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.

Higher, Further, Faster (Captain Marvel, 2019)

Captain_Marvel_Poster

Set in the 1995, Vers is a Kree warrior.  She struggles with no memory of her life past six years.  The Kree are in a war with the shape shifting Skrulls. Vers and a few Skrulls end up on earth, and Vers is in a race against time to locate the MacGuffin. She finds herself allied with S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nicholas Fury.

Vers starts to put her life back together with the aid of Fury as the Skrulls close in, all while Vers awaits the arrival of her fellow Kree.

The film is action packed. Captain Marvel (Vers) is one of the more powerful of the Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes, but hardly over powered.  The action sequences are pretty exhilarating with good effects. The Skrulls are pretty cool looking, matching fairly closely their comic book counterparts. I really liked their transformation process.

The Relationship of Vers (who learns she if from earth and was named Carol) and her fellow pilot Maria works quite well. In fact, I really like the little team the film assembles. And then there is Goose the cat.  Greatest movie cat ever.

The film has Stan Lee’s final cameo and it has an extra layer if you are especially observant. Since this is set after Captain America the First Avenger and before Iron Man, there is a slight bit of prequelitis, where the film acknowledges some stuff that happens in later films. You know…answering the questions we never had. For the most part, these are unobtrusive. But there was really only one bit that really made me groan.  The film is largely self contained, so it does not lose to much focus from that.

Captain Marvel has faced some definite hurdles. It got pushed from 2017 to 2019 to make room for other films. The one other film to get moved (the Inhumans) actually went through a drastic change into a television series. Add to that a campaign against the film by certain folks who saw it as the opportunity to send a message to Disney and Marvel about “SJW Politics”. These folks also went on a crusade against star Brie Larson. Larson made a reasonable concern over a lack of diversity in journalists at press junkets, only to have people twist her words into a caricature and accusing her of saying things like she “hoped white men did not see Captain Marvel”. On Jimmy Kimmel, she joked about how she and Sam Jackson “hate the same people” and this was made out to be a reference to fandom (she made no mention of fandom).

Add in attempts to review bomb (put negative reviews of a product in order to create a false view of a majority of negativity. Often this is done to new product from creators who have committed the crime of having opinions) and the film had a bit of an uphill climb.

So…is Captain Marvel a hardcore Feminist and SJW screed?

No. In fact, if that is your perception of the film? Actual Feminism will kill you.

What the film actually is? Quite a lot of fun. No, it does not rewrite the script on the MCU. But I had a great time and the audience I saw it with were very into the film, even clapping after it ended.

 

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).

 

Father-Son Bonding (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, 2017)

guardians_vol_2_posterGuardians of the Galaxy was a bit of a risk for Marvel Studios.  It was really their first film that had little name recognition.  It also was their first film not closely tied to the Avengers.  And yet, under the guidance of James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy succeeded with a healthy dose of humor and action.  Towards the end of the film, Yondu mentions knowing who Starlord’s father is.  In this sequel, we meet dear old dad.

While fighting an inter-dimensional beast, Rocket steals some batteries from the Sovereign.  This results in a chase through space that culminates in Starlord meeting his father Ego. Ego is a “living” planet.  He has a human avatar who sired Starlord.  In the meantime, they are being hunted by Yondu and the Ravagers to collect a bounty for the Guardian set by the Sovereign.

Volume 2 carries forward with the same tone and attitude of the first film, making it a lot of fun to watch.  The opening credits are a blast to watch.  Easily one of the best opening sequences for a comic book film.  The cast has really come together and it shows in their performances.

The new cast adds to the fun, with Kurt Russell being a high point for…well being Kurt Russell.  He is one of those actors you hire because you want a “type” that is specific to a particular actor.  Call it the Goldblum Effect if you will.  You hire Jeff Goldblum for a movie because you want a “Jeff Goldblum Type”.

In addition, Sylvester Stallone, Ving Rhames and Michelle Yoeh have small but pivotal roles (obviously setting up Volume 3).  The film is full of blink and you might miss it fan service, but with James Gunn, it is not distracting (for the most part) and for people unfamiliar with the comics will be unnoticed.

Of course, the soundtrack is integral to this film, each song clearly chosen carefully by Gunn.  Marvel was wise to stick with Gunn for the Guardians brand because he has a very specific vision that allows these films to stand out from the Marvel Pack.

A lot of the humor this time around is coming from Drax (Dave Bautista) and Baby Groot. Some of the more surprising emotion comes from Michael Rooker’s Yondu.

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 can be pretty intense and it is not really for young kids.  But teens and adults alike will find a lot to enjoy here.  Personally, I found Volume 2 to be a very fun film-going experience and find myself anticipating the next outing.

Oh, and by the way…there are five mid to post credit scenes.  So do not get up and head for the door right away.

Rebellious Teens (Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015)

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-PosterAs with every sequel, things must get bigger and louder.  Unlike the first film, the danger really comes from within.  Tony is obsessed with changing the way things are done by building a peace keeping for that will put an end to the need for the Avengers.  He has been working on an A.I. to watch over the world and prevent tragedy.  Even as the Avengers are in action, he has Iron Man like robots trying to do crowd control.  But the people are not as confident.

When Tony gets access to some Asgardian technology, he recklessly uses it to try and jump a hurdle with his A.I.’s processing power.  Of course it goes wrong, resulting in a mad child called Ultron.  Ultron constantly works to better himself.  And one goal is to put an end to the Avengers.  Not quite in the way Tony anticipated…he was thinking retirement.  Ultron is thinking annihilation.  To better reach those ends, he brings brother and sister Pietro and Wanda Maximoff.  The orphans consented to Hydra experiments that have given them super-powers.  Pietro is the super-fast Quicksilver and Wanda has reality warping powers.

In a confrontation with Ultron, the Scarlet Witch manipulates several Avengers, including the Hulk who goes on a rampage.  Eventually the reveal of Ultron’s plans (including wiping out the human race) horrifies his cohorts.  His continuing evolution actually leads to the introduction of a new character for the MCU.  The Vision is introduced when the Mind Stone and lightening (along with the Jarvis AI) are combined to create the Vision.

Age of Ultron tries to be the Empire Strikes back, and is certainly loaded with darker themes than the previous films.  The performances are strong, and when the Scarlet Witch exposes Iron, Cap, Black Widow, Thor and the Hulk to their greatest fears of their past or potential futures, it threatens to break their bond apart.

The action is top notch.  There are several excellent and memorable fight sequences.  The jokes mostly land (but who thought it was a good idea for Tony to suggest if he can lift Thor’s hammer that he would reinstate the practice of kings sleeping with new brides on their wedding night).  There are a couple running jokes that can be particularly entertain.  The running gag about lifting Thor’s Hammer (which has a very good payoff) is especially fun.

The movie gives more attention to Hawkeye.  There was talk that Renner was very frustrated with the path the character took in the first Avengers.  This may be Whedon’s way of saying “sorry” to Renner.  It also establishes firmly the friendship with Natasha.

The effects are very good.  Vision looks very close to his comic book counterpart, without looking to fake.  Yet he is slightly unnatural.  Which is kind of the point.  Bettany gives life to the role.  It only took his seven years to be more than a voice-over (now he is a motion capture voice-over).

The film faced some criticism over Natasha calling herself a monster to Bruce Banner.  Some viewers felt the takeaway was that Natasha saw herself as a monster due to being sterilized.  I don’t know that I accept it was that clear cut.  Because the film is quite direct that it is the idea that she was a cold and efficient killer, and the folks who sterilized her believed this would make her that cold and efficient killer.  But I will agree it was somewhat clumsy in the writing, and Whedon deserves the credit for that.

In the end, I enjoyed this second outing with the Avengers.  It has some weak points, but nothing that ruined the overall enjoyment.

I Will Avenge Thee (the Avengers, 2012)

Avengers-Movie_PosterThe Avengers was the culmination of four years of effort on the part of Marvel Studios.  They worked to establish their interconnected Universe building up to this.  People were excited and the Marvel Machine had primarily seen success with their films leading up to this.  The first hiccup was losing Edward Norton.  Ed and Marvel could not come to an agreement for the Avengers.  So Marvel brought in the likable Mark Ruffalo.  The other big announcement was that Joss Whedon would direct.  He did not have that many movies under his belt, but he did have a few beloved television series, so as an overseer for the Cinematic Universe, he seemed well suited.

Loki is the central villain of the film, working with an alien race called the Chitari.  The film moves quickly to introduce the core members to each other, with a brief but exciting “Heroes meet, misunderstand the situation and fight” sequence.  This is an old comic book trope, and Whedon makes it work, and does not drag it out.

Once the heroes are brought together, they capture Loki who has a devious plan.  His escape leaves the team in shambles and a supporting character dead (but don’t worry, he got better for the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series).  This, of course, encourages the heroes to band together and defeat Loki and stop the alien invasion.

Whedon proves himself to be quite skilled with both small moments and spectacle.  The final battle is exciting and full of grand heroics as Captain America takes charge.  We see him as a wise strategist.  When a police officer questions why they should listen to his instruction, he takes out an alien assault, no questions as the officer starts telling his men to implement Cap’s plan.

The introduction of Black Widow is pretty classic.  It is one of those “damsel in Distress” sequences where you realize the bad guys never had a chance.  The cast has an amazing amount of chemistry.  Even their bickering is engaging.  The film has the rapid quippy dialog Whedon is known for in shows like Buffy and Firefly.  Ruffalo fits in to the crew seamlessly.  As much as I like Norton and his Bruce Banner, Ruffalo manages to make the character all his own.  It is all quite engaging.

I feel the biggest lapse in judgement is having Hawkeye spend the first half of the film as a possessed lackey of Loki.  It just feels like the character deserves better than that.

While there is weight of imminent destruction, the film never gets too dark.  You have lighter moments to even it all out.  The Avengers was overall a great success that is a lot of fun to watch.

Player vs Player (Captain America: Civil War, 2016)

Marvels_captain_america_civil_war_posterCaptain America: Civil War was a risky gamble.  It has a bloated cast.  I mean, Captain America is joined by practically everyone (Except Thor and the Hulk).  The film was also going to be introducing us to a couple Major Players in Both the Black Panther and Spider-Man.  There was always the possibility that this would be so bogged down, we would have Marvels first failure…the first Marvel film that outright sucked.

And the film should be a huge mess.  We are being introduced to characters left and right.  And as usual, the villain of the film is pretty thin.  And yet, somehow?  The film works.  It stand and manages to remain extremely engaging.  The film is dealing with the fallout of collateral damage we have seen through the previous films.  All that destruction we have seen through the Avengers, Thor, Captain America the winter soldier.  Culminating in an event in this film in which an attempt to save people kills several visiting Wakandans.

The United Nations is determine to intervene.  And Tony Stark, after being confronted by an angry and heartbroken mother (Alfre Woodard) whose son died in Ultron’s Sokovia attack, is determine to see it happen.  He, quite understandable, sees a need for Oversight.  And this is what sets off the Conflict within the Avengers.  Steve Rogers is certain that being shackled and having to get permission to fight the bad guys is a bad idea.  We of course, sympathize with Cap, but one of the things the film does very well?  The character motivations.  They make sense.  You understand why they choose the way they do.  And the the fact that certain characters miss the villain’s big plan is quite believable.

The film is action packed, but not at the expense of the overall story.  The characters get meaningful exchanges and yet, the film avoids feeling overly bogged down by a sense of self importance.  The events matter, questions are asked, but without the self aggrandizing approach other Super-hero films had recently.  Not naming names.  The cast does great work with the script they were given.  They bring the characters to life.

And then there is the humor.  This is by no means a light film, but it has very effective humor.  The film is not afraid that if we laugh we might miss “the important and heavy epic story being told”.  These people are friends.  They have history.  They care about each other.  And that is what gives the story it’s real conflict and weight.  But it is also those established relationships that allow the fun.

Of course, the big question was…Spider-Man and the Black Panther-will they work?  It is nice that we do not get an origin story (it should be pretty clear that T’Challa was already the Black Panther, he is not becoming the Black Panther for revenge).  But he does get a nice story arc focusing on the thirst for vengeance, leading him to wisdom in his new role as King.  Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa as young, confident royalty.  And yet, when he suffers lost, he gains a restrained ferocity.

And Tom Holland?  He is Spider-Man.  The portrayal of Spidey in this film was almost instantly lovable.  His rapid fire chatter was dead on.  He looked great in costume and his position of siding with Tony makes complete sense.  I am genuinely excited to see both Spider-Man and Black Panther’s solo films.

James Gunn (Director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films) said this was the best Marvel film to date.  And, in the end, if it is not actually the best?  It is pretty darn close.  This is a terrific adventure and worth seeing.

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