Announcement

Collapse
No announcement yet.

The 2018 Superhero Watch: Reflections on the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Collapse
X
Collapse

  • The 2018 Superhero Watch: Reflections on the Marvel Cinematic Universe

    Click image for larger version  Name:	MCU Grid.JPG Views:	1 Size:	161.1 KB ID:	606As both a movie lover and a ginormous geek, I like to periodically set movie-watching goals for myself. I’ll try to tackle the films in a certain genre, or featuring a certain character, or built around a certain theme. And as a writer and a ginormous geek, I also tend to document some of these challenges. In the past, I’ve done film study projects about the history of horror, the legacy of horror/comedies, my favorite TV Christmas specials and, one memorable December, 25 different incarnations of Ebenezer Scrooge. That I missed out on that Family Ties episode where Alex P. Keaton plays the part is my one regret in life.

    Like so many other things, though, my movie watching habits had to evolve when my wife and I had a baby. It simply wasn’t feasible to set aside an entire month to watch slasher movies and write a detailed analysis of each one. So in 2018, I set a different kind of goal for myself: to watch as many superhero movies as possible, and in the case of those I’ve seen before, determine whether my original impressions of the film hold up. Four and a half months into the year, I’ve ranked 65 movies and shorts as of this writing (you can keep track of the full list on Letterboxd). With school about to end for the summer, I’m hoping to ramp things up soon.

    Thus far, I’ve had no rhyme or reason behind which movies I’ve watched -- I watched whatever I felt like at the moment, or whatever was on HBO, or what YouTube link I came across. In fact, there has only been one specific goal to date: rewatching all of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (including shorts) prior to Avengers: Infinity War. Since this is the tenth anniversary of the MCU, I thought a good place to begin my reflections on my Superheroic Cinematic Odyssey would be here, with the biggest franchise in the world.

    The MCU, I don’t think anyone will deny, has been wildly successful. The films have long since made back the $4 billion Disney paid for the company, and both the characters and actors are now household names. If I had gone to school as a child and tried to talk about what Yondu did in the most recent issue of Guardians of the Galaxy, people would have looked at me as though I had grown a red fin of my own. Now, if you just say the character’s name, fifty percent of the population will fire back, “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!”

    Click image for larger version

Name:	Iron Man Poster.jpg
Views:	1
Size:	67.4 KB
ID:	607The question, then, is what has made the MCU work so well? There are several reasons, of course, but I think it has to start with casting, and with the casting of the first Iron Man movie. Robert Downey Jr. famously went through a very public cycle of substance abuse and self-destructive behavior. What better way to rehabilitate his image and career than by channeling that into Tony Stark, a character who is known for facing those same demons? Downey went from being a guy who couldn’t get fired in Hollywood to being one of the most famous actors in the world, and that happened because he totally embodies Tony Stark. And while his performance is, of course, informed by the comics, it goes both ways. It would almost be impossible to find an Iron Man comic from the last ten years that doesn’t bear his stamp.

    It was maybe even a bigger shock when lightning struck again in the form of Chris Evans. A lot of people were skeptical that the guy who had played the Human Torch just a few years prior would be an effective Captain America. But look at him now. The poise, the posture, the persona is Steve Rogers. He’s strong, brave, confident, and fearless in the pursuit of what he believes is right. The aura of command, of leadership about the man is almost tangible. If Evans put on that voice and told me to go fight Thanos single-handedly, I’d probably pick up a gun and run to my death because that wouldn’t be as scary as the idea of letting Captain America down.

    Click image for larger version

Name:	Captain America-The Winter Soldier.jpg
Views:	1
Size:	50.9 KB
ID:	608Although a lot of the casting in the MCU is spot-on, these two stand out to me as being two of the top five superhero performers of all time. (The other three, for the record, are Christopher Reeve as Superman, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.)

    The next crucial part of the MCU’s success is the world-building. They did it right, starting with four films that could have been left completely unrelated, but linking them together almost immediately. As a result, the entire first Avengers movie felt like a massive payoff for what would become known as “Phase One” of the MCU. Since then, they’ve not only continued the momentum of those films, but expanded to characters nobody ever would have considered for a major motion picture 15 years ago like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange. As great as Tom Holland is as Spider-Man, and as cool as it would be to have the Beast join the Avengers, I think it’s been oddly beneficial that Marvel did not have the rights to Spidey or the X-Men when they started. If they had, they would have started there, and it seems highly unlikely that things like Guardians of the Galaxy would have ever been made.

    This is not to say the MCU has been flawless. As many have pointed out, they have a villain problem. Far too many of their villains have been bland, unmemorable, and had cookie-cutter motivations for their misdeeds. Even Black Panther, which got a lot of praise for its villain, didn’t escape this entirely. Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Killmonger was strong, and his motivations certainly had more depth than most other MCU villains, but in the final reel of the film we got what amounted to the hero fighting an evil version of himself, just like in Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, and Ant-Man. Captain America: Civil War was a great movie not because it had a great villain, but because the conflict between the two heroes was so compelling.

    Click image for larger version

Name:	Spider-Man Homecoming Vulture Poster.jpg
Views:	1
Size:	96.4 KB
ID:	609Who have been Marvel’s best baddies? Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is iconic now, with his smooth, smarmy charisma, but he’s always straddled the line between being a true villain and simply being a selfish opportunist. He even lapsed into being a heroic figure in Thor: Ragnarokand Infinity War. Josh Brolin's Thanos is given a great motivation that makes sense in a severely warped kind of way (which is essential for a great villain) and he plays the part wonderfully. But for my money, the MCU’s best villain to date? Michael Keaton as the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Performance aside (and a fine performance it was), he gave us Marvel’s most relatable villain: a blue-collar guy who got pushed around one too many times and leapt when he saw an opportunity to push back. He’s not out to rule the world, not even to change the world, he just wants money to provide for his wife and daughter. The conflict stems not from some deep-seated need for revenge, but because he’s committing crimes (that’s what criminals do) and Spider-Man wants to stop the crimes (that’s what superheroes do). It's so simple it almost feels like a mistake.

    The conflict doesn’t become personal between them until the final act switcheroo when we discover that the “Liz” Peter has been crushing on the whole movie is not Liz Allen, as longtime comic readers were supposed to assume, but the daughter of Keaton’s Adrian Toomes. Even then, Toomes has no beef with Peter at first. It comes about in a frankly brilliant scene where he’s driving Peter and Liz to a school dance. He discovers Spider-Man’s true identity not because of some convoluted coincidence or because of some staggeringly stupid mistake or slip of the tongue on the hero’s part, but through the perfectly natural conversation any father might have with the boy taking his daughter on a date. The pieces fall into place cleanly and snap together like the inevitable LEGO sets based on the film. The tension in this scene is as thick as the Rhino’s skull, the performances by Keaton and Holland are magnificent, and the writing is flawless. It might be my single favorite scene in the entire MCU.

    Click image for larger version

Name:	Iron-Man-3.jpg
Views:	1
Size:	109.0 KB
ID:	610This is one of the more recent MCU movies, of course, and the creators have a lot of experience now. Earlier movies relied more on coincidence and switcheroos that didn’t work as well, but there’s one movie that I found I liked considerably more in the rewatch than I did when it first came out, and that’s Iron Man 3. While the revelation that Ben Kingsley’s character was not really the Mandarin seemed weak at the time, in retrospect, I like it more. I think I’m less precious now about comic book movies being strictly faithful to the source material, more open to weirder interpretations. What’s more, the stuff about Tony Stark struggling with PTSD after the events of the first Avengers movie was pretty compelling, and I’m a little disappointed that this thread largely disappeared after this film, not really coming back strong until Infinity War. At the time, I ranked Iron Man 3 as my least-favorite Marvel film, but I like it a lot more now, moving it ahead of even Iron Man 2. (My least-favorite MCU film now, after the rewatch, is Thor: The Dark World, for those of you keeping score.)

    One last thing about the MCU: let’s talk about the shorts. For a while, Marvel did “One-Shots,” short films they included as DVD extras that expanded on the side characters from the films. “The Consultant” explained the Tony Stark cameo in Incredible Hulk, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer” let Agent Coulson show how badass he can be, “Item 47” dealt with the aftermath of the Battle of New York, “All Hail the King” was a funny look at Kingsley’s character in prison, and “Agent Carter” was sort of a mini-pilot for the ABC television series. The shorts were a lot of fun, but Marvel apparently ran out of time to do them as their film slate got more and more crowded. Disney recently asked Marvel to start the program up again, but Kevin Feige essentially said they’re still too busy. I hope they find a way to get them back, because this would be a great way to showcase fan-favorite characters like Shuri, Wong, and Peter Parker’s buddy Ned, or even introduce minor heroes that have fan followings but may not support a movie of their own, like Night Thrasher, Firestar, Slapstick, or Quasar.

    The MCU feels like it’s in a very good place right now. Even after the end of Infinity War, the franchise has more creative steam than anything else in the movies, and I frankly can’t wait for the announcement (when it finally comes) of what awaits us beyond Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, and Avengers 4.
    Blake M. Petit, who knows perfectly well he’s probably the only person who would buy a ticket to a Slapstick movie and doesn’t care, has been pontificating about pop culture online for over a decade. You can follow him at BlakeMPetit.com and, if you're feeling generous, check out his books on Amazon.

    • Blake M. Petit
      #3
      Blake M. Petit commented
      Editing a comment
      Gough and Simmons are both great in their roles. If I were to start expounding on supporting characters, I'll have to throw in Margot Kidder as Lois Lane and Gary Oldman as Comissioner Gordon as being other perfect choices.

    • Craig Reade
      #4
      Craig Reade commented
      Editing a comment
      Kidder absolutely yes. Oldman is nothing like I would have pictured Gordon, but he's such a brilliant actor, he still pulled it off.

    • Blake M. Petit
      #5
      Blake M. Petit commented
      Editing a comment
      I'll certainly be writing about the Superman and Batman movies in their own reflections later on, but now you've got me thinking about a piece specifically about the supporting players...
    You must register in order to comment!

What Do You Think?

Collapse

Latest Articles

Collapse

  • The Cure For Fatigue-Modern Mytholgy
    Blake M. Petit
    Strap in, guys, I’m about to hit you with a revelation that will gut you to the core. Robert Downey Jr. will not be the only actor to ever play Iron Man. And that’s okay. It’s actually part of what superheroes are. It’s part of why we love them.

    The Cure For Fatigueis an irregular feature in which we’ll gather around the campfire, take a look at something that people may be feeling burned out on, and talk about what makes it so great in the first place. Today, let’s talk about one of the reasons superheroes, in all their forms, endure.

    I’m going to make an observation that’s older than Aunt May’s wheatcakes recipe, something you already know, but I need to say it to make my point: superheroes are our modern mythology. I know, it’s nothing you haven’t heard before. But have you ever really thought about what that means? Superheroes have power like the gods of ancient myth. They go on adventures on the scale of Perseus, Odysseus, and Jason. They are divided into...
    Yesterday, 01:25 PM
  • The Sound of the Doctor - Silenced
    Craig Reade
    The “Whoniverse” has lost a very important figure this week in Graham Strong, who passed away at the age of 69 after a battle with cancer.

    Strong never acted in an episode, nor did he write, produce, film, arrange, or direct an episode. In fact, he wasn’t involved with the production of Doctor Who at all. Graham Strong was a fan – he was one of us. And we owe him a lot.

    Younger geeks may not understand this, but in the days before the internet (and instant access to everything), we were at the mercy of broadcasters. If we wanted to watch something again, we couldn’t just pull it up on iTunes or Netflix – we had to wait for it to be broadcast again. That, or tape it!

    When I was young, I can remember taking episodes of Star Trek on a VHS recorder, so I could watch them again whenever I wanted. That is probably familiar to most geeks over a certain age - fans at that time commonly recorded episodes of the programs they enjoyed. They did this well before...
    05-18-2018, 08:39 AM
  • The 2018 Superhero Watch: Reflections on the Marvel Cinematic Universe
    Blake M. Petit
    As both a movie lover and a ginormous geek, I like to periodically set movie-watching goals for myself. I’ll try to tackle the films in a certain genre, or featuring a certain character, or built around a certain theme. And as a writer and a ginormous geek, I also tend to document some of these challenges. In the past, I’ve done film study projects about the history of horror, the legacy of horror/comedies, my favorite TV Christmas specials and, one memorable December, 25 different incarnations of Ebenezer Scrooge. That I missed out on that Family Ties episode where Alex P. Keaton plays the part is my one regret in life.

    Like so many other things, though, my movie watching habits had to evolve when my wife and I had a baby. It simply wasn’t feasible to set aside an entire month to watch slasher movies and write a detailed analysis of each one. So in 2018, I set a different kind of goal for myself: to watch as many superhero movies as possible, and in the case of those I’ve...
    05-16-2018, 02:55 PM
  • Three Wishes: Release These Comics!
    Blake M. Petit
    Having several friends who own or work in comic stores, I get a lot of good opportunities to talk about trends in the business. One thing I’ve heard almost universally over the last few years is that the comic book back issue market has completely tanked. Even though selling old comics is what the comic shop industry was built on, shop owners now have to turn to alternative sources of revenue like collectibles, toys, cards, clothing, and appearing on AMC network reality shows. With the exception of rare issues, first appearances, and other things that hold serious monetary value, there’s simply no need to hunt for back issues anymore. In the Oughts, publishers began to grow much more aggressive with their bookshelf program. What once had been reserved for “special” storylines or archival reprints soon began to apply to virtually every comic book published. Nowadays a reader can be fairly well assured that any comic book appearing on the shelf will see print in a paperback or hardcover...
    05-14-2018, 02:18 PM
  • S.H.I.E.L.D. Feels the Force of Gravity!
    Craig Reade
    There are SPOILERS ahead, but dear not - Talbot will show the world that he can indeed fix this!

    Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 5 Episode 21 - The Force of Gravity (IMDB)
    Directed by Kevin Tancharoen, Written by Drew Z. Greenberg & Craig Titley

    The episode cold-opens with Daisy, who has seemingly just woken up in the council chambers of the Confederacy. Before her is Tarian, Kasius’s father – who tries to convince her that she should become his disciple. He is very interested in the inhumans on Earth (as he continued to be in the future), and insists that they deserve a better life. When she refuses but fails to use her powers to break free, he reveals that none of this is real, she is still unconscious, and he is supremely confident that he will break her very soon. Daisy doesn’t have time for this nonsense, so she shows Tarian how unprepared for her he really is. She channels her abilities inward, shatters the device keeping her unconscious and starts...
    05-14-2018, 12:06 PM
  • Justice League: No Justice #1: Crazy Configurations and a Strong Start
    Blake M. Petit
    Justice League: No Justice #1 (DC Comics)
    By Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson, Francis Manapul, Hi-Fi, and AndWorld Design

    In the aftermath of Dark Nights: Metal, the Source Wall at the fringes of the DC Universe has been breached. From the cracks comes something dark, deadly, and dangerous… so dangerous that the insidious Brainiac has taken it upon himself to create a new Justice League from members of the old, some Titans, the Suicide Squad, and a few surprise guests. The four unconventional groups will have to work together against the threat of the Omega Titans, with all life in the universe hanging in the balance.

    On the surface, there are a lot of things about No Justice #1 you could be cynical about. The four teams Brainiac has assembled seem in some ways tailor-made to capitalize on characters that are in the zeitgeist right now, and outfitting each of the squads in color-coded uniforms could be taken as a plot to crank out a new...
    05-10-2018, 02:25 PM
Working...
X