captain marvel

Captain Marvel’s reviews are all in, and the arguments for and against her are in full swing. I’m not going to get involved in either, really. I have my own thoughts on the latest entry in the MCU. My standard disclaimer is that I am not familiar with the original (or multiply retconned) comic book version of the character. So this is the best chance for Captain Marvel to make a good impression.

***

While it is formulaic (and really, what expensive studio blockbuster isn’t?), it’s no surprise that Captain Marvel ticked all the boxes for me. It has well-drawn and well-played characters, an exciting, nicely-paced plot, and an emotionally honest core.

As a film, Captain Marvel is not as epic as I was expecting, yet it is still satisfying enough. Despite all the excitement and hype around it, this is, after all, an origin story. I think origin stories are by their very nature lower-key–especially when they spread out to cover multiple origins. In addition to the transformation of Carol Danvers, we get to see Nick Fury’s initial inspiration for the Avengers, and are given a glimpse of the little girl who will also, someday, be Captain Marvel. And since the Marvel machine is nothing but efficient at connecting dots, we’ll get a heaping dose of epic to make up for anything we missed when Avengers: Endgame opens.

But epic isn’t actually enough. To me, the reason the Marvel movies work so well is the casting. It’s A-list all the way. Brie Larson brings a convincing sharp humor, insouciance, and and appropriate arrogance to her Carol Danvers– a woman who does difficult things well, and knows it. Lashana Lynch exudes the same capability and confidence in her role as Carol’s best friend, Maria. Annette Benning is a pleasure to watch as both a force of mercy and a means of control. Samuel L. Jackson continues to be his remarkable self, and Jude Law turns in another reliably sturdy performance.

***

This is one superhero movie that passes the Bedchel test with flying colors, with the story driven by the relationships between Danvers, Mar-Vell/Lawson, Rambeau, and Monica. It is refreshingly free of romantic subplots or flirtations, and allows its female characters to exist simply as people.

I’m not entirely comfortable with how much that stands out for me–because what does it say about all the other MCU films out there that I’ve also enjoyed?

Another response I didn’t expect to have is to wonder how well Carol Danvers will handle Captain Marvel’s immense power. Maybe it was the Dark Phoenix trailer that triggered my train of thought, but it strikes me that many of Marvel’s most powerful superheroes are haunted by psychological issues, as they struggle to balance their humanity against their almost god-like abilities. Scarlet Witch, multiple X-Men, even Wade Wilson all wrestle with it. Perhaps the arrogance that comes of being a highly-trained, highly- skilled Air Force test pilot (or highly-skilled surgeon, in the case of Doctor Strange) overrides the expected mortal weaknesses.

***

So, in summation: It made me think, but not about the storyline or, specifically, the characters. Not much new to see but well worth seeing, if only for the questions it raises outside the limits of the MCU.

regrettable supervillains

regrettable supervillains Jon Morris’s The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains is a natural sequel to his The League of Regrettable Superheroes. Let’s face it: Without anyone to fight against, the superheroes are just a bunch of folks running around in funky spandex underoos. Let’s also face that very few supervillains will have the gravitas of Magneto, the moral certainty of Thanos, or the creepy menace of the Joker. Morris is here to once again tell us about all the also-rans who didn’t let their deficiencies stop them.

No matter the shape, size, or strategy of the four-color finks gracing these pages, every one of them had the potential to join the ranks of comicdom’s icons of iniquity. It was only poor sales, inopportune timing, and occasional overshadowing from bigger baddies that consigned so many of these scoundrels to the scrapheap of comic book history. Until now!

***

Morris documents a remarkable assortment of semi-menacing figures that are very much the products of their times. The thirties and forties saw an awful lot of gangsters and confidence men–as well as Mother Goose, Satan, and Captain Black Bunny–before the comics went to war. The fifties and sixties ushered in a bunch of do-badders like Cat Girl and Tino the Terrible Teen, who would fit comfortably in a Batman episode. The seventies and beyond took both oddly concrete and weirdly conceptual turns, with Generic Man, Captain Law, and Uzzi the Clown all serving up exactly what their monikers promise.

regrettable supervillains
MODOK, as lovely as ever

Several of these menaces to society did go on to have fairly (by Regrettable standards) long careers. Batroc the Leaper hassled Captain America over multiple issues. The Human Flying Fish caused trouble for Aquaman, on and off. Swarm stuck around to threaten Black Widow, Ghost Rider, and a few lesser X-Men. And MODOK became the go-to adversary for Marvel, taking on Ms. Marvel, Deadpool, Iron Man, the Hulk, and a slew of other A-list superheroes.

***

The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains offers an evildoer for every taste. These are a few of my favorite also-ran bad guys:

From the Golden Age of comics (1938-1949):

  • Nazis: Captain America wasn’t the only Nazi-puncher of the Golden Age. Nazis were a favorite–and obvious–target for pretty much everybody in the 1940s. It’s not like Captain Murder, the Human Fly, and Mister Banjo didn’t deserve it.
  • The Jingler: “The Jingler (aka “the Jingler of Death”) begins his career not as a vile poet, but merely a pretty bad one.”
  • Reefer King: “One Mary Jane-laced menace is the so-called Reefer King, a shady dealer of ‘funny cigarettes.’ (At no point in this story are the illicit cigarettes referred to as marijuana or cannabis.)”
regrettable supervillains
Mod Gorilla Boss–stylish and surly

And from the Silver Age (1950-1969):

  • Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man: “Is it animal, vegetable, or mineral…it’s all three! That’s some good science.”
  • The Human Flying Fish: “a villain so remarkable he deserves two adjectives in his nom du crime.”
  • Mod Gorilla Boss: “We never learn his name, nor how he discovered his transformational fluid, or even why he was into mod fashion. In fact, the story sheds absolutely no light on the backstory of this bizarre villain.”

And lastly from the Modern Age (1970-present):

  • Ghetto-Blaster: “Ghetto-Blaster hearkens back to a trend in comics when writers clearly named the villain after something sitting on their desks or stored in the hall closet.”
  • The Golden Fuhrer: Proving that Nazis never go out of style for punching–“Who knew that the reanimation of Nazi corpses could be such a good career opportunity?”
  • Tapeworm: “Tapeworm would be one of the most unnerving supervillains in existence even without considering that apparently he smells terrible.”
***
regrettable supervillains
Good ol’ reliable Nazis

The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains relishes the inherent silliness of these awkward bad guys, but it comes across to me as less gleeful than Morris’s earlier book on superheroes. The tone may be unavoidable, though, since villains are not generally known for their fun-loving ways, and their roles are by definition dark. But there are still plenty here who are not so much wicked as just cranky and misguided. There are even a handful who occasionally turn good. Morris’s snarky descriptions of the unlikeliest criminal minds continue to be a fun read.

Overall, The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains serves up some truly remarkable examples of how polite society’s fears get translated onto a comic books pages. It’s an interesting, four-color peek into the back pages of history.

Ant Man and The Wasp

Ant Man and The WaspAnt Man and The Wasp is very much like its predecessor–a lightweight, likeable Marvel Universe flick that is still essentially a throw-away. It has the same cast as the first movie, the same tricks, and a little bit of story arc for an audience to invest in. Ant Man and The Wasp does introduce some potentially interesting new characters, but it is ultimately an exercise in getting from the first Ant Man to whichever Marvel blockbuster Scott Lang is meant to show up in next.

Some Minor Spoilers Ahead

The usual suspects are all back.  Paul Rudd is still charming as Ant Man, but he isn’t allowed to be as warm and funny as he was in the first movie. More emphasis is placed on his dad skills this time around. Evangeline Lilly continues to be intense and hyper-competent as Hope, while Michael Douglas continues to be snarky and arrogant as Hank Pym.

Michelle Pfeiffer joins the cast as Janet van Dyne, in a role so predictable I wonder why she did it. We also get Laurence Fishburne as Bill Foster, an old frenemy of Hank Pym from their SHIELD days, and Hannah John-Kamen as Ghost/Ava. I truly hope she gets her own movie someday. The perfunctory overview of her origins and her relationship with Foster raised a whole lot of questions I would like to see answered.

Despite the star power of the main characters, the secondaries are the real interesting ones. Michael Peña’s Luis owns every scene he is in. Randall Park is great as the awkward FBI agent Jimmy Woo, while Walton Goggins is cheerfully sleazy as black marketeer Sonny Burch. Unfortunately, T.I., David Dastmalchian, and Bobby Cannavale were given far less to do than in the first Antman–and the film suffers for it.

Stay On Target!

Overall, it’s a strange mix of too little and too much.

The plot comes across to me as flat and perfunctory, with the characters moving through the script without truly believing any of it. The action is solidly done but meaningless, since only some of the characters rise enough above caricature to make it worth caring about their outcomes. Which is a shame, because the cast is certainly capable.

Piling on that weak foundation are too many problems for any one of them to really matter. We are presented with a dangerous new antagonist in Ghost, a quest to bring the original Wasp out of the quantum realm where she has been trapped for the last thirty years, a persistent probation officer, and a wanna-be crime lord looking to steal Hank Pym’s discoveries. In between all that, our hero is doing his best to be a good dad to his daughter, despite being an ex-con superhero currently riding out house arrest.

The incredible shrinking quantum lab is pretty neat, as is giant Ant Man wading into the harbor to retrieve it. Scott Lang’s suit issues are an effective running gag, and the giant ant hanging out in Scott’s apartment is good silly fun. But the fun stuff isn’t enough to lift Ant Man and The Wasp above its issues.

What Bugs Me

I wanted to like Ant Man and The Wasp. I like the actors, I like the characters, I like the gimmicks. But the whole film ended up being less than the sum of its parts. Once again, Marvel puts Ant Man into a cotton-candy movie that is fun while it lasts but no longer–and, this time, less entertaining than it should have been.

Deadpool 2
What a feelin’
***A Few Spoilers Ahead***

Deadpool 2 is everything the first one was, and more. The violence is even more ridiculously over the top, the profanity so ramped up that even Colossus drops an f-bomb, and the emotional core of the story remains as believable as ever. I laughed. I cried. I laughed and cried at the same time. And I didn’t even have a spike through my head.

The Plot Thickens

Of course Ryan Reynolds is back as our loveable hero, as is Morena Baccarin as his one true love, Vanessa. Brianna Hildebrand returns as Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Stefan Kapacic as Colossus, Leslie Uggams as Blind Al, Karan Soni as Dopinder, and T.J. Miller as Weasel. Joining the party are Josh Brolin (fresh off killing half the universe) as the responsible, world-weary Cable, Zazie Beetz as the super-confident Domino (who’s mutant power is handled with great, casual good cheer), and Julian Dennison as the damaged and dangerous Russell. And in a stroke of inspired hiring, David Leitch (of John Wick and Atomic Blonde) is onboard to direct the mayhem.

Deadpool 2 begins not long after the first film ends, with Wade getting in touch with his maternal side. But that is only the set up. After a horrible personal tragedy sets things in motion, Deadpool embarks on a heartwarming journey to protect Russell, a dangerous fourteen-year-old mutant. But it’s complicated, because Cable shows up to prevent his own horrible personal tragedy by killing the kid before things go too far.

And because that’s not complicated enough, protecting Russell soon involves Deadpool and Weasel assembling a crack team of mutants, dubbed X-Force, so Deadpool can develop as a human being and show his warm, nurturing side. And also kill large numbers of bad guys and blow up lots of cars, trucks, and buildings. Bill Skarsgård shows up as Zeitgeist, Terry Crews as Bedlam, Lewis Tan as Shatterstar, Brad Pitt as Vanisher, and Rob Delaney as Peter. They briefly round out the X-Force before the team becomes more…streamlined.

Some of the Fun Bits
  • There are already three decapitations before the opening titles roll.
  • Shatterstar has green blood. Lots of it.
  • Dopinder aspires to be Kirsten Dunst to Deadpool’s Tom Cruise in the worst Interview With the Vampire analogy possible.
  • Now we all know what a “prison wallet” is, whether we wanted to or not.
  • As Wade promised Blind Al in the first Deadpool, the cure for blindness is indeed next to the stash of cocaine.
  • I think the “when does this happen” question gets answered pretty clearly in the X-Mansion.
  • Deadpool 2 references too many other Marvel superheroes to keep track of, takes more than a few swipes at DC, turns Yentl’s ballad “Papa” into a recurring theme, and in a scene so disturbingly funny I will refer to it only as “the legs”, resurrects Basic Instinct in the most disgusting way imaginable.
So Go See It!

Deadpool 2Deadpool 2 repeats a couple of tricks from the first film with enough of a twist to keep them from being simply trite. It is familiar without being a retread, and while it doesn’t really break any new ground (after the first, how could it without scratching at NC-17?), it manages to be just as remarkable. And in true Marvel fashion, it proclaims loudly that zealotry is bad, family is where you find it, death is temporary, and time travel fixes everything.

Let’s face it: Deadpool 2 is the hero we deserve.

Choosing up sides in Captain America: Civil War
Choosing up sides in Captain America: Civil War

Now that the initial frenzy to see Captain America: Civil War has cooled somewhat, I will venture my opinion. As I told my friends as we walked out of the theater in the wee hours of opening night/ morning, I liked it, it was really good, and I’m glad we saw it, but it won’t leave a mark.

Captain America: Civil War was exactly the glorious spectacle we all expected it to be. The production and effects were flawless. The story was coherent and moved blazingly fast, with just enough dialogue to keep the action anchored to the plot. It was a technical masterpiece, with convincing CGI and the anticipated wild stunts and tricks.

But I can’t help but be disappointed by the shiny, much-lauded blockbuster that is Captain America: Civil War. It was a crazy amount of fun but it left me feeling a little empty when it was over, like eating candy instead of a sandwich for lunch.

As an action movie, it was exceptional. What I missed was the characters. There was only superficial interaction between the main characters for large parts of the movie, with no depth, no real development, no reason to connect and hold on to Civil War instead of just waiting for the next Marvel showstopper to come out in a year or so. It seemed to me that most of the characters (even the major ones) were just doing a walk through, and that they had been written purely to advance the plot and not to grow as actual people.

Accidents happen in Captain America: Civil War
Accidents happen.

Perhaps because they are more seasoned actors (and Tony Stark is pretty well defined by his shortcomings), that effect was less apparent in Robert Downey Jr’s and Don Cheadle’s performances. Sebastian Stan’s Bucky at least had some range to him because of the uncertainties caused by his programming, but he was still put away at the end. And Ant-Man’s sudden inclusion, while energetic and funny, seemed random. Why was he there? What did he care that the Avengers were beefing?

Even the amazingly strong introduction of Black Panther lost some of its power for me when he chose to give his assistance to Captain America. It didn’t seem like the decision a reigning king (and anointed superhero) of a sovereign nation would make—to support the agenda of a man who ignored legitimate governments and national boundaries.

And that’s the missing link to depth in the movie. The split in the Avengers’ ranks played out like a schoolyard quarrel rather than a principled philosophical divide. Iron Man came closest to explaining his stance and even he barely touched on why he felt the way he did about governmental oversight. Captain America opted to be intractably stubborn before even trying to persuade. And the rest chose sides because…there is no because. The rest chose sides to provide a balance of outfit colors, apparently.

For all my complaints, I think Captain America: Civil War was worth every second of screen time as pure action entertainment. There were some astoundingly bright points, like Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spiderman in every scene he was in. It was also good to see familiar faces like Marissa Tomei and Martin Freeman in the mix. But they couldn’t do what the story didn’t need them to do.

What are we fighting for?
What are we fighting for?

For me, it’s hard to remain invested in a franchise that skimps on creating an emotional connection with its audience, especially when the seeds of it already existed in the source material. I think the movie would have been much more epic if we had stepped back from the action long enough for an impassioned argument between the Avengers that allowed them to explain themselves, their convictions, their reservations. They are supposed to be friends and colleagues. Friends and colleagues discuss major issues, either before or during the battles.

Ultimately I blame it on Disneyfication. Disney has owned Marvel Studios since 2015, but even though production on Captain America: Civil War started well before the takeover I can’t believe a steamroller of a company like Disney would let it go forward without some corporate input.  The oversimplification of issues and the hyper-calculated emotional tugging that they use to make you think you care are familiar ground. Frankly, if this had been written with a better eye to the characters’ inner workings, the manipulation would be neither obvious nor needed. Alas.

Maybe I’m asking too much of a movie rooted so firmly in comic books. But I don’t think so. The comic books gave the Civil War some thought. With the A-list acting talent, the technical virtuosity, and the monster financial weight behind the franchise, I don’t think it’s too much to expect more from the big screen version—like a lasting impact.

 

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

 

 

 

Fantastic Four is not as bad as some of the more descriptive reviews would have it. But it really isn’t good.

You might get the impression that I don’t like a lot of movies, but that is not true. The Avengers was amazing, and showed how it should be done. Ian McKellan’s Mr. Holmes was essentially flawless. Ex Machina was thought-provoking. Even Ant Man was solid entertainment.

I didn’t want to trash Fantastic Four, to jump on the bandwagon of negative reviews. So I thought it over, looking for what it did right. Unfortunately, there are precious few aspects of it to praise: the cast was good. Some of the effects were pretty cool, especially the interdimensional travel. Doom was imposing with his fused metal skin and tattered cloak. The young Reed and Ben were cute. However. However.

The whole thing ultimately fell flat.

We all know about the internecine conflicts between the studio and the director, and by some accounts the director and everyone else. But instead of parsing the conflict and placing the blame, let’s just look at the results.

Fantastic Four was another barely adequate movie, oddly disconnected from its audience and itself, hampered by a script littered with trite pep talks and an inflated sense of its own melodramatic tension. The pacing was a real issue. So much time was spent in exposition that the ending felt rushed and incomplete.

And the exposition was so much about setting up the planned second movie that they forgot to make this Fantastic Four actually about anything. There were no characters substantial enough to care about, no discovery or threat unveiled in such a way as to invest the audience in the outcome. Even the big reveal of Dr. Doom was a deus ex machina, tacked on seemingly to showcase more of the second-earth CGI.

Fantastic Four
Fantastic Four

The script had some initial potential that faded into simplistic, self-important, heavy handed presentation. The demands of getting to the end of this installment overshadowed any concern for believable or even consistent characterization. The reasonably funny jokes were infrequent and unintegrated—Fantastic Four lacks the sense of humor that makes other Marvel movies engaging. Let’s face it, even Thor is funny, and he’s a god. The occasional profanity also seemed tacked on, as if only to avoid a G rating.

The actors have the unfortunate chore of being late-twenty-somethings playing high school students. They all seemed fully capable of delivering coherent performances, yet they were working with an unwieldy story that cared nothing about them.

As the future Dr. Doom, Toby Kebbell gave hints of what could have been. His smirk suggested the ability to breathe some life into a limited character. Doom’s killing method—going all Scanners on people–was jarring for being the only gore in the film. It could have been effective if Doom’s bitter reasoning made any sense.

Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm showed similar capabilities as a performer, and was just as trapped by the material. He brought a touching intelligence to his monster. The most human scene in the whole concoction was when Reed asked Ben whether his transformation hurt. Ben’s answer was simply “I’m used to it.” More moments of vulnerability like that would have done wonders in making the characters matter for the audience.

Alas, there was no chemistry between any of the characters, romantic, platonic, or familial—relationships were stated but never felt. All their motivations and decisions existed without any relatable frame of reference, because the plot had to reach a certain point to set up the sequel. This could only manifest as a profound lack of character development. The result left us with scenes of the defiantly rebellious Johnny becoming a team player at the drop of a hat, and the U.S. military immediately caving in because Reed Richards and company don’t want to play anymore.

Making the characters recent high school graduates also weakened the film. They may be geniuses, but handing them a government facility was awkward and unbelievable. They haven’t earned it. And anchoring the action so firmly in time—2007—allowed the audience to evaluate the real-world technological components and make continuity checks. The movie isn’t strong enough to brush off that kind of scrutiny.

To summarize: The script was an exercise in blunt-force exposition. There was no discernible character development, hence very little reason to care. The ending seemed to belong to a different movie entirely—the 2017 sequel we are threatened with, to be precise. And by making the Fantastic Four teens at the outset, the movie appeared to be grabbing at the coattails of the YA dystopian juggernaut. See recent high-school grads invent interdimensional travel! See them harness incredible powers! See them oppose the establishment, and win!

I’d like to see a Fantastic Four I could care about. This certainly wasn’t it.

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter and Pinterest, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!

It’s mid-way through the summer, and we need a refresher; a little light super hero entertainment. Nothing too massive and self-important—we had that already. Certainly nothing too serious. And now we have Ant ManIt’s hard to be epic when your hero is the size of an ant. But it’s easy to be pretty harmless fun.

A few minor spoilers lie ahead.

Ant Man ComicCon Poster courtesy Wikipedia
Ant Man ComicCon Poster courtesy Wikipedia

The frequent pingbacks to the Avengers and the larger Marvel Universe lend some substance to what is otherwise a very fluffy enterprise. While a few characters and critters meet their ends, Marvel doesn’t venture into Food of the Gods territory at any point. The peril to loved ones and faithful companions is moderate. The bad guys are, dare I say, cartoonish—almost more cranky than evil.

Our hero, Scott Lang, is supposed to be an electrical engineer ex-con trying to go straight for his daughter’s sake when he gets sucked into being a super hero. His prison stint taught him how to MacGyver pretty well, although it seems to have reduced his knowledge of electrical engineering to using a voltmeter correctly. No matter, though, because once he gets into his Ant Man suit it’s a whole new game.

While the backstory and set-up for all the comic book heroism drags on longer than it should in an action movie, the cast more than makes up for it until the action really kicks in.

The movie is peopled with familiar faces who all seem to be having a grand time with the material. Paul Rudd is his usual likeable self as our Ant Man. Rudd is a pleasant actor who lacks the commanding presence for a more substantial character, but he has plenty of charm to carry off this one.

Fortunately, Michael Douglas brings the gravitas, and also a snide crustiness that fits the reclusive genius Dr. Pym. Evangeline Lilly is intense and competent as Pym’s daughter, Hope, while Corey Stoll is intense and crazy as the primary villain, Darren Cross. Did anyone else notice that the bad guy’s initials are “DC”?

Rounding out the reluctant hero line-up, Ant Man’s literal partners in crime are played by Michael Peña, David Dastmalchian, and the surprisingly personable T.I. The trio are an excellent comic distraction when the story leans too far toward playing it straight. Peña especially provides some hysterical expository/connecting narration that both keeps things moving and drops a lot of hints about the sequels we all know are coming.

At various points, Ant Man seems to be channeling any number of other movies, not just foreshadowing Marvel films. There are some frenetic action sequences that are reminiscent of both Fantastic Voyage and Flushed Away, and one spectacular battle that fully embraces the silliness of an ant-sized superhero and his equally tiny nemesis that has overtones of Toy Story. The CGI of another pivotal scene seems to have been cribbed from Interstellar, and yet another brings to mind Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. There are a lot of familiar bits referenced here, and I’m sure I’ve missed some. Fortunately, the familiar bits are better than simple pastiche. They are well executed, in-context, and create an immediate likeability because they are familiar. Not quite homage, but nicely played.

The bottom line, for me, anyway, is that Ant Man is a fine way to spend a hot summer evening. It’s good, not great. It’s fun, not epic. It exists primarily to get Marvel a little closer to Civil War. And it helps keep us entertained until we get there.

 

E.A. Ruppert contributes book and media reviews for NerdGoblin.com.  Thanks for checking this out. To keep up with the latest NerdGoblin developments, please like us on Facebook , follow us on Twitter and Pinterest, and sign up for the NerdGoblin Newsletter.

And as always, please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section!