Documentary Review: Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe (2014)

Release Date: March 18th, 2014
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Hayley Atwell, Shane Black, Kenneth Branagh, Dominic Cooper, Vin Diesel, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Jon Favreau, Kevin Feige, Clark Gregg, James Gunn, Chris Hardwick, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Joe Johnston, Louis Leterrier, Jeph Loeb, Anthony Mackie, George R.R. Martin, Tom Morello, Bobby Moynihan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Pratt, Joe Quesada, Robert Redford, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Sebastian Stan, Emily VanCamp, Ming-Na Wen, Jed Whedon, Joss Whedon, Edgar Wright (uncredited)

ABC Studios, Disney, Marvel, 42 Minutes

Review:

After watching the beefy but solid Star Wars documentary Empire of Dreams, I noticed that Disney+ also featured a similar made-for-TV documentary about the making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I figured I’d check it out, as it originally aired in 2014, on the cusp of the MCU reaching its peak.

Unfortunately, this isn’t as compelling as Empire of Dreams and it plays more like a Marvel produced production used mainly to pimp themselves out and market Captain America: Winter Solider and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show. But I get it, this played on ABC, which like Marvel, is owned by Disney.

It’s still an informative piece with a lot of insight into the making of the first Iron Man movie, which opened the floodgates for the rest of the MCU.

It also expands beyond that and delves a little bit into each movie up to the then still in-production Guardians of the Galaxy. In fact, I think that this was the first real peek into the Guardians of the Galaxy production.

The best part about this short feature is the interviews with the stars and filmmakers who helped bring this universe to life. I especially liked hearing the enthusiasm that Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau had with the early Iron Man pictures.

Overall, this isn’t a must watch but it’s worth your time if you are a big MCU fan.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other filmmaking documentaries about blockbusters. Empire of Dreams, immediately comes to mind.

Film Review: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Release Date: April 22nd, 2019 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on: The Avengers by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, William Hurt, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, Ross Marquand, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Linda Cardellini, Tessa Thompson, Rene Russo, John Slattery, Tilda Swinton, Hayley Atwell, Natalie Portman, Taika Waititi, Angela Bassett, Frank Grillo, Robert Redford, Ty Simpkins, James D’Arcy, Ken Jeong, Yvette Nichole Brown

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 181 Minutes

Review:

“You could not live with your own failure, and where did that bring you? Back to me.” – Thanos

*There be spoilers here! But I kept it as minimal as possible.

Here we are… the end.

Well, it’s the end of an era but not the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although, this may be the end for me, as there isn’t much else I’m looking forward to from the MCU after Endgame. Granted, there hasn’t been much news on what’s coming next, either.

But anyway, how was this film? The big, badass finale to a 22 movie franchise?

It was good but it wasn’t anything close to stellar.

My biggest issue with it was that it was a pretty big clusterfuck that had too many parts to try and balance. Where the previous film Infinity War did that just fine, Endgame had so many more extra layers thrown on top of it that it was overkill. I mean every single character that had any sort of significant impact on MCU storylines over 22 films ended up shoehorned into this thing. Even Natalie Portman, who wanted nothing to do with these movies after being in two of them and dialing in a mediocre performance both times.

Also, the time travel element to the story did a bunch of things that didn’t make sense and they also pissed on Back to the Future because it’s easier to shit on a classic (and its fictitious application of quantum physics) than to actually write a coherent time travel story of your own. Endgame opted to go the lazy Doctor Who “timey wimey” route than to concern itself with paradoxes and all that other catastrophic nonsense. They even kill a version of a character from the past and it in no way effects the present version of that same character.

The big battle at the end was the most epic thing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done but what should have felt like Marvel’s version of The Return of the King felt more like Ready Player Two. It was a CGI shitfest and I’m not even sure how Spider-Man was web-swinging on a large, open battlefield where the only objects above him were fast moving spaceships going in the opposite of the direction he was swinging in. But whatever, physics is hard, brah.

I liked that this film gave us some closure for some major characters. Granted, I’m not all that happy with what that closure was but like Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr., I’m also very, very tired of this franchise. I feel like Endgame really is a jumping off point for fans that have rode this train for 11 years that feel like they need a break. I feel like I need a break and even if my mind was made up before this film, Endgame really solidified it.

Although, I am a bit excited for whatever happens with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor. As for the rest of the characters and their films, I don’t really care. I think I’m only really enthused about cosmic Marvel and not Earth Marvel, at this point.

Almost all of the acting was damn good, especially in regards to Robert Downey Jr., Karen Gillan, Jeremy Renner and Scarlett Johansson.

Brie Larson on the other hand is a fucking charisma vacuum and every time she was on screen, I felt like I was looking at a first time community theater actress trying to play Nurse Ratched. And the Justin Bieber makeover was terrible. That scene where she blew up the ship and floated there, victoriously, just made me yearn for someone, anyone else to be in that role. My brain immediately thought, “Man, imagine if that was Charlize Theron, the theater would’ve just erupted instead of everyone just sitting here sucking loudly on empty soda cups.” I’m not wrong, I rarely ever am.

Anyway, the movie was messy but it had some really good moments. But this isn’t a movie that can stand on its own. You need the previous 21 films for context or all of this would be lost on you. Sure, it’s emotional and some bits are powerful but without 11 years of context, the weight isn’t there. And I prefer to judge films on their own merits as a sole body of work and not as an episode of a TV show or a chapter in a book. But at the same time, there is no way you can recap everything before this, as this film series is now too damn big.

Well, it’s over I guess. In 2008, it was hard imagining this day. But here it is. And I’m tired.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Everything in the MCU before this film, as it all leads up to this one.

Film Review: A Walk In The Woods (2015)

Release Date: January 23rd, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Ken Kwapis
Written by: Rick Kerb, Bill Holderman
Based on: A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson
Music by: Nathan Larson
Cast: Robert Redford, Nick Nolte, Kristen Schaal, Nick Offerman, Mary Steenburgen, Emma Thompson

Route One Films, Wildwood Enterprises, Broad Green Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

“Intimidate the bears? They’re fucking bears!” – Stephen Katz

A Walk In The Woods interested me for two reasons. The first, is that I’ve wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail for quite some time. The second, I’ve always been a fan of Robert Redford and Nick Nolte.

This film is based off of the memoir of the same name by travel writer Bill Bryson. Redford plays Bryson and Nolte plays his old friend Katz, who accompanies him on his long journey walking from Georgia to Maine.

I’ve never read the book, so I am not sure how close the film depicts the source material. Although, I expected something deeper and more serious. With a couple of old chums who haven’t seen each other in decades, I was looking forward to not just a grand adventure but also seeing them have to deal with the challenges of their once close relationship and how their lives have gone in different directions since they last spoke. While this is touched on, there is no big heartfelt moment or a real catharsis for the characters – at least nothing is really explained; they just act enlightened. In fact, the motivation as to why Bryson wants to go on this journey is never really explained. He is questioned about it several times but it is never clear what it is he is expecting to find on this journey.

What saves this film is the chemistry between Redford and Nolte. Also, the comedy elements are really good and at least I enjoyed the film for that.

Kristen Schaal shows up and is pretty hilarious. One of her Last Man On Earth co-stars, Mary Steenburgen, shows up too. I enjoyed their small parts, as well as Emma Thompson’s.

Oh yeah, and Ron Swanson, er.. Nick Offerman shows up for a bit as a salesman at REI.

When comparing this to the recent Pacific Crest Trail film Wild, this is missing the heart and the purpose that that film had. While I love the book Wild more than the film, the movie still connects much deeper than A Walk In The Woods does. Maybe I will read the book at some point and I can compare them from a literary standpoint.

This film is worth a watch but it certainly isn’t a vital must-see.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: The Great Waldo Pepper (1975)

Release Date: March 13th, 1975
Directed by: George Roy Hill
Written by: George Roy Hill, William Goldman
Music by: Henry Mancini
Cast: Robert Redford, Bo Svenson, Margot Kidder, Bo Brundin, Susan Sarandon, Marilyn Burns (uncredited)

Universal Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

This is one of those movies that seems to be somewhat forgotten.

Robert Redford stars as the title character and the film follows him, as he works as a stunt pilot while having a burning desire to go up against the great German ace Ernst Kessler.

The film also stars Bo Svenson, Bo Brundin, Susan Sarandon, Geoffrey Lewis and Margot Kidder. With such a strong lineup, this film offers up some seriously good performances from its cast.

The Great Waldo Pepper is directed by Academy Award winner George Roy Hill and this is in the upper echelon of his pictures. Granted, most of his films are pretty damned good.

The cinematography in this film is spectacular. The shots of the planes doing stunts and battle with one another are beyond stellar. This film has a timeless vibe to it and the shots that were captured on film, especially for the limited technology available at the time that this film was shot, goes to showcase the greatness of Hill’s filmmaking prowess.

This is an underrated, underappreciated and under recognized work of art. Redford is as charismatic as ever and as cool as he is, what’s cooler than a bi-plane stunt pilot?

Film Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Release Date: March 13th, 2014 (El Capitan Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on: Captain America by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby
Music by: Henry Jackman
Cast: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Emily VanCamp, Hayley Atwell, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 136 Minutes

captain_america_the_winter_soldierReview:

*Written in 2014.

It took me some time to get to the theater to see this due to my ridiculous schedule lately but I finally got around to it, just in time to drop a review about 3 weeks too late. But whatever, here it goes.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is unlike any other Marvel film before it. Granted, they all fit different subgenres other than just being straightforward comic book movies but this chapter in the ongoing Avengers cinematic saga was something refreshing and quite spectacular.

Instead of a cookie cutter over the top blockbuster ass kicker film, we got more of a political thriller, a conspiracy movie and a great espionage flick rolled into one big cornucopia of awesomeness with a handful of action sequences that didn’t feel overdone or made just for the sake of trying to placate to those soulless tentpole fanboys who worship the Michael Bay style of filmmaking. In fact, the film was so engaging that when action sequences started, it was like, “Oh yeah, I’m watching a comic book movie!”

Now this wasn’t a flawless film by any means but despite that, I thought it was the best Marvel film in the Avengers series. It had the best story that the studio has given us so far and it took chances that the other films haven’t. Chris Evans was great, as were Sam Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders and Robert Redford. Then there was Scarlett Johansson, I always love Scarlett Johansson.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was not just a worthwhile comic book movie, in an era where they are becoming way too common, mundane and redundant, but it may be the best film in that genre since 2008’s The Dark Knight. On IMDB it currently sits with a rating of 8.2; I say that it is a well earned rating and I don’t disagree with it.

*2016 Update: It is infinitely better than its sequel Captain America: Civil War.