Marvel

May 17, 2017

‘Guardians Vol.2’ Lacks the Magic, but That’s Not All Bad

It would be putting it mildly that the expectations were out of this world for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.” James Gunn’s oddball superhero action comedy introduced fans of the MCU to a brand new type of hero and extended the storytelling into outer space. Sure, both “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World” took us into the mythical world of Asgard, but the colorful landscape of deep space was something to behold.

Also, the fact that Marvel/Disney was willing to take a chance on a Troma-alum like Gunn who seems to have an affinity for tentacle Hentai porn and graphic violence, was a breathe of fresh air. You had the prefect blend of heart, family-friendliness and of course sexual innuendo, hence the first “Guardians” was a smash hit.

Take us three years to 2017 and Gunn is back at it again with “Vol. 2,” a flawed, but fun, sequel that is essentially a companion piece to the MCU as opposed to any type of film that progresses the overall story arc in the MCU. More importantly, it seems like the shackles were completely off of Gunn to create a film in the way that he sees fit, and that is where the film both shines, and trips over itself at times.

We meet our heroes back in 2014, fresh off the heels of their big victory against Ronan the Accuser and turning over the Power Stone to the Nova Corps on Xandar. This time they are helping the Sovereign protect some batteries from a giant tentacle monster. With their job complete, the Guardians receive their reward; the captured Nebula.

Of course, things go south quick and our heroes crash land on a lone planet and are greeted by a man names Ego, who tells Star Lord that he’s his father and wants to show him his birth rite. At this point our heroes part ways and the film gets the plot moving.

It’s difficult to put into words what’s wrong with this film without sounding like a cranky old man that doesn’t like cutesy Disney-like characters, the use, or overuse, of music, and a couple of jokes and scenes that are a little too self-indulgent. But I guess that’s what you get when you let an inmate run the asylum.

The biggest criticism from most people is that the sequel isn’t as good as the first one. Wow, what a criticism to make…the sequel isn’t as good. Hard hitting stuff. However, I have been pounding the drum in my perceived notion that there has been a recent dip in the quality of Marvel product. But this could also be my perception since the quality has been high for nearly decade, that is was inevitable that a few leaks would start to spring from the hull of the Titanic that is Marvel Studios.

I have to admit, during the title sequence of “Vol. 2” nearly took me out of the film. Unlike Chris Pratt’s trounce through Morag dancing and singing to “Come and Get Your Love,” the Baby Groot dance to “Mr. Blue Sky,” while the rest of the team is fighting a massive alien set the tone that I was going to be annoyed with cute antics. Pratt’s dance set the tone for fun and personally I rather see a REAL HUMAN character on screen than a computer generated creature pimped put to sell Pop! Vinyl figurines.

However, the film rebounded from that and turned into a pretty fun, stand-alone Marvel film. There is meditation on family and abandonment and the idea that the heart should drive you as opposed to your brain, and those themes were handled quite well considering all the boombastic action going on for about 80% of the film.

This brings me to one of the things I really liked, and that was Gunn’s freedom to pay homage to his friends on screen, namely Michael Rooker and his brother, Sean Gunn. The additional screen time and plot progression of Rooker’s Yondu, and Gunn’s Kraglin is something unexpected and a breathe of fresh air. Being close to the director is certainly a perk, but the way both Yondu and Kraglin are treated in “Vol. 2” is something a lot of studios with millions of dollars invested in a film wouldn’t allow to happen; make them a central part of the film. But low and behold, they are given much more screen time and are allowed to play pivotal roles, especially at the film’s climax.

At the end of the day, these films are bulletproof. No matter the reviews or criticism, “Vol. 2” will make close to a billion dollars worldwide, and the Marvel juggernaut just keeps chugging along. In all fairness, however, it’s fair to openly criticize this film, because it’s not perfect, and has it’s flaws, but don’t criticize it just to criticize because overall, “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2,” is a harmless Summer blockbuster that is just another piece of the Marvel machine heading towards the inevitable “Infinity War,” and if anything, at least this film is proving that you don’t need to shoehorn things into a universe that is so bloated that at times it seems to be collapsing in on itself.

“Vol. 2” is the closest thing we’ve had to a stand-alone Marvel movie, thus far. No need for cute cameos or a character just passing by. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t mind just seeing a “Guardians of the Galaxy” film universe. It’s ripe for the picking and there are plenty of things to cherry pick and create some fun films. Hell, a talking racoon and a tree are some of the most talked about characters in the MCU; who’d of thought they would be more beloved at this point than Iron Man or Captain America. People are looking for their heroes to be against the grain, and that is why “Black Panther,” for my money is going to blow people away, but tread carefully when giving the masses what they want, the disappointment could also be monumental and remember; with great power, comes great responsibility.

March 22, 2017

Matt’s Take: The State of Marvel’s Netflix Universe

What an age of wonder we continue to live in! Superheroes, Star Wars, Pixar, Marvel, *cough* dc *cough* and so much more. Every comic book, sci-fi, and fantasy nerd is living their wildest dreams with the arms-race continuing at a pace never before seen in modern pop culture. If you dream it, and there is a market for it, it will surely be adapted in some form or another. But are chinks starting to form in the armor of Netflix/Marvel/Disney’s after a pretty rough take on their latest hero, “Iron First.”

Full disclosure, I’ve yet to dive into the newest Netflix Marvel series, “Iron Fist,” but man, based on those reviews, which I normally take more serious then a fortuneteller in a strip mall next to the Chinese Take-Out, there has to be something to them, well, because there are so many bad ones.

But in comparing Season One of “Daredevil” that many people thought pretty much changed the game for Marvel, where are they starting to go wrong after it’s Second Season? Sure, “Jessica Jones” upped the storytelling and introduced the strongest female character that Marvel has put on the screen yet (sorry Black Widowers), but there has been a noticeable drop in consistency.

Perhaps the seasons are a little too long…for me. Some would argue they aren’t long enough, but 13 episodes, with maybe about six of the episodes being of substance and moving the plot along, 10 episodes seem like the way to go.

This brings me to “Luke Cage,’ currently the highest rated Marvel TV show, at least on Rotten Tomatoes, the “be all, end all” of Movie, TV, blah blah blah reviews. As a whole, the show is good. It takes on a lot of issues that scare conservatives and white people, and show that no matter what color you might be, corruption is universal. That might be reaching a little too deep into “Cage” but it does show the social climate of a predominate African-American neighborhood, and is no doubt the most politically charged of the TV MCU so far.

Mike Colter IS Luke Cage. He’s physically imposing, tender at times, but still a reluctant hero who thinks more about his situation than the events happening around him. He’s the anti-thesis to Daredevil in many senses. Whereas Matt Murdock seeks justice and protects his neighborhood, Luke stands on the sidelines and lets his native Harlem fall victim to elected officials and criminals. He knows what he has to do, but prefers to hide and let the neighborhood rip itself apart. Of course, as in most of these superhero origin stories, he sees the error of his ways and with the help of some well-written female characters, and of course the introduction of a villain that can tear his world apart, comes to his senses and decides to save the day.

Unlike “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones,” this series also lacked an actual villain with a super-powered background. No mind-control or extreme ninja skills with an option to come back from the dead. It was, at first, a fight between a super-strong, yet reluctant hero, and a crime boss, and turned into a super-strong, now active hero, against a crime boss, but now a crime boss is in a super-suit. I do like the re-inclusion of the almost long forgotten Hammer Industries back into the MCU, and it re-opens the doors to maybe get Sam Rockwell back into the mix, which is always welcome.

With the positives, comes the negatives. I really wasn’t a fan of the final fight between Cage and the season’s big bad, Diamonback. It was underwhelming, there just wasn’t much there, and even though some people might think the build up was just enough to give the final fight some pathos, but just fell flat, just like many fights and bad guys in the MCU. To this date, Kilgrave, aka, The Purple Man, is the only villain that really comes to mind that posed a great threat, as well as it being the most personal and tragic.

And while this might make me a traitor to all of my musical sensibilities, considering I love Wu-Tang Clan, I really could have done without the Method Man “freestyle” about Luke Cage during a segment of Sway in the Morning. I don’t know, it seemed so forced and just kind of an out of nowhere element of the show. Now listen, I love Method Man and everything about Wu-Tang Clan, but….why? Why include a musical interlude about Luke Cage in the middle of an episode. No sir, I don’t like it.

Where they’ll go with Season Two of “Luke Cage,” I don’t really know, and will they go the route of releasing the next season before “The Defenders” is finally released, and will the less-than-favorable reviews of “Iron Fist” effect said “Defenders.”

Sure, I haven’t gotten started on “Iron Fist” just yet, but I honestly do feel my enthusiasm waning for these more mature Marvel hero(ines). Yeah, it looks like Frank Castle will be returning sooner rather than later, but just like Roman Times, the crowd is fickle and will boo without mercy if they don’t like something. That, or in fact, “Iron Fist” really is that bad.

People also tell me “Hey, ‘Agents of SHIELD’ has gotten better.” Meh, I’m sure it’s fine, but first impressions are everything, and with the “Winter Solider Oki-Doke,” as I’ll call it, and a character who was as insufferable as Skye (who I also hear got better with time) I pretty much tuned out. I guess what I’m trying to say is that Marvel, TV-wise, has had it’s share of ups-and-downs, and ebbs-and-flows, and should be able to bounce back from a couple of sub-par, ie, not able to meet the lofty expectations of “fans,” outings lately.

What we all need to remember is that while we all waited with bated breath for these Marvel shows to come to Netflix, how high were the hopes for “Daredevil?” I’m sure a lot of people would raise their hands and yell out, “Oh, I knew the whole time!” Puh-lease! After the letdown that was Ben Affleck’s “Daredevil,” and the juggling of show-runners, will you honestly tell me without laughing that you had 100% confidence in Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock and the kid from the Mighty Ducks as his sidekick? You…are a liar.

We were spoiled with “Daredevil” and it ultimately lead to unrealistic notions that everything that Marvel would put on Netflix would be diamonds. This is their first lump of coal, according to “highly qualified” reviewers, but the real test will see how this effects future seasons and the chance that Marvel is willing to take on even more fringe characters. Personally, I’m waiting on Moon Knight, Marvel’s version of Batman pretty much, but it worries me now because of the backlash of “Iron Fist.” Thanks critics, this is why we can’t have nice things…

July 23, 2016

Trailer Hot Take: Luke Cage/Iron Fist

This weekend is San Diego Comic Con, and around this time the floodgates usually open for all sorts of first looks, trailers, news, notes, and general nerd-dom. For fans of Netflix and their Marvel offers, this was a big week with both a trailer for Luke Cage, and a teaser for Iron Fist. Let’s dive in and take a look.

First look at Frankie Faison playing Pop
Ready….
Kick in the door, waving the car door….
THEE SHOT of the trailer
These are so many things to look into this shot, done with great purpose. It’s masterful
Remy “Cottonmouth” Danton
Look at that beauty. With an ODB track on the trailer, and A Tribe Called Quest working the soundtrack….what more could you want from this….
and now….
We don’t know much yet about the adventures of Danny Rand and his kung-fu antics, but here are a few stills from the teaser.
Young Danny with his mom as the plane goes down
Monks….so you know where this is going
Mr. Danny Rand
With these two trailers it finally fills out the roster of The Defenders, which is supposed to premier sometime in 2017. Fun times ahead for all!
April 14, 2016

Trailer Hot Take: Doctor Strange (Teaser Trailer)

Hey kids, Matt back again with another “Trailer Hot Take.” I really don’t pay much attention to network TV anymore, and I had no idea a Doctor Strange teaser trailer was dropping on “The Jimmy Kimmel Show” yesterday, so this was a little under my radar. But now that it’s on  EVERYONE’S radar, let’s jump right into the stills:

 Not much here, just the cool title card
The accident that likely begins Stephen Strange’s journey
Could this be Clea…which would eventually lead us to Dormammu?
Well, you have to hand it to him…..
What could this seal mean?
The Ancient One is here!
And The One knows what’s up…..
Mads Mikkelsen and his disciples….but who could he be playing…
Baron Mordo, but what are his ambitions this time around….
Marvel always knows how to give you those money shots…the cloak and the Sanctum Sanctorum
Overall a nice little tease of what’s the come, but we’ll see how the magic element is played up, and the lack of Wong in this trailer is a little odd, but whatever. This might be Marvel’s biggest gamble to date. Introducing magic was always a little risky to the MCU, but people thought introducing space with “Guardians of the Galaxy” was crazy too.
kthnxbye.
February 4, 2016

3 Simplistic Things: January 2016

The new year begins, and while it might be new, the old saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” With that, here are three things to take away this past January.

1. The X-Files Return:

After nearly a year of build up, “The X-Files” returned and our favorite believer and skeptic, Mulder and Scully, respectively, look like they haven’t missed a beat.

After their last venture, the mix-reviewed “X-Files: I Want to Believe” it seemed like the X-Files were buried, but since everything that’s old is new again, the iron was struck while it was hot, as they say. The two-part premier at the end of January was a welcome return to form for the agents, but of course controversy was added after word leaked that Gillian Anderson was supposedly offered half the salary that her counterpart, David Duchovny, for the revival. Either way, with four episodes remaining, and fan interest reignited, could it be possible that more X-Files could be on the way.

2. #OscarsSoWhite Controversy:

Well, this was a big one, and for reasonably good reason. After the Oscar nominations were announced, the Internet exploded with news that there was not a single non-White actor or actress awarded a nomination. Enter #OscarsSoWhite.

Two arguments can be made for this, and both create great debate: Perhaps there simply were not enough “great” roles by non-White actors and actresses in 2015, and that brings me to the bigger question. Why? Why, were there not enough great performances by non-White actors? The simple answer is that because Hollywood is not making these roles available and great actors and actresses are being wasted. Granted, yes, Idris Elba not being nominated this year for “Beasts of No Nation” will be discussed for quite a while, but why are we talking about a single performance, when we should be talking about numerous non-White actors being nominated? There is your core problem, not just the Academy, but Hollywood as a whole.

3. Agent Carter Returns:

In a TV world crammed with male heroes, it’s great to see a female heroine come back with a vengeance. “Agent Carter” returned, and after some questionable promos that I saw about this season being a little too silly, I’m sold that Hayley Atwell is back and better than ever. Moving from NYC, and trading the concrete jungle for the palm trees of Los Angeles, “Carter” introduced some new Marvel lore (hopefully) and set the tone for the introduction of some mystical and spacey things to come.

That’s it for this month, let’s see what kind of love we get in February.

May 1, 2015

Simply TV: Marvel’s Daredevil Episode Four: In the Blood (Matt’s Take)

SMASHING

In the Blood –Smashing

This is where the proverbial “rubber hits the road.” The fourth episode of “Daredevil” has the perfect amount of violence, and storytelling, that will likely pave the way for the rest of this first season (since this article has been written, a second season has already been order by Netflix).

“In the Blood” starts with a flashback of both Anatoly and Vladamir in a Ukrainian gulag five years prior to them arriving in Hell’s Kitchen and leading the Russian Mob and now running into the issue of the “man in the mask.”

Wesley arrives with a proposition for the brothers that will involve the help of Wilson Fisk. Speaking of Fisk, after his acquisition of “Rabbit in a Snowstorm” is goes back to the gallery and officially introduces himself to the art dealer, Vanessa, and offers to take her to dinner.

Meanwhile, the Russians are on the hunt for the “man in the mask” which brings them to abducting Claire and  questioning her for his whereabouts. Needless to say, Matt comes to Claire’s rescue and their relationship continues to blossom where she finally learns Matt isn’t Mike, but he’s Matthew.

On the other side of town, Karen wants been to become more involved in the United Allied liquidation, and Ben explains the dangers involved. While initially, skeptical, Ben accepts Karen’s proposal and begins digging a little deeper.

After the latest attack, Anatoly decides it’s time to go to Fisk for help, which angers Vladamir, but nonetheless accepts. The one mistake Anatoly makes is that you never interrupt Fisk while he’s at dinner….

These are just general brush strokes for an episode that unearths some interesting development, mainly about Fisk and how he views his relationships and business and how the two should never meet, and Anatoly can attest to that. “In the Blood” is our first real look into what we can expect from Fisk the rest of the season, and maybe even into the MCU if possible. Vincent D’Onofrio is calculated in every line he speaks and gives Fisk a sophisticated, but chilling, appeal. He’s put together well and while he speaks with authority, he also speaks with a sense of guilt and aloofness. He’s a worldly person, but at the same time afraid of the unknown and is incredibly protective of the city he lives in. While both the Claire and Matt and Foggy and Karen relationships will anchor this show, its likely the duo of Vanessa and Wilson that will have the widest and was interesting consequences in not only this show, but the future as well.

There weren’t as many Easter eggs in this episode, but the one that really stood out was Wesley’s comment about “men in iron suits or magic hammers.” It’s small, but it just goes to show you the care that has been taken with this universe.

The biggest takeaway, however, in this episode, at least for me, was the increased violence. There has been an increase in violence from the first two episodes to episode three and four, including two specific scenes; One, the attack on Claire, which hid most of the onscreen violence and swapped it with the aftermath. But it asks the question if this is going to be a trend on this show, starting with the attack on Karen in episode one, and continuing on from there. I understand that the “Damsel in Distress” plot device works, but I’d also like to see stronger female characters on this show, and there are glimpses in Karen and Claire, so hopefully that continues.

This brings me to the car door scene, which I won’t spoil per say, but I will say it’s one of the most violent scenes you’ll see in a Marvel property up to this point, and with that being said, it’s also an important scene, not only from a character trait that we see in Wilson Fisk, but from a Marvel standpoint its a flashpoint that is show the audience that they are willing to go to those dark places and they are will to possible take chances on more violent comic properties, namely The Punisher.

While episode three let it’s foot off the gas a bit, you can see the series starting to ramp up with a ton of machinations put into place; what will the Russians do now? What will happen with Fisk? Where will Matt and Claire’s relationship go? All this, and much more, on next week’s “Marvel’s Daredevil.”

Fun Fact: Back in 1987, Vincent D’Onofrio played Thor! In “Adventures in Babysitting.”   

April 29, 2015

Avengers: Age Of Ultron (DJ’s SPOILER FREE Take)

CELEBRATORY

Now, I’m not a psychic or anything.  I’m not from the future or possess some mutant power over probability or telepathy or the space time continuum.  However, I know…without a shadow of a doubt…that The Avengers: Age of Ultron is going to be taken for granted in the next coming months.  Oh, we’ll all see it, for sure.  But cynics and critics who get paid a dime a word to say such cliched things as “this comic book movie craze is wearing thin for me” are going to crap on this film.  Hell, even some fans of the property are going to take for granted how great this film is.  The main question these groups of people will ask is if it is better than the first Avengers.  My answer to that is…no.  After hearing that, everyone will rush to judgement and think the film is a disappointment or even a failure.  It is astronomically far from that.  What you have to realize is that even before Age of Ultron was made, it was going to be impossible to make it better than the original.  The original Avengers is literally a dream come true.  It is a film that is the first ever culmination of years of planning and set-up for something that was thought to be impossible to pull off.  More so than Sin City.  More so than Watchmen.  The Avengers was not supposed to happen…but it did…and it was great.  Flawed?  Sure.  But despite whatever criticism lobbied toward it, it will forever have that glow of the first time.  All you realistically can hope for in a sequel is for it not to squander its predecessor’s steam or lose its way.  For it to continue exploring and expanding on the things that worked well in the original while managing to fix whatever mistakes the original suffered from.  Thankfully, Avengers: Age Of Ultron does that and then some.

Avengers: Age of Ultron centers around the assemblage of Earth’s mightiest heroes as they try and fend off a global assault from a self-aware computer program called Ultron.  The program itself is accidentally created by Dr. Bruce Banner and Tony Stark.  The team must fight for their lives and fight to stay together while the world is on the brink of total annihilation.  But I don’t want to really talk about that.  I want to talk about the real reason why this film works and why it will continue to work going forward. 

What is the best parts of any Tarantino movie?  Is it the ultra violent action scenes?  Is it the cool soundtrack?  Is it the story?  Not for my money.  It is the scenes where characters are talking to one another.  Their witty verbiage in their interactions.  What was the best parts of the new Star Trek films?  Was it the space battles?  Was it the phaser shootouts?  Was it the lens flares?  Not for my money.  It was the scenes where characters are talking to one another.  Their palpable chemistry.  Their understanding of who each of their characters are.  The same can be said of the first Avengers and thankfully of Age of Ultron.  Don’t get me wrong, the action scenes and set pieces in all these films are crazy good.  However, these team-up Marvel films go as far and will continue to go as far as the characters’ chemistry and interactive dialogue will take them.  Action scenes are easy to pull off compared to the task of assembling a large cast of characters that you have to make lovable in different ways and believable in their conversations with one another.  Special effects are a cinch compared to writing a character so well that fan boys geek out about them as much when they are out of their super suit having a normal conversation as they would seeing them in their super suit battling murderous megalomaniacal robots.  Avengers: Age of Ultron’s chemistry is its superpower.  The story has its flaws, but you are willing to forgive them because you love these characters and you love to be a fly on the wall in their superhero lives. 


The original players that return…Tony, Cap’, Thor, Widow, Banner, Hawkeye…are just as good if not better than before.  Robert Downey Jr. is the rockstar of the group without managing to overshadow the others.  Chris Evans’ ability to be honest and vulnerable as Steve Rogers yet stern and leader-like as Captain America is a marvel to watch. (See what I did there?) Hemsworth’s Thor seems to work best when he is allowed to be humorous and play up the fish out of water trope, which he does again here.  Hawkeye gets a much talked about backstory, but in my opinion, he also gets much better material to work with as a team member.  The Banner/Widow “thang” does take some getting used to, but ScarJo and Ruffalo make it feel genuine.  Scarlett Johansson is also given a scene in the middle of this film that was almost out of place in its subject matter and the dramatic power in which she plays it.  Kudos and whoa.  

Hey Widow.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes Called…

To be honest, the new players are the ones that I really spent my time focusing on.  Getting inserted into a world where the chemistry of characters is so important is no easy feat.  3 out of the 4 newbies manage to slide in with ease.  Elizabeth Olsen really does a fine job with Scarlet Witch, proving that she is keeping all the talent in the Olsen family.  Paul Bettany’s jump from voice over J.A.R.V.I.S. to live action Vision is so good that it is a flaw in the film that we don’t get more of him.  Andy Serkis even steals a scene as a character who may or may not be the nemesis in the upcoming Black Panther film.  But my one standout from the Avengers: Age of Ultron is predictably James Spader’s titular character.  The thing you have to prepare for, which will catch you off guard as it did me, is how funny and alive Ultron is in this film.  Some who have seen this performance already have been put off by this, believing a robot wouldn’t possess this much personality.  However, if you take the time to understand that this is a robot with the soul of one Tony Stark, it makes sense.  Ultron would of course be as eccentric and comically quirky as its genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist father.  Fans of James Spader will be amazed by how many of the actor’s signature mannerisms and facial ticks are alive and well in Ultron.  Getting back to my point about dialogue scenes, Ultron’s verbal interactions with Vision are possibly my favorites in the film.

Quicksilver is the new player that I had the most issues with.  The largest praise I can offer Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s performance is that it was not as bad as I thought it was going to be.  He and Olsen’s accents are not even as bad as I thought they were going to be.  Taylor-Johnson is not really bad at all.  It is just a bit of a low-key performance for a character that had so much more personality in X-Men: Days of Future Past.  And I freely admit that I thought Taylor-Johnson would be the superior Pietro Maximoff.  However, Evan Peters, much like what his character would do, steals Taylor-Johnson’s lunch in comparison.

Here I’ve been waxing poetic about character and dialogue and chemistry and I have neglected to talk about the popcorn action moments in this film.  I apologize.  Rest easy.  There are many. 

PUNY AFFORDABLE SEDAN!

Soooooo many.  So much so, that the biggest action scene in the first Avengers is merely the opening scene to this film.  Whedon, having written great set pieces in comic books for years, seems to have finally come into his own creating them as a director in his films.  The television show composition and cleanness of the first Avengers, a topic of criticism in the past, is gone thanks to the addition of cinematographer Ben Davis.  Davis, fresh off his stint on some film called Guardians of the Galaxy, really makes the film appear more cinematic while keeping its vibrancy. (Sorry DC)  Both know exactly what we want on a base level in an Avengers film, and both generously spoon feed us battle after battle with a wink and a smile. 

NERDGASM!!!

Speaking to the flaws of the film, I will say that there are some very hurried and even skipped over moments of exposition and character development in spots.  You can almost feel when a scene has been trimmed down for time.  This is why I was initially happy when the film was reported to be 3 hours long at first.  Film length never bothers me if there is a lot of story to tell or character development to get through.  You have not one but two beings of artificial intelligence whose motivations come at you at breakneck speed.  This is something in which Marvel appears to recognize, considering their announcement of an extended cut Blu-ray with alternate endings coming our way in the future.  Long films do limit their own box office receipts, so I understand the give and take that Marvel/Disney are up against.  Fans of the stand alone films Iron Man 3 or Thor: The Dark World will also be saddened to see little to nothing being carried over from those two films into Age of Ultron.  Most importantly, why Tony is back to being Iron Man after appearing to give it up in his last cinematic outing.  

Avengers: Age of Ultron is probably the best summer popcorn flick you’re going to see this year…the best you’ve had in two years…and the most fun you’ll have in the theater until the end of the year.  No, I don’t think it surpasses its predecessor on a comic book movie level, but that should not prevent you from CELEBRATING it or the fact that we got TWO of these films that were an unrealistically optimistic fantasy in our minds a little under a decade ago…with TWO MORE on the way!  Have some Vision…get tangled in strings…don’t drink from Thor’s flask…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.  

April 24, 2015

Simply TV: Marvel’s Daredevil Episode Three: Rabbit in a Snowstorm (Matt’s Take)

Daredevil: Rabbit in a Snowstorm – Breather

After two exciting episodes, how can Marvel’s Daredevil keeping upping the ante; easy, have a third episode silly. While the first two episodes seemed to concentrate on stand alone arcs and character development, episode three, entitled “Rabbit in a Snowstorm” starts to shape what we are going to see the rest of this season.

Matt and Foggy are still trying to find their groove with their law practice when their first big case falls into their lap; a murder in a bowling alley involving a man named Healy who seems to be well connected with James Wesley, a man we meet in episode one who works for a mysterious benefactor.
Matt is suspicious of Wesley and the reasoning behind hiring himself and Foggy.

Elsewhere, we meet Ben Urich, an old newspaper writer who is interested in a man in black taking on the Russian Mob. Urich, once a respected reporter, has seen the decline of the printed page and the rise of blogs, and has been relegated to writing fluff pieces instead of hard-hitting news.

As Healy’s case goes to trial, Matt uses his enhanced senses to remove jurors that seem to have been tampered with, but is dismayed to learn that even with that juror gone, the case still ends with a hung jury and Healy is back on the street, but is met by Daredevil who beats a name out of him; Wilson Fisk.

This episode is treated almost like a setup and is more filler than anything else. That isn’t to say it’s a bad episode, quite the opposite, it’s just that the previous two episodes were so good that this one “pales” in comparison. What we do get however is the introduction of Ben Urich, played by Vondie Curtis-Hall, who I’m sure is going to play into the grand scheme of things in a big way, especially since we are teased that both he and Karen Page will likely be working very closely together.

The other big reveal is of course the “rabbit” himself; Wilson Fisk, or in comic book parlance, Kingpin, played by Vincent D’onofrio. While we only catch a quick glimpse and only a few lines of dialogue, we see an icy, yet thoughtful man. As far as his look, and the complaint about his size, look people, to find someone the size of Wilson Fisk would be nearly impossible and not likely, so get off that, and listen, he’s the perfect look, and another thing; it’s Vincent F’ING D’onofrio.

The only real Easter egg of sorts in this episode would be a newspaper article that we in Ben’s off with the byline of “Battle of NY” which is an obvious nod to the events in “The Avengers.” It’s still a nice little shout-out of course.

The last thing I’ll bring up in this episode is the elevation of the violence this time around. We have a broken arm with a bone poking out of the skin, a head based with a bowling ball, another broken arm with the sound effect being the payoff, a stabbing with a shard of glass, and the coupe de grace; a suicide via a shard of metal through the eye.

While “Rabbit in a Snowstorm” might not be the strongest effort so far this season, in no way is it lacking; it’s merely a formality where new story lines need to be opened up and characters developed.

Fun Fact: Wilson Fisk’s first appearance was in The Amazing Spider Man #50 in 1967.

April 11, 2015

Simply TV: Daredevil – Season 1 (Of Many Hopefully)

FEARLESS
Due to my work on producing the Simplistic Reviews Podcast, I’ve been limited to only doing written reviews for films or shows that I truly have something to say.  Whether that be for good or for bad.  I’m sure Ultron and friends will get me talking soon along with that Mad guy in the desert.  But honestly my excitement for the show I’m reviewing today actually rivaled my excitement for both of those films combined.  I’m talking about the show about The Man Without Fear…Marvel’s Daredevil Netflix series.  A show that delivers on practically every optimistic hope I had for it and more.  A show that is going to usher in a whole heap more properties from the dark alleys of the MCU.  A show that can be used as a blueprint to make those shows enjoyable without compromising their grit and verve.  A show that takes its material seriously in a dramatic way…not a depressing one.  Daredevil is the show without fear that ironically is scary good. 
To really get into why I like Daredevil so much and why I think it’s one of the smartest moves Marvel has ever done, I think we need to talk about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. first.  Yes, Marvel fans…I know it has gotten better.  Just hear me out.  When S.H.I.E.L.D. was announced after The Avengers, fans of the MCU rejoiced from the assumption that the TV universe was going to be the perfect petri dish for the more fringe Marvel characters.  A minor league, if you will, for testing out heroes and villains for their inevitable jump to the film universe.  Fleshing out characters on the show, thus circumventing tedious origins stories in the films.  But that wasn’t what we got.  We got a show treading water in order to hide the secrets of Captain America: The Winter Soldier with characters Marvel never intended and still don’t seem to intend on calling up to the majors.  All the steam and residual love from The Avengers film was squandered before that show righted the ship.  And then Marvel made the deal with Netflix.  An outlet not handcuffed by the restrictions of the Disney home network.  An outlet that gives you the freedom and time to tell your story and flesh out more adult themed but popular characters.  Netflix had given Marvel the avenue to do what we wanted S.H.I.E.L.D. to do in its inception.  Flesh out a character…a great character by the way…who has the realistic possibility to be called up to the majors. (Hello Civil War) To be fair to S.H.I.E.L.D., they seem to be doing this method of public introduction of soon-to-be minted characters with the Inhumans storyline.  However, their work and those characters are not going to be as impactful in the long run as a character like Daredevil can be. 
Those of you who don’t know or care about this comic book inside stuff and just want to know what the show is about…let me take off my nerd hat and tell you.  Matt Murdock, the son of a down on his luck boxer, is blinded as a child by some toxic chemicals.  The accident causes his other senses to get heightened astronomically. (Hearing heartbeats, smelling people from long distances, etc.)  Murdock grows up and becomes a lawyer in the gritty New York borough of Hell’s Kitchen, using his abilities to get to the truth out of cases.  But at night…Matt goes out and fights crime as the vigilante known as Daredevil.  Things to take note of for those rolling their eyes thinking, “Not another cliched comic book show.”  
1. Yes, this is connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  But all allusions and references to The Avengers films are inserted more deftly and are there for the story…not just fan service.  (You hear that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. & Gotham?)
2. Yes, this is a Marvel superhero, but don’t think that he just walks all over his enemies unscathed. Daredevil takes more punishment than any hero you’ve ever seen.  And the damage he takes makes the fights he has have a stronger sense of peril than Thor on the back of a Chitauri Leviathan swooping down Broadway.  
3. You don’t have to know anything about any Marvel film to understand what’s going on.
Props to showrunner Steven DeKnight for weaving this tale and all the MCU elements together as tightly as he does.  He was someone I initially was hesitant about helming this show, mainly due to my disappointment from the loss of the man he replaced, Drew Goddard.  I was wrong to worry.  DeKnight’s love for the character of Matt Murdock is present in every frame of this series.  He knows what he’s doing and utilizes every freedom that Netflix allows him.
The acting is something you’re not getting on S.H.I.E.L.D., or Arrow, or Flash.  It is high quality actors taking the material seriously and really using their talents to ground their characters in a believable and enjoyable way.  Charlie Cox was also someone I was hesitant of initially.  I knew he could act from seeing his performances on Boardwalk Empire and the recent Theory Of Everything.  I just wasn’t sure he could really nail the charm and stubbornly virtuous nature of Matt Murdock.  He does.  I mean seriously, you like him right away.  His likeability and wit and toughness makes you want to follow him on his seemingly impossible mission to clean up his city.  
When DeKnight said he wanted the show to take cues from the HBO show The Wire, I got really excited.  Mainly because I knew what that meant for Wilson Fisk.  Instead of a mustache twirling villain, they were going to fill out the Kingpin of crime as a character.  And they started by making the best casting decision of the show by hiring Vincent D’onofrio.  His Kingpin reminds me a lot of Idris Elba’s Stringer Bell on the aforementioned show The Wire.  He’s a devious man but he is still a man.  A man that you will find yourself sometimes rooting for.  D’onofrio spits in the face of critics who chirp on about Marvel not having good villains.  D’onofrio’s Kingpin as well as Cox’s Daredevil equally deserve a call up to the film universe in the future. (You hear that Spidey?)  Their dynamic here is the heartbeat of the show and that heartbeat is strong.

I am all in on Daredevil because I’m a comic book geek who has been reading his books for years and love how gritty and close to that source material it is while still being original.  But all geekiness aside, Daredevil is a show that is executed very well with great performances and a really compelling story.  People have asked me what is the comic book property I would recommend to wean their non comic book spouses or significant others into the genre.  Daredevil is easily at the top of that discussion.  It’s a great comic book show…but it’s a great show in general first.  Hopefully, his Netflix follow ups Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist hit the mark as accurately and hard as this.  Wrap your fists, get up off that mat, have your blind attorney present, watch it, then tell me I’m wrong.
April 10, 2015

Simply TV: Marvel’s Daredevil Episode 1: Into the Ring (Matt’s Take)

REDEMPTION

Daredevil: Into the Ring – Redemption

So, I’ve made the commitment to myself and to you, the audience. I will not binge “Marvel’s Daredevil.” In a society that demands everything be served to them right away, especially on Netflix, it’s almost a crime that we have forgotten about the timeless tradition of waiting for something. Of course we live in a fast-paced world now, with everything to be found with the click of a mouse or the typing of a keyboard, but there is something special about it, and this is why HBO is still so important right now….they still make you wait week to week to see what happens.

This of course brings me to “Daredevil” Marvel’s latest foray into TV, only this time without the limits of network rules. For the sake of explanation in these entries, I’ll review each episode individually, one a week, for 13 weeks. It’s going to take some willpower, but after just one episode I know this isn’t a show I’ll want to binge; this is a show I’m going to want to savor.

Episode One, entitled “Into the Ring” begins with our origin of a young Matt Murdock involved in a chemical accident, rendering him blind. Boom, origin established. As our episode unfolds we meet an older Matt, now a lawyer, and his partner-in-law, Foggy Nelson, looking for office space in New York’s Hell Kitchen. Elsewhere, a young woman named Karen Page is found in her apartment crying over a dead body. The police arrive and instantly she is the suspect of the murder.

Nelson and Murdock take up the case and as things unfold we find out that Page might be a part of something much bigger involving the corrupt construction company, United Allied, and something about pension payments. By the end of the episode most of the loose ends are tied up, but we catch a glimpse of things to come, and frankly, the excitement overwhelms me a little bit.

While there isn’t much bad with this first episode, I’ll concentrate on all that is good. The film adaptation of “Daredevil” is fuzzy in my mind, and to be honest, I’m not going to revisit it, there isn’t much to compare at this time. From top to bottom, “Daredevil” is a very meticulous attempt by Marvel to create a realistic alternative to it’s film universe and it’s TV brethren “Agents of SHIELD” and “Agent Carter.” While DC’s TV creations “Arrow” and “The Flash” have ruled many fanboys’ TV for the past three years, Marvel’s ‘Man Without Fear,’ will likely leave these two in the dust (full disclosure, I’m still a big fan of “The Flash” melodrama and all).

The casting is A+ with Charlie Cox, who you should remember as Owen Slater from “Boardwalk Empire, as Murdock, sporting a spot on American accent and the martial arts moves to match. Deborah Ann Woll, who played Jessica in “True Blood,” plays the woman-in-peril Page with conviction and emotion, and Elden Henson, who you of course remember as Fulton Reed in “The Mighty Ducks” franchise, plays Foggy Nelson with a certain slimy charm.

Full disclosure, I’m not an avid Daredevil reader, but I know the basics, and this season is shaping up to be the perfect balance of back story, fan service, world building, and allusions to future Marvel-ness, namely “The Defenders.” In short, you’d be blind to miss “Daredevil.”  

Fun Fact: The first appearance of Daredevil is in “Daredevil #1” from April 1964.

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