Category Archives: Agent Carter

Why Ant-Man – and maybe ‘Ant-Man’ – matters

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I know there was some discontent out there with the trailer for Marvel’s “Ant-Man” movie, but I was relieved when I saw it the other day.

Why?

Mostly because I was relieved the trailer indicated the movie, starring Paul Rudd as the second Ant-Man, Scott Lang, will address some of the same questions the moviegoing public will have: Why do we need a superhero who shrinks? And why would anyone call themselves Ant-Man?

But also because the movie will finally acknowledge the place in the Marvel Universe of one of its pioneering characters.

So who is Ant-Man and why should we care about him?

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Ant-Man is best known as Henry, or Hank, Pym, and he debuted in comics in “Tales to Astonish” 27, published in January 1962. Pym was an unfortunate scientist who could shrink to ant-size … but couldn’t defend himself from ants. He barely survived this tale that was a retread of “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”

But Pym returned in “Tales to Astonish” 35, this time as Ant-Man and sporting a helmet that let him communicate with ants. He was their master!

After several issues of adventures, Pym and girlfriend (later wife) Janet Van Dyne appeared in the first issue of “The Avengers,” as a diverse group of heroes got together to defeat Thor’s brother, Loki.

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Pym and Van Dyne even named the group, which makes it all the more important that their history in the Marvel universe be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Avengers co-founders!

Pym is a problematic character on a couple of counts, though.

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It’s not like the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs another genius scientist, even if Pym created Ultron, the villain in the upcoming “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” The MCU already has Tony Stark and Bruce Banner.

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Plus, Pym was always an erratic character. That’s a plus for the realistic 1960s-and-beyond Marvel Comics universe, but not for movies that increasingly play to a wide mainstream audience. So Pym the brilliant genius who had emotional breakdowns, masqueraded as at least one super-villain and even struck his wife is shifted to a secondary role in the movie.

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Why the “Ant-Man” movie matters is another thing. but I think that it does.

Everybody worried when the movie’s original director, “Shaun of the Dead” creator Edgar Wright, left the project and he and Marvel cited creative differences. The temptation was to worry that Marvel wanted Wright to make his movie more mainstream and he didn’t go along.

I trust ultimate director Peyton Reed – “Bring it On” is a classic – but more than anything, I trust Marvel.

Why?

Well, their track record is pretty good. Most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have been good to great, with only a couple of lesser entries (“Iron Man 2” to some extent).

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I also think “Ant-Man” will explore the idea of failure, loss and redemption in the Marvel universe. And that’s good, because those story beats and emotions are a huge part of the comic books.

The upcoming “Doctor Strange” movie, with Benedict Cumberbatch set to play the arrogant surgeon who rebuilds his life, should strike some of the same notes.

But more importantly, I think Marvel will use “Ant-Man” to fill in the gaps in its movie universe.

How?

Rumors indicate that portions of “Ant-Man” will take place in the 1960s, with a younger actor playing Michael Douglas’ role of Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man. It’s been suggested that we’ll see 1960s-period-appropriate versions of Howard Stark and other characters long established but unexplored during a period of several decades.

Just like “Agent Carter” on TV right now is filling in the blank spots in the post-World War II Marvel universe, I believe “Ant-Man” will fill the gaps in the 1960s, with a young Pym and wife Janet Van Dyne (parents of Hope Van Dyne, the character played by Evangeline Lilly in the movie) adventuring and working with SHIELD.

There’s a ton of material here that, if properly explored, will fill in “lost years” and make the Marvel on-screen universe feel even more like a real, if fantastical, world.

So yeah, Ant-Man matters because of his history and “Ant-Man” matters because of how it might flesh out the Marvel history onscreen.

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‘Ant-Man’ trailer: ‘Is it too late to change the name?’

ant-man trailer

The new trailer for “Ant-Man,” Marvel’s newest superhero flick, premiered tonight during “Agent Carter.”

The Peyton Reed movie, featuring Michael Douglas as Henry Pym in mentor mode and Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, the guy who inherits the suit, comes out this summer.

Offbeat action and humor will sell this movie.

The trailer is fun stuff.

 

The case of the midseason finale

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When did winter finales and midseason finales begin? And what did we ever do before they existed?

I ponder this question after having watched the last episodes of “Arrow” and “The Flash” and “Agents of SHIELD” and “The Walking Dead” until January or February – some of them a couple of times now – and thinking about when this trend began.

If you’re not sure what trend I’m talking about: Sometime in the past few years, TV shows, which normally do not air fresh episodes in much of December or January, began calling their last episode before taking a break for a few weeks a “winter finale” or “midseason finale.”

Shows take breaks from new episodes for a few reasons. There’s apparently an ingrained belief that viewers aren’t watching during several weeks before and after Christmas, so there’s no point in burning off new episodes. I question this thinking and point to “Doctor Who,” which gets a new episode on Christmas Day itself each season. But those Brits are different all the way around.

So rather than just limping off our screens for a few weeks, after a Christmas-themed episode that aired just after Thanksgiving, series began airing a climactic episode – well, as climactic as an ongoing TV series ever is, given the need for an ongoing storyline that can run for several seasons – with a dramatic cliffhanger. (Almost literally, in the recent case of “Arrow.”)

And they began calling it a winter finale or midseason finale. So it feels important, you know.

I believe AMC and the producers of “The Walking Dead” might have started this trend. But “Arrow” and a lot of other shows have embraced it whole-heartedly.

So that’s why we see characters die or “die,” why villains are sometimes dispatched, why secrets are exposed.

And why we’re left wondering not only what happens next but how they’re going to top this in the spring, when their regular old season finale airs.

“SHIELD” left us hanging in its mid-season finale but promises something fun in the interim, at least, with episodes of the new prequel series “Agent Carter” beginning in January.

For the rest of these shows, we’ll wait and wonder. And marvel (no pun intended) at how networks and production companies have trained us to expect the middle of the season to end with a bang.

‘Agents of SHIELD’ season finale poster, and ‘Agent Carter’ news

agents of SHIELD season finale poster

It’s been a big coupla days for “Agents of SHIELD.” ABC has renewed the show – which has found its creative path, finally – for a second season.

And ABC also picked up the “Agent Carter” series starring Hayley Atwell of the “Captain America” movies as founding SHIELD operative Sharon Carter. Her adventures begin in 1946. We’re hoping for lots of Howard Stark appearances, too.

And Marvel has been releasing comic-book-inspired posers for recent “Agents of SHIELD” episodes.

The latest is for “Beginning of the End,” the season finale, airing Tuesday.

Nice shattered SHIELD logo with the HYDRA logo beneath.

‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ one of Marvel’s best

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There’s been a lot of talk about “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” – which I’m going to refer to by some shorter title from here on out – being a game changer for Marvel Studios and its big-screen cinematic universe.

And it is, in a way. Marvel, through co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo, seem prepared to start making changes in the on-screen universe they’ve established.

That risk-taking is only one of the elements that makes “Winter Soldier” feel like we’re now seeing events play out in a living, breathing, changing universe, one that changes a little bit more after the events of every Marvel movie.

I’ll be throwing in some spoilers later in this review, but I’ll warn you first. And I’ll be acknowledging that a big rumor I had speculated about a few weeks ago was wrong, wrong, wrong.

“Winter Soldier” almost feels like more of a “SHIELD” movie or sequel to “The Avengers” than a sequel to “Captain America,” and that’s appropriate. Steve Rogers, who “died” near the end of the first movie, only to be thawed out and revived and  eventually teamed up with Iron Man, Hulk and Thor in “The Avengers” two years ago, has gone to work for SHIELD, the super-spy agency led by Nick Fury. Cap (Chris Evans, again charming and low-key and a straight-arrow without being a parody of a paragon of virtue) is working alongside Natasha, the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) on SHIELD ops.

A nighttime raid on a ship at sea ably demonstrates not only Cap’s, Natasha’s and their SHIELD team’s lethal effectiveness but the twisty-turny nature of the work they do. While Steve is there to rescue hostages, Natasha is there to retrieve information from a SHIELD computer on board. (I’m going to have to see the movie a second time to figure out exactly why Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, with more to do here than usual) knew he could find this info on the ship.)

So while Steve is frustrated at Fury’s duplicitousness – and Natasha’s too, frankly – he’s otherwise adjusting well to the modern world. He’s got a list of pop-culture and historical milestones to catch up on – “Star Wars” is included, as is the moon landing – and he’s befriended Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a fellow veteran who is a VA counselor.

As Cap tries to tell the bad guys from the good guys – aside from his helpful suggestion to Sam that the bad guys will be the ones shooting at them – we’re introduced to Alexander Pierce (Robert freakin’ Redford), a Cabinet-level official who oversees SHIELD.

Before too long, it’s obvious that things are not what they seem with several characters and SHIELD is not the organization Steve would like for it to be. In fact, it’s the organization he and Tony Stark worried about in “The Avengers.” The organization that is experimenting with technology developed by HYDRA and the Red Skull in the first “Cap” movie.

The great part about the Captain America character, as created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941, and revived by Kirby and Stan Lee in 1964, is that he’s a man out of time, that his values are unchanging. He’s not a stick-in-the-mud and he’s not a priss. He kills because he’s a soldier, but he won’t kill if someone, even an enemy, can be saved.

The greatest test for Steve is saving the character he shares the movie’s title with. The Winter Soldier is a nearly-unstoppable killing machine, sent out by Hydra to usher in the bloody carnage that leads to a new world order. He’s played by Sebastian Stan, of course, who played Steve’s lifelong friend, James “Bucky” Barnes, in the first “Cap” movie. Here – as in the comics – Bucky, returned from the dead, is a merciless, brainwashed assassin. Once Steve knows who he is, the question becomes, how can he save Bucky instead of killing him?

“Winter Soldier” is two and half hours long, more or less, but never feels that long. Some reviews have declared it’s better than “The Avengers,” but I’m not sure I agree. It is one of the best Marvel movies, no doubt.

This isn’t surprising, considering the nature of the movie and the genre, but “Winter Soldier” feels especially brutal. There’s less Iron Man-style repulsor ray action and less Thor “hammer down” fighting here. This is hard, bone-crunching, hand-to-hand combat with fists and knives. There’s a lot of gunplay and vehicular mayhem. It never feels as callous as the combat scenes in “Man of Steel,” but if you’re sensitive to the idea of this kind of stuff … well, what were you expecting?

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is one of the best of the Marvel movies. It’s a big story about the fight against murderous political ambitions but at the same time a more personal story about trust: Which people and institutions deserve your respect and your trust? For the Marvel movie universe, “Winter Soldier” definitively answers that question.

Okay, spoilers from here on out.

Ready?

Easter eggs are some of our favorite things about these movies, and “Winter Soldier” had plenty of them.
Not only do Tony Stark, Bruce Banner and other major characters get name-dropped – you would expect that – but there’s at least one reference to a major Marvel character to come. Stephen Strange is named as an enemy of Hydra. Why Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, would be taking on this organization is not quite clear, but it was, I hope, a nice foreshadowing of a movie that’s been rumored to be in development.

Toby Jones’ appearance – in an altered form – as Zola, the Skull’s scientific minion, is a treat. It’s such a substantial role that it doesn’t really qualify as an Easter egg, but what the heck. I’ll include it anyway.

I’m sure that on repeated viewings I’ll see more of these, but there’s apparently a quick reference to Stark Tower – the geographic focus of the battle in “The Avengers” – as one of the locations chosen for Pierce’s doomsday scenario attacks. I’m guessing that other locations, glimpsed briefly onscreen, would also offer up some goodies.

How great was it to see Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter? I hope her “Agent Carter” series happens. Seeing her helping form SHIELD in the 1950s would be so much fun. And throw in some Howling Commandos, too.

A lot of sites, including this one, speculated that Redford’s Alexander Pierce was secretly the Red Skull. While I was a little disappointed he was not, thinking it over for a few hours, I’m glad that Pierce was nothing more than a Hydra agent, a politically and morally compromised mad man whose plan for implementing a new world order admittedly rivaled the Skull’s for its viciousness.

Marvel’s weekly TV series, “Agents of SHIELD,” has been building, slowly, to the events that occur in “Winter Soldier.” But how “Agents of SHIELD” operates for the rest of this season and, possibly, next, considering that SHIELD itself is a discredited and defunct as a spy agency, will be interesting to see. Keep in mind, the show will have to avoid stepping on storylines that future Marvel movies might take up.

The trailers for “Winter Soldier” made us think that Redford’s SHIELD honcho was talking to Cap when he was telling him he had “shaped the century.” He was not. Obviously.

There’s something so cool about the montage, set to Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man,” near the end of the movie. We see Steve and Sam and Fury but we also see Maria Hill and Sharon Carter and damned if it all doesn’t feel just right.

The first end-credits scene feels like the most puzzling one yet in a Marvel movie for viewers who don’t know the context. As most have already noted, it introduces characters we’re going to see in next summer’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” including “The Twins,” Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and Hydra leader Baron Von Strucker. While there’s mention of Hydra, the arch-villain organization of the movie, there’s nary a familiar character in sight. It seems like Marvel has enough confidence in us to let us figure out what’s going on.

The second end-credits scene is directly tied to the movie and to future “Cap” movies, perhaps. Bucky’s return after decades and his stint filling in for Steve as Cap are familiar to comics readers. Speculation recently that Bucky actor Sebastian Stan is signed for nine Marvel movies – so as many as seven more from this point – and the fact that Evans currently has only three more movies in his contract – two “Avengers” movies and a “Cap” movie – suggests that Marvel’s long game might follow the comics storyline.

 

 

Screen Caps: Shots from ‘Winter Soldier’ trailer

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Last night’s Super Bowl had at least one highlight: A new trailer for “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

I’m hoping that, when the movie opens in April, we’ll all get just what we’re expecting: A smart and action-filled political thriller that pits Cap against dark forces that want to control super-spy agency SHIELD.

Not to mention his one-on-one bouts with the Winter Soldier, who comic book fans will know is the reincarnated and improved – into a killing machine – version of his old sidekick Bucky Barnes.

The images in the trailer continue to be among my favorite from any Marvel movie. It just feels like directors Anthony and Joe Russo have totally hit their marks.

There’s a lot of focus in the trailer on Cap’s former, current and future partners: Bucky/the Winter Soldier, Black Widow and Sam Wilson, aka the Falcon.

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Bucky Barnes realizing he’s been turned into the Winter Soldier, a Russian assassin.

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The Winter Soldier process, apparently.

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Not the face of an ally. Yet.

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Nick Fury after the Winter Soldier tries to kill him.

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Who’s the body on the table? Who would Natasha be mourning? Surely it can’t be fury. SHIELD agent Hill is out in the hallway. Who’s dead?

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Not a good day to be in the SHIELD helicarrier. Or in SHIELD headquarters.

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Sam Wilson gets in on the action.

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Cap and the Falcon, reporting for duty.

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We even get a look – in the UK trailer, at least – of whom we suspect to be Sharon Carter, SHIELD agent and (likely) granddaughter of Agent Carter, Cap’s old flame.

I can’t wait for this movie.

 

Cool, cool, cool

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Here are things that make me smile.

Like that picture, above, of Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie as Captain America and the Falcon from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

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And this, Jaimie Alexander as Sif from “Thor: The Dark World.” She’s going to appear in a February episode of “Agents of SHIELD.”

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And here, Hayley Atwell, in her role of “Agent Carter” from “Captain America,” starring in a pilot for ABC for a possible series about the early days of SHIELD.