Tag Archives: Superhero

“WONDER WOMAN” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Warner Bros. Pictures

Superman’s got nothing on this woman.

In an industry as sexist as Hollywood, Wonder Woman is a blessing both to the cinema and to gender equality, a film that propels its female protagonist as not only just as capable as the men around her, but in many scenes, is better suited for more difficult tasks. Even before watching the movie, Wonder Woman has faced scrutiny just for being a female superhero in a male-dominated genre. How is it that by 2017, we’ve already had six Batmans, three Supermans, Spider-Mans, Hulks, and Punishers, but we’re just now getting our first Wonder Woman on film? If that isn’t an example of under-the-radar sexism in Hollywood, then what is?

In this prequel to Wonder Woman’s debut in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Wonder Woman follows Diana (Gal Gadot), an Amazonian born on the hidden island of Themyscira, where hundreds of her Amazonian sisters live, play, and train into fierce warriors. As a child, her mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) tells her stories about how the island was created after Zeus stopped his son Ares, the God of War, for corrupting the souls of mankind. With his dying breath, Zeus created the island that Diana and her Amazonian sisters live on now, and they’ve been at peace ever since.

One day, Diana witnesses a plane crash-landing into the ocean. After diving into the sea to save the pilot’s life, Diana finds out the pilot’s name is Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), and she learns that he’s fighting in a devastating world war to end all wars. Rationalizing that Ares is somehow behind this, Diana suits up in her island’s sacred armor, lasso, shield, and God-Killer sword and sets out with Steve Trevor to find and kill Ares, saving all of mankind from destruction in the process.

If you’ve been keeping up with the DC Cinematic Universe as of late, then you know the series has been struggling for quite some time. Man of Steel, for instance, was extremely divisive among its fans, with a seemingly equal amount of viewers both loving and hating it. Batman V. Superman was just all around terrible and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that actually did enjoy it. Suicide Squad was equally polarizing, but it at least had some great performances and fun action to go along with it. Overall though, the DCEU has been very inconsistent with their properties and its core fan base is equally questioning their commitment to the series. At this point, the future of the DCEU is looking very uncertain.

The best praise that I can give Wonder Woman is that it works as a rebirth for the DCEU: a clean slate, if you would. That’s because Wonder Woman breathes new life into the franchise, telling an epic story brimming with action, adventure, excitement, heart, humor, and relevance. In a day and age filled with cold, bleak, heartless blockbusters, Wonder Woman is a breath of fresh air we all desperately needed.

The heroic tag-team behind this success is the dynamic duo Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot, the film’s director and lead respectively. Jenkins, who’s last time directing a feature film was with 2003’s Monster, comes forward here as a master storyteller, handling both visually spectacular scenes and emotionally grounded moments with a surprising amount of finesse. The action, of course, is fast-paced and enthralling, with Wonder Woman charging through German soldiers and toppling over buildings like the aftermath of a Superman battle. Yet, I’m more impressed by the moments leading up to the action, the softer scenes revealing Diana’s character and her finding her place in a constantly shifting world ruled by male conflict and ego.

In her first scenes adjusting to life on Earth, Diana is coerced to try on big, clumpy, awkward dresses to conceal herself in a mostly conservative society. When she accidentally wanders into a war room, all of the men in there suddenly stop conversation to ask why a woman was in their presence. My favorite of these scenes involves Steve’s secretary Etta explaining to Diana what a secretary is. “I go where he tells me to go, and I do what he tells me to do,” Patty says. “Where I come from, that’s called slavery,” Diana responds.

But it isn’t just ideas of feminism and gender equality that Jenkins elaborates upon. This is also an expansive drama on the decreasing human condition, man’s capacity for violence and conflict, and ultimately loss of innocence. Through battlefields and warzones, Diana feels like a child fighting for ideals she believes in, yet are hopelessly obsolete in the face of bullets and bomb fire. If you live in a world where your ideas don’t exist, what do you then? Do you change with the rest of the world, or do you stand firm in yourself, waiting for the world to change with you instead?

Gadot remains emotionally persistent throughout the picture, hitting all of the right notes that she needs to at the right moments. We got an early look at her talents in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, where she was one of the few saving graces of the picture. Here she is on full display, not only embracing the rough physicality of the character, but also her courage, loyalty, honesty, perseverance, and goodness. She’s not just a strong action hero: she’s a strong character, fleshed out with her own dreams, ideas, aspirations, and insecurities. We need more superheroes as compelling as Wonder Woman in the movies, regardless if they are male or female.

This is quite simply one of the best superhero films ever made, let alone one of the best DC films. I put it right up there with The Dark Knight and Superman II, albeit for clearly different reasons. In a world where our entertainment revolves around chauvinism and sexual domination, Wonder Woman stands proud, strong, and adamant in that women can be just as empowering in our media as men can be. And so it is.

The greatest moment of this picture comes when our heroes are walking through the trenches of No Man’s Land, an explosive hellhole where there’s death and destruction in every which way and direction. In this moment, Diana desperately wants to help the people suffering around her, but the men tell her that it’s impossible. That’s why it’s called No Man’s Land, because no man can cross it. But a woman could, and she did.

 

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“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2” Review (✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

With a little “g”.

Guardians of the Galaxy is irrevocably stupid. Whether you’re a fan or not, this is generally considered consensus among viewers. This is a superhero movie filled with wise-cracking bounty hunters, green-skinned assassins, talking trees, raccoons, and even ducks. If you had told me about a movie like this 10 years ago, I would have laughed you off and said “Leave me alone, I’m trying to watch Spider-Man 3”.

And yet, Guardians of the Galaxy became an instant classic: a surprise hit nobody was expecting. That’s because writer-director James Gunn found an impeccable balance between action, humor, wit, drama, and in-cheek satire only the most passionate Marvel fans could catch. Guardians wasn’t just a great superhero movie: it was a great movie period. It’s energy, originality, and irresistible sense of style breathed life into its absurd premise, playing well on its strengths while downplaying its potential weaknesses.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has all of the elements of the first movie, just more haphazardly assembled. The action is still great, the cast remains phenomenal in their roles, and Gunn is equally skilled in throwing in some entertaining Easter Eggs every once in a while. But the tone is off. The jokes don’t land as much. The emotions don’t hit as hard. And no matter how you slice it, Vol. 2 is just a lesser version of Vol. 1. Disappointing, but not surprising.

In this sequel to the star-studded sci-fi blockbuster, Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) discovers the identity of his father: a celestial that has lived for ages called Ego (Kurt Russel), an appropriate name considering his high-strung personality. After saving the guardians from an attack by the Sovereign, a gold-plated alien species that would make Ebenezer Scrooge drool in his seat, Ego reveals himself to Peter and invites him to his planet so that they could bond as father and son. Joined by Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel) and newcomers Yondu (Michael Rooker), Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff), the Guardians of the Galaxy set out to discover Peter’s true heritage and to see where his destiny may lie.

When Vol. 2 opens up on its first scene, I was immediately reminded of the fun, unorthodox energy sprouted from the first film. Pratt’s charismatic swagger, the catchy and toe-tapping 70’s music, the obnoxious and absurd action, even a miniature Groot was dancing to the tune of “Mr. Blue Sky” while the rest of the Guardians were busy fighting a giant space monster in the background. If this first scene was anything to go by, it was that Gunn still had his sense of style intact and he was ready to follow through with it to the end of Vol. 2.

He does in a way, but it isn’t without its inconsistencies. There is a lot to like here in Vol. 2, mostly having to do with the cast. Pratt and Cooper remain to be the best performers out of the other Guardians, and their spontaneous and quick-witted lines made me laugh and chuckle at their on-screen antics. Kurt Russel has a charismatic intensity that vibes very well with Pratt, and at comparing the two side-by-side, it’s easy to see how their characters are related. Gillan also gets more screen time as Nebula, and Gunn fleshes her out as a more well-rounded character complete with her own fears, apprehension, and regrets. Gunn has previously stated that Nebula is a strong enough character to warrant her own movie. After watching Vol. 2, I can totally see that happening and would be curious to see where exactly Gunn could take her.

These performances alongside the others make for a very strong ensemble, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since last year’s Captain America: Civil War. Yet the characters and their motivations struggle to mesh and at times lack sense altogether. Yondu, for instance, is painted here as an almost-fatherly figure to Peter, juxtaposed right alongside Ego in their differences for how they raised Peter. Yet in the first Guardians, Yondu is the complete antithesis of Peter, a ruthless criminal that was fully intent on killing Quill for betraying his ravagers. How does it make sense that Yondu was dead-set on killing Peter in the first movie, whereas here he’s flipped to being more protective and even concerned? One could argue it as a change of heart, but that doesn’t make any sense. Where did that change come from? What was the inciting incident? Why now after Peter betrayed Yondu not once, but twice?

There are other things that don’t work as well in the picture. The Sovereign are not very interesting villains and serve little purpose except to look shiny on the big screen. There’s a running gag with Rocket where he keeps winking out of the wrong eye while speaking sarcastically. I’m left wondering how a cybernetically enhanced raccoon could not know the difference between his left and right eye. And some of the dialogue was just too stupid to forgive. In the climax of the film, Peter yells to the movie’s villain “YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE KILLED __ AND CRUSHED MY WALKMAN!” I’m thinking the person or the Walkman, pick one and stick with it.

Overall, Guardians Vol. 2 is a decent addition to the Marvel universe, but not an outstanding one. It’s just sort of there to hold us by until we can get to Spider-Man: Homecoming later in the summer. Yet I remain sympathetic towards Gunn because he was betting against expectation for this installment. Nobody was expecting Vol. 1 to be as great as it was: it just came out and subverted the entire superhero genre in a fun and stylish way. Following up from the surprise that was, how can you fairly expect Vol. 2 to have the same impact? You can tell Gunn invested a lot of heart and humor into this story: he just invested it in some of the wrong areas. What can I say? Even the classics can let us down sometimes.

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“THE WOLVERINE” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: 20th Century Fox

Snikt, snikt.

If there’s one good thing about sequels, it’s that it gives studios a chance to redeem themselves if they failed the first time around. With that in mind, I’m thankful that 20th Century Fox has redeemed themselves from X-Men Origins: Wolverine with its sequel The Wolverine, a vicious and riveting action-fest that features perhaps the most impressive performance from Hugh Jackman to date. Is it very original? No, but it’s loads of fun, and that’s one thing this film has over its predecessor.

A follow-up to both the X-Men trilogy and its failed prequel, The Wolverine features an older, more weary Logan (Hugh Jackman), who’s tired of all of the years of fighting and struggling as an X-Man. Now rescinded in the Canadian woods, he’s tracked down by a female samurai named Yukio (Rila Fukushima) who delivers some downtrodden news to Logan: Yashida is dying.

You see, back in WWII, Logan was held prisoner by a Japanese camp close to Nagasaki. After the notable atomic bombing, Logan pulled down a young soldier into his ditch and protected him from the blast. That soldier was Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), and he’s now succumbing to cancer.

So Logan is brought to Japan, where he once again meets with Yashida to say his goodbyes. But upon seeing him, Yashida instead makes him a ludicrous offer: surrender his healing factor to him, and become mortal. Settle down. Live a normal life, just like Logan has always wanted.

Logan ends up refusing and Yashida dies later that night. But the next few days, Logan notices something strange. After a few skirmishes with the local Yakuza, Logan notices that he’s not healing like he used to. When he gets shot, he’s blown back. When he gets stabbed, he bleeds. And when his claws come out of his hands, they leave holes where they used to be. Now left as an ordinary homosapien, Logan needs to traverse through Japan to discover what happened to his powers and once again become the Wolverine.

I’m going to get the obvious out of the way first: yes, Hugh is as great as Wolverine as he always is. That in itself isn’t a surprise to anyone. This is his sixth time portraying the character, the second time in his own film. He knows what he’s doing. Wolverine has always been the ultimate anti-hero of superheroes. He is a mean, ferocious, aggressive, untrusting, violent lone wolf who hacks, slashes, and cuts his enemies to pieces. He is not supposed to be a likeable fellow. Were it not for his slight sense of empathy, he could very easily be a villain if he wanted to be, and that’s what makes the character so fascinating. He exists on both sides of the superhero spectrum, and Jackman has always done well in contrasting the two sides of the character.

But an outstanding actor can still exist inside a mediocre movie. As demonstrated in the previous X-Men Origins: Wolverine, a performance by itself is worthless unless a good director can guide it in the right direction. Luckily, James Mangold does exactly that. Previously helming films such as Walk the Line and 3:10 To Yuma, Mangold combines action with relevance in The Wolverine, making it not only an exciting superhero blockbuster, but also an introspective character study on a man fighting his own immortality.

First, the action. While I still believe that X2 sports the best action scenes in the franchise to date, The Wolverine is definitely a worthy runner-up and is incredibly creative in constructing its action. In one of my favorite scenes, Wolverine is fighting against a slew of Yakuza on top of a bullet train with a base speed of 200 mph. If that just sounds ridiculous, imagine what it looks like seeing these guys fighting each other on top of it. While Wolverine and the Yakuza are desperately stabbing into the hull to maintain their grip on the train, they keep slashing at and fighting each other, all while the wind is slamming against their faces and they’re dodging signs and advertisements speeding past them. In another scene, Wolverine is fighting a samurai inside of a dojo, and the editing was so well interwoven together that I felt like I was watching a swordfight not unlike Gladiator or The Last Samurai. The Wolverine is an excellent blending of genres, and seeing Wolvie fighting in this new feudal environment gives a unique spin on the character’s regular hack-and-slash action.

But it’s not just the action that’s so enthralling. For the first time in any X-Men movie, Wolverine’s immortality is brought into question as a personal conflict for the character. It’s funny how I’ve never considered Wolverine’s healing factor as a weakness for him. But thanks to how cleverly constructed this movie is, it does bring up a valid question: if it were possible, would you want to live forever? I know I wouldn’t. What sane person would want to stomach Justin Bieber for the rest of their lives?

Wolverine, however, has much more serious consequences to face for his immortality. At this point in his life, he’s a weathered soul. He’s killed people. Watched as his friends were killed. Fell in love. Lost love. Found a family. Lost a family. For someone who has lived and lost as much as Logan has, I don’t blame him one bit for being tempted by the peace of mortality. As Yashida points out, if he gave up his powers, he could grow old, settle down, have a family, and die happily in peace, just like any other normal man. After everything he’s been through, “normal” is a gift Logan deserves at the very least. Yet, the gift evades him.

I enjoyed The Wolverine very much. The action, the conflicts, the performances, they all get back to the roots of the character and why they make Wolverine so interesting. A few of the film’s villains might be flat and uninteresting, and while the plot is unique with its themes, its execution fails to impress as much as its predecessors do. That still doesn’t change the fact that this is a fun action movie, a meaningful display of Jackman’s talents, and a worthy redemption from the haphazard failure of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. It’s good to have you back, Logan. Snikt, snikt.

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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 2” Review (✫✫✫)

Literally, two Iron Men.

Let me stop your expectations right there. Iron Man 2 is not as good as Iron Man. It just isn’t. Granted, making anything better than Iron Man is damn near impossible. I think the only recent movie that can compete is The Dark Knight, albeit for very different reasons.

All the same, just because Iron Man 2 is not as good as Iron Man doesn’t mean it isn’t good at all. It just depends on what you’re looking for when you enter the theater, and what expectations you’re having that would affect your view of the picture.

I myself went in expecting a subpar sequel to Iron Man. I got just that. But just because it is subpar doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, and believe me: Iron Man 2 is all sorts of fun. Whether it’s in the action, the comedy, or in the performances, I was never bored, and I quite enjoyed seeing Robert Downey Jr. suit up a second time in the suit, even if it was less meaningful this time around.

Iron Man 2 picks up right after the events of the first Iron Man, where Tony went into a press conference and stupidly told everyone that he was Iron Man. I banged my head into my seat multiple times when that happened in Iron Man, and I repeated this action when Tony dropped out of a helicopter, flied around next to fireworks, and landed in a convention center, only to unmask himself in front of thousands of fans at the beginning of Iron Man 2.

I have one word for a person that would act like this in real life. The first half of that word rhymes with bass. The other half is hole.

This time around, Tony is pitted up against not one, but TWO bad guys. The first is Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a Russian technician who holds a deep resentment against Tony considering his family’s history with the Starks. The other is Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), a wickedly genius business man who has all of Tony’s ego, but none of his charm. These two together make a terrible team that Tony needs to take down alongside his friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle), who suits up next to Tony as the War Machine.

…you get it? Iron Man 2? Two Iron Men? Ha ha ha.

The best thing about Iron Man 2 is also the best thing from the first Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. once again proves how great of an actor he is both inside and outside the Iron Man armor. At this point, he is Tony Stark. It doesn’t even seem like he’s putting on a performance anymore. He’s inhabiting the character so naturally that he feels like he’s reacting more than he is acting. His mannerisms and expressions are on point, his line delivery acute, and his comedic timing perfect. Downey Jr. never falters in the film. Not even once.

And the action scenes are just as strong as they were in the first film. Well, maybe not as well. The first movie, after all, did have Tony fighting terrorists and war mongers, and carried more weight to it as it appealed more to reality than it did to fantasy.

Still, the action is fun and fast-paced. My particular favorite moment was when Tony and Rhodey team up to take on an army of Iron Man armor copycats. This scene was exciting to watch because really, this is the first time we see Tony facing a large-scale threat that aren’t fragile human beings. It was exciting and interesting to see Tony and Rhodey fighting with larger stakes in the midst. It shows that the Marvel universe knows how to grow and build upon its original elements.

So Downey Jr., the comedy, and the action is retained from the first movie. What isn’t? Well, for one thing, the tone is off. Iron Man 2 is more silly and less serious, and while it does make for a fun movie, it also makes for a less meaningful one. The movie has this strange sub-plot involving Tony’s mortality and his complicated history with his father. These are serious subjects that should have a lot of gravitas and weight to it, yet it feels removed and out of place here. We don’t care about Tony personally like we did in Iron Man. We just like watching him suit up and shooting snarky quips at his supporting cast.

I wonder, where exactly did director Jon Favreau go wrong? I think his mistake was focusing more on the plot and less on the character. The first Iron Man was a great character study, as well as an exciting action movie. That was due in part both to Robert Downey Jr.’s personification and Favreau’s understanding of the character. Then Iron Man struck a chord and was suddenly universally praised from both critics and fans alike. How on Earth was Favreau going to top that?

I think that, in the midst of production stress and unrealistic expectations, Favreau panicked and tried to force a story onto the character, rather than allowing the character to create the story himself. This is a movie that knows the notes, but it doesn’t know how to play them. It’s more interested in setup rather than payoff, and you can see that with all of the Easter eggs stuffed in the film, but with all of the underdeveloped characters in there as well.

Overall, I enjoyed Iron Man 2 and I had fun with it, but it was not as worthwhile an experience as Iron Man was. Isn’t that to be expected though? Sequels are a dominant force in today’s industry, and most of them are not only disappointment to their predecessors, but are just bad movies overall. Be grateful that we’ve got a few laughs and thrills and can enjoy Iron Man 2 for what it is.

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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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