Avengers: Infinity War

infinity war

My first take on the film is that I loved it. Everyone who I have talked to has loved it, and several are planning to watch it again in theaters. For such a large cast and zealous project, I feel that it was incredibly well done, and is a spectacle in its own right. I am going to try to avoid spoilers just below and will mention when there are some.

In terms of bringing the story arcs together, I think that there weren’t any real weak points and each of the actors ran with their moment in the spotlight. It’s hard to narrow it down to just a handful of favorites, but I would like to name a few.

Zoe Saldana as Gamora has established herself as this generation’s leading sci-fi actress in my opinion. She gave what I would argue is the strongest performance in a film with many. Just as she is the glue of the Guardians franchise, she was the glue of this third Avengers entry as well.

Josh Brolin as Thanos was probably the best motion-capped performance that I’ve seen outside of Andy Serkis as Gollum. It’s very impressive that as a new character, he was able to steal the screen ahead of so many already fleshed-out characters. Thanos was easily the most powerful force in the Marvel universe and his motives were believable and judicious. His drive and conviction poked and prodded the heroes in ways yet to be seen. And even though he was very powerful, he did have flaws that aren’t often seen with almighty antagonists.

I also thought that this was Robert Downey Jr’s best performance as Tony Stark/Iron Man. With every new entry, his role as this character is becoming more and more iconic. His relationship with Tom Holland’s Peter Parker has really evolved over their three shared films, and they have excellent chemistry. I look forward to the continuation of that relationship.

Cumberbatch, Hemsworth, and Pratt all did well in their roles, too. Doctor Strange was the brains of the film, Thor was the humanity of it, and Star-Lord was the raw emotion. All three of the cosmic heroes stood out more than the rest of their ‘grounded’ counterparts for me.

Moving on from my immediate thoughts on individual performances, I want to dispel some misunderstandings about Infinity War that I have seen written as plot holes or goofs. I’m not going to defend this film to the death, since every film has flaws, but I have been seeing a lot of pieces on major sites miss or ignore obvious plot points in criticizing the film. So the next few paragraphs will have spoilers.

spoilers

First, I feel like a lot of people are blaming Peter Quill for being emotional immediately after finding out that the person closest to him in the galaxy had died, to the point of calling him dumb and being the catalyst for all things bad. He responded exactly in the manner that Doctor Strange had intended, setting up the events of the one timeline where Thanos can be defeated. Despite ample opportunity to stop him, Doctor Strange (easily the most powerful hero in the MCU at present) allowed everything to happen exactly as it did after traveling to millions of timelines. And Quill responded exactly as you would expect him to given the of external stimuli. He even acted similarly in his last film appearance. In Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, despite being under celestial mind-control, Quill is broken out of it and rampages when he finds out Ego (his long-lost father who he was very much enamored with) kills his mother. So, I really don’t see a problem here with the motives or actions of the heroes on Titan.

Second, I have been reading that Gamora leading the Guardians to Thanos on Knowhere is somehow a plothole. The people writing this don’t know the difference between a plothole and a character making a poor or risky decision based on their established personalities. Thanos is already the most powerful being in the universe, and with each passing second he is getting stronger, Soul Stone or not. (I think the rise and fall in villainy in the MCU is directly tied with Odin) With the six infinity stones, we know Thanos can take out half of the universe with a snap. With two, three, four, or five he can and would still commit genocide, just not with a snap. They explain it in the film, even. Gamora felt as if she was equipped to stop him, especially if she was first to the Reality Stone. It was a gamble, and a reasonable one, but one that she lost. This is like blaming Luke Skywalker for going to fight Vader woefully unprepared to save his friends. It’s a risk, and also one that raises the stakes. You don’t always punt on 4th down. (Especially if you are a Guardian)

Third, I have read that Thanos’ ultimate solution of destroying half of the universe is nonsensical, as he could just make everyone’s lives better instead. Okay people, he’s an antagonist, so his motives are going to be a little unsettling. Let’s not forget the type of people driven to this type of power in our own existence. They’re all mad dictators who have committed genocide while thinking they were doing the right thing. And, if you take the Bubonic Plague as an example from our own history, you could argue that life got better for most afterwards. Given that it happened to him on Titan, you could see how he set laser-sights on proving himself during the events of this film. He’s mad, and justifies his motives as villains do. It doesn’t make him right, but it does justify his actions. You could very much make a ‘greater good’ argument if you do not value individuality as much as the collective course of events. And what’s to say that using the Infinity Gauntlet doesn’t have unintended effects if he seeks to feed all people or some other altruism. This is Genie in a Bottle 101.

Moving on from tackling some criticisms of the film, I was really moved by what I saw. The trademark MCU humor was present, and the choreography and new powers displayed were a treat. The Red Skull reappearance was one I asked for earlier, and was shocked to actually see him there again. The stakes felt very real and you didn’t feel like characters were escaping this one with a brush of the shoulder. Lives were lost and mistakes were made. On top of another perfect entry by the Russos, Silvestri created an amazing score, and the choice to go with silence during the final scenes was a powerful move. The last few minutes of the film were dead silence in my theater, and the ending had me almost begging not to see characters fade away. Much like the Infinity Gauntlet arc in the comics was at the peak of quality for comic books, Infinity War was at the peak of quality for comic book movies.

Before I go, let’s take a look at user scores and box office results after the first weekend:

IMDB: 9.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Metacritic: 8.8/10
Box Office (To Date): $258 Million (Domestic) $641 Million (Worldwide)

It shattered the record for the highest overall opening weekend, and amassed the highest domestic opening weekend ever. (Of all films, not just the MCU). It has already grossed more than six of the nineteen films in their entire runs. It remains to be seen if Infinity War will be the highest-grossing film of all time, but it is the fastest to $150, $200, and $250 million domestically and had the highest international opening weekend despite not including China. After this weekend it looks very possible.

In terms of how it has been received by movie-goers, it’s currently sitting in the Top 10 of IMDB ratings with a 9.0. In the MCU, it’s ahead of Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers who both rest at 8.1. Surely it will drop from 9.0 over time, but I don’t think it will drop over a point to stand below the other films. It also currently sits at a 93% fan score on Rotten Tomatoes, 1 point ahead of both Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. As for Metacritic user scores, it has the highest of the MCU with an 8.8, ahead of Guardians of the Galaxy at 8.6.

Infinity War is liked by the general public, despite critics not frothing at the mouth over it like they did Star Wars: The Last Jedi (for reasons unknown to anyone with a set of eyes and a brain). It has middling scores from critics on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes from critics, sitting at 9th (RT) and 10th (MC) respectively. This is a strong example of how critics can collectively be out of touch with films in an established series. Many critics judged it as a standalone film, and harshly at that. I just don’t think you can objectively remove this film from the larger story being told, and I think it is unfair to do so in any case without fair acknowledgement. Fans aren’t going in with a mindset of forgetting the last ten years of events leading to this film, and even casual movie-goers will have a decent idea of what has happened.

Film critics have recently ignored prior installments in a series when it’s convenient to their viewpoints, ultimately making sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes less useful for the cinema-goer. They certainly are for me, now that I attend the cinema less often. It’s a disservice to their readers and poor journalism when these critic reviews are less useful than fan reviews on message boards, which come out immediately after the fact. Surely Return of the King was not judged as a discrete entry when it won Best Picture. How could you separate it from the prior two? Conversely, critics seem oblivious to what makes fans upset when recent entries of established franchises just miss the mark. Sure they’re just opinions, but they’re hard to respect when they are so warped. I digress. Diversity is the spice of life. This has little to do with Infinity War, except that I feel that critics were unjustly harsh on it.

Where does it rank for me? It’s among the cream of the crop. It sits level with my three other favorites, which are the Guardians films and Winter Soldier. There’s not much difference between the four for me, and in some ways Infinity War excels past the others. For such an ambitious crossover, it came together better than I could have dreamed. After Ant-Man & Wasp in July, it’s going to be a long wait for me and other Marvel fans, with Captain Marvel and Avengers Part 4 coming out next spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Top Ten New Nintendo Characters Who Should be in Super Smash Bros. 5.

Here’s a list that will certainly be dated by about two weeks after my posting it, given how Nintendo periodically teases characters and builds hype around this series. I am a big Nintendo homer, buy into the hype with each new release of Super Smash Bros., having owned and played each title in the series since the original on the Nintendo 64. The next entry in the series is set to release this year, with a teaser tournament at this year’s E3 in June.

I don’t play competitively, so I’m not interested in the meta or the balancing, only that there are accessible characters there who represent Nintendo and their consoles as a whole. I have a few ground rules for my list. I’m excluding Splatoon Boy and Girl, since they’ve already been teased. I’m also excluding moveset changes/character re-skins – as a variation on Link from Breath of the Wild has been shown and he may even play differently. Also, all of these are never before seen in Smash, so I’m not including Ice Climbers, Wolf, Pokemon Trainer, and the rest of the bunch who have been there before.

So here’s my list of the Top Ten New Nintendo Characters Who Should be in Super Smash Bros. 5 on Nintendo Switch.

Koopa Troopa - Red
10. Koopa Troopa

First Appearance: Super Mario Bros. (1985)

Just a forewarning: I’m going to have a few Mario characters on the list. The Mario franchise and its offshoots are synonymous with Nintendo, and more from his cast are worthy of inclusion. Smash Bros. is more or less Nintendo’s Unofficial Hall of Fame, so I really think Smash should stick primarily to inclusions from mainline Nintendo titles.

Outside of your regular gamers, people recognize Koopa Troopa even if they don’t know the name. Koopa Troopa is a stalwart in the main Mario series, the Mario sporting titles, Mario Kart, and more. To a creative designer, there will be no shortage of options for a moveset. And Koopa Troopa already has an amiibo, if we’re going to see continued amiibo support. (Actually, several on my list already have amiibo). In my mind, Koopa Troopa would handle much like Squirtle in Brawl, without the water aspect.

King K. Rool
9. King K. Rool

First Appearance: Donkey Kong Country (1994)

Something that most would agree on is that Smash Bros. needs more antagonists. Another point that most agree on is that Smash Bros. needs more oversized and/or brawler style characters. I think K. Rool fits both of these criteria, while also being an iconic character in a massive Nintendo hit. You won’t find many fan-made lists without this mainstay antagonist.

K. Rool also has the potential for an entertaining King Dedede-esque moveset, as we’ve seen him go from wielding blunderbusses to boxing to teleporting across screen. I know that I would have a blast meteor smashing people off the stage with the King of the Kremlings.

CallieMarieMarinaPearl
8. Callie & Marie or Marina & Pearl

First Appearances: Splatoon (2015) and Splatoon 2 (2017)

The Splatoon Girl and Boy shouldn’t be alone. Splatoon, in my opinion, is Nintendo’s best new intellectual property of the last five years (if not for longer) and deserves more character representation than many of the franchises already present. And not only is the Splatoon franchise a massive hit, but Callie and Marie / Marina and Pearl are two sets of characters who are full of personality. They fit the mold of an ideal Smash Bros. character or character duo.

Again, we’ve got amiibo support here already, not that it’s a major factor, as I feel like amiibo figures represent a level of faith in the character from Nintendo. As for moveset, I wouldn’t want them to be clones of the Splatoon Girl or Boy, but instead show something different from a franchise that features dozens and dozens of cool and unique weapons. And they have the possibility of being either singular or double characters, so there’s room for an interesting concept.

Mipha
7. Any or All of the Champions

First Appearance: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)

It’s honestly surprising to me that the Legend of Zelda series hasn’t had any new characters since Melee. I mean, you can argue that Toon Link and Young Link are different characters, but really it’s just a re-skin. It’s high time that this flagship franchise gets some new blood in the series. The best selection is one or all of the Champions, who stole the show in Breath of the Wild.

Honestly, the hardest thing with the Legend of Zelda franchise with Smash Bros. isn’t finding someone to include, but picking one from the long list of iconic and memorable characters to grace the adventure series. Midna, Tetra, Skull Kid, Impa, Yuga – the list goes on. While several are worthy, I think the best option is the Champions. The hardest thing for creators would developing four new characters, but I think it’s worth it for fans of the Legend of Zelda series. (Sorry, I only had a portrait of Mipha, of all of the Champions)

Dixie Kong - Tropical FreezeCranky Kong
6. Dixie Kong or Cranky Kong

First Appearances: Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest (1995) and Donkey Kong (1981)/ Donkey Kong Country (1994)

Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong are undoubtedly mainstays to multiple Nintendo games over the years and should be included in every Smash Bros. ever – but they’re the only representatives of a long-lasting and adored franchise. I think that the DK Crew needs to grow by two, with Dixie or Cranky being added along with K.Rool. The best pick in my opinion would be Dixie, though Cranky Kong wouldn’t be a bad choice either.

I would go with Dixie over Cranky since she’s headlined before in Donkey Kong Country 3, where Cranky has never truly been as significant. Also, I feel she has a bit better potential for an interesting and versatile moveset. I would be happy with either, given their continued playable appearances in the DK franchise, which arguably is continuing to improve with Tropical Freeze on the Wii U and later the Switch.

Ribbon GirlSpring ManMin MinHelix
5. Anyone from ARMS

First Appearance: ARMS (2017)

ARMS is one of Nintendo’s newest and most exciting IPs and will almost definitely have a character in Super Smash Bros. 5. I would honestly bet for an inclusion from this franchise over anyone else in this list. And while ARMS has had a bit of a slower start than Splatoon overall, there’s a great following and the characters should fit into the Smash universe without a hiccup.

Who would I choose? Well, you could go with Spring Man and/or Ribbon Girl – to keep the same moveset with different skins (like Wii Fit Trainer) and have the main protagonists. That’s probably the safest and most likely bet. But honestly, they’re a bit vanilla for most fans, so you may see them go with an ‘edgier’ or more interesting selection like Helix or Min Min. Heck, you may even see multiple characters from ARMS in Smash 5.

Paper Mario - Classic
4. Paper Mario

First Appearance: Paper Mario (2000)

Paper Mario, despite a dip in form over the last few years with Sticker Star and Color Splash, is an interesting franchise that warrants a character inclusion in Super Smash Bros.. And while it’s never been a flagship series, there are a handful of critically-praised and well-loved entries to choose from, featuring a different take on Mario in the limelight.

From his charging hammer to using the catalog of characters available for assist like Bombette or the Shadow Sirens – similar to Pac-Man in Smash 4 – I think you can make a very balanced neutral character, with a similar weight as Mr. Game & Watch. Also, I think that Paper Mario has a very intriguing design, which would translate well to the fighter.

Excitebike
3. Excite-Biker

First Appearance: Excitebike (1984)

With the exception of the Excite-Biker, I think one of my main factors in character additions on this list is that there’s some level of continued interest from Nintendo in using these characters currently. That said, I think there’s always an off-the-wall retro character inclusion with each Smash – something I want to see continue. And while we’re not talking Tetris popularity levels, Excitebike was a massive game in the day and actually has a very viable character in the Excite-Biker (unlike the Tetromino designs I’ve seen).

I think the trick with the Excite-Biker is to make him similar to Little Mac, in that he does the majority of his damage close to the ground, and is very quick covering horizontal distance – but I would make Excite-Biker lighter, and with better recovery. As for the moves, I want to see what the creators can come up with. I love playing with the likes of R.O.B., Mr. Game & Watch, and the Duck Hunt duo despite them not being high-tier competitively.

Toad - Alt 2
2. Toad

First Appearance: Super Mario Bros. (1985)

I would be willing to wager that Toad has to be the most-represented Nintendo character who isn’t playable in the Smash Bros. Series. He’s probably more represented in Nintendo games than 4/5 of characters already on the roster. Toad is undoubtedly a major Nintendo property, and very recognizable. Peach’s moveset should change, and Toad should no longer be her punching bag. He just got his own popular game a few years back with Treasure Tracker, which is soon to be ported to Nintendo Switch – so there’s definitely interest there in the character from Nintendo.

I think you have a lot of options for a moveset, whether you go the Captain Toad route or you follow a more traditional path, highlighting Toad’s abilities as a supporting character. I’ve always been a fan of Toad, and it makes me a little frustrated knowing he’s left off of the roster, when characters like Snake are included. Nothing against Snake, but Toad and his creators/handlers over the years are more deserving of the representation.

Waluigi
1. Waluigi

First Appearance: Mario Tennis (2000)

Toad is the most-deserving of entry in Smash Bros. in my opinion, but there’s one character I want to see more, and that’s Waluigi. Sure, he started off as an afterthought doubles partner in Mario Tennis. He’s come under a lot of criticism over the years, but he’s grown to become a character that lots of people enjoy. And that’s something that shouldn’t be forgotten when choosing characters for Smash Bros.

Who doesn’t love Wario’s moveset? Farts and bikes and chomps are all great things to laugh about when sitting around playing the game with friends or family – and I think you can have another character like this with Waluigi. Have him throw Bob-ombs and poison mushrooms and use his Wall-Luigi ability from Super Mario Strikers.

Final Thoughts

I would like to see Smash 5 be fun – and dial it back with the edgy, stoic characters. Of the ones on my list, 5/10 already have amiibo support and are characters that I feel Nintendo believes in. I think that we’re going to see at least a couple from here if the roster expands, which I hope it does. I hope you liked my list. Look out for my next post, where I will list the Top 10 Non-Nintendo Characters that should be included in Smash Bros. 5.

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Part 3 (Films 6-1)

Here’s the third and final part of my countdown of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe films to date. In and attempt to mimic The Hobbit film franchise, I was initially going to make one post, then later two, but the script became too bloated and wordy for two, so I decided to go with three. Unlike The Hobbit trilogy, I won’t make 3 billion dollars as a result of my poor editing.

The first part of my MCU countdown (Films 18-13) can be found here, while you can find the second part (Films 12-7) here.

6. Black Panther (2018)

blackpanther

IMDB: 7.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Metacritic: 6.8/10
Box Office (To Date): $278 Million (Domestic) $491 Million (Worldwide)

Released last weekend, Black Panther had a lot of hype surrounding it. And when I say it had a lot of hype, it felt like Star Wars levels of hype. Reviews were amazing, everyone was talking about it, and you couldn’t turn on a TV or computer without seeing a reference to Black Panther. Unlike The Last Jedi, I feel like Black Panther was a superb standalone film that also fit into the greater lore of the established universe. Black Panther is a third feather in the cap of Director Ryan Coogler, who previously created Fruitvale Station and Creed – as a result he’s currently batting a thousand for me.

I’m at a point with Black Panther where the dust hasn’t settled. The film is very fresh in my mind and the questions that are posed to viewers are still rattling around in my mind daily. It’s been a week and I have consumed a lot of entertainment since, but I keep thinking back to Black Panther.

One of the most appealing aspects of Black Panther would have to be the strong supporting cast. Danai Gurira as royal bodyguard Okoye, Letitia Wright as younger sister and scientist savant Shuri, and Lupita Nyong’o as complicated love-interest Nakia are a contingent of feminine strength that hasn’t been shown onscreen so prominently in an action or comic book film. While I am not one to praise work on diversity alone, I do feel that Black Panther is praiseworthy for it’s ability to present these strong minority characters with wide-ranging appeal.

Michael B. Jordan rises from the ashes of the Human Torch (like Chris Evans before him) and gives the most empathetic performance from a Marvel villain to date as Killmonger. Chadwick Boseman conveys a calm and regal demeanor that has yet to be seen in the MCU. At this point, I have stopped questioning Marvel films, but if you take a step back and look – it’s astonishing what this film is accomplishing, and I wouldn’t have thought it a possibility a decade ago.

Bonus Trivia: The Black Panther character predates the political Black Panther Party, despite common misconception. Black Panther was renamed Black Leopard in Fantastic Four #119 to avoid political connection. Readers and creators both resisted the change and the Black Leopard moniker only lasted for one issue.

5. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

spiderman homecoming

IMDB: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Metacritic: 7.6/10
Box Office: $334 Million (Domestic) $880 Million (Worldwide)

Thank you Kevin Feige for your persistence in bringing Spider-Man to to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For those of you who don’t know, Spider-Man films have been licensed to Sony since 1999. In this time, Sony produced five Spider-Man films in two batches with no continuity to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. And man did Sony really start to suck the fun out of the Spider-Man. Amazing Spider-Man 2 is, in my opinion, the biggest letdown of a comic book movie ever. Sony execs had absolutely cuckoo ideas about future Spider-Man installments, too. (Like Jonah Hill as Sandman and Jared Leto as Felicia Hardy). The current deal gives Marvel Studios full creative control over Spider-Man – with box office returns going to Sony and merchandising going to Marvel. The partnership has already resulted in an excellent supporting role for Marvel’s most important character in Captain America: Civil War and probably the best Spider-Man film to date in Spider-Man: Homecoming. (Yes, even better than Spider-Man 2)

Perhaps what appeals to me most in Spider-Man: Homecoming is Peter Parker’s relationship with Tony Stark. While some have knocked Iron Man’s inclusion in the film as taking away from a character who can easily carry a film on his own, I think that the parallels between Parker and Stark were worth exploring, and were well-conceived. The relationship with Iron Man also immediately ties Spider-Man in to the larger story around him. Tony is no parent, nor is he a mentor, but he undoubtedly has a connection to Parker and seeks to take him under his wing. I can relate to Peter Parker in his quest to impress his surrogate father, as I remember trying everything as a teen to impress and catch the attention of my idols. I also remember the difficulties resulting from trying my hardest and failing to impress those I look up to. The result, in my opinion, is one of the best father-son relationships in film as well as a phenomenal coming of age story.

As for my other thoughts on Homecoming, I enjoyed the video diary that Parker kept, introducing his backstory, as opposed to a third Spider-Man origin story in 15 years. I also thought that Michael Keaton as the ‘villain who hates heroes trope’ is done well and fits the greater narrative of the MCU. And finally, the Spider-Man: Homecoming original score by Michael Giacchino is the best of the MCU and one of the more underrated scores in recent years.

Bonus Trivia: Much like Cameron Crowe in preparation for Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Tom Holland went undercover at a New York high school in order to prepare for Homecoming. Holland went incognito at The Bronx High School of Science, a highly specialized STEM school. Most of the material went completely over his head. Holland kept his cover through an entire schedule, going from differential equations to linear algebra.

4. Iron Man (2008)

iron man

IMDB: 7.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Metacritic: 8.5/10
Box Office: $318 Million (Domestic) $585 Million (Worldwide)

Iron Man is the granddaddy and cornerstone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was a breakout hit, and Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark is a match made in heaven. I am perhaps in the minority who prefer Iron Man to The Dark Knight, also released in 2008. This film, while it has always been lauded, has experienced something of a Return of the Jedi effect in that with time people nitpick the details and find ways to put down what is truly a great film.

Robert Downey, Jr., in a stroke of excellence, took a weapons manufacturer and out of touch playboy billionaire and made him a truly likeable and relatable on-screen character. Downey’s Iron Man is iconic, and it all starts here. Credit should be due to Downey for creating so much of the character’s on-screen persona, as many lines in Iron Man were ad-libbed by him, as the script was bare-bones even during shooting. To date, Robert Downey, Jr. has appeared in 8 films of the 18 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and is set to appear in Avengers films being released this year and the next.

What would I knock from Iron Man? Terrence Howard. While everything worked out on-screen, Howard was apparently a nightmare on set despite getting paid more for Iron Man than lead actors Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, and even Robert Downey, Jr.. Don Cheadle is a superior actor and is far superior in the role of Colonel Rhodes. It’s a shame he wasn’t there from the beginning.

Iron Man holds up. After ten years, it remarkably somehow doesn’t feel dated. It has the best closing lines not just to a comic book film but to a film in general. Also, it features the most shocking post-credits scene as no one was expecting Samuel L. Jackson to pop up as Nick Fury.

Bonus Trivia: During a scene in Tony Stark’s home, antagonist Obadiah Stane plays a work by Antonio Salieri on piano. Salieri is commonly portrayed as being the less-talented and jealous rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

gotg

IMDB: 8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Metacritic: 8.6/10
Box Office: $333 Million (Domestic) $773 Million (Worldwide)

In this countdown, I have talked about surprises. I wasn’t expecting the casting Paul Rudd as lead in Ant-Man to work, nor was I expecting anything out of Doctor Strange (2016). The biggest surprise, and the last one on this list, is how fantastic Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) turned out to be. I wasn’t just skeptical, I was outright convinced that this movie was going to be dumb after seeing the trailer. I asked myself questions like, ‘Marvel is making a movie about these nobodies?’ ‘The Ooga-Chaka song, really?’ ‘A talking raccoon?’ – I have never been so wrong about a film before watching it.

Star-Lord is this generation’s Han Solo and Guardians of the Galaxy is this generation’s Star Wars. Chris Pratt is also, in my opinion, the iconic ‘box office’ actor of this generation – much like Harrison Ford in past. Guardians of the Galaxy was his breakout leading role. Between Pratt’s leading charisma and his chemistry with the ever-enthralling sci-fi champion Zoe Saldana, and strong performances from the rest of the film’s protagonists, Marvel created what I considered to be arguably the best space-fantasy movie outside of the Star Wars original trilogy.

There is so much to love about Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s an excellent misfit movie. All of the characters experience growth. It has one of the best film soundtracks. It was self-aware and lighthearted. Most importantly – Guardians of the Galaxy was the first wildly-successful fantasy super-hero film as opposed to one grounded in reality. It was something completely different and better in many ways than any comic book film before it.

What could I knock on Guardians of the Galaxy? The obvious is that Ronan the Enforcer is a bit of a one trick pony and is a relatively weak villain, especially when compared to the more recent Marvel outings. Oh, and they made Karen Gillan shave off her hair.

Bonus Trivia: Polyglot Vin Diesel recorded his lines (line?) for Groot in fifteen languages for Guardians of the Galaxy. (Ten of the language recordings were done for the home release) He reportedly said “I am Groot” over a thousand times in recording.

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

wintersoldier

IMDB: 7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%
Metacritic: 8.4/10
Box Office: $260 Million (Domestic) $714 Million (Worldwide)

If James Bond and Marvel had a baby, it would be Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Where Captain America: The First Avenger was a alternate past-reality with little bearing on the present, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a grim tale of government conspiracy primed for modern audiences. It was Winter Soldier, and not The Avengers or the first Captain America film where Chris Evans as Captain America is fully realized. It was Winter Soldier that made Captain America relevant. It was Winter Soldier that showed Captain America as an unyielding hero and not a blind patriot in a time where being an anti-hero is the norm. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, while being the most mature film in the Marvel catalog, still manages to show a hero in a time of cynicism.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a film I was lucky enough to visit the set of while in Cleveland, Ohio. I knew I was near the shooting location, but I sort of stumbled upon it when I strangely saw signs for the DC Metro all around me. While I didn’t witness the filming, it was fun to see one city transformed into another and later watch that in film.

What’s wrong with Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Nothing. I still can’t find anything to knock to this date. It is a perfectly-balanced film with both character and plot development. We get to see Nick Fury and Black Widow at their finest and most faithful adaptation from the comics. Oh, and isn’t it refreshing when a male and female lead don’t fall in love for once? Anthony Mackie, who has been awesome in so many films for such a long time, gets screen prominence and importance as Falcon. And we see Sebastian Stan go from a relatively minor supporting role in the first film to becoming an out-of-time hero akin to Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator.

Bonus Trivia: Despite guns being frequently used by many characters throughout Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers doesn’t once use or even touch a gun during the entire film.

1. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. (2017)

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IMDB: 7.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Metacritic: 7.7/10
Box Office: $390 Million (Domestic) $864 Million (Worldwide)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is truly the perfect sequel. Everything that is good about the first film is turned up to eleven here. It’s so good that it even serves to make the first film better, as events serve to provide explanation to the actions of Yondu and Nebula in the first. The protagonists all grow, both independently of one another and together, and new characters are unique and fitting to the universe.

Michael Rooker, as Yondu, gives probably the most surprising and best smaller supporting performance in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His scene with Rocket and Groot as they seek vengeance after the Ravager mutiny is possibly the most entertaining ninety seconds in a spectacle film to date. Yondu’s relationship with Peter is touching, and stays with you well after watching. He’s also very quotable.

Kurt Russell, as Ego, provides an immediate improvement over the last film’s villain, Ronan The Accuser. While Ego’s motives are always in question and he is clearly a villain, Russell’s charm and screen presence have you almost believing his every line of dialogue.

Gamora’s badassery is on another level in this film, from the opening sequence to her wielding a gun the size of a tank in her showdown with Nebula. In GotG 2, she lives up to her comic book title ‘The Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe”. Gamora’s ruthlessness and Nebula’s pestilent nature are explained. The troubled relationship between Gamora and Nebula leave show no heroes, and leave you feeling pity for both.

The soundtrack, in my opinion, is the best mixtape collection of songs for a film to date, and is even better than the first in my opinion, as the tracks more accurately reflect the space fantasy feel of the Guardians and the Southern-Cosmic culture of the Ravagers. Director James Gunn somehow managed to outdo Star-Lord’s opening scene from the first film with Baby Groot dancing around aimlessly while the team is facing intergalactic threat.

All-in-all it’s fun, and any flaws that it may have are so minimal in comparison to overall allure of the film. It inspired me to read all of the Guardians of the Galaxy comics (my favorite is Abnett and Lanning’s run), and really dive into a new franchise with excitement for the first time in years.

Bonus Trivia: There are some impressive facts regarding CGI in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.. The computer generated opening scene took nearly two years to render. Ego, The Living Planet, consists of one trillion polygons, and is the largest visual effect ever made.

Thank you for reading. This was more of an undertaking than I expected in the beginning, but it was fun to do. Leave your comments if you like and tell me how wrong I am if you want. I can’t say when I’ll return, but I am sure I’ll get the itch to write more again soon.

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Part 2 (Films 12-7)

In my previous post, I counted down what I feel are the bottom six Marvel Cinematic Universe Films. That post can be found here. Despite them being bottom-tier MCU films, I still enjoyed each one of them abundantly. As the list continues my fondness for these films increases. Not only are the following films more intertwined in the lore of the MCU, but I feel that they are better standalone works as well. In addition to my giving a few thoughts about each film, I will also include user reviews from IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic, as well as box office results.

12. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

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IMDB: 6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Metacritic: 7.2/10
Box Office: $177 Million (Domestic) $371 Million (Worldwide)

Of the completed trilogies (Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America), the Captain America franchise is my favorite as a whole. While Cap hasn’t truly found his legs yet in this introductory film, it is still a great standalone. Littered with 1940s retro-futuristic sci-fi elements, Captain America (2011) presents a unique and interesting world, set in probably the most important time in American history.

MCU films have produced more memorable romantic relationships than villains, so it’s hard to pick the best. Captain America (2011) establishes what I feel is the best romantic chemistry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, between Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter. Haley Atwell was so profound in her role that she received her own critically acclaimed television series, Agent Carter. Sadly, the show was short-lived and only totaled 18 episodes.

Perhaps Captain America: The First Avenger could have been improved with more screentime being given to the charismatic Hugo Weaving, a man born to play Red Skull. While he was menacing when on screen, his character should have been explored more in depth. Perhaps he will make a return in a future installment of the franchise, but I highly doubt it.

Bonus Trivia: The scene where Peggy touches Rogers’ chest after his transformation was a genuine reaction from Atwell, and fully improvised.

11. Doctor Strange (2016)

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IMDB: 7.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Metacritic: 8.2/10
Box Office: $233 Million (Domestic) $678 Million (Worldwide)

One of the films I was more skeptical of prior to its release, Doctor Strange (2016) more than impressed me upon viewing. Benedict Cumberbatch more than proves he has leading quality and Rachel McAdams shows why she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in the same year for her role in Spotlight. Aside from Iron Man (2008), I think that Doctor Strange shows the most internal growth from a titular character in the MCU. I am also impressed that Strange gets his powers not from any innate Mary Sue-like ability, but from readying and studying books.

(Quick aside: Mary Sue is a loaded term, but I think a pretty basic definition of a Mary Sue is an overly-perfect character who is seemingly good at everything without basis in reason or prior story, who seem to warp the narrative around them. Examples include: Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: TNG; Parzival, the protagonist from Ready Player One; and Rey in the new Star Wars trilogy.)

Again, the major weak point for me in this film are the villains. Kaecilius is too single-minded and lacks depth. Dormammu is more of an entity than a villain. And The Ancient One’s evil never truly comes full swing. If there is a sequel to Doctor Strange featuring Baron Mordo, who appeared in this film as an unrealized villain, more attention must be given to develop his character. I don’t think Mordo will be able to carry his weight against Stephen Strange in a solo film without other forces at work. However, the Doctor Strange franchise has proved me wrong once before.

Bonus Trivia: In the post-credits scene, Benjamin Bratt appears in a second superhero film basketball scene in his career. His first was in Catwoman (2004).

10. Ant-Man (2015)

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IMDB: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Metacritic: 8.0/10
Box Office: $180 Million (Domestic) $519 Million (Worldwide)

I applaud the filmmakers’ decision to portray Ant-Man as Scott Lang as opposed to Hank Pym, the original and most well-known Ant-Man. Not only does the MCU have its fair share of scientists as leads, Pym has a fairly dubious past in the comics with his multiple personalities and domestic violence. Lang is a character without the same baggage as Pym, which has allowed for a fresher story.

Casting comedic actor Paul Rudd as lead was a risk, in my opinion. (Even Rudd’s own son told his father he expected Ant-Man to be stupid) I was skeptical of his ability to carry a film with any weight, however he gives a stellar performance in what is at times, a departure for his typical comedic self. I would be intrigued to see what Rudd could do in a film like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or Lost in Translation.

I know I sound a bit like a broken record, but Yellowjacket was too one-dimensional for me as a main villain. I have higher expectations for Ghost, who appears to be the primary villain in the Ant-Man sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, which releases this July. The trailers haven’t fully teased Ghost’s motivations or abilities yet, and she remains a bit of a mystery.

Bonus Trivia: Ant-Man has the lowest production budget of any MCU film to date, totaling around $130 million.

9. The Avengers (2012)

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IMDB: 8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Metacritic: 8.0/10
Box Office: $623 Million (Domestic) $1.52 Billion (Worldwide)

The most successful MCU film to date, The Avengers (2012) was the culmination of four years’ worth of buildup and marked the end of the first phase of the over-arching franchise. The Avengers film project may have felt impossible in 2007 to many, but it came together splendidly. It was, to say the least, an event of colossal proportions. Not only that, it remains one of the biggest and best assemblages of a large ensemble cast in a spectacle film to date. And The Avengers has the numbers to back the phenomenon. At the end of its run, Marvel’s The Avengers was the third-highest grossing film of all time.

There’s no doubting the success of The Avengers. But for me, it’s like Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Jurassic World. A solid story without loose ends, but incredibly safe. The plot can be reduced to heroes are called together, heroes fight, heroes come back together and save the day. However, execution is most important, and seeing Loki pick apart the weaknesses of each and every one of the heroes is quite the sight. I think that it goes to show that films/stories can follow a blueprint as long as they are carried out effectively.

Bonus Trivia: Sales of shawarma experienced a major boost after multiple mentions in The Avengers. Some restaurants even reported an 80% growth in sales of these spit-cooked meats after the film.

8. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

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IMDB: 7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Metacritic: 8.2/10
Box Office: $408 Million (Domestic) $1.15 Billion (Worldwide)

The Russo brothers arguably did The Avengers better than Joss Whedon in The Avengers  and Avengers: Age of Ultron with their work in this film. Captain America: Civil War serves as a lynchpin to the non-cosmic events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It expands on the stories told in Captain America: Winter Soldier, Ant-Man, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. It seamlessly introduces characters Spider-Man and Black Panther, and events in this film drive the initial plot of Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther (2018). Also, trailers for Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp, both to be released later this year, allude to the events in Civil War. In terms of importance to the over-arching story of the Marvel Universe, this film provides what I feel are the most crucial moments in the franchise.

It works well as a standalone, too. Where I felt the story The Avengers told was formulaic, I felt that Captain America: Civil War was unpredictable and gripping. It successfully merges the political and philosophical aspects of the Greater MCU with the personal relationship between Captain America and Iron Man. The smallest of gripes that I feel I could have about this movie is that I had hoped more heroes would have been involved in the civil war between heroes. This would have been, in my opinion, the perfect way to tie together the Marvel television series with the movies.

Bonus Trivia: In the beginning of the film, Winter Soldier is staying off the radar by taking refuge in Romania. Sebastian Stan, who plays Winter Soldier, was born in Romania and speaks perfect Romanian in the film.

7. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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IMDB: 8.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Metacritic: 7.6/10
Box Office: $315 Million (Domestic) $854 Million (Worldwide)

In a previous post I made mention of franchises with late entries that dramatically changed the formula for the better. Thor: Ragnarok follows in the footsteps of films like Casino Royale (2006) and Rocky IV that represent a shift in visual presentation and storytelling in a franchise. Director Taika Waititi successfully converts the Thor from a grim fantasy to something that is more vibrant and relatable. Waititi unleashes the comedic potential of Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeff Goldblum, and Karl Urban on audiences, while somehow stealing the show himself as the voice of Korg. And despite the lightheartedness that the Kiwi director injects, he somehow manages develop perhaps Marvel’s best dark villain with Cate Blanchett’s Hela.

The risk of changing gear in the Thor series paid off financially, as it generated roughly 50% more than the previous two entries at the box office on a similar budget. I also think this is easily the best of the Thor films. Ragnarok brings more ’80s aesthetic to the big screen in the same vein as Guardians, from the marketing to numerous references to Walt Simonson Thor comics to the homages to films like Big Trouble in Little China. I also want to praise the fully matured relationship between Thor and Loki, as well as Tessa Thompson’s performance as the down-and-out warrior Valkyrie, and Doctor Strange’s striking inclusion in the greater MCU.

Bonus Trivia: This is the first film in which Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum have appeared together in since Jurassic Park in 1993.

Well, that does it for Part 2 of 3 of my Marvel Cinematic Universe countdown. I hope you enjoyed and maybe at least one person reads this before it becomes outdated in a few months when Infinity War makes it to theaters.

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Part 1 (Films 18-13)

To date, Marvel Studios has released 18 films, with the most recent being the wildly successful Black Panther, which came out this past weekend. The Marvel films are truly something to behold, and their creators have made such a vivid connected universe. The films seem only to get better and more fleshed out with each new release,  and the franchise doesn’t feel like stagnating any time soon. As a boyhood fan of Spider-Man and Marvel comics, each new film is a treat and something I couldn’t have fathomed when I was younger.

In this post and the two to follow, I will rank the Marvel Cinematic Universe films in order of worst to best based on my own opinions. I will include my thoughts on each film, along with user scores from IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, and Metacritic for comparison. This list is purely for enjoyment and is one unpaid fan’s opinion, so please don’t get upset if your favorite is low on the list. So without further ado….

18. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

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IMDB: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 77%
Metacritic: 7.3/10
Box Office: $206 Million (Domestic) $645 Million (Worldwide)

Here it is. The worst on the list.  Thor: The Dark World is by no means a movie that I dislike, which really says something about the quality of the MCU. In fact, I found Thor: The Dark World to be quite enjoyable at times. It was not without problems however. Both Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston felt like they were shackled down compared to their performances in Thor (2011) and The Avengers (2012). It’s not just them. Natalie Portman, who has publicly denounced the MCU, gave a weak performance in relation to her enormous talent and Christopher Eccleston had a fraction of the charisma he put on show during the Doctor Who reboot in 2005. Overall, it was visually bleak and not fun to watch, and had no real defining moment or sense of style.

Bonus Trivia: Natalie Portman wasn’t available for reshoots during Thor: The Dark World, and one of them was a passionate kissing scene between leads. Instead, Chris Hemsworth’s wife, actress Elsa Pataky, donned a wig and filled in for Portman.

17. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

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IMDB: 7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Metacritic: 7.0/10
Box Office: $459 Million (Domestic) $1.41 Billion (Worldwide)

This is perhaps a surprising selection to a lot of fans of the MCU. Avengers: Age of Ultron was well-received critically and was an extreme financial success. Most fans seem to like the film. Joss Whedon expanded the cast and scale in his sequel to The Avengers. It is by no means a bad film. So, what went wrong for me?

My main gripe with Age of Ultron is one simple, but key issue. James Spader does not play Ultron. James Spader plays James Spader. The filmmakers were so illusioned by Spader’s voice that they chose not to alter it in any way (similar to Bettany as JARVIS). I feel this creative decision works against the film and the Ultron character. Spader has such a unique voice and delivery that hearing him unaltered breaks my immersion.

Bonus Trivia: Funny enough, the cast and crew all apparently gave Spader a wild ovation after his first filming, as they were awestruck with his performance.

16. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

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IMDB: 6.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Metacritic: 7.4/10
Box Office: $135 Million (Domestic) $263 Million (Worldwide)

A film that will likely always hold the record for the weakest financial outing for the MCU, The Incredible Hulk stands out a bit like a sore thumb in hindsight, considering the recasting of Edward Norton to Mark Ruffalo in all subsequent MCU films. It also has a bit of early installment weirdness, as the MCU Universe isn’t flush like in later films and it doesn’t feel connected to Iron Man (2008) until the end credits scene.

But while it fails to connect to other MCU films the way that others do, the filmmakers do an exceptional job with a character franchise that felt a bit doomed after Ang Lee’s failed Hulk from just five years prior. Perhaps my favorite storytelling element of The Incredible Hulk is that the filmmakers decided that viewers were smart enough that the didn’t need to see yet another backstory taking up half a film. Ed Norton, Live Tyler, William Hurt, and Tim Roth all carry their weight here. I really did like this film. It just… kinda is the black sheep of the Marvel Studios films.

Bonus Trivia: Ironically enough the director, Louis Leterrier, wanted to cast Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk initially.

15. Iron Man 3 (2013)

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IMDB: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%
Metacritic: 6.5/10
Box Office: $409 Million (Domestic) $1.21 Billion (Worldwide)

2013 would have to be, by most accounts, the worst year for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of quality product. Sure, there really weren’t two films a year released regularly until this point, but still when comparing to other years it lags behind. Fondly, I remember Iron Man 3 as being filmed in North Carolina (my home state), back when we incentivized films being shot here. Since 2014, everything seemingly has moved to Georgia.

As for Iron Man 3, it was high on fan service, and the end of the film is one of my favorite bits of action in the entire MCU. The villains aren’t as good as the previous two Iron Man films (villains have tended to be a real weak point for MCU movies). It’s witty at times, but is almost “PG” childish compared to the rest of the films here. Really, I think Iron Man was strong enough to have a third standalone film, but his rogues gallery is weak, and I can’t blame the filmmakers for going the direction that they did.

Bonus Trivia: At one point in the film, Tony Stark tells a child wearing thick-rimmed glasses that he loved him in A Christmas Story. Peter Billingsley, the actor to whom Tony Stark was referring, was a producer of Iron Man (2008) where he also had a cameo acting role.

14. Iron Man 2 (2010)

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IMDB: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Metacritic: 6.4/10
Box Office: $312 Million (Domestic) $624 Million (Worldwide)

Financially, Iron Man 2 was the weakest of the Iron Man films, but in terms of quality, I think it edges out its successor ever so slightly. Iron Man 2 also faced a major casting change with Don Cheadle donning the War Machine suit in lieu of Terrence Howard, who played Rhodey in Iron Man (2008). Jon Favreau brings continuity to the series in his second outing, and the inclusion of Nick Fury and Black Widow are the first steps in expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I give Iron Man 2 the edge over Iron Man 3, mostly because of the villains. The two villains are a great duo in that they foil both each other and Tony Stark. Hammer and Vanko are demented versions of Stark and share his darkest qualities. Justin Hammer is a less-successful munitions manufacturer blindly driven to escape from Stark’s shadow, while Ivan Vanko (Whiplash) is a brilliant inventor seeking to escape the shadow of Howard Stark, Tony Stark’s father. Both villains are on the same quest as Stark, as he too is seeking to escape his past in Iron Man 2.

Bonus Trivia: Jon Favreau butted heads with execs to the point that he didn’t return as director in Iron Man 3. He felt he sacrificed too much of the film’s plot in order to introduce SHIELD and the overarching Avengers plot. This dispute also almost led to Samuel L. Jackson not reprising his role as Nick Fury.

13. Thor (2011)

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IMDB: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Metacritic: 7.1/10
Box Office: $181 Million (Domestic) $449 Million (Worldwide)

The best part of Thor (2011), without doubt, is the introduction of Loki, who I still think is the best villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s more cunning than everyone else, self-interested above all else, and willing to dispose of others to achieve his goals. With Loki, you never quite know what he’s scheming, and he’s both so unlikable that you want him to lose and so cunning that you want him to win. Yet, despite it all, you never know when he will turn his back on other villains.

Thor (2011) successfully introduces the greater cosmic universe, which was later expanded upon in the Thor sequels, and in the Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange franchises. This was, in my opinion both a huge risk and major stepping stone for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In 2011, comic book movies were still very focused on being ‘realistic’ and ‘dark’ (something that can even bee seen in the marketing for this film, like in the above poster). By straying away from the formula, Thor paved the way for more extraordinary films that require a greater suspension of belief in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In that way, Thor was a massive success.

Bonus Trivia: Second choice for the role of Thor was Liam Hemsworth, Chris Hemsworth’s younger brother. Liam would later make a cameo appearance as an Asgardian actor portraying Thor in Thor: Ragnarok.

Thanks for reading Part 1 of 3 of my Marvel Cinematic Universe ranking. I will continue in the same fashion in the next post, highlighting films 12 through 7.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Kong: Skull Island is the perfect kaiju monster film. It’s the best I’ve seen in the genre since Pacific Rim in theaters five years ago. (Though I haven’t seen Shin Godzilla yet and I hear good things.)

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Ooo I bet this was a joy to watch in IMAX.

Sure the characters are a little cliche, and there’s a little cheese factor. When I watch a film like this I don’t care much about the depth of relationships between human actors, or their backstories. I just want to be entertained with mega-sized monster action. That’s not to say kaiju films can’t have meaning. Both Gojira (1954) and to a lesser extent Godzilla (1956) were full of emotional depth and social meaning. But in general, whenever these films swing for the fences, it’s a swing and a miss.

Kong: Skull Island is far, far better than its precursor, Godzilla (2014). The 2014 iteration of Godzilla forgot that people actually want to see mega monster destruction and they don’t want to wait an hour to see it. Kong: Skull Island excels in this area, and really never leaves a moment where you think “okay, the characters are safe”. Where I think I got a solid nap during Godzilla (2014), I was giddy the whole time I watched Kong: Skull Island. I’m hoping Godzilla: King of Monsters (2019) takes cues from the latter of these Monsterverse films and not the former. I’m hopeful they will, as I’m assuming a movie with Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and Ghidorah isn’t exactly going to be plot-heavy, and there’s not a lot of room for human character boredom.

Truthfully, King Kong isn’t at the forefront of the minds of movie-goers or even most film-geeks or monster fans for that matter. The average movie-goer likely hasn’t seen any iteration of King Kong aside from Peter Jackson’s version in 2005, and anyone who watched that version likely were driven by it being his follow-up project to Lord of the Rings. And it’s not like kids are sitting around with fond memories of the original, as their grandparents were likely born after its release. By comparison, Kong has starred in 8 live-action films in 85 years to Godzilla’s 29 films in 64 years. I think Kong: Skull Island will breathe a little bit of fresh air into the franchise, and I will be eagerly awaiting Kong’s return in Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020.

And who knows, maybe Kong: Skull Island will surprise at the Oscars and win the award for best visual effects, giving the franchise a bit more steam. It’s up against stiff competition, and I think it’s a dark horse, but the nomination is definitely deserved. Whoever wins will join the esteemed company of Babe (1995). The award does have some history with the franchise, as it was created, at least in-part, as a result of King Kong (1933). King Kong (2005) also won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects at the 78th Oscars.

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1995 has to go down in history as the weakest year ever for visual effects.

As for the film itself, I really don’t want to give too much away. I went in without seeing a trailer, which is ideal in my eyes as trailers are often misleading and unrepresentative of the film being advertised. The cast was great and the characters were well-designed caricatures of different tropes often seen in action and monster films. The time period and setting are fitting to Kong and are from a paradigmatic moment in history. The themes associated with the era area appropriate, but not preachy. Action was regular, but not exhaustive like the more-recent Transformers live-action films and I enjoyed the pacing as well as the fight choreography. Overall I enjoyed Kong: Skull Island thoroughly from start to finish (and especially the post-credits scene.)

Coming out this year we have two more kaiju fims. Pacific Rim: Uprising releases in March and Rampage will follow in April. I’m a bit more upbeat about the Pacific Rim sequel than Rampage, but I will withhold strong judgement on both. I just feel like Dwayne Johnson movies are mostly bland and appeal to the lowest common denominator. And while I am a fan of the retro video game series, it’s not like I played them for a compelling story. I don’t want to be contradictory here either. A kaiju film doesn’t have to have to be a retelling of Macbeth, but it certainly needs something more than the current IMDB synopsis, which is “Based on the classic 1980s video game featuring apes and monsters destroying cities.”. That said, I would totally pay for a Macbeth Monster movie.

2017 Year in Review – Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the Post-Geekdom Era

A few posts ago I mentioned that I watched four films in theaters in 2017. Three were entertaining Marvel films, the fourth was Star Wars: The Last Jedi, another Disney-owned film. I guess this is pretty much apparent if you’ve read the title. In this post, I’m going to talk about The Last Jedi, and how it failed for me on so many levels. Oh, and this review has spoilers. If you’ve avoided spoilers for this movie this long, I applaud you. But if my read-by-no one blog is the one doing the spoiling then it’s your own fault.

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I want to thank my wife and the other poor sucker who accidentally landed here for reading.

In this post I will discuss my take on Star Wars: The Last Jedi and also touch on our post-geekdom society. (Complete with charts!)

If I’m going to the cinema, I go for entertainment and scope. I didn’t get either with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Instead of being entertained, I was left with a mixture of confusion and frustration regarding the direction taken. Instead of seeing a film with a massive scope dealing with an ongoing intergalactic war with severe ramifications, I was handed a skirmish confined to, at most, a few hundred humans and maybe a dozen aliens. (Really, where the hell were the alien characters in this movie?)

The realization that I made, somewhere between the Verizon Wireless ‘Can You Hear Me Now’ joke and the introduction of Vice-Admiral Hunger Games, is that this is not remotely Star Wars. Even if it wasn’t masquerading as Star Wars, subverting Star Wars lore at every turn, I doubt I would have enjoyed it as a standalone film.

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This is the worst costume design in the history of costume designs. Infinite frumpy brown ruffles and Kool-Aid dyed hair. Seriously, this deserves a Golden Raspberry.

I wanted to like it. I really did. I wanted to go in reasonable and tempered expectations. That said, I watched the haunting trailer with Mark Hamill’s ominous voiceover over and over. The critical praise was near-universal. The film was said to be the second-coming of The Empire Strikes Back. It’s all anyone in my office talked to me about weeks leading up to release. I couldn’t go from point A to point B without being reminded how excited I should be for this sure-to-be hit of a film. My loving wife took time and bought me a ticket to go see something I was sure to enjoy. When I got to my seat, I was feeling the kind of excitement you feel when you’re weightless at the top of a roller-coaster. I knew I would like it and I was open to what was to come. I was by no means someone with a negative outlook from the beginning.

I eagerly awaited films like The Dark Knight and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. I knew they would be good. My most absurdly high expectations of those films were blown away. The point I’m trying to make is that whenever I know a film will be good, it typically lives up to expectations.  If anything, high expectations of a film have only increased my chances of liking it, as opposed to the opposite.

I also appreciate films deviating from the established norm in a franchise or changing tone. Rocky IV, Army of Darkness, and Casino Royale were all late prequels that completely changed the formula with great success. Star Wars isn’t sacred in this way and a changing of formula is often good. The Last Jedi went off-formula, but that wasn’t the problem.

I also support the casting choices and am happy to see Star Wars having a racially diverse cast, but really I could care less about casting if the film stinks of mediocrity. If filmmakers and critics think that audiences didn’t like The Last Jedi because of ambitious fan expectations, because they changed the formula, or because there’s a diverse cast, then they are delusional.

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Sure, keep telling yourselves it’s not bad. (Oh, and Rotten Tomatoes ensured there was nothing fishy about their fan reviews, just that people didn’t like the movie.)

With everything prefaced, The Last Jedi for me was the biggest letdown of a film-going experience ever. And when I say that I was let down, I am not talking nitpicks or minor details about what characters can and can’t do. This film was flawed on a very basic level. Problems include, but are not limited to the scope of the film, the off-putting modern humor, the confusing or lacking character motivation, the absence of continuity from the last film and from the franchise as a whole, the pointless and preachy side-quest, plot points that could be resolved with simple communication, and a lack of setting up any mystery or intrigue for the next in the series (and killing off actors who are alive and keeping characters of dead actors alive).

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Can you please stop doing bad CGI of Carrie Fisher? (And stop doing CGI of people in general? It never looks good.)

My problems with The Last Jedi go beyond the work in question. The makers and several media outlets have been outright nasty to people who have criticized this film. They’ve went ’80s film bully style name-calling to lumping critics an amorphous group of far-right fanatics. There are so many sad examples from a group of people who can’t take criticism in stride. In short, if you don’t like this film, you’re ridiculed and I find that sickening. It’s part of a new trend of post-geekdom and something that needs to stop.

Five or six years ago, I considered being geeky as the new norm, a part of culture that was finally accepted. It was a time where you could admit to the world that you enjoy playing video games and reading comics. Now, we’ve passed golden flicker of time and are living in a society where everyone and their mother wears a Flash lightning bolt tee, but none of them have read the comics – that it’s cool to be a nerd in real-life or in Hollywood, but only on the surface. There is still a lingering disdain for nerds and it shows, and anyone that doesn’t walk the mainstream line is treated no differently than they ever have. The best part about being a nerd is being able to discuss (sometimes heatedly) works of fiction without judgement. Being a nerd means accepting others and their opinions.

The creators of this new Star Wars are guilty of ignoring and ostracizing their fans. They hurl insults like basement-dweller and man-child to people who care about Star Wars. I can’t stand to accept that these people are the ones at the helm of a creative franchise I adore. Someone in their position should be humbled to have been given such an opportunity and adore their fans and the work that preceded them. By comparison, look at Ryan Reynolds. He has nothing but good words for the fans, is passionate about the projects. He even accepts that The Green Lantern and X-Men Origins: Wolverine were far from loved by fans, and listened to them, creating the near-universally loved Deadpool film. Rian Johnson and his cronies are not of this ilk and his production coupled with his arrogance should not be near Star Wars. Of anyone in Hollywood, how did this guy get to direct a Star Wars movie followed by his own trilogy set in the Star Wars universe?

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Be like Ryan Reynolds. Learn from your mistakes.

Moving back to The Last Jedi, it didn’t feel like I was watching Star Wars. It felt like I was watching another movie wearing Star Wars pants. Star Wars has veered, and I don’t like the direction. For a franchise that I have consumed and adored my entire life, this may be the moment that I take my exit. (Solo looks like crap, too. There’s no way audiences will accept Alden Ehrenreich as a replacement for the charismatic Harrison Ford. It will be at the forefront of minds during the entire film.)

But, I really want to end on a positive note here. I want to be a positive person and take something from this rant. The score, again created by John Williams, was phenomenal. The man is 85 years-old and is still producing work of this level. He’s truly a legend.