‘The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ Tries to Ground the MCU

Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) in Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick.

Following the narratively audacious, emotionally satisfying WandaVision, comes the more prosaic Marvel series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Considering Wanda Maximoff, Vision, Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes fought side-by-side against that purple bruiser Thanos not that long ago, it’s hard to believe they ever inhabited the same universe after watching these two shows

As is often the norm with pilot episodes, the first chapter of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a wobbly one. There are interesting ideas (the world in chaos following the five-year blip, race is still a factor even after saving the world), but are buried under mandatory action sequences and the oldest cliché in the book: The hero’s refusal of the call.

Like every other Marvel superhero after Endgame, Sam (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) are not handling the new very normal well. In need of structure, the Falcon is back working with men in uniform. Rather than taking the mantle of Captain America like Steve Rogers wanted, Sam donates the vibranium shield to the Smithsonian and rather focus on saving the family business, a fishing venture only he seems to care about.

Bucky Barnes is not doing much better. Not particularly social to start with, without Steve around, the Winter Soldier has limited contact with the world beyond his court-appointed therapist. While in control of his faculties, he’s haunted by his past as Hydra’s muscle. He wants to make amends, but they barely make a dent on the nightmares that plague them.

Most of the episode is setup, punctuated by a nifty aerial sequence featuring the Falcon battling terrorists (led by George St. Pierre again) and a less exciting flashback depicting the Winter Soldier’s dastardly deeds. The outcome is unwieldly. Canadian filmmaker Kari Skogland  (The Handmaid’s TaleThe Stone Angel) gets as much juice as she can from the script, but the writing is perfunctory. Boilerplate even.

I’m not ready to dismiss The Falcon and the Winter Soldier just yet (I’m a completist), but it’s at some distance of becoming appointment television. 2/5 prairie dogs.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, episode one is now available in Disney Plus.

REVIEW: Ant-Man and the Wasp Is Marvel’s Amuse-Bouche

Ant-Man as Giant-Man.

The solemnity of Avengers: Infinity War didn’t quite hit me until the first few minutes of the frothy Ant-Man and the Wasp. A sequel to 2015 Ant-Man(the one Edgar Wright got bumped from), this chapter leans heavily on the comedy and well-designed set-pieces based on… size proportion. The film stands by itself for far longer than expected –given certain events in the MCU– and the limited stakes are a welcome respite from Thanos’ idea of redistribution.

Probably because of the absence of drama behind the scenes, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a lot more cohesive than the first episode. Returning director Peyton Reed and a team of five scriptwriters fail to fully grasp the whole subatomic shrinking business, but your tolerance for science-speak is rewarded in different ways.

Following the events in Captain America: Civil War, the titular Ant-Man, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), has abandoned his career as a superhero and now endures a two-year house arrest sentence. Scott is willing to bide his time for his daughter, but is also fully aware his actions have forced his former companions –Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly)– to go on the lam. Continue reading “REVIEW: Ant-Man and the Wasp Is Marvel’s Amuse-Bouche”

REVIEW: Thor: Ragnarok Is Pure Kiwi Fun

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in Thor: Ragnarok.

As high as Marvel’s batting average is, there is a ceiling the MCU movies struggle to break through. Outside the first Iron Man, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Spider-Man: Homecoming, Marvel has had a hard time generating stakes. Sure, the MCU movies are a guaranteed good time (especially when compared to the DCEU), but I can’t say I’ve been all that invested in the wellbeing of the people of Sokovia, Xandar or New York.

The lack of emotional weight rears its head again in Thor: Ragnarok, but the movie makes up for it with charm and laughs. Far and away the best movie about the God of Thunder and the funniest comedy of the year not involving Stalin, the third Thor movie benefits greatly from having Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows) at the helm. Waititi understands the character better than his predecessors, brings his dry, sharp comic sensibility to the table and makes the most of Chris Hemsworth’s considerable comedy chops. Continue reading “REVIEW: Thor: Ragnarok Is Pure Kiwi Fun”

REVIEW: Doctor Strange’s Cold Medicine

Crusader, meet cape.
Crusader, meet cape.

After conquering with relative ease the earthly and interstellar realms, it’s time for Marvel to get mystical. The most obvious way to enter the most otherworldly of planes is through Doctor Strange, the only character of the ethereal branch to break into the popular subconscious (with the possible exception of Ghost Rider).

At first sight, Doctor Strange appears to be a risky bet for Marvel. The film is loaded with comic book arcana and introduces -quite literally- a whole new universe with its own rules and characters. Furthermore, Strange’s ties to the Avengers and their baggage are very limited, at least at this stage.

It is, however, a calculated risk. Strange follows the Marvel formula to a tee (Strange’s likeness to Tony Stark is particularly on the nose), and for safety’s sake, nearly every plot point but one has been leaked to the public. There are so few surprises in Doctor Strange, it feels like a rerun. Continue reading “REVIEW: Doctor Strange’s Cold Medicine”

REVIEW: Can’t Step on this Ant

You don't want to see the inside of that tub up-close.
You don’t want to see the inside of that tub up-close.

Things didn’t look good for Ant-Man early on. The outrage over Edgar Wright being sidelined from his pet project, followed by the hiring of a middle-of-the-pack craftsman (Peyton Reed) were particularly worrisome signs. The commissioning of a rewrite (courtesy of comedy specialist Adam McKay) was the cherry on what was expected to be a tasteless cake, at least by comic book geeks around the world.

I’m happy to report Ant-Man is better than it has any right to be. In fact, it’s top tier Marvel. For the most part, Ant-Man is a traditional adaptation (the action sequences are clever, yet few and self-contained), but also one that gets the tone and the flow right. Ant-Man also benefits from the right cast and Marvel’s rarest of beasts: A compelling antagonist.

The Ant-Man in the film adaptation is not top scientist Hank Pym, but Scott Lang, a master burglar going through hard times. Unable to make an honest living, Lang (Paul Rudd) has no alternative but taking the Ant-Man mantle from Pym (Michael Douglas), too old and emotionally scared to use the shrinking suit. Continue reading “REVIEW: Can’t Step on this Ant”

Avengers: Age of Ultron May Not Be the Best Avengers Movie, but It Sure Is the Biggest One

A good catchphrase for this movie would be "look at all this...stuff."
A good catchphrase for this movie would be “look at all this…stuff.”

Let’s just take a moment to admire what writer/director Joss Whedon accomplished with the first Avengers film. In retrospect it seems obvious, but at the time The Avengers was a huge risk, combining four franchises with wildly different tones into a single action movie. And Whedon pulled it off beautifully. Sure, the first few scenes of The Avengers were awkward and overly talky. And okay, Whedon is not the most visually intriguing director. But he really tied the whole damn thing together, building tension over an hour and a half that ultimately exploded into a long, complicated, and wildly satisfying fight scene. It was such a good, entertaining film that it inspired a kind of alchemy by making every Marvel movie before it seem better in retrospect.

But it’s been three years since The Avengers, and after Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, the stakes are higher now. We know the shared Marvel universe works, and we’re ready for the concept to be taken to a whole new level. The question is, can Whedon raise the stakes again?

Whedon himself seems to be obsessed with the idea of stakes-raising in Avengers: Age of Ultron. This time, the stakes….are personal. But they’re also huge. And the huge stakes of the first movie still have repercussions. And so do all the other Marvel movies that happened between The Avengers and Age of Ultron. And there are other stakes to be resolved in future Marvel movies, too. Hell, there are more stakes in Age of Ultron than were in every season of Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer series combined. Here a stake, there a stake, everywhere a raised stake.

Continue reading “Avengers: Age of Ultron May Not Be the Best Avengers Movie, but It Sure Is the Biggest One”

Spidey’s Coming Home

Spider-ManWell that was unexpected*. Sony has decided to  share Spider-Man with Marvel. The deal will let Sony continue to distribute, finance, own and have final creative control over Spidey but Marvel gets to use and make their own Spider-Man movies. Disgraced former head of Sony, Amy Pascal will co-produce the films with Marvel’s Kevin Fiege.

This is a big win for Marvel, who sold the movie rights to the character back in 1999 for $7 million dollars when the company was bankrupt and trying to get back on their feet. Sony’s made $4 billion on the franchise to date, so it’s gotten more than its money’s worth out of the deal. Marvel has already shuffled around their cinematic movie slate to make room for Spidey which means there’s a strong chance for ole Web Head to make an appearance in next year’s Captain America: Civil War.

A new movie is slated for July 28, 2017 and it’s sounds like a new actor for Spider-Man too. Andrew Garfield is out along with, I assume, Sony’s crappy plans for a Spidey cinematic universe that included a Sinister Six movie, an untitled female character movie and a Venom movie.

This news brings Marvel’s biggest character home and just leaves Fox hanging on to X-Men and Fantastic Four, and out of Marvel’s reaches.

I haven’t been a fan of Sony’s last two Spider-Man movies so this is very welcome. Hopefully things don’t get screwed up.

*Well, not really. Bit of a surprise to hear about it late on a Monday night though.