Tag Archives: The Avengers

‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ takes us out there

guardians infinity stone

A lot of people are saying “Guardians of the Galaxy” is this generation’s “Star Wars.” I’m not sure that’s the case, or that anything could be this generation’s “Star Wars.” Some people forget just what a game-changer “Star Wars” and, two years earlier, “Jaws,” were. Those two movies solidified summertime as a time for big-screen escapist fare and proved that people would pay to see it.

Others say that “Guardians” is this generation’s “The Last Starfighter” but I think that’s selling “Guardians” short. As fond as my memories of “Starfighter” are, I think “Guardians” is a better movie.

So what role does “Guardians” fill?

Roles, really.

First of all, it’s a really good summer movie. It’s good-natured and funny and full of action.

Secondly, it’s a sure-footed next milestone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although it only slyly references the quest for the Infinity Stones – the sources of power that will, almost certainly lead Thanos to Earth in the third “Avengers” movie, probably in 2018 – it keeps that subplot to the first three phases of Marvel movies in moviegoers’ minds.

Thirdly, it expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s how:

The comics published by Marvel in the past half-century-plus have covered a lot of territory, literally and figuratively speaking.

There’s the street-level superheroes, like Spider-Man and Daredevil, dealing with maniacal villains and street punks alike. The non-Marvel Cinematic Universe “Spider-Man” movies and Marvel’s upcoming Netflix series like “Daredevil” map out this world. (They’re the Marvel counterparts of Batman, for you DC lovers out there.)

There’s the global superheroes, like the Avengers, who have the power to face threats to the entire world. The non-MCU heroes like “Fantastic Four” also fall into this category, as does DC’s Superman and Justice League.

What “Guardians” does is give Marvel Studios a beachhead in the cosmic universe where the comic books have played for a half-century.

There’s always been some crossover among all these Marvel realms, such as when Galactus, devourer of worlds, shows up and is tackled by the FF. Cosmic threat comes to global heroes.
But quite often, the links between the cosmic and Earth-based heroes have been only tenuous. Captain Marvel or the Silver Surfer or Warlock show up and fight and eventually team up with the FF or the Avengers to face a menace like the Kree-Skrull War, but by the end of the story, things are back to a Marvel status quo and the Avengers are dealing with Earth-based villains like Doctor Doom.

“Guardians” plunges us headlong into that cosmic Marvel universe with only occasional looks back at Earth.

I won’t recap the plot I’m sure you’re familiar with by now or even go on and on with my thoughts about “Guardians.” Director James Gunn had made a fun, “Star Wars”-ian adventure pitting an unlikely band of heroes against evil forces. Along the way, the movie introduces, more smoothly than most would have thought possible, fantastic creatures like Rocket Racoon, a small but ferocious animal with a pitiable past and a love of big guns, and Groot, a walking, talking (well, a little) tree creature. Space raccoon and gentle plant-based giant you say? Sure, why not. It’s a testament to Gunn’s handling of the characters and plot of “Guardians” that what the characters are matter less than who they are.

If you remember, Thanos, Marvel’s go-to cosmic bad guy, showed up at the end of “The Avengers” to take credit for pitting an invading alien army against Earth and grin at the thought of courting death.

Thanos wants the Tesseract – the Cosmic Cube in the comics – that the Red Skull wielded in “Captain America” and Loki sought in “The Avengers.” Along with the Aether, the cosmic power from “Thor: The Dark World,” and other Infinity Stones, Thanos can make the Infinity Gauntlet, a weapon of unimaginable power. It’s a certainty that will be the major plot point of the third “Avengers” movie.

One of the most amusing things about “Guardians” is that much of the history and power of the Infinity Stones is laid out midway through the movie … but to the protagonists and antagonists of “Guardians,” who don’t even know as much as Captain America and Iron Man about the importance of the Stones but know a thing to keep away from bad guys when they see one.

So the collected Guardians, led by the effortlessly charming Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, take on Ronan, an upstart ally of Thanos, in an effort to keep a handle on their particular Infinity Stone and keep it away from Thanos.

It’s an effort that will continue for another four years before the contest for the Stones pits Avengers – and likely other allies – against Thanos in the third Avengers movie, which will likely act as capper to the first three phases of big-screen Marvel.

“Guardians” is so much fun, so funny, so charming, that it carries all the responsibility of furthering the over-arching plot of big-screen Marvel as if it were a feather. Despite its many accomplishments, that might be the movie’s handiest achievement.

By the way, I wanted to mention Marvel’s other comic-book universes, besides street-level, global and cosmic playgrounds, because the big-screen Marvel universe will no doubt incorporate them as well.

(I won’t get into a couple of lesser-known Marvel comic book universes here because, frankly, I don’t think we’ll see big-screen versions of Marvel’s romance and western comic worlds anytime soon.)

We’re all but certain to see Marvel’s mystical and horror universes come into play in movies before long, perhaps in a combined venture.

The studio has already named a director for its “Dr. Strange” movie, about a physician who became a master of the mystic arts and fought supernatural creatures. It’ll be interesting to see who the studio picks to play the part because Strange could be as much of an anchor for ongoing Marvel movies as Robert Downey Jr. has been as Tony Stark.

A “Strange” movie would not only introduce the mystical and supernatural Marvel universes to the big screen but could encompass the company’s long history of horror characters, some of whom regularly cross paths with heroes like Spider-Man (I’m looking at you, Moebius the Living Vampire) but operate in a realm that ranges from the dark corners of the Earth to other dimensions. It’s a world of magic – already explained in the “Thor” movies as simply science that humans can’t understand – and wild creatures.

If the idea seems strange to you, consider how strange a space raccoon and a talking tree might have seemed before this record-breaking opening weekend for “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Secrets of ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron?’

avengers-age-of-ultron-

Are you ready for some total guesswork?

I’m going to speculate on what we might see next May when “Avengers: Age of Ultron” hits theaters.

I don’t have any inside knowledge (my friend in the movie business doesn’t work on these Marvel movies). I’m speculating based on what I’ve read online recently and on recent re-readings of half-century-old comics that told this story before.

And I’ve already written about Marvel’s long game, the climax – most likely in the third “Avengers” movie – that will pit Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes against Thanos, the god-like destroyer and embracer of death.

Josh Brolin voices Thanos in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and likely in future Marvel movies. From scenes we’ve already seen in the “Thor” sequel and in “Guardians,” we know Thanos is pursuing the Infinity Stones to make his all-powerful weapon, the Infinity Gauntlet. Heck, Brolin took the stage in San Diego wearing a mock-up of an Infinity Gauntlet.

But what happens in the meantime, in “Age of Ultron?”

While the MCU has taken big variations away from the established Marvel comic book shorelines we’ve known for a half-century now, I think “Age of Ultron” will mix elements from a couple of milestone “Avengers” comic books.

We already know Ultron is in the movie, obviously, The murderous robot is invented (in the movies at least) by Tony Stark but, like Skynet, gets his own ideas on how to run the world.

And we know that Vision, a synthetic person created by Ultron to kill the Avengers only to end up joining them, is in “Age of Ultron.” He’s played by Paul Bettany, the voice of Tony Stark butler Jarvis in the “Iron Man” movies and “The Avengers.”

“Age of Ultron” creates Ultron (voiced by James Spader) and sets up the conflict depicted in the original 1960s “Avengers” comics, namely issues 55 through 57, when the Vision is introduced. In the comics, of course, Ultron was created by Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas in “Ant-Man” but that movie’s not coming out until later in 2015.

So Ultron on a collision course with the Avengers, with Vision changing sides. Check.

But who else changes sides?

For this, we go back a few years in the “Avengers” comics, to issue 16, in which the Avengers experiences the biggest line-up change in its young history.

Although Hulk had come and gone and Cap joined the team in “Avengers” 4, the big change didn’t come until issue 16, when Thor flies off to deal with Asgardian issues, Giant-Man (the former Ant-Man) and Wasp decide to leave and Tony Stark decides to retire his “bodyguard,” Iron Man, from the roster.

Who joins?

Three former criminals/crooks/super villains: Hawkeye, the archer (already on the team in the MCU), Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (who we know are in “Age of Ultron).

While I’d LOVE to see the “Ultron” footage screened at Comic Con, I’m pretty sure the final scene shown – the Avengers lying defeated at Ultron’s hands, Cap’s shield broken – isn’t the end of the movie. Despite the fact I believe it will end up being “The Empire Strikes Back” of the “Avengers” series, “Ultron” won’t end that way. That’s a vision (pun intended) or dream of something plaguing Tony.

No, I think “Ultron” will end with something more dire: The team breaking up. The powerhouses will be gone and Cap will carry on, as he did in the comics, with less powerful teammates like Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Vision.

Which will make it all the more essential that big guns like Thor and Hulk return in 2018, the likely release date of the third “Avengers” movie.

Comic Con: ‘Age of Ultron’ poster

avengers ultron poster

And then there’s this.

For Comic Con, Marvel has been releasing pieces of a giant poster promoting next May’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

The final pieces were released today.

And yes, that’s the Vision, as played by Paul Bettany, up in the corner. And he looks to be the proper green and yellow color.

That’s a whole lot of Ultrons.

 

 

Nice: New ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ poster

guardians of the galaxy new poster

I’m still not quite sure how “Guardians of the Galaxy” will feel for general moviegoing audiences, but I think that between now and Aug. 1, at least the moviegoing public will know what it is.

There’s a new poster – seen above  – and a new trailer coming Monday, I believe.

Right now, “GOTG” is “that space raccoon movie” to some people.

And it’s not a blip on the radar for many people.

For the rest of us, it’s Marvel’s attempt to broaden the Marvel Cinematic Universe the company has been building since “Iron Man” debuted in 2008. Even more so than in “Thor” and the use of the Nine Realms in those movies, “GOTG” is a movie that will play out on a cosmic scale. It’s likely to be as much “Star Wars” as “The Avengers.”

I don’t know a lot about “GOTG” yet, but it’s a pretty sure bet to feature Thanos, the alien bad guy at the end of “The Avengers,” and likely to include a battle over at least one of the Infinity Stones, those powerful artifacts referenced in “Thor: The Dark World.”

And I think all of this is building to a showdown between the Avengers – possibly with the help of the Guardians and others – and Thanos in the third “Avengers” movie.

Right now, though, we’ve got “GOTG” to look forward to. This poster looks familiar enough for those who studied posters for “The Avengers” but also sparks memories of “Star Wars” and other space-faring soap operas.

Which, I think, is what director James Gunn and the Marvel folks want.

‘Agents of SHIELD,’ ‘Winter Soldier’ building to … ?

blue-alien-agents-of-shieldIt shouldn’t be surprising that Disney/ABC/Marvel is practicing synergy in how it’s handling ABC’s Tuesday-night series “Agents of SHIELD” and the April 4 release of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the second Marvel movie – after “Thor: The Dark World” – released since “SHIELD” debuted last fall.

There was a “SHIELD” episode earlier in the season that tied in, in a minimal way, to the “Thor” sequel. And Jaimie Alexander guest-starred this week as Sif on “SHIELD,” tracking down fellow Asgardian Lorelei.

But it’s increasingly obvious, as I noted in an earlier piece, that both “SHIELD” and “Winter Soldier” seem to be building to something.

On “SHIELD,” Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) has had a season-long arc of discovery as he tries to determine how and why he was brought back from the dead after Loki inflicted a fatal goring in “The Avengers.” So far, we’ve learned that Coulson – and SHIELD team member Skye – were saved by a mysterious liquid that appears to be generated from the half-missing corpse of a blue alien bottled up in a remote SHIELD facility. In last week’s episode, Coulson asks Sif about “blue aliens” and she mentions several, from frost giants (obviously not the answer in this case) to the Kree, the longtime Marvel alien race that spawned not only the original Captain Marvel but also is the mortal enemy of the Skrulls (or the Chitauri, as they were depicted in “The Avengers.”)

By episode’s end, Coulson – frustrated that alien biologics were used in his resurrection and to save Skye – is seeking answers and demanding to speak to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, who’s already appeared on the series).

Promos for the series – using the subtitle (“Uprising”) – would lead us to believe that Coulson’s quest for knowledge may shake up the prevailing image of SHIELD.

As I’ve stated before, SHIELD’s been the subject of sinister undertones in the big-screen Marvel movies, most notably “The Avengers,” when our heroes discovered that SHIELD was experimenting with Hydra weaponry.

I have a feeling this will tie in, more or less, to “Winter Soldier” when it comes out on April 4. The promos for the movie indicate Cap, Black Widow and new partner Sam (aka The Falcon) Wilson might find themselves pitted against SHIELD itself or at least leader figures like the one Robert Redford plays. I’ve previously speculated the role Robert Redford’s character plays in all this (spoilers here if you look).

So what can we infer from this?

Marvel is trying to pull off something that’s extremely tricky. It’s making some pretty big changes to SHIELD, the organization that has been, more or less, the glue that’s held its cinematic universe together from the start.

And it’s doing some while it’s producing a weekly TV series about that organization.

Is the series going to turn its “good guy” into a “bad guy,” with the rank-and-file agents on the outside? Or even on the run?

Method to their madness: Marvel movie credits scenes

Thanos-in-The-Avengers-

In all the verbiage that’s been dedicated to end-credits scenes in Marvel movies, gone unaddressed is the question of why some movies have one end-credits scene and why a few have two.

Early Marvel movies had only one end-credits “stinger,” or “button,” scene. The first, of course, was Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury showing up at the end of “Iron Man” in 2008.

“The Avengers” set a precedent for two credits scenes that was continued in “Thor: The Dark World” and, we’re hearing, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

Spoilers ahead, obviously, although some are for movies you’ve probably seen by now. And if you haven’t, why not?

What we’re hearing so far about the end credits scenes from the “Captain America” sequel indicate the movie continues the mini-trend of two end credits scenes but also the trend of making one a direct promo for a future movie and one a character piece.

We saw that in “The Avengers,” which – in its first credits scene – teased Thanos as the bad guy behind the scenes of the movie. Then, in the end credits scene, the tired Avengers sit down for a meal in a nearly-demolished NYC restaurant. It’s a scene that emphasized the humor of director Joss Whedon.

Two end-credits scenes in “Thor: The Dark World” followed that pattern. In the first, the story is advanced toward this August’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” by introducing not only the character the Collector but the concept of the Infinity Stones before the very final scene showed Thor returning to Earth and reuniting with Jane Foster.

Now we’re hearing that two end credits scenes in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” will follow the same approach. One will advance the larger Marvel movie storyline while the other will further the development of one character.

Is it purely a marketing strategy on the part of Marvel? At the end of the original “Captain America,” the most marketing-oriented extra so far included a montage of shots from “The Avengers.”

Is it artistic vision from the director? We know that’s not always the case. “Thor: The Dark World” director Alan Taylor grumbled about the inclusion of footage promoting “Guardians of the Galaxy” at the end of his movie. He didn’t direct it. Likewise, “Avengers” series director and Marvel’s big-screen consultant Whedon directed an “Avengers”-leaning promo at the end of the original “Thor” and, it was announced this week, directed one of the two scenes at the end of “Winter Soldier.”

So we’re guessing it’s more of a savvy, catch-em-while-they’re-in-the-theater-and-create-buzz move by Marvel.

And it’s one that usually adds to the enjoyment of the movies for fans.

Ranking the Marvel movies

Avengers assemble

Here’s a pointless exercise but maybe a fun one.

I decided to rank, in order of how much I enjoyed them/how good I thought they were, the big-screen Marvel movies.

It’s not too hard to tell that I prefer the official Marvel Cinematic Universe movies over the random Fox and Sony movies, I know.

A few provisos:

I’m not dipping back into pre-history far enough to drag “Howard the Duck” into this. And I haven’t seen it in a couple decades.

And I’m not including the 1994 “Fantastic Four” movie because it wasn’t released – I’ve only seen it on a bootleg DVD bought at a convention – and it doesn’t belong on this list any more than the awful “Captain America” TV movies do. Same for the “Blade” movies, which had their moments but seem as remote as the 1944 “Captain America” serial now.

Be aware, I’ve only glimpsed moments of the “Ghost Rider” movies on TV. And I’ve never seen the “Punisher” movies at all.

Two lists: First, just the “official” Marvel movies, then the list with the non-Marvel-overseen movies mixed in.

The Avengers

Captain America: The First Avenger

Iron Man

Thor

Thor: The Dark World

The Incredible Hulk

Iron Man 3

Iron Man 2

If you add the other post-2000 Marvel movies that aren’t part  of the official Marvel Cinematic Universe into the mix, it’s still weighted pretty heavy toward the official Marvel canon.

The Avengers

Captain America: The First Avenger

Iron Man

Thor

Thor: The Dark World

X-Men 2

Spider-Man 2

X-Men

X-Men: First Class

The Incredible Hulk

Spider-Man

Iron Man 3

The Wolverine

The Amazing Spider-Man

Daredevil

Iron Man 2

X-Men 3

Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Spider-Man 3

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Hulk

Elektra

Looking at that list, it seems like “Iron Man 3” is way too far down. But maybe not. I need to see it again.

Something tells me my list will see a big shake-up next month, when “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opens.