Tag: Avengers (page 1 of 2)

“I Know A Guy”: The Ant-Man Review

With my financial situation on shaky ground and everything else in upheaval, it’s difficult for me to justify expenses outside of feeding myself and keeping the utilities on. Even costs for transit, be it gasoline or passage on trains and busses, can be questionable. That said, I do want to keep up with the ongoing continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, both because their plotlines and characterizations are more coherent and because, well, they have yet to blow the landing. Even the nadir of the films, Iron Man 2, is a decent flick in and of itself, and is buoyed up by the following films in a form of ‘better in hindsight’. Granted, it’s still nowhere near as good as any other Marvel film to date, but it’s still pretty good. I almost have to grade these things on a curve, and I was wondering if Ant-Man might become the new anchor for the low end of said curve. I managed to satisfy that curiosity without destroying my meager budget because… well, I know a guy.

Courtesy Marvel Studios

I honestly have seen threads of more than one Iron man movie getting woven into Ant-Man since I saw the first trailer. A successor picking up the threads of a line of business the founder didn’t want? Iron Man. Keeping super-tech out of the wrong hands? Iron Man 2. Inventor who’s a bit of a prick looking for redemption and overcoming emotional obstacles? Iron Man 3. It’s one of the problems Ant-Man has: this is ground that’s been tread before. This might be because the creative team had to plunder old ideas when Edgar Wright left the project. It was a big question hanging over Ant-Man: “Can this Marvel movie survive some of the awful behind-the-scenes stuff that plagues other productions?”

The short answer? “Yes.”

The longer answer is that this particular Marvel outing, like many of its successes, is much more personal in focus and small in scale. It also conveys a lot more humor than, for example, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I think this is due to its roots in the works and concepts of Edgar “Shawn of the Dead”/”Hot Fuzz”/”Scott Pilgrim” Wright. As much as there were some genuine laughs to be had, there are also a few moments where I felt they were pushing too hard for the comedy. It never gets embarrassing and the jokes don’t necessarily fall flat, but they get more of a rueful smirk than a good laugh.

Character development and interaction, too, averages out to a baseline for Marvel films. Michael Douglas is a seasoned actor and his gravitas and ease work well with the material. Paul Rudd definitely has the self-effacing leading-man chops required for this project, and he also demonstrates that he is more than capable of working side-by-side with other talent without overshadowing them. I was very happy to see Evangeline Lilly given plenty to do, as much as Marvel tends to sideline its female characters, and the promise within the credits fills me with hope. I want more diversity in my superheroes, dammit! The criminal sidekicks are amusing at times, the daughter is adequately precious, and the menace of Yellowjacket feels more legitimate and immediate than the vague nature of Obediah Stane or the criminally underused Laufey of Jotunheim.

What makes Ant-Man worth watching is the inventiveness of its technology, from the scale-shifting nature of the suits to the interactions the characters have with ants. The action scenes pop with ideas and quick thinking as much as they do with punches and bullets, and getting along with legions of ants makes for fun and occasionally adorable sci-fi antics. While you understand Pym not naming individual ants, you feel for Scott when he chooses to do so anyway. This isn’t the breakneck, visceral action of Winter Soldier or the grandiose set-piece action of Age of UltronAnt-Man, in just about every sense of the word, is playing on a smaller stage, and yet remains interesting and fun to watch despite (or perhaps because of) this reduction of stakes and scale.

So, in the end, is Ant-Man worth seeing? I’d say it is. While it doesn’t have the legitimate above-average quality of the Captain America entries thus far, or the unabashed fantastical fun of both Thor flicks that are available, it’s still fun, still interesting, and still earnest in its intent and execution. While not the studio’s best, it doesn’t disappoint and hits all of the right notes for a Marvel movie. I will admit to the sort of mentality that inclines me towards liking both Thor movies, and that isn’t everybody’s bag, but for the most part, Ant-Man works for me.

Until Michael Bay casts Martin Lawrence as T’Challa, Make Mine Marvel!

500 Words on Marvel

Courtesy Ms Sackhoff's Twitter

As I write this, San Diego Comic-Con, arguably one of the biggest gatherings of so-called ‘geeks’ or ‘nerds’ in his hemisphere, is taking place. The Marvel panel is, I believe, tomorrow, and there are likely to be announcements as to what is coming up for the studio behind The Avengers and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. I have this feeling of both excitement and trepidation. As much as I like what Marvel has done and is doing, I have some fears about the future.

Guardians of the Galaxy looks amazing. I’m intrigued by the implications of the plot being developed for Avengers: Age of Ultron. And the mere mention of a Doctor Strange film might elicit what can only be described as a ‘squee’ from Yours Truly. But in the midst of all of this, I have yet to see Marvel do something to truly push them into the forefront when it comes to universal appeal in excellent entertainment.

Marvel needs a solo female lead.

There are a few female characters that have shown well-rounded characterization: Pepper Potts, Natasha Romanoff, Maria Hill, Melinda May, etc. But none of them have carried their own story yet. In this, and pretty much this alone, Marvel and DC have something in common. While DC is still struggling to carve out its own identity, as they try keep pace with Marvel as well as emerging from the shadow of Nolan’s bat, Marvel distinguishes itself in almost every other regard.

This is also an issue when it comes to characters of color, but with the Falcon being such a breakout star in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and The Black Panther all but confirmed, I feel it’s been more addressed than the issue of a solo female lead. I would love to see it happen. And I would dearly love for it to be Captain Marvel.

Carol Danvers is one of my favorite ladies of Marvel. Kelly Sue Deconnick’s take on her in particular is an absolute delight. Despite being imbued with superpowers and having worked in the male-oriented military for so long, Carol is still very much her own woman, and a very human character. The image above, envisioning the incomparable Katee Sackhoff as Carol, fills me with hope. I know it may be a long shot – Fiege and company have yet to really address things – but the idea remains.

Another idea occurs: what if Doctor Strange was female?

While we’re talking about dream casting, if Strange remains male, I’d love to see Oded Fehr play the role. He has charisma, gravitas, and he breaks the mold of stereotypical white male protagonism. However, a female Strange would be excellent. Can you imagine a Sorceress Supreme battling cosmic forces that break the minds of lesser humans?

And what about Gina Torres or Aisha Tyler as She-Hulk? Think about it.

This is all speculation, but honestly, Marvel needs this. DC would have no hope of catching up.

Until Orci & Kurtzman write Iron Man Into Darkness, Make Mine Marvel!

Find The Flaws

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Writers are human beings. With the exception of any NSA parsing programs or Google search generators or the like, readers tend to be human beings, too. And something that all human beings have in common is that they’re flawed. I’m sure some pundits and others would disagree, but every person on the face of the planet makes mistakes. As a writer, if you want your audience to relate to the characters in the story you write, your characters should have flaws, too.

A character with flaws is more believable, and it’s easier for the audience to sympathize with them as they can see their own struggles in the words and depictions, and exalt with the characters when they succeed (if they succeed). A ‘perfect’ character is a lot more difficult for people to relate to, and it’s a problem you can see in a lot of fiction out there. I’m sure you can think of some examples.

By way of examples of flawed characters, let’s look at Steve Rogers.

I know what you’re thinking. “Captain America? Flawed? He’s a super soldier! He’s a good person and a nice guy! How is he flawed?” His old-fashioned sensibilities make him relatively humble and willing to help people out, for certain, but he isn’t perfect. Those same thought patterns, habits, and viewpoints are out of sync with the modern age. In holding onto those aspects of himself, Steve shows that he can be a bit stubborn, even bull-headed, in the face of change and personalities that clash with his. He has a few moments in The Avengers where he has it out with Tony Stark, and if the previews for The Winter Soldier are to be believed, his optimistic view of how things should be is going to get him into a heap of trouble.

The thing I like about Cap’s flaws is that they’re surmountable. They open avenues for change. The great thing about organic, human characters is that they are not limited to a single arc. The problem with a lot of sequels is that they extend the story but do nothing for their characters. A good writer knows that keeping their characters from achieving perfection by the end of one story leaves the door open for future tales with the same characters. I’m a big fan of subtle sequel hooks, and these are some of the best ones a writer can employ. So the more flaws you can find in your characters, the better the experience will be both for your writing and for those who choose to read it.

What are some of your favorite characters with flaws? What’s a good example of a character overcoming a flaw but having others left to challenge them in stories to come?

Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World

If you look over Norse myths in their original forms, you can see why Marvel pulled ideas from its pantheon. The bombastic, fiery personalities of the gods of Asgard fit the hyperbole and spectacle of comic books very well. Jack Kirby’s imagination brought these characters to vibrant life, making their designs colorful and outlandish. The film adaptation of Thor transitioned Jack’s vision to the big screen for modern audiences, The Avengers brought these demi-gods into contact with the more grounded aspects of the interconnected narrative, and now Thor: The Dark World aims to expand the scope of its own ambition to make both its own stage and that of the Marvel cinematic universe that much wider.

Courtesy Marvel Studios

Thor’s appearance alongside Iron Man and Captain America was no accident. Having reclaimed his birthright and gained a sense of humility and perspective, the son of Odin set about bringing peace to the Nine Realms, defeating forces set on destruction and trying to bring peace instead of the war he sought with Jotunheim. In Asgard’s past, this initiative often took a darker form, and Svartalfheim, former home of the dark elves, was rendered nearly lifeless after the war that raged there centuries ago. However, the dark elf king Malekith survived with some of his followers, and awakens to seek a deadly force known as the Aether to help him have his revenge on Asgard. The perfect time for this is a convergence of the Nine Realms, which begins to play with primordial forces like gravity on Earth, bringing it to the attention of astrophysicist Jane Foster, who still anticipates the return of Thor. To defeat Malekith and save all of the worlds he knows, Thor must forge an alliance with one of most treacherous creatures ever known: his adopted half-brother, Loki.

It’s pretty obvious from the outset that Thor: The Dark World has a story to tell, and wishes to waste no time doing it. The film is front-loaded with a depiction of the ancient war with the dark elves, and much of the first half of the film is filled with dialog that is largely expository. Only the barest of connections is drawn to the previous films, and one gets the impression that the film’s writers just assume that anybody seeing this one has already seen everything leading up to it. While it’s not an unfair assumption to make, anybody new to the universe in the audience may end up a little bit lost. Still, it’s good to be back in Asgard, and as much as there’s a lot of ground to cover story-wise, the story that we get isn’t necessarily bad. It just suffers from a little bit of a pacing problem.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
You’d think they’d be more reluctant to turn their backs on Loki.

The other drawback to being so concerned with checking off story points to make sure nobody’s lost or confused is that character moments take a back seat. This is a shame, because this is a very talented cast with interesting characters to portray. Thor and Loki, in particular, have both grown and changed since the previous films. Thor is much more agreeable and humane, acting a great deal more like DC’s Superman than Superman did in Man of Steel. When Asgard is attacked and the damage severe, it is Thor who argues with Odin for a solution that doesn’t lead to more war and destruction, which is a clever reversal of their roles from the first film. As for Loki, his defeats have left him frustrated and malicious, but not in a monomaniacal myopic sort of way. Even moreso than before, he’s a calculating and conniving character, deceptively charming and absolutely deadly, especially when underestimated. It’s clear that Marvel knows how much he’s admired by fans, even though he’s clearly still an ambitious and traitorous creature. I would have liked to see more of these two, but what we get is pretty good.

Once the story gets done setting up all of its dominoes, though, the resulting spectacle is undeniably fun. Thor: The Dark World feels even more like something lifted from the likes of Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon than the previous film, and it hits all of the right chords to provide that surge of excitement and adventure from exotic new worlds and epic battles. It continues the Marvel tradition of eschewing darker, more brooding takes on comic book characters, and maintains the bright and vibrant palette of the first film. Unlike Iron Man 2, this movie is more concerned with taking us for a pretty wild ride all its own rather than pulling together threads from elsewhere in the Marvel Universe. Oh, the pulling together does happen here and there, it’s just mostly contained to the first few scenes of the film, and one of the stingers at the end of the credits, which incidentally makes me more jazzed than ever for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
Maybe if he’d had some coffee after his 5000 year nap, Malekith would’ve been less cranky.

In the end, Thor: The Dark World is a success. It builds on the established worlds and characters of the first film, but does much more with them in various ways to expand the scope and raise the stakes. I would have liked more character moments and a bit less up-front exposition, and there was so much character-building and so little compelling story in the first film it almost feel like this one’s overcompensating. However, this won’t keep me from recommending the film. It’s most definitely a great time at the movies, and especially after the story setup is done, feels more grand and exciting than the original. It ranks highly among the Marvel movies, and I definitely believe it’s worth your time and money.

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

It would be hard for even the detractors of comic book geekdom to look at The Avengers and not consider it a success story. Years of planning and careful construction of disparate narratives culimated in a single cinematic experience that, to this day, nerds like me have yet to tire of watching. The whole shebang kicked off with Iron Man, which remains the only Marvel movie franchise to have sequels attached to it. The first was the ambitious but somewhat ambling Iron Man 2, and the second opens this year’s blockbuster season, and it’s called Iron Man 3.

Courtesy Marvel Studios

Right from the start, it’s clear that the events of The Avengers have had a lasting impact on Tony Stark, our favorite genius billionaire playboy philanthropist. Not only did he survive fighting alongside gods and super-soldiers, he carried a nuclear missile through a wormhole to annihilate an entire army, if not a civilization. Lacking sleep and suffering anxiety attacks, Tony throws himself into his work, building suit after suit, alienating his friends and even distancing himself from Pepper, who just moved in with him. But before he can be confronted with these issues, a bombing takes place that involves no known bombing techniques and puts his friend, Happy Hogan, in a coma. Tony immediately vows revenge and calls out the man responsible, the international terrorist known only as the Mandarin. Stark even tells the man his home address, because smart as he is, sometimes his ego gets in his way.

The first two Iron Man films were directed by Jon Favreau, the second with a great deal of input (or, more accurately, interference) from Marvel Studios. This time around, the reigns were handed to Shane Black, director of what was arguably Robert Downey Jr.’s best movie before Iron Man, a little noir favorite of mine called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The difference shows, in that this film strikes a very different tone from the first two. It simultaneously works on darker themes and moods than the others, and has more humorous and human moments. It’s the noir-flavored atmosphere and focus on character that make Iron Man 3 worth a watch from the very start.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
The Mk. 43 Classy Armor includes a champagne dispenser and built-in jazz soundtrack.

Either by coincidence or design, Iron Man 3 feels somewhat like The Dark Knight Rises, in Tony spends less time in his Iron Man armor than in previous tales, much like Bruce Wayne was Batman less often in his third Nolan film. We get a great deal of time with Tony Stark without his toys, taking him back to a state of working with a box of scraps to get out of his jams. Seeing him with little to rely on but his intellect felt like a return to the fundamentals of his character. At the same time, the floodgates opened by The Avengers means that more outrageous aspects born of the comic books can enter the arena. Tony’s opponents are more super-powered than ever, but thankfully, they’re more than just a guy wearing a suit or controlling drones similar to Stark’s designs. All of the suits are on Stark’s side this time; and I do mean all of them.

The film isn’t without its flaws. First and foremost, the ladies could have been given more to do. Rebecca Hall’s character especially could have easily been fleshed out beyond establishing or developing plot points. I like what they did with Pepper Potts overall, but towards the end of the movie I felt like she could have rescued herself more. A few Shane Black quirks may play on the nerves of some audience members, from the Christmas setting to the juxtaposition of its more noir-ish elements with the comic book stuff. And then there’s the stuff that will REALLY piss people off – which I will discuss in tomorrow’s post.

Courtesy Marvel Studios
Well-shot, earnest, and powerful scenes. A well-constructed film all around.

Stuff I Liked: Who doesn’t like all of the armor shenanigans? Happy’s bits are worth a laugh. I like the callbacks to previous films throughout the story – it makes everything feel more connected and coherent. JARVIS continues to be great, and the kid didn’t annoy me.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: I’m glad the film ended the way it did – Tony having all of that armor at his disposal would make future encounters way too easy.
Stuff I Loved: Tony’s character has grown, and it really shows in places. I love that he and Pepper still have their chemistry. The improvised fighting Tony has to do in the second act really pleased me, I’m glad Pepper got in on the action, I enjoyed every scene with Rhodey, and Ben Kingsley just killed it. Guy Pearce felt completely transformative, which was quite appropriate.

Bottom Line: Between its earnest character building and the variable nature of the threat and villainy, I’m going to say I liked Iron Man 3 more than its predecessor. It’s not quite as good as the first film featuring Tony Stark, but it comes close at times. I have the feeling I’m going to like it more on repeated viewings, and I definitely intend to buy this one for that purpose. It has snappy dialog, well-shot action, inventive storytelling turns, and it’s full of actors I like – Iron Man 3 is a winner.

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