Tag Archives: Marvel

Rethinking Superhero and Comic-Book Movies

When I started this site back in 2007, movies inspired by known superheroes or comic books were still in their infancy as a genre.  Who knew that 12 years later we would see a genre that would not only grow exponentionally, but also dominate most cinematic discussions?  You can see the height of this naivete with my list from June 30, 2008, where I listed what I thought were the top 10 superhero movies of all time.  Marvel had just released what would end up being entry #1 of 22 in what is now known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU); Chris Nolan had just released the second entry of what would become known as The Dark Knight Triology; and DC was starting to dominate the animated movie front via Blu-Ray/DVD.  Streaming services were starting to be visualized, but not in wide production.  Additionally, movies and franchises like Kingsman: The Secret Service, Kick-Ass, A History of Violence were actually pulled from graphic novels and small comic-book series not known by most, with studios taking some risks in developing those properties.

If the period of the late 90s and early 2000’s was consumed with fanboys/fangirls angrily drawing battle-lines between Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter, then 2008 would see the rise of a war that looks to put those earlier battles to shame: the MCU versus the DC Extended Universe (DCEU).  With the events (on- and off-screen) of the past 3-5 years in both franchises, fans on each side have only gotten more steadfast in their positions and leave little room for those that enjoy both.  What is interesting is that lost in all of the debate would be the following:

  • Marvel has surrendered the animated movie arena to DC
  • While some movie-watchers bemoan the live-action offerings from DC, many do not realize that DC has been quietly producing 2-3 animated offerings per year over the past 10-12 years, with many being well-received.
  • Despite some missteps by WB and DC, the DCEU is realizing that the way to compete with Marvel is to frame their “universe” differently.  As the DCEU moves away from the idea that each movie must be firmly tied to the other movies, the storytelling and offerings improve, giving audiences credit for understanding that not every movie has to set up the next one and that not each one has to have crossovers.

As these thoughts have been bouncing around in my head, it does force me to rethink how I need to evaluate this genre that has exploded with content.  As a result, I will be revisiting my 2008 Top 10 list and framing it differently.  I will also build out lists evaluating Marvel and DC separately; to try to do both together is a fool’s errand of the magnitude of one of Don Quioxte’s quests.  This will give me some content to develop over the next 1-2 months in between movie reviews and other items.

As always, comments are welcome below…

Guardians of the Galaxy

From the very beginning, I have always talked about how the movies I saw as a kid shaped me and my interests today.  I am thankful that I grew up in an age where watching movies at home wasn’t easy to do.  I grew up reading interviews with Lucas and Spielberg where they cited inspirations being the old serials that they would watch at the local theater.  No matter how it was described, going to the movies for these directors and countless others like me was an event that was treasured, no matter how good or bad things were.

For me, the first science fiction movie I saw on the big screen was Star Wars.  Even with all of the normal things people point to, what captured me from the beginning was that this was a ride:  a rollicking ride through the universe with Luke, Han, and Chewy as our guides.  It was this fun I looked for in science-fiction movies then and now.  While my tastes may have matured over the years, sometimes I just want the Flash-Gordon, Han-Solo fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants fun that can be one of these movies.  Sadly Hollywood is fixated that everything must be a space opera with great importance.

This does science fiction a disservice.

Why?  Think back to why many kids grew up reading Tom Swift and Jules Verne; watching Buck Rogers and Captain Kirk; and waiting forever to see Han Solo crack that cocky grin and blast his way out of trouble.  We thrilled to the excitement of their adventures and couldn’t wait for the next one.  Comics helped fuel this with superheroes that not only took care of Earth, but the whole universe.

While I am familiar with the Guardians of the Galaxy, I have never really read anything except the Infinity Gauntlet trade paperback that Amber grabbed for me as a thank-you for taking her to the 6-movie Marvel marathon when The Avengers came out.  So unlike some of the other Marvel and DC movies, I had no preconceived notions of what to expect over the past 2 years as production began on this project.  I also made it a point to not really read a whole lot about this movie, choosing to remain spoiler-free as much as possible.

That said, I still kept up with basic news: casting, director assignment, etc.  I was intrigued by two casting choices:  Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, and Bradley Cooper as Rocket.  I had not watched any of James Gunn’s work, but the general vibe was one similar to how people felt about Joss Whedon directing The Avengers:  it will; either be tremendously good or tremendously bad.  When the first trailer hit and I heard “Hooked on a Feeling” as part of it, I knew that this was not going to be a typical sci-fi/superhero movie.  This had the potential of being a great entry in the genre.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-IMAX-poster-700x1024In early July, I got lucky enough to score a pass to a special IMAX preview of the movie.  In the 17-minute screener, I got to see one of the major scenes that highlighted what the movie would be:  a rollicking good time.  The 3-D looked amazing, and the casting was dead on.  As a bonus for going, everyone got a special poster to take home.  All I could think about on the way home was how good this movie was going to be when I saw it completed.  For something that I had minor interest in before, I was now rabid for more.  Yet I still avoided spoilers – I knew that to indulge now would ruin what could be a truly fun experience in the theater.

I did get to see it on the Thursday night before opening, but I had to settle for the AMC Dine-In theater.  I say settle because it is not outfitted as an ETX screen.  I chose the dine-in option due to not knowing when I was leaving work and the ability to reserve my seat.  AMC was running a promotion for Stubs members that gave them a free random pin with ticket purchase; I got Gamorra.  I settled into my seat, ordered dinner, and waited for things to unfold.

For once, I had not built this movie up too much in my head before seeing it.  There is a lot of good to enjoy, enough to offset any bad.  So what did I like:

  • Chris Pratt – He brought the wholesomeness of Andy from Parks and Recreation and gave him an upgrade on intelligence.  This movie works because of Pratt’s acting.
  • James Gunn – What unfolds is a master class on how to make a fun space movie.  Even with the stakes being high, Gunn drops the angst and focuses on why we have loved Tom Swift, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers for decades.
  • standard_fantasticThe soundtrack – Gunn once again shows the importance of a choosing the right songs to tell a story.  It’s easy to do when someone is composing; Lucas used to brag that you could watch Star Wars with just the Score audio track and no dialog.  But choosing songs that people know to help tell a story is infinitely more difficult.  Over the past 10-25 years, very few movies have had a soundtrack of songs that essentially became another cast-member: 10 Things I Hate About You; Garden State; and Love Actually all spring to mind as solid examples.  Gunn’s use of the songs in Guardians can be summed up with the tile of the tape: Awesome.
  • Bradley Cooper – His voice work for Rocket sold the character.  Time and again people think voice work is easy.  It isn’t and done poorly, it can ruin a movie.  Cooper did it quite well.
  • Visuals – Even with limited locations, one never feels cramped in this galaxy.  It is expansive and beautiful and ugly, all at the same time.
  • Story – For the most part, a fairly simple story that does not require any knowledge of the comics or even the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe.  This can be a stand-alone movie and last for decades.
  • “Stingers” – There are two scenes during the credits and are worth staying for.  I will not spoil either of them.

So was there anything I did not like?  Some minor quibbles, but nothing that kills the enjoyment – here is what I noticed:

  • The Collector – For a character that seemed to have a lot of hype, not much other than him explaining the infinity stones.  Granted there was a lot to cover story-wise for the movie, but this character is going to need some type of development if it is going to continue being a through-thread.  This was the second time seeing him, with the first being during Thor: The Dark World.
  • Homages – Now that the first movie is done, let’s ease back on the homages to Indiana Jones and Captain Kirk.  Some of the best scenes for Pratt’s character were original ones that did not try to make the same tired jokes of the “rebel sleeping with every female alien” or the “mystical quest”.

My Advice:  Pay full price and see it in 3-D IMAX; well worth the money.  I anticipate seeing this movie 1-3 more times in the theater.  It is on my top 10 list for the year, top 5 for Marvel movies, and one of the top in the genres of Science-fiction for me.  I anticipate enjoying this one for years.


Hulk Vs.

Over the last couple of years, I have reviewed most of the Marvel Studios animated DVD releases rather favorably.  I was happy with the product coming out and felt that they were taking their time to produce some good animation with a good story.  I skipped over The New Avengers because it looked “kiddie” next to their other fare, as well as being too close in resemblance to PokeMon.  So a year after my last review, I come across an offering that had actually been out for a few months: Hulk Vs.

Hulk Vs. is really two shorter features on one disc, similar to how Disney would package some of its earlier animation for theaters (Fun and Fancy Free).  One feature has the Hulk battling Thor, with the other involving Wolverine.  These features are in the same vein as some of the one-off, throw-away issues Marvel would produce for one of its runs.  Basically a flimsy premise to force two heroes to square off against each other — to be fair, DC has done the same thing.

The Thor feature is the stronger of the features — it is also possible that I preferred this one because I feel that X-Men and Wolverine are overexposed at this point.  Both features had more story than expected, but still revolved around “Hulk Smash.”  The DVD had a behind-the-scenes featurette for each one, but nothing else in the way of extras.

My advice:  Skip this entry and spend the time rewatching one of their earlier offerings…

Doctor Strange

One of the best partnerships in a while has been the one formed between Marvel and Lionsgate.  It has allowed Marvel to focus on developing animated movies of some of its best heroes.  In previous reviews, I covered the DVDs for Ultimate Avengers and Iron Man.  Doctor Strange now enters the list.

This was a tough one.  Doctor Strange never captured my attention like Spidey or Hulk, so I didn’t know a lot about the character.  I have actually had the DVD for about 6 months and loaded in the player for 5 of them.  Every time I decided to watch it, I fell asleep due to it being late.  I finally chose to watch it one afternoon.

Much like the Iron Man DVD that preceded it, Doctor Strange has a slow pacing.  It is also similar in that it is based in Asian mysticism and an anime drawing style.  There is action, but more of the story is at an intellectual level.

Overall, not a bad DVD. It has the extra features of 5.1 sound, background feature on Doctor Strange, concept art, and a look at the next Marvel animated feature.

My advice: Worth watching — maybe as a double-header with Iron Man. Keep up the good work, Marvel — I can not wait for the next one…

The Invincible Iron Man

My odyssey through Marvel DVDs for this weekend ends with the third of the Marvel animated set: The Invincible Iron Man.

Overall, I was disappointed in this DVD; I am sure that will change over time. I made the mistake of watching it right after the Ultimate Avengers movies. Iron Man has a different look and feel, more anime in style.

The story is actually stronger, buried in Chinese mythology. This also means a slower story from an action point of view. Iron Man is voiced by the same actor from the Ultimate movies, so credit to Marvel for consistency.

Overall, not a bad DVD. It has the extra features of 5.1 sound, an alternate opening sequence (I liked this one better), an origin feature, a tour of the armour gallery, concept art, and a look at the next Marvel animated feature (Dr. Strange).

My advice: Worth watching, but not right after the Avengers. Keep up the good work, Marvel.