Opinionado!!! (03.26.17 – 04.08.17 Part 1)

I’ve got a lot of opinions. Anyone who follows me on Facebook or Twitter or in real life knows this. I constantly want to talk about things that are going on in the world of entertainment, but I need an outlet. That’s what this is for. Every week, I’ll give you my thoughts and impressions on the biggest pieces of entertainment news, from trailers, to promotional images, to breaking news stories. I’ll even provide short reviews or impressions of the things I’m watching, reading, playing, and listening to every week. So sit back, relax, and get swept up in the swirling vortex that is… Opinionado!

Film:

Justice League (Trailer 1)

Whoo boy. Starting off with a doozy, huh? This was probably the most anticipated trailer on the planet. Even before Batman v Superman’s release, fans and critics alike have been wondering “What the hell is that Justice League movie going to look like?” Turns out, the answer is “Like a Zack Snyder film”. It’s got the incoherent action, the muted colors, overall grimy texture, and the copious amounts of slow-mo. The only thing this doesn’t have is Malick-like shots of wonder and Christ imagery. I’ve watched this thing a few times now and tonally it’s just all over the place. The film LOOKS exactly like a sequel to BvS would be expected to look, but they’ve sprinkled in a bunch of “light-hearted” attempts at humor (some of which works and some of which doesn’t) and layered the whole thing in a cheesy, rock-version of The Beatles’ “Come Together” because apparently Beastie Boys’ “Unite” would have been too on the nose. Look, it’s no secret that I’m not a fan of how Warner Bros. and Zack Snyder have handled the DC Extended Universe. I want them to succeed, because I actually like DC Comics and their characters and storylines, but I also want them to fail so that they can just start the whole thing over from scratch and do it the right way. I have no idea if Wonder Woman will be good (although the skeptic in me says to not get your hopes up), but I’m almost positive that Justice League will not be a good film. I hope I’m wrong – I actually like what they’ve done with Aquaman and the Flash, and I think Cavill, Affleck, and Gadot are actually a great central trinity – but man, some parts of this trailer look really bad! Cyborg is just awful on every level (is his costume still rendering?) and the set pieces in this thing just look so dreary. It’s like someone took Return of the King and turned down the saturation. And really, “Come Together”? Damn.

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Trailer 2)

“If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” CHILLS. Man, I am so ready for a good Spider-Man movie, and I really hope that’s what this is. It’s not the Marvel film I’m most excited about this year (that honour goes to Thor: Ragnarok), but I’m cautiously optimistic. I think that Tom Holland is a great Peter Parker, and I’m geeking out that Spider-Man will get to be a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I mean, could anyone else sell that “Friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” line the way that Robert Downey Jr. sells it? I don’t think so. I love the whole “John Hughes with superpowers” thing, especially since I just saw the same thing done quite effectively in Power Rangers. We haven’t see much from the extended cast yet (remember that Donald Glover, Martin Starr, Hannibal Buress, Tyne Daly, Kenneth Choi, Tony Revolori, and Logan-Marshall-Green are all in this movie and I think we’ve seen glimpses of maybe2 of them in the two trailers released thus far), but I love the chemistry between Holland’s Peter and Jacob Batalon’s Ned. I’m even excited for the Vulture, and I don’t like the Vulture as a villain. I haven’t been a big fan of any of his iterations, be it revenge-seeking engineer, youth-sucking vampire, acid-spitting mutant or whatever, but I think this works. If anyone can pull this off, it’s Michael “Birdman” Keaton himself, and they’ve actually designed a Vulture suit that looks appropriately badass, especially when paired with that vintage military flight jacket. I’m excited to see where they take this whole thing.

A Ghost Story (Trailer 1)

Every now and then, there are movies that I hear enough good things about that I decide to abstain from watching their trailers. I did this for Arrival, I did it for Split (after seeing the initial trailer), I’m doing it for Colossal, and now I’m going to do it for A Ghost Story. So no, I haven’t watched this trailer yet, but I’m been assured that it’s a good one. Watch it, or don’t. Your choice.

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (Trailer 2)

Man, I have no idea what to make of this movie, but I think I love it? It’s like Terry Gilliam, Baz Luhrmann, and Guillermo Del Toro got together to direct a pastiche of Star Wars, Jupiter Ascending, Moulin Rouge, Guardians of the Galaxy, John Carter, The Fifth Element, and Doctor Who. It’s so wacky and colorful and fun. I have absolutely no familiarity with the source material, but even if it fails completely on a plot and/or characters front, I need to see it on the biggest screen possible on opening night.

A Dark Song (Trailer 1)

I don’t have much to say about this one other than, uh, creepy. This looks to be right up my alley. I believe we’re going through a bit of a horror renaissance right now, and this looks like a strong contender to join the ranks of It Follows, The Babadook, The Witch, Get Out, and the rest.

It (Trailer 1)

Nope nope nope nope nope nope NOPE. That was my initial reaction to this trailer. Actually, I think my initial reaction was “holy shit”. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that this looks absolutely terrifying. I’m haunted by the image I saw as a child of a clown in a sewer grate, and this brings that right back to the surface. I get chills watching this thing. I know people are upset that Cary Fukunaga walked away from this project because they wouldn’t let him make the movie he wanted to make, but that doesn’t necessarily damn the movie. We were all upset about Edgar Wright leaving Ant-Man, but that movie turned out great. I’m not saying that Fukunaga’s It wouldn’t have been better, but that doesn’t mean that this one will be bad. Pennywise looks insanely creepy and the movie looks like it has been very well shot. I even kind of want to read the book now, which is insane, because I’m pretty sure it’s like, 8000 pages long.

Tomb Raider (Promo)

I mean, she looks great. That’s my opinion on this. She looks good. That’s really all we know, but it’s a good sign, right?

Sony Is Making Their Own Marvel Cinematic Universe (News)

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If you haven’t already heard, this past month, Sony announced plans to release two new comic book movies in 2018 – an R-rated Venom film and a Black Cat/Silver Sable team-up film. If you don’t know who any of these characters are, that’s okay – most people who aren’t Spider-Man fans wouldn’t recognize them, which is why it’s weird that Sony is betting hundreds of millions of dollars that people will flock to the theaters next year to see them. Back when Sony was still producing those decidedly not-amazing Amazing Spider-Man films, they had plans for a grand web of interlocking Spider-Man films – a Spider-Man Cinematic Universe, if you will. They were in development on a Sinister Six film, a Venom film, and a female-led Spider-Man film. And then the Sony hack happened, and all of these details leaked out, and Sony began to tank. They ended up teaming with Marvel Studios to produce a new series of Spider-Man films that would tie into Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, the first of which, Spider-Man: Homecoming, comes out in July. We all assumed that Sony’s dream of a Spider-Man cinematic universe had died, because it just doesn’t really make sense to do that without Spider-Man. Well, you know what they say about assuming, right? As it turns out, Sony is charging full steam ahead of producing a number of Spider-Man spin-off films that will be, in no way, associated with Spider-Man: Homecoming or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And that’s certainly… a choice. This is… this is maybe one of the more misguided decisions I’ve seen a studio make recently. I mean, I think DC is making a ton of mistakes with their cinematic universe, but at least they have access to all of their characters. Venom was designed to be Spider-Man’s foil. Black Cat was introduced as a love interest for Spidey. What are these characters without their shared history with Spider-Man? Imagine if DC made a Catwoman movie that had nothing to do with Bat-what? Oh, they did that already? Well how did it do? Oh. OH. Well… yeah. Then I expect these to do about as well as that did. Good luck Sony. You’ll need it.

Joss Whedon is Directing a Batgirl Movie (News)

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Chances are if you know me, you already know how I feel about this news. My feelings towards the DC Extended Universe can be summed up with one Shania Twain song:

As I’ve said before, I’m torn on the DCEU – on the one hand, I’d love to see good movies based on DC characters, but on the other hand, I don’t want to see future movies saddled with the garbage continuity they’ve established thus far. I want a fresh start. Rebuild it from the ground up. Don’t build your home on a dubious foundation like Batman v Superman. Alas, Suicide Squad made enough money to keep this failed experiment afloat and I’m sure Wonder Woman and Justice League will help matters, regardless of their quality. With each passing day, I’m more and more convinced that we’re stuck with what we’ve got, but I can’t shake the feeling that everything Warner Bros. is doing is misguided. Did you know there are currently 18 DC films in various stages of development? Of those 18, only 6 have dates, and only 3 of those 6 have officially entered production. It’s absolutely bonkers. There is constantly so much drama going on behind the scenes of these things – the rumor mill is constantly churning, and it would be easy to just disregard it all if Warner Bros. didn’t have a history of driving talent away from their DC franchises (I’m looking at you The Flash). I’m not even sure it’s worth formulating an opinion over Whedon’s Batgirl film because the chances of a) it actually happening and b) Whedon being involved are so slim that it feels pointless. Will I watch a Batgirl film directed by Joss Whedon? Absolutely. I’ll watch anything by Joss Whedon. Would I rather he not make a Batgirl film and do something else instead? Absolutely. Will I get my wish? Probably! Who knows? Come see me in a year if Whedon is still attached to this stupid thing.

Review – Ghost in the Shell (2017)

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Look, there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding this anime adaptation and the whitewashing it contains. I won’t defend it, but I also understand the decisions that lead to this point. I’m not going to say anymore on that here because frankly, I have no authority to do so. I also don’t have the authority to speak on this film as an adaptation. I’m not a big anime guy. I haven’t seen any of the source material. In fact, I skipped out on watching the original film specifically because I wanted to judge Ghost in the Shell on its own merits. So what did I think? I thought it was good! Not great, just good. I enjoyed my time with it. It’s not going to win any awards for plot or characterization – it raises some interesting questions that it never gets around to answering – but it sure looks nice. The production design is just fantastic. The effects, the sets, the cinematography – this is a nice film to look at it. I kind of want to see it again in IMAX for that reason alone. If you’re looking for some entertaining eye candy, you could do a lot worse than Ghost in the Shell. If you’re looking for a deep, philosophical sci-fi film that’s going to blow your mind, look elsewhere.

 

Television:

Black Lightning Gets a Costume (Promo)

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In case you weren’t aware, The CW is getting a fifth (FIFTH!) DC superhero show in Black Lightning. It’s unclear as of now whether or not Black Lightning would exist as a part of The CW’s Arrowverse, as it was initially developed for Fox, who passed on the script. The pilot is currently filming in Atlanta and we now have our first look at Cress Williams in costume as Black Lightning, and it’s… busy. Aesthetically, it actually fits in well with the rest of The CW’s superhero shows. They continue to go in a completely different direction than Marvel Television, who seem intent on downplaying as many costume elements as they can (just check out the leaked set photos from the Inhumans). Many have remarked that this would be a better costume for the Inhumans’ Black Bolt, but… we’ll get to that when we’ve got an official still from that production.

ReBoot Reboot is Official (News)

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As a kid, I adored Reboot. The first computer animated TV series, ReBoot was revolutionary from an industry standpoint, but it was also revolutionary to me from a storytelling standpoint. ReBoot, along with its sister-series Beast Wars (or Beasties, for us Canadians) showed me that kids show didn’t have to be dumbed down. Both series’ featured dark, mature storylines, with character deaths and plot twists. A lot of my storytelling proclivities were formed during this period and they greatly influenced me. So it’s with a heavy heart that I must announce that ReBoot is returning as a CGI/live-action hybrid. Who is this for? People have been clamoring for more ReBoot for years, and every now and then we’ll hear something about an eventual ReBoot reboot, but now it’s officially official and I don’t think it’s what anyone wants. Instead of a straight sequel or a re-imaging, we’re getting some weird thing about teens who play an MMO and get tasked with protecting… cyberspace or something. I don’t know. It sounds really stupid. One of the character’s names is “Goog’z”. GOOG’Z! Apparently the original characters will play some sort of role, but I just don’t really have any interest in seeing human characters. Am I the only one? I hope I’m wrong! But I’m never wrong. My opinions are always right (re: DCEU).

Legion Season 1 (Impressions)

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I recently finished the first season of FX’s Legion, and… y’all should watch Legion. It is such a unique, gem of a show. I don’t want to spoil any of the weird, little things that make it so special, but I will say that the acting, the music, and the production values are all top-notch. It quickly became one of my favorite currently airing programs. Things start off weird and only get weirder, but the payoff is worth it. This is a Noah Hawley (Fargo) show based on the X-Men franchise. I shouldn’t have to convince you to watch it.

Attack on Titan Season 2 Premiere (Impressions)

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It’s time. Time… for anime! I’ve never been a big anime fan, but one of the few shows that I had actually watched was Attack on Titan. I go to anime for weird, crazy things that I can’t get from American films and TV shows, and Attack on Titan fits that bill. It takes place in a world in which humanity has been driven into near-extinction by a race of mindless, titanic, naked men. Yeah, you read that correctly. The remnants of humanity hide behind 3 massive, concentric walls that protect them from these titans, but they’re forced to fight when a colossal titan breaks through the gate. They fight using these aerial maneuvering devices that utilize gas-powered harpoons attached to ropes to swing through cities and forests like Spider-Man. It’s as crazy as it sounds. It’s ridiculous, intense, disturbing, and graphically violent. I love it. After a 3+ year wait, season 2 has finally premiered, and the insanity has continued. There are a couple great twists in the first episode and I can’t wait to see where things go from here.

 

Games:

Destiny 2 (Worldwide Reveal Trailer)

I, like many others, have a love/hate relationship with Destiny (both the game and the universal force). Prior to its release, I had it in my mind that we were getting something along the lines of “epic space opera of Mass Effect meets combat of Halo”. What I didn’t expect was “first-person sci-fi Diablo with less story”. It’s a very nice looking game with interesting art design, it’s got a good world with plenty of lore to discover, and the gameplay actually feels great – it’s just that none of that ever coalesced into a really great whole. The pieces are (mostly) there, but they were never arranged properly. The fun was mired by confusing systems and weird restrictions. I think there is a great game lurking somewhere in Destiny (and I’ve certainly sunk enough hours into it), so I’m hopeful that Bungie figures things out with Destiny 2. I think I like this trailer? The tone is a little off though; it feels like it’s trying way too hard to be whatever it thinks people want. I’m holding off judgment until we learn more about what the game actually is and how it differs from the first entry.

 

Music:

Kendrick Lamar – “Humble”

Okay, first of all, the song is straight fire. Second, does anyone else feel like Kendrick watched Beyonce’s Lemonade and thought “I can do that”? Not that this 3-minute video necessarily stands alongside Beyonce’s opus, but it certainly seems to be inspired by it. The video is filled with fascinating imagery and interesting camera shots. I’m not smart enough to begin to understand what any of it means, but it sure looks great, doesn’t it? It inspires hope in me that I’ll actually enjoy Kendrick’s new album after feeling let down by To Pimp A Butterfly. Yeah, that’s right. Come at my haters.

Broken Social Scene – “Halfway Home”

I was a huge Broken Social Scene fan back in high school, and they, along with Arcade Fire, basically shaped my taste in music during the mid-to-late 2000’s. I was a fan of just about anything the Arts & Crafts label released, and at one point I was basically buying all of it (even though I ended up with many CD’s I disliked and would never listen to again). I thought that I had outgrown Broken Social Scene, but it sure brings a smile to my face to see them all performing on stage again. BSS concerts are a special experience, because it’s literally just a group of friends playing music together on stage. There’s a purity and an intimacy to it that you don’t get from big, packaged concerts. I’m not sure I really dig the song all that much, but I’m glad that Broken Social Scene is back regardless. “Friendship ladies and gentlemen, friendship!”

Jason Bourne: A Review

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Jason Bourne is back again
With a story I didn’t know
It made everything new again
If you want to you should go
Critics threw it out the windows, came along
Extreme views I know effect
And color what you see
I won’t let them color me

Jason Bourne I’ve watched it
It’s got a shaky camera fight
Dark theater I was in
That didn’t have any light
Dirty offices, dirty crowds
Dirty cars coming through
It’s a lot more of the same
Did you ever like it then

I would stand in line for this
There’s always room in life for this

Oh baby, oh baby
It had a car chase, a car chase
Oh baby, oh baby
It had a car chase, a car chase
Oh baby, oh baby
It had a car chase, a car chase
Oh baby, oh baby
Like it always does, always does

Jason Bourne has premiered
It’s the movie that I sought
I didn’t have much to say
I finally understood the plot
I opened my eyes and closed myself
And closed my world and never opened
Up to any texts
They couldn’t get me to check

I had to close down everything
I had to close down my phone
Too many films to view
Too many that I own
I’ve seen so much in so many places
So many heartaches, so many car chases
So many dirty things
You couldn’t even believe

I would stand in line for this
It’s always good in life for this

Oh baby, oh baby
It had a car chase, a car chase
Oh baby, oh baby
It had a car chase, a car chase
Oh baby, oh baby
It had a car chase, a car chase
Oh baby, oh baby
Like it always does, always does

EXTREME WAYS out of BACK AGAIN

– A review by Andrew Stewart

Captain America: Civil War – Review

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I think I have a new favorite movie. That probably sounds like hyperbole. Maybe it is. I’m an unabashed Marvel fanboy. I watch the cartoons. I read the comics. I collect the Funko Pops. I build the LEGO. I wear the shirts. I even spend money on the stupid free-to-play iOS games. On the list of my favorite things, Marvel is up there, so maybe you shouldn’t trust my opinion that Captain America: Civil War is the best movie Marvel Studios has ever made. Or maybe it’s the reason you should. Who else is better equipped to tell you that this movie represents Marvel Studios at the very top of their game?

I won’t waste too much time explaining in detail the plot of this movie or introducing any of the numerous characters whose presence is felt in this film. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you already have a good idea who the players are and what they’re fighting for. All you need to know is that in the wake of a number of catastrophic incidents involving the Avengers, the United Nations decides that super-powered individuals can no longer be allowed to operate without oversight. Tony Stark, wracked with guilt over the mistakes he’s made, supports this plan. Steve Rogers, who has reason to be paranoid about large supervisory entities, doesn’t feel that the will of the government always best represents the needs of the people. The comic book storyline this movie takes its name from deals with a different issue, although the overall themes are the same: accountability vs. liberty. Unfortunately, the comic storyline does away with nuance and turns Tony Stark into a villainous figure who’s willing to use crazed lunatics and killers to hunt down is friends. Thankfully, where the comic fails, the movie succeeds. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely deftly handle the weighty themes and do a great job of showing the merits of both sides. You’re able to understand why each characters decides the way they do and why it’s so difficult for their friends and teammates to share that same point of view. It’s this understanding that makes it so heartbreaking to watch these friends go after another. That, and their shared history.

Cinematic universes are all the rage these days. Fox has one for the X-Men. Warner Bros. has one for their DC characters. Universal has one for their monsters. Paramount has one for their Hasbro properties. They’re all trying to copy the Marvel model, which has paved the way to unprecedented success. Nobody else has managed to pull it off yet, however, which has led many to believe that this new trend is going to be the downfall of the Hollywood blockbuster. The problem is that in looking to replicate Marvel’s success, nobody wants to truly follow in Marvel’s footsteps. Look at Warner Bros. and their DC films, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in particular. Instead of slowly developing a world and building up an assortment of characters through multiple films, they chose to jump in head first, doing away with any of the character and world-building that made a movie like The Avengers possible. Everyone is so behind the curve on this that they don’t have the patience to do it right. Captain America: Civil War works so well because all of the emotional beats feel earned – no shortcuts were taken to get to this point – there are clearly defined characters arcs flowing throughout all of the Marvel Studios films, all of which seemingly inevitably lead to this point. Within the context of the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, the conflict in Civil War makes so much sense; It’s been building for years, this is just the tipping point.  If there is an argument to be made for the value of the cinematic universe as a storytelling concept, Civil War is that argument. This movie, with all its emotional heft, would not be possible without the MCU. You could tell the same story, but it wouldn’t be as natural, streamlined, or as emotionally charged. This movie is a testament to sharply-defined characters and thoughtful world-building. There is this lived-in feeling to the movie that comes from knowing the history of these characters and the world they operate in, a feeling that was almost completely absent from Batman v Superman, outside of the opening scene. I wasn’t planning on comparing this film to DC’s counterpart, but it’s hard not to – Civil War is everything BvS is not – well-paced, funny, emotional, and fun.

What more can I say? Civil War is the longest Marvel movie to date, but the time just flies by. I didn’t want it to end. It’s filled with hilarious one-liners and thrilling action sequences that get a lot of mileage out of everyone’s unique abilities and personalities. Somehow, the Russo brothers, Markus, and McFeely ensure that every character gets their due diligence – everyone has their moment and nobody truly feels underserved. It’s a remarkable accomplishment and it instills hope in me that this team, responsible for two of the MCU’s best films, will be able to juggle all of the characters in the next two Avengers films. On top of all this, the film is bolstered by great performances that truly communicate the gravitas of the situation. It’s a stunning achievement.

Captain America: Civil War is an absolute triumph. I’m sure plenty of people will still hate it, or at the very least find fault with it, but for me, this is as good as movies come. With the Russo brothers steering the ship, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in good hands. Now bring on Doctor Strange.

Furious 7: An Unforgettable Tribute

I wanted to sit down tonight and write a review of Furious 7. That was my intention. I’ve quickly realized that that’s not going to be possible because there’s simply no way for me to look at this movie objectively. I am biased. I am as biased as can be. It doesn’t matter where this movie ranks against the rest of the franchise. It doesn’t matter how this movie rates against other movies. What matters is this movie and what it means.

One Last Ride

The Fast & Furious franchise didn’t even register for me prior to Fast Five. The films were a joke; I saw the franchise as trash. I think that I had see the first two films on DVD when I was in high school. I remember people thinking that they were cool, but I didn’t much care for them – some of you probably still feel that way about the series. Cut to eight years later and the release of Fast Five. The trailer looked amazing. They got the Rock. I decided it was time to catch up. I watched the first four films within the context of the pending release of the fifth. The first two are tolerable, serving basically as nothing more than introductions to these characters. The third is an awful throwaway made when the franchise was basically on life support (although a large number of people love it for some reason). The fourth, however, I found legitimately compelling. The original cast appears together again for the first time since The Fast and The Furious and, also for the first time, the ending of one movie leads directly into the next. Fast Five was fantastic. It’s still the best film in the franchise and one of my favorite action/heist films. It’s the film that marks the end of the “cops, drugs, and racing” storylines that run through the first four films. It’s the start of something new, something bigger. From that movie on, the Fast & Furious franchise transformed into one of the foremost action franchises in Hollywood. Over the course of six films, the franchise morphed from a small story about a street-racing criminal and an undercover cop to something more reminiscent of the Mission: Impossible franchise. Over the course of three years, I went from not caring at all about these films to caring about them way too much.

On November 30th, 2013, Paul Walker passed away in a car accident at the age of 40. He left behind his daughter, Meadow. It is impossible to discuss Furious 7 without discussing Paul Walker. He and this movie are inextricably entwined. You cannot separate the two. He had filmed approximately 85% of his scenes before the tragedy and after receiving the blessing of his family, director James Wan and the rest of the cast and crew finished the film with the help of Paul’s brothers, Caleb and Cody Walker, and some CGI. They all considered Walker a friend. Some considered him family. They set out to finish the film for Paul, knowing that it’s what he would have wanted.

Furious 7 isn’t the best film you’ll ever see. It isn’t the best film you’ll see this year. It’s not even the best Fast & Furious film. None of that matters. You have to see this film. I have never seen anything like it and I don’t think that I ever will again. I’m not referring to the non-stop action and the incredible set pieces. Action can always get more intense. Set-pieces, no matter how grand, can always be topped. Don’t get me wrong, this is an absolutely thrilling action movie and it’s a fine addition to the Fast & Furious franchise, but what makes it truly special is Paul Walker. From start to finish, this film feels like his swan song, right down to the themes of the story and the final arc of his character. I don’t know how much the final plot of the film changed after Walker’s passing, but it feels serendipitously set up from the beginning to act as a goodbye to the character of Bryan O’Conner. He’s a married man and a father now and this film sees him struggling with the transition between his old life and this new one. Suffice it to say that the film is a fitting send-off to both Bryan O’Conner and Paul Walker and feels like a natural progression of the path his character has been on ever since the first movie. I’m not going to tell you how it ends, but know that the final shot of the film is literally one of the most perfect, emotionally powerful images I have ever seen on screen. I’m honestly not sure that it will ever be matched in my mind. It’s that good.

Listen – I didn’t know Paul Walker. I never had the privilege of meeting the man. From everything I’ve heard, he was just a stellar human being – kind, gracious, caring, and selfless – the kind of person we all aspire to be. Nobody seems to have a bad thing to say about him. Say what you will about his acting, but Paul Walker was the heart of this franchise. One of the things I appreciate most about the Fast & Furious movies is that none of the main characters really seem to be acting all that much. Maybe they’re completely different in real life, but when Vin, Paul, Ludacris, Tyrese, Michelle, and the rest are sitting around a room joking and ribbing one another, it doesn’t feel like a scripted scene in a film so much as it does a group of friends sitting around shooting the breeze. The idea of family is the most important theme in the franchise and it’s the impetus for basically everything that occurs in these films. As much as these characters are a family on screen, they’re a family in real life. That’s what lends such power to the conclusion of Furious 7. When you see these characters saying goodbye to Bryan O’Conner, you know that they’re really saying goodbye to Paul Walker. I’ve never come closer to sobbing in a movie theater than I did in the final five minutes of Furious 7, and if the sniffling around me was any indication, I wasn’t the only one. It was truly, deeply affecting. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

As I drove home from the theater, I listened to the Furious 7 soundtrack. When “See You Again” —the song by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth that backs the Paul Walker tribute—started playing, my reaction was immediate. The tears started flowing and I couldn’t hold them back. I cried all the way home. That’s the impact this movie had on me. As I write this, I am in tears. There is something so valuable here. There are lessons to be taken to heart. Lessons about what it means to be a good man. Lessons about family, and what that word means. Maybe you’re sitting here reading this and you’re like I used to be – completely dismissive of this franchise. I know that this is probably the last thing you were expecting to read about the summer’s first big action blockbuster, but do me a favour and given it a chance. Whether you decide to watch all seven in sequential order (it goes 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, then 3, for your information) or to just see Furious 7 in theaters, do yourself a favor and take a chance. You just might find something of value, like I have.

When James Wan, Vin Diesel, and the rest committed to completing Furious 7 in Paul Walker’s absence, they set out to finish the film for Paul, knowing that it’s what he would have wanted. I think that if Paul Walker were here today, he’d be immensely proud of what they accomplished. Rest in peace Paul. You earned it.

SDCC: The Many Movies of Marvel – Predictions & Hypotheses

It should come as no surprise that comic book movies are a hot commodity right now. There are currently over 10 superhero movies that have already been announced, including new additions to the Avengers, Captain America, Spider-Man, X-Men, and Fantastic Four franchises. Marvel Studios is looking to add to that number in a big way this week after announcing six new untitled Marvel films (adding to the two they already had slated). There’s a ton of thought and consideration that goes into picking dates for these big blockbuster films and it has become commonplace for a studio to “claim” a particular date for one of their upcoming releases (it doesn’t always work, however – Warner Bros pushed Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice back to May 6th, 2016 after Marvel had already claimed that date for a film that ended up being Captain America 3. Both films are still scheduled to be released on that date, which is insane.). It’s crazy that Marvel Studios has now claimed eight separate dates for films we know almost nothing about, but Warner Bros. is expected to release their upcoming slate of DC Comics films this weekend at San Diego Comic Con and many see this move as Marvel’s opening salvo. If DC is planning to official announce six movies this weekend, Marvel’s going to announce seven. It’s crazy, but fun.

As soon as Marvel announced these dates, everyone scrambled to predict what these films could possibly be, and being who I am, I was excited to joined the fray. Here were my initial predictions after Marvel first announced five new dates (the first three were already confirmed):

May 2, 2015: “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
July 17, 2015: “Ant-Man”
May 6, 2016: “Captain America 3”
July 8, 2016: “Doctor Strange”
May 5, 2017: “Thor 3”
July 28, 2017: “Guardians of the Galaxy 2”
November 3, 2017: “Ms. Marvel”
July 6, 2018: “Avengers 3”
November 2, 2018: “Inhumans”
May 3, 2019: “Iron Man 4/Reboot”

I was fairly confident and happy with this list. Of the seven unknowns, I was positive about at least four of them and I had a good feeling about the rest. Then Marvel screwed it all up. Remember how I was talking about film studios reserving dates way ahead of time? A while back, when Amazing Spider-Man 2 was still in production, Sony announced that Amazing Spider-Man 3 and Amazing Spider-Man 4 would be released on June 10, 2016 and May 4th, 2018, respectively. Well, things have not been looking good for the Amazing Spider-Man franchise as of late, and it was announced that Amazing Spider-Man 3 would be vacating it’s 2016 spot for a date in 2018, meaning Amazing Spider-Man 4 would be abandoning its May 4th date. Surprise, surprise, Marvel swooped in and planted a flag on this date for another, as-yet-unannounced film, a mere five days after doing so with five other dates. So I had to re-evaluate my predictions to include this extra film:

May 2, 2015: “Avengers: Age of Ultron”
July 17, 2015: “Ant-Man”
May 6, 2016: “Captain America 3”
July 8, 2016: “Doctor Strange”
May 5, 2017: “Thor 3”
July 28, 2017: “Guardians of the Galaxy 2”
November 3, 2017: “Ms. Marvel”
May 4, 2018: “Avengers 3”
July 6, 2018: “Inhumans”
November 2, 2018: “Black Panther”
May 3, 2019: “Iron Man 4/Reboot”

I feel slightly less confident about this list for various reasons, which I will get into, but first we have to talk about an image that “leaked” online at some point on Thursday. I have no idea where this image came from. I can’t find any reliable source of any kind, yet people on Twitter are going crazy over it. Personally, I think it’s BS, and I’ll explain why. Here it is:

Marvel's SDCC Movie Slate

Pretty interesting, but most likely fake. That isn’t to say that parts of it aren’t correct – I’m positive that nine of those films will actually exist at some point and in some form (five of them have already been officially announced) and I think that a lot of the dates are correct, but there are few things in that image that I’m just not buying. I’ll explain as I attempt to elucidate why I made the predictions that I made.

Three of my predictions were super easy to make – we already know that Thor 3, Doctor Strange, and Avengers 3 are definitely coming. Both Thor 3 and Doctor Strange have screenwriters attached, but only the latter has a director in Scott Derrickson. Between the two of them, Doctor Strange seems like the furthest along and has long been rumored to be the second 2016, hence why I put it first and slotted Thor 3 into the May 2017 spot. As for Avengers 3, assuming Marvel keeps to that franchise’s release schedule, it’ll be out in 2018, which is the date many have expected since Avengers: Age of Ultron was announced for 2015. Initially, there was no May date set for 2018, which struck me as odd considering Marvel Studios has released a film on the first Friday in May for 5 of the last 7 years and they’ve got that spot locked down for 2015, 2016, and 2017. Many thought that Disney might have been saving the May 4th, 2018 spot for a Star Wars film, since the first six were all released in May and May 4th is unofficially known as “Star Wars Day” (May the Fourth Be With You). As it turns out, they just didn’t want to release on the same day as Amazing Spider-Man 4, and as soon as that date was vacated, they pounced. So I moved Avengers 3 up from the July spot, because it just makes more sense. That leaves five more unknown films.

It was rumored earlier this year that Marvel was so happy with Guardians of the Galaxy that they’d already started planning a sequel. More recently, some very spoilery rumors regarding Avengers: Age of Ultron have surfaced that seem to confirm this development. A July 2017 release date gives them three years to turn this film around and positions it less than a year away from Avengers 3, which many believe will feature the villain Thanos, who was teased at the end of the Avengers and will factor into the events of Guardians of the Galaxy in a big way.

That leaves us with one more date in 2017, which I think will go to a movie centered around Carol Danvers, aka Ms. Marvel/Captain Marvel. Ms. Marvel is a character that Kevin Feige has been talking about for a while and she’s a character that many fans have been clamoring for. It makes sense for a lot of reasons. First off, people are ready for a female-led superhero film, and Marvel has traditionally been pretty good with featuring a diverse line-up of characters (the current Ms. Marvel in the comics is a Muslim teenager, and just this week Marvel announced that the new Thor would be a woman and that the Captain America identity would be taken up by the Falcon, a black man). Rumor has it that DC is planning on announcing a solo Wonder Woman film for 2017, so it would be crazy for Marvel not to have their own female hero ready for the same year. It’s quite possible that this film and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 could switch places to better position a Ms. Marvel movie to go head-to-head with Wonder Woman. So apart from reasons regarding diversity, why else does this movie make sense? Well, Ms. Marvel got her super powers from a Kree superhero named Captain Marvel. Who are the Kree? They’re a blue-skinned alien race found in the Marvel universe. The main protagonist in Guardians of the Galaxy is Ronan the Accuser, a member of the Kree race. There was also a blue alien featured in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this season that many believe could be also be a Kree. The groundwork is already being set. Ms. Marvel is also an Avenger. As the Marvel Cinematic Universe delves deeper and deeper into the cosmic side of things, it makes sense to introduce more characters who can tie the cosmic side of the universe in with the more grounded side, especially if this is all leading up to a big showdown against Thanos in Avengers 3. Need more convincing? In the comics, Ms. Marvel has taken up the mantle of Captain Marvel and is currently a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and I just predicted that earlier in 2017, we’ll see a Guardians of the Galaxy sequel. They could even use it to introduce her. It just makes so much sense that Marvel would be crazy not to do it. Some believe that if Marvel is going to take the “risk” of releasing a superhero film starring a female character, they’d go with Black Widow, since she’s a known quantity, but that’s not really a risk at all. Black Widow has starred in three of the biggest superhero films of all time. Marvel wants to have a female-led superhero movie that introduces a new female character. They want someone they can add to the Avengers to increase the amount of female members. I truly believe this film will be announced on Saturday. 100%.

Carol Danvers Captain Marvel Ms. Marvel
Coming to a theater near you in 2017.

Still with me? We now have release dates for all of Marvel’s Phase Three films – Ant-Man, Captain America 3, Doctor Strange, Thor 3, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Ms. Marvel, and Avengers 3. But what comes next? There are still three dates left. I believe that those dates will be filled by The Inhumans, Black Panther, and Iron Man 4 (which could either star Robert Downey Jr. or recast the character). Now you’re wondering who The Inhumans and Black Panther are. Well, for starters, they’re two properties that Marvel Studios has been name dropping for YEARS. Kevin Feige has wanted to make these movies for as long as I can remember. It was only a matter of time. Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa, the king of a fictional African country known as Wakanda who also happens to be an Avenger (Wakanda is the country that Vibranium, the metal used to create Captain America’s shield, comes from). He was the first African superhero in mainstream comics and Marvel would love to have him be the first African superhero in mainstream comic book movies (No, Steel does not count). Remember what I said about Marvel loving diversity? I swear, if they announced a Ms. Marvel movie AND a Black Panther movie this weekend, they’d have enough goodwill to sail on for years. As for the Inhumans, well, Marvel has been trying to make them happen for ages. The Inhumans are a group of humans who were experimented on by… can you guess? The Kree. Yes, those Kree. The ones who appear in Guardians of the Galaxy and give Ms. Marvel her powers. Can you see how this is all fitting together? It’s like a puzzle, and once you’ve got one piece, the rest start falling into place. It has long been rumored that Marvel would try to use the Inhumans in place of the X-Men in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In the Marvel comics, anybody can develop a superpower. When this happens, it’s called a mutation and that character is referred to as a mutant. Unfortunately for Marvel, Fox owns the rights to the X-Men franchise, and that includes the use of the word “mutant” (which is why Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, two well-known mutants in the comics, were referred to as “miracles” in the post-credits scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier). This presents a problem for Marvel, as it limits who can gain powers in their cinematic universe. The Inhumans present a way out of this problem for Marvel. They’ve got a substance known as the Terrigen Mist which can be used to unlock the hidden potential in a human. This Mist could pave the way for a whole slew of new superhumans (and supervillains) for Marvel to use in films. Plus, the Inhumans are currently getting a huge push from the publishing side of Marvel which usually happens when a film is being set to release. You know who else is getting a huge push? Ant-Man. And Doctor Strange. Are you connecting the dots yet? As for Iron Man 4, well… I don’t really have a good reason for this guess – I just think it’s time. When May 2019 rolls around, it will have been six years since a stand-alone Iron Man film. Most people are expecting the main Avengers to be re-cast and/or killed off post-Avengers 3, although lately Robert Downey Jr. has been expressing interest in continuing to play Tony Stark, so who knows what will happen? The timing just seems right. Phase Four will already be well underway by the time 2019 rolls around, but Iron Man was the film that started this whole world and it makes sense for Iron Man to be a crucial part of the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Plus, every Iron Man film was released in May.

Marvel Avengers NOW! SDCC
Entertainment Weekly released this Marvel Comics promotional image before San Diego Comic Con which illustrates which Marvel characters will be emphasized in the coming months and years. You’ll notice that most of them are characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (right down to Deathlok, from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and if they’re not already (like Doctor Strange and Ant-Man), they will be soon.

So there you have my rationalizations. Now by this point you may be saying “But Andrew, it looks like whoever made/released that fake image of the upcoming Marvel slate agrees with you!”, but you would be wrong. The first thing I noticed when I looked at that image was the absence of the May 4th, 2018 date. Granted, it was only announced two days ago, but still – it’s not like Marvel just grabbed the date with absolutely no idea of which film to put into that slot. Seems odd to me that if this were truly the official upcoming slate, it wouldn’t include that crucial date. There’s also no mention of Ms. Marvel or Captain Marvel, which I think is absolutely ludicrous. The other thing that bothers about this image are the titles of the films. There’s nothing wrong with Doctor Strange, Black Panther, or The Inhumans. I also think that “Thor: Ragnarok” seems like a fairly likely title, especially if this is going to be the last Thor film for the foreseeable future, but “Captain America: The Fallen Son”? Yes, this is the title of a comic book storyline involving Captain America, but it’s the comic book storyline where Captain America dies, and if he does (although it’s pretty much a matter of “when” at this point), it’ll be in Avengers 3. The same thing worries me about the “Ragnarok” title, which pretty much implies that Asgard and the Norse Gods would be facing their version of the apocalypse, and in the comic book storyline, they didn’t survive it. At the same time, they could just be using the titles of comic book storylines that really have no resemblance to the comic book storylines they had previously been used for. For example, Avengers: Age of Ultron borrows its name from a recent comic book event that features an alternate future in which Ultron takes over the world. Suffice it to say that that is not the plot of the movie. It’s a nice little piece of brand synergy, but anyone who goes into Avengers: Age of Ultron looking for something that resembles the comic book event is going to be disappointed. “Guardians of the Galaxy: War of Kings” also falls into this trap – “War of Kings” is the title of a Marvel Comics event, but that storyline heavily features the Shi’ar, an alien race that Fox currently holds the rights to (that storyline also features The Inhumans, who wouldn’t have been introduced yet).

The sub-title that bothers me the most, however, is Avengers: Civil War. The Civil War storyline was huge at the time, garnering national attention. In the story, a superhero team called the New Warriors was the subject of a reality TV show in which they hunted down supervillains. During the filming, one of the villains, a living-bomb named Nitro, detonates, destroying a number of city blocks, including an elementary school. 600 people are killed and public sentiment towards superheroes plummets. Tony Stark spearheads a “Superhuman Registration Act”, requiring all heroes to register with the government. One of the big turning points was when Stark convinced Spider-Man to unveil himself as Peter Parker on live television. While Iron Man and Spider-Man embraced registration, Captain America takes an anti-registration stance, believing the act to be a violation of civil liberties. A superhero civil war then ensues, with Captain America leading his anti-registration forces against Iron Man’s pro-registration forces. It’s an epic, politically charged storyline that, in theory, could make for a great film. There are a number of problems, however, the first being that this storyline requires an expansive cast. There simply aren’t enough superpowered heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to pull this off. If Avengers 3 is Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Ant-Man against Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and Doctor Strange, it just won’t have the same effect. I also believe that the Civil War storyline works much better when there is a lot of history involved. It’s hero vs. hero, friend vs. friend, and I don’t think two Avengers films are enough to really make that rivalry work. Then there’s the fact that Marvel doesn’t have the rights to some of the necessary character. Spider-Man was a huge part of the storyline and I’m stumped as to who you could use to replace him. Who in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has an important secret identity? Currently, no one. The Fantastic Four and the X-Men also played large roles in the storyline. It would obviously have to be adapted to have a smaller cast, but I really don’t know what you would do without Spider-Man. Oh, and there’s another problem – whatever happened to Thanos? Ever since the first Avengers film, Marvel Studios has been setting Thanos up to be the big bad that everything is supposedly leading up to. Thanos has absolutely no place in a Civil War adaptation. I suppose there’s the chance that they borrow the name “Civil War” without actually adapting the Civil War storyline, but then what’s the point? I think a much more likely title is “Avengers: Infinity”. This is also the title of a recent Marvel Comics crossover, but this one actually involves Thanos. It also works with the inclusion of The Infinity Gauntlet, the super-powered glove that is used to house all of the Infinity Gems, which Marvel Studious has been seeding throughout its films (the Tesseract from Avengers and the Aether from Thor: The Dark World are both Infinity Gems – you’ll be hearing a lot more about those in the coming years). By using this title, you’re also driving home the point that the Avengers will always be around, even if all of the characters die or all of the actors are re-cast. It works from a story standpoint, a thematic standpoint, AND a marketing standpoint. No, “Avengers: Civil War” is not happening. I would bet money on it. Likewise with “World War Hulk”.

Ignoring the fact that Kevin Feige has reiterated multiple times that they have no plans to make “Planet Hulk” or “World War Hulk” into movies, it wouldn’t make sense to release an Avengers film the same year as a World War Hulk adaptation, because in order for World War Hulk to work, it would pretty much need to be an Avengers film. For those unfamiliar with the storyline, prior to the events of Civil War, a secret group of Marvel superheroes known as “the Illuminati” collaborated to fire the Hulk off into space following a rampage in Las Vegas that resulted in 26 deaths. While they intended to send Hulk to a peaceful, uninhabited world, something went wrong and the Hulk found himself on a hostile planet in which he was enslaved by a dictatorial ruler called the Red King who forced him to compete with a number of other aliens in gladiatorial battles. Once the Hulk frees himself, takes out the Red King, and becomes ruler of the planet, he falls in love and finds out that his queen is pregnant with the Hulk’s child. Of course, the Hulk isn’t allowed to find peace and the shuttle that he arrived on ends up self-destructing, destroying both his wife and unborn child, along with a good portion of the planet. Enraged, Hulk enlists his new alien allies, loads them up on a ship, and hurtles back towards Earth, ready to wage war on the Illuminati, whom he blames for the whole ordeal. Yeah, both of these storylines would make for really awesome films, but it’s not happening, especially not in 2018, mere months after a full-fledged Avengers film. Those aren’t the only reasons, but I can’t get into the rest without going into spoiler territory. You can look up Avengers: Age of Ultron spoilers if you really want to know.

So there you have it – my predictions, along with rationalizations as to why I believe they’ll happen. We’ll all see how close I am when the Marvel Studios panel is held on Saturday night in San Diego.

X-Men X-Amined Part 2 – X-Men

In this, the second installment of X-Men X-Amined (hooray for X-puns!), I’m taking a look at the film that started it all – Bryan Singer’s X-Men.

X-Men

In many ways, X-Men was the start of our current age of comic book movies. Sure, prior to this we’d gotten the earlier Superman and Batman films, not to mention a slew of bad films that are better off forgotten, but they hadn’t taken off in quite the same way. Those Superman and Batman films were popular, to be sure, but they were anomalies. X-Men started a trend. We started getting these films on a yearly basis. X-Men was released and within a five-year span Blade II, Spider-Man, Daredevil, X2: X-Men United, Hulk, The Punisher, Spider-Man 2, and Blade: Trinity were all released. Those were obviously not all good films, but it was the overall success of the comic book movie that lead to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. X-Men got the ball rolling, and it did so by showing the world that it was possible to make a good comic book movie. That’s not to take anything away from the Donner Superman films or the Burton Batman films, but look at the trajectory each of those series’ took in their third and fourth films – the Superman quadrilogy scored a 93%, an 89%, a 26% and an 8% while the Batman films received a 71%, an 81%, a 41%, and a 12%. By the late 90’s, Warner Bros. had effectively killed the superhero genre. X-Men resuscitated it. A big part of the reason why is due to casting.

Can you even imagine the X-Men on screen without Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, and Patrick Stewart? Obviously you can, because X-Men: First Class came out and it was awesome, but casting is an absolutely crucial aspect of filmmaking and the wrong actor can easily sink a good film. Luckily, Singer and company nailed it. As we’ve already discussed, Jackman has become the quintessential Wolverine, and McKellen and Stewart have embodied their roles in much the same way. I’d argue that regardless of who goes on to play the roles of Wolverine, Professor Xavier and Magneto in the future, they’ll always be in the shadow of these three. The rest of the cast is a mixed bag, but it honestly doesn’t matter because of how spot-on these three main characters are. I don’t mind James Marsden and Famke Janssen as Scott Summers and Jean Grey, but neither the characters nor the actors were ever fully utilized. Anne Paquin as Rogue always bothered me, but that’s because I’m not a huge Paquin fan and Rogue has never been my favorite character. Halle Berry is serviceable as Storm, but once again, I’ve never been a huge fan of either. Despite the fact that I’m less than enchanted with a few of the decisions, on the whole, I think the film was well cast. It’s hard to nail down an ensemble that works well together, but Singer did just that. He also took an interesting approach when adapting this film’s plot.

The most logical thing to do when starting a new superhero franchise is to tell an origin story. The X-Men in the film, however, are a far cry from how the X-Men began in the comics – for starters, of the film’s cast, only Cyclops, Jean, and Iceman (who played a minor role) were original members of the X-Men (Beast and Angel, the other two, would show up in Brett Ratner’s bastardized X-Men threequel). Characters like Storm, Wolverine, and Rogue didn’t show up for quite a while. Likewise, when the X-Men started, Professor Xavier’s school wasn’t a full blown educational institution; that came much, much later. The film definitely took a lot of liberty’s in this regard, changing the back stories of numerous characters, but it ultimately didn’t matter. The school setting worked well on film and gave the X-Men universe a more “lived in” feel. Singer picked Rogue as a focus because her power set accentuated her alienation, which was the theme from the comics that most hit home for him. By introducing Wolverine and Rogue as “outsiders”, the audience was treated to an origin story without having to give the X-Men themselves one. Magneto’s plan to turn the human race into mutants is a little over-the-top, but it is a very “comic booky” storyline in a comic book movie and it’s one that not only jives with Magneto’s character but also complements the theme’s of the movie. I can see how it might be too silly for some, but it’s true to the source material, and that’s what’s important.

I could go on, talking about the film’s excellent comedic tone, the goofy one-liners (“Do you know what happens to a toad when it’s struck by lightning?”), and the various continuity issues that now plague this movie, but I think I’ll leave you with this: X-Men is not a perfect film. It’s not the best comic book film. It’s not even the best X-Men film. But it legitimized the comic book movie in a way nothing ever had before, and for that alone, it deserves our respect. The fact that it’s a good movie is just adamantium icing on the bone cake.