Venom Review

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Before going into Venom, one must accept the fact that Spider-Man has nothing to do with the character in this portrayal. Now, Venom has been tied to Spider-Man in most media. In almost all the comics, most of the shows, and Spider-Man 3, the Venom symbiote was a parasitic creature that bonded with Peter Parker. Eventually, Peter learned of the symbiote’s dark intentions, and got rid of the symbiote. Eddie Brock, a person who hates Peter, bonded with the symbiote and thus was born one of comic’s greatest dynamics.

So, can Venom work outside of Spider-Man? Most things could work under the right writing team. With a passionate director, a great script, and involved actors, it could work. Venom has none of these things. The script is dumb, most of the characters are lackluster, and the comedy is often atrocious. This film is on the same level of mediocrity as Fantastic Four (2015) and Catwoman, maybe even worst. Again, I believe the film could have worked. Yes, having Spider-Man involved would have been great. But, since that was not the route Sony went, the studio could have worked to deliver a compelling story delving into the interesting link between Brock and Venom. Instead, the film is content with stupidity throughout. Brock jumping into a lobster tank to eat live lobsters? That’s just what one expects from a film based on one of comics’ greatest characters!

The story is somewhat similar at first to previous incarnations. A space probe is en route back to Earth carrying samples of some alien substance, known as symbiotes. Unfortunately, one breaks out, causing the probe to crash. On Earth, that one symbiote escapes, jumping from host to host. Meanwhile, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), a reporter, is given an assignment to interview Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the head of the Life Foundation. Brock has his suspicions that Drake is a crook, but he is under strict orders not to interrogate. Despite that, Brock starts bringing up the lawsuits against Drake, which leads to the interview being terminated and Brock losing his job. Eventually, a renegade symbiote named Venom bonds with Brock, and the adventure begins.

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Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Eddie Brock has some charisma to it. A strong scene is when he brought up the lawsuits to Drake. After that though, Brock has to suffer through painfully “comedic” scenes, such as the entire restaurant sequence. “Is this real?” was the thought that came to mind as Brock went around eating people dishes and eventually jumping into the live lobster thank. All this is happening because the Venom symbiote is hungry, but even with that context, it’s still incredibly silly. This is the kind of film where you grab your buddies, jump on the couch with a few root bears, and laugh at how hysterically bad everything is. For some reason, the Venom symbiote actually curses. Guess they talk like that on planet symbiote, huh?

Romance is a staple in many movies, and when handled right, it can be a good thing. Venom starts the romance right. Eddie is engaged to Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), and the two have solid chemistry. But when Eddie is fired, Anne subsequently loses her job as well. (She was affiliated with the Life Foundation.) This leads to her breaking up with him. Fast forward six months later, and she has a new love interest. Despite the time gap, it stills feels incredibly sudden. This romance angle further detracted from the overall movie.

As for Carlton Drake, or as I like to call him, ‘Mr. Exposition,’ he does not have a screen presence. Heath Ledger’s Joker, Josh Brolin’s Thanos – these guys are legendary screen grabbers. Drake comes off as petty, with the script not really delving into his character at all. The writing may think giving him big exposition dialogue makes him a deep character, but it doesn’t. Interestingly, he does have a few lines of dialogue that seem to hint at something really neat, but doesn’t end up being the case because the Riot symbiote bonds with him much later in the film.

Speaking of Riot, he was solid. But, he looks way too much like Venom. The final battle between the two was decently fun, but can be hard to decipher the characters due to how similar they look. As for Venom himself, the scenes with him in his full Venomized form are the most entertaining of the film. The dialogue between Eddie and Venom is interesting. The relationship between the two in the comics is fascinating (I’d recommend reading The Spectacular Spider-Man: The Hunger for a great Venom story), and it’s explored in the film in a fun way. It’s too bad the rest of the film was mediocre. Also, it takes way too long for Venom to appear, even for an origin story.

The soundtrack is solid, with some notable tunes. At this point, I’ve been pretty negative on the film. The comedy usually just isn’t good. This is not a horror film, which is what Sony should have aimed for. Director Ruben Fleischer delivers a film that watches like a bigger budget college video product. Most of the comedy is just lacking. Yes, the Venom/Brock scenes are fun, but that’s about it. The film just comes off a story trying to be “fun,” using the Venom name, without delivering an actual quality story. The plot seems to be on fast forward, with little being explained or delved into. Ironically, Donna Diego (Michelle Lee), was 10x more engaging than Drake in her brief scenes. (She should have been the antagonist.)

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Simply put, Venom is one of the worst comic books movies in recent years. (The mid-credits scene is better than the whole movie.) If Sony makes a sequel to this despite the critical backlash (the film currently has a 32% on Rotten Tomatoes), the studio needs to overhaul everything. As it stands, Venom is bad. There is some fun to be had, but it’s just a poorly made movie. Venom could work without Spider-Man, but it definitely didn’t work here.

3/10

 

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Black Panther Review

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Let me start this review by saying how unique of a film Black Panther is. It’s as if the viewer is transported to a different culture. We’re very used to seeing the New York setting in comic book films, so it’s refreshing to see a new setting. The African scenery is beautiful. There’s a scene late in the film where T’Challa shows N’Jadaka a view of Wakanda, showcasing the fictional country’s splendor. The unique setting doesn’t hide mediocre performances either. Some films have stylistic scenery, but mediocre writing. Not so in Black Panther, where almost every major character is well developed and engaging. It’s tough to say if Black Panther is the best made Marvel film to date with films like Captain America: The Winter Solider and Iron Man. It very well could be, because Director Ryan Coogler gives viewers a well paced, developed story with fantastic characters.

The story takes place shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War. In that film, King T’Chaka (T’Challa’s father) was killed and T’Challa assumed the mantle of Black Panther. Here in his titled movie, T’Challa officially becomes Wakanda’s king. Meanwhile, Ulysses Klaue, last seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron, is still on the loose and working with a black-ops soldier named Erik Stevens, nicknamed Killmonger. T’Challa makes a plan to capture Klaue, but Killmonger ends up being a bigger threat, because he has personal ties to Wakanda…

In Civil War, Black Panther’s character arc was that of revenge for the death of his father. At the end however, T’Challa let go of that desire for revenge. In his title film, we get to see T’Challa take on the center focus. With the revenge story out of the way, what would his character arc be? To put it simply, to display his love for his country as its new king. Chadwick Boseman is a standout as the title character. The performance is very likable. Unlike many of the other Marvel protagonists, T’challa is rarely sarcastic, instead coming off as more of a subdued character with just the right amount of humor. (If there was too much humor, it would have ruined the flow of the story.) T’challa is an engaging character, and viewers get a sense throughout of how passionate he is. A good scene demonstrating that passion is late in the story, when T’Challa shouts at his ancestors that they were wrong for not being more involved with the world outside Wakanda.

It’s always a treat when the whole cast is excellent. This is the case with Black Panther. His sister, Shuri, is a fun character throughout the story. She being something of the Lucius Fox to T’Challa made for an interesting dynamic, and the banter between the two siblings was organic and genuinely funny. Nakia and Okoye get substantial roles, and both are compelling characters. Nakia’s sense of duty to helping those less fortunate, and Okoye’s unwavering loyalty to the throne made for interesting dynamics. There are a lot of strong performances in this movie.

Klaue’s brief appearance in Age of Ultron was notable, because the titular robot ripped off his arm. In this film, Klaue has a chance to be seen as a compelling character. Aside from some forced, unrealistic dialogue like “That was awesome!”, Klaue is a fun character, with highlights being his scenes at the Korean casino and his interrogation with Everett K. Ross.

Klaue however is not the primary antagonist, that would be N’Jadaka/Killmonger. The Marvel films have a history with mediocre villains, but that isn’t the case here. Sure, some of Killmonger’s dialogue is generic. (“The world took everything from me!”) But overall, Killmonger is an interesting character with ties to T’Challa’s family. The opening scene set in 1992 is nicely tied into what motivates Killmonger to want to kill T’Challa. Similar to Thor realizing that Odin was not the perfect being he idolized in Thor: Ragnarok, T’Challa is given the revelation that his father made a controversial decision, thus ruining T’Challa’s perfect view of his father. Killmonger’s street type of talking makes for an interesting contrast to the more noble-sounding Wakandians One of Killmonger’s best scenes is his ritual battle with T’Challa. Here, Killmonger demonstrates genuine passion when mocking T’Challa in front of the onlookers.

There are some other named characters that should be mentioned. M’Baku, known as Man-Ape in the comics, was an interesting character. W’Kabi was decent, but needed more development. Finally, there’s the CIA agent, Everett K. Ross. While some may see him as an Agent Coulson stand-in, he was nonetheless fun to have around. He bordered on being unrealistic for the sake of laughs at times, but never quite crossed that border into the Erik Selvig land of no return.

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The sequences are extremely well done in this film. Perhaps the best part was the casino sequence. First, the build-up was interesting because of the change of scenery. T’Challa travels to Korea, which is in stark contrast to the vibrant land of Wakanda. The scenes in the casino are full of tension because the viewer knows something is about to go down. Black Panther does not disappoint in the action department, featuring well choreographed sequences such as the outbreak at the casino and the climatic battle at the heart of Wakanda.

If the review hasn’t made it apparent by now, I’ll summarize what makes Black Panther good: the writing. The characters and their interactions are excellent, and the overall tone is consistent. It doesn’t traverse into ultra-dark territory, but it lacks the constant gags of other Marvel movies. That’s not to say the tone of the other Marvel movies is negative, because it has worked for the most part. But, what’s special about Black Panther is that it doesn’t rely on gags or funny scenes; it relies on the core characters and story. The only discrepancy in the writing I found was right before the journey to Korea. Shuri asks T’Challa if he thinks it’s a good idea to take his ex on a mission. That line of dialogue didn’t need to be there, because it doesn’t become a focus at all when at the casino. Moving past that, the soundtrack is notable. As I said earlier, the film transports the viewer to a different culture, and the music is part of that, providing some unique sounds we don’t typically hear in these movies.

Overall, Black Panther is a great movie. Chadwick Boseman delivers a fantastic performance as the title character. He is assisted by an excellent cast of compelling characters. Nakia, Okoye, and Shuri are particularly strong characters, each with their own unique personality. Killmonger is an engaging antagonist. The action scenes are great, and the pacing is adequate. The film is a special one among the Marvel movies, worthy of acquiring its 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, the highest rated Marvel Studios film as of the publishing of this review.

9/10

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

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

 

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

Doctor Strange Review

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Marvel Studios has cemented itself as a company viewers expect great things from. For the past two years it has been consistent in delivering quality. This year saw the release of one of the finest films in the franchise, Civil War. Now the company takes a short break from the ensemble to focus on introducing another character to the fold. Directed by Scott Derrickson, Doctor Strange is an enjoyable installment with a unique spiritual backdrop. The main thing stopping it from being truly great is a mediocre climax.

In some ways Doctor Strange is similar to the first Iron Man. Like Tony Stark, Stephen Strange is introduced as an arrogant man only looking out for himself. The path to his redemption is engaging. The opening act does a good job establishing who he is as a surgeon. Everything seems to be going right, but one event can change everything. In Iron Man’s case it was the terrorists killing Tony’s companions and kidnapping him. In Doctor Strange it’s the car crash that sets him on a path he didn’t expect to be on.

As stated in the first paragraph, the film has a unique spiritual backdrop. Scott Derrickson is a Christian, and he brings quite a few Biblical themes to the table. The conversation between Stephen and the Ancient One on life in general comes to mind. Ancient One shows him in a fun sequence how there’s more to life than what is happening in front of them. Derrickson delivers something refreshing with utilizing aspects of faith which is unfortunately rare in films.

The core of the story is found in the middle act with Stephen traveling to Nepal in hopes of healing his hands. This is one of the main aspects of the origin: Stephen training alongside other sorcerers. It’s well done mostly, but falters in perhaps being too long. There isn’t a big action sequence for quite awhile after the opening scene. The biggest problem with the training aspect might be that the film doesn’t let the viewer know how much time has passed since Stephen first walked through the doors. If we take the film at face value, it hasn’t been that long, so it’s hard to believe that Stephen was able to master all these techniques so quickly. He learns spells and actually outsmarts Wong.

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Benedict Cumberbatch owns the role as the title character. By the end of the film he’s one of the most engaging Marvel protagonists. His role as Sorcerer Supreme will be a lot of fun to watch in future films. The story does a good job detailing the type of work the Ancient One and her fellow sorcerers do. Wong’s dialogue stating,“The Avengers protect the world from physical dangers. We safeguard it against more mystical threats.” was excellent. Speaking of Wong, he was a lot of fun to have around. Every scene he was in with Strange was a highlight. Going back to the Ancient One, she was a compelling character. The writing gave her the best lines; Tilda Swinton delivered them with excellence.

Baron Mordo is an interesting, likable character. Anyone who has read the comics knows what happens; nonetheless, the writing does an excellent job building up to his big plot development in the after-credits scene. Before moving on to the antagonists, there’s one more character of note. Christine Palmer doesn’t appear too much but when she does it’s almost always a good scene. The viewer can feel her sadness when Strange early on basically tells her that without his work, life isn’t worth living, even with her. This plays into the excellent development later when Strange admits he was wrong. Romance doesn’t play a huge part in the story, but what is there is very genuine, in contrast to what is seen in some other Marvel films. (Thor and Ant-Man come to mind when it comes to poorly developed romances.)

The film has two main antagonists. The first is Kaecilius. He wasn’t that interesting, but at least the idea of a former student turning over to the dark side was done alright. The true villain behind everything is Dormammu. He gets a lot of hype throughout the story, and rightfully so. In the comics he’s a powerful figure, on the level of Thanos. Marvel had the opportunity to introduce a major character, and it failed miserably.

Dormammu is Doctor Strange’s greatest antagonist and an extremely powerful character. In the film he is described as a destroyer of worlds but we never get a glimpse of that. Instead when he finally appears he is just a floating head with a deep voice. In the comics he has a menacing, humanoid appearance with a flaming head similar to Ghost Rider’s. We didn’t see that here. Marvel is typically good with accurately bringing characters from the page to the screen but this is just as bad as what FOX did with Galactus in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. The climax also doesn’t help. Instead of a grand final battle, Strange beats Dormammu in a most unsatisfying way. It’s amusing after the first couple of times (though the ability is too overpowered) but becomes an annoying running gag considering it’s at the expense of Dormammu actually doing something. This was a massive disappointment and could potentially ruin the film for longtime fans of the villain.

The visuals are perhaps the film’s best feature. They are unlike anything we’ve seen in previous comic book films and rival that of Inception’s loopy visuals. They made for some really unique action sequences. From the opening fight scene to the battle in the mirror dimension, it’s an experience witnessing reality being warped. The soundtrack is another highlight. Marvel films don’t typically have notable soundtracks, but Doctor Strange breaks that trend. It’s still not spectacular (there are a few generic themes in there) but it’s solid thanks to the epic choir throughout the film.

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Overall, Doctor Strange is an engaging introduction for the Sorcerer Supreme. Scott Derrickson brings excellent themes to the table. Time is limited – we’re not here forever, so we need to make the most of every opportunity to do good. This is something the Ancient One says to Stephen later in the film. There’s a lot of excellent dialogue. The visuals are unique and something to be experienced on the big screen. Unfortunately the climax is disappointing and a major drawback.

8/10

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE Review

The X-Men franchise over at FOX always makes for an interesting story. The original trilogy isn’t known as great, but also not bad. The third film did make some errors, such as killing off Cyclops. Sadly, the three were also at their core Wolverine movies with the actual team almost sometimes acting like guest stars. Instead of rebooting it, the company instead decided to quasi-reboot it with the prequel First Class. Then in Days of Future Past Director Bryan Singer smartly messed with the timeline. It was the perfect way to “fix” what previous movies did while maintaining a coherent continuity. So in a way, Apocalypse is the first X-Men film in the new timeline. For those that have read the comics, they know the character of Apocalypse deserves a substantial amount of hype. (He’s basically the Thanos or Darkseid of the X-Men.) Combine that with the inclusion of characters such as Jubilee and Psylocke, plus bringing back fan favorites such as Nightcrawler, we have in theory a clear winner for the X series. Sadly, it might have ended up being the worst.

During watching it’s hard not to imagine how much better the story could have been if the film was set with the X-Men already established. We wouldn’t have needed all the exposition and character introductions the plot attempts to cram in the first half. We have intros for Cyclops, Jean Grey, Nightcrawler, Apocalypse, and numerous side characters. That’s not to mention there are previous character arcs brought back. Having a lot of characters/plots isn’t a bad thing, but it’s something few films have handled well. Captain America: Civil War is the primary example on how to juggle so many characters. Each person there got adequate screen time and a viewer doesn’t walk away feeling, “Well he/she was underused!” In X-Men’s case, it’s quite the opposite.

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Perhaps Psylocke was the most awaited character. Olivia Munn doesn’t do a bad job. In fact, I’d say she was very good in the role. The problem is the writing. She rarely has any lines throughout the over two hour run time. She maybe had 4 sentences. Combine that with no backstory and her role being basically a puppet, we have the definition of a wasted character. It’s a shame, because the costume and the way she fights were taken directly from the comics. The second worst example might have to be Angel. He was also criminally underused in his appearance in The Last Stand, but at least there he was likable and got at least one important scene. Like Psylocke, he’s given no backstory and ended up being an empty-minded follower of Apocalypse. His character arc also comes to a very unsatisfying end. How about Storm? Surely one of the future leaders and noblest of the X-Men would be given an excellent role. Sadly, we don’t get much of a sense of her goddess persona from the comics, instead being a thief whom becomes brainwashed by Apocalypse for most of the film.

Besides the poor usage of characters, another negative aspect is the pacing. It’s hard to call this an action movie sometimes. Often, it’s more of a drama/thriller with a few action sequences. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because Days of Future Past pulled this off. The thing there however is that Wolverine was able to hold the film together. There are no main characters here that are quite as interesting to follow. There are no major fights for over 90 minutes. Again, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but the story isn’t particularly captivating. It instead saves all the exciting things for the final 20 minutes. Batman V Superman had the same formula. There were numerous problems in that film as well but at least the climax was immensely satisfying. The finale in Apocalypse doesn’t quite reach that.

The biggest disappointment of the final battle is that Apocalypse himself actually rarely fights. He keeps reminding the viewer how great he is, but rarely do we see that in combat. He beats down on Quicksilver (only after the latter completely humiliates him) but he never fights the whole team. That’s the battle people wanted to see. This is not to say there aren’t things to like. Psylocke’s brief scuffle with Beast was a highlight and for a few moments it felt like something out of a comic book. Nightcrawler’s teleportation was also fun, as well as Cyclops’ optic blast being put to excellent use. As one can see, there are some good things here, but ultimately they are too few in a final act that’s only slightly better than 2015’s Fantastic Four climax.

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The film had the opportunity to establish Cyclops as the future leader of the team. Instead, he spends most of the movie being unlikable, even a punk. (After maybe a day at the school, he recommends he and a few others go for a joyride.) Interestingly, it’s his brother Havok whom proves to be a much better focus. It’s a shame he stopped appearing after the middle act. Henry McCoy was very solid throughout and definitely someone to look forward to in future films. Quicksilver had a great, though minimal role in Days of Future Past. It was great seeing him play a bigger part here in the latest film. Like in Days, he has a big “highlight sequence.”It goes on a little too long, (and even with his speed it’s incredibly hard to believe) but still was an attention grabber.

Charles Xavier wasn’t bad, but not particularly amazing either. Sadly, James McAvoy can’t seem to command a presence like Patrick Stewart. Michael Fassbender as Magneto was much more engaging. The story smartly shows why he would consider joining with Apocalypse. (Although his dropping the f bomb was completely unnecessary. When did PG-13 films start to allow that?) Like the previous two movies, Mystique plays a rather substantial role. Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of the character has been solid. The direction in the end is questionable, mainly because it seems like it’s just being done for the sake of her having around as a main character. By the end her being a good guy has grown tiresome.

As it should be, Apocalypse was the primary centerpiece in marketing. He’s not only a major X-Men villain, he’s a major Marvel character in general. His first on screen appearance would be a big deal. FOX hasn’t had a great track record with comic book antagonists (such as Dr. Doom and Galactus) but for the most part in the X series the villains have been adequate. Apocalypse is a highlight most of the time here. Oscar Isaac commands a presence whenever he’s on screen. The story dives briefly into his backstory, with him being the first mutant. The writing is excellent as it portrays him as this false-god figure. The only real problem doesn’t have to do with the character, rather the direction. He goes around for most of the film gathering followers, but rarely fights. When he does, it’s more metaphysical. He doesn’t even turn giant, one of his most popular abilities from the comics. (Well he does, just not in reality.) It was an immensely wasted opportunity for Fox because they had the chance to showcase that they can do grand comic book-like fights. Instead we get a lackluster showing for what should be a very powerful villain.

There’s certainly a lot of negatives, but this is not to say Apocalypse was a terrible experience. There are quite a few things to like and it’s fun seeing the team together at the end. As a sort of origin it does an okay job establishing the members, romance between Scott and Jean, and setting up for the future. The soundtrack is also solid throughout. The sad thing is that while most of the characters are good, the writing doesn’t utilize them well. I really liked Lana Condor as Jubilee for example. She brings the quirky character to life in every scene she’s in. But the writing has her do nothing of importance! Instead, Moira MacTaggert, a character whom can be cut out and it wouldn’t matter in the slightest, is given more to do. The film is one big wasted opportunity to showcase all these comic book icons.

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Overall, X-Men: Apocalypse is something of a disappointment. Focus is divided between the big conflict and setting up the team. The story couldn’t seem to juggle all these characters, which is perhaps its biggest flaw. The pacing also needed to be better. The two main actors of Batman V Superman can hold a film together because they’re compelling. There were no Oscar-worthy or even somewhat standout performances here. Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse might have been the best. He had great lines and a powerful persona, but the writing never capitalized on it with actual combat. The climax doesn’t make up for the long exposition. There’s plenty of cool things to see, but sadly they aren’t enough to stop this from probably being the most mediocre entry in the X-series.

5.5/10