Property Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

First Avenger Assembled

Around these parts, we are known Marvel enthusiasts. So, it was a big surprise that while we’d seen all the majority of the MCU offerings, we hadn’t seen Cap’s origin.

We love Cap from the end of his time in the MCU, but we were pleasantly surprised by the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan’s introduction.
Captain America’s story in the MCU starts out much like the comics: Steve Rogers, a frail sickly man who is super patriotic, wants to fight for his country in the already-in-progress World War II. Even though he has an admirable fighting spirit, he’s rejected at every turn. That is until Dr. Abraham Erskine comes along with his Super Soldier Serum. The good doctor looks at Rogers as a suitable candidate for the serum, not because he’s the perfect soldier, but because he’s a good man. The project – attended and funded by Howard Stark and observed by Peggy Carter – is a rousing success, transforming the poor orphan into the strong, able-bodied Steve Rogers that we know and love. But here’s where things go wrong for our young super soldier: Erskine is murdered by the Nazis, and with him goes the future of the project.

Steve is now a one-of-a-kind freak asset, and the U.S. government doesn’t exactly need him to go do the things the main army is already accomplishing. However, when news of his childhood bestie James “Bucky” Barnes’ capture reaches his camp, Steve steals off to the front lines to rescue him and Bucky’s unit almost singlehandedly and proves his worth. Steve then manages to change the outcome of the war effort through bravery but there’s a cost: The Nazis manage to get their hands on the Tesseract/Cosmic Cube. Steve tracks it down and engages in battle only to win but lose Bucky and be lost to history for 70 years after crashing his plane to prevent the Cube from being recovered.
Given our previous reviews of MCU films and our glowing praise for the development of Steve Rogers, it’s not a secret that we love the characterization of Captain America. You learn here that Steve has always been worthy (for the purposes of wielding Mjolnir) and why. This isn’t a platitude that bares out in Avengers: Endgame just because he did a few good things. It’s built into Steven Grant Rogers’ DNA, from the moment that you see him fight a bully with the makeshift shield to the minute that he jumps on a fake hand grenade without thinking of the danger to himself. The Man out of Time is, in fact, the best man for the job because he is that job.

And while others are excellent in their roles here, let us take a minute to appreciate the outstanding job Chris Evans does with the role. Evans is so perfect a choice for Captain Rogers that 11 years later, we cannot picture anyone else playing the role. Evans’ earnest portrayal of the character shines through and propels the movie beyond the standard origin story. And his chemistry with the also-excellent Sebastian Stan and Hayley Atwell is a notable highlight. Hugo Weaving also deserves mention as a good villain in the story. He isn’t over the top, but a subtle smoldering foil to the good captain’s plans to end World War II.

We are massive fans of Captain America from the angle of Winter Soldier but with the seeds planted here, we now have the lead up to why we claim Winter Soldier as our favorite MCU film. First Avenger isn’t the first film in the MCU, but it certainly ranks high in the pantheon of character establishment in the world of Marvel superheroes.

Like the comics: 8
Acting: 9.5
Story: 9.5
Total: 27/30 or 9

HOW WE GRADE
We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in cases of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of the maximum of 10 per category and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Property Review: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Snyder Cut rights a grave wrong

Sometimes, setting a precedent is a necessary evil.

The theatrical release of Justice League in 2017 was an unmitigated disaster. The plot was all over the place, the editing was unpolished, and it generally didn’t seem ready for release. But, the rumors began of another cut by the original director Zack Snyder. Snyder, who had stepped down for personal reasons, was generally regarded as someone who knew what they were doing when it comes to comic book film adaptations (see Man of Steel, 300 and Watchmen). This cut was much longer but supposedly closer to the original vision of what Justice League should have been.

The Snyder Cut was that and much more.

Putting together a coherent feature, the Snyder Cut is infinitely more watchable than the original cut of the film. Character motivations make more sense, important details are emphasized, and subplots and sometimes even characters are restored. Snyder’s delicate touch and worldbuilding are vital with an ensemble picture such as this, and it shows in the many changes made to correct.

One of those material effects is the origin story of Cyborg. With Snyder’s vision restored and more of the important details of his transition from human to cyborg, Cyborg is more present than he ever hoped to be in the original cut. Actor Ray Fisher is a force to be reckoned with in the film, and through this re-characterization you can immediately see why. Fisher must balance the nature of humanity versus machine after Victor Stone’s accident, and he does so with stunning aplomb.

Also of note, The Flash, as portrayed by Ezra Miller, is also superb with the restoration of his character in Snyder’s version. Miller takes the character from jokester to serious world-saving hero with several amazing scenes, including one that eventually won an Academy Award. Though this is not a review of Warner Bros.’ failures, take note that the scene that won the Oscar was among quite a few that the studio and theatrical director Joss Whedon cut from the original final product.

Snyder’s final cut blows away the original theatrical cut and makes good use of the extended run time. It’s almost as if an ensemble film should be this long and this good on purpose. While we’re not fans of the precedent set in having multiple releases of the same film, the original cut of Justice League was an abomination that necessitated the Snyder version’s release. Trust us when we say the film only has room for one abomination in the form of Darkseid.

Story: 8
Acting: 10
Like the comics?: 9

Total score: 27/30 or 9.0

 

HOW WE GRADE

We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in cases of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of the maximum of 10 per category and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Property Review: Loki Season 1

Loki Season 1 unburdened with glorious purpose of multiverse

That mischievous scamp.
Loki, who slithered and slunk his way into our hearts in 2011’s Thor, has managed to somehow get looped in this illusion that we don’t love him the way we do. Naturally, he’s gone back to the beginning of his love affair with us, the Marvel faithful, and found a way to get us talking about him again. And we do it because, despite ourselves, we love him. And we love doing it because Loki’s debut season was burdened with glorious purpose and delivered.
We join our loveable narcissistic God of Mischief moments after he has teleported to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia in the 2012 timeline. If you’ll recall from those harrowing and chaotic moments of Endgame, the Avengers have just captured Loki after the Battle of New York. Loki’s been Hulk smashed, knackered and silenced with a mouthpiece, and the 2012 Avengers are ready to pack it up at Stark Tower while the 2023 Avengers are skulking around trying to acquire the Space Infinity Stone. But the Time Heist engineered by the 2023 Avengers has gone sideways. Within the confusion of the Hulk entering the scene in a complete rage, the Space stone is scattered and somehow lands at Loki’s feet. He seizes his opportunity for freedom, grabs it with all his might and teleports from the scene, thus ruining the Avengers’ attempts to temporarily borrow that stone. We all know what happens in Endgame after that, but where Loki managed to get off to was the question at the time. That’s answered in the fantastical world of his summer timeslip.
In the opening moments of this vaudeville delight, we’re reintroduced to the devil. This isn’t the Loki that we’ve come to love and mourn in Infinity War. This Loki is one who hasn’t quite redeemed himself. He doesn’t know who he really is just yet. He’s still at the beginning of the journey without the lessons learned. And this is where Loki shines. The introduction of the Time Variance Authority by way of Hunter B-15 — the wonderful Wunmi Mosaku — sets the tone immediately and gives the first clue that something is different. And everything is different, because we’re not in the MCU main timeline anymore, Toto.
The first episode alone steals the beatings of the heart by showing Loki — and us the viewer, by extension — the journey he should have taken. The TVA’s ruling power over the Sacred Timeline is mighty and powerful, and the true concept of the multiverse begins here with this one storyline beat. Years of buildup have prepared us for this, and it does not disappoint. Each beat of the story — multiple timeline branches, different universes, multiple versions of each character, time branching instead of being linearly shaped — hit one after another and it’s so much to take in. But this is the rub: It’s so expertly crafted here and done with so much care and nuance that months later, we’re still talking about all six episodes and what they mean for the future of the MCU. There are so many story branches opened now because of this that the dizzying nature of the multiverse slips in unnoticed to seep into later episodes and blow everything wide open.
And yet, even with its open nature, the show also has an isolated and insular draw. One of the core strengths is its ability to be humorous and thought-provoking with in-universe gags, easter eggs and references.
Somehow, Loki managed to be a miasma of questions about the implications of time travel and free will on the MCU while hilarious. No other show could feature a biting and witty villain who jumps through disasters in time (Category 8 hurricane in 2050, what?) with a bureaucratic pseudo-governmental agency represented by a time clock with a Southern drawl, who finds out he’s got female, child, future, supreme liar and alligator versions of himself, have them work together and tie it together as a subtle discourse on climate change.
There is no shortage of eclectic shenanigans going on in Loki, and it’s hilariously on point always. As is the soundtrack, because let us state this right now: Composer Natalie Holt outdid herself. The soundtrack is phenomenal and so well done in the way that it epitomizes what it means to be Loki. The themes used here could have easily been used in any Marvel theatrical release with Loki and they would have done well.
But let us not opine that everything in Loki going beautifully according to plan wasn’t also made possible with quality performances. Tom Hiddleston, at this point, is Loki. There’s no question that the dark brat prince of the MCU has cornered the market on our hearts through Hiddleston’s portrayal. Who else could make us simultaneously hate the Asgardian fool and love him so fiercely? The delicate touches he places on Loki’s motivations will have you rooting for the character from the moment he crashes into the Gobi Desert.
And along for the ride is, surprisingly, Owen Wilson. He’s a good actor, but in the confines of Loki, he’s in another echelon: Great. Wilson’s believable skepticism bleeds through and we’re all nodding our heads at his totally in-universe disbelief of the foolishness that is unredeemed Loki. He sees it through to the end, and he is the needed pin to tone things down to a believable state of affairs. Sophie Di Martino and Gugu Mbatha-Raw are refreshing and fun to dissect, given the nature of their characters. And the Loki variants — played by the equally fantastic Richard E. Grant, Deobia Oparei and Jack Veal — are important pieces of the puzzle who raise the bar of the cast exponentially.
And, let us devote a moment of reverence for Jonathan Majors as He Who Remains. Majors’ appearance is a master class in character development through exposition and narrative, moving the story forward while reminding you where it’s come from. He needed no crazy props, just charisma and charm, to explain not just who he is, but also why he is. His appearance in the sixth and final episode — For All Time. Always — is the most pristine entrance ever done in the MCU, and quite frankly, the most exciting in television in a long time. Majors delighted and enthralled us, luring us out to the precipice and having us hanging on his every word and action. We are unfathomably excited to see where he is going with the variant Kang the Conqueror in the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
Loki, long known to be equally parts vexing and enthralling, will return in Season 2. We are burdened with glorious purpose to be there from the beginning. Because after all, with one of the best scripts, best casts and best in-universe introduction, the sun is guaranteed to shine on its creativity and brilliance yet again.

Acting: 9.5
Story: 9
Production: 10

Overall score: 28.5/30 or 9.5

HOW WE GRADE
We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in cases of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of the maximum of 10 per category and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Property Review: The Boys Season 1

The Boys are back in town

Amazon, 2019

In your face. Gruesome. Over the top. Raw.

That’s how we’d describe the visceral reaction we had to The Boys in its inaugural season on Amazon Prime. We were familiar with the Garth Ennis graphic novel from many years back, and we were eagerly anticipating the adaptation once it was announced.

It did not disappoint.

Opening the story, A-Train, a speedster like Marvel’s Quicksilver, literally runs through protagonist Wee Hughie’s (a phenomenal Jack Quaid) girlfriend Robin accidentally while hopped up on drugs. Him barreling into her at superhuman speed causes her to explode instantly, traumatizing Hughie as he was holding her hands when the collision happened. Hughie can’t find solace in Robin’s death and the aftermath of receiving compensation for his loss. Wandering aimlessly in grief, he finds like-minded individuals starting with Billy Butcher, played by the breathtaking Karl Urban, who advises him to get his hands dirty and get revenge on the Seven because it’s the right thing to do and it’s “diabolical.”

Spreading the diabolical is the omnipresent Homelander, played brilliantly by Antony Starr. If you ever wonder what mixing Superman and Captain America with a side of Bizarro would create, you have Homelander. Homelander, with his all-American good looks and charm is, in reality, one of the most depraved super beings in the history of super beings. In his capacity as the leader of the Seven, a corporate sponsored superhero group, Homelander keeps the subordinates in check but thinks nothing of murdering a plane full of people twice (!) to achieve his own goals or keep the Vought International name clean.

The twists and turns and discovery of Homelander’s devious fakeout of the general population is equal parts engrossing, fun, gruesome and, well, diabolical. Everyone in the Seven has some sort of issue, but Homelander is the cream of the crop. Or so he says. By the end of the season, you will come to love and hate Homelander enough that if you haven’t read the graphic novel, you will hunt it down just to get the unfiltered version of the super menace.

Everyone plays their role to perfection, just nice enough on the surface but nasty enough on the other side that you know the mass marketing appeal of the characters isn’t going to last long. The story moves along at a nice pace, getting you to know the Seven and their impact on the world around them, and their counterparts in Butcher’s gang. It’s a fun, solid ride that makes you question everything you know about superheroes. What if they weren’t benevolent do-gooders and did stuff like participate in an orgy — the upcoming third season Herogasm arc? Who keeps them in check and how is that accomplished when they have powers that can literally change the world but they’re incompetent and amoral? The Boys aims to understand all of that in the goriest way possible. Season 1 ends on a cliffhanger and sets up future goodness in the already-released Season 2 and the coming Season 3. Expect more diabolical fun because this brilliant sendup of comic book follies is fantastic at judging those who save us.

Like the comics: 9

Acting: 8

Story: 10

Total: 27/30 or 9

HOW WE GRADE

We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in cases of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of the maximum of 10 per category and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Property Review: Iron Man

The first coming of Tony Stark is one of the best MCU origin stories

Iron Man
Marvel Studios, 2008

The one that started them all. The metaphorical start of Robert Downey Jr.’s comic book-like redemption arc. The birthplace of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The beginning of the beginning. All of these titles are appropriate for Iron Man, the 2008 origin story of veteran Avenger Tony Stark. Another title to throw in there? Magnificent.

It’s not just the tight story telling or excellent acting chops of the main cast. It’s also seeing Stark make his turn into the Avenger we all know and love. Stark starts out super hedonistic and self-serving. Through his wounding and subsequent capture by the Ten Rings organization, little by little, you see Stark have the needed epiphany that he was, in fact, War Machine, not Iron Man. Half of its fun ride comes from this need to see him come to that realization. The other half is, of course, learning that Stark can apply his genius for good and productive ways while still being the billionaire philanthropic playboy he declares himself to be to Steve Rogers in the later Avengers film.

Where Iron Man particularly succeeds, however, is the parallel Stark shares with perfect portrayer Robert Downey Jr. What most new generation Marvel fans don’t realize is, is when Iron Man was casted, Downey Jr. was not the bankable star that he is now. The man’s past is well known to older fans and caused several — including himself — to pause.

But the single most compelling thing about Downey Jr. is his will to better himself, work every day like most others to redeem himself and grow. That indomitable will shows in every second that Downey Jr. is Tony Stark/Iron Man. He is Iron Man. He is the living embodiment of the character who struggled to redeem himself and be a team player. Downey Jr. is such perfect casting that there is no one else that could ever step into the role. He became the character.

And for all that Iron Man succeeds in doing bombastically, it quietly sets up the rest of the cinematic universe perfectly. Iron Man in its stumbling glory is what we now know as the standard for a Marvel movie. It makes Stark relatable, tells his superhero origin story and sets up future films with a deftness that reminds us that there is, in fact, a plan for all of this. Now that we’ve seen that plan unfold, we can come back and praise the beginning for all that it is. The heart and soul of the MCU lives on.

Like the comics: 8

Acting: 8.5

Story: 8

Total: 24.5/30 or 8

HOW WE GRADE

We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in cases of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of the maximum of 10 per category and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Property Review: Captain Marvel

A marvelous beginning

Captain Marvel
Marvel Studios, 2019

We all knew she was coming; we just didn’t know when. And when Carol Danvers got here, we were waiting, and we were not disappointed with what she brought with her.

Captain Marvel’s origin story is a tale as old as time: Heroine has amnesia, discovers her previous life and the reason for her amnesia, finds new allies and turns on her old “allies”/captors. However, this is different. Set some ways back in the MCU, Captain Marvel manages reasonably well to stick to the comic book origins of the character. With the hard work established in the story, thankfully, Jude Law and Brie Larson have chemistry and are a good match from the outset.

As we learn more about the good “Vers,” we also learn that not everything is as it seems. Danvers gets down to business and explores her origin in a funny yet serious way that highlights the central question that most all the Avengers and heroes of the MCU have had to ask themselves: Who are you?

And that’s the most important question asked by this film. Who is Carol Danvers to the outside world after being gone for six years? Who is she to her colleagues? Who is she to her friends and family? And, most importantly, who is Carol Danvers to herself? Going on this journey is the key to understanding the film and the character in later appearances.

Speaking of later appearances, Ronan the Accuser makes an appearance in what is chronologically his first appearance in the MCU. Technically, he steals the show in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1, but in the MCU timeline of events, he first appears here to torment Danvers and he almost steals the movie right from under her. Lee Pace deserves mention for his nuanced portrayal of the villain. Ronan could easily have been a one-dimensional act, but Pace has shown layers to the villain and truly carried his weight when it came to showing the might of the Kree fanatic.

With the scene being set for the captain to do her thing and return to her roots, it’s no wonder that the film moves along at a nice clip. It done well and doesn’t stray too far from the comics or do too much extra work beyond what you’ve come to expect from a Marvel origin story. In fact, it does everything you need it to do to set up Captain Marvel for Avengers: Endgame and it does that extremely well. The look at the good captain is fun and packed full of action to set up for one of the most powerful beings in the comics to finally make her way to the cinematic universe in a dramatic and fun way.

Like the comics: 8

Story: 6

Acting: 6

Total: 20/30 or 6.7

HOW WE GRADE
We score the prop­er­ties in three cat­e­gories: Cast­ing (or voice act­ing in cases of ani­mated), plot and sim­i­lar­i­ties to its source mate­r­ial. Each cat­e­gory receives points out of the max­i­mum of 10 per cat­e­gory and 30 over­all. The per­cent­age is the final score.

Property Review: Avengers Endgame

Photo courtesy of IMDB.com

Assembled greatness completed

Avengers: Endgame
Marvel Studios, 2019

“We’re in the endgame now.” Dr. Strange was and always has been prescient about the situation at hand. Whether it’s his own battles with the likes of Dormammu or Shuma Gorath or facing off against Thanos, the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth is always planning and stark about the reality of whatever happens to be going on. In this instance, in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, Strange was the most grounded and gave the most sobering assessment of all: The Avengers were going to lose before they won.

Based on Strange’s assessment in Infinity War, you’d think Endgame would be some bleak tale of revenge and that’s it. Technically, Endgame does begin as that, but it morphs into something more. It’s a tale of loss, hard choices, joy and survival. And, yes, revenge. It’s a do-over on some levels also. See, here, the Avengers who survived “the snappening” in Infinity War have to go on. They’re living day to day without their comrades, friends, loved ones and mentors/mentees. Life is bleak, with monuments to those lost when Thanos took out half of the universe’s population with a flick of his wrist and a twitch in his gauntlet. Time has, at once, stood still and moved on for those still around. They’re finding ways to cope and that’s the meat of the first third. It’s a brilliantly deconstructed look at the world in which the Avengers did not win. The visceral raw emotion of Avengers coping, and the world at large is beautiful and simultaneously heartbreaking. Of all the Avengers, Thor and Hawkeye are depicted as having the most pain with Black Widow a close second. It’s the train wreck that you can’t look away from and feel in your soul.

From that wreck, however, in the second act rises the phoenix of the Avengers and their allies. The most genius among them — Scott Lang, Hulk and Tony Stark — figure out a way to effect time travel. They engineer a way to travel to different points on their established timeline to retrieve the Infinity stones and bring everyone back. This makes for great comedy and revisits of some of the cinematic universe’s most memorable moments. Pop culture bits (such as America’s Ass for Captain America/America’s sweetheart Chris Evans and “Hail Hydra,” also for Cap) even make their way in, lightening the mood a bit. But alas, as you make one stride forward, there will always be another that takes you back. Hard choices must be made in order to see some gain, or so Marvel would have you believe. So, yes, you’re going to say goodbye to some fan favorites and yes, this is signifying that their time with the franchise is coming to an end. However, it’s handled well, and it invokes emotion so much so that young children will cry at the thought of losing their favorite superhero.

And, for a minute, let the editor just step back and reminisce about the experience of seeing the current crop of Avengers gathered together for likely the last time. When there was a pivotal death, at the most pivotal moment — yes, THAT death — there was not a dry eye in the house. A young child, no older than 6 probably, cried her eyes out. Adults around us, including the editor, sniffled and cried as though we had lost a beloved family member. THAT is how you do a proper sendoff to a beloved character and that is how you wrap up a story, one of redemption and selflessness for the character and the actor in real life.

Every beat hit and every note cleanly marked is the hallmark of these Avengers movies and Endgame was no exception. Threads from the early days were neatly wrapped and character investment paid off for nearly everyone. It was enough that when the lights came back up, the movie received a standing ovation and nearly everyone waited for a mid-credits scene that would never come. THAT is how you wrap 11 years and 22 movies into a neat package and remind everyone that you’re the master of the genre. That is how you thank your fans for taking the time to care and get to know your ensemble cast through individual movies and properties.

That’s Marvel, baby.

Like the comics?: 6
Casting: 10
Writing: 10

Overall score: 26 out of 30 or 8.6

HOW WE GRADE
We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in cases of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of the maximum of 10 per category and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Property review: Black Panther

Marvel Studios, 2018

Black, powerful,beautiful

Seeing your people represented on the silver screen when you are a person of color means quite a bit. Seeing them do important things and be decent human beings means quite a bit more. Seeing them as royalty and enjoying prosperity means everything.

Written well and superbly acted, Black Panther has the difficult job of being a lot of things to a lot of people and it succeeds. Even with the heavy topics of race and what it means to be black in the world, there are light moments. Black Panther isn’t without humor and it’s deftly mixed in with the right balance. How it achieved this balance is important because it has quite a few stories to tell in a short amount of time.

When Black Panther was announced, the most we knew about T’Challa was from the comics: He was the ruler of Wakanda — a prosperous black nation in Africa that was hidden from the rest of the world — and that he was married to Storm of the X-Men. Also, he was on a quest of revenge for the death of his father T’Chaka, which occurred in Captain America: Civil War. That’s about it. But then something wonderous happened: Marvel started talking about T’Challa’s origin story and why it was important to get it out there. And that push began one of the greatest runs ever for a comic book property.

Black Panther is so layered with different concepts that it’s hard to not go down the rabbit hole too deep. Black Panther starts out with the re-introduction of T’Challa some months after the death of T’Chaka and T’Challa’s ascent to the throne of Wakanda. In swift order we are introduced to Okoye, Shuri and the advanced nature of Wakanda, thanks to the infinite supply of vibranium. T’Challa’s day-to-day struggle to rule Wakanda alongside its other clans, keep the nation safe from the outside world and get involved in the world’s affairs is just one of the layers and that’s swiftly peeled back to show that everything on the surface is just that: Surface material for the more pressing concept of just what it means to be black and free.

The introduction of Erik Killmonger is one of the next layers down. Killmonger represents the rest of the black experience: hurt, angry, bitter and wanting something more in life than to be stereotyped and abandoned by the world at large. Killmonger’s story is the result of what happens when we as black people are not uplifted and left at the mercy of an unforgiving system of oppression and what happens when we don’t help our own who are downtrodden and hurting. And though that struggle is simplified here for the general masses, it still speaks to the heart of America’s past and present in terms of race.

On a deeper level, there is the concept of what it means to be a leader and a man. T’Challa’s development from Civil War to Black Panther is so detailed that it feels like we knew nothing about him before Black Panther. And this is the same with the rest of the characters: No one is left out of the development process and every character’s motivations are addressed in painstaking detail. And with that development comes a wealth of standout characters. Shuri, Okoye, W’Kabi and Nakia are wonderful characters that add depth to T’Challa’s life and story. And the true scene-stealing addition is M’Baku, leader of the Jabari tribe. Making a memorable entrance early in the film, M’Baku manages to strike a defiant yet relatable chord in his quest to have his part of the Wakandian pie recognized for its might and resiliency.

And what a pie Wakanda is. From the opening sequence of T’Challa returning home from an important mission to the ending sequence showing the Wakandian sunset, the nation of free and prosperous black folk is a beauty. Everything that we imagine the motherland to be in its natural beauty and wonderment was and is a sight to behold in the fictional nation’s depiction. Wakanda is beautiful, lush and vibrant with an Afropunk futuristic vibe that we have only seen glimpses of in the real world through the pages of magazines.

Black Panther meant a lot of things to a lot of people when it hit the screen. Its sequel is poised to bring the same type of magic as well. With the show put on by director Ryan Coogler in Black Panther, we can only wish that our return to Wakanda is just as fun and important as our first go around. Wakanda forever.

How we grade

Acting: 10

Story: 10

Like the comics?: 9.5

Overall grade: 9.8

HOW WE GRADE
We score the prop­er­ties in three cat­e­gories: Cast­ing (or voice act­ing in cases of ani­mated), plot and sim­i­lar­i­ties to its source mate­r­ial. Each cat­e­gory receives points out of the max­i­mum of 10 per cat­e­gory and 30 over­all. The per­cent­age is the final score.

Property review: 300: Rise of an Empire

300: Rise of an Empire
Warner Bros., 2014

300: Rise of an Empire late but bold enough to make impact

The first movie in the possible pantheon of tales about the valiant Spartans who died at the Battle of Thermopylae was a rollicking good time. There were epic one-liners, fighting, sex and death: Everything you could ask for in a movie about ancient Greece and Persia. The second film had a name to live up to and a reputation to uphold. While it manages to recreate some of the fun of 300, Rise of an Empire comes much too late to capitalize and continue to curry the favor that 300 cultivated.

Rise of an Empire starts with the premise that King Leonidas and his brave brigade of warriors from 300 are dead. Taking place during, before and after Leonidas’ sacrificial trip to the Hot Gates, Rise of an Empire shows the beginning of Xerxes I’s reign, his creation of Persian city states, his rise to power and seeming immortality, and his ruthless general Artemisia’s background and eventual lust for revenge and power. With simultaneous story threads, the film moves along at a quickened pace despite being an hour and 42 minutes long. It needs that amount of time to flashback for multiple characters and push the present events forward.

While the look at events in Rise of an Empire are interesting, quite frankly it was too long between movies for there to be much interest in the proceedings. Rise comes seven years after the original, which means there’s plenty of time to forget the original plot, character motivations and reason for most of anything that occurs. There are plot recaps at the beginning, thankfully, but it’s hard to remember a plot from seven years previously and remain engaged.

Despite the passage of time, the film looks good. The chroma key technique used in the original is used again and then given a fuzzy sheen. While slightly jarring, the sheen doesn’t detract too much from the original look that matched the comics. The soundtrack remains the same as well, so not much has changed aside from the focus and some of the stars. Lena Headey returns as Queen Gorgo as does Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes. Eva Green — a former Bond Girl — and Sullivan Stapleton join in new roles to round out the cast. The new additions are great and seamlessly fit the universe. Green and Stapleton sizzle with chemistry and Green, in particular, is a standout. Santoro still commands as Xerxes whenever he is onscreen but the God King seems to take a backseat, which is hard to understand. As he remains the main villain, he should remain front and center.
Despite the long wait and storyline lagging from time to time, 300: Rise of an Empire is still a fun history lesson for the comic book lover and casual moviegoer alike.

Story: 7
Like the comics: 10
Casting: 9

Total: 36/40 or 9

HOW WE GRADE
We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in cases of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of the maximum of 10 per category and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Property review: Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War
Marvel Studios, 2016

A civil war worth fighting

No, this isn’t the “Late Unpleasantness,” but Captain America: Civil War is a bitter battle waged between brothers in arms. And it’s a fascinating look at that battle that has moral complications and implications for the Marvel Cinematic Universe at large.

Civil War starts out shortly after the end of the excellent Winter Soldier (editor’s note: Read our review of Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 4Q2014) and Avengers: Age of Ultron. The titular assassin is shown in a flashback to a pivotal event in an Avenger’s history and is, in the present, on the loose after rescuing Captain America from the murky depths of the Potomac River. Also, the Avengers have been bolstered by the additions of new recruits with a few losses in the lineup because of events in Age of Ultron. They’re on a mission to stop Crossbones (also new after the Winter Soldier) when everything planned goes horribly awry. The aftermath is swift: The Avengers are called on the carpet and told to shape up, join the government’s version of oversight or be hunted and thrown in jail with no foreseeable release. Sides are chosen and the lines are drawn as to who is going to remain with no oversight and who will work with the government’s registration act.

We have to acknowledge the powerful secondary tale that springs up among the Winter Soldier, Captain America and Iron Man. The civil war really comes down to the layered conflict between Cap and Iron Man. This is what’s really driving the overall arching fight between teams, but on a personal level, these two friends are hurting on different levels because of each other. Tony can’t understand why Cap doesn’t get the need for oversight and he feels jealous because of the relationship between Cap and the Winter Soldier. Not to mention, a plot twist late in the game brings the latter relationship to the forefront and is essentially the straw that breaks the camel’s back for Tony. Cap can’t understand why Tony doesn’t want to operate as is, given that Tony is a past weapons manufacturer and operates well without someone standing over his shoulder and the follies that were S.H.I.E.L.D and Hydra. Civil War’s excellent and tight writing basically boils down a conflict between best friends whose visions have grown apart.

Despite Civil War being one of the longer films in the MCU, it never feels like it. The pacing is excellent from the beginning to end, and you’re drawn into the action quickly and efficiently, which there’s plenty of. The flow of story to action is great, the humor is deftly weaved in with a lot of inside jokes and nods to past events and easter eggs, and it’s the perfect mix to keep you interested in what’s going to happen next. The fight scenes alone are worth watching just to see the choreography and stylish nuance found in recreating the ensemble’s various super powers and abilities. Every fight scene — from the brawl at government headquarters, to the chase at the Winter Soldier’s apartment and the giant brawl at the airport — is worth watching repeatedly.

Character development is also handled extremely well. New superheroes are introduced and older characters are further developed, which makes the characterization easy and natural and their interaction believable. You grow to care about the new characters, which is relatively hard to do with a large ensemble such as Civil War. You also get a sense that you would immediately know what each Avenger would decide to do because you already know these characters, and the ones you don’t know, you learn who they are and why they make their personal choices.

There are several additions to the cast that make Civil War stand out. The first is Black Panther, who becomes an Avenger at a later point in the comics. Here, the character’s introduction was handled so well that we’re eagerly awaiting the announced spinoff film for him. The second is Spider-Man. Yes, the web crawler’s recent film outings have been done to death, but it’s his introduction here that is nicely done. It serves two purposes: to finally bring him home to the Marvel brand once again and set him up correctly within the MCU.

The story, by itself, is an interesting tale of freedom and choices. We understood why both sides chose their positions in the Civil War, and we could easily empathize with both sides. While the comic version of this story is similar in forcing a stance on issues related to freedom and responsibility, the change made to the incident that causes the conflict between superheroes in the film is a welcome one and more relatable.

Where the MCU goes from here is debatable because of the many angles that can be taken in Infinity War, but it’s a going to be a great ride thanks to the fantastic build up in previous films such as Civil War.

Like the comics?: 6
Casting: 10
Storyline: 10

Score: 26/30 or 8.6

HOW WE GRADE
We score the prop­er­ties in three cat­e­gories: Cast­ing (or voice act­ing in cases of ani­mated), plot and sim­i­lar­i­ties to its source mate­r­ial. Each cat­e­gory receives points out of the max­i­mum of 10 per cat­e­gory and 30 over­all. The per­cent­age is the final score.