Tag Archives: Avengers: Infinity War

“DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS” Review (✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Multiverse of Mediocrity.

Let this be a lesson to anyone working on the Marvel Cinematic Universe: if you’re going to come out with a sequel to one of the strangest heroes in your universe, maybe don’t wait six years to release it. Because at that point, not only do you run the risk of it becoming obsolete — you also threaten to have the whole thing crumble under the weight of its own expectations.

Enter Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. In the span between its two movies, the MCU has debuted 18 new heroes, released six new TV shows, concluded the Avengers saga, and even released an entirely new Spider-Man trilogy to top it all off. So much has happened in the MCU that has affected so much already that it’s hard to release any sequel and have it stand alone as part of its own story. One might even argue that you can’t.

Sure enough, Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness fails in this sequelitis litmus test, a messy, sloppy film that is all over the place and trying to do way too much all at once. To properly understand this movie, not only have you needed to watch Doctor Strange, Avengers: Infinity War, and Endgame, but also “WandaVision,” “Loki,Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and even a few Fox-owned movie properties on top of all that. This is a film with the buildup of an Avengers movie and the payoff of a botched “What If…?” episode.

After he wiped the world’s memory of Spider-Man’s true identity in Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is trying to adjust to a world with neither Avengers nor Infinity Stones. But just as he begins to experience some sense of normalcy, he encounters a girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who is being chased by monsters through several dimensions. Now determined to help this young girl, Doctor Strange enlists in the help Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) to defend her from the monsters of the multiverse.

Before I say anything else, I want to get one thing right out of the way: it was wonderful to see Sam Raimi return to the director’s chair. While most known for creating one of the best superhero movies ever with the likes of Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, his filmography has taken him everywhere under the sun, from deeply disturbing horror movies like Evil Dead and Drag Me To Hell to wildly entertaining B-movie blockbusters like Darkman and Army Of Darkness. But with his last feature-length film coming out in 2013 with Oz The Great And Powerful, it’s been nine years since Sam Raimi’s last movie, 13 years since his last horror movie, and 15 years since his last superhero movie. One has to wonder how his directing chops have held up despite being away for such a long time?

The good news is that Sam Raimi’s still got it. More importantly, he still carries his own unique signature that Marvel thankfully allowed him to carry over into one of their most popular franchises. Combining the campiness of his Spider-Man movies with the horrifying imagery of Evil Dead, Sam Raimi creates a dark and disturbing world with Multiverse Of Madness that feels cursed just by the look and feel of it. There were quite a few times where his imagery was so bold, bloody, and grotesque that it actually made me squirm in my seat. There were several moments where characters were getting straight-up dismembered, contorting into twisted, uncomfortable shapes, and even horrifically burned alive.

I was genuinely surprised that Marvel allowed Sam Raimi to go as far as he did with the violence, and even more surprised that this movie didn’t get an R rating. But Raimi teeters the line just enough to where the film never crosses the line of being over-the-top or gory, though I can’t help but wonder how different the film might have felt if Raimi was allowed to go even further.

I also really like the film’s visual creativity, especially in scenes where Strange is traveling through the multiverse. There was one really trippy sequence where Strange is falling through multiple realities, from the prehistoric era to an evergreen paradise to even an animated world flooded with watercolors. The whole sequence was so surreal and outlandish that I felt like I was on acid while watching it. If someone did happen to wander into the theater while under the influence, I pray for their sanity because it might be broken by the time this movie is over.

That said, some of the movie’s visuals don’t work quite as well, and you especially notice it with a lot of the film’s newer characters. America Chavez’s dimensional portals are one instance where they look like firework sprites coming from your laptop’s screensaver. One character in the mid-credits scene is so shiny and pristine that she looks like a scrapped character from Eternals. And one villain has a third eye appearing on his forehead that looks so photoshopped that I couldn’t help but laugh while looking at it.

However, the worst sequence hands-down comes from one fight scene where two sorcerers are casting spells at each other using… musical notes. I’m not even kidding. They literally lift musical notes off of a page of sheet music and cast them at each other like a game of darts. I remind you, this is coming from a franchise that was once a major contender for visual effects at the Academy Awards. And here, they’re just throwing in a fight scene so silly and cartoonish that it feels like it’s a deleted scene from Disney’s Fantasia.

But I can forgive inconsistent visuals. What I can’t forgive is poor writing, and this is unfortunately where the film falters the most. Not only does Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness have one of the worst screenplays out of the entire MCU: I would argue it is the worst screenplay, bar none. Dead serious.

Sure, there are other screenplays that are childish, silly, stupid, half-baked, or even underdeveloped. Thor: The Dark World, Ant-Man, and Eternals are the immediate ones that come to mind. But even at their most basic levels, those movies demonstrate at least some understanding of their characters and what motivates them. Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness completely misunderstands the heart and souls of its characters, and it makes their actions in the film all the more unbelievable.

Imagine following Tom Holland throughout his six-movie arc, falling in love with his charm, his wit, his sense of humor, his intelligence, and his unwavering commitment to doing the right thing. Then all of a sudden in his seventh movie, he throws all of that out the window and starts going on a violent rampage across the city where he starts viciously murdering people in the most gruesome ways possible. That isn’t just a gross manipulation of his character: it’s a straight-up betrayal of his character, and it does a great disservice to him and the arc he’s built up over the course of the entire franchise.

There are multiple characters that are betrayed in a similar fashion in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness. And it would be one thing if these were alternate versions of these characters in another universe. But they aren’t: they’re the original characters in the original MCU. That makes their mischaracterizations all the more worse, and it ruins the experience for anyone who has been passionately following their journeys for quite some time.

Oddly enough, there is another multiversal film in cinemas right now titled Everything Everywhere All At Once. Go and see it. Not only does it utilize its bizarre concept to its maximum potential, but it’s also one of the most creative and unique narratives to come out of cinemas in the past several years. The only way Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness even comes close to that potential is in another universe.

Tagged , , , , , ,

“CAPTAIN MARVEL” Review (✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Not so Marvelous. 

Trolls ruin everything. First, they have to assault Black Panther with a plethora of negative Rotten Tomatoes reviews just because it’s Marvel’s first predominately Black superhero movie. Now the trolls attack yet again by swarming the internet forums with degrading attacks towards Captain Marvel – only this time it’s because a woman is leading the charge.

The really pathetic part is that the trolls’ extraneous hatred for this movie is completely unnecessary. There’s plenty to dislike here in Captain Marvel, and none of it has to do with her being a woman.

In this prequel to all of the 20-plus movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel follows Veers (Brie Larson), a Kree alien who has the power to harness and project solar energy. She and her Kree kind are at war with a race of shape-shifting aliens called the Skrulls, but in the midst of one of their battles, Veers is left stranded on a strange planet called “Earth.” It’s then that she starts to see flashbacks to a life she doesn’t remember.

Now Veers has to retrace her steps to learn where she really came from and become the hero she was destined to be: Captain Marvel.

Like with any other Marvel movie, Captain Marvel has mesmerizing visual effects – equal parts spectacular, breathtaking and stunning all at once. Whether its Veers taking on a horde of Skrull soldiers or flying high through the sky in an epic and explosive space fight, Captain Marvel’s fight sequences are dizzying, high-octane and exciting. It’s no secret that Marvel films are a dominating force at the box office. Captain Marvel continues to reinforce the reasons why.

The film also has an irresistible sense of style and a really nice throwback to 90’s nostalgia. There was one fight sequence in particular where No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” was playing, and the moment was so self-aware and infectious that I couldn’t help but grin from ear-to-ear.

All the same, there is much that doesn’t work with Captain Marvel. Take the film’s lead as one example. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Brie Larson. She was mesmerizing in her Oscar-winning performance for Room, and she was a spit-firing force in Trainwreck and Free Fire. But her natural charisma and charm are essentially non-existent here, her blank face looking so dull and clueless that she looks like she’s searching for the cue cards for her next line.

Part of that problem is the material she’s provided to work with. While amnesia narratives play a relevant role in other superhero movies (see the X-Men and Captain America movies), Captain Marvel’s feels forced and unnecessary – like the filmmakers needed to differentiate between the usual superhero riff-raff and tried to switch things up. I appreciate them trying something different, but the amnesia plotline just inhibits Larson’s talents as an actress. Instead of letting loose with her personality and having fun, Larson just looks confused and out of place – as if she wandered onto the wrong set and the camera just kept on rolling.

Then there’s the film’s politics. Yes, dear reader: Captain Marvel possesses a political message. And before you ask, no, it’s not about feminism, but instead about immigration. And to be fair here, I have no problem with political themes being used in a superhero movie. In fact, plenty of movies in the MCU have had political undertones in them prior to Captain Marvel. Iron Man possessed a message on international terrorism and war profiteering. The Captain America movies covered the birth, evolution, and eventually the loss of the American dream. And do we even need to cover Avengers: Infinity War and Thanos’ obsessions with overpopulation and scarcity of resources?

Time and time again, Marvel has demonstrated that it can integrate political conversations fluidly into a high-stakes action blockbuster. If you really want to get into it, Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther also carried themes about immigration – and they carried them well. But Captain Marvel feels way too forced. Instead of just focusing on being a powerful superheroine anthem for today’s female generation, it has to throw in an extra political philosophy in there just for good measure. Movies aren’t good just because they have generic messages in them. Like any other great picture, it has to be done well. And in the case of Captain Marvel, it’s distracted, unfocused, and way too on-the-nose to take seriously.

Keep in mind that I do not dislike Captain Marvel because it’s Marvel’s first prominent superheroine movie. In fact, I’m frustrated that the internet trolls have poisoned this movie’s dialogue so much to the point that whoever voices their disapproval are instantly written off as misogynists instead of those who simply have a differing opinion. The demographics do not affect a movie’s quality, and liking and disliking a film solely because of who is in the lead has always been wrong and divisive.

The movies should be allowed to succeed – and fail – based on their own merits. Captain Marvel certainly has no issues performing the latter.

Tagged , , , , , ,

“ANT-MAN & THE WASP” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Quantum-realm conundrums.

Out of all of the new heroes introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the one with the worst timing is easily Ant-Man. Here is a guy who, no pun intended, is much smaller than his Marvelite peers. He shrinks to Honey, I Shrunk The Kids size and zips around like the Road Runner from “Looney Tunes.” His sidekicks are literal insects. And he has released not one, but two movies directly after the Avengers’ last two outings. When will this guy learn you can’t piggyback off of the Avengers? The only insect-based hero capable of doing that is Spider-Man, and something tells me we won’t be hearing from him for quite some time.

In this sequel to both Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest after helping Captain America and crew fight Tony Stark in Germany. Sick of his frequent bouts with the law, Scott just wants to take it easy on the superheroing gig and finish his sentence so he can be a free man and reunited with his daughter Cassie (Abby Fortson).

Unfortunately, his mentor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) have other plans for him. After Scott escaped from the Quantum Realm in the first movie, Hank has been eager to travel back to search for his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has been lost to the Quantum Realm for several years. Believing that Scott somehow still harbors a connection to the realm, they recruit him into their scientific endeavors to shrink back into the Quantum Realm and save Janet. Meanwhile, a mysterious new enemy called Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is following them, also seemingly interested in the Quantum Realm and Janet.

First thing’s first, I love Paul Rudd. Watching him playing a character who is one part superhero and another part awkward dad, I was reminded of why I like him so much: he’s just such an earnest performer. In his introductory scene, he’s seen pretending to be Ant-Man with his daughter Cassie, and he navigates her through his own cardboard maze complete with its own giant-sized ants and wasps replicas. Watching the way he seemed so excitable with Cassie, filling this young child with the wonder and imagination of being a superhero, it was sweetly sentimental in the way it reminded me of times when I was a kid playing pretend with my own father.

That speaks to Rudd’s skills as an actor, and also exemplifies why every scene he’s in just feels so natural. Part of why Ant-Man is so appealing is because of how unassuming he is. He’s not a high-strung billionaire like Iron Man, or a literal Norse deity like Thor, or even a Star-spangled super soldier like Captain America. He’s just some guy, and he’s trying to juggle superhero life with his everyday problems as an ex-convict and a father the best he can. That makes him shine throughout the picture regardless if he’s trying to be dramatic or comedic. There was one part in particular where he mimicked Michelle Pfeiffer so well that I wondered if the real Michelle Pfeiffer would have done any better. It had me dying in laughter.

But it isn’t just Rudd who improves his artistry for the second outing: Peyton Reed also fleshes out his skills as a director to make a much more creative action movie. One of the things that underwhelmed me from the first film was how basic Scott’s abilities were. The full extent of his powers basically involved shrinking, controlling ants, and once in a while enlarging objects, and that’s it. I was bored watching Ant-Man, but here I’m exhilarated seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp shrinking, expanding, zipping, zooming, and zapping their enemies back-to-back. If you don’t think superheroes named Ant-Man and the Wasp can be taken seriously, think again. Their lightning-quick reflexes and their special effects-heavy spectacle was so dizzying that I was surprised at how immersed I really was in all the action. And be honest here, fellow reader: there’s something really satisfying about watching a giant Pez dispenser nearly crush an exasperated criminal chasing the miniature duo.

As with most Marvel movies, the villain isn’t very interesting and lacks the depth and complexion that made villains like Killmonger in Black Panther and Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War stand out in their movies. Some of the gimmicks and jokes repeated so much that they got old after a while, and there was one part of the film that was so eye-rollingly cheesy that I wondered when the director was going to yell “CUT!” and show the next outtake.

Still, for all of its immaturity and childishness, Ant-Man & The Wasp is a fun, lighthearted outing: a breather we desperately needed after being emotionally exhausted from the other two Marvel movies released earlier this year. The first Ant-Man movie seemed to struggle between deciding whether it wanted to be a heist movie, a comedy, or a superhero film and split itself into three different parts. Ant-Man & The Wasp demonstrates a better understanding of its characters and premise. For once, I’m excited to see what the third installment will bring in a trilogy. Somebody just needs to tell Scott to wait a little while longer after the next Avengers movie releases.

Tagged , , , ,

“AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The beginning of the end.

We live in an age of gargantuan expectations. That’s why we’re able to accept a movie with 30 superheroes fighting in it when six years ago, it felt a bit much to have just six superheroes together on one screen. Well, if Marvel achieved nothing else with Avengers: Infinity War, they achieved the impossible. They made a superhero movie with a larger cast than any of the 18 films that came before it, and they pulled it off magnificently.

A sequel to (*takes deep breath*) Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther, (*breathes again*), Avengers: Infinity War follows the mad titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) on a quest to find the six Infinity Stones, magical gems imbued with supernatural power. The Avengers know the location of a few of the Infinity Stones. The Power Stone, for instance, was stored away on the planet Xandar in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, while the Space Stone is housed in the Tesseract, which was on Asgard when it was destroyed in Thor: Ragnarok. The Collector (Benecio Del Toro) has ownership of the Aether, a.k.a. the Reality Stone on Knowhere, while Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Vision (Paul Bettany) have the Time and Mind Stones respectively. If Thanos finds all six of the Infinity Stones first, he will use them to wipe out half of all life in the universe with a snap of his fingers. Scattered and displaced, the Avengers must team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to find the Infinity Stones before Thanos does and put a stop to his madness.

The sheer size of Avengers: Infinity War is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness: a double-edged sword to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When this franchise started 10 years ago with the release of Iron Man, its world was relatively focused and self-contained, keeping it small with just a handful of names featured in each individual movie. Now, they’ve straight-up exploded into pure comic-book madness. Previous MCU movies typically did not have a billed cast that went significantly beyond 10 actors. Even Captain America: Civil War, the biggest MCU film before Infinity War, was pushing it at a 18-member cast. Infinity War blows that away with 35 actors.

With that large of a cast, there’s plenty of action to show off, and there’s plenty of spotlight to share amongst all of the stars here. Whether Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Doctor Strange are fighting Thanos’ minions in New York, or an elderly Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is rescuing an injured Vision, or Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is meeting the Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time, there’s plenty of memorable moments to pick out from the film to make you grin from ear-to-ear. It’s almost like a cinematic wheel-of-fortune for the movie theater: spin the wheel, and see what special prize you win at random.

This both works and backfires for the film’s available cast. On one hand, the fact that there’s so many amazing moments to pick from really brings a plethora of joy and thrills into the movie theater, making for some outstanding blockbuster entertainment. But with this large of a cast and this ambitious of a scope, that also brings in a key problem: it’s too easily distracted. Since the movie is basically one overstuffed comic-book Easter Egg lined up one after the other, there’s no real room for anyone to have their individual moment to shine, and as this is the case, our heroes are forced to share the frame with everyone else packed into the screen with them. With the original Avengers, you could pinpoint one key moment where each Avenger outshined the rest, whether Tony was threatening Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in his penthouse, Captain America was issuing out orders to the team, or Hulk was smashing Puny God’s brains in. You could not pinpoint one such moment in Infinity War, because there are no individual moments. Everyone is fighting everyone for everyone, and it’s very easy to get lost with all of the spectacle going on at once.

I did enjoy Josh Brolin quite a bit as Thanos. In a franchise where the villains have consistently been the weaker aspect of these superhero movies, Marvel has finally pushed out not one, but two fantastic villains in the same year: Erik Killmonger in Black Panther and Thanos in Infinity War. They’re very interesting for very similar reasons. One, their performances are on-point, and the actors fully commit themselves to the complexities and absurdities of their roles. Two, they are given very compelling reasons for their villainy, and you sympathize with them not because of their moral compass, but because of their life experiences that drove them to make the decisions that they did.

Killmonger, for instance, wanted to start a race war to compensate for years of suffering the African-American people have had to endure at the hands of the white majority. Thanos, while not race-driven, has an equally motivated reason for seeking universal genocide: he’s trying to save the universe. In one particular scene, he explains his violent reasoning to a hesitant listener, and he makes his position clear. This universe’s space is finite, its resources finite. And its population is growing too big to sustain itself. Comparing it to one memory where he wiped out half of one planet’s population, he pointed out that the children were starving and dying on that planet before he came. Now, their bellies are full and they are healthy and happy. In the perspective of population control and prolonging extinction, Thanos makes the hard decision to cut down on what he sees as the fat to extend life in the universe. His commitment to his mission makes him a very compelling villain to watch, even though you don’t enjoy the cruelty and violence that he brings with him.

I do think some of the material is too disturbing for some younger viewers. I myself even struggled to watch some of the movie’s harsher, more vindictive moments. Still, Avengers: Infinity War is ambitious and daring in its art, even if it is equally devastating in the same sentence. These movies used to represent something more lighthearted about superheroes; a greater ideology to be the bigger, better person and to help other people achieve the same thing. Now it’s about facing harsh conclusions and realities, and I’m not sure if I enjoy it quite as much.

When Thanos set out for his galactic conquest, he did so believing in one thing: that he could save the universe by wiping out half of it. We already know that his crusade is monstrous and horrifying. The scary part is not knowing whether he’s wrong.

Tagged , , , , , ,