Movie review: ‘Dark Phoenix’ closes out the X-Men saga (for now)

wp4031137For better or worse, “Dark Phoenix” marks the end of the X-Men franchise as we know it.

It’s a little like a political lame duck; it’s being released after the Disney/Fox merger but does not tie into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Reviews for the film haven’t been kind — it’s currently sitting at 24 percent on Rotten Tomatoes — and with its $33 million opening weekend box office, it barely managed to beat out Disney’s live action “Aladdin,” which is in its third week. (As a side note, I actually went to see “Aladdin” again this past weekend, and I enjoyed it even more a second time. It looks like it may prove to be one of the summer’s leggiest movies.)

I went to see a Thursday night preview of “Dark Phoenix,” and my immediate reaction was, “this isn’t quite as bad as the reviews would lead you to believe.” Sure, the movie does have some significant flaws (we’ll get to those in a minute), but there were some things I did enjoy about this movie.

As someone who doesn’t have much familiarity with comics (it’s my geek Achilles’ heel, and I always feel guilty about that), the only knowledge I had about the Dark Phoenix storyline came from the “X-Men: The Last Stand” movie which I saw a long time ago and don’t remember a lot about.

Basically, Jean Grey, member of the X-Men team, gets some new cosmic powers that pull her towards the dark side, and the X-Men are torn between wanting to save her and having to stop her. Also, from this point on, I’m not sure what parts of my review may be spoiler-y or not for those who have read the comics, so if you don’t want spoilers of any kind, stop reading now.

By this point in the franchise, it’s best not to think too closely about how the timeline for these reboot films (“First Class,” “Days of Future Past,” “Apocalypse,” and “Dark Phoenix”) matches up with the original Hugh Jackman films. In “First Class,” Michael Fassbender’s Magneto and James McAvoy’s Professor X appear to be 20/30 somethings in the 1960s. Fast forward 30-ish years to “Dark Phoenix,” and let’s just say these two have aged suspiciously well.

“First Class” is actually my favorite X-Men film, and I will never complain about seeing Fassbender and McAvoy return to these roles. They are, at least in my opinion, the best parts of these reboot films, and there’s a very nice moment at the end of “Dark Phoenix” that closes out their storyline.

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I did like Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, and I love the complexity of the character’s storyline. I’m a sucker for stories involving anti-heroes and nuanced villains, and I think we need more female characters who fit into these archetypes. Jean is a conflicted soul who is struggling with demons she can’t quite master, and if anything, the plot of this film moves too fast, instead of letting Jean’s conflict slowly build.

I wasn’t a fan of the alien subplot in this movie, and I felt it distracted from the main, more interesting storyline (i.e. Jean’s inner struggle). I have heard the aliens are a part of the original comics, but I wish they had cut it out altogether, because the shape-shifting aliens in this movie reminded me too much of the Skrulls in “Captain Marvel.” I personally don’t think the giant space cloud that Jean derives her powers from needs a backstory; just give her the powers, and then focus on how she deals with them.

I wanted to see more interactions between Jean and Magneto, and Jean and Professor X. I thought Professor X and Jean’s relationship was fascinating, because you have Charles trying to do something good by messing with Jean’s memories and burying her past trauma, but in the long run he harms her more than he helps her. Misusing one’s powers in the name of good is a potential pitfall that all superheroes face, and I love seeing this explored.

I also wish Jean had been able to spend more time at Magneto’s compound for mutants, because based on his own past, he seems the most qualified to help Jean with her dark side temptations. He also knows what it’s like to live with an overwhelming sense of rage and a desire for revenge, though he’s eventually able to find some peace.

Some other, very spoiler-y quibbles: It definitely feels like Jennifer Lawrence was kinda phoning it in as a performer in this movie; however, Mystique’s death does make a powerful emotional impact. It’s a sad twist, but it gives the story more weight. I also felt like Jean’s turn back to the light came too soon in the film. I wished they had kept her fate in limbo until the very end, when she makes a final decision to sacrifice herself to save her friends.

In short, this film has some good features that needed more polishing, and it’s a shame that it’s the end of an era. I definitely believe we’ll see the X-Men on film again, but I’m still feeling a bit hesitant on whether I want them to join the MCU’s main storyline. I like having them as their own franchise, with their own tone and style.

Regardless of some misfires along the way, the X-Men films have offered some great performances and storytelling. Maybe all fans don’t feel the same way — and that’s completely okay — but I will personally be sad to see them go.

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Return of the king(s): Quick movie reviews for ‘Rocketman’ and ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’

Untitled-1What do “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and the new Elton John biopic “Rocketman” have in common? Well, not much, actually. But I saw both these movies this past week, and since I didn’t have time to do separate, full-length reviews, here are my quick thoughts on each.

It’s not often that I’ll see two different movies on opening weekend, but I was intrigued enough by the trailers that I wanted to see them both right away, especially since we’re now in the middle of summer blockbuster season and there’s a new movie I’d like to see pretty much every weekend.

First, let’s tackle “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” My response to its predecessor, “Godzilla,” back in 2014, was something along the lines of “meh.” Godzilla himself was awesome, but he wasn’t in the film nearly enough, and the human characters surrounding him weren’t super compelling.

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” fixes one of those problems, but unfortunately still struggles in the other area.

Every time there were monsters on screen fighting, this movie was magnificent. It was gloriously over the top, and I watched all the scenes involving the monsters with a sense of childlike glee. The 2014 “Godzilla” had too few scenes of monsters fighting, but this movie has plenty. Watching Godzilla, Mothra, Ghidorah the three-headed dragon, and others was so much fun. I’m glad I decided to see this movie in IMAX, because the fights were amazing.

Sadly, the movie still suffers when it comes to the human characters. I really wish both of these Godzilla movies had featured Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Ishirō Serizawa as the main character, instead of relegating him to a more supporting role. They could have gone a lot deeper with this character and his reaction to the monsters. I won’t give away any spoilers, but the scene where he finally gets to come face to face with Godzilla is actually quite moving.

I’ll definitely watch more of these monster movies, but I hope they will work on adding more depth to the human characters. While it’s fair to say that the monsters are always going to be the main draw for these films, the humans around them don’t have to be two-dimensional. More nuanced characters would have made this film more memorable. As it stands now, it’s summer popcorn fun, but not much else.

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I actually decided to see this movie based solely on the strength of the previews. I saw them multiple times while going to see other movies, and this film looked really interesting and fun.

While I’m not super familiar with Elton John or his music, I do enjoy listening to his songs. I’ll always stop for “Rocket Man” or “Tiny Dancer” when I’m scanning through radio stations in my car.

“Rocketman” is actually more of a big screen musical than a biopic, and I think that concept works really well, considering Elton John’s vibrant and creative stage persona. The musical format allows the filmmakers to work in all his famous songs, but in an unexpected way.

All the musical sequences are really fun, but what I wasn’t prepared for was how tragic this movie was going to be at times, and all the struggles Elton John went through early in his career.

Growing up, his family didn’t provide the emotional support he so desperately needed. He falls in love with his manager, John Reid, who later uses and betrays him. Elton uses drugs and alcohol to cope with his crushing loneliness, and he hides his true self behind the glitz and glamour of the world of stardom.

Elton John is played by Taron Egerton, who I’ve been a fan of since the Kingsman movies. While his voice may not sound exactly like Elton John’s, Egerton gives a heartfelt and committed performance. Although the movie has numerous fantasy sequences, the story it tells is moving and authentic.

In short, I’d definitely love to see more biopics like this one. Sure, some of the details might not be strictly historical, but the style of this movie fits with the subject it is portraying.

Movie review: Disney’s live action ‘Aladdin’ a colorful confection that’s more entertaining than amazing

AL_18258Rsm.0.jpgDisney’s animated “Aladdin” has always had a special place in my heart. It’s the very first movie I saw in theaters. I was about five years old at the time, and I don’t have a lot of super clear memories about the experience. But I do remember loving it so much that I asked my dad to buy me a Jasmine toy on his way home from work.

I saw a good bit of skepticism online regarding Disney’s live action remake of “Aladdin,” but I was actually pretty excited. I’ve really enjoyed some of the live action Disney remakes, because I think they’re an interesting way to retell a beloved story through a fresh, modern lens. The best Disney live action remakes recapture the magic of the animated original they’re based on, but also offer something new.

So, how does the new live action “Aladdin” fare?

Personally, I enjoyed it. It was colorful and fun, and I left the theater with a smile on my face. Still, it is fair to say that the reaction to this film has been somewhat mixed, even though it had a big weekend at the box office. While I personally enjoyed the live action “Aladdin,” it may not work for everyone, and it’s good to know that going in.

The live action “Aladdin” doesn’t really change a lot from the original (I actually think they could have made more significant tweaks, like they did with “Cinderella” and “Maleficent”). But it is fun to hear all the famous songs again, like “A Whole New World.”

For me, the best part of the film was its two stars, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott as Aladdin and Jasmine. The animated “Aladdin” actually did not have a very diverse voice cast, and Disney, rightfully so, placed an emphasis on authentic casting in the live action version. Massoud is charming and funny as Aladdin, and I can’t wait to see him in other roles. Scott’s powerhouse vocals were definitely a showstopper, and she too has a bright future ahead of her.

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I also appreciated that this film has given Jasmine’s character more agency. I have seen some comments about not liking her new song, “Speechless,” but I really loved it. I hope this song’s message inspires the younger viewers who are watching the film: don’t let anyone silence or dismiss you, or try to take away your voice.

Before this movie came out, there was a lot of chatter about Will Smith as the Genie, and it wasn’t necessarily positive. This was always going to be the most difficult part of the film to capture. Robin Williams’ voicework in the original is so iconic, and that’s something you just can’t recreate.

Smith doesn’t try to top or recreate Williams’ performance; he just has fun with the role, and his antics got quite a few chuckles during the showing that I attended. Maybe this portrayal won’t work for everyone, but I enjoyed it.

One of the weaker parts of the film was actually Jafar’s character. I almost felt the performance was too muted; I would have preferred to see a more over-the-top, scenery-chewing portrayal. This isn’t a film where you necessarily need to or even want to go for a more realistic or toned-down feel.

I also thought Guy Ritchie was an interesting/unexpected choice to direct this movie, and I don’t know that the finished film really displays his trademark touch, in the same way that the Sherlock Holmes movies did. He might have been a better fit for a different Disney live action film.

I don’t really have a lot else to add; this is one of those movies where I don’t really want to spend time picking it apart. Although it doesn’t top 2015’s “Cinderella,” which is my favorite Disney live action remake, I enjoyed watching the live action “Aladdin,” and it made me happy. And that was enough for me.

Batman, Christopher Nolan goes ‘James Bond,’ and balance in the Force: A geek news roundup

star-wars-feature-vf-2019-summer-openerWe’ve had a LOT of major geek news within the past week or so, and fans have had plenty to discuss (not to mention the fact that plenty of people are still debating the Game of Thrones finale).

I couldn’t decide on just one topic for my weekly entertainment blog post, so I decided to try to cover all of them. 😉 I’m sure there will be opportunities to write about some of these in more depth later on, but here are some quick reactions to the biggest recent pop culture announcements.

Robert Pattinson is the next Batman?

From what I can tell, this is still in negotiation, even though entertainment reporters seem confident this deal will be locked in shortly.

The casting news comes as somewhat of a shock, and Pattinson does seem to be something of an unconventional choice.

However, that’s precisely why I’m excited about it. I trust Matt Reeves, director of the new Batman film and also some of the excellent Planet of the Apes reboot films. And it feels like so many times, there has been controversy surrounding the casting of a particular actor in a famous role (Daniel Craig as James Bond, Ben Affleck as Batman, and so on), and then the casting turns out to be spot on.

I love that the next Batman isn’t an obvious choice, and I’m looking forward to being surprised.

Christopher Nolan is directing an espionage film

What do “The Batman” and Christopher Nolan’s upcoming espionage thriller, “Tenet,” have in common?

They will both (apparently) star Robert Pattinson. And the fact that Nolan, one of my favorite directors, has tapped Pattinson to play a role in his new film makes me feel even better about Pattinson as the next Batman.

One of the things I love most about Nolan is that he likes to tackle all these different genres in new and exciting ways. I’m really intrigued by the prospect of an international espionage thriller from him, especially with such a fantastic cast list (John David Washington, Kenneth Branagh, Elizabeth Debicki, to name a few).

I don’t even need to see a trailer for this movie — I’m already excited.

What the new Vanity Fair Star Wars photos tell us about Ep. IX

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I spent a long time yesterday (longer than I’m willing to admit) poring over all gorgeous new photos from Vanity Fair’s exclusive “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” photo shoot and trying to analyze what they may (or may not) be saying about the new film.

I know I’ve already looked over the photos multiple times and tried to piece them together with the shots from the trailer. Of course, we probably can’t read too much into many of them (some of them may be posed shots just for the magazine, or even potential misdirections).

But as a big sequel trilogy fan, these pictures make me so happy. I love that Vanity Fair is giving us matching magazine covers with both Rey and Kylo on them. The dynamic between these two characters is my favorite thing about the sequel trilogy, and I’m really curious to see how that plays out in Ep. IX. I also love the image of them fighting in the rain (maybe on the Death Star wreckage?).

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It’s cool to catch glimpses of Keri Russell and Richard E. Grant, as a “masked scoundrel” and First Order officer, respectively. I can’t wait to see how these characters will tie into the larger story, and I think both these actors will be perfect for their roles.

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I’m also excited to see Finn riding a really cool creature that I’ve been lovingly calling a “space horse” (technically, it’s called an orbak, but I just love saying the word “space horse”). Naomi Ackie’s character looks very cool, as well.

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And it appears that the rumors were true and we will get to see the Knights of Ren in the movie! As much as I’d like to catch a peek at them in the next trailer, I’d also be okay if they were kept mysterious until we see the film in December. I’m 99% positive we’re getting a redemption arc for Kylo Ren, which could mean the Knights of Ren will turn on him (maybe they’re serving Emperor Palpatine’s Force ghost/presence/whatever he ends up being?).

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Anyway, it feels like it’s been an eternity since “The Last Jedi” came out, and it’s nice to have some concrete, new Star Wars content to chat about!

Bidding farewell to Game of Thrones

As someone who hasn’t been watching Game of Thrones, it has been really interesting to see the audience response to the final season. I’ve heard both positive and negative, but regardless of what side you fall on, I think many of us were troubled to see a petition circulating trying to raise support to remake the final season.

This petition has a 0% chance of actually bringing about a remake, but it does raise some concerns.

While it is okay to be upset with a franchise and to give it a negative review, I am troubled by this recent trend of fan petitions. At the end of the day, creators have the freedom to choose to tell the story they want to tell, and I don’t think they “owe” the fans a certain ending. Again, it is okay to be disappointed with a story and to express those thoughts, but I think fandom is starting to become an unhealthy place, and that makes me sad.

This is too big of a topic to wrap up in just a few paragraphs, and I’m hoping to explore it in more depth sometime in the future, since this issue has popped up in the Star Wars fandom as well.

As a side note, now that Game of Thrones is finally over, I’ve actually just started watching the very first season. I’ve seen pretty much all the major spoilers by now, so I’m curious to watch the series and see how the ending will feel since it won’t catch me by surprise. I’m hoping to write about my experiences along the way, as well.

Movie review: ‘Tolkien’ film shows the story behind the storyteller

Untitled-1“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” might be my favorite introductory line for a novel.

It’s simple and direct, but still has enough information to spark your curiosity. What is a hobbit? And what sort of “hole” do they live in? (A very comfortable and cozy one, it turns out!)

The narrative that develops from these 10 initial words encompasses “The Hobbit” and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, one of the greatest stories of our time.

I already knew a quite a bit of background about the storyteller behind this story (in high school I loved the Lord of the Rings series so much that I did a report about author J.R.R. Tolkien). Still, I was particularly intrigued by the trailer for the new biopic “Tolkien,” since it looked like some magical elements would be incorporated into the cinematography, highlighting Tolkien’s vivid imagination.

It’s interesting that this movie is receiving mixed reviews from critics, because I personally really enjoyed it and found it rather moving. I’m not always a fan of biopics as a genre, because they often wind up feeling formulaic. It’s also difficult to strike a balance between maintaining historical accuracy and also telling an effective story (real people’s lives are messy and meandering, and don’t always fit into the standard narrative we’re used to seeing in fiction).

However, “Tolkien” seems to find a happy middle ground, and I would say it mostly aligns with what I remember from the past biography I read about Tolkien (although it has been a long time since high school…longer than I’m willing to admit).

“Tolkien” sticks to the author’s childhood and young adult years. Instead of showing how he writes “The Hobbit” and the Lord of the Rings books, it shows us the life experiences that later inspired him to write these stories.

Tolkien’s early life was marked by tragedy. He lost his father and mother at a young age, and was sent away to a school where he didn’t necessarily fit in at first. He does eventually make some friends — Geoffrey, Robert, and Christopher — who are all bound by their love for art and literature, and form a group called the Tea Club and Barrovian Society, or TCBS for short. Tolkien also finds a muse in Edith Bratt, who ignites his imagination and his heart.

This spell of camaraderie is shattered when World War I breaks out. Some of Tolkien’s classmates at Oxford celebrate this news, assuming war will be a grand adventure.

It isn’t. In fact, World War I is one of the most awful, bloody, and heartbreaking conflicts in human history. As a companion piece to “Tolkien,” I highly recommend the documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old.” Directed by Peter Jackson, the film painstakingly restores old WWI footage and makes it real in a way that it may not have been before to modern audiences.

It’s hard to find hope down in the trenches, particularly as Tolkien learns of friends who have gone missing in action. Too many soldiers do not come home. The smoke, the mud, the gunfire, and the senseless violence are more than enough to crush the last little bits of goodness and light flickering inside oneself.

Yet Tolkien continues clinging to them, desperately, and these seeds eventually develop into the fantasy tales that are now loved by so many.

Understanding Tolkien’s involvement in WWI — and his love for languages — is key to understanding the themes in his fictional works. The darkness he saw in war can be seen in the darkness of villains like Sauron and Saruman. Yet the warmth of his deep and genuine friendship with the TCBS members no doubt inspired the bond between the members of the Fellowship of the Ring.

Even though “Tolkien” received so-so reviews from critics, this film genuinely moved me, and it reminded me why I fell in love with Lord of the Rings in the first place. We live in a world that is plagued by darkness and violence and hate, but as Sam tells Frodo in “The Two Towers” film, “there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

After the Endgame: Where does the MCU go from here?

Iron-Man-Infinity-WarWell, as Marvel fans we have now experienced and (mostly) survived the “Endgame.” After 10+ years and 20+ movies, Marvel Studios has brought this stage of storytelling to a close with a finale that broke box office records and was generally well received by critics and fans. The question we are left with now is, of course, “What next?”

(Warning: Lots of spoilers for “Endgame” are ahead, in case you have not yet seen the film.)

Even though it feels weird to picture a Marvel Cinematic Universe without Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, and many of the other original characters, I am thankful that “Endgame” was a definitive ending. Franchises and TV shows should always quit while they’re ahead — they should leave the audience with a sense of bittersweet satisfaction.

It’s hard to predict what will happen with the MCU going forward, because we’ve never really seen a franchise like this before. How do you follow up a film that’s essentially one big, epic conclusion to a 22 film arc?

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It’s possible that some audiences and fans may use “Endgame” as a jumping off point, and interest in subsequent films may start to wane over time. Everyone showed up for “Endgame” to see how the story would end, but will they continue to show up for new films feeling the same level of hype?

Or, will “Endgame” continue to fuel interest in this franchise, and the MCU will basically become its own genre, producing many films for years to come? Although characters come and go, people know they can trust the MCU brand and will keep buying tickets.

Honestly, I have no idea what will happen in regards to the future of the MCU, and that’s both exciting and scary. I could definitely see some of the audience wandering away now that Iron Man, Black Widow, and other original characters are gone, and especially since Disney did such a good job marketing “Endgame” as a must-see conclusion to this massive story.

But I also heard how loudly people cheered for newer characters like Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange while watching “Endgame.” And the box office numbers for these characters’ solo films were pretty impressive on their own.

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In the end, I think the future of the MCU is pretty much up to Marvel Studios. If the writing remains strong and people keep connecting with the characters, fans will keep showing up to the theater. It may be a very long time before we see another domestic opening of $350 million, but even if later films *only* open at $100 million, that’s still a lot of cash.

I think that “Spider-Man: Far From Home” will provide some important clues about what we can expect from the future of the MCU, both in terms of box office and storytelling. I’m not quite sure how I feel about introducing the concept of the multiverse to the MCU, but then again I was also worried about the concept for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and that turned out to be my No. 2 favorite MCU film. And “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is all about the multiverse, and it’s one of my all-time favorite superhero films. Having a multiverse concept could also provide a little more storytelling freedom, since not every film will have to fit into the same timeline.

I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but I’m actually not in a huge hurry for Disney to bring the X-Men into the MCU, even though they’ve officially acquired Fox. I’m open to a Fantastic Four film, but what I really want to see is some new characters that have never been featured on screen before. I know there are plenty of cool, lesser-known characters that can be pulled from the original comics.

I’d love for the MCU to just take its time and focus on smaller films for a while. We don’t necessarily need three movies a year, either; two sounds just about right. Make us wait another decade for an “Endgame”-level event film. I’d like to see some smaller-scale team-ups, like Thor + the Guardians, or Winter Soldier and the new Captain America + Black Panther. I also hope that the MCU will give us more female-led superhero films.

I was already planning to sign up for the Disney+ streaming service because of their new Star Wars content, but I’m looking forward to the MCU content on this platform as well. Technically signing up for this service does make me a hypocrite, because I’ve regularly complained about the explosion of streaming services and the fact every provider wants you to sign up for theirs separately. But Disney found my weakness, and I just can’t say no to Star Wars and Marvel.

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Beyond that, I don’t feel like I can make any concrete predictions about the future of the MCU because, as I mentioned before, we’re in uncharted territory here. But I’m looking forward to finding out what’s next! I’m ready to meet some new characters and see some new stories that I’ll come to love just as much as the originals.

‘Till the end of the line’: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ wraps up a decade of superhero storytelling

AvengersEndgameFinalPoster-Top-1024x576.jpg“This is not going to go the way you think…”

Remember that line from “The Last Jedi” trailer? Marvel fans were wise to keep those same words of warning in mind as they walked into the theater for “Avengers: Endgame.”

The culmination of approximately 10 years and 20 films, “Endgame” is the bittersweet and emotional conclusion to this stage of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I knew going in that the Avengers would have to pay a steep price to stop Thanos, and I thought I was prepared to say goodbye to some of these characters. Turns out, it was harder than I thought, and while the ending is satisfying, it’s definitely a gut-punch.

I’m not even going to attempt to write a regular review here, because literally anything I say would be a spoiler. And by this point, you’ve either A) already seen it; B) have made plans to see it; or C) this isn’t really your thing and you don’t plan to see it at all, which means that no review of mine is going to convince you of anything. 😉

These are some of my VERY spoiler-filled thoughts on the film, so final warning if you haven’t seen this movie yet and don’t want to have the twists ruined for you — stop reading now!

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WARNING: Literally SO MANY spoilers ahead

All right, if you’re still with me, that means you’ve (hopefully) already seen “Endgame” and we can all commiserate together.

I don’t quite know how to review a movie like this. It’s weird to think that this has all been building since a little movie called “Iron Man” in 2008. I don’t think anyone back then guessed that the end to this story arc would gross $350 million in ONE weekend — and that’s just domestically. It’s a cinematic event film that people needed to see on opening weekend.

I’m sure that in the days and weeks to come, plenty of bloggers will be breaking down the story and all the plot’s twists and turns. I know that if I sat down and started picking apart the details, I’d uncover a few plot holes or inconsistencies in regards to the time travel stuff.

But in the end, what this movie comes down to is the characters, and it’s a fitting end for these superheroes that we’ve come to love over the past decade.

While one could argue that they maybe could have shaved 15-20 minutes off the film to bring its runtime below three hours, none of the time feels wasted to me. We get lots of little character moments, which are all the more meaningful since this is probably the last time we’ll be seeing many of these characters.

“Endgame” has some surprisingly funny moments, despite its more serious tone overall. This helps to break the tension, and also shows how many times, these troubled characters use humor as a coping mechanism.

I was surprised by how quickly the Avengers killed Thanos in the opening minutes — a twist that serves to throw the audience off balance. I had a lot of theories about “Endgame” and really only one of them came true (Falcon taking on the mantle of Captain America, which I’m really excited about).

This twist also provided a good set-up for the main plot of the film, a so-called “time heist” to steal the Infinity Stones from previous points in the timeline and then use them to undo Thanos’ snap. As I mentioned earlier, the “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” stuff may have more than a few holes in it if you look closely, but I loved the scenes themselves and seeing the Avengers revisit important moments from their past. It reminds the audience of how much these characters have experienced — and how much they’ve grown.

I appreciated the movie’s slow burn set-up, which culminated in a truly epic final battle that brings together all the characters for one last stand against Thanos. It also contains one of my favorite moments in the entire MCU — when Cap calls Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, to his hand, proving himself worthy. That moment earned cheers both times I watched this movie in the theater over the weekend.

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I wish I had time and space to talk about each character’s journey in this film in depth, but I’m going to highlight the characters that I believe are the two greatest Avengers, and whose stories are the main drivers of this film: Iron Man and Captain America.

For the past year, I’ve been saying that in order for “Endgame” to make an emotional impact, at least one major character needed to die. Thanos is THE “big bad” of the MCU, and if he’s defeated too easily, it undercuts the dramatic impact of “Infinity War” and, truthfully, the entire MCU.

However, I wasn’t expecting Iron Man and Black Widow to be the two major characters to die. Especially with the long-rumored Black Widow spin-off film (which I hope is still happening, as a prequel), Black Widow’s death came as a shock. The scene where she and Hawkeye are fighting over which one of them is going to make the sacrifice is tough to watch, but highlights the strong bond between their characters. It’s a bond I wish had been explored even more in the preceding films.

I really thought that Tony was going to end this movie by retiring and serving in a mentor role, popping up in cameos every now and then. As I’ve mentioned before, Iron Man is my favorite Avenger and one of my all-time favorite film characters, actually. Seeing him die upset me far more than I was prepared for, but I think that in the end, I’ll come around to accepting the story’s conclusion.

Iron Man started the MCU, and even though I didn’t want him to die, I appreciate that the film gave him a powerful final scene, letting Tony be the one who finally stopped Thanos and saved the universe. I could spend another whole blog post going over his character journey throughout the MCU (actually, I did!), but I have loved seeing his redemption arc and watching him grow from a selfish, spoiled playboy into the galaxy’s greatest hero. I would love for a future film to feature his daughter carrying on his legacy and wearing one of the Iron Man suits.

I was expecting Captain America to die in this film, but I really loved the ending they gave his character. After all he’s been through, he deserves to lay down the shield. And the scene where he finally gets that dance with Peggy Carter was a beautiful, poignant ending to his story. Does it break all kinds of time travel rules? Yeah, probably. But emotionally, it just feels *right.*

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In short, there are places to be picky with this film. There’s the confusing timeline stuff, and I’ve heard debates about Thor and Hulk’s character arcs. I’ll be curious to see how the CGI ages. But Tony and Cap’s storyline was a home run, at least for me, and reminds us how much the MCU owes Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans.

It’s possible we’ll never see another film series quite like this one, and I don’t know what the future of the MCU will look like from here. But I’ve really enjoyed this journey, and it’s meant so much to me as a geek. Thanks for the memories, MCU!

Skywalker rising: Episode IX trailer breakdown and speculation

episode-ixNow that I’m finally recovered/unpacked from Star Wars Celebration (well, mostly), it’s time to dive into that Episode IX teaser trailer! There’s a lot to speculate about in the new two-minute trailer, especially now that we also have an official title: “The Rise of Skywalker.”

Before we get started, this post is just meant to be for fun; when it comes to my expectations/hopes for this movie, I’m trying to keep a pretty open mind. I think it’s fun to come up with theories about what might happen, but I also understand that I could be 100 percent wrong about all of this.

Also, I know some people don’t like to speculate, and they prefer to walk into a movie knowing as little as possible so they can be surprised. That’s totally fine. But if you’re like me and want to geek out about this trailer in (possibly excessive) detail, let’s dive on in!

Every generation has a legend…

The trailer opens with a blank screen and the sound of Rey’s breathing. When the camera cuts to her face, we see her staring across a desert landscape, facing down a screaming TIE silencer. Then, she ignites her lightsaber and flips over the ship.

Of course I squealed the first time I saw this clip, because I loved getting to see one of my favorite female Star Wars characters being a total badass. However, besides just looking cool, there are some potential plot details to unpack here.

The obvious guess as to what’s going on is that Kylo has shown up for a rematch after their showdown in Snoke’s throne room, where they both tried to grab the legacy lightsaber. But I’m not certain that’s what actually happening.

When we first see Rey, she looks nervous and uncertain, which is intriguing. When Rey is prepping for a fight, she normally has this look of intense determination on her face. I think she’s waiting for something but doesn’t know what to expect. Also, if Kylo’s intentions are hostile, why isn’t he firing on her?

It’s possible this scene is actually part of their Forcebond and Kylo isn’t physically there; as we saw in “The Last Jedi,” their connection through the Force is so strong that they can pull elements of their physical surroundings into their conversations, such as the rain on Ahch-To and the hand touch in the hut. Maybe Rey is “seeing” Kylo even though he’s not actually on the planet where she is.

I’ve heard other speculation that they’re actually training together and teaming up to face the movie’s “Big Bad” (more on that later!). Or maybe Kylo isn’t the one piloting the silencer after all.

In any case, any and all of these clips could have been edited and/or digitally altered to prevent us from really guessing the plot, but it’s always fun to guess.

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The saga comes to an end…

Lucasfilm has really been stressing that Episode IX is the end of the Skywalker saga films. Now, of course 5-10 years down the road we could be seeing an Episode X, but I do feel like Episode IX is going to have a definitive ending of some sort.

Not everyone may agree with this interpretation, but I really do believe Kylo is going to get a redemption arc in this movie. I just don’t see them ending this nine-part saga with the final Skywalker dying as a villain. (I do NOT believe Rey is a Skywalker, and I do NOT want them to retcon her parentage reveal in “The Last Jedi.” As you can probably tell, I have strong feelings about this.) 😉

Star Wars is all about hope and redemption, and I want the saga to end on an upbeat note. Of course, Ben Solo does have a lot to atone for, and I’m really curious to see what a potential redemption arc for him would look like. It needs to be handled with gravitas and nuance, but I have full confidence Lucasfilm can pull this off.

Based on some other photos/speculation I’ve seen, I’m guessing something will happen in the first act of the film that motivates/forces Kylo to seek out the Resistance and team up with Rey and Co.

Otherwise, we don’t get a lot of Kylo in the trailer, aside from that super cool clip of him slamming some antagonist with the hilt of his lightsaber in a red-tinted forest (my second-favorite scene from the trailer). Maybe he’s fighting the Knights of Ren? And we see his helmet being repaired, which I think makes sense thematically.

After Kylo’s life pretty much falls apart in “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi,” I can definitely see him scrambling to put things back together, with the broken mask serving as an important metaphor. Or again, maybe Kylo’s not even using the helmet himself, and somebody else is dressing up as him to cover for the fact that he’s left the First Order.

Basically, I could fall into a rabbit hole of discussion here if I allowed myself to. 😉 I know this is one of my more rambling blog posts, but there’s so many details to latch onto here, and any one of them could be expanded into a post of its own. But, let’s move on…

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No one’s ever really gone

The shot of Lando flying the Falcon with Chewie was just wonderful and brought a big smile to my face. And seeing the Yavin medal and watching Leia hugging Rey triggered the waterworks for me, big time. I’m glad they were able to find some usable footage from the past films so that Carrie Fisher can still have a presence in this film.

I also love the clip of Poe, Finn, and C-3PO flying some kind of landspeeder while weapons are firing. I’m thinking part of this film, at least, will have a fun action-adventure vibe, ala “Indiana Jones” and the 1999 Mummy film.

And I got chills seeing the Death Star wreckage sticking out of the ocean. I REALLY did not want to see another Death Star-type super weapon in Episode IX; however, I will make an exception for the wreckage of a past Death Star. Not only does it offer some cool cinematography, it ties in with what I believe will be the movie’s theme, which is healing the rift between the dark and light sides of the Force and making peace with the past.

It also ties into the fact that apparently, Palpatine is back! It’s funny because if you’d asked me before watching this trailer if I would be okay with Palpatine returning, I probably would have said “no.” But that laugh at the end of the trailer was a fantastic twist, and there are actually some cool things they could do with this character’s return.

I’ve heard some people saying that according to canon, Sith cannot manifest as Force ghosts in the same way that light side Jedi can. But I could totally see Palpatine as some sort of malevolent Force spirit/presence lingering on after death and “haunting” the remains of the Death Star. I’d love to see Rey and Kylo team up to defeat Palpatine once and for all, finally healing the troubled Skywalker legacy.

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The Rise of Skywalker

So, about the title — I actually didn’t *love* it at first, partly because I was more attached to some of the other speculated titles like “A Spark of Hope” and “Balance of the Force.”

But “The Rise of Skywalker” is really starting to grow on me, and I’m curious to see how it will fit with the story they’re planning to tell. I definitely don’t think the Skywalker in the title is just referring to the Force ghost of Luke. It’s referring to all the generations of Force-sensitive Skywalkers — Anakin, Leia, Luke, and Ben — finally finding peace in the Force.

And who knows, maybe all Force users will take up the name “Skywalker,” moving away from the word “Jedi,” which at this point comes with a lot of baggage.

Anyway, I could go on and on about this trailer, but those are my initial thoughts. I’d love to hear what your predictions are regarding the trailer. What do you think will happen in Episode IX?

From Chicago to a galaxy far, far away: Star Wars Celebration 2019

Screen-Shot-2019-04-12-at-1.18.23-PMSomething that people may not know about me is that I like Star Wars just a little. I’m kidding, of course — anyone who talks to me for more than 5 minutes is probably going to hear about how much I love Star Wars, how it’s my favorite franchise, why I love all the movies and books and characters, etc., etc., etc.

So it was probably inevitable that someday I would make my way to Star Wars Celebration, the official Star Wars convention. I actually decided to go to the 2019 Celebration somewhat on a whim last summer. When they announced that the location was going to be Chicago, that definitely grabbed my attention. I live in the Midwest, and that was the closest the con had ever been to me (and, realistically, the closest that it will probably ever get). I started thinking to myself, You know, maybe I can do this.

When tickets went on sale, I believed I would have a while to think it over and maybe find someone to go with me. Then the 5-day passes sold out way sooner than anyone had bargained on and I had a moment of panic where I realized that if I was going to go, I needed to buy individual day tickets and I needed to buy them NOW.

Despite my fears about going to a big con completely alone in a large city, my husband told me that if it was my dream, I should go for it. And I’m super thankful I did.

Star Wars Celebration Chicago was an absolutely incredible experience — worth every penny I spent on it. It was a weekend of fun, excitement, positivity, and camaraderie, and even though I’ve been home for several days now, I’m still buzzing.

I could write way too many words about this experience, if I allowed myself to, but here are my top four (abbreviated) takeaways from the weekend. If you’re a Star Wars fan, I absolutely recommend going to a Celebration someday; it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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1. That Episode IX trailer

I’ve been hyped for Episode IX ever since I walked out of “The Last Jedi,” and my anticipation for this movie is part of what motivated to me to go to Celebration this year.

I was hoping to get into the Episode IX panel with the director and cast, and I did (well, sort of). This year, instead of waiting in an overnight line, you had to enter a lottery ahead of time to get into the premier convention panels.

While there was some debate amongst fans about this system, overall I’m a big fan of the lottery concept. Camping overnight on the convention floor to attend a panel was just not viable for me, and the lottery at least gave me a fair chance to get in.

I didn’t win the lottery for the main stage for the Episode IX panel, but I did get into one of the big overflow rooms, where they projected the panel on a giant screen. While not as cool as being in the room, it was so amazing to watch the trailer debut with a huge group of other Star Wars fans.

I could spent the rest of this blog just talking about the trailer, but I loved it and have so many thoughts/theories about what’s going to happen in the film. I’m hoping to write up a more detailed analysis once I’m finally done unpacking all my Star Wars loot from the con.

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2. Meeting my favorite authors

I was excited to see the long list of Star Wars authors who were coming to Celebration this year, and I was able to get two books signed by my favorite Star Wars author, Claudia Gray, as well as attend several of her panels. She’s a great writer and a cool person! I was able to pick up her new novel, “Master and Apprentice,” about Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan, and I’m looking forward to diving into that to help me get over my post-Celebration blues.

I also got to meet the author of “The Last Jedi” novelization, Jason Fry, and he signed my copy of the book. He was very kind, warm, and friendly, and we got to chat for a couple of minutes. And I managed to snag a convention-exclusive cover of E.K. Johnston’s Padmé book, “Queen’s Shadow.”

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3. The Mandalorian

I lost the lottery for “The Mandalorian” TV show panel, but I was able to watch the panel on one of the big screens on the show floor, which was still a cool experience.

I was already planning to sign up for the Disney+ streaming service so I could watch this show and “The Clone Wars” revival, but this panel made me even more excited. I love that they’re going for a Western/Clint Eastwood vibe with this show, and the few clips/photos we got to see look amazing.

My only complaint is that apparently the people who were at the main stage for “The Mandalorian” panel got to see a full trailer, but the streaming cut to black before then. I really wish they had played this trailer for everybody, and it seems a little odd to hide it, since they’re trying to motivate people to sign up for Disney+. But I heard from people who saw it that the footage looks really great.

I had so many things on my con schedule that I didn’t make it to “The Clone Wars” panel or even watch the live stream, so I’m hoping to catch up on that at some point this week. They replayed the trailer at the closing ceremonies, and that also looks good. There’s so much to look forward to!

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4. Restoring my faith in the fandom

It’s no secret that the Star Wars fandom has appeared a little turbulent of late, at least in terms of online discussion. While I never stopped loving Star Wars, over the past year I did find myself getting burned out on the fandom. All the negativity and unkindness I had experienced online was really bringing me down, and I was a little nervous going to Star Wars Celebration because of what I might encounter.

However, the camaraderie I experienced at Celebration was incredible. I didn’t have a single negative encounter with another fan. People were warm, friendly, and as excited to be there as I was. I felt valued and respected, and I just had a huge grin on my face pretty much every second I was there. I met so many great people and made some new friends. I didn’t feel scared or lonely about being there by myself.

This experience helped remind me that the toxicity we see on the Internet within any fandom is really only a small but vocal minority. I also loved seeing the diversity of the crowds at Star Wars Celebration. People from all over the world, and all ages, came together to have fun.

My actual favorite moment of Star Wars Celebration, even more than the Episode IX trailer, was when the fans at the main stage gave Kelly Marie Tran a standing ovation. “The Last Jedi” actress has been the recipient of cruel Internet bullying, and I wouldn’t have blamed her if she wanted to stay away from Celebration because of that.

The fans at Celebration knew what she had been through, and their standing ovation was designed to let Kelly know that they supported her and loved her as a person. I heard that “The Phantom Menace” actor Ahmed Best received similar treatment at a panel on Monday.

Thanks to Celebration, I’m excited about interacting with other Star Wars fans again. Even if I encounter toxic behavior online, I’m going to remember the way I feel right now and all the great things that happened at Celebration. Love always wins in the end — which is pretty much the entire message of Star Wars.

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Until next time…

After nearly of year of prepping and planning, it feels weird that Star Wars Celebration is over now. Even though I’m already missing it, realistically speaking I probably won’t be able to attend another Celebration for a long time. However, my first Celebration was a great experience with lots of special memories, and I’m so grateful I got a chance to go. I hope to find my way to another Celebration again someday.

And, of course, we’ve got lots of great Star Wars content to look forward to in 2019. As always, may the Force be with you!

Movie review: ‘Shazam!’ is a fun, feel-good superhero movie

maxresdefaultI have to confess, when I first saw the trailer for the new DC superhero film Shazam!, it didn’t really grab me. I wasn’t sure what to think of the concept or the costume, and I feared the final product might be too cheesy. I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to watching it.

However, I’m happy to admit that my initial impression turned out to be wrong. Shazam! is an incredibly fun, feel-good superhero movie, and I walked out of the theater with a huge smile on my face. While it doesn’t carry the same sense of epic grandeur and emotional weight as Wonder Woman, it has a much more coherent story than Aquaman (which, to be fair, was still a fun film). At least at this point, I think it’s safe to say that the DC cinematic universe has finally found its footing. Hopefully the trend will continue!

For the uninitiated, Shazam is the alter ego of a somewhat unlikely superhero candidate: Philadelphian teenager Billy Batson. Separated from his mother at a young age, Billy has jumped from foster home to foster home, never able to find a sense of belonging.

Then one day, he is transported to a magical cave where an ancient wizard offers him magical powers that are activated by saying the word “Shazam!” Understandably skeptical, Billy complies and then immediately realizes his life is never going to be the same.

Whenever he shouts “Shazam,” he turns into an adult with a bright red costume with a yellow lightning bolt, and he does indeed gain superpowers — like flying and channeling electricity. Still, simply having powers doesn’t automatically make one a hero, and Billy has to learn how to take his gifts seriously and use them to help others.

As a film, Shazam! strikes a nice balance: it’s funny without being too silly, and it’s earnest without being heavy-handed. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but as much as I love large-scale, interconnected storytelling in superhero films — like the lead-up to “Infinity War” and “Endgame” — sometimes it’s nice to see smaller scale movies like Shazam! At its heart, it’s really a family film that just happens to involve superheroes.

While Zachary Levi does a great job as Shazam and is clearly having a blast playing a teenager trapped inside an adult superhero’s body, I was also impressed with the young actors in this film. I loved watching the friendship develop between Billy (Asher Angel) and his foster brother Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer).

I also enjoyed Mark Strong as the film’s villain — who turned out to be a more nuanced character than I was anticipating. I’m a big fan of Strong’s, so I’m glad they gave him a role with a little more to do besides just “mustache-twirling villain.”

In some ways, he’s like a darker reflection of Billy — he too experienced rejection and a lack of belonging as a child. Yet instead of finding healing, he holds onto his pain, and he turns to revenge as his motivation for living. They could have even done more to really play up the nuance of the villain, and contrast this with Billy’s own story — which is my only real complaint about the movie. Still, “not enough nuance” is better than “no nuance” when it comes to a movie’s villain, at least in my opinion.

Some other highlights — the film does a good job portraying authentic diversity, and I loved the cast of young actors playing all of Billy’s foster siblings. There is also a really great twist at the end of the film that I really loved but don’t want to say anymore because I might spoil the surprise.

In short, I’m glad I decided to go to the theater with an open mind, because I really enjoyed this movie, and watching it just made me feel good inside. With everything going on in this world, sometimes you need a warm and funny film that reminds you that there are still good people in this world, and that everybody deserves to find a sense of belonging and “home.”

(Oh, and there’s also a really great cameo at the end of the film — one of my favorite-ever cameos in a superhero film, actually. But you’ll have to watch and find out what it is!)