Infinity War: Mega Marvel Team-Up Should Thrill Fans, Confuse All Others

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best in its series)

Avengers Infinity War Poster
image from https://www.amazon.com/

Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of the past 10 years of superhero movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Fans of the franchise will laugh and cry as their favorite heroes go up against the toughest foe they’ve ever encountered, while non-fans will wonder what all the fuss is about.  Essentially, this is a movie for the devotees of this billion-dollar series.  If you are not on the Marvel train yet, either engage in a massive binge session to get caught up, or wait until The Incredibles 2 next month for your superhero fix.

The story sees several members of the Avengers team (who are too numerous to mention) battle the malevolent alien Thanos (an intimidating Josh Brolin).  Everyone will put their egos aside in order to stop Thanos from getting the magical Infinity Stones and annihilating half of Earth’s population.

Avengers: Infinity War will thrill and emotionally devastate series fans, but the uninitiated will be lost.  Despite the downbeat tone, the film contains unexpected humor from the character interactions and some of the best action in the franchise.  The performances are uniformly strong, and Brolin steals the show as one of the series’ best villains.  Lastly, the emotionally charged ending is nothing short of heartbreaking for fans, changing the rules for both this universe and superhero films as we know them.

Avengers: Infinity War is a thrilling, fun, and emotional climax to the past 10 years of Marvel’s reign over the multiplex.  May future installments continue to entertain as much as this.

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence And Action Throughout, Language, And Some Crude References

Deadpool 2: Silly Sequel is Surprisingly Dark, Relentlessly Juvenile

2 out of 5 stars (has some good moments, but is overall bad)

Deadpool 2 poster
Image from http://collider.com/

Deadpool 2 is the first disappointment of 2018.  With a genius marketing campaign, hilarious trailers, and the prospect of seeing our favorite foul-mouthed antihero again, I was ready to dive head-on into this Pool.  Sadly, Deadpool 2 is a needlessly darker and sophomoric outing that emphasizes violent action over clever wit, making for a film that will satisfy action junkies, but leave those who enjoyed the cleverness of its predecessor yearning for more.

The mess of a plot involves Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) mourning over the death of his girlfriend (Morena Baccarin), joining the X-Men, and attempting to save an annoying teenager (Julian Dennison) from, brace yourself, a cyborg from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin).  Wade will sort of go on a journey to discover his inner hero and learn to move on from the death of his loved one, while still cracking jokes to the camera.

Deadpool 2 could have been a savage satire on how sequels always darken, but falls into that trap instead.  While still charismatic, Ryan Reynolds isn’t as likable here, overdoing Wade’s depression in the opening act and attempting to make out-of-place statements on sexism, racism, and other topics Deadpool should not discuss. Brolin acts like he’s in a completely different movie, but has good chemistry with Reynolds when onscreen with him.  The plentiful action sequences are well-done yet sadly unmemorable, and Dennison alternates between unlikable and annoying rather than menacing.  Lastly, the supposed emotional punch of an ending rings hollow.  I came here to laugh hysterically, not think about character drama.  It’s a sad state of affairs that should hopefully be remedied with the upcoming 3rd installment.

Deadpool 2 has more than enough action, but the plot and tone meander without much logic, the characters aren’t as endearing, and the writing is surprisingly juvenile rather than clever or witty.  While it certainly isn’t the worst X-Men film, Deadpool 2 is only slightly above X-Men Origins:Wolverine in terms of quality enjoyment.  I am sad to report that, of the three films I’ve seen this week, Book Club was the funniest one, not this.

Rated R for Strong Violence And Language Throughout, Sexual References, And Brief Drug Material.  Sorry, DP, but X is not gonna give this one to ya.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: A Super Sequel with Brains

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best in its series)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Poster
Image from https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a prime example of how to do a sequel right.  It builds on everything that was good about its predecessor while still being a solid standalone movie.  I also applaud the inclusion of pointed political commentary that actually feels like it was researched and understood by the screenwriters before it was placed in the story.  But explosion junkies have no fear: all of that weighty material is perfectly balanced out by good old fashioned action that services the narrative and almost never overstays its welcome.

We follow Steve Rodgers/Captain America (A dryly charismatic Chris Evans) as he is adjusting to modern life after being defrosted by the military.  Working with Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) as a field agent for secret government organization SHIELD, Steve doesn’t exactly trust that the men upstairs are honest about their work, a suspicion proven when someone puts a hit on SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).  Worse still, high-ranking senator Alex Pierce (Robert Redford) believes Steve was involved, causing him and Natasha to go into hiding and eventually encounter someone from Steve’s past who will complicate the mission even further.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier holds up better than most other comic book films.  It’s a political thriller and character piece before an action extravaganza, and that increases its appeal beyond comic junkies.  It also humanizes Steve Rogers and handles its plot quite smoothly.  This is the kind of movie that knows how to serve up awesome battle sequences and character drama in equal measure.  Action fans will be more than satisfied, and people like me who enjoy actual stories should be entertained too.  See it.

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Violence, Action, and Gunplay Throughout

4 Reasons to see Logan

5 out of 5 stars (One of the Best of its franchise)

Logan Movie Poster
Image from https://www.amazon.com/

Logan is one of the most hyped superhero movies of this or any year, with brilliant marketing, a fan-praised hard-R rating, and the final performance by Hugh Jackman in the role of most people’s favorite superhero.  It is an emotional night for me as I compose this list, as Logan exceeded my abnormally high expectations and made me cry as the end credits rolled.  But you’re here to read why you should see the movie, not listen to me cry about it, so here are my 4 Reasons to see Logan.

  1. Hugh Jackman’s final turn

There’s no escaping the fact that Hugh Jackman is Wolverine/Logan.  He has put 17 years into the character, providing intensity, humor, and humanity that have differentiated him from other Marvel characters.  All good things must come to an end, and Hugh Jackman has stated that this is that end.  His performance is a mesmerizing one, playing Logan’s brokenness and anger with perfection.  Jackman goes all in here, showing a side of the character we’ve never seen onscreen and displaying raw acting talent that should not be ignored.  Jackman is at his height in Logan.  If anything, see it for that.

  1. The Story

I can’t get too in-depth without spoiling it, but next to the action (which I will discuss later), Logan’s story is the best of the cinematic franchise.  It is refreshingly character-driven, perfectly paced, and treats the audience with the respect they deserve rather than spoon-feeding them.  Though some questions are given vague-ish answers (what exactly happened to the other X-Men?), they will be quickly forgotten as you are sucked in to Logan’s newest adventure that will leave him forever altered.

  1. The Action

Logan is the first Wolverine movie with an R-rating, and the violence is a large part of that.  While previous films have seen largely bloodless fights in terms of Wolverine’s powers, Logan finally portrays the realistic consequences of a man with adamantium claws going through people like playdoh.  Before I sound too much like a burgeoning serial killer, the bloody action is not here simply to obtain an R-rating.  Every action sequence is relevant to the narrative, extremely well-shot, and possesses emotional impact.  Director James Mangold understands that this is a story, not a 2-hour + killathon.  However, it is quite exhilarating when the action comes.  The camera follows the action in a fluid motion, each shot lasting long enough for the viewer to take it in (you know, like action is supposed to do.)  if you want to see realistic fight sequences that astound you without overstaying their welcome, then Logan will leave you satisfied.

  1. The Characters, Old and New

The X-Men franchise has and always will be about its characters.  The action is astounding because it involves characters we have come to love and care about.  We want them to fight another day, and James Mangold, along with fellow screenwriters Scott Frank and Michael Green have made Logan as much a character piece as it is an action-thriller.  While the action stunningly brutal, the story and characters around that action provide that beauty.  This is Marvel’s Dark Knight.  Both films have more than enough memorable action, but that action would mean nothing if it didn’t center around characters that we love.  Logan understands that, and I hope future X-Men films, and action movies in general, will take heed and craft better stories to center their gorgeous action around.

Logan is an enthralling character piece, a thrilling action movie, and an emotionally satisfying final chapter in the present-day X-Men franchise.  Jackman is smart to hang up the claws with this installment, as he likely could not do any better with this character than he does here and deserves to move on to a bright future, sans mutant powers.  It has been a great joy watching these films over the course of my life, and I can say that this could be the final film in this series and I would be completely happy.  Sure, it had a few bumps, but if this were the end, I would leave feeling totally satisfied.  Unfortunately, that is not the case, and we will see how the next film (taking place in the 90’s) holds up to this one.  For now, we can enjoy this fitting end to Jackman’s run and look toward the future for later adventures.  I give Logan 5 out of 5 stars.  See it.

Rated R for Strong Brutal Violence and Language Throughout, And Brief Nudity (a girl flashes her breasts at one point).

“Civil War”: The Ultimate Marvel Movie

4 out of 5 stars (one of the best in its series)

Captain America Civil War poster
Image from https://www.imdb.com/

Captain America: Civil War is the definition of an event film. All of your favorite Marvel heroes (sans Thor and Hulk) choose sides in a battle of ideologies as well as personal demons.  The action is great, the writing is mature, and the performances are highly memorable (especially from Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans, once again showcasing their dramatic chops).  Everything from Tony Stark’s captivity to the battle with Ultron has lead up to this.  Sides will be chosen, friends will become enemies, and nothing will ever be the same.  And if you aren’t on the Marvel train by now, then don’t expect this to clear anything up, because you will not understand half of what is going on.

I won’t spoil anything for those who have not seen it, but here’s the gist: The government is tired of the destruction the Avengers leave behind after their epic battles, so they have imposed a law that would require all “enhanced beings” to be at the beck-and-call of a committee that would determine where they go, where they go, and how often they go to save the world, eliminating the choice each one has to use their abilities or not.  Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans totally disappearing into the character) doesn’t like this idea, so he is firmly against it.  However, Iron Man/Tony Stark (An angry, powerful Robert Downey Jr.) believes that the heroes should be put on a leash to prevent the deaths of innocents.  This difference of opinion will tear the Avengers apart, some siding with Cap, others with Tony, all while a vengeful man (Daniel Bruhl) watches with nefarious intentions

I cannot go into plot details without spoiling this event. The actors have really grown into their characters over the years, and they are directed to near-perfection by the Russos (those guys who brought you Community and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.)  They know the seriousness of the story here, having the characters act like the adults they are instead of  having misplaced wit after dramatic moments.  This is the least humorous film in the Marvel cannon thus far, and it needed to be.  There is humor here, but it is only for comedic relief in what is otherwise a very dark offering.

Spider-Man is in the movie. Yes, they are rebooting him AGAIN.  While Tobey Maguire will always be My Spider-Man, this version fits the character well, injecting the snarky humor he is known for in the comics.  I wore my Spider-Man T-shirt to the film, eagerly awaiting the new wallcrawler.  His Peter Parker comes off as a regular 16-year-old should (and yes, the actor is actually 16 this time, no more attractive 30-somethings in teen roles).  Though I have seen two film series of the character in the last 10 years, I am eager to see this version expanded upon in his own solo movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, out in 2017

Overall, this is the Marvel movie for people who think these films are afraid to tackle mature issues. It is gritty, serious, and surprisingly realistic in its treatment of the subject matter, which was necessitated in order for this to work.  I don’t know if this will be a billion-dollar phenomenon, but I can say that this is exactly what Age Of Ultron should have been, and what DC’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice so desperately wanted to be.

Rated PG-13 for Extended Sequences of Violence, Action, and Mayhem

“Suicide Squad”: 5 Things DC’s First Team-Up Movie Must Do To Succeed

Suicide Squad poster
Photo from https://imgc.allpostersimages.com

After dealing with less-than-stellar box office figures for Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the film division of DC Comics is in some seriously burning hot water.  After spending an estimated $800 million on BVS, Warner Brothers has been watching their collective dream$ go down the toilet as their supposed juggernaut was taken out of first place this weekend by Melissa McCarthy’s highly criticized comedy The Boss.  Accounting for McCarthy’s undeniable star power, it appears that the continued lifespan of the DC Extended Universe (which I find to be one of the most laughable titles ever given to a series) now rests on the sadistic shoulders of the next installment in the DCEU, Suicide Squad.

 

That trailer aired during the 2016 MTV Movie Awards last night to massive acclaim.  I saw the trailer this morning and was pleasantly surprised by it, as it appeared that the marketing people finally realized the kind of movie they wanted to promote.  This darkly hilarious advertisement is in a stark contrast to the original trailer we got at comic con a few months ago, which showcased a much darker movie.

Original Trailer

I was not excited to see THAT movie, as I could not hold in my laughter watching people in Panda costumes shoot up a convenience store, as well as a tantalizing Margot Robbie (known the world over for her breakout role in The Wolf of Wall Street) fulfilling the fantasies of fanboys everywhere with her spot-on portrayal of Harley Quinn.  Having watched some of Batman: The Animated Series, as well as play Arkham City, I was astounded at how well Robbie channeled the psychotic glee of the character, from the exaggerated Boston accent to her overtly sensuous movements.

That being said, many movies have had fascinating characters stuck in bad scripts, a category that Suicide Squad could go under all too easily if the material is mishandled.  I will wait and see the film in its entirety when it hits theaters on August 5th, but for now, here is my list of 5 Things Suicide Squad Must Accomplish In Order To Be Successful:

  1. Do NOT Be A Guardians Of the Galaxy Rip-Off

The year was 2014. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (“Avengerverse” as I call it) was riding strong on the surprise awesomeness of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and they had another film following it up that year.  That film was Guardians of the Galaxy, and it looked really, really dumb.

I thought this movie would be Marvel’s first outright bomb. While some missteps had been taken (cough, Iron Man 2, cough), none of the Avengers films had been outright horrible.  This looked like an overbloated excuse for CGI and generic characters who happened to have famous actors playing them.  However, to the shock of absolutely everyone, GOTG was a light, fun, and surprisingly hilarious action romp that had memorable characters and as good heart.  Like its heroes, the film proved that the biggest underdog can sometimes soar past the expectations of those watching him.  As a bonus, you didn’t have to see any other film in the MCU to understand what the heck was happening, a delightful breath of fresh air.

Suicide Squad is DC’s answer to that. Both feature relatively unknown comic book characters with one or two biggish names behind the project (GOTG had Zoe Saldana and Chris Pratt, SS has Will Smith and Jared Leto) as well as their own unique tone compared to other films in their universes. Suicide Squad looks like the filmmakers are finally realizing how dumb this entire universe idea is and are going to have some fun with it, rather than trying to play it straighter than Saving Private Ryan. It is imperative that this movie be something unique and memorable in order for audiences to enjoy it, not be a darker copy of something that worked a few years ago.  While I appreciate the trailers not showing us who the villain is, this film needs to be crazy, darkly hilarious, and, of course, exhilarating, in order to stand out from the crowd.

2. Have a Solid Story

I miss the days when action movies ran on a solid story and not endless F/X shots. Think of the greatest action films ever made: The Fugitive, The Hunt for Red October, Braveheart, and many others all had engrossing narratives that invested us in the proceedings of their characters.  Action movies as of late seem to have the idea that 15-20 minutes of basic character and story development are all we “stupid” audiences can handle before hurling action set pieces in our face.

This theory applies to the comic book genre as well. Think back to the first time you saw Iron Man.  Sure the action was (and still is) great, but what kept you coming back?  The character of Tony Stark and the journey he went on.  You liked Tony as a character and felt relief watching him transform from an egotistical warmonger into a slightly less egotistical human being who cared about and wanted to apologize for the damage he caused. Suicide Squad needs to be able to weave a good narrative into or around all of the craziness.  We don’t want 2 hours of endless shooting with a paper-thin plot.  It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare, but I need to be able to remember the story of Suicide Squad.  If a film called Kill Bill can tell an engrossing story with good characters, then this should as well.  That leads into my next point:

3. Make The Characters Interesting

Team-up movies are a big gamble because they have to establish and develop a large group of main characters and make them interesting individually. The Avengers took the loooong route and gave most of their heroes individual movies before having them team up, but Suicide Squad didn’t have the grace (or time) to do that.  Most audience members know of the Joker and Harley Quinn through pop culture, but I had never heard of The Enchantress, Deadshot, or Killer Croc (yes that is his actual name) before that first trailer.  As such, each character needs to be distinct and original in their own way.  My favorite line in the second trailer for SS comes when Will Smith describes the characters: He eats people, he burns people, you’re (referring to the Enchantress) possessed by a witch, and she’s (Harley) just crazy”.  That is a perfect explanation of who everyone is physically, but I don’t know who they are as individuals.  They all have the potential to be great and memorable characters, but they could also be one-note and bland.  Hopefully the writers have been able to make every one on this island of misfit maniacs into a complex person, but I’m only hoping.  That goes into my next-to-last point:

4. Find the Right Tone

I love black comedies. They are able to help us enter the dark recesses of our minds and laugh at the ridiculous things in life.  A great example of this is The Big Short, which took a seemingly humorless topic (the 2008 economic crash) and turned it into a sly dark comedy while still recognizing the seriousness of the situation.  Many black comedies have more serious endings because they need to make a point about something.  This is fine as long as the film remembers what it is and doesn’t try to be more than that.

Suicide Squad has the potential for both dark hilarity and serious drama. Most of the characters are psychologically damaged, which we’ve seen will lead to some good jokes.  However, at the end of the day, these are very messed-up people with serious problems, and that needs to be accounted for.  For example, the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker is an abusive one.  She gives herself completely to a man who will never ever love her, but instead use her as a prop for his own self-gain.  This version of Harley seems fiercely independent, but it could be a charade to hide a beaten and abused child on the inside.  I want to see Harley come out on top of her abuser and show women that it is possible to escape the monsters who torture them.

That could be asking for too much out of one movie, but my point is that they need to decide on a tone and stick with it. Think of Batman Returns.  We know immediately that this is going to a dark, sad movie, and that darkness never lets up. Suicide Squad needs to maintain a darkly comedic tone while allowing us to take it seriously when necessary.  If they make it too serious, then the dark humor will clash with the tone, but if they make it too funny, then a random serious change will seem out of place for what preceded.  My point is that this film needs to be able to make us laugh our butts off AND make us take the events seriously.  The way to do that successfully is my last point:

5. It Needs to Be Well-Directed

The director of Suicide Squad is David Ayer.  He is known for intense dramas with well-rounded characters and memorable action.  I don’t know why he was chosen to direct a dark action-comedy that takes place in a world where men dress up in clown makeup and batsuits, but I can tell you that he gets results out of his actors.  It appears that DC is giving their directors a large amount of creative control over their movies (for the moment anyway), so Ayer’s style will likely be all over this movie.  In full form, he can make every one of my aforementioned desires for the film into reality, but he has to remember to have some fun with it.  This should NOT be like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, this should be a fun, edgy, adrenaline-fueled ride with a dark undercurrent, a combination of Mad Max: Fury Road and the better parts of the Dark Shadows movie (the fun parts).  As well, David Ayer should know that the future of the DCEU rests on this film, and its failure could very well be the biggest embarrassment of the year.

Those are the things I think Suicide Squad needs to do in order to succeed.  Will this be the surprise hit of the year, or is it going to hurt really, really bad?  We’ll find out when it hits theaters on August 5th, 2016.