Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman is a 2017 superheroine action film, based upon the DC Comics character of the same name, directed by Patty Jenkins. It is the fourth film in the DC Extended Universe following Man Of SteelBatman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad., and features a script and story by Allan Heinberg, a comic book writer who spent some time as the lead writer on several DC Comics properties. The film stars former Israeli soldier turned fashion model and actor Gal Gadot as the hero, Diana, Princess of Themyscira, a member of the Amazon people, a society of powerful female warriors, of which she is the only child.

Diana is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and was given life by Zeus. Diana dreams of one day becoming a warrior like so many other Amazons, but her mother forbids it. She is instead secretly trained by her Aunt Antiope, general of the Amazon Army. It is discovered she possesses impressive powers. In 1918, British intelligence officer and pilot Steve Trevor, played by Chris Pine, is pursued by German forces, crashes on the shores of Themyscira, and is rescued by the Amazons, which results in Antiope’s death. Trevor, the first man Diana has ever seen in person, is understandably fascinated. Suspecting the mastermind behind the war may be Ares, The God of War, who has long been predicted to return after his defeat by Zeus, Diana decides to accompany Trevor to London to assist in the war effort.

The DC Extended Universe, Warner Brothers’ answer to Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe, has been off to a pretty horrible start, I’m not going to lie. Although I got some enjoyment out of Man Of Steel, it certainly wasn’t anything above passable; the following effort, Batman v. Superman, was a complete mess. To be honest, I was going to review Suicide Squad after it was released on video, but I couldn’t even get through the first twenty minutes. I was beginning to wonder if the DCEU would ever produce a legitimately good feature.

Thankfully, Wonder Woman wins the prize of being the only good DCEU feature worth anyone’s time. Patty Jenkins, director of 2003’s Monster, is, in my opinion, the only director DC has hired worth her paycheck; I have long-maintained that Zack Snyder is an overrated director and a huge problem for DC properties in both the long and short run of things, mainly due to his overwhelming focus on style over substance, which I find to be the downfall of the majority of his films. Thankfully, Snyder stayed away from this property and now we have finally been given a film with a cohesive narrative, likable characters, and well-planned action sequences. Though I felt the 2 hour and 21 minute film was slightly overly long, it is ultimately solid entertainment.

I feel the film owes a lot to Heinberg’s script, which finally injects levity into the brooding wormhole that has so far been the DC Extended Universe. There are finally some solid laughs. A veteran of the comics industry, Heinberg is a writer who finally understood Batman should be the only one allowed to brood and mope like a heartless cynic. Indeed, Diana is, dare I say refreshingly, naive and idealistic. I believe I enjoyed this film because it is the only DCEU film I didn’t come out of confused and/or sad, usually both. Wonder Woman, for once, was actually hopeful.

For me, the standout of Wonder Woman was Star Trek’s Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. He has a lot of charisma and hits a lot of the film’s comedic and more lighthearted notes, as well as the more serious, important moments. Gal Gadot is pretty good as Wonder Woman,  but I felt she faltered at points when trying to adequately express emotion, though not so much so that I would count her performance as negative in any way.

There were some confusing plot holes in this film, mainly Aries’ plan to cause the end of humanity with the Armistice, which he pushes for throughout the film. It is never explained why he does this. Also, the film’s climax, the final fight between Diana and Ares, falls into cliche and is uninspired. It could have easily been remedied by Heinberg.

I found it interesting (and good) that the DCEU finally made a mainly self-contained narrative without mentioning Superman, The Justice League, or anything else. The narrative does start out in present day with a picture of Diana and Trevor circa 1918 being delivered to her by Wayne Enterprises on behalf of the man himself, but as it is a larger universe, I can see how that very minor plot point would be a necessity.

Ultimately, Wonder Woman is finally a solid film from the DCEU. With a solid script from someone who actually knows what they’re doing, a good director who also knows what they are doing, and good actors, I am very happy to see an actual good DC film, although the fact that it took four tries to actually make a good film is still very worrying to me, maybe the franchise has finally found it’s footing.

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Logan

Logan is a 2017 American action drama film with superhero elements written and directed by James Mangold. Logan is the tenth film in the X-Men film franchise and the eighth and final appearance of Hugh Jackman in the role that made him famous, James “Logan” Howlett, also known as Wolverine. The film also sees Patrick Stewart returning (also in his final appearance) as Professor X/Charles Xavier. Both these men had originated these roles seventeen years earlier with the original 2000 smash hit X-Men, which, along with Spider-Man, is credited as the major catalyst for the resurgence of mainstream superhero films into popular culture. Logan is more than another entry into the franchise, it is a swan song for two of the most integral people, two people undeniably responsible for the franchise’s initial success.

Logan, partially based off of the 2008 comic book storyline of the same name, takes place in the year 2029. There has not been another mutant born naturally for 20 years at this point. Following the disillusion of the X-Men, Logan has been living off-the-grid on the U.S.-Mexico Border taking care of a dangerously ill, ninety-year-old Charles, who is now prone to uncontrollable seizures. Xavier, who possesses the most powerful telepathic mind of any mutant ever discovered, is also experiencing fits of Alzheimer’s and periods of delusion. His seizures are very dangerous and have the potential to harm everyone in the vicinity if not dealt with. Logan is working as a chauffeur to make ends meet, making drug deals to acquire the medication necessary to subdue Xavier’s episodes, with help from another mutant, the albino tracker Caliban.

Logan himself is also dying. His regeneration factor no longer works and his adamantium-fused skeleton causes him constant pain and is slowly killing him. He is hard-drinking, cynical, and nihilistic. His devotion to his former mentor is the only thing keeping him from suicide with a specialized adamantium bullet.He is approached by a young mother, desperate to get her and her young daughter to North Dakota, with promises of enough money so Logan and Charles can buy a boat and escape to the high seas. An offer too good for Logan to refuse, he is drawn into a saga of violence, death, despair, and rediscovery.

You will notice that I avoided terming Logan a superhero film; that’s because it isn’t. It is a dark, mature character study of a man, a deeply-flawed, 150-year-old man who used to be a superhero. James Howlett was born in the later 1880’s, yet is ageless because of the degenerative healing factor provided by his mutation. He has been a veteran of all major wars since his birth in one way or another, before becoming Weapon X and eventually finding redemption for his sins with Charles and the X-Men. He has seen things, done things that he cannot take back. He cannot live with all the people he has killed. Logan is an analysis of a man with a century and change worth of self-hatred, rage, and anger.

Logan might be the best film in the entire franchise, challenged only by Days of Future Past and technically Deadpool. Like any good film, it knows there has to be substance to a story to be good. Logan is a film of substance. The action is not flashy, nor heroic. This is not a heroic film. It is a deep dive into the darkness of the soul, by way of a great script and great directing by director of the very disappointing standalone film The Wolverine back in 2013. I was pleasantly surprised, as it seems Mangold has discovered there are a lot of people who emotionally invest in these characters, and the action, though important, often should take a backseat to emotional connection, something Logan does very, very well.

Logan is the second film to be rated R after Deadpool. This was a very smart move, as, in addition to the blood, dismemberment, and swearing, which is honestly necessary to parallel the emotional brutality of the narrative, it also allows for the exploration of highly mature themes, like loss, death, consequence, and hope in the face of adversity. Logan is a film that pulls no punches in any sense, whether physical or emotional. It is a brutal, almost saddening journey to watch, and it is a better film because of that.

All of this is amplified by truly amazing performances by Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. I feel I cannot describe exactly how great these two were, so I will just say this: they friggin’ nail it! This is a return to form that shows the viewer exactly why these actors were skyrocketed into the spotlight for their portrayals of these legendary characters, later becoming respected actors in their own rights. The characters themselves have remained and will remain long-lasting mainstays of popular culture. Young newcomer Dafne Keen is also great. The Spanish-English 12-year-old proves that being a kid is not an excuse for being a horrible actor, because she hits it out of the park.

Ultimately, I think the people behind Logan finally understand what these characters mean to people. Comic books like X-Men (which began in the 1970’s) were initially marketed to children. Those children formed an attachment to these characters. They felt for them emotionally, they were invested. Then, those kids grew up. Superheroes are no longer just for kids, as anyone who’s seen the enjoyment that Iron Man or Civil War can give to an adult audience knows. The people behind Logan knew how to give fans exactly what they wanted.

Logan is a great film. It is a great addition to the franchise that almost makes up for the failures of the previous entry, while also being a great film by itself. As Logan does not rely heavily on the X-Men or other connections except for, obviously, the characters featured in the film itself, I do not think a newcomer would be hopelessly confused. Logan isn’t a superhero film, it’s about a really emotionally messed up dude who used to be a superhero, is a century and a half old, has metal claws, and can regenerate from injuries. It’s not a superhero movie, and to that effect, I would challenge you to go see it even if you are not a big fan of superheroes. It features solid performances from everyone, and is full of emotion, drama, and some brutal action to boot. It was, in summary, a fitting goodbye to Jackman and Stewart’s most famous and well-known roles that everyone is sure to appreciate on some level.

Logan: Official Trailer #1

Logan is an upcoming 2016 American superhero film directed by James Mangold. It is the tenth installment in the X-Men film franchise, and is the final installment set to feature Hugh Jackman as James Howlett/Wolverine/Logan. It is loosely based upon the famous comic book storyline Old Man Logan by Mark Millar. The film also stars Patrick Stewart, returning as Professor X, as well as Narcos star Boyd Holbrook as Donald Pierce, Dafne Keen as X-23, Stephen Merchant as Caliban. Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle, Elise Neal, and Elizabeth Rodriguez have been cast in unspecified roles.

The X-Men franchise has had an extremely turbulent history. Rocketing onto the screen in 2001 with director Bryan Singer, the original X-Men film and it’s sequel X2 are credited along with Spider-Man for legitimizing, revitalizing, and revolutionizing the superhero genre. Everything after X2 has been hit-or-miss, however. The Last Stand, directed by Brett Ratner, is somewhat of a gold standard for bad modern superhero movies, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine is legendary for all the wrong reasons. Future Kingsman director Matthew Vaughn was able to put the series back on track with the excellent X-Men: First Class, which among other things, introduced the brilliant actors James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender to mainstream audiences, playing young Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, respectively. James Mangold was then brought on to direct The Wolverine, an unimpressive, uninspired Wolverine film that, while not terrible, left much to be desired. It was extremely bland and rather tame.

Bryan Singer’s return with 2014’s Days Of Future Past was, in my opinion, the best X-Men film to date. It was a perfect representation of everything the X-Men should be. Created in the early 1960’s at the hight of the Civil Rights Movement, the X-Men were used to tackle complicated social issues and, frankly, be freaking awesome at the same time. DoFP was a perfect representation of that. Fans of the franchise were overjoyed that the X-Men were good again. Followed up by the hilarious comedy Deadpoolthings continued to look good for the franchise. Sadly, 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse was nothing short of a bland, boring, confusing mess. Many are confused by the franchise’s innate lack of consistency, especially considering making a good superhero film after one of the most iconic and influential superhero teams in history should be relatively easy. This has led many to wonder if the franchise should not just simply be put to rest.

I hope you will forgive my franchise history lesson, I just wish to explain in full why I am extremely apprehensive concerning Logan. I am curious and confused as to why Fox once again gave this movie to James Mangold, considering how blah The Wolverine was. I am concerned that the franchise will, for whatever reason, never be able to find stable footing. Though it is a rather impressive trailer, and I think the use of Johnny Cash’s Hurt is a great way to portray this film as being more emotional than most superhero films, I am worried and skeptical. As with everything involving this franchise, Logan is very much a potential hit or miss ordeal. Boasting an undeniably intriguing and impressive trailer with intriguing aspects and awesome visuals, the film nevertheless has a questionable director behind the camera; part of a franchise that has been rather questionable for the last decade or so. I am neither against this movie, nor am I even close to sold. All I can hope for is a good send-off for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Please… Maybe Logan will be another good movie in the franchise, I don’t know. We’ll see.

Marvel’s Luke Cage: Season 1 (Spoilers)

Marvel’s Luke Cage premiered on Netflix on September 30th, 2016 with 13 episodes. It is the fourth overall installment in the Defenders franchise following the first season of Daredevil, the first season of Jessica Jones, and Daredevil’s second season. Luke Cage follows the titular hero in Harlem after being featured as a major player in Jessica Jones. Luke Cage is a wrongfully convicted man who was sent to Seagate Prision and subjected to horrible experiments that gave him super strength and unbreakable skin. Cage escaped and has been a fugitive from justice ever since. The series stars Mike Colter, Mahershala Ali (Remy Danton from House of Cards), Simone Missick, Theo Rossi, Erik LaRay Harvey, Rosario Dawson, and Alfre Woodard.

Luke Cage has been working two jobs in New York City’s iconic Harlem neighborhood, insisting to be paid in cash. He works one job as a janitor in Pops’ Barber Shop. Pops is a reformed ex-con who’s shop has turned into a safe haven for street kids, doing whatever he can to help them stay off the street. He is a father figure to many, including Detective Misty Knight, Cage himself, and even Cottonmouth, to some extent. Cage’s second job is as a dishwasher at Harlem’s Paradise, a club owned and operated by Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes, a crime boss that runs drugs and guns in Harlem. He is covertly alligned in a conspiracy with his cousin, City Councilwoman Mariah Dillard. Dillard is currently working on a series of ambitious new housing projects with the goal of bringing Harlem back to its former glory, each named after famous black heroes, most notably Crispus Attucks, the first man to die in the famed Boston Massacre for what would become America. (I put that in there just to brag that my US History class is teaching me things.) Dillard embezzled city money to back Cottonmouth’s huge gun deal with Latino crime lord Domingo, as well as an extensive renovation of Harlem’s Paradise.

Dante is a bartender at Harlem’s Paradise who is friends with Chico and Shameek, two of Pops’ young charges. They stage a raid of the weapons deal, ruining Domingo and Cottonmouth’s partnership. Shameek kills Dante when Dante panics. Chico does not have the stomach for this, and literally throws up after seeing Shameek brutally kill Dante. Shameek and Chico split the money. With his dying breath, Dante calls Cottonmouth’s crew and gives up the two teens. Shameek is captured and brutally murdered by Cottonmouth himself.

This murder, as well as the junkyard shootout, come to the attention of NYPD Detectives Misty Knight, a street-smart and brilliant detective who played basketball after hearing her father and Pops argue over the sport constantly when she was a child, and her partner, Detective Rafael Scarfe. The night of the initial raid, Knight was working undercover at the Harlem’s Paradise, where she began a rapport and an immediate sexual relationship with Cage.

After Shameek’s murder, the terrified Chico returns to Pops for protection. The big-hearted man is angry and saddened at Chico’s recklessness and stupidity, but still accepts the boy with open arms after a tearful reunion. Pops, through Cage, attempts to set up a meeting with Cottonmouth to negotiate the money for the boy’s life. The barber shop in Harlem has always had respect, no matter who’s side you’re on. “This place is Switzerland.” Cottonmouth, who has respect for Pops, agrees to the meeting. Chico was spotted in the barbershop, leading Cottonmouth’s lackey Tone to shoot up the barbershop, killing Pops and wounding Chico. Cage shields a young boy in the shop with his own body. This action, Cage’s lack of an explanation, and the fact that he has been at the center of everything, leads to suspicion from the two detectives. Cottonmouth throws Tone off the roof, enraged at his “executive decision.” Despite the fact Tone went against Cottonmouth’s wishes, Cage holds the unstable crime boss responsible and swears to even the score.

Luke Cage is another extremely unique and interesting addition to both the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large as well as Netflix’s growing catalogue of excellent original series. Jessica Jones was able to have a progressive and thoughtful conversation about sexual assault, domestic violence, and the nature of mental illness (specifically PTSD) without any politicizing of the subject. Luke Cage does much of the same thing with black culture. Luke Cage is the most stylized of Netlix’s Original Series so far, with overt references and homages to various 70s blaxplotation films. Shaft, the works of Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained is overtly referenced, with the series taking obvious stylistic cues from both Pulp Fiction and the underrated Jackie Brown). 

While Jessica Jones chose to approach its subject matter on a metaphorical basis, Luke Cage is very direct in its message concerning black culture in America. Cottonmouth wants money and power, believing that to be the thing people notice about others, especially African-Americans. Mariah and Cage, however, believe that respect is the single most important thing a black American could have. Like Jessica Jones, Luke Cage is able to send a powerful and thoughtful message without becoming preachy or political. Luke Cage is as much of a story about the city of Harlem and Black America as it is about Cage vs. Cottonmouth.

Luke Cage not only pulls from black culture in terms of visual style and dramatic themes, but also musically. Luke Cage has the best soundtrack in a Marvel feature since the catchy 80’s-infused tunes of Guardians of the Galaxy, but Luke Cage is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Featuring hardcore rap courtesy of artists like Method Man and Wu Tang Clan, as well as R&B from Raphael SaadiqFaith Evans, and Charles Bradley, not to mention countless other notable artists from prominent genres , Luke Cage features a catchy, specialized, yet diverse number of songs that compliment the themes of the series and will stay in your head for some time, and I even neglected to mention the great theme tune.

Overall, if I had one criticism of the series, it is concerning series lead Mike Coulter. His performance as Cage in Jessica Jones was rather impressive, but Coulter seems a little wooden in his own series. Though certainly not bad, I feel that there are some aspects of his performance that leave much to be desired. On the other hand, Mahershala Ali is an excellent villain and an excellent actor. Theo Rossi’s performance as the mysterious “Shades” was also very impressive, and Alfre Woodard is a force to be reckoned with.

Luke Cage is ultimately proof that you can make good TV out of anything. Luke Cage as a character is, at his core, simply a nigh-invincible black guy with super strength. That could wear thin very quickly, but showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker realized this, and decided to make Luke Cage about so much more than the man himself. Though not good enough to break my unwavering favorable bias towards its cousin series Daredevil, Luke Cage is highly entertaining, highly addictive, well-made, and another solid addition to the Marvel/Netflix team up; by the way, it crashed Netflix. This only makes me more excited for Iron Fist, and has me hoping for Heroes for Hire somewhere down the line.