Justice League Review

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You can’t save the world alone.

DC Comics has some of the most iconic characters of all time. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman have been around since the early 20th century. Seeing the three together in a film was but a dream until last year with the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. With that film, the idea of the Justice League forming on the big screen started to become a reality. The DC film universe started with the fantastic Man of Steel, and then we got Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, and Wonder Woman. These films, aside from Wonder Woman, have proved controversial in reviews, especially BvS (the theatrical version isn’t terrible, but the Ultimate Edition propels it into being a stellar film). Justice League brings the light of Wonder Woman into the darker world of BvS. Zack Snyder’s style has proved decisive with many. I think his work is underrated, and honestly his films have delivered some of the best action scenes. Justice League lacks the deepness of BvS/Man of Steel, and doesn’t have the great writing of Wonder Woman. It is however an extremely enjoyable story of heroes coming together.

The core story of Justice League is Batman realizing there’s a grave threat on Earth, and only a combination of special people can stop it. Meanwhile, the death of Superman continues to be felt throughout Metropolis, and the rest of the world. I particularly liked the opening scene, which was a flashback of Superman talking to kids after a small disaster. It was brief, but it reminded viewers what kind of a hero Superman is. The tone, scenery, and music in the montage scene afterward show the effect of Superman’s death. There’s a genuine sadness as a great hero is no longer among the people.

Superman returns toward the latter half of the middle act. Since I just brought him up, let’s discuss the iconic hero. Henry Cavill’s portrayal of the character has been met with positive reception in previous films, though fault has been placed with the directing for making Superman a “brooding” character. This is mainly felt in Batman v Superman, where it’s hard to find him smiling at all. After watching the Ultimate Edition and thinking back on Man of Steel,  it’s easy to see what Zack Snyder was going for. He didn’t make Superman automatically the hero we’ve come to know and love from the comics. Rather, there’s a journey that takes place and eventually culminates in the hero’s death. Now in Justice League, Superman is a man reborn and the result is the hero we know.

When Superman tells Steppenwolf that he’s a fan of justice, the viewer knows things are about to get good. Henry Cavill delivers the definitive Man of Steel. His dialogue is reminiscent of the Superman from The Animated Series. Superman appears the least of all the heroes, but his presence is felt the greatest. It’s a little sad also because the viewer begins to think how much more exciting the film could have been from the start if Superman wasn’t saved for over halfway through.

The first half of the film centers on Batman and Wonder Woman, then together they get the team going. Ben Affleck delivers another great portrayal of the Dark Knight. It’s interesting because we see Bruce Wayne as a man changed because of his encounter with Superman in Dawn of Justice. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman continues to shine. One of the most fun scenes was her rescuing the hostages at a bank. (We get to see her reflect bullets in a scene straight out of a comic book.) Wonder Woman’s inspiring persona returns as well, as evidenced in her conversation with Cyborg. Batman and Wonder Woman work well together, and their dialogue is always fun to hear.

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The big three – Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman – all look great. It’s the other members that are a bit more mixed. The problem with a team movie like this is that there wasn’t other movies to develop the characters. The Avengers worked because audiences were already familiar with the members. Here, the story has to fully introduce Aquaman, Flash, and Cyborg. There’s just not enough time, especially in Aquaman’s case. I’m not faulting Jason Momoa’s portrayal, but the writing doesn’t give viewers many reasons to care about Aquaman. There’s a scene later in the film with Steppenwolf attacking Atlantis and Mera. Aquaman arrives, and Mera gives some expository backstory. The scene came off as forced exposition to make up for a lack of Aquaman development.

Cyborg however was a surprise hit. His story is very interesting, and the scenes with his father are engaging. Ray Fisher perfectly portrays the conflicted, yet sternly heroic character. It was a little hard to buy into Cyborg being part of the Justice League in the comics when The New 52 launched. In this film, it works. Flash is probably the most mixed of the characters. Justice League separates itself from Batman v Superman in that it has a lighter tone. Barry is a contributing factor to that tone, as he serves as the group’s comic relief. Sometimes it worked, and his scenes with his incarcerated father were genuinely emotional. But sometimes Barry is a bit much – a lot of his dialogue just doesn’t seem like what a real person would say. Barry isn’t a bad character, he’s still fun to have around most of the time.

Steppenwolf is the antagonist, and a notable one. There’s something grand to his character and dialogue. He’s not a multilayered character like the Joker from The Dark Knight, but he hardly comes off as one-note. He works as an engaging, otherworldly threat. His objective in aligning the three Mother Boxes was exciting to watch. The battle scenes against him were excellent. As I said, Zack Snyder has delivered the best action scenes in comic book films, and that continues here. The early battle with Steppenwolf plowing through the Amazons as Hippolyta attempts to race away with the Mother Box was amazingly done. The middle act battle with Steppenwolf taking on the League was also a lot of fun. And of course, the climax is exciting. Justice League does not disappoint in the action department.

There’s fun character moments throughout the film. Wonder Woman saying, “I’m old fashioned that way” to Cyborg for a face to face meeting is one example. Another example is Aquaman’s honesty to the team on the plane (the reason for that happening is too good to spoil). So, the film is fun. But it’s not a superbly written film like The Dark Knight or Logan. It’s also not as consistently good as this year’s Thor: Ragnarok. The first half is fun because of the characters and action, but there’s a lack of stellar writing. The story could have used an additional half hour to develop the members. The soundtrack is exciting, featuring the iconic Wonder Woman theme among other engaging tunes.

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Overall, Justice League is an enjoyable film. It doesn’t have the substance of Zack Snyder’s previous DC films, but it’s a fun story. That’s not to say the film is devoid of meaning – the viewer sees that Superman is the missing element, and the world feels it too. Superman is excellent, and his appearance makes the viewer greatly anticipate the upcoming Man of Steel sequel. Batman and Wonder Woman are engaging as well. Aquaman suffers from lackluster development, but Cyborg was very good. Barry is funny, but sometimes borders on being over the top. Two other characters that deserve mention are James Gordon and Alfred, both of which add to the story. (This is the definitive version of Alfred.) Also, Amy Adams delivers a genuinely emotional performance as Lois Lane. It seems there was behind the scenes changes with Justice League, which is a shame. I believe if Zack Snyder did his full vision for the movie, we could have gotten something amazing. As it stands, Justice League is far from mediocre and does the iconic comic book team justice.

8/10

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Thor: Ragnarok Review

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On August of 1962, Journey Into Mystery #83 released on the newsstands. That issue is legendary because, according to the cover, it stars “the most exciting super-hero of all time!” That hero is the mighty Thor. From that issue, Thor would become one of Marvel’s biggest characters, appearing in his own ongoing series and as a founding member of the Avengers. Thor was well known to comic fans, but not very well known with the general public, as with other Marvel characters that weren’t Spider-Man or Hulk. That changed when the Marvel Cinematic Universe began, making Iron Man a household name and eventually Thor as well in 2011.

The God of Thunder now joins Iron Man and Captain America with a third film. The Thor films are fun, but not examples of quality storytelling. (I’m still wondering what the thought process was with Erik Selvig in The Dark World.) So it wouldn’t be hard for Ragnarok to pass its predecessors. It goes far beyond that however: Ragnarok is an immensely entertaining film. Director Taika Waititi delivers one of the best Marvel movies to date.

The film opens up with narration from the God of Thunder himself as he’s tied up. It turns out he let himself be captured so he can get to the fire demon known as Surtur. This opening sequence defines the MCU in a nutshell: good fun. That can be a negative thing when taken to the extreme. (That was the case in this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.) But Ragnarok rarely takes its lighthearted nature too far. The opening scene felt like something straight out of a comic book. It’s a treat to see Thor do battle with Surtur, the demon’s minions, and eventually a dragon. The story continues when Thor finds out Loki has been impersonating Odin. It turns out Odin is on Earth, and with a little help from Dr. Strange (the entire sequence with Strange was short, but very memorable) the brothers find their father. Sadly, Hela, the Goddess of Death, emerges soon after.

Hela’s arrival was exciting, and that’s mainly thanks to the atmosphere, costume design, and of course Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of the character. Hela’s much marketed scene of her breaking Mjolnir was a game changer and cemented her as a menace like no other. Loki calls for a bridge escape and Hela follows, causing things to go out of whack. Thor lands on a planet named Sakaar while Hela looks to take over Asgard.

Let’s talk about Thor’s time at Sakaar, which comprises the middle act of the film. The gladiator setting was unique and had quite a few memorable characters. Valkyrie’s plotline was one of the most engaging. It’s an interesting development when Thor realizes she’s Asgardian, and later when Loki forces her to remember her past of Hela killing her comrades. Jeff Goldblum’s portrayal of the Grandmaster has charismatic flare, such as in the scene when he vaporized his own cousin. (As gross as it was, Thor’s reaction was a little hard to believe however.) Finally, Korg was fun, and he thankfully got to appear in the climax.

Chris Hemsworth’s Thor has come a long way since 2011. In this film he talks about being a hero quite often. I wasn’t sold on Hemsworth in previous films, but here he’s excellent. What’s interesting is that a major part of his development is how he fights without his hammer in the climax. It’s always an interesting concept when a character’s primary weapon is destroyed/taken away. Next, as seen heavily in the marketing, the Hulk is featured as a major character. Mark Ruffalo took on the role starting in The Avengers, where he was excellent. Since then, Marvel has pushed a character arc on Bruce Banner/the Hulk, starting in Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hasn’t worked.

Bruce Banner was a man sure of himself and in control of the Hulk in The Avengers. Then for some unexplained reason in the sequel, that development went away and Hulk was back to being uncontrollable. In Ragnarok, Banner isn’t in control when Hulk appears. Hulk’s mind is small compared to Banner’s, and as a result, Hulk comes off as childlike. This leads to some funny scenes, but Hulk isn’t too engaging as a character. (It would have been more interesting to see a Hulk more like from the show Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.) This is not to say the Hulk wasn’t fun to have around. The gladiator battle sequence against Thor was one of the film’s highlights. Bruce Banner also appears, and has a few humorous scenes. But like in Age of Ultron, he isn’t as engaging as his appearance in the first Avengers.

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The Marvel films are typically good, but the antagonists can sometimes be mediocre. Examples include Darren Cross from Ant-Man, Malekith from The Dark World, among others. Hela is one of the Marvel villains that can thankfully be called “great.” As already stated earlier, her emergence is genuinely menacing. Cate Blanchett brings grandeur to her portrayal as she tells Thor and Loki to kneel before their queen. Hela continues to be a highlight, as she arrives in Asgard and begins to take over. Her backstory is fascinating. In fact, it’s so fascinating, that it was a missed opportunity to not show some of it in flashback. This could have been useful in the late middle act. There’s this long stretch with Thor on Sakaar with no scenes of Hela that could have benefited with a flashback showing her time with Odin.

As for other characters, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is once again a lot of fun. One never 100% knows which side he’s on. He and Thor work really well together, such as when they team up late in the middle act. Odin doesn’t appear too much, but when he does, one can expect a scene of authority. Viewers learn intriguing backstory about Odin’s past with Hela, giving more dimension to his character. (It’s truly a shame there wasn’t a big flashback sequence.) Skurge goes through a character arc as he becomes the reluctant Executioner for Hela. It’s easy to see what the film was going for, but Scurge never came off as sympathetic or engaging.

One of the best aspects of this film is its pacing. The film never hits a boring moment, which is thanks to the excellent action and fun characters. From the opening sequence to the showdown with Hela, the film has quite a few exciting action pieces. I’ve already mentioned Hulk versus Thor in the ring, but it deserves a second shout out for being a particularly fun sequence. The soundtrack is Marvel’s strongest since the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Ragnarok’s music is stylistic and makes excellent use of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song.’

Overall, Thor: Ragnarok is one of the most entertaining Marvel movies to date. It never slows down and the storyline is engaging. This is thanks in large part to Cate Blanchett’s portrayal of Hela. The Goddess of Death commands the scene every time she’s on screen. Thor is also great. His mission is to get back to Asgard, but he’s stranded on an unknown planet. This makes for an interesting middle act. Hulk is a fun inclusion that never steals the show away from the title character. As a whole, most of the characters bring something to the table. Ragnarok is an exciting film.

9/10

My Little Pony: The Movie Review

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On October 10, 2010, the world of pop culture was forever changed when a show called My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic premiered on The Hub/Discovery Family. This show began the fourth generation of the My Little Pony franchise. It was different than previous incarnations. The character designs were unique and it attracted a fan-base of both men and women of all ages. Seven years later, and that fan-base has grown to amazing proportions. The series has aired over a hundred episodes and shows no signs of finishing anytime soon. Essays can be written on why the show is appealing, but I’ll sum it up in one sentence: In a time when animated shows are devoid of substance, My Little Pony offers genuinely good writing, developed characters, and moral-filled messages. The show must obviously be doing something right, because this year marks its first wide release theatrical film.

Granted, the series had a couple of spin-off films (Equestria Girls) appear in the theater, but those were limited releases. The Movie is the first “true” theatrical experience. Director Jayson Thiessen has been with the series for awhile. He does the show justice with the film. It’s an exciting adventure for both longtime fans and those looking to see for the first time why Pony is a pop culture phenomenon. Though it’s not perfect (a weak climax for one thing), The Movie is well worth the price of admission.

The opening scene features a beautiful overview of Canterlot. The show has been known for its sharp animation, and the movie multiplies its unique look: the animation is gorgeous. Soon we’re shown our main character: Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship. In typical Twilight fashion, we’re shown a character whom easily becomes a nervous wreck when it comes to planning something big. The Friendship Festival is a solid way to start the film, as it introduces viewers to each of the main ponies. Rarity’s attention to detail when designing the ribbons for the stage, and Rainbow Dash’s brashness in decorating the place in the blink of an eye (with no attention to detail) much to Rarity’s dismay was classic. Right before the festival can kick off with a song from Songbird Serenade, the conflict makes itself known.

The arrival of the Storm King’s ship was handled brilliantly. The sky grows dark and the music changes as the ship draws closer to the ground. We’re not introduced to the eponymous villain yet however. Instead, a little creature named Grubber announces they’re here by order of the Storm King and proceeds to introduce Commander Tempest. Voiced by Emily Blunt, Tempest makes herself known by requesting the immediate surrender of all four princesses. Blunt does a fantastic job here and the rest of the film as Tempest. There’s a genuine menace to her voice, and also gives the impression that Tempest genuinely hates friendship. Back to the raid, naturally the princesses don’t surrender and this leads to an exciting sequence as Tempest turns Princess Celestia, Luna, and Cadance all to stone. It’s mayhem as the Storm King’s troops attack as the pony civilians run in fear. There is however something that needs to be noted about the entire sequence.

Viewers of the show know that Twilight Sparkle is one of the most powerful magic users in Equestria. However, she’s useless during the raid. She doesn’t teleport away as the orb approaches her. She almost doesn’t fight back at all when really she could easily beat Tempest. That’s a problem for almost the rest of the movie: Twilight seems to be genuinely scared of Tempest, despite the fact that she (Twilight) battled a demonic overlord all by herself in the past. That’s why the raid sequence was a little hard to believe. If someone however has never seen the show, this wouldn’t be a big deal.

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Next, the core part of the movie begins: Twilight and her friends’ journey to finding the Queen of the “Hippos.” It’s an adventure story at its finest; the ponies travel to a shady western-like town, a pirate airship, a mermaid-like place, and finally back to the castle. The new settings have memorable characters. Capper is a charismatic cat brilliantly voiced by Taye Diggs. Captain Celaeno is a great pirate character. This is one case though where the film could have benefited from being a bit longer. We’re shown that she and her band of pirates are forced to do the Storm King’s bidding. Rainbow Dash gives her a speech on being awesome again: she doesn’t have to follow the Storm King. Dash’s speech is well done, but some additional minutes would have been useful in developing Celaeno’s character progression. In the mermaid, or rather seapony place, Princess Skystar is another great character. We’re shown her genuine longing for friends, especially with not having interacted with the outside world for awhile.

Before we move on to the climax, let’s discuss the main ponies themselves. Each of their diverse personalities are nicely displayed. It’s fun seeing their different reactions, from Rarity saying how her mane is worth more than a character was willing to pay for it, to Pinkie’s bubbly reaction to a certain character’s real name. Now, unfortunately some of the ponies don’t technically get to do much. Fluttershy, Applejack, and Rarity have few notable scenes. At least Fluttershy had one memorable scene when she “battled” a Storm King trooper – I can’t say the same for Applejack or Rarity. Other than Twilight, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie seem to be the show’s most popular characters. That’s probably the reason why those two were given more prominence in the film.

Pinkie Pie was one of the highlights. The show can have a hard time balancing her comedic relief persona and being an engaging character. The film balances that perfectly, and even goes further toward the climax when she and Twilight discuss a controversial matter. It was one of the most emotional scenes in the entire franchise. It’s amazing how much emotion can be shown in the characters’ eyes. This was also helped by the superb voices of Tara Strong and Andrea Libman. Spike is given a good role as well. His fire-breathing is put to excellent use.

Now we come to the climax and the Storm King. Storm King steals the show in the few scenes he’s in. Liev Schreiber does a fantastic job voicing the villain with comedic flare. Storm King is a character whom likes to have fun as he’s ruling over the masses, and it shows. Unfortunately, the climax doesn’t do him full justice. Now, him mainly appearing in the climax as build-up can be a good thing  – if the film delivers something exciting. We do get some good dialogue from the King, and the obligatory ponies-uniting scene to put an end to his reign. But there’s no real battle. There’s virtually no showdown with the antagonist. The show has had better climaxes. In “Twilight’s Kingdom – Part 2,” Twilight battles Tirek; magical beams are shot and Twilight is thrown into a mountain. Keep in mind, that “Twilight’s Kingdom” was aired as TV-Y. The Movie has a film budget and a PG rating, and yet has a mediocre climax in comparison. It’s not terrible, but with how little the Storm King appears, more was needed. (I recommend reading the prequel graphic novel; it shows more of Storm King’s character and motivation which you won’t really find in the film.)

One of the greatest aspects of the show is its emphasis on quality music. You’ll find many amazingly written tunes in the film as well. As an example, part of the lyrics of the song, “We Got This Together” is: “I am the princess of friendship – But that is more than just a crown.” This speaks volumes on the type of character Twilight is, and the responsibly she carries. Daniel Ingram has been composing heartfelt songs for the show for years. He continues that quality work in the film, along with every other artist who worked on the soundtrack. Tempest also has a song as she explains her emotional backstory on how her horn became broken. The background themes are also great. The soundtrack overall is an A+.

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Overall, My Little Pony: The Movie does the show justice. It features all the great characters longtime fans have come to love throughout the years. The story is a classic adventure filled with memorable new characters. Tempest is a highlight, and no one will soon be forgetting the laughs they had while watching Capper. Like the show, the film  deals with different themes. It deals with the power of friendship, losing faith in friendship, broken friendships, and of course the fight against evil. Quality writing is abound. There are a few gripes. Twilight is portrayed as severely weak throughout the film. The climax was more on the mediocre side, and the Storm King, though a great character, was given too little screen time and not enough payoff. These things shouldn’t wreck your enjoyment of the film however. My Little Pony has become a brand associated with quality. The Movie is a story filled with the quality message of friendship.

8.5/10

War for the Planet of the Apes Review

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In 2011, the Planet of the Apes franchise was revived. Rise was a reboot, but also a prequel to a new series. Modern effects would allow more realistic apes than what was seen in the original films, and in Rise, we got to see some of the best effects of a modern blockbuster. The film was followed by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and to quote my review from it, it “is one of the finest movies of the century.” Caesar was already fantastic in Rise, but in Dawn his character was further cemented as one of the greatest of 21st century pop culture. War for the Planet of the Apes gets Caesar even further by making him and his ape companions the full-fledged protagonists. There’s no main human protagonist (aside from Nova) this time around. This works, because Caesar is an incredible character, and the other apes are great as well. They can easily hold a film together. War has many of the things that made its predecessors good films. It’s incredibly well written and provides a fine closure to a fantastic trilogy.

The opening scene makes sure to remind the viewer that this is a war. It’s a tension-filled sequence as we see the soldiers plan to attack the apes in the forest. Then, when the soldiers make an explosion, everything turns into chaos. It’s exciting when the apes rally to defend the woods. This opening scene grabs the viewer’s attention right away. It’s brutal as we see apes and soldiers getting killed from bullets and spears. After the battle, we’re shown Caesar deciding what to do with a traitor ape by the name of Red/Donkey and the soldier survivors. This is Andy Serkis’ best portrayal of Caesar yet. Every scene he’s in is Oscar-worthy.

Perhaps the core story is Caesar’s mission to take out The Colonel. It’s interesting because in a key scene, Maurice tells Caesar that the latter is starting to sound like Koba. This was a greatly written scene. Koba was the antagonist in Dawn, and in War Caesar at times “sees” Koba, showing that the rogue ape still haunts. Caesar’s journey, outward and inward, is engaging. He isn’t a one-dimensional hero. He fights to defend the apes, and goes through development after being hit with the realization that Maurice’s words are proving to be true. Caesar has easily become one of the greatest film franchise characters ever to be created.

As stated in the first paragraph, the apes can hold a film together. Each of the main ones are given personality, from Maurice being the soft observant one to Donkey being a loyal Koba follower. War introduces one new major ape protagonist, whom comes toward the latter part of the film. “Bad Ape” is actually the main negative why War isn’t the perfect film Dawn was. Dawn was a serious film, and arguably War should be even more serious. Bad Ape provides comic relief, such as saying “I’m okay” after tripping on something off screen. It just seemed like he was there to provide humor in an otherwise perilous story – but was it really necessary? I don’t think so. For an example backing up that standpoint, we have a scene where Bad Ape doesn’t know how to use binoculars. Then it cuts back to The Colonel’s ape prison. It goes from comedy then back to a serious situation; it just doesn’t mesh well. The tone change is abrupt and jarring. Ultimately, Bad Ape didn’t contribute much to the story and could have been left out of the script.

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The primary antagonist is Colonel McCullough. He’s no Koba, as The Colonel is more of a textbook villain. But to call him generic would be a disservice as well. His scenes with Caesar throughout the final act were especially interesting to watch. As stated earlier, there’s no human protagonist driving the story forward. However, there is a human character whom the apes pick up. A little girl whom is later named Nova, she was a good character to have around. Despite not being able to talk, she displayed great emotion.

The lead-up to the climax is almost as exciting as the climax itself. Seeing the plan to escape was engaging. Then, the final battle provides an epic action sequence that won’t soon be forgotten. However, while the explosions are grand, it’s the different characters’ decisions that make the final act so memorable. From Caesar’s last encounter with The Colonel, to Donkey’s grenade gun, there’s so much emotion conveyed in these fantastic scenes. The soundtrack is particularly strong as well. The final scene provides a genuinely emotional ending to what will go down as one of the best trilogies out there.

Overall, War for the Planet of the Apes is a great film. Though not perfect like Dawn, just about everything works. Caesar is outstanding once again, and is given more to do. The action is very good, but it’s the interactions with the apes that truly make the film stand out. The themes of mercy and leadership are there, as Caesar has to make a choice of whether to be like Koba or not. The different ape characters are great, aside from Bad Ape. The emotion the different scenes convey is amazing. Who could forget Luca grabbing a flower from a tree and putting it on Nova? With a memorable final act, War concludes Caesar’s journey with excellence. Though there could be more Planet of the Apes films, War provides fine closer to the story set in motion in Rise.

9/10

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

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We are living in quite an interesting era for the comic book film landscape. Spider-Man got his first film all the way back in 2002, 15 years ago. When Marvel launched their Cinematic Universe, the idea of the Webhead fighting alongside the Avengers was nothing but fan fiction at that point. But, in an unprecedented event, a deal between Sony and Marvel allowed Spidey to join the MCU. He debuted in Captain America: Civil War to critical acclaim. To put it simply, it was surreal and a dream come true. Now here we are with Spider-Man’s first solo outing in this continuity and also his fist solo outing since 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. So, with all this pre-hype excitement out of the way, the question has to be asked: Is Spider-Man: Homecoming the best Spidey film yet? It is not, but Director Jon Watts’ film is still fun from beginning to end.

The opening act takes place eight years ago, during the aftermath of the Chitauri Invasion. It’s an interesting way to set up the story, and in this case it’s setting up Adrian Toomes’, (known to comic fans as the Vulture) rise to villainy. I’m all for antagonists getting this kind of treatment in the beginning (and we all know villains in the MCU need to be better) but there’s something hammy to Michael Keaton’s portrayal in this first act. It takes a bit before the Vulture becomes an engaging character. It’s interesting when he brings up how rich people like Tony Stark rule, while working people like him have to eat off the scraps. It’s a solid motivation for him; it’s a shame the writing didn’t do a better job developing that in the beginning. To give some credit, Toomes has some good scenes toward the climax. In the end, Vulture doesn’t solve the ongoing problem of mediocre villains in these films, but he’s a step above villains like Darren Cross and Malekith. As a bonus, the suit design is genuinely menacing.

Of course, the primary reason why one would watch this is to see Spider-Man. For some, this is the first time seeing Spider-Man on the big screen. For others, this is the second rebooted Spider-Man film. Either way, I believe most will be satisfied with Tom Holland’s portrayal of the famous character. Holland portrays this energetic young Peter Parker well. Some particularly strong scenes are when he busts the fake Avengers robbery and when he tries to save the Staten Island Ferry. The writing does a good job bringing the story to street level. An example is the montage early on with Spidey helping the common citizen. (There are plenty of humorous scenes throughout the film, but my favorite comes from this montage – the brief clip of Spidey giving an older woman directions.)

Tom Holland’s portrayal is mostly great, but it can border on the annoying side in a few instances. The video clip early on for example was a bit much after awhile. Also, if one is used to the more adult incarnations of Spider-Man, it could be tough getting used to this 15 year old version. But, I think it’s possible since the writing does a solid job at making this about him discovering how to be a mature hero. One of the most powerful scenes was Tony taking away the Spider suit. Peter claims he’s nothing without the suit. Tony replies, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” Speaking of Tony, Robert Downy Jr. steals the show every scene he’s in. He doesn’t appear too much, which would have taken the spotlight away from Peter. Iron Man appears for just the right amount of screen time.

There’s plenty of fun, fast-paced action. Though, there’s no truly notable battle sequence. Yes, the climax finally featured Spidey dealing blows to the Vulture, but before that the fight scenes were mostly brief. You won’t walk out of the theater saying, “Wow, that was one great action sequence.” Some of the more well done action pieces weren’t fights. The scene where Spidey breaks into the Washington Monument and the one where he attempts to hold the Ferry together were intense. Also, I’m sure longtime fans will appreciate seeing a famous comic scene adapted near the climax. (Personally, I think that particular scene would have been better saved for a future film.) The soundtrack isn’t bad, though not too memorable outside a couple of themes.

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As for the other characters, the most major is Jacob Batalon’s Ned. He was fun to have around; he worked well as a friend and later “guy in the chair” for Peter. Laura Harrier as Liz wasn’t bad. She wasn’t much besides a love interest for Peter. But, to give some credit, she wasn’t devoid of personality. The romance angle wasn’t terrible. In the end, it doesn’t really go anywhere, but without it, it would have been hard to have the well done car scene with Toomes. Zendaya as Michelle was one of the most interesting characters with her unique, quirky personality. It looks like the writing has plans for her in future installments, which is good. Out of all the supporting characters, ironically the standout wasn’t a human – it was Karen, an A.I. built into the Spider-Man suit. One of the best scenes is when Spidey talks with her while being stuck at a base. Oh, we can’t forget Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May. The writing really tries to make her the complete opposite of the original trilogy’s May. It mostly works, but the last scene went a little too far.

Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a solid addition to the Marvel film library, Tom Holland’s energetic outing in Civil War takes the center focus here, and it’s mostly well done. As he should be, Peter is portrayed as an upbeat kid. At its core, the story is about Peter becoming the hero we’ve seen throughout the years in comics. When Tony takes away Peter’s suit, Spidey is forced to reevaluate himself. The Vulture is a decent enough antagonist. There’s enough solid material to avoid calling him a mediocre villain. The action is fun, but it feels like there should have been one more important fight scene. But, despite any negatives, Homecoming remains an engaging watch. By the end, it makes the viewer anticipate Spidey’s future appearances.

8/10

 

Wonder Woman Review

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Since her inception in 1941, Wonder Woman has remained not just the most famous female superhero – but also one of the biggest icons of pop culture. That’s why it’s shocking it’s taken this long for a movie about her to be made. Lesser known comic book characters like Electra and Steel have gotten feature films, but never Wonder Woman. Finally, that changed this year. Wonder Woman appeared in last year’s Batman V Superman, and while people were divisive on that film, many agreed that Gal Gadot’s brief portrayal of the character was solid. Now we get to see this version of Wonder Woman in a starring role. Director Patty Jenkins delivers a film full of heroism and inspiration. It’s a film worthy of the iconic character.

Wonder Woman as a character stands for justice, and the film does a fantastic job showing that. When Steve Trevor is forced to tell the truth on Themyscira, Diana’s reaction to it looks incredibly genuine. He says how the war has taken the lives of women and children, and the viewer knows at that moment, Diana is going to do something about it. From here, Diana continually showcases what being a hero is about. Two of the most notable scenes in the film are when she talks back to the government and when she decides to jump into battle to stop the oppression of the village of Veld. It’s inspiring, and the major reason why it’s so well done is Gal Gadot’s fantastic portrayal.

Diana has lived on an island away from mankind all her life, so it’s interesting how she reacts to things in the outside world. Her reaction to seeing a baby and ice cream for example are nice scenes. Her respect and love for people are evident, as seen in the aftermath of the Veld’s battle sequence. She stands on a rooftop as people clap and look above at her. What does she do then? She comes down to their level. She shakes hands and smiles – a truly touching scene showcasing the kind of character she is. This feels like the first time in a comic book film where we see such a powerful character on the same level with the people he/she protects.

The other main character is Steve Trevor. He’s had a long history with Wonder Woman in the comics, so it would be interesting to see how he would be used in the film. Chris Pine provides just the right amount of charisma without going overboard. Like Diana, Steve is portrayed as heroic, and becomes even more so because of her. The romance between him and Diana isn’t bad. Romance has a reputation in comic book films for being forced or poorly done, so it’s good to see a romance subplot actually passable.

Near the middle act of the film, the story introduces viewers to three characters that form Steve’s team to raid German High Command. There’s a problem with introducing a bunch of characters in the middle of a film. Not enough character or backstory is given here. We have Charlie, whom is supposed to be a sharpshooter. But what did he actually contribute? Then there’s Chief, but he also did nothing of importance. Only Sameer is given something to do. He mentions to Diana that it is his dream to be an actor, and later we get to see that acting ability in one of the film’s most hilarious scenes.

Steve’s secretary Etta Candy borders on being funny and over the top. Thankfully the film doesn’t go overboard with her. There are a few antagonists. Danny Huston as Ludendorff is a bit on the generic side, but he’s not terrible. He does his job at being a sinister army general. However, Dr. Isabel Maru (known as Dr. Poison) is far more interesting. There’s an unhinged nature to Elena Anaya’s portrayal of the doctor. The real villain however is Ares, and how his character comes together in the climax is brilliant. Though he only does big things in the last act, Ares cements himself as one of the better comic book movie antagonists.

Wonder Woman doesn’t disappoint in the action department. The early battle on Themyscira was well done. It takes a bit before the next big action sequence, but when it happens, it’s worth the wait. Diana’s stand against the German army at the village of Veld was awesome and well choreographed. It’s a nice balance between the street level Batman type of fighting and the grand Superman battles. The climax is divided into two major fight scenes, both of which are great. The showdown against Ares was a satisfying final action piece.

Though the film contains great action scenes, it’s something else that ultimately shines: the theme of love. It’s the genuine love of people that can conquer darkness and hate, as Diana displays. It’s a great message for a culture that promotes self-interest. The film’s soundtrack is strong, featuring the now iconic theme from Batman V Superman along with other quality themes. As for Themyscira, it’s a beautiful, unique setting. Though Diana’s mother, Hippolyta, doesn’t appear after the first act, she leaves a lasting impression along with Atiope.

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Overall, Wonder Woman is a great film. It’s full of genuine heroism and emotion. Gal Gadot’s portrayal of the character is perfect. She displays everything Wonder Woman is meant to be. Steve Trevor is very good as well. (Sadly, most of the other characters don’t actually do much.) The war backdrop is interesting, and provides a great sense of victory when Diana rises to combat the army in the fantastic Veld sequence. The actions scenes are well done and Ares is an excellent final boss. To love others, to do the right thing, and to be a hero is what Wonder Woman is all about.

9/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

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Guardians of the Galaxy was Marvel’s surprise hit. The characters were relatively unknown to the general public until the film came out in 2014. Now everyone knows “I am Groot” and Rocket Raccoon’s constant sarcasm. Though having a grand outer space backdrop, the film was about different characters coming together and forming a team – or better, a family. The concept of family continues on in the sequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Anticipation was high, and with Ego the Living Planet as the antagonist, one expects a grand sequel. Sadly, though it has some of the things that made the first film great, Vol. 2 is a mediocre sequel.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has an exciting climax that ends with a  genuinely emotional sequence. The last 30 minutes makes the viewer forget about any mediocre things prior to the final act. Of course, as a reviewer, one has to look at the film as a whole and unfortunately there are quite a few negative aspects. The film does retain some of what made the first Guardians a blast. There are plenty of fun character interactions and space battles. The writing is sadly a lot weaker than its predecessor.

Vol. 2 is a prime example of the writing going to the extreme in the comedy department. The first Guardians perfectly balanced comedy and storytelling to deliver one of the best comic book films ever. Vol. 2 takes that comedic aspect and multiplies it tenfold. The problem is that the “funny” scenes are often obvious and forced. Even the character interactions at times were trying too hard to be humorous. The intro with the characters battling Sharktopus an Abilisk was fun, though Groot dancing went on a little too long. Since we’ve just brought him up, baby Groot is cute but by the middle act the viewer misses the adult Groot from the first film.

Pacing is one of the most key aspects of any film. The first Guardians had perfect pacing; the film moved smoothly. The second film unfortunately lacks that. Vol. 2 slows down drastically when the Guardians land on Planet Ego. Things happen, but they’re not particularly interesting. It felt like the scenes on the planet were just buying time until the climax. Yes, the core aspect of the film is Peter finding his father. But it’s not as engaging as a reunion as it should be. This could be because Ego isn’t the best antagonist. The writing gives him some meta motivations and technically his goal might be the grandest from the Marvel films, but the actual character just isn’t notable. To give some credit to the reunion aspect, some things worked well, such as the playing catch scene.

Something that worked really well was the Gamora/Nebula subplot. Nebula’s backstory on why she hates Gamora is fascinating, and also shows how evil Thanos is. The scenes with the sisters are some of the most well done in the film. Their last scene put an extra emotional touch to the final act. Gamora is one of the best characters, showcasing that hardcore warrior persona while also showing genuine emotion. The theme of Guardians Vol. 2 seems to be family, and while some of the Star-Lord/Ego scenes were a bit flat, other aspects were fantastic. We just discussed Gamora and Nebula; there’s also Yondu, who could be the best character. His scene in the climax might be the most emotionally well done of all the Marvel films.

Rocket is usually a highlight, but the film does one big negative thing with him. So, a major subplot is that an alien race called the Sovereign is after the Guardians. The reason? Rocket stole their batteries. This came off as petty and something that didn’t need to happen. Rocket does get some fun scenes with Yondu on the ship. Drax doesn’t have much of a character arc this time around unfortunately. He’s there mainly for comedy, and it can range from laugh-out-loud funny to forced. Star-Lord is a fun character like in the first film. Though, there’s a lack of well-acted emotion. He seems to have the same static face even when faced with the revelation of who killed his mother.

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As stated earlier, the climax is awesome. Fighting a living planet seems like something that could only be done in a comic book, but the film pulls it off. The visuals are fantastic (want to see Pac-Man chomping away in space?) and there’s quality emotion as the writing reminds the viewer that family isn’t always by blood. The soundtrack is very good, though not as notable as the soundtrack from the first film.

Overall, this review seemed to be a bit on the harsher side. That is because the first Guardians of the Galaxy set a high standard. Vol. 2 doesn’t live up to it. The writing is weaker and doesn’t balance the comedy properly. It wouldn’t be a terrible thing if most of the funny stuff were genuinely funny. A lot of the dialogue just doesn’t seem like what actual people would say. That might sound silly since most of the characters aren’t human, but a lot of the dialogue is obvious comedy. This is not to say the film isn’t a good time. If one enjoyed the first movie, one should like the second. The character interactions are at times priceless and the climax is one of the most exciting from any Marvel film. It’s a shame the rest of the film didn’t live up to it.

6.5/10