Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 poster

Jim’s Thoughts

If you haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 yet, you really should. Even if you’re not a comic book fan, this franchise can entertain a wide audience, because, simply put, it’s funny. They went a little further with the humor this time, which is to say they went with some more outlandish gags, but it works on a consistent basis.

From a storytelling standpoint, I appreciate that the character development we got from the first movie stood up here. Drax still has a tragic backstory, but he learned to laugh in the first movie, and that’s the sort of thing that’s been built upon. We’re not back to the same old status quo.

The new characters, like Mantis, were used well here, and the ones who only had a minor part last time get a little more screen time. Nebula gets a proper backstory, and it adds something to the character dynamic. Yondu and Rocket have a nice moment here that establishes a relationship between them. In short, no one feels like they’re just plugging a hole in the screen.

If there is anything to pick on here, I can’t say it’s all that clear what the stakes are moving forward. By that, I mean I can’t quite say I know what this installment does to build toward Infinity War, but there’s nothing wrong with a movie standing on its own.

While the impact volume 2 is meant to have on the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe may be unclear, it does move its own internal story forward quite a bit. This is not a movie that refused to take any chances. It does, and I think it pays off. If Doctor Strange left you wondering if the cracks in the MCU were showing up, Guardians vol 2 will restore your faith.

Kyle’s Take

I’ll echo Jim’s thoughts and say that Guardians of the Galaxy has wide appeal. The ensemble is funny. Guardians vol 2 captured the joy of the original, took risks (I’ll explain that more in a labeled, spoiler section), and I’m not sure how Guardians vol 2 works within the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I’m not sure that’s the point. It’s fun.

I also appreciate, from a storytelling standpoint, that Guardians didn’t include everything from the comics. This movie is its own beast. There are moments in comic book TV shows where a comic backstory isn’t explained or built upon and the show slips them in out of nowhere as a wink to the “true comic book fans.” Drax has a very different backstory in the comics—he’s human and learns his daughter Moondragon survived Thanos’s attack—but Guardians didn’t shoehorn that in. I’d like to see Moondragon but if she doesn’t serve the story, don’t add her. Guardians showed restraint. What’s not in a story can matter as much as what’s in a story.

Of course, what’s in Guardians vol 2’s story is solid. Drax progresses as a character. Star-Lord discovers his past and where he comes from. Mantis, Nebula, Yondu, and Rocket had all the great moments Jim talked about. So, I’ll just say, ditto—for now. If there was one character that concerned me going into the movie, it’d be Baby Groot.

Baby Groot’s cute, cuddly, and a major sight gag source. He had the possibility of being too over-the-top, and Baby Groot was the main culprit of the movie’s increased zaniness, but he wasn’t as overpowering as I feared. Baby Groot stayed in character. I shouldn’t have doubted him. He is Groot.

If there was one thing missing from the first Guardians movie, it’d be a compelling villain. Guardians vol 2 fixed that but to discuss it further, I’ll have to call spoilers.

***Begin Spoiler Section***

Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 deviated from the comics again with Star-Lord’s father. In the comics, he’s supposed to be J’son, or Jason, of Spartax. Jason is an emperor. He’s not a celestial and certainly not Ego: The Living Planet. I’ve wanted Ego in a Marvel entity for some time. Yes.

Ego has, well, a big ego. He wants to expand his reach in the universe and plans to use his son (he was impregnating females in numerous galaxies) as a means for domination. The power mad, other-worldly being is a tired trope, but Guardians 2’s familial ties added a nice spin. It also explored Star-Lord on a personal level and posed an interesting distinction. Star-Lord’s biological father is Ego but he never cared for him. Star-Lord’s dad is Yandu.

Yandu raised Quill. He didn’t want to bring Quill to his father because he knew Ego would use and hurt him. Like Rocket, Yandu pushed the ones closest to him away as a defense mechanism. He cared for Quill and made the ultimate sacrifice. There is a difference between a father and a dad.

The same goes for a mother and a mom.

***End Spoiler Section***

Ultimately, Guardians 2 is worth the price of admission. I’ll see it more than once.

Thanks for reading.

Note: Drax’s backstory has been retconned in the comics since the first Guardians movie. Marvel had to change it; Dave Bautista’s reflexes are too fast.



Jim’s Thoughts

It’s difficult to talk about Logan without getting into spoilers, so I won’t worry too much about that. Consider this a SPOILER WARNING.

This shouldn’t be too much of a spoiler if you’re followed the press surrounding the movie. Hugh Jackman has said he’s moving on from the role, and Logan very much has the ring of closing out this portrayal of the character. As a farewell to Jackman, and Patrick Stewart as Professor X (Stewart has also said he’s retiring from the franchise), the movie hits all the bittersweet notes, and it accomplishes exactly what it aims to do.

Logan does shine a few lights on some grievances I have with the X-Men as a whole, and that’s largely that so many members of its roster are dramatically overpowered. Beyond that, the only complaint I can imagine someone having with Logan is that it lacks much of what we’ve come to expect from a “Superhero Movie.” In truth, the movie works much more like a mixture of Dystopia and a Western, but it does both fairly well. It’s just not your typical “X-Men Movie” fare, and that might put off some viewers.

Jackman and Stewart have some incredible scenes together, and Stewart in particular astounds with his portrayal of Professor X suffering from dementia. It’s sobering and good note for DC to take if they’re going to insist on making grim films.

There’s a lot of darkness in Logan, but it works. I think that’s because there is also levity, a handful of moments that are genuinely fun, and that stops it from becoming the joyless sort of mess that DC/WB has been giving us with Batman v Superman and Man of Steel.

If you’ve read the Old Man Logan comics, you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from the movie. If you haven’t, you might be taken a little by surprise, but Logan is a good movie, and it’s accessible to audiences regardless of their familiarity with the franchise.

Kyle’s Take

Logan showcased stellar acting. Jackman, Stewart, and newcomer Dafne Keen as X-23 (Laura) had some amazing moments. Stewart did a great job portraying a Professor X suffering from dementia, but the interaction among these characters shines.

Call it a Dystopian, Western, or superhero film, at its heart Logan is about a man saying goodbye to the family he lost, or is losing in the case of Xavier, and accepting his role in a new family. Logan doesn’t know how to be a father. No one does when they first become one. Heck, I’m stilling learning how to be one and my kids are teenagers.

Many of the film’s best moments and moments of levity come from the various roles one assumes within a family. Logan tends to Charles (his ersatz father) and struggles to parent X-23. Charles wants to impart wisdom to Logan and X-23, making sure there’s hope for mutants and also that his friend and child are taken care of after he’s gone. X-23 wants to find her place in this world and keeps others at bay because of the abuse she’s endured, but she still acts, at times, like a young girl going on a road trip with her father and pappy. These moments are fun and explore the human condition.

Stewart’s brilliant, Jackman holds his own, making several memorable moments, and Keen’s captivating. Her character has a wonderful arc. SPOILER WARNING. Laura doesn’t speak (a defense mechanism) until an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie. When she does, she speaks Spanish, a language she knows Logan can’t understand, her defenses coming down but still raised. When Logan shows he cares for Laura, she reveals to him she can speak perfect English. She tears down her last wall. It’s one of the better character arcs in a comic book movie.

I agree with Jim’s overpowered characters assessment in regards to the X-Men franchise as a whole—there are mutants who can warp reality—but I only agree with him to a point when considering Logan. The young mutants in Logan have abilities so staggering, I didn’t believe they were in real danger. X-23 is more like Wolverine than Logan. She should’ve been taking care of him. And she does toward the end of the film. Like her father, Laura must learn how to be a daughter. I’m giving Logan a pass in the powers department. The young mutants were chased by the ones who oppressed them all their lives. It’s possible they would be frightened and didn’t know, or believe in, their own strength. I can suspend disbelief, citing the young ones needed to grow into their powers.

Viewers may expect Logan to be the cinematic Wolverine they’ve known for seventeen years. He’s not that. This is an old man Logan film and it’s a good one.

2016 was a down year for comic book movies. If Logan is any indication, 2017’s looking a lot better. And if Marvel/Fox wants to make an X-23/Runaways movie or two, they’ve sold me after Logan.

Thanks for reading.

Justice League vs Teen Titans (DC Animated 2016)


Jim’s Thoughts

I’m a bit late to the party on this one. DC’s animated film, Justice League vs Teen Titans came out last year, but I’ve only just now gotten around to seeing it. I’ll admit that at least part of what got me to hold off on it was the title, particularly the “vs” part. I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m beyond fatigued with the concept of heroes fighting heroes. In order to make it work, at least one side has to be written out of character; see Batman being an unreasonable jerk in Batman v Superman, or Tony Stark siding with government in Captain America: Civil War. I’ll admit, the Marvel Cinematic Universe did it about as well as can be done, but more often than not, I don’t like the results.

Where Justice League vs Teen Titans works is that the title is a bit of a misnomer. Yes, there’s a scene where the members of the two teams fight, but the Justice League members are possessed at that point, so there’s no sacrifice to their characters. In truth, the movie is much more a Teen Titans story. If you’re someone who misses the old Teen Titans series, and isn’t happy with the radically different direction Teen Titans Go! has taken, I think you’ll more than get your fix here. The movie feels like a step back into that universe, and it works well.

If you’re not a fan of the Titans, there isn’t much for you here, as the Justice League is much more of a plot device than something that’s fleshed out. You’re only going to get a superficial handful of moments with Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and The Flash, and even Nightwing’s part in the story is limited to a brief car ride. Even within the Teen Titans group, it’s not all equal exposure. Blue Beetle gets some good action sequences, but is mostly in the background. Beast Boy is good for a couple gags, but disappears in spots. The real value in this movie is for fans of Damien Wayne and Raven. Their arcs carry the dramatic elements of the story. I should say, just in case you don’t expect it from a title involving the word “Teen,” that’s a big part of the target audience. Be prepared for puppy love and adolescent angst in all things relating to the Titans. You are warned.

I’ve read this movie will serve to set up the forthcoming adaptation of The Judas Contract. I doubt it’ll be a one-for-one portrayal of the comic, but if you’re not familiar with the source material, that’s a huge story arc that brings Deathstroke to the forefront of DC villains. If Justice League vs Teen Titans is any indication, I’m optimistic about how that chapter in the story will be handled. It’s definitely worth a rental for fans of the Titans, or big DC fans in general.

Justice League Dark (DC Animated)


Jim’s Thoughts

Over the last few years, the common wisdom has been while DC’s live action film universe has been lacking (that’s my diplomatic way to put it for those who don’t hate Man of Steel), their animated projects have been pretty good. I’ve echoed that sentiment until the animated adaptation of The Killing Joke came out. I was so irritated with that one that I didn’t even cover it for ‘Geekly. With the release of Justice League Dark I hoped DC was getting back in shape, and while the results were far from great, they were a step in the right direction.

First, let me say that this is not a great jumping on point for those who aren’t familiar with the characters in this offshoot of The Justice League. It wants to be accessible, and to that end they shovel in a couple origin flashbacks for characters like Boston Brand/Deadman and Jason Blood/Etrigan, but it’s not quite enough. There’s a lot of backstory hinted at with Zatanna and Constantine. In fact, there’s a lot of backstory hinted at as to why every character they run across has a grudge against Constantine. If you’ve read Hellblazer or you follow Justice League Dark (the comics), you’ll get it, but if not, you stand around wondering why anyone is supposed to root for this character.

It struck me as clear the people behind the film didn’t trust the audience to know all this backstory, and that’s why I assume they insisted on attaching Batman to the movie. They wanted a recognizable DC hero with broader appeal, and that seems to be his sole purpose in the movie. The rest of the Justice League proper show up in brief supporting roles, but Batman tags along for the ride. There are some decent moments with him, and though Jason O’Mara is no Kevin Conroy, he does well enough with the voice acting. The problem comes mostly when Batman slings batarangs at demons, and the movie’s internal logic about how magic and the physical realm interact get murky. In short, they sacrifice internal consistency to fit Batman into the story.

If you’re a fan of these characters already, I think there’s enough of what makes them interesting to win you over, and you’ll probably enjoy the film well enough. If you’re a hardcore fan, the only character you might feel cheated by is Swamp Thing, whose role in the movie is just a little bit greater than a cameo, so go into it knowing that.

All things considered, this is more like what we’ve seen from DC in the animated film department. While it doesn’t give equal footing to all characters, I don’t think it guts anyone the way The Killing Joke did. I don’t think this is a movie you’re going to feel inclined to own, but if you’ve been hankering for a bit of John Constantine, it’s worth a rental.

Star Wars: Rogue One


Jim’s Thoughts

Weather and the demands of the holiday season tag-teamed us, and Kyle and I didn’t get to the theatre for Rogue One on opening weekend, but we’ve seen it now. Here are some of my thoughts.

I liked Rogue One. I liked it about as much as The Force Awakens, which is to say after the nostalgia wore off, the relief that it wasn’t more of the prequel trilogy subsided, and all the film’s faults came into focus, I was left feeling entertained.

There’s plenty to pick on with the move. As with all Star Wars movies, the plot holes abound, and all the familiar tropes appear; a lost young soul, some convenient timing and arbitrary logic, but the movie didn’t bore me.

Rogue One offers tons of fan service, and when it tries hardest to be such a direct tie-in to the events of A New Hope, the film is at its weakest, but there can’t be a Star Wars movie without some familiar notes. Then Disney would be hearing complaints from the other side of things, so I can’t fault them too much.

One thing Rogue One does that I truly appreciate is offer an unromantic view of the rebellion. Here’s where we’re shown the darker side (no force pun intended) of people who are willing to do anything in the interest of their cause. To that end, Forrest Whitaker’s character is wasted, but moral gray areas are not something we’ve seen much of in the franchise. Traditionally, Star Wars is about dark and light, evil and good.

There’s plenty more to address. There were too many characters vying for screen time. A lot of them barely had names, and too often the movie played to clichés that touch on the insensitive (see blind Asian Kung Fu master), but only a couple characters are well developed enough to stick.

If you haven’t had a chance to see this one yet, go in with maybe slightly lower expectations than the critics are setting. It’s a flawed movie, but it feels like Star Wars. What’s more, it feels like a few things we haven’t seen yet from Star Wars, and that as much as anything, is cause for optimism.

Kyle’s Take

I liked Rogue One, too, but like any other Star Wars movie—including the original trilogy—I could nitpick it to death. A Deathstar would have its own gravitational pull and would plunge any solar system it was docked into chaos, an AT-AT is the most inefficient design for a land vehicle ever devised (note: tripping hazard), but it’s a space fantasy. Okay. Fine. Star Wars popularized the space opera subgenre, so it can be forgiven, but that’s a lot of space magic.

Rogue One is also a war movie and while I believe Erso could bury the plans to the Deathstar in the Empire’s bureaucracy, the Empire knew the Rebels wanted something from the communications tower (even if they didn’t know exactly what it was), and it made no sense to not blow up the tower (see Germany taking out bridges when it was clear they couldn’t defend them in World War II). You can rebuild towers. You may not be able to recover from giving up information so important the Rebels waged its first full-scale attack to retrieve.

And the characters for the underdeveloped masses were stereotypes. Rogue One wanted to avoid having a Jedi master, but a Jedi of Asian descent would’ve made more sense than a Kung-Fu master in a galaxy where Kung-Fu doesn’t exist. That was a poor trade. For all the hype Rogue One gave itself for diversity (Twitter mostly), they hold tight to numerous stereotypes. (Note: a central Asian, most likely Mongolian, is a barbarian berserker with a Gatling laser.) Still, I do like seeing more diversity; let’s broaden minority roles.

The characters who weren’t a stereotype proved worthy of classic Star Wars. Cassian was a dynamic character and his presence (and others like him and Forest Whitaker’s character) added layers to the resistance that didn’t exist in this universe. Rogue One dabbled with gray, and that was fun.

Ultimately, Rogue One felt like a Star Wars movie. While I would’ve liked to have seen the movie take the series in a drastic direction, the franchise is so entrenched that it couldn’t be too drastic (you don’t want to upset fans), and the shifts Rogue One did make were appreciated.

Thanks for reading.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them


Jim’s Thoughts

The first reviews I saw for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them were pretty flat. At first, I thought critics were just turning on J.K. Rowling, but when the credits rolled, I found myself double checking to be sure she actually wrote it. To be frank, I was shocked by how bad the movie was.

Fantastic Beasts does nothing to make you love its setting. There’s no wonder to it, beyond the moments we get inside Newt’s TARDIS-like suitcase. New York City is portrayed as a bleak place mostly devoid of anything worth hoping to save. The American wizarding world is a cold bureaucracy and the city itself draws direct parallels to Salem (as in witch trials).

The sort of character development that, for me, makes Rowling’s work so wonderful went missing without a trace here. Newt (the main character), is a poor man’s Doctor Who (note the TARDIS reference), and Jacob is a well-meaning oaf who we’re meant to like because Newt quite literally says so.

The plotline with Newt tracking down his beasts is only half the story. On the other side, stock-villainous-type played by Colin Farrell is searching for a magical child who isn’t Harry Potter because it’s only the 20s. We’re told this child must fit certain parameters, and the big reveal is that they don’t. All we’re given for an explanation is “somehow,” the rules don’t apply. “Somehow” isn’t a satisfying answer to anything, and it’s a prime example of the problem magic poses to a story. Magic can be anything, but it has to bend to its own logic. It doesn’t in this movie.

What’s somehow worse, the two stories don’t really share any significant link. They just cross paths with each other because they’re happening in the same place at the same time. It’s the epitome of lazy writing.

Fantastic Beasts gives us some cool visuals, but I burned out on them less than halfway through the movie when it became clear the story wanted to throw around the weight of the Harry Potter films without earning any of its own.

I expected to come out of the theatre at least satisfied. The end result is that Fantastic Beasts isn’t even good enough to get me interested in the next installment.

Kyle’s Take

Like Jim I had to double check that J. K. Rowling wrote the screenplay to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. She’s a great writer and I enjoy the Harry Potter books, but all this movie did was spur me to reread the original books.

Not only does Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them not live up to the Harry Potter universe, it doesn’t live up to its title. We see plenty of fantastic beasts, but we never see their natural habitats. Where do lions come from, kids? Not Africa. Savanna’s wrong too. That’s right; lions come from zoos. Yes. These fantastic beasts live in a magical zoo inside a suitcase. If I called a story “On the Road,” you wouldn’t expect me to spin a tale of how I spent Saturday on my couch eating Flaming Hot Cheetos. Fantastic Beasts is a Flaming Hot Cheeto. Actually, I like the occasional Flaming Hot Cheeto, so the movie better resembles the process that happens a few hours after I eat.

I agree with Jim and his assessment of the world outside the magical, suitcase zoo. The wizarding bureaucracy sucks almost as much life out of the Harry Potter universe as the focus on trade negotiations and parliamentary procedures did during Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.

You’d also be hard pressed to find an American wizard to root for in this movie. The two females are merely love interests and the principal American male is a bumbling no-maj or muggle. This same guy is two or three years removed from serving in the military and looks like he ate his twin brother and didn’t bother to work off the calories. They didn’t make United States Army uniforms to fit a man his size in World War I; they don’t make them that size today. And the British protagonist Newt Scamander is unlikeable but that’s probably because he stinks at his job.

Let’s look past Scamander giving one of his fantastic beasts to a gangster for information, which was terrible enough, and focus on why he’s in the United States. He’s in the U.S. to release a thunderbird into its natural habitat, but he never makes it to Arizona. No, Scamander releases the rehabilitated and confused thunderbird in New York City. That’s the equivalent of a wildlife conservationist taking that same zoo lion mentioned earlier, nursing it to health, and dropping it in the middle of the Sahara Desert. In under 200 miles you’d get a dead lion. Thunderbirds aren’t the same as lions, but when we’re first introduced to the thunderbird, Scamander says it’d be catastrophic if it escaped in New York because it’d get lost. That’s exactly what he does at the end of the film.

The movie has three parts, not just two, but the third part is so underdeveloped that it’s easy to forget. Colin Ferrell’s stock villain is Johnny Depp in disguise as a reheated Voldemort. Fantastic Beasts does such an awful job of setting this up that when I saw the big reveal, I didn’t make the connection that Depp was supposed to be Grindelwald. Barfed up news clippings and name drops didn’t clarify Depp’s appearance. When the time came, I wondered what an elderly Mortdecai was doing in the film.

Even though it’s burdened by exposition and populated with stock characters, Fantastic Beasts showed off some brilliant visuals. That’s not enough for me to like a film and that’s what most critics were saying about The Phantom Menace. Fantastic Beasts is almost that bad.

Thanks for reading.

Doctor Strange


Jim’s Thoughts

I went into Doctor Strange cautiously optimistic, but like a few other people, I do keep, in the back of my mind, a clock that ticks down to when Marvel’s run of hits will end. I hope it never does, but that’s just not realistic, so I’m enjoying the run while it’s going. The first thing I can say about Doctor Strange is that this is not the movie that ends Marvel’s string of successes. It’s not one of the better films in the MCU, but it’s solidly “good.”

The big thing I’ll hit the movie for is its lack of rules for the world of inter-dimensional magic. Without having any clearly stated limitations on what can be done, or how, it’s hard to gauge what represents a threat, and the main story in the movie felt flat for that reason. What’s the threat in this movie? Why, magic is, of course. What’s the answer to the threat? Why, magic is, of course. In the end, Strange wins the big battle with the aid of a conveniently placed item, the full power and/or limitations of which the film never explains. That makes for an ending that doesn’t really satisfy.

A much smaller gripe came in the form of Strange’s life in the mundane world. We needed to spend time there to get a full sense of who Strange was before he became a sorcerer, so the film’s first act wasn’t wasted. My problem came from being dragged back there later. It slowed the move down, and on a smaller level, annoyed me because in a world where the Avengers have existed for some time, people should be more numb to seeing weird things in big cities.

The movie offers you everything you expect from Marvel at this point. There were some good, genuine laughs, and its true enough to the source material that fans of the comics should recognize key points. The visual effects were right out of the film Inception, so there’s nothing really groundbreaking, but they’re well executed.

Cumberbatch did well in the lead, because Cumberbatch usually does, but I was more interested in Chiwetel Ejiofor’s depiction of Mordo. Ejiofor is a terrific actor, and you’ll want to stick around for the second post-credits-scene to get a look at what will be next for his character. I won’t spoil anything, and those who are familiar with Mordo from the comics should see it coming, but I’d argue it gives Mordo a more interesting arc than Strange’s.

In the long term, I’m a little concerned that Strange’s role in the MCU will be to reset reality or reboot things when the time comes, and I’d hate to see the character reduced to that. There was a lot of multiverse talk in the film. In the short term, Doctor Strange was fun, and I’d put it about on the level of the Thor films in the MCU; definitely not the best movies, but not dull.

Kyle’s Take

I agree with Jim that Doctor Strange is true enough to the source material on a surface level, but the film betrays one of the character’s co-creators Steve Ditko and what drives the character.

I’ll start with Ditko. Steve Ditko is also a co-creator of Spider-man and the one responsible for building Spidey’s guilt of his Uncle Ben’s death. He also changed the Hulk from a man who transforms into a monster at night to one driven by anger and controlled by his inner demons. Ditko even reworked Tony Stark’s backstory so he’d feel compelled to atone for his and his family’s war profiteering. Doctor Strange included Jack Kirby’s larger than life visuals and Stan Lee’s sense of humor, but Ditko’s complex character is absent.

Doctor Strange couldn’t—or shouldn’t—include Ditko’s (and Lee’s) origin of Strange operating on patients after his accident, killing them with shaky fingers, and fleeing malpractice suits, but there needed to be something tragic—or just something—that would motivate Strange to become a hero.

What we’re given is an arrogant man who’s good at the arcane arts because he’s good at studying, and he saves our existence because that’s where he keeps all his stuff. Yes, even the heroic act of facing off with Dormammu at the end is self-serving, and Strange would be okay with the “pain” because he gets to outsmart a god-like being. That’s a win-win, baby. The lack of a story element to tie Strange to this plane made the scenes where Strange returns to the real-world drag.

I agree with Jim’s assessment of magic. Magic’s fuzzy logic makes a lot of things unclear.

I don’t like white-washing. I especially don’t like white-washing of Asian roles. I’m part Indonesian and would like to see more Asians on screen, but I was willing to let The Ancient One thing slide if Doctor Strange gave a good reason why it chose Tilda Swinton to play the role. It didn’t.

Marvel, Robert Cargill (screenwriter), and Scott Derrickson (director) lose all creditability with their defense of not wanting to further stereotypes by casting a white woman in the role, when they still show us the stereotypical, comic book version of The Ancient One. What’s worse is that they don’t give him a speaking role and make fun of the fact that they showed us the stereotype (when Strange first enters Kamar-Taj). That’s not clever, Marvel, and you’re treating your audience like they’re stupid.

I don’t know what Marvel’s issue is with Asians in their cinematic universe but the only other major role an Asian could’ve played up to this point was The Mandarin, and he turned out to be a fraud, a punch-line, a joke.

I know it sounds like I hated Doctor Strange, but I enjoyed it. The actors did a good to great job with what they were given, and Ejiofor was fantastic. I didn’t know it was possible for an after credits scene to trump a movie without including the movie’s titular character, but it happened.

Doctor Strange is a fun ride; I’d place it above Thor: Dark World and Iron Man 3—for obvious Mandarin reasons—but below the first Thor. I’m sure I’ll watch it again in theaters. Thanks for reading.

Suicide Squad


Kyle’s Thoughts

Seen in a vacuum, Suicide Squad is a flawed action movie. Add the context of Suicide Squad as part of the DC Comics Cinematic Universe and you get a watchable—even enjoyable at times—movie. Suicide Squad is painful at moments, but unfortunately, it’s zero-gravity, moon leaps better than Batman v Superman and Man of Steel. I guess we can be thankful for small favors.

There are things I liked about Suicide Squad. Will Smith made a good Deadshot, and the incomparable Viola Davis made a near-perfect Amanda Waller. Jai Courtney’s Boomerang and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s Killer Croc were good performances too, despite the fact that we saw little of them. I even liked some of the moments with El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), even though his character’s dialogue and backstory were heavy-handed at times. See, it’s a flawed movie, even in the parts that were working in the film, but the worst parts of the movie were Joker (Jared Leto) and Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). They were awful.

Enchantress was hokey and didn’t work well as the main threat, but Leto’s Joker is easily the worst portrayal of the character to date. There’s no humor to him. Now Joker’s not supposed to be funny to the audience/reader per se, but he should find his own sociopathic antics funny. There was none of that in Suicide Squad. In fact, Leto’s Joker created a twisted family and frankly, he was too kind to Harley Quinn. I know fans like to romanticize Joker and Harley, but Joker’s abusive to her. He sees her as an object, not a person. So, why would Joker go to the hassle of trying to rescue her? There could be reasons—she could have something he wants/needs—but Suicide Squad chose love, and that’s just wrong.

Suicide Squad also had the prerequisite action and special effects for a film of its nature. With the exception of Joker’s appearance—I still think he looks like a Juggalo—and Enchantress’s Cabbage Patch the demons to do her bidding, Suicide Squad is a slick-looking movie. And yet we can find another problem with the movie in this arena. The editing made little to no sense. Flashbacks were fit into the film at odd times (near the end was the most jarring), and that detracted from the experience.

This was a fun experience, but it lacked the same level of fun you could find in Deadpool. I think that’s because Deadpool had no desire to fit into a cinematic universe, while Suicide Squad tried to resuscitate hope in DC Comics films. To be fair if DC Comics movies continue with Suicide Squad’s upward trend, we could have a good movie by Wonder Woman or Justice League.

Jim’s Take

Kyle thought I should do the spoiler-y take on Suicide Squad. There’s not a ton to spoil here, but just for the hell of it, the butler did it! Okay, there’s no butler, but you get the idea. Some spoilers may follow.

If you go into Suicide Squad hoping the critics are wrong, you may be a little bit disappointed. The critics are not wrong, but they are, in my humble opinion, drastically overstating their cases against the movie.

Suicide Squad is not as good as you hoped it would be, but it’s not nearly as bad as the critics are saying. It held my attention for two hours. Unlike Batman v Superman, it wasn’t just a long, unrelenting effort to bum us out, and I was entertained.

The worst parts of the movie are Enchantress and Joker. Enchantress is an undercooked villain whose motives are never explained beyond a generic desire to rule and/or destroy the world. The performance is over-the-top, and once it becomes a CGI fest during the final showdown, it gets pretty awkward to watch.

If you follow me on twitter (@JimPlath), you probably know I haven’t been a fan of the Joker’s new look. The movie did nothing to win me over. Part of that is still the look. Leto explained the character is highly influenced by cartel kingpins, and that shows in the worst ways possible. In short, he looks too much like something we’ve seen before, too much like something we can wrap our minds around. Cartel kingpins are motivated by all the things we expect, and as far as we can tell, so is this version of the Joker. When done right, it should be shown that everything the Joker does and says, is done and said because he thinks it’s funny. There’s really none of that here, and Leto’s performance as well as the writing are to blame. Watching Leto reminded me of being at a party and seeing someone do their best impression of the Joker to improvised lines. It was off-putting in all the wrong ways.

Kyle’s point about the relationship between Harley and Joker is spot on. This movie shows the Joker pining for Harley, a wreck while she’s missing, driven to find her. It feels like pandering to the shippers online who somehow believe anything about Harley and Joker’s relationship is romantic. It probably wouldn’t bother me so much if it weren’t such a very toxic message to send. In the end, they needed to give Joker an ulterior motive for wanting to find Harley, because in truth, Joker does not love her.

Harley herself is well done, and she shines when Joker isn’t on screen. In these moments, the film cracks some jokes and lets itself have a little personality.

Deadshot is also a bright spot in the film, and while I think the movie goes a little too far in trying to make him “not such a bad guy deep down,” it works more than it doesn’t.

With the possible exception of El Diablo, whose story is spoon-fed to us, the rest of the squad mostly disappears, Actually, Slipknot’s sole purpose for being in the movie is to have the bomb in his neck detonated to show Amanda Waller isn’t bluffing.

In the end, I think Suicide Squad succeeds because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Seeing a film like Batman v Superman is something like listening to someone spout bullet-points from Philosophy 101, boast about their IQ of 160, then smack their head attempting to push open a pull door. Suicide Squad hits its head on plenty of doors, but it gets up, takes a bow, and says “I also do Bar Mitzvahs, folks.” It’s easier to forgive that way.

Suicide Squad makes me hopeful for the future of the DC film universe. It also reminds me of how much I hated Batman v Superman. Seriously, Batman killing people? If Batman were ever willing to kill, I assure you the Joker would be dead, but let’s not open that can of worms again. When Batman v Superman opened, and received the backlash, Suicide Squad was mostly finished. Yes, the editing was baffling. Yes, Joker was horrendous. Yes, Enchantress was awful, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Justice League: War


Kyle’s Thoughts

DC’s animated movies are far better than their cinematic universe, but Justice League: War doesn’t live up to the quality of other DC animated films. I liked how most of the Justice League are already doing their super hero thing—we were spared watching Batman’s origin story for the trillionth time—but there isn’t much to like in Justice League: War beyond a good cast, who were miscast for the most part.

These versions of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the rest come from DC’s the New 52, and Justice League: War gets its story from Geoff Johns’ Justice League: Origin. I guess “war” sounds tougher than “origin.” Too bad they didn’t change the story to go along with the name change; this is not one of Johns’ better stories. The plot is thinner than vaper.

There may be spoilers so consider yourself warned.

DC Comics’ favorite—and over-used—villain Darkseid invades Earth because he wants to invade Earth. If you want a more complex reason for his invasion, you’ll have to invent one yourself because it’s not there. Justice League: War transforms Darkseid from the intelligent, conniving overlord he is to a mind-less brute, and the Justice League tasked to defeat him are snot-nosed, unlikeable variants of the characters fans have grown to love.

This Superman doesn’t fight for truth and justice; he wants to break stuff and smack people. This Wonder Woman is a dumb, petulant child who’d rather hack and slash through her enemies, instead of the Wonder Woman who’d learn from them. Plus, the scene where Wonder Woman freaks out over tasting ice cream for the first time wasn’t fun, cute, or funny; it was painful. This Green Lantern continues DC’s cinematic trend of copycatting Marvel’s Iron Man, but his sarcasm comes off as mean and stupid instead of smart and cocky. Shazam, the hero who was formerly known as Captain Marvel, and his alter ego Billy Batson is a strange case. Billy Batson is a brat who calls his foster family stupid, even though it’s clear they care for him, but Shazam (voiced by Sean Astin) manages to eke out some likability; I’m putting that on Astin’s voice acting instead of the writing. The remaining three Justice Leaguers fair better but they’re far from perfect.

The Flash was serviceable but forgettable. Cyborg was done well enough, but his origin story was squeezed into the half-baked invasion plot. Jason O’Mara did an okay job with Batman—an animated Batman sounds odd when he’s not voiced by Kevin Conroy—but Batman was portrayed as a video game player who set their game on very easy or cupcake, had infinite ammo, and could do no wrong.

As for the rest of the voice acting, Alan Tudyk’s voice couldn’t pull off this Superman design—Supes was too bulky. Michelle Monaghan doesn’t sound like the Wonder Woman who just came from Themyscira; she sounded more like Lois Lane. And Justin Kirk’s high-pitched frat boy could fit Guy Gardner, but doesn’t come close to Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern. I like a lot of these actors, but I kept wondering if this cast had done another DC animated film, and they stayed in the recording studio for Justice League: War.

Getting back to the story—or lack thereof—the misrepresentation of these iconic characters wasn’t the only thing against the script. The writers decided to age up the story by including casual swearing. I’m okay with casual swearing—hell, I add in some swears for good measure from time to time—but adding in “whore,” “douche bag,” and the like to a script is a teenager’s or pre-teen’s idea of making something more “grown-up.”

Give us complex characters. Even the bit characters like the guy protesting Wonder Woman could’ve used more development. He could cross-dress as Wonder Woman in private (Wonder Woman finds out about this when she uses her Lasso of Truth on him), but that shouldn’t be the reason why he’s protesting her. Could he be afraid of someone with too much power and he wants to emulate her? Throwing in a reference to cross-dressing without using it as pretext to why you’re doing what you’re doing (Wonder Woman did use the Lasso of Truth, not the Lasso of Half-truth) or adding context is just another way to pander to the audience and add artificial shock value. Give us more complex characters like the characters in this film, only how they’ve been portrayed in the comics not named Justice League: Origin. And don’t make Darkseid an intergalactic Solomon Grundy.

I can see why Jim skipped this one. You should too. Thanks for reading.

Star Trek: Beyond


Jim’s Thoughts

I’ll start off with a minor point about this movie. A lot has been made of the film’s decision to make Sulu gay. For what it’s worth, it’s a very minor point in the story. It’s a glancing reference, really, and it’s pretty clearly designed to be a nod to George Takei, who played the character originally. When you consider what Gene Roddenberry was up against when he started Star Trek; the world divided by cold war tensions, the fact that he was kicked off the air in the south for having Kirk kiss Uhura, it seems like an attempt to one-up the man by making one of his original characters gay. George Takei has stated Gene Roddenberry would have liked to do a gay character, but didn’t want to take on too many barriers at once. For the movie to come along now, not facing anything close to the level of institutionalized bigotry that he did, it feels like an insult to all the messages the show did take risks to put out there. As Takei put it, I would have liked to see a gay character, but an original one that didn’t feel like taking a red pen to Roddenberry’s work.

The reason I bring all that up is because Star Trek: Beyond does so much to reference its source material. There’s so much fan service that it makes its failures all the more surprising. Star Trek, as a series, is what’s known as “Hard Sci-Fi.” That means it’s Science Fiction, but it has a stronger emphasis on science than franchises like Star Wars, which fall more under Science Fantasy. Its technology is fake, yes, but it’s meant to have enough of a basis in scientific theory that it’s easy to imagine there being a time when it could be real. Star Trek: Beyond gets lazy in that, settles for throwing a bunch of scientific-sounding word-salad at us, and that’s a thing that’s destined to drive its core audience absolutely insane. Star Trek is a franchise that inspired the generation of engineers and physicists who are currently steering vehicles on Mars and taking photos of Jupiter. For them, it isn’t enough to see and hear things that look and sound cool.

The movie spends a lot of time aiming for gravitas. In the opening, it’s a lot of monologues and heart-to-heart conversations that are meant to spoon-feed us the philosophy of the film, and not only is it awkward, it’s wasted time that should have been spent developing its villain. For what it’s worth, I’m still not entirely sure what the villain’s motive was. I’ve settled on “crazy dude went crazy.” It’s not necessarily unbelievable, but it’s a backstory we’re tossed in the movie’s final act, and just expected to swallow.

There’s plenty to criticize about Star Trek: Beyond. It’s easily the weakest of the new films, but for all its flaws, it didn’t bore me. Even when it was preposterous, it threw in an occasional (intentional) laugh, and tried not to take itself too seriously the whole way through. Whenever the next installment rolls out, I’ll still see it. This movie wasn’t nearly bad enough to make me quit on this generation of films, but I question how essential this one will have been to my understanding of the larger story.

Kyle’s Take

Jim avoided spoilers in his thoughts, but I won’t, so consider yourself warned: spoiler alert.

In many respects I’m still the small, mixed kid who grew up in the Deep South, so I can’t help watching films through that lens. I also can’t tell you how much I wanted Idris Elba to be an alien instead of a human. I was actually chanting under my breath, please let him be an alien, while watching the movie. Star Trek: Beyond preaches “unity” throughout, it shoves the message down our throats, and anyone who has experienced racial discrimination in the United States can’t help but draw a line from this message of “unity” to the Black Lives Matter movement and the controversy associated with it—specifically, but by no means limited to, the Deep South.

Star Trek: Beyond moves our human race into the future. It shows humans of all shapes, sizes, creeds, color of skin, gender identity, and sexual orientation living together in harmony. These same humans even build friendships and more with alien lifeforms. Star Trek: Beyond’s reality is Martin Luther King Jr’s dream. The one being in the universe opposed to this “unity” is the token black man from a Federation starship. What the actual hell?

I love Idris Elba as an actor. I think he deserved an Academy Award nomination for his work on Beasts of No Nation—you should watch it on Netflix if you haven’t seen it yet. But I can’t tell you how disappointed I was when I found out Elba’s character went crazy because of how his nation (or Federation) treated him, and how he lashed out violently, prepared to kill all life in the universe, peace be damned. That is the antithesis of Black Lives Matter. Sure, you could write it off and say “crazy dude went crazy”—and I think that’s what the writers want us to do—but you can’t preach “unity” all movie long and have this be your plot device, Star Trek: Beyond. It’s tone deaf.

I can let the Sulu thing slide. Were Gene Roddenberry alive today, I believe he’d be fine with that minor story line (this is an alternate timeline Sulu, the climate of the United States toward homosexuals has changed since the 60s, and Roddenberry loved and accepted George Takei), but Roddenberry and Leonard Nimoy, another activist, would roll over in their graves from the main plot device of a black man’s plan to destroy a utopian future.

See. That’s what can happen when you don’t develop your villains, Star Trek: Beyond. I’m sure this wasn’t the movie’s intent, but they cheated by presenting Elba’s character as an alien, switching him to a human at the tail end, and not giving us a plausible reason for why he’s doing what he’s doing. For being a 50th anniversary celebration, Star Trek: Beyond betrayed its fan-base in a similar fashion as George Lucas did with his Star Wars prequels. And the main villain cheat isn’t the only transgression.

I assume director Justin Lin added a Kirk on a motorcycle scene as a nod to his tenure on the Fast and the Furious franchise. It looked cool, but in a Venn diagram of Star Trek and Fast and the Furious fans, you’ll see little to no overlap.

The Beastie Boys “Sabotage” as a secret weapon against the baddies was pilfered from Mars Attacks, but Mars Attacks was supposed to be a comedy and it made more sense. Sound doesn’t travel in the vacuum of space. You could say that Spock hotwired into the alien’s sound system. But how does he do that in 30 seconds and no prior knowledge of this technology? How are these aliens (or humans turned aliens) exploding when Jaylah cranks up the volume to her interstellar iPod?

Speaking of Jaylah, the actress who portrays her (Sofia Boutella) was fun and gave a great performance, but she’s Algerian and she’s in whiteface the entire movie. I’m not sure what kind of message that’s supposed to make—most likely no message at all—but it’s a bad look when you pair it with the angry black man plot.

Then you have the actors forgetting how to lean, jerk their bodies, or fall down to portray the ship getting pelted by missiles and lasers. Instead, Director Lin had the actors grimace and the camera man shake his camera to produce a vomit-inducing effect. I couldn’t follow the action and reached for my popcorn bag for something to puke into during half the movie. If I wanted a shaky camera, I’d watch home videos.

After all this, I’m still a fan of the Star Trek franchise. Star Trek: Beyond may be forgettable, but there were some good one-liners—these one-liners were marred by the writers elbowing us in the ribs and saying, “See what I did there,” but they were good one-liners. I’m still going to watch the next film in the series, but they have a lot of issues to address.