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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

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, 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

Ever since “Iron Man” hit screens back in 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building to something. Something big. For the past decade, we’ve watched as nearly a score of movies have been made in the service of telling a massive interconnected metanarrative. It is storytelling where the big picture is made up of other big pictures.

And we’re coming to a crossroads.

That’s what “Avengers: Infinity War” is – a crossroads. It’s the beginning of, well … not THE end, but AN end. What we’re seeing now is the start of a transition, where various batons are being handed off – both in terms of the heroes we’ve grown to love and the actors who play them. It is a tremendous balancing act of a film, an effort to somehow bring together literally dozens of characters and deploy them in the service of a single story, all while maintaining narrative coherence and remembering that every character is someone’s favorite.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 01 May 2018 16:02

Summer movies: 18 for 2018

We begin this annual tradition as we always do, which is with the caveat that it seems a bit silly to be writing a summer movie preview so far in advance of summer.

Still, Hollywood has extended the season, turning the beginning of May into our summer starting point, so if we’re going to catalog the blockbusters, then it has to be from here.

Although if we’re going to be real about it, the biggest movie of the year has already happened – “Avengers: Infinity War” just had the biggest box office opening since, well … ever. And hey – you can check out my review right in this very edition.

But while the biggest may have already landed, there’s still plenty to be excited about.

2018 has plenty of what we’ve come to expect from blockbuster season -  a bunch of sequels and a handful of remake/reboot-type offerings and some superheroes, along with some animated fare and a smattering of comedies. It’s not like we don’t know how it works.

Honestly, there’s a LOT of what we’ve seen before. But hey – familiarity isn’t always a bad thing. Let’s have a look at what the summer of 2018 has to offer.

(Please note: this not a list of the 18 best films, but rather an attempt at a representative sample of what’s coming. There are movies that I expect to love that aren’t here and movies I expect to loathe that are. Still, it looks like there’s something for everyone.)

Published in Cover Story
Wednesday, 21 February 2018 11:44

The brave brilliance of ‘Black Panther’

There’s no disputing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has established real dominance over the box office. These movies – nearing 20 in number – appear to have cracked the code for ensuring ongoing success.

Some might argue that the MCU has become too formulaic in its approach, that it has become a bit of a one-size-fits-all situation that doesn’t leave a lot of room for individual filmmakers to make their mark. And I might even concede that point … to a certain extent.

But then a movie like “Black Panther” comes along, a movie that somehow manages to operate within the established MCU structure while also being something wholly and uniquely itself. It’s a film that addresses serious and complex ideas while still existing in a world of superpowered beings and futuristic technology. We’ve seen superhero space operas and superhero paranoid thrillers and superhero buddy comedies.

And now, thanks to the taut direction of Ryan Coogler, the sharp, intricate screenplay of Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole and the performances of a top-to-bottom outstanding cast led by Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, we’ve seen something altogether new.

Something new, thought-provoking … and spectacular.

Published in Movies
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