‘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!


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.


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.*


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!


Endgame: What’s ahead for the Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe

A journey that started a decade ago will come to an end next April, with the follow-up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Infinity War.” We now know the sequel will be titled “Endgame,” though what sort of ending the film will have is still anybody’s guess.

How many of the original Avengers will we have to say goodbye to forever? And will “Endgame” truly serve as an ending for the MCU as we know it, or will it be more of a springboard for future storytelling opportunities (or both)? I guess we’ll all have to stay tuned to find out!

Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve watched the “Endgame” trailer multiple times by now. It’s a somber and emotional trailer, and I thought it did a great job hinting at the sort of movie we’ll be getting, without giving away too much. The tone is definitely going to be darker here, and appropriately so. Half of the universe has vanished, thanks to Thanos’ snap, and the Avengers’ failure to stop him is weighing heavily on them.

I appreciated that Marvel was willing to actually let Thanos use the Infinity Gauntlet at the end of “Infinity War.” It’s a gut-punch of a scene…with one caveat. Others have pointed out that as the year has gone by, that scene has been robbed of some of its emotional impact by the fact that all the Avengers who disappeared are almost 100 percent guaranteed to come back. We know their deaths — as well acted as they were — are not going to stick, because many of them are going to appear in sequels of their own.

Still, I can understand why certain characters were chosen for the snap, and certain ones were left alive. “Endgame” will give us what may very well be our final chance to see all the original Avengers in action together, before some of them retire or possibly even die.

Captain America has been one of my favorite Avengers characters. Will “Endgame” be his final film? Will someone else take up the shield?

I love all these characters. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them on screen over the past decade, and one of them dying would break my heart. But… (and please don’t hate me here!) at least one of them NEEDS to die in “Endgame.” Thanos is one of the most serious threats the Avengers have ever — or possibly ever will — face, and defeating him needs to come with serious consequences. “Endgame” will be the culmination of 10 years of franchise building. A major character death will give this film emotional weight.

When it comes to character deaths, I think the most likely candidates are Captain America and/or Iron Man, which is hard because they’re two of my favorites. The MCU began with Tony Stark, and him sacrificing himself in “Endgame” to save the entire universe would be such a poignant and powerful moment for the character. But, I also really love the idea of him and Pepper finally tying the knot and then him retiring, serving as a consultant to the new Avengers team and a continued mentor to Peter Parker.

Cap is the most logical choice to make a sacrifice, and it would be interesting to see what could happen in future films with either Bucky or Falcon picking up the shield. Chris Evans has done such a great job in the role, and I’d love for his story arc, however it ends, to be epic and emotional.

As for the overall plot of this film, I’m trying hard not to speculate too much. I’ve heard rumors about time travel (which would be a cool twist to add to the MCU) or everybody who disappeared being trapped inside the Soul Stone. I’m really curious to see what role Scott Lang/Ant-Man plays in this story, partly because I just adore Paul Rudd and also because I’m really intrigued by what could happen with the Quantum Realm.

How much of an ending will “Endgame” be?

Beyond that, I really just want to be surprised by this movie. I want “Endgame” to do for the MCU what “The Last Jedi” did for Star Wars. I know that’s a slightly controversial thought, because Episode VIII sparked a lot of debate within the fanbase. However, one of the things I appreciated most about “The Last Jedi” was the way it dared to shake up its fictional universe and make us ask tough questions about characters we love.

I’d love for “Endgame” to be a challenging film that digs deep into who the characters are and forces them to make sacrifices with lasting consequences. I’m hoping for a darker film that balances tragedy and hope, and provides some sort of definitive ending to the first decade of the MCU. I want the impact of “Endgame” to be felt in all the MCU films that come after it.

It will be really interesting to see what the MCU looks like post-“Endgame.” There’s still lots of potential with Tom Holland as Spider-Man, and there’s a wealth of untapped material with Black Panther and the world of Wakanda. And, of course, I can’t wait to meet Captain Marvel and see how she ties into “Endgame.”

Years down the road, maybe we’ll look back and see “Infinity War” and “Endgame” as the peak of the MCU, and the films that follow will be smaller in terms of both scope and box office. I’d be okay with that, actually. I’d love to have more films focused in on individual characters, with smaller stakes (similar to the excellent “Spider-Man: Homecoming”). Someday I want to see a live action Miles Morales, and I’d be game for a Guardians/Thor team-up.

So, what are your hopes for the future of the MCU? What do you think will happen in “Endgame”? What are some of your theories, hopes and fears?

Star-spangled cinema: Best movies to watch for the Fourth of July

404626-captain-america-background-hdFor film fans looking for something fun to watch this weekend in between barbecues and fireworks, Entertainment Weekly’s recent issue includes a list of the top 25 most patriotic movies. The complete list includes films such as “Top Gun,” “Patton,” and “Stripes,” but I’ve highlighted a few of my personal favorites. This list also serves as a shameful reminder of the fact that I still haven’t watched “Saving Private Ryan.” Maybe that should be my Fourth of July movie this year!

Apollo 13

I’ve always loved reading about the NASA space program, and I remember geeking out as a kid when I got to do a report about the Apollo 11 moon landing for school. Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13” is one of my favorite space movies that doesn’t happen to be science fiction. Apollo 13 was supposed to be a routine lunar mission — until it wasn’t, and three astronauts had to trouble-shoot in space in order to survive, with the help of Mission Control back home. Even though I know from history how the story ends, it’s a nail biter for me every time. Entertainment Weekly calls it an “ode to a bygone era of space exploration and American optimism”; every time I watch it, I hope that humanity won’t give up on its quest to explore the stars.

Air Force One

Harrison Ford’s badass fictional president James Marshall is a politician everyone can agree on: when Air Force One is taken over by terrorists, he refuses to give in to their demands. He fights to regain control of the aircraft, saving lives and just generally being awesome. It’s a great action movie and tense thriller up until the final moments when Marshall (spoiler alert!) saves the day.

Independence Day

No Fourth of July movie list would be complete without “Independence Day,” right? “Independence Day” is the quintessential summer blockbuster, with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum facing off against a fleet of aliens attacking Earth. Plus, Bill Pullman also co-stars as my personal favorite fictional president, Thomas J. Whitmore, who actually climbs on board a fighter jet and goes to war against the aliens himself. After making a totally epic speech, of course.


Captain America: The First Avenger

“Captain America: The First Avenger” was my first real introduction to “the star-spangled man with a plan,” who has now become one of my favorite superheroes. What makes Captain America such a powerful symbol is that he doesn’t begin his story as a beefed-up superhero with muscles or cool powers. Instead, he’s a man with a good heart and a sense of justice who is unafraid to stand up to bullies. Steve Rogers is the moral compass of the Marvel movies, and his next two films — “The Winter Soldier” and “Civil War” — are so fascinating because we see circumstances challenge his ideals. Yet he continues to hold to those ideals, even when it requires great personal sacrifice.


Time for another confession — I’m not sure if I have watched “Gettysburg” all the way through, as I’ve seen it mostly in parts. It’s a long movie, but this American epic is worth a watch, memorializing one of the most violent and tragic periods in American history. Jeff Daniels’ Union commander Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is the heart and soul of this movie; his idealism is an inspiration to the soldiers around him.

The Right Stuff

The U.S. achieved an important milestone by landing an astronaut on the moon in 1969, but the space program got off to a much rockier start. Delays and technical problems plagued the program. Yet there was plenty of determination in the early days of NASA, and “The Right Stuff” chronicles the cocky pilots who dared to become astronauts and risked their lives as brave explorers. They were made of the “right stuff,” indeed.

Year in review: My top movies of 2016

rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-2560x1600-poster-hd-27572016 was quite a year — good in some ways, rough in others. I was actually in the process of putting together my annual entertainment year in review post when I saw the news that Star Wars icon Carrie Fisher had passed away. Although there have been many (too many) notable celebrity deaths this year, hers hit me the hardest. While I’ll miss performers like her and Alan Rickman — another celebrity we lost too soon — I’m thankful we can still return to their bodies of work. Princess Leia and Snape will live on for many new generations of fans!

Here are the movies that meant the most to me in 2016; I’d love to hear which ones meant the most to you this year!

Honorable mention: Arrival

Although I love a big budget, action-packed space opera, I also enjoy seeing smaller-scale films in the sci-fi genre. “Arrival” is a surprisingly intimate, personal viewing experience despite being a film about a worldwide alien invasion. It centers on a linguist (Amy Adams) who tries to speak to the aliens and decipher their language so humanity can figure out whether the aliens are peaceful or threatening. She actually ends up learning a lesson about the power of communication and the importance of embracing life to the fullest, with all its moments of joy and heartbreak.

5. Kubo and the Two Strings

This movie wasn’t really on my radar at the beginning of 2016, and I certainly didn’t anticipate it would end up on my “best of the year” list. However, this beautifully animated tale about a boy and his magical Japanese instrument deeply moved me. While this movie didn’t make a huge splash at the box office, I’m glad I had a chance to see it on the big screen. It might have performed better with a less puzzling title, but after watching the movie, the title makes perfect sense. The ending is poignant and powerful, and it feels particularly timely after this year.

4. Doctor Strange

Marvel keeps pushing the boundaries of its cinematic universe, and it began to delve into the magical realm with “Doctor Strange.” Benedict Cumberbatch joins the MCU as Dr. Stephen Strange, who loses his career as a surgeon after a devastating car accident. When modern medicine fails him, he overcomes his skepticism and discovers a world of magic, where he learns to wield an ancient power beyond understanding. The film has some trippy, psychedelic visuals that take the “Inception” concept to a new level, and Strange will be a welcome addition to the Avengers lineup in future films.

3. Star Trek: Beyond

While not everyone loves the Star Trek reboot films, I have personally really enjoyed them. I think they’ve found a way to capture the magic of the Original Series while also saying something new. “Star Trek: Beyond” feels, in many ways, like a jumbo episode of the Original Series, stranding the crew on a hostile planet and forcing them to figure out how to escape and save the day. While there’s plenty of action, the film makers never forget that the heart of the story is the interactions between the characters. This may or may not be the final reboot film we get, and while I hope it’s not, at least the series will end on a very good note.


2. Captain America: Civil War

Although this technically wasn’t an Avengers film, for all intents and purposes it was an Avengers film, and it’s actually the best one yet. “Civil War” finally turns the Avengers against each other, as they debate how and to what extent superheroes should be held accountable. Whether you ended up on #TeamStark or #TeamCap, this film took the MCU in an exciting new direction by delving into tricky ethical issues and resisting the temptation to give us a perfectly wrapped-up ending. It also introduced some fantastic characters to the MCU, including Black Panther and a new Spider-Man.

1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

As you know, Star Wars is my all-time favorite film franchise, so of course the No. 1 slot was always “Rogue One’s” to lose. Thankfully, it lived up to the hopes I had for it. “Rogue One” is, at its heart, a war movie, and it shows us how hard the Rebellion had to struggle to defeat the oppressive Empire. It gave us a band of ordinary heroes without any special powers, and none of them were the “chosen one” destined to single-handedly save the galaxy. Yet without their sacrifice to steal the plans to the Death Star, there would be no Rebellion. “Rogue One” has the most thrilling (and emotional) final act I’ve seen on screen in a long time. After last year’s success with “The Force Awakens” and now “Rogue One,” the Force is indeed with Disney.

Movie review: ‘Captain America: Civil War’ another hit for Marvel


The Avengers have faced some difficult opponents, either as a team or on their own: the Red Skull, Loki, the Mandarin, Ultron. However, in “Captain America: Civil War,” they face a new kind of enemy: each other. “Civil War” divides the Avengers, forcing them to align with either Iron Man or Captain America. Iron Man believes superheroes should sign a government document that will keep them all accountable; Captain America fears the government will abuse that power and it would be dangerous to sign. They are also split on exactly how the Winter Soldier — the Cap’s brainwashed best friend Bucky Barnes — should be brought to justice. This conflict will challenge and even ruin friendships, and it will bring an end to the Avengers as we know them.

“Captain America: Civil War” is a tense, thought-provoking superhero film that is both global and personal in its scope. It ventures into definite moral gray areas and sometimes it’s tough to decide who is actually doing the right thing. Although there are a lot of superheroes, and a lot of subplots, the Russo brothers — who also helmed 2014’s excellent “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” — successfully manage everything that’s going on and never lose sight of the central conflict between Iron Man and the Cap. “Civil War” is a must-see for Marvel fans and shakes up the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“Civil War” starts by examining a theme that, a little surprisingly, is often overlooked in superhero films: collateral damage. When superheroes battle super-powered villains, city blocks tend to get leveled and the landscape gets destroyed. We may not like to think about it, but in these types of epic battles, civilian casualties would be difficult to avoid. In “Civil War,” Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, inadvertently kills civilians while trying to stop a bomb. This incident appears to be the last straw in a long line of catastrophic Avengers-related events (New York, Washington, D.C., Sokovia), and the United Nations presents the Avengers with a document called the Sokovia Accords, which are designed to control them and keep them accountable.

Normally the rebel but now haunted by his past mistakes, Tony Stark is one of the first to sign. However, Steve Rogers can’t bring himself to do the same. He’s afraid of giving the government this kind of control, and he is concerned the government could abuse this power. He also believes Bucky Barnes is a victim of brainwashing, even though the government has labeled him as a No. 1 priority terrorist and has ordered their agents to kill him on sight. Captain America ends up going rouge with Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and several other Avengers, and Tony is forced to hunt him down with the help of War Machine, Vision, and Black Widow — and a couple surprise allies.

While there’s a lot going on in “Civil War,” the directors keep everything running smoothly, and it feels like every character and plot point gets just the right amount of screen time. It’s a more satisfying film than last summer’s “Age of Ultron,” which remains the only MCU film that I don’t own and the only one that left me feeling slightly disappointed. “Civil War” does a better job of managing its large cast and finding time for some quieter, more character-focused moments, even in the midst of all the action. Marvel’s weak link is sometimes its villains, and you could say this film’s villain, Helmut Zemo, isn’t as dynamic as he could have been. But this film was never really meant to be about the Avengers fighting an outside villain: it’s about what happens when they fight each other, and Zemo is merely the catalyst who facilitates that conflict.

Although this is very much the Cap and Iron Man’s film, there are some great cameo appearances and newcomers here. I was excited to see Ant-Man join the Avengers for the first time, and the revelation of his new “special ability” is one of the best — and funniest — moments of the film. I also really loved Chadwick Boseman as the Black Panther, and I’m excited for his upcoming solo film. He brings an outside perspective to the conflict, and he’s definitely a superhero you want to have on your side. And no review of “Civil War” would be complete without talking about Spider-Man. I was a little nervous about how the character would blend with the Avengers, but the Russos handle his introduction marvelously, sending Tony Stark to recruit the excitable and lovably awkward teenager. It’s also a blast to see him using his powers in the big showdown between the opposing groups of superheroes.

The film ends on a slightly ambiguous note, which I was actually happy about. There’s not a direct resolution to the conflict, and the Russos don’t completely repair the division in the team. I was concerned the film would try to rush and wrap everything up too neatly, and thankfully, it doesn’t do that. The conflict will continue to impact Marvel films in the future. All in all, I was very pleased with “Civil War.” I’m not sure yet exactly where this ranks on my list of favorite MCU films, but it’s definitely in the top 5. I guess I’ll just have to go see it again. 😉

Movie preview: Will ‘Captain America: Civil War’ be a game changer for Marvel?

captain-america-civil-war-02082016We have less than a week to go until “Captain America: Civil War” hits theaters, and the initial buzz is good — really, really good. The film is at 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and their review summary is exactly what many fans, I think, wanted to hear: “‘Captain America: Civil War’ begins the next wave of Marvel movies with an action-packed superhero blockbuster boasting a decidedly non-cartoonish plot and the courage to explore thought-provoking themes.”

The film is a new direction for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, pitting several of our favorite Avengers against each other in an ideological battle. Tony Stark, normally the rebel, is sobered by some of the traumas he has experienced, and he now believes there should be government oversight of super-powered heroes. He feels someone has to keep the Avengers accountable. However, Steve Rogers has seen some things too, and he no longer trusts the government he once swore to protect. He also can’t bear to betray his best friend Bucky, even though he has been transformed into the Winter Soldier. Iron Man and Captain America find themselves facing off against each other, recruiting their own teams of supporters. Friendships will be broken, and lives could maybe even be lost.

While I’m not as familiar with the original comics this film is based on (the comics are still on my must-read list!), I’m really intrigued by this storyline. Up to this point, the Avengers have been fighting outside enemies, and it will be really interesting to see what happens when they turn on each other. These heroes have been to hell and back together, and there are some genuine friendships amongst the team members. Now, everyone has to pick sides.

I also like how Marvel has framed this conflict, even though originally I would have pegged Tony as the rebel fighting against government control. However, within the context of the MCU, it really makes sense. Tony has experienced a lot since he first built the Iron Man suit, and he’s made some pretty major mistakes, such as the creation of Ultron. Also on his mind has to be the vision he experienced in “Age of Ultron,” where he saw the death of all his teammates. Tony knows firsthand what can happen when heroes get out of control. He thinks it’s time to have someone keep those heroes accountable — including himself. However, I can definitely understand the Cap’s concern about this plan. He witnessed the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. due to a long-range H.Y.D.R.A. plot no one saw coming until it was too late, and he’s learned the government he proudly served in World War II is maybe gone for good. He also believes his friend Bucky is not beyond redemption, a belief the government seems to disagree with.

Although I’m solidly in the Team Iron Man camp (Robert Downey Jr. is my favorite actor, and Iron Man is my favorite superhero), I can see that both heroes have some good points. “Civil War” will venture into some definite gray areas, and I’m really curious to see how this film impacts the MCU. Who will still be a member of the Avengers in the upcoming two-part Infinity War series? Will Iron Man and the Cap reconcile at the end of Civil War, or will Marvel leave things slightly ambiguous?

The one concern I have is that even though this is technically a Captain America film, it has a LOT of heroes in the cast, including some major new characters. There is a danger the film could become too busy and chaotic, and we could lose sight of the central conflict between Iron Man and the Cap. Still, my gut tells me this movie will be what I was hoping “Age of Ultron” would be last year: a darker, thought-provoking take on the MCU and a study on what happens when very powerful heroes disagree and turn those powers against each other.

So, what do you think? Are you Team Iron Man or Team Cap? Who do you think will win the conflict?

2016 summer movie preview

X-Men-Apocalypse-Poster-No-Text.0.0It’s that time of year again — summer blockbuster season is here! Summer is typically my favorite time of the year at the movie theater, because it tends to bring more science fiction and superhero films, my two favorite genres. This year, however, my “must see” list seems to be a little smaller than normal. There definitely are some really big and really exciting movies coming up, but there just don’t seem to be as many that made me think, “Wow, I’ve got to pre-order my ticket for this right now!” It could be that overall, this year’s offerings aren’t quite as strong as years past, or it could simply be that studios are moving some of their big-ticket items to other parts of the year (but more on that later).

The top item on my summer list is, of course, “Captain America: Civil War” (May 6), and I’m betting it will be the biggest movie of the summer and (hopefully!) my favorite. I’m excited about the concept, which pits two of the best Marvel superheroes against each other. Captain America normally respects the rules better than Iron Man does, so it’s interesting to see that this time, Captain America is the one on the run from the law. I’m glad to see Ant-Man joining the team, and I’m looking forward to the introduction of Black Panther. My one fear is that, similar to “Age of Ultron,” Marvel may have packed too many superheroes into this film. Hopefully they’ll keep the focus on the ideological and also personal conflict between Captain America and Iron Man.

I’m also looking forward to two other superhero movies: “X-Men: Apocalypse” (May 27) and “Suicide Squad” (Aug. 5). I’ve really enjoyed the X-Men prequel series featuring the younger versions of Professor X and Magneto, and I think the immortal Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) will prove to be a worthy foe. While “Suicide Squad” — which recruits a group of unstable villains to save the world — could be more of a gamble, I hope this movie will be as fun and dark and crazy as the trailers seem to promise.

Although I’m sad the Star Trek reboot franchise has had to continue on without director J.J. Abrams, I’m glad that Simon Pegg, the actor who plays Scotty, has helped write the script for “Star Trek: Beyond” (July 22). I’ve really enjoyed these reboot films, and I think film makers picked a great cast to carry on the spirit of the original series. While I’ve heard some concern that the trailer makes this look too much like a standard action film, I think there are some cool elements in the trailer, and hopefully this movie will continue to push the franchise into exciting and uncharted territory.

The final film on my “most looking forward to” list is actually a bit of a departure for me. 🙂 “Me Before You” (June 3) is based on a novel about a young British woman who becomes a caregiver for a quadriplegic who resents his paralysis and no longer wishes to keep living. They do end up falling in love, but the ending is far from conventional. I read this book with my book club and absolutely loved it, even though it’s a bit different from the kind of books I normally read. I’m also excited about the “geek cred” of the cast: Daenerys from “Game of Thrones”; Finnick from the Hunger Games series; Clara, Doctor Who companion; and even Mr. Bates from Downton Abbey! 😉

I do have some films that I’m keeping an eye on, to see what initial reviews are. I’m worried about sequels like “Alice Through the Looking Glass” (May 27) and “Independence Day: Resurgence” (June 24) and maybe even “Jason Bourne” (July 29). Has it been too long since the previous films in these franchises came out, and will audiences still find these movies relevant? I do think “Jason Bourne” could be an interesting opportunity to show how the world — and the nature of national security — have changed since the first Bourne movie came out almost 15 years ago. “The Legend of Tarzan” (July 1) has a good cast and could turn out to be cool, and while “Ghostbusters” (July 15) does have a fun (and funny) cast, it’s always risky to mess with a classic.

As I look at all the other movies coming out this year, I’m wondering if we’re starting to see a bit of a shift away from the traditionally crowded summer movie season, and film makers are more willing to release big crowd-pleasers at other times of the year. “Batman v. Superman” fits the traditional summer movie mold but was released in March, and late fall/early winter has proven to be a good fit for some major films, such as the Hunger Games franchise and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” I’m actually really looking forward to the fall and winter season this year, with “Doctor Strange,” “Star Wars: Rogue One,” J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” and Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt’s “Passengers,” simply because it’s a sci-fi movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt (what more could I ask for?). 😉

So, what films are you most looking forward to this summer? What will be the biggest hit or the biggest flop?

Superhero showdown: DC’s ‘Dawn of Justice’ vs. Marvel’s ‘Civil War’

civilwar2If you’ve read my blog, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m a huge Marvel fan, probably second only to my love for Star Wars. 😉 So it likely comes as no surprise that I geeked out — big time — over the recently released second trailer for “Captain America: Civil War” (we finally get to see the new Spider-Man!). The film comes to theaters May 6, and it already looks amazing. I’m trying not to let myself get too hyped up ahead of time, because I felt the same way about the trailer for “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” a film that ultimately didn’t quite live up to the expectations fans had for it. However, I think “Civil War” will end up delivering the darker conflict and character development we were hoping for from “Age of Ultron.” We’ll get to see what happens when the Avengers are forced to fight against each other in a conflict with more gray areas than black and white.

“Civil War” isn’t the only superhero vs. superhero film this year — “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” premieres March 25. I admit I do have a Marvel bias, so that’s probably one of the reasons why I’m not *quite* as excited for “Dawn of Justice” as I am for “Civil War.” 😉 It also will be difficult for DC to top Christopher Nolan’s previously released Batman trilogy, which ranks among the best superhero movies ever made. Will one of these two superhero vs. superhero movies emerge as the victor at the box office, or do they both have a chance to shine?

“Captain America: Civil War” will likely be the highest-grossing film of the summer, barring another “Jurassic World”-type surprise (and it may even be the highest grossing film of the year, though I’m still pulling for “Star Wars: Rogue One”). I’m really excited to see this film, which I hope will be genuinely game-changing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in a way that “Age of Ultron” could have been but wasn’t. Iron Man and Captain America are my two favorite Avengers, and I’ve always enjoyed watching the dynamic between them. Although the dilemma raised by the film is a completely hypothetical one, it’s also incredibly intriguing: should people with super powers be held accountable for their actions, and if so, who should hold them accountable? And do the people holding the superheroes accountable need to be held accountable, as well? Another feature which makes this conflict interesting is that Tony Stark, who’s normally a bit of a rebel, is in favor of more government oversight of superheroes, while the formerly loyal soldier and ultimate S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Steve Rogers find himself suspicious of that authority.

I’m also super excited to see the introduction of Black Panther, and I’m glad Spider-Man and Ant-Man will have roles in this film. The only potential downside I see is that the film could end up packed with too many heroes, and we’ll lose sight of the central conflict between Iron Man and Captain America. This is going to be a big, epic film, but it also needs some powerful personal moments, as well.

I’m a little more concerned about “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” but I’d like to see it succeed too. This film also has an opportunity to show how superheroes hold each other accountable, and then set aside their differences to combat a larger threat. Unlike Marvel, which spent several years releasing solo superhero films and then gave us an epic round-up, DC is introducing a lot of heroes at once and then will give us individual films later. While this strategy could backfire, because we don’t have the same attachment to some of these new characters as we do to Thor or Captain America, thanks to their solo films, it could help get people excited about these new characters and motivate fans to see the solo films when they do come out.

Some have expressed skepticism about Ben Affleck as Batman, but I think he could surprise us. I like how the film is presenting an older, more world-weary Batman. This isn’t an origin story; Batman has been a vigilante for a long time now, and maybe he’s struggling under the weight of it all. I think “going darker” is a good strategy for this film; Marvel movies are known for being fun — and funny, but a grittier tone could help “Dawn of Justice” stand out. I hope Wonder Woman will have a significant role in this film, and I’m looking forward to her solo film in 2017. Right now I’m not sure if I’m buying Jesse Eisenberg’s take on Lex Luthor, but I’m hoping that will surprise me too.

So, what do you think? Which superhero showdown film will top the box office? Which one are you most looking forward to?

Marvel Blog-a-thon Week 5: ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’

Guardians-Of-The-Galaxy-Movie-Poster-Wallpaper-1920x1200After taking a brief break for “The Martian,” it’s time to continue on with the Marvel blog-a-thon. 🙂 This week we have two of my favorite Marvel films: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” “The Winter Soldier” turned out to be a true game-changer for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” was an underdog blockbuster starring relatively unknown comic book characters that are now favorites for many fans. These were both in the top three in my original ranking of the Marvel films and are both *this close* to beating out my No. 1 favorite, “Iron Man.”

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is not just a good Marvel movie or even just a good superhero movie. It’s a good movie, period. I love how the film makers have blended the action, superhero and political thriller genres and also completely changed the way we view S.H.I.E.L.D. The film raises several thought-provoking questions about how much freedom we should sacrifice for the sake of security and how to keep secret intelligence agencies accountable when we ask them to operate in the shadows.

Chris Evans is excellent, once again, as Steve Rogers/Captain America, who is still struggling to adjust to life in a new time. As he sees more of the world, he grows less idealistic, and less trusting of the agency he works for. Marvel made the wise decision to pair him up with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) for this movie. The two have amazing chemistry, and the film has fun playing with their flirty dynamic. I actually wish Marvel had kept exploring this, but more on that when I get to “Age of Ultron”…

I thought the film’s “big twist” was brilliant. The fact Hydra has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and has been slowly undermining the organization for years felt genuinely shocking. This gave a definite boost to the spin-off TV show “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” I also liked the villains in this film, who are some of Marvel’s better antagonists. Robert Redford plays a powerful S.H.I.E.L.D. official who’s secretly working to advance Hydra’s agenda. The scary thing about this character is that he’s absolutely believable. We live in an era where we trust our politicians less and less, and their motives aren’t always clear. I’m also glad they brought back the Cap’s friend Bucky Barnes, who’s now a brainwashed assassin called the Winter Soldier. Bucky’s story is heartbreaking; he’s been abused and experimented on, and he no longer recognizes his best friend.

Another interesting thing about this film is that even though we know who the heroes are, sometimes they make morally questionable decisions. I don’t know why I didn’t catch this during the first few times I watched this movie, but I finally noticed it was actually Nick Fury who hired the pirates that hijacked the S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel at the beginning of the film. Fury arranged for the hostages to be rescued, but were their lives still in danger? Was this a morally justifiable action because it resulted in the recovery of important information? Where do we draw the moral line in espionage anyway?

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” seems to get better every time I watch it, even though I already know the major plot twists. I’m really excited for “Captain America: Civil War,” which also appears to delve into some complicated philosophical questions.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

“Guardians of the Galaxy” was a big risk for Marvel, and there was some concern that this movie — which stars a talking, trigger-happy raccoon and a friendly walking tree — would be too quirky for general audiences. However, I think the film ended up succeeding because by this point, people trust the Marvel brand. The studio has built up quite a bit of goodwill within its fanbase, and viewers were willing to take a chance on this one. Marvel also did a good job marketing the movie without spoiling too many surprises; since many people weren’t familiar with the characters from the original comics, the trailer introduced us to them via a prison line-up and let us know this would be a fun, off-beat and action-packed film.

For me, the best part of “Guardians of the Galaxy” is the characters, a group of lovable loners who begin the film as reluctant partners and end it as friends. Chris Pratt leads the team as Peter Quill (who calls himself “Star-Lord”), a con man who was kidnapped from Earth as a child. Previously best known for his role on “Parks and Recreation,” Pratt has great comic timing and proved he can carry a blockbuster film (and also appears to be a nice guy in real life). Zoe Saldana is an assassin named Gamora who has turned on her adopted father, Thanos, and Dave Bautista is Drax the Destroyer, a man who has lost his family and is seeking revenge on the man who killed them. The surprise fan favorites of the movie are the talking raccoon and the walking tree, Rocket and Groot, voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively. Cooper does a great job bringing Rocket to life, making the other characters (and the viewers) respect him. And even though Groot can say only three words — “I am Groot” — Vin Diesel actually gives the character quite a bit of expression, changing the tone of his voice to communicate different moods.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is, at its heart, a good old-fashioned space opera. It’s a bit like “Indiana Jones” meets the original “Star Wars” series, with a dash of Marvel flair thrown in. The final space battle was great fun, and the film makers do a good job creating a believable, fully-realized world. And no review of “Guardians” would be complete without mentioning the soundtrack. I’m not sure who came up with the idea to fill the soundtrack with songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s (Peter Quill has a mix-tape filled with these songs that his mother gave him), but it was brilliant and it works perfectly. The film also has a great score by Tyler Bates, and it’s one of my favorite Marvel themes.

If I had to pick out the film’s weakness, I would have to say that its main villain, Ronan, doesn’t really stand out. However, I actually don’t mind this too much because the five main characters have such big personalities that having a stronger, more distinctive villain might have distracted from those characters. The first “Guardians” movie is all about introducing us to these great characters; hopefully the sequel will have them facing a stronger, more complex villain.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” is a fun movie with plenty of lighthearted quips, but what I love about it is that it also has quite a bit of emotional weight. All the other characters in the movie see the Guardians as misfits and rejects that don’t really fit in anywhere. However, by the end of the movie they’ve become heroes, because they’re willing to stand up and risk their lives to save the galaxy. I like the film’s message that it’s okay to be quirky and that even if you don’t seem to fit in with “everyone else,” you still have an important place in society.

Well, the Marvel blog-a-thon is drawing to a close, and next up will be the final two Marvel films: “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Ant-Man.” I only got to watch “Age of Ultron” once in theaters and I still haven’t completely decided what I think about it, so I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

Marvel Blog-a-thon Week 3: ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ and ‘The Avengers’

The-Avengers-Movie-1-Team-PoseThis week’s Marvel blog-a-thon movies are “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Marvel’s final Phase 1 origin film, and “The Avengers,” Marvel’s team-up mega-hit. By now I’m sure I’m starting to sound like a broken record in my reviews 😉 but re-watching these movies has been a lot of fun and has reminded me how much I love them. Even the movies that rank lower on my list at least contribute something to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Captain America ties with Black Widow for my second favorite Avenger superhero, and his origin film is another solid entry in the Marvel franchise. Chris Evans does a great job in what could have been a tricky role. The Cap’s sincerity and squeaky-clean character could have easily come across as too earnest, but Evans gives him enough authenticity and heart to make us empathize with him. I like how Steve Rogers starts out as an underdog; he’s not a wealthy bad boy like Tony Stark or a strong superhuman like Thor. Even when he does gain superpowers, he doesn’t lose sight of his humanity — or humility.

I also love that this movie is set during World War II. I think it really helps with the authenticity of the character; we get to see Captain America in his own time, in an era where patriotism was more clear-cut and the enemy was more easily identified. It also makes the Cap’s eventual accident all the more heartbreaking: he’s frozen in ice for decades and wakes up to find that his friends, the woman he loves and the world he knew are all gone. The Cap is such an interesting character in “The Avengers” and his sequel, “The Winter Solider,” because he’s a man out of time, and there’s an aura of sadness his character can’t quite escape.

There’s plenty of great moments in this movie: Tommy Lee Jones is terrific as a no-nonsense Army colonel, and it’s fun seeing Dominic Cooper as a young Howard Stark, Tony Stark’s father (Tony’s a lot more like his father than he’d probably care to admit). Another character I liked was Agent Peggy Carter, played by Hayley Atwell. I know Hollywood still has a ways to go in terms of its portrayal of women in films (especially action films), and we still haven’t gotten a solo female superhero movie from Marvel. However, I do appreciate that the female characters in the MCU are portrayed as competent and interesting, and they aren’t just helpless love interests needing to be saved by the main (male) superhero. Pepper Potts from “Iron Man” is fully capable of running Stark Industries, Jane Foster from “Thor” is a scientist, and Agent Carter has a position of command in the military.

While there’s definitely a lot to love about “Captain America: The First Avenger” and I enjoyed it even more this time than the last time I watched it, I don’t think it will overtake “Thor” on the final ranking of movies. It’s hard to top Loki as a villain, and while I think the Red Skull was the right choice for this story, the scriptwriters made him a little too over the top. I also feel Thor’s script was just a tad stronger. However, the Cap definitely beats Thor for best sequel, so I guess they’re even in the end. 😉

The Avengers (2012)

“Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” may be my all-time favorite movie, and “Iron Man” (at least for now) may be my favorite Marvel film, but “The Avengers” is actually my favorite memory of watching a movie in the theater. I talked a group of friends into going with me to see this on opening night back in 2012. They teased me for suggesting we buy our tickets weeks ahead of time, but later on we were really glad we did. The movie was already sold out by the time we got to the theater, and at one hour to show time the line of people who had already purchased their tickets but were waiting to see the movie was so long it had wrapped all the way around the inside of the theater and was looping back around again. The crowd was pumped, and this was the first movie I’d ever been to where people actually clapped and cheered during the film (I’m pretty sure the Hulk’s famous “Loki smash” scene even got a standing ovation). It was just a special moment with friends and fellow Marvel fans, and it was worth every penny we’d splurged on to see it in IMAX.

“The Avengers” is the culmination of arguably one of the best-executed marketing campaigns in Hollywood history. Marvel took a big risk by releasing smaller, origin story films first about these characters, who did not have the same notoriety as Batman or Superman. But people were willing to pay to see these movies, thanks to fun scripts, good actors and the excitement that these films were all connected. When we finally did get to see all the superheroes team up, it was exhilarating. Marvel had absolutely earned that moment.

What I love about “The Avengers” is that despite the fact we have six main characters, the film doesn’t feel too cluttered. Each character gets a moment to shine. There are so many quotable lines and memorable moments, from the Cap’s command, “Hulk, smash!” to Thor’s muttered comment about his brother Loki’s rampage, “He’s adopted.” I liked Tony Stark and Bruce Banner’s unexpected friendship, and it’s great finally seeing Nick Fury in action.

I feel like “The Avengers” should rate a little higher on my scale than No. 4, but I just can’t bear to bump the three above it — “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Iron Man” — any lower. I think what happened is, “The Avengers” is very much an event movie. It was a movie you had to see opening weekend, on the biggest screen possible, with a bunch of fans who were as crazy excited as you were. While the film is certainly enjoyable each time I watch it, I just can’t quite recapture the magic of seeing it for the first time. That being said, it’s still one of the best in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it will always be one of my favorite superhero films.