Gaming Gallery 7 – Marvel’s Spider-Man

Spider-Man is an action/adventure game from Insomniac Games for the PlayStation 4. You are placed in the shoes of Peter Parker as he does whatever a spider can around New York City. Like most games of this generation, there is a photo mode and it just may be my favorite one yet. Here are some of my shots I’ve taken throughout the game so far.

Selfies:

Shots around New York:

Like many games with photo modes, it’s so easy to get caught up in capturing these moments. This is one I highly recommend!

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Spider-Man: Homecoming – DeaconsDen Review

After a 3 year absence Spidey is back on the big screen in his own film. Spider-Man: Homecoming is the second reboot of the cinematic Spider-Man and his first solo film as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The last time we saw our friendly, neighborhood webhead, was last year's Captain America: Civil War. There we were introduced to this version of the character played by Tom Holland. Although brief, the character and actor were certainly highlights for that film and now we travel to Queens, NY to see the next chapter of Peter Parker's superhero career.


Although Spider-Man: Homecoming takes place early in Peter's time as Spider-Man, it is not covering old ground with his origin. We've gotten that twice with both Sam Raimi's 2002 "Spider-Man" and 2012's "The Amazing Spider-Man" directed by Marc Webb. Here we get a film about Peter learning to be a hero. He's young, excited and eager to help people. He's not that good at it either. He makes mistakes. A few mistakes actually. Other than being enlisted by Tony Stark to take on Captain America, he hasn't had much experience in crime fighting. That's all soon to change however.

Spider-Man: Homecoming really feels like an issue of the 1960s comic series (obviously set in the here and now). It's exuberant and funny. Thrilling and inspiring. I really associate it best with the animated series "The Spectacular Spider-Man." That show (which I wrote about), gave a split focus to Spider-Man and Peter Parker. Specifically the impact being Spider-Man has on Peter's life at home and school. This film feels most like that. In order for that to work, you have to have a great cast and we certainly get that here.

We have a group of characters that present a believable experience in high school. They go about their lives in the way that high schoolers would. I found it quite sincere. Also I want to give credit to superhero veteran Michael Keaton who gives a very human performance as Vulture. There's a moment in the film between him and Peter that matches any of the big scale set pieces in terms of suspense.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a homecoming indeed. Spidey is back in the overall Marvel film fold with an action packed but also very human adventure where a young man simply wants to prove his worth.

Final Rating (3/4)

Film Review: Logan


There is a scene halfway through James Mangold’s Logan that has the main character trio of Logan, Charles Xavier and Laura (Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Dafne Keen respectively) sitting at a dinner table. A moment’s peace from the hell they have been going through for most of the film. It is moments like these sprinkled throughout the bloody action that make Logan a shining example of what films based on comic books can be.


Logan is the tenth film in the X-Men film series as well as the third and final film of the Wolverine trilogy. It also marks the final performance for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, a role he has played since 2000. And what a find send-off his character gets in this film.

The film takes place in the year 2029. Mutants are almost extinct as no new ones have been born in over 20 years. Logan is past his prime. His mutant healing factor is becoming less effective with each injury he sustains. He works as a limo driver while driving across borders to care for his old mentor Charles Xavier. After the arrival of agents of the Transigen Project, Logan is thrust into one final stand as he must protect a young Mutant named Laura. Now the former X-Man embarks on a cross country excursion that is more than a simple mission.

As a film Logan has a lot more going for it than it does against it. One thing that I enjoyed about it was the blending of genres. This is not a superhero film on par with previous X-Men installments. This is modern western with superhero characters. It has much more in common in terms of tonal presentation with a film such as Hell or High Water than it does with X-Men: Apocalyspe. Gamers will also take note of its similarities to the title The Last of Us. This decision allows director Mangold (who also helmed 2013’s The Wolverine which I loved as well), to tell the story that needs to be told. 

The main trio is superb in their roles. It might be easy to praise Jackman considering he’s played the role for almost 20 years. Yet he brings such a weight of regret to the character that we haven’t seen before. In the previous films he’s tried to remember who he is. By the time the events of Logan come around, he’s questioning his whole purpose. He feels his body giving out and he just wants to get away from a life that he now feels had no meaning. 


Patrick Stewart also reinvigorates his role as Charles Xavier. Now losing his mind to a degenerative brain disease, Charles relishes what time he has left and longs for Logan to for once take some joy in his life and be proud of what he has accomplished. Another positive is Stephen Merchant as Caliban. He brings a nuanced perspective that balances the hopeful Xavier and the cynical Logan.

Last but not least, is Dafne Keen as Laura/X23. It was very refreshing to see Mangold not present her in the role of the precocious child sidekick. Instead Keen shows quite the acting range despite not speaking for a majority of the film. Her facial expressions and body language say everything you need to know about her. 

Even though I’m praising the film, it isn’t perfect. The final third of the film is a little weaker than the rest. The shift is sort of similar to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. If you’ve seen that film you should understand what I mean. The film introduces an element that I felt Logan wasn’t as strongly connected to. The scenes work, yet the emotional building that had worked up during the film was sort of restarted at that point. Another weak point is the antagonists. Boyd Holbrook as Donald Pierce is charming, but Transigen as a whole is nothing impressive from a writing standpoint. I would venture to say that they are simply a vehicle to move the story along. The real villain of the story is Logan’s regret and doubt. 

One thing I keep hearing is how Logan “transcends the superhero genre.” I don’t think that’s true. It’s a great film,  but what it is is it’s own film. It doesn’t fit into those standard conventions because it’s not trying to tell that story. This is something that I look forward to in regards to seeing some of these characters brought to the screen. Crossing genre lines. Mangold had a slight grasp on this with The Wolverine.

Logan is a great film. It is emotionally gripping and contains some great action. We see the final chapter in the life of a man question was it worth it?  A film that achieves a balance of visceral action and heartfelt character moments.

Final Rating (3.5/4)


Film Review: X-Men Apocalypse 


The second X-Men film of 2016 is here. Following on the heels of the totally awesome and successful Deadpool, can Marvel’s main mutants maintain their place on movie screens?

X-Men Apocalypse takes place in the 1980s. This continues the period piece trend that began in the 1960s with 2011’s X-Men: First Class and proceeded into the 1970s with 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. The story involves the return of the ancient mutant En Sabah Nur (the titular Apocalypse) and his quest to cleanse the world of weakness and rebuild it in his image with mutants in charge and himself worshiped as a god. That just may be the shortest plot synopsis I’ve written this year. Mostly because there’s nothing new under the sun with this entry into the series. And you know what? That was fine with me as I enjoyed this for some superhero action and my expectations were met.As I stated earlier the plot is pretty self-explanatory and even if you don’t see this movie in theaters, you’ll probably guess everything that’s gonna happen. Apocalypse may be the title of the film, but this is really about the formation of the X-Men that we mostly are familiar with. We have younger versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm and Nightcrawler to go with the veterans of Professor X, Magneto, Mystique and Beast.


All members of the cast do a decent job in their roles. The heart of the characters of course belong to the roles of Charles and Erik. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender continue to own these roles and bring such dimensions to both of them. Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult hold down the fort again as Mystique and Beast. Evan Peters steals the show for the second consecutive film as Quicksilver and Oscar Issac takes a break from Star Wars to play Apocalypse. The newcomers which include Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Sansa Stark herself, Games of Thrones’ Sophie Turner get the bulk of the screen time. I would have liked to get more from Alexandra Shipp’s Storm. Hopefully we get more in the next film. 

 If you like CGI in your movies you will get that in spades. I don’t usually consider the presence of CGI as a negative unless it’s badly implemented. In this case it’s nothing out of the ordinary. 


As I said earlier this is pretty straightforward film. There isn’t too much underneath as far as themes or drama. I will say that I really enjoyed the final act, because it sort of came full circle from the events in X-Men: First Class.

So in a nutshell, X-Men: Apocalypse plays it pretty safe. This isn’t on the level of X-Men: The Last Stand or X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but it isn’t on the level of First Class or Days of Future Past either. It sits somewhere in the middle. It offers superhero action that kept me entertained from start to finish and that’s alright with me.

Final Rating – 3/5 (Not near the best of the series, not near the worst of the series.)

Film Review – Captain America: Civil War


The third phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicks off with a film inspired by the 2007 Marvel Comics storyline “Civil War.” I was a tiny bit skeptical about this one. Not that I don’t think that Marvel Studios wouldn’t do a good job, rather that with the smaller amount of characters involved the impact may not have been as strong as it did in the comics. Skepticism should never have entered my mind. This film met and surpassed my expectations and while it may be too early to say, has taken the top spot on my MCU rankings. What held the title? Captain America: The Winter Soldier. That movie was a high bar and this one basically set a new bar. 

Taking place in the aftermath of Age of Ultron, Civil War has the Avengers facing government accountability for all their actions after a mission in Lagos goes terribly awry. The United Nations comes together to issue the Sokovia Accords which would let the Avengers know when and where they should step in. Steve Rogers is in opposition to these terms as he feels the team works best when not under the thumb of any entity but themselves. Tony Stark is in favor of the oversight, feeling that the fallout of their actions is too great. Their conflict on this splinters the team. To add fuel to the fire, Cap’s friend Bucky (The Winter Soldier) is a wanted man after a bombing at the UN kills King T’Chaka of Wakanda leaving his son T’Challa as the new king.


Directors Joe and Anthony Russo continue using the political backdrop as a setting in the vein of 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They know how to take this complex genre and make it even more complex with the addition of superheroes. This makes for a great ideological drama between Rogers and Stark, further complicated by the situation with Bucky. 

I loved this film. I loved both the action and the acting. Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr both bring such gravitas to their roles. As you watch how things deteriorate between them you really see the results of the reverse character arcs they have been on since their characters first films. The rest of our Avengers veterans (Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen) are superb as usual and for the most part do a decent job showing us who they side with and why. 

I wanted to bring special mention to the two stand outs of the Civil War cast, Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther and Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Boseman as the Prince, later King of Wakanda brings a stoic gracefulness to the role and that carries over when he appears as Black Panther. Even his fighting style is as graceful as his diplomacy is. Holland on the other hand displays quite the youthful exuberance as Spider-Man. He actually reminds me in a way of the Spectacular Spider-Man version of Parker. I felt I could see the excitement on his face as he met the team for the first time.The action sequences are a step up in my opinion from Winter Soldier. As great as that film was it appeared to have been just slightly influenced by the shaky cam style of fight scenes. By no means was it the worst example of that but it did at times make the action a bit hard to follow for me. Civil War on the other hand has nice fluid action that I was able to follow. In addition the dialogue was well written and other than your standard MCU jokes, never felt cheesy. Especially in the final confrontation, you see not so much the enmity, but rather hurt between Tony and Steve. As a viewer you realize both have presented viewpoints that make you not want to pick a side even if you have before you sat down in the theater.


The only aspect of the film that I felt was weak was the film’s villain. I won’t disclose who it is since it wasn’t revealed in any trailers, but while I understand the motivations of their actions, it felt almost inconsequential. You could have removed that aspect of the story and it would not have made any difference.Knowing that the comic book storyline had some immediate changes for the Marvel universe, I was concerned that this wouldn’t have consequences for the movie universe. Considering that the MCU is heading toward the battle with Thanos in Infinity War, would this change anything before we get to that moment? It certainly does and I am even more hooked into the upcoming films to see how the Avengers can recover as we draw closer to meeting the Mad Titan.


Captain America: Civil War is for me an automatic top tier MCU entry. There is action aplenty and most importantly a conflict that threatens to tear apart characters we care about from within. It kind of makes Ultron’s words about doing that a little more poignant. The MCU has changed now and I can’t wait for what’s next.

Final Rating (4.5/5) Only weakness involves the villain’s storyline. It doesn’t however detract from the rest of the movie. It just felt a little pointless. Other than that. Fantastic movie!

Film Review – Deadpool

They finally really did it. The Merc with a Mouth has made his cinematic debut. We won’t speak of things in the past (A certain movie in a certain series that we just won’t mention). Honestly Deadpool is a character I never would have thought would make it to the screen. I never really knew if his appeal was that far reaching. I’ve always enjoyed the antics of Wade Wilson, but Deadpool’s nature may or may not be appealing to others. So how does this superhero-action-comedy stack up?

If you’ve seen the trailers or tv spots for Deadpool you might think you’ve seen it all and there is nothing new. Believe it or not the trailers did not simply showcase all the best material. Clocking in at just under 2 hours Deadpool is crazy, stupid comic book fun with some pretty decent fight choreography and at times can be a bit touching. 

 The movie opens with a pretty funny opening title sequence that pokes fun at both the current state of superhero films and also Hollywood in general. I found it pretty funny. After that we get into the story.

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a mercenary. Yet despite the title, he actually has a bit of an honest streak. Early in the film he meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), an escort with who he hits it off instantly. This is one of the parts of the film that I say was actually quite touching. It isn’t the standard, star-studded way of showing a romance on screen. A line spoke by Wade indicates that “her crazy matches his crazy.” At first meeting the two have a banter back and forth about who had the harder childhood. It actually come off really sweet and adds realism to their relationship. Not to turn this review in a relationship piece but I think we all know that not every love story as the same standard formula. 

 Wade is diagnosed with terminal cancer and he wishes to spare Vanessa the pain of seeing him die. He crosses path with Francis aka Ajax ( Ed Skrein) who offers a chance to cure his cancer. He accepts and in the process discovers he has a healing factor that cures his cancer but leaving him with a disfigured body and practically immortal. He then commences his hunt for Francis to fix his condition.

 As far as casting goes this was perfect for Ryan Reynolds. I actually thought he was fine as Hal Jordan, but Green Lantern had a whole array of issues not connected to him. Morena Baccarin also was well cast. She and Reynolds have great chemistry and bring believability to Wade and Vanessa’s love. Ed Skrein as Francis is alright. There’s nothing special about his character nor his performance. Another Marvel villain par for the course cinematically. The same goes for Brianna Hildebrand and Stefan Kapicic as Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Colossus respectively. Gina Carano plays Angel Dust with imposing physical presence, but also not much to do. Two supporting highlights are Leslie Uggams as Blind Al and TJ Miller as Wade’s friend Weasel. These two are pretty damn funny and have great comedic timing.Although the story is a standard origin story, as a viewer I did not care because Deadpool never takes itself that serious as a superhero epic. It actually can stand alone if it wanted to since everything pretty much wrapped up by the end. 

 The movie also has some pretty nice action sequences. The scenes are never to fast or frantic for viewers to take in. Even when Deadpool is jumping all around, it has a fluid feeling and its brutal in its violence, but never revels in it. Heads and limbs are cut off throughout but it never bashes you over the head or feels at all uncomfortable. There’s no point in criticizing the CGI Colossus since the movie brings attention to that at the beginning. For those afraid of the film being overdone with Deadpool-isms need not worry as it knows when and when not to indulge.

I wouldn’t call Deadpool a game-changer in the superhero film genre. I can say that perhaps this will convince not only Marvel but DC as well to give some consideration to their more mature properties on a theatrical scale. Deadpool does what Deadpool does with some very entertaining results. It’s not The Avengers by any means. You are not going to be able to dig deep into the layers of Wade Wilson and find this story some commentary on whatever is going on in the world. I can say this however, if you want an entertaining, adult oriented superhero movie, you can’t go wrong with Deadpool. It’s just fun. 

 Final Rating (4.5/5) Weak villain and not much from the X-Men sidekicks, but that never really detracts from the movie. Funny with some really well done action and actually can be a bit heartfelt and touching. 

 

A Meeting of the Minds: Marvel Comics Hip-Hop Variants

I love comics. I love Marvel Comics. I love music. I love Hip-Hop. Well Marvel has taken these things I love and mashed them together for a special blend of superheroes and music. For each of their new #1 issues following the Secret Wars Event, Marvel has released a variant cover based on a hip-hop album covers from past and present. I saw that they were doing this and had to get in. I did not get all of them, but here are a few that I have gotten that I am pleased to share.

Doctor Strange #1 – Cover based on The Chronic by Dr. Dre 

 
The Astonishing Ant-Man #1 – Cover based on Ready to Die by The Notorious B.I.G. 

 

The Invincible Iron Man #1 – Cover based on Get Rich or Die Tryin by 50 Cent 

 
Amazing Spider-Man #1 – Cover based on Midnight Marauders by A Tribe Called Quest 

 
Spider-Gwen #1 – Cover based on The Great Adventures of Slick Rick by Slick Rick 

 
Contest of Champions #1 – Cover based on Liquid Swords by GZA