As I did with Phase 1, I’ll be ranking Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Below that I’ll list all the MCU films from least to most favorite.

Iron Man 3

The only film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I generally didn’t like. It starts out with a deadly serious tone, superheroes dealing with real world issues/international terrorism. This part was great, but then half way through the tone switches to outright goofiness. Plus Tony’s house get’s blown up but he’s still able to make an army of suits? Ok

Ant Man

Perhaps Marvel’s greatest risk. In my opinion Ant Man was even more of a risk than Guardians of the Galaxy. The basic concept is pretty off the wall, yet they still managed to pull it off by doing what they do best, having great character relationships and mixing in some humor. Still, it doesn’t quite feel like the heist film it was billed to be. Oddly enough, Ant Man is the one film I’m more interested in seeing a prequel for than a sequel.

Guardians of the Galaxy.

Marvel’s take on Star Wars took the world by storm last year by giving us a talking raccoon and made “I am Groot” part of the global vernacular. This movie opens up the MCU like no other film before it, giving us a glimpse of the wide range of alien races that exist out in MCU space. Still, there’s always that thing in the back of my mind of why/how do all these aliens speak English, and why do so many of them just look like humans?

Avengers: Age of Ultron

This Avengers film hits the ground running with action right away. Hugely ambitious, globe spanning, it introduces new characters while still taking the time to explore those we already know. The highlight of the film is not the action, but the break during the second act, where we see tension and secrets among the team members. Black Widow’s dark revelation about her past is truly heart breaking, and perhaps the MCU’s most haunting moment.

Ultron is one of the best MCU villains we’ve seen so far, with his child like curiosity of the world around him. His not knowing his own strength and his puzzlement over finances are laugh out loud moments, but Ultron still manages to convey a chillingly creepy presence.

Still, this movie takes on a lot. It mostly manages to keep all its plates spinning, but, like the last Avenger’s film, Thor’s role in figuring out what was going on seemed to come out of nowhere, and in this case was just about literally dues ex machina.

Thor: The Dark World

Perhaps unprecedentedly merging Star Trek with Lord of the Rings, Thor blends fantasy and science fiction while still maintaining tropes of a sequel. An ancient enemy returns in an adventure that gives us more of a glimpse of the 9 realms of Asgardian mythology while further exploring the relationship between Thor and Loki. The Dark World has real consequences as actual characters die (Looking at you Iron Man 3). Also noteworthy is that Thor legitimately couldn’t defeat the villain without the help of his human friends. If Thor 3 is anywhere close to being this good, than this might be the best trilogy of the MCU.

Captain America: Winter Soldier:

The best film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Winter Soldier exemplifies the strength of the MCU. It is, first and foremost, a political thriller. Timely and topical with its theme of privacy vs safety, Winter Soldier gives us the best action scenes of the series, expands the political side of the MCU, brings back characters from the last film in ingenious ways, and gives us a bombshell that shakes the entire MCU. Winter Soldier is also noteworthy for having an impact on the up to then rather boring first season of Agents of Shield.

Rankings of the MCU as a whole.

12. Iron Man 3
11. Ant-Man
10. Guardians of the Galaxy
9. Iron Man 2
8. Hulk
7. Avengers
6. Captain America
5. Thor
4. Avengers Age of Ultron
3. Thor the Dark World
2. Iron Man
1. Captain America: Winter Soldier

Having praised Winter Soldier, I still have to say that the best single unit of storytelling from the MCU is still Netflix’s Daredevil.

Ant Man opens in a flashback scene to 1989 where Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas, resigns from Shield because they want to recreate his Pym particle/shrinking technology. And aged Peggy Carter appears in this scene, as does John Slattery playing Howard Stark, who he also played in Iron Man 2.

Cut to the present, Pym is retired, having long ago picked a successor to run his tech business. However, his successor Darren Cross is working on a breakthrough in Pym tech, and plans to sell it to the military.

Meanwhile, Scott Lang, a sort of thief with a heart of gold character, has just been released from jail and wants to see his young daughter and be a part of her life. Still down on his luck, he gets roped into a plan by Pym to steal the new tech from Cross.

Ant Man is billed as a heist movie, but it gets slowed down by a long training sequence in which Lang learns to fight, control the suit, and use Pym’s other ability. Pym developed a way via electronics to communicate with ants. This is one thing I never liked about comics, how they use science. Talking to ants and shrinking molecules are two totally different branches of science. At least he didn’t also create Ultron, as he did in the comics. In this movie universe Tony Stark created Ultron, which makes much more sense.

Anyway once Lang learns about the three kinds of ants and how to fight and how to use the suit the heist begins. First there’s a scene where he steals something from the new Avengers training center, as seen in Age of Ultron. Ant Man ends up fighting another Avenger in this scene, and then we get to the final heist.

Refreshingly the stakes here are not global, as they tend to be in superhero movies. The stakes are more personal, and through the inherent ridiculousness of the basic concept, it manages to pull of a story about family and redemption. We get some interesting tidbits about the fate of Pym’s wife, and are introduced to some other concepts that are sure to play out in future films.

The heist stuff is effective, and Lang has a good supporting cast. However, as much as this is billed as a heist film, the Avengers scene and the last scene are settled more via action/combat than whether or not he gets away. The conceit of shrinking and growing objects is used well in the action scenes, Pym’s use of his tank keychain is sure to be a crowd favorite.

Last year there was a lot of talk about how Guardians of the Galaxy was a big risk for Marvel. In retrospect I don’t think it was such a risk. Sure it was unknown characters, but so was Iron Man, and Guardians was basically Marvel’s take on Star Wars. Ant Man, with it’s off the wall concept, is a much bigger risk. While enjoyable, it would have been more effective as the heist film it promised to be.

There are both mid credit and post credit scenes. In closing, Ant Man is the one movie with as much potential for prequels as it has for sequels, and I’d have to say I’d be much more curious to see a prequel.

The Gallows is a found footage film about a high school Nebraska and a terrible tragedy that took place their. It opens with a viewpoint from a parents home movie camera in 1993, as the school is putting on a play called the Gallows. In the play a character is to be hung, and a tragic accident happens where the student actor gets hung for real on stage and dies.

Cut to the present day, the same school is attempting the same play again. Ryan, a football player, is taking the required Drama class and his job is to video tape the play. Using a camera he decides to tape everything, and the opening act shows us life in the school, the different friends, relationships, banter etc. It’s a nice set up for the story that allows us to get to know the characters.

Events unfold where Ryan and a small group of his friends go into the high school at night, and strange things start to happen, the first of which being that the door they came in locks, and none of the doors anywhere to the outside will open. So they are effectively trapped in the school. As time goes on they hear strange noises and experience other weird phenomenon, and slowly but surely the students are picked off one by one.

The villain of the story has a nice look with his hangman’s mask a noose, and is actually seen very little in the film, usually lurking more in the shadows and being up close. The story is definitely supernatural in nature, across between a slasher character like Friday the 13th’s Jason Vorhees and a ghost story. I’m not sure if that combination has ever been done before.

The found footage route does the angle of the camera/phones etc running out of battery. I’m not sure if that has been used much in other films. It also maybe the first found footage film to actually have a flashback in the narrative.

There actually is a little bit more plot that includes a nice surprise at the end. However as I’m writing this I realized that raises some questions on the timing of the film.

Seeing this film with an audience was really fun. There definitely are some scary moments, including a rather off the wall one early on. The audience screamed and jumped a lot during this. The Gallows maybe the best scary movie I’ve seen in the theater.

Insidious 3 Review

Posted: June 13, 2015 in Movies

Insidious 3 is a prequel to the first film. Set a few years prior, but not too far back as it still seems to be set in the present day. A young teenage girl named Quinn with aspirations to drama school recently lost her mother. She desires to contact her on the other side, and in the opening scene goes to visit Elise, the psychic from the previous films. Elise says she does not do that kind of work anymore.

Quinn’s desire to contact her dead mother put her in contact with an evil demonic spirit. Meanwhile Elise has visions that Quinn is in danger, and gets reluctantly pulled into the situation. Along the way we get some backstory about Elise, with her own tragedies and her own personal fears. There’s also a good supporting cast including Quinn’s dad, father and brother, her best friend and a boy neighbor that has a crush on her.

There are some good scares throughout, and the struggle against the demon, as well as other spirits, involves more physicality and actual fighting than other possession movies, setting it apart a little. We are also introduced to the two men that assist Elise in the first movie, and it’s amusing to see how they present themselves at this period of time. If nothing else this movie gets props for the one guy wearing a Dolph Lundgren Masters of the Universe movie T-shirt. Seeing He-man on the big screen was not something I expected going into this.

The climax involves something slightly dues ex ma china that you can perhaps see coming, but still manages to have some emotional resonance. Overall I’d say Insidious 3 was a satisfying horror flick. I’d be interested to see more from this franchise, whether they continue to move back in time or forward.

The 2015 Poltergeist film is the latest addition to the 1980s franchise. It opens with the Bowen family moving into a new home. They have a teenage daughter Kendra, a young son Griffin, and the youngest daughter Madison. Almost as soon as they move in strange things begin to happen. Power lines run directly behind the house, and various electrical phenomenon occur. Kendra in particular is suspicious of the power lines.

One night Madison is talking to the large flat screen TV that is just showing static. It’s a nice updated homage to the original. She touches the screen and several hands are seen touching the screen from the inside.

Like the original, Madison is soon abducted by spirits, and the parents seek the help of paranormal investigators, including a television personality that Kendra is familiar with.

The climax is a little lacking, but it does have a nice false ending. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie with a good false ending. There are some nice character bits, the young son has a bit of an arc about facing his fears. While not horrifying it does provide a few scares. The bit with the tree form the first movie is given a nice update that I liked. To it’s credit I will say that the 3D effects were pretty good. A few years ago it seemed like every review I did included how the 3D effects were nothing special.

Overall this movie is not terrible, but I’d say it’s just kind of average.

One thing I’d like to note, I’m not sure if this is really a remake. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the original, but in the original it was the Feeling family and their young daughter was Carol Anne. In the 2015 entry it’s evident that this property development has been around for a while, and the plot point about the land built over a cemetery is used. (The headstones of the cemetery were relocated, but evidently the bodies were never moved.) I’d be curious for feedback on this point. Is this a remake, or is it actually set in the same world as the original film?

Mad Max Fury road is the fourth entry in the Australian apocalyptic Mad Max series. It is also the first entry in the series in 30 years. Mad Max, still haunted by the death’s of his wife and family and by others he could not save, helps a group of women escaping from an evil warlord.

It starts out with Max getting captured. His memories that haunt him of his dead family play a hand in preventing him from escaping. He’s in the hands of a cult like figure that has a group of women that serve as his wives. The wives escape on a supply run intended to get precious gasoline.

90% of this movie is a chase scene, huge battles through the Australian outback as Max, this group of women, the wives, and other female warriors that are helping them, fight off their pursuers. The action is nonstop and over the top. Between some of the outrageous costumes, the vehicles, and the guy riding around with a fire shooting electric guitar, it’s all pretty wild. The cinematography is great, with the desert sandstorms, the blue hues at night, and the rocky terrain. It creates an otherworldly feel.

Max is almost a minor character in the story, he’s not even the one who dispatches the main villain. This is not necessarily a complain though. Fury road is a great ride that pulls you into this other world. It’s not just mindless action, there’s consequences and pain to be felt. Characters on both sides die during this journey.

Mad Mad Fury road is perhaps the surprise hit of the year, and probably the best movie I’ve seen so far in 2015.

Avengers; Age of Ultron opens immediately with an action scene in a fictional European country. Apparently for some time the Avengers have been taking out Hydra bases around the world, and this is what we open with. The action is fast and CGI heavy, often resembling a video game.

Their mission is to find the scepter Loki had in the last Avengers movie. They’ve now found the base where the scepter is located, and Hydra has used it to experiment on people. The results are the twins, Wanda and Pietro Maximoff. Wanda has telekinetic and other mental powers (making much more sense than her comic book counterpart’s ability of reality manipulation) and Pietro has super speed. They are never called Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver in the movie, though Iron Man refers to Wanda as a witch at one point. Her powers lead to some of the deepest parts of the film, as several of their heroes are forced to mentally confront their past and their fears.

Once the scepter is found, it plays a role in a project Tony Stark/Iron Man has been working on for some time. Dreaming of a world at peace, where the Avengers don’t have to fight anymore, he’s been working on and Artificial Intelligence called Ultron. We never learn what Ultron means or where the word comes from, going into the movie I assumed it would be an acronym, but it’s not. His plan for it was a global defense network that would protect Earth from alien attacks that he feels are coming for sure.

Anyway naturally Ultron gains sentience and wants to destroy humanity like all AI robots do.(By the way Ultron does pre-date Terminator). The rest of the movie moves from here. We see the moment of Ultron’s birth/awakening, coming to life in a void of darkness, with Tony’s AI program JARVIS leading Ultron into the light. That was a pretty fascinating scene.

Ultron has personality, he’s smart mouthed, witty, and genuinely chilling. A nice departure from the cold logical AI characters of 2001’s HAL or the Terminator. He basically has all the knowledge of the world, but is still curious and confused about human nature. Money/finances are something that is strange to him. He’s apparently very knowledgeable on pop culture as well, as he makes a joke about how the villain in movies always reveals their evil plot.

In the comics Hank Pym of the upcoming Ant Man movie created Ultron. I think it makes much more sense that Tony Stark created him. Plus Hank Pym creates AI, plus a device to talk to ants, plus finds away to shrink and grow the human body. Those are three distinct fields of science. I never liked how comics did science where one person is super smart at everything. Science just doesn’t work like that.

Along the way we get a surprising revelation about Hawkeye, conflict between Iron Man and Captain America, another new AI character the Vision. The Vision makes his own cape for some reason (he has a cape in the comics). The twins have their own dynamics, as a childhood tragedy they share causes them to hate Tony Stark. The most intriguing character work is the budding relationship between Hulk and Black Widow. Banner is still torn and doesn’t want to fight as the Hulk, fearing the destruction he can bring. This leads to hesitancy in pursuing a relationship. There’s a general theme that all the Avengers are monsters in one way or another. The highlight of the movie is a scene between Natasha and Banner where she reveals a very painful secret about herself.

There is a part with Thor where he goes to find out something and it seems to be pulled out of nowhere/dues ex machina. Also it seems both movies have Hawkeye get hurt/taken out in the very beginning.

The action wraps up in a third act that is pretty interesting. It may be a bit too much that Ultron made all these duplicates of himself, but it works for the most part. One thing I liked is that we have more that one character that legitimately dies, so there’s real consequence to all this.

While the first movie took place mostly in the United States, Age of Ultron jumps locations more. There’s a scene on the African coast, as well as an action sequence in Seoul South Korea. Given that I lived in Korea I was excited to see it on film. Though I do wish they would have shown some of Seoul’s landmarks like Namsan tower, one of the palaces, or the Yi Soon Shin statue,

There is no post credit scene, but there is a mid credit scene. Nothing too surprising though.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is an improvement over it’s predecessor. It opens with action from the get go and is deeper than it needs to be. I’m not sure if it’s better than Winter Soldier, but it’s not their best film, it’s at least one of their best.