A review of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” (2019)

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” (2019) is a fun enough Marvel movie; based on my own enjoyment, I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.  It’s got the same qualities as almost all the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — fun, humor and great special effects housed within a remarkably well constructed shared universe.   This mostly standalone adventure is definitely one of the MCU’s campier outings, but I think that most viewers will find it a welcome break after the last two high-stakes, apocalyptic “Avengers” films.  (You may have heard of them.)

It’s also a great film to appeal to comic fans who are younger adults.  The humor usually works, and the characters are nicely relatable.  Peter’s peers and teachers are all engaging enough on their own, and make a good group of supporting characters.  I know most fans have commented how much they like Ned, and I do too — but I think the MCU’s biggest improvement in this part of the mythos is the character of M.J.  She is vastly different from her comic book progenitor, but in good ways.  She’s dry, sardonic and slightly dark, and she’s extremely well played by Zendaya.  I don’t imagine that many fans will agree with me here, but I personally find this character to be a lot more likable and compelling than the MCU’s Peter Parker.

And that brings me to my largest concern about the new “Spider-Man” films.  Their version of Peter is sometimes frustrating.  I don’t think it’s the fault of Tom Holland, who brings a nice amount of energy and personality to the role.  I think it’s the fault of the screenwriters, who have made the character so doltish, boyish and eager-to-please that it’s occasionally annoying.  He sometimes seems more like a middle school student than an advanced high school student.  (Isn’t he supposed to be a senior here?)  The writers seem to want to counter-balance the character’s high intelligence with a humanizing flaw, and they seem to want to contrast young Peter with the older, more seasoned Avengers lineup.  All of that makes perfect sense, but I do think they go a little overboard.

I’m willing to go on record here and say that I prefer Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man.”  His trilogy between 2002 and 2007 had more heart, more devotion to heroic archetypes, and greater attention character depth and detail.  (I still think that 2004’s outstanding “Spider-Man 2” is one of the best comic book movies ever made.)  There are advantages, too, to depicting an iconic superhero that doesn’t inhabit a shared universe — you spend more time exploring the character than exploring their context in relation to others.

Still, I’d recommend “Spider-man: Far From Home.”  Like I said, it was a fun movie.

 

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(I hope they skratch that idea.)

Here’s a thought. If the upcoming “Captain Marvel” introduces the shape-shifting skrull to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as far back as the 1990’s, at least), then does it create the possibility that any major players we’ve seen since the MCU’s inception are Skrull in disguise?

Like in the comics’ “Secret Invasion” storyline?

I kinda hope not, because it’s a terrible idea. But still.

Weird world — I ran this same post on Facebook and it gave me the option of “tagging” the skrull characters on the cover below, in case they were my friends.  As Ford Fairlane would say, “Kooky.”

 

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A petition to save Netflix’ “Daredevil?”

I CAN’T SEE why I wouldn’t sign something like that.

That was terrible.  If this were the Marvel Cinematic Universe, people would actually ask Thanos to ash me.

Anyway, the petition over at Change.org has 48,840 signatures as of this writing, and it’s climbing quickly toward its target goal of 50,000.  It’s even been endorsed by Vincent D’Onofrio, who portrays “Kingpin” on the program.

I swear that it takes all of three seconds to sign.  And what could it hurt?  It worked for Fox’ “Firefly,” right?  (Although it didn’t work for NBC’s “Hannibal.”)

You can find it right here.

 

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Throwback Thursday: the Marvel superheroes in the 1989 Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Oh, god.  Oh, god.  This … this is evidently what passed for the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe in 1989.  (This is the company’s float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.)

Can I be blamed for not getting into superhero comics until college?  When portrayals like this represented the genre to the general public?

Dear God, what have they done to Dr. Doom??  And is that misshapen, dirty aluminum golem supposed to be the Silver Surfer?!  And they’re all in a … multi-level mausoleum?  A crumbling clock-tower?  A haunted castle that inexplicably has a manhole right outside its entrance?  Huh?  Wha?

Hey, this was nearly two full decades before the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Indeed, it was the very same year as Tim Burton’s “Batman” — and that is actually the first bona fide modern superhero movie that I can think of without googling it.  The genre had a long way to go.

Hey … the Spider-man balloon was pretty cool.

 

 

A review of “The X-Files” Season 10

I breaks my heart to say this, but 2016’s long-awaited return of “The X-Files” was not a triumphant one.  (Indeed, I am writing this review nearly two years after its conclusion because I only recently got around to watching the last of its six episodes.)  I’d rate the brief season a 4 out of 10 — the lowest rating I’ve ever given to a season of the show.

I hope this year’s Season 11 proves me wrong, but I’m finally starting to wonder of “The X-Files'” time has come and gone.  (This is coming from someone who was a lifetime fan.  I even thoroughly enjoyed seasons 7 through 9, which was when much of the show’s loyal fan-base began truly eroding between 1999 and 2002.)

So many of the show’s core elements seem outdated now.  The character arcs of its two heroes and their relationship were resolved seasons ago.  Its central overriding story arc — an elite cabal’s conspiracy about (and with) aliens — appears to have been milked for most or all all of its entertainment value.  And the show’s format of mixing a handful of “conspiracy episodes” with standalone “monster-of-the-week” episodes feels awkward compared with contemporary programs that better integrate multiple plot lines.  (Consider HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” for example, or even the various Netflix and television series that are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.)

The truly fatal blow to “The X Files'” staying power, though, runs a bit deeper — network television just isn’t as positioned as it used to be to tell the scariest stories to a wide audience.  There is too much competition from sources less beholden to censorship or to the milquetoast sensibilities of mainstream appeal.  The first is easily accessible cable channels like HBO and AMC, which can shock viewers with visceral violence.  The second is subscription services like Netflix.

And third is simply the Internet at large, with its endless cornucopia of morbid or bizarre content.  “The X-Files” was created before the Internet was a common household utility.  Part of the show’s appeal was that it offered people the creepiest stories they’d watch anywhere anywhere outside of a movie theater.  And those stories at least seemed well researched by the program’s writers, who did a tremendous job for most of the show’s run.

Today’s Internet-connected entertainment marketplace is different.  No matter how much weirdness “The X Files” can pack into a 43-minute episode, the average consumer can find material online that is darker or more frightening in less time than that.  Compare the average “X-Files” episode, for example, to the array of material devoted to real-life “paranormal” subjects, like “Slender Man,” alleged UFO footage, or tragedies like the mysterious death of Elisa Lam.  (That last one is truly shudder-inducing.  Google it at your own peril.)

The only way a show like “The X-Files” can hope to compete is with excellent attention to tone, tension and character — something I thought that seasons 7 through 9 did pretty well with, despite a gradual fan exodus after David Duchovny’s awkward departure from the series.  Season 10 just didn’t follow suit.  It really was as though a range of previous “X-Files” episodes has been thrown in a blender, so that their component parts could be served yet again.  The conspiracy stuff, in particular, was poorly executed, too hastily paced, and just a bit too campy for my taste.  Mulder and Scully’s return was also too self-conscious — as though Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were reunited for a tongue-in-cheek reunion special.

It wasn’t all bad.  These two leads are always fun to watch.  The fourth episode was superb — “Home Again” served up both a creepy, macabre story and a meaningful character arc for Dana Scully.

Episode 3, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” was also fun enough.  But while a lot of other fans absolutely loved this humorous entry, I personally didn’t feel its central joke merited a full episode.  Besides, this particular twist has been done before, in a 1989 book by a well known speculative fiction author.  (I won’t name the book or the author here, in order to avoid spoilers.)

The rest of the episodes were … fair, I suppose.  Oh, well.

I’m thrilled that we’re currently being given Season 11 of “The X-Files.”  As someone who was a longtime fan, I never envisioned the show lasting this long, even after a hiatus of many years.  I just hope the show matures and grows in quality after this disappointing rebirth.

 

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A very short review of “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014)

I had fun with “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014).  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10, if a little grudgingly.  For me, it started quite strong with its introduction of Chris Pratt’s roguish space antihero; I actually had no idea he could be this funny.  (I’ve only seen him once before, weighed down by the failed comedic scripting of 2015’s “Jurassic World.”)

I’m sorry to say that my interest in “Guardians of the Galaxy” waned just a bit as it subsequently unfolded as a cartoonish, relatively tame, family-friendly adventure — complete with a heartwarming value-of-friendship lesson.  That’s fine, I guess — it’s cool and it makes sense that the Marvel Cinematic Universe should offer films more appropriate for younger viewers.  Can you imagine, however, how hilarious this movie would be if it truly deserved its (befuddling) PG-13 rating, and really pressed the envelope?  Between Pratt’s wit and these offbeat character concepts, it would be amazing.

I still had fun with this, though, thanks mainly to the action and the impressive special effects.  I’d recommend it, and I’m planning on seeing the sequel.

Postscript — people are saying that this is the MCU’s answer to “Star Wars,” and I suppose it could be.  But I had a lot more fun thinking that the movie was channeling Harry Harrison’s priceless science fiction book series featuring criminal-antiheroes — the “Stainless Steel Rat” adventures.

 

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A review of “The Defenders” (2017)

I hate to say this, guys — I really do.  But aside from some admittedly standout action sequences, Netflix’ “The Defenders” (2017) was generally mediocre stuff.  I’d rate it a 5 out of 10 for mostly being a clunky, messily written, rare misfire for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

What we’ve got here is an eight-episode story arc depicting nothing less than a cabal of mystical ninjas endeavoring to destroy New York City — and four superheros racing to stop them.  And yet it still manages to feel slow.  I’m surprised at how ploddingly so brief and urgent a story concept like that could be executed.

It’s confusing too.  The cabal in question here is The Hand, and their nature, origins, history and modus operandi are all too muddled to follow — the result of sloppy screenwriting.  Their goal within “The Defenders'” storyline is actually pretty narrow and specific by comic book standards — I’m not sure how razing New York is necessary at all.  (Their actions cause … an earthquake?  How, exactly?  And wouldn’t that jeopardize their process if an earthquake occurs earlier than they expected?  Do these mystical ninjas employ seismologists to forewarn them of that?)

Other questions abound as well.  What is “Black Sky,” exactly?  Does it matter much, considering it’s a story element that doesn’t much change things?  Is the resurrected uber-Elektra really that much different from the regular, mortal Elektra we saw in “Daredevil” (2015)?

To make matters worse, the character elements here are frequently off key.  Elektra herself feels like a mostly flat protagonist, the leads sometimes lack chemistry with one another, and the script pays far too much attention to supporting characters that viewers did not tune in to watch.  (If I hear one more saccharine pep talk between Claire Temple and Colleen Wing, I’m going to scream.)

Look, I’m not saying the show was all bad.  Like “Iron Fist” (2017) before it, “The Defenders” partially redeems a bad script with absolutely excellent fight choreography; Hell’s Kitchen is the corner of the MCU with the best martial arts action.  I cheered a couple of times.

I also think that the cast is roundly excellent.  I’ll always love Charlie Cox in the role of Daredevil and Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones.  Mike Colter is perfectly cast as Luke Cage, and we even have none other than Sigourney Weaver classing up the MCU (even if she occasionally seemed to phone it in a little).

And I’m including Finn Jones as Iron Fist here — I don’t think he’s the show’s “weak link,” as other viewers do.  The actor is actually quite good; it isn’t his fault that his titular series and this follow-up were poorly written.  In fact, I really like the character concept of Iron Fist as it’s presented here.  It’s mired in a lot of weird and dated kung-fu-type cliches, but this is a comic book property, after all.  The character’s shtick might be the closest the MCU comes to having a “Jedi”-type figure, and that’s fun.  (A good friend of mine who is a lifelong Star Wars fanatic really loves “The Defenders,” as well as Iron Fist’s solo show — I don’t think that’s an accident.)  Plus, Iron Fist is a great foil for the other characters on The Defenders team, who are each cynical and traumatized to some extent– he appears young and idealistic and with a sheltered upbringing, like a recent college graduate with superpowers.

I don’t know that I can actually recommend this, as you can tell from the above.  But I will say that nearly everyone I’ve heard from about this show enjoyed it more than I did.  Your mileage may vary.

 

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