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

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

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

THE TEAM

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

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

THE HERO

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

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

THE VILLAIN

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

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

THE HIGHS AND LOWS

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

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

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

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

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Up next…THOR: THE DARK WORLD!

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

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

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

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THE TEAM:

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

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

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

THE HEROES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE VILLAIN:

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

UPS AND DOWNS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE VILLAIN:

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

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

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

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

What a time to be alive and nerdy!

Oh, and shawarma.

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NEXT…IRON MAN 3!

 

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

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

THE TEAM:

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

Oh, hello.

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

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

THE HERO:

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

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

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

We get it, Peggy. We really do.

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

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

THE VILLAIN

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

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

THE GOODS

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

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

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

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

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Up next….holy crap….’THE AVENGERS’!

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

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

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

THE TEAM:

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

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

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

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

THE HERO:

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

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

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

THE VILLAIN

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

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This sneaky, malevolent, beautiful son of a bitch.

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

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

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

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

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

THE GOODS:

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

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

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

I mean, it would be…if this was real.

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

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

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

Rude, Gods! Rude.

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

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

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

Let’s Keep Talking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Road to Infinity War’: ‘Iron Man 2’ (2010)

Iron Man 2 has always been a point of contention for me. I hated it. I hated it when I saw it back in 2010 and I hated it up until about two days ago, when I watched it again for the purpose of this piece.

I am happy to report that I have changed my tune (mostly) and that I really enjoyed watching it this time around!

And so, for the third chapter of ‘Road to Infinity War’, lets talk IRON MAN 2!

THE TEAM:

Jon Favreau returns to direct ‘Iron Man 2’ and to offer his much needed support as Happy Hogan. Reports state that Favreau had been forced to implement changes to the script while the film was already shooting by a then-heavy meddling Marvel Studios-resulting in his departure from the trilogy after the second was completed. Lucky for us, he continued to have a big role as Hogan well after his directorial stint was through. And lucky for himself and the studios- the movie was a big success, making $623,933,331 at the worldwide box office.

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It was written by Justin Theroux- who at the time had only written ‘Tropic Thunder’ after 15 years of acting on film and television. Though an odd choice, I do love ‘Tropic Thunder’ dearly- so I can’t complain. Industry vet John Debney was responsible for the music in the film- and has since gone on to work on such projects as ‘The Jungle Book’ and ‘The Greatest Showman’-among many, many others.  

THE HERO:

The biggest thing that has always left a bad taste in my mouth about ‘Iron Man 2’ is the obtuse nature of it all. Whether it be Tonys massive ego, his newfound controversial fame or his blatant disregard for anything but his persona- I found the whole experience to be insufferable. The courtroom scene and the ‘Stark Expo’ towards the beginning is about as overdramatic as it gets. He acts as if he is utterly untouchable. However, upon my latest watch of the movie I have come to understand that the purpose of such extravagance was to reflect the journey that Tony Stark is going through. His ego is massive because he is now widely known as a superhero (and one of the only ones that we know exist) and he has overcome incredible odds to reach this peak in his professional and personal life. If he wasn’t larger than life before, he certainly is now.

Despite all that- what continues to make Tony Stark so compelling is the fact that he is such a flawed person. He is incredibly vulnerable by nature, but he is often far too proud to show it. He hides behind jokes, he deflects his problems and uses his money and influence to make things go away.

Or he just gets his beloved assistant and love interest Pepper to take care of it.

In ‘Iron Man 2’ we see far more than Tonys capacity to love and work with Pepper-we see his ever expanding ability to trust her. He gives her the job of CEO to not only take some weight off of his own shoulders while he deals with his life, but to show her how much respect that he has for everything that she does. His company is very important to him, but he is gradually learning that his purpose is about far more than Stark Industries- and that she is far better suited to run one of the biggest companies in the world. He also realizes that his actions are affecting her on a whole new level, and that this would bring her a lot of joy. Its a huge step.

I am still a little confused about how Tony figured out that his fathers old diorama happened to have a piece inside of it that he could turn into a hologram of the answer to creating a new element that could save his life-BUT it was very cool to see Tony working on something, lets say, “sciencey” again. It was also cool to see that he has a connection to his father, despite his constant insistence of the opposite. The design ushers in the new era of Iron Man suits with the triangle symbol and it further proves the capabilities that Tony has to be-or create-a supervillain.

THE VILLAIN

A view that I haven’t budged on much with repeated viewings of this movie is the one where I don’t care about the villain AT ALL. I really love Sam Rockwell and I think that he was an excellent cast choice to play Justin Hammer. But to be honest, Hammer comes off as a bit of a dummy. He seems like a small man who aspires to be Tony Stark, but doesn’t actually have the smarts or the business savvy to pull it off. He puts his trust in maniacs like Ivan Vanko to help him with expensive and very important pieces of his business-and Vanko is so poorly supervised that he pulls the classic trap that Tony Stark himself set for his kidnappers in Iron Man 1. He builds a thing and destroys their stuff.

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I wish that I had seen just a little bit of background about Vanko’s father and Howard Stark working together. Simply hearing an account and some newspaper clippings of the entire reason why Ivan Vanko wants so badly to defame/maim Tony Stark is not enough to effectively establish a connection to a characters story. I wanted to see them building something, discussing something- or the way that their relationship actually ended. Then, we would know if Whiplash was overreacting or if Howard Stark actually did push his father out of the company to the point where revenge was necessary. Instead we got a very short and awkward scene between father and son that ended abruptly with his fathers death and a painfully ridiculous scream. I just didn’t feel it. Vanko is an oddball character with little dialogue and little interaction with any other characters. He turns Justin Hammers “plot”on its head with his own agenda easily after it becomes perfectly clear that he has successfully used the “lost in translation” angle to remove himself from the situation as much as possible. Hammer hasn’t put much thought into Vanko’s employment, so he really deserves whatever he gets. Hammer Industries needs to work on their security, like, yesterday.

THE GOODS:

Aside from a lackluster threat to the main character, I enjoy a lot of things about Iron Man 2 that I didn’t used to-or that I forget about if I haven’t seen it for long enough. I love the introduction to Black Widow for the most part- considering that half her job seems to be keeping her hair and face in perfect form. Once we get to see her kicking ass and giving sass, I’m sold. With our first official introduction into the SHIELD team and its operations, we get a healthy dose of Nick Fury, Coulson and Natasha and what influence they could have in the future of the MCU. It is also a great introduction to SHIELD before we get to see their origins in ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’. The debut of War Machine (unofficially) was one of the better points of the movie. Bringing in Don Cheadle to be Tonys friend-in-arms was an excellent choice and one that has served them well throughout the franchise. We got to see a solid glimpse of their dynamic when they battled the Hammer Drones at the films climax after exchanging some conflicted words. We also saw the nature of their complicated relationship, as Rhodes must decide between his allegiance to his country and his complicated alliance with Stark.

It was almost comedic-in a way- that Tonys major threat in this movie was someone with such lack of awareness that he sabotaged himself while trying to take down a major competitor over well, a pissing contest. This villain shows us how easily even a freshman enemy can become a threat, and how dangerous Tony can be when he is allowed to speak for his company and his persona. Because of his cockiness, he begins to draw out enemies left and right. Justin Hammer was one of those enemies- but fortunately one who was inexperienced with villainy. His ego was sore and he thought that he could make something happen. The pushback from the United Nations and the United States gives us an interesting window into what it to come for Tony and for the Avengers- namely the involvement of Senator Stern (played brilliantly by Garry Shandling) and Tonys future comradery with the government.  

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In summary, Tony may have been on a whole new level of drama this time around, but there was even better drama hiding behind the scenes. Tony Stark continues to evolve and change his opinions based on new experiences and information, but like many of us, he still has crippling personality traits that complicate even the best of intentions. This is simply who he is. He still jokes, he still pokes the bear, he still instigates, he still thrives off of a challenge.

He is still the Iron Man.

POST CREDITS SCENE: This is actually the very first post credits scene that I can remember seeing in theatres that got me really, REALLY excited. At that time, there was no barrage of teaser trailers, casting gossip and fan theories to become immersed in, and I honestly had no clue what was upcoming in the MCU. Then, this hype machine of a scene hit my eyeballs and there was no going back.

We see a desert being spanned by one single vehicle. Out of it pops our buddy Agent Coulson, looking suave as hell in a pair of aviators. He appears to be looking over a ravine of some kind, but we quickly learn that is a massive crop circle looking indent in the earth. It is surrounded by trucks and people. Coulson picks up his phone and the camera spans to…you already know…

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Up Next….Thor!

 

Road to Infinity War: ‘The Incredible Hulk’ (2008)

For the second chapter of ‘Road to Infinity War’…lets talk about the movie that introduced one of the most beloved characters in the MCU… THE INCREDIBLE HULK!

‘The Incredible Hulk’ is Marvel Studios second self financed film and its first film since ‘Iron Man’-coming out in the same year. It wound up making a whopping $263,427,551 

$263,427,551

at the worldwide box office during its run, lagging slightly behind its predecessor. However, the film was left at a major disadvantage because it was made close enough to a poorly received rendition of the Hulk-one that made half the money at the box office- that it was bound to be compared. Only 5 years prior to the release of ‘The Incredible Hulk’, a film directed by Ang Lee and starring Eric Bana called ‘The Hulk’ was released to poor reviews, due largely to everything from its subpar CGI to its slightly cheesy construction overall.

‘The Incredible Hulk’ certainly improved upon several aspects of its former and made a place in the grand scheme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, albeit with little to contribute to the overall storyline but for a promising plot that was destined for obscurity-and a relocation of its main character. It has its strengths, but many weaknesses that I believe were greatly improved upon later on in the MCU. To be frank, the CGI was still not terribly well done.

THE TEAM:

‘The Incredible Hulk’ was directed by relative newcomer Louis Leterrier, who at the time was known best for directing the first two ‘Transporter’ films and soon become known for directing films like ‘Clash of the Titans’ and ‘Now You See Me’-neither of which I cared for at all. Sorry. Leterrier did reportedly push for Mark Ruffalo to play our buddy Bruce Banner, but ultimately Marvel wanted to go with Edward Norton. And then…they changed their mind? We’ll get back to that.

Zak Penn serves of the writer of this film-which comes as no surprise when you look at his history writing Marvel entities. He has written or contributed to everything from ‘Elektra’, ‘X2: X-Men United’, ‘X3: The Last Stand’, ‘The Avengers’ and several Marvel video games. He also wrote films like ‘Inspector Gadget’ and ‘Behind Enemy Lines’. His background made for a solid story, and he clearly knew how to write for superheroes.

Craig Armstrong is responsible for the soundtrack to the film- and by the time that he was approached to do this soundtrack he had already made a name for himself working with Madonna and on films like ‘Moulin Rouge’ and ‘Ray’. Since then, you have heard his work in films like ‘Snowden’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’.

THE HERO:

Edward Norton was well into an established career that is chocked full of dark and twisted fiction. Everything from ‘American History X’ and ‘Fight Club’ to ‘Red Dragon’ and ‘The Illusionist’ was living proof that Norton knew how to play eccentric and enigmatic leads-but what about a mild mannered scientist? Well, as it turns out, we didn’t get to see a whole lot of him playing Bruce Banner, the nerdy genius with a godly green copilot, and instead we saw him playing “skinny guy who runs an awful lot”. To be fair, we do get to see him do at least one science experiment in his dark and dank apartment, but the decision was made to skip over the entirety of Banners pre-Hulk life.

We did get the chance to see a Banner that was put under a hell of a lot of pressure, back up against the wall, but one who still had hope in his heart that he would be ‘normal’ again someday. Because we mainly saw him on the run, it often felt like it was hard to make the connection that we were watching Bruce Banner throughout the film. I did not feel very invested in him because I did not get to see him as he was in his normal human life before I saw him as a shy fugitive and a behemoth. He spends an obscene amount of time using super antiquated “secure” technology to communicate with Tim Blake Nelsons character through one step short of MSN slang and being brutally bullied for some reason by everyone that he works with. After thats out of the way, there is an awful lot of running and making eye contact with Liv Tyler.

Don’t get me wrong-he does a great job, and so does Liv Tyler- but aside from the tension between the two, I never felt passionately connected to either one. I wanted to love their love, but then they went and made Ty Burrell a pretty decent, freshly ditched boyfriend and I almost just wanted her to stay with him and let Bruce just go live in a third world country. I guess that it probably what happened. Never mind.

THE VILLAIN:

General Ross and his moustache was a really cool addition to this story, not necessarily because of his daughters involvement, but because he represents someone concrete who can be a thorn in the side of the Avengers and other such heroes in the future.

Hes that guy who has enough power to bring you down a peg-but he can do it all under the ospice of the government. He isn’t quite a supervillain, but he is basically at the top of the totem pole in his position. He can (and does) hit them where it hurts eventually. In the case of Bruce Banner, he makes it nearly impossible for him to ever come home unless he wants to be a science experiment for the rest of his days. General Ross believes that Hulk is a creation of the United States government, therefore it is his property. He goes so far as to manufacture a super soldier of his very own to take him down, which seems like a pretty insane thing for a person to do, but apparently he gets to keep his job down the road…so I guess it wasn’t a big deal?

Also, we MIGHT, MAYBE, POSSIBLY see Red Hulk someday?

Speaking of his super soldier, Tim Roth was a strong but very strange take on a huge Hulk villain- The Abomination. I never quite understand why he is so passionately motivated to destroy the Hulk, aside from the competitive, primal need to hunt- but even then, why allow yourself to be a guinea pig just to do so? He has no personal connection to the situation and yet he is overjoyed at the prospect of going up against a sentient brick wall? The obvious answer, of course, is that he was just plain crazy. The look in his eyes in most scenes is one that I can only describe as creepy.

One of those guys who gets to keep his job despite several registered complaints about death threats and intense, coffee and tobacco scented nose-to-nose confrontations. I couldn’t tell if General Ross fully understood that he was missing a screw, therefore he was disposable, or if he sincerely thought that he was a valuable piece of his overall plan. Ross certainly went on to eat his mistakes when his pet turned into a 10 foot tall crocodile man- but again- to very few consequences. Perhaps it was all covered up as part of Bruce’s immunity?

This barely qualified as a villain, but I SO wish that they had pursued ‘The Leader’ somewhere in a future film. Theres still time!

THE GOODS:

While it may sound like I mostly disliked this film, I really didn’t. It was fairly exciting and it had a lot of great Hulk scenes to show off-but it landed in a time where Hulk was apparently advanced enough to identify his lover, but not yet advanced enough to communicate in any way but smashing. There were some great little jabs at the comics and the character-like the purchase of the purple pants and a bizarre, borrowed scene under a rock in the rain. It has a great cast and it brought up a lot of really interesting questions and possibilities-including, but not limited to:

-Can Bruce EVER have sex? Like, does Bruce Banner have to be celibate forever? Or does he just have angry sex all the time because thats how he has learned to control himself?

-Did Michael Bay cast the hot girl that worked at the plant with Bruce? Who was in charge of their HR department? That girl was being straight up preyed on!

-Does Stan Lee have superpowers now?

-Where the hell are Bruce’s family, relatives, friends all this time? Does he not have any or have they all disowned him? It seemed so easy for him to just disappear off the planet.

-How many people died in this movie? It feels like a lot.

-Where was SHIELD hanging out while a huge, destructive, uncontrollable Jekyll/Hyde was running around the United States? Especially when there were TWO of them! This would have been a perfect opportunity to introduce him to SHIELD and gain a bit of recognition and trust with them before they come to bring him out of hiding in ‘The Avengers’

-Will General Ross ever manufacture the Red Hulk serum, or become the titular character himself? (I had a strong feeling about some comments that were made in a few episodes of ‘Jessica Jones’ were eluding to it- but I could be reaching.)

-Will we EVER see ‘The Leader’ or Samuel Stern again?

– Was that Tim Roths actual sweat? He was sweating an awful lot.

Overall, this film does not stack up to something like ‘Iron Man’ nor does it fare well against a lot of what follows it, but it is certainly an improvement on its previous adaptations and it set up a good base for the character going forward. The most positive thing that it offers is growth for Bruce Banner. He flees his home, lives off the grid in a menial job, learns to work on his physical and mental self, tries to find a cure for the Hulk and fails, and eventually uses his ‘other guy’ to his advantage. He comes to accept his fate, he finally gains some literal and mental freedom back and with that, he finally gains some control. He leaves everything behind. Now he can go forward and keep a low profile

FOR NOW……….

POST CREDITS SCENE: This one is fairly short and to the point. General Ross is sitting at a bar, seemingly drowning his sorrows after a rough couple weeks of chasing monsters and alienating daughters, and a well dressed man enters the building. Its your friend and mine Tony Stark, and he has some shade to throw in his direction- scolding him for trying to continue the Super Soldier program that was “put on ice for a reason”. God Tony, you’re so clever. He puts on his business face and offers to help him out with his “problem” with one simple and brain exploding proposal. “What if I told you that we were putting a team together?”

“Who’s we?”

You know!

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Coming up next..Iron Man 2!

Road to Infinity War: Iron Man (2008)

I’m a little behind on this-but I had hoped to make this into my first ever YouTube video in the first few days of January and I have been sick ever since. This will have to do!

This is my first entry in a series about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one movie a week until ‘Infinity War’ drops and my face literally melts under the weight and potency of my happy tears.

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And so we start off our Marvel movie marathon on the Road to Infinity War on a high!

Lets talk….IRON MAN!

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. 2008’s Iron Man is one of the greatest superhero origin films, one of the best superhero films, one of the best action films, hell- one of the best films of all time. It is constantly changing position from my favorite film of all time to my second favorite.

Lets start with some background about the people behind the making of ‘Iron Man’

The film is directed by Jon Favreau- who has also directed films like The Jungle Book, Chef and Elf. He also serves as Tony Starks loyal sidekick and forehead of security, Happy Hogan. Fun fact: Jon Favreau has been a superhero sidekick once before-when he played Foggy in the 2003 Daredevil adaptation. But, you don’t need to watch that movie. I’ve almost wiped it from my memory. Almost.

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The script for Iron Man was written by the team of Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway. Fergus and Marcus have worked together as co-writers on Children of Men and the Expanse, while Marcum and Holloway wrote for Transformers: The Last Knight, Punisher: War Zone, and are signed on for a Highlander movie, a Men in Black spinoff film and two more upcoming Transformers films.

The score is composed by Ramin Djawadi, who has a plethora of credits under his belt, including Pacific Rim, Clash of the Titans, Warcraft, Westworld, The Strain, Prison Break AND Game of Thrones. He reportedly composed the score on heavy guitar under the suggestion of Jon Favreau, later arranging it for an orchestra to get that rock star sound. Apparently, quick cameo Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine contributed to the soundtracks sound as well. And obviously all of my dads favorite bands contributed heavily to the soundtrack.

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About the Hero:

Robert Downey Jr was making a name for himself in the industry on shows like Ally McBeal and in films like Chaplin-when his life went sideways and he began to lose work and his reputation to legal and drug problems. Lucky for everyone, by 2001 he got by with a little help from his friends, like Mel Gibson. He started his Hollywood resurgence by starring in an excellent Elton John music video called ‘I Want Love’, then he starred in some really solid films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, A Scanner Darkly, Zodiac and one of my personal favorites-Tropic Thunder. Iron Man was actually released the same year that Tropic Thunder was- which feels really bizarre to me. We’re all getting old, people!

So when he got the gig to play a superhero with only five months to gain 20 pounds of muscle, RDJ put more than his sharp wit and emotional range into the film. He sweat for it. This career rebirth-and his spot on rendition and creation of Tony Stark- made him a household name, and before we knew it- he was…well…basically real life Tony Stark. It goes down as one of the entertainment industrys greatest comebacks. Good job, Robert Downey Jr!

The Studio:

Marvel Studios first ever self financed film was the sapling that eventually became the epic Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was a gateway drug consisting of a perfect blend of supreme acting, solid storyline and cinematic wonder. It was Jon Favreaus push to get Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark that is quite possibly the catalyst that propelled the MCU to the glory that it is today. Whats more, the commercial success (about $585,174,222 worldwide!) and the high quality of Iron Man was the perfect groundwork for an expansive and rich mosaic of comic book goodness- and its a good thing, because there was a lot at stake for Marvel Studios when they made this film. It was released the same year as The Dark Knight, one year after the Spiderman trilogy completed and only three years after the conclusion of the XMen trilogy. That put it up against some really stiff competition, and with a lot of characters that a large percentage of their potential fan base had never really heard of. It was also one of the first to integrate comedy into the mix!

So lets get into the nitty gritty details of what I believe makes this movie so great

  1. ORIGINS

Within 5 minutes, we learn exactly who Tony Stark is-a genius,billionaire, playboy…not yet philanthropist. We know that he is a spoiled brat of sorts-a rich, entitled, elitist genius with daddy issues who was basically a celebrity right from the beginning of his life. We see that Howard Hughes influence in his wit and his candor- we see that his mind works very quickly, like an improv comic, but he rarely breaks that act unless he is in the most extreme of situations.

Well, let me tell ya-

Crawling around in a warzone under attack by your own weapons, being kidnapped by terrorists who work for a bad guy called ‘The Mandarin’, locked in a cave under threat of death to build a nuclear weapon, building a relationship that you’ll never forget with a man that you forgot, all while strapped to a car battery that is connected to the worlds largest dermal piercing in the middle of your chest..well..I guess thats pretty extreme? Shit gets real- really, really quickly.

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PS: how did they patch up that gaping hole in his chest? I’m sure they have some crazy skin grafting tech already at that point but thats a really big hole and the skin is probably growing around it. Yuck.

Tony Stark quickly earns his reputation during his involuntary time at terrorist camp, as his brain immediately goes to work figuring out how to survive and how to outwit their captors. He does not even entertain the idea that this is his fate. His coolness under pressure and his focus, his drive, his intelligence all comes to a head building a badass mini arch reactor and a goddamn Iron monster suit IN A CAVE! WITH A BOX OF SCRAPS!

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This movie, I think, more than any other, was incredibly successful in utilizing the OG look of the character being depicted. The plot that they put together was an absolutely perfect way to work in what Iron Man looked like in the comics since the beginning without it looking silly or nonsensical. It made complete sense with the plot of the film. The first time that you see that tank of a suit shooting fire and shaking the ground-its a beautiful thing.

This first film about Tony Stark also gives us a great insight into where his priorities lie in terms of his work, his company and his personal life. He sleeps with journalists, he dodges hard questions with fairly reasonable-but very detached-answers, and he shows very little regard for a single human being other than himself. Hes a bit of a megalomaniac. Okay, hes an asshole.

  1. VILLAIN

The original villain for this movie was reportedly going to be The Mandarin-which makes my mind drift away thinking of a world where we saw a real Mandarin villain in the MCU, but I can’t say that I’m disappointed. Obadiah Stane-played by the fantastic Jeff Bridges-was a great choice of villain for the purpose of this film- in that he is a threat to Tony himself, not necessarily a threat to Iron Man-because Iron Man doesn’t really exist until the end of the film. From the beginning we see Stane as an annoyed colleague, tasked with cleaning up behind Tony in the media, his shareholders and business contacts, but it is not until about midway through Iron Man that we see how truly menacing he is. You start to realize how intimidating that he is- from the way that he is able to live this double life and gain the trust of Tony and his colleagues, to his sheer physical presence. Here is this broad, bald man with a deep voice, a sweet beard and expensive suits- and you just found out that he is your enemy.

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Worst yet-he wants to steal the ground breaking, super heroic technology that you created and turn it into a big, bulky, scary weapon. Oh, and he also tried to have you killed. Dick.

  1. THE STAR

The reason why Tony Stark becomes ‘The Iron Man’ is obvious, but the reason that Tony Stark becomes THE Tony Stark that we know and love is because he is a complex character-and because he played so perfectly by Robert Downey Jr. Tony is not necessarily a good guy when we first meet him. In fact, many people see him as a villain. Then, he becomes a victim. Suddenly, despite what a scoundrel he may be, there are much greater and far more evil forces at work, and he has been ignorantly involved in this evil for quite some time. The impressive thing about Tony is that he finds a way to overcome and defeat that evil using nothing but his brain.

And his money, I guess.

Unlike many characters that we have seen in the past, Tonys journey is mainly an emotional one-or one of personality. He becomes far more involved and more aware of the world and the people around him that he should show more attention to. He transfers all of his energy and his intelligence towards a goal or a mission instead of being a part of a soulless machine.

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He is motivated by his horrific experience, but he is also motivated by the threat to everything that he holds dear- his legacy, his company, his persona, his wealth, his only friends in the world, and most importantly-his work. Those are a lot of spinning plates from a guy who pretends not to care about anything but himself. Stane is a great threat to all of these, being so close to Stark Industries and the man himself. Tony just wants to fix things the best way that he knows how- by building something.

  1. THE STAKES

One very unique feature of Tony Starks situation is that all of this is happening to someone who is a very prominent figure in the world-not to an everyman, down on his luck type. His transformation affects a grand circle of people and a grand circle of operations around the world. He can’t just slip away and assume a new identity. Mind you, he did have the opportunity to lay low and a mixture of his conscience and his ego would not allow it. (ie the last 5 seconds of the movie)

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Because of his fame and his notoriety, this film is both a very intimate fight and a very global threat at the same time-and that is what makes it so compelling. The concept of using terrorism was also very topical and relevant at the time that this film was released-and it still is. In fact, it was the perfect time to tell a story like this one. Here is a man who has made his fortune on war, and now he wants nothing more than to prevent it because he did not fully understand his role in it. Now that he does understand, he cannot lay down and die for his own sake, but he goes the extra mile to ensure that he can fix as much as possible for the sake of humanity-and the sake of his fathers legacy.

  1. THE SEEDS

So the story of Iron Man becomes a classic tale of good vs evil that happens to take place in a pre-superhero world-or so we think. The introduction of everyones favorite SHIELD agent is one of my personal favorite additions to this story. Seeing Coulson pop up every once in awhile, and knowing what it means that he is involved in this situation builds a level of excitement that is hard to ignore even after multiple viewings. Why did he want to know about Tonys suit? Why is he so motivated to get that meeting with Pepper? What is SHIELD up to right now? What else does he know? He knows something!

Lets be honest, he has a terrible poker face. I love it, but he always looks like he knows something that you don’t. Because he probably does.

Pepper Potts also makes her debut in this film, and her character is introduced with an unwavering sense of confidence and power in a prominent position where she is constantly babysitting a grown man and his massive ego. Her first scene with Leslie Bibb is a prime example of just how savage Pepper is. She is sharp, witty, she has conviction, she is professional, but she is a loyal and trusting member of Tonys circle on a personal level. Her role in his story is incredibly important- continuing throughout the MCU- and she serves as much more than just Tonys assistant. Pepper is badass. Although her impact is less prolific than someone like Coulson, she is still a very important piece of the grand puzzle.

I don’t know if the same can be said for Tonys friend and future co-pilot, not-Don Cheadle, but we do get a bit of a War Machine setup near the end of the movie, so, I guess thats something.

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Well this is awkward

So in summary, the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is-in my humble opinion-a triumph for superhero movies and one that truly stands the test of time. It launched an empire, it launched a CINEMATIC UNIVERSE the likes of which we have never seen before, and it lit the hearts of millions of comic books nerds on fire.

POST CREDITS SCENE: Remember when you saw this post credits scene for the first time? I do. I still cry a little when I see it.

This is one of the most blatant scenes to come, but at that time there was nothing BUT this. It had to be direct and it had to be effective. 10 years ago, we heard words that we would not soon forget from a man that we would come to love: “You think that you’re the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark you have become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.”

What could be more tantalizing than this?

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Oh, maybe when Sam Jackson emerges from the shadows wearing an eye patch and all black, states that he is Nick Fury from SHIELD and that he wants to talk to him about the Avengers initiative? Yeah, probably that.

UP NEXT…..THE INCREDIBLE HULK!

Movie Review: ‘The Last Jedi’

SPOILERS AHEAD!!

The Last Jedi has been called one word above all others- divisive. It is creating a red sea between all realms of Star Wars fans from the passive to the passionate. I-being more on the passionate side- was quite taken back by the negative response, but I took my time writing this so that I could articulate my takeaway from the film without adrenaline bias.

THE DARK SIDE

When I went into this movie, I had that familiar anxiety that I had when I entered The Force Awakens-except this time wasn’t about the anticipation of discovery and wonder-but it was the stress that comes with 2 YEARS of unanswered questions and a very intentionally misleading trailer. It was like waiting for test results. ‘The Force Awakens’ left us with a hell of a lot of big questions-many of which I typed out ahead of my viewing of ‘The Last Jedi’ to keep tabs on the rolodex of galactic quandaries.

The questions included:

Who the hell is Snoke? Why is his face all messed up? Where did he come from? Who trained him in the ways of the force-let alone the dark side? How did he rise to power in the First Order? IS HE DARTH PLAGEIUS!?

Did Captain Phasma actually go down the garbage chute?

Did Maz die?

Does it MATTER who Reys parents are? Is she an immaculate conception? Is she a Skywalker? Is she a Solo? Is she really “no one”?

What the hell happened on Jakku? Why is there wreckage from what looks like a battle involving AT-AT walkers AND A FREAKING STAR DESTROYER!?

Where in actual hell has force ghost Anakin been this whole time!? Why hasn’t he told Ben to stop killing people in his name when he was nearly responsible for ending the Sith himself!? Why hasn’t Ben Kenobi talked to him!? Are the Sith cut off from these entities trying to communicate with them!?

And the list goes on….

Now here lies the the real shocker of The Last Jedi: they answered almost NONE of these questions. At first, this left me with a really sad and unsatisfied taste in my mouth. I waited all this time and you won’t even HINT towards who Snoke is? AND THEN YOU KILL HIM OFF MID-MOVIE!? REALLY!?

Okay, so maybe I haven’t quite let go of some of my negative feelings towards this film. I felt a serious lack of resolution. By the time that the movie ended, I didn’t feel that a complete story had cycled through my system. That is my biggest, overwhelming critique of the film.

I wasn’t a huge fan of all the goofy creature breaks, either. The characters themselves brought a great deal of comedy to the table, so they seemed to push it over the edge.

When it comes to the story, I had many theories going into the movie, and one that I thought would most certainly be realized was about balance. The colors of the posters, the cut up dialogue in the trailers- it all seemed to point in one direction. I assumed that Luke had come to realize-as many of us have-that while the Jedi have spent all this time trying to cleanse the galaxy of the Sith in an attempt to bring balance to the force, that perhaps they were going about it the wrong way. When light rises, dark comes to meet it. So, there will never be a balance when there is always conflict. I thought that Lukes narrative in this film would be the resounding declaration that the Jedi must end in order for those who use the Force to come together in union against evil and war.

There were very clear moments where the story was heading towards this idea, but it was never spelled out in a clear and effective way. It had the potential to be so articulate and powerful, but it was drowned in metaphor and hyperbole. Luke simply said that the Jedi needed to end. They need to end. They just do. Kylo Ren himself knew that he would only find a peace of mind if he could level out his feelings towards both the light and the dark-extending his hand to Rey to join him in this mission-because she was searching for something as well.  She reacted with a blatant opposition that may be revisited in the final film, so I am glad that it was brought up. Perhaps we will see balance in the future, but it could have been streamlined if Luke had only explained to Rey why he felt this way. She is so strong willed and became progressively more and more confident by this point that she was ready for his guidance and vulnerable to Kylo’s influence. This was the perfect opportunity to show her a new way. Now, both the Rebels and the First Order are incredibly vulnerable. This may be the path.

Cool Hand Luke is clearly working through some ‘Castaway’ levels of solitude on his island of creatures and textbooks, but he comes through to flex his Jedi spirit and strength in a most unexpected and poetic way in the end. But was it necessary? It was quite lovely to watch him say goodbye to his beloved sister, but was this display simply for drama, or was it truly the best way to end the film? His appearance and his actions do give the rebels time to escape the barrage by distracting an out of control Kylo Ren, but otherwise it does little to diminish the war that will continue to rage long after he gets comfortable in his robe in Force Ghost Heaven. Perhaps this resolution was valid, considering Lukes mental state and his detachment from the Force for so very long. It did not feel solid to me at that time, and it stills feels a little weak.

It certainly produced a reaction from the audience in my seating of the movie, so although I was wise to what was happening (theres no way that he cut and dyed his hair before he left to save the Rebels!) it did conjure up some intense feelings.

It is also worth pointing out that Luke has gotten increasingly more sassy in his old age. Maybe Han and Luke had more in common that they ever imagined.

And now I’m sad.

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THE LIGHT

The new generation cast expertly dominates the majority of the narrative in ‘The Last Jedi’ and they are clearly very comfortable in their current stations and ranks of authority-some a little too comfortable (lookin at you, Poe!). Both Leia and Luke receive a generous amount of screentime as well, moving along the storyline with their leadership, wisdom, and quirky charms-but taking a backseat when necessary for their young proteges to take control. A new addition, Vice Admiral Holdo, was a strange dynamic in the mix of this story, because she was domineering and fierce, but the strange and unflappable pushback from Poe in her direction left me thinking that she was working for the other team until her final (EPIC) scene played out. It was a “will they won’t they?” type scenario that didn’t pack as much of a punch as I anticipated. Finns new partner in crime, the delightful Rose Tico, is a source of innocence and purity in a tangled web of darkness and danger. She truly represents the idea that ‘The Last Jedi’ drives home-heroes can come from nowhere, and they can come from anywhere-if they let hope into their hearts.

Leia was one of the biggest pleasant shockers for me-since her role was so large yet went without conclusion. I was happy to see her have the time in the sun that General Leia so deserves to have- and I was especially overjoyed to see her daughter-Billie Lourd- have so much screen time in the film. Whether or not they actually shared the screen for all of those scenes, she will always have that piece of work to commemorate their time together. It was a very touching gesture.

On a related note, I was in such a mess of giddy euphoria watching Leia use the force in a physical sense to save herself. I wanted to see her hold a lightsaber just once, but this was okay too. It was a little bizarre, but very angelic at the same time.

BALANCE

Overall, I was very pleased with my experience watching ‘The Last Jedi’ for the first time. It was action packed right from the start, full of great performances and absolutely boiling over with girl power. From Holdo to Phasma, from Leia to Rose, there were so many wonderfully diverse characters and role models for a new generation of Star Wars fan girls and boys to adore. I feel a great sense of pride and joy seeing such fantastic representation throughout the entire cast.

The film did not allow itself to be weighed down under the expectations of its predecessors, but it paid a lot of homage to all of its influences. It honored the past while setting up the future for greatness. It utilized all of its characters effectively- including the lovable droids- and by separating many of them, it allowed them to shine in their independence. I felt that there were many moments where there was a serious opportunity for significant impact, but that those moments were not always ceased. I felt very few heart pounding moments that I so longed for in this movie experience. There were some pieces that were less than necessary and could have cut down some serious run time-like the ‘Codebreaker’ shenanigans with a very random throwaway cameo from Justin Thoreaux in ANOTHER galactic hive of scum and villainy-and I can’t forget that very, VERY awkward milking scene.

‘The Last Jedi’ left the story wide open for the third film and left it with a lot of material to dig into. I certainly see where viewers are feeling disappointment towards this chapter of the saga, but I hope that we can all come together to appreciate all the wonderful things about it, and that we can remain optimistic for the final installment. In the end, we are one big franchise frantic family.

But seriously, if they don’t tell me who Snoke is…..

Patton Oswalts ‘Annihilation’ is a devastating delight

I’ve been a big fan of Patton Oswalt for a number of years- from his standup career to his many marvelous TV shows cameos (Agents of SHIELD, Parks and Recreation, Reno 911 etc)  and his voice acting (Ratatouille, Archer, etc). He has always struck me as a rare celebrity-one who is painfully planted on earth in a sea of stardom. Not that he isn’t a big star in his own right, with Pixar and Marvel credits under his belt, as well as several standup specials and a lengthy career on television- but there was always something about him. Hes the dude that I wanted to hang out with. Hes the guy who I would love to talk to with no bullshit.

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So when I found out that Patton had suffered a devastating loss in his wife-Michelle McNamara-a renowned crime writer-turned-cold case connoisseur and subject of many of his stand up stories- I was gutted. I don’t know either of these people, but when I see good people doing good things in the world who are hurting, it hurts.

Oswalt bravely took to the stage under the direction and support of friend and comedy vet Bobcat Goldthwait to spill out the contents of his heart in front of millions of people in his new Netflix special ‘Annihilation’. I expected to laugh, I expected to cry, but I did not expect the lasting devastation that I would feel in its aftermath.

He did not just touch on the subject of his wifes passing- he let us all in. The survivors guilt, the burden, the aftermath-all of it. About halfway through the set of witty observations and maturity testing metaphors, you can see a noticeable weight begin to take hold as he prepares to tell the story of the worst day of his life. I was so incredibly touched by the openness and honesty that this entailed, but so grateful to bear witness to it. It was a heavy gift that he offered to his fans, and one that surely was not easy to give. As I fought back the waterfall that was trying to form behind my eyeballs, I found myself suddenly painfully laughing- a combination of emotions that comes so seldom in life. The special as a whole is such a unique experience to give yourself- from its top notch comedy to its open heart confessions, and back again.

He may refer to himself as the guy who talks about dicks in front of thousands of people, but he is so much more. Patton Oswalt is still a big nerdy dad with a heart of gold, through and through.

If you watch one comedy special on Netflix today, this month or this year- make it this one.

To check out the late Michelle McNamaras work go to True Crime Diarys website, or check out her posthumously released novel “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark”