Tag Archives: The Avengers

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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‘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

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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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