Ready For Endgame: Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy

A very strong case can be made that 2014 was the best year for the MCU. (I’d say only 2018 can give it a real go…) It was the year that gave us my personal pick for the greatest superhero film of all time, and expanded the universe we’d all fallen in love with beyond even what Thor had shown us.

Let’s start with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which I think deserves much more serious consideration in the genre than it gets. It deals more elegantly with the themes of the surveillance state than everyone’s beloved The Dark Knight, presents a grappling with the reality of turning humans into symbols and going past your expiration date, like Logan and manages to fit into the Marvel formula perfectly and wring some killer performances out of Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson.

Not to mention, you could remove Captain America from the proceedings entirely and you’d still have a political thriller where a badass spy played by Samuel L. Jackson has to deal with being betrayed by the politician that he protected his entire career played by Robert Redford. Which would also be an incredible movie. What do you get if you take Batman and The Joker out of The Dark Knight? Huh? A slightly crazy DA loses his fiance to the mob and a police captain fakes his death? OK, that would also be a pretty good movie, but not as good.

My point is that The Winter Soldier rules. Chris Evans is perfect in it, it gives Natasha Romanoff real stakes, something she was surely and deeply missing in her previous appearances. It brings back Bucky Barnes, setting up Cap’s stakes for the rest of the series, and introduces us to Sam Wilson, The Falcon, the second best sidekick in the series. (The best is Rhodey.)

It’s action scenes are tight, it’s mystery well thought out and it’s twists well executed. And it’s funny, you guys, and it has Robert Redford. It’s amazing. It’s the greatest superhero movie ever.

Also, it sparked one of my all time favorite “Wait, what?” fangirl conversations that Aless and I ever had over pancakes after watching a Marvel movie (Margaritas before, pancakes after.) “Is…is Captain America a virgin?” (We concluded that, no, no he is not. We don’t think…but he might be? He definitely never got to have sex with Peggy, which is very sad for both of them.) (The rest of the pancake session was spent guessing which Agents characters might be HYDRA. We did not consider Grant Ward, like even a little. What a well executed twist that was. You didn’t see it coming but in retrospect it made perfect sense.)

Guardians Of The Galaxy, is not the best superhero movie ever, but it’s a very, very good one. Few superhero and sci fi properties embrace fun and dorkiness with such aplomb, (I’d say Legends Of Tomorrow might be the only other one I can think of that really hits the balance just right.) And Guardians is so confident in what it’s doing. While it starts with a scene that’s so maudlin it might be heavy handed, young Peter Quill at his mother’s bedside, the air is almost immediately taken out, when our would be swashbuckling hero hits play on his walkman and dances to his destination.

Guardians is full of moments like that, setting up moments that we should know by heart and just undercutting them enough that they work on their own but feel different because of the humor, the characters and my god that soundtrack.

The strength of both of these movies really does seal up 2014 as the best year. (Again, 2018, with three super strong entries is a close close second.)

Next week, we get into the movie that may have broken a legend, but did give us a controversial ship, and some good jokes. We give Avengers: Age Of Ultron another go. I don’t think my opinion on it will change much, which is basically that it’s a glorious mess. And it may have broken Joss Whedon’s brain. We can’t be sure.

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Ready For Endgame: Iron Man 3 And Thor: The Dark World

I love Shane Black’s movies. I love that he gets action the way that very few people do. (Similar to how I feel about Nora Ephron and romantic comedy, frankly.) I love Lethal Weapon, The Good Guys and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, especially Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang.

Iron Man 3 is the clearest example, in my opinion of the Phase 2 “different genres dressed in superhero suits” idea. (Dark World is a fantasy melodrama, Guardians a space opera, Winter Soldier a political thriller, Ant-Man a heist) This is an 80’s style throwback action movie, and a really good one at that.

Iron Man 3 is just so much goddamned fun, that I really can’t fault even the parts that I’m not crazy about. They are few and far between but include pretty much everything about Vice President Mel Ferrer (RIP) being in on the Mandarin’s/AIM’s plans for reasons? I guess the HYDRA reveal wasn’t set up yet, but I’ve retconned it into this movie, because it’s the only thing that connects that wrinkle to anything. I am otherwise completely delighted by this movie. Pepper running Stark Corp. Happy being obsessed with Downton Abbey. Rhodey’s rebranding. Tony not caring for Rhodey’s rebranding. The kid. All of it. I love this movie.

I went in ready to not love it as much, but nope. I love it. It’s great. Robert Downey Jr. is great in is. Guy Pearce is great in it. Gwyneth Paltrow is not as good as she was previously in this role, but still good. Ben Kingsley is FUGGEDAHBOUTIT brilliant in this movie. I have no criticisms. I think this is one of those things that I love so much I can’t find fault with it.

As much as I love Iron Man 3, I am indifferent to Thor: The Dark World, my god, is this a dull movie. It’s so dull that I forgot to review it when I saw it back in the first movie season. Seriously, it has some great moments, anything with Loki, pretty much, the planning of the escape run from Asgard, and Hemsworth really looks great. (The bathing scene, swoon.) But yeah, it’s not a good movie, it’s overstuffed, overly important and such a disappointing follow up to Thor, which I really do like a lot.

It’s kind of remarkable that the first two official sequels in the MCU are such let downs. Obviously the next part 2 is probably the best entry in the entire series, (My love for Winter Soldier is clearly documented.) And that’s where we’re headed next week. We pick up with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy and I don’t think there’s a stronger pairing in the lineup I have planned here.

Hooray!

PS: Last night’s Super Bowl trailers were pretty cool. “Some people move on, but we don’t,” is a statement that’s both dark and inspirational, very Cap. Also, Higher Further Faster, baby!

Ready For Endgame: The Avengers

I remember when I first saw The Avengers I was underwhelmed. I’ve come to love it, really, but just, in that moment, I’d seen it all before. In my review of the movie, I laid out the ways director and writer Joss Whedon was playing his usual song in a new key here.

I understand that Cap relaying the battle plan was exciting and new to other people, but I’d seen Buffy do that six times. The iconic hero pose circle shot, which is wonderful was a more cinematic version of Angel’s “Let’s Go To Work,” final moment. (This single greatest end shot of a TV show ever.) Tony’s change of heart to fight the good fight alongside his friends had been handled by Mal Reynolds before.

So, while the novelty of The Avengers was lost on me, it’s that very profitability, the excellent execution of a formula I’m fond of, that’s made it hold up over the years, and my god, does it hold up.

The action is exciting, the team coming together, or not, is fabulous, the one liners delightful, and that final battle, is the stuff of legend.

But we’re not going to talk about that. I mean, we have. In the past. When I’ve written about The Avengers. Today, I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about Phil Coulson.

Phil Coulson was created for The MCU, meant to be a one off quick way to introduce SHIELD in Iron Man, he really took off when Jon Favreau liked working with Clark Gregg. Gregg was a long time Marvel fanboy and took the job at his wife’s (Jennifer Grey. They are my favorite C-List celebrity couple!) urging, saying when else was he going to get a job like this?  I’m a big fan of Gregg’s, because he’s in the Aaron Sorkin Repertory Company, and I’m convinced it’s that experience that convinced Whedon to make him the lynch pin here. The, “you lack conviction,” speech is straight out of the West Wing playbook. (Frankly, part of what I’ve always loved about Whedon is that he’s like Sorkin, but uses magic in his stories instead of patriotism.)

I was one of those people who was wrecked by Coulson’s death. All Whedon fans have their one that they’ll never forgiven him for. And I’ve gotten emotional over others. (I’m not made of stone, the phrase, “I am a leaf on the wind,” makes me gasp sadly. I too wish we had lived to see Winifred Berkle avenged, and Anya’s death in Xander’s arms is a real heartbreaker)  But Coulson is mine. (Yes he came back! But that took a while!)

Anyway,  Coulson, who’d already had some standout moments in the previous movies, really shines here before his death at Loki’s hands. His familiar banter with Pepper (I love that they were pals. Seriously.), his giddiness at Cap, his familiarity with Thor, it’s all of it hitting just the right notes.

I miss Phil Coulson. I mean, as much as anyone can miss a character that never really went anywhere, but I sort of fell out on Agents Of SHIELD a few years ago, I might catch up someday, but I have so many superhero shows to watch, and not all of them shitty WB relics or luke warm adaptations of my favorite comics characters either.

The Avengers is a stunning acheivement in franchise storytelling. What comes directly after is uh…less essential. Next week, we take on Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. One is a delightful action movie throwback that I love, the other, I got kinda bored and watched a bunch of Lonely Island Videos in the middle of.  Guess which is which!

Ready For Endgame: Thor And Captain America: The First Avenger

There are certain movies that are very hard for me to separate from the first time I saw them. These are usually because of the people I saw them with, or because I saw them as a kid. But with Thor and  Captain America: The First Avenger, it’s really because of timing.

People might not remember that these movies came out within months of each other, when The Avengers was a certainty but still a whisper. And everyone was still scoffing at them. “Right, like a Thor movie is going to work.” And because I was getting ready to finish my English Lit degree, I even added, “what is Kenneth Branagh doing?” (The film nerd in me was less skeptical about Joe Johnston because I’d grown up with The Rocketeer, and that the guy who made that was making a Captain America movie made perfect sense to me.)

But there’s something about these movies and the way that they act as a doorway for the MCU and the fact that they came out the summer I finished college that feels kind of perfect to me. There’s of course my epic, “Glen literally pulled Chrissy and me out of a bar at the end of a bar crawl to go see it,” Thor story. He was pissed as hell, because we hadn’t told him we were going on the crawl, his words, “I’d have gotten tickets for tomorrow if I’d known this was your plan.” Of course our very cogent response was, “PFFFF, we’re not that drunk! Let’s get pretzels, and HOLY SHIT THAT IS ONE HOT MAN RIGHT THERE ON THE MOVIE SCREEN!” I told this story in my toast at their wedding. I left out the hot man parts. The fact that these two people are parents now brings me such joy.

Captain America, I saw with my friend Lisa, which was the first time we’d hung out since graduation. I then saw it like 5 more times, because I wasn’t really working that summer, so had a bunch of spare time. It was what cemented Cap as my Marvel Guy. (At the time Batman was still my DC guy. I hadn’t fully fallen for Dick yet.) And whenever I go back and look at Phase 1, I realize it’s still the movie that I’ve watched the most. (Iron Man is close behind, btw.)

Anyway, my personal experience of these films aside, they’re both solid, and deeply enjoyable. Thor especially, is a treat. I think people tend to forget how charming it is. Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are all in on Thor and Loki from their first moments on screen, and while it’s small scale is probably because no one was sure if this whole thing was going to work, it’s in the movie’s favor that it gets a quiet intimate scene where Thor explains the nine realms to Jane on a rooftop, or Thor and Selvig getting drunk together, or Sif, Loki and The Warriors Three sitting beside a fire discussing Thor’s banishment. Branagh uses his Shakespearian ear perfectly in these scenes, letting them breath and the actors relish in their ridiculous dialog, and melodramatic plots.

 The MCU in general is a miracle of casting but Captain America: The First Avenger might be the most clean example of this. Everyone in this movie is pitch perfect for it’s throwback tone. None more so than Hayley Atwell and Chris Evans though. Dear lord are they magical. Peggy Carter and Steve Rogers might be the only two love interests I’ve ever cosplayed BOTH of, because I love them both so much. (Having cut my hair again, I might bring Peggy back this year…) But seriously, there’s so much about this movie that’s absolutely right, that I have trouble not smiling.

I’ve written literally thousands of words about The MCU, and it’s hard to explain though, that the reason is because of these two movies and the people I was hanging out with at the time being so excited for them. I seriously doubt I’d have gone to see them in the theater if it weren’t for these folks, which is why it’s very hard for me to separate the movies themselves, which are great, by the way, from the experience of watching them for the first time. So I fail as a critic in this essay, because I’m too attached. (Also, if I’m frank, I watched them on a Saturday afternoon and I’ve had some wine, and I’m a little buzzy. Blogging is all about honesty right?)

Next week we talk about The Avengers, which, if you’ll recall was the first movie I ever reviewed here on The Fangirl’s Dilemma, and that was 10 years ago and that is disgusting. 

Ready For Endgame: Iron Man 2 

Man, Iron Man 2 is bad. I shouldn’t say that, it’s not terrible, really, it’s just so aggressively mediocre, and overstuffed and such a disappointment after the first one.

But, for all of it’s flaws we get some good things here, we get the introduction of The Avenger’s initiative, we get Natasha Romanoff, we get some great Nick Fury moments and my favorite MCU tweak, Don Cheadle replacing Terrance Howard (though I understand that the circumstances around the recasting had, uh, issues.) (I think racism is bad! But Don Cheadle is good!)

Iron Man 2 is worth revisiting for these things, as well as for once again, Robert Downey Jr.’s performance. He is so in sync with this character at all moments, and I’m dumbfounded by it. Especially having watching Infinity War over the past week, Tony’s come so far and yet feels of a piece with what Downey is doing here, it’s exceptional.

And, there’s something else that Iron Man 2 gives us, and that’s Howard Stark. I mean, the Howard Stark who’s shadow looms over the rest of the enterprise. He’s mentioned in Iron Man, Tony wanting to sure up his father’s legacy, and the arc reactor are both big points, but it’s here, in John Slattery’s quick performance that we get the outline that Dominic Cooper will later work off of, and Slattery will play again for Ant-Man and Civil War. 

Granted, I am always always happy to see Slattery, or pretty much anyone from Sterling Cooper pop up in my media.  (Except Vincent Cartheiser, which isn’t his fault. He’s a very good actor, I just really hate Pete Campbell.)

Now, onto Cheadle. Rhodey is stealth my favorite MCU character. I don’t know when it happened or how, but I always think, “Oh, yay! Rhodey’s in this one!” whenever he pops up. Terrance Howard did a good job with the character, but Don Cheadle explodes with him. Part of it is the chemistry with RDJ, but part of it is also just, buying him as an authority more. He’s in control of a room the minute he walks in.

And then there’s Natasha. Wonderful, wonderful, Natasha Romanoff. She doesn’t get a lot to do here, but she does get a “hallway fight,” which of course later became a staple of Marvel/Netflix. (It’s not a one take, but it still smells like one. It’s the fritatta to the hallway fight’s omelette.)

But the most important parts of Iron Man 2, are the things that the MCU takes a lot of heat for in it’s later installments, is that this one doesn’t really work as a movie on it’s own, just a piece of the bigger whole. (Age of Ultron also gets bogged down in this.)

Next week we’ll talk about Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, I’ll think about graduating college a whole bunch, and Phase I nearly completes.

 

Ready for Endgame: Iron Man & The Incedible Hulk

OK, so, I know we tried this last year and we didn’t get anywhere with it. But this time I have a schedule and a plan, and I’m determined. I am rewatching the MCU and I am writing about it! (HOORAY!)

So, we’re starting at the beginning, whenever possible I’m going to do 2 movies per post with each Avengers movie getting their own post. A few, just by virtue of timing will be getting solo posts.

First up! That first year. Let’s go back shall we? It was the summer of 2008. People were curious about a little film called, Iron Man, and very excited about a movie called The Incredible Hulk. 

Then they came out. It does feel hard to believe that everyone was way more psyched about Hulk, but to be fair, it was the big flashy one, with the movie star lead, not the washed up former addict.

But then you started hearing about it, and that sentence, “Stay until after the credits.” People forget that wasn’t really a thing you did before. I mean, sometimes, there would be cute jokes or teasers after a movie, but nothing you know, essential. But then Nick Fury stepped out of the shadows, and we all knew, something was beginning.

But that wasn’t the only thing about Iron Man, everytime I watch that movie I’m thrilled by how it holds up. It’s funny, and smart, and the performances are universally excellent. The final fight is simple and a bit crude looking in retrospect, but still a fun watch, and really, truly and honestly, Robert Downey Jr. is fantastic. I’ve read complaints a few times that The MCU as a whole leans too hard on Tony Stark, but really, watching the first few movies again, I can see why they went that way. It’s such a committed and lovely performance.

The Incredible Hulk, on the other hand, is simply nowhere near as strong. Edward Norton’s performance as Bruce Banner lacks conviction, Liv Tyler is, well, I mean, Liv Tyler. The CGI is sloppy, the final fight is still fun, but feels oddly low stakes, and it’s just not a good movie. It sets up some intersting concepts that remain constants (pointing the Hulk, Banner trying to control the time of transformation, General Ross)

But then it happens, that amazing moment where Tony Stark walks into that bar, declaring that “the super soldier program was put on ice for a reason,” and it’s a moment of clarity. We aren’t in Kansas anymore, this is something new, something exciting.

It would two years before we got more, and another year after that before the clarity of vision comes into place, but the picture began to form, the big experience was starting, the game had begun, and it all hinged on the one guy. It was about Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, it was about charisma, and strong casting and fitting the guy to the suit, not compromising on what makes a hero a hero.

We’ll get into that more next week, when Iron Man 2, easily my least favorite movie in the whole series (like The MCU, not just the Iron Man series,) gets a solo week, because of how this is all working out.

 

Anyone Can Be Spider-Man

Spider-verse

I remember when I first encountered Miles Morales. I’d been around in the early days of Twitter and the #DonaldForSpiderMan thing. I’d been reading Ultimate Spider-Man on and off for a year or so, when suddenly, and without warning, the guy at the comic book store in Scranton, PA handed me a copy of the book and said, “No, you have to read this month’s, they killed Peter Parker.”

Even in my laregly neophyte shoes of those days, I knew that was big. Death stuck in Ultimate, that was part of the deal. Soon enough though, Peter Parker was replaced by a smart ass kid from Brooklyn. Half Black, half Latino, all heart. And most of us were smitten.

Slowly, because you know, comics, and pre Avengers comics at that, the rest of the world caught on to this kid, and he’s been creeping into the mainstream ever since. And Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is his coming out party.

And what a party it is. This movie has everything! Great animation, stunning action, a heartfelt coming of age story, great pizza jokes, meta humor coming out the wazoo, Batman jokes, two badass teenage girl co-leads, Lily Tomlin, a baller soundtrack, mecha robots, a Batman parody, Chris Pine singing, a scary scary villain and John Mulaney voices a pig!

DO NOT MISS THIS ONE SUPERHERO FANS. It’s doing well enough that it won’t be left behind to be whined over like Mask Of The Phantasm, but seriously, this movie is incredible and not to be missed, OK?

Post Credits: Spider-Man of 2099. So, yeah, there’s that.

Rankings!

  1. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
  2. The Incredibles 2
  3. Bohemian Rhapsody
  4. A Star Is Born
  5. Solo: A Star Wars Story
  6. Creed 2
  7. Deadpool 2
  8. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
  9. Ocean’s 8
  10. Infinity War
  11. Ant-Man And The Wasp
  12. Venom

Trailers:

The lack of a Captain Marvel trailer was concerning, but otherwise we got some good stuff here

Shazam! Holy Moly, this looks fun. While I am very much in love with Zachary Levi, the kid also looks great.

How To Train Your Dragon: The Lost World (or whatever): Shut up, you’re crying!

Wonder Park: This looks completely and utterly charming. I am down for animated movies about mothers and daughters being creative together.