Stan Lee (1922-2018)

'Iron Man 3' film premiere, Los Angeles, America - 24 Apr 2013

You don’t need to be a fan of baseball to have heard the name of Babe Ruth, or of basketball to hear the names of Michael Jordan or Lebron James, and you never needed to have read a single comic book to have heard the name Stan Lee, who died today at the age of 95.

In the time when DC comics was king of comic books (with heroes such as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman), it was Stan Lee (as well as other writers) in the early 1960s who offered more relatable superheroes. They did not come from made up cities (Gotham, Metropolis, etc), but from real world cities (New York seemed to be his favorite). Unlike those in DC, Lee never liked the idea of the “sidekick”: all were heroes in their own right. They also suffered from more than just fighting the bad guy: we got relationship issues as personal as they come.

We got heroes from him like the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Black Panther, Thor, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Deadpool, and (arguably his most popular) Spider-Man.

The last ten years of Marvel movies have helped Stan Lee become much more than a house hold name among nerds. He appeared in almost all of the movies based on his characters (not just in the MCU), never shy of poking fun at himself.

The world has truly lost one of the most unique imaginations it has known.

Excelsior!

 

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Avengers Infinity War

Thanos (Josh Brolin) shakes the Avengers to their core, as well as the audience.

For the past ten years, Marvel has made (for the most part) solid entertaining movies. It has also been that long since The Dark Knight, which has always been the best superhero movie. Few movies have been any kind of a threat (Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther). Now comes the cream of the crop, Avengers: Infinity War. In my mind, The Dark Knight is still number one, but it has been shaken by a solid silver place finisher.

I will be brief, for I would fear of any form of spoilers (there will be none here). If you have seen any of the Marvel films (I know you have), you know there have been six infinity stones in the universe. They are being hunted by Thanos (Josh Brolin), in his quest to bring balance to the cosmos. This is done with the infinity gauntlet, which he can use to wipe out half of all living things, with a snap of his fingers.

That is as far as I will go. Standing in his way are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain America (Chris Evans),….ok, basically everyone in every Marvel movie except for Ant-Man and Hawkeye (that was easier).

Remember Spider-Man 3, when there were too many characters and story lines? Well, Infinity War has only one real story line and one villain. Nevertheless, all the star players are not only here, but needed. Afterall, that is how hard it is to defeat a guy like Thanos. The first ten minutes alone prove my point.

Credit also must be given to directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Each character is given same amount of screen time, but the right amount of it. Kudos to the actors for remembering the old rule: no small parts, only small actors.

Speaking of which, there is even a role for Peter Dinklage. I mean that transition not as a put down joke, but from the heart. There is no doubting the man’s talent.

Parents, I was about to say it is like any Marvel movie, but, to be fair, there are a lot of darker moments. That is all I will say. Middle School and above.

That is all I will say, because this is not a movie to read about. It is one to experience. And what an experience.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther

The Black Panther sticks another landing for Marvel

Perhaps it is late for me to say, but Marvel Studios is starting to mirror that of Pixar, in that it is hard for them to have a flop financially or critically (it helps when you partner with Disney). A decade after the universe was launched with Iron Man, Marvel Studios is still going strong, and now delivers one of their very best in Black Panther.

Introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther takes place just after those events, where T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is being crowned King of Wakanda. Wakanda is a country steeped in poverty, but only in the eyes of the outside world. We learn it is truly flourishing with technology that is beyond anything we have yet seen in a Marvel movie (or any other). At first, I was afraid it would be too much like Asgard (the home world of Thor), but Wakanda still manages to stand out as its own environment.

Before he can take his place as king, T’Challa/Black Panther must stop Ulysses Klau (the always reliable Andy Serkis) from stealing Vibranium (the key substance to Wakanda and its economy, not to mention weapons and armor). Helping him is Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who manages to make a name for himself along the best of Marvel’s baddies.

What makes Black Panther so wonderful is the same formula that makes nearly all other Marvel films great as well. The actors take the roles seriously, but are still managing to have a lot of fun (especially Andy Serkis). Director Ryan Coogler (who also directed Jordan in Creed and Fruitvale Station) never has moments (well, maybe one or two) that drag on. We are enticed from the word go.

It also helps that, despite lack of screen time, every actor is giving all they got to the roles they play. Such actors include (but are not limited to) Lupita Nyong’o, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead‘s Michonne), Daniel Kaluuya (recent Oscar nominee for Get Out), Angela Bassett, and Sterling K. Brown (This is Us). When you see them on-screen, you know talent is erupting.

Parents, this is another Marvel movie, so if your kids have seen at least one (I don’t know many kids who haven’t), they are fine here. There is some swearing and violence, but no sexual content or nudity (despite some female characters wearing some revealing clothing, but nothing bad).

Is Black Panther the best Marvel movie? The vote is still out, but it is definitely in the running. It says a lot about an action/adventure movie when the action free scenes are as engrossing as the action scenes are (which are superb).

It is clear that 2018 now has its first great movie. And what a movie.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars ****1/2

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Captain America Civil War

The Captain leads Falcon, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Scarlett Witch, and the Winter Soldier.

After the disappointing two plus hours of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Marvel comes out swinging with Captain America: Civil War. Well, more than swinging. Let’s just say swinging, flying, pulse ray blasting,…you get the idea.

This is easily the best superhero flick since Guardians of the Galaxy. Like that film, Captain America: Civil War was a film I was not expecting much from (the first two films were good, but not great). Star Anthony Mackie, who plays Sam Wilson/Falcon, descibed it best when he said it is like “The Avengers 2.5”.

Sure, the movie runs at 2 hours and 26 minutes (the longest Marvel film to date), but even that was not a big hinderence for me. The film starts off with Steve Rodgers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and a few of the Avengers accidently causing damage again to innocent lives while pursuing the evildoers. Enter the Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), who tells the Avengers they must now be under control by the U.N. or to “retire”. This leads to certain Avengers going one way and some the other way. It basically becomes team Captain versus Team Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., who proves again here he may be the best cast actor for any superhero in movie history).

Eventually, the Captain realizes he may still be able to save his old friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who is also the winter soldier. He is being controlled by Zemo (Daniel Bruhl). While that storyline is nicely done (and surprisingly easy to follow), the best part of the film is the conflict between the good guys, and there are a lot of them. Missing from the action this time is the Hulk and Thor, but we still have characters such as Black Widow (Scarlett Johanson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Vision (Paul Bettany) Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Ant-Man (the always lovable Paul Rudd), and new comer Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).

Everyone will have their favorite to root for, and mine was such a clear favorite I feel he deserves his own paragraph. For the third time, we have another actor playing Spider-Man, but this time, it is a very young one. Tom Holland (who I became a fan of the moment I saw him in 2012’s The Impossible), in an all star cast including a good amount of past Oscar nominees, is the scene stealer. The new Spider-Man film can’t come soon enough.

Parents, the movie is long, and a little violent (though not as violent/dark as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was). Still, if your kids have seen at least one other Marvel flick, they should be fine with this one.

I am aware some people may be making references to the politics of today. I personally did not really care to do so (that is a whole matter by itself). I said the loser of the fight of Batman against Superman was the audience. In Captain America: Civil War, the audience is the clear winner. This is one of the best films of the year.

Overall: Four Stars ****