Tagged: Robert Downey Jr

Martha Thomases: What’s In It For Me?

So, a lot of us here enjoy discussions of diversity in comics (and, no, I don’t mean this schmuck). It’s an interesting subject to consider in light of popular culture, contemporary politics, and the meaning of life.

It is also interesting in terms of marketing.

When we talk about comics marketing, especially in terms of diversity, I think we often miss the point. This may be because, in my experience, comics marketing tends to involve advertising in comic books and sending posters to comic book shops. These methods are terrific for attracting the attention of people who already read comics, but they are less effective for reaching people who don’t.

Sometimes, if a graphic novel is scheduled to be published, and is either written by a well-known writer or published by a mainstream book publisher or the source material for a critically acclaimed movie, you might see an ad in the book section of a newspaper or magazine. In general, however, it is too expensive to advertise individual monthly comic books on a national level.

But what if we could? To whom should we target the ads?

When I was in college, I did an internship with the research department of a major Chicago advertising agency. We analyzed data from thousands of questionnaires distributed at shopping malls all around the country (shopping malls were still a thing in 1976). New questionnaires were always coming in, because we wanted our analyses to be as up-to-date as possible. One of our clients was General Mills, so the questionnaires included a lot of questions about cake mix and instant mashed potatoes and the like. I learned from this experience that, if you want to reach a shopper who might buy cake mix occasionally, you emphasized the characteristics most appealing to people who baked more than four cakes a month.

(I will now pause and wonder what my life would have been like if I had been raised in a house that smelled like cake four times month).

By that logic, comics marketing is right on track. By promoting the characters, the colorful battle scenes, and sometimes the creative team, the ads appeal to those people who already are familiar with these elements of the story, and are familiar with those kinds of storytelling.

For better or worse, that’s not how marketing works anymore. My internship took place more than 40 years ago. The corporate pressures today are much different, and stockholders aren’t satisfied to simply reach the same customers they’ve always had. Instead, there needs to be more more more!

Toyota, with its Camry model, is a good example. Read the link, because it’s really interesting.

Now, I’m not an expert on Camrys, Toyotas, or automobiles in general. My regular car is the E train. I am not the audience for these ads. Therefore, I can look at the story with a certain level of detachment.

What I notice is that Toyota wants to reach not only the broadest audience (the white/multicultural pop music one) but also as many specific audiences as they can. As a result, they make a general commercial, but then also make commercials aimed at African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American markets. Each of those ads, for the same car, emphasizes traits that are determined to be most attractive to the targets.

(I am not in a position to comment on whether their assumptions about what is appealing are correct. I’m interested in the effort.)

Toyota doesn’t say to Hispanic car-buyers that the Camry is good because it has been selling for decades. Instead, they talk about why Hispanic car-buyers would like it.

Similarly, it isn’t enough for Marvel to say that Iron Man (as an arbitrary example, not to pick on it specifically) is a good comic for you because Marvel has been publishing it forever, or because Robert Downey, Jr. is really cute (although he is). Marvel needs to tell me what’s in it for me if I buy it. Is it a commentary on capitalism, or human nature, or the meaning of life? Is it funny, or scary, or emotionally moving in another way?

What’s in it for me?

And just as Toyota doesn’t only make Camrys, but has lots of different models for people with different driving needs and preferences, comics should (and does!) have lots of different kinds of books for people with different tastes in reading.

If you’re a straight cis white guy who loves comics, that’s great. Most of the titles in your local comic book shop are intended for you. You are still the largest demographic segment in this market. However, in order for the business to grow (and for profits to rise), publishers need to explore books that will appeal to new markets. Some of these experiments will fail because that’s what happens when humans try new things. But some of these experiments will succeed, and then there are more books for everybody.

We will not attract new readers to our books if we demand that they all fit in the same box.

Not even if that box is chocolate cake.

Box Office Democracy: Spider-Man: Homecoming

There needs to be a clear change in thesis statement when you reboot a film franchise.  Something like “We need Batman to be more serious and less goofy” being the reason to bring Christopher Nolan in to restart the Caped Crusader, or “Star Trek doesn’t feel relatable to young people because we’ve been serving TNG fans and older exclusively for 20 years” for the Abrams Trek reboot.  I think that’s why the Andrew Garfield Amazing Spider-Man series never caught on because there wasn’t a change in thesis, it was the same attempt at superhero melodrama with big CGI villains.  The only thing that changed was people didn’t seem to like Tobey Maguire anymore and Sam Raimi wanted desperately to do anything else with his time.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a clear change in tone.  Sony/Marvel (I don’t know who gets credit here) have decided that they want Spider-Man to be upbeat and not dragged down by being an overwrought angst-fest.  This is a movie about the wonder of being a superhero and the problems are kid problems.  The problems that don’t involve a man with giant wings at least.

It’s so refreshing to see a reboot without an origin story.  There’s a throwaway reference to being bitten by a spider and that’s it.  There’s no working as a wrestler, there’s no Uncle Ben, and the movie doesn’t suffer one iota for the absence.  We’ve been told this origin story so many times including twice in the last 15 years on the big screen.  It’s nice to be given credit for cultural literacy for once.  I do wish someone had said “With great power comes great responsibility” just one time because that’s an important thematic shorthand that just gets run over here, but if I have to trade that for 40 minutes of not killing Uncle Ben I’ll take it.  Hopefully whoever at Warner Brothers responsible for planning the next on-screen version of killing the Waynes saw Homecoming this weekend and is thinking twice.

There’s a prominent subplot about Peter’s suit.  It’s a suit Tony Stark gave him and it has a very Iron-Man-y HUD.  Midway through the film the “training wheels” get taken off and we get an awful lot of material on the crazy new features and Peter’s inability to manage them.  It’s funny enough but I profoundly do not care about watching Spider-Man fiddle with technology.  History probably proves I’m in the minority here, as both the Ben Reilly costume change and the Iron Spider era both saw bumps in sales, but it’s not the relatable content to me.  I think it’s fun when Peter engages in relatable drama; not does a scene out of Despicable Me with a plethora of gadgets.  This should be a small thing, but it’s so much of the second act it gets exhausting.

It feels like every few months we get another thing from Marvel that is supposed to finally show us the MCU from a human perspective and none of them ever succeed.  Daredevil was supposed to be this, as were Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and seemingly everything else.  None of those particularly worked for me on that level because while they would mention the bigger things happening in the movie they either felt too far removed (like they were only coincidentally in the same world) or too close (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is massive in scope).  Spider-Man: Homecoming is, finally, a success at feeling small.  The stakes feel important, but at no point is someone threatening me with the end of the world or the destruction of New York.  This is a movie about personal triumph and the effect, and lack of effect, that has on the later world.  Spider-Man fails if the Vulture succeeds, but the worst outcome of the events in this movie wouldn’t even be worth an aside in the next Avengers film.  There’s growth here and as the rest of the MCU spins in to grander, more cosmic, conflict it’s nice to have a little story that feels big instead of a giant story that rings hollow.

Mindy Newell: Summertime Movietime — Already?

This week’s Entertainment Weekly (a “double issue” dated April 29/May 5, 2017) is its big “Summer Movie Preview” release, one that I usually really look forward to reading over my breakfast tea. But after doing that this very morning – which was yesterday by now – I realized that, in all honesty, there’s very little coming out on the big screen that warrants my plunking down my hard-earned dollars.

There’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, in theaters in just 12 days from now as I write this. (Btw, isn’t May 5th a little early to be calling it a “summer movie?”) Maybe I’m not taking much of a leap here when I say it will be the big blockbuster hit of the season. It’s classic “superhero space fantasy” and, of course, there’s Rocky. Not to mention Baby Groot. Then again, im-not-so-ho, there’s not much competition.

Though there is Wonder Woman, premiering June 2. This is the one I’m really rooting for, which should be understandable to anyone who knows my history with the character. Though… I’m baffled as to why the film is set during World War I; a strange choice. I’m a history buff, and I understand the significance of that war and how it birthed the geopolitical landscape in which we live today, but as a backdrop to the Amazonian’s first cinematic venture? I dunno. I just don’t know if it will sell. Though – and I admit this is incredibly sexist of me – Gal Gadot in an armored swimsuit will undoubtedly bring in lots of those coveted male teenage and young adult dollars. But, although Ms. Gadot has legs that don’t stop, will Wonder Woman have legs past the opening weekend? We’ll see.

Let’s see, what else? Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales? It’s been 14 years since last we saw Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, so the hunger just might be there. It could give Guardians a run for its money. It could also tank, big time. Either way, I’ll pass. If I feel like a pirate movie, it’s Errol Flynn in Captain Blood.

Aliens: Covenant? Ridley Scott’s follow-up to Prometheus (which I never saw), takes place a decade after the later, and 20 years before Alien. To be fair, I will have to stream Prometheus before I decide on whether or not I want to go to the movie theater. But I have a feeling – unless word of mouth and critics lure me in – that this one is going to be either a cable watch or a streamer, too.

Baywatch? Never saw the television show, ain’t gonna watch this one. Not even on cable or streaming.

Then there’s Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7). I really, really, really liked Tom Holland’s Peter Parker/Spidey in Captain America: Civil War – he almost makes me forget Tobey Maguire –and the trailer for Homecoming is incredibly fun and enticing. Plus, my not-so-secret crush, Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man.  But I still like Singer’s take on the webslinger’s ability to, uh, sling that web. Sure, it’s not canon, but it always made more sense to me that it was part and parcel of that radioactive spider’s bite’s effect on Peter.

And since I’m a sucker for World War II movies – which may be part of the antipathy I feel towards a Wonder Woman movie set in 1918 – I am looking forward to Dunkirk, out on July 21. The evacuation of the Allied forces – more than 300,000 soldiers – over eight days (May 26 to June 4) in 1940 from the beaches at Dunkirk, France is an event that could have had a very, very different outcome.

All in all, EW covers 110 movies that will premiere over the summer. Quite possibly at least one of them could turn out to be a sleeper hit. But right now the summer entertainment I’m most looking forward to is the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, starting April 26 on Hulu – okay, it’s not technically a movie – and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods – okay it’s not technically a movie, either – on Starz as of April 30.

In other news, daughter Alixandra has started watching Doctor Who, beginning with Christopher Eccleston.

 

Molly Jackson: Omaze Me

Scrolling through your Facebook feed, I’m sure you see them. They catch the eye with promises of grand adventures with exciting people. Sometimes you even see a fun video, with celebrities doing crazy things to unsuspecting people. That’s exactly what caught my eye when I saw this video of Chris Evans leading comic fans through an surprise escape room. It isn’t just a jest though. This prank is part of the pitch for his latest fundraising effort through Omaze.

In case you don’t know, Omaze is what celebs use to raffle off experiences to raise money for various charities. People can enter to win for as little as $10, which gets you 100 entries. If you want to spend more, you can get more entries as well as perk items like t-shirts, DVDs, key chains, and so on.

Like I said, you have probably seen links or videos for this website. And you’ve been intrigued by the chance to try your luck. It started with two guys who had a dream to meet Magic Johnson and an opportunity to win it in an auction. They realized there was no way they could afford to bid to win a chance to hang out with them. Rather than just let their hopes be dashed forever, they turned their frown in something positive and Omaze was born.

I’m still super curious about how they got that name though. Omaze sounds more like a stage magician obsessed with alliteration. The Amazing Omaze!

Buying a chance to win like the old school raffle makes it more affordable while raising more funds for those in need. Granted, with the popularity of this site and its wares no one has the best chance to win. I’m guessing that is why they also have some products for sale, both through individual campaigns as well as in the store.

If you haven’t guessed already, this is also a great promotional tool for films as well. It’s become quite the popular site with many of the geek-related films. Ben Affleck raffled off a chance to join him on set at Batman V Superman to support three global charities. Chris Pratt used Guardians of the Galaxy 2 to help build a teen center in his hometown. Both did fun videos that entertain. Honestly, you could fall into a Omaze youtube video hole for a bit. Watch Bon Jovi surprise karaoke singers and Robert Downey Jr. hop around in a bunny suit.

Seriously. A bunny suit.

So, yes, this may just be a PR stunt. But geeks are well known for their charitable giving and activism. I’ve even spent time writing about how great our geek community is about fundraising. This site makes that even easier for more people around the world to take part. And for those who need the incentive, celebrities are willing to give their time to see it happen. And it has worked. Over 170 countries have given to over 150 charities around the world.
The video I shared earlier where Chris Evans kinda tortures comic fans? He is doing it to raise money for Christopher’s Haven, a group that helps support families who have children being treated for cancer in the Boston area. In today’s society, we need all the support that we can provide to charities and people in need. The world is a scary place. If we all come together and support each other, the world can be made better. Every person can make a difference.

And if I can make a difference while hanging out with Captain America, that’d be cool too.

John Ostrander: Listing To One Side

gal-gadotGeek Culture Rules!

We all know that Geek Culture has taken over our American civilization. Young’uns may not realize there was a time when the Geek was looked down on and sneered at and frequently beaten up for their lunch money… which is embarrassing when you’re 24. Now, superheroes have taken over the movie box office and can be found in one version or another all over television.

Further proof: the current issue of Entertainment Weekly not only has Benedict Cumberbatch on the cover as Doctor Strange, the majority of the double-sized issue is taken up with a listing of the Fifty Most Powerful Superheroes. How much more geeky can you get? The very quintessence of geekdom is arguing about which superhero icon is better.

EW set up a rating system and asked staffers to rank the superheroes accordingly. The nine categories were Cultural Impact, Bankability, Design, Modern relevance, Mythology, Nemesis, Originality, Personality, and Powers. They could get up to ten points in each category except for Cultural Impact which was worth up to 20. Total: 100 Pts. The emphasis, I think, was weighted towards superheroes who have appeared in movies; witness bankability. Given it’s EW, that makes sense; they, like the movies, are trying to appeal to the broadest audience.

Their #1 is Wonder Woman. This might surprise more hard-core comic geeks. Given the rise of the awareness of women and Gal Gadot’s appearance as Diana in Batman V Superman, perhaps not so surprising and not unwarranted.

entertainment-weekly#2 for EW was Spider-Man, followed by Batman and Superman with Wolverine rounding out their top 5.

For myself, I would have made Superman at the top of the list by virtue of the fact that none of the others exist without him. Superman was the first and set the standard – the colorful costume, the secret identity, the larger than life exploits – every hero or heroine that followed used that template is some fashion. Bankability? It was the huge financial success of the Last Survivor of Krypton that spurred the other publishers (not to mention Superman’s publisher) to get more of the same out there on the newsstands.

Look, I know that there were other superhero types before Supes or around the same time such as the Phantom and the Spirit or, over in the pulps, the Shadow. In comics, however, it was Superman who set the standard. In feature-length movies as well; the first Superman movie debuted in 1978. The first Batman film followed more than a decade later. As good as they are, none of the other superheroes has had the same cultural impact as the Man of Steel.

Don’t get me wrong; I’d also place Wonder Woman high up on the list. I think Batman is my #2 but WW would never be lower than #3. Spider-Man? Yeah, he’s important enough to be #4 but I think I would make Iron Man my #5 given the fact that the film launched the Marvel Cinema Universe, sometimes known as the Might Marvel Money Making Juggernaut. Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr are its cornerstone; if it had flopped (and some thought it would), it would have been tough to make the others… fly.

But that’s what makes this issue of EW so geeky. Listing the heroes according to some criteria is at the very heart of geek culture. Since every list is subjective, there is no one list that is right and final and definitive, no matter how much some geeks might insist that their own list is all that. I know my list isn’t the final word on the subject; it’s just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

The very fact that EW’s list exists, that they devoted so much time and space and attention to what is essentially a very geeky enterprise, shows that Geekdom has conquered the world.

So – who is stronger? The Hulk or The Thing?

Tweets Discuss Captain America Civil War

This week we talk all about Captain America: Civil War. And Anya gets mad about what she calls the 45 minute fight she says is in all Marvel movies…except this one.  We also determine that a Sharon – Steve match up is wrong  because Captain Carter is the OTP of all OTPs, so move over Lizzie & Darcy.  Anya also learns that she can’t talk if she’s sitting on her hands.  We also talk about the Black Widow movie (finally) and critique the pictures in the latest Rolling Stone article about Chris Evans. Yeah, there’s a lot of episode in here!

Emily S. Whitten: Civil War in the MCU

Captain America Civil War

(Warning: Some spoilers ahead)

Captain America: Civil War is complicated, and sprawling, and intense, and funny, and dark, and in the end, nobody wins. It has one of the best multi-superhero fight scenes out there, and yet the first half of the movie is held together by a series of quiet and deeply personal moments that develop numerous character arcs without feeling random or forced. Neither side of the fight along which lines are drawn – over the issue of whether to sign the Sokovia Accords, which will hold the Avengers accountable to the United Nations after their actions in saving the world have caused multiple instances of massive civilian casualties – seems entirely right.

Captain America’s stance of not wanting to abdicate personal responsibility for the Avengers’ actions to people “with agendas” is shown to be dangerous when he violently defends his childhood friend and WWII army buddy Bucky (a.k.a. the Winter Soldier) against all comers, after Bucky is accused of having bombed the conference in Vienna where the Accords are to be ratified. On the other hand, Iron Man’s position of signing over accountability to the UN and his inability to ever consider that he’s “in over his head,” as the Spider-Man of the comics crossover observed, result in pretty much all of his friends ending up in prison for trying to stop the movie’s actual villain, Helmut Zemo, from activating an elite death squad that can be mind-controlled like the Winter Soldier. And with the intricacies of so many main characters with their own views on the issue, there’s a lot to unpack and consider.

So are you confused yet? If you haven’t seen the movie, a) go see it; what are you waiting for? It’s worth it! and b) I’m not surprised at the confusion. The cool thing about the modern MCU is also one of its drawbacks – these movies (thirteen and counting, with a lot more to come) have managed to stay believably within one universe and interweave references to each other in a fairly natural manner while still maintaining their individual styles.  That keeps each film fresh and interesting, while also ensuring we want to see more of the whole universe.

The downside of this is that eventually, with the ensemble movies in particular, there is a lot to pack in to make the films work, and they are in danger of collapsing under their own weight. It’s a testament to writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directors Anthony and Joe Russo that they got all the moving parts built into this movie to work together like a well-oiled machine instead of dissolving into a messy disaster (did someone say Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice?)

We’ve gotten to a point in the overall MCU story where to fully comprehend the depth of events in Captain America: Civil War, it helps to be familiar with at the very least The Avengers; Captain America: Winter Soldier; and Avengers: Age of Ultron. (It’s best if you’ve seen all the others, too.) What begins in The Avengers – S.H.I.E.L.D. recruiting a bunch of heroes who start out with pretty different viewpoints and struggle to form a cohesive whole – continues in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where we see Steve Rogers/Cap’s resistance to following the government when it strays from his personal values and morality, and his belief in caring for individual people. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, we see the results of Tony Stark/Iron Man’s serious accountability issues in pursuit of what he sees as a better future, when he uses something he doesn’t fully understand to complete an A.I. that is supposed to protect the entire world but then tries to kill everyone instead.

By the end of that movie, there’s a fissure within The Avengers – who were not all that stable to begin with – and Captain America’s belief in personal accountability versus Iron Man’s futurist viewpoint stand in stark (no pun intended) contrast to each other.

Captain America: Civil War builds on this and on events of the previous movies by using the immense destruction in New York City during The Avengers and the destruction of the capital city of Sokovia in Age of Ultron as the backdrop for the opening act, in which yet another Avengers’ attempt to stop criminals ends up causing civilian casualties, when Scarlet Witch, the youngest Avenger, accidentally redirects a bomb blast meant for Steve Rogers into a building and kills several Wakandans on a peace mission (a nod to the accidental hero-caused explosion that killed civilians at the beginning of the comics’ Civil War crossover event). This leads to the Sokovia Accords, which 117 countries intend to sign, and which will make the Avengers accountable to the United Nations. The decision of whether each hero will sign the document or “retire” brings out the core issue around which the plot is built.

Although the movie starts with a bang, the series of quieter moments in the first half establishes the stakes and interpersonal relationships that each hero stands to lose when choosing a side as the plot builds the foundation of the civil war itself; creating a world that is less black and white than the comics crossover. And it almost goes without saying in the MCU, but once again the acting in the Marvel movies is top-notch across the board, and the casting choices for new characters are clear winners. Each of the headliners (Chris Evans/Captain America, Robert Downey Jr./Iron Man, Sebastian Stan/Winter Soldier, Chadwick Boseman/Black Panther, Scarlet Johansson/Black Widow, Anthony Mackie/Falcon, Jeremy Renner/Hawkeye, Elizabeth Olsen/Scarlet Witch, Paul Bettany/Vision, Paul Rudd/Ant-Man, Tom Holland/Spider-Man, and Don Cheadle/War Machine) truly embodies the characters we know from the comics and the previous movies; and brings the emotional heart of the movie to the forefront.

The first of the quiet emotional moments occurs soon after Wanda/Scarlet Witch’s mistake costs civilian lives. As she watches the newscasters vilify her, Steve turns the TV off, and together they accept shared blame for the tragedy, as he tells her that they have to learn to live with the collateral damage of trying to save the world because otherwise, next time they might not be able to save anybody. Their mentor/mentee relationship, and Steve’s recognition of her youth and inexperience in the face of the great power she is trying to wield, are clear. Another scene has Tony giving grant money to MIT students in an effort to assuage his guilt over his mistakes (including the creation of Ultron), when he is confronted in an empty backstage hallway by the mother of a boy who died in the Sovokian tragedy while doing aid work; she blames Tony for his death.

And then we have Steve attending the funeral of Peggy Carter, where he receives an almost beyond-the-grave message from Peggy to stand strong for what he believes in via a eulogy from her niece Sharon Carter (surprise, Steve! The pretty neighbor who was spying on you for S.H.I.E.L.D. in Winter Soldier is actually your first love’s age-appropriate relative!). And the introduction of Black Panther, occurring on either side of the bombing in Vienna, is composed of two deeply personal moments – the first of which shows T’Challa’s desire to be a politic leader who will make his peace-loving father proud, and the second of which flips to his intensity and willingness to take matters into his own hands after his father is killed by the explosion. (T’Challa also acts as an “undecided voter” in the war, in that his agenda is his own, not Cap’s or Iron Man’s; and Black Widow lends some other interesting shades of grey to the ideological debate down the line.)

The bombing sets off a chain reaction of events which results in insanely violent but elegant fights down stairways, on rooftops, and through highway tunnels as first the Bucharest police and then Black Panther try to take down Bucky, as Cap and his more recent sidekick Falcon try to protect him.

On a purely cinematic level, I absolutely adore the way that each superhero’s unique fighting style echoes the comics and looks completely natural on screen, the way Bucky and Cap fight almost as one person when they’re fighting on the same side, and the fun the movie-makers must have had choreographing these and the other hero team-up and civil war scenes. The end result of this fight, though, is everyone being captured and brought in to where Thaddeus Ross (who is now Secretary of State, what whaaaat) is haranguing Tony Stark on the phone about the whole mess. This leads to one of my favorite interactions between actors Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans as Stark tries to get Rogers to sign the Accords so he won’t be prosecuted.

Downey Jr. shows a vulnerable side of Stark that we haven’t seen very often since the first Iron Man, and Evans ability to emote with facial expressions shines as Steve comes close to signing before discovering that Tony has confined Wanda to the Avengers compound. Disappointment and disgust for Tony’s stance are written all over Cap’s face as he makes the final decision not to sign.

But tell me, have we forgotten about Helmut Zemo?

Who? One thing that’s so great about this film is that underneath all of the straightforward politics of Avenger-accountability, and the character moments, there’s also this little mystery growing. In the background of the superhero clashes, Zemo is seen tracking down old Hydra secrets and plotting to get a face-to-face meeting with the Winter Soldier. Once he does, the movie flips into high gear, with action scenes rolling into character introductions resulting in funny asides, and moving back into action.

Despite the intensity and dark elements in this film, it doesn’t lose the trademark heart and humor that runs through the MCU. Vision trying to cook for Wanda to comfort her even though he’s never tasted food; the introduction of Spider-man and his running fight-scene commentary; Ant-Man meeting Captain America (I love other heroes’ reactions to meeting Cap for the first time. I mean, he’s Captain America. I get it.); everything about Hawkeye (can I even encompass how much I love what these movies and Jeremy Renner have done with Hawkeye? Probably not); Cap’s two best friends/sidekicks grumping on each other (tell me there isn’t a little bromance jealousy up in there) – these are the bits that make the heroes seem like real people.

Even in the epic fight scene that has twelve superheroes squaring off against each other, the humor is not lost, and each hero gets to showcase his or her moves and have at least one lighter moment as the battle rages. Every. Single. Thing. About this battle is cool – but hands-down, the stars of the show are Spider-Man, doing his thing for the first time in the MCU proper; and Ant-Man, who literally takes over the scene and has a blast doing it. This is one fight scene I will inevitably rewind and watch twice during any home viewing of the movie (the Guardians of the Galaxy Xandar ship-crash scene is another one).

The aftermath of this fight leads to the final showdown, and for once, I’m not going to spoil things here. Suffice it to say that although hinted at previously, the movie took a turn you might not expect, and that the fallout from the final reveal resulted in an even more personal, we-ain’t-friends-no-more fight than the all-hands-on-deck brawl that came before. (It also brought an epic comic book cover from the crossover to the screen.) And in the end, out of the chaos of the civil war came almost no resolution (with one notable exception), actually less darkness than I expected despite the villain sort-of actually winning this round, and a question as to what the Avengers will look like when next they fill our screens.

I guess we’ll have to wait until May 2018 and 2019 to find out; but in the meantime, this movie is definitely worth the price of admission.

John Ostrander: Default Mode

guardians-of-the-galaxy-movie-images

About a million years ago when I was a kid, summer time was the entertainment doldrums. All the TV shows were in reruns (and we only had a few channels back then) and the new season wouldn’t begin until September, right around the time school began, limiting the shows we could see. Big new movies usually didn’t come out during the summer; the prevailing theory was people didn’t want to sit in a darkened theater (even if it was air conditioned) during the summer. They’d rather be outside. Drive-ins did good business because they combined both. My mother usually didn’t let us go to one because they were reputed to be make-out dens for teen-agers… and they probably were. Mother didn’t approve. Again, the fall started up the movie season.

We didn’t have VHS tapes when I was a kid, let alone DVD or Blu-Ray. No channels on TV devoted exclusively to movies or old movies or cartoons. Even our music wasn’t portable; vinyl records had to be played on large machines. Transistor radios were small enough to take with you and that gave you some music but it was always what the guy on the radio chose for you to listen.

I know. The Dark Ages, huh? Somehow we managed to survive.

These days, you can see or hear what you want when you want and you can get it On Demand. Miss something? Netflix or Hulu or any of a number of other services will provide it.

With all these choices and the ability to experience new things, I still find myself watching and re-watching certain movies on TV. If I come upon them, I’ll watch them first, even if they’ve already started. Or I’ll seek them out. Or put on the DVD or Blu-ray. I think of it as my own personal default mode. It’s probably a result of the summer rerun season I learned when I was a kid. It’s what I know.

Sometimes something new will enter into the rotation. A few films have done that recently. I don’t say they are the best films but I seem to like them a lot. For example, my current fave Marvel superhero film is Guardians Of The Galaxy. I think it really captures the essence of what made Marvel Comics so cool to me. The heroes are not your usual heroes, initially they don’t like each other, they are all flawed, they become a sort of family along the way, there’s lots of comedy, a really big villain to fight, possibly cosmic consequences at stake, and a tug at the heart. For me, it’s the best realization of Marvel Comics on screen.

I’ve stumbled on Edge Of Tomorrow and become very fond of it. It sort of combines Starship Troopers and Groundhog Day. It was originally known as Live Die Repeat, which is a terrible title. I think it’s more inclined to keep people away from the movie.

The premise of the movie is that bug-like aliens have invaded Earth and are rapidly taking it over. They have the ability to “re-set” a day, going back 24 hours but retaining their memories of what happened. Thus they can correct any errors made and continue the conquest.

A human, played by Tom Cruise, gains the alien power and finds he an also re-set the day. He just has to die – which he does over and over again. I’m not a big Cruise fan but I like him in this. His character is something of a coward at the start and he must change during the film, fight through hopelessness and despair, in order to win and save everybody. Doug Liman, who directed the first Bourne film helms this one as well and does a very good job of it.

Knowing the film and how it works out, I still watch it even if I come in on the middle of it. It’s familiar, I enjoy it, and I watch it a lot.

I’ve also grown fond of The Judge starring Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duval. It’s a courtroom drama, a family drama about fathers and sons, and it sets two terrific actors up against one another. It also has a terrific cast including Vincent D’Onofrio, Billy Bob Thornton, and Vera Farmiga. The script is good but not great but the film is very watchable. Again, one of those I can come in on anywhere and probably watch it through the end.

The most recent film to enter my rotation is This Is Where I Leave You. The story is of a family that comes together after the father dies and spends an uncomfortable week in each other’s company. Despite how that sounds, it is mostly a comedy and has an incredible cast – Jason Bateman, Jane Fonda, Tina Fey and Timothy Olyphant among others. It’s very well written, terrifically directed by Shawn Levy and I can come in anywhere on it and probably stick right through the ending.

There’s also TV shows that I’ll watch in default of other things. I’ve seen every Castle episode multiple times but still will seek it out and watch it. I’m happily watching the reruns of the first season of The Flash. Most episodes of Doctor Who will get my attention and there are my cooking or food related shows, Kitchen Nightmares or Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives or Chopped. They’re not my favorite but they are part of my default mode.

There are better movies and television shows, I’ll admit but these are familiar, I know that I’ll be entertained and sometimes that’s all I ask. Sometimes that’s all you need.

 

Martha Thomases Reviews Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron

UltronLucky for me, it was the “friends and family” screening of Avengers: Age of Ulton.

First of all, I was lucky because I got to go. I was lucky to hear Joe Quesada introduce the film, not only because he was amusing but he was gracious enough to thank the event planners before he thanked the Hollywood bosses. Trust me, as someone who has worked events for more than 20 years, it’s unusual when someone says “Thank you.” He also thanked all the people who worked on the books, the source material for the movies.

And I was lucky because of the audience. The people in Manhattan’s Ziegfeld Theater on Tuesday were Marvel (and Disney) employees, freelancers, and their plus-ones. It was the kind of audience that cheered the coming attractions (Ant-Man), of course. They cheered the created-by credits. They cheered Stan Lee. From their cheers, I could tell that I picked up all the Easter eggs, thrown in for the fans in the audience by the fans who made the film.

The film. How was it? There may be SPOILERS, depending on how you define the term, although I will try to avoid the big ones.

If you haven’t seen the first Avengers movie, you might have some problems jumping into the plot of this one. If you haven’t seen any of the Iron Man, Thor or Captain America movies, you may miss a few key character developments. And if you didn’t watch Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. this week, you missed the set-up.

None of this was a problem for me. I’m going to guess, given the name of this site, that it isn’t a problem for you either.

The plot, as you might surmise from the title, concerns the creation of Ultron, using the Infinity Stone from Loki’s staff (from the first Avengers movie) and Tony Stark’s tech. Ultron runs amok, and the rest of the movie involves our heroes trying to stop him/it. As they do, they first fight and then team-up with Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. In the process, many, many places suffer severe damage, including Wakanda.

(During the fight in Wakanda, our heroes must deal with the local police and, later, the military. In both cases, the first faces we see in uniform are white. Given current events, this took me out of the narrative for a beat.)

If I approach this review with my English class lessons, it is difficult to describe. There is no single protagonist, no character who has a transformative story arc. My future husband, Robert Downey, Jr., and the other heroes with their own film franchises (i.e. Captain America and Thor) do very little other than fight and trade quips, once they get past the exposition parts of the dialogue.

Instead, the revealing character moments belong to the Hulk, to Hawkeye, and the Black Widow. If anything is going to rile up the fanboys, it is the changes the movie makes to Hawkeye. Since I haven’t followed the character in the comics (although I’ve enjoyed a bunch of the new version), I wasn’t offended. I think it works for the character in the movie. It explains a lot about his relationship with Black Widow.

Here’s my favorite thing about the version of the Black Widow we get in these movies, a part of her character I credit to Joss Whedon (based on Buffy and Firefly): she not only holds her own with the male characters, but she has relationships with them that are collegial, not romantic. She is, first and foremost, a friend and an ally. While there seems to be some suggestion that she and Bruce Banner might click, even that possibility comes from the trust and respect they have for each other as teammates, not hot bodies.

Ultimately, The Avengers: Age of Ultron suffers from the fate of most middle films in a trilogy. There can’t be a real resolution because then there would be no need for the third movie. Still, there are a lot of pretty people doing a lot of pretty spectacular things, with plenty of explosions and lots and lots of fight scenes in exotic scenery.

Go. You’ll have a good time. Just don’t try to write an English theme about it.