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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A short and spoiler-free review of “Avengers: Endgame” (2019)

Mind. Blown.

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.

 

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A short review of “Captain Marvel” (2019)

“Captain Marvel” (2019) has a couple of weaknesses, but mostly rises above them in its second half to become an entertaining big-budget popcorn movie.  It generally succeeds, and I had a lot of fun with it.  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

At first, the movie comes off as a mild disappointment — a boilerplate, made-to-order space opera with a thin script, simplistic dialogue and sometimes average acting.  (I personally don’t think that Brie Larson has the most depth or range of any actress in Hollywood.)

But the movie has a few surprises for us, both in terms of its story and its ability to win us over with humor and its sense of escapist, comic book fun.  Larson does have a lot of onscreen presence and charisma, and she does fine conveying anger and urgency.  She also has great deadpan comic line delivery.  After seeing the film, it’s difficult for me to picture anyone else in the role.

The special effects were nothing short of fabulous.  I didn’t expect to see a Marvel film with a space battle that could compete with those of the “Star Wars” franchise.  The fan service and the continuity with other Marvel films is also terrific.  Speaking of fan service — the Stan Lee tributes were genuinely touching.  One of them was a threefold reference to Lee, Kevin Smith and the 1990’s, when the story is set.  Talk about understanding how to please your target audience.

I’d recommend this.

 

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A short review of “Bad Samaritan” (2018)

As I believe I may have mentioned, I have a love-hate relationship with David Tennant’s onscreen performances.  I find him inexplicably, positively grating whenever he plays a protagonist.  (See 2011’s “Fright Might” remake, or his cringe-inducing stint as “Doctor Who.”)  But it seems to me that the man is absolutely fantastic when he plays a bad guy.  (See his frightening and hilarious role as Kilgrave the first season of “Jessica Jones” in 2015.)

“Bad Samaritan” (2018) thankfully presents us with the latter Tennant.  He musters an intensity with his eyes and his voice that are incongruous counterpoints to his innocent-looking face, and this makes him a damned good antagonist in a thriller.  (He is a highly organized, sociopathic kidnapper in this film.  I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler, as all of the film’s marketing make it clear.)  He’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch — and listen to.

With that said, “Bad Samaritan” is an average movie — not altogether bad, but not awesomely good, either.  (I suppose I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.)  It benefits a lot from another very good actor in Robert Sheehan as its anti-heroic young protagonist.  (The plot setup here is interesting — a mild-mannered burglar discovers a psychopath’s captive while in his house, then struggles with how he can help the terrified victim of a far worse criminal than he is.)  The movie’s biggest sin seems to be that it borrows heavily from comparable genre-defining works from the likes of Thomas Harris and James Patterson.  But it’s still an enjoyable enough movie in its own right.

There’s someone else here that’s great fun to watch too — Kerry Condon as the kidnapee.  Her voice is amazing, and she’s a superb actress; I think she’s strong enough to carry another movie like this.  I just knew she looked familiar … it turns out she played Clara, the really weird woman that Rick found in the woods during Season 3 of “The Walking Dead.”  (He asks her the show’s signature “three questions.”)

She is also to voice of F.R.I.D.A.Y., Tony Stark’s on-board A.I. in several of Marvel’s “Avengers” movies.  Didn’t see that one coming.  Weird world.

 

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A few quick words on the premiere of “The Defenders” (2017)

I certainly wasn’t as thrilled with the premiere of Marvel’s “The Defenders” (2017) as I thought I’d be.  I’d somewhat grudgingly rate it a 7 out of 10.

The show’s first episode suffers a bit from an inescapable challenge — how to satisfy the fanbase for each of four superhero characters who have had their own shows.  I’d honestly say that this show so far interests me about 50 percent of the time — I love Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but I don’t much care about Luke Cage or Iron Fist.  Complicating things further is the show’s need to logically tie together all of their respective storylines, while arousing interest in a new overall story for this nascent ensemble team.  (It … looks a lot like Daredevil’s story from both the second season of the Netflix series and the original comics.)

I’m optimistic I’ll enjoy it more as I catch the rest of the series.  Marvel properties almost always have good writers.  And the large cast here (including none other than Sigourney Weaver) is uniformly excellent.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Hasbro’s “G.I. Joe” action figures (1982)!

I swear to you — one of the coolest parts of being a kid in the 1980’s was Hasbro’s “G. I. Joe.” I’m referring to the three-and-three-quarter-inch action figures that launched in 1982.  (The 80’s toys that most of us remember shared their name with other, mostly unrelated, Hasbro military toys of the 1960’s and 70’s.  Believe it or not, I’m actually old enough to remember the 70’s toys, as my older brother had a few — they were eight and half inches tall, and they looked more like conventional dolls.)

The expansive 1982 toy line was a successful marketing juggernaut.  If I had to guess, I’d say that Hasbro looked at Kenner’s astonishing surprise moneymaker with “Star Wars” figures four years earlier, and decided to exploit that business model with its own fictional universe.  Once the toy line got rolling, Hasbro developed the “G.I. Joe” cartoon that every 80’s kid remembers, as well as videogames and an ongoing comic book series.  (The comics were produced by Marvel.)

The TV show was … atrocious.  As awesome as the 80’s were, the decade had its artistically bankrupt pop-culture ventures, too.  And that cartoon was saccharine, mass produced entertainment at its lowest level.  (Please, Millennials, if you ever see clips of that show, do not judge the superlative toys by it.)

The videogame (or the one that I saw my friends playing as a kid, anyway) seemed decent enough for the time.  I only got a glimpse of the comic once.  (I was usually reading “Conan”, or “Sgt. Rock.”)  From what little I saw, that “G.I. Joe” comic was damned good.  There were two brothers on the next block who owned all manner “Joe” merchandise, and they showed me the one where Snake Eyes (the good ninja) and Storm Shadow (the evil ninja) teamed up, for some reason.  There was a two-page splash of them leaping across a room at some incongruously mutual enemy, and the artwork was pretty damned sweet.

The toys were downright wicked.  (That’s 80’s slang.)  They were the same size as Star Wars figures (as well as toys like the “Micronauts” and “Adventure People” before them), but they were far more articulated, and had more weapons and accessories.  The packaging each figure came with had a colorful “dossier” on the back, with all sorts of detailed information about the character’s background and military expertise (like espionage, martial arts, jungle warfare, desert warfare, etc.).  These were written by none other than the comic book industry’s own Larry Hama, who also created the comic book series.  Strangely, there was one Joe whose area of specialty was simply “infantry.”  (That would be “Footloose,” the fourth guy down in the photos below.)

I loved these toys.  They combined my childhood love of poseable “Star Wars” figures with my childhood love of war toys.  I had all the ones that you see below, and many, many more.  Good times.

 

 

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1985 GIJoe Footloose Complete

1985 GIJoe Dusty Complete1985 GIJoe Quick Kick Complete

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1985 GIJoe Cobra Snow Serpent Complete

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