Teen Titans Go to the Movies (Full Review)

I get it, fellow millennials, you hate what they did to your beloved Teen Titans. Yes, the original cartoon that ran from 2003 to 2006 was a fantastic, anime inspired, action show. But, have you actually watched Teen Titans Go? This goofy, comedic retooling is actually pretty hilarious. And if you can put your saltiness aside for an hour and a half, you’ll find that this movie adaptation of the popular Cartoon Network series is actually a lot of ridiculous fun, too.

TTG_Movie_Poster_5Robin (Scott Menville), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Cyborg (Khary Payton), Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), and Raven (Tara Strong) are determined to prove to the Justice League and the rest of the world, that they are more than just a group of quirky sidekicks. Robin also wants to show a Hollywood superhero movie director (Kristen Bell) that he and his team are worthy of a big screen adaptation like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The arrival of villain Slade Wilson (Will Arnett), might just be their big chance if they can take crime fighting seriously.

Teen Titans Go to the Movies knows exactly what it is, and it flings its wild style of animation and outlandish brand of comedy at the audience with no apologies. In many ways, it acts as a kid friendly version of Deadpool, throwing in fourth wall breaks and poking fun at the DC universe and the superhero genre as a whole. From surprise cameos, to several hilarious musical numbers that rival “Pyramid Mummy Money” and “Catching Villains” (Google it), the movie manages to play out like a classic episode of Spongebob.

Make no mistake, this movie is made for the current generation of youngsters who enjoy the show. But there is enough clever humor involved that folks of all ages should be left grinning throughout. And for nerds like me, who know obscure DC characters like The Challengers of the Unknown, there is enough references to find subtle comedic moments. It even goes out of its way to throw fans of the original show a bone with an interesting mid-credits scene. So, yes… Teen Titans Go! does make a mockery out of your favorite action cartoon. But instead of being an old curmudgeon about it, just sit back and enjoy the tongue and cheek fun.

FINAL GRADE: B

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Ant-Man and The Wasp (Full Review)

Welp… someone had to draw the short straw. 2015’s Ant-Man was a pleasant surprise, mainly because it relished in being a comedic heist film more than an outright superhero movie. But this time around, Marvel’s shrinking hero has the unenviable task of following up the two highest grossing films in the history of comic book cinema. And while no intelligent person should be going into Ant-Man and The Wasp looking for it to be as thematically profound as Black Pantheror as epic as Infinity War, it is fair to expect a film equally as fun, or exciting, as the first Ant-Man.

Ant-Man_and_the_Wasp_posterAfter aiding Captain America in Civil War, ex-con, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) finds himself under house arrest. Determined to finish the last days of his two year sentence and spend more time with his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), he has given up the moniker of Ant-Man. But, having escaped the subatomic quantum realm in the first film, Scott is also the key to helping the original Ant-Man, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), rescue his long lost wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the same mysterious dimension. With the FBI, a black market tech dealer (Walton Goggins), and a villain who can phase through solid matter (Hannah John-Kamen) standing in their way, Scott takes up the mantle again with Dr. Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) as his partner.

Calling Lilly’s Wasp the “partner” is actually pretty ridiculous. By the first action sequence, it becomes clear that the movie should be called The Wasp and Ant-Man. She is tougher, smarter, and more heroic to the point that it relegates Lang to being, not only more of the sidekick, but inherently mere comic relief and a plot device for her adventure. And that would all be fine if this sequel had the same narrative flow as the previous film. But it never rightfully gives her the tonal forefront.

Miguel Peña, Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris, and Davis Dastmalchian all return as Lang’s goofy, ex-con coworkers. Laurence Fishburne appears as a former colleague to Dr. Pym. Oh… and Randall Park also plays a bumbling FBI agent. By the end, there are just too many characters and story threads. The over-reliance on quips and gags makes for a ton of disjointed scenes that, like in Thor: Ragnarok, undermine serious stakes. Meanwhile, Walton Goggins and his crew of buffoons seem to be onscreen only to provide henchmen to beat up, which only wastes the potential of John-Kamen’s visually stunning, but underdeveloped villain, ‘Ghost’.

Peyton Reed returns to direct, and he tries mightily to give this film the same tone. But at its core, Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t a heist film. With Hope and Dr. Pym’s emotional journey to reunite with their lost matriarch being the main focus, The Wasp should’ve been the main character. Rudd’s Lang is still charming, and his endearing relationship with his daughter was enough of a subplot to bring him along for the ride, but he needed to take more of a backseat. Continuously giving screen time to clownish characters is frequently becoming Marvel’s biggest weakness. And here, it squanders the showcasing of its tremendous female lead. It certainly has some fun moments, but there’s too much going on for Ant-Man and The Wasp not to land near the bottom of the Marvel Cinematic Universe spectrum.

FINAL GRADE: C

Incredibles 2 (Full Review)

The wait is finally over! It’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years since Brad Bird directed the Disney/Pixar classic. Most of the Pixar films are brilliant, but The Incredibles is my all time favorite. But not all Pixar sequels are created equal. So despite deep excitement, Incredibles 2 had to live up to lofty expectations of being more like Finding Dory than Cars 2.

The_Incredibles_2Super strong Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), his super stretching wife Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), his speedster son Dash (Huck Milner), his force field creating daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), and his best friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) jump back into action to save the city from the evil Underminor (John Ratzenberger). But their destructive heroics are unfortunately met with more government scrutiny that forces them back into hiding. Luckily for them, Elastigirl is approached by a pair of siblings (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) who want to use their Telecommunications company to prove to the world that superheroes are still necessary. While she battles a new villain called the Screenslaver, Mr. Incredible has to handle the equally arduous tasks of helping Dash with his homework, dealing with Violet’s teenage angst, and figuring out baby Jack Jack’s unhinged new powers.

The film’s plot isn’t as concise and its biggest flaw is its villain. The “twist” can be seen a mile away by any viewer who isn’t in grade school and the horde of new characters never make their mark outside of showcasing some visually appealing superpowers. Thus, Incredibles 2 never quite comes together as well as its predecessor. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an absolute fun, family film.

The action, which is more plentiful this time around, is absolutely stellar. Elastigirl being at the forefront creates several exhilarating moments. Her powers are far more interesting than Mr. Incredible’s, so we are treated to some very creative sequences like a fantastic motorcycle chase scene. There are also plenty of laughs. Baby Jack Jack gets more screen time and absolutely steals the show. His interaction with Edna Mode (Brad Bird), the hilarious superhero fashion designer from the first film, is one of the funniest scenes in either movie.

It’s no shame not living up to a transcendent previous film, so don’t feel too disappointed if Incredibles 2 isn’t quite a homerun. Maybe a decade from now when they greenlight Incredibles 3, we’ll get a story that resonates a little more. But, if great humor and eye-popping action with endearing characters is all we get out of this long awaited sequel, we should count ourselves lucky for the experience.

FINAL GRADE: B

Deadpool 2 (Full Review)

For fans of Marvel Comics’ Deadpool, the 2016 film was a violent, raunchy dream come true. For newcomers, it was a surprisingly fresh subversion from the typical superhero flick. Hoping to catch lightning in a bottle twice, Deadpool 2 reunites the foul mouthed, fourth wall breaking mercenary with the original cast and also introduces a host of intriguing new faces.

Deadpool_2_posterRyan Reynolds returns as Wade Wilson, a former cancer victim turned into the virtually, unkillable anti-hero, known as Deadpool. Under the guise of his girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), Deadpool takes it upon himself to protect an orphaned young mutant (Julian Dennison) from Cable (Josh Brolin), a cybernetic mutant sent from the future. To ensure the kid’s safety, Deadpool forms the X-Force, headlined by a luck manipulating mutant named Domino (Zazie Beetz).

David Leitch takes over for Tim Miller as director, and it feel noticeable. At times Deadpool 2 threatens to falter under the weight of its overwhelming meta-humor. The fourth wall breaks, pop culture references, and potty humor come in an often overwhelming wave that doesn’t feel nearly as organic as it did in the first film. The movie’s disjointed plot doesn’t help matters, at times feeling like two separate movies.

But never fear, Ryan Reynolds is here. The actor’s charm and wit again radiates in this role he was born to play. And he isn’t the only player that shines. Zazie Beetz is stylishly brash and enticing as Domino. She pulls off the femme fetale roll effortlessly while bringing enough comedic timing to work as Deadpool’s perfect counterpart. The movie also does a marvelous job in implementing her unique superpowers to enhance action sequences.

Many of the new characters fall flat. Josh Brolin is fine as Cable, but doesn’t get enough to do other than be brooding. And Julian Dennison’s performance dangles between comedic and annoying. These uneven moments, however, end up being counterbalanced by hilarious performances from the returning cast. Karan Soni’s cap driver, Dopinder and Leslie Uggams’ Blind Al, seem to bring laugh out loud moments every time they are on screen.

Despite going overkill with the meta-humor in spots, the laughs do land more times than they don’t. Brilliantly funny cameos, a few hilarious twists, and genuine charisma from most of this cast make Deadpool 2 a film that only mildly succumbs to sequel-itis, but still manages to be wildly entertaining and worth a several viewings to take it all in.

FINAL GRADE: B

Avengers: Infinity War (Spoiler Free) Review

The word ‘Ambitious’ isn’t quite enough to describe it. Marvel Studios Producer Kevin Feige probably couldn’t have imagined that this vast cinematic universe would become as successful as it is when Iron Man first released ten years ago. Along with a host of incredible directors and acting talent, he has carved out a collection of unique films that seamlessly blend into one cohesive story. It has all led to a film that holds no punches.

Avengers_Infinity_War_posterThanos (Josh Brolin), an intimidating force who has been pulling strings behind the scenes in several films, has finally come to the forefront. Hell bent on wiping out half of the universe to create balance, he along with his minions, are out to capture the Power, Space, Reality, Soul, Time, and Mind infinity stones. Standing in their way are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Vision (Paul Bettany), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Braldey Cooper, Pom Klementieff, and Vin Diesel) along with a horde of supporting characters from the MCU (Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Letitia Wright, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba).

Anyone familiar with comics knows that you have to often suspend your notions of practicality to enjoy the overarching stories and their themes. Avengers: Infinity War is no different. The movie moves at a sometimes disorienting pace that will leave those who aren’t familiar with these types of films in the dust. There are so many characters, that the movie can’t help but feel complex and at times muddled. But after eighteen films of character building, Infinity War serves as a visual narrative treat to those who have been there every step of the way.

The vast collection of cast members intermingle with characters they’ve never been on screen alongside with an almost flawless chemistry. We get Thor teaming up with Rocket Raccoon and Groot, Iron Man with Dr. Strange, The Avengers with the army of Wakanda. When fan favorites arrive on the scene there’s a nostalgic sensation that is enough to make fans absolutely giddy. So even at its rare hokey moments (one character does something atypically stupid and a new character feels completely out of place), Infinity War revitalizes the same fun, awestricken feeling audiences got with the first Avengers movie.

The humor feels organic, but make no mistake, this movie raises the MCU stakes unlike any other. Thanos, off nothing more than sheer might, determination, and intimidation, manages to cement himself as one of cinema’s most daunting villains. The heart pounding climax of the film is sure to leave audiences frozen in their seats as the credits role. For a franchise whose biggest flaws have usually revolved around lack of strong antagonists and unwillingness to sacrifice major characters, the Russo Brothers (Captain America Winter Solider and Civil War) manage to create a film that serves as a middle finger to anyone who ever criticized. The result is a sometimes uneven, but overall shocking, emotional roller coaster that feels like the Empire Strikes Back of the superhero genre.

FINAL GRADE: A

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Avengers: Infinty War is the remarkable culmination of ten years of superhero filmmaking. When Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios first embarked on this bold venture it seemed farfetched that it would reach its current level of success. But now, even lesser known comic characters like The Guardians of the Galaxy have become household names. All of the movies in the MCU haven’t been classic, but some are incredible. So here is my rank of all of the movies that have made up the greatest comic book franchise in film history so far. (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen some of these movies)

18. THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)

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This film wasn’t awful. In fact, in comparison to Ang Lee’s non-MCU Hulk film, it’s fantastic. But the film isn’t remotely memorable and was the first inclination that this universe might not succeed. Other than an appearance from Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross in Captain America: Civil War and a post-credit cameo by Tony Stark, it has no real connection to the rest of the franchise. Edward Norton’s stale performance doesn’t help, and it makes me wonder what this movie might’ve been if Mark Ruffalo had starred in it instead.

17. IRON MAN 3 (2013)

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The most egregious error of this film is making a mockery out of The Mandarin, Iron Man’s arch nemesis in the comics. But there are a ton of other problems with it too. Rhodey doesn’t do much of anything and too much of the film is spent with Tony Stark out of his Iron Man armor. There was also a few plot holes and the arc of Stark mentoring a young boy fell flat. The biggest saving grace is the army of Iron Man suits that shows up in the climax, but even that was spoiled by the trailers.

16. THOR: THE DARK WORLD (2013)

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Like The Incredible Hulk, this film was also unmemorable and had by far the weakest villain of all the MCU films. It also brought back the useless humans of the previous Thor movie. But there are some bright spots that keep it from being terrible. There was the great chemistry between Thor and his brother Loki, as well as a pretty awesome fight sequence that showed how much of a bad ass Thor’s mother Frigga is.

15. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

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This movie was a letdown for me. It was far too much like the first Avengers and had a lot of left field plot points. Hawkeye having a family, Thor going to a “mind bath” that foreshadowed the Infinity Stones, and the random romance between Hulk and Black Widow were just some of the things that just felt out of place. Even Ultron, though performed impeccably by James Spader, felt underutilized. So while there are some awesome moments, the muddle of characters and frenetic plot made this movie underwhelming.

14. IRON MAN 2 (2010)

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This movie is better after repeated viewings, but it still pales in comparison to the first Iron Man film. The plot goes all over the place, with Tony inventing a new element in one day and Black Widow’s debut feeling forced. The story also doesn’t do enough to develop Mickey Rourke’s villain Ivan Vanko, but it does feature Tony Stark’s impressive suit case armor and a nice climactic battle with Don Cheadle finally debuting as Iron Man’s partner War Machine.

13. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017)

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The movie was certainly entertaining. But it was hard to live up to the hype of the previous Guardians film’s breakout success. The biggest problem with this movie, other than the muddled plot, is that it tries too hard to be funny. Jokes are thrown at the audience at every turn, often undermining serious moments. Meanwhile characters like Dave Bautista’s Drax get virtually nothing to do other than be another form of comic relief. And even though the death of Yondu was a nice endearing touch, the father-son dynamic between he and Star Lord felt forced.

12. THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)

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Just like Guardians 2, this movie hurts itself by constantly trying to be funny. It’s even more unusual here, as the plot revolves around very serious stakes including the apocalypse of Thor’s homeworld, Asgard. It also doesn’t feel true to the other Thor films, as it discards important supporting characters from the previous films like they never even mattered. The movie does make up for some of its flaws thanks to some awesome action sequences and good chemistry between the cast.

11. THOR (2011)

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The parts spent on Earth aren’t very interesting at all. But this is still the most compelling Thor movie. The visuals are stunning and Tom Hiddleston’s debut as Loki is nothing short of sensational. Up until Black Panther, his performance was by far the greatest villain in the MCU and it gave this movie a Shakespearean feel when it focused on Asgard and not humans.

10. CAPTAIN AMERICA (2011)

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I thoroughly enjoy this movie more than most. Chris Evans’ performance as scrawny do gooder turned super soldier is fantastic. The World War II vibe is a unique touch and the movie paces well. The only real flaw is the unfortunately underwhelming portrayal of The Red Skull, Cap’s arch nemesis. When you cast someone like Hugo Weaving for your villain, you expect a little more nuance then your run of the mill megalomaniac.

9. ANT-MAN (2015)

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Like Guardians of the Galaxy, this movie was a pleasant surprise. Marvel was smart to make it more of a heist film than a superhero origin story, which gives it a distinctive quality among the genre. The villain isn’t memorable and there are a ton of hokey moments, but Paul Rudd manages to be a compelling lead and the visuals to this movie are absolutely incredible.

8. AVENGERS (2012)

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This was the movie that first proved that mixing a bunch of superheroes from different worlds could work. The chemistry among the cast is perfection and many of the action sequences are jaw dropping. But let’s not act like the plot to this film wasn’t weak. Loki just brings a random alien army to earth and the superheroes team up. Not exactly nuanced stuff.

7. SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

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Tom Holland cemented himself as a perfect Peter Parker with this coming of age story mixed with superhero flare. The supporting cast brings great comedic timing and every piece serves a purpose. Michael Keaton brings his A-game as one of the MCU’s best villains and Robert Downey Jr. does a great job in the mentor role. If there were more action in this movie, it would be higher on the list.

6. DR. STRANGE (2016)

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Benedict Cumberbatch absolutely kills it as the arrogant and downtrodden Stephen Strange. Chiwetel Ejiofor also is great as good guy turned future villain Baron Mordo. And even though the Mads Mikkelsen’s villain isn’t wholly memorable, the plot paces well, the humor doesn’t feel forced, and the visuals are some of the most impressive in superhero cinematic history.

5. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)

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Easily the most surprising success in the MCU’s history. This movie is fun from start to finish and Director James Gunn does a wonderful job to pace the story and center the plot around its eclectic, yet charismatic characters. Even though the movie features another generic villain in Ronan, there are enough stakes to make the journey worthwhile. Chris Pratt is phenomenal as Peter Quill and the movie’s comedy feels organic. The film’s soundtrack is also another plus.

4. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)

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While it was by no means as massive as the comic book event it is named after, Civil War ended up righting many of the wrongs from Age of Ultron. The dynamic between Tony and Cap came together well to create stakes that felt higher than in any previous MCU film. The epic airport battle and the successful introduction of Black Panther and Spider-Man into the franchise help make this into one of the best film’s of the MCU’s Phase III.

3. IRON MAN (2008)

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We wouldn’t even be here without this breakout hit. As superhero origin stories go, this film had virtually everything. A flawed, but charismatic hero in Robert Downey Jr.’s debut as Tony Stark, a strong supporting cast, and fantastic special effects. It revealed the MCU’s potential and made Iron Man a household name. If only they could’ve recaptured this magic. Neither of its sequels were able to match it’s perfect blend of tone, pacing, and action.

2. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)

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The Russo Brothers, who also directed Civil War and are set to make Infinity War and Avengers 4, turned this Cap film into an exhilarating thriller that felt like more than a superhero film. Chris Evans once again turned in an earnest portrayal as Captain America and the film’s political undertones also made the movie feel as nuanced as it was action packed. Fun supporting characters, brilliant fight choreography, and an interesting plot made this my #1 MCU film up until 2018…

1. BLACK PANTHER (2018)

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No, I’m not being prisoner of the moment here. This movie isn’t just the best movie in the MCU, it’s possibly the greatest superhero film ever made. Chadwick Boseman’s performance has James Bond levels of suave. But the supporting cast is what makes this movie transcendent. The horde of strong, magnetic female characters each add something to both the story and the hero’s journey. Even characters like Winston Duke’s M’Baku manage to shine in only about twenty minutes of screen time. The villains are also sensational. Andy Serkis brings comedic charisma to the role of Ulysses Claue while Michael B. Jordan delivers an incredibly passionate and endearing performance as Erik Killmonger, an antagonist whose compelling ideology leads to enlightenment and growth for the protagonist. Oh, and if that weren’t enough, the action sequences are jaw dropping. No other MCU film is as fun and thematically profound as Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther.

There you have it. Don’t like my rankings? Feel free to comment your thoughts and share which MCU films are your favorite. As always, thanks for reading, liking, and sharing!

Black Panther Review (Spoiler Free)

When you are excited about a film and you want it to succeed, one of two things can happen. It can be a massive disappointment (Glaring at you Batman v Superman) or it can live up to the hype to become a timeless cinematic classic. From the moment the Black Panther graced the screen in 2016’s sensational Captain America: Civil War it became clear that this character, originally created by Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966, was ripe for his own memorable adventure.

Black_Panther_film_posterChadwick Boseman returns to the role of T’Challa, heir to the throne of Wakanda, a secret nation located in the heart of Africa. Using a unique and powerful element known as vibranium, Wakanda is a technological utopia, ruled by four peaceful tribes who vow to shield the nation’s resources from the chaotic outside world. As he ascends to his new role as King, T’Challa must use the mantle of the Black Panther to protect the country from those who wish to steal the throne and exploit vibranium for violent means.

As grand as the scope and visual elements are in Black Panther, it is the film’s characters, and specifically the supporting cast, that make it feel transcendent. Chadwick Boseman is once again regal and captivating as T’Challa, but it is the women around him that steal the show. Danai Gurira is wonderfully strong willed as Okoye, the Black Panther’s right hand women. Lupita Nyong’o brings alluring sophistication to the role of Wakandan spy, Nakia. Her chemistry with Boseman provides an intriguing romance that makes it feel like the characters have been on screen together many times before. And Letitia Wright is an absolute scene stealer as T’Challa’s brilliant and feisty younger sister, Shuri.

As for the villains in the film, they are the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most compelling to date. Andy Serkis, expanding on his small role in Avengers: Age of Ultron, brings deliciously wicked humor as the terrorist Ulysses Klaue. But it is Michael B. Jordan who solidifies the film’s surprisingly emotional themes. Jordan brings undeniable swagger and intense passion to the role of Erik Killmonger, a character whose heartfelt motivations make him someone easy to route for. The best action movies are the ones that can create the perfect foil to the main protagonist and here, Director Ryan Coogler crafts a script that gives Killmonger motivations that are easy to understand and sympathize with. What it creates is something akin to Civil War and X-Men, where the villain’s ideals are admirable, but his methodology is treacherous.

There are action sequences, like an intense car chase through the streets of South Korea, that are jaw dropping. But it is the drama that takes place in between that makes Black Panther stand out as something timeless. The film deals with the notion that it is one’s duty to serve those who are less fortunate while also exploring the dangers of adhering to longstanding traditions that no longer serve the modern world. Thus, it manages to be a movie that transcends the often formulaic nature of the prototypical superhero flick.

What has continuously made the Marvel Cinematic Universe the peak of superhero filmmaking is their ability to constantly reinvent the genre. With Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed) at the helm, Black Panther cements itself as arguably the studio’s most unique film. From the costumes, to the inventive technology, to the captivating customs, the film creates a rich lore that feels like a sci-fi Game of Thrones with a neo-African twist. The CGI gets a bit flimsy at times, a problem becoming more and more prevalent in superhero films as they become more ambitious, and there is also a romantic relationship in the film that could’ve been better fleshed out. But neither of these miniscule flaws is enough to keep Black Panther from being a stunning creation that pays homage to a long ignored culture. With thought provoking themes, and a witty and exuberant cast each bringing their best performances to the table, Black Panther deserves to be celebrated as a pillar of what the genre can and should be.

FINAL GRADE: A

Justice League (Full Review)

Dreary, uninspired, and virtually tone deaf to the decades of phenomenal source material that came before it… the more you think about it, the more Batman v Superman feels like a train wreck. But Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman showed that DC and Warner Bros. has some footing. Now comes Justice League, the original super team of marquee heroes hoping to keep the DC Extended Universe from completely derailing.

Justice_League_film_posterFollowing the events of 2016’s Dawn of Justice, Justice League begins with Batman (Ben Affleck), his trusted butler Alfred (Jeremy Irons), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) struggling to pick up the pieces following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill). When an alien god (Ciaran Hinds) who was once thwarted by Amazons and warriors from Atlantis returns to conquer Earth, Batman and Wonder Woman must recruit more metahumans to oppose him. Joining them are nerdy speedster Barry Allen aka The Flash (Ezra Miller), macho half-man, half Atlantian Arthur Curry aka the Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) a former football star who is fused with alien technology by his father (Joe Morton) after a near fatal accident. But to prevent the apocalypse, they’ll need to quickly gel as a team and find a way to resurrect the Man of Steel himself.

Justice League is by no means a polished movie. After an untimely and unfortunate exit from Director Zack Snyder, Avengers helmsmen Joss Whedon was brought in to finish the job. It is pretty noticeable in a few cringeworthy scenes where the reshoots and edits are glaringly obvious and out of place amidst the finished product. Not helping matters is the generic plot and somewhat rushed together opening act that attempts to pull together several characters never fully introduced on screen before.

But since when does having a flimsy plot make a superhero movie not entertaining? Audiences collectively gushed over Avengers even though it was about a random alien invasion bringing together a rag tag group just the same. And several of the touted Marvel films involve finding a magical mcguffin to thwart a megalomaniac. So the overarching narrative shouldn’t distract from the excitement when the tone is balanced, the action is intense, and the chemistry between characters works.

Justice League succeeds in the most important aspects of the genre. The chemistry between the heroes works wonderfully without compromising the more serious tone of the established universe. Affleck is brooding, but slyly exuberant and more balanced as Batman this time around. Fisher brings toughness and soul as Cyborg. Miller and Momoa are both boyishly comical in their roles and Gal Gadot is just as sophisticated and elegant as she’s been in every role as the Amazon warrior. Even Henry Cavill’s Superman, who swoops in as the team’s resident cheat code in the climax (it’s not that big of a spoiler. Trust me), manages to feel like a welcomed fit amongst the group. His charming boy scout routine works well in its small dose and manages to elevate another dull showing by Amy Adams as Lois Lane.

The action, though heavy on the CGI, is well paced and exhilarating with each team member getting a moment to flex their muscle. Several sequences, including one involving Connie Nielsen and the Amazons from Wonder Woman, are downright show stoppers. More importantly, characters finally feel true to their comic cores, so DC fan boys who have been waiting for the big screen films to be as engaging as the studio’s animated properties will have enough to feel satisfied. So while Justice League doesn’t break any new narrative ground and may only be wholly memorable to comic purists, it succeeds in rectifying the wrongs of Batman v Superman and showing that the DCEU does know how to put something fun together without completely losing its knack for spectacle and an emotional foundation.

FINAL GRADE: B

Thor: Ragnarok (Spoiler Free Review)

The Thor films have always been the weak link of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The first movie about the God of Thunder was bogged down by hokey human characters and a setting that skimped on the action. Thor: The Dark World was a somewhat forgettable romp with one of superhero cinema’s weakest villains. But one thing the Thor films have always had, is two great lead characters with a compelling arc. Leaving Earth behind for a new adventure, Thor: Ragnarok reunites Thor and Loki and hopes to give them a story that leaves a memorable mark on the MCU.

Thor_Ragnarok_posterRagnarok finds Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Prince of Asgard and God of Thunder, searching for his displaced father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) whose throne was stolen by Thor’s mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). But finding their father quickly brings them into contact with Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death who proves to be too powerful for the two of them. Banished to a junk yard planet ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), Thor’s only hope of stopping Hela is to ally with a disgraced former Asgardian warrior (Tessa Thompson) and defeat the Grandmaster’s greatest warrior… who just happens to be Thor’s old ally, The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

Ragnarok is certainly the most entertaining of the Thor films. It paces well and there are tons of CGI filled action sequences that make for good ‘turn your brain off and watch’ fun. New director, Taika Waititi, also infuses this latest entry with loads of colorful imagery and brilliant costumes and set pieces to create a world that make the previous films in the trilogy feel a bit bland by comparison.

But the story itself is no more intelligent or enlightening than any other Thor movie. The plot, which has elements of an epic and dark apocalyptic core, falters thanks to the hordes of new characters who take turns being utter buffoons. The cartoonish tone does deliver some laugh out loud moments, but seemingly spends every available minute trying to make the audience laugh which gets irritating once you take the overarching plot into consideration.

Even characters that should be grittier, severely emotionally grounded, and enticing throughout are weighed down by disjointed wacky moments. Tessa Thompson’s drunken Valkyrie is introduced in a way that makes it hard to take her seriously until the film’s latter half while Blanchett’s delightfully sinister Hela is brushed aside in favor of Goldblum’s clownish Grandmaster. So even though characters like the Grandmaster are occasionally funny, their antics make light of serious stakes.

Ragnarok is certainly ‘fun’, but a movie about the Asgardian apocalypse that features the deaths of several characters in the Thor mythos, probably deserves to be taken more seriously. No one wants another dreary Batman v Superman, but there’s a such thing as a happy medium. Someone needs to tell Marvel that it’s okay to have characters who don’t make the audience chuckle.  When everyone is a comedian, the stakes don’t seem so threatening and when the jokes don’t land, the whole exercise feels corny. Things are smoothed over by nice psychedelic visuals, fine chemistry between the cast, and a few endearing moments between Hiddleston and Hemsworth whose brotherly dynamic has become the only reason to pay attention to Thor. But it’s still irksome that to make Thor appeasing to the masses, they had to turn it into Guardians of the Galaxy 3.

FINAL GRADE: C

A = Must See/Top 10 Nominee

B = Good film. Flawed, but still very entertaining

C = Not Bad, but highly flawed/Probably better off waiting for Redbox

D = Terrible Movie with a few redeeming qualities

F = I wanted to walk out/Don’t waste time or money