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Out in Theaters: ‘AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR’ 

Over the course of 18 films and 10 years, Kevin Feige and his army of Marvel men and women have laid a pretty nifty foundation upon which the Marvel Cinematic Universe rests. What started with humble beginnings with 2008’s Iron Man has  since blown up into a cultural and financial supernova with no less than 30 recognizable characters and all that comes to a head with the Russo Brother’s astonishingly ambitious though perfunctorily flawed Avengers: Infinity War.  Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘BLACK PANTHER’

Heavy hangs the crown in Black Panther, a Marvel movie whose real-life cultural and societal implications overshadow its storytelling prowess. The import and impact of Black Panther as a chapter in film history cannot be overstated. Although this isn’t Hollywood’s first attempt to turn a historically black superhero into the main event, headlining their own tentpole film – consider Wesley Snipes run as the vampire-hunter Blade, Halle Berry’s turn as Catwoman, Will Smith’s alcoholic anti-hero Hancock or even Shaquille O’Neal’s turn as Steel – this feels like a first in part because of how much effort has been poured into its making and, more importantly, how readily it embraces its fundamental blackness, from its colorful African settings to its tribally-influenced makeup, hairstyle, and costumes to its predominately black cast and crew, a verifiable assemblage of talent that’ll turn even the most skeptical of heads. Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING’

Tom Holland may be the third Spider-Man to crawl across our cineplexes in the last decade but, as a much younger version of Peter Parker than his predecessors, he and director Jon Watts have presented a new enough spin on an old classic. That’s not to say that everything that Watts and company do to give Spiderman: Homecoming a fresh coat of paint works but, for the most part, the freshly minted union between Marvel and Sony have produced an acceptable enough product, incorporating yet another super-powered hero into their increasingly unwieldy lineup and laying the groundwork for a solo series involving the fresh-faced webslinger. That being said, the sting of superhero fatigue is real and even when Watts and his spray of screenwriters (there’s a sinister six of them) avoid familiar Spider-Man tropes (the fated spider bite, the iconic “with great power comes great responsibly” lesson, Uncle Ben’s untimely demise), this is still a character we’ve seen onscreen a whopping 7 times in the last 15 years. That’s not to say that Spider-Man: Homecoming isn’t a fun, splashy, perfectly acceptable mid-July popcorn spectacle, because it is just that. But is it really anything more than that? Not exactly.

Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘DOCTOR STRANGE’

With Doctor Strange, Marvel pries open a doorway to a new realm, one filled with magic and mysticism, dark dimensions and malevolent deities. Filled with heady three-dimensional visuals and eye-bulging psychedelic set pieces, Doctor Strange fulfills the promise of its inspired marketing push. That is, it is as close as Marvel has come to being Inception on crack. And let me assure you, that is a good thing. Led by a game Benedict Cumberbatch playing on type as a smarmy elite member of the intelligentsia, Doctor Strange nonetheless suffers the Marvel formula, the “portal problem” and yet another utterly disposable single serving villain. Read More

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Blu-Ray Review: ‘CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR’

Synopsis: “Political pressure mounts to install a system of accountability when the actions of the Avengers lead to collateral damage. The new status quo deeply divides members of the team. Captain America (Chris Evans) believes superheroes should remain free to defend humanity without government interference. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) sharply disagrees and supports oversight. As the debate escalates into an all-out feud, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Vision (Paul Bettany), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Winter Solider (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) all must pick a side.” Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR’

Ever since Samuel L. Jackson cropped up in an eye patch in Iron Man’s post-credits, Marvel films have had their eye firmly planted on the future. Setting up incoming installments has been a precarious process, resulting in such face-palmingly clunky sequences as the infamous “Thor in a Bath Tub” scene and the entirety of Iron Man 2. When not preoccupied with teasing the oncoming comic strata or hogtying in easter eggs for uber-nerds to dissect and debate, Marvel has admittedly done fine work developing their roster of heroes, taking careful stock in ensuring that its non-comic reading audience has at the bare minimum a working sense of what drives these supers to strap into spandex and save the world. With Captain America: Civil War, a direct sequel to the events of Captain America: Winter Solider that employs nearly the entirety of The Avengers, those characters turn to the rear view to take stock of what has been lost along the way. Read More

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First ‘CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR’ Trailer Pits Iron Man Against The Cap and Bucky

Marvel has enjoyed an uncharted rise in popularity since setting things off with Iron Man in 2008. Seven years and 12 films later and their success has changed the landscape of film franchises. World building is now a common phrase around Hollywood boardrooms with more and more properties attempting to hop on the bandwagon that propelled The Avengers to becoming the third (now fourth to Jurassic World) highest grossing film of all time. But as other studios are rushing to assemble their superteams, Marvel is set to break theirs down with Captain America: Civil WarRead More

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Out in Theaters: BIG HERO 6

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In the past, I’ve been something of a bitch when it comes to animated movies. The Pixar classics are notorious for beating down my manliness and summoning up the tears – Up, Toy Story 3, even f*cking Ratatouille all got me going. Something about the to-the-bone earnest family connection gets this child of divorce waterworking. It’s clockwork. Minute 82 and I’m Niagara. The last animated movie to move me: How to Train Your Dragon 2. The Mom stuff. The Dad stuff! Whew. Color me teary.

In Big Hero 6, the tragic beats are there – dead parents (c’mon, it’s not a Disney movie without dead rentals), another family member who bites the dust in a ghastly explosion and, yup, a close friend and confidante who also eats the proverbial bullet. The kids in my audience gulped palpably and cried out in waves of concern.

But where was the lump in my throat? Had I grown too cold and calloused to experience my fair share of emotional woes? I felt like Palahniuk’s narrator stuffed into Bob’s meaty bosoms, post-Marla. What the eff was going on?! And then I realized, the fundamental issue was this was more Marvel movie than animated flick. The deaths were without meaning. The sacrifices just temporarily absences; a normative formula via disappearing act that’s taken hold in sequel culture. The offings were like watching Agent Coulson die in The Avengers (spoiler, whoops) or Sam Fury die in Cap 2 (whoops, more spoilers). You just don’t really care. Worse yet, you don’t believe it. This symptom of emotional weightlessness is part and parcel of the pricklinesslessness (not a word) that is the Marvel-verse. Everyone is safe, everything works out. If I had a nicket for every faked death in the MMU, I would have like a full quarter. This consequencelessness (also, not a word) leaves me cold and indifferent. With Big Hero 6, I laughed heartily, I generally enjoyed myself, but I never felt a single thing. Nor did I ever feel a sense of danger.

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And that’s why I’m struggling to conjure up words to properly describe my experience with Big Hero 6. It was pretty good. It made me smile. But that’s kinda all one can really say. It’s a hearty head shake; a smiling nod. You can recommend it to just about anyone and they wouldn’t be offended by what they’ve seen. They’ll likely enjoy it quite a bit. It’s got plenty of funny moments to boot, the actions sequences are beautifully realized and colorfully captivating and there is a heart to it, it’s just more robotic than of flesh and blood. But once it’s all over (and with an inevitable load of sequels on the way) there’s really nothing to talk about; nothing that sticks with you.

The latest from Disney is adapted from an under-sung Marvel comic created by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau in 1998. The first collaboration between Marvel and Disney since Disney acquired Marvel almost five years back, Big Hero 6 tells the story of 13-year old Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), a robo-tech genius taken to back alley bot battles. After a narrow escape from one black-market moonlighting or other, Hiro is seduced by older bro Tadashi to go legit and enroll in a prestigious engineering program promising to hone his robotic skills. Decidedly won over by Tadashi’s classmates, his state-of-the-art workspace, his just-finished invention and the winning Professor Calahan (James Cromwell), Hiro decides to win the science fair and earn a place among these up-and-coming science wiz-kids.

Set in the hyper-futuristic San Fransokyo, the superhero saga sees Hiro team up with medic-bot Baymax (Scott Adsit) and fellow students Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), GoGo Tomago (Jamie Chung) and Fred (T.J. Miller) to take down a mysterious super-villain who’s stolen Hiro’s next-gen microbots and has nothing short of evil intentions for them.

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The script has a massive nine credits (!!!) to its name, which accounts for the rigidly structured and carefully manicured movements of Big Hero 6, but co-directors Don Hall and Chris Williams find ample opportunities to let the jokes waft from the otherwise stenchy grasp of formulaic mediocrity. The humor flows liberally from the emotionally stinted Baymax, a plushy bot who’s more Wall-E than Vision. From fist bumps to mixed colloquialisms, Baymax’s journey to figure out the human world – and the associated emotions that come with it – is flooded with moments of laughter and genuine warmth. Of the seis big heros, he’s the only one anyone’s going to be talking about exiting the theater. Trouble is, outside of this smiley Stay Puft marshmallow man, the film is inflated with flat characters and narrative breadcrumbs all leading to an overdone and overblown ending you could see from miles away without a super scanner. So while it is paint-by-numbers, the colors used are at least rather pretty.

Big Hero 6 is like a Nilla Wafer; yummy going down but nothing to write home about. It’s funny and entertaining in a bland, gingerbread kind of way. It’s the taste of the scrumptious substancelessness (not a word) that defines the Marvel cinematic universe now bleeding into Disney. I don’t doubt that you’ll like it, maybe even love it, but I challenge you to remember this movie five years down the line. You know, once the Avengers 4 is out.

C+

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A Definitive Ranking of Marvel’s Movies

Nowadays the mantra seems to go, “If you’ve seen ’em, rank ’em.” And me being the non-boat-rocking critic that I am, I’ve decided it pertinent to rank all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies what with Guardians of the Galaxy releasing wide today and all. As is with all lists, this numbered collection is infallible and completely definitive. Although other people may seek to disagree with the rankings laid out below, scientifically any contention is wrong. You know, because opinion is objective and I’m always right.

I’m sure everyone’s cooked up with own list, either on paper or in their minds, and mine will incite fire to spew from your eyes and burn a hole in the screen but this is how I have to break down the Marvel movies. I’m chiefly taking into consideration my enjoyment of any of the below films but am also considering the relative importance of each in the grand scheme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and their impact on film in general. So ready your hunting knives, because here I go… Read More

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Out in Theaters: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Toby Jones
Adventure, Action, Sci-Fi
136 Mins
PG-13

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Growing up in the 1940s gives Steve Rogers an excuse to not understand the mechanics of speed dial. But when neo-Nazi’s threaten the freedom of the entire world, you have to wonder why he’s not more focused on contacting his nuclear suit-wearing chum, Tony Stark, or the bad Shakespeare in the park actor/Norse God, Thor. Unless he’s gone on some spirit journey to be explained away in extra Blu-Ray bonus material, Tony’s probably just shambling around Stark Towers in his drawers. His billionaire skyline must be literally cast in shadow by the helicarriers of doom that Captain America’s trying to take down with the only weapons at his disposal: record-breaking sprinting skills and a shield.  The fate of the entire world is at stake and here’s good hearted Steve clearly taking a hell of an ass-whopping and he still doesn’t see fit to call up his Avengers pals? Or at least try? I’m sorry but you lost me there.

The one thing that Kevin Fiege and his Marvel Movie Universe croonies tend to get right is they suit the adventure to the adventurer. The threats Iron Man faced in his third outing were largely personal. A wronged colleague becomes a viable villain, he’s forced to deal with PDST from a near death experience and his personal arsenal of humanoid WMDs transforms him from a private citizen into national defense mascot numero uno. There were larger implications at play had he not gotten his guy but Stark at least felt well equipped to handle the charge. Thor’s arc in The Dark World involves intergalactic worm holes, gigantic frost monsters and 8-foot tall Dark Elves. But Thor wields a hammer forged in a dying star that gives him the ability to fly around like a blonde, bearded Superman. Being, you know, a god, Thor was the Avenger best equipped to handle such a mark. Sure, having other Supers alongside wouldn’t have hurt but this was a mission that suited Thor’s pedigree. Equipped only with a hunky body, a pure heart and strips of pure sinew for legs (made for putting fellow long distance runners to shame), Captain America (Chris Evans) just seems out of his depths.

Look at him in The Winter Soldier. His big mission involves a retread task (one we already saw a version of in The Avengers) that he’s simply unfit to handle because, well, his superpowers aren’t really that super. His third act heroics necessitate a flying wingman because he’s simply not equipped to handle the mission solo. Joining him is snarky sidekick Anthony Mackie as Falcon, an ex-Marine with a winged exoskeleton, because calling up Tony Stark or Thor was just… out of the question?

Part and parcel of enjoying these Marvel movies is digesting them with a spoonful of salt, especially when we’re looking at them from a logical standpoint and not a logistical one. Omissions are necessary from a budgetary standpoint and we have to be willing to overlook that… to some degree. But rather than make these shortcomings apparent, smart screenwriting would try to mask the need for the whole gang. This is where Captain America: The Winter Soldier fails hardest; an especially sad reality when contrasted to the contained spy thriller that it’s established as.

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Since the events of The Avengers, Cap and his shield shield S.H.I.E.L.D. Before this, Iron Man 2 was the first MMU film to tackle the build towards The Avengers head on and got far too bogged down in the goings on at that shadowy organization to stand as a film itself. The Winter Soldier has becomes it’s Phase 2 predecessor. Like Iron Man 2, it suffers from a fatal diagnosis of teaser syndrome. It’s all about what’s to come, not what’s happening in the now. By the end of the film, the chapter isn’t closed, it’s just beginning. Even it’s titular character, that mysterious Winter Soldier (played by a hollowed out Sebastian Stan), is relegated to a minor role with only an inkling of character.

If only Marvel would realize that not ever venture needed a third-act calamity, that millions must not be dumped on visual effects and that telling a self-contained story is a virtue in itself, then this could have been a rousing triumph. As it is, Cap 2 works so much better when its sights are centered on the smaller scale, when Steve and Scar Jo‘s Black Widow are traipsing around hunting for clues, trying to put a name to faceless villainy.

Give me more super-noir, less hapless explosions. Give me the humor and tragedy of Cap being a man lost in time. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely show savvy sneaking in some current political hot buttons as subtext but fail to tell the more personal story of a lost man adapting to a whole damn new century. But this is bane of the Russo Bros’ film; it takes one step forward, two steps back. Every cheer is followed up with a few jeers. With character resolution left dealt with in post-credit stingers and a third act that may as well have been helidropped in from some other movie, the modest enjoyment one gets from Captain America: The Winter Soldier just doesn’t justify the $170 million dollars spent. It’s too busy shoulder tapping you to go see The Avengers 2.

C

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