Category Archives: Comic Book Movies

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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Does Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Redeem Star Trek V? MINOR Spoilers Here.


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GotG2Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a runaway hit having grossed over $800 million dollars world wide in its first month of release. It is being hailed as one of the best of the Marvel Studios films and seems more delightful each time it is seen.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was not a big hit when it was released in 1989. It is often mentioned as one of the worst of the almost 15 Star Trek films and does not hold up on repeated viewings.

At all.

There would seem to be little that the two movies have in common but I have a sneaking suspicion that Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director James Gunn saw Star Trek V when it was released when he was a young man and has seen it on more than one occasion since. I believe, consciously or unconsciously, he wrote the conclusion of his film as a love note to Star Trek V.

Star Trek V minimalStar Trek V was famously (infamously?) co-written and directed by William Shatner. Leonard Nimoy had helmed Treks III and IV and, as it turns out, he and Shatner had had a long standing “equal nations” clause in their contracts: whatever benefit one received, the other was accorded the same consideration. Following the box office success of The Voyage Home, Shatner said “it’s my turn” and the rest is Star Trek history. 

He wrote a movie about the crew of the Enterprise encountering, well, God or, at least, something very like God and conceived a story that would ask big questions about the nature of existence and religion – one that would take on many topics Trek had avoided.

As the movie changed and evolved, the conclusion of the film was drafted and it contained an epic battle between Captain Kirk and the god-like creature who was one with the planet on which he was imprisoned. In the best/worst line of the movie, Kirk asks the villain “what does God need with a starship?” The unspoken answer: the starship will carry his essence across the galaxy. The god-being, whose eyes crackle with electricity, would be realized as a bearded old man and would attack Kirk and crew with rock formations and rock creatures before an unlikely rescue by Spock is effected and the god-being is defeated.

The battle was supposed to be epic. Kirk vs. God (as only Shatner could write it). Explosions. Rock monsters. Stirring score. Epic. However, Paramount Pictures, perhaps correctly sensing disaster, continually cut the budget for the movie. Out went rock monsters. Goodbye to stunning explosions. Farewell harrowing conclusion. Hello, poorly received movie.

Flash forward 28 years (and minor spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 follow here). A fun and exciting movie (so… different than Star Trek V) concludes in a showdown with… a god-being who is realized as a bearded old man. He is one with the planet on which he lives (um, he is the planet). During his battle with the Guardians of the Galaxy, the villain throws rock formations at the team. His eyes crackle with electricity. He wants his essence carried across the galaxy. He is defeated in an unlikely manner as the adorable Baby Groot is able to activate an explosive device that ends him.

The battle is epic. Star Lord vs. Ego. Explosions. Rock Formations. Very cool rock and roll score. Marvel Studios, knowing it had a hit on its hands, poured money into the movie and the conclusion shows it was money well spent. Hello well received movie.

Here’s the question: is the conclusion of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 James Gunn’s homage to Star Trek V? Does he redeem that movie by staging a conclusion that William Shatner must have loved?

I don’t actually know, but I like the theory!

god trek v

The god-being of Star Trek V.

 

ego guardians

The god-being of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

 

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Wonder Woman – A Movie Review


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Wonder Woman Poster

 

 

Epic. Beautiful. Compelling. Inspiring.

Surely there are more adjectives with which to describe the cinematic triumph that is Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, but we will begin with these.

Wonder Woman is truly an epic movie with roots going back far further than the character’s 75 year publishing history. The origin story told here in succinct and touching fashion, connects Diana of Themyscira to a centuries long tradition of Greek gods and goddesses, to an island that truly looks like paradise and to the Amazons whose dichotomy of love and war is brilliantly realized. Diana’s story unfolds as we encounter her at three critical stages of her life and learn that the life she believes she is leading may not actually be the life she actually is leading. Brilliant actors led by Connie Neilson as Hippolyta, Diana’s mother and queen of the Amazons, and Robin Wright as Antiope, Hippolyta’s second-in-command and Diana’s guardian, populate Themyscria, the Paradise Island of Diana’s birth. Please, American cinema, give us more strong women characters like these. Confident, fully developed and realized, capable and compassionate, the Amazons are exactly the kind of wise and peaceful people from which Wonder Woman would come. These are not women to be trifled with or to underestimate. These are warrior woman who have retreated from a world too infused with violence.

The epic nature of this movie begins here, in this first act which plays so wonderfully it is over before the audience realizes how terrific it is, and that tone is set for all that is to come. There is something special going on in this movie. Something larger than summer popcorn fare.

Into that reality falls Chris Pine’s Captain Steve Trevor. Pine is best known as Captain Kirk from the rebooted Star Trek movie, but there is no vestige of his Kirk performance here. Pine is terrific and serves as something of the lens through which the audience encounters Wonder Woman. Our understanding of who she is grows along with his own. Trevor’s reaction is one part awe, one part incredulity as he learns who this beautiful Wonder Woman is. The relationship that develops between them is believable and touching, much like the movie itself.

Beautiful is the correct adjective to describe Gal Gadot and her portrayal of Wonder Woman. Yes, the Israeli super model turned actress is gorgeous (and the movie easily and confidently has some fun with this reality as opposed to ignoring it – bravo Patty Jenkins!) but the character is beautiful both inside and out. Gadot was the best reviewed thing in Batman V Superman and she commands this movie.

Her Diana is intelligent, gracious, strong and confident. She is the epitome of power. She is driven by kindness. She is enchanting and wise. Gadot’s performance is so spot-on that is it impossible to imagine anyone else playing the character. Think of how well Robert Downey, jr embodies Iron Man or Johnny Depp Jack Sparrow. That is the type of mastery Gadot effortlessly exhibits in the role.

It is a good thing Gadot is as good as she is because the supporting actors of the piece, Lucy Davis, Danny Huston and David Thelwis to name three, are very strong here as is Elena Ayana as Doctor Maru. Davis’ Etta Candy is great fun and Ayana’s Maru is tragically drawn. Thelwis and Huston tower over the proceedings whenever they are on screen. They lend it the epicness the piece deserves.

The three act, three location structure of the film is something of a call-back to Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (Krypton, Kansas, Metropolis and Themyscira, London, Germany) and the design serves the movie well. One scene in particular is a moving homage to Superman: The Movie that is sure to delight whether audiences note the resonance or not. Wonder Woman also owes something else to the 1978 movie – it owes its spirit.

Wonder Woman is just as compelling as Superman and more propulsive. The movie is ever moving forward to a goal, just like its main character. Diana knows her mission and sets out to accomplish it. The film does, too and Jenkins spends just enough time on each scene and in each location to keep the movie tight. Wonder Woman is the type of motion picture that audiences are going to want to see again.

As a character, Wonder Woman was initially created as an inspiration for young women to give them a character with whom they could connect much like young men had Superman and Batman. Throughout her history (and famously during the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1970s), Wonder Woman has been correctly co-opted as inspiration to women of all ages. More recently, she has been cast as an inspiration for peace. Amazingly, this movie honors all of those instincts in a conclusion that is perfect for this particular superhero movie and would be wholly out of place in any other. It is an inspiring ending to a moving  and inspiring film.

Wonder Woman is a movie that wears its metaphorical heart on its sleeve because it understands it must. It wears its heart on its sleeve because it understands its main character. It wears its heart on its sleeve because it understands it is okay to mean something even in a summer, superhero movie.

Wonder Woman stands for something important. It knows it can be an important film. It has a message to share. It does not shy away from the soul of its main character.

And it is all the better for those choices.

It is, from direction to star to execution, all but perfect. It is wonderful and I am eager to see it again.

WONDER WOMAN receives an unreserved FIVE GOLDEN LASSOS out of a possible FIVE.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – A Movie Review


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GotG2Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is not perfect.

But it is damn close.

Marvel Studios continues its run of fun, thrilling and engaging movies with this sequel to the surprise hit of the late summer of 2014. With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel took a risk and put B and C List characters with little to no name recognition front-and-center in a film and it worked better than anyone could have anticipated.

Could lightening strike twice with this second volume?

It is a very near miss. The original film has almost no missteps. The sequel has but one.

There is a little too much going on. It is not that the movie is impossible to follow or that there are so many characters, the audience does not care about them. It is not that more means less. It is simply that Vol. 2 feels like too much of a good thing, like it is about to burst its seams.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 feels a bit bloated but, to be clear, it is bloated with more good things so is that really a bad thing? This is a minor quibble, to be sure, but the movie perhaps could have been edited a little tighter.

Thought I do not know what I would recommend cutting out.

The whole engaging gang from the first installment is back and it is terrific to spend another couple hours with Chris Pratt (Peter Quill), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Dave Bausita (Drax) and the voices of Vin Diesel (Baby Groot) and Bradley Cooper (Rocket), not to mention the always worth watching Michael Rooker (Yondu) and the savagely fun Karen Gillen (Nebula). Much like the creators of last summer’s Star Trek Beyond, writer/director James Gunn makes a decision that serves his movie very, very well: he splits up the team.

Peter, Gamora and Drax go off on their own A story adventure (connecting with new character Mantis played by Pom Clementieff and with Kurt Russell – more below) leaving Rocket and Groot on their own to hook up with Yondu on a B story of their own.

It does not matter that much if you know all the characters by name. By the end of the film, you’ll know them as family. That is the key here: the Guardians function as a family and this movie brings that theme home.

Gamora’s sister Nebula is back. A new character (played with gusto by welcome addition Kurt Russell who seems to be having as much fun as anyone) who may or may not be Peter’s father is introduced. Rocket learns he wants to be a part of something (like a family) and Baby Groot begins to grow up. Could Gamora and Peter even acknowledge what has gone unacknowledged between them?

There is tremendous fun to be had in all of this and a surprising amount of character development for a summer action movie. That might be the greatest trick that Gunn pulls off. Though Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 sometimes plays like a television show in terms of its plot structure, the proceedings supremely bananas but in the most pleasant way imaginable.

Chris Pratt was born to play this role and he steals focus in every scene – well, almost every scene. Kurt Russell gives Star Lord a run for his money. But it is Pratt’s movie and he carries it very, very well. He has said he would play this character for 10 more movies and I say “more power to him.”

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is not afraid to break new ground and, while it cannot possibly hope to match the shock that was the original film, it does at least one thing better than most Marvel movies: it gives the audience a concluding battle to care about and an antagonist who is out for something more than destruction for destruction’s sake. It also manages to give audiences the most aptly named protagonist, perhaps of all time.

The soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy was spectacular and an integral part of that film. It was so influential that Vol. 2 is a play on the title of the mixtape Peter received at the end of the first movie. Therefore, the soundtrack of the second installment was hotly anticipated. Rest assured, it does not disappoint. From Fleetwood Mac to Cat Stevens to The Electric Light Orchestra, this one works. Track-for-track, Gunn turns the volume up to 11 on the tunes and on the emotions of the audience.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is terrific fun. It is the perfect summer movie and an almost perfect sequel. That it is bigger than its predecessor is obvious. That is it better is debatable.

But it is very damn good.

Be sure to stay in your seats for the FIVE beginning, mid and post credit sequences!

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 receives FOUR AND A HALF MIXTAPES out of a possible FIVE.

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Comic Quiz – Fun Stuff


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A young friend of mine is writing a research paper about graphic novels and she could use your help taking a quick survey.

Spend a few minutes and answer some very interesting questions by clicking below:

One

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And They Will Come Together – Unite the League


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The trailer for this year’s Justice League movie is here and it’s pretty damn good! It’s been online for about 2 hours as I write this so, surely, the complaints are about to roll in about it being too dark, too moody, too bleak…, but let’s enjoy it right now for what it is: a terrific preview which I hope indicates a terrific movie.

Justice League Logo.gif

Oh, and note that early production materials were using the phrase “Unite the Seven.” Current materials say “Unite the League.”

And there is no mention of a certain Man of Steel anywhere…

For a deeper dive, here is last summer’s New York Comic Con footage as well…

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