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: Attempting to Fix Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom

aka “Parks & Wreck” or “Andy Dwyer’s Day Off”

GUEST ALERT! This piece was written and contributed by my boy Taylor Ford, who had this to say:

“Thank you for reading! If you are interested in hearing more on how to improve your favorite movies, please search for my podcast “Dr. Script” we talk about the problems but also give solutions to the problems!”

Information for the “Dr. Script” podcast can be found on instagram @doctorscript and on Facebook here. They do some great work on that podcast and if you start listening now, a familiar name might be appearing in their next episode!

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“You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it.” This quote from the original Jurassic Park sums up the current state of the franchise. Let’s describe a scene from this current film, “a cloned daughter hides from a hybrid genetic creature in a private mansion in the woods.” Does that sound like a Jurassic Park movie or something you would find on the Sci-Fi channel? With less care and ideas not fully fleshed out, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom fails to connect to the original themes of Jurassic Park. By script-doctoring certain scenes and concepts, I will attempt to improve Fallen Kingdom by connecting the story back to the original’s main argument.

What is the overall theme to Jurassic Park? The past four films set up the theme of God vs. nature and how humans cannot play God without creating chaos. Dr. Ian Malcolm states, “God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs, God creates man, man destroys God, man creates dinosaurs.” Keep in mind, in the past installments of this franchise, Ian Malcolm is always correct. Malcolm is the voice of reason and is never blinded by the ah and wonder of these extinct creatures; “Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.” This is the structure of all four previous movies. Everyone starts off in ah or the theme park, and then slowly realize the responsibility that comes with recreating these animals.

The problem with Fallen Kingdom is that the film goes against this theme by siding against Malcolm. In the Senate hearing, we hear Malcolm’s claim that nature needs to decide whether or not these creatures survive. He states that God created these animals and God has decided to kill them again, and that humans cannot play God without chaos. This is the theme every other movie in the franchise was built around but our protagonist of this film, Claire Dearing, has the opposite point of view. She believes that the dinosaurs must be saved and does everything in her power to save them. Now how could we fix this part? By having this debate brought up to us in the Senate hearing. Let’s have Claire and Malcolm arguing their points back and forth. This would once again set up the theme of humans playing God, and the audience could see the opposing viewpoints more clearly.

The next point in the film I want to discuss is the group returning to the island. This is where the bulk of the movie should have taken place, and it should have focused on them in the park, with the new element of an erupting volcano, and saving these dinosaurs. This event then would mimic the biblical passage of Noah’s Ark. When looking at this story, Noah does play God by deciding what animals to save and which to not. Of course, Noah saves every species in the world, but he had the option not to. There are some interesting parallels between Noah and Claire that could have been better explored. They both believe they must save these animals, but at what cost? Owen Grady could also have a few snarky remarks on how Noah chose not to save dinosaurs.

The character of Maisie also tries to connect to the original Jurassic Park with commentary on technology. Malcolm states in the first film, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” This not only applies to dinosaurs but also includes Maisie and whole cloning plot line. Her grandfather, Benjamin Lockwood, wanted his daughter back from the dead and didn’t think about the consequences of playing God. But what are the consequences? It is strange, but compared to creating dinosaurs (who eat people), cloning a little girl does not seem as bad. Maisie ends up opening the door for the dinosaurs to escape (which will be discussed below) but her motivation is lackluster, as her reason for doing so is only because they too were created in a lab.

Maisie needs to have a larger problem as her motivation for freeing the dinosaurs. Give her something that would be detrimental to the rest of society. This way (if Lockwood had lived) he would realize his selfish act of playing God by recreating his daughter. Now Lockwood would either have to go through his daughter’s death again or doom all of humanity. This version would then connect to the original Jurassic Park by reaffirming that just because you can, does not mean you should.

But instead, the film went a different direction. The dinosaurs are getting gassed and Claire struggles with the decision to open the gate outside to have them survive. This is where Claire’s argument for saving these animals gets tested. Throughout the whole film she has believed that the dinosaurs need to be saved, but after seeing more destruction and thinking back to Malcolm’s argument, “Genetic power has now been unleashed, you can’t put it back in the box.” Claire decides not to push the button and with that her character arc is more clearly seen. From wanting to save these animals to understanding they must die. A better ending would have been while Claire decides to not save the dinosaurs, the Stygimoloch (Dinosaur with a hard head), slams the power box outside and opens up the gates, freeing the dinosaurs. In this version, we now see that nature has decided that dinosaurs should survive and keeps the old saying of the series relevant, “Life finds a way.”

 

So Low: A Box Office Story

I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This

Let’s wind our clocks back to December 17th, 2015. This was the day that I, and fans everywhere, would finally see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which would soon become the highest grossing domestic film of all time (not adjusted for inflation). As of this piece being written, the top 10 in that list also includes Star Wars: The Last Jedi at #8, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at #10. All three of these films were distributed by Disney after their acquisition of Lucasfilm and its assets in 2012. It was safe to say that, at least in terms of revenue and popularity, all was well.

So what the hell could’ve possibly happened for it to end up like this?:

Capture

If you haven’t heard by now, Solo: A Star Wars Story was a huge box-office bomb. Even if you want to say that the movie has barely been out for a month, Look at those opening weekend numbers! It performed so poorly that Disney and Lucasfilm have, allegedly, put all other anthology films on hold. This includes, most notably: the slated Boba Fett film (set to be directed by James Mangold who helmed Logan, a fantastic film which I’ve reviewed here), and the highly anticipated (depending on the involvement of Ewan McGregor) Kenobi film.

I will repeat the question: What the hell happened?

Many have tried to answer it with some of the lazy criticisms you would expect: about the actor playing Han, about the directors quitting, about how “they’re doing it like Marvel”, etc….but it can’t be that simple. You mean to tell me even with Donald Glover and Emilia Clarke doing TONS of press beforehand, after post-red carpet reviews seemed vaguely positive, and after the Tomato-meter never went rotten, that a STAR WARS MOVIE would open this badly on Memorial Day Weekend? Before continuing, I’d like to take this time to briefly summarize my thoughts on the movie.

It was very okay. I think it was fun, had cool elements, and nothing stood out as glaringly negative, but it held no importance. I KNOW this story because I’ve seen The Empire Strikes Back more times than I can count. We know Han was a smuggler, we know how Han meets Lando, we know he is the way he is because he was betrayed, we know he won the Millennium Falcon from Lando in a game of sabacc. Any of the extra stuff (i.e. how Han got his dice or his blaster)…I didn’t really need. If I DIDN’T use my moviepass and actually paid full price for a ticket, I would’ve had some buyer’s remorse. I think if this movie was instead released as animation or a book, it would’ve been more appropriate, had more room to expand, and maybe even more praised.

Regardless of how I feel, this is still a Star Wars movie and those numbers are preposterous. So, once again, what the hell happened? We can look at this from a few angles:

THE LACK OF A TARGET AUDIENCE

When discussing Star Wars in any capacity, I believe it is fundamental to acknowledge the generational aspect of the franchise. By that, I mean the idea of “what was YOUR Star Wars“, a concept often used in discussing the 007 franchise or various Batman actors. Presumably: The Original Trilogy (OT) was first enjoyed by younger Boomers and mostly Gen-Xers, The Prequel Trilogy (PT) was prominent when Millennials like myself were growing up, and the Sequel Trilogy (ST) has found their solid fan base in Gen-Z.  It also should be noted that everyone eventually becomes very familiar with the OT, as it objectively contains the quintessential installments of the franchise. Millennials went to Blockbuster (RIP) to rent the older films on VHS (also RIP). Gen-Zers have their Gen-X parents showing them the OT to catch them up, as the ST contains the 3 main characters from the OT anyway.

Rogue One had the appeal to all fans: it promised that we would see a major point in the Rebellion’s effort that wasn’t expanded on yet. We know the Rebellion got the Death Star plans, but we had so many questions. What was the war like before that? Where was most of the fighting taking place? Why was there such a convenient hole in the Empire’s space station? Who stole the plans? Rogue One answered all of these questions and more, and since the characters didn’t have as much depth as the ones in the saga films, we could focus more on the conflict at hand and connect it to the OT easily.

A Kenobi film with Ewan McGregor would bring out the Millennial audience in full force. It could also bring out the other crowds because whatever Obi-Wan was doing between the PT and OT isn’t common knowledge (it is briefly touched on in the Star Wars Rebels animated show).

Similarly, the OT crowd will live and die as Boba Fett fans. When you ask me, the dude had roughly five lines and fell into the Sarlacc pit like an idiot. He could’ve been replaced by a talking flying bantha for all I care. However, a Boba Fett film still appeals to various markets because the OT crowd will be nostalgic and the PT/ST crowd will see something new.

So who was Solo meant for? They alienated the OT crowd who wont accept anyone but Harrison Ford as the character, the PT crowd doesn’t feel much nostalgia towards Han, and the ST crowd knows Han as old, defeated, and more of a plot device than a main character. On top of all of that, they made a movie that all three crowds already know the main events of. It only adds irony to the fact that Han’s son is now famous for his “Let the past die” line.

MISLEADING MARKETING

This disappointed me like crazy, and I know it all too well (remember when we thought Joker was going to be the primary antagonist of Suicide Squad?). The public was meant to believe that this movie was going to center on Han, Qi’ra, and Lando, with a lot of screen time for Chewbacca. Instead, it was more about Han and Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), and the others just felt like part of the larger setting for Han to be himself and be “mentored” by Tobias.

Word eventually got out that Glover and Emilia weren’t that prominent in the film, most likely Because of The Internet. The problem with that is that they were the “aces” the project had. I myself went on opening weekend almost entirely out of support for Glover, and when Lando had one cool scene, about 7 other lines of dialogue, and ends up being the biggest loser in the end, it pissed me off.

Qi’ra was just reduced to “Han’s girl”, despite being a new character with more backstory than Lando, Chewbacca, or Tobias. However all of this resulted in a few moments where the audience is forced to connect extremely vague dots, and the last time we see her on screen just ends up more confusing than anything. I suppose they weren’t in it for your character development, Princess Khaleesi.

BACKLASH AND FATIGUE 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since December 2017, you probably know that The Last Jedi was an extremely divisive movie. I’m not going to get into it because it isn’t even fun to talk about anymore, and fans have gotten toxic to the point of negatively impacting those who worked on the film (a topic further discussed in this episode of the “Overrated” Podcast).

The point here to be noted is that the ST films were slated for the Decembers of 2015, 2017, and 2019, giving fans ample time to digest each one and properly anticipate another. While the MCU releases films only months apart, it changes its setting, characters, and conflicts with every movie and simply connects them to each other, Star Wars has always been more of a “previously in our story…” type of deal. Many fans were opposed to the idea of anthology films such as Rogue One in the first place.

Regardless, Rogue One came out in December 2016, a year after The Force Awakens and a year before The Last Jedi. Solo came out in May 2018, and the fans are STILL processing The Last Jedi. I don’t understand why anyone thought it was a good idea to release Solo at that time, especially with trouble behind the scenes, and the clash against both Infinity War and Deadpool 2. Delaying Solo until December 2018 would’ve made perfect sense to me.

A MISSING SENSE OF WONDER

For most people, Star Wars has always been about the characters, the idea of the Force, the larger conflict, and the vastness of the Galaxy. Han himself barely got any development throughout this film, I can’t even exactly point to what he learned or if there was a major change in personality. So when a Star Wars film ignores characterization, has no mention of the Force, doesn’t connect to a larger theme or conflict, and barely explores the planets it takes place on…well, you get the idea.

The point is: Maybe someone should’ve told them the odds on this one.

 

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.

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 – Atomic Blonde

I guess blondes have more fun after all.

“Atomic Blonde” is directed by David Leitch and stars Charlize Theron and James McAvoy in an action flick set in the Cold War era (1989). Although, upon watching, this movie has more of an espionage-esque “spy movie” feel to it rather than something like “Die Hard” or anything…okay I’m gonna come clean, I’m a little behind on the action genre (as in I haven’t seen John Wick or Kingsman)…but the point is I watched “Atomic Blonde” anyway and I had fun! Let’s get into details:

Even though it is fairly obvious for these two actors at this point, I feel the need to praise both Theron and McAvoy anyway for being so good at what they do. It’s always harder to play something like a “no nonsense spy/cop” because with most people its just so hard to take seriously, especially if they’re given silly dialogue. Theron and McAvoy were BOTH given some lines I didn’t particularly care for, but I still bought their performances the entire time. Theron’s character of Lorraine Broughton is brutal, intelligent, and ferocious..whereas McAvoy’s character of David Percival is a mystery hiding behind a front he puts up, and this is conveyed pretty well. Great acting always makes movies like this a lot more fun, and I’m glad this casting worked out the way it did.

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The fight scenes are so ridiculously entertaining, and it feels realistic for a few reasons. For one thing, it is so obvious that Theron put in the time, effort, and work in to train for these scenes. She gave us an intensely physical performance and that alone makes this movie worth the watch. Additionally, Theron’s character doesn’t just breeze her way through every fight with multiple armed/trained KGB agent…she gets punched…a lot. It didn’t feel like a “Black Widow” situation to me where she’s almost never in any trouble even when she goes up against aliens, it felt like this really was a woman who’s mastered her craft and that makes her perfectly capable of fighting multiple bigger opponents at the same time.

Despite these great fight scenes, like I mentioned before, this had more of a spy-movie feeling to it, and a rather gritty one at that. There isn’t much color, and I think that works due to the setting being Berlin (before the wall came down). Even with a more “gray” color scheme, the music and sound design are so delightful because it is engineered to go with the action. So the music will be loud and fun, cut out when someone slams a door, cut back in when Theron throws a punch, etc. Whatever vibe they were going for, it ended up being a lot of fun. There were a few moments where the editing was off and it made a fight scene look more choreographed than natural, but it only happened about once or twice.

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The narrative structure of the movie was kind of weird, and I’m not really sure if it worked for me. Agent Broughton is in an interrogation room recalling the mission with her MI6 superiors, and the actual mission is told through flashbacks. The issue I had is that when the story would get good, there would be a flash forward back to the interrogation room where John Goodman got a line in and looked tense about something, and then we’re back to the mission. I’m not quite sure how they could’ve told the story better, but I just know the back-and-forth took me out of it sometimes, especially when I was hyped after a good scene. In the end, there’s nothing too compelling or original about the narrative either. They tried, but that brings me to my next point.

Who’s bright idea was it to “shamalamadingdong” the ending and throw in 3-4 (I lost count) “twists” in the last 10 minutes of run-time? Seriously, this movie’s ending is so weird and I’m quoting the friend I saw it with: “Wait…so what happened?”. It’s not that they were subtle or they were obvious either, they just..existed. I would’ve rather had them beat me over the head with it with more “on the nose” writing and stop after the 2nd twist instead of doing what happened here. Considering that this was the last part of the ride, the landing just didn’t stick and it left me feeling unsatisfied.

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Despite that rather hefty disappointment, I was along for the ride and felt good about it. If you’re looking for some cool secret-agent moments with great acting and well-choreographed fights, check this movie out. As for me, I’m gonna go ahead and give “Atomic Blonde” a 7.5/10