Catch-Up Review: Marvel’s The Avengers

The Avengers: Goal Achieved
– A Hero Corner Catch-up Review by David 2

And, lo, there came a time when the heroes that Marvel Studios still owned had to assemble to do battle to save the world.  And they called this great adventure… “The Avengers”!

Yes, this was the culmination of the “grand plan” for Marvel Studios.  Everything from “Iron Man” all the way to “Captain America: The First Avenger” led us right to this movie.

“Marvel’s The Avengers”, or simply “The Avengers”, was released in 2012 and stars Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Clark Gregg, Colbie Smothers, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany (or the voice of), Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, and Samuel L. Jackson.  Mark Ruffalo took the place of Edward Norton as both Bruce Banner and the “other guy”, aka The Hulk (with the help of some CGI, of course).

We start where we last left off in the after-credits of “Thor”, namely a super-secret facility run by Nick Fury of SHIELD, with Maria Hill (Smothers) and Phil Coulson (Gregg) by his side, overseen by Dr. Erik Selvig (Skarsgard), and watched over by “The Hawk”, Clint Barton (Renner).  The object in question, we learned from “Captain America”, is “The Tesseract”, and it pretty much is a god-mode McGuffin.  Well the “McGuffin” starts acting up, and out pops Loki (Hiddleston), which should surprise people after what happened in “Thor”.  And now he can take over the minds of people like Barton and Selvig with his scepter.  So with his little army of compromised SHIELD agents, he forces Fury and company to make a hasty exit before everything goes “boom”.  Fury declares war, and he sends his people out to summon… well, a group of people who don’t know how to operate as a team yet.

Coulson calls on “Agent Romanov”, aka Black Widow (Johansson), who then tells her to get “The Big Guy”, while he gets Tony Stark, aka Iron Man (Downey Jr.), who is busy showing off for his girlfriend Pepper (Paltrow).  We learn that “The Big Guy” is actually Bruce Banner (Ruffalo), and he plays a little hard-to-get with her.  Nick, of course, gets to bring in Captain Rogers (Evans), aka Captain America, and has a cute little bet with him about how much he can be impressed.

The “team” slowly gets assembled onboard the SHIELD Heli-carrier, which actually lives up to the comic book version.  When Loki shows up in Germany, Captain America is there to challenge him, along with Romanov and Iron Man.  Loki surrenders, but on the way back to the Heli-carrier, they are interrupted by the arrival of Thor (Hemsworth).  Let’s just say the meeting wasn’t on the best of terms.  In fact, most of the movie is about everyone not being on the best of terms with each other.  And yet somehow… well, you can figure it out, and I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen it yet.

There are many reasons why this movie is the best Marvel Studios has done, not to mention one of the best all-time superhero movies.  This was the end result of Marvel’s long plan that that they managed to pull off, tying in everything they previously did with a huge group bow and then presenting to the fans like a Christmas present.  They only person they didn’t manage to bring in was Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, but they at least managed to cover her disappearance with a quick mention of her being safe.  Also missing was Don Cheadle’s Jim Rhodes, aka War Machine, but they didn’t bother to cover his absence.  Don’t worry, he won’t be absent for long.

The big obstacle was to get these individual heroes from all of those movies not only together, but working as a group.  It’s not perfect, but director Joss Whedon pulled it off and did so in a pretty epic way.  Then again, if anyone ever saw “Serenity”, then you know that Whedon knows how to do epic.  On top of that, the movie end with both the infamous mid-credit scene and an after-credit scene, although the latter was more for the fans.  You may have heard about the infamous shawarma scene.  If you haven’t, then fast-forward through the second half of the credits to see it.  Just don’t expect anything funny or grand or even poignant.

In all, “The Avengers” lived up to the expectations.

And so “Phase One” was complete, Marvel Studios ruled the cinematic roost, and the other studios scrambled to keep up.

On to “Phase Two”…

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Catch-Up Review: Captain America – The First Avenger

Captain America: The Avenger Prologue
– A Hero Corner Catch-up Review by David 2

So we continue with the Mighty Marvel Studio’s march to “The Avengers” with the last of the solo movies, and the one that sets the stage for “The Avengers” movie itself.  We have already seen Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye, and of course tying them all together are Nick Fury and his Agents of SHIELD.  Now we just need their super-patriot… Captain America.

“Captain America: The First Avenger” was released in 2011 by Marvel Studios and stars Chris Evans, Hailey Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Stanley Tucci, Samuel L. Jackson, and the “Generalissimo” himself, Stan Lee.

If you saw the after-credit scene in “Thor”, you saw Nick Fury showing off a certain glowing cube.  That cube sets the stage for the movie as Nazi officer Johann Schmidt (Weaving) discovers it hiding behind a wooden carving of the Norse representation of Yggdrasil, otherwise known as the “World Tree”.  If you saw “Thor” then you’d also recognize the significance.

We then switch to the United States, and a puny and weak Steve Rogers (Evans and some great CGI) is trying for the umpteenth time to join the Army to help fight against the Nazis.  But every time he tries, he is rejected.  He’s too skinny, too small, and too sickly to serve.  But that doesn’t stop him from standing up to bullies… even though he ends up getting the crap beaten out of him… for the umpteenth time.  Even when his best friend Bucky Barnes (Stan) tries to cheer him up by going to the World’s Fair and seeing the “future” courtesy of millionaire genius Howard Stark (Cooper), Steve still tries to enlist in yet another recruitment center.  But this time he is caught by Dr. Erskine (Tucci), who gives him the opportunity to serve in another way… to test his super-secret super-soldier process.

Before he can be the human guinea pig, though, he has to survive basic training as run by Colonel Phillips (Jones) and British agent Peggy Carter (Atwell).  Both Carter and Erskine see the potential in Steve, while Phillips and the other soldiers don’t.  But they get convinced because… story… and we see both Erskine and Iron Man’s future daddy put Steve through the process.  He becomes taller, bigger, and more fit.  It’s just a pity some Nazi spy would come in and ruin it by killing Erskine.

Colonel Phillips then does what all idiot officers do, which is to bench his greatest weapon.  But, don’t worry, he can still serve as “Captain America”; a star-spangled stage performer who wears a patriotic costume and gets to punch out “Adolph Hitler” while selling war bonds.  What a waste!

But don’t worry, that’s far from the end of the story.  I just don’t want to spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it yet.  After all, we still need to know how that blue glowing cube fits into all of it, how Cap gets a shield, how he becomes more than just a stage act, and how he plays into “The Avengers”.

This movie, above any other earlier production featuring the iconic Marvel character, really embraces the origin story, while still putting their own spin to it.  We see Tony Stark’s father being every bit the genius that Tony would eventually be in “Iron Man”.  We see the legendary “Howling Commandos” and how they got started.

The casting is equally superb.  Chris Evans embodies the spirit of Steve Rogers, both before and after his transformation.  Hugo Weaving plays quite the convincing villain as both Schmidt and as the Red Skull.  And the quality of special effects make the skinny Rogers and the Red Skull look outright convincing.

This is, without a doubt, one of the best from Marvel Sudios, ranked right up there with the first “Iron Man” movie.  And they make it quite clear in the post-credit scenes that the next movie for them will be… “The Avengers”.

Catch-Up Review: Thor

Thor: The God of Marvel
– A Hero Corner Catch-up Review by David 2

Marvel Studios continued their journey towards assembling “The Avengers” with their 2011 movie “Thor”, directed by Kenneth Branagh.

“Thor”, of course, is both the legendary Norse God of Thunder and also a longtime Marvel comics character.  Simply put, he’s Marvel’s version of Superman.  He is mighty, he wields a formidable weapon, and it also helps that he looks like a blond Adonis.

Chris Hemsworth plays the titular character, with an all-star cast of Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba, and Rene Russo joining in with Tom Hiddleston, Kat Dennings, Stellan Skarsgård, and returning actor Clark Gregg.  We are also introduced to another future Avenger, Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, played by Jeremy Renner.  And, yes, Stan Lee shows up too.

We start with Dr. Jane Foster (Portman) and her scientific crew literally running into a blond man (Hemsworth) in the middle of a sudden sandstorm in the New Mexico desert.  As the sand clears, we zoom up and away to the legendary land of Asgard, home of the Norse Gods.  We learn that the blond man that was hit by Jane’s car is, in fact, Thor, and we see why he was sent to Earth.  After frost giants from another realm interrupt Thor’s ceremony to be named heir to the throne, Thor is convinced by his brother Loki (Hiddleston) to attack the frost giants in their home world along with their longtime friends, Lady Sif and the Warriors Three.  Thor’s father Odin (Hopkins) is forced to intervene to stop an all-out war with the Frost Giants, and, after an argument with Odin over his reckless actions, Thor is stripped of his title and mighty hammer and cast out to Earth… where he is promptly hit by Foster’s car.

While Thor is carrying out all the stereotypical antics of a seemingly crazy man in modern society, SHIELD Agent Coulson (Gregg) is investigating the appearance of a strange hammer in the middle of the desert that nobody and nothing can move.  SHIELD also confiscates all of Jane’s research and notes, because that’s what jackbooted secret government agencies do, even in Marvel movies.  Thor discovers where the hammer is and he convinces Foster to take him there.  Thor goes through several SHIELD agents to reach the hammer, while being observed by Barton and Coulson, only to find that he cannot lift the hammer.  Following Odin’s instructions, Thor is no longer “worthy”.

While in SHIELD custody, Thor is visited by Loki, who tells him that his father is dead, and part of the condition for peace with the frost giants is that Thor must stay on Earth forever.  And then he tries to lift the hammer himself and obviously fails.

And while there is obviously more to this story, I think I’ll leave it here so I won’t spoil it for you.

There was much to be said about the casting of this movie, especially the role of Heimdall, as played by Idris Elba, who clearly did not look like a Norse deity.  But in deciding to give this movie an unbiased look, I found little to complain about with this portrayal.  Elba did a fine job as did all the other actors.  The characters were well portrayed and the story kept things moving.

My only real complaint with the movie is that the music seemed somewhat subdued at points where it really needs to be epic.  The action and the drama are there, but the music itself isn’t.  That undermines the climactic scenes.

As with all the other movies, “Thor” also has a post-credit scene featuring a certain character already known for making post-credit appearances, although it also provides a mysterious preview of something that we’ll see more of in the next two movies.  What is it?  Well you’ll just have to wait until the next review of the Mighty Marvel movies!

Catch-Up Review: Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2: The Marvel Sequel
– A Hero Corner Catch-up Review by David 2

Following the success of “Iron Man” and the redemption of “The Incredible Hulk” in 2008, Marvel Studios went forward with part 3 of their grand gamble with the release of “Iron Man 2” in 2010.

Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, and director/co-star Jon Favreau return as Tony Stark, Pepper Potts, and Happy Hogan, with Clark Gregg coming back as Agent Coulson and our after-credit surprise Samuel L. Jackson returning as super-spy SHIELD director Nick Fury.  Scarlett Johansson makes her debut as Black Widow, and Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke share the villain roles in this film as corporate weasel Justin Hammer and Ivan “Whiplash” Vanko. It also includes Garry Shandling as slimy Senator Stern and Stan Lee as… well, Stan Lee.  Terrance Howard was not able to be in this movie, so instead Oscar-nominated actor Don Cheadle takes over as Colonel Jim Rhodes for this and all other future appearances for the character.

The movie takes place about two years after the first one, with the world knowing that Tony Stark is Iron Man.  Slimy Senator Stern has declared Iron Man to be United States Government property, which, as Tony points out, would directly violate the 13th Amendment.  Justin Hammer wants to replace Tony Stark in the game of making Iron Man suits and was working with terrorist nations to try to make it happen… did he not follow what happened in the first movie?  Ivan Vanko wants revenge for what happened to his father when he first worked with Tony’s father.

Oh, and Tony is dying. The same Arc reactor that keeps him alive and powers the Iron Man armor is also slowly poisoning him.

So Tony is making preparations.  Or… he’s doing somewhat reckless and stupid things like making his girlfriend Pepper the company’s CEO, driving race cars in Monaco, and throwing wild parties with hot women, which forces his buddy Rhodes to step in with an earlier Iron Man armor, which he could somehow operate without an Arc reactor surgically implanted in his chest.  And that meltdown brings Nick Fury and SHIELD to the scene to piece everything together and get Tony back “in the game”.

There’s a lot more going on, but I’ll just stop here.

In terms of stories, this one is pretty good.  Again, it was well-cast.  There are enough twists and turns to keep people interested, and you really don’t know how it all turns out until the end, but it still leaves us with a good feel.  It also keeps the whole “Avengers” vibe going both during the story and also in the after-credit scene.  It’s no big surprise either. We know where the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be going next.

Unfortunately this movie also begins to expose some stupid flaws, such as having a super-genius suddenly be super-neurotic.  Tony Stark no longer “takes” things from people?  He’s become people-phobic?  Since when?  Obviously he had no problems bedding blond reporters in the first movie.  And he was pretty close with those hot party babes.  And being “people-phobic” apparently didn’t stop him from getting a little too touchy-feely with a certain character at the very end of the movie (and I’m not talking about Pepper).

Plus, the supposed key part of the Iron Man armor is the Arc reactor.  That’s why Obediah Stane couldn’t duplicate it in the first movie.  That’s why Tony Stark is Iron Man and why they can’t separate the two.  And yet, by the end of the movie, we have just that with Iron Man and War Machine.  That’s a serious abandonment of a key sticking point for the character, which they treat pretty nonchalantly.

I didn’t mention it in the Iron Man review, but Clark Gregg really begins to stand out a little more as Agent Coulson in this movie, even though his overall role is minimal and serves as basically a hint towards the next movie.  But, speaking of, whatever happened to “If you try to escape, or play any sort of games with me, I will taze you and watch ‘Supernanny’ while you drool into the carpet”?  I would have loved to have seen that!  How did that get forgotten?

And I know some people complained about Scarlett Johansson’s role as the Black Widow, but, honestly, she played her part as can be expected.  This movie was not about Black Widow.  It was about Tony Stark.  Black Widow was an agent of SHIELD, she had a job to do, and she did it.

And now on to the next movie…

Catch-Up Review: The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk: The Marvel Reboot
– A Hero-Corner Catch-up Review by David 2

2008 was the start of the all-mighty Marvel Comics launching their own movie studio and their own cinematic universe.  “Iron Man” was the first, but he was far from the last.

In that same year, Marvel Studio worked with Universal Pictures to make up for the mistake Universal made back in 2003 with the Ang Lee failure known simply as “Hulk”.  It was a rather depressing story filled with a whiny Bruce Banner and a bad CGI Hulk that was almost gelatinous at times.  Marvel needed the Hulk for their ultimate gamble, and Universal was willing to work with them to “redeem” themselves and their hero.

“Fight Club” star Edward Norton stars as Bruce Banner in this movie, with Liv Tyler as his girlfriend, Betty Ross, William Hurt doing a pretty credible Sam Elliot impersonation as General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, and Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky, aka The Abomination.  The original “Hulk”, Lou Ferrigno, has a quick cameo and also voices The Hulk.  Yes, the Hulk talks.  Oh, and creator Stan Lee is in it too.

The story is pretty simple.  Bruce Banner created a monster called The Hulk.  The Hulk comes out when Bruce is angry or stressed.  Bruce has been trying to keep The Hulk contained and keep him away from General Ross, who wants The Hulk so he can use it as a weapon.  Bruce wants to destroy the Hulk, and Ross wants to make Hulk his personal weapon of mass destruction.  See?  Simple!

Eventually Bruce finds himself back in America, and back with his girlfriend Betty – who just happens to be the general’s daughter – and with the promise of a cure.  General Ross, however, decides to create his own “super-soldier” to take down The Hulk.  As you can imagine, this ends up being a bad idea.  And now the only thing that can stop this new “abomination” is The Hulk.

In terms of stories, this one was somewhat weak.  It did redeem itself from the Ang Lee movie, but it didn’t give you that feeling of excitement that we saw with “Iron Man”.  The casting was done well, the characters were adequately developed, and nobody looked like they were moping around or were throwing emo tantrums.  The pace was consistent and it wasn’t bogged down with flashbacks like the first movie was.  I suppose that’s a good thing.

The movie does have an after-credit scene… because it’s Marvel… and this one brings Tony Stark into the mix, letting us know (if we didn’t figure it out already), that this was also part of the great gamble that will lead us to “The Avengers”.  Chalk that one up as a win and a “whew” for the Mighty Marvel.

 

Catch-Up Review: Iron Man

Iron Man: New Marvel Universe
– A Hero Corner Catch-Up Review by David 2

In 2008, Marvel Comics took a huge risk that would pay off big-time.  Rather than continuing to sell the movie rights of their characters to big movie studios and then hoping those big studios would do them justice, Marvel decided to create their own movie studio and launch their own major motion pictures of their in-house heroes… or, those that they still retained the full rights to.

The problem for them was that all of their really big characters were sold out to the other studios.  20th Century Fox had the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, and all of their characters including Wolverine, Sony had Spider-Man, and Columbia had Ghost-Rider, which, at that time, just released their first movie.

But Marvel still had the Avengers, including The Hulk, which they got from Universal Pictures after they screwed up with the 2003 Ang Lee flop.  So the Mighty Marvel launched an ambitious plan.  They weren’t going to just do their own superhero movie.  They were going to do a whole string of them, leading up to the big crescendo…. “The Avengers”.

The first movie in this grand plan was “Iron Man”, launched in 2008 by Marvel Studio and starring Robert Downey Jr, Terrance Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jeff Bridges and directed (and co-starred) by Jon Favreau.  Oh, and Iron Man creator Stan Lee makes one of his famed cameos.

The story is a modernized version of the original story in the 1960’s.  Spoiled billionaire Tony Stark (Downey), the orphaned son of a weapons manufacturer, is kidnapped in the Middle East by terrorists.  He is injured but is saved by one of the doctors also held hostage by the terrorists.  He sees the horrors of his weapons, and he decides he needs to do something to stop it.  He uses parts of his weapons to create a device that keeps the unique shrapnel inside him from killing him, and then builds a suit of armor to force his way out of his cell and away to freedom.

Returning to civilization, he immediately suspends all weapons projects and focuses all of his efforts into a new project, which is to perfect the “Iron Man” armor that he originally used to liberate himself from the terrorists.  But he keeps all of this a secret, which confuses everyone, including his assistant, Pepper Potts (Paltrow), his best friend and Air Force officer (Howard), and his business partner, Obediah Stane (Bridges).  His secret project, though, also reveals the truth behind his abduction, and the real villain of the story is soon exposed.

I’d go further into this, but I’ll leave the rest for you to figure out if you haven’t seen it already.  If you haven’t, though, I strongly suggest that you wait until the whole movie is finished, because this is the movie that started off the trend of having post-credit scenes that you really do not want to miss.

In terms of movies, this was one of the best for Marvel and still so.  The casting was almost perfect, with Robert Downey Jr. being the perfect one to lead the franchise as Tony Stark.  While some people complained that Gwenyth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts was too much of a “useless” character, her role in the whole dynamic was pretty much realistic.  This movie was about Tony Stark and about Iron Man, and to that end it did exceedingly well.

And it’s the after-credit scene that let us know that this was just the beginning…

Welcome the “Catch-up Reviews”

In order to get caught up with the dozens of hero-related movies, especially coming from Marvel Studios, we’re going to be posting “Catch-up Reviews”, starting with the 2008 movie “Iron Man”.

The important thing to note about these reviews is that they’re not going to be terribly in-depth.  They will convey just enough information to get a feel of how David 2 sees these movies, and point out some details that stand out.

So get ready to get caught up…