Road to Infinity War- ‘ANT MAN’ (2015)

AtIn 2015, Marvel Studios was riding a high from his previous Avengers films, Guardians of the Galaxy, and a highly successful Captain America film. They had hit a really solid stride. Next came the opportunity to introduce a character who has been long beloved by Marvel Comics fans-but with a modern interpretation of a classic hero.

Up next on Road to Infinity War…its ANT MAN!

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‘Ant Man’ is yet another origin story for a character whos immediate environment is almost entirely removed from the circle of existing Marvel Cinematic Universe characters at this point in the franchise. However, he is a character who needed to see his day in the sun because of his massive impact and involvement in vital Marvel stories. Although this film went through periods of uncertainty where it was touched by several different creative visions, it made its way to a successful release. It brought in $519,311,965 at the worldwide box office, making it one of Marvels less successful films, but very impressive for a concept and character that is not very well known to the general public.

THE TEAM:

Director Peyton Reed was brought onto this project fairly late in its inception, but with experience dating back to the early 90s on shows like ‘Back to the Future’ ‘The Weird Al Show’ and ‘Mr Show’ it was obvious that he was a great choice for a comedy forward film. Though this style and magnitude of a production was fairly out of his wheelhouse at the time, he showed great enthusiasm and passion in taking it on, and it shows. Writer Edgar Wright was originally set to direct the film, but exited late into production. His influence, as well as the creative influence of his fellow story and screenplay writers Adam McKay, Joe Cornish and Paul Rudd is apparent in the movie. Wright and McKay especially have great fame and infamy in the world of “weird” movies at the helm of projects like, I dont know, every Simon Pegg and Nick Frost movie that you love, and a hell of a lot of Will Ferrell movies that you love. At this time especially, they were big names in the comedy game.

Composer Christophe Beck is another fantastic steal for Marvels roster of outstanding composers. He is responsible for over one hundred projects since the 90s, including both ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’, ‘The Hangover’ trilogy, ‘The Muppets’ and ‘Edge of Tomorrow’-just to name a few.

THE HERO:

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Scott Lang is just your average everyman with a masters in electrical engineering-turned-professional level thief who just happened to have the right motivation and skill set to fall into Hank Pyms very flimsy plans. This plan involved anonymously bribing a local woman to tell her friend about an old man with a safe, hoping that story would make its way to Scott and convince him to break into Pyms home and steal the Ant Man suit. I mean, it worked, but it was flimsy. He also had to assume that Scott would try on this bizarre looking “motorcycle suit” and discover exactly what it was. Perhaps he knew that his scientific mind would spot the unique features of the suit and that he wouldn’t be able to resist investigating it.

Scott-played by member of the Hollywood vampire club Paul Rudd- is wildly imperfect and a complete smart ass, but he is ultimately a very good man. He wants to be a role model father and he wants redemption for his past, but living life as an ex convict proves to be incredibly difficult to turn around in his favor when nobody will trust or hire you. Baskin Robbins always finds out. Hank Pym sees his underlying desire and identifies with it- as he has his own obstacles to overcome in order to have a relationship with his daughter again. He sees the real potential in Scott.

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Scott Langs mentor and OG ‘Ant Man’ Hank Pym has ties to the origins of SHIELD, but he has been removed from the scenario for quite some time when this film begins-nearly four decades. He worked with Howard Stark, Peggy Carter and the like- so he most certainly had knowledge of Hydra back in 1989 when he exited Pym Tech and stole away with his Pym particle. Lets be honest, he made the right call. No doubt. He lost his wife Janet when his daughter Hope was very young, and he lost his relationship with her thereafter when he retreated within himself trying to “fix” things.

In my humble opinion, Hank Pym is one of the most endearing characters in Marvel Comics roster, so I did feel that it was a shame to pass him over for Scott Lang, but the timing just would not work with the existing storylines that are already in play. However, having an opportunity to bring Michael Douglas into the MCU using this character is still a huge win in the end. If you can get Douglas, you get Douglas. Hank still has plenty of time to integrate himself into the future of the MCU- but if he ever expands past his close circle remains to be seen. He specifically states to Scott that he wanted to keep his tech out of the hands of Howard Stark- so he may not be open to offering up this technology, or anything at all, to the Avengers or the government. While Scott has willingly become part of the superhero entourage, Hank may remain in the background acting as the “man in the chair” for Scott and Hope in the future. He confides in his daughter that he has spent the last four decades researching the Quantum realm with hope that he will be able to bring back his long lost wife-Janet. The groundbreaking discovery that Scott makes in regards to coming back from the Quantum realm is bound to completely change Hanks research and to put a new fuel on his fire.

THE VILLAIN

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The superhero origin story formula is well at work in ‘Ant Man’-as it is in several other films like it. In order to become a unique and dynamic hero, first you must defeat the evil version of yourself. That is exactly what happens with the obtusely sinister Darren Cross- who has some really severe daddy issues with his former mentor Hank Pym and essentially lets it poison his brain- both metaphorically and literally. He comes across Pyms ‘Ant Man’ suit and shrinking technology somehow, and he decides to maliciously use it to make a huge profit by selling it to the highest bidder- namely any military or terrorist organization who can afford it-like Hydra. Although we don’t see it ahead of the films climax, Hope eludes that Cross has been intimately experimenting with the Yellowjacket suit, and that it is affecting his mental state.

Cross is out to completely wipe Hank Pym off the planet and to take credit for his most outstanding discovery as a way of getting back at him for “pushing him away” like he did to Hope. He accomplishes his goal of replicating Hank’s technology and a similar particle, AND somehow figures out Hanks entire plan involving Scott, Hope and their entourage of ants. But as all one-off villains do, he ultimately loses the majority of his work and his life when his sale goes south and he goes rogue. I mean, threatening Scott Langs young daughter? Rookie mistake. Just because you’re bald doesn’t make you Lex Luthor.

But seriously? Good riddance. Ya boring. And you killed Antony.

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THE UPS AND DOWNS

‘Ant Man’ has a hell of a lot of positive aspects to it. For starters, the excellent visual effects that were absolutely necessary to pull this concept off. A movie about a man who shrinks down to the size of an insect was never going to work unless they could make it look as realistic as possible-and they did that. The ants looked excellent and the way that they make great fun out of this otherwise bizarre concept was very well done. The way that they zoomed in on an epic fight only to show us how very insignificant it was from a distance made for a few very memorable scenes- whether it be inside of a childrens toy train set or inside of a briefcase. The suit is really badass as well and it looks great on camera. The overall comedic, but lovable take on this character and story-which screams Edgar Wright- was well placed in the hands of comedy veteran Paul Rudd and it should be no surprise to anyone that the fantastic Michael Pena all but stole the show as his fast talking, overexcited partner-in-crime Luis.

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Back it up. Just back it up. Back it up. Baaaack it up.

Now that Hope Pym knows the truth about her mother and why her father drew away from her at such a young age, she is ready to heal their relationship. Hank has been wildly overprotective of Hope since losing her mother, but he now knows how strong that she has become. Her “woman in power” haircut is evidence of this. As is her conviction. The relationship between Hank and Hope is likely to become more and more important in the future of the ‘Ant Man’ story, as she has finally been given wings. Literally. At the very end of this film, Hank presents Hope with a suit that was made for her mother, Janet, and she could not be more elated to assume the identity that her mother made so significant. The Wasp. (Ahhhhhh!)

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On the flip side, there was certainly a level of weakness to ‘Ant Man’ that would have benefited greatly from further insight into Hanks past- but we may still see that. The story felt a bit rushed along due to how quickly the threat from Cross was coming at them, and things fell into place rather well despite the time constraints. Cross managed to perfect his particle really, really quickly and Scott learned how to maneuver in his suit and communicate with ants very, very quickly. I’m nitpicking of course, but there was definitely something about this movie that didn’t quite hold up to its predecessors. Perhaps it was because it was so contained, perhaps it was the cookie cutter villain, or maybe it was the pacing, OR maybe it was the fact that this film changed hands over the course of its production.

Whatever the case, ‘Ant Man’ himself has a bright future in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and I am overjoyed that he was introduced.

POST CREDITS SCENE:

I already mentioned Hope Pym being presented with the Wasp suit because I got excited, but there was one extra post credits scene that linked this film into the MCU and got me salivating for the next movie, one that I had been dying for since I heard about its potential realization…Civil War. I still squeal a little inside when I hear that.

In this scene, an exhausted Bucky Barnes is in a warehouse with Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers. There is mention of the “Accords” and the two discuss that they cannot tell Tony about finding Bucky. When Steve suggests that they may be alone in their mission, Sam offers the idea that he has someone who may be able to help- maybe someone who he fought at the Avengers facility, perhaps?

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Road to Infinity War- ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ (2015)

When I first heard that ‘Age of Ultron’ was coming down the MCU pipeline I was beyond excited to see the first Marvel Cinematic Universe “event”. One that would be universe affecting, chaotic and permanent. I didn’t quite get that, and I definitely didn’t get anything close to the original ‘Age of Ultron’ story, but I did get a lot of things to be stoked about. Vision, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Hulkbuster, the first EVER mention of Wakanda, Ulysses Klaue played by Andy Serkis – whats not to love!?

Also, this movie came out the same week that my first child was due, so I was secretly hoping that he would wait for me to see this movie. He did. The fear was real, though!

So, on this edition of ‘Road to Infinity War’ it is Avengers 2, formally known as ‘AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON’!

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‘Age of Ultron’ is the second Avengers film in the MCU at this point, and its first major event adaptation from Marvel Comics history. The original ‘Age of Ultron’ story is a very, very different one filled with characters that Marvel cannot even utilize, but this adaptation is unique and therefore still very intriguing. Instead of Hank Pym being the father of Ultron, it is Tony. Instead of a time travelling robot with centuries old consciousness hopping through space and time to take over, we have an advanced AI who has been birthed by an infinity stone and Tony Starks intelligence trying to take over one planet alone. It is a wonder why he doesn’t think to simply jump ship and go into space looking for something better suited to his ideals- but he sticks around to cause some chaos instead. Because like most male heroes, he hates his dad.

The film brought in another huge return for Marvel Studios- a staggering $1,405,403,694 worldwide and birthing a whole new roster of superheroes for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to utilize and expand upon in the coming events.

THE TEAM:

Joss Whedon took on a far greater task than he did when he came on board to do the first Avengers film back in 2012, but Marvel Studios knew well enough that he was the man for the job. With a passion for all facets of geekdom, he brings a real positive and quirky energy to the universe. As the sole writer on this particular film, as well as director, he had a hell of a lot of weight on his shoulders and I feel that he held it well. Had this movie been about nothing more than Whedons vision, I’m sure that it would have been quite different, but his influence is still felt throughout. He brings in humanity as much as fantasy, and makes us laugh as much as he makes us cower. He brings in as much fan service as possible without making the coffee too sweet.

Back from ‘Thor: The Dark World’ and ‘Iron Man 3’ Brian Tyler brings in a score that is not quite so satisfying as Alan Sylvestri offered up in the first Avengers film, but it is still an epic accompaniment to this action packed piece of cinema.

THE HEROES:

Since this movie in particular has a hell of a lot of characters, plot lines and general content that is relevant to ‘Infinity War’- I’m going to arrange it a bit differently than usual. I’m going to give a summary of each characters storyline and journey throughout this film from start to finish. Strap in!

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CAPTAIN AMERICA/STEVE ROGERS: Steve Rogers is still hot on the tails of Hydra, who are in possession of Lokis sceptre at the beginning of the film. He has assimilated into the Avengers and emerged as their natural leader- albeit the leader of a group of very independent people. He has continued power struggles with Tony and the true divide in their ideals really starts to show in ‘Age of Ultron’. Tony wants so desperately to fix the world the only way that he knows how- building things-while Steve wants to fix the world the only way that he knows how- fighting the good fight. He is very resistant to Tony developing secret projects under the noses of his colleagues, especially when one of them comes to life and tries to wipe out the entire planet. His old fashioned views on war, peace and righteousness have barely tapered off, but he is developing a tremendous amount of strength and wisdom in his old age. Something is different about it, yet he is still very much the same.

Also, don’t swear around him. He doesn’t like that.

IRON MAN/TONY STARK: Tony Stark just took down the Mandarin- sorry, maybe he didn’t? There isn’t a lot of indication that ‘Iron Man 3’ was canon in any way. Tony seems (on the surface) well over his panic attacks and trauma, he has his suits back bigger and badder than ever before, and he has a newfound sense of relaxed confidence. The Avengers never get to see how hard Tony works behind the scenes to create the technological marvels that he does- but the results are quite apparent. Not only is he developing tech for himself, but he is also arming his fellow Avengers with fancy upgrades to make them safer and more effective. Like he says, hes the one in charge of paying for everything and making everyone look cool. But still making himself look REALLY cool.

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Tony reveals the true demons that are behind his decisions to several different people in the movie- making it no secret that he believes that he is capable of creating a world that need not worry about events like the Chitauri invasion from happening again. While SHIELD has been trying to defend us, Tony wants to protect us. He wants an end game- an end to the Avengers, “peace in our time”. His decisions in ‘Age of Ultron’ are tremendously careless, even for Tony, but he believes greatly in the power of science to come through so that we don’t need to rely on superheroes. He gets more than enough flack for it, but unfortunately his experimenting with the mind stone goes about as well as it would have in Hydras hands. Luckily, he has the stones to help fix the mess that he made- no matter how stubborn he may be about it. I did notice a much more sedated Stark in this movie- so I think that he knows exactly what his situation is with his fellow heroes. Ultron is thoroughly intelligent and basically the spawn of Tony himself- and he wastes no time conveying exactly what is so dangerous about their shared perspectives. As Wanda comments “Ultron doesn’t know the difference between saving the world and destroying it- where do you think he gets that?”.

HULK/BRUCE BANNER: Bruce has been quite busy, apparently. He and Tony have been working together on different projects at Avengers tower, up to and including artificial intelligence. He has also been working on some projects with Natasha, seeing as she gives him the sexy eyes every time that she sees him. There are also some less than subtle conversations regarding their relationship and showering together, so I think they’re officially an item. Does she know that he can’t have sex? Can he have sex now? She looks at him like she really wants to have sex with him.

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Bruce has been a close friend and coworker with Tony, but like most of Tonys friends, he disagrees with him almost all the time. They bond well over their mutual love of science, but Bruce knows well enough what science can create, so he keeps him in check whenever possible. Natasha keeps the Hulk in check with a mind control technique called a “lullabye” which brings Bruce back into the picture- which it seems only Natasha is capable of because Hulk and Bruce both trust her. Hulk and Bruce seem to be far more in sync than ever before, and although Hulk is still barely speaking he is able to cooperate with the Avengers without going off the rails- until Scarlet Witch forces him into a state of panic and brings out the worst parts of Hulk in a very public fashion. This scene and all the publicity attached to it forces Bruce to be more withdrawn than ever- backing away from Natasha to let her down easy and removing himself from the chaos. Unfortunately, when Bruce decides that he and Natasha can get away from it all-she unleashes the Hulk one last time to help win the war against Ultron. To finish the mission.

In the end, he gets on a Quinjet-still as the Hulk-and sails off to…who knows where. Where in the WORLD could he go?

BLACK WIDOW/NATASHA ROMANOFF: I think that I covered Natashas situation pretty well under Bruce-but theres more to her story. Natasha continues to be the unflappable warrior princess that the Avengers need to keep all of their masculine hormones under control- including Hulks. She is generous, kind, damaged, dutiful and she works hard as hell to prove herself in a group full of Gods, monsters, soldiers and machines. She is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to combat and agent ingenuity, but her real strength is in her survival instincts. She thinks fast and she isn’t afraid to make the tough decisions-but she also goes well out of her way to keep others out of danger by throwing herself directly into it.

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In Black Widows vision, we learn that she came up through a program that specifically groomed women to be just like she used to be. Cold, calculated and unstoppable. She worries that she will never truly wipe away her past and that she is forever destined to be the killing machine that she was trained to become. In a very emotional (but slightly awkward) scene between Natasha and Bruce, she reveals that she and Bruce have one vital thing in common- neither can have a “normal life”. Part of her programming involved a sterilization process that made her unable to bear children. There was some backlash to this scene because she refers to herself as a “monster”-but I thought it was rather obvious that she is referencing the severity of this action as part of her training, not that shes a monster because shes infertile. Don’t be silly, people.

In the end, Natasha is dealt a profound personal blow when she loses her new love to obscurity. There is no doubt that she’ll bounce back, but this is a one time shot at a normal life, and she lost it.

THOR/THOR ODINSON/DR DONALD BLAKE: Thor just finished saving the world a couple of movies ago and he is back on Earth once more to help the Avengers retrieve Lokis sceptre. He believes his brother to be dead and his father to be ruling Asgard-so he has nothing to worry about right now otherwise. Until Scarlet Witch shows him a dream? Illusion? Vision? This experience leads him to believe that something very dangerous is coming. Heimdall warns him that his people are in great danger-so while this may not be directly referring to Infinity War, it is certainly eluding to ‘Thor Ragnarok’.

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We lose Thor midway through ‘Age of Ultron’ after he takes a swim with Dr Selvig in some enchanted cave water- and he sees a very specific unveiling of all of the Infinity Stones that we have witnessed in the MCU. Somewhere in his vision he comes to know that the body inside the cradle-which now houses an infinity stone-is going to become a beacon of hope in the coming fight. He takes no time arguing over morals or politics and brings the body to life- animating the ‘Vision’.  He ends the film by leaving Earth to find out what his skinny dip acid trip was all about.

Guys, Heimdall is totally the soul stone. I mean, what the hell else could this whole thing be about? The white eyes, “I CAN SEE EVERYTHING”, then Thor comes to the conclusion that Infinity stones are involved after seeing a vision involving the guy with the glowing orange eyes that can see billions of souls? I mean…it has to be him!

HAWKEYE/CLINT BARTON: You know what the Avengers really needed more than anything?

A cool dad.

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They also needed a guy who had a hell of a lot to lose by fighting the good fight. Most of his colleagues have a loved one- a girlfriend, a parent, a fellow Avenger- but none of them have children. Turns out, Barton has two children and another on the way- and hes married to Linda Cardellini! Lucky bastard. His family resides in a beautiful farmhouse that is completely off anybodys radar, and he brings the Avengers there to hide out while Ultron causes havoc all over the world. ‘Age of Ultron’ spends its time creating a real intimate sense of how difficult it is on his family to know that he is leaving, and every time might be the last.

A very sweet touch to this storyline is the fact that Natasha is just as close to his family as she is to Clint himself- being very invested in his coming baby and the safety of his loved ones in general. Their relationship continues to be an important one as it is rarely shaken and its stability is one that the rest of team is unlikely to understand. His newfound Dad spirit transcends his home life soon after, and what ensues thereafter are Dad jokes, him calling all younger people “kid” and being annoyed with them, and motivational dad speeches to Wanda.

WAR MACHINE/JAMES RHODES: Colonel Rhodes is living the high life as ‘backup Iron Man’ and tries desperately to get some respect from his friends in the Avengers whenever he can. His role in ‘Age of Ultron’ is quite small, but he joins the fight at the right time and goes all out to get his 15 minutes of superhero fame as a slicker, less bulky ‘War Machine’- no longer ‘Iron Patriot’. It sounds like he has been keeping busy working continuing his work with the military and SHIELD alike- dropping tanks in front of people like “Boom! You looking for this?”. Thats what I hear, anyway.

THE VILLAIN:

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There isn’t much to say about Ultron, mainly because hes not a real person and he did not exist before this movie. Literally. The most interesting thing about Ultron, however, is his intimate connection to Tony. While Tony clearly implants himself in one way or another into all of his AI (Jarvis got that sass from somewhere) Ultron is a physical embodiment of the dangerous side of Tony Stark. Sure, he wants to protect Earth- but doesn’t he want to protect science even more? Doesn’t he want to constantly upgrade, manipulate, create- doesn’t he want to play God? Ultron certainly does. His warped view that the only path to peace is by destroying the peacekeepers who attract it is not so far off. He just doesn’t have the humanity to understand that global genocide is not a viable option for a perfect world.

James Spader is perfect as this rather surprising interpretation of Ultron- one who has a lot of Tonys casual and dark humor, but also a lot of his delusions of grandeur. He is sinister and salty and set on world domination, but it remains to be seen what his intentions were past the point of human extinction. He makes contacts with some very dangerous people very quickly, starting with the Maximoff twins and eventually the eccentric Ulysses Klaw- who makes his living off of pirated vibranium. Ultron bestows upon him a massive sum of cash in exchange for helping himself to his stockpile, but manages to remove something rather important in the midst of their encounter. Someone had to sacrifice their hand- those are the rules!

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Presumably, Ultrons end game was always to convert the entire planet from organic matter into some sort of hybrid-like the Vision stemmed from. “When the dust settles- the only thing living in this world will be metal”. He attempts to make quick work of that before the Avengers even have a chance to rise up against him- but JARVIS and the Vision become his greatest threat in the end. Much like Tony, it is his creation that becomes his greatest downfall.

THE GOODS:

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‘Age of Ultron’ actually gets better for me every time that I watch it. Though it is a film clearly jammed to the rafters with characters, storylines, introductions and follows ups, plot devices, and foreboding- it is well looked after by Joss Whedon and company. This movie is quite depressing as a whole, but there is still a good helping of Whedons signature writing style- funny quips, one liners and very human moments. The house party scene is a favorite, as we get to see how these extraordinary people unwind like the rest of us do. They drink, they compete, they trash talk and they get interrupted by murderous robots trying to kill them. Just like us!

We get to see the community that has been built between all of our favorite heroes in the MCU up to this point and how difficult it can be for them to work together. They come from different backgrounds, different perspectives and they have different visions of the world that they are fighting for. This very much comes to a head when Ultron attempts to tear them apart both physically and emotionally. Much attention is placed on Ultrons stature and the intimidation of the material creations that he is capable of, but his swift rise to power comes only because he has one of the scariest abilities of all- access to everything. The internet, government files, secret areas of the world that few people know exist. Tonys inventions wind up saving them yet again-this time by accident-when JARVIS resurfaces from an underground internet battle and becomes far, far more than Tonys co-pilot.

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Vision is one of my favorite characters of all time and I was immensely excited to see him show up in teaser trailers leading up this movie-and elated to see what he became. Paul Bettany perfectly portrays this mandroid with a quiet grace, a thoughtful presence and the same sassy sense of humor that Tony gifted him from the start. Though he turns out to be far more pink than red, I still love the detail that they put into his makeup and the light touches of CGI added to make him more “robotic” looking. The fact that this character is quite clearly being set up for something huge- being the keeper and now protector of an Infinity stone- gives me a lot of hope that his story is going to be epic. Not only that, but they made a very early and very blatant reference to the fact that Vision and Scarlet Witch are TOTALLY going to get together! Weird or not, these two are going to fall in love just like they did in the comics, and I love it.

Speaking of Scarlet Witch, I can’t say that I’m entirely on board with the Maximoff twins accents, but I am on board with them otherwise. They were introduced as “enhanced” because Marvel can’t say “mutants”- so their origin comes in the form of a familiar tale involving voluntary government experiments instead of being Magnetos children. At the ending of ‘Winter Soldier’ we see them separated and seemingly new with their powers, but by the time that we meet them again in ‘Age of Ultron’ they are walking around the Hydra base like they live there with their parents, rocking Euro-cool fashion and emo kid facial expressions.

THE WEAK POINTS:

‘Age of Ultron’ was probably the first ever Marvel film that was truly built up to be an event in my household. We went to Comic Con for the first time ever in 2014, and that happened to be the year that the cast of the movie was in Hall H to premiere the first trailer. We did not end up seeing that trailer for many months to come, but the hype surrounding the movie was very, very real. We expected something huge, something universe affecting, something catastrophic. Something absolutely epic.

This may be where most of my disappointment in this film came from. The hype, as it can be at times, was far too great. ‘Age of Ultron’ was a grand event and Underarmour commercial for certain, but the majority of its effect took place on another side of the world from where it normally does- in places like New York and….New York. What was promised to be an “Age” wound up being nothing more than a couple of days- and aside from the introduction of Vision, his reign did not leave much effect on the universe to come. Sure, his consciousness did come about partially from an infinity stone- which gave us a little insight into how they work on the inside as a “brain” of sorts. It made me wonder if the aether storyline from ‘The Dark World’ was accurate- that the stones can speak to people- but if so, wouldn’t Wanda and Petrov have a connection to the mind stone? Can they “feel” it when its around?

Perhaps they do!

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There were more than enough moments to count where I felt the seams kind of falling apart under the weight of all this content. Initially, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this movie was doomed by studio interference. There was just far too much to cover. Characters were brought to life, killed, introduced, dismissed, doomed, saved- everyone had to be guided into the coming universe in some capacity. At times it was hard to lose myself because things felt a little bit too forced. Thors quick vacation to take a swim being one, Natasha and Bruces relationship being another- yet there was certainly a reason for everything. The conversation between the Maximoffs and Ultron were bizarre- like, you’re telling an actual robot your life story after you just realized that you’re talking to a gigantic robot. Nah, its cool. The conversations between Natasha and Bruce were all really awkward- and not the usual level of Bruce Banner awkward-just straight up uncomfortable. Even the motivations of the Maximoffs- who were out to destroy Tony Stark and the Avengers because a Stark bomb took down their house- were a little weak, but they worked with what they had. They didn’t seem to realize that they were also working for a tremendous evil. Also, why do Cap and Black Widow need to train Rhodey to be an Avenger after hes had extensive military training and experience fighting with the Avengers several times. Why the hell does VISION need to learn anything from anybody about anything?

You just had to let go of those initial feelings of doubt and enjoy the ride.

Thats what I did.

Up next….ANTMAN!

Road to Infinity War – ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (2014)

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ came out in August of 2014 just days after we took our first and only journey to San Diego Comic Con. The cast of ‘Age of Ultron’ was in Hall H and debuted the first ever footage of the upcoming movie. It was the talk of the convention. However, all that we were thinking about was that movie with the hilarious trailer and the awesome music that we got to see when we got home.

Up next on Road to Infinity War…its the one, the only ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’!

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THE TEAM:

Writer and director James Gunn has had a hand in a few different genres of film before ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’- writing for anything from family friendly comedies like ‘Scooby Doo’ and ‘Scooby Doo 2’, to the amazing 2004 ‘Dawn of the Dead’ film, to writing and directing campy horror ‘Slither’ and indie superhero darling ‘Super’. He clearly marches to the beat of his own drum, and that gamble was a good one for Marvel Studios to take. Fellow ‘Guardians’ writer Nicole Perlman was rather a newcomer to the film world, but ever since her work on this film she is in high demand for Marvel Studios and everyone else- writing for Universal Studios, National Geographic Films, Disney Studios, Cirque Du Soleil Films, 20th Century Fox, and Marvel Studios upcoming ‘Captain Marvel’ film.

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The score for this film is done by the insanely talented Tyler Bates. A frequent collaborator of James Gunn as well as Zach Snyder, you probably know his work from movies like ‘Dawn of the Dead’, ‘300’, ‘Watchmen’ and the show ‘Californication’. His blend of spunky, upbeat vibes and soaring orchestral adventure is absolutely spot on for the tone and visuals of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’- and it makes the purchase of ‘Awesome Mix Vol 1’ all the better.

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ was released in the summer of 2014 and although it was a huge gamble for Marvel Studios, it was released at the height of Marvel induced pop culture fandom, and it road the wave all the way to success. It was a perfect time to introduce unfamiliar characters from the catalogue of Marvel and integrate them into the existing roster that we have come to know and love. The reputation of this movie spread like wildfire and it seemingly stayed in theatres for months on end. It wound up bringing in an impressive $773, 328, 629 at the worldwide box office and was immediately greenlit for a sequel.

THE HEROES:

This newly introduced team of heroes is made up of -more or less- a bunch of scoundrels. Peter Jason Quill is the Earth born adopted child of one of the galaxies most notorious ravagers, Gamora is a biologically altered daughter of Thanos and lone survivor of her species, Drax the Destroyer lost his wife and daughter to Ronan- and he has landed in prison on 22 counts of murder, while Rocket is a cybernetically altered “lower life form” traversing the galaxy with a sweet but homicidal humanoid plant named Groot, looking for their next score. Together, they become the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ when they are caught in the same evil web surrounding a mysterious relic.

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Peter Quill-or Starlord, man!- is obnoxious, smooth talking and mischievous-but scarred by the death of his mother and his intergalactic kidnapping. His only father figure comes in the form of a psychotic redneck (blueneck?) who he believes stole Peter from his planet so that he could steal for him. He clings to his past and has very little loyalty to anyone in his present, so working with anyone- let alone a team- takes all the charm and bravery that he can muster. He can get away with empty one night stands, saying things like “turd blossom” and giving the Nova Corp the finger because he also makes Footloose references to green cyborg women who he is in love with and tries to distract his enemy with a dance off. He is just too damn clever for his own good, but he hasn’t had a chance to grow up.

Gamora is a trained assassin and she wants you to know about it. When this group of felons land themselves inside The Kiln we learn just how notorious that she and her network of associates are in the universe- and how much chaos is left in their wake. Gamora lets on very quickly that she is trying to escape her past in an attempt to distance herself from her father and Ronan, and that is how she gains the trust of her fellow Guardians. She has a lot of demons to concur and she hopes that the orb is her ticket to freedom, but she steps up to do the absolute right thing when she learns exactly what it is.

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Drax “the Destroyer” is a brick wall of a creature- very human in many ways, but with regeneration, impenetrable skin and brute strength. He has the confidence to go shirtless at all times, place drunken calls to his mortal enemies, and place himself in front of absolutely any adversary. He is nearly impossible to get along with at the beginning because of his hyper literal nature and resounding anger, but he bonds with these heroes once he realizes that they want to help him get his revenge without anyone else losing their families. Dave Bautista totally nails this role, by the way. This is a guy who makes jokes without realizing it and who quite literally laughs in the face of danger- and he is perfect.

Rocket is obviously a raccoon, but where his intelligence comes from- we are not sure. His biological makeup is a mixture of animal and machine at the very least- but with a very heightened level of intelligence- so there could be some man in there as well. He is very much like Gamora and Nebula in that he is essentially a science experiment with a very specific set of skills- mainly ones that involve maiming, exploding, detaining, inhibiting or otherwise murdering people who get in his way. I can never quite put my finger on the voice that Bradley Cooper was going for with Rocket, but it often reminds me of one of the dogs in Oliver and Company. Street smart, with New York City heart. Why should he worry? Why should he care? Hes got space savoir faire! Oh- hes Dodger. Hes totally Dodger.

Rocket eludes to losing someone in his past- but that someone is actually his cybernetically/genetically engineered otter girlfriend, Lylla. We can assume that she was probably killed during their time being experimented on, or potentially trying to escape. Seeing as he has escaped from prison on at least 14 occasions (that we know of) , it isn’t so far fetched to assume that he escaped from there as well. His motivations from the first frame are mainly financial, but he has a soft spot for his best friend Groot and sticks with him at all costs. He still has a heart.

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We don’t know just yet where Groot and Rocket met, and Groot is not able to tell us much about himself at this point. Although he has lost of that physical harshness that he has when he often illustrated, his eyes tell a Disney tale all on their own. We know that he is just an absolute sweetheart, but that he finds the maiming and slapping and um, penetrating, of his enemies to be very funny. He and Rocket get along so well because they seem to share similar moral codes. Groot is a little lacking in good judgement, but Rocket seems quite accustomed to dealing with him- almost thriving off of it. They have a very brotherly relationship, just a raccoon and his tree.

With just three little words, Groot delivers what is easily one of-nope, probably THE-saddest moment in all of MCU history up to this point. The very beginning is definitely up there as well (poor Stanley Uris cannot catch a break) but Groot is legendary for making me cry. I mean…we totally ARE Groot! Right!?

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Sidenote about this:

My only beef with this movie,up until recently, was the fact that Rocket was so devastated that Groot was willing to sacrifice himself, but he knew well enough to plant a piece of him, and when Groot did “wake up” again- he didn’t seem overly taken back by it. He seemed very happy, but he didn’t bring it to anybodys attention. It didn’t make sense to me. Does he die or doesn’t he die? Has he died before?

However- I have since learned that Groot comes back with a new memory every time. This not only makes that ending scene a million times more tragic, but it makes his resurrection all the better as well. He is going to grow up around his new friends and rediscover them all over again. Thats kind of beautiful!

THE VILLAIN:

While Ronan the Accuser is technically the films villain, we must not forget that the Mad Titan Thanos is the mastermind behind a lot of Ronans threat in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’. Even though he is still glued to his chair giving out orders like a mob boss, we finally have the chance to hear what his voice sounds like (angry Josh Brolin) and see an incredibly advanced rendering of his appearance. He is hunting down the Infinity Stones- as we all suspected at this point in the MCU- and we already know that he has been in possession of one and gave it out to Loki for him to lose. He is hungry to get his hands on as many as possible by whatever means necessary- in this case, destroying an entire planet in exchange for one.

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Ronan is yet another Marvel villain on a universal quest for supremacy-although this one seems a hell of a lot more bent on killing other people rather than saving his own. He is a high ranking member of the Kree race hell bent on cleansing the galaxy of Xandarian people and culture, going against a peace treaty made by his own people. He is essentially a terrorist. He has made a deal with Thanos that if he retrieves “the orb” for him, Thanos will destroy the planet himself, but once Ronan realizes the power within, he goes full villain and steals it for himself. He intends to kill Thanos afterwards, so you know right away that hes not going to be around for very long.

Nebula however, seems to be a soulless killing machine who wants nothing more than satisfaction that karma is coming back around for her father and her sister. There are several moments where Gamora extends an olive branch to her, so she must know something that we don’t. She is a truly badass character and one who will likely see more screen time in the future.

THE GOODS:

What negative thing can I say about ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’? Its got Star Wars charm- dropping you into a galaxy full of species to discover throughout under the guidance of a group of charismatic rebels. You’ve got the tag team- one that doesn’t speak English, the one that understands him, and all the other ones from different planets that mainly just speak English. No robots, though. Sad.

There are moments of tremendous sadness, some of which are dealt with using comedy, while others are left to burn under your eyelids until you give in to their beauty. The comedy kicks into a whole new gear for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and so too does the pop culture influence. Whether its the 70s soundtrack that syncs up with the story, the super buff Chris Pratt brand of charm that is so uniquely his, or the pop culture references left in there for the adults- there is something for everyone who wants to have a good time at the movies.

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The casting and character design for this film was spot on in all aspects, from the voice casting of Groot and Rocket to the makeup work for Drax, Nebula and Gamora-all the way to the CGI required to put together that incredible Thanos, Rocket and Groot. Michael Rooker as Yondu is the perfect antihero, Glenn Close, John C Riley and Peter Serafinowicz are all fantastic as members of the Nova Corp and Oreo the raccoon and Sean Gunn did amazing jobs being the bodies of Rocket and Groot.

(Speaking of characters….WHERE IS NOVA!? Marvel can’t just bring in the Nova Corp and show us those sweet helmets with absolutely no introduction to Nova- can they? Will they?)

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‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ had so much to accomplish, but I truly feel that the freedom that came from introducing a whole new slate of characters that made most people say “Who??” was well trusted in the hands of James Gunn. He had room to bring his unique vision to the universe and his influence is so splendidly spread throughout the process. The introduction of a story centric soundtrack blurs the lines between musical and meta and it adds a layer to the film that draws in both younger kids and their parents-and maybe even their parents parents. There is so much color utilized, but it is not bright and gaudy. Rather, it is well spent in a vast universe of blackness and it gives a rather soothing tone and a muted visual impact. It seems to be the perfect metaphor for how the comedy is used as well- it is ever present-sometimes landing as a punchline, sometimes a bit, but sometimes hiding in plain sight. There are quick little jokes that bring this science fiction lore back down to Earth- like a raccoon complaining about mishandled laundry or Drax spacing out in an important meeting. He brought in people that he is very close to like Michael Rooker and Sean Gunn, knowing that they would be well trusted to pull off this project, and it worked for him.

POST CREDITS SCENE:

I know, when this post credits scene began you were hoping to see a glimpse of what happened to that Infinity Stone that the Collector got his hands on at the end of ‘Thor: The Dark World’. I know that you were hoping to catch a quick shot of an Easter Egg that would catapult you to the top of every Marvel message board-but…we got Howard the Duck.

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And it was amazing. This (seemingly) unnecessary throwaway scene was almost a parody on the baiting of post credits scene- giving you a nudge to the side for a laugh instead of trying to drive conspiracy theories. Much like the rest of this movie, it pokes fun at the standard formatting that MCU films, and films like it, tend to revert to.

Up next….‘AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON’

Road to Infinity War- ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ (2014)

After a slow burn beginning to Captain Americas story in 2011’s ‘The First Avenger’, Cap was ready for a boost. Now that he is in present day, they made the smart move of adapting Ed Brubakers ‘Winter Soldier’ storyline, bringing Caps past flooding right back to him in emotional and treacherous ways. Hydra is one ever present villain that was due for a resurgence in the MCU-because if Star Wars has taught me on thing, it is that darkness rises to meet the light aka SHIELD. Little do we know just how deep their influence has run over the last century, and with this film we finally find out. We also got the chance to see an MCU film directly and drastically change the course of a canon television show- with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 

So, next up on ‘Road to Infinity War’ is one of the best films in the MCU to date….’CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER’

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‘Winter Soldier’ did very well for Marvel Studios, grabbing an impressive $714,264,267 at the worldwide box office despite its release being a month earlier than usual (on my birthday to boot!) and setting a new standard for the films to come down the pipeline. It became the ‘Empire Strikes Back’ of the Captain America trilogy.
THE TEAM:
‘Winter Soldier’ directing duo Joe and Anthony Russo have had their hands in writing, producing and directing on beloved shows like Arrested Development, Happy Endings and Community. Their entrance into the Marvel Cinematic Universe was one surrounded with possibilities and a lot of questions, but their skills ultimately shined through in this masterpiece of superheroism. Our friends Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely reunite once again to write the screenplay after their success with ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ and ‘Thor: The Dark World’ as well as the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ trilogy.

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Composer Henry Jackman has a wealth of experience in several genres, working on everything from childrens features like ‘Monsters vs Aliens’ ‘Wreck It Ralph’ and ‘Turbo’ to dramas like ‘Captain Phillips’ and ‘Man on a Ledge’ to fantasy and superhero films like ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’,‘XMen First Class’ and both ‘Kick Ass’ films. His score in ‘Winter Soldier’ is a perfect blend of genres, much like the film itself.

THE HERO:

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Steve Rogers is still rather fresh off the ice and trying his best to integrate into the modern world. He is a living legend to historians, patriots and superhero worshippers- but he lives his life withdrawn. The last time that we saw him he was putting up one hell of a fight against an army of aliens, fighting alongside a God and a monster-after learning that they existed within the last 24 hours. Shock aside, he immediately resorted to what he knows best- being a soldier. Luckily, SHIELD cleared him for duty pretty quickly and he was ready to join The Avengers in no time at all. Like any cranky old man, he quickly tires of being pitied and patronized- and Tonys attitude immediately rubs him the wrong way. He wastes no time at all searching through SHIELD warehouses for tesseract weapons- because he knows better than anyone exactly what it can do in the wrong hands. Hes wise like that.

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In Winter Soldier, we get to see Steve and Captain America in a whole new and refreshing light. While we have seen him flex his super soldier muscles in previous films, for the first time we get to see him engage in modern, agility heavy combat that is brilliantly choreographed and shot. We have seen how important his relationships are to him, and we learn that his parents passed on early into his life- so his military family is the only one that he has. Trust becomes a major theme of ‘Winter Soldier’, between knowing who to trust, when to trust, and when to let go of those you trusted before. The drama that ensues involving his old friend Bucky showcases exactly how loyal he truly is, and his newfound comradery with colleagues like Natasha Romanoff and Sam Wilson show how willing he is to trust again. Not much has changed about Caps moral compass, but this movie offers so many fantastic moments where we see how he has grown. He asserts himself and questions his colleagues without abandon- never losing his tenacity and conviction that he has had since the beginning. He is still very much a soldier, but not one who is willing to be subordinate.

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Natasha has more chances to shine than ever before- her dialogue, her look, her action scenes-everything is spot on. Natasha is such an important piece of the Avengers and SHIELD because she has so much heart and she is so incredibly fearless-like Steve. They bond so well because they are both willing to fight the good fight no matter the odds. Despite her tough exterior, they have several scenes together where we see the bond that they have established, and how they open up to one another as both friends and colleagues. I think that Steve connects with her for the same reasons that he connects with Sam Wilson so quickly- because he sees that soldier mentality in both of them. Loyalty, perseverance and bravery. They will go into the line of fire without question to defend the people and the things that matter. She also comes off as someone who is incredibly honest, despite her profession being one that demands complete secrecy at times.

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Nick Fury is as badass as ever- delivering signature Samuel L Jackson one liners that will remain forever immortal in the MCU- but kicking a hell of a lot more ass. For once we see the bureaucratic framework under which he operates and what happens to him when he is no longer at the top of the SHIELD food chain. The cavalry that Hydra sends in to take him out is every indication of how seasoned he is as an Agent even though he has been operating moreso as the “Executive Chef” of the organization up to this point. The reaction that his death conjures up from his loyal agents like Maria Hill and Natasha Romanoff goes to show just how beloved he is by his employees. Despite his hard shell, he clearly instills a lot of loyalty in his agents.

THE VILLAIN:

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One of the reasons that I think ‘Winter Soldier’ succeeds in places that past MCU movies have failed is because the villain is so much more complex than one man in charge with a generic motivation. Hydra has been around since Steve Rogers days, and he now exists in a modern world where they have not only survived, but flourished. He is literally surrounded by their presence. He cannot trust anyone. This is not a simple case of taking down one man like Alexander Pierce-or the creepy disembodied consciousness of Zola-but rather it is an established and well connected organization that is hiding in plain sight. He does not know who they are and who they are not. It is threatening to overtake everything that Steve has fought for his entire life and everything that he believes is worth fighting for- freedom, justice and truth.

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Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Soldier is a fantastic villain because he has a history and he has the potential for redemption. Bucky has no idea what he is doing and he has been victimized- making him more a controlled weapon than a threat. He is the worst case scenario version of Captain America-if Hydra had gotten their hands on him instead of SHIELD. He recognizes Steve despite extensive brainwashing, and ultimately he is able to free himself from these mental and physical shackles. If Steve had not believed so strongly that Bucky could be redeemed, he may have never been set free.

THE GOODS:

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Honestly, there is very little for me to fault in this film. The action and combat scenes are all fantastic and very realistic looking-not weighed down by hundreds of terrible cuts. The costumes and look of all the characters are modern looking and they have dimension, letting them completely pop off the screen. The pacing is excellent, the cinematography is dynamite and the story itself is so strong. There are several moments in the film where I mentally photographed a scene because it was so beautiful, so intense or so foreboding. So many scenes had purpose. There is intense action, there is suspense, there is comedy, there is a little science fiction flare, there is espionage, and there are moments of profound emotional depth. Nick Furys death, Steves visit with Peggy, his final confrontation with Bucky- they all display the range of the actors and the potential of a film like this one. ‘Winter Soldier’ works so well because it doesn’t necessarily feel like a superhero movie, but it succeeds as an example of several different genres.

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Cap himself is such an intense presence on screen and Chris Evans has really come into his own as Steve Rogers. He IS Captain America to me. He nails that cheeky, sweet, strong persona that encapsulates Cap so well at this stage of his life. He has old fashioned sentimentality and a true belief in pure things like love and truth-things that any other person in his position would become cynical about. Though we can clearly see how his experiences have weighed on him, he carries forward as if he still has everything to lose. Unlike all the other heroes that make up the Avengers, Steve still feels like a kid from Brooklyn at heart.

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Black Widow is the perfect counterpart to Steve because she meets his energy in so many ways but she is seasoned in the workings of the modern world, so she is the perfect person to guide him through it safely. They learn so much from one another. Sam Wilson was a perfect introduction in ‘Winter Soldier’ to give Steve a fellow military man to both mentor and rely on with a very similar gentle-but-brave nature. Both Natasha and Sam help to open up Steve emotionally and gain his trust by opening themselves up to him. They both seem to understand how awkward and confusing his life must be, and whether its recommending good music or potential girlfriends, they have his back almost immediately. The bond between them is very natural and very genuine.

Sidenote: Marvin Gaye- Trouble Man soundtrack. Check it out.

Sidenote part 2: Remember when Jasper Sitwell mentions Stephen Strange as a mark on Hydras hit list? Whats up with that!?

POST CREDITS SCENE:

It has been awhile since we’ve had a character introduction in a post credits scene (Nick Fury was the last one?) but in this one we get three- Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Baron Von Strucker. We learn that Strucker has gotten his hands on Loki’s scepter- seemingly away from the supervision of SHIELD/Hydra and he has been experimenting on people with it. He indicates that Wanda and Petrov Maximoff are the only two survivors of the experiments, and we see them flexing their mutations in the form of super speed and telekinesis. This came after the announcement that both Fox and Marvel Studios were using the Quicksilver character- a first in the world of superhero cinematic properties.

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The second scene simply shows Bucky wearing casual street clothing, visiting the museum exhibit dedicated to his memory. This indicates that he is on the run but that is quickly figuring out his past.

Road to Infinity War- ‘Thor:The Dark World’ (2013)

It is certainly not an unpopular opinion that ‘Thor: The Dark World’ suffers from a serious case of middle child syndrome. While this piece of the Thor story arch has its fair share of faults- the tremendous cast that they have assembled makes it hard to deny. With strong theatrical actors like Hopkins, Russo, Hemsworth, Hiddleston and Skarsgard in your cast- the only thing that could go wrong is weak writing or weak directing. Unfortunately, I think that a mixture of both may be the case here. However, there is a lot to rave about in ‘The Dark World’- and I’m here to rave about it!

On this edition of ‘Road to Infinity War’ its…’THOR: THE DARK WORLD’

Director Alan Taylor is a first time director for Marvel Studios, and frankly feels like a strange choice. His background in directing is mainly in television-ranging from a couple episodes in shows like ‘The West Wing’ and ‘The Sopranos’ to ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘Mad Men’. The screenplay comes from Christopher Yost- writer for several comic book cartoon shows using both Marvel and DC characters, as well as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles- as well as Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely- screenplay writers of Captain America: The First Avenger and the Chronicles of Narnia trilogy. The story was written by Don Payne- screenplay writer for both the original ‘Thor’ film and ‘Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer’ as well as Robert Rodat- writer for ‘The Patriot’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’. Composer Brian Tyler returns from ‘Iron Man 3’.

‘Thor: The Dark World did fairly well at the box office, but not nearly as well as mega hits ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Iron Man 3’. It brought in $644,571,402 at the worldwide box office.

THE HERO:

Thor has passed over the opportunity to become the new King and ruler of Asgard, instead settling on protecting the nine realms-namely Midgard-after the events of ‘Thor’ and ‘The Avengers’. While his Asgardian friends and family are supportive and proud of his bravery and conviction, there is clearly some opposition to his relationship with Jane Foster and how it is swaying his judgement. Thor has become far more wise and humble about his role in the nine realms, becoming more and more like the King that his people really need. He is realizing than his father is not a perfect King, and that he has to do what he believes is right to protect his people, even if it means defying him. Again. His rag tag group of warriors are fiercely loyal to him, and even Heimdall is willing to risk his position to help Thor do what he believes to be right. It truly shows us what kind of a man and what kind of a god Thor has become. He cares for people, and they care for him in return. 

Chris Hemsworth continues to shine as the commanding presence of Thor, nailing every possible emotional scenario from smug self satisfaction, to love, to pain, to anger. His comedic timing is excellent and he is given countless moments to show it off. He switches seamlessly between theatrical and natural when interacting with his family and his friends. When your dad is Anthony Hopkins and your mom is Rene Russo- you’re destined to be dramatic children.

THE VILLAIN

While Loki still plays the role of a villain in the grand scheme of ‘The Dark World’ he spends far more time than ever before fighting with the good guys. One of my favorite Loki moments actually happens in this film- when Thor comes to the dungeon to ask for Loki’s help avenging his mothers death. He presents his usual narcissistic, holier-than-thou facade, but Thor knows him well enough to see that this is a trick. Instead, he is in a position in which we have never truly seen him-vulnerable. Heartbroken. His mother was the only true love that he felt in the universe and his only real ally-aside from his brother.

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I love the growth in the relationship between Loki and Thor as it becomes more complex and their brotherly connection becomes more evident. Through their tumultuous relationship over the past few years they have learned more about one another and they understand one anothers motivations, making their competitive nature more of a game all the time. They take jabs at one another, they fight, they banter-but underneath it all there is still the occasional olive branch extended with the hope that one day they will see eye to eye. They try to find common ground all the time, but they are just very different people with completely different views of the universe. Despite what I consider to be awkwardly planted scenes between the two (to give Loki more screen time), in ‘The Dark World’ we see how well they can plan and work together using their combined strengths. But of course, Loki ultimately falls to his true nature and shows why he is the God of Mischief. 

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The ACTUAL villain- Malekith- is intimidating and certainly has a ring of evil to him, but this is another case where I simply did not feel a connection to the central villain, and I feel that it weakened the story tremendously. His motivations and his plans are grand in scale and the threat is very real, but it is very evident that there will be little to no lasting effect from his contributions to this story. Much like the frost giants in ‘Thor’, he is out to get his hands on a cosmic power that will benefit the Dark Elves and bring him great power, and he feels that he is entitled to it because of past injustices towards them. I honestly do not understand how or why he and his people have a connection to the aether, and that is one big reason why I find the villains story to be so weak. If my memory serves correctly, there is no evidence in any previous (or future) film that there is such a thing as a having a “bond” with an infinity stone-yet in this film he is able to “feel” it and it wakes him up from his centuries long slumber, as if they have a relationship. I’m also not entirely clear on why this one is fluid and parasitic. This is just one instance where it seems like the film took liberties to just throw together a cohesive story and to work this villain into the mix.

THE WORTHY

In the grand scheme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ‘The Dark World’ is certainly one of my least favorites, but it has its merits. The drama between the Asgardian royal family grows more complicated all the time as we uncover more information about Odin’s past and the way that he rules Asgard. I find it tremendously interesting that Thor and Loki are becoming more distant from their father over time as they realize that he is not perfect and he is not always right in his decisions. Both sons defy their father on a regular basis, but they do so using the lessons that they have learned from him. Both believe that Odin has been doing things all wrong, and that they know of a better way to rule. Loki constantly justifies his most egregious of actions on the basis that his father has a blood soaked past that more than rivals his own. Thor wants to do what is best for his people and the nine realms, but he believes in being proactive, not waiting for a threat to come to them. He is almost living a cursed and charmed life- left to clean up the messes and the wars that his father left behind, while fighting new ones that arise. This may be a contributing factor in his decision to refuse the throne.

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As I mentioned above- the relationship between the brothers in this story strengthens it tremendously as well as their relationship with their parents. These two could not be more different, but their lifelong relationship keeps bringing them back to one another for support, like your typical toxic relationship will do. Loki does not necessarily hate his brother in the way that he does his father, but he has lived for such a long time in his shadow that he lives his entire life obsessed with the idea of becoming who he believes that he was meant to be- a ruler. He will step on absolutely anybody to acheive this, and to rub it in the faces of his father and brother. He is rather disillusioned by the fact that he has no real place in his family, his world, or the universe as whole-while Thor is given everything because he is strong. Odin’s most memorable moment comes when Loki demands acknowledgement that he has been robbed off his birthright, to which he responds in a way that only a pro like Anthony Hopkins could- “Your birthright was to die!”. Being the more intellectual and intuitive of the brothers, he feels that his mental capabilities make him worthy despite his parentage, but he cannot see past his anger. In one of the best lines of the film, Thor says “I wish that I could trust you” to which he responds “Trust my rage”- a perfect summary of exactly what makes Loki so enthralling as a character and as an anti-hero. 

Honorable mention goes to Frigga- who shows us how badass she truly is before her heartwrenching demise (oh Gods its so very sad!) She reaches out to Loki even when he is imprisoned, looking for a shadow of hope for him.  She protects Jane Foster despite knowing her for no more than an hour (knowing that she is important to her son), she gets an awesome combat scene, we see her “powers” and we see her beautiful role as the matriarch of the family. She has a sense of humor, she is gentle but strong, she is compassionate, she is brave, and she is maternal. She is a perfect compliment to her husband and her influence is clear in both of her sons.

I also cannot forget to mention the golden god Heimdall- who plays a very important role in ‘The Dark World’ and who is a very crucial ally to Thor. I mainly wanted to bring him up because I am about 98.6% sure that he is the keeper of the soul stone- and I think that they dropped some pretty obvious hints to that point in his scenes. He specifically tells Thor “From here I can see nine realms and ten trillion souls” with a shot of his luminescent orange eyes fluidly scanning the cosmos. We know already that this is his power, but we never learn why exactly he happens to have this power. While this film suggests that things like Loki’s projections and “tricks” can be learned from your elders- Heimdalls power is not exactly a skill- it is a gift. It is something that he can do that seemingly nobody else in the universe can…except the Watchers? Hm.

Theres also the matter of this orange thing in the middle of his armor… its not really glowing, but…maybe.

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I’m sticking with this theory right now with full confidence. Please don’t die, Heimdall!

THE WEAK

As much as I love Jane, Erik and Darcy, I feel like the time spent on them is unnecessarily long. It makes perfect sense that this team of scientists would be the ones to detect the Convergence as it is gearing up to happen, and it is a real treat to see how science can save our world. However, there are far too many instances of coincidence holding together the flow of this story. For example, finding out that the other side of the portal they discover on Earth just happens to be in the cave that Jane and Thor just happen to wander into on the Dark World. Oh, and she has cell service and happens to get a call from Chris O’Dowd. They make their way across the universe and back to Earth in less than 5 minutes from entering the cave. Lucky break! The characters always happen to be standing on the spot where something incredible happens. The TV is always on the right news story when it gets turned on, SHIELD happens to “not be answering their phone” when the entire universe is in jeopardy, Dr Selvig happens to get over his hysteria the moment that Darcy shows up- it all feels very inauthentic. I am still a sucker for Darcy-isms like calling Thors hammer every similar sounding word except for Mjolnir… (myawmyaw? meowmeow?) And of course, Stellan Skarsgard is the best.

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POST CREDITS SCENE: This actually ends up being one of the most exciting post credits scenes in MCU history, because it is the first time that we officially hear that the infinity stones are in play, and that somebody-The Collector, in this case- is trying to gather them. We also know that Thanos is out there, somewhere. I remember specifically gasping when it was over the first time that I saw it. It was something that everybody assumed might be on the horizon, but this solidified it and made the future very, very exciting.

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Up Next….oh boy…CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER!