Ready for Endgame: Avengers: Infinity War

My feelings about Infinity War are best summed up in the first ten minutes I spent after the movie ended.

Aless, Kristi and I wandered out of the theater and down an eerily quiet Broadway, mostly just staring front.

“Do you want a drink?” I managed to squeak.

“Yeah,” Aless said, we wandered quietly into PJ Clark’s to decompress. (It was late and past last call, so we never did get that drink.)

On the subsequent rewatchings, it’s never quite felt so visceral, but that’s OK, the sheer surprise at the way everyone is reacting is enough to really, really hit you in the gut emotionally. Of course, there was the inevitable discussion, heartbreak and then dismissal, “well, it’s all going to be undone.”

As if the Endgame (heh) is the only point of a story. There’s so much more to telling a story, to watching a movie, than just how it ends. It’s why I’ve never been particularly spoilerphobic. The destination matters a good deal less to me, and I’m always fascinated by those for whom it is a big deal.

But anyway, this movie. This is a good movie. I’m less irritated by Doctor Strange, Thor’s well won intensity is a great match for the more loose Guardians, and my god, Peter Parker and Tony Stark bounce well off of each other. I do sometimes wish we’d gotten Captain America and Okoye making a battle plan together, but this movie is already  ridiculously long.

The thing is, unlike my screams about Aquaman and Doctor Strange, and even Spider-Man: Homecoming and their length, Avengers: Infinity War has about 10 main characters that need to be showcased, it’s length is pretty organic. I have a feeling that the 3 hour long Endgame will also earn it’s length.

But Infinity War, was pretty special. It presented the kind of inescapable status quo, like Winter Soldier, we knew the next two movies were going to have to address it.

Infinity War also ended a tradition. Aless and I had long ago begun saving a few handfuls of popcorn to chuck at the screen as post credit sequences popped up without reference to Captain Marvel. Of course, the last second of Infinity War and Nick Fury uses his two way pager to let Carol know she’s needed back on Earth. But more on that in a few week.

Next week we cleanse our pallets and get quantum with Ant-Man And The Wasp. (Also, sorry this is a day late!)

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Ready For Endgame: Black Panther

What is Black Panther?

Is it a boilerplate superhero blockbuster? Is it an important film about colonialism and black diasporan identity? Is it another cog in a corporate machine designed to take our money? Is it an important moment in social discourse?

Yes.

Black Panther is all of these things, and also just a rocking good time of a movie. It’s kind of hard to believe it’s been only a little bit over a year since it came out and the world exploded around it.

I’m the kind of idiot who sits around with her loved ones and identifies, “the next *fill in the blank*” depending on what we’re talking about. I like tracking where things place in history, and it’s always fun to see how people react to things. So at Christmas when I said I was pretty sure that Ryan Coogler was the next Spielberg (capable of both deeply felt personal art, like Fruitvale Station and crowd pleasing spectacle like Black Panther and Creed.) I didn’t expect everyone to agree with me.

Black Panther cemented Coogler as a blockbuster guy. (Creed cleared the brush away.) and it also made Michael B. Jordan into a certified movie star, reminded people that Angela Basset should be Queen Of Us All, let Lupita N’Yongo and Danai Guirara do their thing and intro’d us all to Laetitia Wright.

And that’s before we even talk about the way Chadwick Boseman’s poised and coiled T’Challa holds all these moving parts in place around him. Black Panther is a masterful example of the superhero medium, and the fact that people don’t talk more about what Boseman does in this movie is criminal. It’s a calm collected and altogether wonderful performance, than grounds the whole enterprise emotionally.

There’s of course a million angles to take when talking about Black Panther because there is a lot going on here. That’s part of why it resonated so hard, and got nominated for Best Picture. (The first superhero movie to do so! SUCK IT THE DARK KNIGHT! Incidentally, I don’t know why I feel the need to tear down the The Dark Night over and over again in this series of posts, it’s a great movie, that I like a lot.)

Black Panther 2 is coming and I’m deeply looking forward to it. I think there’s also a Dora Milaje film in the works. That could be very cool. But the way that this film connected with audiences was so special, and I was so grateful to be a part of it.

Next week, we talk about Avengers: Infinity War, and likely detail all of the reasons that I am not OK even a year later.

Ready For Endgame: Doctor Strange & Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume 2

Last week I talked about how Ant-Man and Civil War began a time of transition for The MCU, they we’re sort of still in. Doctor Strange and Guardians Of The Galaxy: Volume 2 cement that, one of them making me very wary of leaving behind the world we know, and the other pushing a place we’d glimpsed and enjoyed to it’s borders and succeeding beyond belief.

I do not like Doctor Strange. I remember watching it and receiving it with a hearty “meh,” thinking I might like it on rewatch, but not remembering my reaction to it, and as I watched it finally allowing myself to accept, “I do not like this movie.” It’s overly long, unfocused, and Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t pull off asshole the way that other actors in this series have managed to. I’m also not crazy about Cumberbatch as an actor in general, so that doesn’t help my assesment of this movie.

But what annoys me the most about Doctor Strange is the way it squanders it’s really excellent supporting cast. If Rachel McAdams had been given a bit more to do, like say, Natalie Portman or Gwyneth Paltrow had, maybe this movie would have been better. If Benedict Wong and Chiowetel Edjiofort had gotten to rise above scowling at Strange as Wong and Mordo, perhaps the movie could have shone. Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelson are appropriately ethereal and menacing but still, underwritten.

It’s a poorly executed movie, that looks great, it gets credit for that, and the resolution of repeating the negotiation with Dormammu is a clever ploy, but until that climax, the movie just sits there.

Guardians 2, on the other hand is magical and wonderful and don’t you dare say a bad word against it, you monster. Seriously, I love this movie. I think it’s one of the best scripts for this kind of movie ever. I prefer this soundtrack to the first. (I prefer anything with Fleetwood Mac and Cat Stevens to anything without Fleetwood Mac and Cat Stevens.)

Guardians 2 is heartfelt, intelligent, beautiful and so well acted I watch it slack jawed every time that I watch it. (Which is frequently, I should note.) Kurt Russell is perfect as Ego, and really, my favorite thing about both Guardians movies is that they’re kind of about a bunch of people having temper tantrums on a cosmic scale. It’s super fun to watch.

But mainly, what I love about Guardians 2 is that it’s about family. I like stories about family, because mine is weirdly intertwined with each other. Rocket’s realization that he’s not alone in this crazy world, he has a family now, are so heart wrenchingly good that you’d be insane to not give the guy who made these movies whatever he wants for…oh…yeah…that…

I guess we have to talk about James Gunn, huh? I ranted my feelings about what happened with Gunn when it happened. I think it stinks. HARD. I think it may be impossible for Guardians 3 to bounce back from that setback. (Although they are apparently using his script, which is something.)

But we have two really wonderful movies that Gunn did get to make, by some miracle. (And we’re also apparently getting his take on Suicide Squad!) We live in a world were we all talk about how that space raccoon and the talking tree make us cry, and you know, what, that’s pretty amazing.

Next Week, we’ll talk about the real fun, though, we’ve got Spider-Man: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnaork, and wow, that might be the most fun double feature in the Universe!

Ready For Endgame: Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy

A very strong case can be made that 2014 was the best year for the MCU. (I’d say only 2018 can give it a real go…) It was the year that gave us my personal pick for the greatest superhero film of all time, and expanded the universe we’d all fallen in love with beyond even what Thor had shown us.

Let’s start with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which I think deserves much more serious consideration in the genre than it gets. It deals more elegantly with the themes of the surveillance state than everyone’s beloved The Dark Knight, presents a grappling with the reality of turning humans into symbols and going past your expiration date, like Logan and manages to fit into the Marvel formula perfectly and wring some killer performances out of Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson.

Not to mention, you could remove Captain America from the proceedings entirely and you’d still have a political thriller where a badass spy played by Samuel L. Jackson has to deal with being betrayed by the politician that he protected his entire career played by Robert Redford. Which would also be an incredible movie. What do you get if you take Batman and The Joker out of The Dark Knight? Huh? A slightly crazy DA loses his fiance to the mob and a police captain fakes his death? OK, that would also be a pretty good movie, but not as good.

My point is that The Winter Soldier rules. Chris Evans is perfect in it, it gives Natasha Romanoff real stakes, something she was surely and deeply missing in her previous appearances. It brings back Bucky Barnes, setting up Cap’s stakes for the rest of the series, and introduces us to Sam Wilson, The Falcon, the second best sidekick in the series. (The best is Rhodey.)

It’s action scenes are tight, it’s mystery well thought out and it’s twists well executed. And it’s funny, you guys, and it has Robert Redford. It’s amazing. It’s the greatest superhero movie ever.

Also, it sparked one of my all time favorite “Wait, what?” fangirl conversations that Aless and I ever had over pancakes after watching a Marvel movie (Margaritas before, pancakes after.) “Is…is Captain America a virgin?” (We concluded that, no, no he is not. We don’t think…but he might be? He definitely never got to have sex with Peggy, which is very sad for both of them.) (The rest of the pancake session was spent guessing which Agents characters might be HYDRA. We did not consider Grant Ward, like even a little. What a well executed twist that was. You didn’t see it coming but in retrospect it made perfect sense.)

Guardians Of The Galaxy, is not the best superhero movie ever, but it’s a very, very good one. Few superhero and sci fi properties embrace fun and dorkiness with such aplomb, (I’d say Legends Of Tomorrow might be the only other one I can think of that really hits the balance just right.) And Guardians is so confident in what it’s doing. While it starts with a scene that’s so maudlin it might be heavy handed, young Peter Quill at his mother’s bedside, the air is almost immediately taken out, when our would be swashbuckling hero hits play on his walkman and dances to his destination.

Guardians is full of moments like that, setting up moments that we should know by heart and just undercutting them enough that they work on their own but feel different because of the humor, the characters and my god that soundtrack.

The strength of both of these movies really does seal up 2014 as the best year. (Again, 2018, with three super strong entries is a close close second.)

Next week, we get into the movie that may have broken a legend, but did give us a controversial ship, and some good jokes. We give Avengers: Age Of Ultron another go. I don’t think my opinion on it will change much, which is basically that it’s a glorious mess. And it may have broken Joss Whedon’s brain. We can’t be sure.

Ready For Endgame: Iron Man 3 And Thor: The Dark World

I love Shane Black’s movies. I love that he gets action the way that very few people do. (Similar to how I feel about Nora Ephron and romantic comedy, frankly.) I love Lethal Weapon, The Good Guys and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, especially Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

Iron Man 3 is the clearest example, in my opinion of the Phase 2 “different genres dressed in superhero suits” idea. (Dark World is a fantasy melodrama, Guardians a space opera, Winter Soldier a political thriller, Ant-Man a heist) This is an 80’s style throwback action movie, and a really good one at that.

Iron Man 3 is just so much goddamned fun, that I really can’t fault even the parts that I’m not crazy about. They are few and far between but include pretty much everything about Vice President Mel Ferrer (RIP) being in on the Mandarin’s/AIM’s plans for reasons? I guess the HYDRA reveal wasn’t set up yet, but I’ve retconned it into this movie, because it’s the only thing that connects that wrinkle to anything. I am otherwise completely delighted by this movie. Pepper running Stark Corp. Happy being obsessed with Downton Abbey. Rhodey’s rebranding. Tony not caring for Rhodey’s rebranding. The kid. All of it. I love this movie.

I went in ready to not love it as much, but nope. I love it. It’s great. Robert Downey Jr. is great in is. Guy Pearce is great in it. Gwyneth Paltrow is not as good as she was previously in this role, but still good. Ben Kingsley is FUGGEDAHBOUTIT brilliant in this movie. I have no criticisms. I think this is one of those things that I love so much I can’t find fault with it.

As much as I love Iron Man 3, I am indifferent to Thor: The Dark World, my god, is this a dull movie. It’s so dull that I forgot to review it when I saw it back in the first movie season. Seriously, it has some great moments, anything with Loki, pretty much, the planning of the escape run from Asgard, and Hemsworth really looks great. (The bathing scene, swoon.) But yeah, it’s not a good movie, it’s overstuffed, overly important and such a disappointing follow up to Thor, which I really do like a lot.

It’s kind of remarkable that the first two official sequels in the MCU are such let downs. Obviously the next part 2 is probably the best entry in the entire series, (My love for Winter Soldier is clearly documented.) And that’s where we’re headed next week. We pick up with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy and I don’t think there’s a stronger pairing in the lineup I have planned here.

Hooray!

PS: Last night’s Super Bowl trailers were pretty cool. “Some people move on, but we don’t,” is a statement that’s both dark and inspirational, very Cap. Also, Higher Further Faster, baby!

Ready For Endgame: Thor And Captain America: The First Avenger

There are certain movies that are very hard for me to separate from the first time I saw them. These are usually because of the people I saw them with, or because I saw them as a kid. But with Thor and  Captain America: The First Avenger, it’s really because of timing.

People might not remember that these movies came out within months of each other, when The Avengers was a certainty but still a whisper. And everyone was still scoffing at them. “Right, like a Thor movie is going to work.” And because I was getting ready to finish my English Lit degree, I even added, “what is Kenneth Branagh doing?” (The film nerd in me was less skeptical about Joe Johnston because I’d grown up with The Rocketeer, and that the guy who made that was making a Captain America movie made perfect sense to me.)

But there’s something about these movies and the way that they act as a doorway for the MCU and the fact that they came out the summer I finished college that feels kind of perfect to me. There’s of course my epic, “Glen literally pulled Chrissy and me out of a bar at the end of a bar crawl to go see it,” Thor story. He was pissed as hell, because we hadn’t told him we were going on the crawl, his words, “I’d have gotten tickets for tomorrow if I’d known this was your plan.” Of course our very cogent response was, “PFFFF, we’re not that drunk! Let’s get pretzels, and HOLY SHIT THAT IS ONE HOT MAN RIGHT THERE ON THE MOVIE SCREEN!” I told this story in my toast at their wedding. I left out the hot man parts. The fact that these two people are parents now brings me such joy.

Captain America, I saw with my friend Lisa, which was the first time we’d hung out since graduation. I then saw it like 5 more times, because I wasn’t really working that summer, so had a bunch of spare time. It was what cemented Cap as my Marvel Guy. (At the time Batman was still my DC guy. I hadn’t fully fallen for Dick yet.) And whenever I go back and look at Phase 1, I realize it’s still the movie that I’ve watched the most. (Iron Man is close behind, btw.)

Anyway, my personal experience of these films aside, they’re both solid, and deeply enjoyable. Thor especially, is a treat. I think people tend to forget how charming it is. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are all in on Thor and Loki from their first moments on screen, and while it’s small scale is probably because no one was sure if this whole thing was going to work, it’s in the movie’s favor that it gets a quiet intimate scene where Thor explains the nine realms to Jane on a rooftop, or Thor and Selvig getting drunk together, or Sif, Loki and The Warriors Three sitting beside a fire discussing Thor’s banishment. Branagh uses his Shakespearian ear perfectly in these scenes, letting them breath and the actors relish in their ridiculous dialog, and melodramatic plots.

 The MCU in general is a miracle of casting but Captain America: The First Avenger might be the most clean example of this. Everyone in this movie is pitch perfect for it’s throwback tone. None more so than Hayley Atwell and Chris Evans though. Dear lord are they magical. Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers might be the only two love interests I’ve ever cosplayed BOTH of, because I love them both so much. (Having cut my hair again, I might bring Peggy back this year…) But seriously, there’s so much about this movie that’s absolutely right, that I have trouble not smiling.

I’ve written literally thousands of words about The MCU, and it’s hard to explain though, that the reason is because of these two movies and the people I was hanging out with at the time being so excited for them. I seriously doubt I’d have gone to see them in the theater if it weren’t for these folks, which is why it’s very hard for me to separate the movies themselves, which are great, by the way, from the experience of watching them for the first time. So I fail as a critic in this essay, because I’m too attached. (Also, if I’m frank, I watched them on a Saturday afternoon and I’ve had some wine, and I’m a little buzzy. Blogging is all about honesty right?)

Next week we talk about The Avengers, which, if you’ll recall was the first movie I ever reviewed here on The Fangirl’s Dilemma, and that was 10 years ago and that is disgusting. 

Don’t Be Robin, Be Someone Else

I’m the first to admit that my hype for Titans went from, “THIS IS GOING TO BE GREAT,” to “Oh no,” to “people are saying it’s pretty good and I’m getting DC Universe for Young Justice: Outsiders anyway, so I’ll get around to it.”

Look, that “Fuck Batman,” trailer was rough, no way around it. And I’m still not sold on the designs for Starfire and Beast Boy. And that Donna Troy never suits up is kind of a bummer. (Spoilers, sorry…)

But, Internet Nerds, we have greatly misjudged this show. It’s pretty wonderful. As an adaptation of Teen Titans, it’s only OK, but as a genre show in it’s own right, a version and riff on the concept, it’s good. It’s full of game performances, excellent character work, and a steady build up of suspenseful writing leading to a hell of a cliff hanger.

I’m not going to say it’s the best first season of a live action superhero show. Daredevil season 1 exists after all, but it’s damn sure of it’s self and super entertaining all the way through, which is more than I can say for any other DC TV project from the past 10 years. (I loved the first seasons of The Flash and Supergirl but they still had their bumpy finding their feet moments.)

And it has it’s problems. The costume designs really are awful. Minka Kelly’s wig as Dove is one for the DCTV bad wig hall of fame. Geoff Johns seems a little too happy to drop the F-bomb. It’s refreshing that the young heroes actually talk like young people, but it’s also, you know, kind of heavy handed at times. The FX are laughably bad at points. The violence is a lot, but not unexamined. I was mostly concerned about this from the perspective of Dick.

Kori and Rachel (Raven) being more violent is consistent. Starfire, being an alien and all, has different values about life than humans do. Raven’s powers are all about darkness and containing bursts of violence. Titans examines both of these perspectives, Rachel desperately trying to contain her power, and Kori accepting it as a part of herself.

Dick though, it’s handled masterfully. The show begins by showing it’s been a year since he walked away from being Batman’s partner, because he felt himself losing control. But he’s basically addicted to the violence, and he’s not happy about it. The entire season and his entire arc (and the show really does belong the Brenton Thwaites) is him grappling with this side of himself. He knows he can’t really be Robin anymore, but he doesn’t know how to deal with this any other way.

This all really hits home in two episodes, which are easily my favorites, episode 6, “Jason Todd,” and Episode 8, “Donna Troy.” Jason, a year into his tenure as Robin is eager and excited to spend time with his predecessor. Dick is mostly annoyed by Jason’s, well, Jason-ness (Seriously, he’s perfect.), Bruce’s seeming trust of his new partner, (“You’re allowed to drive the Batmobile?”) and most especially, the kid’s sanity and safety. I burst into tears when Dick warned Jason, “the cost is too great.” THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW  THE COST YET! Even in Dick’s “darkest timeline,” created in his mind by Trigon in the finale, Jason is paralyzed, not brutally murdered, then resurrected and insane. (This show is uniquely well set up to do Red Hood as a storyline though.)

“Donna Troy,” meanwhile, just made me gloriously happy as a Dick Grayson fan. Donna’s retired from being Wonder Girl, but she’s still doing her part, and working as a photographer. Dick goes to see her, they talk a lot, there’s a really good flashback to when they were kids where she gives him a pep talk and there’s also a scene where they go to a party and Dick babbles like an idiot to some unsuspecting friends of hers. He says things like, “my dad used to work with her mom sometimes.” (STAHP! MY FANGIRL INSIDES CANNOT HANDLE IT) She says things like, “Wonder Woman was created to protect the innocent, Batman to punish the guilty.” They giggle and do backflips, they track down some big game poachers. They drink beers and confide. This is a very good depiction of friendship between superheroes.

Also, Donna continues to be awesome throughout her run on the show.

So, to recap, things that Titans isn’t great on

  • Design – It’s an ugly show. That can be improved as we move forward though. I also did like Jason’s Robin suit.
  • Effects – They’re groan worthy in places, but again, now that it’s a hit (apparently? Streaming’s weird that way) maybe they’ll get a budget increase to help with that.
  • Tone – Scale back on the angst a bit, it worked but tipped too far a few times

Things that are good

  • Characters & Writing – Everything’s consistent and well thought out.
  • Violence – It’s a violent show, but it actually grapples with that violence. Which is a nice change of pace.
  • Dick Grayson – Seriously, this is a very good version of this character. Who I love. Kind of a lot.