Category Archives: Exploring the Marvel Universe

Captain America: The Last Piece to The Avengers

By Brian Slattery

Captain America is the most important piece of the Avengers puzzle. Why is that? Because Steve Rogers has everything needed in a super human. He has an unflappable spirit, tactical intelligence, and the willingness to put his own life on the line to save those around him. Oh yeah, and he had all those traits when he was the size of one of the Hulk‘s toothpicks.


Red Skull

As a bonus, he doesn't look like this.


Steve Rogers’ goal was to fight alongside his American brethren to defeat the Nazis during World War II. Rogers’ mission, after becoming the super-soldier Captain America, was to defeat a man who had harnessed the power of the gods and distributed that power amongst his loyal followers. Quite the task for one man to take upon himself, even with the help of a ragtag group of former POW’s. But still, Captain America has the strength of will to keep himself in any fight, no matter how the odds may be stacked against him.

Captain America’s greatest strength is his leadership. He commands respect from those around him. This is the main reason he was recruited by Nick Fury to be a member of the Avengers. Fury knew that his team was volatile, with a narcissist in Tony Stark/Iron Man, an arrogant demi-god in Thor, and an uncontrollable rage-beast in the Hulk. With Captain America, Fury had his rock. The man who could stand up to each of these men when the time came and say, “This is what you have to do.” Even if that command is simply, “Smash!” Nick Fury knew that above anyone else he could count on Captain America to take charge.



This is the beauty of the connected Marvel universe. One character such as Nick Fury, who may appear for no more than 30 seconds in any one of the movies, can be such an influential force. He is the talent evaluator, using his massive network of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to gather intelligence on potential candidates to join his Avengers Initiative. The future is an interesting one for Nick Fury. Who will he be contacting next to join the team? Will he be able to count on the founding members to return when called upon? And how will his board of directors deal with his actions on the heli-carrier? All I know is, I can’t wait to find out.

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By Odin’s beard, let Thor 2 be an improvement

By Kevin McCabe


By the time Thor hit the big screen in the spring of 2011, the build-up to an even bigger Avengers release was already in place.  We had been given tasty morsels of semi-sweet chocolate Marvel with The Incredible Hulk and both Iron Man films.  And quickly on the heels of a shirtless Chris Hemsworth, was an equally stripped Chris Evans as Captain America: The First Avenger, to round out the group. I’m sure we will be talking about this collection of films in decades to come as we do now with the original Star Wars trilogy. Let’s just hope they don’t go down the same path that Lucas did and stick some Jar Jar Binks character into a prequel that disappoints all of us.

For now my focus is on Thor, and in my opinion it’s the weakest link in this chain. The out of this world locations, while necessary and in keeping with Stan Lee’s original 1960’s comic book series, were over the top with CGI. I understand the landscape of Asgard is supposed to be fantastical, but it looked like they borrowed building and scenery ideas from every other-worldly movie done in the last 15 years. It was inconsistent, very distracting, and didn’t truly help the story.



The other major flaw in my opinion was the A-list cast they pulled into the film that did nothing more than add their names to the marquee. With stars like Anthony Hopkins as Odin, Rene Russo as his mythical mother Frigga, and Natalie Portman as the love interest Jane Foster, they had a Yankees-type starting line-up. Sadly, they performed more like the Mets. I see that Hopkins and Portman are already signed up for Thor 2 coming out next year. I pray the new director and writers better use the talent at their disposal.



Despite these shortcomings though, Thor is still an impressive film. Kenneth Branagh skillfully introduces us to Thor’s half-brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston (also signed on for Thor 2). We get to see his character grow and mature into the typical jealous brother. Their relationship fuels the storyline here, and again in The Avengers. And I’m looking forward to watching it fester in the next installment. Hiddleston does a good job of making you loathe him one minute, and then feel sympathy for him the next. He and Hemsworth are a good matchup with nice chemistry, but I wish I could say the same for Portman and Hemsworth.



We are also briefly exposed to Jeremy Renner’s Avengers character, Hawkeye. As with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in Iron Man 2, Hawkeye shows us enough mystery and skill to let the viewer know there’s something bigger in store. However, I would have liked to see a bit more action or back-story here.  Having him perch above the hammer impact site for five minutes of footage just wasn’t enough. We get only a little more history in The Avengers from both these characters. Maybe it’s because they don’t possess actual superpowers or the money to create them, but I think their roles are critical in order to properly balance the team. I know I’m not alone when I say that a separate movie about Hawkeye and Black Widow would be as well received as Thor, if not more so.



It’s a difficult task to successfully weave together almost a dozen or so key roles into a single storyline. To give each of them enough face time and depth of character so any one of them could support a full story… well that would take hours and hours. We’ve already been fortunate enough to have these six full-length feature films devoted to Stan Lee’s Marvel creations. And there are already plans for at least another four installments. I can’t wait. (And actually, I’m going to see The Avengers again this afternoon.)

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Iron Man 2: Bad as it wants to be

By Alban Yee

I have been tasked with writing an article about Iron Man 2, the worst of all the recent Marvel movies.

If you’ve already seen it, you probably are already familiar with its problems: undefined plot, no climactic ending, and the devolution of our favorite characters from the original Iron Man.

If you’ve seen it and you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you’ve done what I have been trying to do — gracefully forget how bad it was.

First, the plot. Do you remember the plot? Vaguely, there’s a Russian physicist with an electric whip who’s trying to kill Tony Stark. Also, there was a hot girl in the form of Scarlett Johansson. We’re not really sure what her role was, other than wearing tight clothing, but you might vaguely remember a fight scene where she beats up a bunch of guys at the end. Additionally, she’s a computer hacker.

You might also vaguely remember that Tony Stark was dying from palladium poisoning from the power source in his chest. He needed to get that fixed too, by inventing a new element. Which, apparently, was really easy:

Tony Stark [upon discovering and inventing a new element in his garage]: “That was easy.”

Secondly, the anti-climactic ending. Whereas the first Iron Man had a villain that rivaled Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit (and Stark was limping on a nearly depleted power source), the sequel had a bunch of flying drones that never established themselves as a threat. There was never a moment when I thought that Iron Man was in any real danger. He didn’t get beat up. He didn’t get kicked around. He just took care of business. When he finally squared off against electric whip guy, he beat him down fairly quickly and again, way too easily.

Thirdly, the characters we loved from the first Iron Man — Pepper Potts (lost in the CEO storyline), Tony Stark (self-destructing and despicable), and Rhodey (replaced by Don Cheadle) — were missing.  Gone is the fun, jazzy chemistry from the first movie, replaced by a stale script and wooden acting. If you were hoping to laugh at witty banter, one-liners and zingers, Iron Man 2 disappoints here too.

So what does this movie do? It introduces two new characters: War Machine (who regretfully doesn’t have a part in The Avengers) and Natasha Romanoff (who regretfully does). It’s not that I don’t like Agent Romanoff, who turns out to be a Russian spy/assassin/computer hacker. It’s that I don’t like the woman who played her. Johansson does nothing to bring this character to life. All we have on screen is a scowling seductress who unleashes a few kick-ass moves and then surprisingly hacks into the bad guy’s computer system. In fact, I didn’t even know she was Russian until she tells us she has a long Russian back story in The Avengers.

And War Machine? Where was he in The Avengers? You would think that he would show up to help save the earth.

I’m sure there were some good parts to this movie, because I didn’t hate it when I came out of the theater. I just knew that I didn’t like it.  Unfortunately, I just can’t remember any of those things right now.

If anyone has anything good to say about this movie, please speak up.  Until then, this movie will remain where it belongs, at the very bottom of the Marvel movie canon.

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Hulk mad at previous movies!

By Steven Moore

The Incredible Hulk has a long and sordid film history. From cheesy T.V. to summer blockbuster, no one can seem to get the Hulk to work on screen. Directors Ang Lee and Louis Leterrier have both tried to capture the Jekyll-and-Hyde story of a man at war with himself, but something is always missing.

Ang Lee’s Hulk explores the epistemological question of being the Hulk. How do social constraints placed upon Bruce Banner, a man of science and truth, make his devolution from the embodiment of logic and intellect into the embodiment of destructiveness and violence a necessity? By being boring, that’s how. Nobody cares that about the psychology behind something that can smash two tanks together. It’s like focusing on the psychology of a shark in a shark-versus-tiger fight. Who cares? It’s a shark versus a freaking tiger! Ang Lee, renowned for his deftness with action, delivered a nearly action-less Hulk film. It’s actually a brilliant look at the psychology of a man who is terrified by his desire and depravity, but who cares? It’s a freaking tiger versus a shark!


Hulk smash!


Marvel made a second big-screen attempt at the Hulk in 2008. However, in the Marvel film pantheon leading up the The Avengers, most people consider The Incredible Hulk with Edward Norton to be the weakest film. The primary argument against The Incredible Hulk isn’t that it is a weak film, but that it lacks consequence. It isn’t a complete film, just a building block for a franchise and The Avengers. The film doesn’t explore an origin story (thank God) or a solution to the ultimate problem. Instead we just get Hulk vs. Something that can actually hurt the Hulk a little.

Leterrier learned a lesson from Lee, delivering action and destruction aplenty. There’s nothing really wrong with the movie (except one thing which I’ll talk about in a minute), but the film’s episodic nature limits it from being great Hulk film. The Incredible Hulk goes in the exact opposite direction of Ang Lee’s Hulk. It is an action flick that has no consequence, no sense of who Banner is as a man, that ends exactly where it started. It’s not, however, a bad film as many argue. Liv Tyler is a great Betsy Ross. William Hurt is a decent General Ross, despite the terrible make-up. The primary problem with the movie is that Edward Norton just doesn’t fit the role. He is a great actor who embodies his roles like few other actors can, but he just doesn’t seem like he’s barely in control, on the verge of rage at every moment. Norton is an actor who is always completely and totally in control, and he can’t help but convey that control on screen. Whoever made that casting choice should get a severe finger wagging.


Hulk smash!


The Incredible Hulk does seem to be a stepping stone to the Hulk in The Avengers, but it does it well. It shows who the Hulk is, not as a man, but as a monster. When Hulk and Betsy are in the cave after he has saved her from the fiery death her father had unleashed with his Nietzschean Moustache of Doom, the lightning cracks across the sky, and Hulk roars back, only capable of understanding danger and fear, not the rationality behind the danger. The scene reminded me that the Hulk has a sense of self and identity, which comes to fruition in The Avengers, but he is still an animal. He has nothing of the scientific understanding or logic of his “human” side. He’s pure emotion and instinct and rage.

Hulk should never be completely in control, even as Bruce Banner, and Mark Ruffalo conveys this better than anyone who has previously portrayed the Hulk. In The Avengers, his interactions with Thor and Loki, even after his transition to slight awareness during the final battle, reveal a toddler-like sense of the world and self. Ruffalo amazingly bridges that gap between the reluctant and terrified scientist with a sadistic edge, and the unstoppable raging id. Perhaps Ruffalo is personally angry because he cannot open his mouth very wide when he talks or because everybody slumped when he was announced as the new Hulk, but he is an actor who seems always to be seething in every role. I think back on his previous performances and realize he should have been the first, obvious choice. His natural awkwardness is transformed in The Avengers into a barely contained, trembling rage. He is able to bring a shaky control to the role that develops to fruition in the final scene of The Avengers.


HULK SMASH!!! (You never really need anything else as a caption for this guy.)


I can’t wait to see another Hulk movie with Mark Ruffalo in the lead. I think he can make the Hulk movie we’ve all been waiting for. Norton provided a subtle depth to the Hulk, but I’m glad he has been replaced.

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Iron Man: A look back

By Nathanael Griffis

It was the summer of 2008, an eerily similar summer to this one. The behemoths of film were being released. Indiana Jones returned. It was last time Will Smith was in a blockbuster. We had two of the greatest animated films ever (WALL-E and Kung Fu Panda). There were comic book sequels: Hellboy II, The Incredible Hulk,  and of course, The Dark Knight. Even the Wachowskis were offering us a movie. Prince Caspian brought high hopes. Tropic Thunder looked like a match made in heaven. While some films left the bitter lingering taste of disappointment and have since become despised, several became some of my favorite films of all time. I’ve still never had a better time in the theater than the midnight showing for WALL-E. It’s strange to think this year again starts us off with a Marvel comic movie, that Will Smith is back for essentially the first time since Hancock. Twilight, which was also released that year, is ending (may God be praised). The Wachowskis are releasing their first film since 2008.  And, of course, we have The Dark Knight Rises on the horizon, as well as The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s shaping up to be an even better comic book movie year than 2008. Well, perhaps, the jury’s still out and, strangely enough, the tipping point may be Iron Man.


Now what did that mountain ever do to him?


I didn’t see Iron Man opening weekend, which is unusual for me. I could have even seen it for free, but I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t excited. I barely follow comics. I like Batman, Superman, X-Men, and Spider Man, and that’s it. Iron Man as a character was off my radar. I didn’t care for a man in an iron suit. Wasn’t that just a rip-off of Batman, minus the menace and terrifying villains? It took a friend dragging me on a Tuesday 12:20 p.m. showing, which I only agreed to because it was free and I had nothing better to do, to get me to go. I saw the film three more times that week, more than any other film that summer. For comparison, I never saw The Dark Knight or WALL-E, two of my Top 20 films of all time, more than once in the theater.


Yeah, it's gross in there.


It’s a nearly impossible thing to take a subject as fantastic as the superhero and turn it into a socially relevant topic. Iron Man, though, accomplishes this. During the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we were presented with a charming, brash arms dealer. As a viewer, I was surprised how appealing this war profiteer was. Robert Downey Jr.’s acting and the script by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway deserve a lot of the credit here. Downey brings a tragic narcissism to the role that deftly reflects some of his own personal demons. The script plays off this and balances humor in such a way as to make you laugh and consider the implications of the joke at the same time. It takes a threat to Stark’s own life to awaken him to the horrors his company allows and profits from. He questions his own complacency and compliance in the deaths of thousands. This is brilliant writing, because it’s consistent with a  narcissistic character and yet allows Tony Stark to change in a believable, sympathetic way. It also not-so-vaguely challenges the exceptionalist spirit of Americans to consider our own responsibility for military action.


Have I mentioned explosions, yet? Because... cough cough... explosions.


What’s equally challenging, but nessecary to a comic book movie, is Stark’s solution. He builds a weapon. Stark builds a nuclear deterrent, a suit of armor so powerful it’s nearly indestructible.  Violence as a solution now becomes a primary argument, but we don’t go to comic book movies for philosphical musings (sorry, Ang Lee). I want to see things explode. Iron Man satisfies this amazingly well. I get enormous flamethrowers, tanks being destroyed by a single projectile, aerial combat, and a duel between two iron suits. Through all this blood and destruction, director  Jon Favreau asserts that it’s not the weapon but the wielder that is the issue. It’s an age old debate: is war spurred on by the gun makers or the gun slingers? Do we make laws about weapons to protect the people, or to allow for more freedom of firearms to provide the freedom to protect oneself? There is, wisely, never a judgment made about the current overseas conflicts. Instead the film asks us to weigh our choices as to how to wield our power. The film supports our military, skirts a political subject without being polarizing, and entertains through depth and humor.

Iron Man turns the superhero into a weapon himself. It starts to beg the question, are superheroes weapons to be controlled? This theme, which albeit is a fanciful one that depends on the existence of superheroes, is further explored in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. Iron Man is human, and we see this as his greatest flaw. His narcissism is his arch enemy. He’s blinded by pride and can’t see that his own company, let alone his mentor, played by Jeff Bridges, doesn’t want peace. In those several viewings of Iron Man, the character became, for me, as fascinating as the haunting morality of Batman, the humanized strength of Spider-Man, and the heroic symbolism of Superman.


Dude just wanted his rug, man.


I love the depth of the film, and with each watching it holds up and grows all the more engrossing. There’s the now-trademark Marvel balance of humor, action, story, and theme. Coming out of The Avengers I was riding a high, but as I started to think, which is always dangerous, I began to pull back. Iron Man takes a tricky issue, a modern issue, and uses the superhero story to discuss a relevant topic. It’s the modern day myth. I didn’t see that in The Avengers. There’s something to be said for the genius of the film’s sheer fun and balance of complex story lines and character arcs. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Avengers and reserve the right to change my mind on everything I say, but it lacks the socially relevant depth of films like The Dark Knight and Iron Man.

If you haven’t seen Iron Man in a while, watch it again and challenge yourself to consider the issues it’s addressing. While the world has changed in four years, it’s stunning to think how much these issues still matter.

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I’m glad you liked The Avengers, but it should have been better

By Alban Yee

I liked the Avengers movie.  I thought it was entertaining, and I would watch it again.

However, this movie had its problems. And here, I give you three.

1) Scarlett Johansson was the weakest link. She wasn’t weak in terms of power or contribution; her script created a character who contributed significantly (persuading the Hulk to join the team, bringing Hawkeye back to the team, and – spoiler alert! – closing the intergalactic portal with the magic stick); her director, Joss Whedon, is renown for creating and directing powerful female leads (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dollhouse). Scarlett, however, failed to fill her role. For a character who was supposed to steal the spotlight, her most significant contributions were a pretty face and looking good in a skin-tight suit.


And how.


I was severely disappointed by how little she brought to her role. While every other actor embodied and radiated his character, Scarlett had to constantly remind us who she was, sometimes literally. Her lines such as “I’m Russian, remember?” or “This isn’t that bad” (in reference to some terrible war scenes she’s seen in Russia) were painfully injected into the script to remind us that she has a back story as a Russian spy, and not an American one. While I am glad that a female lead had such a significant role to play in this film, I was disappointed by how little I was enraptured by the woman who played her. It should have been so much more.

2) The petty invasion. First of all, as Brian Slattery pointed out, this was the Transformers 3 take-over-the-world plan. They’re planning to take over the world from one city? With that army? How embarrassing! I was more intimidated by the alien invasion force from Independence Day. Those were aliens I actually believed could take over the earth. These aliens were far weaker and fewer than even the feeble threat posed by the Decepticons in last year’s catastrophe. Tell me again why we needed the Avengers to stop this? This could have been handled by Will Smith and an iPhone (Macbook reserved for more threatening aliens).


"Welcome to... wait a second, someone just texted me...."


3) The lack of internal consistency. I present to you two things. One, how did the Hulk change from a raging, uncontrollable monster to a raging, controllable monster who takes orders from Captain America? How? Can someone explain this one to me? One minute, he’s trying to kill Scarlett Johansson. The next minute, he’s one of the good guys. The pals.


"Because I choose to SMASH!"


Secondly, where was the military? We have already established that we are living in a post-9/11 world where America, and Stark industries, battle terrorists and scramble jets at the drop of a hat. If the military can send jets to fight a bogey the size of a flying man (see: Iron Man), you’d think they would send a couple of guys to check out what’s going on with Manhattan when its getting destroyed by an alien force. Right?

On the scale of recent Marvel movies, I put The Avengers below Iron Man and above Thor and Captain America.

If I expand it to include other comic book movies, I put it above all the Spider-Man and X-Men films and below the Batman trilogy for quality and consistency. In terms of rewatchability, The Avengers wins for pure entertainment.

All in all, a pretty high rating for this movie. It was great with a few flaws. I will remember it fondly, laugh at its jokes, and occasionally dream about what could have been.

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