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Wednesday, December 17, 2014 09:58 AM
On the Viewer - A Look Back at Recent TV at the Winter Break
 by Fëanor

I've been trying to keep up with TV shows while they're actually on TV this season! I haven't actually watched most of them on TV (just caught the replays online later), but still.

I gave up on this one after a couple of episodes. Just couldn't stand the ridiculous, ham-handed foreshadowing, the incredibly cliche way they were handling the Bruce Wayne character (he's grieving and hurt! You can tell because he's drawing scary things and listening to heavy metal!), and the relentless darkness. There were also one or two spots where I just couldn't suspend my disbelief. (Sorry, but one person cannot hide on an empty school bus from another person who knows they are in there.) I'm disappointed, but a bit relieved, as it would have been difficult to keep up with this show along with all the others I'm watching!

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
I'm pleased to say that season two of this show picked up quite a bit after that rather lame first episode. I often find the dialog and writing a bit clumsy, but it's still a fun and exciting show with plenty of humor and unexpected twists and turns, and I always look forward to the next episode. I particularly like Patton Oswalt's inexplicable gang of twin brothers, and it's exciting to have seen, in the most recent episode, the birth of a superhero. I'm a bit ashamed to say that I had to do a bit of research to discover that a couple of the characters we thought we knew are actually minor characters straight out of the pages of the comics. Cool stuff! I'm a little disappointed to (spoiler alert!) lose a promising character, and one of the only two black guys on the show at that. Especially since I'm still stinging from the loss of Lucy Lawless. But we'll see. People rarely stay dead in Whedon world.

The Flash
This is one of my favorite current TV shows - possibly my very favorite. It's definitely the best superhero show on TV, and the only one that's really succeeded in capturing the flavor of superhero comic books - the earnest emotions, the heroism, the over-the-top insanity, the goofiness. It's just a ton of fun, with lovable characters, a good sense of humor, and a warm heart. Plus, an exciting ongoing story with secrets and romance and betrayal, and new supervillains and superheroes getting introduced every episode. I was a little disappointed that in the Arrow crossover episode, the actual confrontation with the villain occurs off-screen (!!!), but I guess that wasn't what the episode was really about. It was, as it should be, focused on the characters. It was about Barry - his unresolved issues with Iris, his overconfidence. It was also about Oliver and what a different hero he is from Barry. I hadn't watched Arrow before, but I was inspired by this episode to jump over and watch that show's followup crossover with Flash. It was quite good! Dealt with some pretty deep, and very timely, ethical issues around torture, and whether the ends justify the means. I might have to catch up on the rest of Arrow at some point.

I read an article or two that suggests this show might get cancelled soon, which is a shame, because it's quite good and has the potential to be even better. Basically it's a monster-of-the-week show, with the bitter, sarcastic, haunted (but sexy!) loner Constantine using dubious magic to save people as best he can. But, as with most shows, there's an over-arching story in the background as well, about a mysterious Rising Darkness that Constantine must stop. There's also a blot on his soul from an exorcism gone wrong that he's hoping he can somehow wipe clean; a guardian angel who hangs around him, mostly teasing him with vague pronouncements; and a visionary artist partner with her own mysterious past that's come back to haunt her. He's also got an inexplicably immortal buddy and a totally sweet hideout full of creepy magical artifacts.

The bitter, sarcastic, haunted (but sexy!) loner act can be grating at times, and the show has been a bit unimaginative and even racist in terms of who it casts as the villain (a gypsy witch, a black voodoo man), but it's got good ideas, interesting characters, it's exciting, and what the heck, I love a good monster-of-the-week show. The cliffhanger before the winter break was particularly stunning.

Star Wars: Rebels
The latest Star Wars animated series, and the follow-up to the sadly cancelled Clone Wars, is a really fun show that I enjoy quite a lot. It's set in the period between Episode III and Episode IV, after the fall of the Republic and Anakin and the Jedi, and before the rise of the Rebellion and Luke Skywalker. The Empire has a firm grip on the galaxy and is looking to solidify that hold by mercilessly destroying anyone with even the potential to become a threat - like, for instance, anyone with Force sensitivity, including children. One such child is our main character, a self-interested, street-wise, not-particularly-law-abiding orphan named Ezra. When Ezra runs into a small rebel cell led by a Jedi named Kanan, they make him realize there might be more to life than just stealing what he needs to survive and letting everybody else fend for themselves. He joins the crew of the Ghost, which includes the ship's pilot and owner, Hera; a Mandalorian explosives expert named Sabine (on whom Ezra quickly develops a crush); a screwy, grumpy droid called Chopper; and a big, tough, prickly creature named Zeb, who's one of the last Lasats in the galaxy, thanks to the Empire nearly wiping them out. Needless to say, he's not too happy about that.

The crew of the Ghost do what they can to ruin the Empire's day and to protect the citizens being crushed under its heel. Meanwhile, Kanan tries to teach Ezra how to be a Jedi, Ezra tries to figure out what the Empire did to his parents, and they all try to steer clear of the Empire's Sith agent, the Inquisitor, who's working clean-up for Darth Vader, executing any Jedi or potential Jedi he can get his hands on.

One of the things I like most about the show is the different perspective it has on the Star Wars universe. The great majority of other Star Wars shows and movies have focused on the most important characters in a huge conflict: the Generals and Emperors and Ambassadors. This is a story about a handful of criminals and misfits living on the outskirts of everything. There is no Rebellion yet, as we see it in A New Hope. There's just this little bunch of angry weirdos doing what they can against an impossibly huge and dangerous enemy.

I also really like the great dynamic that's developed among the main characters. They're an uneasy dysfunctional family, always fighting with each other, but under the surface, bonded tightly together by mutual loss and a united purpose. Also, there are two women in there, and they're important and interesting and active characters!

Which makes me doubly pissed that when they put out the first wave of Rebels action figures, those two characters were not included. Seriously, they put out Rebels-branded figures of characters who only make cameo appearances in the show (Darth Vader and Obi-wan Kenobi), and others who are not even in the show at all (Jango Fett, a Clone Trooper, and Luke Skywalker), but did not release figures of two of the main characters. If you're going to try to tell me that has nothing to do with the fact that those two characters are women, then I'm going to tell you you're wrong.

Sorry, I get super pissed whenever I think about that. Anyway, the point is, it's a good show!
Tagged (?): Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Not), Comic books (Not), Flash (Not), On the Viewer (Not), TV (Not)
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Monday, June 17, 2013 12:18 PM
(Last updated on Thursday, June 20, 2013 10:59 AM)
On the Viewer - Man of Steel
 by Fëanor

My brother and I celebrated Father's Day yesterday by ditching our families and going to see a movie! Because there's nothing a father wants more on his special day than to have his children leave him the hell alone for a couple of hours for God's sake. But I kid!

As it turns out, we picked a very appropriate movie to go watch on Father's Day: the latest reboot of the Superman story, Man of Steel. One of its major themes is the bond between fathers and sons.

At this point Superman movies fulfill the same role that a play in Ancient Greece did. Everybody in the audience knows the story and how it plays out. There are no real surprises. We just want to see that same story acted out again with skill and power, providing the right amount of comedy, tragedy, and catharsis. To that end, Man of Steel starts as every Superman story does: on the planet Krypton, with a frustrated Jor-El (Russell Crowe) trying in vain to convince the rulers of his people that the planet is doomed, while he and his wife Lara (Ayelet Zurer) secretly prepare to launch their son, Kal-El, toward a distant planet where they know he will be not only safe, but as powerful as a God. Man of Steel spends a little more time on the Krypton portion of the story than usual (and a little more time than I was really comfortable with), revealing that the planet's children have been genetically engineered for centuries, and that Kal-El was, in an act of rebellion, born naturally, outside of this system. (Perhaps this religious adherence to eugenics explains why everybody on Krypton is whiter than white bread.) There's also a lot of nonsense with robots and lasers and flying lizards and a beaten up old skull which will end up making a little more sense later on in the movie - but not a lot more sense. Frankly, I could have done without a lot of this, and I kind of prefer the super-fast, super-short origin we saw in the Christopher Reeves movie (thanks, Marlon Brando, you weirdo, for refusing to be on screen for more than a few minutes!), and in Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman (see here). I found the Krypton sequence boring, melodramatic, and overdone (although admittedly the moment where the desperate parents have to say good-bye to the son they barely know to save him is pretty moving). But it does perform the important function of introducing us to the McGuffin that will drive the story (that beaten up old skull, which is called the Codex) and the villain of the piece, who will again be familiar to Superman fans: General Zod (Michael Shannon). Zod has a trusty lieutenant named Faora-Ul (Antje Traue) and a holy mission to protect the people of Krypton. He and Jor-El agree that the leaders of Krypton are fools, but disagree a bit on what to do about it; Zod decides to crash in with guns blazing, which ultimately gets him thrown in a prison called the Phantom Zone, a punishment that, ironically, ends up protecting him and his fellow rebels from the fate that awaits nearly every other Kryptonian: death by apocalyptic planetary explosion. The movie does a rather poor job of explaining why no other Kryptonians make even a half-hearted attempt to escape the destruction of their world. I mean, I get that a lot of them were blind to the calamity that was coming, but surely Jor-El and Lara weren't the only ones aware that the planet was about to blow up, and clearly the Kryptonians have the technical ability to fly through space. Maybe they should have left Zod and his buddies on the planet and all gotten into the Phantom Zone themselves? Just an idea.

Anyway, at this point the movie mercifully leaves Krypton behind and jumps across time and space to Earth some 33 years in the future (does that number sound familiar? More on that later). We meet a now fully grown (and fully bearded!) Kal-El (Henry Cavill) and learn that although he is aware of his incredible powers, he has kept them hidden, only using them in emergencies, and quickly vanishing afterwards, so that his true nature and identity are hidden. He is a wanderer, helping where he can (and occasionally taking extravagant vengeance on jerks who mess with him), but never staying anywhere long. We learn in a series of (incredibly moving and well done) flashbacks that this is in accordance with the wishes of his now dead adoptive father, Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), who believed that humanity was not ready to know that a super-powered alien was living among them. But he also believed his son was capable of great things, and when the time came, he would change the world.

Clark Kent's wandering eventually causes him to cross paths with intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams), who's investigating a mysterious discovery at the North Pole. This discovery holds the key to Clark's origin, and will trigger the arrival of Zod, who will force Clark to reveal himself to the world, and to choose between the planet of his birth, and the planet he grew up on.

Like its namesake, Man of Steel has strengths and weaknesses. It's at its strongest when it focuses on the character of Clark Kent/Kal-El. The scenes dealing with his troubled past, with him growing up as an outsider and a freak, learning to control his powers and to be a good man with the help of his mother (Diane Lane) and his father - these are fantastic, incredibly moving, and absolutely pitch perfect. Lane, Costner, and Cavill are tremendous in these roles, not to mention the kids they got to play the young Clark (Cooper Timberline and Dylan Sprayberry), who look so much like tiny Cavills it's incredible. Adams' is as brave, tenacious, and stubborn a Lois as we could hope for, and although Crowe is occasionally ponderous and stuffy, he still manages to show us a bit of Jor-El's "humanity" (such as it is) and his fatherly wisdom. Laurence Fishburne, Christopher Meloni, and Richard Schiff acquit themselves well in ancillary roles (although I kept waiting to hear the bum-bum Law & Order sound effect whenever Meloni came on screen), but this is rightly Cavill's movie. Director Zak Snyder and crackerjack writing team David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan make the very interesting, non-standard choice to wait until the very end of the story for Kal-El to embrace his identity as Clark Kent, reporter. And I can't even tell you how much I love that scene, and Lois' line, "Welcome to The Planet." It reminds me a bit of the way Iron Man ends, with Tony only then coming into his own and embracing his new identity. In a way, Kal becomes Superman first and Clark Kent second, which rather neatly underlines which of those identities is the true one, and which the mask he wears.

The movie is not at all subtle about making the now de rigueur comparison between Superman and Christ. If the imagery, a simple plot summary, and that 33 years thing weren't enough, Snyder even goes so far as to have Clark talk about sacrificing himself for all humanity... with a priest... in a church... while there is literally, in the same shot, a stained-glass window depicting Christ over his shoulder. I'm not going to complain too much, as I rather like the allusion - it gives more strength and power to Superman's legend - but being hit on the head with a hammer can be a bit painful.

The action scenes, though sometimes a bit overwhelming, are extremely impressive. Technology has improved a bit since the last time we saw Kal-El and Zod clash on the big screen, and it shows. Their battle takes place on a global scale, and the amount of devastation that Metropolis experiences is breathtaking. (The people of Metropolis give the people of Krypton a run for their money in terms of poor judgement, however, hanging around in their hundreds on the streets and in the buildings well after it should have been obvious it was time to get the hell out.) I also really enjoyed the Kryptonian technology Jor-El's "ghost" uses to tell his son the story of his people; it's not only a neat effect, it's a beautiful piece of design.

Where the movie is weakest is in pretty much any scene on Krypton or any scene involving Zod. I like Shannon in the role, but the character makes little sense. He is not written as if he were a person, but rather as if he were a Villain and a Plot Device. He is there to make Superman become Superman, to test him and his limits, and that's it. An attempt is made, rather late in the movie, to give him an understandable motivation - his overwhelming desire to protect the people of Krypton, no matter what the cost - but it doesn't really explain a lot of his actions. If he really wanted Kal-El to trust and help him, why immediately treat him like a criminal and an enemy? Why insert into his head a vision of himself being drowned by the skulls of everyone he's ever known and loved? He could have, I don't know, lied to him just a little about what he was planning to do? I'm not sure anybody's ever gone about trying to convince somebody to help them in a more wrong-headed fashion. And then at the end, (spoiler alert) he practically forces Superman to kill him, and it feels more like a test for Kal-El as a character than something Zod would actually do if he were really trying to achieve his ends.

[UPDATE: I should also mention that I was bothered by the fact that there were very few scenes of Superman saving people. Sure, one of Superman's main missions is punching bad guys, and he does plenty of that, but really his primary mission is saving innocent people, and although there are a couple of pivotal scenes where he does that (including the very pivotal climactic moment in his battle with Zod), they're mostly in flashbacks, in scenes where he's not even wearing the Superman suit yet. In the main action of the film, there's a lot of long sequences of him and Zod and Zod's buddies blowing stuff up and breaking things with only a very rare pause for Superman to look over and notice that there are innocent people around and maybe he should shove one out of the way before he knocks that building over or blows up that gas station. It's hard to believe there isn't a lot of collateral damage here, and it's hard to understand why the Superman we know and love would allow that to happen.]

I like the idea of Kal having to choose between his birth home and his adopted home, but the way the movie's written, this doesn't end up being a hard choice for him at all. Everyone he's ever known or loved is on Earth. He knows almost nothing about Krypton, and every Kryptonian he meets tries to kill him. It's kind of a no-brainer.

I enjoyed spotting a couple of neat references to the DC Universe in the background of the movie. A satellite that gets wrecked during an action sequence belongs to Wayne Enterprises, and a number of vehicles have the Lex Corp logo on them. Actually, as my brother was pointing out after we'd finished watching Man of Steel, it seemed odd that Lex himself didn't make an appearance in this movie. One of its major themes, and the main argument Clark has with his father, is the question of whether humanity is ready for Superman or not - if they will accept him or reject him. And Lex Luthor is pretty much the embodiment of humanity rejecting Superman. Ah, well. Maybe he'll show up in Man of Steel 2.

Speaking of which, I'm looking forward to the sequel. Despite its missteps, I really enjoyed Man of Steel. I laughed, I cried, I believed a man could fly. I'm ready for another story about this Superman. Especially now that Krypton's good and blown up and we don't have to worry about it anymore.
Tagged (?): Comic books (Not), Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not), Superman (Not)
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013 09:56 AM
On the Viewer - Iron Man 3
 by Fëanor

Hey, poppy and I saw this movie! It's good.

One thing I like about these Marvel movies: things don't just happen, and then they're resolved and that's that. Tony and Pepper are a couple now, but that doesn't mean that everything is fine with them and it's happily ever after. They have the same problems any couple has, only one of them is the CEO of a multinational technology company, and the other is a super-genius superhero with post-traumatic stress disorder, so their problems are magnified considerably. And that's another thing: the events of The Avengers are not just glossed over. What Tony did there - how he almost died, how he killed hundreds of living things - has had a lasting impact on him and the people around him. He is not okay. He is still dealing with what happened. Like a real human being would.

The way he deals with these issues is the way he has always dealt with all his issues: he tinkers. He builds. No one knows how much. He's up to Mark XLII of his suit now, and this one comes in pieces that fly onto his body automatically when he calls them with a simple movement of his arms. Of course, it doesn't work perfectly. This is another thing I like about Tony: he is not perfect. He's arrogant, and kind of a jerk, and when he tries to be really cool, he often fails and trips over himself and his cool new gadget punches him in the crotch.

The movie opens with a glimpse into Tony's shameful past, when he was even more of a jerk. There's a one night stand with a brilliant scientist named Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) who's developed an amazing piece of biological technology called Extremis. And Tony unwisely and cruelly brushes off another very smart person: Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who's just started a new company that he calls A.I.M. (a name that will mean a lot to fans of Marvel comics). Jumping forward in time, we find that Killian has done very well for himself. He's now handsome and strong and successful, and he's taken over development of Hansen's Extremis. Again he tries to connect up with Tony's company, this time through Pepper, who's a little stunned by his new appearance, but is not interested in what he's selling; it sounds too much like a weapon to her. Which, of course, it is.

Meanwhile, a new threat is rising in the world. A mysterious terrorist who calls himself the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). This is another very familiar name to Marvel comics fans, but it's rather a tricky character to handle. The Mandarin, when he was originally created in the comics, was basically an old fashioned, Fu Manchu-type, Yellow Peril villain. Luckily, writer/director Shane Black and co-writer Drew Pearce come up with a brilliant new twist on the character that makes him not only palatable, but also funny and believable, and gives Ben Kingsley a truly wonderful role to sink his teeth into.

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Pepper gets to suit up and do some pretty amazing things in this movie, and that it's great. I'm only disappointed it didn't last longer and she didn't get to do more. Also, the movie passes the Bechdel test, which is exciting to see in a superhero movie.

One of my favorite sequences in the movie is when Tony finds himself alone in a small town and ends up teaming up with a young kid named Harley. If Harley is a character from a comic book, I didn't recognize him. He's a random kid with his own scars and issues and he and Tony lean on each other for a bit. I like very much that when Tony is in the middle of another PTSD attack, Harley gets him out of it by reminding him that he is a mechanic and he should just build something. That puts him back together, gives him something to hold onto.

Sometimes the movie's plot doesn't hold together as well as I'd like. Sometimes things happen that are a little hard to swallow. But the more I think about it, the less this matters to me. Most of it holds together pretty well. And from the beginning of the first Iron Man movie, you've had to accept that Tony is capable of impossibly amazing things when left on his own with almost no resources.

Iron Man 3 is another good superhero movie from the Marvel people because it is not just about action set pieces and things blowing up and super people punching each other (although it is certainly about those things, too). It is about people being human, and failing, and getting back up, and failing again, but changing, and eventually, slowly, maybe healing a bit and turning into slightly better people. By the end of the movie, Tony is still a scarred, beaten up asshole. But he's a little more aware of his own failings, and a little better than he was before. We know he'll always be a mechanic and a tinkerer, but maybe he won't be quite as obsessive about it now. As he points out, Iron Man is not the suit: Iron Man is him, the man inside. He can step out of it, and still be himself. Still be a hero.
Tagged (?): Comic books (Not), Iron Man (Not), Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not)
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Sunday, March 3, 2013 08:49 PM
Spec Script
 by Fëanor

Here is a story that Griffin and I developed the other night while I was giving him a bath and he was playing with his "tiny Super Friends" (which are a dozen small plastic figures of various DC super heroes and villains):

Hawkman was hungry, so he swooped down and grabbed a fish out of the water with his teeth and ate it. But Aquaman popped up out of the water and berated him for eating the fish out of his ocean without his permission. So Hawkman said he would go get a hamburger at the fast food place instead. But then one by one all the other Super Friends appeared asking Hawkman to pick up a hamburger for them, too, since he was going. And Hawkman was very put out.

I'll await a call from DC Comics.
Tagged (?): Children (Not), Comic books (Not), Griffin (Not), Parenthood (Not), Parenting (Not)
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Saturday, January 26, 2013 06:13 AM
The Dangers of Having a Comic Book Geek Dad
 by Fëanor

I can't remember where he got them (I think from my brother?), but Griff has small action figures of Hulk and Thor. Last night he suddenly got really excited about them and had them fighting each other. Then he decided that his Playmobil astronaut should join in on the fight. I pointed out that unless the astronaut had some omega-level mutant powers I didn't know about, he wouldn't be much of a match for Hulk and Thor.

Later he insisted on taking the Hulk figure with him into the bath, and he started swinging it around in the air, and told me he was flying. "Actually," I began. I told him the Hulk couldn't really fly, but he could jump really high and really far. The next time Griff started to say that the Hulk was flying, he corrected himself and said he was jumping. I nodded proudly and said, "Now that's canon!"

Griffin also insisted on taking the Hulk figure with him when he went to bed. This morning the first thing he said to me when I came into his room was, "Where's Hulk?" When we came downstairs, he demanded Batman on TV.

Ah, my little fanboy.
Tagged (?): Batman (Not), Children (Not), Comic books (Not), Griffin (Not), Hulk (Not), Parenthood (Not), Parenting (Not)
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Monday, November 26, 2012 01:37 PM
(Last updated on Monday, November 26, 2012 02:53 PM)
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Advertising (Not), Animals (Not), Animated GIFs (Not), Art (Not), Buffy (Not), Cartoons (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Commercials (Not), Craft (Not), Dogs (Not), Gadgets (Not), Holiday (Not), Links (Not), Movies (Not), News (Not), Painting (Not), Photography (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Science (Not), Space (Not), Star Wars (Not), Superman (Not), Technology (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not), Weather (Not)
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Monday, November 19, 2012 10:44 AM
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Animated GIFs (Not), Art (Not), Celebrities (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Computers (Not), Disney (Not), Environment (Not), Fashion (Not), James Bond (Not), Links (Not), Movies (Not), News (Not), Photography (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Star Trek (Not), Star Wars (Not), Toys (Not)
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Friday, June 22, 2012 03:57 PM
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Aliens (Not), Animals (Not), Animated GIFs (Not), Art (Not), Avengers (Not), Business (Not), Cartoons (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Diablo (Not), Diablo 3 (Not), Links (Not), Movies (Not), Muppets (Not), News (Not), Parenthood (Not), Parenting (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Robots (Not), Science (Not), Tolkien (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not), Web comics (Not)
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Monday, May 28, 2012 07:23 AM
(Last updated on Monday, May 28, 2012 10:18 AM)
On the Viewer - The Avengers
 by Fëanor

In a way, it was all leading up to this. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk: all the individual origin stories of individual members of a team - the super team: The Avengers. But ensemble movies are hard. Could they pull it off? Could they bring it all together and tell a story about that team without short-shrifting any of the members of that team?

It was certainly a good start that the individual movies were so great. And they were great because they avoided the major pitfalls of superhero movies. Instead of disposing of the origin story in the first fifteen minutes and then spending the rest of the movie packing as many explosions, villains, and sidekicks into the story as possible, they spent the entire movie telling the origin story, and focusing on character, and on the character's arc, and on the becoming and the changing of that character. Tony Stark doesn't say "I am Iron Man" until the very last shot of Iron Man, because it's only then that he's changed enough to be Iron Man; the entire movie has been his origin story, his growth into the person he is in that last scene. Thor is also all about Thor growing up, coming into his own, becoming worthy of the power and the responsibility that's his. Captain America is about a good man seeking a cause and a purpose, becoming lost along the way, and then finally finding his mission, only to have his whole world snatched away from him in his moment of triumph. The Incredible Hulk is about a man coming to grips with the fact that there is a monster inside him.

With all these heroes and their characters firmly established, Avengers attempts to tell a story about all of them figuring out how to work together as a group against a common foe. And it succeeds beautifully, because those characters have been so well established and are so well inhabited by the actors, and because writer/director Joss Whedon handles them so well and with such a good sense of humor. It also helps that Whedon realizes a character is pretty boring if it's not still growing and changing, and thus he gives all these characters individual conflicts and obstacles to overcome.

For the purposes of the film, the Avengers are Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, who's new to the part, but easily masters a difficult and oft-attempted role), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and Captain America (Chris Evans). I'm not sure if that was ever the exact lineup of the Avengers in the comic books, but the lineup of the Avengers has changed so often over the years, and included so many characters, that I wouldn't be surprised. It's no coincidence that the only two non-super-powered people on the team (Hawkeye and Black Widow) are also the only two people on the team who didn't get to star in their own movies before this one, but were only introduced as secondary/tertiary characters in somebody else's movie (Hawkeye first appeared in Thor, and Black Widow in Iron Man 2). Because of this, Whedon spends a bit more time introducing these two characters, and gives both of them central parts in the film's conflict. Hawkeye is revealed to be a nearly superhuman bad-ass when it comes to archery, thanks in part to his really snazzy multi-function quiver. Black Widow's specialty is lulling her enemies into a false sense of security - making them believe they've got her safely in their power - and then quietly getting all the information she needs out of them before kicking their asses. She's pretty fantastic. And of course, like everybody else on the team, Black Widow and Hawkeye have their own flaws and demons.

The movie opens with the introduction of the main villain, who happens to be the same villain from Thor: Thor's brother, Loki (a fascinatingly twisted and flawed character played with grinning relish by Tom Hiddleston). (Although we learn right away that there's actually an even more powerful villain pulling the strings behind and above Loki, we won't learn that character's identity until the end credits have already begun rolling.) In the opening scene, Loki takes possession not only of the Red Skull's secret weapon from Captain America (an incredibly powerful magic cube called the tesseract), but also Hawkeye, and Thor's scientist friend Dr. Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård). In the process he pisses off Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), which is never a good idea. It's Fury who decides to finally activate the Avengers Initiative and assemble the super team to beat all super teams in an attempt to stop Loki. He's aided by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Coulson (given wonderfully nerdy life by Clark Gregg) and Hill (Cobie Smulders, who does a competent job with a character that is sadly mostly free from personality and individuality).

Which means it's time for some extremely fun introductory/assembly scenes, with lots of funny and clever dialogue, and then lots and lots of action. Whedon even fits in a traditional element of all superhero team-up stories and has the heroes fight each other first before coming to their senses and joining up to fight together.

As I said, each of the team members has their own flaws and conflicts, and together they're just a big bundle of drama that's just waiting to explode, with Dr. Banner/the Hulk as the powder keg at the center, and Loki as the match. Can Tony Stark rein in his ego and inability to follow the rules and learn to work in a group? If it comes down to it, can he put his selfishness aside and sacrifice himself for the common good? Can Steve Rogers pull his mind out of the past, come to grips with the insane world he's been thrown into, and lead this team? Can Thor forget that Loki is his brother and do the right thing by the people of Earth? Can Banner really hold it together long enough to help out before he smashes his own friends to bits? Is Hawkeye so lost that he'll really betray his own planet? Even if he doesn't, can he live with the guilt of what he's done? And speaking of living with guilt, can Black Widow handle the skeletons in her own closet, while also taking down her own lover, should the need arise? And can they all keep fighting for S.H.I.E.L.D. even after learning all the dirty little secrets Fury is keeping from them?

If you're familiar with Joss Whedon's work, you'll have no trouble recognizing his style here. The clever, sarcastic dialog peppered with pop culture references is front and center, as are some favorite narrative constructs. If you like Whedon's stuff, you'll like this. If you don't usually like Whedon's stuff... well, you might like this anyway. It's pretty fantastic. And of course, by the end of the movie, we're all set up for an Avengers 2. Or an Iron Man 3. Or a Captain America 2. Or what have you. The point is, more is clearly on the way, and I am more than okay with that.

As I've already mentioned, and as you should already know if you've seen any other Marvel movie recently, there's more movie to come even after the credits have started rolling. But The Avengers ups the ante in this as well as in pretty much every other category and gives us two post-credits scenes. The second one may now be one of my favorite scenes in cinematic history. It's simple and silent and warm and hilarious. A cherry on top of a seriously delicious and well constructed sundae of a film. I'll have another, please.

UPDATE: Some favorite moments (includes spoilers):
  • Harry Dean Stanton, whom you may remember from Alien, has a cameo as a random guy who asks Dr. Banner if he is an alien.

  • Dr. Banner reveals his secret ("I'm always angry") before turning into the Hulk, punching a giant alien monster once, and causing it to immediately crumple and die.

  • Banner: "I put a bullet in my mouth and the other guy spit it out."

  • Coulson patiently waiting on hold while Black Widow dispatches her captors. "This moron is telling me everything!"

  • Loki starts doing a standard bad guy speech and the Hulk just pounds him on the ground a couple times and walks away, leaving him in a crater. "Puny God."

  • We zoom out from Stark Tower at the end and only the "A" in "Stark" is left. Avengers Tower!

  • Tony: "Why is he 'Phil?'"

  • Loki tells everyone to kneel and one old German man stands up. Cap protects him, and points out that a guy asked everybody to kneel in Germany once, and Cap ended up disagreeing with him.

  • Banner: "Sorry, that was mean. I wanted to see what you would do." Black Widow stares at him wide-eyed.

  • Tony: "Better clench up, Legolas."

  • Tony making a joke about Life Model Decoys. (Nice reference!)

  • Cap silently handing Nick Fury a ten dollar bill.

  • Also, I don't think Coulson's really dead. Fury probably let everybody think he was dead so they'd have the inspiration to join together and fight for his memory. I hope so, anyway; I love Coulson.
Tagged (?): Avengers (Not), Comic books (Not), Movies (Not), On the Viewer (Not)
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Wednesday, May 16, 2012 03:05 PM
 by Fëanor

Fëanor pours the entire internet into the Recyclotron, and only the best links come out the other end for you to enjoy.

Tagged (?): Animals (Not), Animated GIFs (Not), Art (Not), Cartoons (Not), Celebrities (Not), Comedy (Not), Comic books (Not), Diablo (Not), Doctor Who (Not), Hulk (Not), Links (Not), Lists (Not), Movies (Not), Music (Not), News (Not), Photography (Not), Pixar (Not), Recyclotron (Not), Superman (Not), Toy Story (Not), TV (Not), Video (Not), Video games (Not)
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