The word "Dark" is in the title. It has to be more than PG-13? No...it's not. It's just another PG-13 Marvel movie. After seeing Infinity War, that one has to be the most questioningly more than PG-13. But Thor: The Dark World is mostly fine, except for the color palate. I mean, it looks pretty bleak. The bad guy scares Henry still, so that's on brand. Since it is Phase 2, someone loses a hand in this one. Phase 2 is also the beginning of mild language and implied nudity. Boy, there's a lot of blurred out news footage nudity in this one.
DIRECTOR: Alan Taylor
Guys, we just had another baby. I missed my Friday writing because I had a paper and I planned to make it up on Saturday. Then Lauren went into labor, which is great. But then I missed a day. I kind of feel like I should write two, but I'm barely conscious. Like, I'm real sleepy, guys. The hospital just sucks my soul out so hard that it's a miracle that these are actually words. If this one is impossible to read, I humbly apologize. I'm just trying my best given the circumstances.
This is the one that most people hate. Even when I left the theater, I acknowledged that it is far from being the best in the franchise. There's a bunch of stuff that I'm going to pick on and that's okay, I suppose. I can't beam over every Marvel movie or else this just becomes another MCU tumblr and I'm not itching for that reputation. Not again. (Oh no...I used a Spider-Man: Homecoming reference to explain how I'm not a Marvel fanboy.) But I do want to mention that I actually had a lot of fun with this movie. This is one that I was hoping to binge in private, but it is also one of the few entries in the franchise that had a large price hike between the "just Blu-Ray" edition and the Blu-Ray 3D / Blu-Ray / DVD / Digital Copy version. I love the Digital Copy versions, especially considering that I was trying to binge the entire MCU before Avengers: Infinity War came out. But I had the Blu-Ray and that meant that I couldn't watch it during my lunch hour. I had to watch it at home, but I thought it was too scary to watch in front of my kids. So I watched it late at night, but also knew that I had to go to bed at a reasonable hour. The final result? I ended up watching the last quarter of the film with my in-laws. Everyone kept griping about how they hated this movie while I was watching it. But do you know what happened? Everyone shut up after a minute or two and sat down and watched it. They were riveted. They gasped. They laughed. They had a good time. Then the movie ended and they all griped about it again because it is so much worse than Ragnarok. You know what? Very few movies are Ragnarok. I know, like, one movie. (There's a joke that I'm trying to cook, but I'm too sleepy to make it land.) The movie is actually pretty fun. The reason I dig this movie, despite all of the hatred, is that it fully embraces a completely different style than the first movie. Yeah, I'll fully admit that it feels closer to the first movie than it does the third movie, but it also completely loves that it is a science fiction film with mythological roots. That's a really cool aesthetic. There's this sequence in the middle of the movie where space ships are full on shooting at each other, but they looks like Norse barges. C'mon! How fun is that! That's a good deal of fun. Also, The Dark World does something extremely precious for the MCU: It makes Loki a redeemable character.
Think of how the MCU would be if Loki was just a two-time villain. Like, he's a great villain, but he becomes full-on lovable. He is this cool balance of someone whom you love in trouble, but still a character that you want hanging out with Thor. Thor: The Dark World does the heavy lifting on the character study of Loki. In Thor, it is all about the betrayal. He is the villain in the full Phase One sense of the word. But Avengers brings him back. It makes him almost irredeemable. Also, Thor and Loki don't really get the scene that they need in that one. They are given a fight sequence, which is fine and important, but The Dark World acts as the very needed post-game. It's so weird that Joss Whedon didn't handle the Loki post-game. (Maybe he did. He was still entrenched in the MCU at the time. Also, he went to the Infinity War premiere. How weird is that?) But there needed to be a reckoning about Loki's actions in The Avengers. While I love Loki in that movie, Loki is completely a puppet for Thanos. He is in full-world-conquering mode and that's fun to watch, but doesn't make him very sympathetic. There's something that elicits pity out of Loki in The Dark World. Something that Feige and company kind of get is that Loki will always suck. He will always be in the wrong, but there's something like taking care of a broken bird. Only in this case, the broken bird will stab you. The conversations between Loki and Thor and Loki and his mother, though, bring out the pathetic nature of Loki. He doesn't belong anywhere. He's constantly overshadowed. Again, he sucks. But he at least has a journey and a character arc. It's really because of The Dark World. By the time that he gets to Ragnarok, we are used to the new dynamic that is established because of this film. Loki wants to be the hero, but he's going to do that by doing awful things along the way.
But the movie also kind of sucks. I can't ever argue when people kind of crap on this movie. I think everyone understands that it is the worst of an amazing franchise, which still makes it a pretty darn good film. The Dark World almost epitomizes Marvel's early problem with bad guys. The first movie used Loki, which is the counterpoint and archvillain for Thor. Great. Another great villain in the Thor comics is Malakith. But Malakith is not easily defined. He's very arch and very evil, but not so well known that you can just cast a Heath Ledger and call it a day. Christopher Eccleston, despite the fact that he regrets every acting choice he's ever made, is a very talented actor. But there's nothing to work with here shy of making a Malakith movie guest starring Thor and Loki. Malakith has nothing to do. He's destroying the Nine Realms because he can. Everyone can kind of agree that he's evil. I think even Malakith probably thinks that he's in the wrong on this one. This kind of bleeds (between worlds) into another problem that this movie has: worrying about setting up future entries in the MCU. This is the movie that first mentions the Infinity Stones. (I think Infinity War fans need to give this one a firm apology because it brought on that masterpiece.) But that's why we have this kind of wishy washy Aether (I don't know the spelling and I'm too baby brained to look it up right now). The entire plot is around destroying this Infinity Stone without much of a reason. The only reason it is important is because Malakith wants it as a weapon. I'm now realizing that this also plays out again in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Then there's the Jane Foster problem. Jane Foster and Thor should work. There was a fun chemistry in the first movie and there was this big cliffhanger to their relationship. But if Thor: The Dark World wanted to work out, they needed to resolve the heart of the matter quickly. And quickly it did resolve. That's a real Catch-22. The heart of the first movie revolved around asking the question of "How will Thor find a way back to Jane?" But then he also had to be in The Avengers, putting his emotional thread on hold. Everyone saw this as a big weak spot in the franchise and they had to address it. So the problem was kind of quickly addressed and then quickly ignored. The movies made the mistake of making it work for them far too well. Iron Man got that Tony and Pepper needed to earn their relationship. Jane is just too ga-ga over Thor to actually have any kind of connection between them. Their relationship quickly got boring and Jane had nothing to do but survive her Aether disease. I actually like Natalie Portman as an actress a lot. But she keeps getting these roles where she is forced to react rather than to drive the plot. She's not nearly as wooden here, but by throwing her into Asgard --the next logical step in the franchise --she is automatically swept aside to the role of observer. She is not in command of the situation, so she has to kind of just react to the Marvels (pun intended) around her. Then there is Darcy. I love Darcy. Darcy is such a fun character, but Darcy is asked to carry far too much of the comic relief on her shoulders. I mean, Chris O'Dowd is a little funny, but he's barely in the movie. The entire human story really just doesn't need to be here, but it kind of did. This is a sci-fi fantasy opera and the one element that really didn't need to be in the movie is the stuff that was grounded. It is weird because the movie is about uniting the nine realms. The Nine Realms are so interesting and fantastic that whenever it went to Midgard, I just couldn't care. But the merging of the Nine Realms actually made the end of the movie super fun. That last fight sequence is actually the only real memorable thing in the movie shy of the SPOILER Captain America cameo. The last fight sequence, in retrospect, actually reminds me of the stuff that made Doctor Strange a fun movie.
I still like this movie, despite its flaws. It might have been harder to watch in the day because Marvel was starting to get a streak of great films in a row. Seeing one fall on its face a little bit might have broken a little bit of trust, but it is a far better movie than people give it credit for. Even as the weakest entry in the franchise, it still out performs any of the DCEU movies. Ooooh, shots fired!
A Shane Black PG-13. Yeah, the rest of the MCU is all PG-13, but I associate Shane Black with a Shakespearean use of the f-bomb. I'm not saying that he used the f-bomb like Shakespeare used the f-bomb, but more along the lines of his use of the f-bomb tends to add color to his dialogue. While I tend to abhor unnecessary vulgarities, Shane Black always seems to make it work. But there's no f-bombs in here. There is some language. I think this is the first movie in the MCU to really feel comfortable with swearing. Also, the superhero violence in this movie just appears to be more graphic. People melt and explode and stuff. Also, the violence gets catastrophic at one point. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Shane Black
Why is this movie so polarizing? Honest to Pete, it might be one of my favorite entries in the entire MCU, but some people HATE this movie. I know. People have opinions. My opinion is not always considered dogma, but this movie works just so well. Part of what I think is going on here is that Iron Man 3 might be a bit of a departure from the rest of the feel of the series. As Marvel entered Phase 2, they realized that things needed a bit of changing up. It's why Captain America: The Winter Soldier is almost a different genre from the rest of the movies. The MCU formula had worked and it had worked wonderfully. But there needs to be growth for the franchise to survive and Iron Man 3, like its predecessor, had to create a new template for what could work. That template, oddly enough, was to not necessarily use a template.
Yes, Iron Man 3 is still a superhero movie. I suppose that Captain America: The Winter Solider is still a superhero movie. But this is the first film (perhaps it could be argued that Captain America: The First Avenger is a war film. I may have made that argument myself in my review for that film) that decided not to limit the genre to "simply a superhero movie". It kind of changed what a superhero movie could be. It is simply a framework for a larger storyline. It elevated the genre (Cool it down, Tim. No need to give these movies a sense of granduer) to something that could be paired with another genre, not unlike the mystery-comedy or action-comedy genre pairing that Shane Black is normally associated with. It's actually kind of genius to put Shane Black on this project. Shane Black works for me because he is the guy who subverts tropes and makes them wildly entertaining. He did Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, one of my favorite movies of all time with Robert Downey, Jr. and made it work. Sure, no one saw it, but he didn't have the marketing that went into something like Iron Man 3. I stand by the idea that Iron Man 3 is a superhero movie in the sense that it continues the franchise storylines. Tony Stark is still Iron Man, but much of the movie is Tony Stark the man dealing with his own inner demons and a mystery that seems to be surrounding him. The really impressive part is that a lot of this is adapted from a pretty cool story that already exists in the comics: Extremis. It's not like this is the first MCU movie to be adapted from an already existing storyline, but the MCU could have made this its own thing. Other stories in the MCU only have light references to the books. The Chitauri thing was drastically different from its comic book counterpart. But they decided to go ahead with Extremis and then they decided to completely change a lot of it. I love it so much.
It has to be weird for Favreau. Favreau created this whole thing with Iron Man, but he also pulls double duty by playing Happy Hogan. Happy is an important part in this story. Sure, he spends a lot of it LIGHT SPOILERS in a hospital bed, but he's definitely playing ball in this universe. He's being directed and being directed well. I rewatched Spider-Man: Homecoming and he's all over that movie. But Black gets what makes these characters work. The dynamics are still the same. They are still great. I can't help but feel like I'm kind of watching an '80s action movie rather than Iron Man 3 at times with his casting of Guy Pierce as Aldrich Killian. I'm not saying that Pierce is a relic of the '80s, but the looks and motivation of the guy definitely feels like something that I would have seen in Black's hay-day. It's just so marvelously menacing (pun intended). HEAVY SPOILERS, I know that the Ben Kingsley fakeout made everyone mad. I wholeheartedly disagree. I know. People wanted The Mandarin. But the Mandarin is Apu from The Simpsons. It is really time to retire this character and I think Iron Man 3 did its best attempt to take care of that. There is a weird line that I don't think really works as a perfect solve. When Guy Pierce screams, "I am the Mandarin", it's a bit of a mistake. I think this might be Feige playing producer here. The big complicated history of it all is that the Mandarin is meant to be Iron Man's archnemesis. For really hardcore Iron Man fans, they have been waiting for the Mandarin to show up because that's when the kid gloves would come off. But there's no way to do the Mandarin right. He's racist as crap nowadays. He barely shows up in the comics anymore and he is light years away from the character that was introduced in the '60s. While I don't know if every step was handled correctly, I can't say I wouldn't have made the same call. Also, who cares about the Mandarin now? The MCU really kind of downplays the archnemesis outside of Loki. Do I wish there was a Red Skull still around? Yeah. But I also acknowledge that the series is all about growth while getting some fundamentals still the same.
I also like the kid. Sorry, everyone. I know adding kids to an action franchise usually spells death outside of Jurassic Park, but he really is very funny and a perfect foil for Tony. The smartest thing this movie does outside of keeping Tony out of the suit is giving him trauma over the events in The Avengers. He is just a regular guy. The thing about him is that he runs towards danger headfirst and moves faster than what the universe can throw at him. There has to be a degree of catch-up. He just passed his line that he didn't know was his line. Making Tony Stark human is what separates him from being Batman. Okay, that and a sense of humor. But he's a guy who is Bruce Wayne all the time. Bruce Wayne is Batman's mask. Tony Stark just is Tony Stark, but that doesn't mean that there isn't depth here. I like Rhodey as part of the story, but Rhodey is on the same journey as Tony. This kid, however, is a perfect sounding board. The kid forces him to talk about his trauma in a way that anyone in Tony's world wouldn't allow. We've seen how Tony handles emotional conflict with those around him. The kid, however, has little history with Tony. Having him be wildly blunt in the face of a guy who just wants to be left alone is a very smart choice. Black goes even further in the right direction by having the kid share a passion with Tony: engineering. That kid is not just some random kid. That kid could grow up to be the next Tony Stark and that's kind of wonderful. Tony, this brash and cocky jerk, is a mentor for a kid not just because Iron Man suit is cool, but rather he is a mentor because he builds things with his hands and values his own education. That's kind of the weird thing about superheroes. The masses tend to enjoy the superhero for how cool they are. But there are those who really like these characters for the messages they bring. Tony is a flawed individual who keeps making mistakes. But he also builds and tries to fix those mistakes. He's far from perfect, but he's always trying to be and that kid only sees the guy who is trying to make the world a better place.
If I had to be critical with this movie outside of the Manderin slight misstep, I have to say that Pepper doesn't really have her time in the sun with this one. Probably the same could be said of Rhodey. Once again, Rhodey is in a suit that is in someone else's control and I've seen that beat before. I can't imagine what it would be like to have Hawkeye possessed again, but they did that with Rhodey once again. It is fun that the War Machine armor got turned into Norman Osborne's Iron Patriot armor. It isn't a big choice and I'm glad to see it revert back to War Machine, but it is a fun little nod. I also approve that this movie doesn't seem beholden to the other movies in the franchise, shy of Tony's Avengers-inspired PTSD. Regardless, please give this other one a try. I laughed a lot in this movie, especially with Ben Kingsley's big twist. It's a fun time. Also, Shane Black + Christmas 4Eva.
Do you want to guess? I can let you guess. I suppose that I'm simply writing this for the sake of tradition. I mean, I've established a clean format that lets my few readers know what the movie is rated and my guesses for why it is rated that way. Sometimes, I go on these little rants about how the MPAA is dumb, but that's neither here nor there. What's The Avengers rated? PG-13, but you already knew that. Why? For superhero violence and mild language. A lot of things 'splode in this movie and the Hulk gets scary at times. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Joss Whedon
Big confession here: I don't love The Avengers as much as most people do. I think it is fine and I'm super glad it exists. I would almost say that there's nothing all that wrong with The Avengers. It's a perfectly fine movie that I'm going to find nitpicky things to complain about. It just doesn't hit that sweet spot with me. The only reason that I can really say that is because I have just a wealth of other amazing Marvel movies to draw from, so when one doesn't hit the sweet spot, I can acknowledge its value while not feeling the need to gush over it. The Avengers is a great movie, but it's just not my favorite.
I don't know why movies need to be earned nowadays. We never earned X-Men, did we? It just kind of came out. It's a perfectly good movie. But the X-Men all have the same origin with the exception of Wolverine. It's probably why the X-Men movies constantly feel the need to revisit that well of Logan's origins. It's the only one they have. But the Avengers are very much like the Justice League. They are corporate's answer to more book sales. Captain America books sell pretty good. Iron Man books sell okay. Let's put the two together and see what happens. I'm the biggest advocate of superhero storytelling. I'm being wildly annoying when it comes to begging my wife to let me see Infinity War early. I read far too many comics. But I also understand that superhero comic books are primarily exclusively forms of entertainment. (I know that Doctor Doom cried at 9/11, but that might be proving my point than disproving it.) These stories are used to sell comics and those comics are used to now sell movies. But The Avengers is successful as a dismount to an experiment. Arad, Feige, and a whole bunch of studio folk came up with the idea of a cinematic universe all coming together and showing that these movies work better as not sequels, but related films. The test was to see if, given enough successful movies in succession, could they be building hype for a massive movie that would act as a payoff to hours and hours of screen time. The answer, thanks to The Avengers, was "yes." People wanted stuff like this. The Avengers was an event. People lost their minds. Two things should have happened that really didn't happen. 1) Any one of those movies should have flopped hard leading up to The Avengers. Honestly, Iron Man 2 was considered not as good as Part I, which usually means abysmal failure when it comes to other franchises. Thor was also a hard sell. But they were still financially (and quasi-critically) successful. 2) The Avengers should have been a letdown. Remember, Samuel L. Jackson mentioned the Avengers Initiative at the end of the first Iron Man movie. That was how much anticipation was involved. They let us know really early on that The Avengers was on the horizon. There is no way that let of expectation could be fulfilled. (I now hear the conversations I've been having with Bob over the past few months and I realize that I love being challenged.) (Also an aside, I just walked to his room to discuss this point and now there might be a lack of momentum.)
Um...so what you guys up to?
But I guess I should discuss what makes The Avengers kind of fall flat for me. I don't know if it is as original as it should be. The idea of superheroes fighting before becoming friends is too old of a trope. I know, the movie is an adaptation of the comic that embraces that trope. People want to know who would win in a fight: Thor or Iron Man? (Okay, people really want to know who would win in a fight between Thor and Superman, but that is a tale for another day.) But the movie doesn't have that much Avenging in it considering its name. I think that Age of Ultron works better in that regard. Yeah, I'm the guy who really likes Age of Ultron. Come at me, bro. There's a lot of setup and frankly, the world doesn't feel real. I know that the MCU is already a pretty alternate reality, but it also often seems grounded. Except for Asgard. That place is hilariously goofy. But the set pieces at the beginning of the movie are just so comic booky. A big blue room with Dr. Selvig analyzing the Tesseract seems ridiculous. I'm thinking about Peter's high school. There's no man-on-the-street element to The Avengers. Everything is grandiose and huge. I kind of want a farmhouse with people working (again, I like Age of Ultron). I want normally skewed. Instead, we're thrown right into science fiction-berg (just off the expressway from Mysticalrealismville) and that's not what I want. I love me some sci-fi, but I like when regular people interact with the unknown. This is a world where the weird is normal and sometimes people just gotta punch the problem until it goes away. That's where the Hawkeye problem shows up. I know that Jeremy Renner wasn't happy that he really didn't get to play Hawkeye for most of the first Avengers movie. He really didn't. He got to be a random henchman that we didn't get to enjoy that much. Then there is the superheroes fighting sequence laid out. It is silly that they fight. Thor thought he was murdering Captain America. Let's put that out there. He didn't know that the vibranium shield would have stopped Mjolnir, which means he thought that he was killing Cap. Didn't he learn this lesson in the last film? Wasn't that the point of Thor? He should be thinking about the consequences before acting. It's only once the Hulk shows up does the movie course correct. Yes, I like the opera house stuff and the dialogue is pretty great throughout, but the movie doesn't really become a proper movie until the Hulk shows up.
And this is the genius element of the film. Joss Whedon, the nerd god of yesteryear, made the Hulk work. After many many attempts, the Hulk really works in this movie. He established the template to say to use the Hulk sparingly. It's not a perfect template. Thor: Ragnarok proved that, but it is a great model. The Hulk is the best part of these films because he is absolutely a force of nature that is both hilarious and terrifying at the same time. I know that Coulson technically brings the team together and I can appreciate that scene for what it is, but the Hulk is what makes all of the characters work. I love that Black Widow is absolutely terrified of him. I like that Stark likes antagonizing him. I like that Thor and he are in a constant grudge match. I love that he listens and respects Captain America. The Hulk is what makes the Avengers work. The end sequence is overall great, but I am always waiting to see what the Hulk is taking on in those sequences. He's just this massive character that manages to surprise aliens. It's odd that I'm usually skeptical of an all powerful character like the Hulk, but the more he impresses me with his strength, the better the movie really gets. He punches one of those flying caterpillars and it dies? Yes. Yes and more please. But Banner is the perfect foil for that character. The dynamic between Banner and Hulk is so striking. I also love that the Hulk has just the right amount of intelligence to become sympathetic. He's a scary dude and his anger is always a confused anger. It's funny, and I'm getting into over-analytical mode right now, but I wonder if the Hulk likes being given a target because it removes all of the confusion from him. He just seems so happy to be smashing things that are bad. He's angry smashing things he shouldn't be. When he's fleeing humanity and wants to be left alone, he's so angry. When he's smashing aliens, he's got a smile on his face. That's an interesting choice.
The movie is pretty great. There's so much that works with it. I just kind of want a break from it. I'm going to preach about why Age of Ultron is so much better probably some time next week. Continue liking and loving it. It is worthy of your love. It's just not for me right now.
Welcome to Summerland, where up is down, left is forward, a dog isn't a dog, it might be the 1960s, and the Shadow King rules all. It's the least coherent take on the X-Men imaginable. But it sort of works, depending on which host you prefer to listen to.
Pee Gee Thirteen. Mainly because of Chris Hemsworth taking off his shirt in every movie. Like, I know I see that physique every time I look myself in the mirror (*sob*), but it is a lot to take in on Blu-ray. Also, there's violence and monsters. Those monsters can be pretty scary. On a scale of "Can Henry see it?", the answer is that he is still scared of everything. Maybe I shouldn't be using him as a litmus test. But he likes Thor! Regardless, too scary for Henry. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh
One thing that these reviews do for me is that they force me to look up the spelling of people's names. I've been saying "Helmsworth" and thinking that "Branagh" was spelled "Brannagh". Look at that. I'm growing because of these reviews. The weird thing about binging these movies is that they make me question what I was thinking back in the day. I've always been weirdly defensive of the first Thor movie. What the first movie did for me --and I suppose that this is still true --is that it made the character of Thor inaccessible. This is going to make me an even worse human being than I am now, but the font that Thor talks in always drove me crazy. Sandman uses that font from time to time and I tend to tune those sections out. I don't know why I thought that text would somehow be less important than anything else that is written, but Thor always came off as a much lamer version of Shakespeare. (I love Shakespeare. That I hate Shakespeare should not be your takeaway.) But Thor made the character somehow appealing. I kind of liked Ultimate Thor (at the time), but the movie blended what I liked about Ultimate Thor and married it to the classic mythology...for the most part.
But Thor, upon rewatch, does not hold up. This is the first movie in the binge that got a little tired for me. I might have to blame Thor: Ragnarok for that. Thor: Ragnarok is such a watchable movie that anything less than that, with the same characters, seems almost a wasted opportunity. I also have to say that it is really hard to acknowledge that this is the same character that we would see fighting Hulk on Sakaar. He's also such a babyface in this one. It's adorable. I'm sorry, Mr. Hemsworth. I know that you are a grown man, but it is distracting how young you look. Robert Downey, Jr. looks pretty much the same as he did a decade ago, but Chris Hemsworth looks like a child seven years ago. It feels weird to slag this movie because Kenneth Branagh did something that I thought would be impossible: he cracked Thor. At the time, the movie rocked. I think I have the same opinion about the 1989 Batman. The big difference is that people swear by Batman. People don't go to bat for the first Thor movie. Batman doesn't hold up in comparison to some of the best movies of the franchise. Heck, Batman v. Superman probably might be more entertaining than the original Batman (I know I'm saying blasphemy, but the original is very dated now). The same can be said for Thor. Thor, as a character, is an interesting pop culture study. Like I said, Branagh did the unthinkable: he made this Norse god relatable. Part of it is that he really establishes that Thor is almost an alien without making him seem like an alien. That's pretty impressive. But once that door was blown open, I think that Thor managed to evolve in ways that the character wouldn't traditionally grown. Because the first movie opened the door so wide, people were able to play with the character in ways that the comics normally wouldn't. Honestly, (and I'm no expert on Thor. Again, I couldn't handle his font.) it wouldn't be until Jason Aaron's run that I saw major changes to the character. He would just be on a cycle of the same Norse stories and then show up for an Avengers story from here to there. But the MCU has done a lot with him because of this movie and I'm pretty impressed.
But the movie is actually kind of boring. I remember laughing a lot at the movie theater. Darcy is very funny. I like Kat Dannings a lot and she really makes the movie work, giving it a fun tone. But if you know the jokes, and weirdly I still do, the movie gets a little boring. It's not a total wash. Thor as a fish out of water is a great character study. It gives an origin story without being mired in many of the origin tropes. Thor is already Thor, but his major choice hasn't been made. We get snippets of the ancient origin, talking about Asgard, Midgard, Odin, and the relationship with Loki. But this doesn't take up the bulk of the movie. Rather, it is organically folded into the story. It is very brief and that's all we really need. But the fish out of water story is really a problem. The fish out of water story is fundamental to Thor's growth. It is what turns him from aloof jerk to the Thor we know. It's why he's in Midgard. It's why he becomes an Avenger. But it also means that we spend most of a movie called Thor with a guy who has no powers waiting to get his powers back. Mr. Henson always complains about the middle section of the Netflix Marvel shows because the hero always loses their powers and becomes boring. Thor might be the middle section of the Netflix Marvel shows. So character-wise, Thor is the best choice. For storytelling and plot, Thor is the most boring of the films. There's this great villain, Loki, and that's stuff is all removed from Thor. There are so many great elements in this movie that are intentionally separated. It's knowing that there's something great behind a locked door. I know that all this fun stuff exists, but it isn't here and I don't like that. Honestly, look at the individual elements and tell me a weak spot. (Stop yelling at Natalie Portman. She's fine in this movie.) Like, Anthony Hopkins is in this movie. I know he's also in one of the Transformers movies, but he doesn't seem to hate these movies. I mean, he's in three of them. We meet Loki! We didn't know Tom Hiddleson before Thor. Now, he's a citizen of the world. That's how good this movie is..
There's a choice with this movie that is really interesting. I'm not sure that it has the legs it needs to fill a whole section, but I'm going to explore it anyway. S.H.I.E.L.D. (a student recommended that I threw this into my clipboard. DONE!) kind of becomes a much darker organization in this one. In the first movie, Coulson teased us with the majesty that was S.H.I.E.L.D.. It was in the background of this universe and knew how things ran. In the first three movies (I guess S.H.I.E.L.D. really isn't in Incredible Hulk), S.H.I.E.L.D. were the good guys. Thor kind of backs that up. I'm not saying that Thor intentionally sets up for The Winter Soldier, but S.H.I.E.L.D. is kind of icky in this one. Heck, Coulson is the bad guy for a while. That's something that's hard to live with, considering that he becomes the hero of his own TV show. He's the guy everyone rallied for in Avengers. But in this one, S.H.I.E.L.D. kind of sucks. I suppose that's a good choice. I just really was still in early S.H.I.E.L.D. mode. We had barely any Nick Fury by this point. He had his time in Iron Man 2, but he was the guy making the heroes happen. Now I find out that they are thugs who are stealing valid research. Also, was the plan to make S.H.I.E.L.D. the Men in Black? It seems like this is all about keeping the existence of superheroes under wraps, which never really seems to be a thing in the MCU. I don't know. It's a weird choice.
Thor isn't awesome given time. But it is an impressive entry into the MCU. Honestly, the MCU wouldn't be what it now is if it wasn't for Thor. But that also doesn't make it a fun movie anymore. It's a little boring and there is very little payoff, outside of how pretty and digital the movie looks. (I don't mind that the special effects are slightly dated because the movie is just so pretty looking at times. Like, Asgard looks like the prettiest digital mess I've ever seen and I love it.) I'm probably not itching to see this one again, but who knows? Maybe my next viewing in a few years will change my mind.
This one is PG-13 for alcoholism, along with mild swearing and superhero violence. That's a very different movie. Okay, it's...like, alcoholism painted with a very wide brush. We're not talking about nuanced portrayals of alcoholism. We're talking about a kid's superhero blasting bottles with his repulsor blasts while blotto. That can get both dark and hamfisted at the same time. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
The great thing about revisiting these movies just back-to-back is that you have time to remove yourself from expectations. I think that many of us can decide which MCU movies are bottom-of-the-barrel. While I don't love Ant-Man, I can't say that it is universally panned. But Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2 tend to be at the bottom of a lot of people's lists. (I love Iron Man 3 as do many others, so when you start ripping that one apart, that's on you.) Because of the fact that it wasn't that great the first time I saw it, I don't watch it very often. The good news for me, then, is that it kind of was like a new movie. I remembered a few parts, but overall, I had no idea what was going to happen. As such, with my low expectations and little anticipation, I got to enjoy what was a fairly fun Iron Man movie. It was better than I remembered it.
Iron Man 2 serves as evidence for why filmmakers need to take some time between films. Iron Man 1 was a slow burn. It was announced years before it was actually made. There were rewrites and design meetings and all kinds of stuff that make it a pretty fantastic movie. But Iron Man 2 has signs of being rushed. The story is not all there. It is also serving to establish the greater MCU, which is almost unfair to the movie itself. It's appropriate that this is a comic book movie because actual comic books do the same thing. When a major event has just finished, comic book companies tend to release something called a "One-Shot". This is usually a preview book to hype up other properties. The book itself is throw away. Rather, these books are simply meant to sell other books. Iron Man 2 is a little bit of that. The first Iron Man teased the Avengers. The Incredible Hulk had a reference to Super Soldier serum / a cameo by RDJ. This one goes deep into mythology. We get Black Widow as a pretty intense character in this story. Rhodey becomes War Machine. Nick Fury is not a cameo, but an actual character. Really, this movie takes the time to establish S.H.I.E.L.D. as a much bigger deal, which becomes kind of a thing in all of Phase One. The problem with a lot of origin story movies that happen to be a trope with superhero films in general is that they service the hero, but make a villain fairly secondary. Even though Iron Man 2 isn't technically an origin film, it treats itself as if it is one. On some level this works. I really like that Tony becomes far more complex in this movie and treats him like a superhero that is still cooking, despite the fact that he thinks otherwise. But the addition of all of these MCU elements makes both Whiplash and Justin Hammer kind of lame characters. We're still in the era where there needed to be a million villains for a sequel to be justified. I don't know if Marvel does that as much anymore. I know that Homecoming had a million villains, but it really was only Vulture.
The thing is, Whiplash should work. Whiplash is fundamentally tied to Stark in this movie. Favreau does a little bit of grafting to make that happen, but I get that it should work. (I know that the script was written by Justin Theroux. His script works way better than it should, but this is one of the weaker spots.) I like that Whiplash's attack makes him look at his own past. It's funny how often Howard Stark comes into play in the MCU. Considering that he's not that big of a character in the comics, Howard Stark is constantly referenced in these movies. (I'm also a big fan of John Slattery, so that can happen all day.) Tony's got this screwed up hole in his heart (pun intended), and having this braggart deal with his history is smart work. It's weird how the most successful element of the Iron Man movies is not the fact that his suit is awesome. That we get in the other films and those moments are cool, but I really prefer Tony the desperate engineer. It's a little bit of super-rich Macguyver, I suppose. When the story is about Tony repulsor blasting everything, the story falls a little flat. But when Tony has to get his hands dirty and inventing something, that's when I like it. I know. It shouldn't count. When Tony can just build a magic device to get him out of a situation, that's a bit of a cop out. It's so bad that I point out that the dad / villain stuff should work better and the magic-get-out-of-jail-free stuff works too well. I should be inverting that. But there's something cool that hearkens back to The Martian. I know that The Martian uses science while Iron Man just makes up elements, but it still seems kind of cool. Punching all day makes a movie boring (Justice League).
I really wanted the alcoholism to be handled better, guys. One of the most seminal works of Iron Man is "Demon in a Bottle." The idea that it was teased in the first movie meant that people wanted it paid off. But this movie was made less than two years later. The most potential that this series had was dealing with Tony's drinking problem. That drinking problem, luckily, has evolved into Tony's problems with self-control / controlling others so thank God Kevin Feige was on the ball with that one. But the alcoholism is a fundamental part of Tony Stark. Dan Harmon mentioned that he liked alcoholism as a kryptonite better than actual kryptonite because that's something real. Real people actually succumb to that. The strongest of people inflict their weaknesses upon themselves. Having Tony at an 11 in terms of alcoholism is a little bit of a cheat. I do like that it came out of having to deal with his own mortality, but also...c'mon. You have Robert Downey, Jr., a guy who wrestled publicly with alcoholism dancing around in an Iron Man suit? I know it's a bit scary, but there was none of that nuance. He went from being cocky awesome hero to big jerk in the course of half-an-hour. There's no little buildup. He just becomes that. Also, the Rhodey fight doesn't really feel earned. I will say, however, that Rhodey's betrayal doesn't paint Rhodey in the best light either. I give them points. He's right to take the suit. It's wrong what he does with it.
The casting in this movie is perfect all around. (I still miss Terrence Howard, but I really like Don Cheadle.) That's what kind of bums me out when these actors didn't really get the roles that they deserve. I love Sam Rockwell and I think that Sam Rockwell fits the Justin Hammer type perfectly. The guy who wants to be Tony Stark so badly is a great character. It's just that we don't get any time with the guy. Part of it is that we get it. We get it so quickly that an origin story for Justin Hammer is unnecessary. But Sam Rockwell is better than the guy who is just serving the needs of the plot. I want him to start off goofy and then get really scary. He doesn't do that. He's the fool with his money. Similarly, we get Mickey Rourke. Outside of just being a really scary dude in real life, Mickey Rourke has got some acting chops on him. He does a great job as Whiplash. He's scary as crap, but he also doesn't get the amount of screen time that this villain deserves. He actually seems to disappear for a large portion of this movie and I don't know why. (Okay, I do know why. There's some Tony Stark stuff that needs addressing.) But Whiplash gets the same amount of screen time that a first movie's villain gets and that's not fair. He's not developed as much as he needs to be. He's not cryptic. We know why he's doing what he's doing and he kind of just fails. And he's beaten in my least favorite way possible: grudge match. Scarlet Johansson doesn't quite get the screen time she needs in this one and the portrayal isn't there yet, but she gets future movies to fix it. It's so odd knowing what her character becomes that it is kind of fulfilling seeing where it came from. All great casting, not necessarily the best execution. The person who does get a pretty good story is Pepper. I love Pepper in this movie. I don't necessarily see the end making sense. She really shouldn't forgive him after all the crap she goes through, but I do like that Pepper's story is expanded in a way that gives her some authority over the events of the story. That's nifty.
I know I took the wind out of this movie's sails, but I did actually enjoy it a bit. But there are some real weak spots that I can't help but address. The weird thing is that I wouldn't mind watching this one again. I might have to rework my list to push this one up the chain a bit. Honestly, Thor 1 might be my least favorite so far. We'll see.
This one had better be PG-13. Now I'm confused about the rating system. I know that someone out there will know why this movie, made in 1979, can be rated PG-13. I thought that Temple of Doom was the first PG-13, but now my world is thrown into chaos. Perhaps this movie was only imported after the rating system was put into place. The American dub, which I quickly shut off, has all kinds of unnecessary cursing that isn't in the Japanese subtitles. There's comedic violence (and one scene of serious-ish violence) and some mild cursing otherwise. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
I'm now running into the problem of when one marathon binge session runs into another marathon binge session. The library sent me an email. Apparently, I couldn't renew The Castle of Cagliostro and I still really wanted to see it. This probably ended up being a bit of a blessing. I knew that I should see the first Miyazaki film (even though we had already recorded the Ghibli episode of the podcast). Perhaps it was a point of pride. I really like having an almost encyclopedic knowledge of a director's ouvre (and other phrases that justify me getting beat up in grade school). But I was expecting very little. A director's first work is always interesting from a history perspective, but very rarely is it great. I've seen Spielberg's first, Duel, and it is hilarious that young Spielberg grew up into old Spielberg. (Admittedly, I liked Duel, but that has nothing with what I'm discussing now.) The Castle of Cagliostro actually surprised me. It has this chincy box and a pretty bare bones transfer, but this was a ridiculously fun movie.
For those not in the know, The Castle of Cagliostro is actually a movie in a franchise called Lupin III. I had seen images of the character before, but considering that I'm not a manga or anime fan, I knew little about the character. This was going to be a snob watch on my part; an attempt to say that I powered through something that made no sense to me. But Miyazaki made an absolutely fantastic film here. Despite being just another entry in this long running manga series, the film establishes its premise and characters quite quickly without ever getting over-expositional. The characters wear their dynamics on their sleeves. Sure, it can get a little D&D character breakdowny at times, but that's really fun. The movie's goal is to be fun and it really achieves that. I can't take away from Miyazaki's later films. His later films are great and they have these important messages. But it is interesting to see this guy work without a message. This feels a little corporate, sure, but it is by no means cold. The way I understand it is that Miyazaki may have had history with the manga, so having him direct the animated film is partially his baby. It might be unfair to call it corporate, but Miyazaki has a much smaller scope to this movie (which is still huge compared to many other stories, but not to his later works). His goal is to make a well-shot, entertaining movie and it works. It works because the characters are fun, the action is remarkably over the top, and the jokes aren't bad. Lupin, as a character, is chaotic good. I love chaotic good characters and I really, really hate myself for writing this. The lovable rogue is somehow a really compelling character. Lupin himself is aware of his own crimes. He doesn't see that he is a good guy at any point of the story. He is fundamentally selfish and I would hate him in real life. But his moral code makes him compelling. Lupin, at least in this one, is completely in the right. Being chased by his own Javert gives the story a great team up. I mean, I get the dynamic. The movie leans hard into its archetypes. For me, that works great. Somehow, the movie doesn't ever feel lazy though. While I can see this getting tired, Miyazaki is playing heavily off of a sillier version of Bond. I usually hate that, but it works here.
I've complained about my disappointment with animated action. For those readers who don't hang on every word that I've ever written, I find animated action somewhat disappointing. There's nothing really at stake. I know that movie magic takes most of the danger out of a stunt, but the suspension of disbelief goes a long way with making me believe that a character could really be doing these crazy things in real life. Lupin never even implies a moment of reality. There's one moment where, for a good fifteen to twenty seconds, that Lupin tries swimming up a waterfall. He's more successful than anyone would be by a lot. I don't know why this works for me more in animation than it does in live action. But it totally does. Lupin doing stupid, anti-physics things in this movie is what makes the movie charming. When I watched the action sequences in the other movies where I was supposed to shut my brain off and just accept it, I wasn't engaged. The train sequence in Castle in the Sky did nothing for me because the set pieces weren't really doing anything that required a team of people ensuring the safety of everyone on that set. It was just distracting from the advancement of the plot. With Lupin, the action sequences are so over the top that it is more of a show of creativity. How can Miyazaki do something outside the box? Well, let him show you. That's super fun. But then I'm confused why I hate when live action does that? A lot of people like stuff like Shaolin Soccer where it becomes a live action cartoon. I am annoyed by that. It doesn't play as funny. It just seems stupid. I feel like there are no rules. I don't know. I guess here's what I want: My live action should let me believe that someone could really do that stunt and my animation should show off the creativity of what breaking the rules can achieve. This might be my own personal bone to pick, but I kind of stand by it. There's going to be something down the line that completely destroys this idea, but as of right now, I'm invested 100% (40%).
The story might be the goofiest thing about the movie. Like, I followed it. I did a good job of following it. But like many action movies with massive set pieces, it really doesn't matter. These plot points are all vehicles for bringing in action sequences and that's all that matters. As part of that, the supporting cast that don't exist in the Lupinverse don't really matter. The antagonist is generic as all get out. The girl is a tabula rasa, just taking on the attributes that people assign to her. It's so funny that I instantly knew which characters were recurring characters in the franchise because they were the only characters that were developed. I suppose a lot of that came from their interactions and their sense of familiarity, but The Castle of Cagliostro tried establishing that there was a connection between Lupin and Clarisse. (I'm not sure of Clarisse either, but Lupin calls the antagonist a pedophile at one point.) But I instantly knew that this seemed to be a bit of a retcon and that she was a totally new character. Again, these characters and this plot is simply an excuse for Lupin to be scaling walls and ducking lasers. But the setup works in terms of that. If the only purpose for having a plot and new characters was to get Lupin into fun scrapes, then the movie is remarkably successful. In the course of this movie, Lupin makes a fake ring, stands over the most convenient trap door in the world, avoids spikes, flies an autogyro (MIYAZAKI!), launches a car off a cliff, desecrates a cross in a church (maybe I should add this to my rating), and fights lizard ninjas...among other things. The movie is shameless, but that is also what makes it absurdly fun. This is one of those movies that succeeds because they threw the kitchen sink in. Smart? Heck, no. Fun? Absolutely.
And, somehow, it became one of my favorite Miyazakis. I think that could only have happened in a binge environment. After seeing so many intense movies, seeing a young director experiment with a tonally different film while establishing many of his skills is pretty great. Considering that most first movies kind of suck, this is a really good time. I'd watch this movie again. I wouldn't watch it with the kids because of the whole cross thing, but it is a great time. It's silly and I'm glad to know that Miyazaki really has that side to him.
Okay, there's a monster in this movie that literally has the ability of having exposed compound fractures. His spine is on the outside . The term "pulverize" is actually enacted very literally in this movie. There's a sexy scene and a whole bunch of destruction and gunplay. I don't have a problem with "PG-13" as a rating, but it covers so much. Like, so much. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Louis Leterrier
I liked this one when it came out. I really did. I don't hate it like a lot of people do, but I really dug it at the time. I'm also a fan of the Ang Lee Hulk, so I may just be a masochist. I also really like Edward Norton. Like, I never want to meet him. I'm actually afraid of Edward Norton. I imagine that he hates me, despite never having met me or having heard of me. I swear, his character from Birdman is Edward Norton in my head. He scares me. I'm a very non-confrontational human being. I don't like conflict. I don't want to meet Edward Norton. I hear that's all Edward Norton was on this movie: a point of conflict. But now I have to question what side that Norton was on. Is he the reason that this movie is non-stop action or was he shooting for a more nuanced film about the rage that is inside all of us and how the Hulk is just an allegory for abuse? Regardless, the movie didn't quite work out to be the movie that most people wanted and there's a couple of reasons for it.
Because I'm me, I still kind of enjoyed this movie. There are times that I just want to see the Hulk blow some crap up. I also like the idea that a guy has to spend the majority of an action movie trying to keep his heart rate down or else he's going to end up murdering everyone. That's a nifty idea and I've always liked the Hulk in concept because of that. If the movie does one thing really right, it gets the concept of Hulk right. He is a guy who hates what he becomes when he gets angry, so he has to keep working to keep his rage monster out of control. But in contrast to the Ang Lee Hulk, which really played up the allegory without the payoff of great violence, this movie takes it the other way. This movie loves the rage monster in large doses. My wife was working on her notes and said she didn't mind having a movie in the background that she could just listen to. Because of this, she pointed out that this movie barely has any dialogue. (Part of that is not the movie's fault. She's listening to a movie that is initially set in Brazil.) Remember, I started this movie immediately after finishing Iron Man. Iron Man had great dialogue. There's barely anything here. It's a lot of running. There's a lot of 'splosions. That's the movie. I give Marvel and Letterier props for just montaging the whole origin story because the last movie takes, like, an hour and ten or something to get through an origin story. Yes, there were changes done (to match the TV show...theme song and all), but without an origin story, lots of The Incredible Hulk doesn't have legs. It's trying to establish that there is this rich universe of characters to explore with the Hulk, but there really isn't. Not in context of what they are looking at. I read Hulk comics for a long time. I even enjoy Hulk comics to some extent. But I also know that Hulk comics don't keep me focused too much. Every scenario that the Hulk experiences is a grudge match. There's not a lot of cleverness. Banner has to solve those kinds of problems and no one really cares if Banner solves anything. In my review for Thor: Ragnarok, I actually claimed that the inverse problem actually exists. Hulk is on the screen for so long, that Banner becomes the star of the show. The problem is that with The Incredible Hulk, you get so eventually bored with Edward Norton that you can't wait for Hulk, who is just going to punch the problem to death.
Edward Norton is fine, I suppose. I have a feeling that the Norton cut of the movie exists somewhere that makes his character far more compelling. But he's also across from Liv Tyler. I don't know why I thought Liv Tyler was okay in movies. I associate her with her breathy performance in Lord of the Rings. Anyone in Lord of the Rings can do no harm. But that might not be true. She's breathy in everything. Betty Ross is a really weak link in this movie. It is odd how important Betty used to be to the Hulk mythology. Between the films and the comics, Betty is such an afterthought right now. It's weird that Thunderbolt Ross actually has a little more meat to his character than Betty does now. So we have this solid actor like Edward Norton looking like he's disdainful to act across from Liv Tyler. William Hurt as Thunderbolt Ross barely has any lines or scenes with Norton. Then there is Tim Roth, whom I normally love. This character is just a bit too much. I'm going to do a general wag the finger at the special effects department in a second, but Tim Roth looks rough when they CG his muscles. He's kind of gag inducing. Also, his character is remarkably thin. Considering how nuanced Bruce Banner is supposed to be when dealing with emotion, the other characters really wear their goals on their sleeves. Ross wants Banner as a weapon. Blonsky wants to be a weapon. The only character that I really love in this movie is Tim Blake Nelson's Samuel Sterns. He's supposed to be the Leader, guys. They set this movie up to be a franchise. They teased all of this stuff in the movie that was supposed to come back into play and we never saw it again. I keep saying that the MCU doesn't really have a failure under its belt, but it might just be that it never really paid off these big teases because the movie is trying wrestle the Hulk rights out from Universal (pun kind of intended). But I love the Mr. Blue / Mr. Green stuff. I love that the Leader is supposed to be a contrast to the hero as opposed to the Abomination, which is just a dark mirror of the hero. Abomination is necessary, but boring. The Leader would be awesome. I don't want to revisit this movie, but I would like to pick this movie apart for the scraps that would work in the future films.
I said that I would do it. The CG in this movie does not hold up. I didn't believe it when I saw this movie with Pat and Molly. Pat was gagging from how bad the CG was and I didn't believe him. I said it was fine. He told me that it would look bad a year or two out and he was right. Considering how much I love the model for the Avengers Hulk, I have to agree with him. It is hard making a character look real that is fundamentally impossible. We have no frame of reference for a real looking Hulk outside of Lou Ferrigno (by the bye, the sheer amount of nods was cute, but distracting). I didn't think it was possible to find a way to make it work and this model does not work whatsoever. He looks criminally digital in almost every scene. Part of it is that the movie wanted Hulk to look gritty and that's a poor decision. Letterier is playing up the "rage monster" element and that's probably a poor choice. Instead of letting the character deliver his message through his actions, of which there are plenty, he is always covered with dirt, gritting his teeth, and yelling. He's an action hero and has action hero poses. What the Avengers added to Hulk was that he was kind of a dumb animal sometimes. He has a big dopey look on his face and his destruction is what made him gritty. Yes, the Hulk is allowed to be dirty, but he doesn't always have to be contrasted by explosions or fire. He can just be. Most of this is probably a technological thing. It was 2008. But there were also artistic choices and I really disagree with those. There's nothign fun in those designs. There's nothing that takes the Hulk and makes him relatable. He's this animal handsome thing and I don't like that. Make him kind of a dope that smashes things. It works so well. I'm not surprised that the movie didn't go that direction, but it definitely matches the tone of the rest of the film. It shot for cool. It should have shot for fun.
I still didn't hate this movie. There's a lot here that works better than people give it credit for. But the movie isn't really very good. It is watchable, but it also has the problem of having so much action that the movie is actively boring to watch by the end. During the big showdown at the end, I was nodding off. Considering what was going on in that scene, I should have been riveted. But I had seen Hulk blow stuff up by this point. I didn't need to watch two digital messes continue to blow stuff up. There is a reason that the Hulk only seems to work in other people's movies and it's because there is a tipping point that can easily be reached with that character. The Incredible Hulk might be the movie that crossed that line long ago.
Get ready for a whole bunch of PG-13 movies in a row, guys. As part of a binge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (I'm going to be writing "MCU" a lot, guys), there are just some things that are absolute constants. There are going to be a lot of recurring motifs. There is going to be discussion about humor and why DC sucks. And there's going to be a lot of theories about why every Marvel movie is PG-13. There's some language and the Afghanistan sections terrified my kids. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
I'm really dumb, guys. For a guy who tries to write an essay a day on a movie, I decide to binge, something like, 19 movies that hit a lot of the same beats. The thing is, so far, I'm having a lot of fun with it. I own these movies and I think I live in an era where I never have to watch the same movie twice. If I watch a new movie a day, I'll still continue to discover great movies. My wife, if she's reading this (she's not), gets kind of annoyed that I buy movies. I have an amazing collection, but I admit that it is hard to get back to some of the middle movies in the franchise. I have yet to watch my copy of The Return of the King because my marathons never really get that far. But before Avengers: Infinity War, I want to see how these movies have progressed as a whole. Realistically, I've never binged this franchise. I've only experienced them when they came out and a second time when they've hit home video. Watching them back-to-back is a very different experience, one that I don't necessarily hate.
I honestly thought that Iron Man wasn't going to hold up. While writing reviews for the later entries in the franchise, I often refer to problems in the movies as "Similar to Phase One". I loved these movies when they came out, but the franchise really did learn from its mistakes in the early movies. The big thing that surprised me is that Iron Man is a great movie still. I'm not going to say this is true for all of the movies. But Iron Man, if it came out today, would be a solid entry in the universe. I know that Iron Man and Ant-Man were in development for a really long time. That might not be the worst thing in the world because this movie is extraordinarily tight. There is so much attention to world building and tone that makes this a fantastic foundational film. Realize, the entire series is built upon how well this movie works. I heard anecdotally that Favreau really liked the famous Avengers tease at the end, but also kind of treated it with a grain of salt. He knew that there were other movies in the pipeline, but he didn't have the foresight of how successful this franchise was going to be. It was an optimistic dream to think that the movies would get to The Avengers. But the movie still made sure that everything seemed air tight. The idea that there were Easter Eggs in this movie is just fun as heck. We have been so acclimatized to Iron Man being a popular character that it is fascinating to think of where Iron Man was in 2008. No one cared about Iron Man. He was a solid B or C level character. Yeah, he was in the Avengers, but he wasn't Captain America, Spider-Man, or Wolverine. He was Iron Man. He had a terrible mustache and he had no memorable villains outside of the extremely racist portrayal of Mandarin. It seemed impossible to tell a good Iron Man story, but Favreau crafted Iron Man into something that was not only fascinating, but genuinely fun. As an ourobouros, the movie turned Tony Stark into a fun-loving blowhard that was hilarious. Now, the comic book, its source material, has Tony Stark as a fun-loving blowhard that is hilarious. Guys, Favreau fixed Iron Man.
A lot of that has to come from Robert Downey, Jr. One of my students, the one who had been living under a rock, when it came to the MCU, didn't like this one. I'm floored. I think this movie is just so much fun. She saw Captain America: The First Avenger first. I can see if you love Cap that you wouldn't like Iron Man. I'm a fan of both. I'm Team Cap in Civil War, but I love Tony because of Downey's portrayal of the character. I like the fact that he is fundamentally his personality from the beginning, but has a complete moral shift. The reason why Spider-Man works is that he has this moral crisis in his origin story. Iron Man has the same thing, but it would be tempting for an actor to ride hard into that and completely abandon some of the things that made Tony Stark great to begin with. He is never evil. But he is fundamentally naive and selfish. From the moment that Robert Downey, Jr. is on screen, you get his personality. He is a bit of an archetype, but he's rocking it pretty hard. The cocky blowhard is hard to make likable, but Downey really nails that fine line when it comes to building that character up. Favreau immediately gives us everything we need to know in safely one of the most fun infodumps I've ever seen, but we get everything that we need to know. While I'm not the biggest Paltrow fan in the world, I always liked her Pepper Potts. I feel like Pepper is not the most rewarding role in the world, but she definitely establishes that she is interesting beyond a typical love interest role. I kind of don't want to let Pepper off the hook that easily though. There is more to Pepper to be explored and I don't think that this first movie really allows that as much as it should be explored. She is a strong character, sure, but this first movie really seems to be checking off boxes when it comes to building Pepper as a strong woman. I'm also a little bummed that Obediah Stane is the villain in the first movie. Phase One (I told you this would happen) always has the villain mirror the hero. The Iron Man movies do this more than most and I know that they had to get rid of someone in the first movie, but I love Jeff Bridges as Obediah. It's so weird to think that it is Jeff Bridges playing that role, but that's okay. It's so funny that he is either an extremely gruff character or a complete slacker. While Bridges in real life seems more like The Dude, I have to say that the guy knows how to command a scene. I'm a little bummed that Terrence Howard wouldn't return to this role. I loved him in Hustle & Flow and was jazzed to see him in this. Don't get me wrong. I love Don Cheadle too, but I would have loved to explore what Howard would bring to the role of War Machine. There's that tease and that never really gets explored like I would have liked. Don't feel bad for Terrence Howard. He's doing just fine. But I would like to see his War Machine is all I'm saying.
Iron Man shouldn't hold up. But it really works because of the sheer attention to detail and focus on tone / world-building. Honestly, look at the first movie in the MCU and the first film in the DCEU. The first Marvel movie, Iron Man, is so well made and so aware of what tone it wants to set. Man of Steel is one of the roughest movies I've ever seen. It's such a bummer. The MCU, from Iron Man, expanded into a fun franchise that discovered what works and what didn't while Man of Steel rode the misery card into the ground. I know that DCEU fans will defend it until their dying days, but there's so much crafting that went into Iron Man and Man of Steel was all about trying to stray from what made Superman work. I know. This can be contested and if you like the DCEU movies, continue doing so. Always be happy with what you like. But Iron Man is such a solid movie that I immediately went into watching The Incredible Hulk. (Okay, that movie didn't go as well for me.) But this movie works so well that I wouldn't be surprised if I find myself watching this one again next year or the year after.
VillaRama winners join us to discuss the World of Studio Ghibli, serendipitously recorded to celebrate the 30th anniversary of My Neighbor Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies! Enjoy!
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.