Men in Black: International is the rare reboot picture that makes me question whether any film in the franchise was any good to begin with. It looks and feels like the preceding trilogy. The setting is a comic book world populated by covert aliens, some of which are hunted by or hunting equally-covert agents of the law donning black shades and slick suits. The appearance of energy comes in the form of quippy Men in Black, distinct alien character designs, and shiny silver weaponry that shoot beams of colored lights.
Listen, I’m a cynical man—so much so that oftentimes I find myself more excited by the number crunching that goes along with super hero blockbusters than I am about the films themselves—but there is a moment in Avengers: Endgame that is awesome in the traditional sense of the word; it fills one with a sense of awe.
It is a moment in the doorway of the film’s climax (to its back is a climactic sequence, in its own right), and it succeeds as a fulfilling moment solely because the business mechanisms that comprise Marvel Studios have allowed for the latitude to make such a broadly fan-service gesture a genuine emotional high point.
In Lake Tahoe, 1969, four guests arrive at the El Royale, a motel that sits at the borderline between Nevada and California. A painted line divides the parking lot and the motel interior in half. “You can choose to stay in the great state of California,” desk clerk Miles (Lewis Pullman) explains, with a practiced sweep of his arm. “Or you can choose to stay in the great state of Nevada.”
Miles seems to be the sole employee in the establishment. He does the housekeeping. He tends the bar. He doles out the keys. And he watches who management tells him to watch.
Hollywood, ever since it has had the capability to make them, loves their epics. Ben-hur. Lawrence of Arabia. Spartacus. And now Avengers: Infinity War, an epic that has been running for 10 years. And that isn’t a figurative statement.
Sure, you can walk into your multiplex, purchase a ticket to Marvel’s latest having seen none of their previous films, and understand at the most basic plot level what is happening in the film. But this is really a film made for those who have committed to the franchise from the beginning. It is a culmination of 10 years, 18 films, and 38 hours of screentime.
And I’ve been using runtime as an excuse for not watching Ben-hur, Lawrence of Arabia, and Spartacus…
There is a lot on the surface of 12 Strong that has been done in war films before, again and again. Grunt soldier characters act like they do in every other movie. Fire-fight sequences involve everyone we don’t care about falling down dead, and everyone that has been established as a character surviving despite being amid insurmountable danger. Themes of camaraderie and learning to think differently about your fellow man abound. Etcetera. Etcetera.
With this, there is plenty of scenes that play out, down to the lines themselves, exactly as you would expect.
Thor: Ragnarok is a messy film. It’s main villain Hela (played with scenery-chewing glee by Cate Blanchett) is side-lined for most of the film. As is Asgard, the place that is in mortal danger from the Goddess of Death that is Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) sister.
Do not be fooled. This is the main conflict of the film’s plot. Although, for the most part, Thor and pals are relegated to another world entirely.