The Defenders Come Together At Last

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The Marvel Studios mini-series event The Defenders just premiered on Netflix and is the culmination of the past four Netflix/Marvel superhero streaming shows Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. The Defenders finally brings the main leads from those shows together at last like in The Avengers, which what fans have been waiting for ever since the superhero shows were announced years ago. Needless to say this is a big deal for fans of the shows for obvious reasons.

Running only eight episodes, The Defenders stars Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, Mike Colter as Luke Cage and Finn Jones as Danny Rand/Iron Fist along with the supporting actors from their respective shows and Sigourney Weaver as Alexandra, the show’s main villain. The Defenders does not take long to get into the action and meat of the story. It starts with all four heroes separately running afoul of the mysterious Alexandra and by the third episode they all meet in the heat of battle and the story just moves along from there. As expected with these Marvel Comics stories, the four don’t exactly get along at first, which is best shown with Rand actually hurting the invulnerable Cage with his Iron Fist. But all ends well as they put aside their differences to face their mutual foes.

In their separate investigations, they learn  that the shadowy criminal organization, The Hand, who have appeared in Daredevil and Iron Fist, are making an ominous move in New York City. In a nutshell without giving too much away, the leaders of the Hand, which includes Alexandra, are carrying out an operation that will wind up destroying the city and it’s up to our heroes to stop them.

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Overall, The Defenders is an enjoyable and brisk-moving mini-series that should delight fans and casual viewers. All the actors bring their A game to the show with the standouts being Cox and his own show’s cast. Fans of the shows should be pleased that all the characters are faithfully presented. Matt Murdock carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, Jessica Jones drinks whenever she can, Luke Cage stands around and gets shot at without any injury and Danny Rand finds any opportunity to say “I am the Immortal Iron Fist!”

Despite all the complaints about Jones and his show, his character here is much better portrayed and less insufferable. Fortunately, Jones proves that he can bring something to the role and Iron Fist’s appearance here presents the case that the faults with the Iron Fist TV show were due to those showrunners, not the character or actor. For example, Jones seems more at ease during his fight scenes, a critical flaw with Iron Fist, and on the whole, the fight choreography was crisp and full of power. The standout fight scene was probably in the third episode when the four Defenders finally all meet each other, but the others spread out in the other episodes are fun to watch and grab your attention, though at times they are too dark and it is clear that some of the actors seem more natural at fighting than others. That criticism does not apply to Jones, believe it or not.

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The villains are another quibble with The Defenders. Unlike The Avengers which had the breakout villain, Loki, the villains in this show are not particularly compelling. Basically, they are just a bunch of super ninjas and though that is appropriate for the power levels of the Defenders, they could have been more threatening or had more clear motives. Another gripe about the show and the villains has to do with the fact that the show takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  It is not the fault of the show, but it is annoying that with the severity of the threat to the city, no one has the notion to try to contact the Avengers or even Dr. Strange given the supernatural aspect of the Hand. We don’t even see the Avengers Tower in the New York skyline, whereas in Spider-Man: Homecoming that film took every opportunity to show the tower whenever there was a shot of the city. Then there is the reaction of some of the characters to what is going on; basically they have a hard time believing in the Hand and their threat, and even the nature of the leads’ powers. This goes for especially Luke Cage, who cannot accept that Danny Rand spent time in another realm and became a mystical warrior. That is a strange reaction for an inhabitant of the MCU that has seen open alien invasions and big league superhuman battles. Let’s not forget that Cage himself has superhuman powers. For these reasons it is hard to accept that The Defenders takes place in the MCU. But that is something that fans have to ignore and just go with the story.

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What ultimately makes The Defenders work is the camaraderie between the leads and seeing them all together. Thankfully, after taking time to introduce them individually in the first episode with interesting cinematography that presents each hero with a different color scheme, the show quickly has them teaming up and getting to the meat of the story. Their interactions were very amusing and some of the show’s best moments. They all had good chemistry and complemented each other well to the point we were sold that they came to care about one another. While The Defenders may not have the same thrilling impact and joy of The Avengers, it is quite enjoyable in its own right and helps set a path forward for the future of these grounded heroes.

Lewis T. Grove

 

 

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Marvel Phase Three and Beyond

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Marvel Studios has once again captured headlines lately with their announcement for their upcoming film slate. While the news that a sequel to Ant-Man will be made came as a nice surprise, there are now rumors percolating about what films will get produced. It’s intriguing food for thought starting with the revised schedule for their Phase Three Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films.

Phase Three

The third phase of the MCU films starts next year on May 6 with the release of the eagerly awaited Captain America: Civil War, which many are calling Avengers 2.5 because it’s stuffed with so many superhero characters. Next in November 4, the Sorcerer Supreme himself Doctor Strange makes his big-screen debut.

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From there Marvel Studios amps up their schedule by releasing three films per year starting in 2017 with Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2 on May 5, a Spider-Man reboot for July 28 and finally Thor: Ragnarok on November 3. Now the 2018 slate has been changed to accommodate the second Ant-Man film. This means that Black Panther has been moved up to February 6, instead of July 6. That slot now goes to Ant-Man and the Wasp and Avengers: Infinity War, Part I debuts on May 4. Sadly for some fans, the Captain Marvel film originally scheduled for November 12,  2018 will instead come out the following year on March 18. The final two Phase Three films for 2019 will include Avengers: Infinity War, Part II on May 3 and Inhumans on July 12.

More Ants!

Ant-Man turned out to be a bit of a surprised for many who predicted it would be Marvel Studios’ first flop. Instead it made $178 million domestically and even more overseas. While it wasn’t a humongous blockbuster, Ant-Man earned a healthy profit and lots of good will from fans who appreciated its quirky charm.

waspThe fact that there will be a sequel proves that Marvel has a lot of confidence in the property. So what will Ant-Man and the Wasp be about? Here’s a thought, while the first film was basically a heist caper, the sequel could be a rescue story or have a man vs. nature motif. The film could be centered on rescuing the original Wasp who was lost in the quantum realm in a flashback scene in Ant-Man. In fact, some observers of the film picked out a silhouette that resembles the Wasp when the title hero was momentarily trapped in the subatomic universe. Having Ant-Man and the Wasp exploring the quantum realm and finding new worlds will be a fun twist and visually arresting. After that if Marvel Studios decides on another Ant-Man film they can call it Giant-Man as Ant-Man morphs into Giant-Man to follow the comic books in a sense.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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

Candidates For Future Avengers Films

avengers comicsWe’re eagerly anticipating the next Avengers films coming out in 2018 and 2019, the two-part epic Avengers: Infinity War. The team’s roster will most likely include these popular heroes: Captain America, Iron Man, and the other veterans, plus newbies like Black Panther, Captain Marvel and Spider-Man. But what about beyond the third Avengers film? Will we have the same lineup or will new blood take the place of the old guard? Given how bloated Avengers: Age of Ultron felt with nine heroes, it’s unlikely future Avengers films will have large casts. So who would be interesting candidates to fill the ranks of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as the veterans exit the stage? These are some suggestions:

Ares: The Greek god of war was a member of the Dark Avengers, so he comes with the anti-hero baggage. So, he can be a dark, more badass version of Thor as he uses traditional weapons like swords and axes with modern weapons like guns.

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Black Knight: Inspired by Arthurian legend, Dane Whitman wields a magic sword and shield and rides a winged horse. The catch is that the sword that can cut through anything has a blood curse. This all may be too magical for the science-based Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but if there’s room for Doctor Strange then the MCU can make allowances for the Black Knight.

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Giant-Man and the Wasp: He’s actually Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, who decided to use his shrinking power in reverse. And of course, comic book fans know that the Wasp was his wife and at one point, supposed to have been in The Avengers, as seen by some storyboards. The characters will obviously be different people in the MCU given the character situation with Ant-Man.

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Hercules: Think of a more fun version of Thor and you got Hercules! Imagine his romps as he battles and brags his way across the silver screen. Plus, his fanciful boasts and love of revelry and fighting would provide light-hearted relief as if an Avengers film could use it. Another angle is to use him and Ares or Thor as foils against one another.

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Quasar: Marvel’s answer to Green Lantern would add a cosmic angle to the Avengers’ roster. Armed with Quantum Bands fused to his wrists, these objects allow Wendell Vaughn to tap and use energy to fight evildoers. Not only that but his cosmic-based background could conceivably link the Avengers to the larger galaxy without resorting to Thanos.

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She-Hulk: Come on, we all want to see how Marvel Studios pulls this off! BTW, CG isn’t needed to bring the beautiful cousin of the Hulk to life on screen. She would make for some inspired eye candy and an excellent counterpoint to the brutish Hulk.

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Spectrum: At one time called Captain Marvel, Monica Rambeau has energy-based powers and was one of the most versatile and powerful members of the superhero team. She even led the team at one point and the spectacle of her turning into different kinds of energy would look fantastic on film.

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Spider-Woman: Hey Marvel and Sony made nice and are now sharing Spider-Man. That should embolden Marvel Studios enough to go ahead and give us Spider-Woman. Besides with her Hydra/S.H.I.E.L.D. backstory it should be cinch to throw her into the Avengers.

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Tigra: Originally Greer Grant was the superhero called The Cat but was later transformed through mystical means into Tigra with tiger-like powers. It’s easy to conceive of a sexy but tough leading lady playing this role. As with other candidates some tweaking is needed to change the mystical angle.

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Wonder Man: One of the earliest and most powerful members of the Avengers deserves his shot at the big screen. Simon Williams’ tragic story of a pawn used to betray the Avengers and his eventual redemption is a great story that can be used in a future Avengers film.

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Avengers Come Of Age With Ultron

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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.

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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.

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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