Categories
3D action movie adventure auteur comic adaptation female hero male hero Marvel Cinematic Universe Marvel CU movie series personal sequel Superhero team-up

Not Really a Team

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) by Joss Whedon

On rewatching this, I was sometimes like ‘I don’t remember this at all’ which is probably not surprising since it’s been a while since I watched it – and a lot has happened in the MCU since. Still, I couldn’t even say I had a feel for this movie at all. I think in a way I always felt that this movie was disjointed, kind of wildly put together – a hack job, if you force me to be completely honest.

Why? Well, I feel like I should give credit to the director/writer here – Joss Whedon. Most of us probably have a complicated relationship with the man, he probably killed your favorite character, too. Still, he did an excellent job with The Avengers, so why not here?

We’ll see. First, a synopsis:

The Avengers finally defeat Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) and retrieve Loki’s scepter. After some tests, Tony (Robert Downey Jr.) discovers the blueprint for an A.I. in its shiny blue thingy and downloads it to use it to man an army of Stark-controlled A.I. to police the world, or something (and he really thought THAT was a good idea?). Anyway, it wasn’t a good idea since the A.I. (James Spader) has other plans and starts with destroying Jarvis (Paul Bettany) before building himself a body.

Then he starts a rampage. He kills Strucker in prison and teams up with two enhanced humans – Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olson) Maximoff (‘he’s fast and she’s weird’ as Hill puts it) – to kill the Avengers. But his ultimate goal is destroying the whole human race and when Wanda finally discovers this plan, the Maximoffs team up with the Avengers to end Ultron.

It seems pretty straight forward but there are snatches in the plot that make our heroes act out of character. And I think this is the biggest fault Age of Ultron has, why everyone hates it so much – or at least considers it one of the worst MCU entries. And you can certainly argue that fear makes many people act irrationally and it’s a big theme here with Wanda showing almost everyone their greatest ones.

But – big but – would Tony really just download an A.I. whose origin is most likely alien (it came after all from Loki, as far as he knew), whose origin is also likely sinister? And be like: Oh, but this is gonna end all war and I can retire. And would Banner (Mark Ruffalo) agree to this? I mean, these two are supposed to be the genius-Avengers. Put aside all Tony’s hubris, his bravado, his devil-may-care personality… no, I don’t think so. Not even if he feared his team dying. And Banner hadn’t even been affected by Wanda at this point, so why would he agree to something this reckless? He’s such a push-over in this movie.

But, apparently, they had to do this or there wouldn’t be an Ultron. Now Ultron comes out of that shell around the Infinity Stone – the Mind Stone. That scepter came from Thanos (Josh Brolin) and so Ultron was part of his plan to end the Avengers and the human race, right? I mean, the mid-credit scene seems to make this clear. That’s why he gave Loki the scepter, the A.I. was a failsafe if the original plan – Earth being destroyed by Loki and the Chitauri – failed. Well played, Thanos. But the failure of the failsafe, of course, gave the Avengers a powerful new member: Vision. It also explains why Ultron and Thanos’ plans are so similar.

Anyway, besides Banner and Stark acting OOC to create an adversary, so does Thor (Chris Hemsworth) when he goes on his vision quest. I don’t want to say that he’s not spiritual or anything but I do feel like we meet a different Thor in Ultron than in any other movie, someone who saw the glimpse of something in his fear vision and went to research this and came back to us with the whole story of the Infinity Stones. I mean… who else looked at the screen like they were a character on The Office for a minute? And armed with that knowledge – that the Infinity Stones are the most destructive power in the universe, he still thought it a good idea to animate that corpse from Ultron’s cradle… I’m calling bullshit.

And I haven’t even touched on Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) and her calling herself a monster because she can kill but not create life (others have commented and I really don’t want to get too deep into this because you all know I’m just starting a rant).

Fear makes us do a lot of things, fear is very powerful that way. But it will not take away our intelligence (Stark), it will not make us instantly do what we fear most (lose control, Banner), it will not make Thor research Infinity Stones instead of checking that his father and friends were okay (I do presume that his fear was that Asgard somehow dies without him, unless it’s that his homies party without him, it’s hard to tell). And I don’t think it would make Natasha fall in love with Banner because, after all, he’s a monster like her? None of this makes sense, Whedon just fit the characters to his plot.

There are other things that I take offense with (Rhodey [Don Cheadle] and Sam [Anthony Mackie] being literally treated like sidekicks, for example) but having the Avengers run around like headless chickens for most of the movie is the worst.

They were supposed to be pulled apart, of course. It was part of Ultron’s plan to plant derision but in that it’s basically like The Avengers – that’s just to get us one step closer to Civil War. What I miss seeing is an Avengers team that is actually a team because we don’t get to see this until Endgame. And maybe that was the plan but it still gets kind of old here, having the Avengers fight among themselves, having another reason to break up, to fight against each other, to stack their teams with new members. I know, Civil War is kind of necessary but I would have liked to see a movie where they actually just be a team. Probably just me.

Now I’m going to forget most of what happened in Ultron again so I can actually sleep at night and not seethe in annoyance any longer.

Next Ant-Man – the one I liked more than you did.

Okay, I can’t really leave this without saying something about Natasha and the horrible, HORRIBLE story line she had. Apart from the Banner-fiasco, let me just say: Making being infertile Natasha’s greatest fear is just wrong. For once, she’s known this since she was a teen, there’s 15 years of water under that bridge already. I’m not saying she can’t be emotional about this but the question is why would she fear something that’s a fact of her life? Also: she’s a modern woman, she certainly has heard of adoption. Being sterile doesn’t mean she can’t have children, I’m sure Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) could fashion her a brand new identity that would be able to adopt a child if she ever was to retire. Making Black Widow’s story line about a man AND impossible children, urgh, dude, women are more than love interests and/or incubators! End rant!

Categories
action movie adventure anti hero Comedy comic adaptation Marvel Cinematic Universe Marvel CU movie series origin story personal science fiction Superhero

For the Whole Family

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) by James Gunn

It took me a long time to get back here and I probably shouldn’t have stopped before Guardians. Why? Because I don’t like Peter Quill. In part, it’s because I also don’t like Chris Pratt (never met the guy, this is just one of those things you sometimes have with actors and it’s completely on me but here we are) but then it’s also because he’s one of THOSE guys (if you’re a woman, you probably know what I mean, if you’re not, explaining it wouldn’t get us anywhere). That being said, Guardians of the Galaxy is a really good movie.

It’s also a little complicated for people who’ve never read the comics:

It’s all about an orb, a small metal ball that Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) – who calls himself Star-Lord – finds on the abandoned planet of Morag. But he’s not the only one after the orb. Already on the planet, a group of gun-wielding soldiers (among them Djimon Hounsou) want to take the orb from Peter but he escapes – if barely.

The soldiers were Ronan’s (Lee Pace) goons and he wants the orb because it contains an Infinity Stone which he wants to give to Thanos (Josh Brolin) who’s supposed to destroy Xandar (a planet but really a city?) for Ronan. And then there’s also a band of Ravagers under Yondu (Michael Rooker) who also want the orb – they also want Peter Quill.

On Xandar, the Guardians first meet – most of them. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) want to capture Peter because there’s a bounty on his head, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who seemingly works for Ronan and is Thanos’ adoptive daughter, really wants the orb for the money she can get for it so that she can get away from Thanos who killed her entire family in front of her. Later, in prison, they meet Drax (Dave Bautista) who wants to kill Ronan because he killed Drax’ family… yeah, there’s a lot in this story.

But it’s really about finding one’s chosen family and sticking with them. The Guardians are a band of misfits with dead parents and loved ones to spare but somehow having to work together for a common goal shows them that they’re better together, that they can stand for something bigger than themselves. That’s how they defeat Ronan, that’s how they safe Xandar – together.

Is it a little sappy in that way? Yeah, but the movie’s not just about bonding (though, yes, I could’ve done without the bonding Peter tries to do with Gamora), it’s also an adventure. It’s Indiana Jones in space. It’s also a new group of people we get to know here, plus the Big Bad gets a face and a voice (Josh Brolin) and a whole body and a chair. The Guardians are a new gang of heroes, very different from the Avengers – though women are still painfully underrepresented – and the MCU finally made its first space adventure.

There’s not that much to criticize here. Guardians of the Galaxy is a fan-favorite because it’s a really good movie. It has one of the most quotable one-liners, you have Groot who’s one of the best characters in the whole MCU without saying more than three – to four – words, and you have family. Really, Guardians is about family – the one you find, the one who finds you or abducts you, the one you can’t shake. Family is not always good, family is usually complicated – Guardians of the Galaxy acknowledges that.

While there’s a lot to learn in this movie, it never gets boring – the information is given throughout and you do have to pay a little attention to get everything. It’s an action-packed film but Gunn also manages to put some quiet scenes in there, to have the characters connect. The different settings are beautiful, the soundtrack is one you will dance to in your seat. It’s an entertaining ride and if you pay a little attention you get to know what it’s all about – the Infinity Stones, obviously, and that Thanos wants to catch ’em all.

Next up The Avengers: Age of Ultron – yeah, THAT one.

Categories
adaptation (literature) Drama grief lesbianism queer cinema women

Disobedience

Disobedience (2017) by Sebastián Lelio

I’m late to this. I wanted to watch the movie when it came out but missed it (it’s also quite possible that they never showed in in my hometown, or only for a week or two). I reread the book before it came out or was due to come out – that review is here – and it was a welcome trip down beautiful memory lane. Because it is beautiful and so is the movie – they’re also both haunting, and that’s why I’m writing about it now… again.

Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz) returns to the orthodox Jewish community she grew up in when her father, the Rav (Anton Lesser), dies. She’s there to mourn but the community is surprised by her return as she fled to New York and became a photographer.

She finds shelter with the prospective new Rav, Dovid Kuperman (Alessandro Nivola), and his wife, Esti (Rachel McAdams), friends from her youth. And Esti was more than that even – the girls were in love but their love was forbidden.

I put off watching this a little. You know how it is when you love a book and then the movie comes out and you’re not sure if it will live up to the book. I shouldn’t have fretted because the movie is very close to the book. What I missed was part of the back story. The friendship between the three youngsters, how Ronit and Esti found love.

However, you know there’s more to the story. Through the whole movie, words seem to remain unsaid, feelings suppressed. You wonder, you delve into what’s happening but there is so much under the surface. And that’s what ultimately gives the movie its haunting atmosphere.

I feel like the movie builds more on the love story than the book did. The book was more about tradition and religion, about ritual. It also spans over a month, while the movie only spans a few days, a week maybe. The shift towards the love story gives the movie a different focus. Ronit’s grief and lost-ness make way for Esti’s suppressed feelings and she feels much more like the main protagonist, or at least it feels like she should be the main protagonist. Rachel McAdams gives a fantastic performance, she seems to finally be able to show the whole scope of her ability and it’s earth-shattering.

The three main characters perform a sort of dance around each other in the small space of the Kuperman house. They all know what had been before, are weary of what might happen again – except for Esti who longs for things to happen, to change. Like in the book, she hangs all those hopes on Ronit. This awkward threesome feels caged and the actors play their characters with maximum ability and cagey-ness. They make you feel what they feel.

It’s not an easy watch but it’s not as difficult as one might think either. The movie walks along steady-paced, adopts the humor of the book, shows people on the brink of change who are not afraid. It’s really wonderful to watch on any evening when you find yourself weary of any old story and want to watch something a little different.

It’s one of the best movies I watched this year so far, maybe the best.

Categories
3D action movie adaptation (literature) adventure comic adaptation Drama female hero male hero Marvel Cinematic Universe Marvel CU movie series sequel spy movie Superhero team-up

Soldier and Spy

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) by Anthony and Joe Russo

I feel like it’s so much harder to write about a movie you liked than about one you disliked. Ranting is so much easier than saying why you liked something, why you’re excited about it. Or maybe it’s just me.

 Well, I’m excited about this movie because I think it’s the best solo movie in the MCU so far. One of the things that makes it easy to love for me? I don’t have to think or feel self-conscious about the female characters in this because they’re not being put on display. They’re not treated as bodies but as characters. No, The Winter Soldier isn’t the first movie in the MCU to do this, but it’s the first time Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is treated as a fully realized character and not just eye-candy and I’ve been waiting years for this to happen.

What else happens in Captain America: The Winter Soldier:

Pirates have taken over a ship that belongs to S.H.I.E.L.D.. Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. critical response team under Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo) infiltrate the ship and free the hostages. But in the middle of all this hassle, Black Widow downloads some critical data for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) – the beginning of the end of S.H.I.E.L.D. as we’ve come to know it.

Suddenly, someone’s trying to kill Fury and he barely escapes to Steve’s apartment where he’s being shot at again – by someone Black Widow later refers to as a Russian myth: the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Fury dies, Steve is accused of treason and hunted by S.H.I.E.L.D., and there are still more secrets to uncover where it all began.

Marvel movies are at its best when they leave their own conventions behind and become more than stories about superheroes. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is an excellent spy movie, first and foremost. We learn more about the agency Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) helped found after Steve disappeared and about its operatives, the counsel overseeing it, and Project Insight, a secret project allowing S.H.I.E.L.D. to spy on the world without it knowing.

And we learn why it all had to fail because Captain America is all about freedom and spying on its own people just isn’t the American way – well, not for Cap anyway.

As I said, Natasha is much more of a character here than she’s been before. We learn a little more about where she comes from and where her loyalties lie. And for once, she’s not pressed into a latex catsuit for the whole length of the movie – a relief, really. As the only female avenger so far, we needed to see her as more than her body parts and The Winter Soldier delivers here as in many other aspects. Again, it took Marvel too fucking long – female representation remains one of Marvel’s absolute weak points – but they present us with a great character. The source material for all those female heroes is already in place if the MCU would only choose to use it. Here they do, and it turns out great. More of that, please.

An important introduction in this movie is Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), of course. He’s the one who’s going to pick up the shield and become Captain America after Avengers: Endgame. Something to be excited about and Sam is certainly a hero. Falcon quickly became a favorite for me but with him (and Rhodey) as with female heroes, there’s the question of why it takes Marvel so long to represent HoC (Heroes of Color)? We’re in the 2000s and it’s still serve white, straight dudes first – this shit just has to stop. I hope this will start to change in Phase IV.

I’m putting all these negatives here because there’s really not much to say about the movie. It’s as perfect a solo hero movie as Marvel ever made. Captain America becomes a little bit edgier, less of a mindless soldier type who just follows orders. His relationship to the Winter Soldier will cause problems around the corner. There are a lot of things that will stay with the character, Steve Rogers, that make him more relatable. His new friendships, one with Natasha, the other with Sam, will become even more important in Captain America: Civil War.

Yes, context is important for this movie. The character of Rumlow, for example, will be back with a vengeance and it’s good to remember him from this movie or else the beginning of Civil War becomes a little bit of a question mark. Then there is the first glimpse of the twins: Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) in the mid-credit scene. And also the annihilation of S.H.I.E.L.D. which isn’t just important for the tv show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but for the whole MCU.

The Winter Soldier changed a lot, it brought some of the best characters into the MCU or made great characters of heretofore cardboard characters (and, yes, that includes Bucky Barnes). I would always recommend you watch it whenever you want to watch an MCU movie for fun because it’s just a really good movie. It brought the Russo brothers into the fold, too, so…

Next: Guardians of the Galaxy (I could really do without Star-Lord, how about you?)

Categories
3D action movie adaptation (literature) adventure comic adaptation Drama male hero Marvel Cinematic Universe Marvel CU movie series mythology sequel Superhero women

The God and the Darkness

Thor: The Dark World (2013) by Alan Taylor

Story time with Odin (Anthony Hopkins) – Before there was anything, there was darkness and into this darkness the dark elves were born. They ruled until light brought other creatures crawling and at one point, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) thought to bring back darkness using a weapon called the Ether. However, Odin’s father, Bor (Tony Curran), defeated him and the Ether, which couldn’t be destroyed, was buried. Malekith escaped but was never heard from again.

Once again, we’re entering an epic tale. How can you tell? You’re being treated to a prologue narrated by Anthony Hopkins. I never really thought about this before but I actually like this bombastic kind of storytelling, the Thor movies have some pathos to them that the other hero movies lack. Strangely, I remembered Thor: The Dark World as boring. I was wrong, though.

The nine realms are aligning. What Heimdall (Idris Elba) views as something fascinating, on Earth, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is riddled with scientific curiosity – and maybe the slight hope that she may see Thor (Chris Hemsworth) again. As she goes to explore, she falls through an anomalie onto the dark elves’s homeworld and rediscovers the Ether. It engulfs her body, forming a symbiosis.

Since Thor has been with Heimdall as this happens, his friend informs him that he can’t see Jane anymore and Thor is quick to get back to Earth to find her. He does as Jane is now back, but she’s changed, she’s sick. Odin informs them that the Ether is feeding on Jane’s lifeforce. That’s not the only problem, though, as Malekith has awakened with the reemergence of the Ether – and he wants his weapon back.

Everything seems so much bigger in the Thor movies, not just the hero but the level of destruction (it’s probably no wonder that Hulk fits into this world so well). I guess when Gods are involved everything is more dramatic. However, as Odin informs us, Asgardians aren’t really Gods, they just live longer than, say, humans. But they’re not immortal as is proven in this movie by the death of Frigga (Rene Russo), Thor and Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) mother, Odin’s wife.

She’s killed and hence serves – as so many female characters before her – as sacrifice to the heroic tale of a male hero. Yeah, it’s a lame trope that’s still being beaten like the proverbial dead horse. Apparently, in male storytelling there is no greater sacrifice a woman can make than to offer herself as raison d’etre for a vengeful saga of male heroism. Luckily for Thor, he’s blessed with more female characters that surround him than most, so…

Am I honestly supposed to care about this anymore? It’s not like men are self-aware enough to change lame tropes like this. Did I like Frigga? Hell, yeah, she was a badass but we’ve only got to see that side of her for five minutes before she died. I love Rene Russo having played her. And I would be seriously mad about this turn of events if I wasn’t so fucking used to it.

But as I said, there are more female characters to care about. I think if I was pressed to name one thing that the first two Thor movies had that Ragnarok didn’t, something that would’ve made it better: more female protagonists. Basically, Ragnarok has two – Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Hella (Cate Blanchett). Jane, Darcy (Kat Dennings), Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), nowhere to be seen. And if I remember correctly, it also makes Ragnarok the only Thor solo movie that doesn’t pass the Bechdel test, think about that.

Well, Thor: The Dark World does because Jane and Darcy are still sciencing. Nothing much has changed really from the first movie. It’s a sequel and as such no better and no worse than Thor. Maybe you think that Malekith wasn’t a really good villain (here we go with the villain-problem again), but who do you compare him to at this point? The solo movie villains (except for Loki) have mostly been lame so far. I would say, Malekith ranges somewhere between Obidiah Stane and Ivan Vanko, he’s certainly no worse than Aldrich Killian, but then, who is?

On the whole, I recognize now that I do understand much better what these movies are about. When I watched Thor: The Dark World in the theater there was a lot that I didn’t get. I wasn’t just bored, I was simply drowning in deep water. There’s a lot to this story that justifies a rewatch, after all, the Infinity Stones are first referenced here – in the mid-credit scene. We get to see Loki die once again, only to have him inhabit the Asgardian throne at the end. Yes, Frigga’s death is sad and annoying, but on the whole, Thor: The Dark World is a solid entrance in the MCU. Its biggest fault is that it’s not something we haven’t seen before.

Next: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (arguably the best solo movie within the MCU)

Categories
3D action movie adaptation (literature) adventure bad movie comic adaptation Drama male hero Marvel Cinematic Universe Marvel CU men movie series sequel Superhero

A Hero’s Demons

Iron Man 3 (2013) by Shane Black

Iron Man is back with a new director. The hero’s third solo movie is a mess – you may think it’s a solid movie but it’s really not. It’s the one I’ll be hating on unasked until the end of my days. Why? I’m not quite sure, there are enough reasons. Let’s have a look at them.

But first, as always, here’s what happens:

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has PTSD. The things that happened in New York left him paralyzed with fear, he can’t sleep, and he’s got panic attacks. On top of that, there’s a new threat that America faces: the Mandarin. He’s attacking the free world with bombings that don’t seem to use bombs.

Meanwhile, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) isn’t very happy with Tony as he takes little time for her but rather tinkers in his workshop. Tony tries to tell her about his fears but then his Iron Man suit attacks Pepper when she tries to help him and things get positively rocky when an ex-girlfriend appears at his door.

What a mess! Really, I hate this movie. On some level, I know that it’s watchable but there are a lot of things I don’t like and they just culminate into what is probably the worst MCU entry to date. You don’t believe me? You actually like it better than Iron Man 2? That’s your prerogative but let’s have a closer look at Iron Man 3:

I think the first problem is the narration, having Tony Stark tell this story in voiceover takes away some imminent threat. Think about the scene where he almost drowns. Of course, we kinda sorta know that he’ll be all right but the voiceover makes sure that we do know. There’s no real threat, we know Tony will be all right and that also extends to Pepper because if she weren’t Tony wouldn’t be telling this story. He would probably have disappeared in a hole somewhere.

In the beginning, Tony tells us about demons he’s raised and it all started at a conference in Bern in 1999 where Tony meets three people that will make their mark on him. First, there is Jinsen (Shaun Toub), the man who in a cave somewhere in the middle east will save his life. Tony brushes him off. Then there’s Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall), a beautiful woman who also happens to be a genius working on DNA that can spontaneously repair itself. While Tony tries to help her with the kinks she still has to work out, he seems more interested in sleeping with her – which he does before he leaves her the next morning. The third one is Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), the founder of A.I.M., a think tank. He’s what you may call the worst stereotype of a nerd, but also rather obnoxious. Tony tells him they’ll talk on the roof and never shows.

So his demons consist of a woman he slept with and never called and a guy he left waiting on the roof on New Year’s Eve? Considering the kind of asshole we’re to believe he was that’s a short and rather tame list. It seems that Tony’s ego once again gets the best of him and wants him to believe that he”s responsible for what happened. Neither Hansen or Killian seem that traumatized, to be honest, and Killian’s focus seems to lie more on Pepper than Tony. He calls her his trophy after capturing her and injecting her with that still unstable serum Hansen has concocted. The one thing we really don’t need in the MCU is a villain who uses the love interest to hurt the hero. As if they weren’t treating their female characters worse enough already!

They are and case in point is this movie because, in the first drafts of the screenplay, Maya Hansen was the villain, not Aldrich Killian. But Marvel was concerned about (get this!) toy sales. They didn’t think anyone would buy a female villain toy and that’s why Hall’s role was cut down and changed to what it became, a one-night-stand with a grudge.

I don’t really have words about how fucked up this is. Ultimately, Aldrich Killian is the worst villain the MCU probably has. One that makes no sense at all. I mean, Hansen really had to resort to working with THAT guy? She invented something genius, she probably could’ve been funded by universities or the government with what she was doing but instead, she chose THAT guy. That’s mind-boggling.

And it’s the worst part about this movie – the villain(s). Compared to the reveal which wasn’t really surprising by the way the movie has been set up (with Tony’s narration), the fake Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is rather amusing. It’s a commentary on how we perceive terrorists, our prejudices. This commentary is, however, overshadowed by the white-washing of another Asian character because it turns out that Killian is the Mandarin.

Basically, the whole villain storyline is stupid and sexist and racist. The worst. And that’s frustrating because there are parts of this movie that are way better than most of Iron Man 2. Like when Tony bonds with that kid, Harley (Ty Simpkins), in Tennessee. How he deals with his PTSD (except for the end-credit scene, that was just Marvel making a joke of everything), how he tries to let Pepper in and not repeat his mistakes from the second movie. He’s become a better man and there’s growth in the character. But all the rest of the movie is so messed up you hardly notice it.

And that’s why I hate this movie.

Next: Thor: The Dark World (I just noticed that the German title is Thor: The Dark Kingdom, what’s that all about?)

Categories
3D action movie adaptation (literature) adventure comic adaptation Drama female hero male hero Marvel Cinematic Universe Marvel CU movie series mythology Superhero team-up

Are We a Team Yet?

The Avengers (2012) by Joss Whedon

In Captain America: The First Avenger, the main villain Johann Schmidt/Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) retrieves an ancient artifact from a guarded crypt in Norway. The powers of this artifact, from now on known as the Tesseract, are not revealed but it seems to be an unlimited power source. Schmidt uses it to power his weapons, he also dies at the end of the movie from touching it. We see it fall into the ocean and being later retrieved by a search party looking for Captain America.

Present day: the Tesseract resides in a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility that is in the process of being evacuated because this ancient power source has somehow been turned on.

This is the beginning of Marvel’s The Avengers.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is back from the dead and collaborates with others to take over Earth. He’s given a mythical scepter together with instructions to take the Tesseract. So he does, he also takes Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) as his mind-controlled slaves. Despite the fact that the Avengers Initiative has been scrapped, Fury (Samuel L.Jackson) still brings Banner (now Mark Ruffalo), Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), and Rogers (Chris Evans) together to get the Tesseract back.

However, when they capture Loki, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) appears and wants to bring his brother home. A fight between the heroes ensues but is solved when Thor agrees to join the group and have Loki imprisoned on a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. Only, it seems that that was Loki’s plan all along…

This is the movie in which Marvel first assembles its first Avengers team and it is a truly magnificent movie. Of course, younger me undermines me once again in this post. Nothing of what I formerly said about The Avengers holds true (except that I still very much respect and love Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man), especially not what I said about Whedon. Eight years is a long time and I’ve come to love the franchise, or maybe I just came to understand it.

The Avengers is also the end of Phase I in the MCU, it combines all the solo movies, all the singular heroes, puts them together in a group that is bigger than its components (yes, bigger even than Tony Stark’s ego). And I think the size of it is what you take away from it. The plot, the fights, everything gets a wider scope. We’re introduced to the big bad guy (Thanos) without being told who he is (comic book fans know, of course, the rest of us is like: is that guy pink?).

This is the first time, Loki is resurrected. He hasn’t been the most remarkable bad guy in Thor, I would even suggest that Thor doesn’t have what you’d call a bad guy. Loki is family, and at the level he operates in Thor it seems more like a family squabble than having an opponent to defeat. Thor’s origin is a lot more about himself than about setting up Loki as a bad guy. Maybe that’s why he operates on a far more familiar level than anyone else could in The Avengers. He’s become a worthy opponent, even if we already know that there are bigger villains behind him. In my other review, I wrote that he’s bad at being bad and I stand with that. He always tries to be the tough guy but then he’s beaten senseless by the Hulk. He lacks the authority of a truly evil villain, he’s mischievous (God of Mischief, after all) and his story from here on out confirms that.

The Avengers, on the other hand, are true good guys but at this point, they’re still individuals, not a team. They struggle with each other, with not being the biggest hero in the room anymore. With having a God in their midst, a guy that was on trading cards in the 1940s, one that could obliterate them all if he lost his temper, and one that just wants to be the one calling the shots. And then there’s Black Widow, the wild card, one that we don’t know much about (and after this outing it seem ridiculous that we don’t have a Black Widow movie but the makers at Marvel are still resisting at this point). I’m reluctant to calling Hawkeye a team member here, probably because he’s Loki’s puppet for most of the movie which makes him kind of the weakest link. But he holds his own in the final battle and that makes him part of the Avengers.

It doesn’t help that Loki’s scepter is throwing a wedge into any kind of amiable conversation at this point, but the team comes together slowly and only when they’re challenged to. The group forms for the big fight in New York, Banner takes a big step by not running away again after he loses his temper on the helicarrier. But the Avengers isn’t a fully formed group, nothing too tight. And maybe they never really will be. The fact that they fight well together, that they’re friendly in the future never really seems to signify that they’re friends. Considering that Civil War is right around the corner, the Avengers team-up seems very fragile at this point. It doesn’t help that the man (Nick Fury) who brings them together and the organization (S.H.I.E.L.D.) behind him have their own agenda.

The counsel behind S.H.I.E.L.D. seems really deviant at this point, outlines of people on screens that only Fury is allowed to talk to, people who scrapped the Avengers Initiative and instead set their money on having Tesseract-powered weapons – just like Hydra did in the 40s. And ultimately deciding to nuke New York. It doesn’t bode well and is possibly the set-up for the big Hydra-reveal in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

And this is just one more point to prove that The Avengers brings all the strings together and puts new ones out into the second phase of the MCU. The Avengers makes us hungry for more, just like the heroes are hungry in the end credit scene. It says: this is only the beginning – and what a beginning it was!

Next: Iron Man 3 (the movie I truly hate)

Categories
3D action movie adaptation (literature) adventure boot camp/military movie comic adaptation Drama great actress history Introduction male hero Marvel Cinematic Universe Marvel CU men movie series origin story people Superhero

A Challenge

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) by Joe Johnston

It was just after this movie came out that I think I realized the scope of the MCU for the first time. That there would always be more movies and more stories. And I was reluctant to enter into something that asked for a commitment. So this is one of the movies I skipped at the movies and it wasn’t really a hard choice. I mean, with Iron Man I was curious what Robert Downey Jr. still had in him; The Incredible Hulk I also did not see at the movies because I really didn’t care and didn’t know the movies would be connected. With Thor, there was my interest in mythic stories (I’m more of a Greek myth person, really, but I don’t mind the Norse Gods at all) and it was directed by Kenneth Branagh.

When I finally did watch Captain America, I did like it and also him but my initial reluctance may actually be linked to a bigger problem the first avenger faces worldwide.

What happens in the movie?

Skinny little Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) wants to fight in World War II but being skinny and little are only two problems that have recruitment bureaus rejecting him. Seeing his buddy Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) in his uniform doesn’t exactly boost Steve’s confidence but then a chance encounter with Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) lands Steve one of the top spots in a very special recruitment competition – one to make a supersoldier.

Suffice it to say, Steve wins that competition – not by being the best or strongest but by being compassionate and smart. He becomes a supersoldier but he remains the first and only one because Erskine is assassinated right after making Steve big and strong. The army loses interest in an experiment that can’t be continued and Steve is forced to help the war effort by selling war bonds. Until the day he learns that his friend Bucky has been captured and possibly killed by the enemy.

It’s strange looking at the concept of this film and realizing how many boxes it ticks with me. I don’t necessarily come from a superhero-loving background but the 1940s have a special place in my heart – movie-wise. I’m also interested in history, especially WWII. And who doesn’t love an underdog story?

Captain America, though? The hero’s title doesn’t really invite international audiences, does it? You don’t need to be anti-American to be little enthused about a hero that seems to embody America’s special brand of patriotism. The German distributor of Marvel films actually chose to drop the Captain America-part for the second and third movies, calling them The Return of the First Avenger and The First Avenger: Civil War respectively. This first outing of Captain America made around 370 million Dollars worldwide, only The Incredible Hulk made less. Successful? Yes, but not an instant hit.

Many of us probably only started liking Steve Rogers when he became part of the avengers. It’s a pity, though, because Captain America: The First Avenger is a great movie. Steve is instantly likable, even as he struggles with multiple illnesses that keep him on the short side. He wants to fight, he thinks he has no right to stay home when others lay down their lives. He’s a good guy and that’s what makes him the perfect candidate for the supersoldier program.

The likability of the character is an important factor, especially considering international audiences. But it also makes Steve a little bit bland. He operates in a politically divisive climate and the filmmakers were very aware to make Steve inoffensive. This is not about killing Nazis, really, it’s about modern audiences viewing a time in which it was not just okay but necessary to kill Nazis. Having a good guy kill people (and Captain America probably killed more people than any of the other Avengers) is problematic. And so Steve is a nice guy, a guy we trust in to do the right thing. To further us being okay with him killing Nazis, they made Hydra a faceless mass (yes, they went a step further by making the main antagonist literally faceless), they’re just people in black combat uniform with masks over their faces.

I guess all this explains why the first avenger is also the last to arrive on the scene, just before The Avengers is released. So much was build on how successful Iron Man was but it was also crucial that the other avengers did well. Making Steve inoffensive, making Hydra faceless, at the same time making The Howling Commandoes more diverse (with an Asian-American, a French, and a British soldier in their mix) than they were in the comics, and going as far as giving Steve a Britsh love interest in Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), everything was designed to appeal to a wide audience. Only, in Captain America, it shows more than in the other movies.

It’s still a great movie, underrated I think. I really like Steve Rogers but I LOVE Peggy Carter. Maybe it’s because, thanks to the tv show Agent Carter, I’ve spent more time with her than with Steve or any of the other avengers. It’s really a pity that she’s stuck in her time period and thus less accessible to the wider MCU stories. They put her in as often as they could and I’m glad for it. Agent Carter should’ve had a longer run, Peggy’s one of my faves.

A little sidenote: I’m glad, Captain America: The First Avenger didn’t have American actors attempt to speak German. It’s really difficult to understand them in most cases because their speech rhythm is usually off. Instead, they opted for the ‘German’ characters to have German accents in their English. Hugo Weaving does an especially good job at this. They probably did it for English-speaking audiences but as a German viewer, I’m ever so grateful.

Well, if you can make time and give this a rewatch I’m sure you won’t regret it. In light of what happened in Endgame, I think it’s nice to see how Steve and Peggy’s romance started (I like them together, of course, if I had a say in it I would’ve liked for Steve to be with Bucky and Peggy to be with Angie but as long as it has to be heteronormative…).

Next: The Avengers (where everything comes together)

Categories
3D action movie adaptation (literature) adventure auteur comic adaptation Drama male hero Marvel Cinematic Universe Marvel CU movie series mythology origin story Superhero

God Among Mortals

Thor (2011) by Kenneth Branagh

Upon first reading that Kenneth Branagh had directed a comic book movie, I was a bit confused. Mind you, that was before he did Cinderella but after he did most of my favorite Shakespeare adaptations. The fault wasn’t really with him, I guess, but with me, because I considered comic book movies mere action movies (considering I’d watched Iron Man and Iron Man 2 up to this point, who could fault me?). I guess you could say that I wouldn’t have bothered if Branagh hadn’t been the director. You can read my early thoughts on Thor here, though my scope was admittedly a bit narrow back then.

So, let’s try again:

Odin (Anthony Hopkins) tells his sons, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), about the time he beat the frost giants on Earth and took the source of their power from them. Years later, on the day that was supposed to make Thor king of Asgard, a small group of frost giants tries to steal that power source back – and fails. But the event spurs Thor to forget his father’s warning and go to fight the frost giants once more – and almost loses but for the fact that his father intervenes.

Odin takes Mjolnir (the source of his power) from Thor and casts him out – he falls onto earth where he’s hit by a car. Three scientists, among them Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), try and support Thor on his quest to reclaim Mjolnir while in Asgard, Loki makes a grab for Odin’s crown.

In my other review, I said Thor was entertaining yet forgettable. I hadn’t yet grasped the connection between this one and the movies I had already watched (as I said, I was a babe in the woods), and the friend who tried to educate me had only done a superfluous job (or wasn’t aware of all the implications yet). Anyway, of the first outings of all our favorite superheroes, this one is far from forgettable. It’s actually quite epic.

And here comes my astonishment over the director at play because while Kenneth Branagh might have been an odd choice of director for a comic book movie, he certainly isn’t an odd choice for a director of an epic (almost Shakespearean) tale. Thor is a story about Gods, about power, about scientific exploration, and Thor learning humility. It has several well-told layers to its narrative, going way back to the time of the Vikings here on Earth and combining it with our time where Thor falls to Earth just to be hit by a car.

Where you have Branagh, you have visual splendor and you also have a great cast: Anthony Hopkins, Rene Russo, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgard, and Colm Feore are recognizable veteran actors who star alongside newcomers (at the time) Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, and Idris Elba. The list goes on.

I can think of few directors who could’ve introduced us to Asgard in the same way Branagh did, and yes, I’m kind of a Branagh fan. He’s got a rather vintage style, very elaborate, a little bit show-offy, and I like it – mostly. There’s a certain amount of ego that usually makes it onto the screen with him and I think it’s no coincidence that Thor’s beard is more reddish than blond in this one – Branagh probably would’ve liked to play the God of Thunder himself.

Of course, Chris Hemsworth is more impressive, physically. His good looks and physique go a long way in representing what Thor is about. But he also makes him likable, charming. Hemsworth may not have the acting chops some of the other heroes in the MCU have but he makes one fantastic Thor and by next year he’ll be the only one with four solo movies.

I’m focusing a lot on the actors here. I guess with this kind of franchise, where there are already fans of the original text, it’s especially important to have the right actor play the part. Can you imagine Tom Cruise playing Iron Man? Do you want to? No, I don’t think so. The actors make these roles, or as in Edward Norton’s case, they don’t. Norton was a great Banner but he gave the role up and fans seem to like Mark Ruffalo way better in the part. People were probably critical of a no-name playing Thor but Hemsworth won everyone over.

Thor is a very impressive film. You have lots of protagonists and changes of places. I’m sure I didn’t follow the whole plot when I first watched it and was very impressed last night by the sheer magnitude of the film. It’s huge, not just from the visual point of view (it’s magnificent to look at), but the narrative is complex and we have multiple sets of players in multiple scenes. Branagh directed it well and it’s a pity that he withdrew from Thor: The Dark World.

If you haven’t watched Thor in a while, give it another go. It’s really worth watching again. It’s a great origin story for the God of Thunder and we may not see him in this way again.

Next: Captain America: The First Avenger (which I didn’t see at the movies)

Categories
action movie adaptation (literature) adventure anti hero comic adaptation Drama female hero Introduction Marvel Cinematic Universe Marvel CU origin story personal Superhero women

What’s Missing Here

Black Widow (2010) by Absolutely Nobody

Before I go on to talk about Thor, I wanna take this space to talk about a missed opportunity. Because between Iron Man and Thor, there should have been Black Widow. Ideally, an origin story but I think many of us would’ve even gone for whatever happened in Budapest with Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Barton (Jeremy Renner) – now we’ll never know.

And it still makes me mad, to be honest. The one thing, the DCEU did right (and better than MCU) was not to sideline their female hero. They were positive that Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) would sell and sell she did – in a movie that most people (me included) would consider their best so far.

I already talked about how little I liked Black Widow’s introduction in Iron Man 2 but the problem got bigger from there because Marvel chose to ignore it. I came to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a babe, I knew nothing about the characters and only by chance did I become a fan. What always irked me, however, was the treatment of the female heroes, how they were seemingly forgotten. I’m aware this doesn’t just apply to female heroes, it applies to anyone who’s not white and straight, but for me it was most striking with Black Widow because I didn’t recognize her as a hero.

This doesn’t often happen to me. I usually very clearly identify people’s rightful place within a narrative but when Romanoff came out of nowhere in the donut shop (in a black latex catsuit, no less) I was at a total loss what Tony’s (Robert Downey Jr.) assistant was doing there. I mean, I was kinda aware that Natalie Rushman was something else, maybe a corporate spy or something… but a hero…

All right, you may say that she’s not technically a hero with her background of being a double and triple spy. Or maybe you simply don’t think of her as a hero because ‘well, she works for S.H.I.E.L.D. and also they didn’t give her her own movie’ (I hope you read that in annoying internet troll fanboy voice). But that’s exactly the point. Marvel chose not to give her a movie, didn’t even think she needed one. And that was their mistake, not Black Widow’s.

She’s a hero and Marvel did her dirty. They’re trying now to remedy that fact with a kind of cinematical homage but too long they have ignored us telling them we wanted a Black Widow movie. In about two months, there will be a Black Widow movie and I’m going to watch it, too. But I do feel that at this point it’s bound to disappoint. Because almost ten years have passed from when they had the perfect opportunity to introduce us to Natasha Romanoff, ten years!

We saw her in Iron Man 2 and after taking out Hammer’s complete security team we were like: ‘WHO THAT?! WE WANT!’ But they did not give, instead they made her out to be some sort of personal bodyguard/spy to Nick Fury and eye-candy within the film. They basically assassinated her character before they even told us that she was an assassin.

This is one example of a bigger problem, though. Marvel has pushed female characters into a margin early on. We have the Pepper Potts-characters – love interests to the hero and in a way certainly reward to the hero. And then we have the Christina Everharts – secondary female characters who’re little more than eye-candy, can also be the comical relief or even the villain, I guess. And that’s basically it. They didn’t make space for a female hero. Maybe they thought along the line, maybe, there would be a Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), or a Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), but can you honestly tell me that they even planned to give any of them their own movie? Had DC not made Wonder Woman would there even be a Captain Marvel movie?

I think not, and that’s a problem. Yes, now they’re trying to remedy that fact. With a Black Widow movie, with an Eternals movie (where some of the male characters have been made female), with putting Wasp on the same level as Ant-Man. But it’s so late. Equal representation is not something you sit and wait on, and that goes for all types of humans. If you plan to open a universe, don’t sit on more than 50% of your characters… and I can’t believe I still have to spell that out in 2020!

Can you imagine the kind of stories we could’ve already had, had they put out an early Black Widow movie? And origin story for Black Widow – and have you read about her origin, holy shit! Or an extra-cool spy thriller! Or maybe both? She could’ve killed so many world leaders already! (That last one is my special brand of humor, deal with it!) The Maximofs could’ve had their own movie, Hope Van Dyne could’ve been the Wasp all along… missed opportunities.

If you think that all this is redundant, you’re welcome to your own opinion. But I think as long as this doesn’t change, and one female superhero movie doesn’t mean change – it’s more of a bandaid, really – it must be said. As much as I love Marvel movies, I hate that they dropped the ball on this.

So, Marvel, dear Marvel, give me more female heroes. Make so many movies about female heroes (and black heroes and brown heroes and queer heroes) that their numbers equal those of straight white heroes. Because everybody goes to the movies and everybody likes to see themselves represented (and might actually watch a movie with their special representation more than once).

Next: Thor (for real, this time)