Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Director: Sam Raimi  Rated: PG-13  Runtime: 2hr 6 min  Studio:  Marvel Studios

Screenwriter: Michael Waldron Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Xochitl Gomez, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a dark, trippy departure from the previous Marvel film template. It’s not quite as psychedelic as the first film but leans into a darker/horror-ish vibe attuned to director Sam Raimi’s style. 

While Raimi’s style is fully displayed in so many aspects of the film, a subtler undertone is trying to understand how Wanda Maximoff (Olsen) got to where she is as a character in this movie. So before viewing this film, you must watch the Marvel TV show WandaVision; first, it will answer things the movie won’t address. Once you’re all caught up, it’s a decent story and plot if you can overlook that Sam Raimi didn’t even watch all of WandaVision, just bits of certain episodes. It solidifies how Marvel Studios values its female characters, willing to sacrifice them for their prized goal of story continuity between projects. It’s a practice that truly needs to stop! The film starts with a leap right into the action and the introduction of a new character, America Chavez (Gomez), and a version of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange.  

While the audience doesn’t learn much about America as a character in this film, it’s clear her character is a bridge into the next phase of the MCU and shows new blood (and abilities) to work with as the original Avengers are all but gone. This was inevitable after Endgame, and while I thought Multiverse of Madness would play off of the events in Spider-Man: No Way Home, it takes the multiverse reality introduced in Spiderman and mashes it together with WandaVision. This opens up or gives room for a different Wanda/Scarlet Witch down the road (or any of the Avengers) because initially, Wanda/Scarlet Witch originated as a mutant in the comics. This fact is paramount because Marvel can finally introduce (let alone utter the word) mutants in the MCU. 

Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange in Marvel Studios ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ Image: Marvel Studios via

While Wanda has gone down the dark magic rabbit hole, thus pitting her against Dr. Strange, Olsen and Cumberbatch give excellent performances. They’ve both embodied their respective characters for a while now, and they are clearly comfortable with the mannerisms and energy that make them shine. But it’s not just the performances and the directing that work for this story; it’s the choreography, sound editing, CGI, costumes, and various set designs! In a multiverse, everything is the same, but somehow just a bit different. How many ways can you dress up a New York street? Revise the Sanctom? In these areas, I say, well played and well done. 

The area I’m hung up on is Wanda’s journey to her point in Multiverse of Madness. I think writers really did Wanda dirty. She starts off as this traumatized child who is studied and used and lost loved ones. She finds a new type of family in the Avengers, certainly with Vision, but after the events of Endgame, they’re all gone or abandoned her. She’s essentially a traumatized adult with no support or resources. She goes from hero to baddie in a deep breath (the blip) and is shunted aside for the sake of franchise development. It sends a terrible message about loss and mental health, a stark contrast to the support group Steve Rogers led in Endgame. That’s all without factoring in Wanda’s power upgrade she (clearly) doesn’t have a handle on. Power corrupts absolutely, indeed!

Elizabeth Olsen as the Scarlet Witch in Marvel Studios ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ Credit:

So while I’m not a fan of where the writers have taken Wanda’s character, Elizabeth Olsen certainly does a fantastic job of depicting a formidable badass. I look forward to seeing her character again and where Dr. Strange goes into the next phase of the MCU and America Chavez’s role within it. It’s not my favorite MCU film, but it’s not the worst and if you have time, make a place on your watchlist for it. 

  • A Pen Lady
Film Critic, Movie Blog, Movie Reviews

Eternals (2021)

Eternals (2021)

Director: Chloé Zhao   Runtime: 2 hr 36 mins  Rated: PG-13 

Studio: Marvel Studios  Screenwriter: Chloé Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo

Cast: Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Kumail Nanjiani, Ma Dong-seok, Kit Harington, Bill Skarsgård 

Eternals is everything a decade’s worth of MCU films couldn’t do; it tells a complete, complex, and compelling story, with a strong plot, from beginning to end. A story where you didn’t know how it or the characters would end up. When you spend a decade establishing characters, building up an ensemble to fight together, you expect them to win. You expect them to make it to the end of their respective standalone films, so there’s little mystery there. How you get from Iron Man to Endgame is largely spectacle. Flash over substance. 

Eternals is more substance over flash, and many movie-goers hate that. Over the years, the MCU model conditioned people to expect less story from Marvel films, which are padded with costumes, CGI, and action. Don’t despair. Eternals have plenty of CGI and action woven more intrinsically within this detailed, rich story. 

Perhaps this is part of what many disliked. Details. Being required to listen and pay attention; when it’s not a spectacle, that’s what films need. Perhaps it’s the openly gay couple with a kid? Get over yourselves. Maybe it’s the sex scene? Hm, that one is fair. Up to this point, you could take young kids to see their favorite superhero in what has been a G/PG rated aspect of this topic in the MCU thus far. Well, kids grow up. Comic characters are not just for kids, nor have they ever been. Eternals isn’t dark and deranged like Zack Snyder’s comic book character depictions. Eternals fall in the middle. I’ll grant you this tiny spoiler if you’re on the fence about this film based on this point. It’s tastefully done. Sure it’s clear at one point two of the characters are lying down and don’t have clothes on anymore, but it’s from the collarbones up. Take from that what you will. 

Image: Marvel Studios, composite by Kirsten Acuna/

Exploring this further, Eternals has a well-rounded, diverse cast. There are black people; one of whom is deaf, white people, an Indian character, Asian characters, a Spanish character, and a kid. This large cast ticks off a bunch of boxes with ease and not for the sake of ticking off boxes. I appreciate a well-rounded, talented cast that lets the film be about the story-not character-specific. In prior MCU films, one or two characters always managed to show up even when it wasn’t their standalone film like the film wouldn’t work without their inclusion. While Eternals have costumes, you should consider them more as uniforms, extensions of their powers, and ship. In this manner, this ensemble is without the brightly colored spandex costumes and accompanying ego trips. It’s all the better for it. 

Fans, however, may not feel better about the film’s opening sequence. They’ll need to read the screen. This isn’t a bad thing! It certainly sets the tone for the movie and the upfront departure from every other MCU project to date. It provides needed backstory in a format that consumes less screen time and budget. This format will not resonate with every viewer, but it’s an essential blip in the overall runtime of the film. It’s hardly the first film to use this tactic. So, read it without complaint. It’s also an important reason to remember to show up and find a seat before the film starts! 

Celestial image from the MCU Image: Marvel via

Eternals has gotten mixed reviews, and I’m going to point out why you should ignore the naysayers. 1. Marvel didn’t put nearly the marketing effort into hyping this movie as others. It’s like they didn’t know how because 2. They are obscure characters with no prior buildup 3. The teaser trailer did nothing for this movie. Please ignore it. 4. It’s not all Hulk-like smashing, gun-heavy violent 5. The box office sucked. On that last point, when American films come out usually, other countries see them first. China is an excellent example of this, and they opted not toallow Eternals into their theaters. When that happens, the studio will see fewer zeros from ticket sales. That’s just a fact. Couple that ban with still touchy post-Covid theater options, and it’s clear those previous metrics for evaluating a hit or flop need reassessment ASAP. With all that against it, tossing that all aside and Eternals should be considered a box office hit. 

Chloé Zhao did a bloody marvelous job bringing together a large ensemble that portrayed characters worth being invested in. A cast who have great chemistry and energy that are believable and meaningful. Full of details that make the plot move along at an incredible pace, with seamless cinematography. Zhao tells a consistent story whose themes are just right and impactful. The audience can understand their story, who they are, why they are on Earth, their purpose, and how it all fits together in the MCU, which is a fair point after Thanos. 

Kumail Nanjiani is Kingo in ‘Eternals’ Image: Marvel Studios via

Moving forward, I sincerely hope that the house of mouse doesn’t “Disney-fi” future work with the Eternals within the MCU because this fresh infusion of characters is a palate cleanser. The right amount of serious and grownup to intermix with the sassy, zany and quirky characters left doing projects with the MCU. 

Eternals is worth a spot on your watchlist and your time. Make sure to stick around for the two end credit scenes; one’s at the very end. Cheers!

-A Pen Lady

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

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

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 Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel (2019)

Directed by: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck  Rated: PG-13  Runtime: 2 hrs. 5 mins.

Screenwriter: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet Studio: Marvel Studios  

Created by: Roy Thomas & Gene Colan Cast:  Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Ben

Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch, Greg Clark, Djimon Hounsou, Annette Bening

Captain Marvel is a vibrant, well-told story with details, great CGI, and character development. It moves along at an enjoyable pace too.

It’s difficult to find movies sometimes that represent strong, fun, well-acted female characters in stories that haven’t been done before. So when Captain Marvel came out, nearly ten years after the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the first thing many said was, ‘about time.’ 

Marvel Studio’s Official Trailer for ‘Captain Marvel’ via YouTube

That’s not to ignore the many female characters who fit the above description within the MCU already, but Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel is the first to have a standalone film. 

Captain Marvel is technically the twenty-second MCU film. It’s sandwiched between Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019). Its placement is only essential because of the scenes in the credits, which logically explains Captain Marvel’s place in Endgame, the film after this one in release date order. Chronologically, Captain Marvel takes place in the mid-90s, so it’s natural to place it after Captain America: The First Avenger

Vers/Carol/Captain Marvel is played by Bri Larson, who took a ton of flack for being cast. Some didn’t like how she looked for the role. Others objected to her cocky or unemotional depiction of the character. First, up to a certain point, women were not allowed to always fly, so when they could, being quiet and meek just wouldn’t do. Second, if male test pilots can be smug adrenaline junkies, why not women? To argue one can be but not the other is sexist. Third, Carol forgot everything about her life literally at one point. You can be told about your life, but there is little emotional resonance to be found if you don’t remember. Taking all the information provided about such a layered character and then crafting an authentic-like person from that is no small order. 

Lashana Lynch and Bri Larson in Marvel Studios ‘Captain Marvel’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios via the LA Times

Vers/Carol/Captain Marvel’s journey of discovery is the main thread of this film. Other threads are not loose ends but tie-ins to the MCU as a whole. Some of those threads make more sense in chronological order viewing than the Captain Marvel story being introduced so late into the MCU. Those threads can seem like an afterthought as initially distributed. Still, discovery and agency are the leading personal themes of the movie, on top of how this story adds to the MCU. 

Speaking of adding to the MCU, think about Djimon Hounsou, Greg Clark, and Samuel L. Jackson. Hounsou first appeared in the MCU in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 (2014) as Korath the Pursuer. An older version of the same character seen in Captain Marvel. Despite some visual issues with his facial hair and eye color between the two films, I can’t tell if de-aging technology was used on him. He ages so well; I just don’t know. It was used on Greg Clark and Samuel L. Jackson. That’s not to say any of them look bad with its use, just an observation on the technology itself. It removes the need, in certain projects, to cast a younger version of an established character. It’s ingenious! 

The MCU is known for taking licenses with established characters, minor and significant, so they fit an enormously pre-planned cinematic adventure. They did this with Lashana Lynch’s character, Maria Rambeau. And Mar-Vell, played by Annette Bening. One is a clever reimagining connected to Carol’s origin story, and the other is a letdown. I won’t elaborate because that rabbit hole leads to spoiler territory. Still, both actresses brought convincing energy to their respective characters.

Still image of Kree Starforce from Marvel Studios ‘Captain Marvel’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios via Screen Rant

Everyone performs their roles well, and many of the characters seen again in future MCU roles are fleshed out here. It’s like a window into their origins without the need for their own story. If a viewer is familiar with Agent Coulson (Clark) or Agent Fury (Jackson), it’s a nice insight. If not, they can learn and appreciate the development of certain characters from a fresher perspective than others. 

In terms of tonality, Captain Marvel is a stark departure from that of Captain America: The First Avenger, but that’s to be expected. The individual stories of Steve Rogers, Carol Danvers, Thor, Tony Stark, and every other Avenger shouldn’t be the same. They are all vastly different people or aliens. That fact means audiences will not like certain characters over others, just as all people don’t like everyone they encounter. So it’s okay to not like a character, or specifically their standalone film(s). However, the character should be given a chance of redeemed likeability when working with others in the MCU. To be fair, that point is only valid if you plan on watching all the Marvel movies to date. 

Jude Law and Ben Mendelsohn in Marvel Studio’s ‘Captain Marvel’ Image Credit: Marvel Studios via

I enjoyed Captain Marvel and Bri Larson’s portrayal of her. With Disney/Marvel now owning the rights again to the X-Men franchise, my sincerest wish is that they do better by those characters. Specifically that of Rouge, because her story is tied in with Carol Danvers in such vital ways. In the comics, that is when Carol was Ms. Marvel (later becoming Captain Marvel). Still, the MCU can be decently creative when they want. So time will tell. 

Whether you want to watch the whole MCU or not, Captain Marvel is a fun, energetic superhero adventure story worth a place on your watchlist. 

—a pen lady