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 *****

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Ever the superhero, Spidey still has time to give directions

It is somewhat poetic that the person most excited about a second Spider-Man reboot is Spidey himself in Spider-Man: Homecoming.

After a prelude to the villain (more on him later), we see Peter Parker (Tom Holland) making a video diary of his first big outing as he fought on Team Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War (2016). We get no footage of how Parker got his powers: we know that by now. The movie is a few months after the encounter with Captain America as Peter is relishing in his new suit given to him by Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) Despite Stark being busy moving his things from Stark tower up north, he is wanting Parker to keep his web crawling low-key.

He tells Parker “not to do anything I would do….and definatly not anything I wouldn’t do. There is a little gray area in there and that is where you operate.”

The only person who also knows of Peter’s “Stark Internship” is his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), the kind of best friend who still wants to show his awesome self-made Lego Death Star. He is loyal to the core.

The movie also adds a dash of John Hughes, mainly in the area of Peter’s crush, Liz (Laura Harrier), a senior (this is in Peter’s sophomore year of High School). They are part of the decathlon team, about to go to DC for the championship. There is also the fact that a new threat has evolved in the form of Adrian Toomes (a perfectly cast Michael Keaton), a weapons dealer known as the Vulture.

While this is not the best film in Spider-Man’s library (that will always be Spider-Man 2), it has two things that even that one lacked. The first is Tom Holland, who I think is easily the best on-screen Spider-Man to date (something I called out once the Cap’s shield was taken last year). Not only does he look the part (he is the youngest cast in the role), but he gives us the teenage angst we all had at that age. He wants to prove he is not just a kid (though there are times I thought he should have been called Spider-kid or Spider-Boy).

The other blessing is Michael Keaton. I doubt I was the only one smiling when thinking back that this is the same guy who was the title roles in both Batman (1989) and Birdman (2014). Still, Keaton is too smart and great an actor to just do the same performance more than once. We know he can go over the top (Beetlejuice, anyone?), and here, his performance is toned down just enough to the point where it is rather effective. He is probably the best villain Spidey has fought on the big screen so far.

Parents, there is one akward scene in the film. While there is no sex or nudity, there is one instance where Ned is on the computer, helping Spider-Man. Suddenly, he is caught, and, without an aliby, says he is watching pornography. It is played for laughs, but I still feel it should be mentioned just as a warning. Besides that, there is the casual swearing seen in any Marvel movie, so if your kids have seen those, they are fine here.

The movie is not perfect: There is one plot twist that, while affective and threw me off, I now realize is a little far-fetched. It also took me a little time to get used to the character of Michelle (Zendaya).  Still, for those who are recovering from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Andrew Garfield was good, but far too old) and (what was arguably the worst of all) Spider-Man 3, they will be pleasantly refreshed with Spider-Man: Homecoming.

It is a fresh, fun ride.

Overall: Four Stars ****

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 ****

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

The Avengers are back.

The Avengers are back.

Like most great comic book movies, Avengers: Age of Ultron had me wishing I read comics more as a child. After seeing this film, I went straight to the web to gain more knowledge on the super heroes.

The movie starts out, quite literally, with a bang. It does not build up to any action scene, but drops you right in the middle of it. Like the first film, Avengers: Age of Ultron does not require you to see all of the heroes in their original movies (although some of them don’t have them). We still have Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man (played as uncannily as always by Robert Downey Jr.). He has tried to make a peacekeeping program with the help of Bruce Banner (the Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo). Things take a turn for the worst when Ultron becomes convinced the only way to get peace in the world is by the Avengers extinction. His voice is deliciously played by the great James Spader. Others in the all star cast include Chris Evans of Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, and (in a more showier role than last time around) Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye.

There are two new additions as well. After staring as a married couple in last year’s Godzilla, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen now play twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, better known, respectively, as Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch. Other minor roles are still played well by Don Cheadle as War Machine, Anthony Mackie as The Falcon, and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

Like the last movie, each actor takes his/her role seriously but still has a lot of fun with it. It results in having one of the year’s funniest movies (the film starts off with a swearing gag that is hilarious). All of the dialogue is crisp, blunt, and totally authentic. If there were no action scenes, the movie would still be worth watching (it could even play as an audio book at times). There are even some scenes of romance, between two characters I would not have thought of.

The film is not perfect: It does run long, especially the last action scene, but that is a minor negative. Parents, there is some swearing, and some innuendo, but that is really it. The last minutes of this film will have you waiting franctically for the next film (especially when you see the short clip in the credits.

The 2015 Summer Movie season has started out on a big positive note.

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