A Closer Look At Avengers: Endgame & The Future Of The MCU, Part One

By now, most of the movie-going audience and fans have seen the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film, Avengers: Endgame. The fourth Avengers film is a monumental epic that concludes the 22-film Infinity Saga that started back in 2008. While it sums up long-running character arcs Avengers: Endgame does leave us with many questions as to its implications, intricacies and the future direction of the MCU.

Needless to say, major spoilers will follow. So, if you’re one of the few who has yet to see it (what are you waiting for?), then stop reading and come back afterwards. You’ve been duly warned….

3…

 

 

 

2….

 

 

 

1….

Avengers: Endgame had an expansive cast of characters, and that is not including all the MCU heroes that appeared at the end of the film for the climatic final battle with Thanos and his army. The film could have been overstuffed with characters and plot lines, but thanks to the skills displayed by the directors Joe and Anthony Russo and screenwriters, Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, the film breezed through its three-hour runtime. The characters were the main focus in the film and came off as more human than in previous efforts. They were all traumatized by the Decimation or Thanos’ snap and Avengers: Endgame, at least in its first hour, was a story of survivors and how they dealt with failure.

Survivors and Sacrifices

Some like Hawkeye aka Ronin aka Clint Barton, saw their families turned to dust and went to dark places in their souls. Hawkeye became a murdering vigilante who had to be coaxed back to help the Avengers in their time travel scheme to collect the Infinity Stones and undo the snap. He was hesitant at first, then skeptical and more willing than the others to lay his life on the line because with his family gone, he had nothing to live for, except for the faint hope that they would be returned to him. When Barton finally reunited with them, it was beautiful to watch as he attained an inner peace. But this won’t be the last time we see him. He will show up in a Disney+ show where it’s rumored, he will be mentoring a new Hawkeye.

black widow and hawkeye

Other heroes were ready to make sacrifices to reverse the Decimation. In the case of Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, her sacrifice was her own life as she gave it up so that Hawkeye could attain the Soul Stone on the planet Vormir. Unlike many of the other Avengers, Romanoff never had a real family until she joined the team. She was even surprised on Vormir to learn that her father’s name was Ivan. In a way, she had nothing to lose except her life when she willingly let herself fall to her death. Even though she had no one, her death was painful to watch since she is so beloved among fans. But at least she will return in an overdue solo film next year, which is obviously a prequel. Maybe we can find out what happened in Budapest.

Continue reading

Celebrating The MCU 10th Anniversary

marvel studios ten years

Marvel Studios is certainly on a roll. For the past couple of years their films have been well received by fans and critics and the success just keeps building. After delivering three epics last year, Marvel Studios expanded on that success with the unbelievable reception to this year’s Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.

To think, it all began when a B-list Marvel Comics superhero made his big-screen debut ten years ago.

That character, of course, is Iron Man. Back in May 2008, the Golden Age of Superhero Films had arrived with the premiere of Iron Man. Superhero films had gained prominence in the first years of the 21st century with explosive adaptations of Marvel Comics characters like the X-Men and Spider-Man and DC properties like Superman and Batman. When Iron Man was announced, many thought it would be another fun and entertaining big-budget film. What few realized was that it would spark a phenomenal interconnected film universe that became known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). From that moment, the MCU exploded and captured our imaginations (and wallets). Which is why we are here celebrating the MCU 10th anniversary.

Many know by now the history of the MCU and how it came to be. Marvel Comics in the 1990s was bankrupt and sold the film rights of  many of its characters to various film studios. While this saved the comic book company in the short term, this act left Marvel’s beloved characters in the hands of others who made their own changes when it came to the films. When Marvel formed Marvel Studios to have creative control over its characters the company had a dilemma in that their A-list characters weren’t available. In fact, the initial characters in the MCU where in the hands of other film studios. However, Marvel Studios was able to regain the film rights for all except a few like the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. This forced the studio to rely on their less popular characters and this allowed them to fully realize their potential on film.

Birth Of A Film Universe

When Iron Man premiered, many saw how special it was since it focused on the flawed main character. Whereas, the main draw of the DC films at that time were the villains, such as in The Dark Knight, the first MCU film set a standard where the title character was the primary focus, not the foe. This led to a common problem with MCU films which had weak villains, but fortunately, the heroes were so endearing that audiences forgave the films.

Avengers

There was one thing that enabled Iron Man to stand out from the other blockbuster superhero films. Those who stuck around through the film’s ending credits found out what it was when they were tantalized with the idea of interconnected films. The hero Tony Stark was greeted by the mysterious Nick Fury who informed him he was not the only superhero around. Fury presented Stark with the idea of the Avengers Initiative, thus the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born. This budding film universe was given a boost a month later when The Incredible Hulk premiered. While it is kind of dismissed these days, the second Hulk film was a vast improvement over Ang Lee’s pretentious and over-the-top Hulk, but it cemented the MCU. Aside from its many Marvel Easter eggs, at the end of The Incredible Hulk, Tony Stark appeared, which connected the two films. From there, the MCU continued growing. A few short years later, Iron Man had a sequel and two more MCU films came out (Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger) that helped lay the groundwork for the culmination of the MCU at that time: The Avengers. Needless to say films were never the same.

Here we are at the MCU 10-year anniversary, celebrating it with their newest smash hit Avengers: Infinity War. Many film studios tried and failed to copy the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These include Warner Bros. and DC’s DCEU, Universal’s Dark Universe, and Sony’s Spider-Man film universe. 20th Century Fox came close with their X-Men films but their films were hit or miss.

Continue reading

Thor: Ragnarok Is Three Times The Fun

For the third film in a trilogy, Thor: Ragnarok is the liveliest one of the bunch. Frankly, after the dire and listless second film Thor: The Dark World, this third Thor film is a spectacular shot in the arm for the God of Thunder’s films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Loki and Thor

Thor: Ragnarok quickly picks up where the second film left us, with Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) commanding the throne of otherworldly Asgard under the guise of their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) quickly deduces what Loki is up to and the two find out the consequences of Loki’s actions. In Odin’s absence, the Nine Realms that he ruled over have slipped into anarchy. This also means that Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death, who was imprisoned by Odin to escape and wreck havoc on Asgard. Before Thor could stop her, he is accidentally transported to the planet Sakaar, taken captive and forced to fight in gladiator-type games held by the planet’s ruler, the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). As we all saw in the trailers, Thor’s opponent is the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who was last seen going into self exile in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Thor must find a way to stay alive, escape his enslavement and convince the Hulk to join him in saving Asgard from Hela.

thor vs hulk

Now reading the above makes you think this will be another serious-minded Thor film with high stakes and Shakespearean undertones. But that isn’t the case with Thor: Ragnarok. The somber approach worked in the first Thor film thanks to the skillful hands of Kenneth Branagh, who is familiar with Shakespearean drama and brought that to Thor. But this time, Thor: Ragnarok’s director Taika Waititi relied on his comedic tastes and background for the film. In doing so, he brought a welcome change of pace and mood this time around as this film is more of a comedy. This approach mostly works though I have to admit there are times there are just a tad too many jokes and there are moments that should’ve had more weight but come off as too light. It’s clear that Marvel Studios wanted to repeat the look and formula that worked for Guardians of the Galaxy and this is very evident in the scenes taking place on Sakaar. The Guardians of the Galaxy films perfectly balanced its comedic tone with serious drama but Thor: Ragnarok comes up a bit short in keeping that balance.

Hela (1)

Nevertheless, the third Thor film is a fun blast with stunning set pieces and special effects that buttress its lighter tone. Credit for that does not just go to Waititi, but the film’s stars starting with Chris Hemsworth. In other films, Hemsworth has shown that he has quite a comedic gift and he gets to display that in this film. Thor seems less pompous and more laid back in his third outing. It’s almost as if he has thrust off his original regal persona and taken on an ability to crack a joke. This does not mean he takes things lightly. Hemsworth and the director knew which moments to hold back the jokes  and appropriately react to more serious moments. Continue reading

The First Dozen Marvel (MCU) Films Ranked

With the release of Ant-Man, Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films has concluded. Before Phase Three begins with Captain America: Civil War, now would be a good time to rank the twelve MCU films released so far.

1. The Avengers (2012) – As the culmination of years of careful seeding by previous MCU films The Avengers was a bold, energetic triumph. Director Joss Whedon accomplished the impossible by bringing together completely different characters and molding them into a superhero team just like in the comic books.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

As the most successful superhero film of all time, The Avengers excited numerous viewers and changed the landscape of superhero films. Before this film, the usual superhero films operated in their own realities without any indication of a rich universe as seen in comic books. But The Avengers embraced the richness of its comic book lore and it paid off. Now, shared cinematic universes are the rage. However, The Avengers is the best of the MCU films because it was so energetic, witty, and snappy, and had the novelty of our favorite heroes meeting for the first time. It all led to one of the most exciting finales presented on film that still reverberates with viewers.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – Marvel Studios showed they were willing to take a chance with this quirky and exciting space adventure yarn. Who would’ve imagined that a sci-fi movie about a bumbling space pirate, violent green aliens, a foul-mouthed raccoon and a walking tree would strike a chord with audiences?

gotg

Technically, Guardians of the Galaxy isn’t a superhero film, but this demonstrates how this MCU entry is quite different from its standard superhero repertoire. What made it special wasn’t just the premise, beautiful visuals or production design, but a toe-tapping soundtrack that ingeniously used ’70s pop songs. It was a unique signature for this space opera tale about a group of space losers who banded together to save the galaxy. Chris Pratt became a star thanks to his silly, but good-hearted role as Star-Lord, the self-proclaimed legendary outlaw.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – The best MCU solo superhero film and one of the greatest superhero films ever made. More importantly, this was arguably the most volatile entry in the MCU because by the time the film ended, the cinematic universe was forever changed by the film’s events.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Chris Evans as Captain America/Steve Rogers has demonstrated how he has grown in stature in these films. As a man out of time, Steve Rogers faced his greatest threats from a former friend (one of the deadliest and most frightening supervillains on film) and a shocking global conspiracy that rocked the MCU to its roots. Adding to the film’s specialness were a tightly written script, well-executed and riveting fight scenes and terrific performances from the cast.

4. Ant-Man (2015) – The final Phase Two film is known for its numerous behind-the-scenes hurdles where the original director quit after having developed the film for years. Yet, in spite of that and the titular character’s obscurity, Ant-Man was an unexpectedly great superhero film that’s full of panache.

antman in your face

As one of the more humorous MCU films, Ant-Man quickly won over viewers with its outlandish premise: a man who can shrink and communicate with ants. Wrapped around that was a swift-paced heist story that deftly integrated itself into the larger MCU in a natural way that eluded other films that attempted this. Adding to the film’s enjoyment were many winning performances, fantastic special effects and unlike other MCU films, Ant-Man was able to deliver an astonishing final act that helped pave the future for the MCU.

5. Thor (2011) – What sets Marvel Studios apart with their MCU films is its willingness to remain faithful to the comic book source material. At the same time, Marvel Studios has the ability to make organic changes and updates to its characters and situations. Thor is a perfect example. The film wisely eschewed its magic-based comic book roots that Thor and his ilk were actual gods and cleverly used science fiction tropes instead.

THOR

Thor followed the winning formula of MCU films by having an egotistical, flawed character learn some humility and become a hero. Thanks to director Kenneth Branagh, Thor also had a sense of grandeur that evoked a Shakespearean family drama. In this case, that involved otherworldly aliens mistaken for gods. It was also noted for its humorous fish-out-of-water scenario and Tom Hiddleston’s star-making performance as Loki, the MCU’s best villain.

6. Iron Man (2008) – The one that started the MCU phenomenon still holds up as a well-made origin story. Robert Downey, Jr. shined as he made a personal and professional comeback in the role of a lifetime. His trend-setting Tony Stark/Iron Man was a self-centered narcissist who learned to become something more.

iron man flying

The first part of Iron Man was engrossing, particularly during the moments when Tony Stark first faced his mortality and was forced to construct a crude armored suit. However, the film faltered a bit in the second half. The pace dragged as we waited for him to construct a proper Iron Man suit. Things weren’t helped by the final battle that looked like something out of the Transformers and was just as cartoony. But Iron Man’s successful formula set the tone for the rest of the MCU. Continue reading

Avengers Come Of Age With Ultron

a2 poster

Eye-popping. Action-drenched. Dazzling. LOUD. Explosive. Those are words that come to mind when thinking about Avengers: Age of Ultron. That is because this sequel to The Avengers is a true visual feast. That isn’t to say that Avengers: Age of Ultron tops the original, it doesn’t, but viewers will have an unforgettable time at the theaters watching it.

Joss Whedon returns to the director’s chair with this sequel that reunites most of the original cast including Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye and Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanov/Black Widow. Like any worthwhile sequel, Avengers: Age of Ultron introduces new, exciting characters like Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the malevolent android Ultron (James Spader).

Avengers in forest

After a kinetic opener where the Avengers take out an enemy base in Eastern Europe, they encounter two super-powered people who are antagonistic towards them. One of them, the Scarlet Witch, has mind-altering powers and influences Stark to retrieve Loki’s scepter from the base. In the last film, this weapon was wielded by Thor’s errant brother Loki and it’s powered by one of the immensely powerful Infinity Stones featured throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Back in New York, Stark and Banner QS capdecide to use the scepter’s power to help them create a genuine artificial intelligence. Their efforts fail, but once they leave the lab, the program becomes sentient and assumes the Ultron identity in a damaged Iron Man drone body. The problem is that Ultron’s programming of performing Stark’s directive of bringing about world peace has been corrupted. Now it wants to eliminate humanity. The AI goes viral and spans the world, perfecting its physical body and carrying out its planned extinction event as the Avengers struggle to catch up to Ultron and defeat it. As this plays out throughout the film, we see shifting alliances, inside looks of our heroes, and the emergence of new heroes.

ultronAvengers: Age of Ultron is a very busy film, sometimes too busy. There are so many plot points and character developments that things get lost in the shuffle at times. It rushes through plot developments that needed more nuance like the creation of Ultron. The moment it becomes self aware it is automatically evil. There are attempts to explain why Ultron wants to kill humanity but they’re hollow and don’t resonate. Another example are the development of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Too much exposition explains their background and their evolution feels rushed. Then there are moments when the film is about to go off the rails with its nods to the larger MCU and in setting up other films. Sometimes it feels organic, like Stark and Rogers’ growing antagonism towards each other, which will culminate in next year’s Captain America: Civil War. Other times they feel tacked on and clumsily shoved in like Thor worrying about his own dilemmas that will be concluded in his next film. These diversions while interesting don’t allow this film to stand on its own because this film shines when it’s concentrating on its own merits.

With all this going on, things get lost in the shuffle and aren’t dwelled upon. The film struggles to juggle all these visionnew characters and servicing the old ones. It is too bad more time wasn’t spent on the Vision, the best new character thanks to Bettany’s sympathetic performance. However, some much needed time is devoted to Avengers who didn’t have much screen presence the last time around. This applies to Barton as we find out that he actually has a wife and family and this revelation makes him much more endearing to us as the point is driven home that he is the most vulnerable Avenger. Also, it was interesting to see that Captain America has by now emerged as the true leader of the team and has more of a screen presence than Iron Man.

As action-packed and fast moving as it is, Avengers: Age of Ultron lacks the original’s oomph and sense of wow. The novelty of seeing our favorite superheroes coming together isn’t there obviously, but it does its best to carry on. Usually it succeeds in dazzling the audience but it gets bogged down with its flaws.

hulk vs hulkbuster

Putting that aside, Avengers: Age of Ultron is very exciting and worth watching in theaters. Many of the special effects and action scenes are inspired and breathtaking like the part where Iron Man battles the Hulk in Africa or when Captain America and Black Widow confront Ultron and his drones in South Korea. It’s commendable that this isn’t just your typical empty summer film. It has heart and character thanks to topnotch acting. Joss Whedon knows how to raise the stakes for our characters in the final arc where Ultron finalizes his machinations and there’s a feeling of desperation and fatality among the Avengers. We care about these characters and by the end of the film the status quo has been upset and that’s a good thing. Like the comic book this film is based upon, things are always evolving with the Avengers, which will make things feel fresh in upcoming films.

avengers age of ultron cast

Despite its faults Avengers: Age of Ultron is a fitting and exuberant conclusion to Phase Two of the MCU and sets up the next chapter in the growing MCU.

José Soto