Avengers: Endgame – Movie Review

Avengers: Endgame brings a decade of worldbuilding to a satisfying and spectacularly epic conclusion.

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Avengers: Endgame is a thoroughly rewarding experience for longtime fans, as the plot offers plenty of scope to revisit key moments from earlier movies. There are also so many subtle nods to the larger MCU that totally justified my decision to rewatch the origin stories and Infinity Stones-centric movies. The time-jump to the Battle of New York was particularly awesome and just unbridled fan-service. It felt like a series of Shawarma scenes as we get new perspectives of the Avengers doing mundane things. I whooped in delight when Endgame revisited the iconic elevator scene from Winter Soldier with an inspired twist.

At the heart of Endgame are the heroes we’ve been following since the very beginning. While Infinity War felt crammed with too many heroes, Endgame does a remarkable job of balancing its character arcs that it seemed like each hero got their own solo movie. Despite a runtime of over 3 hours, the movie whirs past at lightspeed, playing out as a series of exciting time-heists before the epic, climactic battle.

Even though the Avengers are only fighting CGI monsters, the battle is quite simply spectacular and works so much better than the Battle of Wakanda, since it is tempered with so many character-focused moments. The internet has theories, but the post-credit sceneclip is still undecipherable. I’d been hoping for a ‘Snikt!’, as there could be no better way to mark the Disney/Fox merger, but it was not to be.

Despite tackling ambitious projects with mounting stakes, the Russos have always managed to deliver movies that are loved by fanboys and critics alike. With an unprecedented mass hysteria accompanying Endgame’s release, it’s quite staggering that the movie managed to exceed expectations. It bears further testament to the Russos’ mastery of assembling tentpole movies that their portfolio of MCU movies (Winter Soldier, Civil War, Infinity War, and Endgame) is now good enough to rival even The Dark Knight, arguably the greatest superhero trilogy of all time. Nolan’s trilogy ended on a thunderous, satisfying note when the end credits ushered in Batman’s heir. Endgame somehow manages to emulate that by giving us a wondrous sense of closure as the MCU comes full circle.

In terms of sheer scope and ambition, the Infinity Saga (the first twenty-two films in the MCU) is a staggering accomplishment that has revolutionized cinematic storytelling. Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios can look back with pride as Avengers: Endgame brings a decade of worldbuilding and interwoven stories to a satisfying and spectacularly epic conclusion.

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Shazam! – Movie Review

Despite an overblown action-packed finale, the movie is ultimately fun and uplifting.

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As we live in the golden era of superhero movies, it’s the fantasy of every fan to develop superpowers and fight evil. In Shazam, a teenager Billy Batson gets to live this fantasy, when he is granted magical powers by a bearded wizard. All Billy needs to do is say the magic word “Shazam!”, and he is transformed into an adult (Zachary Levi) in a superhero suit. Billy might have the powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury, but like any 14-year old, he uses his newfound identity and superpowers for buying beer (before promptly spitting it out), paying a visit to a strip club, and making viral videos on YouTube. Zachary displays the same exuberant enthusiasm which Grant Gustin had embraced in early seasons of The Flash.

Some of the jokes feel childish, which is understandable considering it’s a kids’ film, starring kids. Billy’s roommate at the foster house, Freddy is a superhero nerd who helps his fledgling ungeeky superhero friend discover his powers, by running a series of hilarious superhero tests. Billy’s camaraderie with his other foster siblings is also wonderfully Stranger Things-ish.

While the movie smartly deals with exposition by tying it with the villain’s backstory early in the movie, Mark Strong’s Dr. Sivana seems to be straight out of a Mummy movie, as he conjures up bland, dastardly CGI depictions of the seven deadly sins. It’s understandable given director Sandberg’s history with making horror movies (Annabelle: Creation), but I would have preferred more imaginative versions of the deadly sins.

The movie’s laden with Easter Eggs, as was evident even in first look posters. Shazam may not be the refreshingly original superhero movie which the trailer had promised, but the movie is undeniably fun, and its core message of finding one’s family is conveyed sweetly. The movie overstays its welcome with an overblown action-packed finale, but Shazam is ultimately uplifting and another step in the right direction for the DCEU.

Captain Marvel – Movie Review

Captain Marvel takes a while to get going, but once she finds her stride, it makes for a fun and enjoyable ride.

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Captain Marvel is the 21st entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also marks a parting of ways with the origin story template Marvel had been using Phase One. Rather than telling how Vers/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) got her powers, the movie lets the audience piece together Captain Marvel’s origin story through flashbacks, against the backdrop of an intergalactic Kree-Skrull war. Carol Danvers is living amongst the Krees in an alien world at the start of the movie. A series of incidents lead her to Earth (Planet C53) where she runs into a digitally de-aged Nick Fury. Brie Larson’s chemistry and easy comradery with Samuel Jackson is a big highlight in the movie.

Ben Mendelsohn can add his portrayal of Talos, a Skrull warrior, to his interesting resume that includes Rogue One and Ready Player One. There are no doppelganger villains like in most MCU origin movies (Iron Man vs Iron Monger, Black Panther vs Killmonger, Ant-Man vs Yellow Jacket). Jude Law makes his bow in the MCU, donning Kree colors, as Carol’s haughty mentor. However, the true star of the movie is Goose, Carol’s cat who steals every scene she’s in.

The MCU is now so rooted in contemporary pop culture that Marvel can take liberties in cramming as many easter eggs as they want. I watched the movie only a week after release and the movie theatre wasn’t exactly what you would call sophisticated. So, it came as a surprise when the crowd was able to appreciate even obscure references to the larger MCU. While Carols’s quips didn’t always garner the amount of laughter Tony Stark would take for granted, it will be interesting to see how she fits in the Avengers team. If what we have seen so far is any indication, it is going to be amazing. The post-credit sequence was just pure comicbook fun!

The hype had been relentless for Captain Marvel, ever since excited fans saw Nick Fury page Carol Danvers at the end of Avengers: Infinity War. It was never going to be easy and the movie could have easily floundered under the weight of so much expectation. Admittedly, the first hour is a bit flat, making it seem like a filler episode before the big Avengers finale, bringing to mind Eleven’s unnecessary visit to Chicago in season 2 of Stranger Things. But the movie picks up from the second act, and it makes for a fun and enjoyable ride as it sets up Avengers: End Game perfectly.

Alita: Battle Angel – Movie Review

Alita: Battle Angel is an ambitious attempt at recreating an iconic manga that works better than most other live-action anime films.

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Alita: Battle Angel, based on acclaimed manga series Gunnm, has a standard dystopian premise. A cyborg (Alita) is discovered at a scrap yard by a kindly doctor, who brings her back to life. Alita awakes with no memory of who or what she is. As she is given the tour of Iron World, we are also introduced to a dystopian world that we have seen so many times. It is ruled by a bunch of oppressive overlords who live in a utopian floating city. I can think of Elysium, Hunger Games, and Red Rising off the top of my head that fit this profile.

The world building is solid, if not spectacular. But as befitting a movie James Cameron was closely associated with, we are treated to some truly spectacular shots. Director Robert Rodriguez deserves credit for some of the most inventive action sequences in recent times. Watching Alita pirouetting into a battle stance before scything conventional bad guys with an iconic blade was pure comicbook bliss. Rosa Salazar, who plays the role of the eponymous Alita, gives a phenomenal performance, complimented nicely by a star cast that includes Christopher Waltz, Mahershala Ali and Jenniffer Connelly.

While I haven’t read the source material myself, I felt the movie had crammed in a lot of content that sometimes seemed superfluous. Over the course of the movie, Alita comes to grips with a new world, becomes a bounty hunter, falls in love, competes in Motorball, a deadly cyborg sport with seemingly random rules, and fights a LOT of bad guys (and girls), but unfortunately doesn’t have time to dig deeper into her past. The Motorball arc, which initially held promise, was surprisingly sidelined towards the end. The romance arc was tiresome and unoriginal. There was a scene where she quite literally offers her heart. I would have been a lot more interested in learning more about Zalem and Alita’s mysterious past.

Despite the awesome, but thoroughly flagrant buildup for a sequel, the ending felt a bit abrupt. Alita: Battle Angel is an ambitious attempt at recreating an iconic manga. While it may have fallen short of such a lofty goal, it delivers a rollerblades-powered thrill ride through some eye-popping cyberpunk spectacle. And, I have to admit that I am really intrigued for the second installation, particularly after the big reveal at the end, courtesy of a surprising and gratifying cameo.

Aquaman – Movie Review

The stunning visuals keep you invested before the movie gets bogged down amidst a tempest of CGI action.

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With the DCEU sinking deeper and deeper, the onus was on James Wan’s Aquaman to keep it afloat. The movie does start on a promising note with some eye-popping spectacle. After a lengthy prologue laced with exposition, the action kicks in when Aquaman torpedoes into a submarine. Some of the action sequences are decidedly corny and Bollywood-ish, but it’s still fun watching the beefed-up Jason Momoa kick some ass.

Once the backstory is laid out, the movie largely plays out like a video game, with action sequences interjected by plot lines resembling cutscenes. The second act is very much like a chapter from Unchartered, with Arthur and Mera embarking on a quest across the Sahara Desert to find a long-lost trident. It’s a long arduous journey fraught with National Treasure-style puzzles, murderous goons, and English-speaking sea monsters.

While Arthur and Mera are busy playing Unchartered, Arthur’s half-brother and principal antagonist, King Orm has a parallel quest of his own. Before he can declare war on the surface dwellers, he needs to unite the various tribes. The movie skips back and forth, and by the time Orm has reached the last tribe and Aquaman has fought his way out for the umpteenth time, you find your interest finally start to sag. When the last 30 minutes becomes one huge CGI extravaganza of more battles, you stop caring about who is fighting whom.

In comparison with the other DCEU movies, Aquaman takes a rather respectable second position behind Wonder Woman. Aquaman continues the trend of DCEU movies moving away from the Zack Snyder template of dark and brooding superhero movies. While my earlier beef with DC was that it had tried to cram in as many superheroes (and supervillains) into team-up movies without any aforethought, the issue here is that there is barely any hint that Aquaman is part of the Justice League, let alone a part of a much larger extended universe.

The stunning visuals and the charismatic leads do enough to keep you invested in the movie until the final act before it gets bogged down amidst a tempest of CGI action. In the end, Aquaman ends up being so trippy that it trips over itself.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Movie Review

Into the Spider-Verse is the closest you get to experiencing a comicbook on the big screen.

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For a character that’s been beaten to death with several reboots, video games adaptations and countless media tie-ins, this is a refreshingly new take. We are finally introduced to Miles Morales (long overdue!) and Spider-Gwen, Spider-Man Noir, SP//dr (Peni Parker), and Spider-Ham (er…Peter Porker) for good measure. Like the MCU, Spider-Verse thrives when it brings characters together. The camaraderie between the “spider-people” works great. I particularly liked the relationship between Miles and Peter B. Parker, which brought to mind Tony Stark mentoring a young Peter in the MCU.

From the Spider-Man rogues gallery, we see the Kingpin, Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Scorpion, and Prowler. The principal antagonist Wilson Fisk is a mountain of a man, but it’s hard not to visualize Vincent D’Onofrio instead. The movie follows the Kingpin’s attempts to open a multi-dimensional portal in New York. Despite the busy narrative involving several characters, the web never gets tangled, as we swing across a gripping, albeit cartoonish storyline.

After the chaotic Venom movie, Sony has reinvented itself to deliver the most original superhero movie since Deadpool. The film captures the essence of Spider-Man and delivers the most dazzling and inventive visuals of the year as if it were ripped straight from the pages of a comic book. There are quite a few easter eggs to savor across the movie, including meta references and throwbacks to other adaptions of the beloved character.

The movie’s parting message that “anyone can be behind the mask” is complimented nicely with an awesome quote from Stan Lee (see below). After a cacophony of colors in the graffiti-themed end credits, we take a trip down memory lane for one of the most ingenious post-credit scenes ever – the origin of the “Spider-Man pointing at Spider-Man” meme. With a dazzling visual palette, Into the Spider-Verse is the closest you get to experiencing a comicbook on the big screen.

“That person who helps others simply because it should or must be done, and because it is the right thing to do, is indeed without a doubt, a real superhero.” – Stan Lee

Ralph Breaks the Internet – Movie Review

Ralph Breaks the Internet is an upgrade to the already impressive Wreck-It Ralph.

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Ralph and Vanellope have been best friends for 6 years now. But when the very existence of Sugar Rush (Vanellope’s arcade racing game) is threatened, the pair has to embark on a rollercoaster journey across the internet to buy a spare part on eBay. The movie whirs past in a blur of great visuals depicting familiar tech giants like Google, Instagram, and Snapchat. The movie’s contemporary commentary on social media and online culture is both funnier and works better than the first part’s exploration of arcade games. We are introduced to some interesting net denizens like the autocorrecting KnowsMore (a la Google Search) and the chief algorithm for YouTubeBuzzTube. This is easily the most imaginative and thought-provoking world since Zootopia and Inside Out.

The story unravels around the conflicting dreams of its lead characters. While Vanellope is smitten with the GTA-ish Slaughter Race game, in which Gal Gadot seems to have reprised her role from the Fast and Furious franchise, Ralph wants his normal life back. One of the many highlights in the movie was the squad of Disney princesses parodying themselves, while another was a chilling reminder of the internet’s toxicity.

The movie is unfortunately bogged down by a final act that is rife with melodrama and over-the-top action sequences. Despite these minor hurdles, the intended emotional effect is felt when the end credits roll. The movie, as you’d expect, is awash with pop culture references and deserves a re-watch if only for easter egg spotting. Disney doesn’t let go to waste such an organic opportunity for product placement, and parades a plethora of its top brands, including Marvel and Star Wars. The ‘I am Groot’ sequence was particularly hilarious and had me in splits.

Ralph Breaks the Internet enters Toy Story territory by virtue of the sequel being better than an already impressive original, but falls marginally short of Toy Story’s lofty standards with a slightly melodramatic and action-laden final act.