Welcome to New York: Far from Home with an Old Friend

Growing up in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, I dreamed of one day moving to the great New York City.

There, I thought, I could be any one I wanted to be. A tough guy living in the Bronx, a hipster artist in Brooklyn, a wall street bro in Manhattan, a…uh…whatever Staten Island is known for, and of course a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in Queens.

Okay so my obsession with the Big Apple started, and possible endured, because of Peter Parker and company. How could it not? I’ve watched, read, and even played along as Spider-Man web slings through the towering skyscrapers of the city, as he’s rested at the top of famous landmarks, and as he fought the bad guys and dodged the NYPD.

The city felt like a real character, a place as alive as any living thing. It was rough and filled with people with bad intentions. But it was also filled with friendly neighborhood Spider-Men and helpful citizens. The beauty of the city in the comics, movies, and video games is that it’s a part of Peter Parker’s DNA because it’s real and not hiding behind aliases like Gotham or Metropolis. It always felt so real and yet…oddly unobtainable.

Fast forward to this past 4th of July weekend and, in what you could call either an incredible coincidence or proof that the universe loves telling great stories, I found myself sitting in a theater in Queens, New York to watch the aptly named Spider-Man: Far From Home.

Yes I had just moved to the Big Apple a day prior and who else was there to welcome me? None other than Queens’ own Peter Parker and, yes I have to say it, we were both far from home.

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Let’s Talk About Avengers: Endgame

(Update: As of May 29, 2019, Endgame is the second highest grossing film of all-time worldwide. You’ve got some ground to make up there, DC)

We’re back again with another entry in our “Let’s Talk About” series. It feels like we’ve done more of these for Marvel movies than anything else. I’m not sure if that’s true or not (Kevin will rake me over the coals for not double-checking), but it probably has something to do with the fact that we started this blog in 2013. The Avengers was almost a year old at that point and the MCU had grown into a juggernaut that owned the box office and earned all the praise from critics. Even Thor: The Dark World did well later that year, scoring the largest opening weekend in November ever for a Disney movie (that I did look up).

If that piece of crap could do so well, the writing was on the wall that there was no stopping the MCU. To be fair, I own that piece of crap and that’s just another sign of how Marvel has us by the balls: I buy all of their movies, even if I don’t like them that much.

Kevin and I have certainly been fans this whole time and that’s why it seemed fitting that he just happened to be in Denver so that we could see Avengers: Endgame together. Marvel’s behemoth of a finale for its Infinity Saga promised to be epic. It promised to resolve years worth of storylines. But did it live up to the ridiculous level of hype surrounding it?

Now that everyone on the planet has checked this movie out, I think we are safe to dive into some spoilers and nitpick the shit out of this thing. Well, not really. We’re nicer than that and have compliments to give out too, but I promise you that nits will be picked.

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

 

Kevin: Alright Jesse, I conned you into another ‘Let’s Talk About’ blog. Honestly I only do these to get out of my responsibility of writing a review by myself. How does it feel to be Tom Sawyer’ed?

Jesse: That would imply that you tricked me into doing something unpleasant or laborious. Unless this is actually a chat about Spider-Man 3, I’m really excited to be here!

Wait, is this a chat about Spider-Man 3?

Kevin: It’s not. Unless you want to pretend we live in an alternate Spider-Verse where Spider-Man 3 was actually, you know, good. Alas, we do not, we live in the Spider-Verse that is constantly chasing the high of Spider-Man 2 and has so far given us an unnecessary reboot attempt to start a new cinematic universe, a successful attempt to work a rebooted Spider-Man into an existing cinematic universe, and a confusing attempt to start a new cinematic universe with Spider-Man’s greatest foe but without Spider-Man.

It’s been an awkward decade to be a Spider-Man fan to say the least. But being awkward is part of the charm of Spider-Man so I guess it fits. The good news is all of this awkwardness paid off and we finally got the Spider-Man, er Spider-Men…actually Spider-People…wait, Spider-Mammals that we deserve!

And listen, I know rankings are pointless and biased and overdone, so I won’t rank where Into the Spider-Verse falls in the franchise, I will just say this was simply the most fun I have EVER had with a Spider-Man movie. Is that a fair statement?

Jesse: Of course. This was a visual feast of a comic book movie, enhanced by an animation style that I don’t recall seeing before and a vibrant color palette that takes full advantage of the big screen. Throw in a banging soundtrack, a diverse and delightful voice cast and a refreshing origin story, and this was definitely the most fun that I had at a Spider-Man movie since Sam Raimi’s beloved second installment.

Most fun ever? My nostalgia for Spider-Man 2 fights me on that but how great is it that we even get to have that conversation? It only took 14 years.

From a pure enjoyment standpoint, what are some of the things about Into the Spider-Verse that give it the edge for you?

Kevin: The most fun part for me was the seemingly limitless potential of the Spider-Verse. As someone who went into the movie with limited knowledge of the pre-existing Spider-Verse, it was a ball to be thrown into so many wild and random alternate worlds. It opened up my imagination in a way that I haven’t felt since I was a kid who spent my free time drawing made-up versions of Yoshi (I’m positive I drew a Spider-Yoshi at some point).

On top of that, in addition to the visual feast you mentioned, the web slinging and battle scenes were off the charts. After years and years of the superhero movies hitting similar beats in their big action pieces, Into the Spider-Verse was a dose of fresh air. Especially the climatic battle at the end which was visually stunning and a hell of a lot of fun.

On top of that, the self-referential humor was top notch and not overly done. The entire ride from start-to-finish was a blast that you instantly want to re-watch.

I have to say my absolute favorite aspect of this movie might be the diversity it opened up to the superhero world. As someone who campaigned for Donald Glover to pick up the Spidey suit years ago, I am thrilled to see Marvel bring Miles Morales to the screen.

My question to you, seeing that this movie opened up our imaginations and paved the path for some much needed diversity, is where do you see this alternate universe thing going? Or more importantly, where do you want to see it go? Do you want a straight sequel that picks up where we left Miles? Do you want a spinoff battle royale between Spider-Ham and the Homer Simpson’s Spider-Pig? Or do you want Nicholas Cage to voice a trilogy of Spider-Man Noir?

Jesse: Oh I’m fully confident Sony will cash in on every opportunity to make more movies in this franchise. You can have more sequels with Miles, and you can have oddball spin-offs with Nicholas Cage or a showdown of Spider-Ham versus Spider-Pig. The LEGO movies milk the shit out of this formula.

With Tom Holland still portraying the live-action Spidey over in the MCU, and those movies likely making more money than any featuring yet another Spider-Man reboot at Sony would, my hunch is that Sony will want to keep it that way. In turn, I would expect they’ll do everything they can to build a franchise in the Spider-Verse.

So my answer to your question is basically “All of the Above.” Knowing how badly they’ve messed up this type of thing before, would you be worried at all about that happening again here?

Kevin: The only reason to not worry is because of how self-aware Into the Spider-Verse was. They poked fun at many of the mistakes the past Spider-Man movies have made form the endless reboots to emo dancing.

Still, movie franchises usually lose steam, they change writers, or directors. Or if they manage to keep the creative minds behind something so fresh, the freshness eventually wears off, or the creative people get lazy or run out of ideas.

However, these days Marvel’s image is so micromanaged that there isn’t much wiggle room to screw things up (Venom notwithstanding). I think the real question is, what will get old sooner, the endless Spider-Man franchise or the endless superhero movie genre?

Personally I foresee some great superhero fatigue following the release of Avengers: Endgame this year. And unfortunately the Into the Spider-Verse universe could be the victim of an apathetic audience.

Who am I kidding, I bet Disney is already lining up two sequels and three TV seasons straight-to-their-new-streaming-program. I bet we will drown in Spider-Mammals until no one can hear our muffled objections.

I digress, I loved this movie and it has given me hope that there is still juice to squeeze in the superhero genre. And this juice happens to be animated, fun, and all about Spider-Man so I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Now that you’ve soaked the movie in fully, what is your final ranking of all Spider-Man movies? Where does it fall in all of the superhero movies?

Jesse: Oh sure, you said it was pointless to rank these movies earlier, but now that’s up to me? I see how it is.

I won’t count Civil War or Infinity War, because Spidey was just a character included in a much larger scope, but everything else is fair game. Let’s get the garbage out of the way first:

7. Spider-Man 3

It’s fair to argue whether or not this is truly the worst of the bunch, but Spidey 3 was unquestionably the most disappointing movie-going experience of my life. Never before or since have I left a theater more bewildered, confused and desperately hoping for the flashy thingy from Men in Black so that I could forget everything.

6. The Amazing Spider-Man

5. The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Behold this joke of a reboot featuring the “untold story” of Peter Parker’s origin, which is more or less the same story we already knew, just more convoluted and angsty. Because that’s what every movie in the early 2010’s needed right? More teenage angst!

I will say the second one makes me want to gouge my eyes out a little less, mainly because Andrew Garfield hinted that he could do the character more justice than the hopeless script and clueless studio allowed him to. But alas, it was not to be.

4. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Homecoming is the rice cooker of Spidey movies: does what it’s supposed to do and you can’t complain about the result, but it’s a little bland and definitely leaves you wanting more. Michael Keaton’s villainous turn as yet another costumed bird-man is the best reason for revisiting this one.

3. Spider-Man

Ah, the wonders of letting a campy director like Sam Raimi get his hands on a superhero movie and then leaving him to his own devices. This isn’t usually a style that’s allowed within this genre anymore, and that’s made the first Spidey flick of this millennium stand out more and more as time has gone on.

1B. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

1A: Spider-Man 2

I mentioned earlier that I can’t pick between these two. Having not seen either since my first viewing of Into the Spider-Verse, I don’t think it’s fair for me to try now, but I believe that either one would be worthy of the coveted no. 1 slot.

So what say you Kevin? Are you shaking your head at my logic or disappointed that I didn’t include Venom or the hilariously bad Spidey movie from when we were little kids? And any other final thoughts?

Kevin: I think you nailed it Jesse. However I might start claiming Into the Spider-Verse is the best Spider-Man movie of all time just so we can fight about it.

No final thoughts from me, I look forward to revisiting this topic after we see Avengers: Into the Avenger-verse in 2022.

Ranking a Decade of Marvel Movies: The Also Rans

We did it people. By giving Marvel our hard earned cash to see almost 20 movies over the last decade, featuring all the superheroes that we love and several that we had no clue existed, we aided and abetted the creation of an unstoppable juggernaut. With Avengers: Infinity War being released in a few short days after a decade of building towards Thanos’ showdown with the galaxy’s mightiest heroes, that train is not slowing down anytime soon.

But it hasn’t all been the smoothest journey through this shared universe. There are more than a few stops along the way that, if not for having the Marvel Studios banner safeguarding them from irrelevance, would’ve been immediately cast out and forgotten. I suppose that’s understandable. When you have 18 at-bats, you’re probably not going to knock it out of the park each time. Part three of this post will feature the eight Marvel films that I consider to be home runs, so by baseball standards the MCU has been more than cleaning up at the plate.

However, we still have to talk about the times when they struck out, grounded into a double play or popped out to the catcher (which as a former little leaguer, I always hated more than striking out). To be clear, I’m not referring to this first group of films as “The Also Rans” because I think they suck. While there will be a couple of rants and plenty of criticism, you can still watch most of these movies and be entertained. I just never feel a strong desire to do so outside of taking on another marathon of all the MCU films (which is getting very long, by the way) and one of them just happens to be the next one on the list.

But since these are my opinions and I may very well just be a cynical bastard, I’m including some feedback from both Kevin and my girlfriend, Natalie. If I’m being too hard on any of these films, they’ll let you know about it.

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Let’s Talk About X-Men: Part 2

Alright peeps. Seeing as Logan is Hugh Jackman’s curtain call as Wolverine, it seemed like a good time to take a look back on the X-Men film series and talk about what we liked and didn’t like. These aren’t reviews, per say. We’re not going to rank these things or analyze the crap out of them. Instead, we’re just going to crack jokes and revel in the fact that Jackman has been playing this character for almost 20 years. That’s pretty damn amazing, whether you like the X-Men or not.

We already traveled back to the early 2000’s and discussed the groundbreaking start to the X-Men movie franchise covering X-Men, X-2, and The Last Stand right here. So make sure to check that out to find out which movie knocked Jesse’s pants off (he still hasn’t found them) and which movie we wish never existed at all (hint, it’s The Last Stand).

Next we are going to whip out our adamantium claws and slash our way into the Wonderful World of Wolverine.

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Let’s Talk About X-Men: Part 1

Alright peeps. Seeing as Logan is Hugh Jackman’s curtain call as Wolverine, it seemed like a good time to take a look back on the X-Men film series and talk about what we liked and didn’t like. These aren’t reviews, per say. We’re not going to rank these things or analyze the crap out of them. Instead, we’re just going to crack jokes and revel in the fact that Jackman has been playing this character for almost 20 years. That’s pretty damn amazing, whether you like the X-Men or not.

To kick things off, we’ll discuss all things concerning the original X-Men film trilogy, particularly whether or not Cyclops is as lame now as we thought he was back then (he is) and if these movies have stood the test of time. The first two? Yes. The third one? Well, we’ll get to that.

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“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Review by Jesse Schaffer

“The world has changed, and none of us can go back. All we can do is our best, and sometimes, the best that we can do is to start over.” 

If you read my review of Captain America: The First Avenger (and there haven’t been many posts around here lately, so odds are that you did), then you know that I was a pretty big fan of that movie. However, one big weakness of Cap’s big screen debut, as well as his role in The Avengers, was that you never got to see him kick very much ass. Granted, it’s not always easy to look powerful when your teammates consist of the God of Thunder, an enormous green rage monster and a wise-cracking genius in a high-tech armored suit, but Cap is his own entity, right? There’s no excuse for him not to be a bad ass when those other Avengers aren’t around to steal the spotlight.

Only that wasn’t the case in The First Avenger; the action scenes suffered due to the high usage of montages and thus we only saw glimpses of Cap proving his worth in battle. That was a mistake that I hoped all those involved would avoid in Cap 2, partly because the sequel seemed to be taking all of the other right steps to improve upon the original. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers in the modern day world? He nails that role. Casting Anthony Mackie as the Falcon? Hell of a choice, guy’s a great actor. Bringing back Nick Fury, Black Widow and then throwing the Winter Soldier and Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce into the mix? I’m already on the edge of my seat. That being said, the movie is called Captain America for a reason and it was high time that he proved why he’s the world’s greatest soldier.

And that’s exactly what happened. Captain America: The Winter Soldier improved upon its predecessor in every conceivable way and reaffirmed my belief that Steve Rogers is a hero worthy of our attention and admiration. Not only that, but the narrative that is very carefully weaved here by The Russo Brothers (first time big-budget directors who are famous for Community) is chalked full of intriguing twists and turns with enormous amounts of payoff, and when you combine it all together, you have the finest standalone Marvel Studios film since the original Iron Man. I’ll go as far to say that it even surpasses our first encounter with Tony Stark.

We’ll start with the plot. Steve Rogers has lent his abilities as Captain America to the service of S.H.I.E.L.D., and though he is less than satisfied with the underhanded way that his new comrades operate (particularly the methods of Fury and Widow), he’s willing to overlook all of that so long as he still feels that he’s helping people and making a difference in the world. That all changes when Fury is pursued by “cops” in broad daylight and then fatally wounded in Rogers’ apartment, which in turn sparks a manhunt for Cap and forces him and the Widow to go on the run. I’d be well within my rights to delve even further into the spoilers, seeing as this movie has been out for three months, but I’ll hold back for anyone who was on the fence about this movie because they didn’t like the first one.

If you are a member of that band of ignorant fools, perhaps I can help change your mind. In my opinion, Evans embodies every essential quality of Captain America in this movie and is as relatable as he’s ever been. Once again, Rogers displays extraordinary conviction and refuses to sacrifice his beliefs or values, even when his so-called allies aren’t doing the same. It’s all well and good to do everything in your power to disarm those who present a threat to the innocent, but how do you react when you realize that your superiors have been holding a knife to your throat the whole time? The America that Rogers sacrificed himself to protect during the war is a distant memory, and what he finds in the new world is that the difference between good and evil is that the good guys will at least apologize after they stab you in the back.

On top of all that, Rogers’ entire existence is shaken to its core when he finds out the true identity of The Winter Soldier, the Terminator-esque assassin who carried out the hit on Fury and whose motivation is unclear. To watch Cap try and make sense of everything as he grapples with all of these betrayals and revelations is something to behold, and the only thing to top it are his interactions with his friends. I feel safe calling them that because over the course of the movie, Black Widow, Falcon and even a returning Maria Hill all prove themselves in Cap’s eyes. You already knew that Black Widow was playing for the home team (Scarlett Johanson absolutely owns that role at this point) but Mackie as the Falcon provides a fresh face and kindred spirit for Rogers to connect with. They are both soldiers, after all, and you feel their chemistry and camaraderie being established right from the opening frames. And spoilers be damned, but the reunion between Cap and Peggy Carter is one of the most intimate and human moments from any superhero movie. It provided us with some much desired closure between those two and inspired me to quote it at the beginning of this review.

Of course, none of this would mean a damn thing if the action wasn’t up to par, but it absolutely is. Cap is literally unstoppable as he bashes his way through anyone dumb enough to take him on and his trademark shield is one of the coolest weapons ever. It ricochets off walls and batters everything from helpless thugs to S.H.I.E.L.D. helicopters, proving once and for all that Cap doesn’t need any help in order to dispatch his enemies with extreme prejudice. His showdowns with The Winter Soldier are epic encounters that actually surprise in the way that they’re carried out and leave you wanting more long after the final credits roll. And speaking of that damned soldier, only Loki has left a more lasting impression as a villain that can challenge our heroes both physically and emotionally. All of this leads to a climax that has catastrophic results for the Marvel Universe at large and will surely impact every follow-up to come.

In short, Captain America: The Winter Soldier accomplished everything that we could expect from one of these standalone films: told a compelling story that was unique, action-packed and further developed characters that we love? Check. Introduced a terrifying villain but made him more than just a mindless husk or maniacal mastermind? Check. Provided us with touching character moments that humanized everyone involved? Double check. This movie went above and beyond in terms of where we normally see comic book movies go and raised the bar for Marvel once again. I adored everything about this film and I’m just as excited for the next Cap movie as I am to see the Avengers reassemble next May. Your move, Joss Whedon.

Jesse’s Rating: 10/10