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.
Can you believe it’s been four weeks already? I can’t. It’s flown by, as have my original plans to limit my Marvel obsession to a singular month. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. I am discovering a new facet of nerd in myself that I’ve always toyed with before but never truly committed to. Now I’m walking around in a Captain America-themed face mask, have a mini-Mjolnir dangling from my keychain, and am brainstorming how to display in my office all these new comics that I’m buying. There are moments of doubt when I wonder, should I, an almost 40 year old man, become a comics nerd? Then I remember that I’m already a book and video game nerd and that ship has sailed.
Thor: The Dark World
I often see Thor 2 listed as one of the MCU’s worst outings. I had seen it once before, but couldn’t remember whether I liked it or not. In fact, I couldn’t remember much about it at all. Having watched it again, I still can’t remember much about it. I think that’s perhaps its flaw. It isn’t necessarily a bad movie – it’s just completely forgettable. This is unfortunate, as in Malekith you have a big bad who could really cause trouble in the MCU for decades if he’s written properly. He has a huge arc in some of the recent comics that sees him bringing war across all the realms. It’s Infinity War-level in its scale.
However, The Dark World’s Malekith doesn’t quite live up to his on-page representation. He could. In the hands of Christopher Eccleston, he could have been great. There is nothing wrong with any of the casting of this film, nor the performances. In the end, it seems like it was a matter of mediocre script and an uninterested director. The movie also badly wanted to be Star Wars: Thor’d.
What I liked:
- Though I’m not a sappy fellow these days, I did enjoy the exploration of Thor and Jane’s relationship. It’s still a little dreamy-eyed/juvenile, but it sets the stage for Thor: Love and Thunder (I hope).
- Visually, the movie looks quite good. I wish there hadn’t been so many space battles, which take up entirely too much screen time, but other than that it’s enjoyable to look at.
- Kat Dennings – I don’t know if it’s because of WandaVision, but I have loved Kat’s portrayal of Darcy Lewis in both of the Thor movies. She’s genuinely funny and in this movie her light-heartedness is desperately needed to balance out everyone else’s grim visage.
- This is the first movie to mention the Infinity Stones, even if it does so post-credit. It’s an exciting moment when seen in retrospect.
That’s all I can remember. I’d watch this movie again and probably forget about it again. The cast makes it palatable, thankfully. Put Hemsworth and Hiddleston together in a room and you get a watchable film. Do I think this is the worst film in the MCU? It might be, but that doesn’t make it bad. The high caliber of these movies means that even their worst are better than most other superhero films.
Iron Man 3
The thing I most remembered about Iron Man 3 is the scene at the end when Tony calls all of the armors in to fight the super-powered bad guys. It’s a hell of a scene, but upon a re-watch is not the thing I should have most remembered about this movie. Iron Man 3 is one of the most experimental and strange MCU movies that they’ve made, but it takes a detailed viewing to really appreciate it. It lacks a good villain, which is a shame because in the comics the Mandarin is a real son-of-a-bitch, and I think this dearth of a foil for Tony is probably what hampers the film for most viewers.
But for me, the movie isn’t about any hero-villain relationship because it already has that inherent in Tony Stark. He is his own villain, and he’s certainly his own hero.
What I liked:
- The star of this film is Tony’s PTSD, and Robert Downey Jr. does the portrayal of that mental anguish surprisingly well. He doesn’t dwell on it, nor overact when he’s in the throes of a panic attack. To now, we haven’t seen this kind of exploration of any superhero’s mental state. We don’t see Captain America or Thor wondering how they can recover from one of the most traumatic experiences they’ve ever had because, unlike Tony, they are themselves more than human. Tony, for all his talents, is remarkably human. Take off the suit, and he’s just a billionaire, philanthropist, playboy.
- Which leads me to the second thing I love about this film – Tony doesn’t have an Iron Man suit on for most of this movie. That’s crazy right? How can you make an Iron Man movie without the Iron Man suit? Particularly when it’s the suit that helps him cope with his PTSD. Part of the genius of Iron Man 3 is that we get to see just how damn resourceful and intelligent Stark is when he doesn’t have his armor on. He crafts weapons on the fly like he’s in a video game, and manages to take out super-powered psychopaths with his own quick-thinking and instinct.
- I like the Pepper Potts power moment at the end of this one. I also like that she acknowledges it. “I think I understand why you don’t want to give up the suits,” she says to Tony after smacking the Mandarin into a wall with a steel girder. It’s strange how ambivalent I feel about Gwyneth Paltrow in reality and how much I like her in the role of Pepper.
The movie is far from perfect – Tony’s narration at the beginning and end is something I could do without. It also ends strangely. Tony gives up the suits, seemingly to retire, and then when we see him again in Age of Ultron there is no mention of him doing so (though I think he acknowledges this later in Civil War). However, I think this might be my favorite Iron Man movie simply for its exploration of character.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Unlike The Dark World, The Winter Soldier is almost universally praised as one of the best MCU movies, even post-Endgame. I remember enjoying it at the time, but also not being completely blown away. Upon a re-watch, I can see why people like it so much. It’s the first Russo Brothers directed MCU film, and it really shows. The action is big and exciting, and there is lots of good interpersonal development between the characters.
Is it my favorite? I don’t think so. Perhaps it’s too grounded for me (which is ridiculous considering it deals with all of these demi-gods and floating fortresses). I don’t love Bucky as a character, and he’s a big factor in this one. Why that is, I’m not entirely sure. It could be his complete lack of any nuance. He’s always angry and brooding, and so comes off as very one note. I understand the story reasons for this, but it mars my opinion enough that it’s difficult for me to sympathize with Cap’s need to save him.
What I liked:
- Captain America really gets to be Captain America in this. He is doing amazing things the entire time, and because he isn’t fighting aliens or super-villains, he comes off as completely overpowered and brutal (which is how it should be). That elevator scene is so memorable because it seems like he fights impossible odds, and the way that the fight is choreographed has such impact that I could watch it all day. As well, the opening scene when he’s clearing the ship deck of pirates (weird sentence) is so damn cool because he’s just vibing along, beating the shit out of everyone.
- The movie is obviously well-plotted, and kind of has to be given its inspiration – namely that of being a spy-thriller. There isn’t much downtime, and there are good plot twists throughout that aren’t predictable.
- I like the deepening relationship between Romanov and Cap. It’s really well done and sets the stage for their entire relationship moving forward, which I think is one of the best in the MCU – particularly for it not being a romantic one.
While this movie doesn’t stick with me quite as much as some of the others, it is quite good. It might suffer in a re-watch due to its plot twist-centric nature, but I could watch the action scenes every day and not get sick of them.
Guardians of the Galaxy
I was worried, upon rewatching the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, that my dislike of Chris Pratt would completely mar the experience, perhaps even make it unwatchable. The first time I saw GotG, I liked Pratt. In fact, he was one of my favorite actors at the time. He was so good in Parks and Recreation, and I remember being excited to see him in the MCU even if I knew nothing about his character. What I learned on this re-watch is that the Pratt from this movie is not the Pratt from the Infinity War saga. The actor changed, and so too it seems did his performance. I like him in this, and he seems to be enjoying himself in a way that he did not in subsequent films (post Volume 2). This could be my own perception working against me, but it doesn’t matter because it means I still loved this movie.
What I liked:
- Rocket and Drax and the stars. I remembered that Drax was funny, but I did not expect to laugh almost every time Rocket opens his mouth.
- I think Guardians still has the best “get your posse together” trajectory of any of the MCU movies. Them all banding together in the prison and then staying together and becoming friends is genuinely touching – particularly given the end of the film where that dynamic plays a major role.
- This movie has the most universe-building of anything to this point. Not only is Thanos straight-up in it, but we see what an Infinity Stone looks like as well as what it can do when unleashed.
- What a bunch of a-holes.
I’m a little conflicted on what they did to Ronan the Accuser. I’m not overly familiar with his role in the comics, but he seems like kind of a big deal in the Captain Marvel runs. He straight up dies at the end of this, which is fine I guess, but it feels like they wasted his character. In all, very relieved to still enjoy this movie so much.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2
As you might imagine, I was worried about having to watch the Guardians movies back to back. Would my Pratt-distaste spell the end of my MCU run? Obviously not. In fact, watching the first movie might have made this one even better as I was in such a post-movie glow about it. The first time I watched Guardians Volume 2, I thought it was dumb. I distinctly remember not enjoying the movie much at all. Now, I don’t know why. I think I might have enjoyed it this time more than the first one. Is this something to do with watching it in a post Endgame world? There are problems with the movie, for sure, but they are largely eclipsed by some of the same stuff that makes the first one so good.
What I liked:
- Again, Drax and Rocket are so fun to watch. Drax is particularly funny in Volume 2. His interactions with Mantis have no right to be as good as they are.
- This is a touching movie, mainly in its exploration of parenthood seen through the differing lenses of Yondu and Ego. Obviously, both are terrible parents to Quill, but there is nuance and complication in each relationship, and Yondu’s eventual sacrifice is incredibly well done.
- Though perhaps a little clumsier than the parenthood themes, I liked the reconciliation of Gamora and Nebula. It must be difficult, as an actor, to be dressed up in restrictive make-up, while also trying to portray emotion as an android type creature. I think Karen Gillain does a good job with that dicey balance.
The thing I liked least about this movie, and it’s what I originally disliked as well, is the Ego plot-arc. It’s exciting to be talking about the Celestials at all in a Marvel movie, given what a presence they are in the comics, and the scenes of exposition are genuinely interesting. However, the destruction of Ego and his motivations do not hold up. For one, I don’t believe for a second that a rag-tag group of idiots are going to get inside a planet’s core and destroy one of the galaxy’s oldest entities. I also think it’s a mistake to kill off Ego considering what a big presence he is in the Marvel universe. I can see wanting to tie up a loose end, given all that came after this, but it still feels wrong to me. His motives as a villain also ring a little hollow. They took what could have been a really interesting exploration of power and parasitism and turned it into some mustache twirling nonsense.
Thankfully, much like with Iron Man 3, a bad villain can not ultimately tank what is otherwise a fun and enjoyable movie. Even saying that, I quite enjoy Kurt Russell in the role, and he really seems to relish it.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
I’m not sure how it happened, but Age of Ultron is receiving a renaissance right now, and I’m right there with it. I enjoyed this movie way more on a re-watch than I did the first time. I wonder if the WandaVision craze has a lot to do with it considering how vital Wanda is to AoU. There are definitely some issues with it overall. The killing of Quicksilver is kind of strange, particularly in the overwrought lead-up to it when the movie really wants you to believe that Hawkeye’s going to die. The entire premise of the opening feels somewhat shaky, not so much in the reason for the team-up but rather how they got there. The end of Iron Man 3 has Tony retiring. Cap has just basically gone to war with the U.S. government. Thor is probably wanted for mass destruction in London. Some explanation might have been nice. There are smaller bits that don’t work either, like the Black Widow/Hulk stuff that never really went anywhere.
Regardless, this is the movie that really sets up the future – both in terms of Civil War and the Infinity Cycle (and obviously WandaVision). Whether or not you feel as renaissance’d by it as a lot of the Marvel fandom seems to be or not, there’s no denying how important the film is to the overall picture.
What I liked:
- There are several scenes in this movie that I could watch on repeat. One is the party scene, particularly the part where everyone is trying to lift Thor’s hammer. The opening sequence is also a masterful shot, seemingly un-cut, and it has fun with the combinations of powers and team-ups.
- Vision – I didn’t realize just how much I liked his character until a re-watch. I don’t understand how I didn’t see it before. Bettany is brilliant, and the compassion/alienation combo that he pulls off is inspiring to watch. He delivers some of the best lines of the entire series in this, and watching him hand Thor the hammer is also revelatory.
- Ultron is a great villain, particularly voiced by James Spader, who is only hampered by a misguided plot and a dampening of his potential that can be frustrating.
- The Hulk-Buster fight is so good, and is such a great excuse for someone to fight an angry Hulk. You can practically feel Tony in that suit, watching this raging monster tear him apart despite the billions of dollars of technology encasing him.
I came out of this re-watch really loving this movie. It isn’t my favorite, but the sheer moxy of it, the ambition, is hard not to admire even if Joss Whedon turned out to be a piece of shit. I can see the wasted potential – like there at the edges, if you look at the details you can see how a better movie could have come out of this. Nevertheless, it’s solid and enjoyable to watch and somehow better now than it was seven years ago.
- Eternals (2006) – By all accounts, the Eternals movie coming later this year is going to be phenomenal. Hardly anything is known about it, but it has one of the most prestigious directors in the industry at the helm, a very solid cast, and an ambition bigger even than the Infinity Saga. Knowing that, I thought reading through Neil Gaiman’s run of Eternals books would answer some questions. It does not, and I feel like I’m missing something vital to the entire thing because it just kind of ends without much in the way of explanation. I know almost nothing beyond what I already knew. I am going to look into some of the newer Eternals stuff and see if it is better. One thing I will say about this collection is that some of the cover art is truly spectacular, much better than the retro art inside.
- Hawkeye (2015) – I don’t know what to think about this series. There are things I love about, little details that make it feel like a kind of cult classic. The track suit mafia, Kate Bishop in general, the guy who is always calling Hawkeye “Hawk Guy.” There are aspects there that are unforgettable. However, the series goes so far out of its way to make both Clint and Kate completely inept that it feels like satire. Like, whoever wrote it kind of hates comic book heroes and wanted to show them as a couple of buffoons. That said, it’s a memorable run and perks my interest for the upcoming show. I don’t really know how they’re going to reconcile the characterization of Hawkeye, given his father-figure status in the MCU versus the complete opposite in this comic. I also wish they’d have cast someone else for Kate Bishop. I like her character a lot, but do not care for pop-star Hailee Stanfield much.
- Loki: Agent of Asgard (2014) – It was inevitable after the outpouring of love for Hiddleston’s Loki, post-Avengers, that someone would write a stand-alone Loki comic. This one sees Loki trying to atone for his many crimes by performing services for the reigning monarchs of Asgard. It’s fun, as it should be considering its hero. Loki has apparently transferred his consciousness into a much younger body, a much more…Hiddleston-esque form. I’m not terribly far into this yet, but I like it enough to continue.
Games Round Up
- X-Men 2: Clone Wars (Genesis) – I never had a Genesis growing up, or I might have played this little gem. I say gem, but this game sucks. It’s an action platformer/beat-em up. You can play as Cyclops, Psylocke, Wolverine, Gambit, Beast, Nightcrawler, and eventually Magneto. There are some interesting things going on here, it being so early in superhero games. Each character has a unique playstyle, and many of the familiar X-Men villains make an appearance, even if their appearance makes very little sense in the context of the game. The platforming is truly awful, and it was only about ten minutes into playing that I decided I would never get anywhere if I didn’t turn invincibility on. Even then, there are places I struggled with due solely to clunky controls. I wouldn’t recommend even a cheat-playthrough of this.
- Spider-Man X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge (Genesis) – I actually do remember playing this game on the SNES a long time ago. I must have rented it, and I don’t really remember Spider-Man being in it, but I do remember Wolverine’s first level vividly. It has such a unique background pattern in gaming. That said, this game ranges from mediocre to downright horrible. Each character, Spidey, Wolverine, Gambit, and Storm, each have two levels. The premise is that the villain, Arcade, has set up a sort of funhouse for each of them, hampering their powers in certain ways that make it more difficult. For instance, Storm’s levels are set underwater. Storm’s levels are fine, if frustrating. The first levels of each character are actually serviceable. It’s the second levels, particularly those of Wolverine and Gambit, that are simply bad bad bad. I couldn’t finish them. Even with all the cheats, I was so frustrated that I wanted to scream. I can not believe games used to be designed this way.
- LEGO Marvel’s Avengers (PS) – You might assume, as a 39 year old man, that LEGO games were beneath me. My history of 100% completing all the Harry Potter and Batman LEGO games would say otherwise. I managed to find Avengers and both Marvel’s Super Heroes games on the cheap, and am planning to play through them all eventually. This one is straight up MCU stuff, and it seems to encompass all the movies leading up to and including Age of Ultron. It takes voice clips from the movies, and generally follows the correct timeline (though for some reason they chose to open with the Age of Ultron opening sequence for some reason). It isn’t particularly complicated, nor should it be, and it’s kind of fun seeing the events through a LEGO lens.
That’s about all for the fourth week of my Marvel madness. My intentions to do a deep dive into the Spider-Man games has been hampered by an inability to find them reasonably priced. I tried emulating them, but the experience is dismal and not worth doing. There are also a few PC ports, but they are dreadful as well. I will keep trying to find a few PS3 copies, but it might be a lost cause for now. One other thing that I may have mentioned is that I have started buying up physical comic books – something I’ve never done, and I’m really enjoying it. I decided to go for three current runs, to collect that entire run, and it’s going pretty well. So far, I have a good chunk of the Magnificent Ms. Marvel, Saladin Ahmed’s run, as well as a good bit of the current Captain Marvel. I’ve only managed to find a couple Thor books so far, and I really wanted to get the new America Chavez that came out yesterday but couldn’t find it. I’ve only just encountered her, but she fascinates me for reasons I don’t quite understand. For the next week, I will be basically finishing everything up to the Infinity/Endgame movies in the MCU. I’m a little surprised that I’ve had the stamina to watch this many movies, but I’ve loved almost every second of it. At some point I do plan on watching a few of the bad movies, non-MCU, that are still on my bucket list, but I am having too much of a good time in the MCU right now to spoil it.