Warner Bros. Pictures.
Warner Bros. Pictures.
If I could tell my 19-year-old self discovering superhero comics in college exactly how good their big screen adaptations would become, I wouldn’t believe me.
I saw “Avengers: Endgame” (2019) tonight with expectations that were very high. It was still better than I thought it would be. It was easily better than last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War” (although I think of them as two halves of the same epic movie). I don’t pretend to be a film expert, so take this as speculation — I personally think the pair of “Infinity” films have made comic-book movie history in the same manner as the original “Superman” (1978), Tim Burton’s “Batman” (1989) and Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy (2005-2012).
I don’t really want to make any more observations, because I’m too afraid of inadvertently posting spoilers. But I will say that there is a massive tonal change between “Infinity War” and “Endgame.” The banter and humor of the former is largely left aside, and this concluding story is darker and far more emotionally sophisticated. It’s moving. It feels strange to write here, but I kept thinking during the movie that this was a more “grown up” Marvel film.
And it is EPIC. I honestly can’t imagine how Marvel can top it with future films. There is an action set piece that made my jaw drop. I can’t say more.
This is an obvious 10 out of 10 from me.
“Captain America: Civil War” (2016) is nearly everything I hoped it would be; it’s easily on par, if not better, than the first two “Avengers” movies. (And I can’t help but think of this as the third “Avengers.” Yes, Cap’s name is in the title, but this is necessarily an ensemble story about the divided superteam.) I’d give it a 9 out of 10.
I honestly just need to be very vague in this review … this is such an eagerly awaited film, and I want to be extra cautious about spoilers. No, there are no twists in the movie, but there are surprising character and plot elements.
The movie surprised me in a couple of ways. One, this film appears to follow the original 2006 comic book crossover only very loosely. (I have not read it, but I know the story.) There is no “Superhero Registration Act” that would directly affect countless people in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s much narrower than that — a demand by the United Nations for direct oversight of The Avengers.
Two, this is definitely the darkest and most adult outing with The Avengers so far. Don’t get me wrong — the levity and gee-whiz comic book fun that is the MCU’s trademark is still there, and it’s no Christopher Nolan movie. But the movie’s central story device is set in motion by the question of who should be held accountable for civilian deaths. And so many individual major characters are motivated by grief or rage.
This is notable throughout the film, for example, in the characterization of Tony Stark, and his portrayal by Robert Downey, Jr. He’s no longer a wisecracking billionaire playboy who all the guys want to be. Instead, he’s a troubled, pensive leader who often seems out of his depth. We watch as his team and the events surrounding him spin out of control, and we no longer want to trade places with him. He’s more sympathetic. But he simultaneously fails to engender the viewer loyalty that he so quickly and easily won in every other Marvel movie he’s appeared in.
And yet … he isn’t, as I had suspected, a cardboard adversary for Captain America’s underdog to stand up to. There are some sad things going on in his life, both during the events of this movie and in “Iron Man 3” (2013), and his failings and poor decisions are perfectly understandable. (I won’t say more, besides that viewers will definitely get a different spin on “Iron Man 3” after this movie.) And Downey displays a great range in playing this far sadder Tony.
One character in the movie even makes a quip about “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), and it feels like a meta reference, as that film is regarded as the darkest in the “Star Wars” original trilogy. (And their are story structure similarities as well.)
But don’t get me wrong — “Captain America: Civil War” still brings loads of fun. It’s an effects-laden, geeky, hero-against-hero, superteam gangfight that is straight out of every Marvel fan’s dreams. (And, needless to say, it’s far better than its analog this year from DC.) Tom Holland might be the best Spider-Man yet. The action is damn pleasing, and the one-liners made me laugh out loud. (“Made ya look.”)
The bromances (including the broken ones) seemed real to me. I found myself liking and caring about … Winter Soldier, of all people, and I kept hoping things worked out with his friendship with Cap. (Sebastian Stan impressed me in the role for the first time.)
What didn’t I like? Well, I had some small criticisms. I submit that Black Panther was a complete misfire. The character concept is boring (he’s an African Bruce Wayne), he seems like an ethnic caricature, and he absolutely is shoehorned into the plot. When his tough female subordinate physically threatens Black Widow, he smugly opines that a fight between them “would be amusing.” It felt creepy and sexualized, and maybe like something out of a 1970’s blaxploitation film. He’s also pretty blandly played by Chadwick Boseman.
Spiderman, too, seems shoehorned in as fan service. I loved seeing him in the movie, but i wish he’d been written in differently. (Would Stark really recruit a highschooler to combat seasoned soldiers, one of whom is a superpowered psychotic assassin?)
Next is a criticism that is just a matter of personal taste. I myself would have preferred a movie that was even darker. Just think for a minute about the basic story. We have civilian casualties driving the world’s governments to seek control over its superheroes — then the heroes themselves fighting each other with what must at least be considered possibly deadly force.
That’s a story pretty much brimming over with pathos, if you ask me. But the movie underplays those plot elements considerably. We hardly see the civilian casualties that are supposed to drive the plot — and when we do, they’re glimpsed briefly in news footage. And all but three of the heroes (Tony, Black Panther and Winter Soldier) display any of the anger or sense of betrayal that you would expect from a violent “civil war” among former friends. And it is violent … members of either faction fire missiles at, or try to crush, their opponents. Does the MCU’s characteristic banter belong anywhere here?
Finally, this could have been an idea-driven movie like the latter two “Dark Knight” films. But only Cap and Iron Man seem to genuinely fight about ideology. Others fight according to personal or professional loyalty, personal revenge, or just because they are a “fan” of either Cap or Tony. And neither does the script articulate their positions especially well. Wouldn’t it be perfectly in character for Cap to quote Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin? “Those who would exchange their liberty for a little temporary safety” and all that?
Oh, well. I’m probably asking too much from a superhero movie.
This was a hell of a lot of fun. Go see it.
Throughout the entire first season of Netflix’ “Daredevil,” the obsessive comic book nerd in me kept scanning outdoor scenes for The Avengers Tower. I don’t think I saw it once. But that didn’t affect my enjoyment of a serial crime thriller that was so often fantastic.
And I think that sums up the program nicely. This is only a putative part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. References to the fantastical larger universe of Marvel’s comic book movies are perfunctory and vague. The intergalactic invasion of the Chitauri lizard-men, engineered by the Norse God Loki, is referred to only as “the event” — even though the destruction in New York is part of this season’s plot setup. Characters like Iron Man and Thor are referred to dryly by a secondary bad guy who doesn’t even mention their names. And other “comic book connections” tend to be minor, obscure, and sparing for a 13-episode season. I actually gained the suspicion here that the screenwriters for this brutal crime drama were unconsciously embarrassed that their show was part of the MCU. Yes, I do know that Netflix will soon launch other related shows, for less iconic comic book characters such as Luke Cage and Iron Fist, and that this incarnation of Daredevil seems fated to join something called “The Defenders.” (Ugh.) But that thankfully hasn’t happened yet.
Even the comic book elements of the Daredevil mythos seemed to me to be underplayed here. His unusual powers (they don’t even feel like “superpowers”) rarely take center stage. His villains aren’t garish. He’s only nicknamed “Daredevil” via a news article in the final episode; nor does he don anything approaching his trademark costume until then. Wilson Fisk, our Big Bad, is never once referred to by his comic book appellation, “The Kingpin.”
And you know what? All of that works just fine. The Hell’s Kitchen we see in “Daredevil” might seem like a universe unto itself. But, given this show’s quality, even a diehard comic book fan like me can concede, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It ain’t broke. I’d rate Season 1 at a 9 out of 10. In many ways, “Daredevil” is far superior to anything else in the MCU. This show’s distinguishing characteristic isn’t that it’s dark. It’s that it’s a well written, well directed, and usually quite well performed crime-thriller.
It has surprisingly three-dimensional, truly interesting characters who are rendered in depth and detail. This includes a few bad guys, by the way, who might have a knack for winning over viewer loyalty just by being so good at being bad. (Most people would point to Fisk, but for me, Wesley was the guy you hate to love.) Many characters are so well written and played by their actors that they seem 100 percent “real” — particularly Ben Urich and Karen Page. This is the single MCU property with the most compelling characterization and, yes, I am including the “Iron Man” films in this comparison.
Yes, everything you’ve heard about this being Marvels darkest onscreen outing is correct … and THEN some. The story is not just thematically dark; the story is itself brutal. This seems to be a corner of the MCU in which the harshest consequences result for characters at every level. Daredevil doesn’t just “take a hit” here; he gets cut up, bloodied and scarred — so much at several points that he requires the services of a (regrettably plot convenient) off-duty emergency room nurse.
Far worse is what happens to ordinary people who are heroic themselves. No good deed goes unpunished in this nasty niche of Marvel’s world. Defenseless people are shown no mercy by the story’s stronger protagonists. The murder of one beloved character is all the more chilling because we witness their fruitless attempts to defend themselves despite a complete absence of special powers or training. It’s … actually a bit worse than what we saw in that paragon of gritty superhero films, Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy.
And the crimes and criminals themselves? Yeesh. An early scene in the very first episode gives us a chilling little glimpse of human trafficking, with sobbing, kidnapped women loaded into the back of a dockside shipping container. Not long after, we witness a father being beaten in the street before his son’s eyes; the child is then snatched. The running theme here is that ordinary human evil can be more terrifying than dimension-hopping lizard-man armies or tyrannical Norse gods. Sure, this theme is something we’ve seen plenty of times before. But here, it’s just done so damn WELL.
The fight choreography was frikkin’ SWEET. It was fantastic enough to be comic book violence, but gritty and consequential enough to be real-world violence. I kept trying to figure out where a stunt double might be filling in for Charlie Cox, who portrayed Daredevil. I couldn’t. He’s … not doing his own stunts, is he?
The acting was usually quite good. Deborah Ann Woll consistently stole the show as Karen Page — the script here beautifully elevates Karen beyond her pretty pathetic comic book incarnation. (A caveat — I was reading the “Daredevil” comics in the 1990’s, and am using those as a frame of reference here; of course they might have changed significantly since then.) Karen often seems to emerge as much of a primary protagonist here as Daredevil himself. She’s got far more at stake, personally, and Woll expertly gets that across to the audience. And she’s a complex character, playing the fool for Foggy Nelson, being the the darkly driven de facto apprentice to Ben Urich, and occasionally being manipulative and ruthless in ways that our other protagonists never could. What a great improvement on the original source material. (Hint — comics are not a medium known for its feminist sensibilities.) Woll, who I remember hitting it out of the park in her psychopathic role in HBO’s “True Blood” (2008) outshines every co-star.
Nearly every other cast member was perfect or near perfect. Vondie Curtis-Hall needs special mention here for truly bringing Ben Urich to life on the big screen for the first time. His turn as the aging, jaded newspaper reporter was flawless. Urich, to me, will always be the greatest reporter in comics. (F&*$ Peter Parker and those Daily Planet pretty people; Ben was the real deal. Who cares if he was past mid-life? He was the only character in the comic books who spoke and proceeded like a real journalist.)
There were really only a couple of forgivable weaknesses that affected my enjoyment of Season 1.
First, the narrative structure … seemed “off” somehow. I see the basic underlying story here as ultimately being an deeply personal battle between two men: Daredevil and the Kingpin. (This is despite the way that Karen and Ben delightfully distinguish themselves as prime movers in the plot.) I …. never really sensed any momentum here. For a while, Daredevil and Fisk have minimal information about each other. We see Matt Murdoch in skirmishes with many underlings; these seem episodic and without greater consequence. Then … Matt quite accidentally meets Fisk for the first time, when he tries to “get a sense of” his enemy by … meeting his girlfriend? Huh? I never really got a sense of these two primary characters moving toward each other until the last episodes. Oh, well … the comics were kinda like that. But I do hope that future seasons are more tightly plotted, with more consistent tension.
Second, there really seemed to be multiple problems connected with the character of Foggy Nelson. I do think that Eldon Henson performed quite poorly in the role. Maybe he was just miscast. He doesn’t once come close to the performances of his co-stars. I also think the script did absolutely nothing to make Foggy a likable character. He’s immature, self-absorbed, and ethically rickety. His jokes fall flat; his flat “banter” with Karen is grating (and makes her look like an idiot). He’s … downright irritating. Why would Matt want him as a “best friend” or business partner? Why would anybody?
Third, I occasionally would like a more specific nod in Hell’s Kitchen to the larger Marvel universe. Maybe a truck passes by with the Stark Industries log. Maybe a kid passes by with a Captain America t-shirt. Maybe a couple of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents investigate Fisk’s employees in connection with offshore partners who are alleged to have super-powered henchman. Just something small — it wouldn’t spoil the “real” feel of our dark drama, and it would place our protagonists’ lives in a larger context.
All in all, though, “Daredevil” was surprisingly superior to what I thought it would be, even with all of its glowing press. See it.
One final note — if you’re a fan of both superhero comics and AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” then Season 2’s casting has a wicked cool surprise, if you haven’t already heard about it. Head on over to The Internet Movie Database to see who is playing whom. You’ll smile.