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Review: Spider-Man Far From Home

*Warning! Due to the nature of the film, this review will contain spoilers: you have been warned*

Written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, and directed by Jon Watts, “Spider-Man: far from home” is the second iteration of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man within the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the first film to follow up the two part culmination of Marvel’s Infinity Saga. As such the film had to juggle several major obstacles. In-between dovetailing the final film of phase three including the world’s reaction to the death of Tony Stark and retirement of Captain America, and expanding on the social dramas of Parker’s high school friends, AND giving us a satisfying and comics-accurate version of the fan favorite villain Mysterio- this film had many a hurdle to leap. Masterfully, all this and more is accomplished with style, wit, and heart.

So, the film hits the ground running with Nick Fury and Maria Hill investigating a natural disaster in Mexico with more than a few hints of curiosity surrounding it. As soon as a giant monster forms from the rubble around them, another new factor emerges- the mysterious Quentin Beck garbed in a cape with a cloudy fish bowl atop his head. Later in Europe we discover that this unheard of hero is working with the remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop these Elementals from destroying the Earth- just as they had done on his own Earth from another parallel universe… or so he tells us. Okay, here’s where anyone who knows anything about the character of Quentin Beck knows that he’s lying. That is, IF, Marvel Studios kept in line with the traditional aspects of the villain Mysterio. Which to my delight- they absolutely did. Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in this film as Beck was pitch perfect for the character and his backstory of disgruntled Stark Tech creative slid wonderfully into the background of the MCU as if he had been there all along. Mysterio’s illusions throughout the film were excellently rendered, but there’s one scene in particular where the film blurs the line between mediums of film and comic-book in what I like to call, The Nightmare Sequence, in which Beck thrusts Spidey into illusion after illusion after which he gets so shook up he starts to question reality. Over all, this was an excellent example of a fantastic villain used correctly, while being comic-book accurate, and molded to fit this medium and existing story structure.

As for our hero, Peter Parker may not have been in his traditional setting, but this was a story well in line with the familiar tropes of our favorite webslinger. Throughout the film Peter is under constant pressure, from Nick Fury, from his potential rival for MJ’s affection, from Beck, but primarily, and poignantly, from the expectations laid upon him after the death of Tony Stark. Stark wasn’t just Iron Man to Peter, he quickly formed into the parental figure where other films utilized the reliable but familiar role Uncle Ben played in Peter’s life. He may not have said that singular advice that so motivated Peter in various other stories and mediums, but the advice that the tin man did give Peter was essentially similar, and from a place of personal experience for our late armored Avenger. Pull all of those story strings with the right amount of tension and you put Spider-Man where is meant to be in most of his stories, his greatest growth always comes from his moments of greatest peril. This film has that crucial aspect for the character, and the film crew behind these two Spider-Man films have utilized that well.

I wanted to quickly highlight a few of the things that I thought elevated this film a little further than it might have otherwise been without them. Zendaya’s MJ had a lot more to do this time around and her character was expanded upon in a thoughtful and charming manner. Ned (Jacob Batalon) and his girlfriend for the summer Betty Brant (Angourie Rice) were a fun aspect of the trip and reminiscent of how fleeting teenage romances can be. Fortunately though, they never crossed over into the void of being overly cringey. The few scenes and jokes we got with Flash Thompson (Tony Revolori) were entertaining and there’s even a quick moment where we get a peek into Flash’s personal life (it is very fleeting, but still appreciated). Oh, and how could we forget Happy Hogan? It must have been pretty amazing to be Jon Favreau on the set of this film, still keeping watchful eye on the film series he helped to craft into existence more than a decade ago now. I’m glad his character still has purpose and still matters in this cinematic universe, we should be so lucky to have him around! I can’t think of much else to add at this point, I highly enjoyed this film at the theater, and I’m very much looking forward to the next Spider-Man film starring Tom Holland and company!

Final Score: Hundreds of killer drones!

*Oh, and for the love of god: Stay through the credits for the best reveal in Marvel Cinematic history.

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Review: Avengers 3 Infinity War

*WARNING* This review will be full of spoilers, you have been warned!

Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, “Avengers: Infinity War” is the third superhero event film under the Marvel banner and the culmination of ten years of interconnected storytelling across all eighteen previous films. If you’ve been following these Marvel movies and are up to date then you will gleam the most out of the two and a half hour epic that is Infinity War. However if, by some chance, you’re just now considering a Marvel movie marathon and are curious as to which movies are most necessary for this latest Avengers movie, I believe about half of them are required viewing (Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: Civil War, The Avengers, Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1, Dr. Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther). The rest help to build upon the structure, and character development, of the cinematic universe, but that list will get you mostly acquainted with what’s going on.

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So, we’re finally here. After hearing about and seeing several of the infinity stones throughout these films, and with a couple cameos from the mad titan himself, does the film live up to the monumental expectations that Marvel Studios has built? Yes. I can answer that wholeheartedly with a resounding yes. Infinity War is a monumental feat of crossover film-making and it makes the once grandiose events of the first Avengers seem minuscule in comparison. The film follows the wake of destruction left by Thanos and his black order as they seek out the six infinity stones and crisscross the cosmos to implement the will of the mad titan. The opening scene perfectly showcases who Thanos is and why we should be afraid for the fate of our superheroes. After laying waste to Thor and the Asgardian refugees’ ship Thanos quickly bests the Hulk in a fistfight, takes the Tesseract from Loki before killing him, and completely destroys their ship leaving Thor to drift unconsciously through space. Heimdall was able to send the Hulk off to Earth before being murdered by the Black Order and as the incredible hero smashes through Dr. Strange’s staircase in New York City, Bruce Banner comes with a dire warning, “Thanos is coming..”

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Dr. Strange quickly grasps the magnitude of the problem at hand as he grabs Tony Stark from a morning run with Pepper Potts, but it isn’t long before Thanos Black Order arrive to make a power grab for the Time stone in the doctor’s possesion. Spider-Man also gets in the mix and we’re off to the races! The movie moves at break neck speeds jumping across space and back to service all of the various storylines in play but the Russo brothers have outdone themselves with this installment as everything flows naturally with the needs of the story. Now I won’t go beat by beat and describe the whole movie, but instead give a general sense of the scale and the threat that comes with Thanos seeking to wield his infinity gauntlet. Not to mention how the movie cleverly utilized it’s massive cast by breaking the characters off into various factions in different locations to best suit the needs of the story. For example, the Guardians of the Galaxy bump into Thor when responding to their distress signal and then separate into two teams, one consisting of Thor, Rocket, and Groot in order to seek out a “Thanos killing weapon” while the rest head to ‘Knowhere’ from their first movie as it’s the last known location of the reality stone. Iron Man and Spider-Man hitch a ride on the ship that the Black Order arrived in to save Dr. Strange from Ebony Maw on his way to Titan, while Captain America, Falcon, and Black Widow stave off an attack on Vision and the Scarlet Witch thanks to a heads up by Banner and eventually head to Wakanda as a last stand to keep Vision’s Mind stone in his head and not on the gauntlet of Thanos.

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The central theme of the movie is that, when pressed by Thanos and his cosmic conquering, will you trade one life for another? Several characters have this grueling predicament pushed on them, some make choices out of love, others for the fate of the universe, but ultimately they fail when crossing that line. The moral center of the MCU, Steve Rogers (aka Captain America), never falters in his moral code. Several times throughout the movie he reiterates to others that, “We don’t trade lives”. He discards the math of the scenario in giving a life to save millions, nay billions. He saves lives, he doesn’t play that game. That right there, might be the absolute best aspect of this film. All of the characters are true to their nature as established in the previous films. There is a palpable consistency to their actions and reasoning. The Guardians all feel like themselves, still making jokes and acting on impulse. Black Panther and Captain America leap into battle first and have unwavering foundations. Thor feels the most evolved since the ramifications of ‘Ragnarok’ changed the game for his films and overall nature, a kingly warrior burdened with grief, yet still able to convey humor as a fish-out-of-water situation with the Guardians. Consistency paired with well thought out plot-points and a very clever villain, possibly the best the MCU has seen yet, add up to one hell of a Marvel movie.

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With an ending as shocking as it is, I- and many other millions, cannot wait to see how these characters rebound and ultimately save the day. This is most definitely a part one, and with only two other films between now and (the still untitled) Avengers 4 that take place before the events of this movie, we’ll have to wait a year and see how this all unfolds. I cannot praise this movie enough, it was far more emotionally mature and full of dread than I expected. There were significant deaths, high stakes and excellent action, and on top of that the film still managed to be really funny at times. They did it. They really did it. The next challenge is to outdo themselves next year, which I have to say, is a tall order. I have faith in the Russo brothers though, their movies in the MCU have been some of the best entries in the superhero genre as a whole. Now all we have to do… is wait.

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Final Score: Infinite Avengers

THE CAST:
Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man

Chris Hemsworth as Thor

Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow

Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange

Tom Holland (II) as Peter Parker/Spider-Man

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther

Zoe Saldana as Gamora

Karen Gillan as Nebula

Tom Hiddleston as Loki

Paul Bettany as Vision

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch

Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/Falcon

Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier

Idris Elba as Heimdall

Danai Gurira as Okoye

Benedict Wong as Wong

Pom Klementieff as Mantis

Dave Bautista as Drax

Vin Diesel as Groot

Bradley Cooper as Rocket

Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts

Benicio Del Toro as The Collector

Josh Brolin as Thanos

Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord

William Hurt as Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross

Letitia Wright as Shuri

Peter Dinklage as Eitri

Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury

Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill

and Ross Marquand as Red Skull

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Review: Spider-Man Homecoming

Like many other comic-book and film fans, Spider-Man is among my favorite superhero characters of all time. So when the character is represented on the silver screen we all deeply care about how the character is rendered for films. It’s no surprise as to why the wall crawler has such a passionate base, he’s easily the most relatable character among the pantheon of capes and tights. We are Spider-Man after all. So when word came of a surprise merger of major film studios to work together creatively to bring us a new Spider-Man, many wondered what the final product would look like. Would we recognize this version of Peter Parker slinging through a vastly more populated version of New York City? Would the story be bogged down with the franchise building woes of an ever increasing Marvel Studios Cinematic Universe? However, most importantly, would the story be any good?

Rest assured true believers for the “House of Ideas” has a sure hit on their hands with “Spider-Man Homecoming”. Wisely foregoing the well known origin story Marvel effectively meshes this Spider-Man neatly into the folds of their ever expanding world. With the heavy marketing of Iron Man as a presence in this film even I wondered if this would be too much for the initial Spider-Man movie going forward, but Iron Man is never over utilized here and the film truly benefits from him being there. In fact Tony Stark’s presence along with the common knowledge that the Avengers exist outside of Spider-Man’s periphery help to guide his motivations throughout the film. What we do get of Iron Man is never a tongue-in-cheek cameo, he exists here to move the plot forward and is pertinent to the story at hand, especially when it comes to the motivations of the villain of the film, Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture played with brilliant menace by Michael Keaton.

Lately Marvel Studios has been handling their villains with far more care than the phases of the past. Adrian Toomes was the perfect character to rise up from the ashes of the battle of New York and remind us that these superhero antics have consequences. It seems to be the common theme of Marvel’s phase three films so far, and it’s a gold mine of character development possibilities. They literally utilize the character much like a vulture would behave, scavenging the remains from these climactic events for his own gains. That’s another aspect I loved about this film, it wasn’t a story about world ending threats, it was a contained story about a kid from Queens with superpowers.

Speaking of that kid, he’s really great as Peter Parker, and even better as Spider-Man. Tom Holland has become another perfect casting decision from Marvel Studios. This kid has clearly worked hard and done his homework because this is probably the funniest Spider-Man film to date, and it really is genuinely superb. Holland sets his Spider-Man apart from past performances by his sheer enthusiasm at the thought of being a superhero. Garfield’s Parker was mired in self doubt and emotional darkness in attempts to make the character seem almost grislier like that of Nolan’s Batman while Maguire’s Parker was more of a direct adaption from the 1960’s comics and that was just fine, but even he struggled to straddle the weight of the hero’s conflicted nature. Homecoming has strands of those elements in play but they’re likely to weigh more on this version of Parker in later films once our hero has grown into the role. This film also handled the supporting cast incredibly well. Peter’s friend Ned was an earnest and funny addition that helped Peter have someone to bounce dialogue off of, he quickly earned his place in the story. In this version, Flash Thompson is a bully of a different kind, but he fits into the world effectively as more of a millennial agitator than the traditional sports jock bully. The high-school scenes are light and fun- feeling very much as the story was pitched, like a John Hughes flick-but with super-heroics.

Written by Jonathan M. Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers and directed by Jon Watts, “Spider-Man: Homecoming” was a joy to watch and a confirmation that studios can work together to produce a truly great movie, if they just put their minds to it. I had a smile on my face from the opening scene to the post-credits button at the end, and I bet you will too!

Final Score: ASM #240

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Review: In The Heart of The Sea, OR “Thor & Spiderman fight a Whale”

*Note- I’ve changed to a five point rating system, it seems more relevant & useful*

Warning- Spoilers

‘In The Heart of The Sea’ is a film, directed by Ron Howard, that follows the real life tragedy of the whaling ship, The Essex out of Nantucket, Massachusetts in the early 1820’s. Named after the nonfiction book upon which the story is based, written by Nathaniel Philbrick, ‘In The Heart of The Sea’ is the story of two men and their distinct differences in leadership while on the vessel; first mate Owen Chase, Chris Hemsworth, & Benjamin Walker as Captain George Pollard. Hemsworth’s Chase is the man’s man of the picture, a seasoned blue collar Whaler that is placed on the Essex at the whim of the bureaucrats as a first mate instead of the role of Captain as he was promised. That position ends up being filled by George Pollard,  a snobbish, well-to-do blue blood with familial connections. And so the stage is set out as the two characters clash for authority and respect while out at voyage.

If the marketing of this film hadn’t informed you heavily enough the framing device utilized in the film will beat you over the head with the information that Herman Melville was obsessed by this story and that it’s details are what inspired the American literary classic ‘Moby Dick‘. We know this because the film opens thirty years after the events of the Essex as we follow a hopeful young author as he tracks down a lead to a story that has consumed him. Young Melville, portrayed here by Ben Whishaw, finds the last surviving member, Tom Nickerson, of the Essex and after much prodding the gentlemen begins to tell us his part in the tale. Young Nickerson, while portrayed adequately by Tom Holland, seemingly only exists to relay the story to our aspiring author years later within the context of the story, even though Owen Chase and Tom Nickerson are based on real life accounts of the first mate and cabin boy that truly survived the event almost two centuries ago. If the film had only used this device, of dialogue between an older Nickerson, portrayed by Brendan Gleeson, and Melville discussing these events only at the opening and close of the film it would have worked better but the film curiously plods back to get reactions of said sequences or actions, from Melville as he hears it. This is all fine and well in some regards but I really felt as though this disrupted the film’s flow.

Where the film shines is in it’s embrace of the themes of man vs man and man vs nature throughout the runtime. These moments capture what I feel the film was attempting to get more of, but failed slightly in that regard. The dialogue and tension between Pollard and Chase make otherwise longfelt sequences feel breezier. Although the film is long, I never truly felt as if the pace were particularly lacking, although admittedly I adore seafaring tales, so this might have been lost on me. Speaking of these two main characters, they represent more of the problems with the film as time goes on though. Weaknesses that lie in the characters as they are written, not necessarily the performances. There  was never enough done to make us feel particularly attached to any of the characters, and Pollard constantly makes poor, bullish, decisions that make his squaring off with the first mate less of an even footed rivalry and more of a one sided mutiny brewing as nobody liked, and isn’t meant to, the captain from the moment he was introduced to us onscreen.

When the whales finally do show up, they are menacing, or at least their actions show us that they are menacing, but we never get anything more compelling out of what they do, or represent onscreen other than the “vengance for my dead brethren” through-line. There are moments when Chase looks out upon the sea with whale blood speckling his face, almost as if he is pondering whether or not killing these animals was the right thing to do, even though his entire way of life depends on this savagery. The CGI whales do look good, but in all fairness they lack any true weight to the times they are onscreen, they are present and the white whale itself does mess their boat up royally, however there could have been other creative choices that either made the vengeful whale more intimidating, or more of a constant threat instead of the essentially one-and-done that we get when the action does go down. However there is a beautiful moment when first mate Chase seemingly realizes that they are no longer the hunters, but the hunted.

The cinematography, in my opinion, is admirably done but is not without its faults. It captures the tactile presence of the world these characters inhabit, as the boat fills with water and several characters are grabbing provisions we’ll get a close up on a wooden shelf with a whale drawing carved into the side. The boat truly feels lived in by this time. There are other moments when Howard makes this creative choice and I personally couldn’t agree more, to me it feels as though you are giving a real sense of implied time in a given place that resonates with those characters, as a closer look upon a worn in groove or another view of ropes sliding through pulleys that haul the fabric sail aloft you might be beckoned to think of the time spent out on that one boat for so long, and what it might do to a man. However, this creates a problem in that now there is almost more emotional investment in the set than the characters that inhabit it! And while I might not be all too bothered by the tight framing and almost claustrophobic camera movements at times, there can be an argument made for Howard missing out on the scope of the sea that surrounds them by doing so. Especially when you compare to the sequences of the whales that zoom way out and above the ship to give an, albeit needed, sense of scale. It simply feels disjointed when juxtaposed as they are.

Overall the film is thrilling at times and introduces us to similar themes that are far more excellently explored within ‘Moby Dick’, but the sea-faring thriller could just never live up to the bar set by the work that it inspired. If you want a movie to watch and kill some time before the new Star Wars comes out, this would be a fine, but certainly not perfect, addition.

Final Score: 3.5/5