Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 movie posterSynopsis
After a botched job, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the Guardians are being chased by the Sovereign. They are found by a man named Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter’s long-lost father. They go to Ego’s planet to search for the truth behind Peter’s mysterious heritage.

Review
In 2014, Marvel put their blockbuster powers to the test, releasing Guardians of the Galaxy. It was filled with lesser known characters, even to some regular comic readers, who are unique unto themselves. It turned out to be one of Marvel’s best films and now comes the inevitable sequel. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has all of the qualities that made the first so much fun and enjoyable, albeit without the surprise of what to expect.

As I said, everything that made the first film so fun and enjoyable has returned. Everything and everyone are just as quirky and zany as you have come to expect. Chris Pratt as Peter Quill is the main funny man, but Dave Bautista’s Drax get his fair share of comedic moments. Zoe Saldana is the green-skinned bad-ass Gamora. Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, is more adorable than ever and Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, wants to get a hold of everyone’s prosthetics simply to see their reaction. All the while, it has a rocking soundtrack in the background.

Doctor Strange is probably Marvel’s most visually vibrant films to date, but this movie give that one a run for its money. The most notable is Ego’s planet. The moment the team sets foot on it, it just pops. The fauna are colorful, the buildings are shiny and bright, even the soil is a vibrant color unlike what you would expect. However, it’s not just Ego’s planet. The opening battle between the guardians and an interdimensional creature (a big part of the trailers) and scenes where Yondu’s ship is jumping through several wormholes are also vivid scenes worth mentioning. At the very least, your eyes won’t be disappointed.

One of this films best characteristics is its character development. Most of the second act is spent really diving into the characters and their relations with other members of the team. Some you would expect, like Peter and Gamora, but there are some that you wouldn’t, like Rocket and Yondu or Drax and newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff). These interactions do a great job of building the characters and lead to some strong, emotional moments.

Much to my surprise, Yondu (Michael Rooker) has one of the greatest arcs of the film. His moments with Rocket and their similar histories really tug at the heartstrings. As Peter’s adopted father, he had to deal with Peter finally meeting his real father, Ego (Kurt Russell). In the previous movie, he felt like a throwaway character; someone who was there when the plot needed it but didn’t feel like he had much importance. This time, he is front and center and gives the film’s most emotional scene. Speaking of Russell, he was a great as the living planet Ego. Like most villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he isn’t going to have any lasting presence, but Russell gave one of the more memorable villainous performances is the MCU. The relationship between Peter, Yondu, and Ego would make a great conversation starter between step-children and step-parents.

I wasn’t as in love with the soundtrack as I was with the first Guardians movie. It was still bouncy and fun and integrated into the movie well but it wasn’t as entrancing as before. Maybe it’s because I was unfamiliar with more of the songs this time around or maybe it was that I expected a rocking retro soundtrack and it wasn’t as much of a surprise. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t blown away but I still was rocking out nevertheless.

This might sound contradictory, but despite all the great character development throughout the second act, it also felt like the weakest part of the move. Weakest isn’t the right word but I’m not sure exactly what word I’m looking for. During this time, the team is split into two groups. The bouncing back and forth between the groups, as well as the balancing of those serious moments with the humorous ones gave it a really weird pacing. Whenever the movie slowed down to give the great character moments, it immediately went into a joke / gag or changed scenes. I liked that they managed to get as much development in as they did but the jumping around made my head spin after a while.

I thought Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was GOOD 🙂 This movie is a good example of a movie studio giving a director the freedom to do their movie their way. James Gunn brought as much heart and soul into Volume 2 as he did in Volume 1. A slow and somewhat oddly paced middle act does not deter from what this movie does well: great characterization, a fun soundtrack, and plenty of humor to rival any comedy film. It can feel like much of the same but if you liked it the first time, you’re going to like it here as well. Once again, I left the theater excited to see where these characters go next.

Favorite Quote
Yondu: He might be your father, but he ain’t your daddy.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
James Gunn – Director / Writer
Tyler Bates – Composer

Chris Pratt – Peter Quill / Star-Lord
Zoe Saldana – Gamora
Dave Bautista – Drax
Vin Diesel – Baby Groot (voice)
Bradley Cooper – Rocket (voice)
Michael Rooker – Yondu
Karen Gillan – Nebula
Pom Klementieff – Mantis
Kurt Russell – Ego
Sean Gunn – Kraglin
Elizabeth Debicki – Ayesha
Chris Sullivan – Taserface

Doctor Strange Review

Doctor Strange movie posterSynopsis
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a highly skilled, but arrogant, neurosurgeon. After a car crash leaves him unable to perform surgeries again, he heads to Nepal seeking the Ancient One (Tilda Swinto) to help heal his hands. Strange gets drawn into a world of sorcery and mystic arts while under the Ancient One’s tutelage and must protect the world from being destroyed by Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).

Review
I’ve heard people say that Doctor Strange is Marvel’s next big risk, introducing magic into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), as well as a relatively lesser known property. But really, from a film studio that has a talking raccoon, a hero who can communicate with ants, and Asgard, is magic really that big of a step? Is a film centered around a lesser known character really going to stop the juggernaut that is Marvel Studios?

I’ll be honest, when I heard Benedict Cumberbatch was cast as Stephen Strange, I wasn’t one hundred percent behind the choice. I knew that he is a great and versatile actor but I had a hard time picturing him as Strange. However, knowing Marvel’s past casting history, and my usual willingness to give every casting choice the benefit of the doubt, I trusted Marvel to find the best Strange they could. Now, I’m not going to say that Cumberbatch fits Strange like a glove the same way Robert Downey, Jr. fits Tony Stark, but I am having trouble remembering why I was having doubts in the first place. He was absolutely fantastic.

Besides Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange contains some very good talent. Tilda Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One was surrounded by controversy but I think her casting worked really well. Swinton has this soft but authoritative aura about her that fits perfectly in the mentor role of the Ancient One. Rachel McAdams is sweet and funny as always but she doesn’t have much screen time. I’m interested to see more of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo, Strange’s fellow student under the Ancient One and ally against the film’s villain. The best surprise as was Benedict Wong as… Wong, the librarian of Kamar-Taj (the temple in Nepal where Strange learns about being a sorcerer). I was expecting the film to be humorous but several of his lines made me laugh the hardest.

Now fourteen movies in, Marvel Studios has established a formula for their films, whether you love it or hate it. One reason why they keep reusing a similar structure is because it works. We begin with our hero, they come by some tragedy and go in search of a way to heal themselves. They get gain powers and begin to use them for good, with the film ending in an outrageous fight scene between our hero and the villain. This structure can be seen from Iron Man to Thor to Ant-Man to Doctor Strange. How well this works for you depends on if you are tired of seeing this formula done or not. For me, it has worked so far and I still enjoy seeing the hero’s journey from human to superhuman so I like it. Especially since Marvel injects so much humor into it.

Like many of the previous MCU films, the laughs come naturally and organically. Never did I think “Oh, I was supposed to laugh there.” Wong (the character) was the surprise comedic relief of the film. Every scene of his contained at least one moment that generated a laugh. McAdams even had a moment or two. It still remains refreshing how light Marvel Studios makes their movies, without compromising the maturity of the film, despite all of the destruction happening in them.

The easiest why to describe Strange’s magic appearance in the comics is “psychedelic.” Many wondered if Marvel Studios would be able to bring that brand of oddness to the screen without feeling too odd. The effects in Doctor Strange feel they were brought straight off the page and onto the screen. Everything is gorgeous and stunning. The scenes when the sorcerers were fighting in the city and manipulating the architecture around them looked like they were straight out of Inception. The Dark Dimension puts some of the more “out there” visuals from the Thor films to shame. This is one of the few films that I would really recommend you see in 3D if possible.

Like many of the prior MCU films, this movie’s villain, Kaecilius, is not developed very deeply. Yes, he has his motivations, but they are as basic as many of the other villains that have been seen so far. He is not the worst but he is far from the best.

I thought Doctor Strange was GREAT :-D. I was first wary about Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange but in normal Marvel Studio’s fashion, they proved they know what they are doing when it comes to casting. Although the film doesn’t shake up the superhero movie formula they have created too much, Doctor Strange is very entertaining, finding itself as one of the better films of the MCU.

Trivia
In the comics, the Ancient One is an old man; in this film, the Ancient One is played by a woman. This was a deliberate decision as Scott Derrickson felt the Ancient One was a title rather than a person. -Via IMDB

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Scott Derrickson – Director / Writer
Jon Spaihts – Writer
C. Robert Cargill – Writer
Michael Giacchino – Composer

Benedict Cumberbatch – Dr. Stephen Strange
Tilda Swinton – The Ancient One
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Mordo
Benedict Wong – Wong
Mads Mikkelsen – Kaecilius
Rachel McAdams – Christine Palmer
Michael Stuhlbarg – Dr. Nicodemus West
Benjamin Bratt – Jonahtan Pangborn
Topo Wresniwiro – Hamir
Linda Louise Duan – Tina Minoru
Mark Anthony Brighton – Daniel Drumm

If you would like to join in on the group post I am putting together at the end of the month, you can find all the information here.

Suicide Squad Review

Suicide Squad movie posterSynopsis
Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), director of ARGUS, creates a team of super villains, designated Task Force X and led by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), to complete covert missions. When an otherworldly entity attacks Midway City, Waller sends the team of criminals in to retrieve an important asset.

Review
It’s no secret that the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), DC’s response to Marvel’s cinematic universe, has been off to a rough start. Man of Steel has polarized fans of the character and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a convoluted mess to say the least. DC turned to David Ayer to try and turn their ship around and begin heading in the right direction to win back the fans. The end result is only somewhat successful.

I have to start out by addressing the two best things about this film: Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Deadshot is front and center of the entire film, receiving both the most development and screen time of the villains. Smith himself is such a personality that his characters seem to embody him instead of the other way around. That’s not a bad thing because he is such a great actor, it’s just that his Deadshot ends up being very similar to many of his other film characters.

However, Margot Robbie completely transformed into Harley Quinn. Yes, her outfit was nowhere close to her iconic jester outfit (which does make an appearance, by the way) but let’s face it, that’s not the best outfit for this film. Besides, it does resemble her current costumes, which are more normal outfits anyway, so it works. Moving past her outfit, Robbie nails her character, being completely psychotic and mentally unhinged without a problem. It’s amazing how well she molded into the character.

Another character that many people had their eyes on was Jared Leto’s incarnation of the Joker. Now, I’m not going to compare Leto’s Joker to Heath Ledger’s or Jack Nickolson’s because, quite frankly, they are all different characters. Each actor who has taken up the mantle has focused on a different part of the Joker. Nickolson’s Joker was a gangster, Ledger’s was an anarchist, and Leto’s is a psychopath. I don’t think I can quite say how I feel about this version yet until I get to see him in another film.

And maybe that is an issue. The Joker’s role in Suicide Squad is not as large as the promotional material might have you think. He is a antagonist but not the antagonist. He has a lot of time in Harley Quinn’s flashbacks but only pops up every so often in current day to cause problems for the team, outside of the main baddie. As much as I like the Joker, having two disconnected antagonists in the film didn’t help the story too much.

It seems Ayer tried to learn a thing or two from MoS and BvS and tried to make this movie a more lighthearted affair. The character introductions alone have more color and pop than the two previous DCEU movies combined. I enjoyed this sequence because it gave fun, quick introductions to the main players. Each character also got their own unique song to go with their scene, in a very similar sounding soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy, that was just a blast to listen to.

Also throughout the film, it tries to lighten the mood and actually crack a joke or two. Much of the comedy comes from Smith, because why not, but it works for the most part. Other characters get their moments, like Boomerang (Jai Courtney) or Harley Quinn. Not every joke or obviously-meant-to-be-humorous moment hits their mark but it is good to see DC make a movie that is not super dark.

In ensemble films, it is inevitable that some characters will get more or less screen time than others. As I said in the beginning, a lot of the focus is on Deadshot and Harley, and to a lesser extent Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) and the Joker. This left most of the cast poorly developed. Even the main villain was affected by this. They don’t have much motivation other than “I’m a bad guy.”

I thought Suicide Squad was GOOD :-). Much more of the titular team needed more development besides Deadshot and Harley Quinn, who ended up being the two best things about the movie. I’m interested to see Jared Leto’s Joker again because I really want to get a better feel for his version of the iconic character. Suicide Squad may not be perfect but damn it if I didn’t have fun.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
David Ayer – Director / Writer
Steven Price – Composer

Will Smith – Deadshot
Margot Robbie – Harley Quinn
Joel Kinnaman – Rick Flag
Cara Delevigne – June Moon / Enchantress
Jai Courtney – Boomerang
Jay Hernandez – Diablo
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – Killer Croc
Karen Fukuhara – Katana
Adam Beach – Slipknot
Jared Leto – The Joker
Viola Davis – Amanda Waller
David Harbour – Dexter Tolliver
Ike Barinholtz – Griggs
Ted Whittall – Admiral Olsen
Shailyn Pierre-Dixon – Zoe

X-Men: Apocalypse Review

X-Men: Apocalypse movie posterSynopsis
In Egypt, the ancient mutant En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaacs) awakens and enacts his plan to create a world where only the strongest survive. The X-Men must once again ban together to save the world.

Review
Of all Fox’s Marvel superhero properties past and present, the X-Men franchise has been their most consistent and their longest running as a result. Now nine movies in if you include Deadpool and the two Wolverine films, the X-Men franchise shows no sign of letting up. Some would argue that X-Men: Days of Future Past was the best in the series yet. Can X-Men: Apocalypse keep the train running? Yes. Yes it can.

First, I like to mention that in terms of the franchise’s timeline, this was the perfect time to do the Apocalypse story. In the comics, the Age of Apocalypse event occurred after a character named Legion goes back in time and changes the past. This caused Apocalypse to show himself earlier than he originally did. What happened in Days of Future Past? Time travel and history changing. Whether or not this was intentional or Fox simply felt it was time to introduce one of the X-Men’s biggest villains, it worked out well for comic book nerds such as myself.

One of the highlights of Days of Future Past was Quicksilver’s super-speed scene. Naturally, he got a similar scene in this film, and it is just as great. This film has him running through the school, saving the students from an explosion while listening to Eurythmic’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Quicksilver also has a much bigger role this time around, which is fantastic since he was very underutilized in the last film.

Like all of the X-Men films not named after Wolverine or Deadpool, Apocalypse introduces several new characters, or at least new versions of them. The First Class trilogy is inching closer to where the original X-Men film kicked off, so we are meeting younger versions of many of those characters. Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Storm all get younger selves, as well as a younger Nightcrawler. I especially liked seeing Nightcrawler again since he is my favorite X-Man. In a film with many subplots, it seemed like theirs received a significant portion. Hopefully the next one will be more tightly focused and look at this new team and their dynamic as they grow together.

These new actors do pretty well, especially the new X-Men. Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, and Kodi Smit-McPhee bring these characters to life. Turner gets one of the best line of the films, saying third installments are always the worst. The new mutants who serve as three of Apocalypse’s four horseman don’t fare so well. Ben Hardy, Alexandra Shipp, and Olivia Munn’s characters pretty much just get names and that is about as far as their development goes go. With so many introductions, some development was bound to be pushed to the side and in this case it fell on the new villains. It’s too bad that most of the young actors weren’t given much room to show what they could do.

Something that bothered my probably more than it should have was the physical appearance of the characters who have been around since First Class. Apocalypse takes place roughly twenty years after First Class and characters like Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), looks exactly the same. In First Class, they are roughly in their early twenties, that would make Beast and Mystique forty-ish, and Xavier and Magneto even older, in Apocalypse and yet they look exactly the same. I know it shouldn’t be that big of a deal but it did take me out of the film a little bit.

X-Men: Apocalypse contains many different plots throughout the film. This is mostly due to the large roster. As a result, the first half feels like it drags on because of all the character introductions. Once all the players are on the board, it moves along more evenly.

Oscar Isaac is a pretty well rounded actor but he felt stuck in the confines of the role of Apocalypse. Like most of the actors of the other new mutants introduced, he wasn’t given the room he needed. It reminded me of Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending. Both are great actors who just had the unfortunate luck of being trapped in a one-dimensional character. Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t seem as emotionally invested in Mystique like she was in First Class or even Days of Future Past. I’m not sure if she is getting tired of the role or if she was having an off movie or what but she felt off this time.

I thought X-Men: Apocalypse was GOOD :-). The more I was writing this review, the more I realize I had less positives to say than I originally realized. However, you can call me a sucker for explosions and summer blockbusters because I still had a good time watching this film. This isn’t on the same level as First Class or X2, but it still offers a fun ride for you to sit back, relax and munch on some popcorn.

Also check out my reviews for X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Bryan Singer – Director / Story
Simon Kinberg – Screenplay / Story
Michael Dougherty – Story
Dan Harris – Story
John Ottman – Composer

James McAvoy – Professor Charles Xavier
Michael Fassbender – Erik Lehnsherr / Magneto
Jennifer Lawrence – Raven / Mystique
Micholas Hoult – Hank McCoy / Beast
Sophie Turner – Jean Grey
Tye Sheridan – Scott Summers / Cyclopes
Kodi Smit-McPhee – Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler
Evan Peters – Peter Maximoff / Quicksilver
Lucas Till – Alex Summers / Havok
Oscar Isaac – En Sabah Nur / Apocalypse
Ben Hardy – Angel
Alexandra Shipp – Ororo Munroe / Storm
Olivia Munn – Psylocke
Rose Byrne – Moira Mactaggert
Lana Condor – Jubilee
Josh Helman – Col. William Styker

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) Review

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) movie posterSynopsis
Four turtles, Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), and Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and their master, a rat named Splinter (Danny Woodburn), were mutated by a mysterious experiment. Fifteen years later, the four brothers must protect New York City from the Foot Clan, led by Shredder (Tohoru Masamune).

Review
I was in an interesting place growing up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles because I had not one but two series I could call mine. I was at the tail end of the original cartoon that started in the 1980s, plus there was another series in the early 2000s that I also watched. One thing that I have always enjoyed about the TMNT franchise as a whole is that each generation has their own incarnation and each one is different. So having seen a few different versions of the characters, I was looking forward to seeing this interpretation.

In every new version of the turtles, it is very important that the familial relationship between the turtles and their various personalities are correctly translated. That might be what Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles does best. Each of the turtles’ personalities are exactly what is to be expected from them. I don’t want to go into what makes them such great characters and why I like them so much because of their dynamic, so as long as you understand the turtles were faithfully portrayed here then we’re good.

I really liked the look of the turtles. In most incarnations, the main visual distinction between the four brothers have been the colors of their masks, if they weren’t holding their weapons. Here, each of them have something unique about them that fit into their personality, such as Donatello’s goggles, Michelangelo’s surfer-shell necklaces and Raphael’s bandanna. Even their physical appearances differed slightly. It may not be much but these small differences were a nice touch that really made them stand out from previous versions of the characters.

Throughout the movie, I was having a hard time telling if it was trying to be serious or playful. It did poked fun at itself several times. I mean, the series has always had a ridiculous premise anyway and is pretty much a spoof. But hey, that’s comics. For the most part, it did well to understand that and never became overly serious. There were times it felt like it was trying to show a serious side but those moments didn’t last too long and it moved on before it embarrassed itself.

Although the film was around an hour and forty-five minutes long, it felt like it moved quickly and not necessarily in a good way. You can feel Michael Bay’s influence, for better or worse. The movie mostly follows April O’Neil (Megan Fox) but quickly introduces us to the titular turtles, then is followed by one action piece after another. It doesn’t take any time to establish the villains, other than letting the audience they are tough.

There are two villains in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder and Eric Sacks. Most of the time spent with the villains is spent with Sacks, mostly because he has a personal connection to April. This left Shredder relegated to being the muscle. Shredder isn’t supposed to be simply the muscle. He is supposed to be the one giving orders, not taking them. He is briefly seen outside of his suit (which is pretty cool by the way) early on then after that he is only in the suit. As much as this film seemed to get the turtles right, it really dropped the ball on the franchise’s most iconic bad guy.

I thought Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was GOOD :-). Although Shredder was lacking, the rest of the main characters from the TMNT mythos were portrayed well. Despite the normal run time, it still feels rushed, sacrificing development for any character who wasn’t one of the turtles for action. I still had fun but I couldn’t help think there was missed potential to be a great film.

Favorite Quote
April O’Neil: What are you?
Leonardo: Well, miss, we’re ninjas.
Raphael: We’re mutants.
Donatello: Technically, we’re turtles.
Michelangelo: Oh, and we’re teenagers. But we can still have adult conversations.
April: You’re… Ninja Mutant Turtle Teenagers?
Donatello: Well when you put it like that it sounds ridiculous.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Jonathan Liebesman – Director
Josh Applebaum – Writer
Andre Nemec – Writer
Evan Daugherty – Writer
Bryan Tyler – Composer

Megan Fox – April O’Neil
Will Arnett – Vernon Fenwick
William Fichtner – Eric Sacks
Pete Ploszek – Leonardo
Johnny Knoxville – Leonardo (voice)
Alan Ritchson – Raphael
Noel Fisher – Michelangelo
Jeremy Howard – Donatello
Danny Woodburn – Splinter
Tony Shalhoub – Splinter (voice)
Tohoru Masamune – Shredder
Whoopi Goldberg – Bernadette Thompson
Minae Noji – Karai
Abby Elliott – Taylor
Paul Fitzgerald – Dr. O’Neil
Malina Weissman – Young April O’Neil

Marvel Cinematic Universe Discussion (Featuring MovieRob)

Hey there, dear readers!

Happy Memorial Day to those of you in the US! And to the rest of you, Happy Monday!  As I’m sure many of you may know, I am a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  Marvel has accomplished nothing short of a miracle bringing so many of their properties to the big screen, intertwining them together to form one large, interconnected tapestry of stories.  Captain America: Civil War was the kick-off for what is know as Phase Three (Phase One was Iron Man to The Avengers and Phase Two was from Iron Man 3 to Ant-Man).  To celebrate this awesome milestone, my fellow movie blogger, Rob from MovieRob, and I had a discussion about our love of comic books and comic book movies.  Rob is a reviewing powerhouse, at the time of this post having reviewed 2250 movies on his site. And that number is only growing! If you don’t already follow him, go check out this reviewing madman’s site.  Now, let’s get to it!

Me:

I know that you read comic books when you were younger (or do you still?). How excited were you when you found out Marvel was trying to create an expansive shared universe with their heroes?

Rob:

Yes, I was a huge comic book fan as a kid. I remember when I was about 7 or 8, we had a HUGE box of comics in the basement that I would spend my spare time going through.  It had all kinds of titles there and I would read and reread them over and over.  Two of my favorites (that I can recall) were The Empire Strikes Back comic book adaptation and a Spider-Man vs. Hulk deluxe comic.

Spider-Man vs. Hulk

As a teen, I once again got very much into comics but usually only read war or army titles like Sgt. Rock and GI Joe.

When I saw the Armageddon 2001 series that came out in 1991, I got hooked on DC superhero comics.  Because it was a DC crossover series featured in all of the annuals of that year, I got a great taste of all of the different DC titles.

This actually started my love for the DC universe of superheroes and my perchance for reading Marvel titles here and there was abated.

For the next few years, I became obsessed with DC comics and amassed over a thousand titles.  When I moved out of the states, it made it more difficult to keep up and I eventually just stopped collecting. When my folks sold their house a few years later, they sold my comics to a local shop (with my permission of course).  I kept some of my favorites though.

I somewhat regret that decision to sell the remainder, but looking back, I still know it was the right decision.

When I got divorced in 2006, my ex threw away my comics and told me that she couldn’t find them, so I now have no comic books to my name.

For some reason, after all these years, I still have that preference in my mind between DC and Marvel even 25 years later.

When they announced the MCU movies, I was happy, but since we just had The Dark Knight come out, I thought that no matter how good the MCU will be, it’ll never be able to be better than what Christopher Nolan brought us with his TDK series.

I still dreamed that one day, they would make a Justice League series featuring all of my favorite heroes from the DC universe, but knew it would be too difficult to get such an array of stars to join in.

As I read more and more about how they were planning to do the MCU, I realized that they were essentially trying to do for Marvel what I had always hoped would be done for DC.

It’s been slow going since then because it obviously takes much more time to build a movie universe than a comic book one.  Since they only can make 1 or 2 movies a year (maximum 3), it has taken nearly 9 years to get to where they are at, but it’s been a great ride so far.

The fact that they could make origin movies for the top superheroes (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America) and then bring them all together in an Avengers movie within just a few years really adds to the impact of each of those characters.  The MCU keeps expanding yearly and I for one can’t wait to see where it’s all going especially since they keep adding more solo movies to the fray which will make things even better as we keep going forward!

What about you? What is your comic background?

Me:

The Amazing Spider-Man #539

I started getting into the comic book superheroes in the 90s.  My Saturday mornings and time after school were usually spent watching the animated Spider-Man, X-Men, and Batman series, as well as Justice League in the late 90s / early 2000s. So I’ve always been exposed to the characters but I really didn’t start reading comics until about ten years ago.  When I was in high school, the collectable card game Yu-Gi-Oh was in its heyday and I would participate in weekend Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments at a comic shop not too far from my house.  Later in high school, I was doing some fundraising for an out-of-country trip with some classmates and went into the comic shop to see if they would donate some money for an event we were hosting.  While I was in the comic shop, the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #539 caught my eye.  This was around the time of Spider-Man 3 *shudders* so of course Marvel put Peter back into his black suit for a short time.  This particular issue had a this awesome, full body picture of Spider-Man in his black suit as the cover. Now, the black suit is my favorite Spider-Man outfit, so I picked it up and enjoyed it and started reading the Amazing Spider-Man series.  A few months later, Uncanny X-Men hit their 500th issue so I picked that up and began reading Uncanny X-men. Then the rest, as they say, is history.

My preference has always been more towards Marvel than DC.  The characters are more relatable, or at least as relatable as one with superpowers can be.  They feel like they deal with more everyday people problems than DC.  DC heroes are more larger than life, which I know is some of the appeal to some people, just not to me.  However, I still enjoy both and I keep up with the DC characters, whether that is television series, movies, or even catching up on comic story arcs using Wikipedia.

When the MCU started with Iron Man in 2008, I had no idea it was going to be as expansive as it was.  At that time, staying until the end of the credits for an extra scene wasn’t really a thing yet but luckily my buddy and I did.  When Nick Fury shows up and says “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative,” I got SUPER excited.  Here I was thinking that this was going to be an isolated franchise, like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films or the X-men movies.  But no. Marvel was actually going to bring together the Avengers on screen.  I was ecstatic to say the least.

What would you say are the MCU’s strengths?

Rob:

That’s actually quite funny. You gave away my answer in your final thought on the differences between Marvel and DC.

I think more people can relate to Marvel characters BECAUSE of the fact that they are flawed humans with super abilities as opposed to the Larger than life super heroes of DC.

Most of the Marvel heroes are men and women who got their powers through some kind of freak accident, but still retain their human emotions and problems.

The members of The Avengers are just that…

Examples:

Captain America was a skinny patriot who was given a super soldier serum
Hulk was a researcher who got zapped by gamma Ray
Spider-Man was a teen bitten by a radioactive spider
Iron man was a weapons manufacturer who created a suit to keep himself alive after a freak accident

The fact that each of the main Avengers got their own origin movie plus a few follow ups, gives us a much clearer picture as to who they all are and we get to also see their human emotion in almost everything that they have done.

I think that really is the strength here; the emotional character development of the characters.

This development made it much easier for us to understand the individual character decisions in the recent Civil War film.

Because we are more emotionally connected to the characters, we want to see how they work together as a team and also on individual levels.

The fact that they have also included other characters that aren’t directly related to the Avengers (i.e. GOTG) is also great because they really are trying to create a whole new universe for us to embrace.

What has endeared you to the MCU?

Me:

Haha Sorry about that. I couldn’t help myself. 😛

That’s exactly what it is. I remember in collage a friend of mine sent me an article about why the article’s author preferred the DC heroes over the Marvel heroes and every point they listed on why they preferred DC were all the reasons why I prefer the Marvel heroes (I can’t remember many of them besides them being larger-than-life I mentioned before).  In the right hands, any hero can be a part of good story. However, fundamentally, Marvel heroes are better characters, mostly falling back to all the points you just listed.

I tried not to make any comparisons to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in my review of Captain America: Civil War, but they are too similar not to.  I think the character developments you mentioned are the reason Civil War was so much better than Dawn of Justice.  There was no character build-up prior, or even during, Dawn of Justice.  The headlining fight between Batman and Superman had no emotional weight behind it so as the audience, we didn’t much care about what the fight meant.  On the other hand, we spent so much time with the characters on both sides of the “war” over the last eight years that we were invested in the conflict between these heroes and friends.  That’s not to say that Batman and Superman each needed years of build-up before finally clashing. Dawn of Justice just needed to be trimmed and more focused instead of trying to cram in so many plot lines for future movies. I feel like I’m getting off track so I’m going to end that rant there.

Guardians of the Galaxy movie poster
Ant-Man movie poster

What I have enjoyed most about the MCU is how lighthearted it is.  It can still be serious but it never becomes so dark that a few quick one-liners can’t draw out a laugh.  I think much of that is a unique combination of the writers and excellent casting.  Actors like Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Pratt and Paul Rudd are great comedic actors to begin with and might not seem like superhero movie material but Marvel somehow made it work brilliantly.  Even in movies with a serious atmosphere, like The Winter Soldier or Civil War, there is still plenty of humor to prevent it from becoming too serious.  Marvel perfected this balance in The Avengers and they have been very successful in replicating the mix of action and humor ever since.

What do you think are the MCU’s weaknesses? What can Marvel improve and do better?

Rob:

Great point about the lightheartedness.

The comics of DC are more humorous, but the movies take things a bit too seriously.

I’m a huge fan of Pratt and Rudd and definitely would never have thought of casting them beforehand, but now they feel like the perfect choices.

Well, even though the MCU films are all quite good, there definitely are some weaknesses.

The fact that we have been introduced to so many new characters movie after movie, it feels that when they do get together for an ensemble movie, most of them still get lost in the crowd and are relegated to what would seem like just cameo duty.

Take Civil War for instance.Captain America: Civil War trailer

It’s supposed to be a Captain America film, but due to the bigger storyline, they need to include lots of Avengers, new and old and then we lose focus on most of them because in just two and a half hours, they need to establish a capable story (which they do), but also highlight over ten different superheroes.

I believe that this is part of the reason that Thor and Hulk are absent here; too many characters that they needed to send them off on other quests in order to not have two more main characters with little to do but fight each other.

This is the main reason it’s so hard to do this as a movie series as opposed to a TV show or comic book. In a TV show you have 22-24 episodes a year in order to lay out your plan of attack, develop the players and then execute the final confrontation. If each episode is roughly 45 minutes, that gives them between 17 and 18 hours to tell a full story arc a year instead of just 2.5 hours (maximum).

I haven’t yet seen Dawn of Justice, but from what I’ve heard, they try to cram too much into such a short span of time that things get entirely lost. Civil War as a similar runtime, but they have already used so many films to build things up that it doesn’t feel as wasted.

With a comic book, there is even more flexibility to create a greater story arc because there are titles that have 50 comics a year and something like this would allow for crossovers with the added bonus of not having to pay actors high salaries to appear for 5 minutes of screen time.

Another problem with the MCU is that the general arc feels focused, but until Infinity Wars, we won’t know the full extent of it all and that is frustrating that one must wait over 10 years; Frodo and Sam did it in 3.

What do u think the weaknesses of the MCU are?

Me:

I am disappointed that WB is keeping the DC TV shows and movies as separate universes. I have always said for the last couple years that they should be shared. The TV shows could be use to build the characters, then the films used for crossovers and their big names, like Superman or Batman. That would help with the problem of needing to fit the characters’ development into 2+ hours. Plus that would make it feel very comic book-y, where each episode is an issue and each film is a crossover event. At least for DC.

For me, I’m really looking for Infinity War’s payoff. The big picture has been teased for so long now I can’t wait to see what all of it has been building towards. The only thing I am worried about for beyond Phase Three, though, is how do you top a galactic conflict like the Infinity Gauntlet storyline? I feel like the scale of anything after Infinity War is going to feel so small compared to it. There is a long way to go until we get there so I’m not losing too much sleep over it… yet.

I liked the way Captain America: Civil War balances all the characters. The two core aspects of the film are Steve and Bucky’s relationship and the conflict between Steve and Tony. In both of those, Steve is a part of it, making it the Captain America movie it should be. Excluding Black Panther and Spider-Man, we have already spent time with the other characters so there wasn’t a need to see a lot of screen time from them for development since that happened in their own movies. As for Black Panther, he received the development we needed to see why he would enter the conflict and gave us just enough of him to be excited for his upcoming film. Spider-Man was the only one that remotely felt shoe-horned into the movie.

LokiThe biggest weakness I see with the MCU after Phases One and Two is that there is only one significant villain: Loki. Not all movies need deep, Magneto- or Loki-style villains. For example, Guardians of the Galaxy was just fine with a very flat villain. His sole purpose in the film was to bring the team together and he accomplished that. I have heard many people talk about the lack of good villains in the MCU films for a while but it didn’t really bother me until Ant-Man. Darren Cross was in the perfect position to be an evil mirror to Scott Lang. He and Scott could have been two sides of the same coin. With Cross’ history with Pym, he could have been this deep(ish) villain, showing what could happen to Lang if he is not careful and building on Pym’s character with his past mistakes. Instead, Cross was evil for evil’s sake and that bothered me for the first time since the MCU started in 2008. If we can get more villains to stick around going through Phase Three and be developed more, that would make me so happy.

What do you hope to see out of Phase Three?

Rob:

Your DC crossover idea is great. It’s not easy to do a movie/TV crossover but that could actually work well and serve the greater good… too bad it probably won’t happen.

I also agree that after Infinity War, it might be hard to go grander, but I guess we need to hope (and pray) that they know what they are doing and that Phase 3 won’t kill the whole thing.

I liked the intros that Spidey and BP got in Civil War, but we’ll have to wait and see how they are developed further in the future.

I think the lack of great villains is on purpose because they are all supposed to just be pawns in a huge game of chess. Thanos is basically the supervillain playing the puppeteer in order to get what he wants, the Infinity Gauntlet, so the lack of great villains doesn’t bother me as much.

Thanos

I think the DC universe has better “minor” villains than Marvel and I would love to eventually see some of them in future DC movies; Monarch, Eclipso, or even Hal Jordan’s transformation into Parallex.

Regarding Phase 3, I can’t say I have much expectations either way. I’ve liked the path that they have taken so far, and I think we need to rely on the fact that they know where they are going with all of this and that they will continue to entertain us along the way.

My biggest concern tho is that since the MCU movies have so far been spread out over a decade and the end is still not in sight (thankfully), I wonder how they plan to keep the same actors for so many years (both contractually and physically). Yes, The Hulk has so far been played by 3 different actors, but that’s one character, to start changing them all might be more problematic. The comics have been around for decades, but drawings don’t age, actors do…

What do u think would be the best way to continue the continuity of the actors and characters over another decade of movies?

Me:

That is a good point about Thanos being the puppeteer. But that doesn’t mean all the other villains need to be flat. It’s not like Thanos is directly manipulating them like he was Ronin in GotG.

The easiest thing for Marvel to do to continue for a decade or more of movies is to cast younger actors, like they have done with Tom Holland. However, the most practical thing for them to do is when the actors become unable to play the parts, pass the mantle along to another character, and therefore another actor. Mantles are being passed on all the time in comics so it wouldn’t feel out of place if it happened in the film. Recasting actors that we have become so ingrained to us as these characters would not feel right. Plus it would take away from this thing they are doing where the MCU timeline occurs in real-time if they bring in a younger actor for the same role.

To wrap up, what are your top five MCU films so far?

Rob:

I know that DC hands off mantle’s but I’m not familiar enough with Marvel to know who has done that. But that does seem to be more prudent than just recasting the characters with younger actors.

Here’s my Top 5

1. Guardians of the Galaxy – This is actually the only MCU movie I regret not seeing in the theater (I’ve actually seen none of them in the theater). I loved the characters and the way that they created a whole new populated and “lived in”. Can’t wait for the sequel…which I plan to see in the theater!

2. Captain America: Winter Soldier – Cap has always been my favorite Avenger due to his honesty, bravery and patriotism. This film showcased it all when he had to battle Hydra lingering within SHIELD.

3. Captain America: Civil War – Great addition to the MCU because it gives the characters a moral dilemma that they must decide which of two sides to join where neither is really the wrong choice.

4. Captain America: First Avenger – Being a HUGE fan of Cap, I loved his origin story that was told so well for us to understand what he went thru back in the 1940’s and then his arrival in the 21st Century.

5. Avengers: Age of Ultron – This was the movie that ignited the whole Civil War storyline and they helped introduce is to some great characters who would have a larger impact on the MCU moving forward.

How does ur Top 5 pan out?

Me:

That’s a lot of Captain America! My top five are:

1. The Avengers – The big payoff after four years of set up, bringing all the characters from Phase One together. It had humor, action, and drama all together and well balanced and was simply a ton of fun.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy – This is probably the funniest of the MCU films. It showed that Marvel can do great with even their lesser known properties. GotG is how you do an ensemble origin story.

3. Iron Man – The one that started it all. Robert Downey, Jr. was spot-on casting. Like GotG, this is the perfect superhero origin story.

4. Captain America: Civil War – The Civil War comic is one of my favorite events from Marvel. Marvel adapted it very well, keeping the elements that made the story great even with the smaller scale. Not to mention the airport fight scene is one of my new favorite action pieces.

5. Ant-Man – By the end of Phase Two, the MCU films became very intertwined. Ant-Man establishes itself in the universe but is able to maintain a certain level autonomy. Paul Rudd was an unexpected casting choice but he could not have been more perfect. Plus Michael Pena as Luis alone is worth the watch.

Thank you so much for the discussion, Rob. The MCU is one of my favorite film franchises so this has been great to talk in depth about it.

Rob:

I’m so happy this worked out. This was lots of fun!


Many of the points I talked about I have said in discussion with my friends but I haven’t written them here on my blog so this was a great way to finally share them with you all.

How about you? What are your thoughts on the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Its strengths? Weaknesses? Things you like or didn’t like? Favorites?

Cheers!