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So there’s no denying the pop cultural ubiquity of Marvel these days. The MCU is going strong, with three films already in the past few months and another on the way in December. There has been a wealth of TV content as well, with three different TV shows hitting Disney+ at various points so far this year, with yes, another one on the way.

It’s a lot. And while I acknowledge that I am absolutely here for all of it, I’ll also concede that for those whose brains weren’t steeped in Marvel Comics for their entire adolescence, it might be too much.

That said, one of the perhaps unanticipated benefits of all this too-muchness is that some weird stuff can slip through the cracks and onto our screens.

This brings me to “Hit-Monkey,” the latest episodic offering by way of Hulu. The series – which dropped on November 17 – is an altogether bizarre one, an animated series that focuses on a revenge-fueled snow monkey carving a swath of bloody vengeance through the Japanese underworld as he looks to avenge the death of his tribe, all with the ghost of a wiseacre American assassin as his mentor/sidekick.

Like I said – weird. But perhaps the weirdest part of it all? It’s good. REALLY good.

(Note: All 10 episodes of the season were provided for review.)

Published in Buzz

There’s a certain flavor of nonfiction – I call it stunt nonfiction, but your mileage may vary – that is built around a particular gimmick. It’s tough to articulate what it is specifically, considering how many different ways one might partake, but generally, you know it if you see it.

Maybe it’s a book about making every recipe in a single cookbook or committing to saying “yes” to everything. Maybe it’s about taking the field with a professional football team as a rank amateur or tracking down everyone you find in a random pack of baseball cards. Maybe it’s about trying to follow the Bible or Oprah as closely and as literally as possible for one year.

Or maybe, if you’re Douglas Wolk, it’s about reading every single Marvel comic and considering it as one expansive story.

That’s what Wolk did with his new book “All of the Marvels: A Journey to the Ends of the Biggest Story Ever Told” (Penguin Press, $28). In an effort to demonstrate the comprehensive nature of the Marvel meta-arc over the course of the decades, Wolk read every single comic Marvel published from 1961 (considered to be the start of the true Marvel Age) through 2017, when he first decided to undertake the massive project.

Published in Style

It’s tough to refute the notion that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become the most significant segment of the cinematic landscape over the past 15 or so years. The MCU is omnipresent, as close to a fully shared movie experience as anything.

But time waits for no one. Not even superheroes.

The characters who have served as the foundation of the MCU – as well as the actors who play them – are moving on. The shift was always inevitable, but now, in Phase Four, things are really starting to snowball.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” – directed by Destin Daniel Cretton – reads as a bit of a departure for the powers that be at Marvel. This is a character that is arguably the most obscure yet to receive a headlining film of their own, a character that is fundamentally different in many ways – both overt and subtle – than those that have come before.

It’s a bold choice – and an effective one.

This film tries to do something we haven’t seen before from the MCU. Yes, the Marvel formula is still in effect, but it is being applied in a novel way. We’ve seen these movies riff on other genres – space operas and paranoid thrillers and war movies – but this is the first time we’ve ventured toward the realm of Eastern action cinema. This is a Marvel movie that both stars and is directed by people of Asian descent.

Do you want to see an MCU kung fu movie? Because that’s what this is. And it works.

Published in Movies

Living as we do in a world where superhero movies have become the primary currency of the cinematic landscape, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the comic book world reflects the relatively clear nature of the MCU.

But Marvel Comics has a LONG history, and not all of it is nearly as straightforward as the movies make it seem. There’s a lot of obscure weirdness hiding in the various nooks and crannies that come from 60 years of building and expansion.

One of the odder characters in Marveldom is M.O.D.O.K. (an acronym for Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing), created when a man named George Tarleton (born in Bangor, Maine – shout out!) undergoes experiments that turn him into a giant-headed computer-brained supervillain. M.O.D.O.K. would go on to do battle with all the names you know – Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk – as he led his superscience organization Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M.) toward his overarching goal of world domination.

And now he’s got his own animated TV show coming to Hulu.

“M.O.D.O.K.” – also known as “Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K.” – hits the streaming service on May 21 with a 10-episode season. And it is an altogether different experience than any other Marvel property out there. Created by Patton Oswalt (who also voices the titular villain) and Jordan Blum, the show features a dynamite collection of comedic talent in the voice cast and perhaps the most advanced stop-motion animation we’ve seen yet from Stoopid Buddy Stoodios, best known for Adult Swim’s “Robot Chicken.”

This is a show that embraces the comic book grotesquerie largely ignored by the MCU machine. It is a gross-out comedy that also takes great pleasure in fan service, tossing out deep cut after deep cut from Marvel’s back catalog. All that, plus a family element that allows for skewering of sitcom tropes as well. It is weird and ridiculous and an absolute delight, the sort of show that might not be for you, but if you dig it, well … you will DIG IT.

Published in Buzz

It’s tough to argue that the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t one of the most monumental achievements in the history of the medium. Regardless of how you feel about the content of the movies – some people just don’t dig superhero flicks – you cannot deny that the unspooling of the MCU saga over more than 20 films is an incredible achievement.

The culmination of that arc was “Avengers: Endgame,” but despite what you might think, that film was not the end of Marvel’s so-called Phase 3.

That honor goes to “Spider-Man: Far from Home,” a film that puts Tom Holland’s excellent Spider-Man front and center once again while also serving to both cleanse the palate and pick up the pieces after the paradigm-shifting events of the previous film. It’s a chance to view the aftermath of what has come before while also laying the groundwork for what comes next.

It’s also a delightful standalone adventure in its own right, a quippy, flippy movie packed with web-slinging action and some first-rate comic beats. In addition, we get our first look at a world still working its way through the everyday logistical chaos left by the Snap – or the Blip, as the kids apparently call it. A first look at a world without Tony Stark.

Published in Movies

This is not going to be my typical review.

If you’ve seen “Avengers: Endgame” – and judging by the record-shattering $1.2 billion (that’s billion with a B) opening weekend at the box office, there’s a good chance that you probably have – then you have an idea of my dilemma.

How do you talk about an effort to wrap up nearly two dozen movies’ worth of storytelling without disclosing too much? How do you talk about a movie that is, in essence, three hours of ending? How do you avoid spoilers when discussing a film that is, by its very nature, practically constructed of spoilable revelations?

Very carefully.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 13 March 2019 13:07

Marvel at ‘Captain Marvel’

There’s no disputing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe rules the box office like nothing the entertainment industry has ever seen. Film after film drawing massive numbers, with grosses in the middle nine figures AT WORST. The MCU has produced some of the most globally popular movies of all time.

As we near the end of Phase Three – set to culminate with next month’s “Avengers: Endgame” – we are finally introduced to one of the characters who promises to be a major player in how that arc ends: Captain Marvel. The superpowered spacefarer stars in her own eponymously-titled outing, serving as the first female character to headline an MCU movie.

You may have heard about efforts from certain elements to undermine the film before its release. You may have also heard about how ultimately ineffectual those efforts were. Because a LOT of people saw this movie on opening weekend. And what they saw was pretty darned good, a quippy, zippy origin story that manages to stand on its own merits while also serving as connective tissue for the rest of the MCU out of necessity.

“Captain Marvel” could have floundered under the storytelling load it was asked to shoulder, but instead manages to (mostly) soar, giving us a fun and engaging narrative, some decent gags and some solid action set pieces (along with a killer ‘90s soundtrack). Excellent performances (particularly from star Brie Larson) serve as the glue that binds it all together.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 14 November 2018 12:57

Excelsior! Saying goodbye to Stan Lee

When I was a kid, I wanted to be Spider-Man.

I honestly can’t say when exactly it started, this love affair with everyone’s favorite wall-crawler, but it was as real as anything I experienced in the entirety of my adolescence. From my precocious youth through my awkward teen years, Spider-Man – and by extension the rest of the Marvel Comics family – was there alongside me.

I have Stan Lee to thank for that.

Published in Buzz
Wednesday, 10 October 2018 12:08

‘Venom’ an uninspired antihero

As the superhero industrial complex continues to grow in Hollywood, we can expect to start seeing more material featuring secondary and tertiary comic book characters. The studios have churned through the A-list characters and many of the B-listers – it’s inevitable that they’re going to keep reaching.

Now, one could certainly argue that noted Spider-Man foe Venom isn’t a deep cut – he has been one of Spidey’s primary antagonists ever since he first made the scene 30 years ago. He has had connections to other heroes and villains and a fair number of stand-alone outings over the years, but he remains indelibly connected to Spider-Man.

And yet, it the new film “Venom,” there’s not a Spider-Man to be seen. And while that absence isn’t the only reason the movie fails to pass muster, it’s a significant one. The movie is a tonal mish-mash, one that seems happy to outright refuse to decide what kind of film it wants to be. Add to that the fact that the character has long been defined by a sort of reactionary emptiness and you get a movie that offers flashes of quality, but largely collapses beneath its own indecisiveness.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 11 July 2018 12:13

‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ comes up big

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become one of the primary driving forces in the world of movies over the past decade. Each of these films makes hundreds of millions at the box office and continues the ever-evolving and unfolding story, moving toward massive paradigm shifts and crossover events.

But here’s the thing – operating on global and cosmic scales presents some issues. Namely – you can’t just keep raising the stakes; narrative stakes can only be raised so many times before things begin to lose their impact and feel forced. To avoid reaching that point, some sort of reset is necessary. With the 20th film in the MCU, the powers that be have chosen to cleanse our palates after the cataclysmic consequences of “Avengers: Infinity War.”

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” brings the MCU back down to Earth, choosing to tell a smaller, largely self-contained story. Taking place before the events of “IW,” the film doesn’t deal with fate-of-the-universe-level consequences. Instead, its impact is primarily on a more individual plane. It exists mostly independent of the other films, without the numerous cameos and tangential MacGuffins that often riddle MCU offerings. That freedom allows “AM&TW” to be lighter and funnier while still providing the superpowered set pieces audiences have come to expect.

Published in Movies
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