Shang-Chi Is Marvel Doing It Right

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is very good. This is what Marvel needs to do through their next phase of movies to keep people interested. Less Black Widow and more Shang Chi. The formula can still work. Is it tiring? A bit. But if you dress it up right with an influx of new ideas, world dynamics and characters? You’ll be making happy movie goers from nerds to normal people.

Something Marvel has done a mostly bang-up job on is taking comic book movies and placing them over top existing genres: heist movies, political dramas, spy thrillers, fantasy, etc. Now we’ve got a kung fu movie with a kung fu super hero.

Taking that a step further, he isn’t magically kung fu or enhanced kung fu like Captain America. He has no mega powers, inherently. He’s just an exceptionally well trained, disciplined and excellent individual. That’s rad as heck because it makes the character much more believable, real and personable.

Simu Liu plays the titular character and this rules pretty hard because he is Canadian! There hasn’t been a whole lot of Canadian’s appearing in these movies so I’m pumped to have one in a new leading man. I think there have only been 5 in big roles and they’ve all been ladies: Evangeline Lilly (Wasp), Cobie Smulders (Agent Hill), Emily Van Camp (Agent 13), Rachel McAdams (Dr Stange’s love interest) and Pom Klementieff (Mantis).

It’s a big deal in Canada when a Canadian gets any level of success at anything besides hockey, so having the new leading man in a Marvel movie be Canadian is pretty rad. Plus he’s decked out in red too so I’m going to tell myself that’s because Canada and not because its red and gold like the Chinese flag.

Awkwafina comes in as the fish out of water character that gets the world explained to her and she does a solid job. She’s more comic relief but she doesn’t undercut too many scenes that it becomes annoying and her role is taken seriously. Her chemistry with Shang is great too.

Meng’er Zhang comes in as Xialing, Shang’s sister, and is a realized slight foil to her brother. Basically what if Shang had stayed behind all those years and continued to live with their father this could have been his reality and future.

Which brings us to the best performance in the film; Wenwu portrayed by Tony Leung Chiu-wai. This is as much his movie as it is Shang’s. If more Marvel villains were of this quality we would finally be able to get passed those dreadfully boring memes and Hot Takes about bad villains. Killmonger never hit with me that well from Black Panther. I think because he disappears for 45 minutes without any presence and then the third act of that movie sucks and thus brings down his overall grade. But to me this was the villain performance of the MCU in the non-Thanos category.

And he isn’t even a villain. He’s an antagonist and that’s a distinction that does so much for this movie. He’s working to his goal, for reasons that make sense to him and honestly kind of make sense (if he wasn’t the bad guy and thus you know he’s in the wrong) and you feel for his story. You fully understand the what, why, when, where, who and how of his character.

It’s a family centered plot at the core. Finding love, making changes as a family man, heartbreak and revenge, and then trying to recover and put the pieces back together. It’s way better than another world-ending extinction catastrophe level event. Those are so passé.

The movie wastes no time to get going. You get your intro, you get your Present Day scene and then you’re right into it. No fake out or dragging out things for no reason. It pops and the movie is going.

Pace and tone does so much for a good story, and the story holds for most of the movie. The first half is better, and even the first 80% is great. But you have to get your big CGI ending for some reason where two monsters do the graveyard smash. 

I would rather that have been saved for the next movie and having a looming, unresolved threat from this movie. That scene and climax can have more impact that way.

It also was lame because you could tell this was all done in pre-viz where they probably had this scripted out before they finished the script, which then makes the plot in service of action and not the other way around. Your action should be in service of the plot.

Other than that, I quite liked the movie. I’m glad these movies seem to be passed the point where they need to slap you in the face with a “The hero isn’t a White Guy scene”. I’m not a moron. I can see it’s a Chinese-Canadian fella. I can see it’s a Chinese lady too. You don’t need some scene where they go “Don’t forget, I’m not The White Man!” It’s insulting and petty when movies do that. I appreciate this movie skipping that scene and treating the audience with respect.

There’s also no reference to The Snap or Thanos. The movie isn’t totally divorced from the MCU, but where it does tie back in doesn’t feel cheap and distracting. Instead it feels logical.

The power of the 10 Rings also makes way more sense in this movie. In the comics are basically 10 baby infinity stones that each have their own power and personality… sort of. Now they are a mix of Dr Strange glow hands, Iron Man blasters and Cap’s shield. Sounds overstuffed, but it isn’t. They’re unique.

This movie is great, and it’s just barely not too long to the point it becomes boring at points. There’s a bit of snipping you could do to tighten this up that would really make it next level for me. Mainly the comic relief cameo that gets more screen time than it needs. That’ll be phone checking time on re-watches.

I want to know how this guy works into the larger Marvel world more than I want to know how The Eternals will or how the TV shows (I haven’t watched) are going to tie into things. Give me more Shang Chi! Don’t make me wait until 2025.

This is most of the world’s introduction to this character, and Marvel aced it.

@Adam_Pyde on Twitter, Adam Reviews Things on Facebook. CanadianAdam on Twitch.

Black Widow Got Her Movie

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Disney’s Marvel’s Black Widow is the movie you probably think it is before you even enter the theatre. That’s both good and bad. It’s eminently watchable and perfectly enjoyable. But for a marquee character of the MCU to finally get their own solo project, it just doesn’t really live up to the level set by the other main event stars in the franchise.

It’s another capital ‘m’ Marvel movie that goes in the “it’s fine” pile with like Ant-Man, Dr Strangeand Captain Marvel. You know a completely a-ok 3/5 but not something I’ll be thinking “I should watch that again.” I don’t want to say it doesn’t live up to the expectations, because I’m not sure anyone really expected this to hit the level of something like Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

But I really wanted this to be another The Winter Soldier. I was very very ready to see a fun espionage movie in the vein of Jason Bourne or Mission Impossible. I really thought it could be considering the character and what kind of story works best for her and her skillset. So maybe this falls on me tricking myself into thinking the apple pie was blueberry.

Something I found really interesting is that for a movie that takes place between Civil War and Infinity War, the film is super self-contained. There are no surprise cameos. There’s no awkwardly woven in appearances to remind you of the scope of all these movies. It can be watched as a standalone film and the viewer wouldn’t miss out on anything critical to the experience.

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The tone early on is quite serious and the film is taking itself and the subject matter seriously. Black Widow is on the run and trying to avoid being thrown in international prison. She’s living an unglamorous life and hoping to fade into a new identity.

It feels like a spy movie.

Unfortunately, it starts to become weightless as the plot progresses. And not just because it gets too big in scale – because it moves away from spy stuff to CGI and quips.

Prequel films tend to lack the same weight of something in the proper flow of the timeline because you know who the character is before the movie, and then also who they are after so there’s only so much room in the middle to work with. But hey, someone had to go for the soul stone and that leaves you only so much space to work with for the story.

The plot is 1 + 2 = 3 and mostly straight forward. There wasn’t as much espionage as you would think from a super spy character in their own film. There’s like one fake out twist. Bad military guy wants macguffin. Our Hero needs to stop/protect/save macguffin. Blow up a giant spaceship along the way.

Even if you don’t want to repeat The Winter Soldier too much, go steal the Mission Impossible writing team and stick Black Widow in one of those films. Tense scenes where characters might take a beating that lasts the rest of the film, a lot of tense down to the second timing for espionage and spy-craft and some “oh jeez how will they get out of this”.

One thing I noticed, and this is me being cynical, is that there are a lot of pre-viz fight scenes that movie transitions into which were clearly drawn up mostly-ish before the script was done. So the action isn’t always in service of the plot, but sometimes the plot is in service of the spectacle and action scenes. That isn’t a crime but it can make the feel “too big” when a smaller, dirtier, tighter fight or scene could have had just as much or more impact.

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One of the strengths of the movie is when it slows down to let the actors act and give them the time and space to be actors. The opening of the film is quite good that way. The moments in between action scenes where the family is forced into their family dynamic is quite good. And you have talented actors that can act in this movie. Watch Marriage Story or Stranger Things or any of those British/indie things Florence Pugh has done. Great actors just acting it out. I remember the details of those scenes a lot more than I remember explosion #13 that the characters survive with a little bit of dirt on their cheek.

I don’t know what there is to say about the titular Black Widow. It’s Scarjo. She does well with what’s she is given and can completely handle the weight of being a leading lady in a movie.

David Harbour is great in his limited role. He plays a really believable dad and has great chemistry with everyone around him. He doesn’t quite get as adorable as in Stranger Things but oh well. Rachel Weisz as the slightly colder character of the mom is good too – though I think she gets off the hook a bit lightly for some of the stuff she’s pulled.

The villain is a silly caricature of villainy. I think that’s another reason why the movie feels more fantastical than real as the plot progresses. He’s a Harvey Weinstein inspired bad military man that just has it out to hate women and take advantage of women because he can and that’s why he trained them to be assassins for a comedic reason versus anything practical.

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That’s kind of a plot thing that loses a bit of impact and is something kind of infects a lot of female led projects. The need to make a statement that Women Are Capable People Too. Yeah, I know. Smart people know this. Your average audience member knows this. Morons don’t but they’re morons. The Wonder Woman movie did this excellently just a few years ago. Know what movie didn’t because it got comical with it? Ghosbusters 2016.

We’ve had badass females heroines before: Alien released in 1979, The Terminator released in 1984, Buffy was one of the biggest shows in the 90s, Disney has an entire army of strong female animated characters, Hermione saves the day countless times in Harry Potter, Eowyn killed the motherf*cking Witch King, Jennifer Lawrence launched an entire genre of movies with The Hunger Games, Charlize Theron and Uma Thurman and Angelina Jolie have been kicking ass in movies for 20 years. Video games are full of female leads that whip ass. This all came to mind as I was writing.

I’m not saying you don’t celebrate the fact this character has got her moment and her chance now, but when your villain basically says “women are worthless trash” and then it gets tough to take the movie seriously. Especially when that attitude has led to countless and continuing human rights violations that the main characters don’t really seem all that bothered by because it’s time to blow up that spaceship for the next action scene.

I get a story for a female character is different than a male character and its reductionist to say “just write James Bond but now it’s Jane Bond”. But there’s not much in Mission Impossible or The Winter Soldier or the Bourne franchise that you can’t have Black Widow do here. But you have to maintain a tone and atmosphere for that to happen and this movie didn’t.

Part of a serious tone is that a character takes their lumps and has to fight through those lumps and improvise. That’s something that separates John Wick from The Fast and The Furious movies. Your character can’t just find the cheat code to turn off damage – and if they do then you have to explain it. Logan did that excellently and you just need something similar.

It results in the movie feeling less visceral or gritty, or whatever word you want to use, in exchange for it feeling more fantastical. When Captain America is getting the snot beat out of him by evil Bucky and takes a bullet and an explosion or two, he struggles to get that last disc in the space ship thing. This Black Widow is getting hit by explosions and punches and debris and still just is able to keep on running into a new explosion that doesn’t ruin her makeup or hair. It’s all part of the stakes in a movie.

It’s hard to buy into the stakes of “the characters have to get away from the bomb or avalanche or exploding space ship really quickly or else!” Or else what? There are half a dozen things that should have very obviously killed our Black Widow as she’s been established in nine other movies and a few that should have killed the supporting characters. But nope, and they don’t even put on some lazy bandages like a wrestler. They all recover from fights like Vin Diesel.

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Like that beating Cap gets at the end of TWS would have left this Black Widow with nothing more than a broken nose that she could just easily pop back into place with no swelling so the visual effects artist or make-up team doesn’t have to do a lot of scenes giving her a jank nose.

Oh, and the heavy the villain employs, Taskmaster, is pretty badass but then you realize this super assassin that is a big threat you need to be scared of only manages like one kill the whole film and infinite near misses, to add to the other misses of the movie. I’ve been a bit harsh on the movie but I think it’s just because I wanted so much more. I get frustrated with movies that waste potential more than anything and this movie is a victim of that. Instead of Mission Impossible it went for Big Quippy Action Marvel Movie. I hope some people love it. I don’t want to poopoo anything too hard, but after taking so much time off from “the Marvel formula” over the pandemic, coming back to it does feel… less exciting. Maybe mentally I ended at Endgame a bit. I wouldn’t blame anyone who did, especially when the first film to try and hook you was this one. Maybe the #MarvelFormula has hit critical mass.

@Adam_Pyde on Twitter, Adam Reviews Things on Facebook. CanadianAdam on Twitch.

2016 Summer of Movies: Is It The Greatest Comic Movie Of All Time?

Captain America: Civil War 5/5

I don’t know where to begin, so I’ll just say this:

This is easily a contender for the best comic book based movie of all time.

How the Russo brothers directed a movie that had like 10 movies inside it, and upwards of 15 significant characters, and it doesn’t feel like a mess is one of hell of an accomplishment.

This isn’t sparring. This is fighting. This is characters ideologically opposed and motivated. And it all works.

I already feel like this is the best Spider-Man we’ve ever seen and he’s only in it as much as Hawkeye plus a post-credits scene.

I wondered thoughts before the movie that I thought would be kayfabe breaking in the film, but they explained those away in ways that actually make sense and get you to buy in.

For instance, if you’ve followed Tony Stark through the films then you understand his decision making, so you buy it. If you’ve followed Captain America, you understand why he opposes this, so you buy it. You understand why the teams are split as they are.

I’ve seen some flak tossed towards the villain Zemo in the film, but he isn’t the villain. He’s a villain. To be honest, who you define as the Big Bad in the movie is up to your viewing experience.

The first act works to establish the film. The second act with airport scene is the greatest, peak-est, lit-est, straight fire comic book scene of all time. The third act dials things back down in scale, but keeps the stakes high just as you think they were going away.

There is some really creative action sequences and inspired action scenes. The humour is perfect. And it even gets dark and intense, without feeling jarring and gross.

I’m going to see this multiple times. Its so excellent.

I will literally answer all your questions.

nod

Previously:

To Come:

  • Keanu (April 29)
  • X-Men: Apocalypse (May 27)
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows (June 3)
  • Popstar: Never Stop Singing (June 3)
  • Warcraft (June 10)
  • Independence Day: Resurgence (June 24)
  • The Secret Life of Pets (July 8)
  • Star Trek Beyond (July 15)
  • Jason Bourne (July 29)
  • Suicide Squad (August 5)
  • Sausage Party (August 12)

Maybe’s of the Summer

  • Money Master (May 13)
  • Neighbours 2 (May 20)
  • The Nice Guys (May 20)
  • Now You See Me 2 (June 10)
  • The Legend of Tarzan (July 1)
  • Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (July 8)
  • Ghostbusters (July 15)

Summer Movie Reviews: Now with 100% More Robot Avengers

Avengers: Age Of Ultron 4.5/5

This movie rocked. Spoilers ahead. I don’t know why people were down on it. I read some reviews and they were nitpicking like “Whats the point if we know that they’re all going to assemble again in a few years?” You’re dumb, movie critics.

This is everything you could have possibly wanted in an Avengers movie, and it felt way more like the comic book Avengers than the first film.

The bad:
There were a few little plot strings that bothered me, and it too is nitpicking. Andy Serkis/Claw kind of just disappeared and was there for set up for Civil War and Black Panther. Maybe Dr Cho died, but I thought she didn’t and should have been at the new Avengers Academy at the end so she felt like a real part of the movie. Black Widow/Hulk stuff was fine for the most part, except they’re “Lets run away together and leave everyone else to fight Ultron and save people.”

I would have preferred Ultron to be darker and more evil evil, but he is still a strong villain and we don’t know if he’s actually dead. If you know anything about comics, unless you see a dead body then they aren’t dead. And even if you see a dead body they probably aren’t dead. I have my own theory why he’s alive I’ll share if you ask me to.

I don’t know what it is about Black Widow, but when Joss Whedon is doing the writing/directing I do not enjoy the character. In Cap 2 and Iron Man 2, I quite liked her.

The good:
Basically the entire film. It starts off letting you know exactly what you’re getting. A cool like 2 minute shot of everyone doing their sweet fighting together like the Avengers in the comics/cartoons. Fighting like a team. It was awesome.

Hulkbuster fight. Awesome.

Vision. Awesome. Great comedy as well.

They made Hawkeye interesting! That was so good. And better than that, they gave him a role of his own. He is the “normal guy” on the team.

Linking the two films centered around Loki’s staff and the Mind Stone was a great tidbit for comic nerds that I don’t think non-nerds will quite follow.

We saw heroes saving people. That is huge to making them heroes versus violent fighters.

Ultron’s execution and naivete was spot on. I liked how different his plan was compared to the comics and to other villains. He wasn’t going to destroy the world by shooting it. He wanted to do it by causing a legitimate disaster.

I enjoyed the little plot threads we got to see for Civil War, Ragnarok, and tie-ins to the space alien stuff with Guardians.

The trailer’s do not spoil the whole film. The trailers were basically picked from 2-3 scenes in the first 40 minutes. Also nothing from the end of the movie. Surprise 🙂

The awesome:
Rotating the cast of the Avengers team gets top marks from me. It keeps things fresh and also keeps the growing the universe. It also allows for them to do more Avengering as Thor and Hulk, in practical terms, limit exactly what the team can do and how often.

Cap, Widow, Falcon, War Machine, Scarlet Witch and Vision make a nice new team with a whole new dynamic.

Plus we know that Iron man, Hawkeye, Thor and Hulk will come back for Infinity War and some of them for Civil War.

Killing Quicksilver and not Hawkeye made me go “Say whaaa!” because it really threw me for a loop. I like that. I guess Quicksilver was really just in there so Marvel could get their hands on Scarlet Witch first.

Other reviews

To come this summer:

  • Mad Max, May 15
  • San Andreas, May 29
  • Entourage, June 5
  • Jurassic World, June 12
  • Antman, July 17
  • Fantastic Four, August 7
  • Hitman: Agent 47, August 28
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens, December 18

Maybe to come this summer:

  • Ted 2, June 26
  • Terminator: Genysis, July 1
  • Pixels, July 24
  • Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, July 31
  • Goosebumps, October 16
  • Jen and the Holograms, October 23

Top 10 Best Movies of 2014

These are my best “get off your butt and go see them please!” movies of 2014.


10. Big Hero 6 
– It is not a comic book movie. It uses the name of a comic book but it is super loosely related. Its really just a Disney property. It was fun to watch and it gave you feels. I need to watch more Disney animation movies. They’re always awesome.


9. Birdman 
– Michael Keaton was really good in this sorta-biopic of himself. But Ed Norton steals the show. Emma Stone rocks in it. It has a good story. Its nice to watch a movie that just has actors doing their acting thing without all sorts of ish going nuts. I really enjoy movies when they just have great actors doing great acting.


8. 22 Jumpstreet 
– I need a comedy and this was the best comedy I saw this year. It avoided turning into a giant turd, huge accomplishment. I’m usually bothered when movies make nods to the sequel, like a lot, but here they were legitimately funny and not hamfisted like Dumb and Dumber To or the Pirates sequels. It was funny and fun and I like Jonah Hill.


7. John Wick 
– I find Keanu Reeves kind of laughable as an actor. He’s really good at being clueless and I find he needs to lean on other actors in his movies to get to a high level. Well, here he kills it primarily on his own. Suspense, thrill, action. Fun stuff.


6. The Lego Movie 
– EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! EVERYTHING IS COOL WHEN YOU’RE PART OF A TEAM! EVERYTHING IS AWESOME! WHEN WE’RE LIVING OUR DREAM!

This movie is awesome.


5. Guardians of the Galaxy 
– I love how hammy this movie is, but still somehow keeps it serious. Ronan playing it straight is a great juxtaposition to our group of alien misfits. This is a movie that really should have only been “okay” but everything clicks. I’m always impressed when a movie manages to fit everyone in without cutting anyone short.


4. Nightcrawler 
– I’m fascinated by sociopaths. This movie stars a sociopath and follows that descent as it gets worse and worse. So neat to see all the moral issues and qualms others have that surround Gyllenhaal. It makes me wonder just how close this is to real life, and considering some of the crazy stories I’ve heard it doesn’t seem very far off.


3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 
– The best Apes movie I’ve ever seen. The way the apes talk but its all in their own language. I really liked how it depicted society post-apocalypse, which is something I love to see. I like seeing different “end of the world” scenarios. I think this movie is legitimately worth of an Oscar nomination for best picture (especially since they’re opening the voting to 10 films). Caesar rules.


2. Snowpiercer 
– Post-apocalypse. The world sucks. Everyone lives on this train. Poor people vs rich people. Revolution lead by Captain America! And instead of messing up dudes with a shield, he ruins their day with an ax! AN AX! HE STRAIGHT UP PUNKS PEOPLE WITH AN AX! Furthermore, the concept is just so cool and well executed. You gotta see it.


1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier 
– This is probably the best Marvel movie ever made. Non-Joss Whedon Black Widow is best Black Widow. I love this kind of action where it is punches and kicks (Cap definitely doesn’t skip leg day) as it has so much more impact than Iron Man blasting dudes. It was so well directed and written. I can watch this movie on repeat.