Avengers: Infinity War

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It’s been about a month since I saw Avengers Infinity War and I’ve forgotten some of the details, but better late than never, right?  My overall love of the Marvel characters does lead me to like it more than a casual moviegoer probably would, but I’m not completely blind to its flaws.

First of all, this is NOT a standalone movie.  If you haven’t seen some of the other Marvel films, this is going to make zero sense.  The must-watch movies are:

  • Iron Man
  • Captain America: The First Avenger
  • Thor
  • The Avengers
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • Thor Ragnarok

“But why is [insert movie] missing?!” Because whatever plot points tie it to Infinity War can probably be summarized in a sentence or two, has story points touched on in another film, and/or it introduces a side character that’s not crucial for you to know.  Take Captain America: Winter Soldier for example; SHIELD isn’t relevant to Infinity War, and Civil War covers all the most important points about the Winter Soldier.

That said, Infinity War is basically nothing but fight scenes.  What story exists is centered around Thanos, and the bit of other character development present is scattered within all the fighting.  It’s enjoyable fighting, and if you’ve watched the other Marvel films then you’ll probably have fun seeing all the different characters get to interact, but you’re definitely going to have a lesser experience if you’re not familiar with the Marvel Universe.  It’s not a gripe, just a fact.

My actual gripes are in regards to the overly drawn-out emotional scenes and the lack of tension.  There were several scenes trying to have “the feels” that just didn’t hit the sweet spot in terms of length.  They were drawn out past the viewers’ emotional climax, severely hurting the impact of the scene. Scenes that should’ve been sad heartfelt or whatever ended up being boring or frustrating instead, making me think “get on with it already!” Take note Marvel: sometimes less is more.

Infinity Wars had the opposite problem in regards to tension, in that it didn’t have tension.  This YouTube video by captainmidnight does a good idea of explaining what I mean.  I understand that building true tension would potentially be difficult given Marvel’s propensity for jokes and desire to steer clear of anything vaguely like the DCEU, but this is a war that has been 10 years in the making!  I think allowing even just one fight build enough tension that audiences would end up holding their breaths would’ve had a great pay-off. Unfortunately this movie just didn’t have it.

So overall I liked the movie, but I don’t think it would make my top 5 Marvel movies.  It was a loud, flashy, and fun, but just a tad more hollow than I’d hoped.

SpoilerAlert

Okay, now to finally dive into some of the specifics!  Let’s start with the Star-Lord scene. You know the one I’m talking about.  Like a number of people, that scene irritated me, but just because of the whole “Star-Lord screwed up everything” angle.  No, my irritation ties back to what I said about things being too drawn out. It became extremely obvious that Star-Lord was going to hit Thanos and screw things up, and the amount of telegraphing what was coming had me going,“Really?  Just do it already!”  I would’ve much preferred this scene if, instead of the “dramatic buildup” to Peter hitting Thanos, Peter had figured it out quicker and then snapped and lashed out.

The Hulk was apparently controversial too.  I know Hulk in the comics just gets bigger, angrier, and stronger with every beatdown, but I didn’t mind this interpretation.  The idea of Hulk being a bit of a coward kinda amused me. It also helped to put Thanos’s power into perspective. I mean, Hulk was all ready to take on the giant Surtur in Thor: Ragnarok, but he’s refusing to face Thanos?  It helps drill home that Thanos is in a league of his own.

On things I liked, I really liked the interactions between Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Spiderman.  Their interactions didn’t go as I had envisioned going into the movie, but I still thought they were fun and felt pretty accurate.  And despite my initial misgivings about their pairing – mostly due to the actors’ ages – and the couple of drawn-out scenes, I actually liked most of Vision and Wanda’s interactions.  And Thanos’s; I am so, so happy that Thanos was not one of Marvel’s forgettable, cardboard villains.  His story and purpose are explained with more than just one or two lines of throw-away dialog, and you can understand his motivations, even if you don’t agree with his goals.  He’s definitely on my list for top 5 Marvel villains, and possibly makes the top 3.

Moving to speculation.  I notice that none of the first Avengers were vaporized, so presumably the conclusion to Infinity War will involve a reunion of the main team.  And it should definitely include Hawkeye. The lazy excuse given for Hawkeye not appearing in this film – his family – could actually be turned into a great point for the second film.  What if Hawkeye’s kids were part of the half wiped out by Thanos? It’d give him a reason to go in with arrows blazing, give him some good character moments, and if Marvel decides to kill him permanently, he’d be able to go out fighting for a very good reason.

 

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The Last Jedi

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I finally got around to watching The Last Jedi a week or so ago.  I’ve had time to digest it now, and the Solo movie is hitting theaters, so I figure I should put up my review.

The short, spoiler-free version: I hated it.  And the more I think about it, and read about the controversy surrounding it, the more I hate it.  That’s about all I can say though without getting into spoilers, so without further ado…

SpoilerAlert

(Seriously, I’m going to spoil the whole damn movie.)

Director Rian Johnson seemed determined to forge his own path with this Star Wars movie and break away from all the old tropes of the franchise.  However, he didn’t do so in a respectful or clever way. No, it’s like Johnson took hardcore fans’ favorite toys and gleefully broke them all, talking about his grand new vision.  But then the summation of his grand new vision was to just hand those broken toys back to fans and then expect them to be happy! Let me break it down.

1.) Luke Skywalker
As the main hero of the original Star Wars trilogy, Luke Skywalker is a beloved character.  Fans expected him to be a wise, kickass Jedi master. Instead, Rian Johnson turned him into a crotchety old coward.  In the original series, Luke sensed goodness in Vader and managed to turn Vader to the light side at the last minute.  In contrast, in The Last Jedi, Luke admits he sensed darkness in a young Kylo Ren, and his reaction was to nearly kill the boy!  How is it that Luke went from seeing goodness in established villains to contemplating murdering an angsty teenager? And when Kylo ran off to join The First Order, did Luke take responsibility for his actions by helping the Resistance?  No, he just hid on his rock.

But wait, you cry!  Luke faced off with Kylo Ren in that epic showdown towards the end.  Nope. Luke wasn’t physically there, it was his mental projection, which for me almost completely negates any epic-ness that scene might’ve had.  And then Luke died on his rock. Alone. Rian Rohnson took a beloved hero, gave him a “touching” shitty death, and wants you to be pleased.

2.) Poe, Holdo, and Leia
Poe Dameron was made to look like a fool by Leia and Holdo.  Gone is the charming potential hero from The Force Awakens; now we are faced with a character framed as impulsive and hot-headed, whose decisions have serious consequences.  He tries to revolt against Holdo, only for Leia to scold him and Holdo to save the day.

At first it seemed like Rian Johnson was working on a “trust your elders” theme or something, which, okay, could be good.  Movies usually portray the young new protagonists as the heroes, saving the day both from villains and from the older generations slow/stodgy/obsolete beliefs.  If Rian wanted to to portray it as “No, age means wisdom, experience, and better logic/results,” I could be on board with that, but he ruined it by having Holdo be stupid – despite her effective plan – by not simply telling Dameron what the heck she was doing.  If she had just told him, a lot of drama could’ve been avoided!

3.) Rey and Kylo
Here is the most blatant display of Rian Johnson’s recurring sin.  The strange connection between Kylo and Rey lets them talk and build a tenuous rapport.  Between that, Luke’s insistence that the Force doesn’t belong to the Jedi, and Snoke saying Light and Dark will always balance each other in the end, it seems like Rian is angling for a new take on Force users.  Then Kylo says “Let the past die,” offers his hand to Rey, and I had a glimmer of hope. This could be awesome! This could make it all worth it! Rian Johnson is angling for a future where “Light” and “Dark” are understood as two sides of a coin and are going to work together and- wait a minute.  Huh? Did Rey just refuse Kylo? POOF! Hope gone. Rian did all this build-up, stomped all over the old ideas of clearcut good vs. evil, only to turn right back to them at the very end.

So, were there any parts that I did like?  Yes, a whopping two parts.  I realize the Porg were pretty much just for merchandising, and I could’ve done without most of their appearances, but I was actually amused by the little scene where a Porg guilted Chewie out of eating what was presumably another Porg.  And for the most part, I also liked Benicio del Toro’s amoral character. There were other parts I could have liked, but were ruined by Johnson pulling the rug out from under us in the last act of the movie.

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The final act

That’s really what it all circles back to, the final act.  I can’t decide if that was Johnson trolling fans or him chickening out or what, but that last act completely ruins the movie by sabotaging the themes he had presented throughout the rest of the film.  If he had stuck to his guns/themes, I probably would’ve really liked this movie, but you can’t make fun of the old direction and then go in the old direction yourself, which is what Johnson did with this movie.  If he makes another Star Wars movie I will not pay a single dollar to see it, and I also will not go see the Solo movie in theaters as a result of the mess that was The Last Jedi.

FYI, as this apparently matters, I’m not an old angry fanboy, and I’m not painting all the reboot movies with a broad brush of scorn.  I’m a moderately-liberal woman, and I actually liked Rogue One.

The Icarus Hunt

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I was searching for books similar in feel to the TV series Firefly, and a couple lists I came across suggested The Icarus Hunt.  It takes place in space and has a motley spaceship crew with some gray morals, so I figured it was worth a shot.

Is it like Firefly?  For the reasons I listed above, yes.  It didn’t have the main similarity I was looking for – a close-knit crew prone to banter – but it did have several others.  For example, even though there is tension in the crew, you do get the feeling that it’s the crew vs. everyone else.  Some of the crew members engage in questionably legal business, not so much because they want to, but because the economy is such that they can’t make an honest living.  And there is a large, powerful organization with shady motives that they end up crossing.

If those were your primary points of interest in Firefly, you should like The Icarus Hunt.  Heck, I liked The Icarus Hunt, even though I didn’t think it was like Firefly.  One of the main things that differed to me were the crew dynamics.  I can’t go into much detail without spoiling it, but early in the book you learn the crew is a group of strangers, that they don’t particularly like/trust each other, and that one may be a saboteur.

I had mixed reactions to the end of the book.  It explained some things I’d noticed earlier in the story, but it felt a little too neat/convenient.  Or maybe it was because even at the end I was still trying to compare the book to Firefly, and was just expecting something different.

tl;dr = You may or may not think the book is like Firefly, but even without the comparison, it’s worth the read on its own.

Rating: 7.5/10

SpoilerAlert

At the end of the story, we learn that Jordan McKell is an undercover operative.  It explains why he was so good in a fight, but I had been hoping for a slightly different resolution.  Him having been an agent all along kinda ruins the “underdog victory” feeling.

The Iron Druid series

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Here be spoilers.  I am reviewing the first 3 books of the series simultaneously, so there will be spoilers for them.  You are safe for later books though.

This series revolves around Atticus, a magic-weilding Druid.  He’s the last Druid, he’s able to stand toe-to-toe with gods and survive, he looks young but is thousands of years old, he’s… a male Mary-Sue (aka Gary-Stu). Seriously. It was easy to ignore at first, but the further I got into the series, the more it bugged me.

First, the age thing.  He’s thousands of years old, but somehow knows how to talk, dress, and act to fit in.  In real life, most older people are not up-to-date with modern technology and trends, and yet Atticus, who is many times their age, seems to have no such problem.  He even teases Lief the vampire about seeming antiquated, and Lief is like half of Atticus’ age.

Then the power thing.  A couple of times the book tries to describe the boundaries of Atticus’ power, and try to make him sound limited, but he killed a god.  He also managed to create a magical necklace that other gods hadn’t even thought to make.  At the point where I finally stopped reading, there was nothing Atticus had encountered that seemed like a real threat.  Not even the Bacchants; by the time they showed up, it felt like they were just an excuse to have Atticus make a promise that would lead to the next book.

The female representation isn’t the best.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s sexist, but a lot of it is shallow and/or stereotypical.  There were no female characters that I identified with or liked.  Almost all of the women were beautiful or sexy, except for a funny one, a couple of older ones, and maybe some evil ones.  Granted, this is true to some extent for the male characters too, but the main character is male, so it doesn’t feel as glaring.

Were the books all bad?  No. There were some good points.  Atticus is able to communicate with his dog, and his dog is funny.  In the first book the dog is obsessed with poodles, but overall his thoughts are amusing.  The idea of all the various gods being alive isn’t original to this book, but it is entertaining (most of the time).  There’s witty banter and quips that are funny when in the right dosage, though sometimes the author drags it out.

Overall the first one was pretty decent – maybe a 6.5 or 7 out of 10 – but the second one wasn’t as good, and obviously I didn’t finish the third one.  The books may not be very original, but they still have some fun ideas to play with.  If you like supernatural stories and don’t mind Gary-Stus, you’ll probably get further in the series than I did.

Deadpool

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[Spoiler-free]

This is a movie that understands itself, sets a reasonable goal, and achieves it.  That may seem like faint praise, but considering that many movies miss that mark, it’s actually quite an achievement.  Deadpool isn’t revolutionary, but it has all the elements necessary to meet fans’ demands and keep them thoroughly entertained.

Element #1: Humor
Deadpool is “The Merc a Mouth.”  He is supposed to be a talkative, joking wise-ass, lovable and irritating at the same time.  Ryan Reynolds nails it, and the rest of the cast/movie tone is good too.  The jokes run the gambit from dick jokes and potty humor to gallows humor and 4th-wall breaking.

Element #2: The 4th Wall
One of the traits that sets Deadpool apart from so many other humorous and/or anti-hero characters is how he breaks the 4th wall, a trait alive and well in this movie.  The 4th wall is broken frequently, and other movies by Fox and/or Ryan Reynolds are skewered in the process.

Element #3: R-Rating
Look, blood!  People get shot and stabbed and blown up, and there’s actually blood and gore to accompany it!  And there’s skin: full-on frontals of naked women, man-butts, and even a faint penis cameo.  There are sex scenes – yes, plural – and torture scenes too.  Captain America would not approve of this movie.

Element #4: Romance
In the comics Deadpool is not a complete stranger to romance, and the love story they chose for this movie works surprisingly well.  I’m not a fan of typical “chick flick” romances, but this is more realistic than sappy, striking a nice tone that actually made me care about it rather than wishing it would just end already.

I think this movie may make production companies rethink their PG-13 vs R stances.  Deadpool proves that if done right, you can have your chimichangas and eat them too.

Rating: 8.5/10

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Debate time!  There are some debates revolving around the Deadpool movie that I feel the need to jump into.

1.) Deadpool is a poor parody.
This argument says that Deadpool is out to skewer traditional comic book movies, that it’s supposed to make fun of them and do something totally different, but then falls flat or is actually hypocritical because it falls into some of the same tropes it’s making fun of.

Yes, the character Deadpool makes fun of a lot of comic book tropes, namely because he’s aware that he’s in a comic book and therefor has more awareness of said tropes.  And yet, Deadpool is a comic book character, just one in a large, traditional comic universe.  So while he is able to make fun of it, he’s destined to have a number of similarities with traditional comic book characters/stories.  He’s just supposed to give you a wink and a nudge, acknowledge what you’re thinking, and have fun with it.

2.) Deadpool isn’t the first rated-R comic movie.
Apparently some people are mad that so many are praising Deadpool for being rated-R because there are other rated-R comic book movies that came before it.  My response: Deadpool is the first FUN rated-R comic book movie.  Of the earlier rated-R comic book movies I’ve watched, the only one I found somewhat enjoyable was V for Vendetta. 300 was nothing but a mindless testosterone-fest, and Watchmen was an overhyped, pretentious load of bulls*** that took me 2 attempts to finish.  And every older R-rated comic book movie I can think of is serious, dark, and/or depressing.

Identity Crisis

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I’ve always preferred Japanese manga to Western comics.  Something about mainstream Western comic art style and story-telling always felt lackluster to me.  There are exceptions of course, but by and large they’re not something I’d waste time or money on.  Identity Crisis may be one of those exceptions.

The first discussion point is what is most immediately obvious about any comic book: the art.  I would not say the art was as nice as 1602 Witch Hunter Angela, but it certainly seemed a step above a lot of traditional comics.  I can’t recall any one particular frame that made me think “ick,” which is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Next comes the story.  My friend raved about The Killing Joke, which ultimately ended up being a letdown in how predictable I found it.  As such, I approach comics with low expectations.  Perhaps it was because I had low expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised by the actual story of Identity Crisis.  There was still predictable parts, sure, but there was enough that I didn’t guess to keep it interesting, and it’s obvious some thought was put into it.

I did borrow this book from the library, and I’m not sure how re-readable it is, so I can’t say I’d suggest paying a lot of money on it, but if you can find it for cheap or borrow a copy, it’s worth your time to read.

Rating: 7/10

SpoilerAlert

I enjoyed how this comic gave attention to the loved ones of super heroes, specifically to the danger they’re in.  Sure, you have comics when Louis Lane or whoever gets kidnapped, but often the danger feels like a simple plot device or excuse, with the main focus still being on the hero versus the bad guy.  In Identity Crisis, heroes relationships with their loved ones and the threat to the lived ones’ safety is central and felt throughout the story.  And not just heroes: a brief but surprisingly sincere reunion story between Captain Boomerang and his illegitimate son is also featured in the book.

The focus on these relationships makes it more impactful when we finally learn that the culprit behind Sue Dibny’s murder is The Atom’s on-again-off-again lover, Jean Loring. The extra whammy behind it is that Jean insists she didn’t mean to kill Sue, she just wanted to rough her up so the heroes would get worried and spend more time with their loved ones.  So the villain isn’t your classic villain, but rather someone with mental/emotiona; issues that are just coming to light.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant

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This is one of those rare instance where I wish the book had been longer.  In, fact, I wish this book had actually been two or three books instead of just one.  It wasn’t a bad book, but there were issues that I think would’ve been fixed if there’d been more to it.

The book starts with a young Baru, living with her family unit – two fathers and a mother – in the nation of Taranoke.  Taranoke starts getting visitors from a distant empire referred to as The Masquerade.  It’s a slow invasion, starting as harmless trading, then the Masquerade’s currency is introduced, and then soldiers start trickling in, and then Masquerade schools are built.  Without a real battle ever being fought, Taranoke is colonized and controlled by The Masquerade.  When one of Baru’s fathers is killed, Baru knows it is because The Masquerade considering homosexuality “unhygienic.”  She vows to topple The Masquerade from the inside.

Sounds like a lot, right?  That’s actually only a small part of the story, making up at most one quarter of the book.  The idea of seeing a nation be conquered through economics and politics is interesting, and I think this part could’ve been a book on its own.  It’s good for people with a short attention span, but not so good for those that like to escape into books because there’s simply not enough there.

Once Baru completes her schooling, The Masquerade sends her to act as Imperial Accountant of Aurdwynn, another land they are trying to control.  There she must deal with political intrigue and power games to squash rebellion and keep her life.  Again, while, interesting, this left me wishing for more. Baru’s time in Aurdwynn could easily have been another two books.

If the book had been longer, it might have also smoothed the ending.  I’ll go into more detail about that in the Spoilers section.  Suffice to say, the book is almost a cliffhanger and begs for a sequel.

Was it entertaining?  Yes.  Was it great?  No.  It was good, and it had the potential to be great, but it fell short.

Rating: 7/10

SpoilerAlert

This is a book of acts. Act 1 is Baru in Taranoke.  Act 2 is Baru as Accountant in Aurdwynn.  In Act 3, Baru turns traitor against The Masquerade and joins the rebellion.  And in Act 4, Baru is revealed to be a double traitor, and that her participation in the rebellion was a ruse to draw out all the malcontents, thus positioning them elimination and proving her loyalty to The Masquerade.

Somewhere between Act 3 and Act 4, the book seemed to make an abrupt turn, and for all of Act 4 I was confused.  Not the good, “how could this happen” sort of confused, but the suspicious, squinty-eyed confusion of a reader trying to decide if they’re staring at a story hole or just missed something.

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Perhaps it’s because I never felt really connected to the characters, but I wasn’t that shocked or horrified by the ending.  Instead, I spent the end trying to figure out how the book even got there.  We spend the whole time in Baru’s head, but there didn’t seem to be any obvious clues that she was planning this double-cross.  Since we were privy to her thoughts and emotions, shouldn’t we have at least known something was off, even if we didn’t know what?  Of course, I admit to not being particularly aware of such clues, but I just feel like the book leaped from point A to point E and skipped all the stuff in between.