Tag Archives: Marvel

Marvel’s big mistake

I’ve been a pretty big fan of the recent Marvel-verse run. Sure, it’s had its duds – the second and third Iron Man films, Thor: The Dark World, etc. – but some quality films have come from it, such as both Captain America flicks, the Avengers movies, as well as some pleasant surprises in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man.

Recently, though, I’ve started to lose that loving feeling. My big gripe over the course of these super hero flicks has been that, with the exceptions of Ant-Man, most of the movies end up with some big, repetitive, city-destroying scene. On occasion, the films have been so focused on the big climax or that particular film’s place in the Marvel-verse that the rest of the film suffers for it, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s not been enough to turn me off of the Marvel film franchise, but my fandom has definitely decreased.

Then I watched Daredevil and Jessica Jones. And now I’m wondering if I’ll bother with any of the rest of the Marvel films.

In the theatrical releases, Marvel has to play it broad. These are big, expensive films that play to a huge global audience. The violence and language reflect that Marvel isn’t only trying to get the hard-core comic fans, but also the average six-year-old and his grandma out for an afternoon. I don’t begrudge Marvel this. It’s the Hollywood way, and they’ve done pretty well within those limitations.

But on Netflix, Marvel can get down and dirty. Daredevil was the only comic I ever really collected as a kid, so you can imagine what my reaction to Ben Affleck’s atrocity was back in 2003. I was interested when I heard about the Netflix version, but I didn’t have high hopes.

Boy, was I off on that one. Netflix’s Daredevil is everything I could want. Charlie Cox is terrific as the titular hero, weary, resigned to his role as the lone defender of Hell’s Kitchen, not afraid to chuckle at the dark humor of his situation. Elden Hensen as Foggy and Rosario Dawson’s Claire are strong and capable in supporting roles. Vincent D’Onofrio makes the Kingpin come alive in surprising ways, playing the incredibly violent crime boss as vulnerable, a wounded, love-struck man of vision whose goal for a better Hell’s Kitchen is shared by Matt Murdock, though the two differ significantly on how to make that happen. While The Avengers battle in the skies and tear down cities in a fight to save the universe, Daredevil is in the back alleys and basements of rundown buildings, brawling and bleeding to help his neighbors.

I had no idea what to expect from Jessica Jones, and again I was blown away. I hadn’t been a fan of Kristen Ritter prior to JJ, but she really captures the alienation and fear of someone who has been abused and raped, forced to behave in ways she never would on her own, living with a shadow over her that just won’t go away. That abuse theme runs through the show and gives it an edge and purpose that all of the Marvel movies lack. Jess has had a hard knock life, and no matter what power she has, you’ll never see her in a cape, because she can’t even conceive a world where she’s a hero. Jessica is the damaged goods, not the savior, even when she is just that. In a Marvel-verse where the Avengers mostly strut around, preening, flexing and arguing about who is the biggest hero, Jess is a refreshing change.

The beauty is that Marvel realizes how they’re getting it right. Check out the Daredevil season two trailer above. Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson combined don’t give me the thrill that I get when I see Jon “Shane” Bernthal in his role as the Punisher. As dark as season one was, Daredevil season two seems like it’s going to get even darker.

I can’t wait. Bring the pain, Marvel. But I may be leaving the movies for the kiddies and grandmas from now on. You’ve shown me a better way, and I’m not sure I’m interested in turning back.

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Bad trailers=bad movies: 5 summer flicks I have no interest in seeing

5. Teminator: Genisys. I can see why the minds behind this thought it was a good idea, seeing the talent involved. But other than the John Connor twist – which is a pretty huge giveaway for a trailer – most of this looks like it could have been pulled straight out of the first few movies. Yes, you have a rich history to work with, but the last part of the Terminator franchise to escape from that shadow and be something fresh and interesting was the TV series, The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Add to that the problem of the last two Terminator movies having dulled my taste for the franchise, and not even Daenarys Targaryan as Sarah Connor is enough to make me reconsider this one.

4. Vacation. If I was a huge fan of the Vacation franchise, I probably would have ranked this higher, but I always preferred Chevy Chase in films such as Fletch, Foul Play and Caddyshack over his Clark Griswold performances. This film it looks like it could be worse than The Hangover II and The Zookeeper, combined.

3. Ant-Man. This is the lone time I have had zero interest in seeing flick that’s part of the Avengers’ Marvel universe. I thought Ant-Man was a bad idea when they announced it. Then Marvel kicked director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) off the project, and I really thought it was a bad idea. This trailer does nothing to change my mind. I’ve often thought that there are some things that just won’t translate well from comics, and I think this looks like example No. 1 of that theory. The truly unfortunate thing about all of this is I probably can’t avoid this film because of my daughter’s love of Paul Rudd, aka Bobby Newport from Parks & Recreation.

2. Poltergeist. How bad is this trailer? My 10-year-old, who occasionally will terrify himself so much that he’ll run the 7 feet from his bedroom to our living room at night just to not be in the dark, “scary” hallway, mocks this trailer every time we see it. Poltergeist just looks like another Insidious knock-off, now. An unimaginative, blatant, studio cash grab, nothing more.

1. Jurassic World. OK, so it isn’t just the trailer that makes this flick a no-go. Loved the first one, like a lotta folks, but the second one was awful. In the second Jurassic Park book, Michael Crichton envisions a chameleon-like dinosaur that is able to camouflage itself. When the movie hit theaters, I was excited to see what Steven Spielberg – the king of the big, fx-heavy summer blockbusters – would do with that. The answer: Nothing. And Stevie made up a new, significantly shittier ending. So I’m not getting burned again. This trailer, other than some new dinos, looks to be for a film that has nothing new to offer. Plus, if that one sex joke is the best they’ve given Chris Pratt to work with, the Jurassic minds are even more bereft of imagination than I ever would have expected.

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‘Avengers’ films stand alone

You'd think, at some point, the military would figure out that shooting bullets at the Hulk really doesn't help. At All.

You’d think, at some point, the world’s soldiers and military leaders would figure out that shooting bullets at the Hulk really doesn’t help. At all.

I won’t go in to the long and the short of Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s worth watching and better than the first. As I look at the films from the Marvel-verse – not counting the Sony flicks – the two Avengers films stand out from the pack. I think it comes down to two things:

JOSS WHEDON: ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTE. The mind behind a whole lotta great shows has made that work on the big screen. Whedon understands ensemble drama better than most in Hollywood right now. Avengers worked because it was about people with god-like powers figuring out how to relate on a human level. Ultron works because while there are relationships in place and certain concessions have been made (e.g. Captain America is now the acknowledged leader of The Avengers), the happy chatter and synchronized ass-kicking mask the fact that there’s still a general lack of trust among our heroes, which almost breaks apart the group from within. Whedon makes it look effortless. If it was, everyone would be doing it. And they’re not. I find it a little bit sad that Whedon won’t be behind the camera for the third/fourth Avengers flicks, but I look forward to seeing what else he does with his time (including a rumored project with Warren Ellis).

THE HULK. It’s sad that Ang Lee had to make such a horrible Hulk movie, and that Edward Norton just didn’t quite work in the Hulk re-boot, because Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk is dying for a stand-alone. Ruffalo is a far better Banner than Eric Bana ever was, and he reveals a dark sense of humor lacking from Norton’s portrayal. The way Ruffalo has become sort of an ever-willing confidante and co-worker of Tony Stark has added dimension to the role, and having he and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow start to fall in love with each other was a minor stroke of brilliance, adding yet another ripple in the Hulk’s hard-luck story. Ruffalo’s less-than-jolly green giant also looms over both Avengers flicks, the violent chaos that none of the heroes can stop should it be unleashed, uncontrolled. The “other guy” is always there, in the back of everyone’s minds, a force that no one wants to think about, yet alone deal with. A lot of credit goes to Whedon here, of course, for writing the role, but Ruffalo makes it work in a way that Bana, Norton and even my childhood favorite, Bill Bixby, could not.

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Spy vs. spy: ‘Agent Carter’ and ‘The Americans’

Agent Carter bested her fellow, modern Agents of Shield during the limited run of her show.

Agent Carter bested her fellow, modern “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” during the limited run of her show.

CONGRATULATIONS, MARVEL MINDS. You took Peggy Carter, a secondary character from one of your tent-pole films and spun her story into a brief, interesting – if occasionally uneven – run, one that deserves at least one more season.

Bet the folks over at Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are jealous. Because, you see, they are Heroes-ing the fuck out of Agent Colson and his crew. What started as a show with a solid core group of characters working together to defeat those foul soldiers of Hydra is now bloated with guest stars and unnecessary characters, spinning the people we truly care about all over the planet to face threats and fellow good guys who are part of muddled storylines that I’m not sure anyone can keep track of and – worse – stories that fans may not even be interested in anymore, except for the hardcore geeks seeking clues to how this whole multi-level Marvel thing will play out. “Save the cheerleader / save the world” should be on a huge banner hanging in the S.H.I.E.L.D. writers room to remind them of what they don’t want the show to become. Although it may be too late to dig out of that hole. I’m not sure even Commander Adama can save them now.

Agent Carter, however, was a breath of fresh air. The original Captain America film might be my favorite (outside of the two Avengers flicks) from the current Marvel run, in large part because the WWII-era setting of the proceedings and the stylistic choices of director Joe Johnston. Peggy Carter was a huge part of that world, the dame who was smarter and more gutsy than pretty much everyone around her and not afraid to let everyone know it, even if sometimes she did it so subtly the numbskulls that work with her missed the burn. The casting choices for Agent Carter were solid. Chad Michael Murray as her faux-hero, big swinging dick co-worker was dead-on. Murray plays a complete douche better than anyone in Hollywood (anyone remember him as Tristan on Gilmore Girls?), and his betrayal and willingness to accept credit for a job he didn’t do was both inevitable and well-played. Shea Whigam as Roger Dooley, Carter’s hard-nosed, old-school boss, had maybe the toughest role on the program and handled it with grace. James D’Arcy as Jarvis and Dominic Cooper returning in his role as Howard Stark helped keep it light and fun when it got dark.

So I’m advocating for a second season. I think the first was good, not great. I loved the glimpse into the 1940s, ladies-take-a-back-seat boys club of the working world. Hayley Atwell embodies our heroine Peggy, our female Colson, the one without powers, the one who just wants to be part of the battle because it’s a fight worth fighting. Yes, Agent Carter did slow down a bit in the middle episodes, but a lot of that had to do with the necessity of setting up Peggy’s world and giving us some insight into the characters surrounding her. Plus, the show worked better when Stark was in the picture, and considering the plot of Season 1 was all about him being a traitor on the run, he can now be worked in to the entirety of a Season 2. With all of the set-up of the series now out of the way, a second season should move more quickly and easily. It’s not like ABC’s hitting out of the park with anything except Modern Family and its surrounding sit-coms. Carter comes with a built-in audience, one that could be stimulated by a more free-flowing run the second time around.

Just your average, upwardly mobile Americans from the early 1980s who are really Russian deep cover operatives.

Just your average, upwardly mobile Americans from the early 1980s who are really Russian deep cover operatives.

WHY AREN’T YOU PEOPLE WATCHING THE AMERICANS? What is your problem? Well, not you, you obviously – as a reader of this blog – have great taste in all things. But the rest of you, you have no excuse. The 1980’s spy drama is second-to-none compared to any show I’m watching, and for me, it’s become must-see viewing, akin to my love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel at the height of their respective runs.

Here are the three things that I think The Americans have going for it:

* The Cold War. I was in grade school when The Americans takes place. I remember that fear of impending nuclear disaster, but I was unaware and too immature to understand most of the politics, diplomacy and gamesmanship that went on. As a half-assed political junkie, that sort of thing helps draw me into the story.

* No James Bond gadgets here. It’s old-school spying for the Philip and Elizabeth Jennings. That means planting recording devices, then return later to get the tape. That means intimate, personal contact is vital, as human assets can get closer to the action and secrets than the tech of the time will allow. That means when you’re trying to snatch up a double agent in the streets, the lookout has no cellphone to text or call the two agents ready to ambush; the lookout must bribe her way into a neighboring apartment and signal the target is nearing with the tugging of a drape. This lack of tech really helps increase the intensity of each mission, even the simpler ones.

* Love and marriage. Philip (Michael Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell, who should be carrying home Emmys for her work) were trained in the Soviet Union as agents to imitate Americans, and they were introduced and married just before their mission started. When we meet them, Philip is clearly very much in love with his wife and is every bit the doting suburban dad. He’s having doubts about his children’s future, mainly with the idea that they would be better off as Americans than they would be as citizens of the U.S.S.R. Elizabeth is still every bit a soldier for the Soviet Union, loyal to the motherland without a doubt. She has affection for Philip, but all her love is for another man. As the show evolves, Philip and Elizabeth get closer and they find a comfortable love that they work to nurture. But their feelings about their mission – Philip’s doubts about the horrible things he has to do and whether or not it truly helps their cause, Elizabeth’s near-blind obedience to any order issued to their Soviet bosses – are what add to the tension and cause rifts in the relationship. As their children get older and closer to the truth about their parents, this divide grows. I find that I can’t think of another show I’ve ever seen where a marriage has been more thruthfully protrayed on the small screen.

So the nine months or so until Season 4 starts can’t go fast enough for me. I’m ready for the Cold War to get back in full swing.

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What’s so tough about movie No. 2?

Quicksilver was awesome, briefly ... all too briefly.

Quicksilver was awesome, briefly – all too briefly – in “Days of Future Past.”

Unwieldy. Slow. And worst of all, boring.

I was really looking forward to Days of Future Past. I thought the X-Men relaunch was terrific, the mix of actors, going back to the 1960s. It was note perfect, a way to keep the familiar characters of the previous three X-Men films while charting a new course for the re-launch.

I felt the same way about The Incredible Spider-Man. The movie wasn’t quite as awesome as the X-Men relaunch, but the Andrew Garfield-Emma Stone chemistry was terrific, and the film really set itself apart from the disappointing/overrated Sam Raimi trilogy.

Then I watched the second movie in each of these series. This was the question in my mind the entire time I viewed both: What the hell happened?

With The Incredible Spider-Man 2, some of it was greed. They tried to jam too much in, mostly hoping to set up a Sinister Six spin-off. Apparently movie execs have short memories, forgetting that too many villains didn’t work in Spider-Man 3 and contributed to the need to reboot the franchise in the first place. Plus, the whole Peter probing into his parents past thing dragged … actually, I’m not even sure “dragged” is harsh enough to describe how slow and dull that slog was. A great ending tied it all together, but it wasn’t enough to save the film.

Watching X-Men: Days of Future Past last night, all I could wonder was “why”? Why is there a need to tie the new franchise to the old? To me, that was the brilliance of the re-boot. If the franchise just stayed in the 1960s and 1970s, that would have been a lot of fun. But I’m not sure why anyone behind the film thought that everything had to be tied together from the two different eras. We were introduced to a number of characters – Bishop and Blink, to name two – who we didn’t get to know at all, just flat, cardboard mutant soldiers to feed to the Sentinels. Then a great character is introduced – Quicksilver – who subsequently disappears for the latter two-thirds of the movie. We get Kitty Pride spending the entire movie with her hands on either side of Wolverine’s temple, plus Iceman, Professor X and Magneto standing there watching her do it. Plus, the interplay of Charles, Erik and Raven – which was the centering relationship in the first film – is portrayed as fractured but in reality is nearly non-existent in the sequel. Days of Future Past somehow managed to accomplish the feat of doing way too much while not accomplishing nearly enough.

This isn’t just to pick on these two movies. The Matrix, The Hangover, Dumb and Dumber, Jaws … the list of overwhelming follow-ups is overwhelming. It’s not that it can’t be done – Empire Strikes Back, The Dark Knight and Halloween II, to name a few – but that second film is the true creative test, and too many flunk. Can you extend this story? Is there enough there to merit moving ahead? How can you challenge familiar characters in new ways? Maybe I’m naive to think any of this matters when compared to the profit motive of the companies financing the films, but it should matter. A good story doesn’t just make for a quality film, it also sells. A bad story sells some, but it damages the opportunities down the road.

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Focus on Tony Stark works when little else does in ‘Iron Man 3’

It's hard to look people in the eye who paid theater prices to watch the 'Iron Man' movies.

It’s hard to look people in the eye who paid theater prices to watch ‘Iron Man 3.’

One of my biggest complaints about the first season of The Blacklist was the hairstyle sported by Lizzy, federal agent and main character of the show.

I know, seems petty. And generally, I have a lack of concern about fashion. When I choose what to wear for the day, it comes down to two questions: 1) “Is it clean?”, and 2) “Have I worn it in the past five days?”. So for me to not only be criticizing a Hollywood fashion choice, but to also be so consistently distracted by it, was unusual and quite annoying. But that entire first season of The Blacklist, I was unable to take Lizzie’s character seriously because anytime guns were fired, I expected to see bullets bounce off her helmet hair. I’ve enjoyed season two quite a bit, and I think part of that is I’m not blinded by Lizzie’s do.

I thought of that as I watched Iron Man 3. When scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) appears asking Tony Stark to join his think tank, I kept expecting to see the a cartoonishly large, empty box in the background sporting the type “Stereotypical Nerdy Science Guy Hair and Glasses Kit by Acme” on the side (“I give it a thumbs up,” Wile E. Coyote). Then when Aldrich shows up again years later, this man who is secretly a global terrorist ends up coming off more as a some douche who really thinks wearing Axe body spray will actually result in large-breasted, smiley woman coming at you in waves like the Uruk-hai attacking Helm’s Deep. Plus, I instantly knew he was, at very least, in league with the Mandarin. You don’t undergo that sort of change unless you’re evil, like “I sing along with Katy Perry’s Fireworks while clubbing baby seals” evil.

That’s the legacy of Iron Man 3, for me: Just too much annoying bullshit. The big reveal, that The Mandarin is an actor, not an actual villain, doesn’t feel all that big. The Iron Man suits all fighting the bad guys in the climactic battle was pretty boring. Not once did I think Pepper was actually dead. And so it goes.

It’s frustrating. Iron Man might be the most fun of any of the Avengers, and when director/co-writer Shane Black focused on the new Tony Stark – still a bit of a self-involved cad, but with some heart and now a nervous condition – that worked. It was the super hero stuff that just wasn’t up to snuff. Disappointing.

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‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ great, but …

The Avengers, they're not. But they get the job done.

The Avengers, they’re not. But they get the job done.

There’s no doubt, Guardians of the Galaxy is a heap of fun, probably the most fun I’ve had with a Marvel movie since The Avengers. Plenty of humor, non-stop action, an unlikely group of heroes and the only Marvel flick to take place almost entirely off Earth give it a personality all its own (including being daring enough to have a totally crappy after-the-movie’s-over add-on … seriously, that was awful).

But Guardians of the Galaxy is also a symptom of a larger problem within the Marvel-verse: The big, city-destroying battle. I say “the” because the same battle seems to pop up at the end of every one of these flicks: Bullets and lasers flying, hordes of faceless minions gunning for our heroes, some sort of large aircraft/spacecraft, buildings falling, streets broken to shards of concrete, etc. The only thing that seems to change is the heroes doing the fighting. It’s starting to wear a little thin, in part because the big battles aren’t all that interesting.

Case in point, our titular Guardians. The big battle at the end is meh, lots of ships flying around, an enormous spacecraft closing in on a near defenseless city, and so on. The fun battles come when our fearless five escape prison with an ingenious and risky plan, as well as a confrontation with a pair of feuding factions when the Guardians go to see the Collector (a complete waste of Benicio del Toro’s creepiness, perhaps the only unforgivable part of Guardians of the Galaxy).

Even in the other movies, the better battles are the smaller ones. When Thor and his gang face The Destroyer in the Thor, when Thor battles Captain America and then takes on the Hulk in The Avengers, when Captain America’s elevator dust-up in The Winter Soldier, the smaller-scale fights are more intimate and interesting. Yet they seem to get buried in the body and building count of the large-scale, city-destroying climactic battles.

Is this a problem moving forward? On the one hand, like I said, more of the same gets old. On the other hand, most people are going to Marvel flicks to for that big, popcorn movie experience. Thoughts?

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Superheroes, less-than-super teens and good deaths

the100_040214_1600

It ain’t easy being one of 100 teens raised in a space station, then dropped to post-nuclear apocalyptic Earth.

In the DVD commentary for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer pilot, Joss Whedon (known now for helming The Avengers as well as planning for the entire non-Sony Marvel-verse) talked about how much he wanted to kill a main character in the very early going. So much so, in fact, that he considered putting Eric Balfour – the actor playing Jesse, best friend of Xander – in the opening credits of the show despite the fact that he doesn’t make it past episode two of the series. Whedon’s point was that by killing a “main” character early, the creator was setting the stage for some serious uneasiness by fans concerning the fate of all of the characters. It’s a red, blinking sign that says “No one is safe.”

That’s part of the reason I admire The 100, a new series on the CW. The basic premise is that 100 kids who have grown up on a now-dying space station are launched to a post-nuclear war Earth in hopes of saving what’s left of humanity floating around the planet. Brilliantly, The 100 makes it seem as if they kill a main character off in the pilot, when Jasper, played by Devon Bostik (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), takes an enormous spear to the chest. It’s a red herring, as Jasper survives to fight another day.

However, in episode three, The 100 shows us what it’s made of. Wells Jaha (Eli Goree, pictured above) is the best pal of the main character Clarke. Wells is also the son of the political leader of the space station, Chancellor Jaha. He is earnest, interested in what’s best for Clarke, a bright mind who can help lead the rag-tag group. But, in an extremely gripping scene, Wells is murdered, tragically, quietly, away from prying eyes. Wells had all the traits of a main character expected to be there for the bulk of the show, if not the entire run. It’s a brilliant example of what Whedon talked about on the Buffy commentary: Don’t let the viewers feel safe, and put doubt in their minds about the safety of their favorite characters.

On the big screen, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 went where I wasn’t expecting, allowing Gwen Stacey to fall to her death before Spidey can save her. Spider-Man 2 is a long, slow movie, decent but bogged down in the middle by plot meant to explain much and set up more. But the payoff was brilliant. Peter Parker lives haunted by the fact that he didn’t act during a bodega robbery, followed by said robber killing his uncle. Here, Peter is marred by the fact that he did act, he did stop the bad guy, he did save hundreds and maybe thousands of lives by battling and defeating Electro. Yet he still failed, setting up Gwen to die a pre-mature death because he both failed in his promise to her father and because with great power comes great responsibility. Peter abdicated his responsibility to Gwen’s dad, and the predictable happened. Peter loved Gwen and would do anything to protect her except that one thing that really would protect her: Walking away.

It’s satisfying to see franchises with much to lose – Spider-Man, a global movie juggernaut, and The 100, trying to find its footing and an audience – willing to make such difficult choices. It might hurt them in the short run, but the payoff is a fan base prepared for anything and on edge about what that anything might mean for their favorite characters.

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