If Infinity War was the Empire Strikes Back of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then Endgame was poised to be the MCU's Return of the Jedi. RotJ was a "good enough" capstone on a legendary film series, and that's pretty much where my expectations for Endgame sat. Endgame exceeded my expectations. It's far more than just a "good enough" sequel, though it's still not as good as Infinity War.

Endgame could very easily have just been a movie about all the heroes picking themselves back up after being knocked down in Infinity War, coming together, going after Thanos, and beating him up for two hours. Then they get the Infinity Gauntlet and snap all the dead heroes and people back into existence. No harm done, happy ending for everyone.

Not the case.

Several of my friends suspected that Thanos would remain the point-of-view character, and that he, himself, would be overcome with grief and regret over having killed Gamora. That Thanos would actually be the one to undo everything, redeeming himself in a way similar to Darth Vader. That didn't happen either. The point of view has shifted completely back to our heroes -- what's left of them.

Thanos' grief is not the subject of the movie, nor does he spend the movie gloating. Grief is, however, the overarching theme of Endgame, which handles the subject with maturity and nuance -- at least, up until its morally muddled ending (more on that later). The Marvel movies have always included themes of family, and the lengths one would go for family. Endgame explores how we deal with the loss of family, the grief and depression that comes with tragedy, the trauma and guilt of failing to protect those you care about. It's powerful stuff, and it pulls no punches.

The end credits went full-blown Star Trek VI.

And I totally cried when the movie went full-blown Star Trek VI with its end credits. It's too bad they didn't include the Stan Lee marvel logo that was included in Captain Marvel. This being the capstone MCU movie that everyone is going to see, I feel that tribute would have served this movie well. Or maybe put that tribute at the end of the movie, along with the other credits. Ah well.

 

It's hard to talk any more about this movie without going into spoiler territory. So I'm going to start with minor spoilers and work my way up to the more major ones. If you haven't seen the movie yet, then you can close this page now and know that I give it my fullest recommendation. Otherwise, feel free to read on, but know that things are going to get increasingly spoiler-y as I go on. Feel free to stop if you feel like you're about to read something you don't want to hear.

The remaining heroes must deal with the grief and guilt of having failed to stop Thanos.
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I'm late to this party. With Avengers: Endgame due out in the next couple weeks, I finally got around to seeing Captain Marvel. I had planned to see it with a friend the week after release, but illness and work got in the way, so we never made it out. Also, I just haven't been out to movies much since being blown away by Into the Spider-Verse -- seriously, it's out on home video and streaming, go watch it! There's a few other movies that I've been wanting to see, and I'm going to try really hard to not miss them in theaters. I'm really looking forward to Jordan Peele's new movie, Us, which I'm hoping to see this week or next. And apparently, DC's Shazam! might actually be good?!

But I finally had a weekend afternoon to myself, and decided to go to Captain Marvel, since my girlfriend didn't want to see it. As is par for the Marvel movies, it's good enough. Marvel has yet to produce a true flop, but I feel like Captain Marvel is a bit of a regression considering the studio's recent track record.

I like when the Marvel movies experiment with genre, but Captain Marvel remains a pretty standard fare origin story.

The big problem is that we're back to origin stories. Spider-Man: Homecoming smartly passed on re-re-telling the story of how Peter Parker became Spider-Man, and was all the better for it. Recent movies like Black Panther, Guardians vol. 2, and [especially] Infinity War, had moved beyond the dull origin stories and un-interesting, cookie-cutter villains to offer truly engaging and transcendent films. Captain Marvel kind of falls in with Doctor Strange as being a passable -- but ultimately skippable -- entry. At least it isn't as contradictory as Doctor Strange.

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Movie audiences were all pleasantly surprised when the ensemble cast of Avengers all came together to make a pretty damned good movie. There was genuine anxiety regarding whether that movie could possibly successfully bring four movies' worth of superheroes together into a single movie, and manage to give everybody enough valuable screen time to make the whole thing work. Similarly, there was considerably anxiety regarding whether or not Marvel could double-down and pull off an ensemble of ensembles for the mega-crossover Infinity War. But at this point, I think we've all moved past any expectation that Marvel will screw up, and we all just assume that they're going to find a way to magically make it all work.

I had to wait a couple weeks to find out. I had planned to see the movie the Monday after release and have this review out two weeks ago, but fate conspired against that. Towards the end of the trailers, somebody pulled the fire alarm in the building, forcing the theater to evacuate. It was a false alarm, but by the time they let everyone back in, it was too late and the movie wouldn't be over in time to pick up the kids from KidsQuest before they closed for the night. Ah well. My girlfriend finally got sick of having to hush her students whenever they started talking about the movie, so she dragged me out to the theater earlier this week.

The sheer volume of characters, content, and punches here does make Infinity War one of the more unbalanced of Marvel's movies. It is after all, weaving a complex tapestry of superhero action, science fiction, and magical fantasy, and there's virtually no set-up or development for the characters. This movie is all climax all the time. It's probably the first Marvel movie that really requires that you have seen most of the lead-up material. There simply isn't enough time here to introduce who everyone is and what their deal is. If you haven't seen at least one film featuring each character, you'll likely be lost with regard to who they are. Guardians of the Galaxy, Civil War, and Ragnarok are pretty much essential prerequisite viewing. You can skip Ant Man though, as he's conspicuously absent from this particular compilation piece.

Infinity War is an ensemble of ensembles.

This movie would probably fail miserably if it were a typical super-hero movie focused around the heroes and their struggle (and failure) to beat the bad guy. Marvel knows well enough to not try to replicate The Empire Strikes Back. Instead, Infinity War is much more about the bad guy. Thanos is pretty much the main character here, and a great deal of time and effort is paid to trying to make him as relatable and understandable of a villain as possible. He is characterized with nuance, he's clever, he's ruthless, and he's consistent in his goals and ambition. Whether or not you sympathize with his point of view will, of course, depend on where you stand on the topic of universal genocide. Josh Brolin's Thanos does, however, have some pretty definitive swagger and charisma. His CG monstrosity has a lot of screen presence. It's too bad that the CG isn't always completely convincing though.

Because the bad guy is basically the main character (and protagonist), the entire narrative arc of the movie is almost the inverse of what you'd usually expect. The bad guys show up to create the dramatic stakes and sense of threat with aplomb, as expected. But instead of the rising action being a series of setbacks for the heroes with a climactic victory at the end, the heroes seem to come together and get everything mostly under control for the middle act of the movie, only to have it all go to shit when the climax arrives. Instead of the good guys losing in the end, the movie is framed as the bad guy wins in the end -- a subtle, but significant difference!

Thanos is the main character of this movie, and the dramatic and emotional arcs revolve around him.
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Spider-Man: Homecoming poster

Spider-Man was a fairly revolutionary comic book character when he was first revealed back in the '60's. Being a nerdy, socially-awkward young teenager, a large portion of the comic-book-reading audience could relate to him in ways that they simply couldn't with characters like Batman, Superman, Iron Man, and the Fantastic Four. Peter Parker was one of them.

Finally casting an actual teenager to fill the role of Peter Parker / Spider-Man is an obviously brilliant (and overdue) move that does for this generation of young superhero movie audiences, what the original Spider-Man did for comic-reading kids in the '60's. For the first time, I can actually buy into this film version of Peter Parker as a high school student. There's a lot more focus on teenage drama and on Peter's conflicting responsibilities as Spider-Man and as a student. He flakes out on his friends, misses quizzes and extra-curricular activities. He worries about who he could invite to the homecoming dance, and worries that if Aunt May finds out about his superheroing, she might ground him.

Peter's age and his relatability to young audiences isn't the only parallel that this movie makes with the early issues of the comics. The first issue of Amazing Spider-Man included a storyline in which Spider-Man attempted to join the Fantastic Four. Homecoming is about Spider-Man seeking to join the Avengers (since Marvel doesn't have the film rights to the Fantastic Four yet). Homecoming skips over the first Spidey villain (who was the Chameleon) and focuses on the Vulture, who first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #2. This movie also throws in the Tinkerer, who was also featured in a storyline of Amazing Spider-Man #2. The love interest is even fellow high-schooler Liz Allan, who even preceded Gwen Stacy as one of Peter's first romantic interests in the comics.

Trying to step out of Sam Raimi's spider-shadow

Much like the Sam Raimi movies, the supporting cast here is excellent -- and unlike the Sam Raimi movies, the main cast is spot-on too! Sure, it doesn't have J.K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, and I have a hard time believing that anybody can beat Cliff Robertson and Rosemary Harris as Uncle Ben and Aunt May, but everyone here puts in a great effort. Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark appearance is much more substantive than a simple phoned-in cameo, and Michael Keaton is absolutely fantastic as an increasingly-unhinged working-class bad guy who's simply trying to run his modest weapon-smuggling ring under the radar of the Avengers.

Instead of trying to join the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man is trying to join the Avengers.

I'm also grateful that this movie is a bit more upbeat and less mopey and brooding than the Sam Raimi films...

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When I reviewed Captain America: Civil War, I said that "the Marvel cinematic universe may be starting to collapse under its own weight". I probably should have said that "it's starting to buckle under its own weight", since Marvel is still a ways off from anything that resembles collapse. That movie also got better upon repeat viewings, but I feel much the same about the recently-released Doctor Strange. In much the same way that I had suspected that Suicide Squad must have taken place years (or decades) prior to Dawn of Justice, I had also assumed that Doctor Strange must have occurred (at least partly) prior to the events of the first Avengers movie.

The story of Doctor Strange is, after all, essentially a Doubting Thomas story. That would be fine if Doctor Strange were a stand-alone movie, but a Doubting Thomas story is a really difficult thing to buy into within the Marvel cinematic universe. By the beginning of the movie, Stephen Strange (who lives in New York) must surely be aware of (and possibly have first-hand experience with) superhumans since the events of the first Avengers movie. In a world in which the literal Norse God of Thunder Thor has descended from the mystical plane of Asgard, to team up with a gamma-powered Hulk and a super soldier frozen since World War II, to defend New York from an inter-dimensional alien invasion, can you really be all that skeptical of astral projection, alternate dimensions, or even blatant magic?

Avengers Tower in Doctor Strange
Avengers Tower is clearly visible.

If Doctor Strange's car accident and physical therapy took place long before the events of the first Avengers, then this skepticism would be excusable. If Strange spent years at Kamar Taj learning magic, while oblivious to the events of the Avengers movies, Winter Soldier, and Civil War, then that would be a satisfactory explanation for his ignorance. But I don't think that's the case. Doctor Strange was tight-lipped when it came to references to the other Marvel movies (potentially for this very reason), but Avengers Tower still shows up in the skyline, and I'm pretty sure there were references to the other super heroes in the first half of the movie. In fact, I'm pretty sure that Strange gets a phone call asking if he'd be willing to treat an Air Force colonel who broke his spine in experimental armor. This must surely be a reference to Rhodes' accident in Civil War.

Captain America: Civil War - brooding characters
Strange is asked if he'd be willing to treat Colonel Rhodes after injuries sustained in Civil War.

Maybe I'm being nitpicky, but buy-in is important in fantastical movies like this. But it's hard to buy into Stephen Strange, and it certainly doesn't help that he's an abrasive ass hole and isn't very likeable at the start of the movie...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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