#REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I’m going to try to write this review without whining about Avengers: Endgame, which … nope, finishing that sentence would be whining about Endgame. And I’m not doing that. This is an interesting movie; it simultaneously feels more stand-alone than a lot of the MCU’s recent product and is pretty thoroughly tied into the universe, to the point where I keep rewriting this sentence because I can’t come up with a version of it that I feel makes sense. There are a lot of characters in this movie from other MCU films, several of whom we haven’t seen in a long time, and the movie actually reaches back to the MCU’s earliest films in some ways, but the bulk of the film explores a distant enough corner of the MCU that it feels like its own thing.

We finally got around to streaming it last night; we still aren’t doing movie theaters, and it just became available to stream last Friday, when we were out of town.

(stares for ten minutes)

… holy shit, I don’t want to write this.

OK, super short version: this is a good movie. Its ties to the wider MCU only annoyed me twice, both with mentions of that other movie that seems to have completely killed my desire to invest any further emotional energy into this franchise that I used to love. Simu Liu and Awkwafina (who I think I’m not supposed to approve of, but I don’t remember why?) are both delightful, and Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh are awesome. It takes a good twenty minutes before a white person gets a line, and it’s like four words long, and I think the guy who has the line is the only white person in the entire movie who ever speaks, which is super cool.

(If you’ve seen the movie, you might be thinking “what about that guy,” who I’m not naming because spoilers, and he’s not white. Look him up if you need to.)

(Okay, there are two cameos at the very end of the movie of other MCU people in the stingers. They count, I suppose.)

This movie does a lot of cool things, and moves in a lot of unexpected ways, to the point where my wife paused it at the halfway point and said, with more than a trace of awe in her voice, that she had not been able to predict even a single thing that had happened in the movie to that point, and that she had no idea where the hell it was going, which was a hell of a thing, especially for a superhero movie. It manages to be a very small, personal movie and have the main character save the world at the end, which doesn’t happen all that often.

And, like, okay, I just said I didn’t want to write the review and then wrote four paragraphs after the words “super short version,” but I can’t escape the feeling that no one really needs anyone else’s opinions on Marvel films anymore. Like, are there people out there who only watch some of these? People who saw, like, Iron Man 2 and Doctor Strange and Black Widow and that was it? Maybe watched the middle two episodes of Loki but otherwise haven’t dipped into the TV shows? You already know you’re going to see Shang-Chi, or you know you’re not going to; there’s no one out there who is going to be, like, “Oh, Luther liked the 30th Marvel movie, so I guess I’ll check it out too.”

I mean, I guess if you aren’t into superheroes but you like martial arts movies, this is worth a look? I don’t think I’d actually call it a martial arts movie despite the main character, but I thought the action was pretty damn well shot– the director has a good sense of space and you can always tell what’s going on and where everyone is relative to everyone else, and there aren’t any scenes where the action is dark and muddled so that it looks Cinematic, which is an absolute plague on moviedom. The movie looks really good, and everyone is very pretty, and ok maybe some of the CG is a little dodgy here and there– there are some lion-things that, frankly, look stuffed– but whatever. And I spent the entire movie wondering if I should have some idea who the character on the far right of that image up there was and never figured it out. But that’s the best I can do in terms of criticisms. The biggest problem with this movie is that it’s a Marvel movie, and the best thing about this movie is that it’s a Marvel movie, and yes those are both true at once, and I’m heading back into being tired again so I’m going to bring this to a close.

Happy Thanksgiving, by the way, and in observance of our ancient traditions, I close by presenting you with this:

Three Trailers

It has been … a day, and I find that I’m not in the chattiest mood tonight. So let’s talk about some stuff that’s coming out.

The Eternals

This trailer is the first thing I’ve seen from this movie that gave me even the vaguest interest in seeing it. I’m still not going near a theater– this and Shang-Chi are going to have to wait until they’re available on Disney+ for me to watch them– but this actually made me think for a few seconds that I might have some interest in seeing it. There was never any chance that I was actually going to skip the thing, and I still don’t know a damn thing about any of the characters, but at least it’s on my radar as a mild positive and not a thing that I have to put up with.

Star Wars: Visions

Given my lifelong disdain of anime and my utter inability to get into any of the Star Wars animated projects no matter how hard I’ve tried, you would think that this show would have no appeal for me, and I am as surprised as you are to announce that you would be completely wrong in thinking that. I am all in. I don’t know if this is in canon or not– I feel like lightsaber umbrella might be a concept best left out of the official SW universe– but I’m genuinely excited about this, for the novelty if nothing else.

Speaking of novelty …

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe

I’m including this out of sheer schadenfreude. I liked the Kevin Smith Netflix thing well enough, although it didn’t change my life and I’m not chewing my nails over the second half of the season. But He-Man nerds got all bent out of shape about that, and then the next thing Netflix throws at us is this? As I’ve said many times, I have no real skin in this game, but even I was looking at this by the end and thinking maybe they’d gone a bit too far. Seriously make Battle Cat a dog who turns into a wolf and say it’s inspired by He-Man. Call him Boy-Dude or something.

I am seriously looking forward to the fanboy tears, though.

#REVIEW: Black Widow

I think the best thing I can say about Black Widow is that I don’t have anything bad to say about it.

I’m pretty sure I’m about to be unfair to this movie. I’ve been burning out on the MCU lately, and Loki really didn’t help with that, and the notion that Black Widow was going to have to be … well, not a prequel, really, but set in the past at least, because Black Widow herself was killed in Endgame has always rubbed me all kinds of wrong. And I wasn’t in a hugely receptive mood for it when I sat down to watch. This usually isn’t a good sign for a movie! And yet. I mean, I have some gripes, but they’re just that– gripes; the movie itself is fine.

Good stuff:

  • The cast they’ve built around Natasha is great. David Harbour’s Russian accent is godawful and inconsistent but he is very clearly having an enormous amount of fun playing the character, and y’all probably know by now how far that can get you with me.
  • The story is pleasingly self-contained. You’ll kinda have a hard time if the phrase “Sokovia Accords” doesn’t ring any bells, but just knowing that she’s on the run from somebody because of something is probably good enough to get you through the movie. You don’t really need the details and the movie doesn’t get into the weeds with them either.
  • The main villain might be the biggest bastard we’ve seen in the MCU so far. Seriously: he’s Killgrave from Jessica Jones level, if that’s even still canon.
  • The good guys’ Big Plan at the end is also pretty good, especially since it seems to have been thrown together in something around three minutes of in-movie time.
  • The action sequences are solid, but see the next section.

Like, okay, that doesn’t sound like much? But to a certain degree it’s all you really need, right? Good actors in roles they’re well-suited for in a well-written action film that looks good and shows you some shit you’ve not seen before. That’s already a B or B+ movie, and remember I was in a bad mood watching it.

Less good:

  • I’m not sure how I feel about how the movie treated Natasha? She spends the entire film getting her ass beat and you’d think that since it’s her movie they’d give her an action sequence at least as badass as either her first appearance in Iron Man 2 or her introduction in Avengers. Sadly, that’s not the case. Again, the action sequences are pretty cool– the whole final falling-through-the-sky bit and the rescue at the prison are standouts– but she doesn’t get a moment anywhere that lets you know what a badass the character is.(*)
  • There’s a lot of unnecessary ass shots. I mean, I enjoy Scarlett Johansson’s ass as much as any other straight guy, but it was actually distracting. And the movie was directed by a woman!
  • I want more Taskmaster. I wanted more Taskmaster in this movie, and I want to see the character again. Not as much of a gripe as it could be, though.
  • There were some points where I was wondering about where she gets her money from. Like, she’s got a Guy, and this Guy seems to be able to produce whatever she wants on short notice in any country on Earth, and I feel like maybe we should have learned a little more about that guy.
  • The stinger at the end suggests that Yelena’s career went in a different direction after the events of the film than her character development during the film would imply. I’m being deliberately opaque to avoid spoilers, of course, but, c’mon, you ended the movie as this, and a few years later you’re doing that? Really?

So, yeah: I went in with a bad attitude and kinda down on the entire MCU thing and came out of it having watched a solid action movie. Call it a B, or a B+ if you are as entertained by David Harbour as I am. And the movie adds some texture to Infinity War and Endgame that wasn’t there before, which is cool. I don’t know for sure that you need to drop $30 for this on Disney+ right away, but you probably already have if you were going to, and I’m glad I didn’t go to a theater to see it, but it’s an enjoyable, competent piece of filmmaking and I enjoyed it.

(*) There’s a moment late in the film where Natasha does … uh, something to herself … that shows how impossibly tough she is, and she keeps getting up after each of the fights. She’s absolutely not portrayed as weak. But showing her toughness and a standout badass moment are not quite the same thing.

#REVIEW: Loki, Season One

The tl;dr version: I hate time travel stories, and I am so, so tired.

I keep threatening to actually review Avengers: Endgame, which I never actually did. I was hip-deep in family crisis at the time I saw the film, and the reason I’ve not written it since then is primarily because the post is going to end up being 12,000 words long, and it’s not going to be fun to write. The short version: I think that Endgame, for all of its fan service and plethora of holy shit moments, in the long run is easily the worst Marvel movie, and in a lot of ways ruined the MCU. Endgame chose the worst imaginable way to solve the story problems that Infinity War set up, and because of the choices made in that film every MCU product since that film has had to be about Endgame.

And now, every single post-Loki MCU product has to be about Loki, too. And this is not an improvement.

(I’m going to assume you’ve watched the show, but sort of talk around the details a bit? So spoiler warning, I guess.)

I’m still going to resist the urge to make this post ridiculously long. I’m supposed to be back in my training in fourteen minutes, and honestly I’m hoping to get the entire post finished before then. Let me get the positives out of the way first: the actual show itself, in a vacuum, is pretty good. Tom Hiddleston is, of course, an amazingly talented and charismatic actor, and they’ve surrounded him with a cast that doesn’t really have any weak spots. I thought the pacing for the program was great; I didn’t think there were any filler episodes (you wouldn’t think this would be possible in a six-episode season, but it is) and while it ends in a very cliffhanger fashion it definitely tells a coherent story, or at least it does once you accept that you have to have watched, like, 25 movies and two days of TV that came beforehand. Nothing in the MCU is really internally coherent any longer; you either accept that or you don’t as part of the product.

The problem that I have is that one of two things have to be true about this show, and neither are good: either I, someone who has been reading Marvel comic books for nearly four decades and is well-versed in the minutia of things like alternate timelines and multiverses, completely misunderstood what the deal was with Loki’s Time Variance Authority, or the entire concept of the Goddamn show doesn’t make a single damn drop of sense from start to finish.

It will not surprise you to learn that I am not blaming myself for this one. It’s possible that I Just Don’t Get It, but I really don’t think that’s the case. I think I understand It, to the degree that It can be understood, because the fundamental problem is that It doesn’t make any sense.

I can accept, begrudgingly, the concept that the Avengers were “supposed” to go back in time in Endgame and steal an Infinity Stone from themselves, but that Loki picking up that same Infinity Stone from where it was dropped and poofing away was not “supposed” to happen.

I cannot accept that a timeline where Loki is a fucking alligator is due to a single “variance” in a timeline, or that a variance that leads to Loki being a woman (strangely, called Sylvie; why does she have a different name from the other Lokis? No idea.) would lead to that variant Loki being culled at, like, eight. That problem definitely happened earlier than that.

This is already multiverse shit before the show creates the multiverse. A world where Loki is a Goddamned alligator is going to be different from our world in a whole lot of ways other than this one dude being an alligator. You can’t just prune the alligator and everything else is fine. And since this show happens before Infinity War or Endgame, and ends with the multiverse being created and Loki getting dumped into some other universe than the one he started in … is the MCU prime universe still the same? Did the multiverse get created before Infinity War or Endgame, or is that just another mess?

We already have Is This Person a Skrull or Not floating around as a universe-wide problem. I really don’t need Is This The Real Universe or Not dumped on top of it, especially when it’s done this sloppily.

I gotta get back to my meeting, but I think you get the idea. I’ll see Black Widow this weekend; we’ll see if that sets me off too.

Sure, whatever, I guess

Okay, it’s true that my track record on judging movies based on their teaser trailers isn’t great. But … if there wasn’t a Marvel Studios logo on this one it wouldn’t have made any impact on me at all, and right now I feel like seeing it is a chore I have to endure rather than something I actually want to do. I can’t tell you a single thing about a single one of these characters, I don’t know who any of them are, and with the single exception of Darkseid I really don’t have any affection for any of Jack Kirby’s characters when he was trying to Go Mythical. The New Gods bore the shit out of me too, frankly.

I think Black Widow comes out soon? Perhaps shockingly soon? Truth be told I don’t care much about that either, nor about the new Loki show that I think is debuting pretty soon. I liked things about both WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but ultimately both of them left me cold.

It really is amazing how thoroughly Endgame killed my interest in the MCU, and one of these days I’m going to write a post about why, and it’s going to be 20,000 words long, so I probably ought to do my level best to avoid doing it.


One more day. One more day. One more day. One more day.

I can do this.