Review — Black Panther

This review is going to be super casual because I’m super tired and I saw this movie like two weeks ago. In all honesty, I usually review things within a few days, so all the concrete stuff and details I would have had to talk about has already left my brain. Plus, I’m not a big fan of reviewing current stuff because I can’t do it justice without spoiling it, but I also hate spoiling things if it is current. So read on without worry. No spoilers here.

So, obviously, you have to see this movie because it’s pretty much as awesome as everyone says it is. It’s your typical fun Marvel movie with all the humor and cool action stuff you’d expect, but Black Panther has had some of the best emotional scenes I’ve experienced in any movie in recent memory. With as well made as those scenes were, it’s hard to pinpoint it down to one reason, but if I had to pick one thing, there is just some stellar acting.

Now, I’d never consider myself a big Marvel person. I have (relatively) no interest in the comics, and apart from playing some games (such as Marvel: Ultimate Alliance), I really have no knowledge of the characters. I know some people who are comic buffs, so I know some background, but really this isn’t my thing though. As a child, though, if you had asked me to pick a favorite Avenger, though, I’d have said Black Panther. In all honesty, none of the other characters really stuck out as interesting to me (except Iron Man a little bit). Because come on, how is a stealthy ninja-cat guy not at the top of everyone’s list always? Dr. Strange is cool, too, but I knew nothing about him before the movie and he’s not an Avenger, so he doesn’t count.

Anyways, here’s the number one thing that made this movie really work for me: the worldbuilding. The culture of Wakanda was quite interesting, and the steps it took to be so different from the everyday world shows some real creativity. I found it inspiring for both classic epic fantasy worldbuilding and interestingly informative in both sci-fi, as well.

The biggest, and admittedly nit-picky problem I had with this movie was that it just had so much going on. There’s tons of characters, several plot threads, and a few time skips. I got it by the end, but the extra legwork I had to do to follow which character was which and how they were related to this other character was a bit tough sometimes. Again, it’s not that bad, but I’d imagine older audiences might have the same problem. And this is one of my biggest concerns for Infinity War—I suspect it will just have so much going on that actors and plot pieces on an individual scale will start to get lost. Black Panther started to tread into that territory, so we’ll see.

There’s a lot that’s amazing about this movie, and it’s actually very impressive that they managed to introduce so many characters with so much depth so quickly. I did have some other critiques, but they’re really negligible, unpopular, and (slightly) spoiler-y. Not to mention, I’m super tired. So I’ll just leave it here. I would say that this is probably the best movie in the MCU yet, with maybe Wonder Woman at #2. (That’s a joke.) I honestly don’t expect to like either Infinity War movie more than this one, but who knows?

 

Review — Spiderman: Homecoming

The latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spiderman: Homecoming seems to be doing pretty well. In fact, I’ve yet to meet somebody that didn’t love it. It isn’t without its faults, but overall, the gripes I have with this one are minimal at the worst. It’s a good movie. Probably the best Spiderman movie we’ve ever gotten so far. Now, before we get started, I’ll say right here that I won’t be spoiling anything worse than a few character interactions. Nothing important, and if that bothers you, you probably didn’t even read further than the title anyway.

I’m going to say something that I’m guessing will be controversial, because I think I should get it out of the way first. I liked Andrew Garfield more than Tom Holland. That isn’t to say that I disliked Holland as an actor. I think he did very well. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the only reason I liked Garfield better was the scripts they were given. It leads into the next thing I want to talk about, but Garfield felt like a more ‘authentic’ Spiderman for me.

The biggest reason for this is that in Spiderman: Homecoming, we don’t really have a superhero. We have a child. He’s still figuring everything out. In Garfield’s movies, he’s older and has more serious things on his plate.

But that doesn’t make me feel better about it, and I know exactly why. Amazing Spiderman shows us the birth of the hero and he hits the ground running. Spiderman: Homecoming, on the other hand, isn’t an origin story. He’s Spiderman from the beginning. Really, in this movie Peter has been Spiderman for far longer than in Garfield’s movie. The problem is that he feels dumb and arrogant because of the age discrepancy. And that age difference is the sole source of pretty much all the complaints I have with this movie.

The other issue I have is that a lot of the plot revolves around the fact that he’s so young. His interactions with Tony Stark and his dealings with school cause the drama of him thinking he’s ready for more when he clearly isn’t. Personally, I find that source of conflict in any medium the single most annoying plot device in the world. I hate it when the characters I’m supposed to like are being stupid, even if it makes perfect sense.

Which leaves me at an impasse, because it does make a lot of sense in this movie. Peter Parker’s position in the MCU is really cool. I like his relationship with Tony Stark and the other big characters, as well as the role he fills in the overarching story. But I don’t like what that means for his own character motivations and his own plot structures.

But, grievances aside, this movie is awesome. The plot and the script are very well put together, and every time something unexpected happened, I thought “Huh, that makes a lot of sense.” There is one big plot twist in particular that I did not see coming, and it blew me away. Part of me is a little upset that I didn’t catch it, because in hindsight it seems obvious, but I’m also glad I didn’t, because that moment was easily one of the best in recent cinema history for me.

What’s more, the Vulture is the perfect villain in too many ways to describe. (His origin story and how it fits with his character design is particularly sweet). His motivation, his actual plans, and the execution are top notch. (Minor spoilers: The part where he turns off the purple portal thing on the truck to trap Spiderman was pretty clever, and I really enjoyed seeing that happen.)

So, is this movie worth watching? Absolutely. Do I think it’s better than the other two Spiderman franchises? Undoubtedly (though, again, I liked Garfield’s Spiderman more). Go see it the next opportunity you have!

Review — Wonder Woman

After all the raving reviews for this movie, and how everyone I know seemed to like it, I had high hopes for this movie. Even with it being part of the superhero bandwagon DC is jumping onto (which we all know they have been horrible at translating their stuff to the big screen), I knew it was going to be great. And, by and large, I think it was. Not a fantastic movie, mind you, but a pretty good one. As far as this post goes, I won’t be spoiling any specific plot related stuff, but I will talk about the general framework of the movie.

Now, when I tell people that I didn’t think this movie was amazing, most are surprised. Don’t get me wrong. This movie is amazing, especially compared to the other DC movies. But there’s nothing that makes it stand out as unique. The general plot is pretty basic, and one of my main issues with this movie is that there are never any direct consequences for the heroine. She wants to do a thing, and nothing in the world will stop her from doing it.

I, like much of the world of fiction, will consider this level of stubbornness and arrogance a character flaw. Only, she is never punished for her actions. (I realize you could argue this, but doing so would involve spoilers, so let’s just leave it at that.) But when I say she is never punished, I don’t mean there is no conflict. I mean that I wanted her actions to make the situation worse, and for her to learn something because of it. Instead, her arrogance leads her to take actions that don’t solve the problem, so she goes and does something else instead.

Overall, the plot structure is also very basic. “Here’s some exposition, now some action, and now we’ll be getting intermittent character development in between action scenes.” You hear a lot about character-driven fiction versus story-driven fiction, but this is definitely action-driven fiction. Characters will make dumb decisions based on the plot’s need for some slow motion action-y bits, of which there are a lot.

That isn’t to say that action movies are bad. But no action movie will ever get a perfect score in my book because I like interesting stories, and they just never do. Instead, they focus on cool shots and CGI. This movie did have some great shots, but I wasn’t a big fan of some of the CG. There were quite a few moments where Diana was moving in a way that looked wrong because the specific things that were happening didn’t physically work. I realize that I’m a product of my generation in that I have extremely high expectations for what looks real and what doesn’t, but still. (I will admit that all the horse tricks and the flips looked pretty dang snazzy, though.)

By far, the single best thing that Wonder Woman had was Gal Gadot. Her acting was pretty awesome, and she did a great job portraying a lost but stubborn character in an unknown world. I love naive characters like that, and she really nailed it without also being ‘dumb’. Plus, I think she really nailed the facial expressions, and as attractive as she is, I found it completely believable when all the characters who saw her for the first time were awestruck.

So, when I watch the next movies in the Justice League series, the thing I’m most excited for is seeing her act more. Unfortunately, it’ll be a ‘present day’ Diana where she’s acclimated to society, so we won’t get nearly as much of the naivety anymore, but either way I think that the quality of this movie is an probably an outlier. I don’t expect the next movies to suddenly be on the same level.

Review — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I’m not quite sure what the general consensus for this movie has been, or if it’s one of those “love it or hate it” situations, but overall I would say this is probably the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s weakest movie to date. That said, I did enjoy it, I just think they could have done a lot better with it. Since this is a new movie, no plot-relevant spoilers ahead, though I will be talking about the first few scenes.

As far as “movie adaptations” go, I think as a general rule it’s okay for a movie to diverge from whatever the original story is, regardless of the medium it’s derived from. I’m not upset when things don’t happen in the movies the same way they happened in the comics, primarily because I’m not very familiar with the comics, but also, there will always be too many different factors at play. You can never translate anything perfectly to film, there will always be things that are different. This is indisputable by virtue of the fact that many of those mediums require imagination, and movies take that aspect away, and you can’t stay true to everyone’s imagination in any circumstance.

So I’m not upset when this movie is different from the comics. I don’t know the comics, this is the only time I’ve seen these characters. I am upset when the plot rides the back seat to let jokes steer the wheel, however. I think the first Guardians of the Galaxy had lots of humor in it, and everybody loved it, so this time around they made the movie about the humor. Now, I’m okay with comedy movies, but I wouldn’t have even put this movie and it’s predecessor in the same genre, and that’s what the problem is here. We’re sacrificing character development and story telling to let sex jokes and obscure references take the forefront, and that isn’t what I signed up for. I think anyone that is told this upfront before seeing the movie will enjoy it a lot more.

The part that I liked the most was the first scene. The team fighting that horrible beastie while Baby Groot dances to a song is I think holds true to the original movie, and I loved it (especially when Gamora yells at Groot, and then smiles and waves cause she’s talking to a baby). But when they finish that scene and get to Sovereign, we’re immediately thrown into an info dump that has no immediate relevance to the plot. We’re given a ton of backstory that didn’t even fit the conversation, let alone the scene, and that was really confusing. Any time you describe a process to your audience just to teach them how things works, you’re doing something wrong. You have to at least make it make sense with the scene!

I did enjoy seeing more of the less important characters from the first movie. We get more interaction from Yondu and Nebula, and I do like what they added to the development of things. Their character arcs were very predictable, but that’s not always a bad thing.

Overall, the thing that I hated the most were the jokes. It wasn’t that there were too many, it’s that the execution on several of them were so poor. There were lines that didn’t fit with their character and jokes that grabbed the low hanging fruit, as Howard Taylor might say. Much of the humor in this movie was pretty low brow, and I don’t think it was suited to the plot at all.

All that said, I would still give it an overall positive score. I’m still excited to see more of these characters, I just think this could have been a lot better than it was. I suppose Marvel proved that it wasn’t infallible with this movie. Okay, it already proved that with the Iron Man sequels and a few others, but I still thoroughly enjoyed those!

Review — Logan

An obviously very prevalent movie currently in theaters, Logan is (supposedly) the last of the Wolverine/X-Men movies, or at least the last that Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart will be a part of. I’ll be giving this review spoiler free. After all, it’s often better to target “Hey is this worth watching?” people over “I wonder what everybody else thought of it” people, especially when it comes to newer things.

I’ll give a disclaimer here: I did not watch Rise of the Apocalypse. To be honest I don’t even know for sure if it’s in the same universe, because of all the time travel and retconning that happened. So my review could be a little biased without that information, but it is what it is.

First off, is it worth watching? Yes. It’s a lot sadder than I expected, and not for the reasons I expected, either. The entire movie has a beaten and jaded feel to it, as in the beginning we see Wolverine and the X-Men are old news. From the get-go we get the sense of “What now?” as it seems that life for everybody just sucks.

Here is the biggest problem I have with the movie. It doesn’t explain anything that happened or the position that everybody is in. Early on a new character is introduced that I had never heard of before (not being familiar with the comics), and while obviously important, his relationship to the other characters or reason for being there is only vaguely implicit. The entire beginning involves a lot of hitting the ground running as nothing is explained, you just have to say “That’s how things are? Oh, okay.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying suspension of disbelief is hard here. Rather it’s a lot more realistic and ‘gritty’ than many other superhero movies, but to me Logan seems to be set in a dystopia without a clear basis of what bad thing happened in the past. I have no trouble believing that life is hard in this world, I would just have liked to see how “this world” got to be in the first place.

Here’s the thing. Even if this problem is purely because I didn’t watch Rise of the Apocalypse, I would still have an issue. Yes, you should always read the first book in a series before you pick up the sequel, but you still need to explain what happened previously in that sequel.

To be frank here, that’s the only gripe I had with this movie. I personally didn’t like how violent and bloody it was, but I can’t fault it for that, all things considered. It was just a feature that didn’t suit me particularly well. Other than that, the character interaction, the set design, the film score, everything worked out and was executed quite well. Many of the things I expected to happen did, but in this instance it was good. It’s always cool to think “Realistically, this character should just shoot the guy” and then have that occur half a second later. That means the characters are acting believably, and that’s always a great quality to see in acting.

So, is it worth watching? Yeah, totally. Just know that it’s really sad, violent, and more dystopian than you may or may not have expected.

Review — Dr. Strange

Being the newest release I’ve recently been introduced to, I’m going to try something new here and review Dr. Strange without spoiling it. Typically I don’t have to worry because I’ll review books or movies fifty (or more) years old, but I’ll have to make an exception here.

Simply put, I would say Dr. Strange is one of the best movies Marvel has released yet. As always, it has its issues, but there is so much that makes this movie awesome. And the best part? It’s a movie that stands apart from the rest of the MCU, so it won’t matter if you haven’t seen any of the other movies. With how many sequels are coming out these days (in the Marvel universe specifically), it’s a nice refresher to see entirely new characters this time.

I love everything Benedict Cumberbatch has done. I’d say the weakest role I’ve seen him in was in a newer Star Trek movie, but even that wasn’t bad. That said, this was a weird experience, because his accent is a little off-putting. I did get used to it as the movie went on, but for the first ten minutes his voice simply didn’t sound right. His character is very well done, though. I admittedly know little to nothing about Dr. Strange as he appears in the comics, but I liked what Benedict did with it in the movie.

This movie is also, without a doubt, the most heavily intensive special effects movie I have ever seen. My brother made a good (and accurate) point when he said that some parts of the movie were like they took the movie Inception and put it through a kaleidoscope. It ties a bit into a point I’ll elaborate on that it can make the movie difficult to follow, but as I’m well aware, there are parts that aren’t supposed to make sense to the audience. Also, seeing people fight with magic is awesome. The way magic is expressed in the movie is similar in some respects to how some styles of magic work in my own universe, so it’s interesting to see how it adapts to film.

Dr. Strange is full of awesome moments, great lines, and epic scenes. Pretty much every moment I wanted to see happen did (except for one that I can’t mention because spoilers), and while the plot is very predictable (it follows the Hero’s Journey very closely), it doesn’t take away from the enjoyment.

There are two (three) problems I had with the movie, though. The biggest one is that it can be hard to tell what’s going on. You never get any real idea on how much time is passing between any two scenes, which is a bit frustrating but not a huge deal. That also ties into what magic is happening. Now, the whole point with the magic is that its supposed to be difficult to follow (only masters of these arts can even comprehend), but it’s kind of evil to make me want to watch the movie a second time just so I can follow along more easily. It’s tough to tell the difference between the astral dimension, the mirror dimension, and the time dimension (is that a thing?) and I’m never fully clear on what rules apply where.

My last point (and this is really grasping for straws here, but I think the point is valid), this movie is too “easy”. There’s never any question as to what a character is going to do next because the only person that is dynamic is Strange, and because its his story you still know what he’s going to do. Perhaps the movie never tries to make you second guess your predictions because its too hard to follow to make any solid predictions. Maybe I’m just writing sentences that sound thought provoking and are completely wrong, but there could have been more character interactions that add more dynamic rather than everyone always having the same exact relationship to each other throughout the movie.

Overall, great movie. His accent is weird, but you get used to it. Also the magic is really hard to follow, but the plot is stable enough for you not to have to understand what’s going on. Go watch it.