Category Archives: Comic Book Movies

Black Panther – A Movie Review


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Black Panther

I will restrain myself from pronouncing Black Panther the best of the Marvel Studios movies. 

For now.

However, you can certainly believe the hype: Black Panther is a wonderful movie – thought provoking, beautiful, exciting, uplifting – and it deserves each accolade it is receiving. On its way to a massive and record opening, Black Panther will, like Wonder Woman last summer, likely serve as a touchstone that will change the way people think about superhero movies.

Actually, it is likely to change the way people think about movies in general. More on that later.

Black Panther does many amazing things, primary among them is passing itself off as a comic book movie. It simply is not or, rather, it is much more than that. Sure, there are the trappings of the superhero story: a young man receives special gifts and powers upon the death of this father and, after fighting through self-doubt and challengers, assumes the mantle of hero. Each-and-every box of that trope is fully checked. Black Panther (played by a very engaging and well cast Chadwick Boseman who premiered in the role in Captain America: Civil War) has a super suit, super powers and is super clear in his mission. He is also a wonderful hero. But he does not act alone.

Of the many surprises Black Panther has in store for its audience, one of the most delightful is that it is actually an ensemble movie. Perhaps even more delightful – and important – is that the ensemble is comprised almost exclusively of women. On hand and in roles which are just as prominent as Boseman’s are Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Danai Gurira as Okoye and Leticia Wright as Shuri. Nakia is a secret agent just as competent as the Panther, Okoye is a member of the Panther’s royal guard who is clearly a superior fighter to him and Shuri is the most brilliant character on screen. I wanted to see more of these women that the movie (even at 2 hours and 14 minutes) had time to showcase. Each performance was wonderful and nuanced. Each was full of surprises. Factor in Forrest Whittaker and Angela Bassett in supporting roles as well and you have put together an amazing cast. Each of them, like the movie overall, exceeds expectation.

Michael B. Jordan is remarkable as Eric Killmonger, the protagonist in the film. He embodies Killmonger with complexity and pathos and overcomes some of the typical, villain must be connected to the hero plot devices that plague these movies. His rage is as believable as him being an equal to Black Panther and, when the final showdown comes, Boseman and Jordan are well suited for it and well matched.

The movie itself is unlike any of the others which have proceeded it. There is precious little world building or fan service here and Black Panther is the better for the absence. One part James Bond movie, one part mediation on race, one part celebration of all cultures and one part action movie, Black Panther is simply a terrific and captivating experience that will resonate far beyond the manner in which other comic book movies do. Black Panther wants to be what it is, yes: a Marvel Superhero Movie. But it wants to be – and IS – much more than that. It will have to be counted on any “best of” list of Marvel films and I wonder, way in the back of my head, if we will be talking about it when Academy Award nominations for 2018 are announced early next year. 

We should be.

It will continue to smash box office records and reasons it has struck such a note with the general public will be considered, written about and debated. And that is a good thing. The movie gives lie to the idea that a film starring a black cast, featuring black creators and discussing themes of race cannot be a hit with a broad audience.

And thank God for that.

I am looking forward to Boseman and many of the rest of the cast appearing this summer in Avengers: Infinity War and I cannot wait for Black Panther 2

BLACK PANTHER receives FIVE ARMORED RHINOS out of a possible FIVE.

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Countdown to INFINITY… The Incredible Hulk


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ONE A WEEK UNTIL Avengers Infinity War opens in May!

Captain America: The First Avenger | Iron Man | THE INCREDIBLE HULK | Iron Man 2 |Thor | The Avengers | Iron Man 3 | Thor: The Dark World | Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Guardians of the Galaxy \ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 | Avengers: Age of Ultron | Ant-Man | Captain America: Civil War | Doctor Strange |            Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther

Week Three: THE INCREDIBLE HULK

Hulk

I really liked Edward Norton as Bruce Banner. He fit the part incredibly (pun intended) well and he makes both the character’s angst and heroism believable. He is, however, no Mark Ruffalo and it is a bit disappointing to not have Ruffalo in the film as he has so completely come to inhabit the character.

Disappointing is, in fact, the right word here. The Incredible Hulk is not a great Marvel Movie (when you’re approaching 20 movies, you get to be your own genre right?) and, as a follow up to Iron Man, it misses the mark and squanders a bunch of good will. Perhaps this is why there are SO MANY plot lines from the movie that remain unresolved: Samuel Sterns’ gamma dosing, whatever happened to the Abomination or Betty Ross or Leonard Sampson and how did General Ross recover from this disaster to become Secretary of Defense? We will, likely, never know…

This is a sub-par film with some good performances (does anyone remember that Ty Burrell of Modern Family is in a major role here?). It pushes the Marvel narrative forward a bit but it is mostly a misfire. And the CGI is remarkably poor.

As it came out before I began blogging, I do not have a full review, but The Incredible Hulk receives THREE BOTTLES OF BRAZILIAN SODA out of a possible FIVE. 

Entertainment Weekly is also counting down to Avengers: Infinity War. Here is their take on The Incredible Hulk.


KEY INTRODUCTIONS:

  • Bruce Banner/Hulk
  • Betty Ross
  • Leonard Sampson
  • General “Thunderbolt” Ross
  • Gamma Radiation

CONNECTION(S) TO INFINITY WAR:

  • Most of the movie is forgotten by Marvel (see above comments on dangling plot threads), but General Ross goes on to become the Secretary of Defense in Captain America: Civil War, which is this movie’s most critical connection to the Marvel Movie Universe.
  • In Civil War, Ross mentions the Hulk and the destruction of Harlem.
  • The idea that Bruce Banner is trying to be free of the Hulk is as important here as it is in the Avengers movies.
  • When Betty and Bruce think about engaging in romantic activities, Bruce stops them because “I can’t get too excited.” Thematically, this foreshadows the problems he will see with an engagement with The Black Widow.
  • Tony Stark discusses putting together “a team” with a broken and defeated General Ross in what should have been the traditional stinger scene, but one that actually takes place before the credits. This is the ONLY movie on this list without at least one mid or post-credit scene.

Avengers Infinity War is coming…

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Countdown to INFINITY… Captain America


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ONE A WEEK UNTIL Avengers Infinity War opens in May!

Captain America: The First Avenger | Iron Man | The Incredible Hulk | Iron Man 2 |Thor | The Avengers | Iron Man 3 | Thor: The Dark World | Captain America: The Winter Soldier | Guardians of the Galaxy \ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 | Avengers: Age of Ultron | Ant-Man | Captain America: Civil War | Doctor Strange | Spider-Man: Homecoming | Thor: Ragnarok | Black Panther

WEEK ONE: Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America First

While not a perfect movie, Captain America: The First Avenger lays (in some cases retroactively) groundwork for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe and is sure to be a significant influence on Avengers Infinity War. You can read my full review. I gave the movie FOUR SHOTS OF SCHNAPPS out of a possible FIVE. 


KEY INTRODUCTIONS:

  • Captain America
  • James “Bucky” Barnes
  • The Tesseract/Cosmic Cube
  • Howard Stark
  • Vibranium

CONNECTION(S) TO INFINITY WAR:

  • The Cosmic Cube is one of the Infinity Stones Thanos has been pursuing throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
  • Yggdrasil and the Tree of Life are both key elements of the beginning of the film and tie into Asgard and Thor and the more cosmic elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe which will feature in Infinity War.
  • Vibranium is found in Wakanda, the African homeland of King T’Challa, the Black Panther who is featured prominently in Avengers Infinity War.

Avengers Infinity War is coming…

 

 

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Justice League: A (Spoiler Free) Movie Review


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justice-league-poster-fandango

Batman smiles!

But more on that later…

If one were to peruse my prior reviews of DC movies, one would find that I have been far more generous in my appraisal of their quality than widespread opinion has been. I have also enjoyed them more, it seems, than much of the movie-going public (though, for the negative reputations these movies have, someone is seeing them – they make a lot of dough!). It should come as no surprise, then, that I very much enjoyed Justice League. There is a Seven Samurai, bring the heroes together quality to the film that is intentional and that works very, very well. Each of the five (six?) heroes of the Justice League are spotlighted quite nicely as they determine whether or not to band together against, you know, ultimate evil.

Let us begin with that self-same ultimate evil. The glaring disappointment in the movie is Steppenwolf, the antagonist whose actions bring together the League. Like many (most?) superhero movies, Justice League has a difficult time establishing Steppenwolf as more than a powerful force bent on destroying the world. He is powerful. He might destroy the world. His motivation beyond that is murky as is the CGI that realizes him on screen. There are some breathtaking CGI scenes in Justice League – very cool, very fun visualizations. Steppenwolf, unfortunately, is not one of them. He is just another generic, superhero movie villain with very little, visually or otherwise, to distinguish him.

The members of the League itself, however? Not generic. At all.

Justice League has a tonally different feel from the prior movies of the DC universe. Where those movies, in my opinion, delved surprisingly deeply into the implications of heroes living in the “real world” and the ramifications of their presence, Justice League end-runs any significant thematic rumblings in favor of save-the-world dynamics. And the dynamics are engaging, exciting and fun.

Batman (Ben Affleck having much fun in the cowl) knows something is coming for the Earth. He learned this at the end of Batman v Superman and he is aware that his actions have left the earth vulnerable, aware that Superman’s death is, at least partially, his responsibility. He and Wonder Woman (the again terrific Gal Gadot) embark on a quest to bring together other meta-humans to face the coming crisis. These are the meta-humans Batman and Wonder Woman learned of from Lex Luthor’s jump drive in Batman v Superman and the fun kicks into high gear when the team starts to come together.

Say what you wish about Zack Snyder as a director. I believe it is difficult to fault his casting choices. Jason Momoa (Aquaman), Ezra Miller (the Flash) and Ray Fisher (Cyborg) are all terrific and bring much to the party. Miller’s Barry Allen is a particular delight and he had a challenging task to differentiate himself from Grant Gustin’s popular turn as the Flash on television. His performance more than does that. He is hilarious and endearing. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg is the surprising heart of the movie and the depths that could be mined with the character point to great potential. Jason Momoa’s Aquaman has a bit more going on than the tough-guy images shared in the previews might suggest. Individually they are good.

Together, they are great.

The fun of Justice League is found in the well drawn interplay among the leaguers. Director Zack Snyder, writer Chris Terrio and Joss Whedon, who came into the movie very late in the process (and it is very difficult to tell where Whedon picked up from where Snyder left off) know that their stars will carry the day, so much so that the plot of the movie, which is more than serviceable, is less important than the players. It is difficult to single out any combination of the Leaguers as the best combination and that is a credit to cast and director.

If the DC movies (save the almost universally well received Wonder Woman) have been bleak, humorless, gray and meandering, Justice League set out to and succeeded in rising above those critiques. The movie begins briskly and does not take its foot off the gas until the final stinger scene (at the far end of the credits… stick around, people). It is rumored that Warner Bros. mandated a running time of no more than two hours. While I would have loved to have seen a bit more (and a long run time may have addressed some of the Steppenwolf issues), I understand the choice. And it works.

Justice League is a big, fun, superhero team origin story. It is a story of redemption for Batman who lightens up in this one, who cracks jokes and smiles and, through whom, perhaps the upcoming DC movie slate is changed. Future DC movies are well positioned following Justice League.

And, hey, let’s get Justice League II on the schedule.

Now, that the team is in place, I want to see what happens next.

JUSTICE LEAGUE receives FOUR AND A HALF BAT SMILES out of a possible FIVE.

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Thor | Ragnarok – A Movie Review (Spoiler Free)


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RagnarokThor | Ragnarok’s director Taika Waititi’s imagination seems to have been given free reign by the higher ups at Marvel Studios and the resultant movie, wisely, breaks with much of the formulas of previous Marvel films. The Marvel movies are typically very good and certainly make money hand-over-fist, but their patterns were beginning to calcify. The stories were beginning to be all too predictable. The plots repetitive.

Giving creative people freedom to explore what these characters may become and allowing these creators to make changes to them is a bold and good impulse. While trying to be too bold with Marvel characters may have cost Edgar Wright, the original  director of Ant-Man his job might have, seen through the lens of James Gunn’s unpredicatble success with The Guardians of the Galaxy led to Waititi’s Thor | Ragnarok. Choosing talented people and letting them make the movies they envision may be the new Marvel method.

If so, bravo Marvel. Keep movies like this one coming. 

Thor | Ragnarok is one of the zaniest, craziest, over-the-top movies I have seen in quite a while. Evoking for me memories of the off-the-wall insanity of The Lego Movie and the first Despicable Me (the writers/directors of those had to be altered in some fashion, right?), Thor | Ragnarok plays like some kind of  joyous, Technicolor LSD trip, juiced up on steroids.

The basic plot of the titular hero attempting to stop”the end of everything” on his home world Asgard is not stunningly original. The execution, however, is anything but boring and the over 2 hour running time of the movie flies by before one can catch one’s breath from laughter.

There is a lot of fun being had in Thor | Ragnarok. The returning assemble is clearly having a lot more fun than the did in the relatively deary last entry Thor: The Dark World (possibly the low-water mark for Marvel Studios) and the additions to the cast are winning and delightfully entertaining.

Tessa Thompson, as Valkyrie, is a wonderful creation. As removed from her comic book origins as any character in a Marvel Studios movie has been, Thompson captures the audience with a Han Solo like bravado and a strength of performance so natural that the question of whether she can stand toe-to-toe with the ever lovable Chris Hemsworth never arises in the audience’s mind. Her Valkyrie may be the first original lead character in a Marvel Studios film and, if she is any indication of where these movies can go if they jettison the source material with a little more freedom, more power to them.

Cate Blanchett gives a delicious performance as Hela, the primary antagonist of the movie. Rumor has it that she took the movie on the urging of her young son who wanted to see his mom in a Marvel movie and she should thank him if that is true. She has more fun destroying things and people throughout the movie and is more fun to watch doing it than the majority of Marvel villains. Though her motivation and plot is no more complex than most of the other evils Marvel heroes have faced in this vast movie mythology, her performance forgives that failure utterly.

And Jeff Goldblum is all anyone could want him to be and more. There is no “top” he will not soar over and each scene he is in seems more ridiculous and terrific than the last. Though few will be clamoring for a Grandmaster movie, I imagine we will see much more of Goldblum in Marvel Studios movies to come. I eagerly await that.

Outside of the strong and winning performance by Hemsworth, the rest of the returning Thor Players seem to know they are in something special, too. Tom Hiddleston remains the best of the Marvel antagonists and his Loki continues to engage and surprise. The Warriors Three are here and more than adequate with the little they are allowed to do. It was said that Anthony Hopkins turned down reprising his role as Odin until he read and loved the script. Though his part is small, it is great to see him here having fun and providing the gravitas that only he can. Idris Elba’s Heimdhal might be the most heroic character in the movie and I would loved to have seen more of him. He and Hemsworth have an easy chemistry and they are great to watch together.

Cameos (and extended cameos) abound here. The Hulk is featured and Mark Ruffalo is just what we want him to be. And the Hulk is more than we could have hoped for. Marvel has finally figured this character out and while he might never headline a movie, if they can continue to hew closely to this arc, fans should be happy. Benedict Cumberbatch shows up as Doctor Strange and, while it was nice to see him, his scenes actually do very little to advance the plot of the movie. They might, in fact, be the only place where Thor | Ragnarok slips into fan service. As a fan, I was okay with this… The other cameos are so spoiler-y they cannot be mentioned but an audiences will be delighted by them.

Taika Waititi makes very few missteps here. His choices are bold, bright and fun. However, the movie is not perfect. Karl Urban’s Skurge is, unfortunately, never fully realized. And, while the antics of the movie are fun and amusing and the stakes seem high enough for a superhero movie like this one, I fear there is not a lot of heart at the center of Thor | Ragnarok. Perhaps there does not have to be. After all, this is a big budget, big action entertainment. Maybe it does not need to be more than that. The movie delivers everywhere it should. There may have been the potential to deliver just a little more. May have.

Thor | Ragnarok plays something like a mix of Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers and that is a great tone to strike. It is grand. It is a Jack “King” Kirby comic book played out before one’s eyes. It is a terrific two hours at the movies.

It is, as the Hulk might say, a smash.

THOR | RAGNAROK receives FOUR and a HALF AIR CRAZY CAMEOS out of a possible FIVE.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming – A Movie Review


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Spider-Man Homecoming

Spider-Man: Homecoming has a lot riding on it. Billed as a coming-of-age story constructed in the vein of a 1980s John Hughes movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming is also the first joint venture between Sony and Marvel with Marvel controlling the content of the film. It brings Spider-Man firmly under the control of Marvel Studios and fully into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is intended to re-launch perhaps the most famous Marvel Comics character into a series of successful solo movies.

It is likely to succeed very well in this ambition.

The best – the very best – thing Spider-Man: Homecoming has going for it is star Tom Holland. Marvel movie fans got a taste of the actor in Captain America: Civil War when he joined the super hero clash and the screen lit up whenever Holland was on it. Pitch perfect in that movie, the actor is even more appealing here in his solo venture. Following two very good performances as Spider-Man (in Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield), Holland had a bit to live up to as he stepped into the high tech tights. He is more than up to the challenge. In fact, for my money, he is the best of the bunch. That is saying something as the others were very good themselves.

Tom Holland makes the movie work. Though he is surrounded by wonderful actors (all the students in the movie are terrific, especially Zendaya as Michelle and Jacob Batalon as Ned), his energy outshines them all. This is quite a feat when considering Michael Keaton and Robert Downey, jr (not to mention Jon Favreau) are all on hand. Keaton and Downey, jr as as one would expect, both fully committed to their roles as the antagonist The Vulture and the mentor Iron Man respectively. Keaton, in fact, is a far more fully developed villain than we have come to expect from most Marvel movies and Downey, jr is so good as Tony Stark that it is difficult to determine where the character stops and the actor starts.

A common issue with these movies is that they try to do a bit too much, and Spider-Man: Homecoming suffers a bit from this malady. I loved the cameos (especially the one at the end!) but are they critical to the film? There are some nice set pieces, though some of the action sequences are fairly muddy in their execution. The entire side trip to Washington, DC seems excessive and unnecessary. It seems to me that everything that scene accomplishes could be handled in New York which is where the character belongs. But Spider-Man: Homecoming is Holland’s movie and, while it is not a perfect film, Holland makes up for all of these shortcomings and then some.

Beyond casting Holland, the filmmakers make two important decisions for Homecoming. First, they do not re-tell the origin of the character. Been there. Done that, thank you very much. Second, they put Peter Parker in high school. Spider-Man has always worked best as a teenager going through the struggles of coming-of-age. This Spider-Man has girl troubles, homework and a curfew (that he regularly breaks). He is trying to understand who he is and what he can do. He is carving out his place in the world and the movie does a terrific job with that arc.

Here is a Spider-Man that changes over the course of the film. Here is a Spider-Man that is funny and engaging. Here is a Spider-Man that is not driven by angst (the best versions of the character are not). Here is a Spider-Man that simply wants to be heroic.

Spider-Man: Homecoming succeeds in evoking a feel of high school movies of the past (think The Breakfast Club but Anthony Michael Hall with superpowers). It succeeds in incorporating the character into the fuller Marvel Universe. It succeeds in launching this version of the character. It succeeds in being a fun, summer entertainment and places itself firmly on the list of very good – not great – Marvel movies.

In many ways, it does feel like Spider-Man has come home.

 

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING receives FOUR AND A HALF (because Holland is just SO good) FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOODS out of a possible FIVE.

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The Best Sequential Art I Read Last Week: May 31 – June 6, 2017


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I am a comic book collector and happy to be one. I might say “proud” if I hadn’t, over a year ago, switched to reading digital as opposed to print comics. I feel a bit robbed of the tactile sensations of the hobby – of the turn of the page, the sneaking look to the panel a page over, the bagging and shorting and stacking and filing. Though I read my comics in a different medium than I used to, I still treat each Wednesday (comic book delivery day to specialty shops around the country) as different from the other days of the week. I subscribe and now, rather than go to the comic store to be handed the books pulled for my “Hold Slot,” I click a button on my iPad and watch them download.
Then I read them.
Rare is the week that I don’t read them all between Wednesdays and some weeks I have, well… let’s just say more comic books in my digital downloads than a grown man should. Comic book legend Will Eisner (creator of The Spirit) is one of the most influential men even to put pencil to drawing board in the pursuit of making comics. So influential was he that the industry awards (think the Oscars or the Emmys or the Grammys) are named The Eisner Awards. He called comic books “sequential art,” perhaps because he became embarrassed by his profession when he had to admit what he did for a living. This is my weekly reaction to the comics I read.

COMICS I READ LAST WEEK:

TwoOne

Three

 

The best comic I read last week was

Wonder Woman Annual #1.

Writer: Greg Rucka (and others)

Artist: Nicola Scott (and others)

After seeing the terrific movie, I am clearly not over my Wonder Woman fever, but I believe that I would be selecting this book whether I had WW on my mind this week or not.

Annuals are tricky business. Are they in continuity? Do they continue a story being told already in the main book? Are they a special event in-and-of-themselves?

This one is special for two reasons. One, there are some terrific back up stories written and drawn by some great talents. Each has its own spin and its own bent and each is very solid, telling a story of Wonder Woman from a number of various perspectives. Two, the main story is brilliantly positioned between panels of a previous issue in the main series. Written by Greg Rucka, the story details the first time Diana met Clark and Bruce and, though I believe I have enjoyed the DC cinematic universe more than most, I will note that this story exudes the kind of charm, hopefulness and optimism that is not in abundant display on film (at least until last week’s triumph). It also captures the essence of each character. Brilliantly.

Oh, and there was a third reason: the return of Nicola Scott to the character. Scott is an amazing artist, with command of composition and action. Her Diana is beautiful and bold and, for my money, the best rendering of the character since the halcyon days of George Perez. Scott is a perfect fit for the book and the character and I cannot believe DC has not locked her on the title for years to come. She’s also a great follow on twitter…

Wonder Woman has been the unsung hero of the Rebirth line up. Perhaps, with the success of the movie, this book will be unsung no more!

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