Captain Marvel: Good, but Not Great

For the last ten years, Marvel Studios has done an amazing job creating a cinematic universe using “second-tier” heroes from their comic books. They’ve also done a pretty uncanny job of casting the right people as the heroes. Today, who could imagine someone besides Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man or Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America (and so on).

Although Captain Marvel is a good, decently paced, and entertaining latest entry in the MCU catalogue, it’s just misses the mark of being one of the great films. It’s like the Tony Romo of the MCU films: Good movie, great numbers ($900 million at the box office so far), but is just missing that extra something special to push it over the top.

The first part of the movie is a bit boring. Starforce member Vers (Danvers/Capt Marvel) suffers from amnesia and is haunted by nightmares. She has been a part of Starforce for the last six years and has no memories before that. She has issues maintaining control of her emotions, and is urged by her mentor and commander as well as the Kree leader she must learn to control them.

On a mission to recover a spy, Vers is captured by the Skrulls, an alien race of shapeshifters who the Kree have been at war with, and is subjected to a memory probe. Strangely, although Vers has amnesia, there’s nothing that prevents the Skrulls from scrolling through her memories with a high-tech TiVo. The Skrulls are looking for a specific Kree agent, and as luck would have it, Vers memories lead them to her. Vers escapes, but destroys the Skrulls ship, so both she and the Skrulls crash land on Earth in 1995.

Once on Earth, Vers runs into a young Nick Fury and SHIELD, and hilarity ensues as they try to track down the Kree agent on Earth before the Skrulls do.

The amnesia angle is a bit of a problem, because it seems like the writers have given little for Brie Larson to run with outside of being a stoic warrior. Once she has a chance to interact with her co-stars, she’s much better, and in some cases, her co-stars really outshine her. Larson does fine with what she’s given, though. She may be the right choice for Carol Danvers/Capt Marvel, but we’ll have to wait to see her in Avengers: Endgame to see if Larson has more to work with.

At just over two hours, the movie feels pretty well paced. As with any Marvel movie, you probably don’t want to overthink the plot too much (like a nit picky thing for me is: where is her Kree uniform? Danvers wears normal clothes during a large part of her time on Earth, but there’s no sign of her Kree outfit or some type of Kree fanny-pack that she’s wearing. Sure it’s something they could have explained in a few seconds, but they didn’t) . The 90’s references are fun, and ensures the film has a pretty great soundtrack. The movie does a decent job of introducing the Kree/Skrull conflict and throws in a few MCU connections.

The creators try to give Capt. Marvel a big “hero” moment late in the film. A lot of the elements are there, like flashbacks of Danvers struggling in moments in her past. But, there’s no real context around the flashbacks, and the stakes aren’t really established, so when she overcomes the challenge, it lacks the emotional connection they were shooting for. You can see what they were trying to do, and I think, with a few changes, they could have gotten pretty close.

Spider-Man: Homecoming borrows a scene like this directly from the comics, and they do a much better job of making the “hero” moment work.

The weakest part of the movie comes near the end. Once Capt. Marvel “unlocks” her powers, she masters complete control of her nearly apparently near-unlimited power within about 10 minutes of screen time. Up until that point, we’ve only ever seen Marvel shoot fusion blasts from her hands. The audience has no idea that she can do the other things or was even trained to do anything else with her powers.

I have no problem with Captain Marvel being ultra-powerful, but for me it’s a case of lazy writing. At least show the audience some glimpse of her doing something else with her powers beforehand.

Hopefully, by Endgame, Carol Danvers/Capt. Marvel will have her memories back and can bring more of a human element to her powers, so she doesn’t end up feeling like the Superman of the MCU. I really don’t want to see Capt. Marvel become this emotionless god-like character like DC has done with Superman in the DCCU/Snyder-verse.

The most touching moment of the film? For me, it was the opening credits. Normally, Marvel movies open with an animated logo sequence. As the 3D logo falls into place, we see animations of comic panels inside the logo related to the hero in the movie. For their 10th anniversary logo, the logo changed to splice in video clips of the heroes from the entire MCU. This year, in honor of Stan Lee (who passed away last November), the logo shows clips of all of Lee’s cameos from the MCU movies (I’m assuming only MCU, but I guess they could have clips from the older movies). At the end of the animation, the logo fades to black before displaying a single, simple message: “Thank you, Stan”.

I’ll be honest. I sorta had high hopes for this film. With this being the first major Marvel movie starring a female super hero, and Marvel knocking it out of the park in their most of their most recent films, I really hoped they would do something special with Captain Marvel.

Instead, it feels more like a standard MCU-paint-by-numbers origin story, and while the movie is good, it just misses that something extra to make it memorable.

It’ll be interesting to see if Captain Marvel becomes a part of one of the other teams (Avengers, Guardians), or if they’ll keep her solo and have a Captain Marvel sequel. Based on the box office numbers, a sequel seems like a pretty sure bet. But with the Disney/Marvel acquisition of 20th Century Fox (and the rights to Marvel’s top-tier heroes), it’s too early to guess if Marvel will re-think “phase four” of their plans for the MCU.

Thoughts on the Last Jedi

With the holidays, it’s taken me a while to get this down. To date, I’ve still only seen The Last Jedi once, so this is still based on my first take of the film. Maybe I’ll post an update after a couple of more viewings. 

First, the non-spoilers review:

Unlike The Force Awakens (TFA), Lucasfilm creators appear to have given director Rian Johnson much more creative control over The Last Jedi (TLJ), and in a lot of ways, The Last Jedi is what The Force Awakens should have been: a fresh take on the Star Wars franchise without George Lucas at the helm.

The Last Jedi isn’t without its flaws, but overall, with the exception of the lag about midway through the film and maybe just a tad too many attempts at humor, Rian Johnson delivers on giving us a fresh take on the Star Wars universe that’s both visually stunning and entertaining. 

After reading some of the complaints on the internet, I suspect The Last Jedi will become one of the most polarizing films among fans, who seem to be equally divided between loving it and hating it. I don’t think there’s one right answer, and it’s impossible to look at the new movies with the same childlike wonder that I watched the original trilogy (which naturally biases me towards those three movies).

I watched The Force Awakens last weekend, and I despise it more than I did before, mainly because of the complete rehash of A New Hope (the original Star Wars). I’d rank it just above the prequels. I’d probably place The Last Jedi just behind the original trilogy. 

!!!END OF SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

If you’re reading this far you’ve been warned. Spoilers will be rampant in 3…2…1…

TURN BACK IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LAST JEDI!!!

SPOILERS BEGIN NOW!!!

There’s plenty to like about The Last Jedi. Here’s a decent list of things that I enjoyed:

  • I like that they tried to give the three major characters story arcs, even if the arcs were not complete hits. 
  • I loved some of the humor – The “do you feel it now” scene with Rey and Luke still cracks me up just thinking about it. 
  • I like that the ending illustrated that “spark of hope” for the rebellion even though they’re at their lowest point by the end of the film.
  • Mark Hamill was amazing and did an enormous job of portraying Luke’s guilt and hesitation in training Rey
  • I loved the fight between Luke and Rey
  • I loved the appearance of Yoda
  • I actually like that the story didn’t follow the conventional Star Wars formula
  • I liked the new twists on Force abilities and the connection between Rey and Kylo
  • I liked that despite everything the rivalry between Kylo and Hux is ongoing, which could have major repercussions for the First Order
  • Despite the twist, I actually really enjoyed the final conflict between Luke and Kylo.
  • The “chase” sequence – Although the set up was kind of dumb, I liked where they were going with it. 
    • My take on this whole thing is that, yes, the First Order could have guessed where the ships were heading and radioed ahead to have other ships fly in to intercept the Rebel ships. But, I think the idea was Hux is a major asshole, and, knowing the Rebels were out of options, wanted to simply drag things out. He’s like a cat playing with its prey. 
  • The reunion scene with Luke and Leia. It was hard not to tear up, especially with the meta of Carrie Fisher’s death and knowing that she and Mark Hamill treated each other like brother and sister in real life.

As I’ve said, the movie is not without its flaws. Here’s my list:

I loved some of the humor, but in other places, it felt forced or awkward. Unlike Thor: Ragnarok, I think maybe they strayed a bit too far down the humor trail in TLJ.

Porgs. Meh. I just want a picture of Chewie with that one on the skewer with the caption: Porg: It’s What’s for Dinner.

The “Epic” Chase

I think this could have been set up better. I don’t think they explained why there wasn’t a tracker on one of the resistance ships. The set up was the First Order has tech that can track ships through hyperspace. The first response in the Star Wars universe should have been: Oh, they’ve got a tracker on one of the ships. Instead the characters quickly jump into a convoluted plot to “hack” the main First Order’s ship’s shields into order to slip on board and disable the tracker from that ship. 

The “tracker” story could have been interesting in its own right. If they found a tracker, then there could be a mole on one of the ships. That could have fed into Poe’s distrust of Holdo, eventually suspecting that she may be the mole.

Plus, no one on the First Order ships asks the obvious question: Why not bring in other ships to intercept the fleeing Resistance ships and shoot them all down in a crossfire. The answer, I think, is that Hux is a major asshole, and being such, opts to simply slowly continue the slow pursuit. He knows full well that the Resistance ships can’t run forever, so he wants to make his final victory last. 

A simple conversation between Hux and a junior officer could have made that clear. 

The awkward setup sticks out because this is basically the end of Act I, and the chase  is what triggers everyone else’s actions from this point, from Holdo’s secret plan to Poe/Finn/Rose’s ridiculous plan. 

The “WTF” Moment

This is the moment that made no sense to me, and it sucks because I don’t see an easy way to fix it. The hacker DJ sells out not only Finn and Rose but the Resistance as well by telling the First Order the good guys have cloaked? transports. Holdo was keeping this info on a need to know basis. She didn’t tell Poe, which drives Poe’s arc, and it drives the need for Finn/Rose to go off on their adventure. If Finn/Rose don’t know about this plan, how the hell does DJ know?

Again, it’s a problem because it sets everything up for the third act. It’s just sloppy storytelling. 

Leia Innnn Spaaaace 

For me, I really agonized about this. My first thought when this started to play out was “Oh come on!” On the one hand, I thought it was over the top, but on the other hand, I really liked seeing Leia, at the moment of nearly dying, finally connecting with the Force and saving herself. I didn’t want to see Leia go out that way, so I’m going to let it pass.

Canto Bight 

It bites. Really. I liked some of the ideas Rian Johnson introduced here, that there are people who are profiting from the war and there are people/creatures suffering because of it. It feels too much though like “let’s give Finn & Rose something to do.” It bogs down the movie and really messes with the story timeline as well. The resistance ships have mere hours before they run out of fuel, but it’s fine that Finn/Rose go off on their marry adventure. Since this introduces DJ, but Finn and Rose ultimately fail to stop the First Order, this entire arc feels out of place. 

Luke’s Bad Decision

A lot of fans are upset about Luke deciding, if only briefly, that he’s lost Ben to Snoke, and he should kill Ben while he has the chance. I agree with argument that the “Luke we knew” probably wouldn’t go there. He wouldn’t give up on Ben. 

But – the “Luke we knew” was from Return of the Jedi. At the point this happens in TLJ, we’re watching a Luke Skywalker 20 plus years after ROTJ. We don’t know what’s happened to him in that time. Luke having doubts about losing influence over Ben and ultimately being betrayed by him is the beginning of the end for Luke. 

It’s that moment that consumes Luke with fear and doubt and guilt that drives him away from everyone he loves and places him in isolation on Ach-To. 

It’s a hard moment to see. To me, it’s much like finding Han basically running from Leia and going back to smuggling in TFA.

These characters were our heroes in the original trilogy, and it’s hard to see them 30 years later to find out that they’re human after all. 

At the same time though, these movies are also about passing the torch to a new generation of characters that have will bring with them a new legion of fans to the Star Wars universe. 

I hope, though, that Lucasfilm allows someone to publish a novel or two that further explores the adventures of Luke and Ben/Kylo and their relationship, including Ben’s eventual betrayal.

I was also a bit disappointed that the Knights of Ren were a no-show.

Luke’s Last Stand

I have to see the movie again, but I don’t know if they really explained why Luke’s projection was a one-time deal. I read somewhere that Kylo says something about this, but I missed it. Outside of that, I fully expect to see a Luke ghost both helping Rey and (hopefully) taunting Kylo.

Poe’s Arc

I really liked Poe’s arc for the most part. I didn’t mind that he’s left out in the cold by Holdo. I wished there was a moment of reckoning after the mutiny between Poe and Leia. I liked that he’s learning in the battle of Krait that maybe there’s a time to back off and not sacrifice forces. The problem, though, is at this point of the movie, there is no Plan B. This is a “last stand” moment, and Poe should have been all for helping Finn sacrifice himself in order to help buy them time.

Finn’s Arc

Again, Finn had a pretty decent story arc, but it felt cheated at the end because Rose kept him from making a heroic sacrifice. I would have liked to see him eject at the last second or something where he’s able to survive but still succeed in destroying the weapon. Let’s say the ship hits the weapon but doesn’t destroy it; at least it still completes Finn’s arc and it adds to his own mythology. 

Rey’s Arc 

I’m more bummed that we didn’t see Rey get more training than I am about her parents. Sure, Kylo could be lying, but I don’t think any of the other “theories” would have been better. If she’s Luke’s daughter, then we turn Luke into a deadbeat dad. Same with her being a Solo. Making her related to Obi Wan or Palpatine would only be interesting because it ties her to characters in the other movies. 

Hey, at least they skipped the “immaculate conception” this time. Making her parents irrelevant opens up the idea that anyone could be Force sensitive and evolve into a Jedi or Sith (or something else). I’m okay with that. 

Rey, though, has had less training than Luke did, and that may or may not be a bad thing. She may? have the Jedi Order books, but I think the main point is that because she’s not completely indoctrinated in either the Sith or the Jedi, Rey may ultimately become something else – a person truly balanced between the light and the dark.

Not Enough Snoke

Alas, poor Snoke, we hardly knew ye.

Maybe this will be covered in a novel, but it’s a shame that for all his power, Snoke doesn’t get enough screen time, so his eventual death feels a bit meaningless. The final confrontation between Rey, Kylo and Snoke kind of echoes Return of the Jedi, but it feels off. By the time the scene happens in ROTJ, Luke has faced Vader once, and he’s come to terms with the fact that Vader is his father. The stakes are much higher there because of the connection between Luke and Vader. The Emperor still wants to turn Luke, and catching his friends in a trap with the new Death Star, he hopes to push Luke to the dark side. 

In TLJ, Rey senses Kylo’s conflict, and like Luke with Vader, hopes to lure him back into the light. We know Snoke wants to kill Luke, but it’s never clear why. He also doesn’t seem to be as interested in converting Rey, who, with little training, should be susceptible to Snoke’s influence, just as Ben was. 

Snoke has also created a trap, but he seems to be singularly focused on killing Skywalker. Although the twist here is great, Snoke’s death doesn’t have the same impact as the Emperor’s.

I can’t place my finger on it. Maybe seeing it again will help. I like the overall sequence of events here, but it seemed to lack the same emotional impact as ROTJ.

Too Many Woman

Ugh, the dumbest thing I’ve seen in the last week or so is the political “far right” having fits about too many women in positions of power in TLJ. I honestly thought it was great to see more than one strong female character in these movies, and I think the “far right” can just crawl back under their rocks. 

Moving On 

We will always have the original trilogy of movies, and the memories of seeing those and playing with the toys and reading all of the theories about how Vader could be Luke’s father will not simply disappear because we may or may not like the direction the new films are going in. 

Note, that does NOT include the prequels, which were bad on so many levels. They didn’t destroy my childhood, but I don’t have to bother to watch them, either.

While it has its flaws, I have to give props to Rian Johnson and the Lucasfilm folks for taking chances with The Last Jedi. They’ve opened up some new ideas about what it means to be a Force-wielder (either Jedi or Sith), and they’re trying to take the world of Star Wars into new directions. The Skywalker saga is ending, but the Star Wars universe will be stronger than ever.

I only wish they had started this with The Force Awakens, because there’s so much crammed into The Last Jedi, I almost wish they had made two movies (or had simply introduced some of these things in TFA). 

My biggest worry at this point is whether or not JJ Abrams will be open to the direction that TLJ has gone, or will he backtrack and turn Episode IX into a re-hash of Return of the Jedi. 

Justice League – Watchable, but pretty meh

A couple of weeks ago, a buddy of mine and I went to see Thor: Ragnarok (again). Afterward, we were discussing if Ragnarok was worthy of being in our personal top five Marvel movies. 

 

For both of us, it was. 

 

Last week, I watched a review of Justice League and the most positive thing they could say about the movie was that they considered to be the 2nd best DC Cinematic Universe movie behind Wonder Woman. 

 

So, now, after seeing it, where does Justice League land, in my opinion? 

 

Meh? It’s watchable, but it’s also kind of boring. 

 

Instead of the top five Marevel movies, think about which one you would consider to be the WORST of the MCCU movies (starting with Iron Man in 2008). 

 

Your pick for the worst Marvel movie is still able to tell a more coherent story and may actually have a better villain than Justice League. 

 

Despite this, you may ultimately agree that Justice League is the second best DC movie to date (and that depends on how you felt about Man of Steel). The bar, though, is so low at this point, it’s hard not to beat those expectations.

 

Justice League also has the misfortune of following Thor: Ragnarok: It’s easily the best Thor movie to date, and it’s a showcase of the MCCU hitting all the right notes. 

 

So what worked in Justice League? 

 

Certainly, adding a bit of humor to the movie certainly helped along with making Batman less murdery (although Affleck’s “phoned-it-in” performance seems pretty obvious he’s lost interest in the role – or maybe that was his intent for Batman to sulk because he’s not killing so many bad guys this time around).

 

Gal Gadot is still great as Wonder Woman.  Flash and Cyborq are pretty good, and even Aqua-brah is at least tolerable. It’s disappointing that the movie didn’t take a bit more time fleshing out the back stories of these guys, especially Aquaman.  They made him look cool, sure, but there’s just not much revealed about his own story outside of the fact that he’s Atlantean.  There are some funny moments, and there are a few moments of seeing the group start to bond that are fun to watch. 

It certainly feels like Whedon had a hand in some of the bonding scenes.

 

The opening song is a bit gut-wrenching. It’s meant to echo the feeling of the world losing hope as they mourn the death of Superman, but the song also touches a bit close to home with the political situation here in the U.S. and elsewhere. 

 

I’m still a bit disappointed in Cyborg being in the League, but that’s mostly because of my background. When I read & collected comics in the 80s, the sixth member of the Justice League was Green Lantern and Cyborg was part of the Teen Titans. 

 

What didn’t work?

 

It’s hard to get into what went wrong with the movie without delving into spoilers. Basically, Batman, for reasons, suspects that something bad is coming, and that the world is in danger. He needs to put together a team to fight this thing and hopefully stop it and help restore “hope” to the world.  Beyond that, the story is a complete mess.

 

Part of the problem with Justice League is that it wants us to forget about Batman vs Superman. Part of the entire theme of that movie was that world wasn’t sure about Superman, but now that he’s dead, everyone loves him. Batman already has files on the “recruits” so it feels odd that he’s got to find them and/or isn’t sure how to approach them. 

 

Another part of the problem is the main villain: Steppenwolf. For one, he looks too much like Mars did in Wonder Woman. He’s just not interesting. He shows up, and he’s out to destroy the world: for reasons. There are hints about a backstory, but there are almost no details. 

 

Unless you’re deeply familiar with DC comics, you’ll have no idea who or what Steppenwolf or parademons or mother boxes are. They could have swapped any of the bad guys out with vampires or zombies or giant alien robots and you’d care about the same.

 

Why does this suck? 

 

Towards the end of the credits, the movie recognizes some of the brilliant creators who have worked on Justice League over the years. The Justice League/Justice League of America/JLA have been in comics since 1960, yet Warner Bros/DC could not find a single story from almost 60 years of comic archives by some of the greatest creators in the industry that would have worked in a movie? 

 

The other sad thing is that the villain most fans were truly excited to see doesn’t show up until the post credits scene. He looks amazing, and I look forward to seeing him in action. But again, in my comics background, that bad guy isn’t one of the JLA’s normal opponents.

 

I guess Steppenwolf is meant to be a kind of an harbinger of Darkseid, but outside of Steppenwolf saying the word “Darkseid” once in the film, the movie never mentions anything about that. 

 

It’s almost like the movie creators put a list of names of villains that could be powerful enough for the League to fight on a wall and just threw a dart at the wall to pick one at random. 

 

And don’t get me started on what happens with Superman. 

 

Ultimately, the movie suffers from the same thing that all of the DCCU movies have suffered from: they’re desperately trying to catch up to Marvel. But, they don’t want to spend the time in creating individual movies and building the characters up to a point where a movie with them working as a team makes sense. 

 

From a software perspective, it’s like rushing a product that tries to catch up to a competitor and trying to convince buyers that they have the same “feature set” as the competition, even though the competition has spent years getting to where they are. Look at this list of features, marketing says, we check all the same boxes as the other guys. 

 

That’s what Justice League is: See? We’ve got all the things as those other guys! They have six super-heroes; we have six heroes. They have witty banter; we have witty banter.  They save the world; our guys save the world, too. They care about protecting innocent civilians, and, now, so do our guys. 

 

And for better or worse, DC can now say they’ve checked off all the boxes, and that Justice League is “just the same” as the Avengers. 

 

Except that Marvel can still tell a better, more coherent story on their worst day.

 

I won’t even bother comparing it to Thor: Ragnarok, because that wouldn’t even be a fair fight. 

 

Justice League may check off all of the boxes and it may be better than the clusterfuck that BvS, but DC still has a long way to go before they’re able to put together something that competes with the Avengers. 

 

I wouldn’t rush out to see this one; maybe it’s worth a rental. A cheap rental.

As much as DC likes rebooting their comic universe lately, I’d say that maybe it’s time to boot Zack Snyder and start over. (Find a way to keep Gal Gadot though)

 

Additional Notes:

 

I found the second post credits scene to be a complete cringeworthy mess despite the fact of who shows up in it. It’s amazing that a single two minute scene can make you exclaim “Wait, what?!?”, then “Yes!”, then “Oh, for fuck’s sake” by the end. Again, you’d think this scene would drop hints that would tie this movie into the sequel, but nope, not so much. 

 

Will DC try to make individual movies for Superman and Batman (and Flash and/or Cyborg)? Aquaman is basically done, so they’re committed there. Obviously, Wonder Woman is a go as well. Flash seems to be getting pretty positive vibes from other reviews I’ve read, so… maybe?

 

There are also the constant rumors that Affleck wants out. Do they do an Affleck solo Batman movie and have him pass the torch to a younger guy to be the new Batman?  Do they just let him off after the solo Batman movie and then retcon Batman as a younger actor and hope nobody notices? 

(No, really, Batman is really this guy not that old Affleck guy – fake news!)

 

Of course, if not Affleck, then who would be the next to wear the cowl?

Suicide Squad: A Hot Mess

Although visually interesting and sprinkled with a few great performances and some humor, the mess of Suicide Squad’s story overshadows everything else. It still manages to entertain, though, making it better than Batman v. Superman, but BvS set the bar pretty low.

While it will likely make lots of money for DC, Suicide Squad also does nothing to prove that DC can produce a good comic-book movie outside of Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

Secret government person Amanda Waller wants to build a team to combat a potential future meta-human threat (i.e. What if the next “superman” wasn’t on our side). Instead of looking for potential “good guys” (because that relates to a different upcoming DC movie), Waller decides to use villains, including other meta-humans. Ultimately, she argues, the villains are expendable – if something goes south, they’ll throw the team under the bus.

Harley Quinn and Deadshot get the longest introductions since they both involve scenes with the Batman (Batfleck) and the Joker. The other members of the squad get shorter intros: Killer Croc, Diablo, Captain Boomerang, and the Enchantress. Colonel Rick Flag, a bad-ass best-of-the-best soldier is recruited to lead them. Oh, and Katana and Slipknot show up about an hour into the movie with no explanation. 

So after about 30-40 minutes setting up the Squad, someone realizes there should be a villain in the film, and that’s where things go completely off the rails. 

The villain, via a series of badly edited scenes, quickly sets up in Midway City? (because it can’t be Gotham or Metropolis?) and establishes that it’s going to do something very bad to the city (and the world?) and that the military is powerless to stop them. 

So, the Squad is activated. Each member of the team has a small explosive implanted in their necks that can be remotely detonated by Flag/Waller to ensure that they follow orders. Instead of pursuing the villain, Waller sends the team in to retrieve a high-value target in the city and escort them to safety.

So, yeah, although the squad was formed to combat evil meta-humans, and there’s a clear meta-human threat, the squad is sent on an entirely different mission. 

Of course, the squad ultimately winds up confronting the villain, but by that happens, you’ve given up on watching a cohesive story and are just rolling with what happens on screen. There’s a subplot with Joker in order give Jared Leto’s Joker some additional screen time, but outside of the flashbacks to establish Harley Quinn’s story, the entire Joker arc feels unnecessary and tacked on. 

The weirdest thing about the squad? There’s virtually no conflict amongst the team. They all go along with the orders they’re given, and despite that none of these characters were meant to be team players and are thrown together into this situation, they all work together with almost no conflict between each other. 

And, there’s something odd about the music choices. It’s not that the songs are bad, but they never feel like they’re played at the right moments. It feels like the choice to use classic rock songs was a deliberate attempt to try give the movie a “Guardians of the Galaxy vibe” without understanding how or why the music worked in that film.

As far as the cast goes, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn steals every scene she’s in. Viola Davis is excellent as the cool and fierce Amanda Waller. 

Will Smith is fine as Deadshot, with one exception. He’s given the Deadshot mask as part of his costume, but it seems like he’s got a clause in his contract that the audience must see his face on film 95% of the time. He puts the mask on twice in the film, and neither case makes any sense. Arrow’s version of Deadshot didn’t have the mask at all, so Smith would have been fine without it.

Jared Leto’s Joker is… fine, I guess. Trying to do something different from Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Dark Knight, Leto’s version is more of a crazed, tattooed gangster. He does bring some nice touches to the character, though.

Katana matches her comic-book version. Boomerang is kind of the comic relief of the film. Croc doesn’t have much screen time, but the look doesn’t feel quite right. Croc should have been much bigger, either via a suit or digital effects. Diablo looks great when he transforms.

And the Enchantress – She’s probably the worst part of the film. The initial set up is interesting by setting up the dual personas, and the transformation from June Moone to the Enchantress is pretty good. I don’t think it’s just Cara Delevingne’s performance; the entire arc around this character was so badly written that every scene with her in it disrupts the flow of the movie.

There are already stories out that state the studio got involved late in the project after the dismal reviews from BvS and even paid for some reshoots to add some levity to this film. I read one article that went as far as to say there were actually two different versions of the movie being put together at one point – David Ayer’s version, and the studio’s. 

It feels like the release was a mishmash of both versions, and it shows. Still, it could have been a LOT worse (for that, see last year’s Fantastic Four). 

There are a few great performances (Smith, Davis, and Robbie) in the film and, despite grinding to a halt story-wise halfway through, the movie does succeed in limping to the end and is, if nothing else, at least entertaining to watch. 

Unfortunately, DC still hasn’t managed to find the right combination of elements to produce a comic-book movie that matches the success or coherence of any of the Marvel films. It’s unfortunate, too, because I could have easily seen Suicide Squad capturing a lot of the elements from both Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool and create a distinct movie franchise. 

The Martian

TLDR: Go see it! Then, go buy the book, and read it!

I’ve seen a couple of reviews compare the Martian to Cast Away, and although the premise may be similar, the comparison doesn’t really do the story justice.

Based on Andy Weir’s first novel, the movie tells the story of Mark Watney. Watney is part of a series of manned missions to Mars called Ares, but when a massive storm forces the team of astronauts to abort their mission and leave the planet, Watney is struck by debris and tossed out of sight of the others. The electronics in his suit fail, making the others assume the worst. Because of the risk to their own lives, they have no other choice but to leave Mars, assuming that Watney died on the surface.

Only, (spoilers!), he didn’t die. Watney survived, but now he’s the only man on Mars, with no communications, 50 million miles away from Earth, and the next manned mission to the planet won’t arrive for another four years.

The movie is both a story of survival as Watney tries to solve the problems he’s facing on the desolate Martian landscape as well as the drama faced by both NASA and the other members of the Ares crew learn that Watney is alive and was left behind on Mars and struggle to find a way to rescue him.

Matt Damon is perfectly cast as Watney, and he does an amazing job in portraying both the humor and the emotional roller coaster Watney experiences as he fights to endure on Mars. The film balances everything well between both Mars and Earth, so viewers aren’t simply watching one man struggle to survive. They do a great job of handling the problem-solving scenes, setting up the problem, then watching as Watney or Watney and NASA work through the task at hand.

The cinematography of the vast, wide shots of the Martian landscape are gorgeous even though they serve to remind us of just how isolated Watney is.

Despite the smooth pacing of most of the movie, the film feels a bit rushed towards the end – as if someone was trying to keep the film from stretching out for three hours (which it may have if they didn’t speed things up). A couple of tense scenes from the end of the book are lost here, but it doesn’t detract from the overall story. As it is, the film clocks in at 2:14.

My only quibbles about the film are that the film ignores the fact that in the book Watney is both a mechanical engineer and a botanist. I always felt his expertise in both disciplines helped the character to survive. The film also leaves out some of the best lines from the book (which is why you should really read the book, too)

The movie is a very tense but enjoyable experience. Be forewarned, if you’re someone who gets emotional watching films, you may want to bring some tissues.

Back to Jurassic Park

A few weeks ago, one of my buddies had mentioned that he’d read Jurassic Park for the first time recently, and he was surprised at the number of differences between the book and the movie. I haven’t read the book since 1993 (around the time the movie came out), so it was a bit fuzzy. At this point I’ve seen the movie quite a few times, so it has kind of become “canon” in my memory. 

Last week, I was going through a slow purge of my existing books and stumbled across my paperback copies of both Jurassic Park and the Lost World. Inspired by my discussion with my friend, I decided to re-read both books. 

Here are some of the differences that I thought were interesting and/or was disappointed they left out of the movie. 

(Needless to say – uh, spoilers – for both the book and the movie. C’mon people you’ve had at least 20+ years to see the movie and/or read the book) 

1. The movie flips the ages and a couple of the personality traits of the kids. Lex is the older and the computer nerd, and Tim is the younger one and the dinosaur expert. In the book, Tim is still the dinosaur expert, but he’s the computer nerd and the oldest. Lex is the youngest and really doesn’t do much in the book (outside of petting and naming the dinosaurs they encounter. I prefer the movie switch, since it gives both kids something to do (Although I still cringe every time I hear “It’s a Unix system.” from that scene in the movie). The book also mentions the kids’ parents are divorcing, but it’s left out of the movie.

2. My favorite – and I chuckled at this as I read it – was that Alan Grant “loves kids” in the book. I didn’t mind that they made him uncomfortable around kids in the movie because it gave his character a chance to grow through the film, but it was a funny thing to read that line in the book.

3. The T-Rex is a much bigger antagonist in the book. All of the content about Grant and the kids taking a raft into the lagoon / river in the book are not in the movie. I’d completely forgotten about this, so I was disappointed (again) that they weren’t in the film. A couple of them – the scene where they learn the T-Rex can swim, and the waterfall scene where the raft is about to go over the falls to where the T-Rex is waiting below – would have been amazing on film.

4. I was happily surprised that a lot of the great lines from the movie came directly from the book.

5. The aviary and the opening scenes are left out of the book, but they are used in the other films. The opening scene of Jurassic Park becomes the opening scene for the Lost World movie. The aviary shows up in Jurassic Park III (you know, the one where you root for the dinosaurs to eat Tea Leoni’s character)

6. The main subplot of the book that’s completely left out of the movie is the concern about the dinosaurs getting off (and possibly already have gotten off) the island. It’s another point about “life finds a way” that the movie picks up when they discover that the dinosaurs are breeding, but the other, much greater concern, of dinosaurs getting off the island is left out. In fact, while the book describes the island being bombed to eradicate all life, the movie leaves the island intact, In fact, the end of the movies shows pterodactyls flying along side the helicopter as the survivors leave the island, and nobody is the least bit concerned. 

7. Speaking of survivors, the book makes it pretty clear that both Hammond and Malcolm die on the island. Both survive in the movie. The Lost World book has to quickly explain how Malcolm is now alive since he’s the main character in the story (turns out he was only “mostly” dead). 

Both the movie and the book are excellent, and it’d be worth your time to go and enjoy both again. Read the book first, then re-watch the movie.

For me, I’m moving on to reading the Lost World. 

Godzilla – What you'd expect

Much like last year’s Pacific Rim, if you walk into Godzilla looking for an Oscar-worthy performance (well, unless it’s from Godzilla himself), please move along. There’s nothing for you to see here.

But…

If you’re looking for a decent popcorn movie that’s all about giant freakin’ monsters stomping around our world while we helplessly watch with a bit of an “arrogance of man” message, then Godzilla is your movie. It’s not a great flick, but it’s a good movie that follows more in the tradition of the original movies and makes up for that 1998 disaster of a flick by the same name.

For me, the most depressing thing about this movie was the opening scene. It’s a flashback to 1999 (which, I think, is the second summer movie that has a 90s flashback – Spider-Man 2 being the other). I saw the “1999” title and sat there thinking, “1999? That wasn’t that long ago” …before quietly doing the math in my head. 

The flashback introduces an incident in Japan where a mysterious series of earthquakes takes out a nuclear reactor as well as sets up our main characters. The main character, Ford, is a boy at this point, and his parents work at the reactor.

Flash-forward to present-day, and Ford is an adult and a demolitions expert in the Navy who has just returned home to his wife and son in San Francisco.

He has to race to Japan to bail out his father, who, after losing their mother in the accident, has become a conspiracy theorist chasing a theory that the accident at the plant was not a natural occurrence. He believed something caused those quakes and the government has been covering it up ever since. 

Cut to Japan, Ford bails his father out. Dad (played by Bryan Cranston) is determined to retrieve data disks from their old home, which has been quarantined because of the radiation from the reactor, because it will give him the definitive proof about his theory.

For no apparent reason, Ford goes with his dad, and that kicks off the wild ride of the plot involving the humans. 

Every aspect of the human story is pretty forgettable. Ford goes to help his dad, then spends the rest of the movie trying to get home to his family. Along the way, he continually manages to be dragged into the conflict with the monsters. Ford could have handed the story off to another couple of characters and we could have followed them from point B to C. They could hand the story off to other characters to go from points C to D, and it wouldn’t have mattered.

The plot isn’t anything you haven’t heard of before: Stupid humans unwittingly awaken something they have no hope of controlling or understanding. Big monster starts leaving a trail of destruction. Although presumed dead (because the humans awoke something else back in the 50s and then immediately tried to kill it), Godzilla suddenly shows up and is now somehow aware of and in pursuit of the “bad” monster.

The big difference is that instead of tearing up Tokyo or New York, the big battle ends up heading for San Francisco. So, at least ,in one sense, we at least get to see massive destruction of a different city. 

There are a few scenes that dwell on the arrogance of man and argue that despite our bumbling of mankind to destroy our world, nature will find a way to restore the balance. 

Ironically, in a summer full of super-hero movies, Godzilla really plays out a lot like another super-hero movie…

Because Godzilla’s the hero Gotham… er, San Francisco deserves, but not the one it needs right now…and so we’ll hunt him, because he can take it. Because he’s not a hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector…a dark grayish green knight.”

I kid, but let’s face it – We’re here to watch giant freakin’ monsters duke it out – and they do. Sort of. 

That’s probably the most disappointing part of the movie. Just as we start to see the big fight scenes between Godzilla and the bad guys, the director decides that’s a good time to cut over to see what Ford or the other characters are doing. 

 The creature itself is also back to the one we know from our childhood and not the oddball super-big yet somehow also super-stealthy creature from the 1998 version.   This Godzilla isn’t all that concerned about all of the military hardware following or attacking him. 

Overall, though, it’s still a decent homage to the original movies from the 60s. Like Pacific Rim, it’s a fun flick to see in IMAX. Like disaster movies? Like giant monster movies? Godzilla is your movie. 

 

The "Amazing" Spider-Man 2 Review

 Okay, the Amazing Spider-Man 2 had some great scenes in it. Every fight scene with the web head doing his thing, swinging through the city, fighting the bad guys while making wisecracks and just plain having fun was amazing. The first confrontation with Electro had a great bit that really gave us a feel for what Spidey’s spider-sense does. 

There’s a couple of nice scenes with Spider-Man and a little nerdy kid. 

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have great chemistry on-screen and are annoyingly cute to watch even though the are-we-or-aren’t-we-dating story drags on for far too long. 

It’s a good summer popcorn movie that could probably have been shorter if that was the original intent of the producers. It seemed like the producers of the movie were too focused on the long game – meaning – they’re dying to transform Spider-Man into a mega multi-movie universe along the lines of what Marvel Studios has done with the Avengers. (Spider-Man’s movie rights are owned by Sony – and they let you know it throughout the film) 

At the end of the day, though, you have a few great scenes wrapped up in a mess of a 2hr, 22min film that milks the love story as long as it can yet rushes to introduce villains, transform them via the most ridiculous means, and turn them against Spider-Man with very little back story. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it weren’t for the fact that the bad guys will likely be back in the sequels. 

While it may be a great idea to create a multi-movie franchise like Marvel Studios, if the first movie(s) aren’t very good, why on earth would audiences bother going to the sequels? After this film, I have little desire to see a “Sinister-Six” movie. (The next “Spider-Man” movie is going to focus on the villains – and will come out before an Amazing Spider-Man 3)

The movie has the elements there, and if they were shaken up and re-assembled in a different order, you might have wound up with a better overall story.

Case in point – There was a scene between Harry and Peter in the trailers where Harry showed Peter that OSCORP had Peter under surveillance, and it was cut from the movie. There was another cut scene from the trailers between Harry and Norman Osborn where they’re discussing Peter where Harry says “What about Peter?” to which Norman replies “Not everyone gets to have a happy ending.”

The movie focuses so much on OSCORP that it seems a shame that those two bits were cut from the film because it could have helped build up this larger epic conflict between OSCORP and the Parker(s). 

(BEGIN SPOILER) – Skip this section if you don’t want to know anything about the movie.

So, imagine how this would work —

Harry comes back to visit his dying father. His father reveals his legacy and fills him in on the research that he was doing with Richard Parker and that Peter may be the “key” to Harry’s survival.

After Norman dies, Harry is going though his father’s “Special Projects” files and stumbles across the research into the radioactive spiders. He also sees that Peter has been under surveillance and finds a video diary entry from Norman discussing his belief (but can’t prove) that Peter may be Spider-Man. 

Now, Harry has motivation to start hanging out with Peter again in order to rebuild their friendship. Show several quick scenes of them together (not the same sequence – make it clear that it’s different dates). 

Later, they have the conversation in OSCORP that we see in the trailer where Harry is showing Peter the surveillance footage while Harry quietly watches Peter and wonders if his father was right about the idea that Peter is Spider-Man. 

This would occur before Harry asks Peter to help him locate Spider-Man because he may be the key to saving Harry’s life.

(END SPOILER)

Anyway… 

Although The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has some great moments in it, they’re not enough to overcome the weakness of the overall story. It’s a decent popcorn summer movie, but it could have been better or at the very least mercifully shorter.

——————————–

This is a great FAQ (WARNING: SPOILERS!) that jokes about a lot of the good and bad elements of the film. It’s written by Rob Bricken who wrote another ingenious FAQ last year about Star Trek: Into Darkness.

http://io9.com/the-amazing-spider-man-2-the-amazing-spoiler-faq-1572405038

Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

NOTE: If you haven’t seen it, remember, in true Marvel fashion, stick around for the credits. There are two additional scenes during the credits. I missed the second one, so I’ll have to catch it the next time.

Despite falling into more of a traditional action movie towards the end, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has a solid story that also displays a great deal of depth for its main characters and makes the movie the strongest Marvel Studios movie to date.

You might be turned off by the title, thinking that this is a “super-hero” movie, and, well, it is. Instead, consider Captain America: The Winter Soldier as more of a political thriller whose main characters happen to be super-heroes.

The opening 20 minutes feel more like something out of James Bond than a big super-hero spectacle. Then you realize, oh, wait. SHIELD is supposed to be a spy agency.

I’m not a huge fan of Captain America, and for the most part, nothing in the first movie nor the Avengers changed my mind. But, the opening scene really changed my mind.

This movie transforms Captain America/Steve Rogers into a great character. Although Rogers has always had a desire to serve his country, he begins to question Nick Fury and, once he learns of SHIELD’s latest initiative, both SHIELD and his role in this new world. Add this to Rogers still adjusting to living in the 21st century, and there’s a lot of dimension to this soldier. 

Something else that I don’t remember seeing in the first film that I thought was a great touch was that, like the latest Batman movies, Cap now seems to have his own fighting style and using his shield is a big part of that style. It’s not that Cap needs the shield to fight, but we now see him wield the shield with the same expertise a master samurai would wield his katana.

This time around, Cap is caught in the middle of a much bigger story and he quickly learns not to trust anyone at SHIELD, well, except Black Widow. The two of them begin digging into a mystery involving Nick Fury and someone called The Winter Soldier, which SHIELD treating Cap and Widow as fugitives. The fugitive angle also forces both characters to spend most of the movie out of costume, which helps make them closer to being “normal” people.

There’s a great chemistry between Cap and Black Widow in this movie, and despite a quick kissing scene, there’s no attempt to force Widow into a love interest. In fact, part of the banter they have is Widow trying to play matchmaker for Cap. 

Black Widow has a lot more to do in the movie as well. We learn a great deal more about her character, and being the spy who “gets the job done” plays well against Cap’s sense of justice.

Sam Wilson, a former soldier and veteran’s counselor that Cap meets early in the movie also gets sucked into the story when Cap and Widow need a place to hide. He also gives Cap a glimpse into life outside of being a soldier as well as someone else whose lost a partner in war. We eventually learn that he flew a very, um, unique craft during the war.

There are a couple of big reveals about the villains of the movie before the action ratchets up that I won’t go into. 

Once the action gets going, it almost becomes a completely different film where the explosions are big and the snappy one-liners kick in. The movie quickly recovers though, and there are some big ramifications to the story after the fireworks die down.

Overall, though, the movie works as a great action-thriller with touches of super-hero stuff thrown into the mix. It’s probably the most complex story I’ve seen in any of the Marvel movies, and that’s a good thing. 

The Conjuring: Don't watch the trailers!

The Conjuring is one of those movies where you’re probably better off not watching any of the trailers beforehand in order to get the maximum scare value for your money.

That being said, the Conjuring manages to be scary using lighting, sounds and background music to create the creepy atmosphere without using a lot of gore. 

It’s “based on a true story” which is at least loosely accurate. The Warrens really did exist and they were a well known husband and wife team of paranormal investigators. They are best known for another haunting investigation that you probably have heard of in Amityville (as in The Amityville Horror).

The Conjuring is based on another case where the Warrens help the Perron family who are experiencing increasingly disturbing events in their home in Rhode Island in 1971. Ed played his original interview of Carolyn Perron to producer Tony DeRosa-Grund. Loraine also helped consult on the film once it started production.

Outside of that, you’ll have to make up your own mind about what happened to the Perron family. 

The film takes great pains in recreating the 1971 environment, which helps hearken back to the other classic horror films from the 70s, like the Amityville Horror.

it delivers on the classic horror film with a couple of interesting twists. The movie title itself is a bit misleading which you’ll understand by the end of the film. I think the biggest danger about this movie is watching the trailers. Some of the scares are in the trailers, so you know they’re coming. 

Still, without those, there are still plenty of scares that you won’t necessarily see coming. I can think of a couple that caught most of the audience off guard. I was also kind of pulled out of the movie because I recognized the actors playing Roger and Carolyn Perron. 

It’s directed by James Wan who directed Insidious, but I think this is a much better movie. I lost interest in Insidious near the last third of the film. The Conjuring is a bit of a slow burn, but is overall worth watching.