Movie Night: Ant-Man (and the MCU)

Year: 2015

Director: Peyton Reed

Production Company: Marvel Studios

Leads: Paul RuddMichael Douglas

I remember when Marvel was a comic book company, creators of sometimes-cheesy print heroes like Spiderman, Iron Man, and the Incredible Hulk. Now they are multi-billion dollar entertainment company, with enough bank revenue for Stan Lee to retire on a private Caribbean island (probably), largely thanks to the insanely popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, kickstarted back in 2008 with Robert Downey Jr.’s inimitable turn as Iron Man.

Superheroes have never been more popular. According to Wikipedia, the first true ‘superhero’ movie was The Mark of Zorro, back in 1920. I would argue that Zorro isn’t quite superhero material, but Batman is, and made his first big screen debut played by Adam West in 1966 (based on the still-amazing TV series). However, I would argue that the true age of comic book superhero movies started in 1978, with Richard Donner‘s Superman. To this day, there is something profoundly memorable about Christopher Reeve‘s portrayal as the Man of Steel, and Donner truly captured the essence of the comics.

What Marvel have managed to do … since Iron Man … is nothing short of astounding.

In this regard, DC Comics truly reigned supreme for the first decade and a half, with 1989’s Batman introducing us to the darker side of comics (one could hardly argue there is much darkness in Adam West), despite the sequels becoming increasingly cringeworthy. Superman and Batman, already the bread and butter of the comic book world, triumphed in the cinematic universe, and Marvel remained sidelined as a second-rate imitator (the same year as Tim Burton‘s Batman, Marvel’s The Punisher was released direct to video).

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The Devil’s Details: Lego Thor

Having just watched every Marvel movie to date, Little Satis decided to make the cast of The Avengers out of Lego. I think he did pretty well – especially Thor!

Left to Right: Black Widow, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor & Hawkeye. Sorry, Hulk.

Left to Right: Black Widow, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor & Hawkeye. Sorry, Hulk.

Movie Night: The Avengers

Year: 2012

Director: Joss Whedon

Production Company: Marvel Studios

Leads: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans

avengers-assemble-poster-500x742Well, well, well. Here is a movie both Little Satis and I have been dying to watch for I don’t know how long, and finally decided it was just time to get it out of the way.

I should start by saying that I am a fan of good superhero movies; that is to say, movies that both respect the style and material of the original comic book, while at the same time humanizing the characters by giving them flaws deep enough to destroy themselves, never mind the bad guys. In essence: The Crow = good; Batman & Robin = bad.

One of the most successful of these in recent years has been, of course, Chris Nolan‘s Batman trilogy (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight & The Dark Knight Rises). We are introduced to a Bruce Wayne who fights not for a noble cause but for revenge; a man who has no desire to continue his crusade against Gotham’s underbelly other than for his own self-flagellation, driven by hate and guilt.

But this is the DC Comics universe. Responsible for the two most formidable superheroes ever created – Superman and Batman – Marvel ought to be the underdog, always caught in the shadow of their larger-than-life siblings.

But not so. Other than the recent Batman films, D.C.’s output has been mediocre, at best; meanwhile, Marvel Studios has had nearly incessant success over the past decade with the Blade trilogy, the insanely popular X-Men franchise, Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger (I’ll let them off for the first Hulk and Fantastic Four). More than this, though, they’ve carefully built an entire universe of co-existing and overlapping story lines, threading the continuity between Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America in so deft a way that there was really nowhere left to go but: The Avengers.

Though obviously distorted by necessity for Hollywood, The Avengers retains a remarkable affinity for the comic book origins; though many of the characters are different, Iron Man/Tony Stark and Captain America/Steve Rogers are core members of the group, and this is evidenced in the film by the focus of drama on these two (and indeed the conflict that arises between them). Even the story is retained: demigod Loki comes to earth seeking revenge on his brother, Thor. Loki’s power of illusion and manipulation causes near-fatal rifts between the fledgeling group’s members, until they realize that they can only defeat Loki together.

To be perfectly honest, there’s not a lot else you need to know about this movie. In the past, Marvel Studios has done a good job of digging deep into their characters’ history and bringing out the ‘person’ behind the superhero, something that is particularly noticeable in the X-Men films as well as Captain America. While there is an attempt to retain this in The Avengers, the very fact of having an ensemble cast of superheroes dooms this from the beginning: it would be nearly impossible to focus equally on six different characters and still have room for self-reflection.

Not that it matters. Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about The Avengers is that, frankly, it doesn’t try to pretend to be anything other than a mindless, visually thrilling romp of destruction. And at this, it is very successful. Despite the knowledge that at least half of what’s on screen at any given moment was created by ILM, the visuals are nonetheless stunning, and – astonishing, really, in an era of CGI-anything – there are a few moments that are quite literally jaw-dropping, including the ridiculous aircraft carrier scene (if you’ve seen it, you know what I mean).

This is not an intellectual movie. In fact, it doesn’t even advance the stories of any of the individual heroes (something Kurt Vonnegut would understand), and no one leaves any different to how they entered. It’s basically good guys kick bad-guy ass. The genius of this movie is that it works anyway; having come to know the characters so intimately through their previous filmic incarnations, it’s actually kind of relaxing to sit back and watch them blow shit up.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆