Who will live? Who will die? Who will be resurrected? How will our heroes defeat Thanos? Big questions are on the minds of Marvel Cinematic Universe fans heading into the 22nd outing, “Avengers: Endgame,” which will hit theaters Friday, April 26. It’s not the end of the saga by any means (trailers for July’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” are already out, so I have a good feeling about Spidey’s fortunes), but it’s definitely the end of an era as some of the original Avengers – such as Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America – might be calling it quits with this film, one way or another.
Dark Horse’s “Angel” comic series ends its run with a surprising but appealing smaller scale. With the “Buffy” characters facing a major threat in their Season 11, Angel would have to be seriously sidetracked to not help out, and new writer Corinna Bechko (“Star Wars: Legacy Volume II”) finds a perfect way to occupy him: He’s traveling through the past. While this might seem like the most epic concept so far, “Angel” Season 11 maintains a personal scope. There are just three main characters – but only two at a time, since Illyria and Fred share a body – and the three time-travel stops reflect important moments from their pasts.
1999 was a landmark year for movies and TV, so we’re being bombarded by 20th anniversary celebrations of these classics. But is “Cruel Intentions,” from March 5, 1999, one of those classics? I saw it in the theater when it came out and didn’t like it, but in all honesty about 90 percent of the reason is that I couldn’t handle seeing Buffy as a bad person. Giving it a fresh look today, I can see why people celebrate this film – and besides, at least Sarah Michelle Gellar distances herself from her iconic role by having brown hair here.
Just as “The X-Files” returned for shorter TV seasons in recent years, the “Buffy” comics take a crack at the miniseries format in Season 11, which is only 12 issues long, compared to at least 25 in the previous three seasons. On one hand, important side stories are missing within the overall arc of the US government’s smackdown of the supernatural population. On the other hand, Buffy shines this season – partly affirming superhero traits that have always been there, but also achieving milestones that would’ve been unthinkable in past seasons.
For a long stretch, “Redbelt” (2008) employs Chiwetel Ejiofor and a stellar cast doing strong work in service to a story that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. But writer-director David Mamet is planting seeds for a stronger back half where most of it comes together in an unusual mix of Mametian con-job plot and martial-arts fight film. The finished product is still a bizarre blend that makes me question if it’s worth the 1 hour and 40 minutes, but Ejiofor – as big-city jujitsu instructor Mike Terry – ultimately shapes “Redbelt” into a fable about finding a way out of the direst circumstances through sheer training and skill.
The brilliance of “mid90s” (2018), now available on Amazon Prime, is in the details. Writer-director Jonah Hill, known for his comedic acting roles, grew up in this time, and he has a great ear for the way teenagers talked – and the way coolness was the only currency that mattered. Watched from the perspective of 2019, the film makes us think about how the maturation of teen culture has benefited the most vulnerable kids, but also how mid-’90s teens were toughened up by the casual meanness around them.
John Passarella completes a solid three-for-three among Buffyverse novels with “Angel: Monolith” (June 2004). As with “Buffy: Ghoul Trouble” (2000) and “Angel: Avatar” (2001), this is a rock-solid effort with on-point characterization, accurate continuity, a decent sense of mystery and committed action writing. It doesn’t offer any plot surprises, which is why it doesn’t rise to the level of elite Buffyverse novels, but it’s completely respectable.
In my review of the first two installments of “Buffy: The High School Years” – “Freaks and Geeks” and “Glutton for Punishment” (both from 2016) – I noted that they seemed to be aimed at the youngest theoretical fan. The stories both center on Buffy’s school-Slaying conflict and have simple resolutions; if one wanted to be generous, they almost matched the shallowest episodes of Season 1 in depth.
The most fun-to-watch (and possibly the most fun-to-make) parts of “Bad Boys” (1995) are the action sequences, and that’s again the case in the sequel. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that returning director Michael Bay and the four writers of “Bad Boys II” (2003) came up with action sequences first, then strung a loose screenplay around them.
The Punisher” Season 2 (January, Netflix) might be the most violent season of TV I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if the budget listed fake blood and wound makeup as the biggest expense. Some episodes are bleak enough to affect my overall mood for the next day. Still, while the usual Netflix Marvel Cinematic Universe problem of slow pacing is present in the middle episodes, this is overall solid serial storytelling.