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: ★★★★★

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

After Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) emerge victorious (and both alive) from the 74th Annual Hunger Games, they return home for a short while before being enlisted to embark on a “Winner’s Tour” and are forced to travel to all the other districts to congratulate them on their fallen tributes from the Games. However, Katniss and Peeta’s defiance in the face of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has attracted the attention and imaginations of a new wave of rebels, determined to bring down the morally corrupt government around them. This forces Snow to arrange for a twist to the games – and on the 75th year, all previous surviving winners are made to participate in the Games once more, including Katniss and Peeta.

This second installment was far better than the first. While Hunger Games set up the franchise, it didn’t paint a complete picture of the plights of the common people and their struggles. Catching Fire is much more intimate and lets us in on the futility of resistance but also on the hope these people embrace whenever it arises.

The acting by the two main characters was much more polished, and Katniss has gone from being a bit of an annoyance (Screaming, running out into the open because she can’t control her emotions) to actually being a kickass, strong female character. Likewise, Peeta hasn’t all of a sudden become a master combatant after one stint in the games as I’d expected him to do, but he does hold his own. Respectable abilities, but not unbelievable.

The movie is pretty long (two and a half hours….phew) but the director, Francis Lawrence, does such a great job of pacing the film that it doesn’t really feel as long while you’re watching, and by the end you’re going to want to see what happens next (though there seemed to be some ripped-off elements of The Matrix there).

One other notable addition to this film is that of Philip Seymour Hoffman – who usually turns any performance into gold. His role had a subtlety to it that I think you’d have to watch the film multiple times to get.

In closing, go see this film even if you didn’t really like the first film, The Hunger Games. This is really what the first film SHOULD have been. It does everything the first film did but does it better. It’s a little long, but worth it.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

1985 (2008)

1985 (2008)

Marvel’s 1985 collects issues #1-6 of the miniseries written by Mark Millar (Civil War, Fantastic Four) and art by Tommy Lee Edwards (Bullet Points, The Question).

The year is 1985 and a young boy named Toby loves all things Marvel. When super-villains from the Marvel Universe find a way into OUR world and begin to tear it apart , Toby doesn’t realize that he may be the key to finding the Marvel superheroes so that they can put a stop to the killing and destruction. With the help of his father, a divorced comic book nerd, as well as his intimate knowledge of the Marvel universe, he has a difficult task ahead of him.

I picked this up at the library the other day, The title spoke to me, as I’m very familiar with the comic books of those years in the 1980’s when I was first introduced to the medium. (I was born in 1981)

Mark Millar’s expert storytelling combined with the amazing, life-like (yet comic-book-styled) artwork by Tommy Lee Edwards makes for an almost cinematic-quality experience in the form of a comic book.

We get to see the Marvel villains and how truly horrible they’d be in “real” life, with no superheroes to quash their evil doings, as well as the touching and all-too-real modern relationship gone awry in the form of Toby’s parents.

What you end up with as the reader is something that’s hard to put down if you’re like me and you’ve ever wondered if the Hulk smells really bad (According to Toby….he does) or if it were possible for someone like M.O.D.O.K. to murder an entire town by leading them to their deaths like the Pied Piper.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★