Tag Archives: marvel universe

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

When I was a kid, there were a few elements of the Spider-Man world that aggravated me, in that little kid way, so much that I didn’t often buy Spider-Man’s comics. There was Aunt May, who somehow convinced herself that Peter was a sickly boy and was always in danger of getting the flu or something, and there was Flash Thompson, who seemed too stupid to be a believable irritant.

Part of me, today, thinks most of the comics had moved past them by the late seventies, when I might have been looking at the spinner rack in the drugstore for books to buy for 35 or 40 cents, but there were also so many Ditko and Romita reprints floating around that I never knew what I’d end up buying when I bought a Marvel comic. I was kind of a dumb kid in that regard. Well, in many regards. But it took me until middle school to realise that Batman and Batman’s Detective Comics were two separate books. Marvel was even more confusing to me at age eight.

And then there was the Vulture. Spider-Man seemed to have a rogues gallery full of the most pathetic menaces, and the Vulture was the dopiest of them all: an old guy with wings. In 1963, I understand now, Marvel didn’t have very many characters who could fly. But their universe grew, and this bozo, who should have been left behind as a one-off, somehow stuck around, pretending to be a threat.

So one of the reasons I enjoy Spider-Man: Homecoming so much, apart from it having such a beautifully crafted script that fits in so neatly to the existing Marvel Cinematic Universe and being so well cast, is that it effortlessly redeems all three of these characters. Flash Thompson is a jerk, but a smart guy who all Peter’s friends and classmates enjoy. The Vulture has motivation and alien technology to make him dangerous. And Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May is the perfect mom – or aunt – for the modern age. Her worry that Peter might have been on the Staten Island Ferry, when we have no reason to think that Peter has ever ventured anywhere outside Queens before he met Tony Stark, is totally believable and true. Why didn’t Peter check himself in as safe on Facebook? Doesn’t he know May would be worried sick?

The whole film is full of delightful punctuations that make the experience a complete joy the second time around. I loved Donald Glover’s character advising Spider-Man that he really needs to get better with interrogations. I loved Michael Keaton’s face as he figures out who’s in his back seat. I loved Zendaya just being a harmless pest for no good reason. I loved Bokeem Woodbine – who was one of the best elements of the marvelous second season of Fargo – slowly figuring out his new weapons. I didn’t mind the product placement from Lego about another Disney property (corporate synergy!!). And it has the best post-credits scene of any Marvel movie. It’s a delightful, joyful movie, and one of the best in the series.

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Doctor Strange (2016)

Another week, another Marvel movie, and I am really running out of things to say about them. This one stars Benedict Cumberbatch, and I really do need to see him in a role other than an arrogant, insufferable genius one of these days, with Mads Mikkelsen as the bad guy. The visuals are some of the most creative and imaginative in any of these films, and I liked the realization of the Dark Dimension, which is filled with the same spheres-with-nodes shapes that were found in the original comics, where Steve Ditko first created the strange, otherworldly realm of Dormammu and the Mindless Ones.

In fact, let’s pause a moment and not take the usual route of these silly posts, because I’d rather talk a little about Ditko, who died earlier this year at the age of 90. We lost Dr. Strange’s other co-creator, Stan Lee, as well, but everybody knows about him. Steve Ditko was one of those artists that I didn’t “get” as a kid. To my young eyes, his work seemed too simplistic and cartoony, and so I avoided many of the books he worked on in the late seventies, like Marvel’s Machine Man. Later, I fell in love with DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes and grumbled about the occasional fill-ins that Ditko provided during a long period where the book was looking for a cohesive writer-artist team.

But before these, there was a house ad that ran in DC’s books in the summer of 1978 that featured an outlandish character in a multi-colored suit and tie. I was thrilled by the look of that character and couldn’t wait to meet him. It took decades.

As I got older, I finally began to understand the thrill of Ditko’s artwork and his creativity. He worked best with a writer to give his plots a more solid script. Left on his own – he self-published dozens of titles – his prose could turn into solid walls of text, but with Stan Lee or Michael Fleisher or Denny O’Neil or Steve Skeates to ground him (comparatively, mind you, as comics from the 60s and 70s sure did make kids have to read a lot), he came up with some downright excellent comics, some of the very best that either of the “Big Two” publishers released in those decades.

Most of these books only lasted for a few years at most. Some of them only had a couple of issues or a very sporadic publication history in the companies’ anthology titles. Nevertheless, if you enjoy superhero fiction, you could do a lot worse than to track down Ditko’s work on both Doctor Strange and Spider-Man for Marvel, along with the Creeper, Hawk and Dove, Shade the Changing Man, and one of the more interesting versions of Starman for DC. Most of it’s available in nice hardback editions. He also worked for Charlton in the late 1960s, writing and drawing adventures of Blue Beetle, Killjoy, the Question, and Captain Atom, though I understand much of this material is currently out of print.

I had one issue of Shade the Changing Man as a kid and didn’t understand a word of it. It seemed to be set in the DC superhero universe, kind of, but it was a stand-alone science fiction serial that it took me until adulthood to figure out and appreciate. It’s about the weird culture of the planet Meta and a wrongly convicted criminal who is running amok on Earth with a stolen hallucination-inducing gadget called an M-Vest. That’s where the outlandish character I mentioned above was meant to appear. The Odd Man was intended to be the star of an every-other-month eight-page backup strip from Shade # 9 forward, but that comic was never published. DC cancelled almost half their line in 1978, and the completed Odd Man strip was dumped into an issue of Detective Comics months later. Took me years to even learn it existed. It was worth the wait.

Ditko never gave interviews, never attended cons, was probably not photographed by anybody in the last fifty years of his life, and was utterly disinterested in the money he could have made from toys and movies based on his characters. He lived to draw and let his work speak for itself. He was an incredible talent, and while time has dated the scripts and caption boxes that surround his art, nobody drew like him. If you enjoy Tom Holland and Benedict Cumberbatch’s performances as his characters, why not treat yourself to the original stories sometime?

(Click the images to visit Marvel and DC’s sites and look around at reprints, but better yet, visit a local comic shop and ask the staff to sell you some Ditko! If the hardcovers cost more than you’d like, Marvel has collected all of Ditko’s Spider-Man and Dr. Strange adventures in their low-priced black-and-white Essentials line. Stop by a funnybook store and tell ’em that yer pals at Fire-Breathing Dimetrodon Time sent you. They’ll be sure to say “Who?!”)

Six movies between us and the release of Captain Marvel. Can we do it in time to see the film in a theater? Stay tuned!

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Captain America: Civil War (2016)

When I started this blog a couple of years ago, I had this silly idea to tag actors and continue tagging them into every appearance they make in anything we watch. Then we get to 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, which would have something like two dozen tags if I named everybody. So never mind.

A couple of months before the movie was released, I got a little petulantly annoyed with the Marvel PR team for revealing that Tom Holland would make his debut as Spider-Man in it. I still think that would have been the greatest wha-huh?! in the movies to have the audience slowly realize that Tony Stark was visiting Peter Parker and his Aunt May, but I forgave them immediately when Scott Lang debuted his Giant-Man shtick. That’s probably been the most agreeable surprise any of these movies have hit me with.

Our kid still tunes out a little when people are talking – unless they’re like Holland’s Spider-Man and they just flat out steal the middle of the movie with their constant banter – but I think we helped him focus a little more this time. When Cap, Falcon, and Sharon Carter are figuring out that they’ve been set up, it’s a truly great little moment. I do love the way realization slowly makes its way across Emily VanCamp’s face. That’s terrific acting.

The other thing I really love is the introduction of Black Panther’s universe, including the very low-key first appearance of Florence Kasumba as Ayo. She’s a minor character among the people of Wakanda, and isn’t even named in this movie, but her instruction to Black Widow to move is just about my favorite threat in a movie full of people giving each other strong warnings. The Panther had always been one of those characters that other people enjoyed more than me until Chadwick Boseman took the part. In Boseman’s hands, he is one of my favorite Marvel heroes.

But in the end, the movie is about the awful end to Tony and Steve’s friendship, their truce shattered when we learn that Bucky had, twenty-five years earlier, murdered Tony’s parents while under Hydra’s control. The fight at the airport is wonderful and hilarious, but the climax, with Tony, Steve, and Bucky beating each other with more blood and pain and bruises than these movies typically give us, is horrible and heartbreaking. It’s a terrific end to a really excellent movie, but it kind of demands that the next few stories are a little different and more lighthearted…

Seven movies between us and the release of Captain Marvel. Can we do it in time to see the film in a theater? Stay tuned!

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Ant-Man (2015)

For anybody following this tag, we didn’t skip a movie. We watched Avengers: Age of Ultron earlier this month, but I’m finding it much, much harder to find anything new to say about the Marvel movies, and that one’s particularly uninspiring. That doesn’t mean I think it’s a bad film; in fact it’s perfectly entertaining for what it set out to do.

Ant-Man, on the other hand, is a pure pleasure from start to finish. It’s still a pain in the neck coming up with anything new to say about it, so I’ll turn to our favorite seven year-old critic and his own observations.

Naturally, he liked the fights the best, or at least he claims he does. When we were watching the movie, the thing that made him exclaim and start babbling over the dialogue was seeing Michael Peña and “the gang” reenter the story. Luis might be his favorite supporting character from any of these dozen movies. And he loved seeing Evangeline Lilly’s character of Hope Van Dyne train our hero and give him a basement full of bruises.

Of course, since the fights include helicopters, lasers, explosions, and Thomas the Tank Engine, that’s all he wanted to talk about afterward. I liked those as well, but I really liked Lilly’s chemistry with Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd, and loved the casual start-of-the-film revelation – with guest cameos by Hayley Atwell and John Slattery – that the original Ant-Man was an active superhero agent for SHIELD in the 1980s. There’s probably a Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline somewhere that I’d enjoy reading. I should probably track that down.

Eight movies between us and the release of Captain Marvel. Can we do it in time to see the film in a theater? Stay tuned!

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

I’ve mentioned how our son tends to quietly babble and talk during movies, despite me being one of those boring old fuddy-duddies who wishes people would shush. I’ve become quite a bit less of a stick in the mud, I think, because our son has so much more fun watching movies than pretty much anybody else. So when the Nova Corps and the Ravagers have a ridiculously gorgeous mid-air shootout with all the gunships of Ronan the Accuser, who could grouse when the kid bellowed “THIS IS EPIC!!” Or a little while later, when Star-Lord starts his dance-off with Ronan and our kid shouted “What the– what the what?” Who could complain?

Guardians of the Galaxy may not be my pick for the best Marvel movie, but it’s certainly one of the most fun. Our son immediately and unsurprisingly hailed this one as his favorite. He liked Rocket best, of course, but he liked all of the heroic characters and he laughed all the way through the film.

As I’m a little short on time now, I’ll just breeze through and note that Guardians of the Galaxy, the tenth Marvel Universe film, was directed by James Gunn and introduced a mob of new characters and locations. It stars the incredibly likable Chris Pratt as the barely likable Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana as the assassin Gamora, and Dave Bautista as the hyper-literal Drax the Destroyer. They’re joined by former Doctor Who companion Karen Gillan as the cyborg Nebula, Glenn Close as an alien politician, the great character actor and comedian John C. Reilly as an overworked space cop, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel as the show-stealing Rocket and Groot. It’s huge fun, the music is mostly great, and that dance-off moment is fabulous.

Quibble: Seth Green does the voice of Howard the Duck in a post-credit moment. Howard’s creator, the great Steve Gerber, always said that Howard should sound like Burgess Meredith. That said, now that Wally Sidney owns Howard, is it absolutely necessary for him to continue wearing trousers?

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

The elevator scene.

There is nowhere in the Marvel Universe – movies or comic books – that I’d rather be less than in this elevator. I’d rather be sat next to the Kidney Lady on a city bus in Cleveland, 1977, than in this elevator.

Years ago, a fellow I knew got up after the second song at a Roxy Music concert. He said after watching Phil Manzanera play the end of “Ladytron,” he got his money’s worth. That’s how I feel about this movie. It doesn’t matter how many things blow up or how many buildings get knocked down after this. It’s Cap and those dozen men in that glass box a third of the way through the film. Boy freaking howdy, did I ever get my money’s worth.

As for the rest, I think it’s the best Marvel movie by a mile. Kind of bittersweet to watch it the weekend after Chris Evans announced he was stepping down as Cap, because Captain America is my favorite Marvel superhero and I am so pleased and thrilled with the job Evans did bringing him to life.

Joining Evans this time out, there’s Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson as usual. Sebastian Stan returns as Bucky, now the brainwashed Winter Soldier, and Anthony Mackie debuts as Cap’s best friend and partner Sam Wilson, the Falcon. Also returning are Hayley Atwell as the now ninety-odd year-old Peggy Carter, and Toby Jones as Arnim Zola.

Before we got started, I showed our son what Zola looked like in Jack Kirby’s comics. Marvel thoughtfully collected Kirby’s mid-seventies run of Captain America and the Falcon across three volumes, and they are some crazy, wild, freaked-out comics. You should definitely visit your neighborhood comic shop and buy those. Turning Zola into a supercomputer that has a nice wink to old readers with his camera above his face-monitor left me in heaven when I first saw this.

And of course, there’s Robert Redford. You can imagine the wheels turning in the directors’ heads as they started putting this story together and realized that Redford, more than arguably any other possible choice, was the name they needed for this part. Alexander Pierce is a terrific villain.

It all adds up to my favorite Marvel movie. Not much else to add, other than the kid loved it too, of course. It demands repeat viewings more than any of the others, and if you don’t finish this movie without wanting to watch Redford in Three Days of the Condor, something must be wrong with you. Not really one for our kid quite yet, of course, but one day.

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Thor: The Dark World (2013)

Here’s a non-controversial opinion: The Dark World is the least of the three Thor films. It’s got some memorable moments and good fights, and I like how it gives much more screen time to several of the Asgardian supporting cast than the first movie did, but at the same time it’s a much less involving movie than the original. It’s one of a few projects that Christopher Eccleston took on during his “I’d like one of those big Hollywood paychecks as well, please” phase, and that’s pretty much what this feels like: payday without passion.

Eh, the kid liked it. I guess that’s what matters.

I’d still like to see a Sif and the Warriors Three movie as soon as Jaimie Alexander can take a long break from making Blindspot for NBC. Ah, well. At least Loki’s here. Any movie with Tom Hiddleston as Loki can’t be all bad.

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Agent Carter 2.10 – Hollywood Ending

“Hollywood Ending” sounds like an apt title. It seems like this is the way of modern television: the story reaches its climax with ten minutes to go, giving plenty of room to wrap up the character stuff, dangle a couple of plot threads for the next season, and, once everything is satisfactorily resolved, introduce a thunderous cliffhanger. In the final scene, Chad Michael Murray’s character of Jack Thompson is gunned down, and a file, containing faked information meant to frame Agent Carter, is stolen.

Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, there hasn’t been a new season. This season only received between 2.35 and 3.18 million viewers when it aired on ABC in the first quarter of 2016. A year and a half later, ABC tried another Marvel series, Inhumans, which sadly managed even smaller numbers and didn’t get the good reviews and buzz that Carter had. Fans have crossed their fingers that Netflix might step in and order a season, though that seems unlikely. I’ll join them. I’d really like to see more episodes of this series one day.

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