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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.

Avengers-Infinity-War-title-card-clean

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.

Thor-Ragnarok-title-card

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.
image

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.
Screenshot_49

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.


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.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-2-yondu

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.
big-trouble-in-little-china.25406

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.
Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Vol.-2-trailer-4

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.)
taserface-in-the-latest-trailer-for-guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2

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.
Guardians-Galaxy-2-Baby-Groot-Trailer

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!)


Garden of the Gods: An Interview with Author Stephen J. Stirling

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Stephen J. Stirling about his latest novel, Garden of the Gods. I was lucky enough to read it early and found it to be an concise and poignant thriller. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes what I call ‘introspective action.’ That is, the kind of book that is action-packed, but keeps you pondering its message and themes for days afterward.

This is something of a first on this blog, but it has given me the idea on having other authors on to talk about their work. For now, though, let’s talk to the man himself about Garden of the Gods!

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Hello, Stephen. We’re so glad to have you on Sector M! I always appreciate the opportunity to speak with another author about their methods and body of work. So, if you’re ready, let’s dive right in, shall we?

Thank you for having me! I always enjoy my chats with the leadership of Sector M and our glimpses into the future.

Let’s talk about your latest book, Garden of the Gods. Without giving too much away for readers, what can you tell us about the story and your influences for it?

The story itself revolves around a Native American tribe in the northeast Arizona desert. But Garden is largely a statement about worship—any worship—how it enriches our lives and what belief for each of us is really all about. The fact that we live in an age that needs religion so badly was the driving force behind writing this story.

I remember that Alan Moore used to say that the plot of a story is wholly different from what it’s about, meaning the themes, allegory, morals, and all that good stuff. So, what is Garden of the Gods about?

Well, Garden of the Gods is about Native Americans, their rich heritage, their connection with the past, and their hope for the future. . . (and it is also about monsters). But to call it a simple action/adventure would do the story a disservice. The story’s subplot proves that every resolution within this book was motivated by faith, or the lack of it.

The book is a period piece, in more than one sense of the term. What kind of research and preparation did you do about the time period, the various species you include, and native tribes when writing it?

The American southwest is a treasure of unique people and, as of yet, not wholly discovered zoological life. It is a human and animal ecosystem in constant flux, breathing and pulsating with the drama of life. Writing is a funny thing. You begin researching one topic, and end up somewhere entirely different. The Native American people against the backdrop of wartime America was where I tried to focus my research—I wanted to do them and their heritage justice.

When you are writing a book, what is your method? Are you more of a ‘planner,’ who outlines everything in great detail ahead of time, or are you more of a ‘gardener,’ who throws characters into a situation and lets it develop organically without preconceived notions of the outcome? Where you do you fall in that continuum, do you think?

This question is very important, and my answer is—yes. You think you’re one kind of writer who has all the characters lined up and ready to do what they’re told, and suddenly they turn on you. They come out fighting and you’re left to clean up their messes. I guess you could say I fall somewhere in between the two methods.

Let’s talk about your main character, Matt Hayden. He strikes me as being cut from the same cloth as many two-fisted pulp-era adventurers, like Allan Quartermaine and Indiana Jones, and perhaps even a hint of Cussler’s Dirk Pitt. What were your influences and thoughts when creating your leading man?

Hayden is a hero cut from whole cloth, at the same time with a huge wrinkle broadening him into a sympathetic strength that is instantly likable. I did craft him between literature’s Allan Quartermaine and living legend Bring Em’ Back Alive Frank Buck, and yet the combination makes him unique among American characters.

And what about the secondary and/or support characters? What were their roles when placing them into the overall ensemble?

Read the book carefully and you’ll discover that every character has a religious angle. Every character worships something. Every character (even “non-believers”) believes in something. Every character has to fight for something, and every character has to abandon something in the process.

The Nyah Gwaheh, the armored bear, has a very complex role in the story. In some ways it serves as the primary antagonist, but it’s clear that it has a deeper, more symbolic role to play within the narrative. What sort of metaphor does it represent?

The Nyah Gwaheh is a living parable of religious value and the things that we worship, whether we know it or not. He is the driving force of the book.

Any chance or thoughts on a sequel? No pressure…

Oh good, because I don’t see a sequel in the future. I think I’ll leave the characters to their own devices for a while.

This last question is pretty free-form. What would you like the readers out there to know about your book? Anything you like. Here, I’ll hand you the proverbial megaphone.

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Well thank you! I’ve never used a proverbial megaphone before. I’d like to leave you by saying I hope others will find as much joy in reading this book as I found in writing it; and if they find an introspective moment—or two—to contemplate their own spirituality I will have accomplished even more.

Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to chat, Stephen! It’s been a rare pleasure.

The pleasure is mine! Thank you for your interest in my project and your insightful questions. Talking with you has been a rare treat.

Take care now, and don’t be a stranger!

 

There you have it, folks – right from the source himself. Garden of the Gods is on bookshelves now at Deseret Book stores. It’s also available in print or digital format on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com.

CHECK. IT. OUT.


Fanboy Game Review #1 – Fallout 4

[Note: I do not consider myself a game critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion. Oh, and there are some mild SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

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War never changes, but the UI certainly does.

Fallout 4 is big news in the media. It’s all over YouTube, news outlets, and TV. There’s a promotional Nuka Cola Quantum soda available at Target (if you lined up at 8:00 am on the day the game came out). Conan O’Brien even donned a Vault-Tec jumpsuit and Pip-Boy to give his take on the game. While reviews overall are mixed, with passionate viewpoints on both sides of the fence, I decided to put my two cents in about this blockbuster video game release.

So, here we go…

First Impressions:  Bethesda has a pretty good track record. Let’s see…Oblivion, Fallout 3, and FREAKIN’ SKYRIM! That last one is in all caps for a reason. SKYRIM is one of my favorite games of all time. So, the developers are going next generation with the Fallout series, one of the most beloved IPs in modern gaming. Okay, Bethesda, you have my attention. Let’s see what you’ve got.

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You are S.P.E.C.I.A.L!

What I Liked:

  • Since the original Legend of Zelda, I have always loved open-map games. Don’t put on me on rails, just turn me loose and let me decide where I want to go, and the order in which I tackle objectives. Fallout 4 gives me this freedom. Even when I’m not sure what to do next, I appreciate the ability to set my own course and blaze my own path.
  • Junk is useful. Pretty much anything you pick up can help you do something in the game. I have a suit of power armor optimized for carrying capacity so I can ‘clean up’ areas after I’ve cleared them of baddies. Nary a coffee cup or battered clipboard escapes my clutching grasp.
  • VOICE ACTING. Bethesda is known for their incredible voice talents and Fallout 4 does not disappoint. The male/female protagonist talent is top-shelf all the way, and the supporting cast is diverse and rarely if ever repeats. And Lynda Carter is in it as a character you can flirt with. By all that is right and holy in this world, my dreams have finally come true!
  • The story. I know that this is a problem for some folks, but I find it engaging. Now that I’m a parent in real life, the very thought of someone taking my kids away is a strong motivator to me, and very personal. Give me powered armor and I would hunt the Institute to hell and back if that’s what it took.
  • Fallout 4 avails itself of the rich lore built up and established in previous titles. I love reading through the journal entries and letters. Every location has a story and creates something of a snapshot of how things were as the bombs fells. I love unraveling the mysteries and finding those hidden pre-war caches of goodies. Love it, love it.
  • Powered Armor. I AM IRON MAN. *da-duh-da-duh-da-duh-da-duh-dun-dun-DUN-dun*.
  • The Perk System. I know is this a sticking point for some, but I enjoy it. Deciding upon which perk to get in SKYRIM was one my favorite parts of leveling up. This is just taken one step further. I didn’t mind the skill point system from Fallout 3 and New Vegas, but I like the perks system quite a bit better. Nothing is wasted, and it’s all useful.
  • The crafting system. Wow…the permutations of this are staggering. Weapons, armor, powered armor, settlements…it’s adult, post-apocalyptic Minecraft. I was never this much of a kid in a candy store even when I was, in fact, a kid in a candy store.
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Why is there never enough Aluminum? Or Adhesive? Gaaaah!

What I Didn’t Like:

  • For a game with such a robust crafting system, there is virtually no tutorial for how to use it effectively. And for things like establishing trade routes, I had to look that up. It’s not intuitive at all. Or when you retain mods for weapons that can be used again.
  • Settlement crafting is seems like it is really meant for building entirely new buildings with almost no consideration for making repairs to existing structures. Try putting a door in a door frame that you didn’t build, or patch a roof that isn’t flat. Nope.
  • I’m in powered armored but sheets of particle board shoddily nailed across a door or window are utterly impenetrable. Can I build my settlement defenses out of that stuff?
  • I have an Agility of 9, but I can’t climb. At all. I have to go waaay out of my way, jumping on shipping containers like Super Mario to get to higher ground or onto a rooftop. Really?
  • The lack of non-violent/diplomatic solutions to problems. If there are raiders attacking a nearby settlement, your only real option is to hunt them down and kill them all. I get that this might be the case for the worst of the lot, but for all of them? Without exception?
  • The Dialogue Wheel. I know, this is has been beaten to death in other reviews, but there is often a dissonance between what I think I’m going to say and what actually comes out of my character’s mouth. It feels like this greatly cuts down on the role-playing aspect of this RPG because you can’t carefully consider your words ahead of time.
  • The facial animations are behind the curve. As cool as Piper is as a character (and I love her), hers seems worst of all. I realize the open world means that the graphics can’t be as photorealistic as Rise of the Tomb Raider, but here the facial animations seem only marginally better than SKYRIM.
  • The type on the screen is sometimes hard to read. Every time I find a comic book, I immediately have to swivel it around to the back so I can actually read the benefit it gives me. There are also a few times when trading with an NPC will cover up key parts of the trading interface.
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Maybe, but I bet the Spartans would have welcomed powered armor. Just sayin’.

Conclusions:  I love this game, and don’t kid yourself – it is highly addictive. Be prepared to lose sleep and make apologies to friends and family. It’s immersive with a sense of place that is wonderful, terrifying, and rich. The attention to detail is off-the-chain nuts. Seriously. This isn’t a ‘once a year’ title that you’ll play through in a week or two and then put down for months or years. No, this is a game, much like SKYRIM, that you’ll be playing for years to come. Considering the breadth of content in the base game alone, Fallout 4 is utterly worth the price of admission.  You’ve done it again, Bethesda. My thanks.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.