Thor [2011]

thor

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is set to inherit his father’s, Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins), throne, but he is a brash young man, who hungers for war and glory. He does a foolish thing and brings the Asgardians on the brink of war with the frost giants of Jotunheim. Instead of a throne, he gets banished to Earth without his powers. His brother’s, Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston), plots are twisted and filled with even more hubris. I don’t think there’s a single person or being involved in said plots, who doesn’t get double crossed. Well, the father ends up in some godly sleep that may last for years, and Loki claims the throne. His intention is to prevent Thor from returning, to slip some frost giants into Asgard to threaten Odin’s life, and to swoop in to save the day in order to seem worthy of the throne in his father’s eyes. Thor, in the meanwhile, has to do without his powers and hammer, when Loki sends a war machine of some sort after him on Earth. When he performs a selfless act to save his love interest, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), and her colleagues from the war machine, instead of dying, he regains his powers and use of his hammer. He swoops back to Asgard just in time to stop his brother from destroying Jotunheim and the frost giants completely, and obviously Odin wakes up just in time to witness the whole thing. Loki chooses to not be saved and falls into a void, while Thor is still left without a throne, but at last gains his father’s trust. Asgard is left without Bifrost, which is their primary means of traveling between the worlds, so Thor is left without Jane for the time being.

It is often quite painful to write those short plot descriptions, while reviewing these Marvel Cinematic Universe films. They are quite bad. You have to have some thick, bottle bottomed fanboy glasses to get through these films without balking at everything. Oh, and Chris Hemsworth is the worst of the MCU super hero actors I’ve seen thus far. I’m not sure, if he was told to play it like this – I mean Thor is a brash god, who is either drinking ale and being merry, or bashing some skulls and being merry, or sulking. But Hemsworth’s takes that description and manages to make it even more naive.

We see more and more of the S.H.I.E.L.D. in each of these films, but the mode is the same – they are a faceless government agency, that has a slightly less intimidating face than most faceless government agencies as depicted in films. They act as a backdrop that has its hands in everything and as a deus ex machina, but nothing more is revealed. I guess they’ll get to it in the next film, The Avengers. We get even more glimpses of Nick Fury, of agent Coulson, and for the first time, of Clint Barton / Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

Despite Hemsworth, this is actually one of the better films in the MCU thus far. The big bad is deeply connected to the rest of the characters, so you don’t just nod of, when he has screen time, and the supporting cast is pretty great in terms of the actors, and doing a decent job being entertaining.

  • Director: Kenneth Branagh
  • Watched on: 25th May 2017
  • Watched at: Home (DVD)
  • Fanboy grade: 3/5
  • 1.5/5
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Iron Man 2 [2010]

iron_man_2

This is a classic sequel suffering from classic sequel syndrome. The protagonist has a new tragedy that is a bit far fetched and everything is bigger and more dramatic… which means that there’s less emotional attachment to anything and the film is just worse. Now Iron Man is dying. The arc reactor is powered by palladium, which builds up some poisonous gunk in his system and we keep getting blood toxicity readings throughout the film. Using the suit makes the toxins release faster. Due to dying, he is alternating between self destruction and trying to do something meaningful with his life, including handing over his company to Pepper Potts. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly the tech that was supposed to be 10 years away from anyone, who is not Tony Stark, is there. Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a scientist that Tony’s father got deported, builds him some neat laser whips and takes Iron Man for a ride. Vanko is caught and jailed, but sprung from the prison by Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell). He is a wannabe Tony Stark, who controls a military contractor that is trying to fill the void left by Stark Industries leaving military tech behind. Nick Fury shows up to cheer up Tony Stark, who ends up figuring out a new chemical element from stuff left behind by his father – the material neatly solves the palladium poisoning issue and Tony is back in business. Obviously Vanko betrays Hammer and uses Hammer’s resources to build an army of Iron Man like drones that he utilizes to attack Iron Man in a personal vendetta. Iron Man is now helped by War Machine/Lt. Col. James Rhodes, who got a suit by “taking” it from the self-destructive Tony Stark. “Taking”, because, well, Tony can prevent that from happening, but I guess that was another moment of self-destructive behavior / trying to do something good. The big bad is defeated by the duo – hurray.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this film in full before, but I’ve seen long bits of it, when it has been running on TV and I’ve had it open in the background. Some parts were very familiar, but others I’m very sure I haven’t seen before.

From the MCU point of view, we get more crossing over. Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is on assignment from S.H.I.E.L.D. to watch over Iron Man, agent Coulson pays a visit and Nick Fury has a quick scene. Even the big bad is tied in with Howard Stark, Tony’s father, who was there in practically all supers related events before he died.

Still, this is a bad story about trying to cope in the face of dying (which is solved by deus ex machina) and fighting a meaningless baddie in the meanwhile. Robert Downey Jr. is still great as Tony Stark, when Tony is not wallowing in self-pity, unfortunately the chemistry between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts is mostly gone, Sam Rockwell is just ridiculously bad in every scene as Justin Hammer, and Mickey Rourke feels like he is on whatever stuff ruined his face.

Some decent fight scenes, but not counting the increased connections to the rest of the MCU, this is just worse in every way compared to the first Iron Man.

  • Director: Jon Favreau
  • Watched on: 25th May 2017
  • Watched at: Home (DVD)
  • Fanboy grade: 2.5/5
  • 1.5/5

The Incredible Hulk [2008]

hulk

The Marvel Cinematic Universe got off to a quick start by releasing two films on their first year of releases. It was only five years earlier, that the very bad Ang Lee version of Hulk came out. I went to see that, because Ang Lee. The disappointment still stung, when this came out, so I skipped this then. Later on, I’ve seen big parts of this film, but never in full, so it was clear that I needed to watch this completely for this MCU project.

Yet another origin story… Well, the true origin is only told in flashbacks, but what happened right after – how Dr. Banner (played by Edward Norton) tried to cure his affliction. The origin – he was part of a secret military project (a continuation of the project that spawned Captain America as told in his origin film), and decided to try a serum on himself without knowing, what it actually was, and turned himself into the Hulk. The Hulk comes out, when his pulse hits 200. For a 40-something doctor, his pulse seems to race towards that number pretty easily as seen very often with Dr. Banner glancing at his sports watch. Happily he can just breath calmly for three seconds and see his pulse drop by as much as 40 beats per minute. That’s some breathing technique! Oh well, obviously there’s no cure, but he gets to meet his love interest, Dr. Ross (played by Liv Tyler), and is chased by the general responsible for creating him, General Ross (played by William Hurt. Finally, his nemesis for the film, The Abomination, is revealed, when a soldier under General Ross’ command, Blonsky (played by Tim Roth), imbibes a bit too much of the same serum that created the Hulk in the first place. A few city blocks are leveled and Hulk comes out victorious.

Compared to the MCU’s opening film, Iron Man, this is just bad. There’s some big names here, but the results just don’t fly. The Hulk’s story is intended as tragic, but it just doesn’t fly. There’s only so much compassion the audience can feel towards a guy, who pauses every five minutes to take a quick breath. The Hulk is entertaining tossing around tanks and bashing the Abomination around, but that’s about it.

As a part of the MCU franchise, the film still feels a bit left out. There’s the usual nods towards the rest of the MCU, but this film contains the first major MCU role that had the actor change – Edward Norton probably just didn’t want to return to the MCU films and Mark Ruffalo plays Dr. Banner later on. The Hulk himself is also very different from his later appearances. Here he is a tragic character, but later on, he is having fun – he is dangerous still, but having fun. Here he is vulnerable – he is wounded by mere tanks and some crowd control ultra wave weapons, but later on he tosses gods around like rag dolls.

Ang Lee’s Hulk was a major disappointment, but I had my expectations way higher then. This is just, I don’t know, forgettable. The story does make the MCU a richer place, but that just barely justifies the existence of this film.

  • Director: Louis Leterrier
  • Watched on: 24th May 2017
  • Watched at: Home (DVD)
  • Fanboy grade: 1.5/5
  • 0.5/5

Iron Man [2008]

iron_man

This was the first production ever released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film itself was in limbo for a few decades, before rights reverted back to Marvel. Around the same time Marvel decided to form Marvel Studios and to build a whole franchise around this MCU concept. This, it turns out, was a good decision.

I’ve seen Iron Man once before and parts of it again later on, but it has been a while, so I decided to watch it again for this MCU project of mine. Last film was origin story of Captain America, this one is origin story of Iron Man. A brilliant inventor and a playboy billionaire, who turns his life around, when he is captured by some militants in Afghanistan and he sees the weapons he has developed used for bad. He escapes by building a miniaturized arc reactor and utilizing that to power a scrap iron contraption that is strong enough to defeat a few badly armed and trained militants. Back at home he builds a proper high tech version of the suit and returns to destroy his own weapons. Afterwards he finds out that it is his own second in command, who has been dealing the weapons to the militants and ends up facing said man, Obadiah Stane, mano-a-mano, when he too builds a suit.

This is definitely an entertaining film. Jon Favreau was right, when he said, that Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark – Downey is clearly comfortable in his role and having fun. This crosses the screen. There’s some flashy combat scenes, a cute love interest that doesn’t go anywhere yet in Pepper Potts (played by Gwyneth Paltrow), and a nicely menacing villain that you love to hate in Stane (played by Jeff Bridges).

The list of negatives is obviously long. The depiction of the Afghani militants is… well, no effort was put into that. The descent of Stane from corporate asshole to a megalomaniac… well, you have to buy into super hero comics to find that believable for one second. Camera work is boring. In the end it’s just made for pure entertainment with no ambition for anything but making fanboys drool and some millions of dollars… But that’s obviously the case with all the Marvel films, so I’ll try to not mention that too often, while writing these reviews.

There’s again a few quick nods to the rest of the MCU – S.H.I.E.L.D. plays a role and Captain America’s shield is in Stark’s private workshop. Nick Fury and a few other names flash by in some news clippings. Obviously there can’t be too much, as the its the first MCU release. Nice that they worked some of that into the film though.

Altogether a fun and harmless film.

  • Director: Jon Favreau
  • Watched on: 24th May 2017
  • Watched at: Home (DVD)
  • Fanboy grade: 4/5
  • 2.5/5

Marvel’s Agent Carter

HAYLEY ATWELL

The two seasons of the series and the one shot film constitute the latest footage of the MCU phase 1. The series was released in 2015-16 and the short film in 2013, while the last feature film of the phase was released in 2012. However, they are closely related to the Captain America origin story and thus early on in my MCU watching list.

I watched these in a spree over three days and I’m a bit undecided on whether I should’ve watched them at all. The season 1 is pretty closely tied in with the Captain America story and quite interesting at times. Season 2 on the other hand descends complete irrelevance quite quickly. Not really sure, what happened between season 1 and 2, since the first one ends a bit abruptly, but they don’t continue that in any manner during season 2. There’s a quick line in season 2 about the events of season 1 and nothing else. Not sure, if they had grander plans, but had budget cuts or what, but it just seems that they had to change direction pretty quickly. For much of season 2 I found myself grabbing the nearest magazine to read a quick article or checking my blog feed, while I waited for something interesting to happen.

The short film, it turns out, was actually all that was needed. Basically the series and the short film tell the same story – Agent Carter stuck in a soon to be obsolete war time agency, where her colleagues treat her as a secretary, and her proving to be superior to the men and moving onward. The thing is, the short film does this in 15 minutes as opposed to 18 episodes of 40+ minutes of the series.

Haley Atwell is wonderful as Agent Carter, but that’s about it. The series starts right where Captain America ended and there’s a few nods towards the rest of the MCU – Howard Stark, the father of Iron Man plays a major role, and S.H.I.E.L.D. appears shortly, but not much else. In the end, there’s very little to justify the hours spent on this. I probably would be happier, if I hadn’t watched season 2 – maybe happiest, if I’d just went with the short film and skipped the series altogether.

 

Captain America: The First Avenger [2011]

captain_america_first_avenger

This is not a good place to start exploring the MCU. No matter how intensely I’m looking through my fanboy glasses, I can’t find much good in this film.

Captain America, the character concept, is Marvel universe’s Superman – the clean shaven, all American boy scout, who has no faults. The Cap even wears the stars and stripes. The concept is horrid.

As a part of the MCU, the intention of the film is to show the origin story of Captain America. The thing is, the origin story happens at a time that is far removed from everything else that will happen in the MCU. As such, I assume that Captain America is pretty much the only thing that will be reused later. All the other characters are regular mortals, who will be dead or very old during the events of the rest of the MCU. Well, there’s of course Howard Stark, the father of Iron Man, so that’s one connection. Other than that, it looks to be very thin.

As part of Captain America’s character arc in the MCU, I think this is intended as a film that takes a completely ridiculous character concept and attempts to build some rough edges to it. The problem is, the rough edges are built through footage that looks like it has been cleaned up from everything that might make the home front lose heart and not buy war bonds. That is, they take a ridiculous concept and try to add some edges to it by taking an edgy situation, but sanding it down to the shape of the original ridiculous concept.

I’m trying to find words to describe, how I would improve the film, but it’s difficult, since there’s so many conflicting dichotomies at play. There’s Captain America, who’ll look ridiculous in pretty much any setting, and you are supposed to put him into WWII and try to make it fit. There’s MCU Nazi occult scientist super villain with an army of augmented soldiers equipped with pseudo-scientific super weapons, and you are supposed to put that into WWII and try to make it fit. There’s WWII that is pretty much humanity at its worst, and you are supposed to make it fit with the MCU that is brightly colored, clean, and lighthearted even, when the planet is being destroyed.

The one idea that I get, is that it probably could’ve functioned as proper pulp. As it stands, it borrows a lot of imagery from it, but doesn’t want to go all in.

The story itself tells of Steve Rogers, a man bullied all his life for his small stature, but possessing of impeccable character. He wants to enlist to serve his country in WWII, but is refused, again, due to his stature. Dr. Erskine sees beyond the stature into the character and hand picks Steve into a secret army program intent on building super soldiers. Obviously the Nazis sabotage the program and kill Dr. Erskine. Only Steve gets the treatment becoming Captain America. With the program gone, Captain America is assigned to entertainment duty in the war bonds effort at home and in front of troops in the front lines. On a trip to the front lines, he encounters the remains of a company that had some of his friends in it, and goes on a rogue mission to rescue them. The captors were Nazi super soldiers, so now the Cap has a mission to eradicate the super soldier unit, which puts him on a collision course with their leader, Red Skull, the super villain of this film. The confrontation ends up badly for Red Skull, but not before he has launched super weapons towards the US eastern seaboard. The Cap sacrifices himself to save millions of Americans. There’s side plot into a slowly developing love between Steve and Peggy Carter, who is first a part of the super soldier program and later helps the Cap on his rogue mission. Some tears obviously flow, when the Cap finally dies.

There’s nothing inherently bad in the storyline, but nothing too good either. As a whole, the good things in the film form a very short list. It has Marvel vibes, which is obviously nice, if the film is going to sit in with the rest of the MCU works. There’s even some chemistry between Steve and Peggy. For a short while, before everything is exposed, the Nazi super soldiers seem intriguing. But that’s it.

All in all, this seems like fan service for people, who see no problems with Captain America’s character in the first place. If I was building the MCU, I would’ve made this into a 30-45min pulp film. In reality, that couldn’t have been done, since it would’ve been leaving money on the table, and it would not be proper to tell the origin story of a major MCU character in a format that is going to be missed by most of the fans.

Trying my hardest to squint through the fanboy glasses, I’m going to give this the lowest grade that in my grading semantics indicates that the film was not a waste of time.

  • Director: Joe Johnston
  • Watched on: 29th Apr 2017
  • Watched at: Home (Nelonen)
  • Fanboy grade: 2.5/5
  • 1/5

Marvel Cinematic Universe

mcu

Recently I’ve been experiencing a sort of fanboy renaissance with my film watching, that is, I’m able to watch and enjoy films that are not really good films given that there’s something for the fanboy in me.

I’ve seen a few of the recent Marvel films. Mostly they’ve been pedestrian at best, but I’ve also heard a lot of reports that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is great as a whole. Add to this Nelonen showing one of the films every Saturday and me having now seen three of those and kind of starting to figure out the allure of the MCU, I decided to give it a shot and start watching all of the films.

Then I realized that there’s a lot of Marvel TV series on Netflix and had to figure out, how they are related to the overall plot of the MCU. There’s six series that have at least one season released and a further six in various stages of development… I’m not going to watch through 12 TV series in addition to the 15 films currently released (further 10 in various stages of production). Luckily, it turns out that most of those series are mostly inconsequential regarding the MCU plot. I’m going to watch Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and sample some of the other series, but I’ll probably be skipping most of them.

The films have been divided into phases (currently 3 phases have released films) that somehow collect films that happen around the same time in the MCU under one phase. The series are not strictly assigned to these phases, but the various recommended viewing orders assign them alongside the films, so they end up in the phases quite neatly. The various recommended viewing orders around the Internet seem to be quite close to each other, but obviously there’s some variation, since no official viewing order has ever been release. I built my own from these sources and I’ll follow it as I progress through this mountain of viewing material.

My Phase 1 effort in planned viewing order (with TV series that I’m going to take a look at and short films added) currently looks like this:

  • Captain America: The First Avenger [2011]
  • Marvel’s Agent Carter season 1 [2015]
  • Marvel’s Agent Carter season 2 [2016]
  • Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter [2013]
  • Iron Man [2008]
  • The Incredible Hulk [2008]
  • Iron Man 2 [2010]
  • Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer [2011]
  • Thor [2011]
  • The Avengers [2012]
  • Marvel One-Shot: Item 47 [2012]

Phase 2 looks like this:

  • Iron Man 3 [2013]
  • Marvel One-Shot: All Hail the King [2014]
  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 episodes 1-7 [2013]
  • Thor: The Dark World [2013]
  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 episodes 8-16 [2013]
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier [2014]
  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 1 episodes 17-22 [2013]
  • Guardians of the Galaxy [2014]
  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2 episodes 1-19 [2014]
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron [2015]
  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 2 episodes 20-22 [2014]
  • Marvel’s Jessica Jones season 1 [2015]
  • Marvel’s Luke Cage season 1 [2016]
  • Ant-Man [2015]

…and Phase 3 (this contains films and I assume series that haven’t been released yet):

  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3 episodes 1-19 [2015]
  • Captain America: Civil War [2016]
  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3 episodes 20-22 [2015]
  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 episodes 1-6 [2016]
  • Doctor Strange [2016]
  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 4 episodes 7-22 [2016]
  • Marvel’s Iron Fist [2017]
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2 [2017]

That’s quite a few films and series to watch…

As mentioned, there’s even more in production with at least 3 more films and 3 more series in 2017 alone. I assume the recommended viewing orders will shift around slightly, once more stuff gets released and I’ll tune this list along the way. In the meantime, I’ll get started on this project…