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Old 01-18-2015, 06:22 PM   #1
Keyser Soze
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Default Marvel Studios Retrospective Reviews

Hey all,

This year, in the lead-up to the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, I am going to be going back and rewatching all of the films released by Marvel Studios, and writing new, detailed retrospective reviews of them. I thought it'd be good to collect all this commentary in one place, so I hope it's okay that I made a thread here. Feel free to add your thoughts on each film as I bring them up too.

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Old 01-18-2015, 06:23 PM   #2
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IRON MAN

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is this generation's STAR WARS. By this stage, with how massive a hit each new installment is, and the fandom behind it, these movies really are a cinematic phenomenon. The shared universe aspect of these films, and the overarching narrative connecting them, was a bold new idea, seen as highly ambitious and even foolhardy by some, and yet now other studios are trying to copy the model with varying degrees of success. So, given the stature of these films now, it's quite interesting to go back and look at where it all began: IRON MAN.

IRON MAN, watching it now, doesn't really feel like the start of something huge. On the year of its release, you could argue it was a mid-level blockbuster, less anticipated than THE DARK KNIGHT or (ahem) INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, with even MAMMA MIA doing more business in its theatrical run. And looking at it now, while for the most part the visual effects involving the Iron Man armour hold up splendidly, when you get into the climactic battle scene the CGI starts to get a bit shoddy in places, like you can feel the budget being stretched to the limit. Really, IRON MAN is a bit of an odd duck of a film. It doesn't really play by standard blockbuster rules. It has a pretty conventional superhero origin story for a plot, and yet in the execution it feels much more than the sum of its parts. There has been talk that incomplete shooting scripts led to Jon Favreau encouraging a loose, improvisational atmosphere on the set, allowing the actors to just riff off each other and craft their own dialogue and interactions based on the loose framework of what a scene needed to achieve. And the result is at times a bit messy, but it feels more genuine and filled with vitality than any amount of slick, polished yet ultimately lifeless blockbusters-by-numbers.

The biggest ace in the hole IRON MAN has at its disposal remains the great Robert Downey Jr. To again play the retrospect game, now Robert Downey Jr is the highest-paid actor in the world, one of the biggest stars on the planet. So it's hard to remember what a wild gambit it was to put him in this kind of movie at the time. But I remember it. I was a huge fan of Downey Jr, my appreciation for him propelled to a whole new level by his turn in KISS KISS, BANG BANG, which led to me seeking him out in his various interesting supporting turns that followed. To then see him headline a big superhero movie was a surprise and a delight, and it was that casting that instantly made this film must-see for me. And I can still remember the experience of watching IRON MAN the first time, what pleasure I got just out of, "Robert Downey Jr is playing this role!" It really was a stroke of genius. He brings an off-kilter energy and supernova charisma to the role of Tony Stark, really selling his arc of genius billionaire douchebag turned repentant hero. With his presence, no scene feels perfunctory or simply expositional. He took what can often be a thankless protagonist role in a superhero film and made him the most interesting person on the screen, and so just being in his company injects vigour and energy into everything. I'd argue that he was crucial to this film's success, and in turn was crucial to Marvel Studios' success building from this. Marvel Cinematic Universe: the house that Robert Downey Jr built?

Not that this is a one-man show. Gwyneth Paltrow is a highly likeable presence in the film as Pepper Potts, and I love the interplay between her and Tony Stark. At a time when every superhero film seemed to feel the need to have a mopey, melodramatic high-school drama approach to romance, these two feel like they're having a relationship between adults, flirtatious but built on mutual respect. I was less convinced in Tony's other key relationship, with his best friend James Rhodes. He's played here by Terrence Howard, and I'll admit I'm not his biggest fan. I think Don Cheadle would be a better fit for the role.

Another boon to the film is Jeff Bridges as villain Obidiah Stane. Jeff Bridges is one of our finest living actors, so getting him for the cast of IRON MAN felt in its own way as much of a coup as getting Robert Downey Jr. And he brings his immense gravitas to what could have been a 2-dimensional character, making him nasty and petty in a believably human way. It's also the movie that, more than any other, I've noticed how TALL Bridges is! Stane towers over everyone else in the ensemble, casting a menacing shadow. I will say he is more effective in the early going than when he devolves into being a special effect in the third act: something that would be a recurring problem in early Marvel films! I'd argue that the scene between Stane and Pepper Potts in the Stark Industries office has more tension and menace in it than any moment featuring the Iron Monger. Still, I'd argue that Obidiah Stane remains to this day one of the best villains of the MCU.

There are some interesting political messages in here, too. Of course, updating the baddies who originally kidnap Tony Stark from being Vietcong as they were in the original comics to being Al-Qaeda like terrorists The Ten Rings gives the film a certain political grounding, even amidst the fantastical qualities of the story. I suppose some could argue about the deeply Conservative values of making a superhero out of an American arms dealer, but I think there is something subtly progressive about Iron Man's first mission not being to protect the United States, but to go abroad to the MIddle East. And not just "to kill terrorists," but specifically to save a village of innocent civilians, highlighting that these are the people that are often most at risk from terrorist groups as opposed to us in the West. Though having said that, I do think there's a more simple cathartic pleasure the film seeks to draw out from having Iron Man blow up some terrorists! Iron Man in general just feels COOL in the movie. The whole sequence where he's testing his suit then takes it for a test flight is one of the most purely euphoric moments to appear in a superhero movie... how could anyone watch that and NOT want an Iron Man suit?

So, overall, IRON MAN remains a great film. It's a tricky balance, with a loose, freewheel plot held together by the charisma of a star cast, and it could easily have fallen apart without just the right amount of plate-spinning... more on that in future reviews. But with the cool action mixed with sly humor, it put fun at the forefront when darkness was "in" with blockbusters and with superhero movies. And, in turn, it pretty much established the formula for Marvel Studios productions going forward. So much so that I think you could even argue it was a victim of its own success, with much of the Phase 1 output struggling to recreate the strange alchemy of IRON MAN without quite the right mix of ingredients and not quite managing it. But on its own merits, IRON MAN is a deeply satisfying cinematic experience, and gave us one of the best movie heroes of the past decade.

8/10

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Old 01-18-2015, 07:36 PM   #3
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Default Re: Marvel Studios Retrospective Reviews

Great write up Keyser, very insightful. You bring up a good point about how the rest of the phase 1 films suffered from trying to recreate the magic that was this first outing. Look forward to the rest of your reviews

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Old 01-18-2015, 08:20 PM   #4
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Great write up Keyser, very insightful. You bring up a good point about how the rest of the phase 1 films suffered from trying to recreate the magic that was this first outing. Look forward to the rest of your reviews
Thanks, Flint! I watched The Incredible Hulk tonight, so my review of that should be coming soon.

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Old 01-18-2015, 09:00 PM   #5
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THE INCREDIBLE HULK

THE INCREDIBLE HULK is a good film. I feel like I should open with that right out the gate, as I'll go on to say some pretty critical stuff in this review and I want to emphasize that my overall impression of the movie was still a positive one. I also want to open with this because it seems, with history, the official narrative of THE INCREDIBLE HULK has become one of failure. Because Ed Norton never reprised the role, requiring a Mark Ruffalo recast for THE AVENGERS, and because this is the only Phase 1 Marvel Studios production not to spawn a franchise, there is a bit of a sense of this being the proverbial red-headed stepchild of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film that gets swept under the rug and not really talked about when Marvel Studios talk about their pedigree in their marketing. Even on the year of its release it felt like a bit of an afterthought: in the UK, at least, it was released within a month of colossal hit IRON MAN, meaning much of the attention still remained on that success story, and then THE DARK KNIGHT was out soon afterwards, meaning THE INCREDIBLE HULK was sandwiched between two much more popular superhero movies. It's a combination of factors that has led to this being a bit of a forgotten film, and with that the assumption that it must be a bit of a dud.

But really, there's a lot the film gets right. I'll say right away that it's a big improvement on Ang Lee's HULK. While that production was ponderous and meandering, The Hulk's origins and the precise nature of his powers rather muddy and ill-defined and tied into Nick Nolte related father issues, here the formula is stripped back down to basics, director Louis Leterrier drawing more heavily on the old Bill Bixby TV series and tapping into what made the character of Bruce Banner (or David Banner, as he was on the show) and his alter ego The Hulk resonate with audiences. In doing so, he manages the tricky task of kinda picking up the plot roughly from where the 2003 HULK film left off and so making it work as a kinda sequel to reduce origin story redundancy, while also doing a quick retcon of the events leading up to that starting point through some credit sequence flashbacks. The film also manages some neat creative touches to heighten the sense of tension around Banner's Hulk transformation, with the "Days Since Last Incident" captions running along the screen and the heart monitor watch Banner wears to warn of a transformation being imminent. I think the film admirably establishes a strong blueprint for a cinematic Hulk going forward.

I'd say the film is at its best throughout the opening sequence in Brazil. Here we get Bruce Banner as a fleshed-out human rather than a plot device, and get to see his struggles to evade detection and to find a cure, all while trying to live some semblance of a life. And the chase scene through the favela is probably the film's best action set-piece, ironically enough probably the one with the least CGI. And with the beeping heart monitor watch and the rising sense of peril, it all feels like a pressure cooker building and building so that when the film's first Hulk transformation hits its like an explosion. It's thrilling cinema.

A shame then that the film lags after that, and never quite reaches the same heights. There are some pretty cool moments, like the Hulk confronting soldiers on the university campus, or the moment where Hulk is in the cave with Betty and tries to protect her from a thunderstorm, or the climactic Hulk/Abomination battle in Harlem. It's not like it sinks into becoming a bad movie. It's a perfectly functional, effective, meat-and-potatoes superhero action movie. But it never really feels like it transcends the template in the way that IRON MAN did.

I'd say it's in comparison to IRON MAN that this film really suffers. IRON MAN, as I mentioned when reviewing that, established a template that, to some degree, you could argue Marvel Studios still follows to this day, to great success and profit. But because THE INCREDIBLE HULK was released so close on its heels, it didn't really have time to take any notes from what worked in Jon Favreau's IRON MAN. And so it's probably the Marvel film that feels least like a Marvel film. Save for the odd wry gag, it's rather gloomy and serious, with a dour, tormented protagonist at its core who gives lots of pained, longing looks at the object of his star-crossed love, and it's shot in quite a dull, grainy palette. You could say it feels like it shares more cinematic DNA with the X-MEN films that came earlier in the decade than the Marvel Studios films that would follow.

Also, while THE INCREDIBLE HULK boasts a similarly impressive cast to IRON MAN, here it seems that star power is stifled by them largely sticking to the script. Ed Norton is a fine actor, and when on form he can be electric, and on paper he was a smart pick for the role of Banner. He does some good stuff with the part, and in particular I like him post-transformation, when we see him back as Banner after an episode: he really sells the notion that hulking out has made him lose everything of himself he's had to claw back since the last time, like a drug addict coming down from a high. But while he's a solid, functional enough protagonist, he never really injects the charisma and likeability into the role that Robert Downey Jr did for Tony Stark. For the most part we're just waiting for him to turn into The Hulk. I for one think Mark Ruffalo did a better job of making us invest in Banner as a character when he took up the role in THE AVENGERS, his natural warmth and affability making Banner a more likeable presence than Norton's generally more mercurial persona. It does make me wonder if this film would be looked at more fondly if Mark Ruffalo had played the role here, or if Norton had reprised the role in THE AVENGERS. In either scenario, I feel we'd have been more likely to get a sequel.

As for the rest of the cast, again, they're all fine and act respectably enough, but don't really linger in the memory. After the spark Gwyneth Paltrow brought to Pepper Pots, Liv Tyler feels more love interest by numbers. William Hurt was good as General Ross. As for Tim Roth as Blonsky, it's a similar situation to Jeff Bridges in IRON MAN, where I thought he was more effective as a villain when it was him on-screen, as opposed to when he was replaced by a special effect in the third act. Not that there's anything wrong with the special effects: I think the creature designs of both Hulk and Abomination have held up pretty well for the most part, though I will say I prefer the more brutish, animalistic take on The Hulk we got in THE AVENGERS to the super-hunk look he has here.

So, THE INCREDIBLE HULK isn't a spectacular film, but it's far from a disaster. If the cards had aligned, I think Marvel COULD have made a sequel to this without the need for another reboot, so it's a shame that never happened. But the film's influence has peppered across some other areas of the MCU. Of course, in THE AVENGERS Banner makes a little remark about how last time he was in New York he "broke Harlem," and there have been other little asides and references to characters and events here and there. And the big revelation about Banner's connection to The Hulk that we get during the end battle of THE AVENGERS is in fact set up in this film. All that, and THE INCREDIBLE HULK also enjoys the cinematic milestone of being the first film to truly cement the "shared universe" status of the MCU with the ways it crosses over with IRON MAN, which at the time of release was pretty mind-blowing. Not bad for a red-headed stepchild. It's easy to look at the shortcomings of THE INCREDIBLE HULK in the context of IRON MAN or in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but taken on its own, it's a fun little film that's still worth a watch.

6/10

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Old 01-21-2015, 01:57 PM   #6
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IRON MAN 2

In my review of IRON MAN, I talked a bit about the strange alchemy of that film, and how just the right balance of plot structure and a talented cast giving the chance to cut loose and have fun combined to make the film more than the sum of its parts. IRON MAN 2 is an example of when you try to recreate that formula, but don't get the mix of ingredients just right.

Much has been made about the loose, improvisational structure of the first IRON MAN, but despite that, when you watch that it's still a film in constant forward motion. We have one of the best-told superhero origin stories I've seen on film, and Tony Stark has changed over the course of the runtime, there's been a clear arc and journey. And because the film is in constant motion, the runtime whizzes by. IRON MAN 2 is in fact a couple of minutes shorter than the previous film, but it feels longer, and that's because it lacks that propelling momentum. It meanders, we get redundant or even pointless beats, scenes overrun to the point of feeling indulgent. There is a distinct lack of urgency to proceedings that hurts the viewing experience, due mainly to two key shortcomings.

The first of these shortcomings is pacing. This is a particularly bad problem in the back-half of the film. Things seem to be chugging along nicely enough up until the Monaco race-track setpiece. We have the notion set up that Tony Stark is enjoying the wave of adulation he is receiving as Iron Man, but while he deals with the fame and the controversy, he's blind to a threat from someone with a personal agenda getting steadily closer. And so we're building to a confrontation. But once that confrontation happens, the film dies on its ass a bit. We have some stuff with Rhodey and the army wanting their own Iron Man suit. We have some stuff with Ivan Vanko tinkering in a lab. We have Tony talking to Nick Fury, and watching old home movies with his dad. When Vanko and Stark finally have a phone call to set the A-plot back in motion, it's jarring to realise about an hour of screen-time has gone by without the two interacting or even having their plots overlap. And while there are individual scenes that are interesting here - the drunk Tony VS inexperienced Rhodey smackdown in their respective armors is maybe my favourite fight scene of the trilogy, Hammer's sales pitch to the army is fun, the scene between Stark and Pepper in her office with the strawberries is charming - they don't really come together as a larger whole into something that feels cohesive. It really does feel like a collection of vignettes.

The other shortcoming is tone. If THE INCREDIBLE HULK suffered from not capturing the sense of light-hearted fun that permeated IRON MAN, then IRON MAN 2 suffers from trying too hard to replicate it. It's not even a case of replicating it, I'd say, so much as it was pushing it a bit too far, to the point where it all becomes a bit glib. Because while the first film had plenty of witty banter and chuckles, there were some quite serious stakes and moments of darkness in there too. Here, even the potentially dramatic beats are punctured with comedy, and how other actors try to play off Tony Stark results in a film that feels a bit tone-deaf to how the MCU would go on to develop. Nick Fury, for example, is played too broad here by Samuel L Jackson, feeling more like Jackson's finely-honed shtick than the gravitas he'd add to the character in later films. Scarlett Johansson, by contrast, plays Black Widow too straight here in an attempt to be "straight man" against the mugging, and as a result feels like a bland, generic "bad ass strong woman" rather than the witty, cool character she'd develop into in future films. Overall, Favreau gives everything too much of a light "action comedy" touch here. Those left excited by IRON MAN and THE INCREDIBLE HULK at the prospect of this growing shared universe could have been left thinking that these films were too breezy and lightweight to sustain them.

So, thus far, this has been a pretty bad review, huh? So, why then would I say that I still liked the movie? I'd say that, as was the case with the first film, the immensely talented cast elevated it. But while the first film was the case of a solid foundation being made more than the sum of its parts by the cast, here we have a film that's structurally a mess, pretty much held together by the skin of its teeth thanks to the charm offensive of the cast. Again, Robert Downey Jr is a delight as Iron Man. He's given less to work with here, and essentially just repeats the "be more mature and less of a selfish dick" arc he had in the first film (an arc he repeats again in THE AVENGERS), but still he's electric whenever he's on screen. His chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow is maybe even more refined here, Tony and Pepper Potts launching into splendid overlapping, motor-mouthed dialogues every time they're on camera together, it's a delight to watch. He also acts well alongside Don Cheadle, Tony's friendship with Rhodey feeling more convincing this time, even as we see the two of them placed at odds. Really, I think when you put Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark in a film, it pretty much guarantees a baseline of quality that means it's going to at least be entertaining. Though that may mean that you could have made just as good a film as IRON MAN 2 by having 2 hours of Tony having a lazy day lounging around his house and arguing with Pepper. Maybe that would have been a better film, actually...

Mickey Rourke is sadly a bit of a letdown as villain Ivan Vanko. I remember it was seen as a bit of a coup when he joined the cast, coming hot off his Oscar nomination for THE WRESTLER. But even before the film's release there were stories about Rourke being unhappy over his pay, and afterwards he's talked about big chunks of his role being left on the cutting room floor, and I think that general discontent seems to reflect on-screen. While he gets a few decent lines, and while the idea of a villain who's nearly a match for Stark's ingenuity without any of his vast wealth and resources is a clever one, Rourke's performance feels a bit bored and half-hearted, never quite striking the right tone: too serious to gel with the comedic quirks of the rest of the ensemble, but not menacing enough to stand out as a stark contrast either. And, as mentioned, the script renders him a bit of a non-entity for much of the film's second hour, before he once again falls victim to the "actor is replaced with a special effect" syndrome that plagued the villains of the previous two Marvel Studios films.

Thank God, then, for Justin Hammer. Sam Rockwell was inspired casting for this role, not just because Sam Rockwell is brilliant and makes every film he appears in better, but because Rockwell was actually originally considered for the part of Tony Stark when the first IRON MAN was being made, with rumour being that he was the back-up choice if Downey Jr didn't work out. And while Rockwell is one of the few people on the planet who could have matched Downey Jr in the charisma stakes as Stark, it's interesting seeing him play the part of Stark's opposite number, arms dealer Justin Hammer. Rockwell plays the part wonderfully as someone who is trying desperately hard to be Tony Stark, without being anywhere near cool - or, indeed, smart - enough to pull it off, resulting in this tacky, over-egged funhouse mirror image of a Tony Stark who never left the weapons industry. It's in all the little touches that the performances come to life, like how he has blotchy smears from ill-applied fake tan all over the palms of his hands. This take on Hammer is a bit of a departure from the source material, but Rockwell fits him perfectly into the world of the film, and he really does fit the part of foil to Downey Jr's Stark to a T, his ad-libbing and screen presence matching our protagonist step for step. It's a shame he never returned for the third film, as I'd say Justin Hammer remains my favourite Iron Man movie villain.

Going into this viewing, I thought of IRON MAN 2 as my least favourite of the Marvel Studios films, and that impression remains intact after this rewatch. The fact that I still quite enjoyed it overall is reflective of the high bar of quality Marvel Studios has established, as there have been much worse superhero films than this. Still, historically speaking, this was a wobble that came at a very precarious time for Marvel. IRON MAN and THE INCREDIBLE HULK had sparked the idea of a shared universe, the idea of several films building to THE AVENGERS had been put on the table, and IRON MAN 2 was the first film to be released into that environment, watched with those expectations being held over it. And so for this to be only a modest success must have given Marvel a scare. Right at a time when they were gearing up to ramp up the expansion and launch a couple more franchises, IRON MAN 2 came with some warnings that the seams were showing and the shared universe was already starting to wear thin.

6/10

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Old 01-21-2015, 02:26 PM   #7
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Great reviews! And it's good to know I'm not the only fan of Hammer.

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Old 01-21-2015, 05:27 PM   #8
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Great reviews! And it's good to know I'm not the only fan of Hammer.
Thanks! And yeah, Hammer is great. I'm glad he resurfaced in that One Shot.

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Old 01-21-2015, 05:32 PM   #9
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I love this thread.

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Old 01-22-2015, 12:29 AM   #10
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I love this thread.
Seconded, and not just because I agree with pretty much everything said in the reviews so far lol. Keep up the good work Keyser.
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Thanks! And yeah, Hammer is great. I'm glad he resurfaced in that One Shot.
What's funny about that is I bought the Thor 2 blu ray and watched the one shot the day I bought it, but didn't sit all the way through the credits so I just recently learned of Hammer's cameo within the past month or so.

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Old 01-22-2015, 01:39 AM   #11
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Great reviews as always,KS.

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Old 01-22-2015, 01:43 AM   #12
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No time to read right now but 'scribed.

In fact I may watch the movies again paired up with reading the reviews. I haven't marathoned everything since Avengers.

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Old 01-22-2015, 05:38 AM   #13
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Thanks, guys! THOR is up next, which should be interesting as I haven't watched that in a few years.

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Old 01-28-2015, 10:39 AM   #14
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THOR

I had been expecting to write a 6/10 review of THOR. It's been a couple of years since I saw the film, and while I remembered it being basically good overall, I also remembered it as one of the weakest Marvel Studios efforts. But revisiting it with the benefit of some distance, while the flaws - which I'll get into - are still there, I found myself liking the product as a whole a good deal more, and was able to get more onboard with what the film was doing.

But first, the flaws. I feel it's appropriate to start discussion of THOR with the flaws, as much of what's wrong with the film is front-loaded. Our opening scene introduces us to our trio of scientists who'll act as our Everyman access characters, including Natalie Portman's Jane Foster, Stellan Skarsgard's Eric Selvig, and, unfortunately, Kat Dennings as Darcy, surely the biggest millstone wrapped around this franchise's neck, dragging it down. She fills the "wise-cracking" sidekick quota, and clearly the screenwriters are highly infatuated with the character given how much they give her to do... but God, she's insufferable. There's being "funny" or having a "kooky" personality, and then there's literally every line that comes out of your mouth being a one-liner to batter us all over the head with how "funny" and "kooky" you are, all the more grating when not a single one of those lines is remotely funny. Awful character that deflates every scene she's in, which is a lot of them.

Then we go into an extended sequence in Asgard, showing us the Marvel Universe version of the Asgardian mythos and its history, and introducing us to some of the key characters of the film. Now, as a comic fan - and someone who back in 2011 when this movie came out likely classed THOR as his favourite Marvel comic - this should have been geek heaven for me. But it just doesn't work. Asgard, while an impressively rendered CGI landscape, is rather staid and lifeless. People stand around in their sculpted armor, posed like action figures, and spout exposition or flat "this line of dialogue tells you my personality" clunkers. The Warriors Three are particularly guilty of the latter, and really come across as rather lame and goofy here, a rare example of Marvel Studios giving us the kinda corny fare that would make comic fans shift uncomfortably in their seats while watching the film with non-comic fans. It says it all that they recast the part of Fandral in the sequel and no one noticed.

This grating, broad pantomime chugs along as we go into the big fight sequence on Jotunheim, a battle which should feel impressive, but is so CG-heavy (and obviously CG-heavy, as opposed to the more subtle green-screen work done in other Marvel films with real-world settings) that it at points feels a bit bloodless. But more pressing an issue is how utterly unsympathetic Thor is here. Now, I appreciate this is deliberate on the part of the film, as Thor's arc is about becoming worthy, but still, he really is an utter moron, and an *******. I just picturing Loki channeling Tyrion Lannister and screaming, "We've had vicious kings, we've had idiot kings, but not until now have we been cursed with a vicious idiot king!" At this stage of the film, you'd be forgiven for thinking Loki was absolutely justified in screwing his brother out of becoming king, and actually deserved to be given the throne himself as a reward for averting THAT disaster.

But if THE INCREDIBLE HULK was an example of a film that started really strong and ran out of steam a bit as it progressed, THOR is an example of a film with a bit of a ropey start that steadily rights the ship and gains momentum over its runtime. And the film starts picking up once Thor is stripped of his power and banished to Earth, landing in New Mexico and meeting up with our trio of scientists. It's funny, I've seen some critical reviews of this film talk about how the problem is that not enough time is spent on Asgard. But I definitely wouldn't want more time on Asgard, as it's the sequences in New Mexico where the film really comes to life.

Chris Hemsworth - a relative newcomer when cast - really does shine in the role of Thor. While incredibly unlikeable at first, over the course of the film he does grow on you. The fish-out-of-water elements with him being on Earth are fun, Hemsworth showing comic chops beyond just being the blank-faced hunk some feared he may be when he first got the role. But it's in his humbling, and his rebuilding of himself as a more compassionate, selfless leader that we become emotionally invested in his character. It really does feel like a journey where we see him become "worthy," not just of carrying his enchanted hammer Mjolnir, but worthy of the hero moniker and worthy of our affection.

Meanwhile, things manage to pick up over in Asgard too in the wake of Thor's departure, thanks largely to the work of Tom Hiddleston's Loki. After a recurring problem of villains underserved by their plots, who devolve into special effects by the third act, Loki emerges as a real standout presence here. Hiddleston plays him with a great degree of ambiguity, where a lot of the time we don't know when he's genuinely grieving or remorseful, and when he's just performing for show. I also love how his Evil Plan is basically to earn his family's love, to be beloved as a hero, and to ensure a lasting peace for Asgard by destroying the bad guys... seemingly admirable enough intentions, but Loki strives for them with the only tools he has at his disposal: mischief and deceit. Hiddleston also plays well off the actors playing his parents: Rene Russo as his mother, Frigga, and especially Anthony Hopkins lending gravitas to the role of Odin. I think the confrontation between Loki and Odin over the horrible secret of Loki's birth remains arguably my favourite scene in the film. So, Loki is a great, compelling antagonist, and when he's matched against a protagonist we've grown to care about in Thor, it's a climactic showdown that's as much about two actors emoting and playing off each other as it is about the action of the fight, which is why it works better than Iron Man VS Iron Monger or Whiplash. Though one gripe I do have is that they took out the deleted scene (found on the DVD special features) from the start of the film, where we see Thor and Loki interacting happily as brothers and friends. I think that needed to be in there to really hammer home how far they've been torn apart by the end. Still, Loki was by far the most compelling MCU villain of Phase 1, elevating this movie, and it's clear why he was brought back for THE AVENGERS and why he has become so popular since.

By the film's end, we've been left with a solid introduction to the world of Thor, and an accessible entry-point into a sprawling, potentially unwieldy mythos, not to mention the peppering of AVENGERS set-up. It has its flaws and setbacks, which stood out to me more on my original viewing. But I think time has been somewhat kind to the movie, with the positive qualities more prominent for me this time round. In particular, Thor and Loki themselves stand out as worthwhile characters, and ones I would enjoy revisiting in future films.

7/10

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Old 01-28-2015, 11:35 AM   #15
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Another great review! Although personally, I don't mind Darcy when they don't sideline the main plot just for her. She's certainly a more interesting character than Jane has become, in my opinion.

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Old 01-28-2015, 12:02 PM   #16
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I don't agree with you about Darcy, but another good review nevertheless. keep up the good work

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Old 01-28-2015, 04:26 PM   #17
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Oh no, I can't stand Darcy. I find her unbearable, like "I want to put a boot through my television every time she's on the screen" unbearable.

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Old 01-29-2015, 10:40 AM   #18
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I agree in Thor 2
most of Thor 1 I didn't mind her though, and when I had had enough is when Portman finally told her to shut up, so it worked perfectly
but yeah, by the second movie, I was hoping something would've dropped out of one of the portals and crushed her AND her intern

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Old 01-29-2015, 11:12 AM   #19
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I like Darcy. Its just that she had a bad subplot in Thor 2.

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Old 01-29-2015, 12:49 PM   #20
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Yeah, I don't mind Darcy either. I mean of course her plot in Thor 2 sucked, but then...all the plots in Thor 2 sucked. And they try a little too hard with her humor sometimes, but a lot of the time I find it to be at least a little amusing. I get an embarrassing amount of enjoyment from the way she pronounces Mjolnir.

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Old 02-09-2015, 11:41 AM   #21
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I wonder when Keyser will put his TFA review up. I'm really looking forward to this

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Old 02-09-2015, 11:44 AM   #22
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Agreed, TFA might be my favorite pre-Avengers movie and I'd love to hear his thoughts.

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Old 02-09-2015, 12:35 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by R_Hythlodeus View Post
I wonder when Keyser will put his TFA review up. I'm really looking forward to this
IDK...the Love for Darcy might've p***ed him off. I personally didn't have a problem with the character in the first film but in TDW it was clear they didn't know what to do with the Earth characters. Hopefully Ragnarok will be 90% Asgard 10% Earth.

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Old 02-15-2015, 08:38 PM   #24
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Sorry guys, been busy lately, but I'm hoping to get Captain America: The First Avenger watched this coming week!

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Old 02-18-2015, 08:37 PM   #25
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CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

It's strange to revisit CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER for the first time since seeing its sequel, THE WINTER SOLDIER. For while THE WINTER SOLDIER is one of my favourite Marvel movies and has by extension made me much more enthused for the CAPTAIN AMERICA franchise as a whole - to the point where third chapter CIVIL WAR is among my most anticipated upcoming Marvel Studios films - at the time of its release I had very little excitement for THE FIRST AVENGER. 2011 had four major superhero movies on its summer slate, and Captain America's offering was probably my least anticipated. In fact, the lead-up to CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER probably marks the point where my interest in the MCU was at its lowest ebb. INCREDIBLE HULK, IRON MAN 2 and THOR had all been movies that I'd liked fairly enough, but hadn't really stuck in the mind as particularly memorable, leaving me wondering if that original IRON MAN was maybe just a fluke and these films weren't going to quite live up to their potential. I did not follow the marketing for THE FIRST AVENGER all that closely, and I actually didn't get round to seeing it until around a week before it left cinemas. But when I finally did see it, I found it to be a real pleasant surprise.

Having watched the film multiple times now, I think it still holds up nicely. I think one of its biggest strengths for me is that, with the Iron Man films and even THOR to a degree establishing this glib, snarkily comedic tone as the pervasive aesthetic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, THE FIRST AVENGER dared to be earnest and heartfelt and, save for the odd one-liner or sight gag, took itself more seriously. It has moments of real poignance, particularly in the surprisingly downbeat coda, where the film reveals itself to actually have been a love story all along, a love story blighted by time and circumstance.

Of course, much of the film's heart comes from Chris Evans as Captain America himself. In THE AVENGERS, Tony Stark tells Steve Rogers that everything special about him came from a bottle, a line that wouldn't sting anywhere near as much if this preceding film hadn't done so much to show how wrong that remark was. Evans does a great job in emotionally investing us in Steve as a human being and as a hero we can care about and believe in, even before he gets the powers. One of my favourite Steve Rogers moments is when he jumps on what he thinks is a live grenade to save his teammates, without hesitation. But for me, the highlights of these opening sequences are the scenes Evans shares with the great Stanley Tucci. Always an incredible actor, Tucci brings so much to what is ultimately the very small role of German scientist Dr. Erskine, but it's such a significant role. When Erskine and Rogers are sharing a quiet moment on the eve of the procedure that will turn Rogers into a Super-Soldier, Erskine has this to say:

"Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man."

And that, for me, is the thread that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Steven McFeely carry through both CAPTAIN AMERICA films, for me that tells us who Captain America is. It's not about him being a "man out of time," someone with 1940s values in the modern day. Even in the 1940s, Rogers' earnest goodness and desire to always do what was right and to help the little guy made him stand apart, and no matter how the world around him changes, he never does. So much of the narrative meat of THE WINTER SOLDIER revolves around the notion that at the end of the day, Captain America isn't a perfect soldier, but a good man.

In terms of the cast around him, the film is more hit-and-miss. It's funny how, for a sequel that had one of the richest ensembles of any Marvel film, and with an upcoming trilogy-capper that some fear is going to be too densely-stuffed with major characters, you get a sense that THE FIRST AVENGER is the film where Marvel most struggled to fill out its supporting cast with recognisable figures from the comics. The Howling Commandos are in there, but largely feel a bit of a misfire, played too broadly and archetypal and feeling redundant with the necessary absence of Nick Fury. Similarly, I wasn't overly fond of Dominic Cooper's Howard Stark, as he essentially just plays him as a 1940s pastiche of Tony Stark. Tommy Lee Jones just plays Tommy Lee Jones, though that at least means he's fun to watch. Sebastian Stan is fine as Bucky Barnes, though I feel his presence in the movie is too sporadic to really sell us on the importance of his friendship with Steve. But Hayley Atwell is a delight as Agent Peggy Carter, a strong, resourceful heroine in her own right who gets her fair share of badass moments. If anything, she's at her weakest when the script requires her to be a romantic foil, even when I recognise why they had to work that in.

On the villain front, I actually rather enjoy both Hugo Weaving's Red Skull and Toby Jones' Arnim Zola: the original Science Bros! Hugo Weaving has gone on to talk about how he disliked playing the Red Skull and has zero interest in returning to the role, which is a shame, as he seems to be having fun with the part here, and brings his natural gravitas to a largely one-note villain role to make him suitably engaging. But it may actually be Zola that's the more interesting antagonist for me. I don't know if it was in the script or if it comes from Toby Jones' performance, but there's more shade and nuance to his character, little tinges of regret or hesitation. For example, when Red Skull talks about his intentions to kill Erskine, Zola says "Good," but his facial expressions and delivery suggest he might be saddened to see another great scientific mind be removed from the world. Plus, while Red Skull is presented as the more literal mirror image of Captain America for this film, I think you could argue that Zola perhaps works most effectively as a mirror image foil for Steve Rogers over the series as a whole, given how both start as weak men who use their inherent gifts to overcome that, before going on wildly divergent paths. But I get a lot of enjoyment out of watching the interplay between these two, how Red Skull seems to shift between contempt and a kind of grudging fondness for Zola, while Zola is alternatively exasperated and terrified by Red Skull.

So, as can be seen above, there's a lot of character moments and emotional beats that elevate the movie for me, which is good, because when you get down to the actual action and plot of the film's second half, particularly going into the 3rd act, THE FIRST AVENGER descends into bog-standard action movie by numbers. It all chugs along competently enough, but Joe Johnston doesn't really bring any spark to the direction beyond the nostalgic sepia tones, and the set-pieces can come across as a bit listless and perfunctory. I couldn't make much sense out of what was so great about the SSI's plan to raid the HYDRA base in the Alps that they needed Captain America to suggest it to them in a flash of inspiration, and the Captain America/Red Skull climactic confrontation underwhelms and has a bit of a head-scratching resolution. Plus, there is some pretty dreadful green-screen work here that gets more glaringly bad the more I watch the film. Somehow, they managed to make London - a real place, albeit from a past time period - feel like a less convincing location than Jotunheim in THOR.

This is one of the areas where THE WINTER SOLDIER would improve on THE FIRST AVENGER. The screenwriters carried over to the second film, and so had the same good eye for Captain America's character and how his interactions with those around him and add heart and drama to proceedings. But the inclusion of The Russo Brothers as directors injected a sense of urgency and style that's lacking here. Still, it's a shame if the place that CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER will hold in cinematic history is in setting the stage for a far superior sequel because, on its own merits, this is still a really good film.

7/10

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