Tag Archives: Superhero

“THE INCREDIBLES 2” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

One childhood later…

Can a good thing come too late? You tell me. Can a thief return your wallet after spending all of your money? Can a firetruck put out the fire after your house already burned down? Can a lover apologize after admitting to cheating on you? The answer is yes, a good thing can absolutely come too late. And like Syndrome once said a long time ago, Incredibles 2 came too late: 15 years too late.

In perhaps the most unnecessary sequel since Cars 2 (oh yeah, I went there), Incredibles 2 picks up right after the Incredibles encountered the Underminer at the end of the first movie (which is incredibly frustrating, since Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack haven’t aged a day, whereas I’m so old that I’ve grown a beard). Despite saving the day not once but twice, supers are still outlawed by the federal government and are still considered menaces to society, despite the good that they try to do.

Enter Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a telecommunications CEO and super-fan that wants to legalize superheroes and bring them back into the spotlight. Pouring his investments into a massive PR campaign to make supers well-liked again, Deavor enlists in the help of Helen Parr, a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to carry out missions and change the public perception of superheroes. With Elastigirl busy out superheroing, Bob (Craig T. Nelson) is left at home to watch over the kids, and despite being Mr. Incredible, he is certainly not the most incredible Mr. Mom.

First thing’s first: Incredibles 2 looks gorgeous. That’s to be expected of course, considering we waited a decade and a half for the bloody thing to come out. Regardless, the visual feats Incredibles 2 achieves are nothing short of spectacular. It not only deserves to be compared to its predecessor, but it demands to be seen as superior.

The action is much more proliferate in Incredibles 2, and that’s generally to be expected, considering how heavy a role the action played in the first Incredibles. Still, I was impressed at how unique and clever the spectacle was and how Pixar didn’t just repeat themselves from the first movie. In one exhilarating chase sequence, Elastigirl was chasing a runaway train on her Elasti-cycle, which separated into two halves, allowing her to make flexible leaps with her torso while driving. That was an incredibly inventive way to use Elastigirl’s abilities, and I caught myself being on the edge of my seat as I watched her leap on top of cars, railroads, and buildings chasing the train. My favorite scene from the film had to be when the adolescent Jack-Jack’s powers were emerging and he fought a raccoon rummaging through his trash in the backyard. No, this is not some special, super-powered raccoon. It’s just a super-baby fighting an everyday, average, frightened raccoon. Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy would have been mortified.

The visuals and the action were great in the the first Incredibles, and they’re just as fantastic to watch here. Where its sequel begins to falter is its plot. Unlike the first movie, where its writing was fresh, organic, and addressed real-life family issues and emotions, Incredibles 2 feels too generic for its own good; like it knows it has to churn out a sequel and just came up with the most basic concept it could just to save time on its production schedule. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting anything ground-breaking with Incredibles 2. Lord knows the movie could have been The Godfather of animated superhero sequels and still not be up-to-par with the first movie. Even with that expectation, however, I was disappointed at how unspectacular the film’s premise really felt.

Take for example the movie’s villain Screenslaver (Bill Wise). Simply put, he’s your average supervillain megolomaniac, a guy conjured up just to fight our heroes with nothing more to add to their personal stakes. Compared to Syndrome from the first movie, who had a traumatic childhood experience where he reasonably felt betrayed by his heroes, Screenslaver simply does not have the gusto to be a driving force behind this movie’s conflict. Yes, his powers are interesting and unique enough to control the supers against each other. So what? That doesn’t make him a compelling character, and his motivations for fighting the Incredibles are just plain weak. One of my best friends even turned to me in the theater and told me how he thought the movie was going to end. Sure enough, the film ticked on like clockwork, and my friend’s predictions almost happened word-for-word.

I’m not surprised by the simplicity of this film’s story. Quite honestly, I was expecting it. What I am surprised by is how long it took for writer-director Brad Bird to make this. It’s been 14 years since The Incredibles came out. Since then, Bird has released multiple stellar pictures, including the masterful and moving Ratatouille, the exciting and revitalizing Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and even the mediocre Tommorrowland was filled with vision and imagination. Time and time again, Bird has proved his worth as a creative storyteller. And you mean to tell me you waited half of my literal life span for the right inspiration???

Sorry, I’m not buying that. I was Dash’s age when the first Incredibles was released, and now here I am older than Violet, expected to feel the same way about it when I was younger. Real life doesn’t just pause like that. Even Toy Story 3, which also had a 10-year release gap between Toy Story 2, had the good sense to fast forward in time with its characters. That’s because as Andy grew, so did we. I was a little kid playing with my favorite toys when Toy Story 2 came out, and then I grew up, becoming a young adult by the time Toy Story 3 was released. I even graduated from high school the same year that Andy did. But with The Incredibles, there is no growth, no reflection that we’re supposed to look back on. I’m just an adult expected to go back in time to my youth so I can feel the same about The Incredibles as I did when I was 11. How is that reasonable? How is that fair?

I’m tasked with answering the most basic question here: Is Incredibles 2 good? The simple answer is yes, it is very good. Like the first movie, Incredibles 2 is fast-paced, funny, and exciting, further challenging the blurred lines between animated and live-action films and what they can accomplish for their audiences. The complicated answer is that its quality doesn’t matter. I’ve long left my childhood behind, just like millions of eager fans like myself have years ago. Time has passed. We’ve already grown up. And Incredibles 2 means less to us now than it would have if it were released seven or eight years ago.

In either case, be on the lookout for Incredibles 3 in the future, where it will undoubtedly come out when I turn 60.

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“THE INCREDIBLES” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Buena Vista Pictures

Mister and Misses (Plus the kids)

I’ve never seen a film like The Incredibles before, and I doubt I will ever see another one like it again. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen plenty of my fair share of superhero movies before, including more recently X2 and Spider-Man 2. But The Incredibles in particular is special even compared to those movies. Like Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo, The Incredibles challenges the visual and emotional capability of the animated motion picture and asserts it as equal to its live-action peers, and so it is. The Incredibles has earned every right to be compared to the likes of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and the many others that will come after it.

Taking place in a world where Supers are as common as regular folks are, The Incredibles follows one super-heroic family trying to re-accommodate into normal American life. Bob Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is the super-strength super-dad of the family going through a mid-life crisis of sorts, while his wife Helen a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is just trying her best to be a good housewife and mother for her kids. Speaking of the kids, they’re facing adolescent issues of their own, with the force-field wielding Violet (Sarah Vowell) struggling with her shyness around a school crush, the speedster Dash (Spencer Fox) frustrated that he isn’t allowed to participate in school sports, and the baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile)… well, everything and anything that can go wrong with being a super-baby.

One day, Bob gets a secret message enticing him back into superhero work, despite it being outlawed by the federal government. Reminiscent of the old days of superheroing and wanting to give it one last go, Bob suits up as Mr. Incredible and sets off for one incredible adventure with his family.

The visuals are nothing short of astounding in this movie. Just like with Toy Story and Finding Nemo, The Incredibles is a colorful, vibrant adventure beaming with impressive detail and saturation. Yet, even by Pixar’s already impressive standards, The Incredibles still manages to stand out. How? Simple: the speed and motion of character’s animation is fast-paced and exciting, on-par with other superhero fan-fares that features similar exhilarating action.

It doesn’t take long for us to notice this. In fact, in the first 10 minutes alone, Mr. Incredible 1) Saves a cat from a tree, 2) Stops a high-speed car chase, 3) Interrupts a rooftop robbery, 4) Saves a citizen from leaping off of a building, 5) Fights a super villain in the middle of a bank heist, 6) Saves a child from a bomb attached to himself, 7) Stops a train from derailing off of its tracks, and 8) Makes it just in the knick of time for his own wedding. When I say this movie feels like the Spider-Man, X-Men, or Superman movies, I mean it. This movie is so exciting to watch that you feel like it can compete with most action movies, let alone animated ones as well.

I wondered why this movie felt so different compared to the rest of the animated genre? It doesn’t feel like its aimed at children, after all. What with its highly-stylized action violence, explosive spectacle, and more darker, mature moments, I wondered why this felt so adult-oriented despite its PG rating? Then I remembered: this film was directed by Brad Bird, who also helmed the animated science-fiction film The Iron Giant years ago. Like The Iron Giant, The Incredibles is a movie filled with ambitious vision; daring in its visual art and far-reaching in its emotional range. In many ways, they’re both very similar films. They both portray the modern American family robbed by normalcy and dysfunction. They are both thrown into extraordinary circumstances that they find mesmerizing and fascinating. And ultimately, they pull themselves out of their dire situations through the greatest superpower of all: family.

You’ll also notice how the movie has an aesthetic that satires 90’s spy movies such as James Bond and Mission Impossible. I wasn’t sure how exactly that was going to work for an animated superhero movie like The Incredibles, but it works beautifully. The scenery evokes the feel and grandeur of MI6 headquarters, while the Incredibles’ gadgets are reminiscent of the toys that Q provides Bond to bring with him on his missions. Speaking of Q, there’s a spoof of the character here named Edna Mode, who’s hilariously voiced by Brad Bird himself, and she provides a personality so melodramatic and overbearing that she couldn’t help but remind me of those high-strung fashionites not unlike Edith Head or Anna Wintour. And the music by Michal Giacchino is especially sleek and snazzy, with its jazz horns blaring and its drums beating like those smooth spy jams you listened to growing up.

Go and see The Incredibles. My review cannot get much simpler than that. It’s an exciting, action-packed, suspenseful, funny, and wildly entertaining thrill ride that not only blows most of its animated competition out of the water, but also most of its live-action superhero counterparts as well. To put it in one word, the movie is simply… incredible.

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“BLACK PANTHER” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Long live the king.

Black Panther represents a watershed moment for African-American superheroes and Hollywood: a chance to really redefine what an action hero means to people and how they’re represented in mass media. It has all of the elements that makes any Marvel film a great one. It has passionate performances from its talented cast members. Smart character development that makes our heroes’ choices meaningful and consequential. Not to mention its spectacular action sequences that pretty much guarantees it an Oscar nomination year-in-and-year-out. But what makes Black Panther particularly special is the significance of its diversity; its emboldening of marginalized communities by giving them a platform to say what they’ve been trying to say all of these years. It’s one thing to be simply entertained by a superhero movie. It’s another thing entirely to be impacted by the experience and take it with you long after you’ve left the movie theater. Or in this case, Wakanda.

Taking place after the character’s debut in Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther now finds T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as King of Wakanda, a hidden African nation housing the Earth’s largest deposit of a rare metal called Vibranium. After losing his father T’Chaka (John Kani) and sparing his killer at the end of Civil War, T’Challa believes that the worst is behind him and he can now focus solely on governing his people.

He is sorely mistaken.

For one thing, M’Baku (Winston Duke) and the Jabari tribe are in strong opposition to T’Challa’s rule, and he’s committed to challenging him for the throne at all costs. Weapons smuggler Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) rears his ugly head once again, as he has an violent history with Wakanda for constantly stealing plots of Vibranium from them. And a shady assassin who goes by “Killmonger” (Michael B. Jordan) has an eerie obsession with the Black Panther and a hidden agenda he has regarding Wakanda and its people.

Black Panther achieves so much on so many levels that it’s hard to pick where exactly to start. I’ll begin with the writer and director Ryan Coogler, who has achieved ground-breaking strides here both visually and aesthetically for this film. Coogler, who gained attention in his earlier years for helming the biographical picture Fruitvale Station and the Rocky spinoff Creed, creates a technically immaculate world in Wakanda, a highly-advanced society that feels removed and secluded from the rest of the world, but also possesses its own breath and heartbeat in the same sentence. The costumes and makeup evoke the feel and tribalism of the ancient Congo tribes from Africa, a culture which at least partially helped inspire the “Black Panther” comic books, while the production design evokes an Afro-futuristic setting that feels like its evolved years beyond any Western civilization could have in a hundred years. And the action? Spectacular. Whether Black Panther is fighting without his armor in a Wakandan waterfall, or pursuing Klaue through one speeding car to another, the action is fast-paced, enthralling, and engaging. I haven’t felt this excited in a superhero film since The Dark Knight in 2007. Yes, I am saying this with The Avengers and Captain America: Civil War in mind as well.

But it’s not just the production itself that’s so impressive: it’s also the story that Coogler crafts here, a humble fable about a king wanting to do the right thing, but is haunted by the sins of his ancestor’s past. One of my concerns going into this movie was how Coogler was going to handle the race element of the picture. Was he going to ignore it altogether and focus solely on the superhero aspect? Or was he going to put so heavy an emphasis on it that the movie became a social statement instead of an action blockbuster? The answer is neither. Like Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and Captain America: Civil War, there are heavy themes underlying the film’s subtext, but it is not what compels the film itself forward. What makes this film a great one is that it is a character drama first, and a social allegory second. The themes of institutional racism and prejudice is as a consequence of the character’s actions throughout the film. It is not the action itself. In making its point humbly, it allows the message to be seen at its most transparently, while at the same time not distracting from all of the superhero spectacle going on.

It would be a crime if I did not mention the film’s outstanding cast. They are the best of any MCU movie so far, hands down. Everyone is so spectacular in their roles, so humane and believable in their interaction with each other that I could dedicate an entire article to talking about each performer individually. I would easily campaign for the film to receive a Screen Actor’s Guild Outstanding Cast nomination, if the SAG Awards didn’t play so much to their bases to begin with.

Boseman, of course, kills it as T’Challa. He was great in Civil War a few years ago, and he’s just as great as he is now. Yet interestingly enough, my favorite characters from the movie are its antagonists, which serve as a sort of remedy to the villain problem Marvel has been facing for a long time now. Duke, for instance, succeeds in playing a dryly charismatic bear in M’Baku, and he’s so boorish that I would love to just give the guy a big hug, were it not that he could crush me in one muscle reflex. Serkis is so wild and over-the-top as Klaue, yet that just makes him all the more fun and fascinating of a character to watch. We usually have the most fun in Marvel movies seeing the heroes and villains duke it out over highly-rendered green screen action sequences. I find it interesting that Serkis was just as fun to watch ranting in an interrogation room as much as he was firing his arm cannon at his enemies.

The best of these performers, however, is Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger. Part of what makes his performance so mesmerizing is that you don’t really expect a villainous performance out of the guy to begin with. He was one of the super-powered teenagers in Chronicle, Oscar Grant III in Fruitvale Station, and Apollo Creed’s son Adonis in Creed. He’s not really known for playing cruel or malicious characters. Yet, that’s exactly what makes his performance as Killmonger so compelling. It’s the fact that he’s coming from a very human place with it, and his motivations against the Panther make sense and are relatable on a personal level. He is easily one of my favorite villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He would have been number one, if Tom Hiddleston’s Loki didn’t occupy my top spot.

Black Panther is a surprising masterpiece. It’s a stylish action movie, an important social commentary, and a theatrical character drama that hits all of the right notes that it needs to all at once. I’ve given four-star reviews for multiple MCU movies in the past, including Iron Man, The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, and Thor: Ragnarok. I would recommend all of these movies solely based on how fun they were alone. Black Panther is the first to be truly profound outside of its Blockbuster value. It is the bridge where art meets entertainment.

No, Black Panther is not the first black superhero to be adapted to the big screen. That title belongs to Todd McFarlane’s Spawn in 1997. Like the Wakandan king himself, however, it seems destined to become the most significant from a long line of predecessors. And rightfully so.

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“THOR” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Paramount Pictures

If he be worthy…

This is it. This is the make-it or break-it for the Marvel Cinematic Universe: the deal-breaker. Up until now, Marvel has had strong material to work with for its cinematic universe, with the combined powers of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Edward Norton’s Hulk filling the comic-book shoes well so far. But now we’re going into uncharted territory with Norse mythology. How are you supposed to make Norse Gods and legends work well with science-fiction, technology, and secret spy organizations without making it feel silly or on-the-nose?

The answer is you don’t: you amalgamate it and integrate it into their shared science-fiction universe to make it feel fluid and believable. Whatever silly experience you’re expecting to get out of a movie called Thor, you’re safe to throw your doubts out of the window now. Thor is exciting, fun, and fast-paced, whizzing with energy and incredible action and effects. And most impressively, it is epic, much like the Norse legends themselves are. I was not expecting a movie about the Norse God of Thunder to throw me off my feet this much. But then again, I didn’t know what to expect with a movie called Thor to begin with. Perhaps that helped me further appreciate it in the long run.

In this adaptation of both the Marvel comic and the Norse legend, Thor tells the story of the brash and arrogant God of Thunder, played here by Chris Hemsworth, who made his debut as James Kirk’s father in 2009’s Star Trek reboot. In this iteration, Thor is not a superhero like your regular Marvel folk, but instead the prince of Asgard, a fantastical world far removed from time and space. His father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is the king of Asgard, while the God of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) supports Thor as his brother.

One day, the Frost Giants of Jotunheim sneak their way into Asgard and kill a few soldiers in an act of aggression against the kingdom. After they are swiftly wiped out by Asgard’s security forces, Thor ventures into Jotunheim to declare war with the Frost Giants against his father’s wishes. After narrowly escaping Jotunheim with their lives intact, Odin strips Thor of his powers, takes away his hammer Mjolnir, and banishes him from Asgard as his punishment. Now trapped on Earth (or “Midgard” as he refers to it) without any way of getting back home, Thor has to find a way to regain his powers and once again become the God of Thunder that he was born to be.

My biggest concern going into this movie was how they were going to fit Norse mythology into a universe filled with Iron Men and Gamma-radiated monsters and make it feel believable. Out of all of Stan Lee’s notable creations, Thor is hands down the most plagiarized and the most preposterous. Nothing about him is interesting. A Norse God has superpowers and family issues? Please. Iron Man, the Hulk, and Spider-Man all have the same things, yet are infinitely more interesting because of the very personal problems they experience. Tony Stark and his ego and alcoholism. Bruce Banner and his anger issues. Peter Parker and his sense of guilt and responsibility. Many superheroes are popularized not just because of the powers they have or the costumes they wear, but because they have complex drama and personalities coupled with their action-filled comic book panels. Thor has always felt the least interesting or compelling, and that’s partially because of the wildly fantastical setting that he inhabits.

And yet, Thor works surprisingly well, mostly because of the convictions held by its writers and director. Screenwriters Ashley Miller and Zack Stenz, who also penned X-Men: First Class earlier this summer, demonstrates a clear understanding of Thor’s mythology and how it ties in to the nuance and appeal of the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes it’s technically a fantasy film, but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like another superhero action romp where characters zip, zoom, and fly into each other as the screen explodes into an exciting, color-filled visual effects spectacle. Part of that is because the film smartly blurs the lines between fantasy and science-fiction, blending both of the genre’s characteristics to make the film flow into one believable narrative. As one character observes in the film, “Magic is just science we don’t understand yet.” That quote comes from author Arthur C. Clarke.

Yet the film works on a dramatic level as well, with Hemsworth and Hiddleston’s chemistry feeling like actors interacting in a stage play, not as two superheroes flying into their own battles. There’s a very distinctive reason why: it’s because they’re being directed by actor Kenneth Branagh, who has made a career for himself as the “Shakespeare guy” in Hollywood (seriously, look at his filmography. He’s helmed adaptations of Shakespeare’s Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet, and that doesn’t even include his stage credits). Approaching Thor like he would with any Shakespearean drama, Branagh lets the actors loose and allows them to have fun with their roles, with them being equally over-the-top, boisterous, dramatic, accentuated, and theatrical all at once. Oh, these characters definitely would not be believable as human beings. But as Norse Gods of ancient legend? They’re impeccable.

Hemsworth and Hiddleston serve their roles enthusiastically, and they work so well together that they could be just as entertaining by themselves without the help of added effects. The action and the visuals are dazzling and spectacular, making you feel like you really are in Asgard, Jotunheim, or Midgard watching Thor whack every enemy marching towards him. And the music by Patrick Doyle is beautiful and uplifting, evoking a sense of grandeur and adventure that feels appropriate for an epic like this.

If there is any weakness to the film it is its second act, which takes the momentum the first act builds up to and brings it to a screeching halt. In the second act, Thor loses his powers and is navigating Earth like a clueless goof that acts like he suddenly forgot how to behave and interact like a normal human. My problem with these scenes is that at the beginning and end of the film, we’re experiencing the action in Asgard, and it overwhelms you with incredible visual scope and spectacle. Then we’re transported to Earth with Thor and suddenly everything becomes so… dull. The visuals take an obvious step back and it looks and feels more like a SyFy channel television movie than it does as a Marvel production. Thor is thrusted through comedic slapstick moments, making him look pretty stupid in the wake of all of the lightning-fueled action he was performing earlier. These scenes feel disjointed, jarring, and removed from the rest of the picture, almost as if it’s another movie we’re watching entirely. I have no problem with taking away Thor’s powers for the sake of added drama or conflict. I do mind the stylistic changes that do not blend well with the rest of the picture.

Still, Thor is loads of fun, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. Marvel is starting to develop a knack for making their underappreciated heroes shine in the spotlight. Remember years ago when we thought Robert Downey Jr. was going to be a bust in Iron Man? Now we have Chris Hemsworth stepping into the shoes of Thor, and he’ll be joining up with the rest of the Avengers next year with a metal man, a giant green ogre, and a red-white-and-blue boy scout. Thor is the God of Thunder. He’ll fit right in.

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“THE INCREDIBLE HULK” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Universal Studios

Hulk smash puny critic! 

Bruce Banner is not a hero. One would be wrong for mistaking him as one. He is not proud or triumphant, he doesn’t wear a cape, and he doesn’t “save the day” as someone like Superman or Batman would. No, Bruce is a timid, shallow, and fearful young fellow, one that grips with a double-persona in him that’s angry, destructive, and vengeful all at once. His story is not one of happiness or hopefulness. It is in essence a tragedy, not unlike that of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, except in this case Mr. Hyde is a giant, green raging monster that says “Hulk smash!” every time he punches something.

In this second go-around at adapting one of comic book’s most recognizable characters, The Incredible Hulk retells Banner’s transformation into Marvel’s not-so-jolly green giant, with Fight Club actor Edward Norton taking the part over from Erica Bana this time around. In this iteration of the Hulk, Bruce is on the run from General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) and the U.S. military, who wants to take Banner’s gamma-radiated blood and weaponize it for their own uses. Desperate for a cure for his angry, green, muscle-infused transformation, Banner enlists in the help of his lover Betty (Liv Tyler) and Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) to search for a cure, finally freeing himself from the monster within that is the incredible Hulk.

Since this is the second live-action adaptation of the Hulk in less than five years, it’s only fair to assume the comparison’s viewers are going to make from this version to Ang Lee’s Hulk released in 2003. As this is the case, you should know that I wasn’t a fan of that version. I did like a lot of things about it: the nuanced, quietly disturbed performances of Eric Bana and Nick Nolte, the creative comic book panel-esque transitions between shots, and the exploration of disturbed psychology developed from childhood trauma. There were a lot of creative elements in that film, and Lee deserves credit for at least branching out and trying new things in the superhero genre.

The key issue with that film was the pacing. The run time dragged out grudgingly, many shots didn’t pertain to what was going on in its scenes, and the movie just simply wasn’t fun. It was interesting for sure, but it lacked the suspense and excitement needed for a movie like Hulk to work. Observe, for instance, if Spider-Man or X-Men dragged out at the exasperating pace as Hulk did. Those movies would get boring pretty quickly, wouldn’t they?

I start my review by reliving the previous’ strengths and failures because The Incredible Hulk embodies the exact opposite of those. Hulk was an insightful, if meandering drama that had moments of superhero action in it. The Incredible Hulk is a full-blooded gamma-radiated monster-thriller that enthusiastically smashes through as much property damage as it can cause. It isn’t dramatic, insightful, or even significantly moving, and neither is it required to be. Part of a movie’s success is by playing to its strengths and weaknesses, and The Incredible Hulk demonstrates a sound understanding of both.

The crucial element to this is director Louis Leterrier, who helmed the first two Transporter movies before The Incredible Hulk. Framing it as an homage to the Bill Bixby 1978 television series, Leterrier plays the film’s elements to his advantage, pulling out thrills and excitement in the slightest of methods. Take, for instance, an early chase scene involving Banner, Ross, and a squad of military soldiers. Despite how it’s essentially another generic movie chase, the sequence was surprisingly thrilling, and that’s because of all of the elements in play here. The editing from Apocalypto’s John Wright was quick-paced and attentive, cutting briskly between each character’s perspective while at the same time not losing focus on the action. The music by Craig Armstrong is suspenseful and riveting, building up to a thematic opera that evokes the same sensation of those classic 1980’s monster movies. And the cinematography by Peter Menzies Jr. perfectly captures Bruce’s paranoia in this scene, with his biggest concern being not evading the soldiers or getting out unscathed, but rather not becoming so tense to the point where he transforms and causes harm to the people around him.

Leterrier uses these elements to turn seemingly simple moments into extraordinary ones, heightening tension and escalating excitement. Imagine what happens when Bruce breaks out into anger and goes Hulk destructive on everything in his path? While the smaller moments work surprisingly well, the film’s real value comes in its visual spectacle, where Hulk rams into soldiers, lifts and crushes cars, leaps and climbs tall structures, roars like a wild animal, and angrily smashes into as many objects as he can. In most action movies, the protagonist is usually in the more vulnerable position and has to face impossible odds stacked against him. I find it interesting that in this context the role is reversed and that Hulk’s enemies are the ones at a disadvantage against this giant, ruthless behemoth. It develops an interesting catharsis for the character, or at least, as much as it can possess in the midst of mindless superhero monster action violence.

The performances, while serviceable, are nothing spectacular enough to be memorable. The story is uninspired and feels stock compared to other action thrillers (seriously, read the script and tell me how much it reminds you of Jason Bourne). And while the final fight in the movie is climactic and exciting, the movie’s villain is just a mirror match to the Hulk and has no personal investment beyond that.

Still, how much you end up liking The Incredible Hulk depends on what you’re looking for in a Hulk movie to begin with. For me, I’m looking for action, and lots of it. The Incredible Hulk has that in spades. While not narratively impressive, The Incredible Hulk has enough dynamic action, awe-inspiring spectacle, and reckless destruction that makes you root for the big, angry green giant regardless. At the very least, let’s agree that this version of the Hulk is better than Ang Lee’s variation. I reiterate: the catchphrase is “Hulk Smash,” not “Hulk Talk You To Death.”

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“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 of nowhere 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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