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“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” Review (✫✫1/2)

En Sabah No.

The biggest problem X-Men: Apocalypse faces is one it isn’t even responsible for. X-Men: Days of Future Past was and will always be one of the most definitive superhero experiences at the movies. Asking for follow-up to that is unreasonable, let alone damn near impossible, and to its credit, X-Men Apocalypse tries. It tries too hard, but at least it tries.

Taking place ten years after the events of Days of Future Past, Apocalypse shows an ancient threat that reawakens deep within the pyramids of Egypt. The first known mutant to ever historically exist, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) awakens to a world ran amuck in chaos and disorder. Political corruption. Poverty. War. Violence. En Sabah Nur sees all that’s wrong with the world and decides that, in order to save it, it must be destroyed and rebuilt.

Back in Westchester, at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) awakens from a horrible nightmare. Witnessing horrible visions of the end of the world, Jean is convinced that these visions are real and that they will come to pass. Her professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) thinks these are just dreams. Yet, as one thing happens after another, he begins to think there is something devestating going on that even the X-Men might not be able to stop.

The third movie for the newly rebooted X-Men universe, X-Men: Apocalypse boasts a lot of the strengths that its predecessors have. For one thing, the performances are superb, and the actors exemplify their characters down to the molecule. McAvoy is earnest and well-intentioned as Xavier, while Jennifer Lawrence is motivated and sharp-shooting as Mystique. The actor I noticed most, however, was Michael Fassbender, once again adopting the role of Magneto. Every time I watch him, I am reminded of this character’s tragic history and how other people’s cruelty has driven him towards violence and extremism. Without giving too much away, there is one moment where Magneto sustain a crippling loss that comes to define his character the most throughout the picture. These moments remind us that Magneto is not a villain, but rather a tragic hero who fell through grace, and Fassbender is brilliant in capturing both the character’s regret, penance, and guilt throughout the movie.

The action is also incredibly polished, especially for an X-Men film. En Sabah Nur himself is the most omnipotent, wiping enemies away with a dash of his hand or the white glow of his eyes. Havok (Lucas Till) reappears alongside his brother Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) for the first time, and their red energies run amuck obliterating anything in their path. The most fun X-Man to make a return, however, is Evan Peters as the speedster mutant Peter Maximoff. You remember his signature scene at the Pentagon in X-Men: Days of Future Past. His scene in this movie blows that one out of the water. I won’t give much away, but saving over 30 people at superspeed is much more impressive than taking out six security guards in a kitchen. This sequence was funny, exciting, and most importantly, entertaining. His scenes were easily my favorite from the film.

The action and the characters culminate together fluidly, similar to the other X-Men films. The differences lie in its story, or more specifically, in its lack of focus. There are about five different stories packed into one in X-Men: Apocalypse, and most of them are unnecessary. You have so many unraveled narratives trying to weave together into one that quickly falls apart once the plot starts picking up speed. 

Take, for instance, the plight of Magneto. His story is pure tragedy. His hearbreak, his pain, his loss, it echoes of Magneto’s earlier history and builds into a climactic moment between himself and his transgressors. The scene should have been a moment of suspense and satisfaction, but then all of a sudden, En Sabah Nur appears on the scene and completely disjoints the narrative.

The whole film is like that, building up to big moments and then suddenly switching to other ones. There’s Xavier’s arc, then there’s Mystique’s, then Magneto’s, then Jean’s, and then Cyclops’. The most dissapointing to me is Peter. His story has to deal with his true parentage, but it never even leads anywhere. Screenwriter Simon Kinberg and director Bryan Singer build all of this effort up for nothing. No conclusion. No resolution. No payoff. That’s because they don’t have a focus, and the picture ends up losing our interest, despite all of its spectacular action.

X2 and X-Men: Days of Future Past remain to be the best entries of the franchise, while X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the unoquivocal worst. This movie falls in the middle ground. Like its predecessors, X-Men: Apocalypse has great action pieces and performances, but it collapses under the weight of its narrative while simultaneously lacking in depth and development. As Jean Grey observes after seeing Return of the Jedi, “At least we can all agree that the third one is always the worst.” You read my mind, sister.

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“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A war of humans, not heroes. 

I’m going to make a bold claim here. Captain America: Civil War is the best MCU movie to be made to date.

I know, I know, I’m probably a little overzealous when I say that. Except that I’m not. I’m fully aware of what its competition is. There are two other Marvel movies that I can compare Captain America: Civil War with. Those two are Iron Man and The Avengers. All three of them are exciting, suspenseful, nail-biting, eye-widening entertainment that are just as fun and memorable as they are emotional and meaningful. They’re not just great superhero dramas. They’re great human dramas.

But Captain America: Civil War is especially unique to even these entries. How? The biggest reason is because it isn’t formulaic. In Iron Man and The Avengers, we had our heroes, our villains, and they went at each other like rock-em sock-em robots. Granted, there’s deeper insight and perspective than just the two-dimensional hero/villain foreplay, but you can’t deny the framework that’s there. There’s a clear cut good guy and bad guy, as there is in most superhero movies.

But that black-and-white sense of morality isn’t well defined in Captain America: Civil War. In fact, there isn’t really an established sense of right and wrong in the picture, just characters whose ideals and values clash violently with each other. You can argue that there is a quote-unquote “villain” in the movie, but he’s more of a viewer than an active participant to the conflict involved. If we have to go by titles in this movie, what we have then is hero against hero, Avenger against Avenger, and friend against friend. The ensuing action is nothing else but thrilling, thought-provoking, mind-blowing, and heartbreaking.

In this sequel to both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron, Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans) leads a new team of Avengers, consisting of Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). After an international event involving the Avengers ends in high casualties, General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) and Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) step in to introduce the Sokovia Accords, which states that the Avengers would no longer be a private organization, but instead will be employed and assigned missions by a United Nations panel.

There are two perspectives to the Accords. On one hand, the Accords would give a new level of accountability to the Avengers. They would be restricted in where they could go and what they could do, and the public casualties in turn could be lessened. Plus, the Avengers would now get paid for all of their superheroing. On the other hand, this could put a level of control and interference on the Avengers that would prevent them from doing the most good. Plus, being assigned to report to a panel leaves them vulnerable for manipulation, forcing them to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise.

Iron Man leads the side that’s for the Accords: Cap leads the side that’s against it. But regardless of both sides, there’s another player in the field whose looking to manipulate both sides to his advantage. And neither side realizes it until its too late.

The second Marvel movie to be directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo and the fourth to be written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, Captain America: Civil War is a superhero movie ripe with context, a movie that asks uncomfortable questions that we would much rather remain unanswered. Just like how The Winter Soldier related its plot to today’s world of government control, survaillance, and corruption, Civil War also relates to real-world issues that appeals just as much to reality as they do to fantasy.

Take, for instance, the introduction of the Sokovia Accords. These documents, much like the connection between S.H.I.E.L.D. and H.Y.D.R.A. in The Winter Soldier, presents the theme of government interference and how those implications affect our world. Yes, the Accords would impose an element of control and responsibility over the heroes, but at what cost? This is a situation where civil liberties are being traded for security, and the question is raised on whether its a good trade or not. Juxtaposing this idea of control in between our heroes raises very important questions: questions that are startlingly resemblant of our world abundant with government surveillance and manipulation.

But the movie doesn’t suffer under its philosophical weight. This is still one of those fast-paced, funny, exciting Marvel movies that you’ve come to love. It’s just now a fast-paced, funny, exciting action movie that has deeper insight and drama than the previous entries did. The issues involved draw us deeper into the film’s conflict and to each of the outcomes that these characters face.

There are two of these characters that I haven’t mentioned yet. One of them is the rebooted Peter Parker/ Spider-Man, who is played here by Tom Holland as opposed to the recently discontinued Andrew Garfield. Holland’s appearance in the film is brief yet significant, and while he doesn’t serve a role as important as the others, his charisma, immaturity, and innocent charm makes him for a very entertaining and memorable character, one who sticks out in my mind just as much as Captain America and Iron Man. To be rebooted in just two years time is definitely too soon, and part of me wonders how well Garfield would have done if he had been given the same opportunities as Holland was. That doesn’t take away from the fact that Holland still wins us over and sticks out in our minds just as strongly as Garfield and Toby Maguire does. He makes me very excited to see what’s in store for him for his eventual return in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

The other character is T’Challa, a.k.a. the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). If there is a neutral side in this conflict, it is in T’Challa, although at one point he does fight on Iron Man’s team. He’s so great because unlike Iron Man or Cap, his perspective is the most human out of the other players. He is the citizen Cap and Iron Man are fighting to protect. He is the one that faces the most casualty out of any of the other players. This natural perspective into the film is so important, because it demonstrates an investment that isn’t coming from another superhero: it’s coming from the victim of both sides of the conflict. That pain and confusion is so important to understand Captain America: Civil War not just as a Marvel movie, but as a complex drama on its own two legs.

The performances, the action, the visual effects, and the direction all accumulate masterfully, and the Russo brothers demonstrate a better understanding of their characters than they did in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. What we have left, then, is an unchallenged masterpiece, a moral dilemma packaged as a superhero blockbuster that excites us just as much as it challenges us. Iron Man and The Avengers both challenged themselves morally and ethically, but not so much to the point where it’s entire plot was founded around it. There was still a right or wrong in those movies. There isn’t in Captain America: Civil War, and that makes it just as compelling as it is entertaining. The one downside to this film’s success: now the Russo brothers have to follow this up with Avengers: Infinity War. I don’t know how they’re going to do it. I would personally guess that they can’t do it. But I’ve been wrong before.

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“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” Review (✫✫✫)


Patriotism replaced with fast-paced spy action and conspiracy.

In his review for the Toronto Sun, writer Jim Slotek says that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier is actually a Jason Bourne film masquerading as a superhero movie.” Right there is your first problem. Captain America is not Jason Bourne. He does not need to be Jason Bourne. Captain America is Captain America. He has his own arc, history, complexions, motivations, and conflicts that make him a fascinating character in his own right. He is as noble as he is heroic, and in just the two appearances he’s had in the MCU so far, he’s already cemented himself as an icon and staple in this expanding universe.

Tonally, there’s a severe shift in between The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier. Captain America: The First Avenger was exciting, old-fashioned, comic-book fun, and had the look, feel, and nostalgia of those 1940’s pulp magazines. The Winter Soldier, in comparison, feels like a dark, gritty espionage thriller, and our hero wears a red, white, and blue costume instead of the atypical black motorcycle jacket and jeans. This time around, Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans) isn’t fighting Nazi-clad super soldiers or aliens from outer space. This time, Cap is after the Winter Soldier, a expert assassin who has a metal arm and has been operating for decades under the world’s nose. When one of Cap’s closest friends gets caught in the crossfire, Cap goes on the hunt for the Winter Soldier, along with an underlying conspiracy that he’s quickly unraveling.

The script is easily the best thing about Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Screenwriters Marcus Freely and Warren McAllen, who also penned the first Captain America movie as well as Thor: The Dark World, have made an incredibly thoughtful and politically-driven film, a story that, if put into book format, would arguably be more compelling than the movie is. Without giving too much away, Cap gets stuck into a position that pits him both against his own country and against his enemies, making him question himself and the ideals that he’s been fighting for all along. Is America the same country he knew during World War II? Is there any more life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the American dream? Is the American dream even alive any more? All of these questions are what drives the story and its characters forward, and sets up a very hard-hitting, close-to-home conflict with our favorite Captain. This is a movie that has severe repercussions towards the future of the MCU, and the twists are so hard-hitting that they surprised me, even with the ones that I was expecting.

The plot is sound and strong for the purposes of the film. But the problem doesn’t exist in the screenplay, it exists in how it’s handled. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, whose last film credit before this was 2006’s You, Me and Dupree, didn’t see a superhero story in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They saw a political thriller, and they decided to live up to that in every way that they could.

Take, for instance, the choreography and the motion of the action in the film. It is straight up Jason Bourne. In Captain America: The First Avenger, the action was unique, creative, and dynamic, with Cap flipping around with his shield and beating up HYDRA soldiers in classic, swashbuckling fashion, making it fun and refreshing escapism from all of the action fanfares we’ve gotten throughout the years. Here, the action feels like a retread. We’ve seen this sort of lightning-quick, fast-paced fighting in virtually every action thriller, from James Bond all the way to Mission Impossible. Why should The Winter Soldier feel any more special?

The thing that makes Captain America unique, especially in The First Avenger, is his patriotic loyalty and his unwavering sense of justice. He looks out for the little guy. He cares about such things as self-respect and manners. He won’t throw a punch unless he has to. At heart, he is this small, skimpy, honest, good-hearted kid from Brooklyn, and this is the kid that Dr. Erskine saw in the first Captain America. Here, he’s in full hero mode as he kicks, punches, tackles, slams, and throws shields at all of the bad guys, and brings everything down all around him, including buildings, bridges, and S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers.

Tell me, where is the patriotism? Where is the nobility? Where is the sense of joy and adventure in this movie? In its two hour runtime, we don’t get a strong sense of these things that make Captain America who he is. What we get instead is quickly-edited action, punctuated in between moments of heavy exposition and backstory, which always feels like its building up to something big, but never really pays off.

I say this again: Captain America is not an action hero! He is not Jason Bourne, or Ethan Hunt, or James Bond, or John McClane. He is Steve Rogers, and he builds this identity of Captain America to protect those who can’t protect themselves. But The Winter Soldier does not focus on the theme of protection, unlike The First Avenger. Instead, it chooses to focus on distrust and political paranoia. In doing that, it takes away something very important from Captain America: his sense of character.

As it stands, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a good movie and not a great one. It’s serviceable in what it needs to do, and not much else. Instead of likening to Cap’s sense of bravery and heroism, we instead look to his aggression and fighting. In doing that, we lose a part of him that we wish we had back. In this day and age, dry, drab, joyless action movies are Hollywood’s currency, and all of the world is buying. The deeper we sink into this culture of entertainment and violence, the more we need our favorite Captain to stand above it. 

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“IRON MAN 3” Review (✫✫✫1/2)


Tony Stark facing fire and PTSD.

Take a breath before you yell at me about my star rating, Marvelites. Yes, I know you’re upset. I know Iron Man 3 changed one of your favorite characters. I get it. I would be upset too, if that happened to one of my favorite comic book heroes. But you have to understand that this is a movie and not a comic book. It’s not trying to accomplish the same thing. It’s playing by different rules. And since it’s a different ballgame, we need to judge it fairly, on its own terms as a movie and not as a Marvel property.

If you’re able to do that, you will find that Iron Man 3 is quite excellent. It is a grand extravaganza of smart writing, great acting, witty comedy, and explosive action that’s all bow-tied together into one climactic and exciting superhero blockbuster. You couldn’t possibly get a better follow-up to The Avengers than this.

Set a few months after the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark, once portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., is struggling with post-traumatic anxiety attacks after fending off the alien invasion of New York with his other fellow heroes in The Avengers. While recovering, Tony is faced with a new threat: the Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) the heinous terrorist leader of the Ten Rings army, who wages a one-man war against the United States of America. When one of Tony’s friends becomes injured in the crossfire, Tony vows to find the Mandarin, fight him, and bring him to justice for his malevolent crimes.

The first of the Iron Man trilogy not directed by filmmaker/actor Jon Favreau — who also portrays Tony’s driver Happy Hogan — Iron Man 3 is instead helmed by writer/director Shane Black, who is most known for directing Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and writing the first two Lethal Weapon movies. Seeing him at work here is a blessing to the superhero industry. His wit, sarcasm, and charisma come off of the pages as fluently as Stark’s highly entertaining ego does. Black provides great dialogue for Tony, and often the delivery of the lines result in wild hilarity and laughter. Take, for example, one scene where a small, blond child with glasses comes up to Stark in a restaurant asking for his autograph.

“I liked you in A Christmas Story, by the way,” Stark quipped.

Blacks writing was the best thing that could have happened to Iron Man 3. The writing feels so fluid and natural that Stark might as well be writing the script for himself.

Speaking of Stark, it’s impressing at how well Robert Downey Jr. inhabits Tony Stark yet again. He always seems to just disappear into this role, and he always portrays Stark in a crass, crude, witty, yet concerned and somewhat heroic fashion. There is such fascination with his character that he keeps watchers interested even when there isn’t something blowing up on the screen. In this case even more so, since Tony is facing the added complexion of PTSD and panic attacks in the film. This humanized the character in a different way than the previous Iron Man movies did, as we see him less as this larger-than-life egotistical figure, but more as this shallow, frightened, and troubled young man. It brought to mind the experiences of war-torn veterans after coming home from a long battle. And yes, I know they’re different scenarios. They still invite the same reaction, which is sympathy.

And then there is the action. Boy, is there the action. Similarly to how The Avengers kept building its suspense by repeatedly raising the stakes of the threat, Iron Man 3 also builds excitement and anticipation through every explosion, every punch, every rocket, every bullet and every armor piece Stark puts on. In one of the most exciting moments of the picture, Tony assembles an armada of all of his robot suits, remotely-controlled by his A.I. companion. J.A.R.V.I.S. I thought two things when I saw this: 1) Why didn’t he bring these suits out during The Avengers? 2) Since J.A.R.V.I.S. can control his own suits, is there really a need for Tony to be Iron Man? I suspended both plot holes for the sake of enjoying the moment. Seeing robot suits and bad guys firing at each other in brilliant, mid-air acrobatic stunts was so much fun that it was easy to throw disbelief out the window. There are a few films that can do that, where they not only encourage you to suspend your criticisms, but they also succeed in doing that. Iron Man 3 succeeded in its task, and I found myself smiling a lot throughout the movie, even in the face of its flaws.

And then, of course, there’s the plot twist. How can I so easily accept it, whereas I know other comic book fans won’t be able to? I think it’s because Black saw a deeper story at play than the comic book’s mythos, and that is a story of conspiracy of deceit. Say it’s unfaithful. Say it’s inaccurate to the comics. You’re right in both statements. But you can’t deny that Iron Man 3 is a deftly intelligent story, a compelling drama, a quirky comedy, and an explosive action fest. Iron Man 3 is more than a great sequel. Iron Man 3 is great entertainment.

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“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER” Review (✫✫✫)

I pledge allegiance to the first Avenger. 

If Iron Man is the best film out of this expanding Marvel universe, let Captain America: The First Avenger be the second best. It is exciting, stylish, suspenseful, dramatic, and has a patriotic energy to boot. If Captain America were any more American, he would stop being a captain and would become a bald eagle.

Based on the Marvel comic of the same name, Captain America: The First Avenger flashes back to the 1940’s to Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a frail young man who wants to enlist in the military, despite his bone-thin figure. Everyone around Steve tells him he should give up on enlisting, including his best friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who himself is a U.S. Sergeant. But Steve doesn’t see himself doing anything else. He loves his country and what it stands for, and is willing to throw himself onto a live grenade for it if he has to. Despite his patriotic passion, every military inspection officer denies his eligibility to enlist due to his health.

Enter Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci). Erskine has created a chemical called the super soldier serum, which amplifies a person’s physical stature as well as their personality. Seeing Steve for his heart and not for his size, Erskine enlists him in the super soldier program and sees him grow: literally and figuratively. No longer the weak and passive man known as Steve Rogers, he has now become the powerful, noble super soldier known as Captain America.

Does the premise sound a little silly? Well, that’s because it is, and it’s supposed to be. Captain America: The First Avengers feels and breathes like a comic book, a fast-paced and energetic thrill ride that pops off the screen like the panels in those old pulp fiction comic books. It feels reasonably old-fashioned. It doesn’t project itself as a superhero movie as much as it does a swashbuckling action-adventure, and our main hero Captain America is its grandiose hero, not unlike Zorro or James Bond.

This tone is fitting for Captain America, and especially for director Joe Johnston, who previous directing experience included Jumanji and The Rocketeer. The fact that he was able to tap into those movies instead of Jurassic Park III and The Wolfman is a very good thing for Johnston, as it has allowed him to make a meaningful, action-packed blockbuster that has just as much fun with its characters as it does with its action. Just look at the cast’s diversity. Besides its leads, you have a supporting cast including Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Toby Jones, and of course, Stanley Tucci. All of these characters are entertaining not because of the action sequences they go through, but because of their unique personalities, with Jones’ snark being the most entertaining out of the bunch.  One of my favorite scenes of him in the film involved a cliche shot where our hero passionately kissed his love interest before sweeping into battle. Jones takes advantage of the cliche as best he can: “I’m not kissing you,” he bluntly tells the Cap.

But the shining performances surprisingly comes from Evans and his antagonist, a Nazi general named Johann Schmidt, brilliantly played up by Hugo Weaving. Evans, whose most notable role before this was as the Human Torch in the incredibly campy 2005 film Fantastic Four, demonstrates a surprising level of versatility here. He exemplifies the ultimate underdog, displaying earnest and nobility whether he’s small and skinny or strong and stoic. He never displays an obvious external sense of emotion, but consistently expresses an internal one. You get a sense of purpose and motivation with this character, a man who desperately wants to be a part of something that everyone tells him he can’t be a part of. Evans personifies the character both physically and emotionally, and Weaving is effective in the villain’s role with appropriate grandiose and theatrics, serving as an appropriate foil for the Captain America character.

All the same, I’m most disappointed with the fact that we’re once again playing up this whole Avengers cinematic universe thing. The Avengers is right around the corner, and with studio heads knowing that, I think they tried too hard to tie in both movies at the climax, which features a twist so absurd and ridiculous that I want to compare it to the Ape Lincoln twist at the end of Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake. Can’t Captain America just be allowed to breathe and live in his own story, much like Iron Man did in his own movie? Apparently that’s too much to ask for. We’re at the event now that everything has to build up to The Avengers. Even if the events in this movie had to happen, did they have to happen like this? Couldn’t it have been a post-credits scene, or maybe saved for The Avengers movie altogether? The way it is now, the resolution feels too forced and hammy. It takes away from the meaning of the rest of the story, and the sacrifice that Cap gives at the end of the film.

I know that Captain America sounds like a silly and ridiculous superhero. Before I went into this movie, that’s what I thought myself. Then again though, wasn’t Iron Man working against those same perceptions when his movie was released? Here is another superhero epic that is, at it’s heart, a fun, capable, and entertaining story that makes us believe in the skinny kid from Brooklyn. Red, white, and blue never looked so good on another superhero.

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“IRON MAN” Review (✫✫✫✫)

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Reinventing the modern-day Superman.

Be honest with me, readers: who was expecting Iron Man to be good? I know I certainly wasn’t. I looked at the film’s poster and consecutively thought three things. 1) Iron Man… isn’t that the robot guy that helps Spider-Man every once in a while? 2) Wait, Robert Downey Jr. is starring? He’s still acting? 2) Directed by Jon Favreau… the actor? Wasn’t he in Daredevil? And he also directed Elf and Zathura… is this a kids movie?

Luckily, I was proven wrong on every single front and then some. Iron Man is an astonishing, spectacular movie, a superhero epic that understands and personifies every aspect of the character alongside the visual effects. It understands his origin story, his motivation, his relationship with other characters. Himself as he experiences guilt, regret, and ultimately redemption for his past sins. This is a movie that can not only stand toe-to-toe with some of the greatest action films of the past decade: in many ways, it exceeds the genre itself to create something much more unique and compelling.

Billionaire and CEO of Stark Industries Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has it all. Girls. Money. Martinis. All because he is a brilliant scientist and weapons manufacturer that constantly outsources to the U.S. military and anyone willing to pay his high-dollar price. But when Tony is captured by a terrorist organization known as “The Ten Rings” while on a business trip in Afghanistan, he realizes what his weapons are truly being used for: disaster, destruction, and death. Now, the Ten Rings want him to make his most destructive weapon yet for their nefarious purposes. Struck hard by this horrible turn of events, Tony creates a suit of armor capable of flight, strength, and laser-firing technology, and vows to fight the Ten Rings and anyone else who dares to use his weapons for destruction again.

He is no longer just Tony Stark. He has become Iron Man.

For that matter, so has Robert Downey Jr.

I need to talk about Downey Jr. before talking about anything else. Downey Jr. is the direct influence behind this film’s success: the definitive superhero performance that hasn’t been this fulfilled since Christopher Reeve put on the cape as Superman. Downey Jr. doesn’t just play Iron Man: he also plays Tony Stark, and that’s very important to understand. If he was just playing Iron Man, all he would need to do is say a few lines in between action sequences and let the visual effects do the rest of the acting for him. That doesn’t happen in this movie. Downey Jr. and director Jon Favreau smartly observe that the true appeal of the film does not come from its action and violence, but from its character, who is complex and characteristic enough to maintain interest all by himself without needing extra help from the visual effects.

Take the film’s anti-war message as a testament to its emotional weight. In the beginning, Stark is an egotistical, sarcastic, smirking, and wickedly intelligent businessman who could be considered the Donald Trump of modern warfare. He thinks he’s building all of these weapons to protect people, and then his world is flipped completely on his head as he sees all of the damage being done in Middle Eastern countries through his design. There was one great action sequence in the movie where Tony, suited up as Iron Man, fights members of the Ten Rings army in Afghanistan. These soldier’s are tearing through innocent civilian’s homes, shooting blind fire into crowds, and taking families hostage. One child is about to witness his papa’s murder before Tony flies in at the last second to save him. On the surface, this is an exciting and unique action scene, and a rare instance where the world of the superhero crosses over into our world of reality. Can you name another movie where a superhero is fighting terrorists in the Middle East? I wonder. Since the movie carries a very clear anti-war angle to it, could this scene possibly be considered commentary on our involvement in the war in Afghanistan?

Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe I’m not. But the point is that the movie doesn’t see Iron Man as a superhero. It sees him as a person, ridden with guilt and trying to do good deeds to serve as penance for his ignorance. This deepness rivals the complexion of the recently released The Dark Knight, another superhero movie that looks at its hero through a real-world perspective instead of the fantastical, wild panels of a comic book.

And Downey Jr.’s delivery is spot-on. His quick-witted remarks and condescending quips make him every bit an entertaining character as it does an introspective one. Downey Jr. personifies and embodies the role so well that it seems like he’s no longer acting, but simply being. Downey Jr. is a complete natural as both Tony Stark and Iron Man in the film. Even if this weren’t a superhero movie, I think I would still be interested in the movie due to his emotional gravitas and his comedic sense of timing. He’s that great in the role, to the point where we have just as much fun watching Tony Stark as we do Iron Man.

And the action. Oh my word, the action. Normally I don’t like writing about action sequences, because writing about action is boring. You like to experience the action: not hear someone else talk about it. But here, I feel compelled to talk about it. Because again, we understand the character. We know where he’s coming from, and we relate to him. Because of this, a lot of the film’s action sequences carry a lot more weight to them, because we understand these people and why they’re fighting. So whenever we see Tony building a robust Iron Man armor to escape from an army camp, or see him suit up and experience excitement as he’s flying for the first time, or when we sense his determination as tensions rises both in the states and in the middle east, we know where Tony is at and why he is there. This is not mindless action, but action with a purpose: the best kind you can have in any movie.

I knock off one point, and one point alone for the film’s one weakness: Tony’s last line in the movie. No, I won’t spoil what he says, but I will say if I was a high-flying, armor-weilding superhero like Tony, I would not say what he said in a million, million, million years. The movie is flawless otherwise. I don’t know what I was expecting out of a B-grade superhero, but I ended up getting an A-grade product. Iron Man is to today as Superman was to 1980: it has defined the superhero genre of film, showing us what it can do and demonstrating what it can be. More films should aspire to be as impactful as Iron Man is.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly referred to Afghanistan as Iraq. 

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“DEADPOOL” Review (✫✫✫)

Featuring guest writer Wadey Wilson!!!

Hi! Deadpool here, just in time for the release of my own movie! I know this article says that some schmuck named “David” wrote this, but he won’t be joining us today because he’s kind of, well, dead. I’ll be writing in his place because I’m sooo much better at writing than he is! Winky face 😉

Sooooo, what do you need to know about my movie? Well I’m in it, I’m playing Ryan Reynolds, I’m after some douchebag that named himself after dish soap… oh, and there’s women. And nudity. And boobs. Lots and lots of boobs. And blood. Not boobs and blood together, because that would be very unsanitary. But what do I care?! This movie is great!

In your dreams, wise guy.

What the–?! Who are you and what are you doing in between my paragraphs???

I’m the guy you put a spork through his neck while eating a curled bean burrito.

GASP! It– it can’t be! DAVID DUNN???

Yep.

But— but how???

My words exist in my writing, Deadpunk. Even if you kill me, my opinions still exist through them.

Aw, dangit! But your opinion is wrong!

Believe me, Wade, your movie is all sorts of wrong. Did you even wait long enough to hear my opinion before you stabbed me? 

Hell yes, I did! You said you didn’t like my movie!

Wrong. I said I didn’t know if I liked your movie. But while rolling around in my grave, I finally decided that I actually did.  

That means you stabbed me for no reason. 

Killing me. 

Officially preventing me from getting my diploma in the fall. 

… do you take food stamps as an apology?

Idiot.

ARGH! IT’S YOUR OWN FAULT! HOW COULD YOU NOT KNOW IF YOU LIKED MY MOVIE OR NOT?!?!

To be fair, you gave me a good case for why your movie was both entertaining and macabre. On one hand, you’ve rightfully earned your title as “the merc with a mouth”, Wade. You’re funny, witty, self-aware, and you’re not afraid to make fun of yourself and the movies. You’re incredibly in-cheek, and that’s a rarity for superhero movies nowadays. 

Hehehe, well I don’t like to brag, buuuuuuuuut you’re kinda right.

But waitaminute. What didn’t you like about my movie then?

You’re equally as vulgar, violent, and idiotic as you are funny.

LIAR! LIAR LIAR, PANTS ON FIRE! Go ahead, name one example where I was any of those things. I’ll bet you can’t even name ONE.

You masturbated while staring intensely at a stuffed unicorn. 

Do you blame me? That stuffed unicorn was HAWT.

Unfortunately, I’m not sexually attracted to stuffed animals. So I’m just thinking you’re a sick person. 

Okay, okay sourpuss. Any other moments that wriled your panties up in a bunch?

Oh, plenty. You stuffed a hot car lighter into someone’s mouth and told them not to swallow. You made fun of a woman for her blindness and for being addicted to cocaine. You spelled out someone’s name using dead bodies and severed heads and limbs. I can go on and on. The violence, nudity, sex, and language are all the most deplorable elements of the picture, and you should be ashamed for having them in there.

Sorry broseph; I don’t know the definition of “ashamed,” and I also don’t own a dictionary. Just to clarify, you said you liked my movie, correct?

Yes, I did. 

What the ******* **** you ******-******* piece of ****. After all that ********, why the **** do you like my movie?

For one reason, and one reason alone. Every time I thought about your movie, I laughed. I smiled. I laughed again as I recalled moments where you made me grin from ear to ear. Deplorable and revolting as your movie is, it was equally unique and clever, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a good time watching it. That probably says more about me than about you, but there you have it. 

… I love you.

Oh God. 

So you, uh, doing anything later?

Get away from me. 

Don’t be scared, baby. I’m gentle.

That’s it, I’m out. I’m going to heaven to ask God’s forgiveness for liking your movie. Don’t worry, I’ll put in a good word for you. You’ll need it. 

Oh! Oh! Say hi for me when you see him! I sent a couple of buddies of mine his way during a runtime of 100 minutes! Or am I thinking of somebody else?

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“FANTASTIC FOUR” Review (✫)

Not so fantastic.

That’s it. I give up. We will never have a good Fantastic Four movie in this lifetime that will do Marvel’s first superhero family justice. We have had four live-action bouts with the Fantastic Four now. The first one was never theatrically released. The next two installments was campy melodrama that should have premiered on SyFy. Now we have the newest reboot, and it’s safe to say this movie deserved the fate that the first movie suffered from.

The Fantastic Four team consists of Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and his adopted sister Sue (Kate Mara), with the third wheel being Latverian computer whiz Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), who is an anti-social douchebag that is spoiled, rotten, selfish, privileged, and self-obsessed. King Joffrey from “Game of Thrones” is more well-mannered than this POS.

If you know anything ever about Marvel movies, you know the formula. Person X gets caught in an accident. Person X gains super powers. Person X struggles with said powers. Person X eventually learns to control them, fight the obviously-labeled baddie, and then commits himself to a life of fighting crime. The only difference between Fantastic Four and the other Marvel formula movies is that it’s more obvious with this film. And it’s persons instead of person.

In hindsight, Fantastic Four is not easy to adapt into film. For one thing, their powers are so complacent. A rubber man, an invisible woman, a human torch, and a rocky troll is not the ideal superhero team I would line up to see. The other problem, though, is their comic book origins. Compared to other heroes such as Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Man, and Captain America, the tone with the Fantastic Four comics is much more lighthearted and even comical. Be honest: can you even keep a straight face with a name as silly as “Fantastic Four”?

All the same though, the concept doesn’t matter as much as the payoff. This movie could have worked. The members of the Fantastic Four have vibrant personalities and character traits that make them both memorable and likable. That’s the reason why Marvel’s first family has survived all these years: it’s because they’re enduring. People relate to them, and despite their meta-human circumstances, their problems and emotions with each other are all human.

We didn’t relate to them as superheroes. We related to them as characters.

That’s a problem for this movie, though, because this movie neither has personality or character. Good lord, where do I begin? When the lineup for this movie’s cast was announced, I was skeptical at first, and I was right to be. Not only can none of the actors hold the screen presence on their own: their chemistry with each other was disastrously non-existent. The cast didn’t even seem to really care about their roles. Every half-hearted expression, every line of dialogue and every motion seems disinterested and bland. Nothing works when these actors are on the screen together.

Teller, for instance, is an atypical and complacent scientist character, a step down from his bravado performance full of passion and drive in last year’s Whiplash. Kebbell is just as forgettable as Teller is, except he’s more of an asshole about it. Mara is beautiful but witless, her character cluelessly wandering about as if she’s there just so the studio can say they’re gender diverse. Michael B. Jordan, who is a standout in movies like Chronicle and Fruitvale Station, appears here just so the studio can say they’re racial diverse.

Side-note: I’m all about racial diversity in movies, but if you’re going to cast two actors as siblings, at least have them be the same race. Saying Mara’s character is adopted doesn’t count as being diverse. It’s an obviously cheap effort to be labeled “racially diverse.” If you genuinely want to be racially diverse, recast everyone as African Americans. Don’t put in a half effort.

But out of all of the actors, I feel the most bad for Jamie Bell. He’s not even on the screen for most of the film: he’s replaced with this ugly gargoyle reject that looks like a combination of John Cena with a pile of rocks. I’m not even kidding, he looks freggin’ horrendous. What were the visual effects artists thinking with this? I get that Ben Grimm is supposed to be this big, ugly figure, but not this ugly. Not the kind of ugly that makes your vomit turn inside out, then go back into your stomach. It offends me to think that Bell was basically thrown into the tracking suit and have his performance replaced by this ugly CGI creation. With the other cast members, they at least have the opportunity to give a convincing performance before they fail. Bell isn’t even given the opportunity to fail. His performance is canned the minute the visual effects artists placed a 3D model over him. You could have cast a stunt double in this same role and get the same result from it: a big, bulky figure that just stiffly sits and stands like he has to go to the bathroom really bad. I haven’t seen a CGI creation this putrid since the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from last year.

The movie’s flimsy, indistinct plot is just as bad as anything else is. What is the plot of this movie? Four people get superpowers, mope about it for a few hours, then have their final battle 20 minutes before the movie ends. That’s it. There’s no character building here, no heart, no humor, no unique elements or surprises to this film that makes it stand out from the standard superhero fare. The Avengers was just as fun, if not more so, for its characterizations and dialogue as it was with its action. Guardians of the Galaxy was wacky, clever, in-cheek fun that had a blast roasting itself. Shoot, even the original Fantastic Four movies had more charisma than this. This movie was so downtrodden, so serious, and so stupidly depressing that I felt like I was watching gothic fan fiction of the Fantastic Four. If you thought Man of Steel was too dark for a superhero movie, you haven’t seen Fantastic Four.

This is a disinteresting, joyless, illogical, poorly acted, written, produced, and directed experience. The cast must have heard the film’s whimsical title and wondered if they were on the wrong set.

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“ANT-MAN” Review (✫✫)

Fear me! I control ants! 

Here’s the perfect example of expectation affecting outcome. Let’s be honest: who was expecting anything out of Ant-Man? I know I wasn’t. I went in expecting a complacent, by-the-books, predictable superhero thriller. I left after getting that exact same thing.

Okay, maybe I’m being a little rough. The movie does have its moments, and it did at times give me slight enjoyment and chuckles. But how can individual moments replace an entire movie? If you compare Ant-Man to its other giant-sized movie counterparts (The Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), you will always arrive to the same word to describe it: smaller.

Taking place after the events of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man introduces Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a genius scientist that rivals the intellect of Iron Man’s father Howard Stark (John Slattery). After realizing that the government was seeking his Pym particles, which allows him to turn into Ant-Man, to be weaponized, Pym goes into retirement, hoping to protect his particles from the world so that they would never be used for nefarious purposes.

Enter Daniel Cross (Corey Stoll), Pym’s ex prodigy. In modern day, Cross re-created Pym’s particles in the form of Yellowjacket, a suit similarly designed to Ant-Man and outfitted with the same capabilities. Desperate to get the suit and to further protect his invention, Pym enlists the only individual who can help take up the Ant-Man mantle: Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a notorious thief who has a knack for getting into places he doesn’t belong, and a daughter he’d do anything to see again after separating from her mother.

It’s true, most probably didn’t think much about a superhero named Ant-man when this project was originally announced. But to be fair, this film does have some merit, despite its low expectations. The best thing I can say about Ant-Man is this: its fun. Meagerly fun, yes, but it still counts.

Honestly though, that doesn’t surprise me much. The film was originally written and was supposed to be directed by Edgar Wright, who is most known for his comedic action films Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. If you’ve seen any of those films, you know that he’s a clever and well-versed filmmaker who knows how to balance action and comedy with drama. If I were a studio head, I would have taken one look at his filmography, thrown all of my money at him, and shouted “Take it! Take it all! Take it and make more!”

So what happened? Simply put, Marvel happened. After a few creative disagreements between himself and Marvel, Wright left and Peyton Reed was hired in his place. Reed directed The Break Up and Yes Man before helming Ant-Man. Yeesh.

Luckily, Ant-Man survived it’s lop-sided pre-production into release. Well, maybe “survived” isn’t an appropriate word. Dragged by its insect legs is more accurate.

The biggest complaint about Ant-Man is that it’s inconsistent. Moments of heartfelt drama collide with out-of-place comedy. Comedy is bogged down by moments of forced emotion. The only thing that is consistent in the film is its action, which is surprisingly innovative to its premise.

For instance: in the first scene where Scott shrinks as Ant-Man, he falls into a bathtub. Who would have thought falling in between droplets of water and cracks in the floor would be so exciting and interesting? The details we see when Scott shrinks are extraordinarily eye-popping, immersing us in this whole new world we didn’t see before in regular proportion. Seeing Scott traverse into ant hills that turn big when he shrinks, communicating with insects his size when he’s small, and finding new locations inside smaller ones are among some of the fantasies we see when he’s Ant-Man. Seeing him fight as Ant-Man is the most fun. Who knew that a Thomas the Train set could be so dangerous to two miniature super-beings?

Other than the visuals though, the movie is sub-standard. It’s cookie-cutter in about every sense of the word. The comedy, the drama, and the acting is all forced for effect, and in the process, it has none. For Pete’s sake, even the movie’s villain is so bland. Who cares about some bratty little business executive who steals a powered suit for money, fame, and power? That was Obadiah Stane in 2007’s Iron Man, and he was a much more compelling villain than this standard archetype of an antagonist.

It’s true, this film didn’t have much to go on when originally announced, but the idea doesn’t count as much as the execution. People doubted Guardians of the Galaxy when that came out, and people reversed their opinions and said it was greater than The Avengers after they saw the film. I believe those same people will watch Ant-Man with no reaction as he flies in the air and goes “splat” across their window pane.

Footnote: If you do decide to watch Ant-Man, do not watch it in 3D. It has some of the worst particle effects I’ve ever seen in a 3D conversion, and I had to lift my glasses every five minutes to see how much brighter the film was without the glasses. I didn’t know that Ant-Man was supposed to be such a dark picture.

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“THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

The Avengers face judgement day. 

We are now nearing the end of Marvel’s phase two of its cinematic universe. Before Age of Ultron, we’ve seen ten of these movies now. Iron Man. The Incredible Hulk. Iron Man 2. Thor. Captain America: The First Avenger. The Avengers. Iron Man 3. Thor: The Dark World. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Guardians of the Galaxy. You would think that by now, we would be sick of watching these movies. I know I normally would. It only took three Transformers movies for me to get sick of that franchise.

Yet, the people over at Marvel continue to find new ways to surprise me and make me once again believe in its cinematic universe. Avengers: Age of Ultron is its most recent example. The film had a near impossible task: outdoing its 2012 predecessor, which was a brilliantly woven and executed superhero masterpiece in its own right. After succeeding on a grand project that big and combining five multiverses into one fluid narrative, how are you expected to measure up to that in the sequel? Luckily, writer-director Joss Whedon is no fool. He knew what expectations were going to be had for his highly-anticipated sequel. He could have sold out and let the anticipation from the first movie roll in the bank for this one, but Whedon instead did the one thing that most filmmakers are too afraid to do nowadays: he set out to make it better.

Take the movie’s villain as Whedon’s prime example for improvement. Ultron, voice and motion performance by James Spader, is a trash-talking super-intelligent humanoid A.I. created by Tony Stark, a.k.a. “Iron Man” (Robert Downey Jr.) to protect the Earth from supernatural threats. Shortly after his creation, however, Ultron goes rogue and concludes that in order for true peace to be obtained, humanity needs to be wiped out and reborn like the animals from the dinosaur age.

On the surface, this seems like the same story for every robot-rebellion premise: a machine was created to do good, it becomes self aware, and in turn does the opposite of good. And in a sense, this is the same story for every robot-rebellion premise.

The key, however, lies in execution, and Spader as Ultron is the best super villain performance I’ve seen in a Marvel movie to date. Ultron doesn’t behave or talk like other androids. He isn’t stiff, rigid, or robotic like other mechanical characters in film are. Like any of the other live-action actors on screen, Ultron is a fluid, life-like being with his own personality and morals. He’s chaotic and radical in his thinking and behavior, acting more like a psychotic child rather than a logic-driven artificial intelligence.

Considering his creator is the egotistical Tony Stark, I can’t say I’m surprised that his personality is the same. Every Avenger in this film is just as great with each other as they were in the first Avengers movie. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is just as machismo and uncompromising as he is in any of his movies. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is equally as earnest and straightforward, with a few secrets that surprised even me in the theater. Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans) continues his rivalrous dynamic with Stark from the first movie, their contrasting personalities rubbing off of each other so viciously that we can see how it builds up to Captain America: Civil War.

The two Avengers that have the greatest dynamic, however, are Bruce Banner, or the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Here, their relationship expands from the first movie into a conflicted romance between the two. Romanoff is a master assassin with a past she’s neither proud to have nor able to escape from. Banner is the feeble scientist with a monster inside of him that he’s not proud of either. The two don’t feel like they can have a relationship with each other because of their different personalities, but Whedon puts them together with tragically heartfelt honesty here. He finds a connecting theme between the two, themes of loss and regret that makes them turn to each other and rely on each other. I didn’t think it was going to work when I saw these characters at first, but Whedon makes it so compelling that now I can’t see it any other way. Romanoff asks Banner a question in one scene that I think is reflective of their relationship: “Do you still think you’re the only monster on the team?”

Everything else in the movie lives up to the expectations you had in the first movie. The action is unique, visually complex, and eye-popping. The story is layered, intelligent, and dynamic, with characters bouncing witty and thought-provoking dialogue off of each other perfectly. The villain is one of the best and most unique of the Marvel universe, and there’s a few new characters introduced in the film that are done just as well as the superhero team’s main heroes.

Here’s the worst thing I can say about the movie, and really the greatest danger to the Marvel cinematic universe: I’m getting used to it. This is the 11th movie I’ve seen in the Marvel universe now, and I almost know what to expect. I know that I’m going to be surprised and shocked at some of the twists and turns. I know I’m going to enjoy the heroes and villains alike. I know that there’s going to be a lot of action with a noteworthy plot behind it. And, more than anything else, I know the movie is going to expand upon itself and its multiple follow ups.

Marvel has 11 more movies to produce after this for their phase 3, and there’s no telling how many more movies they plan to do after that. With Whedon going on record saying this is his last Marvel movie, I question how well they will be able to continue expanding this universe and doing it well. How much longer can Marvel keep pushing the envelope? I hope I don’t find out soon.

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