Marvel’s Guardians

Took in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy last weekend (along with so many others).  What a fun show!  Marvel Studios continues to hit that action-adventure-humor sweet spot, and we would guess that while the majority of the viewing public never heard of Drax or Groot prior to this film, they’re fans now.

Because no one’s demanded it, we’re going to try a little switch on the review format here.  Instead of the longer summary form, we’ll just go with the likes and dislikes, hits and misses, cheers and jeers.

Four likes

  1.  Cosmic Marvel – The intergalactic, sci-fi area of the Marvel Universe has a lot to offer.  Although Stan and Jack originally created some of the aliens and creatures just to give the Fantastic Four or Avengers someone else to fight, the vastness beyond Earth has provided creators with so many opportunities to tell new stories, mix favorite elements of space opera and sci-fi, and envision new worlds.  Guardians, with its mishmash of alien cultures and locales, uses this to great effect to create that fun Star Wars vibe.  We’ve seen hints of Cosmic Marvel in the Avengers-themed movies (especially Thor), but this one really nails it, with references to old school creations like the Kree and Skrull war, the Celestials, and more.
  2. Set Design/Art Direction – Closely tied to the above, big kudos to the visual arts team.  It’s incredible what they can create on screen these days.  Whether it’s Starlord’s ship (orange and blue, baby!), Ronan’s Dreadnought cruiser, the prison, Knowhere (awesome!), or Xandar, the overall result is fantastic.  Not just because of the vivid colors and attention to detail, but also how these environments interact with the characters without suspending the disbelief overly much.
  3. Chris Pratt – Starlord, man!  As a big Parks and Recreation fans, we already knew about the comic timing, which Pratt applies repeatedly and expertly.  He’s a great choice as that Earth-transplant every-dude.  Of course Peter Quill/Starlord has so much potential as an archetypal character.  With a boyhood spend on earth in the 80s, he has those frames of reference, the music, the lingo.  He knows about Captain Kirk and Han Solo and is fully attempting to pull that off.  Pratt’s convincing in the action scenes, and has the range for the more serious moments as well (although you could feel the clowning right around the corner).  His scenes with Gamora (Zoe Saldana) were fun and Saldana also deserves a lot of credit for her performance.
  4. Writers/Script – The story’s pretty straightforward:  Quest for treasure turns into a mission to stop the evil overlord.  The characters are your typical band of misfits.  But give a lot of credit to the writing team – James Gunn, Nicole Perlman, Dan Abnett, and Andy Lanning.  There’s real economy in their scenes; they set up character traits quickly, and the comedic moments are plentiful without feeling forced.  Drax taking everything literally, Rocket’s antics and tough-guy veneer, Groot…  We also appreciate some of those smaller moments and how they worked in a few Marvel easter eggs like usual.  They didn’t overdo the Starlord/Quill character arc, they didn’t force some grand epiphany upon the character.  And whoever came up with the idea for that final showdown with Ronan – well that writer deserves an award.

One dislike

  1. I thought the post-credit mini-scene (now a tradition) was a little weak and somewhat frightening in an 80’s flashback kind of way.  This isn’t really a dislike, but rather an observation:  the movie had just a little too much violence and a one too many crude jokes for me to bring the kids along.  They’re just going to have to wait, which is too bad, because they want to see Guardians very badly.

 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

…written by Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely, based on an Ed Brubaker story; directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; starring Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, and Robert Redford.

These Marvel movies just keep hitting the target.  Thor – The Dark World was excellent, X-Men – Days of Futures Past looks fantastic based on the trailers, and we’re optimistic for the next Spider-man movie this summer as well.  The only one we’ve panned of late was Iron Man 3 (because, gah.)  So with the the great early buzz, we were anticipating Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and we weren’t disappointed.  This is another great super hero movie.

It’s a different kind of super hero movie, though.  Based on comics by Ed Brubaker, the story involves serpentine conspiracies and secrets and healthy mistrust of those in power.  Pretty much par for the course with Hollywood’s take on the espionage game.  This movie features Cap and Black Widow as Shield’s two prime field agents, chasing down bad guys and running ops for Nick Fury.  When one of these ops goes sideways, Cap gets suspicious of Fury’s motives and goals.  He becomes even more concerned when Fury shows him the strategic plan to launch three additional heli-carriers capable of linking up with surveillance satellites and securing Shield’s military dominance in the world.

But Fury has concerns as well.  He’s noticed something anomalous, a security breach, and confides in the Chief of Allied Defense, Alexander Pierce (Redford).  About this time, the Winter Soldier shows up and takes a crack at Fury.  Black Widow tells Cap about the Winter Soldier: a legendary KGB assassin rumored to have conducted the most dangerous and sensitive assignments for over 50 years.

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Review: Superior Spider-man

In Brief:  Superior Spider-man, written by Dan Slott and illustrated by Ryan Stegman, takes Spidey in new directions with a bold narrative twist.  Volume 1, ‘My Own Worst Enemy’, and Volume 2, ‘A Troubled Mind’, collect the first 10 issues of this ongoing series.  Books like this one continue to show that Marvel  is more than a marketing arm – they still produce great comics stories.

Pros:  Slott picks up from the historic events Amazing Spider-Man #700 and continue with strong storytelling involving major changes to Spider-man and his world.  It’s a much different kind of story, but that makes it no less effective.  Stegman’s panel work and ability with the action and staging are first rate.

Cons:  Well, this is a major shift.  It certainly has the potential to put long-time Spider-man fans, especially if you haven’t been keeping up with the comic books.  You just have to give it a chance.

SPOILERS —-  SPOILERS  —- SPOILERS

Do we still do spoilers?  Anyway…

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Review: Thor – God Butcher – God Bomb

In Brief:  These first two volumes of Thor, God of Thunder, written by Jason Aaron with principal art by Esad Ribic,  give us three versions of Marvel’s Thor from three separate eras.  Thor must track down and face the God Butcher, a foe from his distant past, present, and future.  It’s cosmic comics adventure that takes full advantage of the current Avengers cross-over appeal.

Pros:  The story is first rate – epoch-spanning, with bits of Asgardian and Marvel Universe lore, while clearly being centered on Thor.  Ribic’s art has a Dark Horse/Conan flavor that effectively captures galactic grandeur and Middle Age Norse grit.

Cons:  Well, the price.  The two hardbound volumes retail at $25 apiece.  But that’s a problem the comics industry continues to face.  Also, movie fans hoping to see Loki won’t find him here.

Review:  Reading comics as a kid, Thor was always just kind of there.  He was an Avenger.  He had a hammer.  He talked funny.  I never really picked up any Thor comics, which is weird because I really liked mythology.  Of course the character has enjoyed something of a revival recently, with a couple of  good super-hero movies and the Avengers tie-in.  At Marvel Comics they’re no doubt acutely aware of this, and their Disney masters are on them to capitalize.  Books like The God Butcher and The God Bomb fit the bill.  They can also serve as a reminder to the corporate types (hopefully) that the comics medium still tells stories of high adventure with the best of them. This tale begins in Medieval Iceland, with a younger, brasher God of Thunder enjoying his time among the Vikings.  Thor the Younger has not yet proven worthy of lifting the hammer, Mjolnir, but it’s not for lack of effort on the battle field.  In Iceland, the Vikings find the decapitated head of a god washed ashore – a god of the American Indians – and Thor wonders who or what is responsible.   Continue reading

By the Beard of Odin

We did not expect our favorite super-hero/action movie of 2013 to be Thor: The Dark Worldand yet there it is.  Iron Man 3 was not good, Man of Steel was problematic and should have been better…  We have not yet seen The Wolverine, but based on the reviews and chatter, we doubt it will eclipse the son of Odin.  Thor: TDW had the right blend of humor, action, and Asgardian mayhem, as well as an imminently watchable Loki and Thor dynamic and some Avengers 2 easter eggs.  If you’re into the superheroes, you should check it out.

And, of course, it hath spawned another excellent ‘How it Should Have Ended’, this time featuring the Villain Pub.

Walking Dead is back

One of the few episodic shows we continue to watch returns for its fourth season this Sunday:  The Walking Dead on AMC.  Not since we watched The Wire have we been so enamored with a show that can just be so damned depressing.  If you’re behind on episodes or looking to catch up with the plot again, AMC is currently running through all the prior seasons leading up to this Sunday.

I still remember picking up the very first trade of Robert Kirkman’s series back in the day, when the buzz about the comic book was starting to increase, and thinking the central premise was a pretty blatant rip-off of 28 Days Later (guy wakes up form coma and zombie apocalypse has ensued).  But the way he set up the characters and paid them such careful attention, the focus on the human element in the midst of such a horrible situation – these really stood out.  I still want to back and check out his book, Invincible, a character-driven take on the familiar teen and family superhero story.

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Iron Man 3 – CBG Complaints

We took in Iron Man 3 this weekend for family movie night.  Mostly, it was what you’d expect: a fun comics themed actioner aimed squarely at the mass markets.  The kids and wife enjoyed it.  I mostly enjoyed it.  And we understand and fully support Disney/Marvel’s approach here.  We’re glad to have shared-world Avengers movies with a sense of continuity, big budgets, and A-list talent.  However….

However, and not to go all Comic Book Guy here, because Iron Man was never a personal favorite or anything, but I do have to go CBG here.  Because just like Man of Steel, the writers/director sort of missed some key elements with Iron Man 3 and kind of blew it to the point of ludicrousity.

Which isn’t really a word, but you get our point.  Major spoilers below…

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Movies: The Avengers

…based on Marvel Comics characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, written by Zak Penn, directed by Joss Whedon, starring Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Scarlett Johannson (Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).

By now, after Hulk-smashing 1st and 2nd week box office records, nearly everyone who reads this blog has seen Marvel’s The Avengers.  It’s the greatest team super-hero movie of all time.  After the last few years’ series of Avengers solo movies, starting with Iron Man up to last summer’s Thor and Captain America, the geeks of the planet have had this date circled.  We’ve watched the short Nick Fury cut-scenes at the end of the movies.  We’ve debated on the internets.  We’ve all hoped it could somehow live up to expectations, seeing Earth’s mightiest heroes together on the big screen.

And Joss Whedon’s super-powered popcorn epic hits the mark.

Yes, the first act is a little slow and awkward at points, introducing the characters with their back stories from the other movies, while setting up Loki and his quest for the Cosmic Cube (the Tesseract in the movie, don’t know why they had to call it that).  No, Black Widow doesn’t really belong on the team, and the Agent Coulson-uniting-the-team card is one Whedon has used over and over again.  Yes, the Chitauri alien villains were pretty generic and definitely had some storm trooper factor.  However…

Joss Whedon

Whedon has been lobbying to do super hero movies for years.  At one point he was linked with an attempt to bring back Wonder Woman and he recently helped the Marvel Comic Astonishing X-Men refocus on that team’s roots.  Beemsville has been a fan of Whedon going back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (still the superior teen-angst with monsters TV series), Angel, and Firefly.   Other than the Firefly-spin-off movie, Serenity, a modest success, Whedon hasn’t directed a blockbuster type movie.  Until now.  He is, however, a lifelong comic fan; a guy who grew up with these characters, reading and re-reading their origins, marveling at the great cross-over four-color stories.  He gets it – he understands the source material, the importance of certain interplays between characters and their symbolic moments.  Contrast this movie to something like Batman and Robin – another big-budget ensemble with a director, Joel Schumacher, who certainly did not get it, and you gain even better appreciation. Continue reading

Super XLVI

As far as the actual game – what more do you want than to come down to the 4th quarter, the final drive, the very last play…  A rooting interest, perhaps?  We had virtually none.  The Giants have two Illini on their roster, so we’re pleased with the result.

Madonna half-time.  Meh.  Now about those Super Bowl ads…  First you have the summer blockbuster build-up:

“We have a Hulk.”  Heh.

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Books: Ultimate X-Men Collection(s)

In Brief:  Ultimate X-Men hits the reset button on Marvel’s mutant heroes about ten years ago, re-imagining and re-casting the familiar characters in a more contemporary light.  The Collections compile 12 issues – or roughly three trade paperbacks – each in four volumes.  The Ultimate line reached new readers more familiar with the movie versions of these characters and not well-versed in the voluminous back-stories that go with decades of comics.

Pros:  Marvel placed the hottest writers and artists of the day on the Ultimate books.  The stories have enough familiarity for those who know the characters, but they are (usually) fresh enough to be compelling on their own.

Cons:  Some of the narratives are rushed or weak – almost as if the writer had lost interest in introducing certain well-known elements of the X-Men mythos.  The metaphorical linking of mutants with terrorists gets old and played out, and the Ultimate War Storyline was pretty poorly done.

Full Review:   When I was growing up, the X-Men were favorites.  Not sure when exactly it happened – probably about 6th grade – but all through junior high and high school I pretty much read the X-books.  This period, now remembered fondly by many, had Chris Cleremont writing voluminous and ansgt-ridden tales that still managed to be action packed and heroic.  The X-Men, scorned by many for their genetic heritage, yet still rescuing humanity form monsters, aliens, and villains on a routine basis.  I stopped reading the books in college, but still enjoyed the movies (mostly) and would pick up a trade paperback from time to time.

Marvel’s Ultimate line came along about ten years ago and immediately became a critical and commercial success.  Simply put:  the writers and editors hit the reboot button and started telling the stories of their best characters from scratch.  Next summer’s Avengers movie is largely based on these comics, as were some aspects of Marve’ls other recent movies.  Ultimate Spiderman is very good – a great book particularly for pre-teen/teen readers.  So when I saw the Collections for Ultimate X-Men on sale recently, I decided to check it out.

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