The Marvel Cinematic Universe is Deteriorating and No One is Going to Stop It

When you pull something off as magnificent in scope and unprecedented in scale as Marvel Studios has with their endless string of Cinematic Universe-entangled superhero flicks, you get too caught up in seeing how far it can go rather than how far it should. Herein lies the problem with Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, a Hollywood juggernaut set rampaging across box office records and gleeful moviegoers alike. It’s grown to a point where people just want to keep propelling it forward for the sole purpose of maintaining its “legendary success story in-the-making” narrative, rather than forcing it to earn that title on its own through actual merit in its films. Let’s analyze the core elements that made phase one of the MCU so great and how those same elements have turned phase three into little more than a dry-heaving mess limping towards the star-studded finish line.

The Avengers

Kicking off with Iron Man, Marvel brought quite a few unique items to the table. First, they were pushing mad money behind a relatively unknown (in the public eye) B-list character. Secondly, from day one they had plans to bring him into a much bigger fold across a series of movies, culminating in The Avengers. Thirdly, they were making something topical, given the Invasion of Iraq’s prominence in 2008. Relevant, unknown and secretly ambitious? An interesting mixture, no doubt. One that paved the way for Marvel’s road to greatness.

For the first phase that ingredient list was pure and fresh, culminating in the cinematic entree of superhero fine dining known as The Avengers, the most spectacular team-up to ever hit the silver screen. But anything after that, by the aforementioned film’s very nature, was bound to start springing leaks in the hull of the S.S. MCU. Phase two was rife with plot holes across all its movies, the grossly outnumbered critic-minded moviegoers pointing out odd omissions like “why couldn’t the Hulk help Iron Man when ____ was happening?” or any number of related crossover questions that sprung up whenever a hero needed to conquer an obstacle alone even though his friends weren’t busy and existed in the same world as the movie at hand. Then problem number two started to rear its ugly head: the lack of stakes. In order to give the big heroes sequels and trilogies, Marvel had to start scrubbing any stakes from its films to ensure heavy-hitters like Thor and Captain America would always survive for another solo round or Avengers sequel. This meant that when you walked into the theater you’d already know the ending, no spoilers required. The Avengers initiative was starting to poison itself.

Topical subject matters became a crutch for Marvel, being the only element to set Captain America: The Winter Soldier apart from its relatively cookie-cutter MCU brethren. The B-list (and later C-list) characters were being developed into full-on feature films because it was quirky and therefore meme-worthy, AKA big-bucks-baiting in a world revolving solely around Twitter hashtags. Before anyone knew it, the Guardians of the Galaxy and freakin’ Ant-Man were getting solo films devoid of consequence all in the service of building up a big ‘ol MCU for the grand Avengers: Infinity War finale, a construction project still underway at this very moment. And yet, now deep into phase three, the luster is gone. The magic has faded. While audiences still gobble it up because it’s light-years better than what the competition’s putting out (looking at you, Batman V Superman), there’s a somewhat sinister corporate greed starting to overshadow the artistic merit present during the early days of the first Avengers film.

Take Dr. Strange, for example. Stephen Strange goes through the exact same internal transformation as Tony Stark did in Iron Man. And look at Ant-Man—that story’s a near carbon copy of Iron Man at every major plot beat. Marvel’s got a nice cookie-cutter formula going for turning likable B-list and C-list characters into instant A-listers, but it doesn’t hide the blatant lack of creativity. Another glaring instance of unimaginative plotting is in the usage of superheroes making cameos in each other’s movies. While Marvel never, ever explains where other characters are in times of need, they’ll call on a poorly set-up Spider-Man to join in a massive Civil War fight for absolutely no other reason than to show off the prize they got from their deal with Sony. They’re now in the business of parading heroes around for market value rather than plot, and that, combined with the assembly line nature of the MCU’s recent entries, is starting to bode ill for any true artistic innovation left in this pocket of the genre.

Similarly to Thanos, the big villain of the upcoming Infinity War movies, the only entity that can stop Marvel is Marvel themselves. If Kevin Feige can descend from his ivory tower for just a wink to look at where this rollercoaster started and where it’s headed, maybe he and the suits in charge of the operation could redirect its course towards a more savory finish line, one not even considering a still-interconnected phase five AFTER the Infinity Wars have concluded. Because where there’s a new phase, there are extended contracts. Where there are extended contracts, there are recurring characters and no stakes. And where there are no stakes, there is no point at all.


Review of “X-Men Apocalypse” (3D RPX Experience)

In a world where Marvel and DC are both churning out shit, only the Fantastic 4 underdogs at Fox are left to satiate my superhero needs. And, against all odds, they did it.xmenapocalypseimax-1.jpg

To keep it brief, X-Men Apocalypse does three things Marvel’s been utterly failing at over the past few years: it delivers a coherent plot with virtually zero gaping plot holes, it has a solid villain and most importantly, it has actual stakes. Let’s analyze each.

Plot coherency: I couldn’t spot a single plot hole. Between the friend I saw it with and myself, we were able to justify every single lingering question using the movie’s own logic, something shit flicks like Civil War and Batman V Superman sorely lack. More importantly than that, the plot is coherent. There was a natural flow from location to location at a pace that was wonderfully brisk but never jarring, unlike Civil War which randomly hopped its cast all over the globe without a single explanation.

The villain: everyone is raging that they didn’t get to see Oscar Isaac. This gripe that most people have solely depends on if you’re going into this movie to see an actor or a character. Given that I don’t give a fuck about who the actor is as long as he’s a good villain, I didn’t mind the blatant lack of Isaac’s personality in the performance. I went in with the expectation that I was going to see Papa Smurf fuck the planet up and he does exactly that, pushing the X-Men to their absolute limits and killing hundreds of millions of people in the process. If you wanted X-Men: Isaac, I understand your anger. But I just wanted to see X-Men: Apocalypse, and didn’t care which actor filled the titular character’s role. Apocalypse is the Ultron that Age of Ultron deserved (Apocalypse uses everything to his advantage unlike Ultron, a hyper-intelligent AI that just happens to overlook a million ways to instant victory). He’s less a villain than he is a Hitler figure, a rallying cry for all the anger swirling through a group of people who feel they’ve been wronged. In that sense, he’s easily the best comic book antagonist (technically protagonist, since he’s the one with a goal making the X-Men the antagonistic obstacles) we’ve gotten this year. With that said, they did waste quite a bit of money securing such an A-list actor for a role any scrub could’ve filled.

The stakes: In Marvel movies, everything wraps up tidily. Civil War? More like Civil Scuffle. Literally everyone is back to where they were at the start of the movie by the end. Same with Age of Ultron. And Thor’s movies. And Ant-Man. And—need I go on? Point is, nothing changes. Similarly, Batman V Superman has no consequences, erasing the refreshing precedent Man of Steel dared to set. X-Men, however, doesn’t pussy out like its other comic movie brethren. It carries over the brutal consequences of Days of Future Past, which result in the hatred of mutants throughout this movie and culminates in Magneto’s tragic story. Apocalypse escalates that tension to its logical conclusion in the most earth-shattering way (literally), leaving me nervous for how the sequel will successfully continue the overarching, movie-spanning consequence chain without pulling a Marvel and copping out.

Not to mention there aren’t any random characters thrown in for blatant fan service/money grabs *coughSpider-Mancough*. Every character in this movie, even Wolverine, is introduced in a way that feels organic and natural to the plot. The inclusions are smart and succinct, but never too short to feel shoehorned. And yes, this means we get another awesome Quicksilver scene. Two, actually. For everyone complaining about the Four Horsemen just “standing around”, they’re only ever assembled for three scenes, and yes, one of them is spent with the four standing while Apocalypse has a one-on-one conversation with a character. What did people want? Random, incoherent fights just for the sake of fighting? No. Just like any real posse, the leader calls the shots and everyone only goes to town when he says so.

On a final note, the fights are all fantastic. I mean it; every single fight in this movie trumps any throwdown plucked from Civil War or Batman V Superman with ease. Especially the Nightcrawler-Angel brawl at the end, which is definitely one of my favorite face-offs in superhero movie history. The film revels in its character’s powers and capitalizes on the action, rather than viewing the fights as an obligatory byproduct of the genre.

Overall, Marvel’s cookie-cutter bullshit and DC’s pathetic game of catch-up evidently haven’t encroached on the amazing skills of Brian Singer, a man who’s shown us on more than one occasion that he gets the X-Men and what makes a movie great. Basically, if you’re tired of the weak offerings from the enemy camps (and now boycotting them like myself), know that Fox still cares about giving you a good time at the theatre.

BONUS REVIEW: Regal Cinema’s RPX Experience

When I went to see this movie, all the 2D, 3D and IMAX showings were over, leaving only something mysterious called RPX. This stands for “Regal Premium Experience.” It’s fucking awful. Like, honestly, so bad. Never again. No matter how desperate I am to see a film, never in RPX.

Here’s the issue: it’s two regular 2D theatres stacked on top of each other, making it a budget, knock-off and shittier version of IMAX. The screen is twice as tall and there’s two rows of speakers on each side versus the usual single rows. The results are as follows: shit. While the bigger screen makes for a fun time if you’re not quite in the mood for IMAX but want something bigger than average, the sound system is AGONIZING. It’s a regular 2D theatre with the blaring volume of IMAX in a theatre not built for that kind of noise. As such, it’s deafeningly painful. And notice I didn’t say quality of IMAX sound, just volume. That’s because it still uses the regular 2D speakers, not the special shit used for IMAX. This means not only is the sound painfully loud, but it’s tinny and low-quality, like a budget pair of headphones turned up to 100 pressed right up against your ears. It’s hell.

To put it aptly, this is Regal’s sad attempt at challenging AMC’s new recliner-style theatre system. Whereas one theatre jacks up the price for way cooler seats, the other jacks it up to the same dollar value for marginally comfier than shit chairs and a sound system designed to kill you over the course of two hours. Bad.

BONUS BONUS Review: X-Men Apocalypse 3D

The 3D in the movie is lackluster and not worth the price, as is the case with most post-converted 3D cash grabs. It’s shit and there’s not a single scene that makes real use of it.


Review of “Ant-Man”

Absolutely stellar.


After the disgraceful show of incompetence that was the contrived and bloated yet paradoxically hollow Age of Ultron, my faith in Marvel had been violently shaken, to the point where I literally waited two weeks just for ticket prices to go down for this flick. This was the make or break point, as if Marvel screwed me over with two consecutive blunders I was hopping ship. Luckily, it seemed Age of Ultron was just the ugly stepchild in an otherwise beautiful family of movies, Ant-Man being the latest addition to the long list of reasons for why we (generally) love Marvel.

Ant-Man, in my opinion, is just as much of a technical masterpiece as the original Iron Man. On all cylinders, it nails every beat in its story and captures that same magic. The only difference and reason I find myself still preferring the original Iron Man is simply because I like Downey Jr. and the concept of the Iron Man suit more. BUT, Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas are awesome, no denying that, and the Ant-Man suit is pretty cool as well.

Some people have been complaining that Ant-Man isn’t big enough (pun fully intended), in terms of its action. I beg to differ. While the small-scale of this adventure is appreciated, I would’ve liked if it had gone even smaller. Minor Spoiler: throughout the movie, one massive building is warped out of existence and a certain toy train gets blown up to the size of a real train, as well as a key chain tank. Those are the three major *boom* events of the movie, and even so, they still seemed a bit much for what the movie needed. I guess a certain minimum of *boom* is required in Hollywood these days, but Ant-Man came so close to breaking that trend. I understand Feige and the Marvel overlords would never allow the movie to have a scope even smaller than the current one, but still, in a dream world Ant-Man would’ve embraced its true size even more.

Besides that single complaint about the scope not being quite small enough (still, I love that it is substantially smaller than most other Hollywood flicks), all I have is praise for the movie. Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are all great, and so are Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale. I loved the entire cast, basically. One stand-out was Michael Pena, who has two monologue-ish sequences, both of which are my favorite bits in the entire movie. In fact, Michael Pena just brought the heat. I was the only person in the theatre who couldn’t help but laugh out loud when he said “that’s some David Copperfield shit” in response to seeing Rudd’s Ant-Man for the first time. And then he says some funny stuff about what kind of art he likes at an art gallery, and it’s all just great dialogue. I could smell Edgar Wright’s work in this from a mile away. A+ stuff. Not to mention the other members of Rudd’s heist team were great; T.I. Harris and David Dastmalchian (the actor who played that one psycho guy during the attempted Gordon assassination in The Dark Knight!) were awesome in their smaller roles. In fact, I’m pretty sure I just named everyone in the primary cast, mainly because they were all fantastic. Easily my favorite full cast of any Marvel movie yet. Everyone, literally everyone, was great. Even the little girl who plays Rudd’s daughter was phenomenal, though she could’ve acted a bit more scared when Yellowjacket was seemingly threatening to kill her. Otherwise, she was perfect. And speaking of Yellowjacket, how could I forget to mention my House of Cards boy, Corey Stoll! Dude was fucking great! Loved him! Some say he was a cliche villain, but for this movie’s purposes I think he was just believable enough to work. And lastly, but definitely not least, a certain Avenger makes a sizable appearance in this movie. Anthony Mackie is present in Ant-Man and manages to deliver the perfect level of MCU integration without over-encroaching on the movie’s Rudd-centric focus.

That’s another aspect of Ant-Man I loved: there was a large amount of MCU world-building present, but none of it felt intrusive. In fact, what they built off of from Age of Ultron almost made all of that movie’s utter shit worth it. Almost. There’s also a really cool intro involving old-SHIELD featuring Howard Stark and Peggy Carter, reminding us that the old world referenced in Iron Man 2 and Captain America: The First Avenger is still a thing.

Script-wise, the amount of humor present was absolutely perfect. This was naturally going to be a slightly funnier movie based solely off the premise and Edgar Wright’s inclusion, but unlike Iron Man 3, this movie knows what it is. It doesn’t try to balance heroic epic with comedic adventure, it just accepts that it is the latter and soars with flying colors.

Lastly, Ant-Man himself is awesome. The size-shifting nature of the hero is put to use in some of the coolest and most creative scenes I’ve witnessed in comic book hero cinematic history, and the utter enjoyment I got out of watching Rudd flung from a DJ’s soundboard onto a scattered dance floor where he had to dodge go-go boots was borderline unreasonable. It was just so much fun, I can’t even express it.

Overall, the more I talk about the movie, the more I realize how much I loved it. While Iron Man will always hold that special number one spot in my heart, Ant-Man has quickly nudged itself to a cozy number two, easily being the best thing to come out of Marvel Studios since 2008.


Man of Steel Is Better Than Most Marvel Flicks

Having just re-watched Man of Steel, I have to say, it has aged SUPERBLY. These past two years, filled with nothing but Marvel-this and Marvel-that, have kind of desensitized me to the notion of a superhero movie actually having stakes. Thankfully, after my re-visitation of Man of Steel, I now remember why we need heroes in the first place.2840438-bg
Marvel movies range from great fun to shitty. Captain America: TWS and Iron Man 1 fall into the former, while Age of Ultron claims the latter title like it’s a trophy. But, regardless of their individual merits and pitfalls, the one overarching issue is that the stakes are never high in any of them. Ever. Mainly because A.) they’re Marvel and don’t want to go dark, and B.) they need to keep everyone happy and healthy for the MCU inter-connectivity to be sustained. And that means that none of the movies can ever reach the title of “epic”, since they all cap out at the aforementioned “great fun” due to their low stakes. Man of Steel, however, was epic. When I first watched it I was still a bit blinded by Marvel’s unprecedented success, so I couldn’t give it a fair shake. After Age of Ultron, well, those blinders were GONE. So, with the advent of my second viewing of MoS, I have to say, it’s a stellar movie. The villain is SPECTACULAR, and even for his miscasting, Michael Shannon still does a fantastic job. More importantly, though, he’s written so that he actually gets shit done. Particularly, that scene with the world engine sucking up people in Metropolis, then slamming them into the earth (effectively mushing their bodies to microscopic pieces) was borderline cringe-inducing, and that’s a good thing. When the villain in a movie actively makes you go “dude, stop, pleaseeee” instead of “Hey, guys, can we let James Spader win a round or something?” you know the writers are doing something right.

I just don’t want to watch another Marvel film, because I can already tell the plot before even having watched the movie. That’s not to say I won’t go and see them, but it definitely won’t be at full-ticket price anymore, and not in the first week of release either. DC has proven that they’re willing to take risks, however, and with shit like Age of Ultron coming out of the opponent’s camp, I think they’ll find that more people are receptive to their gambits now. With that said, DC, please don’t let your own DCU stumble into the same pitfalls that the MCU is currently entrenched in. While Batman V Superman‘s trailer definitely looks like it will continue off Man of Steel‘s strength, don’t sacrifice high-stakes conflict solely for a Justice League jamboree.

The Scrap Yard

Review of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”

Did I like The Winter Soldier? Yes. Will this be a glowing review like every other one out there? No.Captain_America_The_Winter_Soldier_Teaser_poster_2

Captain America finally gets his reinvention story in the form of The Winter Soldier, transforming from WWII soldier to modern day lone wolf/SHIELD agent. Everyone returns to help Cap (Chris Evans) in his endeavors, like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and even generic SHIELD agents like Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders). New faces include The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and the titular Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan, who’s not really a new face but portrays a new character). There are a couple of other surprise appearances, but I won’t spoil them here (and no, Red Skull/Hugo Weaving does not return). Needless to say, the dream cast is all here.

The four core elements of Marvel movies seem to be the plot, the humor, the action and the characters. Characters are pretty much a guaranteed jackpot at this point given Marvel’s track record, but the other three areas need discussing.

Firstly, the humor. Iron Man 3 was godawful in the humor department, with the phrase “too soon” coming to mind almost every time a joke was said. Seriously, a bull in a China shop would’ve been a lot subtler than the writers of that movie. Thor 2 actually managed to get the humor down to an understandable level, but still a bit much for my tastes (although the movie as a whole is tied with this one for my personal fav. Marvel flick of all time). The Winter Soldier nails the humor perfectly: It’s snappy, it’s quick and it’s relatively unobtrusive. Most importantly, it’s actually funny, for a change. +1 point for the writer who included a hella funny Pulp Fiction reference.

The action: It’s brutal, it’s uncomfortable and it actually feels scary for a change. Because it’s Captain America, there is no super-powered suit of metal to save him. There is no magical hammer of the Gods to rescue him. He has his fists and a better-than-average frisbee to protect himself with, and that means combating someone like the Winter Soldier can get pretty messy. Cap’s fights are usually fun, energetic beat-’em-ups when fighting grunts, but his run-ins with the Winter Soldier can get downright uncomfortable near the end, in terms of sheer brutality and unflinching cruelty. I like it, as it’s a nice change of pace from the nonsense of Iron Man 3 where Stark remains unscathed from the billions of insta-killing lasers flying by him every five seconds. There was actually one moment towards the very end where I had to close my eyes for a second — it’s that intense.

The plot: Surprisingly well done, with one gargantuan, fatal flaw. As far as positives go, the plot nails everything: It’s got an interesting, extremely well done opening similar to Hoth in Star Wars Episode 5, feeling like its own epic mini-movie that ties in perfectly with the bigger, stronger second and third acts. From there, the plot keeps the predictability, unlike the average superhero flick, to a minimum. The Winter Soldier only including a handful of annoying clichés; some of which just couldn’t be avoided, I suppose, given the nature of the cinematic universe Marvel has worked so hard to build and maintain.

That aforementioned fatal flaw with the plot will be discussed here, as it is my one, heartbreaking issue with the movie as a whole: It’s a prologue. (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) Similar to the theatrical adaptation of The Golden Compass, The Winter Soldier leaves you with a setup for the next movie, but with no payoff of its own. I can equate this to a movie like Gone With The Wind, which was a 4+ hour epic that was divided into two separate parts (one per each DVD). The difference with Gone With The Wind, however, is that it was all released at one time, as the colossal movie it was meant to be. The Winter Soldier feels like Marvel is just giving you a massive preview; just disc one of a two-disc movie. It’s perfect sequel-baiting, done as well as it will ever be done in the history of cinema, but I’ve had enough of this continual carrot-in-front-of-the-mouth shit that studios are continuously pulling these days, egging us on with the promise of closure and payoff.

On a final note, The Winter Soldier is an utterly amazing movie. The more I let it ruminate inside my head, the more I love it. It’s the most adult, most unapologetic and most relevant movie Marvel has released since the original Iron Man, and it might just be my favorite Marvel movie of all time. But, to be frank, I don’t believe it’s the masterpiece everyone claims it is, and I refuse to call it that until Captain America 3 is released and I can watch this one and that one back-to-back, and have a complete godamn movie.