“Breaking Up the Avengers”

 

“BREAKING UP THE AVENGERS”

Ever since I first saw “CAPTAIN AMERICA:  CIVIL WAR” back in May 2016, I have been in a state of confusion of the series of events that led to the break-up of the Avengers within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The more I examine those events created by the film’s screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the more I find the narrative confusing.  So what exactly happened?

According to “CIVIL WAR”, the terrorist group that had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and other government agencies and private corporations, HYDRA, had ordered the brainwashed amnesiac James Buchannan “Bucky” Barnes aka the Winter Soldier to murder one of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D., Howard Stark, and his wife Maria Stark, back in December 1991.  Apparently, Stark – who has never struck me as an expert in biological sciences – had finally created his own version of the Super Soldier Serum.  And HYDRA wanted to use the serum to continue their own program involving super soldiers.

Nearly 25 years later, Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross had presented the Avengers with the document known as the Sokovia Accords.  The Accords was created to regulate the activities of enhanced individuals – especially those who work for either government agencies such as S.H.I.E.L.D. or for private organizations such as the Avengers.   Some of the Avengers like Howard’s son, Tony Stark aka Iron Man; James Rhodes aka War Machine; Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow and the android known as Vision; had agreed to sign the documents.  Others like Steve Rogers aka Captain America; Sam Wilson aka the Falcon; and Wanda Maximoff aka the Scarlet Witch refused to sign it.  The Avengers had argued over the legality of the Accords, until Steve was distracted by the news that his old World War II flame and former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Peggy Carter had died.

Eventually, the Avengers were further distracted by the bombing of the Vienna International Centre, where United Nations members had gathered to sign the document.  A major victim of the bombing turned out to be King T’Chaka, father of Prince T’Challa aka the Black Panther.  A former Sokovian Armed Forcers officers named Helmut Zemo had planned the bombing and framed Barnes in order to further divide the Avengers in retaliation for the destruction of his home country and his family in “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”.  Due to his discovery of the HYDRA files uploaded on the Internet by Romanoff during the events of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER”, Zemo was able to discover that both Rogers and Barners had been old childhood friends and fought together during World War II.  He also discovered that Barnes, who had been held in captive and brainwashed by HYDRA until the end of “THE WINTER SOLIDER”, had been the tool used by HYDRA to murder Howard and Maria Stark.  Helmut used this knowledge to create more conflict between Rogers and Stark.  But despite knowing what exactly happened during “CIVIL WAR”, I am not only confused by the film’s plot; I am confused over exactly what drove the Avengers apart.

First of all, could someone please explain how Steve Rogers and Tony Stark’s conflict over Bucky Barnes’ killing of Howard and Maria Stark was supposed to break up the Avengers?  All of the Avengers?  Yes, “THE WINTER SOLDIER” had revealed that both Rogers and Romanoff had learned that HYDRA was somehow responsible for the deaths of Stark’s parents.  But Stark never confronted Romanoff for her knowledge of what happened to his parents.  And neither she or Rogers knew that HYDRA had used Barnes to kill them.  So how would a personal conflict between Rogers and Stark was supposed to have some impact upon the Avengers?  Also . . . the Avengers had already parted over the Sokovia Accords early into “CIVIL WAR”.  Why on earth would the Avengers split because two of its members had some disagreement over what happened in 1991?  I have other questions.

Why did Helmut Zemo create such a contrived plan to expose what the brainwashed Bucky had done to the Starks?  In the film, he had discovered a video tape featuring Barnes’ murder of the Starks on the road leading way from their New York manor.  And what did Zemo do?  He bombed the Sokovia Accords conference in Vienna and framed Barnes for the crime, knowing that Rogers would go out of his way to prevent his former friend from being gunned down with extreme prejudice, instead of merely arrested?  After that . . . what?  He impersonated a psychiatrist and helped the still brainwashed Barnes escape custody.  Apparently, he knew that Barnes would eventually inform Rogers about HYDRA’s Winter Soldier program in Siberia and lead the latter to the organization’s base.  How did Zemo know that Stark would end up at that Siberia base, as well?  Stark would have never learned about Rogers and Barnes’ destination after their escape from the Battle at the Berlin airport if he had not convinced Sam Wilson, who had been arrested with the rest of Rogers’ team, to tell him.  I doubt very much that Zemo would have anticipated this.  Why did he not just send the damn tape featuring the Starks’ deaths to the Avengers headquarters or to Stark Enterprises, earlier in the story?

Speaking of that video tape . . . why on earth would HYDRA set up a camera to record Barnes’ murders of the Starks?  Why would they record the murder in the first place?  To see if his brainwashing worked after him being in hibernation for over 45 years?  One would think that the Starks’ deaths were the evidence that the organization would need.  And once HYDRA discovered that the brainwashing worked, why did it fail to destroy the tape?  What was the point, especially when the HYDRA operatives within S.H.I.E.L.D. must have went out of their way to convey the story that Howard and Maria had died in an accident?  It was stupid to hang on to that tape.  If HYDRA did not set up the camera, what was it doing there on that road in the first place?

“CIVIL WAR” also revealed that both Steve Rogers and Natasha Romanoff had failed to reveal that HYDRA may have been responsible for the deaths of Stark’s parents.  Steve’s reasoning for not revealing the truth to Stark did not make any sense to me.  Why would Rogers think not telling Tony the truth would be a comfort?  Considering his hatred of HYDRA, it would make more sense for Rogers to tell Tony . . . especially since they and the rest of the Avengers were hunting down Baron von Stucker and HYDRA’s headquarters at the time.  Come to think of it, why did Natasha Romanoff failed to tell Tony that HYDRA was responsible for the Starks’ deaths?  The issue of her knowledge of this incident was never brought up in the film.  I am still wondering why Stark had never learned the truth about his parents’ fate before the events of “CIVIL WAR”.

Romanoff had released all of the  S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA files on the Internet in “THE WINTER SOLDIER”?  You mean to say that a tech-savy person like Stark never discovered the files?  Especially since his father was one of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D.   Come to think of it, any employee of Stark Industries could have easily learned about the revelation of the files.  Yet, no one did.  Talk about contrived writing.  Did the Avengers use those old S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA files downloaded by Romanoff to search for von Strucker and his HYDRA base before the events of “AGE OF ULTRON”?  If so . . . why did they fail to find information about the Starks’ deaths?  If not . . . why not?  You mean to say that Romanoff’s upload of those S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA files were all about Zemo finding that damn tape and nothing else?

What am I trying to say here?  The story arc of Helmut Zemo using the old HYDRA files on Bucky Barnes to break Steve Rogers and Tony Stark’s friendship and eventually the Avengers did not make . . . wait a minute.  Did I just claim that Rogers and Stark had a friendship?  Rogers and Stark . . . who could barely stand to socialize with each other?  In the Marvel Cinematic Universe?  You know what?  This story arc seemed to have so many holes that I am beginning to believe it resembles Swiss cheese.  What I find equally improbably is that so many films critics had not even bothered to question the plot when “CIVIL WAR” first hit the movie theaters back in May 2016.

 

“THE TOURIST” (2010) Review

“THE TOURIST” (2010) Review

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck directed this remake of the 2005 French film, “ANTHONY ZIMMER” about an American schoolteacher on vacation in Europe, who is mistaken for a British accountant who had embezzled a great deal of funds from a gangster. The movie stars Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie and Paul Bettany.

Jolie portrayed a British woman named Elise Clifton-Ward, who was being trailed in Paris by a number of men who work for Scotland Yard. At a cafe, she received a letter from Alexander Pearce, a former lover who is wanted by various police forces in Europe and a ruthless gangster. The letter provided explicit directions from Pearce to board a train to Venice, pick out a man who resembles him and make the police believe that this man is their man. After Elise burned the letter, she boarded a train for Venice and took a seat besides an American tourist named Frank Tupelo, who became instant attracted to her. And the police, led by a Scotland Yard investigator named John Acheson, instantly began to believe that Frank is the mysterious Alexander Pearce.

One would think that a romantic thriller starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie and set in the romantic cities of Paris and Venice would be a bona fide winner . . . at least with me. And God knows I tried to like this movie. I really did. But in the end, ”THE TOURIST” failed to win my favor. It turned out to be one of the most disappointing movies I have ever seen in the past ten to fifteen years. Mind you, the screenplay adaptation written by director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes was not terrible. The plot seemed a bit implausible, but it ended with a surprisingly well-written twist. And good direction and good acting could have overcome it. Unfortunately, von Donnersmarck’s direction hampered the movie a great deal. I found it rather dull and uninspiring. Especially the action sequences, which featured a very dull chase throughout some of Venice’s canals. And I found the pedantic dialogue – especially that spoken by the two leads, Depp and Jolie – rather hard to bear.

Speaking of the leads, both Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie received Golden Globe nominations for their performance. How on earth did that happen? I am not questioning their talent. Both have given superb performances in past movies. But neither could overcome von Donnersmarck’s tepid direction and the God awful dialogue in the script. And having both actors spend a good amount of time staring into space or at each other, while posing in an iconic manner did not really help their performances. Paul Bettany fared slightly better as the relentless and ruthless Scotland Yard inspector, John Acheson, who was bent upon arresting the real Alexander Pearce or acquiring the money the latter had stolen. He probably gave the most energetic performance in the movie. The movie also featured an intense performance by Steven Berkhoff as Reginald Shaw, the ruthless gangster who also sought out Pearce. His character’s villainy seemed a lot more subtle than his role in the James Bond movie, “OCTOPUSSY”. Speaking of James Bond, I must admit that former Bond actor Timothy Dalton made an effective head of Scotland Yard. It seemed a pity that his role was not as large as it could have been. The movie also featured solid performances from Rufus Sewell, Christian De Sica and Alessio Boni.

Aside from Bettany, Dalton and Berkhoff’s performances, there were other aspects of “THE TOURIST” that I enjoyed. One, I was impressed by the lush costumes designed by Colleen Atwood; and worn by Depp, Berkhoff and Jolie. I never knew that Steven Berkhoff could look so impressive in a turtleneck sweater. And cinematographer John Seale took advantage of the Paris and Venice settings and provided beautiful photography for the movie. Those aspects of “THE TOURIST” are the best things I can say about this film.

I tried very hard to like “THE TOURIST”. I really did. It had the potential to be an entertaining film. But Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s flaccid direction, Depp and Jolie’s dull performances and the tepid dialogue and action sequences featured in the movie prevented this from happening. And looking back, I now find the movie’s three Golden Globe nominations something of a joke.

“THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” (2018) Review

 

“THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” (2018) Review

After ten years and eighteen films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) finally released “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”. The movie represented the first half of a culmination of the previous films that either focused or touched upon the super-villain Thanos’ attempt to attain possession of a collection of powerful gems known as the Infinity Stones.

Although 2008’s “IRON MAN” signaled the beginning of the MCU franchise and the introduction of the latter’s collection of comic book heroes/heroines, supporting players and villains; I believe that the true beginning of this story arc involving Thanos and the Infinity Stones began in 2011 with two movies – “THOR” and “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”. The former introduced the Tesseract, a cube that contained the Infinity Stone known as the Space Stone, in its post-credit scene. However, the Space Stone was more fully explored in the second 20111 movie, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”. After 2011, most of the Infinity Stones were either introduced, explored or both in the MCU movies that followed. Only one stone made its introduction in “INFINITY WAR” – the Soul Stone.

Before I find myself wallowing into an essay about the Infinity Stones, let me continue with this review. “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” began several minutes after 2017’s “THOR: RAGNAROK” left off. Thanos had caught up with the Asgardian refugee ship and with the help of his minions, inflict considerable damage upon the survivors and their new king, former Avenger Thor. Why? Apparently, before their flight from Asgard’s destruction, Thor’s adopted brother, Loki, had taken the Tesseract, which had been inside Asgard’s royal vault. After killing half of the Asgardian survivors (the other half had managed to escape), Asgard’s gatekeeper Heimdall, beating Thor and killing Loki; Thanos took the Space Stone and blew up the ship. It turned out that the Tesseract was the second Infinity Stone that Thanos managed to acquire. Before the events of this film, Thanos and his minions had attacked and destroyed half of Xandar homeworld before he managed to get his hands on the Power Stone, last seen in 2014’s “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”. And before Heimdall was killed, he used Asgard’s Bifrost sword to transport a beaten Dr. Bruce Banner aka the Hulk to warn the Avengers and Earth about Thanos’ campaign to collect the Infinity Stones. Meanwhile, the Guardians of Galaxy come across Thor’s body floating in space and rescue him. Thanks to Heimdall’s actions, along with the Guardians’ rescue of Thor; the movie’s main protagonists become aware of Thanos’ current campaign to hunt down the remaining Infinity Stones and set about preventing him from raining more destruction upon the universe.

What can I say about “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”? When I first heard about the movie’s premise, I immediately felt that the only way this would work was if the narrative was set up in the same style as war films like “THE LONGEST DAY” or “A BRIDGE TOO FAR”. You know . . . blockbuster combat films about a particular battle or campaign that featured an all-star cast. Despite being a comic book movie, “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” proved to be exactly just that. The movie’s narrative centered around most of the MCU’s protagonists trying to prevent Thanos from collecting all of the Infinity Stones and carrying out his plan to eradicate half of the universe’s population in order to prevent the decrease of essential resources. And more importantly, the screenplay written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely almost hit the right note when it tried to maintain a balancing act between the franchise’s numerous stars. And considering that this movie was all about Thanos’ efforts to utilize the stones in the first place, it seemed quite apparent that he proved to be the movie’s main character. And personally, I feel that was the right thing to do.

In fact, some of the film’s best scenes and story arc had a lot to do with Thanos . . . and especially his relationship with his adoptive daughters, Gamora and Nebula. Thanos’ relationship with the latter seemed just as straight-forward as she had described it in 2017’s “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2”. It seemed perfectly clear that Thanos did not give a rat’s ass about Nebula, especially since he seemed to display no remorse or hesitation to use her life as a bargaining chip for the location of the Soul Stone. Thanos’ relationship with Gamora, on the other hand, seemed to be a different and murkier kettle of fish. Some fans have debated on whether he truly loved Gamora. I believe he did, in his own warped way, as the following image depicted:

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And the tears that Gamora had shed, when she thought she had killed him on Nowhere made it pretty obvious that she harbored feelings for him, as well. By the end of the movie, it seemed pretty obvious that Thanos loved his crusade to “save” the universe from overpopulation a lot more than Gamora . . . to the point that he was willing to sacrifice her life for possession of the Soul Stone. I have to give screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely credit for portraying Thanos as a very complex character. Do not get me wrong. I do not regard Thanos as the best MCU villain in the franchise so far. I simply found his different relationships with adoptive daughters Gamora and Nebula a lot more interesting than his goal with the Infinity Gauntlet.

The film featured other story arcs that I found interesting. I have mixed feelings about Thor’s story arc. On one hand, I managed to spot several plot holes in his narrative. On the other hand, it was a relief to see the new Asgardian king finally face the emotional consequences of the losses he had sustained in not only this film, but also “THOR: RAGNAROK”. Thanks to Gamora’s connection to Thanos, “INFINITY WAR” served the main protagonists very well. Audiences finally got to see Gamora and Peter Quill aka Star-Lord declare their love for one another. Rocket managed to form a new bond with Thor, of all people . . . and lose another close bond. “INFINITY WAR” also saw the development of the romance between Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch and Vision and how Thanos’ search for the Infinity Stones affected that relationship. The movie paid scant attention to the Sokovia Accords, which I did not find surprising. But two satisfying developments came from the brief mention of the agreement, when James “Rhodey” Rhodes aka War Machine expressed is deep regret for signing the Sokovia Accords, along with his refusal to obey Thaddeus Ross’ order for the arrests of Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson and Wanda Maximoff. For me, it was Don Cheadle’s finest moment in the MCU franchise.

“INFINITY WAR” also featured some pretty interesting action sequences. I can count at least XX of them as among my favorites. One of them included a conflict on the streets of Manhattan in which the two sorcerers Dr. Stephen Strange and Wong, Tony Stark aka Iron Man and Peter Parker aka Spider-man battled against one of Thanos’ adopted children, Ebony Maw. The battle ended with Strange being kidnapped, due to his possession of the Time Stone. I thought it was well-handled. However, I find it odd that both Strange and Wong had difficulty with a being who was basically a telekinetic. Another battle I found interesting was Strange, Iron Man and Spider-man’s first meeting with Star-Lord, Drax and Mantis on Thanos’ homeworld, Titan. Although I found it enjoyable, I also found it odd, considering that of all the Guardians, Star-Lord did most of the work against the travelers from Earth . . . and succeeded. I do not know what to say about the battle that unfurled in Wakanda. On a visual level, I found it spectacular. And there were some good moments like Scarlet Witch’s encounter with Thanos; the arrival of Thor, Rocket and Groot; and the brief interaction between Rocket and James “Bucky” Buchanan during the battle. But overall . . . I simply cannot decide whether I loved it or simply tolerated it. Perhaps I loved some parts of it.

As for the movie’s visual effects . . . they were okay. There were a few spectacular scenes. I was especially impressed by Ebony Maw’s arrival in Manhattan, as shown in the following image:

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And I really enjoyed Thor’s initial arrival on Wakanda, in which he killed a good number of Thanos’ forces:

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But overall, I was not particularly dazzled by the film’s visual effects.

No movie is perfect. And I can honestly say that about “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”. When I first learned that so many of the franchise’s past characters – especially the costumed heroes – would be featured in this film, my first reaction was wariness. After seeing the movie twice, I believe my initial wariness was justified on a certain level. I will re-phrase my original assessment of the movie – I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it enough to see it at the movie theaters twice. But, “INFINITY WAR” had its problems. And one of those problems proved to be the numerous protagonists that filled the narrative. But wait? Did I not earlier praise the MCU and the screenwriters for creating a narrative that was similar to all-star movie epics like “THE LONGEST DAY” and “A BRIDGE TOO FAR”. Yes, I did. But this narrative style still threatened to spiral out of control. There was no real balance in how McFeely and Markus treated the film’s characters. Not really. A good number of the characters – including major ones – were more or less treated as guest stars in this film.

Most of the characters who had rebelled against the Sokovia Accords – Captain America, Falcon, Black Widow, Winter Soldier, Ant-Man and Hawkeye – were not utilized very often. A major character like Captain America had finally been reduced to a guest star. Falcon, Black Widow and Winter Soldier barely had any lines. And both Ant-Man and Hawkeye were missing in this film. Only the Scarlet Witch seemed to have a larger role and that was due to her being the romantic interest of Vision, who had one of the Infinity Stones embedded into his forehead. I was also amazed how even Iron Man, Doctor Strange and Spider-man seemed to have disappeared and re-appear for a long stretches of time, following their departure from Earth aboard Ebony Maw’s ship. And why did the film’s screenplay not allow Wong to accompany them on the journey to Thanos’ homeworld, Titan. Hell, the inhabitants of Wakanda – Black Panther aka King T’Challa, Okoye, M’Baku and Princess Shuri – seemed to minor players in this film, considering that a major battle was fought within their country’s borders near the film’s finale. Both Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders managed to appear as former S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury and his assistant Maria Hill in the film’s only post-credit scene. In it, both had witnessed the impact of Thanos’ Infinity Stones snap in Manhattan, before disappearing themselves. And before they did, Fury managed to send a message to a new Avenger – Captain Marvel aka Carol Danvers. That was it? Jackson and Smulders were used as a publicity scene for the upcoming Captain Marvel film? God, what a waste!

I wonder if the reason why the focus on the characters struck me as so unbalance was due to them being scattered . . . all over the universe, really. The reason why movies like “THE LONGEST DAY” and “A BRIDGE TOO FAR” worked so well is that these films kept the focused on one particular setting – whether it were the beaches of Normandy, Frances and the surrounding countryside, or the stretch of road that encompassed three Dutch small cities. “INFINITY WAR” featured more settings than a James Bond movie and all of the major characters were scattered throughout those different locations on Earth and in space. Even a relative of mine found this rather convoluted.

There were other aspects of the film’s narrative that left me scratching my head. I do not know where to begin. Oh yes . . . the film opened with Thanos and his minions in control of Thor’s ship (formerly owned by the Grandmaster), most of the inhabitants dead, Heimdall wounded and a bruised Thor a prisoner of Thanos. And all I could ask was . . . where was Valkyrie, along with former gladiators Korg and Miek? Where did they go? Were they dead? How did Thor, who was the new ruler of the remaining Asgardians and the new Allfather lose so easily against Thanos? As the new Allfather, he should have given Thanos and the “kids” a lot of trouble. I mean . . . not even Thanos’ use of the Power Stone failed to kill Thor. Really? Why did the Hulk wait for Loki to introduce him like some damn circus act? I mean . . . the Hulk is not more powerful than Thor. He never really was, despite the MCU’s effort to pretend otherwise. Why did Loki tried to kill Thanos with a dagger? A dagger? This is the being who managed to cast a mind spell on someone as powerful as Odin. Why did he not consider this, instead of attacking Thanos with a dagger?

The next major scene featured Doctor Strange, Wong, Tony Stark and Peter Parker. Why was it so difficult for Doctor Strange and Wong to defeat Ebony Maw? The latter is an alien with a telekinetic ability. That was his ability . . . telekinesis. A psychic ability and nothing else. Strange and Wong were sorcerers. Which meant they had abilities beyond psychic ones. What happened? Why did they not use . . . magic? He was able to use magic to prevent Ebony Maw from getting his claws on the stone. Why not use magic to defeat Maw? Now that I think about it, Strange was also in possession of the Time Stone. Why did he not use it? And this was way before his ludicrous claim that there was only one out of 14 million chances in which to defeat Thanos. I call bullshit on this, for it seems nothing more than contrived nonsense to justify what happened later in the film. And why did Tony suggest that they continue traveling to Titan? To keep the battle for the Time Stone away from Earth? Ah, does this mean both Tony and Stephen had forgotten about the Mind Stone . . . which was with Vison . . . on Earth?

This movie was filled with characters making dumb decisions – from Gamora deciding to accompany Peter Quill, Drax and Mantis to Knowhere, knowing that Thanos was there and she knew the location of the Soul Stone; to Peter Quill losing his shit and ruining the plan to trap Thanos on Titan after learning about Gamora’s fate; to Steve suggesting they take Vision to Wakanda in order to remove the Mind Stone from the latter’s head and keep him alive; to T’Challa giving them permission to land in Wakanda; to Thor losing his shit during the Wakanda battle and striking Thanos in an area that was bound to allow the Titan to live just a bit longer. Most fans have been dumping most of the blame on Star-Lord. Some of them, including the Russo Brothers, have dumped most of the blame for what happened in the end on Thor. I blame Thanos. As far as I am concerned, he made the dumbest decision to wipe away half of the universe’s living beings for . . . what? To preserve the remaining living beings so that there were enough resources for everyone? This is a stupid plan. He could not think of anything else? Like providing more resources for the universe? Why did he set this plan in motion in the first place? Because he could not save his homeworld? Or what?

And there were other matters. Why did the empathic Mantis, who had managed to control the emotions of someone as powerful as Ego, failed to do so with Thanos? What was the point of including Secretary of Defense Thaddeus Ross in this story? To prove how useless and irrelevant the Sokovia Accords story arc truly was? When I learned that both Clint Barton and Scott Lang were under “house arrest” for violating the Accords in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”, I merely rolled my eyes in disgust. By the way, who was financing Steve, Natasha, Sam and Wanda’s activities for the past two years? When did Wanda and Vision finally commenced upon their romance? You mean to say that after eighteen months or so (since the events of “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING”), Tony and Pepper were still engaged? Where was Nakia? When did Gamora learn about the location of the Soul Stone? How did Johann Schmidt aka Red Skull survive 73 years after the Space Stone transported him to Vormir? Despite having the Dr. Erskine’s formula in his blood, he was never frozen in stasis like Steve and Bucky. Why on earth was it necessary for Thor to go to Nidavellir to create the Stormbreaker axe to be used on Thanos? Why? He should have been powerful enough to take on the Titan on his own in the first damn place. Had McFeely and Markus forgotten that Thor was the new Allfather?

The real problem I have with “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” – aside from the plot holes – is that it is not that original to me. Not really. First of all, the idea of a villain plotting to to commit genocide for environmental reasons had played a major role in two recent movies – 2015’s “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” and the 2016 movie, “INFERNO”. In an Arrowverse crossover event from three years ago, super villain and immortal Vandal Savage managed to kill all of the costumed heroes who were featured in that story – with the exception of Barry Allen aka the Flash. Instead, he used time travel to go back and change the fates of his friends and colleagues. Hmmm . . . sound familiar? How about this? Nearly a decade ago, I had created a series of “Charmed” Alternate Universe stories in which the Charmed Ones befriended another family of witches. Needless to say, among my stories featured a powerful demon who managed to kill most of the main characters, including two of the Charmed Ones. It was very similar to what happened to many of the characters in the finale for “INFINITY WAR”. And guess what? The whole thing was resolved through the use of time travel – which I assume will be used in “AVENGERS 4”. So, how can I be impressed with how McFeely, Markus and the Russo brothers ended the story for “INFINITY WAR”, when both the Arrowverse producers and I did something similar? What I found even more annoying about the film’s ending is that most of Thanos’ victims proved to be those MCU heroes and protagonists first introduced after “THE AVENGERS”. Fury and Hill seemed to be the only pre-Phase II characters that were killed. And there were only a few post-Phase I characters like Rocket the Raccoon, Wong, Princess Shuri, Okoye and M’Baku, who survived. Personally, I found it ridiculous that Marvel could not take the chance to kill off one or two of the original Avengers members.

I wish I could comment on all of the film’s performances, but that would take forever. I will comment on those that caught my attention, both good and bad. I have already commented on Don Cheadle’s very satisfying performance. The movie featured solid performances from those who had – to be honest – provided more memorable ones in past movies, like Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benedict Wong, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Winston Duke, Danai Gurira, Dave Bautista, Benedict Wong, Benicio del Toro, Jacob Batalon, William Hurt, Vin Diesel and Pom Klementieff. Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch gave solid performances as well, but there were times when both actors seemed bent upon proving whose character was more irritating. Personally, I believe Letitia Wright won this contest in her portrayal of Wakanda’s Princess Shuri. Wright’s character came off as a bit overbearing in her effort to prove her technological knowledge against the likes of Bruce Banner. Tom Holland gave a charming performance as Peter Parker aka Spider-man, but I must admit that I found his last scene, in which Peter was disappearing after Thanos’ “snap”, a bit over-the-top.

Both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany gave poignant performances as the pair of Avengers lovers Wanda Maximoff and Vision. Bradley Cooper gave a very funny voice performance as Rocket the Raccoon, especially in scenes in which the talking raccoon interacted with both Thor and Bucky Barnes. As for Sebastian Stan, I was more impressed by his last scene, as he conveyed Bucky’s fear and panic, while disintegrating, with one word – Steve’s name. Peter Dinklage gave a memorable performance as the gruff and sardonic Eitri, the giant dwarf (you have to see him to believe it) who created Thor’s Stormbreaker axe. Karen Gillian’s Nebula has come a long way since 2014’s “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” and I enjoyed how the actress managed to maintain the character’s gruff exterior and at the same time, convey Nebula’s deep affection for her sister Gamora. And then there was Chris Pratt, who did an exceptional job of portraying the emotional gauntlet that Peter Quill aka Star-Lord had experienced in this film. I was especially impressed by his performance in that tender scene in which Peter and Gamora conveyed their love for one another.

For me, the film’s most valuable players proved to be Chris Hemsworth, Zoe Saldana and Josh Brolin. Like Pratt, Chris Hemsworth had the opportunity to convey Thor’s emotional turmoil that the latter had experienced in both this film and “RAGNAROK”. At the same time, Hemsworth was as charming as ever, while portraying Thor’s more familiar and enduring traits. Zoe Saldana gave one of her best performances as one of the Guardians, Gamora, who finds herself torn between her determination to foil Thanos’ plan to use the Infinity Stones and her lingering love and affection toward him. Frankly, I thought Saldana beautifully conveyed this emotional tightrope in one scene in which Gamora expressed her grief after believing she had killed her adoptive father. Although I found Thanos’ plans to cull the herd of the universe’s sentient beings rather stupid, I cannot say the same about Josh Brolin’s portrayal of the homicidal super villain. Brolin gave a superb performance as the Titan, who not only proved to be ruthless and canny, but also affectionate and loving . . . in a twisted way. Frankly, I think Brolin deserve a major acting award nomination or two for his performance. I found him more effectively scary and complex in this film than I did in “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”.

It must seem pretty obvious that I do not have a high regard for “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”. I do not believe that it is a terrible movie. In fact, it struck me as a pretty damn good movie. I thought the Russo Brothers, along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and a first rate cast led by Josh Brolin created a memorable and entertaining film. But the movie seemed to be marred by a good deal of plot holes and questionable narrative decisions that have led me to wonder if this film might be overrated by so many movie critics and fans of the MCU. You know what? I believe it is. And yet . . . I would still recommend the movie for viewing.

 

 

“IRON MAN” (2008) Review

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“IRON MAN” (2008) Review

I had never heard of the Marvel comic book hero, Iron Man, until I saw the trailer for the new movie, a few months ago. Mind you, I had heard of Iron Man’s alter ego – Tony Stark. The latter’s name had been mentioned in several Internet articles written about Spider-Man. Which is why I could not summon any excitement when I saw the trailer for the new movie starring Robert Downey, Jr.

Until the release of 2000’s “X-MEN”, I have never been that familiar with most of Marvel Comics’ costumed crime fighters – with the exception of Spider-Man, the Hulk and the Fantastic Four. I had spent a great deal of my recreational time with DC Comics characters like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Just about anyone could imagine my reaction when I learned that Robert Downey Jr. had been signed to portray Tony Stark aka Iron Man. Not particularly thrilled. But I was impressed by the major cast of actors who had signed up for the film – Downey, Gwenyth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges. All four performers have been favorites of mine over the years, along with director Jon Favreau. And since “IRON MAN” was a Marvel Comics film, I decided to give it a chance.

I might as well say it right now. “IRON MAN” has already become one of my favorite movies of 2008. And if I must be honest, I think it is one of the BEST superhero movies I have ever seen, hands down. I would place “IRON MAN” in the same golden circle as“X-MEN 2: X-UNITED” (2003)“SPIDER-MAN 2” (2004) and “BATMAN BEGINS” (2005). Yes, it is that good.

What would be the point of focusing upon the movie’s many virtues, when my previous statements pretty much said it all? But . . . I am going to try, anyway. And I would like to start with the excellent screenplay written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Arthur Marcum and Matthew Hollaway. They managed to create a good, solid story focusing upon Iron Man’s origins. In an unusual move, the writers began the story with Tony Stark in Afghanistan in the company of an Army escort. Stark had just presented a demonstration of Stark Industries’ latest weapon – the Jericho missile. While Stark jokes around with his military escort, Afghan terrorist group called Ten Rings. At this point, the movie rewind back to thirty-six hours earlier before Stark’s departure from the States. This opening immediately conveyed to me that the movie might turn out to be ten times better than I had originally assumed. By the time Tony Stark uttered those last words – ”I’m Iron Man” – it proved me right.

There are two aspects of “IRON MAN” that truly made it a cinematic gem for me. One happened to be Jon Favreau’s direction. The other turned out to be the movie’s superb cast. And speaking of the cast, I might as well start with the man of the hour. What can I say about Robert Downey Jr.? He IS Tony Stark aka Iron Man. Downey now owns the role. I have never seen an actor take possession of a role so thoroughly since Daniel Day Lewis in “THERE WILL BE BLOOD”, Daniel Craig’s debut as James Bond in“CASINO ROYALE”and Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in the “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN”trilogy. Downey is also the first actor or actress I have seen portray a comic book hero as a wiseass. And he also managed to produce sparks with not only his supporting cast, but also with an android and a computer voice.

Supporting Downey was Terrence Howard as USAF Lieutenant Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Air Force liaison to Stark Industries and personal friend of Tony Stark. Howard portrayed Rhodes as a stalwart military man who found Stark’s cavalier life both exasperating and enduring. I have never seen Howard do comedy . . . until this movie. And I was surprised to discover that his flair for comic timing seemed to match Downey’s. Some people have pointed out his role had been reduced. I cannot say that I agree. One, he had yet to become War Machine, Tony’s future armored crime fighting partner. However, his line – ”Next time, baby” – as he glanced at the extra armor suit seemed to hint that he will play a bigger role in future movies. And two, Howard possessed such a strong on-screen presence that no one was bound to forget . . . no matter how many scenes he had.

When I first learned that Gwenyth Paltrow would be playing Stark’s personal assistant, Virginia “Pepper” Potts, I found myself wondering if her career was in a decline. Playing the main hero’s Girl Friday seemed like a step down – even from her role in”SKY CAPTAIN: WORLD OF TOMORROW”. Fortunately, the script and Paltrow’s witty and elegant performance gave her the opportunity rise above the usual cliché of the Girl Friday role. Mind you, “Pepper” Potts never struck me as interesting as the charming and conniving Polly Perkins from ”SKY CAPTAIN”. But instead of becoming the “damsel-in-distress”, Paltrow ended up helping Stark/Iron Man to defeat the main villain. Good show!

Speaking of villains, I must applaud Jeff Bridges for portraying one of the smoothest that I have seen on the silver screen – namely Tony Stark’s business partner and mentor Obadiah Stane. Not even Ian McDiarmid’s Palpatine from ”STAR WARS” had possessed such subtlety when it came to evil. At first glance, Bridges did not seem the type who could effectively portray a villain. Then I recalled his performance in the 1985 thriller with Glenn Close, ”JAGGED EDGE”, in which he portrayed a similarly subtle villain. Being a skillful actor, Bridges managed to convey many aspects of Stane’s personality – a superficial warmth and intelligence that hid a murderous and manipulative streak.

Another memorable villain was portrayed by actor Faran Tahir, who portrayed Raza, leader of the terrorist group – the Ten Rings – hired to kidnap Stark while the latter was in Afghanistan. Like Bridges, Tahir did an admirable in projecting villainy with suave, sophistication and a strong presence. In regard to a strong presence, I could say the same about Shaun Tolb, who portrayed Dr. Ho Yinsen, an Afghan surgeon and captive of the Ten Rings that saved Stark’s life. I have seen Talb portray some interesting characters over the years. But I must admit that his warm, yet firm portrayal of Yinsen made me realize that he possessed quite a commanding presence.

As I had earlier pointed out, the movie’s four screenwriters managed to produce a script that featured a very solid story. Unlike many other comic book movies, ”IRON MAN”seemed to be laced with a great deal of witty dialogue and humor. There were times when I wondered whether I was watching a superhero action film. But there was plenty of action-filled scenes to remind me that this movie was basically an adventure film – like Iron Man’s two encounters with the Ten Rings group in Afghanistan, his encounter with two USAF fighter planes and his showdown with Stane in downtown Los Angeles. Director Jon Farveau, along with the four screenwriters and cast, managed to bring together all of the action, humor and drama with perfect balance.

Okay . . . let me rephrase my last sentence. Perhaps ”IRON MAN” was not completely ”perfect”. In fact, it was not really perfect at all.  I do have  some quibbles about the movie. One of them happened to be the first sequence in Afghanistan. I realize that the setting of Iron Man’s origins could not be in Vietnam. And it would make sense for the setting to be changed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. The problem is that most of the sequence featuring Stark’s captivity by the Ten Rings was boring as hell. It almost seemed to drag forever. And matters did not help much that most of this sequence was set inside a series of caves. Another problem I had with the movie was its score. Quite frankly, I found it unmemorable. But I am not surprised. I can only think of three comic book hero movies that had a score or theme song I found memorable. Unfortunately, ”IRON MAN” is not one of them.  And if I must be brutally honest, I would not regard the film’s narrative as particularly original or mind blowing.  The plot for “IRON MAN”was basically a paint-by-the-numbers comic book hero origin story.  Only the character of Tony Stark made it unique . . . at least back in 2008.

But despite the first Afghanistan sequence and the movie’s score, it is easy to see why ”IRON MAN” proved to be one of the best summer movies of 2008. With Jon Farveau in the director’s chair and Robert Downey Jr. as the leading man, the movie became – well, briefly – one of the best of its genre.

“SPIDER-MAN” HOMECOMING” (2017) Review

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“SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” (2017) Review

Although the 2017 movie, “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING”, marked the first solo Spider-man film within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franhise, it also marked the second appearance of the Peter Parker/Spider-Man in a MCU film. The character made its first appearance in 2016’s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”.  In an odd way, this film could be seen as a sequel to the 2016 movie. .

Before the 2016 movie, the character of Peter Parker aka Spider-Man had been featured in five films released through Columbia (later Sony) Pictures – three of them directed by Sam Rami between 2002-2007 and two of them directed by Marc Webb between 2012-2014. Instead of allowing Webb to round out his own trilogy, Sony Pictures made a deal with Disney and Marvel Films to allow the Spider-Man character to appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), while Sony retained final creative control over over any of the character’s solo films and appearances in other MCU movies. In the end, both Sony and Disney hired British actor Tom Holland to be the new Peter Parker aka Spider-Man. The character made his first MCU appearance in the second half of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” when he was recruited by Tony Stark aka Iron Man to help track down and arrest Steve Rogers aka Captain America and other rogue Avengers who had refused to sign the Sokovia Accords in Berlin, Germany.

However, the first ten to fifteen minutes of “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” began in the past . . . a few days following the Battle of New York in 2012’s “THE AVENGERS”. Adrian Toomes, the owner of a salvage company, has been contracted by the city government to clean up the mess from the Chitauri invasion. However, their operation is taken over by the Department of Damage Control (D.O.D.C.), a partnership between Tony and the U.S. government. Angered at being driven out of business, Toomes and his employees decide to keep the Chitauri technology they have already scavenged and use it to create and sell advanced weapons. After Peter participates in the Avenges’ battle at the Berlin airport, he returns to New York and resumes his studies at the Midtown School of Science and Technology. Tony informs Peter that he is not ready to become an Avenger, yet allows the web slinger to keep an A.I. Spider-Man suit that he had created. A few months later, Peter quits his school’s academic decathlon team in order to spend more time focusing on his crime-fighting activities as Spider-Man. The latter also becomes aware of Spider-Man and utilizes a suit with mechanical wings forged from Chitauri technology to become the criminal known as “Vulture”. However, his operation attracts the attention of Spider-Man, when the latter prevents a criminals from robbing an ATM with his advanced weapons.

“SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” became the second highest-grossing film of the Summer of 2017, following “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2” . . . so far. To be honest, I had expected it to become the highest grossing summer film of the year and a lot sooner. Nor did I expect it to become the second-highest grossing film within a span of two months. That seemed a bit long to me for a movie with such high expectations. A part of me cannot help but wonder why it took so long for “HOMECOMING” to achieve this position in the first place. I thought “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” was one of the more down-to-earth MCU films I have seen since 2015’s “ANT-MAN”. But the latter had the distinction of being something rare in a comic book film genre . . . a heist film. “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING”proved to be a more conventional film in which the protagonist takes on a group of local arms dealers, selling their wares to local criminals. Like I said . . . down to earth. The movie also did a solid job in portraying Peter’s development as a costumed hero. I say solid, because audiences were first introduced to the MCU’s Spider-Man a few months after he had acquired his powers and become a vigilante. So, movie audiences never really saw how this Peter Parker became Spider-Man. But if I must be honest, I did not regard this as a major problem. Somewhat. The movie also did a pretty good job in conveying how Peter’s Spider-Man activities interfered with his private life.

The movie also featured what I believed were a few memorable scenes – both dramatic and action. I enjoyed the sequence in which Spider-Man was forced to rescue his classmates from an elevator mishap inside the Washington Monument. Well, most of the sequence. I had one complaint about it, which I will point out later. The ferryboat sequence that featured Spider-Man’s attempt to arrest the Vulture provided a good number of tension and great cinematography. The movie’s ending proved to be very memorable to me. In this final scene, May Parker, Peter’s aunt, walked into his bedroom and found him changing out of his Spider-Man costume. Her reaction to this revelation proved to be the funniest and most original scene in the entire movie. But my favorite moment proved to be when Adrian Toomes discovered Peter’s identity as Spider-Man. It happened, in all places, inside Toomes’ car as he drove his daughter Liz Allan and Peter to their school’s Homecoming dance. From the moment that Liz Allan unintentionally revealed Peter’s constant absences, Toomes knew that Peter was the costumed vigilante who had been causing trouble for him and his men.

“SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” also benefited from a first-rate cast. Tom Holland became the fourth actor I have seen portray Spider-Man . . . and the third to do so on the silver screen. He is probably the youngest to portray the role. Many critics and moviegoers regarded his age as the reason why he might be the best Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I cannot say that I agree with assessment. Mind you, he did a great job in the role. But if I must be honest, I was equally impressed with Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s interpretations. Another first-rate performance came from Michael Keaton, who portrayed the movie’s main antagonist, Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture. In fact, the Toomes character, along with Keaton’s portrayal; seemed indicative of the film’s down-to-earth style. I do not regard Adrian Toomes as one of the best villains that have appeared in the MCU franchise. But . . . I must admit that Keaton gave one of the best performances I have seen within the franchise for a while. Thanks to his skillful and subtle performance, Keaton elevated a character that otherwise did not strike me as particularly interesting.

There were a few other performances that I also found enjoyable. One of them came from Marisa Tomei, who portrayed Peter’s widowed aunt and sole guardian, May Parker. And thanks to Tomei’s skills as a comedic actress, she provided one of the most memorable endings in a MCU film. Jon Favreau continued his portrayal of Tony Stark’s right-hand man, Harold “Happy” Hogan. I thought he did an excellent job of portraying Happy’s never-ending disregard for any of Tony’s fellow costumed vigilantes. Tony Revolori gave a rather entertaining performance as Peter’s high school tormentor, Flash Thompson. What I found interesting about Revolori’s performance is that unlike the previous versions of this character, his Flash utilize more verbal methods of bullying Peter, due to being the self-indulged son of a wealthy man and slight in figure. The movie also featured solid performances from Laura Harrier, Zendaya, Bokeem Woodbine, Jacob Batalon, Hannibal Buress, Logan Marshall-Greene, Garcelle Beauvais, Tyne Daly, Kenneth Choi; along with Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony Stark and Pepper Potts.

However, “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” has its flaws. Unfortunately, I feel that it has more flaws than virtues. I have so many problems with this film that I believe it would take a separate essay to discuss all of them. The best I can do is mention those I can remember at the moment – like the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline. What in the hell happened? Talk about a massive screw up. In “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”, Vision had pointed out that Tony Stark had revealed himself to the world as Iron Man eight years earlier. This movie began a few days after the events of “THE AVENGERS”. Then the movie jumped eight years to its main narrative, beginning with Spider-Man’s experiences with the Berlin Airport fight in “CIVIL WAR”. Following that event, the movie jumped a few months later. Does this mean that both “IRON MAN” and “THE AVENGERS” were set during the same year? The entire Phase One of the MCU – aside from most of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”? I doubt it very much, considering that according to Nick Fury, the events of “IRON MAN 2”“THOR” and “THE INCREDIBLE HULK” had occurred at least a year before “THE AVENGERS”. It is all so fucking confusing that I do not want to discuss this any further.

Another problem I had with “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” was the presence of Tony Stark in the film and that damn Artificial Intelligence Spider-Man suit he had created for Peter. I realize that Iron Man was the Marvel character that had kick-started the MCU, but . . . c’mon! It was bad enough that the character had nearly hijacked a Captain America film. Now we had to see Robert Downey Jr.’s mug in this film? And he has proven to be one of the worst mentors I have seen on-screen. Tony’s idea of being a mentor was to plant a tracking device in Peter’s new Spider-Man suit and order Happy to keep tabs on the kid. You know, long distance mentoring? What the damn hell? It was bad enough that he had dragged Peter all the way to Germany (and without May’s knowledge) to help him battle the rogue Avengers. Then upon their return to New York, he advises Peter to stick with capturing local criminals. And then he leaves New York to monitor Peter from a distance. What the hell? I hate to say this, but the actor has really outstayed his welcome in the MCU . . . at least as far as I am concerned.

Speaking of Tony Stark, the movie revealed that he had resumed his romance with his former Girl Friday, Pepper Potts. In fact, they had become engaged. Only this revelation was made near the end of the film . . . in a quickie scene that served as comic relief. Great! Between “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” and this film, Marvel revealed how incompetent it has become in portraying on-screen romances – even between established couples. Audiences were told in “CIVIL WAR” that Tony and Pepper had broken up. And we were told in a brief scene in this film that they had not only reconciled, but had also become engaged. The MCU’s screenwriters utilized the old “tell but not show” adage in the franchise’s portrayal of the Tony/Pepper romance. How sloppy. I never thought I would say this, but I was not that particularly thrilled by the presence of Captain America in this film. Why? Because he was featured in a series of taped Public Service Announcement (P.S.A.) video clips shown to the students at Midtown High. Normally, I would not have a problem with this. And even the final P.S.A. shown in a post-credit scene struck me as rather humorous. But . . . Steve Rogers aka Captain America had been a fugitive for a few months. Why would any school show a P.S.A. featuring a wanted fugitive? The New York City School District had a few months to tape a new P.S.A. Or . . . I could have simply done without this little and unnecessary addition to the film in the first place. I thought it was a waste of my time.

As for the A.I. suit, I hated it. I really hated that damn suit. I hated it. It merely robbed Peter from most of the abilities and nuance that made him Spider-Man – especially his spider senses. Worse, it kept interfering with Peter’s vigilante activities. When Spider-Man finally defeated the Vulture without the use of that damn suit, I sighed with relief. Unfortunately . . . the movie ended with Tony giving back that suit to him. Ugh! Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield and the comic book versions of the character managed to survive and develop without Stark’s tech additions. But apparently, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man cannot. Why? Because he is now a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. UGH!

When I heard that actress/singer Zendaya had been cast as one of Peter’s classmates – M.J., I cheered. She would be a new kind of Mary Jane Watson. Only, I had no idea how different Zendaya’s M.J. would prove to be. One, her initials did not stand for Mary Jane. They stood for Michelle Jones. They changed the name, but kept the initials? What the fuck for? And like Peter, she proved to be a science-oriented student. Apparently, Marvel felt that the only kind of love interest – present or future – worthy of someone like Peter Parker, is one who is science-oriented like him. Which is why both Liz Allan and M.J. are science-oriented. Worse, the screenwriter completely changed her personality. This M.J. is an introverted and sardonic person in compare to the more extroverted M.J. from the comics. A romance between the introverted Peter and the introverted M.J.? Sounds like a great snooze fest. Come to think of it, the relationship between Peter and Liz Allan struck me as equally dull. I hate to say this but Tom Holland and Laura Harrier lacked screen chemistry. Honestly, she seemed a bit too much for the likes of him . . . on-screen and off.

Speaking of introverts, I found the movie’s portrayal of Peter Parker rather confusing. Peter has always been an introvert – even before he became Spider-Man. Only when wearing the Spider-Man suit did he display an extroverted persona. Well, Holland’s Spider-Man was extroverted. I had no problems with that. I had a problem with his Peter Parker persona. The only times Holland’s Peter displayed any signs of an introverted nature was when he had to deal with classmates like the bullying Flash Thompson. Otherwise, his Peter was unusually extroverted. And he never had to pay the consequences for his activities as Spider-Man. Not really. I thought it would have been more dramatic if his academic decathlon team had suffered a loss at their competition in Washington D.C. because he was busy being Spider-Man. Only they did not.

And the story lost an excuse for Peter to suffer any consequences for being Spider-Man. Also, near the end of the film, Tony offered him a position as a member of the Avengers. He brought Peter all the way to the Avengers facility in upstate New York and had a room waiting for the 15 year-old. Gee! All of this . . . without May’s permission? After all, Peter was underage. Was Tony really planning to let Peter drop out of school and leave Queens in order to join the Avengers . . . without May’s permission and knowledge? After the shit he had pulled with dragging Peter to Germany in “CIVIL WAR”, I guess so. What the hell Marvel?

I realized that director Jon Watts and the five screenwriters who had co-written the screenplay with him thought they were being clever by not starting the movie with Peter’s origin story. In a way, how could they? Especially since Peter had been Spider-Man for several months before the events of “CIVIL WAR”. But dammit! Watts and the other writers could have utilized a flashback or two to reveal the events of that momentous occasion. More importantly, the movie’s screenplay could have mentioned Ben Parker’s name and how he had died. They did not even bother to do that. Instead, Peter merely mentioned to his friend Ned that his aunt May had managed to recover from a traumatic event. Peter’s uncle went from “Uncle Ben Parker” to “a traumatic event”. Gee. How nice.

I also had a problem with Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture. As I had stated earlier, I really enjoyed Michael Keaton’s portrayal of the character, despite the latter being an underwhelming villain. But I had a problem with the villain’s actions and goals. Let me get this straight. He was about to lose his business, because he lost the contract with the city to clean up the mess from the Chitauri invasion? Really? You mean to say that Toomes’ salvaging company lacked any business before the events of “THE AVENGERS”? And how did the D.O.D.C. failed to confiscate the Chitauri technology that Toomes had already collected before losing his contract? When the Chitauri tech threatened to run out two-thirds into the film, Toomes’ company was in danger . . . again? This guy could not operate a salvage company without depending upon alien technology? I also found Toomes’ reason for stealing and selling Chitauri tech and weapons to many of New York City’s criminals struck me as somewhat problematic and shallow. Yes, Toomes had spent money to ensure that his salvaging company would collect the Chitauri weapons from the latter’s invasion. But after the Federal government had taken over the task, Toomes should have demanded a refund for the money he had already spent. Even if the City or the Feds had been reluctant to do so, Toomes could have easily recovered his money via a lawsuit . . . instead of turning to crime. This made his reason for becoming a villain and his goal irrelevant to me. Hell, this made the plot irrelevant, as well. I guess the movie’s screenwriters could not do better.

And could someone explain why Marvel had decided to make Liz Allan and the Vulture daughter and father? Yes, both characters are a part of the Spider-Man mythos. But they had nothing to do with each other. And in this film, both had different surnames. What was the point in making Liz the daughter of the Vulture in the first place?

I do not know what else to say about “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING”. Well, despite some first-rate acting from the likes of Tom Holland and Michael Keaton and a few solid action and dramatic sequences directed by Jon Watts, I guess so. Unfortunately, the movie’s virtues seemed to be rather few. And if I must be honest, Watts’ direction struck me as okay, but not really that impressive, considering that I was only impressed by a few scenes. But there were too many aspects in this film that either rubbed me the wrong way or seemed badly written to me. In the end, I found “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING” rather disappointing. It is probably my least favorite Spider-Man film.

 

“Irrelevant Bashing”

 

“IRRELEVANT BASHING”

I am another moviegoer who is getting sick and tired of the regarding Marvel/Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films and Warner Brothers/D.C. Comics’ D.C. Extended Universe (DCEU) films. I have come across articles in which fans of both movie universes have accused the other of excessive bashing. 

I never understood this rivalry between Marvel and DC Comics movie franchises. To be honest, I find it unnecessary. And I believe today’s audiences are getting too caught up in this so-called rivalry, thanks to the media, the studios and the two comic book conglomerates. I have seen both DC Comics and Marvel since “SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE” first came out in 1978. Why do certain films from one comic book company need to be better than those from another one? I have seen films from both that I found very impressive. And I have seen films from both that left me feeling disappointed. For me to decide whether the Marvel films or the DC films are better strikes me as ridiculous.

Some fans have claimed that since the MCU films perform better at the box office, they are without a doubt, the superior series of films. One major problem with this reasoning was the box office performance of the five major comic book movies released in 2016. Marvel’s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE CIVIL WAR” proved to be the second (or third) biggest box office success of that year. Yet, D.C. Comics’ “BATMAN v. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” proved to be that year’s fifth biggest box office success. Although both the DCEU’s “SUICIDE SQUAD” and the MCU’s “DOCTOR STRANGE” never reached those heights in terms of box office, both were successful and ironically, the DCEU movie proved to be a bit more successful.

However, I believe that box office performance is not a true reflection of a movie’s worth. No one knows the true reason behind the critics’ current and more positive reaction to the Marvel films. Not really. True, some film critics might honestly believe they are better. Then again, it is possible that some film critics were bribed to praise the Marvel films to the sky and/or bash the D.C. Comics movies. Personally, I had stopped regarding their opinion as fact a long time ago. After all, their opinions are dictated by personal tastes, or . . . other means, just as the opinions of moviegoers are dictated by personal tastes. – Yes, there might be more people who believe that the current Marvel films are better. But I have encountered a great number of opinions that favor the current DC Comic movies. And I cannot help but wonder if the MCU fans are simply the loudest. Also, judging a film based upon box office success or the number of fans for a certain franchise strikes me as irrelevant. There are a lot of fans of the “TRANSFORMER” films. A lot. Which is why those movies generated a good deal of money. In the end, it is all subjective.

I am fans of both the MCU and the DCEU. I have been aware of some bashing of the MCU films by certain DCEU fans. However, their bashing seemed to be minor in compare to the consistent and excessive stream of criticism and bashing directed toward the DCEU films … and I believe this bashing is getting out of control.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that a lot of Marvel fans (or perhaps I should say the Marvel/Disney company is threatened by the three movies released by DC Comics between 2013 and 2016. These three movies signaled the end of the Marvel/Disney’s monopoly on a series of comic book movies based upon a collection of titles. The bashing for the DCEU has become utter ridiculous and excessive. I am also beginning to wonder if those who had accused Disney/Marvel of paying off the critics to bad mouth ALL THREE DCEU movies that have been released so far … had been right after all. Because this criticism has become over the top. It has now extended to both “WONDER WOMAN” and “JUSTICE LEAGUE” and they have yet to be released. Has bashing the DCEU movies become the “in” thing to do? Just as bashing the “STAR WARS” Prequel films is still a popular past time? I hope not. For I had almost bought it myself.

When “MAN OF STEEL”“BATMAN v. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” and “SUICIDE SQUAD” first hit the theaters, I was reluctant to see all three, because I had stupidly accepted the bad opinions about them. Yet, I overcame my reluctance and went to see them, anyway. And when I finally saw those three movies, I enjoyed them. All of them. Very much. In fact, I regard “BATMAN v. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” as one of the best comic book hero movies I have ever seen. And that was when I finally realized that a film critic’s opinion was worth dog shit. No more. I am simply going to form my own opinion of any movie I am interested in seeing. And I refuse to be some mindless drone and accept the views of others simply because it is the in-thing to do.

The idea that we are supposed to be accept that the Marvel or MCU films are better than the DCEU films, because many film critics or movie fans say so is irrelevant. It is irrelevant, because their views are matters of opinion. Preference. I do not accept this view “numbers matter” regarding the artistic quality of a film, because I do not share it. I have watched a lot of comic book movies in my time. From my perspective, only my opinion of an individual movie count. I do not care whether any those movies are based upon the titles of Marvel, DC Comics or any other comic book company that exists. And considering that art and entertainment are subjective in the end, what is the point in declaring that MCU films are better or that DCEU movies are better? It seems like a waste of time to me. I think we all should focus on which individual movies that appeals to us and not bother on which company makes the better films.

Warner Bros./DCEU is scheduled to release two movies in 2017. Disney/MCU has scheduled three to be released. I plan to see all five movies this year. And I will be damned if I pay attention to any film critics or moviegoer . . . until after I have seen these movies. Regardless of who performs better at the box office, I am the one who will decide which films I want to see and which ones I want to buy, regardless of whether they came from DC Comics or Marvel.

“THE YOUNG VICTORIA” (2009) Review

“THE YOUNG VICTORIA” (2009) Review

About a year or so before his popular television series, “DOWNTON ABBEY” hit the airwaves, Julian Fellowes served as screenwriter to the lavish biopic about the early life and reign of Britain’s Queen Victoria called “THE YOUNG VICTORIA”. The 2009 movie starred Emily Blunt in the title role and Rupert Friend as the Prince Consort, Prince Albert

“THE YOUNG VICTORIA” began during the last years in the reign of King William IV, Victoria’s uncle. Acknowledge as the next ruler of Britain, Victoria became the target of a political tug-of-war between her mother, the Duchess of Kent royal aide Sir John Conroy on one side, and King Leopold I of Belgium on the other. The Duchess of Kent and Sir John want to assume power of the country by having Victoria sign papers declaring a regency. And Leopold I tries to influence the British throne by securing a marriage between Victoria and one of his two nephews – Prince Albrt and Prince Ernst of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Meanwhile, King William eventually dies and Victoria becomes Queen. Once she assumes the throne, Victoria becomes beseiged by her mother and many others to assume some kind control over her.

I was surprised to discover that one of the producers for “THE YOUNG VICTORIA” was Hollywood icon, Martin Scorsese. A biopic about the early reign of Queen Victoria did not seem to be his type of movie. Then I remembered that this is the man who also directed an adaptation of an Edith Wharton novel and a movie about Jesus Christ. But for the likes of me, I never could see his interest in this film. Did he ever read Julian Fellowes’ screenplay before he took on the role as one of the movie’s executive producers? Or was there another reason why he became interested in this project? Perhaps Fellowes’ screenplay seemed more interesting before it was translated to screen. Because if I must be honest, I was not that impressed by it.

You heard me right. I did not like “THE YOUNG VICTORIA”. Perhaps it was the subject matter. Aside from being Britain’s longest reigning monarch, until her great-great granddaughter surpassed her record last year, Victoria never struck me as an interesting subject for a motion picture. I am surprised that both the Hollywood and British film and television industries were able to create a few interesting movie and television productions about her. Unfortunately, “THE YOUNG VICTORIA” did not prove to be one of them.

I am not saying that “THE YOUNG VICTORIA” was a total washout. It had a good number of first-rate performances and other technical details to admire. Emily Blunt did an excellent job in portraying the young Victoria by effectively conveying the character from a naive teenager to an emotional, yet slightly matured young mother in her early twenties. Blunt had a decent screen chemistry with Rupert Friend, whom I thought made a superb Prince Albert. If I must be frank, I feel that Friend was the best on-screen Albert I have seen so far. Miranda Richardson gave her usual uber-competent performance as Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent. Actually, I believe that both she and Friend gave the two best performances in the movie. Paul Bettany gave a very smooth, yet ambiguous performance as one of Victoria’s favorite ministers – William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne. Other members of the cast that included Jim Broadbent (as an emotional William IV), Thomas Kretschmann, Julian Glover, Genevieve O’Reilly, Rachael Stirling, Jesper Christensen, Michael Huisman, Jeanette Hain and David Robb all gave solid performances.

I also thought the movie’s physical appearance was sharp, colorful and elegant thanks to Hagen Bogdanski’s beautiful photography. Patrice Vermette did a first-rate job in re-creating royal Britain of the late 1830s and early 1840s, thanks to her elegant production designs; and the art direction team of Paul Inglis, Chris Lowe and Alexandra Walker, who all received an Academy Award nomination for their work. Of course I cannot mention “THE YOUNG VICTORIA” without mentioning Hollywood legend Sandy Powell’s gorgeous costume designs shown below:

 

Not only were Powell’s costumes gorgeous, they accurately reflected the movie’s setting between 1836 and 1842. It is not surprising that Powell won both the Academy Award and BAFTA for Best Costume Design.

So, why am I not enamored of this movie? Well . . . I found it boring. Let me rephrase that answer. I found most of the movie boring . . . as hell. I will admit that I found Victoria’s emotional struggles with her mother and the latter’s courtier, Sir John Conroy, rather interesting. There seemed to be some kind of quasi-fairy tale quality to that particular conflict. And I will admit to finding Victoria’s relationship with her first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne slightly fascinating. Otherwise, the movie bored me. Most of the movie centered around Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert. But despite Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend’s sterling performances, I was not able to sustain any interest in that particular relationship. It did not help that Fellowes made a historical faux pas by allowing Albert to attend her coronation in 1838 – something that never happened. The most interesting aspect of the royal pair’s relationship – at least to me – was their shitty relationship with their oldest son, the future King Edward VII. Unfortunately, the movie’s narrative ended before his birth.

There were other aspects of “THE YOUNG VICTORIA” that did not appeal to me. Although I found Victoria’s early struggles against the Duchess of Kent and Sir John Conroy rather interesting, I was not impressed by the movie’s portrayal of the latter. I do not blame actor Mark Strong. He still managed to give a competent performance. But his Sir John came off as a mustache-twirling villain, thanks to Julian Fellowes’ ham fisted writing. And could someone explain why Paul Bettany had been chosen to portray Lord Melbourne in this movie? The Prime Minister was at least 58 years old when Victoria ascended the throne. Bettany was at least 37-38 years old at the time of the film’s production. He was at least two decades too young to be portraying Victoria’s first minister.

The one aspect of “THE YOUNG VICTORIA” that I found particularly repellent was this concept that moviegoers were supposed to cheer over Victoria’s decision to allow Albert to share in her duties as monarch. May I ask why? Why was it so important for the prince consort to co-reign with his wife, the monarch? Granted, Victoria was immature and inexperienced in politics when she ascended the throne. Instead of finding someone to teach her the realities of British politics, the government eventually encouraged her to allow Albert to share in her duties following an assassination attempt. This whole scenario smacks of good old-fashioned sexism to me. In fact, I have encountered a similar attitude in a few history books and one documentary. If Victoria had been Victorand Albert had been Alberta, would Fellowes had ended the movie with Alberta sharing monarchical duties with Victor? I rather doubt it. Even in the early 21st century, the idea that a man was more suited to be a monarch than a woman still pervades.

It is a pity that “THE YOUNG VICTORIA” failed to appeal to me. It is a beautiful looking movie. And it featured fine performances from a cast led by Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend. But the dull approach to the movie’s subject not only bored me, but left me feeling cold, thanks to Julian Fellowes’ ponderous screenplay and Jean-Marc Vallée’s pedestrian direction. How on earth did Martin Scorsese get involved in this production?