Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2: Movie Man Jackson

Loud noises! After coming together to save the galaxy the first time, Guardians of the Galaxy Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) this find themselves assisting an intergalactic species known as the Sovereigns, taking down a dangerous beast in exchange for Gamora’s recently captured sister, the treacherous Nebula (Karen Gillan).

A misguided theft attempt by one of the Guardians (guess who) leads the Soverigns to come after the fivesome, who look to be dead-to-rights until a mysterious figure comes out of nowhere to save them from instadeath. Who is this figure? Only Quill’s/Star-Lord’s long lost and enigmatic father, Ego (Kurt Russell), who whisks away Quill, Gamora, and Drax to his home planet in an effort to ingratiate himself to his son and friends, while leaving Groot and Rocket behind to repair their broken spaceship. Even split up, the Guardians are still wanted, and the Sovereigns send Yondu to collect them all for proper punishment.

At this writing, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 has been covered at length by many a great bloggers and websites. Yours truly can’t add too much to what has already been stated, but I’ll do my best. The first Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t supposed to succeed at the level it did; looking destined to be Marvel’s first true whiff (critically and commercially) in their MCU.

First trailer thoughts: Who in the blue hell are these jabronis? What is with all of this retro music in a comic book movie? To the tune of the almost 774 million worldwide and rave reviews, GoTG is hailed by a noticeable size of Marvel fans as the best the universe has to offer. A significant part of this feeling was simply due to the fact that we had never seen anything like it before in a comic book feature. To an extent, GoTG V2, possibly more than most sequels, was doomed to underwhelm more than most, not from a financial perspective, but from a quality one.

Guardians Vol 2 isn’t a complete rehashing of the movie that came before. James Gunn, returning to both direct and write the sequel, is more interested this time around with delving deeper into what makes the characters who they are. In particular, Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, and surprisingly, Yondu are standouts, and respectively, Pratt, Saldana, the voice of Cooper, and Rooker get to deliver some very good character moments, the type of moments that will lead this franchise into the future.

But, it is a little disappointing to see Bautista chained to the comedic role for much of the movie’s runtime. Drax, a standout before, gets the biggest laughs but also the most attempts to do so. Whereas before he was the perfect blend of ass-kicker and humor, the percentage is much more weighted towards comedy this time, neutering the character somewhat. Baby Groot does one note extremely well. Other supporting characters, like Mantis, get lost in the shuffle, while Russell, though a figure with purpose, is reduced to exposition more times than not.

And as a whole, Guardians Vol 2 feels overstuffed from a character standpoint. Or maybe it’s the endless Ravagers, gold-painted, bland Sovereigns, and five post-credits scenes that make me feel as such. Story wise, aimless is the word yours truly would use for the first hour. The script seems content to have the characters spit jokes at one another, or talk a bit about unspoken chemistry. It’s clear where this is going and what the final act is going to consist of, but it takes pretty long in getting there. The importance of family, whether blood or makeshift, is the theme (Guardians of the Furious? The Fate of the Guardians?). And as stated, there are a few good, even poignant, moments, but also a lot of yelling and angst that becomes a little old after a while.

The action still serves as a solid point, and the vibrant, trippy colors make for a good palette. We know that the Guardians and Doctor Strange, along with every major Marvel player, will interact in Infinity War, but consider it a missed opportunity, Marvel, if the Sorcerer and the ultimate ragtag bunch don’t get extended time together in their respective sequels. From a set piece standpoint, not much actually stands out in the way the chase scene, prison breakout, and “Guardians assemble” moment did in the original. Gunn’s direction isn’t bad or mediocre, but just uninteresting.

Uninteresting kind of sums up the overall thoughts that yours truly has of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. Doesn’t mean I don’t want want more adventures, just not hooked on this particular one.

C

Photo credits go to hollywoodreporter.com, movieweb.com, and cinemavine.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

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Doctor Strange: Movie Man Jackson

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Screw Dr. James Andrews, I want what Stephen’s having. Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world-renowned surgeon, one of the best, if not the best the world has to offer in his field. With his supreme skills come a massive ego, one that he has no problems wielding around his fellow doctors, such as on-again, off-again lover Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).

One day, a vicious car accident leaves Stephen still alive but without functional usage of his moneymaking hands. Rehab doesn’t work, and Stephen is left to find alternate methods to recovery. Traveling East to Nepal, Strange goes in search of “The Ancient One” (Tilda Swinton), an all-powerful sorcerer who can make him better again. As Strange gets better, his mind and world open to dimensions unseen to many, and all of these dimensions aren’t friendly. He has two options: Go back to his old and pretty selfish life, or sacrifice his ego for the betterment and ultimate protection of the world.

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How much can really be done with an origins story? Not a ton, but the main goal of one should always be to lay a foundation for a new character, rather than to put said character on a conveyor belt to a shared universe. Doctor Strange and director Scott Derickson (Sinister) do their jobs, as Strange is certainly going to be a man that can add immense depth to the MCU.

There are three certainties in this world. Death, taxes, and Marvel Studios nailing its primary protagonist casting. Once again, the studio seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to getting the right person for the right role. Benedict Cumberbatch is Doctor Strange, and I can’t see anyone else playing this character aside from Edward Norton (probably the facial hair Norton possesses). Stephen Strange himself is an amalgamation of Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne, and a little bit of Thor with his cockiness. Not exactly the freshest of personalities, but Cumberbatch does elevate the standard material, and ends up making Strange an individual one wants to see more of in a solo movie.

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Elevating the material can be said for much of this superstar cast. Rachel McAdams is basically Pepper Potts, Jane Foster, and any other love interest previously found in superhero films. But, her chemistry is real with Cumberbatch, and a scene in particular in the first 15 or so minutes is rather moving for a superhero film. In a way, she kind of drives home the character of Strange in this one scene, which is important because Derrickson does rush the life altering moment, as it just feels like it comes too soon.

As The Ancient One, Tilda Swinton and Doctor Strange as a whole received some criticism for whitewashing an Asian character in the comics. Unfortunate it may be, if it is going to be done, do it with one of the more versatile thespians today, which Swinton absolutely is. As great as Cumberbatch is, Chiwetel Ejiofor may be the best character in the feature. Ejofor imbues his mentor character of Mordo with mysteriousness and a rigid sense of ethics. While not a villain in this installment, the next ones will surely set him up as such, and he has the potential to rival Loki as Marvel’s best baddie to date. For this initial outing however, Mads Mikkelsen is rather forgettable playing the antagonist. He’s essentially the Satan to Swinton’s God, rebelling and being cast out and now wanting to throw the world into chaos or whatever. He doesn’t do a bad job, but simply doesn’t stand out.

The Doctor Strange screenplay is functional, not great. Not a huge negative, just what one expects out of an origin story by hitting all of the beats without excelling in any area. If there were but one semi-major oddity, it would be that of the humor, for yours truly at least. A few bits are humorous, trademark Marvel humor. But most are rather forced, not necessarily the delivery but the actual content of the jokes.

Still, it’s hard to pay attention too much to them when the visuals are so captivating and the set pieces so unique. This is the one movie to splurge on and catch in the 3D format (thanks Tom). Doesn’t make up for some of the other shortcomings, but entertain it does in the first five minutes. In a way, this kind of feels like the movie Suicide Squad should have been, aesthetically all of its psychedelic colors and unconventionality.

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Doctor Strange is a pretty standard origins films, but with better performances and stellar visuals than most similar fare. To reword a popular Cameo song: He’s strange, and I like it.

B

Photo credits go to YouTube.com, heroichollywood.com, and thewrap.com.

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Ant-Man: Movie Man Jackson

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 “I think our first move should be calling the Avengers.”

Occasionally, a small package can be a good thing. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has just finished serving some time in the San Quentin state penitentiary after doing a Robin Hood-esque hacking job of sorts, returning money that his previous company had more-or-less stolen from their customers. He desperately wants to make an honest living now, and see his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), more frequently.

Meanwhile, in the corporate world, a battle is being waged for an revolutionary piece of technology developed by physicist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). This powerful piece of tech grants the user the ability to shrink to the size of an insect while increasing their strength, making for a devastating weapon. Temporarily hanging in the possession of a shady company he once founded, Pym is willing to give a second chance to a man who desperately needs one. Dr. Pym recruits Lang to don the Ant-Man suit and take back the blueprint of what he created.

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With all of the development problems for a film allegedly in the works since the 1980’s, it is really a victory that Ant-Man, the latest in Marvel’s sizable cinematic universe, is not horrid. As the official end to Phase 2, this doesn’t end the period with a lot of momentum but does give the universe another (lesser) character to intersperse in future installments. From it’s cinematic brethren, it is different in the way it goes about carrying itself, which is good and bad for yours truly.

Ant-Man is a basic origins story, which isn’t all that different from any character’s first movie in Marvel. But this origin tale feels a little lifeless, honestly, especially in the first third in hitting all of the familiar notes of troubled character ultimately misunderstood, family problems, father figure, etc. As ho-hum as that is, what is admittedly cool about this superhero offering is that, it does feel like its own movie that exists separately from the MCU. Take away the few mentions of The Avengers and this could work as its own…work.

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Part of the reason why is because it takes itself so lightly and whimsical in tone, making Guardians of the Galaxy look heavy in comparison. The idea of a man decreasing in stature yet increasing in strength and controlling every variant of the ant colony is ridiculous, but director Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Yes Man), seems to know this. Ant-Man behaves just as much as a comedy as it does an action, if not more so. Where others in the universe try to inject humor to various and sometimes pathetically forced degrees, the humor in this fits the film better because it is already coming in at a fixed tone. This actually does help the action stand out more. CGI of course it is, but I’ll admit I enjoyed the small-scale battles being treated like humongous clashes , as well as the eye-catching underground ant sequences.

Still, this is a Marvel movie, and as such, it is sort of impossible not to think how this compares to what came before it. The biggest issue that may be had with this latest superhero is simply that it feels like it lacks importance. It is hard to see how more desire can be drummed up for another feature outing. Unlike Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, or the Guardians, Ant-Man feels destined to be a side character, though the credits point to at least one later standalone installment.

For the film’s tone, Paul Rudd is everything one could want in the titular role. He’s comedic but never too much of a joke to not be taken seriously when needed. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really get to lose himself in the role, which isn’t his fault. This is probably an unsubstantiated belief by yours truly (I’m not a comic-book nerd), but the Ant-Man character doesn’t feel like it has the requisite backstory like other characters in their own films do. Even those who don’t read comics know about the characters and in some cases personalities of guys like Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man, while the same can’t be said for Ant-Man. But that is probably the point, I suppose.

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The rest of the cast does mostly well enough to aid Rudd. Pure comic relief is provided by David Dastmalchian (Prisoners), T.I, and Michael Pena as Scott’s criminal friends, with the latter providing the most laughs everytime out. Evangeline Lilly really provides nothing that a hundred other women couldn’t provide as a love interest. I can’t remember the last time Michael Douglas was in something nationally released that was not targeted to an older crowd, so it is nice to see him playing perhaps the most intriguing character of the whole movie. Corey Stoll gets to be the hero’s opposition, and he is formidable even though he is essentially a guy doing being bad because the script calls for it. His performance is fine, but kind of overacted in spots as well.

Have to end with an obvious size pun, right? Ant-Man stands small when put next to most Marvel works, but it doesn’t get completely squashed either.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to 411mania.com, screenrant.com, and cosmicbooknews.com.

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Big Hero 6: Movie Man Jackson

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“I am satisfied with my care.”

A note to the U.S. Congress and the administration after seeing Big Hero 6: Do whatever is needed to get Baymaxcare implemented. In the city of San Fransokyo, adolescent Hiro Hamada (voice of Ryan Potter), isn’t your average adolescent. At 14, he is already a high school graduate. Needless to say, he is brilliant in the mind, but lacks the focus needed to truly harness his talents. As such, he spends many a nights competing in Robot Wars-like events while his older, also super-smart brother Tadashi attends college.

Fearing his kid brother’s talents aren’t being cultivated like they need to be, Tadashi introduces Hiro to what smart people in college are capable of, showing that higher education may be what he needs. Most importantly, Hiro is introduced to Baymax, a robot created by Tadashi to provide health care to those in need. The college tour works, as Hiro becomes inspired and gets into university. Things are looking up until an mysterious incident one night recalibrates Hiro’s enthusiasm and he becomes a recluse. Luckily, Baymax is around to give support, and he along with Hiro’s friends begin to discover the truth of what happened.

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With Marvel being under the umbrella of Disney now, it was only a matter of time before Disney would fully dive into the vault and use some source material in a fully animated feature. That time has come with Big Hero 6, an animated feature that succeeds greatly in most places, not so much in others, but as a whole should be quite enough for many.

Really, that whole is made up primarily of the big guy known as Baymax. From his first second on screen, his minimalist appearance and oversized exterior makes it impossible to not have a strong liking towards. All he desires is to provide care for those in need, even to the detriment of his own being. It is a very endearing character, but also an extremely funny one. Voiced by Scott Adsit, the rotund robot speaks in a dry and straightforward tone throughout. Baymax only knows one thing, and his duty to uphold that one thing leads to many hilarious situations. He is the MVP of BH6 without question.

While Baymax may be the most entertaining and recognizable character, Hiro Hamada ain’t too bad either as the Robin to the proverbial Batman in Baymax. What is cool about him is the fact that he isn’t a traditional youngster found in similar animated works. He comes with layers and undergoes more than a few changes across the film’s simple plot. At times, he is even rather unlikable, but for what the character experiences, it is a semi-realistic portrayal of an adolescent still trying to find the way through the world amid tumultuous circumstances.

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For a movie named Big Hero 6 though, the name implies that there will likely be six characters that will be feature. Not exactly the case here; even though BH6 does have four characters joining the two leads to make up the six, at the end of the day these four honestly feel like afterthoughts. They look impressive in battle and have nice design and voiced by sound, but when the movie slows down with all six on screen, it is still the Baymax (and Hiro) show, with only the random, occasionally humorous quip serving purpose to remind the audience that they are not complete wallflowers.

Like other superhero movies, especially the first in a franchise, the “ABC-ish” story present here works fine, and it was a nice tough to show a focus on science. In fact, it isn’t crazy to imagine this spurning youngsters on learning more about the various fields.  But, how the story sets up the event to get where it needs to get to could be seen from far away in the distance. The moment itself is emotional sure, but one can only think that maybe it would have had even more gravitas if it was held off for slightly longer.

This gives the story a rushed feel in spots, sort of like the antagonist here. Visually, he is intriguing and relatively threatening; think a mix of Doctor Octopus, The Masked Magician, and Noob Saibot rolled into one. However, the way he appears with no indication or even small explanation minimizes his impact as well, and when the motivations are finally revealed, the story falters substantially and stays deflated until a very solid climax. A little tighter writing in the aforementioned place may have made a big difference in creating a more well-rounded tale.

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Aside from Baymax and Hiro, the other stars of note are directors Don Hall and Chris Williams, simply because of what they are able to create. San Fransokyo is one of the more fully realized places in film all year, despite being fictional. The hybrid of Tokyo and San Francisco also serves as a perfect backdrop to the action found here. In these set pieces, the feel of the Marvel films is wholly achieved on an animated, bite-sized level.

Big Hero 6 is a very enjoyable flick for the whole family and for solid reasons. But, no reasons loom as large as the lovable, huggable Baymax and his presence. For 102 minutes, yours truly was under the care of Baymax, and I must admit I was pretty satisfied.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to villains.wikia.com, and realmomsofvegas.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Movie Man Jackson

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“You said it yourself, b***h We’re the Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Not many movie studios are as hot as Marvel is at the moment. Since 2008’s Iron Man, their tightly yet expansively crafted cinematic universe has amassed crazy amounts of money on what some would call similarly structured films with established and recognizable heroes. The template is flipped a bit with Marvel’s latest feature Guardians of the Galaxy. In it, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is your average fortune hunter and legendary outlaw known to very few as “Star-Lord,” scouring the vast pockets of space for potential treasure. The potential treasure manifests itself in the way of a mysterious orb, valued by many unknown to Quill.

After others catch word of the galaxy-altering orb being temporarily in Star-Lord’s possession, an assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saladana), and bounty hunters Rocket Racoon/tree-like Groot (Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel), all get into the mad dash for the crown jewel. Unfortunately, they all end up in jail where they come across Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), who is after some personal vengeance. With the orb still up for grabs, villainous Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) targets the five for elimination. Despite having no true ties to each other, the individuals soon find that their and the galaxy’s best chance for survival is their cooperation, no matter how reluctant and hard that may be.

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Hyperbolic as it may sound, the general thoughts and feelings in the months leading up to Guardians of the Galaxy appeared to be of the either/or variety: Either it was going to be an impressive success which would build toward the future and further cement Marvel Studios, or it would be a critical and even commercial failure that would knock said studio down a few pegs. With its release, the concerns are alleviated. Guardians of the Galaxy is over-the-top and unconventional fun.

Story-wise, this isn’t much different than past fare, most closely resembling the fight for the Tesseract in The Avengers, the first Captain America, and Thor. But the execution? Nothing is predictable about the way events play out. As a famous wrestling legend once said, “Just when you think you have all of the answers, I change the questions.” This movie revels in doing the opposite, being zany and flat out peculiar. And you buy into it despite the wackiness, because it is highly amusing, yet also carrying more emotional heft than anticipated, giving the sort of familiar “chase” story some weight.

Back to the main aspect that distinguishes this from others: comedy. GoTG is written with a ton of wit that hits consistent laughs, sometimes very hard. In most respects, the dialogue itself between the ragtag group is lightyears better than the action, which is solid if kind of unimpressive. What is great about the humor is that it isn’t limited to just one person. Sure, some characters just lend themselves more to comedy than others, but all have certain styles and specific moments where they shine front and center. Everyone in this played the comic relief at one point, which is a welcome surprise not often seen.

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95 times out of 100, Marvel gets it right with casting, and this film is no different. Chris Pratt is Star-Lord, convincing as the sort of everyman (albeit outfitted with a slick costume and snazzy gun) that is really just trying to survive daily in the harsh galaxy. As seen in Parks and Recreation, Pratt knows how to elicit laughs, but it is his turn as a galvanizing leader here that is most intriguing. Zoe Saldana at this point seems pretty comfortable playing alien-like creatures in movies, but that doesn’t take away her overall effectiveness. Even Vin Diesel voicing three-worded Groot is memorable, though that may be more due to the technical achievement than anything Diesel does.

These three are great and without their contributions Guardians isn’t as impressive, but the two scene-thieves are Drax the Destroyer and Rocket Raccoon. The former, played by Dave Bautista (known to wrestling fans as simply Batista) is in many respects the deepest and most versatile character. Drax slides effortlessly into rage and deadpan humor at the drop of a dime, and Dave never seems stretched when doing so or out of place among his more accomplished stars. Last but not least is the hothead Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper. Cooper is allowed to be unhinged as Rocket, an anarchist wrapped in an animal’s body, akin to Conker from the Nintendo 64 days. You can tell Bradley is enjoying this, and so did I. Even with his diminutive stature, it isn’t hard to imagine Rocket being the face of the Guardians in regards to marketing.

High production is par for the course with Marvel, and this once again applies. It is a visual treat to look at, reminiscent of Mass Effect in many places. The only issue that pops up from time to time is that of the noticeable CGI in hand to hand fight scenes. It is fully realized that this is less rooted in reality than, say, The Winter Soldier, and it isn’t a huge qualm, but it is visible. What is audible is the old-school music vibe from beginning to end throughout this, giving a retro feel to a futuristic backdrop. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

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It is a little easier to take risks when you have a deep well of past successes , but the fact that Marvel was willing to do something like this to shake up the template is a small marvel in of itself. Guardians of the Galaxy embraces being offbeat and wears it like a proud badge of honor. Add another money making film galaxy to the comic book universe .

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to hypable.com, and nydailynews.com.

The Incredible Hulk: Movie Man Jackson

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“Hulk…SMASH!”

Probably was expecting a review of a certain Marvel webslinger this week right? In due time readers (hopefully)! But we are keeping it in the family with Marvel’s The Incredible Hulk. In this version, brillant scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) begins on the run from the U.S. government. Why? Prior to this predicament, Bruce was working with fellow scientist Betty Ross (Liv Tyler) and her military general father Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) in an effort to find, presumably, a use of gamma radiation for healing purposes for soldiers.

Like most scientists, he tests the science on himself, and things go as one would expect. His transformation into a green tinted brute spurs him to destroy the lab and injure many within it. Escaping this, years later he turns up in Brazil, looking to rid himself of this monstrosity. Though off the grid, General Ross gets wind of Banner’s location after an odd accident at the factory Bruce works at. So, the general sends a unit for Bruce’s capture, but Bruce escapes yet again by way of his timely hulking metamorphosis. Still on the run, the scientist resolves to get back to the states to find a remedy to this bizarre “talent” the government so wants to harness.

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2003’s Hulk, directed under the vision on Ang Lee, left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. Though I didn’t despise it like others, more or less I was one of these people. It just was too slow, meandering and took itself way too seriously. Luckily, the rebooted The Incredible Hulk is a lot more fun, but still missing something for one reason or another.

First of all, the movie starts in an interesting way in that Bruce is already living with his affliction, and the initial damage he inflicts while enraged is shown through a montage almost entirely in first person view. At first, this seemed like a mistake in character building, with no build to speak of to this moment. Upon further analysis though, this was a great start to the movie. If the 2003 version taught us anything, it was that too much time in the lab waiting for the inevitable to happen can mar an entire movie. This intro found in TIH reduced a hour of runtime to three or so minutes, while not compromising why Bruce was testing on himself, since it is all explained later effectively enough.

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An effective opening does not mask the problems of the plot as a whole however. In TIH, the motivation of some characters is hazy to say the least, and it did lessen the enjoyment of it. But the biggest issue with this film is the lack of tension. There is the obvious feud between Banner and General Ross, and later between Hulk and Abomination. Sadly, both fail to carry much weight. The former should, but the clashes between the two are few and far between as either Banner and sometimes Betsy included spend a large chunk of the runtime as fugitives, which becomes extremely dull after a while.

The latter, when it occurs, is a huge spectacle. But, it does not come to fruition until the last 20 minutes. It can be understood that the true tension is the internal fight that Bruce has within. This is fine, but it is used as the main conflict, when it is really best served as a supplement. I am not a comic nerd at all, so it is very possible that the Hulk has some more compelling foes in his world. From what I have viewed in movies though, the villains in Hulk lore are unappealing.

There aren’t many standouts from an acting standpoint. Edward Norton has shown to be an extremely versatile actor in his career, but here someone else may have been a better choice to be cast. By no means is he awful, but he never really becomes Bruce Banner either, and part of that could be due to his well known status; it just becomes harder for the audience to buy him here. It may have been a wiser choice to bring in someone of lesser stature. It is a respectable performance, but uninspired. In the grand scheme of things, the Hulk character looks to be in great hands as Mark Ruffalo showed in The Avengers.

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As Banner’s love interest, Liv Tyler’s Betsy Ross is really one note. In almost every scene, she has the same emotion of wonder/astonishment, never bringing anything more to the table. Her chemistry with Norton was OK and nothing more. Pretty good to look at, but her acting chops are questionable. William Hurt is a proven performer, but he is reduced to the standard shady military leader who cannot be trusted. He does what can be done. Lastly, Tim Roth’s character falls into the same archetype as General Ross. He eventually become’s the Hulk’s equal, but in all actuality he serves as a plot device from point A to B to C.

TIH relies a lot on CGI, and all of it looks great. More so than any previous Marvel movie, this really looks like it is lifted from comics, from transitions to lighting. The Hulk himself looks…well hulking, but not in a comically big way like 2003’s version. He moves real fluid, and his transformations are very convincing. When he does start to Hulk smash things, I couldn’t help but be in awe. Even the Abomination looked awesome. Sort of a cross between the berserker from Gears of War and the Nemesis from Resident Evil, nonetheless the filmmakers crafted a visually appealing foe. While the fight scenes looked crisp, there seemed to be a lack of them.

A better film than its previous incarnation, The Incredible Hulk is respectable fun but still not the film that truly places the Hulk character on par with his Avenger brethren. But as The Avengers exhibited, there is untapped potential with the green giant, and hopefully moviegoers get a focused effort sooner rather than later.

Grade: C

Photo credits go to http://www.impawards.com, hollywoodchicago.com, fanpop.com, & geeksofdoom.com.

For film focused thoughts, follow me @MovieManJackson.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Movie Man Jackson

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“This isn’t freedom. This is fear.”

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, and perhaps no movie (at least in recent memory) better reflects this famous quote more than Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Marvel’s new Phase II installment reintroduces us to Steve Rogers, Captain America himself. It has been a few years since the New York incident, and Steve is now living in Washington D.C. and working with the S.H.I.E.L.D. While still defending America from dastardly threats, it is quite clear to everyone and Rogers himself that this is not the same America he fought for in World War II. As a result, his acclimation to this new age America is rocky.

Unbeknownst to Steve and S.H.I.E.L.D figurehead Nick Fury, there is an organization-shattering situation incoming from within. Missions become compromised, and people cannot be trusted. What is worse is the mysterious appearance of an assassin known only as The Winter Soldier, who seemingly exists for one objective: To end Captain America. Nothing makes sense, but Captain America and friends must connect the dots before America in any form is eradicated.

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If you read the previous thoughts of the Captain’s first installment, you will find that I thought it was overall solid, but lacking in places. Complete 180 for this sequel incoming in 3, 2, 1. Captain America: The Winter Solider may be Marvel’s best standalone film, and one of the better superhero films ever. Caution when I say standalone. While it can still be enjoyed without any prior exposure to The First Avenger, that film almost certainty needs to be seen before this one. There are enough callbacks and direct references to the first, and while The Winter Soldier does a respectable job in getting those uninitiated with the first in these “flashbacks,” more connection to the characters and situations will be had if the previous film was viewed.

As far as Marvel movies go, the story here ranks as one of the best. Only slight is that it occasionally feels convoluted, but I believe that is more a reflection on me that would be remedied with another watch. The short synopsis was intentional as to not give away too much. Elements of deception, espionage, terrorism, and many others are present here. And yet, it never feels like it is stretching itself too thin, or collapsing under the weight of everything. And the tension! Truth be told, there were times where I doubted how Cap and his crew would get out of things. Surprisingly tight script that dare I say feels relevant to issues today in our world. This gives off a somewhat darker and realistic tinge than many Marvel movies, but it is so meticulously well crafted that it worked wonderfully and did not feel odd. Even with the darker tone, the film has good, unforced humor. Not outright laugh out loud pure comedy funny, but genuine laughs that do not feel forced. In a nutshell, this did what Iron Man 3 attempted to do with humor and tone, but miles better and without the inconsistency.

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Chris Evans is Captain America. I was a probably a little hard on him in the first movie, but he is so comfortable in the role now. He of course looks the part but should also get more acclaim for his portrayal. The Cap is not a tour-de-force role as most comic book heroes are not, but I do think it invokes more emotion than the other titular characters, and Evans nails it. Steve Rogers is an stranger in the strange USA land served in this story, and Evans sells us on his character’s uneasiness and overall naivete in this “new” setting. Consequently, we connect with his internal strife. He and the Black Widow Scarlett Johansson possess great chemistry as well, as much of this does require them working as a duo.

The addition of Anthony Mackie as Falcon is a wise one that gives Marvel another character to possibly branch off with in the future. He holds his own with the aforementioned two and gets enough time to shine. Additionally, he provides a good chunk of the humor but not in an over the top sense, but rather a deadpan-ish way. Samuel L Jackson gets more to do here, and delivers. Lastly, Robert Redford has been doing this acting thing for a while, and is pretty good at it (understatement) to say the least. The only small but true issue this reviewer had was the inclusion of The Winter Soldier. He is a menacing character…when on screen. For a movie that features the character in the title, it feels a little unwarranted when I sat down to think about it. Not a reflection on the actor though, just the execution, and again a small issue.

The editing and direction deserves praise in bunches. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo were committed to a minimal reliance on CGI, and it is prevalent. The action scenes and fights namely feel more in your face than anything else Marvel has done, which aids in the hyper-realistic feel of the movie once again. Everything just feels fluid and tight. The score to this needs to get the appreciation it deserves. So many standout music tracks that support The Winter Soldier in scale and overall feel.

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Not often that sequels do it better than their original counterparts, but here that is exactly what has occurred. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is not only a great sequel, or a great standalone Marvel film, it is just a great movie, period. Others may find issues that were not present in this review but by and large I truly feel that the flaws are minuscule and to some even nonexistent. We go to movies especially during blockbuster season to be entertained first and foremost, and entertain it did. Who needs the Avengers to assemble when Captain America can do it himself?

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to chicagonow.com, comicvine.com, and geekreview.com

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Captain America: The First Avenger: Movie Man Jackson

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“I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.”

Doesn’t World War II feel like a while ago? To many of us, it is. But if you really think about it, it happened less than 100 years ago, which isn’t exactly a long time! Captain America: The First Avenger places us into an alternate timeline during World War II. The year is 1942, and the war seems to be going the way of the Axis. With a force as large as the Axis, certain sects fall through the cracks, and one of these is known as HYDRA, a Nazi sect led by Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving). Schmidt and his group raid Norway and soon find what they were looking for in the Tesseract, a glowing blue cube that holds great power. Bad news for the Allied forces.

Enter Steve Rogers (Chris Evans). Steve wants desperately to serve his country during this tumultuous time, but his medical files and abnormally weak frame do not inspire confidence in examiners and recruiters, so he is constantly rejected. Luckily, Dr. Erksine (Stanley Tucci) is enamored with the young man’s courage and pulls a few strings to get him into basic training. The basic training is actually a test to see who will be the best candidate for the new supersoldier program. Despite being the least imposing, Rogers proves to be exactly what the program needs, which is first and foremost a man with great heart and selflessness. So Steve undergoes the procedure and is transformed into a cut, strong, and perfect prototype soon to be known as “Captain America,” protecting and defending USA and her ideals.

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What a difference a few years makes. I remember viewing this movie and recalling that I mostly liked it and thought of it as a top Marvel movie. After a rewatch? It is enjoyable enough but not on the level of some of its Marvel brethren. At times, The First Avenger does not feel like a superhero movie. Maybe it was what the filmmakers were going for, aiming for this sort of idea that Steve Rogers is not a superhero, but just a man who has great resolve and patriotism who happened to be transformed into this prototypical mold, and that all of us have some Steve Rogers inside of us. So be it if that is the case. This is not a negative on the character, but more so on the plot.

Speaking of the plot and some of the characters, they meet the minimum. Pretty cliched at times, but it comes with the territory of the period portrayed in the film. We know who is bad and who is good, but that is really about it, and the motives are never entirely clear. Johann Schmidt (The Red Skull) is not in any way imposing or even that interesting. He and HYDRA are faceless and dull personalities that ultimately serve as just a plot device to get us to Captain America squaring off against them. I am not an avid comic book reader, but I cannot shake the feeling that he, like The Mandarin from Iron Man 3 is probably better represented in that particular medium. Similar to that film character, severely underwritten. Other characters like the colonel played by Tommy Lee Jones and the commanding officer Peggy Carter played by Hayley Atwell too are cliched and predictable.

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Not all is negative. Marvel, or whoever does it, deserves to be commended for the casting of its titular heroes. Chris Evans looks the part as the all-American yet humble super soldier. As for his performance, it was respectable but it did feel indicative of a man who turned down the role three times before he finally accepted it. This is to not say it was bad or even underwhelming, but he seems unsure of himself in some scenes as opposed to The Avengers, where I completely bought him as the Cap. Practice makes perfect. On the subject of The Avengers, the ending of this film tied in beautifully; the perfect set-up while still being pretty believable. And I was very surprised at the digital “plastic surgery” done to make Evans look like an underdeveloped 20ish year old man. Only one time did it look suspect, so much credit has to be given to the appropriate people for making that look so convincing.

The action is passable but unimpressive. A lot of slow-motion was employed with the predictable “jump from explosion” moments, and it rarely looked cool, aside from the shield in use. The computer-generated imagery, which was praised a few sentences ago, does not meld so seamlessly in the fight sequences. On the whole, the fight sequences are lacking in quantity. There is a montage of Captain and his unit going into various Axis strongholds and eliminating the opposition, but it is such a wasted moment. As an audience, we should be seeing his growth in his newfound powers further displayed in longer battle scenes and building a connection with Captain America, not shown a recap of it.

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You would think that Captain America would be the easiest Marvel avenger to “get right” on the silver screen. However, a further look can show that may actually be the hardest one to nail. Since the character relies on so many past ideals and is based on the old traditional hero archetype, it is harder to relate to and even believe. Despite my issues which will not hold for everyone, the film does well enough and does what it needs to do in introducing the first avenger into the Marvel universe. I do think that Captain America: The Winter Soldier will be a big improvement, but this film should be seen first if not done so already.

Grade: C+

Photo credits go to impawards.com, comicbookmovie.com, and fanpop.com

Follow me @Markjacksonisms