Thursday, November 16, 2017

Marvel Cinematic Catch Up

Sorry I’m late; you know you’re going to enjoy this stuff anyway, why wait for me?

Spider-Man Homecoming:

Marvel Studios proved it definitely knows what it’s doing at the outset by reworking the old Spider-Man cartoon theme into the style of the Marvel opening music and using it at the start of the film.  If only the Fantastic Four can get a similar stroke of luck.

Having Spidey match his original, youngest comic incarnation when being brought into an already strongly established Avengers universe allows from some cool perspectives.

Civil War introduced the Science Nerd connection between Peter and Tony, and developing that gives this film a nifty “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” view into the Marvel Universe.    Peter and his non super powered high school friends let the audience see how everyday life in the world of heroes progresses.

Things have changed since the Sixties.  Generic public school Midtown High is now Midtown School of Science and Technology, making Peter a nerd among nerds, as befits someone who could develop and manufacture his own web shooters and fluid.  It's a nice change, upping the brain power of the entire high school main cast, including Flash Thompson, who is now a new kind of bully.

Tom Holland’s enthusiasm is infectious; his Peter is as big of a super hero fan as we are, and his desire and joy at joining in flies off the screen.  As always, Spidey is visually dynamic in motion. Normally, I don't care about Peter Parker, but sharing his excitement over the other heroes I'm a fan of, created a stronger bond. His over the top thrilled video blog descriptions of the airport battle sounded  an awful lot like mine, but in the first person.
With those other heroes already established, the film fully shows Spidey’s super strength (can press ten tons according to O.H.O.T.M.U) and durability at the levels it should be, which earlier versions skimped on for "reality's sake."  When you've got human Popsicle super soldiers, hammer wielding deities, and giant green monsters already, reality can take a flying leap.

Again, having the gang go from “generic high school stereotypes” to the Academic Decathlon team of an elite school raised the brain power of his rival, his allies and his crushes.  This is especially true since Ned, Liz and Michelle could have easily been the generic stereotypes, “nerdy friend,” “pretty popular girl” and “snarky loner.”  The environment and the intelligence they’re played with added depth and detail to the characters, and it brought an air of maturity and respect to the youngest supporting cast in Marvel.  
Ned was extra awesome and pretty much the geek audience surrogate for all of us watching.

Speaking of young, Marissa Tomei as a Hot Italian version of Aunt May took a little getting used to, but worked in the high energy interconnected Marvel Universe they’ve created.  She’s still his guardian and his inspiration when things look bleak.

Robert Downey Jr. and John Favereau provided the key points of his world building connections and Tony and Happy were exactly what we’ve come to expect from their previous excellent performances.  This film may become a template for the post Infinity War Marvel Universe, where the older actors have more limited roles as mentors to the next generation.  New talent comes in, and continuity is maintained.

Every hero needs a villain, and once again, Marvel has delivered an excellent actor.  Michael Keaton plays the Vulture, a supervillain who has a family and employees to take care of.  It wasn't Spidey Vs. Batman, or even Spidey Vs. Birdman.  If anything, the role Keaton most resembled was Chuck from Ron Howard’s Night Shift.

Toomes was clearly intelligent, and brimming with ideas like Chuck to the point that it distracted him from the illegality of some of his actions. Granted, pushing into the super-villain territory was further than Chuck ever got, but there were a couple of his enthusiastic point of view speeches where he ventured into, “Loooooove Brokers” territory.   Playing a working class New Yorker at his age, he reminded me of my Uncle Sal in this film, which was a personal bit of weird I feel the need to share.

That may partially explain that while other villains have been impressive or admirable, the Vulture may be the first one that comes off as a straight up likable and relatable guy.

Nifty inclusion of Tinkerer, Prowler, Shocker and Scorpion, paving the way for future battles, and maybe the Sinister Six.

My daughter does have a point though, when looking through the Spidey rogues gallery figures she said, "All of his enemies are creepy old men."

Overall, it was a heck of a ride; it stood alone as a fun and involving film, and also added some cool chunks to the ever growing Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Bonus points for Jennifer Connelly as KAREN, the AI of Spidey’s suit, for two reasons.  1) Her husband, Paul Bettany, voiced JARVIS – and now plays the Vision.  2) I’m a geek who grew up in the Eighties, any movie is better with Oscar winning and frequent geek movie star, Jennifer Connelly. 

As long as I'm overusing the word "geek" - Extra geeky bonus points for recreating the famous scene from the end of "If This Be My Destiny" from Amazing Spider-Man issue 33.  Yeah, I may not care about Peter Parker, but every comic geek knows that one!

The Inhumans:

The Inhumans is a series born of bizarre background battles.  With Fox owning the X-Men movie rights, and not screwing up that franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe decided to replace mutants with Inhumans. 

Fine and dandy until you get to the elephant in the room. 

Or the giant teleporting bulldog in the room.

The core of the Inhumans in the comics is the Inhuman Royal family.  As such, their Royal Family problem adventures tend to be different and kinda weird compared to the rest of the Marvel gang.

I’ve always liked their comics, but I'm kinda weird too.

The Marvel creative types realized that basing a section of their franchise around a group appealing to the “I’m kinda weird too” crowd might not be a financially sound decision. The marketing types insisted (contractually so) that an Inhumans film stayed on the schedule to prove to Fox they didn’t need those filthy mutants anyway.

Further pushing and pulling led to the current situation- giving the Inhumans a limited run replacement series, with the first two episodes getting an even more limited IMAX release.

Here’s the thing about that Royal Family, though.  Besides having less relatable than non-family-of-Monarchs superheroes, there’s also what they can do.

The Inhumans have really bizarre abilities, and are incredibly powerful.  Oh yeah, and they live in Attlian, a hidden city on the moon.

The budget required for those three items is well above the benchmark for “limited run replacement series.”
Attlian residences often resembled a condo in Peoria.

Therefore, while the series does an excellent job of displaying their powers when it chose to…it did an even better job of coming up with reasons for their powers not to work.

Lockjaw- giant teleporting bulldog, awesome…when he’s not injured, tired or otherwise unconscious and out of shot.

Medusa- crazy long super strong prehensile hair, awesome…until it’s shaved nearly immediately.

Gorgon- giant super strong hoof feet, awesome…almost always shot from the waist up.

Triton- fish man shown through full body prosthetics, awesome…dies in the opening scene.

Karnak- ability to analyze any situation or item and find the weak spot, awesome…but really hard to show, so he gets hit in the head early on and his power goes wonky.

Crystal - power to control and manipulate the four Classical Elements to literally landscape altering levels, awesome…or, maybe just the ability to shoot bits of fire and ice.

At least Black Bolt's power is so insanely strong, he has beyond super human control and almost never uses it in the comics...and then in the show he accidentally used it early on when hit.

Overall we found ourselves alternating between going, “WHOAH, THAT WAS SO COOL!”  and “WHOAH, THAT’S  A PLOT HOLE I COULD DRIVE A BUS THROUGH!”

There have also been some changes to the comic versions, that don’t help the audience engage with the main characters.  In the comics, the reign of Black Bolt, (real name Blackagar Boltagon…no seriously, it is) is under constant threat from his brother, Maximus the Mad.  Maximus has super high level mind control powers, and uses them to evilly manipulate others and lead the manual labor race of the Mindless Ones in his coups.  The only reason Black Bolt keeps him alive is he knows inevitably there will be a Human/ Inhuman war and on that day they will need the ruthlessness of Maximus to lead them.
(Royal World Problems.)

In the show, Maximus came through terrigenesis with no powers.  His coup is set up as a breaking down of a caste system where the cool power people live in Attlian proper, and the crappy powered people have to work in the mines. 

Additionally, his villainous minions tended to be more interesting and fun than the uptight, rude and entitled royals. Additionally,  since many of them were created for the show, they have more “limited run series” budget filmable powers

My daughter pointed out correctly that, “Maximus is the only one on this show with any common sense,” and started rooting for him almost immediately.  Given his lack of “take over people with his mind” powers, the treatment by the rest of his family fell pretty quickly into cruel and unusual territory, especially when that family adopted sections of his plan after goofing around Hawaii and learning to be more human before defeating him.

An unfortunate side effect of it being a series is there were some rather gaping unknowns left over at the end of the show; even though it was clear it wasn't being renewed before episode three.  Maybe that’s why the SHIELD team is in space this season, to provide enough of a gap that they can address the Inhuman leftovers when they get back.

THOR: Ragnarok

the whole cast was clearly having a blast and it was contagious. 

Since this was both recent and successful, I’ll stay away from spoilers, for this insane pile of fun and action.

Thor in the comics exists in varying levels as part of three story types:
       1)     Earth’s superheroes – because of his medium
       2)     Asgardian prince– because of his origins
       3)     Cosmic adventurer- because of his power level

The Avengers films mostly used him as the first, while the solo Thor films were more closely tied with the second.

The advantage of the complex Marvel Cinematic Universe is that they have established multiple genres already. Since the cosmic Guardians of the Galaxy films have been more successful, the new Thor story was transferred partially into that realm. Not completely though. There’s still a heavy amount of Asgardian-ness interspersed.  Extra geek points for both the Mythological and Cosmic stuff looking like Kirby art come to life.

However, comedy is given greater reign in Ragnarok, and that's an excellent choice, for the same reason it was in the Guardians films.  It allows going to some dark and tragic places, adding emotional weight to the story, without forcing the audience to leave the theater in the throes of depression.

Plus, in a consideration that the comic book stories don’t have the luxury of, it would be a sin to waste Chris Hemsworth’s and Tom Hiddleston’s outstanding comic timing and presentation skills.  While still creating well-constructed and personally deep stories, the filmmakers have finally realized that superhero tales are inherently silly, and should embrace those abilities in the cast.

Hulk has a substantial role, (again, Woo!) because Marvel is smart enough to extend the focus beyond the main characters for their sequels and sometimes base stories on events (like Civil War) instead of rehashing character arcs.

The new “space” characters fit in with what we’ve seen in Guardians and the new Asgardians fit in with what we’ve seen in the Thor films.  Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie did an outstanding job of straddling the two.

We got some genuinely terrifying yet still entertaining villains. Cate Blanchett was amazing, bringing an overwhelming sense of dangerous power to the role of Hela, with a side order of being slyly, amusingly and boastfully aware of exactly how powerful she was.  Karl Urban was as awesome as ever...

And Jeff Goldblum was Jeff Goldblum. (woo!)

We also learn why Marvel “wastes” excellent actors on small roles.  Because three films in when it’s time for Heimdall to shine, you’ve got someone like Idris Elba to do the shining.

As a fan of insane films, Mythology, Thor comics and superheroes in general, I’ve got a bunch of spoiler filled thoughts that will have to wait for another time.

But this is definitely an “It was awesome, grab the family and go see it” movie, above and beyond many others I’ve made what’s become that blanket statement about.

One semi spoilery Norse mythology complaint.

Hela is not Odin’s daughter. 

It looks like they’ve mixed in bits of Angela from the comics for the movie version.

Hela, in Marvel and in the Norse legends, is Loki’s daughter, one of three children he had with a giantess.  The other two being Fenrir the gigantic wolf in this film who’s children are destined to swallow the moon and sun in the legends, and Jörmungandr, the Midgard serpent who circles the entire earth and causes earthquakes with his motion.

In addition, Loki is also the mother of Sleipnir, Odin’s eight legged horse, due to shapeshifting, a poorly planned wager about building a wall, and…


And, y’know what?  It's probably better that they ignored all of that in the movie.

In the grand Marvel tradition of hiding things at the end...

Man, that Spider-Man end credits scene was the funniest one yet!

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