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.
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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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.
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!
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.
Last week I had the chance to see 2 action blockbusters- Morbius in the morning and RRR in the afternoon. The former is the latest comic book movie and the latter is the new spectacle entertainment from Indian director S.S. Rajamouli. While I didn’t hate Morbius as much as most, it pales in comparison with RRR and the contrast demonstrates what is so often missing from current blockbusters. Let’s talk about both films:
Morbius stars Jared Leto as Dr Michael Morbius (Marvel names always have that alliteration) who is a biochemist who at the beginning of the film gets a noble prize for his research into artificial blood and transfusion research. He needs this because of a rare blood disease he and a friend named Milo (played by Matt Smith) have- a disease which causes him to be isolated and depressed.
Much like a comic book movie from the past Morbius lets a science experiment go awry (this time with vampire bats) and turns into a vampire. Milo also becomes involved in a rather expected way. What works in Morbius is when it leans into the camp and particularly Smith has fun with monster movie silliness of it all.
Unfortunately those moments are too far between and Leto takes his role too seriously. I know many criticize the MCU for being too light and jokey but I could have used more of that here in Morbius. As it was it was dull and generic which is a real shame because the cast is talented and the premise has potential to be weird and exciting. In the end, it’s just forgettable.
Now let’s talk about an actual good movie, RRR. Like I said RRR is directed and written by S.S. Rajamouli who helmed my introduction to action Indian cinema Baahubali 1 and 2. Those films were fantasy action where RRR is based on a true story. It is set in 1920 when a girl is abducted by a British governor and 2 men, Ram (Ram Charan) and Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr) seek to find her and become great friends along the way.
As we follow the friends on their quest we are treated to incredible action spectacle and musical sequences I am still thinking about a week later. As I was watching I forgot about the 3 hour run time and was engrossed in one amazing moment after another. I don’t know if it is as good as either Baahubali film but all 3 films show Rajamouli is one of the greatest directors working today and is making something truly special. It’s cinema!
I especially loved a whole song devoted to friendship and another where they are dancing at ball challenging the British to a dance-off. Not only are both of these scenes a blast but they also serve as piercing commentary on colonization and traditional male roles. With all the bombastic energy of RRR it’s not just spectacle, it has something to say and characters that are easy to root for. The cinematography is big and bold and everything is done with gleeful abandon. It makes for a special film I expect will end up on my best of 2022 lists.
9 out of 10
So there you have it. One blockbuster that is forgettable with Morbius and one that makes a huge impression with RRR. Have you seen either? Let me know in the comments section!
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
There is a mid-credits and post-credit scene so stick around!
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.
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 Conveniencefame (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.
There are many factors which go into making the Marvel Cinematic Universe as successful as it is. The detailed planning, consistent execution and overall inspiring experiences make for films that even at their worst are competent blockbusters people enjoy. However, the most important key to their success is their remarkable knack for casting and ability to build affection for their characters. We are forgiving of the flaws of a film because we love the characters and are attached to their stories within the MCU.
Such is the case with Natasha Romanoff or Black Widow. We are attached to her character and Scarlett Johansson in the role that even in an imperfect film we are happy to be spending time with our old friend. This is especially true in this case because of losing her in Avengers: Endgameso sadly.
It is also our affection for Black Widow that made us all want her to have her own movie much sooner. While comforting to see her again on the screen, it can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity that she couldn’t have been a more celebrated part of the Infinity War narrative and not just a supporting player. In some ways the new Black Widow movie feels a little like an apology for all the fans who wish Marvel had the guts to release a Black Widow film way back in phase 1 as opposed to now in phase 4. Also the fact that both female superhero films in the MCU have been prequels feels more than a little safe and strange. Be braver Marvel!!
That said, what did I think of the film we got? Overall I enjoyed it. I certainly thought it was much better than I expected it to be and I had a good time with it.
Natasha is on the run and trying to find out more information about the organization behind the ‘Red Room’ that is trying to stop her from being an avenger. This includes reconnecting with her ‘family’ played by Rachel Weisz, David Harbour and Florence Pugh.
The best part about Black Widow is the interactions between the family and particularly the dynamic between Natasha and Pugh’s Yelena. They have great chemistry and feel like actual sisters. Weisz is underused as Melina but Harbour is also charming as Alexei or Red Guardian.
Because we like all of these characters it’s fun to see them fighting off bad guys while exchanging witty banter. That dynamic is what makes the MCU terrific. The action was also all enjoyable without being too memorable. It did the job. The villains are serviceable for this story even if I will not remember them by the time the next Marvel movie comes along. The MCU isn’t about villains. It’s about heroes, and I like these heroes.
I do think Black Widow pushes its luck at 134 minutes and there are times it drags. The action isn’t memorable enough to sustain the runtime and because we know what happens with Natasha the stakes are never very present.
Recently on twitter I said
I'd say Black Widow is a better movie than Wonder Woman 84 but I'd say WW84 tries harder
What I mean by that is Wonder Woman 84 (which I gave a marginal recommendation) was narratively messy but it really tried hard to talk about big themes and take its characters on a big story. Black Widow doesn’t do any of that. It is way cleaner and succeeds in making a fun, competent action movie. Like I said, it’s a better movie than Wonder Woman 84 but it doesn’t try as hard either. So it comes down to what you want out of a film. Do you want a satisfying but perhaps forgettable blockbuster or do you want something that swings and a lot of the times misses? I can see arguments for both.
I went to see Black Widow with my niece and we had a great time together. It earns its PG-13 rating but if you do take your teens and pre-teens they will have a great time. It will be interesting to see how they use Yelena in the future (stay for post-credit scene). I look forward to seeing more of Pugh.
While not perfect and a bit too late, Black Widow combines kick-butt action with the best family in the MCU to make for a fun ride!
Hello my fine movie-loving friends! Today marks an exciting day. Believe it or not I have officially seen every movie of any interest to me in both regular and art-house cinema! That almost never happens to me but with a lot of horror movies coming out there hasn’t been as much that interests me when compared with a typical July.
With so many movies seen this means it is time for one of my much celebrated ‘Current Mini Reviews’ posts! These occur when I don’t have time to write an entire post on a film but want to log my response to help all of you know what’s out there to see. So here goes!
First up is the romantic comedy Plus One starring Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid in the lead roles. This film is available in theaters and on demand and while it is definitely R rated, it is also a pretty charming romcom.
Quaid (who is very charismatic) and Erskine play 2 friends who make a deal to be each-other’s plus one for 10 weddings they have been invited to in one year (I would die going to so many weddings!). As romcoms go, naturally their friendship blossoms into something more, and all kinds of shenanigans unfold. Plus One definitely follows an expected formula but the leads have enough chemistry and it was funny enough to entertain me. If you can handle an R rated movie than I recommend it.
7 out of 10
Directed by Ron Howard this documentary on the legendary opera singer Luciano Pavarotti doesn’t break the mold of a standard celebrity biographical documentary but I still enjoyed it because of the stunning music. Howard allows the performances to go on for long stretches so you can get a feel for the experience the audience had listening to such a master tenor. The interviews are interesting but again quite standard for this kind of film. Go see it for the music!
7 out of 10
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME-
I know it is kind of sneaky to put only a mini-review for such a big film in here but my friend Patrick already reviewed this film for the site and I have no desire to compete with his review. Unfortunately I was not as in love with this movie as Patrick or the masses seem to be. It has its pluses but some real problems as well.
First the aspects I enjoyed is Tom Holland as Spider-Man. He’s sweet, vulnerable and completely likable as our teen web slinger. I also liked Zendaya as MJ and pretty much all the ‘teenagers go to Europe’ stuff I liked.
Unfortunately I did not like the villain plot. Without spoilers I found it convoluted, predictable and dull. Similar to Zemo, in Civil War, the amount of steps that needed to make the plan work is ridiculous and it required actions by Tony Stark in previous films that don’t make sense. Also some of the more creative moments felt like too much of a video game for my taste. Even something psychedelic like Doctor Strange still felt more grounded and therefore more engrossing with more stakes than the illusions here. Just not my cup of tea visually I guess.
It’s weird because everyone online seems to love this film but myself, my friend Jen and my two nieces all left disappointed so who knows? It’s not awful but definitely lower tier Marvel (and I’ve seen it twice to verify).
Also do the humans in this world even try any more to fight against the bad guys or just the Avengers because that’s what it felt like? I also don’t understand why Spider-man needs anonymity in this universe. Liberally none of the MCU is secret so why him? I dont get the big deal?
4 out of 10
For some reason when the trailer to Yesterday came out there was a big backlash against it. I don’t know if it is just the popularity of The Beatles people wanted untouched or they sensed a dud but many were up in arms about it. I, on the other hand, thought it looked quite charming and was excited to see it.
Unfortunately the doubters proved to be correct, and I was disappointed in Yesterday. A world without The Beatles is an interesting concept and Danny Boyle infuses the film with his trademark optimism but he is unable to overcome a lead character (Himesh Patel) that’s hard to root for and a romance with Lily James that has no chemistry. I was also surprised how sloppily made the film was with some poor editing and some ADR issues with the singing.
In the end, it’s just a bunch of The Beatles karaoke so I’d skip it. (Also the world would be way worse without The Beatles than not having Coke!).
4 out of 10
ECHO IN THE CANYON
The documentary Echo in the Canyon profiles the music scene of the 1960s that developed in LA’s Laurel Canyon area. This includes interviews with bandmembers from The Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield and more. Jakob Dylan becomes are narrator as we learn about the epic recording sessions that mostly occurred in small studios or in the musician’s homes.
Any music fan will love interviews with Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Stephen Stills, David Crosby and more. It was great. Unfortunately I was less enthused with the long sections of the tribute concert put on by Dylan, Regina Spektor, Beck and more. These are very talented singers but it was distracting from the musical story of the classic bands and the time and place the documentary is profiling.
Still, I enjoyed it well enough to recommend to any music fan!
6 out of 10
An interesting trend I have noticed lately in film is the exploration of male friendship- particularly unlikely male friendship. We even recently had our Oscar winner focus on this subject in Green Book. Another example is this sweet little film called Papi Chulo.
Matt Bomer plays Sean, a weatherman who has lost his husband and is finding the transition process very difficult. He is lonely and doesn’t seem to have any real friends (he goes to a party but he seems to be more worried about impressing them than any kind of real kinship). One day he befriends a house painter he hires named Ernesto played by Alejandro Patiño. The fact Ernesto doesn’t speak English is actually a plus as Sean just needs someone to listen and not respond.
Papi Chulo is a bit too casual in its treatment of moments of serious mental health crisis in Sean’s life but it has a huge heart I couldn’t resist. It is rated R for a little bit of language, alcohol use and background sensuality but it’s overall pretty tame and very sweet.