Guardians Of The Galaxy – (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release: August 01, 2014
Director: James Gunn

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is an intergalactic outlaw and treasure hunter who calls himself Star-Lord. When he nabs a mysterious artifact in the form of a powerful orb, he discovers that it is being sought after by a powerful individual known as Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace), who will stop at nothing to get it. The orb, as well as Peter’s outlaw status, puts him in contact with other misfits like Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) – all of whom must band together to survive Ronan’s crusade.

Guardians of the Galaxy was always a fringe title. It never really registered with me. I was pretty familiar with most of the characters, especially Rocket, Gamora, and Groot – but Spider-Man was usually the title I gravitated toward with mainstream comics. Maybe some Avengers or X-Men stuff. But not Guardians of the Galaxy. And if they are lesser-known to me and I’ve been reading comics since I was a wee lad, I can only imagine the reactions of some folks to these characters who are new to comics or who have no idea about the franchise. A musclebound killer? A green-skinned femme fatale? A walking tree in desperate need of a dictionary? An angry, anthropomorphic raccoon who fires guns? A sarcastic, egotistical human male flying around space like he’s a badass? Who knew it’d be so good and work so well as a film?

The key to the whole film’s success is the fact that the above characters sure ARE cool – but also the film’s resonance with our pop culture psyches via Peter Quill’s Awesome Mix-Tape that he plays on his Sony Walkman. (He was abducted by aliens in the late 1980’s – long story, and I don’t want to give anything away – so go see the film and see for yourself). The soundtrack had people swaying and bopping their heads in their seats during the showing I went to. It also makes Peter Quill accessibly human. Music is an access point that knows no language boundaries to be enjoyed.

Aside from the interesting characters and the amazing soundtrack, the casting was well done. The only complaints that I really had about the film were actually the villains. The heroes were well-established and had screen time together so that we really felt like they bonded, but Ronan’s motivation was flat and predictable. Ditto with Nebula (Karen Gillan). I would have liked to see more established backstory and/or screen time for those characters. As it is, they are very generic “we want ALL the power” villains. That is a really small gripe, though, because the main focus was really supposed to be on the Guardians themselves –  and Gunn (as well as the cast) not only excelled at that but as of right now, this is my favorite Marvel film to date.

Go see it, and make sure to stay for the end credits for a surprise cameo!

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Guardians Of The Galaxy

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – (2014)

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Original Theatrical Release: May 02, 2014
Director: Marc Webb

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) enjoys the freedoms of being Spider-Man – slinging webs through the city and showing off for the crowds. He tries to balance his two lives, with some success, as he forges a stronger relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and a childhood friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan). However, when the villain known as Electro (Jamie Foxx) appears – someone so powerful that he’s made out of energy – Spidey realizes that he may not be able to protect everyone and that even when you have superpowers, it might not be enough.

Being a Spidey fan is a roller coaster ride in this day and age. Marvel is making cinematic gold with films like Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy – with more on the way. Spider-Man is pretty much the mascot of Marvel Comics. Well, at least he is to me, so I’d like to see him represented better in his film incarnations.

Sam Raimi had a decent run with his own trilogy back in the early 2000’s, starting with Spider-Man back in 2002, which was decent. Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 was even better. Spider-Man 3 was pretty terrible. Webb’s first film in this new reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man, was actually pretty good – although I had problems with it being a reboot so soon after the original trilogy. I wish they’d gone in a different direction rather than re-hash the origin story yet again. Still, the dark qualities of the film drew me in and Andrew Garfield was the only thing I really didn’t like about it (because Peter Parker isn’t supposed to be a “hot” semi-popular hipster/skater kid. He’s supposed to be awkward and picked on). I was willing to give Fox (the studio which owns the film rights for Spider-Man) a chance on the second film.

That being said – The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a huge disappointment.

First off, the script was a chaotic mess. There were some redeeming qualities but ultimately the story felt fractured and disjointed and by the time the movie actually ended I felt nothing and I just wanted it to be over with, I wanted the movie to have ended an hour before it did – which is never a good thing. The movie felt like part rom-com, part action flick and part advertisement for Oscorp Industries. Peter’s relationship with Harry seemed solid enough at first, but it wasn’t focused on long enough to make much sense later in the film, with how their dynamics changed. Some of the character motivations were just flat-out unbelievable, especially Foxx’s nervous and emotionally unstable Max Dillon/Electro.

Andrew Garfield did a better job at being Spider-Man this time around, but did an even worse job of being Peter Parker. Emma Stone was decent as Gwen Stacy in the first film, but became an annoying, nagging foil to Spider-Man’s every move in this sequel. Dane DeHaan did a great job as Harry, at first, but the manic side of him just wasn’t believable in the film itself (though this wasn’t necessarily the actor’s fault). Jamie Foxx can act but he basically played one of his bumbling characters from the old comedy sketch show he used to be in called In Living Color – which isn’t a good thing for the character of Electro. And Paul Giamatti makes absolutely no sense whatsoever as the villain Rhino. I have no idea how that casting choice happened. I love Paul but he basically just screams into the camera for a half hour and spouts Slavic-sounding gibberish.

The fight scenes are pretty much the only saving grace this film has, aside from a switch to a more classic-looking costume (thank you!). The rest of the film is really underwhelming. I honestly hope that Marvel can somehow get back the film rights to Spider-Man so they can do it some justice, because if not – Fox Studios is going to run this character into the ground, which stinks for those of us who have been longtime fans of the character and want to see him treated well.

JOE Rating: ★★

Movie Trailer For The Amazing Spider-Man 2

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Original Theatrical Release: April 4, 2014
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) struggles with the morality issues that accompany the new world he’s awakened to. He finds the United States Government takes a back seat to the power of S.H.I.E.L.D. and he wonders if he should continue the fight or step away from the underhanded dealings of his new employers. However, after Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is targeted by a mysterious assassin known only as The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), Rogers must team up with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to get to the bottom of the new assassin’s identity and motives before it’s too late.

This film was an excellent sequel to the first film, Captain America: The First Avenger and a nice follow up to events in The Avengers.

Action, action, action – there was a ton of it here and since the film wasn’t primarily set in the 1940’s, we really get to see how Cap handles modern day threats….and he sure looks cool doing it.

Anthony Mackie gives an impressive performance as Sam Wilson/Falcon, and he pretty much stole the show as far as I’m concerned. I hope he shows up for Avengers 2! He’s that cool. Sebastian Stan also impressed with his portrayal of Winter Soldier, who provides a great antagonist to Cap and his team. Scarlett Johansson, of course, sizzled as Black Widow. She’s been doing a great job in that role. And on top of all that we get to see ROBERT REDFORD in a Marvel film? What? That’s so cool! One curious omission was Hawkeye. Where the heck was he in this film? As a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. I would’ve thought he’d be called in for all this governmental hullaballoo.

There was a lot of focus on Hydra in this film, so it was nice to re-touch on where they ended up in the modern world after the events in World War II.

This is a great film overall,  so go see it and make sure to stay for the extra scenes after the credits. There are a couple of teaser after-credits shorts, so make sure to stay for ’em all if you want to get all the tasty Cap morsels you can for your money. This film should tide everyone over until Guardians of the Galaxy comes out – I’m beyond excited for that movie to drop on us.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Movie Trailer For Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Marvel Heroes (PC – 2013)

In Marvel Heroes, players take control of one of several starting characters (Punisher, Colossus, Captain America, Black Widow, Storm, Human Torch, Hawkeye…among others, with the roster changing all the time) and embark on a mission to stop the nefarious Doctor Doom from his plans to use the Cosmic Cube for his own evil purposes.

If you’ve ever played a game like Diablo II, then you’ve essentially already played Marvel Heroes. This game isn’t innovative, but it doesn’t really seek to be – which is somewhat of a shame due to the Marvel property being so popular right now. However, for the casual gamer, this game will be great fun.

I had originally planned on boycotting this game when I found out that there was no character creation system and instead, as a player, you’d pick a character like Spider-Man or Colossus (whom I am using at the moment) and would be running around on-screen with potentially dozens of other players using the same character as you. However, in reality, it often doesn’t play out that way. The reason for this is due to there being (at the moment) 20+ characters (somewhere around 28, I believe) – all of whom have multiple costumes and other custom appearance options available to the player to make their particular Colossus or Spider-Man or Thor stand out. So even if two or more characters are using Colossus, there’s a good chance that most of them will have individualized aesthetics. Still not as good as being able to create your own character, which is what Champions Online excels at (Note: Champions Online was originally supposed to be a Marvel game) and even DC Universe Online is pretty decent at.

As it is, Marvel Heroes, despite not being innovative and despite being somewhat repetitive (as games in this genre sometimes are) is a decent action MMORPG. It’s best to play with friends for the fun factor, but there isn’t a large difficulty curve and it’s FREE (you can still pay for characters and costumes with real-life money but it’s not necessary to play the full version of the game – you can still buy characters and costumes with in-game currency that you earn, but it takes a long time), meaning that it’s not a huge investment and you’re likely to get at least some enjoyment out of it and the best thing about it is, well…it’s FREE. The only real thing that kept me from giving this four stars is the fact that you can’t pick any hero to begin with, and you can’t create your own hero.

Check it out, team up with your favorite characters and whup some bad-guy arse. The developers are constantly adding new characters to the mix, so gameplay isn’t likely to get too stale anytime soon.

JOE Rating: ★★★

The Marvel Art Of Mike Deodato Jr. (2011)

The Marvel Art Of Mike Deodato Jr. (2011)

Deodato Taumaturgo Borges Filho – AKA Mike Deodato – is one of the biggest talents in comic books today. His pencils have appeared in works such as Thor, Incredible Hulk, Thunderbolts, Amazing Spider-Man and Dark Avengers – and they present a realistic-looking take on the Marvel Universe that gives weight to this imaginary world of caped crusaders and dastardly villains.

Each chapter of the book is dedicated to his work on different titles – like Thor, Elektra, Incredible Hulk, Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, Spider-Man Unlimited, Thunderbolts, Avengers, New Avengers, Dark Avengers, Secret Avengers, Wolverine: Origins, X-Men: Legacy, X-Men: Unlimited, Witches, Tigra, Moon Knight, Punisher and more.

Additional chapters focus on Mike’s development as a comic book artist and samples of his cover art from 2002-2010. It’s nice to hear in Mike’s own words about how he became the artist he is today, and the cover samples are nice to look at.

Basically, unless you hate Deodato’s art style then this book is for you. Art galore and Marvel goodness all mixed up in one easily-accessible coffee-table book.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Shanna, The She-Devil (2006)

Shanna, The She-Devil (2006)

Shanna, The She-Devil collects issues #1-7 of the series of the same name by Marvel Comics, with art and writing by Frank Cho and colors by Jason Keith and Dave Stewart.

Shanna is a Nazi science experiment in the form of an Amazonian jungle girl with a killer body and killer instinct, living on an island teeming with prehistoric horrors. When a paramilitary group becomes stranded on the island after crash-landing, they discover Shanna and quickly learn that she is a genetically-engineered super-weapon. Luckily she is, because she’s the only one who can help defend them against T-Rexes and massive hordes of Velociraptors, among other things.

Frank Cho is one of the best artists around and I checked out the book primarily to see his work. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from the writing side of things, but the seven issues included in this trade has a pretty decent story arc and plays out like an action film.

Some may be turned off by the titillation, but Cho is a master at rendering women who aren’t just waify, sexy supermodel-types who just happen to have super-strength spouting from some unseen source – Shanna actually looks the part. Her thighs are dense and her arms and back muscular, and when she impales a dinosaur with a massive tree trunk, you believe that she did it. When you see her knocked into a car by a T-Rex and still manages to get up, you believe it. Shanna is also not stupid and while different men try to take advantage of her in the book, she sets them straight pretty fast.

The colors only add to the visuals, and the dinosaurs are all very nicely-rendered as well as backgrounds, vehicles….everything. Nothing is forgotten and everything stands out in an exceptional way.

This is worth a read if you like adventure stories, dinosaur tales and books like Red Sonja or Vampirella. You may come for the titillation and gorgeous art but you’ll stay for the substance. Give it a try.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

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Faced with cleaning up Asgard after Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) treachery in the first Thor film and in The Avengers, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has a huge task ahead before he can be with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) on Earth. Between Thor and his flame on Midgard (Earth) stands Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) and the remnants of the Dark Elves, who want to return the universe to darkness. With Odin (Anthony Hopkins) wanting to step down from the throne and his brother Loki imprisoned, Thor must find the strength to stop the Dark Elf threat and return order to Asgard once and for all.

The tricky thing about making a Thor film is to not make it like a Superman film. Unfortunately, while this wasn’t the worst film I’ve seen….it’s just not unique enough to truly set it apart from other superhero films in the genre and it’s definitely not different enough from Man of Steel to set it apart from DC Comics’ much more popular, titular character.

The comic book version of Thor really is interesting. He’s noble and follows a code of honor but can also be a real misogynistic asshole. I mean, he’s a viking. He’s a demigod. He’s a womanizing tough guy with a heart of gold, somehow. So what we have in the movie version is a lame, good-looking, soft, warrior-archetype Superman clone with a hammer and an accent.

While I love Natalie Portman, her character in this film (and in the first) is mostly superfluous and unnecessary. It’s a way to tie him to Midgard, but the chemistry and connection between Thor and Jane doesn’t really exist on-screen and so when Thor wants to return to Earth to be with her, it’s just not believable. They should have focused more on his relationship with Sif (who is much more interesting than Jane, and a much stronger woman character). Whatever time Sif and Thor share onscreen is more dramatic and poignant than time spent between Jane and Thor. (I also want to note that people think Jane’s character is a sexist trope, but Thor is a demigod. She’s meant to be smitten by him. Guys would be equally as smitten by Sif if she showed up, as long as she didn’t disembowel them.)

Thor: The Dark World had the promise of being a more rich and intensive film experience than the first film, but really….it sort of fell short. Loki was the one saving grace of the film, not only because Hiddleston is a fantastic actor but because Loki’s character is allowed to roam free in the realm of human morality. Thor has that ability, too. He’s not just a jock with a hammer. He’s not just an alien demigod with a penchant for eating mutton and bedding babes. He’s Thor. He’s badass. Too bad he really wasn’t in this film.

It’s worth seeing at least once to complete the Avengers tie-ins (and it IS Thor), and there’s kind of a weird/creepy/unexpected cameo bit after the credits with someone you wouldn’t expect to see in a Marvel film. It just should’ve been better.

JOE Rating: ★★★