Doctor Strange

We live in a golden age of comic book dramatizations. Certainly, not every movie, broadcast, or streaming comic-book related enterprise is worth your time. But we live in an age where there is an unbelievable number of choices. The latest production from Marvel is the MCU’s “Doctor Strange”. Is this film worth your time and money?

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an egotistical and somewhat abrasive neurosurgeon living in NYC. He’s certainly good at his job and loves what he does. But because of his enormous ego, he can’t help but rub people the wrong way, including, on occasion, his friend and colleague, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). One evening, while using his cell phone and driving at the same time, he gets into a very serious accident. It’s a miracle that he does not die, but that’s little consolation to him since his hands are damaged to the extent that there is little hope that he could ever practice surgery again.Still, grasping at straws, he seeks out experimental procedure after procedure, talking to medical pioneers and experts, spending his prodigious wealth seeking something that will allow him the steady hands he needs to once again operate.

Still, grasping at straws, he seeks out experimental procedure after procedure, talking to medical pioneers and experts, spending his prodigious wealth seeking something that will allow him the steady hands he needs to once again operate. His search eventually leads him to a group of people, lead by a woman known as “The Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton). Among this group  is also Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a somber librarian known only as Wong (Benedict Wong). Together, they train Dr. Strange in the mystic arts, something which he apparently has an incredible talent for. During his training, he discovers the actual purpose of this group — to defend the Earth and its entire plane of existence from threats from other dimensions. And like it or not, Dr. Strange is drawn into a deadly conflict between the Ancient One’s people, and a former student of hers, Kaecillius (Mads Mikkelsen).

“Doctor Strange” is an origin story about an egotistical man and his journey to becoming a hero. We’ve certainly seen things like this before (most notably, Tony Stark/Iron Man). But this is an introduction to the magical side of the Marvel universe. God-like Thor and his trouble-making half-brother Loki has been explained as advanced science. Scarlett Witch’s abilities have never quite been explained. But here we have pure magic and mysticism, with the Marvel flavor to it. And I have to say that it’s handled very well, in that it’s easy to accept what we see on the screen, as being possible, within the context of a Marvel fantasy film. The special effects and cinematography are all very well done, and Doctor Strange is a beautiful film to watch.

The cast is phenomenal. The only problem I have is that Benedict Cumberbatch’s American accent does not sound authentic (I don’t know what kind of accent he was trying to do, but  I’m from New York, and I don’t know of any accent, from NY or otherwise, that sounds like it). And that is my biggest problem — I would have rather they simply made Dr. Strange British. But ok, they didn’t. I have no problems with his acting — it’s just his accent that kind of grated on me.

I liked the rest of the cast better. Chiwetel Ejiofor is exceptional as Mordo, as is Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. Mads Mikkelson plays the enigmatic Kaecillius as someone who is a true believer in his actions, that what he does is for the benefit of mankind, even if he has to kill to achieve his goals. It gives him an extra layer of depth, which works. But really, as with many Marvel villains, there’s not a lot there. We know that Kaecillius has a history with The Ancient One and Mordo and Wong, but we don’t know many of the details. So like with many previous MCU villains, we don’t know a lot about him. But we know enough. I do think that he is still, one of the better MCU villains.

Overall, I really enjoyed Doctor Strange. I didn’t find the film to be ground-breaking. As I said, it’s visually stunning. But it isn’t as good as the best of the MCU. I’d rank it around the middle of the pack. If you’re a fan of the rest of the MCU, I definitely recommend it. It’s not among the best of them, but it’s a fun and entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. I also must mention that if you go see it, to stay until the very end — there is both a mid-credit and end-credit scene, and both are well-worth the wait.

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

“The Magnificent Seven” is a remake of the 1960 John Sturges film of the same name, which in itself, is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film, “The Seven Samurai”. The first film is considered by many to be one of the greatest movies of all time and appears on several top movie lists. The second film, while not quite so applauded, is a good western with a fun cast and a lot of heart. I definitely recommend that you see those two films. The question is, should you see this new one?

This new film, which is directed by Antoine Fuqua starts by showing a meeting at a church between the townspeople of Rose Creek. A “Robber Baron” by the name of Bartholomew Bogue owns a gold mine outside of town, and his operation is resulting in the poisoning of the river water, so all of their crops are dying. People are scared of him because he has a crew of armed mercenaries that roam the town. Some people just want to move away. Some people think that they can reason with Bogue. One young married man (Matt Bomer) wants people to stand up to him.

In the middle of the meeting, Bogue comes in with his mercenaries and makes a huge scene, getting everyone even more scared and riled up. A few people end up getting shot, including the young married man. His wife Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), and another young townsperson decide to try to hire themselves some mercenaries to kill Bogue and end his tyranny over the town.

Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt play Chisolm and John Faraday, the first two mercenaries that she hires. Chisolm is an actual bounty hunter and lawman, while Faraday is a gambler. It seems unlikely that Faraday would be recruited since he shows neither Emma nor Chisolm any signs of skills of any kind. It makes no sense, really to hire a gambler for this job. They eventually end up with a team of 7, including a Civil War veteran/sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his Chinese friend/manservant Billy Rocks (Byung-Hun Lee), a Mexican bandit Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), a native-American warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), and a hunter Jack Horne (Vincent Donofrio).All of these characters are introduced in very brief scenes that really don’t tell you much about them except in very broad strokes.

All of these characters are introduced in very brief scenes that really don’t tell you much about them except in very broad strokes. We get a little bit of flavor here and there for some, while others (like Red Harvest and Vasquez) we know almost nothing about. They are treated like throw-away characters. It gives the film a shallow feeling at times.

And I find a lot of the film to be lazy like this. Some of the action scenes are fun, one near the end is not quite believable. Overall, you can go to the film and just enjoy it as a popcorn film, ignoring how shallow it is, or some of its implausibility. There is definite enjoyment to be had. Just don’t go there expecting much. Just watch out for one TERRIBLY cheesy line near the end — it’s painfully bad. If you don’t cringe like I did, I’d be surprised.

I’m not saying that it’s a bad film, just that there are better ways to spend your time. If you want to spend the evening watching a good, exciting western, and you haven’t seen the John Sturgis version, you should rent it instead. Or better yet, watch the Akira Kurosawa classic “The Seven Samurai”. Or watch both. But don’t pay full price for this film — wait for it to come onto Netflix or Amazon Prime instead. That’s my recommendation.

 

Sully

Clint Eastwood’s film “Sully”, tells the story of the forced landing (or crash, as some people characterized it) of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson river on January 15, 2009. Tom Hanks realistically portrays Captain Sullenberger as a competent and confident pilot who finds himself in some unfortunate situations, both dealing with losing the thrust in the engines of his plane after hitting a flock of birds, and also having to deal with the aftermath, with the investigation by the NTSB.

We all know how it turns out because we’ve all seen the photos, and the real Sully being praised as a hero on TV. So there really isn’t a lot of uncertainty for us as the viewer as to how everything is going to turn out. What the movie is there for, is to show us HOW it turned out how it did. How the NTSB investigated, and how Sully and his wife Lorraine (played by Laura Linney) deal with it all.

There are a few flashbacks showing Sully learning to fly as a teenager, and also a little bit of his military career. And we also see the entire flight, from the points of view of Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles (played by Aaron Eckhart), as well as from the point of view of a few of the passengers and the rest of the flight crew. What struck me the most is just how fast everything happened, and how quickly Sully had to come to his decision. Also, I didn’t remember just how many people came together after the crash to rescue the passengers from the planes.

I don’t know to what extent the truth is stretched in this film, but it’s an excellent story. I’m not sure that all of it works perfectly. The phone conversations that Sully has with his wife don’t feel natural. I’m also not quite sure about the reality of the degree of doubt that his superiors had about his decision to land on the Hudson, how close did he actually come to being treated as the one responsible for crashing a plane, instead of what happened, being treated as a hero who saved all of those passengers lives. Maybe it’s true, and if it is, then I’ll apologize for my doubts, but it seems like that was contrived to create drama. But I could be wrong. On rare occasions, reality can feel contrived.

Overall, this is a feel-good movie. And it works on that level. This is not one of Tom Hanks best roles, and this is not one of Clint Eastwood’s best films. But that would be expecting too much. It definitely is a movie that you should see, if you want to relive the “Miracle on the Hudson”, or learn more about it. The only thing I will add is that it was a very pleasant way to spend some time at the movies. And if you were amazed the first time you heard the story on the news, you’ll be amazed all over again. Now here’s the trailer.

Suicide Squad

Let me preface this by saying that I really wanted to see this right when it first opened, before everyone was talking about it. But I’ve been sick with I-don’t-know-what — either with a bad cold or flu. I’m better now but unfortunately, that means I couldn’t see it without being inundated by comments from friends and acquaintances and bloggers that I listen to and so on. But I tend to enjoy comic book films. I didn’t go into this film with high expectations. I was just hoping to have some nice mindless fun. So on with my review.

You probably know the premise of the film by now, if you are reading the review. Amanda Waller (played by Viola Davis) is trying to create an elite team of soldiers, out of some of the worst criminals she can find. plus a few others And she’s not above using blackmail and threats to convince them, criminal or otherwise, to cooperate. The team is lead by Rick Flagg, played by The Killing’s Joel Kinnamon. His girlfriend, Dr. June Moone (Cara Delavingne) is possessed by an ancient and powerful mystical spirit — when she lets the spirit take over, she calls herself The Enchantress. There’s also Deadshot (Will Smith), an assassin-for-hire.  Harley Quinn (Margot Robie) used to be a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, until she fell in love with Arkham’s most insane inmate, The Joker (Jared Leto), helped him escape, and was eventually driven mad by him (although the order that all of that happened is not 100% clear). Then there is Diablo (Jay Hernandez), a metahuman who can create and control fire. Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), probably the unlikeliest one in the entire bunch, can (you guessed it) throw boomerangs. And finally, there’s Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who played Mr. Echo in “Lost”) a metahuman who has a crocodile-like skin and sharp teeth. We also meet Slipknot (Adam Beach), who can climb anything we are told (though his lack of a back-story is all too obvious a sign of things to come). And finally, there’s Katana (Karen Fukuhara), who has a magic Katana that steals souls.

It takes nearly half the movie to introduce all of these characters, giving most of them back stories. And then, without spoiling it, they have a job — things have gone horribly wrong in Midway City in (unfortunately) an entirely predictable way — I debated whether saying what the specific way that things go wrong is — on the one hand, yes it’s a spoiler, on the other hand, the movie telegraphs this right from the start. But I’ll err on the side of silence and not say what it is that has gone wrong. But if you actually watch the movie, and you don’t see it coming, you really weren’t paying attention.

Waller has tiny nanobots injected into the rest of the squad’s necks, and she explains that she can cause them to explode via remote control if Rick Flagg dies, or if any of them try to escape of if they even ‘irk’ him.And thus FINALLY the story begins.

First, let me tell you what I liked about the movie. Margot Robie is terrific as  Harley Quinn. She has a perfect mixture of madness and sexuality. She’s certainly a villain in every way. I was also somewhat surprised by Will Smith — let me say right up front that I really liked him in Ali, but I’ve never liked his more comedic or his more iconic ‘Will Smith’ roles (like in “Independence Day”, or “I, Robot”). He was better than that here and the only reason why is that he managed to avoid all of those ‘Will Smith Cliches’ which to me are like fingernails on a chalkboard. The “Oh hell no”s, etc. His performance here was a bit more subdued, and I really appreciated that. It’s a small thing, but it also surprised me in a pleasant way. And I also really liked Joel Kinnamon as Rick Flagg. He’s an actor that I thought did an excellent job in “The Killing”, and he is fairly good here as well. Most of the rest of the cast were adequate, with one exception, which I’ll get to shortly…

Now the bad… Where to start…

The writing was not good. They created a new Joker, played by Jared Leto who was not bad in his role. But he’s written more like a dangerous gangster than the over-the-top murderous but fun-loving psychopath of previous outings. Which I guess is one way of depicting him. But it’s just not as fun as either of the over-the-top performances of Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger. That said, as unexpectedly underwritten as his character was, his appearances in the movie are among the higher points, which isn’t a good sign.

Some of what happens seemed formulaic — the character deaths, even the non-deaths seemed to be by-the-numbers. The villain had to be the villain — totally not unexpected (in fact, it kind of makes Amanda Waller seem incompetent, which undermines her needing to also be entirely evil and in control for the story to work).

And then there’s the villain. Lot’s of people have complained about Marvel’s villains — with a few rare exceptions, Marvel’s villains have been relatively weak, but we forgive that because the heroes are often so much fun to watch. Well, this film has one truly horrible performance by the person playing the villain (Again, spoilers). The ‘evil henchmen’, the things that the Suicide Squad had to fight to make it to the villain just seem to die far too easily. Then the villain itself, well the actor moves in a way that is both distracting and disturbing, but not disturbing in a good way. It’s just embarrassing. I don’t know how much of this to blame on the directing and how much to blame on the actor. It’s just not good. Now as underwhelming as the Joker is in this film, this would have been a far, far better one, had they simply gone with Joker as their main villain.

I had such high hopes for this film after watching the trailers. The marketing for this film was just genius. They highlighted all of the best parts of the film — especially Margot Robie, who is just so fun to watch in almost every scene she’s in. And there is some good in this film. It’s just that there’s so much in it that’s bad that I cannot recommend it. There are parts in it that I really did enjoy. But the parts that are bad are just so incredibly bad.

Now I know that some of you may want to see the film anyway, and I’d urge you to wait until it’s on cable or netflix so you don’t have to pay full price to see it. But just in case you do decide to see it anyway (and I know that some people have liked this film a lot more than I did), then I have to tell you that there is a mid-credit scene that is worth staying to see, seeing as you’ve already paid to see it.

And now for the truly genius part of the film, the trailer:

 

The Legend of Tarzan

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Tarzan is a character that I like to think of as an early 20th century comic book/pulp superhero. In the books (of which I read one and a half before I lost interest), his ‘superpower’ does not stem from being bitten by a radioactive ape, but from his noble birth. His nobility is what makes him superior to, not only the apes and other jungle creatures, but also the African natives.  It’s very much a product of its time and place. And most of the dramatic treatments of the stories, while somewhat modernized or Americanized, have treated him as a kind of comic book character, before the days when comic book characters were ever treated seriously. The stories and movies were fun, but never to be taken seriously. Of course, “Greystoke:The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” made a small attempt to change that, but only with limited success.

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And now we have “The Legend of Tarzan”, which stars Alexander Skarsgård, as John Clayton, The Lord of Greystoke, aka “Tarzan”, Margot Robbie as Jayne, Samuel L. Jackson as George Washington Williams, an American who fought in the Civil War, and a few wars after that, and Christoph Waltz, as Leon Rum, the villain of the story.

The story opens in a time after John Clayton has returned from his adventures in the Jungle. He’s a kind of celebrity, and so its obvious that a recent invitation he’s received from the Belgian government, to come and tour the Belgian Congo is a bit of a publicity stunt. Belgium is losing money in the Congo, and there are some nasty rumors about the treatment of the native peoples there, and they want to use him to put The Congo in a better light. He meets with British government officials (who are also fellow nobles) who encourage him to take the offer. An american named George Washington Williams also encourages him to accept the offer, but for entirely different reasons. His goal is to travel with Tarzan and gather evidence that Belgium is enslaving the native population.

The actual Tarzan origin story is told briefly in a few flashbacks for those who may not be familiar with his story, or who want a brief refresher on it. That’s not the focus of this movie.  It is to tell a typical Tarzan mindless adventure story. There’s no pretense, like in “Greystoke”, to be anything other than that. We learn of Tarzan’s connections to people and animals, and that he has history there, friends AND enemies. Pretty early in the film, Leon Rum tries unsuccessfully to capture Tarzan in order to sell him to one of those enemies — but he does get Jayne instead, and he intends to use her as bait to lure Tarzan into a trap.

Sure, that’s a little bit of a spoiler, but most of that can be divined simply by watching the trailers. The rest of the story is mostly action, with typical scenes of Rum menacing Jayne so that we know just how ‘evil’ he is, and of Tarzan and Williams dealing with all of the dangers of the jungle, up until the final big encounter with Rum. It’s all fun, but certainly not a deep ,or anything that can be called a quality film. But it is fun. It’s a good mindless summer popcorn movie. If you go to the theater expecting anything more than that, you will be sorely disappointed. But for good, mindless fun, you could do a lot worse. So I definitely recommend it.

 

The Shallows

“The Shallows” is a tense thriller about a med student named Nancy (Blake Lively), who, while surfing by a remote beach while on a vacation in Mexico is terrorized by a Great White shark. She spends a great deal of time trapped on some rocks, and she knows, as high tide approaches, that her haven from the shark will soon become submerged.

There’s really not a lot to say about the film — the story is pretty simple, and is about matching her wits and endurance against that of the shark. Sure, there’s other things that happen. We meet Carlos (Oscar Jaenada), who drives her to the beach and she practices her rusty spanish talking to him during the trip. We also meet two fellow surfers, who share the camaraderie for the sport. We meet her kid sister and her dad, who talk to her on the phone before she goes into the water. And we also learn about her late mother, who told her about this particular beach, and how much she loved it. It’s a very simple film, but it works. We share Nancy’s joy and then her terror and her fight for survival.

The film was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra.  I checked his references, and I don’t think I’ve seen any of his other films. But this one is certainly one that is worth seeing. I want to comment on a specific incident towards the end of the film, but I’m afraid that that would be too much of a spoiler.  Let’s just say that I have no idea how plausible a couple of things that happen in the film are, but the film still works.

Central Intelligence

“Central Intelligence” starts with a flashback to high school. Kevin Hart plays Calvin Joyner. He is the popular scholar-athlete, who everyone loves. I can’t even recall all of the sports he excels in.  And he’s also dating (and in love with) the most beautiful girl in his class, Maggie, played by Danielle Nicolet. The film opens at a pep rally, led by Calvin and the principal of the school.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, with some incredible CG that you can see in the trailer, plays his opposite, Bob Weirdicht, the overweight, socially-inept kid. During that pep rally, a group of bullies drags him out of the shower, naked into the middle of the gymnasium. Just about everyone, with the exception of Calvin, the Principal, and Maggie, erupt in laughter. Calvin takes pity on him, and gives him his letterman jacket to cover himself up while he walks back into the locker room in shame.

Cut to several years later. Calvin is now an accountant, unhappy with his job, being overlooked for promotion. He’s married his High School Sweetheart, but their marriage may have hit a slight bump. And his high school reunion is coming up and he feels embarrassed about showing up, not having met the promise of his ‘Most Likely to Succeed” designation there. Enter once again, Bob (who’s changed his name to Bob Stone), who contacts him out of nowhere. Bob is still plagued by the bullying incident, but he has never forgotten Calvin’s kindness to him on that day. But it turns out that Bob may have ulterior motives, that goes beyond the need to reconnect with the only person who treated him well back then. It turns out that Bob has joined the CIA.

Just about everything I said above, you can see in the trailers. What the trailers don’t tell you is that there is a real story here, where you, as an audience member are never really sure about just what CIA agent Bob Stone is up to. Well technically, you can figure it out if you know enough about the genre. But the movie tries to impart that illusion, so that you understand that Calvin is never really sure of what Bob is up to. For a lot of the film, Calvin isn’t exactly sure if he can trust Bob, if Bob is on the side of the angels, or if Bob is just crazy or if he’s a traitor. And Bob gives Calvin a lot of mixed signals. And that kind of works in the film. But…

From a believability standpoint, Bob is not a believable character. A lot of what he does is just strange, even after you find out what is what. You can chalk that up to Bob just being a weird character in a comedy, and that’s really the only reason why he is the way he is — to serve the comedy. Which is fine. And I don’t want to stress the unbelievability of a lot of things too much, because Central Intelligence is funny.

I haven’t seen a lot of Kevin Hart films, honestly. I’ve certainly seen Dwayne Johnson, and he’s usually quite good (and I’m not saying this because he made the transition from Professional Wrestling into Acting.  I’m not judging him on a curve. — he’s actually become a decent actor, and he is quite charming in this, even while he’s being… odd. And Kevin Hart is pretty funny here. I’ve never been a huge fan of his — his stand-up is ok. But he’s pretty good here.

Besides what I’ve already mentioned, the film is funny, and if you want to have a laugh at the movies, I think you can’t go wrong with this film. Certainly, not all of the jokes hit. There’s a certain degree of discomfort that comes from having bullying as a theme and a subplot in a comedy — and maybe that’s partly because I was bullied relentlessly by one specific kid in Jr. High. Don’t expect that to be handled in the same way that a more serious film might deal with it. But as I said, it IS a comedy, and it certainly succeeds at that.

So I definitely recommend this film.

The Nice Guys

“The Nice Guys” stars Russel Crowe and Ryan Gosling as Jackson Healy and Holland March, private detectives trying to locate a missing person named Amelia. Like many other ‘buddy’ movies, their start is fairly rocky, with (as you can see in the trailer). In the beginning, Holland was actually hired to track down a porn actress named “Misty Mountains”, but she’s soon found dead.  Also, there seems to be a mysterious connection between Misty and Amelia.  Furthermore, it turns out that it isn’t just Holland who is looking for Amelia, but also some unsavory people.  Pretty soon, Healy and March end up working together to uncover just what exactly is going on.  What actually happened to Misty Mountains, why does her grandmother insist that she saw Misty alive 2 days after her dead body was found.

And did I forget to mention that this is a comedy?

“The Nice Guys” is a pretty funny movie.  I must say that I chuckled through a lot of it, and laughed out loud at a few spots. Holland March (Gosling) is also a single father who’s trying to raise his daughter Holly (Angourie Rice) while also getting into all kinds of trouble related to this case. He’s doing his best, but somehow he can’t prevent his daughter from tagging along during his investigations, including a visit to a party hosted for members of the adult film industry. Jackson Healy (Crowe) is the tough guy who seems more competent, yet is unlicensed, and has a tendency towards violence (much to the detriment of Holland, who’s arm he breaks early on, and to the disapproval of Holland’s daughter). Oh yeah, it’s rated R for violence, sexuality, nudity, language and brief drug use.

Both Crowe, and particularly Gosling, are perfect for their roles. But the script itself is not perfect, not all of the humor hits, there’s a fight scene where it’s not exactly clear who is on who’s side, and the ultimate villain is a bit unsatisfying. But it works as a comedy better than it works as a mystery. And I really did have a good time watching it, so I definitely recommend it.

X-Men: Apocalypse

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I just got back from seeing this film. I’m not a huge X-Men fan, even though I admit that I enjoyed the comic way back in the late ’70s and early 1980s. It was interesting to me how it used mutants as a metaphor for oppressed minorities. The character I think that I identified with the most was Beast, a scientific and engineering genius stuck in a blue bestial form. I never saw myself as good-looking, and was somewhat of a shy science and math nerd (my college degree was in Engineering). I remember reading bits and pieces of the whole Phoenix/Dark Phoenix saga, issues of which were mixed together with all sorts of crap at my campus coffee house. That may have been the height of the series (at least it was so far as I was concerned).

The writing for the movies, imho, never quite reached the quality of some of the better comic book films.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed several of them. But they never engaged me as much, as, for example, the first two Dark Knight films, or many of the MCU films. And, to be honest, I wasn’t 100% sure if I wanted to pay money to see this in the theater. But “The Nice Guys” (which was the film I originally went to see) was not going to start for an hour and a half or so, and I didn’t want to hang out for that long at the mall (I’m from the Pre-Mall as social hang-out generation, one of the last of the baby boomer, as it were — and I’m not a fan of malls or mall food or mall chains or what-have-you)

So… the story begins by introducing us to Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) — it’s not really his origin story, as much as it is the story of why he disappeared thousands of years. The story goes that he may have been the very first mutant, and he ruled egypt, practically as a god for a time, along with other mutants, until some of the Egyptians rose up against him at a time when he was extremely vulnerable, and so he was buried alive.

Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne), who works for the CIA, is keeping an eye on a cult of mutant-worshippers who are digging up something in (of course) Egypt, and we all know what the result of that will be (I don’t think a spoiler warning is necessary). Pretty soon others become involved, including (of course) Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and some of his students, and newly discovered mutants, to oppose Apocalypse.  Meanwhile Apocalypse decides to recruit 4 ‘horsemen’ to aid him in his conquest and reshaping of earth to be a kind of Mutant heaven (I suppose).

Night Crawler

The best parts of the film come early on, with glimpses of Xavier’s school, and with Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto’s backstory, involving him working in a steel mill, married to a young woman and caring for his young daughter. Overall, there are several small moments in the movie (mostly the early parts) that I wish were in a better film — such as Mystique rescuing Kurt Wagner/Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) from a mutant fight club.

But overall, the problems of the film are greater than those few shining moments. There’s even a scene where Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver (Evan Peters) does a similar shtick to the one he performed in “Days of Future Past”, where he runs through the Xavier school rescuing people from an explosion, only because we’ve seen it before done much better in the previous movie, it feels like nothing more than a cliched gimmick here. Most of the action scenes are not particularly fun or at least, exciting.

There are things about the film that bother me a lot — the ‘evil plot’ that Apocalypse has does not actually gyve with a lot of his actions and those done by his cohorts on his behalf. In fact, death and destruction are cheap — if you thought that the destruction perpetrated in ANY previous superhero film was shocking, there is no comparison here.  The shear cold-blooded nature not only of the villains, but of the ‘heroes’ is abhorrent. Not only isn’t there any kind of shock at the destruction, not even lip-service is paid to it.  Again, I cant explain in detail without too much of a spoiler, but let’s just say that it makes even the heroes look cold. At least “Superman V. Batman”, and “Captain America: Civil War” acknowledge the terrible destruction that has occurred either in their stories or their predecessors in their respective universes.

I cannot recommend “X-Men: Apocalypse”.  As I said, there are some good scenes in it. The acting, while not stellar, is not bad either (for the most part). But it’s not a good movie.

Captain America: Civil War

565cb3ab8ea89I really enjoyed the first two Captain America films, so I was truly excited about seeing the third one. And it is a long film, with lots of characters in it, both old and new. I’ve heard some people calling it ‘Avengers 2.5’, because, with the exception of Thor and Hulk, all of the other Avengers are here, including the newcomers Scarlet Witch and Vision (played by Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany), the yet to be officially inducted Ant-Man (played by Paul Rudd).  There’s also two newcomers to the MCU, who may one day become official Avengers: Black Panther (played by Chadwick Boseman), and the newest super-hero, a 16-year old Spider-man (played by Tom Holland).  And all of these characters had to get some screen time in what is, ostensibly, a Captain America film, and not (officially, at least) an Avengers film.

The film starts out with a portion of the Avengers, minus Iron Man/Tony Stark, attempting to foil a terrorist plot, when things go awry. As a result of this, and of, basically, all of the other collateral damage involved in previous Avengers outings as shown in Avengers 1 & 2, as well as in :”Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, the United Nations decides that The Avengers cannot continue to operate as an independent entity. Remember that the Avengers was originally part of Shield, and with Shield gone (as of the previous Captain America film) the U.N. wants to take control of them. Captain America (Chris Evans) is reluctant to turn over control to a third party, and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Scarlet Witch side with him.  Tony/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is the chief proponent of signing the ‘Secovia Accords’ so that they don’t continue to be considered ‘vigilantes’, as they are called, and Vision, War Machine (Done Cheadle), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) agree with him.

Now this is not the strongest part of the film. It is partly undercut by the fact that, as I explained, The Avengers only recently found themselves without oversight, and that oversight went away in the previous Captain America film, when it turned out that the group providing oversight, Shield, was corrupt. But ok, if you eliminate that small part of the argument, the fact that the U.N. wants to take control of The Avengers still makes sense, simply because no one wants an armed force operating independently in the world, no matter how benevolent they appear to be. That’s really all that needed to be said — but its there, not to show the U.N.’s motivation, but to show the motivation of the avengers in picking sides.

CivilWarBuckyBut what really finally drives the division in the Avengers is when Bucky Barnes, aka “The Winter Soldier” (Sebastian Stan) is spotted at the site of a terrorist attack. Cap, of course, decides that his friend must be innocent, but his friends (including Tony) warn him to not get involved. And, of course he doesn’t listen.

The movie is not perfect — one of the weakest parts of most of the MCU films has to do with their villains.  And while the main villain of this film is not terrible, he isn’t particularly memorable or fleshed out either. But for the most part, the film works. My little nitpicks aside, it makes sense as a whole. The Russo brothers manage to create two relatable sides in the conflict, which is not an easy thing to do.  It’s still CA’s movie.  But you can still see that both sides have a point.

blackpantherAnd the movie has some really good stuff going for it. Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther is great. The character is well written, and perfectly acted. If you are unfamiliar with the character from Marvel Comics, Black Panther/T’Challa is the king of Wakanda, a nation that the Avengers visit in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”.  It is the only place in the world where Vibranium is found, the material that Captain America’s shield is made out of. Black Panther wears a suit, made, head to toe, completely out of Vibranium.

spider-man_spidermanThen there is the brand-spanking-new Spider-Man, played by 20-year-old Tom Holland. His introduction to the MCU is done so incredibly well.  All that was needed was a caption on the screen saying “Queens”, and the audience I was with erupted into shouts and cheers. I have to say that it was one of the best introductions of a new character in a Marvel film that I’ve ever seen, not to mention the fact that fans have LONG wanted Spidey to join the MCU. And he is a real highlight of the movie, even though he actually isn’t on screen for very long.

But, for me, the biggest highlight of the entire film, and one that will probably be talked about for a very long time, is the long, but never too long fight scene at the airport, which involves all of the Avengers and newcomers, including, most notably, Spider-Man. I can’t talk about it in any great detail without giving away too much.  But it is so incredibly well-choreographed, and scripted and everyone is given a fair amount of screen time to strut their stuff. I won’t say that Spider-Man steals the show here, because there’s enough great action for everyone.  But Spider-Man is certainly a highlight of this highlight.

I haven’t decided exactly where I would place this movie in the pantheon of superhero films, or even among the MCU movies.  It’s not my absolute favorite, but it certainly is up there. It is a bit long, but not by much. And it is a film that I want to see again (and maybe I will, very soon).  It is certainly one that I can recommend, especially if you’ve liked any of the other MCU movies. I will say that it would help if you’ve seen certain other films in the series, especially “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, and “Avengers: Age of Ultron”. You really don’t have to have seen them.  But if you want a better understanding of the characters, you probably should.

I do want to mention that this film has both a mid-credit and end-of-credit scene, so you will want to stay until the end of all of the credits. And, of course, it has the usual humorous cameo by Stan Lee.  See the film and let me know what you think of it, even if you disagree with anything I wrote.