Tag Archives: Marvel

“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.

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“SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Into the Spider-verse.

About halfway through Spider-Man: No Way Home’s runtime, one of the movie’s newest multiversal villains looks out at the new world he’s stumbled onto and says “Look at all the possibilities.” I feel like right now we’re on the cusp of a whole new universe of our own, imagining all of the possibilities for our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler as he plunges ahead into new and unexpected adventures. No matter what your expectations are, Spider-Man: No Way Home absolutely lives up to every bit of the hype surrounding it. The fact that you can say that even when our expectations were insanely high to begin with is more impressive than anything I can share in this review.

After that shocking twist ending in Spider-Man: Far From Home, Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) secret identity has been revealed thanks to Mysterio’s manipulation. Now the whole world knows he’s Spider-Man, and Peter isn’t the only one facing the consequences. So too is his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), his girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), and his Aunt May (Marissa Tomei).

Feeling guilty for how he caused ripple effects throughout the lives of the people he loves most, Peter turns to the sorcerer supreme Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) asking him if he can use his magic to make it so the whole world forgets that he’s Spider-Man. He does, but it comes at a cost: now villains have poured in from other Spider-universes looking to kill Peter Parker. There’s the sinister Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe). There’s the menacing Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina). There’s the rage-filled Electro (Jamie Foxx), the elusive Sandman (Thomas Haden Church), and the slithering Lizard (Rhys Ifans). Now Peter has to team up with his friends to round up these villains and send them back to their universes before they destroy his.

I’m going to start by saying this review will be very brief and very spoiler-free, because this film is best experienced knowing as little as possible about it, and I don’t want to compromise the surprises for my fellow spider-fans out there. Because of this, my review will seem very vague and very nondescript. Don’t worry, I’ll be publishing a spoiler-filled review later on.

For now, all you need to know about Spider-Man: No Way Home is that it is a masterpiece. You absolutely should go and watch it. Not only does Spider-Man: No Way Home do justice to Peter Parker’s arc that has been building up ever since his first appearance in Captain America: Civil War — it’s also a beautiful and heartfelt love letter to Spider-Man’s cinematic legacy. One of the things that makes Spider-Man such an endearing character is the fact that his greatest superpower isn’t his webs, his wall-crawling or his spider-sense: it’s his heart and his unwavering will to do the right thing even when it’s the hardest road you can take.

A lot of that is in large part thanks to Tom Holland, who gives his most passionate and emotional performance as Spider-Man to date. A lot of fans (myself included) questioned at the beginning how much Tom Holland stacked up against fellow Spider-Man veterans Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, especially when his earlier movies traded out a lot of the dramatic moments for jokes and quippy one-liners. No Way Home shows him at his most challenged and vulnerable, and Tom Holland naysayers are very quickly proven wrong with his acting chops here. Not only is this Tom’s most dramatic, daring, and darkest portrayal of Spider-Man yet: it is also his rawest and most human. Not since Spider-Man 2 has a Spider-Man performance felt so natural and real, and that’s the best compliment I can give to Tom Holland regarding No Way Home.

But it isn’t just Tom Holland who is at his best: director Jon Watts also delivers the best Spider-Man story in the MCU yet with this sprawling cinematic crossover. It isn’t just the fact that he’s bringing in the villains from pre-existing Spider-Man properties: it’s that he’s using them in interesting and engaging ways while staying true to their original characters. In a recent panel, Alfred Molina mentions that what makes these villains so interesting is that they aren’t just some mustache-twirling charlatans, but they carry a depth and complexion as real people who have been changed by unspeakable tragedies and accidents in their lives. That made them so interesting in their initial cinematic appearances, and that makes them just as interesting here because Jon Watts paid them the attention they deserved. They aren’t just dropped into the plot here for cheap fan service: their appearance in this story feels earned and they have a point and a purpose for this crossover with the MCU’s Spider-Man.

Look, I can only go so far without talking about spoilers, so I am going to end the review here. All I can say is this: if you are a Spider-Man fan, Spider-Man: No Way Home will not disappoint you. Not only is the action fresh, fast-paced, and exciting, but the characters’ presence in this sprawling story makes it feel gripping and engaging at the same time. To think that five years ago, we questioned how Tom Holland would not only fit into the MCU, but into the constantly expanding Spider-Man mythos overall. No Way Home gives us our answer, and the payoff is so, so satisfying. What else can I say? The possibilities are quite literally endless.

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Top 10 Best Movies Of The Decade

Anyone else ready for this year to be over? I know I certainly am. After facing a global pandemic, an economic recession, police brutality, and all of the migraines that come with elections and Facebook arguments, 2020 is a year I am very ready to say good riddance to. And even though I predicted in my Top 10 Movies of 2019 list that 2020 was going to be a “long, pulsating, cancer-sized headache,” I never expected it to grow into the tumorous size as large as it has. This year was so God-awful, depressing, and mind-numbingly frustrating that I’m legitimately happy that Joe Biden won the Presidency. How miserable does your year have to be where you’re actually excited that the oldest carpet-bagger in existence is taking over the White House from the orange idiot that has more Twitter flags that an InfoWars fan page?

But I don’t want to mull around politics too much, especially since so many people are already doing more than enough of that for me on Parler. Instead I want to end 2020 reflecting on better times, namely the 2010s and all of the amazing movies that came with it. Since I couldn’t do my Top 10 movies of the year as I usually do, I wanted to instead do a roundup of my favorite movies from the decade and break down why they are so special to me. So strap yourselves in and join me on this fun detour to the past, where wearing masks wasn’t a thing, the end times weren’t upon us, and theaters were filled with cinemagoers that were just as excited for the movies as you were. From top to bottom, here are 10 of my favorite films of the decade.

– David Dunn

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“SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME” (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Sony Pictures

Your friendly international Spider-Man.

How are we still getting more Spider-Man movies? More to the point, how is it that we aren’t even tired of them yet? You would think that after a second reboot, six live-action movies, an Academy Award-winning animated feature, and appearing in three different team-up movies that people would become exhausted from everyone’s favorite web-slinger by the time his third sequel came around. But if anything, Spider-Man: Far From Home shows there’s still a few tricks up his webbed sleeves, as well as a few other surprises that will keep Spidey fans guessing for what’s next for the amazing wall-crawler.

By the time Spider-Man: Far From Home swings around, the young and bright-minded Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has already been through way more than your average teenager has been. He defeated his first super villain the Vulture (Michael Keaton) and threw him behind bars. He went to space and fought a mad intergalactic titan alongside Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), a sorcerer, and a ragtag group of galaxy guardians. Then he disintegrated into thin air, only to be restored to his former self just in time to watch his friend and mentor die right before his very eyes.

At this point, Peter has been through way more in two years than I have in my entire high school career. He’s incredibly exhausted from living the superhero life, and he has just the perfect escape from it all: a summer trip to Europe just for himself and his classmates at Midtown High.

Unfortunately, superhero shenanigans follow him even all the way to Italy. After arriving in Europe, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) recruits Peter to fight against the Elementals, a powerful group of multi-dimensional entities that embody the four elements. Now with the world teetering on the brink of destruction yet again, Peter needs to team up with a new mystical superhero named Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) to defeat the Elementals and save the world once more.

One of the most special things about Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is how he manages to keep Peter Parker feeling fresh and new, despite the fact that his story has been adapted onto film a whopping 11 times now. That’s because at the heart of it all, Tom portrays Peter not as a larger-than-life superhero, but as a kid hesitantly thrusted into a position of power and responsibility. Tobey Maguire possessed a similar sense of humility in Sam Rami’s Spider-Man movies. In both franchises, both actors approach their characters not as comic-book heroes, but as people filled with their own wants, desires, doubts, and aspirations.

That personable aspect was something Holland was missing in his first solo entry Spider-Man: Homecoming, trading out serious drama and character development for snappy quips, gadgets, and gizmos. The Spider-Man in Far From Home, meanwhile, has grown up. He’s become swamped from the hero’s life, and in being caught up in all of the hysteria and politics of superhero mania, he just wants one summer off to feel like a kid again.

His desire for a normal life is a relatable one, and a motive that Holland’s Peter Parker shares with Maguire’s Spider-Man. If I had to compare Spider-Man: Far From Home to its predecessor in one word, it would be “more.” It’s everything you love about Spider-Man: Homecoming, just more of it. More high-stakes superhero action and fight sequences. More dazzling visual effects and CGI. More of the personable, charming, and adorable likability of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. More awkward high school romance, more funny and on-the-spot quips and one-liners. Whatever you’re looking for, Spider-Man: Far From Home has more of it.

If I had any qualms with Far From Home, it would be perhaps that it doesn’t go far enough with its premise. Spider-Man has had four successful film franchises now, all of them great for very different reasons. Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man focused on the human aspect and the emotional burden he carried on his skimpy shoulders. Andrew Garfield was a snappy and sarcastic teenager that perfectly captured the rebellious aspect of the character. Into The Spider-Verse was a brilliant exploration of the Spider-mythos itself and showed how anybody could become a great Spider-Man. And Holland’s Spider-Man is a great exploration into Peter’s youth and his coming-of-age story.

But the thing that the other movies have one leg up on Holland’s Peter is that they had the confidence to explore their ideas and portrayals of Spider-Man more deeply. The MCU’s Spider-Man, meanwhile, still seems too reliant on the larger cinematic universe and its implications towards this Spider-Man. Can we please just like and appreciate this Spider-Man for the hero he is and not in comparison to Tony or Cap? Spider-Man has always been a stand-up superhero because he’s the little guy standing side-by-side next to the bigger guys. Far From Home is more than content in being in the Avengers’ shadows, and meanwhile I just want Holland’s Spider-Man to step out and create his own.

Regardless of where you stand on the Spider-spectrum, Spider-Man: Far From Home is a clever, exciting, and visually-dazzling Spider-Man movie that pushes the wall-crawler in all-new, head-spinning directions that you may not have been expecting. Fans who are thinking that Spidey’s days are numbered after the epic events of Avengers: Endgame are sorely mistaken. I think everyone’s favorite web-head is just getting started.

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“DARK PHOENIX” Review (✫1/2)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Goodbye Fox, hello Disney. 

Dark Phoenix represents a fatigued franchise on its last legs, a whipped dog that’s gone on for way too long that desperately needs to be put out of its misery. Well, if you need to administer euthanasia, let me be the first to volunteer. If there was ever a case to make in favor of the Disney-Fox merger, Dark Phoenix would be the main arguing point.

In this thankfully final installment of the rebooted X-Men series, Dark Phoenix follows the X-Men, now highly popular celebrity figures, as they venture out onto a space mission to save a stranded NASA crew after being struck by a solar flare. After Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Nightcrawler (Kodi-Smitt McPhee), and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) make their way to the shuttle to rescue the astronauts, Jean gets left behind and absorbs the full impact of the blast. Miraculously, she survives, though not without some monstrous side effects.

You see, the solar flare Jean absorbed was not a solar flare at all: it was an ancient entity known as the Phoenix, a powerful consciousness that contains vast cosmic abilities. Now possessed by the Phoenix force, Jean has to resist its temptations and rescue her friends from herself, before she loses control and kills everything she has ever loved.

If this plot feels like a retread, that’s because it is. Dark Phoenix was first adapted to the big screen in 2006’s The Last Stand, where Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey lashed out at everyone human and mutant alike with her psychic abilities. That film was lambasted all around, with critics disliking its heavier emphasis on action and visual effects while fans hated how flippantly the movie killed off some of its series mainstays.

I am one of the relative few that enjoyed X-Men: The Last Stand, mostly for the social-political questions it imposed and how significantly it racked up the stakes from previous installments. However, even I must admit that the Phoenix side plot took an obvious backseat to the rest of the film’s main storyline. Fox could have easily split both of the movie’s premises in half, devote more time to both subjects, and make two fantastic movies from it. Instead, they crammed both storylines into one movie and halved both of the experiences for us. Frustrating for passionate fans of the franchise, but it didn’t compromise the overall experience for me.

Here the Phoenix storyline is given the full treatment in Dark Phoenix. And after watching both movies, I now desperately want the Phoenix storyline to take a backseat.

Where do I begin? For one thing, the movie completely fails to follow through on the consistency of its own storyline. If you saw X-Men: Apocalypse, you will remember that the Phoenix force emerges from Jean at the end of the movie to defeat Apocalypse and save her friends. Yet here, it is explained to us that the Phoenix force possesses Jean after the space mission, several years after the events of Apocalypse. The really negligent part? Writer-director Simon Kinberg was responsible for writing both movies. How does he miss a Juggernaut-sized plot hole that large and fail to correct it, especially when it’s in his own screenplay?

But it’s not just Kinberg’s writing that is completely lackluster; his direction is equally as sloppy and misguided. Take for instance the X-Men’s space mission, where they’re roaming around in zero-gravity on the shuttle despite having no space suits or helmets on. What, do mutants not need oxygen to survive? Did I miss that lesson in Mutants 101? The production design itself is also surprisingly lazy, with the costumes and the makeup on Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique so clearly lacking the detail that she looks more like a cosplayer than an X-Man. And one scene between Jean Grey and James McCoy’s Professor X was downright laughable. She manipulated his legs to make him walk in what was supposed to be a terrifying demonstration of her new powers, but his posture was so clunky and awkward that I was wondering if he was auditioning to be Pinocchio for a live-action remake.

The movie’s saving grace lies in the performances, which are as poised and passionate as they have always been in the previous movies. That doesn’t change the ridiculousness of the plot they’re in, or how every line of dialogue is essentially copied and pasted from former and better movies. Mind you that other bad X-Men movies came before this one. X-Men Origins: Wolverine was just as silly and ridiculous, and X-Men: Apocalypse fumbled over its monotonous plot line too many times to count. But at least they tried to tell a coherent story. Dark Phoenix doesn’t even look like it’s making an effort to. It feels more like the writer, director and producers handed in the towel and just gave up, because Disney was going to take back ownership of its characters anyway. The X-Men deserve better treatment than that, even if they are being rebooted in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The really dumb part about all this is that Fox already had the perfect ending to its franchise in Logan, which felt like the last period of the last sentence of the last page of a fantastic journey you just went on. Dark Phoenix tacks on an awkward “but” at the end of that sentence for no reason other than to add words to the page, and it ends up tainting the entire franchise because of it. When Disney inevitably reboots the X-Men for the MCU, let them use this movie as a lesson for what not to do going forward. Dark Phoenix, meanwhile, deserves to stay buried beneath its own ashes.

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“AVENGERS: ENDGAME” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Avengers, assembled. 

It’s hard to believe that we live in a time where it’s now possible to watch a 22-movie saga in the movie theater. It was only 11 years ago when Robert Downey Jr. told the world that he was Iron Man for the first time in 2008. Even back then, the idea of fitting six superheroes into one team-up movie in The Avengers seemed overstuffed – not to mention incredibly self-absorbed. Now we’ve gone through the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s entire journey as it grows and culminates into an emotionally-charged epic in Avengers: Endgame – one that earns every frame of its three-hour runtime.

The most impressive part of all this isn’t how many super-powered characters they’re able to fit onto the screen all at once: it’s how it’s able to retain its heart while doing so.

Taking place after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, the Avengers are left crippled, broken and devastated after Thanos did what he promised to – collect all six of the Infinity Stones and wipe out half of all life in the universe, reducing many of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and even Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to dust.

Humanity has tried to move on from Thanos’ fateful snap. Time and time again, the Avengers are told they need to do the same.

But none of them can forget how much they’ve lost.

Now resolved to make Thanos pay for everything he’s done, the original Avengers assemble with the likes of Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) for one last fight to protect all that they hold dear.

As Doctor Strange said in Infinity War, the Avengers are in the Endgame now.

One of the immediate things that strikes you about Avengers: Endgame is how drastically different it feels from the rest of the movies in its cinematic universe. Every movie so far, from Iron Man all the way to Black Panther, has retained some sense of euphoric joy and enthusiasm, fulfilling these superhero fantasies that never fail to make us feel like kids again. Even in Infinity War, which ended on a cripplingly devastating cliffhanger, started with a sense of scale that made our inner comic-book nerd scream in excitement.

But Avengers: Endgame does not start in a joyous tone. Indeed, it is very mournful and reflective – as somber as a funeral and twice as quiet. This makes sense, of course, considering the consequences of Infinity War carry over into Endgame. Still, I was surprised at how much this movie chose to immerse itself in the Avengers’ loss and tragedy. There isn’t even a lot of action to take in for the first two acts of this movie: it’s all just character development as these heroes suffer from the greatest defeat they’ve ever experienced in their lives. That level of penance and guilt is rare in an action movie, and even rarer still in a Marvel superhero blockbuster.

It isn’t until the third act when the movie explodes into the pure comic-book fun and madness that you’ve become accustomed to throughout this franchise. And rest assured, dear reader – I won’t spoil anything here. What I will say is that I felt fulfilled to every bone in my body and then some. There are several iconic moments from this franchise that have blown us away in the past, from the Chitauri invasion in the first Avengers movie to the titular battle between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War. The climax in Avengers: Endgame blows everything else we’ve experienced out of the water and shook the entire theater to its core.

Words simply can’t do justice to what I felt as the Endgame drew near.

And in its closing moments, Avengers: Endgame brings something that is especially rare in the superhero genre: closure. While franchises as big as the Avengers are great at taking us on fun, meaningful journeys with our heroes, the thing about journeys is that they have to have an end to them. Most of these franchises are usually missing those, and I can tell you why they do: it’s because most studios would rather continue piling on the sequels and keep churning out a cheap profit, even if their stories should have probably ended a long time ago.

The special thing about Avengers Endgame is not only does it have a definitive ending for some of its characters: it’s that it relishes in providing that. It takes pride in the fact that it’s able to give some of these heroes the sendoff they deserve: the peace and resolution they’ve fought so long and hard for. It’s like seeing one of your childhood friends move away start a family and raise their own children. You’ll no doubt miss them and you’re sad to say goodbye, but you’re happy that they’ve finally reached their happy ending at the same time.

Keep in mind that Avengers: Endgame is not a perfect movie by any means, and in many ways, it’s actually seriously structurally flawed. Since the movie is built up on so much on the rest of the franchise, much of its appeal relies on nostalgia and fan service and not so much on its own setup and execution. When I say this movie is the climax of a 22-movie saga, I mean it. You would not enjoy this movie as much if you’ve only watched the other Avengers movies, or skipped out on a Thor movie here or there.

Yet, I couldn’t care less about the movie’s narrative shortcomings. Why? Because it’s so blasted fulfilling and impactful regardless. I had no idea a decade ago how much this universe would grow beyond 11 years and 22 movies – how expansive this world would become, or how much it would mean to the millions of fans who have passionately followed it all these years.

Avengers: Endgame is exactly what it purports to be – the resolution to these heroes’ journeys, the culmination of years of storytelling, and the end to this multi-year saga that we’ve all become a part of. To say it meets our gargantuan expectations is a severe understatement. It is nothing short of a cinematic epic not unlike Ben-Hur or The Lord of the Rings – one that we definitely won’t forget anytime soon.

Excelsior.

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Top 10 Non-MCU Movies

It’s here, at long last – the Endgame.

With the Marvel franchise going on 22 movies strong and counting, it seems impossible to think that an era is about to come to an end with Avengers: Endgame, which is releasing in theaters this weekend. I personally don’t believe it is the end. For one thing, Spider-Man: Far From Home is scheduled for release later this summer, despite Peter’s seeming demise in Avengers: Infinity War. Sequels for Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Guardians of the Galaxy are also slated for production as well. And with Disney’s recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox, that gives Marvel a slew of new characters to bring into the fold of their cinematic universe, including the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and Deadpool.

Still, Avengers: Endgame does seem to be the big finale for a lot of big stars that have been attached to the series for a long time now. Samuel Jackson, for instance, has been attached to the series as Nick Fury ever since 2008, playing the one-eyed S.H.I.E.L.D. director a whopping nine times and counting. Chris Evans has been attached to the series nearly as long as Captain America ever since his first movie in 2011. And don’t even get me started on Robert Downey Jr., who has played Iron Man now 10 times for over 10 years.

It does seem like there will be a finality to Avengers: Endgame when it comes out this weekend – although how exactly remains to be seen. Still, if anything, let’s be grateful that we’ve gotten to go on this 20-plus movie journey together, alongside Earth’s mightiest heroes.

With that being said, let’s take a look back at some of Marvel’s best, leading up to Avengers: Endgame.

– David Dunn

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A Marvelous Legend

CREATIVE COMMONS

Stan Lee was always recognized as the guy who wrote Spider-Man. Not the Fantastic Four. Not the Hulk. Not the X-Men, or Iron Man, or Doctor Strange, Black Panther, or the Avengers. “Nope,” he wrote in a foreword to one of his books. “It’s always ‘Aren’t you the one who wrote Spider-Man?’”

Stan had a theory for why he was recognized for Spider-Man more than any of his other heroes: it was because of his humanity. “He never has enough money,” Stan continued. “He’s constantly beset by personal problems, and the world doesn’t exactly applaud his deeds. In fact, most people tend to suspect and distrust him.”

“In short, he’s a lot like you and me.”

I don’t disagree with him. Long before I became absorbed into the world of Marvel, superheroes, villains, and amazing fantasies, I was just a kid on my elementary school playground, my daydreams limited only to the far reaches of my imagination. It was on that playground where I saw other kids going bam, pow, and ka-blooey with their colorful action figures, one of them wearing red and blue spandex covered in webbing and a spider symbol. I pointed to the figure, and I asked them “Who’s that?” The kids all laughed in unison. “That’s Spider-Man, dummy,” one of them piped to me. “You’ve never heard of him?”

I didn’t know about him then, but as the years passed I learned much more about him and became completely enamored by his story. I read the original comic where he made his debut appearance in 1962’s “Amazing Fantasy #15” and became heartbroken by the loss of his Uncle Ben, but touched when he realized his mistakes and promised to set out and be better. I felt excitement as I watched him battle incredible enemies such as the energetic Electro, the multi-metal-limbed Doctor Octopus, the ghastly Mysterio, the brutish Venom, and of course the menacing Green Goblin. I was crushed when I not only saw the love of his life, Gwen Stacy, killed on the fateful Brooklyn Bridge but killed by his own webbing no less when he tried to save her but accidentally snapped her neck. And I felt resolution years later when he found new love in the breathtaking Mary Jane Watson and had moved on to start a family with her.

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Spider-Man was my introduction to the Marvel universe, but when I learned how big and expansive it truly was, I was nearly overwhelmed. I quickly became absorbed by all of Stan Lee’s stories and learned about the many subjects that he touched upon. I read the Incredible Hulk and learned how dangerous it was to inhibit your emotions. I read about Daredevil and learned that your disability doesn’t define you, and in some ways, it can embolden you. I read about Doctor Strange and learned that when you lose one gift, sometimes it opens up a path to receive another. I read the X-Men and learned that our differences are nothing to be ashamed or afraid of. In many ways, it is our very strength and represents the best humanity has to offer.

Stan Lee’s superheroes and stories have touched many lives – my own included. It becomes nearly impossible not to become enamored by his stories, or the person who created them.

But the truth was Stan was not a superhero. Far from it. Throughout his life, there was much argument over how much of a hand he really had in his characters and for sometimes hogging the spotlight from his fellow co-creators. Comic book legend Jack Kirby, who co-created the Fantastic Four and the X-Men alongside Lee, even went so far as to claim that he’s “never seen Stan write anything.” And artist Steve Ditko arguably had just as much a hand in creating Spider-Man as much as Lee did. Yet, you might be surprised to find out that he also died earlier this year to a significantly lesser tribute.

And then there are the even further complications of his last years on Earth. In July 2017, Stan lost his wife Joan died due to stroke complications. In April earlier this year, The Hollywood Reporter published an expose on Lee suffering from elder abuse from several associates looking to gain control over his assets, including one Keya Morgan whom he filed a restraining order against in August. Later, The Daily Mail published a story claiming that Lee repeatedly sexually harassed the nurses that came to take care of him by asking them to join him in the shower, walking around naked, and requesting sexual favors. Then, just as quickly as the story broke, it faded from memory. I have no idea whether those rumors are true or not. I pray they are not.

I say all this not to tarnish his legacy, but to be honest about it. Stan was a comic-book visionary, a passionate storyteller and a gargantuan pop-culture icon. He will no doubt be among history’s greatest creators, not unlike Walt Disney with animation or Alfred Hitchcock with the movies. And like these men, he had a complicated legacy with his success – one that should not be ignored or skipped over. How people react to that context is up to them. All I can do is speak for myself, and I know for a fact that Stan Lee’s characters and stories have had a profound impact on my life and the person that I have become – regardless of the confused, flawed human being who is behind them.

I will say this: regardless of what you may feel of Stan Lee or his history, I hope you remember and appreciate his many contributions to the entertainment industry. His stories have been compelling, thought-provoking, and relevant to the real world. His characters have been memorable, dazzling, and relatable. And the impact he’s left on the comic-book and movie scene has been mighty, uncanny, incredible, spectacular, fantastic, even amazing.

Stan Lee has passed, but his heroes live on. They will always live on. I cried this weekend while revisiting Spider-Man 2, realizing that the most profound thing about Peter Parker wasn’t his spider powers, his wall-crawling, web-slinging, or his Spider-sense. It was the fact that he was a person, and despite his personal troubles and issues, he was always trying to do the right thing for everybody – despite not knowing them or what they go through themselves.

I hope as time passes, people will remember that sentiment. That with many gifts comes much giving. That with our many talents comes the duty of sharing it with others. And yes, the lesson that has stuck with me all these years and will carry me for many more – with great power comes great responsibility.

Thank you, Stan. For everything.

Excelsior,

– David Dunn

1922-2018

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“VENOM” Review (✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: SONY PICTURES

Like a turd in the wind.

There is a moment in Venom where the titular multi-tentacled anti-hero is threatening a burglar inside a convenience store. He tells him he’s going to eat both of his arms, both of his legs, and then eat his face right off of his head. “You will be this armless, legless, faceless thing, won’t you?” he narrates to the petrified thief. “Rolling down the street: like a turd in the wind.”

Why am I opening my review talking about turds? Because as awkward and misplaced as that line sounds, it is perhaps the most accurate description of this entire movie. Venom is violent, creepy, edgy, seethingly disturbing, and just when it begins to build up into something interesting… it takes a wrong turn and nosedives into the pavement. It’s already been demonstrated countless times before, but if you need further proof as to why great comic book supervillains make for terrible superhero movies, look no further than Venom.

Based on the Marvel comic supervillain of the same name, Venom follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist who has a nasty habit of following people who do not want to be followed. After accusing a high-profile tech CEO of purposefully murdering test subjects at an alarming rate, Brock loses his job and is abandoned by his fiancee Ann Weying (Michelle Williams). Now without a job, a career, and a love life, Brock just sits alone in his apartment, drowning himself in pity and alcohol.

One day, Brock unknowingly comes into contact with a gooey substance that reveals itself as a life form: a symbiote that physically and mentally bonds itself with Eddie. Granting Eddie super-strength, speed, agility, and a menacingly toothy grin, the symbiote creates a new life form that is neither Eddie Brock or the symbiote. Together, they are reborn as the man-eating monster known as Venom.

You might remember that this is not Venom’s first live-action outing for the big screen. You might be better off forgetting it. His first attempt at the spotlight was in 2007’s Spider-Man 3, where he was played by “That 70’s Show” actor Topher Grace. He was rightfully and relentlessly mocked for his insipid, whiny, pathetic portrayal of an otherwise terrifying character. If I come out of the theater and I am annoyed by Eric Forman instead of shaken by Eddie Brock, you know there’s a serious problem here.

The best thing I can say about this new Venom movie is that it does an excellent job rebooting the character, washing your memory of his God-awful debut a decade earlier and updating him with a sicker, more menacing design. A large part of that is in thanks to Tom Hardy, who switches between playing the two different characters here in mesmerizing contrast. When he portrays Eddie Brock, he molds him as a sort of vulnerable, pitiful character: a failing journalist who is drunk for half of the day and down on his luck for the other half. But besides playing the exasperated and horrified Eddie Brock, Hardy also voices the Venom symbiote possessing his body, and the way he expresses Venom’s menacing, snake-like delivery is just downright chilling to listen to.

This in combination with the efforts from the visual effects team makes for an ominous, visceral presence in this 10-foot CGI creature. One of the best things about this movie is when the Venom symbiote breaks out into his full form, taking complete control over Brock’s body and just starts running over any enemy in his path. When the movie breaks out into full-blown creature-feature action, that’s when the film is at its best, with Venom’s tentacles flailing about, making giant spider-like leaps, and chomping off bad guy’s heads like they’re the stem of a Tootsie pop. Many fans were reasonably concerned what Venom was going to look like in this movie with his last big-screen appearance still in our memory. I want this on the record: Venom looks and feels vicious, and he rightfully earns the title of lethal protector.

So the Eddie Brock and Venom characters are fleshed out very well in this movie. What isn’t done as well? Essentially everything else.

For one thing, Michelle Williams does nothing for this movie. Her character could literally have been portrayed by Megan Fox, and she would carry the same emotional relevance throughout the movie. That goes double for Riz Ahmed, who plays the movie’s villain named Riot. His character is essentially a gray-scaled clone of Venom, which doesn’t do any favors for the movie’s final battle where black and gray goo basically just splashes against each other over and over again.

The real problem here lies in how the characters are written. They aren’t organic. They don’t feel like they belong here. And unlike Eddie Brock and his venomous alter-ego, their roles don’t have any real impact on the story as a whole. Ann Weying is here because every superhero apparently needs a love interest, and this story wouldn’t be complete without some complicated romantic feelings involved. Riot feels especially shortchanged. Instead of being the relentless, unhinged force he’s supposed to be, he just feels flat and artificial: like a final boss in a video game instead of a mortal enemy for our hero. That lack of effort into fleshing out these characterizations makes for dull, uninspired portrayals, which is especially unfair given the talent and caliber of these two actors. If you don’t believe me, look at Williams’ work in My Week With Marilyn and Ahmed’s work in Nightcrawler. Then look at their performances here and tell me they were given ample material to work with.

All in all, Venom is not the worst movie in the world, but it isn’t really a good one either. It’s just sort of there flailing in the whirlwind of superhero mania that hops from one franchise to another. I am curious as to how the series will progress from here, as Sony has relentlessly teased that they wanted to launch their own cinematic universe from this movie. I at least have more hope for the Venom cinematic universe than I do for, say, the DC Extended Universe. But on its own two tentacles, Venom is ugly, messy, and something I’d much rather forget about: like a turd in the wind.

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“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.

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