Logan

This is vastly out of order with my other entries – I haven’t even started on X-Men movies yet. But, much like the comics themselves, I will have to rely on some retconning to make things work (‘retcon’, or retroactive continuity, is comics-speak for a piece of new information that imposes a different interpretation on previously described events, typically used to facilitate a dramatic plot shift or account for an inconsistency). And I want to do this while the movie is still fresh in my head; this entry will rely less on introduction of characters from their history in the comics, and more on my impressions of the movie itself. So, fair warning, there will be spoilers.

So, Logan. I should state at the outset that I normally loathe the character of Wolverine; if I could launch one character each from Marvel and DC into the sun and destroy them entirely, Wolverine would be my Marvel pick, with Batman being my DC choice.So I went into this idea skeptical; it wasn’t until they showed the first trailer that I began to feel kind of excited for the film they would be bringing us:

The Johnny Cash cover of ‘Hurt’ really helped sell it to me, as it was a sad, retrospective song done by an artist who was, at the time, dying himself. I felt it set the tone really well. So I began to feel hop for this movie. And so, when I saw it on this past Sunday (two days ago, which would be 3/12/17), I was not disappointed.

Let’s be honest, this was always going to be a dark movie. The trailer above sold it, so if you go in expecting shiny, happy people, you are going to be disappointed. But for all its darkness, there is a lot going on in the movie. First, there’s the father/son relationship Logan has with Professor X; despite not being related, it seems like that relationship has really grown over the (implied) years they’ve been together, though each is currently somewhat disappointed in the other. Xavier wishes Logan had gone on to be something more, something better, while Logan wishes he had never been in a position to have to take care of this man; seems a little on the nose for a father/son relationship, really. No son wants to have to care for his father as he slowly degenerates (likely Alzheimer’s or dementia, which is heartbreaking to watch on-screen), and no father wants to see his son essentially give up and retreat from the world.  This is one of the first areas that will probably hit viewers emotionally, because despite both people having super-powers, their relationship is very human, and very relatable. The on-screen dynamic between Hugh Jackman (who plays Logan) and Patrick Stewart (who plays Professor X/Charles Xavier) really sells their interactions. It is heavily implied that Professor X, in the early stages of his dementia, killed many of the other X-Men; the ‘Westchester incident’ (where the X-School was) is mentioned in relation to a scene in the movie, and Xavier later confesses that he remembers the terrible thing he did. So Xavier likely killed many of his former students, who were like family to both he and Logan, and Logan took him away to hide him, both for his sake and the world’s. The horror of the incident in the movie, where Xavier’s fit paralyzes hundreds of nearby people, retroactively tells us how bad such scenes must have been in previous X-Men movies, when Xavier had greater control of his abilities. When Xavier is stabbed and slowly dying from a clone of Logan (don’t ask), Logan himself is begging him not to die, trying to explain that it wasn’t him; it’s unclear if Xavier hears this, or understands what happened, before he dies.

Then we move on to the situation of, as I’ve seen it described, the ‘bitchy roommate’. Logan is currently living in an abandoned industrial site with his father-figure, Professor X, and another mutant – one by the name of Caliban.  Their interactions are very strange, but they drop some hints about their relationship that will make sense of comics readers, and the understanding of which make the lives of the characters even more bleak. Caliban was fist introduced in X-Men comics in August of 1981, as an albino mutant with really big eyes whose powers was the ability to sense and track other mutants.

CalibanMorlock

As a social reject, he falls into a group of homeless, disenfranchised mutants called the Morlocks, whom the X-Men eventually confront because of their shady activities. For much of Caliban’s run in the comics, he is, if not an outright opponent, then an antagonist of the X-Men; others use him and his ability to hunt the X-Men down. And the movie version of Caliban – creepy albino all the way – implies that he used to be a foe of the X-Men, too, until Logan found him years later and asked him for help with caring for Professor X. So Logan sought out an old enemy to help him care for his father-figure, and the enemy agreed, likely because there were so few mutants left in the world that there was no sense in fighting anymore. The two are ill at ease with each other, and Caliban clearly senses Logan’s own physical degeneration, and is even concerned for him, though Logan ignores it. Caliban may be a questionable roommate, but he is also a former enemy who joined up with Logan because the world got so bad for mutants that he felt safer with another of his own than fighting him.

Speaking of blasts from the X-Men past, we come the the footsoldiers of the primary antagonists in the movie, the Reavers. The Reavers were first introduced as a group of Australian cyborgs who originally acted as a gang of thieves, only becoming foes of the X-Men after an encounter between them left only a few of the original gang alive. They reformed under Donald Pierce (their leader in the movie, as well) as a group dedicated to hunting down the X-Men and eliminating mutants in general – though in Logan, this is basically all accomplished anyway.

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In the comics, they seem to have a particular hatred for Wolverine, and this bears out in the movie; while Pierce’s initial interaction with Logan is civil (well, by Logan’s terms), it degenerates quickly. We see these augmented humans hunting down mutants, and it’s somewhat chilling to watch.

Enter Laura, or X-23. She’s a relative newcomer in the comics world, having been created as a character in 2004, and in the comics, she is much like she is in the movie – the cloned daughter of Logan. However, in the comics, she shows up as a teen, one who has been on her own for a while, whereas in the movie she is shown as an 11-year-old, raised in a lab, with little contact with the outside world; for much of the movie she presents as mute. And Logan is very much a reluctant father; even when he realizes that Laura is his daughter – if unwillingly on his part – he seems intent on abandoning her at first, because he wants no more of the X-Men life, and he seems to fear connection to others (as he later notes, because people who he cares about die, badly). His contact with Professor X is his last tie to the world, and he does not want another, especially not a child to raise. Dafne Keen, the actress who plays Laura, does so superbly – the looks she gives Logan show so much emotion, and the animalistic screams she gives off when forced into combat, and the fact that she can fight as well as she can, give viewers an idea of how hard her life has been so far. She plays a mute child so well that when she finally speaks near the end of the movie – in some of the most touching scenes the film has – it’s a shock. Here, again, is an emotional beat that many viewers will feel deeply – parents in the audience will likely cringe watching their relationship start, and how awkward it is. And the way things end will almost certainly bring out the tears – Logan sacrifices himself for Laura and her fellow cloned mutants, and as he dies, she cries beside him, holding his hand, as he gasps out his last words – “This is what it feels like.” It’s unclear as to whether this means finally accepting that he has a family in Laura, or just his acceptance of the death he has cheated for so many years; it could be both, or neither. But it’s heartbreaking to watch.

Logan is very much along the lines of the classic Western, in many ways – a more modern example would be Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, but the one the movie basically smacks us in the face with is Shane. Logan is a former gunfighter, retired from the world of violence, trying to eke out a life for himself where nobody knows who he really is; only reluctantly is he drawn back into a world of violence he had tried to leave behind. He allows himself to be drawn back into society, as painful as it is, and as much as he tries to fight it, because he still believes that there is no place in the civilized world for someone like him. But he’s deadly, and his enemies, as much as they outnumber him, don’t understand how deadly he really is, even older and broken-down, and so he tears through them like tissue paper before finally, at the end, dying/riding off into the sunset. There is no happy ending for Logan; he dies near the border of his homeland, Canada, never getting to finally return home, never getting to be a father to his daughter. He dies like he lived, hard. Laura even recites Shane’s last words over the wilderness grave of Logan, before pulling the cross that marks the site out of the ground and resting it on its side so that it forms an X, instead.

Like I said, I normally hate Wolverine. But watching this movie made me really appreciate the character. Hugh Jackman showed Logan as an old, tired man; given his origins (both form the comics and the Wolverine: Origins movie), he is nearing 150 years old, though he looks a hard-lived 50 or so. He has lost most of his friends and family, and is apparently dying a slow, painful death, poisoned by the metal that makes his bones unbreakable. While still capable of the brutal hyperviolence of other X-Men movies, he’s visibly slower; even in the first scene, he has difficulty taking on a gang of regular car thieves, let alone the Reavers. Only near the end do we see him at his former heights, and even that takes a toll on him. He cares, as best he can, for his dying father-figure; he lives with a former enemy; and he reluctantly takes on the quest of his new daughter, which sends him to his end. The performances put in by Jackman, Stewart, and newcomer Dafne Keen are some of the best I’ve seen in any superhero movie, and while they will almost certainly be ignored by awards ceremonies, it’ll be a shame when it happens. Logan is a dark, depressing, and violent movie, but it is also filled with emotion, with very human moments, and with subtle references to the comics it derives from. I may still hate comics-Wolverine, but I certainly appreciate Hugh Jackman’s version of him, and I’m ad that this movie marks the end of the X-Men journey for both he and Patrick Stewart.

 

Batman (1989)

It’s been a while for me to write one of these, and I’m certainly not making it easy on myself with my topic – Batman, the 1989 movie starring Michael Keaton as Batman, Jack Nicholson as the Joker, and directed by Tim Burton. But what the hell, let’s give it a shot!

Much like any number of Batman movies over the years, I’m going to start off with some information about Batman’s background. I won’t be retelling his origin story, though, at least not in the sense that many movies have done – but rather, his origin as a comic book character.

Batman debuted in 1939, in Detective Comics #27. He was created in response to the success of another character, Superman, in the Action Comics series, both of whom were created by National Comics – the company that would eventually be known as DC. His creators were Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and, according to Bill Finger, Bob Kane’s original design for Batman looked very different than what we got: “Kane had an idea for a character called ‘Batman,’ and he’d like me to see the drawings. I went over to Kane’s, and he had drawn a character who looked very much like Superman with kind of … reddish tights, I believe, with boots … no gloves, no gauntlets … with a small domino mask, swinging on a rope. He had two stiff wings that were sticking out, looking like bat wings. And under it was a big sign … BATMAN” (from The Steranko History of Comics 1). Instead, what we got was this:

detective_comics_27

Batman, as all good comic readers should know, was traumatized by witnessing the death of his parents in front of him; blaming himself for not doing more, he became obsessed with doing something about crime, using his vast wealth and resources to… train in all kinds of martial arts, detective work, creation of various gadgets and tools, and basically become as awesome and terrifying a crime-fighter as he could without being superhuman (rather than, say, use his ridiculous wealth to, say, clean up the city.. comics, everyone!). His background uses themes that are seen in previous works, that of an aristocratic hero-type with a secret identity, not unlike the Scarlet Pimpernel, created by Baroness Orczy in 1903, or Zorro, created by Johnston McCulley in 1919.There’s even a nod to this in the traditional Batman origin story – the movie he is leaving with his parents, right before their deaths, is The Mask of Zorro, made in 1920.

Batman is generally a pretty dark character. He dresses in dark colors, is obsessed with fighting crime, and goes out at night to beat up criminals. He doesn’t sound like the most stable guy in the world, and his villains often reflect that –  they are often relatively mentally unstable themselves, and just as often are, like Batma, lacking in superhuman powers, but often have their own gimmicks. One of Batman’s biggest rules in the comics, though, is that he does not kill – a rule that wasn’t originallyt part of his character, as in his first solo comic, Batman #1, he kills a mental patient, hanging him from the Batplane:

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Batman actually used a gun in his early days, too. But as time went on, and the Comics Code Authority came into being in the 1950s, Batman changed, adopting a relatively strict ‘no killing’ policy that he’s followed pretty rigorously since then.

The Joker (introduced in Batman #1, April 1940), is one of Batman’s most iconic villains, and so an obvious choice for the antagonist in his first major movie. The Joker, as most people know, is generally portrayed as flat-out crazy, though since his origin story seems to be constantly shifting (something that comes up in a later Batman movie), it’s hard to know why. What is clear, though, is that Joker had a large part of his look inspired by the performance of Conrad Veidt in the 1928 movie The Man Who Laughs:

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Eerie, isn’t it? Traditionally, the Joker is Batman’s opposite – willing to kill frivolously, driven by chaos rather than by regimented training and rules, dressing in bright colors, taking clear joy in what he does (despite it being evil, immoral, criminal, or all three), and so they clash quite often. But it’s not his only movie appearance, so let’s move on.

Alfred is another longstanding member of the Bat-franchise. While most of us these days think of him as a rather traditional-seeming butler, albeit with a rather fatherly relationship to Bruce Wayne, in his initial appearance (Batman #16, April 1943), he was quite different:

alfred_1943

It seems he was originally seen as something of a comedic foil for Batman, rather than a sorely-lacking father figure, which is the role he plays in most modern Batman media, being portrayed as such in this movie by Michael Gough.

Commissioner Gordon, Batman’s longstanding ally on the Gotham police force, is portrayed in Tim Burton’s movie by Pat Hingle. He made his first comic appearance alongside Batman (in Detective Comics #27), proving he really has been with the Caped Crusader from the beginning – in fact, in the early years Batman was actually deputized by Gordon to act as an agent of the law. He’s typically portrayed in the comics a bit younger than he is in this movie, though.

Vicki Vale is the last major movie character, and while a lot of Batman readers aren’t all that familiar with her, there’s a reason – she used to be a relatively recurring character, appearing first in Batman #49  in 1948. She was often making appearances until 1963, when a new editor, Julius Schwarz, dropped her – along with several other characters – from Batman comics. She doesn’t really reappear until 1982, in Batman #344, and becomes Batman’s love interest – well, until the world-shattering DC comics event Crisis on Infinite Earths, anyway (1985, and don’t ask). She is portrayed in the 1989 movie by Kim Basinger, and coincidentally, she reappeared in the comics at around the same time…

So, on to the movie. It’s a little dated, being 27 years old (which makes me feel old, since I can remember seeing it for the first time when I was 10), but it is full of the kinds of things we think of when we think of both Batman and Tim Burton movies:

Gotham, in Tim Burton’s movies, is really, well, Gothic. Dark, full of tall buildings lined with statuary like gargoyles, with a seedy underbelly filled with crime. Plenty of shadows for a character like Batman to hide in, and the Joker stands out in sharp contrast to the dark world around him. The sun never really seems to shine on Gotham, creating a perfect environment for the crime that plagues the city, as well as the character who fights that same crime. Even in this trailer, we can see departures from the comic version – the movie Batman has guns on both his Batplane and Batmobile, and doesn’t seem to shy away from firing at the Joker’s flunkies. One of the most long-lasting parts of the movie, though, does show in this trailer – the score by Danny Elfman, which becomes used as a reference for numerous other Batman related works for years.

Watching the movie itself, though, Gotham really seems like a city trapped in another time. The opening scene, with a tourist family getting lost, makes it look like a city from the 50s or 60s, with clothes that would have been outdated even back in 1989. Gotham seems old, decaying, and, as usual, dark. Batman’s first appearance is to two small-time muggers, who look homeless and strung out, and predictably, he beats them senseless while terrifying them. This is clearly a Batman early in his career – he has to tell the muggers who he is.Then we see a character who will become familiar to comic readers later, Harvey Dent, Gotham’s new District Attorney, played by Billy Dee Williams – he’ll pop up in another movie soon.

Jack Nicholson’s introduction isn’t as the Joker, but rather as the mobster lieutenant Jack Napier. He’s kinda smug and arrogant – I’ve always felt that Jack Nicholson isn’t really playing a role in this movie so much as letting Jack Nicholson really out to play (his character is even named Jack!), and he doesn’t disappoint; his Joker performance is way over the top. Jack Palance, who plays Napier’s boss, goes with his traditional rasp in his performance as a mob boss, and the way he talks reminds me of William Shatner, with dramatic pauses every couple of words.

I’d forgotten that Vicky Vale is a photographer; I remembered she was in news, but I thought she was a reporter. It’s not a huge detail, but it is something. And man, Wayne Manor should really be called Wayne Castle – it looks like it would be at home, at least on the outside, in medieval Europe, and the inside is absolutely enormous. Even the ‘arsenal’ Vicky Vale wanders into wouldn’t be out of place in a medieval castle/museum. Michael Keaton really hams up his scenes as Bruce Wayne, at least when he is appearing in public.

I could go on, in sort of a stream-of-consciousness review, but I think I’ll leave it with this – Tim Burton’s Batman is an odd creation, interspersing ridiculous, hammy moments with dark ones, in a city that seems more like the setting of the Untouchables than 1980s Gotham. Only Batman seems to be modern in his equipment and methods,a nd he does not shy away from violence, or even killing, breaking with the comics in a major way. It’s like Tim Burton decided to do a standard Tim Burton take on Batman, while also trying to cram in some cheesy moments from the Adam West 1960s Batman TV show. It’s a decent movie, especially as one of the first superhero movies of the modern age, but I think it lacks in comparison to the more recent Christopher Nolan movies. It’s still better than the second Burton Batman, though, and the two other movies that follow.

Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things: The Rise of Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, and Tyrion Lannister

WARNING: This entry has nothing to do with comic-based media, and will also contain huge spoilers for anyone who has not seen all of Game of Thrones. Read (and watch the embedded videos) at your own risk. Also, I reference specific episodes, and they’ll be noted like this: 3:05, where 3 is the season and 05 is the episode within the season. All clear? Good.

Alright, let’s face it – the Game of Thrones TV show has five main characters (for which I’m going purely by the amount being paid to the actors for purposes of this article; the five highest-paid – Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – are qualified as ‘main’), and of those five, one (Cersei) is certainly not a hero, and another, her brother Jaime, is closer to an anti-hero. So that leaves us with three characters – Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, and Tyrion Lannister. As of the end of the 6th season of the show, they’ve risen to heights their first-season versions probably would not have dreamed – Daenerys has raised a massive army, conquered Slavers’ Bay, and is now sailing for Westeros to reclaim her birthright; Tyrion has teamed up with Daenerys and is serving as her Hand; and Jon Snow, after taking part in a huge battle, has been declared King in the North, like his late half-brother Robb. Things are going pretty well for these three, which means they’ll probably all have a terrible time in the 7th season. But if you look at the show closely (and I’m only looking at the show here, both because it’s farther along and because I don’t have a month to re-read the five current ASoIaF books), there are a lot of similarities between the three characters here.

First, all three characters killed their mothers at birth. Tyrion is the easiest here, because this gets brought up again and again over the course of the series, either by him or by his other family members – not only is he a dwarf, but his birth was so terrible it killed his mother. Second comes Daenerys, whose birth ties into one of the many epithets she’s acquired over the course of the series. Tyrion makes reference to her mother’s death because of the birth in episode 5:08, as well as the fact that she was born during the greatest storm in living memory, thus her epithet ‘Stormborn’. And Jon Snow, we come to find, is not only the cause of his mother’s death, but also changes the entire story he’d been told of his birth – his mother, Lyanna Stark, died giving birth to him, a baby by the late Rhaegar Targaryen, and his mother swore her brother – Eddard – to secrecy on the baby’s lineage while also asking him to raise her son. Sadly, Jon knows none of this yet.

Second, all three of the characters are hated and/or abused by members of their immediate family. Tyrion goes first once more, both because he has more of it shown and because there are more people doing it. I can’t even really list the episodes, because the number of times he is insulted, assaulted, and otherwise abused – physically, mentally, or emotionally – by his father Tywin, his sister Cersei, and even his nephew Joffrey are so numerous this would turn into a multi-page reference. He does manage to repay Tywin, lethally, for his mistreatment at the end of season 4, though. Only Tyrion’s brother Jaime seems to harbor any kind of familial love for Tyrion. As for Daenerys, her only family is her brother, Viserys, and from episode 1:01, we see he’s not exactly an ideal brother – he’s basically selling his sister to a Dothraki warlord in exchange for an army, and he mistreats her over several episodes, even threatening to kill her in 1:06, just before he is given his fateful crown. Jon’s mistreatment is less physical, and we see little of it on-screen, but it is mentioned; Catelyn, Eddard’s wife, who should have served as Jon’s mother-figure, always assumed Jon was Eddard’s bastard, and hated him for it, even going so far as to wish him dead, according to episode 3:02, while his half-sister, Sansa, confesses to treating him badly in episode 6:04; it seems clear that Jon wasn’t treated as poorly as either Tyrion or Daenerys, but he was still never made to feel a part of his family.

All three of them were, to one extent or another, responsible for killing someone they loved. Probably the best example of this is with Daenerys and Khal Drogo; while Drogo was not a great husband at first, Daenerys did grow to love him over their time together, enough so that when he was injured she was willing to sacrifice their unborn child to heal Drogo – unfortunately, the witch she made the deal with hated bother Daenerys and Drogo, and while she healed him physically, he seemed, essentially, brain-dead, and to put him out of his misery Daenerys ends up suffocating him, weeping the whole time, in the final episode of season 1. Next comes Jon Snow and his lover Ygritte; when the Wildlings make a surprise attack on Castle Black near the end of season 4, eventually Jon is in command, and during the fight he eventually comes face-to-face with Ygritte, who had previously shot him full of arrows when he left her. She hesitates to shoot him again, and that hesitation costs her life, as she is then shot by Olly, the boy whose village they’d sacked earlier, who looks up to Jon; she dies in Jon’s arms in episode 4:09. This may be reaching a bit, as Jon didn’t actually kill her, but she was killed by someone directly under his command, who looked up to him, so I feel safe in calling it his responsibility. Finally, we come to Tyrion. Over a couple seasons, we’d seen his relationship with the former whore Shae grow, and they confess their love to each other regularly; but as things get worse for Tyrion, he fears for her safety, eventually going so far as to tell her he no longer cares about her in order to get her to board a ship out of King’s Landing, so she can be safe. This backfires, because Shae believes him, and thus when Tyrion is put on trial for the death of Joffrey, she is found and, still angry, bears false witness against him, all but sealing his fate. Thus, when he finds her in his father’s bed – after having been freed from jail by his brother Jaime – he flies into a rage and kills her in episode 4:10, just before going to do the same to his father.

All of them were also betrayed by those closest to them. As I noted above, Tyrion was betrayed by the woman he loved, Shae, whose betrayal essentially seals his fate (and doesn’t work out so well for her, either). Daenerys is also betrayed – I could choose her brother, but despite being family, they never seem that close, so instead I’ll go with the man she considers her closest friend and advisor, Ser Jorah Mormont. In the first season, it becomes clear that Jorah was informing on Daenerys to King Robert’s spymaster, Varys, sending letters about her status – though when he is given a pardon, he throws it away, instead choosing to save Daenerys’ life from an assassination attempt in 1:07. Things progress for several seasons without this becoming an issue again, until one day the pardon returns, and makes its way into the hands of another advisor of Daenerys, Ser Barristan Selmy, and then Daenerys herself. Enraged at this betrayal by a man she considered her closest friend, she exiles Jorah in 4:08 – which eventually leads to Tyrion and Daenerys meeting, but that’s another story. Finally, Jon Snow, who eventually becomes Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, is taking the long view; having seen the forces of the Night King, he figures having the Wildlings from across the Wall safe to the south, as opposed to being dead and new members of the Night King’s zombie army, is better in the long run. Some of his Night’s Watch brethren don’t agree, though – they’ve been fighting the Wildlings for thousands of years, and many of them haven’t seen the threat the Night King represents, they just know the Wildlings are an enemy being granted not just mercy, but passage through a wall they’d only just recently been beaten back from. So they take it upon themselves to relieve Jon of command, murderously – several of his ‘brothers’. Along with the boy Olly who had killed Ygritte, kill Jon and leave him to bleed out in the courtyard of Castle Black in episode 5:10. Don’t worry, he gets better.

Following closely on the heels of that, all of these three characters are reborn, either literally or symbolically. Jon is up first, because as of the end of the last section, he was dead – but he is brought back to life by the works of the Red Priestess, Melisandre, in 6:03, not unlike what happens with Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion in 3:05. It’s unclear what effect this resurrection will have on Jon as time goes on, but he comes back, gets justice for his murder, and goes on to do pretty well for himself. Daenerys’ rebirth is more symbolic than that of Jon, and you could probably argue that it happens with her not once, but twice – once when she walks into the funeral pyre for Khal Drogo in episode 1:10, where she walks into the fire and is found the next morning not just still alive, but with three newly-hatched dragons, and again in 6:04 when she lights the temple of Vaes Dothrak on fire while inside it with the gathering of Dothraki khals – emerging from the flames naked but unharmed, the only survivor, and after which the Dothraki all kneel before her. Tyrion’s rebirth is somewhat more ignominious, and definitely symbolic – after fleeing Westeros, he is packed in a crate, where he remains until he and Varys, who fled with him, make landfall in Essos, and only then is he allowed out, in episode 5:01. Eventually he is freed from the box which holds him and rolls out, dirty and tired but alive. It is his first step on his journey to becoming the Hand of the Queen.

Each of the three has some pretty exceptional skills. Jon’s skill is likely the one that is most explicitly called out; in 6:09, when Jon Snow meets Ramsay Bolton and asks that they fight each other, instead of dooming all their men to die, Ramsay refuses, citing tales of Jon’s swordsmanship; it’s seen in other places, as well, like when Jon ends up essentially teaching combat at Castle Black because of his skill level, or going toe-to-toe with a White Walker in 5:08. Tyrion’s skill isn’t seen in any one place, but over the whole of the series; he’s very intelligent, has a good head for politics and numbers, and, when given the chance, serves admirably as both an advisor and temporary Hand of the King for Joffrey. He doesn’t seem to want to be in charge himself, but knows that he can be a valuable asset for someone who is, which is why he is so nonchalant in his first meeting with Daenerys in 5:08 – he knows his value, and has proven it, and will prove it again. Daenerys has a talent for inspiration; despite being a 16-year-old girls with little but three small dragons and a few followers, she manages to inspire the devotion of an army of Unsullied (3:04), the leader of the Second Sons, Daario Naharis (3:08), the slaves of the city of Yunkai (3:10), and, essentially, the whole of the Dothraki (6:04 and 6:06). She lacks some skill as a wise ruler, but that’s part of why she chooses Tyrion as her Hand.

Each of them strives for a goal that ends up hurting them more than helping. With Daenerys, she seeks to be a true ruler, but consistently fails to realize that being a good ruler is more than just conquering – the Masters retaking both Astapor and Yunkai, as noted by Jorah in 4:05, speaks to her lack of experience, as does the unrest in Meereen that nearly leads to her death at the end of season 5; only a lucky save by Drogon keeps her alive, and she is still taken prisoner (temporarily) by the Dothraki as a result of her inexperience. Jon wants to be a hero, and it seems to be something he gets from the man he considers his father, Eddard Stark; it’s why he volunteers to join the Night’s Watch, believing it to be a great and noble posting, only to find out most of his brothers are former criminals and castoffs. His desire to be a hero sees him, eventually, killed by men he considers brothers for doing the right thing. And Tyrion? I think Tyrion, more than anything else, just wants to be seen as worthy of love and respect, especially by his family. Seeking this love and respect has him lead the charge in the Battle of Blackwater (episode 2:09), only to be badly injured by someone who should be on his own side and cast aside by his father, and trying to save the person he loves results in her betraying him (with the disastrous consequences noted above).

Despite all of this, however, each of the three, by the end of season 6, has climbed high from their position at the beginning of the series. Tyrion, who first appears as a drunk, sex-crazed – if very intelligent – fop, ends up serving not only as a temporary Hand to King Joffrey, but goes on to help Daenerys, work to rebuild and bring peace to Meereen, and eventually, in 6:10, is trusted enough by Daenerys – who should have no reason to trust someone whose family so bitterly hates hers – to have her name Tyrion as Hand of the Queen, her most trusted advisor. When this happens, Tyrion is, for one of the only times in the series, so touched that he is without words, and only kneels before Daenerys. Jon – who starts off as the bastard of the lord of Winterfell – has no real power, and join’s the Night’s Watch, which – while in theory an honorable choice – is something of a dead end. But from there he gains the confidence of the Lord Commander, infiltrates the Wildlings, helps lead their defeat, is elected Lord Commander himself, dies and comes back, reunites with his half-sister (the first meeting of more than one Stark, half or otherwise, since the Red Wedding in 3:09, so almost 3 seasons), and after retaking Winterfell, is named King of the North. And Daenerys – who starts off as a scared, abused little girl, seen as little but trade goods by her own brother, gains three dragons (episode 1:10), an army (3:04, and it grows 3:08), conquers the three great cities of Slavers’ Bay (3:04, 3:10, and 4:04), brings the Dothraki under her control, giving her the world’s greatest cavalry force (6:04 and 6:06), consolidates her hold on Slavers’ Bay (6:09), and, with ships from the Ironborn, the great houses of Martell and Tyrell, and her own ships from what is now the Bay of Dragons, leads a great fleet to go forth and retake her birthright (6:10).

There are also rumors that all three of these characters are members of the Targaryen bloodline, and for two of them, that is confirmed – Daenerys is the last full-blooded Targaryen, and in 6:10 it is confirmed that Jon Snow is the bastard child not of Eddard and a whore, but rather of Rhaegar Targeryen and Lyanna Stark. Jon is still a bastard, though, and doesn’t know of his own heritage himself, so whether this will ever mean anything to him is unknown. There are rumors, largely based on material from the books, that Tyrion is also part Targaryen, given that his mother, Joanna, was rumored to be the favorite of the last Targeryen king, Aerys the Mad, but as I noted before, I’m only using the show as basis here, and there has been no indication in the show that Tyrion is anything but a full-blooded and legitimate Lannister. It would certainly make for an interesting final two seasons – in 6:02, Tyrion frees the two dragons chained under Meereen’s great pyramid, talking about how he used to dream about having his own dragon, and if Daenerys, Jon, and Tyrion all ended up riding dragons, like Daenerys has been wont to do, it would make for pretty awesome visuals. But until I see some show-based evidence of Tyrion being something besides a Lannister, I’m not going to go any further with this.

Next Steps

Alright, now that I’m done with MCU movies (for now), I have to figure out which movies to look at next. I think I’d prefer to do the series movies first, so that means my big choices are – Superman (all the Christopher Reeve movies, Superman Returns, and Man of Steel), Batman (the Burton and Schumacher movies, and the Nolan trilogy), the Blade trilogy, and the X-Men movies (X-Men all the way through Deadpool).

Does anyone have any preferences as to what they’d like to see next? If so, let me know, in private or in comments. Otherwise, I’ll probably get started with one of the above groups later this week.

Captain America: Civil War

This post is going to be a bit less researched than the others – partially because I only saw it yesterday, and I don’t have a copy I can go back and check when my memory gets fuzzy, and also partially because there aren’t a lot of new characters popping up here. Well, Spider-Man, sure, but he’s got his own movies, so I’ll do a proper intro for him when I get to those.

First, the movie is called Civil War, much like the massive Marvel event of the same name that occurred in 2007. That came down, largely, to two sides of heroes both fighting for different sides of an argument – one led by Captain America, the other led by Iron Man. That’s about where the similarities end.

Civil_War_7

Civil War in the comics kicked off when a super-team of young heroes, the New Warriors, were filming a COPS-like reality TV show; a camera crew would follow them as they hunted down and fought supervillains, mostly C-list or worse. One raid went wrong, though, because a supervillain in the group they’d found – Nitro (whose power is to blow himself up, and then reconstitute himself) – was on a drug that made his abilities far more powerful than normal. Normally, he’s like a large grenade – deadly in a small radius, but not much beyond that. This time, though, the New Warriors chased Nitro towards a school, and when he felt cornered, he turned – and let loose a blast that leveled a neighborhood, killing hundreds of people (including most of the New Warriors). Superheroes without regulations or oversight were crucified in the light of public opinion, and the government worked to pass the Super Human Registration Act (SHRA). This would make all people with superhuman abilities – whether they used them or not – register themselves, in their real identities, with the government, which might also call on them – not unlike a draft – to use their powers at its behest.

In the Marvel Universe, the government has a long history of not being terribly trustworthy. They’ve stood by while giant robots created by a defense contractor attacked a school (in various X-Men comics), Richard Nixon was unmasked as the head of an evil conspiracy (in Captain America comics, and the Red Skull somehow managed to infiltrate the government so convincingly that he became the U.S. Secretary of Defense, under the shockingly poor anagram Dell Rusk (in Avengers comics). So Captain America, for one, though giving the government that much power and information over everyone with powers was a bad idea. Iron Man thought it was inevitable, and so sought to lead the charge for the SHRA so he could control it. It was enacted, and the two sides fought -with Iron Man, along with other Marvel genius-level thinkers like Reed Richards and Hank Pym, thinking up some shockingly supervillain-like things (using quasi-reformed villains to hunt down and beat into submission heroes who resisted the act; imprisoning those who refused to register in a gulag-like prison in another dimension). Iron Man cloned Thor, and the clone went bad, killing at least one anti-registration hero, Goliath. Thor got back at Iron Man later.

Eventually, Captain America, while in the middle of a big team fight with Iron Man, realized that they weren’t really fighting for anything anymore – they were just fighting, and in ways that led to innocent people getting hurt. Cap didn’t like that, and so he surrendered, though he still refused to align himself with the SHRA, instead choosing prison – which never happened, because before that he was killed (but he got better. Comics, everyone!) The event was widely disliked, largely because Iron Man was so close to total supervillainy, and Captain America being as close as Marvel gets to a true moral compass – whichever side he’s on in the comics, it’s usually the right one. They ended up having to basically wipe Iron Man’s brain a year or so later in order to give the comics back a guy who wasn’t basically a supervillain.

This movie is not like that event. It’s far, far better, though it does not end on a particularly positive note. If you haven’t seen the movie, and want to, go do so before reading, as there are spoilers ahead. Let’s put a trailer here.

Seen it? Don’t mind spoilers? Alright, then. Like the trailer shows, the setup for the movie is this – after an incident chasing down a terrorist group in Lagos – an incident that ends with  dozens of people dead – the UN has decided it wants to bring the Avengers under their control. They’d be, essentially, a superpowered UN peacekeeping force, going where the member states vote, not going where their consciences direct them. Tony Stark – Iron Man – is all for this; he’s feeling enough guilt and shame at the things he’s caused ( Ultron, for one) to crush Atlas, and he doesn’t want to shoulder that. If someone else is giving the orders, someone else takes the blame. Others support this, believing that while the Avengers are good, they can’t just keep doing what they want – there needs to be someone watching them to make sure they’re on the right path. Cap disagrees, and I can’t blame him.

I’m biased as a huge Captain America fan, but I can certainly see why he’d find himself a better judge of what the Avengers can and should do than the government – any government, really. Look at the track record so far – U.S. government essentially created, and then lost control of, the Hulk, and in the process of chasing him down, they created something arguably worse in the Abomination (the guy who chased the Hulk and gave Blonsky his first shot at super-soldiering? Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross, then a genreal, now the Secretary of State). U.S. government doubles down in Iron Man 2 trying to get the Iron Man armor, and when Rhodey brings them a suit, they let Justin Hammer – who seemed incompetent even before he hooked up with a supervillain as a partner – tinker with it. Avengers? World Security Council tries to nuke Manhattan. Iron Man 3? Vice President conspires to try to kill the President. Winter Soldier? SHIELD was so riddled with Hydra agents it couldn’t reasonably be saved, and came within minutes of killing millions of people because nobody else noticed in time.

That’s a part of the argument, and it’s emotional for everyone – with the possible exception of the Vision, who is still getting used to being a person. But even then, a decision probably could have been reached – but the movie never lets up. At every turn, there’s an emotional gutpunch to someone, causing them to make decisions that are far more emotional than rational. Peggy Carter – one of Cap’s only remaining ties to his old life- dies, and leaves behind words that cause Cap to refuse to sign the Sokovia Accords. At the signing of the Accords, a bomb goes off, killing the king of the reclusive African nation of Wakanda and bringing the former prince, now king, into the fray, driven by revenge, as Black Panther. The man framed with the bombing? Cap’s only remaining friend from his former life – Bucky. And when Bucky’s in danger, Cap pulls out all stops to rescue him – and things get worse from there.

This movie is so full of character development and emotion that it’s hard to try and encompass it all. Wanda – the Scarlet Witch – has found a new home with the Avengers, but is terrified of her own powers and what they can do. Black Panther is driven by rage to kill the man who he believes killed his father. Black Widow, and then Hawkeye, reluctantly find themselves drawn in, as close friends on opposite sides. Tony is crippled by guilt and is desperately trying to hold the Avengers together, and watching the team’s leader take up an opposing position. Ant-Man and Spider-Man are both brought in, essentially, on severe cases of hero-worship. I don’t think there’s a clear right or wrong side in the movie – both sides have very good points, and good reasons for picking their sides. So while it’s easy to cheer and clap as cool things happen during fight scenes, it’s then made clear that these aren’t just super-people brawling – these are, for the most part, friends, who can’t find any other way to try to convince each other – there’s not really a good middle ground to be reached.

While I’ve never been a huge Iron Man fan, this movie makes it very difficult not to feel for him. He makes it clear at the beginning of the movie that he’s still, 25 years later, dealing with the loss of his parents – then he’s hit by a huge wave of guilt and shame by a mother of a boy who died in Sokovia. His relationship with Pepper Potts has apparently ended, because of his obsession with protecting the world. He watches as his friends take sides against him, and he has to fight them, even jail them, and he’s so desperate for help that he recruits a teenage Spider-Man to help bring things to an end. And at the end, when he finds out that it was Bucky – albeit a mind-controlled Bucky – who killed his parents, he goes berserk, lashing out at Bucky, and at Cap for keeping it from him. The fight between them is visceral and brutal – these are people who have fought side by side to protect the world, and now they’re beating each other up.

The movie is full of brilliant imagery, and every character gets a chance to shine; the huge battle – teased in the trailer above – at a German airport lets everyone show off to some degree. Spider-Man, despite being a teen, can effortlessly overpower almost all of Cap’s team – it’s only his lack of fighting skill that causes him to get smacked around. Ant-Man takes an awesome turn as Giant-Man. Black Panther gets to show off both his fancy suit and his formidable athletic abilities. Black Widow and Hawkeye, neither really wanting to hurt each other, pull their punches, but still manage to shock and awe others. Wanda gets several chances to show off her abilities – and make it clear that she’s possibly the person on the team with the most raw power, with Vision a close second. Cap and Bucky, with about ten seconds’ notice, take apart what seems like a platoon of German special forces. Falcon gets to show off his new drone Redwing, and the things he’s learning to do with his wings. Iron Man and War Machine get to be suit-bros and back each other’s plays. There are also tons of little character beats that make the characters real – the reaction by Bucky and Falcon when Steve and Sharon kiss, for example. Or the discovery of a Queens kid by a Brooklyn boy. The pause Tony takes at the end of his MIT speech. The Russo brothers, who directed Civil War, get to show off the skills that made Winter Soldier – which they also directed – a success, and make it clear that the next Avengers movie is in good hands.

At the end, nobody wins, really. While Cap manages to rescue those who fought beside him from the new super-prison, the Raft, he is a fugitive – and, thanks to Tony, without his shield. Bucky lives, but goes back into cryogenic hibernation until they can figure out how to deprogram him. Cap can’t go home. And the Avengers? The Avengers are functionally done. Who’s left, at the end? Iron Man, sure. Though he’s likely an Iron Man barely trusted by authorities. The Vision, too; he stays by Tony’s side, still driven by the part of him that is made from JARVIS. But of the others who were on his side, Spider-Man is still a kid. Black Widow leaves, disgusted by Tony’s actions. Black Panther goes home, and is essentially harboring Cap and Bucky. And War Machine is crippled, and no use in combat. The villain of the piece – with some careful planning, a few well-placed words, and a single assassination – essentially tears the Avengers apart. There are no winners, and nobody’s right – there are just survivors.

 

Ant-Man

Ant-Man is a bit of a strange character, both in the movie and in the comics. In the comics, Ant-Man was one of the founding Avengers, but had a number of issues, mostly mental and emotional. He may also hold the record for the person in the Marvel universe who has had the most superhero code-names – Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Yellowjacket, Goliath, and Wasp, at times also being known by his real name – Hank Pym – or as the Scientist Supreme. Some, or all, of these are the reasons that the Ant-Man chosen to wear the suit in the movie was not the first, but rather the second character to bear the mantle, Scott Lang.

Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas in the movie, and far less screwed up than the comics Pym) was originally introduced in Tales to Astonish #27, January 1962, as a scientist who tests shrinking technology on himself, finally coming to the conclusion that it could not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands and committing to destroy it. This commitment didn’t last long, because Hank Pym was back – this time as the costumed hero Ant-Man – 8 issues later, in Tales to Astonish #35:

TTA-35

He became an ongoing character in the series, and along the way we met his girlfriend, and eventual wife, Janet van Dyne – who would go on to become the Wasp.They would both become founding members of the Avengers in September 1963. From then on, his life would be a series of wild ups and downs; he felt inadequate compared to teammates on the Avengers like Iron Man and Thor, so adapted his size-changing technology to let him grow into a giant rather than shrink; he is exposed to schizophrenia-inducing chemicals, and adopts the cocky Yellowjacket alter ego as a result – during which Janet, possibly taking advantage of his less-than-full mental capacity, gets him to propose to her. He would go on in later years to create the villainous Ultron; attack the Avengers; attack a surrendered enemy and be ejected from the team, only to try to create a robot to attack the team; suffer a total mental breakdown; hit his wife (which the writer claims was intended to be accidental)… the list goes on. Hank Pym has had a long, troubled history. And so Scott Lang came into the picture.

Scott Lang (portrayed by Paul Rudd on-screen) first appears in Avengers #181, March 1979, as a former thief looking for redemption – but he is driven to desperation by his daughter Cassie’s illness, and so breaks into Hank Pym’s home to steal the Ant-Man costume in Marvel Premiere #47:

Marvel_Premiere_47

Scott got his daughter the help she needed, and intended to turn himself in for the theft of the Ant-Man suit, but is given the blessing of Hank Pym to continue on with it, so long as he uses it for good – and he does, going through quite a few adventures on his own before eventually becoming a formal Avenger in Avengers volume 3, #62, February 2003. He dies, heroically, not long after – but it’s OK, he gets better (comics, everyone!). After those two intros, how about an Ant-Man trailer?

We get glimpses of a few characters in the movie who have interesting roles in the comics world. For one, movie-Scott also has a daughter named Cassie (played by Abby Ryder Fortson); she’s not sick, but he does want her to see him as someone to look up to. She appears in Marvel Premiere #47, as well, and she’s not just a background character; as she grows up, eventually she follows in her father’s footsteps – going on to become a member of the Young Avengers, Stature, in Young Avengers #6, May 2006. Also like her father, she gets killed on the job – but like father, like daughter, as she gets better, too.

The last two characters are interesting amalgams of comics personalities. In the standard Marvel comics universe, Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne don’t have kids – at least, not yet. But in an alternate universe comic that portrays the next generation of Avengers in the future, Hope Pym (not Hope van Dyne as in the movies, portrayed by Evangeline Lilly) shows up, in A-Next #7, April 1999. This Hope, however, isn’t a hero; she and her twin brother are villains, angry at the A-Next team for taking what they see as their rightful places as next-generation Avengers.

Finally, there’s Darren Cross (played by the wonderfully wicked Corey Stoll). He appears, like Scott and Cassie, in Marvel Premiere #47, but not as a supervillain – he’s a millionaire businessman who, upon having medical issues he can’t fix, kidnaps a doctor (coincidentally, the one Scott needs to help Cassie). There is no mechanical Yellowjacket suit in the comics – rather, Yellowjacket, as noted above, is an identity that a mentally unstable Hank Pym takes on, starting in Avengers #59, December 1968:

Avengers_Vol_1_59

So, while much of the movie has grounding in the comics, the roles aren’t generally terribly faithful to their comic origins – though to be fair, I don’t think you could really do a faithful rendition of Hank Pym’s story from the comics and have it come off as a hero’s tale. Speaking of tales, let’s check this second trailer out to get a better idea of Ant-Man’s story:

This sets up the story – Scott’s a guy down on his luck, but old scientist Hank Pym – whose former protege is about to start using his old inventions for evil – finds him in his hour of need, and gives him a shot at redemption, and becoming a hero. Redemption is a big theme for the movie – Scott’s a guy who served his time, but can’t find a job even though he’s paid his dues, and might lose all contact with his daughter because of it. When, in desperation, he turns to his old criminal skill-set, he gets caught, but he also gets an offer – to be able to use his skills, and the new power given to him by the Ant-Man suit, to redeem himself and stop something very bad from happening. It’s played with a lot of comic effect, of course – you don’t cast Paul Rudd if you don’t want at least some comedy – but Scott’s redemption from criminal to hero is a big part of the story, even if he does end up fighting an Avenger. So, too, is the idea of passing the torch; we find out that, like the comics, Scott isn’t the first Ant-Man, but the previous one, Hank Pym, is too old to do it anymore and doesn’t ant to give his technology to people and groups he doesn’t trust – namely, Tony Stark or SHIELD, the latter of whom he blames for his wife’s death. His daughter, though, is upset because like her comic self, she feels she should be the one to get the torch hand-off, not a former criminal. In the end, though, we see that not only was Scott the right choice for Ant-Man, but that Hope is on her way to filling the shoes her mother left behind:

As with all the other Marvel movies thus far, there’s a bunch of trivia associated with this movie. For one, Edgar Wright (director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) was originally tapped to direct this movie, and wrote his own screenplay for it; though he eventually left the project, citing creative differences, the director who took over – Peyton Reed – ended up using much of the screenplay Wright had written. When Darren Cross brings Hydra agents in to view the Yellowjacket suit, if you look closely, one of the agents has a tattoo – a tattoo that matches that of the Ten Rings terrorist group introduced in Iron Man. The words “tales to astonish” are used in the film, an homage to Ant-Man’s comic debut. When Pym refers to his wife Janet shrinking into a microscopic dimension, this is a reference to the comics, as well – Janet van Dyne was thought to have died, when she in fact shrunk too far at the end of the Secret Invasion event. Bobby Cannavale – who plays Paxton – and John Slattery, who reprises his role as Howard Stark in a flashback, also both starred on the TV show Will & Grace – Cannavale was will’s love interest, while Slattery played Will’s brother.Stan Lee, as usual, has a cameo here, this time as a bartender in a story Luis (played by Michael Peña) is telling. And the stinger for the movie is a tie in to Captain America: Civil War, with Falcon making a reference to Scott Lang the same way that Micheal Douglas does in Ant-Man – “I know a guy”:

I didn’t go into this movie expecting to like it – I’ve never been a fan of the comic version of Ant-Man, and in a comic universe, I always thought ‘guy who shrinks’ was pretty silly. So I was pleasantly surprised by the way this movie turned out. It’s not just a superhero movie, but it’s also a classic heist movie, and the crew that Scott pulls together – mainly Michael Peña’s Luis – is just great. I think all the main roles in this film were really well cast – Scott, Hope, Hank, Luis, Darren, even Bobby Cannavale’s Paxton all worked really well for me on-screen. A lot of the more minor roles – Kurt and Dave in the heist crew, Cassie’s mother, Paxton’s partner – I could take or leave; they didn’t make much of an impression on me. They kind of faded into the background – not great or terrible enough to notice. Corey Stoll plays a great bad guy – vicious and amoral; he would fit right in with Iron Man’s villains, and probably do pretty well in that slot, too. And Michael Douglas really nails the aging hero trying to pass on his legacy, as well as being a casually arrogant bastard at times – he refers to Iron Man’s suit as ‘cute technology’, something I’d be willing to bet none of Iron Man’s villains see it as.

The scenes with shrinking were fun to watch – they reminded me of old sci-fi movies, but with far better graphics and special effects; I liked the inclusion of the ants, and the variety – I think I learned more about ants in this movie than I have in the remainder of my life. It’s also really fun seeing how a tiny super-hero works, and what kinds of things he can do – the fight between Ant-Man and Falcon is really cool to watch, not just because there’s a lot of banter going on – near Spider-Man levels – but also because both of them are using their abilities and not holding back. The flashback the movie shows, of Ant-Man and Wasp trying to stop a missile, is oddly reminiscent of the traditional comic death/freezing of Captain America and Bucky, too, something I didn’t recognize until this viewing. The heist scene itself feels like something right out of Ocean’s 11 or The Italian Job – I’d also add Heat, but there’s a level of comedic effect, even in the heist, that doesn’t match up well to comparison to a more serious movie. Paul Rudd may be the perfect guy to play Scott Lang, and I’m glad Peyton Reed could pull this movie off so well – in fact, it looks like Ant-Man’s appearance in the Captain America: Civil War movie is going to be just about tone-perfect:

And with that, all the movies currently released in the US for the MCU are reviewed – but stay tuned; I hope to see the new Captain America movie when it hits theaters this Friday, and I’ll be trying to post my thoughts on it. Also, I’m not quite sure which movie, or movies, to review next – suggestions are welcome!

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers; Age of Ultron is, of course, the sequel to the smash hit that was Avengers, which came out in 2013. While many viewers (including myself) felt that Age of Ultron didn’t quite measure up to the success of The Avengers, it still did ridiculously well in the box office – with a production budget of $250 million, it brought in $1.4 billion dollars worldwide. It also introduced some classic Avengers characters, both hero and villain – let’s check it out, shall we?

Man, listening to the background music of that trailer still gives me chills – the juxtaposition of the ‘No Strings on Me’ music from Pinnochio with Ultron’s evildoing is just creepy. Speaking of Ultron, as you might have surmised from the title, he’s the main villain. He’s voiced by the inestimable James Spader, and, to put it bluntly, he’s a robotic artificial intelligence who wants to wipe humanity out. In the movie, he’s inadvertently created by Tony Stark, but in the comics, his origin is different; he is created, in the comics, by Hank Pym, also known as Ant-Man or Giant-Man, and is based on his own brain patterns. He first appears in Avengers #54, disguised as a villain called Crimson Cowl, but reveals himself as Ultron in Avengers #55, August 1968:

avengers-55-ultron-unmasks

Ultron, you see, was born bad. Based on his creator’s brain patterns, he came to (artificial) life while his creator was out of the lab, and promptly decided that the only way to fix humanity was to destroy it. He’s been trying to do so ever since; when one body is destroyed, he simply transfers his mind to another and retreats to plot for a while. The name of the movie is actually based on a Marvel Comics event – after Ultron comes back from space and crushes all opposition to him, the few remaining heroes band together to send members back in time to kill Hank Pym before he can create Ultron. As you might imagine, this doesn’t turn out as well as they’d hoped. In the movie, Ultron is partially created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, but also partially by the gem within Loki’s staff – a gem revealed to be an Infinity Stone. He grows in knowledge and power, and skips straight to wanting to kill his creators and all of humankind. There to assist him?

Ultron’s first helpers were teased at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier – twins who had been experimented on and given strange new powers. These twins turn out to be Pietro and Wanda Maximoff, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively). Their comic origin is a little more complex than Ultron’s. They were first introduced in X-Men #4, March 1964, as the children of mutant terrorist Magneto. This is problematic in the movie, because they are mutants, and Fox holds the film rights to the X-Men and mutant properties. So Fox and Marvel/Disney struck a deal – Marvel could use them in the film, but not reveal their mutant origins, while Fox couldn’t ever reference their time in the Avengers. Marvel (presumably) agreed to kill off Quicksilver, so that each studio could have one of the pair. Wait, you say, Avengers? Yep, the twins, despite being the kids of a terrorist, ended up joining the Avengers, rejecting their father’s teachings; they joined up in Avengers #16, May 1965, alongside Hawkeye:

avengers-16

Their story after that gets long and complicated – Wanda almost kills all the mutants at one point – but that’s a different discussion. And if you want a discussion on nature vs. nurture, or why Hank Pym traditionally gets blamed for Ultron while Magneto doesn’t get credit for his two Avengers kids, you may want to check out The Avengers and Philosophy: Earth’s Mightiest Thinkers.

That first trailer also gives us glimpses of two other minor characters – Baron Strucker and Ulysses Klaue. Baron Strucker (played here by Thomas Kretschmann) is an old foe in Marvel, first of Nick Fury, then the Avengers – he first appears in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #5, January 1964, looking like this:

Baronstrucker

The movie keeps the monocle and his Hydra affiliation, but not much else; he’s the madman behind the alteration of the Maximoff twins. Ulysses Klaue (played by Andy Serkis, of Gollum fame) originated in the Fantastic Four, specifically issue #53, August 1966; he was originally a physicist whose father was a Nazi, and he went to the advanced African nation of Wakanda to steal Vibranium (what Cap’s shield is partially made of) – losing a hand in the process. He later attached a sonic gun to his stump, and eventually becomes a being composed totally of sound – naturally, he becomes a supervillain, going by (what else) Klaw. For the last big reveal, let’s bust out the second trailer:

Aside from continuing to show how creepy and evil Ultron really is, and how Tony Stark’s arrogance has started trouble once again, the trailer shows a particularly important part right at the end – the means of Ultron’s destruction. I’m talking, of course, about The Vision. The Vision was introduced in Avengers #57 – only three issues after his ‘father’, Ultron – as a being made by Ultron to trick and destroy the Avengers.

Avengers_Vol_1_57

While Vision starts off as a villain, it appears Ultron made him too well – and he develops a conscience and switches sides, joining the Avengers and helping to defeat his creator. The vision is a synthezoid – an artificial man – with a variety of powers, most shown in the movie, and he has been a loyal member of the Avengers virtually since his introduction. Clearly Ultron was not on his game when he crafted this guy. In the comics, the Vision goes on to explore what it means to be a man, and eventually falls in love, and gets married – to the Scarlet Witch, oddly enough. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves again. The Vision, as a being partially crafted by Ultron, partially imprinted by Tony Stark’s creation JARVIS, is played by Paul Bettany, who voiced JARVIS in the Iron Man movies.

Age of Ultron is a big, wonderful mess of a movie, trying to bring together all kinds of things and fit them all into the space of about 2.5 hours. It introduces a villain, two villains-turned-heroes, a new hero, shows us the Avengers as an entity, breaks them apart and puts them back together, and then shows us what the Avengers will continue to evolve into. We see character growth from virtually every character, especially the ones who haven’t been given their own movies, and we get teased relentlessly about who the inevitable dying character will be – a favorite tactic of director Joss Whedon. Whedon was so exhausted by making this movie – and it kinda shows – that he pulled out of making any more Marvel movies, at least for the time being. We see a burgeoning relationship between Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanov, continued head-butting between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, and we find out that not only is Hawkeye married, he has a family.

Being a movie made by Joss Whedon, there are a lot of little things hidden in this movie as trivia. Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who plays Quicksilver in this movie, also played the title role in Kick-Ass; his co-star in that movie, Evan Peters, played Quicksilver in Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past. Hugh Jackman expressed interest in showing up in an Avengers movie, saying he wanted to see Wolverine fight Iron Man, but the studios couldn’t agree. he Hulkbuster suit that Iron Man wears when he fights the Hulk is code-named Veronica; it’s a reference to the character from the Archie comic, as Bruce’s old girlfriend is named Betty. Whdeon originally wanted to include Captain Marvel and Spider-Man in the movie, as opposed to Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, but an agreement with Sony (who holds the Spider-Man film rights) couldn’t be made in time. Wakanda, where Klaue says he got all his vibranium, is the country of origin of Marvel character Black Panther, who will appear in Captain America: Civil War. In the movie, Ultron starts out in a body of one of the Iron Legion peacekeeping robots, a nod to Ultron’s origins in the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes animated series. Similarly, Ultron appears first in the body of Iron Legion drone 05, a reference to Ultron’s origin as Ultron-5. When Ultron first meets the twins, he’s wearing a crimson robe – a callback to his origin as the Crimson Cowl. Late in the movie, when Iron Man uploads a new AI into his suit, he uses one called FRIDAY, but others can be seen, specifically one called JOCASTA – named for the robotic ‘bride’ Ultron creates int he comics, who also turns on him. This movie marks the appearance of four of the six Infinity Stones: The Tesseract/Space Gem, in Captain America: The First Avenger and again in The Avengers; The Aether/Realty Gem in Thor: The Dark World; The Orb/Power Gem in Guardians of the Galaxy; and Loki’s Scepter/Mind Gem in this movie. And, speaking of Infinity Stones, here’s the movie’s stinger, with a bit of explanation:

Thanos has had about enough, and he’s getting into the game himself. As for other cameos in the movie, a lot of other Marvel characters show up to play small, if important, roles – Don Cheadle as War Machine, Anthony Mackie as Falcon, Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Idris Elba as Heimdall, Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, Stellan Skarsgard as Erik Selvig. These are all character we’ve seen before, and most we’ll see again, so they’re not really cameos. The two that I liked were when Julie Delpy (whom I was introduced to in American Werewolf in Paris) showed up as the Black Widow’s instructor in her pre-spy days, as mistress of the Russian facility the Red Room. And, of course, Stan Lee – who considers this cameo one of his favorites – as a vet at the Avengers Tower party, who gets smashed off of a sip of Thor’s Asgardian booze.

While, as I said, I don’t think this movie lived up to the awesomeness of the first Avengers movie, I think it is still pretty good, and hits a lot of really good moments. The opening battle is fun, showing not just that the Avengers have been practicing as a team, but also telling us that they’ve fought a lot of Hydra guys. And the Scarlet Witch’s haunting vision that she gives Tony gives us an idea of why he feels the need to build something like Ultron – he is terrified of failing not just his teammates, but the world, and being the reason the Earth dies. The party at Avengers Tower, and subsequent attack by Ultron, is fun, too – it shows the Avengers in downtime, something we don’t get to see very often. Cap’s retort to Maria Hill on the twins – “What kind of monster would let a German scientist experiment on them to protect their country?” shows that he doesn’t see them as totally irredeemable; it is, of course, Cap who gets them to switch sides; when he sees them opposing Ultron, he doesn’t even question them, he asks if they can help, and they do.

Things get lost in the movie, and while it might have increased the movie’s length to something theaters would balk at, I think that the extended scene of Thor getting info from the Norns, or the possible scenes including the Abomination or Loki, might have brought a bit more to the table. There’s still a lot going on, and sometimes the ties between the scenes aren’t as strong as they could be. It’s easy to see why Joss Whedon got exhausted making this movie. It brings a lot of moving parts of the MCU together, and inevitably things get left out. As usual – with Marvel’s smarts and Disney’s money – this movie provides stunning visuals and amazing action scenes, and the fit in pretty seamlessly; even the scenes with obvious CGI things are hard to separate out. The acting, as usual, is great – all the great actors from previous movies, with the addition of James Spader at his scenery-chewing finest. Even the little acting we get from Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen gets across the pain at their losses and their anger at figures like Tony Stark. The movie doesn’t come together as well or as seamlessly as the first Avengers movie, which is its primary weakness, but it leaves things open for more to come in the future.

Next up – the last MCU movie in Phase 2, and the last before the release of Captain America: Civil War, and the movie a lot of people thought was Marvel’s biggest risk yet – Ant-Man.