Author: willsreviewsblog

Some brief thoughts on the final season of Game of Thrones

This will contain spoilers for the final season of Game of Thrones

As a whole, this was a disappointing but not bad season. This should have been longer than six episodes. The plot points themselves are not the problem, it’s that the show rushed to get to them. Daenerys becoming the final villain is something that was always on the table, but the way it plays out in the show leaves a lot to be desired.

I thought episodes two and three were the two best episodes of the season. Two for its slow but poignant wrap up of some character arcs and build up to the big battle against the White Walkers, and three for the impressive spectacle and directing. I think the Night King served his purpose as a force of nature villain and plot device, and Arya killing him had been foreshadowed and was a nice twist.

I have the most mixed feelings on episode five. On one hand, it’s the best directed and looking episode of the whole season, and one of the best in the whole show, but it also has the messiest writing. Some characters meet fitting conclusions, while others like Jaime had all of their development thrown out the window. The horrific destruction that Daenerys visits on King’s Landing is shocking and impactful, but more build up to getting her to that kind of mindset was needed.

The finale was just meh. Not a bad final episode but this is Game of Thrones. Seasons 1-4 and 6 are some of the best seasons in television history. It should end on an episode worthy of its legacy. Instead everything feels like it’s spinning the wheels. There is also this really dumb fourth wall nod where they name a huge historical chronicle of everything that happened “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Yeah, the same name as the series of books the show is based on. Also, why wasn’t Jon Snow killed the moment his assassination of Daenerys was discovered? I find it hard to believe Grey Worm, the Unsullied, and the Dothraki would imprison rather than just kill him on sight.

Game of Thrones, at its peak, was one of the finest TV shows in the medium’s history. This season as a whole was okay, but a show like this deserved better. They should have either made this a ten episode season, or stretch out what was left of the plot into two seasons. It’s just a shame it didn’t end on the high note it should have. If nothing else, I now have more motivation to start reading the books.

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Avengers: Endgame review

Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Karen Gillian, Josh Brolin, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Scarlet Johansson, Don Cheadle, Josh Brolin, Brie Larson, Paul Rudd etc.

Release date: April 26, 2019

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This review will contain major spoilers. For both it and Infinity War. If you are going to see this movie, do not read this review. It’s a pretty good movie that ends a story that has been built up since Iron Man in 2008.

This is it. Avengers: Endgame is for all intents and purposes, the grand finale of this era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There will be more movies after this, but for the MCU as we have known it since 2008: this is the end.

Avengers: Endgame continues fairly soon after Infinity War. Thanos succeeded in wiping out half of all life in the universe, the casualties including members of the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. Those who survived: Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, War Machine, Nebula, Thor, Rocket Racoon, Ant Man, Black Widow, Captain Marvel, and Hawkeye are left to deal with the fallout. The movie’s entire plot is about them trying to bring back everyone that was lost by Thanos’ snap, which involves more than a little time travel and characters giving their lives. Permanently.

I put up the spoiler warning before the review proper because I think this movie is impossible to review adequately without spoilers. The Avengers “defeat” Thanos very early in the movie. They find him on the planet he retired to, cut off his hand and try to use the Infinity Stones to reverse what he did. Unfortunately, Thanos used the stones to erase themselves from existence, meaning that what he did is permanent. Thor kills Thanos via decapitation in a venegful rage. It sets up a depressing future for our heroes. They have to live with the fact that they could not stop Thanos, and in the end he won. Chris Hemsworth does a brilliant job of channeling Thor’s utter despair and self blame.

The movie then jumps five years, and we see what the world is like in the aftermath of Infinity War. Everyone is trying to process not just losing family and friends, but how the entire world has been changed. Even Captain America goes to grief counseling sessions. Hawkeye has now become a murdering vigilante, unable to cope with his family being turned into dust. Thor has been reduced to an overweight, depressed drunk who negelects his duties as King of Asgard. Not everyone is wallowing however. Tony Stark, in one of his most dramatic leaps in character development, becomes a father; and Bruce Banner has finally reconciled with the Hulk, and can now be the Hulk without losing his personality and intelligence. The film excellently portrays how the characters deal with their failure. I especially loved Thor’s character arc. It’s the most interesting depiction of Thor in this entire franchise. While his new appearance and personality is played for comedy at times, it is mostly a moving tale of a man bouncing back from failure, and discovering that failing does not make him any less of a hero.

When Ant Man comes back into the picture, I was surprised that this movie actually made me interested in Ant Man. I did not find his movie to be particularly good, and I didn’t care enough to see the sequel. In Endgame however, Ant Man actually becomes an interesting character. When he meets his daughter, who has aged five years since he last saw her, it’s more emotional than any of their interactions in his own movie.

So the first hour of Endgame is all set up. It’s effective set up, but it should be noted that this is the slowest part of the movie. The movie just moves along, one character at a time. Even after Ant Man makes his reappearance and the heroes discover time travel can help them bring everyone back, the plot still takes a while to get moving. The movie only really gets exciting by the second act.

The second act is entirely the Avengers going through time to steal the Infinity Stones, bring them back to their time, and use them to bring everyone back. The times and places they go back to are previous Marvel movies. The movie just embraces the loose logic of its time travel mechanics, so its really best not to dwell too much on them. We go back to The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and even Thor: The Dark World. We scenarios play out that should be stupid and pandering in practice, but actually work incredibly well, like Captain America fighting himself over the Tesseract. This movie manages to get something actually emotional out of the events of Thor: The Dark World. Thor takes the opportunity to have one last conversation with his mother Frigga before she is killed. It’s the first time that we have ever gotten a reason to care about Frigga in these movies. We finally see an actual relationship between mother and son, and it makes it all the more tragic when Thor tries in vain to warn her about her impending death, but she stops him.

Endgame’s second act is kind of a mess due to its inclusion of time travel. The mechanics themselves are extremely confusing and as mentioned before: loose. It moves much faster than the first act, but it can also be a bit jumpy. Also Black Widow dies, and it honestly felt wasted. She didn’t do much of anything before she dies in this movie, and Johansson gave a very good last performances as the character, so it’s a shame.

Throughout the time travel adventures, Nebula really shines as a character and Karen Gillian as an actress. Gillian has to do double duty as two versions of Nebula: one from the past and the present one. The past Nebula is still under Thanos’ thumb, desperately trying to gain his approval at all costs. The present Nebula is captured by Thanos from the past, upon discovering she is from another timeline. Karen Gillian completely disappears into both roles, finally having a chance to shine again like she did in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. They are so different in personality and motivation, and it paints a clear picture of what Nebula would have been like if it weren’t for her bond with Gamora.

In the third act, after Bruce Banner successfully uses the Infinity Stones to bring back everyone that was killed, Thanos comes back. He is going to make another go at the Infinity Stones, only this time, he’s not going to stop at half of all life. He’s going to wipe out all life in the universe, because he feels that a brand new universe would be more “grateful” for his salvation. This leads into the biggest problem I have with the movie: Thanos. In Infinity War, he was genuinely well intentioned and saw himself as the good guy, even if his method to “save” the universe was horrific. Endgame forgets his previous complexity. Even worse, Thanos does not survive this movie. He could’ve easily served the MCU for years to come as the recurring villain/anti-hero that Loki was before.

The climax of Endgame is one of the most epic, long thought impossible in a superhero movie. It is spectacle and fanservice that would’ve been impossible without the serialized style of storytelling that the MCU follows. Captain America wields Mjolnir, Pepper Potts shows up in an Iron Man suit, all the snapped characters come back to fight. It’s a cascade of action that feels like it’s from the pages of a massive crossover event comic.

If you want to get off the ride here, this is the perfect place to do so. Endgame is truly the finale of a saga that has been in the works since Iron Man, and most fittingly, this is the end of Tony Stark’s journey as well as Captain America’s. Tony Stark dies, using the Infinity Stones to snap Thanos and his forces into dust. Robert Downey Jr. has embodied the character of Iron Man like very few other actors have embodied a character before. He gives one of his best performances as the character ever in this movie, and it is truly sad to see him gone. Chris Evans likewise will be missed as Captain America, but he gets to quietly retire. He lived out the life he should have in an alternate timeline, finally getting together with Peggy Carter, and he passes the mantle of Captain America onto Sam Wilson. One last mark I will make against the movie is that Bucky’s relationship with Steve Rogers was sidelined, and had been sidelined since Civil War. There was no reason for Steve not to have one last conversation with Bucky.

The score from Alan Silvestri brought more top notch work from him. This is definitely one of the MCU’s better scores. His reworking of the original Avengers score was especially good. The cinematography was also quite well done, and there is an excellent long take of Hawkeye in a sword fight in the first act.

Endgame, for all its frustrating missteps, is the event of a generation. The fact that this movie even exists is an achievement in and of itself. If you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you have probably already seen it. If you’re not, then nothing I say will make you see it. Endgame may not be the end of the entire MCU, but is for the MCU as we know it, and it was a beautiful thing to know.

Score: 7.5/10

DC Extended Universe review

This will contain spoilers

The DC Cinematic Universe, or the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), has had a rough time trying to establish itself as a franchise that can compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has only been recently that the DCEU seems to have finally gotten its act together and found its own identity. It hasn’t been easy though. For a while, it seemed like Warner Brothers was going to keep messing this up indefinitely. Now though, it seems like they’ve finally figured it out. All of these movies have been re-watched except for Aquaman, which was a first time viewing.

Man of Steel

To be fair to this movie, it had an unenviable task to achieve. Man of Steel had to escape from the shadow of the first Donner film, while also remaining true to the character of Superman. So the fact that it set out to move in a different direction was not an inherently bad idea. However, Man of Steel fails to understand what makes Superman such an iconic character.

I’ll admit, when I first saw this movie in theaters: I liked it. I was not a huge fan of Superman, so I was not up in arms over certain changes they made that other diehard fans find objectionable. Rewatching it years later however, have really shown this film’s shortcomings. Man of Steel is a shockingly poor film in terms of writing, pacing, story structure, and character development. Zack Snyder and David S. Goyer were not good fits for this character at all, as it shows a profound lack of understanding Superman. They were so concerned with setting their version apart from others, that they forgot to give their interpretation a distinctive identity. This Superman is solely defined by how different he is from the other versions, rather than being interesting on his own merits. Not helping matters is Henry Cavill giving an unmemorable, mostly flat performance. The whole cast is pretty forgettable, but most of all is Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent. He’s dry and lacks anything resembling warmth, which makes the scenes where he interacts with Clark as a child lack any emotion. It also makes his death lack any weight, though the circumstances that led to it didn’t help since it becomes unintentionally funny. Michael Shannon as General Zod was fine, and I do admire that they tried to give him depth usually not found in other comic book movie villains.

Another problem is the movie is driven to ride the coattails of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. It even copies the nonlinear structure of Batman Begins, except it fails to understand why the flashbacks in that movie worked. Clark Kent is also made into a drifter trying to find himself, like Bruce Wayne was in that movie. For all its attempts at being different from previous adaptations of Superman, it has no problem blatantly ripping off from other sources when it suits it. It’s also surprising how dull the movie looks save for a few sequences. Snyder is known for making gorgeous looking films if nothing else, so seeing the movie lack that is disappointing. I can’t even really praise the action scenes. The use of shaky cam and constant zoom ins and outs make it all incoherent, and the level of destruction reaches a point where it becomes excessive. Even the prologue on Kryton has over top action scenes. The movie has no sense of restraint. It’s also concerning in how Superman does not make much of any attempt to mitigate said destruction, especially in the final battle with Zod, which has become infamous for the level of property damage and implied civilian deaths.

This movie also has some of the most ham-fisted symbolism ever. Every chance it has to compare Superman to Jesus it takes. It’s not just visual either. The characters all talk about how Clark is going to change the world and what an icon he will become. Nobody talks to him like an actual human being.

I would be here all day if I just listed off all the problems Man of Steel has, but there are other movies to get to and it wouldn’t be giving it credit where its due. Cavill shows potential to be a genuinely great Superman, and there are a few truly awe inspiring scenes: Superman learning how to fly and when he destroys a massive terraforming machine that was destroying the Earth. Hans Zimmer’s score is also awe inspiring at times. His theme for Superman especially captures the larger than life nature of the character. I will also mildly defend the decision to have him kill Zod in the final battle. It’s a truly bold choice that puts Superman’s morals to the test by forcing him into a scenario where there is no decision that he would be comfortable making, and has to pick the lesser of two evils. That being said, because the film never builds to this crucial moment and never examines it afterwards, it doesn’t really work.

A less light hearted Superman can be done right, as shown by Superman: Earth One, just so long as the character’s essence is retained. This movie didn’t do that, and what’s left is a movie that fails to be good as an adaptation of Superman or on its own merits.

Score: 3/10

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice not only fails to correct any of the mistakes Man of Steel made, it doubles down on them and makes more than a few more. Before anyone accuses me of not watching the “definitive” version of the film, I will add that I am basing my thoughts off the Ultimate Cut, and I have seen the theatrical version as well. The Ultimate Cut is not better, just more coherent and longer.

Dawn of Justice is boring, bloated, pretentious, and miserable. It makes big statements about power, gods, and how power can lead to corruption, but doesn’t really do anything to explore them. Most of the movie is just spent with Superman and Batman moping around in a plot with no direction while Lois Lane pursues a subplot involving a LexCorp bullet that ends up going absolutely nowhere. Wonder Woman makes her first live action cinematic appearance in this, played by Gal Gadot. Gadot does what she can with what she’s given, and she’s easily one of the movie’s better elements. The worst performance and character by far is Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. He plays Luthor as this manic, hyperactive guy who is obsessed with bringing down Superman due to some motivation involving his abusive father and a hatred for God. For a movie that tries to be serious and realistic, it is an over the top performance that is jarringly out of place. This relates to a recurring problem: the fantastical comic book elements clash with the realistic world and tone Snyder has crafted. It makes the movie too silly to be taken seriously, and too serious to have fun with.

Oh, and if you thought Superman’s portrayal in the previous film was off, Snyder continues the trend in this one. Superman still has no personality and is only definable by how different he is from other interpretations. Yet he has it easy compared to Batman. I have to stop and give praise and condolences to Ben Affleck here. He gives the best performance in the whole movie, playing a more jaded, Frank Miller Batman. He could have been the best live action Batman if the material was better.

Batman, a hero known for his rule of never killing so he doesn’t become like the people he fights, kills indiscriminately in this movie while branding criminals so that they can be murdered in prison. Now again, this is not an inherently bad thing if explored. But again, the movie does not properly explore why Batman is like this. If you’re familiar with the Batman mythos, than you’ll be able to figure out that it’s because Joker killed Robin. If you’re not, then you’ll be stuck in the dark. This is yet again another persistent problem: an unfriendliness to non-comic readers. Snyder packs the movie full of references to aspects of the DC Universe that will fly right over the heads of people unfamiliar with comics, and these are integral to understanding scenes. Right in the middle of the movie he has a possible vision to the future/dream scene known as the “Knightmare” scene where Bruce Wayne sees the symbol of Darkseid and a ruined Earth. It serves as nothing but fanservice that doesn’t add anything to the narrative.

Dawn of Justice not only tries to tell a Batman vs Superman story, it tries to introduce Wonder Woman, introduce the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg, set up the Justice League movie, and adapts elements from The Dark Knight Returns comic book and The Death of Superman storyline. There is simply too much going on here. They tried to do in one movie what takes multiple to do: flesh out a cinematic universe.

Yet all of this could have been bearable if the movie managed to do the Superman and Batman fight right. Sure the rest of it would have been awful but there would still be this memorable fight between two of the world’s most iconic superheroes. Instead, it comes about because the two of them are stupid enough to get played by Lex Luthor, so there is no real investment or conflict to be resolved. They have their ideological differences (even though they both essentially do the same thing), but the fight doesn’t happen because of that. It consists of them punching each other until Batman finally gains the upper hand and is about to kill Superman until Superman tells him to “Save Martha!” Martha Kent you see, had been kidnapped by Lex Luthor to blackmail Superman into fighting Batman. Now remember how Batman’s mom was named Martha Wayne. That’s right. The fight ends because their moms have the same name. Now the idea behind this is obvious and sound: Batman stops because he realizes that Superman has a family like he did and he’s about to take an innocent life. The execution however, is horrible. Once it happens it’s like the two of them are now best buddies. The movie had one more chance to get things right and it made them worse.

There are scenes that out of context, are pretty cool. The best action scene in the whole film is the one where Batman just demolishes a room full of thugs with moves straight out of the Arkham games. It’s well shot, has great choreography, and every punch feels like it hurts. Snyder’s frequent collaborator Larry Fong is back, and there is a visual flair to the cinematography that was lacking in Man of Steel. The score is also really good, great even. The first ten to fifteen minutes of the movie are great as well. It gives us a different perspective of the climax of Man of Steel, showing us what Bruce Wayne saw and just how much collateral damage there was. It quickly and effectively establishes the reason he hates Superman. It’s all we needed. It’s too bad the movie proceeds to meander and think it needs to keep establishing his reason.

However, for every good scene, there are several idiotic ones, or scenes that should have emotional weight but have none. Superman dies in this movie. Yes, the most iconic superhero in history dies, and I didn’t feel a thing. He had no discernable arc or personality, yet the movie expects us to care. There are so many shots that are meant to evoke awe or some kind of strong emotion, but fail because the movie never gives us reason to care. It packs on Biblical symbolism in an attempt to seem deeper than it really is, just like Man of Steel, and it matches that movie in how obnoxious and unsubtle it is.

A few more complaints are the lack of establishing shots. For example, in the Ultimate Cut Clark goes to Gotham for a story, and it looks no different from Metropolis. The movie just cuts back and forth between scenes with no sense of flow or passage of time, and making things even worse is how every location in this movie looks the same. Gotham and Metropolis might as well be the same city.

It’s fascinating how bad this movie is. It’s interesting how it squanders so much potential. The movie shows no respect for its characters or the intelligence of its audience. It thinks its smart when it’s dumb. It features the most iconic heroes ever on the big screen together for the first time, and it wastes them. This movie is definitive proof that Snyder was not the right fit for this material. And it’s not even the worst movie in this cinematic universe…

Score: 2/10

Suicide Squad

That dishonor goes to Suicide Squad, one of the most poorly made films I have ever seen. This is what would happen if the Guardians of the Galaxy movies were copied by someone who didn’t understand what made those movies work. The Suicide Squad are a group of convicts who go on covert suicide missions for the U.S. government in exchange for time off their prison sentences. In this movie, the squad must take down an evil ancient sorceress known as The Enchantress.

It is obvious that Suicide Squad was immediately taken back to the drawing board even after filming was finished due to the backlash the DCEU was receiving. The editing in this movie is horrific. Scenes have no flow from one to another, and it can become confusing at times. The action is extremely badly shot, being not well lit and having so many cuts it becomes difficult to tell what the characters are doing. It’s so bad it’s almost as if the movie has no screenplay to speak of, just a collection of scenes put together with something resembling a plot to connect them.

The villain, The Enchantress, is the worst villain in a comic book movie I have ever seen. No motivation or personality to speak of at all. The CGI for her is hideous as well. I hesitate to even call her a plot device. There is absolutely nothing to her.

Jared Leto’s Joker is easily the worst live action portrayal of Joker there has ever been. Aside from his appearance looking like it’s trying way too hard, there is nothing distinctive about his portrayal of the character that separates it from other, better versions. I’m struggling to figure out how we’re supposed to feel about his relationship with Harley Quinn. The film can’t seem to decide whether it’s an abusive one or twisted but genuinely loving one.

The only good things I have to say are that Will Smith as Deadshot, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, and Viola Davis as Amanda Waller were suited for their roles and played them well. Jai Courtney was surprisingly entertaining as Captain Boomerang. He’s one of the more memorable characters.

This movie is simply horrible. It’s basically irredeemable. I cannot wait for James Gunn to reboot this property and hopefully make something decent out of it. Until then, you should just stick to Suicide Squad: Assault on Arkham. That’s how you do a proper Suicide Squad movie.

Score: 1/10

Wonder Woman

Finally! The DCEU has a genuinely good movie. Just when it was looking like all hope was lost, Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot save the day.

Wonder Woman is exactly what the DCEU needed. It’s a movie whose heroine is kind, idealistic, compassionate, unambiguously good, but not unflawed. Gal Gadot proves that she can carry her own movie as Wonder Woman. Chris Pine proves to be a great Steve Trevor, and they have the first romance in the DCEU that has any real chemistry. Just about every character in this movie is memorable and likable. The three men who make up Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman’s team in the war have their own backstories and dreams of being more than what they are.

Putting Wonder Woman in a conflict as morally ambiguous as World War I was an inspired choice. Seeing a character of absolute good be placed in a setting that is anything but results in compelling interactions such as ones with shell shocked soldiers, or unable to comprehend why a German spy would commit suicide rather than accept help. The No Man’s Land sequence is one of the most memorable and breathtaking in a recent superhero movie. This has the most exciting action scenes in the entire DCEU. There are actual stakes, the choreography is very well done, and they serve as more than eye candy.

The few things that hold this movie back from true greatness is the third act and Ares. The movie’s main theme was that no single thing or person is to blame for humanity’s ills. Everyone plays a role. Yet the third act throws this completely out the window. Once Ares is killed by Diana, the fighting stops and World War I ends. Ares could’ve been a potentially intriguing villain, not being responsible for man’s evil so much as just giving them a little motivation to go down the path to war. He ends up being more of the same, and the climax is just a big CGI explosion fest like something out of Dawn of Justice.

Wonder Woman was the breath of fresh air necessary to revitalize the DCEU. It was optimistic and had its own unique identity. If it weren’t for that disappointing third act, it could have been even better.

Score: 7/10

Justice League

Justice League is basically the exact opposite. While not absolutely terrible, it’s forgettable and boring. I’ve already reviewed this movie and my thoughts remain unchanged. It feels unearned, the pacing is off, the villain is horrible, and the differing styles of Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder never properly mesh. The most interesting bit is when the League has to fight an amnesiac Superman.

https://willsreviewsblog.wordpress.com/2017/11/19/justice-league-review/

Score: 4/10

Aquaman

Just a big ball of fun. Whatever problems this movie has, its heart and energy carry it to the finish line. It’s a gorgeous movie with extremely well directed action scenes. Though its reach at times exceeds its grasp. It tries to stuff in a lot, with worldbuilding for Atlantis and the inclusion of two major Aquaman villains. King Orm is one of the DCEU’s better villains, with a sympathetic goal and layers to his character. Although the secondary villain Black Manta should have been saved for another movie.

The movie boasts a very impressive cast. In addition to Jason Mamoa being a joy as Aquaman, it has Willem Dafoe as his mentor, Amber Heard as Mera, Patrick Wilson as King Orm, and other notable actors and actresses. However there is an especially bad performance from the actor who plays Aquaman as a teenager. Mostly everyone gives it their all however.

The set and costume design is the best in the entire DCEU. Everything looks like it was ripped from the pages of a comic book. Both practical effects and CGI are used, and it all looks extremely convincing and alien.

The writing and screenplay of Aquaman is where this movie really, really suffers. When you get down to it, as pretty and entertaining as this movie is, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. It’s a chosen one narrative featuring two siblings competing for the throne, and the plot is more or less an excuse for action set pieces to occur. Now the set pieces are very well done to their credit. There’s one that feels like its right out of a horror movie with clever usage of red lighting and darkness. It’s the most creative scene in the entire movie. They try to have a romance occur with Aquaman and Mera, but the two don’t have a lot of chemistry. The dialogue is also, well, hit or miss. It’s the kind of dialogue where the cast member has to really commit to selling it in order for it to get a pass, and there are many times where they don’t. As mentioned before, Mamoa gives a very fun and charismatic performance, but he does not give a convincing performance on some of the more emotional moments of the film.

Aquaman does whatever it can to make sure that its titular character is no longer a joke amongst the mainstream public, and I’d say it succeeded. It might be silly and try to do too much, but its unashamed commitment to its character and comic book trappings make it a worthwhile watch.

Score: 6/10

Shazam!

The most recent DCEU movie and easily the best one yet. Shazam! is from start to finish a charming and genuinely mature superhero film. It feels like a throwback to PG films of the late 80s and early 90s like Gremlins or Goonies. Shazam! shows that you do not have to be a dark movie to be a mature movie. It’s a movie that has heavy themes and shocking scenes in it. The prologue showing the origin of its villain has him being emotionally abused by his older brother and father, and then his father gets paralyzed in a car accident. It has a scene later on that feels like it came out of a horror movie, which makes sense due to director David F. Sandberg’s background in horror. Yet at its core is a movie about family and how one does not need to be perfect or pure to be a genuine hero.

Zachary Levi plays the role of a child in an adult’s body brilliantly. You always think that it’s a kid pretending to be an adult, rather than an adult pretending to be a kid. Asher Angel plays Billy Batson as a tough but vulnerable fourteen year old boy who needs guidance and has the capacity for good buried within him. He never comes off as too good to be true, nor too bad to be worthy of his powers. I can’t think of a single bad performance in this movie, from either the adults or child actors. Some of the lines delivered in just the wrong way could have been cringey, but the script is carried by the confidence of its cast and Sandberg’s direction.

Shazam! succeeds on the strength of its characters and direction. Characters who I would normally find annoying, like Freddy or Darla, are extremely endearing. The villain played by Mark Strong is the best of the DCEU so far. We can see why he became the person he is, he’s genuinely sympathetic at points, and his backstory and arc are perfect opposites of Billy Batson’s.

Unlike Wonder Woman, this movie has a fun third act that works with the message of the movie rather than against it. The stakes are relatively small but it works because they involve characters we know and care about. The solution Shazam comes up with to beat the villain is actually rather clever and not something you usually see in a superhero movie.

The only problems I have with the movie are that the lighting looks like its more appropriate for an episode of television and that it can look cheap sometimes. It’s clear this was made on a lower budget than most superhero movies, but given the smaller scale this movie’s plot and conflict, it makes sense.

Shazam! is so much fun. It has heart, intelligence, humor, and genuine maturity. It is definitive proof that you do not have to be dark and edgy to be serious. The best DCEU movie so far, and a sign that things are going to get better.

Score: 8/10

Overall

Here is my ranking of the DCEU as of right now:

  1. Shazam!
  2. Wonder Woman
  3. Aquaman
  4. Justice League
  5. Man of Steel
  6. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
  7. Suicide Squad

Only the first three movies are worth watching. This franchise has definitely had a rocky road, but I do think we are seeing a recovery. There is no one reason why the DCEU had such a horrible start, but I can think of the most damaging ones. First of all, WB wanted to catchup to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and get the money they were making. This led them to rushing things and not taking the time to build their universe up.

Secondly, they were way too concerned with being different from Marvel rather than just being themselves. The first two films are plagued by juvenile attempts at maturity. Notice how the only three films worth watching are mature without going out of there way to be so, but letting it come naturally and not being ashamed of their characters.

Thirdly, I think it was a mistake to start the DCEU with a Superman movie, followed up by introducing Batman in the next. Those characters already have iconic cinematic film portrayals that were inevitably going to overshadow their successors. A wiser choice would’ve been to start with characters that had yet to have film adaptations, like Wonder Woman. Had they given other characters the cinematic treatment first and build up to new film versions of Superman and Batman, the public would’ve been more accepting.

That’s all I have to say on that front. I’m just glad that they finally have their act together.

Superman: Earth One Volume One review

Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Artist: Shane Davis

Inker: Sandra Hope

Colorist: Barbara Ciardo

Published: October 2010

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Reinterpreting a character is never easy. Especially a character as iconic and old as Superman. When you do so, you need to make sure you not only change enough, but not too much. Otherwise, you might as well not be writing that character at all. One particular interpretation of Superman some people go for is an angsty or more “realistic” version. Not surprising since he’s widely known as a boy scout who always tries to do the right thing. Some reinterpretations like Man of Steel fall flat on their face due to crucially misunderstanding what makes the character work. However others, like Superman: Earth One, manage to remain true to the character while still offering a fresh take.

Superman: Earth One Volume One is the first entry of DC’s Earth One line of books. Like Marvel’s Ultimate line, it portrays its characters in a more modern light. Written by J. Michael Straczynski with art by Shane Davis, Superman: Earth One Volume One is a retelling of Superman’s origin. It’s the most widely known superhero origin story ever, but Straczynski has enough new ideas to make it feel fresh.

Clark Kent is not the Clark Kent we are familiar with from DC’s main continuity. In this continuity, Clark is younger and more unsure of himself. He’s fresh out of college and has gone from Smallville to Metropolis in pursuit of career opportunities. Not only does he have the usual abilities we are familiar with in the main continuity, but he’s also extremely intelligent. Clark could easily pursue a career in finance or science and live the easy life. The Kents however, believe that Clark is destined for something greater, which Clark himself is not enthusiastic about. Clark is not willing to be Superman at first in this book. He knows that if he does, he’ll always have to live isolated from the rest of the world. He’ll always have to put on a mask in public, while Superman is his true self. Straczynski does not fall into the trap of making Clark so angsty that he becomes annoying. Clark is depicted in more flawed manner than he usually he is. He can be self-centered at times, but he is still at heart a heroic person. When the time comes to put on the suit for the first time, he does so, knowing what the consequences will be.

The book also makes sure to flesh out its side characters. In particular Jimmy Olsen. Earth One Jimmy Olsen is a photographer, but an especially dogged one here. He’s willing to die for the truth, and has some of the most heroic moments in the whole book, even willing to save Superman from danger when no one else will. It also remembers to give focus on the relationship between Clark and his parents. John and Martha Kent are portrayed with the warmth necessary for them to work, and they even encourage Clark to use his powers to help people. I will say I did not get a good feel for Lois Lane’s character outside of the usual characterization found in the main continuity. The villain, named Tyrell, is very generic and forgettable and is easily the biggest drag on the comic. There’s even a moment where he stops to explain his motivations and past, and then the book by the way of Superman immediately lampshades as to how cliched it is for a villain to stop everything to take the time to explain their whole deal. Doing some research has revealed he’s not a villain who is the victim of a poor interpretation. He’s an original character for this story.

The book’s pacing is a bit all over the place. It’s a quick read overall, but there are moments when it slows down to focus on uninteresting characters or plot elements that overly complicate the narrative. We sometimes focus on a woman working on a secret government project researching the Kryptonian ship Clark was sent away on before Krypton was destroyed. The character and the subplot don’t add anything substantial to the book. Tyrell, in addition to stopping the book to explain his motives, also grinds the pacing to a halt to give clunky exposition on Krypton and his species’ relationship with the Kryptonians. It doesn’t feel organic and just serves to explain what’s going on to people not familiar with Superman and his mythos.

The artwork by Shane Davis is absolutely stellar. Combined with the panel layouts and decompressed style of storytelling, give the book the feel of a cinematic blockbuster in the form of a comic. The characters are well drawn and have a cooler look to them while also still being recognizable. Superman’s suit for example, is completely unchanged from how it looked before the New 52 reboot, but it still has a fresh feel to it. The action is jaw dropping in scope while being well paced and coherent. The action being as exciting and well drawn as it is, in addition to having a great character moments from Superman and the supporting cast, alleviates the sting of Tyrell being so boring just enough.

Superman: Earth One Volume One is a well written, beautiful comic that successfully modernizes the origin and character of Superman while still retaining the heart of both. It reads like a good version of Man of Steel. That movie clearly took some influences from this, among other sources, but it missed the point. This comic doesn’t make the mistake of trying to make Superman darker or more realistic. It updates the setting and makes him a little more angsty and down to earth, but at his core he’s still Superman. I don’t think this is a good jumping off point for people who are new to Superman, and it has issues with pacing, unnecessary characters, and the villain; but it is an interesting new interpretation that will surprise older fans, and serve as a nice alternative for people who are unsatisfied by the traditional Superman.

Score: 7/10

Us review

Director: Jordan Peele

Writer: Jordan Peele

Cast: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker

Release date: March 22, 2019

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Well that was something.

Us is the second film from director Jordan Peele. The premise is a family of four goes on vacation, only to have their home invaded by a family of doppelgangers. There is a lot more to it than that, but Us is a film that is best viewed with as little information as possible going in. The description of the premise hides so much of what actually happens in the film, and that Us is easily one of the most creative, disturbing and memorable horror films in recent years. I should fully disclose that I have not seen all of Get Out, so I can only compare the two so much.

Us is a film with a lot of layers, symbolism, and subtext underneath its surface details. Looking back on the film, it becomes more apparent on what was foreshadowed and how carefully constructed everything was to make every plot point and twist work in the long run. It’s a film that I will probably watch sometime again in the future, just so that I can see what details I missed on the first watch. It’s a film with things to say about society, much like Get Out did. Us handles the issue of class oppression, using the doppelgangers who live underground as metaphors for the lower classes who live deprived of things those above them have, and the doppelgangers eventually rise above to take what they want.

The cast members give outstanding performances, having to play two roles at once. Lupita Nyong’o plays the role of protective and frightened mother, as well as murderous and envious psycho. Despite both characters usually being on screen at the same time, Nyong’o disappears into both, with tense and memorable interactions. The only performance I found to be a weak link was Winston Duke’s. He does a great job as the goofy dad, but the character himself could be somewhat annoying. The kids all do a good job as well.

Us’s tone is mixture of comedy and serious horror. It does a stupendous job of balancing both, though not completely as seen with Winston Duke’s character. When it’s not scaring you, it’s throwing in a moment of comedic relief to keep the audience from choking on its own terror. It’s both genuinely scary and funny. Sometimes the fact it’s funny makes the scares even worse.

For scares, Us eschews jump scares and clichés in favor of creativity and atmosphere. Nyong’o’s doppelganger character is extremely creepy, but has a tragic backstory that makes it easy to see why she’s doing what she’s doing. That makes her actions even more scary. Much of the horror in Us comes from its uncomfortable atmosphere, aided by a very effective score.

While it can sometimes be too on the nose, Us is a remarkable horror film with brains. Every element works to form one of the most original movies of the year. Definitely worth a watch.

Score: 9/10

Watchmen review

Writer: Alan Moore

Artist: Dave Gibbons

Colorist: John Higgins

Issues: 12

Run: September 1986- October 1987

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Watchmen: The comic book to end comic books. A work that transcends boundaries in both genre and medium. A masterpiece that will likely never be surpassed.

What more can be said about Watchmen that hasn’t already been said? It’s a deconstruction and examination of superheroes. It shows what would happen if they existed in a world as complex and flawed as ours, and shows how they would change the political and cultural landscape of the world.

Watchmen starts off as a seemingly simple murder mystery. An ex-vigilante known as The Comedian was murdered, tossed out of his apartment to pavement. One of the last heroes still working, Rorschach, takes it upon himself to investigate. The plot also has other heroes, either retired or in government employ such as: Dr Manhattan, Silk Spectre, Nite Owl, and Ozymandias. As the plot unfolds, it appears that heroes are being targeted, possibly for revenge. The plot then unfolds even further to reveal that the stakes and ramifications are far greater, and morally murkier, than the characters could have possibly forseen.

There is no one reason why Watchmen is considered the greatest comic book of all time. Yet, so many seem to think there is. The worst reason that pops up is that it’s “dark”, thus making it mature. It’s true that Watchmen is a dark comic, and it is mature, but it is not mature because it’s dark. It is mature because its plot is complex yet comprehensible, the characters are layered and compelling, and it handles its heavy political and moral messages with nuance and understanding. Another important thing to note is that it is not a work that drowns in cynicism. In fact, there are multiple hints that lean towards the interpretation that the comic is rather idealistic, just not overwhelmingly so.

The plot balances a fine line between simple and complex. As long as you’re paying attention, it’s easy to follow. It starts small, but slowly grows bigger and bigger. It’s a well written murder mystery that is also a conspiracy thriller, set against the backdrop of an America that won the Vietnam War, elected Richard Nixon to four terms, and is teetering on the brink of nuclear war with Soviet Russia. It slowly lays threads that seem to be unconnected at first, but by the end, were clearly always connected. Every seemingly irrelevant detail fulfills its task, and you are left shaken and unnerved by how so many answers were staring at you in the face the whole time. I first read Watchmen while I was in high school, and this was my first re-reading of it. A second reading makes a person truly appreciate how meticulous its plotting is.

It’s an exciting but slow burning plot that is driven by some of the most amazing characters in comic book history. There is no one in Watchmen who can be described as “heroic”. In fact, most of them are barely even likable. However, they are all interesting. The closest the book has to a protagonist, Rorschach, is one of the most compelling characters in fiction. He’s a mentally unbalanced, ultra right wing, bigoted, borderline sociopath who is also one of the only people in the plot who genuinely wishes to do the right thing. The victim, The Comedian, aka Edward Blake, was even worse. He was a glorified war criminal and attempted rapist who did dirty work for the United States government after masked vigilantism became outlawed. Almost no one is sad to see him dead. Yet we learn at varying points that even he was not without a conscience. We see how having godlike powers would end up alienating a man from the rest of humanity in the character arc of Dr. Manhattan, the only character in the comic with super powers. Nite Owl is well intentioned, but neurotic and impotent. Silk Spectre never even wanted to really be a crime fighter, having been pressured into it by her mother, who fought under the name Silk Spectre herself.

The characters of Watchmen, are all in some form or another to varying degrees, broken. They are neurotic, selfish, and pathetic figures with weird sexual hangups. Alan Moore does not present his characters in a flattering light, but he does not demonize them either. They are human beings just living their lives the best they know how to. As stated earlier, much has been made about Watchmen being a dark and adult work, but without understanding what those words mean. It paints the comic as telling this nihilistic, hopeless story about how heroes and people suck. This is wrong. Close examination of not just Watchmen’s main characters, but its side characters and subtext, show a story that says that even in the worst of world, good can be found. We see people who argue and bicker with each other over petty, meaningless things. We then see them help each other, or even complete strangers when the chips fall. Rorshach at one point states “As long as there is life, there is hope.” Dr. Manhattan, the superman detached from the rest of humanity, has one of the most moving speeches about life’s value I’ve ever read at the end of the ninth issue. Depending on one’s moral viewpoint, the comic’s ending could be seen as a happy one; and how exactly the comic ends is extremely ambiguous. It’s a work that is left open to interpretation on all levels. One person’s hero may be another’s ultimate villain.

Watchmen has been declared “unadaptable”, like Lord of the Rings was. Now this has been arguably been debunked, considering that it was adapted into a film by director Zack Snyder in 2009. But I can see why people think this. Watchmen tells its story in a way only the medium of comics can. It uses a nine panel grid to carefully control the pacing of the story, reserving huge splash panels for dramatic moments. Dialogue bubbles reflect the development and personality of characters. Moore and Gibbons crafted a story that could only have been told as well as it did as a comic.

Dave Gibbons’ art plays a big role in the book’s method of storytelling. Besides being beautiful, Gibbons stuffs small details into every panel that encourages another read. Small clues and foreshadowing to future plot developments can be found if you look closely enough. It’s stylized in a harkening back to the Silver Age, in character design and aesthetics. This makes the heavy subject matter and moments of violence stand out more. Speaking of violence, Watchmen handles violence in a calculated manner, like everything else in the book. The violence is never gratuitous, and rarely becomes extreme.

Watchmen is a masterpiece. It’s the pinnacle of comic books. Every element works together to create an incomparable reading experience. Anyone, whether they are a fan of comics or not can enjoy it, and it can make those who are not fans into fans. People within the industry and out of it have been trying to recapture the magic of it ever since its inception. DC has even seen fit to integrate the characters into its larger universe, which has finally begun with their big event/sequel Doomsday Clock, written by Geoff Johns with art by Gary Frank. Watchmen doesn’t need a sequel or supplementary material, or be part of the wider universe of DC. It would cheapen everything about it. Even if Doomsday Clock does stick the landing, it will forever be in the shadow of the work that preceded it.

Score: 10/10

Initial thoughts: Us

It gives you a lot to chew on. I am going to be thinking about this one for a long time. It’s well directed, acted, and is very creative and ambitious. Jordan Peele has definitely made something special here.