This post is part of a year long effort of monthly themes – a focus to point my attention at each month that revolves around either a culture I’d like to learn more about or a piece of popular culture that I’m in the mood for or simply love. This idea stemmed from the popular practice of Norsevember, which I participated in whole-heartedly in 2020.
Welcome to week 2! This is a doozy. I’ve been squeezing in as much Marvel as I can, with most of my spare moments. This weeks sees most of the “bad movies” cleaned up, and the start of the real good stuff. Let’s start with the worst one!
X-Men – Dark Phoenix
I tried to go into Dark Phoenix with a similar level of expectation that I went into Apocalypse with. It’s possible that I expected more than what this movie offers, however. This one isn’t good. I’ll admit I stayed with it through the end, but it took me a few sittings to watch the entire thing and I think I could easily have quit as soon as they took Quicksilver out of the movie. Prior films in this X-Men run have had the advantage of at least one great scene with Evan Peters. This one fails even that.
The biggest issue with this movie is that it shines on a spotlight on Sophie Turner. She is the star, when in truth she is more suited to a partial role in any movie. That’s harsh, and I think she was solid in Game of Thrones, but I’ve never liked her as Jean Grey. Playing an abnormally powerful telepath requires an actor with a certain level of introspection and talent. And mystery, I suppose. Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy both have this, and both are talented enough actors to display it. When you look at Sophie Turner, there is no mystery, no hidden depths to plumb. She seems simple, and lacks the kind of screen presence to carry a film devoted mostly to one character. That the villain of the movie is also poorly explained and isn’t even necessary only adds to the woe. I don’t even want to write about Cyclops because that actor depresses the hell out of me.
What I liked:
- Jennifer Lawrence is killed pretty early. I’m glad she was able to get out of this franchise. She clearly wanted to
- As always, Fassbender and McAvoy deliver, though McAvoy’s performance is largely hampered by a lame alcoholism subplot.
- Evan Peters is delightful for what little screen time he gets.
That’s it. There simply isn’t much to redeem this movie. I recently learned that another Fox X-Men movie came out in 2020, New Mutants, and that it is also sub-par, but I think I’ll watch it anyway. My expectations are very low at this point.
I played the demo for Marvel’s Avengers back at the tail end of 2020, probably a month or so before its fall release. I had been really hyped for this game. I think Crystal Dynamics is a great developer and have genuinely enjoyed their Tomb Raider reboot. For them to take on a project like the Avengers and make it a AAA experience felt good. I was a little hesitant about the voice cast – I don’t have anything against Troy Baker or Nolan North, I’m just really sick of them being in almost every game I play. Imagine my dismay when I played through the demo and gave up halfway in. I was severely disappointed. So much so that I lambasted the game and refused to give it a shot on release, despite hearing decent things about the campaign post-launch.
Marvelous March required that I give the game a shot again, which I might not have done had my library not had an Xbox copy on the shelf. One thing immediately about the main game that the demo lacks is the introduction to Kamala Khan. She’s in the demo, but the way they bring her into the actual game, even setting her up as the main character, is really clever and legitimately fun. She takes part in the kind of celebratory fair that I wish comic cons and the like tried to do, but also gets to meet her heroes – something we can’t really do in reality when our heroes are all made up. The main campaign, which is all that I played through thus far, sees the reunification of the Avengers, broken up and slung to different parts of the country due to an attack during the opening sequence that seems to kill Captain America. The story of this game is quite good, on part with most comic runs and certainly better than most other super-hero game stories (with the newer Spider-Mans possibly serving as exceptions). The characters are all very well acted, and Kamala Khan’s voice actor, Sandra Saad, is a real star of the show. I also think the game feels very good, much better than the demo led me to believe. Kamala is one of the better characters, gameplay wise, and Thor feels almost exactly like I want him to. They did a good job of differentiating between each Avenger, even if their movesets all derive from the same source. The only one I was never particularly excited to play was the Hulk – and I kind of understand why this is the case because programming a playable character who can destroy entire planets is probably very difficult from a balancing standpoint.
What remains to be seen is how the longevity of the game will hold up. There has been a fair amount of controversy about Marvel’s Avengers. Crystal Dynamics made a lot of promises before the game was released, and by all accounts they have not delivered on many of them. There has been only one new additional character added since release, Kate Bishop, with Hawkeye scheduled for the near future (why they chose to release two very similar characters back to back is mystifying). Players who bought this game at release expected to see Spider-Man, Captain Marvel, and possibly even Dr. Strange by this time. If the game could live up to the ambition of its developer, it would likely see a loyal following that would stick with it for years, and I think I’d be among them. I liked it so much that I went and bought a PS5 copy because, if he should arrive, that’s the only platform that Spider-Man will be on, and I need my Spidey.
- Captain Marvel 2019-2020 – This is the best Captain Marvel run yet I think. There is one ridiculous issue that tries to Freaky Friday Strange and Carol, but other than that I enjoyed this entire arc. I’m getting sick of comics preaching on about alcoholism though, and that’s present in Carol’s story, but other than that there is some great relationship stuff in these pages, as well as a pretty fun arc in the third volume that has Danvers beating the hell out of all her friends. This is the first comic of Captain Marvel that showcases her true power, and it’s really impressive.
- The Mighty Thor Volumes 4 and 5 – I had read the previous volumes of Jane Foster’s reign as The Mighty Thor and loved it. The final two volumes hadn’t been released yet, but have been since a year ago when I’d read the others, and though my memory was a bit hazy on the events, it all quickly came back. These volumes are really adventurous, in terms of storytelling. They jump around in time a lot, even venturing into the furthest reaches of the future where sits the end of all things (Thor is there, of course). The War Thor concept is fun, though also a little heartbreaking in its execution. My biggest gripe with this run is that it doesn’t take any ultimate risks. I think the writers of Marvel comics are simply not allowed to let any character die, and that’s very prevalent here, when multiple characters who should die, simply don’t.
Well. Isn’t this just a movie? I don’t know whether it’s one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen or some kind of artistic masterpiece. I think likely the former. This is one of the few “bad” Marvel movies I avoided over the years. It came out in 2003, the very year I graduated college, set right in the middle of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I might not have seen it either way because the Hulk was never my favorite Marvel hero.
Now that I’ve seen it, I would very curious what my reaction would have been in 2003. I might have liked it then, before the MCU set the standard for superhero movies. Tobey Maguire had already starred in his first Spider-Man movie at this point, so I proably would have been offput as I remember loving that movie at the time (a recent re-watch has questioned my love for it somewhat, though it’s still pretty good). I would have thought it was too long, over-acted in parts and under-acted in others. I would have been completely smitten with Jennifer Connelly. I would have thought the CGI was decent, not nearly as bad as some of the reviewers of the time, who compared it with Shrek.
What I liked about this Hulk:
- The character-work is actually solid from a narrative perspective. No one is really a good person, aside from Connelly. Hulk is a true monster, killing people and destroying stuff, but he’s obviously not in control. His villains, General Ross and Banner’s father, both have facets to their personality. The only real black and white character is a corporate scientist trying to exploit the Hulk’s genes for profit. I was impressed at the subtleties of characters, even if I was also bored by them.
- This movie is weird. I’m not even sure I can qualify this as a like, but I have to talk about how strangely it’s shot. I’ve never seen anything like it. It almost plays like a high school movie-maker effort, with its endless screens within screens and its overlaid graphics. It’s so ostentatious. I’ve never seen another Ang Lee movie, so maybe this is his thing, but it was so jarring throughout the entire film that I was laughing out loud at it. It entertained me, unintentionally, and it almost felt like a joke.
- Nick Nolte. This guy delivers a Shakespearean effort as David Banner, Bruce’s estranged and vile father. He was chewing the god damn scenery the entire time and it was a genuine joy to watch him.
That’s really it. There isn’t a lot to like outside of this movie besides Jennifer Connelly. It’s incredibly long, with an obvious budget regarding the CGI work – not in the sense that it wasn’t cutting edge for its time but rather in the sense that it would have cost way more than the movie would have made if they’d have tried to put more of it in the movie. Bana is awful. He really is. He’s boring when he’s Bruce Banner and the effort to make the Hulk look like him was disconcerting – like they were trying to make a puppy dog into a monster. When the Hulk isn’t roaring, he’s looking at someone with these gentle Bana eyes that is simply ridiculous. Sam Elliot is a plus, even if his mustache was far too trimmed. It’s weird that he was in this in 2003, and then in Ghost Rider in 2007, showing the obvious lack of any effort at continuity with any of these films (though I did note Kevin Feige’s name as executive producer in Hulk). I plan to watch the Norton MCU Hulk over the weekend, and I’ll be curious how it feels compared to this. People don’t like to remember that it is actually part of the MCU, despite Ruffalo’s absence.
Runaways Season 1
This show had been completely off my radar. I knew nothing about The Runaways comic run, assumed it was simply an effort to attract a young adult audience, and mostly wrote it off as something I’d never be into despite its creator, Brian K. Vaughan, whose Saga series I do quite enjoy. But, I had seen in various places around the internet how popular this show was, despite its cancellation after the third season. This seemed like the time to give it a shot, particularly as it was produced by the team behind The OC, Chuck, and Gossip Girl. Only Chuck is relevant to me in that trio, but my significant other loves The OC and Gossip Girl, so this was a bonding experience for us that couldn’t be passed.
To my surprise, we both found the show quite enjoyable. For me, I always appreciate more MCU tie-ins, which the show completely lacks (and I do believe it is technically part of the MCU), but the writing is good enough and the cast/characters enjoyable enough to watch that I find myself invested, even halfway through the second season.
The gist of the show is that a group of rich/elite folks in Los Angeles are killing runaway children. Their kids, all friends at some point in the past, stumble upon these murders and then have to figure out how to navigate a world in which their parents appear to be horrible monsters. The show handles relationships well, though at times some of the connections do seem forced. The cast is quite good, with a few exceptions, and while it isn’t my favorite show in the MCU by any stretch, it is fun to watch. The first season definitely stands out as the better of three so far, as the second season is getting bogged down with bad plotting and inconsistent themes. This has been well worth watching though, even if it doesn’t fit very snuggly into the greater Marvel-verse. I plan to read the comics run soon.
This is another strange movie, though not quite on the bizarre level of the Hulk. The Wolverine arc that sees him in Japan is fairly important to his comics persona. I remember when this movie was announced and felt excited to see him get into that setting and do his thing. This movie does some of that right. The setting is interesting, and his fish out of water reactions are fun to watch. However, like many of the Fox-owned superhero films, this one falls apart completely towards the middle and kind of just crashes by the end.
What I liked:
- Early in the movie, Wolverine loses a large portion of his innate healing ability. Normally, I might not like the stripping away of a hero’s power because that can easily feel cliche. But the healing factor is so central to his character, and everything that he’s been through, that I think it’s fascinating that they not only attempt it but largely pull it off.
- The Japanese cast, with a few exceptions, is really good. Wolverine’s love interest, played by Tao Okamoto, is a stand out in this film and has me actively looking for her in other roles. Rila Fukushima, who plays a Japanese mutant who can see peoples’ future death, is also really charming and I’d have enjoyed seeing her in other X-Men films.
- Hugh Jackman is really a great Wolverine. He may not always get the best script to work with, but the man brings his best to this role in every film, and there have been a lot of them. I think this is also the most cut I’ve ever seen him in anything. The vascularity is off the charts.
- Wolverine is friends with a bear.
So, this isn’t a good movie. It’s decent, much like most of Jackman’s solo contest has been. I think I’d place it on the level of Wolverine Origins. I plan on watching Logan soon, which I have heard is far and away the best of them.
Captain America: The First Avenger
I haven’t quite finished up all of the non-MCU Marvel movies that I’d never seen, but I wanted to palate cleanse and so decided to start watching the good stuff. Disney Plus has a nice list of movies along the timeline, which puts Captain America’s in the number one spot, so that’s where I began this re-visitation of some of my favorites.
This movie holds up, as I figured it would. I remember being very skeptical of Chris Evans when he was announced as the next Captain America. I hated his character in Fantastic 4, and I was a little salty that they were recasting people in the same universe despite it being different studios and teams. Boy was I wrong. I can’t picture anyone else in this role. Evans is my Cap, to the point that I don’t even like the comics version as much as I like the MCU version.
Seeing Cap back in the 40s, fighting nazis and shooting a pistol is pretty strange now that I’ve seen him wielding Mjolnir and smacking Thanos around. His style is the same, but the stakes are so much bigger. The movie is fun though, taking one of the worst wars in human history and making a fun romp through Europe of it. I don’t have much to say about this other than that I enjoyed it again, and putting it at the beginning of an MCU watch list actually feels right.
Though I’d only seen it once before, Captain Marvel is among my top three Marvel movies. I had some trepidation going into this film for the first time in theaters back when we still went to theaters. I hadn’t loved the comic runs of Captain Marvel that I’d read to that point. She felt too much like a frat boy soldier, and not enough of a figure of female empowerment that her character seemed to suggest. I was also unsure of Brie Larson, not because I don’t like her as an actor but rather she gives off an impression that she doesn’t really care about the role too much (I think that might just be her personality though).
My fears were unfounded because I loved this movie to pieces, to the point that I was in actual tears by the end of it. I think Larson, when she warms up, is fantastic as Carol Danvers (even if it takes half of a movie to get there). There are so many good things in this movie, from the banter between Fury and Danvers to the incredible performance of Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, the Skrull leader. But, by far, the best part of this film for me is the moment when Carol discovers just how powerful she is. “I’ve been fighting with one arm tied behind my back,” she says near the end of the film, but it’s an understatement because when she finally goes binary it’s more as if she’d been playing with no limbs at all. It’s such a powerful transformation that it rates up there with my favorite moments of any Marvel movie. I wish they would have utilized her more in Endgame, despite also having one of the best moments in that movie, but it’s comforting to know that she will be the face of the MCU moving forward.
It has been a hot minute since I watched the original Iron Man, the start of it all, and in some ways possibly the most important movie in the MCU. I won’t write too much about this, but here are a few things:
- The movie holds up, despite almost being old enough to vote. There are some funny things in it though, like Tony Stark using a flip phone.
- I forgot how menacing Jeff Bridges can be. Here’s this dude who has mostly been a benevolent type in any film and he manages to be one scary man, even before he puts on a huge suit of armor.
- The CGI work looks modern, which is impressive. I think there are some tricks in here that help it, like not really needing as much as one might assume when making a movie about a flying suit of armor.
Iron Man 2
Again, not too much to say about this one. For whatever reason, I think this is the MCU movie that I’ve seen the most. Why that is, I’m not sure. I do own a Blu-Ray copy, but I think it’s been so prevalent on various streaming services over the past decade that I’ve never even played the thing. Here’s a list of notable items that stood out to me:
- This movie sets up things in a way that very few of these films do. I think this is the movie where Feige was really solidifying his plans for the future of the franchise. You have the introduction of ScarJo as Black Widow, a character largely unnecessary to this film but who needed to find her way into the MCU somehow. You have Tony ramping up his production of different Mark suits, paving the way for the arsenal that he eventually ends up with, and also displaying new tech that is light years ahead of even what he was showing off in his first movie. You have the inevitable reaction to the emergence of any superhero, which is the emergence of supervillains. You have Agent Coulson, another largely unimportant figure in the context of this movie but who is vital as a connecting thread. And then there’s Fury. And the actual War Machine (watching Don Cheadle after very recently watching Terrence Howard in the role makes me glad they recast this character. Cheadle is significantly better).
- People don’t love Gwyneth Paltrow, and I get it, but I can’t think of anyone who could possibly go back and forth with RDJ like she does. They have a truly perfect dynamic, and her ability to be both flustered and commanding is pretty damn good.
- I still hope they bring back Justin Hammer at some point. He is a great villain. At this point they probably won’t given he is best as a foil to Tony Stark, who is dead, but I’d welcome any sort of plot development that let Rockwell resume the role.
This was a big week! I’ve been really absorbing as much of this stuff as my brain and time will allow, and I’m not even remotely sick of it yet. If anything, I’m becoming more nerdy about Marvel stuff. The next week is going to see me finishing up the few non-MCU titles that I have left, but also finishing up Phase 1 of the MCU timeline. In addition, it got in my head to do a deep dive on Spider-Man games, to the point that I’m setting up my PC to emulate a whole bunch of different systems so that I can at least check out the history of the web-slinger in game form. So far, nothing even approaches the perfection, at least in feel, of the newest Spidey games.