Democratic Presidential Candidates as Marvel Villains

The Hollywood & Washington Collaboration That No One Asked For

WARNING: MCU SPOILERS AND “POLITICAL” PIECE BELOW. How stupid is it that I apparently have to warn people about that last part though? Well anyway every view expressed is my own despite me, as always, being as objective as possible.

Ah, American politicians. There are a lot of them, their personalities vary, most of them seem underdeveloped and generic, and they tend to have good intentions that are paired with their more-than-questionable actions. The interesting thing is that all of those qualities I listed seem to also apply to comic book movie villains. Isn’t it strange that elected officials and people in power seem to often become synonymous with “bad guys” (as The Notorious AOC herself has mentioned)? It’s almost as if the system designed to keep us free actually oppresses us by directly encouraging those with privilege to act unethically in their own self-interest an-

Okay, sorry, I’m getting off topic. I should probably mention that I’ve been banned from talking politics at family events because I need to “stop trying to brainwash the kids into being dirty socialists”. Well that will not stop me from writing about it here and focusing on the three rounds of Democratic Party debates that we have had so far. Real-life villains aside (like the current American idiot in office), in comic-book-movies the antagonists can be fun, idealistic, and sometimes you even want to root for them! So to distract myself from how existentially stressed out I am about 2020, and to attempt to fill the “no Marvel” void I will also feel until 2020, this piece was born.

If you’re looking for some actual serious debate discussion, check out The Overrated Podcast and our ongoing Election 2020 coverage. Today, here and now, I will be going over a select number of the Democratic candidates by comparing them to the villains we have seen so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)! To still be “political” (Lord knows I can’t resist), I’ll also be categorizing them by how much you should care about them at this point…and probably more.

HAVEN’T QUALIFIED FOR THE NEXT DEBATE

1. Governor Jay Inslee – Ava Starr aka “Ghost”

To ease you into this piece, let’s start off with a candidate/villain I actually really liked and am bummed I seemingly won’t hear from again. Inslee burst onto the debate stage with (for the most part) a single issue: Climate Change. For whatever reason, the average voter decided that isn’t a sexy enough single issue, and similarly Ghost doesn’t get much universal love from the more casual viewers of the MCU.

Inslee’s solid record and environmental policy didn’t even get a chance past the second debate, and Ghost wasn’t even included in most of the websites I used for research on the best MCU villains. Both deserved better, both disappeared too soon, and I wish the best for both of them.

2. Marianne Williamson – Kaecilius

Okay enough wholesomeness, let’s get to the shit show. Both Marianne and Kaecilius are anti-science, huge advocates of magic, and are constantly trying to channel the dark dimension. All while ignoring the very real effects their actions have on people and the material world.

They’re disillusioned with the current leadership, which makes them interesting…right up until the point where they start to tell people that their problems (like curing HIV and cancer) can be solved with fanaticism, that they’re the only one who really cares about you, and that the world can be saved by some weird sort of enlightenment they’re preaching. 

I have no factual confirmation if Marianne believes in an inter-dimensional dark entity like Dormammu…but would any of us really be surprised if we found out that was true? It’d be just about as surprising as the time she said that fat people need to pray harder, and that people on antidepressants are weak. These two are glorified “self-help gurus”, they’re not particularly mean-spirited, yet that doesn’t change the fact that they’re full of shit.

3. Governor John Hickenlooper aka “The Loop” – Trevor Slattery aka “The Mandarin”

Why? Because fuck this guy and fuck Iron Man 3, that’s why! (This is definitely more of a hot take on the MCU side than the political one, as the Loop got booed on stage at the California Democratic Convention.)

Both the Loop (and those who resemble him politically) and the Mandarin were an absolute waste of my damn time and I’m glad we’re not talking about them anymore. Speaking of which, time for the new category of candidates. 

WHY ARE WE STILL HUMORING THIS?

1. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard – Secretary Thaddeus Ross aka “Thunderbolt”

Remember how Ross was in The Incredible Hulk a long time ago, then showed up again in Captain America: Civil War seemingly a different person by being anti-war and changing his policy? (Ross wanted to emulate the super-soldier serum, lied to Banner which created the Hulk and ruined his life, and then suddenly gets tasked with regulation of the Avengers? That’s like throwing minorities in jail for smoking weed and then talking about how you used to smoke weed in college!…or am I just thinking of Kamala Harris now? Oh well.) Then when we REALLY didn’t need to hear from him again because we’re already pressed for time, he shows up? This whole thing is pretty accurate for Tulsi too.

Both Ross and Tulsi are ex-US Military and fought in big wars (Vietnam and Iraq, respectively). Tulsi went from being pro-life and campaigning for an anti-gay rights group…to outright supporting federal funding for abortion and having a 100% pro-LGBTQIA+ voting record in Congress. Outside of a few great points, including her attack on Kamala in the second debate, it seemed pretty obvious that we didn’t need to hear from Tulsi again past the second debate, maybe the third. Yet here we are with her not qualifying for the 3rd and getting another chance in the fourth. Wonderful. 

Just like Ross’ scene in Avengers: Infinity War, I’m probably going to watch the fourth debate and wish the time was spent on something a little more productive.

2. Senator Amy Klobuchar aka “Klobes” – Ronan the Accuser

Klobes and Ronan’s biggest “fault” is honestly how generic and boring they are. You get the feeling that there has to be something more there, then they show up again in a different debate/movie and do more of the same thing and you’re left confused and unsatisfied. 

Similar to Ronan, Klobes’ biggest “moments” come from shouting a bland “criticism” at someone else in the scene which, upon the slightest analysis, makes no sense even though it sounds flashy in the moment. I am of course referring to when Klobes told Bernie in the third debate that (paraphrased): “You might have written the damn bill, but I read the damn bill!”

What does that even mean? I mean I would hope you actually read the bill if you’re going to debate about it. Why did anyone applaud that? Similarly, what was Ronan thinking when he stole an Infinity Stone from fucking Thanos? Did you think this guy got the nickname “The Mad Titan” by letting Kree punks walk all over him?

I once again have no factual confirmation of this, but given what I know about Klobes, I would definitely believe it if someone told me that she would be insanely confused by the sight of a dude dancing and subsequently lose all of her focus.

3. Andrew Yang – Quentin Beck aka “Mysterio”

Unpopular take, but I could dedicate an entire piece to Yang and his dumb ass alone, and if you’re really curious then check this piece out by a longtime friend of soggz-blogs, Uday Mehta. I’ll try to summarize my rage and stay productive and on-topic…or I could just offer everyone a chance at a thousand dollars just to humor me instead, right? (Insert Pete Buttigieg’s eye-roll here)

Beck and Yang are scorned tech workers that lost their jobs. Beck had one good idea that Tony Stark refashioned into an actually useful invention (B.A.R.F), Yang had one good idea that I’m sure a much better candidate could build upon and turn into actual policy. Both say off-putting things, have an unhealthy need for attention, and you better believe that both have taken their “one good idea” way out of hand to the point of idiocy with support from their cult-like-following that, frankly, need to open their eyes and see that there’s much more to this whole “President thing” than the lazy discourse being proposed.

Okay screw this I can’t resist, YANG CRITICISM TIME: You seriously mean to tell me that your solution to campaign-finance-reform is DEMOCRACY DOLLARS? Really? MORE free money? Oh sure, that’ll out-spend lobbyists like the NRA for sure! For fuck’s sake this was also AFTER he implied that gender discrimination in the workplace can be solved by his fucking “Freedom Dividend”…because women who are tired of toxic-masculinity in corporate culture can just “leave and invest in themselves”. Which is great and all but it literally still leaves THE ACTUAL PROBLEM UNSOLVED. Oh and when Yang did his whole “We should be telling the immigrant success stories instead” bullshit? Buddy, I’m pretty sure there’s an ENTIRE GROUP OF PEOPLE THAT DIDN’T HAVE A CHOICE IN IMMIGRATING HERE that would have some shit to say about you pushing the antiquated and fucked up “model-minority” agenda. How is this FUCKING CLOWN polling higher th-

Look I said I’d TRY to stay on-topic, and clearly I failed. Moving on.

4. Tom Steyer – Malekith

You are going to have to google both of these two to know who they are, but you most likely won’t, and frankly shouldn’t, because they’re not interesting enough to even warrant minimal effort from you.

I WANT TO LIKE YOU…I THINK

1. Secretary Julian Castro – Darren Cross aka “Yellowjacket”

Julian Castro has tons of political experience as the former Mayor of San Antonio and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under the Obama administration. He was even on the shortlist for being Hillary’s running mate in 2016 (which would’ve been a much better choice than the slice of untoasted, lukewarm wonderbread with low-fat margarine that was Tim Kaine).

So far in his 2020 run, his debate tactics have consisted of: Emulating Barack-like mannerisms and speech patterns, saying he’d do better than Barack on immigration, and going after Uncle Joe saying (paraphrased): “I’m living up to Obama’s legacy, you’re not”.

Clearly he’s got some kind of a “mentor complex” that’s simultaneously hurting and helping his campaign. Very much like Darren Cross and his complicated relationship with his mentor, Hank Pym.

2. Mayor Pete Buttigieg aka “Mayor Pete” – Helmut Zemo

Mayor Pete’s meteoric rise to being one of the most widely discussed nominees is nothing short of impressive, going from being the Mayor of a town in Indiana to going point-for-point with Senators who have been in Washington for years. This reminded me of how Zemo, with no powers, was able to somehow handle twelve different heroes, four of whom were on the original Avengers roster. The similarities don’t stop there: both are ex-military, young, wholesome family men, very politically savvy, and have a knack for taking “option C” on big political issues. 

This is honestly my biggest issue with Mayor Pete, much like Zemo for most of the movie, I have no idea where he actually stands on things and what he’s pushing. While “Leftist vs Liberal” seem to be the two “teams” on the debate stage and in the party itself, Mayor Pete seems to live in this perplexing new form of centrism where he’s chosen the “center” of the two teams. He half-asses his support for universal healthcare by giving it the new name of “Medicare for all who want it,” he very wrongly and pompously accused Bernie and Warren of not “caring about the American people” in discussion of universal healthcare (really dude? Bernie’s been caring about the American people since you were in diapers. I’m sure it was a fun and sassy moment for you, but come on bro. You know better), and it seems like half the time he’s trying to make both leftists and liberals sound bad while chalking himself up to be a better option than all of them. 

In an already divided Democratic Party, Mayor Pete’s tactics could end up hurting more people than it does help. Much like breaking apart the Avengers on your own terms instead of just supporting or opposing the Sokovia accords. 

3. Congressman Robert O’Rourke aka “Beto” – Ultron

Ultron was built by Tony Stark to be the perfect defense mechanism against extraterrestrial armies that could threaten mankind. Similarly, in the 2018 midterm elections, Beto burst into the hearts of Democrats everywhere as the man who was the perfectly built politician, enough to make Texas go blue. The hype behind both Beto and Ultron was real…but when all was said and done, both seemed rather disappointing (probably due to over-enthusiastic nerds on the internet in both cases).

Beto came across as rather robotic on the debate stage, especially in the first two. He also unfortunately accepted almost half a million dollars from the oil and gas industry, many of which came from big oil executives. As we know from Ultron’s vibranium-stealing shenanigans, it appears both of these guys are fans of drilling into the earth for a natural resource that will result in greater harm later (to be fair, Beto has since changed his position on this).

Perhaps the biggest reason I chose this comparison is that I’ll still defend both to an extent. Not only do I think Beto and Ultron are better in their respective fields than a vast majority of the other candidates/MCU villains we’ve seen, I just have to give credit where it is due for unique things that both have done. I’ve said it before (as early as last month’s piece) but Ultron is one of the only MCU characters period to call out the Captain himself on his biggest flaw (more so than Tony, who always made things personal whenever he called out Cap).

As for Beto, my personal stance on guns in America has gone from “Maybe this is my ONE thing I’m conservative on” to “Okay maybe we should limit some stuff” to “I don’t even know anymore” to “Just ban the damn things, I’m sick of this shit”. That being said, it was very refreshing to see a Democrat on the debate stage cut straight to the point instead of pussyfooting around with the typical “I support the second amendment, I just think ____” nonsense. In the third debate, Beto spoke for every frustrated American who is sick and tired of innocent children being shot in class.

The point is, I think that the moderators/writers just didn’t give Beto/Ultron a chance to explain themselves more.

4. Senator Corey Booker aka “Book” – Johann Schmidt aka “Red Skull”

Red Skull is one of the most iconic Captain America villains and many thought he’d be a long-term MCU villain. Book was one of the most hyped up potential nominees amongst Democrats if we were talking about this in 2017.

Then they went for the Tesseract/Big Pharma money, got cast out and forgotten by fans, then confused everyone by showing up again in crucial moments. Yet now it just seems like their entire purpose is to guide others to a treasure they can not possess: The Soul Stone/the Nomination. Speaking of which…

ACTUALLY HAVE A CHANCE AT THE NOMINATION

1. Vice-President Joe Biden aka “Uncle Joe” – Ego

Uncle Joe is an older man who’s been around forever, comes off extremely out-of-touch, is constantly touching women, and is trying so hard to get elected on the clout of his title and the idea that he’ll be America’s new dad. Ego is a centuries-old entity, lives on his own planet that he can’t leave for too long (or else he’ll die?), is constantly touching women (and then subsequently stealing the babies), and thought that he could get what he wanted on the clout of being a Celestial and the idea that Star Lord needed his estranged father back. 

Much like the Guardians’ first interactions with Ego, in every group of five average American voters: one will be completely mesmerized by him, one got too cautious too late, one will ask about his penis, one is too busy insulting everyone else in the group, and one is Groot. 

Look, I get the nostalgia and “simpler times” associated with the Obama administration. Hell, the ACA was the most impactful thing that any politician has done for my family…but can we stop acting like Uncle Joe had that much to do with that? As a wise man once said: “He may have been your father boy, but he wasn’t your daddy”. 

2. Senator Kamala Harris – Secretary Alexander Pierce

“Hard on crime” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot among politicians, and both Kamala and Pierce are about that life. Kamala was a former prosecutor in California, and Pierce was the former Director of SHIELD before one got elected Senator and the other got promoted to Secretary. Both are so outwardly dedicated to the idea of justice, Pierce even declined a Nobel Peace Prize saying that “peace wasn’t an achievement, but a responsibility”.

They seemed great, they came off as tough and ready to get things done, they had trust on their side. Right until you find out that Kamala is responsible for subjecting so many non-violent offenders to the hellish landscape known as the “American for-profit prison system”, and that Pierce is trying to use SHIELD Helicarriers to have absolute control over people, and then you’re just disappointed (to say the least). 

What’s also interesting is Kamala’s unwillingness to acknowledge and apologize for her choices. I’m sure many people would actually look past her history if she, like Tulsi or Beto, actually mentioned her murky history. Despite being called out for this same thing twice now on the debate stage, she always finds a way to circumvent the topic and continue her “I’m too tough for Donald Trump” facade. 

You can definitely apply what Nick Fury said about Pierce to how I feel about Kamala at this point: “See, its stuff like this that gives me trust issues”.

3. Senator Bernie Sanders – Adrian Toomes aka “The Vulture”

This is the rare case where the comparison has already been made long before I got to this piece, because Vulture and Bernie are both grassroots leaders of working class citizens and are the most concerned with ensuring the safety of everyday people. Both are incredibly intense old men who are still extremely sharp, tough, and passionate for their age, both are huge advocates for science and research, and both are always incredibly quick to antagonize billionaires.

While in comic-book-land, billionaires are epic heroes, in real life the very idea of their existence is immoral and a huge testament to the economic corruption in the country. In real life the only good billionaire is one that has HAD ALL OF THEIR FUCKING MONEY LIQUIDATED AND GIVEN BACK TO THE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE THAT SUFFER DAY TO DAY WHILE THEY SIT AROUND NOT BEING PRODUCTIVE AT ALL AND AFTER THAT THEY’LL BERN VIA VOLCANIC SACRIF-(removed by my editor)

4. Senator Elizabeth Warren – Thanos (Infinity War)

They’re incredibly intelligent, they’re fed up of everyone else’s shit, they’re environmentalists, and they’re finally ready to execute their plans after a few years of seemingly sitting around and preparing for it. 

Much like Thanos has the right Infinity Stone for every situation, Warren has a detailed plan for every political talking point and she’s ready to fight about it. They’re focused on the goal and nothing else, as Warren is one of the only candidates who hasn’t antagonized someone else on the debate stage and has made a name for herself by simply promoting her policy and doing her best to stay on track. She’s been one of the most productive in the debates, and I’m excited to see her hopefully climb in the polls. I guess what I’m trying to say is: Dread it, run from it, progressive politics will still arrive…

…and that’s a really good thing, just to be absolutely clear, before someone misunderstands my views (I thought I made it pretty obvious) or before someone reads too much into me comparing Democrats to comic antagonists. Honestly, I just didn’t feel like writing about Joker this month.

 

Guest Post: Formulaically Entertaining-The Purge vs Hotel Transylvania

Piece written and contributed once again by Uday Mehta, who you can support by clicking here.
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It’s a tired but only partially true cliché that Hollywood doesn’t have any original ideas. Of the top-25 grossing movies of 2018 (domestically through July), nine (Ready Player One, A Quiet Place, Rampage, I Can Only Imagine, Game Night, Book Club, Blockers, Tomb Raider, and Tag) weren’t part of a series, franchise, or cinematic universe (although Tomb Raider was a video game and Ready Player one was a book). There were only seven (Coco, Dunkirk, Get Out, Boss Baby, Greatest Showman, Split, and Wonder) in 2017, none of them in the top 10. You’d have to go back to 2006 – before Twilight, Divergent, Hunger Games, Planet of the Apes, Maze Runner, Hangover, Transformers, The Hobbit, and the entire MCU – when the only real franchises were Harry Potter, X-Men, and Pirates. That year, a whopping fifteen of the top 25 were originals, among them The Departed, Cars, Borat, The Da Vinci Code, The Pursuit of Happyness, and Click for some reason. We keep watching the same characters in the same movies; just in the last few weeks, we got Mission Impossible 6, Mamma Mia 2, Equalizer 2, Ant Man 2, Incredibles 2, Jurassic World 2, Incredibles 2, and the fourth Ocean’s movie. Even things like Goosebumps and Bad Moms are getting sequels. At least half of these movies don’t need sequels, another quarter of them are just bad. There are, fortunately, a select few which successfully make the same movie, but in a good way.

Both Hotel Transylvania and the Purge are several movies into their run, and will undoubtedly each return for at least one more. While you’d be hard-pressed to find movies that are more dissimilar, they are alike in one very important way – their sustained run of success despite mixed critical response, a lack of star power, a generally predictable plot, and an apparently limited demographic. Transylvania is an animated franchise that features an actor that everyone is tired of (Adam Sandler) voicing the lead, and is primarily intended as a family movie. Purge shuffles its cast every film (the biggest names being Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, and Michael K. Williams) and is rated R for disturbing violence. So why do they still exist?

The holy grail of sequels is 22 Jump Street (honorable mention to Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight), a meta self-referential comedy which openly joked about how they were making the exact same movie a second time, including an extended credits sequence that showed all the potential sequels they could do. That movie came out four years ago, and Channing Tatum has yet to sign on to a potential third project because he isn’t sure whether the joke will work a third time. And he’s probably right – barring an Incredibles-like decade-plus hiatus, a third Jump Street movie would probably be stale and uninspiring because there’s not a lot of places you can really go with the premise of ‘undercover cops’.

Conversely, both of these franchises rely on the strength of their premise to drive their longevity. Transylvania starts with a human vs. monsters conflict, leading to the establishment of a monsters-only five-star hotel where a collection of adorable monsters convene. Purge centers around a day where all crime including murder is legal, something which apparently brings down the crime rate during the rest of the year and allows the economy to flourish. Those premises – while not always executed to their full potential – are deserving of multiple movies just so the concept can be explored to its limits. It’s like the opposite of something like Step Up (by the way, did you know that the original Step Up movie with Channing Tatum had the worst-critical reception of all five movies?), where the movie centers around the idea of a dance battle, something that might be entertaining as a YouTube video but less so as an actual movie.

Due to the leeway each premise provides, both are fueled by the in-movie creativity, a creativity which doesn’t necessarily manifest in good plot, but the type that makes them an engaging watch throughout. Averaging out to be 90 and 100 minutes respectively, there are few moments which seem unearned or unimportant. Transylvania flexes its animation ability, using it to transform things like volleyballs and wedding rings into one-off monsters that can eat up scenes. The style is evocative of a Sunday morning cartoon, corny DJ battles and all (you can get away with that in a cartoon, less so in a live action movie like say, Guardians of the Galaxy). Purge makes good use of its jump scares, glowing green eyes, and pointed iconography, jumping between points-of-view to create a feeling of disorientation. Their evolution between movies, however, is where their true appeal lies. While the first Transylvania is pushed by the classic story of a forbidden love, the second switches to a generational family dispute. By the third film, Transylvania actually leaves the titular location, spending all but ten minutes of the movie on a cruise ship headed for annihilation. While all three maintain the human-monster divide, the way in which it is presented continues to be fresh. Purge starts with an affluent white family trying to make it through the night, then moving to a working-class bunch, and in 2016 to a politician trying to campaign for the presidency. The latest film, a cleverly placed prequel, tells the story of how Purge night came to be with a ton of social commentary (financial incentive for people to participate, minority population in Staten Island, government affiliation with gun organizations, people in hoods marching in the streets).

Of the seven combined movies, I’ve seen all of them. Sure, they have a finite ceiling, but a pretty high floor as well. They’re satisfying in their predictability, a known quantity that makes room for appreciation of the finer points of each.

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

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.

Movie Review: Isle of Dogs

You really emBARK on a journey!…..shut up.

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

“Isle of Dogs” is a stop-motion animated film written/produced/directed by the famous Wes Anderson, and it stars some big names like Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, and Jeff Goldblum as some very good boys (dogs). Set in a futuristic Japan, the conflict involves young Atari Kobayashi, nephew and ward of the corrupt Mayor Kobayashi, searching for his dog on the isolated Trash Island, where all dogs have been exiled to due to a dog-virus that causes everyone to be scared of their own pets.

Personally, I’ve actually never seen a Wes Anderson film before (that might surprise some of you, but anyone who grew up in the area that I did could vouch that none of us were really talking about that style of film when we were in high school) but I do love stop-motion animation and I do understand Anderson’s credibility as an artistic filmmaker. Upon seeing trailers I was also interested due to the setting being in Japan, especially since I enjoyed Laika Animation’s “Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016), a stop-motion film having a Feudal-Japanese setting. Besides, despite me being a “cat person” (because you apparently have to pick one), who doesn’t love good dogs?

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The film follows characters in two settings, Megasaki City and Trash Island. Starting with the latter, Atari crash lands on the island and is found by the five dogs who roam in their own pack. All are enthusiastic about helping Atari except Chief (Bryan Cranston), but he reluctantly accepts the task anyway and the crew travels deeper into Trash Island to find Atari’s old bodyguard dog. Meanwhile in the city, we see the political side of the decision to outlaw dogs with dictator-like policy from Kobayashi, opposed by a “Science Party” that is making strides to cure the dog viruses and bring the pets back. The film also spends time on a foreign exchange student named Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) who is the only student vocalizing concerns over the Kobayashi dynasty.

Throughout these different sub-plots and stories we get, I personally enjoyed the moments with Atari and the dogs. Anderson takes the time to give these dogs different personalities and backgrounds and the interactions they have with the boy Atari make this a very charming film. For example, Chief tends not to get along with the other dogs or always has a different opinion because he’s a stray. Anderson makes sure that the audience’s immersion is through the dogs themselves by giving them very human characteristics. The animation itself is precisely executed and ended up being very visually appealing and a contributing factor to the movie’s adventurous feel.

Anderson makes an artistic decision to have mostly all the human characters only speak Japanese, and I liked this for two reasons. One being what I mentioned earlier, the audience’s perspective is further drawn towards that of the dogs. Secondly, it gives the animation more time to shine because you start to look for visual storytelling rather than exposition. I also think the film is structured very well with a relatively short runtime of 1 hour and 41 minutes, because there are elements to unpack and I didn’t feel dissatisfied with any sub-plot being ignored or incomplete. Everything does seem to tie up in the end and I’ve gotta give it to Anderson for that one.

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While I did enjoy this film and don’t think this movie had any malicious intent or should cause any rioting, I do have to point out what I thought was a little problematic with the use of the Japanese setting. After the movie was done and my brain went into “what was wrong with it?” mode, I ended up asking myself one big question: “Why Japan?”

This movie is about a psuedo-facist leader outlawing a largely innocent group and getting away with it by brainwashing the public that doesn’t seem to know any better. To be completely honest, this sounds a lot more like America than Japan. While Anderson used things in the culture like taiko drums, haikus, cherry blossoms, etc…all of this seemed to serve no real purpose other than to be an aesthetic. Think of it like when you have this amazing picture ready to upload to instagram, and while searching for the right filter there was one called “Japanese” and that’s the one you decide to go with. Again, I highly doubt any of this was intentional, but using the “Japan implies that a foreign setting was required to make us believe an outrageous policy like fear-mongering the public to dislike dogs…and unfortunately Japan took the fall on this one for a story that I could have very much believed happening in the Western world (apparently Anderson has done a similar thing with India in “The Darjeeling Limited”…guess I should check that one out).

I’m all for having an homage to another culture and for having more movies be international, but the culture or its members didn’t play the significant role in the movie that I was led to believe…it just coexisted while we focused on the Dogs. This is so odd to me because I commended Anderson for being more focused and humanizing the dogs, and having the humans speak only Japanese up above…but at the same time it feels a little gross because you dehumanize the people of the culture but still use the culture as a setting for the film.

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Truthfully, I could’ve ignored ALL of this if it weren’t for one thing that tipped me over the often blurred line between appreciation and appropriation…and that is the use of Greta Gerwig’s character, Tracy Walker. The fact that a character from Ohio (because Lord knows OHIO is the most woke place on the planet) is the only one amongst the masses that can see the corruption of the Kobayashi dynasty really leaves a sour taste in my mouth, similar to when I see the “White Savior” trope. Sure, Atari is the hero to the dogs…but he spends most of the movie with them on Trash Island being out of the spotlight to the rest of the characters while Tracy is over in Megasaki City actually getting people to rally behind the cause. By doing this, the film really does show that the use of Japanese culture is poorly thought-out despite the use of Japanese actors and imagery, because at the end of the day they could’ve done this with ANY foreign culture and it wouldn’t have made a difference. This belittles everyone into this one bubble of “Eastern” rather than showing what is unique about the hundreds of cultures that aren’t in the West.

While definitely being a little problematic, “Isle of Dogs” still manages to be a technically impressive and positive story with its own unique charisma. With all things considered, “Isle of Dogs” gets a 7/10.

 

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

 

Movie Review – Black Panther

The Revolution will not be Televised.

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

Well it looks like my favorite director and favorite actor are 3 for 3 on their team-ups. I don’t even know where to begin, that’s how happy I am. Here goes my attempt…

“Black Panther” is the 18th installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it picks up where “Captain America: Civil War” left off and brings the focus to the Prince T’Challa having to formally take up the mantle of Black Panther and King of Wakanda. In this movie, we get familiarized with Wakandan culture, T’Challa’s family and best friends, and the conflict that revolves around Wakanda itself. We really do get to focus on this country and these characters because there’s barely any MCU-extras in this. In fact you really don’t even need to be caught up to watch this one on its own. What seemed like a tall order ends up being an original movie with many conflicted characters that you actually care about, an absolutely phenomenal villain (oh we’ll get there, trust me), and it manages to bring social commentary to the front without being forceful or preachy. It all just works so well.

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However, most movies aren’t perfect (even the ones like this that I personally will take with me to my grave), and I specifically made sure to see this one twice to really be fair to it and anyone reading. I couldn’t catch anything glaringly wrong without nitpicking, but there’s a few technical issues that mess with the flow a little. This movie kind of does the “Wonder Woman” thing where that first shot of Themyscira (in this case, Wakanda) looks absolutely gorgeous…but from there on out the CGI takes a dive and its not “unwatchable” but its frustrating because we’ve seen “Doctor Strange” and how amazing the effects were there, so I felt a little disappointed in that end. As many of you may have heard, there’s a lack of action and big fights in this one. From where I stand, the first fight between T’Challa and M’Baku is a bare-knuckle fight and its AMAZING because they actually go for an MMA-style bout with punches and grappling rather than the unrealistic “Black Widow” scissor kicking and a million cuts just to get one sequence right. However, admittedly the final fights are kind of bland. Lastly, I feel like the pacing could turn some people off, because the climax happens intensely and quickly after a lot of exposition and fleshing-out. I didn’t mind it because I felt like I knew the situation well enough before the thing happens, but I think an extra 10 minutes would’ve made a huge difference (would put the runtime right at the 2.5 hour mark, which I don’t mind because the time used is well spent).

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So that was me nitpicking…and all that aside this is still the best MCU movie and in the top 5 Superhero movies for me. Everything the movie does well is done so ridiculously well that you feel satisfied and familiar with Wakanda because the world and the characters are built properly so that audiences can understand them. The movie just exudes passion and power and it really captivates you. Lets get into specifics:

Anyone can look at this cast and already be amazed, but wow they ALL delivered. I can’t honestly think of a single main character or performance I disliked because all of the characters and their different motives got a chance to shine and they all got to be heard. Okoye, Nakia, M’Baku were all fantastic, Shuri (played by Letitia Wright) absolutely stole the show. She does such an amazing job of juxtaposing being T’Challa’s younger sister with being one of the brightest minds in the world, rivaling guys like Tony Stark and Dr. Strange. The best part is that all of these characters develop and conflict with each other, because of the way Coogler establishes them early on, everything that happens after just makes sense and you end up picking sides but also understanding where everyone is coming from.

The film is so ridiculously layered and there’s so much to unpack, but I wanted to highlight a few things in particular. Yes, this is a very culturally relevant and important, but like I may have mentioned before it doesn’t preach to you. It takes you on this journey and all of sudden you’re hit with things that all end up making sense and gives the film an organic feel. On that note, the “Marvel humor” that so many people complain about also isn’t there. Any jokes made are very dry and unforced to go along with these characters, think of T’challa’s “I don’t care” line in Civil War when he wasn’t really trying to be funny, but it just was. Coogler also did his thing with subtleties and having a reason for all the small details, which just made me so happy especially when it was supplemented by Ludwig Gorranson’s score and Kendrick Lamar’s original songs. Even after all of this…I still haven’t gotten to the best part.

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Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger is, without a doubt, my favorite part of this movie. It is always tough to capture a character who is fueled by anger because often times it can look/feel silly…but Killmonger brought a very real and relatable feeling to the table and was so fantastic on every level. This is a villain that makes the heroes look within themselves, and at his core philosophy…he isn’t wrong. He takes it too far, sure, but he just wants to help innocent people, and he’s so mad that the people with the resources to help aren’t doing anything. You’re going to have to watch the movie to understand, but the issues that Killmonger brings up affect Wakanda, the characters, and the Marvel universe going forward.

“Black Panther” is an excellent addition to cinematic history, and I’m giving it a 9.5/10; Wakanda Forever.