Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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Welp, it finally happened and I am as shocked as you are. After six years of watching slight variations on the same superhero approach to blockbuster filmmaking, I’ve naturally become weary. This isn’t in any way a knock on those types of movies: entertainment that is meant to be consumed by the widest possible group of people does not allow much room for subtlety. I understand executives must receive as large a return on their multi million dollar investment as possible! For those of us who flock to the cinema to experience art first and then entertainment, this “epidemic of passable movies” can be more than a little dispiriting.

So I wasn’t in any rush to catch the latest Spider-Man flick. Now that I have, my soul is pumped full of enthusiasm for the wonders that only the cinema can achieve. All those colors! The animation! The emotion! Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the best superhero movie I’ve seen. The only thing that prevented Logan from being a superb movie of its genre was it’s villain; it felt too generic, with standard evil guy motivations. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse features a villain that wants to bring his dead family back to life. Have we seen that before? Probably, but it’s the way it’s presented. Indeed, Kingpin is probably on screen for no more than ten minutes, yet his motivations ring true. His is not just another attempt at world destruction for the sake of script demands.

And the same can be said of the protagonist, Miles Morales, and his cadre of Spider buddies. Wow, what a beautiful character arc! I’m referring not only to the Morales’s one, but also to the one Peter B. Parker embarks upon. He begins a depressed and lonely divorcee, runs away from his demons, confronts them, and at the end decides to take a leap of faith. Maybe he can start anew, or maybe he can’t. Yet the fact that the film presents him with such an emotional journey, compared to the A-B-Z trajectory that superheroes go through on a majority of these movies, speaks highly to the faith the filmmakers have in the audience. It has been rewarded by my response to their work. Let others hopefully take note.

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Deadpool 2

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If by year’s end I were to craft a list detailing my favorite scenes of all the movies I watched in 2018, the weather advisory in Deadpool 2 would be at the top.
What did I do to deserve such a comedic gem?

I like to think that my blatant enjoyment of this parachute sequence (I was laughing so hard I had to turn to my neighbor, I couldn’t contain myself) is a reward for all the times I have sat in a movie theater, indifferently observing men in tights saving the planet over and over again.
Every superhero movie that I have ever watched is not so unmemorable now that it led, in one way or another, to the creation of this unparalleled comedy spectacle.

A-

Avengers: Infinity War

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The universal language of hope is why this flick has broken every box office record in history. As cinema it is not particularly profound, nor does it prove insightful to the follies and manners of humankind. But who really needs our nature to play out on the screen, when most of us go to the theater to escape reality, not dive deeper into it?

Superhero movies are box office behemoths because they portray the world as it should be-sure, there’s extraterrestrial invasions all the time, but there are also men and women of good, men and women who do right for right’s sake, who willingly lay down their lives for strangers, and who will never stop until all darkness has been vanquished.

It is this what we aspire to do, to be able to correct the wicked course of the world. Superhero movies are wildly, maniacally successful because they display our dire need for a savior, and how incredibly cool it looks when we finally let them take the wheel.

B

Black Panther

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Black Panther is the most personal and thoughtful of all of Marvel studios oeuvre so far, which automatically makes it the best one. We all know the tried and true template every flick of this kind adheres to, so I won’t even recap it here. It is safe to say that Black Panther does not suffer (at least, not for a solid 85% of the time) from the impositions these kinds of movies usually do.

Add to that the greatest and most relatable, thrillingly alive villain in its body of work, and this is one superhero movie that truly deserves its praise.

B+

Justice League

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That a movie this stupid has been so massively successful on a worldwide basis tells me, well, I don’t really know what it tells me, if anything, nor do I know what it means. Do we deserve flicks like this because despite our airs of knowledge, we are nothing but creatures of habit that get aroused by big, fancy explosions?

Does it tell us that the great artists, thinkers and people of note throughout history all lived for nothing, now that their efforts have been forgotten, replaced by crap like freaking Justice League?

Or does it all not matter, because crap has existed since the dawn of humanity and will continue to do so, and personal entertainment preference has little to nothing to do with the state of the planet?

I do not know any of this. What is a certainty, however, is that this is perhaps the absolute worst superhero movie I have ever seen.

D

 

War for the Planet of the Apes

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There have been 2 films in 2017 that have brought to mind Spartacus: Blood and Sand, my favorite television series: Logan, the elegiac superhero swan song, and War for the Planet of the Apes, a stellar capping off to mainstream cinema’s most thoughtful and moving trilogies.

The show’s exploration of vengeance and forgiveness is truly fascinating, putting on display the “enormous darkness of the heart” that one of the apes mentions to Caesar (Andy Serkis) during the final installment. It is also an unforgiving look into the lives of slaves, and the horrors they are forced to commit for the sake of their masters. However, instead of being preachy it becomes insightful. In its final season, the slaves, now holding all of the power, start committing atrocities against innocents. They have excuses for it, of course, but should bloodshed ever be rationalized?

War for the Planet of the Apes seems like a fluke in the Hollywood blockbuster churning machine. For a movie with conflict in the title, there are only two battles: one at the beginning and one at the end, tremendous set pieces that brim with suspense and emotion from start to finish.
The film is more concerned with the struggle waged in men’s souls, that constant struggle between turning the other cheek and raining fire from the sky, between tolerance and dictatorship.
The human race did not lose the planet because of a few battles against monkeys, but because in the vital, deciding moment in which the trigger had to be pulled or not, the apes gave us another chance, but we did not return the favor.
And of what good is Earth if our spirit has turned dark? Nature has a way of correcting course, so the worthy ones will inherit the planet.

A

 

Wonder Woman

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What could have been the most insightful moment into the very nature of superheroes since that thrilling final scene in The Dark Knight occurs in the final act of Wonder Woman, when Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) realizes that evil carries on despite her executing the main baddie.

I say could have because the movie flirts with a very interesting idea that ultimately falls flat: superheroes are not just different from humans because they are stronger, but because they believe goodness can eventually overcome evil. If heroes did not believe in such a lofty ideal they would not be superheroes to begin with. Superheroes exist to achieve and aspire to heights us mere mortals cannot. That is why they punch Hitler in the face and stop a nuclear bomb at the last minute. They serve as inspiration into who we should strive to be.

The moment Diana Prince learns that the people she is trying to save are the same ones that take glee in annihilating their neighbor should be painful. It should illustrate that perhaps humanity is not worth saving after all. But that superheroes, because they are so much better than that, can see past our flaws and into the other side of our nature: the one that loves, laughs and finds the horrors of wars repugnant. Unfortunately it does not (settling for another slo-mo CGI trope ridden extravaganza), but the effort, like the heroine herself, is still noble.

B-

Logan

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Superhero movies adapted from comic books have had such a tremendous impact on popular culture during the last decade that they’ve even received their own grading curve.
“Good by superhero movie standards”, or “terrible even by comic book adaptation standards” has become the de facto response to this kind of product. Whether this is harmful or beneficial to cinema as a whole is a topic that demands its own blog post (maybe when Wonder Woman opens?), so this entry will not approach Logan as another superhero comic book movie, but rather as simply another slice of cinema.

I note this disclaimer out of fear that I will be doing this movie a disservice by calling it the best superhero movie since The Dark Knight trilogy. A quick glance into the past reveals that in the intervening years there have not really been that many memorable movies of the kind, which would take away some credit from Logan.
So instead I will say that Logan is the most memorable film I have watched since Silence; it reminds me of the greatest television series I have ever watched, Spartacus: Blood and Sand; and features a performance by Hugh Jackman so magnificent that if I cared at all about awards, I would hope against hope he’d be nominated for something.

“That was not Wolverine”, a friend lamented upon exiting the cinema. “I hated the movie.”
“I hoped that character from the other movie showed up”, the other friend said. “That would have been cool”.

I kept quiet, pondering their words. How many people spend fifteen dollars hoping to see something cool on the big screen? Is that why superhero movies are so popular, since they feature a CGI infused extravaganza of explosions and shiny costumes? Why do so little people pay mind to the human element, and the pains and the joys of life on this earth?

Logan might be the story of a 200 year old mutant who cannot die, but his tale is agonizingly human. Hugh Jackman inflicts Logan with so much sorrow that a mere glance is enough to break your heart. I would say that Logan is a man battling his demons, but it would be a misreading of the film. Logan lost that conflict many years ago. What’s left is a man who is in constant agony every waking hour, considering death a welcome change to the life filled with regret and loss he’s led up until that point.

That the script for this was approved is some sort of miracle. Consider the scene in which Laura (Dafne Keen) is riding a mechanical horse, and Logan approaches to call her back to the car. She looks at him asking for one more ride, so Logan pulls out a quarter from his pocket and says “One final time okay?”, before inserting the coin into the mechanical box next to the contraption. Logan pulls away and Laura starts to ride again.
A moment like this, lasting about thirty seconds and meaningless in the grand scheme of things, becomes beautiful not only because it survived executives overseeing it making sure they made every penny back, but because it speaks volumes about the world we all inhabit. This is real life. A kid riding a mechanical horse; an old man lifted from his wheelchair and into a public toilet; a young man saying he will drop from college to go travel across the country.
Small, fleeting moments are what make up our lives, and small, fleeting moments are what Logan is incapable of grasping. He says the adamantium inside his system is slowly killing him, but that’s only partly true.
Logan has been dying since the day he let his sorrows overtake any glimmer of hope for a better future he might have had.

Again, Hugh Jackman delivers the performance of a lifetime. It will take me a while to get rid of the images of a bruised and battered Logan out of my head, his gaze lost somewhere where the camera cannot reach. Watching it in the dark in a packed room, I felt knots in my stomach, and I wondered if my neighbors felt the same. I wanted the movie to be over and go home imagining Logan living his remaining days somewhere happily ever after.

While not a perfect movie, mainly because the quasi generic bad guys keep reminding the audience that they are watching a Marvel adaptation every time they are on screen, it reminded me of the immense power cinema holds whenever a story is well told. It reminded me that even in the midst of all the deafening noise and chaos resounding that has been ruling our world for the past year, there is still room for the intimate, and that hope should not be given up on. But most of all, it reminded me that true heroes don’t wear capes after all.

B+

Deadpool

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Superhero movies are entertaining at best, and mediocre at worst. I’ve yet to see a Marvel adaptation that makes me go “what a great film” or , excluding the Nolan trilogy, a DC one that resonates with me beyond a “ooo, fancy explosion” level.

And while Deadpool is not great cinema, not many things go kaboom in it, nor is the fate of thousands of innocent souls decided by a mano a mano between the goodies and the baddies.
In an age in which everything is a retread of a retread, Deadpool might not necessarily shatter the mold for superhero movies, but it does let audiences know they could get more shapes to it, if only they asked.

B+