Tag Archives: MCU

Saving the Best for Last

After more than ten years and twenty-one movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe reached a capstone with the release of Avengers: Endgame. While many movie franchises have met with varying levels of success over the years, none have been as successful as the MCU. Warner Bros. misstep with the Justice League is a perfect example. Even the 007 series pales by comparison to the storytelling and cinematics exhibited in the Marvel series of movies. Avengers: Endgame is a perfect knot tying together all the threads that had been woven by the preceding films. It is not to be missed.endgame

When last we saw our intrepid heroes, they were licking their wounds from their ignominious defeat at the hands of galactic bad guy Thanos, played by Josh Brolin. The dedicated viewer will remember that at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos had reduced half of all life in the universe to dust, including some of our favorite heroes. Endgame starts by showing us how that snap of the fingers affected the one avenger that did not take part in the Infinity War, Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner. We then get caught up on how life has marched on for the survivors, including newcomer, Captain Marvel, played by Brie Larson. Under the direction of Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the surviving Avengers try to figure out a way to reverse the disaster but are unable to do so.

Meanwhile, in another Galaxy, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Tony Stark (Robert Downy Jr.) are drifting lost in space in a damaged ship without power. Just as things look bleakest for the pair, fortune smiles on them.

Meanwhile, in another dimension, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) drifts without direction in the tendrils of the Quantum Realm until a bizarre happenstance returns him to our dimension, where he finds himself alone and unaware of what happened in his absence.

Meanwhile, in another part of the Earth, Thor is dealing with his failure in typical Asgardian fashion.

Meanwhile…well, you get the idea.

There are a lot of plotlines going into this movie, and the filmmakers do their level best to stitch them all together into a cohesive continuity. They succeed. The pacing is just right to allow for proper character and plot development and the cuts are just enough to keep the viewers interest without leaving them confused by the many plotlines. This is no easy feat and was only achieved by the film’s 3-hour runtime.

Yes. That’s THREE HOURS.

It seems unlikely they film makers could have delivered a story that was as satisfying in less time. While some might say the film drags in some places, it is a nice respite from the insane level of action that is going on the rest of the time.

Avengers: Endgame is a perfect capstone for the franchise. The viewer will leave this film satisfied that, if they never made another MCU movie, it would be okay. This story is finished. Anything that follows this movie is a whole different story. Endgame will be met with gasps, laughs, tears, and cheers, plus one scene that leaves the entire theater in utter stunned silence. The typical Marvel humor is sprinkled liberally throughout the script and the performances are spot-on consistent with the characters that have become beloved by fans. Of course, the special effects are top notch, even the Hulk’s effects, while new, are quite realistic.

If there were a downside, it is that some of the characters don’t get as much screen time as might be preferred. But given that it took three hours to give them that much, any more would require breaking Endgame into two separate films. That would not have been as satisfying. That said, every character that has been introduced in the MCU in any film seems to make an appearance in this movie, even if it is just a few seconds of screen time. Still, any more and it might have been too much. No, Avengers: Endgame is just fine the way it is. Go see it.

 

 

 

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Not So Marvelous

Captain Marvel PosterDisney has officially kicked off Marvel’s phase 4 of the MCU with the release of Captain Marvel in cinemas Thursday. The much-hyped film, touted as the new standard bearer for the Marvel franchise, features Marvel’s first female super hero to get her own title. As such, many feminists have joined a chorus touting the film as a feminist anthem without the benefit of actually watching the movie. This follows the hype of Black Panther as offering the first black super hero to get his own movie. Even before Captain Marvel was released, the movie was being bashed online by one group while being vociferously defended by another. It is unfortunate that Captain Marvel does not fair well by the comparison.

The film tells the story of Carol Danvers, an air force pilot who rankles at being denied the opportunity to be a combat pilot because she is a woman, taking a female scientist (Annette Benning) on a flight in an experimental aircraft and encountering unexpected problems. The film starts with our heroine fighting along side a noble band of warrior heroes already introduced in the MCU as the Kree. Vers—as she is called by the Kree—has an aggressive, emotional fighting style that frustrates her mentor played by Jude Law. She also has powers and abilities that no other Kree seems to possess, and she has no memory beyond six years prior. Through the course of her adventures, she uncovers the secret of her prior life and how she came to the Kree and how she obtained her awesome powers.

The Kree are engaged in a long-fought war with a race known as the Skrull; shape-changing aliens who can assume any identity down to the DNA. The war reaches Earth, where Vers encounters agents of SHIELD Fury and Coulson, who help Vers unravel the mystery of her origin and the secret behind the war.

The movie is full of CGI special effects, as all Disney movies seem to be these days. The age-regression on Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury and Clark Gregg’s Phil Coulson are superb. They don’t look a day over 35. The fight sequences are fantastic and visually stunning, as are the Skrull transformation effects.

The story is set in 1995 (Vers crashes into a Blockbuster Video store loaded with VHS tapes) and has a lot of popular cultural Easter eggs for those who like searching for them. There is no discussion of or reference to any other super heroes or mutants, though at the end of the film, we see Fury typing the first draft of his “Avengers Initiative.” It makes no reference to Thanos, but it does include Ronin, who we first met in Guardians of the Galaxy. The first post credits scene does tie back to the events in Infinity War as Captain America and Black Widow are trying to see who Fury was texting right before he disintegrated. This is the only tie in to the greater MCU story arc, which was a bit disappointing.

The film is somewhat long, running at 124 minutes, but seems longer. Despite the incredible, gratuitous action sequences, the film does drag in spots. The plot is straightforward, if somewhat predictable and offers no insight on the deeper motivations of the main characters. Why the villain does what he does is never discussed. What is the primary motivation for the Kree war? Why did the Kree keep Carol Danvers on Hala and more important, why conscript her into their army? These could have been great story arcs to explore and made a more compelling movie than the string of action sequences the film provides.

There are also some continuity errors.  In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we learn that Fury lost his eye infiltrating a terrorist camp to save Alexander Pierce’s (Robert Redford )daughter.  In Captain Marvel, there is an alternative history.  Also, the Tesseract appears in this film, with no explanation of how it got there, when last we saw it (timeline-wise) it was lost in the arctic.

Brie Larson’s portrayal of Carol Danvers is problematic. Larson is a fine actress; her Oscar win for “The Room” is a testament to that. Carol Danvers is a great character in the comic books, full of heroism and faults like the pantheon of Marvel heroes before her. But we don’t see Larson really bringing Danvers to life. She isn’t given the opportunity to explore the frailties that drive Danvers to excel as a hero. Also, Captain Marvel is so powerful in the film that an even a space armada cannot slow her down. She never doubts herself or her role in what is happening to her and around her. There just isn’t any emotion from her at all. I don’t think it’s Larson’s fault. I think it is the staff of writers and directors that all had their fingers in this pie that was trying to please fan boys and feminists too much that they failed to satisfy either. This is why both groups are fighting online so much.

Hopefully, Endgame will give Captain Marvel more material to work with and allow the viewers to see more of the humanity of what is right now the most powerful hero in the MCU. Having said all that, Captain Marvel is an entertaining film. While not as funny as Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok, it has the occasional chuckle. It plays out like a comic book, which, considering the source material, is a good thing. But it could have and should have been so much better. It falls in the middle of my ranking of MCU titles.

 

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Thanos Is A Good Guy

The latest big bad on the big screen has to be Thanos, the purple giant of the MCU playing havoc with Earth’s mightiest heroes in this week’s Avengers: Infinity War. The character comes directly from the comic books where he has been a villain for most of Marvel’s cadre of heroes since his inception in February 1973 in Iron Man #55. Thanos’ biography in the comics is varied and random, owing to the fact that he has been written by several writers over the years; each adding to the back story as needed by the story they were writing at the time. Invariably, he is depicted as having little regard for any life other than his own and willing to kill anyone or anything to achieve his goals. This attitude is most commonly characterized as pathologically evil—a label not entirely unearned, but actually not as accurate as one might think. When looking at the MCU version of Thanos within the scope of RPG morality, many would assign the chaotic evil alignment to him, but actually, Thanos falls more accurately in the alignment of extreme Chaotic Good.

In role playing games, there are nine alignments; three variations of each of the two principle categories of good and evil and a neutral alignment smack-dab in the middle. The sub categories are lawful, neutral and chaotic, making the alignments chaotic good, neutral good, lawful good, lawful evil, neutral evil and chaotic neutral and true neutral. Lawful characters act within the confines of established law and societal morality. They do good or evil according the laws under which they operate. Chaotic characters have no regard for the laws of civilization, nor any societal morals or imperatives. Chaotic evil is characterized by a complete disregard for any life and a willingness to kill anyone who would get in the way of whatever goal the character has set. They are only concerned with achieving the goals. While this description fits the Thanos of the comics, the version brought to the big screen differs in one key aspect. For chaotic evil to apply, the goals must be evil or entirely selfish in nature. The big difference between Chaotic Evil and Chaotic good is the motive for the goals. Both alignments have no compunction about killing or destroying, rather they differ on the reason why.

In the film Infinity War, the character is portrayed by actor Josh Brolin, albeit with a CGI facelift and body shape. Through a very nuanced performance, Brolin brings a deeper thread to the Titan’s back story and actually creates a sympathy for his situation. The writers gave Thanos a motive for his nefarious goal of instantaneously wiping out half of the universe’s population with a snap of his infinity-gauntleted fingers. Thanos was raised on Titan, a paradise of peace and prosperity for generations until greed and excess threatened to destroy the planet if things didn’t change. Thanos warned his people that overpopulation and over consumption would destroy them if they didn’t reduce their population by half. They ignored him and continued until his predictions came true. Driven by this tragedy, Thanos then went out with his forces and began culling the population of the universe whether or not they wanted or needed his help. Of course, he met much resistance to his efforts and that is when he realized he needed the infinity gauntlet to achieve his goals of mercifully putting the races out of their misery. His underlings, on the other hand, are more in line with lawful evil as they act out his orders for their own selfish reasons, while spouting Thanos’ desire for mercy.

That need for mercy is how Thanos falls into the alignment of chaotic good. He thinks he is performing an act of mercy for the greater good as he sees it. No one ever said “good” was a universal concept, especially when considering a chaotic alignment. In his perception, he is saving the universe from itself and anything he does to that end is justified, including sending mercenaries to take the stones and kill anyone who would stop them. It is for this reason that he is chaotic good and not chaotic evil.

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Infinity War Has No End

The summer 2018 movie season has just launched what will be the reigning king of the annual box office with Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War. This much anticipated installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) ties all of the previous MCU films together in a tight package that spans galaxies and offers parts for almost every super hero and supporting character in the franchise. In fact, it wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that almost every preceding film has set up the events in this movie. With all of that setup and with all the money Disney/Marvel has spent building up the hype, this movie is poised to be the biggest blockbuster or the biggest failure in the studio’s history. And for all that, the answer to the question of success or failure is not revealed in this movie, as Avengers: Infinity War is simply a setup for the next Avenger’s movie to be released in summer 2019.

When the greater MCU was announced after the successes of Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger, there was a lot of talk about how the Avengers’ ensemble films would play out. Kevin Feige said early on that the Avengers would end up in the Infinity War and that the story would span two movies. Some fans were pumped by the news, while others expressed disappointment. Marvel responded to the fan’s outcry by saying that there would not be an Avengers: Infinity War part 2 and changed the working title to Untitled Avengers Movie.

This was a lie.

There HAS to be an Avenger Infinity War part 2 if for no other reason than Avengers: Infinity War doesn’t finish the story at all. In fact, it just stops in the middle of the climax with no resolution to the dramatic events unfolding during the climax. Whatever they do entitle the film, it is going to be Infinity War part 2.

Part 1 offers fans all the excitement the hype promises by tying the dangling threads of previous films such as Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther into a complicated but easy to follow story that carries the MCU heroes battling the minions of Thanos on Earth, on Titan, and in a place called Nowhere among others. The film reveals the location of the final Infinity Stone, known as the Soul Stone and demonstrates what the stones do individually and together. We even see the return of characters believed long dead.

The recurring theme of sacrifice carries throughout the film as most of the heroes offer to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. In fact, it has been a foregone conclusion that one of the primary heroes will not survive the Infinity War and much discussion has been devoted to guessing which one will make that ultimate sacrifice. Rest assured no one will guess correctly.

The movie is very entertaining and in many ways, quite satisfying. But I cannot say I left the theater satisfied. In fact, when the credits started rolling, no one clapped, which is testament to the complete lack of satisfaction this film provides with regard to the story at the film’s end. Is it worth seeing? Yes. Is it good? Yes. But don’t go thinking you’re going to get the whole story. It isn’t finished yet. Do go see it, if for no other reason that to know what’s coming in the next Untitled Avengers movie. Of course, Marvel can pull a fast one and resolve all the issues that Infinity War creates in one of the other films in the pipeline like Ant Man and the Wasp or Captain Marvel.

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The Black Panther Claws the Box Office

A second super hero movie has the internet all atwitter this week with accolades such as “historic” and “triumphant” pretty much for the same reasons.  Last year’s Wonder Woman was the first female super hero movie and the first directed by a woman.  This year, “The Black Panther” is touted as the first super hero movie with a Black protagonist and directed by a black director.  Now the veracity of that claim can be and has been debated, but that is irrelevant to the quality of the film.  The Black Panther is a character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (not the only black one) that interacts with the Avengers.  His character was introduced in 2016’s Captain America Civil War and played a major role in the events of that film.  In this movie, we learn more about the Black Panther and his alter ego, King T’Challa, ruler of the fictional African country of Wakanda, but the focus of this movie is not really T’Challa or the Black Panther.  One could argue the movie is actually about Wakanda.  As Wakanda is in Africa, it follows that this movie will feature predominately black characters.  In fact, the only principle characters that are not black is Andy Serkis’s Klaw and Martin Freeman’s Ross.  Given the setting of the movie and the characters, one would expect certain social commentary about race relations.  This film does not shirk in this regard, and in fact, is a bit “in your face” about it, almost too much so, which is the only problem I have with this otherwise enjoyable action movie.

One observation that bears notice is that story told in “The Black Panther”, while set within the MCU, has absolutely no bearing on the greater MCU story arcs. There is no mention of the Infinity Stones, the Avengers or any other heroes at all.  In fact, it almost seems as though Freeman’s Ross was tacked on just to tie it in, as his presence really doesn’t move the plot much.  Having said that, he does offer a bit of humor.

The rest of the cast turn in solid performances.  Chadwick Boseman reprises his role as King T’Challa and brings the same brooding strength to this performance.  His likeable naiveté dares the viewer not to like him.  His skills as the Black Panther, while impressive, are still developing and he finds himself in dire straits on more than one occasion.  Boseman conveys this and portrays T’Challa’s learning process convincingly.

Angela Basset stars as T’Challa’s mother and brings out his humanity along with Letitia Wrght’s performance as Shuri, T’Challa’s sister.  We also meet his ex-girlfriend and the general of the king’s guard, who all serve to help T’Challa face his first major challenge as king: A literal challenge for the throne from his American cousin, Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan.

The story is full of intrigue and more than one plot twist and if the writers and producers had left it at that, it would have made for an outstanding movie.  But with the current social climate, they couldn’t resist attacking the perceived “white-dominated” power structure in the world that was only serving to keep down “those who look like us,” as Killmonger says.

Of course, the film will win the box office.  It is an MCU film, after all, and opening on a weekend bereft of any real box office competition.  The movie was enjoyable, but it doesn’t rank as high as Civil War or Guardians of the Galaxy, and while it is good, it is not quite historic or triumphant.  Movies should earn those accolades with plot, character and message, not by the gender or the color of the skin of the actor or director.  I still give it a thumbs up.

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For Want Of A One-Liner

If the World Series has taught anything it is that it is impossible to carry momentum indefinitely.  Marvel is about to discover that axiom this weekend with their release of the third Thor movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Thor Ragnarok.  The MCU now features seventeen films that have enjoyed almost universal success.  They have all made huge box office and generated a great fan following, but as with any franchise, there are those who rank the films from best to worse and the two previous Thor movies almost always rank toward the bottom of the list.  Ragnarok will premier below even them.

One of the things that has endeared the MCU movies to the fans is a tangible sense of humor.  None of the films, even the most dramatic of them, takes itself too seriously and all have been peppered with more than a few snappy one liners that have become the hallmark of the MCU and something the DCEU has been lacking.  But as with anything good, someone will always ask for too much of a good thing.

No spoilers here, but the term Ragnarok refers to the destruction of Asgard and Thor spends the film trying to avert that destruction, which seems assured as Hela, played by Cate Blanchet, lays waste to the Asgardian defenders and casts Thor out.  Our hero must rally a team to defeat Hela and save Asgard, so he happens upon the Hulk and a disgraced Asgardian Valkyrie to enlist their help.

Ragnarok has a lot going for it.  It features not only Thor and Loki, but also the Hulk engaging in a battle royal with nothing less than the future of Asgard in the balance.  But with all the action, the studio went overboard with the one liners.  Thor has not one whit of his serious, responsible attitude so often displayed in both his previous films but also in the Avengers movies.  This Thor spends most of this film wise cracking and making poor jokes.  Even the Hulk, who talks more in this movie than in all other MCU films combined, if full of wise cracks.  Add Jeff Goldblum as the near maniacal Game Master and the silliness reaches nauseating levels.  The teaser trailer should have been an indication of the level of silliness when Thor turns to the Game Master and says of Hulk “We know each other!  He’s a friend from work.”

With all the wanton destruction (and there is plenty) it is difficult to feel the sense of loss that by all rights should have the audience near tears when the cast is so busy whipping out one liners.  I found it difficult to enjoy this film and found myself sighing a lot during the two-and-a-half hour show, wishing it would wrap up.  That is not an indication of a good movie.  Thor Ragnarok is the worst film of the Thor films, which are the worst films of the MCU.  It is a shame.  It is also a shame that the next entry to have to swing the momentum back is a movie featuring the little known Black Panther in February before the next Avengers movie.

 

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