Infinity War Review

“Dread it, run from it, destiny arrives all the same.”

 

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I’ve essentially been waiting for a movie version of my favorite comic story for over 25 years. So even with the excellent knack the Marvel Cinematic Universe has shown for balancing large casts and adapting stories as well as the roll they’ve been on with excellent films like Black Panther and Thor: RagnarokI was a bit apprehensive going into Infinity War. I’m pleased to report that I needn’t have worried.

This felt right, building on the previously established mythology of the prior movies while keeping the essence of the themes of the comics (and in some cases improving on them) and paying tribute in numerous “Easter egg” type moments that fit in this new story and didn’t feel forced. That balancing act is difficult, and kudos to all involved in pulling it off.

While some characters could have used more screen time and a couple of characterizations felt a little off compared to the characters in their own movies, overall the movie did an extremely good job of balancing the huge cast (including a well deserved spotlight on some supporting cast members) and walking the line of comedy and drama that was so important to making this story work in the MCU. The cast banters out of stress and habit, amusing the audience in the classic Marvel movie way without losing sight of the gravity of unfolding events. Thanos, one of my favorite comic villains ever, shines as a powerful foe with a distinct point of view and agenda that requires sacrifices he’s willing to make. Sacrifices that are, of course, not acceptable to our heroes leading to the promised conflict that has the proper weight and epic feel.

The work Marvel’s put into building its universe over the last decade, letting viewers get to know their heroes and follow along with what’s brought them all to this point while slowly sewing the seeds foreshadowing this tale of the war over the Infinity Gems, pays off in spades. This story couldn’t be a simple adaptation, as the preceding events, general plot setup and themes, and even the key characters involved were very different than the comics. All the careful preparation and groundwork laid out in the previous movies allowed this tale to grow organically as a proper part of this narrative universe.  Yet I think that while that true depth of Infinity War might be lost by those new to the MCU it also does a good job of establishing the stakes, cast, and plot to the point where the story could be followed by new viewers. Again, not an easy task and I’m happy to see things come together so well.

 

The way things unfold are unique enough to the particulars of the MCU that even though this is based on elements of now classic stories it’s worthwhile to avoid spoilers. So I’ll wrap up here by saying that while not perfect this was still pretty much as excellent as I could have hoped for, and I’m dying to see the sequel next year to experience the fallout and see where everything goes from here.

 

Quick Takes: Deadpool 2 and Solo: A Star Wars Story

A brief look at a couple of films I’d been really looking forward to.

 

Deadpool 2

“Well, that’s just lazy writing.

 

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Uh, yeah. So since my review of the first movie is so exactly what I think of this one too it’s time to cut and paste a bit:

“If ever there was an epitome of ‘good for what it is,’ Deadpool (2) is it.

Ridiculous, rude, and raunchy from the get-go, Wade Wilson’s over the top adventure revels in excess and absurdity. It also largely works, thanks to clever writing, self-awareness, and Ryan Reynolds’ delivery. This is no masterpiece, but it is a hilarious ride to tag along with. There’s a lot to be said for knowing what you set out to accomplish and sticking to it, and Deadpool (2) is exactly as expected in all the right ways.”

Yep, that pretty much sums it up again. Beyond that the humor alternated between hilarious and annoying, Cable and Domino were well done, the plot was strong (outside a couple glaring holes), and overall I enjoyed it. This will all get really old at some point, but not yet.

 

Next.

 

Solo: A Star Wars Story

 

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Part of the reason I’m using this format instead of a full review is I honestly don’t have too much to say about this. It was a fun way to spend a couple hours, and that’s about it. Acting was quite good and the plot held up and kept things interesting. The thing is nothing was particularly surprising, noteworthy or magical here for me. I enjoyed it, but nothing beyond that. Which is fine overall and this is definitely worth a watch, but I usually get more out of Star Wars movies.

 

Black Panther Review

“You are a good man, with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be a king.”

 

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Since the fantastic first look at Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa in Civil War, I’d been eagerly anticipating this solo film and a full look at his world. It certainly didn’t disappoint, going beyond my already high expectations in a wonderfully realized film with both captivating moments of superhero action and deep, resonant themes that provide a lot to think about. This is a film that shows deep respect for culture and tradition while carefully considering the forces and necessity of change, largely through Michael B. Jordan’s fantastic showing as a villain who has validity in his point of view but flaws in his chosen course of action. Eric Killmonger’s rhetoric isn’t easily dismissed, and the moral questions he inspires in T’Challa both anchor and plague our hero’s story.

Mention should also be made of Black Panther’s excellent portrayal of women as an important part of their society in a seamless way that speaks to true respect. The new king is surrounded by several confident, powerful women who are rightfully treated as the experts they are, have significant roles in the narrative, and are amazingly brought to life by pitch perfect performances by Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letita Wright, and Angela Bassett (among others).

I’m not going to attempt a full laundry list of all the other ways in which Black Panther excels, but it’s simply excellent and continues the evolution of Marvel Cinematic Universe in important ways. It reminded me a bit of the also incredible Thor: Ragnarok, in elements like the way secondary characters are getting deeper and more nuanced development as well as (further) refining the impeccable balance of drama and humor the MCU’s known for. This is one of the very best movie’s I’ve seen in recent memory, and it’s wonderful to see a film strive for such depth and meaning while entertaining and succeed so thoroughly.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

“Amazing. Every word of what you just said was wrong.”

 

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I observed in my review of Rogue One that the main Star Wars movies are (excellent) high adventure tales of good versus evil, while it showed there was also room for exploration of the shades of gray realities of warfare embedded in the struggle of the Rebellion and the Empire. The Last Jedi ends up somewhere in between in atmosphere, scope, and story, and I adored it. This is a movie featuring nuanced characters (including several excellent new additions) with conflicting and changing agendas, strong reveals, and significant open potential for next movie.

There were no easy answers and the characters, including familiar faces, are all too fallible. This seems to be one of the main reasons behind the mixed reception I’ve noticed, but I felt it added a wonderfully layer of depth. Without faults they have no room for growth, and the conflicts, missteps, and hard choices our heroes faced made this one of the most interesting Star Wars films for me. Without getting into spoilers, I also seem not to have made certain assumptions others did after Force Awakens, and the different expectations (or lack thereof) I had likely explain some of the disconnect between my impression and what appears to be more common consensus of longtime fans.

Of course I’m not claiming the movie was perfect and I did have some minor quibbles, most relating to certain aspects of Finn’s subplot, but nothing that significantly impacted my enjoyment.

One last aspect worth bringing attention to is the incredible visual look of the film. Rian Johnson not only introduced new and interesting locales, but also found new and interesting ways of presenting things we’ve seen before, with little details and creative choices that really aided and enhanced the movie’s impact.

So for what it’s worth, from a lifelong fan of Star Wars, I thought The Last Jedi was incredible overall and am extremely excited to see how everything proceeds from here.

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.

Quick Takes: The Lego Batman Movie, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, and Logan

As I’ve done in the past I recently took advantage of a long plane ride to catch up on a few movies I’ve been meaning to watch. Here are brief thoughts on three films I checked out this time.

 

The Lego Batman Movie

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Exactly as expected. Silly and fun, with moments of depth and a metric ton of pop culture references and in-jokes. Not of all it worked, but the vast majority of it did and as a huge Batman fan in general this was highly amusing.

 

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

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I gave this one a look because Tom Cruise movies in this vein are generally a decent enough way to spend a couple hours. And I hold to that opinion here. This was solid, providing nothing really ground breaking but was a good “spy” style action flick all the same.

 

Logan

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I’d heard great things about this, and despite Wolverine not being a personal favorite of mine I found myself agreeing completely. The plot was layered and interesting, Jackman provided his most impressive, nuanced performance yet, and X-23’s introduction and portrayal was perfect.

 

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These three very different films all fully embraced what they were to great effect. Logan’s the best here by a sliver over Lego Batman, with Reacher a clear third yet still enjoyable. Great batch overall and I could see myself watching any of them again.