‘Till the end of the line’: ‘Avengers: Endgame’ wraps up a decade of superhero storytelling

AvengersEndgameFinalPoster-Top-1024x576.jpg“This is not going to go the way you think…”

Remember that line from “The Last Jedi” trailer? Marvel fans were wise to keep those same words of warning in mind as they walked into the theater for “Avengers: Endgame.”

The culmination of approximately 10 years and 20 films, “Endgame” is the bittersweet and emotional conclusion to this stage of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I knew going in that the Avengers would have to pay a steep price to stop Thanos, and I thought I was prepared to say goodbye to some of these characters. Turns out, it was harder than I thought, and while the ending is satisfying, it’s definitely a gut-punch.

I’m not even going to attempt to write a regular review here, because literally anything I say would be a spoiler. And by this point, you’ve either A) already seen it; B) have made plans to see it; or C) this isn’t really your thing and you don’t plan to see it at all, which means that no review of mine is going to convince you of anything. 😉

These are some of my VERY spoiler-filled thoughts on the film, so final warning if you haven’t seen this movie yet and don’t want to have the twists ruined for you — stop reading now!


WARNING: Literally SO MANY spoilers ahead

All right, if you’re still with me, that means you’ve (hopefully) already seen “Endgame” and we can all commiserate together.

I don’t quite know how to review a movie like this. It’s weird to think that this has all been building since a little movie called “Iron Man” in 2008. I don’t think anyone back then guessed that the end to this story arc would gross $350 million in ONE weekend — and that’s just domestically. It’s a cinematic event film that people needed to see on opening weekend.

I’m sure that in the days and weeks to come, plenty of bloggers will be breaking down the story and all the plot’s twists and turns. I know that if I sat down and started picking apart the details, I’d uncover a few plot holes or inconsistencies in regards to the time travel stuff.

But in the end, what this movie comes down to is the characters, and it’s a fitting end for these superheroes that we’ve come to love over the past decade.

While one could argue that they maybe could have shaved 15-20 minutes off the film to bring its runtime below three hours, none of the time feels wasted to me. We get lots of little character moments, which are all the more meaningful since this is probably the last time we’ll be seeing many of these characters.

“Endgame” has some surprisingly funny moments, despite its more serious tone overall. This helps to break the tension, and also shows how many times, these troubled characters use humor as a coping mechanism.

I was surprised by how quickly the Avengers killed Thanos in the opening minutes — a twist that serves to throw the audience off balance. I had a lot of theories about “Endgame” and really only one of them came true (Falcon taking on the mantle of Captain America, which I’m really excited about).

This twist also provided a good set-up for the main plot of the film, a so-called “time heist” to steal the Infinity Stones from previous points in the timeline and then use them to undo Thanos’ snap. As I mentioned earlier, the “wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey” stuff may have more than a few holes in it if you look closely, but I loved the scenes themselves and seeing the Avengers revisit important moments from their past. It reminds the audience of how much these characters have experienced — and how much they’ve grown.

I appreciated the movie’s slow burn set-up, which culminated in a truly epic final battle that brings together all the characters for one last stand against Thanos. It also contains one of my favorite moments in the entire MCU — when Cap calls Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, to his hand, proving himself worthy. That moment earned cheers both times I watched this movie in the theater over the weekend.


I wish I had time and space to talk about each character’s journey in this film in depth, but I’m going to highlight the characters that I believe are the two greatest Avengers, and whose stories are the main drivers of this film: Iron Man and Captain America.

For the past year, I’ve been saying that in order for “Endgame” to make an emotional impact, at least one major character needed to die. Thanos is THE “big bad” of the MCU, and if he’s defeated too easily, it undercuts the dramatic impact of “Infinity War” and, truthfully, the entire MCU.

However, I wasn’t expecting Iron Man and Black Widow to be the two major characters to die. Especially with the long-rumored Black Widow spin-off film (which I hope is still happening, as a prequel), Black Widow’s death came as a shock. The scene where she and Hawkeye are fighting over which one of them is going to make the sacrifice is tough to watch, but highlights the strong bond between their characters. It’s a bond I wish had been explored even more in the preceding films.

I really thought that Tony was going to end this movie by retiring and serving in a mentor role, popping up in cameos every now and then. As I’ve mentioned before, Iron Man is my favorite Avenger and one of my all-time favorite film characters, actually. Seeing him die upset me far more than I was prepared for, but I think that in the end, I’ll come around to accepting the story’s conclusion.

Iron Man started the MCU, and even though I didn’t want him to die, I appreciate that the film gave him a powerful final scene, letting Tony be the one who finally stopped Thanos and saved the universe. I could spend another whole blog post going over his character journey throughout the MCU (actually, I did!), but I have loved seeing his redemption arc and watching him grow from a selfish, spoiled playboy into the galaxy’s greatest hero. I would love for a future film to feature his daughter carrying on his legacy and wearing one of the Iron Man suits.

I was expecting Captain America to die in this film, but I really loved the ending they gave his character. After all he’s been through, he deserves to lay down the shield. And the scene where he finally gets that dance with Peggy Carter was a beautiful, poignant ending to his story. Does it break all kinds of time travel rules? Yeah, probably. But emotionally, it just feels *right.*


In short, there are places to be picky with this film. There’s the confusing timeline stuff, and I’ve heard debates about Thor and Hulk’s character arcs. I’ll be curious to see how the CGI ages. But Tony and Cap’s storyline was a home run, at least for me, and reminds us how much the MCU owes Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans.

It’s possible we’ll never see another film series quite like this one, and I don’t know what the future of the MCU will look like from here. But I’ve really enjoyed this journey, and it’s meant so much to me as a geek. Thanks for the memories, MCU!


Endgame: What’s ahead for the Avengers and the Marvel Cinematic Universe

A journey that started a decade ago will come to an end next April, with the follow-up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s “Infinity War.” We now know the sequel will be titled “Endgame,” though what sort of ending the film will have is still anybody’s guess.

How many of the original Avengers will we have to say goodbye to forever? And will “Endgame” truly serve as an ending for the MCU as we know it, or will it be more of a springboard for future storytelling opportunities (or both)? I guess we’ll all have to stay tuned to find out!

Like many of you, I’m sure, I’ve watched the “Endgame” trailer multiple times by now. It’s a somber and emotional trailer, and I thought it did a great job hinting at the sort of movie we’ll be getting, without giving away too much. The tone is definitely going to be darker here, and appropriately so. Half of the universe has vanished, thanks to Thanos’ snap, and the Avengers’ failure to stop him is weighing heavily on them.

I appreciated that Marvel was willing to actually let Thanos use the Infinity Gauntlet at the end of “Infinity War.” It’s a gut-punch of a scene…with one caveat. Others have pointed out that as the year has gone by, that scene has been robbed of some of its emotional impact by the fact that all the Avengers who disappeared are almost 100 percent guaranteed to come back. We know their deaths — as well acted as they were — are not going to stick, because many of them are going to appear in sequels of their own.

Still, I can understand why certain characters were chosen for the snap, and certain ones were left alive. “Endgame” will give us what may very well be our final chance to see all the original Avengers in action together, before some of them retire or possibly even die.

Captain America has been one of my favorite Avengers characters. Will “Endgame” be his final film? Will someone else take up the shield?

I love all these characters. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them on screen over the past decade, and one of them dying would break my heart. But… (and please don’t hate me here!) at least one of them NEEDS to die in “Endgame.” Thanos is one of the most serious threats the Avengers have ever — or possibly ever will — face, and defeating him needs to come with serious consequences. “Endgame” will be the culmination of 10 years of franchise building. A major character death will give this film emotional weight.

When it comes to character deaths, I think the most likely candidates are Captain America and/or Iron Man, which is hard because they’re two of my favorites. The MCU began with Tony Stark, and him sacrificing himself in “Endgame” to save the entire universe would be such a poignant and powerful moment for the character. But, I also really love the idea of him and Pepper finally tying the knot and then him retiring, serving as a consultant to the new Avengers team and a continued mentor to Peter Parker.

Cap is the most logical choice to make a sacrifice, and it would be interesting to see what could happen in future films with either Bucky or Falcon picking up the shield. Chris Evans has done such a great job in the role, and I’d love for his story arc, however it ends, to be epic and emotional.

As for the overall plot of this film, I’m trying hard not to speculate too much. I’ve heard rumors about time travel (which would be a cool twist to add to the MCU) or everybody who disappeared being trapped inside the Soul Stone. I’m really curious to see what role Scott Lang/Ant-Man plays in this story, partly because I just adore Paul Rudd and also because I’m really intrigued by what could happen with the Quantum Realm.

How much of an ending will “Endgame” be?

Beyond that, I really just want to be surprised by this movie. I want “Endgame” to do for the MCU what “The Last Jedi” did for Star Wars. I know that’s a slightly controversial thought, because Episode VIII sparked a lot of debate within the fanbase. However, one of the things I appreciated most about “The Last Jedi” was the way it dared to shake up its fictional universe and make us ask tough questions about characters we love.

I’d love for “Endgame” to be a challenging film that digs deep into who the characters are and forces them to make sacrifices with lasting consequences. I’m hoping for a darker film that balances tragedy and hope, and provides some sort of definitive ending to the first decade of the MCU. I want the impact of “Endgame” to be felt in all the MCU films that come after it.

It will be really interesting to see what the MCU looks like post-“Endgame.” There’s still lots of potential with Tom Holland as Spider-Man, and there’s a wealth of untapped material with Black Panther and the world of Wakanda. And, of course, I can’t wait to meet Captain Marvel and see how she ties into “Endgame.”

Years down the road, maybe we’ll look back and see “Infinity War” and “Endgame” as the peak of the MCU, and the films that follow will be smaller in terms of both scope and box office. I’d be okay with that, actually. I’d love to have more films focused in on individual characters, with smaller stakes (similar to the excellent “Spider-Man: Homecoming”). Someday I want to see a live action Miles Morales, and I’d be game for a Guardians/Thor team-up.

So, what are your hopes for the future of the MCU? What do you think will happen in “Endgame”? What are some of your theories, hopes and fears?

Movie review: ‘Captain America: Civil War’ another hit for Marvel


The Avengers have faced some difficult opponents, either as a team or on their own: the Red Skull, Loki, the Mandarin, Ultron. However, in “Captain America: Civil War,” they face a new kind of enemy: each other. “Civil War” divides the Avengers, forcing them to align with either Iron Man or Captain America. Iron Man believes superheroes should sign a government document that will keep them all accountable; Captain America fears the government will abuse that power and it would be dangerous to sign. They are also split on exactly how the Winter Soldier — the Cap’s brainwashed best friend Bucky Barnes — should be brought to justice. This conflict will challenge and even ruin friendships, and it will bring an end to the Avengers as we know them.

“Captain America: Civil War” is a tense, thought-provoking superhero film that is both global and personal in its scope. It ventures into definite moral gray areas and sometimes it’s tough to decide who is actually doing the right thing. Although there are a lot of superheroes, and a lot of subplots, the Russo brothers — who also helmed 2014’s excellent “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” — successfully manage everything that’s going on and never lose sight of the central conflict between Iron Man and the Cap. “Civil War” is a must-see for Marvel fans and shakes up the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

“Civil War” starts by examining a theme that, a little surprisingly, is often overlooked in superhero films: collateral damage. When superheroes battle super-powered villains, city blocks tend to get leveled and the landscape gets destroyed. We may not like to think about it, but in these types of epic battles, civilian casualties would be difficult to avoid. In “Civil War,” Wanda Maximoff, a.k.a. the Scarlet Witch, inadvertently kills civilians while trying to stop a bomb. This incident appears to be the last straw in a long line of catastrophic Avengers-related events (New York, Washington, D.C., Sokovia), and the United Nations presents the Avengers with a document called the Sokovia Accords, which are designed to control them and keep them accountable.

Normally the rebel but now haunted by his past mistakes, Tony Stark is one of the first to sign. However, Steve Rogers can’t bring himself to do the same. He’s afraid of giving the government this kind of control, and he is concerned the government could abuse this power. He also believes Bucky Barnes is a victim of brainwashing, even though the government has labeled him as a No. 1 priority terrorist and has ordered their agents to kill him on sight. Captain America ends up going rouge with Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, and several other Avengers, and Tony is forced to hunt him down with the help of War Machine, Vision, and Black Widow — and a couple surprise allies.

While there’s a lot going on in “Civil War,” the directors keep everything running smoothly, and it feels like every character and plot point gets just the right amount of screen time. It’s a more satisfying film than last summer’s “Age of Ultron,” which remains the only MCU film that I don’t own and the only one that left me feeling slightly disappointed. “Civil War” does a better job of managing its large cast and finding time for some quieter, more character-focused moments, even in the midst of all the action. Marvel’s weak link is sometimes its villains, and you could say this film’s villain, Helmut Zemo, isn’t as dynamic as he could have been. But this film was never really meant to be about the Avengers fighting an outside villain: it’s about what happens when they fight each other, and Zemo is merely the catalyst who facilitates that conflict.

Although this is very much the Cap and Iron Man’s film, there are some great cameo appearances and newcomers here. I was excited to see Ant-Man join the Avengers for the first time, and the revelation of his new “special ability” is one of the best — and funniest — moments of the film. I also really loved Chadwick Boseman as the Black Panther, and I’m excited for his upcoming solo film. He brings an outside perspective to the conflict, and he’s definitely a superhero you want to have on your side. And no review of “Civil War” would be complete without talking about Spider-Man. I was a little nervous about how the character would blend with the Avengers, but the Russos handle his introduction marvelously, sending Tony Stark to recruit the excitable and lovably awkward teenager. It’s also a blast to see him using his powers in the big showdown between the opposing groups of superheroes.

The film ends on a slightly ambiguous note, which I was actually happy about. There’s not a direct resolution to the conflict, and the Russos don’t completely repair the division in the team. I was concerned the film would try to rush and wrap everything up too neatly, and thankfully, it doesn’t do that. The conflict will continue to impact Marvel films in the future. All in all, I was very pleased with “Civil War.” I’m not sure yet exactly where this ranks on my list of favorite MCU films, but it’s definitely in the top 5. I guess I’ll just have to go see it again. 😉

Movie preview: Will ‘Captain America: Civil War’ be a game changer for Marvel?

captain-america-civil-war-02082016We have less than a week to go until “Captain America: Civil War” hits theaters, and the initial buzz is good — really, really good. The film is at 94 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and their review summary is exactly what many fans, I think, wanted to hear: “‘Captain America: Civil War’ begins the next wave of Marvel movies with an action-packed superhero blockbuster boasting a decidedly non-cartoonish plot and the courage to explore thought-provoking themes.”

The film is a new direction for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, pitting several of our favorite Avengers against each other in an ideological battle. Tony Stark, normally the rebel, is sobered by some of the traumas he has experienced, and he now believes there should be government oversight of super-powered heroes. He feels someone has to keep the Avengers accountable. However, Steve Rogers has seen some things too, and he no longer trusts the government he once swore to protect. He also can’t bear to betray his best friend Bucky, even though he has been transformed into the Winter Soldier. Iron Man and Captain America find themselves facing off against each other, recruiting their own teams of supporters. Friendships will be broken, and lives could maybe even be lost.

While I’m not as familiar with the original comics this film is based on (the comics are still on my must-read list!), I’m really intrigued by this storyline. Up to this point, the Avengers have been fighting outside enemies, and it will be really interesting to see what happens when they turn on each other. These heroes have been to hell and back together, and there are some genuine friendships amongst the team members. Now, everyone has to pick sides.

I also like how Marvel has framed this conflict, even though originally I would have pegged Tony as the rebel fighting against government control. However, within the context of the MCU, it really makes sense. Tony has experienced a lot since he first built the Iron Man suit, and he’s made some pretty major mistakes, such as the creation of Ultron. Also on his mind has to be the vision he experienced in “Age of Ultron,” where he saw the death of all his teammates. Tony knows firsthand what can happen when heroes get out of control. He thinks it’s time to have someone keep those heroes accountable — including himself. However, I can definitely understand the Cap’s concern about this plan. He witnessed the collapse of S.H.I.E.L.D. due to a long-range H.Y.D.R.A. plot no one saw coming until it was too late, and he’s learned the government he proudly served in World War II is maybe gone for good. He also believes his friend Bucky is not beyond redemption, a belief the government seems to disagree with.

Although I’m solidly in the Team Iron Man camp (Robert Downey Jr. is my favorite actor, and Iron Man is my favorite superhero), I can see that both heroes have some good points. “Civil War” will venture into some definite gray areas, and I’m really curious to see how this film impacts the MCU. Who will still be a member of the Avengers in the upcoming two-part Infinity War series? Will Iron Man and the Cap reconcile at the end of Civil War, or will Marvel leave things slightly ambiguous?

The one concern I have is that even though this is technically a Captain America film, it has a LOT of heroes in the cast, including some major new characters. There is a danger the film could become too busy and chaotic, and we could lose sight of the central conflict between Iron Man and the Cap. Still, my gut tells me this movie will be what I was hoping “Age of Ultron” would be last year: a darker, thought-provoking take on the MCU and a study on what happens when very powerful heroes disagree and turn those powers against each other.

So, what do you think? Are you Team Iron Man or Team Cap? Who do you think will win the conflict?

Superhero showdown: DC’s ‘Dawn of Justice’ vs. Marvel’s ‘Civil War’

civilwar2If you’ve read my blog, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’m a huge Marvel fan, probably second only to my love for Star Wars. 😉 So it likely comes as no surprise that I geeked out — big time — over the recently released second trailer for “Captain America: Civil War” (we finally get to see the new Spider-Man!). The film comes to theaters May 6, and it already looks amazing. I’m trying not to let myself get too hyped up ahead of time, because I felt the same way about the trailer for “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” a film that ultimately didn’t quite live up to the expectations fans had for it. However, I think “Civil War” will end up delivering the darker conflict and character development we were hoping for from “Age of Ultron.” We’ll get to see what happens when the Avengers are forced to fight against each other in a conflict with more gray areas than black and white.

“Civil War” isn’t the only superhero vs. superhero film this year — “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” premieres March 25. I admit I do have a Marvel bias, so that’s probably one of the reasons why I’m not *quite* as excited for “Dawn of Justice” as I am for “Civil War.” 😉 It also will be difficult for DC to top Christopher Nolan’s previously released Batman trilogy, which ranks among the best superhero movies ever made. Will one of these two superhero vs. superhero movies emerge as the victor at the box office, or do they both have a chance to shine?

“Captain America: Civil War” will likely be the highest-grossing film of the summer, barring another “Jurassic World”-type surprise (and it may even be the highest grossing film of the year, though I’m still pulling for “Star Wars: Rogue One”). I’m really excited to see this film, which I hope will be genuinely game-changing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in a way that “Age of Ultron” could have been but wasn’t. Iron Man and Captain America are my two favorite Avengers, and I’ve always enjoyed watching the dynamic between them. Although the dilemma raised by the film is a completely hypothetical one, it’s also incredibly intriguing: should people with super powers be held accountable for their actions, and if so, who should hold them accountable? And do the people holding the superheroes accountable need to be held accountable, as well? Another feature which makes this conflict interesting is that Tony Stark, who’s normally a bit of a rebel, is in favor of more government oversight of superheroes, while the formerly loyal soldier and ultimate S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Steve Rogers find himself suspicious of that authority.

I’m also super excited to see the introduction of Black Panther, and I’m glad Spider-Man and Ant-Man will have roles in this film. The only potential downside I see is that the film could end up packed with too many heroes, and we’ll lose sight of the central conflict between Iron Man and Captain America. This is going to be a big, epic film, but it also needs some powerful personal moments, as well.

I’m a little more concerned about “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” but I’d like to see it succeed too. This film also has an opportunity to show how superheroes hold each other accountable, and then set aside their differences to combat a larger threat. Unlike Marvel, which spent several years releasing solo superhero films and then gave us an epic round-up, DC is introducing a lot of heroes at once and then will give us individual films later. While this strategy could backfire, because we don’t have the same attachment to some of these new characters as we do to Thor or Captain America, thanks to their solo films, it could help get people excited about these new characters and motivate fans to see the solo films when they do come out.

Some have expressed skepticism about Ben Affleck as Batman, but I think he could surprise us. I like how the film is presenting an older, more world-weary Batman. This isn’t an origin story; Batman has been a vigilante for a long time now, and maybe he’s struggling under the weight of it all. I think “going darker” is a good strategy for this film; Marvel movies are known for being fun — and funny, but a grittier tone could help “Dawn of Justice” stand out. I hope Wonder Woman will have a significant role in this film, and I’m looking forward to her solo film in 2017. Right now I’m not sure if I’m buying Jesse Eisenberg’s take on Lex Luthor, but I’m hoping that will surprise me too.

So, what do you think? Which superhero showdown film will top the box office? Which one are you most looking forward to?

Marvel Blog-a-thon Week 2: ‘Iron Man 2’ and ‘Thor’

Iron-Man-and-Thor-HD-from-The-Avengers-Action-WallpaperNext up on my Marvel blog-a-thon project are a sequel and an origin story: “Iron Man 2” and “Thor.” I kind of wish “Thor” had actually ended up on the same week as “Captain America: The First Avenger,” since they’re both somewhat similar origin stories that were released very close to each other. But I’m supposed to be watching these movies in order, and this is how it worked out. 😉

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Although “Iron Man 2” is a Marvel film that doesn’t always get a lot of love from fans, I have to admit that I actually quite enjoy this one (don’t judge me!) 😉 The first time I watched this movie (it was actually the first Marvel movie I saw in theaters) I remember feeling a little bit disappointed because it wasn’t as good as the first “Iron Man,” which ranks among the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. However, once I accepted it for what it was, it’s a fun sequel.

First off, I do understand why this one is criticized. The first Iron Man film felt fresh and exciting; Robert Downey Jr. was a surprise hit and perfect fit as Tony Stark, and the film offered hints about the larger-scale plans Marvel had for its movies, to culminate in “The Avengers.” “Iron Man 2” perhaps tries a bit too hard to ride the wave of the first film’s success (love it or hate it, “Iron Man 3” at least has a discernably different tone than the first two movies). The primary villain, Mickey Rourke’s “Ivan Vanko,” isn’t fully developed or utilized, and the final battle features the villain in an Iron Man-like suit, too similar to the finale of the first Iron Man movie.

Still, there are some good moments in the sequel. Scarlett Johansson makes her first appearance as Black Widow, a female superhero who holds her own and isn’t just a “love interest” for another character. I love Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson’s banter as Tony Stark and Nick Fury (“I’m going to have to ask you to exit the doughnut” is a favorite and often-quoted Marvel line among my friends). It’s also nice to see an expanded role for Tony’s friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes, who gets a suit of his own.

Like I said, this movie doesn’t rank in the top half of the Marvel films for me, but it’s my favorite of the more under-appreciated Marvel films. Captain America holds the award for best Marvel sequel, but “Iron Man 2” is stronger than Thor’s sequel, “The Dark World.”

Thor (2011)

Although “Iron Man” kick-started the journey to “The Avengers,” the release of “Thor” was another important milestone for Marvel. Were people starting to recognize the Marvel brand and believe in it enough to pay to see movies starring relatively unknown actors and featuring superheroes with far less notoriety than “big names” such as Batman and Spider-Man? The answer, apparently, was yes. “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” were both hits in 2011, and set Marvel up for its mega-hit, “The Avengers,” in 2012.

I love how all the Marvel movies have a similar tone and feel like they fit into the same universe, but still have their own unique touches. “Thor” features a blend of fantasy and sci-fi elements, with a touch of regal nobility thanks to director Kenneth Branagh. As I watched it again, I also forgot what a great soundtrack the movie had; it’s probably one of my favorite Marvel soundtracks.

Much of the movie’s fun comes from its “fish out of water” scenario, as the proud and vain Thor is banished to Earth, where he’s forced to learn humility by living among mortals. Chris Hemsworth is a perfect choice to play Thor, which reminds me of another thing I really like about the MCU: the casting. I might not have originally picked Hemsworth to play Thor, or Chris Evans to play Captain America, but now I can’t imagine anyone else playing these roles. The actors all seem to be having fun in these movies, and I’ve really grown to love all these characters. Even the weaker Marvel movies — which feature what seems to be Marvel’s Achilles’ heel, underdeveloped villains — are still fun because the main characters are great.

Speaking of villains, Thor introduces the character who is arguably the best of the Marvel villains: Loki. He’s played by Tom Hiddleston, who is undeniably a Marvel treasure. 😉 Hiddleston’s Loki is cunning and vindictive but also conflicted. He’s bad but you can’t hate him. Also, I’d forgotten about the fun Hawkeye cameo in this movie, introducing us to another Avenger.

I really enjoyed my re-watch of “Thor” and I’m thinking it will move up a few points on my final Marvel ranking. Next up are “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “The Avengers.” Please feel free to leave your own comments and tell me what you thought of “Iron Man 2” and “Thor”!

Marvel Blog-a-thon Week 1: ‘Iron Man’ and ‘The Incredible Hulk’

the-avengers-hulk-and-ironman_156211First up on my Marvel Blog-a-thon project are “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk,” the first two films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Interestingly, these are the only two MCU movies I didn’t watch in theaters (I guess I was late arriving to the party) 😉 and also the films at the top and bottom of my original ranking of favorite Marvel films. Did my thoughts on these films change after watching them again?

Iron Man (2008)

“Iron Man” has long been not just my favorite MCU film, but my favorite superhero film in general. It’s a perfect example of the winning Marvel formula: humor, heart and plenty of action. It’s just a fun, quality summer blockbuster. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but at the same time it isn’t too silly.

Although originally Robert Downey Jr. may have seemed like an unusual choice to head this franchise, he turned out to be the perfect fit as Iron Man/Tony Stark. He’s smart and snarky, and he cares more than he pretends to. Deep down, he recognizes some of the emptiness in his hard-partying, irresponsible lifestyle, but he still ignores the potential he’s wasting. His kidnapping by terrorists and narrow escape, thanks to the selfless sacrifice of a fellow prisoner, serves as a wake-up call, and he builds the Iron Man suit to right some of the wrongs he’s created.

Some films aren’t as good the second time you watch them, but “Iron Man” still seems fun every time I watch it. It’s got a great beginning, kicking off with Humvees driving through the desert to “Back in Black” from what’s become Iron Man’s signature band AC/DC, to my all-time favorite superhero ending, where Tony Stark ignores his assigned, already-prepared statement at a press conference and announces that “I am Iron Man.” I also like Robert Downey Jr.’s chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

“The Incredible Hulk” doesn’t get quite as much praise as some of the other Marvel films. While I have enjoyed all the Marvel films and think there are some good features about each movie, this isn’t the strongest in the MCU franchise. As I watched it again, I tried to pinpoint exactly why I didn’t like it as much as the other MCU movies.

I think Edward Norton does a good job as Bruce Banner/the Hulk in this film. It’s a haunted performance, and also a somewhat tragic one, because unlike Iron Man, Thor or Captain America, Banner’s life arguably gets worse after becoming a superhero. His power — turning into a giant green monster every time he gets angry — forces him to live in isolation to avoid accidentally hurting the people he cares about. Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo in the Avengers films, and I think Ruffalo also plays the role well. Edward Norton was, I think, a better choice for the solo film, but Mark Ruffalo has better chemistry with the Avengers group as a whole, especially Robert Downey Jr., than Norton would have.

I also liked that the film handles the origin story in a creative way, breezing through the creation of Hulk during a montage in the opening credits. While the film doesn’t take full advantage of the time freed up by this storytelling technique, it was nice to see film makers try something different. I also liked the villain choice. Marvel is sometimes criticized for its underdeveloped or generic villains, but I thought it was interesting the “bad guys” were two men who didn’t start out trying to be evil: Banner’s girlfriend’s father, a U.S. general, and a British marine who is injected with strength-enhancing serum.

In the end, I think the Hulk tends to rate lower in Marvel fans’ rankings because it doesn’t have quite the same amount of Marvel magic as some of the other films. In this movie, it feels like Marvel is still setting up the tone and deciding what direction it wants to take these films. The Hulk movie doesn’t have as much humor as the other MCU films, and the humor that is in the script feels a bit forced. The script and film felt like they needed a little more time in development.

That being said, I think I was a little tough on “The Incredible Hulk” in my original ranking, and I think it will move up at least one spot on the revised list. Up next, “Iron Man 2” and “Thor”! I’d also love to hear your thoughts on these films, and what you think about the MCU as a whole.

Bombs and blockbusters: Summer 2013 in review

ironmanWith the release of “Elysium” in theaters this past weekend, the summer movie season is drawing — for all intents and purposes — to a close. Though there are still a few major releases scattered throughout the remaining weeks of August, students will soon be heading back to school, and Hollywood will be focusing on its line-up of fall films.

It’s been an interesting summer at the box office, and I have to admit that as I look back over the summer, I’m a bit puzzled. While the summer started out strong with solid openings for “Iron Man 3,” “Man of Steel” and “Fast & Furious 6,” it seems like ever since July (with the exception of, perhaps, “Despicable Me 2”) almost every major release has underperformed. Of course, there are a few flops every summer; some of the biggest bombs of 2012 included “Battleship” and the “Total Recall” remake. However, it seems like a higher than normal percentage of major releases had soft openings this year. What makes this even more puzzling is some of these films, such as “Pacific Rim,” “Elysium” and “The Wolverine,” even received good reviews.

It could be Hollywood has reached a point of saturation: with so many films coming out and ticket prices climbing higher, audiences could be getting choosier. In my area, it costs about $16 for a 3D IMAX showing. Add in drinks and two large buckets of popcorn, and you’re looking at a cost of at least $100 for a family of four, which makes for an expensive night out. Families did turn out in big numbers for the animated sequels/prequels “Despicable Me 2” and “Monsters University,” and “Iron Man 3” proved to be a crowd-pleaser, as well.

While I was hoping for higher box office receipts for some of the films this summer, I’d have to say that overall, I wasn’t disappointed by the films I was most looking forward to. I think the best way to sum up this summer might be “flawed but fun.” Many of the films — such as “Man of Steel,” “Pacific Rim” and “The Wolverine” — may not have been perfect, but I felt film makers did bring some fresh ideas to the big screen, and I genuinely had fun watching these films.

Of the three main superhero movies released this summer — “Iron Man 3,” “Man of Steel” and “The Wolverine” — “Iron Man 3” is probably my favorite. Robert Downey Jr. is my favorite actor, and I love his performance as Iron Man/Tony Stark. “Iron Man 3” did prove to be a bit polarizing among fans, primarily due to how the film handled its main villain, “The Mandarin.” Though it might have been better if they’d adhered more closely to the comic book story-line, as fans had been anticipating, Robert Downey Jr. is always a lot of fun to watch in the role, and he brings plenty of his trademark snarky wit to his third solo outing as the character.

Another highlight of the summer for me was “Pacific Rim.” Though I do wish the film had had a bit stronger character development and dialogue, this was a fun sci-fi monster movie. And it’s hard not to geek out over the concept of giant robots fighting giant monsters. 🙂 I actually went back a second time to watch this movie in IMAX 3D (I saw it in 2D the first time), and while I do think 3D is sometimes over-rated, I thought the film was actually even more fun in this format.

One of the most notorious flops this summer was “The Lone Ranger,” but I also think (please don’t judge me!) 😉 that it was also the most misunderstood movie of the summer. Its decidedly quirky brand of humor may not be for everyone, and its infamously large budget earned it some bad buzz. While it probably wasn’t a good business decision to give a $250 million budget to a Western — a genre that doesn’t play as well anymore — I will say I don’t think a single dollar of that $250 million was wasted. It’s a lavish production with gorgeous cinematography and several nicely crafted action set pieces. The movie wasn’t flawless, but it dared to be crazy and different and fun. I know I’m one of the only people defending this movie, but I believe it deserves a second chance and I hope people will check it out on DVD. And hey, at least it did out-gross “White House Down,” “After Earth” and some of the other major flops this summer, right? 😉

star-trek-into-darkness-chris-pine-alice-eveAs for my favorite movie of the summer, I’m going to have to pick “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” which probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. 😉 I’m a huge fan of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek” reboot, and I loved the follow-up just as much. The film has plenty of action and breathtaking special effects, but it never forgets that the real heart of the movie is the characters. While Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto — as Kirk and Spock, respectively — were the standouts for me this time around, each of the actors chosen to recreate the crew of the USS Enterprise manages to pay homage to the original TV show and yet make the roles their own. Benedict Cumberbatch also turns in a deliciously chilling performance as one of the most famous villains from Trek lore, Khan. It was a risky decision to borrow from the most beloved classic Trek film, “The Wrath of Khan,” but I think Abrams pulled it off in fine form. I can’t wait to see what he brings to the “Star Wars” universe.

So, what are your thoughts on the movies released this summer? What did you like the best? What did you like the least?


Beyond ‘The Avengers’: Marvel prepares for ‘Phase 2’ of superhero franchise

Iron-Man-3-IMAX-posterBefore 2008, many people weren’t familiar with the Marvel comic book superhero Iron Man. DC Comics characters Superman and Batman had long been the two most famous superheroes, and no one was expecting a movie based on Tony Stark — a snarky narcissist in a metal suit — to be a mega-hit.

However, Robert Downey Jr.’s great performance not only rebooted the actor’s own career, it also helped launch an impressive theatrical run for a line-up of Marvel superheroes, culminating in last summer’s epic mash-up “The Avengers.” Earning more than $1.5 billion worldwide, “The Avengers” established Marvel’s dominance in the cinematic superhero universe, and now DC Comics is the one struggling to catch up.

Still, Marvel is hoping this is just the beginning. “The Avengers” completed the first stage of the film franchise, and now Marvel is preparing to launch what the company is calling “Phase 2,” which features new movies about Iron Man, Thor and Captain America; an Avengers sequel; and a science fiction film about an Avengers-style team called “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Personally, I’m very much looking forward to Marvel’s new line-up of films, though I do have a few possible concerns.

Marvel currently finds itself in a very interesting position. All their work leading up to “The Avengers” was one of the most expertly-executed marketing campaigns in Hollywood history, and though some of their individual superhero films were more successful than others, none of them were true flops, and all contributed to the mounting excitement about “The Avengers” film.

The key for Marvel going forward will be to continue building on that excitement and to not fall into the trap of relying too much on past successes. Marvel has put together a formula that has worked quite well — a blend of humor, action and heart; however, Marvel now has to find a way to maintain that same tone but also create sequels that feel fresh, and help the audience to connect to the characters in new ways.

Iron Man is arguably the most popular member of “The Avengers,” and judging by the amount of buzz “Iron Man 3” is generating, I think the movie (which comes out in U.S. theaters Friday) is an all but guaranteed blockbuster. If the movie is good — and early reviews are indicating that it is — it will be a solid kick-off for Marvel’s Phase 2, and the excitement generated likely will carry into “Thor: The Dark World” this fall.

Thor2“Thor: The Dark World” (Nov. 8, 2013) and the upcoming Captain America sequel, “The Winter Soldier,” (April 4, 2014) should both do fairly well at the box office, though I don’t think they’ll beat the new Iron Man film. Audiences responded well to the first films featuring Thor and Captain America, and I think people are curious to see what happens to these characters post-Avengers.

I’m glad to see that Tom Hiddleston is back as Loki in the “Thor” sequel; his performance was part of what made “The Avengers” movie so much fun. I’m also hoping the sequel will feature more action on Asgard, the fantasy realm Thor originally hails from.

I’ve haven’t heard much yet about what the plot of “Captain America: The Winter Solider” will be. Marvel has an interesting opportunity with this film to explore what it’s like for Captain America to adjust to life in a modern era. I’m also intrigued by the fact that Scarlett Johansson — who plays Black Widow in “The Avengers” — has joined the cast for the film. Will she have more of a cameo role, like Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) in the “The Avengers” lead-in films, or will her character be working closely with Captain America on a mission? I think these two characters are an interesting pairing, though I’m still holding out hope for a Black Widow/Hawkeye team-up movie someday — perhaps in Marvel’s “Phase 3”? 🙂

As long as “Iron Man 3,” “Thor: The Dark World” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” perform well, I think “The Avengers 2” (slated for release in 2015) will also be a hit. Marvel was smart to ask director Joss Whedon to return for the sequel (and really, they would have been crazy not to). The challenge will be to find some way to top the first “Avengers” film, which is admittedly a tough act to follow. Additionally, “The Avengers 2” will have to battle the hype surrounding the new “Star Wars” movie, which is also slated for release in 2015.

Still, the only real risk I see in Marvel’s Phase 2 line-up is “Guardians of the Galaxy” (Aug. 1, 2014). Not as well known as the Avengers team, the Guardians of the Galaxy includes an interplanetary policeman known as the Star-Lord and Gamora, the adopted daughter of Marvel villain Thanos (who is rumored to appear in the second Avengers film). The Guardians of the Galaxy team also includes some more unusual members, such as Groot, a sentient tree-like creature, and a raccoon who is an expert marksman (the Internet Movie Database does not indicate these last two roles have been cast yet, or whether the characters will even be in the film).

“Guardians of the Galaxy” will be a true test of Marvel’s brand and whether its name alone is enough to draw people to the theater. DC Comics’ sci-fi superhero film “Green Lantern” did not perform well in 2011, and was overshadowed by Marvel’s more traditional superhero films that year, “Thor” and “Captain America: The First Avenger.” Still, “Guardians of the Galaxy” does have a promising cast so far, including Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana, and Marvel could launch another franchise with this film. And the Marvel film universe will certainly survive even if “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a flop, though it could damage their bullet-proof reputation and put more pressure on future releases.

So, what do you think of Marvel’s plans for “Phase 2”? What films are you looking forward to? Do you think they will all be box office successes, or do you anticipate a few flops?

Review: ‘The Avengers’ is one epic ride

After months of hype and media coverage, and years of build-up in previous Marvel superhero films, “The Avengers” is finally here. And it’s one heck of an epic ride. The film was absolutely worth the wait, and director Joss Whedon’s combination of non-stop action, humor and heart adds up to what is arguably one of the best superhero movies ever made.

The film features an impressive line-up of superheroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk. Although I enjoyed all the individual films featuring these characters leading up to “The Avengers,” the superheroes are even better together. Here, they are forced to team up to take on Loki, Thor’s vengeful brother, who has stolen the “Tesseract” (the glowing blue energy cube used by HYDRA Nazis in last summer’s “Captain America: The First Avenger”). Loki plans to unleash an army and take over the Earth, and also get revenge on his brother for denying him the throne of Asgard.

However, while the Avengers are called to work together, they’re a rather dysfunctional team, with conflicting sets of values and egos. They don’t always see eye to eye (at one point, Iron Man and Thor get involved in what amounts to a super-powered smackdown, and Captain America is forced to break up the fight), and they don’t completely trust each other. There’s plenty of verbal barbs passed back and forth (Iron Man refers to Thor once as “Shakespeare in the Park” and also tells Captain America that everything good about him came from a “lab bottle”). And no one knows when or where Bruce Banner will lose his temper and turn into the uncontrollable Hulk.

This isn’t exactly the stuff “dream teams” are made of, and Whedon doesn’t shy away from showing the superheroes’ flaws, in addition to their strengths. But what makes “The Avengers” great is that even though the superheroes aren’t perfect, they are eventually able to work past their differences and learn how to function as a team. Their strengths and weaknesses balance each other out, and they realize they’re better as a team than they could ever be apart.

Whedon devotes time to the struggles and back stories of each character, and he takes advantage of his talented team of actors. I couldn’t think of a more perfect cast to play these roles: from Robert Downey Jr. as the snarky daredevil Iron Man; to Chris Hemsworth as the noble, proud Thor; Chris Evans as the earnest and self-sacrificing Captain America; Scarlett Johansson as the tough, take-no-prisoners agent Black Widow; and Jeremy Renner as the cool yet conflicted Hawkeye. Mark Ruffalo takes over nicely as the Hulk, reflecting the pain and emotional torture that comes from knowing just how much destruction he could unleash, and how he can’t always manage to control it. Actors Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson) and Stellan Skarsgård (Professor Erik Selvig) round out the supporting cast.

Whedon also chose wisely when he selected Loki to be the film’s primary villain. To me, Loki is the best villain out of all the Marvel superhero films; Tom Hiddleston plays him with an eerie elegance, and his hypnotically calming voice belies the madness he has fallen into due to his all-consuming desire for revenge. His performance commands your attention, and he more than holds his own against the cast of superheroes.

There are several great action set pieces, particularly the final Avengers vs. Loki showdown on the streets of New York City, and Joss Whedon also has infused the film with his trademark humor. The film has plenty of great one-liners, many of them courtesy of Robert Downey Jr.’s smart-alecky Iron Man (when Loki boasts he’s brought an army to ravage New York, Iron Man doesn’t miss a beat, firing back, “We have a Hulk.”) And one of the best moments of the movie is Hulk’s response to a tirade from Loki about how he is above all the meaningless masses and deserves to be treated as a god — a moment that drew a round of rousing applause from the audience when I went to see it in the theater.

“The Avengers” was the film I was most looking forward to this summer, and I wasn’t disappointed. Joss Whedon does almost everything right, and the film is likely to please both fanboys and fangirls, and a general audience. I’ve been to see it twice this weekend, and I loved it just as much the second time.

“The Avengers” is a great way to kick off the summer, and while it’s the first blockbuster out of the gate this summer movie season, I have a feeling it’s also going to be the one to beat.