Film Review: Avengers: Endgame (dir by the Russo Brothers)


(Minor Spoilers Below!  Read at your own risk.)

So, how long does the no spoiler rule for Avengers: Endgame apply?  There’s so much that I want to say about this film but I know that I shouldn’t because, even though it had a monstrous opening weekend, there are still people out there who have not had a chance to see the film.  And while this review will have minor spoilers because, otherwise, it would be impossible to write, I’m not going to share any of the major twists or turns.

I will say this.  I saw Avengers: Endgame last night and it left me exhausted, angry, sad, exhilarated, and entertained.  It’s a gigantic film, with a plot that’s as messy and incident-filled as the cinematic universe in which it takes place.  More than just being a sequel or just the latest installment in one of the biggest franchises in cinematic history, Avengers: Endgame is a monument to the limitless depths of the human imagination.  It’s a pop cultural masterpiece, one that will make you laugh and make you cheer and, in the end, make you cry.  It’s a comic book film with unexpected emotional depth and an ending that will bring a tear to the eye of even the toughest cynic.  By all logic, Avengers: Endgame is the type of film that should collapse under its own weight but instead, it’s a film that thrives on its own epic scope.  It’s a three-hour film that’s never less than enthralling.  Even more importantly, it’s a gift to all of us who have spent the last ten years exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The film itself starts almost immediately after the “Snap” that ended Avengers: Infinity War and we watch as Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner, returning to the franchise after being absent in the previous film) finds himself powerless to keep his family from disintegrating.  After often being dismissed as the Avengers’s weak link, both Clint Barton and Jeremy Renner come into their own in the film.  As one of two members of the Avengers who does not have super powers, Clint serves as a everyperson character.  He’s a reminder that there’s more at stake in Endgame than just the wounded pride of a few super heroes.  When Thanos wiped out half the universe, he didn’t just wipe out Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and Groot.  He also left very real wounds that will never be healed.

When the film jumps forward by five yeas, we discover that the world is now a much darker place.  When we see New York, the once vibrant city is now gray and deserted.  Our surviving heroes have all dealt with the Snap in their own way.  Clint is now a vigilante, killing anyone who he feels should have been wiped out by Thanos but wasn’t.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) drinks and eats and feels sorry for himself.  Captain America (Chris Evans) attends support groups and, in one nicely done scene, listens as a man talks about his fear of entering into his first real relationship in the years since “the Snap.”  Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is living as a recluse and is still blaming himself.  Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is now an avuncular, huge, and very green scientist.  Only Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) remains convinced that the Snap can somehow be undone.  She’s right, of course.  But doing so will involve some unexpected sacrifices and a lot of time travel….

And that’s as much as I can tell you, other than to say that the film takes full advantage of both the time travel aspects (yes, there are plenty of Back to the Future jokes) and its high-powered cast.  With our heroes — which, along with the usual Avengers, also include Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) — hopping through time and space, we get a chance to revisit several of the films that led up to Endgame and it’s a thousand times more effective than it has any right to be.  Yes, one could argue that the cameos from Robert Redford, Tom Hiddleston, Hayley Atwell, and others were essentially fan service but so what?  The fans have certainly earned it and the MCU has earned the chance to take a look back at what it once was and what it has since become.

Indeed, Avengers: Endgame would not work as well as it does if it hadn’t been preceded by 21 entertaining and memorable movies.  It’s not just that the MCU feels like a universe that it as alive as our own, one that is full of wonder, mystery, sadness, and love.  It’s also that we’ve spent ten years getting to know these characters and, as a result, many of them are much more than just “super heroes” to us.  When Tony Stark and Captain America argue over whether it’s even worth trying to undo the Snap, it’s an effective scene because we know the long and complicated history of their relationship.  When the Avengers mourn, we mourn with them because we know their pain.  We’ve shared their triumphs and their failures.  Tony Stark may be a guy in an iron suit but he’s also a man struggling with his own demons and guilt.  Steve Rogers may be a nearly 100 year-old super solider but he’s also every single person who has struggled to make the world a better place.  As strange as it may be to say about characters known as Iron Man, Captain America, and the Black Widow, we feel like we know each and every one of them.  We care about them.

Needless to say, the cast is huge and one of the great things about the film is that previously underused or underestimated performers — like Jeremy Renner, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Don Cheadle, and Karen Gillan — all finally get a chance to shine.  As always, the heart of the film belongs to Chris Evans while Robert Downey, Jr. provides just enough cynicism to keep things from getting to superficially idealistic.  Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo get most of the film’s big laughs, each playing their borderline ludicrous characters with just the right combination of sincerity and humor.  Of course, Josh Brolin is back as well and he’s still perfectly evil and arrogant as Thanos.  But whereas Thanos was the focus of Infinity War, Endgame focuses on the heroes.  If Infinity War acknowledged that evil can triumph, Endgame celebrates the fact that good never surrenders.

As Endgame came to an end, I did find myself wondering what the future is going to hold for the MCU.  A part of me wonders how they’re going to top the past ten years or if it’s even possible to do so.  Several mainstays of the MCU say goodbye during Endgame and it’s hard to imagine the future films without their presence.  It’s been hinted that Captain Marvel is going to be one of the characters holding the next phase of the  MCU together and, fortunately, Brie Larson is a quite a bit better in Endgame than she was in her previous MCU film.  Hopefully, regardless of what happens in the future, Marvel and Disney will continue to entrust their characters to good directors, like the Russo Brothers, James Gunn, and Taika Waititi.  (Wisely, Disney reversed themselves and rehired James Gunn for the next Guardians of the Galaxy film.  Of course, Gunn never should have been fired in the first place….)

And that’s really all I can say about Avengers: Endgame right now, other than to recommend that you see it.  In fact, everyone in the world needs to hurry up and see it so we can finally start talking about the film without having to post spoiler warnings!

For now, I’ll just say that Avengers: Endgame is a powerful, emotional, and entertaining conclusion to one of the greatest cinematic sagas ever.

Lisa Reviews Avengers: Infinity War (dir by Joe and Anthony Russo)


(Warning: There are spoilers in this review.  They’re not necessarily huge spoilers but they’re there.  Read at your own risk.)

Avengers: Infinity War is a lot of things.  It’s big, it’s thrilling, it’s emotional, it’s colorful, it’s loud, it’s flamboyant, and, clocking in at two and a half hours, it’s occasionally a bit exhausting.  It’s overwhelming but it’s never boring.  It’s a nearly perfect example of pure cinema, where the story is less about what happens and more how it’s told. It’s a tribute to not just the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also to the audiences who have been flocking to each movie since Iron Man was first released way back in 2008.  Avengers: Infinity War is a pop art masterpiece, one that provides the first part of a climax to a saga that’s been unfolding for ten years.

In the days leading up to the release of Avengers: Infinity War, the main selling point was the assumption that this movie would feature every single character that’s been introduced as a citizen of the MCU so far.  Though the film comes close to including everyone, there are still a few characters who are notable for their absence.  Ant-Man and the Wasp are nowhere to be seen.  None of the Marvel Television characters show up, which is a shame because I’m sure Jessica Jones would have had some choice words about the potential end of the universe.  Two familiar SHIELD agents make a brief appearance, though you have to wonder where they were when New York and Wakanda were being invaded.

That said, all of the big heroes show up.  Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) flies into space with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland).  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) teams up with Rocket Racoon and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively).  When Wakanda is attacked, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), White Wolf (Sebastian Stan), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Rhodey (Don Cheadle), and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) are all present to defend it.  Meanwhile, Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) continue to pursue their odd relationship while Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) search for Gamora’s father, Thanos (Josh Brolin).

It’s a packed film and the fact that it works as well as it does is a testament to the power of perfect casting and movie star charisma.  At this point, we feel as if we know these characters.  We know that Tony Stark is going to be haunted by what happened the last time Thanos’s minions involved New York.  We know that Spider-Man is going to be desperate to prove that he belongs with the adults, just as we know that Dr. Strange isn’t going to be particularly impressed with anyone he meets.  Needless to say, some characters get more screen time than others.  Despite a good deal of the film taking place in Wakanda, Black Panther largely stays in the background.  I personally wish that both Natasha and Captain America had been given a bit more to do.  Considering just how talented both Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle are, it’s a shame that neither one of them ever gets to do much in these films.  At the same time, Infinity Wars allows both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany to come into their own and Chris Hemsworth again shows that he may be the most underrated star in the MCU.  I’ve read a lot of criticism of certain actions taken by Peter Quill towards the end of the film but actually, it’s exactly what you would expect his character to do in the situation and, up until that moment, Chris Pratt is a welcome presence.  It’s important to have someone around who appreciates good music and who can make you laugh, especially considering that Thanos is planning to wipe out 50% of the universe’s population…

Oh yes, Thanos.  After spending years lurking in the background, Thanos finally steps forward in Infinity War.  In fact, it can be argued that Avengers: Infinity War is actually much more of a Thanos film than an Avengers film.  While our heroes are continually spending the film trying to catch up to Thanos and reacting to his latest action, Thanos is always one step ahead.  Thanos is the one who steers the narrative and, for once, you really do believe that an MCU villain views the heroes as being mere distractions.  Thanos is the one on a quest and the film follows him through every step of his search.  In fact, the film’s most emotional moments belong to Thanos.  For all the death and destruction to be found in the film’s surprisingly dark narrative, Thanos is the only character to ever shed a tear.  Like all great villains, Thanos doesn’t view himself as being evil.  Instead, Thanos speaks very sincerely of his desire to bring balance to the universe.  The scary thing about Thanos isn’t that he claims that he’s being merciful when he slaughters millions of beings.  The scary thing about Thanos is that believes it.

Thanos, you see, is a bit of an intergalactic environmentalist.  As he explains it, the universe only has a finite number of resources.  By killing half of the universe’s population, he is ensuring that the other half will be able to survive in peace and harmony.  Most people would call Thanos’s actions genocidal but Thanos would probably say that he’s merely making the difficult decisions that others don’t have the courage or intelligence to make.  It may all sound rather far-fetched and melodramatic until you consider that, just last week, bureaucrats and doctors in the UK decided it would be better to starve a sick infant to death rather than allow his parents to take him to be treated in another country.  With his mix of narcissism and absolutely belief in his own moral certitude, Thanos is a far more familiar villain than a lot of viewers might want to admit.  As opposed to the forgettable villains who have appeared in so many MCU films, Thanos is a compelling and complicated figure.  It’s interesting to note that two of the best performances of the year so far were given by actors appearing as villains in MCU films, Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther and Josh Brolin in this one.

As befits the film’s subject matter, Infinity War is a sprawling film, one that skips from world to world.  The visuals are frequently spectacular, as are the many battles.  From the opening attack on New York to the final battles in Wakanda and in space, the action is non-stop and thrilling.  (It helps that, as opposed to some of the previous MCU films, it’s always clear who is fighting who and why they’re fighting.)  For me, though, the most memorable scenes are the scenes where Thanos looks and considers the worlds that he’s destroyed.  There’s a scene where an exhausted Thanos rests on a placid planet and it’s one of the strongest images in the history of the MCU.

I’ve been told that I shouldn’t worry too much about all of the characters who are killed over the course of Infinity War.  From what I’ve been told, it’s apparently something of a tradition in Marvel comics to kill off a bunch of recognizable characters and then have them come back to life an issue or two later.  And the fact that the sequel to Infinity War has already been filmed and is set to released next year leads me to suspect that nothing’s permanent.  I mean, if all of these people are really dead, there aren’t going to be many heroes left to make any more movies about.  That said, I still got far more emotional than I probably should have at some of the unexpected demises.  Especially … well, no.  I won’t say the name.  But seriously, it was upsetting.

2018 is shaping up to be the year of Marvel.  So far, Marvel has released two of the best films of the year.  To be honest, a film as huge as Infinity War shouldn’t have worked and yet, it does.  It’s a masterpiece of pop art.*

* For a totally different response to Avengers: Infinity War, check out Ryan’s review by clicking here!

Check Out These Avengers: Infinity War Character Posters!


With the release of Avengers: Infinity War right around the corner, Marvel has released a whole new collection of character posters!  Just in case you were wondering who, from the MCU, is going to show up in Infinity War, here’s a partial reminder!

(By the way, the answer  would appear to be just about everyone who has ever appeared in an MCU film!)

Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr)

Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)

Thor (Chris Hemsworth)

War Machine (Don Cheadle)

Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)

Captain America (Chris Evans)

White Wolf (Sebastian Stan)

Falcon (Anthony Mackie)

Star-Lord (Chris Pratt)

Rocket and Groot (Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel)

Gamora (Zoe Saldana)

Nebula (Karen Gillan)

Drax (Dave Bautista)

Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen)

Vision (Paul Bettany)

Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)

Spider-Man (Tom Holland)

Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch)

Wong (Benedict Wong)

Mantis (Pom Klementieff)

Okoye (Danai Gurira)

Shuri (Letitia Wright)

 

 

Doctor Strange Trailer Arrives At SDCC 2016


Doctor Strange

San Diego Comic-Con for the past decade has always been a major mainstay for Marvel Studios when it comes to releasing their latest news and trailer for their upcoming films. There has been rumors the last couple years that Marvel Studios may skip Comic-Con and it’s venerable Hall H altogether in the near-future. Marvel Studios being owned by Disney means they have access to their parent company’s own D23 event. There’s even talk of just having a yearly Marvel Con to showcase everything Marvel.

Until that occurs many who attend San Diego Comic-Con will stand hours (some even days) to be able to get into Hall H and be the first to see what Marvel Studios has up it’s sleeves. This year we get the latest trailer on their biggest gamble to date: Doctor Strange.

A gamble in that it will delve deeply into the one aspect of the Marvel Universe it has so far avoided: magic.

One cannot make a film about Doctor Strange and not portray the magic and sorcery, the otherworldly dimensions and demons, spells and illusions. This is the bread and butter of the Sorcerer Supreme and if this latest trailer is any indication then filmmaker Scott Derrickson may have just broken the code in how to integrate this aspect of the Marvel Universe into the grounded, albeit hyper-reality, of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Doctor Strange arrives this November 4, 2016.

Doctor Strange Trailer Makes It’s First Visit


Doctor Strange

This coming November sees the arrival of not just another new character from the Marvel Comics pages onto the big-screen, but the parting of the curtains to give the Marvel Cinematic Universe it’s first glimpse at the mystical and magical.

The MCU has been mostly about advanced technology, techno-thrillers and a corner or two of the cosmic, but Feige and company has never truly explored the esoteric and occult side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the release of tonight’s teaser trailer for Doctor Strange we will finally get a glimpse into this unseen corner of the MCU.

Doctor Strange is set for a November 4, 2016 release date.

A Few Thoughts On The Martian…


The_Martian_film_poster

I’m a few weeks late in reviewing The Martian, largely because I was on vacation when it was first released.  When I finally did see The Martian, it was at the wonderful UEC theater in beautiful Russellville, Arkansas.  As opposed to my experience when I saw The Green Inferno, the theater was packed and, throughout the entire movie, it was obvious that the audience absolutely loved what they were seeing on screen.  They laughed, they applauded, and it was obvious they had a great time with the movie.

And why not?  After the commercial failures of both The Counselor and Exodus, it’s obvious that director Ridley Scott was not going to take any chances with The Martian.  There’s not a single scene that is not specifically calculated to keep the viewer as complacently satisfied as possible.  Telling the story of how botanist Mark Whatney (Matt Damon) gets stranded on Mars and must figure out a way to survive until he can be rescued, The Martian is such a positive film that its total lack of cynicism almost gets overwhelming.  The end result is a film that is a 100 times better than Exodus but never as interesting or challenging as The Counselor.

In fact, as I watched The Martian, I kept thinking about another film about a man stranded out in the middle of nowhere, Into The Wild.  The main character in Into The Wild spent his isolation contemplating the meaning of life and finally reaching some sort of spiritual peace before starving to death.  Mark Whatney, on the other hand, spends his isolation recording a snarky video diary and listening to classic disco songs.

And, before anyone gets offended or accuses me of being a film snob, allow me to say that I enjoyed The Martian.  I thought it was an entertaining movie and I especially loved the soundtrack.  But, at the same time, one can enjoy The Martian and still acknowledge that there’s not much going on underneath the crowd-pleasing surface.

Looking back on the film, I find it remarkable just how little we learn about Mark Whatney.  We hear at one point that he has a family but we really don’t learn anything about his life on Earth.  In a way, he’s a bit like Robert Redford in All Is Lost.  Except, of course, Mark Whatney talks.  He talks a lot.  Fortunately, Mark is played by Matt Damon, who is a great talker.  If I think that The Martian is entertaining but also a bit overrated (and I do), I also think that Matt Damon deserves every bit of praise that he’s received for his performance.

Interestingly enough, The Martian not only features Matt Damon’s best performance but it also features Jessica Chastain’s worst.  Chastain plays Commander Lewis, who is in charge of the Mars expedition and who take it upon herself to bring Mark Whatney home.  And really, this should have been a great role for Jessica Chastain but, for the first time that I can remember, she gives a performance that just isn’t that interesting.

Then again, there’s really only one interesting character in the entire film and that’s Mark Whatney  (though I would have liked to learn more about the astronomer played by Donald Glover, who gives an appealingly eccentric performance).  This is Matt Damon’s film and it’s best moments are the ones where Mark deals with life on Mars.  In fact, there’s a part of me that almost wishes the majority of the NASA scenes had been left on the editing room floor and almost the entire movie had just been Matt Damon on Mars.

In the end, I did enjoy The Martian.  It’s a good film that some people are insisting was great.  (Of course, a lot of that is because it’s trendy to be into science.  Fortunately, Mark Whatney isn’t as much of a pompous blowhard as Neil DeGrasse Tyson, nor is he as creepy as Bill Nye.)  Some people are even suggesting that The Martian is the new Oscar front runner and maybe it is.  (After all, it’s not like there was much going on below the surface of Birdman either.)

But for me, in the years to come, the main thing I’ll remember about The Martian is the totally kickass soundtrack…

 

Trailer: Prometheus (International Launch)


We get what could be the definitive trailer for Ridley Scott’s prequel to his Alien film.

This latest trailer is the international launch trailer and runs just a shade under 3 minutes. We definitely get a sense of what the film is about but not so much that it spoils the film’s entire story. Some have been anticipating this film since it was first announced and with each release of production stills and teasers the hype just continues to build. Then there are those who hate this film without even seeing it because they see it as either a cash grab or an attempt by a filmmaker to break a string of sub-par films.

I stand pretty much between these two camps. While I’ve always enjoyed Ridley Scott’s work even those he whiffs badly on I’m also hesitant to fully embrace this prequel as a can’t-miss without having seen it. So much about the Alien franchise has been ruined by badly made sequels and mash-ups that it’s going to take something momentous to have me put unquestioned faith back into the franchise.

Maybe Scott returning to something he’s familiar with and having had learned more about filmmaking since the first film means he’ll bring something new to the franchise and help bring it back from the brink of mediocrity. Here’s to hoping that is the case. One thing I’m sure of is that he’s got an all-star cast to work with.

Prometheus is set for a June 8, 2012 release date.