Comic Review: The Punisher: World War Frank

Published: August 22nd, 2018 – December 19th, 2018
Written by: Matthew Rosenberg
Art by: Szymon Kudranski, Greg Smallwood (covers)

Marvel Comics, 129 Pages

Review:

It’s been a long time since I cared about the Punisher. So long in fact that even though I knew this new series was starting, I didn’t seek it out. It wasn’t until someone I trusted told me that I needed to check out the first issue, as it read like classic Punisher and was a no nonsense, balls out, action packed, political thriller.

They weren’t wrong. This thing was a high octane festival of testosterone overload. While that might not appeal to some people, to fans of the Punisher comics of the late ’80s to early ’90s, this comic is a true throwback to that style and tone. Although, it is modernized, it still feels like those old comics I read when I first fell in love with the character as a scrapping young comic reader and creator.

Now this story arc is full of cameos but no one distracts from Frank Castle being his best self and even when other people (heroes and villains) try to prevent his one man war, he is too driven to be deterred.

The main antagonist here is Baron Zemo, who is one of my all-time favorites and who has been underutilized outside of Thunderbolts comics. Zemo isn’t the only villain though. We also get the Mandarin, Jigsaw and some others.

The issue that sees Jigsaw confront the Punisher while he is in a jail cell is incredible. It was the biggest high point out of several. But that’s what this story arc is, it’s a lot of high points and it’s jam packed with action and even some mystery.

World War Frank is not just solid storytelling, it is one of the most solid Frank Castle stories in years.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: old school late ’80s to early ’90s Punisher and the recent Marvel Knights 20th anniversary event.

Comic Review: Winter Soldier: Winter Kills – One-Shot

Published: December 27th, 2006
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Art by: Lee Weeks

Marvel Comics, 39 Pages

Review:

It’s been awhile since I’ve read anything from Marvel’s Civil War era but I though that I’d give this one-shot a chance, as I must have missed it back then. Plus, I like Winter Soldier and I like one-shots.

This takes place while the original Civil War was going on. It focuses on Winter Soldier trying to adjust to life after having been a brainwashed killer for so long. It also takes place on the first Christmas after he was freed from mind control while calling back to his last Christmas before everything went really bad for him, back in World War II with Captain America and Toro by his side.

This is short and sweet but it hit the mark for me.

You get to see the camaraderie between Bucky, Cap, Toro and Namor during the war and how important those relationships were. Then Bucky, now as the Winter Solider, is alone on Christmas, goes on a mission for Nick Fury and gets tied up in a fracas with Hydra, The Patriot, The Vision and the female Hawkeye, Kate Bishop.

Even though heroes find themselves on different sides of the Civil War divide, they come together out of respect for who Winter Soldier was and because it’s Christmas.

This isn’t as mushy as it sounds though. There is a lot of solid action and a good gritty tone while also critiquing what Christmas and America have become in the decades since Bucky was just a soldier in the 1940s.

Winter Kills is an enjoyable read and helps to build up Winter Soldier as a character. This also came out just before he took over as Captain America for awhile.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Marvel’s Civil WarCaptain America: Civil War and the Ed Brubaker run on Captain America.

Film Review: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Release Date: April 23rd, 2018 (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, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio del Toro, William Hurt, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, Ross Marquand

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 149 Minutes

Review:

“In time, you will know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right. Yet to fail all the same. Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives. ” – Thanos

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

Well, this film has been ten years in the making, as it is the culmination of everything that has happened in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Iron Man hit theaters in May of 2008. Ten years and eighteen films later, all the carefully crafted moving parts come together to create a unified front against the greatest cinematic Marvel villain of them all, Thanos.

So cramming in all these characters is a tremendous feat. And really, I think everyone’s biggest concern was how that would work. Despite my concerns and fears, I haven’t anxiously anticipated the release of a film as strongly as this one since 2008’s The Dark Knight.

But having now seen it, I finally know whether or not the Russos succeeded in successfully conquering such a tremendous feat. So did they succeed?

To quote Stone Cold Steve Austin, “Oh… Hell… Yeaaah!!!”

The way that the Russos balanced everything was incredible. It’s as if they read a ton of major comic book crossover events in preparation for this incredible task and they sort of took their cue from them.

What I mean by that is that this film handles itself like a well written crossover mega event in the comics. It segments the heroes into different groups on different missions, all fighting for the same endgame. It’s like when a crossover is spread over four different comic titles and when you read them in a collected format, you get a story where each chapter is an issue from a different comic. Like X-Cutioner’s Song from the early ’90s was spread over Uncanny X-MenX-FactorX-Men (vol. 2) and X-Force. When you read them in chronological order (or in a collected trade paperback) each issue/title focused on a specific group that was different from the previous chapter but all the stories were part of a bigger tapestry that saw everything come together. That’s exactly how Avengers: Infinity War works, which is really cool to experience in a live action format.

So you have multiple groups here: one led by Captain America that goes to Wakanda, one lead by Iron Man that goes into space, the Guardians of the Galaxy split into two groups with one of them being led by Thor and then there is Thanos’ story and he does get a lot of time to shine. In fact, he was handled better than every Marvel Cinematic Universe villain that isn’t Loki. But who knows, Thanos may still eclipse Loki when it’s all said and done.

This was a pretty long movie but it needed to be and unlike other Marvel movies that seem to run on for too long, there wasn’t a single moment where I looked at my watch or felt antsy like I needed them to wrap it up. In fact, when I got to the end, I felt like I had finally exhaled and I couldn’t get up out of my seat, there was a lot of amazing stuff to process and I sat there with a smile, completely and utterly impressed with how this turned out.

It’s obvious that the special effects are good and some of the most impressive ever created. Marvel never disappoints in that regard.

One thing that really stood out for me much more than it ever has in any other Marvel picture was the score. This film has a very good and memorable smorgasbord of booming orchestral tunes and the Avengers theme was re-imagined in some creative ways. Alan Silvestri really came up with an incredible score that serviced not just this film but served the entire franchise well. There aren’t scores like there were through the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s but this one felt like a throwback to that superior era for movie music.

If I had to compare this to anything, it’s like if someone took the best parts of both The Lord of the Rings and the original Star Wars movies and then mixed them together and replaced those films heroes and villains with Marvel characters. It truly was incredible and I can be a snobby dick that’s hard to impress sometimes. I just wish the modern comic writers at Marvel would take their cue from these movies and write comics worthy of these characters once again. But as superheroes are dying in print, they are thriving on celluloid.

Simply for the fact that I haven’t felt like this after seeing a movie in the theater since The Dark Knight, ten years ago, I have to give this film a perfect score. Sure, it’s not the greatest movie ever made but it is a f’n clinic on how to do a massive team up movie and a film that is presented on a massive scale that doesn’t lose itself and keeps you very engaged. Granted, this film also benefits from having 18 movies before it, where all of these key characters, minus Thanos, were able to be developed in preparation for this Royal Rumble of a superhero movie.

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

Ranking All the Films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Thus Far

With the release of Avengers: Infinity War this upcoming Friday, we are on the verge of experiencing the culmination of ten years of hard work on the part of the studios, filmmakers, writers and actors involved with this massive franchise.

We are currently at the tail end of the third phase of films, appropriately called Phase 3. We have had close to twenty films already: solo movies, team-up movies and a mixture of different genres and styles all coalescing up to this point.

Having already experienced dozens of hours of entertainment since 2008’s Iron Man, I thought that it was a good time to rank all of the films that have led up to this point.

It also helps that I just revisited all of these movies in an attempt to prepare myself for Avengers: Infinity War.

So without further ado, the list!

1. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
2. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 (2017)
3. Captain America: The Winter Solider (2014)
4. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
5. Iron Man (2008)
6. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
7. Iron Man 3 (2013)
8. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
9. The Black Panther (2018)
10. Doctor Strange (2016)
11. The Avengers (2012)
12. Thor (2011)
13. Iron Man 2 (2010)
14. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
15. Ant-Man (2015)
16. Thor: The Dark World (2013)
17. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
18. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Film Review: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Release Date: July 19th, 2011 (El Capitan Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on: Captain America by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci, Kenneth Choi, Toby Jones, Natalie Dormer, Richard Armitage, Jenna Coleman, Samuel L. Jackson

Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, 124 Minutes

Review:

“Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” – Abraham Erskine

It was nice going back and revisiting this chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. To be honest, I really hadn’t seen this since about 2012 or so. They pump out Marvel movies so fast that sometimes you get caught up in all the new stuff that the older films get neglected. At the time that this came out, it wasn’t my favorite of the Phase One set of films. I think that’s changed, however.

Captain America: The First Avenger is, first and foremost, an origin story. The first half really has to deal with how Captain America comes to be. The second half has to deal with Cap saving the world from the evil Hydra commander and Nazi officer, Red Skull.

This also introduces us to the Tesseract, which would evolve into the first Infinity Stone to be seen in a Marvel movie. This MacGuffin would be center stage in this film, as well as in the first Avengers movie where its ownership would shift to Loki. This mystical item would carry a lot of narrative weight, as it still exists in the current crop of films and still hasn’t had its power fully unleashed. I’m assuming we’ll see all the Infinity Stones in all their glory when Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters in late April.

But back to this movie.

It is a solid World War II action film that just happens to have a superhero and some crazy sci-fi elements thrown in. Shift some things around and this almost feels like a live-action version of a Wolfenstein game.

The relationship between Captain America and Peggy Carter has helped to define both characters after this film. Both had to move on without the other and under very different circumstances. It was nice coming back to this movie and seeing how it all started. Chris Evans and Hayley Atwell and incredible chemistry and the weight of the scene where Cap crashes Red Skull’s ship is so much heavier now knowing the pain that both of these characters felt after losing one another.

I also liked going back and seeing the relationship between Steve and Bucky before they went to war. This is something else that didn’t have quite the weight that it has now, knowing where their journeys would go in future films.

One complaint however, is that I feel like the villains Red Skull and Zola were wasted. Red Skull could have offered so much more to the franchise and really, he should have come back by this point or another person should have taken over the mantle. Zola, who was a formidable Captain America villain would only return as a computer program.

I actually forgot that Tommy Lee Jones was even in this. It was cool seeing him though. It was also a delight to see the Howling Commandos in all their glory and to be honest, they deserve their own movie or at least a short season television show like Peggy Carter had.

This is the one Marvel film that is a true period piece. The different world this exists in was refreshing and did a lot to enrich the mythos and to expand the universe beyond the films before it.

Captain America: The First Avenger is a solid piece of tent pole, blockbuster filmmaking. It’s a popcorn flick that’s more fun than most and it just feels truer to the title character than even Iron Man did.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Captain America: The Winter SoldierCaptain America: Civil War and The Avengers.

Film Review: The Black Panther (2018)

Release Date: January 29th, 2018 (Dolby Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Ryan Coogler, Joe Robert Cole
Based on: Black Panther by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Music by: Ludwig Göransson
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, Sebastian Stan (cameo)

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 147 Minutes

Review:

“The world is changing. Soon there will only be the conquered and the conquerors. You are a good man, with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be a king.” – King T’Chaka

*There be spoilers here!

The world around me turned Black Panther into a political and social film. I wanted to go into it and just enjoy it for what it is, whether the end result was good or bad. But you’ve got Hollywood and and critics pimping it out like its the greatest superhero film of all-time. While that happens almost every time a new Marvel movie comes out, there was the SJW twist this time, just as there was with Wonder Woman. On the flip side of that, there were the anti-SJW whiners who were trying to trash the film before seeing it and even going as far as to sabotage ratings and reviews on interactive movie websites.

I just wanted to see this movie and judge it on its own merits. I had to shut out the outside world (thankfully I deactivated my Facebook long ago) and I had to walk into the theater, sit down and experience this film for myself and without prejudice, bias or some sort of white male guilt weighing heavy on my brain because the media wants to constantly remind me what I’m responsible for throughout history.

All bullshit aside, I thought Black Panther was pretty damn good. Now I didn’t like it as much as the last Thor movie or as much as those Guardians of the Galaxy pictures, but this is certainly one of the best Marvel movies to take place on Earth. Granted, most of this takes place in the fictional and fantastical nation of Wakanda but it is very much a movie about our home planet.

What makes Black Panther so interesting and probably really gratifying and inspirational for black people, is that it shows black people being at the forefront of trying to fix the world’s problems. It shows that they’ve always had something of extreme value to offer but because of the state of the rest of the world, have withheld it and kept it safe. Sure, it’s metaphor, but it’s an effective metaphor and has a deeper meaning than just being a plot device created by Marvel Comics decades ago.

I have been a massive fan of Chadwick Boseman since I saw him play Jackie Robinson in the grossly underappreciated 42. Seeing him get to star in a film directed by Ryan Coogler, alongside Coogler’s go-to guy Michael B. Jordan, was something I couldn’t pass up, regardless of what this movie was about. And luckily, for us, Boseman and Jordan have good chemistry and both actors carry each other to a higher level.

The philosophical differences between Boseman’s Black Panther and Jordan’s Killmonger are both clearly understood and, as a viewer, you respect Panther’s vision of keeping the peace but it is hard to not get swept into the emotion and justice Killmonger feels he needs to enact. Part of me actually hoped that the two would fight it out and would both survive and diplomatically find a solution together. I mean, they’re long lost cousins and it was obvious Killmonger was reconsidering his iron clad stance in those final moments, where a part of him learned to love his true king and cousin.

The rest of the cast is exceptional, especially the three main ladies.

It was nice seeing Lupita Nyong’o playing a human being and not a motion capture character. While I enjoyed her work in Star Wars and The Jungle Book, I haven’t seen her in much else. It was nice being able to feel connected to her and her performance in a more organic way. Danai Gurira, who I really only know from The Walking Dead, finally got a role that allowed her to break free from just being known as sword-wielding badass Michonne. Letitia Wright was probably my favorite person in the film, overall. She played the Panther’s sister, was a scientist and also got into the thick of it and proved that she is far from being just some damsel in distress; she is a friggin’ warrior.

The rest of the cast is comprised of Martin Freeman, playing the same role he did in Captain America: Civil War, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett and Daniel Kaluuya, in his first role since Get Out. Newcomer Winston Duke was great as Panther’s rival, M’Baku. He is a warrior king from the mountains who challenges Panther for the throne but ultimately, is instrumental in helping Black Panther save Wakanda.

It was really cool seeing Andy Serkis return as the villain Klaw, who was briefly seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s also always fun to see Serkis play a character that is him, in the flesh. He’s synonymous with motion capture characters so we don’t often get to see his actual face in a big blockbuster film. He was superb as Ulysses Klaue a.k.a. Klaw. His personality was infectious and insane. In all honesty, Marvel has had a hard time of creating great villains but Serkis’ Klaw is now one of my favorites. I just wish Marvel would stop killing all the baddies because we’ll never get a Masters of Evil story that way.

As far as the film’s look, it is pristine and beautiful. Wakanda is one of the most enchanting places in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The special effects and cinematography are spectacular and there isn’t a shot in the film that doesn’t look like it wasn’t meticulously crafted.

Black Panther was a film that came in with a lot of hype and a lot of political and social concerns. Getting beyond that and staring into its core, it is a fine film, crafted by a solid, up and coming director who has already accomplished a lot with only three pictures under his belt. I hope that Coogler returns for the eventual sequel.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Captain America: Civil War and presumably Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel, once they come out.

Film Review: Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Release Date: April 12th, 2016 (Dolby 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, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Rudd, Emily VanCamp, Tom Holland, Frank Grillo, William Hurt, Daniel Brühl

Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios, 147 Minutes

captain_america_civil_warReview:

The last time a bunch of Avengers got together on the big screen, the result was pretty lackluster. Actually, I could say it was pretty shitty. So, was Captain America: Civil War any better?

Well, it is based off of one of Marvel’s biggest events in the comic books over the last few years. It sees things come to a breaking point and it pits two groups of heroes against one another: one team led by Captain America and the other led by Iron Man. I was pretty happy with the comic series, so I had a bit of hope that the cinematic interpretation of that plot would generate a worthwhile film.

The biggest criticism I have, is the same criticism I’ve had with the Avengers films, there are too many people and they aren’t handled well in an ensemble. Sure, we get little bits of character development in some areas but ultimately, some of these characters, who don’t have their own solo films, would benefit more if they were to have their own two hour outing. I mean, hasn’t Scarlett Johansson earned a Black Widow movie yet? Or just put her with Hawkeye and two of the original Avengers can actually have some room to breathe on their own. Black Panther is getting his own movie but I doubt the Scarlet Witch is because she doesn’t have a penis.

Another criticism, is the gigantic fonts every time the film had to announce what location they were in. It was overwhelming on the big screen. Glad I didn’t see this in 3D because I would’ve been punching the air. I get that each Marvel film is different, and that’s good, but it made the visual style feel noticeably inconsistent with the other movies.

One thing I hate in films, these days, are action sequences where the camera cuts to a new shot for every punch, kick, throw, jump or any stunt, really. Mix that in with the shaky camera effect during the action and it is hard to tell what the hell is going on. It just looks like someone edited together a bunch of one second clips from high school lunchroom fights on YouTube. It also takes away from the stunts themselves and doesn’t really show the hard work of one of the most thankless jobs in Hollywood. As I mentioned style inconsistency before, this also fits into that, as the earlier Marvel films were more crisp and fluid and didn’t try to come off as some uber realistic gritty street fight.

This really wasn’t a Captain America film, it was an Avengers film. I will say that it was the best of the Avengers flicks but it was the worst of the Captain America ones.

The movie was too damn long, a lot of unnecessary shit was drawn out. I’d rather the film focus on building the newer characters than having half of the pointless shit that I had to sit through. It could’ve been an hour less and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference, other than improving the picture.

Another major problem with this film, which plagues everything that Marvel does on the film front, is it wasted its villains and it made them generic and not memorable at all.

When I first heard that Baron Zemo was in this film, I was excited. He’s been one of my favorite Marvel villains for years. He’s cool as hell and he got even more awesome when he started leading the Thunderbolts team. He had a great mask, a great style and was just a fantastic bad guy. In this movie, he’s some Colonel from that country the Avengers destroyed in the last movie and he just wears normal clothes. No cool mask, no endless supply of money, no cool pistol, nothing interesting or cool whatsoever. He looked like my friend French Kevin’s dad. Anyone could’ve played Zemo and just showed up to work in flip flops and a wife beater and Marvel would’ve just been like, “Looks great! This guy is seriously a credible threat!”

Crossbones showed up to. Well, he was in the previous Captain America film. In this movie, he has a cool outfit and looks Crossbones-esque. But then he gets beat up and blows himself up. So, one of Captain America’s best villains, is wasted in ten minutes. Kind of like how they did Baron Von Strucker in the last Avengers movie.

Marvel can’t do villains. If they actually treated them like they did their heroes, they could be great. But what we get, is awesome heroes fighting French Kevin’s dad in every movie. And Thanos is still coming, right? Because we haven’t seen him in a while. Or are the Avengers just going to fight an angry P.T.A. that has taken over an elementary cafeteria in the next movie?

I will say that Black Panther was cool but I’m not totally sold, Winter Soldier was great but he always is and Spider-Man was refreshing. Granted, I can’t judge Spidey until I see his own film but Tom Holland seems like a great casting choice. The kid just feels right.

In the end, this certainly did not live up to the hype. It was nowhere as iconic as the Civil War that happened in the comic books. It didn’t feel nearly as important as that. Although, Tony Stark did embrace the fascist dickbag persona, at least for awhile, as Disney was too cowardly to just make him the villain of the story, outright. And their cowardice was also apparent when there were no real prices to pay at the end of this thing. No one died. I’m not saying that is necessary but the weight of the collateral damage and human wreckage in the comic books, is really what made Civil War so impactful.

I’m just glad that Tony Stark got his ass kicked in by Captain America. Freedom. Mother. Fucker.