Tag Archives: super hero movies

The Avengers Have Day Jobs

When The Avengers aren’t fighting crime on screen, they’re often teaming up to do other movies. Here, a totally non-exhaustive list, so feel free to contribute your own in the comments.

Zodiac: Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark (RDJ) hunt a serial killer, with future Spider-man villain Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). Tsk tsk.

Wind River: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Oslen) risk frostbite in this thriller.

I Saw The Light: Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) get their
cowboy boots on in this country-western send-up to Hank Williams.

Infinitely Polar Bear: I totally recommend this film about how a bipolar diagnosis affects a family, starring The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana).giphy

Men In Black 4: This one is not technically out yet, but could we be more excited to see a movie starring Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson)???

Her: This is a super cerebral movie about a man falling in love with the voice of an operating system (Scarlett Johansson) – look carefully and you’ll also see Star-Lord himself (Chris Pratt).

Sunshine: Danny Boyle assembles a team of astronauts to save the dying sun, among them Captain America (Chris Evans), Guardians Vol. 2’s Aleta Ogord (Michelle Yeoh), Endgame’s Akihiko (Hiroyuki Sanada), and Doctor’s Strange’s right hand man, Wong (Benedict Wong).

American Hustle: David O. Russell recruits the voice of Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Ant-Man’s best pal Luis (Michael Pena).

Traffic: This is a really interesting and complicated movie about the war on drugs, by Steven Soderbergh, and just wait til you hear how it criss-crosses the MCU: Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) star, with War Machine
(Don Cheadle) making an appearance also. Bonus level: Miguel Ferrer, Iron Man 3’s Vice President Rodriguez.

Chef: Beloved Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) plays the eponymous Chef, and is joined onscreen by pals Ironman (Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Antman’s daughter’s stepdad, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale).

Creed: Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) met his fate in Black Panther, but Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) gets to snuggle up in Creed.

sourceSherlock Holmes (TV): Although they never teamed up in the MCU, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) teams up with Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) is this addictive detective series.

Sherlock Holmes (movie): On film, Sherlock is played by none other than Ironman (Robert Downey Jr.), and his faithful Watson by evil Kree Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). What an odd pairing!

Unicorn Store: Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) are reunited and it feels so good. And this time they’re getting a unicorn! Yes, a real one. Jackson’s wardrobe is cotton candy for the soul, complete with tinsel-weaved wigs. Must see, currently streaming on Netflix.

Marshall: Black Panther himself (Chadwick Boseman) plays Thurgood Marshall alongside N’jobu, Killmonger’s slain father from the same film (Sterling K. Brown).

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Captain America tumblr_nb04u6MGrq1te1cwfo2_500(Chris Evans) use their powers for evil instead of good – Larson playing rock star Envy Adams, Scott’s ex-girlfriend, and Evans playing action star Lucas Lee, one of Ramona’s seven evil exes. This is a fun one to re-visit, as it is written and directed by Edgar Wright, who also wrote the screenplay to Ant-Man.

Wonder Boys: Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Ironman (Downey Jr.) make an uneasy alliance in this Michael Chabon adaptation.

13 Going On 30: The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) was surprised to learn that Captain Marvel (Larson) makes an appearance in this film as a mean girl in high school!

In the Heart of the Sea: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) takes Spidey (Tom Holland) under his wing in this Moby Dick retelling.

Isle of Dogs: Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) gets her voice on in this Wes Anderson animated film, alongside GrandMaster Flash (Jeff Goldblum) and The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).

The MCU is super incestuous. I bet you can think of many more!

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Thor’s Endgame

First: if you haven’t seen the movie, feel free to read Sean’s spoiler-free review. What follows below is filled with spoilers and you should stay the heck away.

As many of you know, I am generally not a big fan of super hero movies. I think they contribute to the dumbing-down of culture. That movies and comic books meant for boys are being consumed by men. That some of these men turn positively vitriolic over the most trivial deviations, which often represent change in the world that they themselves are not comfortable with and don’t want to see reflected in their little comic book bubbles. And now the extreme serialization of the MCU is shouldering independent cinema out of theatres and onto Netflix, which feels like a loss.

But Marvel has also given us something to feel passionate about. In a world that often chastises men for expressing excitement, glee, and attachment, Marvel’s shared universe has given them something that they can vocally and publicly acclaim. Which is not to say that women aren’t also fans of the MCU, just that it’s always been more socially acceptable for them to cry at a screening of Titanic than it has been for men.

But for the most part, it just wasn’t for me. And that’s okay. I still see every single one of them because I’m married to a little boy trapped inside a handsome, strapping body. He read this stuff as a kid and it’s fully exciting for him to see it come to life on the big screen (Spider-man in particular, it seems) – and then to share it with his brother and nephews, who are discovering it for themselves. And I dutifully fill in the seat beside him, very occasionally surprising myself by liking one of them (Black Panther. That’s the one. I also really liked Wonder Woman, but I do know that’s not Marvel, thankyouverymuch. Both these movies were cultural touchstones that transcended the comics. Both studios were careful to do things right, to get exactly the right actors and the right script and the right directors – to serve more than just the fans. Perhaps even to serve history).

Until: Taika Waititi. Waititi has been my favourite director for as long as he’s been directing movies. When I met Sean about a decade ago, I made him watch Eagle vs. Shark as a litmus test: was he cool enough and funny enough and subversive enough? He was. Barely. But he has a big penis so I let it slide.

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As you may know, Taika Waititi came on board to direct Thor: Ragnarok and is largely responsible for turning an arrogant god into a thoughtful and affable leader. Thor was transformed. Thor is fun! Plus Waititi gave Thor a haircut and suddenly I was thinking: Thor is hot?

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So Thor has since been my favourite character, which is why I was so sad to see his trajectory in Endgame. Thor is suffering from (is it too much to say?) PTSD. He’s been at constant war for years and has somehow internalized the Snap, blaming himself for failing to “aim for the head,” taking responsibility for Thanos’ humanity-shearing snap. Five years later, the movie finds Thor hidden away with his Ragnarok friends Korg and Miek, playing video games and inciting trolls, drinking too much and letting himself go. His physical self reflects his internal turmoil: he isn’t caring for himself anymore. Which is really sad, and surprisingly realistic for Marvel, but then they ruin the whole thing by playing it for a laugh. As Thor walks into the room, the camera goes to his beer-bloated belly. The audience laughs. He is shirtless so we can see the extent of his mortification. This man is hurting and Marvel wants us to laugh.

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So it dilutes the very worthy and valid message about mental health and how we all struggle with it. If we took away the fat suit punch line, we’re left with a deeply conflicted man who is really suffering. He lost his family twice now – The Avengers were his family, and not only are half of them turned to dust, but he has exiled himself from the rest. And when he finally does rejoin them, Tony Stark doesn’t ask him how he’s doing, he makes a joke about his appearance (he calls him Lebowski). True enough: often even our close friends and family miss the signs of depression. And who would think of it of such a strong man? And yet we are all fallible. Pain and trauma are the great equalizers of men.

Let’s remember for a moment that Thor’s other family, his real family, are also dead, but every single one of them – mother, father, brother Loki, that pesky half-sister Hela, even his best pal Heimdall – died before the Snap. So they’re not coming back no matter what happens in Endgame. And he’s lost his home, Asgard literally blown to smithereens, along with much of the population, which is then halved again during the Snap, which also took Valkyrie, his one remaining link to home and past.

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So it’s nice that Thor gets a moment with his mother, who immediately knows that she is being blessed with a visit from a future-version of her son. She doesn’t waste time asking about his appearance or about her own safety, she wants to know about his pain. They talk about the true nature of a hero. She gives him strength. He begins to heal.

Chris Hemsworth brings a lot to a role that he’s had to stretch and adapt over the 8 years that he’s played him. You wouldn’t expect a comic book hero to be the role that shows an actor’s versatility, and yet here we are. Hemsworth has compassion for Thor. Even while the audience is invited to laugh on him, Hemsworth doesn’t want to make him the joke. Thor puts on a show for his friends, unwilling to let the mask slip and show his true vulnerability. But we see it. Sometimes just in the pain the flashes across his eyes, or the defeated slump of his shoulders, formally so square and erect.

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This is a movie, so Thor’s arc movies quickly, as it must. But it’s not shown to be a quick fix, nor complete. These wounds take time to heal but they can heal, even if Thor will never be the cocky god we knew before. Not that we’d want him to be. This new Thor may be fat, but he’s also grown so much. He knows that other people’s worthiness does not take away from his own. He can share in the heroics comfortably, and even pass the torch. And that’s why I liked the scene as he’s preparing to fight Thanos: he calls on the  gods to ready him for battle. They do, but not by restoring him to his former glory. They outfit his new body. They braid his unkempt beard. It is THIS Thor who defeats Thanos when the old one could not, so let’s not laugh at his body, let’s celebrate his accomplishments, let’s shore up his mental health, let’s rejoice in his triumphs and share in his loss. He is finding his way through trauma. Thor is a god, but he’s having a very human response, and I wish ours in turn could be just a little more humane.

Howard The Duck

Last month I struggled to rein myself in after watching a forgotten Tom Hanks movie from 1986 called Nothing In Common. I consoled myself by reciting other, better movies that were released that year. Reasons why the year didn’t suck completely. Some of you contributed: Labyrinth, from Widdershins, was a particularly good one; it’s a darkly wonderful movie that I loved before I even knew who David Bowie was. Imagine growing up knowing Bowie as that guy from the weird Muppets movie. And realizing years later that that’s a young Jennifer Connelly starring alongside him. I still know all the words by heart. Not just the songs: ALL the words. But one of you has a delightful cruel streak that I can’t help but admire. One of you, not naming any names, suggested that Sean and I watch Howard The Duck. Howard The Duck! Also from the garbage year 1986, it’s a movie I’d never seen and never wanted to – not when he made a brief appearance at the end of a Guardians movie, and not even when Sean’s buddy contributed to his comic book revival.

Anyway, somewhere in this or another galaxy (not too sure about the geography – another dimension, maybe?), Duckworld is a planet where intelligent life evolved from waterfowl. Duckword is a lot like Earth; the ducks are humanoid, they walk on two feet and speak English and they’ve made movies like Splashdance and Breeders of the Lost Stork.

Anyway, one day Howard gets home and sits back in his lazy-boy with a beer and a cigar when a hole rips through the galaxy and swallows him up, depositing him on Earth where he meets a surprisingly amenable punk rocker named Beverly (Lea MV5BZjM2NzA2NTYtNTkwYy00MzY0LWIwOTQtZTgzMjQ1NDZjNGI1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzc5NjM0NA@@._V1_Thompson). I mean, her look is early Madonna but her name is Beverly, which implies Mom jeans and shapeless sweaters, and her sound is more 80s power ballad, and she’s played by Lea Thompson, and it’s hard to sit here in 2019 and see how exactly she was ever considered an It Girl. Beautiful? Hot? She’s mousy and thin-lipped and mostly whiny. But anyway, let’s pretend she’s a hot as shit punk rock girl who somehow befriends a duck – and finds him sexually attractive.

Howard’s main concern is getting back home but the few scientists who could help him generally don’t. In fact, when they come close to opening that hole in the universe back up, Dr. Jenning (played by the creepy principal from Ferris Bueller, Jeffrey Jones, who turns out to be an actual sex offender and child pornographer in real life) accidentally infects himself with Evil Overlord. Which, you know, is not good. And quite sweaty. Not quite as repugnant as his real-life situation, but close.

In short, the movie’s a real shit show. If Howard The Ducks is fun at all in the comics, he’s a chore in the movies – it’s easier to imagine Lea Thompson being a sexpot than Howard T. Duck being at all interesting or fun to read about. Howard is a little person in a 2 million dollar duck suit walking around in an otherwise very CGI-heavy movie and none of it looks good, not now in 2019 and I bet not in 1986 either. At some point, near the end of the movie, I turned to Sean and said “Doesn’t this guy remind you a bit of Tim Robbins?” Apparently it was Tim Robbins, and had been the whole time. Apparently I am not familiar with 1986 Tim Robbins. He’s doughier and pastier than I would have guessed. I’m surprised he was able to defibrillate his career after this.

George Lucas has just finished building Skywalker Ranch to the tune of 50 MILLION DOLLARS and counted on this film to get him solvent again. Needless to say: it didn’t. Poor guy had to start selling off assets in order to not go belly up. Apple CEO Steve Jobs bought LucasFilm’s CGI animation division for a hefty sum, and so I guess two good things came out of Howard The Duck: what would eventually become Pixar, and also that every other Marvel movie from 1987 until time immemorial would positively glow in comparison.

…You’re welcome?

Captain Marvel

Mar-Vell! Shazam! Mar-Vell! Shazam! There is a long and interesting legal saga surrounding the Captain Marvel name (though if you are not a law geek it’s probably much more long than interesting). Basically, the red and white Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Shazam) came first as a blatant Superman rip-off. DC sued, put the creators out of business, bought Shazam for cheap and quickly forgot they owned him. Meanwhile, Marvel captain-marvel-mar-vell-shazam-differences-header-1108262-1280x0Comics decided that if any comic publisher should have a Captain Marvel, it should be them, so Marvel threw together a half-baked story about an alien named Mar-Vell to secure a trademark for the Captain Marvel name, won a lawsuit against DC and others, then gave Mar-Vell cancer and made him the only comic character in history to stay dead.

Given that history, I don’t think it is a coincidence that DC’s Shazam will follow within a month of Captain Marvel’s debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  If there’s a lesson here, and there may not be, it’s that “legal reasons” give birth to a lot of strange things (and don’t even get me started on the 90s Captain America and Fantastic Four films).

Incidentally. Marvel’s Captain Marvel is not a resurrection of the alien who died from cancer. Marvel revamped the character through a whole other convoluted saga, and she’s primed to be the first female hero to get her own MCU movie.

Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is a space-faring Kree soldier with memory problems, a self-described noble warrior hero fighting a war against the shape-shifting Skrulls. After captain-marvel-international-poster-top-1200x675a Skrull ambush, she crash-lands on mid-90s Earth (smashing through the roof of a Blockbuster Video, as probability would dictate) and realizes that she’s been on this planet before. Teaming up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Marvel chases after the Skrulls who came to Earth along with her (led by Ben Mendelsohn) while also trying to uncover her forgotten past.

In many ways, Captain Marvel is a standard solo origin story, which at this point they can crank out with no effort at all. But this film still feels like a necessary addition to the MCU. Captain Marvel is a worthy star and the galactic stakes are high enough here to make this film stand on its own. A great deal of those positive feelings are due to Larsen, who does a great job of keeping us invested in the character even before we (and she) know who she really is: the cosmic-powered superstar who is going to undo all the bad stuff that Thanos got away with last time (as you probably can guess, I’m still mad that he turned Spidey into dust). And the icing on the cake is the 90s nostalgia reminding us that no matter how bad your internet is during a snowstorm, things used to be much worse.

Aside from Shazam (which is almost certain to be terrible), Captain Marvel is bound to be compared to Wonder Woman, and for the only time ever, DC’s entry is the better one. Captain Marvel does not have the same crossover appeal as Wonder Woman does, but Captain Marvel is a really fun superhero movie on its own merits, as well as a great lead-in for the new Avengers film next month.

Glass

Glass tries to be a different type of superhero movie, it really does. M. Night Shyamalan’s concept of real-world heroes is a solid one. Unbreakable proves that. As far as I’m concerned, Unbreakable is Shyamalan’s best, one of only two very good (i.e., not quite great) movies he’s made. By making Glass an explicit sequel to Unbreakable, Shyamalan invites me to compare the two, and Glass doesn’t measure up. Call it a Glass that’s about a quarter empty. Of course, that’s still three-quarters full.

32ef47e0-1afb-11e9-b6e9-9c4bb39de67fMuch of Glass is an extended superhero therapy session for Unbreakable’s David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson) along with Split’s Horde (James McAvoy), after the three are apprehended and institutionalized at the start of the film. These therapy scenes, led Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), are very slow. We know something is going to eventually happen, but the pace seemed wasteful because every minute in therapy is a minute less for the showdown between Dunn and the Horde that I’ve been waiting for since the last minute of Split. Even with their slow pace, the therapy scenes are still enjoyable, though, in large part because of McAvoy’s amazing performance as he gives us 24 distinct personalities without falling into ridiculousness.

When the showdown between Dunn and the Horde finally comes, it feels like an afterthought. I wish that Shamalan’s previous movies had been better, not only so less of my time had been wasted watching that trash, but also because it seemed a lot of the missing flash in the showdown was due to Glass’s limited budget. Since realism is an essential part of the film, I didn’t expect fireballs or eye lasers, but I did expect to see something special, even before Price expressed a desire to have the fight televised to show the world that superheroes were real. The YouTube footage of Spider-Man from Captain America: Civil War made me feel like I was watching something amazing. Glass’s footage just wasn’t up to that level and it needed to be for this movie to have a satisfying payoff.

The lack of a satisfying payoff is particularly disappointing once we see how the story plays out. Without getting too spoiler-y, I think it’s safe to say that Shyamalan’s ending pisses away any goodwill left over from Unbreakable. Which is a shame because Shyamalan clearly intended to leave room for more sequels, but in getting there he shattered my desire to see any of them.

 

Aquaman

How do I even deal with the atrocity that is Aquaman? You probably know already that Aquaman is about a plot by the Atlanteans to attack the people who live on land, and so Aquaman has to become their king to save the world. But what you may not know is that this film is racist.

The only two black people in the movie are criminals (and also father and son). The black dad blows himself up when Aquaman (Jason Momoa) seemingly foils their attempt to steal a submarine from a bunch of white guys (Russians, as it happens).

Then that same submarine reappears to fool some of the Atlanteans into thinking that MV5BMzZjZTU2NjEtZTEzMC00YmRkLWIzZjUtMDczMWI4MDU4ODAxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_the surface world is attacking them to obtain enough votes to attack the surface world. Turns out, one of the Atlantean human-shaped leaders had hired the black guys to steal the sub and fool another Atlantean human-shaped leader. Except then it also turns out that the leader who seemed to be fooled by the sub attack was actually aware it was fake news the whole time and went along with it anyway (and in case it is not clear, all the human shaped Atlanteans we see are white men, every last one, other than Aquaman’s love interest and Aquaman’s mom who are white women).

Then the surviving black guy is hired again by the Atlanteans to kill Aquaman and his love interest in Sicily, and the black guy is willing to go along with it because he blames Aquaman for his dad’s death. That plan fails, with the black guy apparently being killed by Aquaman, and also two non human CGI underwater leaders are either killed or maimed by the white underwater leaders who do not attempt any type of stolen submarine trickery on them at all.

So, to summarize the repeated, overt, MAGA-level racism (on the level of “Look at my African American over here!”):

1. The black son is called “Black Manta” so even when he wears a full suit of armor you can be sure that he’s not white.

2. No effort at all was put into fooling the two CGI leaders who weren’t on board with the plan to kill all humans. Again, those disposable leaders are the two that aren’t white men (and blond, blue eyed white men at that) – one is a merman voiced by a black guy and the other is a big brown CGI crab-man. So you might say the CGI leaders were less worthy of respect than the white ones or perhaps you’d say they came from “shithole” countries, if you were a racist.

3. The Atlanteans are really concerned with following certain rules, namely ones that prohibit going to war against us without four votes, while those same Atlanteans have no problem doing awful things to get those four votes, like killing the CGI underwater leaders who won’t vote the way you want in order to install a new leader who will. Which suggests a set of niceties for white guys that don’t apply to non-whites. Or that the nonwhites were asking for it by looking scary and not giving into what the white guys wanted. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

4. If the Atlanteans hadn’t bothered to steal the sub for fooling reasons, we wouldn’t have needed the black humans to steal anything. But then we’d have missed an opportunity to perpetuate the stereotype that black men are criminals.

Does it matter at all that the racist Atlanteans are the bad guys and they lose in the end? I don’t think it does. This movie is so dumb generally that it is not capable of coherent social commentary, and incoherent social commentary is worse than not saying anything. Further, if the film had wanted to make a point about the dangers of a racist political leader, it needed to make the racism a rallying point for Aquaman and those opposing that leader. In other words, for this movie to be on the right side of prejudice (i.e., against it), the racist Atlanteans needed to lose because of their racism. The non-racists needed to object to the racists’ offensive conduct and resist for that reason, but that never happens in Aquaman.  Instead, Jason Momoa’s character seems to buy into the same stereotypes as the Atlanteans when he leaves the black dad to die because the black guys killed some of the all-white sub crew.

Admittedly, Aquaman later says he learned a lesson from that experience but his application of that lesson is to provide mercy to the all-white Atlanteans. Which means Aquaman does not actually learn the RIGHT lesson, so neither does the audience.  As a result, the harmful stereotypes in Aquaman are perpetuated and normalized, and that’s very, very bad anytime but particularly bad in a film that is targeted at white males.

There’s so many other problems here but I won’t get into them because trafficking in stereotypes is the real issue here. Aquaman is intolerant and intolerable and you should avoid giving DC one more dime for this hugely problematic film.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

What’s better than Spider-Man? TWO Spider-Mans (or is it Spider-Men?)!  Either way, take that thinking to its conclusion, like Lego Movie co-writer Phil Lord did, and you end up with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a cinematic universe to end all cinematic universes.

MV5BMjA0MTgwNTM5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTgyODI4NjM_._V1_SX1777_CR0_0_1777_744_AL_.0Spider-Man (Jake Johnson) has hit a bit of a rough patch in middle age, as has teenager Miles Morales, who just got bitten by a radioactive spider and is going through some changes as a result on top of struggling with fitting in a his new school. Right after being bitten by that pesky spider, Miles stumbles into a science lab where another Spider-Man (Chris Pine) is trying to stop the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) from opening a dimensional portal.  During the battle, Kingpin kills that Spidey but not before the first Spider-Man, the middle-aged one, is sucked through the portal that the Kingpin’s machine created.

Confused? You should be, but the most amazing thing about Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is that this jumble of Spider-Mans (Men?) makes perfect sense on-screen. And that’s a compliment in two ways. First, because there is so much happening in this movie that it has no right to make sense, and second, because there are a whole lot of other amazing things about this movie.

Spider-Verse’s animation, particularly the art style, is stunning. A number of other superhero films have taken inspiration from the comics, whether in using captions,  multiple panels, or bright colours.  Spider-Verse takes that to a whole other glorious level, owning its comic book roots and jumping off the screen even in classic 2D.

Spider-Verse is also remarkably accessible. This is not a solo superhero film with only two or three familiar  characters to track. Spider-Verse is chock full of obscure one-offs, alternate takes that faded away, including an entire “Ultimate” comic book line that was canned by Marvel in 2015 due to lack of interest. All of that can sit comfortably in the background but no prior knowledge of anything is necessary, even of Spider-Man, to understand and enjoy this film.