Ant Man and the Wasp Review

“I do some dumb things, and the people I love the most – they pay the price.”

 

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I’ve really enjoyed the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s take on Scott Lang and company, both in the first Ant-Man movie and Civil War. Ant-Man and the Wasp explores the fallout from both those films, and I was extremely excited for it in general as well as to see Hope take a more starring role this time around.

In a way that kind of reminds me of what was done with Guardians of the Galaxy 2, the plot scope is narrower this time around, with a single core, character driven plot driving everything. The approach is a great one for a second movie in any series, as it advances the types of issues the protagonists face and expand the general universe they inhabit while simultaneously allowing more personal, emotional developments to take center stage. Scott’s choices in Civil War have had a huge effect on his life and the people he cares about, and the film faces those consequences and the subsequent difficult choices Scott has to make head on. Also as expected (and hoped for), Hope is Scott’s equal this time around and I really liked the portrayal of both heroes, including their different approaches and complicated relationship.

That strong central plot is anchored and supplemented with great acting and a sense of humor to the film that makes it all resonate and provides several truly hilarious moments (although I’ll admit certain aspects of the comedy are getting to the point where they need to be reigned in a bit and applied with a more of a deft touch).

Ant Man and The Wasp is a movie that makes some really interesting choices, tells a complete story while setting things up for the future, and stays true to the spirit of the first film while advancing its heroes to the next level. Another strong hit for the MCU.

 

 

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

 

Doctor Strange Review

“We never lose our demons, we only learn to live above them.

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Doctor Strange is perhaps the hardest Marvel Comics hero they’ve tried to adapt so far, yet the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch (and several excellent supporting actors) had expectations fairly high for the latest puzzle piece in the unfolding Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was extremely curious as to how the mythical elements and certain parts of the mythos would be handled, and for most part really liked what they came up with.

Being both a Marvel movie and the origin of a new hero to the MCU, there are formulaic and cliched elements to Stephen Strange’s introduction. Also, some of the supporting actors are considerably better than what they were given to work with.

That said, everything did come together extremely well due to nice touches of foreshadowing here and there and a couple of strong twists. Strange himself, the Ancient One, and Mordo were given nice complexities and reasonable depth, and were all superbly acted. The special effects were brilliant and really anchored the idea of magic in the MCU along with of course providing the expected spectacles and chaotic actions sequences. The climactic battle is stunning, clever, and totally in character, which is everything I could have asked of it.

There are little things in Doctor Strange that could have been done to elevate it even farther, but by the same token there are numerous little things that WERE done that add up to make the Sorcerer Supreme’s screen debut a thoroughly enjoyable endeavor.