"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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Avengers: Endgame - A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. If you like Marvel movies you’ll love this one. A satisfactory conclusion to the epic twenty-two film run of this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Unvierse.

Avengers: Endgame, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, is the story of the Marvel Avengers as they do battle with super villain Thanos. The film stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin and a plethora of other movie stars.

Avengers: Endgame is the fourth Avengers film and is the direct sequel to last years smash hit Avengers: Infinity War. Endgame is also the twenty-second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and marks the conclusion of this cycle of Marvel movies.

Just as super villain Thanos became a de facto god by acquiring the infinity stones, Disney, under the leadership of my dear friend Bob Iger, has turned into an all powerful entertainment industry god by acquiring over the years Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. Now, with the additional purchase of Fox, Disney will hold an astonishing 40% market share of the box office.

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The crown jewel, at least right now, in Disney’s empire is the aforementioned Marvel behemoth, which Disney bought in 2009 for $4 billion and which has brought in around $20 billion in box office gross alone over the last ten years. I have not always liked the Marvel movies, in fact, I’ve downright loathed a good number of them, but I readily admit that what Disney has pulled off with their Marvel Cinematic Universe is a stunning achievement in popular entertainment that will never be duplicated. To be able to roll out twenty-two different movies over a decade and weave all of the characters and story lines together into a coherent and cohesive whole that culminates in two gigantic movie events, Infinity War and Endgame, is a Hollywood miracle. One need look no further than the shitshow over at Warner Brothers and their inept handling of the DC Cinematic Universe (Batman, Superman etc.) post Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy to recognize how remarkable Disney’s efficiency and acumen regarding the Marvel properties has been. No doubt Disney will be further rewarded for their corporate diligence by Endgame’s box office which will break all sorts of records as it rockets past the two billion dollar mark in two weeks with ease.

As previously stated, I have disliked some of the Marvel movies, the first two Avenger movies in particular were quite dreadful. The Marvel movie formula has always been geared more toward adolescent boys…even the middle-aged ones, with lots of light-hearted action, noise and destruction all with some witty one-liners and comedic self-consciousness thrown in. The Marvel universe is decidedly fictional, a piece of escapist fantasy…whereas something like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy for example, is more grounded in a recognizable, but very dark, “reality”. Marvel’s lack of grit has always irked me because their line up of characters is chock full of archetypal riches which are begging to explored in a psychologically and culturally serious way.

But with that said, I have also loved a few of Marvel’s formulaic films, with Infinity War and Thor: Ragnarok being prime examples. Infinity War is easily the best film in the MCU and that is because its narrative is the darkest and most consequential of all the movies. While Endgame has a certain darkness to it, is not as nearly as good as Infinity War, but it isn’t awful either.

Endgame is really more an event than a movie, a culmination of the franchise that is the perfect embodiment of everything good and bad in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On the plus side it has fascinating archetypal characters and great moments of poignancy and levity, but on the downside it also has some narrative incoherence, sense-assaulting battle scenes that are relentlessly vapid, and a heavy dose of cringe worthy “wokeness” and political correctness that is shameless in its corporate human resources level pandering.

All of that said, Endgame succeeds because it ultimately satisfies on an emotional, psychological and narrative level as a conclusion to the twenty-two film Marvel epic that has dominated popular culture for the last decade. The story leaves no loose ends or arcs unfulfilled, and that is really all you can ask from a movie like this.

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The sun at the center of this cinematic universe is Robert Downey Jr, whose skill, charisma and charm have propelled the MCU forward from day one. Without Downey Jr as Iron Man, none of this stuff works…none of it. Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo and all the rest do solid work as their respective super heroes, but none of them could carry this franchise like Downey Jr. has. When Downey Jr. stops being Iron Man, and that day will eventually come, Marvel/Disney is going to take a big hit…I promise you that.

The ensemble of Endgame all do decent if unspectacular work with a few notable exceptions. On the plus side, Paul Rudd and Chris Hemsworth are fantastic, as both of them fully commit and have impeccable comedy chops (who would’ve thought that Thor would be the comedy gold in the Marvel universe?). As for the negative side…good lord…Brie Larson is just dreadful. Now to be fair, I have not seen Captain Marvel…so maybe she is great in that, but in Endgame you could’ve replaced her with a cigar store wooden Indian and it wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference. Larson is so dead-eyed it seems like she died on the table while undergoing a charisma bypass and we are left to watch her corpse be animatronically maneuvered throughout the movie.

There are also some issues with narrative incoherence in the film, mostly dealing with the topic of time travel. The lack of “time travel rules” clarity makes the whole enterprise pretty confusing and logically unstable if you try and follow it too closely. The best approach is to leave logic at home, where it is hopefully safe and sound, and just go with where the movie takes you. The logic/time travel issue though is a big reason that the film doesn’t soared like Infinity War did, which had a very clear and concise plot from which all of the action seamlessly flowed. In Endgame the plot feels more like a manufactured way for Disney to escape any commitment to what took place in Infinity War that could dare harm the corporate bottom line by taking away some cash cows.

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While Endgame is the end of this phase of the MCU, Disney has a plethora of Marvel movies lined up for the next few years as they keep the assembly line going. As stated, the next phase is going to have a bumpy time of it as Disney is trying to transition to younger and more diverse stars to refill some roles. Disney is betting big that Brie Larson and Captain Marvel will be the female equivalent of Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man, the new sun at the center of the Marvel universe. That is a bad bet, as Larson has big shoes to fill and very little feet with which to fill them.

Disney’s desire for more diverse Marvel movie characters, like a Black Captain America or a Latina Hulk, may (or may not) be a noble idea, but just as it did in comic book sales, it will negatively affect the bottom line at the box office. In my opinion it will also affect the artistic and cultural value of the films, for as I keep saying, “wokeness kills art”….but that is a painful discussion for another day.

In conclusion, Avengers: Endgame is a worthy finish to this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. The film has its ups and downs but ultimately is a satisfactory ending for the long journey we’ve all been on with these characters over the last decade. If your a fan of super hero movies, you should plunk down your Disney tax and help pad Bob Iger’s bank account by seeing the movie in the theatre. If you have just a passing interest in super hero movies, then wait for it to come out on cable or on Disney’s soon to be active streaming service, which will no doubt bring in even more gobs of money for Mickey Mouse. But Mickey should enjoy this ride while it lasts, because it won’t last forever. Just over the horizon there could be some some stormy weather waiting for Disney.

©2019

Aquaman: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. A real bore of a superhero movie that is as odious as week old chum.

Aquaman, written by David Leslie Johnson and Will Beale and directed by James Wan, is the origin story of DC comic book superhero Aquaman, who is the bastard son of a queen from the underwater empire of Atlantis. The film stars Jason Mamoa as Aquaman with supporting turns from Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Amber Heard and Patrick Wilson.

Having spent the last few months almost exclusively at the art house and reeking of its pretentiousness, I decided to head out to the cineplex in search of some mindless fun. Aquaman is putting up Black Panther-esque numbers at the box office as it has made nearly a billion dollars since its release in late December and has come in first in the money tally for three straight weekends, so I figured it would be a good choice for my descent back into the cinema of the unwashed hoi polloi.

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The problem with Aquaman is not that it is mindless fun, the problem with it is that it is so mindless that it is absolutely no fun. The film is so chock full of nonsense it feels like a parody of a superhero film. This version of Aquaman made me feel as if the dead eyed Vincent Chase from HBO’s faux-Hollywood sexploitation show Entourage really did get to make his Aquaman movie in real life.

A few weeks ago I saw a headline that read “Director James Wan Says to Blame Him if Aquaman Fails”. It is nice to know who to blame. I am sure that Wan was referring to the film’s box office and not its artistic merit when he spoke of failure, but since I judge a movie on its merits and not its finances, I’ll still point the finger at Wan. Although to be fair, Wan is not the sole owner of blame for Aquaman’s stinkiness. The suits at Warner Brothers and their DC point man Goeff Johns are just as guilty if not more so than Wan. I mean, who thought up this monstrosity and more importantly, who thought it would be a good idea?

Aquaman is such a derivative and unoriginal bore it is like a sea serpent that wraps itself around you and slowly suffocates you to death over two and a half long hours. It is so unrelenting in its imbecility that the harder you fight against it the harder it squeezes the life out of you until you simply acquiesce and let it drown you in its inanity.

The film is basically trying to turn Aquaman into King Arthur of the Sea or something but is so convoluted and tone deaf it ends up being less an homage to that myth than a vomiting up of a rancid cliche fish stew of every other super hero movie. The pacing and the tone are all over the place, the narrative structure is distractingly serpentine and the film lacks any and all thematic and dramatic depth.

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On the bright side, Jason Mamoa is a very likable actor and to his credit, at the very least, proves himself worthy of carrying a big budget action film for two and a half hours, which is no small feat. But even his charms wear pretty thin as he has to repeat the same old tired superhero moves over and over again. In the opening fight sequence, I counted at least three times that Momoa’s Aquaman did the standard superhero three point landing along with three superhero “gonna kick some ass” looks with accompanying music cues, and that was just in the first 5 minutes of Mamoa’s screen time. So much posing, so little time…how exhausting that must have been.

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As I said, I like Jason Mamoa, and frankly it is to his credit that I cannot imagine anyone else playing the part anymore. Mamoa has a natural charm and charisma on screen and combined with his surfer dude/biker gang persona, makes his Aquaman palatable. Although to be fair, I probably like Jason Mamoa because we look so much alike. If it weren’t for the fact that he is a little bit shorter and has a slightly higher body fat percentage than me, we could be identical twins.

As for the rest of the cast, they pretty much embarrass themselves by being stuck in this dull and ridiculous farce. Having worked with coaching clients on roles like these, I know how hard they can be. I have clients rolling around on my office floor fighting imaginary monsters all the time, and let me tell you, it is one of the most difficult things for an actor to do. Buying into this sort of nonsense, especially when the script is so hackneyed, takes a Herculean effort and a great deal of self-confidence and commitment. That is why I felt so bad for poor Willem Dafoe, who deserves so much better than this mess, or Nicole Kidman and Patrick Wilson, who had to do all of this foolishness with a straight face. I also felt awful for Amber Heard, who is absolutely dreadful in her role and seems like a puppy lost on a highway.

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To the actor’s and film’s credit, it is not only a tremendous filmmaking accomplishment but a tremendous evolutionary accomplishment just to get this film made at all. I mean, how all of these actors were able to hold their breath underwater for such long takes is literally a miracle. Add to that the fact that they were able to speak all of their dialogue so clearly and engage in very complicated fight choreography despite the lack of oxygen and under the massive pressure of the ocean, is a staggering achievement for humanity. And then to think that it wasn’t just the actors under water for hours on end for days, weeks and months, but the crew as well. I shudder to think of the poor hair and makeup people and how they kept everyone beautiful at such cold, pressure filled depths.

Another group that deserves credit are the animal wranglers on the set. I had no idea that sea creatures, from great white sharks to giant squid to octopus to giant crabs, could be so tamed and controllable. To see Willem Dafoe riding a hammerhead shark with such aplomb is not only a testament to the death-defying skill of Dafoe, but to the professionalism of the shark as well. I know the Academy Awards scuttled the Popular Film category this year, but I hope they consider a Best Non-Human Acting category in order to reward the fish cast of Aquaman, because they sure as hell deserve it!

In conclusion, Aquaman didn’t make me angry because it was so bad, it simply made me tune out very early on because of its repetitive and stultifying dullness. As someone who is one of those rare people who actually liked DC’s Batman v Superman and mildly approved of Justice League, I had no use for the mess that is Aquaman. Even if you love superhero movies, you can skip this one in the theatre and see it on Netflix for free. If you are even remotely less than a superhero uber-fanatic, there is no reason to ever waste your time watching this stinky and decaying fish tale.

©2019

Wonder Woman : A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating : 4 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : SEE IT IN THE THEATRE.

Wonder Woman, written by Allan Heinberg and directed by Patty Jenkins, is the story of the DC Comics superhero Wonder Woman, the Amazonian Warrior-Princess. The film stars Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, with Chris Pine, David Thewlis, Robin Wright and Connie Nielson in supporting roles. 

Just to set the record straight…I have always loved Wonder Woman. When I was a little kid, Lynda Carter starred on the TV show Wonder Woman and I watched religiously. Back then, every year for Halloween I would dress up as Wonder Woman. That tradition has continued well into my adulthood and has extend beyond Halloween. In fact, I am wearing my Wonder Woman garb at this exact moment as I type. Ok, truth be told, nothing in this paragraph is true. Well, not nothing, Lynda Carter did play Wonder Woman on TV in my childhood, but I never watched, and frankly, sorry ladies, but I have little to no interest in Wonder Woman as a character. I know, I know, I am a misogynist mansplainer for the patriarchy…guilty as charged.

Wonder Woman, in case you do not know, is the fourth film in the current DC Universe, with the first three being Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, and Suicide Squad. All three of the previous films have been very poorly received by critics, and even though they have made gobs of money, audiences haven't been too thrilled with them either. Like most, I greatly disliked Man of Steel and Suicide Squad and unlike most, I actually enjoyed Batman v Superman. So when I heard Wonder Woman was coming out, due to the previous films and my own feelings about the character, I was a bit ambivalent, to say the least. That said, I readily admit that when Wonder Woman appeared in the Batman v Superman film from last year, I thought she jumped off the screen and was one of the better elements of the film.

I was not alone in my skepticism about the film leading up to its release. While the recent buzz surrounding Wonder Woman has been overwhelmingly positive, that hasn't always been the case. Just this year there were rumblings that Wonder Woman was a disaster waiting to happen and that Warner Brothers were scared to death they had a gigantic flop on their hands. The box office receipts, nearly $500 million so far, strongly suggests those fears were entirely unfounded.

Quite to the contrary, in fact, Wonder Woman has tapped into a nerve and is resonating across our cultural consciousness like none of the previous DC films were able. Women in particular have embraced the film as a feminist power totem and have reported crying during scenes where the female superhero is at her most forceful. I knew all of this heading into the film, and while that got me excited to see the movie, I assumed my high expectations would not be met. I was totally wrong.

Simply stated, Wonder Woman is as good a superhero origin story as you are going to get. Is it a perfect film? No, not even close, but it is a really good superhero movie that is exceedingly well made, acted and entertaining. 

The key to the film is that it is grounded in reality, and from that reality all of its power flows. Set in Europe during World War I, the film does not shy away from the brutality and suffering inherent in war. Part of Wonder Woman's appeal is that she has a pure heart and wants to help and save everyone, and cannot grasp the cold and callous approach of mankind that permeates the war to end all wars. 

A lot has been said about the tone of Wonder Woman, which is lighter and more humorous than the previous DC films. While this is true, that humor is never forced, rather it is born out of the main character's orientation, or disorientation as the case may be, to the film's reality. It is funny, for instance, that Wonder Woman has to learn the baffling female etiquette demanded by a male dominated world. To the film's great credit, it never pushes or distracts with its comedy or lightheartedness like the Marvel films do, it lets that humor grow spontaneously out of setting and situation. 

Director Patty Jenkins does a stellar job with the look of the film. All of the DC films have a grainy, gritty and dark visuals, and Wonder Woman is no exception, but that effect works exceedingly well in bringing this period piece to life and making it feel real. Jenkins does a remarkable job of setting the right tone and maintaining a solid balance between love story, action, comedy and drama. Jenkins walks a tightrope, and never falls into the trap of turning the film into a self-conscious farce, one of the weak spots of the Marvel films.

Wonder Woman does suffer from some script problems though, but that is not Jenkin's fault. The film gets a little lost trying to make itself bigger than it needs to be, but that is a problem with which nearly every superhero film struggles. I believe the wiser choice for these types of films is to do less, and be more simple, but what the hell do I know?

As for the acting, Gal Gadot does superb work as Wonder Woman. Gadot, a statuesque beauty, imbues Wonder Woman with a strength, sincerity, earnestness and ferocity that makes for a compelling character indeed. Her battle scenes are believable because of Gadot's natural grace, athleticism and magnetic intensity. 

I will be interested to see if Gadot can crossover from non-superhero action films and make a mark in pure drama. She has all of the tangible qualities, beauty, intelligence, charisma, that make for a movie star, but she also possesses the intangible qualities that make for a great actor, emotional intelligence, compassion and complexity. I hope she gets to spread her dramatic wings in the future, she has the makings of an intriguing artist.

Chris Pine continues his recent run of top notch work, following up last years stellar Hell or High Water with his turn as the love interest Steve Trevor opposite Gadot's Wonder Woman. Pine is outstanding as the rogue and daring spy trying to stop the Kaiser's war machine. His light comedic touch and dramatic sincerity elevate Wonder Woman to heights it would not see without him. 

The rest of the cast have minimal roles but do consistent work. David Thewlis, Danny Huston, Ewen Bremmer and Said Taghmaoui solidly buttress Gadot and Pine's more demanding work. And Lucy Davis does exceedingly well as Etta Candy, Steve Trevor's secretary. Davis brings a subtle, yet masterful bit of craftsmanship to her role which would have been a throwaway in lesser hands.

Wonder Woman is a top notch superhero movie that feels particularly relevant in a world filled with strongmen, from Trump to Erdogan, to Duterte and Putin. Wonder Woman gives voice and vision to the anima in our collective unconscious that yearns to be actualized in the real world. The reason Wonder Woman is resonating so deeply with audiences in general, and women in particular, is that the archetypal feminine energy, the anima, has lost its value and power in our modern world by trying to imitate and mimic the masculine, the animus. Wonder Woman is a force not because she is mimicking masculinity, but because she is uber-feminine. Contrary to what many women will claim, it is not men that need to learn that lesson, but women, and Wonder Woman is a great place for them to reconnect to the primal power inherit in the anima and to engage in therapeutic psychological catharsis.

In conclusion, Wonder Woman is a well made, entertaining and ultimately satisfying film that both men and women can thorughly enjoy. It isn't Citizen Kane, but it is a top-notch superhero movie that gives insight into the character Wonder Woman, and propels the DC Universe forward in a positive direction. I wholly encourage you to spend your hard earned dollars and go see Wonder Woman in the theatre. You never know, the anima you save, could be your own.

©2017