Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Why “Bad Santa” Is The Greatest Modern Christmas Movie

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This is the time of year where you can’t go more than a half-hour without seeing a Christmas movie on TV. We’re basically in the heart of the holiday season. People have finally stopped complaining about Christmas decorations going up too early or getting a head start on their shopping. It’s not just fast-approaching anymore. The holidays are here.

Now, I love the holidays as much as anyone. As such, I have a strong appreciation for Christmas movies. I often go through stretches in December where I’ll watch at least part of a Christmas movie every day. It’s a beautiful thing that gets me in the spirit and gives me an excuse to drink eggnog spiked with whiskey.

I have a long list of personal favorites. I’m also among those who argue vehemently that “Die Hard” qualifies as a Christmas movie. Despite what Bruce Willis himself says, this movie will always be part of my holiday viewing schedule. I could write multiple articles to justify that position, but that’s not my intent here.

In recent years, I’ve found myself immersed in another argument surrounding a unique kind of Christmas movie. That movie is a lesser-known, but underrated gem called “Bad Santa.” If you’ve seen it, then you probably understand why it inspires such colorful discussions during the holidays. If you haven’t, then I urge you to check it out, but do not watch it with your children.

Make no mistake. “Bad Santa” is to Christmas movies what the McRib is to fast food fans. It’s one of those rare movies that doesn’t just go in the opposite direction of every classic trope associated with a particular genre. It gives those themes the finger, kicks it in the balls, and throws up on them for good measure.

This movie has no holiday miracles. There’s no magic at work. There’s no heartwarming moments that reaffirm the spirit of the season. This movie is weapons grade cynicism for all things Christmas and it goes about it in a way that’s vulgar, crude, disgusting, and hilarious.

The story is not for the faint of heart. It follows Willie Soke, a degenerate, misanthropic, womanizing, alcoholic who makes his living cracking safes with his dwarf partner-in-crime, Marcus Skidmore. Their tactics are the antithesis of the holiday spirit. Willie works as a mall Santa while Marcus works as an elf. They work at malls during the holidays and then rob them on Christmas Eve.

If you expect the movie to be a feel-good holiday story about a criminal redeeming himself during Christmas, then prepare to be disappointed. Willie is not that kind of character and “Bad Santa” does not tell that kind of story. While Willie does undergo some growth, he’s still an asshole by the time the credits roll.

The story doesn’t try to redeem Willie. It doesn’t even try to put him on the path to becoming a better person. All the Christmas miracles in world can’t do that for someone like him. However, his story does bring something uniquely festive to the table. The way things play out for Willie and those around him convey a powerful message that resonates with the holiday season in its own perverse way.

Some go so far as to argue that “Bad Santa” is an anti-Christmas movie. I can understand that sentiment to some extent. However, I would argue that “Bad Santa” is one of those movies that has become more relevant with time. I would even argue that, in the context of the modern spirit of Christmas, “Bad Santa” is the greatest modern Christmas movie.

Now, I know that won’t sit well with those who still love “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” I don’t deny that those are great Christmas movies that deserve to be classics. I’m not arguing that “Bad Santa” is better than those movies or deserves to be in the same category. I simply believe that “Bad Santa” is the greatest Christmas movie for the current times in which we live and these are my reasons why.


Reason #1: It Reflects The Real (And Increasingly Jaded) World

Let’s face it. These are not the upbeat, idealistic times of yesteryear. People no longer trust in their government. People keep seeing once-beloved celebrities self-destruct. In general, people just aren’t confident about the future anymore. As a society, we’re becoming more and more jaded. That’s exactly the kind of sentiment that “Bad Santa” appeals to.

This movie is a world where assholes keep being assholes. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. That may not be a great basis for a Christmas movie, but it perfectly represents the real world, now more than ever. In this day and age, we see famous and powerful people get away with awful things time and again. There’s no miracle that comes around to right all the wrongs.

In “Bad Santa,” this harsh view of the world isn’t avoided. For the entire movie, Willie essentially channels the defeatist attitude of Al Bundy. His life sucks. He hates himself. He barely even flinches when he’s staring down the barrel of a gun at one point. Beyond the self-loathing, though, he finds a way to provide real insights into the holidays.

Do we really need all the crap we ask for on Christmas? Do we really need magic, miracles, or some grand spectacle to appreciate it? Willie’s entire persona is an indictment of those who rely too much on magical thinking during the holidays. In the real world, that doesn’t get anyone anything other than a gut punch and a kick in the ass.


Reason #2: It Relies On Choices Rather Than Miracles

As deplorable a human being as Willie Soke is, he does have one defining trait that makes him somewhat sympathetic. He doesn’t make excuses. He doesn’t blame the world or everyone else for his lousy lot in life. He’s very much a product of his choices. He chooses to drink, spit, swear, and piss himself while wearing a Santa suit. There’s no extenuating circumstances. These are his choices.

Granted, they’re deplorable choices from someone inclined to self-destruction, but he makes them freely and doesn’t hide from the consequences. These same choices are what makes his relationship to the dense, but lovable kid in the movie, Therman, so meaningful. Willie has no reason to care or help this kid in any capacity and the kid is in no position to stop him.

In the end, though, Willie doesn’t need a miracle or some visit from Christmas spirits to make his choices. Therman’s influence on him, while ridiculous and downright pathetic at times, is sufficient for him to make the choices that make the story work. While they don’t necessarily redeem Willie for all his misdeeds, it does show that even a drunk like him can do the right thing without a miracle.

That, in and of itself, is a testament to the spirit of Christmas. When someone like Willie Soke can actually choose to do something good for a gullible kid, then that offers hope to any jaded soul on the holidays.


Reason #3: It Highlights Small (But Meaningful) Gestures

Many of the most memorable Christmas movies often have these big, elaborate gestures that attempt to make our hearts gush with holiday cheer. Whether it’s embracing loved ones at the end of “It’s A Wonderful Life” or reuniting with family in “Home Alone,” it feels like a Christmas movie has to go overboard with holiday sentiment.

Bad Santa” takes the exact opposite approach, but somehow finds a way to make those gestures more meaningful. The movie doesn’t take place in the North Pole or some fanciful holiday setting. It takes place in Phoenix, Arizona where it doesn’t snow and heavy coats are useless. It effectively removes the ambiance of the holidays beyond the tacky decorations that people put up.

That works perfectly for “Bad Santa” because it ensures any gesture carries more weight. Whether it’s Willie trying to get Thurman his Christmas present or Willie putting back together the Advent Calendar, these small moments feel bigger in a setting devoid of traditional holiday magic.

There’s no sweeping change that turns Phoenix into some sort of Christmas haven. The world of “Bad Santa” never tries to be anything other than a world of shallow holiday imagery because that’s all it needs. Anything more than that is just fantasy and there’s only so much fantasy you can muster in a story that follows a misanthropic drunk.


Reason #4: It Offers Perspective Rather Than Hope

Another major trait of classic Christmas movies is the hope they inspire. When you get to the end of a Christmas movie, you’re supposed to feel a sense of hope. There’s this sense that the story has somehow rekindled someone’s holiday spirit. While there will always be a place for that kind of hope in a fantasy world, “Bad Santa” offers something different, but valuable.

More than anything else, “Bad Santa” conveys a sense of perspective about the holidays. It’s not this wonderful, heartfelt occasion for everybody. There are a lot of miserable, self-loathing drunks like Willie Soke out there who don’t want or need hope. They’d rather have something that’ll make life suck a little less.

That’s the best Willie can strive for in “Bad Santa” and that’s exactly what he does. Being around Therman doesn’t make him a beacon of Christmas spirit. It just makes his miserable life slightly less miserable and he’s grateful for that. As a result, he makes an effort to help the kid have a good Christmas.

Sure, his efforts result in him getting roughed up and shot, but that’s perfectly appropriate for the tone of the story. In the real world, noble efforts like that aren’t always rewarded. Sometimes, they end up pretty messy, which Willie finds out the hard way on more than one occasion. It’s not the most uplifting message, but it’s the most honest.

Perspective today is more precious than it has ever been before. In the era of fake news and alternative facts, it’s hard to maintain a firm grasp on reality. Christmas movies tend to obscure reality for something more cheerful, but “Bad Santa” for something more real and that’s what makes it so effective as a story.


Reason #5: It Finds Humor In Bad Situations

To this point, if I’ve given the impression that “Bad Santa” is one depressing slog of a movie, I apologize. Yes, it can be depressing and bleak, but it’s also obscenely funny. There are dark moments in this movie that involve depression, alcoholism, and even attempted suicide. However, many of these moments are perfectly balanced with moments of raw hilarity.

Whether it’s Willie beating the snot out of a bunch of bullies or Marcus berating Gin with a masterful string of profanity, this movie invests heavily on humor. Granted, it’s a very adult form of humor, but it works perfectly within the context of the story. From the very beginning, Willie and his supporting cast are in all sorts of awful situations. Injecting humor into the mix helps balance it out.

It helps create a particular tone for a movie that goes out of its way to spit on so many holiday traditions. Things are ugly for these characters. They’re miserable excuses for human beings, but they often find themselves in funny situations that they make more hilarious with their reactions. No matter how bad it gets, they find a way to make their devolving situations entertaining.

In an era were awful situations unfold in real time because of social media, it’s important to find humor wherever you can. There’s only so much we can do to change a situation. Willie makes that clear from the very beginning of “Bad Santa.” Sometimes, all you can do is just laugh at the absurdities and that’s exactly what this movie does.


I won’t claim that “Bad Santa” is the new standard for Christmas movies. I doubt it’s going to start the kinds of trends we’ve seen in other genres. However, the story it told and the dark humor it utilized struck a chord when it first came out. As the years have gone by, it keeps finding new ways to resonate with an emerging audience.

There will always be a place for “Home Alone” and the Grinch. However, I think for the current generation and all the others who have watched this world embrace new levels of absurdities, “Bad Santa” deserves a special place in our holiday traditions.

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How “Into The Spider-Verse” Embodies The Best Aspects Of Superhero Movies (And Sets Up A Promising Future)

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In the modern era of superhero movies, Spider-Man is one of the bedrock franchises that has guided the genre through its journey from niche market to global box office dominance. Alongside the first “X-men” movie, Sam Raimi’s original “Spider-Man” is credited with ushering in this golden age of superhero cinema.

It has been a bumpy road at times. We had high points with “Spider-Man 2” and not-so-high points with “Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Regardless of how these movies fared, the story of Peter Parker shouldering the power and responsibilities of Spider-Man has become ingrained in pop culture. We still could’ve done without that awful dance scene, though.

Given all the weight Spider-Man has for the genre, a movie like “Into The Spider-Verse” has a lot going for it and just as much working against it. The story of Peter Parker has been done, redone, and overdone so much that it feels like there’s no room left for nuance. Well, “Into The Spider-Verse” definitively proves there’s still untapped potential and it runs even deeper than anyone thought.

I don’t want to spoil much about this movie, but I will spoil this. “Into The Spider-Verse” is every bit as awesome as critics and audiences alike have said. It’s a truly groundbreaking achievement for superhero movies, animation, and the Spider-Man franchise. The fact that it managed to do this without being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe makes that accomplishment all the more remarkable.

This movie succeeds on so many levels. It takes a concept drawn directly from the comics and expands on it, creating a whole new world in which all things Spider-Man do not revolve entirely around Peter Parker. That’s not a typo, by the way. This is a Spider-Man movie in which Peter Parker is not the main driving force of the story.

It’s this kid.

He’s still there. He still plays a major part in the story. However, this movie is a story about Miles Morales. Those who follow the comics will recognize that name. He’s not just some unknown character who gets thrust into a central role in the vein of the “Ghostbuster” reboot. Miles has a fairly comprehensive history going back to 2011 and this movie captures the heart of that history perfectly.

Miles is not like Peter in many ways. Beyond the fact that he’s half-black, half-Latino, and the nephew of a dangerous super-villain, his powers are slightly different. His personality is different, as well. He’s not the same nerdy dork that Peter Parker was, but he is very much an outsider who struggles to fit in.

Miles has more confidence, but not in the arrogant hipster Andrew Garfield sort of way. He’s someone who isn’t sure of who he wants to be or where he wants his life to go. On one hand, he’s got his parents who want him to aspire to something greater than a life in Brooklyn. On the other, he has influences like his Uncle Aaron pulling him down a darker path.

Him getting bit by a radioactive spider only compounds these conflicting forces. Part of what makes Miles work when other would-be Spider-Man replacements failed is that his struggle feels genuine. He never comes off as a rip-off or a substitute. What makes Miles a Spider-Man worth rooting for is how Peter Parker inspires him to take on that responsibility.

The comics went about that in one particular way that worked brilliantly. “Into The Spider-Verse” utilizes a different, but similar approach that’s every bit as compelling. Peter Parker has a major influence, but the movie throws in many other influences that send Miles down the path to becoming Spider-Man.

Some of those influences come in the form of other famous alternate-version Spider-Man characters, including the likes of Spider-Gwen and Spider-Ham. “Into The Spider-Verse” manages to give them their own stories that show how they fit into the greater Spider-Man mythos, but for Miles, they embody the responsibility before him.

Like Peter, and so many other Spider-Man characters, he’s initially reluctant to bear that burden. Over the course of the movie, he endures plenty of agonizing decisions and crippling self-doubt. He struggles in ways that we’re not used to seeing Spider-Man struggle, but that’s exactly why “Into The Spider-Verse” works so well in the current landscape of superhero movies.

Going back to the first “Iron Man” movie, we’ve come to expect struggles and setbacks from our heroes. Miles has a lot more than most and not just because of his youth or inexperience. He has huge shoes to fill and the history of characters filling the shoes of iconic heroes is mixed at best.

By the end of the movie, though, Miles effectively proves that he’s worthy of being Spider-Man. He deserves a spot in the greater Spider-Man mythos. It doesn’t have to revolve entirely around Peter Parker. For some Spider-Man fans, that may seem outrageous. “Into The Spider-Verse” shows that there’s plenty of room for characters like Miles.

How it goes about this has greater implications for the future of superhero movies than it does for the present. I would even go so far as to say that “Into The Spider-Verse” might end up being a major turning point for the superhero genre because of how it tells Miles’ story alongside that of Peter Parker.

Aside from just raising Miles’ profile, “Into The Spider-Verse” does something that is overdue for Peter Parker’s story. Specifically, it ages him. The Peter Parker in this story is not some wide-eyed kid with Tom Holland’s baby face. He’s an older, more jaded version of Peter who has made mistakes and lost confidence in himself, as often happens to those who survive to middle age.

The look of a man who has fought one too many muggers.

It’s part of the paradox of heroism that I’ve mentioned before in that many popular superheroes aren’t allowed to age beyond a certain point. In fact, that was cited as the primary reason for breaking up Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson in the comics. Aging a hero beyond the mold Frank Miller’s version of Batman just seems like a dead end.

Into The Spider-Verse” makes the case that this doesn’t have to be the case. Peter Parker can grow up and even endure a mid-life crisis. For a character who has been around since the early 1960s, it almost feels overdue. His struggle doesn’t have to be the end of his story. If anything, it helps further Miles’ ascension to becoming the new Spider-Man.

It’s a theme that has played out in the comics more recently. Older heroes are inspiring a new crop of younger heroes. Miles Morales was among the first. Others like Kamala Khan and Riri Williams have followed. It feels like a natural progression of the superhero archetype, inspiring others to take up the responsibility and aspire to something greater.

Miles Morales isn’t a replacement for Peter Parker. He’s a supplement to the greater Spider-Man mythos and “Into The Spider-Verse” establishes how well this can work. His story is every bit as endearing as Peter’s, but without supplanting him. As such, it provides a new template for superhero movies in the future.

Not every story has to rely on rehashing and revamping iconic characters from the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko era. It’s possible for new characters to emerge without replacing older ones. The world of superheroes can grow and evolve with subsequent generations. It’ll have to and not just because of actors’ contracts expiring.

If I had to score “Into The Spider-Verse,” I would give it an 8 out of 10. It’s a great movie, but it does have some shortcomings. They’re very minor. The pacing of the movie is erratic at times and the designs for certain characters, namely Kingpin and Scorpion, have room for improvement. It never feels chaotic or disconnected, though. The movie has a unique artistic style that fits perfectly with the story.

Every now and then, someone will claim that superhero movies will one day go the way of the western. That may still happen at some point, but “Into The Spider-Verse” shows that there are whole new paths to explore and they have to exist in the MCU. This movie is an incredible achievement beyond just being a great superhero movie and one I hope inspires others for years to come.

Also, the tribute to Stan Lee at the end will bring a tear to your eyes. Be certain of that.

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A (Partial) Symbiosis Of Awesome: My “Venom” Review

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Certain movies are subject to unique standards. Nowhere is this more apparent than with superhero movies. A sci-fi movie can be flexible with its use of sci-fi elements. The same can be said for generic genres like romantic comedies, horror, action, and even stoner movies. A superhero movie, whether fairly or unfairly, will be judged by much stricter criteria.

This is the problem “Venom” faced before it even started shooting. Most fans, especially those who follow Marvel Comics, were probably intrigued by the possibility of a movie about Venom. Casting Tom Hardy in the lead role definitely help. No offense to Topher Grace, but he’s far more qualified to play Eddie Brock than he’ll ever be.

Even so, “Venom” had a lot of logistical problems from the beginning. It wasn’t going to feature Spider-Man. It wasn’t going to take place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It wasn’t even going to get input from Kevin Feige and everyone else at Marvel Studios, who have made creating billion-dollar movies seem inane. By some standards, that’s a serious handicap.

Most Marvel fans, and I consider myself one of them, aren’t too keen on the idea of a Venom movie that doesn’t involve Spider-Man or have any connection to the MCU. Even if you have a passing familiarity with Venom in the comics, you probably know that a lot of his story is connected with Spider-Man. Telling a Venom movie without Spider-Man is like telling a Joker movie without Batman.

Actually, that may be a bad example. Forget I said that.

Logistical issues aside, I was still intrigued enough to give “Venom” a try. Like many other Marvel fans, I was not pleased with how his story was handled in “Spider-Man 3.” The only good that came out of that was a slew of dancing Toby Maguire memes. I felt Venom deserved better.

Well, without getting too deep into spoiler territory, I can affirm that “Venom” definitely succeeded where “Spider-Man 3” failed. It’s not just a good movie about Venom. It’s a good movie, overall. It had a lot of things working against it, but it still worked.

I know that the movie didn’t exactly thrill critics, nor did it blow the minds of hardcore fans who saw it. At the same time, it wasn’t messy or cumbersome like the theatrical cut of “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Yes, this movie probably would’ve benefited by taking the “Deadpool” approach and gone for an R-rating. However, it still succeeds in many ways.

At its core, “Venom” works because it’s less about alien symbiotes infecting random people and more about Eddie Brock. This is his story and Tom Hardy does an excellent job capturing his persona. You don’t have to read a single comic to understand that Eddie Brock is not Peter Parker. He’s not exactly a hero, but he’s not a blood-thirsty villain, either.

Although that’s not necessarily obvious.

Eddie Brock is one of those guys who’s a loser and not just because he ends up bonding with a parasitic alien. One of the best things this movie did was show that Eddie’s life falls apart because of a decision that he makes. He’s not a victim of bad luck. In the beginning, his life is actually really good. However, he makes a fateful choice that completely changes that.

At the same time, the movie establishes that Eddie is not the kind of guy who jumps at the chance to be a hero. He has a few opportunities before he bonds with the Venom symbiote. He doesn’t take it and unlike Peter Parker, it’s not purely out of responsibility. He’s just not the kind of guy who embodies the selfless spirit of Superman or Captain America.

Then, when he encounters the symbiote, these personality flaws intensify. At first, he’s just overwhelmed. He reacts in a way most people would. His first instinct isn’t to help people or be a hero. He’s actually petty and self-serving for the most part. As the story unfolds, he and the symbiote literally and figuratively feed off one another. They both grow and evolve, as characters.

That process involves plenty of action, some of which is pretty visceral. If you’re looking for the kind of cartoonish beat-downs we got in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” you’re going to be disappointed. The action here is quite violent. It’s not on the same gratuitous level as “Deadpool,” but it’s close and it even holds back at times.

Given Venom’s brutal nature in the comics, this can be a bit of a problem. In watching this movie, you get the sense that the effects team worked overtime to keep the violence just below PG-13 levels. At times, it feels forced and that impacts the story to some extent.

This moment could’ve been MUCH bloodier.

That’s not the only issue, nor is it the biggest. While I believe the story works, I also can’t deny that it’s missing some key components. Those not familiar Spider-Man’s history surrounding Venom probably won’t notice, but it’s hard for me to be a Marvel fan and overlook some of these flaws.

The story of how Venom and Eddie Brock come together is solid, concise, and compelling, as it’s presented in this movie. However, it still feels like it’s missing a lot of emotional depth without Spider-Man. A big reason why Venom, and Eddie by extension, becomes so menacing is because of Spider-Man’s role in his story. Removing him from that story is glaring, to say the least.

To fill in those gaps, the movie creates a new source of conflict through the Life Foundation, which acts as the primary antagonist through its unscrupulous Mark Zuckerberg wannabe, Carlton Drake. That’s not to say Drake isn’t a decent villain, but he’s not even in the same hemisphere as Erik Killmonger or Thanos.

Pictured here is NOT Thanos.

Even by non-superhero standards, these villains are pretty bland. It’s basically Venom versus and evil corporation who ends up serving an alien agenda. There’s nothing memorable or iconic about them, but that’s okay in the context of this movie because they still fulfill their primary purpose. They create the necessary moments that move Eddie’s story forward.

On top of that, the lack of connections with the MCU make this movie feel small by comparison, especially in a year when “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” broke box office records. “Venom” has everything it needs to connect with the MCU. There’s nothing in the story that precludes it from having a role, but Sony has gone on record as saying that this movie is completely detached from that world.

The shared reaction of many Marvel fans.

As much as I’d love to see Tom Hardy and Tom Holland battle in a future movie, the lack of MCU connections still don’t take away from everything this movie does well. Overall, “Venom” is good movie that had a lot of factors working against it. This movie faced an uphill battle from the beginning, but still managed to achieve a lot. If I had to score it, I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

I’ve heard some claim that this movie belongs in the early 2000s and just doesn’t work within the current market of superhero movies. I say that’s bullshit. Good movies work, regardless of the year or era they come out. “Venom” is a good movie, but it’s also one that could’ve been much greater.

Coming out of the theater, I was satisfied, but felt as though there was a lot of potential left on the cutting room floor. It’s hard to know whether this movie would function better with an R-rating or as part of the MCU, but it manages to do plenty within its many constraints. Tom Hardy was handicapped in bringing Eddie Brock and Venom to life, but he still pulled it off.

Again, with all apologies to Topher Grace, Tom Hardy is now the definitive face of Venom and this movie sets him up for a promising future.

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Reflecting On The Balanced (But Bland) Romance In “Ant Man And The Wasp”

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Whenever I go into a Marvel movie these days, I often wonder whether this will be the movie that finally derails the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s unprecedented winning streak. Whenever I to go to see any other kind of superhero movie, I just wonder whether or not it’ll fail miserably. For some, the extent of that failure can be pretty egregious.

It says something about the brand that Kevin Feige and Disney have created when the quality of a movie is assumed by the audience. Ever since the first “Iron Man,” the MCU has found ways to raise the bar, match it, raise it again, and make billions in the process. The brand is so strong that it can turn obscure comics involving talking raccoons into a global phenomenon.

It’s for that reason I wasn’t at all surprised when Feige and our Disney overlords turned “Ant Man” into another successful franchise. Granted, he’s not nearly on the same level as Iron Man or Captain America, but he doesn’t have to be. The fact his first movie made over $500 million is proof that even obscure characters can play a part in the MCU’s winning streak.

For the most part, I thought “Ant Man” was a decent movie. It was fun, but not on the same level as “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Thor: Ragnarok.” However, what really got me excited for the inevitable sequel was the promise of a more meaningful romantic sub-plot between Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne.

When I heard that the title of the sequel was “Ant Man and the Wasp,” I grew even more hopeful. The first movie did a lot to establish the connection between Scott and Hope. Unlike the other romantic connections that have emerged in the MCU, this one had the potential to become something more than just a standard plot device.

It’s an understated, but emerging issue in the MCU. When it comes to romance, Marvel movies have a frustrating tendency to only go so far. Sure, it has romantic moments between Captain America and Peggy Carter, Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, and Black Panther and Nakia. However, those moments rarely go beyond moving the plot forward.

With Ant Man and Wasp, there’s an opportunity to inject a more refined level of romance into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Beyond just giving characters added motivation, this is a relationship that can function more like a partnership rather than a plot catalyst. A good romance, after all, is an exercise in developing quality partnerships.

This is what I was hoping to see with “Ant Man and the Wasp” in addition to Paul Rudd finding new ways to be hilarious. Being a self-professed lover of romance, I wanted to see this romantic evolution happen on-screen and within the context of a larger story. Looking back on it, I might have been hoping for too much.

That’s not to say my hopes were dashed for this movie. I’ll gladly go on record as saying that “Ant Man and the Wasp” is a solid movie that improves on its predecessor. At the same time, though, I felt this movie was a missed opportunity to give the MCU an element that it has been sorely lacking for a while now.

Ever since Thor’s relationship with Jane Foster was unceremoniously cast aside after “Thor: The Dark World,” Marvel movies have been doing the bare minimum when it comes to romance. I would argue that has been part of a larger trend within superhero movie not involving Deadpool.

From the beginning, “Ant Man and the Wasp” sets itself apart by having Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne operate as an equal partnership. They both have plenty of moments where they show off their skill. Hope gets to show off early by really shining as Wasp. Scott contributes later on in ways that are both cunning and hilarious.

In my opinion, the most important achievement of this movie is establishing how complementary Hope and Scott are as a duo. On their own, they show they’re plenty capable. However, they can only achieve what they want when they work together. That, in essence, is the foundation of any meaningful romance.

Unfortunately, “Ant Man and the Wasp” doesn’t do much to build on that foundation. There are a few romantic moments, but they’re very small and usually involve puppy love glances. There aren’t any instances where Hope and Scott get that intimate. They work together and they work well, but it’s exceedingly basic.

There’s never an impression that their relationship deserves to be elevated above a relationship like Thor and Jane. Even though Hope and Scott is a lot more balanced in terms of how they function together, it’s not necessarily the kind of love story that will strike an emotional chord.

They work well together and they’re attracted to one another. Their romance is basically not that different than a typical office romance. In many respects, their relationship is overshadowed by the one between Hank Pym and his missing wife, Janet. That ends up being a more compelling love story, which is saying a lot given the complications of their relationship in the comics.

Even that romantic element is relatively basic, though. Much of the conflict revolves around Ant Man and Wasp’s efforts to save Janet from the quantum realm, where she’s been trapped for years. It creates plenty of family-driven drama, which certainly has its appeal. In terms of overall drama, though, it only goes so far.

Outside those romantic elements, “Ant Man and the Wasp” does everything it needs to in order to maintain the brand of the MCU. It’s coherent, concise, and entertaining. The movie relies heavily on the comedic elements, which fits perfectly for a character who rides around on ants.

Ant Man is not Black Panther, Captain America, or Thor. Wasp is not Black Widow, Gamora, or Peggy Carter. They don’t try to be more than who they are. They stick to the core of their character. In an era where superheroes try too hard to be like Batman, this counts as an accomplishment.

In this same era, there’s a similar effort to develop more balanced female characters who aren’t Wonder Woman. Wasp definitely counts as progress in that effort. She can hold her own, kick ass, and complement those around her, whether that’s Scott Lang or Hank Pym. She’s still no Wonder Woman, but Marvel may be saving that effort for “Captain Marvel.”

In terms of the villain in this movie, “Ant Man and the Wasp” manages to get by with Ghost. While there is some intrigue with her character, she does little to make herself memorable. Compared to Erik Killmonger, who stole the show in “Black Panther,” Ghost was more an obstacle than a villain. She still got the job done and did so with personality.

Overall, if I had to score “Ant Man and the Wasp,” I would give it a 7 out of 10. It’s an all-around solid movie that’s fun, entertaining, and satisfying. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air after the grim circumstances surrounding “Avengers: Infinity War,” at least until the post-credits scene. However, the romance lover in me still feels that it left much of its potential untapped.

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Infinitely Astounding And Then Some: My Review Of “Avengers: Infinity War”

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We’ve heard it all our lives from parents, teachers, and cartoon characters. Good things come to those who wait. Patience is a virtue. If something is worth having, then taking your time and going through the process will make it that much more rewarding.

As impatient, overly energetic kids, we hated that. As adults, we still hate it to some extent. However, those inane words of wisdom have proven themselves valid time and again.

To some extent, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a been a decade-long exercise in patience. That patience has already paid off in so many ways with so many memorable moments, raising the bar for cinematic excellence every step of the way. After ten years of that process, though, how could it possibly vindicate all the patience?

Well, having seen “Avengers: Infinity War,” I’m comfortable saying that all the waiting, hype, and post-credits teasers was totally worth it. Never before has a movie come along that required so much build-up and so much connection from other films over such a lengthy period of time. Never before has a film franchise ever achieved such sustained, consistent success that has raked in billions for its Disney overlords.

By nearly every measure, “Avengers: Infinity War” is the culmination of all those efforts. It’s an effort that spans dozens of movies, made and re-birthed entire careers, and dared to tell the kind of story that required such a lengthy, elaborate process. It’s the kind of movie that, a decade ago, seemed impossible. Well, the impossible has been done and the results are nothing short of astounding.

Beyond the hype, setup, and process that went into making this movie, “Avengers: Infinity War” is a ride like no other. It’s not just about superheroes coming together to battle a common enemy. It’s not just about big battle scenes and witty quips between gods and talking raccoons. This is a movie with a powerful, impactful story that strikes so many emotional chords.

That may seem strange for a superhero movie, which have traditionally been big-budget spectacles meant to delight the inner child/fanboy in us all. The idea that a superhero movie could generate real drama and evoke powerful emotions almost seems like a subversion of the underlying appeal of the genre.

It’s for that reason that “Avengers: Infinity War” is so special. It doesn’t just build around the appeal of all these iconic characters, most of which are older than the actors and actresses playing them. It crafts a story that takes all the emotional stakes that had been set up in other movies and pushes them to the absolute limit.

The emotional journey that began in “Iron Man” and “The Avengers” comes to a head in a way that’s both definitive and powerful. There’s no more teasing surrounding Thanos, the Infinity Stones, and all the agendas surrounding them, many of which began in the earliest phases of the MCU. The stakes are clear, the threat is there, and the battles surrounding both are appropriately epic.

Beyond just the spectacle, though, “Avengers: Infinity War” succeeds in what might be the most important aspect for a movie of this scope and scale. The story and the high-octane clashes that fuel it all unfold in a way that makes the last decade of Marvel movies feel even more relevant.

Marvel big-wigs like Kevin Feige love to say it’s all connected. Well, “Avengers: Infinity War” strengthens those connections. Suddenly, the plots involving the infinity stones, going all the way back to “Captain America” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” matter that much more.

All those plots gain much greater weight as Thanos fights to retrieve all six stones. Now, all the triumphs and failures of these characters more weight. These characters we’ve been cheering for and connecting with now have to push themselves beyond their limits. The end result is an experience that hits as hard as a punch by the Hulk.

Beyond the connections created by the past ten years of Marvel movies, “Avengers: Infinity War” succeeds in another important way. It crafts the conflict around a powerful, compelling villain. After seeing the movie, I think most would agree that Thanos really steals the show and not just because Josh Brolin’s voice gives us all the right shivers.

It was probably the biggest challenge of this movie, beyond having to build it around a decade of overarching plot points. This movie needed to make Thanos more than just a daunting threat. It had to make him compelling. Given his colorful history in the comics, that was more challenging than most non-comic fans realize.

Thanos needed to be adapted, to some extent, in order for him to work. He couldn’t just be this mad, death-obsessed monster. In a universe that has birthed compelling villains like Loki and Erik Killmonger, he has to have some level of complexity. “Avengers: Infinity War” gives him more than any CGI-generated character could ever hope for.

It’s not just that Thanos is menacing, powerful, and able to subdue the Hulk. It’s that he has a clear, unambiguous motivation. He’s very overt about what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. What makes it all the more remarkable is that he finds a way to justify it that doesn’t come off as outright villainous. I would argue that he justifies his actions are better than any other villain in the MCU.

That doesn’t just make Thanos compelling, as both a character and a villain. It helps create moments that establish he’s not just some overwhelming force of evil. He’s a being who has feelings and emotions. Even in the comics, Thanos is a very emotion-driven character. The emotions, in this case, are directed towards something other than wanting to hook up with the living embodiment of death.

As menacing as Thanos is, though, he’s driven by his passions and those passions push him to the kinds of extremes that make all villains so dangerous. It’s not the same kind of greed and ego that makes Lex Luthor’s villainy so overt. As a result, the Avengers have to tap into their own passions to stop him.

This brings out the best in them as well. There are moments between Iron Man, Spider-Man, Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Starlord, Gamora, and Thor that really elevate the drama. There are moments of romance, building on romantic sub-plots from previous movies. There are moments of heart-wrenching loss, more so than any other Marvel movie to date. Most importantly, though, those moments carry weight and impact.

That, more than anything, is what makes “Avengers: Infinity War” a special cinematic experience that was worth waiting a decade for. To some extent, the movie makes clear that it needed those ten years to build up the drama and story. It also needed those ten years to make us, the audience, really care about all these characters. That way, when the final credits roll, we all feel the true breadth of that impact.

You could, in theory, still watch “Avengers: Infinity War” without having seen any other Marvel movie or superhero movie, in general. Even in that context, it’s still a great movie full of action, drama, and memorable moments featuring gods, super soldiers, and talking raccoons. However, without all the movies that came before it and all the connections from them, it just doesn’t carry the same weight.

If “Avengers: Infinity War” has any flaws, it’s that. To truly appreciate the impact of the movie, it’s necessary to know and somewhat care about the other movies in the MCU that helped set it up. Without that, the movie is just another spectacle. It’s still an amazing spectacle full of quality acting and stunning effects. It just relies so much on the foundation that other movies have crafted.

I’ve no problem saying that “Avengers: Infinity War” is one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. It may very well go onto become the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time. However, it’s not without flaws. They are very minor, but they are there.

If there’s one glaring flaw in this masterful superhero saga, though, it’s that the movie is clearly organized to be in two parts. Like “Kill Bill” or the latest “Star Wars” trilogy, the story is incomplete, by necessity. As a result, the ending feels abrupt. It’s still more impactful than gut punch by an army of Hulks, but it’s one of those endings that never comes off as an endpoint.

This movie is presented very much in the mold of “The Empire Strikes Back” in that it hits the heroes hard, allows the villains to make devastating gains, and really raises the stakes for the sequel. Just as that movie made you want to see Luke Skywalker battle Dearth Vader again, “Avengers: Infinity War” makes you want to see the Avengers take down Thanos.

There’s so many things to love about “Avengers: Infinity War” and what it managed to accomplish. It is definitely a historic achievement for movies and the superhero genre, as a whole. If I had to score it, I’d give it a 9.5 out of 10. It’s not perfect because it’s incomplete, but it’s as close to perfect as anything can get after ten years of build-up.

The wait was long and agonizing, but so worth it. The wait for “Avengers 4” will likely be agonizing as well, but Marvel Studios has made a glorious habit of rewarding such patience so I certainly don’t mind waiting. “Avengers: Infinity War” once again raised the bar. I look forward to seeing how Marvel and Disney raise it again.

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Tomb Raider Review: A Moderate Leap, But Major Progress

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Earlier this year, I expressed a sincere hope that the new “Tomb Raider” movie would finally do something that no other video game movie had managed to do. I hoped that it would be to video game movies what the original “X-men” was to modern superhero movies. I’d even hoped that Lara Croft could be to video game characters what “Wonder Woman” was to female superheroes.

That last one might have been hoping for too much, but I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to see Hollywood get at least one movie based on a video game really right. Between the lackluster “Resident Evil” movies and the god-awful “Super Mario Bros,” the genre is overdue for a hit.

I get that there are challenges associated with making a movie out of a video game. However, Lara Croft and “Tomb Raider” is in a better position than most. It’s a franchise that has an iconic character who has built a strong fanbase over the course of two decades. The fact that she’s a strong, sexy female character at a time when the appetite for such characters is greater than ever works even more to her benefit.

While Lara Croft’s sex appeal has been controversial in recent years, she’s still a great character whose games already have a very cinematic feel. Having played her 2013 game multiple times, I can attest to the strength of that narrative. It has all the necessary elements that translate well to a movie.

This movie, being a franchise that has already attempted twice with Angelina Jolie in the early 2000s to mixed success, seems to make a better effort than most to succeed where so many have fail. This version of “Tomb Raider” works hard to tell a real, serious story on par with that of any other successful action franchise. It tries to do this while still incorporating elements of the game into the narrative.

It’s ambitious and sincere. It also helps that it cast Alicia Vikander, an Oscar-winning actress whose brilliance and sex appeal in “Ex Machina” made her well-suited to the role. Criticisms of her having the necessary boobs for the role aside, Ms. Vikander can act and be sexy in her own right. It’s only a matter of whether she can channel that talent into making “Tomb Raider” succeed where so many others have failed.

Well, having seen the movie on its opening weekend, I’d like to offer my assessment on this matter. While I’ll always be haunted, to some extent, by terrible video game movies like “Super Mario Bros,” I went in feel genuinely hopeful for this movie. I was also bracing myself, knowing as well as anyone the history of video game movies.

With that mentality going into the theater, I eagerly gave “Tomb Raider” and Alicia Vikander the benefit of the doubt. By the time I came out of the theater, I was able to come to a simple conclusion, albeit one with a few caveats.

Yes, this is a good movie, but it’s not a game-changer.

It’s true. “Tomb Raider” is an genuinely good video game movie. I honestly didn’t think I would ever be able to say that with a straight face in my lifetime, but I can and it’s worth saying again. This is a good movie.

By that, I mean the movie has a concise, well-crafted story from start to finish. The movie establishes who Lara Croft is, what she’s dealing with, and what kind of person she is. The plot isn’t too messy. The effects aren’t too cheesy. The acting is actually good and not just from Ms. Vikander. Everyone in this movie seems to make a real, honest effort.

Like the 2013 video game, the movie follows a young, inexperienced Lara Croft who has yet to become the sexy badass that went onto inspire so much lurid fan art. However, by the end of the movie, you can already see traces of that sexy badass growing within her. As a character, she grows and evolves over the course of the movie. Watching her grow and seeing her struggle at times is genuinely compelling.

The story and the details surrounding it are tight and well-organized. At no point in the movie is there a scene that feels random, contrived, or forced. The events that unfold happen organically, from Lara getting arrested early in the movie to unlocking the secrets to an ancient tomb on the hidden island of Yamatai. Nothing ever just happens. There’s a rhyme and rhythm to the story.

It’s a story that is not bland or predictable, even to those who played the 2013 game multiple times, like I did. The movie downplays some of the more mystical elements of Lara Croft’s mythos, but still incorporates plenty of the over-the-top machinations that Tomb Raider and “Indiana Jones” fans alike can appreciate.

However, it’s that effort to make the movie feel less fanciful that, in my opinion, keeps it from being the kind of game-changing movie that “X-men” and “Wonder Woman” were. While “Tomb Raider” qualifies as a good movie, it doesn’t do enough to be a truly great movie.

This movie, in many respects, plays it safe. While it puts Lara through plenty of tough situations, things never get too dire for her. She’s allowed to suffer and endure wounds, but only to a point. Others, including her father as played by Dominic West, arguably endure a whole lot more.

Safe or not, it’s understandable that the movie wouldn’t try to do too much all at once. Movies that do that tend to get messy, as many recent Michael Bay films can attest. I think “Tomb Raider” did the right thing, playing it safe and keeping things simple. It left some of its potential on the table, but did plenty to leave much of that potential available for future sequels.

That’s somewhat of a gamble, though. Too many movies, these days, are made solely with sequels in mind and sometimes that assumes too much. Anyone who saw “Green Lantern” or “The Mummy” can attest to that. At least with “Tomb Raider,” the ending and the revelations it offers actually leave you feeling excited for a sequel.

That’s a gamble that may or may not pay off. I’m aware that this movie did not exactly set the box office on fire, especially in a market still dominated by “Black Panther.” However, it did manage to pull in some decent numbers overseas and that might give this movie the fuel it needs to become a full-fledged franchise.

Again, the movie does have flaws. If you go into “Tomb Raider” looking for reasons to hate it, you’ll find them. If you think Ms. Vikander wasn’t sexy enough, you’ll find points in the movie to vindicate that. Conversely, if you think Ms. Vikander was too sexy and her portrayal in this movie is contributing to sexism and the objectification of women, you’ll find instances of that too.

If, however, you go in hoping for a good, coherent movie that tells a compelling, dramatic story, you’ll find that “Tomb Raider” delivers. In fact, I would argue that it delivers in ways no video game movie has ever managed before. It doesn’t do quite enough to be a new “Wonder Woman,” but it achieves far more than any previous video game movie has ever dared.

If I were to score this movie, I would give it a solid 8 out of 10 or a 7.5 out of 10 at the lowest. “Tomb Raider” has an opportunity to redefine a maligned movie genre and it succeeds. With other movies like “Rampage” coming out this year, the situation is ripe for a new generation of video game movies that aren’t terrible.

Whether your a fan of the games, a fan of action movies, or just looking for a great female character played by someone other than Gal Gadot and Scarlett Johansson, “Tomb Raider” will give you plenty to enjoy. It may still be a while before we can relegate movies like “Super Mario Bros” to the same dusty bin as “Batman and Robin,” but “Tomb Raider” offers a critical first step.

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The Mixed (And Misguided) Messages Of All-Female Movie Remakes

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There are some topics that I really want to comment on, but the rhetoric surrounding it are so hostile and so controversial that I feel like any comment I make will put way too big a target on my back. Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who has talked about issues like abortionreligious extremism, and Wonder Woman’s BDSM origins.

In general, if I want to contribute to the conversation, I try to wait until the heat dies down and the Twitter bans subside. Sometimes, that takes a long time, so much so that I’m tempted to just drop the issue altogether. For this one, though, I think there’s no use waiting because it’s a trend now and the controversies associated with it are here to stay.

It seems so long ago now, but when I first heard that there would be a new “Ghostbusters” movie with an all-female cast, I was genuinely intrigued. I was not among those who thought this was the worst idea ever and that this was somehow ruining my childhood, as some upset fans had claimed.

Maybe it’s because I’m not as big a Ghostbusters fan as I am an X-men fan, but I didn’t mind the novel/gimmicky approach that director Paul Feig attempted. The long-rumored Ghostbusters 3 wasn’t happening. The original cast couldn’t get it off the ground and Bill “Peter Venkman” Murray had made clear that he had no interest in reprising his role. Why not try something different to reinvigorate the franchise?

It could’ve been a bold new approach to Ghostbusters. A fresh take, a new cast, and an infusion of female-centered star power could’ve really kick-started a whole new trend, one that both elevated long-dormant franchises and expanded the role of female characters, a trend that had already begun.

Then, the trailer came out and those possibilities became much more remote. While I, personally, didn’t despise it, I was considerably less intrigued. The fact that the trailer went onto become the most disliked trailer in the history of YouTube speaks volumes for how poorly this otherwise-novel concept came off.

I had originally intended to see the movie when it came out. Then, as new clips came out and I got a sense of how the story would unfold, I decided not to. When it finally came out on cable, I tried watching it. I ended up changing the channel. It’s not that I hated the movie. It just had none of the appeal I’d hoped.

I know that’s somewhat petty considering the many controversies the movie generated, complete with sexism, racism, and everything else that sets the internet ablaze these days. As soon as professional trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos got involved, I saw that as a sign that this was one of those controversies that would transcend movies for all the wrong reasons.

I don’t know if enough time has passed for the animosity to settle, but in reflecting on the controversies of “Ghostbusters,” I feel the time is right to confront it. Regardless of whether it succeeded or failed, it effectively kick-started the idea of all-female remakes. That’s an idea that I think still has merit, but the approach and overall message of “Ghostbusters” make clear that the Hollywood still hasn’t figured it out.

In a sense, the problem with “Ghostbusters” is similar to the ongoing problems with strong female characters in general. From the parts I saw, the approach to that movie was shallow and crass in that it painted nearly every male supporting character a bumbling idiot in need of female guidance. This was especially true of Kevin, the dim-witted secretary played by Chris Hemsworth.

I get that some of that approach was an effort to inject the kind of humor that made the original Ghostbusters so funny and memorable, but it really fell flat, almost to an insulting degree. It reinforced the notion men somehow need to be denigrated or taken down a peg for female characters to be strong.

While it didn’t offend me, personally, it certainly undermined the story. A world full of idiot men isn’t that bad. That’s a huge part of the appeal for shows like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.” However, that kind of appeal doesn’t fit with that of Ghostbusters.

Beyond just making all the men seem like idiots, the way in which the all-female cast brought little nuance to their roles. They were just four women pasted into four roles previously played by men. That’s it. They brought nothing new to the table. I say that as someone who really likes Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones, but I know they’re capable of far more than they gave in this movie.

If the intent was to show that women could work these roles just as well as men, then that’s the wrong goal, especially for a franchise as beloved as Ghostbusters. That effort denigrates both men and women because it doesn’t send the message that they’re equals. It sends the message that they’re interchangeable, disposable, and not the least bit unique.

The original cast of Ghostbusters had unique, quirky personalities that were memorable and iconic. The all-female cast had some of that, especially Leslie Jones’ character, but not nearly enough. Too much of it was built around the persona these actresses had already established in other roles. They really didn’t do anything to set themselves apart other than fill a role once held by a man.

That can’t be the only thing an all-female cast brings to the table. Just being women cannot and should not be enough to carry a story or revitalize a franchise. It’s true that men and women have various character archetypes, some of which are more distinct than others, but there has to be room for innovation.

Great female characters like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Rey from “Star Wars,” or Sarah Conner from “The Terminator,” do a lot more than just do things men usually do while being women. They’re allowed to exercise their feminine traits every now and then. The all-female cast of Ghostbusters never got that chance. They tried too hard to be like the originals and it just didn’t work.

I won’t say that “Ghostbusters” utterly ruined the concept of remaking movies with an all-female casts. The movie wasn’t that bad. It just didn’t do nearly enough to make it really good. It didn’t kill a genre like “Batman and Robin” almost did with superhero movies. It does count as a setback, though.

It’s one I hope Hollywood learns from because, at the moment, there are similar movies in development. The latest, which I admit I’m also intrigued by, is “Ocean’s 8.” Unlike “Ghostbusters,” it’s not a complete remake and it doesn’t try to replace the entire cast of “Ocean’s Eleven.” It’s following a similar narrative, but using an all-female cast to tell the story.

While this franchise isn’t as iconic as “Ghostbusters,” it’s still bound to cause plenty of controversy and heated debates on sexism. However, based on the trailer, I’m intrigued once more. I know that burned me last time, but I’m still willing to give it a chance.

I still believe that all-female casts, even for non-remakes of major movie franchises, have great potential. Women do make up half the population, last I checked. They have plenty of stories to tell. If “Ocean’s 8” can succeed where “Ghostbusters” failed, then that can revitalize the concept. As Hollywood has shown before, it only needs to work once to start a trend.

I believe the concept will succeed once these movies stop trying to troll certain audiences and focus on building new perspectives within a story. The perspective of women is supposed to complement that of men, not subvert it. If a movie can succeed in that, then it can truly appeal to everyone.

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