The State Of Two Cinematic Universes: MCU & DCEU

This past week the news involving the two big superhero film universes perfectly illustrated their states. For the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) it seems clear that they can do no wrong. This is based solely on the astronomic success of its latest film Black Panther. Meanwhile, over at the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), the woes continues with the latest news that Joss Whedon is no longer involved with a proposed Batgirl film.

So why are the states of both cinematic universes so vastly different? Both have popular superheroes and their films have tremendous talent creating the films. But why is the MCU so popular while the DCEU is looking more and more like the JV squad? Well, it’s not easy to pinpoint the success and failures of both universes but there are some factors. Let’s go over them.

MCU

One advantage Marvel Studios and the MCU had over Warner Bros. and DC was simply a head start. The MCU began in earnest ten years ago with Iron Man. That film featured a well known, but not very popular, superhero. Marvel Studios did not have the luxury of having their early films star Marvel Comics’ headliners like Spider-Man and the X-Men. With this handicap, Marvel Studios was forced to focus on the character of Iron Man and it worked. But that was not all, at the end of the film, there was the famous Nick Fury tease that signaled the existence in the film of a larger universe. This excited fans and set the groundwork for a viable cinematic universe.

Each film in the MCU has organic (usually) references to other Marvel properties that helped create excitement for future films even if the current one was a disappointment. It also helped that each film in the MCU is distinctly different (for the most part) from the other. They ranged from standard science-based superhero yarns (the Iron Man films, The Incredible Hulk), political thrillers (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), period pieces (Captain America: The First Avenger), Star Wars-like space adventures (Guardians of the Galaxy), quirky, comical heist capers (Ant-Man), supernatural tales (Doctor Strange), stories set in fantastic locations (the Thor films), cultural milestones (Black Panther), and good ol’ superhero epics (the Avengers films). By being so versatile the MCU never seems to run out steam or stories to tell. Granted, the films have their faults like subpar villains, which are just dark versions of the main heroes, but the focus on character and stories made the MCU so successful.

Black Panther and MCU

There is also one other important factor that the MCU has and that is Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios and the filmmaking version of Phil Jackson. He masterfully and carefully guided each film to tremendous success. His vision for the MCU and ability to carry it out is a big reason for the upbeat state of the MCU. Will they falter? Of course, in fact, the MCU has had some genuine stinkers like Iron Man 2, but it has been able to quickly recover. Right now, Marvel is on a hot streak that has been going on for several years now and the future looks terrific with upcoming and hotly awaited films like Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel and of course a sequel to Black Panther. Hopefully this streak will last for years to come.

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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

Avengers: Age Of Ultron Teaser Trailer!

Never mind watching next week’s episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.! Marvel has decided to release this teaser for next year’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron today. Whoa…this just looks super awesome!

Seriously, what’s not to like? We have the Hulk battling Iron Man in his Hulkbuster armor, lots of explosions and mayhem, and best of all Ultron! It seems like Joss Whedon made yet another brilliant casting decision by choosing James Spader to play the iconic Avengers villain. Ultron looks incredibly badass and intimidating in the same vein as the Terminator. Hopefully he’ll be on screen just as memorable as Loki or Magneto and become of the great Marvel movie villains. Obviously, there isn’t any way to say that this film will be better than its predecessor The Avengers, but it looks like another winner for Marvel Studios.

Our hats off to Marvel, after making the rest of us who didn’t attend this summer’s Comic Con sweat and agonize over the concealed footage shown at that convention, they’ve given all of us a nice treat. So enjoy this official Avengers: Age Of Ultron trailer!

 

Update: …And here’s the extended trailer featuring more footage, it’s still creepy with that Pinocchio music.

The Quicksilver Conundrum

quicksilver and petersThere has been a bit of a combination of both a cold and civil war when it comes to movies based on Marvel Comics characters. But lately things are heating up between movie studios and that’s best seen with the character of Quicksilver, the mutant superhero with superfast powers who is slated to appear in two competing movies: X-Men: Days Of Futures Past and The Avengers 2.

Here’s the background: before Marvel was acquired by The Walt Disney Company, Marvel sold the rights to many of its popular characters to different movie studios like 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures, who co-produced them with Marvel Studios. That was the main reason characters didn’t crossover into other films. For example, in the Spider-Man films, you wouldn’t see a shot of Thor flying by the Daily Bugle’s windows.

Over time, Marvel Studios began regaining the rights to several characters, most notably the Hulk and Daredevil. These efforts kicked up into high gear after Disney acquired Marvel. The few remaining characters Marvel Studios doesn’t have the film rights to are Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men.

singer x

The studios holding the rights to those characters know a cash cow when they see it and are fighting to retain the rights to the characters. Just recently Sony Pictures adamantly swore that they will never give up the rights to produce Spider-Man films, while Fox toyed with the idea last year to give back the rights to the Silver Surfer and Galactus–two Fantastic Four mainstays, in order to keep the rights to Daredevil.

Trying to get the X-Men characters will be a big problem, which is why Marvel seemed content to let Fox continue making X-Men films. That was until director Bryan Singer’s announcement last week. As the director of the upcoming X-Men: Days Of Futures Past, Bryan Singer stated that he had cast Evan Peters to play Quicksilver for the movie. Fans were excited with this idea, mainly because Joss Whedon announced weeks earlier that the same character will be in the sequel to his blockbuster hit The Avengers.

whedonAt first, it seemed as if this was to be some kind of crossover between the two film franchises but no so fast. Both studios are denying this is an attempted crossover. In fact, while Peters will play Quicksilver in X-Men: Days Of Futures Past, Joss Whedon, after confirming last week that Quicksilver will appear in The Avengers 2, said that he is still casting the role. If any of the two announcements were meant for the other side to blink, well it didn’t work. So the feeling for now is that both studios will just have to share Quicksilver.

The reason for the ability of both studios to use Quicksilver is that while Fox owns the X-Men film rights, Marvel does have the right to use Quicksilver and his sister, the Scarlet Witch, in their films just as long as there isn’t any mention that they are X-Men foe Magneto’s children. Meanwhile, in the X-Men films it cannot be stated that the mutant siblings are members of the Avengers (as is the case in the comic books).

This is a real treat for fans who clamor at the idea of a shared universe of all the Marvel characters. They can enjoy two different incarnations of the same character and imagine that both films take place in different time periods. For now, a completely shared cinematic universe is impossible but this casting conundrum brings that dream one step closer to reality.

Lewis T. Grove

The Avengers Changes Superhero Films Forever

Wow. The new movie The Avengers literally left me breathless and spent after seeing it. Marvel Studios needs to take a well-deserved bow for their efforts throughout the years that culminated in this film. Many had doubts regarding the ability to pull this endeavor off but they are quickly dispelled with The Avengers. It so profusely feels like the climax that had been building up for many years.

Marvel Studios clearly made the right choice with Joss Whedon as the film’s director. He has the filmmaking talent and perhaps, more importantly, possesses a clear love and respect for the Marvel universe and it shows onscreen. But this film isn’t some slavish fanboy production. No, Joss Whedon and the crew had an understanding of how the Marvel universe works, how the Marvel characters behave and how to translate that to the screen and entertain even non-Marvel fans. It is difficult to imagine anyone else achieving what Whedon did and The Avengers will make him a deservedly A-list director. (On a side note, hopefully he will have the clout now to do a Firefly revival. Hey, we can only hope!)

The Avengers jumps right into the action when demigod Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) nemesis and brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives at an underground S.H.I.E.L.D. bunker and makes off with an otherworldly and powerful MacGuffin called the Tesseract (that’s the Cosmic Cube seen in many Marvel comics that grants unlimited power to wielders). After Loki escapes from the bunker, S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson doing his usual tough-as-nails shtick) assembles a team of super heroes to help him retrieve the Tesseract and stop Loki’s plan to conquer the Earth.

Then the fun begins as beloved characters like Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor, Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, replacing Edward Norton and Eric Bana), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) meet for the first time. In the typical Marvel comics manner, they don’t get along with each other and even come to blows. But they learn to get along and even respect one another just in time to confront Loki and his alien army.

The Avengers is an action-packed bonanza with fantastic characters and that’s before the climatic final third of the film. Taking place in New York City, the beachhead for Loki’s alien invasion, the explosive, multi-tiered battles on the streets and in the skies are simply spectacular. There have been some complaints over how low-budget some previous Marvel Studios productions have been, but here no expense was spared. But unlike some empty, big-budget films, the action was very fluid and easy to follow, but more importantly the audience cared deeply about the heroes as they fought the alien army. Each character, even some minor ones, had their moment to shine. The Avengers could’ve easily been dominated by one or two characters like Iron Man due to the actor’s charisma but Joss Whedon knows how to give the actors just enough time to make their contributions before moving on the next character or plot point.

This film has set new standards for super hero films. One can only wonder how the filmmakers will top themselves (a clear, audience-rousing hint is given during the end credits; Marvel fans will rejoice) or how other studios’ films can compare to this one. Marvel Studios would be wise to retain Whedon for the inevitable sequel or at least use him for other productions. BTW, stick around for the very end, there’s another post-credit sequence. Without giving anything away, it isn’t anything earth-shattering, but rather a cinematic equivalent of having a cigarette or a relaxing drink after being so pumped out by the movie.

José Soto