That’s It… For Now (Avengers: EndGame, 2019)

Avengers_Endgame_PosterThis is a Spoiler Free Review.  This also means it will be super short.

So, back in the early days, the plan was to have a two part Avengers: Infinity War. Then Marvel announced that this would not be the case.  There would be Avengers Infinity War and then there would be a fourth stand alone Avengers Film.  Frankly? This was a terribly kept secret. Nobody really believed the two films would be unconnected.  And boy…when you are reaching the final few moments of Infinity War, you knew that was not going to be a one off film.

And a year later, we are finding the remaining Avengers trying to determine how to undo the Snap Heard Around the Universe. They come up with a long shot plan to get the stones to bring everyone back.

There is a lot of stuff to love. Some real exciting moments, many great lines. It has some real heartfelt moments and a lot of fun sequences.  There is a lot of surprises as well.

There are a couple things I am still not sure how I feel, especially in regards to one of the MCU’s big characters. And there are some logic issues for sure.  If you read comics, you know that sometimes there are those things where you start to try and apply the logic…but I am finding myself not bothered enough for it to ruin the film.

On the other hand, they do some great stuff with certain characters. I really like how they build up Hawkeye, and their use of Hulk is a pleasant surprise. I also love the setup for certain characters (that I hope play out), and certain characters get well deserved resolutions.

Really, the limitations are few and far between, and the positives are enough that this is a strong bookend for the first four phases.  I really enjoyed Avengers: Endgame.  It offered plenty that I wanted to see, and stuff I did not know I wanted to see.

The Never Ending Story (Avengers: Infinity War, 2018)

Avengers_Infinity_War_PosterIn 2008 Marvel began their ambitious plan of creating a cinematic version of their comic book universe. The lead up to the Avengers seemed like a giant mountain to climb…and it paid off for Marvel. And over and over, Marvel saw themselves succeed.  And here we are at ten years and 21 movies later were arrive at the culmination of that success.

The Avengers were left in a pretty broken state after Captain America Civil War.  Picking up shortly after the end credits sequence of Thor Ragnarok, the film kicks off with a sense of sacrifice. Thanos has finally stepped into the light and with his acolytes has decided he must collect the stones that have been the undercurrent of the  films for so long himself.

As the various corners of the Marvel Universe come together, Thanos and his minions get closer and closer to achieving his goal.  This can be a tricky balancing act, to bring together such a large number of characters.  And the film mostly is able to make this work by pairing groups off.  The Guardians of the Galaxy meet up with Thor and they split into two groups while Iron Man, Spidey and Doctor Strange go on a trip through space and so on.

Thanos is one of the stronger villains the Marvel Universe has presented.  Brolin gives him a dark sincerity.  He clearly believes in his goal, and sees it as good.  It becomes clear that when his acolytes proclaim he brings mercy, he actually believes this.

Seeing the interactions between characters who have, so far, been in their own worlds, such as the Guardians and Doctor Strange is a lot of fun.  The film contains plenty of entertaining and light hearted dialog.

The movie is full of exciting action and moves along at such a fast clip the two and a half hours just flew right on by. Infinity War is fun, with just enough seriousness to keep some of the shocking moments from feeling cheap.

I really enjoyed Avengers: Infinity War and am looking to see how this all plays out in the films to follow (well, Ant Man & the Wasp and Captain Marvel both take place before Avengers: Infinity War, but hey, there is an Avengers movie after that).

 

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.

It’s Good to Be King (Black Panther, 2017)

Black_Panther_PosterCreated by comic book icons Jack ‘the King’ Kirby and Stan Lee, Black Panther has seemed like a character Marvel wants to really make active…but struggles to figure out how to make him work best.  Initially being a guest star in the pages of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, T’Challa (the titular Black Panther) got solo stories starting with 1973’s Jungle Action # 5. The series was not a top seller, and Marvel cancelled it. They tried to continue the Black Panther in his own series, which lasted until 1979.  They tried again in 1988, with a mini-series. This was followed by an appearance in Marvel’s anthology series Marvel Comics Presents in 1989.  1990 saw another series.  But it was 1998 where Black Panther found some footing.  Christopher Priest began his run and truthfully, he cracked the code with an incredibly engaging series. It lasted 62 issues (Priest wrote 60 of those issues). They worked on a new series in 2005 with Reginald Hudlin. 2016 brought back the Panther in his own series led by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This, for me, has come the closest to rivaling Priest’s terrific run.

While the Black Panther film was announced a few years ago, we did not get to see the Marvel Cinematic Universe take on the character until Captain America: Civil War.  I really enjoyed his introduction.  The film only hinted at a larger Wakandan culture, and so now is the opportunity to explore it deeper. This is a spoiler free review (so story references remain vague).

Opening with a young boy asking him to tell the story of home (Wakanda) before bedtime. This works rather nicely, filling us in on how Wakanda was built on Vibranium, how five tribes were united under a single king who was granted powers via plant life altered by the vibranium. Wakanda grew more technologically advanced than any other nation.  They sought to hide from the world.

The film quickly establishes that while the world believes that Wakanda is a low tech third world country, it is a vibrant high tech society. T’Challa and his family are still reeling from the events of Civil War, and it is time to T’Challa to take the mantle of King.

Of course, there are those who oppose him.  The weapons supplier Ulysses Klaue (pronounced “Claw” and first introduced to audiences in Avengers: Age of Ultron) and a mysterious young man called Killmonger are collecting Wakandan tech.

T’Challa struggles with his role as king. Heartbroken over his father’s death (again, in Civil War) and struggling with the role of Wakanda in the world.  His ex-girlfriend Nakia believes that Wakanda should be sharing it’s riches with the world…to be a beacon for the world, not tucked away. She loves him, but cannot see a place for herself in Wakanda when she has seen such suffering in the outside world.

The film shows us a society which has a richness of history and culture. The costume design is beautiful.  The king’s personal guards are all striking in appearance with lush reds and gold.  They are all warrior women with shaved heads (in one entertaining moment T’Challa, Nakia and general Okoye are undercover and she complains about having to wear a wig).

The Wakandan tech is exciting sci-fi tech that would make Bond jealous.  The Wakandan landscape is a combination a immense futuristic cities and beautiful forests and mountains. There are some fight scenes set amongst giant waterfalls that Director Coogler and his cinematographer use lighting and sunsets to amplify the sequences with intensity and beauty.

I really liked the characters in this film.  For T’Challa, it carries over his lessons learned from Captain America: Civil War.  T’Challa is merciful and a good man.  Heavy is the head that wears the crown…this film shows T’Challa struggling to be a King and Protector and not being blind to the world around him.

The women really steal the show in this film.  Okoye is a formidable warrior and guardian.  Nakia is intensely stubborn in her dedication.  But she also is in love with T’Challa (who is also very in love with her).  His mother is a woman of pride and wisdom (Angela Basset is just regal and beautiful).  And then there is his sister Shuri.  She is a fun character who lovingly spars with her brother.  She is a brilliant scientist, but her youth presents a more brash attitude. She is like a super competent “Q”.

Everett Ross (created by Christopher Priest in his 1998 series) appeared in Civil War, but we did not get a real feel for the character.  Here we find him seeming over-confident at first, but he rises to the challenge of helping the Black Panther and his family. While he begins seeming a bit like he might be the comedy relief, he becomes a character who shows himself as heroic and willing to risk himself for his friends.

Killmonger is a villain with a good back story.  He wants to rule the world, but not in some cheesy maniacal ruler fashion. He wants to rise his people up to subjugate the colonizers. Klaue is just after money, and shows no arc…but Andy Serkis seemed to have a lot of fun in the role.

Full of action, heart and punctuated with some great humor, Black Panther was worth the wait.  I would easily categorize this as one of Marvel’s best.

Swing High (Spider-Man: Homecoming, 2017)

Spider-Man-Homecoming-PosterSpider-Man has the distinction of having been rebooted three times in the last fifteen years.  Both the Raimi Films and the Marc Webb films have good points.  Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is a high point for super-hero themed films.  But they also never quite fully got Spider-Man as a character.  Maguire’s Peter Parker could be to goofy, while Garfield’s Peter was to moody and mopey.

Sony hit some hard times, made all the worse by a major hack that exposed all sorts of internal issues.  One thing it revealed?  Sony had talked with Marvel about a deal that would allow Spider-Man to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The talks fell apart before the hack.  But this brought them back to life.

Sony decided to let Marvel bring a heavy creative hand in.  In exchange, Sony got to include MCU characters in their Spider-Films.  The MCU introduced Spider-Man into their world via Captain America: Civil War.  Spider-Man was a highlight of that film.  And rather than try to retrofit Peter Parker in, as if Spider-Man had been there all along… they stepped into his career early, so he is new on the scene.

Homecoming picks up roughly eight months after Civil War, with Peter enjoying using his Stark supplied super-suit and anxiously awaiting his next big Avengers mission.  Which seems to never come along.  Instead, Peter races around trying to get better by fighting street crime and helping lost old ladies.  His day to day life has, of course, been tougher since Tony Stark has come into his life, and he starts to withdraw to make more time.  He dreams of beautiful classmate Liz and hangs out with his closest friend Gan-uh-Ned.  Of course, he makes a major discovery, the adults don’t listen and Peter over-confidently decides to take on guys who may be out of his league.

One of the refreshing story points is that this is not about Peter learning about “with Great Power comes Great Responsibility”…at this point, he has learned that lesson.  We only get vague reference to Uncle Ben’s death.  In fact, the origin of Spider-Man is tossed out in a two second exchange.

Holland’s Peter Parker is sweet and awkward…his Spider-Man is quippy, but still learning.  He is not yet the confident Peter Parker, he practices lines, tries to get into a good pose before alerting bad guys to his presence.  But of the previous film versions, this is easily the strongest portrayal of Peter.  He may be in-experienced, but there are just so many things that make this version…well Spider-Man.

The rest of the cast of characters are updated in some interesting ways.  Ned Leeds is really Ganke from the Miles Morales Spider-Man comics, and he is a very fun character.  This is largely due to the comic timing and enthusiasm of actor Jacob Batalon.  I was most hesitant about Marisa Tomei as Aunt May…not because of her acting ability…but because she is only a few years older than me…and she feels more youthful and vibrant than traditional portrayals of Aunt May.  But I ended up really liking her in the role.

Michael Keaton’s Vulture is a terrific improvement on the character.  I never really cared for the comic version…he never seemed like he was all that much of a threat.  And the green suit did not help.  Keaton’s performance is solid and menacing…yet his motives are understandable.  He is a guy who wants to provide for his family, and saw secret government agencies undercutting his business.  He turns to crime to make up for that.  The Vulture look is a nice combination of modern with hints of his original look.  It works very well.

The action scenes are all nice and effective.  Sometimes these films can get confusing during busy action scenes.  Homecoming makes the action easy to follow.  And the film is infused with humor.  While theses were not absent from the previous versions, it is much more present here.  And yet, the humor is not at the expense of Peter’s character.  He feels the heavy weight of responsibility, regardless of his experience.

Admittedly, the film does not break new ground for Spider-Man…but I think it may be the best of the Spider-Man films so far.  Or, at worst, a close second to Raimi’s second Spider-Man film.  This is a fun film, and fun should be part of (a lot more) super-hero films.  Being overseen by Marvel, there are plenty of easter eggs…but what Marvel is usually really good about is that the easter eggs are a bonus for fans who love the comics…and if you have not read the comics, you won’t feel like you are missing something.

Honestly, I recommend seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming in the theater.  It benefits from being seen with an audience.

The Not So Fantastic Four (Doomed! The Untold Story of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four, 2016)

doomed_posterYou may think that there have been three Fantastic Four films.  There were the two Tim Story film with Jessica Alba and Chris Evans…and the 2015 film with Miles Teller and Kate Mara.  But there are tales of a first film, never seen by the world.  Spoke in hushed tones.  Okay, not really.  There actually was a first movie made back in 1994.  It was completed and even had release material.  Outside of bootleg copies, the film has never seen the light of day.

The short version is that in the early 90’s, Marvel Comics was in real dire straights (they went into bankruptcy)…this resulted in them selling the film rights to multiple characters, such as Captain America, the Punisher and the Fantastic Four.  The producer with the option for the Fantastic Four shopped the option around, finalizing a deal with the king of low budget film Roger Corman.  The catch? Unknown to the cast and crew,  This producer simply wanted to keep the rights.  He had no plan to release the film.

But there is more to the story, and really?  It is quite interesting.  Doomed! The Untold Tale of Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four delves deeply into the story, giving the viewer insight into exactly how it all played out.  With a cast of actors that were at least semi-recognizable at the time (and many who are still working today) such as Jay Underwood and Alex Hyde-White.

What stands out is that the director, cast and crew were dedicated to making a good movie…though one hindered by a tiny budget.  The effects were limited and the story was not very strong…they never did ADR to make Joseph Culp’s Doctor Doom understandable.  They hired a guy who claimed he was an effects supervisor on Independence Day…and they discovered…he was not.

The people behind the film were passionate, and it become clear that even Corman thought the film was going to be released.  He was creating posters, button and trailers (I have a poster in storage somewhere, as well as a couple of the buttons).  The people involved clearly wanted (and still want) the film to be seen.  And there is a lot of hurt feelings involved, including some understandable bitterness towards Marvel Icon Stan Lee.

The film is a fascinating exploration of the passion that can go into film-making and when those hopes and big dreams get dashed.  Even if you do not care about the Fantastic Four, this tale is epic and engaging.  It is an effective documentary that can give you insight into the more heartbreaking side of film-making.

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