Tag Archives: Ben Mendelsohn

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Marvel Studios Releases New Details on Hawkeye, Shang-Chi, Captain Marvel 2, Armor Wars, Ironheart, Secret Invasion… and Fantastic Four!

During the Disney investor presentation, numerous announcements were made as to what to expect from Marvel Studios over the next years. Numerous first looks were released and updates to movies, television shows, and a whole lot of reveals.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has wrapped its production. The film is in theaters July 9, 2021.

Brie Larson will return as Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel in Captain Marvel 2. Nia DaCosta will direct the film and Larson will be joined by Iman Vellani, the new Ms. Marvel, and Teyonah Parris who will play Monica Rambeau. Parris will debut as the character in WandaVision.

Captain Marvel 2 will fly into theaters November 11, 2022.

Hawkeye is currently filming. Jeremy Renner returns as the character and will be joined by Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop.

Additional cast include Vera Farmiga, Fra Fee, and newcomer Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez, with episodes directed by Rhys Thomas and directing duo Bert and Bertie.

Tatiana Maslany is now confirmed as Jennifer Walters/She-Hulk… and Tim Roth is joining her!? Roth returns as the Abomination. Mark Ruffalo will also appear on the Disney+ series. It will be directed by Kat Coiro and Anu Valia.

Moon Knight is confirmed though no more details have been released.

Samuel L. Jackson is back as Nick Fury in the Disney+ series, Secret Invasion. Ben Mendelsohn will return as well as the Skrull Talos.

Dominique Thorne will step into the armor as Riri Williams in Ironheart! The character is coming to a series soon on Disney+.

Ironheart and… Armor Wars!? Don Cheadle suits up again as James Rhodes, aka War Machine. The classic story comes to the small screen of Disney+ as Tony Stark’s fear of his tech falling into the wrong hands comes true.

Hopefully it’ll be as much of a trainwreck as the Star Wars special, but in 2022 we’re getting The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special directed and written by James Gunn. You’ll be able to watch it on Disney+.

I am Groot! Baby Groot will get a series of shorts on Disney+.

Christian Bale has officially joined the cast of Thor: Love and Thunder as the villain Gorr the God Butcher. This will have a major impact on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thor: Love and Thunder comes to theaters on May 6, 2022.

Peyton Reed will return to direct the third Ant-Man film, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, and Michelle Pfeiffer all return. Kathryn Newton joins the cast as Cassie Lang and Jonathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror.

And… the Fantastic Four are coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe directed by Jon Watts!

Movie Review: Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel isn’t here for your sexist bullshit. In fact, the latest addition to the MCU gives absolutely zero f@#ks about your agenda or preconceptions as it just unleashes its first Omega-level hero on an unsuspecting and unprepared world. While the script and directing are a little clunkier than other recent MCU masterpieces, I don’t think Ms. Carol Danvers would want us ranking her or pitting her against her fellow heroes. And any problems with the pacing of the first act are more than made up for with a hugely satisfying, explosive finale.

Here’s the deal, geeks– we’re spoiled rotten with the likes of Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok . When something doesn’t quite measure up to those levels, it’s easy to dismiss or criticize. While I have a lot of measured criticisms of the film’s pacing and action choices, the best thing we can learn from Captain Marvel is she’s not here for your approval. She’s not here to smile at you. She’s not here to be compared to your other films and heroes. She’s here to kick ass and save the world. And that’s about it.

But as a film critic, critique I must, but making sure we don’t fall prey to easy sexist traps that have largely infected a lot of mainstream publications’ reviews of this. I’m especially looking at both right wing rags like the National Review and a lot of the (fragile)-white-male-dominated online geek press. Let’s get over ourselves and just enjoy this movie, because (shocking, I know!) not everything needs to be made for us.

Our titular hero (Brie Larson) begins the film as a warrior for the Kree Imperium with the codename Vers and a case of terrible amnesia that she can’t remember anything before six years ago. Alongside Yon-Rogg (Jude Law) and a team of Kree elite commandos, they are engaged in a long-term war against the Skrulls, a race of shape-shifting aliens. When she encounters Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), a Skrull leader, she begins to have strange flashbacks leading her to believe she had a life on Earth. where she then finds herself stranded in 1995 Los Angeles. She teams up with a young SHIELD agent named Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to stop the Skrull infiltration of Earth. Or so it would seem. . . as the shape-shifting abilities of the Skrulls and their conflict with the Kree are much wider than we thought, and this bleeds into major pieces of the broader MCU.

Fans are going to get a lot of service here, which is one of the main problems with any sort of prequel: the need to explain how everything came to be. The movie keeps poking and prodding at the broader universe, including multiple gags where they seem to be joking “Oh, so that’s how Nick Fury lost his eye.” It’s similar to the old episode of Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law where they explain the origin of Stephen Colbert’s Phil Ken Sebben and his iconic eyepatch injury where for several minutes straight he’s pointing sharp objects at his eye. We get the joke.

But the fanservice that does work is the tie-in to the broader MCU. No spoilers, but the payoff by the end, once we know what is actually happening? It’s like finding that one puzzle piece which reveals what the larger section is all about. It should go without saying, but remember to stick around through the credits for both a mid-credits scene that directly ties into Avengers: Endgame and a post-credits scene that bridges Captain Marvel to the events of The Avengers.

Oh, and Stan Lee. The opening for the film and its iconic Marvel comics image flip has been replaced entirely with Stan’s cameos, and a small dedication of the film to Stan the Man himself. This film also contains one of the most interesting Stan Lee cameos ever. It’s a little mindbending and I’m going to need time to wrap my head around it completely.

But perhaps what’s most surprising is the underlying meaning the film brings. Brie Larson’s cold, dispassionate delivery and demeanor makes it harder to connect with our hero, but that is entirely the point. This is what we tell women to do to succeed in a man’s world: don’t be emotional. Be sexy and available, but not too much or you’re a slut. But especially as a member of the Kree Starforce, she’s told to act without emotion. This is what war does to our soldiers. This is what war does to us.

The saying goes that the first casualty in war is the truth. And so we are challenged by this film to confront some uncomfortable truths about the stories we tell ourselves about war and ourselves as warriors. The overwhelming feeling I’m left with is this: maybe the United States of America are the Kree. Maybe we’re animated by hatred and xenophobia more than we’d like to admit. Maybe we empower genocidal maniacs (like a too-briefly appearing Ronan the Accuser) through our war-mongering.

And what snaps our hero out of it? Learning her human past. Reconnecting with her best friend and flight partner Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch), the real secret weapon of this film. Rambeau shows us — and Carol — that she can be maternal and nurturing while also being a badass hero in her own right. It’s the quieter moments in Captain Marvel that work the best, which is maybe why we don’t give it the praise it deserves. Everything we’re criticizing the film for is actually a criticism of what patriarchy and war do to women, do to us. Maybe we should focus less on comparisons to Thor: Ragnarok and focus more on what the deliberate choices the filmmakers made in the first half of the film as a mirror of everything that’s wrong with us.

And then there’s that 90’s soundtrack. As a child of the 80’s and an adolescent of the 90’s (Go Team Xennial!!) there is nothing more precious to me than bands like Garbage, REM, and Nine Inch Nails that put me right back in that time and place. There’s also a surprising amount of pop R&B for a nice counterbalance. Watch for an article about the soundtrack coming soon, but beware– while some of the songs are not spoilers, per se, I think you miss out on the nice reaveals of a couple of them, especially a late scene with the Kree Supreme Intelligence and a climactic battle scene set to a specifically iconic mid 90’s bop that is going to drive the haters absolutely mad.

Speaking of? Haters– die mad about all of it. Take your lame attempts to tank the Rotten Tomatoes score and go die in a fire. Captain Marvel is definitely worth seeing, seeing on a giant screen with an amazing sound system that really lets you feel the groove of Elastica’s “Connection.” So go do it, and don’t let reservations that “Oh, but it’s not as good as Black Panther” worry you. Did that keep people from seeing Aquaman? Stick around for the finale– and maybe let Carol Danvers’ words resonate with you as she emancipates herself from Kree control and directly gives a giant middle finger to toxic masculinity that could’ve come out of the pages of a Riot Grrrl alt-weekly.

I can’t wait for Carol Danvers to show up in Endgame. She’s going to save everyone. ‘Nuff said.

3.75 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Captain Marvel Takes Off But Doesn’t Quite Soar

Captain Marvel
Captain Marvel (2019) poster CR: Marvel Studios

The first sure to be blockbuster of the year, Marvel‘s Captain Marvel is an entertaining film that never quite reaches its full potential. Based on the comics character, Captain Marvel is a new take on the classic character of Carol Danvers. Here, she’s a Kree warrior, part of their Starforce, doing battle with Skrulls, a race of shapeshifting aliens who infiltrate societies before destroying them.

The film is an interesting one that even as I write this, I’m still trying to digest and process. There’s lots of good. There’s lots of bad. And a whole lot of middle ho-hum. In the growing library of Marvel films, it’s somewhere in the middle as far as quality.

The film acts as a prequel in a way, taking place in the 90s and introducing the character of Carol Danvers who we haven’t seen up to this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film feels like a piece of the bigger puzzle, never quite standing on its own, and at times stretching for winks and nods to make the fans happy.

Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck with a “story by” and “screenplay by” Boden and Fleck (Meg LeFauve and Nicole Perlman get “story by” credits and Geneva Robertson-Dworet gets “story by” and “screenplay by” credits) the movie has a lot going for it but also has some misfires as well.

Breaking from the usual narrative structure, the film is one of discovery where the “hero” attempts to figure out their “human side” as opposed the regular schmo discovering they’re a hero. With lots of action sequences, the film is Carol, played by Brie Larson, attempting to discover her past and stop the Skrulls.

Larson has the interesting task of playing a human trained by the Kree, an emotionless warrior race focused on logic. Warrior Vulcans in a way. That results in a character who doesn’t smile and doesn’t have the usual emotional latching on points we’ve seen as part of Marvel’s formula. Instead that role is given to Samuel L. Jackson‘s Nick Fury who becomes Danvers’ partner in crime as she attempts to complete her mission and discovers there’s so much to it and her. In this role reversal, the hero is the “straightman” with the sidekick the joker.

And that’s one of the interesting aspect of the film, it’s focus on Larson’s Danvers being “too emotional.” Part of the undeserved hate against the film is Larson’s lack of smiling in promotional material. She’s not supposed to, she’s Kree, they don’t show emotion. And that aspect brings out the film’s underlying theme of toxic masculinity and how women are treated in society. We see through flashbacks and other scenes Danvers is held back and told to not be emotional. One can just look at the reaction to female politicians to see there’s messed up societal standards when it comes to that.

The film, in many ways, feels like a woman attempting to break free from expectations. She’s also told this growing up. She’s trained to use logic over emotion. Not letting emotion get the better of her. And then eventually, saying screw that to unleash her inner awesome that she’s bottled up. It’s a middle finger to the “traditional norms” that today are being confronted in so many ways.

And that as a viewer had me experience something I haven’t before, trouble connecting with the hero. As a straight, white, man, I’ve never had someone tell me not to be emotional (beyond not crying) or I couldn’t do something due to my gender (I have had that due to my height but then I’d just get angry and go off, so once again, emotional for guys is totally ok apparently) so to see Carol being told over and over to not be angry or she couldn’t do something because she’s a woman, it’s an experience I’ve never had. And it made it hard to connect and enjoy her journey. I have no doubt that many others who will see this film will be able to relate to her experiences and will enjoy the film in a whole other way than me (this is also a good thing, not everything she be geared towards my demographic).

But, that disconnect between myself and the main character, the lack of quips of the hero, made me rely on the action for enjoyment and there the film is all over.

The direction of Boden and Fleck is too choppy at times relying on quick camera cuts making it difficult to follow exactly what’s going on. It’s not until the big CGI finale does the camera slow down, allowing the audiences to take in more of the action and enjoy it. Early fights are difficult to tell exactly what’s happening and it’s hard to tell if this is by choice or due to the difficulty of the setting. It’s most prevelant in a scene taking place on the metro.

The film also lacks the “f@#k yeah” moment until 3/4 of the way in. It’s a long wait for the hero to really come forward and show her inner awesome. It’s also a complete change from previous Marvel films which feel like they’re almost built to show off the character’s abilities in set time frames in a set narrative beat. The lack of that for most of the film is a change which honestly I’m still not completely used to. Compare this to Wonder Woman which gives us the beat on the beach, No Man’s Land, and the end of the film. It’s a different type of narrative that stands out from the at this point rather formulaic Marvel method.

The film being a prequel helps and hurts it. It uses that to get long time Marvel fans interested with the inclusion of Fury (how did he lose the eye!?) and Clark Gregg‘s Coulson. Reveals are a plenty tying the film in nicely to the Marvel Cinematic Universe but at times these reveals feel forced and a bit unnatural. Also, some of those reveals don’t feel like much as far as payoffs.

The supporting cast is other really good or rather wasted. Ben Mendelsohn as Talos steals the show with a fantastic performance (though Skrulls with British accents are weird, don’t know why). Jude Law as Yon-Rogg plays an emotionless Kree well and unintentionally adds a “good” moment when he gets his considering his not great past with women.

While Djimon Hounsou as Korath has much more screen time than he did in Guardians of the Galaxy his inclusion is still a bit head-scratching. Lee Pace as Ronan feels like he’s only included to tie the film into what has come before. Annette Bening‘s role is an interesting one and the less said the better but… I want more Annette Bening.

The rest of Starforce are solid with Gemma Chan as Minn -Erva really standing out. Lashanna Lynch as Maria Rambeau brings a lot of heart to the film and we better see more of Akira Akbar who plays her daughter. That combination had me excited for what could come.

The film is an interesting one and its themes and the topics it touches upon are ones that can be debated for some time. Beyond the toxic masculinity, there’s the obvious look at the war machine and deeper concepts whose discussion would spoil parts of the film.

There’s a lot done right here and in many ways breaks the Marvel mold and formula. It’s a film I have no doubt will have an audience that will celebrate it and enjoy it and even before opening has its haters. I’m somewhere in between. I can appreciate what it does and attempts to do and also see its flaws. I also recognize not all films are for me and this could be one of them.

Overall Rating: 7.0

Movie Review: Ready Player One

We’re awash in nostalgia.

With nearly all of Hollywood’s tentpole films this year devoted to sequels, reboots, and remakes, it can begin to feel like our culture is merely remixing the past, with the internet leading the way as we meme our way into a space somewhere between South Park‘s “member berries” and Star Trek‘s “Darmok.”

That is to say our nostalgia has a currency to it, and some of it is baseless circle-jerking, (‘Member Star Wars? Oh, I ‘member!) or “member berries” for short.

And some of it passes on important meaning, emotion, and lessons that can be best expressed by a cultural metaphor or meme (Darmok and Jilad at Tinagra.) See? some of you probably teared up a little at that reference. Because it conveyed something more than just the nostalgia itself.

So, in steps Steven Spielberg — whose name is basically a meme in itself — to direct the adaptation of Ernest Cline‘s novel about a dystopian near-future where everyone has retreated from a crappy real world to the comforts of The OASIS, a massive virtual reality video game where you can be and do anything. Upon the death of the OASIS’s creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance), he reveals he has hidden an “Easter Egg” within the game, and whoever finds it first by completing three challenges and collecting three keys, will inherit sole control over The OASIS.

Our hero Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) is an easter egg hunter, or Gunter, who has devoted his life to studying Halliday and all of the pop culture and video games he loved, especially from the 1980’s. He and his friends end up on the trail of the egg, battling along their way evil corporation IOI, their limitless virtual resources, and its ruthless CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn).

pooh piglet darmok

The first question is, how does it compare to the book? Throw away all of your expectations and most of the plot of the book. This is almost wholly different in terms of plot points, but somehow manages to capture the spirit of the book’s challenges better than the source material itself.

A major criticism of Cline’s prose is that it is an almost relentless onslaught of references. It also is hugely problematic in that it is essentially a male power fantasy wish fulfillment engine fueled by our collective nostalgia for the 80’s and 90’s.

Nostalgia is a heady elixir, and one which we should understand if we are to put it in its proper place. The word itself comes from greek roots — “algia” meaning pain (eg, fibromyalgia, nueralgia, etc) and “nostos” meaning to return home.

We ache for a place that we wish we could get back to, but, as the saying goes, you can never go home again. The current wave of 80’s nostalgia seems almost insane to someone who was actually there — social and economic conservatism, economic torpor, the cold war, and, yeah you had cool music and movies, but only as an escape from reality.

And in the 80’s you had a revival of nostalgia for another inexplicable time period: the 1950’s. It’s worth pointing out that to many Boomers entering their cultural heyday in the 80’s would mean a longing look back at their childhoods through films like Back to the Future and Stand By Me. So, seeing our current fascination with the 80’s and 90’s as the exact same phenomenon, but now it’s Gen X and Millenials looking back, helps put it into context.

But the most important thing to remember about all of this is it is never as good as you remember it. Cline’s work was always nostalgia-forward, hoping to plaster over any plot or character problems with warm feelings about Star Wars and John Hughes. And it largely worked, but it was more member berries and less Darmok.

Spielberg, on the other hand, is able to tease out the essence of what made the book great and concoct a new cocktail of kid-friendly adventure (his specialty) and dystopian revolution where the nostalgia bomb works to propel characters and situations forward rather than miring them in cultural onanism. It’s character and theme forward rather than nostalgia forward. And the cultural references play more as Darmok, such as when Wade talks about one of Halliday’s favorite movie quotes from Richard Donner’s Superman, “Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.”

The best example of this is a section in the middle of the film where our heroes have to find a key hidden in a recreation of the Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Whereas in the novel, Wade had to “play through” the clunky-and-not-as-good-as-you-remember-it-I-promise War Games as Matthew Broderick’s character (and later through Monty Python and the Holy Grail), the on-screen version was more about elucidating the best pieces of  The Shining, again, as a sort of cultural currency. It’s almost as if it’s Spielberg’s chance to fanboy-out over something– as though he is Halliday leading us through something he loves. The care and beauty in this sequence is unmatched anywhere else in the film as filmmaker and material almost become one.

That’s not to say the rest of the film is bad. But it does seem a little more pedestrian, but perhaps in the way Spielberg is able to use a light touch to bring the best of his back catalog to life. Because that’s ultimately what nostalgia is — a sense of missing or loss or want of something that never actually was. It’s not that Spielberg’s work as director or executive producer was always so perfect or important, but that time has imbued it with meaning. Exhibit A is a movie like Hook, which was savaged by critics and not a huge success, but which holds a special place in the heart of so many people today.

Perhaps the best departure from the book is the film’s treatment of its female protagonists. Elite (l337) video gamer Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) is shown to be just as much a hero in her own right as Wade’s “Parzival” and given much more to do in the film than the book, where she was somewhat relegated to a “digital manic pixie dream girl” and “girlfriend as reward” trope in the finale. Instead, she figures out the key that ties all of Halliday’s clues together to provide an incredibly refreshing message at the end: we should all sometimes put down our video games and spend some time outside in the real world.

And it is in the real world where real girl Samantha (nee Art3mis) saves both the film and the world. She also has a real-life grudge against megacorp IOI that helps tease out the film’s dystopian themes, hopefully making us think of current problems with net neutrality, income inequality, payday lenders, etc, etc. She grounds the film. She’s the real hero, even if we’re focusing on Wade a little too much.

And what film would work without a great villain? Mendelsohn’s Sorrento is a delight in how evil he is. And yet, like all great villains, he truly believes that what he’s doing is right. Much like another film that mashed together references and universes, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,  Nolan Sorrento is very much like Judge Doom. Doom wants his freeway full of billboards and suburban sprawl to replace the simplicity of public transportation on the redcar. Sorrento wants to replace a largely free-to-play experience with tiered service and advertising — and it’s worth noting through the film that almost any time you see an advertisement in the real world, it’s for IOI.

Ready Player One isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a lot of fun. Its technical wizardry is unsurpassed. And at its heart is a filmmaker in a perfect zen state able to balance nostalgia and fun without overplaying his hand. In thirty years, kids who were born in the 2000s will be talking about Ready Player One in the same hushed, reverential tones 80’s and 90’s kids talk about The Goonies or Jurassic Park.  And hopefully we take the film’s message to heart — of living in the real world and putting aside our escapism to try to confront real world dystopian nightmares — and make sure our actual 2045 has the fun and imagination of Halliday’s OASIS and none of the real world nightmares of Wade Watts’ existence. Just don’t fill up on member berries.

3.75 out of 5 stars