Road to Infinity War – ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ (2017)

The third film in the Thor trilogy takes a new spin on the dramatic Shakespearean Norse mythology surrounding the character-and the original “Ragnarok” story- and turns it into an 80s inspired rock and roll space epic that is one of the most unique in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Up next on Road to Infinity War, it is the most metal-meets-Monty Python Marvel movie of all time…THOR: RAGNAROK!

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THE TEAM:

Director Taika Waititi is best known for his offbeat, independent films that present New Zealand humor and charm at its finest. Cult favorites like ‘Eagle vs Shark’, ‘Flight of the Conchords’ and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ show great imagination and a strange whimsy that is entirely unique to Waititi. Before the film itself, he directed the set of ‘Team Thor’ shorts that teased Thors whereabouts and future in the MCU after we hadn’t seen him on screen in awhile. These hilarious, sitcom-esque shorts gave us a sweet taste of the future of Thor and how he was making himself comfortable in the world.

The writing team for Ragnarok is a formidable gang of Marvel manpower made up of Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Jost. Their collective experience with Marvel entities is strong- having worked on everything from Marvels one shot stories to their many animated series over the past decade and even for the MCU itself (Christopher Yost returns from ‘The Dark World’).

Composer Mark Mothersbaugh has been working in the industry since the late 80s on projects like Pee Wees Playhouse, Sliders, Dawsons Creek, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rugrats, Blue Mountain State, The Lego Movie, House of Lies, Last Man on Earth- the list goes on!

‘Thor: Ragnarok’ became a massive success for Marvel due largely in part to its astoundingly retro, mesmerizing marketing and its beautifully baiting trailers, but also because it was Planet Hulk-meets-Ragnarok-meets-your favorite Marvel space acid trip. It brought in $853,977,126 at the worldwide box office

THE HERO:

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THOR:

Thor has been through an awful lot over the past few years. He lost his brother-twice? Three times? He lost his mother due partly to his brother and apparently he has now lost his girlfriend- but not to death. Just your average God-human relationship issues. He has had to save planet Earth on multiple occasions, as well as saving the nine realms from plunging into darkness in ‘Thor: The Dark World’. Since ‘Age of Ultron’ Thor has been traversing the galaxy in search of answers regarding his vision about the Infinity Stones. In ‘Ragnarok’ we learn that on his journey for answers he came across a path of death and destruction that led him to a face to face confrontation with Surtur- a Balrog demon looking creature made of fire and brimstone. Surtur warns Thor that the prophecy of Ragnarok-the end of Asgard- is coming, and that he cannot stop it. Thor removes his horns to prevent him from being reunited with the eternal flame and heads back to Asgard with his trophy. Movie over!

Back on Asgard, he quickly realizes that his brother has been masquerading as his father Odin-building shrines to his own memory and putting on very Shakespearean plays honoring his demise. They take a trip back to Earth to find the exiled Odin, who has been stripped of his Asgardian powers and now waits for his children to return so that he may finally die. He leaves them with loving last words and warns them of the impending arrival of their evil sister Hela- who can only return to Asgard once Odin has passed on. The loss of Odin would normally mean that Thor is the natural successor to the throne, but this earth shattering news means that someone else is coming to claim it- someone who is not going to make it a smooth transition.

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When Hela knocks him out of bifrost after destroying Mjolnir, he crash lands on the planet Sakaar, where he is quickly scooped up as bounty by the beautiful alcoholic warrior known only as “Scrapper 142” by her employer- The Grandmaster. Thor is unwillingly recruited into the Contest of Champions and pitted against their greatest champion- who happens to be his AWOL Avengers amigo The Hulk. And so one of the greatest MCU gifs was born. With the help of an extremely confused Bruce Banner, Scrapper 142- a former Valkyrie of Asgard- and his flakey brother Loki, they escape the planet and head back to Asgard to take down Hela before she destroys everyone and everything that they know. In the end, he realizes that in order to stop her he must not stop Ragnarok- but he must allow it to happen in order for her reign to end with it. Asgard is lost, but not its people.

While Thor has always had that smug smirking of self satisfaction and that “man out of time” sense of what is and is not appropriate, he has never been funnier than he is in Ragnarok- due largely to the Waikiki effect on the movie itself. Chris Hemsworth shines as always in every emotional challenge- be it anger, grief, or playful fun. He can do it all. Thor has never been stronger as an on screen presence, but he also gets a rad new ability that we haven’t seen before- in which his body becomes engulfed in lightning which he can wield and use as a force of power. For the first time, he truly encapsulated the name “Lord of Thunder”. Sorry, “God of Thunder”. He also encapsulates the role that has been laid out for him as King and ruler of Asgard- saving his entire civilization, finally getting a leg up on his brothers schemes, and making those hard decisions that Odin never could.

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BRUCE BANNER/THE HULK:

It really sucks to know that we may never get another Hulk solo film- and that we never really got a Planet Hulk movie- but this was as close as it comes. Bruce has been gone from Earth for two years and we learn when he transforms back that he has been the Hulk this entire time. Hulk has advanced tremendously in his ability to communicate and understand, although his intelligence is still on par with that of a young child. He is happy as a clam being worshipped as a fighter in a land where nobody knows who Bruce Banner is and he has no desire to leave, even when his old friend Thor shows up. Its hard to say exactly how Valkyrie managed to get him from his crashed Quinjet into this battle arena situation, but he seems very content with his setup. It was probably one of those neck nodes that zap you to sleep, but I find it bizarre that this would take down the Hulk.

Bruce spends most of the film as the Hulk, but when he comes back down to being Bruce his mind seems very groggy from his time “in the trunk” for the past two years. He seems very confident that if he becomes Hulk again that he will not come back-yet he makes that ultimate sacrifice when the entire population of Asgard depends on him. He has a sweet fight scene with Helas gigantic reanimated dead dog- evil Clifford aka Fenris and goes so far as to take on Surtur when he is the size of a mountain. Much like Thor, he gets opportunity after opportunity to show off the comedic capacity of Hulk and the compassionate side of Bruce Banner- and how both can get him into real trouble.

THE VILLAIN

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Hela makes quick and easy work of tearing Asgard down to the ground and even less time commanding her screen presence. Cate Blanchett is one of the most talented actresses on the planet and the choice to cast her as such a wretched and gothic villain was nothing short of perfection. She is dramatic, intense, gorgeous and vile while serving as an important piece of Asgards history and its future. She is like the ghost of Christmas past come to shatter their perfect golden world. We learn that Odins firstborn served as his “executioner” back in a time before he entertained the idea of diplomacy and peace among realms. He hid Asgards past so well that his children had no idea that they had an older sister, or that he had such a dark past as a conquerer. The demise of Asgard is rather poetic over the course of this movie, from the revelations that Hela comes with about their integrity and honor to the physical destruction of it. The past is gone, but a new world can now be created under Thors guidance.

Hela has very simple and unflappable motivations- to claim the throne which she is entitled to and to command Asgard in whatever way the she feels fit. She was cast out when her father could no longer control her and when their morals no longer aligned, so much like his sons- she has daddy issues that drive her. She longs for the old days where Asgard reigned supreme over all nine realms- and she aspires to conquer worlds far beyond the ones that they know. Her capabilities as the Goddess of Death are explored to an extent- she uses the Eternal Flame to resurrect her old army and her pet Fenris, and she conjures and tosses any size of dagger that she chooses. I have nagging suspicions that this character may very well translate into the Mistress of Death- a HUGE character in the Infinity Gauntlet story. The Mistress of Death is the reason for Thanos seeking out the Infinity Stones- to please her and to shape the cosmos to her liking. The timing doesn’t quite work out, but its always possible!

We don’t necessarily see her die, so you know the rules. She might not be dead for reals.

 

THE GOODS:

Thor:Ragnarok stands as one of the most unique and identifiable MCU movies to date. It takes huge risks and completely ignores standard formulas , instead opting for originality and widespread influences from realms of science fiction, ancient lore and the best of 80s cheese. While its underlying themes are dark, dramatic and sinister- the consistent comic relief, genuinely complicated relationships, vibrant palettes and brightly lit sets bring a film about death to life. This cast is overflowing with top notch dramatic actors, but additions like Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster and Taika Waititi as lovable pile of rocks Korg add a memorable goofy charm that reminds us not to take our beloved comic book movies too seriously. It is really, really silly, but silly is okay.

‘Thor:Ragnarok’ finds a great balance between tones, practical and manufactured visual impact, character development and good old fashioned fun. It rounds out the Thor trilogy with a huge bang and nearly destroys his entire family history while ushering him forth into a whole new existence. It further complicates Thors relationship with Loki but somehow clears the air at the same time, showing the tremendous growth and sincere confidence that Thor has found in his experiences. He is more independent than ever before and now he has the opportunity to dictate the future of himself, his people and the realms of which he protects.

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Bruce Banner has now seen worlds outside of his own and knows the terrifying truth about his alter ego- how consuming it is, how advanced it has become, and how badly it wants him out of the picture. He may still find a way to control his demon-or he may have to come to a compromise with it. Hulk is becoming more and more intelligent the longer that he exists as the Hulk, so we may very well see a Hulk someday that has every capability to exist in that state. We may also see Bruce trying his best to keep the Hulk at bay unless it is absolutely necessary- which I can only assume is coming down the pipeline very, very quickly.

POST CREDITS SCENE

Thor and Loki are having a friendly conversation aboard their getaway ship, floating through space towards their new destination. They are suddenly approached by a ship that makes their own look like a bug floating in the air. I wonder who it is!?

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Shortly after, the Grandmaster spills out of what looks like an elaborate space portapotty, doing his best political routine to get out of trouble with the uprising of Sakaarian citizens that surround him.

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Road to Infinity War – ‘Spiderman: Homecoming’ (2017)

From the very first stirrings that our beloved Spiderman might be making his way into the Marvel Cinematic Universe-where he belongs- there was nothing but butterflies in my heart. Then, we got our first taste of Tom Holland as Peter Parker in ‘Civil War’ and I truly felt that Spiderman had come home in more ways than one.

On this edition of ‘Road to Infinity War’ it is Marvel Studios first go at a Spiderman movie (which is so weird to say…)…SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING!

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THE TEAM:

Jon Watts is best known for directing a great little movie called “Cop Car” starring Kevin Bacon and a couple of young kids, and over a dozen episodes of “The Onion News Network”- a very popular internet sensation and fake news site. With these credits in mind, Spiderman was well trusted in his hands. He knows what makes a modern audience laugh and he knows the potential to reach all ages through the eyes of young people. The screenplay and story comes from a large group of men whos previous writing credits include projects like “Horrible Bosses”, “Cop Car”, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”, “American Dad”, “Community”, and “The Lego Batman Movie”. This wealth of experience spans several demographics, but it keeps within the same age group of viewers and “Spiderman: Homecoming” really shows off the teams understanding of what todays comic book fans and moviegoers want to see and what they think is funny.

Composer Michael Giacchino returns from Dr. Strange with one of the coolest theme collaborations to date- starting us off with that amazingly nostalgic revamp of the Spiderman theme and taking us through a high energy rollercoaster of emotions thereafter.

Released in July of 2017, Spiderman swept the summer box office and shut up a whole lot of naysers-while creating a wealth of new ones- making $880,166,924 at the worldwide box office. Not bad for a hero that is now on his third franchise in the last 15 years!

THE HERO:

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Peter is still riding the high of being recruited by Tony Stark to go up against Captain America in ‘Civil War’-and at the beginning of the film we get an exclusive look into how that all went down behind the scenes. Tom Holland absolutely nails the genuine excitement and pride that Peter feels as he is finally given the chance to be a real superhero, and he is absolutely bursting with energy from the start. He handles both roles with perfection, not going too far into the awkward- but still playing it shy and reserved. His Spiderman is a loudmouth, high wire acrobat type with a heart of gold who wants nothing more than to use his gifts for good. He still has so much to learn but he is quick on his feet in both the literal and metaphorical sense and always manages to make the best out of any tough situation.

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The casting of Peter was so expertly done in Homecoming due largely in part to Tom Hollands natural acrobatic skills, his fresh face, soft spoken nature and genuine acting ability. For the first time in history we get to see a Peter Parker in a live action film that is age appropriate to a high school student, and all of the juvenile problems that come along with it. Lack of self esteem, desire to be accepted, homework, crushes- all of those pesky problems that we dealt with when we were teenagers. These are the problems that we like to believe that we left behind- but chances are, we haven’t. At the same time, while he already has the gift of intellect- he has been granted a huge responsibility with his new abilities, and these make his life all the more confusing as he struggles between embracing this crucial time in his academic and social life or leaving it all behind to be an Avenger. He truly wants to do the most good that he can possibly do, but in Homecoming he lets things like family and friends fall by the wayside in his overzealous pursuits. Thats what makes Spiderman such a compelling and timeless hero- we can all relate to him, we identify with his struggles and his mistakes, and we all hope to be more like him.

I guess that I should mention Tony Stark as well- because while his brash attempt at fatherhood and mentorship is a little overstepping of standard boundaries- he truly seems to have a spot in his heart for Peter Parker. He clearly goes through a whole lot of work at some point to create a Spidey suit for Peter (I still don’t understand the timeline in which this happened) and presumably obsessed over it just the way that he obsesses over his own projects. He and Peters ball busting new uncle Happy Hogan see something special in Spiderman and in Peter Parker and Tony knows that it needs guidance and confidence. He wants to instill his knowledge, his wisdom- he wants to establish a succession. Robert Downey Jr cant do this forever!

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That final scene between the two-when Tony presents Peter with the IRON SPIDER suit (drool) and a place with the Avengers (swoon)- is a beautiful moment for the two of them as individual characters and as a pair. Tony admits his failings in guiding Peter over the last few days, opens up about his daddy issues a bit, and allows him to make the best decision for HIM. In the past, Tony would very likely have given him the third degree for turning down something so obviously perfect for him- but he accepts it almost immediately, not even letting him believe that he was disappointed in the least. He becomes an amazing dad in that moment, and Peter finds the confidence to admit his weaknesses and the humbleness to start small. A friendly neighborhood Spiderman.

THE VILLAIN

In what starts out as an everyday bank robbery turns into a full blown rivalry between a gang of weapons makers/dealers and a local vigilante when Peter vows to get their alien weapons off the streets. He has runins with “The Shocker”, a nice talk with a rad uncle nicknamed The Prowler, and numerous showdowns with the boss man himself- The Vulture. Things go about 300% worse when Peter discovers that his nemesis is also his girlfriends father- and that he has the skill level of a 14 year when it comes to playing it cool.

Adrian Toomes aka The Vulture is a working class guy that has forward thinking intelligence woven into his survival instincts. He and his team of “salvagers” turn a big job gone sour into a basement operation of apparently limitless skill with a batch of alien technology. While I’m on board with Keaton’s Birdman-meets-Batman, I’m not quite as convinced about his backstory and his entourage. They seem very well equipped and advanced in a very short time. The suit that they create and utilize as the ‘Vulture’ getup is a very large piece of machinery to go unnoticed for such a long time, so I don’t fully understand how this operation maintains its anonymity- but okay. Lets say that they’re really, really good at laundering money, property and American skies. Lets also say that Toomes has been able to convince his wife that the head of a wreckage salvage company could afford a house so fancy that it is practically 90% windows.

Toomes has his eye on the prize- no matter the cost- but his paternal instinct that should have kicked in when he realized that he was fighting a teenager waits to takes over when the final showdown between the two results in Peter saving his life. He takes his lumps and goes to prison, but ultimately he keeps their secret from interested parties. So he is either coming around as a good guy, or he is saving this one for himself. Only time will tell (or maybe it won’t-villains tend to fade away in the MCU)

THE GOODS:

In this impressive modernization of Spidermans universe, Peter is attending a science and technology focused school full of a diverse and eclectic group of students and teachers- just as your average American school should look. Peters friends and peers are all who you would consider “the smart kid”- but they’re not overly painted with that “nerd” paintbrush that demoralizes them for being intelligent. There are still cliques in this community, there are still bullies, there are still spoiled rich kids, there are still brown nosers, there are still prom queens- but they all happen to be academics as well. Spiderman: Homecoming sends one clear message: its cool to be smart, its cool to be a nerd, its cool to be you. Unless you’re Flash. Flash sucks.

The movie is filled with pop culture love, bumbling adults, hilarious interactions with technology and lighthearted jokes all around, but its not all fun and games when kids lives are endangered. Even in highly dramatic situations the movie finds time to show off the humor in tragedy and it pokes fun at some of the MCU’s existing characters and patterns. The only word that keeps popping into my head is unfortunately- woke. It feels very self aware and transparently honest about its intentions- and it sets a gold standard for the way that representation and authenticity can shine through in any level of film.

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I cannot sing the praises of Tom Holland enough, but I also have to give it up to Michael Keaton (duh) for his dadass working man vibe and to Peters friends like Jacob Batalon (Ned) and Zendaya (Michelle) for their sincere and mature portrayals of kids that are quirky, sharp and off the beaten path. This take on “MJ” is a breath of fresh air after years of “Golly gee whiz, Peter!” and bland Mary Jane Watsons. Having someone who is a spunky, smart social activist like Michelle as the love interest for Peter has the potential to be as interesting and as vibrant as Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane was to Superman-but for high school students. The chemistry between Peter and Happy Hogan is a great addition as well- because while Happy acts more as his annoyed babysitter than anything else, they seem to really connect.

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Overall, ‘Spiderman: Homecoming’ is a story about a young man coming into his own, focusing one minute and rebelling the next, losing and finding himself, believing in himself and then feeling hopeless, and having to decide just how quickly that he wants to grow up. He longs to be recognized but he has to remain anonymous, therefore he is lonely in his journey. Unlike the majority of the other heroes in the MCU, Peter Parker doesn’t have the opportunity or the burden of being a celebrity or revelling in his victories- so he has to be extremely mindful of himself and he has to live a secret life. Unless Ned spills the beans, of course. Or Tony. Or Happy. Or Vulture. Or Aunt May. Damn, our boy is in trouble.

POST CREDITS SCENE:

Toomes is in prison minding his own business when he is approached by a shady looking character with a scorpion tattoo on his neck, looking for the identity of Spiderman. He blows him off with a sinister admission of ignorance and we are left wondering about the future- especially considering the fact that Sony (sadly) still technically owns Spiderman and his tremendous selection of villains.

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Those who wait to the very end are rewarded with another PSA from Captain America about patience- another wink to the meta humor that this movie works with throughout.

 

Road to Infinity War – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017)

If there was one group of ragtag friends that I was excited to see again, it was the Guardians of the Galaxy. With new characters, a new decade of music and the introduction of Kurt Russell, what could go wrong?

Up next on the Road to Infinity War its brighter, louder and funnier….Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2!

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THE TEAM:

James Gunn returns to the scene of the crime to continue the Guardians of the Galaxys story. He brings his unique vision back to the franchise- integrating music, humour, awkwardness, heart and out of this world personality to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Composer Tyler Bates returns for more heart pumping, jaw dropping ethereal jams to accent this beautiful and spunky story. After the smash success of the first Guardians movie there was absolutely no doubt that the sequel would have a huge following- and it brought in a staggering $863, 756,051 at the worldwide box office

THE HEROES

New Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Group Shot by Artlover67

PETER QUILL/STARLORD:

Peter just learned something very significant about his parentage, but the meaning behind it remains very vague. The Nova Corp spilled the beans at the end of the first Guardians film that Peter was able to hold an Infinity Stone due to some “ancient” genealogy within him. Then they sent him packing. In Vol 2, it seems that everyone has some kind of insight into where he comes from for whatever reason. Ayesha broods over him with ominous warnings of “reckless” origins brewing inside of him shortly before a mysterious spaceman appears to destroy an envoy of Sovereign ships that are hell bent on killing the Guardians. Upon meeting this gloriously bearded man on Berhert post- crash, Peter is informed that this man is his father.

While Peter initially questions Ego in his showy and impressive assertion that he is his father, once he unlocks the true potential of his biology, he is all in. He is faced with a difficult decision, whether to live the remainder of his life as a celestial hybrid creating worlds, or to be with his new family. Through some subtle and literal mind control, Ego attempts to sway Peter to his motives by showing him the possibilities of his existence- but makes one big, big mistake. Why did he tell him about his Mom!? How did he think that was going to go!?

Peters romantic and platonic love for his friends and his family trumps all other things and it breaks him free of Egos hypnotic influence-and ultimately from his energy altogether. He gives up the possibility of immortality and god-like powers to put an end to the universal genocide that Ego plans to inflict in the name of his omnipotent sense of superiority. Presented with a life that is more than he could ever have imagined, he destroys it to do what is right and to avenge his beloved Mom. All conflict that arises throughout Vol 2 with his new family is squashed once they experience this traumatic series of events together, and they ultimately learn to forgive and grow together.

Peter also gains a father figure and a whole new sense of family when Yondu sacrifices himself in more ways than one to ensure Peters safety. He gains a sense of closure knowing that he has not spent his life without a father, but with one who is rather unconventional and unlikely to share his feelings. Peters ends Vol 2 with answers and closure to many aspects of his life, which will hopefully result in a newfound sense of power and confidence that comes with leaving the past behind.

GAMORA

Gamora has distanced herself entirely from her old life as a killer for hire and has embraced a new life with the Guardians. She has friends, family, respect and purpose. The Guardians take on the glitter spitting beast in the opening sequence so that the Sovereign will hand over her sister Nebula, who she in turn plans to hand over to the Nova Corp. While the relationship between the two continues to be vindictive and tumultuous, Gamora would rather her sister be in prison than wrecking havoc across the galaxy in hopes of killing their father- Thanos. She knows that she would not survive this and could potentially create more trouble for herself and the rest of the galaxy.

The theme of family carries through in Gamoras story in Vol 2, which focuses heavily on the relationship between these two jilted sisters as they struggle through their options of sticking together or to letting each other go. Along the way, Nebula and Gamora come to blows but they reach a peaceful resolution of sorts when neither of them will take that final step to killing the other. Instead, they finally bond over their shared experiences and agree to part ways. In the realm of family, Gamora is also faced with a unique internal battle against her feelings for Peter- which seem to gain some clarity at the end of the film.

I have to think that Gamoras history and knowledge of Thanos is going to play a big part in Infinity War and that she is going to be a major factor in how the Avengers and Guardians approach the situation. She knows where he comes from, where he lives and who he knows- and what he is capable of. When Nebula tells her that she still plans to kill him- she responds by saying that she doesnt think its possible. I guess we’ll find out.

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DRAX

While Drax spends a concerning amount of time in Vol 2 laughing VERY LOUDLY in the face of danger and making really awkward sexual comments, he also opens himself up more than ever before. It seems like he has become more comfortable with himself the longer that he has been with the Guardians, and they have come to understand how to deal with him a bit better as well. He still has no sense of what is appropriate in social situations and his IQ is not exactly top notch, but his resilience and fearlessness brings a level of humor and danger to the Guardians that would not be there otherwise. He certainly isn’t the brains of the operation, but he is the brawn that they need to survive. Drax has one incredibly touching moment with his new friend Mantis as they overlook a beautiful body of water on Egos planet and he reminisces about his long lost family. Despite his tough yet bubbly exterior, we know that his family is always on his mind, motivating him and helping him to appreciate the family that he has now.

Yondu and Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

ROCKET

Maybe its his new role as a father of sorts, but Rocket is a hell of a lot more bitter in Vol 2 than he has ever been. He steals from the Sovereign for no other reason but fun and instead of taking responsibility for the fallout, he goes after his friends. His old life with Groot was spent scavenging the galaxy for their next big score and living it up, but now he is part of a group of very different people, and his best friend has been reborn as an adorable but characteristically juvenile toddler. Lost in the shuffle, he seems starved for attention and out to prove that he is more than his gadgets. Rockets heart and his love for the Guardians gets them in and out of trouble on several occasions, but he shows his true colors in his final act of goodwill-allowing Yondu the privilege of saving his “sons” life by sacrificing his own.

GROOT

Groot is an adorable little humanoid with a brand new set of memories and the same old sense of fun. He needs a lot of supervision, but he is slowly growing into the Groot that we knew and loved dearly from the first movie- albeit with influence from far more people than he had the first time around. At the end of the movie we get to see him as a cranky, angsty teenager that has nothing better to do but be sassy and play video games. If this is the Groot that we’ll see in Infinity War remains to be seen.

YONDU

I can’t in good conscience place Yondu under the villain heading, because he spends the majority of Vol 2 as anything but a villain. Though he is still mixed up with his band of unhinged Ravager buddies, his story throughout Vol 2 gives us a great amount of insight into his life and his history, showing us that he is more than meets the eye. He is confronted by his old group of Ravager friends- the OG Guardians of the Galaxy- where we learn that he was exiled decades ago for breaking the Ravager code-dealing in kids. He is commissioned by Ayesha to go after the Guardians of the Galaxy once more, and his decision to defy the request of the Sovereign to recover their batteries and to kill the group is met with a mutiny. They point out that Yondu seems to place Peters life above everyone elses-and that single line becomes the resonating theme of the rest of Yondus story arch in Vol 2. Why does Yondu continue to torment and threaten Peter and his friends while helping him stay out of danger along the way?

The answer, of course, turns out to be a major revelation. Yondu has a special place in his heart for Peter because he considers him to be like a son to him, and he believes that he is the only person that he has done right by. Michael Rookers incredible performance as Yondu goes from being a one dimensional vigilante and scrapper to a badass, witty, resourceful and compassionate father figure. He bonds with Rocket during their brief stint behind bars, where the two find that they have more in common than they realize. This interaction gives Rocket an understanding and a common ground that all comes back around to family.

Its like a Fast and Furious movie, this thing. Maybe Groot had more say than we realized.

THE VILLAIN:

There are actually several different villains all intertwined in this madness, starting with:

AYESHA/THE SOVEREIGN

This colony of people is created-literally birthed in pods-and groomed to believe that they are flawless beings, so naturally they are huge deuchebags. They are narcistic and elitist, and they do not believe in sacrificing themselves in battle-instead sending drone ships in their place while playing what I assume to be the galaxies best ‘Enders Game’ style VR simulation. Their High Priestess, Ayesha, blows the theft of their precious batteries slightly out of proportion, pursuing the Guardians all the way to Egos planet after Yondu fails to retrieve them himself. After the loss of two huge fleets over what one would assume to be a minor slight to Ayeshas ego- she creates a new being. He is more powerful, more beautiful- and his name….well, you know.

Sidenote: If these people are birthed, and everything is yellow/golden, and an interdimensional abyllisk knew to come eat their battery, and Nebula also knew to come steal their batteries- is this place connected to the soul stone? If they can create souls and they are on a self sustaining power source…the shoe kind of fits.

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TASERFACE/THE RAVAGERS

Ridiculous name and obtuse references to it aside- Taserface and the Ravagers bring about endless roadblocks for our heroes throughout Vol 2. This rebellious subset of Yondus following has a grudge against Yondu for putting their group and their financial gain second to Peter. Under the leadership of Taserface they take things to a great extreme by murdering nearly every member of his group-aside from flip flopper Kraglin-who comes through to save their skin at the right moment. These assholes torture sweet baby Groot, using him like a circus animal, and lock up Rocket and Yondu after Nebula asserts her dominance and takes over as new leader of the operation. They would have killed the two of them as well, instead they are convinced to turn them in for a reward. Yondu exacts his epic revenge on those who wronged him, but not swiftly enough to stop Taserface from alerting the Sovereign of their whereabouts on Egos planet. After Yondus great sacrifice he is ushered out of his life by his old friends who once exiled him- causing him to go down in history as a legend.

NEBULA

Nebula is moreso the anti-hero of Vol 2- as she is out for herself and not working under anyone else at this point. Her motivations to kill Thanos remain unwaivering and her anger towards her sister is still strong, but she seems very open to working with her more than against her. They just needed some time to come together and understand one another outside of conflict and violence. Once they clear the air Nebula becomes of great help to the Guardians in their complicated mission to destroy Ego and get the hell off of him before they all die. When their quest is completed, Nebula and her sister Gamora part ways with more love than they have ever experienced in the past- and she asserts her intentions to kill Thanos are stronger than ever. Methinks that she is going to be a big player in the coming events.

EGO

From Egos introduction, he seems like a smooth talking silver fox that is going to make Peters life complete and answer all of his questions. If you look at Mantis’ face though- you start to see the cracks. There is an air of ambiguity in nearly every interaction that Ego has with Peter and his friends- as he seems very genuine in all of his stories and his expressions of feelings-and he seems to be very open and honest about who and what he is. Mantis is not terribly good at keeping secrets and luckily she spills the beans when Gamora discovers a cavern absolutely full of bones beneath the surface of the planet.

What started out as a situation that was sketchy and rather outlandish, but heartwarming, at best starts to unravel into something that is an all out horror show when Ego plants his influential seeds into Peters brain to sway him over to his side, then lets it slip that he put a tumor in his mothers head. He killed her and he never returned to her because he couldn’t deal with a world where she wasn’t alive- but he killed her, long and slow. Not only that, but Egos maniacal plan for galactic domination unfolds in a tale of multi-planetary, multi-species insemination that rivals any porn star or early centuries royalty that you could ever imagine. For centuries, Ego has been searching for his children so that he could test their biology for the celestial gene- a test which presumably kills them on site or eventually causes him to kill them. He planned to use the child that carried this gene to help him completely consume every planet that he visited-allowing him to become several planets.

As Kurt Russell expertly croons in a romantic way about his quest for purpose, his love for Meredith, his adventures across worlds in search of companionship- it all adds to the terrifying nature of Ego. He is not a man, he is barely a being- he is something so powerful and so grand that life itself has absolutely no meaning to him. He calls his discovery of life “disappointing”. He cannot be bargained with, he cannot be swayed, he cannot reposition his lifes work in another direction- he has worked towards one goal for his entire existence and there is no alternative. He is of nearly endless abilities and power, so he has very little to fear- but with nothing but time, he needs to quench his thirst for purpose. His death unfortunately means the death of Peters immortality and his celestial “light” but his death also means that hundreds of millions of others can live.

I don’t think that I’m exaggerating when I say that is some of the darkest shit in the MCU to date.

THE GOODS

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Volume 2 is aptly named- as it turns up the volume on the humor, the action, the music and the visual effects. The soundtrack is far less subtle this time around and it is referenced directly by people in the movie on several occasions, as if Quills music is a part of them now. Many of the songs are also related to the film in a far more literal sense than before- with songs about family, love and friendship perfectly aligned with each scene in which it plays. Electric Light Orchestras “Livin Thing” cues up as they approach Ego: The Living Planet in perfect context and harmony to the setting. My favorite song of all time-The Chain by Fleetwood Mac- makes a couple of appearances in heavy emotional moments and represents the necessity to break free of your biological tree.

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The colors used in Volume 2 are absolutely spectacular and transition well from the first film where the majority of the colors were in reference to stars and space in general- but this time we see Egos luscious and breathtaking planet, the vibrant golds of the Sovereign and the earthy tones of Berhert bring every scene to life. You can imagine these shots splashed across the pages of a comic book. The visual effects are incredible, from the first dance/fight sequence, to Yondu and Rockets epic dramatic exit from their prison cells, to the many states of Ego himself. The comedy gets a LITTLE bit too much for me at moments-with an insane amount of sex jokes littered throughout- but every joke is incredibly funny and they are mostly spoken by Drax-who could deliver any line and make it funny. Apparently Drax is just a huge pervert, I guess. Rocket gets his fair share of quips and the entire cast gets the chance to bounce off of one another in lighthearted ways to show us just how close that they have become. They bicker, but they bicker like a family now.

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There is an incredible amount of growth established in this film and we really get to see the payoff of the Guardians coming together as a unit- because unlike the Avengers, these guys likely spend most of their time together. They don’t have homes to go back to or lives to get back to when the fight is over- they only have each other. Thats why the theme of family in Volume 2 is so beautiful and so significant- there is “romantic, sexual love”, paternal love, platonic love, self love and the loss and gain of all of these at play. We see the effects of love for the deceased, love for friends, family and conquests, love that goes unspoken, love that is complicated, love that is simple, and love that is just beginning to blossom. Its a complicated, messy and magnificent theme- but love is all over the freaking galaxy.

POST CREDITS SCENES:

Okay so lets get through these- Kraglin has a fin now and he is learning to use Yondus old arrow- and he sucks at it.

The old Guardians of the Galaxy are back in business!

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Holy freaking crap Ayesha has created Adam Warlock. AHHHH! Will he be in Infinity War or will we have to wait until the next Guardians movie? Will be be a huge factor in the defeat of Thanos like in ‘Infinity Gauntlet’? Will he be Jamie Lannister!?

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Groot is a teenager now and he just sucks. Why are there vines everywhere by the way? Why is he shooting vines? Ew.

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Probably one of the best Stan Lee cameos of all time results in him being left on a rock by the Watchers. They had better be picking him up in Infinity War!

Sidenote: John Malkovich should be the Watcher.

Road to Infinity War- ‘ANT MAN’ (2015)

AtIn 2015, Marvel Studios was riding a high from his previous Avengers films, Guardians of the Galaxy, and a highly successful Captain America film. They had hit a really solid stride. Next came the opportunity to introduce a character who has been long beloved by Marvel Comics fans-but with a modern interpretation of a classic hero.

Up next on Road to Infinity War…its ANT MAN!

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‘Ant Man’ is yet another origin story for a character whos immediate environment is almost entirely removed from the circle of existing Marvel Cinematic Universe characters at this point in the franchise. However, he is a character who needed to see his day in the sun because of his massive impact and involvement in vital Marvel stories. Although this film went through periods of uncertainty where it was touched by several different creative visions, it made its way to a successful release. It brought in $519,311,965 at the worldwide box office, making it one of Marvels less successful films, but very impressive for a concept and character that is not very well known to the general public.

THE TEAM:

Director Peyton Reed was brought onto this project fairly late in its inception, but with experience dating back to the early 90s on shows like ‘Back to the Future’ ‘The Weird Al Show’ and ‘Mr Show’ it was obvious that he was a great choice for a comedy forward film. Though this style and magnitude of a production was fairly out of his wheelhouse at the time, he showed great enthusiasm and passion in taking it on, and it shows. Writer Edgar Wright was originally set to direct the film, but exited late into production. His influence, as well as the creative influence of his fellow story and screenplay writers Adam McKay, Joe Cornish and Paul Rudd is apparent in the movie. Wright and McKay especially have great fame and infamy in the world of “weird” movies at the helm of projects like, I dont know, every Simon Pegg and Nick Frost movie that you love, and a hell of a lot of Will Ferrell movies that you love. At this time especially, they were big names in the comedy game.

Composer Christophe Beck is another fantastic steal for Marvels roster of outstanding composers. He is responsible for over one hundred projects since the 90s, including both ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’, ‘The Hangover’ trilogy, ‘The Muppets’ and ‘Edge of Tomorrow’-just to name a few.

THE HERO:

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Scott Lang is just your average everyman with a masters in electrical engineering-turned-professional level thief who just happened to have the right motivation and skill set to fall into Hank Pyms very flimsy plans. This plan involved anonymously bribing a local woman to tell her friend about an old man with a safe, hoping that story would make its way to Scott and convince him to break into Pyms home and steal the Ant Man suit. I mean, it worked, but it was flimsy. He also had to assume that Scott would try on this bizarre looking “motorcycle suit” and discover exactly what it was. Perhaps he knew that his scientific mind would spot the unique features of the suit and that he wouldn’t be able to resist investigating it.

Scott-played by member of the Hollywood vampire club Paul Rudd- is wildly imperfect and a complete smart ass, but he is ultimately a very good man. He wants to be a role model father and he wants redemption for his past, but living life as an ex convict proves to be incredibly difficult to turn around in his favor when nobody will trust or hire you. Baskin Robbins always finds out. Hank Pym sees his underlying desire and identifies with it- as he has his own obstacles to overcome in order to have a relationship with his daughter again. He sees the real potential in Scott.

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Scott Langs mentor and OG ‘Ant Man’ Hank Pym has ties to the origins of SHIELD, but he has been removed from the scenario for quite some time when this film begins-nearly four decades. He worked with Howard Stark, Peggy Carter and the like- so he most certainly had knowledge of Hydra back in 1989 when he exited Pym Tech and stole away with his Pym particle. Lets be honest, he made the right call. No doubt. He lost his wife Janet when his daughter Hope was very young, and he lost his relationship with her thereafter when he retreated within himself trying to “fix” things.

In my humble opinion, Hank Pym is one of the most endearing characters in Marvel Comics roster, so I did feel that it was a shame to pass him over for Scott Lang, but the timing just would not work with the existing storylines that are already in play. However, having an opportunity to bring Michael Douglas into the MCU using this character is still a huge win in the end. If you can get Douglas, you get Douglas. Hank still has plenty of time to integrate himself into the future of the MCU- but if he ever expands past his close circle remains to be seen. He specifically states to Scott that he wanted to keep his tech out of the hands of Howard Stark- so he may not be open to offering up this technology, or anything at all, to the Avengers or the government. While Scott has willingly become part of the superhero entourage, Hank may remain in the background acting as the “man in the chair” for Scott and Hope in the future. He confides in his daughter that he has spent the last four decades researching the Quantum realm with hope that he will be able to bring back his long lost wife-Janet. The groundbreaking discovery that Scott makes in regards to coming back from the Quantum realm is bound to completely change Hanks research and to put a new fuel on his fire.

THE VILLAIN

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The superhero origin story formula is well at work in ‘Ant Man’-as it is in several other films like it. In order to become a unique and dynamic hero, first you must defeat the evil version of yourself. That is exactly what happens with the obtusely sinister Darren Cross- who has some really severe daddy issues with his former mentor Hank Pym and essentially lets it poison his brain- both metaphorically and literally. He comes across Pyms ‘Ant Man’ suit and shrinking technology somehow, and he decides to maliciously use it to make a huge profit by selling it to the highest bidder- namely any military or terrorist organization who can afford it-like Hydra. Although we don’t see it ahead of the films climax, Hope eludes that Cross has been intimately experimenting with the Yellowjacket suit, and that it is affecting his mental state.

Cross is out to completely wipe Hank Pym off the planet and to take credit for his most outstanding discovery as a way of getting back at him for “pushing him away” like he did to Hope. He accomplishes his goal of replicating Hank’s technology and a similar particle, AND somehow figures out Hanks entire plan involving Scott, Hope and their entourage of ants. But as all one-off villains do, he ultimately loses the majority of his work and his life when his sale goes south and he goes rogue. I mean, threatening Scott Langs young daughter? Rookie mistake. Just because you’re bald doesn’t make you Lex Luthor.

But seriously? Good riddance. Ya boring. And you killed Antony.

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THE UPS AND DOWNS

‘Ant Man’ has a hell of a lot of positive aspects to it. For starters, the excellent visual effects that were absolutely necessary to pull this concept off. A movie about a man who shrinks down to the size of an insect was never going to work unless they could make it look as realistic as possible-and they did that. The ants looked excellent and the way that they make great fun out of this otherwise bizarre concept was very well done. The way that they zoomed in on an epic fight only to show us how very insignificant it was from a distance made for a few very memorable scenes- whether it be inside of a childrens toy train set or inside of a briefcase. The suit is really badass as well and it looks great on camera. The overall comedic, but lovable take on this character and story-which screams Edgar Wright- was well placed in the hands of comedy veteran Paul Rudd and it should be no surprise to anyone that the fantastic Michael Pena all but stole the show as his fast talking, overexcited partner-in-crime Luis.

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Back it up. Just back it up. Back it up. Baaaack it up.

Now that Hope Pym knows the truth about her mother and why her father drew away from her at such a young age, she is ready to heal their relationship. Hank has been wildly overprotective of Hope since losing her mother, but he now knows how strong that she has become. Her “woman in power” haircut is evidence of this. As is her conviction. The relationship between Hank and Hope is likely to become more and more important in the future of the ‘Ant Man’ story, as she has finally been given wings. Literally. At the very end of this film, Hank presents Hope with a suit that was made for her mother, Janet, and she could not be more elated to assume the identity that her mother made so significant. The Wasp. (Ahhhhhh!)

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On the flip side, there was certainly a level of weakness to ‘Ant Man’ that would have benefited greatly from further insight into Hanks past- but we may still see that. The story felt a bit rushed along due to how quickly the threat from Cross was coming at them, and things fell into place rather well despite the time constraints. Cross managed to perfect his particle really, really quickly and Scott learned how to maneuver in his suit and communicate with ants very, very quickly. I’m nitpicking of course, but there was definitely something about this movie that didn’t quite hold up to its predecessors. Perhaps it was because it was so contained, perhaps it was the cookie cutter villain, or maybe it was the pacing, OR maybe it was the fact that this film changed hands over the course of its production.

Whatever the case, ‘Ant Man’ himself has a bright future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and I am overjoyed that he was introduced.

POST CREDITS SCENE:

I already mentioned Hope Pym being presented with the Wasp suit because I got excited, but there was one extra post credits scene that linked this film into the MCU and got me salivating for the next movie, one that I had been dying for since I heard about its potential realization…Civil War. I still squeal a little inside when I hear that.

In this scene, an exhausted Bucky Barnes is in a warehouse with Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers. There is mention of the “Accords” and the two discuss that they cannot tell Tony about finding Bucky. When Steve suggests that they may be alone in their mission, Sam offers the idea that he has someone who may be able to help- maybe someone who he fought at the Avengers facility, perhaps?

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Patton Oswalts ‘Annihilation’ is a devastating delight

I’ve been a big fan of Patton Oswalt for a number of years- from his standup career to his many marvelous TV shows cameos (Agents of SHIELD, Parks and Recreation, Reno 911 etc)  and his voice acting (Ratatouille, Archer, etc). He has always struck me as a rare celebrity-one who is painfully planted on earth in a sea of stardom. Not that he isn’t a big star in his own right, with Pixar and Marvel credits under his belt, as well as several standup specials and a lengthy career on television- but there was always something about him. Hes the dude that I wanted to hang out with. Hes the guy who I would love to talk to with no bullshit.

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So when I found out that Patton had suffered a devastating loss in his wife-Michelle McNamara-a renowned crime writer-turned-cold case connoisseur and subject of many of his stand up stories- I was gutted. I don’t know either of these people, but when I see good people doing good things in the world who are hurting, it hurts.

Oswalt bravely took to the stage under the direction and support of friend and comedy vet Bobcat Goldthwait to spill out the contents of his heart in front of millions of people in his new Netflix special ‘Annihilation’. I expected to laugh, I expected to cry, but I did not expect the lasting devastation that I would feel in its aftermath.

He did not just touch on the subject of his wifes passing- he let us all in. The survivors guilt, the burden, the aftermath-all of it. About halfway through the set of witty observations and maturity testing metaphors, you can see a noticeable weight begin to take hold as he prepares to tell the story of the worst day of his life. I was so incredibly touched by the openness and honesty that this entailed, but so grateful to bear witness to it. It was a heavy gift that he offered to his fans, and one that surely was not easy to give. As I fought back the waterfall that was trying to form behind my eyeballs, I found myself suddenly painfully laughing- a combination of emotions that comes so seldom in life. The special as a whole is such a unique experience to give yourself- from its top notch comedy to its open heart confessions, and back again.

He may refer to himself as the guy who talks about dicks in front of thousands of people, but he is so much more. Patton Oswalt is still a big nerdy dad with a heart of gold, through and through.

If you watch one comedy special on Netflix today, this month or this year- make it this one.

To check out the late Michelle McNamaras work go to True Crime Diarys website, or check out her posthumously released novel “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark”