Category Archives: Comic Books

“The Defenders” T.V. Show Review

Talk about a one-off show that tries its most damn to be the best it can be. Some things worked and others didn’t. Let’s divulge it all. This highly anticipated crossover superhero T.V. show premiered all of its 8 episodes on Netflix on August 18th, 2017, receiving high viewership figures from the streaming services subscribers. But it was also followed by a historical drop in people watching it week-by-week. A culmination of the previous Marvel/Netflix collaborations, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, it’s believed that there won’t be a second season for it at least for a long time. And after watching the series, I can understand why. Following the events of each series, our titular protagonists are brought together by the secret organization known as The Hand. While dealing with their enigmatic leader, played by Sigourney Weaver, they must also investigate what their plan is for New York City. With the help of Stick and handful of side characters from the other shows, they must unite to stop evil from destroying their home. Daredevil season one, back in 2015, was, in my opinion, the best live-action superhero show ever made. And although I didn’t love season two as much, I still really enjoyed it for how it introduced The Punisher. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage were equally amazing, giving us some relevant drama with intriguing action. And for those of you who hadn’t been Following my blog earlier this year, Iron Fist is one of the most disappointing T.V. shows I’ve ever seen in my life. A bland protagonist, underwhelming action sequences, a horribly unfocused story that went on for far too long, redeemed somewhat by good side characters. And after that trainwreck, I was actually really nervous about The Defenders series and if it would deliver. None of the advertisements really grabbed me like previous shows did and not enough compelling information was released in order for me to truly get invested in it. But alas, I’m a sucker for tempered expectations. Make no mistake, I have some legitimate issues with this series, but for the most part, it stuck the landing. Getting it out of the way, all four of the titular heroes work well together. I like how each one had their own motivation for joining the war on The Hand. Daredevil wants to quit his life of crime-fighting but feels compelled to help his old mentor. Luke Cage has an obligation to the people on the streets as their protector. Iron Fist believes it to be his destiny to take down The Hand. Jessica Jones only comes along because she’s on a case. Charlie Cox, Mike Colter, Finn Jones, and Kristen Ritter share convincing chemistry in their scenes together, especially the dramatic ones. Danny Rand still comes off as an annoying, whiny punk, but he’s given more to like about and is far less insufferable than he was before. Meanwhile, the inimitable Sigourney Weaver shines as the main antagonist of the series Alexandra. A mysterious, wealthy woman, she isn’t just some mean bitch or wants to destroy New York because she’s evil. She has a motivation, and you can see how desperate she is to keep her organization alive in the modern era. Her counterparts in the Hand are pretty uninteresting overall, but they were serviceable to keep the plot running. Action sequences have been a mixed bag for the Marvel/Netflix shows. Whereas Daredevil was lean and gritty, Luke Cage and Iron Fist were underwhelming. But for the most part, they keep it fair and balanced here, with the third and fifth episodes having great setpieces involving all four heroes. But it does fall into the trap of dark corridors with hyperactive editing to conceal obvious stunt doubles. That doesn’t happen often, though. Through the nice camerawork and some rousing music from John Paesano, we are thrown in and made to care for the people present. As far as the story goes, The Defenders is pretty inconsistent. It has the cliche of immediately trading off action sequences for extended scenes of exposition and backstory. Most of it is delivered through the character of Stick, played masterfully by Scott Glenn. As much of a badass as he is, I think he may have oversold the magnitude of their war against the Hand. Because in the last two episodes, when their true plan is revealed, it seems almost inconsequential to the rest of New York City. It felt as though the writers had bigger plans, but they had to find a way to condense it into 8 episodes in order to satisfy Marvel. Another thing of note: I understand that you want to bring over supporting players from the previous shows to have a big crossover effect. But that doesn’t change the fact that some of them were just flat-out useless here. Maybe they’re setting up for character arcs in later seasons of their respective shows, but for now, it felt distracting. Far from any television masterpiece but still entertaining enough to get you through to the end, The Defenders is a mostly satisfying blend of superheroes grounded in the urban streets. It still feels like a prelude to a bigger story, as each episode implies a bigger picture of what’s going on. But for now, it’s a bit of intriguing and fun entertainment. I cannot wait for The Punisher coming this Fall.

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“Death Note” Movie Review

Full discretion before we begin: I have never read a page of the manga nor watched an episode of the anime series from which this Netflix feature was adapted. I’m going to review this with completely objective eyes. If there’s something I don’t understand in this post that you would like to correct or shed light on, feel free to comment below. This psychological dark fantasy was produced on a relatively small budget of $40 million. Though Netflix doesn’t release their viewership figures, it did attract a large crowd at the 2017 San Diego Comic-Con before being released on August 25th. According to several sources, at least 10 studios were bidding for the rights to the Death Note franchise as early as 2009. In 2016, after Adam Wingard signed on as the director, there were outrages and accusations of whitewashing in the cast. Basically, it’s suffering the same fate as any Hollywood adaptation of a beloved anime. Nat Wolff stars as Light Turner, a lonely high school student who receives a mysterious notebook out of the sky. When he meets the death god Ryuk, he is told that anyone can die if he simply writes their name and cause of death in the book. He uses the book to start ridding the world of known criminals under the guise of a god “Kira,” and attracts the attention of an enigmatic detective named L. Now as I said, I have no familiarity with the franchise. Only in recent years have I started getting into anime, particularly ones by Hayao Miyazaki. And for those of you asking about my opinion on this year’s Ghost in the Shell… I bought a ticket to see Power Rangers instead. But just hearing the whole concept of Death Note intrigued me, as any anime usually does. And from what I heard, the original creators gave their official stamp of approval for the American version. So I actually was somewhat looking forward to watching this movie on Netflix. Honestly… I feel underwhelmed. Is it as terrible as some people are touting it to be? No, it’s not. But there are a lot of problems. Starting with Nat Wolff as Light Turner, who may just be one of the most uninteresting actors in recent years. He gives an absolutely lifeless and dull performance for this character who can actually be pretty compelling. Willem Dafoe voices Ryuk, and he really sounds like the Green Goblin from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man all over again. Except now, he sounds way more demonized and menacing than before, especially with the character’s sweet design. Though, it sometimes feels like he’s just waiting for his paycheck to clear. Margaret Qualley, who gave a brilliant role in The Nice Guys, is Light’s love interest and accomplice. She isn’t given much to say or do aside from encouraging our hero to give in to his darker instincts. But the best actor here, by far, is Atlanta‘s Lakeith Stanfield as L. Having impressed me with his small part in Get Out, I feel like this could be one of the quirkiest and nerdiest actors around. His mannerisms and style of wardrobe are really relatable and badass, even if he feels underutilized. The visual style is rather unique, easily the most consistent aspect of the entire movie. The film uses bright neon lights to illuminate the characters in stark red and light blue. The way the David Tattersall uses the camera to focus in on characters or a scene feels odd, but it sells the idea that this is an (adaptation of) anime. There have certainly been worse Dutch angles used in cinema. The editing was sometimes awkward, choosing to use multiple cross-fades interjected into a single scene. I don’t really understand why, other than trying to add more and more style to the film. Atticus and Leopold Ross work together on the score and feels eerily similar to Atticus’ work on The Social Network. Mostly 80’s synthesizers, it helps build an atmosphere worthy of a psychological thriller. But there aren’t really any memorable or standout tracks. It also includes several real-life songs, particularly some bits of late 90’s soft rock. A friend of mine, who is familiar with the source material, told me a while back that they always think of anime when late 90’s or early 2000’s soft rock is laying. I couldn’t tell if they were joking or not. Let’s get right to the last act of the movie. It wasn’t very good, to begin with, but the last 15 or so minutes of Death Note kind of just bury it. In case you actually want to watch this movie, I won’t spoil it here at all, but my God. It might as well be the cinematic epitome of the word “convenience.” Because right when the end happens, it reveals an extensive contingency plan that our protagonist came up with on the fly on a public desktop. Also, a quick rant: Why would you have Ryuk built up as a third-act villain if the Rules he establishes can be easily broken, leaving to just loom large a lot of the scenes? I take one of two interpretations out of this: Either Ryuk is a useless character altogether or they’re setting him up for a potential sequel. I really doubt that this will be the one that causes Netflix to release a full-length follow-up to one of their originals. While its visual style is compelling enough, Death Note wastes a promising plot on bad actors and confused writing. If you want to watch it, go ahead. If you want to watch a good thriller, watch Adam Wingard’s other film The Guest instead. In all honesty, L is the saving grace of this picture. And this is coming from someone who, again, has never been affiliated with the source material. I can only imagine what real fans must have thought of.

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“Kingsman: The Secret Service” Movie Review

I’ve come to the conclusion that this movie and its upcoming sequel are both more British than James Bond. And that’s saying something. This zany spy action-comedy from Kick-Ass director Mathew Vaughn held a surprise premiere at Austin’s Butt-Numb-Athon! event in December of 2014, before being released internationally on Valentine’s Day weekend of the following year. After that, it earned over $414 million worldwide against a ~$90 million, which is rather big for this kind of movie. Even though it’s based on the comic book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, the plot and characters are almost totally different than the source material. Think of it as one of those adaptations that use the original as a springboard for the opportunity to create something on their own. Taron Egerton stars as Eggsy, a troubled British youth leading a seemingly aimless life with his poor mother and abusive stepfather. One day, Colin Firth comes to his doorstep and invites him to join the Kingsman, a secret spy organization who Eggsy’s father was a member of. Following a grueling recruitment process, he joins a mission on stopping a wealthy megalomaniac, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Earlier this year, I reviewed the movie Atomic Blonde, a relatively enjoyable movie that suffered from a generic plot. And from the way that I just described the synopsis for Kingsman: The Secret Service, it sounds like it’s going to be another run-of-the-mill spy thriller that’s trying to copy James Bond, with just a dash of Men in Black. My friends, that is so far from the truth. This movie is anything but conventional for the genre. In fact, it goes so far out of its way to belittle cliches of the genre that you forget it’s trying to subvert them. There are many moments in the film where the characters specifically reference plot points from older Bond films like Thunderball and Goldfinger as comparisons for current happenings. As one person remarks, “This ain’t that kind of movie, bro.” It’s essentially the Scream of spy movies. I will say that sometimes, the film felt like it was a little too self-aware for its own good. But just the way it opens- “Money For Nothing” by the Dire Straits playing as a Middle Eastern compound is destroyed which inventively creates the title cards -lets you know that you’re watching a movie with a definite personality. As far as the performances go, this movie is filled with actors who surprisingly bring their A-game. Taron Egerton may be a newcomer, but damn if he isn’t one of the most promising ones to come along. You learn everything about his troubled past and the payoff for his training and hard work is so rewarding. Complete with a thick accent and endless charm, you’ll be rooting for him all the way through this 2 hour and 9 minute-long feature. Sofia Boutella, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Sophie Cookson and even a cameo by Mark Hamill elevate their small characters to have a certain human quality about them. Samuel L. Jackson, meanwhile, overshadows all of them with his mere presence in each scene. His character has a weird lisp that can be kind of annoying, but the fact that he can’t stand the sight of blood makes him even more interesting and makes for some darkly comedic moments. Oscar-winner Colin Firth proves his worth as an action hero with the role of a mentor who teaches Eggsy how to be both a gentleman and a super-spy. According to IMDb, he performed approximately 80% of his own stunts, which makes him even more fun to watch. The film is also technically proficient, showcasing some excellent editing by Jon Harris and Eddie Hamilton through brutal and fast-paced action sequences. The camera work by George Richmond does fall into shaky cam at times, but to the point where you can’t tell what’s going on. The camera is constantly following whoever is the focus of the fight scene, including one particular sequence that I’ll discuss shortly. Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson provide the musical score which perfectly accompanies the crazy scenes. They seem to take some inspiration from both Jerry Goldsmith and John Barry, with high strings and bellowing horns overtaking big set pieces. But it’s not just original music, also some real-world songs that match the tone of the moments perfectly. One of those moments, the most discussed of the entire film, is when Colin Firth goes to a version of the Westboro Baptist Church and starts uncontrollably killing everyone inside. In fact, everyone starts killing each other, all of it going down to the guitar solo of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.” So, in case you had any ideas about watching this movie with your young children, keep in mind that Kingsman is very much rated R. A plethora of F-bombs and other British slang I’m not even going to explain already populated the screen, but there are also many violent sequences and a final anal sex gag that cements its homage to the James Bond franchise. For some, these moments are too over the top or off-putting to be enjoyable, and I understand that. Although its mature content will definitely not win over everyone, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an extremely fun time that never takes itself too seriously. I’m still in shock at how they were allowed to get away making this romp. I’m very much excited for the sequel, The Golden Circle, coming this September, and am generally happy that we have a new spy series to get invested in.

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“Atomic Blonde” Movie Review

So, many people will probably tell you that this movie is a cross between Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and a female version of John Wick. I, for one, beg to differ. It’s a female version of John Wick crossed with Cold War-era The Usual Suspects… kind of. This neo-noir spy thriller from director/stuntman David Leitch first made waves at the South by Southwest film festival in March of 2017. After its wide release on July 28, it earned back over $45 million against a $30 million budget. The film was bought before its source material was even published and was meticulously put together over time. Based on the one-shot graphic novel The Coldest City by Anthony Johnston and Sam Hart, Atomic Blonde stars Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton, a top-level MI6 operative in 1989. After a fellow agent/lover is cold-heartedly killed, she is assigned to find the killer who has a list of many other double agents smuggled into the West. Now she is sent to Berlin on the eve of when the Berlin Wall was torn down and gets entangled in a web of lies, spies, assassins, and murder. If the plot sounds like any spy thriller that you’ve seen before… that’s because you’d be right. I’ve always been optimistic about international spy thrillers, being a fan of films like The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger, The Bourne Ultimatum, and the Mission Impossible and James Bond franchises. They often tend to be the same, but it’s typically both the style and the characters that keep them separated in my mind. Atomic Blonde definitely succeeds on a level of pure style, but its story and characters leave something to be desired. The style itself feels like a mixture of 80’s action with the slick production merits of modern filmmaking. The credits are shown through an old-fashioned computer screen and some of the graphics are shown through spray-poainting. Pretty much its own way of saying, “Look how different we’re trying to make this.” Most of the same technical crew behind the John Wick series are returning here and much of their talent is reused here to pretty good effect. Jonathan Sela’s cinematography uses many of the same color pallets and cues from before and uses them here. Seriously, this guy loves the contrast between blue and red, especially in the scenes of both Broughton’s apartment and various German clubs she attends. And yet again, it flows nicely with the editing job of Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir in many of the action scenes. The most talked-about sequence is a long and grueling fight in a hotel staircase. In a single 9-minute take, we follow Broughton from the top of the stairwell through two rooms, the lobby, a car, and the open streets of Berlin. It was a brutal and fast moment that kept me gripping my shirt (My seat was already gripped by someone else) and shocked at how they did it. Charlize Theron completely owns her role, officially cementing herself as one of the biggest female badasses of the decade. Although not as cool as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, her character is relatively interesting and keeps you guessing as to her true motive for everything. Apparently instrumental in getting this movie made, it’s also worth noting that she did all of her stunts and even chipped a tooth during filming. James MacAvoy is devilishly charming as her handler David Percival, a lustful con of a spy moving from West to East Berlin on a daily basis. His profane nature and mystery is a great departure from his role of Professor X in the new Xmen films. Sofia Boutella is becoming one of the fastest growing stars in Hollywood, and it’s clear to see why in her small but semi-essential role here. Her French accent and physique already make her attractive, but the way she delivers her lines is great. John Goodman, Toby Jones, James Faulkner, and Bill Skarsgard round the supporting cast, and some shine more than others. Another thing worth noting is that Leitch clearly knew what to do about the music for this film. Even though Tyler Bates provides the original score, it’s completely overshadowed by the soundtrack of 80’s songs. From George Michael to the synthesized years of Queen to even some David Bowie, it was said that the director had requested a certain list of songs be used in the film, and roughly 75% of his ideas made it through. The film opens with a relatively tense scene set the beat of HEALTH’s cover of “Blue Monday,” which worked to establish the tough but fun tone. What weighs the film down is the execution of the story. As I said earlier, its plot is pretty much a retread of other spy films, specifically Mission Impossible from 1996. That would be fine, if safe, but much of the story is unfolding through a flashback inside an interrogation as Broughton is explaining the previous 10 days to her superiors. At that point, it felt like it wanted to be like Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects, even throwing in a big whammy twist at the end for good measure. But the problem is that it twists itself into a messy bow and did it simply for the sake of providing a twist to keep people guessing. Say what you want about The Usual Suspects, at least it tried to satisfy us with a reveal that made sense and brought everything together. Oh yeah, and there’s a lesbian subplot. So? How did that help the movie overall? It didn’t make it any less tough to follow. Here, the story started out good but soon took a few too many turns for its own good. Atomic Blonde boasts some outstanding style and a badass hero but lacks much staying power. You’d probably be better renting this one. You don’t necessarily NEED to see this film, but if you do I’m sure you’ll have fun with it.

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“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” Movie Review

Director Luc Besson has given us a pretty kick-ass sci-fi space opera for a modern generation… called The Fifth Element, 20 years ago. And now, we are here. Let’s deal with it. This ambitious science-fiction action-adventure was released on July 21st, 2017. Estimates say that at a budget of nearly $200 million, almost all of it crowdsourced, this is the most expensive European film and the most expensive “independent” film ever made. This proved to be a disadvantage for the film, as it has yet to break just $50 million worldwide and will likely experience losses in the hundred million range. Based off the influential French comic book series Valérian and Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières, the PG-13 rated story follows Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne as Valerian and Laureline, two space-traveling agents who are in charge of fixing problems for the United Human Federation. They visit the intergalactic space station Alpha, which houses thousands of races and cultures from all over the universe. One of these races is an endangered kind that begins a series of pseudo-terror attacks and it’s up to Valerian and Laureline to figure out what exactly they want. Now when I say that the graphic novel was influential, I really mean it. So many iconic space operas, from Star Wars to Babylon 5, have taken visual inspiration from it. Just the way the technology looked as well as some of the alien designs paid homage to this series. In an ironic twist, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets the adaptation seems to want to pay homage to the early birds of that genre which itself highly influenced. Even Luc Besson’s cult classic The Fifth Element took inspiration, and that was a really enjoyable sci-fi. But Valerian is not enjoyable at all; in fact, it’s one of the worst movies of the year. Dane DeHaan is an undeniably great actor, I’ve seen it in The Place Beyond the Pines and Chronicle. But here, his character is supposed to be like Han Solo, in that he’s the most badass human being in the universe. And it’s really hard to buy him as it, considering that the titular character is a bit of a conceded prick for most of the runtime. Cara Delevingne, however, may just be a lost cause for the acting world. Her performance in Suicide Squad was a mixed bag for me, and now she tries to come off as a sexy gun-wielding savior of the universe. She is definitely sexy, but her scenes of action turned me off. The supporting cast is filled with a surprising amount of big names. Clive Owen shows up for the first movie I’ve seen in awhile and was pretty good in his own role. Though I have to say, it was fairly easy to see where his arc was going in this one. Singer Rihanna tries her hand at acting for about a 20-30 minute stretch of the film and does a surprisingly nice job. Her character was relatively interesting, even if it tried to ham-fist social commentary into the story. Meanwhile, John Goodman, Rutger Hauer, Ethan Hawke, and Herbie Hancock… are all given so little to say and do that it’s downright criminal, and ultimately feel more like glorified cameos. Hawke was particularly annoying, reminding me too much of Chris Tucker from The Fifth Element. In many ways, Luc Besson is like this generation’s version of George Lucas. By that, I mean that he has an incredible imagination and sense of creativity but these ideas are not always executed in the best way possible. There are some really neat concepts and ideas in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets to be savored. One of the races in the movie is based on beach-like terrain and uses sea pearls to fertilize everything. After the opening scene, our heroes arrive on a seemingly barren planet. But as soon as they put on special glasses, they see hundreds of markets, bizarre style, in an alternate dimension. But perhaps the coolest thing was the technology. Being a big sci-fi nerd, I love to see what kind of tech the world is able to offer. And one exhilarating chase sequence sees Valerian running through a wall and then shooting his gun to be able to walk on air. On the technical side of things, it’s a reasonably competent production. Alexandre Desplat’s score is an engaging, if not quite a memorable one. But the biggest thing this has going for it, by far, are the special effects. Utilizing 2,734 visual shots overall, the CGI is pretty impressive and sometimes just gorgeous. However, many scenes required some extensive green screen work and it didn’t always look convincing. But for the most part, it did look pretty. But it just comes down to the fact that this movie is detrimentally overstuffed with pointless characters and unnecessary subplots. Besson gives Marvel Studios a run for their money on how much you can pack into one movie. The romance aspect between Valerian and Lauraline is present in the film just as it is in the comics. But Develingne and DeHaan do not share good chemistry, so their hard-to-get relationship came off as forced and stupid. That whole thing occupied roughly 30 minutes of the movie. It’s already 2 hours and 17 minutes long, so if they just shaved that whole thing, it would be much better. While it’s undeniably ambitious in the scope, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is a beautiful but insufferable mess with hollow characters. It’s a mystery movie without any suspense, it’s a romance without any chemistry or friction, and it’s a space opera with not much charisma. I was actually looking forward to it, but now I can safely say I saw it. At least I can say that much.

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“Spider-Man Homecoming” Movie Review

*Insert some witty/stupid quip about being “your friendly neighborhood movie critic” just to regret it immediately afterward* Let’s just get this thing started. This coming-of-age superhero adventure from director Jon Watts is the sixteenth overall installment in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has since nearly doubled its $175 million budget worldwide. The second reboot of the titular character within 10 years, Marvel Studios and Sony finally worked out a deal in 2015 that allowed Spider-Man to appear in the MCU. Sony still has the distribution rights and handles the marketing but Marvel Studios is given complete artistic freedom to do with the character as they please. A couple months after the events of Civil War, Tom Holland returns as our friendly neighborhood web-slinger struggling to juggle his superhero passion with high school. When a new villain named the Vulture rolls into Queens and what’s left of the fractured Avengers team is nowhere in sight, only Spider-Man can take him down. I loved the Sam Raimi Spider-Man Trilogy so much as a child and still do today. (Yes, I even enjoy Spider-Man 3) They inspired me to want to be a superhero at a young age. And while Marc Webb’s 2012 reboot was an enjoyable and more realistic take on the iconic character, I didn’t feel like it was necessary. The Amazing Spider-Man 2, meanwhile was a disappointing, wholly underwhelming and rushed sequel that desperately tried to cram in as much world-building as possible. With that background in mind, I walked into Jon Watt’s new version of this character, my favorite comic book superhero of all time, with some trepidation. He may have been the best thing about Captain America: Civil War, but I was not sure how they could possibly reboot him with ANOTHER origin story in only 10 years. But the fact that the single most successful film franchise of all time had commandeered control gave me a bit of hope, and I was glad I had it. Although his actual breakout role was in J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible from 2012, this role was the one that landed Tom Holland on the map of American cinema. At 20 years old, he is the youngest actor to ever portray Peter Parker/Spider-Man but he also may just be the best, even beating out Toby Maguire and the 90’s animation. His portrayal captures everything that Stan Lee had envisioned for the character when he was first sketched in the comic books decades ago. His introduction consists of a clever home video he made of the airport battle scene from Civil War, which establishes his innocence and wants to fight alongside the heroes he grew up loving. While Jacob Batalon, Tony Revolori, and Zendaya do great work as his best friend, high school rival, and classmate, respectively, Marisa Tomei wasn’t given nearly enough to say and do as his guardian Aunt May. While she is more attractive and naturally younger than her counterpart in the comic book, she just felt kind of wasted. But Michael Keaton totally owned it as the supervillain Vulture. The 5-minute cold open is dedicated to building his character, bordering the line between evil and misunderstood. You understand why he’s doing the things he’s doing, becoming the second-best villain in the MCU behind only Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, and proves that some of the best antagonists are the ones with real and clear motivations. But be warned; his suit is all black, and some of the nighttime scenes involving him are hard to follow. Michael Giacchino returns to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the 2nd time after 2016′ Doctor Strange to give the musical score. Opening with an orchestrated version of the classic Spider-Man theme song from the cartoons, it builds some large sweeps of strings and horns, reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s theme 15 years ago. Since it’s centered on a teenager, the soundtrack also had some fun selections of millennial and 2010’s music that matched well with most scenes. At the very end of the movie, it goes from a surprising last line of dialogue to a smash cut to the end credits sequence with a crazy playing. It was downright awesome and got a big laugh out of me. But what I love most is that it apparently doubles as both a superhero adventure and a high school teen drama. Peter Parker is struggling to fit in at his small school in Queens and simultaneously take care of his single aunt. Yes, it’s just Aunt May. This skips the traditional origin story because let’s face it: we all know how it happens at this point and we don’t want to see Uncle Ben getting murdered again. At the same time, Spider-Man is the new kid on the block trying to prove himself to Iron Man and other Avengers. Unfortunately, he’s so young and naive that no one really takes him seriously, with Tony Stark being his only mentor. At one point, he tells the web-slinger, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you don’t deserve to have it.” Even though it can’t reach the heights of the original Sam Raimi trilogy, Spider-Man Homecoming is a hilarious, briskly-paced adventure featuring a faithful representation of one of Marvel’s best heroes. I had middling expectations to start off and walked out with a great big smile on my face. Especially because the obligatory after-credits scenes were amusing and cleverly set up future installments. And now, I genuinely look forward to what they’ll do with Tom Holland.

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“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” Movie Review

I write this review with the full knowledge that not many of my readers will actually care about Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. I can live with that. This 3D computer-animated family comedy was released on June 2nd, 2017, where it grossed over $77 million against a $38 million budget. This makes this film the lowest budget animation from Dreamworks in the studio’s history. It also marks the second directorial effort of animator David Soren. Based on the long-running and recently-ended series of children’s novels by Dav Pilkey, best friends George and Harold, voiced by Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch, are a pair of prankster elementary school students who love writing comic books and stories. One day, they accidentally hypnotize their mean-spirited principal Mr. Krupp, voiced by Ed Helms. They then convince him that he is Captain Underpants, the hero of their comic books, and things don’t quite go as expected for them. I remember reading some of the books in this series when I was younger and enjoying them. I wasn’t immensely impressed, but it was still fun reading. And when I heard that they were adapting it into an 89-minute feature film, my reaction was something of passable trepidation. But then, I saw on Rotten Tomatoes (A website that isn’t always accurate) the film got moderately positive reviews, and so I actually spent $11 to see this in my nearby theater. And I walked out feeling the same way as I did with the books: not particularly impressed, but still rather pleased and entertained. Kevin Hart continues his streak of family-friendly animation from last year’s The Secret Life of Pets here, which is actually surprising considering how adult-oriented his stand-up routines usually are. He and Thomas Middleditch share some nice chemistry, as their youthful voices sell the ideas that these two have been best friends since the 5th grade. Some of the pranks they pulled had me in stitches, while others felt like they were trying a bit too hard. Ed Helms more or less plays an animated version of his character Andy Bernard from The Office, as both Captian Underpants and Principal Krupp are total idiots. Thankfully, he’s able to switch between the two of them relatively easily. One’s an angry but misunderstood school supervisor, the other’s a fictional superhero who introduces himself by singing, “Tra-la-laaa!!” In the world where superheroes have brooding catchphrases like “I’m Batman” or “In brightest day, in blackest night,” it is nice to listen to something a little more lighthearted. Nick Kroll and Jordan Peele both voice the respective bad guys in the film, albeit very different ones. Peele voices the arch-nemesis of George and Harold, a child prodigy obsessed with grades. Kroll shines as a German, humor-hating science professor with a very embarrassing last name. Both are good and play fair to the stereotypes they’re with. That being said, the sense of humor found in Captain Underpants is very juvenile. Similar to the source material, several of the jokes are specifically centered around toilets and farting kids. But the main characters frequently break the fourth wall to address this to the audience, adding a great feeling of self-awareness to the overall package. Potty humor is the lowest form of wit on this Earth, and they’ll either fully embrace it or poke fun at it. Occasionally they do both at the same time. In fact, the final act of the rather short 89-minute picture is centered around the idea that the antagonist is trying to rid the world of humor and laughter from children. The way he does it? A scanning laser from atop a massively enlargened, toxic toilet. Obviously, this isn’t going to be competing with any of Pixar Animation’s finest achievements over the years in terms of visual storytelling. But when it comes to the visuals alone, Captain Underpants is pretty damn impressive. The character models are shaped and animated just as they were in the books, faithful in at least its visual adaptation. All of the animation, in general, is smooth and crisp at 24 frames-per-second. Similar to 2015’s The Peanuts Movie, the creators managed to inventively bring a two-dimensional cartoon strip series into glorious 3D computer animation with imaginative flair. So if for nothing else, give them props for that. Ultimately, though, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie doesn’t do quite enough to completely justify its cinematic existence. The humor is mostly low-brow, the voice acting is good but not award-worthy, and the storyline is as predictable as a kids movie can get. But the still gets in some good laughs in amidst nice animation. It’s great that it remains aware of what it is. If it tried to have some sort of higher meaning then it would just be too awkward. But thankfully, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is a fittingly absurd round of family-friendly fun that never really impresses.

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