Tag Archive: Marvel


This year’s already seen the release of three major superhero films and it’s hard not to get burnt out on their familiar tricks. But the release of the year’s fourth big budget superhero movie – X-Men: Apocalypse – proves that the genre still has some life in it. The X-Men franchise has always been a step above most other comic book franchises and that’s mostly because of their choice in cast and directors. This may not be the best film in the franchise (that title still belongs to 2014’s excellent X-Men: Days of Future Past) but this is still a great film filled with awesome visuals, great characters and memorable action. It’s easily the year’s best blockbuster so far and the best superhero movie to come along since its predecessor.

Thousands of years ago, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) rose to power as the world’s first mutant. He had the ability to transfer into different bodies whenever he wanted and this allowed him to absorb numerous powers from other mutants. But he was eventually buried at the base of a great pyramid and he stayed that way until 1983. When he once again awakens, he sets out to purge the world of any non-mutants by recruiting four followers that he imbues with great power: Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender). As Apocalypse begins to cause mayhem and destruction around the world, it’s going to take Professor X (James McAvoy), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult) and a bunch of younger heroes to stop him.

It’s a fairly simple story of good versus evil and a nice change of pace from the complex themes of other entries in the franchise. A lot of the film relies on the portrayal of the villain and Apocalypse is one of the most memorable supervillains to come along in quite some time. Although he may be unrecognizable in the role, Isaac’s performance is perfectly menacing and powerful, while the design of the character is memorable and kind of frightening. The fact that they achieved this look through makeup and avoided using CGI or motion capture adds such a deal of weight to the character. He really feels like a legitimate part of the X-Men world and this focus on practical effects is what makes Apocalypse so much more intimidating than other powerful supervillains that are created using digital effects (Marvel’s Thanos comes to mind). Although his character and motivations are somewhat underdeveloped, he’s still a villain that commands the screen.

Praise then must go to director Bryan Singer, who continues to prove that his entries are easily the best in this franchise. It’s actually pretty crazy that he’s able to balance so many different characters, all of whom are given their moments to shine. The story and structure is admittedly a little all over the place, but it never feels confusing or bloated, even with a nearly two and a half hour runtime. The X-Men films simply feel more grand and cinematic than the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the majority of this is in the hands of the director. It also doesn’t hurt things that Apocalypse is a really dark film, more so than most people would be expecting. Children are killed, men get their heads lopped off by Apocalypse and, in one stunning sequence, Magneto even tears apart Auschwitz in a fit of rage. It’s safe to say that you may want to think twice before bringing your kids to this one.

Another reason why this movie might not interest children is its general lack of action. Some fanboys might be disappointed by this, but I found the focus on characters and story, rather than action and explosions, to be refreshing. But the action that is here is still very well done and much more memorable than in any other superhero film so far this year. The final extended action sequence is commendable in how all of the characters are able to work together and really feel like a team. Singer’s able to make the action easy to follow and the final thirty minutes of this film are much better than the airport fight scene in Captain America: Civil War that everyone seemed to be raving about. But the best action in the movie once again comes from Quicksilver (Evan Peters), who uses his speed to rescue an entire school from an explosion. Set to the tune of “Sweet Dream” by Eurythmics, it’s funny, visually interesting and a heck of a lot of fun. The scene may be a retread of his standout sequence in Days of Future Past, but it’s a retread that I had a blast with.

This franchise has always featured a great cast and Apocalypse is no exception. McAvoy continues to grow into the role of Professor X, delivering a performance that fits right alongside Patrick Stewart’s, while never feeling like a simple impression. Fassbender’s Magneto is put through the emotional ringer in this thing and he delivers what might be his best performance in the trilogy as a result. Lawrence once again does a fine job with the role of Mystique, but her portrayal is nowhere near as good as Rebecca Romijn’s in the original trilogy. Newcomers to the team include Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan as Cyclops and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler. Out of the newcomers, Smit-McPhee is probably the best, although there’s something to be said about Turner’s ability to portray such a complex character.

Whereas the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes superhero movies, the X-Men franchise features films that just happen to be about superheroes. They’re superior in almost every way including visuals, story, score, performances and direction. Singer has great control over the material and his direction is so strong that it will make you wish he could direct every superhero film from now into the foreseeable future. As a fan of superheroes, these last couple years had me losing faith that this genre could wow me again. But, luckily, X-Men: Apocalypse is the superhero movie we’ve been waiting for.

X-Men: Apocalypse receives 3.5/4

We all love superheroes, but sometimes less is more. After having been treated to some excellent superhero team-up films like The Avengers and X-Men: Days of Future Past, it’s become clear that simply throwing a bunch of different heroes into a single movie isn’t enough to impress anymore. It no longer feels like an event to have Iron Man fighting alongside Captain America and therein lies the problem with Captain America: Civil War. It’s a film that throws together more superheroes than we’ve ever seen together on the big screen, but it lacks an interesting story or memorable action to make anything standout. If this film had come out at the beginning of the recent superhero craze it probably would have felt incredible, but it’s hard not to watch this and feel numb to its effects.

In reality, this feels like two separate films that are mushed together and the two different storylines don’t always complement each other particularly well. The first major thread involves a disagreement that brews between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). When a group of the Avengers accidentally end up killing several civilians in Lagos, the Secretary of State (William Hurt) proposes that all of the superheroes sign an accord that would prevent them from acting on their own free will. If they agree to sign this document, they would be under the control of the United Nations, who would give the Avengers orders when they see fit. Stark is in favor of signing this document, while Captain America strongly opposes it.

The other major focus of the movie involves Captain America trying to help his friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan), who has been reprogrammed by Hydra into the Winter Soldier. When the headquarters of the United Nations in Vienna is bombed, Bucky is the prime suspect, although Captain America is still determined to prove his innocence. Stark sees this attack as even more reason for the heroes to sign the accord, but he’s unable to convince Captain America. This leads to a standoff, with half of the Avengers siding with Stark and the other half siding with Captain America. It may not be an easy choice, but everybody is going to have to choose a side and stick to it.

While Civil War is being marketed as The Avengers 2.5, the focus of the film is still mostly on Captain America and Tony Stark. And you have to give Marvel credit for effectively working so many different characters into a single story, without it ever feeling like an overload. Admittedly, certain characters probably aren’t given the attention they deserve and a reveal involving Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) would have been so much more satisfying in his own movie, but things definitely could have been much worse. But even if the screenplay from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is able to juggle so many different heroes, it’s all wasted on mediocre direction and a lack of vision from Anthony and Joe Russo.

The Russo Brothers have proven that they know how to film a big budget picture, but their inability to direct compelling action has become more apparent with each Marvel film they make. Their action sequences are too frantically edited, cutting way too often and refusing to let a scene breathe. In a sequence where Bucky grabs a motorcycle and hops onto it in one quick motion, the Russo Brothers cut together at least three different shots in less than a second and completely distract from what should have been a cool action moment. It’s this over-editing that creates a lack of coherence in most of these big action scenes; it’s often difficult to tell what is going on and what everybody is immediately doing.

But it’s clear that the majority of the Russo Brothers’ attention was on the big 17-minute airport fight between the two groups of heroes. And you would think that this would be the moment that dazzles the audience, making grown men feel like children again. Sadly, this isn’t the case and the extended fight sequence is blandly directed, weakly choreographed and generally uninteresting. This is an action set piece that hardly feels like an action set piece. If it wasn’t for the fan-favorite heroes at the center of this fight, hardly a single moment would feel memorable and nothing about it feels extraordinary. The Russo Brothers are certainly no Joss Whedon and the dullness of this big sequence has me worried about their involvement in the next Avengers sequel.

While the direction of this big sequence feels completely mediocre, there is one element that at least makes it somewhat fun to watch: Spider-Man. Tom Holland is a joy to watch as Spider-Man, perfectly capturing the sarcastic quips and fun nature of the web-slinging hero. It feels like casting a younger version of Spider-Man was a smart move and I can’t wait to see Holland further flesh out his character. It’s a testament to Holland’s performance that I’m much more excited for the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming than The Avengers: Infinity War. The other new addition to the cast is Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther. While he isn’t quite the scene-stealer that Spider-Man is, Black Panther is a welcome addition to the Avengers team. His unique costume and interesting background make him far more interesting than most of the other secondary heroes in the film.

The prospect of Iron Man and Captain America fighting was sure to excite Marvel fans, but the finished product is a disappointment that brings hardly anything new or interesting to the table. Remember that feeling of joy you experienced while watching The Avengers fight together for the first time? Well Captain America: Civil War has twice as many heroes doing battle with each other and it’s unable to generate even a fraction of that wonder or excitement. If all you’re looking to do is turn your brain off and stare at the screen while a dozen superheroes fight each other for a few minutes, this movie will scratch your itch. Beyond that, it’s sure to be forgotten by most when the summer movie season concludes.

Captain America: Civil War receives 2/4

Within the last decade, audiences have been subjected to an onslaught of superhero movies. Some have been good and some have been bad, but they’ve become so numerous that what was once an event now feels like common practice. Marvel has shown that they know how to build a universe and incorporate different characters into the same movie, but DC has yet to prove themselves. That all changes with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. By incorporating the two most famous superheroes of all-time into the same film, we’ve officially hit peak comic book movie. If this film had been released ten years ago, it would have been unbelievably exciting. But after two Avengers films, this simply feels par for the course.

But regardless of the hype, the actual content of the movie is what really matters. Producer Christopher Nolan clearly was a big influence on director Zack Snyder, but Snyder’s first Batman adaptation comes nowhere near the heights set by Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. Batman v Superman is a total mess, a film that places far too much emphasis on plot, while throwing character development and thematic material by the wayside. Overly serious, bloated and way too long, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting any real sense of enjoyment out of this thing.

This may be a terrible project, but it starts off on a particularly high note. We’re introduced to a young Bruce Wayne at his parents’ funeral with images from their murder edited into the scene. Snyder has always been a very visual filmmaker and this opening sequence has him doing what he does best. It’s one of the most visually arresting moments in the entire film and it helps that this sequence isn’t bogged down by plot or expository dialogue. In fact, hardly anything is said during this opening, but Snyder’s visuals tell us everything that we need to know.

From here, we’re thrown into the most exciting action sequence in the film: Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) dealing with the climactic showdown from Man of Steel. That film was criticized for the amount of destruction that Superman caused in his fight with Zod, but in Batman v Superman, writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer smartly use this destruction to motivate Batman’s vengeance against Superman. We get to watch as Bruce Wayne hurtles his vehicle right into the midst of the destruction. In one of the film’s most memorable images, Wayne is the lone individual sprinting into a dust cloud caused by a collapsing building. The visual effects are convincing and the stakes actually feel real, something that the rest of the film fails at.

But once this sequence has concluded, the film takes a spectacular nosedive in terms of quality. Superman (Henry Cavill) has become seen as a dangerous individual by a large percentage of America. This movement to have him turn himself over to the authorities is led by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) and supported by Lex Luther (Jesse Eisenberg). Superman also has a bone to pick with Batman, a vigilante whom Superman believes is going too far in his treatment of criminals. But when Luther begins importing kryptonite and creating a new supervillain, these two heroes will have to put aside their differences to save Gotham and Metropolis.

I don’t want to generalize, but for the most part, superhero films don’t have fantastic plots. Batman v Superman is no exception to this rule. So it’s strange that there is such an emphasis on the story, when most fans really just want to see some great action sequences. The first two-thirds of this film feel like nothing more than an extended and convoluted setup for the finale. The editing here is pretty terrible, cutting between individual storylines from Batman, Superman, Lex Luther and Lois Lane (Amy Adams) that lack cohesion from the big picture of the movie. At times it feels like you’re watching loosely connected solo films from these four characters that are edited together into a final product. It all kind of makes sense in the moment, but looking back on the film, it’s difficult to say what exactly everybody was doing.

So the plot, structure and pacing isn’t great, but Snyder should be able to deliver some satisfying action, right? Sadly, other than the opening sequence, the action is pretty underwhelming. Until the final 30 minutes, there’s not a lot of action to get excited about, mostly because the action takes a backseat to the endless plot. But when we get to Batman and Superman’s big battle, it’s decent but it’s over in about five minutes. For a film titled Batman v Superman, there’s really not a lot of fighting between the two. I’m not the kind of person that craves nonstop action, but the lack of a good story and character development would have been more tolerable if there had been some more excitement in the film. And the film’s climactic moments with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) are tolerable, but it looks overly digital and doesn’t feel like it’s grounded in the real world.

It might sound like I’m being harsh on this film – and I am – but there are still some things that I thought were handled well. We’d already been introduced to Henry Cavill’s Superman in Man of Steel, but his performance in this film is even better. Not only does he look like the perfect Superman, but he’s able to ground his character in reality and make the problems of an alien feel incredibly personal. The internet groaned when Ben Affleck was cast as the Dark Knight, but Affleck is actually a pretty great fit for the part. He’s an older Batman compared to what we’re used to, but bulkier too. His character is incredibly underdeveloped, but there’s hope that they’ll actually explore this potential in future films. In the first ever big-screen portrayal of Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot makes the character her own. This Wonder Woman is strong, but also sexy and the prospect of a Wonder Woman solo film is exciting.

It’s been said that a superhero movie is only as strong as its villain, so it’s no surprise that Jesse Eisenberg is terrible as Lex Luther. His performance is campy and way too over-the-top, resulting in a character that simply doesn’t jive with the dark tone of the movie. It’s unclear if his goofiness was intended as comic relief, but an awkward monologue that he gives at a party gets absolutely no laughs. But the worst thing about him is that his motivations are unclear. The best villains are the ones who can remain relatable, even when they’re causing chaos around them. We don’t have to believe that what they’re doing is right, but we have to believe that they do. Perhaps I missed something, but Luther’s plan is so poorly concocted that it’s impossible to say what his end game was. Did he simply hate Superman and Batman, hoping to take them both down? Or did he just want to take over the world? It’s never really made clear, which makes for a completely uninteresting villain.

Intended as the precursor to the Justice League movie, Batman v Superman does a laughably bad job at building up the DC universe. Whereas Marvel took its time, giving each character their own movie before throwing them together in The Avengers, DC lazily introduces several famous characters through a file on a computer. It’s hard to get excited about Batman and Superman’s next big screen appearance when this one lacks any truly interesting action or quiet character moments. Despite a strong opening and a nice final five minutes, this is way too much plodding setup and hardly any of the excitement that should have been delivered. The best way to sum up Batman v Superman is that it’s like the time I tried to eat my two favorite foods (cheeseburgers and sushi) in the same meal and ended up with food poisoning.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice receives 1.5/4

 

Marvel Studios enraged fanboys across the internet when they parted ways with Edgar Wright, the original director of Ant-Man. Wright had been working on the project for over a decade and even though Marvel tried to make the departure seem like a mutual decision, it was clear that Wright had been canned. He was a director who wanted to make the film his way and this directly clashed with the assembly-line production of films that Marvel has been churning out lately. So Marvel brought on Peyton Reed to finish the project, someone who could take all of Wright’s ideas and blandly transplant them onto the screen. Luckily, Ant-Man serves as an interesting new character in the Marvel cinematic universe. The unique concept of the character and some solid humor are able to elevate what would have been another forgettable superhero film. Still, you can’t help but wonder how great this could have been with Edgar Wright at the helm.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is an expert burglar who has just been released from prison. He’s attempting to leave his life of crime behind so he can properly raise his daughter, but he’s having a difficult time with it, especially when he lives with his best friend/criminal associate, Luis (Michael Peña). When Lang’s criminal past prevents him from getting a job, Luis informs him of an easy burglary and Lang reluctantly agrees. He breaks into the house of former S.H.I.E.L.D agent Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and steals a suit that allows him to shrink down to the size of a small insect. Pym actually wants Lang to use the suit in order to help him and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) break into a high-tech corporate building and prevent a former associate from militarizing a similar suit.

Ant-Man is undeniably a lot of fun, but watching it is to continually be reminded of Edgar Wright’s absence. It seems like Reed is trying to emulate Wright’s style, which is painfully obvious through the film’s use of whip pan edits. This is mostly used in a sequence where Luis explains how he received a tip on a job and the scene feels so much like something that Wright would do that you can’t help but miss him. There are also a few comedic moments that are written into the script that seem to be influenced by the kind of comedy that Wright has become known for. But, luckily, the majority of the comedy is successful and this proves to be one of Marvel’s funniest outings. What ultimately brings the film down the most is its reliance on connecting everything to past Marvel films. It seems like the producers of these films are so intent on universe building that they cram in every single reference to other films in the franchise that they possibly can. It’s distracting and an overall annoyance when characters and locations pop up that don’t belong in an Ant-Man movie.

But when the script focuses on the story and the characters in this film, it proves to be some of Marvel’s best work. More a heist film than a superhero film, it’s refreshing to see a character on a much more personal journey and not attempting to prevent the end of the world. Even though the film’s final battle is pretty stereotypical for this genre, it takes place in a fun, interesting location that makes it way more entertaining and exciting than anything in this year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s great to see Paul Rudd as a superhero and Michael Peña absolutely steals the show as the hilarious Luis. Ant-Man is a very good Marvel film and its only disappointment is that we’ll never know if Edgar Wright’s inclusion could have made it one of their very best.

Ant-Man receives 3/4

Nothing lasts forever. When Iron Man kicked off the Marvel cinematic universe in 2008, audiences had no idea how much of a phenomenon these movies would become. But 2012’s The Avengers was a massive hit, becoming one of the highest grossing films of all time and earning rave reviews from both critics and fans alike. Since then, many have been wondering how long this superhero craze will be able to sustain itself. If Avengers: Age of Ultron is any indication, it won’t be able to last much longer. Writer/director Joss Whedon’s second entry into the Marvel cinematic universe is completely serviceable, but lacks the pure joy and excitement that the original Avengers was able to muster. There’s just too much going on and watching it feels like an endurance test rather than an exhilarating summer spectacle.

The film opens with our favorite group of Marvel superheroes raiding a snowy Hydra military base. Inside are Loki’s scepter and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), a brother and sister who each have superpowers of their own. The Avengers successfully take back the scepter, but the two siblings escape. Returning to their base headquarters, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) enlists the help of Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in creating an artificial intelligence that can protect Earth from any more otherworldly threats. But the experiments go horribly wrong and an evil, sentient android named Ultron (James Spader) is created. Ultron says that he wants to bring peace to the world, but he plans on doing so by wiping out the entire human race.

Three years ago, I was surprised that Whedon was able to successfully juggle so many different characters and plotlines in The Avengers. If Whedon made that film look effortless, this time around he’s juggling way too many balls. Age of Ultron has too many characters trying to do too many different things and it never feels like it builds to a cohesive whole. The idea to include so many different characters was likely a decision made by the executives at Marvel and only some of them feel like they deserve to be here. Scarlet Witch is an intriguing new character and it’s always a joy to see Elizabeth Olsen onscreen, but it’s the film’s primary antagonist who is the most interesting new character. Ultron is played superbly by James Spader, whose distinct voice perfectly fits the charismatic and menacing villain. He’s a force to be reckoned with and the reasons that he gives for his evil plan actually make some semblance of sense. Quicksilver is a pretty underwhelming new character, mostly due to the fact that he was portrayed much more interestingly in X-Men: Days of Future Past. But the character that feels really shoehorned into the film is Vision, who only shows up in the last half hour and then doesn’t do anything interesting or memorable with the time he’s given. There’s way too much going on in this film, but his character is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The film starts on a strong enough note, but the pacing hits a brick wall in the second act. After a mission goes wrong, The Avengers take refuge in a safe house and then nothing interesting happens for a solid 30-45 minutes. It also doesn’t help that several of the characters choose to split up and do their own thing. These departures feel rushed and it feels like nothing important develops out of them. These films work best when the entire team is working together, so it’s a strange decision to split them up. This also feels like the longest portion of the film, dragging on for such a long period of time that when the final battle began to occur, I was already wondering when the film would be over. Contrast that with the nice buildup and incredible third act of the original Avengers and you can see that this entry is really lacking the special something that made the first film such an event. The first film was filled with tons of standout moments and this film only has a few moments that are able to come close to how incredible those original moments felt.

But even if there are not a lot of memorable moments, the few moments that are worth talking about are pretty cool. When The Hulk is wreaking havoc on a populated African city, Iron Man enlists the help of a new Hulk-sized suit to calm the big green guy down. The battle that rages between them is very exciting and unlike pretty much anything this series has offered before. The final climactic battle also offers some fun action, particularly in a shot that showcases all of The Avengers battling Ultron’s army side –by-side. The humor may not be as memorable as the first time around, but Whedon still has a knack for writing fun, clever dialogue. Surprisingly, one of the best moments in the film isn’t even an action sequence, but a fun scene involving every Avenger attempting to pick up Thor’s hammer.

It’s impossible to deny that Avengers: Age of Ultron is a disappointment, but that’s only because the first film was such a surprising moviegoing event. I didn’t expect the sequel to match the heights of the original, but I would have hoped for it to be more coherent and cohesive than it ended up being. Still, this is a decent entry into the Marvel cinematic universe, albeit a totally uninspired one. The film may be a mess, but I shudder to think of how much bigger the mess could have been if Joss Whedon wasn’t behind the camera. The first Avengers film showed you how to feel like a kid again. This one just makes you feel like a cynical adult.

Avengers: Age of Ultron receives 2.5/4

When the Marvel Cinematic Universe debuted six years ago, a film adaptation of the Guardians of the Galaxy series of comics would have seemed impossible. It’s easy to see why audiences would respond to characters like Iron Man and Captain America, but The Guardians were virtually unknown to the general public. But nowadays Marvel Studios is a juggernaut, with each of their last three films all grossing more than $600 million worldwide. It’s this immense popularity that makes a film like Guardians of the Galaxy possible. Hopefully audiences respond to this film as enthusiastically as they have in the past because Marvel’s strangest film is also their best. Guardians is a blisteringly exciting sci-fi adventure, filled with big laughs, memorable characters, beautiful visuals and a surprising amount of genuine emotion. Watching it is a reminder of how fun and exciting movies can be.

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) may be a space pirate, but he wasn’t always such a rogue. As a young boy, he grew up on earth until his mother passed away and he was picked up by a spaceship captained by the scoundrel Yondu (Michael Rooker). Now Quill travels around the galaxy, picking up girls while also stealing rare items and selling them to the highest bidder. His attempts to steal a rare sphere attracts the attention of an elite assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana), a wisecracking, gun-toting raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and a large humanoid tree named Groot (Vin Diesel). Gamora attacks Quill in an attempt to get the sphere, while Rocket and Groot attempt to capture Quill to cash in on the bounty that’s been placed on his head. Their scuffle lands the four of them into a maximum security prison where they run into a powerful individual named Drax (Dave Bautista). This ragtag group of heroes soon learns that this sphere may be more powerful than any of them could imagine and they’ll need to put aside their differences to stop a powerful warrior named Ronan (Lee Pace) from taking over the galaxy.

Director James Gunn’s space opera feels like a testament to the magic of movies. It’s a film that transports us to another world, one that feels wholly believable for the entirety of the two hour experience. Comparisons to the Star Wars franchise are inevitable, but instead of stealing from those films, Gunn simply takes some of the parts that were successful and reworks them in exciting new ways. There have obviously been an endless number of science fiction films that have taken us on a journey through space, but this one feels particularly unique and exciting. I can’t wait to see what future sequels have in store for us; the idea of further exploring this universe is enticing.

Gunn’s debut feature was the hilariously irreverent horror/comedy Slither and a similar sense of humor has made its way into the script for Guardians, which he co-wrote with Nicole Perlman. From the opening titles all the way to the post credits stinger, the film earns big, crowd pleasing belly laughs. It’s definitely Marvel’s funniest film to date and, luckily, the humor never feels forced. All of the laughs arise from the characters and their interactions with one another. One of the funniest scenes in the film has all five of the Guardians sitting together, trying to formulate some type of plan. The jokes arise from nothing but dialogue, avoiding any type of broad humor that is occasionally placed into these types of films to appeal to children.

Chris Pratt may have started as the lovable goof on TV’s Parks and Recreation, but over the past few years he’s established quite an impressive filmography. He’s done great work in films like Zero Dark Thirty, Moneyball and Her, but it’s his performance as Peter Quill that is sure to turn him into a household name. Quill is a Han Solo-type figure: charming, funny and always willing to get the job done, sometimes in the clumsiest way possible. Pratt embraces these aspects of the character, while also making sure that his character has a heart for the audience to connect with. Zoe Saldana is as stunning as ever as Gamora and wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista is surprisingly great as Drax, but the scene stealers in the film are Rocket and Groot. Groot may not say much, but he gets big laughs and Vin Diesel’s voice fits the character perfectly, while Rocket was my favorite character in the entire film. He’s a full of himself, wisecracking know-it-all, who is possibly the best sci-fi character that I’ve seen in recent years. Groot and Rocket feel incredibly realistic, thanks to some spectacular visual effects work. They’re entirely CGI creations, but they come across as real in every scene.

While there are a lot of laughs and adventures to be had, one of the most surprising aspects of the film is the genuine emotion that successfully sneaks up and pulls on the heartstrings. Each of these characters has had some sort of hardship to overcome and each backstory is affecting in its own way. One of the final scenes with Quill, in which he finally opens a gift given to him by his mother so many years ago, is particularly moving. But the emotional aspects of the story never overshadow the immense amount of fun to be had. With great characters, gorgeous looking makeup and set design, exciting action and a toe-tapping soundtrack filled with forgotten hits from the 1970s, this is a film that’s so enjoyable that any of its minor flaws can be completely overlooked. Guardians of the Galaxy is the reason we go to the movies.

Guardians of the Galaxy receives 3.5/4

ImageMarvel Studios continue to pump out several new superhero blockbusters every year and the first one of 2014 is Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The original Captain America film managed to successfully mix elements from both WWII and superhero films. It’s follow up, taking place in present day, attempts to mix the superhero element with the plot of an espionage/spy thriller, but with less success. Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, The Winter Soldier is a mixed bag; its sequences of action are incredibly thrilling, but its plot is so convoluted that it will prevent audiences from truly investing in what is appearing on screen.

Taking place two years after the events of The Avengers, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is living in DC and working for SHIELD with Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). One morning, SHIELD is called in to rescue a cargo vessel that has been taken over by Algerian pirates. Watching Captain America land on the ship and take out mercenaries is thrilling to watch, even if the Russos’ use of shaky cam and quick edits is distracting. While on the ship, Black Widow extracts some information regarding SHIELD for Fury, an aspect of the mission that Captain America was uninformed about.

Returning to SHIELD headquarters, Rogers meets with Fury and expresses his disdain for secrets in regards to their missions. Fury decides to open up to Rogers and inform him about Project Insight: three state of the art Helicarriers that can eliminate enemy threats before they even occur. Rogers expresses his disdain for these devices, claiming that over policing the world will lead to a lack of freedom. Fury initially waves off these concerns, but after his vehicle is ambushed by a group of assailants led by The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) Fury and Rogers realize that something is amiss and that no one in SHIELD can be trusted.

This is just the beginning of the overly complicated plot, a major hindrance to a film that should have traded in this complex story for one that was a bit simpler, but made a lot more sense. In some ways the convoluted plot feels fitting for a film that is attempting to be a modern spy thriller, but a more streamlined story would have still been beneficial. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely also attempt to include some political commentary in the film and, while far from subtle, it gives the film an added layer that it would have otherwise been lacking. Perhaps nothing in the film is subtle, because several twists that are revealed near the end of the film are painfully obvious. Most viewers who have a basic knowledge of screenwriting 101 will be able to pick out the identity and ulterior motives of several characters, long before they are revealed.

But once the action kicks in, viewers will forget about how disappointing the script is. There are several astounding action set pieces that will make action fans giddy with excitement. The previously mentioned cargo ship raid is poorly edited, but it’s still thrilling to see Captain America fighting baddies one on one. One of the most exciting moments in the film is the assault on Nick Fury’s vehicle. What begins as an attempt to break into his vehicle eventually leads into a high speed pursuit that feels incredibly real with its use of civilian vehicles on the road. An assault from The Winter Soldier on a busy highway is also impressive, as is an elevator scene involving Captain America and a dozen or so henchmen. Unfortunately, the film’s climactic moments are also some of the least exciting, feeling far too similar to scenes that we had already seen in The Avengers.

Even with a poor story, a dull finale and some strange Apple product placement, Captain America: The Winter Soldier warrants a recommendation because of its fantastic action sequences and a sense of fun that generally permeates the majority of the film. With plenty of films planned for the future, Marvel Studios will need to take some risks instead of replicating the same style and story for every one of their films if they intend to keep viewers interested. This may be a weak entry in the Marvel cannon, but even the weaker Marvel entries manage to thrill.

Captain America: The winter Soldier receives 2.5/4

Image

Marvel has truly been dominating the boxoffice these past five years, with 2012’s The Avengers growing to become one of the highest grossing films of all time. So it’s no surprise that they’ve decided to release two new sequels this year. This summer’s Iron Man 3 was a fun diversion, but it was ultimately underwhelming and forgettable. Thor: The Dark World is a much more impressive entry to the Marvel canon. The film’s humor and solid action sequences make this one of the fall’s must see blockbusters.

When we last saw Thor (Chris Hemsworth), he was leaving New York City and transporting his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to a prison in Asgard. When his love interest Jane (Natalie Portman) becomes infected by a strange substance, Thor returns to earth to protect her. He soon discovers that whatever it is that infected Jane is some type of weapon that the Dark Elf Malekith  intends to get his hands on. In order to protect more than one world, Thor will have to seek out help in the most unlikely of places.

None of the Marvel movies should take themselves seriously and, luckily, Thor: The Dark World has a great sense of humor. The film is able to generate some big laughs (many of them occurring in the scenes where Thor returns to earth) which definitely inject the film with some much needed fun. Even though the action sequences are entertaining to watch, they aren’t entirely breaking new ground, so it’s a good thing that the humor is able liven things up a bit.

But humor isn’t the only thing that this film has going for it. With the majority of the movie taking place in the mythical land of Asgard, the film has a visual style that is unlike any other films in the Marvel franchise. The original Thor spent too much time on earth, but it appears that the creative team realized that this was not the best route. The scenes taking place in The Dark World are also quite well done, with one particular scene surprising the viewer with how emotionally affecting it is. It certainly doesn’t damper the mood on what is an otherwise fun, superhero film, but it does raise the stakes and further invest the audience in the characters.

If the film has a major problem, it is in the character of Malekith. The film’s primary antagonist, he and his army of minions certainly look cool, but beyond that they have no personality. His only character trait is that he wants to destroy the world(s), but even his reasons for doing so seem unclear. This is less of a fault of the performer (Christopher Eccleston) and more of a fault with the writers.

Even with this minor setback, audiences will certainly leave the film feeling satisfied. Chris Hemsworth continues to grow more and more charming with each appearance of the title character and Tom Hiddleston is a joy to watch as Loki. Sure, it still can’t match the bar that was set by The Avengers, but did anyone expect it to? On its own, Thor: The Dark World is a solid blockbuster that stands above nearly all other superhero films released this year.

Thor: The Dark World receives 3/4

The sequel to Captain America will not be released for several more years, but today Marvel confirmed who will be directing the film. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Anthony and Joe Russo are in talks to direct Captain America 2. The duo is best known for directing episodes of Arrested Development and Community, but they also directed the comedy You, Me and Dupree starring Owen Wilson. There were rumors that George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau) would be directing the sequel, but apparently the Russo Brothers won the job.

While I love their work on television comedies, I think that Marvel may be making a big mistake by hiring this duo. Just because they are skilled at directing half hour comedies, doesn’t mean they can direct one of the most anticipated films of the coming years. Marvel’s decision could have something to do with the fact that they want to add a lot of laughs into the film. Most people praised The Avengers for its sense of humor, so this could have influenced their decision to hire two comedy directors. If the brothers manage to make a quality film, this could be their big break. Otherwise, they may be stuck directing television comedies for a long time.