Avengers: Infinity War

Call me jaded – but the thought of another two-and-a-half hour film filled with superheroic antics did not have me excited. As I mused a long time ago in our Thor: The Dark World review, it’s difficult to create compelling drama when franchise deals guarantee characters’ survival to appear in future films. Do you hear that sound? It’s the sound of all the drama escaping as the film deflates.

This problem is still present in Avengers: Infinity War, directed by duo Anthony and Joe Russo (the Brothers Russo as I shall refer to them): we know that Spiderman will be appearing in an unnamed Spiderman sequel, and we know that the Guardians of the Galaxy will be getting a part 3. So what could really happen?

A lot, as it turns out.

The Brothers Russo seem to be aware of the dramatic pitfalls of serialized adventures and have taken steps to heighten the stakes. Which isn’t to say this film is perfect; but boy, does it deliver on the expectations built up over 10 years, all the way back from the first post-credits scene in Ironman, when Nick Fury tells Tony about the Avengers Initiative.

Well, the Avengers have grown up, and if Infinity War’s principal villain, Thanos (played by Josh Brolin), gets his way and manages to destroy half the population of the universe, the Avengers might have quite a lot to avenge by the time this 2 part movie arc reaches its conclusion.

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*** Mild Spoilers Ahead ***

Infinity War kicks off at the bitter conclusion of a battle between Thanos, aided by his children, and the Asgardians – Thor, Heimdall, Loki, and the rest. The Asgardian ship is half-destroyed, and most everyone dead. In a last-ditch effort, Heimdall teleports the Hulk off the ship, back to earth to warn the Avengers of Thanos’s impending arrival.

This film builds compellingly towards its climax; more the story of Thanos, the destroyer of worlds, than any one other one hero, the film also manages to fit in some interesting character arcs for Star Lord and Scarlet Witch; while there’s only time for minimal development of most of the cast, none of the characters feel shallow or weak as a result. Maybe that’s a result of all the previous films; we only get one scene with Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, but that’s all that the film needs – the audience knows the characters.

The film’s ending is the most surprising part of this superheroic outing, and for me the best part of the film: bold, kinetic, unexpected, utterly devastating while also supremely hopeful. It’s the ultimate cliffhanger, where the filmmakers not only take the heroes to the cliff, but actually throw them off the cliff as well.

The Brothers Russo have rustled up something fresh from the superhero milieu that has been suffocating itself. For this, I applaud them. Is the superhero genre getting long in the tooth? Sure. Might it soon go the way of the Westerns? Probably. But for now, Marvel Studios has once again proved that they still know what makes a good story, and how to tell it in an unexpected way.

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Two Charlie Brown Christmas Movies

This year, I discovered two Charlie Brown Christmas movies I had never seen before.  Part of me was excited, but I also wondered how the more modern short films would compare to A Charlie Brown Christmas, the 1965 short I’ve grown up watching.

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales

Charlie Brown's Christmas TalesCharlie Brown’s Christmas Tales is an extremely brief film at only eighteen minutes in length.  One at a time, the short film focuses on each of the main Peanuts characters, depicting brief scenes of the protagonists and highlighting their personalities.  Each section of the film is like a Christmas postcard about the main characters, and the movie lacks a major storyline.  Interestingly, Christmas Tales introduces a new character to me, Lucy and Linus’ little brother Rerun.  At first I thought Rerun was Linus, but I eventually figured out who he was as I began watching the next short film.

I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown

Rerun and Snoopy

Rerun and Snoopy

A much more substantial forty-three minutes, I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown stars Rerun and Snoopy.  The main storyline follows Rerun’s attempts to get a dog of his own.  Rerun pesters Charlie Brown about playing with, and even buying, Snoopy and is constantly inventing new tactics for acquiring the dog he longs for.  Like Linus, Rerun is very serious but is still convincingly the youngest child because he is more whiney and less well-read than his older brother.

Conclusion

While I still prefer the 1965 Christmas short film, Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales and I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown are enjoyable too.  I like the new storylines involving Snoopy in I Want a Dog, and Rerun is a fun new character.  Both films are humorous and have the jazzy Peanuts music I love, including some additional tunes.  And although neither film has messages as deep as in A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charles Schulz still includes some thought-provoking moments.

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Anime Wizards and Blue Cats

Fiore is a land of wizardry and magic, and Fairy Tail is one of its many wizard guilds.  In addition to its unusual name, Fairy Tail has a reputation for leaving a trail of destruction in its wake, for its good-intentioned wizards are often reckless when fulfilling quests to help the people of Fiore.  The first season of the anime show Fairy Tail features a hilarious cast of characters, a story full of adventure and magic, and themes of loyalty, courage, and friendship.

Fairy Tail characters

Left to right, top to bottom: Natsu, Lucy, Happy, Gray, and Erza

Natsu, Happy, and Lucy form the core trio of Fairy Tail characters.  When the story begins, Lucy joins Fairy Tail as its newest member, and viewers get to know the guild and its members along with Lucy.  Lucy often feels intimidated among Fairy Tail’s powerful wizards but manages to hold her own with her special brand of celestial wizard magic—where she uses magical keys to summon spirits to help her.  Despite a sweet disposition, Lucy can be feisty, especially when Natsu, Happy, and Gray annoy her.  Raised by a dragon, Natsu fights with fire magic and a temper to match.  Impetuous, cocky, and stubborn, Natsu’s character qualities may seem negative but end up endearing him to his friends and the audience.  These traits also make him a formidable opponent when fighting evil wizards because hard-headed persistence can be an effective strategy.  Natsu’s best friend is the talking cat Happy, who stands out for being blue, able to fly, and one of the sweetest characters in the show.  Gray and Erza are two other main characters.  Ice wizard Gray is taciturn and reclusive, and he and Natsu get along about as well as ice and fire because Natsu’s competitive spirit keeps the two of them fighting all the time.  Fairy Tail is often like a big, dysfunctional family with constant competition and squabbles, and Erza would be the mother figure, except that she often joins in the bickering herself.  An intimidating warrioress who’s most comfortable in a suit of medieval armor, Erza scares enemies and friends alike.  Erza wields magical weapons and outfits that she can exchange whenever she wants (leading to one caveat I have about the show, which is that some of Erza’s and other wizards’ outfits are immodest).  Because of her powerful abilities and serious personality, Erza is about the only person who can stop Gray and Natsu from fighting and keep them—and everyone else in Fairy Tail—in line.

Natsu and Happy

Happy and Natsu

Much of Fairy Tail’s plot revolves around its characters, developing their personalities and pasts.  As Fairy Tail proceeds through the first season, the audience learns each protagonist’s backstory and meets more members of Fairy Tail and other light and dark guilds in Fiore.  The story follows Lucy, Natsu, Happy, Gray, and Erza on their many adventures as they answer job requests, help citizens of Fiore, and compete with each other and their fellow guild members.  While elements of the plot are very episodic, Fairy Tail also has larger story arcs that tie the show together.  In fact, as I watched season two, story threads from season one came back into play within the new plot.

In addition to endearing characters and a fun story, Fairy Tail also contains wholesome themes.  Forced to work as a team on quests, the five main characters gradually become friends, learning to trust, fight with, and make sacrifices for each other.  Each of them has lost family but finds a new family in Fairy Tail and its members.  Thanks to the support of their friends, the wizards are able to forgive grievances, and even the most faint-hearted wizards discover loyalty and courage within themselves.  Hidden beneath a reputation for destruction, brawling, and partying, Fairy Tail has true heart that makes it strong.  When times are hard, Fairy Tail bands together, supporting and looking after its members and everyone who needs its help.

HappyHappy sums up a lot about Fairy Tail and why I like it.  Like Happy’s colorful appearance, unique abilities, and amicable personality, Fairy Tail has a literally and figuratively colorful cast of characters.  Each character is unique, and even the serious and reserved ones add to the show’s upbeat tone.  Combined with a story and themes to match these characters, Fairy Tail is a fun anime show to watch.

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Redefining Wonder Woman

WW posterPrior to this spring, my image of Wonder Woman consisted of a woman with poufy hair wearing starry spandex, spouting cardboard dialogue, and wielding a laughable “Lasso of Truth.”  This year’s movie adaptation of the comic book heroine, however, paints a different picture.  Now, Diana Prince displays dignity and strength and is simultaneously a warrior and a woman.  Together, all the elements of the movie combine to reflect the change of tone.

Wonder Woman’s plot focuses on Diana Prince’s Amazonian backstory, including a comic book version of the Greek myths.  While DC’s retelling of Greek myths is at times a bit cheesy, the other aspects of the Amazonian world are very captivating, and as Diana enters the chaos and modernity of WWI, the scriptwriters keep the audience wondering whether Diana’s Amazonian stories have any bearing on the modern world.  Particularly, viewers question Diana’s claim that Ares is the cause of the war.  Although the plot can be predictable, the characters and dialogue carry the story well.  American pilot Steve Trevor and the other members of Diana’s ragtag team back Diana up with skill and plenty of humor.  Most importantly, Gal Gadot fills her role as Diana Prince amazingly, bringing character to a caricature.  With her smiles and seriousness, Gadot transforms Diana Prince into a real person.

Gal Gadot

Diana’s reaction to her first taste of ice cream and her first encounter with a revolving door are hilariously believable thanks to Gadot’s acting, and the new character of Diana Prince brings with it freshness and vitality.  Another interesting sign of the movie’s novel approach to Wonder Woman is that throughout the movie Diana Prince is known by her personal name, not by her title “Wonder Woman.”

In keeping with the movie’s plot and tone, the costumes and music blend with the times and cultures the movie represents.  When fighting, Diana dons Greek-style armor, not tights, and the outfits she wears while “fitting in” with London and German society are pretty much historically accurate (although no woman would be able to wear a sword down the back of her dress without anyone noticing).  Both the costumes and music capture elements of the ancient Greek and WWI eras, and I especially like the theme song’s Eastern air.  Composer Rupert Gregson-Williams expertly crafts a score that complements and represents the film’s titular character.  Like Diana Prince, the music is an exotic blend of cultures and is impressive, beautiful, and inspiring with its swelling themes and incorporation of brass, strings, choir, and percussion.

Wonder Woman photoMore surprising than the production quality, acting, or story, though, are the themes that the movie incorporates.  Diana Prince has an attachment to truth that goes beyond her golden lasso, and she demonstrates this in her blunt honesty, questions, and actions.  Throughout the movie, she is searching for truth and the difference between right and wrong.  When she faces the enemy, she refuses to believe his twisted representations of the truth.  Yet, she is willing to change her beliefs when she discovers she is wrong.  From the opening to the closing lines, Diana reveals her struggle with the truth that humans don’t deserve to be rescued, for they have created their own problems and wickedness.  Mankind is not basically good, and no matter what enemies she defeats, she will never be able to change that.  Men don’t deserve to be saved—a truth that Diana reluctantly admits.  This truth is evident, even in the banter of three of the main character soldiers, who joke, “May we get what we want…and may we get what we need…But may we never get what we deserve” (“Quotes”).  Diana doesn’t end there, though, for she realizes another, greater truth:  love is the reason to fight to save mankind.

Surprisingly, though imperfectly, Wonder Woman points to realities about love, mercy, truth, and man’s condition which I would never have expected to find in a pagan superhero movie.  While Wonder Woman lacks the ultimate answer to man’s problems, I think its discussion of these themes is valuable.  If more people understood what Diana learns in this fictional story, history and the world would be drastically different, for all too often, people assume that mankind is essentially good and blame every problem on the government, greedy businesses, or a few particularly evil people.

Diana Prince

Wonder Woman’s themes create a thoughtful movie that impacts viewers with more than just jokes or exciting action scenes.  In the midst of recent antihero movies, Wonder Woman stands out with its heroine and themes.  Diana Prince has honesty and heart.  In her actions, she uses her principles as much as her weapons, and throughout the story she emanates a dignity, strength, and compassion which give her title “Wonder Woman” a whole new meaning.


Works Cited

Wonder Woman (2017) Quotes.”  IMDb.com.  2017.  Internet Movie Database.  30 Aug. 2017, imdb.com/title/tt0451279/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu.

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A Closer Look at Captain America: Civil War

Introductory note:  I reviewed Captain America: Civil War last month.  This following article is a more detailed analysis of Captain America: Civil War and as such does give away some important parts of the plot.

Captain America Civil War poster

The latest movie in the Captain America series Captain America: Civil War is aptly named.  Beyond the visible division between members of the Avengers team as peace, alliances, and friendships crack, divisions in goals and ideals also emerge.  Even as I think about the problems the movie presents, addresses, and leaves unfinished, I find myself divided in my opinions about the story, characters, and message.  The story is more realistic (for a superhero movie), yet less satisfying, for the questions the movie poses are not simple ones to answer.

As usual, Tony Stark is the spark of trouble, but Steve Rogers (Captain America), instead of being a peacemaker, is uncharacteristically at the other end of the conflict.  Stark feels responsible for the civilian casualties he and the Avengers have left behind, and he argues that the Avengers team needs oversight and restrictions.  In Stark’s opinion, the Hero Registration Act which the United Nations proposes is the best answer to the problems the Avengers are facing.  The plan places the Avengers under an international authority, giving the Avengers the accountability they need, and Stark thinks the Avengers should take advantage of this compromise before nations begin taking more forceful actions against the Avengers.  According to many nations, the superhero team has become unpredictable and dangerous, even towards those they seek to protect, and Stark thinks the criticism is accurate.

Wanda Maximoff

Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch)

On the other end of the dispute, Steve Rogers has some valid arguments.  Rogers doesn’t discount Stark’s concern about civilian casualties; in fact, Rogers has a discussion with Wanda (Scarlet Witch) early in the movie, reminding her, “This job…we try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn’t mean everybody.  But if we can’t find a way to live with that, next time…maybe nobody gets saved” (“Quotes”).  Rogers understands that civilian casualties are an almost inevitable part of conflict, but he accepts that risk.  Recalling S.H.I.E.L.D.’s corruption, Rogers also does not trust any organization to oversee the Avengers, for Rogers fears that such oversight will cause the Avengers to help the wrong agendas and will hinder the team from saving people.  Interestingly, in The Winter Soldier, Rogers initially wanted to be a soldier and just obey orders.  Now, in the aftermath of S.H.I.E.L.D., Rogers seems to have swung to the opposite extreme, not wanting to obey any authority but his own conscience.

Barnes and Rogers

Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier) and Steve Rogers (Captain America)

In addition to the interesting questions the movie poses about oversight and limitations of power, there are several other problems and themes that the story covers.  During one of the credit scenes, Black Panther claims Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) is a “victim.”  While this is partly true, it does not acquit Barnes of the crimes he committed while under others’ control.  Barnes deserves to be tried for his crimes for the sake of those whom he killed.  In a just trial, the judge and jury would account for Barnes’s lack of control over his actions and would reduce his charges and sentencing.  Hiding Barnes only delays the problem of facing what he has done, the consequences of his actions, and his own guilt.

Another thought-provoking theme is about compromise and principles.  Partway through the movie, a character quotes Steve Rogers’ friend Peggy Carter as having said, “Compromise where you can.  Where you can’t, don’t.  Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right.  Even if the whole world is telling you to move, it is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye, and say, ‘No, you move.’”  This advice is quite solid.  Nevertheless, Rogers does not appear to have been listening to the first part of the speech; all he remembers is “No, you move,” and he fails to realize that he can compromise, if he and Tony Stark will only take the time to stop arguing and listen to each other.

Stark and Rogers

Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers

Captain America: Civil War has some good themes, but also some twisted interpretations of them.  Peggy Carter’s speech appears to be a call to Captain America to stick to his uncompromising choices and seems to ennoble him in his decision.  Also, even though Tony Stark is on the right road in wanting oversight for the Avengers, his ballistic behavior turns the audience and Steve Rogers against him, making the Hero Registration Act and anything like it seem to be a bad idea.  Tony Stark aims for a good end, but uses the wrong means because he acts out of guilt, a desire to hand over responsibility for his actions to other people, and fear that the world will turn against the Avengers, and him.  Several times in Civil War, the story touches on Stark’s background and reveals he is a miserable, lonely person who is full of regret and guilt and whose most common answer to problems is to ignore them or get angry.  Sadly, Steve Rogers is too focused on saving one friend and defeating villains to realize he is losing other friends who need him too, like Tony Stark.  What disappoints me most, though, is that the entire Avengers team allows their division and anger to get out of hand so that friend is fighting friend.  Even the severe injury of one of the Avengers is not enough to bring the superheroes to their senses; it is only fuel for more anger and a sharp reminder of how dangerous and destructive their war is.

In spite of all the damage the Avengers team has suffered, though, some hope remains for reconciliation.  When Captain America explains why he did the many things for which Stark may never forgive him, Cap ends by promising that he and the rogue Avengers will come if Stark ever calls for them.  Stark most likely does not accept Rogers’ reasoning as right, and I would probably agree with him, but I still hope that Stark will eventually swallow his pride and be able to forgive those who have hurt him and acknowledge some of his own mistakes as well.  What Captain America, Tony Stark, and the entire Avengers team needs now is not superpowers, but a lot of humility and forgiveness.

Works Cited

Captain America: Civil War (2016) Quotes.”  IMDb.com.  2016.  Internet Movie Database.  20 Aug. 2016 <www.imdb.com/title/tt3498820/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu>.

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Captain America: Civil War

Politics, guilt, loyalty, fear, anger, and superheroes all play a part in Captain America: Civil War, leading to the longest—and perhaps most complicated—Marvel movie yet.

Tony Stark and Steve RogersAfter an Avengers’ mission in Nigeria leads to civilian deaths, the United Nations begins pushing for a law that will restrain superhero activities.  This most recent example of collateral damage, added to Sokovia, New York, and other disastrous scenes of Avengers’ battles, leads politicians, the public, and even the superheroes themselves to question how much good the Avengers are accomplishing.  Tony Stark agrees to the Hero Registration Act, and other Avengers follow suit out of loyalty, practicality, or agreement.  Steve Rogers feels he cannot agree to the act with a clear conscience and becomes the leader of the dissenting superheroes.

Both Tony Stark and Steve Rogers make valid points about the new law, but they never really listen to each other or have productive conversations.  The two characters stubbornly stick to “I’m right—you’re wrong,” when the best answer is somewhere in between their two ideas.  Sadly, personality and circumstances disrupt each possibility of compromise.  Meanwhile, as the Avengers team breaks down and superheroes take sides against each other, a sinister man named Zemo manipulates them all, and Captain America is swept up in saving his friend Bucky Barnes from everyone who is pursuing Barnes for a crime for which Barnes has been framed.

Avengers teamOne of my favorite parts of the movie is the characters, which is good because there are a lot of them.  Black Panther makes his debut, proving himself an impressive hero with some surprising character qualities.  The newest “incarnation” of Spider-Man appears several times, as well, bringing some energy and humor to the film.  Viewers also have another opportunity to enjoy Ant Man and his fun personality.  Although the story briefly develops the personalities of Scarlet Witch and Vision, most of the old characters change little, and the writers surprisingly focus, not on Cap, but on Iron Man.  Tony Stark becomes a more sympathetic, but also more frustrating, character whom anger, fear, and guilt drive more than love, courage, or compassion.

Although I appreciate that Civil War has a more interesting and complicated story than its predecessors, I miss the clarity of purpose and moral sense that Captain America displays in his two previous films.  Yet, divisive plot and themes notwithstanding, Captain America: Civil War is an enjoyable movie, with lots of punchlines and interplay between the different superheroes, old and new, and plenty of fodder for those who like to think.

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Note: I will be posting another article about Captain America: Civil War in the near future in which I will look more in-depth at the themes and messages of the movie.

The Peanuts Movie

KiteFrom classic kite scenes to new and creative elements, The Peanuts Movie is a fun film.  The animated children’s movie is well-rounded in character development, story, and humor, for the scriptwriters skillfully craft familiar elements of the Peanuts comic strip into an over-arching storyline that unites the fragmentary comics into a seamless whole.

Football, snow days, Red Baron duels, the Little Red-Haired Girl, and Snoopy’s typewriter all make appearances in the film.  Yet, while The Peanuts Movie alludes to the previous short films with Christmas carolers and pumpkin references, there are many new elements.  For example, there are moments when some little event spirals into a distinctive part of the comics, and when viewers think to themselves, “So that’s how the Red Baron storyline started.”  (Note: As I am not an expert on Peanuts, I don’t actually know how each storyline began, but The Peanuts Movie presents plausible scenarios.)

The Peanuts Movie is more than nostalgia and references to the past, however, for it has its own unique elements.  Charlie Brown becomes a developed and sympathetic character.  In spite of failures, he keeps going, and without realizing it, he’s always achieving and succeeding at what matters most.  While the roles and characters of Lucy and Linus are more downplayed than in past stories, Snoopy and the Little Red-Haired Girl join Charlie on center stage.  Snoopy and typewriterMy impression of Snoopy has always been negative; he seems to be 95% mean and annoying, at least in his roles in the two Christmas short films and in many Peanuts comics I have read.  Although vestiges of these characteristics remain, Snoopy turns out to be a good friend to Charlie Brown and a very imaginative daydreamer.  Finally, the Little Red-Haired Girl has an interesting character.  She has no name, and the audience knows almost nothing about her, yet the scriptwriters gradually reveal that she is sweet and nice—if only Charlie Brown could summon the courage to introduce himself!  But such things are easier written than accomplished, as the movie demonstrates.

In addition to a fun storyline and excellent character development, The Peanuts Movie also has good messages.  Charlie Brown discovers popularity isn’t as important as it seems and doesn’t change who a person is underneath.  As Charlie Brown struggles with what he calls “a serious case of inadequacy,” I appreciate his honesty with himself (“Quotes”).  Too often people promote “self-esteem” and self-confidence over humility, and the movie reminds us that we aren’t always going to be successful or feel “adequate.”  Everyone has Charlie Brown moments, but few people can swallow their pride and face their problems as he does.

Lucy and Charlie“If you really want to impress people, you need to show them you’re a winner,” Lucy advises Charlie at one point in the film (“Quotes”).  In an unexpected twist, Lucy is right, though not in the way she intended.  While Charlie Brown never really loses his chronic inadequacy and tendency to failure, he does show people that he’s a winner: someone who doesn’t give up and who is humble, honest, sympathetic, and kind even when it means sacrifice on his part.  In the end, Charlie Brown does impress people, but not with the kind of success he, or Lucy, would have imagined.

Works Cited

The Peanuts Movie (2015) Quotes.”  IMDb.com.  2016.  Internet Movie Database.  14 Jun. 2016 <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2452042/trivia?tab=qt&ref_=tt_trv_qu&gt;.

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