Movie Review: Avengers: Infinity War (Spoiler-free)

Avengers: Infinity War review (spoiler free)

This Avengers: Infinity War review could just be three words long: Go see it.

That’s really all you need to know! But I’ve got a few additional thoughts to share as well, completely spoiler-free, so read on to see what I thought.

Read moreMovie Review: Avengers: Infinity War (Spoiler-free)

A definitive ranking of The Marvel Cinematic Universe films

Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe films

Definitive, completely subjective… same thing, right?

With Avengers: Infinity War just a month away and Black Panther in the rear view, I thought I’d mark out my definitive ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films to date. It’s pretty amazing to think they’ve been doing this for 10 years, and that we have 18 films released, and five more announced films coming up after Infinity War. As a kid growing up reading Marvel Comics in the 1980s, I certainly didn’t imagine I’d ever see anything like this in my lifetime.

Without further ado, here’s the list:

Read moreA definitive ranking of The Marvel Cinematic Universe films

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Five fan complaints I’m totally over (maybe)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker

So, seems Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a bit polarizing among the more die-hard fans. I guess you can’t please everyone, and Star Wars fans can be fickle and occasionally irrational; I’m one of them, so I would know!

But I’m not buying some of their complaints this time.

Here are some quick thoughts on a few of the main “complaints” from “fans” I’m seeing online. Big-time spoiler alert, naturally.

Read moreStar Wars: The Last Jedi: Five fan complaints I’m totally over (maybe)

Comic Book Review: Doomsday Clock #2

Doomsday Clock #2

I trekked out in the snow to the comic shop again this week to pick up a copy of Doomsday Clock #2, the second chapter in DC’s 12-issue mini-series that promises to bring the Watchmen and DC Comics universes together. Does it successfully follow up on the strong start of issue #1?

Some spoilers to follow.

Read moreComic Book Review: Doomsday Clock #2

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Five things I didn’t like about the film

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - The lightsaber

I loved Star Wars: The Last Jedi; you can read my The Last Jedi mini-review here (spoiler-free) and see what I liked most in The Last Jedi here (spoilers in that one). But it wasn’t a perfect film; there are a few things I have issue with.

There are, of course, spoilers after this point.

Read moreStar Wars: The Last Jedi: Five things I didn’t like about the film

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Five things I loved about the film

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Adam Driver as Kylo Ren

I’ve seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi again, and with a little bit of time in between viewings, I’ve crystallized my thoughts. Here are the five things that I most liked about the film, its story and its characters. Later this week I’ll share what I didn’t like as well as my thoughts on the fan reaction to the film.

This post is spoiler heavy, so proceed with caution.

Read moreStar Wars: The Last Jedi: Five things I loved about the film

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Five thoughts on Rey’s background

Star Wars: The Last Jedi - Daisy Ridley as Rey

One of the things Star Wars fans, including me, were most looking forward to in Star Wars: The Last Jedi was learning more about Rey.

Since Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out in 2015 theories have abounded about her parents, who apparently abandoned her on Jakku. Would The Last Jedi give us definitive answers?

Before we get into that, I wanted to put down on paper my pre-The Last Jedi Rey theory. It’s hardly original, but, you know, it’s the internet. There’s a theory for everything.

There are multiple spoilers for The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi in this post so proceed with caution.

Read moreStar Wars: The Last Jedi: Five thoughts on Rey’s background

Movie review (100% spoiler-free): Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Continued my now three-years old tradition of taking in a morning screening of the new Star Wars movie with my buddy John. Here are five very quick (spoiler-free!) thoughts about The Last Jedi. (There are spoilers for The Force Awakens though!)

It’s really good…

Yep, the reviews are all correct: It’s a very good movie. It’s long, but it’s well-paced. It’s surprising, but not in any way that takes you “out” of the Star Wars mindset—it’s very much a Star Wars movie. It’s very nicely shot, nothing feel like too much of a callback to the original movies that it takes you out of the film. There’s not nearly as much “fan service” as The Force Awakens or even Rogue One. The movie stands on its own very well. And the music and sound design are also excellent; I definitely recommend seeing it in the theatre. (We saw it in IMAX 3D, and although I typically loathe 3D, it is done quite well.)

…and yeah, I’d say The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back

It’s obviously better than any of the prequels, and I would place it above Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens as well. Rogue One feels like the closest comparison, but the addition of the heroes we know and love, The Last Jedi definitely has the edge. But I wouldn’t place it above The Empire Strikes Back or Star Wars.

It is so wonderful to have Mark Hamill back on screen as Luke

I can’t even tell you the number of times I have popped in The Force Awakens DVD and just watched the last two minutes. That final scene still gives me chills! And his role in this film pays it off beautifully. I don’t want to say anything else for fear of anything spoilery, but every scene he’s in is great, and there are several in the film that gave me those same chills. I have been waiting for more Luke since I was six years old, and The Last Jedi doesn’t disappoint.

The performances were excellent

Sounds a bit odd to say about a Star Wars film, right? But everyone is really good, including Mark Hamill (although maybe let’s cool it a bit with the “best actor” talk, yeah? He’s still Mark Hamill!). Adam Driver is the highlight, I think; he shows wonderful range throughout the movie and you can really feel his emotions coming through. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega knock it out of the park again (as does BB-8, of course). The new cast additions all fit in nicely. And it was great to see Carrie Fisher again, one last time.

It’s not a perfect film

There are some goofy jokes that are too slap-sticky and fall flat. A couple of characters deserve more screen time and development. As wonderful as all the creature effects are—so much better than anything in the prequels—they may have overdone it a tiny bit (I could have used more BB-8 instead! Love that little droid).

And as much as understand it from a story perspective, I will always feel a little robbed that Han Solo was killed before we got a Luke-Han reunion.

—–

I don’t think I have to tell anyone to go see this movie; you’re going to see it if you’re into this stuff, you’re gonna avoid it if you’re not. But even if you’re not into it and you find yourself dragged out to see it, I don’t think you’ll walk away disappointed. The Last Jedi is extremely entertaining, and it’s a damn good time in a theatre. And if you are into it? I think you’ll be satisfied.

Comic book review: Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 4

Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 4

It’s another “Fantastic Four Friday,” with a look back at Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 4! Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are really rounding into form here, and the characters and supporting cast are becoming more and more fleshed out.

What is it? Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 4
Who did it? Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
When did it come out? 2003 (revised edition)
What does it collect? Fantastic Four #31-40, Annual #2

Fantastic Four Annual #2 might just be Stan and Jack’s finest work on the series so far

Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 4 opens with Fantastic Four Annual #2. It’s a fascinating book. It starts out with a 12 page Dr. Doom origin story in which the Fantastic Four do not appear, except for flashback cameos of Reed and Ben; goes in to a pin-up gallery; then a reprint of issue #5; then another pin-up gallery; then finally, the “feature” story, “The Final Victory of Doctor Doom.”

Let’s talk about “The Fantastic Origin of Doctor Doom.” It’s a masterpiece. This is the story where we are finally introduced to Victor Von Doom’s home country of Latveria, and his rule over it as monarch; his faithful servant Boris; his deep love of his sorcerer mother, who died when he was an infant; the tragic death of his father; the Tibetan monastery where he fashioned his armor; it’s all here. And it’s glorious. I feel confident saying that no other comic book villain had ever received an origin story like this, with such tragedy and pathos; and, it hasn’t really changed, in the 50+ years since. Amazing.

As for Doom’s “Final Victory,” it is of course not that, but it is his best master plan yet (he’s had some kooky ones) with him inviting the FF to a state dinner, turning the FF against each other, and then agreeing to an honourable battle of the minds with Reed; which Reed wins, and Doom will eventually chalk up to trickery (of course). And we are introduced to the concept of Doom’s “diplomatic immunity” for the first time.

The whole thing is brilliant. Well, except maybe for one thing…

Sue is still battling 1960s stereotypes

I should probably stop writing about this, because I suspect it’ll keep popping up in the next, oh, 8-10 volumes… but man, does it suck seeing Sue treated so poorly throughout. In Annual #2, Sue chastises Reed because of an illusion Dr. Doom plants in her head (where she sees Reed kissing another woman); after she snap out of it, she apologizes to Reed, who dismisses her by saying she’s “merely a female” and couldn’t have reacted any differently. Then he doesn’t want to let her fight Dr. Doom in the same issue. Next, the Mole Man takes her hostage in issue #31. Then you might think, hmm, maybe they’ve given up on the Sue-as-hostage trope… but no, the Frightful Four do it again in issue #38. Sigh.

Sue's "just a female" - from Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 4
First, Sue’s “merely a female” (from FF Annual #2)…
Sue's one of the team - from Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 4
…think Reed gets it now? (from FF Annual #2)
Sue's taken captive again... and again - from Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 4
The Mole Man and The Frightful Four didn’t get the memo (from FF #31 and #38)

Speaking of repetitive tropes, Stan and Jack sure do go back to the well a lot

“Sue gets taken hostage” isn’t the only thing that we see over and over and over… and over… again in these early issues. I know it’s easy for me to judge this now, when I’m binge-reading the book as an adult when it was really written for 11-15 year olds who were reading it at most once a month… but then again, the Lee-Kirby FF is hailed as an unending stream of creative genius. I really should’ve been keeping a tally of the amount of times:

  • Sue gets taken hostage (twice in this volume)
  • Ben turns human momentarily, only to turn back in short order (twice in this volume)
  • Johnny’s flame burns out, and Reed has to stretch to save him (twice in this volume)
  • Reed act like a jerk instead of a leader (only once in this volume; he must be mellowing)
  • The FF turn against one another (twice in this volume)

Enough with the Mole Man already

Issue #31 is the Mole Man’s third appearance, and each time, his plot is basically the same (cause some underground calamity that destroys something above ground), the FF go underground to fight him, defeat some monsters, then defeat the Mole Man himself. And the Mole Man is just a sad, pathetic little man, not much of a villain. I think even Stan and Jack got bored with him in this issue; he only appears in 2 panels on the final 8 pages and the FF defeat him, essentially, off-panel. Other than a cameo in Annual #3, he won’t appear again for another 57 issues!

The other villains in this volume fare much better. The Super-Skull returns in issue #32, ultimately causing the death of Franklin Storm, and sending the FF off on a revenge mission to the Skull galaxy in #37; we get Namor and Attuma (in an ultimately forgettable tale in which the FF help Namor defend his throne) in #33; Gideon, one of Stan’s classic offbeat not-really-a-villain villains (who might just be a precursor to Donald Trump; check out the man’s desk!); Diablo, and the brilliant King Kong-like Dragon Man, in issue #35; and finally, the Frightful Four, in issues #36 and #38, who very nearly defeat the FF each time and will menace them again in the next volume.

Oh, and of course, Dr. Doom returns in issues #39-40, for the all-time classic “Battle of the Baxter Building.” This two-parter is tense, fast-paced and fun (even if it has a pretty lame deus ex machina), and culminates in a Thing vs. Doom fight that is one of Jack’s highlight fight sequences.

Real character growth and progression is starting to happen

For the first time we meet a family member from outside the FF proper: Sue and Johnnny’s father, Franklin, and learn more about their backstory: their mother, Mary, was killed in a car accident; Franklin, a famed and brilliant surgeon, was driving, and blamed himself, and his career went off the rails. He got into gambling debt, and killed a loan shark who came to collect. Even though it was self-defence, he allowed himself to convicted of murder because he thought his children were better off without him. Hardly your typical super-hero origin story! Of course, Franklin is killed in this volume, but we see Ben’s fears about leaving Alicia behind, we see Johnny finally mention Dorrie Evans, his girlfriend from Strange Tales, and of course, we finally—FINALLY!—see Reed and Sue get engaged and begin wedding preparations.

This issue also ends on a true cliffhanger, as we see Ben finally succumb to the reality that he’s trapped in the body of a monster and he leaves the FF in a grief-fuelled rage.

—–

There’s no doubt this is the best volume of the FF Masterworks to date, bookended as it is with two all-time classic Dr. Doom stories and the introduction of Dragon Man, the Frightful Four and Johnny and Sue’s father in between. Stan and Jack are truly hitting their stride, and I already know the next volume is going to reach even greater heights!

(Though one has to wonder if anything can top this:)

Ben thinks about joining that other Fab Four - from Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 4
Ben thinks about joining that other Fab Four (from FF #34)

Television review: Netflix’s The Punisher

Netflix's The Punisher

I finished up Netflix’s The Punisher the other day, and wanted to put a few thoughts down, because I really enjoyed it. There will be SPOILERS in the following review! So stop here if you haven’t finished watching it yet. Come back later! I won’t be offended.

What is it? The Punisher Season 1 (13-episodes)
Who made it? Netflix; Steve Lightfoot, Executive producer
Who’s in it? Jon Bernthal (The Punisher); Ben Barnes (Billy Russo); Ebon Moss-Bachrach (Micro); Amber Rose Revah (Dinah Madani)
When did it come out? November 2017

Netflix’s The Punisher might be their best Marvel show yet

From top to bottom, I think this is best overall thing Marvel and Netflix have done. Every other Netflix show, with the exception of the much shorter Defenders, has really struggled to hold its story together for 13 episodes. They felt like they all should have been 8-10 episodes. But The Punisher doesn’t. The story is compelling and has enough layers to it to keep it interesting and engaging over the entire run. And it has a truly compelling hook, that of examining the challenges that veterans of combat face integrating back into “regular society” following their service. I mean, that’s not new—we’ve been seeing it since The Deer Hunter and Rambo—but we certainly haven’t seen it in a comic-book based television show, and it’s truly impressive how well thought out this backdrop of veterans dealing with PTSD is.

Now, I’m not saying it’s my favourite Marvel Netflix show—I think at the end of the day, I still found Cage the most entertaining, and Daredevil Season 2 the most thrilling from a comic book fan standpoint—but I think it’s the most well-made. And I think when you factor in the difficulty of translating a character like the Punisher to a television show (or movie), I think Steve Lightfoot and his team deserve a ton of credit—this show is really good.

… but is it really a Punisher show?

The thing is though… this interpretation of the Punisher doesn’t really have much basis in the comic book character. (At least in my view of the Punisher through the years.) Frank Castle came back from Vietnam a broken man and then his family was killed and it shattered him, never to be put back together again. He’s a remorseless, relentless killing machine who has no desire to stop putting bad guys in the ground. Yet in this show, we see him trying to escape his life of violence right in the beginning. He shows a gentle side, a family man side, with Micro’s family (and even Micro himself) and especially Karen Page that I don’t think the (comic book) Punisher really has; he doesn’t make human connections like that. Netflix Frank Castle doesn’t even reclaim the Punisher mantle until episode 11; and even in the second last episode, when it seems like he leaves his memory of his dead wife behind and accepts his life of violence… he comes back from that edge at the end of the last episode. (He even lets Billy Russo live, which I don’t think the Punisher would ever do.)

So with all of that in mind, I don’t really think of this character as the same one I see in the comics. He’s not really the Punisher. But… I’m OK with it. In fact I love the choices they made. Because I honestly wasn’t sure I wanted to watch 13 episodes of an unsympathetic character like Frank Castle. What would be the point? Comic book Frank Castle has no real character arc; there is no coming back for him, there is no growth for him. That would be difficult to do on TV. And although it doesn’t ring true to the comic book character, the final scene is truly fantastic, and it could only have been done with this version of the character.

The cast is excellent…

I would also say, expressionless killing machine Frank Castle would be a waste of Jon Bernthal’s talents. He is really great in this show. I wasn’t a big of his on The Walked Dead, but looking back, maybe that’s because his character was such a dick. Here he shows the range complete from loving and caring father figure to… well, to expressionless killing machine, when he has to. He was a great choice for the role in Daredevil and he erased any doubts anyone may have had about him carrying his own show. Meanwhile the supporting cast is also damn good. Ben Barnes almost veers into snarling villain territory a couple times, but the conflicted soldier who still holds the bonds of brotherhood is still there. Ebon Moss-Bachrach is perfect as the frantic, nebbishy Micro, who’s uncomfortable with guns and killing but willing to let Frank do the dirty work. He also manages to balance the line where he’s the nerdy tech guy, but he’s also not a coward—he did a lot of brave things to protect his family, and his anguish at seeing them suffer without him is true. Daniel Webber is great as Lewis, the vet who goes off the rails, and Jason R. Moore provides a strong, steady hand as Curtis, Frank’s confidant.

And how about the recurring guest roles? You’ve got C. Thomas Howell, Shohreh Aghdashloo, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio—a great range of character actors. You’ve also Deborah Ann Wall reprising her role as Karen Page, and she’s joined by Rob Morgan and Royce Johnson as Turk and Officer Mahoney, respectively.

… but Amber Rose Revah’s Dinah Madani is the weak link

All right, so part of this is on the character; Madani is often clueless and seems to make one bad decision (or non-decision) after another. (Example: why she didn’t call for backup/first aid during the raid in episode 8 until Stein was stabbed (and all the bad guys were dead or escaped)? About 10 other officers were shot before that!) She’s also a terrible cop (how the heck did she manage to get herself shot in the last episode after sneaking up on two guys hell-bent on beating the shit out of each other?) Meanwhile, there were just a few too many scenes that Amber Rose Revah drifted through with a blank stare. Maybe that was the character, maybe that was the actor, I don’t know. But I thought the character left a lot to be desired.

The show seems to have an odd relationship with the violence it portrays

The show’s only real misstep was in the gun debate that spanned episodes 9-10. It seemed out of place in a show where the main character’s claim to fame is his proficiency with guns, and how many people he’s killed with them. It was also presented so lightly, that it did the entire debate disservice; this isn’t something that can or should be debated in three scenes of a television show. It was also, frankly, one-sided; pro-gun Karen is a character we know and love, whereas pro-gun-control Senator Ori exists only to (weakly) present the other side. What was the point? And the thing is, the debate seemed out of place in the context of the show; the character who sparked it, Lewis, was using bombs, not guns, in his attacks. That was a potentially interesting debate—at one point, Frank says he hates bombs and prefers guns—but it wasn’t really followed up on.

—–

All of that said I highly recommend Netflix’s The Punisher to comic book fans and action fans. It’s violent—gruesomely so, at times—so it’s not for everyone. But I think it’s got a compelling narrative, a great cast, and some fantastic action pieces.