A dense, beautiful film that feels like a new beginning for the MCU more so than any other entry after, well, Iron Man. It doesn’t break the MCU mold so much as it reshapes what a movie in this series can look like by pressing against the sides. What Black Panther and Shang Chi did for the modern superhero character, Eternals does for the allowed style and substance of these movies. There is absolutely room in these things for Zhao’s practical filmmaking, weighty conversations about immortality, Bollywood numbers, and slight Watchmen-adjacent interrogations of the superhero genre and the pedestals on which we place these characters.
It seems like the movie is divisive because it’s either too much of a Chloe Zhao movie and not enough of an MCU one or vice versa. For me, it’s kind of a perfect mix that takes some critical steps forward in it’s representation of humanity. Either way, change is good. Change is necessary.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “The Eternals are kind of the immortal, dysfunctional Power Rangers and I’m into it.”
A romantic dramedy in the guise of a modern dark antihero/superhero movie. Venom: Let There Be Carnage is what it is, and that’s okay. That’s beautiful, even. They took what worked about the first, namely two Tom Hardy boyz interacting with each other and figuring out their relationship, and just built the entire movie around it. Then they gave Woody Harrelson a silly red wig and slapped some CGI on him to transform him into 90s icon Carnage, and it all just kind of works in a fun, B-movie kind of way.
My mildly spoilery VHS cover pull-quote: “Exciting things are no doubt in store for the Venom character beyond the Sony Spideyverse, but I appreciate this little weird 90-minute corner of the superhero genre and hope it continues to do its own thing. Like Morbius? That’s going to be wild. He’s a living vampire and some filmgoers are going to confuse him with Owen Wilson’s character Mobius from Loki. What an odd treat that will be!”
Fathers. Sons. Dragons and Awkwafina, together again. This movie has it all, including some of the most kinetic and gorgeous hand to hand combat scenes that blow even The Winter Soldier out of the floating, mystic water. It feels like a thoughtful, bona fide martial arts film that just happens to be in the MCU. I was only left wanting more of the coordinated physicality and more of the characters.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “Cool, quick knife flips while in the middle of a fight are how you can tell if it’s a good MCU movie. So, my official MCU movie rankings are Everything Else, Shang Chi, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I don’t make the rules.”
A bloody, messy blast of a comic book movie that peppers in substantial emotional beats for these cannon fodder oddballs amidst all the carnage, chaos and wit. It feels like it’s pure James Gunn in a way that Guardians of the Galaxy can’t really approach. Both, however, share a common, simple thesis statement: the outcasts, the downtrodden, the misunderstood rats and the weasel things that have killed 27 children all have purpose and worth.
One thing I really appreciated, surprisingly, is the treatment of a character from the original Suicide Squad movie: Rick Flag, y’all!! Harley is always sort of core (and amazing) Harley from one movie to another, but Rick Flag gets to show an evolution of character from the 2016 film to this one. From wooden soldier to big damn hero who seems to have found a place among the outcasts he leads. While I went into the movie not caring about Flag living or dying, that changed substantially through the course of events. Beyond him, we are made to care about most of these these ‘losers’ that make it past the 20 minute mark, from Polka Dot Man to Ratcatcher 2, to even cosmic gumbo Starro the Conqueror.
My spoiler-filled VHS cover pull-quote:
“They killed my mate Captain Boomerang and, like a boomerang, I can only hope he comes back around somehow. I salute his noble severed arm, holding his boomerang high. All names are letters, dickhead!”
“I’m not the killer that little girls call ‘hero.'”
An entry into the MCU that touches on familiar themes but pulls the universe into the realm of spycraft with ease, which makes it feel different enough from (and comparitively fresh in relation to) the rest of the films in this sprawling series. More importantly, though, Natasha Romanoff is finally given substantial character development and time to be both human and, damn it, silly. Is it too late? Definitely, but better late than never.
Another place I think the film really succeeds is in its use of humor. While most MCU movies make jokes, even if they’re not comedies like Thor Ragnarok or Guardians, there is a dark undercurrent of trauma in Black Widow‘s jokes that I feel enhances out understanding of the characters’ (Yelena, especially) horrid experiences at the hands of the villain.
If anything, I’d say the action is the weakest part of the movie and the action is actually pretty solid.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “Taskmaster is so damn cool. This version of Taskmaster, that version of Taskmaster, whatever version of Taskmaster. I’ve always wanted to be Taskmaster because I don’t want to work for years honing an ability to fight like Captain America, I just want to watch Chris Evans and be able to fight like him.”
Calm down, dude, it’s just a superhero movie. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is far better than the theatrical cut, if only because it gives characters like Cyborg, The Flash, and, yeah, even Steppenwolf room to actually be characters with motivations and prominent roles in the story. Snyder makes the most of the four hours with these characters, and that’s the biggest reason I’m happy this cut exists now (not that I was clamoring for it, exactly).
Cyborg, especially, functions as the heart of the whole thing and the visuals of Barry’s scenes are almost Days of Future Past Quicksilver-level appealing so it’s mind-boggling that all this was left on the cutting room floor in service to a theatrical cut that just highlighted the most popular superheroes in history we already know about (but almost understandable given the rumored hard 2 hour runtime stipulation–you have to cut something, after all).
There are still problems, of course, some of which that were present in the original cut and some born out of the restored scenes. The grimdark path Snyder seems/seemed to be pushing the franchise down is, like, real edgy and dark, bruh, but devoid of much wonder, hope and a color pallette. Superhero cynicism has been all the rage for a while now, but it’s also kind of played out. Still, for better or worse this is a singular director’s vision and I would have been interested, at least, to see it play out over a few more movies.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “Restore the Snyderverse? Nah, bring on the Starroverse. And the multiverse. The Snyderverse is in the multiverse, so there you go.”
A sequel that I enjoyed more than the first overall (the ending action actually feels like a part of the same movie), but I guess it lacks the ‘moments’ that made WW feel so fresh. Not that we should have expected those moments to be replicated or anything. The 80s aesthetic, slight commentary on the all-consuming need for ‘more’ that defined then (and now), and ferociously optimistic tone worked for me throughout. Even the goofier stuff they pull in from the Wonder Woman canon fits with the almost Rocketeer-like tone they’re going for.
But yeah, that body swap consent issue with Steve and Handsome Guy is a real problem and an absolutely avoidable one at that. Did no one clock that at any phase of scripting and filming? Even for someone who actually liked the movie, that issue is going to stand out in my mind when I look back.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “Someday they will use a 90s setting like they use an 80s setting and that will be the day that I shrivel into an old man skeleton. I fear this day.”
“And that is why you should never partake in paying federal income taxes.”
An anarchic, fringe, Gotham Grungy team-up feature that has some of the finest practical (and practical-looking) fight choreography I’ve seen since whatever John Wick we’re on now and can just have fun and say “fuck” whenever it wants.
My VHS cover pull-quote: “I just wanted more of absolutely everything—especially the teaming up. Everyone is a kick-ass, leg breaking delight with great chemistry. I also want an egg sandwich.”