MOVIE: Spider-man: Far from Home (2019)

Spider-man: Far from Home Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 129 minutes / 2.15 hours After the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), there were still plenty of questions that remained. While still part of Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Spider-man: Far from Home (2019) attempts to grapple with the outcome of such a pivotal film in the superhero franchise. As was the case with its predecessor, Spider-man: Homecoming (2017), Far from Home shows the audience the impacts of the other films in the MCU in a way that’s personable and relatable. After all, it’s easier to connect with a “friendly neighborhood Spider-man” than with a multi-billion dollar playboy. I did appreciate the emotional depth of this movie, especially considering how Tom Holland handles the role of Peter Parker. From grieving over the losses of Endgame while also trying to move forward with his life, Peter has plenty of growth opportunities throughout this film. That being said, Far from Home seems to hit almost...
Read More

MOVIE: Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours Captain Marvel (2019) fills this weird space that essentially exists between the “Part 1” of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). While Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) also explained some of the events and plot points that would need to happen before Endgame, Captain Marvel took a slightly different approach by essentially acting as an origin story and prequel for a lot of loose bits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Needless to say, I didn’t miss much by passing on this film and seeing Endgame first. I knew I was taking a risk with watching these movies out of order—especially considering how pivotal Black Panther (2018) was in setting the stage for Infinity War. However, there were key moments in this movie that made me go, “Huh. That explains that little bit from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) or Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014).” The fact that Captain Marvel was...
Read More

MOVIE: Shazam! (2019)

Shazam! Year: 2019 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.20 hours As far as self-aware movies go, I think Shazam! (2019) is the best example from the genre of comic book heroes. Deadpool (2016) might have been more “meta,” but Shazam! hits all the bits that make comic books popular to kids, especially young boys. As a fan of self-aware films, I would have seen this movie anyway. However, with Zachary Levi in the lead role, I absolutely had to see it. I’ve generally been a fan of his work from Chuck and Tangled (2010), so seeing that he still has his comedic timing in shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and movies like Shazam! is encouraging. In terms of plot, the premise is somewhat weak, but the pitch is something akin to “Big (1988), but as a superhero film like Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).” In fact, there’s at least one scene in a mall that winks so hard at this reference, I was afraid it...
Read More

BOOK: The Point (2018)

The Point Year: 2018 Author: John Dixon Length: 320 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** With the rise in popularity of the superhero genre, it was only a matter of time before it leaked into other genres. While some genres like steampunk (like in The Esper Files) make for an interesting twist, others like military YA sci-fi are so similar as to be just one other entry in the zeitgeist. The problem with this is that other, more famous handlings of supernatural superpowers bring much more to the table than books like The Point (which doesn’t necessarily add much to either genre on the whole). As far as I could gather, there are only three or four different “types” of mutants in The Point: telekinetic, pyrokinesis, super strength, and “other” (like dream manipulation and energy storage, the latter of which was reasonably original). I suppose franchises like X-Men and One Piece, which give each of their unique characters unique superpowers and rarely (if ever)...
Read More

BOOK: Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid (2019)

Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid Year: 2019 Author: Marcus Emerson Length: 336 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY*** Once again, I seem to have jumped in on the second book of a series. Fortunately, there was plenty of exposition detailing the events of The Super Life of Ben Braver. Maybe a little too much exposition. This sequel took a little long getting to its own story because of this, along with a bit of heavy-handed foreshadowing as well. Regardless of its slow start, Ben Braver and the Incredible Exploding Kid is a pretty standard middle-grade book that calls upon the success of the superhero genre to package a lesson about pride between action set pieces. While there are some parallels between the X-Men series, I feel the main character’s arc is perhaps a little more similar to early My Hero Academia. Plus, it wouldn’t be a middle-grade story without a bit of a Harry Potter feel to it as well (i.e., a unique main character with a semi-bumbling male...
Read More

MOVIE: Venom (2018)

Venom Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 112 minutes / 1.87 hours If I haven’t said it before in my review of Spider-man: Homecoming (2017), I’ll repeat it here: I grew up watching the 1990s animated Spider-man series, which makes the Spider-man franchise one of my favorite. Consequently, most of my knowledge of the franchise comes from the show. In my mind, the symbiote storyline that introduced Venom was one of the best in the series, and I was disappointed when Spider-man 3 (2007) woefully miscast Eddie Brock with Topher Grace. Flash forward a decade later, and the big screen is taking another crack at the Venom storyline in a standalone film…but without Spider-man. As a long-time fan, I appreciated the mostly faithful origin story in Venom (2018), with a few minor and vital details still retained to make it close to what actually happened. This time around, Tom Hardy was a much better choice for the titular role, even if his mumbling accent was a little distracting at times. While the physique was a match,...
Read More

MOVIE: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Ant-Man and the Wasp Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours I'll be the first to defend Ant-Man (2015) from its detractors. Once I realized it was supposed to be a comedy (mostly due to Edgar Wright's early involvement), I knew the superhero aspect would take a back seat to the laughs. That being said, I cannot defend the honor of its sequel. Sure, a lot of the elements that made Ant-Man entertaining are still present in Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018), but it's really more of a standard superhero film that's meant to answer questions brought up in previous films. While this film picks up well after the events of this first film and Captain America: Civil War (2016), not a lot has changed. The main characters are all there, but now Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) also has a shrinking suit. This is no surprise, considering the after-credits scene from the first movie, so it was nice to see her get into...
Read More

MOVIE: Deadpool 2 (2018)

Deadpool 2 Year: 2018 Rating: R Length: 119 minutes / 1.98 hours At what point does the fourth wall stop? I only ask this because there’s a point where an audience member will have to know not only the plot of the film that started the franchise, but the subsequent reactions to the film, the complete history of comic books, and the entirety of the lyrics to Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Major-General’s Song” to understand the references. While Deadpool (2016) maintained that sly balance between knowing winks to the superhero genre as a whole and being an actual superhero film, Deadpool 2 (2018) almost went toward both extreme ends in order to maintain its balance. There were plenty of references and little sight gags that will leave true fans of the franchise pausing their Blu-rays for years to come, and I certainly did appreciate some of the meta-humor, but only to a point. Strangely enough, Deadpool 2 felt more like a superhero film than its predecessor, which seems odd as it...
Read More

MOVIE: Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther Year: 2018 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours Anymore, superhero films are a dime a dozen. I get that they’re adding up to a greater narrative for Avengers: Infinity War (2018), but a lot of them seem almost indistinguishable from each other. Enter Black Panther (2018). Not only is this superhero not white, but almost all the action takes place somewhere other than New York City. There are a lot of strengths in Black Panther that make it feel like a cut above the rest. From the set design and aesthetic of Wakanda to the well-developed characters (including women warriors and women scientists), Black Panther shows how a superhero movie should be made. Despite its strengths, there are still a few, minor weaknesses in this film. First, some of the CGI felt a little off in the sense that my mind rejected it when I saw it. These moments were usually pretty rare but were unquestionably obvious. Secondly, one of the tenets of the superhero genre is the action/fight sequences. While...
Read More

MOVIE: Spider-Man – Homecoming (2017)

Spider-Man: Homecoming Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 133 minutes / 2.22 hours Of all the superheroes in their respective comic universes, the one I grew up with was Spider-Man. I watched the animated 1990’s television show, and I loved when this relatable superhero made his way to the big screen in Spider-Man (2002). I was even more pleased when Spider-Man 2 (2004) set the tone for future superhero franchises. The first film is the origin film so the second film can dispense with the best villain and not spend all its time in exposition. Unfortunately, I ended up being disappointed by the third entry in this original Spider-Man trilogy, which was a rare miss in my book. Fast forward to 2012, when Spider-Man was rebooted with Andrew Garfield in the title role. Having to sit through the origin story again, but with a different, green-colored villain as the antagonist seemed like it wasn’t exploring anything new. Around the same time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was...
Read More

MOVIE: Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 141 minutes / 2.35 hours Wonder Woman (2017) is a triumphant movie that shows the comic book genre doesn’t have to be dominated by men. Unfortunately, because it took so long getting here, I can’t help but draw comparisons to other works that came before it, making Wonder Woman seem derivative. In fact, had this movie come out eight years ago, it would have made Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Thor (2011) look like they were copying it. As it stands, though, Wonder Woman feels formulaic, even if the superhero is a woman instead of a man. I will grant that some of the jokes come at the expense of the “fish out of water” character of Diana (Gal Gadot), playing on her naïveté of the “modern world” for laughs (a la Thor) but with a more sexualized context because she’s a woman. There were a few missed opportunities to add depth to the character via these circumstances, the interaction with Chief Napi (Eugene Brave Rock)...
Read More

MOVIE: Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 Year: 2017 Rating: PG-13 Length: 136 minutes / 2.27 hours I sometimes wonder if the strength of the first film in a series dooms the following films to a condition I refer to as “the trilogy conundrum.” If a single film is original and has a strong story that stands by itself, it almost requires the following films to be weaker in comparison, each sequel needing another sequel to tell a complete story. Films like Back to the Future (1985), The Matrix (1999), and Pirates of the Caribbean (2003) are fantastic films that defined their generation, but their sequels were highly dependent on a follow-on sequel, thus making the trilogy complete, but lacking the strength of the initial film. I hate to say it, but Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017) falls into this “trilogy conundrum.” The original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) was a fun and meaningful departure from its Marvel comic book brethren. This sequel, however,...
Read More

MOVIE: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours It is comforting to know that the Marvel Cinematic Universe includes the universe. While most films in this ever-expanding movie multiverse take place on Earth, a few like Thor (2011) and Doctor Strange (2016) explore different realms but still tie back to Earth. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is different in that, almost immediately, Earth is left far behind in favor of alien worlds filled with fantastical creatures. Consequently, this film feels more like a sci-fi movie than a comic book flick. Considering how stagnant the superhero formula has become, this is a good thing. With almost no earthly constraints on it, Guardians of the Galaxy is practically indescribable, probably because it has everything. Comedy. Action. A talking raccoon. With a reasonably well-paced plot, this film excels in developing its diverse cast. These main characters each have their unique traits and little quirks that almost immediately made them amusing and endearing....
Read More

MOVIE: Doctor Strange (2016)

Doctor Strange Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours See if you can guess this movie: goatee'd egomaniac finds himself in a life-changing situation in a foreign land that makes him question everything he's ever stood for and become a superhero in the process. If you guessed Iron Man (2008), you'd certainly be close. No, this familiar plot is none other than the visually extreme Doctor Strange. I understand Marvel has a bigger plot in mind when they do these lesser-known heroes; but lately, it almost seems like they're just phoning it in. Doctor Strange merely feels like filler to get to Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018). I will give Marvel this much: they do know how to cast a film. Benedict Cumberbatch does a superb job at portraying the eponymous Dr. Strange, fused with enough gravitas and humor to make watching him a joy. And while many will question Tilda Swinton's role as The Ancient One, especially considering...
Read More

BOOK: Esper Files 2 – Sky Cult (2017)

Esper Files 2: Sky Cult Year: 2017 Author: Egan Brass Length: 187 pages ***THIS BOOK WAS RECEIVED FROM THE PUBLISHER*** It has been said before that there are no original thoughts. The way to appear original is dependent upon how well you can hide your sources. One of my qualms with the Esper Files series from the beginning has been that it feels very derivative. Right from the get-go, I felt the series was essentially just an X-Men clone set in the steampunk genre. While this was an interesting concept, too much of it was pulled from the popular franchise, making it a bit distracting. In the sequel, Esper Files 2: Sky Cult, a few more references were worked in to help make the characters and story feel a bit more original. I picked up tones of anime like Fairy Tail and One Piece in this story, but I also picked up another blatantly obvious reference: Deadpool. Sure, I get it, he’s a fun character to...
Read More

MOVIE: Daredevil (Director’s Cut) (2003)

Daredevil (Director’s Cut) Year: 2003 Rating: R Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours Back in the early days of the rising popularity of the superhero movie, long before cinematic universes and multi-film crossovers, there were a handful of films that brought these comic book characters to the big screen. From Spider-Man (2002) to X-Men (2000) to The Punisher (2004), one of these films was none other than Daredevil (2003). For many years, I had seen these films, even going so far as having seen Hulk (2003). The one I had not seen was Daredevil, mostly because I had heard it was so bad. I had seen Hulk, so I knew how bad they could be. Now that a Director’s Cut of Daredevil was available, I heard it improved on the original and decided to just skip the original cut entirely. With no understanding of what the film used to be, I can say that the Director’s Cut isn’t completely terrible. Sure, some of the lines...
Read More

MOVIE: Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes / 2.05 hours Perhaps the most controversial film of this summer, Suicide Squad (2016) tells a story that is necessary to highlight the eventual superhero team of the Justice League (2017). While I am aware of the real-life drama surrounding the film, including Jared Leto's method acting, director David Ayer's uncouth comments, and the fandom's revulsion of its negative critical reception, I will try and give an unbiased review here. After all, sometimes the greatest art can stand apart from the artists who create it. Decades from now, most will have forgotten the controversy, resorting to Wikipedia for a reminder. In the realm of superhero films, the motif has always been a dichotomy of extremes. Good vs. evil. In reality, things aren't nearly as clear-cut as this. Sure, there are those who do wrong and those who do right, but each side will have their own motivations. What Suicide Squad does is break down the stereotype of the...
Read More

MOVIE: Superman Returns (2006)

Superman Returns Year: 2006 Rating: PG-13 Length: 154 minutes / 2.57 hours Technically the fifth in the Superman franchise that started in the late 1970's, Superman Returns feels a bit like the black sheep of the bunch. There's a sense that it's just tacked on to try and capitalize on some of the popularity of superhero films, in part because of the director's previous successes with other superheroes. Part of me thinks that Bryan Singer should have directed the third X-Men film instead of this movie; since he clearly knew what he was doing with that Marvel property. But what really gets me about this film is the way it "plays to the audience." If you ask diehard fans of two of the most iconic fandoms what their absolute least favorite film is in their canon, you'll get some telling answers. For Star Wars fans, it's Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) and for Star Trek fans, it's Into Darkness (2013). But why do they hate...
Read More

MOVIE: Captain America – Civil War (2016)

Captain America: Civil War Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 147 minutes / 2.45 hours When it comes to sequels, I fell very few film franchises do their predecessors justice. In my opinion, a great sequel requires a simple formula: cause and effect. The "cause" should be in the form of the first (or in this case, previous) movie(s). Whatever happens before a sequel should drive the plot of the following movie. This is the "effect." While it wasn't nearly as good as this effort, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) followed the same formula. Cause: Superman destroying most of Metropolis in Man of Steel (2013). Effect: Batman and Lex Luthor wanting to hold Superman accountable. See? Simple as that. What perhaps makes Captain America: Civil War such a great film is the amount of "cause" that led to its "effect." The driving plot of this film was in direct response to the destruction and mayhem brought about by the Avengers trying to save the...
Read More

MOVIE: X-Men – Apocalypse (2016)

X-Men: Apocalypse Year: 2016 Rating: PG-13 Length: 144 minutes / 2.4 hours I’ll admit that I was excited for this film, mostly because I was somewhat familiar with its premise. I grew up on the X-Men: Evolution TV show, so I knew that the defining arc of that series was none other than the Apocalypse arc. This may have actually spoiled the movie for me, because it wasn’t quite in line with the plot I knew. Sure, Bryan Singer returned to direct this penultimate piece of the X-Men franchise, but there were just a few things that bugged me about this movie. First off, one of the elements of the previous prequel films I liked and appreciated was the inclusion of historical events and people into the storyline. This way it felt like an alternate reality not so far removed from our own. While there were loose elements of this present, it wasn’t nearly as integrated as it had been done in the past. Add...
Read More

MOVIE: X-Men – Days of Future Past (2014)

X-Men: Days of Future Past Year: 2014 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours One of the more difficult plots to pull off in a film is that of the simultaneous prequel/sequel. Perhaps the most famous of this plotline is The Godfather: Part II (1974). However, I would argue that X-Men: Days of Future Past perfected it. Just like X-Men: First Class (2011) before it, Days of Future Past takes the retro stylings of its decade (this time the 1970’s) and places a plot intertwined with the well-known figures and events of the time. It also simultaneously puts the X-Men in a dire and hopeless situation in a distant future, thus driving the need to go into the past to fix the initial conditions that got them into this quandary. Plus, most of the film is driven by Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), which just shows how vital he is to the series. In a return to form that was sorely missing in the previous two...
Read More

MOVIE: X-Men – First Class (2011)

X-Men: First Class Year: 2011 Rating: PG-13 Length: 132 minutes / 2.2 hours While prequels always hold the distinction of being the one type of movie that you know how it will end, seeing how they get there is certainly entertaining. Much like the Star Wars prequels gave us a point before the original trilogy to learn more about the background of the characters, the X-Men prequels manage to do this, but with a much better result. My only major qualm with prequel trilogies is that, while the mainstays of the franchise were there in terms of characters, the only ones who maintained their actor from the first set of movies were relegated to cameo appearances. This is only heightened by my opinion that the original X-Men trilogy’s cast was perfect in almost every way. That being said, with the prequel trilogy now complete, the younger cast has definitely grown on me as well, James McAvoy’s Xavier being my favorite of the prequel group. Because X-Men: First...
Read More

MOVIE: X-Men – The Last Stand (2006)

X-Men: The Last Stand Year: 2006 Rating: PG-13 Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours What a difference a director makes. While the previous two films in this franchise used Bryan Singer, the choice to go with Brett Ratner in this final film of the trilogy was a mistake. There was a tone and style to the previous X-Men movies that was just never quite captured in this one. The comedy seemed unnatural, the plot wasn’t taken quite seriously enough, and the new characters were never given enough time to really fully develop. Perhaps some of the weakness of this film can be blamed on the previous two films being strong, independent storylines, thus not giving much to tie into a conclusive chapter of a trilogy. Despite X2 (2003) not holding to the traditional form of “the trilogy conundrum”, the fact that X-Men III has to start with some very main characters missing is a plot point that requires viewers to have seen the previous film. The...
Read More

MOVIE: X2 (2003)

X2 Year: 2003 Rating: PG-13 Length: 134 minutes / 2.23 hours I’ve often held that the sequel of a superhero film is better than the original. Most superhero film franchises start out with an origin story, so by the time the second film comes around, all the “exposition” is out of the way and the heroes can really take on some powerful villains. However, since X-Men (2000) didn’t have much of an origin story, its sequel, X2 is almost relegated to the fate of a “flashback” sequel. Still, the darker tone does help set it apart from its predecessor, which is nice. Granted, the choice of exploring Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) past was a good one, considering the strength of the character. Heck, he got two more movies outside the main X-Men saga, so clearly he’s a fan favorite. What’s nice about the superhero sequel is that most comic book story arcs are short enough that they can be incorporated into a single film. In this...
Read More

MOVIE: X-Men (2000)

X-Men Year: 2000 Rating: PG-13 Length: 104 minutes / 1.73 hours Up until the 21st Century, DC had dominated the comic book adaptations on the big screen. Film franchises like Superman and Batman were essentially the only acts in town. Of course, by the time the year 2000 rolled around, Superman hadn’t been in theaters for more than a decade, and Batman had become almost as campy and goofy as its 1960’s counterpart. This was now Marvel’s time to shine. Partly due to a large cast of recognizable characters, X-Men was the right choice to reboot the comic book adaptation film franchise. Even though X-Men set the standard pretty high for comic book adaptations, very few have followed in its stead. Where most first films in a hero franchise focus on the origins of the main character, the X-Men spans such an enormous timeframe, with characters coming in and out of relevance, that it would be difficult to give all of their origins at once. Instead,...
Read More