Archive for the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ Category

Thor Ragnarok is the third Thor solo outing, the subtitle being Viking mythology’s word for the apocalypse. In this entry Hela, the Goddess of death, has returned from banishment to conquer Asgard, with sites on the rest of the universe.

Ragnarok’s basic plot is pretty simple, but the strength of the movie is it’s humor and offbeat feel. Even the titular character himself cracks jokes adding to a vibe of almost parodying the often serious tone of the fantasy genre. It also continues the trilogy’s theme of family, exploring the relationships between Thor, his half brother Loki, and their father Odin.

At this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe it certainly helps to be caught up on most of the movies. The last Thor ended with Loki impersonating Odin and therefore being the counterfeit ruler of Asgard. Ragnarok does attempt to bring the audience up to speed with Thor’s opening monologue (as opposed to Odin’s like the first two films), as well as a hilarious play which Loki/false Odin has commissioned, showing Asgardians a glorified version of his death from the last movie. It’s amusing that no one seemed to notice Odin acting completely different. Thor, who’d been away from Asgard for a time, immediately realizes what’s up.

A large chunk of the narrative involves Thor and Loki getting accidentally sent to the world of Sakaar, where Thor is captured, his hair cut, and forced to fight in a gladiatorial arena. It’s too bad the Hulk’s inclusion was advertised, because if you can watch this movie and pretend not to know Hulk is in it, the identity of the gladiatorial champion is built up quite nicely.

Sakaar and its gladiator games are run by actor Jeff Goldblum, who seems to channel an amped up version of himself to play the character the Grandmaster. On Sakaar, Loki has warmed himself up to the Grandmaster, while Thor rots in the gladiator pits. One complaint I had is it was a lot to believe that the Grandmaster never caught on that Loki and Thor know each other, especially after the two brothers are seen talking right in front of him.

Visually, Sakaar and its inhabitants look great, and are a clear homage to legendary comic artist Jack Kirby. There’s also the usual Easter eggs to various things from comics, like when Thor was once a frog. Another Avenger makes a brief appearance, and there is one scene with Dr. Strange that is humorous but felt tacked on. The Infinity Gauntlet’s brief appearance in the first Thor movie is also explained in a way that’s pretty funny.

Aside from the humor what I liked best about this movie is that, more than any other MCU movie to date, it has real consequences to it. Things on the Thor end of this universe are changed unequivocally. Supporting characters have met permanent deaths, Thor himself has gone through a significant transformation, and the status quo for these characters has changed for good and will not be going back.

 

 

 

 

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Dr. Strange, the latest entry in the Marvel Universe, opens up the world of magic in the MCU. At first it plays like Iron Man with magic. Strange is an arrogant but brilliant celebrity neurosurgeon. He’s on the lecture circuit and on TV and is pretty rich. While Tony Stark in the first Iron Man was an asshole, he was played up as a cool asshole. Dr. Strange takes the chance of presenting the main character as a real asshole. In fact in one scene the audience audibly reacted to his assholeness.

So one night Strange is driving his sports car too fast and looking at his phone. This causes an accident which messes up his hands. Now he’s out of work and looking for a way to heal himself. Desperately running out of options, he follows an off the wall tip to travel to Nepal for a chance at healing.

Here he runs across the Ancient One, not an old Asian man like in the comics, but a Celtic woman who apparently is much older than she looks, and is the latest in a long line of Ancient Ones. She wastes no time exposing Strange to magic, putting him on a wicked mind trip and allowing some great cinematography. There’s no sequence of Strange doubting, then coming to believe, it’s straight up right to the magic.

So Strange begins training, eventually learns magic, and reluctantly comes into a conflict with enemy sorcerers who are seeking to bring a powerful being from another universe into our realm. Along the way we are introduced to the idea of a multiverse, meaning the Marvel Cinematic Universe is just one universe known to exist.

Dr. Strange follows the familiar trope of someone who never knew about something suddenly becoming a master of it/being better at it than people who’ve trained their whole lives. We don’t get a sense of exactly how long Strange has been training, but his accident does happen in the present day. They do try to work around that by showing strange astrally projecting himself so he can study in his sleep. While I appreciated that it wasn’t enough for me. There’s almost no reason why his accident could have been in the past and the film could have acknowledged that he’d been training for years.

Like many MCU films the villain seems rather one note. We do get to see the big bad at the end and I thought he looked a little silly. Interestingly enough the third act doesn’t feature the normal epic battle, rather Strange manages to trick his enemy to get the victory.

The post credit scene is an interesting one, in that it seems to have changed something from a previous MCU sequel.

Dr. Strange isn’t one of the better MCU movies, but it’s not one of the worst either. Assuming it gets a sequel someday, I hope it would introduce more horror/scary elements.

Luke Cage is the 4th Marvel Netflix show, and the 3rd one from Marvel’s original deal (their first show, Daredevil, was so popular it was immediately green lit for a second season). The title character was introduced in Jessica Jones, and this series follows his exploits as he has left Hell’s Kitchen and moved to Harlem.

This show is in part a tour of Harlem and its history. Throughout the series the viewer is informed about various landmarks in Harlem, the history of artists and writers that lived there, etc. After the previous three Netflix Marvel shows taking place in Hell’s Kitchen, it was a nice change of scenery to have the show set in Harlem.

Similar to those previous shows the titular hero is not focused on saving the world, but on saving the neighborhood. The opening scene is a group of guys talking in a barber shop. Cage is laying low working at the shop, but eventually becomes more of a presence in the neighborhood as a local gangster looks to move in on Harlem. In the process Cage becomes a man of the people, doing the best he can to resolve local problems. The gangster owns a nightclub which brings us a lot of musical performances.

The sound track is one of the highlights of Cage, hip hop and R&B are fully integrated into the show. Each episode in fact is named after a Gangstar song.

While Jessica Jones took a head on approach to sexual violence, Luke Cage fully tackles the issue of race, police brutality, and the black lives matter movement. At one point in the series Cage is on the run from the police. In a show of solidarity people in the community start wearing hoodies with bullet holes in the back knowing this will bring police harassment. (Cage’s super-power is strength and unbreakable skin).

Along the way we get the usual references to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe. Cage is compared to a local Captain America. Bootleg footage of “the incident” (The final battle in the Avengers movie) is available on the street. Matt Murdock is hinted at towards the end. There’s also a nice and unexpected reference to Iron Man two, which does serve as part of the plot.

For all its strengths, I found it to be my least favorite Marvel Netflix show. Some of it may be personal bias, as the two seasons of Daredevil had two of my favorite characters, Kingpin and the Punisher. There was no one in Cage that I found to be as fascinating. The first three episodes of Cage felt a little slow, it wasn’t until the fourth episode that started his origin that I really felt intrigued.

Writing Luke Cage is to face the same problem in writing Superman. How to you make it suspenseful when nothing can hurt the guy? Hence the fight scenes aren’t very elaborate, but instead are brute force. The final battle in the last episode tries to remedy this as the villain has a powered up suit. It looks like a poor man’s version of the end of Rocky V, with the hero slugging it out in the street while the neighbors chant his name. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but aping a poorly received movie usually isn’t a good idea. During this fight, the villain has this big battery pack on his back which powers his suit. I kept waiting for Cage to just crush the battery pack and end the fight, but that never happened. It’s not like he didn’t see it, in one scene he looks right at it. There’s some smart writing here about how Cage is able to win by not feeding his opponent hate, but at this point smart writing doesn’t make up for the common sense question of why he didn’t just crush the battery.

On a more positive note, the final fight was not the end of the show, it actually goes on for another 20 minutes. Interestingly enough, in the end it appears the villains have won. That was a nice touch, because, so far, no Marvel movie, TV or Netflix show ended with the villains winning.

While Luke Cage has many positive traits, if there is a season two I would hope they’d have more intriguing characters, while maintaining its sound track and social commentary.

Civil War is the third entry of the Captain America trilogy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It is perhaps the only MCU film to adapt a specific story from the comics, there was a story called Age of Ultron, but that story was completely different from the movie.

Here the Avengers tracked down an old foe in Lagos Nigeria. This scene is shot like a black ops Jason Bourne style espionage thriller. While the fight scenes are entertaining they are shot in that quick cut shaky cam style that makes them hard to watch at times.

Unfortunately there are civilian casualties during this mission, including Wakandans on a humanitarian mission. Meanwhile the UN has issued the Sokovia accords, which call for the Avengers to be overseen by the United Nations. Tony Stark/Iron Man agrees with the idea of government oversight, while Captain America does not. This philosophical disagreement split’s the Avengers down the middle, as something with the Winter Soldier arises that exasperates the situation.

One vast improvement with the movie over the comic book story it is loosely based on in the movie presents both sides fairly evenly. You can understand both Tony and Steve’s point of view, whereas in the comic book story the pro-registration side was made pretty villainous.

Casualties from the fictional nation of Wakanda allows the Black Panther to be introduced to the MCU. The Wakandan superhero puts himself into the mix, and I’m definitely excited to see a solo Black Panther movie after this.

Also introduced to the MCU is Spiderman. While only appearing briefly this is probably the best Spiderman seen on screen. He’s funny, cracks jokes during battle, makes pop culture references, etc. Ant-man is also brought in for humor. Honestly neither Spiderman nor Ant-man are really necessary to the plot, but they’re both so entertaining you don’t mind.

There is an interesting villain behind the scenes. Civil War takes a break from the take over/destroy the world plot. This villain’s motivations are personal and smaller scale, and if you think about it, the villain does succeed.

Captain America is possibly the best superhero trilogy, and another superb chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Jessica Jones is the second Netflix series based on a Marvel Comics property, and to date is the most daring, dark, away from the norm story that has been told in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Jessica Jones is essentially a story of a woman out to stop her rapist. The main villain, Kilgrave A.K.A. Purple Man (Though he’s never called that in the show) has the power to control people’s minds/force people to do whatever he says. He does not use this power to take over the world, he simply uses it to acquire wealth and to rape women.

Jessica Jones herself isn’t even really a superhero, in the sense that she doesn’t have a superhero identity (Later it is revealed she briefly considered it in her past). It’s not even revealed that she has powers right away,  but she has super strength, can jump really high, and is somewhat invulnerable.

The main story is that in the recent past Kilgrave had Jessica under control, but she broke away from him and escaped. Now Kilgrave is looking to get her back.

Jones is a private eye, and she seeks to find her tormentor and kill him, but events unfold that cause her to want to bring him through the Justice system. She is a hard drinking anti-social mess of a woman, driven solely by her quest to stop Kilgrave.

Kilgrave is the most truly evil Marvel villain we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a real life evil that is truly disturbing. The classic style of a Marvel super villain is that there’s a part of them that is sympathetic, villains like Magneto and Dr. Doom reach a point where you can understand and almost agree with them. Kilgrave is a departure from this traditional Marvel formula. Though it briefly appears to approach this toward the end, there is nothing sympathetic about Kilgrave, at his core he is a vile person.

The stakes are the most personal of any story so far in the MCU. Jessica is not trying to save the universe, the world, or even the city. The stakes are for Jessica to stop her rapist from hurting her and others, it is a statement of a woman whose rapist does not have power over her.

While Daredevil was beautifully violent, it was still essentially a basic super hero story. We saw the origin and development of the superhero Daredevil fighting against the Kingpin. Jessica Jones is an almost complete departure from the standard superhero story. While I’m biased because I love the Kingpin, I wouldn’t argue with anyone who said Jones is the superior show.

At this point the Marvel Cinematic Universe can be divided up into 3 sections, the films, the ABC television shows, and the two Netflix shows (I’d love to see them do a video game division). So far Netflix is clearly the superior division of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.