Film opens with the tragic passing of King T’Challa/The Black Panther (Chadwick Bosman) from an undisclosed illness that Shuri (Letitia Wright) tries desperately to save him from. As Wakanda mourns, the world begins to turn against the once hidden land for not sharing their precious vibranium. This leads to nations trying to either steal it or find their own. When a vibranium detecting device invented by a brilliant teenager (Dominique Thorne) locates some deep on the ocean floor, it incurs the wrath of the undersea kingdom of Talokan and its powerful mutant king Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía). Wrath that soon turns towards Wakanda.
Superhero sequel is again directed by Ryan Coogler from his script with Joe Robert Cole. It pays heartfelt and emotional tribute to the late Chadwick Bosman, while trying to continue the story of Wakanda and The Black Panther without him. It is a heavy task, but one that is handled quite well, all things considered. It also makes it a very somber film as loss, mourning and the handling of one’s grief become major currents running through its 161-minute runtime. Even the film’s villain Namor is motivated by his own loss and his anger at the constant injustices committed by the surface world. It makes for a very serious and somewhat heavy superhero flick, though Coogler still balances it well with plenty of action and some epic battles. The cast all do strong work with Basset truly deserving of her recently won awards, almost carrying the film on her regal shoulders. Tenoch Huerta Mejía also gives us a strong villain, but one who’s motivations are not atypically sinister. Namor is trying to protect his people, by any means necessary. Yes, we do get a new Black Panther and Coogler leaves things with the series definitely having a direction to go in, with T’Challa’s legacy carrying on and further villainy lurking in the shadows. As with the first film there is a heavy influx of cultural background and visuals as Talokan is based on ancient Mayan culture just as Wakanda is on African. Overall, it may be a bit too solemn to be the fun ride that the first Black Panther film was, and the final confrontation with Namor was a bit lackluster, but considering they tragically lost their star and main character, Coogler keeps the series going and with some emotional resonance to go with it.
Fourth solo adventure for the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) begins with our hero trying to find himself while traveling with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Meanwhile his old flame Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is battling terminal cancer and seeks a more mythical cure in New Asgard. On another world, the death of his daughter and the acquiring of a god killing sword, The Necrosword, transforms the humble Gorr (Christian Bale) into the vengeful God Butcher. Of course, all three storylines collide as Thor is on Gorr’s hitlist and Jane has achieved a startling transformation.
Sequel is directed again by Taika Waititi from his messy script with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. A messy script translates into a mess of a movie, which sadly takes Thor two steps back from the noble hero of Avengers: Infinity War and turns him into a pontificating goofball. The film is disjointed and jumps from one set piece to another, giving the impression that at just slightly over two hours, there is a lot left on the cutting room floor…which might be a good thing. The whole middle section of the film is a waste of time with a silly visit to the realm of Zeus (Russell Crowe) and accomplishes basically nothing as it leaves us with Thor, a transformed Jane’s Mighty Thor, Korg (voice again by Waititi) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to battle Gorr on their own…which is where it started out. The good news is, Gorr is one of the better Marvel villains with Bale creating a truly frightening god-killing boogie man. He needs Thor’s Stormbreaker to open a gateway to an eternal where he can get one wish granted, and he’s not above kidnapping Asgardian children to get it. The scenes on Gorr’s Shadow Realm are some of the scariest scenes conjured in a Marvel film. Take THAT Doctor Strange! The digital FX are quite spectacular, but some of the sets, especially New Asgard, look cheap and make the film look cheap. A Marvel rarity. The battles with Gorr and his demonic minions move well, but the film does drag in spots and overall seems to have no purpose as it leads to an oddly unsatisfying climax. A disappointing follow-up to the well-balanced fun and action of Thor: Ragnarök.
The cast is good. Hemsworth could play Thor in his sleep at this point, and as Waititi’s script requires him to do little but make bold statements between moments of buffoonery and battle, he might as well have. Thor is played for laughs even more than in Ragnarök and it’s a shame, as Infinity War proved he’s capable of much more. Portman makes a welcome return to the series but as her storyline is tragic, it is a bittersweet return and her chemistry with Hemsworth feels forced this time. Thompson is fun as Queen Valkyrie and deserves her own series or film. Christian Bale makes a strong villain with far less screen time and development then he deserves. He is sympathetic as a father losing a child and very disturbing and scary as a villain with no qualms about kidnapping the children of others. Strong work by the former Batman. Waititi makes Korg endearing and fun as he was in past films and has some of the funnier lines. There are a lot of fun cameos, including Crowe’s pompous Zeus, The Guardians and a returning Kat Dennings’ Darcy, along with some fun surprises too.
Love and Thunder is one of Marvel’s few stumbles, including the boring Eternals, the lackluster Captain Marvel and the equally messy Iron Man 3. It makes a buffoon of a lead character who had far more depth in previous films and squanders a great performance by Bale with too little screentime and character development for his very scary villain. It drags in spots and has an entire midsection which seems only to serve as comic relief and a set-up for Thor 5. The sets look cheap at times and the film as a whole seems to serve no purpose only coming to life when Bale’s disturbing Gorr is on screen. If you do see it, stay through the credits for two of the least interesting mid and post credits scenes in some time. A resounding disappointment.
DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022)
Second solo adventure for Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) finds him being rescued from his former flame Christine’s (Rachel McAdams) wedding, by having to rescue a teenage girl from a rampaging, tentacled monster. The teen is America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) a young woman from another dimension who has the power to travel across the multiverse. A demonic entity seeks her power and now Dr. Strange vows to protect her. Things get complicated when this malevolent enemy is revealed to wear a familiar face and now Strange and his young charge must flee across the multiverse to find the Book of Vishanti, an ancient and powerful tome that is the only hope in stopping their powerful foe.
Sequel is directed by Sam Raimi from a script by Michael Waldron, and Raimi puts both his horror film and Spider-Man film experience to good use. Not only are there some spectacular and fun magic-infused superhero battles, but some very spooky sequences. It is certainly the scariest MCU film to date. Raimi provides a funhouse of zombies, demons, monsters, witches, and some very haunted house style settings, that suit a story filled with supernatural elements mixed in with the twisted physics. The villain is also very effective and sometimes downright scary, but you’ll have to see the movie to find out who they are. There are a few segments where the film slows down a tad, to move the complex story, or provide exposition. Otherwise, once this flick gets going, it’s a wild ride through various multiverses where we are treated to some weird worlds, multiple versions of our hero and some absolutely wonderful cameos that won’t be spoiled here. The special FX and battles are spectacular, the action is fast and furious, and the imagery is some of the best Raimi has ever conjured…as are some of the PG-13 scares. It’s a multiverse carnival ride of spooky Marvel entertainment and another solid entry in this long-running series.
As for the cast…Benedict Cumberbatch has really grown into the role of Strange and he provides a noble and strong, yet not impervious hero. Teen actress Xochitl Gomez makes quite an impression in her first feature film as America Chavez. She plays well both vulnerability and strength, as a young woman being chased across the multiverse and who must fight for her life. She also makes a solid heroine when those fights come. Rachel McAdams is likable and a good heroine herself, portraying multiple versions of Christine. Benedict Wong is noble and fun as Sorcerer Supreme Wong and he deserves his own movie or show! Chiwetel Ejiofor is also good as an alternate universe version of Mordo and Elizabeth Olsen is exceptionally strong as a returning and conflicted Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch. There are a host of cameos that won’t be spoiled here, but they are all well-played and cast.
Once again Marvel and Disney deliver, as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a fun and sometimes spooky romp with veteran director Sam Raim at the helm. There is a lot of action, a myriad of creatures, and some bizarre and visually stunning worlds visited. The film only slows down here and there to advance the delightfully bonkers story, and we have a very strong and scary villain to ad contrast to the noble heroes. It’s an almost perfect mix of horror film and superhero movie and a great way to start the 2022 summer movie season!
Spider-Man: No Way Home opens immediately after the shocking mid-credits scene of the previous film with Peter being outed to the world as Spidey and accused of killing Mysterio. When Peter approaches Dr, Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to create a spell to make everyone forget he is Spider-Man, some last-minute indecision causes the spell to go awry. Instead, it starts bringing villains from other universes into Peter’s world to wreak havoc. Worse still, many of those bad guys died battling Spider-Man and returning them to their universes would sentence them to death. This puts a morally torn Peter in conflict with both friend and foe.
Sequel is again directed by Jon Watts from a script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. On the negative side, the film teeters on the edge of becoming a mess with so much going on and so many characters. Thankfully, it doesn’t, though the middle section drags, as Peter tries to find a way to cure the villains so they may have a second chance when they return home. It’s a bit convoluted. Finally, the whole murdering Mysterio sub-plot is brushed aside with a simple line from a surprise cameo and that is the end of it. What could have been the most interesting aspect of No Way Home—a fugitive Peter Parker trying to clear his name while battling multiple villains—is quickly discarded ten minutes into the movie. It’s simply lazy writing. On to the good stuff…
There is far more positive than negative, which makes up for a lot of the film’s flaws. The banter between Peter and his friends with Dr. Strange is a lot of fun, as are the conversations between the villains from both of the previous Spider-Man series. It’s entertaining to watch a Raimi era villain trading barbs with a Webb era villain and the dialogue is well written here. The battle scenes are also very good, such as Peter’s first introduction to Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) who is expecting another face under the mask. The last act is a real blast, though discussing most of the reasons why would spoil some great moments. Let’s just say the battle royal at the Statue of Liberty is worth the price of admission alone. The film has a couple of scenes that have some very strong emotional resonance, too, and there is some nice closure given to a few characters’ storylines from previous films. The FX are fantastic, and the cast all perform their parts well.
Tom Holland continues to be a great Peter Parker and he handles a complex story with varying emotional requirements skillfully. He’s charming and sympathetic as a superhero still trying to find himself while in over his head with bad guys and multiverses. Zendaya is still the smart, sarcastically funny and sweet girl next door beauty that is MJ, and she gets to be involved in a little more of the action. Cumberbatch is still solid as Dr. Strange, as is Benedict Wong as the briefly seen but lovable Wong. As for the villains, Willem Dafoe returns as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin and it’s as if he never left the role. Same can be said of Alfred Molina as Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, who has some of the better lines. Jamie Foxx gets a second go as Max Dillon/Electro. There is a brief reappearance by his blue form from TASM2 till the energy in this world alters him to a more traditional character look. He’s a badass in this new incarnation. Sandman and The Lizard are mostly CGI with ever so brief appearances by actors Thomas Hayden Church and Rhys Ifans. The supporting cast, such as Jacob Batalon as Ned, Tony Revolori as Flash, Jon Favreau as Happy, J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, all recreate their endearing and entertaining supporting characters, and all have their moments.
No Way Home isn’t perfect, but still delivers a lot of what we expected from this venture into the multi-verse. It dispenses with some of the last film’s set-up too quickly, has some convoluted plot points and drags in the middle after an action-packed start. The film makes up for a lot of it with a great last act, some strong character interaction, some spectacular battles and some wonderful returns and cameos, not to mention a young actor really growing into the role now after multiple appearances. Stay through all the credits.
Centuries ago the power hungry Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) came into possession of the ten rings, mystic objects that granted him power, invincibility and immortality. Not satisfied with all that he conquered, he set out to take over Ta Lo, a mystical village. There he was defeated by and fell in love with the beautiful warrior Ying Li (Fala Chen). They were wed and had a son, Shang-Chi and daughter, Xu Xialing. Upon her death, Xu returned to his villainous old ways and his children fled. In modern day Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) works in San Francisco as a valet named Sean with friend Katy (Awkwafina) and his sister remains hidden. When his father’s forces steal an amulet given him by his mother, the warrior within emerges, as Shang-Chi sets out to find Xu Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) and stop his father from whatever evil he’s plotting.
Flick is energetically and colorfully directed by Destin Daniel Cretton from his script and story with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham, based on the Marvel Comic. He presents a Marvel superhero epic by way of a Hong Kong martial arts fantasy flick and it can be dazzling entertainment at times. There are some stunning and fast moving action scenes, some wonderfully designed fantasy creatures and a superhero tale steeped in Asian culture. Cretton also gives the film a heart and soul to go with all the top notch SPFX and ferocious fight scenes, and the film has a rich background story to add depth to all the derring-do. There are a large amount of characters, but many are three dimensional and have purpose, thanks to story, script and excellent casting. If the film has any flaw, it’s that the fever pitch momentum grinds to a halt for a while, once Shang-Chi and company arrive at Ta Lo and there is some soul searching and we get exposition on the real threat coming. It then picks up quite spectacularly for it’s climactic confrontation. Other than a considerably slower middle act, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is breathtaking entertainment.
Getting back to the cast, there is quite an impressive one assembled here. Simu Liu is charming, charismatic and sometimes very funny as hero Shang-Chi. He plays a reluctant hero at first, but a noble and brave one, when it’s time to face his father and his Ten Rings army. Awkwafina provides some nice comic moments as his best bud Katy, but the actress has some nice dramatic and heroic moments, too. She’s not just there for laughs. Hong Kong film legend Tony Leung is a strong villain as Xu Wenwu, also known as The Mandarin. A celebrated actor in his Hong Kong films, he brings depth and dimension to what is anything but a stereotypical villain. Meng’er Zhang is good as Shang-Chi’s sister Xu Xialing and has some nice fight scenes of her own. Fala Chen is very good in her scenes as Ying Li, a noble warrior and loving wife and mother. Hong Kong film legend Michelle Yeoh is strong and wise as Shang-Chi’s aunt Nan and Ben Kingsley returns as fake Mandarin actor Trevor Slattery. A great cast with some fun surprise cameos, too.
Overall, this was a really fun and entertaining Marvel superhero epic that wonderfully borrows from the classic Hong Kong cinema martial arts fantasy flicks. There is dazzling martial arts action, stunning visuals and some very interesting characters both human and not. The FX are top notch, there are some sumptuous locations and lead Simu Liu makes for a noble hero as Shang-Chi, amongst a great cast. After a somewhat disappointing Black Widow, Marvel rebounds with one of the most fun movies of the year. As with all these flicks, stay through all the credits for two additional scenes.
Not only was Black Widow a long time coming in terms of Natasha Romanoff getting her own solo feature, but it is another highly anticipated flick postponed for over a year by COVID 19 shutdowns. Now it has arrived and we finally get some of the answers we were looking for, and a bit of closure.
Film opens with a sequence from 1995 detailing Natasha’s (Ever Anderson) fleeing from America with her Russian sleeper cell family and being taken with her sister Yelena (Violet McGraw) to be part of the Black Widow training program. Film then resumes between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War with Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) on the run after helping Cap and Bucky escape. Nat is about to go off the grid, when her long lost sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) pulls her into a mission to stop the Black Widow assassins training program, still being conducted in the Red Room, by a man she thought she killed, Dreykov (Ray Winstone). Determined to stop the Red Room and Dreykov once and for all, reunites her not only with Yelena, but with her sleeper cell mother and father, Alexei “Red Guardian” Shostakov (David Harbour), a super soldier and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), a Black Widow herself.
Flick is directed by Cate Shortland from a script by Eric Pearson and story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson. It has some nice emotional resonance and gives us a glimpse into how Natalia came to be the hero we know her as from the previous MCU films. The first act is strong and features a lot of action, as Nat reconnects with Yelena and are on the run from a metal-clad master assassin known only as Taskmaster, who perfectly mimics the fighting styles of his enemies. The pace here is quick, though not too fast and the action can surprisingly be a bit brutal, pushing the limits of the PG-13 rating. It’s the second act where the film loses some momentum, as Nat and Yelena break Alexei out of a Russian prison and then travel to a pig farm in St. Petersburg to reconnect with Melina, who has vital information as to the Red Room’s whereabouts. It’s here the story grinds to almost a halt, as the “family” catches up, voices their issues and awkwardly tries to bond again. Despite some nicely placed humor in the first third, here a few of the attempts at laughs fall a bit flat amidst the melodrama. The film thankfully picks up again as a betrayal brings the foursome’s enemies to their door and we head into the climactic last act in the flying Red Room complex, where Natasha comes face to face with her past, Dreykov and Taskmaster. There is a lot of action and the FX are spectacular, though there are a few weak CGI fire effects that stand out a bit. As a whole, Black Widow plays more like a Daniel Craig Bond film than a superhero movie, until the more FX heavy climax. It has a nice emotional center giving the character of Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, some closure and us some answers and details, that have been left out of her story thus far.
The cast all shine here. Scarlett Johansson gives one of her best performances as Nat and imbues her with some emotional depth that she wasn’t always afforded as a second banana in the other flicks. It’s too bad her story arc is at an end, as it would be nice to see her in solo action again. That being said, if this is a passing of the torch, Florence Pugh does a great job as her “sister” Yelena Belova, who takes up the mantel in the comics. Pugh is funny, tough and handles the action quite well. She has star quality and hopefully Yelena returns in future projects. Harbour is good as Red Guardian, though the character’s dialogue tends to ramble a bit and it stands out, especially in the slow middle. Weisz is good as the matronly Melina and gets to have a few action moments herself. Winstone is efficiently villainous as Dreykov, a far more grounded villain than we are used to in these films, but the veteran actor makes him lethal. William Hurt is briefly seen as Ross, O-T Fagbenie is a Natasha ally named Mason and Olga Kurylenko appears in a role that won’t be spoiled here. A good cast and it was nice to see Johansson get to say goodbye (?) to Romanoff with a really good performance and her own flick.
Overall this was a solid entry in the MCU. It’s a more down to earth action/adventure than the previous films, at least unit the last act, and gives us some of the details we’ve been waiting for. It has a good cast, with hints at the future, as well as, finally filling us in on Nat’s past. If anything holds this flick back, it’s that the middle act slows down momentum considerably and a few of the character interactions, during these sequences, come across as more awkward than effective. It recovers for it’s last third, with an action packed finale and some nice closure for the Romanoff character. Maybe not quite living up to the large expectations set by the long wait, but far from a disappointment. Stay through the credits for an especially shocking post credits scene.
Chadwick Boseman November 29, 1976-August 28, 2020
Horrible news tonight as word has broken that versitile Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman has lost a battle with cancer and has died at only 43 years-old. His performance of the classic Marvel character alone made him a household name all around the world and his loss is a sad blow to movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it’s fans. Farewell and RIP to a talent gone far too soon! Heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.
Spider-Man: Far From Home opens with a lot going on in the life of Peter Parker (Tom Holland). He’s adjusting to life after returning from “The Blip”…the five year period during which those Thanos vanquished were gone. He’s trying to cope with the death of mentor Tony Stark. He’s dealing with an apparent relationship between Happy Hogan (John Favreau) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) and his own feelings for MJ (Zendaya). Even his class trip to Europe gets complicated as he’s approached by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to battle creatures from another dimension with help from Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man said to be from an alternate dimension Earth. Can Peter save the planet, his friends and win the heart of MJ?…and can he trust Mysterio?
Sequel is a lot of fun and a bit bittersweet, as it deals with the effects of Tony Stark’s death on Peter and the world and it’s the first MCU flick without a cameo from the late, great Stan Lee. It’s directed with enthusiasm and a fast pace by a returning Jon Watts from a script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers. It’s a bit refreshing…and slightly off-putting…getting Peter Parker out of NYC for a while, but it keeps things fresh as Peter tries to deal with Stark’s hopes the he would pick up the mantle, if anything should ever happened to Tony…and it obviously has. There are a lot of lighter moments, too, as Peter has to juggle his secret mission for Fury, keep his identity a secret, battle otherworldly creatures and still try to win MJ away from handsome jock Brad (Remy Hii). The script keeps the various story elements mixed nicely, all the while delivering some spectacular action scenes in various European locals, much like a 007 film. The movie establishes a nice bond between Peter and Quentin which makes the betrayal all the more effective, even though we know it’s coming, as Mysterio is one of Spidy’s classic villains. It all comes together in a nice, action-packed climax in London and then a shocking mid-credits sequence back in NYC that has a familiar face turning Peter and Spider-Man’s life upside down. The next Spider-Man flick should be interesting indeed!
The cast are all good. Tom Holland is a great Peter Parker and he handles the various emotions very well. He’s a superhero still growing into his suit and now has to handle the pressure of Stark choosing him as his successor. He also has to balance his duty to battling evil and satisfy his own heart with the girl he’s falling for. As MJ, Zendaya is smart, sarcastically funny, sweet at heart and has a girl next door beauty that makes her completely crush worthy and a fitting addition to Peter’s small circle. The actress creates a very quirky, independent, yet endearing character. Jackson and Favreau can play their characters in their sleep at this point and thankfully they don’t. Jake Gyllenhaal is a welcome addition to the MCU as Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio. Initially he delivers a man with very noble and heroic intentions, a man you can believe Peter would bond with. Once his nefarious plan is unveiled, Gyllenhaal goes delightfully over-the-top for some solid villainy. A good choice for one of Spider-Man’s major bad guys. The supporting cast, such as Jacob Batalon as the lovable Ned, Tony Revolori as Flash, Martin Starr as Mr. Harrington and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, all create entertaining supporting characters in their given moments.
After the dramatic intensity of Avengers: Endgame, Far From Home delivers a lighter break, but with enough emotional depth to make sense with what it follows and as the supposed last film in MCU Phase 3. It has Peter Parker adjusting to missing five years, handling the death of his mentor and the possibility of filling his shoes to a degree. As with all the Spider-Man films, he also has to balance being a hero and yet still be a teenage boy. There are some really fun moments, a lot of spectacular action, it balances multiple characters well and delivers a solid villain in Mysterio. There are a few scenes that could have been a bit shorter, but overall is a lot of fun and feels far more like it’s own film than Homecoming. Stay through the credits for a shocking mid credits scene and a fun end credits scene.