Watching the Infinity Saga during Quarantine (Phase 2)
Finished up reviewing Phase 1, time to take on Phase 2. Just a reminder about these posts, they're literally only facts. I try my best not to include any subjective opinions in these posts.
Okay y'all, we're back at it again. Since no one stopped me last time, I'm continuing my binge-a-thon and delving into the second phase of the MCU's Infinity Saga. Here's a link to my reviews for Phase 1, and a """brief""" explanation of why I'm doing this. TL;DR: I just kinda wanna.
Let's get started.
Iron Man 3 (May 3, 2013)
For some reason I went into this movie expecting not to like it. I guess I had this idea that most people didn't like it and I was trying to figure out why, but I came out the other end pleasantly surprised! I really liked Iron Man 3, it's refreshing as hell! They had Tony dealing with some real personal issues, overcoming anxiety, growing as a character? And they had a cool cast of supporting characters, a bit of a twist (even if it was forecasted way in advance, and unspectacular) and there was solid action scenes.
The narrator bit was the first part that put me off; I hate being told what's happening on screen, just show me better if it's that hard. But that quick unfair judgement dissipated once the real movie got started, and that only happened about 40 minutes in, when Tony crashes in Illinois.
That is probably my one big gripe with the movie, they took a simple revenge plot, and added a bunch of twists and turns that went no where, simply to pad the run time. I like that they made the villain (Killian) a bit more multi-dimensional, but his end goal was a bit all-over-the-place. It was neat that they had the VP of the US on payroll to cure his daughter's disability, but I completely missed that. If you just read that and went "ohhhh, that makes sense" I feel the same way, I saw it on Wikipedia. Still though, his plan to kill POTUS on National TV was a bit extra, and didn't necessitate the Iron Patriot armour. In fact, Killian is a smart dude, why would he use some burnout as his 'Mandarin' figure-head anyway, let alone tell him all his sinister plans?
See, while there were problems, there are many more incredibly captivating scenes. They actually had fight choreography that wasn't blasting or punching in this one! You could see the environment, and understand what was going on because it wasn't smash cutting every 2 seconds. And while I'm usually hesitant about child actors, Ty Simpkins as Harley Keener absolutely stole the show. I really hope if they ever do an Iron Man 4, he gets the lead.
Thor: The Dark World (November 8, 2013)
I've always heard that this was the worst movie in this saga, but I didn't really get that feel. It's definitely not one of the best, and has a bunch of issues but it's not awful. I think watching a bunch of these in a row, I've come up with an idea of what I look for in a good superhero movie. It boils down to a well-developed plot with believable villains, and characters that don't seem to be forced on screen.
Ultimately, Thor: The Dark World fails in the in the second part but not so much in the first. The story is definitely weird, as it introduces some new race of dark elves that Asgard dicked down some years back. Obviously they want vengeance, but they're doing so by calling upon the power of darkness or something, when the planes of existence line up. It was super sci-fi and looks totally cool in my opinion, but it was not your average super hero plot.
I think that's why most people didn't seem to like this movie. It has Star Trek vibe to it, with a lot of new races introduced on the fly, and poor costume design making every character look like a Power Ranger villain. If you look past that though, it's really not bad — almost like a Thor x Star Wars fan fiction.
While that stuff worked, I definitely think the characters felt forced into action. I couldn't help but be bothered that Jane randomly got poisoned with the ancient super power, and Thor just decided to show up at that moment. Or how the attack on Asgard was launched just after Jane got there. Like if she had went to another realm, would they have known? The movie doesn't really explain that. I'd like this movie way more if they put in the effort to establish some rules for the universe, so I know what to expect when certain characters are on screen.
Like the portals, how do they work? How the fuck is the Bifrost working again? Where do they show up? Or how did the entire race of dark elves build a society/weapons/ships on a barren planet? Who repaired the Bifrost, and how? Or how Loki seemed to have telekinetic abilities in this one? IDK I'm probably just whining. Solid movie, not the best though.
P.S. Frigga's death did nothing for me, you have to flesh out a character for me to mourn them. This was like the first time she had a presence on screen.
P.P.S. Captain America's cameo was incredible and Loki is the funniest character in the MCU, maybe matched by Darcy the intern.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 4, 2014)
Marvel really found something new with this one. It's a lot more violent and intense than any of the films before this, maybe only matched by the first 40 minutes of Iron Man. I really think that it's hard to make a sequel to an origin story of a super hero. Giving the character their powers does a lot of the character development for you, as they learn to control them, and what kind of change they can affect. It's not really lazy, but is definitely easier than trying to further flesh out the character without giving them new abilities/gear. That's where Iron Man 2 dropped the ball, making Stark revert back to his old attitude for no reason.
I only mention this so I can point out that Captain America: The Winter Soldier absolutely did not have this problem. They don't need to ret-con some ancient WWII super villain for Cap to beat up, or new character from his pre-serum days. Instead they put a large focus on how Cap is adapting to the 21st century, and I ate that shit up. Seeing him walk around the 'Captain America' exhibit, hearing museum curation about his past, and visiting the aged Peggy was a phenomenal way to set the tone for the movie.
Cap isn't just some soldier any more. The jump through time was hard on him, and he's not sure about the whose orders he's following anymore, and what he should do going forward. This internal struggle did a great job of introducing Falcon into the movie too, as a veteran who helps others cope. The setup was natural and not forced at all, and in fact did a great job making Steve Rogers look like more than just a poster-boy for the U.S. Army.
I think the first half-hour is what makes the tone-shift to a Jason Bourne-style action movie even more fantastic. I can just rattle them off and you'll get excited: The Nick Fury car scene, the Cap elevator scene, the Bucky reveal scene. The movie has so much action, but it doesn't detract from the plot. Each of these scenes introduces new developments, and engages you by having some meaningful stakes, especially for those who've seen Captain America: The First Avenger. The action choreography alone is something to give credit for, but the fact that it never went on too long, or got too dry in between makes it something else.
Unfortunately, the second half of the film kinda drops the ball on this sorta thing. The espionage/who-can-we-trust angle was good at first, but the fact that it devolved into a mass-murdering bad guys being bad plot did not stick the landing. I think the phrase "Hydra infiltrates S.H.I.E.L.D." sounded like a cool, nuanced concept but they muddied it up by introducing a new head executive of with an evil-looking, obvious face. And their big bad plan? Kill hundreds and thousands of people who they 'data-mined' and found to be anti-Hydra. Bro, what the hell does that even mean? I don't know how that got past the cutting room floor. I get that the more people that could die, the more the stakes matter, but Hydra's big evil plot to infiltrate S.H.I.E.L.D. over the course of years, concluded with missile barrages on data-mined civilians? I just wish it was something more. Maybe Hydra was going to use their US establishment, to infiltrate the UN. Or maybe they were going to cause kickstart wars through their many International agents. I have no clue what their end goal is, but it seemed lazy to have just be "kill innocent people because an old guy in a computer said to".
Still though, this movie kicks ass. Great fights, characters and an engaging plot, even if it falters in the end 👍.
Guardians of the Galaxy (August 1, 2014) This review is probably going to be one of the most contrarian, but I swear these are my genuine feelings. This movie does so much wrong, and I physically hate a lot of aspects of it. Fortunately, it definitely wins some points for being fun, colorful and having a boppin' soundtrack. The 70s aesthetic really felt appropriate, and they did a good job of introducing this new fantastical world without too much expository bullshit, but that's about where my praise ends.
The problems I have with Guardians of the Galaxy have little to do with the characters, or world. Most characters in the movie have an interesting flaw or personality trait which they abide by. Quill's attachment to his mother, Rocket's greed, Groot's blind trust. They evolve overtime naturally, and don't just decide to change because the plot bible said to.
As for the world, I really don't have anything against the sci-fi direction either. I thought he gadgets and alien species had cool designs, and fun quirks and even the space battles kept it fresh. I especially liked when Rocket and Quill had to use the ships as physical wrecking balls on Knowhere, that was interesting. Still not as good as the knife-ships from the Dark Elves in Thor: The Dark World, but it wasn't all that bad.
No my problems have pretty much everything to do with the writing, and comedic nature of this movie. If you're going to make a comedy MCU film, that's fine, I think it can totally work. However, there is a difference between a movie having a plot WITH jokes, and a movie with a plot OF jokes. Guardians of the Galaxy has so many moments that detract from the story being told, simply to tell a stupid joke. They build out this destructive, racist, intriguing villain and then throw a band of jokesters at him to fight, and the result doesn't mix well. The vibe of the movie jumps from heist, to comedy, to sci-fi, to action, to romance and the feeling is muddied throughout the experience.
For example, there's a romantic scene between Quill and Gamora which is cut short with her yelling a funny haha joke in his face, essentially screaming "scoundrel". What was this meant for besides a pointless goof? Gamora does eventually fall for Quill, but if this really meant she wasn't in love why was it so inconsequential? Or the scene right after, Rocket tears up about how people always call him 'rodent' or 'vermin', when he didn't choose his form. It's sad and interesting, but Quill tells him to buck up and think of the cash. I'm willing to accept that because Rocket is shown to love money more than almost anything else, but the rest of the movie people still ridicule Rocket! Telling the audience that a character is vulnerable, then attacking that vulnerability is how you make movie-goers sympathize, but it's played off for laughs! Hell, even the scenes with the Raiders and Yondu. He's built up as a violent, murderer who wants revenge for Quill's betrayal. They do a great job of making it impactful when he's finally abducted, but what comes of it? Nothing! Turns out the Raiders are just Space Hillbillies, and they change their motivations as soon as Quill speaks? Hell, even later we see a scene where Yondu is shown to be an extremely efficient and terrifying killer, murdering a squadron of Ronan's goons in under a minute, but again, he just goes back to being a naïve, bumbling moron when the plot requires it.
Honestly though, maybe I'm expecting too much of this movie. I really wanted to see a reason for our characters to get as close as they did, but that wasn't the point. It's just a silly sci-fi romp with a 70s soundtrack. I mean, even the all-powerful racist overlord in the end is killed by 'the power of friendship'. You're meant to ignore the graphic violence (like Yondu's arrow), and laugh about the funny Drax man not understanding metaphors. I guess, if I had to put it succinctly, it felt like Guardians of the Galaxy didn't know what kind of movie it was trying to be. They graze upon all these interesting characters and ideas, but never explore them, opting instead to write canned jokes that do nothing for the story. It's a disappointment, but at least it's a pleasant visual experience.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1, 2015)
When I first watched this movie, I remember being so put off by Ultron's weird flexible metal lips that it but this ugly haze over my first impressions. I never watched it a second time, and pretty much just kept this opinion that the movie was pretty 'meh'. Not good, not bad, just like middle of the road.
Watching this one again, I definitely think it was ambitious, and interesting but had a lot of flaws that aren't usually an issue with the MCU films. I actually really enjoyed the pacing, and what character development they managed to squeeze in. I liked that Hulk was considering Black Widow, while she had a crush on him — It wasn't treating Black Widow as this coveted prize (like a lot of other super hero films). I also liked Tony Stark, since he was clearly still shaken from The Avengers and the anxiety he discovered in Iron Man 3. It motivated his initial creation of Ultron and it definitely didn't feel ham-fisted. Cap and Thor were there too, being big strong men or something. The twins were also awesome, I always love seeing super speed in movies, it's hype to see bullets in slow-mo.
The weird part was the action. I feel like it did a total 180, it straight up was my least favourite part of the movie. It could have been cool, but it failed time after time. My guess is that the studio wanted to lower the run time, and figured that the fighting was the easiest place to trim the movie down in the editing room. The problem was that if you decide to focus on things like orientation, or layout, or even where characters are between shots, it makes for a jarring experience. Take the fight in that sunken submarine for example. We see the avengers fighting goons and bots all over the place, but Scarlet Witch just touches all their foreheads in a matter of a few shots! It never shows her moving from one to another, and sometimes straight up shows people in different positions the cut before they get possessed.
The same thing happens all the time in the climactic scenes on Sokovia (I say 'on' instead of 'in' because it turns into a grassy blimp). It's like they section parts of the movie off as 'INSERT FIGHT SCENES HERE' then someone in the editing room just picks and chooses. Heroes and villains teleport all over the place and seemingly at random, so much so it stops making sense.
Aside from that, I really did love the scenes in between. Seeing the Avengers hanging out, drinkin' some brewskis? I live for that shit. Especially seeing Thor's face when Cap shifts Mjolnir. These studios often forget that they have really dynamic, interesting characters to work with. They don't have to be beating up robots 24/7 for me to enjoy the film, I want to see how they just exist with each other. In their individual movies we rarely get to see that sorta thing.
Long story short, I was pleasantly surprised with Avengers: Age of Ultron, it holds up quite a bit. Aside from some issues with action, the character development, motivations, pacing, and general plot kinda slapped. Thoroughly enjoyed myself 😎.
Ant-Man (July 17, 2015)
Ant-Man is by far, the funniest movie in the MCU thus far, let me get that out of they way. I think I find Ant-Man hilarious in all the ways I find Guardians of the Galaxy didn't, but maybe I'm just throwin' shade. It didn't feel like they came up with characters, then made them tell jokes, but instead developed contrasting personalities and had them interact. Hank Pym's attitude around Luis? Goddamn comedy gold and it gets there without spitting out any scripted goofs. The editing also has a great way of accomplishing this, with hard cuts to show juxtaposition (e.g. "I have a master's in Electrical Engineering" // "Welcome to Baskin Robins", or 'Yellow Jacket about to be hit by a train' // 'Thomas the Tank Engine falls off a playset').
Another strong point in favour of this movie is the strong characterization. Everyone seemed to get an appropriate amount of screen-time and fully explore their role. We saw Hank Pym's origin story, and have context to his relationship with his daughter. We see Scott Lang's relationship with Luis, and how it differs during and after prison. And we get an awesome look into how his family sees him, and what kind of motivation he has to become Ant-Man (spoiler alert, it's because he's an awesome dad). The performances were awesome, and the writing actually felt natural. Arrogant nerds are written arrogantly, goofy sidekicks are written 'goofily' and even the super big bad villain is written in a good enough way to show his unhinged/psychotic nature. He's disturbing and violent, but it's not unexpected; it's explored directly and talked about ahead of time.
In my honest opinion, Ant-Man is one of the more boring superheroes in the Avengers when it comes to his powers. It's cool that he can shrink, but the action always boils down to a bunch of guards acting like the wind is beating the shit outta them. However, the movie keeps things fresh by having significant changes to the environment that this action takes place. Compare it to something like Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Cap throwing a shield at a guard will always look the same, but it's fuckin' cool. Whether it happens on a boat, or a heli-carrier, I still think it's neat. Ant-Man has to work a little harder. His fighting will always look subpar (since you can't track his movements easily), but they mix up the environment to keep things fresh. Like the final fight scenes on the play set train track, or seeing him fly through a wave of bullets on some ants. The presentation of this movie makes sure that there is always some neat angle or perspective that they show you since his power is so unique, and I appreciate that. It's like the difference between the X-Men: Days of Future Past Quicksilver scene, and The Flash TV show. Presentation and perspective.
And just like that, we're done with Phase 2. Honestly, they're both just setup phases for the real shit that's about to kick off in Phase 3, but I'm glad to have re-watched some of them. I'm pleased to have reaffirmed my position on disliking Guardians of the Galaxy and to revisit that emotion in my next post. See y'all there.