Wednesday 4 April 2018

(vol 5) CHAPTER 04: "Road To Infinity War"

** (article in progress)**

At the end of April 2018, a little movie called AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is to be released upon the world.

I'm a fan of comic books and superheroes, so it is definitely on my watch list.

I'm still in something close to awe at what Marvel Studios have accomplished with this most epic of epic franchises. 

Each year, as the standard remains high and the ability to reinvent these films improves (and other studio's fail massively to replicate the success; DC stumbles while Universal's Monsters retired early) we seem to take for granted what MARVEL have accomplished. 

They have somehow managed to recreate the interconnectivity of the comics books with Easter eggs, cross overs, and summer blockbuster multi-team events and put it all up on the big screen.

The cast list for AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR alone is something almost incomprehensible. Where a standard summer blockbuster may have three to five big name movie stars, this years AVENGERS movie has more than I can count on my fingers and toes. Just to get that many actors together for one film is a Rubik's Cube puzzle of casting craziness.

I simply can't get across how impressed I am with what will soon be on the screen. AVENGERS ASSEMBLE was the pinnacle, I assumed, back in 2012. And it was good too. 

Just the other day, as I explained to my mother how much I'm looking forward to seeing this film, she asked me a question; "What if it's rubbish?" 

When I finished laughing at the absurdity of that thought I realised that, sure, it was a massive undertaking and surely the great run the studio has been having couldn't last forever. Maybe this is the one that buckles. Maybe this is where Joe Public gets bored.

But, if by some Negative Zone manipulation it is bad, it won't be because it didn't try too hard.

IRON MAN (2008)
Sunday, 1st April 2018

As I flipped over my calendar and saw that I now existed in the same space/time as the month in which the new AVENGERS film is released, I decided it was about time to sit down with a big old chocolate Easter Egg and watch the movie that kicked off the greatest franchise ever: IRON MAN

Back then it was just another superhero film in a genre that was starting to really find it's legs. 

The X-MEN films and the Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN films have finally been given effects and budget to do themselves proud and people were showing their satisfaction with dollar bills.

Because MARVEL had a few road bumps in the 90's and been kinda forced to sell off their tent-poll characters to stay afloat (X-MEN and FANTASTIC FOUR to 20th Century Fox, SPIDER-MAN to Sony) they weren't left with many recognisable faces to start their new movie studio with.

It seems strange now, but before 2008, Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, and Thor, were characters only known to the geeks, back in a time when we used to hide from the world and only wear our comic book cover t-shirts if we wanted to get beat up.

But the movies have now made these heroes house hold names to match those that had come before. Now IRON MAN and CAPTAIN AMERICA are almost as well known as SPIDER-MAN, BATMAN, and SUPERMAN.

IRON MAN works well, planting the origin story in a more recent conflict (Afghanistan standing in for Vietnam) and putting Tony Stark through the ringer as he faces near death before being forced to create a weapon of death while locked in a cave.

It's believable to a degree while still being fantastical; man uses his genius to put together a rough and ready suit of armour and escape capture. The Mk 1 suit is not pretty, not when compared to the later upgraded versions of suits used across the next 7 appearances. It's practical and basic. It gets the job done.

Nowadays people complain that MARVEL pushed out a lot of origin stories in the early phases, and the template was getting stale. This can't be held against them as people really didn't know who these heroes were back then. And, though it rolled on smoothly with hindsight, IRON MAN was not just a one off movie, or the start of a small, single character franchise. IRON MAN was the origin of a massive cinematic universe, and for that, I think, the 'Originitus' can be forgiven.

So on goes the move, new suit, test flight, bad guy revealed, and a massive superhero punch up. 

The film doesn't outstay it's welcome and doesn't get much wrong. The effects are awesome and are not outdated almost a decade later. Robert Downey Jr, a man looking for a come back, found the best character to fit into and I don't think anyone else could have been a better choice.

And lets not forget the goosebump moment after the credits had rolled as the ever-fantastic Samuel L. Jackson turns around and mentions something about a certain initiative. 20 seconds that changed cinema history. 

A universe was born.

Friday, 6th April 2018

A couple of days later and it was time for the other MARVEL movie release from 2008; THE INCREDIBLE HULK.

Steering away from the more story driven and artsy Ang Lee version, THE INCREDIBLE HULK is all about pissing Bruce Banner off and bringing out the green guy. 

The stuff in between is okay (Bruce's fear of hurting people, the tension between General Ross and his daughter) but at the end of the day, the movie isn't called "The Incredible Bruce Banner and his Friends" for a damned good reason.

The film contains three action set pieces. The first, with Bruce running from special forces and then getting cornered by aggressive work place bullies is well executed. It keeps the first showing of the Hulk to the minimum, as he attacks from the shadows. The special forces guys are in the same boat as the audience; not knowing what the hell is coming for them.

The second set piece, and my favourite of the movie, goes in the opposite direction. This time we see the Hulk, out in the daylight, and not holding back. From the explosive arrival on the scene after being cornered once again, through a Humvee smash-a-thon, to the beautifully shot fiery helicopter attack, it shows the Hulk not holding back, taking hit after hit, and proving that there's nothing mortal man can do.

Which, after some more soppy stuff and a meeting in the rain get out of our way, leads to the finale. This time it's the Hulk versus someone more capable, and Emil Bronsky, aka The Abomination, rears his head and challenges Hulk for title of most angry green monster.

While the fight is more personal and throws in a couple of nods to the character (Hulks thunder clap put a grin on my face, and the iconic "Hulk Smash!" is roared), because its more CGI vs CGI, it gets a little video gamey.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK is a pretty decent MCU film that only has one thing holding it further down my list; Edward Norton. While I have nothing against him as an actor, like the character of Rhodey in the Iron Man films, the actor swap out for the following films is jarring, especially when the MCU has done an amazing job of keeping actors for roles. Ten years in, this stuff just doesn't happen any more, but back then, as the MCU found it's feet, things were still being tried out to see what fit.

IRON MAN 2 (2010)
Saturday, 7th April 2018

There was no stopping me as the next night I rolled straight into IRON MAN 2. It's weird to think now, with at least two MARVEL movies a year being standard, but there was almost a 2 year gap between THE INCREDIBLE HULK and Iron Man's return to the big screen. How I coped back then, I'll never know.

While this is still the weakest Iron Man film, and Mickey Rourke's version of Whiplash feels a little limp, my rewatch showed it to still be a pretty good movie.

Things get ramped up after the first film with everyone wanting a piece of Tony Stark, whether it's the US government, or skeletons in the closet. The film is at times a little rough with it cramming in of extra plot points to start setting things up (the MCU was a thing now) to the point that it almost feels like an advert for S.H.I.E.L.D.

Whiplash and Justin Hammer are probably two of my least favourite MCU villains and the real danger to Tony really comes from the poisoning he's suffering with his chest Arc Reactor. The man is dying and it seems nothing can help.

The Monaco set piece is the highlight of the film, culminating with that awesome moment where Tony puts on the suitcase armour. And of course there is that impressive finale where War Machine and Iron Man stand back to back and take on a fleet of Hammer drones.

IRON MAN 2 is good. One of the weaker MCU films, but a bad MCU film is still better than other great non MCU film.

THOR (2011)
Monday, 9th April 2018

A glance at my calendar this early into Phase 1 suddenly had me panicked. With less than three weeks before AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, and a couple of days involving pub quizzing or work projects meant I only had 14 days to watch the remaining 14 films. 

That meant that as soon as I got in on Monday evening, I informed the wife that I would need to watch THOR. Luckily, with a certain Mr Chris Hemsworth in the lead role, I didn't think she'd mind too much.

Thor was the first tough sell for the MCU They had finally gone from a couple of action movies that showed they were kind of linked, and were heading towards the now announced Superhero smack-down that was to be AVENGERS ASSEMBLE. And their first big step was moving away from the science of power suits and gamma radiation and going to . . . Norse mythology?!?

You wouldn't be wrong in suggesting it shouldn't have worked. But somehow, it kinda did.

The success for Thor came from two smart choices. First was picking Kenneth Branagh to direct (it still blows my mind that this man directed an MCU film) bringing with it a Shakespearean quality to fit the tone of the setting perfectly. 

The second was casting the pretty-unknown-at-the-time Chris Hemsworth as Thor. He is ripped from the pages of the comic book, and like Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, it's tough to see anyone else play the role. 

While the film shows us a world outside of Earth for the first time (and it's a fantastic sight to behold), an Asgard that is grand in scale yet doesn't feel out of place in this new growing universe, it is the fish-out-of-water scenes with Thor bringing his God like thinking to a small New Mexico town ("I need a horse!" he announces to a pet store owner) that sell the film best. And while its not as well realised as the third entry in the Thor trilogy, even at this early stage, Hemsworth comedy chops are showing.

Oddly I find that the film drags once Thor gets his powers back towards the end. The fight on the bridge with Loki is good, though the emotional heft from the destruction of the Bifröst is quickly swept under the rug in future films.

Not a bad start for the first curve-ball-movie in the franchise.

Wednesday, 11th April 2018

Next up is one of the early highlights of Phase One. Directed by the legend Joe Johnston, and oozing with 40's B-Movie charm, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER tells the story of a skinny kid from Brooklyn who goes on to become the iconic figure head of the Avengers.

From the clever and believable skinny-fying special effects of Chris Evans, past the hilarious WWII training camp scenes, around the USO shows (complete with 'classic' uniform) and onto the one man and his shield storming across occupied Europe final third.

Some of the movie has a real 'Indiana Jones and the Nazis' feel to it, from Johann Schmidt's custom car to the flying fortress that is the culmination of the Red Skull's plan. It all has a feel good Saturday morning matinee feel and it just makes the film fun.

I still have a little issue with the ending; I've never understood why Steve has to ditch the plane. He's clearly in control of it so just fly it and land it somewhere. But I also get that his sacrifice is the point of the character. From never giving in to bullies, throwing himself on a dud grenade, or going behind enemy lines alone, Steve Rogers is a man who puts everyone else above himself, even if it means not getting the girl.

Great fun and love the tease at the end after he wakes up. "You've been asleep for nearly 70 years!"

Can't believe that when this came out there was a year long wait until AVENGERS ASSEMBLE. Thankfully I only had to wait one night.

Thursday, 12th April 2018

Back in 2012, a film containing this many heroes, half of whom have their own franchises, was nothing short of crazy.

Somehow, MARVEL took what were at the time it's secondary characters and not only created five entertaining movies, but they then folded them into a team movie that does justice to all.

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012) should be commended for just existing.

And that would be fine. A pat on the back for even attempting this. But the fact that it works, and works well, puts this at the top of my MCU list every time. I not only love this movie, I respect it.

The only issue it could cause is if you've never watched an MCU film and gone straight into this. Because it really does hit the ground running. Throwing us into Loki's arrival and the decimation of a SHIELD base, we move quickly through the key players as they are rounded up and shipped of to the Helicarrier (Is it a boat? Is it a submarine? No!).

It's a two hour movie, but it flies by from one set piece to the next. Berlin, the forest smack-down, the Helicarrier attack, and onto New York for an alien invasion. 

The film is so action packed, but the characters don't suffer, and the comedy mixes in nicely ("That man is playing Galaga!").

It's an epic movie that never drops it's pieces. It could have stopped here, already kind of being something new to Hollywood when it comes to expanded universes. AVENGERS ASSEMBLE works just like a summer comic crossover.

But it didn't stop. The MCU carried on. And it got bigger and bigger along the way.

IRON MAN 3 (2013)
Friday, 13th April 2018

The first complete MCU trilogy came to an end with IRON MAN 3.

A few of my friends don't like this one, but it's up there among my favourite MCU films. I think Shane Black brought a different style to the Iron Man films after Jon Faverau's first two, and as a geek, what's not to love about seeing 38 new Iron Man suits on screen.

But what really works here is the stripping down of the main character. Suffering PTS, the billionaire genius has thrown himself into making all these new suits as a way of ignoring his issues. This is why we leave AVENGERS ASSEMBLE with the Mk 7, and show up one movie later with the Mk 42. And although all these suits obviously exist in the interim, Tony spends a nice chunk of the film on his own, building gadgets on the fly like a modern day MacGyver (loved that show). 

In fact, the much anticipated army of suits doesn't show up until the finale, and it's an epic showdown between super-powered henchman and flying metal suits (extremely happy that my favourite, the Silver Centurion, showed up).

The villains are pretty good (though Rebecca Fergusion is underused) and Guy Pearce gets menacing quickly. But while I didn't mind it, the Trevor Slattery switch divided fans more because of the importance of the Mandarin to Iron Man.

All in all though, its a great film, and finishes the Tony arc started in 2008. 

Monday, 16th April 2018

After a late night work project on the Sunday, I was already very tired when it came to Monday night. So I wasn't looking forward to what is my least favourite MCU film (though it's still better than the best DCEU film, but that's a whole other post).

Still, I'm all in and time is of the essence, so I (super) soldiered on and sat down to watch THOR: THE DARK WORLD.

Thor is back, a better man (God?) than he was in the first film. He pines for Jane who he's not been able to return to since being forced to destroy the only means of travel between Asgard and Earth (*cough* ignore AVENGERS ASSEMBLE *cough*). His treacherous brother is locked up. The nine realms are close to peace. Things are looking pretty good.

Until plain old movie villain Malekith turns up and wants some funky red mist to help him destroy the universe, a funky red mist that also turns out to be one of the six Infinity Stones. 

It's not crap. That's not why it's at the bottom of my list. It just doesn't stand out against much stronger competition. It trundles along, not really offering much new, and not really using many colours other than grey, brown, and red. Looks wise, It's almost the opposite of Ragnarok. 

Yet there are stand out moments. The attack on Asgard is action packed, the Captain America cameo was a nice surprise, and the news footage of a naked Erik running around Stonehenge is hilarious.

THOR: THE DARK WORLD does it's job, doesn't offend, and lays down a sting during the credits that sets up things for later.

Tuesday, 17th April 2018

The second Captain America film is without a doubt one of the best MCU films to date, despite barely having any flashy super powers on show. 

The Russo brothers (the movies directors) have stated in interviews that they molded the film as an espionage movie, a present day spy thriller that just happened to have an enhanced hero at the centre.

Chris Evans' Captain has had time to adapt to modern life now in the two years that have passed since his thawing. He still finds himself behind on history (keeping a notebook on suggestions for movies, music etc) but he seems more comfortable. 

But the reasons he fights for have changed since the more black and white era of WWII, and he begins to doubt what he stands for anymore.

The plot itself is a real winner looking at our current society and how we deal with the ever looming threat of terrorism. It's a different world from what the Captain left behind, when the threat doesn't necessarily stand on a soap box in front of a flag. Nowadays it could be anyone, at anytime. And sometimes the heroes need to act like the villains to get results.

What follows is a masterclass of action set pieces. From the opening attack on the boat where Captain America shows he can be stealthy when needed, to Nick Fury's four wheeled escape from Hydra, followed by the claustrophobic elevator fight ("Before we do this, does anybody want to get off?"), then there is the highlight in the movie with the bridge fight where the Captain comes face to face with his past, and this is all rounded up with an epic finale over Washington as three terrifying Helicarriers take to the skies.

The escalation in these scenes is enough to elevate this film into the top three MCU films, but then there is the world changing after effects as SHIELD is destroyed from the inside and the thought-to-be-dead Bucky is left loose in the world (until Civil War at least). 

But despite the dour mood of the film as Steve goes on the run, it still keeps the humuor. The Captain and Black Widow chat constantly throughout the movie about setting him up on a date (at one point just after they've kicked a suspect off of a roof!), while the banter and fresh eyed view with Anthony Mackie's Falcon is the new bromance of the MCU.

I can't recommend this film enough. Not just as a MARVEL film, not just as an action film, but as a film in general. It's close to perfection, and I enjoy it more with each viewing.

Wednesday, 18th April 2018

Back in phase 1, THOR was a gamble as it took the science and seriousness and plugged on a little out-of-this-world God story. It was asking that extra step from the audience. We've gone with the angry monster and the man in the metal suit, but now we want to add in a sprinkle of Norse mythology on steroids.

In 2014  MARVEL doubled down and took us even further out of this world, chucking a crude and colourful alien landscape full of strange creatures and great comedy.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY is a riot and stands on it's own as great comedy sci-fi. Yet it also does a lot of heavy lifting regarding the overall MCU plot of Thanos and the Infinity Stones. While a couple of stones have popped up in previous films, we get Benico Del Toro's Collector explaining their origin, and the purple faced mad titan himself actually turns up and delivers actual dialogue. It the first move on the board to bring the cosmic bad ass closer to Earth's story.

But even when it's not towing the overall MCU plot, it still tells it's own tale well as a bunch of misfits (who make the Avengers look functional) are brought together, get over their differences, and stand up to Thanos when it looks like no one else will.

And I'd need a whole other post on how well this film uses soundtrack.

Thursday, 19th April 2018

After several more solo efforts, we're back in cross-over event territory with AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON.

Review wise this movie didn't fair as well as AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, in part due to the opening up of other story lines (Thor jumps ship for several minutes to open up the Infinity Stone plot a little further).  And it's been mentioned that Joss Whedon was struggling more with this one as the studio forced more things in than the plot could deal with.

But it still works well. 

After the epic (I use that word a lot here) opening where the fully functional Avengers take down a Hydra base while hunting for Loki's scepter, things dial down a little as we see the team chill out for the evening and invite friends over.

The highlight of this evening, before the villain of the piece interrupts, comes after all the non-hero guests leave. An argument brews over how Thor's hammer actually works and how it deems someone worthy.

What follows is comedy genius, from Tony and Rhodey using parts of their suits to assist, Black Widow stating she doesn't have anything to prove, and Steve Rogers making Thor nervous when it almost move.

But that's it for our characters having happy times. Because Tony Stark, who does seem to cause most of the problems in the MCU, has unwittingly created Ultron. And the AI sin't too happy with what mankind has done to the world.

After that, the team scamper around the globe, trying to work out Ulton's plan before it's too late.

This includes a smashing beat down between a brain washed Hulk and Iron Man, who brings another suit upgrade in the form of the fan favourite Hulk Buster.

After that there's meeting the Hawkeye family, the truck chase in Korea, and finally the Battle of Sokovia where the good guys come together and do their damnedest to prevent an extinction level event.

Altogether, good stuff.

ANT-MAN (2015)
Thursday, 19th April 2018

Instead of ending Phase 2 with and Avengers movie, we round things out with a quite little heist movie involving Paul Rudd and a bunch of ants.

Much was talked about when Edgar Wright left the project due to 'creative differences' I guess it must be tough for some directors, especially this late in the day, to make their own vision with MARVEL needing certain plates spinning in certain locations.

Luckily the film doesn't suffer from the late director change.

Paul Rudd is the next new face, and we are back in Origin territory.

Friday, 20th April 2018

Despite the epicness of the Avengers movies, with the team roster growing, the third Captain America movie trumps all that went before with the biggest hero cast seen outside of the comics. 

Saturday, 21st April 2018

MARVEL gambled on Norse mythology with THOR and then doubled down on space Avengers with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.

In 2016 they went all in with the Mystic Arts by (finally) bringing DOCTOR STRANGE to the big screen. 

Sunday, 22nd April 2018

A film that divides, with fans sometimes arguing over which is the best Guardians film, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY vol 2 does what most sequels do and just takes the first movie and makes things bigger and louder.

Picking off not long after the first film ended (the time line of the MCU movies is enough to melt you brain; but the comics are worse), we find our heroes as sort of celebrities now. 

Unfortunately, as with several of the MCU films, there's always one character who goes out of their way to make things difficult for the rest of the group. Usually it's Tony Stark, but as he's busy on Earth, our furry friend Rocket Raccoon steps in and shakes things up.

After a kinetic and musical opening, we're almost straight into a chase before a crash landing and the meeting of a new character almost immediately solve the 'who is Peter's father' cliff hanger from the end of GOTG vol 1.

It's here that we step a little into another couple sequel troupe, where are brand of heroes split up to solve separate problems, while also fighting amount themselves.

Monday, 23rd April 2018

By the mid 90's, superhero movies were kind of camp and still didn't have the budgets or technology to do them justice. Then came along BLADE, followed a few years later by X-MEN.

And then came Sam Rami's SPIDER-MAN (2002). Suddenly superhero films weren't geeky or silly. They were epic summer blockbusters. The follow up was even better, with the Doc Ock train fight being one of the best action scenes in movie history.

Unfortunately, what followed was . . . not so good. The third Rami film crammed in too much (including 'that' emo scene!), and the Andrew Garfield ones tried to become the MCU too quickly, in much the same way the DC movies attempted.

Spider-man was the icon he once was and Sony, who own the character rights were desperate for a hit. Desperate enough to effectively loan their money-spinning character out to their biggest Superhero movie rivals; MARVEL.

When Spider-man turned up in the trailer (and later the film) CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, fans went nuts. As if the MCU movies didn't have enough characters teaming up as it was, now studios were doing cross overs too.

And while this new version was close to perfection, what everyone really wanted was a whole movie of this brand new version. So that's what we got.

It's good too. Skipping the origin story was a smart move, as was making the character of Peter Parker closer to a kid than previous incarnations.

Tuesday, 24th April 2018

The Thor films are two of my least favourite MCU movies, especially the second one. It's the blandest of the seventeen up to this point.

THOR: RAGNAROK doesn't just simply change things from THOR: THE DARK WORLD; it completely flips them.

Instead of a serious story and lots or greys and browns, Ragnarok is laugh out loud and neon. 

Its one of the funniest MCU films thanks to Chris Hemsworth's fantastic comedy timing and the introduction of my all time favourite second tier character; Korg.

Wednesday, 25th April 2018

Originally I planned to skip this due to there not being a home release available. 

But, by finding myself one day ahead of schedule, and a nearby cinema still showing the 18th MCU movie, I figured I'd complete the set in order. So off I headed, with a work colleague in tow, to rewatch BLACK PANTHER.

Still a fantastic movie, with it's own style. The music and setting is like nothing the MCU has shown before, and the film is all the better for it.

The Korea gambling den scene is a highlight, but the CGI fight at the end, as well as the small amount of Andy Serkis' screentime, are a couple of down notes. Yet this movie stands out from the rest of the 17 that came before and is a great lead into the big one.

Thursday, 26th April 2018
Saturday, 28th April 2018


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