Category Archives: Comic Book Movies

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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Logan – A Movie Review


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logan-imax-posterTouted as star Hugh Jackman’s last turn as Wolverine, everyone’s favorite, violent, foul-mouthed mutant, Logan was under substantial pressure to deliver something truly remarkable in this final chapter.

Rest assured, it does.

From the moment the first black-and-white, Johnny Cash scored preview premiered, audiences knew that Logan was unlike any other X-Men movie that proceeded it. Previews are tricky things and can strike tones or allude to stories that the final films do not deliver. That first look at Logan indicated a movie that was moody, dark and laden with heavy themes. If anything, the actual film is more moody, dark and theme heavy than anything the trailer promised.

If we want our Wolverine violent, we have a hyper-violent take on the character here. If we want him foul mouthed, be aware that one of the first words he speaks is the F-word. If we want him unrelenting, well, you get the drift.

Logan tells the story of a Wolverine who has given up superhero-ing and has become a Uber driver in a semi-post apocalyptic south western American wasteland. Supporting and bickering with an ailing Professor X (played with tragic comedy by the always impressive Patrick Stewart), Logan has turned his back on his past and is simply looking for a way to survive his present – a present that sees his mutant healing factor failing and his dependence on alcohol growing. While this life is not what anyone would consider peaceful, its predictability is disrupted when Logan crosses paths with Laura, a young girl who may or may not be the first mutant in the world since an unnamed, but darkly referenced, event wiped mutant-kind from the map. How Logan is changed and what he discovers within himself following his contact with Laura is what drives the film.

Laura is played by Dafne Keen who turns in the third of three remarkable performances by children I have recently seen (the other two being Sunny Pawar in Lion and Alex Hibbert in Moonlight). She is magnetic, energetic and engaging. She is also a bit hard to watch as the film has Laura do some decidedly unchildlike things. Her chemistry with Jackman’s Logan is perfect and their relationship is the underpinning for both the plot and the themes of the movie.

Jackman is terrific in this role and has been since 2000’s (can it be that long?) X-Men rocketed him to fame. What is very smart about this movie, and Jackman had control over this direction, is that this version of the character is different that the other ones audiences have seen Jackman play. We have seen the berserk Wolverine, the anti-social Wolverine, the comic Wolverine, the heroic Wolverine. What we had not seen before Logan is the essence of the character: the Wolverine who never wanted to be a hero and would do almost anything to escape people’s notice, to live out of the spotlight, to flee any recognition.

If only his past would allow it.

Logan is a brutal movie. It is violent and dark and, while there are glimmers of hopefulness, it plays far more like Unforgiven than it does like X-Men: Days of Future Past. This is a good thing. It allows Jackman to reinvent the character, if only for one last ride.

And it is a very good ride, indeed.

Do not try too hard to figure out where in the canon of the X-Men movies Logan fits or how those films fed in to this one. Logan exists in something of a tangent universe to those movies, and it is all the better for it.

Superhero franchises are developing a tendency to be too interconnected and are beginning to show signs of sagging under that weight. James Mangold, writer and director of Logan seems to have said, “I’ll make the movie but I get to ignore almost everything that’s come before it.” Good call.

There were a lot of kids in the screening of Logan The Cinnamon Girl and I attended. Parents, beware: this is an R-rated movie for a reason. This is not about off color language, though there is plenty of that. Logan has the most bloody and violent battles in any superhero movie. Ever. Be warned.

If this is truly Hugh Jackman’s last time as Wolverine – and all indications are that it is – he picked a winner to finish up his work. Though not entirely hope-filled (but it does have its moments) and not entirely cheery (though there are laughs to be found), Logan is thematically rich, deeply felt and wonderfully complex. It is a very good movie.

LOGAN receives FOUR AND A HALF POPPING CLAWS out of a possible FIVE. 

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The LEGO Batman Movie – A Movie Review


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lego-batman-movieRemember when someone said to you “you’ve got to go see the LEGO Movie…it’s so crazy … it’s so funny” and you thought “LEGO Movie? Are you kidding?”

And then you saw it and couldn’t stop laughing.

The LEGO Batman Movie is the follow up to the whacked out LEGO adventure and, while it is not as breathtakingly fresh nor as side-splittingly funny as its predecessor, it is a worthy successor and a must see for any Batman fan with a sense of humor.

Will Arnett has created this singular version of Batman – an egotistical loner who believes that only alone can he do what he is meant to do and that is to save Gotham City. If, along the way, he can write and perform a few death metal songs, eat some Lobster Thermidore and kick some villains’ bricks, so much the better. Arnett is hilarious as Batman and, if you take kids to see this movie, get ready for them to imitate his over-the-top cadence and delivery (based on the ridiculous Christian Bale Batman voice) for days to come. In fact, try to keep yourself from doing imitating it. That is quite a challenge.

The story hinges on a the idea that Batman is such a loner, he will not recognize any relationship in his life, not with faithful Alfred (a wonderful Ralph Finnes), not with new ward Dick Grayson (the ageless John Cera) and not with his longtime enemy the Joker (an uproarious Zach Galifianakas). When the Joker realizes that Batman does not view the Clown Prince of Crime as his arch enemy, he concocts a plan no one could ever have seen coming: he bands together with villains from… well, I will not spoil the fun, let us say he bands together with villains never before seen in a Batman movie. The results are stunningly funny.

There are hilarious detours along the way: all filmed incarnations of Batman have a moment, Superman: The Movie is surprisingly and lovingly homaged, Tom Hardy’s Bane voice is parodied, Billy Dee Williams returns as Two Face, we discover Batman is a rom-com fan (and thanks so much to the Jerry Maguire folks!), we have two terrific musical numbers and more and more.

The movie is psychotic. The movie is loud and colorful. The movie is inspired.

Do not expect it to make much sense and do not look for complex through lines. Do look for fun and explosive visuals. Do look for excitement. Do look for fun.

Though it misses the boat on not having Ralph Finnes voice a very familiar villain (and what a miss that was!) and the second act gets a little bogged down and loses its way for a few moments, the overall movie is well worth your time. Lighthearted and fun, The LEGO Batman Movie is truly enjoyable.

 

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE receives FOUR AND A HALF LEGO BRICKS out of a possible FIVE. 

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Doctor Strange – A Movie Review


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doctor-strange-comic-con-posterI have begun to think Marvel Studios can take any Marvel Comics property and make a good movie from the source material. After they succeeded two years ago with Guardians of the Galaxy, the sky was the limit and Doctor Strange seems to me to be a direct beneficiary of the runaway hit GotG. To call Doctor Strange a B List character in the Marvel Comics Universe might be giving him too much credit, but Marvel must have assumed if they could make things work for GotG, they could make them work for anyone.

This movie benefits – as many Marvel films do – from strong casting. Benedict Cumberbatch makes a terrific lead. His Stephen Strange is odd, arrogant and fun to watch, kind of a mix of Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes and Khan. He’s a surgeon about to be humbled by a terrible accident and trained by Tilda Swinton’s The Ancient One and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo in the ways of the mystic arts. Along the way, we also connect with (but only barely) Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer. Throw in Mads Mikkelson as Kaecilius and you have a very solid line-up of actors. Each of these do a great job playing the material very straight. Gone are the days of camp approaches to superheroes, even to those with goatees who deal with the mystic arts. No, this cast acts as though they are on stage at the Globe and the movie is all the better for it.

The action in this film, especially the action featured in the last reel, can be quite stunning. The climax is truly breathtaking as is Strange’s clever (if slightly derivative Edge of Tomorrow fans) confrontation with the big-bad of the movie at the end of the film. Marvel touted Doctor Strange as something new and different from the rest of their movies and, considering Strange’s powers and the way they manifest on screen, the company succeeded. There are some truly breathtaking moments on screen.

The movie is also surprisingly funny and the whole cast gets moments to shine and to make the audience laugh. Doctor Strange has crowd pleasing intentions and, for the most part, those intentions land nicely.

However, if there are problems, they are these: the origin story (and even I am getting a little fatigued by origin stories) of Stephen Strange skews very closely to Tony Stark’s origin and Marvel has to understand that invoking the magic-in-a-bottle of Iron Man is a frightening proposition. That’s a very high bar to clear. Additionally, these movies have to figure out their villains. There is simply not enough for Mikkelson to do with Kaecilius. He simply doesn’t seem that big a threat or, at least, he doesn’t seem a threat distinct from most of the other Marvel threats.

These issues don’t detract from overall enjoyment of the movie. They simply keep a great movie from being terrific.

Oh, and there are not one but TWO secret endings. Stay in your seats…

DOCTOR STRANGE receives FOUR EYES OF AGAMOTTO out of a possible FIVE.

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The Best Sequential Art I Read Last Week: October 19 – 25, 2016


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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.

I read 12 comics last week: Star Trek: Boldly Go #1, Infamous Iron Man # 1, Amazing Spider-Man #20, Black Widow #7, Doctor Strange #13, Batman #9, Justice League #7, Nightwing #7, Dark Knight III #6, Black Panther #7, Superman #9 and Trinity #2.

The best comic I read last week was Trinity #2.

 

trinity-two

I have said this before, but it bears repeating: I’d like Francis Manapul to write and draw ALL the comics. Not only does he create beautiful art (which he pencils, inks and colors), he writes what can only be described as beautiful stories.

Manapul’s stories from Flash to this title illustrate an incredible amount of hopefulness and of heart. I am not one to rail against the DC Cinematic Universe. Frankly, I have enjoyed all 3 films so far. I haven’t been offended by their darker bent. However, I will note that the very brightness and energy of Manapul’s work here visually and thematically is an incredible draw.

His story in the first two issue of Trinity is about friendship, about fatherhood and about opportunities lost… and found. The best comics read with the themes of great literature and, while Trinity may not be that yet, just give it time.

This is shaping up to be a book that, when it’s collected, comic readers will be handing to their non-comic reading friends. It’s simply that good.

Stay on this title forever, Mr. Manapul. Comic readers, do yourselves a favor and buy this one.

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