Friday, October 29, 2021

Iron Man 3 (a movie review post)


MCU #7

Wow! It has been a long time since we had an actual Iron Man movie and, of course, there will be no more Iron Man movies. It's easy to forget how long it has been, though, since we've had a solo movie with Tony Stark considering how integral he has been in the MCU. Now I'm kinda sad...

My feelings for this movie have a changed a lot since it first came out. You can read about those here. Basically, though, I've come to terms with the changes they've made to the Mandarin and the Ten Rings. You can read a bit about that here and get an understanding of the changes to the Ten Rings. At least, I think I talked about that there. I didn't actually go back and re-read my Shang-Chi review.

The tone of Iron Man 3 is a bit different than that of the first two, primarily because John Favreau chose not to come back and direct 3. Instead, we get Shane Black, who also co-wrote the script, which is fine, but I am blaming him for the narration. It's just not a thing I'm fond of in movies, generally speaking, though it does mostly work in this one. I say "mostly" because it doesn't but, then, he makes it work at the end. Is it worth the joke? Evidently, I didn't think so when I first saw the movie, but I feel better about it now. It's "I'm not that kind of doctor" that does it for me. And Mark Ruffalo. So great.

The three Iron Man movies are an interesting arc from a character perspective: Tony becomes Iron Man (I'm going to call this the man vs man story), Tony battles being Iron Man, which is killing him (I'm going to call this the man vs himself story, especially since it's in lieu of the substance abuse story line from the comics), Tony is stripped of being Iron Man and needs to build a fire (yes, I'm making a reference to Jack London) (I'm going to call this the man vs the environment story). This is where we really get to find out who Tony Stark is or, at least, whom he has become since becoming Iron Man. Is there anything of Tony left?

Tony has come to rely on Iron Man almost as a separate entity... well, exactly as a separate entity, as we see when he sends the armor to have a date with Pepper because he's busy doing something else. Of course, there is a separate entity involved: Jarvis, the AI that Tony has created as a... personal assistant? butler? lab assistant? All of those things. And I think that Paul Bettany, the voice of Jarvis, really gets overlooked. Sure, later, he gets a chance to shine, especially in WandaVision, but I think the audience, much like Tony, forget that there is a person behind the voice of Jarvis. The question, really, is whether Tony can make it on his own without the assistance of Jarvis, whom Tony has had with him, basically, always. It's an interesting question. Of course, we all know that Tony became Iron Man without Jarvis, but does Tony remember that he is his own person?

From an intellectual standpoint, I think Iron Man 3 is terrific. It asks interesting questions and goes about trying to answer them. And Tony has become someone who takes ownership of his mistakes, something younger Tony would never have done. And I don't mean just the big ones. Well, maybe they're all big, but, when he messes up with Pepper, more than once, he is quick to acknowledge his mistake(s) and apologize and endeavor to do better, so it's on a personal level, too, not just an "Oops, I accidentally created Ultron" kind of level. I also love his relationship with the kid, Harley, and that he has to deal with his PTSD from what happened in Avengers in large part because of his interactions with Harley.

I'm less crazy about the ending, though. I like that he can't manage to get into and stay in any of his suits. I don't like that he has 40-ish suits of armor flying around taking care of the fight. It is both over-the-top and underwhelming at the same time, which leaves me feeling unsatisfied. Also, after the big ending of Iron Man 2 with Iron Man and War Machine fighting side by side, I don't like that Rhodes' contribution to the fight is to save the president and fly away. Yes, yes, this is Tony on his own. I get that, but I feel like there is something... intangible... that is missing to make the ending really work for me. Not to mention a denouement of "I fixed everything" to wrap up the loose plot threads.

Maybe Ben Kingsley makes up for all of that? He's amazing. It does, though, make me wish that he got to play the version of the Mandarin from the comics, too. He's so sinister. But... but... I am happy with the changes to that character. The MCU needs the Shang-chi version of the Ten Rings.

Then there's Guy Pearce. He's one of those guys that I find, always, completely believable as a villain. He makes my skin crawl. He's smarmy. He comes across as someone who needs to be punched. I don't mean the character; I mean him. Have you ever seen him in an interview? I'd prefer for him to not be in my movies but, if he's going to be there, it should be as a villain, so he performs adequately in this role.

It's interesting to me that, in a lot of ways, Iron Man is the only character in the MCU who gets personal stories. Small battles without the world at stake, though I suppose the stakes are higher in this one since we have AIM trying to take over the government. It feels like a grudge fight, though, between Killian and Stark, mostly because Killian makes it that way. The whole thing is a bit ironic, actually, since everything that's happening is intended as a coverup because they accidentally exploded some people.

So here I am trying to weigh this movie against Iron Man 2 and decide which I like more, and I'm having trouble coming to a decision. I guess I am going to go with 3 because I like the concept more, that of stripping Stark of Iron Man and making him survive in the wilderness on his own. That part even starts with him out in the snow, which makes me wonder if the writers were also thinking about Jack London or if it was just a happy accident.

The new MCU rankings!
1. The Avengers
2. Captain America: The First Avenger
3. Iron Man
4. Thor
5. Iron Man 3
6. Iron Man 2
7. Incredible Hulk (apologies to Mark; it's not your fault)

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Avengers (a movie review post)


MCU #6

First, I did previously review this movie when it first came out, but I don't actually suggest you go back and re-read it. I didn't say much of substance in the review. I was obviously in the midst of exaltation over the movie and had no real thoughts other than "that was amazing!!! that was fucking amazing!!! that was amazing!!!" I was not wrong. But the review doesn't do more than say that in various ways without offering anything of actual substance other than a very brief mention of Mark Ruffalo.
Let's dig a little deeper this time, shall we?

And let's start by dealing with Joss Whedon since we didn't know back in 2012 that Joss Whedon is an asshole and maybe a bit of a racist. It doesn't change the fact that The Avengers is probably the best work he's ever done, but it sure does put a bitter taste in my mouth that it had to be him. But it's an amazing script, especially the dialogue, and he is the sole credited screen writer, so...  yeah. But I can't help but wonder how he would have treated Chadwick Boseman if Black Panther had already been introduced.

We also need to talk about Scarlett Johansson. Johansson shone in this movie and, now, I want this Black Widow back. The spy Black Widow, which I think everyone has forgotten about. Remember, that's how she is introduced in Iron Man 2, as a SHIELD plant to keep an eye on Tony. Her opening scene in Avengers is one of the best in all of the movies, her interrogation scene. Not to mention her later interrogation of Loki. This Black Widow is an extremely interesting character, and I'm bummed that Marvel didn't take the leap with a solo movie for her back when they could have done a spy movie. It's one of the genres they haven't delved into yet.

Speaking of Loki, Tom Hiddleston is fantastic in this movie. Which, actually, highlights that he was also fantastic in Thor. The change in the character is... so satisfying. From sullen prince just trying to stir up mischief to the true God of Mischief. If you had asked me way back when, after I saw Thor for the first time, if I thought Hiddleston was capable of playing Loki as he is in Avengers, I probably would have said no. He really embraces the role, and, really, I can't imagine anyone else as Loki at this point.

Then there is the aforementioned Mark Ruffalo. He is a delight as the Hulk, which may be an odd word to use to describe Hulk, but it's true. I never would have thought finding someone to play Bruce Banner would be so difficult, but it turns out Hulk was almost as difficult to cast as Batman. (And DC is never going to succeed there until Warner Bros gets its head out of its ass and figures out how to make super hero movies.)  Ruffalo succeeds where Norton failed in that he plays Banner as someone you could never conceive as someone with a rage monster inside, much like Bill Bixby back in the 70s. He's terrific, and it's so good that Marvel let Norton walk away in his Hulk-like fit of rage.

Everyone else is as good as ever. Everyone shines in this movie. Except Jeremy Renner. He's fine. He's Jeremy Renner. He just does his Hawkeye thing, but it doesn't standout in this movie over his general performances of Hawkeye elsewhere. 

Really, there's so much more that could be talked about from Avengers, but I probably would never stop. Things worth mentioning, if only in passing: the classic superhero brawl when the heroes first meet, the introduction of the SHIELD council, Loki being the threat the heroes come together to defeat (as in Avengers #1). It is, in many ways, a perfect movie. I had forgotten how much I loved it, so I am really glad to have re-watched it. 

In fact, it creates a conflict for me in my MCU rankings, because I think Avengers has to go to #1. It lacks the warmth and touching moments that Captain America has, but I can't think of anything negative to say about Avengers, and Captain America does have that GI Joe moment and, well, Hugo Weaving did not make the Red Skull the villain that Hiddleston makes Loki. So... 

The new MCU rankings!
1. The Avengers
2. Captain America: The First Avenger
3. Iron Man
4. Thor
5. Iron Man 2
6. Incredible Hulk (this drop through the rankings is rather like Hulks drop from the helicarrier)

Friday, October 15, 2021

Captain America: The First Avenger (a movie review post)


MCU #5

Sometimes, things don't change and, looking back at my review of Captain America back when it first came out, I can see that my opinion hasn't changed much. Actually, my opinion on how strong a movie Captain America: The First Avenger is has only gotten stronger. I don't know what that means, yet, in a practical sense, because it's still in the top three best Marvel origin story movies. I will need to re-watch Spider-Man again to see if it has ousted Spidey as my favorite. I don't know, the top three -- Captain America, Spider-Man, and Iron Man -- are all so great, capturing the essence of the characters and putting them in a modern context, it's hard to see which is better, but I'm certain, as far as personal feelings go, that Cap has bumped Iron Man to at least the #2 spot.

So let's talk about Chris Evans. I don't think there exists a better choice for Steve Rogers than Chris Evans. I could be wrong about that, but I don't think so. I talk about Marvel's ability to cast their characters a lot, probably too much, but this choice is probably the most perfect choice they made. The character of Steve Rogers would have been diminished by any other actor. It's even more impressive considering that Evans had already been Johnny Storm in Fox's failed FF movies. Like Harrison Ford getting the role of Indiana Jones after being Han Solo, because Lucas did not want him (not because he didn't think he was right for the role, obviously, but because he didn't want to just keep using Ford over and over again (it's about barriers, man)). Now, I'm not saying that Evans himself could live up to the character of Captain America -- after all, I don't know him -- but he seems like a pretty good guy. And he likes dogs. And he was in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Which leads me to Stanley Tucci... I think the relationship between Rogers and Erskine is the foundation the whole movie rests on, and it is played so perfectly by both of them. The few scenes between the two of them are so touching and heartfelt. Tucci is wonderful. Again, the movie would have been diminished with anyone else in that role.

I was less impressed this time with Hugo Weaving. It's clear why he got the part, and he plays the role as an Elrond variation of Agent Smith. He's fine. There's nothing wrong with his performance; I just don't think he... really put anything into it. What I'm saying is that Weaving did not make this a role that would have suffered if they had put someone else in it.

On the other hand, Tommy Lee Jones is perfect in his role as Colonel Phillips because he is Tommy Lee Jones. Anyone else would have been trying to play Tommy Lee Jones as Phillips, so it's great they were able to get Jones to play himself. You can't beat that.

I like Hayley Atwell and the character of Agent Carter. I think Atwell is better here than in her TV show, but I think Carter is better in the TV show. If you don't understand what I'm saying, I can't explain it. Dominic Cooper and Stark are both better in the TV show, not that Cooper is bad here; there's just not a lot for him to do.

I still love the Howling Commandos, especially Neal McDonough. It's his weird, freaky smile; what can I say? But it works great with Dum Dum's huge moustache. I wish, kind of, that they would do a Howling Commando movie or TV show. Clearly, that group of guys was tight before Cap came along, so it would be a lot of fun to see what kind of mischief they had before Captain America.

The big surprise for me on this watching was discovering that Bucky is... kind of a dick. Well, not kind of. I think when the movie first came out, I was taken in by Sebastian Stan's charisma, which is, I suppose, the point, kind of like Tony Stark. You have to be around him awhile before you realize he's a bit of an asshole. Bucky, not Stan. Where, before, I just thought it was amusing how upset he got when Carter won't give him any attention, this time it was, like, wow...! He's really getting pissy about that. So good on Sebastian for pulling that off...?

The one thing I would say is a negative for me on this viewing is that some of the scenes fighting Hydra, especially the escape scene, feel like watching the 80s GI Joe cartoon. Hydra is all in dark colors with face masks and in big dark vehicles, all shooting blue "lasers." I wasn't struck that way by it before but, this time, that scene in particular, with all of the soldiers running around fighting Hydra, made me think of GI Joe. It would not have surprised me at all if someone had yelled "Yo, Joe!" and thrown a fist in the air. It's a small thing overall.

And I wonder if Joe Johnston, the director, did that on purpose or if it was accident or what. I don't know if it matters. I think Johnston has been an underused talent in Hollywood. It's not like he created Boba Fett or anything. Oh, wait, he did. But, maybe, Johnston has worked as much as he has chosen to. I wouldn't know.

My final word is that Captain America: The First Avenger is a great movie. The best of the Marvel movies, as Cap is the best of the Marvel heroes. You know, in the sense that you would say, "He was the best of us." Spider-Man is still my favorite and the best super hero ever. 'nuff said

Current MCU rankings:
1. Captain America: The First Avemger
2. Iron Man
3. Thor
4. Iron Man 2
5. Incredible Hulk (Hulk smash Norton!)

Friday, October 8, 2021

Thor (a movie review post)


MCU #4

I believe Thor may have been the first of the MCU movies I reviewed on here, back when my movie reviews were less movie reviews and more... I don't know. Commentary on experiences? You can go back and read it here if you're so inclined. It seems even then that I had some kind of beef against the Hulk movies.

Of the trio of Avengers origin stories, I think Thor is the weakest. I say this based purely on the fact that both Iron Man and Captain America present origins that are very close to their comic book origins. Thor, however, diverges from his. I am much more easy with that, now, than I was a decade ago. Thor's actual comic book origin is too... I think it's a bit of a wish fulfilment. Too Arthurian. But I'm not going to get into that right now. [But I think it must be related to how many Boomers I've known for whom Thor was... not just their favorite super hero, their only super hero: "Do you read comics?" "No, but I read Thor." It's fucking weird, man.] The movie origin is... I'll just say it: better. It makes more sense and certainly fits into the context of the MCU in a way that the comic origin would not have.

I hadn't heard of Chris Hemsworth before this movie, but he was a great choice. I don't know of anyone who would have been a better choice, in fact, so, you know, just pointing out Marvel's excellent casting choices again. And Anthony Hopkins... well, I think there were probably other choices for Odin, other actors who could have done it with just as much... authority?... as Hopkins but, if you can get Hopkins, get Hopkins.

Then there's Tom Hiddleston... You know, he's rather understated in this movie. I don't know if he just hadn't worked himself into the skin of Loki yet or if the writers just hadn't realized his full potential. At any rate, it's a little weird looking back and seeing him so much in the background. But still fully a manipulator. Hiddleston is good in this movie. Maybe very good? Later, he becomes great, and I can't imagine anyone else in the role, now, but, at the time... Look, clearly, he didn't make much of an impression on me when the movie came out. I didn't mention him at all in my original review.

I love that the Warriors Three and Sif have such a big role in the movie. Other than Josh Dallas, as Fandral, the casting is good. Dallas was popular at the time, but that role should have gone to Cary Elwes; I don't care how old he is. I'm not really an Elwes fan; I don't think he's a good actor, but he has particular roles he can play, and this one should have been his. 

Also, Kat Dennings is awesome as Darcy. She was certainly a surprise, and I'm glad Marvel has kept her around.

Then there is Natalie Portman... She is my point of ambivalence in this movie. I think she is a really good actress, but... I don't know. There's nothing wrong with her performance, and she has good chemistry with Hemsworth. It's just... her. 


As a character in the MCU, Hemsworth as Thor is one of my favorites. His range is one of the broadest of the various characters, called on to be both goofy and deadly serious. And a wide range in between. Thor was an excellent start to that.

Current MCU rankings:
1. Iron Man
2. Thor
3. Iron Man 2
4. Incredible Hulk (Hulk is seriously just going to visit a new number every week. Thanks Norton.)

Friday, October 1, 2021

Iron Man 2 (a movie review post)


MCU #3

It's interesting looking back at the earlier Marvel movies now that we've reached the stage of "saving the world." The early movies were much "smaller" and personal. Iron Man is, ultimately, about the envy of a man and the repercussions caused from trying to kill the man he is envious of. Sure, there is a battle between the two men in mech armor, but, ultimately, it is a personal movie.

Incredible Hulk is the same. Basically, a dude doesn't like the guy her daughter is dating. His daughter is dating the Hulk, so there's a lot of smashing, but, at its heart, it's a personal rivalry. Maybe two, because there's also Tim Roth's character and his, again, envy.

Iron Man 2 is also "small" in that same way. It's a battle between the sons of two men, one who rose to greatness, the other who didn't even go on to live in infamy, just obscurity. I mean, Tony had never even heard of the other man. All of that with a side of man vs man as Tony battles with "addiction." Of course, it's not really addiction in the movie; it's his looming death from palladium poisoning, but that's a stand-in for the arc in the comics when Tony was battling his alcoholism, a groundbreaking story in its day. I think they did a decent job of reflecting that in the movie as he gets more and more out of control.

I think Iron Man 2 is a quite good sequel. Narratively, I don't find it quite as strong as Iron Man. It actually has a little too much going on in it. But, as a movie about characters, which Marvel movies ultimately are, it really shines. It introduces Black Widow, which is so much fun. We really get to encounter Nick Fury, and that's awesome. Pepper gets promoted and freaks out. Rhodey steps into his own, at least a bit. We start to get to know Coulson... Oh, and Justin Hammer!

Okay, let me just say that I love Sam Rockwell. He is completely underrated as an actor. At least, he must be due to his lack of big profile roles. I don't know; maybe he stays away from them, but he's an incredible actor, and he was so much fun in this role. His little dance across the stage at the expo is gold. Also, I just found out, he was considered for the role of Tony Stark, and that would not have been a bad choice. A different choice, because I think Rockwell would have, well, rocked in the role, though I do think Downey was the correct decision. Not that Downey is the better actor; they are different actors, and Downey is able to have a particular smugness about him that I have never seen Rockwell do, and I think that particular quality is what really sells Stark.

Anyway... It's tough to pick between two actors you think are awesome.

And, I think, that's all I have to say about this one. Oh, wait, no it's not.
I have always been ambivalent about Mickey Rourke as the villain in this movie. Or, maybe, I'm ambivalent about the villain. I don't know. I don't know if it's the character or the actor. I hoped re-watching it would help me come to some sort of decision, but it didn't. Maybe it's both. This is part of the narrative weakness of the plot. Whiplash feels retconned in because he kind of comes from nowhere and nothing. Clearly, this guy is a genius but was fine with, what, living in squalor? And we're supposed to just accept Fury's word that the guy's father was a bad guy.

And we are supposed to accept that because Fury, in the MCU, is the ultimate reliable narrator, which makes everything a bit too easy for me to be comfortable with, I guess. It's the thing that pulls this movie down a bit for me.
Still a great and fun movie.

Oh, here's an idea! My ranking of the MCU movies as I re-watch them.
Current rank:

1. Iron Man
2. Iron Man 2
3. (and it's a very, very distant third, watch for this one to just keep dropping until it hits 25) The Incredible Hulk