That’s It… For Now (Avengers: EndGame, 2019)

Avengers_Endgame_PosterThis is a Spoiler Free Review.  This also means it will be super short.

So, back in the early days, the plan was to have a two part Avengers: Infinity War. Then Marvel announced that this would not be the case.  There would be Avengers Infinity War and then there would be a fourth stand alone Avengers Film.  Frankly? This was a terribly kept secret. Nobody really believed the two films would be unconnected.  And boy…when you are reaching the final few moments of Infinity War, you knew that was not going to be a one off film.

And a year later, we are finding the remaining Avengers trying to determine how to undo the Snap Heard Around the Universe. They come up with a long shot plan to get the stones to bring everyone back.

There is a lot of stuff to love. Some real exciting moments, many great lines. It has some real heartfelt moments and a lot of fun sequences.  There is a lot of surprises as well.

There are a couple things I am still not sure how I feel, especially in regards to one of the MCU’s big characters. And there are some logic issues for sure.  If you read comics, you know that sometimes there are those things where you start to try and apply the logic…but I am finding myself not bothered enough for it to ruin the film.

On the other hand, they do some great stuff with certain characters. I really like how they build up Hawkeye, and their use of Hulk is a pleasant surprise. I also love the setup for certain characters (that I hope play out), and certain characters get well deserved resolutions.

Really, the limitations are few and far between, and the positives are enough that this is a strong bookend for the first four phases.  I really enjoyed Avengers: Endgame.  It offered plenty that I wanted to see, and stuff I did not know I wanted to see.

The Never Ending Story (Avengers: Infinity War, 2018)

Avengers_Infinity_War_PosterIn 2008 Marvel began their ambitious plan of creating a cinematic version of their comic book universe. The lead up to the Avengers seemed like a giant mountain to climb…and it paid off for Marvel. And over and over, Marvel saw themselves succeed.  And here we are at ten years and 21 movies later were arrive at the culmination of that success.

The Avengers were left in a pretty broken state after Captain America Civil War.  Picking up shortly after the end credits sequence of Thor Ragnarok, the film kicks off with a sense of sacrifice. Thanos has finally stepped into the light and with his acolytes has decided he must collect the stones that have been the undercurrent of the  films for so long himself.

As the various corners of the Marvel Universe come together, Thanos and his minions get closer and closer to achieving his goal.  This can be a tricky balancing act, to bring together such a large number of characters.  And the film mostly is able to make this work by pairing groups off.  The Guardians of the Galaxy meet up with Thor and they split into two groups while Iron Man, Spidey and Doctor Strange go on a trip through space and so on.

Thanos is one of the stronger villains the Marvel Universe has presented.  Brolin gives him a dark sincerity.  He clearly believes in his goal, and sees it as good.  It becomes clear that when his acolytes proclaim he brings mercy, he actually believes this.

Seeing the interactions between characters who have, so far, been in their own worlds, such as the Guardians and Doctor Strange is a lot of fun.  The film contains plenty of entertaining and light hearted dialog.

The movie is full of exciting action and moves along at such a fast clip the two and a half hours just flew right on by. Infinity War is fun, with just enough seriousness to keep some of the shocking moments from feeling cheap.

I really enjoyed Avengers: Infinity War and am looking to see how this all plays out in the films to follow (well, Ant Man & the Wasp and Captain Marvel both take place before Avengers: Infinity War, but hey, there is an Avengers movie after that).

 

Rebellious Teens (Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015)

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-PosterAs with every sequel, things must get bigger and louder.  Unlike the first film, the danger really comes from within.  Tony is obsessed with changing the way things are done by building a peace keeping for that will put an end to the need for the Avengers.  He has been working on an A.I. to watch over the world and prevent tragedy.  Even as the Avengers are in action, he has Iron Man like robots trying to do crowd control.  But the people are not as confident.

When Tony gets access to some Asgardian technology, he recklessly uses it to try and jump a hurdle with his A.I.’s processing power.  Of course it goes wrong, resulting in a mad child called Ultron.  Ultron constantly works to better himself.  And one goal is to put an end to the Avengers.  Not quite in the way Tony anticipated…he was thinking retirement.  Ultron is thinking annihilation.  To better reach those ends, he brings brother and sister Pietro and Wanda Maximoff.  The orphans consented to Hydra experiments that have given them super-powers.  Pietro is the super-fast Quicksilver and Wanda has reality warping powers.

In a confrontation with Ultron, the Scarlet Witch manipulates several Avengers, including the Hulk who goes on a rampage.  Eventually the reveal of Ultron’s plans (including wiping out the human race) horrifies his cohorts.  His continuing evolution actually leads to the introduction of a new character for the MCU.  The Vision is introduced when the Mind Stone and lightening (along with the Jarvis AI) are combined to create the Vision.

Age of Ultron tries to be the Empire Strikes back, and is certainly loaded with darker themes than the previous films.  The performances are strong, and when the Scarlet Witch exposes Iron, Cap, Black Widow, Thor and the Hulk to their greatest fears of their past or potential futures, it threatens to break their bond apart.

The action is top notch.  There are several excellent and memorable fight sequences.  The jokes mostly land (but who thought it was a good idea for Tony to suggest if he can lift Thor’s hammer that he would reinstate the practice of kings sleeping with new brides on their wedding night).  There are a couple running jokes that can be particularly entertain.  The running gag about lifting Thor’s Hammer (which has a very good payoff) is especially fun.

The movie gives more attention to Hawkeye.  There was talk that Renner was very frustrated with the path the character took in the first Avengers.  This may be Whedon’s way of saying “sorry” to Renner.  It also establishes firmly the friendship with Natasha.

The effects are very good.  Vision looks very close to his comic book counterpart, without looking to fake.  Yet he is slightly unnatural.  Which is kind of the point.  Bettany gives life to the role.  It only took his seven years to be more than a voice-over (now he is a motion capture voice-over).

The film faced some criticism over Natasha calling herself a monster to Bruce Banner.  Some viewers felt the takeaway was that Natasha saw herself as a monster due to being sterilized.  I don’t know that I accept it was that clear cut.  Because the film is quite direct that it is the idea that she was a cold and efficient killer, and the folks who sterilized her believed this would make her that cold and efficient killer.  But I will agree it was somewhat clumsy in the writing, and Whedon deserves the credit for that.

In the end, I enjoyed this second outing with the Avengers.  It has some weak points, but nothing that ruined the overall enjoyment.

I Will Avenge Thee (the Avengers, 2012)

Avengers-Movie_PosterThe Avengers was the culmination of four years of effort on the part of Marvel Studios.  They worked to establish their interconnected Universe building up to this.  People were excited and the Marvel Machine had primarily seen success with their films leading up to this.  The first hiccup was losing Edward Norton.  Ed and Marvel could not come to an agreement for the Avengers.  So Marvel brought in the likable Mark Ruffalo.  The other big announcement was that Joss Whedon would direct.  He did not have that many movies under his belt, but he did have a few beloved television series, so as an overseer for the Cinematic Universe, he seemed well suited.

Loki is the central villain of the film, working with an alien race called the Chitari.  The film moves quickly to introduce the core members to each other, with a brief but exciting “Heroes meet, misunderstand the situation and fight” sequence.  This is an old comic book trope, and Whedon makes it work, and does not drag it out.

Once the heroes are brought together, they capture Loki who has a devious plan.  His escape leaves the team in shambles and a supporting character dead (but don’t worry, he got better for the S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series).  This, of course, encourages the heroes to band together and defeat Loki and stop the alien invasion.

Whedon proves himself to be quite skilled with both small moments and spectacle.  The final battle is exciting and full of grand heroics as Captain America takes charge.  We see him as a wise strategist.  When a police officer questions why they should listen to his instruction, he takes out an alien assault, no questions as the officer starts telling his men to implement Cap’s plan.

The introduction of Black Widow is pretty classic.  It is one of those “damsel in Distress” sequences where you realize the bad guys never had a chance.  The cast has an amazing amount of chemistry.  Even their bickering is engaging.  The film has the rapid quippy dialog Whedon is known for in shows like Buffy and Firefly.  Ruffalo fits in to the crew seamlessly.  As much as I like Norton and his Bruce Banner, Ruffalo manages to make the character all his own.  It is all quite engaging.

I feel the biggest lapse in judgement is having Hawkeye spend the first half of the film as a possessed lackey of Loki.  It just feels like the character deserves better than that.

While there is weight of imminent destruction, the film never gets too dark.  You have lighter moments to even it all out.  The Avengers was overall a great success that is a lot of fun to watch.

In From the Cold (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014)

TCaptain_America_Winter_Soldier_Posterhe success of both the first film and the Avengers, Captain America was bound to return.  While the First Avenger had a straight forward black and white approach (not to hard when your villains are Nazis) the Winter Soldier is about how far the world has fallen.  Steve’s values are clashing with even the good guys.  He is starting to doubt his missions and his teammates.

The one bright spot is his meeting Sam Wilson, who works with vets in dealing with their experiences and return to civilian life.  Steve is also trying to keep the trust with Natasha (Black Widow).  Meanwhile, Nick Fury seems to be hiding secrets from Cap and the government to boot.

When Alexander Peirce calls for Captain America to be arrested for Treason, the movie shifts into hero on the run trying expose a conspiracy.

This film shakes up the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe* with it’s deep dark conspiracy based plot line.  The primary heme is “Who can you trust?”  And overall it it is handled pretty well.  There are some spectacular action sequences, especially the close quarters of an elevator.  The film has a lot of humor, considering the plot.

The cast is full of charm.  Anthony Mackie’s Falcon is a blast (and off-screen comments indicate Mackie has had a blast playing the character).  Of course, Chris Evans makes a noble and heroic man out of time.  As Black Widow, Johansson is getting a change to build on the role from the Avengers.  Robert Redford brings a  certain gravitas of an elder statesman.

This is a strong and exciting entry in the franchise, and is a nice companion to the First Avenger.

*well, it did for ten minutes.  Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. pretty much put S.H.I.E.L.D. back in play.

Marvel Begins (Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011)

Captain-America-First-Avenger-PosterCaptain America was a hotly debated character for the Marvel Films.  Could a character so tied to American Nationalism be a hero the world loved?  Joe Johnston (who directed Disney’s fun comic book movie the Rocketeer 20 years earlier) was brought in and found a way to make that answer be yes.  Among the choices made were to set the film in World War 2, rather than begin in Present day.  Chris Evans was hired on to play Steve Rogers.  This was not his first foray into a Marvel Property, He was Johnny Storm (the Human Torch) in the 2005 and 2007 Fantastic Four Films.  He was also one of the Evil Exes in Edgar Wright’s adaption of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim graphic novels.

The film quickly establishes Steve Rogers as heroic, in spite of his physical weakness.  He will take a beating.  Standing up for him is his buddy ‘Bucky’ Barnes.  This is one of the film’s biggest deviations.  In the comics, Bucky was a teen sidekick to Captain America.  The filmmakers (rightly) realized that may not play so well.  And there is a twist to having Bucky go from Steve’s savior to needing saving by Steve.  Steve’s multiple rejections by the military catch the attention of a part of our military that is looking for someone to be a part of an experiment.  While many try, scrawny Steve Rogers keeps managing to stand out, not by his physical prowess, but by ingenuity.  This catches the eye of British officer Peggy Carter.

One of the things the movie does so well is that they avoid tropes.  Peggy and Steve are smitten before his transformation.  She is impressed by who he is, not what he is.  It would have been easy to make her yet another obstacle for her to notice only after he is physically altered.  And yet, due to a terror incident that destroys the remaining Super Soldier serum, Steve is still unable to see combat.  Instead, he is reduced to a promoter of War Bonds and propaganda.

Evans really sells Roger’s frustration and even feelings of humiliation.  But while on a USO tour, he ends up making a big save, convincing the military they need him.  This leads to crossing paths with the Red Skull, who is determined to rule the world through Hydra.  Hydra begins as an arm of the Nazis, but has it’s own goals.

The film ultimately hangs on Evans to sell the character of Captain America, and boy does he sell it.  He comes off as kind, dedicated to justice and most of all, simply heroic.  He is supported but a great cast of actors.  Tommy Lee Jones is perfectly cast as Colonel Phillips.  Hugo Weaving got one of the better villain roles, since he gets to simply be Nazi Evil Incarnate.  The movie makes the choice to introduce the Howling Commandos (Sans Nick Fury) as the team that works with Cap.  They are an entertaining bunch.

But the standout is Haley Atwell.  She is more than Cap’s love interest.  She is a tough and clever military officer.  But at the same time?  She and Evans have a real solid chemistry, and when the film reaches it’s inevitable conclusion, their exchange (certain Steve is heading to his death) is heartbreaking.

Johnston gives us a terrific film that stands on it’s own, even if part of it’s purpose is to set up the first Avengers film.

Player vs Player (Captain America: Civil War, 2016)

Marvels_captain_america_civil_war_posterCaptain America: Civil War was a risky gamble.  It has a bloated cast.  I mean, Captain America is joined by practically everyone (Except Thor and the Hulk).  The film was also going to be introducing us to a couple Major Players in Both the Black Panther and Spider-Man.  There was always the possibility that this would be so bogged down, we would have Marvels first failure…the first Marvel film that outright sucked.

And the film should be a huge mess.  We are being introduced to characters left and right.  And as usual, the villain of the film is pretty thin.  And yet, somehow?  The film works.  It stand and manages to remain extremely engaging.  The film is dealing with the fallout of collateral damage we have seen through the previous films.  All that destruction we have seen through the Avengers, Thor, Captain America the winter soldier.  Culminating in an event in this film in which an attempt to save people kills several visiting Wakandans.

The United Nations is determine to intervene.  And Tony Stark, after being confronted by an angry and heartbroken mother (Alfre Woodard) whose son died in Ultron’s Sokovia attack, is determine to see it happen.  He, quite understandable, sees a need for Oversight.  And this is what sets off the Conflict within the Avengers.  Steve Rogers is certain that being shackled and having to get permission to fight the bad guys is a bad idea.  We of course, sympathize with Cap, but one of the things the film does very well?  The character motivations.  They make sense.  You understand why they choose the way they do.  And the the fact that certain characters miss the villain’s big plan is quite believable.

The film is action packed, but not at the expense of the overall story.  The characters get meaningful exchanges and yet, the film avoids feeling overly bogged down by a sense of self importance.  The events matter, questions are asked, but without the self aggrandizing approach other Super-hero films had recently.  Not naming names.  The cast does great work with the script they were given.  They bring the characters to life.

And then there is the humor.  This is by no means a light film, but it has very effective humor.  The film is not afraid that if we laugh we might miss “the important and heavy epic story being told”.  These people are friends.  They have history.  They care about each other.  And that is what gives the story it’s real conflict and weight.  But it is also those established relationships that allow the fun.

Of course, the big question was…Spider-Man and the Black Panther-will they work?  It is nice that we do not get an origin story (it should be pretty clear that T’Challa was already the Black Panther, he is not becoming the Black Panther for revenge).  But he does get a nice story arc focusing on the thirst for vengeance, leading him to wisdom in his new role as King.  Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa as young, confident royalty.  And yet, when he suffers lost, he gains a restrained ferocity.

And Tom Holland?  He is Spider-Man.  The portrayal of Spidey in this film was almost instantly lovable.  His rapid fire chatter was dead on.  He looked great in costume and his position of siding with Tony makes complete sense.  I am genuinely excited to see both Spider-Man and Black Panther’s solo films.

James Gunn (Director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films) said this was the best Marvel film to date.  And, in the end, if it is not actually the best?  It is pretty darn close.  This is a terrific adventure and worth seeing.

Direct Sequel vs Kinda a Sequel

Zack Snyder has commented that in his mind, Batman V Superman is actually the Man of Steel Sequel.  There is a Man of Steel 2 on the Warner Brothers slate-with talk of George Miller directing (which would be exciting)-but Zak really feels this is the true follow-up.

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And this feels like it is becoming an issue with both Marvel and DC films.

In the early days, the Marvel stand alone films were allowed to focus on the hero.  There might be a cameo, or a supporting role (Black Widow in Iron Man 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier).  But the films were primarily focused on the hero’s journey, while the larger Avengers story-line might be lightly hinted at.

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But Captain America: Civil War seems to be suffering the same problem as Batman v Superman… so stuffed with heroes, it feels more like “Avengers: Infinity War-Prologue”.  They are feeling less like proper films in a franchise and more like the setup films.  Adding Spider-Man to Civil War only enhances that.

I kind of get what they are doing with Batman v Superman, because Warner Bros has been playing catch-up after trying to determine how to get that Avengers cash without totally looking like they are trying to copy the the actual Avengers formula.

So we are getting long movies full of heroes, all while they give less and less room for the title character.  Part of what I enjoyed about both Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy was they had connections to the greater shared universe they inhabit without losing their own spirit.

I worry both DC and Marvel will be making it near impossible to allow even their solo movies to be focused on the hero whose name occupies the Title Card.

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