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One of the longstanding truths about the realm of comic books is that death isn’t really death. With vanishingly few exceptions, the death of a Marvel or DC character tends to be more of a temporary setback than any kind of permanent loss.

Of course, that isn’t how the real world works.

When Chadwick Boseman passed away, we lost a truly gifted artist. We lost someone whose immense talents were evident in everything he did, from Jackie Robinson to James Brown to Thurgood Marshall to, yes, T’Challa, the Black Panther. An irreplaceable star in the cinematic firmament was extinguished too soon.

And yet … the show must go on.

The massive critical, commercial and cultural success of 2018’s “Black Panther” – as well as its prominent placement in the mythology of the Marvel Cinematic Universe write large – meant that there was always going to a sequel, but what shape could that now take? Was it possible to make a film that both respected the memory of its fallen star and carried forward the singular and general narratives? Could even a filmmaker as talented as Ryan Coogler pull this off?

The answer to those final two questions … is yes.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a fascinating work of popular culture. Somehow, the parties involved have crafted a superhero film that is good in all the ways that these films need to be good – big action set pieces, memorable characters, some decent laugh lines, a story that works in micro and macro contexts – yet still maintains the more sophisticated effort to explore thornier societal ideas. All that, while also being immensely respectful and reverent of Chadwick Boseman’s memory. Threading that needle would seem nigh-impossible – but Coogler does it.

Published in Movies

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is absolutely packed with heroes. You can’t throw a rock without hitting an Avenger or some Avengers-adjacent superhero. There are tiers, of course – your mainstays and your supporting players and whatnot – but there’s no disputing the sheer numbers.

Here’s the big question, though: with all of those characters, all those beloved spandex-clad derring-doers on the roster – your Iron Man, your Captain America – how is it that Thor is the first one of the bunch to get to four solo outings?

“Thor: Love and Thunder” marks the fourth film to center everyone’s favorite Norse god of thunder. Directed by Taika Waititi – who also helmed the previous Thor outing, the delightful “Thor: Ragnarok” – it’s a continuation of the irreverent tone and comedic evolution of the character, even as he continues to deal with cosmos-altering entities.

It is Waititi’s unique take on the character that has led to Thor being the first to four. While Iron Man and Captain America both came in hot, each getting to three films in short order, they were also somewhat handcuffed by the larger MCU story arcs. And then, eventually, the narrative required them to move on. Thor, on the other hand, was the perfect combination of important and irrelevant, giving an auteur type like Waititi the flexibility to steer the character in a more idiosyncratic direction.

With “Ragnarok” and now “Love and Thunder,” we get films that, while still slotting into the overall MCU house style, also have plenty of their own flavor. This new film is fun and funny, with a lot of the same goofball energy that powered its predecessor, though it should be noted that those who are looking for significant advancement of the larger Phase 4 narrative may be a little disappointed – in many ways, the story told here is self-contained, with relatively little impact on the grander arc (though if we want to talk about that as a symptom of the disconnected nature of this phase thus far, there’s a real discussion to be had).

Still, that’s OK – there’s definitely more room for fun when these films aren’t as constrained by the need for greater advancement. This one isn’t quite stand-alone – the Guardians of the Galaxy are here for a minute, for example – but for the most part, “Love and Thunder” is content to be its own thing. How you feel about that will likely play a major role in your enjoyment of the experience.

Published in Movies

What if the biggest franchise in the history of cinema was given carte blanche to do (and undo) whatever they wanted in the name of storytelling?

That’s essentially what happened with the Marvel Cinematic Universe once the concept of the multiverse was introduced. Basically, the MCU can now do anything and everything it chooses to any character, all with the knowledge that, should they so choose, they can simply handwave it away with one sentence about another universe.

The latest entry in the series (number 28, but who’s counting?) is “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” directed by the legendary Sam Raimi from a script by Michael Waldron. It’s an effort to go deeper into the implications of the aforementioned multiverse and the impact that can be had on it by those who possess both the willingness and the capability to cross from universe to universe.

It’s a sequel to 2016’s “Doctor Strange,” of course, but it also connects directly with an assortment of other MCU properties from both the film and television realms. The film features more horror and horror-adjacent action than other MCU films while also embracing moments of genuine slapstick, both of which are Raimi hallmarks.

However, this is a movie that lost its original writer/director Scott Derrickson midstream … and there are spots where you can definitely see the seams, particularly in the film’s front half. It is busy and a bit confusing at times. And while it’s always advisable to be caught up with previous offerings when you go in, you almost have to have seen a couple of things – “Wandavision” most prominently – to fully understand what’s going on.

Still, the pros outweigh the cons. Benedict Cumberbatch has the snarky charm cranked up, there are a ton of cameos and Easter eggs and Sam Raimi gets to show off the uniquely skewed style and aesthetic that made him famous. It’s a Marvel movie infused with cosmic (and comic) horrors, a combination that results in an engaging, albeit uneven superhero adventure.

Published in Movies

In a shocking turnaround, one of the giants of modern cinema has signed on to make a superhero movie.

Martin Scorsese, the acclaimed filmmaker behind such iconic films as “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas” and “The Departed,” has long been a vocal opponent of the industry’s move toward comic book movies. He has been on record as adamantly opposed to those sorts of films, even going so far as to deny that they’re really films at all, referring to them as amusement park rides.

Well … looks like Marty wants to take a spin.

Published in Movies

Let’s just get this out of the way off the top - I loved “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” LOVED it.

Now, I was ALWAYS going to love it. I am fully invested in the MCU writ large as blockbuster popcorn entertainment and have been since Day 1. And I carry a deep and abiding affection for and affinity toward the character of Spider-Man, in all his many iterations. From my time as a boy reading assorted Spider-Man comics up to the present day, I ride hard for Spidey. He’s as central a figure in my own personal pop culture history as any. So this is very much a movie for me.

But here’s the thing – it’s probably a movie for you too.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the biggest and boldest MCU entry in a year packed with them – “NWH” marks the fourth film since June – as well as being the best. It is a massive spectacle while also finding room for the smaller moments, loaded and overloaded with everything that makes the character (and the franchise) great.

It also manages not to succumb to the elements of franchise bloat and metanarrative requirements that have undermined some of Marvel’s past efforts. It’s huge but not unwieldy, fan service-y but not exclusive, epic but not crowded.

You’ve got loads of web-swinging, wall-crawling action. You’ve got quips and jokes galore. You’ve got pathos and pain and the ethical dilemmas that those things can cause. You’ve got an absolute cavalcade of familiar faces joining in on the fun.

And at the center of it all, you’ve got a kid forced to once again stand up beneath an unfair burden that circumstances have thrust upon him.

Published in Movies

We’re long past the point where we can talk about individual films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe without also exploring the way they fit into the vast MCU machine, both narratively and commercially. These movies have ceased to exist as autonomous offerings; rather, they are parts of a larger whole even as they try to operate as singular works.

In those terms, I’m not sure how successful “Eternals” is.

However, if we’re talking about the execution of an individual film, one whose ambitions span a dozen new characters and thousands of years, all while simultaneously telling a story of relationships AND a story of potential world-shattering cataclysm, well … I thought it was a pretty damned good effort on the part of Chloe Zhao and company.

“Eternals” is the newest of the slew of MCU movies from the back half of 2021; we’ve already had “Black Widow” and “Shang-Chi,” while “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is coming next month. It’s also one of the deepest cuts we’ve seen yet from the MCU, with many viewing it as a sort of reckoning. These are not characters with a great deal of pop cultural cachet, deemed relatively minor Jack Kirby creations even by those devoted to the late artist’s oeuvre, so would this be the film where Kevin Feige and the rest of the Marvel powers that be finally got too far out over their skis?

Yes and no, as it turns out.

Published in Movies

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

The past couple of months have seen a slow and uneven return to movie theaters. Films that were delayed or otherwise impacted by the pandemic are gradually returning, filling the country’s big screens with the outsized sequels and franchise fare that many have spent the past year-plus anticipating.

We watched a battle of the monsters when King Kong fought Godzilla. We held our breaths as Emily Blunt took on alien invaders in near-silence. Chris Rock was in a “Saw” movie and Emma Stone gave us a Cruella de Vil origin story. We even got to see Vin Diesel get faster and furiouser than ever alongside his franchise family and a smattering of movie stars. But even with all that, it was hard to say that the moviegoing experience was truly, fully back … until now.

That’s right - the MCU is on the big screen, baby!

“Black Widow,” the ostensible first installment in the MCU’s Phase Four, has landed, both in theaters and via premium access on Disney+. Directed by Cate Shortland from Eric Pearson’s screenplay, the film centers on the titular Black Widow and her doings during the period between “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”

It’s an interesting choice, taking a leap back chronologically with the leadoff film of the newest phase. And some of the narrative wind has been knocked from its sails due to the pandemic delays – Marvel’s three MCU-connected TV shows were supposed to follow this film; instead, they came first. Those looking for big advances to the overarching MCU narrative will likely come away slightly disappointed; the nature of this film means that major revelations are unlikely. However, when judged on its own merits, “Black Widow” is solid action-adventure; not top-tier Marvel, but far from the worst.

Published in Movies

Welcome to the first Maine Edge cover story of the Roaring (20)20s!

As such, I thought we might have some fun looking back at the last decade’s best cinematic offerings. I’ve been reviewing movies here since 2008. In the ‘10s, I wrote about movies roughly a thousand times. Yeah – I’m as shocked as you are. That’s a lot of ink spilled in celebration and derision of Hollywood’s finest.

So yes, while this story might be a little late to the party, it was important to me to share my Best of the Decade movie list. As per usual with this sort of feature, there’s a real chance that this list could be a little different depending on the day. However, this feels like the right list.

Here they are, in alphabetical order. Have a look!

Published in Cover Story

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
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