In anticipation of "The Avengers" due out here the first weekend in May I've watched the lead-up movies to it over the course of the last couple of week to re-familiarize myself with these characters and the movies they come from.
The project for "Marvel's The Avengers" is probably one of the more ambitious ones undertaken by a movie studio(s) in decades if not THE most ambitious undertaking. Over the last four years Marvel Studios has taken some of the biggest names in their franchise -that they have the power to make movies for-, given them a movie with the hopes of culminating the characters into a big "event movie" of the superhero squad "The Avengers." This would prove to be something of a challenge given that their more popular heroes' movie rites were owned by other studios. If the early word is any indication this is a gamble where Marvel bet it all on 00, spun the wheel and won.
It all -mostly begins with:
: When this movie came out I was very dubious. Iron Man -as far as I was concerned- was one of Marvel's "B-List" superheroes, not one who was too popularly known outside of comic-book circles and not being a Marvel fan I wasn't too familiar with him either. So I went into this with skepticism further compounded by Robert Downey Jr's reputation up to that point. The movie blew me away, not only did RDJ come-off perfectly cast as an egomaniac billionaire but the chemistry between him and Pepper Pots was just great. This was a movie that really helped to define the tone and intent of the Marvel movies. It's weakest point is probably in a villain but most of the movie focuses on setting up Stark and Iron Man and showing him to be genius industrialist billionaire he is. An A- movie.
The Incredible Hulk
: Something of a soft-reboot to Ang Lee's pretentious "Hulk" from a few years earlier. This movie dropped the notion of trying to be too deep, or cerebral and just brought the Hulk to the screen in the way he probably originally should have been. The movie still has some weak moments -mostly in a female lead- but overall I think it's because it's hard to make the traditional notion of Hulk an interesting and compelling character. When Banner "Hulks Out" he's just pure unchained rampage and not too much more (that is until he gains some control over it.) It's not a whole lot to work with but this effort comes out a touch better than the earlier one and better fits with the "Marvel Movie Universe" that was being established at the time. B-
Iron Man 2
: Iron Man's unbridled success earned him the only Marvel Studio superhero to get a sequel before The Avengers. Unfortuantely the usually brilliant director Jon Favreau seemed to have his hands tied in this one by trying to begin the "official" setup for The Avengers, so that's what this movie brings us (the other movies just had teases in post-credit sequences.) At times this movies comes across as more of "The Avengers" prequel than it does an Iron Man sequel. Granted it spends a lot of time on Tony's/Iron Man's acceptance into the superhero squad but it's still there. RDJ still saves as does the chemistry between him and GP, but the movie still has a bit of that weight to it. It also is dragged down by a recasting of a character sort of altering the tone between the two characters. The movie also treats the subject of Tony's alcoholism and suffering from poisoning from the metal in the device keeping him alive a bit too lightly. (And even for a comic book movie, I thought him making a cyclotron, powering it, and creating a "new element", in his basement was a bit of a stretch. The movie also introduces us to another Marvel "superhero" with the Black Widow an elite government assassin who can kick ass and give you a boner while doing it. On more viewings I like this movie more than I originally did but I think elements of it could've been handled better. (Again, Tony's alcoholism issues could've been a touch-less slapsticky.) B
: Thor -as a character- was a hard one for me to get into. Given everything comic books presents us with it was a bit difficult to make Norse mythology jive with a comic book world mostly grounded in a ounce or two of the real one. If Thor was a child all of this time, how is he known about -as adult god/demigod- in Earth mythology? Thor et.al. speaks of the "nine realms" which seem to be planets... There are only nine habitable planets in the Marvel Universe? Again, this may all come from me not being a big Marvel (or Thor) fan but it was hard for my logic-mind to comprehend. None-the-less the movie presented the character well and established his origins and such pretty well too. The movie, I think, suffers from Thor's being banished to Earth for his brashness, dealing with being human/mortal, and his redemption and learning of humility to gain his powers back a bit too quickly. Thor seems to change his entire personality to the satisfaction of his father over the course of a couple of days. The movie also lacks a bit in that the "threat" isn't necessarily one to Earth but to an alien race, an evil one at that. But, it was enjoyable in the long run if not for Chris Hemsworth's performance but for Natalie Portman's.
: A character I'd always written off as not much more than a relic of America's version of World War II propaganda that'd been forced into modern times. Frankly, I found him goofy. He throws a shield, he punches Hitler, what else does he do? The movie takes the character and builds a lot more character and background into him than had probably been spent on the other heroes. Set entirely during World War II the movie stays true to the origins of the character -even playing homage to his original purpose in the real world- while also doing the story of how Captain America is brought into modern day. The movie has warmth to it in CA's love interest and a fairly compelling villain. Between Thor and Captain America I'd say CA is the better of the Marvel movies that came out last year. Only Just. A-.
It's been a long road but it's finally here either this weekend for some or next weekend of the rest of us. A movie that has to balance a handful of interesting characters that've been building up for the last four-five years all played by good actors and even with a small cache of secondary characters to make it even more interesting. I suspect this will all pay off, big-time, for Marvel in the end. Getting here has been a fun and enlightening ride as it made me interested in and fans of a handful of superhero characters I never gave much thought to.