Rating: Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase 1

We’ve taken a bit of a swerve in our rewatching and rating project. In between tv series, we’ve decided to take a run at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s our take on Phase 1:

  1. Iron Man – 7
  2. The Incredible Hulk – 2
  3. Iron Man 2 – 6
  4. Thor – 4
  5. Captain America: The First Avenger – 8
  6. The Avengers – 10

It’s a bit of a mixed bag. The overall average is 6.2, which is perfectly respectable, but the range is all over the place, from pretty bad to meh to awesome.

You can tell that Marvel was still figuring out how to make not only a new kind of superhero movie but a new kind of movie franchise. The early installations are stand-alone, fairly slow-paced, and self-contained. We can still remember how exciting it felt to have a minor character like Agent Coulson pop up in multiple movies that weren’t sequels. Nowadays we don’t even get out of bed for a Marvel movie that doesn’t have at least three tie-in characters and a place in the ongoing arc of the Phase.

The Incredible Hulk, the largely forgotten Marvel movie, is on the bottom of the heap at 2. Formulaic and uninspired, the story drags itself from one obligatory action scene to another. Having seen Mark Ruffalo’s take on Bruce Banner, Edward Norton feels flat and unsympathetic. So much backstory is assumed that this movie feels like a sequel to something we’ve never seen (it takes care not to step on Ang Lee’s previous Hulk movie without actually picking up on its story in any meaningful way). Although there are some bright spots in this movie, like the visually thrilling foot chase through a Brazilian favela, you can see why we haven’t gotten another stand-alone Hulk movie.

We’re lucky that Marvel hedged its bets on launching the MCU with two movies instead of just one. Iron Man delivers much of what The Incredible Hulk lacks. While the story is still relatively straightforward and follows a predictable Hollywood three-act structure, it is more competently handled and more subtly embellished than Hulk. We get to see Tony Stark tinker and iterate not only on his suit designs but on his ethics and sense of self, which is makes his character much more interesting to watch than Banner, who has no real character development in his own movie. Robert Downey Jr. sells the character of Tony Stark as a flawed genius grappling with the consequences of his own choices.

Iron Man 2 carries on the good work of the original without adding much to it and begins the unfortunate trend of Marvel movies whose plot is driven by Tony Stark’s emotional issues. Thor has some beautiful art design and fun character moments, but mostly ends up feeling like the product of too many compromises.

Captain America: The First Avenger delivers a solid origin story not only for its eponymous hero but for the whole Marvel universe as well. With an alternate-version World War II dominated by Hydra’s experiments with cosmic technology and an American super soldier, the ground is prepared for a modern world of superpeople. Chris Evans’s performance takes a character who could be flat and sanctimonious and makes him charming.

But it is The Avengers, at a full 10, that crowns Phase 1. Joss Whedon’s last great work before his descent into self-satisfied mediocrity, The Avengers is a superhero movie that takes not only the idea of superheroes but the idea of a superhero movie seriously. The characters have both emotional depth and clear motivations. Their conflicts arise not from plot contrivance but from conflicting world-views and emotional needs. And they smash alien monsters together real good.

Got a different take on Marvel’s first hexalogy? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Still from The Avengers via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Advertisements

DIY Star Wars Marquee

Ashley DIYed a really cool Star Wars marquee. It even lights up!

Handmade with Ashley diy_marquee_star_wars

The base is a handmade wooden sign stenciled, painted, and varnished.

Handmade with Ashley diy_star_wars_marquee_sign_wall_art_knockoff_tutorial-25

Wow. I don’t think I’d have the patience! Full props for such a meticulous job!

See the full tutorial at Handmade with Ashley.

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

 

Christopher Robin Trailers with Thoughts on Gender

The movie Christopher Robin opens in a week, on August 03, 2018.

Here’s a trailer from the end of May:

Christopher Robin Official Trailer by Disney Movie Trailers

And a sneak peek from July:

Christopher Robin “Adventure” – Sneak Peek by Disney Movie Trailers

I remember liking Nalle Puh stories (as they were translated into my native language) quite a bit, so I wonder what my reaction to the voice acting will be, since I didn’t grow up thinking of the characters in terms of gender.

You see, Finnish does not have grammatical gender at all; we only have gender-neutral third-person pronouns (singular hän or plural he). This means that for me the only explicitly female character in the gang was Kengu because she was a mother, and the only explicitly male character was Risto Reipas because he was a human boy. The others were their own individual, quirky, stuffed-animal selves.

I guess the closest I can come is associating the stuffed animal characters with the non-binary gender identity. They didn’t need categorization into male or female, because that’s not how I saw their world working. I still don’t, even though talking about them in English forced me to learn which pronouns English associates with each.

It’s fascinating to notice myself using gendered English-language pronouns and yet at the same time still thinking of the stuffed animal characters as not fitting into those divisions. Eating too much honey and getting stuck in someone’s doorway, or figuring out that a popped balloon and an empty jar of honey go splendidly together do not require the gendering of anybody in the story.

I really do wonder how my perception changes after hearing voice actors and their intonational choices—or whether it will change at all.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Faves from a List of Upcoming Female-Lead Action Movies

Jordan Crucchiola at Vulture listed and tracked every upcoming female-lead Hollywood action movie. It’s divided into sections so that it’s easy to see what’s in development, in production, and postproduction (or coming soon).

IMDB Widows Photo

It’s an impressive list. (I wish its scope were wider, though—gimme other genre subtypes, too, and productions from around the world, please?)

Below are a few of the ones that most tickle my fancy, with first a short description by Crucchiola and then my impressions.

 

The Aeronauts (preproduction)

  • “Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones star as a researcher and pilot team that goes on a science mission in a hot-air balloon. They ascend higher than anyone ever has, and have to fight for survival in the thinning atmosphere.”
  • Apparently set in the mid-1800s, this sounds like a non-mystery precursor to Murdoch Mysteries. I like Felicity Jones a lot, but am dubious of Amazon productions (mostly since I haven’t seen any so far, so take this with a bucket of salt).

A Black Widow stand-alone movie (screenwriter attached)

  • “It was announced earlier this year [2018] that Kevin Feige and Marvel had hired a writer for a Black Widow stand-alone screenplay.”
  • High time!

Captain Marvel (postproduction; U.S. release March 08, 2019)

  • “Marvel’s first female-lead superhero movie stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, an extremely powerful figure in the comics canon. We don’t know much—except that it’s set in the 1990s […].”
  • Again, high time! (According to Wikipedia, Captain Marvel has been in development since 2013.) I know extremely little of the character, but liked Brie Larson in Kong: Skull Island and Community.

Cleopatra Jones (in development)

  • “Details about the new film are not yet known, but in the 1973 original, Cleopatra Jones was a James Bond-type who worked as a special agent for the U.S. government and dealt with drug-related crimes.”
  • A reboot, although nothing I’ve heard of before. Hm. Maybe?

Enola Holmes (just announced at the start of the year)

  • “[A]daptation of Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes Mysteries novel series. Enola is the baby sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, and wouldn’t you know it, a crack sleuth in her own right.”
  • Yes, please! Even more so, since Millie Bobby Brown (who outshone everyone else in Stranger Things) is set to star in and produce.

The Killer (in development)

  • “An assassin with a strict moral code can no longer abide the amoral ways of her employer, and so seeks to get out of the game.”
  • This might be amazing: John Woo is set to direct a reboot with Lupita Nyong’o in the head role.

Star Wars Episode IX (preproduction but definitely happening; U.S. release December 20, 2019)

  • “Star Wars remains an ensemble-powered saga, but this trilogy has always been about Rey’s journey.”
  • Yay! I’m just so sad we can’t have Carrie Fisher in it!

Widows (postproduction; U.S. release November 16, 2018)

  • “Brace yourself for this screen adaptation of a British mini-series from 1983, in which four widowed women plan to finish a heist job their dead husbands failed to complete.”
  • Ocean’s 8 was a great heist movie with a fantastic spread of women of all sorts (except the law-abiding type, heh heh) so this might be good, too.
  • Of the female cast, I recognize only Viola Davis (who’s awesome!); of the male, Collin Farrell (a meh performance in the 2012 Total Recall reboot and a suitably psycho Bullseye in the 2003 Daredevil), Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi in Black Panther), and Liam Neeson (who’s a turnoff for me, but perhaps he’s only got a small supporting role).

Wonder Woman 2 (in development)

  • “The timeline will reportedly move into the ’80s for the Wonder sequel, with the Cold War and USSR factoring in. Jenkins has also teased another love story.”
  • Am I the only one who’s noticed an uptick in movies where Russia (in one of its embodiments) is a bad guy? But: puh-leeeease stop writing forced love interests in movies! Love is great, but we don’t have to have an example of romantic love in every. single. story. Some stories work better without it, or with other types of love than the romantic variety.

 

Image: photo from the movie Widows from Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation via IMBD

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Some Random Thoughts on Ant-Man and the Wasp

In no particular order. Spoiler warnings in effect.

Erik’s random thoughts:

  • This was an excellent follow-up to the original Ant-Man, making the story deeper and more complex while keeping the wild fun caper tone.
  • As others have noted, it really should have been called The Wasp and Ant-Man. It’s Hope’s movie. Scott is the sidekick this time around, and that’s great.
  • Although Hope’s Wasp suit is form-fitting, it doesn’t overtly sexualize her in the way a lot of other Marvel women’s costumes do. The same goes for Ghost’s suit. I hope this is a sign of things to come.
  • Luis on truth serum (“It’s not truth serum”) may be the funniest thing to come out of the MCU yet.
  • In a media landscape oversaturated with father-son stories, it was a very welcome change to have a movie about fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, and found family, with nary a father-son story in sight.

 

Eppu’s random thoughts:

  • I found Ant-Man & the Wasp more enjoyable than Ant-Man (which I did like!) in many respects. The pacing felt more even, the villain slightly less corny, the cinematography as good or better, to mention a few.
  • AM&tW also felt more aware of itself in that it actively upended or joked about some conventions (e.g., some of the chase sequences, the long-running truth serum gag, even the name of Scott and Luis’ security company).
  • The antagonist setup was refreshingly different. Instead of one ham hock of a megalomaniac we’re treated to two forces grappling with Scott, Hope, and Hank: a woman trying to cope with years of pain and exploitation, plus a wannabe megalomaniac more in line with the usual cheesy MCU villain. Thankfully, the latter is used sparingly and isn’t allowed to lord it over everyone else.
  • The action sequences did so many funny and inventive things with size. I’ll also hazard a guess that the studio has improved their software since Ant-Man—at least to my untrained eye, the CGI looked smoother.
  • I loved how Cassie, Maggie, and Paxton’s family unit had—literally—embraced Scott. His cardboard fort / tunnel system treasure hunt with Cassie was so awesome! We tend not to see enough fathers enthusiastically play with their daughters on the big screen, let alone in superhero movies, so a big Thank You to the writing team for that.
  • I also loved the amount of screentime Hope got, and that there was no father-son story but a mother-daughter one and two father-daughter stories. You could even argue that Bill and Ava’s relationship amounted to an adoptive/adopted parent-child one (for the lack of a better term), or was moving in that direction by the end.
  • It was a funny flick, too. I sniggered all the way through.
  • Michael Peña’s Luis—oh, man! I don’t know how he can deliver the hyperspeed lines so fluently. He’s amazing! It was also nice to see how the ex-con gang worked together and that Dave and Kurt got a bit more development.
  • There’s one detail that stuck to my mind as a little too close to railroading: the countdown clock on Janet’s rescue window. Although, there’s plenty of Pym particle physics that’s merely handwaved aside, so it’s not like it’s alone in the MCU.
  • Finally, my two cents on the two stingers. The first one gave me the kind of genuine “Oh, shit” reaction that the end of Infinity War wasn’t able to. The second stinger felt cheaper, almost perfunctory.

Image: Ant-Man and the Wasp poster via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Black Panther Is Coming to the Smithsonian African American Museum

Earlier this year, the Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture screened the superhero movie Black Panther as part of their programming.

Smithsonian African American Museum Black Panther Hero Suit

Now the museum has plans to incorporate the movie into their collections in a larger way:

“The museum acquired several objects from Disney’s record-breaking film Black Panther, including the hero costume worn by actor Chadwick Boseman; a shooting script signed by Ryan Coogler (co-writer; director), Kevin Feige (producer, president of Marvel Studios), Nate Moore (executive producer) and Joe Robert Cole (co-writer; producer); two pages of spec script; and 24 high-resolution production photographs. Plans for display of the objects are under consideration by the museum.” […]

Black Panther is the first superhero of African descent to appear in mainstream American comics, and the film itself is the first major cinematic production based on the character. Black Panther illustrates the progression of blacks in film, an industry that in the past has overlooked blacks, or regulated them to flat, one-dimensional and marginalized figures. The film, like the museum, provides a fuller story of black culture and identity.”

Interesting! “Plans for display … are under consideration” definitely sounds like museum speak for planning a permanent exhibit. 🙂 In the meanwhile, the collection spotlight blog post, “Wakanda to Smithsonian”, includes a few images of the Black Panther hero costume (armor) on the premises.

Found via File 770.

Image by The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

Ant-Man and the Wasp Trailers

Ant-Man and the Wasp opens July 06, 2018—in about ten days! I didn’t know anything about Ant-Man going into the first movie, and I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. Just on the basis of that, I have high hopes for AM&tW.

This French poster certainly rocks:

IMDB Ant-Man and the Wasp French Poster

Here’s the trailer from January:

Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man and the Wasp – Official Trailer #1 by Marvel Entertainment

And one from the beginning of May:

Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man and The Wasp – Official Trailer by Marvel Entertainment

Basically the new one is the same as the January trailer except with more info. Still looks like great fun, though.

As for favorite side characters, Michael Peña returns as Luis, Judy Greer as Maggie Lang, and Abby Ryder Fortson as Cassie Lang—it’ll be great to see them all. Laurence Fishburne makes a first-time appearance as Dr. Bill Foster / Goliath. I didn’t realize that Michelle Pfeiffer is in the movie, too—cool cool cool. Hannah John-Kamen I haven’t seen before even though she’s been in Ready Player One and Game of Thrones; at least I don’t remember spotting her as a First Order officer in The Force Awakens.

Also, I just want to officially say that the GINORMOUS HELLO KITTY PEZ DISPENSER IS SO AWESOME! 🙂 😀

Image: Ant-Man and the Wasp poster via IMDB

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

Indie Scifi-Western Prospect

I saw this a couple of months ago and meant to write about it then, but apparently stored *cough cough* the link somewhere really effectively and only now rediscovered it. Anyway:

A feature-length indie scifi-western Prospect, written and directed by Zeek Earl and Chris Caldwell, premiered at the SXSW festival in March 2018.

An official teaser trailer is available on YouTube:

Prospect 2018 SXSW Teaser Trailer OFFICIAL by Prospect on YouTube

“A teenage girl and her father travel to a remote alien moon, aiming to strike it rich. They’ve secured a contract to harvest a large deposit of the elusive gems hidden in the depths of the moon’s toxic forest. But there are others roving the wilderness and the job quickly devolves into a fight to survive. Forced to contend not only with the forest’s other ruthless inhabitants, but with her own father’s greed-addled judgment, the girl finds she must carve her own path to escape.”

The movie stars Sophie Thatcher, Pedro Pascal (whom I’ve seen in Game of Thrones and Kingsman: The Golden Circle; he is also slated to appear in Wonder Woman 2), Jay Duplass, Andre Royo (appearances in Agent Carter, Elementary, and Fringe), Sheila Vand, and Anwan Glover (also visited in Elementary). The runtime is about 1 h 40 min.

About a month ago, in early May, Variety announced that Gunpowder & Sky (who bought worldwide rights to Prospect) will release the film theatrically in the U.S. later this year. It looks also to be available for streaming on SingularDTV at some point. Until then, according to the movie’s Facebook page, it looks like Prospect will be playing at select film festivals and/or independent theaters.

An article in Ars Technica says that

Prospect thrives more as a character-study due to the strength of its performances. In particular, Thatcher as Cee makes you feel each step of her transition from book-reading, punk- listening teen to cunning, hardened survivor […]”

Sounds intriguing—has anyone seen this yet? Thoughts?

Found via File 770.

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

All-Female Ocean’s 8 Trailers

An all-female installation in the Ocean’s heist series opens this Friday, June 08, 2018! IMDB’s description is short and sweet:

“Debbie Ocean gathers a crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City’s yearly Met Gala.”

Here are two trailers:

OCEAN’S 8 – Official 1st Trailer by Warner Bros. Pictures on YouTube

OCEAN’S 8 – Official Main Trailer by Warner Bros. Pictures on YouTube

Looks like so much fun! Not everyone in the cast is a favorite, but you never know, they might become a favorite after this… 🙂

And, OMG, Ocean’s 8 is so gonna bust the Bechdel test out of the water and use it as a flotation device!

Hey, look! We found a thing on the internet! We thought it was cool, and wanted to share it with you.

In Defense of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy

There’s a lot wrong with Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, make no mistake. It is an overstuffed, poorly structured jumble of unnecessary action sequences, juvenile humor, and tedious subplots, all ending in an interminable final battle that makes neither narrative nor tactical sense. Still, not all the problems are of Jackson’s making, and there are some things it does right that deserve notice.

Many of the structural weaknesses in the plot come from Tolkien’s original. The Hobbit was a children’s book about Bilbo Baggins and a band of Dwarves having a series of random encounters on their way to a spectacularly poorly planned heist. The characters are for the most part so flat as to be interchangeable and the plot is little more than an excuse to trundle from one retold Nordic folktale to another. I loved the book as a child and I still have a great fondness for it, but it does not have the depth or cohesion of The Lord of the Rings. Jackson’s writing team put in heroic efforts to make thirteen distinct characters out of Tolkien’s lyrical list of Dwarf names and to fill in much of the background story that makes sense of Bilbo’s disjointed adventures. (On the other hand, this fleshing-out work is also the source of many of the movies’ problems. On one hand, developing the Dwarves’ characters too often just provided more opportunities for out-of-place slapstick. On the other hand, filling in the gaps in Tolkien’s plot led to inventing new characters, which Jackson’s team too often fell in love with and allowed to take over the story.)

Despite these problems, some of the best moments in the trilogy are iconic scenes from Tolkien’s original that were put on screen with very few changes. Scenes like Bilbo’s riddling contest with Gollum in the depths of the Misty Mountains, Gandalf’s wily approach to Beorn, and Bilbo’s conversation with Smaug are rendered with a fidelity that shows a real love and respect for Tolkien’s creation. They are a delight to watch, even if they can’t make up for the rest of the films around them.

Even the less authentic scenes are often elevated by the quality of the performances. Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, and Christopher Lee reprise their roles as Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and Saruman with intelligence and gravitas. Andy Serkis gets to present a less desperate, more playful version of Gollum while Orlando Bloom performs a younger Legolas who is, as Tolkien said of the Mirkwood Elves, “more dangerous and less wise” than the character we remember from The Lord of the Rings. The newcomers to the series give it their best, too. Martin Freeman shows us how Bilbo finds his courage and taste for adventure without ever losing his Hobbitish love of home and comfort. The Dwarf actors, for all that they mostly get used for broad comedy, give their characters an individuality and personality that Tolkien never did. Benedict Cumberbatch is smoothly menacing as the voice of Smaug. Sylvester McCoy’s Radagast does a bit too much slapstick, but he also gives us a wild fresh take on wizardry that sits at the other end of the spectrum from Saruman’s aloof grandeur.

The sets, props, costuming, and other art direction live up to the high standards set by Weta in the first trilogy. From the ancient depths of Erebor to the workaday fishing village of Lake Town, from the rugged traveling gear of the Dwarves to the cold glamour of the Elvish king Thranduil, there isn’t a place, character, or object on screen that doesn’t show the art department’s commitment to creating a world that feels real and lived-in. Over it all, Howard Shore’s music is as rich and operatic as ever.

But the best thing about the Hobbit trilogy, though, the thing that redeems the whole troubled production and its many missteps, is not the films themselves but the discs full of extras that come with the extended editions. Most studios are content to slap in a few deleted scenes, a handful of trailers for unrelated movies, and maybe a couple five-minute promo interviews with the big-name stars talking about how awesome the movie is (seriously, movie studios, you don’t need to market your movie to the people who have already bought the DVD), but not Jackson & Co. Each of the Hobbit films comes with hours upon hours of in-depth documentaries on every aspect of the production, from concept art to final edits. These documentaries do more than go behind the scenes in the usual self-promoting Hollywood way. They also show us the false starts, the mistakes, the ideas that went nowhere and the things that went seriously wrong. You get a fuller appreciation of the good things in the movies when you see how hard it was to get some of them on screen.

The extra features are also well designed for usability. Everything is subtitled, which is great for those of us who don’t always hear well. The menus are easy to use and it’s obvious which item you’re choosing, unlike some discs which make you do a lot of tedious scrolling back and forth and use only a slight difference in color to tell you what button you’re about to hit. Every section tells you how long it is, so you can plan your watching accordingly. The Hobbit extras are the gold standard of how to do bonus features and I wish that more studios and franchises would take as much care both in what they offer for extra material and the functionality of their products.

The Hobbit trilogy is not great cinema. The whole does not measure up to the sum of its parts, but some of those parts are in themselves fascinating and beautiful. They make it worth going there and back again.

Image: Promotional still from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.