver Surfer as a kid. And through him there’s a nod to the Contest of Champions, and a look at Gladiator and Beta Ray Bill as his former champions.
  • The Visuals – Much like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Doctor Strange, this movie is stunning to look at. The art direction, the set, and costume design are all fantastic. They give Thor a brand new look, new armor, short hair and (later) one eye, and it all sort of works. Waititi cites Jack Kirby as his inspiration for the look and feel of the film, and he NAILS it.
  • Hulk as a Big Toddler – We see far more of the Hulk in this movie than anything previous. Before, it was mostly when there was fighting, but here we see him outside of combat. He’s like a big toddler with a limited vocabulary, and one prone to misunderstanding and tantrums. It’s a little odd to see the Hulk in some of his calmer moments, but that’s an insight into Banner’s Mr. Hyde we just haven’t seen before. Well done.
  • Korg & Company – Even though we never saw them in the arena, the colorful group of gladiators were pretty funny and cool. I particularly like Korg. He looks like he would have a deep, raspy voice, but actually speaks with a higher pitched, cockney accent. I think he had some of the best lines, even one that maybe should have been rethought (see below.)
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Wait, Hela is *Odin’s* daughter? 

What I DIDN’T Like:

  • THE FRIGGIN’ WARRIORS THREE, MAN! – There is one thing I absolutely HATED about this movie, and it’s how Volstagg, Fandral, and Hogun the Grim went out. I really like those characters, and they were supposed to be elite warriors of Asgard. Volstagg and Fandral were put down by Hela. Hogun got a few hits in, but then was instantly killed in a way that DOES NOT sit well with me. I understand establishing Hela as a dire threat (and mission accomplished there), but give them heroic deaths, yeah? They were shown the same kind of disregard, bordering on contempt, as Jimmy Olsen in Batman V. Superman. NOPE. I’m just glad Lady Sif was nowhere to be found.

The-Warriors-Three

  • The Quinjet – Perhaps there’s an explanation I’m not aware of, but this seems like a big continuity error that goes beyond simple retconning. Hulk is obviously on the Quinjet the Avengers used to defend Sokovia, as it still has Tony Stark’s clothes in it. Isn’t this the Quinjet that they found ditched in the Pacific Ocean, near Fiji? Now it’s on Sakaar? And what was an airplane even doing in space in the first place? Who’s in charge of keeping facts straight at Marvel?
  • Odin’s Departure – It seems rushed and weird. And could they not shoot on location for some reason? The shot of Thor, Loki, and Odin looking out at the ocean in Norway is some of the worst greenscreening I’ve seen in a while. Nothing about that looked real. Good thing Doctor Strange pointed them in the right direction, huh? A few more minutes of conversation and Odin would have slipped off without saying goodbye. But, I am at least glad that Anthony Hopkins got to reprise his role as Odin.
  • Doctor Strange – We got a bit of a bait-and-switch with the stinger scene in last year’s Doctor Strange, where he meets Thor. It’s quite a bit different when we see it here. While the post-credits version seemed like Strange wants to help Thor, it’s clear that here he’s really just trying to get Thor and Loki off of the Earth ASAP. Aside from pointing the two to Odin in Norway and sending them there, a character as cool as Cumberbatch’s Strange doesn’t contribute much to the story. I had hoped he would stick around to help them out with their first obstacle, trade a few barbed exchanges with Loki, and then remain behind when Thor and Loki returned to Asgard. Guess Strange isn’t going to be happy that they coming back (or trying to), huh?
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Hang on…how many Asgardians are coming here? 

  • Banner’s Choice – There are many missed opportunities in this movie. It’s clear that Banner might be committing a form of suicide if he turns into Hulk again. When he sees the Asgardian survivors besieged from both sides while trapped on the Bifrost bridge, there should have been a moment where we see Banner make the choice. Mark Ruffalo is such a good actor that all it would have required is about five seconds for him to sell the finality of this choice with his eyes. No dialogue required. The scene is kinda there, but had no weight to it. It was glossed over in favor of a humorous moment, which reminds me…
  • Humor Overstaying Its Welcome- Let me be clear: I thought the humor here was really good. And it was a different blend of humor than the Whedonesque style we normally get. But, I think it overstayed its welcome in places. It felt jarring when the movie was put on pause to deliver a joke. The most egregious of these is when Asgard explodes. It’s the punchline to a joke, and has zero dramatic weight to it. This was their home. This should have all the punch-to-the-feels of Kirk watching the Enterprise burn up in the Genesis planet’s atmosphere. There’s none of that here. Once again, a missed opportunity.
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Remember when our eons-old home was destroyed right before our very eyes? Yeah that was HILARIOUS. 

  • The Executioner – I like Karl Urban as an actor, and I thought he did a good job with what he had, but the character is super predictable. He joins Hela, but never does anything too irredeemable, then (big surprise) turns on Hela at the last minute, has his moment of glory, and then dies. What a waste of potential. Ugh.
  • The Hand Waving of Jane Foster – I get it; Natalie Portman doesn’t want to be in the MCU anymore. They’ve been making excuses for her continued absence since the first Avengers. Now they just write her out of the picture by a simple breakup? And this is common knowledge?
  • The First Stinger – I had to read an interview with Kevin Feige to know that the ship that showed up in the stinger was the Sanctuary II, Thanos’ new ship. Some context, please? That could have been anyone. If you want us to feel something about it, we need some sort of hint that it’s Thanos. Throw us a bone here, people.
Marvel-Phase-3-Thanos-Infinity-Gauntlet-Tease

Can’t. Wait. 

Unresolved Questions (At This Point):

Is Hela really dead? She is the goddess of death, so I’m going to take a wild guess and say that she’s going to return. (Perhaps death is more of an inconvenience to her.) And will she be the incarnation of death that Thanos tries to woo when he gets the Infinity Gauntlet? Goth Cate Blanchett? Can’t say I blame him. Wow.

Will Mjolnir ever be reforged? If so, will that be the way they hand off the character to another actor or actress? They could go the route of the Odinson in the comics, which would allow the Hemsworth Thor to retire and rule Asgard in place of Odin. Might that open the door for Lady Thor or Beta Ray Bill to come in to fill that role as Midgard’s champion? Who shall be worthy?

What about Lady Sif? I know the real reason she’s not here is because of Jaimie Alexander’s RL scheduling conflicts, but since she (Lady Sif) wasn’t present for Ragnarok (and the culling of Thor’s companions), maybe she’s still out there somewhere, and can rejoin her people at a later time.

How does Thor get from the starship at the end of the movie to the meet-up with the Guardians of the Galaxy in Infinity War?  What does that mean for the handful of Asgardian survivors? Will Asgard be refounded on Earth, perhaps in Norway, or even Oklahoma, per the comics?

Loki almost certainly grabbed the Tesseract while in the vault, so does he (once again) betray his fellow Asgardians by giving it to Thanos? Or does that go down some other way?

Hela-with-team-in-Thor-Ragnarok-smaller

Boss fight.  

Conclusions:

I liked this movie quite a bit. There are really great moments in it, and the comedy usually works, even if it’s at the expense of the drama at times. As I said before, I found the other two Thor movies entertaining, but not the best the MCU has produced. Thor needed a different take for the third installment, and I think this movie delivers on just that. It’s unfortunate that we may not see Chris Hemsworth in his own movie again, just as the Thor franchise seems to have found a combination that works. I do hope that Taika Waititi has the chance to helm another Marvel blockbuster, because I think he worked wonders with this one.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.


Some Thoughts On Wonder Woman (With a Tribute to Adam West)

It’s all about DC today, folks. Before I get into my thoughts on the latest entry into the DCMU, I’d like to talk about Batman. Specifically, about Adam West.

I really hate writing tributes like this one. It means that another icon from my childhood, another source of my early inspiration, is gone. The one I wrote for Carrie Fisher was sheer pain. Every. Word.

This one is no different. My lifelong love of Batman came originally from two sources:  the Super Friends cartoon (in all its various incarnations) and Adam West’s portrayal of the Caped Crusader.

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Sure, the ‘60s version was campy and silly as all get out, but there’s more there. Strip away the shark repellent, the Batusi, and the moments of utter cheese, and you still have a character worthy of consideration.

Batman is a hero, not an anti-hero. He works within the law, almost to a fault, and cooperates with the police at every level. He is noble, optimistic, kind, and prefers to handle things without violence, if possible. He’s someone kids can look up to, to aspire to be. That’s the Batman I know and love.

Batman_'66_-_Adam_West_as_Batman

And I can think of no actor who could have played that role better than Mr. Adam West. For the rest of his life, he was good to the fans. And from what I hear, he had a great sense of humor, about his work, and about himself. I regret that in all my convention-going over the years, our paths never crossed.

As a kid in the country, just struggling to find his place in the world, West’s Batman taught me to always do what is right, no matter the situation, and that even personal tragedy can be overcome and channeled into something positive. Say what you will about the bright costumes and the ZAP! and POW! fight scenes, but West’s Batman didn’t live his life under a shadow.

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And you know, there’s just something about that show, something that gets you right here. (That’s my heart, BTW.) It’s like watching the original Star Trek. They got it so right, even if it may seem dated to a more modern audience.  Give the original Batman theme a listen, and tell me it doesn’t bring a gleam to your eye or a smile to your lips.

For giving us all of that, I say a heartfelt goodbye to Mr. Adam West. Goodnight, old chum. Tell Yvonne Craig we all miss her.

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Thank you.

___________________________________

And now, Won-der Womaaan! I considered writing my thoughts up in my “Fanboy Review” format, but abandoned that immediately. I want to go more in-depth into what I think of this movie, and the impact it has already had/has now/will continue to have.  Some spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.

wonder-woman-new-trailer-origin-mens-1280

Stop a bullet cold…

First thing right away: I liked this movie. Really liked it.

I’ll admit that I had reservations since this was part of DCMU. I have not been a fan of DC’s offering thus far on the big screen. I strongly disliked Man of Steel and Suicide Squad, and absolutely hated…the other one, you know which one I’m talking about. I don’t even want to say its name. Hint: MARTHAAAAA!

However, the best part of that one, was Gal Gadot’s inclusion as Wonder Woman. It felt like Diana’s role was pretty tacked on in that story, but at least we got one hero in a movie that was supposed to have three.

This movie, Diana’s origin story, shines were the others in the series fall flat. It’s not caught-up in the ‘cult of the badass’ syndrome that seems to plague the other movies. Diana is certainly powerful, and it’s a treat to see her punch through a tank or take the entire top floor of a building out. But this power is tempered by her humanity and compassion, the very things Ares seeks to take away from her in the end.

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…make the Axis fold…

She’s been sheltered on Themyscira her entire life. That leads to much naïveté, but I loved even that.  Throughout the movie, Diana can’t just sit idly by when something is obviously wrong. She says something about it. She acts when most others would let it go. She hasn’t been conditioned that ‘that’s just the way it is’ or lets anyone define her role for her. Oftentimes she is reacting to injustices that society is content to just sweep under the table. And that makes the World War I setting so perfect for this story.

Beyond that, I like this movie for what it isn’t. Gal Gadot is a beautiful human being. There are some shots of her in this movie that are stunning, and yet none of them are exploitative. They simply let the character be, often innocently unaware of just how friggin’ gorgeous she is. Take the scene where Chris Pine falls asleep next to her on the boat. She doesn’t think someone sleeping next to her is sexual in the least, even when Captain Kirk is super nervous and breathing hard. Priceless.

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…change their minds…

Now, can you imagine if a schmuck like Michael Bay had directed this movie? On second thought, don’t imagine that. I think I threw up a little in my mouth. It burns…it burns…

There’s another point here I’d like to touch on, but it requires a short aside. Not long after the magnificent Jessie Graff made her epic run through the American Ninja Warrior course (look it up, it’s incredible), I took my 3-year old to a local playground. There, I noticed a young girl of perhaps eight or nine, who made it her business to climb all the way to the top of the monkey bars, and then make her way up the safety netting, which is not there for climbing.

When she reached the top, she proudly called out: “Look, Mom! It’s like on Ninja Warrior!” I knew immediately what she meant, and who had inspired her to reach for that top height. A whole slew of young girls will take Jessie’s incredible determination and strength to heart and try to find it within themselves. (Jessie is also the lead stunt woman for Supergirl on the CW, BTW. Another DC reference! Zing!)

American Ninja Warrior - Season 8

She dressed as…you guessed it.

The same is true with this movie. Look, I’m under no illusions that as a white guy I have it pretty good when it comes to inspiring superhero archetypes, both now and when I was growing up. I don’t have to look far at all. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Wolverine, the list goes on and on.

And I’ll admit I’ve taken it for granted. But seeing this movie, seeing how well it handled the lead character, it makes me realize how lacking that field of super-heroic role models has been for women. Sure, I’ve always known that intellectually, but this movie showed me that on a more visceral level. We need little girls growing up with the belief that they can do anything, that they can change the world, and fight injustice.

Seventeen years, folks. We’ve had had seventeen years of comic movies in this current run. Kids born when the original X-Men premiered in theatres are now driving. And we’re nine years deep into the MCU. In all that time, with dozens of titles, Wonder Woman is the first major blockbuster release to have a female lead. (Yeah, yeah, I know Catwoman and Elektra exist, but both were more than 10 years ago, and both were half-hearted attempts, at best.)

So as much as the DCMU seems like it’s reaaally trying to emulate the MCU, and desperately play catch-up, Wonder Woman is both the DCMU’s first real triumph, as well as the moment that it surpassed its Marvel counterpart.

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Hey, remember that time when Marvel had an academy award-winning actress as a super-cool character that had been around since Iron Man 2, and immediately decided to give her own movie franchise, so she could have her own awesome adventures and be the lead in her own story?

Yeah, me neither.

But back to DC, Wonder Woman had a lot of pressure placed on it. It had to succeed so that the studios could see that a female lead could deliver a block buster. It shouldn’t have had to bear that brunt, but it did. AND, the movie was way under-marketed leading up to its release. That strikes me as the studios hedging their bets in case the movie tanked – a cowardly move considering how much press that other one got, and was utter tripe.

But Wonder Woman most certainly didn’t tank. And because it didn’t have a swollen marketing budget to overcome, in addition to its production budget, more of the revenues can go back into the coffers. If there’s one thing that speaks in Hollywood, it’s money. At the time of this writing, I believe a sequel is already in the works with Patty Jenkins once again at the helm.  That’s, well…wonderful.

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A new Dynamic Duo.

So, despite adversity, Wonder Woman shattered expectations (from studios and audiences alike). If there was ever a doubt that a super heroine couldn’t hold the field with as much spirit and strength as her male counterparts, Wonder Woman smashed it.

Smashed. It.

In this case, life imitates art, because Diana is all about smashing stereotypes in the comics. You underestimate her, and you are likely to find yourself defeated and huffing for breath in her wake.

Like I said, life imitates art.

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…and change the world!

And so…

Your move, Marvel.


Fanboy Movie Review #7 — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single double viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

The Guardians of the Galaxy are back for Vol. 2! Has it really been three years since Volume 1? Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Drax, and Baby Groot, plus a number of new and returning characters — the gang’s all here.  Here are my thoughts on the latest installment.

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Yaaaaaas!

First Impressions:  I really enjoyed the first Guardians of the Galaxy. That movie was such an unexpected treasure. It wasn’t without its flaws, but it stands as one of my favorites in the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. James Gunn has returned to helm this new Guardians adventure, so I’m definitely onboard. Let’s see how it goes.

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I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!

What I LIKED:

  • YONDU! I think the whistling, blue-skinned Ravager stole the show. Michael Rooker nails it. We haven’t lost many characters in the MCU (so far), so I think that this is the most saddening loss we’ve seen so far. I’m Mary Poppins, y’all! *sniff, sniff*
  • Chris Pratt! He’s as funny as ever, but this is some of the best acting I’ve seen from him. The moment where Ego puts stars in his eyes, his entire physicality changes, and there is an alien sadness and wonder to him that’s fantastic.
  • Awesome Mix, Volume II! Once again, a great pick of classic hits to shade and nuance the story. Fun Fact: Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors” album is one of my favorite of all time, so I loved hearing “The Chain” during that critical battle was awesome sauce.
  • Kurt Russell! By his very name, Ego is a pretty over-the-top character. The same could be said of many aspects of the story, but I’m okay with OTT in both because it’s Guardians of the Galaxy, AND because Kurt Russell has played two of the most OTT characters in all of cinema: Snake Plissken and Jack Burton. Seeing him in this story was a treat.
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Little did we know that Ego stuck around on Earth, became a truck driver, and had many adventures on the ol’ Pork-chop Express.

  • Drax’s continuous laughter. He was such a dour and serious character in the first film. Seeing him give bellowing, Herman Munster-esque laughs at almost everything was both funny and a testament of how the character has moved past his incredible grief.
  • All the scenes with Drax and Mantis. The best is when she touches him and is immediately overwhelmed with emotion while Drax sits calmly, smiling. I love this scene.
  • Baby Groot. I will miss him when a moody, Teenage Groot is there instead.
  • The art direction in this movie is off the rails. From the golden appointments of the Sovereign, to Ego’s psychedelic landscape, Volume 2 is a visual masterpiece.
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Somebody’s about to start singing “Goldfinger” or “Xanadu.”

  • All the after-the-credits stingers.
  • The end credit sequence, which looks like old album art, and random names that change from “I am Groot.” And Zaadu Hasselfrau, er…David Hasselhoff singing “Guardians Inferno.”
  • Minimal meta-plot. I went in expecting the Guardians to snag another Infinity Stone, but the main story (thankfully) had nothing to do with Thanos. The story could be its own thing rather than being a validation of what has gone before and a setup for things to come (the main problem with Age of Ultron.)
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IT’S ALLEGORICAL…no, wait.

What I DIDN’T Like:

Nitpicks:

  • Maybe it’s just my Dungeons & Dragons roots, but I don’t like it when they split the party. The Guardians are all together at the very beginning and at the end. For most of the movie, they aren’t together.
  • It felt like a few characters were underutilized, like Drax and Mantis. I really liked the scenes they were in, though. Drax’s only real combat scene was at the very beginning, and that was secondary to Baby Groot’s dance number.
  • Speaking of which, I liked the Volume 2 opener, but it seemed like a CGI explosion rather than the fun, live-action dance number at the beginning of Volume I. I will say that it was a good introduction to the spirit of the movie, however, as Baby Groot doing his thing was the focus rather than the battle going on behind him. Battles weren’t the point of this movie.
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Daaaaawwww….

  • Rocket stealing the batteries. They tried to justify this a few times, but there was really no reason for him to do that, except that he had to have them for the end sequence. That felt like a stupid and unnecessary thing to do, even it was pretty funny.
  • The Sovereign, themselves. Gorgeous as their all-gold appointments were (Goldfinger anyone?), with a classic arcade drone pit, I don’t think they added much to the story other than to be another threat. Even though I know it’s a completely different actress, I swear that Ayesha looks like she’s played by Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner.
  • Taserface. I didn’t find that gag all that great. The disappointed look as a golden-faced lady laughs at his name was pretty funny, though.
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What? No Tango and Cash reunion?

Unresolved Questions (At This Point):

Was Ego a Celestial in the sense of what was established elsewhere in the MCU (the immense armored figures shown in Volume I), or is ‘Celestial’ more of general classification of godlike beings? It’s a little odd that Ego was a giant brain that built a planet around itself, whereas Knowwhere, the home of the Collector, was a severed head of a Celestial, which was itself the size of a planet.

Quill might not be immortal now, but he’s still a half-celestial. Does that mean that he might still have some latent powers because of it? Will this come into play when all the Infinity Stones are brought into one place?

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Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film

Also, what part will Nebula play in the coming battle against Thanos? When will Adam Warlock make his grand entrance? (Truth be told, I thought they were going to hand Adam’s role over to Doctor Strange. Guess not.)

What happened to Quill’s ship, the Milano? Did the Ravagers take it with them since their ship, the Eclector, was large enough to accommodate several ships of that type (like the one taken by Nebula), or is it still left in half repair in the forest on Berhert?

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Guardians….gather!

Conclusions:

While I would have preferred to see the Guardians together as a team throughout the movie, I thoroughly enjoyed Volume II. Marvel movies are normally billed as action-packed blockbusters. Volume II has some great action sequences, but it chooses instead to focus on the characters, and how there is more to them what’s simply on the surface.

And what better group to do this than the beloved characters of Guardians of the Galaxy? In focusing on the people rather than action, we get a chance to hang out with these characters for two hours. The emotion is there, from start to finish, and that is the real victory of Volume II.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.

(We Are Groot!)


Fanboy Review #6 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Before I get into the particulars of the movie, I wanted to say a few words about Carrie Fisher. Like so many, I was shocked to hear of her passing. First there was the news of her heart attack, then her death, AND THEN her mother’s death. I can only imagine what the family is going through right now, and my heart goes out to them.

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To me, she’s royalty.

Of course, growing up with Star Wars I had a huge crush on Princess Leia. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, and it actually wasn’t her slave-girl outfit that did it for me. The moment that I think I truly fell in love with Princess Leia is when she removed her helmet after thawing Han out of the carbonite. “Someone who loves you,” she said, and there were anime-style hearts in my eyes. And if that didn’t really drive it home, the moment when she turns the tables on Han on Endor, stealing his own line of “I know” just before she zaps a Stormtrooper cemented in my mind that she was no wilting daisy. True, she was the damsel in distress in Episode IV, but her sass and overall attitude showed us that she was anything but the standard-issue screen heroine of the day. Bear in mind that is was 1977, a time when the changing role of women in fiction, particularly science fiction, wasn’t even a conversation we were having as a society.

But fan worship aside, I respected Carrie Fisher for her abilities as a writer, and for her outspoken stances on mental health and substance abuse. Unfortunately (for me, at least), in all the sci-fi conventions and events that I’ve attended over the years, I never had the privilege of meeting her. From what I hear, she was quite a lady. And though Leia Organa may be the role she is remembered for the most, I appreciate the real person who brought her to life, and the lasting impact her work has had on the world. Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher.

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Now, to the review. Roll the standard spoiler warning:

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

The first of what could be an endless series of standalone Star Wars movies, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hit theatres a couple of weeks ago. In that time, it’s made over $650 million worldwide. With the original extended universe cannon gone, Rogue One steps up to fill the gap of how the Rebel Alliance got its hands on the Death Star plans. With a new cast of characters, we embark upon the first of the non-episodic Star War stories.

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The ‘One’ and only. Trust me.

First Impressions:  Despite my damaged-but-still-intact love of the franchise, I wasn’t looking forward to this movie. It felt unnecessary, like an obvious attempt by Disney to milk their purchase of its revenue potential. The trailers didn’t do much to change that idea. Still, it is a return to the era of Star Wars that I love the best, so it’s not like I wasn’t going to see it. (Let’s be real here.) I liked but didn’t love The Force Awakens, so let’s see how it goes.

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LIKE. A. BOSS!

What I Liked:

DARTH FRIGGIN’ VADER! I thought he really was going to be a minor cameo in the movie, but Great Scott…that end corridor scene. Why do people fear Darth Vader? This is why. Plus, it also seems to give us an answer to why Vader is so angry when he first boards the Tantive IV. He’s calm and collected the rest of the time, but I now see why he wants to ‘tear the ship apart’ when he finally catches up to it.

– The Battle of Scarif. If you’ve read my sci-fi, you know I’m a sucker for a ground battle going on while a gigantic space battle rages overhead. We got that in Return of the Jedi, and the climactic battle sequence here is pretty much everything I could have hoped for, and more.  This definitely puts the ‘wars’ back in ‘Star Wars.’

– Perhaps a better name for the movie should be ‘Suicide Squad.’  The movie pulls no punches. I had thought that perhaps our band of misfits might be return for a sequel, but that will not be the case. One of the problems with an epic story like Star Wars is that the death of a major character will be rare. For a one-time cast, each of our intrepid heroes steps up, does their job, and goes down like a boss. When the bill came due for Imwe and Malbus, I genuinely teared up. I am one with the force, and the force is with me. I am one with the force, and the force is with me.

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– Seeing Biggs and the Red and Yellow squadron leaders back in action through unused footage from Star Wars. Now we know why there was a vacancy for Luke in the form of Red-5, and why there was no Blue Squadron attacking the Death Star around Yavin. Plus, seeing some minor characters like General Jan Dodonna  and Mon Mothma recast so that they can still be a part of story was cool as well. And that leads me to my next point…

– CGI Characters. This is perhaps my most divisive opinion on the film. Bringing characters back to life was handled pretty well and with respect, I thought. When I first saw Governor Tarkin, I thought he would be a brief cameo. Nope. He plays more of a part in the story than I would have thought. While we’re not quite there yet with the technology, we’re still better than we were with Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy. I do wish the voice actor for some of Tarkin’s lines had stayed more with Cushing’s sharp British delivery, but that we got as much as we did was great. CGI Leia was a bit less impressive, but hearing Carrie Fisher say “Hope” was moving, especially now.

– The Score. John Williams didn’t do the soundtrack for this movie, but Michael Giacchino does a pretty good job at capturing Williams’ trademark Star Wars style. I do wish the main theme had been used a bit more, though. It’s not just for Luke!

– Expansion of the New Lore. From the Guardians of the Whills, to reaffirming Kyber crystals while establishing that this is what powered the Death Star’s planet killer, this story does a lot to fill in the gaps of the continuity, particularly since the old lore is dead, dead, dead.

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Cool shot. Too bad it’s ‘Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Film.’

What I Didn’t Like:

– The TRAILER. Part of the reason I wasn’t excited about the movie was because of the trailers leading up to it. It felt like one big warning that Jyn might somehow betray the Rebellion and join the Empire, that she should remain true to herself no matter what came her way. Well, almost none of the footage or lines from the movie trailer made it into the final movie. Jyn’s dramatic turn in an Imperial uniform while the lights in the corridor go up? Nope. Any hint of her joining the Empire? Nope. Cassian and Jyn on the beach fighting AT-ATs? Nope. Vader talking with Krennic on the Death Star? Nope. Jyn’s whimsical line of “It’s a rebellion. I rebelled”? Nowhere to be found. I understand that footage can be cut different ways to dramatically change its meaning, but the footage they used is not even in the movie. Not just a scene here or there, but a sizeable chunks of what was shown just isn’t there. It’s too bad, because I enjoyed the movie that I got a whole lot more than the movie the trailer previewed.

– No Title Crawl. Yeah, I know that it’s not part of the trilogies, but I still missed it. The slow scroll of words while the Star Wars theme blasts is an essential part of getting me hyped for what’s to come. It wasn’t there at all, and its absence was ringing.

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Yaaaaas!

– The Names. Aside from Krennic, Jyn and Galen, I had a hard time remembering the names of the characters. Maybe it’s just how long the Star Wars universe has been around, and the memes that go with it, but the names sort of went in one ear and out the other. They also didn’t seem to use them in dialogue very much, so that part made it even harder to catch them. If you don’t know a character’s name, I think it’s a little harder to sink your teeth into them, figuratively speaking.

– The Beginning of the Film. It felt slow and overly complicated. To be fair, there were a bunch of characters to introduce, but it seemed like a lot of explaining on a theme that we likely already know going in. We get to Jedha and things pick up, and then sort of fades again at Eadu. Scarif is pure joy and awesome, however.

– This is kind of a weird one, but important to me nonetheless: I know that having the Rebellion do shady and horrible stuff is a way to make it more realistic, but I like the clear dichotomy between the good guys and bad guys in this franchise. I generally prefer more morally ambiguous stories…just not in Star Wars. It’s for all the same reasons why the ‘Section 31’ episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 don’t work for me. Yeah, that’s great for another sci-fi property, but keep it out of this one.

– A Nerdy Nitpick: I realize that Diego Luna was using his normal speaking voice in his portrayal of Cassian Andor. While he is from Mexico, his accent came off as French (which struck me as on-the-nose considering he’s in the resistance against a jack-booted fascist regime). We’ve never had much variance of accents in Star Wars, just the occasional British accent, so that was a little distracting from his performance.

– A REALLY Nerdy Nitpick: Galen’s farm at the beginning bears a striking resemblance to Uncle Owen’s farm on Tattooine. The equipment, the interiors, even the layout all have a similar look. The thing is, Uncle Owen wasn’t into growing crops — he was a moisture farmer. Tatooine has so little moisture that a whole industry had to spring up around coaxing moisture from the air and turning it into usable drinking water. The planet Lah’mu, however, is wet. Really wet. So wet that Krennic walks through a puddle to get to it and it’s sprinkling while they are talking. So what kind of farming was Galen doing?

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Questions you have. Resolution to them we have not.

Unresolved Questions:

If anything, Rogue One does a pretty good job of tying up loose ends, especially with its rather Shakespearean ending. If Galen thought that the Empire would never find the hidden weakness he installed, why was it found so easily in A New Hope, leading to Tarkin’s “moment of triumph” speech? Also, why would Leia even pretend to be on an ambassadorial mission when it was clear that she had just been at Scarif? Vader would be like, “Dude, I saw you take off from that Mon Calamari ship like 30 minutes ago.” Deny it to the end, I guess. And would Leia be surprised that Darth Vader was on her tail when she says, “Only you would be so bold.” Or was that, again, for some sort of deniability?

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So what’s your point, Matt?

Conclusions:  I realize that it might be hard to know whether or not I liked this film based on what I stated above. I like this movie, I really, really do. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was far better than any one-off film had any right to be. Believe it or not, it reignited my love for the franchise far more than did last year’s The Force Awakens. While I still worry that the anthology stories may overstay their welcome in the future, this was a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe, and a pleasant surprise to this very jaded and cautious fan.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.


Fanboy Review #5 – Captain America: Civil War

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single (let’s be real here) double viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

This is the year of heroes fighting heroes. Batman and Superman. Daredevil and the Punisher. And, of course, #TeamCap and #TeamIronMan. Here are my thoughts on this pivotal moment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain America: Civil War.

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What’s so civil about war anyway?

First Impressions: I was not a fan of the Civil War comic book arc, and I could not wait for Marvel to hit the proverbial reset button on it. Furthermore, I’m not generally keen on superheroes fighting each other, but I understand why it happens. So, I’m already a ‘hard sell’ going into this, but this is the Russo Brothers we’re talking about, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier was excellent. Let’s see how this turns out.

What I Liked:

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UNDERROOS!

– I think the ideological conflict between Captain America and Iron Man is well argued on both sides. I can see why Tony believes that the Avengers need to be accountable to the nations of the world, and why Cap thinks that giving up the freedom to choose is a bad idea. I was afraid that the arguments would all be for Cap (since it’s his movie), but I felt drawn to both sides of the conflict at different times.

– SPIDER-MAN! Wow, Tom Holland totally nailed it. The scene between Peter Parker and Tony Stark may be my favorite scene in the entire movie. I am really looking forward to Spider-Man: Homecoming.

– Ditto for BLACK PANTHER! Chadwick Boseman was incredible as T’Challa. I can’t wait to see him in his own movie.

– The action set pieces in this movie are eye-popping. The fight at the airport is one of the best superhero action sequences I have ever seen on film. Full stop.

– We got Giant Man at last. 🙂

– Even the heroes that didn’t have much screen time all had their moments. Colonel Rhodes, Vision, Antman, Hawkeye…every single performance was outstanding.

– I loved Falcon’s new gadgets and how he used his wings as a shield to ward off bullets.  Also, his little drone “Red Wing.” Nice Easter egg there, guys.

– The moment when we see Tony firing his repulsors directly into Cap’s shield in slow motion. It only lasts for a second, but that scene is visual poetry.

– The Feels. I genuinely care about these characters, and watching them fight is rough. Heartbreaking, more like.

– These heroes at least try to talk to one another before coming to blows, unlike another much-publicized superhero showdown this year.

What I Didn’t Like:

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So was I…

– The VILLAIN. He seems completely superfluous, and is easily the weakest part of the story. The clash of ideas here was strong enough that they really didn’t need a puppet master behind the scenes. And this guy’s master plan requires far too much to go exactly the right way (factors he can’t possibly control) for it to go off.

– The villain’s plan actually works. Not completely, mind you, but he does a good enough job of splitting the Avengers to the point where it will take some time to get them back together.

– The underlying theme of blaming the heroes for stepping in to stop horrible things from happening. If an arsonist sets your whole city block on fire, and you lose your family in the blaze, would you really blame the firemen for not saving them? Or would you blame the arsonist who set the fire in the first place?

– How quickly Tony Stark turns on Cap and Bucky – again. I understand that Tony sees Bucky murder his parents, but it has been said time and time again that Bucky had been brainwashed to do it, that he was clearly not in his right mind. I understand the anger, and the feelings of betrayal since Cap knew about it and said nothing, but to immediately attack the both of them? That seemed like too much of a stretch.

– I find it a little hard to believe that the Avengers would have just packed up and left after Sokovia, and not stayed around to help with search and rescue efforts. In fact, we hear Tony mention the ‘Stark Relief Foundation’ after his rumble in the Hulkbuster armor. So, it sounds like the Avengers don’t just shrug their shoulders and peace out after one of their epic throw-downs.

Conclusions:

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How did it come to this?

I really liked this movie. When the MCU gets it right, which it does more often than not, it is a wonder to behold. The characterizations are all spot on, the acting first-rate, and the action gorgeous without being empty spectacle. I rate this newest offering right up there with the first Iron Man, Winter Soldier, and the first Avengers. It sets my little fanboy heart all aflutter. I hope to catch it another time or two before it leaves the theatres.

Hopefully, we are done with the heroes-fighting-heroes trope for a while, or worse yet, heroes being punished for doing right thing, risking their lives for others, and taking the blame anyway. We don’t need that kind of Christopher Nolan-esque crap in the MCU.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.

 


Fanboy Movie Review #4 – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion. Most of the time with these reviews I watch the movie only once, but let’s be real here…it’s Star Wars. I’ve seen it twice at the time of this writing. And as always, there are MAJOR SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

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Great! What does that mean, exactly?

Just as we thought, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has indeed shattered all sorts of box office records. Considering the dark, yawning abyss of the prequel trilogy (easily the greatest cinematic disappointment of folks my age), I went into this movie with neutral to low expectations. Fortunately, I had avoided spoilers with ninja-like online reflexes. J.J. Abrams is normally very good at what he does, but Star Trek: Into Darkness didn’t work for me on many levels, so it was with a fortified and guarded heart that I entered the move theatre.

First Impressions: I took the movie trailers with a grain of salt.  Phantom Menace’s trailer is still one of the best of all time, and we saw how that movie turned out. But, Disney is distancing itself from the prequels as well as tapping into the vast well of nostalgia that folks of my generation have for the original trilogy.

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Real guys don’t look at explosions…

What I Liked:

  • THE ACTING! Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac. I really can’t say enough good things about the new folks. Absolutely amazing. Harrison Ford is one of my favorite actors of all time, and his return to Han Solo is some of the best acting I’ve seen from him in years.
  • The fan service. I won’t lie, I enjoyed seeing throwbacks from the original. Seeing Han walk into the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. Seeing him with Leia again. All those things really struck my nostalgia vein, even if I felt like they took it a bit far at times (see below).
  • The cinematography is gorgeous. They really used a good mix of practical and digital effects to push the story forward without it feeling like just a CGI beauty contest with no substance underneath.
  • BB-8. I didn’t think I would like him because he was an obvious stand-in for R2-D2. I was wrong. BB-8 is awesome and had a similar-but-different-enough personality from R2. *flashes a lighter in a thumbs up*
  • The moment when Rey calls the lightsaber to her to face Kylo Ren. When she ignites it for the first time…this is perhaps the most powerful scene in the movie, and that’s saying something. Wow. Again, Daisy Ridley. Totally sold.
  • Chewy’s rage. When a Wookie sees his best friend go down, fear for your freakin’ life. I just wish there had been more of it. Also, Leia feeling Han’s death through the Force. It was as though a billion fanboy voices cried out at the death of a fan favorite.
  • The emotion. After suffering through Manikin Skywalker, it is SO refreshing to see fear, happiness, pain, and sadness on the faces of our heroes. It brings it all home.

 

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Fine, just don’t take off the mask.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • The similarities to Episode IV. It’s been said before, so I’ll keep this one brief. If the movie has a major flaw, it’s that it takes perhaps too many cues from the original trilogy, right down to bringing in the Death Star by another name. My hope is that Episode VIII can do something else that doesn’t feel like a remake of what has gone before.
  • Lightsaber usage. They are one of the coolest weapons ever, but they are super impractical if you don’t have training. You are more likely to lop off your own leg than do anything to an enemy. Both Finn and Rey use lightsabers without any sort of training and actually do pretty well for themselves. Rey even bests Kylo Ren (who himself was trained by Luke). That was a bit hard to swallow. Luke didn’t have a lightsaber duel with anyone until the end of Empire, and that was at least after his training with Yoda.
  • The score. When I think of incredible movie scores, John Williams springs immediately to mind. Even through the wasteland of Phantom Menace, we at least got Duel of the Fates, one of the coolest pieces of movie music ever. Here, the score was just sort of ‘there’ and the moments where it really shines are really just rehashes of previous leitmotifs. It’s serviceable enough, but not really memorable. That’s disappointing.
  • Captain Phasma. She was billed as kind of a new kind of Boba Fett, and it’s Gwendoline Christie for crying out loud! She’s barely in it, and gets coerced into dropping the shields pretty easily. Why was she not the one that Finn fought with the lightsaber instead of random Stormtrooper #34, I’ll never know. Let’s hope she’s still alive because she had better play a bigger role in the next installment.
  • Kylo Ren. I appreciate that he’s not a mustache twirling villain, but I think Adam Driver was a complete miscast for this part. He is an able actor, but when he took his mask off for the first time, I thought “Wait, did they get Marilyn Manson to play this guy?” He’s whiny, he’s petulant, emo, and ignores the call of the light side of the Force for reasons we haven’t found out yet. Aside from looking completely badass with his mask on (which he certainly does), he doesn’t seem like he’s very good at being a bad guy. The only reason he gets Han is because he sucker punches him. Functionally, as the villain of the story, he’s pretty weak. With the heroes being miraculously good at what they do, he’s really out of his league.
  • General Hux. This guy is the most experienced commander the First Order has at its disposal? Despite being young and unimpressive, he is the direct analogue to Grand Moff Tarkin, played by the legendary Peter Cushing. He falls far short of anything approaching Tarkin’s screen presence or gravitas. Again, a complete miscast.
  • Han’s Death. It was a powerful moment to be sure, but one that was painfully telegraphed ahead of time. And THEN there is no real moment of mourning or ceremony to mark the passing of a legend. I understand the emotion surrounding it all, but that seemed like a lackluster end for a fan favorite. In a movie that doesn’t seem to take a whole lot of risks, and one that is all about fan service, killing off Han Solo seems like it is necessary only because Obi-Wan died in Episode IV.

Unresolved Questions (At Least in My Mind):

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More than I can count, I have.

Where to start? The movie leaves so many things unexplained. If I numbered them out, this blog post could wallpaper the Starkiller Base, so here’s just the highlight reel. Who left Rey on Jakku, and why? Is Rey Luke Skywalker’s daughter? If so, who is her mother? Or is she the twin to Ben Solo? Why did Ben turn to the dark side? Did no one (Luke, I’m looking at you) ever tell Ben that Anakin turned from the dark side before he died? Who is Supreme Leader Snoke? (The horrible Star Wars name generator strikes again!) How does Finn fit into all of this? Why did Han go to see Maz when BB-8 knew where the Resistance base was? Why was the Hosnian system so important that destroying it could ‘destroy the Republic,’ a polity which presumably consists of thousands of systems? How could the First Order, a shadow of the old Empire, build something as massive as Starkiller Base without anyone noticing? Why had they not used the super weapon before this time if it was already loaded? Why don’t they just drain a system’s sun and leave the planets to die in the cold? The list goes on and on. Let’s hope that Mr. Abrams doesn’t repeat the mistake with Lost and actually explains to us what’s going on.

Let’s Talk About Rey:

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There…is…annoootherr…Sky…walllkeerrr…

The character of Rey is pretty divisive, it seems. Is she a Mary Sue? Is she OP? Is the whole debate over her inherently gender-biased? Would we even have this discussion if the character were male?

Here are my thoughts: Yes, she does seem to be good at everything. She’s a good pilot, hand-to-hand fighter, mechanic, climber, pistol shot, etc. She picks up Force powers with no training, and she bests Kylo Ren when she has never wielded a lightsaber before. It does seem a bit unbelievable, but it is a movie called ‘The Force Awakens,’ and Rey is obviously more steeped in the Force than anyone else around her. Isn’t that enough for us to suspend our disbelief?

But there’s something else going on here that I think is important. Star Wars isn’t really science fiction. Sure, it has starships and lasers and Wookies, but at its core, Star Wars is really a fantasy tale. A straight-up Joseph Campbell Monomyth. So, I think the character should be judged by fantasy standards. If we take Rey and plop her down into Middle-Earth or Krynn, do any of the arguments against her have validity?

Do we really question that Eowyn is able to take down the Witch-King of Morgul? What about Tauriel? We buy that she is excellent at everything (except perhaps picking a significant other) and practically indestructible just because she’s an elf. Why is Rey any different? Here we have a cool female protagonist that’s interesting, heroic, brave, athletic, and one that is not portrayed in a exploitative or sexualized manner.

We have been waiting for a character like Rey to come along. And if there’s going to be someone like her in popular fandom, Star Wars is the natural place for her to live.

 

Conclusions: 

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Oh, so THAT’s why Luke isn’t on the movie poster.

It always does my heart good to see good work rewarded. The last few years have made me a bit cynical on this point, particularly due to Michael Bay’s hatchet job on the Transformers franchise. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a good movie, and I wish it well.

It is far from a perfect movie, however, and its flaws led me to merely like it a whole bunch rather than love it like the first Avengers. Still, it is wholly worth the price of admission. I plan to see to see it at least one more time before it leaves the theatres.

But walking out of the movie theatre twice, with all the feels I’ve carried with me, has made me wish that the name “A New Hope” hadn’t already been taken.

Onward to Episode VIII!

And that’s how this fanboy sees it.