Archive for the ‘MCU Film Reviews’ Category

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.

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All Hail the King is a short film on the Thor: Dark World blue ray. It features Jackson Norris (who in the comics was  a SHIELD agent who then became a TV reporter). Norris is a documentary film maker who’s current project is a documentary on Trevor Slattery, the washed up actor who played the fake Mandarin during Iron Man 3.

We see Slattery enjoying his celebrity status in prison. Some of the other prisoners enjoy having him around and they ask him to do his Mandarin voice. One prisoner even acts like a servant to him. Amusingly he also has tattoo on the back of his neck of the Captain America shield.

A bit about Trevor’s past is revealed. He starred in a failed CBS pilot in the 1980s called Caged Heat, in which he played a avenging Russian police officer in LA. The most ambitious part of this short is they actually shot an opening title sequence to Caged Heat, complete with music by Mike Post, who scored many 80s TV shows.

After some subtle commentary on fandom the real meat of the story comes as Norris asks Slattery if he’s worried about the Ten Rings, the terrorist organization briefly seen in the first Iron Man. Slattery of course is completely oblivious to this. It is also revealed that the Marvel Cinematic Universe in fact does have a Mandarin. Norris warns that the Mandarin and his Ten Rings group might have taken offense to Slattery’s actions.

One could look at this as having your cake and eating it too. Some fans were upset about how Mandarin was portrayed in Iron Man 3. Personally I didn’t like it either, partly because I felt it shifted the tone in Iron Man 3 from seriousness to goofiness. But now we know there is in fact a “real” Mandarin. All Hail the King ends on a sort of cliff hanger. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, as there are currently no plans for more Iron Man films, and the next Avengers movie apparently features Ultron. I would presume they would put him in something with Iron Man, since they are arch foes in the comics. If not there then where? Perhaps in a War Machine spinoff, the Agents of Shield TV show, or maybe even a Captain America sequel? It’s all speculation at this point, but time will tell.

Marvel One Shots keep getting more ambitious, I’d say they’ve topped themselves again. Excelsior.

P.S. There’s also a cameo by Justin Hammer who is in jail with Slattery. He’s hilarious as always in his brief time on screen, and it’s interesting to see his current status.

Thor: The Dark World is the sequel to the 2011 Marvel film. Like the first film it opens with narration from Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins. He tells the story of how 5000 years ago the race of Dark Elves led by Malekith attempted to plunge the world into darkness while the nine realms were in alignment. They were stopped by the Asgardians, led by Odin’s father Bor. There’s a nice battle scene here that’s not as generic as the opening battle scene of the first movie. Between the laser blasts and medieval weaponry it’s a nice mix of Star Wars meets Lord of the Rings.

Cut to today, Loki is sentenced to the dungeons after the events of the Avengers. While confronting Odin, Loki remarks that he was only trying to do what Odin does, which is to rule.

Back on Earth Jane Foster is moving on with her life, but in the middle of a date events transpire to bring her and her colleagues to be involved with Asgardians again. After 5000 years the nine world are in realignment again, and the Dark Elves have returned to finish what they started.

This is a pretty epic movie that jumps around various locations in the nine realms. Loki is probably the most intriguing character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, whose relationship with Thor, Odin, and Frigga are the highlight of the film. Frigga, Odin’s wife, has more of a role in the film BTW, and actually fights and seemingly beats the main villain. There’s great humor, including a surprise sort of cameo from Captain America the had the audience laughing out loud. The action of course is great, as I said it’s basically superheroes meets Star Wars meets Lord of the Rings with a little Star Trek thrown in for good measure. Not only that, but Thor legitimately can’t stop the villains on his own, and generally needs his Earthbound allies to help.

There’s also real changes in this movie, as at least one actual character dies. That’s one of the things I didn’t like about Iron Man 3, someone should have died, but this movie has real consequences. I liked that a lot.

One nit-picky thing, it’s mentioned that the Bi-frost/rainbow bridge had been destroyed, but in this film it’s been rebuilt. It doesn’t mention how it was restored. I guess we’re just to presume they rebuilt it. I happen to have read the Thor: Dark World comic prequel where it’s mentioned that the Bi-frost was restored using the power of the Tesseract.

Also wanted to mention, Heimdall says he can see 10 trillion people. That’s a lot.

The mid-credits scene is different, a new character is introduced to the MCU and we get some revelations about the Infinity Gems. We also get a post credit scene which relates to Thor and Jane Foster that’s pretty good.

As I mentioned before, I didn’t care for Iron Man 3, but the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to go strong with this entry. That’s the thing about this franchise, as I’ve said before, it’s not linear as other film franchises are. It’s like a tree with many branches, and more on the way. That’s why MCU has the potential for much longevity and success.

Iron Man 3 picks up after Avengers, and focuses on the character of Tony Stark and how he needs to differentiate himself from Iron Man.

Iron Man 3’s strength lies in this arc of exploring who Tony is outside the suit. There are various situations where Tony has to accomplish his goals, including combat situations, without the suit or with part of it, or with it only partly working. We get scenes with his friend James Rhodes/War Machine also outside the suit, but he’s obviously trained for combat anyway. We get a moment where both he and Tony are fighting outside of their suits, and James advises Tony in combat. Unfortunately this doesn’t last long. But I thought this also should have happened in Iron Man 2, so at least it happened here a little.

Early in the movie, a terrorist calling himself the Mandarin launches terrorist attacks against the United States, (His videos add a lot to the film) setting the tone for a more serious movie. However the tone gradually shifts into out-right goofiness. There’s great leaps of internal logic and moments that seem too over the top, even for a film based of the Marvel Universe.

You could tell it was going bad early on as just after the attack, Tony and James are sitting at a crowded sports bar, and in this bar full of people James tells Tony classified information.

Also, one thing about the previous movies, through all the disasters it seems there are no real casualties. This movie does at least acknowledge that people died in the attacks. However, there is one actual character that really should have died. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is facing the same critique that mainstream superhero comics often get, which is that things always go back to the status quo. I’d mentioned this in my Iron Man 2 review as well.

There’s quick references to SHIELD, and the Avengers, but no real Marvel Easter Eggs revealing anything new. I wonder why Mandarin was used the way he was given the ten rings group was in the first Iron Man.  

Unfortunately I have to report that in fact this is a very bad movie. Another victim of the curse of the three, and the first entry in the MCU that is generally not good. It will probably still makes tons of money, but I wonder if there will be any fallout.

There is a post credit scene but it’s purely for laughs.

Here’s to hoping Thor 2 is good.

I was going to do before, but changed my mind for some reason, but then decided to just go ahead. This is my personal ranking of the films from Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Let me say upfront that I did enjoy all of the movies; there aren’t any of them that I disliked. Here goes.

6 Iron Man 2.

The least critically acclaimed of the 6, but amusingly enough the second most successful behind Avengers. While some complained it was just an advertisement for the Avengers, I thought Black Widow fit in just fine, and the meeting about the Avengers Initiative was the last scene/happened after the main narrative anyway.

To me the weakness of this movie was its climax. Iron Man and War Machine spend a lot of film time fighting mindless drones, but the main villain Whiplash is defeated quickly (after almost beating them for a few seconds at least). Also I didn’t like Pepper Potts stepping down as the CEO of Stark Industries. Putting her there was a gutsy move and would have fit for the narrative of Avengers, but instead things went back to the status quo, which is itself a common criticism of the comic book world.

Still Mickey Rourke made a fantastic villain and it was still a fun movie overall.

5 Hulk

Not much to say about Hulk. Good chase scene movie. Gutsy move to not really focus on origin, although that could be partly because this was sort of a reboot. Nice cameo from Tony Stark to cement that this is a shared universe, along with the vague Captain America references. Can’t quite put my finger on why this doesn’t rank higher, it should.

4 Avengers

“OH MY GOD AVENGERS WAS THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER!!!!” Well…no. Avengers was an incredible achievement in filmmaking, and it did have a lot on its plate. All the other movies did a great job of explaining who everyone was and things seemed to make sense. During the first 20 minutes of this I actually thought “Uh oh this might not be a good movie,” but it was. Still I wondered at one point how Thor knew what he did. No one wondered why Loki didn’t run away while Iron Man fought Thor. The helicarrier scene had a lot going on and I felt at first they kind of forgot about the bad soldiers that were, you know, invading the helicarrier. Plus during that sequence it was really hard to believe that Iron Man didn’t die or at least pass out from what he did.

Still this movie was spot on with character beats. It definitely captured that sense of overwhelming odds in the third act, and the falling action/denouement is one of the best on film.

3 Captain America

Great period piece action and great introduction to Steve Rogers in the first act before he becomes the Super Solider. It also captures the tragedy of the man lost out of time. However I must confess I was one of those people that didn’t like the downplaying of the Nazis. I don’t object to the presence of Hydra, that was a nice touch actually. It was just too much for me to believe that Hitler would have allowed the Red Skull to do his own thing. Dictatorships don’t work like that. You either fall in with the party line or you’re dead. They tried in one scene to justify/explain this but I still didn’t buy it. Otherwise this was a great movie that I might have put at #2.

2 Thor

Although much more predictable than Captain America, it’s done well enough that you don’t mind. Out of all the movies, it is Thor that goes though the strongest transformation during the course of his arc. Plus Asgard and the Destroyer look amazing, it has good action and humor beats. (Thor in the pet store is classic) You can pretty much guess everything that’s going to happen but with all these elements it works.

1 Iron Man

Phase One peaks out at its first movie with a perfect introduction to the new film universe and the man that is Tony Stark. Second only to Thor in the strength of its character arc, (Though in Tony’s defense his arc continues through IM2 and Avengers) we get the rotten scoundrel that is Tony Stark transformed during a near fatal incident, and alone tries to right his past wrongs. The humor, action, and character beats are pitch perfect. That and “Just call us SHIELD made me giddy.

Not to mention it has the best Phase One post title sequence, admittedly partly because it had the luxury of being first/you didn’t know to expect it. Think back to early 2008. There were rumors/hopes that an Avengers movie would come someday, but nothing definite.

Then all of a sudden, if you happen to stay after the credits for some reason, there’s this extra scene. Tony comes home, and Samuel L. Jackson is in his house! Who the hell is he, Nick Fury! “I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative” is one of the most shocking moments in nerd history. It’s this generations “I am your Father.”

So there we have it. Now on to Phase Two!

Well it’s been a long time coming and now it is finally here. 4 years ago there was no real news about an Avengers movie, only the occasional rumor and skepticism that it could even be done. Than Iron Man premiered, and in a post credit scene Samuel L. Jackson walks out of the shadows and says the words “Avengers Initiative.” Since then everything has been leading up to this.

In short this is the tale of several people that would never otherwise be together banding together for the greater good, basically the theme of the comic. The first act revolves around recruiting the various heroes, during which we get exposition as to who they are (in case you missed their solo movies). One interesting tidbit is that Banner is recruited for Banner is recruited for Banner/his scientific skills and not so much the Hulk. They are called together because Loki from the Thor film has the Tesseract/Cosmic Cube (From Cap’s movie) and wants to use it to rule Earth.

Like all previous films that lead to this, there are great character bits for everyone. It is a true achievement in screenwriting that every single Avenger gets quality screen time where we get to see what makes them tick. Everyone has a role to play, even non–powered heroes like Black Widow and Hawkeye.  (We get some nice background on them by the way)

Naturally they don’t get a long at first, some fight each other. The straight and narrow Cap clashes with the flashy Iron Man, who gets along well with Hulk, who naturally has some rivalry with Thor. It all feels very natural, none of it is forced.

One of the things I thought all previous movies did well was explaining everything to the non-fan audience. Avengers explains who all the heroes are in case you missed one of the movies, but Loki’s introduction was a bit forced. (If I recall he actually says “I am Loki from Asgard!” or something like that). Also the way they figured out Loki’s plot seemed a bit clunky. In one particular case Thor tells the group who Loki is working with and I completely missed how he knew that. After watching Thor I was wondering how he would get back to Earth in this movie. The way he gets back is literally Deus Ex Macina, but I guess that had to happen somehow.

There’s more action in this than all previous entries. It’s pretty much wall to wall action mixed with great character moments. There is a sequence in the second act where three different things are going on, which is fine, but somehow some tension was lost maybe via the editing or the pacing. In the beginning of this sequence for instance the bad guys show up and then you don’t see them for a bit because of the other two situations. That seemed a bit odd. Plus there’s a part where it’s really hard to believe Iron Man didn’t die or at least pass out.

The third act makes up for this however. We’ve all seen these kinds of movies that have the big fight with the bad guy at the end. Avengers does it’s third act better than most anybody. (One could bemoan the fact that the big battle takes place in NYC, we do get a reason why it’s there though) We all watch these movies knowing the outcome, but in the moment this one delivers that feeling of desperation, that the heroes really are up against impossible odds, and that no hero alone could save the day.

Along with a great climax the denouement is also excellent. Now there’s nothing wrong with darker themed superhero films where the characters are feared, but this film, unlike so many, shows the public truly embracing and loving it’s heroes. Maybe it was because so few films did this, but it was a great feeling to see the outpouring of love the general public showed. Again the falling action sequence in Avengers is one of the best.

While there’s subtle references to past films, aside from SHIELDS Maria Hill and Loki’s army, I don’t think anything new has been added to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in this entry. I didn’t catch any Easter eggs that the other films had. That is not a complaint, this movie had plenty on it’s plate to deliver.

When I really think about it, previous entrants like Thor and Iron Man were probably better than Avengers, but that is not to say Avengers was disappointing. It pretty much delivers the fanboy dream we all hoped for. It’s been a long journey, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!!!

P.S. There is a scene at the very end of the credits, but it’s purely for laughs. There is however, a mid credit scene that is a hint of things to come, and it’s a doozy.

Captain America: The First Avenger, amusingly only called First Avenger in South Korea, is in some ways the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It almost could have been the first film, telling the titular heroes story while setting up the later Iron Man and Thor installments, and of course leading into next years Avengers.

It opens with a strange ship found in the arctic, inside of which is the frozen Captain America. Hence, any non-comic fans immediately know that this hero’s story ends in tragedy.

Flashback t0 1941, where Johann Schmidt A.K.A. the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) is introduced. Schmidt is the head of Hydra, the Nazi deep science division. Hydra raids a town in Norway in search of a Tesseract, a cube (in the comics called the cosmic cube) of immense power, apparently tied to Viking mythology. This item allows for fantastic weapons and vehicles later seen in the film. This scene is reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and even has a backhanded reference to it as Schmidt mocks Hitler for looking for “trinkets in the desert.” His final fate is also reminiscent of Indy films.

Cut to New York, where through some interesting special effects, actor Chris Evans plays 90 pound weakling Steve Rogers. Due to his size and a score of health problems he is rejected by 5 different recruiting stations. Steve has strong moral convictions and desperately wants to join the war effort. He sees the Nazis as nothing more than bullies that need to be stopped. He’s also upset that his friend James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes not only has joined the Army, but is in the 107, which Roger’s father was in when he died during World War One.

His moral courage gets the attention of escaped German scientist Dr. Abraham Erskine, who gets him into a secret super soldier project. There he meets later love interest agent Peggy Carter, who is British for some reason, and Colonel Phillips played by Tommy Lee Jones. Phillips is naturally skeptical of Rogers and doesn’t respect him, but Erskine realizes that Rogers is the correct choice because he is “a good man.”

Rogers is selected and, with the help of Howard Stark, Tony Stark’s/Iron Man’s father, goes through an experiment that transforms him into a muscular semi-superhuman specimen. He’s not invulnerable and not as strong and fast as ,say Superman, but he’s more athletic than any human, able to throw people good distances, is fast, can jump fairly high etc.

Rogers is intended to be the first of many super soldiers, but a Nazi spy blows up the lab and kills Erskine, leading to Rogers first action scene. It’s not really explained why the formula can’t be replicated, but in the comics Erksine memorized much of it, hence didn’t leave notes. The film drops the ball on that though.

Much to his humiliation Rogers is turned into a propaganda tool to sell war bonds across the country, accompanied by songs and USO showgirls. Here he gets the name Captain America, with a goofy looking outfit reminiscent of the actual serial film made of Captain America in 1944,  and the triangular shaped shield he had in that era. Ironically he also films a few movies. We also actually see first issue of the Captain America comic book, which also appeared in Iron Man 2. Interestingly the comic was first published in 1941, 7 months before Pearl Harbor. In this world it was apparently published afterwards.

After a show in Italy before an uninterested audience of battle weary G. I.s, Rogers learns is friend Barnes is behind enemy lines. He goes out on his own to rescue him and other soldiers, and has a great first encounter with the Red Skull.

From here he leads Barnes and other soldiers in a special unit specifically made to fight Hydra. One of the interesting features of this movie is we don’t see all of his adventures. It’s understood that he went on many missions but we don’t see them all. This leaves room for more sequels and other tie in items set in this period, like the video game Captain America: Super Soldier for instance.

The crux of this film is Rogers morality and determination. This plays into his recruitment, his conviction to go through the painful experiment, and his desire to lead men in battle. Even his final fate in the war is not so much an accident as in the comics, but another example of his moral courage.

Naturally there’s plenty of action, probably more than the Iron Man’s, Hulk and Thor actually. It does capture it’s period very well. Some of the CGI background effects looked obvious, but I think it led to a certain feel that they were purposely trying for.

One point of contention among fans is the lack of Nazi symbols. The swastika appears real big in a scene in a movie theater, but aside from that it’s hidden. A few Nazi officers have tiny Swastika pins, and they have the armband, but the swastika on their arm band is never in view. It makes sense story wise that Schmidt uses Hydra to strike out on his own, even one upping the Nazi salute with a “Hail Hydra” accompanied by two fists in the air (as opposed to the Nazis salute of one open hand raised). Hydra has it’s own symbol and the uniform for their troops is reminiscent of Star Wars storm troopers, who in turn were designed after Nazi soldiers. Still, to go so far out of the way to hide Nazi symbols is a testament to the strange sensibilities of our day. The Indiana Jones series, which this film sought to emulate, took no qualms about showing the swastika in all it’s evil glory.

Howard Stark is fun to watch, clearly the predecessor of his son, and also Roger’s weapons man A.K.A. the Q to Evans’ Bond. I would have liked to have seen more of the soldiers, but there simply wasn’t enough time. Rogers relationship with Carter is even more light than the romance in Thor, and based around the fact that she’s the first girl that bothered to talk with Rogers, who has no idea how to talk to women.

Captain America covers a lot of ground in it’s two hours, maybe more so than it’s predecessors, but it’s a fun ride.  8/10.

Minor Marvel Movie-verse Spoilers.

The tesseract is hidden in a carving of the world tree from Viking mythology, and is said to be the jewel of Odin’s treasure room. In the comics, I always thought it was awkward that Thor, a Viking God, had such prominence in the Marvel Universe, especially given the amount of mythological heroes available. In the Cinematic Universe it actually makes more sense. Captain America connects us to the Nazis, who in real life were into Viking mythology. A whole sub genre of science fiction is based around Nazi super science/Nazi occultism (Like Indy). So in a superhero world it would make sense to have Viking mythology be real/the superheroes/villains of their time. So I really liked that.

Rogers and Barnes have a double date to the Worlds Fair, which is similar in design to the Stark Expo in Iron Man 2, and has similar music too. At one exhibit Professor Horton’s synthetic man is in full display. This was the original Human Torch from the comics. (Not the later Fantastic 4 Human Torch, ironically played by Evans)

Cap’s circular shield is made of the fictional metal Vibranium, but it’s not said where it came from.

We don’t hear the name but the men Rogers leads are the Howling Commandos, led by Nick Fury in the comics. One addition they have is James Falsworth, who in the comics becomes British hero Union Jack.

Howard Stark tries and fails to find Rogers in the arctic. He does find the cube, which presumably will be the basis for Arc Reactor technology.

Barnes dies and that scene comes really fast.

At the very end Captain America is told that he was asleep for nearly 70 years. I wish they just said “a long time” or something like that. As the movies continue, they will always be presumed to be set in the present, that will get dated fast.

There’s not really an extra scene after the credits but instead an actual trailer for next years Avengers, which is filming right now.