Archive for the ‘MCU Film Reviews’ Category

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.

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.

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.

Agent Carter is an 8 episode mid season series that spins out of 2011’s Captain America the First Avenger. Focusing on Peggy Carter, who helped fight Cap fight Hydra in WWII, she now finds herself still working in the SSR but not taken seriously by her male colleagues. Her duties are resigned to getting coffee and filing paperwork.

Set in New York City, Peggy greatly mourns the loss of Captain America, whom she believes to be dead, as does the rest of the world. His loss and the void he leaves behind loom large over the series. The opening scene recaps the end of First Avenger as Peggy is remembering her final moments speaking to Cap. On a humorous note in this world there is now a Captain America radio show and it is ridiculously hilarious. In this show Cap’s girlfriend is completely helpless and is constantly fretting “Help me Captain America! The Nazis tied me up again!!!”

The main story opens with Howard Stark, (who later will be the father of Tony Stark from the Iron Man films) accused of being a traitor. Some of his inventions turn up missing and he is accused of selling them to America’s enemies. On the run from the SSR, he contacts Peggy and asks for her help. This puts her in a position where she almost becomes like a super hero, in that she has a secret life from her co-workers, and has to carry out her investigation in secret.

Assisting her is Howard’s English butler Jarvis, whom Tony Stark later bases his AI assistant of off. They are great on screen together, sharing that British whit. Though Jarvis is not one for combat he is a loyal aid to Carter. Peggy Carter is played as a person first and an action heroine second. Her doubly secret life affects her friendships and living situation as well. She becomes close to a diner waitress, but their friendship is strained by her secrecy. Peggy’s public identity is that of someone that works at the phone company, which is actually the hidden base for SSR. She does have one colleague who takes her seriously, and offers some romantic tension. He is a fellow agent who was hurt in WWII and uses a crutch to get around. They don’t go the full blown romantic route but the possibility is planted. Their relationship is strained as he begins to suspect her doubly secret life.

One thing I like is there is an actual body count to this series, and it’s mostly the good guys. Specific agents and characters we are introduced to die, which adds a real consequence to the actions of the series, something I think honestly is lacking from the MCU movies. Also the series finale offers one particular scene that is more gruesome than anything the movies have offered.

There are reference to other things in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but the show is not over burdened with them. Anton Vanko makes one appearance, who is the father of the Iron Man 2 villain. The Roxxon Corporation is around in this time. The Howling Commandos appear in one episode, and share Peggy’s grief over the loss of Steve Rogers. The Red Room, where the Russian Black Widow spies are trained, is introduced. We get one female character that is a foil for Peggy, but the word Black Widow is never said in this series, which was a nice touch of subtlety. There’s another Russian character whose abilities reminded me of Purple Man, but I don’t think it was actually that character.

The final episode ends with a good emotional scene reminiscent of the end of First Avenger, in which we get some good insight into the relationship between Peggy and Howard, as well as how Howard views himself. Peggy is clearly the hero, and does get recognition from her immediate peers, but that moment is soon deflated as she is again ignored by the higher ups. At this point Peggy seems not to be bothered by this anymore, which may come across as sort of anti-climatic. The final ten minutes or so wrap things up for the characters. Peggy takes a step to move on in her grief over Rogers. For Peggy’s fem fa tale there is a scene that honestly reminded me of the end of Halloween, when Dr. Loomis looks over the balcony for the body of Michael Meyers.

Seeds are planted for future stories  which viewers of the MCU, especially the WInter Soldier movie, will be familiar with. Even though we know that both Carter and Stark will survive the events of the series, these 8 episodes provide a tight character driven story that definitely leaves us wanting more. Here’s to many more great seasons of Agent Carter.

Guardians of the Galaxy, the tenth entry in the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is another example of the guts, risk taking, and diversity of this franchise. Another studio would have Guardians be it’s own separate series, which makes sense. There are no references to any of the Avengers characters, and only two characters that we’ve seen briefly before have minor parts of this film.

In a Marvel Studios first the Marvel Studios logo bit does not come right away. Things start off right away in 1988 with a young Peter Quill whose mother is dying. Upset, he runs out of the hospital and then is pretty much abducted by aliens. Cut to the Marvel logo, and 26 years later (implying again that the MCU moves in real time) Quill is an adult running around the galaxy as a thief and an outlaw. We also get some nice pop cultural nods including Ninja Turtles and Indiana Jones. (Which I guess Indy is fiction this world, which dissapoints me)

Taking a page from the Avengers, Quill meets other characters that he will eventually team up with, but at first don’t get along. They’re fighting right away, and taking it one step further from the Avengers formula, in one case they literally want to kill each other.

Even though there’s a lot going on the plot itself is fairly simple, but like all these movies it’s about the characters and their relationships which each other. Can’t say much else without spoilers. This is a movie you’ll want to watch at home so you can pause it and look for things in the background. Especially the scene with the Collector, I’m sure there’s tons of Easter eggs there I didn’t catch. One thing I will say is that there seem to be two legitimate character deaths which was pretty good. A few other tidbits, we get a curve ball at the end about Quill’s father, an interesting insight into revenge I’d never heard, and the post credit scene does not advance any plot points but is so off the wall and is completely awesome.

One thing I could complain about, which is a common complain for popular science fiction, is that we’re out in the universe seeing all these aliens, and most of the aliens look humanoid and they all speak English. Early on Quill hooks up with this female with red skin, but in the first shot she was in it honestly looked like just a girl with a sunburn. Many aliens in fact look perfectly human. At least it wasn’t all white people.

Another thing is, in this movie Earth is identified with the name Terra. After the opening prologue I presumed that Peter never returned to Earth simply because he didn’t know how to get there. However, given that he knows the name for his planet, he presumably would know how to get back there.

At the time of this writing Guardians is doing well at the box office. Assuming this trend continues, by the time it finishes its run, the MCU will be just under a billion dollars away from being the most successful film franchise. Harry Potter is currently the most successful at 7.723 billion dollars. This means that all that next years Avengers has to do is make a billion dollars to become the most successful franchise ever. Normally a billion dollars is a tall order for a movie, but the last Avengers made 1.5 billion. So the MCU could take the top spot less than 12 months from now, and a good three years from when I initially predicted. And as I said before, once it takes the number one spot, it may never leave.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is perhaps the perfect example of why the Marvel Cinematic Universe is and will continue to be a successful franchise. It is distinct from other branches of the MCU in that it is a political thriller. It does not simply try to imitate, borrow from, or nod to political thrillers. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is first and foremost a political thriller, a political thriller that just happens to take place in the Marvel Universe/star Captain America.

There’s not a lot I can say without spoilers, but Winter Soldier, being the genre it is, is filled with twists and turns, secrets, vast wide ranging conspiracies, and moments where you generally wonder who to trust. Cap/Steve Roger’s idealism is confronted with harsh modern political realities and current issues of surveillance, privacy, and preemptive strikes. Cap is not naive, acknowledging times in the past where he’s compromised/had his hands dirty, but still sticks to his ideals.

Robert Redford, veteran of the aforementioned films that inspired this piece appears as a SHIELD higher up, and we get some background on this history of SHIELD and Nick Fury.

Black Widow returns, and her relationship with Cap doesn’t go the route you might expect, but they play off each other fantastically, and it was funny to see her constantly suggesting different girls Cap could date.

The opening scene has Steve meeting Sam Wilson/the Falcon by chance, which felt very organic as opposed to him being assigned to Cap or something like that. There’s a neat scene where Sam suggests some music for Steve to listen to. Rogers pulls out a notebook and adds the suggestion to a list. I couldn’t catch anything on the list but it had a bunch of stuff like the band Nirvana, and much to my amusement, Rocky, followed by Rocky II with a question mark. Star Wars was also on the list, which you could argue eliminates the possibility of a Star Wars/MCU crossover, as Star Wars is now established as fiction in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But either way if Disney wants to cross those properties over someday they will.

Not forgetting that this is a sequel, characters and locations from the first movie appear, some of which I never expected, one of which was truly amazing. There’s a Smithsonian exhibit on Captain America in which we see pictures of characters from the last movie, and the Howling Commandos are named specifically. (In the first movie they never said the words Howling Commandos but they were in there.) The exhibit later has a role in the plot, and also leads to a good Stan Lee Cameo.

A vast far reaching and decades long conspiracy is revealed (which also related to a certain Marvel characters parents) which has some shock value. It would have been more shocking had this been revealed a few films deeper into the MCU. However that’s probably not a fair complaint, as this is just what we have to work with and it’s effective anyway.

SHIELD main headquarters, the Triskelion, is revealed to be this huge building in Washington DC, which I guess means that the existence of SHIELD is public knowledge in the MCU. I’d often wondered about that previously. Logistically I wonder where it fits as the CIA is also known to exist in this world. However members of the SHIELD security council are revealed to be from various countries, so I presume it’s an international intelligence agency. Still I’d like a little clarity on how SHIELD differs from the CIA, MI-6, etc.

The fight scenes are fantastic, the opening action scene resembling the Captain America video game. Rogers has perfect command of his shield, always knowing where to throw it/when to catch it etc. UFC fighter George Saint Pierre plays a villain who fights Cap in this sequence. It was great watching one of the greatest fighters in real life face off against one of the greatest fighters in fiction. If anything disappointed me about this film it’s that GSP’s part was only minor. However there really wasn’t much room for him anyway, so here’s to sequels.

CGI is only used when needed. The shot of the boat in the beginning and some of the building shots were obviously CGI that I think won’t age well over time, but the rest of it looked good. There’s a few things you can nitpick toward the end. At one point the villain does something to gain the upper hand but you wonder why that action wasn’t taken sooner, but events turn again so the point becomes moot. Also, obviously I know what kind of movies these are, but honestly it is a little unbelievable that Cap doesn’t die in the end.

Like Thor: The Dark World, there is a mid credit scene hinting at what’s ahead that reveals new characters, and an end credit scene that relates to this specific film. It seems Phase Two of the MCU has a new formula for post credit scene.

In closing, Captain America: The Winter Soldier: is in fact the best Marvel Cinematic Universe film to date.