Tag: marvel

Captain Marvel


Captain Marvel (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

A third of the way through the picture, I couldn’t help but feel like an important ingredient is sorely lacking. The war between Kree and Skrulls is propelled with a high enough level of excitement, the special and visual effects are strong, and there is intrigue in how the events unfolding in 1995 may tie into Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) eventually putting together Earth’s mightiest superheroes. The problem becomes tantalizingly clear when the picture hits its first important dramatic note. Given Brie Larson’s track record of independent dramas, she is most powerful as a performer when the scene is quiet and the camera is still—almost the polar opposite of an action film.

This does not mean Larson does not belong in the picture. In fact, I enjoyed her interpretation of Captain Marvel, who comes to know herself as Vers, a soldier of the Kree Empire, but has fragmented human memories as Carol Danvers. Despite a potentially confusing exposition, Larson has a way of making us care for our heroine not just as a superhero but also as a woman who feels incomplete due to being in the dark when it comes to her very own identity. Notice that for the first forty minutes or so, it is a challenge to invest emotionally into the material because there are far too many attempts at making jokes but not enough convincing dramatic gravity. It would have been such a breath of fresh air if “Captain Marvel,” written for the screen by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, had been a character drama first and an action picture second. Of course, this more inspired avenue would not rake in the big bucks.

Still, this Marvel outing is entertaining enough. I liked how chase scenes on Earth during the mid-90s are photographed and directed almost exactly as similar movies within the genre at the time—clichés included. There is a wonderful chemistry between Larson and Jackson which is necessary because their characters must forge a convincing friendship from the moment they meet at a payphone next to a Blockbuster video store until one of them must leave and travel to another galaxy. (The story’s timeline is about twenty to thirty five hours.) Danvers and Fury share a handful of amusing moments but not once do these come across as forced as bad buddy comedies.

Like many superhero films, this one, too, suffers from a lack of a strong villain with complex motivations. Observe that once Captain Marvel is able to reach her full potential, her enemies, including the main antagonist, are simply thrown about like rag dolls. Because they are no longer a threat, the bright colors, the bubbly soundtrack, and the acrobatics are reduced to an exercise of futility. I was bored by them and I was reminded of what I disliked immensely from “Wonder Woman”—we are handed action with not much context or purpose. It can feel like a waste of time.

Perhaps the most curious relationship is between Danvers and her best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). Both were Air Force pilots and their few but valuable interactions suggest a deep history. The two sitting down and having a conversation can be more entertaining than the big, loud, and ostentatious action pieces. The reason is because, with the former, we know precisely what is at stake. There are times when it is easy to forget that we love or admire our superheroes not because of what they can do but rather who they are despite their powers or abilities, when they are unmasked, vulnerable, one of us.

Venom


Venom (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Early on in the picture, a woman carrying a Symbiote—an extraterrestrial parasite that hitchhiked on a space probe while its way back to Earth following a reconnaissance mission—ejects lethal barbs from her back, but when the camera pans around her, the clothing has no hole in it. This perfectly sums up the level of carelessness of “Venom,” directed by Ruben Fleischer, a seldom entertaining and often boring superhero film. It might have benefited from a couple more rounds of rewrites.

One of the titular Symbiotes eventually makes its way inside the body of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist who gets fired for asking all the right questions involving a bio-engineering corporation led by the ambitious but unethical Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). It isn’t a coincidence that the probe that crashed in Malaysia is owned by Life Foundation; Drake plans to fuse these so-called Symbiotes with human bodies in order to save our mankind from certain extinction once Earth is no longer a viable place to live. Make no mistake: Moral quandaries regarding the use of science and technology in relation to the betterment of society is handled like sledgehammer to the face. There is no genuine or heartfelt human drama to be had here, just a series of empty action sequences.

At least a few of these pieces are handled with mid-level proficiency. Brock discovering his abilities when hired goons enter his apartment comes to mind. Another is a motorcycle chase across the hilly streets of San Francisco. Rain of bullets and car crashes are served like clockwork, but I enjoyed that there is humor embedded in them. Hardy finds a way to make Eddie the loser more palatable than the standard variety. It is easy to tell that he is up to task of playing with different types of comedy, so it most unfortunate that the screenplay does not possess the requisite creativity and intelligence to make a strange, darkly amusing, and convincing story. I felt as though the project was shaped so that studios can make the most money first and entertain the audience second. It shows.

The villain is generic from the moment we meet him until he is defeated. Ahmed, like Michelle Williams who plays Brock’s love interest, looks as though he is sleepwalking through the role. He is a performer with range, but he cannot be blamed in this scenario. The character is so unchallenging, imagine the CEO on mute and the effect would be negligible. It appears as though screenwriters Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel, have forgotten that a superhero film is only as good as its villain(s). So why not strive to give Drake more personality, dimension?

Perhaps the only element I found to be marginally impressive in this parade of mediocrity is the CGI Symbiotes. They are creepy and curious when they are slithering about without defined shape, and they are quite threatening when they feel the need to defend themselves. But the material is so dull, especially when the human characters are supposed to be connecting emotionally, I wished I were watching “The X-Files”—specifically the black oil/alien virus episodes—since the film and the television show have similar ideas on how an entity assumes control of its host’s body, its sentience, its ability to communicate. The legendary television show is able to take the concept on another level while the film appears content in having flatlined.

Avengers: Infinity War


Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Those not well-versed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe need not fret: “Avengers: Infinity War,” the accumulation of preceding works of the franchise, as directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, is a supremely entertaining movie, made for viewers who like their action films big and loud without sacrificing creativity and heart. Compounded with the requirement that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely must juggle over twenty personalities throughout its behemoth running time, while maintaining a breezy forward momentum, the film is without a doubt a successful mainstream entertainment.

It is the correct decision to keep the central conflict at bare minimum: Stop Thanos (Josh Brolin) from acquiring six Infinity Stones. If successful, this would grant him the ability to eliminate half of the universe’s population by merely snapping his fingers. With so many moving parts—some events happen on Earth, others take place in outer space; under each setting are strands designed to come together for climactic battles—it is critical that the story is simple and clean as possible. But the masterstroke is its treatment of the villain.

It is inaccurate to categorize Thanos simply as good or evil. He believes he is saving the universe by performing genocide. On the most basic level, he argument makes sense: resources are scarce while populations continue to rise. His method just so happens to be monstrous, at least based on our morality. But that is not only the reason why he is complex, perhaps even a tragic figure. He is not written to be deranged psychopath who simply wishes to see the universe burn; like the heroes we root for, he is capable of feeling and caring. He is equally determined as those who wish to thwart his plans which makes for a compelling watch.

The special and visual effects are seamless. Hoards of rabid aliens clashing with elegant Wakandan warriors made me think of the epic battles in “The Lord of the Rings” with even more camera acrobatics. When Falcon (Anthony Mackie) soars above the battlefield or when Spider-Man (Tom Holland) swings from one collapsing piece of skyscraper to another, there is an urgency to the aerial shots and danger when the viewer looks down from great heights. When Thanos beats Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) with his bare fists, pieces of his armor fall off like broken teeth. These effects create images that are exciting, brutal, and realistic. I wish more blood and bruises were shown, but perhaps the brand hopes to keep such barbarous images at a minimum.

Having only a limited time to tell the story in an efficient way, characters we wish to get to see or get to know more do not get the attention they deserve. I wanted to bathe in the bromance between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), the hilarious banter between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), as well as the brilliance of Shuri (Letitia Wright), a young scientist with countless inventions. Although not a perfect superhero film, not even a near-perfect one (“The Dark Knight,” “Spider-Man 2,” “The Avengers,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), the picture delivers fresh popcorn entertainment. Notice there is almost always something to laugh at, be nervous about, or worth being curious over.

“Avengers: Infinity War” delivers upon its ambitions. If its risk-taking and playful crossovers is a portent of what is yet to come, not just within the “Avengers” movies but within the Marvel brand as a whole, then it can be assumed that the apices of the franchise remain territories to be discovered. It is only a matter of time.

Black Panther


Black Panther (2018)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The Blackness of “Black Panther” will rub some people the wrong way, for no good objective reason other than the personal variety, but it is exactly why I loved the film, both as a superhero film and as a picture that proudly represents persons of color, black or otherwise. Although superhero movies often feature action-packed sequences set in African or Asian countries, the sub-genre is often told through the white lens in order to appeal to the common masses. So-called representation is relegated to foreign texts on billboards of futuristic-looking cities or a black extra reacting to wild goings-on—often solely for mere comedic effect.

And so this is one of the central reasons why Ryan Coogler’s film is worth seeing: people of color and where they live are not utilized as decoration. Rather, they are placed front and center so that the audience is confronted by colored faces, colored lives, colored lifestyles. We get to taste the specific flavors of a fictional Wakandan culture. For instance: their rituals prior to and during the coronation of a new leader; how they relate to one another on personal and professional levels; what is important to them as individuals and as a unit; their opinions and goals regarding how to build a better relationship with the rest of the world given that the latter is less technologically advanced and leading nations have a tendency toward maintaining the cycle of oppression especially toward people of color.

Clearly a standout from other Marvel outings, I enjoyed how the film actively builds an aura of intrigue rather than simply going through yet another episode in which a special item must be acquired from the wrong hands in order to defeat the villain of the day. This is most apparent during the first act. It is interesting that T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) already knows who he is with or without the Black Panther costume. And so we avoid going through the same beats and rhythms—thereby the same trappings—that have become the norm from the genre. Instead, characters worth paying attention to and understanding are introduced: Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) the undercover spy, Okoye (Danai Gurira) the loyal warrior, and Shuri (Letitia Wright) the brilliant inventor. One can construct an argument that these strong individuals elevate the protagonist because they challenge him in their own ways.

There is beauty in color. For instance, notice articles of clothing and how they vary depending on each tribe of Wakanda. When there is cause for celebration, shades of red and yellow dominate coupled with ostentatious angular patterns. When there is a professional meeting, cooler colors like blue or green are employed. Patterns become less noticeable while finer textures move to the forefront. An exception, perhaps most appropriately because they are considered to be the outcast of the five Wakandan tribes, is the Jabari (led by M’Baku played with great charm by Winston Duke). Their costumes are dominated by more neutral colors like gray and brown. The styles and textures of their clothes lean toward more simple designs. The visual diversity is intoxicating; there is almost always something worthy to inspect.

But since the picture is an action film, does it deliver the goods? Indeed it does. While wall-to-wall action is not at play here, I found its restraint most admirable. It is equally capable of talking about ideas, at times relating to issues plaguing America today, and providing thrilling and entertaining sequences. A standout takes place in the streets of Busan, South Korea as Black Panther and his colleagues must get their hands on an infamous arms dealer (Andy Serkis, a joy to watch) and bring him back to Wakanda for trial. Meanwhile, our heroes have not yet an inkling that the real threat is the man, appropriately named Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the arms dealer has chosen to align himself with.

“Black Panther” commands a freshness that numerous superhero films do not possess. It reminded me of James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” in how nearly every scene is intoxicating both in terms of content and visuals, its wonderful ability to balance humor and dramatic personal stakes, and how it opens up a world of possibilities. Credit to the writers, Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, for an intelligent screenplay. Notice how the essence of just about every scene manages to flow into the next one. It establishes a sense of cohesion. Ryan Coogler, a name to take note and remember because his resulting projects so far have been of high caliber. I look forward to what he can do next.

Captain America: Civil War


Captain America: Civil War (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

One of the main reasons why “Captain America: Civil War,” directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, succeeds as a mainstream blockbuster entertainment is its willingness to contain as many colorful personalities as seemingly possible, shaking it vigorously like a soda bottle, and allowing such natures and temperaments to explode. Though at this point many of us are familiar with the many zany superheroes showcased here, I have a good feeling that someone who remains alien to the Marvel universe will enjoy this picture regardless as an action film.

Its energy is highly infectious, from the opening minutes involving a highly exciting chase in an outdoor market in Lagos to the bone-crunching duel between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) in a secluded base where a big secret is revealed. Just about every action sequence sandwiched between these defining scenes build on top of one another and the film creates formidable momentum.

Credit to the screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, for consistently increasing the ante. Because we feel there is always something significant at stake, we look forward to how the next scene might play out. At times it is even able to surprise by taking us on certain detours designed to introduce a new character or one that is familiar but now played by a new performer. All the while there is humor dispersed throughout. There is a darkness to the film, especially when it comes to Captain America and Iron Man’s increasingly strained relationship, but it never looks and feels depressing, or a drag to sit through.

The plot, while interesting, is almost secondary to the big personalities that grace the screen but here it is: After the mission in Lagos goes horribly awry, which cost the lives of humanitarians, the U.S. government insists that the Avengers require some form of oversight in order to, in theory, minimize unnecessary collateral damage in the future. Tony Stark/Iron Man supports the idea while Steve Rogers/Captain America rejects it. The schism between the two factions worsens when the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) is seemingly captured on camera before a bomb went off and killed innocent people.

Providing depth—whether it be in terms of character development or recurring themes—is not the movie’s strong point because there are numerous characters to juggle. Regardless, the filmmakers do a solid job in providing each character two or three moments to shine. Particularly impressive is the battle between Captain America and Iron Man’s teams which take place in an airport.

The teams are so well-matched. During the ten- to fifteen-minute sequence, beautifully choreographed, we are able to ascertain each character’s fighting style, learn about some of his or her strengths and weaknesses, and appreciate his or her motivations—superficial they may come across at times—for joining a certain side. There is a sense of childlike joy in the fray and I wished it had gone longer.

“Captain America: Civil War” tells an engaging story and expands upon its universe at the same time. There is an effortlessness felt here that is missing in less successful Marvel offerings like in Joss Whedon’s very disappointing “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and Shane Black’s downright dreadful “Iron Man 3.” The approach here should be used as template or inspiration for future outings because it achieves a healthy balance between brain and brawn.

Deadpool


Deadpool (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Deadpool,” written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, offers wickedly funny and savagely creative entertainment that turns by-the-numbers superhero pictures over their heads and bleeds them out a bit. Although the action sequences showcase bone-crunching and brain-splattering realism, what makes the film effective—and quite special—is the trash-talking, motormouth of an antihero named Wade Wilson, played with charisma and glee by Ryan Reynolds, who accepts a proposal from a stranger (Jed Rees) in order to be cured of cancer. Expectedly, things go horribly awry.

Right from its faux opening credits, its in-your-face bravado is refreshing. The background images and various camera angles employed force the viewers to orient their eyes to what is possibly going on while the texts on the foreground function as ticklish foreplay. It sets up the tone and mood of the picture—that just because nothing is meant to be taken too seriously does not mean substance must be sacrificed in order to make us laugh. Mainstream comedies within and outside of the superhero genre can learn a thing or two from this film’s approach.

Its sense of humor has range. Although pop culture references and allusions within the Marvel universe are abound, the script does not rely on these elements as its sole source of comedy. Through well-placed and well-timed flashbacks that pervade the first half, we get the impression that Wade, who embraces the name Deadpool after his most unfortunate and grotesque transformation, is an intelligent character with real thoughts, emotions, and motivations. He is silly but rough around the edges, witty but his big personality is rarely off-putting. Because we relate eventually to the protagonist beyond a fundamental level, what he finds humorous is funny to us, too. We like Wade before and after he becomes the masked antihero.

Action sequences are appropriately cartoonish, violent, and bloody. I admired that the picture is unafraid to show limbs being cut smoothly like warmed up butter, bullet holes going through heads and various body parts, and kicks and punches land hard without the camera moving too much and softening the blows. As a result, there is a consistent level of tension during the action scenes. Equally impressive is the film’s ability to remain true to its sarcastic and sardonic identity during the more kinetic moments. There is a persistent balancing act and so the material is never a bore.

The picture’s weakness is in its treatment of the lead antagonist. Although Ed Skrein plays Ajax, née Francis Freeman, with solid enthusiasm and a real presence, the character is never written as if he were the protagonist’s equal. This is a mistake because even though the film satirizes its own sub-genre, it belongs in that category nonetheless. Thus, a well-written, complete, and memorable villain must be established and fully fleshed out. There are numerous moments when Ajax feels too much like a villain-of-the-week rather than an antagonist so formidable that he is there to wreak havoc all season.

Directed by Tim Miller, “Deadpool” is outrageous, very funny at times, and has seemingly effortless creativity coursing through its darkly comic veins and arteries. The material surprises by finding different ways to be fresh and taking risks, qualities that must be cabled to its inevitable sequel.

Ant-Man


Ant-Man (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

Recently released from prison and unable to provide child support for his daughter (Abby Ryder Forston), desperate Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) results to yet another burglary. This time is different, however, because the safe he breaks into does not shelter money or jewels. Instead, inside is a suit that has the ability turn its wearer to the size of an ant.

Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has invented this game-changing technology and he believes that Scott is the best candidate to break into a biotechnology company, locate the Yellowjacket—another suit that allows the wearer to turn minuscule—and destroy its data. The mission is of particular importance because Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), the company’s owner and Dr. Pym’s former protégé, hopes to sell this technology which would inevitably be used for warfare.

Although it does not stack up against the best of Marvel’s movies, “Ant-Man,” directed by Peyton Reed, is entertaining, funny, and creative nonetheless. Rudd is a daring casting choice for the superhero but it is a risk that works because the actor possesses a magnetic, effortless light. It is critical that we are drawn to the central character when he is not wearing the incredible suit because one can observe that the screenplay places more emphasis on human drama and relationships than the action—which sets it apart from the other Marvel offerings. Due to this difference, it is another reason why the film, despite its limitations, is worth seeing.

Once the world of the minuscule is introduced, the picture reaches a high level of excitement. We wonder how it is going to surprise us—and it is able to with just about every opportunity where Scott turns into Ant-Man. There is a wonderful sense of detail, from the molds growing in the bathtub to the fibers of a rug. At one point I wondered how it must be like to actually be that small. It is important that the CGI does not get in the way of the experience.

Furthermore, I enjoyed that when the suit worn, it does not always involve fighting an enemy or stealing an item. On the contrary, there are plenty of practice sessions which gives way for happy accidents and big laughs. Because Scott, without or without the suit, is flawed and vulnerable, it makes him more likable and interesting than the likes of other Marvel heroes like the sinewy but rather dull Thor.

We get plenty of opportunities to understand the motivations of the villain. Cross is not a complex character, but Stoll plays him with a cool menace. The performer is able to communicate that his character’s obsession to surpass his former mentor is only a half-step away from madness. This makes him curious but also dangerous. It is more entertaining than watching a villain who is so disconnected from reality from the get-go that he comes off too silly or cartoonish over the story’s arc.

“Ant-Man” functions on a smaller scale, in more ways than one, but the presentation is fresh, the performances are charming and energetic, and the action inspires a child-like sense of wonder, at best shown during a final battle involving a train set. It is a reminder that Marvel movies should not only be action-packed but also fun and escapist.