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The ninth installment of the X-Men cinematic franchise (Origins: Wolverine counts… as much as I would prefer it didn’t) has landed with today’s X-Men: Apocalypse. Set ten years after the events of Days of Future Past, Professor Xavier has built himself a bustling school for mutant children, Mystique is helping mistreated mutants find asylum in an underground society, and Magneto is trying to stay under the radar in the Polish countryside. However, all of their plans go awry when an ancient, god-like power resurfaces after several thousand years.

This movie is VERY full. Full of everything; characters, plot threads, fight scenes. At times it does seem a little overwhelming, but it never got to the point of utter confusion from being overstuffed. There is only one element that I feel could definitely have been cut out, as its only real purpose is to set up for the next chapter in the franchise. Other than that, the story threads were many, but cohesive, and mostly necessary. My biggest complaint is Apocalypse himself, not so much his look, which I didn’t mind, but his character. He never really comes across as that larger than life figure he is in the comics, and I feel like that’s probably what hurts this movie most. Also, for a character so heavily featured in the trailers, Psylocke gets surprisingly little screen time.

The acting is mostly good, although I can’t help but feel that Jennifer Lawrence phoned it in as Mystique in a few scenes. She just seemed kind of bored for most of the movie. McAvoy and Fassbender are still great as Professor X and Magneto, and are worthy successors (or would it be precursors?) to the roles that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen defined nearly two decades ago. Many of the new young actors also do a really great job portraying their respective characters.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. I went in with pretty low expectations and came out of the theater feeling satisfied. It certainly doesn’t match the quality and experience of First Class or Days of Future Past, but it doesn’t fail miserably either as some final acts of trilogies have done before, I’m looking your way Last Stand.

The Verdict for X-Men: Apocalypse:
3 out of 5

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Stay nerdy, my friends.

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The latest book to join the Halo universe, New Blood by Matt Forbeck, is also the shortest. It details the story of Sergeant Edward Buck in his own words, and his experience as an ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Trooper for those not familiar with Halo lingo) before volunteering for the Spartan-IV Program. The book kind of acts as a little bit of a prologue to Halo 5, where Buck is already a Spartan, but the main focus is to add a little bit of depth to someone who’s really just a background character.

Forbeck does a pretty good job of making Sgt. Buck stand on his own as an interesting character. However, the story is somewhat generic. There’s really nothing new here in terms of the universe. At just under two-hundred pages, this is a short read for the really intense fans of the Halo extended universe. If you’re just a casual fan, I would say leave this one on the shelf.

The Verdict for Halo: New Blood:
3 out of 5

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Until next time,
Stay nerdy, my friends.

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So, the second big superhero faceoff movie of the summer is here, and it is an overwhelming experience. Does that equate to a cinematic success, or an overburdened stumble? You’ll have to keep reading to find out!

Captain America: Civil War begins with an operation in Nigeria to capture Brock Rumlow, aka Crossbones. The plan goes south and results in the deaths of many civilians, and in the wake of the previous destruction New York (Avengers), Washington, DC (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), and Sokovia (Avengers: Age of Ultron), the United Nations drafts a resolution to keep powered individuals in check and hold them responsible for their actions. This film is the culmination of eight years of Marvel Cinematic Universe story lines. I sincerely mean that. There are story threads here that started in the very first Iron Man movie and have worked their way through most of the films since.

The Russo brothers craft an intense action epic here. The fight set-pieces are over the top and everything that I would expect from a large-scale superhero film. But it’s not all fighting, there’s a deeper emotional element to the movie as well. Captain America (Chris Evans) stands firm on the idea that the Avengers are best left alone, and not at the mercy of a UN task force who picks and chooses where they should and should not intervene. On the other hand Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), suffers from immense guilt after the events of Age of Ultron and argues that the heroes need some rules and guidelines to live by. It’s so difficult to pick a side and deem one as the “bad guy” because both of their arguments have merit, and that’s where the true conflict of this story lies.

Evans and Downey give solid performances as the two leads, and the personal conflict between their two characters is realistic. However, the true standout performance in this movie is Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther. The character gets a fitting introduction, and Boseman plays him well, often stealing scenes from some of the other heavy hitters in the film. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man is a fun and light-hearted take on the character, and the young actor plays it well, even if the character’s inclusion in the film feels just slightly tacked on.

I do have a couple of complaints about the movie. For one, I feel the writers played the story a little too safely. I almost wish they would have taken a few more risks and made the stakes for these characters a little higher. A little more uncertainty would definitely make the future of the franchise a little more fun to anticipate. Secondly, while I feel the movie worked as a whole, parts of it did seem a little overstuffed. Not nearly to the extent of certain other superhero movies this year *cough*BatmanvsSuperman*cough*, but crowded nonetheless.

At the end of the day, Disney, Marvel, and the Russos prove that a big budget hero vs. hero movie can work, but it’s not something that can be done overnight.  As I mentioned before, Civil War is the culmination of nearly a decade of story lines. These characters have known and interacted with one another frequently in that time span, tensions and relationships have been built, and that makes a whole lot more sense than these icons just instantly hating one another. It’s not without its flaws, but it sure was a hell of a lot of fun to watch.

The Verdict for Captain America: Civil War:
4 out of 5

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Stay nerdy, my friends.

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Following the events of issue #5, a new story arc begins here, and finally gives some meaning to the series title, Tokyo Ghost. Led Dent returns to Los Angeles, this time on the same side as his old foe, Davey Trauma. However, Led remains haunted by a ghost from his recent past.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Rick Remender and Sean Murphy treated the first story arc of this series as more of a prologue than anything else. Now we’re really getting into the meat of the story, and let me say, the creators’ collective foot is firmly pressed on the accelerator. We’re barely given any time to breathe as they dive right into this next arc, and after the peace and serenity that we experienced with the main characters in Japan, returning to the dystopic future L.A. is like a kick straight to the gut. We’re also privy to the plan that Trauma and his boss, Flak, have for Tokyo, and it isn’t pretty.

This is definitely a worthy next step in what is probably my second favorite non-superhero comic being published right now. The characters are interesting, the settings are interesting, and the story that’s unfolding is easily one of the best I’ve read in a long time. This issue definitely provides a good jumping on point if you don’t want to go back and read 1-5, but why wouldn’t you want to? I will say, this is definitely for mature readers though, so keep that in mind if you plan to pick it up. Honestly, some of the violence and other less wholesome imagery isn’t necessarily for me, but it fits within the confines of the story, so it all balances out.

The Verdict for Tokyo Ghost #6:
5 out of 5

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Stay nerdy, my friends.