The Great MCU Re-watch (Recap Edition)

So that’s pretty much that.

For the record, I failed in my mission to re-watch and review every Marvel film before the release of Civil War; missed it by a little over a week. I’m not going to beat myself up too badly, however, because… well, why would I? Because like most people, I’m incapable of giving myself a break, quick to point out my shortcomings rather than my successes? Not this time. I did it, and if you’ve read, say, at least three of these, then thank you. We did it.

But before closing this particular chapter of this new blog, I wanted to revisit the MCU one more time and rank the films we’ve just gone through. My rating system was a little over the place (and indeed, I ditched it altogether with Ant-Man), so this should give a clearer idea of how these films stack up against each other. Sort of a Civil War, if you will. Subjective or not, this is a definitive ranking system, and if anyone disagrees with me then just know, this is a hill I’m prepared to die on.


13. The Incredible Hulk: No surprises here. I complained about this thing for the entire rewatch. I never shut up about it, the entire time. What’s particularly striking in retrospect is just how jarring this movie is in comparison to all that comes after. The only dim pleasant memory I have of this thing is Tim Roth. They brought back Genreal Ross for Civil War, I’d love it if they could bring him back for Infinity War.


12. Thor: Fuck you and your dutch angles, Kenneth Branagh. Also, both Thor and Loki’s hair is too short in this movie. Looks stupid.

11. Iron Man 2: Another one that lost a lot of value as time wore on. Even though I remember it clearly, I’m hard-pressed to pull anything memorable out of it. Also known as the one where Iron Man’s chest piece becomes a triangle instead of a circle.

10. Ant-Man: After seeing this movie, I’m convinced that this concept, and this character, and this cast can do much better than they did here. There’s a lot to love in this movie, but it’s just not on par with most of what’s on offer in the MCU. I’m legitimately excited about the prospects of a sequel that can jettison the burdens of an origin story and a troubled production and hit the ground running.

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9: Thor: The Dark World: Honestly, this movie should be rated worse than both Ant-Man and Iron Man 2, but I have an intense weakness for Thor and Loki, and I couldn’t bear to bury both films in this franchise. That, and the world-bending, ‘fuck physics’ of the final fight make this a better film than it has any right to be. Also, spooky, spooky elves. I love them.

8.: Guardians of the Galaxy: Not even James Gunn’s relentless hatred of women is enough to sink this film, but, in this reviewer’s opinion, it’s enough to keep it out of the upper echelons of what the MCU has given us. Though there were so many things I loved about it (the Space Opera tone, the Infinity Stone maguffin, that amazing, amazing soundtrack), in the end what we have here is damaged goods . The arc given to Peter Quill is probably one of the better ‘hero’s journey’ in a Marvel movie; it’s just unfortunate that so much of it comes at the expense of Gamora. I am guardedly optimistic for the sequel, even if the actual success of this movie makes me think James Gunn will simply double down on what he thinks worked in this film. Time will tell.

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7: Captain America: The First Avenger: Look at it this way: this is the only movie where Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter kiss. It should actually be rated higher for that but, origin story, and also, that weird pacing thing that happens by crashing the contents of two films into one.

6: Avengers: Age of Ultron: Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter do not kiss in this movie. Which is a shame, too, because it would have meant there was kindof a point to his dream sequence, which, so far as I can tell, there was not. Missed opportunity, Joss Wedon. Honestly, this entire film is a missed opportunity, and it remains one of the primary reasons why I subscribe to the notion of parallel universes.

5: Iron Man 3: A terrific example of a character-driven story, and a wonderful opportunity for Robert Downey Jr. to remind us again why he’s the cornerstone of the entire MCU and entirely deserving of the dumptrucks full of money he receives for each film. Stick it to the man, Robbie. Yet another movie wherein Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter do not kiss, it gets a pass for having neither of those characters in the actual film, but then gets that pass revoked for not having Steve Rogers even mentioned in a movie where the President of the United States is threatened with assassination.

4: Iron Man: Strictly speaking, Iron Man 3 is the better movie, but you gotta give credit where it’s due: this movie is OG. There are any number of things that could have gone wrong, that miraculously didn’t, and I am forever grateful. One thing that did go wrong however, was the casting of Terrence Howard, and having gotten really attached to Don Cheadle’s dry delivery as Rhodey, I look forward to the day where we can insert him into the film using computers and dark sorcery and correct this blight on an otherwise near-perfect film. Also, though we didn’t know it at the time, Jeff Bridges was giving us one of the more nuanced villains the MCU would ever produce, and that’s before you get into all the awesome conspiracy theories about him working for Hydra. And no, there is no kiss from Peggy and Steve in this movie (neither actor had been cast yet, and their movie didn’t exist), but I’m going to embed that gif again anyway:

3: The Avengers: I was there, when the portal opened and aliens rained down death and destruction on New York City, and by there I mean here, Ottawa, Ontario – Gloucester Silver City, to be precise. But lest you think my suffering any less than those at Ground Zero, I had to watch that thing in 3D because there was no other option for a midnight showing. I learned we were not alone in the universe while wearing stupid glasses over my glasses (I still have my over-priced, commemorative cup with Iron Man Cup topper, actually). Everything that goes wrong in Age of Ultron goes right here, and the Avengers would be the greatest superhero ensemble film ever, were it not for the inclusion of one other at the end of this list.

2: Captain America: Winter Soldier: I’m getting pretty fucking tired of these movies not having Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter kissing, but at least this movie has the decency to put them in a scene together. And it’s a heart-breaking scene, that drives home the point to Steve Rogers just how much a ‘man out of time’ he truly is. It’s also worth noting how her character serves to remind him of his best, most Captain Americaest self. She convinces him to ditch the USO show and be a hero in the first movie, and in this one lays the seeds that will grow into his decision to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. along with Hydra when she says:

“The world has changed and none of us can go back. All we can do is our best, and sometimes the best we can do is start over.”

1: Captain America: Civil War: Without spoiling too much, I can tell you that Steve Rogers does indeed kiss Agent Carter in this movie, so I guess I can shut up about that now. Oh, wait, no.

But I will shut up about it, so that I can instead defend my position that Civil War is the best thing the MCU has yet produced. Is there a bit of recency bias at play here? Possibly. Meta-cognition isn’t my strongest suit, which is to say that I mainly just think my thoughts, rather than thinking about why I have them. But I will say this: Civil War is what you’d get if the Avengers and  Winter Soldier fell in love and had a baby. It’s got all the ensemble-juggling wizardry of the former, wedded to the intensely personal, real world feel of the latter. That alone would put it in the running for the best, but on top of that they give us a very good Spider-man, as well as introducing Black Panther – Marvel’s first black super-hero – and furthermore, giving him an arc. I could not be more excited for his solo film which comes out… well, not nearly soon enough, and that’s in part because Civil War has already given us his origin story. When we meet Prince T’Challa he’s dutiful and dignified, yes, but also impetuous and headstrong. But by the end of this film, having seen the destruction and manipulation wrought by Zemo, we see him emerge tempered and wise and merciful. A true King.

This movie also makes the Ant-Man film better in retrospect, and should effectively shut down anyone who doubted Marvel’s decision to part ways with Edgar Wright. Ant-Man is terrific here, and that’s in part because of the set-up done in the previous film, set-up that Wright was firmly opposed to ‘setting-up’.

And while we do have some set-up for future films here, most of what this movie is about is pay-off. Nothing comes at the expense of anything else either; the action scenes are thrilling, like actually edge of your seat, open-mouthed amazing, and the characters feel more real than ever. Characters have always been the strong suit of the MCU and that virtuosity is on display here. Tony Stark is the darkest we’ve ever seen (and that’s before the revelation that sends him over the edge), and he’s not alone: on the whole, this is a very dark film. Dark, but far from grim. There are moments of levity that don’t jar with the tone, but even more, there are heartfelt moments. Rather than detract from the spectacle, they inform it, buttressing  the action with real, human relationships, so that we’re always invested in what’s happening on the screen.

Since this is the creative team that will be responsible for the next Avengers movie, it’s safe to say we’re in safe hands. This movie is one hell of an audition.

So that’s pretty much that. Thank-you again, if you’re reading this. I’ve got a long way to go as a writer, but this was a decent start, I think. And I’m such a fan of these movies, and of  these characters, that it was a fun and worthwhile exercise to sit down and figure out why.

And here’s why: since it’s announcement, the MCU has always been about possibility. These are people attempting something that’s never been done, and succeeding at it. There have been stumbles, oh god yes, but the MCU shakes it off, and lumbers forward. It’s its own sort of superhero, that way.

And now we are 13 films into this franchise, and that’s simply incredible. There’s just nothing else that compares to it. And although we still have representation issues, oh, god yes, at least that’s a conversation that gets had now. Phase three will give us our first film led by a black man, and our first by a woman. We’re getting there; slowly but surely, and in this sense, the MCU is proof that the Social Justice Warriors – of which I am one – are winning the culture war.




Honey, I shrunk the Superhero: Ant-Man

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You know what movie I’d really like to see? An in-depth documentary on the making of Ant-Man. Because the troubled production of this movie is, I think, a far more interesting story than the one the actual movie has to tell. Which is another way of saying that I don’t know how to fill up this review. I mean, it’s a Marvel movie; I’ve done 11 other versions of this. There’s good, there’s bad. We’ve been here before.

So many times.

I think the baked-in problem with Ant-Man is this: we haven’t had an origin story since Captain America: First Avenger, and even that was a pretty decent twist on the usual formula. So Ant-man suffers from a disadvantage from the get-go; in a way, it can’t help but feel like a step backward. It’s not as good as Iron Man, but it’s a fair sight better than the Incredible Hulk, so let’s take comfort where and when we can: there will never be a Marvel movie as thoroughly unimpressive as the Incredible Hulk.

And there are a few telling differences here; twists, or wrinkles, or whatever, that keep this movie from feeling… well, not fresh – certainly not that – but less stale at least. Palatable.

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The fathers and daughters thing is… a thing, certainly, and I would never argue that it wasn’t. And this is the first time we’ve seen a passing of the mantle from one generation to another, and that’s pretty cool.

Also cool – groundbreaking, even – is the powers themselves, and it gives us a whole new set of visuals that we’ve never seen before. So screw the family thing, or the mentor thing, this is what really sets Ant-man apart and justifies it’s existence. This tiny, tiny dude:

There are some legitimately great sequences in this movie, and the filmmaker embraces the weirdness of this concept in a way that is unabashedly joyful. I mean, Thomas the Tank Engine. I could leave it at that and this review would be complete.

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I won’t though, because there’s also the awesome homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey that happens as Scott falls through ‘the Quantum Realm’:

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This would be amazing in and of itself, just as a visual nod to my favorite movie ever, but the film uses this sequence both to set up a sequel (Janet Van Dyne was lost in the Quantum Realm, but not, I think, for much longer) and to remind us one more time what has truly motivated our hero for the entire film: his daughter, Peanut. I mean, Cassie. Whatever.

This thing.

I don’t have any kids, but I’ve consumed enough media to understand that it’s a powerful motivating force. Also, if I just pretend that Scott Laing is doing all this for his cat then it  makes sense to me.

So if Iron Man is about guilt, and Captain America is about duty, and the Incredible Hulk is about nothing, then Ant-man, first and foremost, is about family. It’s smaller in scale, I guess you could say, and it turns out I may have liked this thing more than I thought I did; I’m really talking myself around about it.

So why am I so underwhelmed by this movie, then?

I think part of it is Judy Greer, who plays Scott’s ex, and who doesn’t have a name worth remembering. (Maggie! I just remembered.) I guess I never really understood what her problem was, or why she was so insistent that Scott pay child support as a condition to seeing his daughter who clearly adores him. I mean, let’s go to the numbers:

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Leaving aside that I can’t figure out how he arrived at his conclusion, let’s assume he’s done his math correctly and, holy shit! That’s over a year! That’s like sending the guy to prison after he just got out of prison. And let’s not forget that children are not static creatures, indeed, the entire point of them (from my limited understanding) is that they grow and change. A year is the equivalent of a geological age in life of a child, and, as Scott himself says, he’s already missed a lot.

“I had a lot of time to think about it, and I love her. So much. I’ve missed so much time and I want to be part of her life. What do I do?”

Judy Greer is unmoved by this, or at least, the script says she is, so we get this:

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Unmoved by this.

“Get an apartment. Get a job. Pay child support. Then we will talk about visitation, I promise.”

So she’s not even saying that he can see his kid if he jumps through these hoops, but rather that they’ll talk about it. A discussion will be had. Now, I don’t want to dismiss out of hand the notion of child support and single mothers and absentee fathers and all that. It’s important, and the reason there are laws in place is because enough people have been assholes about providing in the past, leading to a lot of stress and hardship on the part of those left holding the bag. Except that’s not the picture the movie paints for us, which is pretty much one of domestic bliss. We have a great house in what appears to be a nice neighborhood, and her new husband is a stock cop character in a movie. Stock cop characters do quite well, providing they survive whatever movie they’re in (and this one does). The point is, this is not someone who is in need of whatever limited financial support Scott can provide. And maybe it’s the principle of the thing, but if your principles require a little girl to be kept from her father, then guess what? You’re the problem. What Scott can provide is a father’s love, and there just has to be some intrinsic value in that.

There has to be, because that’s what this movie is about. Take the film’s other villain:

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Pay child support, Scott.

Corey Stoll plays Darren Cross, who was once the protege of Hank Pym; presumably until he showed up to work one day looking like Lex Luthor and Hank Pym was having none of it. Not that that’s what Cross took away from it, all he knew was that his mentor, his father-figure, abandoned him. The same goes for Hope (played by Evangeline Lily’s fantastic wig), who felt abandoned by her father after her mother’s ‘death’, and only the realization that her boss was Lex Luthor is enough to bring her back.

I really cannot say enough good things about this wig.

So, a father’s love; very important. It is, after all, what allows Scott to save himself from the nothingness of the Quantum Realm, and that’s great for us, because I can’t wait for the next movie. One that is completely free of the miasma of dissent that clouds this one.

You know, the elephant in the room? It’s very hard to miss an elephant in a movie about ants, so this is the part where we talk about how Edgar Wright got chewed up and spat out by the monster the MCU has become.

Galactus, technically owned by Fox.

Now Edgar Wright is either a genius – according the internet at large – or the guy who did Scott Pilgrim and is owed a debt of gratitude for it but we’ve mostly moved on – according to me. He was attached to Ant-Man in 2006, around the time they were developing Iron Man and only dreaming about the Avengers. Formative times, and it’s safe to say that no one realized just what a beast this would all become. So it seemed like no big deal to allow this talented, free-spirited genius his pet project, while they went off and worked on building the universe Ant-man would one day inhabit. But of course, Ant-Man wasn’t Edgar Wright’s only project at the time, he also gave us that Scott Pilgrim movie I was so fond of, as well The World’s End. And in that time the world changed. Superhero movies were now a billion dollar industry and ‘I’m sorry, you can’t just do whatever you want’, except that that had been the original deal, so…


That was how it came to pass then, that a little over a year before its release, Ant-Man found itself in search of a new director. Yikes. Somebody was quickly drafted who would toe the company line and his name was Peyton Reed, and thus the ship was righted and produced the all-around palatable superhero pablum that today we call Ant-Man.

Which I liked.

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A lot.

Apparently there were some last minute rewrites (as in, at least 2) but then this train was leaving the station, so there was just no time to iron out the awkwardness. You’re left with a weird frankensteinian-hybrid that is Wright’s basic premise, with some Paul Rudd comedy and a studio-mandated fight at the Avengers headquarters grafted on.

And I liked it.

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I could make the usual complaints about gender, – like how they fridged Hope’s mom and original Wasp,  Janet Van Dyne, or how Judy Greer was written to be an unreasonable shrew – but on the main those arguments have already been made, and by people smarter and more articulate than me. But I would like to ask a question, why does Hope’s suit have boobs on it? Was that neccessary?

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“Actually, I think I’ll just be Ant-Man, Dad. Scott can wear the ladysuit.”

Like, I get that it was originally made for his wife, and they were doubtlessly into some kinkiness – and I don’t judge! – but you’d think a father would modify the fetish wear just a tad before gifting it to his daughter. Evangeline Lily’s wig is just not that busty.

So that’s Ant Man, the final movie in PHASE TWO of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And even it’s inclusion there feels like an awkward afterthought; because obviously Age of Ultron should have been the capstone, just as the original Avengers closed out the first phase. But you can see why they didn’t want people thinking this movie was at all indicative of how Phase Three was going to go, so they just snuck it in there and washed their hands of it. Phase Two, complete.


Too far in a few places: Age of Ultron

Somewhere out there, in the myriad of possible universes, exists a 3 hour version of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and I wish that universe were this one, because I’d love to see that movie. What exists, what we have on our hands here, it’s impossible not to see as more a series of compromises than an actual film. More a game of chicken between a director and a studio, the Cave versus the Farm and so forth.

That old saying, about how a good compromise is one that leaves both parties equally dissatisfied? That’s this movie in a nutshell.

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All it really needed was room to breathe, and maybe for them to not shove a Black Widow/Hulk romance down our throat. (How do I ship that, even? Banneroff? Bulk?)

But mostly breathing room. Keep in mind, this is a movie that insists on introducing three new heroes (the Vision and the Maximoff twins,) three villains (Ultron, Ulysses Klaw and Baron Von Hydra), six action set-pieces (Hydra base battle, Party battle, First Ultron battle – Africa, Hulkbuster battle, Second Ultron battle – Korea, and Final Ultron battle to end all battles battle – Sokovia) two dream sequences and a love story invented out of whole cloth. Sprinkle in a few cameos (Falcon, War Machine, Stan Lee, that guy from Winter Soldier who wouldn’t launch the Helicarriers) and then try to cram it into less than two and a half hours to maximize ticket sales, and what you wind up with is kind of a mess.

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Seriously though, Helicarrier Guy is the best.

So if not breathing room, then restraint. Resist the urge to make your sequel so much bigger and betterer than the original, because that’s the kind of Promethean hubris that can derail your film franchise faster than you can say Amazing Spider-man 2. Did this movie really need to shoehorn in Klaw to set-up the Black Panther movie? Maybe, and maybe in the long run this decision will bear out as a genius move. But I would have taken one less action sequence just to have that stuff with Thor in the cave make sense.

And normally I’m not the sort to argue about a topless Thor; indeed, it’s my preferred mode of Thunder God. But it’s just so random and weird and forced and awkward and obviously intended to set up future films, that it begins to come off as a cynical cash-grab.

Which it is, and believe me, I’m not naive enough to think these movies exist for any other reason than to make an insane amount of money. But it’s like after the monumental success of the first Avengers movie, the studio just lost their mind and forgot that it was a great film first and a money-maker second.

But even though it is not the greatest movie ever made, and a lot of – dare I say – mistakes were made in the execution, there’s still something to be said for the ambition at play here. I like ambition. You know what else I like:

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Tiny heads on giant bodies.

Fucking Hulkbuster, that’s what. I feel like this entire sequence was kind of trailer bait, but so what. It worked. I was always going to see this thing, in theatres, multiple times, but damn if I didn’t swoon a bit seeing glimpses of this battle in the trailer.

I also really liked – and perhaps I should have led with this – was the ongoing saga of Tony Stark is actually batshit insane. Seriously though, what we have here is another chapter in the Choices and Consequences of Tony Stark. He’s still very much ruled by the events of the first Avengers and I like that. If you’re going to build a realistic comic book universe, and then have aliens invade, well then that should have consequences, and it very much does. Yeah, Wanda Maximoff definitely gives him a little nudge at the beginning, but the seeds of his fear – the fear that leads him to create Ultron – are already there. You can also see a direct correlation between the final fight in Iron Man 3 and the Iron Legion here. It’s just more of that juicy shared-universe continuity that makes these movies greater than the sum of their parts.

Hey, speaking of shared continuity, does anyone remember Betty Ross?

Betty Who?

Oh, right, the white shirt in the rain.

I mean, the movie remembers her (I can’t think of any other reason the Hulkbuster was code-named ‘Veronica’), but no one else appears to. And for the record, I don’t object to Banneroff (Bulk?) on principal, and I can even squint my eyes a bit and see how the pairing could work: besides attractive people being attracted to each other being the most natural thing in the world, her explanation to him at the party makes sense; and for him, she’s in his peer group of super-people, which probably takes a lot of the edge off. (Although, Bruce, I would seriously consider the potential ramifications of dating someone named Black Widow. I would.)  Still, a throwaway line and a continuity nod to the former love of his life would have been appreciated, is all. Something to tell me I didn’t waste my time in re-watching the Incredible Hulk. Even though I obviously wasted my time re-watching the Incredible Hulk.

So while the romance itself didn’t bother me, I was annoyed by the insinuation that they would run away together and quit the Avengers and leave someone else to deal with the homicidal, freakishly powerful, killer robot bent on genocide. I thought that felt a little out of left field, and it isn’t helped by a simpering, gag-me-with-spoon line delivery from Scarlett Johansson:

I’m running with it… with you. If running’s the plan… as far as you want.”

Seriously, look at that final fight beside the doomsday trigger – they needed everybody for that. If they had bailed, everyone on the planet would have died; not that it was even remotely believable that they would bail, so why was this even in the movie? I would gladly have taken a bit more explanation on what was happening in that cave. What was happening in that cave?

You know what else I would have trimmed down? That whole farmhouse scene. I gotta side with the studio on this one, that went on way too long. I mean, there was stuff in that i liked:

This, mostly.

And the Heroes in Hiding After a Crushing Defeat is a time-honored trope that I can get behind. That being said, besides forcing in a romance that nobody wanted or asked for, all the Farm does really is solidify the inescapable fact that Hawkeye is the blandest, boringest super hero of all time. Were there even any doubters on that score?

Not anymore.

So you can turn your brain off and enjoy this movie, that’s the good news. It even has a halfways-decent score to help facilitate the mindless entertainment, thanks the addition of legendary composer Danny Elfman to the proceedings. The bad news is that Age of Ultron is – and it hurts me to say it – a flawed, bloated, rushed, mess of a movie. Leaps in logic are made to get the heroes where they need to be for their action sequences, a lot of character development is left at the wayside in favor of… less compelling character development (seriously, Thor and Cap get shafted in this film, with the latter in particular given nothing really to do but fight). And it’s unfortunate, because there’s a great film in here, somewhere. I loved the idea of Ultron, the global threat of him in a world where the internet rules almost every aspect of our lives. I liked that he had a bit of his maker in him, even if that didn’t really make a lot of sense. (In the comics, Hank Pym creates Ultron from his own brainwaves, resulting in a villain that has a lot of his mannerisms. Here, that explanation doesn’t really work. I mean, Jarvis isn’t like Tony, so why… never mind.)

And I thought James Spader’s performance was one of the highlights of the film: the snark, the menace, the humanity. Despite being a robot (android? A.I.?), Ultron is one of the most human villains we’ve ever seen in the MCU and I could have happily spent more time in his company, at the expense of, say, an unnecessary romance or Hawkeye’s painfully boring domestic life.

So in the final analysis, Age of Ultron, a film I obsessed over prior to it’s release, for which I sought out trailers and articles, interviews and spoilers (I even live-streamed the red carpet premier like a loser) gets a C-, or, in keeping with my unconventional ratings scale, 6 cities falling out of the sky out of 11. It’s a credible addition to the greater MCU, but forgot to be it’s own movie for the greater part of it’s own movie. It’s fine, I mean, it’s okay; but it’s just okay. You know who can get away with being just okay? Thor movies. That’s about it. When it comes to the Avengers, these culminations of a buildup over multiple movies, well, the expectations are high. Too high, in this case, which made the let down all the more painful.

One final note: what the hell is going on with the Hulk in these movies? Like, what is actually going on?

At the end of Incredible Hulk it’s implied that he’s gained control of his ability to change, except that in Avengers it’s clear he hasn’t, except at the end when he apparently has (that would be the “I’m always angry” line), except in this movie where he has, but he needs Black Widow to be the Hulk whisperer, except at the end when he uses a touchscreen to end a facetime call and then calmly sits in the Quinjet and flies off into the sunset.

Normally I wouldn’t complain about internal consistency in comic book movies, except that, of course I would, and that’s also the entire point of the MCU. I look forward to this being explained in Thor: Ragnarok, by which I mean this had better be explained in Thor: Ragnarok. Otherwise I might have to smash something.


I’m Not In Love: Guardians of the Galaxy

It’s almost impossible to divorce the actual film of Guardians of the Galaxy from the story of it’s success. I mean, this one was the gamble. Nobody, and I mean no one had heard of these guys prior to this films development. Well, like maybe 3 people who worked on the comics and their moms, but this was the first time Marvel relied on it’s own name recognition and it’s own brand to sell a movie to the general public. People might not have known who Iron Man was prior to the 2008 movie, but you can guarantee they’d at least heard of him. But the Guardians of the Galaxy? It was a roll of the dice, and it paid off. Like a slot machine. But like, better, because slot machines don’t actually pay off, really, in the long run, I mean. Listen, bad analogy, especially paired with the dice metaphor; I shouldn’t have done that. The point is, it won the summer, and was lauded by critics, garnering a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

But is it really that great?


I said it. They’re coming for me now. But it’s true.

Now don’t get me wrong; this is still a great movie, and it’s only because we live in such a glut of quality sci-fi and comic book movies that I can even quibble, but quibble I will. I’m a little ungrateful that way.

I guess the first thing you need to know is that James Gunn is a misogynist, and there was a minor scandal during production when an old blog post of his surfaced… saying some not nice things about women and gay people. Not his finest hour, and he offered a pretty decent apology that may or may not have been mandated from the studio (hell, it might have even been written by them), and that was that. But it put me on alert going into the movie that I might not be about to see the greatest female representation in the history of cinema. And indeed, it was not. I don’t want to blow anyone’s mind here, but Guardians of the Galaxy does not pass the Bechdel test. Or does it? Does Gamora and Nebula having a sword fight count?

Doesn’t matter. Whatever. The Bechdel test is kindof bullshit, anyway. So is having a casual indifference towards women, which I think the film definitely does. It’s slathered in douche-stank, from the moment this chick shows up:

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Her name is Bereet, you asshole.

So the joke is that Peter Quill, space pirate, bangs so many women that not only can he not remember their names, but he actually forgets that he has one on the ship. And… you know, what? This one’s not bad. Chris Pratt is so amazing in this movie, such a lovable scoundrel, that the joke works in spite of its own laziness. But it’s also a warning sign of troubled waters to come. Space waters. In space.

Since the film is basically a boys club, it’s fair to scrutinize the one female protagonist we’re given: Gamora the Green, hot sexy assassin chick extraordinaire. In a few places of hurried exposition we’re informed that she’s an adopted daughter of Thanos, who raised her to be an assassin and like, gave her robot legs or super soldier serum or something. It’s not really clear, but the girl can jump:

This is actually really lazy and obvious cgi, but whatever it’s just a stupid girl so who cares.

But superficial nods to her badassery aside, her actual track record in the movie is pretty lousy. She gets beaten by Chris Pratt in their first fight, and yeah, I get it, you can’t have your hero beaten up by a girl, but later in the prison we see her being held at knife-point by three losers.

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Seriously, it’s so stupid. And it’s all so the hero of our story can rescue her and feed this male power fantasy we’ve got going on. This is straight up character assassination of an assassin character. The only fight she’s allowed to win is against another girl, her sister Nebula, and oh yeah, let’s talk about that for a second, shall we?

In the past, Marvel’s gotten some good traction out of sibling rivalry.

From the backstory hinted at, Gamora and Nebula have a fascinating relationship: both adopted from parents whom they presumably saw murdered, both enhanced by Thanos, raised and trained to be his personal assassins; he says at one point that Gamora is his favorite and you can just see the envy and fury on Nebula’s face. Point is, this was a rich potential of pathos and drama that the film just blows by in favor of it’s male leads. And that’s incredibly disappointing. I mean, Karen Gillan shaved her head for this thing! Give her some material worthy of that sacrifice – but no.

Finally, there’s this. We’ll call it a joke, even though it satisfies none of the criteria of such. It’s not funny, and it doesn’t make sense in the context of the film. But we’ve got Peter, Gamora, Drax and Groot, breaking into the alien ship to defeat the bad guy and whatever. Doesn’t matter. They’re walking and Drax is reflecting on friendship, saying how grateful he is to them.

“You, Quill, are my friend. This dumb tree, he is my friend. And this green whore, she too-“

And that’s when Gamora shuts him down, while the brain-dead audience laughs because, haha, he called her a whore. And the “payoff” for this “set up” is when Drax shoots Nebula with a rocket launcher for calling her stupid. “Nobody talks to my friends like that,” he says, as the audience laughs. It’s funny, you see, because he just called her a whore. D’ya get it?

So obviously humor is a subjective thing, but the internal logic is where the joke really fails. Drax, we are told earlier, comes from a species that is entirely literal, to the point of stupidity, really. Which means that he must literally think Gamora is a whore. Except he can’t because she’s an assassin working for Ronan and he knows that, which is why he wanted to kill her to begin with. Which means the joke makes no sense, and is only included in the movie because the filmmaker is an asshole who hates women.

Yeah, I said it. Come at me, bro.

Here’s the thing about misogyny; it’s possible to think you have a positive and healthy view of women, while simultaneously reinforcing the attitudes and behaviors that have led to their repression for centuries. James Gunn has a mother, and possibly sisters; he dates women (even if his homophobia makes me think he jerks off to gay porn) and I’m sure he believes himself to be an advocate for their rights. But this film tells a different tale. The galaxy is alarmingly short of women – guards, prisoners, pirates, soldiers, it’s dudes as far as the eye can see  – and even the one woman we have in a position of power (that would be the head of the Nova Corps whose name I can’t remember because I’m pretty sure it’s ‘Head of the Nova Corps’) doesn’t have a lot to do besides stand over a holographic table and look concerned.

Besides all that, I’m not sure James Gunn is as funny as he thinks he is, and a lot of the jokes in the movie are awkwardly phrased, like Gamora’s line about ‘pelvic sorcery’ or when Rocket is making fun of Xandarians.

What a bunch of losers! Always trying to get from something stupid to nothing at all. Can you believe they call us criminals when he’s assaulting us with that hairdo?!”

I don’t know, it is quibbling at this point though, because by and large, this is a very funny movie. And it’s a very funny movie thanks to the comedic talents of Chris Pratt.

I only chose this picture because it’s sexy.

It’s a tale as old as time at this point, Marvel casting just the perfect person for their lead, and it’s a good thing too. James Gunn is so gay for this character that it’s absolutely vital to the films’ success that we love him just as much, and happily we do. Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill is Han Solo meets Indiana Jones meets… Jack Sparrow? Tough call. But it’s mesmerizing to watch and, as an added bonus, Chris Pratt is charming and hilarious and genuinely touching in real life. Honestly, this isn’t near the best Marvel movie, but it’s doubtlessly the best press junket they ever had. This guy killed it in his interviews; the world fell in love with him like he was a male Jennifer Lawrence, they just could not get enough of this guy.

So between Chris Pratt and the killer soundtrack, you could have done anything with this movie and it still would have been decent; fortunately, a number of other happy accidents conspire to make this film more decent then it probably should be.

Some tone deaf line delivery aside, Rocket is everything I ever wanted in a computer generated talking raccoon. Groot, as voiced by Vin Diesel, brings a surprising amount of depth to the three words that comprise his entire vocabulary. Plus, there’s that scandalized gasp he gives, that just might be one of the best character beats of the film:

 Rocket: Oh boo hoo, my wife and daughter are dead!


Honestly, the entire ensemble is great, sometimes in spite of the filmmakers attempts to have us secretly despise the character. The chief villain is Ronan the Accuser and he is tragically underused, in part because they had to lay some track towards Infinity War by including Thanos, but mostly because he’s not really supposed to be a person, but rather a situation that brings together our heroes and gives them cause to stay together.

This movie does have a lot of heart; from Peter’s coming to peace with his mother’s death, to Drax comforting Rocket after Groot’s sacrifice.

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There are some really nice moments in here, and characters that I care about and want to see more of. Still, I can only award Guardians of the Galaxy 3 Infinity Gems out of 6.

I wanted to love this movie since the first amazing trailer, and I really did love it on the first few viewings. But there’s a dark cloud that hangs over the proceedings –  sour notes in the sweetness – and a lazy disregard for it’s female characters that has no place in a modern movie franchise. Do better, Marvel.

Pretty please.

The Real American Hero (Captain America: Winter Soldier)

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I’ll get it out of the way, right away: The Winter Soldier is the strongest outing from the MCU to date. It’s technically better than the Avengers, although that’s not a totally fair comparison: without all the heavy lifting required to bring the team together, this movie gets to narrow it’s focus to one man, Captain America. His morals, his inherent goodness, keeps this movie on a tight track.

Why was it so great then, when the second Thor was so mediocre? If the Avengers is the greatest superhero ensemble film, then Winter Soldier is, so far at least, the greatest superhero sequel. But why?

Honestly, I have no idea, and I literally just watched it. But I do know, from a life of geekdom that sequels are a tricky business. And they’re even trickier in the MCU where the movie has to wear so many different hats: it has to be a direct sequel to it’s previous film, it has to be a spiritual sequel to whatever big event film preceded it – the Avengers in this case – and it has to – always, always – set up future films and conflicts in a way that doesn’t detract from the story being told. Honestly, looking at the amount of boxes that needed to be ticked, I have no idea how it was accomplished. Particularly from a pair of guys best known for their work on Community. It’s so weird.

I’ve noticed a pattern with a lot of these movies, where certain elements will work (usually the cast) and other elements won’t quite pull it off (often times the story). In Winter Soldier, there’s just none of that, it’s a machine firing on all cylinders. The story is superb. It grows the world we’ve been setting up for 9 movies now, it’s relevant to real-world issues (wikileaks, drone warfare, etc), and like Iron Man 3, allows our hero to be heroic.

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The story works both on the epic scale (planetary takeover by Hydra) and on the intensely personal: Steve’s childhood best friend and war buddy – Bucky Barnes, killed in action – is the Winter Soldier promised in the sub-title; a brain-washed assassin with jacked up abilities on par with our hero’s. When Steve finally learns the truth, it tears him apart, and you can see it tear him apart; it’s written plain as day on that stupid, puppy-dog, Captain America face:

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Do you see the shininess in the eyes, there? That’s called acting. And while Chris Evans does the bulk of it in this movie (only fair in a Captain America film) every single other member of the cast -large or small – is completely believable in their role. Sometimes, as in the case of Scarlett Johansen, it will inform and expand a character we’ve already met, but the noobs pull their weight, too. I loved Falcon from his first scene, and thought Robert Redford was a brilliant choice for a corrupt politician. It was also the most we’ve ever seen of Nick Fury, and he too, kills it. Nick Fury is a total badass in this movie, and it was awesome to see.

And then there’s Bucky, the Winter Soldier himself:

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As a brain-washed assassin for most of the film, Bucky doesn’t actually have much of a character – he’s more like a mindless force of destruction, like the disaster in a disaster movie. He’s terrifying, he’s great. As he begins to remember himself, however, we see the torment of those memories, and a lost, puppy-dog confusion. It’s only for a few scenes (and one of those a post credits scene), so this a character I very much am looking forward to seeing develop in the next film.

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Also, look at this bad ass shield move from Cap:

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So what else elevates this above other movies in the genre, and indeed, the MCU itself?

Well, I was hoping to get away without talking about this until I did Guardians next – because it will be especially relevant there – but the score of Winter Soldier is stellar. Just really, really good, and that’s not something you could ever say about any Marvel movie previous. Certainly the themes (for Thor and Captain America at least) were decent enough, and gave the flavor of the character they were supposed to represent, but they were also forgettable. If I don’t leave the movie theater humming music under my breath then something’s wrong; music sticks in my brain in a way I can’t even help. Everywhere else Marvel has shown boldness and vision – from actors to directors to the existence of the MCU to begin with – but, to put it simply, the soundtracks sucked. Not here. And it makes such a huge difference. Music hacks the brain in such unique and unusual ways, evoking emotions and pulling us deeper into a story – done well, at least. Done poorly it has the opposite effect, although Marvel movies have generally split the difference so far. It’s been a non-entity, which, while inoffensive, has held the movies back from greatness. It was a treat to find myself actually noticing the music for a change, is what I’m saying.

What else can I say? This movie was great. Have you seen it? My one quibble, and it’s so minor that I hesitate to bring it up; but I’ve gotta pad out the wordcount somehow, so here goes: I feel like Winter Soldier makes Iron Man 3 a weaker film in retrospect. Because, seriously, where the hell was Cap during that movie? At the beginning of this film we see that he’s become basically an errand boy for S.H.I.E.L.D., so did those guys not care about the Mandarin blowing up targets in the U.S., and then hacking broadcast networks to brag about it? That he was threatening the President on live TV? Like, I get that they’re international and I both respect and appreciate a fictional organization that isn’t completely U.S. centric, but… guys. C’mon. Destabilizing the United States is globally dangerous, and it’s impossible for me to believe that S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t care about that, or that Captain America was indifferent. I mean, it’s right there in the name: AMERICA.


Not listed: the Mandarin.


This is the only downside to a post-Avengers MCU; now that all these heroes know and respect each other, it becomes harder to suspend disbelief when they fail to call one another for help in their solo ventures. I mean, I guess Thor gets a pass because the cell reception on Asgard is terrible, but otherwise… nu-uh. Doesn’t make sense, outside of the fact that these actors are contracted for a certain number of movies and they don’t want to blow their wad just to explain why Captain America is ignoring the worst series of terror attacks in U.S. history. So here’s what you do, Marvel, here’s how you fix this: hop in the time machine and go back to 2011 when you were developing Iron Man 3. And then, instead of wasting Chris Evans in a humorous (but ultimately useless) cameo in Thor 2, you use him in a 30 second throwaway scene that explains this minor inconsistency and lets me sleep at night. I like my sleep.

Ultimately, however, you know it: Winter Soldier is pretty well next to perfect. 10 stars and stripes out of 10. There’s some weird clandestine-y spy-shit in the beginning that went over my head, but honestly, you don’t need to understand who was behind the hijacking of the Lemurian Star, or who actually hired Batroc the Leaper. All you need to know it’s that it’s shady AF and Cap is not a fan, and that’s it. After that we’re swept away by events and the next thing you know Hydra’s taking over and we’ve got a movie. (For the record – and I did look this up – Nick Fury hired  Batroc to hijack the ship to give him an excuse to send Black Widow on board so she could steal the files pointing to a Hydra conspiracy. Thanks Wikipedia!)



Goodnight, sweet prince (Thor: the Dark World)

So I may have fallen asleep while watching this movie.

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It’s not really the movie’s fault; I was up late, didn’t sleep well, blah, blah, blah. Point is, I was set to eviscerate this thing, and now I feel bad because how can I criticize what I didn’t see? Well, pretty easily, as it turns out. Thor: the Dark World is a messy, lazy, phoned-in script that is graciously ass-saved on the strength of (most of) it’s cast and a gonzo production design. Gone is Kenneth Branagh and his first-year film school obsession with dutch angles, and in it’s place we have… Alan Taylor? Who?

Apparently he directed something called Game of Thrones, and he does mostly good work here. Like I said, this movie looks great, even if it makes not a lick of sense. This head-scratching idiocy begins immediately, with Odin’s opening monologue:

“Long before the birth of light, there was darkness. And from that darkness – the dark elves.”

Now that just doesn’t make any sense. There’s this thing called the Big Bang Theory that has a lot to say on the topic of dark energy, but overlooks entirely the presence of dark elves, who evolved apparently, in the absence of light. Is that even possible? No, no it isn’t, because in order to make the heavier elements that planets are comprised of – iron and so forth – you need the forging fire of a sun. You need light. So I don’t know what Odin’s selling here, but I’m not buying it.

He goes on to say that a millennia ago there was a war between the Dark Elves and Asgard, as Malekith sought to use The Convergence (we’ll get to that) to unleash the Aether (we’ll get to that, too) and return the Universe to the state of darkness that the Dark Elves find so congenial.

Now, again, this doesn’t make any sense. The Universe is over 13 billion years old. A millennia is a thousand years – not a very long time by comparison. So were the Dark Elves waiting around for basically forever, neither adapting nor dying out? You’d think – from an evolution standpoint – that they would either get over it and evolve, or not and go extinct. Instead, they’ve just been these miserable assholes since the dawn of creation. And speaking of evolution, why do these guys have eyeballs, exactly? Cave fish don’t have eyeballs – for reasons that are pretty evident.

This is what you look like if you live in the dark.

So in 13 billion years, the dark elves never said ‘fuck it’ and just went to live at the bottom of the ocean? Whatever, guys.

Anyway, a thousand years ago was the Convergence, and the war with the Dark Elves. Got it. The Convergence is when the Nine Realms open up circular portals that stack up like Pringles chips, and you just gotta go with it.

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Literally none of this makes sense, so we might as well talk about Thor.

When we pick up with Thor, he’s fighting some anonymous battle somewhere, because the Realms have fallen into chaos since the destruction of the Bifrost at the end of the first movie. He wins super-easily because he’s Thor, but then mopes afterward during the celebration because he misses Jane Foster. Um, why?

I won’t question why he misses Jane specifically, because what we will laughingly call ‘the script’ requires him to and besides, the heart wants what the heart wants. But why isn’t he with her now? Can’t he take a weekend off? They’re celebrating because he’s finally done mopping up these ‘marauders’ or whoever, so why doesn’t he have a big, dopey Thor grin plastered on his face as he packs a suitcase and peaces to Earth for a couple weeks of well-earned shore leave? Instead however, he mopes his way to Heimdall, who has been spying on Jane for him, which is pretty creepy when you think about it. This time, however, Heimdall can’t see her, and since he can see everything, this is naturally distressing.

Not as distressing as the reason why he can’t see her, and that’s because Jane Foster just found our maguffin, the Aether, in a warehouse in London.

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We know already from Odin’s nonsensical opening monologue, that after the war with the Elves, the Aether – which could not be destroyed – was hidden somewhere no one could find it. I guess nobody never looked in London, huh?

It’s not actually in London, of course, but Jane’s investigations into Plot Anomalies bring her there and she gets sucked through a portal or something and then she gets the Aether. Or something. The whole foundation for this story is fucked and makes no sense, relying as it does on incredible coincidences like this one. And it’s painfully obvious the choice was made to make Jane Foster more relevant in this movie, except that Natalie Portman doesn’t want to be in this movie and it shows.

She’s attractive and articulate, which means that if you point a camera at her and get her to read off some lines you’ll get something there you can use, but there’s just no spark. No sparkle. No life to this phoned-in performance. Natalie Portman – an academy award winner –  is actually an educated woman who got a degree from Harvard in psychology, but her performance as an astrophysicist here made me think she was an idiot. I mean, I knew she wasn’t, but I still sort of thought she was, that’s how unconvincing her line-readings are. It’s problematic.

But where the script passes the ball to Portman for the fumble, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston shoot a hole-in-one from the 3 point line. (Sports!)

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Seen as a continuation of this tale of two brothers, The Dark World works. It’s great, and I love seeing the pair of them together, with all the weight of past events coming to bear on their relationship. That relationship continues to evolve as their mother Frigga is fridged, I mean murdered, by Malekith. Bound by their shared grief, the brothers set out on a ridiculous plan that doesn’t work, but does serve to get all the pieces into place for the final battle.

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And the final battle is pretty cool. I mean, that’s almost a given at this point, right? There’s some sort of unspoken contract that with the price of admission comes a special effects-laden, orgiastic feast of superhero violence. And with a throw away line about how physics basically takes a coffee break during the Convergence, we are well set up for a fight that is literally bonkers, as Thor and Malekith bounce from realm to realm as they duke it out.

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my gifs spoilers Chris Hemsworth Thor *g Thor: The Dark World Thor 2 spoilers oopsy chemsedit

It’s really fun to watch, makes about as much sense as everything around here, and no one is the least surprised when the bad guy is thwarted and the good guy gets the girl in the end.

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The rest of us are left in the wreckage of yet another apocalyptic battle, wondering what the hell just happened, and if we can get a decently scripted Thor movie next time. Because everything else was great in this movie. Well, almost everything. Natalie Portman aside, there was one other really problematic aspect to this movie, and I almost forgot it til just now. Great, it looks like this review just grew another 500 words, because this happened:

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That’s Erik Selvig, played by Stellan Skarsgård, and he’s gone crazy following the events of the Avengers, where he was mind-controlled by Loki and forced to build the portal through which the Chitauri invade. That’s all fine, and certainly Iron Man 3 explored the effects of PTSD on Tony Stark to excellent effect. Unfortunately, they will not be nearly so nuanced here in The Dark World, where Selvig’s illness is played entirely for laughs and shrugged off going into the third act. Seriously, he gets checked out of the mental hospital and after seeing the early effects of the Convergence (which he predicted) says:

“There’s nothing more reassuring than realizing the world is crazier than you are.”

Immediately after which he throws his big bag of medication into the trash. Cured! It’s not only stupid, and unnecessary, it’s legitimately offensive. And stupid. And unnecessary.

So what’s good in Thor is great. The leads are great, and most of the supporting cast as well. Kat Dennings is a comedic treasure, and both Heimdall and Frigga get badass moments, like this:

And this:

The production design – as previously mentioned – is sick. I never did understand what the Aether is or what it does, but it’s animated in this really menacing way. The Dark Elves too, who I don’t understand, have fantastically creepy costumes.

And the weapons are really science-fictiony, which I liked. Even the medieval Asgardians now have what are basically lightsabers in this movie – as can be seen in the Frigga gif above – and it’s a good look. Also, Frigga’s funeral was beautifully shot and legitimately touching, considering her character – having the misfortune of being a woman in a comic book movie – has maybe three lines and no development to speak of.

In the final analysis, I award The Dark World 3 Realms out of a possible 9. It’s not the worst Marvel movie thus far, and I do like it more than I probably should, but there’s no escaping the obvious flaws: Natalie Portman, the script, and the decision that mental illness was something it was still okay to laugh at in the 21st century. Most unfortunate.


You can do better Marvel, and you will, because up next in the rewatch is WINTER SOLDIER.

More Human than Human: Iron Man 3

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“Is that all you’ve got? Just a cheap trick and a cheesy one-liner?”

“Sweetheart, that could be the name of my autobiography.”

It’s worth pointing out that Iron Man 3 – and indeed, the whole of the MCU – does not take place in the real world. According to the people at Marvel, events take place on Earth-199999, which has many of the same features as our reality, but has diverged in a number of fundamental ways. Like, Asgardians and so forth. This being the case, when the President of the United States is being threatened, I don’t have to see the head of a complicated and often flawed world power, I can just see the Good Guy, being threatened by the Bad Guy. It… simplifies things for me.

Anyway, normally I don’t have to think about politics in the course of reviewing super-hero movies. Then again, normally we’re fighting aliens or Nazis, or that big giant robot in Thor. Iron Man 3 brings us back to the theater of the sort-of real; our adversaries are mortal, more-or-less,  and the stakes are more down-to-earth. Aren’t they? I’m actually not sure what was at stake, to be honest. Certainly there were nefarious deeds perpetrated by the villainous villain, and yeah, I can see why he’d have to be stopped. But I never understood what Aldrich Killian’s actual plan was, or what he actually wanted.

We meet both him and our protagonist in flashback as the movie opens in Bern, Switzerland. It’s New Years Eve 1999 and Tony is wasted at some kind of conference? I think? He’s with Maya Hansen played by Rebecca Hall and they’re flirting and sciencing and hey, neat! It’s a cameo from Dr. Yinsen, also known as The Guy Who Saved Tony’s Life In A Cave in Iron Man.

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It’s a nice continuity nod, even if I’m still a little confused why they’re having a scientific conference on New Year’s Eve. But it doesn’t matter because they are, and Aldrich Killian is there, played by Guy Peirce who looks… horrible. Just sweaty and disheveled, and maybe a little disabled. Bit of a palsy going on there. Is it that okay to point out? It doesn’t feel okay. I need to shut up about this now.

Anyway, he’s clearly looking to have a serious talk with Tony about some serious science, but equally clearly, doesn’t know Tony Stark as well as we do by this point. We just get out of the way when he gets like this, Aldrich. So Tony snubs him, cruelly, because at this point Tony is super-jackass Tony, instead of just the regular jackass he’ll become after the Cave. And this is at least one solid motivation we’re given for Killian’s actions: revenge. He’s a jilted scientist lover. Much like Maya Hansen is about to be, actually, and thus it’s very appropriate that they team up under Killian’s A.I.M. (short for Advanced Idea Mechanics, a go-to Science Adversary in the comics).

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But team up to do what, exactly? Extremis is the name of their project, which on the one hand can regrow the limbs of amputees, and on the other turns them into fire-breathing monsters.

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Or, unwilling bombs, as it so happens. So Killian is trying to perfect Extremis, but he’s also trying to cover up the explosions that are the side-effect of an imperfect Extremis. To this end he has a think tank dream up the ultimate terrorist to take the blame: the Mandarin (portrayed by Trevor Slattery who is portrayed by Ben Kingsley. Spoiler alert.)

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So far this is relatively straight-forward, even though I’m not really sure what the end game is. Is it to perfect Extremis and sell it? To who? How does killing the President of the United States help that, besides the fact that you’ve bought off the Vice President with the promise to regrow his daughter’s amputated leg?

In the scene where he… sort of explains his master plan, Killian says this:

“This time tomorrow I’ll have the West’s most powerful leader in one hand, and the world’s most feared terrorist in the other. I’ll own the war on terror. Create supply and demand.”

So I guess the takeaway is that Killian’s just an insane, power-mad maniac, and I should stop overthinking it and move on to other things.

Like talking about Iron Man 3, a movie I just saw, and the seventh movie in the greater MCU. It acts as both an Iron Man sequel and an Avengers sequel, picking up with Tony basically being a hot mess after his brush with death in the Battle of New York.

It’s a brilliant turn for the character, as is his coping mechanism, which is to build dozens and dozens of Iron Man suits. Seriously. In Iron Man we have Mark’s 1-3, Iron Man 2  gives us 4-6, and Mark 7 is the suit we see in the Avengers; the one that attaches to him as he plummets to the ground after being window-tossed by Loki. And then we open Iron Man 3 with Mark 42.

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Oh, hai Mark.

The point is, Tony doesn’t feel safe anymore; and the only thing he knows to do is making his anxiety worse, leading to not just a crisis of confidence, but of identity. From a dramatic standpoint, it’s great, and as usual Robert Downey Jr doesn’t let us down.

Speaking of not letting us down, it’s worth noting that Iron Man 3 has a different director than the previous two; with Shane Black taking over for Jon Favereau. And as much as I enjoyed both Iron Man 1 & 2, and the way they kickstarted an entire cinematic universe, I’ve gotta say, Shane Black is kinda better.

I never know for sure in these things where the writer ends and the director begins, and what-all is being mandated by the studio, etc, but I noticed the difference in the first big action set piece. Also known as the One where Tony’s house gets exploded.

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Now, gripping action and the destruction of iconic imagery aside, this is a glorious-looking scene, lit by the setting sun so that everything has this rosy, golden glow. As it gets blown up. And I did mention the destruction of iconic imagery, right? Because while maybe not on par with the Starship Enterprise crashing, we do see Tony’s cliffside Malibu home plunge into the ocean, and with it, I’m afraid to say, the scrappy little arm robot that we’ve come to know and love over the course of three films.

I have a feeling I’ll be saying this more and more as we proceed, but this is the genius of this franchise, or brand, or universe, or whatever. But these things resonate; they do. And it’s because we have time, over multiple films, to grow attached to even the peripherals. Scrappy little arm robot (who’s actual name is Dummy but I’m uncomfortable using it), I cared about him, and was sad when I saw him go.

All of this sets up the genius premise of the film’s second act: take everything Tony uses to define himself – the suits, the house, his relationship with Pepper, even Jarvis – strip him of them and strand him in the middle of nowhere. I don’t think you could come up with a more perfect visual metaphor for Tony Stark than him literally dragging the suit behind him like the stone of Sisyphus:

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This brings us to possibly the biggest risk of the movie – the one I winced at when I first heard about it – the Kid. Oh my god, you’re kidding me, they’re gonna saddle Iron Man with some cutesy kid sidekick? There were so many ways this could have gone wrong and absolutely none of it does, and although their relationship is heartwarming, there’s nothing forced or unnatural about it. It doesn’t hurt that Tony Stark is a casual jerk to him like he is with pretty well everybody.

Speaking of people who are people, Pepper Potts and Maya Hansen share a scene:

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It’s a little over a minute long, and we learn that Maya started out idealistic and has since compromised herself by working with Killian, and it’s fine, it’s a good scene, but something was legitimately bugging me as it went on, and on, and on, and still a man failed to show up. What, were they just gonna have them talk about their periods for the rest of the movie? But then Killian does show up and kills the room service guy, who was also a guy, so it’s fine.

Seriously Marvel, what the hell? I’m almost certain this is the first time I’ve seen two women share a scene in the absence of men, and it just blows my mind; partially because I’m almost certain it’s true, and partially because I didn’t even realize it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad about Nick Fury and Heimdall, but we have a ways to go as far as representation goes.

Wait a minute, do Darcy and Jane Foster pass the Bechdel in Thor? I don’t think so, but since I honestly can’t remember I’ll give this whole thing some serious side-eye and move on. Or wrap it up. Or something.

Iron Man 3 is a fantastic movie, and I award it 700 conversations between two women in the absence of any men whatsoever out of 750. While dealing with such themes as PTSD and anxiety, terrorism and the media, consequence and revenge, it still manages to be probably the funniest MCU movie to date – unless we’re counting the Avengers, which yeah, of course we are, so… close second. Still, very funny.

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The returning support cast are spot-on as usual;  Rhodey is an absolute badass in this, and Pepper – jacked up on Extremis – saves the day in the end. Both are used very well, and as the best friend and girlfriend respectively, they bring out the best in Tony Stark.

Guy Pearce as Killian is slimy and maniacal, Ben Kingsly is terrifying as the Mandarin (until the hilarious reveal), and Maya Hansen is a woman in a comic book movie – which is to say that she doesn’t have a lot to do, but Rebecca Hall still manages to add depth and presence to what could have easily been a stock character. She also gets this BAMF line:

“That figures. What I actually am is a biological DNA re-coder running a team of 40 out of a privately-funded think tank. But sure, you can call me a botanist.”

But the star of Iron Man 3 remains… the star of Iron Man. With each performance, Robert Downey Jr adds a little more to the character, and his journey in this film is powerful as he comes to terms with who he is: a hero. The magic of his performance is that he makes me want to be Tony Stark, that despite the lack of money, charisma, looks, wit, that I could be Tony Stark. I’ll literally find myself speaking faster after one of these things, in short clipped sentences, unconsciously emulating the mannerisms. What’s more is that when I do catch myself, I don’t stop, but rather let it run it’s course.

Because who wouldn’t want a bit of that awesome, for as long as they could have it?