Friday, November 26, 2021

Avengers: Age of Ultron (a movie review post)


MCU #11

I'm still waiting for a new solo Hulk movie with Mark Ruffalo. I don't think that's going to happen, but he is going to be in the new She-Hulk series on Disney+, so I guess that will have to do. Oh, you will have to go back and re-read my previous Ultron review to understand that context, I suppose.

Age of Ultron is a difficult movie, at least in comparison to the other MCU films. For one thing, there is no clear victory. Sure, Ultron is destroyed, but he wasn't exactly defeated, not entirely, which is especially difficult since The Avengers were responsible for creating the menace to begin with. And one of the heroes dies, which is the first for that in the MCU. Not to mention that the plot goes off in several directions during the middle of the movie. Not to mention the problematic usage of Black Widow.

Seriously, after writing some of the best scenes for Widow in the first Avengers movie, Whedon reduces Natasha to not much more than an extra in this one while simultaneously raising the value of Hawkeye. Which is not to say that Hawkeye didn't need some focus, but turning Black Widow into, essentially, the Keeper of Hulk isn't exactly cool. Romance or no.

Here is what Ultron did well:
The opening scene where there team is attacking the Hydra base is superb. It shows the dynamic that the team has established and that they have, indeed, come together to work as a team. Each of them has established roles, and they do well in them. They have even made allowances for teammates (Stark) who are unable to play well with others. Whereas Thor and Cap have developed strategies for working with each other, Stark is still mostly a lone wolf kind of character. Within the context of what they are doing, it's fine; dismantling Hydra is not much of a challenge for the super heroes and one they wouldn't be doing at all except that Hydra has run off with Loki's staff, and they need to get it back. Add in other super powered beings, though, and, suddenly, his running off on his own becomes something of a problem.

The creation of Vision is extremely interesting and well done. There's not much more to say about it than that.

The scene where all of guys try to lift Mjolnir is fantastic. It's one of the best scenes in all of the MCU.

What Ultron didn't do well:
The various mind trips caused by Wanda. It breaks up the flow of the movie and really doesn't add to the story. Even the one by Tony during the opening scene is non-essential despite being the supposed catalyst for creating Ultron. The truth is that that is something that Tony would have been prone to do anyway, and we don't need the fear scenario to make us believe that Stark would act so... rashly. Thor's is used an excuse to give exposition about the infinity stones, and Hulk's... another excuse. They want to show us the Hulkbuster armor? Fine. Really, they want a reason for Banner to want to remove Hulk from Earth, but Wanda's manipulation wasn't necessary for that, either. It all seems like a lot of wasted time in the movie to me.

Ultron. In retrospect, I think James Spader was not the right choice to play Ultron. His vibe is not the right kind of kind of creepy. I think someone more like Kevin Spacey, cold and angry, would have been a better fit. Not Kevin Spacey, because fuck that guy, but someone like him.

Mostly, though Age of Ultron is a transitional part of the overall story. It brings together a lot of threads and, then, sends those thread back out again. It sets the stage for both Infinity War and Civil War and introduces both Wanda, who seems like she will be an essential component of what is coming up in the MCU, and Vision. It also puts Hulk in place for Ragnarok. And introduces Wakanda in a more substantial manner. The movie does a lot. The Ultron part of the story is almost... superfluous.

So, yeah, totally enjoyable. It is the least of the actual Avengers movies, but that's not saying much, because they are all so good. Just because it's the least of the Avengers movies doesn't mean that it doesn't totally clobber all of the DC films. Which means I suppose it's time to work it into the rankings...

1. The Avengers
2. Captain America: The First Avenger
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
4. Iron Man
5. Thor: The Dark World
6. Thor
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
8. Avengers: Age of Ultron
9. Iron Man 3
10. Iron Man 2
11. Incredible Hulk (It's Norton's fault this whole Black Widow/Hulk romance thing was introduced at all. Betty Ross would have been around as the Banner's love interest if Norton hadn't killed the sequels.)

Monday, November 22, 2021

Guardians of the Galaxy (a movie review post)


MCU #10

If you want to look back at my original Guardians review, you can do that here.

It's interesting to watch this movie again, now, post-Eternals. I'd forgotten how much stuff there is in it about the Celestials, including a whole mining colony in the head of a dead one! Marvel knows how to play the long game better than anyone. Or, maybe, they just like leaving Easter Eggs that are a little more real.

The thing I was struck most by on this viewing is how broken all of the Guardians are. A lot of the MCU movies deal with brokenness in some way or another, actually, overcoming your worst tendencies to become a hero. That's certainly true of Iron Man, and it's true of Captain American in a very physical way, and it's true here:
Peter Quill -- Still struggling with his guilt over not taking his mother's hand when she was dying.
Rocket -- The scene where Rocket explains his brokenness is so touching and heart-wrenching, I'm going to say that you should just go watch it.
Gamora -- Thanos raised her; what more needs to be said?
Drax -- Stuck in the moment when Ronan murdered his family.
Groot -- Weeelll... he's the most adjusted one of them all, and all he can say is "I am Groot."
And the movie addresses this, to an extent, with Peter's "we're all losers" speech. They know they've had losses, whether they see themselves as broken or not, but they come together despite those losses, even despite some betrayals caused by those losses, to work together to beat Ronan.

This is what makes the movie so endearing and what is missing from Gunn's work for DC, not that the characters in DC are not obviously broken, but they are wallowing in it rather than trying to overcome it. There's nothing touching about it, no matter how much humor and giant starfish you put into it. Guardians works because it touches your heart. You want to give Rocket a hug and tell him it will be okay. And he's a racoon!

That's the only thing I really have to add to my previous review. The movie is still excellent. And it has what is probably the best post-credit scene ever. Well, except for the one in Ferris Bueller. Nothing will ever beat that one/ Probably.

Here come the new rankings. That Guardians is so far down the list just shows how great the Marvel movies have been overall.

1. The Avengers
2. Captain America: The First Avenger
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
4. Iron Man
5. Thor: The Dark World
6. Thor
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
8. Iron Man 3
9. Iron Man 2
10. Incredible Hulk (Look! Hulk is the first to hit the double digits. It's too bad the Collector didn't collect Norton before he was Hulk.)

Friday, November 12, 2021

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (a movie review post)


MCU #9

The Captain America movies are a little different than the other MCU movies. They are like the through line, along with the Avengers movies, of the MCU. [It's going to be interesting to see how that changes with the passing of Steve Rogers, though I have heard that there is a new Captain America movie planned, so, maybe, it will still apply.] Iron Man and Thor are off on their own, doing things that have no lasting impact on the rest of the world (as is Hulk, thanks for killing the Hulk movies Edward Norton!), but Captain America is involved in everything going on out in the rest of the MCU world. He carries the continuity.

I really love this movie. I had forgotten how much I love it until watching it again, and I'm not sure what else to add or to explore that I didn't talk about in my previous review.

The elevator scene? I didn't mention that specifically in my last review, but it is one of the best scenes in all of the MCU.

Sebastian Stan. I didn't really talk about him in the last review because there was not enough Bucky coming out in the Winter Soldier. He was just as believable, though, as Winter Soldier as he was as Bucky. I like Stan a lot, and it's interesting, now, because of later developments, to look back and see Winter Soldier and Falcon meeting for the first time.

I think of all of the Marvel characters, Steve Rogers is probably the most difficult to... inhabit... in a believable way. He's too easy to come off as cheesy. But Evans does inhabit the role... perfectly. I am sad, now, again, that he is gone. I want to see what's coming in the MCU, but I will miss Chris Evans and Captain America. Yeah, I'm sure I will be saying something like this again when we get to Endgame, but I am thinking it now. It's all embodied in Cap asking the guys on the elevator if anyone wants to get off before he kicks all of their asses. Of course, none do, because he's just one man, right? So they get their asses handed to them.

Anyway... I'd say that you should click the link for my previous review and go back and read that. I don't think I can do a better job on this one than I did on that one. So let's just throw this into the rankings instead...

The new MCU rankings!
1. The Avengers
2. Captain America: The First Avenger
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
4. Iron Man
5. Thor: The Dark World
6. Thor
7. Iron Man 3
8. Iron Man 2
9. Incredible Hulk (I already got my Norton dig in up in the review, so we'll let this one sit.)

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Eternals (a movie review post)


Eternals is a bold choice for Marvel. Of course, so was Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain Marvel. And Black Panther and Shang-chi. Even Iron Man. But I feel like Eternals is an even more bold choice, and I'm really wondering/excited to see where they're going with this new phase of the MCU.

Why do I say it's bold? Because it takes Marvel cosmic. But Guardians, you may say... and Captain Marvel... and Thanos! And the Infinity Stones! My god, man, Marvel has already been cosmic! Yeah, sure, but not in more than a Star Wars or a Star Trek way. We've been used to aliens for a long time, and the Infinity Stones, while alluding to Marvel's cosmic origin story, are still just "artifacts" (they're not, really, but I can't think of a better word). Eternals takes us beyond that to the very origins of the Marvel Universe.

Honestly, I think it offends some people (right-wing conservative fanatics). The whole concept of the Eternals and the Celestials is pretty much blasphemy to "christians." I don't know if that's where all the heat is coming from over this movie, but I do know that Eternals is taking some, and it can't be because of the movie itself, because the movie is very good. It's a very solid Marvel movie.

Just for the sake of comparison, when Warner Bros. made Justice League, the best that they could come up with to introduce new characters was to have Batman walk around with their data sheets and be like, "This is Aquaman. He's the king of Atlantis. He can talk to fish. This is Cyborg. He's a robot. This is Flash. He's fast." Stupid and clumsy as hell. Eternals introduces all 10 new characters organically as part of the story. There is no looking at file cards to tell who people are. Marvel knows how to tell a story and how to introduce characters and concepts naturally.

Eternals is a big movie. It's close to three hours long and introduces a lot of new things to the MCU. There are connections here that are never explicitly addressed, so it will be interesting to see how all of that plays out. And, since this is a movie review, I am not going to start speculating about how all of this relates to other upcoming projects, though I do have... thoughts. Anyway, it's nearly three hours and never boring (unlike some other movie (Warner Bros) of similar length which just came out and is nap worthy).

A few highlights, since my review is getting a bit long:
Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo. He stole almost every scene he was in. The Bollywood dance scene was amazing. I want a Kingo solo movie, now.
Also: "Thor used to follow me around when he was a little kid; now, he's a famous Avenger and won't return my calls." Or something like that.

Dane Whitman. He's been one of my favorite Marvel characters since I was in high school. I can't wait to see what they're going to do with him in the MCU.

The Uni-Mind. Just because Marvel actually did it. It's part of the Eternals mythology, but it didn't occur to me that Marvel would bring that into the MCU. I'm sure we'll see that again.

I think the weakest part of the film is the Deviants. I hate the whole monster made of tentacles look to them. Yeah, I know that's just me. But there's also the sudden unexplained ability of at least one of them to absorb powers. I can't say it wasn't addressed because the Eternals are totally like, "Shit, how can it do this?" but there is never an answer to that question. And, you know, sure, sometimes in life there are no answers to the questions we have, but I like my fiction to not leave things like that dangling. Of course, it's always possible that it's something that will come back in another movie. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of the Deviants.

While it's true that Eternals is not the best of the MCU -- but c'mon! There are some incredible movies in the MCU, and it's unlikely that a few of them well ever be topped -- it is a far cry from the worst. (Sorry not sorry Edward Norton, you're not getting out of that hole.) I want to see it again, actually. It's a solid entry into the franchise and one that, I'm sure, is taking the MCU in a new and different direction

Friday, November 5, 2021

Thor: The Dark World (a movie review post)


MCU #8

So it seems that my general feelings about the Thor movies may have changed over the years. You can read my initial reaction to this movie here. Actually, I'm sure any shifting in feelings about the movies has to do with my feelings about the MCU and how it differs from the MU, which is fine and good. It's a much different time and place now than it was in the 60s when these characters where first being born, and the MCU should be reflective of that, not trying to force a forgotten (except by Boomers) culture on us. Back when these movies were being released, I was still reconciling the difference.

Basically, that means I have come to like the Thor movies, overall, more than I did upon their releases, at least these first two. I love Hemsworth in the role and can't think of anyone who could do the job better than him.

That said, I think I still prefer The Dark World to the first Thor movie and the reason is, simply, Loki. Loki is much more... Loki... in this one, which is as it should be. Also, I don't know of anyone who could do Loki better than Tom Hiddleston, though, thinking about it, I wouldn't mind an Owen Wilson interpretation of the character. I guess they provided the next best thing by having Wilson in the Loki TV show.

Anyway... The Dark World.

I think Natalie Portman is better in this one, which, for me, isn't saying a lot. She's the weakest part of the Thor movies for me. I don't know why, but I have a hard time with her as Jane Foster. Or maybe it's the way the character is written. She gives off a very damsel-in-distress vibe that I find off-putting.

On the other hand, I love Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard, so there's that.

Jaimie Alexander doesn't get enough props for her performance as Sif. Sif, in general, doesn't get enough attention. She's a great character, and Alexander is wonderful in the role. For Dark World, in particular, the looks she shoots at Foster are gold. And, yet, when she's called on to save Jane, she does it without hesitation.

The biggest change for me upon looking back at the Thor movies is that I have changed my position on the Fandral situation. Possibly, it's due to my general feelings about Zachary Levi working in my subconscious over time, but I think he's much better in the role than Josh Dallas. Of course, the part calls for Cary Elwes but, then, they would have had to kill Fandral in much the same way that Shakespeare had to kill Mercutio.

The only real failing of Dark World is the dark elves. I think that the white masks are supposed to be sinister. Or, maybe, creepy. They're too close to the comical line. I don't understand the reason for the masks. Maybe they're part of the source material; I don't know, but there's no reason provided for them. Then there's Eccleston as Malekith... Fortunately, the role doesn't ask for more from him because the level of acting provided there is about all he's got.

Speaking of the dark elves, why do they have eyes? This has nothing to do with the movie: It's just an errant thought that went through my head as I was thinking about the masks. They are a race born in darkness, before light even existed: Why do they have eyes? No, see, if they had been eyeless, that would have been freaky. Nightmarish, even.

Final analysis is that I thoroughly enjoyed The Dark World. You get not only the Loki-est version of Loki, but you get to see Thor really coming into his own. A Thor who will stand up against his own father, which is no small thing when your father is Odin, to do what is right and is willing to take the consequences for those actions. It's a complete reversal of the Thor we see in the first movie, a Thor who is rebelling against his father for his own glory and is pissed off that there are consequences.

The new MCU rankings!
1. The Avengers
2. Captain America: The First Avenger
3. Iron Man
4. Thor: The Dark World
5. Thor
6. Iron Man 3
7. Iron Man 2
8. Incredible Hulk (Maybe he's dropping in rank just because he's so much heavier than the other heroes? Norton's ego does weigh a lot.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (a movie review post)


I suppose I forgot how much I enjoyed the first Venom movie. I know I have because I went back an read my review and it expresses a degree of appreciation greater than what I remember, which means I should probably re-watch it. Part of the problem is that I have no great liking for Tom Hardy, except, I guess, as Venom, because I clearly enjoyed him in the first movie, and I did again in this one. He is quite good as Eddie Brock.

Still, I was going to skip this one until it "came out on DVD" (LOL), because I had no one to go see it with, BUT my son (the younger one) found out that the post-movie clip ties into the MCU and, so, he wanted to go see it (even though he has not seen the first one). I'm glad I didn't skip it. The relationship between Eddie and Venom is, for lack of a better way to express it, fun. My son laughed all through the first half of the movie.

My impression, without going back and re-watching the first one, is that this one is better. Don't take my word for it.

I do have one complaint... Look, it's me; what do you expect?
This is not exactly about the movie...
I mean, it is, but...
It's Woody Harrelson, okay? I like Harrelson. A lot. And he is really good in the role. Seriously, he is. BUT! But...Look, Harrelson is at least a decade older than me, and they have him playing a guy who is supposed to be in his 20s. And, hey, they do a great job with the makeup. Most of the time, it works but, every once in a while, during a closeup, you can just see his age. And, then, it doesn't work. It feels kind of weird, actually. I feel like Sony could have found someone of an appropriate age to play the part. It's not like Harrelson is any extra draw for this movie. They're not fooling some Boomer into going to see a Venom movie just because Harrelson is in it.
I guess it's a small complaint. It's just... weird.

Michelle Williams may be better in this one? I don't know. She's so generic to me, I feel like she could be anyone. Don't get me wrong, she's fine in the movie. There's not a lot for her to do to allow her to show any real acting talent. Reid what's-his-name, who I think of as Dan-from-Veep who also plays Dan in this movie, has more room to show off. And I like him pretty well.

Look, the movie is really about Venom and the relationship between Venom and Brock, and it completely succeeds at that. The conflict with Carnage is mostly secondary. Oh, which brings me to the only other issue I have with the movie: it's presented as a given that Carnage would want to kill his "father." Why? There's no reason given. Carnage is born and immediately wants to do away with "daddy." No one bothers to wonder why, not even, or especially, Venom. So maybe this is how it is on the symbiote planet? That seems like it would make it difficult to have any kind of society. But it's never addressed, and that one thing is kind of nagging at me.

That said, it's a fun movie. If you don't mind the plethora of dead bodies because, yeah, Carnage lives up to his name. It's not gory, though, or anything like that, but it's clear that Carnage is leaving a trail... um... that's not a big enough word... a freeway of bodies behind him as he goes. He kills everyone. So... fun? Look, they don't show the bodies, okay. That would be horrific. As it is, it's fun.

And, yes, the post-movie clip does promise, in a sense, a Venom/Spider-Man meeting. Evidently not in the next Spider-Man movie, though. It will be interesting to see what Marvel does with Venom as an import rather than re-creating him.

Oh, I suppose I failed to mention Shriek. She feels mostly like a MacGuffin. Which is kind of weird, I suppose, to say about a character, but she's really insignificant to the actual plot. I guess she needed to be there because she's in the "Maximum Carnage" storyline in the comics and to give Cletus some direction. -shrug- She's fine; she just feels superfluous.

Look, ignore all the negative stuff I said. It makes it sound worse than it is, because it's not worse at all. I actually wish I could sit down and watch both of them back-to-back, right now, but I guess I will have to wait to do that.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Dune (a movie review post)


Generally speaking, I'm going to say that it's a good thing when you finish a movie and continue to ruminate over it. Usually, that means that the movie has given you something to think about or that it was so entertaining that you can't get it out of your head. But, sometimes, it's the opposite. Sometimes the things that bothered you about a movie won't leave you alone and, if it's really bad, start bringing up other things you didn't like about the movie. As you think about it and think about it and, yes, think about it, it gets worse and worse. A movie that you enjoyed, or mostly enjoyed, watching becomes something you actively dislike.
Yes, sometimes, it's Dune.

I had hopes for Dune. I won't call them "high hopes," because I was also wary, despite the cast. Back in 2000 SyFy did a limited Dune series, and it was amazing. They captured the story in its full glory, and it is something I have gone back and watched many times. So my thought process when they announced the new movie went something like this: "huh wow I don't see how they can make something better than the limited series. Surely, though, they wouldn't be making a new movie if they didn't think it was going to be better than the limited series. I mean, they have to be aware of that, right? So they wouldn't do it if it wasn't going to be better? Right?" So I was looking forward to the movie. Surely, they had to be bringing something new to the table...

My wife tells me that I have faulty logic when it comes to this because I forget the part about money. The money part makes it not that important whether or not it will be better; it only needs to be something that people will go see. And there is the part where most people are unaware of the limited series. And wouldn't care about it if they knew. It was before the TV exploded into what it is now. It was pre-GoT.

Needless to say, I have issues with this new iteration of Dune. My wife said that my reaction is very "I'm not angry with you, just disappointed." Which is pretty true. heh

So where are the issues?

The first one that broke me out of the movie, always a bad thing, is the scene where Paul is tested. Put your hand in the box; receive ultimate pain; if you pull your hand from the box, we're gonna kill you. Paul gets through this torture scenario with the use of what becomes his mantra throughout the book (and, appropriately, in the SyFy series): Fear is the mind-killer. It's a whole thing and so fucking famous. It's probably the best known thing about Dune. In the movie? Nah... He doesn't say it. Instead, his mother, who is waiting in the hallway, is the one muttering it. WTF? Which is what I thought while I was watching it. What the actual fuck? We were watching on HBO since we have it, and I actually had to stop the movie. That is a bad, bad sign.

Then there is the absence of the big party. That's the next place that really threw me. This is important for two reasons: The princess is not introduced at all, and the party is where Paul meets her in the book (and, guess where, in the SyFy series). She is not an unimportant side character, so this is kind of egregious. Also, it is through the party that the Sardaukar infiltrate the estate. Palace. Whatever you call it. Sure, Yueh betrays them, but the Sardaukar are already there.

Speaking of Yueh, he's there just enough so that you know who he is when he betrays Leto, but his character is just... wrong. And there's no emotional investment in the fact that Yueh betrays them, because you don't know him at all. And he still gets more screen time than, say, Duncan or Gurney. I'm not sure why Villeneuve didn't just cut out everyone other than Paul and Jessica. He doesn't seem to think any of the other characters are important enough to bother with.

To top it off, the movie is slow as fuck. I like slow movies. I'm not one of those people who needs constant action or anything close to it. I think Arrival is brilliant. Slow and brilliant. But this movie is so slow that my wife got bored while we were watching it and declared at one, "How much longer does this thing have!" You know a movie is good when my wife cries during it, but not when she is crying (not really) from boredom. And she called it "this thing," never a good sign. Not to mention that she has an excellent time sense, unlike me, and I told the family before we started it that it was 2.5 hours long. For her to have lost track of the timing of it because she was just that bored is significant.

I could go on, but, clearly, this is enough to let you know where I am on this movie. All it accomplished was making me want to go re-watch the limited series again... oh, but you can't! Because Warner Bros. squashed it, and it's not available for streaming anywhere. Fuck you, Warner Bros.! That's just rude. Oh, you can stream Children of Dune, sequel series, on Amazon, but you can't stream the actual series. Again, fuck you, Warner Bros.

Do I have anything good to say about the movie? I don't know. The cast is pretty decent. Sort of. Chalamet is adequate. He doesn't seem like he's going to be able to pull off Paul as the story progresses. Maybe I'm wrong about that. I guess we'll find out in two fucking years when the next one comes out. Why am I mad about that kind of delay in a movie I have clearly disenjoyed? Because the movie could have been ready to come out almost immediately. Dune was slated for a 2020 release, but was delayed because of the pandemic and because Villeneuve didn't want it released on streaming. They could have been working on the sequel... By the way, this movie was not advertised in any way as a "part one;" it was advertised as Dune, the whole thing. Which, yeah, I thought was crazy but, also, part of why I thought they were doing it as a movie. Breaking the book into several movies should have resulted in a better product. A much better product. Not this lackluster piece of... well, it's not quite shit. I mean, it's not Lynch's version, after all. Anyway, they could have had the sequel almost ready to go by now but, I guess, Warner Bros. wasn't confident enough to greenlight the sequel until the release of this one.

I was talking about the cast...
So far, I think Alec Newman was a better Paul.
I like Rebecca Ferguson, but I don't know if I like her better than Saskia Reeves.
I like Oscar Isaac, but William Hurt was much much better as Leto. It might be because his role was more significant.
Jason Mamoa is great as Duncan Idaho. He's very much Mamoa, but he's great at it.
I like Julie Cox better as the Princess because... oh, yeah, because there is no Princess in this version.
And, honestly, there is not enough of the other great actors cast in this to tell if they are any good.
The whole thing is... just... disappointing.
And, yeah, maybe I am a bit angry, too.