Review: In “Avengers: Endgame,” the MCU takes a victory lap and a moment to reflect

For how much the Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven its willingness to be malleable in its storytelling, to allow filmmakers to both shape and expand what we categorize as a superhero movie, finality is something it’s never really concerned itself with.

Post-credits scenes, cameos and cross-pollination have become as much a characteristic of these films as tight spandex and daddy issues. We used to see individual superheroes exclusively on the frontlines of their own big-screen stories – Tobey Maguire never web-slung across the city alongside the Human Torch – but that’s become a relic of yesterdecade with the MCU’s steadily calculated erasure of narrative borders because of, and in service to, an overarching narrative that only began to become clear several films into the MCU’s existence.

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Review: In ‘Shazam!,’ a teen becomes Superman and DC gets Amblin-ified

Superhero movies weren’t supposed to be like this anymore.

The current stage in the life of the superhero genre, with all its strengths and flaws, has been its most prosperous. Caped crusaders and steel-hearted heroines have made a ho-hum achievement of the billion-dollar box office threshold, and have done so by way of ever-maximizing spectacle and a collection of perennial Hottest Celebrity of the Year candidates. The genre feels increasingly beholden to larger narratives that span more than just trilogies, their capital-C Characters sacrificed at the altar of commerciality to become just another character.

TL;DR, you already know what you’re going to get when you buy a ticket to superhero movies these days. And we’ve been conditioned to believe that what we’re going to get is how the genre will remain for as long as the general moviegoing populace justifies it with their wallets.

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Review: ‘Captain Marvel’ a nearly wholly underwhelming MCU origin story

It’s fair to say that “Captain Marvel” – the 21st entry in the franchise to rule all franchises, and in many ways its most pragmatic – is arriving at a bit of a crossroads for this ever-blossoming superhero saga 11 years after it began.

More accurately, it itself is the crossroads; another origin story for another superbeing whose name hadn’t been uttered in over 40 hours of films, and yet the story of a hero with pre-ordained expectations of the highest order, thanks to a post-credits stinger, a pager and a logo that sent the Internet into a frenzy last April.

With “Captain Marvel,” our MCU overlords ask us to forget, if for a couple hours, about half of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes being reduced to dust, and instead shift our gaze to Kree and Skrulls, a disorienting story that feels three steps ahead of the audience in the worst of ways, and Carol Danvers’s introduction as already one of the MCU’s most charismatic figures in spite of it. The miracle of overcoming one of the more ill-advised MCU narratives in recent years isn’t quite achieved, but the superhuman strength on display in the last bits of the movie by its titular hero should have Thanos sweating. Continue reading →

This is what the Oscars playing Russian roulette looks like

As it turns out, even at 91 years old you can still experience growing pains.

That’s the scenario the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finds itself in Tuesday, following its unveiling of nominations for this year’s Oscars, the culmination of which was a field of eight wildly varied Best Picture nominees which collectively confirm one thing: The Academy is as clueless as the rest of us about its identity in 2019.

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Top 10 movies of 2018

2018 was a gnarly f*cking year.

I think no matter what your political affiliation, how much time you spend on Twitter or whether you stan DC or Marvel films, we can all agree that that is fact now that it’s over.

Thankfully, we still had new cinema to turn to. To provide us solace, to help us make sense of it all, to provide context for changing times and to make us wish that we had a bucket hat-wearing, marmalade sandwich-munching expatriate helping us to get along with each other.

But perhaps even Paddington was too good for this world.

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Stan Lee’s impact on someone who never opened a comic book

I had just turned 9 years old when Dad took me to see “Spider-Man 2” at an Indiana movie theater. It was the summer of 2004, and there was little foundation in my mind for what I could expect to marvel at on the big screen, other than the first Spidey movie and a tie-in computer game I spent some time playing a few years prior.

Of course, that didn’t stop me, nor millions of others, from having a hell of a moviegoing experience. In 2018 “Spider-Man 2” still a highlight of the genre—even though its arrival was still early in the era of the superhero movie, when Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn’t yet a part of the Hollywood lexicon.

It was also a movie that led me to an epiphany. Continue reading →

Review: ‘Justice League’ gets a gold star for trying

Hello, darkness, my old friend…”

Well. Here we are.

After three-and-a-halfish years of this iteration of the DC Extended Universe, a span of time which has seen film quality – and level of consumer confidence – fluctuate from acceptable (“Man of Steel”) to bad (“Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”) to worse (“Suicide Squad”) to rebirth (“Wonder Woman”), we have finally arrived at what, we assume, should be a benchmark for this iteration of DC superherodom.

Instead, “Justice League” feels more like a litmus test, a way to test the loyalty of its fanboys while providing a predictable story whose flashiest moments still lack any really intrigue to stand out in a saturated genre. While easier to swallow than “Dawn of Justice,” you know you have a problem when there’s more charm in your 60-second mid-credits scene than everything that has preceded it. Continue reading →

Review: Marvel pokes fun at itself with ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ and has a blast doing it

It’s about time we got something like “Thor: Ragnarok.”

After nearly a dozen years of spinning an increasingly complex web of Marvel stories and characters, the studio realized a need for giving audiences something new and invigorating; something to keep the spark alive, if you will. And they picked the perfect franchise to do it.

With “Ragnarok,” one of the MCU’s least consequential (and – let’s face it – one of its least interesting) franchises doesn’t just get a facelift; it’s infused with a new energy. With the third solo entry for Thor – “solo” becoming more and more ambiguous the further along the MCU machine churns –  he’s officially the ugly girl you initially passed up on who went on to become a runway model. Continue reading →

2017: Surprises and storylines so far in movies

Welcome to (almost) August.

Well, ok, in the real world. But in the parallel cinematic universe that mirrors our own, it’s probably more accurate to say we’re coming up on the end of April as far as the movie year goes, what with most of the year’s best films to come as the weather gets cooler.

Nonetheless, 2017 has been supremely interesting for movies so far.

We got a 2018 Best Picture dark horse contender almost a full year early in Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Following a series of misfires, DC finally gave us a film that is both a critical darling and box office smash in Wonder Woman. After La La Land invigorated the musical last year, Edgar Wright reinvented it with Baby Driver. And, of course, Marvel Studios keeps doing Marvel Studios things. Continue reading →

Review: ‘Logan’ is a bloodily introspective affair that ends an iconic journey with more of a whimper than a shout of triumph

“X-Men” movies have always been about strength in numbers, finding family where others might just see freaks.

That formula has stayed consistent even with the “stand-alone” Wolverine flicks (which really just mean our favorite mutant teaming up with new allies), and even with the franchise’s first decidedly adult foray in 2016 with Deadpool, as the Merc with a Mouth seeks the help of Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead.

But with “Logan,” the majority of the spotlight shines on Hugh Jackman’s alter ego, providing X-Men fans with an examination of the character 17 years in the making that is as complex as anything we’ve seen so far from the franchise, and perhaps the superhero genre as a whole.

Oh, and yes, there’s blood. Buckets and buckets of it to make up for what seems like 10 movies’ worth of carnage that was still trying to appeal to 10-year-old fans.

Director James Mangold takes care to make sure that the movie’s (much) more mature aesthetic manifests itself in more than just claws ripping endless waves of cronies to shreds. “Logan” also deals with some of the darkest themes of the series, making the so-called isolated and lonely experience of being a mutant at Professor Xavier’s school come off as a paradise.

There, teenage mutants are learning to control their powers by grown-ups who have come to terms with their constant struggle of being different from humanity. In “Logan,” children even younger than those at Xavier’s are making ends meet on their own, trying to survive while being hunted down by humans an age when mutants aren’t born so much as they are manufactured.

That’s the case of the young Laura when she eventually crosses paths with an old and grumpier than usual Logan, hiding out in the borderlands of southern Texas where he doesn’t have to worry about anyone that he doesn’t seem to care about anyway.

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That even extends to his care of an old Charles Xavier, who is in a much more vulnerable state than we’ve ever seen him, and who seems to have given up on trying to convince Logan that he is meant to be more than the monster he was bred to be.

The duo reside with another mutant caretaker, passing the days with seemingly no end goal save to wait for their own bodies and mutant genes to wear out on them, until Laura gives them one more mission to embark on.

Jackman has stated that this turn as Wolverine is his last, and if that turns out to be the case, he delivers a powerfully nuanced and emotional performance that allows for insight into his character in ways we’ve never seen before. It’s easy to forget about Logan’s internal plight in other X-Men flicks when he’s fighting for something much grander than getting over his own existential crisis, but “Logan” forces you to contemplate the type of person someone becomes when they’ve become used to enduring through violence and rage.

Patrick Stewart also shines as the debilitated Xavier that has some of the best lines of the movie (whoever knew the professor could be this profane?), and Laura is quietly affecting in a largely dialogue-less role.

“Logan” certainly feels much more like a drama than a traditional superhero flick, one which successfully proves that deeper explorations of the genre’s characters and their motives can make for entertaining films, despite this one’s pacing issues. There aren’t any flashy effects, the villains aren’t of a supernatural nature and the world, or what’s left of it, doesn’t necessarily need saving.

However, the fact that Mangold makes character exploration the focus of “Logan” doesn’t mean it’s truly groundbreaking in any way; it simply takes a different narrative route than other superhero movies, albeit one that transcends the genre’s tropes. “Logan” is bold and brutal, but in many ways we only feel like we’re seeing something totally fresh because it’s the first such intimate foray in, or out of, the genre.

The most interesting thing that Mangold’s script delves into is Logan’s strained relationship with his rage and his efforts to control it. Jackman effectively portrays the struggles that Logan must live with in balancing that rage and using it in small doses, before taking the leap and releasing for the good of someone other than himself.

You never got the sense that that was a problem with previous “X-Men” films, but here it represents his internal journey.

Despite focusing more on the character and how he sees the world rather than how the world sees mutants (of which there are only a handful left in the not-so-distant future of the film), “Logan” by many accounts is very standard fare. The script does right by Jackman’s devotion the character, but very little else is there to intrigue us for the film’s 2 hours and 15-minute runtime.

There’s certainly brutal and bloody violence, but that gets to be heavy-handed at some points. The road-trip-across-America is bogged down by some questionable character choices, and with most of the movie’s most interesting backstory — the “how the hell did we get to where we are?” — Mangold wrongfully chooses to tease instead of explain fully.

As far as diverging from the straight-and-narrow path that today’s endless stream of superhero films are released from, “Logan” is a welcome step in the right direction at showing the storytelling possibilities of heroes we’ve come to know and love, but it’s just a start.

Deep introspection of one of those heroes that moviegoers have grown attacked to means showing sides of that character we never really thought about exploring, but by “Logan’s” end, we haven’t really  learned anything new about him. We just see him in his darkest and most dreary state. For some reason, that’s enough for Mangold,  when it isn’t for the audience.

 

“Logan” is rated R for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook

Directed by James Mangold

2017