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

Advertisements

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Full Review)

If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. The Tobey Maguire Spider-Man franchise started off just fine, until Spider-Man 3 made it come to a dark, disco dancing halt. Sony Pictures then rushed a pair of needless reboots into production starring Andrew Garfield which had their moments, but crumbled in 2014 when the studio became more obsessed with setting up sequels and spin-offs than with actually delivering a fun Spider-Man story. All of this led to the landmark deal that has finally given Marvel Studios the opportunity to use their biggest A-lister. After being one of the many bright spots in Captain America: Civil War, it’s time for Tom Holland to take center stage in the iconic red and blue spandex.

Spider-Man_Homecoming_posterAfter recruiting Peter Parker (Holland) to aid in the events of Civil War, Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) returns the super powered 15 year old back to his home in Queens, New York with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei). Despite wanting the life of a full-fledged Avenger, Parker spends his Spider-Man nights catching bicycle thieves and helping old ladies cross the street while Stark’s assistant Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) keeps tabs. Peter’s daytime life consists of he and his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon) talking about Star Wars, participating in quiz bowls, getting teased by a bully (Tony Revolori), and pining after a pretty senior (Laura Harrier). When the spurned leader of an Avengers battle clean up crew (Michael Keaton) begins selling high tech weapons to criminals in the city, Spidey sees catching him as his big chance to impress Mr. Stark and becoming a true Avenger.

We’ve seen Spider-man done justice, so we never actually needed a new solo outing. While this version is younger, there isn’t really anything new brought to the character other than a high tech suit and a ton of nice, but not necessary Avengers Easter eggs. And yet, in many ways, the story that Spider-Man: Homecoming comes up with manages to be arguably the character’s most definitive one.

Pater Parker is still smart, snarky, and brave. But by making the character younger and placing him in a world where superheroes are both abundant and older, we are allowed to truly see Spider-Man’s coming of age as a likable hero. Holland’s version, more than any other, is a kid. He is naïve and inexperienced and to become the iconic hero, he must mature. Thus, this Spider-Man film feels like a true origin story even though we’re allowed to skip out on Uncle Ben dying and the inevitable radioactive spider bite.

The sensational supporting cast helps. Robert Downey Jr. portraying Tony Stark as Parker’s mentor and father figure works incredibly well, with some of the best dialogue coming between the two. Jacob Batalon injects wholesome likability into every scene he’s in as Ned. And even though her role at times seems shoe horned in, Zendaya has some fun quips as Parker’s classmate Michele. As for Michael Keaton, who plays the villainous Vulture, he gives a performance that isn’t just one of the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but rivals Alfred Molina’s iconic Doc Ock in 2004’s Spider-Man 2. By giving the titular hero a worthy adversary, we are able to truly explore his fears and vulnerabilities.

It’s not quite the best Spider-Man movie ever. There are a few pacing issues, the CGI often gets a bit too cartoony, and I’m not a fan of young, more attractive Aunt May. But this film nails the overall tone of one of the most popular characters in pop culture. Calling an MCU movie fun is like calling a Tim Burton movie ‘quirky’ so that aspect should go without saying. At this point, the producers of these movies have mastered making the audience laugh without getting too hokey. With their knack for exhilarating action sequences and exploring mature themes while still keeping things light, the MCU has proven that Spider-Man belongs in this franchise. So if they can keep things from falling apart (like the Iron Man sequels), they’ve finally got a version that audiences can stay behind.

FINAL GRADE: A

 

 

 

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Full Review)

No film in Disney/Marvel’s massive gallery was as much of a surprise success as 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The film about a ragtag group of space anti-heroes transcended its lesser known source material to become a fun summer blockbuster full of exhilarating action and humor. But it’s hard to follow up a breakout hit with something better or even just as good. Iron Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ultron showed us, that while the Marvel Cinematic Universe always keeps things entertaining, sometimes their sequels can’t quite live up to the hype.

GotG_Vol2_posterGuardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 continues the adventures of a group of intergalactic heroes for hire. Returning are Drax (Dave Bautista), a slow witted mustle man who lacks subtlety; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a rude and violent talking raccoon; Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a naive tree monster reduced to baby form following the first film’s climax; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) skiled assassin and daughter to a space tyrant, and Peter “Star Lord” Quill, (Chris Pratt), an Earthling with a human mother and an alien father he’s never met. After the crew makes enemies out of a society of genetic purists (led by Elizabeth Debicki), the Guardians encounter Ego (Kurt Russell), an antient, powerful being claiming to be Quill’s father, and his socially awkward aprentice, named Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Michael Rooker also returns as Quill’s former mentor Yondu, and Karen Gillan reprises her role as Gamora’s sister/hated rival, Nebula.

As it turns out, Guardians Vol. 2 has many of the same problems as Iron Man 2 and Age of Ultron in that it seems more concerned with making the audience laugh and giving them shiny new CGI to gawk at than with forming a coherent narrative. As such, the plot to this film is all over the place for the majority of its seemingly lengthy runtime. There are far too many threads that are overly emphasized such as a subplot about Yondu’s connection to a former mentor (played by Sylvester Stallone) and his dismissal from the bounty hunting Ravagers. It isn’t until the admittedly exciting climax that things seem to actually come together, but the means hardly justifies the ends.

There’s still a great bit of humor throughout. Dave Bautista (who has greatly improved since his acting debut) is hilarious in every scene and most of the banter between the team is fun. But even here, things don’t feel as consistently organic as they did the first go round. Too much of the jokes are awkwardly raunchy (get ready for penis jokes… yes, penis jokes), and the cartoony slapstick is so abundant that it often undermines scenes that should probably be taken more seriously.

The film manages to add some weighty emotional moments to make the story feel grounded and a bit more necessary. A few scenes between Saldana’s Gamora and Gillan’s Nebula do a fantastic job of adding depth to both characters. In fact, most of the cast deserves credit for injecting likability into each of their characters. But with the story, much of the humor, and even the soundtrack all feeling like a step down, its hard to make a case that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is memorable. Not every follow up is going to be The Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight, but I can’t help but feel like characters this fun deserve an adventure that isn’t predominantly a throw away.

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

Logan (Full Review)

I remember watching the very first X-Men film on opening day back in July of 2000. Even though several changes had been made to the source material, I came out of the theater thoroughly pleased. One of the biggest reasons for the success of that film, and why the franchise is still chugging along 17 years later, is because of Hugh Jackman. Sure, he isn’t 5’3″ like his comic book counterpart, but Jackman has embodied the scraggly persona of The Wolverine so much so that it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever playing the role. But all good things must come to an end, and after 9 films, it’s time for Jackman to wear the claws and muttonchops for the last time.

cuaiczwueaaid_w-jpg-largeLogan takes place in 2029. Most mutants have died off and the hero once known as the Wolverine is now a sickly old man who has been reduced to being a limo driver. Along with an albino mutant named Caliban (Stephen Merchant), Logan spends his days tending to former X-Men leader, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who is now a senile 90-year old man prone to dangerous seizures. Logan’s depressing life is thrown back into chaos when he becomes caught in the crossfire of a bounty hunting cyborg (Boyd Holbrook) searching for a young mutant girl (Dafne Keen) with similar powers to Logan’s.

For starters, this is NOT your children’s X-Men movie. Hell, this isn’t even your teenager’s X-Men movie. Filled with extreme violence, profanity in every other sentence, and even one scene of brief nudity, Logan has more in common with Deadpool than it does with any of Jackman and Stewart’s past films in the franchise. But that should only matter to anyone bold enough to ignore the ‘R’ rating. Like Deadpool, this film isn’t made for wholesome family fun. If the other X-Men films are comic books, this is a full on gritty, western graphic novel.

Logan feels like a story that has matured with audiences who grew up with the franchise and the Wolverine character. We’ve seen Wolverine deal with searching for his past and learning to be part of a team. But we’ve never seen the character experience having to outlive all of his closest friends. In that sense, Logan provides a story that makes the character feel more tangible than ever before and raises the question of what becomes of heroes when they’re down to their last leg?

The action sequences are gory, intense entertainment. But the family dynamic is undoubtedly the best part of Logan. Seeing the character being forced into a parental role brings a wonderful sense of heart to the film and the chemistry between Jackman and Dafne Keen is absolutely beautiful from start to finish. An even better dynamic perhaps, is the one shared between Jackman and Stewart’s Charles Xavier.

Professor X and Wolverine are the two most iconic characters in the franchise, so it’s fitting that they should share this last ride. This older, broken Charles Xavier is something we’ve never seen before. He has a potty mouth and has little to no control over his powers, and yet it never feels like he isn’t the same man that started the X-Men. The constant desire to nurture and teach is still there and more importantly to this film, the need to love, cherish and want the best for a friend, and pupil is what makes the dynamic between Charles and Logan incredibly emotional this time around.

Though darker and a bit more emotional than past X-Men films, there is still a healthy dose of effective humor throughout. Most of it comes from the sheer organic chemistry between the cast.  Even Boyd Holbrook’s antagonist, who is more bark than bite, manages to bring enough slick, Texas southern charm to make him an enjoyable character (He could’ve been great in the role of a certain Cajun mutant… but I digress).

Things do start to drag in the last act so the film could’ve probably shaved off about 15 minutes here and there. And try not to give yourself a headache by thinking about where this film fits in with the timeline of the others. Personally, I’ll take compelling stories and characters over continuity any day so consider these to be minor flaws. In the end, this isn’t just one of the best X-Men films. What Director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman have created is a bold, deeply earnest sendoff to an iconic character that is nothing short of a masterpiece.

FINAL GRADE: A

Doctor Strange (Full Review)

“Forget everything you think you know”. That’s what seasoned sorcerer Mordo (Chiwtel Ejiofor) tells Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) when he first encounters him. It’s a perfect mantra for Marvel’s latest addition to their vast, successful universe. A superhero film with a dash of Harry Potter and a sprinkle of Inception makes Doctor Strange unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

doctor_strange_posterThe film stars Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange, the world’s best neurosurgeon whose ego makes Tony Stark seem humble. After a car accident leaves his hands damaged beyond medical repair, Strange pushes away his only friend (Rachel McAdams) and ventures out to Nepal in a last ditch effort to heal himself. There he encounters the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), an ageless guru who trains Mordo, snarky librarian Wong (Benedict Wong), and many others to conjure up magic and defend the world from a former pupil (Mads Mikkelsen) keen on releasing an ancient evil. Strange must put aside his ego to not only heal himself, but also summon the hero within.

One thing that makes Marvel movies so inherently watchable is their ability to add humor and charisma to everything they make. Doctor Strange is no different. Fused with a phenomenal cast and snappy dialogue, there isn’t an ounce of stiffness to speak of, giving the film loads of personality that helps usher the audience into this trippy new universe.

But it’s that trippy universe that truly makes Doctor Strange a unique film. Remember that amazing hallway fight sequence in Inception. This film has that x 10. Stunning visuals made for 3D create sequences that are jaw dropping. From intricate CGI runes and shifting camera angles to scenery that literally twists and turns like a kaleidoscope, almost every action scene is compellingly unusual but never nauseating.

Being so different from anything else in the comic book genre, Doctor Strange manages to pace things well, explaining key information when needed but never overindulging with exposition. With Cumberbatch at the helm, there is a sense of tangibility that makes it all feel possible. Even the villain (usually Marvel’s biggest weak spot) has a slight wit and intelligence to him that makes his plot seem like an interesting perspective even if it’s the same as any stock megalomaniac.

Without the subtle references to other films in the MCU and the obvious post credit connections, Doctor Strange would manage to feel like its own entity. One that is rich in lure and fascinating characters. It almost makes you wish that it was its own franchise instead of just another precursor to an Avengers movie. But even if we never get a dose of Strange as good as this film, the mark has undoubtedly been set as an entertaining and memorable one.

FINAL GRADE: A

X-Men: Apocalypse (Full Review)

The X-Men franchise has seen some lows (X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but for the most part, some of the best films in the superhero genre have come from this 16 year film series about mutants with superpowers attempting to coexist with the humans who fear them. No director knows the heights of X-Men film success like Bryan Singer, Director of the first and second X-Men movies as well as 2014’s hit X-Men: Days of Future Past. Singer returns to direct the latest installment in the franchise, and has the unfortunate task of following Captain America: Civil War as well as trying to raise his own ridiculously high bar.

X-Men_-_ApocalypseX-Men: Apocalypse follows the trend of the recent X-Men films in picking up the story in a new decade. This time, the setting is the 1980’s where CIA agent Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) has stumbled upon a cult that awakens the world’s first recorded mutant, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) aka Apocalypse, who was betrayed by his followers in ancient Egypt. Apocalypse has survived for centuries by transferring his consciousness into new mutant bodies, collecting new mutant powers along the way and upon his awakening he sets out recruiting strong mutants to be his Four Horseman followers. Joining him is weather manipulating Storm (Alexandra Shipp), psychic knife wielding Psylocke (Olivia Munn), winged Angel (Ben Hardy), and former X-Men adversary, Magneto (Michael Fassbender).

The only thing standing between Apocalypse and his mission to cleanse the world of non-mutants is peace loving telepath Professor, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his young X-Men: psychic Jean Gray (Sophie Turner), optic blasting Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), and teleporting Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Helping lead the team is Xavier’s furry, right hand man, Beast (Nicholas Hoult), shape-shifting anti-hero Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and comedic speedster, Quicksilver (Evan Peters).

There are a ton of characters in this movie and it’s easy to get lost among them. The film admittedly doesn’t do as well as most in the franchise have done with juggling all of the different mutants. The Four Horseman, for example, are virtually flat, underdeveloped characters with the exception of Magneto. The film also has a few pacing issues. One scene in particular, involving returning villain William Striker (Josh Helman), seems shoe horned in only for fan service and to set up sequels (A problem no superhero film seems able to avoid these days).

But none of these problems take away from the overall splendor of X-Men: Apocalypse. The action sequences and set pieces are once again top notch. From the climactic battle to one scene involving Evan Peter’s Quicksilver that manages to one up his sequence from Days of Future Past, there is plenty to gawk at. Even the aforementioned unnecessary scene is still wildly entertaining. And as with any X-Men film, there are plenty of metaphors for real human issues to give the story purpose and context.

The titular villain is also a big plus. Despite being a generic God-like figure bent on world domination, Apocalypse is portrayed by Oscar Isaac with a charismatic wit and deeply imposing astuteness that makes him far more captivating than anything the Marvel Cinematic Universe has tried to pass off as an antagonist not named Loki. And he isn’t alone in his standout performance. All of the young mutants are solid and Michael Fassbender once again manages to conjure all of the deepest emotions with a few notable scenes. If there’s a performance that lacks, it’s actually Jennifer Lawrence, who seems as if she is being thrown into the forefront of these movies more and more, simply because she’s Jennifer Lawrence and not because the story or the character has a need for it.

Bryan Singer’s latest X-Men film is certainly not as grand as his last, or my all time favorite X2: X-Men United (2003). But X-Men Apocalypse is filled with a fine dose of eye popping action, charismatic humor, and a threatening villain that moves the story and makes the stakes worthy of a 144 minute film. Masterpieces are hard to come by in this era of constant superhero flicks (just ask DC Comics), but X-Men Apocalypse is at the very least an exciting entry that shouldn’t be a letdown to casual fans or diehards.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Captain America: Civil War (Full Review)

Just over a month ago, DC/Warner Bros. released a movie about superheroes fighting superheroes… sort of. Now, along comes the superhero film Goliath that is Marvel to one up them. Captain America: Civil War is an adaptation of one of the most popular comic storylines ever, pitting two of their most iconic heroes against each other. Loosely based on the source material, this cinematic version serves as a sequel to 2014’s phenomenal Captain America: The Winter Soldier as well as being a quasi Avengers 2.5.

Captain_America_Civil_War_posterIt’s been a year since the Avengers stopped Ultron from destroying the earth and now Captain America (Chris Evans) leads a new team featuring assassin turned heroine, Natasha “Black Widow” Romanov (Scarlett Johansson), intelligent android, Vision (Paul Bettany), sorceress, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), winged soldier, Sam “Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie), and Iron Man bestie, James “War Machine” Rhodes (Don Cheadle). After a mission to stop a vengeful terrorist (Frank Grillo) goes horribly wrong, former Hulk adversary and current U.S. Secretary of State, Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), brings down the Sokovia Accords: a doctrine forcing all heroes to adhere to the United Nations rather than act as an independent force. While guilt causes Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) to support the new law, the ever weary Captain America refuses to serve a government agenda, causing things to get dicey when Cap’s former best friend turned brainwashed assassin resurfaces (Sebastian Stan). The conflict splits the Avengers in two, with half siding with Iron Man and the others with Captain America.

All of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films aren’t great, as some might have you believe. Some are mediocre (Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and others I just flat out don’t like (Any Iron Man movie after the first one). But the Captain America films have always stood out to me over the rest. This is due in large part to deeper subject matters and more intricate storytelling. Civil War is no different, in fact, it may be the MCU’s most earnest film yet.

Let’s start with the conflict, unlike with March’s Batman v Superman, this film’s budding rivalry has had several years to brew. So when things go downhill, it feels genuinely heartbreaking to see the two comrades and former friends warring against each other. An exceptional script that does a solid job sharing the two perspectives without condemning either one, makes this film feel more realistic than any Marvel movie to date. Both sides are right just as much as they are wrong, and this aspect drives the entire film and gives it more emotional weight than anything else in the MCU.

A stellar cast helps. Casting is perhaps the greatest strength of the MCU, and here everyone shines, even characters like Hawk Eye (Jermey Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) who are only on screen for a few scenes. As for the newcomers, they make their mark and prove that they are worthy additions to an already impressive roster. Chadwick Boseman portrays vengeful Black Panther with a regal fervor while Tom Holland is perfectly witty and exuberant as the new Spider-Man. Both make you excited to see them in future films. And while the MCU hasn’t always given us the best villains, Daniel Bruhl is stellar as the film’s sneaky antagonist.

The film drags a bit in its final act, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo deserve a ton of credit simply for managing to effectively juggle the massive horde of characters involved. It never feels like too much or too little, and when the titular battle goes down, it feels like something out of nerd heaven for fans of the genre even in spite of a few noticeable patches of spotty CGI. But visuals are only one part of making a memorable film. Captain America: Civil War isn’t great simply because of its action. Its captivating subject matter and emotional core are what make it one of the best superhero film’s ever crafted. So regardless of whether you’re Team Cap or Team Iron Man, you’ll come out of Marvel’s latest film feeling like a winner.

FINAL GRADE: A

Fantastic Four Review

Let me paint the picture for you: You’re taking a written test. You don’t study, because you think you know the subject pretty well. Then you fail miserably and you feel like an idiot for being so overconfident. So then, you buckle down and study hard. You go into the next exam feeling both confident and prepared, because you think you have a good idea of what the professor is looking for. But, what happens if you fail again? Do you find a tutor? Drop the class altogether? This folks… is 20th Century Fox’s journey with rebooting Fantastic Four.

2005’s Fantastic Four and its sequel Rise of the Silver Surfer are two of the worst superhero movies ever created. This latest, much more grounded and serious iteration follows a younger, more talented, cast. Reed Richards (Miles Teller) is a prodigy who develops inter-dimensional travel in the 5th grade with his not so brainy, but loyal best friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell). Sue Storm (Kate Mare) is a genius whose adoptive father (Reg E. Cathey) runs a school for geniuses. Her brother Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) is a mechanic who spends his time rebelling against his father due to an inferiority complex with his sister. And Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) is yet another genius who eventually becomes the villain because he hates government control. Together they travel to another dimension and are given superpowers when things go haywire.

Fantastic_Four_2015_posterYou first need to understand that this movie is not even remotely the disaster that the media will have you to believe it is. It’s actually a movie dead on arrival thanks to pre-production chaos and sabotage by its own parent company (Marvel cancelled Fantastic Four comics since 20th Century Fox wouldn’t sell back the film rights). Then there are the morons who rose hell when an African American was casted as Johnny Storm. But no film deserves to be judged on the merits of how it was made or even preconceived notion. A movie deserves to be judged on its story, actors, and execution.

And what this new Fantastic Four truly is… is unfortunately one of the most dull superhero films since Superman Returns. It appears that the writers and Director Josh Trank were trying so hard to avoid the campy tone of the original films, that they created something completely opposite, but still not enjoyable. The story, which is 80% set up and 20% action, is almost void of humor or even heart. There’s a ton of build up, and yet too many of the characters, mainly Jaime Bell’s Ben Grimm, aren’t fleshed out.

And it’s a shame, because the visuals are solid and most of the cast is actually fantastic. Miles Teller is a good, humble leading man and believable as a young Mr. Fantastic. Michael B. Jordan is a perfect Johnny Storm, albeit he doesn’t get enough to do other than have childish spats with his father. And even though the design of Dr. Doom looks dumb, Kebbel’s take on the character is an intellectual one. It is ten times better than that garbage Julian McMahon but on screen back in ’05 and ’07. The weakest link is clearly Kate Mara, whose stoic performance provides zero chemistry with her co-stars and virtually sucks the joy out of every scene she is in.

The movie, though boring for a superhero/science fiction film, maintains its dignity and that alone makes it way better than its predecessors. At barely over an hour and a half, it’s strange that more wasn’t added. It almost feels like another action sequence and some scenes with character interaction were cut. There’s clearly potential here and it’ll be a shame if bad direction and a meager script keeps us from experiencing a good Fantastic Four movie. Who knows, a box office bomb might force Fox to go the Sony/Spider-Man route and give Marvel’s first family back to Marvel. If that happens, at least Fox still has X-Men on the right track.

FINAL GRADE: C-

My (UPDATED) Top 15 Favorite Superhero Movies

Two years ago, I posted a list of my Top 15 Favorite Superhero films. With movies in the genre coming out left and right, that list is passed due for a revamp. A quick reminder on the criteria of being considered a “Superhero movie” in my eyes:  A) The movie must have a costumed hero or heroine lead … B) be based off of a TV show, graphic novel, or comic… no video games movies or teen novels… and C) Need to have been watched at least 50% of the way through. There are also movies based on comics that I left off of this list, because I consider them a different genre (Guardians of the Galaxy is more Star Wars/Star Trek sci-fi than superhero film). Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, here’s my (emphasis on my) list of the Best Superhero movies of all time…

15. Batman (1989)

Image

Long before Christopher Nolan, Christian Bale, and Heath Ledger came along, it was Tim Burton, Michael Keaton, and Jack Nicholson who made the Dark Knight cool and dark again. Nicholson’s performance as Joker is just as memorable as any film villain and Keaton’s Bruce Wayne is still arguably one of the best.

Favorite Moment: As Batman saves Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) and uses a series of gadgets to escape, Joker replies “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”

14. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Image

The amount of people that don’t like this film is stunning to me. Yes, I know it takes a while to get into the action scenes, but I enjoyed every minute of the set up. Chris Evans does a great job of making us forget about that other Marvel superhero he played by giving us a fine portrayal of the scrawny good guy turned muscled hero. Hayley Atwell and Tommy Lee Jones are equally good in their supporting roles. My only gripe is how little Hugo Weaving was able to bring to the role of the Red Skull.

Favorite Moment: After the rest of the platoon struggles to crawl up a flag pole to retrieve a flag, the crafty Steve Rogers simply unscrews the entire pole. Brain > Brawn.

13. Batman Returns (1992)

Image

Much respect to Anne Hathway, but the best portrayal of Selina Kyle AKA Catwoman is in this movie. Michele Pfeiffer’s hauntingly sexy performance is the cornerstone for this film. Danny DeVito also strikes the perfect chord between charismatic and creepy as The Penguin.This was one of the first movies I ever saw in theaters. How it didn’t give me nightmares is a mystery to me.

Favorite Moment: I know I just talked about how great Catwoman is, but it’s Penguin’s takeover of the Batmobile and using a kiddie-ride to remote control it that I can’t help but love.

12. Watchmen (2009)

Image

Zach Snyder may be hit or miss with some of you, but I loved him here. I was only vaguely familiar with the critically acclaimed graphic novel, about a darker take on superheroes, before I saw the first trailer for this film. That trailer, complete with a rendition of Smashing Pumpkins’ The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning, was so good that it prompted me to read the source material. I immediately realized why it was so lauded. The film version is perfect, matching some frames from the comic shot for shot while also managing to make the necessary tweaks to make the source material a bit more believable.

Favorite Moment: The noir inspired beginning in which Rorshach (Jackie Earl Haley at his best) investigates the death of his fallen comrade.

11. Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Image

The plot of this movie sounds like it was written by a 10 year-old fan boy. Nevertheless, Joss Whedon deserves major props for actually pulling this movie off. What it lacks in story, it easily makes up for in action and humor. Not to mention the fact that it revolutionized the genre by bringing together heroes from multiple superhero films.

Favorite Moment: Anyone who grew up loving comics and cartoons has to get goosebumps when the camera first pans around all six heroes, but I specifically love the throw down between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) while on the Hellicarrier.

10. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Image

Unlike most people, I didn’t care much for the first Spider-man. I wasn’t a fan of Toby Maguire as Peter Parker and William Dafoe was just too cartoony as Green Goblin. Part 2, however, completely changed my outlook on this series (Too bad Part 3 brought it crashing down again). The reason for the upswing was undoubtedly Frank Langella as Doc Ock. The charisma and heart that he brought to the role set the tempo for the movie and the rest of the cast managed to follow suit with their best performances of the original trilogy.

Favorite Moment: Spidey and Doc Ock’s fight scene atop a moving train is still one of the best on-screen brawls to date.

9. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Image

The third installment in Christopher Nolan’s Bat-Trilogy has its flaws from a storytelling standpoint, but few can argue that it’s the best Part Three of any movie in the superhero genre. This is due less to the story and execution and more to the villains. Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway are both scene stealers as Bane and Selina Kyle.

Favorite Moment: Several to choose from. I love the opening highjacking scene as well as Bruce Wayne’s first pursuit of Bane’s henchmen on the Batpod, but the best scene has to go to the first showdown between Bane and Batman that ends in the Dark Knight’s back being broken.

8. V for Vendetta (2006)

Image

Few actually realize that this movie is based on a 1982 DC Comics graphic novel (written by the same genius who wrote Watchmen). The theatrical version is nothing short of brilliant from its action sequences to its cast led by Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman. Produced by the same team that developed The Matrix, Vendetta is certainly one of the most thought provoking films in the genre.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Before taking out some thugs, V gives an introductory monologue using seemingly every word in the dictionary that starts with the letter V.

7. X-Men: First Class (2011)

Image

X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine nearly killed the X-Men franchise. Luckily, Director Matthew Vaughn came along to bring us a well-acted, James Bond-like prequel/reboot to rejuvenate one of the best series’ in the genre. The story, which mingles the usual mutant drama with the Cuban missile crisis, is good but even better is the chemistry between James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Michael Fassbender’s young Magneto uses a small knife and a gun that is never actually in his possession to kill a few former Nazis in a bar. Bad. Ass.

6. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

X-Men_Days_of_Future_Past_poster

Bryan Singer (X-Men 1 & 2) blessed us with a return to the X-Men film franchise he helped create. Singer managed to mold the great tone that Matthew Vaughn established in First Class with the amazing visuals and storytelling that he perfected with X2: X-Men United. The result was a brilliant adaptation of one of X-Men’s greatest storylines that helped solidify a new X-Men film universe while subsequently paying homage to the original cast.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Anything involving Blink (Fan Bing Bing) is visually amazing, but nothing beats Quicksilver (Evan Peters) helping Magneto (Fassbender), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) execute a daring prison break using his super speed.

5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain_America_The_Winter_Soldier

Captain America’s second big-screen adaptation was far more exhilarating than what was already a great first film. It also managed to solidify Chris Evans as a lead action star. With a story that molds elements of a political thriller with eye-popping action sequences, Winter Soldier manages to feel like much more than a superhero flick. It’s easily my favorite in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 2.

FAVORITE MOMENT: A street action sequence that features Hydra attempting to take out Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Cap. The ensuing fight between the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and Captain America has some of the best fight choreography I’ve ever seen in a superhero film.

4. The Dark Knight (2008)

Image

Surprised that it isn’t in the Top 2? This is a fantastic movie, but it does get a little long in the tooth around the two boats with detonators part. And I can’t help but be underwhelmed by Two-Face’s untimely demise at the end. That being said, this movie is still an absolute classic… and we all know why. Heath Ledger’s incredible performance as the Joker is the best portrayal of a villain in any movie… ever. Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent is no slouch either.

FAVORITE MOMENT: The vehicle chase seen with Joker in a truck and Batman in the Batpod is good, but the scene where Joker walks in on a meeting between mobsters is better. “Want to see a magic trick?”

3. Iron Man (2008)

Image

Kudos to Robert Downey Jr. for making Tony Stark as much of a household name as Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. In the movie that started the Marvel Cinematic revolution, Downey Jr. is at his snarky best. His chemistry with Gwenyth Paltrow also gives us one of the best hero/girlfriend relationships ever on screen. All of that aside, it’s the groundbreaking special effects that help this movie’s cool factor exceed almost anything we’ve ever seen. Still waiting on Iron Man to have another solo outing as good as this one.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Iron Man shoots a small missile at a tank, then walks away as it explodes… like a boss.

2. X2: X-Men United (2003)

Image

One of the most re-watchable movies of all time. It’s got a better plot than nearly every movie on this list and also manages to bring together a deep cast of characters and give each one their moment to shine. I have a hard time believing there will ever be an X-Men movie better than this one. The opening scene with Nightcrawler (Allen Cumming) in the White House is still the best opening to a superhero movie ever.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Too many to choose from… so I’ll just give them all:

1) The aforementioned opening scene.

2) Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) going berserk on soldiers in the mansion.

3) Magneto (Ian McKellen)’s escape from an all plastic prison.

4) Pyro (Aaron Stanford) fighting off the police.

5) Storm (Halle Berry) creating tornadoes while also piloting the X-Jet.

6)  Mystique (Rebecca Romijn) flipping Stryker (Brian Cox) the bird while sneaking into his underground facility.

7) The fight between Wolverine and Deathstrike (Kelly Hu).

8) The ending that sees Jena Grey (Famke Janssen) “sacrifice herself” to save the team.

1. Batman Begins (2005)

Image

Can you tell who my favorite superhero is? Not only did this movie manage to make Batman cool again after Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin nearly ruined him, but it also brings a more realistic flare to superhero films. Christopher Nolan does a magnificent job using non-linear filmmaking to tell the ultimate superhero origin story while Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and Cilian Murphy are perfect as Bruce Wayne, Alfred, and The Scarecrow.  The two sequels may get more attention, but both posses more flaws then this movie, which in my opinion has none. Some might dislike the fact that the Batman himself doesn’t make an appearance until an hour in, but I argue that the scenes where Bruce receives his training from Liam Neeson are just as good if not better. The plot twist that involved Liam Neeson’s Henri Dukard actually being the mastermind main-villain, Ra’s al Guhl, is still arguably the best in the genre.

FAVORITE MOMENT: Batman makes his first appearance in the film, roughing up some mobsters while scaring the pure Hell out of them at the same time. The ending exchange between Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Batman is a close second…

Gordon:  “I never got a chance to thank you.”

Batman: “And you’ll never have to.”

… Cue Fan boys tears and applause.

HONORABLE MENTION: X-Men (2000), Man of Steel (2013), Amazing Spider-Man (2012), Blade (1998), The Wolverine (2013), Dredd (2012), Kick Ass (2010), Thor (2011), Ant-Man (2015)

Ok, that’s my list that I will undoubtedly be changing in another 2 years after the hoard of superhero movies that arrives in 2016. Check out my disgruntled list of the Top 15 worst superhero movies and feel free to comment or follow me on Facebook.

Marvel’s Ant-Man (Full Review)

Never judge a book by its cover. In a world that is oversaturated with superhero films, it’s easy to write off a movie titled Ant-Man. It’s obscure, unintimidating, and seemingly unintriguing. But there’s a reason why the Marvel Cinematic Universe reigns supreme. It’s because the studio knows how to shake convention, and more than any other producer of comic book films, they know how to entertain.

Ant-Man_posterBased on one of the original comic book Avengers, Ant-Man follows former ex-con, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), as he is recruited by scientist and former superhero, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Along with Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), they plot a mission to break into Pym’s former Tech headquarters and prevent Pym’s former protégé and current company CEO, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), from replicating dangerous shrinking technology and selling it to the military. To pull off the mission, they’ll need the use of Pym’s super suit that allows its wearer to shrink down to the size of, and communicate with, ants.

Such an obscure premise needs precise execution to not come off hokey and to be refreshing. After all, we’ve seen superhero origin stories done to death. But Marvel manages to pull Ant-Man off by creating not so much a superhero film, but moreso a science fiction heist film. From the start, when we are introduced to Scott Lang’s comedic crew of thieves (Michael Peña, Tip “T.I.” Harris, and David Dastmalchian), the movie doesn’t really feel like the normal superhero flick.

Instead of big CGI-filled fight scenes and over-the-top set explosions, we actually get great character building. And the cast is spot on, from the headliners to the supporting roles. Paul Rudd is endearing and charismatic as a divorced father willing to do anything to reconnect with his young daughter. The father-daughter redemption theme is represented even stronger in captivating performances by Douglas and Lilly. The one weak link is Corey Stoll as the villain, Yellow Jacket. Stoll doesn’t do a poor job, but he can do little to escape the scripted cliché of a cackling megalomaniac villain that has unfortunately become a staple in nearly every MCU movie.

Even though humor and character drive the film, it’s still a Marvel movie, and with that come some impressive visuals. It almost feels reminiscent of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. And just because there aren’t as many super powered fight scenes as there may be in Avengers movies, doesn’t mean the movie is void of action. The stunning shrinking sequences, which are all absolutely made for 3D viewing, are each breathtaking even before punches are thrown, but rest assure the scarce fight scenes always deliver.

Like with most movies in the MCU, Ant-Man connects well to the other films thanks to a few well placed references and some unexpected cameos (and of course, post-credits scenes). But unlike other Marvel films (*cough* Thor: The Dark World) the film would easily be enjoyable without the connection to the vast superhero world that the studio has created. You may be disappointed if you’re looking for the usual punch throwing, damsel in distress, superhero flick that we’re all accustomed to. But if you’re looking for a witty, visually stunning, adventure with just enough heart to keep you emotionally invested, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how entertaining Ant-Man is.

FINAL GRADE: A-