Category Archives: marvel universe

The Avengers (2012)

More evidence, as if any were needed, that a good movie is elevated when you watch it with an appreciative kid. I like The Avengers just fine – I keep telling our son that these are the other, lesser Avengers, but I don’t think he’s buying it – but I’m pretty sure he’s thinking this is the finest achievement in motion picture history. I thought he was going to explode when Thor and Iron Man have their fight.

Every joke that involves the Hulk in the final fight had our son roaring. Some others bombed with him because he didn’t understand them, which just means he’s going to appreciate the movie more and more as he gets older. On that note, he got a little impatient after the attack on the Helicarrier, and when Black Widow and Hawkeye have their heart-to-heart, he tuned out, as you’d expect a kid to. I really must remember to watch this again with him sometime and see whether he understands the character stuff better, particularly all the interesting manipulation going on as both Nick Fury and Loki place bets on how our heroes will react to various bits of challenging information.

That’s about all I have to say, but for posterity, The Avengers is the sixth Marvel Universe movie, it’s directed and co-written by Joss Whedon, and it features the debut of Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner and the Hulk. Everybody else is all present and correct, and my favorite bit is when Captain America shows up in Stuttgart to save that old man’s life and you just know that Loki’s about to get a knuckle sandwich. Our son was taken by just about everything else, and was dazed by that long final fight.

Finally, he was totally charmed by the second credit scene in the little deli and its quiet awkwardness. Of course, now that I have said that, I’m a little peckish. I wonder whether I can persuade my family to go to Ankar’s and get some shawarma for supper tonight. It may not be “best in New York City” good, though.

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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

You know, I like Captain America’s first movie, but I don’t love it. It’s tough to completely embrace because there’s so much more to this story that time doesn’t allow us to see, but I want to so much. Everything works just fine until we meet the Howling Commandos. Then it’s into a montage of action scenes because this movie’s already gone for about eighty minutes and we still have several weeks of sneak attacks and missions behind enemy lines between where we are and the big climax.

It’s so unfair. Why aren’t there ten Howling Commandos movies here? I’ll settle for a ten episode TV series. Six. Two TV movies and a package of deleted scenes? They cast all these perfect actors as Cap’s team! I actually remember Dum Dum Dugan best from my own childhood as the starring part in Marvel’s silly Godzilla comic book, which I adored even despite the artwork that I didn’t like, and there is an actor named Neal McDonough who looks like the character came right off the page. There’s not nearly enough with these guys.

So what else? Joe Johnston directed this, and he also made the wonderful Rocketeer and Jumanji – and that idiotic Wolfman movie with Anthony Hopkins, but nobody’s perfect – and it’s just a tremendously fun period piece. Captain America vaulted over every other Marvel superhero to become my favorite once it finally clicked and I fell in love with Jack Kirby’s comics with the character. (Weirdly, I didn’t like Kirby at all when I was little.) Chris Evans just cemented the deal for me. He’s just perfect in the part. I really appreciate how he’s made this character resonate. Even on Twitter, the actor embodies everything that Captain America stands for.

Tommy Lee Jones effortlessly steals every scene he’s in, and Hayley Atwell is terrific fun as Agent Peggy Carter – about whom, much more later this summer – and it’s got a pair of great villains in Hugo Weaving and Toby Jones. I like the concept of the Red Skull, a villain so hateful and horrible that even all the other Marvel supervillains hate him. I don’t like how there’s a get-out clause for him in this movie, that possibly the Tesseract/Cosmic Cube/Space Stone teleported him into the future so he might one day reappear to fight again. I hope not. I’m happier with him being a period villain only!

This also has the first appearance of Sebastian Stan’s character Bucky, who’ll end up turning the Marvel Universe upside down a few films later. Of course, all my childhood, Bucky was dead – and, because kid sidekicks were the worst thing in the universe when you’re thirteen or so, we were glad of it – so I was pretty surprised to learn, a couple of years before this movie, that they’d brought Bucky back as the Winter Soldier. Unpleasantly surprised, I should say. I was playing a miniatures game, Heroclix, at the time, when one of the other players at the shop explained this new-to-me character once he had a piece and thought that was the most idiotic thing I’d ever heard. I did win an important tournament for that expansion and snagged a super-rare prize with him, but grudgingly. So all credit to Sebastian Stan for taking a character I could not possibly care less about and making him so darn watchable. But some of that comes later, I guess.

Well, if you think I’m nitpicky about the way I write about these movies, you should see our son. He tells us that this is his favorite of the first five, but it needed one more explosion. The scene where Cap rescues the 400 soldiers from Hydra’s prison camp was his favorite part of the film, which I thought was interesting because it’s almost always the very end of the movie that thrills him most. But then again, this climax has Cap and Peggy being mushy over the radio to each other. He probably didn’t want to admit to any tears.

But all the action scenes had him hopping. He adored this movie and didn’t need too many explanations, although we did pause it to clarify what Hydra was up to after the Red Skull kills the three Nazi officials who visit his bunker to sneer at him, and also to explain Cap’s turn as an onstage propaganda hero to sell war bonds. Not like today’s children have many opportunities to learn what war bonds are!

And that’s another thing: they should have actually made one of those cheesy black and white shorts that Cap was making in the last half of 1942. That would have been so fun. So far my Marvel wishlist is a Sif and the Warriors Three feature, a ten-week Howling Commandos TV series, and a twelve-minute Captain America Punches Der Fuhrer’s Face short, like they’d run after the newsreel and the cartoon before the movie. Why does ABC keep making more Agents of SHIELD instead of what’s really important here?

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Thor (2011)

There’s a general feeling that the Marvel movies just keep getting better and bigger, but I have a soft spot for the first Thor film, which has a sense of whimsy and fun and a deliberately smaller scale. Our son agrees that it’s the best of the first four movies. It’ll get surpassed, but Kenneth Branagh was such a good choice to direct this. He makes the human stuff and the epic stuff seem so vibrant and entertaining.

Well, I say it’s a smaller scale despite Loki’s plan to destroy the Frost Giants’ home realm of Jotunheim. We’ve not seen a planet really threatened with extinction in these movies yet. But it’s all focused on a small town in New Mexico which is so visually appealing that I wish it was a real place I could visit. Natalie Portman’s character and her scientist buddies have moved into what looks like an old car dealership or garage or something. I just love the look of the place.

The one unavoidable thing in these movies, since they try to look like the recognizable world, is that the government is represented by fun-killing agents in black suits who ruin everything. The town of Puente Antiguo is so colorful and bright, and then they swoop in and confiscate all the lovable scientists’ equipment and data. Clark Gregg can accomplish a lot with the twinkle in his eye and his smile, but mainly what he makes me want to do in that scene is punch him in the nose. SHIELD remains the one note in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I dislike. They were never so awful in the comics when I was a reader.

Asgard is another beautiful location, a lovely triumph of gold and rainbows. I like Anthony Hopkins as Odin, and I really like Idris Elba as Heimdall. Our son couldn’t quite describe the look and feel of Asgard, and called it “a future city.” After the movie was over, he bugged his eyes out to demonstrate how “I went WOW when I saw Asgard!”

As for the leads, Chris Hemsworth probably won’t go down in the books as an actor with a lot of range, but what he does within them is consistently entertaining. I really like him as Thor, and I loved his character in Ghostbusters, because he does fish-out-of-water extremely well. He’s great with Portman, and with Stellan Skarsgård in a too-short scene in a bar, but this is the first of the Marvel movies to let the villain run away with the picture. I know a couple of women who melt over Tom Hiddleston, which is amusing because butter wouldn’t melt in Loki’s mouth. There was a rumor going around a couple of years ago that Hiddleston would take over from Daniel Craig as James Bond. I wouldn’t stop going to see them.

Actually, there was another rumor going around a couple of years ago that Idris Elba would be the next Bond. That could also be great.

Speaking of comics, the movies have never done right by the Warriors Three. The original Thor comics are some of my favorites from the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby days, and you should swing by a comic book store in your town and pick up the first four of those great big inexpensive Essentials reprints. Most of the issues were split between the main Thor feature and a backup called Tales of Asgard, where Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg take center stage, and they’re probably the most downright fun comics that Marvel has ever published. The movie’s right to add the Lady Sif to their group, and Jaimie Alexander is very good in the limits of her role, but I figure the studio should plan a proper Sif and the Warriors Three feature as soon as possible, with some epic realm-hopping quest set in the glorious past of Asgard.

Well, I’m also not completely satisfied that Volstagg is played by anybody other than BRIAN BLESSED, who was born for the part, but Ray Stevenson acquitted himself just fine.

One little forgettable bit of this movie is that it’s Jeremy Renner’s first appearance as Hawkeye. It’s not quite a blink and you’ll miss it scene, but it’s very short and he’s just called “Agent Barton,” and so our son didn’t realize who the character was. Poor Hawkeye doesn’t have the same amount of merchandising as the other Marvel heroes, does he? Well, they can’t all be on the marquee, I suppose.

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Iron Man 2 (2010)

So the third Marvel Universe movie… it’s kind of underwhelming, isn’t it? I think I’d honestly have preferred a six episode TV series with Tony Stark wheeling and dealing and saving his own life without any superhero stuff in it. The superhero stuff here just isn’t all that interesting. Mickey Rourke is the villain this time, an odd gestalt of two comic book characters, Whiplash and the Crimson Dynamo. It’s a very odd performance, even for Rourke, who has a reputation for being a little eccentric. The screen certainly doesn’t come to life when he’s on it.

When Tony’s being rude to the Senate Committee, on the other hand, the movie’s absolutely full of life. When he and Pepper Potts keep talking at the same time, it’s almost magical. I absolutely love watching Robert Downey Jr. and Gwenyth Paltrow together. They have such great chemistry. And when Black Widow does her thing and takes out eight or nine guards while Happy works very hard to pummel one, that’s pretty wonderful, too. But Tony and James Rhodes, now played by Don Cheadle, have the big climax together against a small army of armored drone robots, and it’s one of the most dull conclusions to any of these movies. There’s no sense of awe this time out, just punctuations to the actors having a better movie in their civilian guises.

I admit that this post is pretty underwhelming, too. This just isn’t a very inspiring movie to me, really. All of the plot complications were completely over our son’s head, in part because he was too excited to pay attention. This is a big day for him. We got up a little early to watch this, and then take an hour for him to exercise and spend some energy while I hammer this out, and we’ll be on our way to see Black Panther in about thirty minutes. Two Marvel movies in one day? He’s died and gone to heaven or something. He just interrupted playing the Hulk smashing zombies to interrupt me with a hug.

So he’s received a quick recap of the apparently relevant events in Captain America: Civil War, but I’m not sure he’ll need it. He just wants to see costumed people ripping cars in half. The whys and wherefores aren’t all that important at age six.

Honestly, in this movie, I’m kind of happier watching the costumed people argue in doughnut shops.

There’s this completely strange subplot to the movie where Tony is dying because the radiation from his arc reactor eats through the palladium core. But Nick Fury gives him a hint that there may be other elements, which works out because Tony’s father built a giant clue about a new element into the… wait for it… grounds plan of the 1974 Stark Expo park. So he synthesizes this new element with a makeshift supercollider and then gets all better. I realize that superhero origin stories are often tortuous, but that’s pretty silly.

Now the Hulk has chainsaws and saws for ultimate power. He’s honestly coming up with something more interesting than what we just watched. I wonder whether Downey and Paltrow are available?

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The Incredible Hulk (2008)

I don’t have a huge amount to say about 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, which I’d never seen before this morning. I’m not 100% sure why I didn’t go see this one before. It’s possibly because the 2003 Hulk by Ang Lee was so boring, and we didn’t really know that there was a “Marvel Cinematic Universe” yet, and that this film was part of it and the original movie sort of isn’t.

There were two things I really loved about this movie: they take care of all the origin stuff without dialogue in the main titles and pick up five years later, and Liv Tyler and Edward Norton have terrific chemistry together. If anybody ever casts these two in another movie, I’ll probably watch it.

Another great little moment happens before the climactic fight. Tim Blake Nelson plays a scientist who is helping Banner, and who unwisely helps Tim Roth’s character, Emil Blonsky, turn into the Abomination. Some gamma-infected blood drips into an open sore on the scientist’s head, and the last we see of him is his brain growing and swelling. My recall of superheroes’ and villains’ identities is pretty good, so if Marvel gives me a movie with a guy named Emil Blonsky, I know he’ll become the Abomination, or if Marvel gives me a movie with a guy named Ulysses Klaw with two hands, I know he’s going to lose one of them. But I didn’t recognize the name Samuel Sterns, and didn’t realize he’d be turning into the Leader. That’s a plot thread Marvel’s left dangling.

Overall, I thought it was a good movie, but our son thought it was completely great. We had to swap around the schedule and when I told him last night we were moving this movie up, he hit the ceiling and stayed there for about sixteen hours. He was so excited about watching the Hulk because, of course, Hulk is at least briefly every little boy’s favorite superhero. He even fibbed this morning and told me he didn’t sleep last night because he was so ready to watch this.

There are three big “Hulk smash” scenes in the movie, and our son enjoyed each one more than the last. He didn’t quite catch that the villainous monster has a name, and called him “Spinosaurus” instead. Giving the hero the chance to actually say “Hulk smash” was an inspired idea. He’d really been looking forward to that line!

As always, he complained that there were some boring bits, but, even without the humor that’s become a hallmark of the Marvel Universe, I thought these were much more interesting, at least when General Ross wasn’t onscreen. No disrespect to William Hurt, but I loathed Thunderbolt Ross when I read Hulk comics as a kid, I dislike the “military over all” ethic of movies like this enormously, and I can’t believe the jerk wasn’t court-martialed after destroying Harlem… or at least the part of Harlem that Toronto’s Yonge Street, which subbed for New York, runs through!

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Iron Man (2008)

Mainly we watch older movies here at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time, but we’re going to cycle the Marvel Universe movies into a rotation so that he’ll have the chance to see some of them before next summer. Maybe we’ll see five or six of them before the next Avengers movie? Seven might be a good age to see these on the big screen. He’s pretty mature for his age and very well-behaved in theaters. And if this is any indication, he might just love that Avengers film. He told us at lunch that Iron Man is second only to his beloved Captain Underpants as his all-time favorite movie.

That’s not to say it didn’t baffle him in places. It’s interesting to look back in the series; I’ve seen two of the films twice, and the rest no more than once, in theaters. I’ve been picking these up when I find copies, usually used, at a sensible price. They never seem to be on sale, and Marvel Studios has not released any sensible collected-in-sequence editions to take up less space on fans’ shelves. So I bought some six-disk boxes and wish I had a copy of Photoshop and the talent to make new artwork for them!

It’s amazing how comparatively slow this movie is. It takes a long, long time for Tony Stark to appear in his first suit of armor. The more recent movies, particularly Doctor Strange, work in shorthand compared to this. Iron Man spends a lot of time, and I mean a lot of time, emphasizing how insufferable and arrogant Tony Stark is. It’s all hugely entertaining and I wouldn’t change a minute, I’m just interested in how the later origin films follow the early ones’ template, trusting the audience, once they’ve seen a few of these, to understand the main character from much shorter sketches.

There are lots of reasons I don’t see many modern movies. One of them is that I prefer the comfort of the character actors of the sixties and seventies; I just don’t see enough modern movies and television to really know the actors. Honestly, I’m not kidding, I’ve seen Scarlett Johansson in literally one film that isn’t a Marvel movie. I know her as a singer first, and Black Widow second! I’ve even missed most of Robert Downey Jr.’s career. According to IMDB, I’ve seen him in exactly four roles other than Tony Stark, and I was in high school for two of those. (He was in a movie version of The Singing Detective? There’s a movie version of The Singing Detective?)

Anyway, it’s become standard in blog posts about Marvel movies to praise the casting. These might be the movies’ real genius, because the plots aren’t anything that outrageous. The stories don’t thrill me and CGI special effects don’t make my jaw drop any more, so it’s all about the casting and the humor for me. Iron Man introduces us to Stark, to Gwenyth Paltrow’s long-suffering Pepper Potts, Jon Favreau’s loyal Happy Hogan, and Clark Gregg’s SHIELD agent Coulson. Samuel L. Jackson shows up right at the end as Nick Fury, setting an unhappy precedent of sitting around through a million credits for maybe sixty bonus seconds.

Terrence Howard played James Rhodes in this movie. I’m not sure why, but Don Cheadle took over the part after this one. Blink and you’ll miss Bill Smitrovich (Inspector Cramer in A Nero Wolfe Mystery) as a general. Leslie Bibb plays a reporter and Jeff Bridges – okay, him I’ve seen a fair bit – is the villain. They’re all excellent.

While Bridges is terrific as the villain Obadiah Stane, this story does suffer more than a little from the same malady that infects so many superhero movies: the odd need to have the hero’s and the villain’s stories intertwined. As such, Stane’s betrayal is never even remotely surprising. I was once told that I should have known that immediately, but I wasn’t reading Iron Man comics in the eighties, when it appears that the character was introduced, and never heard of the Iron Monger until they made a piece for him in Heroclix, a collectible combat game I once played.

The business about Stark Industries’ stock prices plummeting was over our son’s head, and he was probably tuned out for about six of this movie’s 120 minutes. But Jon Favreau, who directed the movie as well as playing Happy Hogan, knew how to keep things busy and moving for even the younger viewers. Some of the humor was over his head, but the slapstick of Tony learning to fly had him riveted and guffawing. I like how you just know one of those cars is going to get crushed; place your bets on which one. The action scenes had his eyes popping out of his head. I was just a little worried that Iron Man’s first appearance in the caves would frighten him, but it didn’t. This morning was all talk about Iron Man, and how he can’t wait for the next Marvel movie. Then we rented him the complete Hanna-Barbera cartoon Wacky Races and he might have forgotten about Tony and his friends. (Car # 6, the Army Surplus Special, is his favorite. I like the Gruesome Twosome most myself.)

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