Non-Spoiler Review of Avengers Endgame

Endgame

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Spoiler Free Review of Captain America: Civil War

CWar
Oozing with awesomeness

Arguably the best of the Marvel universe movies is Captain America Winter Soldier. Guardians of the Galaxy or AntMan and I might concede.  So this is the scale that Civil War has to be compared against.  Well, it more than exceeds Winter Soldier.

This plot is not what you might think from the trailers – Marvel is masterful at manipulating us with the trailers.  Clearly there’s a Team Cap vs. a Team Iron Man – it’s call Civil War duh.  The reason that they are fighting is not as straightforward as you might think.  I went in thinking I would side with Captain America but I came away thinking that both sides were right.  That’s what makes a good Civil War scenario.

The plot is not overly complicated.  The writing of this movie, the core of a Marvel film, is solid and crisp.  There were some one-liners where the audience laughed out loud – especially Stan Lee’s cameo.

New characters are introduced – Black Panther and Spiderman.  You know, the new Spiderman comes together without having to get into the whole “radioactive spider bit me,” stuff.  His role is good and oddly seems true to the comic.

Black Panther is awesome.  We don’t need his origin story…I didn’t care.  He was just incredible.  Marvel is genius at knowing that we don’t need to be buried in a lot of backstory.  Just give us solid characters that develop in the film and some well-grounded writing and the fact that these are superheroes is almost unnecessary.

I have to admit, having AntMan in this film made it for me.  His role in the battle at the Leipzig Airport was, well, incredible.  In fact, the airport battle sequence set a new standard for superhero battles.  There is a lot going on yet somehow it all seems to flow together fairly smoothly.

This movie is a visual treat.  There’s a lot of special effects, but no where the level of horrific CGI we were forced to endure in Batman vs. Superman.  In fact, this movie made me hate Batman vs. Superman even more.  Marvel knows how to handle their intellectual properties (with the exception of the Hulk and Fantastic Four movies).  Even the lighting levels and colors of this film are in stark contrast to DC’s latest offerings.

There is no part of this movie I disliked.  The pacing was brisk which is good; the movie is very long.

There are two post-credit scenes – both of which are solid.

On a scale of five stars, this is six-and-a-half.  Not a movie for kids, far too much violence. Though the language was cleaner than Age of Ultron (joke intended).  Go see this movie…go twice!

#TeamCap

Review of Ant-Man

A good investment of your time...
A good investment of your time…

I went into Ant-Man with relatively low expectations.  My exposure to Hank Pym’s Ant-Man was mostly through the Avengers comics as a kid.  He wasn’t a character I enjoyed a lot, though he was a good counterbalance to Tony Stark at times.  At the same time, remembering last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy release, I knew that this had some potential.  Marvel Studios has a way of taking relatively minor characters in their universe and doing extraordinary things with them.

Ant-Man delivers a solid Marvel-style punch.

The movie really fits itself snugly into the Marvel universe.  From the opening, when we see Agent Carter and an older Howard Stark, to the interactions and references to the Avengers, this movie dovetails right into the Marvel digital mythos.

The story is solid.  I was a little worried that it might be too humorous, but the balance between good storyline and the usual (high quality) humor that Marvel is known for is here. We have a story of two father’s attempting to make good to their daughters.  The technology doesn’t overpower this movie.  The special effects are great, and after a few minutes, feels like a digital rollercoaster ride as Ant-Man shrinks and enlarges in rapid, gut-wrenching scenes.  I was worried that the effects would dominate this film.  They don’t.  What works is solid writing a good acting performances.

There are two post-movie scenes which I won’t ruin for you.  Both take the Marvel universe into some new directions which are going to be awesome.  Needless to say, wait until the end of the credits.

I give Ant-Man five out of five stars.  My wife, who dislikes superhero and action movies really enjoyed it.  “I didn’t even fall asleep…it was fun.”  It’s an okay movie for kids but the language, at times, is a bit much for the younger kids (bummer).  It is well worth your time to take this film in.

#antman

Spoiler-Free Review: Avengers – Age of Ultron

Ultron

“I thought I’d use this opportunity to tell you my evil plan…”

I have waited my whole life to be this cool.  This is the age of geeks and nerds and Marvel is our pimp selling us dirty-nerdy gratification.  When I was a kid and you wore a super hero T-shirt, you were practically begging for a swirly.  Now we rule the universe bitches! For the true believers out there, the geeks that still read comic books, the release of Avengers – Age of Ultron is akin to a quasi-religious experience.

For my brethren, we have read the original comics of the Age of Ultron story arc.  In that story; Ultron takes over the earth and Wolverine and Sue Storm go back to stop Hank Pym from creating him – which leads to an alternate time-line almost as bad as Ultron’s domination of mankind.

The movie starts in-action – picking up right where last week’s Agents of Shield left off.  There are elements of the story that tie back to the first Avengers movie as well as the other Marvel offerings.  Once more the Marvel team is showing a depth in their mastery of this intellectual property.

Fast forward to the movie version.  Ultron is created by Tony Stark.  Rather than time travel resolving his evil intent, the Avengers fight Ultron in the here-and-now.  Ultron is cunning and dangerous.  The voice talents of James Spader are purely sinister.  His lines rival and often top those of Robert Downey Jr.

There are two things that make this movie fantastic: the visual experience and the writing.  The dialogue, right down to the running jokes, are well crafted.  You find yourself chuckling during this movie, even in moments of raw action on the screen.  Visually, the panoramic sweeps of the Avengers in battle are superior to the first film.  The movie is like riding a visual rollercoaster around fireworks show. You almost feel as if you are in the middle of the fight yourself.   Even Ultron’s facial expressions will impact how robots and androids are done in films from this point forward.

After the first movie you had to wonder where these characters could grow.  Josh Whedon seemed to hear that question and evolves these characters further along.  Surprisingly the character that has some unexpected depth is Hawkeye.  Also the reveals about Black Widow have served to make her character one of the more interesting ones in the Marvel cinema universe.

The producers tapped the full well of Marvel characters here too.  We see characters from the earliest of their films making some well timed cameos.  This is something that the comic-fans like me love – Whedon’s willingness to tap that incredible mix of characters and bring them out to play.  It makes the Marvel universe something that DC is going to struggle to match, let alone top.

Marvel Studios has figured out the awesome sauce for doing these kinds of movies.  You don’t have to create some new story, you tap into a vast library of great stories from the comics and change it so that it is more suitable for the big screen.  DC, you should pay attention to this.

I would love to tell you there is something I disliked about the film, but I can’t.  It’s stunning…a rip-roaring ride across the Marvel universe.  Even the Stan Lee cameo was one of his better ones.  Nick Fury is somehow cooler than before he was in Winter Soldier.  And the Vision – well, he is forged of awe-inspiring slickness and gets the last word with Ultron.  When was the last time you went to a fun movie that panders to your every geeky desire with wanton abandon?  This is the one!

I give this film seven out of five stars (that’s right – seven).  Oh, and there is no post-credits scene – just one mid-credits scene.  But I know you folks, you’ll wait around anyway.  Heck, we all do.

Review of Guardians of the Galaxy

rocket-raccoon-and-groot-from-marvels-guardians-of-the-galaxy

I will preface this by saying that I remember buying and reading Guardians of the Galaxy comic books back in the late 1970’s, back when reading comic books was a good excuse for getting a wedgie.  Of course now, with superhero movies being all the rage, suddenly those wedgies and titty-twisters all were all just the price of being ahead of the popularity curve.  But I digress…

I took my wife to see Guardians of the Galaxy.  She generally doesn’t enjoy comic-based movies.  She loved this flick.  We were both laughing throughout the film.  It’s not like Iron Man or The Avengers where the humor was sprinkled in between the action.  Here the jokes punctuate the script like a sniper’s well aimed shot.  My wife didn’t get hardly any of the tie-ins to the larger Marvel universe, but that didn’t matter to her.  She totally enjoyed the movie for what it was, a mindless romp/adventure across the cosmos.

The movie was one of the best I’ve seen this year, with Captain America 2, The Winter Soldier, still holding that spot.  Guardians is right behind it.  The film covers the formation of an unlikely band of misfit rogues who are tossed together to become heroes.  The movie interjects a soundtrack from my life – the 1970’s and 80’s, and does so masterfully.

And the characters…well, they are awesome.  Chris Pratt is serious, clumsy, but hilarious. He’s got a Han Solo kind of feel to him, if Han had a great sense of humor.  His dropping of 1980’s references to pop culture make the movie sizzle.  When he references Footloose, you will bust as gut laughing.

The characters that steal the film are Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (a walking/talking/fighting tree voiced by Vin Diesel).  Rocket is an illegally genetically and surgically altered raccoon – but never call him that, he hates that.  Rocket has distinct anger control issues and has lines that are right up there with Tony Stark in terms of humor.  Rocket makes you laugh throughout the movie and in some case just plain steals the show.  Groot, despite having two lines in the movie, is a neat character, surpassing the one in the comic books.

The story is a good vs. evil story with insidious villains bent on destruction.  There are plenty of ties to a larger Marvel universe here (The Collector, Thanos – who we get to see, and others)  but that’s there for those of us that are geeks.  These links don’t overpower the film or drive the plot, they are treats for those of us that know what the Infinity Stones are and why Thanos is a universe-crushing badass.

Purists will say, “This film does not fully follow the origin story of the Guardians.”  They are right.  But most Marvel movies don’t, so chill.  This film does an outstanding job at giving us a much bigger universe for Marvel heroes to play in.  The folks calling the shots at Marvel are brilliant at building a larger storyline without making them dominate the films.

This is not a movie for little kids.  I wanted to smuggle in my grandson, but I’m glad I didn’t.  There’s a lot of violence in this film, but it doesn’t dominate it.  I saw kids in the theater that were 9-10 years old and I just didn’t think that was right, not without a parental preview before.

Did I love this movie?  Oh yeah!  It is a full four quarts of Awesome Sauce.  It’s not a big thinking movie – it’s just plain fun on a bun.  I’m downloading the soundtrack right away as well.  Next to Forrest Gump, this soundtrack is one of the best ever produced.

Marvel hit this puppy out of the park.  Here’s this little known intellectual property that was only marginally successful as a comic book that is now this incredible franchise all on its own.  Please Marvel, take my money!  Give us more Guardians,

Oh, and stick around after the credits (like you had to be told).  If you were around in the 1980’s, you’ll get the reference.  Enjoy true believers!