Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

“I know you want to save the world. But… you’re not ready yet.”

 

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I enjoyed bits and pieces of Sam Raimi’s original three Spider-man movies, but overall they weren’t as good as they should have been. I never had enough interest to bother watching the “Amazing Spider-Man” films. But I read a fair number of comics featuring him when I was younger and have always been interested in seeing a proper representation of the character on-screen.

Given the success and quality of Marvel’s ever expanding cinematic universe, news that they reached a deal to reacquire Spidey for use in their own films brought a lot of excitement. The new version of the character was introduced in Civil War, and Tom Holland impressed immediately as the perfect person to channel the balance of earnestness and awkwardness Peter needed.

Still, the high school setting that needs to be incorporated in a solo Spider-Man movie is tricky, and there were points of concern going into this new vision of the wallcrawler. As contradictory as it sounds, I thought things were executed both really well and with somewhat lackluster execution.

Make no mistake, the movie is great overall. When things start to come together the level of tension and emotional pitch are perfect, the action scenes are striking and fun, and the acting throughout is excellent. The catch is getting to the point where the movie becomes fantastic and all of the groundwork pays off is so boring. It shouldn’t be, as there’s nothing wrong with the plotting, acting, nor approach in the first half of the movie as the specifics of Peter’s life and all the important characters around him are introduced. Yet somehow despite being necessary and competently done the film lacks something to fully engage the viewer and shake the feeling of waiting for “the good stuff” to happen. Again, it’s not bad, but the early sections feel slow and pedestrian despite touches of humor and a solid underlying story.

And then a switch flips, and all the buildup, potential, and patience pay off in a big way. The climax of the movie is fantastic, anchored by incredible performances by Michael Keaton as a smart, dangerous antagonist just a few degrees of center and by Holland as a wannabe hero coming of age. Homecoming became everything I wanted from a Spider-Man movie by the end, it just took it a while to get there. Hang in for the full ride, and you’ll be rewarded with some of the MCU’s best scenes and performances. I just hope next time they’ll skip right to that feeling from the get go.

Thor: Ragnarok Review

“Kneel before your queen.

 

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I enjoyed the first Thor movie and its epic feel that really hasn’t been replicated in other Marvel movies, despite some pacing issues. The second one was fine, shining in the interactions between Thor and Loki amid a serviceable but somewhat lackluster plot and paint by numbers villain.

Third time is the charm here, and this was a flat out blast. Ragnarok feels like a music video come to life in places in the best way possible. Thor and Loki again provide the movie’s emotional core, and with a logical plot that still manages a couple of nice twists and a larger than life antagonist the layered story shines. Of course on top of all of that are healthy layers of action and humor.

Said humor largely works and several awesome moments had me unexpectedly laughing out loud. However in other parts it admittedly tries way too hard, and the characterization of a certain green supporting cast member felt really odd, with depth and consistency often sacrificed for running gags. The movie also drags just a touch in the middle and the use and/or absence of certain characters from the previous movies was … interesting. On the other hand, there are also great new cast additions.

Overall though I thought this was fantastic, with a strong story featuring compelling characters and numerous fun moments.

Hinges: Mechanical Men Review

Mechanical Men” is the third and final collected volume of the webcomic Hinges.

 

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Hinges started strong with an initial volume (Clockwork City) that introduced a just awakened Orio to a curious new city and some ominous happenings. Volume 2 (Paper Tigers) widened the scope a bit and, while I felt it wasn’t quite as strong as volume 1, continued Orio’s tale in a fairly compelling way. Both proceeding volumes were highlighted by compelling characters and moments of genuine emotion.

After the harrowing events of Paper Tigers, Orio is left dejected and unmotivated. But the changes in Clockwork City since she’s been gone provide quite a shock upon her return…

 

Mechanical Men brings everything together in a reasonable conclusion. Without getting into spoilers I’ll admit I wanted more explanation on certain things, but this was a strong finish regardless. There were enough details provided there to follow the important reveals and resolutions, and as throughout the story was anchored with really great character moments (for several of the cast) worked into the escalating stakes and danger. The end scene in particular was perfect.

Overall Hinges is a compelling, incredibly illustrated read right up until the end. There was potential for it to reach even greater heights, but what’s here is an easy recommendation as it is.

Hinges: Paper Tigers Review

“Paper Tigers” is the second collected volume (of three) of the webcomic Hinges.

 

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Clockwork City was an excellent introduction to Orio and the world she woke up to. There were strong characters, an interesting city readers got gradual glimpses into, and intriguing and harrowing strange happenings to build mystery and tension.

Paper Tigers shifts gears a bit, and while still quite good I didn’t find it quite as engaging. I wanted to learn more about how things worked in Clockwork City before moving on to the mysteries of what lurked outside, and a lot of this volume felt less like a compelling, unfolding mystery and more like the author was holding too much back. The general idea is fine: the readers are exploring with Orio and learning things as she does. But at this point Orio has more of a framework to work with than the reader, and the disconnect broke immersion for me a bit. I was less into the ordeal Orio was going through now and still wondering about what had come before.

That said, the larger world of Hinges does hold a lot of fascination and danger, and in the end it feels like a significant amount of progress has been made in the overarching story. Character development, particular with Orio and Bauble, continues to be the biggest strength of the series and generates genuinely emotional moments throughout this book.

As with book 1 the art is beautiful, although I found action sections a bit hard to follow this time and some of the color palates made details hard to process. Stopping to reexamine panels wondering exactly what was happening again breaks immersion and the story’s momentum.

This is a hard volume to review. I wanted more from it. Much more. But what’s here is still very good overall and makes narrative sense, with some huge reveals and developments going into the final volume.

Hinges: Clockwork City Review

“Clockwork City” is the first collected volume (of three) of the webcomic Hinges.

 

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I originally started reading Hinges without any foreknowledge, based solely on randomly coming across the wonderfully haunting opening image of the main character, Orio. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was very intrigued, and was incredibly impressed as I began her unique tale.

Orio wakes up with no memory in a strange clockwork town called Cobble. While disorienting to Orio it’s apparently not unusual as and administrator immediately begins her initiation. It’s a wonderful way to start as Orio is in the same limited information state as the reader, but with other characters already on hand to provide a little framework we get a nice, seamless introduction to world. It’s delightfully imaginative, from it’s doll and marionette citizens to the “ODD” companions they all have to the general design of their surroundings. Little hints and details about how Cobble works are unobtrusively given as the comic progresses while the main focus stays firmly on the characters.

And what delightful characters we’re given. The silent Orio is a strong lead, possessing something that makes her immediately endearing. The reader feels for her confusion, admires her determination and cheers her strength. The lovably mischievous Bauble is a source of humor, trouble and mystery in equal measure. Add in several strong yet diverse personalities around them and Hinges has an excellent cast all around.

One of the unusual things about Hinges is the use of numerous sections without dialog. Authors that are confident enough to get out of the way and let the story proceed at its own pace and its own manner make me very happy. When used right it really enhances pacing and impact. One of my favorite manga, A Bride’s Tale, is a great example of this and I love it in Hinges too. The plot moves at a perfect pace and good use of this technique is a big reason why.

The art is exquisite. It has a soft feel that occasionally “hardens” a little when tension or danger are present. The subdued color palette helps establish a great atmosphere for the comic and subtly changes in different locations. In general the coloring is among the best I’ve seen in comics.

Clockwork City is a great start to a comic that became an instant favorite of mine. I couldn’t wait to learn more about Orio, Bauble and their strange little world.

Usagi Yojimbo Vol 31 Review

The Hell Screen is volume 31 of Stan Sakai’s samurai epic, Usagi Yojimbo. It’s another volume that benefits from having read Usagi’s previous adventures but also stands reasonably well on its own.

 

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For those who are new to Usagi, a comment from my review of Vol. 1 on Sakai’s choice of medium that has remained relevant throughout the comic’s long run:

“The use of amorphous animals as the characters might seem unusual to first time readers, but it gives Sakai more visual diversity and symbolism to play with, and is executed with such finesse that it quickly becomes impossible to imagine the book without this choice. Don’t mistake the presence of animals as people as a sign this is a ‘kid’s book.’ Usagi Yojimbo covers a period of war, political unrest, and an unhealthy level of danger and can get dark and bloody at times.”

 

The titular story is three parts long and features the return of one of Usagi’s most trusted companions in a murder mystery amid the backdrop of temple marked for possible redevelopment. It features a disturbing screen depicting Hell at it’s center, and various suspicious individuals with their own agendas and paranoias. The mystery honestly isn’t as compelling as usual this time, but the story was more about the themes of conflict and selfishness anyway and appropriately well told.

 

The trade is filled out with four shorter stories that similarly feature a mix of themes relating to desperation, consequences, and looking beyond the surface. The inevitability of fate is also looked at, from a couple different points of view. There’s a story of a town victimized during their struggle to survive a rainstorm and flood and a thoughtful follow up about the fate of one of the citizens at the hands of a monster, a contrast of debt and duty, and a tale of responsibility and sacrifice that sees Usagi escort a man and his elderly mother to see his father in the mountains.

The messages (both positive and negative) are a little heavy handed this time but fit with the ongoing narrative and Usagi’s character. The story with the greatest potential ended too quickly and in a predictable, unsatisfying manner, but there are a couple of gems here as well.

Overall this is another good installment in Sakai’s epic, if not quite reaching its usual standards in my eyes.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Review

“I am Groot.

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Here’s the short version: Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is great fun. Engaging, largely hilarious, and just plain fun.

Admittedly there are moments when it feels like they’re trying too hard (including occasional instances when the comedy is overdone, forced, and/or uncomfortable), and it doesn’t quite have sense of wonder of first movie since we’ve seen Quill and company before, but overall this was a fantastic ride.

The plot’s a little more focused and the characters are developed well, including nice spotlights on Nebula and Yondu, and a strong debut for newcomer Mantis. Of course as expected the show stealer is Baby Groot, who’s done pitch perfectly to be adorable, funny, and engaging without crossing over into annoyance. The movie’s absolutely BURIED in pop culture references, but it fits with Quill’s character as established in the first movie.

I had a wonderful time with Guardians 2, to the point where I got so caught up in the ride and enjoying the movie’s twists and turns I forgot about a couple things I had predicted would happen in this movie to the point I was surprised when they occurred. Can’t ask for much more than that in terms of immersion.