The Superhero Multiversal Crossover Events Are Among Us

The biggest and latest thing now with live-action superhero films and TV shows are the crossover events that feature previous versions of superheroes and supervillains showing up to lend a hand or imperil the current heroes. The most recent and one of the best examples was seen in Spider-Man: No Way Home where the Spider-Man (Tom Holland) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) met two older versions of Spider-Man (both played by Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) that appeared in their own films.

Of course, fans will be in for a treat this week as Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness debuts and promises to deliver a the mother of all crossover events as the worlds of the MCU, previous Marvel films and more will interact. But that’s not all, next year The Flash will be about its own crossover event as the title hero’s (Ezra Miller) time travel antics will create alternate timelines and have him meet previous film versions of DC’s superheroes; notably Batman, reprised by Michael Keaton.

There have been other examples of multiverses in superhero films and TV shows. The TV series Loki, heavily dealt with this theme as the title villain (Tom Hiddleston) was a Loki from an alternate timeline that ultimately did not die as he escaped the events that led to his death in Avengers: Infinity War. This Loki grappled with knowledge about his potential fate, time travel and bizarre variants of his being, which included an alligator version of Loki (!). The events of the TV show probably led to the multiversal crisis befalling the MCU.

The Disney+ animated series What If…? exclusively explores other versions of the MCU, such as one where T’Challa never became Black Panther but instead became Star-Lord, or a world where zombies have overrun the MCU. More importantly at least two characters introduced in the What If…? series will appear in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. They are a dark version of Doctor Strange and a Peggy Carter who recieved the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers. In one segment when a superpowered Ultron and the Watcher fought, their battle raged across different universes, including what may be the Star Wars universe. This series is inspired by the Marvel Comics title What If…? which explored different outcomes and events of the Marvel Universe, only the animated series focused on the MCU and for the most part the series was fun to watch.

Another terrific animated presentation from Marvel was the masterpiece Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which took place in an alternate world where a blond Peter Parker died as Spider-Man and Miles Morales took his place as a new Spider-Man. In his adventures he met alternate versions of Spider-Man including an older, jaded version of Peter Parker, Peter’s old girlfriend, Gwen Stacy and a cartoon pig. The film won the Oscar for best animated film and two sequels will be coming out starting next year.

Marvel is not the only one dealing with animated alternate worlds. DC has released several animated films based on their Elseworlds imprint, which is their own take of alternate universes. We’ve witnessed adaptations of popular Elseworld tales such as Superman: Red Son, Gotham Under Gaslight, and The Dark Knight Returns. These films were excellent adaptations of the source material or were inspired by the original premise.

DC has already had its live-action forays into alternate worlds. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a television crossover event that took place across DC’s Arrowverse TV shows. The event was a very loose adaptation of the classic comic book mini-series about multiple timelines and universes in DC being combined into one. The highlight of that event was, of course, the cameos, Easter eggs and appearances of DC heroes and villains from various live DC films and TV shows that were not part of the Arrowverse. For instance, we got to see Burt Ward reprise his role as Dick Grayson from the 1960s Batman TV show, we revisited the world of Smallville, and Brandon Routh appeared as Superman in a combination sequel to Superman Returns and loose adaptation of the classic comic book mini-series Kingdom Come. But the biggest surprise was that the TV version of the Flash (Grant Gustin) briefly met the film version played by Ezra Miller.

As to the rest of the crossover event, it was acceptable. Being these were Arrowverse shows with limited budgets, the result was what one would expect. Still, it was often entertaining and seeing the concept of a multiverse realized was fun, especially the end of the event which gave us tanatlizing glimpses into other worlds and stories.

These stories about multiverses and alternate characters and situations seemed unheard of fairly recently. Aside from the logistical hurdles of clearing rights and enticing actors to return to roles, the film and TV executives also feared that such stories would be too confusing. Sure, comic book readers and fans would understand the concept of alternate timelines and situations but the average person might not. Fortunately, as we have seen lately, these live-action presentations have been very successful, especially Spider-Man: No Way Home, which became one of the highest grossing films of all time. Still, the writers and showrunners have to be able to thread the needle carefully and tell a compelling and clear story. Otherwise, the result will be a confusing and unsatisfying film or TV show. The important thing to remember is that these are fun and fascinating explorations of our favorite characters. So for now, let’s enjoy and celebrate. these crossovers and multiverses for what they are.

Top 10 MCU Villains

mcu villains

The films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) are beloved by many but one complaint lodged against the MCU is over its villains. Critics point out that the main flaw with the MCU films are its lightweight villains. This is a valid criticism since many times the MCU films featured forgettable foes that didn’t resonate with viewers. However, there are some truly outstanding villains in the MCU, and some underrated ones, as well, that have broken this mold lately. Here for your consideration are the best MCU villains. Needless to say spoilers will follow.

Thaddeus Ross

10. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (The Incredible Hulk)

Obsessed and prejudiced against superpowered beings, Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) has proved to be a hindrance to superheroes in the MCU. First as a general in The Incredible Hulk, Ross played a Javert-type by relentlessly chasing Bruce Banner throughout the Americas. His actions led to the creation of the Abomination and fractured his relationship with his daughter, Betty.

Ross next turned up in Captain America: Civil War as an obtuse Secretary of State determined to bring all the superpowered beings of the world under control by imposing the Sokovia Accords. This truncation of freedom and individual rights put him at odds with Steve Rogers and his teammates, which ultimately led to the Avengers breaking up.

Hela

9. TIE: Hela (Thor: Ragnarok)/Red Skull (Captain America: The First Avenger)

These two are prime examples of villains crazed with world conquest. Hela is the Asgardian Goddess of Death who destroyed Thor’s hammer, conquered Asgard and helped cause its destruction. More than a match for her half brother, Thor, she was portrayed with great gusto by Cate Blanchett.

Born in the fires of World War II, the Red Skull/Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) outgrew the Nazis and formed the Hydra terrorist organization thanks to his severe nihilistic mindset and access to superweapons. While not as layered as other villains on this list, the Red Skull in the first Captain America film was quite memorable and his recent reintroduction into the MCU sparked new interest in him.

8. Aldrich Killian (Iron Man 3)

Despite the controversy surrounding the third Iron Man film, it can’t be denied that Aldrich Killian (Guy Pierce) was not only the best Iron Man villain to date but one of the MCU’s top foes. Not only was Killian a notorious business competitor to Tony Stark, but he was the mastermind behind A.I.M. and the Mandarin. His machinations to topple the U.S. government and destroy Tony Stark by implementing the Mandarin’s terrorist campaign are nothing short of genius.

However, it was his vendetta against Stark that made Killian somewhat relatable. Years ago, Killian was a nerdy scientist who was dismissed by a pre-Iron Man Stark. This inspired him to achieve Stark’s level of success and fueled his hatred for Stark. This bit of history also illustrated how Stark’s callous past had caught up to him in Iron Man 3 and nearly undid him.

7. Alexander Pierce (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

As the U.S. Secretary of Defense (the MCU is a fertile ground for evil politicians, isn’t it?), Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) developed a S.H.I.E.L.D. project using preemptive strikes that targeted world leaders and important figures like Tony Stark and Stephen Strange.

What is worse is that his actions against Steve Rogers and his supposed friend Nick Fury revealed that Pierce was a Hydra leader who had infiltrated and corrupted S.H.I.E.L.D. to its core. A big factor in his successful infiltration was his charming exterior which hid his cold interior. What made Pierce even more frightening and formidable were his immense resources and clout. He actually had the law on his side, which he used to take out to try to take out Captain America and his allies.

6. The Winter Soldier (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)

Nowadays it may be difficult to think of Steve Rogers’ BFF as a villain, but that was not the case in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In the first Captain America film, James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastain Stan) was Steve’s Depression-era buddy and joined him in World War II before ultimately dying in the line of duty. Or so we thought.

The second Captatin America film resurrected Barnes as a vicious and brainwashed Hydra assassin who was more than a match for Captain America. He even caught Cap’s famed shield in mid-air as it was thrown at him! The level of ruthlessness and deadly skills he displayed was as intimidating for us to watch as it was for the film’s heroes to endure. At the same time we felt for Steve and Bucky because of their past history and the fact that Bucky was forced by Hydra to carry out heinous acts.

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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

Thor Returns To “The Dark World” Of Cinema

thor 2 posterPhase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is well underway with the release of Thor: The Dark World. The sequel to 2011’s Thor stars Chris Hemsworth, reprising his role as the God of Thunder, as well as Tom Hiddleston as Loki–Thor’s treacherous stepbrother, Natalie Portman as Jane Foster–Thor’s human love interest, and Anthony Hopkins as Thor’s father Odin. Joining the cast this time out is Christoher Eccleston as the film’s main heavy, Malekith.

The first Thor movie was unexpectedly rousing and fun thanks to the cast’s performances and expert directing. This time out Alan Taylor takes over the directing duties in this tale that takes place a couple of years after the first Thor movie. Thor and Jane are still separated from each other after the wormhole that first brought the hero to Earth in the first film has been shattered.

Thor: The Dark World introduces us to the Dark Elves, malevolent beings who wanted to use a weapon called the Aether to destroy the universe. Fortunately, the Dark Elves were defeated thousands of years ago by the Thor’s people, the Asgardians. But a handful of Dark Elves and their leader Malekith escaped and went into suspended animation. In the present day, Thor is in his home realm of Asgard and kept from returning to Earth and his love Jane Foster due to obligations. At this time, a space/time anomaly allows portals to open up everywhere and link worlds, including Earth. In London, Jane is unexpectedly sucked into one of these portals. Just as she is sucked into the passageway, Thor comes back to Earth looking for her and eventually reunites with Jane. After they journey to Asgard, she and the Asgardians discover that the ancient Aether weapon is within her.

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Malekith is reawakened after sensing the Aether. Assembling his elven army, he uses this opportunity to attack Asgard to get the weapon and conquer the universe. As the Dark Elves wreck havoc on Thor’s world and threaten Earth, Thor is forced to turn to his imprisoned, hated stepbrother Loki for help in defeating Malekith and his vicious army.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Whereas the first film introduced audiences to Thor’s rich, majestic world that was obviously inspired by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s early comic book stories, Thor: The Dark World presents us an expanded world taken from writer/artist Walt Simonson. Malekith was a supervillain introduced in Thor #344-349, which was during Simonson’s tenure on the title. Using the Dark Elves will please many Thor fans and general audiences who wanted to see something different in this sequel. The villain Kurse appears in this film and he is a faithful recreation from Simonson’s epic run. He looks like he stepped out from the comic books.

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Overall, Thor: The Dark World is an enjoyable, humorous, and exciting adventure. However, it isn’t as satsifying as the first Thor movie. It does have a lot going for it, the special effects are top notch, as is the production design that showcases various worlds that Thor and Malekith battle in during their epic conflict. Regarding the acting, everyone does a fine job but Hiddleston steals each scene he’s in with his portrayal of Loki. Hiddleston simply doesn’t let go of his screentime. It’s clear that he relishes what he is doing and Loki is now the top villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s unfortanate that Malekith can’t compare to that. On paper he is a good villain but he comes as a by-the-numbers foe for Thor that lacks Loki’s gravitas.

The core issues with this film have to do with the feeling that the stakes are high this time out. Sure the universe is imperiled but it’s hard to feel as if there was any danger. We know that Thor and company will prevail, and even an important character death doesn’t have much impact. Adding to that problem is that Thor doesn’t have the emotional journey that he had in the first film. He doesn’t have to learn humility or any other lessons. Here, he’s an obedient son to Odin and is more of a traditional superhero with few faults. But now he doesn’t have that Arthurian journey to undergo.

Still, this is a well-crafted movie that adds to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Be sure to stick around for the two secret endings!

Steven L. Walterson and 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