Posts Tagged ‘Marvel

30
Apr
15

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

0430_01-DOM

Seven summers ago there was an idea . . . the idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people to see if they could become something more. To see if they could work together when we needed them to, to make the movies that that no one else could.

From his first foray into what we now refer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with 2008’s Iron Man, president of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige collected talent and creatives and guided them on a path to create the largest “universe” of films anyone has seen. Forget the characters on screen. Names like Joss Whedon, Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, and Scarlett Johansson are now real life Avengers. And Feige, he’s the real world equivalent of Nick Fury; ever so astutely manipulating storylines and stars as deftly as Fury could manipulate secrets and spies.Flash forward to 2015 and that Marvel machine shows no signs of stopping. Avengers: Age of Ultron is the second film in the MCU that brings together the “group of remarkable people” we know as the Avengers. With the Battle of New York now three years past, we join right in as the team is in the heat of battle; still cleaning up Hydra agents from the events that took place in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

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Flash forward to 2015 and the Marvel machine shows no signs of stopping. Avengers: Age of Ultron is the second film in the MCU that brings together the “group of remarkable people” we know as the Avengers. With the Battle of New York now three years past, we jump right in as the team is in the heat of battle; still cleaning up Hydra agents from the events that took place in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

In an effort to close the book on Hydra, the Avengers are tracking down Loki’s scepter (which we last saw in Hydra’s possession in The Winter Soldier and which Phil Coulson discovered intel on its whereabouts in this week’s Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD). Having neutralized the Hydra threat, the Avengers discover that Hydra has a focus on collecting Inhumans–a sub-race of humans who possess special abilities. Hydra’s Inhumans, aka The Twins, aka Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (also seen at the end of The Winter Soldier), manipulate Tony Stark and turn his fears from the Battle of New York against him which leads him to create Ultron–initially a protocol of automated Iron Man suits to fight large threats and protect the human race; but morphs into an evil artificial intelligence bent on “protecting” humanity by destroying it.

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Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson join the cast as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. They’re more Inhuman than human.

 Avengers: Age of Ultron has all the action that you’d expect from an Avenger movie. While we’ve gotten some cool action sequences in the stand alone Avenger films, it’s totally amped up in Age of Ultron since in nearly every scene you’ve got at least two Avengers working together. A lot of action scenes in the film are fun because the Avengers are fighting together, working as a team, and riffing off of each other’s weaponry and special talents. When you see Captain America whipping his shield around, Black Widow catching it, throwing it back to him–but knocking bad guys into the air, with Iron Man flying in and repulsor blasting said bad guys in mid air and then finishing off with Thor slamming his hammer down on Cap’s shield creating a shockwave that knocks everyone out . . . you can’t help but crack a smile on your face because yes, this is what superhero team-up movies are supposed to be.

Whedon’s comedic stamp is still all over the film as well. From the quick one-liners during battle (Cap’s chastising of Iron Man’s “language”), to our heroes being self-deprecating with one another, to fun scenes of comradery (like say when you’re hanging out after a party and everyone tries to lift Thor’s hammer); all the little touches and flourishes of humor that made the first Avengers so fun is still here as well.

Great action and fun laughs aren’t the only things that Age of Ultron gives us. It also does some table setting for Phase III and also subtly explain other goings on in the MCU. Things like “well where was Hawkeye when all that stuff with SHIELD going down” are in fact addressed and answered (no, he wasn’t just appearing on Fallon). Then there’s the role call of cameos from supporting characters from many of the other stand alone films. Not only do we get to see War Machine and Falcon, but we also get the inclusion of two new Avengers as well (spoiler alert–it’s The Twins). We all know that Marvel can’t keep this train with the core group of Avengers going forever. They literally can’t afford to as the actor’s salaries will keep getting higher with each passing movie. The next logical step is to bring in new blood and set things up for a changing of the guard. I mean, in the comic books the Avengers are a big team of superheroes so it only makes sense that new Avengers are introduced in Age of Ultron.

Where did you come from where did you go? Where did you come from cotten eye Hawkeye?

Hawkeye’s still super as they are.

In a similar vein, Age of Ultron also moves us ever so closer to the next Avengers film three years from now: Infinity War. From the discovery of the tesseract in Captain America: The First Avenger to the outright explanation of the Infinity Stones in last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, you can’t help but notice that these items seem to be the most power artifacts in the universe if everyone is out to get them. While I won’t give too much away from Age of Ultron, the Infinity Stones are referenced several times in the film. If one by itself commands so much power, just imagine an enemy who possesses all of them.

If there was one thing that felt a little out of place in Age of Ultron, it would have to be the developing relationship between Bruce and Natasha. We saw a few hints at this in the first Avengers film. In Age of Ultron, it is in full bloom. What I found out of place about it was that I thought it was completely unnecessary. Did they want to keep the female audience interested by introducing a romance element to the story? Who knows. What I do know is this . . . you have a strong female character in your comic book movie (something in short supply and high demand at the moment) and you give her character weepy eyes throughout the film? Sure they gave us some backstory and point of view moments for her, but I think the end result was not worth adding that in. Talk about sidelining your character–it just makes her character look that much more vulnerable on a team packed with powers.

DID YOU ORDER THE CODE GREEN???

DID YOU ORDER THE CODE GREEN???

While Avengers: Age of Ultron does deliver the fun, I couldn’t help feeling that something was missing after the movie was done. I laughed and I cheered throughout the movie and yet I didn’t feel as good as I did when I got out of seeing The Avengers. The best way to equate this is probably to The Dark Knight and The Dark Night Rises. With The Dark Knight being as good as it was, expectations for it’s follow up were sky high. When The Dark Knight Rises came out, due to those high expectations, many people felt that Rises was a bit of a letdown. And that what we’ve got going on here.

Pound dog!

Pound dog!

Though Ultron is a diabolical foe, the entire movie feels a bit like more of what we wanted from the first Avengers movie but just didn’t have time to have in there. There wasn’t anything that special that blew me away. This time around we don’t have the novelty of seeing these guys come together for the first time. Don’t get me wrong, there were some great scenes and I did enjoy myself throughout the film, but at the end of the day I thought Ultron was just another bad guy in the long list of Marvel bad guys that got left in the dust. What he did was the typical things that we’d expect any one-note bad guy to do: he came up with a plan to destroy the world, he got the Avengers to fight each other, and he had the whole multiple versions of himself going for him. With all of that, none of it left a lasting impression on me.

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To be sure, I’ll see this movie a couple more times in theaters. And like I mentioned at the top, Marvel has nothing to fear in regards to their universe slowing down anytime soon. Feige, Whedon, and the entire cast have put together something that is special. What I’m hoping we get next time is a movie that “becomes something more” and is not just more of the same.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is now playing in theaters worldwide.

4 / 5 stars // rated PG-13 // 2h 21min

 

31
Jul
14

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

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They’re really not a bunch of a-holes.

With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel makes a bold move by taking a cast of characters that not a lot of people are familiar with and gives them the big screen treatment. While at this point any film within the Marvel Universe might seem too big to fail (The Avengers $1.5 billion worldwide, Captain America: The Winter Soldier $713 million worldwide), Guardians will be a proving ground of sorts for them. Should Guardians flop it could signal that smaller comic properties might not work. Should it prove to be as successful as the other Marvel Universe films, Marvel can start printing their own money because then they will be able to turn nearly any character or property into a new franchise.

I am here to tell you that Marvel has nothing to worry about.

Guardians of the Galaxy marks Marvel’s first foray into outer space. While we got to see some of that in The Avengers, Guardians wholly takes the action off of Earth. It centers around a ragtag group of unlikely alien outlaws that come together to stop an evil psychopath from destroying peaceful civilizations. Though it does sound kind of out there, it’s got Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the voices of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel to give you some sense of familiarity.

I'm Star-Lord man.

I’m Star-Lord man.

One of my biggest concerns going into the film was that I’ve always felt space based or cosmic characters really have their work cut out for them. With nothing to ground them here on Earth, how are audiences supposed to relate to characters that have nothing to do with us? Guardians gives us relatability straight off the bat with the origin story of our protagonist Peter Quill. Even before the film’s title is shown we see the circumstances around Peter’s abduction from Earth as a kid. Even though in the very next sequence we see Peter all grown up as the dashing and good looking Star-Lord, there is a sense that probably deep down inside of him, being away from his family is something he probably thinks about from time to time.

A lost child far from home and taken away from his family; that’s a fear that any parent can tell you they’ve thought about at some point in their parenting careers. With that in mind, it gives the audience an instant connection to Quill and a way to buy in to the movie.

While we get an instant connection to Quill in the first ten minutes of the film, both as a kid and as an adult, the rest of the team doesn’t get as much definition character-wise. Unlike The Avengers, Guardians doesn’t have the luxury of films building up characters and leading into the team-up. In this film, we meet each of the Guardians for the first time and everything we find out about them is built up through their actions and conversations in the film.

GuardiansDraxGroot

I am Groot.

From the trailer we are told that Star-Lord is a thief, Gamora is an assassin, Drax is a maniac, and Rocket and Groot are thugs; they shed these labels fairly quickly after their introductions. Once the Guardians come together and start working with one another; that’s when the film really starts to become fun. We get to see how each of them think, how they carry themselves in a fight, and their vulnerabilities as well.

Quill is easily the character that’s most relatable to us since his is the lone human in the film. Out of all the characters though, it’s Rocket and Groot that I enjoyed the most. With CGI characters, it’s sometimes a gamble because what you’re seeing isn’t a real raccoon or a tree that’s a living being. Since we know they’re fake, how do believe them as characters? Guardians answers this by making them nuanced and very well defined. The way Rocket talks, what he says, and how he acts and reacts in situations makes him a smart and savvy guy who people underestimate not only because of his size, but because they perceive him as a rodent as well. Rocket overcomes this by proving his worth in a number of situations in the film that allow him to showcase his smarts and make him more than a raccoon bent on destruction.

GuardiansRocket

I need that guy’s leg.

Groot meanwhile, he doesn’t say that much; in fact he only says one line repeatedly throughout the film. It’s the way he says it and his mannerisms that tell us about him. He is the straight man to Rocket’s wild man. Probably what I loved most about him is that everyone seems to understand exactly what he’s saying even though to the audience he’s only saying one line. It’s like he has his own language that only people in the movie understand while we in the audience have to decipher it–which isn’t too challenging because the context of each scene informs us pretty well as to how he’s responding.

What helps these two CGI characters to be even more believable is that Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel change their voices ever so slightly that they’re not readily identifiable by them. Sometimes when you have a prominent star playing an animated or CGI character, having them use their regular voice takes you out of the film as you see the star behind the voice and not the character they’re trying to portray. That’s not the case here. Never once did I see Cooper or Vin, just Rocket and Groot. With great character building and solid voice work, these two characters blend so well into the fabric of the film that after a certain point I believed they were real.

Gamora and Drax on the other hand I felt could have used a little more development. While we sort of find out Gamora’s background, her motivations for becoming a Guardian aren’t all that clear. Same sort of thing goes for Drax. Quill, Rocket, Groot, and Gamora meet up with Drax while in prison and then he joins the party pretty willingly when he has a big ax to grind with Gamora. One thing I really liked about Drax though is that they made his character very learned and matched it with the way he spoke. From what little knowledge I have of his character from the comics, I thought he wasn’t as smart as they made him in the film. The way he spoke blew me away as I really wasn’t expecting that and it also provided some hilarious situations as well.

Going green in Trek isn't as cool as going green in Guardians.

Going green in Trek isn’t as cool as going green in Guardians.

While overall I liked the characters and the way they interacted with one another, my biggest quibble with the film (and it’s a minor one at best) is the way the Guardians came together. I felt that they banded together a bit too easily. It probably has a lot to do with how the motivations of Gamora and Drax aren’t fully made clear, so when a team up is suggested it doesn’t feel fully authentic. It was as if they shed their initial reservations about the others too willingly. I know this is Guardians of the Galaxy, so at some point they were ultimately going to join forces, but unlike The Avengers where we knew where each of them were coming from, since this film is doing a lot more, some plot elements don’t get their due–character motivations and setup being two of them.

Once the film gets past this hurdle and the Guardians do come together, that’s when the film really starts to take off and live up to the exuberance that you feel from the trailers. Each of the characters plays to their strengths and you see how they work well together. Groot and Drax are their heavy hitters for sure. Gamora can hold her own, but her inside information is what really helps the team. And while Rocket sort of feels like savviest Guardian among them, Quill’s cunning tempers Rocket’s negligence. That is why Quill makes a great leader for them. While everyone else sort of only sees their goals for the mission, Quill uses his wit to focus their individual motivations and bring them together. That’s why he’s Star-Lord man!

With each Marvel film contributing to the makeup of the overall Marvel Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy does its fair share of world building. While I won’t give away any of the easter eggs or reveals from the film, it did make me wonder if some of this extra universe building was really necessary.

No, Merle from The Walking Dead isn't the easter egg you're looking for.

No, Merle from The Walking Dead isn’t the easter egg you’re looking for.

In the last Marvel film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there is a major universe changing event that happens that will definitely affect all Earth based Avenger films that come afterward. Back then I wondered whether this world building was at the expense of telling Cap’s story similarly to how the Stark/Iron Man story was sidelined by all the SHIELD stuff in Iron Man 2.

Ultimately, the universe building in Guardians isn’t on the level of The Winter Soldier or even Iron Man 2, but I did still feel that the underlying storyline that they added in was a little hamfisted and should have either been left out of the film or integrated better. They could have even saved something like that for the post movie credit scenes that they so love to include.

One of the fun things about Guardians is its soundtrack. Unlike almost all of the other Marvel films that predominantly only have a film score (instrumental music), Guardians of the Galaxy utilizes a soundtrack that not only adds some fun and nostalgia to the film, but gives the audience another connection back to Earth as well. I would venture to guess that anyone over the age of 25 will have heard most of the tunes in the film like Blue Suede’s Hooked on a Feeling or Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love among others. Subtly though, the soundtrack is another way that connects the audience back to Earth. Because we know these songs and we know that these are Quill’s jams, that gives us relatability to his character and gets us to buy into the film that much more.

Overall Guardians of the Galaxy is a solid film and I don’t perceive Marvel having a flop anytime soon. With another great superhero team on their hands who knows what Marvel will be able to do next. Do they bring out lesser known Avengers to feed into this universe? It’s totally possible, they can’t keep the core group of Avengers indefinitely so phasing the older guys out but keep making Avengers movies with new Avengers definitely makes sense. Now that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded into outer space, the sky isn’t the limit anymore. The Guardians of the Galaxy have made sure of that.

Cinematic Scene: Guardian Battle Planning

“Cinematic Scene” is an effort to bring light to some of the more technically creative and/or emotionally charged scenes in the film and lives at the end of each review to discuss these noteworthy scenes. Whether it’s fancy camera work, brilliant use of special effects, or heart wrenching acting; I will pick one notable scene from the film that you should pay attention to.

“Cinematic Scene” is an effort to bring light to some of the more technically creative and/or emotionally charged scenes in the film and lives at the end of each review to discuss these noteworthy scenes. Whether it’s fancy camera work, brilliant use of special effects, or heart wrenching acting; I will pick one notable scene from the film that you should pay attention to.

While there are many fun and action packed scenes in the film, it’s a quieter one that enjoyed the most. It comes just a bit before a big battle in the film while the Guardians are talking with one another and trying to strategize. I would say that it’s in this scene in the film where we can finally call them a team. No longer are they worried about the smaller things that they were concerned with when we are first introduced to them at the beginning of the film. In this scene they are all finally on the same page, opening up to one another, and are thinking as a single unit. Of course they banter and jest as well, and that definitely is part of their team dynamic, but it’s this one moment that stands out because finally, they do become the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Guardians of the Galaxy is now playing in theaters everywhere.

4/5 stars // rated PG-13 // 2hr 2min

01
Apr
14

Assembling a Universe I: High Profile Talent

Assembling a Universe is the first in a two part series (and potentially ongoing series) that takes a look at Marvel's strategy in building their cinematic universe. Pictured above, the announcement of The Avengers at the 2010 Comic Con.

Assembling a Universe is the first in a two part series (and potentially ongoing series) that takes a look at Marvel’s strategy in building their cinematic universe. Pictured above, the announcement of The Avengers at the 2010 Comic Con.

The gambit of Marvel’s Avengers Phase I paid off in dividends two years ago with the monumental release of The Avengers. Nothing like it had ever been undertaken before and it’s quite surprising that no one had attempted it sooner given the franchise film model that all the studios are currently operating under. Now that all the other studios are trying to chase Marvel, not only does it seem that they were ahead of the curve in every sense when building this mega franchise, but they seem to be really good at it as well.

Consider this, none of the Marvel films (post Iron Man) has been a flop and though not every film tops the last release, none has ever earned less than $370 million worldwide (not a lot when compared with the $1.5 billion that The Avengers made, but still a lot when you consider that Captain America–a film with ‘America’ in its title, is a hard sell in foreign markets). So what’s their secret then? Really, really well planning. In our first of two posts on ‘Building a Marvel Universe’ we take a look at one of the smart decisions that Marvel has made with their films: getting high profile talent.

This week marks the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Joining series regulars Chris Evans (Captain America), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) will be Academy Award winning Robert Redford. Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman, two Oscar winners, star in Marvel’s Thor franchise, most recently last year’s Thor: The Dark World. Back in late December we also saw the announcement that another Oscar winning actor, Michael Douglas, would star in Marvel’s forthcoming Antman movie.

Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson debating the merits of foreign policy in The Winter Soldier.

Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson debating who should star in the next Marvel film in a scene from The Winter Soldier.

If you were to just look these names alone, you think that we were gathering actors together for an Oscar winner photoshoot. How about we throw in a few more names: Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Jeff Bridges, Mickey Rourke, Glenn Close, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, and Paul Rudd. While not all of them are Oscar winners, they all are recognizable actors. What they all have in common is that they are a very important part of the world building that is the Marvel cinematic universe.

To fully realize the scope of what Marvel is undertaking, there are a couple of key questions that we need to answer; the first of which is, why are high profile actors signing up for comic book movies? Sure, we’ve always had big names in superhero movies (Jack Nicholson in Batman, Wesley Snipes in Blade, and Arnold Schwarzenegger & George Clooney in Batman & Robin), but it’s never been anything on the scale of what Marvel is putting together.

The first and most obvious answer is money and work. By nature of franchises and tv series the longer they run, the more cast members are paid for reprising their roles in future installments. While many think all actors make quite the pretty penny, by taking a gig with Marvel, an actor knows they will have job stability over the course of several years in a couple of different films.

Yes, Joss Whedon can do this all he wants after the success of the first Avengers.

Yes, Joss Whedon can do this all he wants after the success of the first Avengers.

These type of franchise films not only get actors paid, but it also affords them a certain amount of clout to work on other films that are of interest to them (independent or pet project films). Would Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Joss Whedon be where they are right now if it wasn’t for their roles in the Marvel cinematic universe? Sure Downey, Evans, and Whedon were known names in Hollywood before Marvel’s Avengers movies came along, but none of them were bankable or A-list. Having a leading role in an Avengers movie (or shepherding in Whedon’s case) or two gives you something that sought after and is difficult to attain . . . box office bank-ability.

Believe it or not Chris Evans turned down the role of Captain America several times before he got a call from Robert Downey Jr. convincing him to take the role. From Variety:

“I remember getting on the phone with him and strongly suggesting that he not shrink away from the offer,” Downey says. “I said, ‘Look man, you might not like the fact that you’ve played one of these guys before (in “Fantastic Four”), but you know, the thing is this can afford you all sorts of other freedoms,’ ”

later . . .

For Evans, the “Captain America” experience has been mostly positive. He credits the series with enabling him to land his dream job. “Without these movies, I wouldn’t be directing,” he reckons. “They gave me enough overseas recognition to greenlight a movie. And if I’m speaking extremely candidly, it’s going to continue to do that for as long as the Marvel contract runs.”

Evans first film as a director, 1:30 Train, is currently in post production and he hopes to start on his second film as a director after filming on Avengers 2 wraps later this summer. As stated in his interview, these types of projects wouldn’t be available to Evans if not for his role in the Marvel cinematic universe.

And even a third reason for actors joining up with Marvel is just plain curiosity and genuine interest. From IGN.com:

“One of the reasons that I did [Captain America: The Winter Soldier] was I wanted to experience this new form of filmmaking that’s taken over where you have kind of cartoon characters brought to life through high technology,” [Robert] Redford explains. “The Avengers series is a product of high technology playing a major role in the new order of filmmaking so I wanted to experience that—I just wanted to know what that was like and I had that opportunity, so for me it was like stepping into new terrain just to experience what it was like.”

So while the big name stars that Marvel brings in to populate their world get more than just a nice payday for being in their films; what does Marvel get out of it? This is where things start to get interesting. At the surface level, you put known actors in your film and you already bring a sense of heightened awareness for it. People recognize them, and by extension, put the film on their radar. A secondary surface level benefit is that you put an established actor in a role and you know you’re going to get a good solid performance out of them. Granted you ultimately don’t know what kind of performance you have until the film is finished, but any filmmaker will tell you that casting the right actor is key for any film. Those with a proven track record, who deliver time and again, give filmmakers and audiences a certain confidence about a film.

How about this for gravitas, Hannibal Lecter himself Anthony Hopkins plays Odin in the Marvel cinematic universe. He'll eat other superheroes for breakfast with fava beans and a nice chianti.

How about this for gravitas, Hannibal Lecter himself Anthony Hopkins plays Odin in the Marvel cinematic universe. He’ll eat other superheroes for breakfast with fava beans and a nice chianti.

On a larger scale and most importantly, Marvel gives these films and this world a certain sense of credibility by having these types of actors in their films. Counting all of the Marvel films released to date as well as those coming out this year, there are 19 Academy Award nominated actors starring in nine films, six of which are Academy Award winners (to give you some perspective, the Harry Potter series only has 12 spread across eight films). Add to that a number of actors who may not be nominated, but still provide high quality work and are recognizable, and you have a sizeable pool of actors who moviegoers know and love. By having quality actors in a film, it gives Marvel a strong foundation to build their cinematic universe upon as well as a sense of legitimacy. Part of the message sent is “we’re serious about these movies and we want you to come see them.” And it’s with this credibility that Marvel is using to build and sustain their shared universe.

Marvel has embarked on something that has never been done before in cinema–create a set of films that exist in the same universe. We’re not talking about franchises and franchise building like Peter Jackson and the Tolkien movies or Harry Potter; while those film exist in the same universe, they are all essentially one long story. This is all old hat.

No, Marvel’s shared universe is a bit different. They are producing a game changer. While every other studio out there is jumping on the “EPIC group superhero movie” bandwagon (Fox with another X-Men movie and Sony with multiple Spider-Man movies), Marvel is paving the way for something bigger. After the success of The Avengers, Marvel has moved on to what they call “Phase II.” While many think that Phase II is just building to another Avengers movie much like the Phase I of Marvel films did, Phase II is more than that. It will ultimately lay the groundwork for an entire universe of superheroes and potentially endless supply of movies. If Avengers 1 was a gamble that paid off, the impending success of a second Avengers movie will not only solidify the Avengers series of films, but open the door for Marvel to further populate this universe that they’ve created. The are ultimately out to create a goose that will lay them an endless supply of golden eggs.

While the superhero films of the late 90s/early 00s introduced us to the modern superhero film (Blade, X-Men, Raimi’s Spider-Man), Marvel has established it as an official genre; with the actors that they recruit to be in their films being an important cog in the larger machine. You see a universe of this size, it needs strong supports to hold it up. High caliber actors provide this type of support.

Phase I . . . Assembled. Now on to Phase II.

Phase I . . . Assembled. Now on to Phase II.

We know that the stories from Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy compose Marvel’s Phase II and lead up to next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, none of this would be possible if we as an audience didn’t believe in the characters that populate this universe. While franchises come and go, having an entire ‘universe’ of films to draw from does carry a certain gravity with it. Through calculated and shrewd decision making, Marvel’s casting of well acted and reliable talent for their films gives them an excellent foundation to build their universe.

Is part of Marvel’s success due to the shrewd casting of high profile actors in their films? Tell us what you think and more in the comments.

04
May
13

Review: Iron Man 3

0504_01-FaceplateDOM

Riding high off last year’s mega-blockbuster The Avengers, Marvel starts off the summer again with Iron Man 3, this time though back to one superhero leading the way instead of seven. While Tony Stark and Iron Man are no strangers to the summer blockbuster season (they’ve kicked them off before in 2008 and 2010), this time things are different. We are now in a post-Avengers Phase 2 type of world. The stakes are bigger and so are the bad guys. And what bigger foe for Tony and Iron Man to face than his comic book nemesis, The Mandarin!

The Mandarin . . . I know this will be a sticking point to a lot of fans of the comic books or fans who know the history of The Mandarin, and I’m going to address this right off the bat. I thought what they did with the Mandarin was actually okay. One of the things I was most worried about going in was how his character was going to come across onscreen. Even though I wasn’t blown away by the character in the film, I was satisfied with his storyline and how Ben Kingsley played him. That is all I have to say about The Mandarin.

Don't call him Mandy. You wouldn't like to see him when you call him Mandy.

Don’t call him Mandy. You wouldn’t like it when you call him Mandy.

There were a couple of things in the film that just didn’t quite do it for me though, first and foremost being the heavy use of visual effects and CGI. From the Mark 42 armor components to Tony’s different suits of armor to human beings hopped up on Extremis, there was a lot of CGI work going on here. Realistically speaking, anytime we don’t see Robert Downey, Jr.‘s face the Iron Man suit is most likely a CGI representation. While it’s okay since it has been like this since the first Iron Man, the piling on of even more CGI characters was a bit much for me. In a world where nothing “feels” real, it was really hard to get into these epic action sequences when you know what you’re seeing on screen were all pixels. Beautifully done pixels, but still pixels nonetheless. The stakes just didn’t feel the same when you don’t believe a character or a representation of a character isn’t a bit more tangible. Other than pretty stuff happening onscreen, there wasn’t as much for me to latch on to, and I found myself just a little bit less invested in what was going on.

Then there was the story. We all know that from the trailer, Iron Man takes on The Mandarin. What bothered me though was the resolution of a secondary storyline where Tony is suffering anxiety from what happened to him in New York with the Avengers. It’s beautifully set up, but I didn’t think it was resolved in a way that was totally satisfying. Tony has been struggling with this post-traumatic stress, and he’s been trying to find ways to overcome it, save seeing a doctor. His friends are worried, and all the elements seemed to be there for him to rise from the ashes like the phoenix that we all know he can be. Exactly how he has his “breakthrough” though seemed contrived and not at all authentic to what was going on in the story. I can’t really say more without getting into spoilers, but yeah, there was just something about Tony’s journey to overcome his post-Avengers anxiety that I just didn’t buy into.

Iron Patriot = War Machine Extreme Makeover: Marketing Edition

Iron Patriot = War Machine Extreme Makeover: Marketing Edition

Not to sound too negative though, there are a lot of fun things about Iron Man 3. Front and center would have to be humor that director Shane Black brings to the film. While Joss Whedon brought an off-the-wall geeky comedic vibe to The Avengers, Black brings his dark and awkwardly funny humor that fans will recognize from Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Just some of the banter that Tony has with other characters in the film and a ton of really embarrassing and awkward moments that happen throughout the film, some in life and death situations… I thought all of it was really fun and made the movie almost an action comedy.

And what kind of an Iron Man movie would this be without the addition of new Iron Man armor? Tony’s latest armor, the Mark 42, has two things that make it unique: 1) the suit can be controlled remotely by Tony, and 2) its components can operate and travel separate from one another. While you wouldn’t think this second trait is that impressive, it comes in quite handy as the armor does not have to be put on as a whole unit. In one scene Tony calls for the entire Mark 42, but only one of its hands and a single boot piece show up. With just these two parts of his suit, Tony still manages to utilize them to great effect to take out a couple of henchmen till the rest of the suit shows up. With Tony being able to control the suit and its components remotely, it  made for some fun action sequences.

0504_04-TonyAndMark42

Tony Stark totally pwns on X-Box.

Finally, probably the best sequence in the entire film is the one that was teased during the Super Bowl where Air Force One is going down, requiring Iron Man to save a bunch of people that have fallen out of the plane. It’s one of those conundrums where the hero has a decision to make about who he should save, a decision usually where it seems someone will still have to be sacrificed in order for someone else to be saved. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time as the gears in Tony’s head were working up a plan, the ground is getting closer, and he and Jarvis are trying to save everyone. Definitely the highlight of the film.

At the end of the night Iron Man 3 sends Tony Stark, Iron Man, and Marvel’s Phase 2 off on a good foot. It integrates the fallout from The Avengers without seeming as ham-fisted as the S.H.I.E.L.D. storyline was in Iron Man 2 and also gives us a pretty decent Iron Man standalone movie as well. With great action and visuals, Iron Man 3 kicks off summer with a (repulsor) blast.

Iron Man 3 is now playing in theaters everywhere.

Rating 3.5/5 stars // PG-13 // 2h 10m

30
Oct
12

Disney’s Acquisition of Star Wars

Wise is Yoda.

The Walt Disney Company sent the collective movie world on tilt today with the news that Disney will be purchasing LucasFilm Ltd for approximately $4 billion. The sale includes everything under the LucasFilm Ltd umbrella including the LucasFilm film unit, LucasArts video game unit, effects house Industrial Light and Magic, Skywalker Sound, and most prominent among them–the rights to the entire Star Wars universe. Perhaps the biggest news to come out of the whole deal is that Disney is kicking the tires on Star Wars: Episode 7 and is targeting a 2015 release with potentially more episodes to come.

Needless to say, this is some huge news that is already prompting a lot talk, buzz, and speculation about everything under the collective sun at Disney and especially the future of the Star Wars franchise.

Disney: Buying vs Creating

From a financial and business standpoint the purchase of LucasFilm makes perfect sense for Disney. They get to add another recognizable and family friendly name brand to their already large stable of family friendly name brand characters. The tactic of acquiring other name brands has served Disney well in the past 6 years. After a ten year relationship with Pixar dating back to the first Toy Story, Disney acquired Pixar Animation Studios in 2006 for $7.4 billion in stocks. Then in 2009 Disney announced that they would be acquiring Marvel Entertainment in a deal for $4.24 billion which would bring Marvel’s character’s into the Disney fold and gave birth to this year’s mega-blockbuster The Avengers. Now, three years later Disney has done it yet again and on similar terms with their acquisition of LucasFilm.

Over the past six years Disney has positioned themselves as THE center for lucrative family entertainment. In this time there definitely has been a shift at Disney from content creation to acquisition and becoming a repository for similar properties. Yes at the end of the day all these decisions are about how these properties will make the company money, but what does this say about the company itself?

Walt Disney was long gone by the time I was born, but I grew up watching the classics like Bambi, Dumbo, Cinderella and then experienced the second golden age of Disney animation with great films like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Lion King. After that last run though, things definitely take a different turn. As I got older it seemed as though every Disney movie was getting direct to video sequels and you could start to tell that they weren’t coming out with as much quality original content as they had in the past.

I guess you could say that the company is just changing with the times and their acquisitions over the past six years only reflect this change. In fact, if you look at the current trends in Hollywood right now where sequels, adaptions, remakes, and reboots are all the norm . . . acquiring the rights to Star Wars (ie: acquiring familiarity) totally makes sense. My biggest fear is that the next generation of kids/movie fans may not have anything to call their own if this current trend of rehashing and retelling stories from their parents’ past continues. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m down to see another Star Wars movie as much as the next person, but I’ve grown up in a world where the Original Trilogy meant something. I don’t think that could be said of those who grew up in a world where Jar Jar and angsty Anakin could have been their first introduction to the Star Wars universe.

What Comes Next For Disney, Star Wars, and Everything Else?

The Force is with Disney when you combine Star Wars with the collective power of the mouse house.

With today’s news comes a ton of questions, not just about the proposed film, but about how all of Disney’s properties could potentially intermingle with one another and the partnerships and creative projects that could be created.

First and foremost is Episode 7 itself. With a projected target date of 2015 (assume a summer release), production would have to start towards the end of next year (at the latest) in order to make this date. Is there anything currently in development right now? Is there a script or even a screenplay at this point? What would it be about? From a production standpoint who would be involved?

One of the most interesting nuggets from today’s news announcement is that George Lucas will serve as “creative consultant” on Episode 7 which means that he most likely will not be directing and only give creative input into the film. With that said who will screen write the story if there already isn’t one? Who will direct the film? And gulp . . . who will star in it? These are all questions that are currently circulating, answers for which I don’t think we’ll get for at least another year. However, that’s not stopping the movie blogosphere from already suggesting recommendations.

I know many Star Wars fans were disenfranchised when the new trilogy came out and continuously still when Lucas again altered the Original Trilogy when they were released on blu-ray. With today’s news that Lucas will be relegated to a supportive role rather than grand master on upcoming films I think is the reason why there is a lot of renewed interest and hope that Star Wars can be good again. Our first recommendation . . . friend of the blog and local screenwriter Brian Watanabe should be in the writer’s room on Episode 7, 8, or 9. After all, he did give some pretty good ways to remake the the prequels that made for some pretty good drama. With new Star Wars films a certainty, the question now will be: Will they be better than the prequels?

Sort of the next tier I guess is how this latest Star Wars film and the franchise itself will affect Hollywood. Star Wars has influenced so many filmmakers working today that who knows how many will jump at the chance to not just work on this film or any of the future films in the pipeline, or how many will make pitches to Disney for potential projects now that George Lucas is not controlling the reigns. Who knows, maybe Indiana Jones could come back for another tour. Granted, some of this this is all pie in the sky at this point, but when you live in a world where creative access to Star Wars and other Lucas related properties maybe viable, you can’t help but be excited by the possibilities.

Then comes the potential across the Disney landscape and the potential for cross collaboration, crossovers, and synergy between these Disney properties and creative units. Probably the first thing that jumps out with fanboys is that theoretically Pixar Animation could do an animated movie set within the Star Wars universe. With their track record for great storytelling and a focus on characters this could be a great project. However, this is what everyone said three years ago when Disney acquired Marvel . . . a Marvel movie done by Pixar, that’d be great! Three years later though we’re no closer to seeing the beginnings of this than when we were back then. And don’t even get me started on Marvel or Star Wars characters crossing over. I don’t think the universes should mix at all. However, the long talked about Star Wars TV show could get some life breathed into it seeing as how Disney owns ABC as well as a slew of other different TV channels. Only time will tell if any of this comes to fruition.

My (New) Hope . . .

In the grand scheme of things, I think Disney could possibly be the right place for the Star Wars franchise. There are some circumstantial numbers out there to prove it. If there is one thing Disney is smart about these days, they know how to foster success; you only have to take a look at their previous two high profile acquisitions to see that. With both Pixar and Marvel, both of those divisions have retained their internal structure and autonomy from when they were acquired. I mean, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right? With the internal development process that goes on at Pixar, it could have been a disaster if Disney chose to fully integrate them into the Disney brand. Same goes with Marvel. They seem to have a pretty good formula going as they craft and produce the Avengers line of films. The way Marvel vets stories and personnel seems genius in this post-Avengers world.

And I hope the same goes for LucasFilm and Star Wars. I hope that Disney takes what they’ve learned and gained from their previous acquisitions and applies that same management style to their latest. If they can do that, then I think that galaxy far far away will be just fine.

01
Sep
09

The sky is falling!!

DisneyMerger_Poster

Though it was predicted that the world would end in 2012, no one… not even Nostradamus predicted 2009 would end the Marvel Universe. Yes… the awesomeness known as Marvel will now be owned by the magical world of Disney. The interwebz are a blaze with fury as die hard Marvel fans fear Tony Stark will start dancing with Mickey Mouse in Fantasia 2012 and Captain America’s theme song will be  “Hoedown Throw-down”. All that we love is now lost…

Wait… isn’t that a bit dramatic?

I will admit… I literally yelled “what?!” when I heard the news in my car. It is shocking because Disney and Marvel are like oil and water. They don’t mix! I love Disney… we all grew up on the classic animation films and fell in love with the characters, but whenever you hear “Disney” you think kids and family. When you hear “Marvel” you think of bad ass mutants, suits of armor that fly and have awesome weapons, or that really big green guy that you don’t make angry. Kids may like Marvel too, but the kids who grew up on Marvel and are adults now can still love it and its not lame.  Think about it…If a 30 year old guy came up to you wearing a t-shirt with Bambi on it, you would be a little embarrassed for him or think he’s a hipster. But, if a 30 year old guy came up  to you wearing a Stark Industries shirt, it would seem pretty normal. So riddle me this… how do you make Marvel & Disney fit into the same mind set? How do you over come the divide and make the pieces fit?

The one thing you have to give Disney is that they are really really good at giving you the full experience with the characters/brands they put out and I think this can only enhance the Marvel Universe, so long as they stay true to Marvel’s origins. As we’ve seen with Disney franchises, they hit you from every angle to encourage interaction with their different characters. Let’s also not forget that they have what seems like unlimited resources and they own practically every form of media! Studio lots, theme parks in three countries, ABC-TV, Disney Channel, Radio Disney… the list goes on and on (they even have a restaurant division dedicated to their brand). Marvel will now have the funding and resources to bring their comic book characters to life with Disney assisting in the overall Marvel brand experience. However, the question still remains, can Disney maintain the swagger of the Marvel brand & its characters or will it evolve Marvel into some old bullshit like Spiderman 3?

There are still a variety of things sketchy about this merger but I don’t think its Armageddon just yet. All we can do is hope for the best. I’ll put my hopes out into the universe: I hope that Disney allows the creative team at Marvel to be true to itself and not micromanage their creativity. I hope The Avengers still happens and when it does, I hope that I still want to see it. I’m hoping they put together a Marvel-Land with awesome rides & experiences (imagine… you get to voice over scenes from Iron Man). I wouldn’t mind seeing a Marvel/Pixar movie like most people on the web have voiced. And finally, I hope that Marvel can put out a film under Disney that’s as powerful as The Dark Knight (I know it’s DC but, really… that movie brought us all to our knees and I think all comic franchises should want to create something that amazing… I digress).

So with that, Disney & Marvel, please stay true to the fans and please don’t let us down.




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