Tag Archives: Marvel

Comic Quick Review – Avengers Infinity War: Prelude #1 (Updated!)

It’s safe to say the comics industry has been struggling over the past few years.  Sales are down, turmoil brews in the form of a cornucopia of controversies, characters are being replaced and storylines are intersecting to the point of incomprehensibility.  Marvel has been the tip of the spear here and the fallout has been deafening.  I have not been a fan of Marvel’s comics for a while now (not since the mid-aughts), as I think their storytelling abilities have been on a pretty steady decline as their writing staff was steadily replaced over a period of about ten years, leaving only a handful of cynical veterans behind.

Despite their more recent failings as a comic book company (with mainline books selling well-below 30k in units shipped), Marvel has shown consistent resilience in their movie brand.  Even the weakest of Marvel Studios’ films often have moments of enjoyment and the focus seems so far to have less about weaving together a complex universe and more about being fun adventure movies; Which I suppose is all a movie fan can really ask of them.  So, in preparation for the hotly-anticipated Avengers: Infinity War, I decided to give their tie-in comic “Prelude” a read.

Avengers: Infinity War - Prelude #1 (2018; Marvel)

Prelude is a combination of three things: A lead-in from the end of movie “Captain America: Civil War”, a tie-in to the upcoming “Black Panther” flick, and lastly a way to connect these two movies to the impending galactic struggle against Thanos in the titular 2018 Summer blockbuster.  The story opens with Cap and Stark’s confrontation at the end of the movie “Civil War” and sloppily leads into Cap’s rescue of his allies from a Hydra prison.  Then bounces haplessly to an over-long, boring exposition scene about Bucky as told by a Wakandan doctor that goes on for roughly seven pages!  Lastly we get more flopping around to Cap-and-company busting up a terrorist arms deal selling Chitari weapons.  If you didn’t gather it from my hastily-thrown-together synopsis, this book is a hot mess!

The sequential art is all over the place.  It switches between dull, mannequin-esque posing to rough, sloppy sequential action scenes.  Things happen quickly from panel to panel and it is often difficult to tell just what is going on without a second or even third look.  The seemingly-random series of events is merely a rush to force all of the plots of these films together while trying to introduce us to the Wakandan scientist Shuri, who is simultaneously the most boring and most unlikable character in the issue, due to her long monologing and sheer, abrasive arrogance (or should I say “the writer’s arrogance?”).

As for the art: It’s bad.  It looks like roughs used for storyboarding; not print-ready art.  The often-fanart levels of ugliness on display is unsurprising given Marvel’s present state, but seeing it come together like this in a comic that is meant to tie into the superior Cinematic Universe just makes it stand out even more.  This is the crux of this book’s problem, too.  I have a feeling the very existence of Prelude may only prove to intensify the apparent rift in competency between the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Comics’ publishing arm.  The contrast on display is glaring with art that varies in quality from page to page to visual storytelling that is occasionally confusing.  The writing is a bundle of exposition clumsily written into page-filling dialogue balloons as if to reassure us that these are the words of the characters we are reading and not an anonymous fanboy’s drunk IMDB plot synopsis.

So much is wrong with this obvious cash-in, and I definitely can’t give it a recommendation.  This is the comic book equivalent of a movie trailer.  It’s slashed to bits, vague, clunky, and I cannot foresee anyone reading it and finding it enhancing their enjoyment of the upcoming movies in any real way.  This is just shelf-bait hoping to grab disgruntled comics fans who are more excited about the upcoming movies than they are about anything pouring out of Marvel’s presses these days.

UPDATE – 2/16/2018:

Less than a month after writing this review, I forgot I had even read this book.  So, there’s that.

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Thor: Ragnarok (2017) Movie Review

Thor: Ragnarok (2017; Marvel Studios)

To say the Marvel Cinematic Universe has had highs and lows is an understatement, but Thor: Ragnarok, despite being at one point the highest-rated Marvel movie to date on the “infinitely reliable” Rotten Tomatoes (*scoff*), is a baffling exercise, the meat of which resembles the floor of a Golden Corral after it is raided by an Oprah studio audience that had been infected with the Rage Virus from 28 Days Later.  I walked away from Thor 3 not so much angry but rather confused.  I was entertained in the moment, for sure, but upon some reflection I realize just how indescribably-bizarre a specimen this movie really is.

Thor: Ragnarok follows the titular Norse icon as he finds himself in a strange new world and must fight his way out to return to Asgard and save his home before Hela can overtake the throne.  He is forced to face off with his old ally the Hulk in gladiatorial combat, team up with his selfish and deceitful brother Loki, and partner with a former Valkyrie-turned-slaver to defeat the embodiment of Death and rescue the people of his homeland.

In terms of the Marvel films we’ve seen so far, Ragnarok is more “Guardians of the Galaxy” than “Winter Soldier”.  It is filled with classic rock tracks and slow-motion montages and has a neon flair that is reminiscent of Gunn’s adaptations of the cult comics.  Where this does work is it sets a consistent tone for a movie, the problem is it sets that tone for a completely different film than the one you are watching.  The best way I can describe Thor: Ragnarok is, if you took one of the better, non-comical MCU movies from recent years and at the end of every seminal moment you insert a clip from The Family Guy.  Nearly every scene in the movie, including those that are supposed to have some weight to them, is punctuated with a splash of completely unnecessary humor.

To make matters worse, we aren’t talking Mel Brooks levels of comedy here, either; The man who wrote a chase scene involving a six-foot blunt has far too much pathos for this.  This is bad, sitcom-levels of comedy.  Thor is filled with half-written stinger jokes and pointless rambling dialogue that serves no purpose other than to pad the movie out and shutter a scene because the writers and director didn’t know how to end it; so instead of a resolution or smooth transition, we get a one-liner or a pratfall.  It is also painfully obvious that the director, Taika Waititi, thinks he is a whole lot funnier as a comedic director than he really is and the end result is embarrassing and completely cringeworthy.

A positive I will give Thor is the acting is pretty good, albeit occasionally goofy.  I am about 90% certain that most of the worst acting moments of the movie fall into the laps of the writers and director more so than the actors, though.  Hemsworth still makes the perfect Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki is still pretty solid, though he spends some parts of the movie trying to come off as badass and it really does not suit him.  Mark Ruffalo reprises his role as Bruce Banner and Tessa Thompson brings the classic character Valkyrie to the screen in style.  Jeff Goldblum plays the almost Messianic leader of a decadent and debaucherous hidden civilization and has some of the best lines in the movie delivering them as only he can.  Cate Blanchett plays the Lady of Death Hela with confidence, but takes the camp a little too far at times for my taste.  Idris Elba also returns as Heimdall but is barely even used in the movie.

These are our main players, and every other character is a punchline or an obnoxious comic foil.  Korg (voiced by the film’s director, Taika Waititi) is an unforgivably-annoying character.  He enters the scene running off dialogues that seem to go on forever.  He shows up and delivers lines as if he was riffing the movie he was in, completely disconnected from the events happening on screen or their impact.  The final scene in the movie, one that should have been powerful and a visual spectacle is suddenly stopped so we could get a stinger from Korg, who painfully mumbles a predictably-unfunny commentary on the very thing we are looking at.  I was in a packed house with people of all ages (including quite a few kids) and nobody, I mean nobody, was laughing at this alien annoyance.  He sucked the emotional presence out of every scene he was in and ground the movie to a needless halt in a way that Chris Tucker wishes he could aspire to.

As an action movie, Thor looks good.  It is not as claustrophobic as the previous Thor movies and has a good sense of scale.  Characters look like they belong in their world and everything has a consistent and admirable visual tone.  There really wasn’t much to hate on in the effects department except for the inclusion of Korg and his buddy, which look like a 2nd year computer animation student did them in a weekend in Unity and sold them to Marvel Studios to be included into the movie.  Other moments are bright, vivid, well-composed and you could actually see what was going on in the action scenes; a marked improvement over other CGI-fest thrill rides.

In all, to me Thor 3 looks like a movie-by-committee.  Previous Thor movies have been mostly-underwhelming, so I’m sure some suit at Disney said something to the effect of, “We need to make this one work.  What was the last movie that made us all of the money in the Universe?  ‘Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2’?  Good.  Let’s make that.  How much is Gunn charging these days…  How much?!  Oh, Hell no!  Who can we get for about… 10% of that?  The guy that made a mockumentary about vampires that nobody saw?  Sounds good.  Somebody get me my checkbook.”  This movie reeks of production-by-committee and cynical Hollywood marketing tactics.  Say what you want about some of the lesser Marvel movies since Iron Man 2, but at least there was visible effort and an honest attempt to recreate these worlds.  Thor: Ragnarok spends a majority of its running time on a world that was ripped right out of The Fifth Element only so we could have the creations of a self-indulgent director shoved down our throats.  To make matters worse, this universe and its goings on seem to have no consequence to the rest of the worlds we’ve encountered so far in Marvel’s big movies.  It’s there so we can see how “quirky” and “zany” Waititi is and that is it.  The term self-indulgent comes to mind, but I don’t think that quite nails it.  It’s more of an attempt at a strange self-aggrandizement mixed with an effort to recreate the laziest sorts of gags.  I can say, if you want to see it, it’s harmless enough, but this is not one that I will likely sit through again.

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Marvel’s The Defenders Finale Review (Contains Spoilers)

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues its Juggernaut charge through the otherwise-stale box office, the Netflix series have maintained a surprising level of quality.  The four series leading up to Marvel’s The Defenders set the bar for what should have been a pretty-good series, finally building the seamless connection between the Marvel series while attempting to tell a fresh story.  Unfortunately, this new series did not live up to the standard set even by Iron Fist and Luke Cage.

The plot picks up where both Iron Fist and Daredevil’s second season left off, and carried the heavy burden of molding all the chaos of the series’ sub-plots into a form that would have some cohesion and reason.  To me, it felt more-than-a-little forced, but still worked for the most part up to this point.  The action scenes throughout the series were often satisfying and even though it ran a very short eight episodes, Defenders did land some solid excitement if you were able to get past the slog that was its Pilot but it all came to a close in a way that felt like everyone just wanted to get out of this series and on to bigger things.

The Defenders finale sets the stage for the now-united Defenders’ duel with a possessed Elektra (A plotline that carried over from Daredevil’s second season).  The heroes then fight their way into a hidden cave deep below a New York highrise where they split up into groups.  One to take on The Hand who is attempting to use the Iron Fist to achieve their ends of attaining immortality, and one small group to plant explosives to level the building.  That is pretty much it.

I did not have a problem with the simple set up as it carried some plot points from earlier in the season, but this finale was so very, very forgettable.  I suppose this was a problem with the entire series.  It was necessary to re-establish Jessica Jones and Luke Cage to integrate them into the more comic book worlds of Daredevil and Iron Fist (despite them always having taken place in the same New York City) but the way it was done was rushed due to this spinoff’s very short run.  These are the same writers who did Daredevil, yet the entire series of Defenders feels like it’s on a caffeine high, and it culminates in an ending that is far less impactful than it could have been if the creators would have taken their time building things up patiently, allowing for more depth to the story, but it’s difficult to do that in a television series that only runs about six hours in total.

The tone of the finale (simply titled “The Defenders”) is all over the place.  It has a lot of dark undertones, themes of sacrifice, love, friendship and facing the past head-on, but then it ramps up the cheese with overwritten and laughably-bad lines.  On top of that, all of the the characters (including the supporting ones) are forced to face all of the plot points foreshadowed through the first seven episodes in one 48-minute sprint.  It is then blended with hamfisted dialog, bloated action movie cliches, and some truly cringe-worthy scenes, resulting in what is more of a predictable and shallow whimper, as opposed to the promised bang, despite the very literal one at the end.

 

For all of the problems I had with The Defenders leading up to the finale, I was even more disappointed with the conclusion.  It wrapped up safely, not taking any risks, with a predictable closing for all involved characters and the dramatic shift in tone was jarring, at-best.  I can say a lot of this is the bad screenplay but some of the blame could be the result of the episode’s director Farren Blackburn.  This is the only episode directed by Blackburn and it shows with its shift in focus.  The action scenes are all obscured, which is just baffling to me.  One scene with Colleen Wing finally facing her former master is spent with almost the entire fight taking place out-of-focus, in the background, behind a bunch of pipes, while the camera focuses on Claire Temple hiding and talking on a cell phone.  The rest of the action mostly takes place in a dark cave where quick-cuts and identical-looking bad guys fly through the air.  Every scene was so disjointed and ugly and the creators’ decision to obscure the action from the viewer is outright maddening!  I cannot even begin to fathom the series of pitches and ideas that brought the writers and director to make that call.  It is probably the stupidest decision I’ve seen from any of Marvel Studio’s creations to date.

Add to that the fact that two of the main fights the series were building up to barely happened at all (aforementioned Wing v. Bakuto and then Daredevil v. Elektra) and you have a truly upsetting finale.  While Wing and Bakuto’s final duel took place almost entirely off-screen during a phone call, Daredevil and Elektra’s fight was obscured in darkness making the fight barely-visible and was peppered with sappy attempts by Matt Murdock to convince his former love to stop fighting and go back to the way she was before her death.  It was really badly-written, repetitive and very, very long.  It all ends with a CGI building blowing up, and that’s it.  The epilogue involves a long, boring conversation between Foggy Nelson and Karen Page in a church and a tease that there may be a second season of Jessica Jones.  Then it just sort of stops with a single, final reveal that essentially undoes all of the drama of the events that took place during the climax and takes suspension of disbelief and mutates it into an outright rejection of rationality.

For a series that had to rush through its 8-episode run, a big, exciting, engaging finale was absolutely crucial.  This wasn’t a five-chapter season of Sherlock where the individual episode was like a movie, running 90-120 minutes; this was eight episodes running a standard TV hour block (about 44-48 minutes).  There was no room for meandering, laziness and obfuscation of the action.  Zero room!  The choice to close this much-anticipated and hyped series out with such an ugly, dull, lackluster finale is beyond the pale.  It isn’t unusual for a series or even season finale to leave much to be desired, but this isn’t Seinfeld!  There was an underlying story, theme and goal here.  What needed to be done was known.  All they had to do was execute it in a satisfying way.  The Defenders was tolerable at best up to its finale so they could have gone big and at least left an impact, but instead we get what is probably the worst of all of the Marvel series on Netflix, a shell of a series hampered by what I can only assume is utter apathy on the part of the director.

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