Tag Archives: marvel

Review: ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,’ Much Ado About Nothing

Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Jonathan Majors, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kathryn Newton and Michael Douglas star in a three-quel without equal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

O Ant-Man, Ant-Man, wherefore art thou Ant-Man? Oh no, not the Quantum Realm again!!

The latest Marvel movie extravaganza cleverly disguises itself as a continuation of the Ant-Man saga, rather than an introduction to the so-called Phase V of the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe. It features a slew of talented actors doing their very best to treat the extremely silly movie as though it were Serious And Actually Meant Something. 

The first few minutes are perfectly fine, as Scott Lang, the tiniest Avenger of them all, jauntily walks the streets of San Francisco, timed to the rhythm of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” as though it were the opening sequence for an updated, comic West Coast version of Saturday Night Fever (1977), only starring Paul Rudd rather than John Travolta. Instead, though, we hear “Welcome Back, Kotter,” which prompts comparisons to the sitcom, debuting in 1975, that served as a breakout role for … John Travolta. 

It’s not long before Ant-Man and his nuclear family — Hope van Dyne, aka the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), her parents, Hank and Janet (Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer, respectively) and Ant-Man’s daughter, Cassie (Kathryn Newton) — get sucked into the Quantum Realm, aka Several Large Indoor Studio Lots in Atlanta that are filled with colorful lights and shapes, representing millions of hours of dedicated artistry by thousands of workers throughout the world.  

The family is trapped there for centuries, aka Nearly The Movie’s Entire Running Time, where they perform magnificently under pressure and extreme stress, and also crack jokes, when time permits. They encounter Kang (Jonathan Majors), aka The Next Big Bad Villain Who Is Even More Evil And Powerful Than The Last Guy Who Destroyed The Universe. We don’t know why he’s so evil, except that Marvel needed a new villainous character to build their movies around. Also Jonathan Majors is a fierce presence, able to leap tall mountains in a single bound and also Do Anything He Wants To Do Before He’s A Marvel Supervillain. 

Really, the movie is divorced from reality, logic, and common sense, but I’m sure that everyone involved tried very, very hard to make a movie that everyone would want to see in movie theaters. Occasionally, the combined star power manages to pierce the animated atmosphere by wisecracking or evincing genuine humanity. And the story revolves around the importance of a strong family unit, which isn’t a bad thing at all in fighting off evil villains from another realm, if your entire family is superpowered. 

Moments of joy are few and far between for jaded adults, though younger ones may well find unbounded delight in the light show, as did one young person at the critics screening I attended last night. He continually beamed, often broke out in laughter and displayed not one iota of cynicism throughout the endless running time, which made it pass a little more quickly for me. 

Indeed, this movie may be perfect family entertainment. The IMAX presentation looks smashing and sounds spectacular. Never mind the ceaseless death and destruction. Let the kids go and enjoy. Just keep repeating to yourself: “It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie.” 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, February 17, via Walt Disney. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ Plumbs the Depths of Fandom

Benedict Cumberbatch and Elizabeth Olsen do their best in Sam Raimi’s woebegone sequel. 

Frequently incomprehensible, occasionally ludicrous, but never predictable, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness marks a dispiriting return to feature filmmaking for director Sam Raimi, though it’s business as usual for producer Kevin Feige. 

Raimi enlivened the 1980s by helming a trio of energetic, low-budget genre pictures before his peak period in the 90s with the wildly entertaining Darkman, Army of Darkness and The Quick and the Dead, followed by the masterfully controlled A Simple Plan. His baseball picture, For the Love of the Game, was surprisingly listless, but he quickly rebounded with The Gift, which was a good springboard to his widest mainstream success with the first two of his Spider-Man films. 

His third Spider-Man flailed under the weight of raised expectations and an overstuffed plot, though the relatively low-budget Drag Me to Hell appeared to revive his spirits before Oz the Great and Powerful signaled a shift to more anonymous filmmaking. In the years since then, Raimi has kept busy as a producer. 

His signature careening camera moves are entirely absent from his latest endeavor, which resembles the newest model rolling off the Kevin Feige factory line. Scott Derrickson, who co-wrote (with C. Robert Cargill) and directed Doctor Strange in 2016, walked away from the sequel, and it now appears to have been a harbinger of creative disaster. Michael Waldron is the sole credited writer on Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, which is surprising since it feels like a movie cobbled together by a writing room, all typing on wet napkins. 

Waldron created Loki for Disney Plus, which premiered in 2021 and endeavored to explain Marvel’s multiverse concept in a series of increasingly confusing episodes. What the series demonstrated was that the concept gives Marvel much greater territory to play in while simultaneously dulling any potential consequences for every character, thus reducing any possible rooting interest for viewers. 

Spider-Man: Far From Home showed that it is possible to play with the concept when the characters are given priority. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness provides a vivid template of what not to do: give priority to an overwhelming and confusing series of images and worlds and settings, and giving only lip service to the characters who might it all worth enduring. 

Hidden in the blitzkrieg of pixels, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) faces off against Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who becomes the personification of evil, willing to torch the universe because she wants to be reunited with her two young sons. She relentlessly pursues teenager America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who can somehow travel across multiple universes, in order to rob her of her powers, prompting America to seek out Doctor Strange, who calls upon his warlock superior Wong (Benedict Wong) for assistance, even as he continues to pine for his lost love, Doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). 

From there (and even before the plot is explicated), the movie jogs through one visual effects sequence after another with diminishing effect, as though a large crowd were running through one planetarium after another. It’s potentially dazzling, though the reality of watching the movie becomes wearisome. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, May 6, via Disney. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: In ‘Morbius,’ The Darkness Beckons

Jared Leto stars in a Marvel movie adventure, directed by Daniel Espinosa. 

A dark adventure that gets darker as it goes, Morbius flexes its action muscles early and often, telling the story of a brilliant doctor who is desperately searching for a cure to a rare, blood-borne disease. His latest experiment goes disastrously wrong, turning him into a ‘living vampire’ with an insatiable appetite for human blood. 

Scripted by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, a writing team whose credits include Lost in Space, Gods of Egypt and Dracula Untold, based on a Marvel comic-book character, created by Roy Thomas, that first appeared in 1971, Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is presented as someone whose life was shaped by a rare, disabling medical condition. In his youth, he met Milo (Matt Smith), who suffered from the same disease, but came from a far more privileged background. The two became lifelong friends, and Milo continues to fund Mobius’ medical experiments. 

Lately, Dr. Morbius has been focusing his research on vampire bats, and believes he may have found a cure. He is seriously mistaken, resulting in a disturbing collection of corpses that have all been drained of their blood, save for a sole survivor, Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), Morbius’ colleague and a romantic interest. 

As soon as Milo learns of the Morbius solution, and sees for himself that the ‘solution’ leads to a fantastic, permanent uptick into the superhuman realm for whoever takes it, he ignores Morbius’ pleas for restraint, leading to a series of destructive battles between the two in the skies above New York City. Much blood is shed, amidst an endless array of colorful vapor trails in the night sky. 

Director Daniel Espinosa is a Swedish filmmaker who broke out big with Snabba Cash (2010), established himself in Hollywood with Safe House (2012), and followed that with the European crime-drama Child 44 (2015) and the sci-fi horror Life (2017), the latter of which showed he could take a vaguely familiar premise and turn it into a roundly entertaining thriller.  Taken purely as escapist entertainment, Morbius fits neatly into Espinosa’s filmography. 

The action sequences are well-executed showcases for the visual effects, which consistently divert the eyes, though without engaging much thought beyond the simple command: “See, dog! Fetch!” Jared Leto and Matt Smith are well matched as snarling face pitted against each other; Jared Harris lends his grounded authenticity as a longtime physician; Adria Arjona ably contributes in her character’s various thin roles as ‘doctor’ and ‘romantic interest,’ as well as ‘sensible and caring person.’  

On the big screen, the dark palette looks appropriate for the dark story that is told. We are living in dark days, so it is fitting to see a dark antihero who is doing his best to resist his impulse to do dark things. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, April 1, via Sony Pictures. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Shang Chi and the Ten Rings’

Simu Liu, Awkwafina and Tony Chiu-Wai Leung star in an action-adventure, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. 

The best Marvel movie yet, Shang Chi and the Ten Rings is a grand Chinese adventure, coming from an unexpected source: director Destin Daniel Cretton. 

Initially known for his directorial debut, Short Term 12, which showcased a breakout role by Brie Larson, Cretton’s subsequent films were fine but unremarkable (The Glass Castle, Just Mercy). Cretton bursts out here with a strong family drama, which plays well to his past strengths, tethered to more conventional Marvel tropes, which have been dialed way down for much of the movie. 

Oh, it’s a Marvel movie, no doubt about it. Now that we’re two feature films into the so-called ‘Phase IV’ of the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe — which cannot help but remind me of Saul Bass’ Phase IV (1974), in which ants rise up against humans, portending an unexpectedly apocalypse — and, after the somewhat lackluster Black Widow, which felt like a good-faith effort to offer a slightly different perspective on the usual, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings actually feels fresh and new, despite the occasional, patented tip-offs to remind viewers that we are still in the good old Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

The good parts are very good indeed, and more than make up for the occasional missteps, which, truth be told, feel more like responses to corporate prodding than miscalculations on the part of Cretton. After a prologue that establishes the looming threat posed by Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung), Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and his best buddy Katy (Awkwafina) are introduced as millennial slackers in San Francisco. They are happy to work as parking valets, since it pays for their partying at night. They are likewise happy to eschew any thought of greater responsibilities and, apparently, harbor no greater ambitions for their lives. 

One day, their idyllic lifestyle comes to a jarring end when Shang-Chi’s awesome, heretofore hidden mystical powers emerge on a city bus in response to an attack by people with wildly destructive mystical powers. Awakening his natural instincts, Shang-Chi becomes a hero, but loses a valuable pendant, leading him and Katy on a fantastic journey that involves time, space, family, and control of the universe. 

The film works especially well, I think, for those who are grounded to some extent in Asian action and adventure films. It’s tempting, for example, to compare it to Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, especially since an early action scene is set amidst a sea of swaying bamboo trees. (Of course, Ang Lee drew from Taiwanese action pictures himself.) Later action, featuring interpersonal battle between participants on city streets and buildings, is quite reminiscent of classic Hong Kong action films of the late 1980s and 90s. More recent, expansive Mainland Chinese adventures appear to set the pattern for certain stretches of the action involving soldiers aplenty. 

These and other touchstones, however, serve only to enhance a strong family drama, which begins when Shang-Chi searches out his sister, Jiang Li (Fala Chen). What drew them apart? What happened to their mother? What is the deal with their father, Wenwu?

Family is the overarching theme of the movie, which gives the action sequences the kick in the gut that’s needed to make them truly meaningful. And much of the dramatic impact comes from the brooding performance by Tony Chiu-Wai Leung as the father figure who doesn’t quite figure. 

He’s a stern daddy who wants to teach his children to do the right thing, when all they want to do is play. He expects them to come to heel as adults, do as he says, and then keep on doing it. This is a father who thinks he knows best. 

I think we can probably all relate to that, to some extent, or at least relate to the ideas and experiences of those whose fathers pressured them to conform to some imagined ideal. The tightening pressure fuels the film to a satisfying conclusion. 

The film opens exclusively in theaters on September 3, via Disney. For more information about the film, visit the official site. 

Review: ‘What If…?”‘ Strongly Suggests ‘Why Not?’

The animated Marvel series debuts on the Disney Plus streaming service. 

Where does the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe lie as it enters its fourth phase? The answer may be found in the Marvel Streaming Universe. 

The first three series, available on the Disney Plus streaming service, have served as the kick-off to Phase Four — since the backward-glancing Phase Four feature film Black Widow was delayed more than once — beginning with the excellent WandaVision, followed by the more routine The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and then the hit-and-miss Loki, which served as an introduction to the Marvel Multiverse. 

What If…?, billed as the first animated series from Marvel Studios — Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K., which debuted earlier this year on the Hulu streaming service, originated with Marvel Television — is an anthology series, inspired by the Marvel Comics series, first published in 1977. It’s a great, self-explanatory  title, since you can easily guess that the series will feature key events from the Marvel films, only twisted to explore what might have happened if things ended differently. 

In speculative fiction, this sort of time-twisting story is often billed as an ‘alternate history,’ and can sometimes lead to richly rewarding works. More often, however, scant attention is paid to the far-reaching implications of an alternate history, and the deeper effects of such a momentous change, beyond ‘what if Marty McFly’s parents never got together’? 

The new Marvel series, directed by Bryan Andrews, with AC Bradley serving as head writer, benefits from its animated format. The first three episodes that were made available to critics in advance all acknowledge the biggest heroes of the past and wonder about possible, rapidly changing futures. 

It’s brain candy, of a sort, probably best appreciated by devoted Marvel fans, rather than those of us who struggle to remember what happened to whom in the movies over the past decade plus, much less spend any time speculating about the respective destinies of fictional superheroes. 

The anthony format, however, may be the most appealing aspect of this new offering, since it offers an easier jumping-on point. You don’t have to necessarily know who is who and what is what, since older narratives are quickly discarded, and most time in each episode is passed with a previously-unseen timeline and a fresh new set of characters. The animation is quite lovely as well, allowing each episode to be absolutely filled to overflowing with action, yet not feeling overloaded somehow. 

And each episode is 30 minutes or less! That’s a bonus as well, allowing the more time-stressed among us to more easily enjoy a taste of Marvel during a break. It’s very tempting to think of What If…? as Why Not? 

The series debuts on the Disney Plus streaming service on Wednesday, August 11. For more information, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Black Panther’

dfn_black-panther_300More than 50 years after his creation as a comic book character, Black Panther has finally made the leap to the big screen under the direction of Ryan Coogler. It’s a spectacular debut for the character and an impressive step forward for the director.

In his feature debut, Fruitvale Station, Coogler drew from real-life inspiration to recreate events that were truly infuriating and monstrously evil. He then reinvigorated the Rocky Balboa franchise with Creed by centering it around a son who has lost his father and is seeking to forge his own persona. Both films integrated social issues into their narrative fabric quite naturally, even though Creed was angled more as a sports drama.

Coogler’s increasingly confident direction ensures that Black Panther is often mesmerizing, at least in the extended scenes that lie in between its action sequences. He brings social issues to life with a firm sense of what’s at stake. Written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther taps into a similar fount of familial loss and long-simmering, righteous bitterness as Coogler’s earlier efforts, and again revolves around Michael B. Jordan.

It should be noted that Jordan is playing, not the protagonist but an antagonist, an initially mysterious young man who is first seen in association with brazen criminal Orlando Klaue (Andy Serkis). By far, Jordan ends up playing the most significant, if off-putting, individual in the movie, though much of the film takes place from the perspective of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). His father was killed in a previous Marvel blockbuster, which means he is now expected to assume rulership in the nation of Wakanda.

In the opening moments of the film, we learn that Wakanda is one of the few places on earth where the rare metal known as vibranium can be found, enabling a rich trove of technological wonders to be developed, and enabling the country to provide all that its native citizens need (or want). To protect its own interests and prevent other nations from intruding/stealing their treasured assets, Wakanda has maintained a policy of strict secrecy about their true assets. To outsiders, Wakanda appears to be a “third-world” country, awash in poverty with nothing to offer in trade with other nations.

But on a planet where millions of disadvantaged people far outnumber the privileged few, is Wakanda’s policy safe or selfish? Is is time for revolution? Or will T’Challa follow the course endorsed by his father?

The most immediate and noteworthy feature of Black Panther is that nearly all the roles are portrayed by people of color. While there are a couple of white faces that pop up in supporting roles, they are really of no consequence to the overall narrative arc that director Coogler is telling.

That in itself is refreshing for a superhero movie, but even more important is that the story is vital, relevant, and layered. More so than other Marvel comic book movies, Black Panther is meaningful for its characters as well as to the giant world that lives outside the boundaries of Wakanda.

It’s meaningful, for example, when T’Challa must defend his right to rule without the aid of the enhanced powers that mark a superhero. It’s purely one individual pitted against another, which makes him all the more relatable. It’s meaningful that Okoye (Danai Gurira) leads the Dora Milaje, a fierce fighting force that is entirely female; they defend the throne and the nation, and their loyalty and fighting skills are not questioned.

Not that the film is entirely a sober affair. T’Challa has a good, loving relationship with his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and his younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), a tech wiz who more than holds her own on screen, as well as Nakia (Lupita Nyong’0), a former romantic interest who remains a friend.

All the actors add their own grace notes to their performances. Really, the only area is which the film falls back a bit is in its reliance on visual effects to play a primary role in the action sequences, a common shortcoming in recent superhero movies.

Beyond that, however, Black Panther truly stands out for the strength of its dramatic convictions, which bolster its high degree of entertainment value. It’s a serious film that’s a pleasure to watch.

The film opens on Friday, February 16, in theaters throughout Dallas and the known world.