Category Archives: Marvel

Ant-Man and The Wasp – Review

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A mini review for this film feels appropriate. Ant-Man and The Wasp is a nice reprieve from the galaxy spanning peril and overstuffed buffet that was Infinity War. This latest Marvel film’s biggest strength is it’s scope. The story lends itself to being more about the characters which is perfect. The first Ant-Man was a good introduction to this world and Ant-Man and The Wasp fleshes it out wonderfully.

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly shine throughout the entire film and their chemistry is outstanding. Michael Douglas is given even more to do as Hank Pym, as the character is explored in more depth and Michael Peña, with the rest of the crew add some great comedy relief along the way.

Where Infinity War felt like part of a movie and so connected to the other MCU films it was almost a burden at times, Ant-Man and The Wasp is almost the exact opposite. Much like the Guardians series, the Ant-Man films fit within the MCU, but never at any point during the movie do you feel the weight you do when watching something like Infinity War. It’s refreshing to just be able to enjoy a movie on it’s own terms. This feeling lasts until the mid-credit sequence when the weight of the MCU crashes into the Ant-Man with the snap of a finger. It was inevitable, but it did leave me feeling like this became just a stepping stone to Avengers 4 more than an important story in it’s own right. This doesn’t ruin the experience, but it did personally dampen some of my enjoyment.

Ant-Man and The Wasp is a fun movie with lots of heart and some neat action scenes. In many ways it has some of the most comic book/sci-fi ideas in the MCU with the quantum realm, shrinking and expanding all adding to the far out nature of what’s happening. The movie also nicely sidesteps Marvel’s villain issue in a very clever way. In the end, the movie feels like an issue of a comic book in a larger story, but it’s an enjoyable issue to be sure. Ant-Man and The Wasp is rated 3 1/3 out of 5 stars

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Avengers: Infinity War – Review

Infinity_War_Dolby_poster_1This review contains Mild Spoilers. Don’t forget to look for The 602 Club and Cinema Stories reviews out next week!

Never in the history of film has their been a build up like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For over 10 years and through 18 films, Marvel has carefully laid out the pieces to it’s master puzzle for Infinity War and the forthcoming Avengers 4. Now, part one of the juggernaut has arrived and the question on everyone’s mind is, “Does it live up?”.

Thanos

Shrouded in mystery and relegated to end-credit sequences for most of Marvel‘s ten years, he finally comes out of the aether and becomes the saga’s most formidable villain. For all the accolades Marvel has received, it’s greatest area of weakness has been it’s villains. To say this has been fixed in Infinity War is more complicated than a “yes” or “no” answer.

On the plus side for Thanos, he’s what you hoped when it comes to the challenge he presents to these heroes, especially since he does achieve his goal by the end of the film, he does rewrite the universe, leaving only 50% of it alive. The downside is the explanation as to why. Apparently, in the past, on his home planet of Titan, the population had grown too large. Thanos’ solution, just arbitrarily pick 50% of the people, from every walk of life and kill them. Shockingly enough, his people’s leaders reject this idea and it leads to the destruction of his home world.

Ergo he believes the only way to save the entire universe is to enact his aforementioned plan, but on a universal scale. So you could say it does make sense, but only from the most warped point of view and that view is compounded by his god complex. He believes himself to be a god, who is the only one willing to make the hard choice and the power to enact it. He sees his plan as a form of mercy, since those that are left in the universe will have “better” lives as a result.

This leaves Thanos as a middle of the road villain in the Marvel universe. He’s definitely the strongest and most challenging foil for the entire line up of heroes, yet his motivations only raise him slightly above mustache twirlier.

Only Part One

The most frustrating thing about the movie is that it is all set up for the coming, Avengers 4. It’s not bad, but it’s never great. No characters get to truly shine because there is just so much going on, your focus is always divided. And most frustratingly, the “gut punch” moment near the end, is moot, as we know it will mostly be washed away with the coming of part two. Sadly this film feels more mandatory than marvelous.

On top of all this, the action in the movie is rather banal, which is surprising since the Russo Brothers have given us some of the MCU’s most memorable action set pieces in Marvel. There are none of the stand out moments like the Cap vs Winter Soldier or the Cap vs Iron Man moments from Winter Soldier and Civil War, respectively. Instead the action devolves into clichéd CGI battles that lack the heart or character focus which has been a hallmark of the previous Russo entries.

The best thing the movie does is cull the hero herd for part two. Fans know, moving into this final chapter of the first ten years of Marvel, that some of these heroes will not make it past the next Avengers. With the heroes left on the board, the next film will have the time to full make their end what is should be.

Conclusion

Infinity War is a mixed bag that has the effect of one being served a gourmet burger and then only being given a minute to eat it. There is so much happening, yet there’s so little pay off, leaving the audience unfulfilled, wanting a better movie and resolution. We all know the conclusion is coming in 2019, so now that the compulsory is over, we wait and wait and wait. Infinity War is rated 3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Review

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Marvel is a machine. It’s been pumping out hits (with the occasional miss) since Iron Man in 2008. This summer is no exception as the ever popular Guardians of the Galaxy are back in Vol. 2. The first movie was cotton candy, summer fun, so the question is, can this second film find more depth than the first? Luckily, it does.

Family 

Guardians of the Galaxy was about a group of misfits finding family together and Volume 2 is a continuation of that theme. The concept of the the Guardians as family is challenged in this movie as both Peter and Gamora have to deal with prior or blood relatives. Peter finally comes face to face with his father and as Luke found out in The Empire Strikes Back, knowing who your father is, is not always the best thing. Peter’s story mirrors much of Luke’s as he must choose between ruling the galaxy with his father or saving it as a Guardian. He also finds that he may always have had what he was looking for right in front of him.

Peter’s dad is a Celestial, basically a god, who has lived for millions of years and in that time learned to create worlds. Being alone for so long, he found a way to create a physical form and travel the stars, looking for companionship and love. This is how he met Peter’s mother. Ego, the name of Peter’s dad, decides to turn his back on love and embrace a “higher” calling, to expand the universe, remaking worlds in his image.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-2-kurt-russell-chris-prattEgo has spent millennia trying to create progeny that can assist him in his quest to remake the galaxy and Peter is the first child to share his abilities. He’s no longer alone, but it’s not truly family that he is after, it’s just power. He’s come to see himself as above all other life, since he’s immortal, at least as long as his essence is kept alive at the core of the planet he’s constructed. He has divorced himself from the family of beings in the galaxy, placing himself on a higher plane because of his immortality, which enables him to rationalize exterminating whomever and whatever, since comparatively they are inferior. It’s a reminder that the moment people being to see themselves as better than others, it usually leads to marginalization or at it’s worst, extermination.

Gamora and Nebula finally get something to do in this film! They get the opportunity to deal with what has driven them apart and left them at each others throats for so long. They come to terms with the ways in which Thanos drove a wedge between them, used them and realize that they are actually on the same side. Forgiveness is given and it’s a beautiful scene in the movie. It was great to see them really give these actors a storyline to dig into.

The Movie

This movie is not as slickly put together as the first, it does not seem to flow quite as well as the original, but it has more depth and that makes up for it. It’s nice to have the characters go deeper into themselves. It’s still a little cliche, but it feels stronger and more resonant as a film. Because of these things it’s rated 4 out of 5 Baby Groot dances.

PS

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Doctor Strange – Review

doctor_strange_imax_posterThis review contains Spoilers.

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has given us many types of heroes. There are men in super suits, a boy bitten by a radioactive spider, a man irradiated by gamma rays, a being brought to life by an infinity stone, a norse god, a former Soviet super spy and a guy that’s really good with a bow, plus a girl that’s been made, in-human. Yet in all of this there has been something missing, something that’s a little esoteric and outside reality and this year Marvel fills that void with it’s newest hero, Doctor Strange.

Perfect Fit

Doctor Stephen Strange is the quintessential man of the 21st century. He’s a materialist that believes there is nothing outside his five senses that he or science cannot explain. He’s arrogant and a complete narcissist, incapable of having anything in his life be more important than himself and to top it off he takes no accountability for the actions that lead him to loosing everything; because paying attention to your phone on a windy road while it’s raining is someone else’s fault. The beauty of the film is how he will be confronted by his beliefs and way of life and find it lacking.

All There is

The dominate view in the modern, scientific world is that there is nothing beyond the five senses that cannot or will not be explained by science. The idea of a soul or anything beyond the material is rejected. Strange is firmly in this camp until he finds himself broken from the accident, unable to heal himself though his intellect and medicine. At the end of his rope, he finds hope in another way. The Ancient One literally opens his mind to whole new realms, dimensions, plains of existence and shows just how little he truly know about the nature of reality. Watching him learn how just how inadequate he is brings to mind Isaiah 55: 8-9,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Strange must unlearn what he has learned about the universe, in fact Mordo who first finds him and brings him to The Ancient One tells him, “Forget everything that you think you know.”

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Letting Go

During his training, Strange struggles to let go of his feelings of inadequacy because of his disfigured hands, leading him to have difficulty with even the simplest magic. The Ancient One tells him that to find the power he must surrender control before he can gain it back. The idea is ridiculous to him and his “modern” sensibilities, but it mirrors Jesus’ words in Matthew 10, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Who’s Number One

One of the most important moments in the film is an interaction with Strange and The Ancient One. Strange has begun to excel in his magical studies but his arrogance as a doctor transfers itself to arrogance as a sorcerer until he is challenged to think differently.

The Ancient One: Arrogance and fear still keep you from learning the simplest and most significant lesson of all.

Dr. Stephen Strange: Which is?

The Ancient One: It’s not about you.

It’s an incredible scene that speaks to the biblical idea seen from the beginning of time, that it’s not about us it’s about something much bigger. Watching Strange learn his lesson as he confronts Dormammu, who he has lock in an eternal time loop to save earth, is perfect. Strange is willing to spend beyond eternity, dying over and over again, if that’s what it takes to ensure the safety of the planet. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Strange has finally been able to let go of his arrogance and narcism, realizing that there are more important things that just himself.

The Movie

With all of the praise for the themes, one would assume that the rest of the movie is just as good, but it’s only partially the case. Sadly, the villain suffers the “Marvel Syndrome” which is, a villain that’s not all that interesting or dynamic. And unfortunately this also the case with our main protagonist. Doctor Strange is an arrogant jerk, very similar to Tony Stark and his turn in the movie, while thematically well done is not as impactful as it should be. In the end it seems to easy and the turn lacks any sense of depth that one would expect. The movie gets lost in the kaleidoscope visuals, forgetting that the real story is the characters, leaving the viewer feeling cheated. Doctor Strange feels less like it’s title would suggest and more like another formulaic Marvel origin story.

Luckily Benedict Cumberbatch was cast and immediately has the charisma needed to carry the movie, without him, the lack of depth would be detrimental. All together, the cast is solid with Tilda Swinton, as The Ancient One, the true stand out, even though she does live  beyond this film (which is a loss to the series). The music is good, Michael Giacchino has created one of the more memorable themes in the MCU. All together the movie is thematically wonderful yet suffers from rushed character development and more focus on empty CGI spectacle than heart. Doctor Strange is rate 3.5 out of 5 levitating capes. 

 

X-Men: Apocalypse – Review

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It’s already been a summer of superheroes with Batman v Superman and Captain America: Civil War, many people may have forgotten that there was a new X-Men movie as well. Following up Bryan Singer’s Days of Future Past, the team finds itself in the middle of the 80s and an ancient power has awoken which could mean the end of the world as we know it. X-Men: Apocalypse is just as much about it’s characters as it is about spectacle. Singer knows we come to see them and watch them grow and the film does not disappoint.

Magneto’s Struggle

Eric’s story line is one of the most poignant. After the events of Days of Future Past, he has retired to Poland, works in a steel mill, married a woman (he told her who he was the first night they met) and they have a child. He’s happy in the small life he created until an accident at the mill forces him to use his powers to save a fellow worker. Word gets out who he is and before he and his family can escape, the local police capture his daughter, who is killed in a showdown. Enraged, Eric lashes out at the men, killing them all, leaving him screaming to the heavens, “Is this all I am?”. He cannot seem to escape the darkness within. It’s a clear reminder that there is something inside all of us that we cannot control, that is dark and evil and by ourselves we are powerless to control it. In the movie, it’s Charles, Raven and Quicksilver that help bring Eric back to the light, it’s part of the answer, to realize we cannot do it alone, dimly reflecting the truth of,

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9 ESV)

Better Together

Apocalypse, also known as En Sabah Nur, believes himself to be a god among men. He believes that his power instills in him the right to rule. The gifts that he was born with have been used to benefit himself alone. On the opposite side you have the X-Men who learn to harness their power and use it for others and the betterment of the world around them. It’s a beautiful picture of what the Apostle Paul talks about in Corinthians when he discusses spiritual gifts,

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11 ESV)

The X-Men series has always been about coming together and Apocalypse is no different. in the fight against En Sabah Nur neither Magneto or Charles is strong enough to destroy him, it takes, Scott Summers, Jean Grey working in concert with everyone else to save the world. Thinking about the film brought the next part of the Corinthian passage to mind,

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-20 ESV)

Each member of the team has a gift, that when combined with the others makes them even stronger. The gifts are meant to be used for the welfare of all of humanity and cannot hoard for ourselves, because we need each other. Each person brings strengths and weaknesses to the table and united we form a more perfect union. apocalypse-180759

Conclusion

I really enjoyed this movie. I love the new cast they have playing the younger versions of the people we know from the previous films and Quicksilver is still one of the best things in superhero films. The rest of the character work has me excited for what comes next in the series as hopefully we move to the 90s. Side note, this is how you make a joke about a Star Wars film. This film is rated 3.75 out of 5.

Captain America: Civil War – Review

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After the events of The Avengers, The Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron and the beginning of Civil War itself, the Avengers team find themselves under fire for their unchecked use of power and civilian casualties. As the team divides amongst itself on the best way to solve this problem, a malevolent force works to tear them apart from the inside out. Civil War is a great superhero movie that asks big questions and still has the heart of the first two Captain America movies. It is a worthy successor to the series.

The Truth is Not Relative

The most powerful scene in the movie comes at Peggy Carter’s funeral. Her niece Sharon Carter gives the eulogy and recounts a conversation she had with her aunt. Peggy told Sharon, “Compromise where you can. Where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right. Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say ‘No, YOU move’.” Rarely has a comic book movie been more resonant to the times in which we live. The world is upside down and it’s screaming at us that wrong is right every single day. Peggy Carter’s message is a clarion call to us, we must plant ourselves in the truth, like a tree and not be shaken. It’s a clear picture of Psalm 1,

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm 1 ESV)

Steve Rogers is a wonderful model for this. His morality and virtue are not shaped my popular opinion or politics, but by something much more foundational and unchanging, knowing that there is right and wrong and that they are not something to be compromised.

Freedom to Choose 

Captain-America-Civil-War-645x370There is also another side to the coin. Captain America sees the inherent danger of taking choice away from the Avengers and making them pawns of a political body. He is fearful that they will be asked to stay out of situations they should be in and forced to act in ways they ought not because of prevailing political sentiment. There is a good correlation with the Jedi in the prequels, that allowed themselves to become agents of a government and not what is right. In the end the Jedi became compromised, realizing too late that they’ve been in service to the wrong master all along.

The choice to do what is right cannot be left to a committee and popular opinion, Steve knows this and willingly lives out that principle. In fact, this is the very reason Steve is fighting for Bucky. Bucky is someone who has had choice forcibly removed, enslaved to the will of an evil organization and been made to do terrible things. He is a microcosm of the question facing the Avengers team. Captain America shows his quality once again as he interposes himself between Iron Man and the Winter Soldier, protecting both: Tony from acting on revenge and Bucky from something that is not his fault.

Conclusion

Captain America: Civil War is a fantastic movie and honestly the Avengers movie we all hoped Age of Ultron would be. While I do have some minor quibbles, I feel Spider-man is shoehorned into the film and would have rather had his time devoted to other characters like Agent 13 or Black Panther, it does not detract too much from the enjoyment of the film. This is rated four shields out of five.

Ant-Man Review

BF_Payoff_1-Sht_v8_Lg-1309x1940Ant-Man is the next film in the ever expanding cavalcade of characters in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. The film tells the story of white collar convict Scott Lang as he tries to get his life back on track so that he can be the man his daughter thinks he is. Little does he realize that his cat-burgling ways will be the very thing he’ll need to help Hank Pym save the world.

The Second Time Around

One of the strongest things about Ant-Man is the idea of redemption. Scott wants to change, but like so many of us, when our backs are against the wall we retreat to the things that we know instead of doing the hard work to change. So often we are unaware of how our unwillingness to evolve affects those around us. It’s a symbiotic relationship, our actions have an impact on the world and the people around us. Hank Pym remains Scott of this vividly when he says, Second chances don’t come around all that often. I suggest you take a really close look at it. This is your chance to earn that look in your daughter’s eyes, to become the hero that she already thinks you are.” It’s a brilliant reminder that our lives are not lived in a vacuum, our misbehavior will resonate through our sphere of influence in ways seen and unforeseen.

The path to change is difficult and for so many of us, we become so entrenched in our waywardness that we begin to believe we’ll never escape the black hole we’ve created. Again the movie here reminds us that redemption is not a lone ranger sport. Hank believes in Scott and supports him. “Scott, I’ve been watching you for a while, now.” he says, “You’re different. Now, don’t let anyone tell you that you have nothing to offer.” For change to happen we need and advocate, a champion, someone to remind us who we can be. Hebrews speaks directly to this when it says,

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

There is someone out there who understands us completely, redemption is not through work but though rest in the work of someone greater.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

BF-09314_R2.0Hank again reminds Scott of another important truth about making the world a better place when he says, “It’s not about saving our world. It’s about saving theirs.” There is a good reason for us to do hard things now, to make difficult choices, for ourselves and for the world; because what we do or don’t do will affect the world we leave our children. What will their environment be like? What will their economy, schools and society at large be like? We cannot live egomaniacal lives and expect the next generation not to suffer. We must be willing to sacrifice monetary pleasure for a more sustainable future. It’s about what we leave behind.

Conclusion

Ant-Man is a lot of fun. There is noting revolutionary in it, it will probably not blow you away but it is saved by the great performances of Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilley. Each one makes you care about the character they play and bring you into a story that otherwise is par for the Marvel course. This film is rate 3 and a half mini sheep.

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