Tag Archives: marvel

Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’

GuardiansOfTheGalaxyVol2-300A buoyantly silly sci-fi romp, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is completely enjoyable, if more than a bit familiar. That’s by design, of course.

By the time James Gunn rewrote Nicole Perlman’s script and then directed Guardians of the Galaxy, which was released in August 2014, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was feeling hit-and-miss, quality-wise. (See Iron Man and its sequel, or Thor and its sequel.) Adding to the malaise, just a few months earlier Edgar Wright had departed Ant-Man after years of development due to “creative differences.”

Around that same time, Captain America: The Winter Soldier started to set the ship aright, as far as introducing new, if still straightforward, textures to the Marvel series, and then the first Guardians of the Galaxy represented the first full-bore science-fiction entry.

The film introduced a ragged team of misfits who were less familiar to the general public. Even though it was still an origin story, it felt fresh, in part because it wasn’t tied specifically to any other Marvel films, and in part because it wasn’t focused on an apocalyptic threat to planet Earth. Instead, the action was set against a rich variety of colorful, invented backgrounds, following, in effect, a gang of thieves who slowly bonded. And Gunn told his tale in a sprightly fashion.

As the 15th installment of Marvel’s series — and the seventh sequel — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 inevitably follows well-worn patterns. Gunn’s sense of humor, though, notably his tendency to ridicule anything that appears grand or showy or pretentious, once again serves the characters well and also tends to undermine self-serious grandiosity.

By the story he chooses to tell, Gunn falls more in line with the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) meets his long-lost father Ego (Kurt Russell). He also must sort through his feelings about Yondu (Michael Rooker), the belligerent pirate who raised him and who has now been hired to capture him.

That allows family relationships among the guardians to take top priority: Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and her estranged sister Nebula (Karen Gillan); Rocket the raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his now infantile “brother” Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel); even Drax (Dave Bautista), who talks of his lost wife and child to the sisterly Mantis (Pom Klementieff), who, in turn, cares for Ego like a daughter.

In between the family talk and character reveals, Gunn also weaves in a tale of revenge and retribution pursued by the arrogant Sovereign race, led by the haughty Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), who hired Yondu to capture Peter Quill and the guardians.

It’s all perfectly harmless, as one expects nowadays from a Marvel comic book movie. The foes are vanquished, the heroes are validated, and the importance of family above all else as the key to happiness is driven home. Funny that the film, which dares to feature a god, never touches on issues of worship or divinity or religion or anything that might be genuinely troublesome.

Then again, that’s not its intention. Essentially, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an animated film, well-integrated with live-action players, that is targeted at the young adult audience. Its sole purpose is to entertain, not to disturb or question the order of things; it’s a goal that it meets quite well.

The film opens wide in theaters throughout Dallas on Friday, May 5.

Review: ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’

dfn-xmen_apocalypse_ver18-300The best superhero movie of the year (so far), X-Men: Apocalypse is a reflection of director Bryan Singer’s strength in storytelling.

Based on a screenplay by Simon Kinberg — with story credit to Singer, Kinberg, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris — X-Men: Apocalypse makes it easy enough to pick up the story threads from the film’s two immediate predecessors in the long-running series. The initial sequence follows on directly from a post-credits scene in X-Men: Days of Future Past, providing an origin story for the titular, all-powerful mutant En Sabah Nur, also known as Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac).

Events then move forward to 1983, ten years after the main thrust of X-Men: Days of Future Past. The primary heroes are introduced: Mystique, aka Raven (Jennifer Lawrence); Professor X, aka Charles Xavier (James McAvoy); and Beast, aka Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult). They are soon joined by neophytes Nightcrawler, aka Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smit-McPhee); Jean Grey (Sophie Turner); Cyclops, aka Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), as well as the more experienced Quicksilver, aka Peter Maximoff (Evan Peters) and Havok, aka Alex Summers (Lucas Till), the older brother of Cyclops. There’s also the human CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), who stumbles upon the resurrection of Apocalypse.

The heroes are introduced as Apocalypse gathers his villainous forces. He needs only four: Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). In the decade that has passed since the previous episode, Magneto has attempted to live as a human, moving to Poland, getting married, having a daughter, and taking a job at a steel factory. Things do not work out, however, making him ripe for Apocalypse’s overtures.

On paper, the film to this point sounds rote and mechanical. On screen, however, it is anything but that. Singer is marvelous at creating a universe that makes superheroes feel very human. For the most part, they do not consider their powers to be a positive but a negative, something to set them apart from mankind as objects of ridicule and fear.

The thrust of the current trilogy acknowledges the many reasons the mutants have to be unhappy with the state of affairs on Earth, and with their own place in it. Yet it argues in favor of selfless service, of putting the needs of others ahead of their own. True, Moira is one of only two non-mutants who play any kind of role in the movie, and both are kept in the background.

Yet the shared humanity of the mutants unites them in opposition to Apocalypse. Humans have their faults and cannot always be trusted, but compared to Apocalypse, who is determined to wipe away the vast majority and allow only the strongest to survive to build a new civilization with him as their leader, well, humans don’t seem so bad after all.

Despite its title and overall theme, X-Men: Apocalypse maintains a doggedly optimistic viewpoint, incorporating character-based comic relief to keep things from feeling too oppressive. The film also benefits tremendously from Singer’s ability to direct exciting action sequences that are easy to follow from a visual standpoint and also inform the characters and overall narrative. Every scene has a point to make and a purpose to advance, which keeps the film engaging throughout its running time.

Based on comic book characters as it is, X-Men: Apocalypse exudes an essential simplicity — the good guys must defeat the bad guys — and enhances that to the next level of storytelling with elegance, polish and power. That makes it a compelling and satisfying experience.

The film will open in theaters throughout Dallas/Fort Worth on Friday, May 27.

Review: ‘Captain America: Civil War’

dfn-captain_america_civil_war_300Since 2008, Marvel Studios has made a dozen movies that are cut from the same cloth, presenting an optimistic universe filled by an increasing number of bright and friendly superheroes putting down a variety of challenges that threaten mankind.

Their 13th production, Captain America: Civil War, takes a slightly different tack, suggesting that the world has become worn down by the deadly side effects often wrought by the superheroes, and wants them to bow their knees to a new law that will limit their activity greatly. It’s a classic ‘straw man’ scenario, whose primary intent is to divide the superheroes into two camps, one in favor of the new law and one in opposition.

In an incredible, amazing coincidence, 12 superheroes are presented in the movie, and they are evenly divided between the two camps. Wow! Who could have imagined?

Truth to tell, Captain America: Civil War takes a very long time to establish the two opposing teams. Until the teams are formulated, the dramatic pace is sluggish, weighed down with portentous and pretentious debates in slow motion as the superheroes slowly conclude how they should proceed.

The breezy wit that has marked the previous dozen films is absent through the sleepy first hour (or more), interrupted by action sequences on a timely basis. Theoretically, the action scenes should pump up the movie as a whole, but they’re shot by directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo in the same misbegotten style they previously demonstrated in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a style that has also predominated in other Marvel movies.

It’s a style that slashes the action into tiny, 3-second segments that make it impossible to follow what’s happening, with the perspective jerking from here to there for no discernible reason, other than to disguise the stunt players and whatever computer-graphic shots may have been inserted to fill them out. The sequences detract from the movie as a whole, draining the possibility of suspense and drama and replacing it with sound and motion.

The sole exception is an above-average portion of the movie that begins with the recruitment of two hyphenated superheroes, namely Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland). For as long as they’re on screen, Captain America: Civil War becomes a better movie, and the extended action sequence in which they are both featured is the highlight of the entire experience, in part because it pauses to allow for joking dialogue and an assessment of the situation; the fights have meaning and reflect the characters involved. Also, there are very real consequences that arise, and the sum result is a lifting of spirits.

Sadly, that is not the end of the movie. Instead, the 146-minute monstrosity must trudge onward to a conclusion that is not a conclusion so much as an introduction to more Marvel movies.

The movie allows Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and newly-introduced Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) to pout and glower and scowl, in and out of their skin-tight costumes. Help yourself.

The film opens in wide release throughout Dallas on Friday, May 6.

Review: ‘Ant-Man’

Marvel Studios has now produced 12 movies since 2008, and it’s safe to say that they’ve developed a formula that pleases their fan base and generates a terrific return on investment.

Half their films have been origin stories so far, and the latest reveals that the formula is beginning to wear thin. Story-wise, Ant-Man sticks to the basics, introducing Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, a physicist who has developed a suit that allows the wearer to shrink in size while retaining his or her proportional strength. Pym, however, fears that the technology he has created could be used for evil purposes, so he withdraws the suit and is forced out of his own company.

His former protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), takes over control of the company and endeavors to replicate Pym’s technology. He is aided by Pym’s daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who is estranged from her father. When Pym becomes aware that Cross is on the threshold of recreating the shrinking technology, he recruits Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a master thief, to wear the old suit and steal Cross’ work to protect mankind.

Lang has his own problems. He’s an ex-convict who has been recently paroled and yearns to be reunited with his young daughter. His ex-wife Maggie (Judy Geer) remains suspicious of him, and so does her new husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), a police officer. Lang has been having trouble finding suitable employment, prompting him to return to his thieving ways with a small criminal gang led by his former prison cellmate Luis (Michael Pena). That introduces Lang to Pym, and eventually to an opportunity to become Ant-Man.

Long in development, the film once held the promise of standing alone, but with the passage of years and the success of Marvel’s blockbuster formula, priorities changed and the decision was made to fit Ant-Man safely within the company’s cinematic universe. While that’s understandable from a business standpoint, creatively speaking it reduced the storytelling options available.

Thus, Ant-Man very much feels like a minor entry in the Marvel canon. The familial conflicts are familiar, the development of the characters are familiar, and the action sequences are very familiar. As directed by Peyton Reed, there is little to distinguish the movie from the 11 entries that have preceded it, beyond the particulars of the titular character’s powers and the minuscule settings that it pretends to explore through the magic of computerized graphics.

Ant-Man is okay, nothing more than a safe and sanitized big-screen version of a comic book, and nothing less than a slick and tidy packaging of action-movie stereotypes.

The film has preview screenings at select theaters tonight before opening wide across the region tomorrow.

Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ More of the Same From the Marvel Dream Factory

'Guardians of the Galaxy' (Marvel)
‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (Marvel)
Bright and personable as it is, Guardians of the Galaxy can’t help but feel like another product issued from the Marvel Studios assembly line.

Sure, the characters are not the same — they even have different names! — and only one of the team members is a confirmed member of the Earth-based human race. But for all the green skin and tattooes and animal skin involved, the characters are mix-and-match assemblages of the familiar Marvel personalities. They are defiantly, resolutely likable, darn it, and resolutely unselfish, kind-hearted, and good-humored.

They are the kind of heroes that kids imagine they’ll grow up to be some day. That is, if the kids confine their reading material to Marvel comic books, television shows, and movies.

The 10th installment of the ongoing Marvel Studios saga, Guardians of the Galaxy distinguishes itself in its setting, which, after an emotionally-affecting prologue, takes place entirely in a science-fiction universe. Humans make up only a small percentage of the population, which is pleasant to see, although, for all the different-colored skin and rampant body modifications, English — middle American dialect, please! — remains the predominant language.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, friendly and charming) is a bounty hunter who runs afoul of aliens while pursuing his latest treasure. The treasure is highly sought by fellow adventurers Gamora (Zoe Saldana, painted green) and the team of the feisty Rocket Raccoon (given a brisk, brusque old-school New York gangster accent by Bradley Cooper) and sentient tree Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel, evidently for reasons that have more to do with promoting the movie than anything else). The foursome are sent to jail, where they soon befriend the vengeance-minded Drax (Dave Bautista, who sounds like a professional wrestler).

The film functions as an orgin story for the team, with primary emphasis on Peter Quill. They do things that we expect from modern superheroes –fight in quick-cut action scenes, exchange peppy banter, scowl aplenty, stick up reluctantly for one another — but little that we don’t expect from modern superheroes. It’s amusing enough as far as it goes, yet there’s nothing in the movie that’s authentically daring or different; instead, it’s more of the same from the Marvel dream factory.

Director James Gunn, who co-wrote the screenplay with Nicole Perlman, delivers an experience that is familiar, despite the very different settings. The harsher edges that were present in his previous directorial efforts (2006’s Slither and 2010’s Super) have been sanded down to meet the PG-13 rating requirement of Marvel films. Actors who have been distinctive in other roles sacrifice their individuality so as to bring to life one-dimensional comic book characters. Chief example: Karen Gillan as the “evil” Nebula, who is permitted but one expression and one tone of voice.

Guardians of the Galaxy is fine, if anonymous big-screen entertainment from a company that appears intent on a course that is slowly flattening. As long as the money keeps flowing, expect more of the same in the future from Marvel Studios.

The film opens wide throughout Dallas and Ft. Worth on Friday, August 1.

Review: ‘The Avengers’

'Marvel's The Avengers' (Disney)
‘Marvel’s The Avengers’ (Disney)

‘Marvel’s The Avengers’ is a very good superhero picture without being a particularly good movie. It could just as easily have been titled “Triumph of the Byte, and Humanity Be Damned.” And for that, full credit goes to writer/director Joss Whedon and Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige.

Whedon gives his own jocular spin to “Earth’s Mightiest Superheroes,” carving out space so that each member of the team — Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye — may display the depths of their soul, as well as their ability to crack wise with excellent comic timing. If you’re on the same wavelength, it’s very amusing to watch Whedon blow hot air through the mouths of his characters and then suddenly deflate them, seemingly at whim.

It’s all part of a detailed plan, of course, and quite necessary when balancing the egos of an ensemble cast, several of whom have already starred in their own individual superhero movie. It’s no great surprise that Mark Ruffalo steals the show as Bruce Banner / The Incredible Hulk; not only is Ruffalo an excellent actor, but Whedon approaches the character from a different angle than what was presented in Ang Lee’s ‘Hulk’ and Louis Leterrier’s ‘The Incredible Hulk.’ That soupcon of freshness adds a healthy variety to what is otherwise a familiar stew.

While Whedon carries out an admirable balancing act, and draws from a large store of witty quips, what’s left out of the picture is any semblance of humanity, which in the previous Marvel-controlled movies allowed for a give and take between audience and the heroes we’re meant to worship. And though real-world issues of importance to anyone but the hardcore geek community have never been on abundant display in the Marvel films, such thoughtfulness has been rooted out almost entirely in Whedon’s Avengers universe.

Oh, a supposed real-world issue is utilized as a plot device, but it’s given short shrift and not discussed or resolved in a convincing manner; most audience members will be hard-pressed to remember the problem, since it’s quickly whisked off-screen in favor of extended action sequences that are nearly as incomprehensible as those that concluded Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon.’ Slicing and dicing action into tiny bite-sized portions enables CGI and body doubles to be utilized to the fullest extent possible, which is why the whirlwind editing scheme has been become a de facto standard. Yet it also creates a yawning gap between the action and the viewer, especially one who has seen the same game played over and over again with little variation.

Naturally, there’s no requirement that ‘The Avengers’ do anything more than provide disposable, diverting popcorn entertainment that has a limited shelf life. After watching ‘The Avengers,’ it’s impossible to imagine that Whedon, or anyone else involved with the project, sat down and said: “I have a burning desire to say something about life and the way the we live it, and I want to use this opportunity to express myself creatively.” Instead, the overwhelming credo seems to have been: “Let’s give the people what they want.” Alternatively, it might have been simply “Don’t screw it up.”

Within those parameters, and despite the clunkiness of all the action scenes, ‘The Avengers’ works quite well, and may provoke wild cheering, even if it leaves certain audience members wondering afterwards, “Now, what was all that about? And why should I care?”