Category Archives: Superhero

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” Movie Review

This is that kind of superhero movie for those who want a relative break from all of the $200+ million blowout epics. Despite what many may say, we need to have this every once in a while. This superhero comedy actioner was released worldwide on July 6th, 2018, marking the 20th (!) film in the impossibly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. Receiving positive reviews, it has so far grossed over $$450 million at the box office against a budget of around $162 million. And that is reportedly one of the franchise’s lowest budgets to date. Following the success of the first Ant-Man in 2015, director Peyton Reed was immediately excited to get involved with the sequel. According to him, including the titular female hero in the second go-around was a “no-brainer” and constantly insisted that they were equal to one another. It’s also the first Marvel film to feature a female superhero in a lead role, even if it’s shared with her male co-star. Taking place shortly before the events of Avengers: Infinity War, we once again find star/co-writer Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a petty con man turned crime-fighting superhero with the technology to shrink or grow in size. In the last few days of his house arrest, he gets a signal that might lead to Janet Van Dyne, the original Wasp and wife to Pym Particle inventor Hank Pym, who vanished into the quantum realm decades earlier. This attracts the attention of Pym and his daughter Hope, who seeks to take her mother’s mantle as the Wasp, and have to perform a few heists to get the right equipment. They are, however, being followed and sabotaged by a mysterious woman named Ghost, who possesses the ability to walk or phase through solid objects. I enjoyed the original Ant-Man, released in 2015, for what it was. It was a light, funny, breezy heist comedy with a superhero makeover. It also made for an extremely memorable viewing experience, as my theater that day experienced a power surge followed by 5 minutes of footage that were completely silent. While it was frustrating to me that Edgar Wright was bumped off of the project after years of trying to get it off the ground, the end result by Peyton Reed was surprisingly joyous. And following the game-changing events in Infinity War this April, I was curious to see how Ant-Man and the Wasp could handle following it up. Turns out, it came at a perfect time to relax from the heavy, devastating moments of that huge crossover. This provides a nice, smooth viewing experience for the summer. I really like how appropriately small the scale and stakes are in this film. Lang and Pym aren’t concerned about saving the world because there are other heroes for that- something that’s constantly referenced by them. In fact, almost all of the action takes place within the San Francisco Bay Area, keeping things tight and contained. Unfortunately, that strength also turns out to be the films biggest weakness. While I do like how much more lowkey everything is, it just feels void of any real consequence. There is a mid-credits scene that does bring things back into perspective, and it even got an audible gasp out of me and the audience. Paul Rudd is as likable and fun as ever playing Scott Lang. He perfectly balances the sensibilities of a struggling single dad with that of a costumed superhero trying to do the right thing. Since he co-wrote the screenplay, a lot of the dialogue for his character feels natural and fluid in his mouth. Michael Peña and Evangeline Lilly both return as Lang’s friend Luis and Hope, respectively. Luis and his security crew were funny, even though their improv abilities was downplayed this time around. Lilly, meanwhile, is an absolute badass as The Wasp, fitting into the costume perfectly and carrying a great burdDen of responsibility. Her determination to find her mother offers some nice context and motivation. Hannah John-Kamen takes a little bit to grow comfortable in her role as Ghost, but once she does, she ranks among some of Marvel’s better on-screen villains. Her motivations don’t make necessarily evil, and in some ways can draw some sympathy from the audience. But as always, I didn’t feel there was enough screentime for her character. As is fitting with the nature of the film, the technical aspects of Ant-Man and the Wasp are lowkey but still notable in some regards. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti, who has previous experience with some comic book adaptations, paints the story in fullscreen glory. There are a surprising amount of practical sets used, which helps some of the scenes pop. The color palette is a bland grey, which makes the colorful costumes standout more. Speaking of costumes, the designs for the titular heroes and Ghost are outstanding. They’ve been updated since the previous installment, and look great on the characters. The film is edited jointly by Marvel veterans Craig Wood and Dan Lebenthal. The most impressive sequence, as last time, is a flash montage in which Luis breaks down events as actors mouth his words. And while the dramatic and comedic moments feel rightly stitched together, the action scenes, are once again, cut to shit. Virtually all of the MCU films have this problem, and I’m starting to get sick of it. Frequent action movie collaborator Christophe Beck composes and conducts the instrumental film score for the picture, which is about exactly what you’d expect from the studio at this point. The typical fanfare for when our heroes show up, a dark and brooding theme to highlight the villains, and fast-paced tracks for when action is going down. The theme song in the end credits, however, was a fun change of pace. It included electric guitar riffs, bass walks, and drum kit fills. Interestingly, that theme felt reminiscent of theme songs from old comic book movies in the 60’s and 70’s. It also makes use of the song “It Takes Two” by Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, which feels like the perfect fit for the story. It does take two heroes to make things right, further emphasizing the teamwork dynamic of the titular protagonists. By no means remarkable or overly important in the grand scheme of things for the franchise, Ant-Man and The Wasp is still a fun, lightweight palette cleanser for the whole family. Pretty much on par with its predecessor, you can expect another round of breezy entertainment from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s great as a breath of fresh air following the gut-punch that Infinity War was. Nothing more, nothing less.

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“Incredibles 2” Movie Review

What we have to take away from this sequel isn’t that superheroes are an overly saturated form of escapism that gradually makes human beings weaker and more vulnerable. No, what we take away is that 14 years after the original film, Brad Bird is STILL able to school young filmmakers and producers on how to make a truly playful blockbuster. This computer-animated superhero adventure marks the 20th overall feature film from Pixar Animation Studios. Released worldwide on June 15th, 2018, the film has unsurprisingly been able to swallow up over $793 million at the box office, boosted up by strong reviews and high anticipation. Following some pessimism at the summer box office, it managed to set a new record for the biggest opening weekend of all time for an animated film, finally surpassing the 3rd Ice Age film after 9 years. Once again written and directed by Brad Bird, the idea for a sequel to The Incredibles gestated with the filmmaker for many years but promised he would only make one when he felt he had a worthy story. Reportedly, he took some story thread ideas that never made it into the first installment and tried to expand on them. It wasn’t until after the premiere of 2015’s Tomorrowland that he officially committed to making the sequel a reality. When Pixar swapped the release date with Toy Story 4, he had to rush through and try and complete everything in time. Picking up immediately where the original film left off, the superpowered Parr family yet again comes under political and public scrutiny after an attempt to save the city goes awry. When all hope seems lost, they are approached by Winston and Evelyn Deavor, a brother and sister in charge of a powerful telecommunications corporation. Winston is a big fan of superheroes and offers them a chance to regain favor and legislation that would allow them to relive the “glory days.” Bob/Mr. Incredible agrees to stay at home with the kids while Elastigirl takes part in the publicity stunt, only to go head-to-head with a mysterious new villain known as the Screenslaver. This is a sequel that I have been anxiously waiting to see in theaters for over a decade now. (Just saying that makes me feel so old) The Incredibles isn’t just one of my favorite Pixar movies, but also easily in my top 5 favorite superhero films ever. And I have also really enjoyed Bird’s Ratatouille as well as his transition to live-action with the superbly directed actioner Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol. So imagine the surprise on my face when he FINALLY announced that a sequel to his animated masterpiece was already on the way. I felt that more so when the release date was pushed up. Even so, I tried to be cautious because, with the exception of Toy Story 3, Pixar doesn’t have a great track record with animated sequels. Thankfully, I wasn’t let down because this movie was so much fun, I loved Incredibles 2 almost as much as the first. As with last time, one of the best things about this film is that Brad Bird understands the tropes of the superhero genre so well. The world has seen a lot of change since the year 2004, not the least of which is the unbelievably lucrative genre of superhero movies. The filmmakers seem to understand that and go beyond the traditional definition of what a hero really is. It’s not just what Elastigirl is doing in public, but Bob singlehandedly trying to keep all 3 of his wildly different children in line. As the costume designer Edna puts it, “Parenting, when done properly, is a heroic act.” On the other end of the spectrum, the good public work that the family is putting proves an inspiration to other “supers.” One such moment came in the introduction of Voyd, a Kristen Stewart-like super with the ability to create portals that looks up to Elastigirl as a childhood hero. Most of the original cast members, save for Dash, return for the second go-around and haven’t lost an ounce of their touch. In a truly smart move, Holly Hunter is pushed to the forefront in a chance to shine as Elastigirl, with all the toughness of a badass and the warmth of a truly caring mother. Craig T. Nelson, in a fantastic role switch, is hilarious as he struggles with taking charge of the kids, each with their own set of challenges. Newcomers Catherine Keener and Bob Odenkirk both do great work as the Deavor siblings. Keener’s world-weary cynicism feels perfectly parallel to Odenkirk’s wide-eyed optimism for the return of superheroes. But let’s be honest: The real scene-stealer was Jack-Jack the Parr’s infant son who’s just discovering his own powers. In normal hands, these scenes with Jack-Jack and his family’s dealing with them could come off as unappealing and be pandering. But Bird, well-aware of the excitement and terrors of parenthood, explores it with wondrous possibilities and uses brilliant timing to his advantage. As one can always expect from Pixar, the behind-the-scenes technical aspects for Incredibles 2 are absolutely to die for. The thing I love most about Brad Bird’s animation is that he’s able to make it feel so cinematic and playful. The action is framed and shown almost entirely in rotoscope, allowing us to really seem like it’s a live-action film. This goes for the fantastic lighting effects, which illuminate every single scene perfectly. However, there is one particular moment with rapidly flashing strobes that could prove too much for certain viewers. And of course, the animation is absolutely gorgeous. The differences between this film and its predecessor are almost night and day, with character movements and emotions being captured so flawlessly. It also helps that the use of bright colors and tones make it a joy to look at, and one of the more visually distinctive films of the genre in recent years. Michael Giacchino returns to provide the instrumental score for this sequel, and it’s just as fun as last time. The soundtrack uses similar sounds and leitmotifs from the previous installment, such as piercing trumpet lines and jazzy saxophones. Once again, along with old-school percussion equipment, it feels like an espionage thriller from the 60’s or 70’s. New tracks include ones that rely on low strings or plucked harps, typically during moments of mystery. While not as intense as the original, it still feels right for what they went for. There are also some interesting vocal tracks recorded by Disney’s a capella group, meant to be old-fashioned theme songs for the adult heroes. Not only was this really inspired but also gave more characterization to the world that they inhabit. My main issue with the film, as I’m sure other reviewers probably pointed out, was the villain Screenslaver. As the plot progresses and we learn more about their motivations and plans, there is an element that makes sense to their logic. In fact, in some ways, they’re actually right and justified in what happens. But the way in which they were revealed felt kind of underwhelming and a lesser version of Syndrome in the first film. By the time the final showdown came, it felt as though there was an emotional connection or tension that was missing. Aside from that, Incredibles 2 is a rollicking family adventure worthy of the titular heroes. I’m genuinely surprised and pleased with how much effort Brad Bird put into making this sequel over the years. One can only imagine where a third installment could go, but hopefully, we won’t have to wait another 14 years to see it. In any case, this one was worth the wait.

 

 

“Unbreakable” Movie Review

Every single film snob out there who posits that superhero movies could never take place in the “real world” clearly weren’t around for the pre-Marvel Studios boom. I’m not just talking about The Dark Knight (Which turns 10 years old this month) but something that was never even based on an existing comic book. This superhero psychological thriller- written, co-produced, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan -was released on November 22nd, 2000. With a relatively small budget of $75 million, the film managed to gross over $248 million at the worldwide box office. It’s somewhat disappointing box office intake, as well as the polite reaction from critics and audiences, were partially blamed on Touchstone Pictures’ marketing campaign. It has since garnered a huge cult following, as well as a recently confirmed sequel due out in 2019. Following the massive, unexpected success of his previous film The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan outlined the film’s screenplay and structure like that of a comic book. With the two lead characters written in mind for the actors portraying them, he decided to turn it into a straight-up hero/villain origin story. The spec script ended up being sold to Disney for $5 million, a record deal at the time, who in turn helped the director form his own production company. Bruce Willis stars as David Dunn, a stadium security guard who is struggling to salvage his marriage and life in Philadelphia. On a train home from a job interview in New York City, the Eastrail 177 crashes- but Dunn emerges the only survivor, without a single broken bone or injury sustained. Getting word of this “miracle,” comic book art gallery owner Elijah Price, played by Samuel L. Jackson, contacts Dunn and approaches him with the idea that he might actually be a superhero. Despite being stricken with Type I osteogenesis imperfecta, which makes all of his bones brittle, Price keeps a watchful eye over Dunn’s actions as they both begin to realize their place in the world. How on earth did M. Night Shyamalan go from being proclaimed “the next Spielberg” to becoming the laughing stock of Hollywood? I’ve made no secret about my hatred for The Last Airbender and After Earth, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy his earlier films. For the longest time, I had been dying to see his take on the superhero genre, especially since it came right before the genre had exploded. And now, with Split out and Glass officially coming to theaters next January, I figured now would be as good a time as any to check out Unbreakable. And it is by far my favorite Shyamalan picture. Moreover, it’s a wonderfully original take on the superhero origin story. The marketing campaign sold it as the next supernatural thriller from the man behind “I see dead people.” When in reality, this really is, as director Quentin Tarantino put it, a story in which Superman hypothetically lived on Earth without knowing his full abilities. In fact, in many ways, the film does a better job at deepening the purpose and artistry of comic books than most movies adapted from the illustrated pages. As Elijah Price says, “I believe comic books are a form of history that someone, somewhere felt or experienced. Then, of course, those experiences and history got chewed up by the commercial machine, got jazzed up, made a titillating cartoon for the sale rack.” The opening text, alone, perfectly shows why comics are such a big and important cornerstone in modern pop culture. That, combined with the surprisingly serious tone, makes it feel as though it takes place in a world that you can reach out and touch. It’s easy to see why the main characters were written in mind for the leads because they pull it off so easily. Despite his list of cool roles over his career, I’m fairly positive that this is Bruce Willis’ best performance yet. Like his work in The Sixth Sense, he’s so subtle and quiet for much of the movie, yet you can feel a history of emotional pain. That he never really achieved something truly amazing in his life, that his marriage to the woman he loves is about to fall apart, that he’s disconnected from his own son. Opposite him, Samuel L. Jackson is equally subdued but no less excellent as Elijah Price. As obsessive as he is calculating, his occasional dips into being over the top are perfectly fit for that of a supervillain, especially with his self-given nickname Mr. Glass. Other performers like Robin Wright and Spencer Treat Clark as Dunn’s family, and Charlayne Woodard as Elijah’s concerned mother add something unique to the experience. Meanwhile, Shyamalan shows us that he really does have a wonderful eye for filmmaking techniques. Shot by Eduardo Serra, primarily working with European auteurs, the cinematography is extremely precise and controlled. Most scenes are shown on steady single long takes, which arguably gives the cast more room to breathe. The shot composition is arranged in such a unique way that it actually emulates a real comic book panel. The use of color by editor Dylan Tichenor further illustrates this by assigning certain hues to characters or situations. For example, whereas David Dunn’s livelihood is dominated by shades of green, Mr. Glass is primarily shown in purple. And in certain sequences, a character’s clothes will be highlighted brightly, in contrast to the dreary palette of the real world. For fans of comics, this is certain to be a delightful round of catching homages, especially as Elijah explains specific artistic aspects of the medium. James Newton Howard, the director’s frequent collaborator, composes and conducts one of the best instrumental scores for a superhero film. The main theme song is very singular and unconventional, utilizing an electronic drum kit mixed with different sounds and strings, building up a huge crescendo. Other tracks use simplistic instruments such as minimal trumpets and rousing percussion tools like timpanis and piano. While most of them are made to create a sort of misterioso tone- appropriate as the main hero discovers his own powers -others feel so inspirational and weeping that they feel like they belong in a classic Hollywood epic. And the best part is that they’re all perfectly timed with each moment; the director reportedly showed Howard the storyboards in order to establish what he wanted. And it really shows. Also, I’m really surprised by the generally negative response to this film’s ending. Shyamalan is a director who is famous (Or perhaps infamous) for including a twist in the final scene that shakes up the plot. In his later films, there is justification for this criticism as it felt as though he was just throwing it in for its own sake. I can moderately understand that, as it’s partially wrapped up through epilogue text. I won’t spoil the twist ending in this film, but as with The Sixth Sense, the ending here not only makes perfect sense to me, it also improves a lot with repeat viewings. I’ve watched this film twice within 24 hours, and it only gets better. Unbreakable is a truly inspirational and realistic take on an often disrespected medium. Whatever you may think of his later films, there’s almost no denying that this is M. Night Shyamalan’s true masterpiece. What really makes the film special, aside from everything said above, is that it makes you believe that you, too, might be a superhero. That you have the capacity within to do good work and help people who need it. And for that, I can safely count it as one of the best, and most original, superhero films ever put to the silver screen.

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“Deadpool 2” Movie Review

Just reading the synopsis that 20th Century Fox put for this movie reaffirmed my faith in the project overall. Seriously, before even seeing a single frame of any of the trailers, I laughed my ass off so hard from just a few lines of description for “plot.” That is definitely a first for me. This *extremely* self-aware superhero comedy was released nationwide on May 18th, 2018. Originally scheduled for release on June 1st, the unexpected push-up for Avengers: Infinity War allowed it to have the more traditional early summer breakout. And thus far, it’s paid off; the film has grossed over $709 million worldwide and some of the better reviews for a superhero film this year. Following the humongous success of the first film from 2016, director Tim Miller dropped out early on due to “creative differences.” In his stead, former stuntman and John Wick co-director David Leitch makes his second solo round after last year’s Atomic Blonde. And in addition to starring in and producing the movie, Ryan Reynolds also receives his first official screenwriting credit on this film. Reynolds returns once again as Wade Wilson, a mercenary-turned costumed anti-hero with a love for chimichangas. Following an unexpected turn of events, Wilson finds himself in the company and (Initially unwanted) friendship of a young, powerful mutant runaway named Russell, played by Julian Dennison. Unfortunately, Russell is being hunted down by a grizzled mutant soldier from the future named Cable, played by Josh Brolin, who claims that the child is destined to become a mass murderer. Seeking to redeem himself, Deadpool must confront his own demons by assembling a niche superhero team of his own and save Russell from certain death. The original Deadpool, when it first came out, was one of my favorite superhero films I had seen in a very long while. It was hilarious, self-referential, and a breath of fresh, R-rated air in a dominant, almost exhausting genre. Upon further rewatches, I still really like it, but can appreciate why a lot of people were not fans of it. I was always excited for the sequel no matter what, even though the hiccup in early production seemed to indicate nothing good. Especially because, while I loved John Wick, I didn’t care for Atomic Blonde. What made it even more sensational was the fact that Joi “SJ” Harris, a motorcycle stuntwoman, accidentally died while filming. Now expectations were mounting, and the marketing team specifically poked fun at that. And personally, I’m not as big a fan as the first one, but it’s definitely just as fun and arguably more accessible for more audiences. Once again, you can expect a nice, healthy dose of self-aware humor to populate the majority of the film. For those unfamiliar with the titular character, Deadpool is actually aware that he is inside a comic book or movie or video game. His ability to break the fourth wall provides some hilarious moments of genre mockery. “We need ’em tough, morally flexible, and young enough so they can carry this franchise for 10 to 12 years,” he says after deciding to build the X-Force team from scratch. That being said, the tonal shift between these moments and the character’s serious story arc feel jarring and almost conflicting. It’s always a bit odd, if not frustrating, to see a movie conceding to the tropes that it so openly makes fun of for most of its 119 minute-long runtime. The movie is also bafflingly cynical in many areas, which could, yet again, understandably push some people away. But there is still enough in here, humor and storywise, to keep me interested until the end. Ryan Reynolds owns the persona of Wade Wilson, short and simple. Vulgar, whiny, sex-obsessed, and totally unpredictable, watching this well-trained assassin deliver kills while still cracking jokes is pretty funny and meta beyond comprehension. Also worth noting is Julain Dennison’s performance as Russell. I loved Dennison in Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and he shows a lot of the same characteristics here; a lost kid with the need for a family.  Josh Brolin appears in his second Marvel this year as Cable. This time, unlike Thanos, he’s practical, mean-spirited, and ready to kill with a Terminator-like determination. Meanwhile, Atlanta veteran star Zazie Beetz is simply delightful and fun to watch as the mutant Domino. With Luck as her superpower, there are some really creative ways in which the writers are able to show off her marksman abilities. With a bigger budget this time around, Deadpool 2 is now able to show off a lot of its fancy filmmaking techniques. David Leitch brings a lot of his regular collaborators from Atomic Blonde and John Wick onboard, which allows his skill for directing action scenes to come through above all else. One of them is cinematographer Jonathan Sela, who gives the screen a slightly dark shade to illustrate the moral ambiguity of many of the characters. He comes up with some pretty creative shots throughout the film, and each scene is given a unique color palette, whether it was the moody future Cable hails from or the relatively bright red blood of bad guys during fight sequences. Meanwhile, the editing is done quite well by Dirk Westervelt, Craig Alpert, and Elizabet Ronaldsdóttir. None of the action scenes are cut to shit, allowing the audience to clearly register what’s going on. It also cuts abruptly in certain moments to elicit sudden, serious laughter, which worked a few times. With Tom Holkenborg, AKA Junkie XL, sitting this sequel out, action movie man Tyler Bates steps in to compose the musical score. While most of the tracks are your typical bits of big orchestral strings, the best and most memorable ones come in as distorted guitar melodies. This works surprisingly well to help create a feeling of unease and relentlessness as if Cable just can’t be stopped. There’s also an original song composed for the film called “Ashes” by Céline Dion, which provides a nice emotional through-line for the story. Other songs used on the soundtrack include a hilarious opening montage with Dolly Parton’s “9-to-5,” Electronica DJ Skrillex’s “Bangarang” during an exciting highway chase sequence, and an acoustic rendition of “Take on Me” by a-Ha. The latter may be my favorite, but none compare to the brilliant James Bond-style opening credits with an overly dramatic song setting the mood. With just enough jokes and fun moments to overcome its flaws, Deadpool 2 is an endlessly meta romp that takes no prisoners. It may take me another rewatch to really love it as much as the original, but as it is, this sequel is pretty entertaining and filled to the brim with references for fans to catch. While it certainly may not be a family movie like the title character says, beneath all of its cynicism, there is a heart to the story about family and loved ones looking after one another. P.S. It might just have the great post-credit scene of any film that I’ve ever seen.

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“The Incredibles” Movie Review

I’m seriously considering extending this New Year’s resolution over to next year because it lets me rewatch movies I love and then gives me an excuse to review them. Well, that and the long-awaited sequel is finally out in theaters so there’s little point in resisting the urge any longer. This computer-animated superhero film, the 6th overall feature produced by Pixar Animation Studios, was the closing night selection for the 2004 BFI London Film Festival before releasing in theaters on November 5th of that year. It proved a massive critical and commercial success, grossing nearly 7 times its $92 million budget worldwide along with 2 Academy Awards and 2 further nominations. This makes it the studio’s first animated feature to win 2 awards for one movie, soon to be followed in the years afterward. Written and directed by Brad Bird, the concept for the film first came up in the mid-90’s when he was struggling to break into the business after the commercial failure of his underrated The Iron Giant. The filmmaker was the first one not in Pixar’s initial core creative group to break into making an animated movie, only getting by on an old college friend named John Lasseter. This meant he had to hire his own team from scratch, which arguably gave him more artistic freedom. During the animation process, Studio Ghibli legend Hayao Miyazaki made a visit and voiced his support, as it was something he had never seen in an American animated film. Taking place in an alternate 1962, the story centers on a dysfunctional family of superpowered individuals named the Parrs. Following a number of lawsuits resulting from the collateral damage caused by their work, all of the living “supers” in the world are forced into retirement or hiding. The patriarch of the Parr family, Bob, formally the incredibly strong Mr. Incredible, is bored by his new life as an insurance adjuster and becomes excited when a mysterious woman named Mirage comes to him with an offer to use his powers again. But something doesn’t sit right with his housewife Helen, formerly the wide-stretching Elastigirl, and soon both she and her children are drawn into the job. If there are just 2 things I love watching consistently, it’s superheroes and Pixar. Put the both of them together, and you already have a recipe to make me at least moderately interested or entertained. I have seen The Incredibles more times than I can count over the years. In fact, I’m fairly positive that it was the first movie I ever saw in a theater. Depending on my mood, this usually switches places with the first Toy Story as my all-time favorite Pixar movie. And now that long-awaited and demanded sequel is FINALLY coming out, it seemed like a prime opportunity to give this modern classic a proper review. And once again, doing so has reaffirmed my love for it. Perhaps the thing I appreciate most about this film, more so than the extravagant action scenes, is the loving homages. Whilst the film was released right before the big boom of superhero movies, it functions more like a combination of old 1960’s spy thrillers and serial comic book adaptations from the 1940’s. Case in point, the heroes can only be recognized if they wear their secretive masks, not just their costumes. The fascinating thing is just how prescient Brad Bird was about superhero movie tropes, and how they would go on  in future genre films. Edna, the Incredibles’ main costume designer, constantly berates them on why it’s terrible to swear capes on the job. And the villain mocks his adversary, “You sly dog! You got me monologuing!” Bird may not have made a genre film before, but he understands it so well, giving him n edge over most live-action superhero operas. Let’s talk about the voice acting; everyone involved gives it their A-game and feels natural in their roles. Without Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter, it’s hard to imagine Mr. Incredible or Elastigirl being as relatable as they are. Their chemistry is on point, from the overt sexual attraction they share to the nasty parental fights that their children are witnesses to. Speaking of children, Sarah Vowell and Spencer Fox do great work as Dash and Violet, respectively. One is an insecure teenage girl with the ability to turn invisible and create force fields while the other is a young boy with the gift of super-speed. My favorite of the bunch might be Samuel L. Jackson as the ice-powered Lucius Best/Frozone. A far cry from his more vulgar live-action roles, the actor still gets to show off his effortless charisma through expert delivery of the fantastic dialogue. And then, there’s Jason Lee as the main villain Syndrome. We learn his motivations early on, and are able to inkle the slightest bit of sympathy for his ultimate game plan. And as far as the technical aspects go, The Incredibles is just such delightful pleasure to the eyes. This was the first Pixar film where all of the primary characters were human beings, as opposed to toys or underwater fish or extra-dimensional monsters. So there was a bit of challenge to adapting the computer-animated elements to something more tangible. Thankfully, the new technology they developed worked with flying colors, capturing the subtle dynamics in facial expressions and hair movements. The animation is also able to capture the diverse environments that the story takes us to. Whether it’s the dull color palette of the suburbs or the lush forest and shoreline of a mysterious island, nothing looks out of place. The way camera is able to fluidly follow moving bodies during the exciting action scenes is really marvelous. Capping it all off is Michael Giacchino’s amazing musical score, one of the best from cinema in the 2000’s. His first of 7 collaborations with the studio, the film was mostly recorded using old-fashioned analogue tapes, the same used back in the 1960’s. Utilizing a full symphonic orchestra, the brass section, especially the trumpet, is given main priority on the title tracks. The way they pierce sounds like an improvisational riff, made up as the adventure goes along. As chaotic as that may sound, it actually fits perfectly into the dynamic, near-unpredictable story that has been constructed. Also accompanying it is jazzy saxophones, which allow the two to feed off each other’s energy like the title superhero team. With an actual family at the heart and center of the film, there’s plenty to enjoy on both ends of the genetic spectrum. Kids will be entertained by all of the action and visuals, while adults will find appeal in its clever jokes and jabs at genre conventions. The Incredibles is matched in gorgeous animation only by its blazing originality. The more times I watch this movie, the more I’m convinced that it might be Pixar’s magnum opus. It’s so complete and breezily lightfooted that one can’t help but fall in love with the world that Brad Bird has created. 14 years onward and very few superhero movies I can think of have even come close to touching it. And it’s not even based on a comic book.

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“Avengers: Infinity War” Movie Review

And there it is, ladies and gentlemen. The ultimate all-around culmination. The payoff of 10 years and 18 movies worth of franchise-building and superhero spectacle, all wrapped in one 2-and-a-half-hour movie. Will it really live up to the ridiculous hype or be crushed by fan expectations? This epic superhero ensemble film was released worldwide on April 27th, 2018, a week earlier than its previously announced date. One of the most expensive films ever made on a budget of $320 million, the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe broke records for the highest-grossing opening of all time. Having already earned over $1.16 billion worldwide, it is expected to hit the $2 billion mark by the end of its theatrical run. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, the brothers behind the two previous Captain America movies, the film was originally announced as the first of two parts, the other one being released next year. Anticipation for this film was so incredibly high that the cast were all initially given fake scripts to avoid spoilers getting leaked. Inspired primarily by Jim Starlin’s Infinity Gauntlet from 1991, the sprawling story follows the all-powerful being Thanos, played by Josh Brolin, as he travels across the universe looking for items called Infinity Stones. Seeking them for his gauntlet, it would grant him the strength to wipe out half the universe with just the snap of a finger and restoring balance to the known universe. Grabbing wind of his intentions, space-friendly team the Guardians of the Galaxy and the fractured but earth-bound Avengers begin following his trail and start looking for ways to defeat him. With time running out and clues few and far-between our Marvel heroes hope to confront Thanos before its too late. To say that I and several other fans have been looking forward to Avengers: Infinity War would be quite an understatement. As someone who has continuously followed and written about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, being a particular fan of Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther and the first Avengers, the biggest crossover of all time wasn’t just another MCU film to me. This was a landmark cinematic event in the making, finally bringing together every little detail and strand that the franchise has built thus far. As a result, some of the individual films suffer in quality in favor of bringing in more Easter Eggs or hints. But it was all part of the lead-up to the endgame. I was actually scared that Infinity War wouldn’t be able to deliver the pay-off, but for the most part, it’s really satisfying. Indeed, the whole idea of wrangling almost every existing Marvel character into one major movie would prove daunting to anyone. And Joss Whedon, writer and director of the first two Avengers films, famously walked away from the MCU entirely a few years ago in anger. So it makes sense that Anthony and Joe Russo were brought on board as the two did a pretty great job at juggling and balancing multiple heroes in Captain America: Civil War. Make no mistake, there are a handful of characters who feel under-utilized and it often feels like the film is straining to carry all of the exposition present. But hopefully, they’ll all have a balance on everything for the sequel next year. At this point, the primary actors have become so comfortable with playing their heroes that they seem extremely natural. Big props especially go to Paul Bettany as The Vision and Zoe Saldana as Gamora, who are given more substantial character arcs than almost anyone else in the film. Both of them separately contemplate the cosmic dangers impending and even show a little sadness at the possibilities. But the obvious scene-stealer here is Josh Brolin’s motion-capture performance as Thanos. With a menacing voice and huge physical presence, it becomes quite clear that this being will obliterate anything and everyone in his path with just gripping his fist. But he’s not completely detached from reality or intelligence, telling one Avenger, “You have my respect. When I’m done, half of humanity will still be alive. I hope they remember you.” The whole film is really his own hero’s journey, as we see his own motivations for why he’s doing what he’s doing. It’s changed from the comics, and while it attempts to provide an emotional arc for him, it doesn’t quite land as expected. As is always expected with Marvel, the technical aspects are (mostly) hit right out of the park. For better and for worse, the film is loaded with a seemingly endless amount of CGI that helps bring to life the various worlds our heroes and villains travel to. Each one is given distinct coloring styles, but overall feel somewhat muted to match the more somber tone of the story. the motion-capture work for Thanos and his Black Order were particularly impressive and realistic, so much so that they very nearly looked like regular makeup. There are a number of swooping camera shots by cinematographer Trent Opaloch, who also shot the two previous Captain America films. This is contrasted with shaky action moments, meant to feel more gritty and grounded. And while they were very much in the vein of grand epics, it felt somewhat hampered by the editing from Matthew Schmidt and Jeffrey Ford. Having cut together 6 MCU films prior, they put a number of impressive action sequences through multiple cuts and it’s almost disorienting. Fresh off his excellent work in Ready Player One, Alan Silvestri returns to compose and conduct his 4th feature for Marvel. While not as memorable as Spielberg’s film, it still works when compared to the soundtracks of several other MCU pictures. On a handful of occasions, Silvestri will reprise his theme song introduced in The Avengers as a way of getting the crowd riled up. A vast majority of the tracks consist of big rousing horns and sustained percussion, as is expected for superhero epics. Interestingly, however, he also includes samples from other characters’ films, such as buoyant African drums for when we arrive in Wakanda or synths for Thor and the Guardians. There’s a good number of tracks that also used mellow strings as a way to hit home the emotional devastation of the story. And for the most part, it worked; especially in regards to the ending. And that’s where I’m going to stop. I hate to be the jerk who spoils a highly anticipated to anyone looking forward to it. We could argue back and forth about the temperament of expectations, but I have a code and I plan on standing by it. Avengers: Infinity War is a messy yet supreme example of modern popcorn entertainment. While it fell just short of my lofty hopes, there was still enough here that I loved to count it among the better entries of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s been 10 years worth of hype and build-up and now the game has totally changed. And we’re all here to witness it.

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“Black Panther” Movie Review

Give more power to the people. Or to filmmakers. Or to filmmakers who are from a people that aren’t nearly as represented as they should be. That’s the biggest takeaway from Black Panther. This superhero/sci-fi picture hybrid, the eighteenth (!) overall in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, was released on February 16th, 2018. Produced on a budget of nearly $200 million, the film is projected to earn all of that back and break a number of other records within the first weekend alone. Several celebrities and local charities have partaken in a challenge to give disadvantaged children of color around the world a chance to see the movie, which could set a new precedent in moviegoing attendance. The first-ever major black superhero in comic books, Blade actor Wesley Snipes attempted to get an adaptation off of the ground as early as 1992, but all potential iterations ended in turnaround. John Singleton seemed poised for the director’s chair at one point, but it eventually went to Ryan Coogler of Fruitvale Station and Creed. Set after the events of Civil War, T’Challa returns to Wakanda, his home country in Africa which is isolated from the rest of the world. Following the death of his father, he is crowned the new king and also inherits the persona of the Black Panther warrior, infused with high-tech gear from an extremely rare metal called vibranium. However, his sovereignty is challenged by a new mercenary named Erik Killmonger, aided by an enemy of the state Ulysses Klaue, and must now become involved in a potential global conflict. To say that this movie was a long time coming would be an understatement. Black Panther, no relation to the political party from the early 1970’s, is an important symbol for many reasons. And the Black Panther Challenge, started by a local from Harlem, is a beautiful opportunity for expanding this movie to people that need to be represented. I remember in the weeks before watching it seeing a viral video of an economically underserved school’s ecstatic reaction to the news that they were all going to see the movie together. I was already excited for the movie because I adored Creed from 2015, but that video only amped up the excitement. And I can say positively that this is one of the best MCU movies yet, as well as one of the boldest. There was a story not too long ago that said an alt-right Facebook group planned on bombing the movie with negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Those are nothing more than a collection of fools scared that they’re moving from a majority to a minority. Indeed, there will inevitably be a crowd of folks who decry this movie for being “too political.” There is some truth to that charge; not all movies released have to tackle relevant issues. But on the flip side, there’s also the baffling belief that art wasn’t inherently political, to begin with. And a movie like this, written by, directed by, and largely starring black artists, deserves to have a message that the world can hear. Is it flawless? No. But there’s still so much to chew down on here. I feel like I don’t harp on how amazing it is that a big-budget studio film gets to have an almost all-black cast. Chadwick Boseman did a great job in Civil War, but now that he’s front and center, we get to see all his charisma and majesty in full display. With an authentic African accent and a calm demeanor, he gives us a royal figure who has to prove himself a man first, juggling all sorts of responsibilities and weight on his shoulders. The female characters were completely badass, thanks in no small part to the all-women king’s guard Dora Milaje. The Walking Dead‘s Danai Gurira shines as the general Okoye, who particularly stands out in a casino brawl where she goes to town on men in a striking red dress. Lupita N’Yongo also does great work as Nakia, a love interest who’s not just a love interest. She’s capable in a fight and extremely resourceful. The standout for the ladies is Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s teenage sister who’s one of the smartest people in the world. But the true scene-stealer in this crowd is Coogler’s regular collaborator Michael B. Jordan as the main antagonist Erik Killmonger, who finally breaks the mold of bad Marvel villains. Though it can become clear early on what his motivations are, they’re no less impactful and sympathetic. When he finally makes his beliefs and intents be known to his adversaries, you immediately understand where he’s coming from. It’s easy to say that an MCU movie looks stunning, but the technical aspects of Black Panther are simply stellar. Mudbound nominee Rachel Morrison gives Wakanda a distinctly alien yet human feel like it belongs in the real world. She captures in every frame the beauty and vastness of Wakanda, a welcome departure from the war-torn continent we’re used to seeing. One sequence that stands tall is when our heroes take on mercenaries in a Korean casino and it’s all filmed on a single take. Though, the editing by Michael P. Shawver and Claudia Costello can admittedly get jerky and borders on cut-to-shit sometimes. However, that’s completely made up for with the outstanding production design and costumes, which are beautifully exotic. And of course, the visual effects are awesome. Ludwig Goransson composes the musical score for this film, and it’s by far Marvel’s best one. Yes, it does feature tracks of sweeping orchestral beats common in these blockbusters, which could be forgettable. But what really makes it stand out is its creative fusion with African percussion and drums along with a beautiful vocal chorus. On top of that, rapper Kendrick Lamar curates some original songs for the soundtrack. Of particular note are “All the Stars,” which plays over the end credits, and “Pray for Me” during the casino scene. In fact, it could be argued that the movie is a cinematic version of a new Kendrick Lamar album. The movie does ultimately succumb to some of Marvel’s tired template rules. Namely, the ending felt a tad cliche and the film ran for about 20 minutes longer than it should have. And while it did lean a little too heavily into the Lexa product placement, Black Panther is a socially conscious superhero adventure that shows the power and importance of representation. Ryan Coogler has crafted a new kind of superhero story with the scars of colonialism and black culture well on its mind. Here’s hoping this paves the way for more inclusion in Hollywood in the future.

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