Amazon Prime brings us a Pandemic show that has its ups and downs.
It’s an anthology of sci-fi stories with each episode being composed (mostly) of a single character. They range from a time-traveler talking to herself, an older woman venturing alone into the edges of space, a man meeting his double, a woman who doesn’t remember why she’s in a waiting room, to a woman who hasn’t left her home in twenty years because of a pandemic. The themes often involve death, time, or, weirdly, farting. The stars are: Anne Hathaway, Anthony Mackie, Helen Mirren, Uzo Aduba, Constance Wu, Nicole Beharie, Dan Stevens, and Morgan Freeman.
So, when this show started, I really liked the first episode. After all, it’s Anne Hathaway talking to herself and Anne Hathaway is just so darn fun and charming that adding more of her is still a great time. The jokes can be a bit hackneyed, but, again, when Anne Hathaway is being hackneyed, she does it with such sincerity that you really believe it and you’ll laugh even at jokes about 2019 pop culture. The second episode, though, blew me away. Not only is Anthony Mackie hilarious when talking to himself, when it comes time to do the dramatic moments, he makes you feel it. He feels like a man genuinely trying to convey how much he values his family and how much he regrets not doing it sooner. He’s trying to tell himself about what made his life great and that it wasn’t what he expected. It broke me a bit, to be honest.
Unfortunately, while the rest of the episodes continue to bring great performers out, it seems like the scripts started running dry after that. A lot of jokes are kind of repeated (So. Many. Fart. Jokes.), a lot of the themes get run into the ground, and, honestly, the show starts relying too much on the settings rather than just using them to explore human emotions. Uzo Aduba’s episode, which focuses on a woman who has been living in her house since a global pandemic mandated isolation, might have been funny but it really hit too close to home right now.
Overall, the show itself isn’t the best thing out there, but you really should watch the first two episodes. The second one for sure.
I’m providing you a warning, this was not worth it.
Anna Fox (Amy Adams) is a therapist with agoraphobia who has recently separated from her husband Edward (Anthony Mackie). Anna suffers from agoraphobia, a fear of going outside. She spies on her neighbors, the Russells, and drinks while taking a number of pills. Jane Russell, the matriarch of the family (Julianne Moore), comes over to visit and the two become friendly. Anna also meets her son, Ethan (Fred Hechinger), who implies that his father Alistair (Gary Oldman) is abusive. One night, Anna witnesses someone murdering Jane. She calls the police, only for them to find out that there is a woman named Jane Russell, but she’s now played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Anna’s downstairs tenant, David (Wyatt Russell), claims he didn’t hear anything. The question becomes whether Alistair is a murderer or if Anna is going insane.
I’m not spoiling this ending only on the off chance that you still want to watch the film, but I’m telling you right now that this film was such a disappointment that I moved it up in the order so that I could make sure I told people to avoid it. This was not just a poor remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, it’s inferior to the Shia LaBeouf-led remake Disturbia. The thing is that this film is trying to do too many cliches and too many references and too many pastiches at once. It aspires to be an homage to Hitchcock, but it somehow doesn’t understand what was good about Rear Window or most of Hitchcock. It doesn’t have the mastery of film technique and atmosphere that make for good suspense, instead trying to borrow credibility from those who did.
The film fails to ever really come to life. It’s not suspenseful, it’s not exciting, it’s just slow. I was surprised that the running time was only 100 minutes, because I’d have pegged this film at 150 if you’d asked me during the viewing. It’s mostly made worse by the fact that the nothing you’re seeing onscreen never feels like it’s building, instead it just feels like it’s constantly trying to throw in another interesting idea that it will never follow through on.
This is not to say that the performers in the movie aren’t good. Amy Adams does a great job making herself ambiguously crazy and Gary Oldman similarly makes himself into a figure that could either be a murderer or a man getting upset at having a crazy woman spying on his family. Unfortunately, this is also part of the problem. Most of the characters are depicted as being extremely vague in whether they’re sinister or just misunderstood and the result is that it’s difficult to ever know what these people are actually like.
Overall, it’s just a waste of talent and money. I think the fact that they tried to advertise it with an “anatomy of a scene” breakdown tells you just how desperate they were to try and convince people this film was artful rather than awful. But, if people are looking at a painting and feel nothing, explaining what you were trying to do won’t make them feel more.
There’s a magic drug that sends you through time, and they really put too much into the “how.”
Steve Denube (Anthony Mackie) is a paramedic who, along with his partner Dennis (Jamie Dornan), starts to get called into very strange crime and injury scenes. In the first, there’s a domestic violence injury that also has an archaic sword lodged into the wall. In the second, a completely burned body is found in a place that did not have a fire. In the third, there’s a bite from a venomous snake that hasn’t existed in the area for centuries. At the same time, Steve is diagnosed with cancer of the pineal gland, which his doctor notices is similar to that of an adolescent’s. At another call, they discover that one of the people present was Dennis’s daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides), who has now disappeared. Steve realizes all of these cases are related to a drug called “synchronic.” It turns out that if you take Synchronic, it allows you to move through time… and get lost in it. Now Steve is going to use the last of the supply in order to find Brianna and bring her back.
About 20 minutes of this film is taken up by Anthony Mackie attempting to mess around with the drug and explain how it works. The problem is that almost everything about the way the time-travel functions is kind of dumb, but, mostly, it’s not important enough to merit the number of scenes spent explaining it. The pill sends adults back in time as ghosts, but anyone without a calcified pineal gland goes back whole along with anything they’re touching. The amount of time you go back is directly tied to the physical location you’re in when you take the pill. This is explained by saying that time is curved and when you take the pill you move through time straight, but, again, they spend way too much screentime on this. This also results in a number of scenes of Steve testing places to move through time and what he can move with him, but his behavior during these sequences is also kind of ridiculous (and costs him a dog rather than, say, a gerbil which he could have used for like $5). It’s even worse because this method of time travel is actually kind of a cool gimmick, but the more you think about it, the more it starts to fall apart, so devoting more time to explaining it undercuts the effect.
It also doesn’t help that the movie really has to keep fabricating reasons why the story has to be Steve trying to rescue Brianna. For example, there’s only a handful of Synchronic pills left in the world and Steve has all of them. This is explicitly told to him by the chemist who created them who, rather than collecting his Nobel prize for discovering TIME TRAVEL, kills himself so that no one can make more. Also, they make it so that Steve is basically the only adult without a calcified pineal gland (in reality, even if you’re in your 80s, you have about a 1 in 3 chance of having no calcification). Again, I wouldn’t have even thought about this except that the movie kept bringing it up.
Now, on the other hand, having the movie almost entirely focused on Anthony Mackie is a great decision. His character is going through so much in the film that it’s impressive how well Mackie portrays a man whose response to finding out he has cancer is mostly to dedicate himself to one project as a way of both ignoring his mortality and of trying to make up his mistakes to his partner. Steve, who is a clear ladies man that has been avoiding responsibility, has been leaning on Dennis throughout his career. Mackie manages to give a lot of emotional depth to the character by conveying all of these elements throughout the film, while also still bringing enough levity to keep it from getting bogged down. The visuals, also, were pretty great.
Overall, while it could have benefitted from a little more “show, don’t tell,” it was a decent movie.
For some reason I see people online questioning whether Steve gets home. The movie already answered that, no, he doesn’t. Steve realizes that the location where Brianna disappeared was a stone that takes them back to the revolutionary war. The reason he realizes this is because he finds a message on the rock that Steve and Dennis believe is from Brianna. However, when Steve gets back there, Brianna doesn’t know about the message and then she goes home. This means, in order to complete the time-loop, Steve has to leave the message there and stay back in the 1700s. It’s likely that his cancer kills him soon after, but at least he did what he wanted to do.
In 2036, the US is involved in a war between pro-Russia rebels and the Ukrainian rebels. During an operation, drone pilot Lt. Thomas Harp (Damson Idris) defies orders and deploys a missile against enemy launchers which kills 2 young marines, but arguably saving almost forty more. As a punishment, Harp is sent to serve on the ground alongside Captain Leo (Anthony Mackie) in order to learn what it’s like to be a regular soldier. Leo reveals himself to be an experimental android pretending to be human and that he is working on an operation to prevent terrorist Victor Koval (Pilou Asbæk) from gaining nuclear weapons. However, it turns out that Leo may be playing his own game, and that it may be more dire than Harp could possibly be prepared for.
Someone described this movie as “great if you ignore the plot.” That’s not an inaccurate statement. The action sequences in this film are great and most of the performances are solid, but the plot is, at best, a mess. The biggest problem is that you may never be 100% sure what Leo’s motivation is at any point. I think the movie means this to be a sign that it’s trying to be sophisticated and suggest that his motives as a machine are alien to human thought, but the reality is that his motivations are often pointless or counterintuitive. While Mackie does the best with trying to sell everything he’s saying, several times I had to wonder if even he understood what the hell was happening.
Idris and Mackie work really well together in the film, which helps since they have so much screen time. Idris constantly seems to be playing his character as confused by Leo’s actions, which works both because Leo never acts like he’s a robot and also because Leo constantly does things that directly counter his seeming programming. Their interplay is often tense, but it manages to keep the film’s steam going between the action sequences. The action scenes in this film are, at least, very good. Mackie has a lot of experience in doing high-intensity fights and that pays off. The scenes regularly include rudimentary combat robots (humorously called “gumps”) and make good use of Anthony Mackie’s supposedly inhuman abilities to add some variety.
Overall, it’s not a great movie, but if you have other stuff to do and just want some action scenes in the background, then it’s fine.
Takashi Kovacs is back and, while he’s looking better than ever, his plots are more scattered.
Takashi Kovacs is back in a new body (Anthony Mackie) and, together with his glitchy AI companion Poe (Chris Conner), is back on Harlan’s World and offered a job in exchange for information about his love Quellcrist Falconer (Renee Elise Goldsberry). He ends up in a struggle between the governor of Harlan’s world (Lela Loren), an incipient rebellion, and a plot that is older than man’s presence on the planet.
I thought that I had reviewed the first season of this show. I didn’t realize that I never posted it, although I found that I did, in fact, write a review. Sorry, that I didn’t do a recap of the first season.
So, I’ll say the following, this season was a lot more enjoyable in many aspects than the previous one. Joel Kinnaman was a very good Takashi Kovacs for the more serious mystery arc of the last season, but Anthony Mackie is much more appropriate for this lighter, less focused, and more action-packed season. He definitely still plays like a version of the same character, but just by virtue of being played by the naturally charismatic Mackie, he comes off as more likeable and a little more charming.
This season has the advantage of not needing to explain a large amount of information about the world in which it takes place, but suffers from a lack of cohesion. There are a LOT of interesting ideas and subplots in this season, most of which would require spoilers, and honestly they were pretty fun to see play out, but the fact is that it’s often hard to keep track of what’s happening and why. They do a decent job of keeping many of the arcs short, which keeps the confusion down a bit, but leads to a number of instances in which it feels like the next arc is forced. It doesn’t help that there are a number of twists which seem to come out of nowhere and which also seem to violate some of the “rules” of this universe, although they ultimately still fall within the realm of the possible.
The action sequences are much better, and more plentiful, in this season. They’re faster, better choreographed, and more creative, but mostly they have Anthony Mackie’s ever-present confidence and machismo behind them. Also, there’s clearly been a sizable budget increase.
Overall, this season was easier to watch and more fun, but it feels like they shifted to episodic from serial. If you don’t mind that, you’ll like it.
Before I start, I’m gonna have to get personal for a second. I wasn’t supposed to see this movie. As those of you who have paid attention or read the “First Post” page know, I started doing these reviews because I was diagnosed with cancer. That was in 2012. One of the first things that, in retrospect, I should have known was a sign of my disease was that I had extreme pain during watching the original The Avengers film. Despite that, I didn’t get diagnosed for a few months. By then, the cancer went from my neck down to my pelvis. Even after successful chemotherapy and radiation, when this film was originally announced in 2014, I assumed I would never live to watch it. I don’t know if this gave me a form of closure on this chapter of my life, but I do know that it was an odd realization afterwards. Now to the movie.
SUMMARY OF A SUMMARY (Full Summary at the end due to length)
Thanos won. Thanos destroys the Infinity Stones. Avengers kill Thanos. Avengers go through time to find the stones before Thanos destroyed them. Past Thanos follows them to the present. Avengers undo the snap. Past Thanos tries to take the stones back. All Avengers Assemble. Thanos loses. Iron Man dies. Captain America gets old. Thor gets Lebowski.
END OF AN END OF A SUMMARY
Spectacle has always been a big part of cinema. A lot of critics will argue that the audiovisual medium enhances storytelling through reducing the distance between the audience and the material, and that’s true, but sometimes you just have to admit that reading about an epic battle scene will rarely be nearly as effective as watching one. That’s how it’s always been, too. The Lumiere Brothers famously marveled people by showing a train pulling into the station, something that previously had required going to a train station. Georges Méliès became acclaimed for showing people color films and a man in the moon. Let’s go more modern: Have you ever watched Ben-Hur? There are some good scenes in it, maybe 20 minutes worth of decent acting in the 212 minute runtime, but the main reason it’s regarded as a classic is just the chariot race. That scene has been ripped off repeatedly, but the actual size, grandeur, and just plain spectacle of the scene has never been duplicated. When I watch it now, even with all of the amazing cinematic advances that have happened in the 60 years since, I’m still amazed by it. The same is true of Jurassic Park, The Empire Strikes Back, The Lord of the Rings, or even Buster Keaton’s The General. These films all give you something that you can’t really get anywhere else. This film is another entry into this pantheon, although I know it will be much more controversial.
First, the negatives.
This movie truly is the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, meaning that you do actually have to have seen all of the films and remember a lot of elements of them for some of the scenes and plotlines in this to not feel out of nowhere. Captain America being able to wield Mjolnir, for example, is based on a less than 10 second scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The film also has cameos from basically everyone who has appeared in a film that’s still alive, including Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce, Taika Waititi’s Korg, and even James D’Arcy’s Jarvis from the TV Show Agent Carter. This movie, viewed in isolation, would probably just be noise. Now, is this inherently a negative? No, because this is a sequel, and sequels depend on the audience knowing previous information, but since this is a sequel to SO MANY films, it does make it tough on the audience to remember everything.
The first two acts of this movie are basically Marvel patting itself on the back and setting up the finales for many of the characters. I mean, the plot involves the characters visiting the first Avengers film all over again, even redoing some of the more iconic scenes and lines, as well as the iconic opening to Guardians of the Galaxy, and reconstruing some of the scenes from the worst-ranked MCU film Thor: The Dark World in such a way that it kind of redeems some of it. Then, it has an entire sequence that basically just gives Tony Stark closure and Captain America some incentive to try and regain his lost life. In any other film, these two things would be unworkable. It’s only because this film is so grandiose and has had so much build up that it feels somewhat natural. We’ve known this world better than any other fictional world in film, so we are a little more inclined to welcome nostalgia and character moments. Still, it does make it slow at the beginning.
Also, the first twenty minutes of the film, prior to the time-skip, probably should have been the end of Infinity War. It would have been really dark, given that it basically doubles down on Thanos being, as he puts it, “inevitable,” but I think it would have been the best place to split the films. Still, it would require introducing Captain Marvel outside of her film, so I guess it didn’t work economically.
Now the positives.
The third act of this film is basically everything I’ve ever wanted out of a superhero film. It starts with the three core Avengers fighting Thanos and, despite constantly pulling new and better tricks out, they keep losing. He’s just too strong for them. Then, when all looks lost, we get Falcon finally returning Cap’s great line “on your left.” When all of the sling ring portals opened, I basically squealed like an 8 year old girl in anticipation of what was going to happen. Then, finally, we get Captain America delivering the line that they’ve teased in multiple films before this “Avengers assemble.” He doesn’t even say it in a roar of defiance or a confident battle-cry, no, he says it simply and firmly, because they don’t need Captain America inspiring them, they just need to know it’s go time. What follows is a battle that is so grand in scale that it overwhelms almost anything in the history of film, but still gives all of the character cameos and interactions that we want, from Spider-Man using insta-kill mode to the female Avengers line-up aka A-Force. The pacing of the battle, too, is nearly perfect, with every attempt to actually end it being thwarted dramatically, until, finally, Tony Stark ends the threat by delivering the line that Robert Downey, Jr. improvised during the first MCU movie, erasing the concept of secret identities and changing the MCU forever: “I am Iron Man.”
All of the performances are great in the film, but let’s be honest, Robert Downey, Jr. always has a slight lead in that. Hemsworth, now that he’s allowed to be funny, is right behind him. The comedy in the film is exactly what you expect from the Russo brothers: It’s funny, it’s unexpected, it’s perfectly timed. The drama is also what you expect: When they want you to cry, you cry. The emotional depth in the film is really what surprised me, although it probably shouldn’t have. One big surprise plus is the way they handled Hawkeye. The scene of him losing his family is just ruthless and Renner’s portrayal of a man who’s just hurting people so he doesn’t hurt himself is great.
The thing is, if you’re asking me if I thought this was a “great” movie, I’d have to say that I don’t know. It’s so different than almost any film in history that it’s hard for me to say what metric I would even use. However, I think it’s fair to say that this film provides a spectacle that you can’t find anywhere else. The film aside from the third act is still good, don’t get me wrong, but the third act just has to be seen to be believed. This is the Great Wall. This is the Hoover Dam. This is the Grand Canyon. You can describe it, but you really don’t envision the sheer scale of it without seeing it. So, see it.
SUMMARY (Hero names in quotes because… I don’t know, I felt like it)
Thanos (Josh Brolin) won. Half of the universe is gone. The surviving Avengers, now with Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers (Brie Larson) in tow and without Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), decide to try and mount an attack on Thanos’s new home. They quickly overwhelm the Titan, only to find out that he had almost killed himself destroying the infinity stones so that they could never be used to undo what he had done. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) beheads him.
Five years later, the world is still recovering from the snap. Clint “Hawkeye” Barton (Jeremy Renner) is now a vigilante, hunting down criminals and executing them out of anger at losing his family. Tony Stark is now married to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and has a daughter, Morgan (Lexi Rabe). Thor has founded a New Asgard and has been drinking and wallowing in guilt. Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is serving as an organizer while Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans) is acting as a grief counselor. Bruce “The Hulk” Banner (Mark “The Man” Ruffalo) has managed to put his genius brain inside of the body of the Hulk, a form dubbed “Professor Hulk.”
Scott “Ant Man” Lang (Paul Rudd) escapes from the Quantum Realm following the events of Ant Man and the Wasp. Based on the fact that, for him, only five hours have passed, he believes that the Quantum Realm is the key to time travel. Banner, Lang, and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) work on it, but it fails until Tony Stark returns to help. They realize that they can send 3 teams into the past to collect the Infinity Stones while they still existed, travel to the present, and then undo the snap.
Banner, Rogers, Lang, and Stark travel to 2012 to the events of the first Avengers film. Rogers steals Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) scepter containing the Mind Stone by pretending to be a member of Hydra, but Loki steals the Tesseract containing the Space Stone. Bruce Banner meets with the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who gives him the Eye of Agamotto containing the Time Stone after telling him that they have to return all of the stones back to their places after they use them or reality will unravel. Stark and Rogers travel back to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters in 1970 where they steal Pym Particles from a young Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), retrieve an earlier version of the Tesseract being worked on by Howard Stark (John Slattery), Tony’s father, and avoid running into the love of Steve’s life, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).
Rocket and Thor travel to Asgard in the year 2013 during the events of Thor: The Dark World to retrieve the Aether which contains the Reality Stone from the body of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Thor speaks with his soon-to-die mother, Frigga (Rene Russo) and regains his confidence when he summons his original Mjolnir to himself, taking it with him back to the present while Rocket retrieves the Reality Stone.
Romanoff, Barton, James “Rhodey the War Machine” Rhodes (Don “I retweeted the Joker” Cheadle), and Nebula (Karen Gillan) travel to 2014, during the events of the original Guardians of the Galaxy. Romanoff and Barton go to planet Vormir, where Natasha sacrifices herself to give Clint the Soul Stone guarded by the Red Skull (Ross Marquand). Nebula and Rhodey knock a young Peter “Starlord” Quill (Chris Pratt) unconscious and take the power stone, however, Nebula is stopped from returning. It turns out that her cyborg consciousness interacts with a cosmic version of the internet which has been discovered by the Thanos of that time. 2014 Thanos discovers that he will win, but that the survivors will all fight to reclaim their lost loved ones. He captures the present Nebula and sends 2014 Nebula back to the future in her place.
After everyone returns to the present, Stark puts all of the gems into a gauntlet and Banner snaps it, injuring himself severely but bringing back all of the people that Thanos killed. At the same time, the Nebula from the past brings Thanos and his entire army through the time portal to reclaim the new Infinity Gauntlet. Thor, Stark, and Rogers battle Thanos, but even with Thor wielding two hammers, and eventually Captain America wielding the original Mjolnir, Thanos still wins the fight. Just as everything seems lost, a reborn Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict “Burmberderb Cabbagepunch” Cumberbatch) returns, opening gateways all around the galaxy, and allowing all of the reborn heroes to join the fight, as well as the armies of Wakanda, Asgard, and the Ravagers from Guardians of the Galaxy. Thanos, realizing that he might be at a disadvantage, tells his ship to fire on the battle, but his ship is soon downed by the returning Carol Danvers. Everyone on the battlefield works to get the Infinity Stones into Scott Lang’s van which contains the portal to the Quantum Realm, but eventually Thanos reclaims it, only to find that Stark had stolen the stones and put them on another gauntlet. Stark snaps away all of the bad guys, but dies in the process.
After the funeral, Thor joins the Guardians of the Galaxy and Rogers goes back in time to return the stones, but ends up marrying Peggy Carter and living to old age. As an old man, he bequeaths his shield to Sam “Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie).