Marvel, Paradise Regained

Yesterday, I covered how Marvel set up a series of deals that helped rescue them from financial difficulty but horrifically tied their hands. Now, Marvel has a wonderful cinematic universe where, just like in the comics, stories cross over each other.

Daredevil

The Daredevil and Punisher licenses have lapsed (Yay!). Marvel and Netflix made a wonderful series out of Daredevil (and I daresay spent less than they did on the mediocre movie). I have high hopes for Jessica Jones (November!), Power Man, Iron Fist, and The Defenders.

Agents of SHIELD

So why doesn’t Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. work? It was sold as being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This means The Avengers as that is basically what the MCU is, given the absence of mutants, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and others. Yet for being based on The Avengers, there is no sign of Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, or any superheroes at all. The closest they come is that Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) guest stars in two episodes. That’s two episodes out of two full seasons. In the second season, they added Bobbi Morse aka Mockingbird but haven’t done much with her.

Another part of it has to do with SHIELD. SHIELD as a comic book evolved out of the James Bond series. Nick Fury was a spymaster with a vast array of incredibly cool gadgets but that was in the 70s. The cinematic Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is based more on The Ultimates line of comics and works well.

Unfortunately, a television series could not afford Samuel L. Jackson on a regular basis so the leader of SHIELD is seen in only three episodes and even then it’s briefly. So they resurrect Agent Coulson to lead the team so that we have at least one familiar face. The gadget antics wore out their welcome long ago. It’s why when Daniel Craig became Bond, they went back to basics and ditched the outlandish gadgets. Unfortunately the SHIELD team thinks these items can substitute for plot. They don’t really understand how a Mcguffin works.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has already had a wide array of supervillains, drawn from a long history of comics. While many of the heavy hitters like Dr. Doom and Magneto are unavailable, we still have Loki, Malekith (who was much cooler in the comics), Thanos, Yellowjacket, Ironmonger, Whiplash, The Mandarin (sort of), The Red Skull, Arnim Zola, Ultron, and others, heck they even manage to shoehorn Strucker and Klaw into a movie that didn’t need them.

Who does SHIELD have for a supervillain? Umm, The Enchantress guest stars in an episode. Kyle MacLachlan periodically guests as Calvin Zabo. Who?

SHIELD has started to introduce the Inhumans, one of the few properties not sold off. Unfortunately, they do so in a rather lame fashion. Black Bolt? Nope. Medusa? Nope. I guess they are saving those for the eventual Inhumans movie.

Agent Carter

There is the real crux of the problem. Marvel appears to be saving everything for their blockbuster movies, leaving nothing for SHIELD (or Agent Carter for that matter). There was even talk of a spinoff from SHIELD featuring Bobbi Morse (Mockingbird). Why do a spinoff when you cannot even get the original right?

Obviously, the Inhumans are SHIELD’s big push this year, until the inevitable spring tie-in with Captain America: Civil War. I am a die-hard Marvel fan from my kid days but I feel I have invested too much time in this already.

Excuse me, The Flash is about to come on.

Marvel’s Deals with the Devil

Blame, blame is such an easy game. Why, with such an incredible universe to draw from, is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. such a bore? There is quite a lot of blame to go around but it lies rooted in Marvel’s financial woes in the 90s. There is a great article on Marvel’s trip from bankruptcy to billions here so I won’t go into too much depth.

The Incredible Hulk

Marvel had a big television hit with The Incredible Hulk. It was a wonderful formula: take a well liked actor (Bill Bixby), add a champion body builder (Lou Ferrigno), and simply retell The Fugitive, a popular television series from fifteen years earlier. It worked great. They then attempted to repeat this success with Captain America (painfully bad), Dr. Strange, and others. They didn’t pan out so Marvel tried to launch a few more from within The Incredible Hulk. The Incredible Hulk Returns featured Thor and The Trial of the Incredible Hulk featured Daredevil.

As part of the recovery from bankruptcy in the 90s, numerous licensing deals were made.  It is great that Marvel was able to climb back out of the hole but many of the terms on the deals were ridiculous.

X-Men

Twentieth Century Fox made a fantastic version of X-Men (2000) and the even better X-Men 2 (2003). Unfortunately, the deal allowed X-Men movies to be owned by Fox in perpetuity as long as the movies kept being made. That would be bad enough but the deal included all of the standard X-Men, their standard villains, and even extended to the term mutant.

Attempts had been made during the 90s to bring Spider-Man, Marvel’s most iconic character, to the big screen and while that failed, the rights were tied up for quite some time. Once the rights were untangled, Columbia (Sony) locked them up again, including a rogue’s gallery of Marvel’s best villains. Once again, a really good blockbuster was made, Spider-Man (2002) followed by an even better sequel, Spider-Man 2 (2004).

Daredevil

Apparently, it took a long time for Marvel to catch on that they were selling the cow instead of the milk. Essentially the same deal was made, again with Twentieth Century Fox, for Daredevil. Daredevil, Elektra, The Kingpin, and even Ben Urich were tied up. Ditto Lionsgate with The Punisher (2004) and The Punisher: War Zone (2008).

Finally, the Fantastic Four rights were locked up, again by Twentieth Century Fox. This wouldn’t be so bad as they were usually self-contained but it also included Doctor Doom and the Silver Surfer. Not just that but Fantastic Four (2005), Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), and the reboot Fantastic Four (2015) have all been pretty dire.

Not only did Marvel practically give away their entire roster of characters but many others such as Iron Man were locked up in deals where the movie simply never came to fruition.

 

Friday This ‘n’ That – Hulu & Netflix

A little bit of this, a little bit of that

Hulu

* In addition to their regular service and deluxe add-on of Showtime, Hulu now offers an ad-free service for $11.99.

* Season 4 of The Mindy Project is now streaming exclusively on Hulu

Netflix

* All the episodes of Netflix’s second Marvel series, Jessica Jones, premiere November 20th. I can only hope that they are as good as Daredevil. Soooo am I going to binge on them myself immediately or do I have the wherewithal to wait for my wife?

Avengers Age of Ultron

Well I’ve been lucky enough to see Avengers: Age of Ultron twice now (3D in the double feature and a 2D 9:15 am showing with my wonderful wife) so I suppose I should write about it.

Avengers Age of Ultron

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – Rated PG-13

When Tony Stark and Bruce Banner try to jump-start a dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron, things go horribly wrong and it’s up to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.”

Avengers: Age of Ultron is magnificent. I’ve seen it twice in the theaters and am likely to watch it again. I also look forward to buying it on Blu-Ray. I will say that 3D did not add anything to the movie for me so I’d recommend against the extra charge. I saw a preview for Jurassic World in 3D and that looks like the 3D may be worthwhile.

That said, Age of Ultron is way too much. The CGI is seriously overwhelming. Whedon wanted a lot of the action to be freeflowing but I prefer setpieces properly designed where you can always tell what is happening (think Raiders of the Lost Ark). The CGI setpieces do showcase all of the team’s abilities and appearances but there is a serious case of information overload and in 3D, it is so much worse.

As a comic book fan, I love getting to see all the characters I grew up with appear on the big screen. Unfortunately the screenplay packs in so many, there is no room to breathe. We get The Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Hawkeye, Thor, and Black Widow all returning from Avengers. We also get Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Ultron, Baron Strucker, and Vision new to the movie series. Also appearing are War Machine from Iron Man, Heimdall and Erik Selvig from Thor, Nick Fury and Maria Hill from S.H.I.E.L.D., and Peggy Carter and The Falcon from Captain America.

Since Vibranium figures prominently in the plot, Ulysses Klaue is introduced, played by Andy Serkis in a rare non-CGI appearance. I expect this is supposed to set up the future Black Panther movie. There was even a scene with Loki that got cut and of course a character not mentioned in the end credits scene.

Another nitpick, and it is a nitpick, is that the dream sequences seem poorly handled, especially the ones involving Thor. Several things are given hasty or even no explanation. One would think that that wouldn’t happen in a two hour and twenty minute movie but Whedon just stuffs and stuffs and stuffs until the movie is bursting.

Now back to the original verdict. Age of Ultron is marvelous. All the characters are given good character beats. Hawkeye who had the worst storyline in Avengers gets the best one here. We had a great Hulk vs. Thor battle last time so here we get a great Hulk vs. Iron Man (in Hulkbuster armor!) battle.

The battles are frantic and packed with state of the art CGI. They are a lot of fun if a little hard to follow. The humor in the script is great, including a nice running gag at Captain America’s expense. This is definitely a Joss Whedon film and I look forward to what he does next (sadly he’s done with this series).

If you like Marvel’s cinematic universe, you’ll like this film. Go see it and you only need to stay for the first post-credit sequence. There isn’t a second one as in the first movie. Joss felt that he could not top the shawarma scene.

Superheroes – The Tick Returns!

Every year on September 11th, I take the day off and watch superhero movies and eat pizza. I usually post a tribute here to my dear departed friend, Patrick Grady. He always loved superhero movies but died before some of the best ones (The Dark Knight, Iron Man, The Avengers) came out. The last thing he was able to eat was my beloved father-in-law’s pizza hence my commemoration of him with pizza (also a nod to Poppa, whose name was indeed John, but whose pizza was vastly superior to that chain but I digress) and superhero movies.

Arrow

Patrick would have been thrilled with the current state of superhero movies over the past few years. This year marks a major shift to television. The success of Arrow has spawned The Flash, Gotham, and Constantine so, at least for a small period of time, there will be four DC comics television series and one Marvel (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). Marvel also has/had plans to develop Agent Carter.

The Tick

The big news to me though is that Amazon is bringing back The Tick! Writer Ben Edlund is on board as is Patrick Warburton (who simply is The Tick). No word yet on Arthur, Captain Liberty, or Bat-Manuel. Amazon is ordering a pilot and, as usual, will invite folks to vote on whether to fund this series. The original series is currently on Netflix and is only nine episodes long so why aren’t you watching it.

Captain America Winter Soldier

My plan for today is to watch Captain America, The Avengers (currently on Netflix), and Captain America: Winter Soldier which just came out on Tuesday. It was a good comic book year with X-Men: Days of Future Past, The (not so) Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: Winter Soldier, and The Guardians of the Galaxy but, for my money, Winter Soldier was the best of the lot.

Aliens Attack! Thor Edition

After several terrible Thor ripoff movies, the real Thor arrives on instant Netflix.

Thor (2011) – Rated PG-13

“In this Marvel Comics-inspired action flick, thunder god Thor finds himself banished by his father, Odin, and forced to live among humans on Earth to learn humility. Can Thor regain his powers and return home?”

In the Marvel comics, they obviously couldn’t have Thor speaking a Norse language. Instead, in order to set him apart, they have Thor and the other Asgardians speaking a form of high English, basically someone’s idea of a cross between courtly manners and dumbed-down Shakespeare.

What could be more fitting for Shakespearean dialogue than to hire as director the man most known for Shakespeare, Kenneth Branagh?

Presumably to appease fans, they have shoehorned as many characters as possible into the movie. Besides the obvious Thor, Loki and Jane Foster, we also have Odin, Frigga, Heimdall, Lady Sif, Fandral, Volstagg, Hogun the Grim and The Destroyer.

Although this movie flips back and forth, it can clearly be separated into two parts: those that take place in Asgard and those that take place on Earth.

The Asgard portions are very serious and special effects heavy. They have all the ingredients of Shakespearean tragedy: a noble ruler, an arrogant ungrateful heir to the throne, and a treacherous brother who is second in line to the throne.

In contrast, the Earth portions are light-hearted and poke a lot of fun at Thor. I really liked Kat Dennings as Darcy. She plays the comic relief quite well but some of my friends found her to be abrasive. There is a very nice cameo setting up Hawkeye for The Avengers movie.

Both portions involve a lot of battle action for Thor but this is not a nonstop action fest. The action is good but not especially memorable so it is well that the focus is on Thor himself. Thor is played by the bulked-up and very good looking Chris Hemsworth. Hemsworth is not required to show much range here but he is charming, athletic, heroic, and funny.

Tom Hiddleston really nailed the role of the villainous Loki. With this role, he moved from British television to Hollywood. He has since played F. Scott Fitzgerald in the magnificent Midnight in Paris and Captain Nicholls in War Horse. His Loki was so well-received that he played him again in The Avengers and is slated to return in Thor 2 next year.

He is backed up on Earth by Natalie Portman as love interest Jane Foster, Clark Gregg as the ever-present Agent Coulson and Stellan Skarsgard as Erik Selvig. Asgard is overrun by noted thespians: Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Rene Russo (Frigga), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Colm Feore (King Laufey), and Ray Stevenson as Volstagg.

All in all Thor is what it should be – a fun comic book movie.

Don’t Forget: All the Avengers movies have a teaser scene after the credits. Thor’s scene sets up this year’s The Avengers just as the scene after Iron Man 2 teased Thor. As usual look for Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. Comic book fans can keep an eye out during Thor for the Cask of Ancient Winters, a reference to Donald Blake, the Cosmic Cube (aka the Tesseract), and more.