Movie Review: SPIDER-MAN Homecoming

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spiderman_homecomingSony / Marvel
2017
PG-13

“Can’t you just be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?”

Thrilled by his experience with the Avengers, young Peter Parker returns home to live with his Aunt May. Under the watchful eye of mentor Tony Stark, Parker starts to embrace his newfound identity as Spider-Man. He also tries to return to his normal daily routine–distracted by thoughts of proving himself to be more than just a friendly neighborhood superhero. Peter must soon put his powers to the test when the evil Vulture emerges to threaten everything that he holds dear.

So, here we are. Fifteen years since the very first Spider-Man movie made us believe it could be done. Since then, there’s been two sequels, a reboot, and another sequel. Now, everyone’s favorite web-slinger is back home with Marvel, and we have a third reboot. Did we need another redux? Have you seen Amazing Spider-Man 2? I haven’t yet, I was just asking. I hear it’s not good. I digress.

So, as I mentioned, Marvel Studios, through a deal they brokered with Sony (who has held the rights to Spider-Man for quite a while), they were able to play with their own toy again. And after a well-received cameo in Captain America: Civil War, I couldn’t wait for the full-length stand-alone movie to see how bad they could screw things up.

You may have picked up that I’m a tad cynical about these Spider-Man movies. Since Spider-Man 3 ten years prior, my wide-eyed fanboy love had felt jaded that anything after Spider-Man 2 would be disappointing at best. There was a glimmer of hope with the introduction of him in Civil War; but, would a side character rol translate into a feature-length movie? Could Marvel make Spider-Man…well, amazing again?

Well, they did a good job trying.

Don’t misread that–Spider-Man: Homecoming is a very good Spider-Man movie. Easily my second-favorite to date, right behind Spider-Man 2.

There’s a lot to like about Homecoming: Tom Holland is probably the best teenage Peter Parker / Spider-Man going, as he convinced me that he could be bullied and picked upon in his civilian garb. The chemistry between the main characters was fantastic, especially between Pete and his best friend / “Chair Guy” Ned. And Michael Keaton as The Vulture was inspired, as he took what I consider to be one of the more goofier Silver Age villains in Spider-Man’s rogue gallery and made him into something genuinely chilling. The script was well-written, witty and smart, and had me laughing out loud more than just a handful of times. The action scenes were very well done as well, culminating in a final battle scene that had me holding my breath. Good job there, movie. And yet, with all of that going for this thing, I do have to point out what I found to be kind of, sort of not good about it. Minor quibbles, maybe, but they have to be said.

Also, I should point out that I’m probably going to be letting lose with some spoilers ahead, so if you’re one of those who haven’t seen this yet…go see it first. Also, welcome back from whatever isolated cave you emerged from. Anyway…

Spider-Man: Homecoming didn’t feel like a full-on Spider-Man movie. The second half did, certainly. But for the first half or so, this felt more like a teen show on the Disney Channel. Which, okay, I understand that Marvel is owned by Disney, and this is a teenaged Peter Parker, interacting with his teenage chums in high school. But for a handful of Spidey scenes, the first half was more of a sloggy, sudsy teen soap. A very well made and engaging teen soap, but a teen soap nonetheless. Freaks And Geeks, if you will. I would wager to say that it wasn’t until Peter got his high-tech Stark suit taken away from him, that this truly became a Spider-Man movie. The moment that Peter steps up to the hero plate despite not having all the nifty gizmos and gadgets, you didn’t have to say “With great power comes great responsibility”, it was demonstrated by the actions perfectly.

I could continue on like this for pages, but I’d rather just urge you to watch Spider-Man: Homecoming for yourselves. It’s a rather good take on Spider-Man, and kudos for finally getting back home to Marvel. Here’s to many more.

Wait…”Homecoming”…back home at Marvel…I think there was more to that title than just that Homecoming dance in the movie…mind blown…

Movie Review: WONDER WOMAN

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wonder womanWarner Bros.
PG-13
2017

“I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place. But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness within. I learned this the hard way, a long, long time ago.”

Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, Diana meets an American pilot who tells her about the massive conflict that’s raging in the outside world. Convinced that she can stop the threat, Diana leaves her home for the first time. Fighting alongside men in a war to end all wars, she finally discovers her full powers and true destiny.

So, by now, if you’re reading this, you fall in one of three categories: 1) you’ve already watched Wonder Woman (perhaps multiple times), 2) you have yet to watch Wonder Woman, as you’re still iffy about the possible quality due to the track record of the previous DC movies in the past couple of years, or 3) you’re trying to find something to be angry about to satisfy your inner sense of political self-righteousness. I wish I could say I was joking about that last part.

Anyway, Wonder Woman. Officially the fourth movie in DC’s Extended Universe, this one had the stigma of needing to be not as bad as the previous films turned out to be. I say this as the general overall perception of the previous films; you might recall that I ended up liking Man Of Steel a bit more than most of all fandom did. Batman v. Superman was a hot mess, while Suicide Squad was also a hot mess, but a far more entertaining hot mess. As such, by the time Wonder Woman rolled around, my expectations were rather low. All the movie had to do was not suck obnoxiously, and it would be the best DCEU movie of the bunch. And on that basic front, Wonder Woman succeeded. Boy howdy, did it succeed.

After a prologue scene where Diana Prince receives a special package from some guy named Bruce Wayne, we’re taken back to the Greek island of Themyscira, the home of warrior women called the Amazons, at a time when she was a precocious little tot who wanted so badly to be a warrior like everyone else, but her mother–Queen Hippolyta–would rather she pursue a more mundane existence, for her own good. Diana’s aunt, however, disagrees with the sentiment, and begins training the young girl in secret. In time, though, they are found out, which leads to…Diana getting even more training. And after a surprise hint as to Diana’s true nature, in comes the first male to visit Themyscira since ever, with WWI pilot Steve Trevor crashing into the coast. After Diana rescues him, the Germans soon invade, causing havoc and, after interrogating Trevor, Diana decides that Aries, the god of War is behind this World War (under the guise of German General Ludendorff), and sets off to kill him to bring peace to mankind. After a brief stint in London, Diana, Trevor and a motley crew travel to the front lines, where Diana wastes no time in invading No Man’s Land, takes out a machine gun nest, whups a bunch of Germans into submission, and punches a tower (the tower loses) to liberate a small Belgium village from the occupation it was under. However, General Ludendorff decides to wipe out the village the next day with a big ol’ Mustard Gas bomb, which pisses Diana off even further, and she goes off and manages to kill Ludendorff…only Ludendorff isn’t Aries. In a twist that everyone saw coming miles away, the real Aries shows up, he tries to explain that mankind isn’t under his spell, that mankind is capable of all sorts of atrocities by themselves, which clashes with Diana’s sense of altruism, which leads to a big fight with lots of damage and ‘splosions and stuff. Meanwhile, Trevor sacrifices himself to save London from being hit with a cargo plane full of Mustard Gas, Aries is defeated, and we flash back to current times where Diana decides that the power of love will blah blah blah, something-something I’m Wonder Woman now. The end.

It took them a few times in this shared universe of theirs, but DC has finally stumbled upon the formula for making a superhero movie feel like a genuine superhero movie. The tone and feel really brings back the sense of (no pun intended) wonder that Richard Donner’s Superman The Movie did, where you’re watching and manage to go beyond seeing some actor dressed as Wonder Woman, and believing it really is Wonder Woman. With maybe the exception of the CGI heavy boss fight at the end (yeah, it did feel like a video game cut scene), the two-and-a-half run time didn’t seem that long at all.

I went into Wonder Woman expecting it to fail, and wound up suddenly having hope for the other DC movies coming up after this. We’ll see. In the meantime, if you still haven’t seen Wonder Woman, go do so now while it’s still in theaters. Assuming you’re reading this while it still is.

Movie Review: BAD KIDS OF CRESTVIEW ACADAMY

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Movie Review BAD KIDS OF CRESTVIEW ACADEMYSony
2017
R

It’s four years later, and a new group of students has been placed in Saturday detention at the infamous and prestigious Crestview Acadey. When Siouxsie, sophomore ‘undercrust,’ crashes the party to avenge her sister’s death, a Saturday detention reserved for the privileged seniors of Crestview Academy turns into a date in hell. It’s not long before a naive pussycat lover, gay drug dealer, smokin’ hot preacher’s daughter, squeaky-clean senator’s son, and the uninvited younger outsider find themselves locked-up in school with no way out, wondering who (or what) has set them up. Hilarity and suspense ensue while each ‘bad kid’ pits one against the other, and one by one each falls victim to absurdly gruesome ‘accidents’ while trying to escape.

On the strength of the better-than-it-should-have-been Bad Kids Go To Hell, I decided to immediately watch it’s sequel, Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy, as kind of a back-to-back double feature. The result was…well, I’m not surprised, let’s just say.

I’ll just come out and say that Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy is a lackluster sequel, and kind of a mediocre movie in and of itself. We have the same basic premise of the first–weekend detention with a whole new bunch of stereotypes kids, only one of them has infiltrated their upper crust clique’ to solve the murder of her older sister at a party.

Mind you, things are a bit more subverted with the plot when compared to the first movie, as the kids never get to the library (it’s locked and no one knows the security code), and the whole conspiracy hinted at in the first one is more to the fore here. And there’s no implication of any kind of “hauntings” here, just a bunch of serial killer offings of everyone until the culprit is revealed in the third act, with the remaining movie kind of losing steam until the end.

It really says something that the best parts of this movie involved brief scenes with Sean “Still Working After Lord Of The Rings” Astin, taking over from Judd Nelson as Headmaster Nash, who hams it up with cheerful abandon. Outside of that, we have characters who lean more towards annoying rather than quirky, there are so many flashback scenes injected in the main narrative that it would give Quentin Tarantino a headache, and the big reveal of who’s doing the killing is revealed rather early in the movie (not that we didn’t finger the culprit early on just by virtue of having seen so many of these things to begin with…also, there’s a scene that not-so-subtly gives things away if you pay attention), turning the rest of the movie into a siege movie for the last third.

Bad Kids Of Crestview Acadamy was “Meh”. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the movie it was a sequel to, but at least it didn’t try to just rehash the entire plot of that one. This movie needed more involvement from Sean Astin, for certain. Watch it if the thought of not seeing the sequel gets you twitchy, otherwise you can just skip this one.

Movie Review: BAD KIDS GO TO HELL

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Movie Review BAD KIDS GO TO HELLPhase 4 Films
2012
R

“Like a massive gravity sinkhole, he deforms every positive thought he encounters before sucking it into a vortex from Hell.”

On a stormy Saturday afternoon, six students from Crestview Academy begin to meet horrible fates as they serve out their detentions. Is a fellow student to blame, or perhaps Crestview’s alleged ghosts are behind the terrible acts?

Giving credit where credit is due, I only learned about Bad Kids Go To Hell by way of this movie’s sequel, Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy. I was browsing the Upcoming Rental Releases on the Family Video website (I usually go there to see what’s coming up, then use that to see if I can rent the streaming video on Amazon or Google Plus or whatnot). I came across the sequel title, did a bit of research, realized it was a sequel, and then checked out the original one first to watch, because OCD.

Useless fact: Bad Kids Go To Hell is based on a “best selling” graphic novel that I’ve never heard of (no surprise there, as I had forsaken all comics since that “One More Day” abomination that Marvel did with Spider-Man), and was seemingly released nationwide in December of 2012 to presumably every other theater except for any in Eastern Nebraska, because I don’t recall any of the theaters in Omaha or Lincoln getting this. But, I digress.

Having watched Bad Kids Go To Hell (for some odd reason, I presumed it was British in origin…it is not…sadly), I must admit that I was surprisingly entertained. It’s kind of a mash-up with The Breakfast Club (including Judd Nelson as the school’s headmaster) and a Scooby-Doo mystery, with a lot more murder and mayhem.

After an opening that starts things off at the end of the movie, we then flash back to a few hours earlier in the day, where a bunch of stereotypes kids from mostly affluent society are gathered together in the library for weekend detention. We learn that the library itself was recently remodeled, and is rumored to be haunted. The stereotypes kids begin doing that “bonding” thing that most movies aping John Hughes movies from the 80s do, and then try to bust out of the library, only to find the going rather…tough. Then the stereotypes kids start dying off in horrible ways, paranoia begins mounting as they try to figure out who’s doing the killing, and the mystery as to whether or not the ghost of the Native American whose land was stolen and the school is currently standing on is causing all the weird things happening. Spoilers: it isn’t, but the twist reveal behind everything will make you appreciate the work the culprits put in for everything. Then final confrontation wackiness ensues, and then we’re back to where we started, and the poor kid is carted off to an insane asylum while it looks like everything has to do with a (local) government conspiracy with the janitor of the school. The end.

Overall, Bad Kids Go To Hell was amusingly good for what it is. And that is a dark comedy thriller that has a tongue in cheek delivery while borrowing generously from other tropes, which results in something that doesn’t really pretend to be original, but gives us some fun times. Definitely worth a rental, here.

Movie Review: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Vol. 2

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guardians of the galaxy 2Marvel / Disney
2017
PG-13

“I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!”

Peter Quill and his fellow Guardians are hired by a powerful alien race, the Sovereign, to protect their precious batteries from invaders. When it is discovered that Rocket has stolen the items they were sent to guard, the Sovereign dispatch their armada to search for vengeance. As the Guardians try to escape, the mystery of Peter’s parentage is revealed.

Leave it to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to effectively ruin the rest of the Summer Blockbuster Season right off the bat. Again. It happened last year with Captain America: Civil War. And now, we have all witnessed the kind of big action blockbuster that will effectively ruin all other movies that would come out after during the coveted Summer months. Yeah, I’m gonna call it:

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is the best Summer movie of 2017.

Seriously, all of the others that are coming out in the next few months after this have their work cut out for them. And this is a movie that, really, doesn’t even have much of a concrete plot. Regardless, HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.

So, after the greatest opening title sequence ever realized, we find our motley crew of space heroes on the run from the very race they were hired to protect, where they stumble upon Peter “Star Lord” Quill’s father, who just happens to be Ego, the Living Planet. And in case you’re wondering just how a planet would get it on with a human lady from Earth, there was a Kurt Russell avatar involved. All the other questions about that are actually handled in the movie, so please don’t ask me. I want to be able to sleep at night. Anyway, Quill, Gamora and Drax go with Ego and his consort named Mantis, while Rocket and Baby Groot stay behind to both repair the wrecked Milano, as well as guard Gamora’s sister Nebula. Only, the Ravagers are looking to capture the Guardians for a payout, and after a bit of wackiness that sees both Rocket and Groot captured, along with the help of Nebula, the Ravagers decide to mutiny against their leader Yondu. Which, of course, eventually turns out to be a bad idea. Meanwhile, Quill’s getting some quality time with his intergalactic sperm donor, learning that he’s half Celestial (essentially a demigod) and uses his new-found powers to…play catch with Ego. How heartwarming. Of course, underneath all this shiny-happy outer shell lies a chewy nougat center of horror, as Ego’s true plan is finally revealed, and it’s up to the Guardians to take him down before Ego’s plan destroys the universe as we know it. No sweat.

So, what we have here is a rare sequel that is better than the predecessor, but also manages to flesh out the main characters to the point that when repercussions happen, you feel them in your gut. You get the feels. All the feels. But, you never think that you’re being manipulated into this, and actually balances out the action and comedy that works so well together.

That’s not to say the movie wasn’t without its weaker points. I didn’t think the character of Mantis was really that necessary, except for some exposition (maybe she’ll get fleshed out more in the inevitable sequel of this sequel), and while still a joy to watch, Drax seemed…off. I can’t really explain why, he just does. And probably the most minor quibble would be that the movie throws so much at you during its run time that you really do need to take in a second showing to process it all. Or even a third.

Regardless, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 once again proves that James Gunn is not only a very competent director, but can turn a potential dud into a fantastic blockbuster. That is no easy task. Especially when we’re talking about sequels. My advice, go see this while it’s still in the theaters. It’s worth the price of admission, plus the overpriced soda and popcorn.

Movie Review: LOGAN

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logan20th Century Fox
2017
R

“Charles Xavier, the world famous mutant octogenarian.”
“Actually, I’m a nonagenarian.”

In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are upended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

I think we can all agree that Wolverine was the best thing about all of the X-Men movies that have been produced since 2000. Even the ones that were sub-par, with just a cameo of Wolvie made it at least a bit more bearable to sit through. An all-too-brief oasis of awesome in an otherwise mediocre experience. He was the best thing about that otherwise forgettable X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie. And I have yet to find the strength to review that one.

With Logan, we finally get to witness our favorite X-Men character’s swan song…along with another X-Men’s swan song in the process. More on that in a bit. Also, perhaps now would be the best time to hoist the !!!SPOILERS!!! flag, so in case you’re one of the five or so people who haven’t watched Logan yet, you’ve been warned. And why are you reading this, when you can be watching Logan? Good grief, let’s get our priorities in order, here.

Anyway, after watching Logan with the rest of the Exalted Geeks (and then promptly recording a Pubcast about it), I have to say that, if this is the way in which Wolverine is going to go out, then it’s a very satisfying way to go. Let’s face it, there was no other way than with a hard “R” rating that would do the character justice, and this movie uses that. And yet, even though this is a movie about the X-Men, Logan manages to be much, much more than just a mere superhero movie. This is a gritty western that happens to feature the Marvel mutants.

Here, we find Wolverine–now just going by his civilian name Logan–past his prime. His healing factor is failing him, bringing along several complications with it. Almost all of the other X-Men have died, and due to government modified corn (seriously) there hasn’t been any other mutants born in ages. Professor Xavier is still alive, but he’s in his 90s and suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s, causing his mutant brain to become classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the gov’ment. Logan has been taking care of Xavier at a secret location on the U. S. / Mexico boarder, working as a for-hire chauffeur, providing the meds necessary to keep Xavier’s seizures at bay. He’s hoping to buy a boat, so that he can have his father figure live out his final days in peace on the ocean. But, all of that is stuck on the back burner when they find themselves the guardians of a young girl that seems to be a hot commodity for a shady gov’ment agency. Now, Logan, Xavier and this kid is on the run to the north to get her to a place that may or may not exist. Oh, and the girl seems to have the same powers, accessories and disposition of a certain aging Canuk we all know and love.

Hype for Logan couldn’t have been higher leading up to the opening of the movie. We all knew this was going to be Hugh Jackman’s final portrayal of the character he played since 2000. Then we heard that Patrick Stewart was going to hang up his Professor X character after this one, as well. This was going to be the Wolverine movie set in Fox’s Mutant universe to end an era, and the two actors couldn’t have picked a better film to go out on.

Aside that it is possible to make a comic book superhero movie that’s smart, dark and doesn’t insult the audience’s collective intelligence, it finally manage to let the true character of the Wolverine come out, a man who struggles to do the right thing, despite the inner demons and the ravages of time and age. It maintains a bleak future, but with a light of hope at the end. Also, there’s tons and tons of what we’ve all wanted to see since we saw Jackman’s Wolverine pop his claws in the 2000 X-Men movie: Wolverine’s berserker rage. This may be a Marvel-based superhero movie, but it earns its “R” rating, so be warned, ye who want to bring your young kids with.

That said, Logan is more a modern western, with more than a passing comparison with a Sam Pickenpaw flick (the move Shane is referenced a couple of times, especially at the tear-inducing ending), rather than the glossy sci-fi that the X-Men reside in. The result is a grittiness that’s organic and not forced, where you feel how tired and reluctant to go on with his past Logan is. To that end, everyone involved with the acting were fantastic, especially the young girl who portrayed X-23/Laura. My favorite scene with her was where she was eating cereal when she senses the Reavers trying to stealthily sneak up on her. She pauses, then takes another bite of the breakfast food anyway. You have to watch it to understand, I guess.

Which is what I’m urging all of you to do, if you haven’t done so already. So what if you don’t like comic book superhero movies. Logan manages to transcend this label, and will stick with you long after you realize there is no post-credit scenes, and you just stuck around because they were playing a Johnny Cash song. No, not that one. The other one.

Movie Review: THOR The Dark World

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movie-review_-thor-dark-worldMarvel / Disney
2013
PG-13

“If you even THINK about betraying him…”
“You’ll kill me? Evidently there will be a line.”

Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all.

As mentioned in the previous Thor movie review, I waited a bit after it was released onto DVD to get around to watching the movie due to the usual reasons I didn’t go see it in the theater, then after watching it found that I enjoyed it far mor than I thought I would. So, with that thought in mind, you would be forgiven if you thought that I then went out and watched the sequel, Thor: The Dark World opening weekend. You would be wrong, actually. I also waited until this was at least available for streaming on NetFlix or on DVD before I got around to watching The Dark World as well.

This time, though, it was for a far different reason than mere ambivalence, a reason I’m not going to go into detail here. Needless to say, I did have it on the list of movies to get around to watching; I just was only able to do so after it was out of the theaters and on that round, flat disc of plastic that only plays in that movie watchin’ device that replaced my old Beta Max the week prior. In related rants, I just got around to replacing my tried and true waxed cylinder player with one of those new-fangled reel-to-reel contraptions you young people insist on using all the time.

Anyway, Thor: The Dark World is, befitting of its subtitle, is a rather dark entry into the Thor movie series, and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe all together. It begins with a flashback to a battle between the father of Odin and a Dark Elf that’s played by a nigh-unrecognizable Christopher Eccleston (between this and Guardians Of The Galaxy, I’m beginning to think that the Marvel Universe likes to take Doctor Who alumni and make them all but unrecognizable), which ends up with the Dark Elf leader and his minions going into suspended animation and Odin’s daddy hiding away the movie’s McGuffin. Fast forward a number of centuries, and the Nine Realms are beginning to converge again, which results in playing with physics like a drunken kitten. It also reawakens the Dark Elf, who tries to go after the McGuffin to plunge all of the realms into darkness (or something like that). Only, it seems the McGuffin has inadvertently bonded with the Odinson’s love interest. The Odinson being Thor, in case you’re not up on your Norse mythology, here. So, now it’s up to Thor and his band of friends and his brother Loki to try and take down this rather ambitious Ninth Docto…er, Dark Elf before all of reality is brought down to mood lighting.

Of course Thor: The Dark World was far more awesome than it should have been. If I remember correctly, this installment wasn’t supposed to have Loki in it, for whatever reason. I think we can all agree it was a good idea to end up having him part of the story. Chris Helmsworth and Tom Hiddleston play off each other so well, I couldn’t imagine not having him part of the movie.

Thor: The Dark World–aside from being one of a handful of other movies that were released that year having the word “Dark” in the title–is a dark movie, or at least darker than the first Thor movie. What really stands out here is the development of most of the characters, including both Thor and Loki. Especially Loki, as we see much more depth to him rather than that he’s evil and mischievous. He really loved his mother, it seems. Also, spoilers: Thor and Loki’s mom dies. I figure it’s been long enough. Of course, the effects and the action are top notch, along with the general story itself being rather epic in its fantasy-by-way-of-SCIENCE! style. It’s because of this movie, I feel it’s high time for a properly made He-Man and the Masters of the Universe movie. Let’s get on this, people. But, I digress.

Overall, Thor: The Dark World was a very good movie. It certainly entertained me more than it was supposed to, and is yet another example of Marvel Studios knocking so many out of the park, I hope the momentum doesn’t trip up too bad.

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