You Can Never Have Too Much Spider-Man (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, 2018)

Spider-Man_Into_PosterA few years ago, after the big Sony hack, Sony and Marvel resumed the failed talks about  Spider-Man films. It resulted in the very fun Spider-Man: Homecoming, pretty much run by Marvel. But Sony still holds the rights to do with the Spider-Man characters what they want.  And so…that gives us this animated feature.

Miles Morales lives with his mom and dad, but is starting life at a new school. After a frustrating week, he goes to see his uncle Aaron, who takes him to a hidden place where he can do some street art. Miles gets bit by a Spider-Man. When he witnesses a tragedy and finds himself having to make a promise to Spider-Man moments before he is killed…with no idea how to do it. Until he stumbles across Peter Parker…Spider-Man???

They discover that whatever the Spider-Man of Mile’s Morales’ world was trying to thwart has actually brought several Spider People into Miles’ world. But the world may end and so they have to team up to send everyone home and stop the destruction of the Spider-Verse.

And you know what? This only sounds confusing.  Because the movie manages to make everything pretty darn simple. Our focus is on Miles, and even the Spider-Man we meet in the beginning is a celebrity. We don’t get to know him. We just get glimpses, enough to know he was a real hero.

The film also gives us intros to each character that are a whole lot of fun. Each Spider-Man has a unique look and artistic style. And it even impacts how they interact with the world they are in. Spider-Man Noir speaks in dark pulpy fashion and is always in black and white. And he is perplexed by color.

Jake Johnson’s Spider-Man is one whose life went a bit off track compared to the Spider-Man of Mile’s world.  Spider-Gwen is keeping the world at bay, avoiding really connecting to people. And Spider-Ham is just hilarious.

This movie has a lot of heart, there are genuinely touching moments. Moments between Miles and his father, Peter and the life he has left in his universe (wondering if it is even worth going back to). Miles and Gwen, Miles and Peter….

But the film is also ridiculously funny.  I mean, seriously funny. And part of that is in how the movie makes use of its medium. I cannot recall another animated film that took such grand opportunity to put it’s possibilities on full display.

In my book? This has been the best of all the Spider-Man movies. I want more with these characters. I want more movies with this version of Miles and his family and all the other Spider-People. This was a genuinely fun movie and I recommend checking it out. Sony raised the bar here…And I did not expect that.  But Marvel better pay attention.

 

Back In Action (The Incredibles 2, 2018)

Incredible_2_PosterRight before the film starts, the cast and crew pop up on screen to tell us the fourteen year wait for the sequel will totally be worth it. Not exactly needed of course. Hey, my butt is already in the seat.

The original Incredibles film was a fun comic book film that was doing that Marvel type of action four years before we got Iron Man.  Probably of all the Pixar films, the Incredibles was one of the few that readily seemed to be set for sequels. But when asked, Pixar tended to defer to the availability of Brad Bird.

After the collapse of the highly anticipated Tomorrowland…Pixar got their chance.

Set shortly after the end of the first film, we discover things did not go so well. People still feel that the heroes do more damage than good. Enter brother and sister Winston and Evelyn Deavor. They want to convince the world that super-heroes are necessary, and so they convince Helen Parr to resume life as Elastigirl (noting she had a much lower history of property damage). Bob, on the other hand, becomes a stay at home dad. Bob really wants to be fighting as Mr. Incredible, but he is trying to step back and be a supportive husband ad father.

A lot of the moments I enjoyed most were with Bob and the kids. While the first film revealed baby Jack Jack to have a variety of powers, the Parr family never actually witnessed it. While Bob is initially excited, he finds it taxing, one more problem along with trying to help Dash with schoolwork and Violet come to terms with a frustrating love life. There is a genuinely sweet moment when Bob is exhausted and apologizes for not being the father he wants to be…Violet has a look of kindness as she reaches out to reassure him. It is a really sweet moment.

Flipping the situation for Helen and Bob works very well in the film. The Elastigirl scenes are fun and exciting.  There is a great fight scene where she is in the position of having to keep her eyes closed to avoid being hypnotized. Bird and company make this quite exciting.

The film also gives us something new, which is other Supers beyond the Parr family and Frozone. This leads to an action packed finale where saving everybody actually falls onto the Parr kids.

The Brad Bird voiced Edna Mode returns for a fun sequence that explores Jack Jack’s abilities.

I feel Pixar has created a pretty successful sequel here that compliments the original film quite well.

Serious Teens (Teen Titans Go To the Movies, 2018)

Teen_Titans_GTTM_PosterWhen the Titans fight a giant balloon, the day is saved by Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, who are all on their way to the premier of Batman’s new movie. The Titans are informed that they are a bit of a joke, and not really deserving of an invite. After sneaking into the premier, The director of the film announces that the entire DC Universe is getting movies. Everyone. Except the Teen Titans…and especially not Robin.

Robin obsesses with how to get a worthy arch villain to make him memorable. They think they have a lead when they run afoul of the villainous Slade. Slade is a master manipulator and has a name that is fun to say very dramatically.

Having brought the Cartoon Network cartoon to the big screen, they try and make it a big enough deal for the jump. And you definitely see a difference in the budget with the animation.  It all looks good, and they have fun with applying various artistic styles.

The story is pretty predictable and the film hits all the expected beats. This is all about the juvenile jokes, sight gags and a few musical numbers. Oh, and an endless series of easter eggs. Frankly, is a running joke regarding the Challengers of the Unknown mean anything to the film’s target audience?

That said, it is passable entertainment, but this is not a film like the Lego Movie, which can be rewarding entertainment for parents in the audience…but it is likely kids who like the show will have a good time.

Big Little (Ant-Man and the Wasp, 2018)

Ant_Man_Wasp_PosterWe last saw Ant-Man in prison with the other heroes who sided with Cap in Civil War. People noticed that he was absent from all the Infinity War promotions, and while Infinity War gave a quick explanation of where he and Hawkeye were, Ant-Man and the Wasp gives us the “full story”. With days to go on his house arrest, Scott Lang has been out of contact with Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne for months, having parted on less than good terms as he stole the costume for his role in Civil War.

Hank and Hope have renewed hope that Janet Van Dyne (believed lost in the Quantum realm) may be alive.  They are working in secret to locate her. When one of their experiments coincides with a crazy dream of Scotts, the three are brought back together to try and rescue her. But it is not as simple as they hope, as they are in competition with underground arms dealer Sonny Burch and a mysterious villain called Ghost. Ghost is trying to get the Pym lab because she has phasing powers, but cannot control them. Add to this being hunted by the FBI, rescuing Janet may not be as easy as they hoped.

The film is more focused on Hank and Hope, with Scott brought along somewhat unwillingly, but I found this worked okay. The first film had a running joke about how Hope was far more competent a super-hero, but never got to wear the suit. This film gives us a lot of Wasp action, and it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Scott gets some solid action of course as well, and he even gets a few opportunities to really show his cleverness (a FBI breakout sequence calls back to a scene in the first film, but flips the roles).

Rudd is as goofily charming as in the first film…and Michael Peña is hilarious (even though they only give us one of his elaborate stories). The return of Judy Greer and Bobby Cannaval is welcome.  I really like that the relationship between Cannaval’s Paxton and Scott is not some sort of rivalry over their shared family. Instead, Paxton seems to want the best for Scott and genuinely like him.

The film has some genuinely touching moments with Scott and his daughter Cassie. A wise kid who looks up to her dad and wants to be his sidekick.

The story works very organically, the things that bring the first film’s cast together makes sense (Scott, Luis and their team of ex-cons now have a security business to help businesses avoid being hit by folks like…well, themselves).

The first Ant-Man was a surprising film and a welcome relief to the trend of telling bigger and bigger stories in the solo Marvel films. Ant-Man and the Wasp carries the fun over, building on it’s small scale mythology (the post credit scene ties it to Infinity War).  Ant-Man and the Wasp is a pretty worthy sequel and a lot of fun to watch.

 

Look Ma! A Sequel! (Deadpool 2, 2018)

Deadpool_2_posterOkay….before I write up this review…give me a moment to go check out Twitter to find out how I should really feel about Deadpool.

 

 

 

 

 

Okay.  Well… let us try this as spoiler free as possible.  First, I cannot believe they killed Professor X twice in the film.

Oops.  Boy off to a bad start.  Let’s try this again.  Deadpool 2 is a sequel to a film from 2016 that was called Deadpool. It featured a bunch of characters from a comic book, also called Deadpool. It was pretty well received and now we have this movie. In this movie, some characters from the first film show up again, including Deadpool. Some new characters also show up.  There are fights, people die, there is swearing and lots of Ryan Reynolds. It is a sequel to a movie.

What? You want more?

Fine.

So, Deadpool would have been a perfectly fine film to leave as a one off. But apparently movie studios like money.  Part of what made the first film work for so many is it had a rather irreverent approach to Super Hero films.  Wade Wilson is a sarcastic mercenary who, in the first film was subjected to tests that left him severely scarred, but unable to die. He can recover from most any wound. That film centered around his relationship to Vanessa. In this film, we find his life bordering on blissful, until one of his contracts results in tragedy.

Deadpool finds himself, somewhat unwillingly, into trying to save a mutant kid from the time traveling Mutant Cable.  Things go haywire and violent stuff happens.

While the main theme of family does not always quite come together, the film is still ambitious in how it tries to give a character who cracks jokes to the theater audience an emotional through line. Sometimes it works and other times not so much.

Where the film works best is it’s humor.  The jokes come at a pretty fast pace, but Reynolds has a certain charm that allows for most of the jokes to land. There is an ongoing bit where Deadpool and new teammate Domino debate if “being lucky” is a real super power or even remotely cinematic.  But the filmmakers have a lot of fun with Domino’s amazing luck.

The film managed to surprise me repeatedly. I just had certain expectations due to “Comic Book Movie” that managed to surprise and entertain me. Brolin’s Cable is played straight which works very well against Reynold’s rapid fire motor mouth. I found Domino to be a blast in this film.  My one complaint is that I wish we got more Teenage Negasonic Warhead in this film, as she was such a highlight of the first film.

So, the first film was a bit stronger in how tightly it kept to the story, but honestly, I found myself (and the audience I was with) laughing throughout the film.  I enjoyed this one, and think in some areas, they may have even made some improvements.

The Past, Present and Future of the DC Cinematic Universe Part 4

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice continues…a movie in which the most compelling hero is not Batman or Superman. And is the best thing in spite of have no discernible plot-line of her own.

Marvel and it’s related characters are © 2018 Marvel Entertainment

DC and it’s related characters are © 2018 Warner Brothers.

Part 1- https://youtu.be/D2zovFL1QgQ
Part 2- https://youtu.be/oy51WH3O86o
Part 3- https://youtu.be/1rrpUwYehuI

The Past, Present & Future of the DC Cinematic Universe

So, after giving it a lot of thought, I have decided to jump into the world of video blogging.

The video blogs will not be straight up reviews.  Instead they will be more analysis.  I will be using them to explore things going on in the industry of film, as well as look at popular film series and explore them.

The first video for the Tripping Through Gateways blog turned into a series. I did not realize as I was writing it just how long it was going to be.  So I broke it down into seven parts.  Part one actually explores the landscape preceding Man of Steel. This is the only video in the series to deal extensively with the Marvel Movies in any form of contrast, and it mainly for the purpose of exploring DC and Warner Brother’s progress with their shared film universe.

However, as I state in the video, this is not about Marvel vs DC. This is not a proclamation on who is better. I enjoy the characters from both Marvel and DC. And I want to see DC have real success. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Matter Eater Lad deserve that much.

 

Shazam! art by Doc Shaner

New Gods art by Jack Kirby

Ultimates art by Bryan Hitch

Marvel and it’s related characters are copyright © Marvel Entertainment

DC and it’s related characters are © Warner Brothers.

My Top Ten Films of 2017

Here is my top ten… top eleven… top twelve … wait… top THIRTEEN no, noTop FOURTEEN films of 2017. Before anyone asks?  I have not seen Ladybird, Blade Runner 2049, Call Me By Your Name, Dunkirk, Murder on the Orient Express, Wind River, Hostiles, the Shape of Water or Mother!

logan-movie-poster1.  Logan
Logan is the swan song for both Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart in their memorable runs as Wolverine and Professor X.  Set in a time where most of the X-Men are gone and Wolverine’s health is failing, Logan was a gutsy move.  It earns it’s ‘R’ rating in the first five minutes, but what really makes it stand out is the emotion that is packed into it.  Stewart gives a wonderful performance here.

2. Land of Mine
I know this was released in Denmark in 2015, but technically, it is a 2017 film for the U.S. So I am calling it as “this year”.  After all, the director’s next film is due out in 2018.

3. War For the Planet of the Apes
Matt Reeves managed to make the most consistent trilogy of films.  All three of his Apes movies have been top notch.  Emotional and exciting, Reeve shows a real understanding of the balance of action and drama.

4. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman was everything I wanted to see from the DC film universe.  Wonder Woman is hopeful and filled with excitement.  It was a bright spot for Super-Hero films in general, the DC Cinematic Universe quite specifically.

get_out_poster5. Get Out
Jordan Peele, best known as part of the comedy duo Key and Peele, wrote and directed this smart dark social satire thriller that skewers liberal attitudes towards black Americans.  It has great writing and some really good performances.

6. The Big Sick
A wonderful and personal story from husband and wife creative team Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, the Big Sick mines humor and heartbreak from their real life experience.  In what seems like the ultimate Rom Com movie plot, Emily had fallen into a coma early in their relationship.  The Big Sick does not approach this from a glossy sense of “isn’t it romantic”. It is messy and gut wrenching at times.  It is also endearing and joyful.  They explore the issues of cultural differences, the pressures those can bring on relationships. Really, the Big Sick is a wonderful little movie.

7. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Unexpectedly one of the most controversial films of the year… and one of the rare reversals for Star Wars where the critics largely love it, while the general audience is more sharply divided…The Last Jedi is kind of the Unforgiven of Star Wars. It also has one of Mark Hamill’s best live action performances ever.

Atomic_Blonde_Poster8. Atomic Blonde
This film was not what was advertised.  This is not a James Bond Spy Action flick.  This is an Espionage Thriller, and a very, very good one at that.

9. Edge of Seventeen
I thought this was a real good “coming of age” film, full of wit and heart.

10. It
It (Chapter One) is a pretty solid fright film.  Dramatic with some of the strongest kid actor performances I have seen in a long time, this was a real intense scare film and one of the best adaptions of King to date.

11. Logan Lucky
I suppose this is really just “White Trash Ocean’s Eleven”…but it is full of great performances, and held together emotionally by Channing Tatum and young Farrah Mackenzie. Really, this was a lot of fun.

12. Baby Driver
Baby Driver is not a deep film. It is not even all that emotionally engaging.  It is the simple story of a getaway driver trying to get out of his job for the girl he loves. But Edgar Wright does not give the film any such pretense of being more than just a really good noir action flick with a killer soundtrack.

Thor_Ragnarok_Poster

13. Thor: Ragnarok
Ragnarok is a lot of fun. I simply had a terrific amount of fun.  The Hulk has evolved, Cate Blanchett’s Hela is a good villain and Taika Waititi managed what seemed to be looking impossible…a Thor film that rose above, “I guess it was okay.”

14. Spider-Man: Homecoming
Sam Raimi had a decent run with Spider-Man, but ended on a flawed note.  Marc Webb made Spider-Man films with some good points, but still did not quite connect for audiences.  Sony’s deal with Marvel to bring Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe paid off.  Skipping over the origin story, we get a Spider-Man months into his role.  Peter Parker wants to be an A-List Super-Hero badly, but he is stuck on a neighborhood level, and his connections to Tony Stark are not boosting him forward like he hoped.  Between good arcs for both Spider-Man and his nemesis the Vulture, I am excited to see where Peter goes next.

Honorable Mentions:

John Wick 2.  Somehow, these John Wick movies have me wanting to see more.  I mean, they are really enjoyable.  Kong: Skull Island was fun, much in the same way as Baby Driver.  A Cure For Wellness was just such a weird film, but I really liked it. Also really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy 2.  While not perfect, it is a lot of fun.

Social Justice Warriors (Justice League, 2017)

Justice_League_PosterWhen it comes to the movies?  DC has been struggling to  keep up with Marvel.  Part of this is really that DC did not lay out a plan from the start. While Marvel Released films with an aim toward the Avengers, DC was trying to figure out where to start.  The Nolan Batman films were a critical success, but also very much their own universe.  When they made Green Lantern, most attempts to build a larger never made it out of the script.

There was talk for several years starting off the DC Movie Universe with a Justice League film to be be directed by George Miller. This never came to pass, and when Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan began their work on Man of Steel it was decided this could be the start.  They did not do a ton, only lightly seeding references to a larger DC Cinematic Universe.

DC decided on following up Man of Steel not with Wonder Woman or Batman, but Batman V Superman.  Like Man of Steel, the reaction was mixed.  I am not a real big fan of either film, primarily because I feel like they are doing a rush job.  The films try and tackle big notions….but they have not earned it. Suicide Squad followed (troubling that we are meeting villains before the connected heroes). I did not mind Suicide Squad, I found it generally entertaining…but not as solid as Deadpool (whose success they were clearly aiming for).

The DC Cinematic Universe was desperate for an outright hit.  Luckily, Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot delivered that with last summer’s Wonder Woman.  And so, for me, I had a little bit of hope they might look at this success and decide to use it as a template to right the ship.  Earlier this year, Zack Snyder announced he was stepping down for family reasons (His family was dealing with a tragic suicide of one of his children). It was announced that former Marvel architect Joss Whedon was brought in.  Whedon punched up the film with new dialog and reshoots.  And what is the end result?

Superman is still dead. The world is in chaos. Bruce Wayne is actively trying to bring a team together to protect the world from the larger threats. The threat here is from Steppenwolf…he came to earth once before in an attempt to destroy the planet, but was fought off by the Amazons, Atlanteans and human kind. His weapon, three items call Mother Boxes were split among the three groups and hidden away.

Batman also has a plan to bring Superman back, which Wonder Woman is uncomfortable with, but finally agrees to. And so, the team unites and takes on Steppenwolf.

So….is this redemption for DC?  Is this the second most awesome DC Cinematic Universe flick?  The answer is “Yes”. Buuuuuut….

Okay, so, the film opens with a nice little video, kids talking to Superman with there cell phone right after he has saved some people. And then we get Batman stopping a petty crook, except that it is a ruse to catch a creature called a para-demon.  The thief asks Batman if things are getting worse because they know Superman is dead.  This is followed by the film showing the world falling into despair, set to a haunted version of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows. This is all quite nice.

We also get a rather fun action sequence with Wonder Woman stopping a terror group.  This really is not a plot enhancing moment.  It is just a lot of fun to watch.   And the film has a lot of these.  There is a lot of fun action moments.  Ezra Miller and Jason Momoa clearly are having more fun than Ben Affleck.  Barry Allen has the same backstory of the the TV show (Dad in prison for murder of mom)…this is fine of course.  But it is not a storyline that really leads anywhere. I like the general characterization here though.  Barry is awkward with people in part because how time feels for him.  Admittedly, this is very similar to the comic book version of Marvel’s Quicksilver in which time moves so slow for him, he describes every minute of every day as being like waiting in line at the DMV.  Except, instead of being a jerk, Barry just struggles to slow down his thinking enough to not sound like he has severe ADD.

Aquaman has always been a sore spot of a character for DC.  He tends to get mocked endlessly for being able to “talk to fish”.  Here the film compensates a bit by making him a tough and jovial guy.  At one point he looks to Batman, smirks and says, “Dressed as a bat, I dig it.”

Cyborg is in kind of a thankless role.  He fills in the technology blanks. Ray Fischer is really likable in the role.  It just is that he feels like things just happen randomly to him.  At one point, his suit takes over and starts shooting at the newly resurrected Superman.  The idea that the mechanics are in control in such a fashion is interesting, but we do not really get an indication earlier that the mechanical part can go rogue, beyond it apparently making regular upgrades.

Gadot is spot on in her Wonder Woman boots.  The character is again a high point.  Digital mustache issues aside, Cavill is finally getting to be a Superman who likes himself. Superman seems to be more earthling than Kryptonian here.  And this is something that corrects the previous two films.  I understand the arguments about Superman and a connection for people who fall into the category of “Other”.  But Superman’s other status in the films were relegated to him acting like a life he never had was more his identity than the planet on which he grew up.  There are ways to portray the identity of “Other” without sacrificing important parts of the Superman mythos.  In this film, he no longer speaks about “on my planet”.  No, Earth is his home.  Lois is his home. Martha Kent is his home.

The action is pretty solid.  And the humor is there.  The film has bright colors! So, why did I add a “buuuuuuuuut”?

At one point, Aquaman says to the Flash, “So you were struck by lightning?”  Flash responds “Yeah, well that is the condensed version.”  And that is how the movie feels.  Apparently there was a mandate to keep the film at about two hours.  And boy is that apparent.

So many scenes feel cut short, so many conversations feel truncated.  At times, the film moves at “fan montage Youtube video” fast. We get brief glimpses of characters we want more of…and admittedly, Commissioner Gordon and Lois Lane will probably be far more prominent in the Batman and Superman follow-ups.

And then there is Steppenwolf.  A rather uninteresting character.  Remember Ronin from the first Guardians of the Galaxy?  Steppenwolf has the same goal…but without the nuance. The film is incredibly unclear about why this is…but it also does not hint at the notion there is someone behind Steppenwolf. He is a remarkably boring villain. And when you compare unfavorable to a weaker Marvel movie villain?  That has to hurt.

So, what we are left with is a film that is better than Man of Steel, Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad…but nowhere near as strong as Wonder Woman.  But that said? I had a lot of fun watching Justice League.

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