Well, here we are. Welcome to the first annual Experiment Marvel Movie Year in Review! Now, I’ve made my list and checked it twice and it would seem that we have concluded the Marvel portion of this years cinematic offering with Guardians of the Galaxy. Part of me wants to call this a “sleeper hit” but between the Marvel/Disney advertising machine behind this rarely discussed comic book title and the first third of the original trailer sucking us in entirely, it’s safe to say that this summer blockbuster was a surprise to no one. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s start this year off right and in order. Do you remember Captain America: The Winter Soldier? No? You’re a fucking liar. Cap, I’ll be the first to admit it; you surprised me. And in the best way possible. Full disclosure: I’m not the biggest Captain America fan. What does that make me? A communist? Anti-American? A Jihadist? Canadian? No, I just get easily tired of formula and mind-numbing consistency (at least that’s what my therapist and a litany of ex-girlfriends tell me). The fact is I view Captain America much in the same way that I view Superman: “Of course he’s going to win. What else is new?” Marvel has even dubbed him “The All-American Winning Machine.” It gets mighty hard to raise the stakes against someone who, by definition, cannot be beaten. Cap wins, the movie going audience leave the theater somewhat disappointed, an English gentleman named Robert who prefers familiar nicknaming traditions marries your mother’s sister, and there we are. Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for proving me wrong.
From the word “go”, The Winter Soldier did not stop delivering. Between unexpected cameos, unpredictable Easter eggs, and a plot twist that conceivably goes back to the very beginning of the Marvel/Disney cinematic universe. There was an overwhelming/unexpected feeling that I experienced at every corner of the maze that was the journey of this movie. I was wrong. In every way, at every expectation, and everytime I thought I knew for a fact what would happen next; I was wrong. And I loved it. In addition, the manner in which the plot device had to be executed was brilliant. If Cap lost, he lost. If Cap won… he still lost. For that fact alone I have been secretly been “Hailing Hydra” since mid-April.
This movie was not without it’s flaws though. For instance, Anthony Mackie’s portrayal of Sam Wilson/The Falcon was little more than a moving target for the bad guys to hit instead of Chris Evans’ Cap. Mackie did everything that the script told him to do but the way in which it was written made the portrayal seem like a third string hero hanging around at best. Also, the synergy between the show Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should have been better implemented to make the experience more inclusive. Other than that, I feel that there were other negligible points of inconsistencies but not enough to make a big deal of.
Without spoiling too much of the plot for anyone whose viewing has been more mistimed than most, let me run down some of the questions that the story presents the audience. Should Cap trust S.H.I.E.L.D.? Should we trust S.H.I.E.L.D.? Does Nick Fury deserve our trust? Does absolute power corrupt absolutely? Have Black Widow and Cap ever done the horizontal superhero dance? If so, how are they so non-chalant about it? Is that Truman Capote on a Commadore 64? Would it have killed them to just give the African-American guy a bird? (Is that some racist Michael Vick-like logic?) Did they just say Stephen Strange? DID THEY JUST SAY STEPHEN STRANGE? So are we just going to call “Mutants” “Miracles” now? And, of course: The Winter Soldier is going to be exactly who you keep on forshadowing him to be, isn’t he? By the end of the day, however, the only answer that you need to know is “Yes” and the question is: Was Captain America: The Winter Soldier a good movie?
Up next is the unfortunately titled The Amazing Spider-Man 2. What can I say about this cinematic mediocrity? I was… whelmed. Not Overwhelmed. Not Underwhelmed. Just Whelmed. It did its job. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. On a scale of 1 to 10, it gets an average number, take your pick as to which one, I really don’t care. What do you say about a movie that was just simply… there? So, let’s discuss the pluses, minuses, disappointments and surprises of the series and this movie.
1.)After Spider-Man 3 anything would have been a plus. It was getting harder and harder to think of thirty-something Tobey Maguire as the youthful and collegiate Peter Parker.
2.) Seeing a story that chronologically begins with Gwen Stacey as opposed to Mary Jane Watson is a real bee in the bonnet for comic book purist.
3.) The first villain of the new installments of the series, The Lizard (portrayed by Rhys Ifans and a load of CGI), was the first adversary in any comic book themed movie that I truly believed that the hero could not overcome.
4.) The Amazing Spider-Man presented a new and interesting first-person point of view for Spider-Man that was a great addition for those of us that do not suffer from severe and debilitating motion sickness. Otherwise I’m sure that that last one would be going into the minus section.
1.) It gets hard to take the super-assured and handsome Andrew Garfield seriously as nerdy social outcast Peter Parker.
2.) The subversive Parker/Osbourne subplot cannot stop getting in its own way the majority of the time.
3.) All of the villains in The Amazing Spider-Man series thus far have been highly sympathetic characters. Curt Conners wanted to regrow his severed arm, both members of the Osbourne family were suffering from a deadly disease, Max Dillon was a poor put-open reject whose only source of happiness in this world was a three minute interaction that he experienced with Web-Head. In almost every case in the TASM world, the villain is made into a monster, and it gets hard to root against a character that you wish was never tortured into their role.
4.) Possibly the worst part of this series was how soon it came out in relation to the previous series. As a true comic-book nerd I have a problem not conceptualizing Andrew Garfield’s character as Ben Reilly to Tobey Maguire’s actual Peter Parker with Maguire showing up at some point to accuse Garfield of being a clone. I know that that isn’t the case but I have a hard time not considering this movie to be the fifth installment in the less than 15 year span of this franchise.
I was surprised by the actual fate of the Stacey family. I understand that most “True Believers” will consider this notion sacrilege, and not seeing this coming is akin to being surprised by the end of Titanic but it seemed to me that Emma Stone was just as much of the cash cow in the series as Garfield is. Also surprising is that by the second installment of the franchise Sony has still not come to some kind of an accord with Marvel/Disney studios to get our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler involved in The Avengers universe.
There is only really one disappointment that I took away from this movie. It did nothing for me. Nothing at all. Nothing. It wasn’t an experience or an event, it was a circumstance. It’s why I went to the movies that day. If there was any silver lining at all it’s that I didn’t expect it to be all that good, so at least I can say I was right.
Now on to X-Men: Days of Future Past. Like an old friend that moved away for a while but came back, we were able to pick up right where we left off. You look a little different, did you lose some weight? Did you get a haircut? Has Kitty Pryde moved from an essential character in your story line to a tangential aspect? Ah, it doesn’t matter, give me a hug old chum.
DoFP always felt, as a movie, the same way that The Avengers did: Some big pipe dream where the more you pray for it the more religion seems like some horrible cruel joke. But here we are, Christians: 2, Lions: 0. (Sorry, Detroit.)
Largely, DoFP did not disappoint. Every comic book movie in the history of cinema has the nascent ability to let you down in some way, shape or form (examples include Superman’s memory sucking kisses, The Hulk’s ability to transform on command, and all of X-Men: The Last Stand), but I’m not going to make the same petty complaints that most fanboys will have with the inconsistencies in continuity. Bryan Singer and company had limited to no involvement is some of these movies, so the burden of blame cannot be placed squarely there. Also, let it be known that that is the last time that I will be using that name for the remainder of this review.
Hugh Jackman solidifies his place as the quintessential comic book movie actor with his seventh appearance as the same character in this line of features. The consistency between old and new was very well maintained in this outing. Jackman, of course, steals the show with his portrayal of Wolverine. James McAvoy becomes the pathetic anti-anti-hero that you wish would just get out of his own way. Michael Fassbender remains the perfect current/future hero that we wish would rewrite his own destiny. Sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart continue to be the gold standard to add legitimacy to the genre the way that no other two men possibly could. And Halle Berry, well, she was there too.
In short, DoFP did what few thought it would be able to do: save the franchise. Sure, many of us were going to X-Men: Apocalypse no matter what, but it would be in the same vein as going to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2: we’d just be going through the motions. Does anyone really want that in their movie going experience? So, thank you to all involved in the making of this game changer.
Rounding out the quartet is Guardians of the Galaxy or, the little title that did. But first, a small anecdote. As a child I asked my father what comic book movie he wanted to see made. He said Thor, which at the time seemed ridiculously far fetched. Asgard? Mjilonior? The rainbow bridge? Too much too soon I thought. I remember a friend telling me some mythic reading of a first draft of an X-Men movie that involved a shadowy Logan who lurked around X-Mansion and remained in the periphery of the movie much like Gollum in the first Lord of the Rings movie. This concept seemed pretty foolish, even to my ten year old sensibilities and if they were going to make any movie at all it should be a solo Wolverine movie. Twenty years later both my father’s and my own hopes came to fruition. Twice. The point of this story? Neither of us would have picked Guardians of the Galaxy in a million years. Which brings us up to date.
What can we say about a movie that exceeded expectations simply by being considered? Well, as of the release of this article it has set the record for the biggest opening August weekend in history. So there’s that. But sheer numbers alone do not do this movie justice. I could bring up the perfectly nostalgic soundtrack as it is ranks among the greatest collections of 70’s music in cinematic history. I might acknowledge that the voice-over work of Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin, and yes, even Vin Diesel bringing their respective characters to life as well as the amazing CGI doing the job as well. I could tell you that Zoe Saldana has never played Zoe Saldana better than in her current portrayal of Zoe Saldana (meaning that she’s perfectly cast, not as a slight). One must take into account the surprisingly good acting Dave Bautista whose Drax is laying waste to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s non-Marvel take on Hercules. Or Chris Pratt. How dare I almost leave out the incomparable Chris Pratt, the glue and central character of a movie that, upon its announcement, had Hollywood and fanboys alike scratching their heads?
Where The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was a movie that you went to see for the sake of going to see, GOTG was the movie that you genuinely took a chance on. It is Marvel, so it has to be decent, right? Thank Eternity that you bought that lotto ticket, true believer! Not only did the storyline progress the plot that is the Marvel cinematic universe, it also introduced five lovable and engaging characters to the current milieu.
I enjoyed this movie so much that I’m willing to overlook some of it’s shortcomings, for example the villains range from god-like to laughable without much definition or explanation. The Nova Corps. (Marvel’s answer to the Green Lantern Corps.) plays a much a larger back seat to much of the action despite their history and importance in the continuity of the comics. There were a few others, but at this point I’m simply filling up space for the sake of making the system seem more democratic. The simple fact is that I not only loved this movie, I was angry that it had to end. Until, of course, we read the first line of the credits; “The Guardians of the Galaxy will Return”. Thank you ladies and gentlemen, that’s all I needed to hear.
And now, as one must do, I am making it my job to rate and order theses movies. As time goes on I will find new, different, and interesting rating systems for our year in reviews (stay tuned next year for our single movie DC year in review… unless the move that release date back yet again) and this year’s reviews will be viewed through the prism of… kisses. That’s right nerds, pucker up:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier: This is the kiss that you steal from Josh Lucas or Eliza Doolittle. The guy/girl that you never thought was very attractive or a viable option until s/he walks down the stairs at the party and that bet that you made with your friend now seems meaningless. The Winter Soldier is the guy/girl who takes off the glasses and fixes their hairdo to show you just how beautiful they really can be. That’s right, it’s shallow and superficial,but it’s a game changer.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2: This is the kiss that you get while playing spin the bottle and it lands on the person who is not the person that you wanted to be kissing. You spun the bottle and it landed here. You’re going to get kissed. Try to look past the fact that it’s not the kiss you wanted, just close your eyes and take the kiss. Maybe next time it’ll land on your secret crush. But Probably not.
X-Men: Days of Future Past: This is the kiss from an ex that you’d never thought you’d see again. You saw each other on a crowded street, your eyes met, you spoke, you shared stories, you laughed and ultimately you kissed. And it was just like old times. Maybe you two can give it another go. Maybe it’ll work this time. Maybe you should give this person another try
Guardians of the Galaxy: This is the person that you met at the library, the museum, the bar, the movies. A complete stranger. You strike up a conversation. This person is fun and engaging and charming. You talk. And talk. And talk. For hours. Suddenly you realize it’s 5am and you both should be going, but not before a kiss. An innocent kiss that seven or eight hours ago you never thought you’d be making, and it may just be a kiss that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.