Sooner or later, Marvel has to screw up. In recent years even their bad movies have been good (depending on who you ask), and that just can't last forever—at some point one of their big budget superhero movies has got to be an Ishtar-level bust.
 
But not Spider-Man: Homecoming.
 
 
 
Just to remind us how great these movies can be, we open right after the events of The Avengers, when Peter Parker would have been—what—in kindergarten? Michael Keaton is New York businessman Adrian Toomes, who’s just landed the contract to clean up the mess made during the Battle of New York. He’s invested a lot of money into the venture, but to his shock the cleanup is taken over by a government initiative led by Tony Stark. Toomes, looking at financial ruin, is ordered to turn in any alien technology or scrap he’s collected, shutter his operation, and go home.
 
He does none of those thing. Do you get the feeling we’ll be seeing both Toomes and that alien tech again? Me, too.
 
We then get a fun look at the events of Captain America: Civil War as seen through the eyes of teenager Peter Parker, who’s having the time of his life as Spider-Man. When the battle ends he’s sent back home, with the assurances that the Avengers will call when he’s needed.
 
So Peter waits. And waits, putting off his personal life, convinced he’ll be called back into action at any moment. Meanwhile, someone seems to be selling weapons made with alien tech around Peter’s neighborhood. Even more frightening, he has to survive being a high school sophomore.
 
One of the smart things Spider-Man: Homecoming does is send Peter back to high school, as an overeager fifteen year old who means well, but tends toward rash actions and under-thought decisions. In other words, he’s a typical teenager, except for being a scientific genius and, you know, sneaking into his house by crawling across the ceilings. It’s the typical superhero challenge of keeping two lives separate, done with spirit and a fresh face in young Tom Holland.
 
 
 
Michael Keaton is, of course, great as Toomes, maintaining his intensity but staying away from being too Batman. He acts with a casual normalcy, making the audience like him even as he, like Peter, makes wrong decisions.
 
The rest of the cast tends to be overshadowed by a handful of small appearances, especially Robert Downy Jr. as father figure Tony Stark, in turn exasperated and proud of his web-slinging protégé. He hands babysitting duties over to his former driver Happy Hogan, and Jon Favreau is fun to watch as his frustration builds. As usual, the adults just don’t quite understand the kids, not even Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, loving but concerned as May always is). Speaking of kids, the rest of the high school students (who I assume are all older than they play) do a serviceable job on that side of Peter’s life.
 
Overall the movie is just … fun. And spectacular, often at the same time, although Peter's private life shares equal time with the fight scenes. There’s one huge twist that I should have seen coming. It was pretty obvious in retrospect, and it's been done before ... but it puts a lot of what’s going on in a new perspective. The effects and action sequences are exactly as top notch as you’d expect from a Marvel movie, and the plot’s straight forward and not too terribly full of holes. Then there’s the end of credits scene, which contains no huge twists or plot details—but if you have the patience to wait for it, it’s one of the best after-credits scenes I’ve ever … seen.
 
My score:
 
Entertainment Value: 4 out of 4 M&Ms, the good brown ones. With an extra helping, and some stored away for later.
Oscar Potential: 2 out of 4 M&Ms, although still the brown ones. If there was an Oscar for best action movie, we’d have a nominee here.
Okay, let's get this out of the way: I don't care if Wonder Woman, the character, is a feminist icon. Nor do I care if Wonder Woman, the movie, is flying an invisible plane through the glass ceiling, or breaking any ground whatsoever. I just want to watch a good movie.

(Although she is, and it does. And I did.)

Honestly I'm starting to wonder--you might brace yourself for this--if the day will come when the physically strong, kick-ass woman character will become a tired, cliched trope that makes people yawn. Hasn't happened to me yet. But my daughter watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the generation before me had Emma Peel, and I watched, well, Wonder Woman, who hit TV in her own series when I was thirteen. You bet I watched that show. I mean, as a comic book fan.

(Now that I think about it, my first literary hero was Dorothy Gale, Princess of Oz, who could be something of an action hero herself.)

Still, to paraphrase Buffy creator Joss Whedon, I suppose the reason we keep getting awesome female heroes is because people are still asking why we don't have them. And that ties right in with why I go to the movies, because Wonder Woman, while not the overwhelmingly perfect superhero movie some claim, is indeed awesome--largely because of one particular Gal.

The various incarnation of Princess Diana.
Gal Gardot is Diana, Princess of--you know, come to think of it, she's never called Wonder Woman at any point in the movie. The flick starts with Diana in modern times, receiving (by courier from Wayne Enterprises) a photo that sends her mind back to her childhood among the Amazons, on an island with no men. Sure, when you're a kid having no one of the opposite sex around is a paradise ...

Diana's mother, Queen Hippolyta, doesn't want her to train to be a warrior, as every other woman there does. She thinks something very bad will happen if the island's only child develops her ability. Sure enough, just when the grown up Diana has reached the peak of her training, an airplane falls out of the sky and delivers *gasp* a man to the island.

Luckily Diana somehow knows what a man is--that saved some awkward exposition.

The pilot is America spy Steve Trevor, (Chris Pine), who's being pursued by German soldiers. Turns out the rest of the world is mired in World War I, and Steve holds intel on a new German weapon that might cost tens of thousands more lives. Diana is convinced the war is the work of Ares, the god of war, who the Amazons have been training all along to someday face. Clearly, all the world is waiting for her.

Wonder Woman originated during World War II, and setting the movie further back in time was the first smart idea of the filmmakers. Let's see: A red, white, and blue costumed hero, rather naive but eager and determined, gathering a band of misfit commandos to take on a German army with secret weapons during the second World War? Surely no one would draw any comparisons to Captain America.

Their next bright idea was the cast.

What a Gal!

With Batman vs. Superman, the naysayers were already out, complaining Gal Gadot was too scrawny to be a proper Wonder Woman. Did they learn nothing from the anti-Michael Keaton outcry with Batman? No? Oh. Well, just as Christopher Reeve owned Superman, Gal Gadot has now taken over from Lynda Carter as the perfect Wonder Woman. Sorry, it's true, and I love Lynda Carter.

Chris Pine is his usual charming action hero self, often reduced to stupified stammering by this innocent warrior who doesn't seem to understand the whole traditional woman thing. The rest of the cast is first rate, especially Connie Nielsen as the Amazon Queen who just doesn't want to give her daughter over to the world. I especially liked the band of misfits Steve assembled for their behind the lines mission. Also of note is David Thewlis (currently menacing everyone on Fargo) as a British military leader trying to broker a peace treaty between the warring nations.

 While this doesn't rank as my favorite superhero movie (although it's well into my top ten), Wonder Woman is a great movie period--of any genre, or at least of any kind of action flick. The stakes are high, the emotions are great, the effects first rate. Really the only complaint I have is that if the next Wonder Woman movie is set in the present, we won't be able to see any of the sparkling supporting cast (who would be well into their second century by now). Maybe we should have them all frozen at the North Pole for several decades? That's never been done.

My score:

Entertainment Value: 4 M&M's, the good brown ones. I'm getting a little worried about this series of first rate movies I've been seeing the past couple of years. Granted that Wonder Woman is even more first rate than many of the others, but sooner or later I'll get hit with a disappointment.

Oscar Potential: 3 M&M's. It's worthy of a best picture nomination but, being based on a comic book, it'll be a supporting characters cold day in the North Pole before it gets one.
 R.I.P. Adam West

 

The death of Adam West immediately resurrected the old argument: Who's your favorite Batman?

It's ironic that Roger Moore passed away so close to the same time: His death, of course, caused a chorus of favorite James Bond arguments. They both held similar positions in their perspective portrayals: They were the lighter, more colorful ones who weren't afraid to poke a little fun at their genres.

 

That being the case--especially with West--the argument becomes apples and oranges. What, I can't have both? A big navel orange, followed by a nice Red Delicious? Comparing Adam West to, say, Christian Bale is like comparing ... hm. Oh, I know: Like comparing "Battlestar Galactica" to "Battlestar Galactica". Love or hate the reboot, it just wasn't the same show as the original.

 

I've probably just started arguments that would rival fights among British football fans, but there you go. 

 

 

"Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb." -- Batman

 

Look at the above quote, and picture Michael Keaton's Batman saying that. Look at the photo, and imagine Christian Bale's Batman cavorting with a purple Batgirl or a bright red and yellow Robin. Ain't gonna happen. For that matter, imagine Ben Affleck making fun of his Batman on an episode of Family Guy. (Clooney would probably do it.)

 

My point is, you can like them both, or all, even Val Kilmer if you want. If you're a sports fan, the analogy is that you can like both the Cubs and the Bears: They're both in the same city, but they're two different animals.

 

So embrace and remember the fun that was Adam West. We should all be so lucky as to bring that much joy to such a wide audience.

            I love a good comic book movie. I also love a bad comic book movie—that’s why I’d never make it as a movie critic.
Luckily, Suicide Squad is a good comic book movie—but not great. Character motivations and plot can be murky, and as usual there are logic questions.
So why did I like it so much? My usual reasons: Characters and humor.
Rumor has it the movie was originally a lot darker, which to me is the kiss of death for a summer-type popcorn flick. It’s people in costumes breaking things; if you’re not having fun, what’s the point? But in the finished product, the humor works for the characters.
And what characters they are, as DC puts together major and minor villains, with hardly a hero in sight. (Batman has a glorified cameo, while a few future Justice League members are glimpsed.) There is Katana, but she’s not your grandpa’s hero: She’s female, not American, and seems to take some delight in killing people with her soul-stealing sword.
On a related note, Katana didn’t get enough screen time. I’d dearly like her to headline her own movie—or at least get an expanded role with a future team.
The setup: A group of villains is assembled for wet work—to go in where the heroes can’t and do bad things the heroes won’t. If it turn out badly? Hey, they’re villains, and over there is a bus to throw them under. (I thought about that when a bus actually appeared in the movie.) In the end the group bonds—more quickly than makes sense—as they face a world-ending threat from one of their own.
When team movies first became a thing, I wondered how so many characters would be handled in the space of one motion picture. The answer is, either well—as with The Avengers—or badly. Suicide Squad is about halfway there, and would have been better had they limited the numbers a little. Katana’s not the only one who got shorted: It would have been nice to see more background on Croc, Joker, and a character who begged for more spotlight, Diablo.
In the end, three characters pretty much stole the show:
The Joker started out a little weak, but got better. Jarod Leto’s version isn’t up to Nicholson or Ledger (or Mark Hamill), but he does well with a small role, and hints of things to come.
Will Smith has had more hits than misses as an actor, and shows why as the hired assassin Deadshot. Although well aware he’s a bad guy, Deadshot has his own brand of honor and his own source of humanity, and Smith gives him depth. This team effort might even be thought of as a Will Smith movie, if not for …
Harley Quinn. The bad guys might be weak and their motivations confusing, the cast overpopulated, and where the heck were the heroes during the final fight? There were at least four future Justice Leaguers running around, somewhere. Was the Batmobile stuck in traffic?
But the price of admission was worth it, just to see Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. (Okay, it was stimulus Tuesday, but still.) Harley tears up the screen with a sexy insanity that really has to be seen to be believed: laughing at the world, gleefully violent, grieving, pulling herself together, sometimes all at the same time. Boy, does she ever deserve her own movie, with or without Joker.
Most of the pro reviewers made good points, enough that I lowered my score half a point. Yes, there are major problems with Suicide Squad. And yet, to coin a phrase, why so serious? Just let your twelve year old self out, and enjoy.
My score:
Entertainment value: 3 M&M’s. Just suspend your disbelief and go for it. It’s a superhero movie, for crying out loud.
Oscar Potential: 1 M&M. And not even a good one – it’s like a peanut butter M&M. Truth is, many of the performances were very good—but it’s a superhero movie, and the Academy doesn’t do superhero movies.

 

We saw a movie in 3-D today, by accident.

I can take or leave 3-D, and since it costs more I usually leave it. But we’d misread the schedule, and rather than wait around another half hour we chose to watch Ant-Man in three dimensions. It was in a theater which just replaced its seats with power recliners, which makes it a far cry from the movie-going experiences of my youth. I can take or leave the recliners, too. It’s nice to not worry about a tall guy sitting in front of you, though.

Happily, in this case the movie uses 3-D without relying on it. Sometimes moviemakers overthink the format, throwing everything from arrows to crashing vehicles at the viewer in the hopes of setting a new audience jump record. I wonder if the same thing happened with the first talkies, or the color films? Probably early movies in those formats threw their newfangled tricks at viewers, just as the early 3-D movies did.

But the day will come when 3-D will be just another part of every movie experience, regardless of how much some hate it now. Having things jump off the screen at you will be no more remarkable than hearing Johnny Depp’s newest accent, or seeing the primary colors of a superhero’s costume. I’ll probably choose 2-D for some time to come … just as people chose the less garish black and white movies decades ago. But I can go either way.

As for the movie itself? Ant-Man was great fun, and I highly recommend it in the dimension of your choice.


 

 

            As I mentioned earlier, I’m going to post a new story every week or so about Ian Grant’s journey to Indiana, where the events of The Notorious Ian Grant take place. The first one I posted some time ago, and it records the moment he made that life-changing decision:

 

http://markrhunter.blogspot.com/2011/10/storm-damage-prequel-short-story-out-of.html

 

            This one actually takes place a short time before that. Ian, in keeping to his reputation, crashes a party—but not just anyone’s party. It may be he’s there for more than living it up … but either way, he’s about to meet his match in Tony Stark.

 

Title: Party Crasher
Author: ozma914
Summary: Tony Stark's parties often attract characters. Sometimes they're not invited ... and sometimes they don't even know why they came.
Rating: PG
Length: 1,900 words

 

 

 

PARTY CRASHER

 

 

            “Sir, someone is climbing the cliff below the house.”

 

           

Over the years – especially the last few – Tony Stark had seen so much that he often thought he'd seen it all. Just as often, he was proven wrong. “Climbing—the cliff? This cliff?” He gestured toward the overhang railing, which almost made his martini spill. He stilled his hand just in time, preventing that tragedy. )

 

            Am I so much of a geek that I care when actors from some of my favorite shows come together in one movie?

 

            Yes. Still, this movie doesn’t need the help.

 

The consensus was that Guardians of the Galaxy, based on a comic book that most people who don’t read comics have never heard of, would be blockbuster or complete bust. Chris Pratt, the guy from “Parks and Recreation”, as a leading man action hero? Marvel going into space? A raccoon with a gun? Disaster looms.

 

            But this is Marvel. And yes, Marvel is bound to have another huge dud sooner or later … but not this time.

 

            Despite being known for its humor, the movie actually starts out with a tear jerking scene in which a little boy named Peter Quill sees his mother die of cancer—then, immediately after, he’s abducted by a UFO. Fast forward 26 years, and we find the adult Quill dancing—literally—into what looks like an Indiana Jones set on an alien planet.

 

            There Quill finds a strange orb that you just know everybody’s going to want. He’s ambushed by a bad guy who also wants the orb, and from then on it’s a slam-bang series of fights and flights as just about everyone in the galaxy battles for the power that resides inside the artifact.

 

            One of the most fun fights is also where most of the fellow guardians gather for the first time, all intent on taking the orb. Zoe Saldana’s performance as Gamora is killer—literally. But even she loses the screen when Rocket and Groot—an engineered Raccoon and a walking, talking (a little) tree—show up.

 

            Rocket Raccoon should have been ridiculous. Instead, the sarcastic rodent, voiced by Bradley Cooper, makes everyone else step up their game just to keep up. Later we meet the last member, Drax, played by a pro wrestler—apparently wrestling really is fake, ‘cause the guy can act.

 

            All the GotG members are damaged anti-heroes, who reluctantly decide to protect the orb from various bad guys. (Their motivation? For one thing, they do live in the galaxy, after all.) You have to pay attention as characters come and go, motivations are revealed, and wises are cracked. Luckily, paying attention is fun.

 

            Guardians is certainly the best I’ve seen this year, and I’ve seen some pretty darned good movies. Why? It’s a good story, and funny, and naturally the special effects are amazing. I’m fairly convinced at this point that they really did find an intelligent, if mean, raccoon and a slightly less intelligent moving tree to play Rocket and Groot.

 

But in the end it’s the cast that makes the movie. Chris Pratt is a revelation as Quill, fighting and cracking wise with equal skill. Saldana is amazing, and we get great performances from actors such as John C. Riley and Glenn Close, among others. I take it Close thought she was slumming for this roll, but she gives it her skill and it shows.

 

On a note relating to my earlier comments, it was great fun seeing Michael Rooker, playing an intergalactic version of his redneck bad boy character from “The Walking Dead”, and Karen Gillan, playing someone just as tough but way more evil than her “Doctor Who” role.

 

Oh, two more things: First, Peter Quill’s oddly timed abduction as a child does make sense. Second, there is indeed an extra scene at the end of the credits, which I suspect will leave many younger movie goers scratching their heads.

 

 

            Entertainment Value: 5 out of 4 M&M’s. My review, my rules.

 

            Oscar Potential: 3 out of 4 M&M’s. Hollywood muckity-mucks hate SF, especially funny SF, although they don’t hesitate to take the money. Just the same, it would be a shame if Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t get nominated for something, even if it’s a technical Oscar.

 

 

            Side Note:  If Guardians is sold out, check out Lucy or Planes: Fire and Rescue. One is thrilling and mind blowing, the other truly fun family fare. On a personal note, whoever scripted the Planes movie took the time to research firefighting, which I appreciate.


They look a little different in the movie ...


 

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