Review: Justice League

Let’s be honest: I really wasn’t planning on seeing Justice League in theaters.  I didn’t particularly care for Man of Steel, I thought Batman v Superman was pretty dumb, and critics largely panned Justice League.  But, Travis thought it’d be fun to see The Last Jedi and Justice League back-to-back (refillable popcorn and soda, right?), so I obliged.

DC did a pretty good job with Wonder Woman, which I rented before seeing Justice League.  Her character is probably the best developed of all of the DC superheros on the big screen, at this rate, as Batman has only appeared in this iteration in one movie, and Superman spent much of his time “becoming Superman” in his first movie that we didn’t really get to see much of the hero himself until Batman v Superman (which was a bad movie).  Of all the characters, the viewer cares about Wonder Woman, whereas most of these rest of these characters are just unlikable.

I shouldn’t go that far: we hadn’t even met Cyborg, Aquaman or Flash before this movie, so we had to “get to know them” for a pretty solid chunk.  All three are…”fine”…but viewers had little reason to be invested in their backstories.  Marvel did a far better job of this in the MCU by breaking out all of the Avengers into their own separate movies before throwing them together against an all-powerful villain.  In Justice League, we spend so much time learning the backstory of Flash, Cyborg and to a lesser degree, Aquaman, that we don’t have much of a reason to care about their presence.

Speaking of “all-powerful villains,” our baddie in this movie was Steppenwolf.  Seriously. Who the heck is Steppenwolf, you may be asking?  Well, besides writing “Born to be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride,” he apparently first appeared in the 1970s and shows up literally “from time to time” in DC comics history.  The Wikipedia entry on this guy illustrates how “not really interesting” this villain is.  Certainly no Lex Luthor or Doomsday (who was utterly wasted in Batman v Superman)…  It’s likely DC only went with Steppenwolf to foretell the appearance of Darkseid, but seriously, DC, what were you thinking?!  An entirely CG character that most people have never heard of as your first villain against your “super team” for what should be the biggest movie in your universe??!!

So yeah, the villain, not so good.  The character development, not so good.  Effects?  Well, the last 30-40 minutes were filmed on a green screen.  Just about literally.  And it was very noticeable.

Ultimately, not a fan of this one.  I really didn’t expect to love it, but glad I saw it so I can rail on it more intelligently.  It definitely had a few comedic lines, but it’s no wonder Ben Affleck wants to run from the franchise as soon as he possibly can…

Review: Star Wars – The Last Jedi

I generally liked Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the film prior to this one in the more modern take on the classic Star Wars franchise.  My main gripe with The Force Awakens was that it was in many was a rehash of the very first Star Wars movie.  It was a very well done “rehash,” but it was basically the same thing with prettier effects and better acting.

The hope was that the next movie, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, would  build upon that foundation without becoming a rehash of The Empire Strikes Back and, for the most part, it isn’t that.  Instead, it mixes and matches elements of Empire with Return of the Jedi, while also trying to drive the franchise in a somewhat different direction.

Regarding the plot, we pick up just about where we left off after Force Awakens: the First Order is chasing the Resistance, trying to stamp them out after they successfully destroyed the Starkiller Base in the previous movie; and Rey is trying to get Luke Skywalker to return to the fold and take on Kylo Ren.  Again, in many ways, this is how Empire Strikes Back took shape, as Luke was seeking Yoda’s help in exile.  This movie doesn’t involve taking refuge in Cloud City, but instead involves a race against the clock where the First Order capital ships are slowly picking away at Resistance ships as they run out of fuel.  Various characters try to get help in order to ensure that our heroes make it safely to an old Rebel base where they hope to wait out the First Order and survive to fight another day.

Ultimately, this part of the story wasn’t all that impressive to me.  It seemed “small” to me.  Not really “galactic destiny hanging in the balance”-type stuff.  I suppose Empire Strikes Back wasn’t really about that either, but oh well.

The real story in this movie centers on Rey and Luke, and then Rey and Kylo Ren.  Luke Skywalker is resistant to returning because he feels responsible for what happened to Kylo.  At the same time, he recognizes the same power in Rey that Kylo had, so he doesn’t want to screw up with her like he did with him.

There are quite a few spoilery elements that could be avoided, but I’m going to mention one here because it’s been making the rounds among the internet illiterati since the movie came out.  The Force Awakens takes great pains to not tell the viewers who Rey’s parents are, even though she’s trying to find out, herself.  Everyone speculated that she’s somehow related to the Skywalker line just like Kylo Ren is (whose parents are Leia and Han Solo).  In The Last Jedi, we found out that her parents are…nobody!  Just random traders who gave her up for cash, effectively.

Personally, I’m fine with this.  However, it opens up a “can of worms,” so to speak, where just about anyone is now capable of using “force powers” (this is alluded to in a few other scenes near the end of the movie).  Some feel that “the force” is cheapened, where you don’t have to be “special” anymore to wield a lightsaber or control minds.  If Rey is, in fact, a “nobody,” then anyone can do this if they train for it.  It also calls into question why, exactly, the Jedi died out in the first place, if they could have just made more Jedi.

So yeah, again, I’m fine with this revelation about her heritage.  But this seemingly significant change to Star Wars canon (among many others that show up in this movie) make me question where they’re going for Episode IX.  The Last Jedi contains elements of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, so it kinda wraps things up and doesn’t leave much else aside from a final confrontation between Rey and Kylo Ren.  While I’m sure that could be interesting, I’m a bit afraid they’re going to keep milking this for longer than they should.  They need to be done with this leg of the franchise after Episode IX and should start an entirely new trilogy in a decade or more with Episode X.

The Last Jedi sets it up for “The Next Generation” to take over better than The Force Awakens did, but I’m afraid they’re only really leaving one movie for that to happen.  Which means Episode IX has a lot to do in order to bring this trilogy to a close effectively.

I hope they can do it.  This movie was solid and entertaining.  It was well made, well acted, and though long at 2.5 hours, it didn’t feel too long. There were too many CGI characters, but most of them were focused in a few scenes that I forgot about it after awhile.

Ultimately, much like The Force Awakens, it’s tough to fully judge The Last Jedi until we’ve got Episode IX available to watch.

Review: Thor – Ragnarok

It’s been a busy few weeks, so it took me a little longer than I preferred to get this written down, but I loved Thor: Ragnarok when I saw it two weekends ago.

First, let me back up a sec: I generally haven’t been a fan of the Thor movies.  The first one was boring, had way too much CG going on, and I really didn’t care for any of the characters.  The second one, Thor: The Dark World, was less boring, but still didn’t seem all that necessary in the grand scheme of things (Note: Technically, they did bring in one of the Infinity Stones, but they didn’t make a big deal about it until after the credits, so did it really matter all that much?  I guess not?  Who knows).

Anyway, the very first trailer for Ragnarok set a different tone from the outset: this movie would be funny and irreverent, and likely a departure from the earlier Thor movies.  It made it look more like a sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy than Thor.  Heck, it used Immigrant Song in a trailer to great effect.

And it didn’t disappoint.

The film kicks off with Thor in a precarious situation that involves more comedic lines than the entirety of the first two movies, so the viewer gets a good idea of what to expect.  Chris Hemsworth‘s comedic chops have been used to great effect in other movies like Ghostbusters, so it’s good to let him “breathe” a bit in his own Marvel movie.  He’s certainly been funny in the Avengers franchise, but never to this level.  After returning home to Asgard, he finds things are not as he left it because his brother, Loki, has surreptitiously been leading in their father’s place.

Cutting a bit forward, due to some pretty important plot bits, their sister, Hela, breaks out of her prison and seeks to take out Asgard.  In the process, Thor is banished to Sakaar, where a series of intergalactic gladiatorial games take place.  Conveniently, Thor finds Hulk there, where he’s been for the past few years since Avengers: Age of Ultron.  The rest of the plot, predictably, involves their return (with the help of a new character, Valkyrie) to Asgard to fight Hela and her minions.

“Predictably” kinda sums up the movie, really.  It’s pretty obvious where things go, especially if you’ve seen any of the trailers, but it’s just so darned fun, you don’t really care.  They finally get into a rhythm in this movie where you have fun while you watch, rather than dealing with Thor’s brooding personality that was established in previous films.  It’s almost as if he’s a completely new character, when in reality, it’s Hemsworth finally getting to just be himself.

Ultimately, though the plot was predictable, I still had a great time with it.  Already pre-ordered it to add to the collection.


Review: Spider-man: Homecoming

I’m not going to get into all the details, but decades ago, Marvel Comics licensed some of its characters to Sony Pictures.  Characters like the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man were effectively “sold off” to Sony, who could maintain their licensing agreement by continuing to release films on those properties.  Since 2000, Sony has done very well with the X-Men franchise (some better than others…), has done very poorly with the Fantastic Four franchise, and has been a bit more spotty with Spider-Man.  The first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies are among my favorite comic book movies, if not movies, in general.  Spider-Man 3 (2007) was overly convoluted and had too many villains, though Raimi himself blames that on studio intervention.  After those three movies, Spider-Man was rebooted in The Amazing Spiderman (2012) for two movies, and neither of those exactly lit the world on fire.

Then, Marvel Studios was sold to Disney and the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born.  Since that time, all kinds of movies and characters have been introduced and Disney and Marvel have made metric tons of cash.

But Spider-Man?  Couldn’t appear.  He was disallowed from being in any of these movies, because they were Disney properties, not Sony properties.

After one failed reboot of Spider-Man and other failing comic-based movies, Sony basically lent Spider-Man back to Marvel for use in the MCU.  It’s a limited-time deal, but while he’s over there, he’s appeared in Captain America: Civil War and will be appearing in the next few Avengers movies.

I say all this to set up the fact that this movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, has been an ordeal and the title “Homecoming” is actually meaningful on a few levels.  Getting Spider-Man into the MCU, a character that is synonymous with Marvel Comics, a character that took the ball that X-Men ran with and effectively put America on its course toward multiple-super-hero-movies-per-year, is finally back where it belongs.

So, is it good?

Absolutely, though with a few caveats.  The main one is that this movie is very different from the other MCU movies we’ve seen so far.  Director Jon Watts (who is best known for an unknown Kevin Bacon movie in 2015…) wanted his young actors to watch old John Hughes movies before filming so he could set up Breakfast Club archetypes from the beginning.  This is a high school movie much more than a “super hero” movie.  This is also a distinct change of pace from the earlier Spider-Man movies, as they may have started in high school, but within literal minutes, Peter Parker is thrust into college and/or adulthood, so you don’t really get to see his character dealing with typical high school angst, which was actually a pretty important part of the comic early on when it was introduced.

So yeah, it’s a coming of age film much like something John Hughes would have made back in the 80s.  The difference is, this one has super powers.  And thankfully, they didn’t go through Spider-Man’s origin story yet again, ’cause we’ve seen it twice in film in the past 17 years.

Tom Holland was selected as Peter Parker for Captain America: Civil War and he still exudes perfect casting.  The audience can easily tell that he wants to be there.  That he’s having fun with the lines, with the costumes, with the other actors, and so on.  He doesn’t have to be particularly athletic, as the Spider-Man scenes are almost entirely in CG, but he looks good in the suit and he sounds like a shy kid who’s got a lot on his plate and doesn’t know how to handle everything.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) has taken him under his wing, much like in Civil War, but this time, he’s a bit more of a “distant father figure.”  He acknowledges that he doesn’t have parental experience, and it shows, but Parker still seeks his approval.  Aunt May is Peter’s sole support at home, but Marisa Tomei takes the role in a more, let’s say, “modern interpretation” of that particular character (in the comics and previous movies, Aunt May was always substantially older than Peter…here, she’s older, but more trying to be “the cool aunt”).  The character of Ned (Jacob Batalon) is mostly new for the franchise (though he’s been kinda pieced together from other comic characters that have appeared over the years), and he serves as a comic side-kick for Spider-Man.  He’s certainly more fun to have around than Harry Osborn

Lastly, we have Michael Keaton, playing Adrian “The Vulture” Toomes. I was a bit skeptical of Keaton playing a MCU villain, mostly because I know him more from his comedy and from playing Batman, but as he was underestimated back in 1989 for his superhero role, I underestimated him for his supervillain role.  He did a great job making the audience at least feel sympathetic for his views, though obviously not his methods.  He also provided some fatherly advice to Peter on occasion, so he kinda showed Peter the other side of Tony Stark’s coin, to a degree.  Still, Keaton was a delight and surpassed many of the other villains we’ve seen in these movies.

Ultimately, I enjoyed it quite a bit.  I’m not sure I like it more than Spider-Man 2 yet, but that movie came out at the right age for me and also built upon a foundation built in its previous movie. This one’s just very different.  I look forward to seeing it again so I can tease out the other elements I may have missed.  Overall, it’s a successful movie on many fronts and leaves me wanting more.

Review: Rogue One

Honestly, I wasn’t planning on seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in theaters until I started seeing reviews and spoilers.  As a one off story that wasn’t a “numbered sequel,” it seemed like one I could skip.  Also, I wasn’t very familiar with most of the actors in it (aside from Forrest Whitaker).  Ultimately, I made the trip down to Sedalia to watch it in 3D (using their crappy 3D glasses…next time, I probably won’t even bother with that 3D system…).

The story serves as a transitional film between Episodes III and IV, centering on the group of rebels who steal the plans for the Death Star that allow Luke Skywalker to destroy it in A New Hope.  Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is joined by other rebels in an attempt to reach her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who is a key figure in the science program tasked with building the Death Star.

First, the good: the movie is steeped with nostalgia.  Director Gareth Edwards does a great job replicating the 1977 Star Wars: A New Hope look, complete with 70s-era hair and prosthetics.  There are quite a few digital characters interspersed, but they generally looked great.  The sets also look dirty, which grounds the film in a sense of realism.  The dusty storm trooper helmets and dirty ships make the viewer feel as though there is history here, as opposed to a clean, sterile look.  As other reviewers have noted, the movie also does a good job of adding stakes to the Rebellion that weren’t really there in A New Hope.  You get a sense that these rebels are actually fighting for something, instead of some ethereal principle that was discussed in the Original Trilogy.

As far as the characters go, many of them do serviceable jobs, but there aren’t that many stand-out performances.  The only exception is Alan Tudyk, who voices the repurposed Imperial Droid, K-2SO.  He steals the show in any scene he’s in, providing just the right level of comic relief.

Also, spoiler: Grand Moff Tarken is in it.  Played by Peter Cushing.  Who died in 1994.  He shows up in at least 3 scenes and he looked gooooooood.  It’s kinda controversial that he’s in there at all, but having his interactions shown at the birth of the Death Star were invaluable to the story.

However, while some story beats were strong, others were quite weak.  The solution to getting the plans from the Scarif planet surface to the Rebel Fleet in orbit didn’t make much sense to me.  The convenience of having the daughter of the critical guy at the center of the Death Star Project (and why he’s so necessary is never explained) available to the Rebels.    The fact that Jyn Erso turns-on-a-dime from “The Rebellion Is Stupid” to “We Must Stop The Death Star At All Costs.”  The shallow character development of nearly all of these individuals in why it all matters (which, again, is addressed, but to do it right, more is necessary).

I enjoyed the movie, but I bet I could have waited to see it as a rental.  It does a good job of setting up A New Hope and provides a healthy amount of “Easter Eggs” for the most die-hard of Star Wars fans, yet those that aren’t really big fans of the series will find plenty of plot holes to pick apart.

Review: Star Trek Beyond


Let’s just start here: Star Trek Beyond is a good movie.  It may even be a great movie, though I probably should see it again before I make that assessment.

In some ways, it’s better than it has a right to be.  J.J. Abrams directed the first two movies in the “reboot universe,” Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness (both of which I was a fan of), but as he was busy with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he wasn’t available to take on another Star Trek sequel.  Though, Abrams remained as a Producer, Justin Lin stepped in to direct, along with a new writing staff that includes Montgomery Scott himself, Simon Pegg.  Lin directed four movies in the Fast and the Furious franchise, and that influence showed quite a bit in this film.  The action is fast and frenetic, the one-liners are quick and intelligent, and overall, the movie is just fun.  Pegg, an unabashed Star Trek fan, co-wrote a solid story.  It isn’t anything Oscar-worthy or anything, but it evoked a classic Original Series episode.

To back up a bit, the crew of the Enterprise is midway through their “five year mission” and you can tell the crew has settled into their routine.  Kirk runs through his Captain’s Log toward the beginning, giving the viewer a feel for how life on the ship has progressed since we last saw them.  They stop off at Space Station Yorktown when a mysterious alien arrives, asking for help in a nearby nebula.  After the Enterprise heads off to investigate, the crew ends up stranded on a planet run by Krall, played by Idris Elba.  The crew members are separated, putting Bones (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) together; Kirk (Chris Pine) with Chekov (Anton Yelchin); Sulu (John Cho) with Uhura (Zoe Saldana); and Scotty (Simon Pegg) with another alien, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella).

This arrangement kinda makes the whole movie.  In the first two reboot films, everything centered on the fact that this was a new timeline.  The first movie brought the crew together, while the second still very much depended on the fact that a separate timeline was created.  Star Trek Beyond, on the other hand, is the first one that really feels like it’s own, separate story, one that isn’t dependent on what came before.  When you see Spock and Bones alone together, they act as you’d expect them to, not based on the previous two movies, but based on 50 years of those characters’ histories.  We get to see them working together to solve problems, where it isn’t just Kirk that saves the day, but each character really gets their moment to shine this time around.

I have mixed feelings about the villain, Krall.  He had legitimate motivation for going after the Federation, information that comes out toward the end that ties back into the series, Star Trek Enterprise.  There’s nothing critical about that information, but it was a nice touch that the writers tied it back in for fans who are familiar with the franchise.  Idris Elba is a gifted actor, and while he did pretty well (and improved as the movie progressed), it was obvious he found it difficult to get his performance past the prosthetics he wore to play the role.

I also thought the CG effects were good, but maybe not as good as the previous films.  There were a few scenes that were pretty obviously on green screen.  Perhaps that’s because so much of the film was outdoors instead of on the bridge of the Enterprise, but still, it was noticeable.

That said, there’s a badass scene toward the end that deserves all the Oscars.  You’ll know it when you see it.  And it involves the Beastie Boys.

The last thing I wanted to mention was that they did a good job writing the death of Leonard Nimoy into the movie.  That’s really the only connection to the previous two films that may require explanation to a newcomer, but they handled it nicely and added some depth to Zachary Quinto’s version at the same time.  Justin Lin also re-edited a scene toward the end of the movie as a nod to Anton Yelchin, who died recently after filming had completed.  The word is that, in the next movie, Yelchin won’t be replaced and they will somehow write out Chekov.  While it’s difficult to imagine the bridge without that character, I appreciate that this family sticks together and can’t simply exchange one actor for another.

Ultimately, that’s this movie: it’s a family, working together as a team, to solve an apocalyptic problem.

Just like Star Trek has always been.

Review: Independence Day – Resurgence


Independence Day was a phenomenon in 1996.  The marketing blitz was astounding.  That movie was everywhere, and as a newly minted 14-year-old, I was the perfect age to eat it up.  It had impossible stakes, fun and interesting characters, and mind-boggling special effects that were unmatched for the time.

Twenty years later, now we have Independence Day: Resurgence, a movie that has, in all likelihood, been bouncing around Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin‘s minds for 2 decades.  In so many ways, Emmerich tries to re-capture the magic of the original, with old and new characters and even more effects.  While I don’t think the movie is a failure, I also don’t think it lives up to its past.

ID4 took out the White House, the Empire State Building, and some random building in Los Angeles.  These are epic, iconic moments in film-making that nearly everyone has seen (or, at least images of those scenes).  The closest Resurgence gets to that is the picture above (spoiler alert?…it was on posters and in trailers…deal with it…).  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool scene, but it isn’t iconic.  In 20 years, no one will remember that scene.  In this effects-driven era of movie making, something like that just isn’t as impressive anymore.

Speaking of “impressive,” I remember watching the special features on the ID4 DVD set, fascinated by how they used practical effects to make fire travel sideways down city streets (they ended up building a model set, turning it on its side, and using the small buildings as a chimney for fire to pass upwards through).  Resurgence just relies on CGI.  A lot of CGI.  Granted, these effects don’t look bad in the least, but there’s so much of them, it just isn’t as impressive anymore.  It’s almost lifeless.

With regards to the characters, we’ve got many old faces returning, including Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Brent Spiner, Vivica Fox and Judd Hirsch.  For the most part, these characters are given the right amount of stuff to do, while still providing ample time for The New Class (Liam Hemsworth, Jessie Usher and Maika Monroe) to do their thing.  Overall, they do okay, but they aren’t Will Smith (painfully absent), and they don’t have the chemistry that Smith and Harry Connick, Jr. had.  Again, it just feels somewhat lifeless, that they’re trying too hard and not hard enough all at the same time.  Sela Ward is a perfect example of this, playing the President…though not nearly as well as Pullman did 20 years ago.

That all said, Resurgence still had a decent story.  It’s as simple as “more of the aliens return to Earth,” but also introduces a few new ideas that make it more than a re-hash of the first one.  It honors the mythology of the original while also “expanding the universe” beyond its current borders, making it very obvious they want to franchise it out into more movies.  Based on its current box office performance, that dream may be in doubt.

Ultimately, we enjoyed it.  It wasn’t offensively bad, which compared with some of Emmerich’s other movies, it could have easily gone that way.  Resurgence does its best to raise the stakes beyond what the original did 20 years ago and makes some obvious stumbles along the way, but it was still worth seeing.

Review: Finding Dory


I think it’s safe to say that one of the earliest movies my parents remember me liking was Ghostbusters.  I somewhat famously watched on a nearly daily basis for one summer (a “sanitized” version, of course).  In another 20 years, I suspect that the movie we will look back on that Meg watched constantly for a long period of time is Finding Nemo.  Granted, she didn’t memorize each and every line from it like some of us did for movies in the mid-80s, but she watched it at home and in the car to a point where Brooke and I were getting a bit tired of it.

Fast forward a few years to the announcement of a new movie in the franchise, just at the age when Meg can appreciate it, but releasing 13 years after the original: Finding Dory.  And it released on June 17th, right before my birthday, so Meg and I decided awhile back that we’d go “for my birthday” (awwwwww…).

The story centers on Dory and her journey from childhood as a young fish with short-term memory loss, on up through the events of Finding Nemo (there’s a brief flashback to when she met Marlin), and then finally to about a year later.  A lot of the movie is told in flashbacks back to Dory’s childhood as she remembers specific events around the time when she lost her family.  As each detail pops back into her little fish brain, she gets another clue to lead her back home and, of course, Marlin and Nemo come along for the ride.

It goes without saying that the production values are spectacular, from the animation to the voice work.  Quite a few actors are attached to the movie, including some of the originals (Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks, though Alexander Gould was replaced by Hayden Rolence because of, well, puberty…), and they perform just like it was 13 years ago in the original film.  Newcomers like Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy and Idris Elba also make their marks, though in many cases, more screentime would have been great.  They’re memorable new characters, much like the “aquarium crew” in the first film were, and they do a great job filling out the story a bit.  Ed O’Neill as the “septapus,” Hank, steals the show in many respects, partially because of the intricate animation of an octopus sliding across the floor and using camouflage, but also because his curmudgeonly demeanor serves as a good foil for Dory’s otherwise sunny disposition.

The story itself isn’t quite as strong as Finding Nemo was, but perhaps it’s just because I haven’t seen it countless times (yet).  Multiple reviews for the film have rightly pointed out that Finding Dory is really about living with disability, and on that level, I agree that it succeeds.  At the same time, while Pixar pushes that boundary forward for kids to try and learn something out of their entertainment, I think it still goes over the heads of many kids.  Meg really didn’t “get” Inside Out when we watched it last year, but over time, I bet she’ll understand it more and more, and likely, Finding Dory will also work on that level eventually.  Right now, Finding Nemo is a show (for Meg) about a kid that gets lost, and the parent that does everything to find him.  Finding Dory, as Meg said during the movie, wasn’t really about “finding Dory” because she doesn’t get lost the same way Nemo does.

Eventually, Meg will understand that “finding” has a few different meanings in this context.  As an adult, I get that.  As a 6-year-old, Meg isn’t quite there.

Still, she enjoyed it quite a bit and is seeing it again tonight.  Can’t argue with that. 🙂

Review: Captain America – Civil War


As has become painfully obvious by now, I’m a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and though Captain America himself isn’t my favorite, his third “solo” outing, Captain America: Civil War was an exciting prospect for me because it still brings in lots of characters from across multiple movie franchises.  To be honest, I built this movie up in my head quite a bit because there have been reviews floating around for, literally, at least a month now.  It’s been hyped up to such a degree that it was bound to be disappointing on some level and, indeed, it was…just a little bit.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s still good.  Maybe even great.  But I think I liked Captain America: Winter Soldier better.  The Russo Brothers were back on-board to direct this one and while the pair of them were able to hold the movie together against all odds, I think the story, as a whole, suffered under its own weight.

Seriously.  It’s easier to count who wasn’t in this movie instead of who was, because nearly everyone was in it. We had Captain America, Bucky Barnes, Iron Man, War Machine, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Ant-Man and Falcon from the previous movies…and then introduced Black Panther and Spider-Man on top of all of that.  The introduction of these two characters is intended to set up their own movies within the MCU, but they each had 15-20 minutes of screen time focused on them, which in a 2.5 hour movie means that you then only have about 2 hours to work with for all the other folks I just listed.

Taking a step back, the movie very loosely centers around the Civil War series of comics, where this time around, the United Nations and its associated world powers want to set up a hierarchical protocol where the individuals with superpowers are kept “in check,” under control of the UN.  Captain America doesn’t want to give up his right to do what needs to be done to stop evil-doers, while Iron Man thinks they have too much power and need to be reined in a bit.

But this is all complicated by the villain, Baron Zemo, who wants to create a series of “Winter Soldiers” a la Bucky Barnes, and ends up framing Barnes for the assassination of King T’Chaka, the father of T’Challa (who is also Black Panther).  Zemo has almost literally nothing to do with any of this, but they need a villain, so there he is.  He’s incidental to the whole enterprise.  Barely essential.

I could go on, but the “Civil War” storyline is complicated enough without also trying to bring in Black Panther and then Spider-Man.  Both of these characters are awesome on screen, and in their own way, they make sense why they’d be there.  But at the same time, I’d rather see the focus stay on the rift between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, rather than bringing in all the extraneous story in service of the MCU.

The fight scenes are really cool, there are some genuine “cheer”-type moments, and good-natured Marvel humor injected throughout.  The relationship between Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers is in full display in contrast to the strained relationship between Rogers and Tony Stark (which began in Avengers: Age of Ultron).  But again, with all the stuff happening in the story, I feel like the plot suffered.  Captain America: Winter Soldier had a focus to it – Bucky and Steve’s relationship – that was at the center of a feud between S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra.  Both elements tied together very nicely, and even brought in some bigger “Government Control Is Bad” themes.  But Captain America: Civil War doesn’t tie these elements together nearly as deftly, in my view.

I’m absolutely glad I saw it, and I’m definitely going to buy it.  Spider-man was awesome to see on screen again, and his stand-alone movie will likely be really, really good.  These characters are all in this conflict because of multiple movies’ worth of build-up, and that all makes sense.

I guess I just wanted a bit more focus out of it.

Review: Star Wars – The Force Awakens


It took a few weeks, but I finally got to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens last night.  I didn’t try to avoid spoilers over the past few weeks, so I didn’t exactly go into it with “fresh eyes,” but it was still cool seeing it.  I’m absolutely glad I saw it in theaters, though it wasn’t IMAX and wasn’t in 3-D.  Those screenings are somewhat limited in Sedalia at this point…

Overall, I thought it was “good.”  I wouldn’t say it’s a “great” film – just “good.”  There are actually elements of the movie that were legitimately “great,” including the acting and special effects.  Unlike the Prequel Trilogy, which was largely terrible (with the possible exception of the third one…),  the acting was solid among the new and old cast.  As everyone knows at this point, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill were all back in varying (or even limited) capacities in this movie, and did a good job evoking their characters from the Original Trilogy.  However, I was especially impressed with the acting chops of the new cast and how well they fit into the universe.  Oscar Isaac was perhaps the best-known actor on this list, but newcomers like John Boyega and Daisy Ridley really stole the show, wiping away the stench of Hayden Christensen in the Prequels (ew…).

With regards to the effects, again, J.J. Abrams relied more heavily on practical effects this time around, unlike George Lucas in the Prequel Trilogy, who had nearly every scene in front of a green screen.  Sure, there was a ton of CG in The Force Awakens, but it wasn’t over-done this time around.  CG characters were better integrated into the background.  Buildings were inserted into actual, live environments rather than having the entire environment built on a computer.  It was much easier to “fall into the world” watching this movie, as it was easier to convince yourself that everything you were looking at on the screen was real.

My main gripe with the movie concerns the story.  It isn’t that the story is “bad” – it isn’t.  But it’s absolutely derivative.  Perhaps I was clouded by post-release articles, when everyone was talking about it, but The Force Awakens is absolutely a remake of Star Wars: A New Hope.  Not shot-for-shot, but in the critical story beats, it’s totally that original movie.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Rebels find some critical information that they’re trying to keep away from the bad guys and store it in a droid.  That droid, on a desert planet, happens to find a young person who also happens to, we come to find out, be “strong in the Force.”  That person hooks up with a “bad guy with a good heart” kinda person, as well as an “older mentor,” as they try to return this stolen information to the Rebellion.  All the time, they’re being chased by a evil guy in a black mask that can Force Choke you.  I’ll stop right here to limit potential spoilers, but seriously, take all those characters I just mentioned and continue on through A New Hope and you’ll know what happens.

Now, does the story follow it exactly?  No.  Some things happen in a different order.  There are also gratuitous scenes in this movie that are intended to evoke the original movie (like when the two main characters, Rey and Finn, happen across the Millennium Falcon, on that desert planet that they happen to be on), and obviously those scenes wouldn’t have existed in the first movie.  There’s a great deal of nostalgia here, definitely, but that’s most of what this movie has going for it.

Which is to say, if nostalgia is what you’re looking for, The Force Awakens has it in spades.  It’s intended to make you feel like a kid again, seeing Star Wars for the first time.  It’s intended to remind you of what made you like the Original Trilogy and why no one (except demented, horrible people…) like the Prequel Trilogy.

But it isn’t an original story.  Heck, A New Hope wasn’t even an “original story,” as it was just ripping off the classic “Hero’s Journey” monomyth.  But it at least put it in a sci-fi setting with a budget that could really wow an audience.

And also, Star Trek is still better than Star Wars