Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1

Directed by: James Gunn   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 2 hr 5 min  

Screenwriter: James Gunn, Nicole Pearlman   Studio: Marvel Studios

Based on: Various Marvel comic book characters

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Lee Pace

If the Avengers were a motley crew when forming, what does that make the Guardians of the Galaxy? Who are, at best, a collection of misfit toys. Ones without the benefits of standalone films preceding their silver screen MCU team-up. A group of characters virtually unknown before this film. 

None of the “Guardian” characters in the MCU’s version are original members in the comics. Not one. Guardians of the Galaxy (the comic) first appeared in 1969. Throughout the decades, they went largely under the radar of popularity. In 2008 Marvel relaunched, reshaped? reformed? the Guardians into the content director James Gunn found inspiration in. Fine. Great. Whatever. When this first came out, I had only seen one of James Gunn’s films. I could live the rest of my life without seeing anymore. So when I heard he was directing this movie, I was skeptical, at best. Marvel did what? I went and saw it without managing to see a trailer for it beforehand. So, yes, I went because it was Marvel. Surely they wouldn’t screw the pooch at this juncture in the MCU? 

Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 Credit: Marvel Studios via The Hollywood Reporter

No. They. Did. Not. In fact, this film grossed over $600 million more than it cost to make. Bravo! Okay, the pooch is fine. And James Gunn raised the bar for himself in terms of his filmmaking skills. How did he manage this? He dove into the treasure trove of characters associated with the Guardians, the relaunched version, and molded that into characters and a story that would seamlessly attach itself to the MCU’s ultimate storyline goals. 

In logical viewing order, this film is number nine. First, Captain Marvel introduced the audience, Colson and Nick Fury, to the reality of life outside of Earth. Still, the movie’s “public” wasn’t aware of it. That came later with Thor and certainly with Avengers. With Guardians of the Galaxy, the audience is introduced to space travel beyond the Bifrost. To new worlds and characters, and still connects it to Earth, the Battle of New York, Thanos, and beyond. 

In James Gunn’s version, the “Guardians” are Peter Quill a.k.a. Starlord (Pratt), Gamora (Saldana), the adopted daughter of Thanos, Drax the Destroyer (Bautista), Groot (Diesel), a nine-foot walking tree species, and Rocket the Raccoon (Cooper). 

Karen Gillan in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1’ Credit: Marvel Studios via

Adventure and comedy ensue when Quill can’t make money off a job he stole from his boss, Yondu (Rooker). Followed by a public altercation with bounty hunters (Rocket and Groot) that Yondu sets on him. The extra stiff wrinkle is that a mass murderer, Ronan (Pace), wants the item in question as well. He orders Gamora to retrieve the item for him. That doesn’t go as anticipated, and she is arrested with the others. Along the way, they meet Drax and agree to work together temporarily to stop Ronan from his genocidal goals. That’s the summary of this film, and yet, Guardians of the Galaxy is so much more than that. I really don’t want to give anything away. This version of the characters is excellent! They are everything all the other MCU characters to date are not. Guardians bring to the table a much-needed dose of humor and lightheartedness. All while facing some serious obstacles and foes. A more serious character might rebuke their cavalier attitudes and personas. What Gamora simply refers to as “idiots.” The Guardians rally, like the Avengers, and work together to tackle the tasks before them. 

Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1’ Credit: Marvel Studios via

The film’s pace always moves along, like an Olympic ice skater who displays a flawless performance. This is accomplished by the excellent cast chemistry and the fantastic performances of their respective characters, also with well-placed quips, jabs, and jokes throughout the film. Another contributor to the pace is the music. Between the jokes and the musical styles of the 1970s that just fit with this eclectic bunch, it really helps it move along. Additionally, it sets the tone of the film early on. Something that is always smart to do. 

Frankly, this film’s story could have been poorly received if the audience wasn’t “feeling” this movie’s overall tone and cadence. Primarily when it’s held up against the early MCU films. It just doesn’t take itself seriously like the others. And yet, it’s just what the doctor ordered. 

Guardians of the Galaxy is that underdog story that seemingly comes from know where and wins the hearts and minds of the audience. It adds to the MCU and still tells a grand standalone story that is deep, meaningful, watchable, enjoyable, and gifts the audience with characters it can’t help but love. A movie that can pull off all that is worth a place on your watchlist. Grab some snacks and settle in! 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

The Tomorrow War (2021)

The Tomorrow War (2021)  

Directed by: Chris McKay   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 2 hrs 20 mins

Studio: Skydance, Paramount Pictures, Amazon   Screenwriter: Zach Dean

Cast: Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J.K. Simmons

The Tomorrow War is a story about humanity dealing with an extinction-level event. The best way to avert it is by the world coming together. Okay. The threat is aliens. Tired and well used, but, still, okay. Then…

Solider’s from 2051 show up via a portal of some kind in 2021. Explaining and warning that “We are you, 30 years in the future.”… “In eleven months, all human beings in the future will be wiped from the face of the Earth.” Unless, of course, the humans of 2021 help. 

Director Chris McKay said in a Collider interview that he didn’t think about the time travel mechanics, as it didn’t matter to solving the issue of the story. That’s the gist of what he said anyway, and he couldn’t have been stupider for ignoring it. Just because the director doesn’t want to think about it doesn’t mean the audience won’t. Magically, all of the issues of time travel and creating paradoxes just vanish in his mind. Well, not in mine and not in others. Especially when the device which allows thousands or millions of people to travel through time and space is held together by the equivalent of tape and chicken wire. WTF? Do not beam me up, Scotty! 

The main problem is that writer Zach Dean created and left the line stating “…all human beings…” all humans will be dead in eleven months. Well, if all of humanity is dead, how are there still people around 30 years later to come to 2021 and warn humanity? Words are important. A viewer shouldn’t need to pause their film (in this case) to try and figure out what they’ve seen before that can logically explain this. 

Screenshot of device that allows time travel in ‘The Tomorrow War’ Credit: Paramount Pictures and Amazon

What should have been said is ‘almost all of humanity will be wiped from the face of the Earth.’ Maybe even giving an estimate of who’s left in eleven months. Then the audience can follow along with ease and still grasp the dire predicament. 

The entire world gets on board. Yeah! Like Independence Day

But the lack of logic and common sense is so prevalent it’s incredible this film got made. So, first, some military personnel are sent to the future, then everyday people are conscripted. They are given no training or actual gear. You have a motor mouth that can’t load a weapon and points it at himself. Other characters take spare ammo off the dead, which is a brilliant move, while others seem to never run out of ammo. Future humanity “needs” help yet firebombs its recruits just to kill the enemy. Past humans are no more than to-go fodder. It reeks of desperation and poor storytelling. 

‘The Tomorrow War’ alien Credit: Paramount Pictures and Amazon via

Make no mistake, this shitty script is full of holes that leave it dull and irritatingly illogical to follow along with. Like a high school student with the answers to when, why, where, and how a plot point no one in the thirty years after him was able to figure out. Since when do we default to a teenager for “expert” information? That a plane, an American one at that, could just fly deep into Russian airspace undetected? Give me a break. That specific scientific components with alien DNA will *magically* be unlocked in less than a day? Should I continue? Sadly, I could.

Sadly, all of that isn’t a summary of the entire film. This movie clocks in at 2 hours and 20 minutes and feels double that. Just when you think the film is going to end, it keeps going. There were so many areas where the pace needed to pick up or be left out altogether. It’s not that The Tomorrow War doesn’t know what it wants to be or where it wants to go. It doesn’t have that problem. Its most significant issue is that it tries to be like every other sci-fi creation before it, all while being fresh. It’s not rotten, but it does stink. 

Jasmine Mathews, Chris Pratt in ‘The Tomorrow War’ Credit: Amazon and Paramount Pictures via

Perspective is critical in this film in that everything is from Dan Forester’s (Pratt) perception. How he processes the events unfolding around him, his take on solving it, everything. The filmmaker’s choice allows Pratt’s character to have a fuller story arc, which is well developed. Pratt actually does a great job of depicting a loving father, former soldier, teacher, and unwitting participant. However, the focal point being on him is at the expense of the other characters.

There are some impressive action sequences with the fighters and aliens in various places. The CGI isn’t terrible. The aliens at least look like something I haven’t seen before. Those are the best things I can say about this movie. 

The Tomorrow War was a waste of my time and brain cells. There are so many other films in the sci-fi realm worth seeing over this. Any of the movies this one rips as “inspiration,” such as Pacific Rim, Jumper, Alien, Independence Day, A Quiet Place, or War of the WorldsThe Tomorrow War is an illogical, tedious waste of effort that has no place on a watchlist. 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Directed by: Alan Taylor   Runtime: 1 hr 52 mins   Rated: PG-13

Screenwriter: Stephen McFeely, Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus

Studio: Marvel Studios

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Christopher Eccleston, Jamie Alexander, Kat Dennings, Zachary Levi, Stellan Skarsgård, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano

Thor: The Dark World dives deeper into Asgard’s history and shows off more of what a stunning place it is. Full of detail and scope. 

The plot introduces The Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Eccleston). An ancient race of beings that ruled and thrived before Asgard came to lead the nine realms. Thought to be long gone, they reemerge as a vehicle for the aether’s introduction into the MCU. The substance is the Dark Elves’ most prized possession, one they will destroy worlds to reclaim. Alongside that, they want revenge for practically being exterminated eons prior. As reasons for retribution go, that’s a fair one. 

Malekith and the Dark Elves’ story is believable, but the premise is cut off at the legs by Marvel’s MCU goals. It could have been so much grander instead of petty. Christopher Eccleston’s performance as Malekith was as outstanding as the script allowed for. The fault isn’t with Eccleston’s depiction. He’s a talented actor who could have taken the character in any direction if he had been allowed. 

In Thor: The Dark World, anger, fear, guilt, pride, and sorrow are all passengers on the emotional roller coaster ride various characters must manage. All while the nine realms line up in a ‘convergence’ creating dangerous pockets of time and space. Wreaking havoc upon all. 

Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston in ‘Thor: The Dark World’ Credit: Marvel Studios via

To help stop the Dark Elves, Thor (Hemsworth) requires Loki’s (Hiddleston) help. Even after Thor arrested him for the attack on New York. Hiddleston’s performance is strong, comical at times, and a nice distraction from all the otherwise serious themes running their course. 

While Heimdall (Elba) doesn’t have a more important place in this film, the character’s contributions are still significant. He mentions how he can see things few others do, and it gives a sense of how powerful he is as gatekeeper. If a viewer hadn’t figured that already. His conversations with Thor are not a subject with a leader; you can tell there’s a kinship there. A real friendship. 

While her role in the Thor films is the smallest, she makes an impressive impact with her screen time—Thor’s mom. Frigga (Russo), Queen of Asgard. Russo is adept at handling herself in action films, and Thor: The Dark World is no exception. Frigga’s use with a blade makes me wonder if she taught Loki more than just magic…

Stellan Skarsgård, Johnathan Howard, Kat Dennings in ‘Thor: The Dark World’ Credit: Marvel Studios via

Some well-placed lines and scenes with Darcy (Dennings) are like low-hanging fruit in the way she always says what she’s thinking. Or what everyone else is but won’t actually utter out loud. I like the character as a natural break between tension and humor. Mixing Darcy with Dr. Erik Selvig (Skarsgård) is vital to the plot, their tone vs. the rest of the movie is like peanut butter and jelly. 

The pace of the overall movie and the scene transitions are all fine. There is character development here, but the purpose of this film really wasn’t about Thor and company. Marvel needed to use certain aspects to further propel the gigantic story arc that is the first few phases of the MCU.

Costume design for the characters, again, perfectly accentuates each one distinctly and fittingly. To Frigga and Jane’s (Portman) Asgardian attire, to Loki’s classic black and green leather ensemble, Darcy’s hats, or Dr. Selvig’s lack of pants. Um…

Rene Russo, Jamie Alexander, Natalie Portman in ‘Thor: The Dark World’
Credit: Marvel Studios via

The story itself isn’t terrible. It’s like any sequel that needs to slow down to build up more material to work with later. Once you understand it’s not meant to be a fast-paced, sci-fi action film, you’re less likely to be disappointed. It certainly pumps the breaks after Avengers, but it is watchable. 

Thor: The Dark World gets knocked around because of how its tone stacks up against the other ‘Thor’ and MCU films. Take it with a grain of salt. This film is eighth in viewing order and is absolutely worth a place on your watchlist if you’re just in it for Thor’s story or the MCU as a whole. 

Be advised there are two end scene credits for this movie. Enjoy!

—a pen lady


Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Avengers (2012)

Avengers (2012)

Directed by: Joss Whedon   Runtime: 2 hrs. 25 mins.   Rated: PG-13

Studio: Marvel Studios   Screenwriter: Zak Penn, Joss Whedon

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jermey Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Gwyneth Paltrow, Stellan Skarsgård, Clark Gregg

Avengers is the culmination of years of planning and strategic story-telling. Number seven in proper viewing order. It brings together Iron Man (Downey), Captain America (Evans), Thor (Hemsworth), Black Widow (Johansson), Hawkeye (Renner), and Hulk (Ruffalo). Together they work to stop Loki (Hiddleston) and his aspirations of ruling Midgard (Earth). 

Yep, that Loki. And he’s not alone. He’s got an army. Loki’s introduction beyond Asgard was visually impressive! The audience gets to see more character development with him and everyone. 

Trailer for ‘The Avengers’ Credit: Marvel Studios via

The Hulk was recast. The previous one played by Edward Norton came across exceptionally well as a geeky scientist. Other than that, Marvel swapping him out with Mark Ruffalo isn’t a big deal. Still, Marvel uses the Avengers to create a backstory and rationale for Hulk’s quick and seamless participation. 

Hawkeye gets more screen time here than he did in Thor, where the character appeared, briefly. His storyline within the movie mixes with Black Widows. They’ve worked together for years, and the audience gets to see this bond, which feels authentic. Their respective roles always matter more within the ensemble, what they add to the group and why they stick around. They’re the only two without something “extra,” so they are the closest to everyday people. That makes them more relatable. 

In the beginning, they’re a motley crew, but they rally. NYC gets trashed in the process, but it’s not their faults Loki came. 

The Avengers in ‘The Avengers’ Credit: Marvel Studios via

The story itself isn’t complicated, nor should it be with a movie like this. It’s designed to be engaging and fun. There’s no prerequisite to see this film if you don’t care about the standalone films before it. No need to have read comics, ever. With these stories, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) ambition is to build upon the one before it. It’s easier to watch an ensemble do something, like saving the world when the audience is invested in the characters. Marvel building up the characters beforehand was an excellent strategy to get the audience invested. 

Books have been made into films for decades. Stories as rich, diverse, complex, and satisfying as Lord of the Ring are masterfully adapted to the screen, but the material only goes so far. Avengers is dozens of stories and connections, their potential- limitless. Why? Because comic books engage multiple-age groups over a wide range of lifestyles and cultures. Comic adaptations, done right, don’t have to end. 

Chitauri in ‘Avengers’ Credit: Marvel Studios via

The characters are engaging and watchable. The performances by all are convincing, for what the roles asked of them. No one from this franchise will win an Oscar for their acting; the script never allow for that level of depth and range. However, awards should be given for excellent editing, sound editing, CGI, and stunt work. The actors may be the “face” of the film, but the lion’s share of what makes it what it is comes from the handwork and efforts of all the behind-the-scenes magic. 

Avengers is a fun, loud, colorful, action-packed film that’s worth a place on your watchlist. 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Thor (2011)

Thor (2011)

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 1 hr. 55 mins. 

Studio: Marvel Studios’   Screenwriter: Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, Don Payne

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, Jamie Alexander, Idris Elba, Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Stellan Skarsgård, Clark Gregg, Kat Dennings, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Jeremy Renner

Thor is the sixth MCU film in thematic viewing order. The concept of Thor and company is based on an actual myth and once followed belief system. For the most part, Disney hasn’t mutilated Thor to suit its own needs yet. Given that it’s the first, this cleverly created script works to introduce that the myth is, well, real. 

Its fantasy come to life, aided by fantastic-looking costumes and sets working in tandem with the magic of CGI. The grandeur and scale of Asgard are beautiful. I wish it was explored more. 

‘Thor’ Official Trailer via Marvel Studios, YouTube

The stunt work is incredible. Whether Thor (Hemsworth) is beating up SHIELD agents, or Sif (Alexander) is taking on a magically powered sentry. To group fights with giant ice beings, nothing is questionable and disrupts the viewing experience. 

Thor is not perfect; none of the Norse mythological characters are. Okay, Disney/Marvel did change that in this first film, but that’s not a bad thing. For those who think Odin (Hopkins) can only act as Odin and Thor, a selfish, mindless meat sack should go brush up on Norse mythology. This adaptation is diet-Norse, a lower rating of their usual temperaments. Doing this fits in better with Marvel’s overall plans and makes for more compelling characters long run. 

After disobeying his king’s/fathers commands to not do something that would cause war, Thor is cast out from his home on Asgard. He is hurtled to Earth as punishment until he can grow up. Why is it that being sent to Earth by aliens is a punishment?


The message from father to son of ‘there are consequences for actions—even for ‘gods,’ is essential to represent. One, because power should not be left unchecked. Second, superhero’s seemingly walk about doing what they please, often forgetting or believing they are above ramifications. The point helps shape Thor into who he’ll become, even if it’s not what Odin had in mind. 

Even though Thor has his own standalone film to better serve Marvel’s goals of an ensemble team-up, it works. His characters’ world has depth and history, and his own movie was absolutely required. 

The overall pace of the film and scene beats flow with no sagging or hiccups. The cast is a massive part of that. Everyone is phenomenal and perfectly cast. Yes, some don’t get their full due in this film, but it’s a large cast. Certain characters will be fleshed out more later (Renner), and others are just there as supporting members (Dallas, Asano, Stevenson). 

Ray Stevenson, Jamie Alexander, Josh Dallas, Tadanobu Asano in ‘Thor’ Image: Marvel Studios via

Chris Hemsworth makes a visually appealing Thor, but more than that, he delivers his character with the right balance of emotion, force, and charm. He’s not too brutish, cheesy, or mildly simplistic like some animated versions of the character. 

Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is the opposite of Thor. He’s smaller in stature, lean, and lacks any physical prowess. Loki makes up for that with wit, smarts, charm, and a silver tongue. Unlike Thor, Loki was taught magic by his mother, Frigga (Russo), and uses it often. Tom was an unlikely choice for the god of mischief but made the role his own and embraced it. 

Sir Anthony Hopkins has done many roles in his distinguished career, but his casting as Odin is perfection. It’s not a large role, but once you see him as the all-father, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else. The same is true of Idris Elba as Heimdall, the gatekeeper of Asgard. His natural tenor and presence would make most think twice before wanting to deal with him, but in Thor, his golden armored costume only amplifies that. Honestly, it takes an exceptional person to pull off that much gold and fight in it, all while wielding a gigantic sword. 

Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings, Natalie Portman in ‘Thor’ Credit: Marvel Studios via

The comradely and established bonds of the characters shine through in such a robust and believable manner with little to no character development. That’s difficult to create and perform, and Thor executes it well. 

Thor is the general publics’ first inclination that they are not alone in the universe. Decades after Captain Marvel came to Earth, briefly and went unnoticed by the public, this is Marvel’s foot in the door to execute its master plans. 

Is Thor a compelling story as other superhero troupes? No. And yet, it’s absolutely worth watching. A good, fun story with a solid cast. For those that don’t like this kind of film, fine. For everyone else, this is worth a place on your watchlist. 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

Directed by: Kevin Reynolds   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 2 hrs. 35 mins

Studio: Warner Bros.   Screenwriter: Pen Densham, John Watson

Cast: Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Alan Rickman, Christian Slater, Mary Elizabeth 

Mastrantonio, Nick Brimble, Michael McShane

Does every generation deserve a version of Robin Hood? Considering how many have turned out, no. So what’s the allure? Robin Hood is from an English folk story. It’s been retold or made more than the legend of King Arthur or Beowulf. This allure is probably rooted in the fact that Robin Hood sticks up for the little guy, the downtrodden, against an oppressive ruling body. That theme exists in every society today. 

For those unfamiliar with the character, he’s against the local sheriff of Nottingham overtaxing, imprisoning, and killing the people and destroying their homes. Robin steals back the money and returns it to the people. He tries to also protect the kingdom until King Richard can return home. Why? He feels honor-bound to do so, not because someone tasked him with the job. Some people don’t like bullies… I can appreciate that. 

‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ Official Trailer via Movieclips Classic Trailers via YouTube

While Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Robin of Locksley (Costner) does end up leading a group of outlaws, he’s little like the original material. Costner’s Robin is not light-hearted, and that departure is at the expense of having him been a crusader. Battling for years can change anyone, but it removes a critical component of the legends persona in this version. To say nothing of Costner’s “English” accent or the rest of the cast. 

The film begins with a dark, violent dungeon scene where body parts are chopped off. Historically this is what happened in certain places of the world as punishment. So it has little to do with an American director being overly violent. 

This introduction sequence is where Robin meets Azeem (Freeman). His character is not from the original tale but is a welcome addition that is utilized well. Morgan Freeman’s natural presence and tenor made him a perfect casting choice for this character. Azeem also balances out Costner’s lackluster performance to Alan Rickman’s sheriff’s outlandish demeanor and quips. No one on this project cared much for historical tone or accuracy to help drive the story. 

Kevin Costner in ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ Image: Warner Bros. via The Guardian

While historically, loves was not a factor in match-making, the tale of Robin Hood is centered around his deep love for the Maid Marion (Mastrantonio). In this film, love has nothing to do with it. Costner and Mastrantonio come across more like squabbling siblings who were ordered to get in the mood. There is no buildup of chemistry; they just sort of jump to that at some point to move the film along. This makes the immensely popular Brian Adams song “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” seem wrong. As for the rest of the music in this film, it’s strong and has a memorable intro score. 

Robin’s band of merry men are mainly nameless, except for a guy named Bull, who references his penis size. Little John (Brimble), whose role is diminished due to Azeem’s addition, Will Scarlet (Slater), and a drunk Friar Tuck (McShane). 

Christian Slater, Morgan Freeman, Nick Brimble in ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ Imgae Credit: Warner Bros.

Thinking back thirty years from when I first saw this as a nine-year-old kid, specific memories come to mind. The witch of Nottingham was a creepy-crone (that’s still true), wanting to rewatch this movie just to see Will Scarlet and my moms’ comment about Kevin Costner’s “nice butt.” We all have bizarre things that stick in our minds…

In terms of viewability, there are far worse Robin Hood tales to watch. As a child of the 80s, my first introduction to the character was via Disney’s 1973 animated film, Robin Hood. A fun retelling of Robin and company in animal form. The next was the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn. It’s the version everything else has failed to emulate for over eight decades. 

This was the early 90s, so the best action sequences still came from explosions and stunt work. The utilization of nature and the trees of the forest help to move the story forward is creative, compelling, and believable. The bow shooting, swordplay, and other action scenes are a nice change of pace from what’s usually showing in theaters. Or streaming nowadays. 

Alan Rickman and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ Credit: Warner Bros. via

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves misses the mark of Robin Hood, the legend. While Alan Rickman was a phenomenal actor, someone should have given him some scope of his character; rather than free rein. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio had nothing to truly work with, except to avoid being raped…while a creepy witch watches. That entire scene is weird, uncomfortable, and anti-climatic. Kevin Costner was too stoic for the role. 

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is watchable. It’s not bad enough to avoid it altogether. A touch of nostalgia made me again. But, any film I can go longer than a few years, or decades, without watching shouldn’t be on anyone’s watchlist. 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Directed by: Jon Favreau   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 2 hrs. 4 mins. 

Studio: Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios   Screenwriter: Justin Theroux

Based on: ‘Iron Man’ comic by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Larry Lieber

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Micky Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Favreau, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Paul Bettany, Scarlet Johansson, Greg Clark, 

Iron Man 2 picks up six months from where the first one left off. Here Tony (Downey) must deal with the downside to coming out as Iron Man. His company, health, and reputation are suffering, and through all that, some heavy choices and discoveries happen. 

Marvel Studios’ and Paramount Pictures ‘Iron Man 2’ Trailer 2 via

The main question that’s asked, ‘is the Iron Man suit a weapon?’ If so, should it just be handed over to the government? This question is one of the main conflicts. The idea/fear is that not just anyone should build such a device; just because they can. That’s logical from a legal perspective; people can’t make explosives at home and use them. Or a nuke, if one was resourceful and intelligent enough. For Tony, it’s more-it’s also keeping him alive, so he argues. And yet, it’s the device in his chest that does that, not the suit. Still, it’s proprietary. He created it. Tony’s grandstanding and ego aside. 

Mix the above with the lifetime grudge Ivan Vanko (Rourke) has for the Stark family, and the story begins to take shape. On his own, Ivan’s character and mission could never hold up as a plot. However, when Justin Hammer (Rockwell) joins the party, things fall into place. Yeah, Hammer is like that guy that shows up and tries to fit in but never quite does. Still, his desperate efforts and use of Ivan’s hatred tie in effortlessly with the government’s issues with Tony Stark as Iron Man. The merging of the subplots is clean, logical, and drives the story forward. 

Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Iron Man 2′ Image Credit: Marvel Studios’ and Paramount Pictures via

Iron Man and many of the components of the film also move forward seamlessly because of the CGI. The costumes, flying, explosions, race sequence, and fight scenes all add to the film but don’t overpower it. It’s balanced. 

Agent Coulson (Clark), Happy Hogan (Favreau), and the voice of JARVIS (Bettany) all return for their respective roles. Other new additions are Nick Fury (Jackson), Natasha Romanoff (Johansson), and Lt. Col. Rhodes was recast with Don Cheadle. Everyone has more of a role in this film, and they execute their characters very well. It’s always nice to see character growth (development) with established characters. 

Rourke’s performance is forgettable, but his character is meant to be. Ivan’s merely a plot device to further Tony’s journey and nothing more. 

Hammer has always been a cast-off, a joke in the comics. Hammer tech is the two-star rated company you settle for because the best-rated ones are out of stock/back-ordered, and you can’t wait. Sam Rockwell really does a suburb job of bringing his character from page to screen. 

Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke in ‘Iron Man 2′ Image Credit: Marvel Studios’ and Paramount Pictures via

A real treat is watching Natasha Romanoff (Johansson) bust some ass-kicking moves on a group of security personnel. In this film, the audience gets a glimpse that theres’ more to her than she lets on. Her character is instantly one you want to see more of. 

RDJ continues to shape the character of Tony Stark/Iron Man in a performance that never disappoints. 

Iron Man 2 is a good sequel and is a staging ground for many stories and characters to come. The film is worth a place on your watchlist for a fun watch with a good story and engaging characters. Be sure to stick around for the end credit scenes. 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Directed by: Louis Leterrier   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 1 hrs. 52 mins. 

Studio: Universal Pictures/Marvel Studios   Screenwriter: Zak Penn

Cast: Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, William Hurt, Tim Roth

Explosions. Car throwing. Jumping from choppers without a shoot. Destroying a part of New York. Mass destruction and collateral damage. People running and screaming in the streets. Yep, it must be a Marvel movie!

The Incredible Hulk is the fifth MCU film if you’re watching in logical viewing order. And the second film, in general, to be released. This film starts with snippets of images to convey information and actions to progress the story while the intro credits run. It spends zero time showing you how Bruce Banner (Norton) ends up as ‘The Hulk,’ and it’s better for it. There are plenty of other places in the film that show and tell what gamma radiation/poisoning is and what it does. These snippets are gritty, bloody, and convey a heavy scientific and militaristic tone. This film predates Disney’s acquisition of Marvel. 

Marvel Studios and Universal Pictures Officail Trailer for ‘The Incredible Hulk’ via YouTube

Even for a Marvel film, The Incredible Hulk has a darker, more sinister feel to it. While there is plenty of violence in any of the MCU films to date, this movie has the unfortunate use of humans and regular weapons. These two factors set it apart from the other MCU characters and their stories because there are no aliens or futuristic technology to act as a visual boundary. The Hulk and his foe aside. 

Bruce Banner is a scientist who has an accident in a laboratory experiment, which results in him morphing into a gigantic, green mutation known as the Hulk. When he’s calm, he turns back into Bruce. General Ross (Hurt) always wanted to use Banner’s work and weaponize it. When Banner changed, General Ross felt Bruce was government property to be experimented on and exploited. So, Bruce fled. One of Bruce’s scientific collaborators was Dr. Betty Ross (Tyler), Bruces’s love interest and General Ross’s daughter. 

Liv Tyler and William Hurt in Marvel Studios ‘The Incredible Hulk’ Imgae Credit: Marvel Studios/Universal Pictures via

General Ross seeks out where Bruce is hiding for years. Given the plot so far, it wouldn’t be much of a story if the general didn’t locate him at some point. At this junction, the general enlists the help of Emil Blonsky (Roth) to help track and capture Banner. After seeing the Hulk up close, Blonsky wants to be like the Hulk and works towards that goal. Because of this choice, Blonsky ends up the primary foe of the film over General Ross. 

The premise overall isn’t flawed; it’s acted well by everyone. Yet…the pace is what trips this film up. It transitions well from scene to scene so that the audience understands the flow of time and such. The problem is the movie relies too much on its action sequences and explosions. Some of which are genuinely unbelievable (that’s not a compliment). Without them, the story would flop around like a fish out of water. There is lots of destruction and violence with an origin story like the Hulks or most stories about him. It’s difficult to tell such an origin story without it. And that’s the root of the problem. The Hulk shouldn’t have his own standalone film. It’s simple enough to convey in other ways and should have been. 

Tim Roth in ‘The Incredible Hulk’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios/Universal Pictures via

This film does show the Hulk doing his ground stomp, makes boxing gloves from cars, performing a thunderclap, and yelling his iconic catchphrase. All these things are utilized and absolutely belong. It’s not enough to make this film stand out. Its failure to captivate is in the limited complexity or nuances that Bruce/Hulk has as an origin story. It’s pretty cut and dry. 

While the events depicted in this film are referenced later in the MCU, General Ross (Hurt) is the only actor to ever be seen again. The others are never shown or are recast altogether. There are nods to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s existence in the movie. Still, they come across as confusing afterthoughts that are meaningless in this film. To that end, the only real thing that connects this film to the MCU is in the last minute of the film, where Tony Stark makes an appearance. If it were not for that, this film couldn’t even be considered a part of the MCU. 

Edward Norton in ‘The Incredible Hulk’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios/Universal Pictures via

More than enough comments happen in future films, allowing the audience to understand the Hulk/Bruce Banner’s situation. It’s because of this fact that this movie is totally one you could skip seeing. Keep this off your watchlist and move on to whatever’s next on your list. 

*There is no end credit scenes for this film

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Iron Man (2008)

Iron Man (2008)

Directed by: Jon Favreau   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 2 hrs 6 mins

Studio: Paramount Pictures & Marvel Entertainment  

Screenwriters: Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway

Created by: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Jack Kirby

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow, Clark Gregg, Paul Bettany, Jon Favreau

Iron Man isn’t the first superhero film out there. Not by a long shot. It will, however, be remembered as the first film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The one that launched Marvel into its golden age of cinema. 

For those keeping track, this film is third chronologically. 

Paramount Pictures & Marvel Entertainment’s Official Trailer for ‘Iron Man’ via YouTube, We Got This Covered

Tony Stark is Iron Man, and they are played by Robert Downey Jr. (RDJ). RDJ’s depiction of the decades-old character is spot-on in multiple ways. It’s as if Tony Stark was a real person at some point in time, then reincarnated into RDJ, who would go on to play… himself. It’s rare to find an actor/actress who performs so well in character you forget it’s not real. But that’s how well RDJ cultivated this character. 

The original material and RDJ’s natural charm and charisma were only two of the three ingredients that brought Iron Man to the masses. The third is director Jon Favreau. A genius for casting and creating in his own right. RDJ’s casting approval from Marvel came from Favreau not taking no for an answer to RDJ’s inclusion in the film.  

If Iron Manis your favorite Marvel character, now or ever, because of the films, thank RDJ (duh!) and especially thank Jon Favreau. 

Tony Stark/Iron Man’s story originally began in Vietnam. Shifting it to Afghanistan constructs a template for modern-day events and cultural relevance. 

Gwyneth Paltrow and Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Iron Man’ Image: Paramount Pictures & Marvel Entertainment

Both settings represent tension, greed, and war efforts, a sign of the respective times in each place. And yet, cinematic Iron Man follows his comic book material in de-escalating his companies role in war. A bold move considering the ongoing war in 2008. Still, the writers and Favreau re-crafted Tony Stark’s origin story to grow from that and not suffer the fate of his book material’s namesake. This Iron Man was destined for bigger things. 

A rich weapons manufacture turned humanitarian, turned hero works as a plot. Audiences get to see the process, how it’s made, how it works, how much it can do, how far it can go. It’s a nerd and engineer’s dream. 

The supporting cast members are terrific! Pepper Potts (Paltrow) is exactly right, as was Terrence Howard as Col. Rhodes. Their personalities and demeanors are an excellent counter-balance to Tony’s self-indulgent, eccentric, hyper-focused qualities. Obadiah Stain (Bridges) is the representation of how many view those that run gigantic companies. Hopefully without the literal cutthroat mentality. Bridges never has to work for presence in his scenes; he exudes it naturally. 

Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Iron Man’ Image Credit: Paramount Pictures & Marvel Entertainment

The pace is something this story has from start to finish. Between the dialogue or action sequences, it flies along, shifting from scene to scene with ease. 

Iron Man is more than explosions and destruction and amazing CGI. It’s rooted in the human condition and a compelling story with fantastic acting. The costume, a prop designed mainly through CGI, helps establishes this illusion of realism. A tool to keep Tony Stark alive, to right wrongs, and boggle the minds of engineers everywhere. 

While Iron Man isn’t this writer’s favorite Marvel character or a top-five MCU film pick, it’s worth a spot on your watchlist. Alone, or indeed, if you’ve decided to follow the MCU road. 

—a pen lady

Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Directed by: Joe Johnston   Rated: PG-13   Runtime: 2 hrs. 6 mins Studio: Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios   Adapted: ‘Captain America’ comic by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby   Screenwriter: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely Cast:  Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Haley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones

Over ten years after the start of the Marvel cinematic universe (MCU), some people may wonder what’s the best order to watch the impressive list of titles so far. There are twenty-three films and counting. While the first two Iron Man movies and The Incredible Hulk are technically the first three, it’s Captain America that should be seen first. 

Why Captain America? Simple, chronological order makes the most sense after all this time. All the stories in the MCU are linked somehow, even if in the most minor ways at first. 

Marvel Studios Official Trailer for ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ via YouTube

Chris Evans, who plays the title character of Steve Rogers/Captain America, is an excellent casting choice. He is to ‘Captain America’ what Christopher Reeves was for Superman, or Adam West was for Batman. An outstanding live-action representation of a cultural icon. Chris has a presence on screen. How he sounds and carries the character to how effortlessly he comes across with the other cast members, to his performances in action sequences. He takes the material, and it just fits him. 

While his role was small, Stanley Tucci, as Dr. Erskine, is warm and kind. He grants the audience an explanation of why an event in the film is the way it is, no comic background required. That’s a nice thing about the MCU, in a way, because some stuff they just tweaked to suit movies, you don’t need to be a comic nerd. A person can watch and just enjoy. 

The Red Skull (Weaving) is an iconic foe of Captain America in the comics, and Cap’s origin story can’t be done right without him. The MCU’s choice to use the Red Skull’s character in just this film is sad. After seeing Hugo Weaving as the Red Skull, it’s hard to think of anyone else better suited for the role. Weaving did such a great job. His performance and energy are absolutely believable as the iconic megalomaniac.

Hugo Weaving and Samuel L. Jackson in Marvel Studios ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ Image via

Cap’s origins can’t be told without also introducing Peggy Carter (Atwell) and Bucky (Stan). At this point, hindsight is an attribute to reviewing the MCU. In hindsight, it’s challenging to think of the other people who were considered for their roles. Atwell was a fantastic choice to embody such a significant, non-superhero role that extends beyond her place near Steve Rogers. There’s even a standalone TV show about Agent Carter staring Atwell that’s worth watching.

Bucky. Sebastian Stan’s depiction of Bucky, Steve’s best friend, is casting perfection. Again. His style, tone, mannerisms all tell the audience about him without saying much. The emotional bond, the resonance between Steve and Bucky aren’t forced or stale. They are authentic, as are the ones between Steve and Peggy and the Howling Commandos and Steve. If you don’t know who they are… just enjoy them. There is admiration, love, trust, and respect between many of the characters in this film. It’s crafted and depicted exceedingly well because the story is so well written. 

The entire story of Cap’s origins in the MCU is engaging and energetic. It has excellent casting and performances, tone, style, and set/scene/costume design. How they represented the 1940s, or WW2, isn’t dreary and drab, it easily could have been. Instead, it’s regular coloring which represents the styles of the period but without being sullen. Oh, and there’s action! 

Chris Evans & Sebastian Stan in Marvel Studios ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ Image via The Art of VFX

Captain America: The First Avenger checks all the boxes for crafting and depicting a perfect story. Out of the existing twenty-three MCU films, this one is in my top five. 

Whether you are looking for a one-night movie pick, or want to dive into the MCU for the first time, Captain America: The First Avenger should be on your watchlist. Then again, I’m biased. I’ve always been “Team Cap,” but to each their own.

** Special note. There are credit scenes in Marvel movies. This film has two. While watching in chronological order, some of these will be out of place.  Here, the end scene references the film that followed this (going by release date), which is The Avengers movie. FYI. **

—a pen lady