‘Eternals’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Chloé Zhao’s Eternals dives into the story of celestial beings that have been defending Earth for centuries. The reason why Zhao was the perfect choice to bring these characters to life is because of her humanistic lens in grounding her characters. She takes these literal gods and cements them in the humanity around them. Whether it is through the script, or the stunning visuals, Zhao makes sure to make their connection to human life the most important aspect for these characters. That being said, Eternals is not perfect. The main issue the film suffers from is the pacing and the overall structure in executing the story. Despite of this (or perhaps because of this), it is one of the most ambitious Marvel films and it feels like it should be on its own level, away from the rest of the cinematic universe.

Without getting into too many details, the fact that the story spans centuries held Eternals back. The disjointed narrative constantly takes the audience out of the present day storyline and it tends to be a lot to digest. It felt like a very beautiful history lesson with no concrete story to tell. It is a by-the-books superhero film masked by its theoretical analysis of gods living among humans.  For instance, some of the celestials struggle with the restriction of not being able to interfere with human conflicts and wars, especially Druig (Barry Keoghan), who has mind-control powers and can stop the conflict within seconds.  To emphasize these struggles Zhao goes through centuries of human conflicts and shows how each member of the Eternals has had their fair share of doubts about what role they’d play on each. These plot points tend to show their leader, Ajak (Salma Hayek), keeping this celestial family together and in check, but that plotline is told through the perspective of how this struggle affects each of the characters.

Who Is Thena? A Look At Marvel Comics' Eternals Characters - Comic Years
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

There are three characters that really stood out to me, who carried the emotional weight of the film through their story arc; Thena (Angelina Jolie), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), and the abovementioned Druig, all of which had the most interesting journeys. If it weren’t for Jolie’s acting chops as Thena, this could have been a different film entirely. For me, even though Thena was cast aside majority of the time, she really stole the spotlight from everyone else. Her arc was emotional because of how her memories affected her present mental state as the goddess of war. I also appreciated how everything about Thena’s fighting style was graceful and effortless. She truly shined out of the entire cast and I connected with her the most.

After 26 films, the MCU finally has some clear LGBTQ+ representation with Phastos and his family. Brian Tyree Henry brought so much of his natural charisma to Phastos but also presented his connection to humanity through his vulnerability. Phastos is a tech whiz who planted seeds for many mechanical inventions humans would eventually create. Not only did Phastos struggle with the man-made weaponry, but he is also mentally affected by how his technological advancements led to human conflicts and war. How can a god sit idly by and watch the destruction of humanity if it was caused by his own technology? The complexity of Phastos is unmatched in Eternals.

Bryan Tyree Henry's 'Eternals' character Phastos is a queer MCU first : NPR
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

While the characters in Eternals all had their time to shine, some were underwhelming and underused. Ajak is an important character and Hayek portrayed a stern, gentle leader with maternal energy quite well. As much as I adore Gemma Chan, her Sersi did not work for me, and she lacked chemistry with Richard Madden’s Ikaris. If their love for each other is supposed to transcend centuries, and be the central issue in the third act, there needed to be more. There were two other couples in this movie that had more chemistry than they did and that shouldn’t have happened. Thena and Gilgamesh (Don Lee) made me feel their genuine love and respect for each other more so than two lovers who are supposedly selling the love story that holds this film together.

Is Chloé Zhao’s Eternals more mature and different than other MCU films? Yes, it is. Does it suffer from overly explaining the mythos of the celestial beings and disjointed narrative trying to piece centuries together? Yes, it does. I did not walk out of this movie in awe of what Zhao did with these characters because the story wasn’t as engaging as it should have been. Sure, it was emotional and refreshing but I left feeling underwhelmed. It felt like they were going through the motions of a comic book film, while elevating it through the technical aspects, to mask the fact that the story is choppy. Zhao’s style was made for characters like these, and it worked on a more emotional, intimate scale, but handling the scope of this story and how it is supposed to be integrated in the MCU did not work. 

‘Shang-Chi And The Legends Of The Ten Rings’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

In the superhero world, there are origin stories that are fairly generic. The same formula runs its course and we are left with another hero, who will soon be integrated in the fabric of the MCU. In this case, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings feels like a breath of fresh air in the Marvel universe. We have our first Asian-American hero leading their own standalone film. Director Destin Daniel Cretton, brought together so many different elements in Shang-Chi, to make it feel authentic and comic accurate. Martial-arts master Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) must confront his past, when he’s drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization.

The film begins with a history lesson, as legendary Tony Leung makes his American screen debut, he tells the story in Mandarin. The opening of this film is beautiful and sets the tone for the rest of the film. We have light and dark elements coming together to work as one, through the power of love. We see that the martial-arts in Ta-Lo are very fluid, almost like a choreographed dance, between Wenwu (Tony Leung) and Jiang Li (Fala Chen). It almost felt like a love language, as they danced together and became connected to one another. From that moment on, I knew that Shang-Chi was going to be something special. The visuals and the fight choreography alone, made this a unique entry in the MCU.

New trailers for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Halloween  Kills, and more
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

It was very easy to follow, which helped the pacing of this film. It did have some trouble finding its footing in the first half but once they had a plan, it was smooth sailing and it was fast-paced. The chemistry between Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) was great, and I really appreciated that they did not force any romantic relationship on them. It was platonic, and you saw the genuine love they had for each other, as friends. They worked together to reach their own individual potential, and it was really great to see their development at the end of this film.

When structuring an origin story, the childhood flashbacks need to be integrated in a way that will push the hero forward, without too much exposition. In this case, for Shang-Chi, I felt that they showed so much of his upbringing, instead of preaching to the audience. There are many moments in this movie, that will get you emotional because of how Shang-Chi and his sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) were raised by their father. Some traumatic moments stayed with them and shaped them into the person they are present day. The story flowed naturally and there were some different choices made, which I appreciated.

New Shang-Chi trailer unveils the real Mandarin, brings back Abomination  and Wong
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Shang-Chi is one of the most beautifully shot Marvel films. It was an abundance of riches; from the cinematography, to the costume design, and the fantastic score, that elevated every scene. The entire cast worked together so well, but Simu Liu held his own against Tony Leung. The fighting style is on another level, but it is exactly what we were all hoping for. The power set with the ten rings, is going to elevate so many fight scenes in the future and it really is exciting! Shang-Chi is so refreshing, fun, emotional, and will of course, leave you wanting more. These characters are all great and the final battle was amazing to watch on the big screen.

‘Black Widow’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Our beloved Natasha Romanoff, the one woman that was a part of the original six, and came in like a firecracker in Iron Man 2 finally has her standalone film. The wait for Black Widow was long, and no, it wasn’t because of the pandemic. After being in the MCU for 11 years, Scarlett Johansson deserved her standalone. It should have come after her debut, or even placed her right after Civil War (as the timeline intended) but Kevin Feige has a way of making everything work. Even though the placement is odd and did not really work for me, seeing her in her own film made me incredibly happy. Director Cate Shortland took what she knew about Natasha/Black Widow and really presented her in a way we haven’t seen her before.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff and Florence Pugh as Yelena in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2020. All Rights Reserved.

It wouldn’t have been a true Black Widow movie without the hand-to-hand combat and brilliant fight choreography. You felt every hit because the sound design made it crisp. The score also worked well during fight scenes but not enough to make it stand-out like some other original pieces. These fight scenes are on par with those in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and that is why I loved those scenes, especially when Romanoff was fighting. The main issue with Black Widow is that this does not feel like her movie. Majority was a set up for Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova. I’m not complaining because I adore her, but it still didn’t sit right with me. It felt like Johansson was sidelined in her own film, it was supposed to be her moment.

We do get to see how Natasha started out and how connected she was to Yelena. We are introduced to this dysfunctional family unit, as Melina (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei (David Harbour) are on assignment. The placement for Black Widow does make sense because the film explores Romanoff’s struggle with the idea of family. On this journey we see how much love she has for those around her. This movie added so much depth to her character and it is the development she needed in order for her to come full circle. The entire cast gave very strong performances, especially Florence Pugh, I also need to give David Harbour credit because his comedic timing was spot on.

(L-R): Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Alexei (David Harbour) and Yelena (Florence Pugh) in Marvel Studios’ BLACK WIDOW, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access. Photo by Jay Maidment. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

My number one issue with Black Widow is the use of Taskmaster. When you first see the costume and see him in action, it’s absolutely wicked. Taskmaster is one of the best Marvel villains and when he was introduced in the trailer, I was beyond excited. His character being able to mimic, and go toe-to-toe with anyone in the MCU, was something I was looking forward to. But sadly, like most Marvel villains, he was underused. There was so much more they could have done with him and it was just underwhelming. There were strong action scenes, but there were also weak ones towards the end, that the poor CGI really took me out of the film.

Black Widow is your typical MCU film but the fight choreography is what puts it above majority of them. The banter between Natasha and Yelena was perfect. Their chemistry was electric and you could genuinely feel the love between them. It’s interesting because towards the end of Natasha’s arc, she became the heart of the team. She has changed the most out of all of them and we really see that in this film. Again, I have to praise Cate Shortland for giving us an action-packed film, with so much heart, key emotional moments, spurts of humour, and a post-credit scene that will knock your socks off.

Make sure to catch Black Widow in theatres or on Disney Plus Premier Access July 9th!

Martin Scorsese v. Marvel: Dawn of Justice

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is in theatres today and will eventually be released on Netflix November 27th. The past month, the media has been in a frenzy over Mr. Scorsese’s comments about Marvel films and how he considers them a different form of cinema.

In my personal opinion, Scorsese is just reiterating what many people have been saying for the past five years. Disney has been pumping out these films year after year and they have been lacking in many departments. It’s killing the moviegoing experience for general audiences. He has compared the MCU to theme park rides because the entire franchise consists of EVENT films. Disney brings in the entire family, whether it be a Marvel film or a remade Disney live action, they have been able to make money on nostalgia and comfort.

The Future of Netflix Distribution Analytical Podcast
Link to blog post x

The film critics, cinephiles and movie lovers count down the days for independent films like The Irishman but the general audience has been conditioned to spend money on event films because of the rising ticket prices. No one will spend the money to watch a film that they are taking a gamble on. The podcast that is linked on the right is an in depth analysis of the new age of movie watching. In the podcast the discourse of film distribution, local movie theatre chains and streaming are all discussed. The general audience mainly goes to the theatre for a comedy or an action film and that’s the sad reality that Mr. Scorsese is addressing in this new age of filmmaking. He was never dismissing the hard work and dedication that has gone into each of these films but instead, how it has altered the thought process when deciding which film to watch in theatres and which films to watch at home.

(from left) Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Ray Romano in The Irishman (2019)

The Irishman is a gigantic film because of the calibre of actors, the streaming deal with Netflix AND he is delivering another classic mob film. There have been so many comments about who he is as a person and as a filmmaker, it seems that people haven’t done their research on what Scorsese has been doing for the past four decades. He has been pushing cinema forward with his own filmography and he has been preserving the history of cinema since 1990. Martin Scorsese genuinely loves every single aspect of this industry and for people to undermine him and disrespect his dedication to his craft is ridiculous.

It’s also incredible to me that journalists, who have studied for their degree, are pushing this discourse, while Scorsese is doing promo for The Irishman. You have one of the most renowned directors in front of you, with a massive film, which is a culmination of his entire filmography and you decide to get a soundbite for clickbait, rather than any film related content? Are his thoughts about a franchise really more important than the film he’s promoting? Also, why are you asking the Marvel actors/directors their thoughts about Scorsese’s comments, knowing full well that they have contracts with Disney?

The moviegoing audience has shifted and the way people watch films has also drastically changed. Martin Scorsese has been able to transcend generations with his filmmaking because he moves with the technological climate. When 3D came out, Scorsese made Hugo and the film was nominated because of his heartfelt story and homage to cinema history.

Asa Butterfield in Hugo (2011)

When movies were being shot on digital, Scorsese gave it a shot with the bombastic The Wolf of Wall Street and it was also nominated. It only made sense for Scorsese to head to a streaming platform for this gangster epic.

Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

The reason why it’s so important that big filmmakers take a chance on Netflix, is so we can finally bridge the gap between streaming and theatrical distribution. A film like The Irishman in this current climate won’t even make a profit in a local movie theatre BUT showcasing this type of film on a streaming service, allows a guaranteed international release on multiple screens. Scorsese attempted to bridge the gap but movie theatres did not want to show a 3.5 hour gangster film, with older actors, when they could fill their screens with the latest action flick or Disney film.

If you really think about it, it took a director like Scorsese, to express everyone’s thoughts about the destruction of the moviegoing experience, for people to actually question Disney’s conditioning. There is original content that should be thriving and that’s the only point Martin Scorsese was trying to make.

Disney & Film Criticism

cm article .png

This is what we’ve come to?

It’s acceptable to just claim that a movie is just “fine”?

There’s a reason why Captain Marvel can’t be critiqued as “fine” and the reason is because it’s the TWENTY FIRST superhero film in a franchise.

It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it’s a female led cbm or that it’s written by a female or that it’s CO-DIRECTED by a woman. The film as a whole was not up to par with other films in the MCU and they are in Phase 04.

So because it’s under Disney we’re supposed to give a mediocre Marvel film a free pass? No.

Captain Marvel should not have been as mediocre as it was at this stage in the MCU, especially ahead of Endgame. 

Please tell me why there was more pressure on Patty Jenkins and Wonder Woman? The answer is blatantly obvious and it’s because it’s a DC film.

Captain Marvel did not reinvent the genre, it did not change the formulaic structure and it was extremely underwhelming. As a woman, there were moments where I understood Carol Danvers but I did not feel a connection to her. Also, how doesn’t it upset anyone that Captain Marvel was literally used as a stepping stone to Endgame? She’s being used as a device to further a narrative that is already in place because of the shared universe. The placement of Captain Marvel is odd and the only link to Endgame is the post credit scene which also makes this film disjointed among the MCU. I’m sure if you watch Captain Marvel before The Avengers it’ll fit better.

In the article from Variety, this is what Alicia Lutes says, “You’re still enabling the narrative that women have to be twice as good, all the time, to maybe get 1% of the pie. Whether you thought “Captain Marvel” or any of these movies was good, or even an affront, is entirely beside the point.”

I’m sorry but I don’t understand how any viewer has put women on a pedestal in regards to filmmaking? Women need more opportunities in the industry but when it comes to their work, they need to be critiqued like every other filmmaker. When you make claims that “it’s okay for this film, that is directed by a woman to fail because we need more of that”… no one wants their film to be mediocre or a failure, so why are we giving this film a pass?

You’ve already categorized Captain Marvel as a female led film and completely pushed aside the fact that it’s a DISNEY MARVEL MOVIE. It doesn’t matter who is behind the lens and that’s what people have to start realizing when critiquing films in the future. You have to be able to watch it for what it is and not put the film on a pedestal because it’s a female led film or directed by a woman. It’s damaging to female filmmakers, yes they struggle more than the average males in the industry but their content needs to be critiqued the same as everyone else.

How do we, as critics, say it’s acceptable that a movie is just “fine”? There have been thousands of films that have been mediocre and forgotten, where people have critisized every single aspect of the film, but this one, gets a free pass because female directors need to make some bad movies? Do people know what they’re saying?

This is proof that Disney owns the critics. Forget about Captain Marvel for a second and think about the critical acclaim Mary Poppins Returns received…. it didn’t deserve any of that hype and it was a disappointment in my eyes but it got plenty of nominations. Disney has known how to market their films since day one and now they’ve become greedy and power hungry. They own the box office year round and the critics are biased and fall to their knees as if they’ve made another masterpiece.

The new age of film criticism is not objective anymore, there is no singular voice that breaks down the film for what it is, there’s no balance. Ratings have become more important than reviews and critiques because a percentage from a consensus is more powerful than a credible writer expressing their opinion.

There should be no mediocrity when it comes to a Disney Marvel movie at this stage in the game because of it’s longevity. They have a “perfected” formula, so why not use it properly? That’s the issue with this kind of criticism for the film. At the end of the day, it’s not about female filmmakers at the box office but it’s about a standalone film apart of a larger universe.