The Disney+ streaming service has allowed Marvel Studios ample opportunity to explore the lives and adventures of superheroes who otherwise haven’t nearly enough screen time. In The Guardians of The Galaxy Holiday Special, Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) get their own little side mission as they visit Earth to find Peter the perfect Christmas gift.
What does one buy for an orphaned Celestial-Human hybrid raised by Ravagers to be a legendary outlaw, captain of the M-Ships Milano and Benetar, and leader of a ragtag team of criminals? Well, if you’ve been paying attention, the answer is pretty clear: Kevin Bacon.
On Earth, Mantis and Drax inevitably stir up some trouble while trying to kidnap a famous movie star.
Enjoy an incredible Disney meta moment as Drax and Mantis are mistaken for costumed characters on the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard and get bombarded by tourists and have an altercation with a Go-bot.
Learn what it takes to get a couple of aliens drunk as they visit a bar and enthusiastically do shots.
Act surprised when the LAPD proves to be alarmingly trigger-happy.
Wonder how a candy cane can be mistaken for a man.
And then our two heroes will zip back to Knowhere on their newest ship, The Bowie, with a cargo hold full of decorations and ugly Christmas sweaters to make Peter’s holiday all merry and bright. Mantis has a big reveal, Chris Pratt has a terrible wig, and the soundtrack features every offbeat Christmas song James Gunn could scrape up, plus one he helped write himself.
It’s nice to see the Guardians settling and thriving on Knowhere, apparently respected members of the community. The special is bookended by animated flashbacks to Peter’s first Christmas with Yondu, so even Michael Rooker rejoins the gang, along with Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Kraglin (Sean Gunn), and even Cosmo the Spacedog (Maria Bakalova).
Set between Thor: Love and Thunder and and Guardians Vol. 3 (which comes out in May 2023), the holiday special is in fact canon to the MCU and has a few dishy winks to fans, including what Groot and Rocket might have on their own Christmas wish lists.
Despite playing host to an alien symbiote, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is doing surprisingly well. He and Venom are getting along famously, exchanging zingers, bonding over their shared love of crimefighting, and just generally becoming best friends. Eddie then stumbles onto an opportunity to revive his stalled career as a journalist after serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) asks for Eddie to interview him before he is executed for his crimes. And that’s where Eddie’s day goes from “good” to “worst ever”.
Cletus, you see, is destined to become Carnage, who in the comics may be even more of an enemy to Venom than Venom’s first nemesis Spider-Man. Spider-Man is nowhere to be found in Sony’s Spider-Man Universe despite Tom Holland being credited on this film (don’t get your hopes up on that point, by the way), so it’s up to Carnage to be the prime antagonist for Venom in this film. Cletus quickly bonds with a piece of the Venom symbiote after Eddie interviews him, and together he and Carnage escape from death row without any trouble. It’s then up to Eddie and Venom together, a.k.a. the Lethal Protector, to stop Carnage before he and his true love Shriek (Naomie Harris) kill Eddie’s ex-girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams) and her new fiancé Dan (Reid Scott).
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a prime example of how hard it is for Hollywood to make a good sequel. The first Venom was surprisingly fun thanks entirely to Tom Hardy. Hardy fully embraced his symbiote pal and their banter was wonderful. All they had to do here was let Hardy repeat his performance from last time, which would have been great. In Let There Be Carnage, when Venom and Eddie are alone (together), the magic is still there. They are a joy to watch. Unfortunately, since this is a sequel, Sony crammed a whole bunch of new stuff into this film, like Cletus’ and Shriek’s back story, and none of it measures up to the scenes featuring Eddie and Venom. The worst thing is, since this movie did so well at the box office, the inevitable sequel will surely follow the same pattern as this one, adding even more villains and an even more convoluted plot, and no lessons will ever be learned.
Even though Eddie and Venom lose so much screen time to inferior material, there are still enough good scenes between them to make this a worthwhile watch for fans of the first film. However, this film should be a hard pass for anyone who disliked the first, and I’m sure everyone in this category knew that before reading this review. And if you haven’t seen either Venom film, watch the first and then wait to see if the third film ends up being better than the second.
The Batman is another fresh start for a DC superhero. This time around, Robert Pattinson dons the mask, taking the torch from Ben Affleck, who was originally set to star in and direct this movie until he stepped aside in 2017 as director. Eventually, after Matt Reeves took over as director, after Pattinson got COVID-19 while filming, and after getting pushed from its original release date like every other movie in the past two years, The Batman finally arrived in theatres in March 2022 and started streaming on HBO Max and Crave this week.
Pattinson’s (The) Batman is in year two of his crime-fighting experiment, a relatively young man who is still learning his trade alongside Jeffrey Wright’s Lieutenant Gordon. Batman is brought in by Gordon to help investigate the murder of Gotham’s mayor by the Riddler (Paul Dano), and quickly figures out that the mayor is just the first name of many on the killer’s list. The list’s last name is an unknown informant, and Batman, as he does, tries to solve the puzzle of the informant’s identity so he can save the city and stop the Riddler’s plan.
To help in his quest, Batman recruits Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), who gives him access to Gotham’s seedy underbelly, located in a nightclub run by the Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell) and regularly attended by mobster Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). Selina fights with and against Batman as the situation requires and proves herself to be both a worthy Catwoman and the best sidekick that any live-action Batman movie has had so far.
The Batman also features a great Batmobile which fits Gotham’s aesthetic about as well as anything that Batman’s ever driven, proving its worth in an excellent chase across Gotham’s freeways. Despite the movie’s almost three hour runtime, none of Batman’s other vehicles made the cut this time, which is almost certainly for the best. There is a clear inverse relationship between the quality of any given Batman movie and the number of vehicles Batman uses.
Given The Batman’s tortured history, I wondered whether it would have been better for Warner Bros. to have scrapped it along with so many other DCEU titles that never made it to theatres. But this film quickly won me over. Pattinson is great as Batman and also surprisingly good as emo Bruce Wayne, Kravitz is a compelling partner and love interest, and Reeves gives us a Gotham that is dark, rainy and gritty most of the time, but splashed with just enough colour and familiar elements to feel like it could be full of real people. It’s a place I would like to visit again, and there are enough villains left standing at the end of The Batman to support three or four more entries in this series before the next inevitable reboot.
We actually saw this movie a few weeks ago, and like a good sport, I left it to Sean to review. You may have noticed it’s almost always Sean who reviews the super hero genre, and that’s me being my magnanimous self, giving these films a fair shake by not reviewing them myself. But Sean seems to have very little to say about this one, an indictment in itself, so it’s up to me to save the day.
I didn’t like it.
I really didn’t care for the first one either. I thought the music was both the best and worst part, the constant stream of pop songs perking me up, but their overuse indicative of weak writing and poor editing. This one doesn’t even feel as memorably bad, it was just a movie that failed to interest me despite a bevy of recognizable names and some enjoyable James-Gunn-isms.
Yes, the man has a way with manic expression, and away from Marvel’s PG-13 cage, he explodes with violent glee, shooting off confetti cannons loaded with human flesh, painting the scene with guts and gore. And while I welcome the sanguineous spectacle, I wish it splattered an actual story.
So we all know that Belle Reve is the prison where all the very worst super villains are kept, and that shady Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is at it again. When she’s got a job that’s so high-risk only the most expendable will do, she assembles Task Force X, a gang of villains chosen from the prison’s population. They’re promised freedom if they survive the mission, and no one expects them to survive. That’s why they call them the Suicide Squad.
We’ve got some new faces and some familiar faces in this particular squad: Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena), and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), among others, and Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman) to keep them all in line. Armed and dangerous, they’re dropped into the jungle of Corto Maltese, an island that’s overrun by enemies, including militaries, guerrilla forces, super villains, and a Big Bad that’s very Big and very Bad, threatening to take over the entire island – and then the world!
Much like the first, the only character worth watching is Harley Quinn, and that’s largely due to Robbie. Suicide Squad’s Harley Quinn isn’t nearly as compelling as Birds of Prey’s, but she’s charming, manipulative, and unpredictable, an irrepressible combination, And though Robbie’s boxed in by the male gaze and the narrower interpretation of her character, she still brings a psychotic empathy to the role that’s a lot of fun to watch. Unfortunately, with such a large ensemble, she can’t be on the screen at all times. More the pity. Once again, DC bites off more than it can chew, padding out the squad with forgettable villains who are ill-used and badly introduced, if at all. Since they don’t care, neither do we, which is the most disappointing part of this film. The first Suicide Squad didn’t get this right either, but considering James Gunn was able to galvanize a bunch of unknown galaxy-guarding losers into crowd-pleasing heroes, we hoped he’d be able to do it again. No doubt DC was counting on him for this as well, but instead this movie doubles down on stacking the deck with mostly filler – not enough to engage the audience, but just enough to steal time from the few things in the film that do work. Bummer.
I think this movie was relatively well-received because we’ve been living in a blockbuster drought. If you’re thirsty enough, you’ll drink muddy puddle water gratefully. James Gunn’s Suicide Squad is muddy puddle water: it will do in a pinch. People will drink it during a time of scarcity, but given any choice at all, they’d rather drink anything else. It’s already on its way to being forgotten with other drinks that ultimately flopped despite lots of hype and fanfare: Crystal Pepsi, New Coke, Suicide Squad.
I don’t typically think Melissa McCarthy is at her best when her husband Ben Falcone writes for and directs her and this movie hasn’t exactly changed my mind about that, but it was just good enough to make me smile.
McCarthy’s charm is her saving grace; even when she’s not exercising the full spectrum of her talent, she’s still extremely watchable. Joined in Thunder Force by Octavia Spencer, these two ladies have fun chemistry and an even funner premise. A mutation has rendered a handful of lucky sociopaths into supervillains, but unfortunately for the world, no heroic counterparts exist. Thankfully Emily (Spencer) is a real brain, and she’s developed a special treatment that would grant the kind of powers so people could really fight back. It’s possibly that Emily and her childhood friend Lydia (McCarthy) are not the best choices to receive this treatment, but let’s not dwell. It’s happening. Lydia’s getting super strong and Emily’s going invisible and you better believe Lydia’s pretty pissed that Emily’s training is so much easier than hers. Of course, the training’s going to pale in comparison to fighting Chicago’s worst villain lineup, including The Crab (Jason Bateman), The King (Bobby Canavale), and Laser (Pom Klementieff).
Thunder Force is 100% stupid of course, but also like 55% funny. My laughter was often out of sheer confusion, but the kind of confusion that’s curious and maybe even a little awed. It’s still not a great equation but I’ll take it. I may even watch it twice.
Flora (Matilda Lawler) is a little girl who wants to believe the world is filled with wonder and magic, but experience has taught her to embrace cynicism instead. She may hope for the best but she prepares for the worst, reading disaster preparedness books alongside the comic books written by her father. Incandesto and his super hero friends are so familiar to her she can practically see them but her father George (Ben Schwartz) has had no luck selling them, and has recently left the family, bereft. Mom Phyllis (Alyson Hannigan) isn’t doing so hot either. A romance writer, Phyllis has been in a bit of a slump lately, and her new project isn’t very inspired either.
But don’t worry, folks, this isn’t some sad sack story, this is a super hero origin story, and the super hero is a squirrel named Ulysses. Ulysses gets sucked into a robot vacuum and once resuscitated, he’s got super powers! He’s super strong, and super fast, and super troublesome when Flora brings him into the house. He also writes poetry, but it’s unclear whether that’s actually a super power. Anyway, any squirrel in the house is likely to wreak havoc, but Ulysses is capable of so much destruction! All accidental, of course, but ask mom if she cares. She does not! But in the course of things, mean Miller (Danny Pudi) at animal control gets whiff of a potentially rabid squirrel and he’s on the case, pursuing the Buckman family, the boy next door, William (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) who is temporarily hysterically blind, and their super squirrel Ulysses, stopping at nothing to euthanize super Ulysses, willing even to tranquilize humans in his quest to cage a furry little super hero.
Matilda Lawler is an insanely cute kid and a very capable actor. Much of the film’s charm emanates directly from her. Ben Schwartz harnesses a lot of his oddity and delivers straight up goofball as the affable, supportive dad. Their family adventure makes for excellent family viewing, and there’s no denying the soft, endearing fuzziness of Ulysses the poetry writing super squirrel. Director Lena Khan does an excellent job of translating the hijinks onto the big screen but keeping it grounded first and foremost in family values. The characters may be offbeat but the message is hopeful, the story is bright, and the squirrel is hard to resist. Flora & Ulysses has the makings of an excellent family movie night.
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Robert Rodriguez has two very different speeds when it comes to making movies: ultra violent, and children’s action-adventure. These may seem fairly disparate, but I think Rodriguez has just tapped into the truth that grown men and small children want pretty much the same things when it comes to movies, though one demographic wants a generous side of boob a little more than the other. The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl 3-D was my first Robert Rodriguez movie; imagine my surprise when years later I discovered his oeuvre wasn’t all spy kids and junior super heroes.
We Can Be Heroes is Rodriguez’s newest film, a family-friendly one for Netflix. It’s not about super heroes, though it does have plenty of them in it, including Rodriguez’s old friends, Lavagirl and Sharkboy, who are now all grown up (the original Lavagirl Taylor Dooley returns, but Taylor Lautner is replaced by JJ Dashnaw) and fighting as part of the Heroics team, which includes Miracle Man (Boyd Holbrook) and Tech-no (Christian Slater, for some reason), and is led by Marcus (Pedro Pascal) from his office. Marcus doesn’t fight anymore, a promise he made to his daughter Missy (YaYa Gosselin) due to his single-father status. But when aliens invade, the first thing they do is round up and neutralize all the super heroes, leaving behind only their children, who take it upon themselves to save the day. Missy is the rare super hero offspring who seems to have no powers of her own, but is a natural born leader – a challenge to Wild Card (Nathan Blair) who is technically able to assume any power but lacks the focus to do so reliably. Also in their little gang: Noodles (Lyon Daniels), a tween who can stretch his limbs to Elastigirl limits; Wheels (Andy Walken), a kid in a wheel with a predictable nickname who’s actually as strong as he is smart; Ojo (Hala Finley), a girl whose strange drawings seem to predict the near-future; twins Rewind (Isaiah Russell-Bailey) and Fast Forward (Akira Akbar) who can do with time exactly as their names suggest; Facemaker (Andrew Diaz), who can rearrange his features a la Mr. Potato Head; Slo-Mo (Dylan Henry Lau), whose super questionable skill is doing everything very slowly; A Capella (Lotus Blossom), whose song notes can make things levitate; and little Guppy (Vivien Blair), the adorable offspring of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, who can move and manipulate water.
Their parents, the real super-heroes, were captured because they failed to work together. Their squabbles broke the team up and left them vulnerable. Their kids will have to learn to do better, to make their special skills complement each other’s if there’s to be any chance of saving the earth from alien domination. To make matters worse, Heroics HQ is headed by Ms. Granada (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), whose motivations are questionable. Who can they trust and how will they save the world? And how will they manage to carry out such an important mission on their very first? You’ll have to watch to find out, but suffice to say, kids in the audience will likely be pleased. Adults not so much. The kid acting is nothing to write home about. Missy, the lead, is inconsistent, and A Capella, the singer, is downright annoying, a smug little shit who can’t stop hogging the spotlight. Noodles and Guppy are quite watchable though, with Guppy especially cute when she goes into “shark frenzy” when she loses her temper.
I applaud the attempt to come up with some half-way original super powers as most grown up movies don’t even do that. They’re not all winners, but everyone gets at least one moment in the sun. And there’s a training montage that I know is going to be a huge hit for at least four boys that I know, two of whom just got obstacle course stuff (like slack lines) so they can do ‘ninja warrior’ training at home, and two of whom already have a course or two set up thanks to their intrepid grandfather who grants all kinds of adventure wishes. This movie makes their super hero fantasies a reality, and it validates their contributions, present and future, to society. When so many forces tell them they’ll have to wait to grow up, this movie tells them they’re valuable, resourceful, and capable right now – and that’s the kind of soul food that nourishes their dreams, even if the packaging seems kind of corny and uninspired to you and I. So while We Can Be Heroes isn’t a great movie, it’s destined to be kid-approved, and might even inform their play and pretend for the rest of their holidays, which means less work for you! That’s what we call a win-win.
It’s been 70 years since we last saw Diana Prince (Gal Gadot). She’s working at the Smithsonian in cultural anthropology and archeology, she’s doing her hero work on the down-low, and she’s been missing her sweetie, Steve. She’s been missing him for 70 long years.
Her new colleague at work, the meek and self-conscious Barbara (Kristen Wiig), is a gemologist doing a little investigative work for the FBI. The stone itself is worthless, but it claims to be a wish-granter, a dream stone, and both Barbara and Diana make wishes on it before they realize its true potential. Diana, of course, wakes up beside Steve (Chris Pine), but Barbara wakes up cool and powerful and strong, like Diana, although wishing to be like Diana does come with a little more than she bargained for.
Anyway, Max Lord (Pedro Pascal), greedy 80s business man, seemed to know the stone’s possibilities very well, which is why he cozies up to Barbara in order to snatch it. With infinite wishes at his disposal, Lord becomes overwhelmingly powerful and practically unbeatable – especially since the wishes seem to extract something from the wisher, and Diana’s been growing weaker. Barbara, meanwhile, is growing stronger, but also shrewder, meaner. And Lord’s finding ways to increase his reach, taking his avarice international, influencing entire nations, not to mention enemies.
In fighting Max Lord, Wonder Woman is fighting pure greed, corruption, and the world’s obsession with more. Wonder Woman has always been more than capable at taking down villains with her expertly applied kicks and punches and of course her trusty lasso. But how do you fight concepts, ideology, or human nature? This presents an interesting challenge that even Wonder Woman hasn’t seen before.
Gal Gadot is of course absolute perfection as both Diana and Wonder Woman. Having spent the past 70 years among humans, she is of course more jaded, more knowing, but she’s also more human herself, subject to the same loneliness that anyone would be if they’d been grieving for seven decades, and reluctant to get close to anyone because of it. She’s become more familiar with her strength and her abilities, and puts her weapons (tiara, lasso) to greater use. To win, Wonder Woman will have to flex not just her muscle, but also her ingenuity, and harder still, her faith in humanity’s inherent goodness despite plenty of evidence otherwise.
Kristen Wiig is well-cast as Barbara Minerva, a woman who is tired of being overlooked. As she transitions into the film’s co-villain, Cheetah, her confidence and her newfound powers race to outstrip each other, and we see her grow into her new role, wearing her new power like a mantle, like the fur coats she’s begun to adopt.
As for Pedro Pascal, it’s just nice to see his face for once. He understands that Max Lord doesn’t have to be evil to be a great villain. Villains who go around murdering and pillaging are easy to identify and unanimously reviled. But a villain who gives the people what they want will get away with a whole lot more. Since eliminating Lord would also mean negating their own wishes, people like Cheetah, who would otherwise perhaps not be on his side, are willing to fight for him to protect their own interests. Pascal puts a charming face on greed and desire, convincing an awful lot of people to wish for things they probably know they shouldn’t.
Director Patty Jenkins’ action sequences remain divine, but she’s not afraid to remind us that Wonder Woman, unlike some super heroes who shall remain nameless, is about more than just brawn or fancy gadgets; she’s got heart, and not just her own strong sense of right and wrong, but an impressive belief that ultimately humanity will share it and choose it as well.
In flashbacks, we saw a young Diana (Lilly Aspell) competing in Amazonian warrior games, where she learned that she couldn’t win until she was truly ready. What will the grown up Diana be asked to give in order to win, what sacrifices will she make for people who will never know or appreciate it, and how will she fight differently when she actually has something to lose? Seventy years among humans will change a woman, even a Wonder Woman.
If you’re in the U.S., Wonder Woman 1984 is available to stream on HBO Max. In Canada, it’s available as a premium rental. Stick around for a mid-credits scene.