Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home

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Spoiler Warning: This review will contain major spoilers for Avengers: Endgame while keeping Spider-Man: Far From Home as non-spoiler as possible.

Spider-Man Far from Home is not just a sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming but is also considered the final film in Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Taking place eight months after the events in Avengers: Endgame, the world is still coming to grips with a world post snap, or “blip,” as it is called in Far From Home. The memory of Iron Man haunts the movie throughout as the world still mourns Tony Stark and honors his sacrifice.

This especially looms over Peter Parker who has looked up to Tony as not just a father figure but a superhero mentor.  And as Spider-Man, others keep looking to him as either the “next” Iron Man or the next leader of the Avengers. Along with his superhero responsibilities, he is also trying to balance life as a normal teenager. This balance is strained as Peter Parker and his class go on a European science trip, which really doesn’t get much science done. Part of that is because there is a global threat from — well — monsters.

The students first see one rise out of the waters of Venice and while Peter does his best to save the city’s civilians without his costume handy, a mysterious caped character appears to fight the creature and appears to destroy it by blasting it with green energy from his hands that resemble Captain Marvel’s photon blasts while also wielding what look like Dr. Strange’s spell glyphs.

The students dub him Mysterio as a play on the Italian press describing him as a “Mysterio” or Mystery Man. It turns out that his name is Quentin Beck, a soldier from an alternate earth, and he has been working with Nick Fury to battle creatures known as Elementals, based on the elements, they had destroyed his earth.  Fury wants to recruit Peter into the team to combat these things. Peter is reluctant to do so as he doesn’t feel he is up for the task plus he wants to just be a high school kid for once. Of course if great laid out plans worked as they are dreamed of, we would not have a movie. And he’s still an awkward dork.

This may be Tom Holland’s second Spider-Man movie, but it’s the fifth time he’s played the web slinger. He’s really come to personify the role now and is as connected to the role as much as Robert Downey Jr. has Iron Man or Chris Evans as Captain America. His performance as both Peter and Spider-Man come across as a authentic teenager who has accepted his great responsibility but has doubts about his ability to step up.

It helps to have a strong supporting cast to lift up our main and they are on hand for Spidey. These current Spider-Man films have the most ethnically diverse cast in any Marvel film and it really makes the setting of a New York City High School believable.  Jacob Batalon returns as Ned, the world’s worst best friend. He is mostly around for some comic relief and a source of distraction for Peter when he needs to get away. Since they are out of their home element, their is no opportunity for him to really be the “guy in the chair.” But he owns all his scenes.

Zendaya is back as MJ. Previously, she provided sarcastic commentary every few scenes like a deadpan Greek Chorus. She still does that, but is also the object of Peter’s affections and a such a contrived plan to confess his feelings, it rivals that of anime slice of life romances. Nevertheless, romance does play an important sub-plot for Peter’s character as deals with his hormones and added superhero responsibilities. Though her character is still deadpan, and dry humored, she brings a certain charm to it which reminds me of the goth kids I grew up with in my high school.

Of course, Samuel L. Jackson returns as Nick Fury, a role he was born for. Well, technically, this role was made for him as it was based on the Ultimate Universe comics version oh Fury. And those Ultimate comics line based their Fury on Samuel L. Jackson. Funny how these things work out. Jackson’s is, as always, a welcome presence in the role and brings along Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) as the guys in the chair tag-team for Spidey this time around. He provides the contractually obligated snappy one-liners with typical Jackson panache, minus the use of motherf***er word, of course.

Jon Favreau is back as Happy Hogan with a bigger, more involved, role this time around and also serves as the closest person Peter can turn to for emotional support in the absence of Tony Stark.

If it were any other actor than Jake Gyllenhaal, the character of Mysterio would be a joke. But he manages to not just embrace the role, he manages to sell it to us. For those who know the character from the comics, it’s not too major a surprise what his story is, but it’s more about how and when it is revealed. There are of course differences between the character’s history in the comics as opposed to the MCU, but this fits the movie universe quite well. And for those that were picking apart the trailer looking for clues to support fan theories, y’all got played a little.

The locations from Venice, Prague, and London look great on film and is a welcome change from the almost stale look of generic locations that are so often used in other Marvel Studio films. It really does make the film feel large in scale. And the eye-popping action sequences utilize the locations to great effect.

The film does suffer from a few issues however, one of which is a major dumb decision from Peter Parker that will put himself and everyone he knows in danger. The plot hinges on this, of course, and I guess it was necessary for him to make that dumb move.

With the evolution of the MCU movies, the tech has gone from plausible to near magical and I’m not sure how I feel about that. From magically omnipresent A.I. to spider suits that are magically put together by nano-technology that not just stretches believability but really makes the stakes feel less high is magical tech is going to solve everything.

As humorous as Far From Home is, some of the jokes land flat and romance angle seems to drag at points with what seems to be an unneeded and contrived triangle involving fellow student Brad Davis (played by Remy Hii) for MJ’s attention.

And of course, stick around through all of the credits until the end to catch the two post credit scenes. These two scenes aren’t just little stingers, but they setup major plot points and teases for events moving forward not only for Spider-Man’s future but the MCU as well. Despite a few shortcomings, Spider-Man: Far From Home is a fun entertaining film and is not just a palate cleanser to Avengers: Endgame and close to Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It opens the way for the next phase of movies to come. It comes with two thumbs up from me and is Highly Recommended

Final score: 8.5/10

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Review: “Brightburn” is Basically “What if Superman was a Child Psychopath”

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Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. A Kansas farm couple have been unsuccessful at having a child, then one day, a streak in the sky that results in a crash in the woods answers their prayers. They raise the infant child as their own. It soon becomes apparent that the child is not normal, he has extraordinary powers. He is also developing into a psychopath.

If you thought Zack Snyder created a murderverse version of Superman in his interpretations, you better sit down. Brightburn, directed by David Yarovesky, takes the trope, and turns it on its head. So basically what if Superman was an evil kid.

But let’s be clear, Brightburn is a Sony Pictures property and has nothing to do with DC or Warner Brothers. It is produced by James Gunn from a script by Mark and Brian Gunn. Once past the plot hook, Brightburn is an effective straight-up horror film with roots in the slasher genre. It was made for a budget of less than $7 million but looks like it was made for more. It helps to have a good cast too. Elizabeth Banks and David Denman play the loving and normal parents to Brandon, played by Jackson A. Dunn. This trio of casting choices makes carries the weight of the film.

When we truly see Brandon once past some home video of his infant version, he is a relatively normal 12-year old boy in small farming town of Brightburn, Kansas. It is apparent he is smarter than the other kids and he draws teasing from others for it. He has a young crush on Erica (Becky Wahlstrom), the girl who sits in front of him.

Things start to change when he realizes on day that he has superhuman strength. That night, he sleepwalks to the barn, hearing an eerie voice in his head. He unsuccessfully tries to open the barn’s trapdoor. I don’t think it would spoil anybody that it’s obvious that the spaceship that Brandon crashed in is stored in there.

It is possible that Brandon has always been a bad seed as his parents one day find under his bed magazine pages of models, but as they go from one page to another, it goes from bikini clad models to operating room pictures, and anatomy drawings. Otherwise his turn to seem to be influenced by either the development of his powers, the beginning of puberty, or just the spaceship talking to him. Nevertheless, he begins to believe himself superior to those around him as the voice in his head tells him to “take the world.” More his powers begin to manifest beyond superhuman strength and they will look familiar to anyone who knows the Superman tropes.

The film descends into slasher territory and becomes quite gory as Brandon acts against those he perceives as his enemies. His parents aren’t oblivious, however, especially his father. David Denman as Kyle Brenner plays a loving dad, but is the first to suspect his kid is not just going through normal growing pains. Elizabeth Banks is great as the always loving mother who still thinks of Brandon as her baby boy, yet even when she realizes how evil he has become you feel sorry for her.

What makes Brightburn successful is that it promises a premise, delivers on that premise and offers it up in a compact package with great performances and deft editing. It clocks in at a trim ninety minutes, yet tells its story quickly leaving open a possibility for a sequel or franchise. If anything, it could have been longer.

This movie, is not for everyone, however. It is quite gory at times with some very unsettling makeup effects. It is rated R for a reason so I would not recommend bringing young kids to see this. IF you are a horror fan you will probably enjoy this. And if you are a comic book fan who also happens to like horror, you may enjoy the unique take on the standard trope. Recommended

Spoiler Free Avengers Endgame Review

 

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It was one of the greatest gambits in movie history. What began as a tease when the first Iron Man was released has finally culminated into what may be the biggest movie franchise in film history, rivaling, maybe even surpassing Star Wars. When Samuel L. Jackson showed up in the post credit scene of Iron Man and mentioned the idea of an Avengers Initiative, there was as yet no genuine plan for actually making an Avengers movie.

Even more audacious for the Avengers plan was that every member of the team was going to have their own solo movie to introduce us to the individual members of the team. The Incredible Hulk followed Iron Man (witch is possibly the least connected of the Marvel films), then came Captain America: The First Avenger, and on and on. Every movie was connected and every movie had a post credit tease that led to another movie that was upcoming. It led to the first Avengers movie, the Avengers: Age of Ultron, and last year Avengers: Infinity Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, of comic book movies dropped and like that iconic Star Wars movie from then, left audiences guessing on what will happen next.

Now, we have come to Avengers: Endgame, the culmination of ten years and twenty-two films. Was the wait worth it? Hell yes! Clocking in at three hours, it it is the longest Marvel Studios movie, yet the movie is so tightly packed that there is very little slow parts in it. And any part that may seem slow is actually a buildup to the biggest payoff in not only comic book movie history but maybe in movie history.

The final hour of Endgame is the closest that comic panels have ever become realized on the big screen. Do yourself a favor and do not wait to see this at home, or those really bad bootlegs that have already leaked. The inevitable final battle is a jaw dropping feast of sight, sound, and fist pumping fan moments.

But less you think that this is just a bunch of fan service moments action scenes (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones season seven!) the film gives every character their featured moment. Character’s that were B-list in the past movies are given a story arc that they had sadly been missing before. Hats off to to all the actors bringing their A-game.

Ultimately Avengers: Endgame is a reward and a love letter to the fans who have stuck around for a decade and twenty-two films. There are almost too many Easter eggs, callbacks, and cameos to count, yet non of it is gratuitous or takes you out of the story. At least I did not think so. And of course there is the appearance of Stan Lee in his final filmed cameo.

I of course highly recommend watching at least the other Avengers movies first — and pretty much almost all the Marvel studio films. This really does tie everything together and gives many of the characters closure to their story arcs.  I have no reservations on seeing this multiple times, and I give it the Highest Recommendation.

Lightning Strikes for Shazam!

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A Little background

The history of Shazam as a property and as a fictional character is pretty long, muddied, and complicated. Reaching back into the days of the late 40’s and early 50’s, where in the wake of the success of Superman, comic book heroes with super powers were the rage. Fawcett Comics created a character named Captain Marvel. It was subsequently sued by National Comics (Later to change their name to DC) because it was too similar to Superman. Fawcett loses lawsuit, Fawcett stops publishing Captain Marvel in 1953.

Fast forward a couple of decades and Fawcett sells property rights to Captain Marvel in 1972. But using the name Captain Marvel on its cover would have been problematic since Marvel Comics already had a Captain Marvel comic. So they used the magic word Shazam! as the title, yet continued to call him Captain Marvel within the pages of the comic books. The public being what it is kept identifying the character as Shazam as opposed to Captain Marvel.

Since the New 52 era of DC, it was finally made official and the Captain Marvel mantle was no more and embraced the name of Shazam as not only the title of the comics but of the character as well. So from this point forward the character will be referred to as Shazam.

And let’s be honest both Shazam and Marvel’s Captain Marvel (though various versions), were not A-list super heroes and were not top seller. Both have been retconned and rebooted (Marvel believes more in soft reboots whereas DC likes huge universe spanning overhauls). And it’s only in the last few years that Marvel’s Captain Marvel title started selling well.

For a more extensive history of Shazam, Youtube channel Comic Books Explained has a great rundown of him as well as the Variant channel.

The Movie Review with Minor Spoilers

The current adaptation of the Shazam comic book does at least one certain thing in the post BvS and Justice League era of Zack Snyder, and that is fully embrace its comic book  roots and also embrace a self-awareness of itself and superheroes. It takes place in a world where the DC superheroes not only exist but they are looked up to. That in itself is a departure in tone from the world darker world Zack Snyder created. But in distancing its tone from that version of the gritty and drab version of the DC Universe, it ends up trying almost too hard in its levity, especially in the middle portion of the film. It is saved by impressive performances by the diverse cast of young actors.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a fourteen year old orphan who has been bounced around from one foster home to another for constantly running away and refusing to get along with his homes. His motivation has been over the years has been to search for his lost mother whom he was separated from at an amusement park. So he finds himself isolated from the rest of the world on purpose in hopes of finding her.

He is placed into a group home run by the Victor (Cooper Andrews) and Rosa (Marta Milans) Vasquez former foster children themselves and now running a big house full of other their own foster kids. His roommate is Freddy Freeman (Jack Dylan Grazer) a paraplegic wisecracker who happens to be a big superhero fanboy.

One day at school, Freddy is bullied by a couple of older boys who almost run him over with their truck. Billy at first tries to walk away but after one of the bullies mentions that Freddy doesn’t have a  mother, Billy steps in and hits them with Freddy’s crutch. This prompts a chase that ends up with Billy getting away in a subway train.

In a reference to his classic subway origin, Billy is magically transported to the lair of the ancient wizard Shazam, who has been waiting centuries for one who is pure of heart and worthy of being a champion.

Unfortunately, we already know that Billy is not pure of heart. He is selfish and has issues with empathy. He even informs him that such a person does not exist. Yet the old wizard is fading and a great evil in the form of Dr. Silvana (Mark Strong) is loose and possessed by the Seven Deadly Sins. Seeing that Billy may not be pure of heart but he has embers of good in him, he passes on the powers of Champion to Billy. By holding the wizard’s staff (yes, they did crack a joke about that) and saying the name of the wizard, Billy is transformed into Shazam (Zachary Levy). Unfortunately for him, the wizard dies and crumbles to dust.

Billy, in the guise of Shazam, seeks out the help of Freddy. He has no understanding of what his powers are or what he is, so his best bet for advice is the superhero fanboy. For a good portion of the film, perhaps too much, Billy tries to learn about his powers. All the while, Freddy is chronicling everything and uploading his super-powered exploits on YouTube.

As fun as this film is overall, the learning powers scenes do become repetitive. Even though Billy has great powers and has become a local celebrity, he skips school and basically panhandles like a street performer, posing for selfies and firing off lightning bolts in the air for tips. These scenes do end up dragging the pace down and the comedy feels too forced. The running joke of making up a superhero name is funny the first time, but not the fourth or fifth time. Ultimately, by the end of the film, he still has not adopted a mantle. My favorite comedic moment is the obligatory bad guy speech delivered so well by Mark Strong, except Shazam is floating half a mile away and can’t hear him.

Zachary Levi jumps into the roll of a young man in the body of a superhero as if he were born for this roll. Unfortunately his performance comes across as actually less mature than his Billy Batson counterpart which is played a little more subdued. Perhaps that is on purpose to let the Shazam persona show the more gleeful side of Billy but I am not sold.

It’s no secret that a central theme to this movie is the bonds of family, whether they are by blood or not. And without giving too much away, I must praise the family interaction of the rest of the foster children in the Vasquez household. Faithe Herman especially stands out as Darla, the youngest in the household. Her character has the most charm among the kids and her character is the one that Billy connects with most besides Freddy.

Shazam! is full of charm, full of heart, wish-fulfillment, maybe a little too much humor, good action sequences and is just plain fun. Warner Brothers, and DC comics  may have figured out finally with his and Aquaman, that comic book movies can be fun movies. It may not be the perfect superhero movie, but without a doubt, it is fun. This movie comes Highly Recommended.

Captain Marvel Flies High

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The whole history of Captain Marvel is an interesting one not just in the comics but in real life. Lawsuits were involved, settlements happened. We’re not gonna talk about that stuff today. Maybe another time.

If you have been following social media too much and broke the cardinal rule of not reading the comments, then there has never been a Marvel Studios movie that had the deck stacked against it than Captain Marvel. We’re not covering that stuff today.  Maybe another time.

Captain Marvel is Marvel Studios’ latest entry into their MCU vault of superhero characters that they have rolled out over the last ten years and over twenty movies. It is not only the first Marvel Studios movie to feature a female lead, but also features what may possibly be the most powerful character in the Marvel comics universe.

It is a not really possible to do a fill review of Captain Marvel without a few spoilers but I will try my best to keep them at a minimum.

Brie Larson plays a Kree soldier serving the Kree Starforce named Vers.  Yes, silly name, especially in light of a proposed real life Space Force. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  Unlike other Marvel origin stories, she is already trained and formidable. But there is something off about her. She has no memory past the last six years of her life as a soldier. She has occasional flashes of her past but they have little meaning and make even less sense to her. Her commander and mentor,Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) says that she is too emotional and must keep her powers, namely the ability to fire photons blasts from her hands, in check.

During a mission against enemy Skrulls who are also shapeshifters, Vers is separated from her squad and captured by  the Skrulls. She is brought aboard a ship and using a form of mind probe, it is determined that she holds the key to a secret power on a planet known as C-53, which is of course, Earth. She escapes them while in Earth orbit, destroying the ship in the process, in a damaged pod that promptly disintegrates on entry. This is where we see her in the trailer crashing into a 1995 era Blockbuster.

It is not long before Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson digitally de-aged) shows up to investigate. Being a veteran SHIELD agent, he is also skeptical about her being some noble warrior from another planet hunting shapshifting aliens. This would be Fury’s first encounter with a super-powered being.

The film becomes a road trip buddy cop movie from there with some nice banter between Fury and and Vers. They find themselves at a secret military base for experimental aircraft. She believes that the Skrulls are after the secret to a Lightspeed Engine and that it is also connected to her memories. While there, they encounter a very special ginger cat named Goose that steals every scene (I’m a sucker for gingers). They also discover, while going through records that Vers was once a test pilot, and she is connected to what the Skrullls are looking for.

They follow a lead to the last person to see her alive, fellow pilot Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). Maria and her daughter Monica (Akira Akbar) not only move the plot significantly forward but also provide the emotional connections she needed to unlock her memories as former test pilot Carol Danvers.

This is unique among Marvel films as it does not tell a linear origin story. And marvel, I think, does best when they don’t make a straight up comic book superhero origin story. Characters like Iron Man, Dr. Strange began their films flawed, who have to undergo a change both physically and spiritually. Captain America has a long intro of a scrawny Steve Rogers who transforms into Captain America. Thor has to undergo transformation to be worthy of Mjornir, etc. In the case of Carol Danvers, she is a character who must rediscover herself. And since much of the story is told in flashback it unravels throughout the whole movie. As she learns more about herself, her character changes.

Captain Marvel has the double-duty of being a bridge between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame but also an introduction to a character that is not really well known outside comic shops. For doing all that, it runs relatively short for a comic-book movie, clocking in at two hours and eight minutes with credits and end credit scenes. With that running time there is much groundwork laid out not only for her story but for a sequel and digging up clues that tie into the rest of the movies.

The film is full of subtle Easter eggs and that tie into existing MCU lore and fans will be pleased that it honors the memory of Stan Lee in more than one way. There is just a slight breaking of the fourth wall, but it’s for Stan. We owe him so much.

This film works best because of the dynamics between the characters. From the chemistry between Fury and Danvers to the believably deep friendship between Maria Rambeau and Carol. Akira Akbar is especially charming as Monica Rambeau, which is a character that has had major roles in the Marvel comics, so it is possible we will see her in a grown up iteration in present-day stories.

Ben Mendlesohn, who is not featured much in the trailers, turns in an exceptional performance as the lead Skrull. It is multi-dimensional and even humorous.

And we of course have Goose the cat. In the comics, the cat is named Chewie and has been Carol’s pet for years. For whatever reason, the name has been changed. Nevertheless, Goose steals every scene he is in. And without giving up spoilers, Goose’s story is pretty much unchanged from the comics.

There are quite a few twists and deviations from the source material and that subversiveness upends expectations, and in my opinion for the better. For the most part it does a very good job of that. There is so much going on that it may require a couple of viewing to let it all sink in. I saw it twice and actually enjoyed it more the second time around.

The movie does several things very well, and much of that is stuff you may not notice. Carol Danvers is not hampered by any romance angle and instead focuses on her friendship between Nick Fury and Maria Rambaeu. It’s a believable connection and contains a lot of heart that really adds to Carol’s source of strength to overcome her own inner weaknesses.

Brie Larson offers a very nuanced character here. As she learns more about herself and her life as a human, she also opens up to us character-wise. So yes, she is rather bland in the beginning as a Kree, but I believe that is by choice. She is an inspiration and the flashbacks we get of her does a very good job of telling us what

Captain Marvel is a powerful character, a very strong one. Is she the most powerful character in the MCU? Possibly. But let us not forget that Thor would have killed Thanos if he had only made the choice to go for the head. She is no more powerful than Thor was in Infinity Wars with Stormbreaker. And will she be too overpowered? I doubt it. I don’t expect her to just show up and knock out Thanos.

The visual effects work well, especially the de-ageing of Samuel Jackson by several decades. Some of them are a bit dodgy such as a couple of flying sequences. Nevertheless, the actions scenes are very well done, ranging from close combat to aerial dogfights. And when Carol unlocks her potential, it is a iconic moment.

Is this the best Marvel movie ever? No, but then you are dealing with a film franchise of twenty films and counting. This ranks as an above average Marvel film. Now, I consider average Marvel films to be Thor, Ant-Man, and the Iron-Man sequels. Considering that average level Marvel movies have been good and entertaining then Captain Marvel does a a very good job of introducing us to a character that most movie goers may not be familiar with. And I am going to go out on a limb here and say that film-wise this is a better female superhero movie than DC’s Wonder Woman, for two reasons, there is no need for a love story and Wonder Woman‘s final act was ruined by an over the top CGI fight that was not only bad CGI but made no real sense.

I’ve been following her comics for quite a bit lately and really think there is much potential to be explored there and this serves as a good opening to her character. I for one can’t wait to see more of what she can do. Highly Recommended.