Non-Spoiler Review of Avengers Endgame

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I ask your indulgence as I try to put into words how much I loved this film.  I took my grandson Trenton to the film and as we settled in, I heard someone comment a few seats down, “This all began for me 11 years ago with Iron Man.”

My own journey began further back…sometime in the early 1970’s.  Saturday mornings my grandmother would sometimes take me to downtown Marshall, Michigan and turn me loose on Michigan Avenue.  We didn’t have “stranger danger,” then, we had communities of people that cared.

I would always go to the party store in the middle of town, right next to the Michigan National Bank.  I cannot remember its name, but I remember everything else about it – the flooring, the smells, the nice owner who didn’t chase kids out.  There was a wire rotating comic rack at the end of the magazines, right next to the wood-plaque covered dirty magazines.  Stuffed into this squeaky rack was all of the comics you could hope for, new ones to the front, older issues in the back.  The owner never chased us out, he would always smile at us.

Comic books cost 12 to 20 cents then, which seemed like a lot.  You had to be judicious in your choices.  There were no comic stores or graphic novels to get caught up with stories if you missed an issue.  I would purchase my comics and read them, over and over.  They were not collectables…there were no plastic covers for them.  These were comics that were meant to be read cover to cover.  From the letters to the editor to the ads for X-ray glasses, these stapled tomes were meant to be devoured.  I took part in a tradition of visual storytelling that harkened back to the cavemen painting images on their walls though at the time, I only thrilled at the art and the writing.

I never shed that love of comics, though as I was older it was more of an underground love affair. We didn’t have cyber bullying, we had real bullying. People were not accepting of adults reading comics for years.  Just finding a superhero t-shirt was difficult, back in the day.

Comic books led me to gaming and reading other books – which led me to be an author.  I will never forget that debt and the responsibility that comes with it.

The love never went away nor did my subscribing and reading.  I have passed on that love to my grandson and we share comics just like I used to with my friends so many decades ago.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe changed all of that.  Suddenly comics were acceptable…mainstream.  Yet I like to think that for millions of us, our journey to this film began the same simple way, in drug stores or book stores, or party stores on the main streets of our home towns.  Simple origins are the best of all.  ‘Nuff said.

When I took Trenton to Avengers Infinity War he experienced the same thing I did the first time I saw The Empire Strikes Back…that mold-breaking effect of the good guys losing.

Then came Avengers Endgame.  For three and a half hours, we were transfixed to the screen.  This was storytelling on an epic scale.  Characters completed their arcs so masterfully that it was a thrill to be there.  We had come to know these actors and characters.

The writers of this film will never get the dues they so richly deserve.  So many Easter Eggs are opened for us in this movie that it is a true fan’s delight.  Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus deserve Academy Awards for what they have done with this screenplay.

Before I went to the movies, a friend at work, Scott, asked me what I had to have to be perfect.  I rattled off three things.  They were all there.  I won’t share them now, because I refuse to spoil this film.

There are moments of deep sadness and others where, and I am not exaggerating, the audience cheered.  I have never in my life heard so many applause and cheering moments in a movie.

And therein lies the sadness.  I doubt in my lifetime I will ever see 22 films so masterfully interconnected in such a compelling tale.  Marvel has delivered something that makes DC pale by comparison.  It reminds of Alexander the Great.  “And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.”  While a misquote, it resonates here.

But…as a comic fan…I can tell you there are plenty of other great Marvel stories that are chafing for their chance in the sun.  The bar has been set high though.

Next to seeing Star Wars for the first time, this is my favorite movie ever.  It delivered on every single front and swept me, my grandson, the entire audience away.

 

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Non-Spoiler Review of Shazam!

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I will admit it, when I was in the 1970’s I subscribed to Shazam!  Captain Marvel (the DC version) was an interesting contrast to the darkness of Batman and the Boy Scouty Superman.  I liked the Marvel family as well.  Sure, some parts were silly, but it worked for me as a kid.

Now comes the movie version and I have to admit, I cringed.  Would DC go all dark and brooding like they had for almost every other movie?  Would they ruin the character background?

The response is a resounding no!  DC finally did a super hero movie that stayed true to the character and was fun.  They even took a relatively cardboard villian and made him tangible.

Holy moly!

I took my grandson with me to Shazam! and we both loved it.  First, other than a nosebleed, there was no gore.  There’s no swearing.  This is the story of a boy that becomes a superhero.  Even though he appears as an adult, he’s still a kid at heart.  That is the essence of Captain Marvel and they managed to keep it.

There were some tweaks to the history of the character that were new – but nothing that took away from that essence.  The film was entertaining, something that some of the DC movies have seemed afraid to embrace.  This film felt genuine, authentic.  The kids were close to real kids in term of character.

So, if you are looking for a good family movie that just happens to be about a super hero, check out Shazam!

Non-Spoiler Review of Captain Marvel

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“I feel the need…the need for nostalgia” 

I have to admit, I was never a big Captain Marvel fan from the comics.  I found this movie to be okay, not great, but it didn’t suck like so many have said.

As far as origin stories, this didn’t follow the traditional format of telling the story.  Instead much of the movie is the hero learning her true origin and origin story – which is fine. For this kind of format to work, you really have to care about the character to begin with.  I never really bonded with Carol Danvers on screen, so I found myself saying, “let’s get to it.” With a slow-reveal origin, you really don’t get what the plot is until you are well into the film.

There are some nice plot twists in all of this that I didn’t see coming.  I appreciate that in a film like this. It wasn’t a linear plot, but one that was well crafted – if not a bit drawn out.

I wish these films wouldn’t push their PC agenda on me.  Let her be a hero that happens to be female, don’t make it out that she’s different because of that.  I didn’t like that in Wonder Woman either.  Just tell the story.  Trust me, I know she’s female.  Releasing it on International Women’s Day just was over the top too.  Look, I’m a fan, just give me a good script and casting.

Things I liked was seeing a younger Nick Fury and Agent Colson in the field.  This was not the embittered Nick Fury of Winter Soldier.  He’s fun, joking, kind of cool.  It was a bit strange to see the 1990’s in the light of nostalgia. God we had ugly cars back then.  Seeing Ronan the Accuser and some other characters we experience later in the Marvel cinema universe is neat too.

There are two post-credit scenes, so stay in your seat. The first one has a direct tie to Avengers Infinity War Endgame – which was awesome!

Overall this was not the best outing in the MCU but it wasn’t as horrific as some people have insinuated.  I liked it and got my money’s worth – which is what you want with a movie.  It adds to the Marvel universe and sets the stage for stuff coming in Endgame.  I give it a 3.7 stars out of five.

 

Review of the Film, First Man

Gosling’s portrayal is flat – and I’m being complimentary

Having seen the film, First Man, I wished I hadn’t.  Somehow Hollywood has managed to take the one defining moment of the 1960’s, man’s first landing on the moon, and turn it into a boring snore-fest.  Don’t get me wrong, I know Neil Armstrong was no dynamo in real life, but this movie made him and the landing on the moon as exciting as a piece of stale melba toast.  I was trying to come up with a good metaphor or word for this film and the top contenders are, “shitburger,” “blahfest,” and “ruining-my-fucking-childhood-memory-you-monsters.”  Pick any one of these when you tell your friends about this movie.

Going to the moon was exciting.  It inspired my generation to get into computers, the sciences, etc.  I wanted to be an astronaut as a kid…eventually getting into space as a science fiction writer.  It was something that unified the world for a few minutes in a turbulent decade.

There was plenty of material for the writers to work with to make this a compelling story.  What you get with this film is characters that none of us care about.  We see no growth in them, no change.  They are dull with unimaginative dialogue.  There isn’t a single redeeming character in this film, and that feels entirely wrong.  Even the scenes that could have made us all engage with the characters are downplayed or misrepresented entirely.

What is lost is the sense of national accomplishment in the race to the moon.  Instead they weave in how some groups thought it was a waste of money – making me wonder if this isn’t the ultimate subtext that Hollywood is attempting to tell us with this film.  While the Hollywood elite are all abuzz (pun intended) about Gosling’s portrayal of Armstrong, let me say that I have seen better dramatic performances in Food Lion on a Friday night.

On top of this, it is written in such a manner as to provide no context.  It starts with Neil in the cockpit of the X-15.  It doesn’t tell you why that flight was important or what it was setting out for, only that he is there and almost doesn’t make it back.  It presumes we all know the role of that craft in our journey into space.  There is less than two lines of dialogue between Neil and Michael Collins in the film.  In fact, they never really explain his role or Buzz Aldrin’s.  There is no chemistry whatsoever with the crew, with the Armstrong family, with anyone in this film.  I didn’t even feel like it really portrayed the 1960’s.

Neil isn’t your typical hero-character – but neither was Charles Lindbergh.  Maybe he wasn’t a good family man, but that could have been offset by the incredible accomplishment he did with being the first man on the moon.  Instead this film misses all of that.  We see nothing about what happened after his landing.  This is sloppy, revisionist history at its worst.

I felt this film failed on so many levels that it literally dug a new failure-basement to bury itself in. As someone that lived in that era, it fails to capture any aspect that made this a hyper-historical moment.  Quite literally, the writers took an easy win and made it dark, brooding, and dull.  I found myself suddenly rooting for the Russians to get to the moon first so this movie would end.

Go watch the outstanding series, From the Earth to the Moon. Hell, watch some YouTube videos.  First Man does not tell the story of the first man landing on the moon.  Instead it tells the story of a shallow man, his annoying wife, and somehow he ends up landing on the moon.   Do not waste your time on this horrible film.

Non-Spoiler Review: Ant Man and the Wasp

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I took my wife and grandson to Ant Man and the Wasp.  I was nervous, given the last superhero movie I took him to was Infinity War and it bothered him for weeks.  I was hoping for something a little lighter than the last Avengers film – and this new movie didn’t fail me.

First off, the title should be Wasp and the Ant Man – because it is all about the Hope van Dyne character.  She has as much, if not more action than Paul Rudd’s Ant Man.  The story picks up in the post-Civil War era with Scott under house arrest and Hank Pym and Hope on the run because he used their tech.

Hank is on the search for his missing wife, trapped in the quantum realm.  They need Scott Lang and in many ways, Scott needs them.  That’s all you really need to know without ruining the film.

There’s a lot of undercurrent here – a decent villain or two with their own sub-plots that add complexities to the main story line.  What makes this movie work is that humor.  I heard my wife and grandson laugh several times in the film, especially at the character Luis who is PERFECT in this role.  Given the gravity of the last Avenger’s film, this movie was fantastic.

Michael-Pena-Ant-Man-Luis
Easily my favorite character in the film.  

The special effects were very good, probably with the exception of the quantum realm.  That wasn’t a big part of the movie really.

Watch for the 1970’s Hot Wheels carrier (which we all had as kids from that era).  There’s a lot of action in this movie, a decent plot, and wonderful characters.  Hope as the Wasp is a solid female that could do a film all on her own.

Yes, there is a post-credits scene.  I won’t ruin it for you, but you need to see Infinity War first for it to make sense.

I’m giving this 4.5 out of 5 stars.  My wife, who often sleeps during movies, was awake and enjoyed the movie – which speaks volumes.

 

A Spoiler-Free Review of Solo – A Star Wars Story

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“Look Khaleesi, a dragon!”  

I was hoping this was going to be a good, solid, standalone film – one that would explore a period of the Star Wars universe that we don’t have a lot of information on.  If it was done well, the story would be solid on its own.  I was a little disappointed in this perspective.

Think of it this way, was Black Panther a good movie, even if he was not part of the greater Marvel cinematic universe?  Yes.  All on its own, the film was good.  Even if no other Marvel movies existed, Black Panther (and Ant-Man, and others) would have stood on their own.  The fact they are part of a bigger franchise makes them more awesome, but they are not dependent on that.

This is not the case with Solo.  It is a film that seems to strive to fill a few gaps in young Han Solo’s life with scant details buried in dialogue.  We get the whole Kessel Run parsec thing explained – we see the first meeting between Chewie and Han.  We get the Millennium Falcon and Lando.  Those things were great to have as parts of a much bigger story that could stand on its own.  This does not.  It is hooked on the Star Wars mythos to the point where it is a series of Easter Eggs that are masterfully strung together into a good story…not a great story, but a good one.  If there were no other Star Wars films, would this film have been as good?  No way.

The acting was solid.  There’s a lot of subplots happening in this film, which is great.  Emelia Clarke has ensured that she can live well off of the geek convention circuit – between Star Wars and Game of Thrones.  Her acting was clearly the best of the film followed by Woodie Harellson.

Some good characters were introduced – like Lando’s droid.  I wish we could have gotten more of her, but what we got saved the middle of this movie for me.

The Easter Eggs are there for those of us that have been with the franchise since the beginning, and they are there aplenty.  There’s a surprise cameo in the film too and it was awesome and unexpected.  My grandson loved it too.  The movie ended with plenty of room for a sequel…don’t they all?

There’s a couple of plot holes in this movie, some kludgy writing at times, but nothing horrific.

I give this film a three out of five stars.  It didn’t stand alone and I think would have been a lot better if it had.  I appreciate the candy for the true fans.  Bottom line, if you like Star Wars movies you probably will like this one.  We could have loved it though.  Disney continues to print more money by making these movies.

Non-Spoiler Review of Avengers – Infinity War

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I took my grandson to see this in IMAX-3D because I have waited almost a decade for this.  That’s right, Ironman released in May of 2008, starting us on this rollercoaster ride of films leading to this moment. My expectations were high.  But like riding a rollercoaster for the first time, nothing can quite compare you for the parts of the ride you can’t see from the line.

Marvel Studios faced a daunting task…how do you bring together the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and all of the secondary characters together into something that is big and somehow cohesive?  They pull it off with this film, with style and in ways we never could have anticipated.

Having said that, not every character gets a chance to shine the way you might hope. If they did that this would be six hours long.  The interplay between the egos of Dr. Strange and Tony Stark is brilliantly written.  Thor emerges as one of the true superheroes of the Marvel universe.  I actually cheered out loud when he arrives on the battlefield, announced by Bruce Banner.

Some of our heroes aren’t there.  Ant-Man and Hawkeye are on the sidelines…for now.

There are parts of this film that will tear at you.  Thanos is out after the Infinity Stones.  All roads have led to this confrontation.  They can’t just take him down in a single confrontation; that would have been unfulfilling.  Having said that nothing can prepare you emotionally for the final scenes of this movie.

There are some stunning surprises and character/villain returns.  I won’t ruin it for you, but I have been waiting for this one character to return for years now.

My grandson did not like the end of the movie, which I understand from an eight-year-olds perspective.  I saw measures of brilliance in it.  Marvel is setting up the next phase, and have done so masterfully.  Thanos is the big baddy and to simply make his defeat unfold in 2.5 hours in some straight-up battle would have likely disappointed me.  Yes, I understand the criticisms about the end of the movie, but I saw something in it that made the antagonist even more dangerous and deadly.

There is one post-credit scene that is awesome, because it tells you where this is going.  I cannot say more without ruining this for you.  If you don’t get it, Google the upcoming Marvel films and you will.  The last word spoken in the film was perfectly done.

This is not your typical superhero film – it is much more.  It wipes you out emotionally.  Where you might have been thinking that this the end of the rollercoaster ride, you come to the realization that there are more hills, twists and turns to come.  Bravo Marvel.  Five out of five stars.

Now I need to console my grandson until next year…or until AntMan and Wasp…