Road to Infinity War – ‘Iron Man 3’ (2013)

Did anyone else question their sobriety the moment that Eiffel 65 started playing before a movie in the year 2013? I know that I did. Despite its many silly moments such as that- ‘Iron Man 3’ is one movie in particular that divided an awful lot of fans and critics, but ultimately garnered positive reviews. To be fair, this did follow ‘Iron Man and ‘The Avengers’-and the majority of the movies soon to come after this are pretty incredible, so it has a lot to live up to. You wouldn’t know that it was such a controversial film by how much money that it made- a whopping $1,214,811,252 at the worldwide box office-making it one of the most successful movies of all time.

And so, for the next installment of ‘Road to Infinity War’ we have the last piece of the trilogy of Tony Stark (for now)….IRON MAN 3

THE TEAM

Director and writer Shane Black may be best known for one thing, and that is Lethal Weapon. It was his first big screenplay back in 1987, and he has been active in the industry ever since. Interestingly enough, he wrote the screenplay for Zak Penns first project ‘Last Action Hero’-who you may remember as the story writer of ‘The Incredible Hulk’ and ‘Avengers’. He also wrote the screenplay for and directed ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’- starring Robert Downey Jr. Co-writer Drew Pearce went on to write the script for ‘Mission Impossible 5: Ghost Protocol’. Jon Favreau continues his attachment to the Iron Man franchise both on and off screen, serving as Executive Producer once again.

Composer Brian Tyler is a newcomer to the MCU, but he already had a decade and a half of experience upon working on this project. His credits include everything from ‘Darkness Falls’ to a couple ‘Fast and the Furious’ movies, ‘Eagle Eye’ and video games like ‘Far Cry 3’ ‘Need for Speed: The Run’ and ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’. Needless to say, he has experience scoring for action.

THE HERO

Despite an overall story that feels a bit soulless, ‘Iron Man 3’ is a strong Iron Man story because it focuses on the importance of the separation of Tony Stark from his suit and from his persona-even though they are slowly becoming one and the same. Tony finally cracks under the weight of everything that he has been through as both Iron Man and Tony Stark, and he becomes more reckless than ever before. He stays awake for days working away at his suits while his other half and Stark Industries CEO Pepper Potts is left alone. The resurgence of the 10 Rings-the same terrorist organization that kidnapped him back in ‘Iron Man’- in the form of The Mandarin drives him over the edge to the point of anxiety attacks- something that you don’t often see portrayed correctly on film. They used it to great affect here and created a really touching and emotional climax to Tonys journey. 

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Tony is far more vulnerable than ever before in every way imaginable- his loved ones, his country and both his personal and professional life hanging in the balance. He spends a large portion of the movie either without a suit- or in one that looks ready to fall off at any moment. This leaves him to show off his ingenuity and intelligence under pressure, and gives Robert Downey Jr a hell of a lot of face time on screen to deliver emotional, silly and action packed scenes. He drops his usual volume of sassy quips, with a few extra cruel zingers towards a child to show you just how far he has truly sunk. About 75% of the movie seems dedicated to showing off their CGI budget with several radical upgrades to his armor that wind up working their way into his future MCU appearances, but thats about all that does-besides the removal of his chest piece.

THE VILLAIN

Everything about this villain, his storyline and his henchman just falls completely flat for me. How Aldridge went through such a dramatic transformation from Igor-esque, permanently pubescent mega dweeb to a Guy Pearce-esque brainiac and mega-cult leader is a bit of a marvel in itself, but the nonsense doesn’t stop there. With a vibe that feels strikingly familiar to ‘Iron Man 2’, but with a brain and some CGI- Aldridge employs a team of ex military amputees and turns them into mutated children-of-Balrog soldiers to do his dirty work while he tries to sell legitimate-yet-controversial-technology to prospective buyers. He also heads up an organization so powerful that it kidnapped the president, stole the Iron Patriot armor, bribed the Vice President, took over every channel on American television, and created a fleet of shitty Weapon X wannabees that glow. And spit fire…..wtf?

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I have read the ‘Extremis’ storyline from which this film was based/inspired, and unfortunately it comes off on both accounts as a very, very cool idea that just didn’t suit this film well. (Suit-get it?) Killian is a one dimensional soundboard of cliches, and although this whole “man behind the curtain” twist was very, very amusing-thanks entirely to Sir Ben Kingsley- it feels like a real failure. They had the opportunity from the very beginning of the MCU to chase the Mandarin storyline, but nobody ever went for it. To continue Tonys battle with the 10 Rings over the course of his arch would be really cool to see. It could show that Tony Stark still truly cares about the wars that are too small to call the Avengers for-the wars that took place in countries like the one in which he was imprisoned so many years back. This just felt like a cop out and it added to the isolation that this movie already suffers from. Aldridge is certainly a genuine threat, but the way that they had to open and close this entire story arch within the allotted two hours just made everything that COULD have happened completely insignificant. The real nail in the coffin is when he officially proclaims “I AM THE MANDARIN” and a million hearts wept and considered the possibility of a double ruse- a theory which was later fueled by a short film surrounding Trevor Slattery in prison and then never spoken of again. I get why you’re mad, haters. I do. 

THE HIGHS AND LOWS

‘Iron Man 3’ certainly has its charm. Tony and his entire entourage of friends really stand out with great moments-from Happy living his best life with a new promotion, to Pepper donning the Iron suit and shaming everyone alive with her abs, to “warmachinerox”. Unfortunately, this movie feels like a lot of great moments, a lot of great lines and a lot of great performances peppered into a salty sea of mediocrity. Even more so than ‘Iron Man 2’-this installment feels like another excuse to funnel through all of the technological possibilities that Tony could create. Trust me, his drone suits and motion controlled…GPS controlled…self assembling suit are both really, really cool. Too bad that he blows them all up. There is barely anything at all connecting ‘Iron Man 3’ and its events to the past or future of the MCU, aside from Tonys PTSD following the events in New York-but those mostly seem to be brought on by creepy and invasive children.

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Theres no SHIELD to come help him, theres no superhero friends- theres just Tony, and sometimes Rhodes. Tony initiating the “clean slate protocol” for Pepper is a wonderful gesture well suited to the ending of an Iron Man story arch, but this movie technically isn’t the end of his arch at all. If he was truly giving up this life for Pepper, that would be lovely and poetic and romantic- but we know that isn’t how this story ends, so it feels empty. The finality that they convey with the story itself-and especially the closing credits- completely isolates the movie from everything else that has happened and what can happen. It all feels very forced and offers little to no closure or satisfaction that you would hope for at the ending of a trilogy.

Also, how did they just “fix” Pepper? I mean, her immune system is probably incredible and all-but didn’t they rewrite her genetic code and fill an empty hole in her brain? Seems tough to reverse invincibility. Did she also lose her sudden stealth abilities too? I mean, I LOVE Pepper- but this whole thing is a little silly.

POST CREDITS SCENE: We find out after the credits roll that Tony has been telling this long tale of self reflection to a dozing Bruce Banner. These two just met in `The Avengers`and they hit it off right away because of their mutual love for science. However, as we see in this scene, Bruce has a bit of a time tolerating Tonys motor mouth and over the top personality. This scene lets us know that they are spending time together outside of their time avenging-and this will be important to us in the very near future!

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Up next…THOR: THE DARK WORLD!

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‘Road to Infinity War’- ‘The Avengers’ (2012)

‘The Avengers’ is still incredibly exciting to watch after all that has come after it. The characters are so young, so fresh, so new and so unfamiliar with one another-and like our buddy Bruce Banner says- they are a “chemical mixture that creates chaos”. Though they are cleaning up an overabundance of chaos in this film, from the beginning we are asked one simple question “Does the world need superheroes?”. Yes, yes we do.

And so, on the Road to Infinity War, I am so excited to talk about ‘THE AVENGERS’!

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THE TEAM:

Writer, director and creator Joss Whedon was a pop culture darling to the nerd community well before he took on ‘The Avengers’ project. His slew of credits include such cult classics as TV shows ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ ‘Angel’ and ‘Firefly’, films like ‘Titan AE’, ‘Alien: Resurrection’ ‘Cabin in the Woods’ ‘Serenity’ and a little indie film called ‘Toy Story’. It seemed only fitting that a man who is so widely known in the community of pop culture loving nerds would be the one given the task of bringing one of its most treasured teams to the big screen. Whedon has some experience with establishing universes utilizing original characters, but a bit less with pre existing ones.

While Whedon wrote the screenplay for ‘The Avengers’, our buddy Zak Penn wrote the story. You may remember my mention of Zak in my entry for ‘The Incredible Hulk’-which he also wrote for Marvel Studios. Penn has a wealth of experience writing specifically for Marvel characters in everything from a Fantastic Four video game, ‘Elektra’ ‘Xmen 2’ and ‘XMen:The Last Stand’. While these credits may be spotty in their quality, there is certainly no contesting that he has the experience to be involved in this project. His experience with Marvel and comic book heroes in general fills in the holes where Joss Whedon may have lacked.

This film was unprecedented in its time- bringing together a canon universe of films that had spanned five years at the point that ‘The Avengers’ was released. This involved lengthy contracts with the actors and a whole lot of planning from the studio. If only we knew at the time what was coming down the pipeline in the future! ‘The Avengers’ proved to be a worthwhile investment in every way imaginable-making a harrowing $1,518,812,988 at the worldwide box office. OVER A BILLION DOLLARS!

THE HEROES:

I’m going to approach this section a bit differently since we have SO MANY characters to outline. So I am just going to get us caught up on what these characters have been up to before the story begins.

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IRON MAN/TONY STARK: At this point, Tony has been through a hell of a lot of trauma. He was kidnapped by terrorists, there was a hit put on his life by his friend and colleague Obediah Stane, he was cut out of his company, attacked by his own technology FOR his own technology, and became a superhero. THEN, while masquerading around as if he was untouchable, he was attacked by ‘Whiplash’ (ugh) and Hammer Industries tried to take him out. Hes in a relationship now, he gave Pepper the position of CEO at Stark Industries, hes a part of the ‘Avengers Initiative’, he has an Iron sidekick, and he has upgraded his chest piece to prevent a serious case of death.

Tony is an incredibly powerful man and has a shiny new image, albeit one that may still be seen in a negative light-depending who you ask. While he has held onto his cocky confidence and his innovative, entrepreneurial spirit- he has also grown tremendously. His priorities have changed and he is fully focused on utilizing his ‘Iron Man’ persona to make the world a safer place- following in his fathers footsteps and making him proud. His daddy issues still linger heavily in the way that he approaches a challenge to prove that he can do absolutely anything that he tries, but he seems far more open to collaboration and- dare I say- help?

CAPTAIN AMERICA/STEVE ROGERS: Steve is waking up from being involuntarily iced for a few decades, and we saw him waking up in modern day New York City at the very end of ‘The First Avenger’. All that we know for sure is that Steve is an old fashioned guy who is terribly lost in the new world in which he inhabits. Everyone that he knew is either extremely old, or has passed on. He is now living in a world where the war that he fought has ended and another has begun, and one where war is a completely different animal. He has already lived through war, a runin with alien technology and an act of self sacrifice and he now has a second chance to live his life, and to fulfill his destiny as ‘Captain America’.

BLACK WIDOW/NATASHA ROMANOFF: We know a fair amount about Black Widow due to her appearance in ‘Iron Man 2’-namely that she is very skilled at deception, technology and combat. She is the total package, and she works directly under Nick Fury-so needless to say, she will have a big role in the ‘Avengers Initiative’ going forward.

THOR/THOR ODINSON/”DONALD BLAKE”: Thor has seemingly no access to Earth now that the bifrost and the rainbow bridge are destroyed, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he has no way out. He has grown a lot since ‘Thor’, and he has taken on the role of “protector of the realms” now that he has seen a different side of the cosmos-and fallen in love with a scientist. Odin is still King of Asgard, but Thor is his right hand because his brother Loki is presumed dead. What they don’t know-and what we do know- is that he is very much alive, and he is already scheming.

HULK/BRUCE BANNER: The last time that we saw Bruce Banner, he was Edward Norton. Also, he was on the run after he and the ‘Abomination’ tore apart an entire neighbourhood. We know that he is on better terms with General Ross after working with him to bring down the beast, but he has inadvertently been forced into exile to prevent any future incidents and contact with the general public. We don’t know for sure if he has cut ties with his previous life or if he is still working on a cure or a way to manage his uh, “condition”. We also don’t know if he has been in contact with anybody from the “real world” or if SHIELD has contacted him personally. We do know that Tony approached General Ross about the Hulk, so he may have provided useful information, or he may have thrown him off the scent.

HAWKEYE/CLINT BARTON: I’ll be honest, I actually forgot that Hawkeye was in Thor. I always forget. So…we know that he is working with SHIELD, and that he observes things from a distance. Oh, and he has a bow and arrow. Sounds about right.

NICK FURY: Nick has been very busy looking badass and bringing together a team that will protect our world. We don’t know what he knows in the grand scheme of things, but we know that he is aware of at least two people who either live or vacation on Earth who have superpowers. He knows that there is life on other planets, and he knows that they have visited our planet for leisure and for business. He is one of the first people to make contact with Steve Rogers when he wakes up, and he is in regular contact with both Black Widow, Iron Man and presumably-Hawkeye. He is aware of Bruce Banner and Thor, but as far as we know, he has had no interaction with them personally.

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THE VILLAIN:

Much like we saw in ‘Thor’ there are technically two evils at work in ‘The Avengers’-which we will come to find out almost immediately. But going into the movie, the only inkling that we have about the bad guy is the post credits scene from ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ where we see that Loki has projected his form on Earth in order to eavesdrop on a conversation between Nick Fury and Dr Selvig regarding the tesseract. In a strong bit of foreshadowing, he delivers one simple line of dialogue that is repeated by Selvig, as if he is a ventriloquist dummy for Loki. Little do we know…

UPS AND DOWNS:

Love it or hate it, `The Avengers` is a movie made up of moments. This becomes both the downfall and the strength of it, because while so many of those moments are great- some are a little nonsensical for the sake of fan service.

This movie pulls off the very difficult feat of introducing and integrating a cast of established and beloved characters and turning them into a team-coming together for one common goal. We have a solid backstory for some of the characters, and others we have barely scratched the surface of. They had to bring Thor back to Earth, bring Bruce out of hiding, knock Cap out of his shellshock, and manage Tony well enough that he can play nice with others. They had to create a scenario where SHIELD and The Avengers work hand in hand and a balance also needed to be struck between the screen time for all of those players. To do that, they created a situation so dire, so sudden and so personal that these heroes HAD to come together. They pulled this off with great success.

Not only did the construct of the film come together very well, but it struck a great balance between action, drama, fantasy and comedy. The coming together of all Marvel entities is poetic and exciting, and they capture the spirit of each individual character while giving them all a fair amount of time to shine. The balance of personalities and the way that the actors bounce off of one another in every scene makes it so easy to escape into the world that they have created. Every character has their moment to show both their lighter side and their emotional side, and that contrast perks up the tone of a movie that could easily be drowned in doom and dread. The subject matter gets very dark and morose in scenes like the one where Loki commands a group of civilians to kneel before him, only to be defied by an older man who compares him to one of Earths most famous non-fictional villains. This comes after he steals a mans eyeball, by the way. Though not the most kid friendly of stories- it does its due diligence to keep things light enough that both adults and kids can enjoy the experience.

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Mind you, I find that the clever quips and cheeky one liners can feel out of place. Joss Whedon is very good at delivering quotable lines and memorable shots, and there is a wealth of both in `The Avengers`. However, when a bit doesn’t quite fall into place it leaves an awkward gaze, a deafening silence where there should be a laugh track, or a scene that just confuses the tone entirely. Its one thing for Sam Jackson to spout off a sassy diss, but to listen to the tension between Cap and Tony right from the beginning doesn’t feel overly genuine, considering how much they know about one another at first meeting and what each other has lived through. However, how else will they set the groundwork for Civil War but to show that these two clashed right from the beginning? The entire scene where Thor steals Loki sticks out like a sore thumb and demonstrates my point rather well. Tony takes down Thor, leaving Loki completely unsupervised and alone to sit and wait for someone to come get him. While he happily watches as his brother fights with Iron Man, we are treated to a token superhero moment called the “BUT WHAT IF” fight. It is a fight scene that is set up specifically for the purpose of answering questions like: “But what if Iron Man was hit with Mjolnir?” and “But what if Mjolnir hit Caps shield?”. You see these types of one-off fight scenes all throughout the movie. Thor vs Hulk, Black Widow vs Hawkeye, and I mentioned-Thor vs Iron Man.

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Now, lets talk about our HEROES as they exit `The Avengers` into the next stages of the MCU.

IRON MAN/TONY STARK: Tony has pushed himself to a whole new level of recklessness. He faced a god without reliable armor to make a statement-and almost didn’t make it. He jumped into a massive piece of moving machinery powering a Quinjet-and almost didn’t make it. He carried a missile through a portal into space, and he almost didnt make it. He continues to place himself directly in the line of fire-so although he may argue with Steve that they are “not soldiers”, he certainly behaves like one. He is on a path of self destruction and truly believes that he can fix any problem that comes his way-no matter the consequences. His mental state is more and more questionable as time goes on.

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CAPTAIN AMERICA/STEVE ROGERS: Steve had very little time to come to grips with his new world before he was pulled right back into a fight, but he wasted no time at all establishing himself as a leader. While everyone around him is either idolizing or patronizing him, he keeps a very serious perspective and does not seem interested in letting anyone in. Only he knows exactly what he has survived through and there are few people for him to identify with. Considering the shocking changes that he has already had to absorb, now he has to come to grips with the existence of aliens. He remains very noble, honest and hands on, and much like Tony- he is willing to throw himself right into the mess to do the right thing.

BLACK WIDOW/NATASHA ROMANOFF: Natasha now knows what its like to fight alongside superhumans, Gods and monsters- and she never once showed that she was intimidated. She came face to face with The Hulk and lived to tell the tale, despite how truly afraid she was of him. She met in a battle of wits against Loki, and nearly beat him at his own game. She helped save her best friend, fought alien soldiers in hand to hand combat and eventually had the courage to personally deal with two infinity stones (not that she was aware of that). She proves her worth over and over again with her tenacity and first class combat skills. Though her relationship with people like Tony, Thor and Bruce are still up in the air, she has formed a bit of a kinship with Steve that we will see come into play in future MCU stories, and her friendship with Barton is clearly very important to her as well, so they will likely continue to be a loyal support system for each other. 

THOR/THOR ODINSON/”DONALD BLAKE”: Thor has found his way back to Earth by some method that we have yet to be informed, and he made his way back to Asgard with his brother Loki in tow. So we know that he has access to our realm again-and in turn, he likely has access to others. He has a new sense of disdain for his brother, but he certainly seems to have a soft spot for him nonetheless. Loki is volatile and selfish to no end, but Thor does not want to give up on him. He realizes that he is angry and feeling cast out by everyone that he knows, and I believe that he sympathizes with him and hopes that one day he will grow and learn to listen.

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HULK/BRUCE BANNER: Bruce was happy as a clam, all alone and dedicating his life to helping people who cannot help themselves. However, SHIELD pulled him out of his remote and quiet life to serve a greater purpose. This decision is a very risky one on their part, but they know by now that Bruce has been keeping his demon at bay for nearly a year. What they don’t know for sure is if the Hulk is manageable when he transforms. Even the way that they illustrate his control and intelligence is a little spotty in this film, because one minute he is set off by an explosion and goes after Black Widow, and the next he is able to turn into the Hulk on a moments notice with full control and full ability to “communicate” and understand his comrades. What we can tell for sure is that Bruce has successfully found ways to manage the Hulk-to an extent. He also confides in his new friends that he has attempted to kill himself in a low moment-bringing a whole new layer of tragedy to his story. He has now come to terms with the permanence of his relationship with the Hulk, but he still has not accepted it as a gift, rather than a curse.

HAWKEYE/CLINT BARTON: Hawkeye is desperately outgunned in comparison to his colleagues, but that doesn’t stop him from working his ass off to do his best. Much like Natasha, he is crucial to the team because of his…hawk-like vision and awareness, his agility and his combat skills. If theres one thing that we know about SHIELD agents, its that they can keep secrets and they are trained to be the best. Barton has been the unfortunate recipient of Lokis mind control, which will very likely have a lasting affect on him. He seems really willing and ready to take on Loki and anybody else who stands in his way.

NICK FURY: Nick Fury and SHIELD have been through a hell of a lot through the course of this movie. They were caught utilizing the tesseract to create weapons to defend the Earth from people like Loki-only to be attacked using the tesseract as a method of transport. The SHIELD facility now lays in a hole in the ground while Fury, Coulson, Hill and several other agents are basically stuck on their Quinjet for the duration of the movie. Fury flexes a whole lot of power in ‘The Avengers’ beyond what we have seen from him in the past. He makes most of the major decisions regarding global security-and although the special counsel doesn’t agree with his sentiment that the ‘Avengers Initiative’ is a feasible form of security- they let him get away with it nonetheless. Fury basically has complete command over how the events of ‘The Avengers’ unfold and his involvement is incredibly important, affecting the MCU from here on out.

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COULSON: Coulson gets his 15 minutes of MCU fame in ‘The Avengers’ where we get to see how sharp his wit is and how sentimental he is at heart. For a man that is in charge of some of the worlds biggest and baddest secrets, he has a very soft side-mostly for Captain America. He ends up being the ultimate fanboy on behalf of all of us. Coulson died defending a group of superheroes. RIP you smug son of a bitch. OR MAYBE NOT……? (Spoiler alert…not.)

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THE VILLAIN:

Ooooh Loki. You thought that you could make a deal with the devil and all the chips would fall in your favor? Classic villain mistake. Loki deserves a hell of a lot of credit for the amount of destruction and devastation that he able to create without putting himself in harms way, but he is still far too inexperienced and immature to understand how the universe works. He believes that every scheme that he hatches will ultimately bring him out on top-not quite realizing that there are much bigger fish in the sea-namely guys like Thanos and teams like the Avengers. He still believes that he is entitled to be treated as a King, and therefore he is above everyone else. He will not accept the reality that despite how highly he thinks of himself, he is not above anyone unless he proves himself worthy.

Thor has taken Loki back to Asgard as a prisoner, and we don’t know how long this will last.

POST CREDITS SCENE: How could anyone forget the grand reveal at the end of `The Avengers’?  It opens on a member of the Chitauri brooding on a small, dark planet on which we saw Loki speaking to the them last. In that previous scene, the camera panned He is reporting to someone about their failure to take over Earth- claiming that “to challenge them, is to court death”. Then, we see the smirking side profile of none other than the Mad Titan-Thanos.

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This “court death” line makes me think that they are eluding to the infamous Mistress of Death- who is a huge part of the ‘Infinity Gauntlet’ storyline in the comics. So, we have our first official clue that there may be an Infinity Stones story in our future.

What a time to be alive and nerdy!

Oh, and shawarma.

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NEXT…IRON MAN 3!

 

‘Road to Infinity War’- ‘CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER’ (2011)

Today, on the ‘Road to Infinity War’, I am talking about the movie that officially completed the Avengers. Its about the super serum survivor who went on to be ‘The Incredible Bulk’. Its about the worlds original bromance. Its every guy and gals fictional dream boyfriend. It is none other than…’CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER’

THE TEAM:

Director Joe Johnston is responsible for many nostalgic pieces of any 90s kids childhood-films like ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids’, ‘The Pagemaster’ ‘The Rocketeer’ and ‘Jumanji’. I was also quite elated to learn that he has uncredited roles in the first two Star Wars films. Not only that-but he is credited as final conceptual designer for Yoda, Boba Fett, the Millenium Falcon, X Wing, Y Wing, Star Destroyer, AT-ATs AND the Death Star.

Oh, hello.

The screenplay was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who had written the screenplay for the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ trilogy before this one. Marvel must have been very happy with their work, because they brought the duo back to write the screenplay for the next two Captain America films as well as the Thor sequel. They will go on to create the ‘Agent Carter’ television show as well.

The music of Captain America is brought to us by one of the greatest composers of all time-Alan Silvestri. Silvestri is responsible for the kind of movie music that will give you butterflies and put a smile on your face. Think ‘Back to the Future’, ‘Forrest Gump’ ‘Grumpy Old Men’ and dozens upon dozens of other amazing films. He will go on to become a staple for epic superhero themes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

THE HERO:

Chris Evans. I didn’t know the name when ‘The First Avenger’ came out-but I definitely knew the face. You know what I knew his face from? Not Another Teen Movie. Full disclosure: I think this movie is hilarious.

After playing an arrogant young Johnny Storm in the lackluster Fantastic Four films, you can imagine my surprise and slight concern when I found out that he was playing one of the biggest and most beloved characters in the Marvel universe. Boy oh boy…was I wrong. Evans not only embodies the optimism and the apple pie and baseball loving New York boy persona, but he dedicates himself physically to this role, and he makes it all his own. He is assertive but gentle, strong but sweet. Like Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr before him-Chris Evans IS Captain America. I can see nobody else in this role.

Steve Rogers is a simple guy. He just wants to do the right thing. From the very beginning of his story, we see a guy who wants to be bigger and better than everyone thinks he is based on his stature. He wants to be a hero in the best way that he knows how at that time in our history- fighting for his country. Steve has a contagious optimism and a humility that is a welcome change of pace from all the heroes that we have seen up to this point. He isn’t a rich genius, he isn’t a brilliant scientist, and he isn’t a God. Hes just a kid from Brooklyn. A kid who doesn’t seem to have a family to go back to, who volunteers without hesitation to be a science experiment. Lucky for him, that happens to go incredibly well. Like, really well.

We get it, Peggy. We really do.

Steve is given the opportunity to be a spokesperson for his military, and despite the fact that he is now more than capable of fighting with the rest of them he continues to be underestimated because he is a bashful kind of lad. Instead of becoming a super soldier, he becomes a superstar. While his stint as a propaganda mascot for the United States military helps greatly with his public persona, it clearly does not satisfy his inherent need to do good in the world. Much as he did before he took the worlds greatest steroid, Steve Rogers believes that his potential is much greater than anyone else believes it to be-that he is meant for something more.

He dares to step on the toes of higher ups like resident grump and sass machine Tommy Lee Jones with such confidence that you can’t help but cheer for him. He sticks so faithfully to his morals and his beliefs, never wavering for a second and never allowing himself to be influenced by his gifts. He is such a remarkable hero because unlike his polar opposite and future colleague/rival Tony Stark, his strength comes from a life of opposition. He has never been given anything. He has to sacrifice everything to eventually become Captain America and that underdog mindset never seems to leave his mind. He is entirely selfless and willing to put himself on the line if it means that others will live, and he does this on several occasions. His character is played beautifully, written well and it truly sets up a Cap that we will undoubtedly know and love.

THE VILLAIN

Red Skull was one of the first official villains in the MCU that I got really excited about. Not only was the casting of Hugo Weaving a seemingly perfect one, but they managed to make him look really authentic without too much digital assistance. My understanding is that the makeup was terribly uncomfortable, but does it ever pay off in the final product! He looks and sounds fantastic, and Weaving has the acting chops to really pull off the menacing, authoritative mastermind that is required to be the Red Skull. He is intelligent and articulate enough to inspire a following and to achieve results, but he is so delusional and misguided that he has to be stopped at all costs.

A villain that is so closely related to real life events is a huge gamble. Johann Schmidt is a faithful and extremist follower of Hitler in a time when Hitler has more power than anyone on that side of the world. Although we never see Hitler himself and they never really reference his goals directly, Schmidt takes this energy and opportunity and twists it in a way that he believes to be correct- washing the world clean of enemies and letting it flourish with whoever he deems to be “right”. Factor in the cosmic power weapon that he manages to acquire and you have something far more terrifying than Hitler. The impact that he will leave behind, even after his defeat, will leave a long and lasting impression of the MCU.

THE GOODS

Captain America has so much going for it. It has a solid cast that is absolutely bursting with great heroes, a really effective villain, a wonderful message and a story that is not so far out that we cannot connect to it. It is just as uplifting as it is tragic. It is not only a good superhero film, but a great war and science fiction style film as well. We are introduced to one of the best SHIELD agents of all time (and one my personal lady crushes)- Miss Peggy Carter-and one of the coolest frenemies in the MCU-Bucky Barnes, all together for one time only. We see the origins of both SHIELD and Hydra in this cast of characters. We are introduced to the very first glimpse of ‘Infinity War’ with the inclusion of a “cosmic cube”, which we will see again before we can blink. It introduces a really horrifying villain and then it shoots him through a portal into space….never to be seen again!? But maybe to be seen again!? We didn’t see him die! We saw him disappear into a portal into space. I have faith that we may see him again.

If it falters in any way, it is in its action. We get some great scenes of Cap kicking Hydra ass, but once we reach the point there should be a climax…we get a montage that is fashioned after an old timey war film-which is very cool in one sense, but a montage of action between the main hero and the main villain feels like a real missed opportunity. This portion of the film could have been so much more exciting and it could have given us a lot more insight into how widespread Red Skulls rhetoric has become. There was not a whole lot of interaction between them.

I also cannot get through this review without mentioning the absolutely atrocious imposing of Chris Evans head onto McLovins body. I thought that I could ignore it this time, but it is about as hilarious as it comes. At some points it is well integrated, but at most it is blatantly obvious. I would absolutely love to see a reissue of this film with a more modern take on the CGI. It is really hard for me to fall into the story when all I can see is a weird, warped head floating around.

POST CREDITS SCENE: The scene that they used in the post-credits is a great one, but it is slightly watered down when you realize that they use almost the exact scene in ‘The Avengers’. Nick Fury approaches Steve while he is beating the skin off of a sparring bag to talk about joining a new team…you know the one.

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Up next….holy crap….’THE AVENGERS’!

‘Road to Infinity War’ – ‘Thor’ (2011)

For Chapter 4 of ‘Road to Infinity War’ I am excited to talk about the first “out of this world” Marvel film in the MCU- the almighty THOR!

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The introduction of Thor into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is exciting-not only because it brings another future Avenger into the mix, but because it opens up the world as we know it-a literal universe of possibilities. These are some of the only characters in the MCU who are based directly on pre-existing characters that are widely known-therefore opening it up to an audience far greater than the movie nerds and blockbuster chasers. The movie had a great run, making a whopping $449,326,618 at the worldwide box office in its 16 week run.

THE TEAM:

You may know the name Kenneth Branagh by now due to his many acting credits-with such great moustaches as ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, ‘Dunkirk’ ‘Valkyrie’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’. You may also know his directorial projects such as ‘Cinderella’, ‘Jack Ryan:Shadow Recruit’ and ‘Murder on the Orient Express’.

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What you may not know is that Mr Branagh predominantly made his living for decades directing and starring in several Shakespearean productions- from ‘Henry V’ to ‘Othello’ and ‘Hamlet’. He continues his career in theatrical productions to this day with films like 2013’s ‘Macbeth’. So it makes perfect sense that an Irishman with a strong background in theatre would be the man put in charge to direct the first film about a family that is ripped right out of Norse mythology. ‘Thor’ is about as Shakespearean as it gets in the world of superheroes, and its influence shines through in this film.

The writing staff for ‘Thor’ is a large group of experiences writers who have had their hands in a heck of a lot of science fiction. The screenplay was written by Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne, who are responsible for writing on various projects like ‘Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles’, ‘Andromeda’, and ‘Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer’. The story itself was brought to you by a couple of guys with an impressive background: namely J. Michael Stracynski, who had been writing geek fiction since the 80s on shows like ‘He-Man and the Masters of the Universe’, ‘She-Ra: Princess of Power’, ‘Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future’ ‘The Twilight Zone’ ‘Babylon 5’-which he also created- and out of left field- Clint Eastwoods ultra disturbing drama ‘The Changeling’. His partner on the story, Mark Protosevich wrote such unsettled sci fi as ‘The Cell’ and ‘I Am Legend’.

The films score was written by veteran composer Patrick Doyle-whos first film score happened to be Kenneth Branaghs ‘Henry V’ back in 1989. He has worked with Branagh several times since then on his films, as well as films like ‘Shipwrecked’, ‘Carlito’s Way’, ‘Bridget Jones Diary’ and ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’. These are only a few of his 60+ credits as a composer to be found. He has since worked on ‘Brave’ ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ and basically everything that Branagh has been involved in.

THE HERO:

Australian born and raised Chris Hemsworth was not long into his career-and certainly not far into his American film career-when he landed the role of the God of Thunder. His roles up to that point in the American market included playing Captain Kirks father in the heart wrenching opening scene of 2009’s  ‘Star Trek’ film, and a character named ‘Kale’ (umm..what?) in ‘The Perfect Getaway’. Despite a lack of experience, there is seemingly no question as to why he was cast in the lead role of Thor. I mean, look at this guy!

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Hemsworth not only fits the bill to play Thor based on physical appearances, but he also perfectly captures the immature, entitled, arrogant, overzealous, competitive nature of a young God-in-the-making. We see a glimpse of the cocky humor that Thor will become known for later on in the MCU, but the difference here is that he has not quite earned his stripes as a hero. We also see the sibling rivalry between Thor and Loki right from the beginning-as Loki is left standing on the sidelines while Thor is groomed to be the new leader of Asgard.

Thor quickly goes from Asgards darling warrior prince to its disgrace when he attacks the frost giants of Jotunheim against his fathers wishes, resulting in his banishment to Midgard (Earth) and a loss of his powers.` The range of emotions involved in much of Thors story arch really shows off Hemsworths range as an actor- from a moment of heartbreak, to blinding rage, to the spark of new love. He proves with every scene that he is much more than a pretty face.

THE VILLAIN

Sure, the frost giants of Jotunheim are pretty menacing-but we all know who the real villain of `Thor`is.

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This sneaky, malevolent, beautiful son of a bitch.

Loki`s story is so expertly told in this tale from the moment that we are dropped into Thors crowning ceremony. He barely says a word until about 15 minutes in, which you eventually realize is his way of listening, observing, and planning while keeping a safe distance from potential blame in any given situation. From his first piece of dialogue we see him planting seeds. Initially, we don`t know what those seeds are meant to grow into- and Tom Hiddleston is such a gifted dramatic actor that he does not let it slip for a second that something menacing is behind his actions. He maintains the illusion that he is genuinely concerned for the consequences and outcomes of all perilous cards that are dealt in his direction with such ease that I still find it hard to know when he is genuine and when he is playing.

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The events of ‘Thor’ work in Loki’s favor at all times because he ceases opportunities and intuitively assumes the behaviours and reactions from his family and friends that will lead to the next action or reaction. In one sentence- he offers sympathy, support and confidence to his brother Thor after his falling out with Odin, but in the very next he plants the idea of treason. He knows that Thor cannot resist a challenge and that he will not give up when he feels strongly enough. With that, he immediately reactions with surprised opposition in front of their peers to ensure that he is not blamed for what Thor does. Next thing you know, he is double crossing his family. AND THEN he is double crossing the people who he double crossed his family with. He seems able to roll with the punches incredibly well, and to plan well ahead at the same time. He is truly one of the most intelligent-and therefore dangerous- villains to enter the MCU up until this very day.

He has become far more reckless, sentimental and predictable over the next few films, and we get a glimpse into it right from what I believe to be one of the greatest post credit scenes of all time. It is full of foreshadowing, it establishes a connection, and it builds a bridge between the two films immediately. Loki has taken himself off the map, but he is already working on another scheme to fulfill his new set of priorities, and this time-nobody is watching.

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I absolutely love this bit of foreshadowing, but I’m also confused as to how he knew at this stage of his hair growth that this was going to happen in ‘The Avengers’. Maybe he drops right into Thanos lap when he falls off the Rainbow Bridge? He winds up having a working relationship with Thanos to some extent- so I’m excited to see if this comes into play in ‘Infinity Wars’- or if he will further his practice his checklist of mischief:

  1. Work with an enemy.
  2. Appear faithful to both sides while slowly driving them against one another-creating a war
  3. Stop said war by double crossing the enemy-therefore looking like a hero to the people you want to worship you.
  4. Wipe out the enemy, avoiding future conflict without doing much actual work for it
  5. Expect nothing but gratitude and hero worship
  6. Continue being cruel at all times to the majority ofbut still a little sentimental to Thor because hes your brother
  7. Repeat

THE GOODS:

While the time spent in Asgard is something out of an intergalactic stage play, the events on Earth seem to play out more like a 90s sci fi movie. I don’t mean that in a bad way- but the juxtaposition between these two civilizations is an interesting one. When Thor reaches Earth, he learns that there are people there who may look alot like his, but that they are experiencing a condensed version of the universe that he thinks he knows. He knows about every realm in the universe, while we are simply trying to get a look into our immediate surroundings. He sleeps in a palace while people on Earth are struggling to have things like a purpose, a home, longevity. All things that he has been granted at birth. He sees people like Jane Foster who spend their lives dedicated to learning the universe-and people like SHIELD who spend their lives defending it. I think that he feels a connection to our seemingly primitive world because he wants the same things.

Thor learns from both his Midgardian and Asgardian companions what it means to be truly heroic- it is to sacrifice and to relinquish all selfish aspirations. The lessons that he learns in this story are all ones that serve his character along the journey to becoming an Avenger.

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SHIELD gets another healthy dose of screen time- but this time around we get to see their “men in black suits” persona from a negative angle. We love to watch them work when it comes to tracking down villains, but now that they are standing in the way of Thor and his ragtag group of physicists- they look pretty damn menacing. It also shows us that SHIELD has some sort of infrastructure in place for events like, say, a man and a hammer falling from space. Its comforting to know that there is someone out there who is prepared on some level to deal with extraterrestrial life-and one who won’t be swayed by the beautiful baby blues of a Norse god.

I mean, it would be…if this was real.

In summary, Thor is an excellent first look into what will soon become an expanse into the cosmos for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

We have another hero with daddy issues. We have another villain AND hero with a God Complex. (Get it?) and we have yet another successful woman who doesn’t take your shit as the leading lady. Actually-we have two. Lady Sif is dynamite in this as well! Darcy too. And Frigga. She is Friggan awesome.

PS- ‘Thor’ introduces characters who have been alive for centuries before any of us would be- which warps the entire reality of this universe as we know it. There are beings out there who know the history of EVERYTHING- and they won’t just come on down and tell us about it!?

Rude, Gods! Rude.

How does the entire world not go completely berzerk upon finding out that there is life on other planets!? AND that its highly intelligent!? AND it wouldn’t mind killing us? AND that they might just hang out on Earth sometime and have a coffee with a friend because some of them look just like us but live a hell of a lot longer?

POST CREDITS SCENE:  I already touched on this one in this post, but to reiterate- the scene in question is one of my all time favorites. It is one where we learn a great deal of information in a short time and it adds a whole lot of momentum to the coming films. Dr Selvig is in what appears to be an underground bunker or warehouse of some kind, wearing an ID badge. Out of the shadows emerges a cranky looking Nick Fury, who compliments him on his work in New Mexico. Selvig gushes about how revolutionary the existence of their new discoveries are, but Fury presents him with clear evidence that this may be nothing but old news. In a briefcase in front of them, he presents a glowing blue cube- a source of unlimited power, he says. Suddenly we see a rough looking Loki come into frame as a reflection behind Selvig-as he almost whispers the phrase “Well thats worth a look”, which Selvig then repeats. This foreshadows a few major parts of ‘The Avengers’ and it is really amazing to see this scene after seeing the movie that is to come.

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Next up…’CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER’!

Let’s Keep Talking

Heres the deal: I want to talk about mental illness everyday. I want to talk about it not only because of how destructive it is, but because of how unifying it can be. It affects so many people. It can be lighthearted despite its tragedy- and it can even be funny. My hope is that my need to overshare on the topic will reach somebody else out there who needs to connect. I have no real answers, but I want to help find a path to peace for myself and others who are suffering-or those who wish to understand how this affects others around them. Despite what internet memes might lead you to believe-going for a walk in the woods isn’t going to cure your depression. Although, it is very nice.

In recent years I have found real therapeutic value in my passion to be creative. That is why I have this blog, and it is why I am so obsessed with movies, comics, shows, art, etc. Its why a new MCU movie on the horizon brings me so much joy. It is why I write. It is why I cook. These things light me on fire when I feel extinguished. They may often serve as a temporary solution, but the dream will always be that someday I can live my life on fire, instead of living it in the dark.

So, I’m going to talk. If you want to talk back, I am more than ready to listen.

You may be reading this now with full knowledge that you have a recognizable mental illness-one with a name and a treatment plan. You may have your suspicions that something is wrong inside, but you don’t know how to identify it, what to call it, or how to figure it out. Or, like me, you may be a trail mix of symptoms that you crunch on day in and day out, hoping that one day your bowl won’t have M&Ms in it anymore. God I hate M&Ms.

For some, it feels like sadness. It can feel like anger. It can feel like tension. It can be distracting. It can be motivating. It can be confusing. It can feel selfish. It can be isolating. It can be scary. It can manifest itself as anything from panic attacks to social withdrawal to addiction. You might even be convinced that you’re crazy.

For me, it is many things. It is a feeling that I am allowing myself to drown, even though I know how to swim. It is a constant, ever present pocket of my consciousness that I cannot shut off, even when I fall asleep. It is my Freddy Krueger. It is a confusing, aching, throbbing cap that lays over my skull and clouds my judgement. It is a vulture, flying overhead and waiting for a moment of weakness. It projects darkness when I should see light. It tells me to be dower when life is going well. It tells me that I can’t-when there is no reason why I cannot. It brings about bad choices, even though I know what the right ones are.

It means wanting nothing more than a moment alone to cry, and it means pulling over to the side of the road to cry over the song playing over your speakers, even though you’ve heard it 100 times. It means feeling selfish when your family needs you, but you need to have a few minutes of silence. It means withdrawing from social situations and then wondering why you are so alone. It means feeling overwhelmed by things that you can’t control, and things that others may not see a need to fret over. It means wondering “who the hell is going to put up with my crazy?”. It means being uncomfortable over things that used to be normal. It means feeling like a shadow of your former self.

I know how to “get better”- but there are days when I would prefer to wallow rather than heal. At any time I could pick one piece of the vicious cycle that is self doubt, self loathing and depression and I could begin to change the system. I often find myself painfully mulling over where to begin. It can be hard to pinpoint where the catalyst lies, and I often wonder if every piece of the puzzle is a catalyst in itself. I have had times where I began taking steps to positive change, only to be knocked back down again by a bad day. Sometimes these days come from seemingly nowhere. There are days where you can never sleep enough, days where you don’t feel like you’ve slept in weeks. There are days where you care about everything to the point of exhaustion, and days where you care about nothing at all. On most days, you feel just as weak physically as you do mentally.

There are so many reasons why someone may find themselves in trouble. Even if your life is going seemingly well, the past has a funny and tragic way of looming over you like a dark cloud. Memories, regrets, unresolved situations and questions left unanswered are incredibly hard to shake. It can linger around you because of the constants in your life that have always been there- like your family, your friends, your home, your job, your culture. These are not easy things to abandon in hopes of growth and change. You may have gone through a trauma. You may live in regret that you are not who or where you want to be. You may feel helpless in your own body. Change may seem like the obvious answer, but it is not always an easy thing to pursue alone.

There are several glaring reasons for mental illness that often go by the wayside because they are incredibly difficult to discuss. Things like parenthood, gender, race, sexuality, religion, social and economic factors, health, and physical or mental abuse in any given relationship can either surface or mutate a condition. There is really no place to measure who has it worse or to judge how others survive. We all have baggage. In a world of individuals with unique experiences and chemistry, it is a difficult question to answer, but it is an answer worth finding. My hope is that we can find it together. If you’re not ready to reach out to others, reach out to yourself first, and don’t be ashamed. It is too important.

Write it down. Cry it out. Find something to make you laugh. Consider fostering or adopting a pet. Paint a terrible picture. Volunteer. Read. Survive.