Tag Archives: MCU

Marvels of Marvel: The Avengers

the-avengers-7a

Bam! Crash! Pow! It’s time to gather all our scattered comic book heroes into the most heroic and comic booky instalments to the franchise yet. Vastly different to the solo superhero movies and more about the way the team knits together, clashes, and in the end saves the world, the Avengers movies are a feast for the sensations. Fittingly enough, they can leave you in the cinematic equivalent of a food coma, so it’s probably good that they only Assemble every few years.

The trouble with these movies is there’s just so much going on. They’re an endless parade of light and colour and snapshot character development and one-liners (it felt like Age of Ultron’s entire script was composed of one-liners. How did anyone have a conversation?) and things exploding. It’s delirious fun of course because we can’t forget that these are blockbusters—and the Avengers instalments are what bring the franchise’s threads together into the biggest most blockbusting spectacular. That’s what they promise, anyway, and most of the time so far they’ve delivered. I’ve come out of the cinema with my head full after watching both movies, and it took me about a week each time to digest everything that had happened as well as get the theme music out of my brain. Continue reading

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Marvels of Marvel: Iron Man

tony-hand-updated-robert-downey-jr-drops-major-marvel-hint-iron-man-4-or-age-of-ultron-trailer

(You all thought I’d forgotten about these, didn’t you?)

There’s a running joke I’ve seen in the MCU fandom: why are the Iron Man sequels simply Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3 as opposed to having subtitles like Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Thor: The Dark World? Well, because that would imply they were about something other than Iron Man. This speaks of an understanding of Tony Stark’s narcissism (as if he has reached through the fourth wall, tapped an executive on the shoulder and demanded full billing) but is also true, in a way: of all the MCU line-up so far, the Iron Man movies function the best as movies about a person.

Maybe this was why they were so successful, and kicked off the franchise properly—they serve as a good character study, of a character some of us knew already and others were being introduced to for the first time. There are plenty of explosions and robots in the mix too, of course, but what we want at the heart of our stories are characters to follow and peer at. That’s why Iron Man 3 happened even after Iron Man 2 was complained about so much: we still wanted more Tony Stark. Even if the story around him is a cluster-mess, it’s the hero behind the mask at the centrepoint of all the madness that we’re really interested in, and everything else is secondary to a certain degree.

Whether it’s due to writing or directing or the timeless magic that is Robert Downer Jr. I do not know, but Tony is by far the most compelling character in the Avengers and Co, possibly because we’re given a full look into his messy mind and get to watch it and the human attached progress through a character arc. Tony is not the same man at the end of the third movie as he is at the start of the first, and all along the way he’s consistently flawed and believable. Which may sound funny considering he’s the “charming genius billionaire” fantasy in human form with a snazzy beard stuck on. But they start with that and they take it down, bit by bit, until we see what Tony’s really made of underneath all that. Which the suit is a lovely metaphor for, come to think of it. Continue reading

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Marvels of Marvel: Thor

Thor: The Dark World

Ah, the Thors—possibly the weakest MCU instalments, which still makes them better and more fun than a lot of other superhero movies. Like Captain America and the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor presents an interesting and rather ridiculous premise for filmmakers to turn Big Screen Awesome, with the comic’s canon drawn (increasingly loosely) from Norse mythology, pulling that whole “advanced beings visited earth and primitive people decided they were gods” thing. The movies do, however, manage to weave together comics and myth into a story of world-hopping, cloaked heroes speaking olden-timey English and shiny science-magic that we can suspend our disbelief enough to enjoy and get involved with.

And gosh is it pretty (no, not just Chris Hemsworth). The first movie makes full use of its design and lighting to world-build, creating different atmospheres entirely for the three settings—Asgard, Jodenheim, and a tin-pot town in the middle of New Mexico (a nice change, really, after all this big city destruction). Asgard is all majestic camera pans and golden sunshiney lighting, the architecture just the right mix of fantastical and spacey not to look tacky. Hovering towers with Norse swirls all over them? Yes, you can make it mix. They take concepts like the Rainbow Bridge guarded by an all-seeing man in gold and make them believable and mesmerising to look at (no, not just Idris Elba), managing to look cool at the same time as setting up an otherworldly and beautiful atmosphere for the place that, yes, is rather godly.

The home of the Frost Giants is all in blues and blacks by comparison, and feels immediately cold and unforgiving, not just because of the colour scheme inversion to Asgard but in the cinematography. Earth too feels notably different, but not simply because it’s drab: that setting too has its own specific colouring and lighting (and many, many diagonal camera angles) to make it interesting in its own right, in a clutter-of-humanity kind of way, as opposed to the desolation-of-Frost-Giants kind of way or a majesty-of-gods kind of way. Each place is a character of its own, all elements of design carefully chosen and wonderfully executed to make them feel as vibrant as each other in significantly different ways. Where did this tact with characterisation and prettiness go in Thor: The Dark World? Fell off the Bifrost, I can only imagine. Continue reading

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Marvels of Marvel: Captain America

Captain America

My reviews of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continue this week, coming back down to earth to look at the two (going on three, soon, hopefully, please?) Captain America movies. Let’s go punch some Nazis.

Of course, as I said in my other long and adoring post about the characters of Steve Rogers and co., Marvel has made great and effective strides to have Captain America grow from his flat beginnings as a fun propaganda tool into a three-dimensional, likeable and interesting heroic figure. Short of shying away from his message-selling past and perhaps brushing over it to give him a more mature and modern incarnation, Marvel has latched onto it, explored and affectionately taken the mickey out of it in full. Remember what I said before about Marvel not giving a crap and setting out to enjoy themselves, inherent silliness be damned?

But, I’m not just going to sit here reiterating everything I examined in that post, but take a look at the movies as a framework for these characters and these stories and what it all means. Captain America, naturally enough, thrives in plots where he represents a figure of hope versus a contemporary fear. We see two instances of this in both The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier—in the World War II era he was created in, the threat was Nazis, in modern day, it’s terrorism and weaponised misuse of information. Interesting to note that the function of Captain America, as used here, is not only to fight these threats off as protector of the people but, in a way, to represent them as well.

Think about it—blonde, blue-eyed Steve, turned into a supersoldier and perfect human being by many standards (including being magically/scientifically cured of all his ailments. Disability erasure? Discussion for another day), is certainly a nice example of the Aryan ideal. And what does he do? Fights against the enemy who would revere him. The same kind of thing goes for The Winter Soldier, where it’s revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D. is inherently a corrupt mess—well, Cap’s tied in with S.H.I.E.L.D., thus now also HYDRA, and on a better day for them could have been their perfect attack dog and/or poster boy. But once again he throws that back in the enemy’s face. Even if it involves dismantling S.H.I.E.L.D. itself and kind of shooting himself and the rest of the Avengers and that whole dealio proverbially in the foot. Hey, he’s “not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” Continue reading

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Marvels of Marvel: Guardians of the Galaxy

{‘Hooked on a Feeling’ playing in the distance}

I usually review TV series for my ‘Alex Watches’ category, but I thought I’d branch out into something that’s effectively the same thing, but each episode is a multi-million dollar action movie. Welcome to my fond scrutinising of the Marvel Cinematic Universe! I’ll be working my way through the franchise backwards, poster character by poster character, starting at the top, in space.

Guardians of The Galaxy

First of all, let me say I had no idea what to expect from this movie except for everyone who’d already seen it whooping into the internet about how much fun it was, and the knowledge that this is the one where Marvel genuinely stopped giving a crap. Obscure comic series set in colourful outer space, starring a green lady, a gun-wielding racoon and a talking tree? Hell yeah. We’re making enough money we can do whatever we want, inherent silliness and marketing issues be damned.

Looking at The Winter Soldier, the movie that came out before it, I really can’t think of two parts of the same series that manage to be more different. The Winter Soldier is overtly grounded, cinematography, colouring and setting all building up a recognisable and sober atmosphere, as well as a (comparatively) character-central plot. It feels localised and steady, in grey tones and with subdued character designs and a believable world. Guardians of the Galaxy is set over a huge stretch of rainbow-hued space, where wacky hairdos and painted skin are enough to classify you as alien and the bad guys are dramatically intent on world destruction. It’s saturated and bright and full of 1970s and 80s dance music, and generally has an air that’s nothing short of playful. And did I mention the smart-talking, angry raccoon? Continue reading

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Assassins, Bounty Hunters and Lovable Rouges for Hire

Firefly crew

Everyone loves an unscrupulous rogue. Our pop culture features entire space fleets worth of bounty hunters, enough hired guns to fill an armoury and a half, armadas of pirates and assassins everywhere; there are whole creeds of the buggers. It’s an assassination fascination. What exactly draws us to these dangerous and unlawful archetypes? Surely, by all logic, we shouldn’t sympathise or hold such an interest in people—fictional or otherwise—who could and would kill or bundle us off to our enemies if someone paid them to.

Though, as previously discussed, everyone loves a villain, and people deliberately disobeying the laws and moral values we’ve had ingrained in us are fascinating to watch precisely because they’re so removed from the everyday life we lead and the stuff that we ourselves would do. Then again, the fictional mercenary manages to be wrangled into a sympathetic kind of person a good two thirds of the time. It’s amazing how often hired killers or thugs can be turned into the heroes (or at least the enjoyable protagonists) of the stories we love. Maybe, even before we discover a potential tragic bloodstained backstory, we feel an immediate connection with someone on the other side of the law, since it immediately makes them an underdog—especially if The Law is evil and scary, like the Alliance in Firefly, and our rouges-for-hire are imbued with a much better sense of humour and badass coats. It’s pretty easy to start tugging the strings and make us switch our traditional notions of who to root for.

Of course, there are plenty of terrifying and genuinely villainous assassin and hunter characters about, but it’s interesting to note how fond we are of taking this career umbrella—killing, harming and evading the law and everyday morals for money, something most of us audience-folk would find unthinkable—and turning them into lovable good guys. Hell, they’re even the stars of comedies. Think Grosse Point Blank for romance, about a hired gun at his awkward high school reunion. Think Cowboy Bebop for a flatshare comedy: essentially about a group of clashing characters crammed into a small space(ship) and forced to work together with various episodic hijinks along the way. The basis for any dramedy, except that it grabs your attention by promising two out of five of these conflicting roomies to be bounty hunters, con artists and ex-killers (the other two, for reference, are a fluffy-haired hacker and a corgi). Continue reading

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Hope, Symbolism & Why Steve Rogers is Still Our Hero

Chris Evans as Captain America

This is his patriotic judging face

If you knew absolutely nothing about comics or superhero movies and just heard the words “Captain America”, what would be your first thought? Possibly “Sounds like nationalist military propaganda” or “I bet he’s a real dick”. Well, in the case of the former, you wouldn’t entirely be wrong, and the latter isn’t an unfair assumption considering how self-congratulatory the embodiments of a country’s values can turn out to be. Yet here we have Marvel’s Steve “Captain America” Rogers, and company, one of the most three-dimensional and heart-tugging batches of supersoldier beefcake I’ve seen on a big screen recently.

I wasn’t particularly interested in Captain America (he seemed fairly ridiculous, and that’s even next to Thor), but you know, made sure to see The First Avenger so The Avengers would make sense, and went to see The Winter Soldier with WB because she half-dragged me there to the tune of the internet’s wailing about it. I don’t live under a rock. I’m not some old academic fuddy-duddy that thinks superhero movies (especially ones that dare to be fun. Yech!) can’t give you a poignant emotional reaction or possibly contain any value beyond passing a few popcorn-flavoured hours. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has generally swept me off my feet with how consistently good it is. Nonetheless, I’m still really impressed with the latest Captain America offerings, and everything they’ve done with the character and movies in general.

True to the aforementioned internet wailings, among other things The Winter Soldier successfully makes the viewer form an emotional attachment to a ruthless assassin who has about six spoken lines. The Marvel writers are wily—they make you love a human weapon, the same way they made you love a propaganda tool. Yes, Captain America has his roots in World War II morale-boosting. He is a Nazi-punching, golden-haired, wholesome as farm-baked apple pie sales tool to give people something to enjoy in frightening times. He seems pretty dated now, laughable even, yet Marvel made the decision to bring him back. And it really, really worked. Continue reading

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