Movie Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

It takes two to tango…

[THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OR MAJOR PLOT DETAILS IN THIS REVIEW, ONLY WHAT WAS REVEALED IN TRAILERS AND INTERVIEWS]

If anyone has any suggestions for how to survive 8 whole months without an MCU movie, I’m open to ideas. Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good…

Ant-Man and the Wasp is the 20th installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is a direct sequel to Ant-Man (2015), both movies being directed by Peyton Reed. It also serves as a nice catch-up with Scott Lang himself after the last time we see him in Captain America: Civil War (2016). We pick up with Scott on a house-arrest as punishment for being involved in Captain America’s crusade that violated the Sokovia Accords. Not only does this lead to a fallout between him, Hank Pym, and Hope Van Dyne, it also complicates his situation of wanting to be a better father to his own daughter.

Just like the previous Ant-Man movie, this one feels like a huge breath of fresh air after the MCU just came off of a much more intense movie, and it also does what I liked about the last one where it touches on how the drama of such larger than life figures like the Avengers can affect regular people like Scott who are just trying to do better. Its why I appreciate that the MCU went with Scott Lang instead of Hank Pym as their designated Ant-Man, as I feel Hank would’ve just been “science bros” with Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, or be too similar of a character.

So how does the actual movie stack up in a year where Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War already have made their impact on audiences and the box office? Admittedly, it is tough to keep up the momentum from two groundbreaking films such as those, but Ant-Man and the Wasp succeeds in giving us a positive, fun, and real look into its themes of family, partnership, and friendship. There no other way to put it: This has probably been the most successful year for Marvel Studios creatively and financially.

To get some criticisms out of the way first, the movie follows multiple “antagonists” (not to be confused with henchmen, they actually had their own agendas) to go along with the main one, which fell a little flat for me in a year where we got such focused villains as Killmonger and Thanos. Its not that having multiple is a bad thing, but the movie had Hannah John-Kamen acting incredibly well alongside Laurence Fishburne, only to spend time with Walton Goggins playing a throwaway “bad guy” with poor motivation. I would’ve rather spent that time exploring the dynamic between the other two or giving the time to Randall Park’s FBI character, who knocked it out of the park for the comedic aspect of the movie. The best thing done by Goggins’ character was the set-up for Luis (Micheal Pena) to go on one of his signature monologues, which was even funnier than the ones he does in the previous Ant-Man.

Piggybacking off of that point, I think most of the actors disappeared into their characters in this one and that really made the movie keep its positive and up-beat momentum. Paul Rudd is fantastic as always, but I have to give major props to Abby Ryder Fortson, who plays Scott’s daughter Cassie. All of her scenes with Paul Rudd made the audience feel like their father-daughter dynamic was real. Evangeline Lily played Hope with less of a “faux-intense” feel and seemed more present as a character. I also liked Scott’s “crew” of Luis, Kurt, and Dave more so than the last time we saw them. Not only are their lines and delivery just better, but the humor feels organic in the sense that I can actually believe that these are three friends hanging out and joking with each other. The humor also didn’t undercut emotional moments as badly as it did in the previous Ant-Man, and there’s one scene in particular (no spoilers obviously) where there is a nice character moment that is being supplemented with humor due to the situation, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out at first…and it ended up being one of my favorite scenes after it was over because the choice of the humor made actually worked.

I guess my only big thing is that the third act did the “MCU thing” in the sense that there was a lot happening, it got a bit messy, and it was only carried onward through the elements of fun and some surprise. Compared to what we’ve seen recently too, this one felt a bit inconsequential. That’s me nit-picking, because this still genuinely was such a blast in theaters and I actually look forward to another Ant-Man/Wasp movie later on in phase 4 or something to give us breathing room after the dramatic closing of the Infinity Saga that is sure to follow. If that’s the role that these characters are going to serve in the MCU, I don’t really have a complaint with that. It’s nice to take a break from super-geniuses, Demigods, sorcerers, and assassins to follow some very human characters.

Ant-Man and the Wasp gets an 8.5/10

Guest Post: Movie Review – Incredibles 2

Jack-Jack vs Raccoon was the best fight scene of the year

GUEST ALERT! This piece was written and contributed by Nick Curl, who had the following to say:

“Soggz wants me to plug myself but I’m not sure what to plug. I do wedding and portrait photography, so you can check me out on The Knot at https://tinyurl.com/ybe4ltg4. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram @nickcurl.”

Nick is an amazing person and I loved this review, be sure to check out his photography. Spoiler: He’s pretty incredible at that too!

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With a film title of Incredibles, you’ve already put a fair amount of pressure on yourself to live up to that word. And not only did writer/director Brad Bird do that with his 2004 groundbreaking Pixar Animation film The Incredibles, he has seemingly done the impossible fourteen years later: create a seamless transition to a part two, a film that is just as subversive, sharp, insightful, and gorgeous as the original.

I saw The Incredibles when I was eight-years-old with my dad, and I honestly don’t know who enjoyed the movie more. It was everything I could possibly want in a movie, and I proceeded to watch it about twenty more times when it was released on DVD. I patiently waited for a sequel for years, wanting to know if the Parr family successfully took down the Underminer, how Violet’s date with Tony Rydinger went, if Dash became a track and field superstar, and what was going to happen with Jack-Jack, the baby with multiple powers. Now, after fourteen years, I’ve gotten the answers (and so much more) that eight-year-old me was dying to know.

The film picks up immediately where we left off: the Parrs, having successfully defeated Syndrome, are beginning to live a “normal” life, watching Dash decide where to place in his 200 meter sprint, when the Underminer begins his rampage on Municiberg. Following their (somewhat) successful attempt at stopping the Underminer, the government decides that it’s time, once and for all, to retire the Supers. Defeated and living in a motel, the Parrs are approached by communications mogul, Winston Deavor (the fantastic Bob Odenkirk), and his sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener; truly top-notch voice work across the board), who promise Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson, who steps into the role like he never left) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter, who steals every scene with just her voice) — and all supers – the opportunity to come out of hiding.

From there, the film takes off and exponentially gains momentum to a thrilling climax reminiscent of Speed 2 (but infinitely better, I promise). The film’s A-plot, centered around Helen/Elastigirl vs an enigmatic villain, the Screenslaver, is the movie’s only disappointing aspect due to its predictability and the sense that Bird was phoning-in this aspect of the film. Without spoiling anything, the Screenslaver starts out as a truly creepy, well-motivated villain (he has a speech in the second act which felt straight out of USA’s Mr. Robot), but quickly becomes a generic character who, most disappointingly, acts against the rules that Bird had so expertly established in the first film. In The Incredibles, Lucius/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson, thankfully with a much larger role this time around) and Bob/Mr. Incredible have a hilarious conversation which jabs at one of the superhero-genre’s most irritating tropes: villains monologuing when they, realistically, should just get on with their plan and/or kill the Superhero they have prisoner. It was a phenomenal moment of genre-subverting self-awareness which made the original so iconic. Now, in an identical situation as the one Frozone described in the first film, our villain “monologues” for no reason other than to explain to the audience exactly what their motivation is. It was a disappointing moment in an otherwise spectacular film which goes out of its way to treat the superhero-genre with a realism and relatability that is rarely, if ever, seen from Marvel or DC.

So, despite the film’s weak A-plot, literally every other moment had a smile glued on my face like I was eight-years-old again. With Helen off being the face of the Supers’ Return, Bob takes up the role of stay-at-home-dad. This is where the film truly shines. Watching Bob learn the ins-and-outs of parenting his three vastly different children with vastly different issues is both hilarious and rings true for just about everyone. Violet, with her teen angst over Tony Rydinger, Dash’s homework (which produces possibly the film’s greatest line, “I don’t know that way! Why would they change math?”), and Jack-Jack’s burgeoning superpowers. Each relationship is handled with such care and joy that it’s evident if Brad Bird could’ve made a three-hour film centered around the everyday lives of our Super-family, he would’ve. And, of course, everyone’s favorite designer returns to the fun as well. Tasked with babysitting Jack-Jack overnight, Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird himself) is initially reluctant (“I’m an artist”), but is soon more than willing to not only watch Jack-Jack, but take him on as an apprentice of sorts (which leads to the film’s second-best gag).

The animation on display is spectacular and visually arresting. We’re still in the same world we know and love, but with finer detail everywhere you look. The cinematography is some of the best Pixar has ever produced (I’m not sure anything will top 2015’s The Good Dinosaur), and it makes for an even more immersive experience than the first film. Standout scenes include the Underminer battle, the train sequence with Elastigirl (a fantastic parallel to the first film), and the first battle with the Screenslaver (if you’re epileptic, be ready to turn away for about a minute). Brad Bird’s skill as a visually storyteller has never been clearer, and neither has his love for the Parrs.

In a market over-saturated with superheroes, whether they’re Avengers, X-Men, or the Justice League, Brad Bird has proven, once again, that finding the truth in your characters and their relationships is more important than any superpowers on display. But the powers are fun too.

19 Responses to 19 Questions About Infinity War

The nerdy version of rap battles is cross-promoting blogs.

Hello everyone! I’m back from a small break from writing and podcasting and its only fitting that we pick up where we left off with Avengers: Infinity War. I’m sure everyone has seen it at this point so SPOILERS will be present in this post…but what exactly is this post?

My good friend, previously featured guest-writer (responsible for the Ready Player One Review), and fellow co-host of the “Overrated” Podcast, Uday Mehta, wrote this piece. It featured 19 pretty reasonable questions about the movie that most audiences who might’ve missed some context would have. As his friend and MCU fanboy, I decided to respond to all 19. I highly recommend you read his piece before reading this, but just in case you’re lazy I’ll be shortening his questions on this. 19 responses, here we go:

1. How did Thanos defeat the combined forces of Thor, Loki, and Hulk with only one Infinity Stone?

So “just one stone” is 100% not a pushover, as we’ve seen in the previous MCU movies. The Power stone is literally all you need to cause the kind of damage you saw in the opening scene. Remember Guardians of the Galaxy and the Collector’s whole deal where “even dropping it on the ground would decimate the planet”? Star-Lord could only hold it because he was half-celestial back then, so beings of that level of power (i.e. Asgardian warriors, Celestials, Hulks, etc) could survive, albeit very damaged.

The “Black order is useless” thing is because you’re viewing through the lens of their short screen-time (For Example: Odin is probably the most powerful being in the MCU but we dont see that in a movie, we just see old/dying/dead). Even then, we do see that Maw and Obsidian are heavy hitters, and Thanos’ ship definitely caught Thor’s ship by surprise,  so it does make sense why that’d hurt the Asgardians hard as well.

As for Hulk, his specific power is that he gets stronger the angrier he gets (in The Incredible Hulk, Abomination was definitely stronger at their base levels. Hulk only won because Abomination pissed him off hard enough). If you watch the scene again (now that you’ve done some boxing, which I only know cuz I follow you on instagram) Thanos didn’t give him a chance to. Thanos clearly knows how to fight and focuses his hits on pressure points to disable Hulk, and Hulk doesn’t really fight anyone insanely knowledgeable in technique like that. 

This next point is going to be huge in answering a lot of your questions: Thematically speaking, this movie is about the inevitability of failure and the fact that it doesn’t discriminate. Sometimes you absolutely must fail before you succeed. Every hero messes up in this film some way or another, in this specific case: Hulk was overconfident because he’s never really lost a fight (The Hulkbuster knocked him out in Ultron and Thunder God Thor would’ve won in Ragnarok if not for the Grandmaster’s intervention). It was important to show someone as reliable in a fight as Hulk get easily defeated by Thanos “having fun” (line from Maw).

2. How did Cap know where Vision and Wanda were?

This is also entirely possible and there’s a few ways to look at this.

This may be extra MCU canon released in one of the deleted scenes or tie-in comics, but during the 2 years between Civil War and Infinity War, most of the former “Team Cap” form a covert hit-squad (inspired by the concept of the “Secret Avengers” in the Marvel continuity). This squad was able to resolve conflicts in Syria and Lebanon due to Natasha’s former KGB connections. Additionally, it was established that Steve was friendly with Wakanda, and they’re more than capable of finding people who don’t want to be found (line from Natasha in Civil War).

Even if you say “well that’s all extra and not in the movie”, you can just draw the conclusion that they were keeping tabs on Wanda, seeing as how she escaped with them and probably helped them too. You can get this from Wanda’s line where she mentions “We both made promises”. Of course she would give her team her location in case things go sour. They still ARE all technically wanted fugitives by the UN, its natural for them to have some sort of distress signal. 

3. Is it time to write the non-powered characters out of the franchise?

Definitely not, as its important to have a variety of characters to work with so that they all have different perspectives and make a better ensemble cast. Yeah they don’t have “Superpowers” but they’re not just regular people either…they’re highly talented, specially trained, and gifted in what they do (think people like Nightwing and Green Arrow on the DC side).

The more important thing I need to make clear here: Spider-man and Ant-man VERY LITERALLY earned their suits. They were both specifically given to them by their mentor figures in separate movies. A whole different person owned the suit and had to LITERALLY make the decision of “Hm, should I give this kid my suit or not?” and they decided “yes”.

4. Did Tony seriously think that taking the time stone to Thanos was a good idea?

Honestly? He probably didn’t think it 100% through. However that’s entirely reasonable for someone with an anxiety disorder/PTSD like Tony Stark. There’s two ways to look at this:

On one hand, you could say that he couldn’t control the nerves and made a decision based on panic. On the other, you could say that he absolutely did not want ANY bodies dropping on earth anymore, and made the decision to not make New York a battleground again (when Maw first landed, Tony very noticeably starts freaking out a little which you can tell from his dialogue/RDJ’s acting when interacting with the civilians and talking to his AI). Or maybe he just didn’t want to get Secretary of State Ross involved, which he legally must do according to the Sokovia Accords. Lastly, refer to earlier point about the movie’s theme, everyone in this movie makes bad calls despite good intention and that’s the point.

5. Was it necessary to kill off Ebony Maw so early?

It definitely would’ve been cool to have him around more. It also would’ve been cool to have at least half the Black Order stick around for the next movie. However, this is a director decision that also serves a purpose. Thanos losing his children juxtaposes the heroes not being able to part ways with what they care about (Strange and Wong saying they have to protect the time stone because of an oath, Spider-Man not willing to just go home, Wanda not willing to kill Vision right away, etc.). Thanos knew that this mission would cost him everything, children included.

6. Can we all agree that Thor is the coolest Avenger?

Shoutout to my man Taika Waititi for directing the fantastic Thor: Ragnarok. Objectively, yes Thor is the coolest Avenger now. I DO want to also mention that Strange was fantastic in this movie and deserves equal props.

7. Why did the heroes give away the infinity stones so easily?

Heroes are empathetic people who care about everyone around them, but they’re also regular humans that have attachments. Even then, in a situation where your sister was being tortured by your psychotic father in front of your eyes, I’m pretty sure most people would give in. Also, same concept and themes of acceptance, loss, failure, etc.

8. Why did Captain America not already have his shield?

Because it makes for an amazing hype line, duh. In all seriousness, Cap dropping his shield to Tony in Civil War is symbolism more than anything. He’s stopped believing in political leaders (think Winter Soldier, Civil War, and him telling off Ross in Infinity War), He’s not the leader of the Avengers anymore, and he’s giving Tony a piece of his father back (Howard Stark designed the shield) due to his guilt of not telling Tony what happened regarding his parents’ death. Which brings him to Wakanda: Cap isn’t the type of guy that’s going to ask T’Challa to make him a special shield. He already feels bad enough that T’Challa was willing to help out Bucky and reveal their location to Cap, he probably wasn’t going to be like “Oh BTW, lost my shield…got another one?” Especially considering that he maybe shouldn’t have had the vibranium in the first place, as its a Wakandan resource.

9. Why go through an entire post-credit scene with the Collector if Thanos was going to get the reality stone off screen?

The Collector was never really that important to be honest. This strikes me as a decision made back when Kevin Feige didn’t have 100% control over everything and they just had to roll with it. Also yeah I’m also not a fan of Benicio so I’ll agree with you there.

10. Since when did Scarlet Witch get that powerful? What exactly are her powers?

Her powers all fall under the big umbrella of Psionics. This includes neuro-electrical interfacing, telekinesis, energy manipulation, telepathy, etc.

Scarlet Witch is one of the most powerful characters in Marvel Canon, so I guess making her this buffed up was just a nod to the source material (read “House of M”, I highly recommend). I dont know how else to explain it to you. It is known, Khaleesi.

11. How strong is Ironman really?

So a big side-effect of Tony’s anxiety disorder is that (since the battle of NY) he’s constantly making new and improved suits because he’s preparing for the inevitable doomsday that no one else seems to understand (see Iron Man 3 and Ultron). He stopped making sentry bots because they all got hacked by Ultron, so he presumably just started improving suits. Civil War takes place in 2016, with Infinity War taking place in 2018. Since that time, Tony has had a lot of time (all the threats we see in movies before were confined to one area) to work on this AND Wakanda opened up its scientific outreach center in Oakland in 2016 as well. Its fair to say he had the money, time, and resources to make the nano-tech suit (it looked SO GOOD on screen!!).

12. How strong is Vision really?

Vision is supposedly an S-Tier hero because of the mind stone…but unfortunately he kinda got the bad end of the deal where he’s written to be what the writers need him to be (I’m a fanboy for sure, but I can acknowledge error easily. Speaking of which…)

13. What happened to Wanda’s accent? 

Yeah it didn’t stick. I have zero ways of defending this. It happened. Wanda’s still great though!

14. Why did Eitri not have it together when making Thor’s ax?

Bro…the dude just lost his entire race and his hands. He’s probably reeling from insane survivor’s guilt and a huge lack of confidence.

15. Can we stop using time travel as a driving construct in these movies?

Again, I’m assuming this was out of respect for the source material, because the time stone is in the comics. While time travel is really hard to write about, I think the MCU handles it well, and while most speculations think that Avengers 4 is going to revolve around some timey-whimey loopholes, a lot of people are forgetting the Quantum Realm (from Ant-Man) and I think that’ll be the more likely construct since they have yet to expand on it fully. As for the “no stakes” comment, the beauty of the movie is that everyone with the plot-armor (aka confirmed sequels) disappeared and its really the people who are left that aren’t safe. Plus, I think the movie did its job because every time I watched it (4 times, no shame) people audibly gasped when Panther and Spidey disappeared. It was still an emotional gut-punch.

16. Why was Red Skull’s appearance necessary?

Well it’s the most plausible appearance out of the dead villains. Red Skull was transported to Vormir by the Tesseract (space stone) and probably tried to take the Soul Stone as well (the extra fan theory is that he became a spooky ghost because when the Soul Stone asked him to give up what he loved, the only thing he did care about was himself). It checks out, plus its nice to see Red Skull back as a comic fan.

17. Why was War Machine left alive with the other original Avengers?

To Rhoadey’s credit, he’s been around in the MCU since 2008 (albeit portrayed by Terrance Howard instead of Don Cheadle). Also, it wasn’t just the OG Avengers left alive, you still got Nebula, Rocket, Okoye, and Captain Marvel’s gonna show up. Hell, we dont really know what happened to Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and Wasp yet.

18.  Uday bashes Star-Lord for a bit

I have no response to this because Star-Lord is still on my top 5 MCU boys (Steve, Quill, Strange, Banner, T’Challa), but I will take this time to address people to STOP HARASSING ACTORS, YOU IDIOTS. CHRIS PRATT IS CHRIS PRATT, HE PLAYS STAR-LORD. Y’ALL WERE WRONG FOR DOING THIS TO KELLY MARIE TRAN, ALSO WRONG TO DO IT TO PRATT (although its much less hate than KMT got. Stay strong, homegirl. Toxic Star Wars fans are pathetic losers anyway).

19. Uday goes on about why Nick Fury has a pager to page Captain Marvel

Okay so we don’t know the connection yet because that movie is still filming, HOWEVER they have already revealed that Captain Marvel will take place in the 90’s, making pagers a legitimate tool. Plus, Fury wouldn’t have called her beforehand because there was no need to. Upon recognizing that this might be the end of humanity, Fury made the call instantly.

Movie Review – Avengers: Infinity War

#ThanosDemandsYourSilence

[THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OR MAJOR PLOT DETAILS IN THIS REVIEW, ONLY WHAT WAS REVEALED IN TRAILERS AND INTERVIEWS]

[It is not required, but is highly recommended that you read this piece before continuing on]

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Avengers: Infinity War is the 19th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and is the beginning of the end of the era informally known as the “Infinity Saga”. For those who don’t know by now, the past 10 years and 18 movies have all been pointing towards this. Each one has been building to the plot for this particular film and the untitled Avengers follow up film to be released in May 2019. As I’m writing this review, the movie has already broken all records for “biggest opening weekend”, surpassing the previous record-holder, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It is safe to say that this is one of those movies that are more of a cinematic event and cultural phenomenon than a simple blockbuster. Its obvious that so many people wanted to see every MCU hero all in one place, but it was also common to speculate if such a balancing act could even be done properly. So how does it stack up as a movie?

Much like the MCU, let’s start with the smaller things and build up. First off, writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War) have delivered once again. This script is compact, and almost every line accomplishes something to drive forward either the plot or a character’s motivation/feelings. With a movie so huge in runtime it would’ve been easy to feel like some time would be wasted, but I didn’t feel like any part was a drag. The movie follows different groups of characters on different locations, and will then bring them together or separate them with a sense of fluidity. The structure of the film is of course supplemented by the beautiful visual effects with one or two shots that were absolutely breathtaking. However, the structure was also tied together by very specific theming that was prominent throughout the film, although being more specific about this would be a spoiler so I’ll move on.

Perhaps some of the best parts of this movie are directing choices by the Russo Brothers (also from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War). As you may have read in some of my pieces before, I’m very big on directors and executives actually handling these famous and iconic characters with a sense of care. I was pleased to see that the directors let the moments between these characters sit and sink in. What makes comic books so fun is that you have an assortment of characters, so many that are larger than life, all interacting with each other. It was understood by the Russo brothers that these interactions and moments were important to making this film happen.

Aside from good moments with our heroes, a project of this size also needed the villain to have a sense of grandeur and to be threatening enough, and I’m very happy to say that the Mad Titan Thanos fully delivered on this expectation. This version of Thanos is much more understandable and grounded than his comic counterpart, making him more concerned with real issues than with his love for Mistress Death (seriously, look it up). While being clearly insane and menacing, an audience can still feel sympathy for him during certain scenes where his arc is depicted. As mentioned up above, the Russo brothers take their time to make sure viewers understand what Thanos actually is.

My complaints with this one are pretty minimal, and they’re mostly understandable with how insanely difficult this whole thing was. There were some details or one-liners that were included that I felt were unnecessary, mostly because I wanted those precious minutes to go towards some other aspects that didn’t get as much attention. I’m keeping this review short because there really isn’t a lot I can say without giving away important things about the movie.

All I really can say is that this movie is equally a cinematic spectacle and a real story about something. It’s well balanced and accomplishes everything it sets out to do by keeping things simple and elegant at the same time. Anyone who’s seen even a few of the MCU movies will find something to appreciate here, and it overwhelms you in a way that only a few films can.

Knowing that I’ve fully ousted myself as an MCU fanboy, and knowing that my review can be taken from a very particular point of view, I’m still going to give Avengers: Infinity War a 9.5/10

 

 

Dear Marvel Studios,

It’s been 10 years since you started me, and millions of others, on this incredible journey with the first Iron Man movie. From technically being an independent studio, to being acquired by Disney, to the massive success of every project in Phase 3…it truly has been marvelous (pun intended) to be a loyal and enthusiastic fan since day one. My friends keep worrying that the hype I have for every movie is going to fail me eventually, but it truly doesn’t…especially as of late. Make no mistake, this 18-movie (including the ones I actually dislike) franchise is near and dear to my heart.

You see I had no choice, growing up as a kid with no friends, but to believe in heroism. When I would go to school and try to fit in, and when it became apparent that I wouldn’t, I went back home to sit in front of the TV and watch someone like Spider-Man struggle with the same thing. I would read about the different comic book arcs and the stories of Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man, and more. Thanks to you, now those same heroes are these characters that suddenly everyone is familiar with (much to my confusion and happiness).

I still remember the day you came into my life like it was yesterday, even though it was 2008 and I was 13 years old. That was an old enough age to know that most comic book movies before that point were massive piles of hot garbage, with a few being atrocious, and a few being amazing. So when my Mom told me to go hang out with some family friends for the day in another city, and when they said the plan was to watch Iron Man, I remember thinking “Oh, wonderful, this will be awful”. A few hours later, I found myself clapping after Tony Stark delivered the final line that still gives me chills to this day… “I am Iron Man”. You did that.

But we didn’t leave the theater just yet. All the other kids already had texting plans and fancy phones, and somebody’s friend said “make sure you stay after the credits”. I had never done that before, but I didn’t complain if it meant less people to deal with on the way out. I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s when you changed my life.

“Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet…I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative”.

I don’t know what reaction you were going for from the audience, but I immediately lost all sense of composure and started to scream. One of the other moms definitely thought something was wrong with me as I managed to babble something along the lines of this:

“OH. MY. GOD. GUYS, THEY’RE GOING TO DO AN AVENGERS MOVIE? DOES THIS MEAN WE’RE GONNA HAVE ALL THESE MOVIES LEADING UP TO ONE BIG ONE? DOES THOR GET HIS OWN? DOES CAPTAIN AMERICA? IF THEY DO HULK IT BETTER NOT BE LIKE THE 2003 ONE. HOLY CRAP WHAT IF THEY GET WOLVERINE AND SPIDER-MAN?? WOULD HUGH JACKMAN AND TOBEY MCGUIRE DO IT?”

Seeing as how you really only had the rights to B-list heroes at that point, the other kids could not understand me at all. They genuinely thought I was making stuff up about a team called the Avengers, and about an entire comic series based on a Norse God. I had stopped talking about super-heroes since the 3rd grade because that’s when they stopped being cool to the other kids, and I had just released 5 years of pent-up-fanboy on four teenagers who thought I was insane. I didn’t care. All I could think about was you had planned for the future. Four years later, you delivered.

My patience would finally pay off in May of 2012, the release of The Avengers. I had just finished my AP Statistics Exam, and immediately bolted to the theater for a mid-afternoon show. I still remember how much pure bliss I felt when I saw the shot of all the heroes grouped together, ready to fight Loki’s army. You made this thing that I had thought would be silly to most people, and it ended up being one of the highest grossing movies of all time. You ended up making my “useless” knowledge of superheroes be a “cool thing” about me instead of something I’d be ridiculed for. The best part? You revealed Thanos at the end, which confirmed my suspicions that none of this would end any time soon.

Six years later, I’m a bigger fan than ever despite being a very different person. You have made quite the journey yourself since then: The Disney acquisition, some very disappointing movies, trouble with directors and management, actors wanting an “out” of their contracts. All of this was then followed by a major change in management, followed by an awesome six-movie run of success, two of which I was privileged enough to attend the red carpet premieres for.

There shouldn’t be any denying that you managed to do something incredible and change the landscape of Hollywood. Even more impressively, you keep breaking records and getting new fans while many other studios have tried the same concept and fell flat. From what I understand, it’s because you care about these characters and the impact they have on kids like me. The same kids who needed heroes in their lives. The same kids that are still “running around believing in fairy tales”.

You’ve given us a character like Tony Stark, whose desire to improve himself and do the right thing will always be his strength, despite his struggle with mental illness.

Thor, who taught us that it’s not enough to simply be powerful, and that only with a good heart can we truly ascend to greater heights.

The Guardians of the Galaxy, who make us remember that it is always better to take on the world with your best friends by your side.

You’ve given us characters that prove that even a regular human can stand amongst Gods.

You’ve given the spotlight to strong women, young adults, and POCs, and even highlighted some philosophies in my own faith.

Finally, and most important to me, you’ve given me a personal role model in Captain America. Someone who will always stand for justice and is already what I strive to be every day of my life…a good man.

I know things are going to change after the “Infinity Stone” storyline is over next year. I don’t even know if I’ll be a fan of whatever new direction the universe takes afterwards. However, I will always know that in these past 10 years you’ve been a largely positive force in my life and that I will cherish this journey forever.

So, Marvel Studios, I guess what I’m trying to say is “thank you”. Thanks for growing up with me and inspiring me every step of the way.

Thanks for making sure I never stopped believing in heroes.

Guest Post – Movie Review: Ready Player One

Don’t Think Too Hard, “Ready Player One” is Just a Video Game

[THIS IS A GUEST POST BROUGHT TO YOU BY MY GOOD FRIEND (and my co-host of the “Overrated Podcast”) UDAY MEHTA. SHOW HIM SOME LOVE AND FIND HIS COLUMN, HIS SOLO PODCAST, AND OUR PODCAST AT HIS WEBSITE]

I remember seeing the trailer for Ready Player One. I was in theaters, absentmindedly on my phone waiting for the actual movie to start. It was upon hearing one word that my eyes flickered to the screen. Parzival. An alternate spelling of Percival, Parzival is the titular character in the story of the Holy Grail, and one of the Knights of the Round Table. It was a strange tidbit to recall in that moment, but it was enough to pique my curiosity. A sci-fi movie that made semi-obscure historical reference?

 I promptly forgot about the entire thing until a few weeks later when I found out it was a Steven Spielberg-directed movie. Yes, Steven Spielberg, best known this decade for his work on films such as The Post, Lincoln, and War Horse, was directing an adventure role playing movie. Now that was enough to get me to the theater.

The Plot

 The movie follows a lonesome teenager with an alliterative made-for-film white-dude name (Wade Watts) and his avatar (the aforementioned Parzival) in the Oasis, a virtual world whose creator James Halladay has since passed. Halladay is revered in a Jobs/Musk-like fashion, where his followers pore over every aspect of his life. By participating in fights and other competitions, you can earn coins, make customizations to your avatar, and purchase weapons. There’s one catch – if your avatar dies in the Oasis, you lose everything. Your money, your weapons, your upgrades, all of it. You’d respawn as a bare-bones character and have to work your way back up.

 Parzival’s crew is a bunch of lovable misfits, including the beefy mechanic Aech, steely swordsman Daito, and some dude named Sho (they don’t really spend a lot of time on him). The primary driver is the presence of an Easter egg – depicted as an actual Egg in the Oasis – hidden somewhere in the game by Halladay before his passing. Accessing the egg requires the successful completion of three challenges blah blah blah. There isn’t much overall depth to the plot, as we collectively proceed from challenge to challenge, with one of our heroes finding a way to complete each one. The crew is opposed by a faceless corporation “Innovative Online Industries” (IOI) headed by generic boss Nolan Sorrento. IOI has access to plenty of money and weaponry, but they naturally lack the innocence and spirit that make Parzival and co special.

Parzival – and by extension, Wade – is your average guy, no cool upgrades or abilities, just someone looking to find an escape from his life of poverty and bad family dynamics. Pretty relatable, right? Oh, and there’s a love interest, Art3mis (the Greek goddess of hunting), who Parzival falls in love with by virtue of healthily cyber-stalking everything she does. He’s a really nice guy, you just have to get to know him! She warns him that he’d be “repulsed” if he saw her in real life, which is slightly disingenuous because they cast an attractive actress with… a birthmark?

The Verdict

Despite its predictability, even with the tired tropes, it’s still an incredibly fun ride. The movie is relatively self-aware of the stereotypes it’s playing out – from the wise wizard avatar Anorak that represents Halladay, to the guy in a suit that represents CEO Sorrento, to the random-person-you-encounter-on-your-quest-that-turns-out-to-be-an-important-ally. It’s good for what it is, a dystopian action film which focuses on the enduring importance of friendship and its triumph over greed. Like with any book-to-film adaptation, there are facets of the story on which they didn’t have time to spend (the loyalty centers, the death of Wade’s family, Ogden Morrow’s background), but elements that are definitively improved (hacking Sorrento’s headset, the use of TJ Miller’s I-R0k). It’s not a set of puzzles where you as a viewer are trying to figure out what’s coming next, but rather a relaxing journey through the furthest reaches of a virtual world. You may not care about the “war for control of the future”, but you want to find the Easter Egg just as much as Parzival does.

 This is the movie that Adam Sandler’s 2015 shithole ‘Pixels’ should have been.

Pacman, Galaga, Centipede, Tetris, Duck Hunt, Frogger – all these classic arcade games were built into the film as characters, which just might have worked if some other minor details (plot, dialogue, character development) were better. But Ready Player One incorporates the nostalgia trips in an inconspicuous, blink-and-you-miss-it fashion. While Pixels sets up Donkey Kong as Sandler’s final villain behind a ‘We Will Rock You’ soundtrack and a weirdly placed dick joke, Ready Player One flashes through its homages, from a Tron motorcycle during a race, to the magic spell from Excalibur, to a brief costume change into Clark Kent. Avoiding using these references as plot devices – apart from an extended sequence from The Shining – is what helps this film invoke the desired amount of hazy nostalgia.

The Memory

To me, the basic construct of the movie was evocative of a reference they didn’t even mention (or didn’t have the rights to) – Megaman. In the mid-2000s, it aired as a TV show (Megaman NT Warrior) and was released as a long series of video games (Megaman Battle Network). The main construct of the show is a virtual ‘net’ that humans can log into with their ‘net navi’ (short for navigator), where humans interface with their navis by uploading battle chips and weapons. A later season has an arc where humans can fully synchronize with their net navis . The show’s antagonists were textbook villains that wanted to take over and/or destroy the net, headlined by Dr. Wily, an original creator of the net. There’s even a reddish-pink love interest and a big buff friend! Vaguely familiar, isn’t it?

Movie Review – Pacific Rim Uprising

Kind of seems like they caused an Apocalypse rather than cancelling it…

[THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OR MAJOR PLOT DETAILS IN THIS REVIEW, ONLY WHAT WAS REVEALED IN TRAILERS/INTERVIEWS]

The good news is that everyone’s favorite awesome-dumb-movie is back with a sequel. The bad news is they scrapped some of the “awesome” for more “dumb”.

“Pacific Rim Uprising” is NOT directed by Guillermo Del Toro this time around, and is instead helmed by Steven DeKnight. John Boyega stars as Jake Pentecost, the son of Idris Elba’s character from the last movie, and the setting is a time where (for the most part) there is peace because the Kaiju haven’t attacked for years…but also yeah they come back because its the sequel.

Look I’m going to level here, this movie has absolutely zero substance to it. Obviously no one watches the first one for an awe-inspiring story either, but at least that one had SOMETHING going on and a few memorable lines and actors. Even aside from that, the first one knows what it is and gives you the first Jaeger/Kaiju fight within the first 5-10 minutes. This one really strongly reeks of things I’m not a fan of: “Sequel-itis” and obvious attempts to set up a *cue rap horns* CINEMATIC UNIVERSE!!

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Like I said, the first “Pacific Rim” knew what it was, and I don’t even remember the characters outside Mako and Pentecost, despite the fact that Charlie Hunnam was the main protagonist. Their backstories were vague, short, and sweet just so we could get to more of the action. If you’ve kept up with my stuff, you would know that my favorite part about any story is the characters, and I will say I appreciate them trying in this one. However, I would also rather have a movie stick to what it can do best than try to do another thing and end up executing it poorly. John Boyega is charismatic enough indeed as Jake Pentecost, but then we get all the teenager characters and I start internally yelling at the screen to get to the fights already. Even with the cadets aside, Scott Eastwood somehow has negative charisma points in his portrayal of the “by the book” character that’s supposed to oppose Jake. Then you have this side plot with Charlie Day’s character and there’s a “twist” you can see coming within his first scene…it just feels like the writer’s room wasn’t filtering any of their ideas and just cramming them all in.

Don’t get me wrong, I can forgive all of this. A good friend of mine once said that a movie can be a pile of garbage and all of that can be overlooked because of one thing: Giant Robots fighting Giant Monsters. Unfortunately, that part didn’t live up as much either.

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Granted, since this movie takes place well in the future, they had to think of new threats and some sort of “novel” idea to bring the Kaiju back. First they settle on this idea of “Rogue Jaegers” and we get to see two fights between Gipsy Avenger and the “evil” Jaeger, Obsidian Fury. The first one in the city is the first bit of action we get, and it slightly disappoints, especially considering how long it took to get there. Then we get a rematch that was admittedly super cool, probably even the best fight in the movie. After that, the rest of the fights just didn’t live up. It was cool to see four different Jaegers doing their thing in the final scenes, but everyone except Gipsy Avenger gets their butts handed to them within a few minutes (probably because they decided to let teenagers pilot Jaegers against bigger-than-usual Kaiju…so at least they got that part to make sense).

Something I had noticed about the fight choreography was that Del Toro not only framed the shots well last time, but the Jaegers were intentionally somewhat slow and clunky, which would make sense for a giant towering robot that was so big it needed two pilots. They scrap that concept in this one and the Jaegers move with a lot more fluidity, which I realize that some people might be a fan of. Personally, I preferred it when they moved slower but I get that their technology has advanced…I just wish they said something about it or addressed it somewhere. It’s a minor point I know, but I would take anything to add a little more sense to the movie as a whole.

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I never want to bring up the first one in comparison whenever I’m talking about a sequel, but that’s really hard to do when a sequel constantly tries to capture the magic of the first one and doesn’t. There’s even a line where one of the scientists talks to Jake and says something like “Your father gave good speeches! Remember the one about cancelling the apocalypse?” Of course I remember that, anyone who’s ever seen the first one remembers that! This one was somehow trying to be it’s own thing while also trying to be its predecessor (i.e. Constant referencing to the first, but not using the awesome theme song everyone liked), and it made for a messy movie even by the lowered standards I have for movies about big monsters. What’s worse is they set-up ANOTHER one, with a somehow even dumber premise!?!

It just makes me sad, the first one had some value and genuinely made me happy, but because everything needs to be a franchise nowadays the brand of “Pacific Rim” is going to lose its value and that’s not fun for anyone. The second Kingsmen movie last year had SOME of these problems, but “Pacific Rim Uprising” has more of them and its much more obvious. I guess you should go see this one if you really just want more giant robot vs giant monster action, or if you like John Boyega, and if you don’t care about literally anything else.

“Pacific Rim Uprising” gets a whopping 5.5/10