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

Cmarvel
“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.

 

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.

Review of Justice League – Spoiler Alert

justice-league

I will attempt to keep the spoilers to a minimum but consider this fair warning.

I came into this film with two frames of mind.  First, I have waited my entire life (five decades-plus) to see a good Justice League film.  I am a child of the Silver Age of comics and everyone has wanted to see all of the DC heroes on the screen at once.  It was going to be hard for any film to live up to a lifetime of internal hype and hope.

My second mindset was that I dislike the whole Zack Synder take on the DC universe. I didn’t love Man of Steel and it took a few viewings of Batman vs Superman to fully appreciate it.

So that I had perspective, I viewed the film with my daughter and grandson who also had a lifetime of waiting to see these characters on the screen.  Three generations of us, mentally braced with the acceptance that we may not like it.

We loved it.  We really did.  I know that will make some fanboys whine, but all that matters is that we enjoyed the film.  Heck, I might go again.

The things that made this movie good was a relatively simple plot (one of the many failings in Batman vs Superman).  The story was simple. The heroes were true to form and everyone got good airtime.  I think that Ben Affleck is outstanding as Batman – perhaps one of the best casting decisions ever. Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman.

Things I enjoyed:

  • They made Aquaman cool.  It’s hard to believe, but true.
  • The movie didn’t dwell on origin stories so that the pacing was good.
  • The interplay between Batman and Wonder Woman was good, very true to their characters.
  • There were moments of humor that were unexpected and good – like Aquaman sitting on the lasso of truth.
  • Nothing beat that moment when the Flash was running past Superman and the Supes turned and tracked him.  Yeah, he’s that fast Barry.
  • The post credit scenes honored us Silver Age/Silver Hair crowd and took us in a new direction other than some grim Darkseid plotline which seemed to be the previous course. The first post-credits scene made the movie for me, the icing on the cake.
  • Superman smiled and even laughed.  Gone was Syderian-era of the grim and brooding Man of Steel.

Things I’m on the fence about:

  • Steppenwolf.  I’ve been reading comics for a long time and I didn’t recognize this villain – which was embarrassing. You would have thought that with the pantheon of characters, they could have come up with someone more recognizable to the masses.
  • This was not the Barry Allen or the Flash I knew or wanted to see in film.  Don’t get me wrong, he worked perfectly as a comic relief in the film, fitting into the ensemble well, but he wasn’t quite the Flash I had been hoping for.  I was torn between my expectations for the character and how well he was portrayed in the film. I didn’t hate this Flash, but I didn’t love him.
  • The producers seem unconcerned with the fact that most of these characters have their secret identities compromised.  Even Lois yelling, “Clark!” to Superman with the police on the ground seemed a little weird. Perhaps that is all intentional…hmm…

So, is it worth seeing?  Yes!  Who would have thought that 2017 would have given us two great DC films?  Perhaps this is a sign of things to come.

Spoiler Free Review of Thor Ragnarok

Thor-Ragnarok

If you don’t know from my previous blog posts, I’ll fill you in.  I am a comic book junkie.  This era of superhero movies is something that I have waited for my entire lifetime.  Geekiness has become accepted. It is my era.

I actually read the current Thor comic, despite its heavy political and social overtones.  I didn’t come into this movie with big expectations.  The trailers showed the Hulk and Loki, so I knew there was some potential for good stuff here.  The post-credit scene from Dr. Strange proves to be well-thought out and incorporates perfectly into this film.  Kudos to the writers!

Thor Ragnarok is the story of a boy growing to manhood, coping with his father’s past and fate.  It is the story of an awesome warrior seeking redemption.  It is the story of the boy’s wacky brother who is both hero and villain, often in the same scene. It is the story of an abused child with a wee-bit of homicidal rage in her makeup – who seeks to relive her glory days.  That is as much as I will say about the plot.

The humor and even some of the visual effects harken from Guardians of the Galaxy II. I found myself chuckling throughout the film, which makes this a departure from previous Thor outings.  It’s not just insider humor either.  My wife, who is not a fan of superhero movies, laughed throughout the movie.  The fact that she stayed awake during the entire film speaks volumes.

From a writer’s perspective, we see some real development and growth the characters.  The Hulk, who we rarely get more than a few words from, gets a fair amount of screen time and is fun. There are some scenes that harken back to the Avengers when Thor, Loki, and Hulk tangled that are fun.

I was on the fence with Jeff Goldbloom’s character until the second (yes there are two) post-credit scenes.

Marvel gets one thing – start with solid writing and you can produce a great, sometimes epic, film.  Frankly, they are just printing money….money that I am more than willing to hand them if they keep the quality up.

In a season where Hollywood has wallowed in the mire of scandal after scandal, and has produced films that were marginal at best – this movie is outstanding.  It was funny, had plenty of action, and a solid storyline.  A rip-roaring good time with a great choice of battle music.

I give it five out of five stars.

Wonder Woman – Spoiler Free Review

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Four quarts of awesome sauce

I went in to the theater filled to the brim with skepticism.  The mental trauma of Batman v. Superman had just fully healed.  On the CW, Supergirl has gone from being a good television show to being a preachy political drama, constantly thrusting the issue of illegal aliens and homosexuality in our face every week.

I was worried that in this age of political correctness, this would be a movie about women, women’s rights, women in a man’s universe.  I’m not saying those things are important, but you have to remember one thing.  Women are not the big readers of Wonder Woman in comic form.  You don’t see a comic shop packed with females.  It is male readers that kept that comic alive over the decades.  If they went down the woman-in-a-man’s-world rabbit hole, they risked alienating the true fans of Wonder Woman. Thankfully, someone at DC had half a brain and avoided making that kind of movie.

To be blunt, DC needed a hit, if only to keep the embers of hope with the upcoming Justice League movie burning.  Wonder Woman was the best part of Batman vs. Superman.  We demanded…no, desperately needed a good DC comic book movie.

Wonder Woman is that hit.

Now, I’m a WWI historian and I could easily go off on a rant on the inaccuracies in the film; I’m entitled to do that.  I won’t, because in the end they don’t matter.  This was a solid movie with a good plot and fantastic performances from Gal Gadot and Chris Pine.  I feared it would be a thinly veiled rip-off of Captain America, The First Avenger.  You have to admit, the potential for that was there.  Fess up.  You thought it too.  DC dodged that shot as easily as Wonder Woman deflects machinegun fire.

This was a story built on solid characters and a good story line.  It was not driven by CGI or special effects, but on the evolution of the characters.

DC finally gave us a movie in their new rendition of their universe that met, if not exceeded expectations.  I give it four-point-five out of five stars.  (The WWI historian in me held back that half star, just to be a douchebag.)  The only thing lacking in the film that prevented it from being perfect was no cameo from Linda Carter.  What were you guys thinking?  She had to appear, if only in the background.  Doh!

Review of Hidden Figures

hidden-figures

I love a good story, great characters, and something based on true events.  Hidden Figures had all of that and much more.

This the story of three women of color, working at NASA in Langley Virginia at the start of the US/Russian Space Race.  The story is not just about getting a man in orbit, but of the struggles and obstacles that these brave women had to face and overcome.

In honesty I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy the film – that it would be too preachy and be about race more than character.  I was wrong – dead wrong.  This film is about the indomitable character of these three incredible women.   Race is an issue, from the opening scene on, but these women are trailblazers in a very different and endearing manner.

Interestingly enough this was a good history film, blending science, technology and historical context.  As an IT person, I remember programming with punch cards when I worked for the DoD.  It is stunning to think we put a man in space with less technology than most of us carry in our pockets on a daily basis.

These are exactly the kind of stories that need to be told.  I felt a bit ashamed at seeing Virginia during segregation but the film didn’t force that issue.  It did with style and grace.  This is not as much a film about race as it about the emerging role of women as well.

I found the acting superb.  The story of Mary Jackson, the fledgling engineer, was fantastic and a credit to Janelle Monáe.  Her court scene was inspiring.  Kevin Costner was solid as well, but this was not about the men – it’s all about the women.  Even the soundtrack was well chosen.

This is a film chocked full of visual metaphors.  My favorite was near the end of the movie when the young white male was sent to run the 1/2 mile across Langley to track down one of the women.  We see that trek throughout the movie but it never seemed longer than it did in that scene.  It was a perfect piece of writing and directing.

The audience we had applauded at the end of the film – if that is any indication of how good of a film this is.  I have to give this five out of five stars.

Review of Patriots Day

patriot-day

I can’t say this is a spoiler-free review.  The bombing of the Boston Marathon was just three years ago, though it seems like more time has passed.  This movie proves how fallible human memory is. There were so many things about those few fear filled days that I had forgotten about.

This movie is a powerful docudrama starring Mark Wahlberg, J. K. Simmons, Kevin Bacon, and John Goodman.  There’s no glitzy Hollywood intro – from the start you are immersed in the prelude to the race.  The story is told from many perspectives, most of those through the eyes of the law enforcement officers involved with tracking down and capturing and killing the terrorists.

It is gripping and compelling.  No matter what you remember about the incidents tied to this horrific crime, you are sucked into the character stories.  It is a tense ride for the viewer, one where your emotions are torn and tugged at by the performances of the actors.

There were times I cried, times I wanted to cheer, and times I cringed and averted my eyes. The images of gore and ghastly human damage from the bombing are necessary, but still cringe-worthy.  Mark Wahlberg’s performance is top-notch, as is Kevin Bacon’s.  You are sucked into the story from the start and you cannot afford a bio-break during the movie, the pacing is so rigid.

I loved this movie, plain and simple.  It is one of the better film adaptions of historical events that I ‘ve seen since Sully.  You come away wiping away tears and remembering those hours where we were all Boston Strong – when we all stood behind law enforcement.  I know that doesn’t fit the current narrative that the media shoves down our throats; that police are racist murderers.  This film flies right in the face of that kind of story and does so with class, grace, and with honor.

I honestly can’t believe that this movie isn’t getting more press. Trust me, it is well worth your time to go see it.

No matter what you think you remember about those painful hours, I highly recommend this film.  Five out of five stars.

#PatriotsDay

Farewell your worshipfulness…

leia
“We love you Carrie…”  “I know.”

We all a bit saddened at the death of Carrie Fisher.  Since she had her cardiac incident a few days ago, I had some self-reflection about why her and her character has endured.

Until Star Wars (no number is needed) Fisher was relatively unknown.  Yes, pundits will spout her credits, but to be honest, none of us had seen her face until Star Wars.  The fact she played the role so well with so little experience catapulted her into our collective memory and hearts.

She played a princess that didn’t fit the mold.  Up until that time we had the sugarcoated vision of princesses that Disney had been churning out for decades. Sure, we had Princess Diana (Wonder Woman) but in the end it was her figure that drew us in.  Fisher’s Leia character was a tough, take-charge woman who was as comfortable in diplomatic settings as she was wielding a blaster.  She was a role model without shoving it in your face like so many “stars” try to do today.  A huge part of the appeal of Star Wars is her character and the fact that she did not fit the stereotype of a princess in distress.

Even the other characters like Han Solo, which should have overshadowed hers, were stymied at her audacity and biting lines.  Yes, that was the product of great writing and directing, but in the end it was Carrie Fisher.

Her character fell in love with a guy from the wrong side of the tracks and she made it work.  One of the best moments we had in Rogue One was seeing her there, once more, buns in hair, on the screen again.

And that slave girl costume from Return of the Jedi…well, that was another image we proudly carry thanks to her.

Was she a stunning actress with depth?  Probably not.  She didn’t have to be.  One of my favorite moments recently with her was on Big Bang Theory when James Earl Jones and Sheldon rang her doorbell and ran.  There was something so cool in that one short segment that made even the most stiff and cynical critic grin broadly.

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“It’s not funny James!”  “Then why am I laughing?”  

When we saw her in The Force Awakens, we saw that time had stripped some of the veneer off of Fisher but not off of the character she played.  While the years had changed her looks, the spirit was still there and that was all her – all the actress.

She was still our one and only Princess.  She had a father with issues, deep issues.  Yes, she kissed her brother – but we moved past that.  She is gone, and for those of us who proudly refer to ourselves as geeks, we have lost our only true royalty.  Her legacy is one of memory for us.  She will always be in our minds wearing white, hair in buns, blaster at the ready.

For me, like so many, the reflections are personal.  I proudly bear the fond memories of working at the Battle Creek Auto Drive-In for 10 weeks while Star Wars showed every night 1.5 times – to the point when we could do all of the actors parts while we did our jobs.  It never once got old or corny.  I took my children to see the digitally remastered films when they released in theaters, and my grandson to see the new films when they came out.  Carrie Fisher is, for most of us, generational.  Her image is iconic around the globe, which is why we care.

For her to have taken a part in Star Wars was risky…a risk we are all better for her doing.  In her own words, “You came here in that?  You’re braver than I thought!”

Farewell your worshipfulness.  The Force is with you…you are now, truly, one with the Force…

 

Spoiler Free Review of Star Wars Rogue One

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Jedi?  We don’t need no stinking Jedi! 

Summary:  This is the story of an ingenious administrator who dedicates his life to the creation of a tool that will bring peace to the galaxy.  He is opposed by a group of terrorists and quasi-religious zealots bent on plunging the known universe into civil war.  The terrorists kill hundreds of patriots in a mission of sabotage, chaos, and carnage.  Ultimately the administrator loses his life but lives long enough to see his dream brought to life as his tool is proven effective.

Alright…onto the real review.  This is not your “typical” Star Wars film – as evident from the very beginning. This is a carefully crafted prequel to A New Hope.  For the record – Disney did it right.  Boy did they do it right.  The fact that this doesn’t fit the normal Star Wars mold is fantastic.

What drives this is the characters.  Each one grows and evolves in the intricate plot.  The droid in this film, K-2SO, is sarcastic and snarky…actually giving it a unique personality from what we’ve seen with other droids.  The blind monk-like warrior, Chirrut Imwe, is awesome.  His chant of “I am with the Force and the Force is with me,” is going to appear on T-shirts in a matter of days.  These heroes are not your standard Star Wars fare and that works with me.

This story is huge in scope, taking us to a number of new worlds in the Star Wars universe.  The details are incredible.  You see a massive statue of Jedi laying in the sands on one world – each planet coming off distinct and different.  The Screen Artists Guild deserves drinks on Mickey Mouse for these scenes.

The best is the linkage to Episode IV:  A New Hope.  I told my wife years ago that in my lifetime I would see a new John Wayne western because of CGI.  I am now convinced of this even more.  One of the coolest secondary characters was played by Peter Cushing, and he has been dead since 1994!  In only one scene was I able to see that it was, indeed, CGI.  Otherwise I was convinced he was there.  Disney, you magnificent bastards, I salute you.

We all know Darth Vadar is evil.  We never really can get enough of this.  Rogue One provides us a bad-ass, ass-kicking Vadar that is vicious, cunning, and dark.

The incorporation of Red Leader was so cool, so subtle, and so perfect…I was pleased.  I only wish Porkins had been there!

So, the short version – this is a great movie – five out of five stars.  Go see it – twice!