Avengers Endgame. A movie review.

Avengers Endgame has been hyped to the nth degree, and for good reason: it’s really good.

The Marvel Studios movie universe has been going for 11 years. 22 movies later, and Endgame arrives as part 2 of the Infinity War saga, and a movie that keeps most of the fans happy. I say most, because not everyone will like the way some of their favourite heroes are treated.

avengers

I loved Endgame, but not because of the huge superhero battles, convoluted time travel plots, occasional plot holes and over-hyped appearances (yep, Captain Marvel is a blink or you’ll miss her opportunity at several points. It appears the only reason she was hyped so much was to sell her solo movie, as her impact on Endgame is negligible). I loved Endgame for the emotional character moments, of which there are many. This movie delivers these in a big way, with gravitas, sensitivity and poignancy. Yes, there is a fair bit of humour (some of which falls flat), and some characters (two in particular) have been transformed into shadows of their former selves, but Endgame really delivers as a bookend to 11 years of superhero movies. Several character arcs are given very satisfying conclusions. If you’re not a wee bit teary by the last scene then you’re obviously heartless.

Avengers Endgame delivers on the hype. This is the kind of movie that makes me happy to be a superhero fan. It has massive moments, dark moments, bright moments and emotional moments, and provides satisfactory closure to the storylines of several major characters. For people only seeing a Marvel movie for the first time, it will be confusing and probably lack the emotional investment required to really experience this movie at its best, but for fans, this is the superhero piece de resistance.

Bravo Marvel Studios. I predict Avengers Endgame will get a best movie Oscar, similar to the way Return of the King won for the Lord of the Rings series. You heard it here first.

Rating: A+ (Non-fans seeing a Marvel movie for the first time: B)

 

 

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Shazam! A movie review.

Shazam! is an enjoyable, feel-good superhero movie reminiscent of 80’s family flicks.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a resourceful orphan looking for the mother he was separated from many years before. Placed with a new and quirky foster family, he meets Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), foster brother and roommate, who is obsessed with superheroes. After fighting some bullies, Billy escapes via the subway and is magically transported to the cave of the Wizard Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), who grants him superpowers and transforms him into his adult champion, Captain Marvel – oh, sorry, we can’t call him that anymore due to legal niceties (Zachary Levi). His job is to fight the seven deadly sins, who have chosen their own champion in Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong).

Shazam! has a fun premise: what happens when a kid becomes an adult with superpowers? It’s Big for superheroes, and a lot of the humour comes from Zachary Levi learning to use his powers (and abuse them, as any kid in an adult’s body probably would). Along the way he learns responsibility and respect, and it’s no spoiler to say he eventually saves the day (it’s a superhero movie, after all). There are a few unexpected surprises along the way, though…

Director David F. Sandberg and his very diverse cast look like they had a ball. The script is playful and inventive, and sufficiently different from other superhero movies to make this one stand out (DC writer Geoff Johns has his creative footprints all over it). It’s funny, nostalgic (with 80’s references galore), and also demonstrates it is very much part of the existing DC extended universe (DCEU), with numerous character references and a surprise cameo. It didn’t require me to use my brain at all (I generally prefer my superhero films more complex) and I laughed a lot. And there’s nothing wrong with that, especially in the Trump-infested mire of today’s world.

I enjoyed this movie. It’s one for the family, who can all leave their brains at the door and have a nostalgic and wacky time.

Rating: B

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Glass. A movie review.

Minor spoilers!

Glass is the sequel to Unbreakable and Split. It’s the culmination of one journey and the start of another. It’s really good, and deserves more appreciation than it’s gotten from some critics.

M. Night Shyamalan is an auteur director with a reputation for ‘twist’ endings and a distinctly uneven quality to his releases over the years. Unbreakable starred Bruce Willis as David Dunn, a man discovering superpowers and coming to terms with his true purpose, aided by Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Elijah, who believed superhero comics were a mythological representation of real events and people. The film premiered in 2000 as superhero movies were making their comeback and starting to dominate screens. Unbreakable was quiet, deliberate and allegorical. And under-appreciated by critics and the box office.

Split was a more recent (2016) conventional horror/thriller which showcased James McAvoy’s wonderful range as serial killer Kevin Crumb, a man with 23 personalities who could call forth the super-powerful ‘Beast’. Whilst it could have been deeper, it took a more conventional approach and did well at the box office. And included a final reveal that it was set in the Unbreakable ‘universe’. My initial impressions of Split were lukewarm, per my review in early 2017, but this has improved somewhat on consecutive viewings.

The scene was set for a sequel to both, bringing the best elements of the two movies together and providing a fitting conclusion to a trilogy that wasn’t really a trilogy (it’s now referred to as the ‘Eastrail 177’ trilogy, in relation to events from the first movie).

Glass brings together all the major characters from the two prior films. And it does this well, affording each character reasonable screen time to establish their current status quo and motivations. The first act sees David Dunn confronting The Beast. The second act takes place in a psychiatric institution, where David, Kevin and Elijah are assessed by psychiatrist Ellie (Sarah Paulson), who attempts to convince them they are merely human. The third act is the final showdown between the protagonists, with a setup for future movies in the same universe.

Glass succeeds admirably as a sequel. On its own, however, it doesn’t have individual narrative strength—those who have seen the previous movies may appreciate it (as I did), but newbies may find themselves at a bit of a loss without the context of the previous films.

Don’t expect this to be a Marvel-style movie, just because it’s about superheroes. It’s a serious take, and it works. There’s a time and a place for mindless, humorous superhero antics, but Glass is not one of them. Glass is thought-provoking, dark and visceral. The acting, script, direction and music are top notch and show what superhero movies could be if the current mainstream gave intelligent superhero dramas a chance.

I loved Glass. I didn’t find the second act dragged. I didn’t feel any character received short shrift. I felt the movie was balanced in its storyline, and the dialogue was good, in keeping with the prequels. Shyamalan is a stylish director, who can deliver fine films when he puts his mind to it. Smaller budgets appear to have reined in his excesses, and this “franchise” looks like having feet for some time to come.

Rating: B+ (if you haven’t seen the two prior films: C)

Comics: All-Time Personal Faves

I looooove comic books. I’ve been reading them since I was a kid, and in my currently bereft and almost moneyless state I don’t get as many opportunities to buy them as I used to.

A loooong time ago, I said I was going to talk about some of my favourite comic book stories. Sorry it took so long. Here they are, in no particular order.

Watchmen

Watchmen – arguably the greatest comic book story ever written, and often included in all-time best novel lists. In the 80’s, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons produced this seminal piece of adult literature that works on so many levels. If you never read any other comics, read this one. I have a first edition collected volume and a re-released hardcover, and bought the original issues when they came out. This comic book is the altar I pray at.

The Dark Knight Returns

The Dark Knight Returns – This comic sits in front of that altar. Frank Miller brought an older Batman out of retirement and made this one of the greatest and most influential comics ever created.

Batman: Year One

Batman: Year One – …and then Frank and David Mazzuchelli redefined the Dark Knight’s origin in a gritty tale that has inspired TV shows and comics everywhere. And made my altar very crowded.

Superman: Red Son

Superman: Red Son – Mark Millar made his mark on the Superman canon with this incredible Elseworlds story of a man of steel raised in Soviet Russia. The ending is one of the coolest ever.

Swamp Thing

Saga of the Swamp Thing – Alan Moore is my favourite writer. Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson’s 70’s Swamp Thing is my all-time fave character, but Moore’s take took it, and his career, into the stratosphere during the 80’s and brought on a flurry of astounding work, including the aforementioned Watchmen.

Green Lantern

Green Lantern – Geoff Johns is one of the most amazing creators in comics today. He has an understanding of the characters and the medium that raises the bar with every book he takes on. This is his ground-breaking run on titular character Hal Jordan.

Marvels

Marvels – Marvel’s superheroes and seminal founding events, seen through the eyes of conventional people, by Kurt Busiek and with art by the incredible Alex Ross. If you haven’t seen Mr Ross’s lifelike painted artworks, you don’t know what you’re missing. Awesome.

Justice League

JLA – Grant Morison has written some unbelievable comics, including this superb and influential run on the Justice League in the 90’s. Big moments. Big characters. Big stories. Big creativity.

Y the last man

Y: The Last Man – Brian K. Vaughn is a brilliant writer. This is a brilliant story. It also contains the saddest scene I’ve ever read in a comic. No contender.

Ex Machina

Ex Machina – Brian K. Vaughn (there’s that name again) puts the politics in superhero, with this amazing work with artist Tony Harris.

Sandman

Sandman – The work that made Neil Gaiman BIG. Yep, even before the novel writing. Eerily good. And Dave McKean does the best covers EVER. Hands down.

That’s not all of them, of course. The list goes on and on. But that’s enough, for now…

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Lazy Movie Reviews: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘Teen Titans Go to the Movies’

Yeah, I’m lazy. But I just love seeing movies. Here’s a couple of reviews.

Crazy Rich Asians

• Bright and colourful Singapore setting

• Conventional story with average acting

• Much of the humour falls flat

• Some great actors wasted in minor roles

• I know this movie was considered a breakthrough for Hollywood because of its all-Asian casting and storyline, but Asia and England have been making these sorts of movies for decades, and better than this

Rating: C-

Teen Titans Go to the Movies

• A cartoon that often seems more for adults than kids

• Lots of movie parodies and references that many kids just won’t get

• Very funny at times, only the occasional fart jokes

• Gorgeous and bright animation

• Better than some of the live action superhero movies of the last few years

Rating: B

New Movie Trailers!

I’m a movie fan. More than that, I’m a HUGE superhero and monster fan, and a number of the announcements coming out of the San Diego Comic Con had me nerdgasming. Aquaman, Shazam! and Glass are superhero movies I’m really looking forward to next year. The next Harry Potter universe Fantastic Beasts movie premiered a new trailer, as well as Godzilla: King of the Monsters, sequel to the popular Godzilla movie from a few years back and set in the same universe as the Kong: Skull Island movie.

Here are the newest trailers to geek out to:

I can’t wait to see these films! In the meantime, enjoy!

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Ant-Man and the Wasp. A movie review.

No spoilers!

Marvel pumps out another enjoyable superhero sequel. Amusing but non-essential viewing.

Paul Rudd (Scott Lang/Ant-man) and Evangeline Lilly (Hope van Dyne/Wasp) reprise their roles from Ant-man, along with Michael Douglas (Hank Pym) and motor-mouthed Michael Peña (Luis). Along for the ride this time are Michelle Pfeiffer and Laurence Fishburne.

Scott Lang has nearly completed two years of house arrest after the Civil War incident. He has a vision of Hank Pym’s wife, who was trapped in the subatomic quantum universe many years ago. Hank wants to bring his wife back but villainess the Ghost is slowly wasting away and wants Pym’s tech to save herself. So do some other bad guys. Time to save the day.

Ant-man and the Wasp is pretty funny, with Rudd and Peña assisting with the script (I’m assuming there were a few ad libbed jokes in some of the scenes). Unfortunately, I’m one of those dreary souls who prefers more drama—I love humour, but I like my superheroes a touch more serious. It would have been nice to let non-fans know that Evangeline Lilly’s character was Wasp. It’s never mentioned—as a comic book fan, I knew, but some casual viewers I spoke with didn’t make the connection.

Ant-man and the Wasp is an enjoyable evening’s entertainment, but it won’t leave you with the burning desire to discuss the bigger issues raised by the film afterward, because there are none. It’s fun, but ultimately disposable.

Rating: C+

Black Panther. A Movie Review.

No spoilers here!

Okay, you’ve read the reviews already. More than likely you’ve already seen it. I’m talking director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, the latest Marvel Studios’ superhero film that ends up being one of the best movies Marvel has released since Spiderman: Homecoming. I’m not going to talk about the story. I’ll just give some impressions and you can make up your mind based on those.

Black Panther

Black Panther is a bright, colourful, hopeful, heavily African-inspired movie, with a majority African-American cast. It has a great story (although somewhat derivative of The Lion King, which was itself derivative of Kimba the White Lion), great acting, fantastic music full of African drumming, vocals and instruments (yes, this is the first Marvel soundtrack in ten years that doesn’t sound generic) and makes some great political points regarding anti-isolationism (take that, Trump). Yeah, some of the CGI is a bit dodgy at times, but the female characters’ strong roles and gritty resolve, and Black Panther’s/King T’challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) endearing openness and honesty more than make up for it. Even the bad guy, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), is sympathetic (and possibly one of the best developed Marvel villains since Michael Keaton’s The Vulture in Spiderman: Homecoming). There’s also some cool James Bond elements in the first act: T’challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) is his Q, but has better and funnier lines, and there’s a Bond-style mission.

You may have guessed that I really liked this movie. It’s not without its issues, but has a bit more gravitas than most superhero films.

So, go and see it. Give Disney your money (but please don’t do it more than once—Disney is evil, after all).

Rating: A

 

Justice League. A movie review.

I read about twenty negative reviews of Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon’s Justice League prior to going. I took my son with me to see it and we and everyone else in the theatre had a fantastic time. Screw you, critics.

The big DC heroes come together in this huge romp ‘em, stomp ‘em popcorn flick. I’m not sure why critics had probs following the story. I didn’t, and neither did my son. And the CGI was fine.

Basically, Batman and Wonder Woman bring Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg together to face bad guy Steppenwolf, a failed Apokoliption commander who lost the original battle to take earth for Darkseid thousands of years ago. The forces of the Amazons, the Atlanteans, the humans and a Green Lantern(!) capture Steppenwolf’s three Mother Boxes (living energy sources he was planning to use to change Earth into a version of his home world Apokolips) and hide them away. When Superman was killed in Batman vs Superman, the Mother Boxes came back to life and called Steppenwolf back to finish the job. No more spoilers!

Every hero got their fair share of screen time. There were laughs, there was conflict, there were heroes facing off against heroes and heroes versus villains. And yes, it all made sense. The fight scenes were well done, the action was great. The camaraderie and the character scenes were great.

Yeah, the story was a bit old hat and the villain was a bit blah, but we had an absolute blast with this movie. Go see it. Oh, and hang around to see the two awesome post credits scenes.

Rating: B

Comic Book Love Affair

I’ve been a huge fan of comics and graphic novels since I was a boy. My on-and-off again love affair with them over the years has depended on my available budget. Recently I got my son interested in the hobby, which gave me a great reason to reinvest myself. Here’s a few of the titles I’ve been reading recently:

ShadeShade the Changing Girl – an avian alien inhabiting the body of a teenaged bully. This book is a psychedelic trip.

CaveCave Carson has a Cybernetic Eye – wild and weird underground civilisations and parenthood shenanigans.

Superman comicSuperman – married to Lois with a 12-year old son, Clark Kent is older, wiser, cooler and this book is currently one of the best comics available. And Lois Lane rocks!

SupersonsSuper Sons – Jonathon Kent (Superman’s son) is Superboy, and Damien Wayne (Batman’s son) is Robin. They team up. Shame they can’t stand each other. Awesome stuff.

Teen TitansTeen Titans – Robin is a little know-it-all pain, leading a band of teen heroes (Starfire, Raven, Beast Boy, Aqualad). They’re making a live action TV series, so this is a good jumping on point before the show starts.

AquamanAquaman – think he’s the lame guy who speaks to fish? Think again. While you were sleeping he became a bad-ass.

BatmanBatman – always has the most amazing writers and artists and great stories. But what did you expect? He’s Batman. Oh, and he recently proposed to Catwoman…

So there you have it. My current faves. I’ll talk about some of my all-time favourites, soon.

Have a sterling and four colour-filled day.

Steve 🙂

 

Yes, I love DC Comics. I used to be a Marvel fan, but DC’s consistent quality and top stories just blew me away. You can find out more about DC Comics at http://www.dccomics.com

Spider-man: Homecoming. A movie review.

Spoilers? What spoilers? No, none here

Okay, okay, I was a bit late coming to the party on this one, but I finally got to see it today.

Great movie! Excellent performances: Tom Holland, perfect as 15 year old nerdy high schooler Peter Parker; Michael Keaton, who’s very menacing as the Vulture (and possibly the second most well-developed Marvel super-villain, after Loki); great cameo(s) by Robert Downey Junior as Tony Stark, Peter’s mentor (and he doesn’t steal the movie – yay!). Some nice Avengers’ developments with Gwyneth Paltrow at the end, as well. The young cast surrounding Holland are fantastic and they have some very funny lines. Lots of laughs all around.

The story is fairly straightforward, as are some of the set pieces, and the CGI animation of Spidey is a bit jerky at times (I seem to remember the first Spider-man movie in the 90s having more fluid animation, so I was a bit surprised this time around), but it’s the characters and the actors portraying them that really sets this movie apart. Tom Holland is likable and brings a fresh naivety to the role. His best friend (whose name escapes me) is a hoot. It’s amazing how many times Spidey lets people find out his identity. And thankfully the origin story is covered in a few brief lines of dialogue (yay!). I’m not sure how I feel about Spidey having a Tony Stark-designed super-suit, but it led to some funny situations.

I really liked Spider-man: Homecoming, possibly my favourite Marvel Studios movie ever. Go see it. Enjoy.

Rating: A

Wonder Woman. A movie review.

No spoilers on the Western Front

It seems like it was only yesterday that I was commenting about the superhero movie formula becoming stale (oh, it was – check out my Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 review here). Little did I know that I would be watching Wonder Woman and feel the excitement of seeing a superhero movie that’s different. And a character that I can care about, who actually cares about people (without the need for financial or selfish incentive, I mean).

Wonder Woman is an origin story, set in 1918 as the First World War is coming to an end. Steve Trevor is a spy who crashes his plane on the island of Themiscyra, hidden island of the Amazons. The Amazons are warrior women created by the Greek gods to help bring peace to the world. He is rescued by Diana, daughter of Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. They have their first encounter with German soldiers, who are chasing Trevor for a journal he has procured that has information about dangerous new gas weapons about to be deployed on the Western front, gas that could change the course of the war and threaten the upcoming armistice negotiations. Diana decides to travel with Steve to man’s world to help end the war.

This movie doesn’t shy away from exploring the horrors of the conflict and its effect on the soldiers and civilians caught up in it. In fact, Wonder Woman seems ideal for this period, and despite the fantastic/mystical nature of her origins, is more at home in this somewhat more realistic environment than you might expect. There are some amazing battle scenes–for instance, when Diana crosses No Man’s Land, and fights soldiers in a town behind the front lines. The characters of Diana and Trevor are well developed, giving both Gal Gadot and Chris Pine roles they can get their teeth into. Pine is particularly good in this role, stretching himself a bit more than his usual arrogant Star Trek demeanour. All the supporting actors give fine performances. A big thumbs up to Patty Jenkins, director, on a great movie.

Wonder Woman is a movie that seems to appeal to a broad range of people (I went with my son and my mum, who both loved it). It’s well paced, the special effects and music are good, the story keeps you interested all the way through and the final showdown with the big bad is pretty spectacular. Nice twist at the end, too.

I haven’t felt this good about a superhero movie in a long time. Wonder Woman is a movie about hope, about selflessness and about doing the right thing. It has been a while since I’ve seen a superhero with these motivations, and as old-fashioned as they may seem, it’s also a refreshing take in light of all the Deadpool and Logan-style movies nowadays (And I loved both those movies, by the way – you can check out my Logan review here).

Do yourself a favour and check out Wonder Woman. You will love this movie. Unless you’re a rabidly sexist/racist fanboy troll who can’t stand seeing a woman in the limelight. And I think the world has had just about enough of that.

Rating: A

Awesometacular Justice!

The new trailer for the upcoming Justice League movie is here. I’m sure it will be the first of many as the November release of the movie approaches.

For those who don’t know what the Justice League is, they are the premier DC Comics super team, made up of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. And they come together to kick evil’s ass.

In the comics the Justice League was created before Marvel’s Avengers, but Warner Brothers, the studio that owns DC Comics, has been dragging its feet and has finally got the celluloid version going. The JL movie comes after the Wonder Woman movie released in June.

I’m looking forward to Justice League. I think the first trailer is pretty good, but I think the upcoming ones will be even better. So, enjoy:

Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about.

And while you’re at it, check out the Wonder Woman trailer.

Logan. A movie review.

This movie review is spoiler free.

I saw Logan yesterday. And what I saw was a great movie, one that focussed on character, with a good story, great acting, great action set pieces that contributed to the plot (rather than being there for the sake of it) and some deep underlying themes and messages that resonated with me.

It’s 2029, mutants have all but disappeared from the planet, and Hugh Jackman’s Logan is no longer Wolverine, but instead a cynical and washed up alcoholic, whose healing ability is fading. He’s looking after a decrepit Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is slowly losing his faculties and whose mental abilities have him classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the government. They’re hiding out in Mexico, from where Logan drives back and forth across the border working as a limo driver to pay the bills and get drugs to control Xavier’s dangerous seizures. Logan meets up with a young girl, Laura, also known as X-23, who has abilities like his own. She is the first of a breed of new mutants, designed as weapons and now hunted by the Transigen corporation. Logan and Xavier need to take Laura north to Eden, to meet up with other young mutants, who escaped Transigen together. Thus begins a road trip that reveals much about the characters and leads to inevitable showdowns with the corporation’s agents.

Hugh Jackman has stated that this will be his last outing as Logan/Wolverine. Patrick Stewart has similarly indicated he is retiring from the character of Charles Xavier. Both actors deliver gritty and emotive turns in perhaps the finest performances of their careers.

Director and writer James Mangold delivers a dark and violent story where Logan acknowledges the cost of killing, and the pain it has caused him. It’s a spiritual quest for Logan’s personal deliverance, driven by Xavier and Laura. There are big action scenes, as you would expect, and the MA rating (Australia)/R rating (America) means plenty of gore and language, but it’s all appropriate to the story. There are references to the original X-Men movie and the X-Men Marvel comics play their part, as a sort of manufactured history of the characters. Logan is ultimately about personal redemption.

Logan is not a movie for kids. It’s has adult themes and content. It delivers in the way Chris Nolan did with his Dark Knight trilogy, that superhero movies can be deep, dark and thought-provoking. It’s a shame that it’s Jackman’s last appearance as the character.

Logan is the Wolverine movie we’ve all been waiting for.

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