Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) Review

Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation Of One Harley Quinn) movie posterSynopsis
After Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) breaks up with the Joker, crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) hunts her down. To protect Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a young pick-pocket whom Sionis is also after, Quinn enlists the help from several heroes.

Review
One of the few bright spots from Suicide Squad, DC’s attempt to create their own Guardians of the Galaxy, was Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Hearing Robbie’s Quinn was getting her own film made me excited and I was eager to see it. That finally happened with the lengthily named Bird of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn). Robbie proves that Harley don’t need no man to carry her own movie.

First off, the title is misleading. The actual Birds of Prey are more of an afterthought; Quinn is front and center. This film is just as scattered and off-the-wall as Quinn. Quinn is telling the story and continuously bounces back-and-forth between the present and flashbacks. At times this can be disorienting but that’s the point. The story is from Quinn’s point-of-view and she can be scatterbrained at times and the story telling reflects that. As for Robbie, there’s no actress that comes to mind who would fit the part as well as Robbie does. She is equal parts funny, athletic, crazy, and witty. Robbie has become synonymous with Harley Quinn, like Robert Downey Jr. with Tony Stark or Hugh Jackman with Wolverine.

As for the rest of the film, it does it’s best to keep up with the hectic Quinn. The ladies of the titular Birds of Prey are all well cast. One highlight in particular is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the Huntress. Her awkwardness is a great contrast to Quinn’s eccentric-ness. On the other side of our main character (I don’t really want to call Quinn a hero or an anti-hero because, quite frankly, she isn’t either of those) is Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask, played by Owen McGregor. McGregor plays the character as over-the-top, constantly with an infectious smile on his face.

Since Birds of Prey is rated R, it goes all in on the violence and there is cursing galore. I’m so glad to see that studios aren’t afraid to give comic book movies a higher rating anymore. While not always necessary, it does allow the filmmakers more freedoms and it’s almost required to properly translate certain characters to the big screen (see Deadpool and Logan for examples). While I do believe this film could have gotten by with a PG-13 rating, the action was exciting and full of energy. I also found myself constantly laughing. Between Quinn’s antics and Sionis’ entitled rich boy attitude, there weren’t many scenes that weren’t full of laughs.

As entertaining as this film can be, it’s not without flaws. The jumping around makes for a very disjointed story. Quinn completely takes over the story and the Birds of Prey themselves only receive just as much characterization as needed for the story even though each of them have enough history to fill their own films. They pop up here and there, coming together in the final scenes. Sionis is not well developed. Again, we hear reason’s why he is the bad guy but not much beyond that. And there is a lot of exposition, so I hope you like hearing about rather than seeing the characters.

I thought Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was GOOD 🙂 Margot Robbie has come to embody Harley Quinn and carries the movie on her back. The pace can be a bit jarring and chaotic but when it’s told from Quinn’s point-of-view what would you expect? The action, when it happens, is colorful and outrageous, and there is plenty of humor to go with Quinn’s clown motif. In typical comic book movie fashion, the villain only exists to give the main character an adversary and isn’t developed very much. The good news, though, is Ewan McGregor plays the part phenomenally. It’s too bad this movie wasn’t marketed well because there is a lot to like and deserves a better box office performance than what is has received.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Cathy Yan – Director
Christina Hodson – Writer
Daniel Pemberton – Composer

Margot Robbie – Harley Quinn
Rosie Perez – Renee Montoya
Jurnee Smollett-Bell – Dinah Lance / Black Canary
Mary Elizabeth Winstead – Helena Bertinelli / The Huntress
Ella Jay Basco – Cassandra Cain
Ewan McGregor – Roman Sionis / Black Mask
Chris Messina – Victor Zsasz
Steven Williams – Captain Patrick Erickson
Ali Wong – Ellen Yee

Aquaman Review

Aquaman movie posterSynopsis
Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is a son of both the land and the sea. When his Atlantean half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) threatens to go to war with the surface world, Arthur, along with the help of Mera (Amber Heard) and Vulko (Willem Dafoe), searches for a mythical trident that can help him defeat his brother and prevent all-out war.

Review
Let’s be honest, the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has not gone well. Excluding Wonder Woman, the movies in the franchise have been mediocre at best and downright awful at worst. Aquaman hopes to land more towards Wonder Woman rather than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. After a mostly successful appearance in Justice League, Arthur Curry, aka Aquaman gets his own adventure that mostly hits the mark.

Aquaman is a somewhat unique film in that a good chunk of the movie takes place underwater with the characters interacting with each other like they would above water. I don’t know how the effects artists accomplished it but it was believable that the scenes were actually taking place underwater. They way the characters moved around and how things like hair and clothing articles waved around was just like you would expect underwater. I felt like I was right there in the ocean.

Besides the underwater features, the rest of the visual effects were simply stunning. There were many beautiful colors, especially when it came to underwater sea creatures, ocean floors and many of the Atlantean cities. It was all very vivid and beautiful. All the different creatures were well done also. Towards the end there was a giant battle that was reminiscent of something from the Hobbit movies. While the scene itself was chaotic and difficult to follow at times, the creatures and characters looked good.

The humor from this film approached its humor the same way Wonder Woman approached its humor. It doesn’t try to emulate the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s sense of humor with one-liners galore and every character trying to be funny. Instead, most of the humor comes from Arthur (Jason Momoa) and Mera (Amber Heard). They aren’t always laugh-out-loud funny. Instead, they have a subtle humor that got me to chuckle numerous times.

Part of the reason these gags worked so well was because the film had superb casting. Momoa was fantastic as Aquaman. He did a great job being both funny and dramatic. Heard played off of Momoa very well and even stole many of her scenes. She proved that she was often more capable that the hero that carries the movie’s name. Willem Dafoe has perfected the villainous and mentor roles and he is the latter in this movie. The biggest surprise was Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta. He didn’t get much screen time and his face was covered for much of it but he was phenomenal. I hope he has an expanded role if there is a sequel.

This film’s story is a familiar one: the main hero is an estranged heir to the throne, some family member is ruler and is trying to start a conflict so the hero must claim his rightful place to prevent catastrophe. Many movies have done this story before and many have done it better. This creates a very predictable story. While this might bother some, I think there are other aspects of the film that makes up for its predictability.

Like many superhero movies, the villains are one of the weakest elements of this film. As I said, Orm’s (Patrick Wilson) story is nothing new and fits all the molds of an evil king trying to take over. Wilson does the best he can with the part but the script isn’t there to support him. Abdul-Mateen’s Black Manta actually has a more interesting story and reason to be fighting Aquaman but he has such a small part this film it’s criminal. He is clearly being set up for the future and as a result he just ends up feels wasted here.

I thought Aquaman was GOOD 🙂 Much of my enjoyment came down to the casting and action and effects. Unfortunately, the script didn’t do any favors to the villains, with the main baddie feeling generic and the more compelling one getting very little screen time in a clear attempt to build him for the sequel. The DC Extended Universe has had a rough start. However, gems like Wonder Woman and now Aquaman show that there is hope yet for the struggling franchise.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
James Wan – Director / Story
David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick – Screenplay
Will Beall – Screenplay / Story
Geoff Johns – Story
Rpert Gregson-Williams – Composer

Jason Momoa – Arthur
Amber Heard – Mera
Willem Dafoe – Vulko
Patrick Wilson – King Orm
Dolph Lundgren – King Nereus
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II – Manta
Nicole Kidman – Atlanna
Temuera Morrison – Tom Curry
Ludi Lin – Captain Murk
Michael Beach – Jesse
Djimon Hounsou – King Ricou (voice)
Natalia Safran – Queen Rina (voice)
Sophia Forrest – Fisherman Princess (voice)
Julia Andrews – Karathen (voice)

Justice League Review

Justice League movie posterSynopsis
Batman (Ben Affleck) discovers that an alien invasion of Earth is imminent after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill). In order to combat the coming threat, he tries to bring together several of the world’s superheroes, including Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Mamoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher).

Review
I have made no effort to hide my favoritism of the Marvel superhero characters over the DC ones. However, I do enjoy both studios and both have some great stories to tell. Ever since The Avengers, DC has tried to play catch up to get their Justice League on screen. With the exception of Wonder Woman, the films of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) so far have been less than enjoyable. So how did Justice League, the long-awaited big team up fare? Better than the sum of its parts, apparently.

Zack Snyder had to step away from directing duties for a while due to a family tragedy, so Joss Whedon stepped in to take over. Many were worried, including myself, that while he has a good sense of what makes a good team-up, he might take too much away from Snyder’s Justice League (for better or worse). I think it is safe to say that Snyder and Whedon have two very different directing styles and it is very apparent throughout the film. Whedon added a nice layer of humor throughout the movie that wasn’t too overpowering, like some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films can be these days, but it wasn’t a one-off thing either. Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (both directed by Snyder) were very dark and broody, way more than they should have been. While this film isn’t bright and cheerful, there is still a level of levity to keep the apocalyptic story from hitting Dawn of Justice level of gloominess. It looks to me that Whedon respected Snyder’s vision for the film but still put his signature stamp on it.

This movie is the first time we are seeing the Flash (besides a small cameo in Suicide Squad), Aquaman, and Cyborg. I really enjoyed all three new characters and who were cast in the roles. Ezra Miller as the Flash brought a great comedic relief to the film. He is a very different version of the Flash in the Arrow-verse. Aquaman, played by Jason Mamoa, didn’t want anything to do with anything and wanted to be left alone. Oh, and is apparently an alcoholic. He had my second favorite arc of the new characters of becoming less antipathetic as he works with the other members of the League, culminating in a great gag with Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth. Ray Fisher’s Cyborg has the most growth out of all of them, boasting maybe the most unique power set of the group. He initially sees his powers as a curse but eventually accepts them and gives some great moments during the final, no holds barred action sequence.

As I just mentioned, this is the first time several of the League members are being introduced. Normally, these ensemble movies feel way too long, focusing on only a few of the characters and not developing the rest cough Suicide Squad cough. This time, it actually had the opposite problem: it should have been longer! For obvious reasons, Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) had the two biggest roles in the movie. However, it still did a good job of balancing everybody, especially given three of the characters needed to be introduced. But there was still room for some more development of the new characters. I appreciate that the editors wanted to keep Justice League relatively short but I think in doing so, they only gave the bare minimum motivations we needed from these heroes. There is plenty of room for more.

While I don’t necessarily agree with DC’s approach to rush into a film about their superhero team-up group, I don’t necessarily think an origin movie was needed for every character beforehand. Yes, it definitely would have helped the audience connect with them but other ensemble movie’s have gone this route with moderate to great success. One that is coming to mind is the animated Justice League: War which boasts a similar story with the same characters. Another is Guardians of the Galaxy. Don’t get me wrong, Justice League is nowhere near as good as Guardians but my point is that it brought a team together without any prior knowledge of the characters the same way this movie does and the only reason that this is an issue is because these are well known characters and is comparable to The Avengers.

A common gripe in modern superhero films are the weak and flat villain. To bring Guardians back into the mix, I didn’t have a problem with Ronin being one-dimensional because his purpose was to bring the titular group together. Steppenwolf serves essentially the same purpose as Ronin only this time I was very disappointed. Other than “he wants to shape the Earth in his image,” he is given very little development. This is doubly disappointing given what, or rather who, he is the precursor for. Darkseid (pronounced “dark side”) is one of the Justice Leagues greatest and signature villains, often fighting on par with even Superman. There was very little hint towards any of this except for one line that only those who are familiar with the characters would pick up on. Steppenwolf is an integral part of what’s to come but it’s hard to see that given how poorly he was treated in this film.

I thought Justice League was GOOD 🙂 Not devoid of problems, it still offers a good time. A shallower-than-normal villain is really the biggest complaint from me, especially given the character’s importance. The new characters were fun and unique and meshed well with the previously established characters. I wouldn’t mind seeing a Zack Snyder Director’s Cut of the film to see how much Joss Whedon’s reshoots changed the final product or to get more character development. Overall, this is the best I could have expected from the mostly disappointing DCEU so far.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Zack Snyder – Director / Story
Chris Terrio – Screenplay / Story
Joss Whedon – Screenplay
Danny Elfman – Composer

Ben Affleck – Bruce Wayne / Batman
Gal Gadot – Diana Prince / Wonder Woman
Ezra Miller – Barry Allen / The Flash
Jason Momoa – Arthur Curry / Aquaman
Ray Fisher – Victor Stone / Cyborg
Henry Cavill – Clark Kent / Superman
Jeremy Irons – Alfred
Amy Adams – Lois Lane
Diane Lane – Martha Kent
Connie Nielsen – Queen Hippolyta
JK Simmons – Commissioner Gordon
Ciarán Hinds – Steppenwolf (voice)
Amber Heard – Mera
Joe Morton – Silas Stone

Wonder Woman Review

Wonder Woman movie posterSynopsis
Princess Diana (Gal Gadot) and the Amazons live in isolation from the rest of the world on the island of Themyscira, preparing for the return of Ares, the god of war. When Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American pilot and spy, crashes onto the island and tells of a “war to end all wars” in the outside world, Diana, convinced Ares is behind the conflict, leaves her home with Trevor to stop Ares and end the war.

Review
A Wonder Woman film has been a long time coming. Of DC’s “trinity” (Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman) she is the only character to not receive her own live-action film. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is easily the highlight of the movie. So how does she do starring front and center in her own film? Well, I can happily say Wonder Woman is the movie the fans have been waiting for in her 75+ year history.

Warner Bros. made an absolutely great casting choice with Gal Gadot. She captures every aspect about the character perfectly. She can be soft and gentle in one scene, like when she was excited to see a baby, or warm and caring in another, like when she had her moments with her team, then she can be strong and tough in the next scene, like when she single-handedly enters No Man’s Land. Gadot gave Diana a sense naivety and wonder about about the world but still felt powerful. I could go on but I’d feel like I was repeating myself. In short, she was positively wonderful.

As great as Gadot was as the titular character, that’s not even my favorite part. I think what I liked best about Wonder Woman was that it actually had a sense of adventure. Also, it wasn’t dark like Batman v Superman or Man of Steel, and it actually had humorous moments. It never became overly doom and gloom, like the previous DC Extended Universe (DCEU) films, nor did it feel as lighthearted as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films. There was a nice balance between the seriousness and the fun sides of the movie.

Every superhero movie these days is building towards the next movie or several movies in the universe, well the DCEU and MCU films do anyway. This is a double edge sword because on one hand, it is fun to see the different characters interact with each other but on the other it can make the movie feel bloated or unfocused. Another one of Wonder Woman‘s strengths is that it doesn’t have this problem. It is completely self-contained. It is book-ended with scenes showcasing where in the DCEU chronology it takes place, but everything in between is its own thing. This works out great because then that means the movie can stay centered on Wonder Woman herself without having to worry about anybody else or future plot points.

Because the film’s focus is strictly on Wonder Woman, the story is very tight and focused for a superhero movie. There are no extra characters. Everyone exists to push Diana’s story forward. Every scene serves a purpose of building Diana’s character or the conflict she faces. There is nothing extraneous, nothing without purpose, or nothing without reason. It is a refreshing change of pace to to see a superhero movie that only focuses on whose name is in the title instead of worrying about anybody else or future plot points.

I mentioned the perfect casting of Gal Gadot but I have to commend the rest of the cast as well. Chris Pine was a great choice as the male lead. He feels like a good, grounded counter to Gadot’s innocent Diana. Saïd Taghmaoui as the team’s quick-talking Sameer was a blast to watch. I would have liked to learn just a little bit more about Ewen Bremner’s Charlie and Eugene Brave Rock’s The Chief. Both seem like they have some interesting histories that were barely touched on. However, the highlight for me was any scene with Lucy Davis as Steve Trevor’s secretary Etta Candy. She was an absolute hoot and stole all her scenes. It’s a little disappointing knowing this will be the only time spent with the character because I cold use more Etta Candy in my life.

Like many superhero films, the weakest part of Wonder Woman comes from its villains. General Erich Ludendorff (Danny Hudson) and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) are the main baddies but they only act as the personification of the evil Diana is trying to stop; There isn’t much to them. It feels like they are villains almost simply because they are Nazis. Ares could be called the overarching villain and big bad of the movie. Yet, his presence isn’t really felt until the very end. And even then, he is very underwhelming. I guess I can’t fault the movie too much since it gets so much else right.

I thought Wonder Woman was GREAT 😀 Director Patty Jenkins has finally done what every other DC director since Christopher Nolan could not: create a good superhero movie. Gal Gadot strikes a perfect balance of innocence and strength. The movie mirrors that and isn’t too lighthearted but also isn’t dark and gritty. Diana’s sense of justice and need to do the right thing is the tone we should have seen from Superman in Man of Steel. Hopefully WB and DC will keep Jenkins around because she has been their most successful director yet.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Patty Jenkins – Director
Allan Heinberg – Screenplay / Story
Zach Snyder – Story
Jason Fuchs – Story
Rupert Gregson-Williams – Composer

Gal Gadot – Diana Prince / Wonder Woman
Chris Pine – Steve Trevor
Connie Nielsen – Hippolyta
Robin Wright – Antiope
David Thewlis – Sir Patrick
Saïd Taghmaoui – Sameer
Ewen Bremner – Charlie
Eugene Brave Rock – The Chief
Lucy Davis – Etta Candy
Danny Hudson – General Erich Ludendorff
Elena Anaya – Dr. Maru
Lilly Aspell – Young Diana (8)

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

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!