Sometimes solid performances and a few good added twists can elevate an old set-up back into interesting territory. This movie could have fallen on its face, because a lot of the elements are old tropes reheated, but giving Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro the lead and having a cast full of excellent supporting characters really manage to keep this film thoroughly enjoyable. It helps that Soderbergh’s pacing is pretty tight, moving from one source of tension to another without making it unbearable on the viewer.
Curt Goynes (Don Cheadle) is an ex-convict who is desperate for cash. He is contacted by mob recruiter Doug Jones (Brendan Fraser) and agrees to help babysit a family as part of a blackmail scheme. He’s joined by fellow crooks Ronald and Charley (Benicio del Toro and Kieran Culkin) and they break into the house of accountant Matt Wertz (David Harbour). They hold Matt’s wife, Mary (Amy Seimetz), and his children hostage while forcing him to get a copy of a document for the mob boss Frank Capelli (Ray Liotta). When Matt returns, without the real document due to it being removed, Charley decides to execute the family and Matt, but Curt shoots him in the head to prevent a massacre. Now Ronald and Curt are both wanted by the mob and the police, but they both decide to try and steal the real document and use it to buy their freedom.
This movie has just the right number of moving parts introduced at just the right times, because as the plot builds, it ends up having a large number of characters and subplots colliding but you never really feel lost. It helps that, by having so many talented supporting cast members, the characters are more memorable. Aside from those listed above, other supporting characters are played by Jon Hamm, Bill Duke, Matt Damon, and Julia Fox, all of whom keep you focused on their actions better than expected. The film also keeps the focus on the fact that Curt and Ronald are at the mercy of any number of people, because anyone can want to turn them in for a reward. In a way it changes the heist film formula from being two parts getting in to one part getting out and instead makes most of the plot about getting away with the goods. Thankfully, Soderbergh is very used to these types of films and can handle this shift in the structure.
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).
They might solve a mystery or re-write history. DuckTales re-boot!
People constantly complain about reboots, but it’s not like they’re a guaranteed failure. I preferred the new Battlestar Galactica to the original, there have been who knows how many amazing film and television versions of Batman, and From Dusk ‘Til Dawn even did a solid job going from film to television. Hell, I think that Scooby Doo’s best incarnation was the 12th. Still, there’s no denying that, a lot of the time, it feels like reboots are just cash grabs aiming for our nostalgia wallets. Because of that, every time a show comes out that’s just a reboot of an old property, I’m inherently suspicious. So, when they first announced that a new DuckTales was coming out, I didn’t put a huge amount of faith in it.
As time went by, though, I admitted that I started to get excited. First, they announced the cast for the show by having them sing an acapella version of the theme song. This both showcased the insane level of talent they managed to grab and also showed that they were paying their respects to the past series.
Then, they announced that Lin-Manuel Miranda would appear in the series as Gizmoduck, cementing the return of one of the more beloved creations of the original cartoon and having him voiced by a genius composer and playwright. They announced that Tony Anselmo would be voicing Donald Duck, giving the show ties to the regular Disney canon. They released a copy of the show’s intro sequence which was a combination of the original Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge comics with the original cartoon, but updated and redesigned, with the same theme song only a little jazzier. Oh, and they dropped the bombshell during Comic Con, just a month before the show was set to premiere, that Darkwing Duck would make an appearance, a character that people have been begging to get more of for 20 years.
At this point, I was just worried that this was all going to fall apart. Then, they did the last thing I would have expected: They put the pilot on YouTube. Not behind a paywall, not for a limited time, they just put the pilot “Woo-oo!” online, and IT WAS FANTASTIC. Watch it right now!
“Woo-oo!” was a great first episode. It introduced us to the characters, emphasized all the differences between their current and previous incarnations, and put in a ton of wonderful nostalgia references while also being funny and original in its plot. Huey, Dewey, and Louie now had different voices, looks, and personalities, with Huey (Danny Pudi) being the closest to the original version but nerdier, Louie (Bobby Moynihan) having abandoned even the outfit from his previous incarnation and being the greedy one, and Dewey (Ben Schwartz) being a blend of old and new traits and a fame seeker. Scrooge McDuck (David “I’m the f*cking Doctor” Tennant) is now a jaded old man who wishes to rekindle the exciting, adventurous days of his youth. Launchpad (Beck Bennett) is a little dumber than his original version, but still an adorable doofus and an optimist. Donald Duck is pretty much the same, but plays a much bigger role in the series.
Then, there’s Webby Vanderquack (Kate “from Garfunkle and Oates” Micucci) and Mrs. Beakley (Toks “I’m so f*cking amazing” Olagundoye). These two were basically redone from the ground up. Rather than being the young girl who carries around her doll all the time, this Webby is smart, skilled, and more athletic than any of the boys, but is socially awkward due to living in a mansion alone. Mrs. Beakley, rather than being just a live-in nanny with relatively few other character traits, is a retired version of Agent 99 from Get Smart. I’m not even joking, they have an episode that tells you that’s who she’s supposed to be.
The first half of “Woo-oo!” showed us that, in this new universe, magic is real, Scrooge is an almost Batman-level combatant and adventurer, and that he and Donald had a falling out in the past. Flintheart Glomgold (Keith Ferguson) returns as one of Scrooge’s enemies and is shown being even more over-the-top Scottish, almost as a mockery of the fact that his nationality was changed in the original series from South African (because Apartheid). He’s also much more of a comic foil to Scrooge than a serious rival, but his brutality is raised a few levels in this version. In the second half, the group goes on an adventure to Atlantis and, upon returning, the boys and Donald move in with Scrooge.
Now, this would normally be where the Pilot just acts as a set-up for the rest of the series, but, at the last minute, Dewey moves a piece of a painting seen earlier, revealing the figure of a young female duck. Dewey, shocked, says “Mom?” as the episode ends. Yes, at the last second, the show drops the biggest two surprises on us it could. First, they’re actually going to address what happened to Della Duck. Second, holy hell, THIS SHOW IS A SERIAL. There are going to be actual story arcs throughout the series. Again, this is in the last 15 seconds of the episode and it is huge.
The rest of the season was a little mixed. Some episodes were amazing and had fantastic guest stars, but others didn’t really use the characters well, and I was getting a little worried that they were too hit-and-miss. However, the whole time, they were also building up plot-lines and characters, including setting up Magica De Spell (Catherine “I was the best Tennant companion” Tate) as the big bad of the season. Then, we got to the penultimate episode, “The Last Crash of the Sunchaser” which not only had one of the most intense sequences in animated history, but had an ending that led me to sit in stunned silence trying to grapple with what I had just witnessed.
Then, we get to the finale and it took a bit to get going but, once it kicked into gear with Magica De Spell as the villain du jour, it was a hell of a ride. Probably the single best thing was that they had Donald Duck swallow a “Barksian voice modulator” which made him talk like Don Cheadle. He then proceeded to deliver some both hilarious and bad-ass lines (which were turned into hilarious ones by the fact that DONALD DUCK was saying them). The season ends, however, with several plot-lines still up in the air, giving them plenty to work with in the next year.
The main thing that really makes this reboot stand out is that showrunners Matt Youngberg and Francisco Angones basically went through all of the previous incarnations, from the comics to the show to even other Disney cartoons from the 80s and 90s, and kept what was timeless. They didn’t go out of their way to avoid doing things like the old show, they celebrated the things the show did well while correcting the things it didn’t. They tried new things, to be sure, some of which worked better than others, but they gave the show a feel that, while still DuckTales, was still unique. They gave us nostalgia, but they never really relied on it too much and they always made any reference still work even if you didn’t know it.
They also knew that too much nostalgia could overpower the work they were doing, so they did it gently. They did re-introduce Darkwing Duck, but now he’s a character on a show within a show. However, they go out of the way to point out that the actor who played Darkwing did his own stunts, so they have left the door open to have the actor become the superhero in future episodes. This was the right way to do things, because, if you put Darkwing Duck directly into the series, there would be too much pressure to keep putting him in it and any episode he was in would be focused on him.
Overall, I think this is one of the best reboots I’ve ever seen. Check it out, guys!