(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: the big bad of the Marvel Cinematic Universe kinda’ sucks.)

“I am inevitable,” intones the fearsome alien Thanos at a few different junctures in Avengers: Endgame. He states this both as a taunt to the Avengers, who are trying to stop him from destroying humanity either in half or whole. But Thanos also states it as a fact that the heroes can’t possibly always save everyone. The inevitability of Thanos, or of a large-scale villain who wants to destroy everything we hold dear, is arguably counterintuitive to his presence. Thanos is indeed inevitable, but within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he’s not a remotely exciting villain.

Major spoilers for Avengers: Endgame follow.

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(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: Zack Snyder’s Watchmen adaptation is a best case scenario situation.)

I will be the first to admit that Zack Snyder’s interpretation of Watchmen isn’t perfect. In fact, in some respects it’s a very strangely paced and plotted film, very long with meandering diversions into the psyches of its large and often disconnected cast to the point that it’s a turn-off for casual viewers looking for just another superhero movie. However, it’s one of the few comic book films that attempts a faithful adaptation of a specific and limited comic run, rather than just of the characters or brands that usually inspire the films of the Marvel and DC cinematic universes. Because of this, the film is often maligned as either being too faithful to its source material, not faithful enough, or even decried for its very existence, as comic author Alan Moore has in no uncertain terms.

10 years on (Watchmen opened on March 6, 2009), it’s easy to look back on Watchmen and recognize what the film was attempting and the ways it succeeded rather than failed, and while Moore’s comic is still the gold standard for telling this story, Snyder’s commitment to making a cinematic parallel made for probably the best version of this film we could possibly have hoped for.

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glass review

(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: M. Night Shyamalan‘s critically lambasted Glass is actually good!)

Reactions from critics to the Unbreakable trilogy have grown increasingly divisive with each film – not unlike reactions to M. Night Shyamalan’s work as a whole. It was only years later, after the subsequent surge of studio attempts to make “gritty” and “grounded” superhero movies, that appreciation for Unbreakable began to swell. And despite being hailed as part of Shyamalan’s comeback, Split received more negative reviews than its predecessor upon its release in 2017.

Two years later, it’s hardly surprising that Shyamalan’s trilogy-capper, Glass, has fared far worse among most critics than the films before it, and yet I find it to be a near-perfect culmination – and escalation – of this particular narrative. Glass continues the subversion and dissection of the superhero genre, while continuing to explore the compelling thematic elements at work in its predecessors – particularly those in Split. The cleverness of Glass extends beyond its mere plot points and transcends the expected Shyamalan twists, with a thoughtful aesthetic and self-aware implementation of the filmmaker’s more heavy-handed tendencies.

This post contains spoilers for Glass.

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wayne's world 2 defense

(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: the sequel to Wayne’s World is actually better than the beloved original.)

In 1993, just one short year after Wayne’s World transitioned from SNL favorite to box office hit, Paramount unleashed the sequel. Despite the fact that Wayne’s World 2 received mixed reviews and couldn’t seem to attract as many fans as the first film, it remains a hilarious and highly-underrated sequel – a delightfully silly follow-up that ups the ante while wryly (or obnoxiously, given the behind-the-scenes drama) delivering a formulaic sequel; a sort of self-aware cinematic Mad Libs. In my mind, Wayne’s World 2 belongs to the small group of comedy sequels that are better than their predecessors, like Problem Child 2 and Gremlins 2. At the very least, it should be considered just as great as the first film.

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(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: Quantum of Solace deserves better than the frequently snide dismissals you’ve all been giving it.)

Casino Royale (2006) is not only the best of Daniel Craig’s James Bond movies, but it’s the best Bond movie period. That’s just factual and not up for debate, but there seems to be less certainty when it comes to ranking the remaining three films from his tenure as 007. It’s easy, though, if you remember that the chronological order is also the order of descending quality – Casino Royale > Quantum of Solace (2008) > Skyfall (2012) > Spectre (2015). Yup, they’re a series of diminishing returns. You’re welcome.

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Blair WItch 2 Defense

Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: the much-derided sequel to The Blair Witch Project actually rules, thank you very much.)

A little over a year after The Blair Witch Project hit theaters and subsequently became a box office phenomenon, Artisan Entertainment released a sequel that did…the opposite.

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was meant to capitalize on the success of the first film, expanding the mythology for Blair-obsessed audiences eager for another trip to the Burkittsville woods. But Joe Berlinger’s self-aware sequel failed to bewitch fans the same way its predecessor had. And that’s a shame because Book of Shadows is one of the most delightful and rewarding sequels in horror history.

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(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: Super Mario Bros. is much better than we give it credit for.)

Illumination Entertainment and Nintendo are gearing up to bring Mario, Luigi and the gang back to the big screen with an animated Super Mario Bros. film. Fans of the video game are hoping it’s going to be good, especially since many are trying to erase the original live-action film from their memory. It’s popular in film circles to say 1993’s Super Mario Bros. is atrocious. But I disagree. In fact, I think we’re all undervaluing it.

The film, starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as Mario and Luigi, two brothers who get trapped in an alternate New York City run by humanoid dinosaurs, is a film that is considered so awesomely bad, that it becomes good. But I think it’s actually good. While there are tonal shifts that don’t make sense and a confused sense of direction, Super Mario Bros. is not the worst film to watch on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Its leads are convincing, its design is thought-provoking, and contrary to popular belief, it actually follows the Nintendo video games much closer than people actually remember. What also makes this a good movie is that it’s a movie fit for film lovers who like learning about how to tell better stories. One of the boons from Super Mario Bros. is, in fact, learning about its mistakes.

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The Matrix Reloaded Defense

(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: we go to bat for The Matrix Reloaded on its 15th anniversary.)

If the burden of a sequel is to equal or better its predecessor, then few movie sequels have inherited as great a burden as The Matrix Reloaded did when it first hit theaters 15 years ago today on May 15, 2003.

The first Matrix movie gripped the public imagination, tapping into something deep in the collective unconscious. Steeped in grandeur, a sense of pre-millennial purpose, it was a motion picture that wielded the same kind of myth-making mojo as the original Star Wars trilogy. If anything, back in 1999, The Matrix was more Star Wars than Star Wars, as evinced by how widely it overshadowed The Phantom Menace that year as a cultural phenomenon.

The Matrix Reloaded’s legacy as a sequel is such that it and The Matrix Revolutions often get lumped together as inferior specimens. In terms of simple storytelling effectiveness — the lucidity of their dream-weaving as movie machines — both films are inferior to the smooth-running high-concept engine that was the first Matrix. But while the law of diminishing returns is at play in The Matrix trilogy and Reloaded does show signs of the impending system failure that Revolutions would bring about, it actually manages, despite its infamous cave rave scene, to expand the series mythology in new and interesting ways. A decade and a half later, the film’s dismantling of the oosen One narrative set up in The Matrix gives it a different but no less intriguing pull, one that takes to the freeway and attempts to broaden the viewer’s perspective on reality in a manner that now seems ahead of its time.

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Age of Ultron Defense

(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: why Avengers: Age of Ultron is actually superior to the other Avengers films.)

What do we want from the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Do we merely want a collection of cool moments; the realization of decades upon decades of comic book splash pages brought to digital life on a big screen with booming surround sound? Do we want the joy of recognition; the giddiness that comes when a familiar easter egg appears and we knowingly elbow whomever we’re seeing the movie with, as if to say, “I recognize that; do you?” Or do we want something challenging? Something that takes the raw materials that make up the MCU and builds them up into something entirely unexpected?

Better yet – what if we could have all of those things, together? As it turns out, we did. It was called Avengers: Age of Ultron. And people weren’t happy about it.

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(Welcome to The Unpopular Opinion, a series where a writer goes to the defense of a much-maligned film or sets their sights on a movie seemingly beloved by all. In this edition: Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited isn’t just underrated, it’s the best film he has made yet.)

Wes Anderson is more than a director – he’s a brand. Beyond enjoying name recognition, Anderson has an identifiable aesthetic rivaled perhaps only by Quentin Tarantino among indie filmmakers. A cottage industry of trailer remakes, Etsy shops and Instagram accounts has sprung up around his name. His films’ releases are the closest things to events outside of major studio tentpoles.

So how did the 10th anniversary of The Darjeeling Limited pass by last October with hardly any significant decade retrospective piece? Anderson, ever a reliable click-generator for film sites, should easily have inspired some online chatter encouraging reevaluation for better or for worse. Instead, Anderson’s 2007 film simply cemented its status as his most forgotten film. While not the worst (an honor sometimes reserved for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou since most people cut his debut Bottle Rocket some slack), few rank it among his iconic classics like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums or Moonrise Kingdom.

Consider this a belated invitation to reconsider the movie. I maintain The Darjeeling Limited is Wes Anderson’s best film, a perfect blend of style, story and sentiment. You can’t quote it as easily as Rushmore, but Anderson’s deadpan dialogue retains its snapiness. You can’t dress up as it characters for Halloween as easily as The Royal Tenenbaums, but the personalities are as vibrantly acidic as ever. You don’t have an ensemble of stars to fill the poster like The Grand Budapest Hotel, but Anderson goes deeper than ever on three brothers who are among his most completely realized cinematic creations.

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