REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)

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SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)

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.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 (out of 4) webs!


 

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REVIEW: AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)

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AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)

“Whatever it takes” ―The Avengers

Fourth Avengers flick finds the surviving heroes still devastated by the mass genocide caused by Thanos and the Infinity Stones. Five years later, hope is reignited as the reappearance of one of their number thought dead, gives The Avengers one last chance to possibly set things right.

Joe and Anthony Russo, again armed with a script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, give this ten year journey the best ending possible. It’s an emotionally draining roller coaster ride as The Avengers enact a desperate plan that will lead them to a final showdown with the Mad Titan…and we’re along with them, every step of the way. It’s the type of movie best enjoyed going in knowing as little as possible, so this will be brief. There are loads of surprises, epic battles, some wonderful cameos and a plot that cleverly wraps up the story and also manages to pay tribute to what came before. There are some truly great moments here and heartbreaking ones, too. The audience in attendance laughed hysterically, cheered thunderously and some even wept openly. It wraps up the last ten years wonderfully, while opening some doors to the future. Simply a great flick and an enormously entertaining 181 minutes.

The cast is once again, too large to discuss each individually, but all deserve kudos. Our mainstays from the series all perform these now familiar characters with the expected gusto. A great ensemble cast that has endeared us over the last decade and have grown into their roles so well. Josh Brolin again impresses as Thanos, the Mad Titan. The clever script gives us a bit of a different Thanos, one possibly more dangerous than he was in Infinity War. There are too many great character cameos to mention, which is fine, as they will not be spoiled here anyway. A spectacular cast.

There are a few flaws, but for all the spectacle and emotion you get in it’s three hour running time, they are too small to bother discussing. A clever script and story gives us everything we could hope for from epic battles, heartbreaking actions, nail-biting suspense and some truly hilarious moments, all mixed very well. It rarely slows down and only stumbles slightly here and there, but otherwise is an epic finale to a great series of movies. While there is no post credits scene, stay during the entire credits anyway for a wonderful sendoff to our beloved heroes.

…and, on a personal note, I can’t remember the last time I laughed, cheered and even teared up so much in one movie…and I’ve been watching movies for over five decades-MZNJ

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) infinity gauntlets.

 

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REVIEW: ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)

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ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018)

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Lackluster sequel took five writers…including star Rudd…to write the script and still produces a somewhat disappointing flick. Follow-up finds Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) under house arrest after his stint in Germany with the civil warring Avengers. Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who are pissed at him for the blow-back from Germany, sneak him out to help them in an effort to rescue Pym’s wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm. In their way is a quantum phasing villain named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who wants Pym’s equipment for her own purposes. If that’s not enough, slimy black market technology dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) wants Pym’s equipment for HIS own greedy ventures.

Peyton Reed returns to direct and can’t get a whole lot out of this writer heavy, but content weak screenplay. Biggest problem is that aside from Pym’s noble goal of rescuing his long lost wife, one never gets the feeling that there is all that much at stake here. There’s never a sense of urgency to the proceedings and it just seems like a game of who’s got the miniaturized lab as it goes from one set of hands to another. Ghost is a decent villain, but all she wants is to stop phasing in and out of dimensions and so she’s more of a nuisance than an actually threat. When the only other villain is the comical Burch, we have a film without a real menace to liven up the convoluted proceedings. Films like this need a strong villain to click. Sure after the intensity of Avengers: Infinity War we needed something lighter and more fun, but thin and light are two different things and this film simply could have used more weight and been a bit livelier in the fun department. This seems very by-the-numbers and could have gotten a lot more out of the dynamic between Rudd’s Ant-Man and Lilly’s Wasp. The actors work well together, but the material here is weak. On the bright side there are some fun action sequences, like a romp through the streets of San Francisco and Luis (Michael Peña), Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and Dave (Tip Harris) are back to provide laughs as Scott’s former gang turned legit security advisors. This superhero sandwich may be light on meat, but is still edible and at least never boring.

Except for Goggins, Hannah John Kamen, Pfeiffer and Larry Fishburn, as a former friend of Hank Pym, the cast are all returning from the first Ant-Man flick. Rudd is charming and fun as Lang/Ant-Man though we wish he and the other four writers gave him some far more clever punchlines. Evangeline Lilly fairs a bit better showing some real superhero potential as the smart-ass, kick-ass Hope/Wasp. She and Rudd have a nice chemistry, even if they play out the cliché “they broke up between films and now are rediscovering their attraction” scenario. Douglas is a veteran and again is charming as the grumpy Pym. Pfeiffer doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but makes an impression and is a welcome addition to the gang. Hannah John-Kamen is solid as Ghost and a bit sympathetic, though she isn’t portrayed as a real threat. Fishburn is fine as a former friend and associate of Pym who may…or may not…want to help Hank retrieve Janet. Goggins is OK as the more comical than diabolical Burch. Like his Tomb Raider villain, he could have been more intimidating, but isn’t. As our bumbling trio, Peña, Dastmalchian and Harris are fun, though their presence in this story seems a little forced. Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale and Abby Ryder Fortson also return as Lang’s “family”. A solid cast, but let down a bit by a sub-par script.

In conclusion, there was a lot of potential here with a good cast, but a weak screenplay keeps this more in the realm of mediocre than Marvel-ous. The story doesn’t present a scenario that evokes urgency or suspense and the one-liners are less imaginative and fun this time. The direction seems by-the-numbers and the creative spark of the first flick isn’t quite there. The actors help elevate this a bit with an energetic and fun Wasp from Evangeline Lilly and some amusing moments from Rudd and his trio of side-kicks. There is more than one villain, though none of them are truly villainous, so, at least there are some fun action/fight scenes to keep us somewhat entertained. Never boring, but never especially exciting either. Stay through the credits for two additional scenes that answer questions as to when this entry takes place in the scheme of Avengers: Infinity War.

-MonsterZero NJ

  Rated 2 and 1/2 ants.

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: DEADPOOL 2 (2018)

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DEADPOOL 2 (2018)

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Sequel finds our wise-cracking, anti-hero suffering a devastating personal loss and turning suicidal. With his powers of regeneration, that doesn’t work out so well and so Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) tries to help by recruiting him to the X-Men. That doesn’t work out so well either and Wade a.k.a. Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) finds himself sent to the Ice Box, a prison designed for mutants, along with a powerful, troubled boy named Russell (Julian Dennison). When a cyborg from the future named Cable (Josh Brolin) comes to kill Russell, Deadpool sees saving the boy as a way to prove he is capable of doing the right thing…but is he?

Deadpool 2 is this time directed by David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde) from a script by returning writers Paul Wernick, and Rhett Reese, along with star Ryan Reynolds. It doesn’t quite have the edge or energy of the first film, but is still good, naughty, bloody fun. The film is filled with the now traditional pop culture references and shots taken at other Marvel and DC properties, including The Merc with the Mouth telling Brolin’s Cable to “Pump the hate breaks Thanos at one point. The flick is a bit larger scaled with the action, no better example than an especially fun sequence with Deadpool and his team of misfits, including ‘lucky’ mercenary Domino (Zazie Beets), trying to stop Cable’s assault on an armored convoy. It’s bigger than anything seen in this series so far and gives Reynold’s co-stars a piece of the action, too. The flick has the usual humor-laced graphic violence and there are plenty of raunchy jokes with just enough wit behind them to make them work. A sequence with Wade regenerating his lost legs is especially hilarious. In fact while the flick seems to take itself a bit too seriously at times, in the first half, the second half comes alive with what we came for…including some hysterical post credit scenes. Like the first film, not everything works, but does succeed more often than not. The new characters of Cable and Domino are welcome to the Deadpool universe and we get returning familiar faces like Colossus, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), Weasel (T.J. Miller) and Wade’s ever-loving girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). It’s a fun time and while the hi-jinx aren’t exactly new, they are still fairly fresh here thanks to the creative team and the actors getting the tone of the material perfectly.

Ryan Reynolds is born to play this part and he does so like a boss. He delivers his lines with the same deadpan confidence as he did last time, while unafraid to equally poke fun at himself. Josh Brolin’s Cable may not quite be up to his Thanos from Avengers: Infinity War, but his second Marvel character this summer is still a solid villain that avoids being two dimensional, all the while having a deadpan sense of humor of his own. Zazie Beetz is a sexy delight as Domino. A mercenary who claims her superpower is luck and she’s an ass-kicker and can be quite funny herself. Julian Dennison is good as Russell. At first we feel sorry for his picked-on and abused mutant, but also start to see the power and rage which will become a problem in Cable’s future. Morena Baccarin is back as sexy, sassy Vanessa and we wish she had a bigger part. Colossus is again fun as voiced by Stefan Kapičić,  still amusingly portraying the metal encased X-Man as a big metal boy scout. T.J. Miller is still fun as Wade’s buddy Weasel. Brianna Hildebrand is back as N.T.W. and with a new look and a mutant girlfriend, Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna). Leslie Uggams is also back as Wade’s roommate Blind Al and Karan Soni returns as faithful cab driver and assassin wannabe Dopinder. There are also some great cameos that won’t be spoiled here.

In conclusion, it may not quite have the edge that the first film had, but it is still raunchy, bloody, sarcastic fun. There are some welcome new characters to add to the returning familiar faces and some bigger action set-pieces to throw those characters into. Reynolds is perfect again as the “Merc with the Mouth” and there are some fun post credits scenes to stick around for. Not exactly an equal, but an entertaining sequel that, in a way, is it’s own thing! As usual there is a soundtrack of cool songs included in the mayhem.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 unicorns…like last time.

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REVIEW: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

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AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

“In time, you will know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail all the same. Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives.” ―Thanos

Third Avengers film finds the “Mad Titan” Thanos (Josh Brolin) deciding to restore balance to the universe by killing half of it’s population. To do this he must track down six powerful infinity stones to be placed in a gauntlet, that once completed, will give him the means to do so. To stop him, The Avengers must put aside their differences and The Guardians of the Galaxy must learn to play nice with The Avengers. Not as simple as it sounds as Thanos and his four children…The Black Order…will destroy anything in their path to get the stones…two of which are already on Earth.

Spectacularly entertaining film is directed with a wonderful mix of intensity, action and humor by Joe and Anthony Russo, who gave us the best Marvel film…until now…Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely who get a whole lot of story going without the film ever feeling like it’s too busy or a mess. Our heroes are split up on various quests. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to forge a new weapon, Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to keep Thanos from getting the Time Stone and Cap (Chris Evans), Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) are trying to keep the Mind Stone in Vision’s (Paul Bettany) head out of Thanos’ mitt as well. The action scenes are far more spectacular than we have yet seen in the MCU and in this film series we’ve seen a lot. What can you say about a film that gives you Thanos vs Hulk in the first five minutes and that’s just for starters. What makes this film work so well, though, is not only some wonderful camaraderie between the many characters, but some very emotionally powerful moments, too. The Russos give this film an emotional depth that this series has rarely experienced and Joss Whedon’s first two Avengers movies rarely touched on. There are some side-split-tingly funny dialogue exchanges, too, between characters…such as Banner’s “There’s a Spider-Man AND an Ant-Man?”…and some heart skipping moments, that won’t be spoiled here. The writers pick some great character team ups, like Strange and Stark and Thor and Rocket with some great cameos that also won’t be spoiled here. None of this would work, however, with a weak villain and thankfully Thanos is one of the best MCU villains so far. He is given depth, a purpose…although, a diabolical one…and a powerful presence. It all combines for a villain who lives up to his threat factor big time and puts our heroes in more danger than they have ever been in…a danger they all face valiantly.

The cast is too large to discuss each individually. Our mainstays from the series all perform well with some stand-outs. Hemsworth is a highlight with Ragnarok’s changes to the God of Thunder carrying over here. While initially critical of Cumberbatch as Strange, he has grown into the role very well and the Russos use him wisely. Holland is turning into a great Spider-Man and the script, under the Russo Brother’s guidance, fix the awkward relationship between Peter and Tony that didn’t gel so well in Spiderman: Homecoming. Almost everyone is given their moments, there is some great dialogue for them and the whole cast are given some really intense scenes, unlike they have been afforded before, to shine in. The real force here is Josh Brolin as the Mad Titan. He does voice and motion capture for Thanos and really gives him a powerful presence and an intensity, few MCU villains have mustered in the film series’ decade history. You believe he is a threat and yet, they give him some emotional moments of his own, which give him a depth which only adds to his effectiveness. He makes this epic work. If there is any issue with characters, it’s that Thanos’ CGI children…Proxima Midnight, Corvus Glaive, Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian mostly come across as generic monsters, save for the creepy Ebony Maw…but Thanos gets most of the screen time.

There is very little to gripe about here. At 160 minutes, one or two scenes run on a bit long and a few characters, like Black Widow and Falcon get shortchanged in the whole of things. However we do get a comic book movie of epic proportions that brings spectacular action, nerve-wracking intensity, dramatic weight and some outright hilarious dialogue moments, all mixed to perfection by the Russo Brothers. Sure there is more to the story and the end leaves us wanting that more, but next summer the fourth installment arrives and it is going to have to be something else to surpass this, one of the MCU’s absolute best installments so far. Spectacular entertainment!

…and don’t forget to stay during the entire credits for a post credits scene that will knock your socks off.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 infinity gauntlets.

 

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NEW AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR TRAILER IS HERE!

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Marvel has dropped the new/final (?) trailer for Avenger: Infinity War which brings The Avengers and The Guardians of the Galaxy together for a battle against the “Mad Titan” Thanos! Avengers: Infinity War arrives on 4/27/18 and is directed by the Russo Brothers.

Sources: Youtube/Marvel

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AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR GETS A TRAILER!

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Marvel has finally dropped the first trailer for Avenger: Infinity War which brings our heroes together with the Guardians of the Galaxy for a battle against the “Mad Titan” Thanos! Avengers: Infinity War arrives on 5/4/18 and is directed by the Russo Brothers.

Sources: Youtube/Marvel

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REVIEW: SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

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SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming is the sixth flick featuring the web-head in the last fifteen years and the second reboot in the last five…and this is not counting his extended cameo in Captain America: Civil War. Marvel was in a hurry to add the wall crawler to the MCU, once they ironed out the legal details and so we have another Spider-Man flick with our third Spidey in Tom Holland. The character might have needed a break instead of a reboot as, despite all the attempts to ‘freshen’ it up, there is still a stale familiarity to the proceedings.

This movie opens with working man Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his crew cleaning up after the Chitauri invasion of New York and being escorted off the site by a shady government agency…without compensation. Eight years later, Toomes and his crew have made some high-tech weapons and gadgets out of some un-returned alien artifacts, including a flight suit which they use to steal more artifacts to make more illegal weapons to sell. At this same time, young Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is excited over being chosen to aid Iron Man/Tony Stark and is chomping at the bit to join the Avengers and be a real hero, something Stark now feels he is definitely not ready for. As the “flying monster” and his henchmen get on Peter’s radar, Spider-Man decides to try and take them down and prove to Stark there is a hero within the awkward fifteen year-old boy.

Film is directed this time by Jon Watts (Clown) from a script by six people and it shows. The film gives the impression of being a bit of a mess bouncing back and forth from superhero flick to awkward teen comedy and it doesn’t always mesh together well. The first half is especially weak as it focuses on Peter, once again back in high school, wanting the best of both worlds in being a normal teenager, who gets the attention of the pretty Liz (Laura Harrier) and a bona fide hero in Spider-Man. Instead he’s a nerdy outcast with only one true friend (Jacob Batalon) and someone Stark doesn’t trust to join the team, yet.  There are some funny bits, but here in the first half Spider-Man isn’t a heroic alter ego, but actually just as awkward at being a hero as he is socially as Peter Parker. His attempts at heroics cause more trouble than good and this approach starts to wear out it’s welcome quickly, as do the segments that enter routine teen comedy territory. It’s nothing new for something that’s supposed to re-invent the character for the MCU and comes off as clumsy as Peter. The second half picks up when he and Keaton’s Vulture start to go head to head and Parker has to go it alone when Stark takes away his toys. There is some decent action here, thankfully scaled down from the last few Marvel flicks, but again, nothing new. Another problem here is the attempts to fit Peter/Spider-Man into the MCU themselves don’t seem to fit and seem too obvious. Not only is there the Chitauri connection with Toomes’ toys, but the extended cameos by Stark and Iron Man. And if that’s not enough, Stark appoints Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to watch over Peter which really doesn’t add anything but yet another MCU link. The Spider-Man/Vulture storyline suffers, so we can spend time with Hogan and Stark. There are also numerous name drops to other Avengers and even a cameo or two from MCU familiar characters. This film feels even more like a deliberate attempt to force a connection with Spidey to the MCU than his cameo in Civil War. It’s obtrusive. Even Toomes’ big scheme involves MCU plot elements from past films. The film is still somewhat fun at times, but never feels like it’s own movie as even other flicks in the MCU series do.

The cast is good here. Holland does make a good Spidey. While the awkward approach was a bit much at times, the actor is charming and conveys both socially inept nerd and the hero within quite nicely. Keaton makes for an interesting villain. He is more a common criminal with some cool toys and that worked better than yet another megalomaniac. He has a couple of scenes where he is quite threatening and he is certainly more effective than Jamie Foxx’s Electro. Robert Downey Jr, at this point can play Stark in his sleep and he is Stark as usual here. Favreau seemed to be phoning it in as Hogan, which doesn’t help as the character has little to do but look annoyed anyway. Marisa Tomei is fun as Aunt May and while she is adorned in glasses, mom jeans and some corny dialogue, she is still Marisa Tomei…if you know what I mean and the film does have a little fun with that. Jacob Batalon is entertaining and has some very funny moments as Peter’s only friend Ned and Bokeem Woodbine has a minor role as Spider-Man villain Shocker who is one of Toomes’ thugs. There are also a couple of fun Marvel cameos, too, for fans to look out for.

So there are mixed feelings for a film that had some fun moments and a few solid action scenes, but felt rushed as far as reintroducing Spider-Man yet again. The script is a bit of a mess and with six scribes it’s no wonder. Jon Watt guides things well enough, but he can’t overcome the familiarity it still has and that the film tries way too hard to stuff Spidey into the MCU, which is now in it’s third phase. Holland makes a fine hero and Keaton a solid villain, but in all honesty, Stark and Happy Hogan really didn’t need to be there and their scenes don’t feel like they are part of the rest of the film. At this point the Web Head needs a bit of a break, but apparently will be back as the end credits forewarn us. Stay through the credits for two post credits scenes, one which playfully has fun with us for waiting through the credits for post credits scenes.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 webs!

 

 

 

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REVIEW: DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

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DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

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Doctor Strange is the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the latest character of theirs to be adapted for film. The story tells of brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose career comes to a shocking halt when a car accident destroys the nerves in his hands. He tries every medical solution possible, until he learns of a man (Benjamin Bratt) who overcame his paralysis using the mystic arts in a place called Kamar-Taj. Traveling there, Strange is reluctantly taken in by a sorcerer named Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who studies under The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). In a short time, Strange shows great mastering of the mystic arts and not a moment too soon as a former follower of The Ancient One, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) has stolen a spell which can open up a portal to let a great evil into the world.

Doctor Strange isn’t a bad movie, but it is a rather mediocre entry in the Marvel film series as directed by Sinister’s Scott Derrickson. Derrickson directs from a script and story by he, Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill and is never able to give it that sense of fun or excitement that has made this Marvel series such a consistent success. The film is rather moderately paced and seems far longer than the 115 minute runtime. It’s not a boring film, but it just it never really gets exciting and the action seems very by-the-numbers and repetitive. The FX sequences have a very heavy Inception-esque feel and overuses certain imagery to the point of redundancy. Only so many times you can watch buildings morph and multiply before it stops impressing. Derrickson also doesn’t seem to have the deftness to mix in the trademark humor that these films have and a lot of the attempts at such humor come across as awkward or simply fall flat. There are some interesting visuals and while repetitive, the FX are orchestrated quite excellently, but the film never really feels like part of the universe it’s supposed to and we never really endear to Strange much like we did Tony Stark, Thor or Steve Rodgers. He’s just not that interesting. Ironically, while Dr. Strange may be one of the weaker heroes in the canon, Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius is one of the stronger villains and we actually wish he had more screen time as this is a Stephen Strange origin story and much of the film focuses on him, leaving Kaecilius to sporadic appearances.

As we are on the subject of the cast, sadly this is one of few times it could be said that the versatile Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t quite seem right for a role. His Stephen Strange is kind of a dull hero and his transformation from arrogant surgeon to gallant sorcerer, is not nearly as impressive as, say, Thor’s transformation from arrogant prince to champion of the universe in that film. His attempts at humor mostly fall flat both in the writing and in Cumberbatch’s delivery. He just didn’t seem as comfortable with the one liners as he was with all the mystical mumbo-jumbo. Chiwetel Ejiofor was noble and a bit more endearing as Mordo. He was charming and likable and charm was something Strange was lacking. Swinton certainly fits the role of The Ancient One, who, if knowledge serves, was male in the comics. She is mystical and exudes power and wisdom and works well as the Master Po (Google it, kids) of the Marvel Universe. Mads Mikkelsen is a bit stronger villain than we’ve seen in this film series and had a sense of menace and power that the actor conveyed well. Too bad his screen time is limited as we could have used a bit more time to really get to know Kaecilius. Rounding out is Rachel McAdams, who is spunky and fiery as Strange’s ex-grilfriend and a doctor in her own right. Again, limited screen time hinders a likable character who isn’t given all that much to do.

After delivering so many entertaining and fun flicks…with some spot-on casting to boot…Marvel was due to stumble a bit and this unimpressive flick isn’t nearly bad enough to do the series any real harm. Derrickson has a strong visual style and made this a bit grittier than some of the previous flicks, but wasn’t able to give it a sense of fun, or excitement. His attempts at humor never really hit the mark and the action seemed very routine despite being surrounded by a lot of overactive visual effects. Cumberbatch didn’t seem to fit quite right, either, as hero Strange, who was never charming or endearing enough to really warm up to. We did get a strong villain, but lack of screen time didn’t help there either. A mediocre entry in an otherwise fairly solid series of movies. Not quite as disappointing as the schizophrenic Iron Man 3. Obviously, stay during the credits for two additional sequences.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 Doctors.

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REVIEW: X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016)

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X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016)

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While X-Men: Apocalypse is not the worst of this series, it may be the dullest. The film opens in ancient Egypt where a powerful being, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) is about to transfer his consciousness into another body when he is betrayed and buried beneath the ruins of a great pyramid. We then cut to 1983 where he is dug up by a cult of mutant worshipers and set free to resume his plan of…you guessed it…world destruction and domination. Now Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and rebel hero Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) must somehow stop the first and most powerful mutant with only a group of young students and CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) at their sides. Worse still, En Sabah Nur has gathered a strike force of his own, Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and only needs one more piece to carry out his apocalyptic plan…Charles Xavier.

As this is the fourth X-Men flick directed by Bryan Singer and written by Simon Kinberg, co-written with Singer, Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris, we see a series in definite need of new creative blood. The story is just another powerful villain looking to annihilate mankind yarn, directed very by-the-numbers by Singer. Gone is the cleverness from his first two flicks, as well as, the energy and the fun. The film plods along for 144 minutes, taking itself way too seriously and we only see a spark of life in the last few moments, when the young members of the team must step up against a god-like being…though a god-like being that never really impresses or exudes much menace. And that is another big problem with this flick, En Sabah Nur…or Apocalypse…is a boring villain. He is never frightening, nor do we ever truly feel the power he is supposed to have. He’s just some blue guy who wants to rule the world…yawn. Even his sidekicks, including the usually impressive Magneto, are given little to do, but stand glowering behind him, till the climactic battle and even then only Olivia Munn’s Psylocke shows a little promise, despite being as underused as the rest of them. Add to that a detour into William Stryker’s (Josh Helman) lair, which serves no purpose other than to give a certain familiar face a cameo and adds at least twenty minutes to an already overlong flick. Remove the sequence entirely and it would have no bearing on the story. Even Stan Lee’s usually amusing cameo is dull, though at least we get to meet his real-life wife.

There are some positive points. There is some solid action and the FX are spectacular, even though the whole city destruction thing has been done to death in recent superhero flicks. Evan Peters has another movie stealing scene as Quicksilver and should get his own movie at this point. Mystique’s graduation to team leader works well and Lawrence again shines in the role, as does Sophie Turner as a young Jean Grey, who has a bit of a scene stealing moment of her own in the final conflict. One of the few moments to show some life and have impact. Newton Thomas Sigel returns with some crisp cinematography and John Ottoman from X2 and Days Of Future Past again scores the soundtrack…of which also contains some cool 80s tunes.

The film has a big cast and the recent regulars like McAvoy, Fassbender, Hoult, Byrne and Lawrence all perform their roles well and we wish they were given something more challenging to do. Oscar Isaac is sadly underwhelming as En Sabah Nur/Apocalypse. He just doesn’t project any power or malice, as the supposedly first and most powerful mutant. It is almost as if he was phoning in the part. Evan Peters is once again amusing as the smart-ass Quicksilver and thankfully he has a bigger role. Sophie Turner is good as young Jean Grey and in her big scene evokes the kind of power Isaac could have used to make his villain memorable. As for the rest of the newbies, Jodi Smit McPhee is fun as Nightcrawler, Tye Sheridan is fine as the new Cyclops, Ben Hardy is given very little to do as Angel, so it is hard to really comment on his performance, Alexandra Shipp shows potential for Storm and Olivia Munn, as mentioned previously, makes an impression as Psylocke, even if she is underused.

What can be said? It’s not an outright bad movie like Last Stand, but even that had some fun stuff in it. While this is a better made and written film, it is also a very drab, uninvolving and overlong one. At least Last Stand had the decency to be less than two hours long. Our main bad guy is heaps of dull and his world destroying plot is heaps of been-there-done-that. On a plus note, the FX are as well rendered, the action is well staged and the recast favorites work well enough, with Sophie Turner standing out. There are a few good new characters such as Olivia Munn’s villainous Psylocke and another fun sequence with the scene stealing Quicksilver. A ho-hum entry in a series which has too many interesting characters to run out of gas quite yet.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 sexy but underused Psylocke’s.

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