Road to Infinity War – ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ (2017)

The third film in the Thor trilogy takes a new spin on the dramatic Shakespearean Norse mythology surrounding the character-and the original “Ragnarok” story- and turns it into an 80s inspired rock and roll space epic that is one of the most unique in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Up next on Road to Infinity War, it is the most metal-meets-Monty Python Marvel movie of all time…THOR: RAGNAROK!

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THE TEAM:

Director Taika Waititi is best known for his offbeat, independent films that present New Zealand humor and charm at its finest. Cult favorites like ‘Eagle vs Shark’, ‘Flight of the Conchords’ and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ show great imagination and a strange whimsy that is entirely unique to Waititi. Before the film itself, he directed the set of ‘Team Thor’ shorts that teased Thors whereabouts and future in the MCU after we hadn’t seen him on screen in awhile. These hilarious, sitcom-esque shorts gave us a sweet taste of the future of Thor and how he was making himself comfortable in the world.

The writing team for Ragnarok is a formidable gang of Marvel manpower made up of Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Jost. Their collective experience with Marvel entities is strong- having worked on everything from Marvels one shot stories to their many animated series over the past decade and even for the MCU itself (Christopher Yost returns from ‘The Dark World’).

Composer Mark Mothersbaugh has been working in the industry since the late 80s on projects like Pee Wees Playhouse, Sliders, Dawsons Creek, The Royal Tenenbaums, Rugrats, Blue Mountain State, The Lego Movie, House of Lies, Last Man on Earth- the list goes on!

‘Thor: Ragnarok’ became a massive success for Marvel due largely in part to its astoundingly retro, mesmerizing marketing and its beautifully baiting trailers, but also because it was Planet Hulk-meets-Ragnarok-meets-your favorite Marvel space acid trip. It brought in $853,977,126 at the worldwide box office

THE HERO:

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THOR:

Thor has been through an awful lot over the past few years. He lost his brother-twice? Three times? He lost his mother due partly to his brother and apparently he has now lost his girlfriend- but not to death. Just your average God-human relationship issues. He has had to save planet Earth on multiple occasions, as well as saving the nine realms from plunging into darkness in ‘Thor: The Dark World’. Since ‘Age of Ultron’ Thor has been traversing the galaxy in search of answers regarding his vision about the Infinity Stones. In ‘Ragnarok’ we learn that on his journey for answers he came across a path of death and destruction that led him to a face to face confrontation with Surtur- a Balrog demon looking creature made of fire and brimstone. Surtur warns Thor that the prophecy of Ragnarok-the end of Asgard- is coming, and that he cannot stop it. Thor removes his horns to prevent him from being reunited with the eternal flame and heads back to Asgard with his trophy. Movie over!

Back on Asgard, he quickly realizes that his brother has been masquerading as his father Odin-building shrines to his own memory and putting on very Shakespearean plays honoring his demise. They take a trip back to Earth to find the exiled Odin, who has been stripped of his Asgardian powers and now waits for his children to return so that he may finally die. He leaves them with loving last words and warns them of the impending arrival of their evil sister Hela- who can only return to Asgard once Odin has passed on. The loss of Odin would normally mean that Thor is the natural successor to the throne, but this earth shattering news means that someone else is coming to claim it- someone who is not going to make it a smooth transition.

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When Hela knocks him out of bifrost after destroying Mjolnir, he crash lands on the planet Sakaar, where he is quickly scooped up as bounty by the beautiful alcoholic warrior known only as “Scrapper 142” by her employer- The Grandmaster. Thor is unwillingly recruited into the Contest of Champions and pitted against their greatest champion- who happens to be his AWOL Avengers amigo The Hulk. And so one of the greatest MCU gifs was born. With the help of an extremely confused Bruce Banner, Scrapper 142- a former Valkyrie of Asgard- and his flakey brother Loki, they escape the planet and head back to Asgard to take down Hela before she destroys everyone and everything that they know. In the end, he realizes that in order to stop her he must not stop Ragnarok- but he must allow it to happen in order for her reign to end with it. Asgard is lost, but not its people.

While Thor has always had that smug smirking of self satisfaction and that “man out of time” sense of what is and is not appropriate, he has never been funnier than he is in Ragnarok- due largely to the Waikiki effect on the movie itself. Chris Hemsworth shines as always in every emotional challenge- be it anger, grief, or playful fun. He can do it all. Thor has never been stronger as an on screen presence, but he also gets a rad new ability that we haven’t seen before- in which his body becomes engulfed in lightning which he can wield and use as a force of power. For the first time, he truly encapsulated the name “Lord of Thunder”. Sorry, “God of Thunder”. He also encapsulates the role that has been laid out for him as King and ruler of Asgard- saving his entire civilization, finally getting a leg up on his brothers schemes, and making those hard decisions that Odin never could.

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BRUCE BANNER/THE HULK:

It really sucks to know that we may never get another Hulk solo film- and that we never really got a Planet Hulk movie- but this was as close as it comes. Bruce has been gone from Earth for two years and we learn when he transforms back that he has been the Hulk this entire time. Hulk has advanced tremendously in his ability to communicate and understand, although his intelligence is still on par with that of a young child. He is happy as a clam being worshipped as a fighter in a land where nobody knows who Bruce Banner is and he has no desire to leave, even when his old friend Thor shows up. Its hard to say exactly how Valkyrie managed to get him from his crashed Quinjet into this battle arena situation, but he seems very content with his setup. It was probably one of those neck nodes that zap you to sleep, but I find it bizarre that this would take down the Hulk.

Bruce spends most of the film as the Hulk, but when he comes back down to being Bruce his mind seems very groggy from his time “in the trunk” for the past two years. He seems very confident that if he becomes Hulk again that he will not come back-yet he makes that ultimate sacrifice when the entire population of Asgard depends on him. He has a sweet fight scene with Helas gigantic reanimated dead dog- evil Clifford aka Fenris and goes so far as to take on Surtur when he is the size of a mountain. Much like Thor, he gets opportunity after opportunity to show off the comedic capacity of Hulk and the compassionate side of Bruce Banner- and how both can get him into real trouble.

THE VILLAIN

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Hela makes quick and easy work of tearing Asgard down to the ground and even less time commanding her screen presence. Cate Blanchett is one of the most talented actresses on the planet and the choice to cast her as such a wretched and gothic villain was nothing short of perfection. She is dramatic, intense, gorgeous and vile while serving as an important piece of Asgards history and its future. She is like the ghost of Christmas past come to shatter their perfect golden world. We learn that Odins firstborn served as his “executioner” back in a time before he entertained the idea of diplomacy and peace among realms. He hid Asgards past so well that his children had no idea that they had an older sister, or that he had such a dark past as a conquerer. The demise of Asgard is rather poetic over the course of this movie, from the revelations that Hela comes with about their integrity and honor to the physical destruction of it. The past is gone, but a new world can now be created under Thors guidance.

Hela has very simple and unflappable motivations- to claim the throne which she is entitled to and to command Asgard in whatever way the she feels fit. She was cast out when her father could no longer control her and when their morals no longer aligned, so much like his sons- she has daddy issues that drive her. She longs for the old days where Asgard reigned supreme over all nine realms- and she aspires to conquer worlds far beyond the ones that they know. Her capabilities as the Goddess of Death are explored to an extent- she uses the Eternal Flame to resurrect her old army and her pet Fenris, and she conjures and tosses any size of dagger that she chooses. I have nagging suspicions that this character may very well translate into the Mistress of Death- a HUGE character in the Infinity Gauntlet story. The Mistress of Death is the reason for Thanos seeking out the Infinity Stones- to please her and to shape the cosmos to her liking. The timing doesn’t quite work out, but its always possible!

We don’t necessarily see her die, so you know the rules. She might not be dead for reals.

 

THE GOODS:

Thor:Ragnarok stands as one of the most unique and identifiable MCU movies to date. It takes huge risks and completely ignores standard formulas , instead opting for originality and widespread influences from realms of science fiction, ancient lore and the best of 80s cheese. While its underlying themes are dark, dramatic and sinister- the consistent comic relief, genuinely complicated relationships, vibrant palettes and brightly lit sets bring a film about death to life. This cast is overflowing with top notch dramatic actors, but additions like Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster and Taika Waititi as lovable pile of rocks Korg add a memorable goofy charm that reminds us not to take our beloved comic book movies too seriously. It is really, really silly, but silly is okay.

‘Thor:Ragnarok’ finds a great balance between tones, practical and manufactured visual impact, character development and good old fashioned fun. It rounds out the Thor trilogy with a huge bang and nearly destroys his entire family history while ushering him forth into a whole new existence. It further complicates Thors relationship with Loki but somehow clears the air at the same time, showing the tremendous growth and sincere confidence that Thor has found in his experiences. He is more independent than ever before and now he has the opportunity to dictate the future of himself, his people and the realms of which he protects.

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Bruce Banner has now seen worlds outside of his own and knows the terrifying truth about his alter ego- how consuming it is, how advanced it has become, and how badly it wants him out of the picture. He may still find a way to control his demon-or he may have to come to a compromise with it. Hulk is becoming more and more intelligent the longer that he exists as the Hulk, so we may very well see a Hulk someday that has every capability to exist in that state. We may also see Bruce trying his best to keep the Hulk at bay unless it is absolutely necessary- which I can only assume is coming down the pipeline very, very quickly.

POST CREDITS SCENE

Thor and Loki are having a friendly conversation aboard their getaway ship, floating through space towards their new destination. They are suddenly approached by a ship that makes their own look like a bug floating in the air. I wonder who it is!?

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Shortly after, the Grandmaster spills out of what looks like an elaborate space portapotty, doing his best political routine to get out of trouble with the uprising of Sakaarian citizens that surround him.

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Road to Infinity War – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017)

If there was one group of ragtag friends that I was excited to see again, it was the Guardians of the Galaxy. With new characters, a new decade of music and the introduction of Kurt Russell, what could go wrong?

Up next on the Road to Infinity War its brighter, louder and funnier….Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2!

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THE TEAM:

James Gunn returns to the scene of the crime to continue the Guardians of the Galaxys story. He brings his unique vision back to the franchise- integrating music, humour, awkwardness, heart and out of this world personality to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Composer Tyler Bates returns for more heart pumping, jaw dropping ethereal jams to accent this beautiful and spunky story. After the smash success of the first Guardians movie there was absolutely no doubt that the sequel would have a huge following- and it brought in a staggering $863, 756,051 at the worldwide box office

THE HEROES

New Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Group Shot by Artlover67

PETER QUILL/STARLORD:

Peter just learned something very significant about his parentage, but the meaning behind it remains very vague. The Nova Corp spilled the beans at the end of the first Guardians film that Peter was able to hold an Infinity Stone due to some “ancient” genealogy within him. Then they sent him packing. In Vol 2, it seems that everyone has some kind of insight into where he comes from for whatever reason. Ayesha broods over him with ominous warnings of “reckless” origins brewing inside of him shortly before a mysterious spaceman appears to destroy an envoy of Sovereign ships that are hell bent on killing the Guardians. Upon meeting this gloriously bearded man on Berhert post- crash, Peter is informed that this man is his father.

While Peter initially questions Ego in his showy and impressive assertion that he is his father, once he unlocks the true potential of his biology, he is all in. He is faced with a difficult decision, whether to live the remainder of his life as a celestial hybrid creating worlds, or to be with his new family. Through some subtle and literal mind control, Ego attempts to sway Peter to his motives by showing him the possibilities of his existence- but makes one big, big mistake. Why did he tell him about his Mom!? How did he think that was going to go!?

Peters romantic and platonic love for his friends and his family trumps all other things and it breaks him free of Egos hypnotic influence-and ultimately from his energy altogether. He gives up the possibility of immortality and god-like powers to put an end to the universal genocide that Ego plans to inflict in the name of his omnipotent sense of superiority. Presented with a life that is more than he could ever have imagined, he destroys it to do what is right and to avenge his beloved Mom. All conflict that arises throughout Vol 2 with his new family is squashed once they experience this traumatic series of events together, and they ultimately learn to forgive and grow together.

Peter also gains a father figure and a whole new sense of family when Yondu sacrifices himself in more ways than one to ensure Peters safety. He gains a sense of closure knowing that he has not spent his life without a father, but with one who is rather unconventional and unlikely to share his feelings. Peters ends Vol 2 with answers and closure to many aspects of his life, which will hopefully result in a newfound sense of power and confidence that comes with leaving the past behind.

GAMORA

Gamora has distanced herself entirely from her old life as a killer for hire and has embraced a new life with the Guardians. She has friends, family, respect and purpose. The Guardians take on the glitter spitting beast in the opening sequence so that the Sovereign will hand over her sister Nebula, who she in turn plans to hand over to the Nova Corp. While the relationship between the two continues to be vindictive and tumultuous, Gamora would rather her sister be in prison than wrecking havoc across the galaxy in hopes of killing their father- Thanos. She knows that she would not survive this and could potentially create more trouble for herself and the rest of the galaxy.

The theme of family carries through in Gamoras story in Vol 2, which focuses heavily on the relationship between these two jilted sisters as they struggle through their options of sticking together or to letting each other go. Along the way, Nebula and Gamora come to blows but they reach a peaceful resolution of sorts when neither of them will take that final step to killing the other. Instead, they finally bond over their shared experiences and agree to part ways. In the realm of family, Gamora is also faced with a unique internal battle against her feelings for Peter- which seem to gain some clarity at the end of the film.

I have to think that Gamoras history and knowledge of Thanos is going to play a big part in Infinity War and that she is going to be a major factor in how the Avengers and Guardians approach the situation. She knows where he comes from, where he lives and who he knows- and what he is capable of. When Nebula tells her that she still plans to kill him- she responds by saying that she doesnt think its possible. I guess we’ll find out.

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DRAX

While Drax spends a concerning amount of time in Vol 2 laughing VERY LOUDLY in the face of danger and making really awkward sexual comments, he also opens himself up more than ever before. It seems like he has become more comfortable with himself the longer that he has been with the Guardians, and they have come to understand how to deal with him a bit better as well. He still has no sense of what is appropriate in social situations and his IQ is not exactly top notch, but his resilience and fearlessness brings a level of humor and danger to the Guardians that would not be there otherwise. He certainly isn’t the brains of the operation, but he is the brawn that they need to survive. Drax has one incredibly touching moment with his new friend Mantis as they overlook a beautiful body of water on Egos planet and he reminisces about his long lost family. Despite his tough yet bubbly exterior, we know that his family is always on his mind, motivating him and helping him to appreciate the family that he has now.

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ROCKET

Maybe its his new role as a father of sorts, but Rocket is a hell of a lot more bitter in Vol 2 than he has ever been. He steals from the Sovereign for no other reason but fun and instead of taking responsibility for the fallout, he goes after his friends. His old life with Groot was spent scavenging the galaxy for their next big score and living it up, but now he is part of a group of very different people, and his best friend has been reborn as an adorable but characteristically juvenile toddler. Lost in the shuffle, he seems starved for attention and out to prove that he is more than his gadgets. Rockets heart and his love for the Guardians gets them in and out of trouble on several occasions, but he shows his true colors in his final act of goodwill-allowing Yondu the privilege of saving his “sons” life by sacrificing his own.

GROOT

Groot is an adorable little humanoid with a brand new set of memories and the same old sense of fun. He needs a lot of supervision, but he is slowly growing into the Groot that we knew and loved dearly from the first movie- albeit with influence from far more people than he had the first time around. At the end of the movie we get to see him as a cranky, angsty teenager that has nothing better to do but be sassy and play video games. If this is the Groot that we’ll see in Infinity War remains to be seen.

YONDU

I can’t in good conscience place Yondu under the villain heading, because he spends the majority of Vol 2 as anything but a villain. Though he is still mixed up with his band of unhinged Ravager buddies, his story throughout Vol 2 gives us a great amount of insight into his life and his history, showing us that he is more than meets the eye. He is confronted by his old group of Ravager friends- the OG Guardians of the Galaxy- where we learn that he was exiled decades ago for breaking the Ravager code-dealing in kids. He is commissioned by Ayesha to go after the Guardians of the Galaxy once more, and his decision to defy the request of the Sovereign to recover their batteries and to kill the group is met with a mutiny. They point out that Yondu seems to place Peters life above everyone elses-and that single line becomes the resonating theme of the rest of Yondus story arch in Vol 2. Why does Yondu continue to torment and threaten Peter and his friends while helping him stay out of danger along the way?

The answer, of course, turns out to be a major revelation. Yondu has a special place in his heart for Peter because he considers him to be like a son to him, and he believes that he is the only person that he has done right by. Michael Rookers incredible performance as Yondu goes from being a one dimensional vigilante and scrapper to a badass, witty, resourceful and compassionate father figure. He bonds with Rocket during their brief stint behind bars, where the two find that they have more in common than they realize. This interaction gives Rocket an understanding and a common ground that all comes back around to family.

Its like a Fast and Furious movie, this thing. Maybe Groot had more say than we realized.

THE VILLAIN:

There are actually several different villains all intertwined in this madness, starting with:

AYESHA/THE SOVEREIGN

This colony of people is created-literally birthed in pods-and groomed to believe that they are flawless beings, so naturally they are huge deuchebags. They are narcistic and elitist, and they do not believe in sacrificing themselves in battle-instead sending drone ships in their place while playing what I assume to be the galaxies best ‘Enders Game’ style VR simulation. Their High Priestess, Ayesha, blows the theft of their precious batteries slightly out of proportion, pursuing the Guardians all the way to Egos planet after Yondu fails to retrieve them himself. After the loss of two huge fleets over what one would assume to be a minor slight to Ayeshas ego- she creates a new being. He is more powerful, more beautiful- and his name….well, you know.

Sidenote: If these people are birthed, and everything is yellow/golden, and an interdimensional abyllisk knew to come eat their battery, and Nebula also knew to come steal their batteries- is this place connected to the soul stone? If they can create souls and they are on a self sustaining power source…the shoe kind of fits.

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TASERFACE/THE RAVAGERS

Ridiculous name and obtuse references to it aside- Taserface and the Ravagers bring about endless roadblocks for our heroes throughout Vol 2. This rebellious subset of Yondus following has a grudge against Yondu for putting their group and their financial gain second to Peter. Under the leadership of Taserface they take things to a great extreme by murdering nearly every member of his group-aside from flip flopper Kraglin-who comes through to save their skin at the right moment. These assholes torture sweet baby Groot, using him like a circus animal, and lock up Rocket and Yondu after Nebula asserts her dominance and takes over as new leader of the operation. They would have killed the two of them as well, instead they are convinced to turn them in for a reward. Yondu exacts his epic revenge on those who wronged him, but not swiftly enough to stop Taserface from alerting the Sovereign of their whereabouts on Egos planet. After Yondus great sacrifice he is ushered out of his life by his old friends who once exiled him- causing him to go down in history as a legend.

NEBULA

Nebula is moreso the anti-hero of Vol 2- as she is out for herself and not working under anyone else at this point. Her motivations to kill Thanos remain unwaivering and her anger towards her sister is still strong, but she seems very open to working with her more than against her. They just needed some time to come together and understand one another outside of conflict and violence. Once they clear the air Nebula becomes of great help to the Guardians in their complicated mission to destroy Ego and get the hell off of him before they all die. When their quest is completed, Nebula and her sister Gamora part ways with more love than they have ever experienced in the past- and she asserts her intentions to kill Thanos are stronger than ever. Methinks that she is going to be a big player in the coming events.

EGO

From Egos introduction, he seems like a smooth talking silver fox that is going to make Peters life complete and answer all of his questions. If you look at Mantis’ face though- you start to see the cracks. There is an air of ambiguity in nearly every interaction that Ego has with Peter and his friends- as he seems very genuine in all of his stories and his expressions of feelings-and he seems to be very open and honest about who and what he is. Mantis is not terribly good at keeping secrets and luckily she spills the beans when Gamora discovers a cavern absolutely full of bones beneath the surface of the planet.

What started out as a situation that was sketchy and rather outlandish, but heartwarming, at best starts to unravel into something that is an all out horror show when Ego plants his influential seeds into Peters brain to sway him over to his side, then lets it slip that he put a tumor in his mothers head. He killed her and he never returned to her because he couldn’t deal with a world where she wasn’t alive- but he killed her, long and slow. Not only that, but Egos maniacal plan for galactic domination unfolds in a tale of multi-planetary, multi-species insemination that rivals any porn star or early centuries royalty that you could ever imagine. For centuries, Ego has been searching for his children so that he could test their biology for the celestial gene- a test which presumably kills them on site or eventually causes him to kill them. He planned to use the child that carried this gene to help him completely consume every planet that he visited-allowing him to become several planets.

As Kurt Russell expertly croons in a romantic way about his quest for purpose, his love for Meredith, his adventures across worlds in search of companionship- it all adds to the terrifying nature of Ego. He is not a man, he is barely a being- he is something so powerful and so grand that life itself has absolutely no meaning to him. He calls his discovery of life “disappointing”. He cannot be bargained with, he cannot be swayed, he cannot reposition his lifes work in another direction- he has worked towards one goal for his entire existence and there is no alternative. He is of nearly endless abilities and power, so he has very little to fear- but with nothing but time, he needs to quench his thirst for purpose. His death unfortunately means the death of Peters immortality and his celestial “light” but his death also means that hundreds of millions of others can live.

I don’t think that I’m exaggerating when I say that is some of the darkest shit in the MCU to date.

THE GOODS

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Volume 2 is aptly named- as it turns up the volume on the humor, the action, the music and the visual effects. The soundtrack is far less subtle this time around and it is referenced directly by people in the movie on several occasions, as if Quills music is a part of them now. Many of the songs are also related to the film in a far more literal sense than before- with songs about family, love and friendship perfectly aligned with each scene in which it plays. Electric Light Orchestras “Livin Thing” cues up as they approach Ego: The Living Planet in perfect context and harmony to the setting. My favorite song of all time-The Chain by Fleetwood Mac- makes a couple of appearances in heavy emotional moments and represents the necessity to break free of your biological tree.

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The colors used in Volume 2 are absolutely spectacular and transition well from the first film where the majority of the colors were in reference to stars and space in general- but this time we see Egos luscious and breathtaking planet, the vibrant golds of the Sovereign and the earthy tones of Berhert bring every scene to life. You can imagine these shots splashed across the pages of a comic book. The visual effects are incredible, from the first dance/fight sequence, to Yondu and Rockets epic dramatic exit from their prison cells, to the many states of Ego himself. The comedy gets a LITTLE bit too much for me at moments-with an insane amount of sex jokes littered throughout- but every joke is incredibly funny and they are mostly spoken by Drax-who could deliver any line and make it funny. Apparently Drax is just a huge pervert, I guess. Rocket gets his fair share of quips and the entire cast gets the chance to bounce off of one another in lighthearted ways to show us just how close that they have become. They bicker, but they bicker like a family now.

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There is an incredible amount of growth established in this film and we really get to see the payoff of the Guardians coming together as a unit- because unlike the Avengers, these guys likely spend most of their time together. They don’t have homes to go back to or lives to get back to when the fight is over- they only have each other. Thats why the theme of family in Volume 2 is so beautiful and so significant- there is “romantic, sexual love”, paternal love, platonic love, self love and the loss and gain of all of these at play. We see the effects of love for the deceased, love for friends, family and conquests, love that goes unspoken, love that is complicated, love that is simple, and love that is just beginning to blossom. Its a complicated, messy and magnificent theme- but love is all over the freaking galaxy.

POST CREDITS SCENES:

Okay so lets get through these- Kraglin has a fin now and he is learning to use Yondus old arrow- and he sucks at it.

The old Guardians of the Galaxy are back in business!

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Holy freaking crap Ayesha has created Adam Warlock. AHHHH! Will he be in Infinity War or will we have to wait until the next Guardians movie? Will be be a huge factor in the defeat of Thanos like in ‘Infinity Gauntlet’? Will he be Jamie Lannister!?

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Groot is a teenager now and he just sucks. Why are there vines everywhere by the way? Why is he shooting vines? Ew.

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Probably one of the best Stan Lee cameos of all time results in him being left on a rock by the Watchers. They had better be picking him up in Infinity War!

Sidenote: John Malkovich should be the Watcher.

Road to Infinity War – Dr Strange (2016)

The Sorcerer Supreme, the Master of the Mystic Arts- Dr Strange was well overdue for an introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and he finally came into the world in 2016!

Up next on the ‘Road to Infinity War’ it is the enchanting and mind bending… ‘Dr Strange’!

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Dr Strange was actually mentioned once before in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ as someone that SHIELD and Hydra were familiar with- so the timeline of this movie is a little confusing in reference to that mention. There is reference in this film that Strange is well known in the medical community for his surgical accomplishments, but otherwise I see no reason why he would be notorious in any way. Aside from that, it was incredibly exciting to learn that Dr Strange would be making his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut and bringing an entirely new angle to the future of this universe. The film went through months of casting rumours as to who would take on the role of the titular character, but it ultimately fell to Benedict Cumberbatch- who took on the role and the facial hair with ease.

Dr Strange did fairly well for Marvel Studios- bringing in $677, 718, 395 at the worldwide box office.

THE TEAM:

First time MCU director and writer Scott Derrickson comes from a background of predominantly horror- and that experience made him an excellent choice to take on such an other wordly and supernatural character for Marvel Studios. Along with cowriter Paul Harris Boardman, the two had such projects under their belts as ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’ ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ ‘Deliver Us From Evil’ and ‘Sinister’,  giving them both plenty of background in the dark and disturbing that lent itself to the universe of Dr Strange.

THE HERO:

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Dr Stephen Strange has all the makings of a hero and of a villain. He has the cocky, entitled, competitive, arrogant, ultra intelligence and dedication of Tony Stark, but with slightly less showmanship. Honestly, hes a huge dick. Ultimately, his obsession with his profession is of great benefit to the world, but his medical conquests do not come from a place of kindness, but from a selfish need to excel. He has a photographic memory, a sharp wit and steady hands- all until a very, very preventable and very, VERY idiotic car accident steals that away from him. He spends all of his time and money furiously looking for any and all alternative treatments that could restore his hands to their original state as he desperately longs for his life back. A random tip from his physical therapist sends him to Kathmandu, where he comes to meet an ancient woman appropriately called “The Ancient One” who somehow turns out to be a white woman- and her plethora of proteges.

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The Ancient One schools Strange on the detriments of his personality and his profession- basically shitting on everything that he has worked his whole life for. What starts out to be a very sensible argument about the entire universal understanding of medical sciences turns into an acid trip unlike anything that we’ve ever seen on screen when Strange is introduced to the real limitations of the universe- none. He is welcomed into an existence where there are multiple dimensions, multiple realities, multiple states of existence, time and space, and never ending potential. As is so characteristic to him, he immediately chocks his out of body experience to being drugged- but once he is swayed to believe he resorts to his natural alpha male tendencies and strives to learn everything as quickly as possible while pissing off his coworkers.

He is a fast learner and takes to the Mystic Arts incredibly quickly, but initially struggles to really commit to this completely new way of thinking- allowing the mind to create and manipulate things outside of itself. He spent his life educating himself and using his mind to tell his body to perform tactile functions based on very specific information, and now he must conjure portals and material objects with fancy hand movements.  When he hits his stride, he still refuses to conform to rules and shows a general lack of respect for what he is doing, but when things start to get intense he steps up to take on tremendous tasks with a little help from the Eye of Agamotto and his new friend Carpet- um, his cape.

Strange shows a tremendous amount of growth in a very short time and maintains his sanity fairly well for someone who just had his entire reality turned upside down and inside out. He learns, with a great many reminders, that although he is now an incredibly important person in many facets of existence, that there is far, far more to all of this than himself. He sacrifices his entire life to take part in a greater purpose and shows a surprising level of understanding when The Ancient One reveals her greatest secrets. However, Strange has not been in this world for long enough to feel the hurt and betrayal that her other disciples feel upon learning that she has been long involved in something that she forbid them to be involved in. Strange knows enough about the Dark Dimension to have a unique and unbiased openness to her point of view, and this controversial viewpoint will likely come back to bite him- likely in the form of Baron Mordo.

THE VILLAIN:

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Kaecilius is unfortunately not a well explored or interesting villain for Strange to go up against, but his pursuit to make a deal with Dormammu makes him worth going after. I can’t say that I understand why he stole two pages out of an ancient text without stealing the Eye of Agamotto, or the entire book for that matter. He would have gotten much further with more material, to be sure. Kaecilius is driven in ways that are very reminiscent of Darren Cross and Loki- namely the jaded pursuit of revenge towards a former mentor or authority figure. He feels jilted by The Ancient One when he learns that she has been drawing energy from the Dark Dimension to achieve her immortality, despite her forbidding her students to stay away from it entirely. He seeks eternal life for himself in exchange for allowing Dormammu to take over Earth- which he hungers for the most…for some reason.

I have to say, I was a bit dissapointed to learn that the great Mads Mikkelson was treated as a throwaway character when rumours were circulating that he could take on the moniker of such classic villains as Dormammu or Nightmare. Perhaps we will see him again, but I doubt it.

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Dormammu only shows his form towards the films ending and he comes in a very unfamiliar form- basically a disembodied voice made of energy and matter. He has a consciousness and motives, living in the Dark dimension amongst other floating things that we don’t quite know how to identify. Strange tricks him into leaving his conquest for Earth behind by trapping him a very clever time loop in a place where time does not exist. It remains to be seen if this will truly keep him away, and now that Kaecilius has the eternal, disembodied existence that he ignorantly pursued, Stranges only remaining enemy is Baron Mordo- and he is pissed.

THE GOODS:

Aside from the obvious triumph that is the visual presentation of Dr Strange, there is a great amount of elegance, humour and sinister bravado that strikes a great balance in the films tone. Dr Strange is the very first Marvel film that explores existential topics and takes a journey into things like dimensions, realities and magic- and it does so very effectively. The MC Escher/ inception-esque shots of cities folding into themselves, material objects morphing and transforming in ways that one would never imagine possible is mystifying and hypnotizing from the very first scene to the very last. The cast is a whos who of top notch dramatic acting in Hollywood today- from the brilliant Tilda Swinton, to Chiwetel Ejiofor, to Mads Mikkelson, to the Benedicts- Wong and Cumberbatch.

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Stephen Strange is a hard sell as a hero, seeing as he is basically just the worst kind of person in the beginning. However, his sly sense of humor and relentless pursuit of knowledge leads him to be very open and receptive to the mystic arts and the new responsibilities that come with this ancient knowledge. It takes some time for Strange to drop his ego, and we never really know what rules he is going to play by in his future now that he has no one to answer to. Knowing that he possesses an Infinity Stone means that he is indefinitely going to play a massive role in the coming Marvel Cinematic Universe, and his abilities are likely going to be a huge factor in how these events unravel. Even without the Eye of Agamotto he still possesses an incredibly vast wealth of power that trumps nearly everyone elses abilities on his planet and many others.

POST CREDITS SCENE:

In a brief and to-the-point conversation between Dr Strange and a very relaxed Thor, they discuss the fact that his brother Loki is someone on Stranges radar as a threat to the planet and that he will help him find his father in order to keep him away. This scene solidifies Stranges involvement in ‘Thor: Ragnarok” to some extent and gives us a brief insight to what will bring Thor back to Earth- as we have not seen him since ‘Age of Ultron’ when he left to educate himself on the Infinity Stones.

Road to Infinity War – “Captain America: Civil War” (2016)

Back in 2015-16 I was foaming at the mouth in anticipation for an adaptation of the legendary Marvel Comics event “Civil War”. I knew that this was going to be very, very different due to the absence of Fantastic Four, XMen, Punisher, etc- but a huge event all the same. And after that first trailer dropped, I was a lost cause.

Next up on the Road to Infinity War, it is none other than the third installment in the Captain America trilogy….CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR!

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‘Civil War’ titilated fans for months on end, and the anticipation translated into its success- not to mention the homecoming of our beloved Spiderman to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Spidey and company brought in $1,153,304,495 at the global box office- making it one of Marvels most successful movies to date.

TEAM CIVIL WAR:

The Captain America trilogy team assembles once more to bring fluidity and feeling to the franchise. Directing duo Joe and Anthony Russo continue to flex their Marvel muscles with heroes that they have already had a hand in molding, while giving their unique influence to the plethora of characters that they were allowed in ‘Civil War’. Thanks to screenplay writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus- who have written for all three films-the tone to the film is quite similar to ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’- which is as sombre as it is entertaining- boiling over with killer action sequences, intimate moments and fan service scenes that strikes a great balance. Although this complete change in formula may have taken some viewers aback, it broke the mold for future ensemble films and gave way for their next project- INFINITY WAR. The Captain America movies have very little impact or reference to this future, but Thors absence since ‘Age of Ultron’ accounts for the lack of reference to these coming events.

The soundtrack for ‘Civil War’ is also brought to you by a man that has stuck around to see the trilogy through- scoring for ‘Winter Soldier’- along with several non-Marvel projects like the ‘Kick Ass’ films, both ‘Kingsman’ movies, and a couple of ‘Uncharted’ games. Composer Henry Jackman knows his stuff when it comes to action adventure.

THE HEROES:

Strap in folks, this is going to be a REALLY long one.

AWOL HEROES: HULK/BRUCE BANNER, THOR ODINSON/DR DONALD BLAKE

TEAM CAP:

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CAPTAIN AMERICA/STEVE ROGERS:

Captain America and Sam Wilson have been working to locate the Winter Soldier aka Bucky Barnes after he went AWOL following the events of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’. Working with the new breed of Avengers like Wanda aka the Scarlet Witch they have also been on the tails of the remaining heads of HYDRA. At the beginning of Civil War they go up against ‘Crossbones’ aka Brock Rumlow, who was the resident loudmouth asshole in ‘Winter Soldier’ who ended the film on a stretcher looking close to death. Wanda contains a suicide bomb set off by Crossbones that is meant to take out Steve, but unable to control its destination, she takes out an entire floor of a building-resulting in a very public outcry that she be taken off the streets, along with all the rest of the Avengers.

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When General Ross proposes a government mandated bill that essentially puts superheroes like the Avengers under the full supervision of the United Nations, Cap has absolutely no desire to conform. He finds himself divided against those who he has called his friends and colleagues for many years, but he is not willing to budge. During their meeting, Steve gets a call that his beloved old friend Peggy Carter has passed away. Although Natasha is not on Steves side of the Accords, she comes to her funeral to keep him company and to show that their friendship trumps all else.

At the official signing of the Accords, an explosion takes down the building, killing several people-including the King of Wakanda. Footage shows that it was in fact Bucky Barnes who is responsible for this, but Steve and his team know well enough that the likelihood of Bucky being under the influence of Hydra once again is unlikely and he refuses to believe it. Steve seeks out Bucky and finds him just in time to warn him about the opposing parties that are coming to take him down. With the help of his “will they, won’t they” lady friend Agent 13, himself, Sam and Bucky are able to assemble a team of their own to take down Baron Zemo and to prevent the release of the rest of the Winter Soldiers.

Steve ultimately remains at odds with Tony about the Accords and Bucky up until the end, where Baron Zemo drops a bombshell that nearly ends the Avengers in its wake. Fortunately for everyone, Tony can see past his rage just enough to allow Cap to walk away free, a fugitive without a shield. In his closing monologue, he sends Tony a cell phone to contact him and we see him coming to release his friends from confinement.

WANDA MAXIMOFF/SCARLET WITCH:

After a devastating incident that resulted in death and destruction, Wanda has been removed from the outside world and she becomes the case in point for the Accords to be implemented. Her powers have expanded to include flight and a much more refined control of her “witchcraft”, but when she is put on the spot to relocate a detonated bomb, she is left with few options. Wanda is now well cared for under the supervision of uh, Super Vision, but she is angry that she is being sequestered like a child with a disease. Her relationship with the mandroid that she affectionately refers to as “Vis” is blossoming into something that is a deep friendship, a mutual respect and a potential romance, but Vision still follows the logical aspect of any situation and believes that keeping her away is the best thing for her and everyone around her. A “retired” Hawkeye comes to her aid, stealing her away under Team Iron Mans nose and forcing her to detain Vision using her powers. This is the first time that we see just how powerful she is- but the two are made from the same Infinity Stone- so it makes sense that she could stand up to him, and that he would not fight back even if he could.

BUCKY BARNES:

Bucky has been dealt one of the worst hands in the MCU- a former Hydra weapon who was repeatedly brainwashed to rid him of any memories of his past. In Civil War, he is framed with the bombing of the Vienna International Centre where the Accords were scheduled to be signed. Though Steve find him before he is confronted by every possible government agency that wants him dealt with- he must remain off the radar for the entirety of the film. He is ultimately taken in under the supervision of Everett K Ross for questioning. The session is highjacked by Baron Zemo, who has uncovered the key to activating his mind control once again, and he is turned back into a weapon within minutes. Though he is knocked out of it again after a great deal of destruction is left in his wake, his role in the near-fall of the Avengers becomes tremendously important. In the end, he is put back on the ice to prevent anyone else from attempting to reactivate him-hidden away from the rest of the world in Wakanda.

ANT MAN/SCOTT LANG:

We don’t get much of an update about what Scott has been up to since taking down Darren Cross and destroying his lifes work- but he is brought into the fight by his one time sparring partner Sam Wilson to assist their poorly staffed team. He is immediately taken by his introduction to Captain America and the rest of the Avengers, and he suits up to go against Team Iron Man. In the epic airport confrontation, Lang is the curveball that throws off nearly every member of Tonys team and he makes some of the biggest impact. Not only do we get to see himself and Hawkeye reinact the amazing arrow launch scene, BUT we get to see his newest trick- GIANT MAN!

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I’d love to say that I was drunk with surprise over the reveal of Giant Man, but unfortunately Funko released a Giant Man Pop figure well ahead of the release of the movie with the films titled splashed across it. I’m still mad about it. Funk you, Funko. Seriously.

Lang winds up in confinement along with Sam Wilson and Clint Barton where he throws some shade at Tony, but we know that Cap has come to release him, so we don’t know what his future holds from here. Will he be able to live his life freely or is he now a fugitive as well?

HAWKEYE/CLINT BARTON:

Clint comes out of his short lived retirement to rescue his new Avengers daughter, Wanda, from the heavy thumb of Tony Stark. He risks everything to come to the aid of Captain America- even going up against his best friend in the world to fight for what he believes. Clint doesn’t say a whole lot about why he is supporting Caps side, but it is quite obvious that a man with a wife and children hidden away from the world would not want to be a pawn on the books for the United Nations. He has a lot to lose, and if it weren’t for Cap coming to his rescue in the end, he may have wound up behind bars for a long time.

TEAM IRON MAN

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IRON MAN/TONY STARK/TONY STANK:

Tony and his relationship with his parents become a resounding theme to Civil War, just as Steves relationship with Bucky does. In the beginning, he is brooding over the loss of his parents and handing out money like its pennies to an auditorium full of students. We learn that he and Pepper are on shaky ground after he broke his dramatic promise to abandon the Iron Man moniker in Iron Man 3. Incidentally, this is one of the only things about that film that resonated into the MCU. Alone and vulnerable, Tony seems to be softening up more and more as time goes on. He is confronted by a mother who lost her child in Sokovia, and she blames him for her sons death. This incident forces Tony to face a perspective where he can no longer run as a free agent, doing whatever he likes whenever he likes. He is willing to work with others for once, and he believes that accountability is the right thing to pursue for the greater good.

This uncharacteristic change of personality makes perfect sense after the shitstorms that Tony has helped to deter and cause, and he likely still feels tremendous guilt for what Ultron became on his watch. He has started to realize that just because he believes that he can fix the world, doesn’t mean that he can control it. He cannot control outside forces, and he cannot control all of the other heroes and villains that continue to be unearthed as his story goes on. He believes that a system of cooperation and structure is the best way to keep the Avengers together, and as they always have, Steve and Tony disagree. The airport fight between the divided Avengers comes to a tragic end when a distracted Vision accidentally injures Rhodes to the point where he loses the function of his legs. Tony is devastated that this situation has caused such harm to a close friend, and he expresses his concern that Vision could be capable of such error.

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In the end, Tony comes to make a truce with Steve and Bucky when he learns that their mission is a great threat, going up against even General Ross to extend an olive branch one last time. However, Baron Zemo throws a huge wrench into their relationship and Tonys whole existence when he shows them that Bucky- under the influence of Hydra-personally killed both Tonys parents. He has very little time to process this information and goes after Bucky at full force in a fit of rage, causing an intense confrontation between the three of them. He ultimately loses the fight and a friend, but Steve reaches out to him in the end.

WAR MACHINE/JAMES RHODES:

It should be no surprise to anyone that Rhodes would be on board with the Accords- seeing as his position over the last few years has been “government Iron Man”. His friendship with Tony certainly influences his support as well, but as a military man at heart he knows the importance of being accountable. While in flight, Vision takes a shot at him and mistakenly shoots out his suits power source, causing him to crash to the ground and seriously injure both of his legs. In his last scene of the film, Tony is helping him with his physical therapy and he gives a rare look into his mental state in all this- revealing that he always knew that there was a potential for a worst case scenario when he pursued a career with the military, but he is nonetheless devastated. Fortunately, he doesn’t lose his sense of humor-and there is no doubt that his genius billionare friend will have a sweet setup for him in no time.

BLACK WIDOW/NATASHA ROMANOFF:

Natasha is honestly one of the biggest surprises on Team Iron Man for me- but maybe she is tired of running. She spent most of her career working for an organization with resources, a hierarchy and a purpose- but now that SHIELD has fallen, she is lost in the world. Frankly, she seems tired. She thought that she may have found a sort of stable future with Bruce Banner, but he is nowhere to be found after the events of ‘Age of Ultron’. Her role in the MCU has always been-and always will be- the heart, and right now she is aching. She rarely makes a selfish decision and she is always open to new and collaborative ideas-even if that collaboration is with Tony Stark.

Natasha is one of the only Avengers who has no powers to speak of aside from her skills as an Agent and her insight into the workings of the darkest corners of the world, and this may also be a contributing factor in her decision to support the Accords. This is the lesser of two evils and the closest thing to SHIELD that she may have again. SHIELD wanted to protect the world, to uncover the mysteries of the world, and to understand it- all things that embody who she truly is. She betrays nearly everyone in some way, but she gains no resentment for it because she is so obviously doing what she thinks is right without hurting anyone along the way. She cares for everyone.

Natasha and Steve have become very close, but he feels let down by her support of the Accords and it seems that their friendship may be lost. However, when Steve and Bucky finally have a chance to escape the massive airport confrontation, Natasha subdues a pursuing Black Panther to allow him to escape. As always, she comes through to do the right thing for the right reasons.

VISION:

Vision is living the life, being one of the most powerful beings on Earth, the house to an infinity stone, and a budding romantic relationship with a beautiful young mutant. He still seems to be stuck in an obedient state that Ultron once questioned him for- doing whatever Tony Stark requires of him. He is remarkably humble for a being that could quite literally destroy everyone and everything without so much as a thought. When we see him again he is dressing in very human looking attire-perhaps to make himself and his fellow Avengers more comfortable with his presence. He seems to be quietly learning and adapting to life as both a superior being and a resident of Earth- cooking dinner for Wanda even though he doesn’t eat, phasing through walls and invading peoples privacy, and offering words of Vulcan wisdom in times of crisis.

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Vision brings up one of the most logical arguments in support of the Accords- stating that the very existence of the Avengers is a matter of causality. Power brings challenge, challenge brings conflict. The Avengers existence is literally a challenge to all other powerful beings who may oppose their ideals-therefore it could be argued that everything that has happened since Tony went public with his superhero persona is directly-or indirectly-their fault. However, this statement and the Accords existence does very little to misdirect any future threats towards the team and the planet- it only puts it on a leash. I found it a bit strange that he didn’t see that. However, as he is trying to integrate himself into human culture, this may be another way of trying to appease any questions regarding his own motives. It is a wonder why General Ross, or anyone else for that matter, hasn’t threatened to do anything about Visions existence after seeing what Ultron turned out to be.

While in battle, Vision stops to tend to a wounded Wanda and misses a cue from Tony because of it. His aim is off and he ends up sending Rhodes crashing down to Earth with shattered legs. Tony questions how this could possibly happen, and he is clearly taken back by the question. Vision is quickly discovering how very human that he is on the inside, experiencing the complex emotion of love towards Wanda- a theme that has long been tied to his character in his Marvel Comics history. I am elated to see that they are following this weird but wonderful aspect of his story. He has a heart to heart with her regarding his mysterious infinity stone- pondering the thought that he might one day understand it, and even control it. And I screamed internally.

T’CHALLA/BLACK PANTHER:

We are first introduced to T’Challa in Vienna over a conversation between himself and Natasha. He and his father are in agreement that the Accords are a positive step towards civility, coming from a very secretive nation that thrives under organization and community. While we get very little in the way of an “origin” story- this proves to be a very natural and effective way to introduce us to the character. An intensely emotional conversation between himself and his father brings us right up to speed on the type of relationship that they have and the temperment that they share. Tragedy strikes quickly when T’Chaka is killed during the bombing, which swiftly persuades T’Challa to seek vengeance towards the Winter Soldier. This alone puts him on Starks side of the fight- as he has no familiarity with the situation between Steve and Bucky- and frankly, I don’t think that he cares.

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The Black Panther is not known to the outside world when we see him in all his glory for the first time. He pounces with cat-like reflexes and silent strikes in one of the coolest chase scenes in the MCU so far between himself, Steve and Bucky. He unmasks himself without regard- sending a powerful message that he is the Black Panther and that is not to be kept secret-especially from his enemies. He shows uncharacteristic rage in the wake of his beloved fathers death and spends most of the movie stalking Steve and Bucky across the globe to avenge his father. Swayed by his final interaction with Baron Zemo, he allows himself to be free of his vengeful feelings and instead seeks justice. He stops Zemo from killing himself stating “the living are not done with you yet”. Badass.

PETER PARKER/SPIDERMAN:

It makes me tingle just typing his name into this review, to be honest. I don’t know a single Marvel fan that wasn’t boiling over with joy upon seeing our new Spiderman in the Civil War trailer, Caps shield in hand, meeting the Avengers. The best part of it all is that we were given a perfect Spiderman that is age appropriate, demeanor appropriate, and lack of origin story appropriate!

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Peter is introduced when Tony seeks him out at his home, somehow uncovering his identity via YouTube videos and recruiting him for his cause under the guise of a Stark Industries grant to throw off his unusually attractive Aunt May. The awkward, stuttering Parker has a makeshift Spider suit hiding in the ceiling of his room and webbing cartridges attached to his wrist, and when Tony grills him about his abilities he simply brushes it off as complicated. Tonys line of questioning brings him to ask Peters intentions as a crime fighting vigilante, and he obviously approves of his answers. The next time that we see him is in a full, real Spidey suit (did he already have that made or did his Stark robots make it for him?) complete with manipulating eyes and spandexy glory before he is thrust into a high paced battle with a group of heroes that he has never met before.

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Peters motor mouth and excitable nature is perfectly placed into this climactic scene before he disappears back into the shadows, and his immaturity shows in his willingness to impress “Mr.Stark” and to subdue several Avengers with gusto. His “Empire Strikes Back” moment with Giant Man shows off his ingenuity and confuses the hell out of his comrades, who are left wondering how old this kid actually is. Needless to say, he leaves an impression on everyone-including his new friend from Brooklyn.

THE VILLAIN:

Baron Zemo is a very unique villain-and a good choice to stir the pot in ‘Civil War’. Much like the mother who confronted Tony towards the beginning, Zemo has lost people very close to him because of the Avengers. Unfortunately for them, this is no ordinary person who has to go on with their normal life, but he is a highly trained, highly educated man who knows where to look for bombshells. Daniel Bruhl plays a character quite fitting to him- well spoken, soft spoken, charismatic, natural and sinister.

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His plan is quite elaborate and a bit questionable- but if he is looking for a way to break up the figureheads of the Avengers, he picked a perfect way to do so. He leaves a quiet trail behind himself and looks for no infamy or notoriety for his accomplishment. He has no accomplices, no one working for him, no one above him. He has no regard for his own life, and he has absolutely no one left to care about. He is obsessed with taking down the Avengers, and that is all. He is resourceful, he is angry, he is alone. This makes him incredibly dangerous.

THE GOODS:

The Russo Brothers delivered another fantastic Captain America movie to round out his trilogy, but they also delivered a well balanced Avengers film at the same time. ‘Civil War’ is quite unique- as the threat in this film is purely to the Avengers themselves, in the end. The threat that Bucky and Steve break away to pursue is eliminated, leaving only the conflict between the team to fester away- just as Zemo intended. This tension and conflict is endearing throughout as we see a large group of heroes who must now go up against one another as friends and colleagues. They have no intention of causing harm towards one another at any point in time, but with such an important and future-affecting decision hanging over their heads, they have no choice but to divide. Some of them have been greatly affected by the ugliest sides of authority, power and organization while the others have seen the bright side of it and how it can benefit them to start cooperating with the structures still in place in the world. To be fair, General Ross is not doing anything particularly villainous in asking a group of potentially dangerous vigilantes to conform to the rest of the civilized world. Everyone has incredibly difficult decisions when choosing a side in this civil war.

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Every character in ‘Civil War’-from the established to the introduced-gets ample time to shine, to grow and to make an impact. We learn something new about everyone and they learn where they stand  morally and ethically outside of their shared experiences. Cap has never had to justify his constant and visceral pursuit of Hydra and the necessity to wipe them off the planet to anyone outside of his immediate circle, and Tony has never had to make a case for subordination. Things have changed a hell of a lot since the days where Tony was brimming over with arrogance and bravado and Cap was being patronized and idolized. There is a paternal instinct to both of these men that has molded them into mentors- both very instinctive, intelligent and weathered by the tumultuous paths that their lives have taken. Now that they have witnessed the devastation that can come about when they don’t work as team, chances are good that they will come together once more when it is necessary. Neither of them has given up on the other, and they all truly believe in the things that they have in common and the unique bond that they share more than anything else.

POST CREDITS SCENE:

We get two fantastic post credits scenes that usher us into the immediate future of the MCU-the first being a introductory visit inside of the hidden paradise of Wakanda. T’Challa graciously gives sanctuary to the man that he was erroneously preying upon and allows Captain America and Bucky total secrecy so that they may safely exist after the events of ‘Civil War’. Not only that, but he vows that he will not allow any interested parties to reach him, if they dare try. We already know so much about T`Challa based solely on the way that he adapts, learns and forgives throughout this film.

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The second scene takes us back into Peters Parkers bedroom where is recounting a fight with a guy named Steve from Brooklyn with his Aunt May in the distance. On his wrist is a new gadget that immediately lights up, displaying a range of Spiderman themed functions that we may soon discover for ourselves. The tease, of course, being that his new fan and mentor Tony Stark has gifted Peter with something that may soon give Spiderman the chance to become…superior.

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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- ‘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!

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!

‘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’!