‘Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3’ or I Wish I Could Give Rocket a Hug

One of my hottest takes as a critic is my disappointment in Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2. Unlike most people I didn’t care for the story, character choices or most of the other creative decisions. This still makes people angry for some reason and it was the beginning of my somewhat antagonistic relationship with superhero movies. They are without a doubt my least favorite genre to cover and if I could avoid them entirely I would. All that said, they are some of the biggest releasees of the year and this week we have our latest entry Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3. Would I leave underwhelmed like the 2nd or thoroughly enjoy it like the 1st? Well, Marvel fans can relax because I enjoyed this latest entry and consider it a big step up from vol 2. Let’s talk about it!


One of my favorite parts of vol 1 is the coming together of this rag-tag band of mischiefs to make a family unit. This is something lost in vol 2 with the team being divided and more concerned with individual stories than the group as a whole. This is not the case with vol 3. While they do become separated at times the focus  is on helping one of their own, Rocket, and caring for each other as a family.

I also appreciate the comedy a lot more in vol 3 than vol 2. Most of the jokes in vol 2 revolved around Drax making fun of Mantis, which got old quick. Vol 3 has more variety in the topics of the jokes and gets everyone a chance to be light hearted and funny. It was also moving to see how Rocket came to be the smart aleck he is and how he became a part of the Guardians.

The production design is excellent and the action done well. We have some new characters like Adam Warlock (Will Poulter) and Cosmo the Spacedog (Maria Bakalova, who was in the Guardians Christmas Special but this is his first time in a feature film.)

Some people have said the plot is too messy in vol 3 but I didn’t feel that too much. If anything it was nice to see a movie in the MCU that sticks to its own timeline and doesn’t worry about building up other movies or characters. This is strictly about our core Guardians so I didn’t find it hard to follow personally.

Parents may want to use caution when taking their kids to vol 3. This is a strong PG13 with graphic depictions of animal cruelty, torture and some profanity. I also found the villain, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) to be a bit shrieky for my tastes. You might say a little of that character goes a long way…

Those flaws aside Guardians of the Galaxy vol 3 is a moving story of the family you choose and how the trauma we experience doesn’t have to define us, but it is a part of who we are. The music is probably the weakest of the trilogy but it’s still fun and overall an entertaining return to form for James Gunn and his Guardians.

7.5 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ or Where’s the Ant-Man Movie in the Star Wars Knock Off?

This may be an unpopular opinion amongst the Marvel hive but I actually like both Ant-Man 1 and Ant-Man and the Wasp. I understand their weaknesses but they were both welcome diversions from the big epic Avengers films that proceeded them with likable casts led by the always engaging Paul Rudd.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania Trailer: Kang the Conqueror Is Here - Variety

I know a lot of people disagree with me about these films (especially the 2nd one which I admit has 2 weak villains but I think Ghost has compelling motivations for her actions) but it is at least reasonable to expect the 3rd entry in a trilogy to follow the basic pattern and tone of the two previous entries. So when I sat down for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania imagine my surprise to get a film completely different. Some may call that a good thing but I was underwhelmed.

In this film we get Scott Lang (aka Ant-Man) trying to teach his rebellious daughter Cassie respect for the rules but her trouble-making spirit lands them both (along with all 3 of the Pyms) back in the Quantum Realm. What then proceeds is 2 hours of Star Wars-like fighting all leading to a fight with the Exiled Kang the Conqueror played by Jonathan Majors. All of this action fit much better in the Loki show, and I don’t think we learned anything new about Kang in the film that we didn’t get in Loki, so what was the point of it all?

When they first arrive in the Quantum Realm there is some fun world building and creature designs, but it quickly becomes giant CG city-scapes and it all feels like we are stuck in a video game from 2002. They try to liven things up with a few cameos and a bizarre appearance from MODOK that I won’t go into more but after a while it felt like a slog more than the upbeat Ant-man movies I enjoy.

Maybe kids who haven’t seen a million scifi movies will like this more than I did but isn’t it interesting that the simple heist story of the first film was much more engaging than this big supposedly epic movie? Honestly to keep myself from getting bored I started imagining the food and beverage tie-ins they could do at Disneyland’s Avengers Campus (they have ‘Pym’s Test Kitchen’ there.) It’s probably not a good sign if your mind goes to Disneyland food during the latest epic Marvel movie…

It will be interesting to see what audiences think of this one. Oddly it reminded me of something DC particularly from the Zack Snyder era would have made. It has all the polish of an epic without any of the spark or engagement to keep me invested. I guess we will see but as for this critic I prefer my Ant-Man movies smaller than whatever this was…

5 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ or How to Say Goodbye to a King

There are so many factors going against the latest installment in the MCU, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever that it’s remarkable it works as well as it does. Even without star Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing in 2020, following up the beloved original which received a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars would have been no small feet. Rewriting the script to appropriately acknowledge the tragedy naturally made it even more difficult. Fortunately, while not perfect, the folks at Marvel have presented us with a beautiful story about how we overcome the grief life provides and accept the mantle of leadership when it is asked of us. Black Panther 2 release date & trailer - Geeky Gadgets

One of the best things about the original Black Panther is the clear motivations for the characters. We understand why Kilmonger wants Wakanda to be more brazen and bold in eliminating hatful governments from the world, but we also understand why T’Challa and his Father want to remain neutral to evil and protect the vibranium and other resources in their land.

Now with T’Challa’s passing the nation is reeling with grief while at the same time trying to figure out what is the best step forward. I’ve heard some call this “woke” or “political”, which I find confusing. Of course it’s political. It’s about the leader of a nation- a political role. At the beginning of the film T’Challa’s Mother and successor Queen Ramonda speaks at the UN to try and point out the hypocrisy of the many nation-states who demand action from Wakanda while stealing the resources and people of poorer nations.

One such example is a nation of merpeople led by a classic Marvel villain Namor (Tenoch Huerta, who is great in the role) who is trying to defend his nation, Talokan, from these marauders and thieves. Like Kilmonger he sees Wakanda as an enemy of change- an isolationist country that refuses to stand up to these powerful forces trying to take away his land. They clash and it forces young Shuri (T’Challa’s sister) to decide what kind of leader she wants to be.

All of this works and is a compelling story with good acting. I particularly enjoyed the first and third act of the film and the emotional gravitas director Ryan Coogler and the actors bring to the screen. The music is also very moving and well done by Ludwig Göransson, returning from his Oscar winning score from the first film.

That said, there are some issues with the film. I did feel like some of the cinematography was dark and difficult to make out what was being seen. I actually don’t love our local IMAX and so I figured it had to do with my particular screen but I’m hearing that others experienced this too so it seems like a problem.

Also there are times the screenplay gets a bit muddled particularly in the 2nd act. There are a lot of plotlines going on and some are hard to follow especially anything with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Martin Freeman. Lupita Nyong’o is absolutely gorgeous in her scenes but they felt like more a part of the wider MCU building than for the story of Wakanda Forever. Dominque Thorne is introduced as Riri Williams/Ironheart and while I enjoyed her performance it also felt wedged in to serve the overall MCU and not this particular movie itself.

I loved any scene with Danai Gurira as Okoye. She’s rapidly turning into one of my favorite characters in the MCU and I get excited whenever she turns up whether it be in anything from  Avengers: Endgame to the What If series. Angela Bassett is excellent and Letitia Wright is outstanding as Shuri who has to grieve and make important decisions in the movie and I completely bought her character transformation by the end- literal and figurative.

It is these character transformations which will determine what you get out of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. If you need it to be a perfect movie than you’ll be disappointed. However, if you want an emotional journey for characters a lot of us have grown to care about than it more than suffices. It’s strengths certainly make up for its flaws.

There is a mid-credits scene but no post-credits, and there is also a surprise cameo I really loved but won’t spoil for you. Enjoy!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

 

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[REVIEW] ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ or An Uneven MCU Storm

One thing I’ve noticed in the last few years is a lot of the biggest complaints I hear about the Marvel Cinematic Universe are actually the aspects I like best. For example, a lot of people seem to hate the quippy banter and I enjoy the lighter tone especially in a world where comic book movies often take themselves way too seriously. I also really enjoy the puzzle building aspect of the MCU. I like putting the pieces together from all the different movies and making it all work together. I like that a weaker film can be strengthened by a character returning in another entry or a story-thread that doesn’t come together in one film can be fleshed out in a new series or movie. I say all this merely to point out my opinion on Thor: Love and Thunder may be different than a lot of people (I don’t know) probably because my opinion on the entire MCU seems to be different.

Before talking about Thor: Love and Thunder I should say I really enjoyed the last entry Thor Ragnarok and found it to be one of the most joyous and energetic entries in the MCU. I love director Taika Waititi’s style of storytelling, and Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are the epitome of charisma as Thor and Loki. I know some people think the humor was too much in Ragnarok and to them I have to say “to each their own.” I really enjoyed it.

Now we have a new entry (the first 4th film for a character in the MCU) and it’s less successful than Ragnarok, but in the end the good outweighs the bad. I still love Hemsworth as Thor, and in this film he is recovering from his depression in Avengers: Endgame by spending some time with the Guardians of the Galaxy (not much so don’t have your hopes up there). Eventually he gets called to help the citizens of New Asgard when their children are abducted by a vengeance seeking villain: Gorr the God Butcher played by Christian Bale.

Thor: Love and Thunder: 11 Easter Eggs & Details You Might've Missed In New Trailer

Bale is excellent here as a wounded man who once had great faith in the Gods and then they let him down in a very personal and upsetting way. Some are saying he isn’t in the movie enough. I don’t agree because the scenes he’s in are powerful enough that we wouldn’t want to overdo it and lose their dramatic umph. I suspect spiritual people will enjoy his journey the most as he grapples with themes of faith, and what do we do when we feel God isn’t listening, or that He did listen and has seemingly abandoned us.

Thor: Love and Thunder” New Footage Unveiled - Sada El balad

We also have Natalie Portman back as Jane Foster except this time she is Mighty Thor and has the guns to prove it! This definitely the best she’s been in an MCU movie and her and Hemsworth finally have some chemistry, which was lacking in the previous films.

I don’t want to give anything away but Thor: Love and Thunder works best in its start and ending. I really liked everything involving the children and the way things wrap up with Gorr is genuinely moving. However, the middle is where the movie loses me. Everything involving Russell Crowe’s Zeus majorly dragged, and I found myself getting sleepy. He has a weird accent, costume and the dialogue was not engaging. I couldn’t wait for them to get out of there and back to the story with Jane, Gorr, and the kids.

The tone can be inconsistent at times and that is a fault in Taika’s writing, but I’d rather have that than other superhero movies that hit the same dark and brooding note over and over again. I’m sure it helps I’m already invested in Thor’s journey so they don’t have to do the character work other new films have to do but again that’s the benefit of the MCU.

Thor: Love and Thunder runtime just got revealed, and it's fantastic news | Tom's Guide

At the very least fans of the MCU should be pleased, and those constantly complaining about the color grading in these movies should be happy with the bright, bold color palate and a wonderful scene in a black and white world. It’s definitely one of the most visually impressive films in the MCU and my recommendation is to see it on IMAX if at all possible.

Naturally Thor: Love and Thunder will be compared to the recent Dr Strange and the Multiverse of Madness and while MOM is messier there was never a part where I was bored like I was with the Zeuss section in Thor 4. Nevertheless, I enjoyed both of them despite their flaws, but your mileage may vary.

6 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ or Don’t Get Wanda Mad

One of the biggest critiques that seems to come for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is it has underwhelming villains. This is because the MCU is geared more towards families so the focus is on the heroes doing heroic stuff rather than the villains (with notable exceptions like Thanos, Loki and Kilmonger). The studios latest entry, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness seems to want to change that impression with a strong, scary, and complex villain by the name of Wanda Maximoff aka The Scarlet Witch.

Director Sam Raimi makes his first superhero movie since Spider-Man 3 and adds his horror sensibilities all over the place in this MCU entry. We even get some zombie action which fans of Raimi’s Evil Dead movies will appreciate.

DS2 takes over from where WandaVision left us with Wanda abandoning Westview after her attempts to craft a perfect life fall apart and she is a desperate, angry woman. After she obtains the Darkhold (in the WV post-credit scene) she now has the power to create chaos on our planet but also in other dimensions- dimensions where she can be with her sons Billy and Tommy which she got to quasi-raise in WandaVision.

It is the combination of desperation and power that make Wanda a compelling character. Also we want to root for her because we loved her and Vision but the more unhinged she gets the harder that is to do. Very few Marvel villains have that kind of push and pull where we are repulsed by and hopeful for the character at the same time.

Then we have Stephen Strange who kind of plays second fiddle in his own movie (which I was fine with). He is outpowered and outplayed by Wanda at every turn, which makes for a desperate and compelling character. Also Strange sees him mess up and become very flawed in alternate dimensions (and in his dreams), which makes for an interesting character. Arguably he is a more conflicted character than in his previous solo outing Doctor Strange.

A new hero is introduced to the MCU named America Chavez who has the ability to jump between universes. We don’t get to learn much about her but I did like her performance by Xochitl Gomez. Marvel often introduces characters in ensembles and then gives them their own movies so this was fine for me (think Spider-man and Black Panther in Civil War). I’m sure we will see more of her going forward.

There have been some that have criticized Doctor Strange 2 for being too dependent on WandaVision but when Wanda is your main character I’m not sure how you get around that? Haven’t people been hoping the MCU would have more layered villains? Is that not what we got with Wanda? Much like Loki she’s going to swing between villain and hero but that’s fascinating and a lot of fun.

It’s also refreshing in this film to see Riami’s stamp and style all over the place- especially in the 3rd act. It was surprising and engaging and I loved the visual style of the multiverse. The cameos were also a lot of fun. They weren’t on a No Way Home level but I didn’t expect them to be.

As far as flaws, the plot did zip around a lot and it can feel messy putting all the clues from the shows and movies together but I also think that’s part of what makes the MCU special- putting the clues together and filling out the puzzle? Nothing in Doctor Strange 2 felt out of character, mean-spirited or frustrating like Spider-man Far From Home or Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2. Those are the worst films in the MCU for my money.

Why 'Doctor Strange 2' Showtimes Dominated Theaters Opening Weekend - Variety

Comparing it to Eternals, that film was messy in a different way. Jumping between timelines with 10 different characters didn’t work. With Doctor Strange 2 you are focusing on the same characters that are behaving the same but in different dimensions. With Eternals, especially Ikaris, one minute he’s a hero, the next he’s out to kill our heroes and then back and forth again. It didn’t work. Nothing with Wanda, Doctor Strange or America changes in this film despite what dimension they might be in.

With 28 films in, it isn’t reasonable to expect Marvel to make stand-alone movies. Again putting all the pieces together in the universe is part of the fun of the experience. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness had a lot of pieces but it’s an enjoyable ride. Riami’s style is bold and exciting. Wanda is terrifying yet relatable and Strange is a great guide into all this madness. If by some miracle you haven’t seen it yet, catch up with the MCU and give it a watch

7 out of 10

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Blind Spot 76: ‘LOGAN’

Those who are familiar with my reviews know I’m not a fan of garish violence. It can be used well but it’s usually not something I am drawn to or love. This is part of the reason I never saw the 2017 film Logan. At the time of its release I also wasn’t a full time critic so I didn’t see films that didn’t appeal to me. This is why Logan made for a good blind spot pick and one I can finally check off my watch list!

Logan tells the story of Wolverine (or Logan) played by Hugh Jackman. The year is 2029 and mutants have mostly been eliminated and Logan’s powers of self-healing are dwindling. One day he is responsible for taking a girl Laura to Canada who has special powers. He and Professor X  (Patrick Stewart) take the journey and have all kinds of problems along the way.

My initial impressions of Logan as being an incredibly violent film are accurate. It’s one of the most violent films I’ve ever seen. However, I do think the violence is needed for the plot and it captures the spirit of a western well. The west was a brutal place and so is 2029 in this film.

I liked the bond between Logan and Laura especially as she became more animated throughout the film. Their fights with her talking in Spanish are really funny and the chemistry between the 2 works.

I also really enjoyed Richard E Grant as the villainous Dr Rice. Patrick Stewart is wonderful as Professor X as he always is but this time he is desperate and not the confident character we know and love.

All the production values are excellent in Logan and like I said it feels like a modern-day western, which is refreshing and original. The acting from Hugh Jackman is also the best we’ve ever seen from him portraying the character. It’s raw and intense and he does a wonderful job.

I still don’t think I’d ever watch Logan again because the violence is too much for my taste. However, I can see why it is considered a classic and why comic book  movie fans love it so much.

7 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ or No Spoilers=Short Review

It’s no big secret I was not a fan of the last Spider-Man movie in the MCU, Spider-Man: Far From Home. I didn’t like the set up with Tony giving Peter, a teenager, a weapon. I didn’t like the villain motivation being another grudge against Tony Stark and I really didn’t like the attempts at humor like Peter getting caught getting undressed by a woman and then using the weapon to almost kill a schoolmate he thought might expose him. Also the illusions made no sense practically when you think about it. It was bad. Very bad.

So my expectations were not high for the sequel No Way Home. Now I have seen the film and it is a definite improvement from the last film. However,all the ways I liked it better would be considered spoilers. All the things I didn’t like would also be considered spoilers. This makes this review difficult to write. I seriously can’t think of a movie harder to talk about without spoilers than this film.

What I will say is that at its core Spider-Man: No Way Home is a movie about friendship. It’s about schoolmate friendships, mentor/mentee friendships, friends you have nothing in common with, friends who are very similar, and friends that are your parental figures/family. Some friends you chose and some are chosen for you but that all has value.

The biggest downside to the film is a problem I’ve had with Disney for a long time. They are presenting a perfect world where nobody is evil or bad and everyone can be redeemed or ”cured” of their sociopathic or evil tendencies. That’s just not reality. I know it’s a superhero movie but one of the best things about superhero movies and comics is their ability to teach children the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. Now everything is either doom and gloom over at DC or no villains exist at Disney. I don’t love that. It is supposed to make everything more nuanced but it instead makes everything bland and devoid of personality.

There also is a lot of time in this movie with people in rooms talking. Sometimes that works, other times it feels over-rehearsed and careful when it is supposed to be natural and conversational. It does also lean on nostalgia a bit but I enjoyed that aspect.

It will be interesting to see what people think of Spider-man: No Way Home. It’s an unusual entry in the MCU but going in with low expectations I enjoyed it and appreciated Peter Parker and all his friends.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

There is a mid-credits and post-credit scene so stick around!

[REVIEW] ‘Eternals’ or The Script is Not a Marvel

Back in 2019 I attended the D23 Expo and one of the most exciting announcements was Marvel’s upcoming film Eternals. How cool to see Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek and more coming out on stage to be in a Marvel movie with a female director! This was going to be awesome!

Unfortunately I must admit to being completely underwhelmed and even frustrated by Eternals. It has some positive aspects of course but its main downfall is a confusing script with inconsistently written characters stuck in a timeline that makes it impossible to build momentum or tell a story that makes sense.  We don’t even have the ties to the MCU to help guide the new characters into the world (Wong for instance in Shang-Chi filled this role).

Other people seem to have enjoyed it more than me. I don’t know what to to tell you but most of the film I had no idea what was happening. There’s lots of exposition explaining the rules of the emergence and celestials, for example, but when these events are happening the conversation explaining said event had been so long ago I had forgotten what it meant and was left wondering what was happening and why our characters were behaving in this way.

It might help to watch this movie on Disney Plus when it is available and have a pen and paper to keep track of all the rules and what happens in each time period and how that matters. But should that be required of every movie? My friend seemed to keep track of details better than I did but my brain (I have some dyslexia and am more of a linear learner) struggles when plots are fragmented like they are in Eternals. It’s especially frustrating when they could have easily made different choices that would have made sense in the theater on the first watch.

Another problem I had was with the characters. Because the timeline flips around over centuries we see characters at weak and high points but since this is out of order it’s confusing and makes it hard to invest in the characters. One character is a hero in a timeline, in another he or she betrays and even kills our heroes, and then he or she’s back to being a good hero and then final redemption. I love the Marvel heroes but these will have to be explained better in other movies because I did not get to know them hardly at all. Also their powers seemed completely random and some hardly useful for defending the world against deviants.

All the actors in Eternals give good performances. The cinematography and visual effects are impressive. There are also grown-up moments that some may enjoy (Marvel’s first sex scene since Iron Man). I also appreciated the diversity and inclusivity but unfortunately it all sinks under the weight of a poorly written script and makes for a frustrating watch.

If you like Eternals I am happy for you. Indeed, I am jealous because I wanted to have that experience. Please keep comments civil. Anything threatening or unkind will be deleted.

3.5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ or That’s How You Tell an Origin Story!

After the successful conclusion of the Marvel Infinity Saga a lot of skeptics wondered if the best days of the MCU were behind the studio. Indeed with the weak entry of Spider-man: Far From Home it was easy to start asking those questions. Fortunately Marvel has not only produced some incredible television with Wandavision and Loki in 2021 but their latest origin story movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of their best yet!

Shang-Chi stars Simu Liu of Kim’s Convenience fame (a show I adored) as a young man who has a secret identity as a martial arts fighter having been trained by his father from an early age. As the movie starts he is working as a parking attendant with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina) when he gets a message from his father and goes to warn his sister (Meng’er Zhang) of impending peril.

There are a number of reasons this movie works so well but the biggest is its focus on a family and their complicated relationships with each other. Tony Leung is absolutely fantastic as Wenwu, Shang-Chi’s father and leader of the Ten Rings clan. He is handsome and charismatic, not to mention great with the action scenes (of course).

I also loved the dynamic between Shang-Chi and his sister Xialing. It’s a relationship with some pain as all the relationships are in this movie. Awkwafina is fantastic as Katy and her and Shang-Chi have one of the sweetest, most understated relationships in the MCU. The villain is also one of the best in the series.

As expected, the action throughout the film is outstanding. Marvel hired Andy Cheng, the fight choreographer behind many Jackie Chan films like Shanghai Noon and Rush Hour and it shows! It’s a cliche to say but it really is a pulse-pounding great time at the movies. Not only is it exciting action but it is shot with a flair that allows you to appreciate what is happening to the characters.

Simu Liu is charming as Shang-Chi and the whole cast has great chemistry together. The script reminded me of a cross between an Iron Man and Thor film. There is fantasy and mythical lore that you’d see in Thor and the cheeky, likable performance we see in Iron Man. It’s the kind of movie I walk away thinking ‘who won’t have fun at that movie?’. Of course some will but the vast majority will have a great time.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has it all. It’s got great characters with meaningful relationships. It has a cracking script loaded with witty banter, well-choreographed action and a cast with wonderful charisma and personality. It’s one of the best origin stories in the MCU in many years and I look forward to seeing the characters in future entries.

I even liked the winks at Iron Man 3, which is an MCU film I don’t care for.. It also has a terrific mid-credits scene so make sure to stay around.

8.5 out of 10

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