Tag: Marvel (page 2 of 7)

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

It really feels like Marvel Studios can do just about anything. Back when it was announced as a film, Guardians of the Galaxy felt like a risk, an out-of-the-blue change in direction. Most franchises prefer to play it safe, sticking with the recognized story and character beats known to work. But Marvel’s big idea dreamers do not rest on their laurels. They looked outward from the world of the Avengers and began to pull in more threads from the greater universe. But they’ve done this before – several years ago, Iron Man was relatively obscure in comparison to other superheroes that have graced the silver screen, and now Tony Stark and Robert Downey Jr are practically synonymous. Marvel takes chances. They try new things. And they went back to the well of obscurity and elevated a band of five cosmic misfits into this summer’s most anticipated blockbuster.

Courtesy Marvel Studios

Peter Quill was eight years old when he got abducted from his homeworld. Having grown up among a rather nasty band of pirates called the Ravagers, the Terran is on the trail of a mysterious orb people are paying good money to acquire. There are also those who would rather kill than pay: Ronan the Accuser, a Kree extremist, dispatches one of his chief lackey, Korath the Pursuer, to retrieve the orb. Quill (who for some reason calls himself ‘Star-Lord’) escapes to Xandar, home of Ronan’s enemies. Ronan sets the assassin Gamora on the trail, while the Ravagers post a bounty for Quill, a hefty sum saught by Rocket (an enhanced raccoon) and his best friend Groot. When they wind up in prison together, along with a well-spoken but driven maniac named Drax, they hatch a scheme to escape and split the reward for the orb, even as Ronan hunts them down.

As a complete, start-to-finish film, Guardians of the Galaxy has a consistent and strong storyline that is not difficult to follow. Its tone has a tendency to vary, but that is definitely a strength rather than a weakness. James Gunn, director of Slither and Super, is just as adept with comedy as he is with emotional scenes heavy with pathos. In the final equation, it balances out extremely well. The heavier scenes pulls us into sympathetic embraces with our characters, and their comedic turns let off some of the pressure to pave the way for more antics and action.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
Something tells me they don’t want to talk about having a personal relationship with Galactus.

These characters, in addition, are definitely worthy of their places in Marvel’s cinematic universe. In particular, I was very happy with Gamora’s characterization. In my previous discussion, purely based on some erroneous conjecture, I feared that she would exist as the ‘token girl’ and disappoint in doing little more than rolling her eyes at the tomfoolery of the males. Thankfully, she is very much her own character, with agency, drive, and independence, from start to finish. I was wrong in what I said before; I couldn’t be happier to admit that. What we see on screens is most definitely the deadliest woman in the galaxy, and Zoe Saldana brings her to vibrant, captivating life.

The two CG characters, Rocket and Groot, are incredibly well-realized. Rocket, in particular, is a wonder just to behold. While we’ve seen mo-cap characters before, Rocket is easily believable with his attitude, outlook, pain, and power. You actually feel something for the little guy. Similiarly, Groot conveys a great deal without saying more than a few words. His expressions, actions, and presence all speak to an individual that means well, and that can’t help but stand out in light of other characters behaving in very selfish ways. As for Drax, I definitely need to see the movie again because I swear I missed some of his loquacious dialog in the middle of all the ray-guns and explosions. I like what they’ve done with him and I’m eager to see more.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
“I’d flash you my business card, but my hands are too full of guns.”

The glue holding the entire endeavour together, however, is Chris Pratt as Peter Quill. This man is going to be very busy in the years to come. He carries the mantle of leading man very well. His performance draws out the best in the cast around him, and he very much gets both what motivates his character and how the audience can relate to him. Under the flippant demeanor and die-hard nostalgia is some very real pain and more than a couple unresolved issues, and as I mentioned before, the whole film exists in the same balance between the two feelings. Both the actor and the story do more than just walk that line, however; they outright dance on it.

I could spend a lot more time discussing the villains, universe, and greater implications of Guardians of the Galaxy, as it is a surprisingly dense film in terms of lore and setting. There is a huge universe implied in almost every shot of the movie, and I am merely scratching the surface. What I will say is this: we have not had a romp through space like this since Serenity, and even that had a rather intimate scope within which to tell its tale. In many ways, Guardians of the Galaxy is the direct opposite of the previous Marvel film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but that just makes them two sides of the same excellent coin. The previous film was a powerful story of intrigue and personal trial with a very modern bent; this one is a deliberate throwback to more whimsical tales like Flash Gordon or Star Wars, but bearing extremely modern sensibilities. The universe we behold has a very lived-in feel, is filled with color and wonder, and clearly contains perils and unknown terrors that are ripe for the exploration. It expands Marvel’s cinematic arm exponentially, and gives us just the right mix of heroes and villains to leave us wanting more.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
Even minor characters have distinct personalities and memorable traits.

As a movie-goer and erstwhile critic, I would say Guardians of the Galaxy is exemplary science-fiction action-adventure storytelling that I unreservedly recommend. As a long-standing fan of the comics, particularly since I picked it up back when Dan Abnett was starting to write the team we see on screen, I could not be happier. Much like our first real shot of the Avengers, seeing these misfits, murderers, and makers of mayhem come to vibrant life tugs at all of the right strings in my heart. Guardians of the Galaxy is exactly what you want and precisely what we need in the middle of summer surrounded by drek and drudgery: a damn good time at the movies. It is definitely worth seeing. Just don’t be surprised if you do, in fact, get hooked on a feeling.

500 Words on Marvel

Courtesy Ms Sackhoff's Twitter

As I write this, San Diego Comic-Con, arguably one of the biggest gatherings of so-called ‘geeks’ or ‘nerds’ in his hemisphere, is taking place. The Marvel panel is, I believe, tomorrow, and there are likely to be announcements as to what is coming up for the studio behind The Avengers and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. I have this feeling of both excitement and trepidation. As much as I like what Marvel has done and is doing, I have some fears about the future.

Guardians of the Galaxy looks amazing. I’m intrigued by the implications of the plot being developed for Avengers: Age of Ultron. And the mere mention of a Doctor Strange film might elicit what can only be described as a ‘squee’ from Yours Truly. But in the midst of all of this, I have yet to see Marvel do something to truly push them into the forefront when it comes to universal appeal in excellent entertainment.

Marvel needs a solo female lead.

There are a few female characters that have shown well-rounded characterization: Pepper Potts, Natasha Romanoff, Maria Hill, Melinda May, etc. But none of them have carried their own story yet. In this, and pretty much this alone, Marvel and DC have something in common. While DC is still struggling to carve out its own identity, as they try keep pace with Marvel as well as emerging from the shadow of Nolan’s bat, Marvel distinguishes itself in almost every other regard.

This is also an issue when it comes to characters of color, but with the Falcon being such a breakout star in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and The Black Panther all but confirmed, I feel it’s been more addressed than the issue of a solo female lead. I would love to see it happen. And I would dearly love for it to be Captain Marvel.

Carol Danvers is one of my favorite ladies of Marvel. Kelly Sue Deconnick’s take on her in particular is an absolute delight. Despite being imbued with superpowers and having worked in the male-oriented military for so long, Carol is still very much her own woman, and a very human character. The image above, envisioning the incomparable Katee Sackhoff as Carol, fills me with hope. I know it may be a long shot – Fiege and company have yet to really address things – but the idea remains.

Another idea occurs: what if Doctor Strange was female?

While we’re talking about dream casting, if Strange remains male, I’d love to see Oded Fehr play the role. He has charisma, gravitas, and he breaks the mold of stereotypical white male protagonism. However, a female Strange would be excellent. Can you imagine a Sorceress Supreme battling cosmic forces that break the minds of lesser humans?

And what about Gina Torres or Aisha Tyler as She-Hulk? Think about it.

This is all speculation, but honestly, Marvel needs this. DC would have no hope of catching up.

Until Orci & Kurtzman write Iron Man Into Darkness, Make Mine Marvel!

Rise of the Guardians (Of The Galaxy)

Courtesy Moarvel Studios

I know there are folks out there who try to live spoiler-free. I can’t say I blame them. Walking into a new film with fresh eyes and clean expectations is a good thing. For them, I’ll be putting most of this post behind spoiler tags. In my position, I admit to a level of concern when it comes to the Guardians of the Galaxy film opening on August 1. Both Dan Abnett and Brian Michael Bendis have done great things with the comics, and I’m fine with an adaptation deviating from the source material if done well. On the whole, I’m cautiously optimistic and very enthusiastic about the film’s release.

For the most part, the sneak peek event I was fortunate enough to attend on Monday reinforced most of my expectations. Folks, if you have had faith in Marvel Studios so far, in terms of quality films that bring comic book heroes to vibrant life, as well as portraying them as characters with depth, that faith will continue to be justified. I’ll go into detail below, but I can honestly say I am not just excited about, but also confident in, Guardians of the Galaxy.

If you’re cool with spoilers, read on.

Spoiler

Right from the off, I’ve had good feelings about this film. The reason why was apparent in the opening of the footage shown on Monday: an extended version of the line-up seen in the first trailer. The big difference was that Thanos was almost immediately name-dropped when Rhomann Dey was going over Gamora’s rap sheet. While there is bound to be a bunch of exposition in this film, as the Guardians are relatively unknown in relation to the Avengers, what we’ve heard is handled pretty well, and a good portion of it is coming from Rocket.

Speaking of Rocket, it seems that when we open our story, the pint-sized gun-toting mammal is the de facto leader of this group of misfits, laying out plans and keeping spirits up. He’s described as a ‘tactical genius’ but we actually see it in action, which is good. Equally good is Bradley Cooper’s voice work for Rocket. The attitude is palpable, and the CGI is impressive. There’s a shot in the extended trailer where Rocket is calling out Ronan (more on him later) and his ears are back and his tail agitated. I love such attention to detail. Finally, there’s a quiet moment when we see Rocket’s cybernetic implants, and the scene in shot and scored in such a way that we get a vibe from Rocket not unlike Adam Jensen from Deus Ex: Human Revolution: he never asked for this. He’s very angry, and we start to see why.

Rocket is, of course, not alone. It’s easy to make fun of Vin Diesel and how he got handed the voice work for a ‘simple’ character – Groot, after all, has a three-word vocabulary. Thankfully, though, as in the comics, Groot’s language is actually very nuanced. Every time he says ‘I am Groot’, he is saying something different. This is clear in Diesel’s inflections and the facial expressions on the CGI-crafted walking tree. Again, this is impressive work. Be he flinging people around or letting Star-Lord climb him to reach a higher level within the Kyln (the prison to which they’re sent in the beginning), Groot moves with weight and has a definite presence.

Speaking of Star-Lord, I really like the fact that he seems out of his league surrounded by the others at first. These misfits with whom he’s been thrown are definitely the sort to bring out the best in him. I feel like he’s not only our point-of-view character, he’s also going to have a definite arc. He’s coming from a place of relative isolation and aimless wandering, clinging to what he can. The lines delivered when a Kyln guard takes his Walkman feel like they come from a very raw, personal place. He feels like a character audiences are going to get behind without much trouble.

Of the whole scene we saw, I have to say what impressed me most was the direction they’re going with Drax. Somewhat of a taciturn presence in the comics, the film has changed him from an uplifted human with a singular purpose – killing Thanos – to a member of an alien species that do not understand metaphors and are quite happy to get into a fight. Rather than simply brooding and smoldering, Bautista is given loquacious lines that describe to whom he’s speaking, allowing him to act as a straight man to the proceedings. I’m very excited to see more of this version of Drax in action.

I left Gamora for last among the principles because, to be honest, she’s the character I’m the most concerned about. As much as it seems they’ve nailed her attitude and approach to challenges – don’t ask how she got the remote off of that guard’s arm – I fear that they also cast her in the role of rolling her eyes at the conversations and antics of the others the way a mother would. However, that’s mostly from the trailer – in the footage I saw, her line is “I am going to die surrounded by idiots.” Better, but still worrisome. I could potentially be concerned over nothing, but Gamora needs to be an interesting and compelling character on her own, not just part of the mix so we have the token girl acting as a spoilsport around the idiot boys. It’s been seen quite a few times before, and I think she deserves better than that.

We also finally get a good look at our on-the-ground villain, Ronan.

Courtesy Marvel Studios

He looks a little terrifying. Ronan the Accuser is kind of a cosmic Judge Dredd. Considering that all five of our heroes operate outside of most galactic laws, and more than likely in direct defiance of Kree laws, Ronan has good motivation for hunting them, outside of being a lackey of Thanos. The Novas know that Gamora and Nebula were ‘loaned out’ to Ronan by Thanos, but we don’t know why. I suspect that the orb we see Star-Lord trying to pinch when he gets caught by Korath the Pursuer (another Kree, in case you didn’t know) was resting in a Kree vault, meaning Ronan definitely has an axe (or, in his case, hammer) to grind.

As much as I might have ‘spoiled’ some things for myself, there’s so much I don’t know. I can suspect, but I am not certain. My thinking is that upon escaping the Kyln, our heroes will flee to Knowhere (the big floating head seen in the trailers), and that might be where the Collector is hanging his hat. From there the plot would likely develop with Peter wanting to save the galaxy and needing to convince the others to help him do it. But I only suspect that’s the case. I don’t know what role Nebula is going to play – is she a spy for Thanos in Ronan’s camp? Will Ronan need to be put down as a war criminal, or will he realize that his pursuit of his vision of justice will mean the loss of innocent lives? I have questions, and a few concerns, but considering how good things look, the direction this seems to be taken, and the peerless quality of what I’ve seen and heard so far, only one question really matters.


Is it August yet?

Movie Review: X-Men Days of Future Past

I’d be one of the first to sing the praises of Marvel’s cinematic arm from the rooftops. Their connected films have maintained a reasonable baseline of quality, with its weaker films still being decent or fun to watch. Unfortunately, movies of Marvel franchises outside of the actual Marvel Studios have had a rougher road. Spider-Man’s suffered through a very dodgy reboot, the Punisher’s outings have been divisive, and a lot of comic fans would rather not discuss Daredevil. As for the X-Men, Marvel’s team of mutant misfits has been around for quite a long time, and X-Men: First Class made a move towards rendering some of the rougher outings of Xavier’s gifted youngers superfluous. X-Men: Days of Future Past goes one step further, driving nails into the coffin of those movies best left unnamed.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Things are not going well for the X-Men. Incredibly powerful and highly adaptive robot killers called Sentinels, originally programmed to hunt mutants, now dominate the planet. All of humanity save for its very worst are oppressed and face extinction. Guided by Professor X and Magneto, the few remaining X-Men hatch a desperate plan. The theory is that if the assassination of the Sentinels’ creator, Bolivar Trask, by the mutant Mystique is prevented, the future will be altered. Therefore, one of the X-Men must allow their consciousness to be projected back in time to their younger body. The only mutant with the regenerative capabilities to survive this journey is Wolverine, and it is he who suddenly awakens in 1973, looking for Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr.

It should be fairly obvious that what we have here is retroactive continuity, or a ‘retcon’. This is the third X-Men movie directed by Bryan Singer, and the prevailing sentiment is that things have been inconsistent since he gave up the helm. X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine are both held in largely universal contempt. The Wolverine had some good ideas, and X-Men: First Class was a welcome return to high-quality mutant storytelling. It seemed, at the time, that Matthew Vaughn was mostly interested in starting the timeline over – the Marvel universe, after all, has acknowledged the presence of multiple universes and timelines for a long time. Singer, for his part, has seized onto one of the most beloved tales from the comics and uses it to whip the mutant franchise back into line with his vision.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox & Empire
The more things change…

Unlike the bright color pallete of Matthew Vaughn’s film, though, Singer returns to his beloved barely-accented black leather as if it’s still 2003 and everybody is chasing the Wachowskis. He is so eager to push characters and elements of the story into position for his glorious return that he skims over a lot of details. This is especially true in his vision of the Sentinel-dominated future: some characters are barely introduced or characterized, others have powers that make no sense or have no explanation, etc. In other words, characters exist for the sake of the plot, rather than moving the plot of their own volition, which is a mark of lazy and lackluster storytelling. And while we’re on the subject, I’m still not sure how I feel about the overall use of Kitty Pryde and Mystique in the film. These are powerful, even iconic female characters in this franchise, yet they feel like they’re barely there, despite Mystique’s central role in the plot. I can’t point to any one aspect of their roles that gives me this disturbed feeling, but it hangs over the proceedings like a dark cloud.

However, it’s not all bad news. Not by a long shot. Continuing to be one of the most inspired casting choices since Christopher Reeves’ Superman, Hugh Jackman does a great job as Logan, breathing much-needed life and presence into what could have been a dull plod of a proceeding. Also returning are Michael Fassbender as the younger Magneto and James McAvoy as younger Xavier, and they still have the chemistry, intellectual fortitude and emotional pathos that made First Class so good. The scene between McAvoy and Patrick Stewart as his older self is amazing, and should have been left out of the trailers to make its already significant impact even more powerful. Our nominal bad guy, Bolivar Trask, is actually a nuanced character, and while he isn’t given that much to do, Peter Dinklage makes the most of every scene he’s in. Much like First Class, there isn’t a great deal of action, but what action we do get is staged very well, some of it carrying satisfying tension while one scene in particular is paired with a fantastic musical sting that actually made a ‘bullet-time’ gimmick fun to watch.

Courtesy 20th Century Fox & Empire
Like First Class, seeing these two interact is one of the highlights of the film.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is decent and enjoyable. It’s not as good as First Class, but the way it handles the other previous films gives me hope that Singer is moving away from the negative aspects of said films (see most of my criticism above) and towards plots and performances that let the characters guide the story, rather than the story pushing the characters around. Singer is attached to direct X-Men: Apocalypse, and it seems that he has some interesting ideas in that regard. Days of Future Past was a movie all about the restoration of hope, and it accomplishes this goal, not only for the characters, but also for the audience.

Welcome Back, Carter

Courtesy Marvel Studios

I know that not everyone is a fan of Marvel’s recent forays into television. There can be an implied obligation to watch the shows to ensure nothing is missed between films, and I can understand why that’s a turn-off. I’m not going to defend either side of the argument, nor am I going to sing the praises of Agents of SHIELD here. However, with the announcement of Agent Carter, I wanted to take a moment to point out, from a high-level perspective, what a good thing this is.

For those of you who don’t know, the character of Agent Carter was introduced in Captain America: The First Avenger. Played by Hayley Atwell, Margaret “Peggy” Carter was part of the group that recruited Steve Rogers, assisting in his training and giving him guidance. She’s more than capable of holding her own in a fight, demonstrates intelligence and poise, and even presented herself in a way that you wouldn’t be surprised to find reproduced on the nose-cone of a B-17 bomber. Quite well-rounded and polished, she was definitely an equal to the all-American Super Soldier.

Marvel produced a one-shot that featured Carter on her own. Set a year after the events of the film, Carter is working for the Strategic Scientific Reserve, where the male leadership see her as little more than a glorified secretary. She takes it upon herself to follow up on a lead that seems insignificant and uncovers a major potential threat. In the wake of her heroism, Howard Stark approaches her to become part of the organization that will become known as SHIELD, and that is more than likely the jumping-off point for the series.

I have no idea if the show is going to be good or not. So far, Marvel has demonstrated high production values, excellent world-building (even if it was a touch slow in Agents of SHIELD – it got better), and good characterization. This leads me to believe that Agent Carter will be just fine in that regard. But let’s not overlook the fact that this show, with a female protagonist in a time period when such a thing would be inconceivable to the rich, conceited men in charge of the entertainment industry, just got greenlit, whereas Wonder Woman can’t get more than a cameo in someone else’s movie.

Marvel’s track record isn’t perfect. Iron Man 2 was probably their roughest outing so far, but it did introduce us to Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of the Black Widow, another character who has really come into her own, especially in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While Jane Foster & Darcy are overshadowed by the Asgardians in the Thor films, Lady Sif has no trouble standing shoulder to shoulder with Thor and the other demigods of that world. Pepper Potts and Maria Hill definitely have strong characters of their own, and Agents of SHIELD‘s ensemble is a good balance of male and female alike. It’s things like this that, more and more, make it look like DC simply can’t get its shit together. I hear good things about their Arrow television series, but I’ve honestly been too busy keeping up with Agents of SHIELD to get up to speed with that show.

Not unlike when Sony started running away with a good portion of the video game industry while Sega struggled to keep up, Marvel continues to outstrip the competition. With Agent Carter, that is still the case, but it’s more in the sense of progressiveness than profit. Again, I have no idea if the show will actually be good – I certainly hope it is. But the fact that the show exists at all, let alone greenlit for a run on one of the United States’ biggest television networks, feels to me like a universal good, a step in the right direction, and another reason that, until Superman stops brooding and Batman gets his throat fixed, you can Make Mine Marvel.

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