‘Best of the worst’: Top five Marvel Cinematic Universe villains

ThanosLEAD2After an epic 10-year buildup, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ultimate villain finally arrived to restore balance to the universe earlier this summer. Thanos was, at least for me, worth the wait, and I’m looking forward to watching him in “Infinity War” again, now that this movie is coming out on DVD and Blu-ray today.

Few franchises have been able to match the success of the MCU, or its impressive cast of well-loved superheroes. However, it’s fair to say that the track record for the MCU’s villains hasn’t been quite as strong. For a while, in terms of strong villains, there was Loki…and…well…it was pretty much just Loki.

That’s been improving in recent MCU history, so in honor of “Infinity War” coming out, here are my top five MCU villains — and I’d love to hear yours as well! (Note: I didn’t include the Marvel Netflix shows, but if I had, Kingpin, Kilgrave, Cottonmouth, and Mariah Dillard would have taken up most of the slots on this list.) 😉

Honorable mention: Hela

I LOVED Cate Blanchett in this role, and you could tell she had a blast playing an MCU villain. The only reason she misses the top five is because of an issue I have with “Thor: Ragnarok” overall. It’s a really funny movie, but it’s almost *too* funny. The more emotional and serious moments are glossed over a little too quickly, so Hela doesn’t carry the same pathos as, say, Loki in the MCU movies.

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5. Ego

Even though the revelation that Ego was the film’s true villain wasn’t a major surprise, I found it super interesting that the Guardians movies, which are all about family, featured a villain who was a family member of one of the main characters. Kurt Russell is such a likable guy that it’s hard to hate the character, until you realize what terrible things he has done. He also helps Peter realize that even though the other Guardians may not be related to him, they are Peter’s true family.

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4. Killmonger

Although Killmonger’s methods were (obviously) wrong, what made him a compelling villain was the fact he was asking some important questions about racism and responsibility that needed to be asked. He proved to be a key foil for Black Panther as T’Challa developed his own leadership philosophy and shaped Wakanda’s future. There’s a lot going on in “Black Panther,” and I almost wish they had cut a few characters and tightened the plot a little to get even more time with Killmonger. Still, a great performance from Michael B. Jordan.

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3. Vulture

Vulture is definitely the smallest-scale villain on this list, which is actually why I really like him. Michael Keaton has a very down-to-earth take on the role; Vulture isn’t an over-the-top villain who has a bunch of superpowers and wants to take over the world. He’s just a regular guy trying to take care of his family, and then ends up going down the wrong path. The fact he’s such a believable character is what makes him even scarier.

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2. Thanos

It feels weird not putting Thanos in the No. 1 spot — he really is the ultimate MCU villain, and I’m super curious to see what happens with the character in “Infinity War” part 2. Although I love the character in my No. 1 spot just a *little* bit more, I appreciated that the film makers gave Thanos more nuance than I was expecting. He was a fascinating character, and I liked that the film really dug into the motivations behind his actions. He definitely lived up to the 10 years of hype, at least for me.

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1. Loki

At this point in the MCU, is Loki even really a villain? 😉 He’s probably more of an antihero, but I just love Tom Hiddleston’s performance as this character. Loki is funny and charming, but there’s a bit of tragedy running underneath the surface. Loki feels like a bit of an outsider in Asgard, and he resents living in his adopted brother Thor’s shadow. As sad as it was to see Loki go in “Infinity War,” I hope that’s one of the MCU deaths that sticks, because I thought it was a good end for the character.

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And, as a bonus, here are the top 5 Marvel villains that most need improvement (counting down from “sort of okay” to “definite missed opportunity”). My “worst of the worst” list, I guess you could say? 😉

5. Kaecilius

I actually really love the look of this character and how he fits into “Doctor Strange’s” overall aesthetic as a film. But I felt he didn’t have enough character depth, and there’s so much more they could have done with him as a character.

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4. Ivan Vanko

I don’t think Vanko was a bad MCU villain per se; he just doesn’t particularly stand out, either. Tony Stark has fought better villains that are better foils for his character.

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3. Yellowjacket

Although “Ant-Man” is one of my favorite MCU films, Yellowjacket feels more like a generic superhero movie villain, who is more just there to drive the plot forward.

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2. Ronan the Accuser

Ah, Ronan. He actually doesn’t bother me that much, because the rest of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1” is so awesome. But he still feels like a bit of a missed opportunity to do something even cooler with the character.

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1. Malekith the Dark Elf

I don’t really remember much about this character from “Thor: The Dark World” (Loki pretty much steals that movie, anyway). Like Ronan, Malekith feels like a missed opportunity, especially since I was excited to see “Doctor Who” alum Christopher Eccleston in an MCU film.

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So, what are your favorite (and least favorite) MCU villains?

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Movie review: ‘Christopher Robin’ a sweetly charming tale about rediscovering what matters in life

a9814b5365Most of us probably have at least one childhood memory involving “Winnie the Pooh” — whether it was reading the books, watching the cartoons or playing with the stuffed animal versions of these beloved characters, like Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, and, of course, Pooh himself.

I hadn’t thought about “Winnie the Pooh” in a while, actually, but I was intrigued by the trailers for Disney’s new live action film, “Christopher Robin.” The film takes place many years after Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) last visited the Hundred Acre Wood to play with his animal friends. He’s grown up now, and the pressures of the “real world” have squeezed much of the light and imagination out of his life. He has a wife and daughter, but he sees them less and less as stress piles on at work. The spirit of the younger, happier Christopher Robin seems pretty much gone…until a little bit of magic brings Pooh back into his life.

I really liked the film’s theme of rediscovering childhood, because I had kind of forgotten about how much I enjoyed these characters as a kid, and I loved being reminded about them. There’s something timeless and appealing about the lovable but bumbling Pooh, the exuberant and bouncy Tigger, the longsuffering and pessimistic Eeyore, and the rest of the gang. You could fast forward 50 years, and these characters will still be just as charming.

The film moves at a fairly slow pace, but I don’t mean that as a criticism. Many movies geared specifically towards “kids and families” these days tend to move a frenetic pace, with bright, wacky visuals blasting the screen. I don’t necessarily mean that as a criticism, either; I adore “The Lego Movie,” which can only be described as “bright and frenetic.” 😉 But sometimes it really is nice to take a breather, to just sit back and enjoy a movie at a more leisurely pace. “Christopher Robin” feels like an old-fashioned film, with a simple but important message.

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The film’s tone is surprisingly melancholy, a fact that I didn’t mind but is good to know going in. It is hard to see Christopher Robin struggling and feeling so unhappy, and although the film does, of course, have a happy ending, it doesn’t rush to get there. We’re presented with some very sad moments, as we see Christopher and his wife, Christopher and his daughter, and even Christopher and Pooh drifting apart.

I’m always happy to see Ewan McGregor and Hayley Atwell in a film, but the real stars of this movie are arguably Pooh & Co. At first when I saw the trailers, I wasn’t completely sold on the look of the stuffed animals, as some of them actually appear a bit dingy and faded. But it fits with the film’s tone, I think; these animals are worn and have been well played with, an indication of how much they’ve been loved.

The film is what I would call “sweetly funny,” with hijinks that will make younger children laugh but won’t make adults roll their eyes. Kids will enjoy watching the stuffed animals’ adventures, while adults will find deeper themes to reflect on. I’m sure most of us can relate to Christopher Robin at least a little bit, as the stresses of “grown-up life” sometimes put a damper on that unabashed joy we used to feel as kids.

There aren’t really any surprises in this film, and it’s not really groundbreaking per se. It would be just fine to wait to watch on DVD. Yet I’m glad I paid to see it in the theater, and it’s exactly the sort of movie I needed after a rough week. I think it’s also exactly the sort of movie needed by our culture at large. We need to be reminded of the importance of kindness and friendship and compassion. We need to be reminded that the best — and most important things in life — are the people around us. When things look dark, we need to be reminded that the light is still there, we may just need to try to shine a little brighter.

I enjoyed my trip to the Hundred Acre Wood at the movie theater this weekend, and as I go about the rest of my week, I’m going to make an effort to set aside my stresses and find the joy in the little things in life…just as Pooh does with his famous pot of honey.

Movie review: ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout’ is a perfect late summer shot of adrenaline

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - FALLOUTLast fall, fans had plenty to say about Superman’s now infamous CGI upper lip in “Justice League.” To summarize, the actor playing Superman, Henry Cavill, was called back for reshoots, but at the time he was also working on “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” for which he had grown a mustache. The “Mission: Impossible” crew wouldn’t let him shave said mustache, so it had to be digitally erased in “Justice League.” The CGI work was, well, more than a bit obvious, and was endlessly analyzed/joked about on social media.

So, now this brings us to the burning question of the summer: having seen “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” in theaters this past weekend, was “mustache-gate” worth it? The answer is yes — most definitely yes. All kidding aside, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” is one of the best action films I’ve seen in a long time, quite possibly the best in the franchise.

Mission: Impossible is one of those rare franchises that actually seems to get better and better as it goes along. Usually one would think the sixth sequel to a film would start getting a bit tired or stale, but that certainly isn’t the case for “Fallout.” Although the basic plots may stay the same — agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) gets into trouble, the government (sort of) disavows him, and then he saves the day at the last minute — somehow this franchise manages to stay fresh, thrilling, and relevant.

I actually don’t want to go into any real detail about the plot here, because so much of the fun of watching this film comes from not knowing what to expect. Going in, all I knew about the film was what I had seen from the trailers, which definitely sold me on the movie.

Although we’ve all seen fist fights, car chases, and spies parachuting out of airplanes before, it still feels exciting and new here. There’s something special about a film packed with real stunt work and not just CGI, even though I do love a good CGI spectacle. And say what you will about Tom Cruise, but he always brings his A-game to these movies.

“Fallout” may arguably be the most “James Bond” of the “Mission: Impossible” films. I heard one commenter in an online forum call “Fallout” something along the lines of, “darker but not oppressively so,” and I think that’s an apt statement. “Fallout” feels a little more serious at times, forcing Ethan to question his ethical guidelines as a spy. The soundtrack is a bit grimmer too, and the music adds a certain gravitas to the events. And there’s so many layers of plot twists that I feel like I need to see the movie again to sort out who was planning what, and who was allied with whom, at what time. I got hoodwinked several times by Hunt and his crew’s cover-ups (there’s a fantastic bait and switch towards the beginning of the film, but I’ll say no more — spoilers!).

Another thing I respect about Cruise is that even though he’s the main star in this film, he’s willing to step out of the way and let all the other characters have their moments to shine. Of course, it’s always great to see Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg returning as their characters, Luther and Benji, respectively. I’m also glad Rebecca Ferguson returned as MI6 agent Ilsa. As a female film fan, I always appreciate seeing a female character in an action film who’s actually given something to do and isn’t just relegated to the role of “love interest.” She fits in well as a member of Hunt’s team, and if Cruise ever gets tired of doing these movies, I’d love to see her in a spin-off series of her own.

I also thought Henry Cavill (and his famous mustache!) 😉 did a great job as CIA assassin August Walker. Minor spoiler alert: Cavill gets to play the villain this time, but I feel that almost isn’t a spoiler since you don’t really trust him from the moment he shows up on screen. But Cavill seems to really enjoy getting to play a darker character, and it’s fun to watch him cut loose as an actor. He and Cruise are both fully committed to the stunts in this film.

Sometimes with all the superhero and other franchise films out there, I forget about the Mission: Impossible movies. Which is sad, because this is actually one of the most reliably entertaining action franchises running today. “Fallout” is one of my favorite movies in the series so far; it might actually be my top favorite, though it’s hard to beat “Ghost Protocol.” This movie definitely needs to be seen on the big screen, and I kinda wish I’d splurged to see this in IMAX. Overall, I call this another “mission: accomplished.”

Constructive criticism: How do we critique media and still build community?

Rian-Johnson-on-the-set-of-The-Last-Jedi-1038x576My friends and family used to give me a hard time about never writing negative reviews. I used to feel really guilty for saying something bad about a movie or TV show, and so my reviews always ended up sounding semi-positive in the end, even if I’d actually meant to be more critical. 😉

I’ve gotten a little braver since then (well, at least I think I have), and I’ve tried to be more honest when a particular film or TV show didn’t live up to the hopes I had for it. But sharing negative opinions about media still feels like a sensitive topic to me, especially with some of the issues that have popped up recently in fandom.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately surrounding the idea of “toxic fandom.” While I still continue to believe this toxicity is only a very, very small percentage of fans, sometimes the negative voices receive the most attention. And it’s time for us to address this more directly than maybe we have in the past; I don’t think simply “ignoring the trolls” is going to work anymore. Fans directly harassing creators, performers, and company officials has got to stop. We can’t let anger dominate conversations about media. However, what does this mean for the rest of us, the good-natured fans who want to share an honest criticism or piece of feedback online? Where do we draw the line between fair criticism and toxic negativity?

I won’t pretend to have definitive answers to these questions. But I would love to have a discussion with fellow fans about the best ways for us to honestly and fairly discuss media. I think it is possible to criticize media without being unkind or driving wedges between factions within our fan communities.

Making it personal

One of the first questions we have to answer is what sort of “rights” a fan has when it comes to responding to media. Does buying a $15 movie ticket give you the right to post a negative review? To contact the director and tell them you didn’t like it? To call for a boycott?

I do think that if a creator has released a piece of media to the public — whether that be a movie, TV show, book, song, etc. — the public does have a right to form an opinion on that work. If I watch a movie and did not care for it, I think it’s fair for me to write a review and post it on my blog. However, even if my review is negative, I still try to be as balanced and fair as possible.

By contrast, I do not think that I have the right to reach out directly to the creator. For example, I was disappointed in “Justice League,” and I wrote a review saying so. If the movie comes up in online discussion groups, I may share my opinion there as well. However, I would not feel right about reaching out to Joss Whedon to tell him that I thought his tweaks negatively impacted the movie. At least to me, that feels like stepping across a line.

This would never happen 😉 but if for some reason Joss Whedon decided to invite me to have a cup of coffee and asked me directly about my thoughts on “Justice League,” I would try to comment honestly. But I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing the same thing, say, in a tweet. My purchase of a movie ticket does not grant me personal access to Joss Whedon. Besides, if I got to do something as awesome as have coffee with Joss Whedon, I’d want to chat about his projects that I’m most passionate about anyway — like “The Avengers” and “Firefly.”

Other fans might have a different opinion on the issue of providing feedback to creators, and I’d love to hear if you have an alternate view. Personally, I don’t feel it’s appropriate for me as a fan to tell a creator directly how they should or shouldn’t do something.

Constructive criticism

So, if you are going to post a negative review or criticize a movie, TV show, etc. in an online forum, what kind of rules should guide what we do or don’t say?

I think one of the most helpful things for promoting discussion is including as much detail in a review or comment as possible. I’ve seen too many comments on Reddit that are basically the equivalent of “‘The Last Jedi’ sucks. I HATE Rian Johnson! Get rid of Kathleen Kennedy!” or “Marvel movies are just stupid.” To me, those kind of comments do not really contribute to discussion. As someone who really loves “The Last Jedi” and Marvel movies, those kind of comments immediately put me on the defensive and make me want to shut down. These comments feel more like personal attacks aimed at creators vs. actual commentary on the films.

If, however, you put more detail like, say, “I did not care for ‘The Last Jedi’ because I thought the portrayal of Luke was unfair to his past legacy. I was disappointed in how he was treated within the film.” Although I personally would still disagree with that opinion, because I loved how Luke’s character was handled in “The Last Jedi,” the comment was still made respectfully, and it gives me some discussion points to (politely!) respond to. Good criticism should always inspire discussion.

Opposing viewpoints

It’s good to be honest when we share our opinions, and fans shouldn’t feel pressured to like something “just because.” Still, it’s important to remember, as we criticize a film or performance, that there are real people involved. If we’re going to be critical, we can still do it with sensitivity and respect.

It’s also good to remember that there really is no one “objective” view about a film. I’ll be honest — I was a little disappointed in “Incredibles 2.” I thought it didn’t live up to the first one, and I don’t have a pressing need to see it again. However, I’ve chatted with other fans who really loved it, and I think that’s awesome. I have a right to my opinion, and they have a right to theirs. It’s always good to keep opposing viewpoints in mind and to support alternate opinions.

We shouldn’t shy away from sharing a negative opinion, or politely telling someone we don’t agree with their analysis of a film. But in our modern world, especially with some of the weird online dynamics we have going on right now, building community should be our first goal. Fair and constructive criticism has a place in that community, but people need to come first.

So, what are your thoughts on this issue? What counts as fair criticism? What ethics do you think should be involved when discussing media?

Why Marvel and Netflix are telling some of the best superhero stories today

Luke-and-MistyThere’s a scene in the middle of the new season of Marvel/Netflix’s “Luke Cage” where Mariah Dillard, the season’s main villain, displays a rare moment of extremely vulnerable honesty. Now, Mariah is a truly terrible person. The former politician has committed horrible crimes during her quest for power, and by the end of the season, I’m sure most viewers would agree that she deserves all the bad things coming to her.

And yet…in this one moment, where she reveals a painful emotional scar from her past, we do genuinely pity her. She remains a terrible person, but the tragedy she experienced is real and heartbreaking, and you can’t help but imagine the better person she could have become if she’d grown up in better circumstances.

Nuanced characters like Mariah Dillard is one of the key strengths shared by the Marvel/Netflix superhero shows (well, most of them, at least). I finished up the new season of “Luke Cage” this past weekend, and since then I’ve been thinking about all the Marvel/Netflix shows and how, overall, they’ve done a fantastic job adding to the Marvel universe we know and love. Some of the best superhero storytelling today is being done on the small screen, and Marvel/Netflix’s partnership is a true standout.

I remember starting the very first Marvel/Netflix show, “Daredevil,” back in 2015 and wondering how it would compare to the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Sometimes it’s tough to capture that same epic, sweeping feel on a smaller screen with a smaller budget. Thankfully, the Marvel/Netflix shows don’t try to replicate what we’re seeing in the MCU. Instead, they use their smaller scale to their advantage. The whole world isn’t in peril; maybe it’s just one neighborhood in New York City. But through this more narrow focus, we have a chance to dive really deeply into a lineup of fascinating heroes AND villains.

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Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Danny Rand/Iron Fist, and Frank Castle/Punisher are all completely different people. Some, like Matt and Luke, are able to claim the moral high ground as superheroes (at least at first), while others, like Punisher, tend more towards the antihero end of the spectrum. But each are fascinating in their own way, and the shows have their own unique tone and themes. Perhaps that’s why, at least to me, the Marvel/Netflix team-up series, “The Defenders,” didn’t work as well; it lost the unique flavor that made each of the individual shows stand out.

Now, some of these individual series are more compelling than others. I never finished “Iron Fist,” and I felt the back half of “Daredevil” season 2 suffered after the Punisher’s arc on that show wrapped up. I tried the first episode of “Jessica Jones” season 2, but it didn’t grab me like the first season did. Maybe I need to give it another shot.

Still, there’s some really excellent character development in these shows, and not just for the heroes. The villains are just as fascinating (and in some cases, even more fascinating!) than the heroes themselves.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been criticized in the past for some of its more lackluster villains, who are more of an obstacle for the hero to overcome than a fully realized character. That’s why Wilson Fisk/Kingpin, the main villain in “Daredevil” season 1, felt like such a revelation. He was definitely a bad guy, and I wasn’t really sorry to see him go to prison. However, the show made him a compelling villain by giving him flashes of humanity, including a surprisingly tender and genuine relationship with his girlfriend, Vanessa. He was by no means a stereotypical “mustache-twirling” villain.

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For the most part, all the Marvel/Netflix shows have followed that trend. By showing us the flaws in the heroes and the humanity in the villains, the shows become more real and thought-provoking. All the characters have hurts that haunt them.

Due to the shows’ format, they’re able to tell darker stories than the MCU is able to. I’m okay with that, really. I don’t necessarily want/need the MCU to be gritty; I like that they are family films that are accessible to a wide audience. But it’s nice to see some heavier superhero storytelling as well.

Although these shows work on a surface level as compelling action/dramas, there are some really relevant themes to chew on as well. When I first heard about “The Punisher” series, I was excited, because I loved Jon Bernthal’s performance as the character in “Daredevil” season 2. However, I was a little worried about how they would handle a character centered around guns and violence, especially with all the tragic real-life headlines we continue to see. Thankfully, they approached the subject with sensitivity and nuance. The show also touched on another important issue: what happens to veterans after they return from combat.

“Jessica Jones” addressed domestic violence and abuse, “Luke Cage” tackled racism, and so on. I hope that the fans who watch these shows are inspired to have real-life conversations about these issues. That, I think, is the real power of entertainment: to get us to look at the world through a different lens than our own. In our increasingly politically-charged world, I think pop culture has a real opportunity to break down barriers and tell stories that have the power to bring real-world change.

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On a lighter note, the shows’ practical effects and well-choreographed fight scenes are also a nice change of pace from CGI-heavy blockbusters (even though if you know me, you know that I love big-budget special effects). 🙂 And the shows also use music really effectively to help tell the story, particularly “Luke Cage.”

If you haven’t tried any of these shows yet, I’d highly recommend them. I know some fans who’ve watched all of them, and others who have tried a couple and just stuck with their favorites. Although as previously mentioned, there have been a few bumps along the way, overall the Marvel/Netflix partnership has definitely been a winning one.

Movie review: ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ fun, but not as fresh as the original

antmanhr-5.jpgI’ve always felt that the original “Ant-Man” is a bit of an underrated gem within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although it had a much more modest box office haul than Marvel’s bigger hits, it’s a fun (and funny) heist flick starring a perfectly-cast Paul Rudd as the sometimes misguided but always well-meaning ex-con Scott Lang. It just barely misses out on ranking amongst my top five MCU films, and I was really looking forward to the sequel, “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”

I had a lot of fun watching the sequel, and it’s refreshing to have a superhero flick with a lighter tone and smaller stakes (no pun intended there). It’s a perfect summer blockbuster and certainly isn’t as intense as “Infinity War.” However, it didn’t feel *quite* as fresh or fun as the original. I’ll get my criticisms out of the way first, and then I’ll dive into what I liked best, because I really did enjoy watching this film.

My reaction to “Ant-Man and the Wasp” reminds me a little of my reaction to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” actually. With the first “Ant-Man,” I had no idea what to expect, and there was a certain glee in discovering how awesomely they executed the challenging concept of this tiny superhero who commands an army of ants. With the sequel, the writing didn’t feel quite as snappy or tight. We’ve seen this before, and it’s still fun, but the element of surprise isn’t there anymore.

My only real issue with the first “Ant-Man” was the lackluster villain, but I actually liked the “villain” here. I use “villain” with quotation marks, because the primary villain isn’t necessarily a “bad guy” in the traditional sense but more of an antagonist whose goals are in opposition to the hero’s. It’s tricky to say more about Ghost without diving into spoilers, but I really liked the nuance Hannah John-Kamen brought to this character. In fact, I wish the film had dedicated even more time to delving into who she is and the reasons she is seeking justice/revenge. I personally would have jettisoned the second villain, an underused Walton Goggins as black market dealer Sonny Burch, in favor of more screen time for Ghost.

There were a couple of other moments I would have tweaked, as well. The jokes weren’t quite as snappy as the original, which I rewatched right after seeing “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and was still a delight. I also thought there were some too-obvious moments of exposition.

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Still, I don’t want this to come across as a negative review, because I really did have fun watching this. Paul Rudd is still great as Ant-Man/Scott Lang, and I loved that they brought back Abby Ryder Fortson as his daughter, Cassie. All of Rudd and Fortson’s scenes together are utterly charming, and their father-daughter relationship is a highlight in both Ant-Man films. It was also super cool to see Evangeline Lilly share top billing as the Wasp/Hope van Dyne. She and Ant-Man make a great team.

One of my favorite parts of the film was the finale. Although we’ve seen plenty of car chases in films before, it was super fun to see a chase scene where the heroes’ car used what I’d call “strategic shrinking” to avoid the villains in pursuit. And I loved seeing Ant-Man become Giant-Man again, especially after the teaser we got for that in “Civil War.” Plus, Michael Peña’s Luis is my favorite MCU sidekick, right after Ned in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

Another great part was watching Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope researching the quantum realm and their attempts to find Hank’s wife Janet, who disappeared in the quantum realm years ago. Again, I don’t want to dive too heavily into spoilers, but I think the quantum realm offers a lot of fascinating potential for storytelling within the MCU. And I think it’s definitely going to play a big role in Avengers 4. I always encourage people to wait for the after credits scenes in MCU movies, but this time it’s especially important!

In short, I love Ant-Man as a character and am really glad that Marvel decided to make a sequel. It’s definitely worth watching, and I’ll look forward to adding it to my MCU Blu-ray collection once it comes out. This is something I’ve always said about the MCU; even though we all have our favorites, and there are a few that disappointed me just a little bit, they each have their fun moments and are still enjoyable to watch. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is probably going to land somewhere in the middle of the pack for me.

Geeks and gatekeeping: Discussing our favorite franchises without shutting out other fans

unnamedThe Internet — and the rise of social media — has benefited geek culture in a number of ways. It’s now easier than ever to meet fellow geeks and discuss your favorite franchises, share podcasts/article links, stay up-to-date on the latest movie/TV announcements, and more. Thanks to social media, I’ve made some new friends that I might never have met in person if it wasn’t for geek Facebook discussion groups, podcasting, blogging, etc. I appreciate the connections that are made possible by technology.

However, we also can’t ignore the fact that the Internet and social media have provided a platform for toxic behavior from a small but vocal group of fans. Although they certainly don’t represent the majority, this group’s negativity is capable of doing real harm, such as the recent bullying of Star Wars actress Kelly Marie Tran. We also don’t know how much this negativity is driving away potential new fans of our favorite franchises.

Unfortunately, social media can facilitate discussion “echo chambers” that shut out certain opinions. I don’t know that I have a solution to some of these issues, but I think it’s important that as geeks we start talking about this and help to keep each other accountable, especially as geek culture continues to grow in popularity. Here are some thoughts on why gatekeeping is happening, and how we can work together to stop it.

‘You shall not pass!’

You’ve probably heard the buzzword “gatekeeping” by now; I see gatekeeping as fans engaging in behavior that seeks to limit or restrict who is a “real fan” and to unfairly define how a “true member” of a fandom should think/feel.

It’s never usually as direct as, say, “Anyone who disagrees that David Tennant is the best ‘Doctor Who’ actor should leave the fandom right now and never come back.” 😉 It’s usually more along the lines of, “True ‘Doctor Who’ fans appreciate the David Tennant seasons as the pinnacle of the franchise.”

On the surface, that last sentence doesn’t seem as damaging. In my own personal opinion, I do think the David Tennant seasons represent the best of the franchise. The problem is the qualifier “true ‘Doctor Who’ fans.” Anyone who likes “Doctor Who” has the right to call themselves a “true fan”; it doesn’t matter whether you prefer David Tennant, Peter Capaldi, Tom Baker, or any other Doctor. If you’re a fan, you’re a fan, and you should be welcomed in the community.

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What is driving gatekeeping?

Although there are some mean-spirited fans out there who derive a twisted sense of enjoyment from bullying, many gatekeepers probably don’t even realize they are doing it. It’s easy to become attached to/passionate about our favorite franchises, and to feel some ownership in those franchises. However, it’s important for all of us (myself included) to remember that we don’t own those franchises, and we don’t get to define another fan’s experience with that franchise.

I think sometimes fans feel “protective” of their favorite franchises, especially when they get expanded/rebooted. I’ve seen comments online putting down fans of, for example, the rebooted J.J. Abrams Star Trek universe and the new Disney Star Wars films. I have spotted comments saying “as a true fan, I can’t stand where Disney is taking the Star Wars franchise,” etc.

It’s perfectly okay to like or dislike a film or TV show. People should be allowed to have a respectful discussion where they air their criticisms, and this can become a deep and meaningful conversation. Yet at the end of the day, an opinion is just an opinion, and there are a huge variety of thoughts out there regarding entertainment and what a franchise should or shouldn’t be.

Maybe there are fans out there who only like the Disney Star Wars films, and they’ve connected with these new movies in a way they never connected with Star Wars before. That is okay. If you like the Star Wars prequels, that’s still okay! As long as you are respectful to other fans, you should be free to enjoy what you enjoy. Or, if a franchise just isn’t speaking to you anymore, it’s okay to walk away, and you shouldn’t be pressured to stay in the fandom.

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Keeping fandom fun

Something I’ve been trying to work on is just really listening to other fans and letting them share their passion. Like, even though I personally was disappointed by “Justice League,” I loved hearing from other fans about why they liked it and what that film meant to them. Then, hopefully this can lead to a back-and-forth discussion about our differing thoughts on the film. We may not agree in the end, but both of us can feel equally respected as superhero fans.

I’ve also been trying to avoid using the word “objectively,” even though it’s hard to do. 😉 I really want to say that the prequels are “objectively” the worst Star Wars movies, but at the end of the day, entertainment is really just subjective. Instead, I can maybe say that critical and fan consensus seems to indicate that the prequels are the lowest-quality Star Wars films, but if you liked them, you shouldn’t be kicked out of the fandom for that.

I think the best cure for gatekeeping is just keeping in mind that geekdom is this incredibly diverse, fun place, and it’s important to make sure that everyone feels safe and welcome. Geek culture has experienced this awesome explosion in popularity the past few years, with more and more people getting into sci-fi, fantasy, and superheroes. I hope this influx continues! 😊 Some of these new fans may become hardcore devotees; others may just remain casual fans. Both perspectives are okay, and the more casual fans shouldn’t feel as though they are less welcome.

So, what are your thoughts on this issue? Have you ever experienced gatekeeping? What do you think is the best way to address it?

Movie review: Dinosaurs face uncertain future in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

Jurassic-World-Fallen-Kingdom-2018-Movie-4k-Wallpaper-3840x2160Although bringing dinosaurs back from extinction sounds really cool, in reality this would probably be a terrible idea. It would be an especially bad idea to create an amusement park filled with these dinosaurs and open it to the public.

However, that didn’t exactly stop the creators of the original Jurassic Park, OR the creators of the even more dangerous Jurassic World. In the new movie “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” people seemed to have finally learned the lesson that making a dinosaur theme park with real dinosaurs is a bad plan; however, dinosaurs still exist in this new world and now we have to deal with the aftermath.

“Jurassic World” was a surprise mega-hit in the summer of 2015, bringing the Jurassic Park franchise roaring back to the box office and earning $1.7 billion worldwide. Although not *quite* as critically beloved as the original “Jurassic Park,” the financial success of “Jurassic World” ensured that we’d be getting a sequel.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is sitting at 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and while some of the criticisms are fair, I personally enjoyed the heck out of this movie. Although the trailers for this one initially didn’t grab me as much as the trailers for “Jurassic World,” I had a blast watching this (well, at least the parts where I wasn’t terrified; the Jurassic Park series has never been the most relaxing franchise). 😉

The basic story involves former Jurassic World operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) trying to save the dinosaurs left on the island, which is in danger of being destroyed by a volcano. Raptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) reluctantly agrees to help her, and they join a rescue mission financed by Benjamin Lockwood, the former partner of Jurassic Park mastermind John Hammond. Of course, there are other forces working behind the scenes, and the rescue op turns into something more sinister.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” actually feels like two different movies. The first part feels a lot like “Jurassic World,” with an adventure on the island and the famous scene from the trailers of all the dinosaurs running from the exploding volcano. The second half of the film plays surprisingly more like a horror flick. Without giving away too many spoilers, most of the action takes place in a mansion, utilizing the sense of claustrophobic terror to great effect.

I will never complain about seeing Chris Pratt in a dinosaur movie, and his raptor from the previous film, Blue, is definitely a scene-stealer (baby raptor flashbacks = adorable). While Claire gets more to do in this film, her character still doesn’t have as much depth as I would have liked, and the character feels a little inconsistent between films. It also might have been nice to have some more nuance in the villain characters.

Portions of the plot do stretch plausibility, and I’m sure other reviewers/bloggers have already covered that in depth. Again, many of those criticisms are valid. However, sometimes I just like going to the theater and enjoying a fun summer blockbuster with a big bucket of popcorn, and that’s what this movie did for me. I just had fun watching the dinosaurs and returning to this world. And no matter how many times it happens, it’s always great to see the T-Rex arrive to save the day (I think the T-Rex is actually my favorite character in the franchise at this point). 😉

I also appreciated that they touched on some deeper issues (though I wish they would have spent more time delving into these — and included more of Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm). Was it ever ethical to bring back dinosaurs in the first place? What should we do with dinosaurs now that they are here? Do they pose a threat to the survival of modern life? Should we let them go extinct again, or is it now our responsibility to treat them as a regular endangered species?

It seems like it’s a dangerous idea to just let the dinosaurs roam free, but neither does it feel right to let the creatures suffer and die. I didn’t expect to cry during this movie, but there’s a shot *minor spoiler alert!* of the characters having to leave a dinosaur behind on the island, when it’s clearly terrified and trying frantically to escape. That scene really got to me.

With “Jurassic World” opening to $150 million, it’s almost guaranteed we’re getting a sequel. I would like them to take a different approach and have the next (and possibly final?) “Jurassic Park” film go for more of a post-apocalyptic “Planet of the Apes” feel, like now these dinosaurs are back in the wild and our planet has changed forever. I’m placing my bets on the title being “Jurassic World: Extinction,” and it could be a great way to wrap up the franchise.

Movie review: Was ‘Incredibles 2’ worth the wait?

Incredibles-2-Wallpaper-HD-30073It’s been 14 years since the first “Incredibles” movie premiered in theaters, and it’s amazing to see how much the superhero genre has changed during that time. The original “Incredibles” came out a year before Christopher Nolan’s groundbreaking Dark Knight trilogy and four years before the very first Marvel Cinematic Universe film, “Iron Man.” I don’t think anybody buying a ticket for “The Incredibles” back in 2004 imagined that by the time we finally got a sequel in 2018, we’d also be watching the epic superhero mashup “Infinity War.” So, how does the Incredibles franchise hold up after all these changes and all this time?

The original Incredibles movie introduced us to the Parr family, who were trying to live under the radar after superheroes had been made illegal. Despite their best efforts to live a “normal” life, parents Bob and Helen find themselves pulled back into the superhero business, except this time they also take their super-powered kids with them.

The sequel picks up right where the first film left off, with the Parr family jumping into action to stop a super villain with a giant drill, named the Underminer. Unfortunately, their attempt to save the day is a bit…well…messy, and isn’t exactly a PR win for the campaign to bring back superheroes. However, a wealthy benefactor named Winston Deavor offers to help superheroes like the Parrs become legal again by demonstrating to the public how great superheroes are. He picks Helen (a.k.a. Elastigirl) to be the poster child of these efforts. Of course, a new super villain arrives to foil their plans — the mysterious Screenslaver, who hypnotizes people using video screens.

Before I say anything else, I have to emphasize that “Incredibles 2” is a fun movie. It’s a good movie to take the kids to on a hot summer afternoon (and adults too, of course!) Although it seems like there are fewer films geared towards kids these days, at least in theaters, there’s clearly still a demand for this type of family film. “Incredibles 2” premiered to an amazing $180 million this past weekend — that’s a huge number, and a nice boost for Disney after the underperformance of “Solo.”

Still, I also have to say that at least for me, the sequel didn’t feel quite as fresh or exciting as the original. Maybe that’s a symptom of the 14-year gap between the two films, or the fact that so much has changed within the superhero genre in that time. Plus, sometimes it’s just tough to recapture the same magic in a sequel, because this time the concept isn’t a surprise.

The original “Incredibles” is such a good film, blending retro aesthetics, a fantastic soundtrack, and interesting family dynamics into this perfect cocktail of fun and adventure. For whatever reason, the plot of the sequel didn’t engage me as much, even though I still had fun watching the movie. I also thought the villain wasn’t as interesting this time; it’s hard to beat Syndrome, who was fascinating because Mr. Incredible inadvertently creates his own villain. The reveal of the Screenslaver’s true identity didn’t really come as a shock, and I thought it was interesting how much monologue-ing this villain did, since they made a joke about villain monologue-ing in the original.

However, let’s move on to the positive. Baby Jack-Jack was, hands down, the best part of the movie for me. Watching him discover his powers (and subsequently terrify his poor family) was absolutely hilarious. I loved superhero suit designer Edna Mode’s reappearance (she and Jack-Jack absolutely deserve a spin-off short). And I enjoyed seeing how the Parr family continues to love and support each other, even though they hit a few road bumps. The interactions between the family members provide both the film’s best comedic moments and its heart.

In short, I enjoyed watching “Incredibles 2” and thought it was a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon. If you were a fan of the first, definitely go see the sequel. However, for me it didn’t *quite* live up to the original, and I left the theater wishing for just a little bit more than it ended up delivering.