marvel superhero movies

Thor: The Dark World

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2013

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Alan Taylor

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Story by Don Payne and Robert Rodat

Based on “Thor” created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby

“Malekith” and “Algrim/Kurse” created by Walt Simonson

Out of all the Marvel superheroes who have starred in movies I think it’s safe to say that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has the largest and most diverse supporting cast. On Asgard there’s his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) his mother Frigga (Rene Russo) The Warriors Three: Voluminous Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) Fandral The Dashing (Zachary Levi) and Hogun The Grim (Tadanobu Asano) the warrior maid Sif (Jaimie Alexander) The all-seeing guardian of The Bifrost and The Rainbow Bridge, Heimdall (Idris Elba) and Thor’s adoptive brother, the ever scheming, always manipulative trickster Loki (Tom Hiddleston)

Then on Earth we’ve got the love of Thor’s life and brilliant astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and her intern Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) who in this adventure has an intern of her own, Ian (Jonathan Howard)

That’s a lot of characters for one movie and we haven’t even gotten to the bad guys yet: Malekith, king of The Dark Elves of Svartalfheim (Christopher Eccleston) and his right hand elf Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who is transformed into Kurse, a terrifying creature of immense power capable of going toe-to-toe with Thor. But you know what? The screenplay is very well put together so that each and every one of these characters has something to do and each has their own part to advance the story. Even when a character is off screen for an extended period of time, there’s a logical explanation for where they are and what they’re doing and why we’re not seeing them. Each and every one of them also gets their own scene where they get a chance to shine. It’s a credit to the skill and generosity of the director, Alan Taylor that he manages that with slowing down the plot or making THOR: THE DARK WORLD feel cramped with unnecessary scenes.

After the events of “The Avengers” Thor, The Warriors Three and Sif have been busy restoring peace and order to The Nine Realms. Loki is being held in the dungeons below Odin’s throne room. Odin is well pleased that his once arrogant and knuckle-headed son has grown up and is seriously contemplating turning over the throne of Asgard to him.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Jane Foster is in London pissed off because Thor hasn’t come back to Earth for her as he said he would. She’s been neglecting her research but Darcy Lewis pulls her back in by taking Jane to an abandoned warehouse where objects are appearing and disappearing into invisible pocket wormholes. Jane finds out where these objects go and that leads her to being infected by The Aether, a weapon of hideous power capable of destroying the universe. Malekith, his lieutenant Algrim and his army of Dark Elves are awakened by The Aether’s release and go in search of it, the intention being to…well, destroy the universe, what else?

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But by now, Heimdall has alerted Thor that there’s something wrong with Jane and so Thor brings her to Asgard to try and remove The Aether from her and that brings Malekith and his Dark Elves to attack Asgard itself and from then on its hammer time.

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For those of you who complained that there wasn’t enough of Asgard in “Thor” this movie is for you. Most of the action takes place there with occasional side trips to Earth to check up on how the mortals are doing as they gradually come to realize that the Nine Realms are aligning themselves in a rare Convergence that will link the realms. Keep your eyes on Kat Dennings during the Earth scenes as she provides most of the humor and does it with flair and a wicked delivery that strikes exactly the right tone for the situation her character is in.

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Chris Hemsworth gives us a Thor in this one who has learned how to care for others and put their needs ahead of his own and so he’s a much more heroic character here than he was in the first movie. Anthony Hopkins is his usual magnificent self as All-Father Odin while Rene Russo has a kickass fight scene that makes me wish Mrs. Odin had way more screen time.

But it’s Tom Hiddleston who walks off with the acting honors in this one, of course. The relationship between Odin, Thor and Loki is a complicated one and the three actors get the most mileage out of it, giving it a near Shakespearean level of emotion. Hiddleston and Hemsworth especially shine during their scenes together when Thor and Loki have to team up to take on Malekith and they not only make quite the formidable team in battle but they honestly confront their feelings about each other and their relationship to their father.

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THOR: THE DARK WORLD is visually quite magnificent and if you know your Kirby and your Simonson you’ll be able to see their influences on Asgardian architecture, clothing, armor and weaponry. I liked the story a lot as it expanded and enriched Thor’s universe and as I said earlier, didn’t leave any of these characters out of the adventure. Even Mjolnir gets a nice bit of characterization as we see just how seriously the enchanted hammer takes its command that it must always return to Thor’s hand. There’s a lot of really great fight scenes and some tragedy that is truly gut wrenching but there’s also just enough humor so that we know to take it all seriously but not too serious that we can’t relax and have fun. I’d love to sit down Zack Snyder and his “Man of Steel” screenwriters to watch THOR: THE DARK WORLD because this is the way to make a superhero movie. Stop reading this review and go see THOR: THE DARK WORLD right now.

PG-13

112 minutes

The Avengers

2012

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Joss Whedon

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Zak Penn, Joss Whedon

Based on the Marvel comic book “The Avengers” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

My love affair with THE AVENGERS goes back to 1968.  That’s when I bought Avengers Annual #2 which featured Captain America going back in time with teammates Hawkeye, Goliath, The Wasp and The Black Panther and through a cosmic mixup find themselves doing battle with Giant-Man, The Wasp, Iron Man, Thor and The Hulk.  I was hooked and from that year to this one, The Avengers have always been my favorite superhero team.  Way back then my friends and I fantasized about seeing The Avengers in a live-action movie but until a few years ago I never really believed it could be done.  It has.  After five previous Marvel superhero movies it’s all led up to this.  And it’s been done with such fresh intelligence, unique wit, humor, creative consistency and downright fun that as far as I’m concerned THE AVENGERS is the best and greatest superhero movie ever made.  With this movie, the bar for superhero movies has been raised so incredibly high that I don’t think it’ll be topped anytime soon.  At least not until “Avengers 2″

The meat of the plot is actually quite simple.  After being thrown off the destroyed Rainbow Bridge by his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) during his attempt to conquer Asgard, The God of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) found himself in a hostile dimension.  He has made a deal with the leader of the warrior alien race known as the Chitauri.  If Loki retrieves the ancient artifact known as the Tesseract he’ll be given command of a Chitauri army to conquer The Earth.  Loki manages to remotely use the Tesseract to open a portal by which he returns to Earth.  Loki steals the Tessarct from the S.H.I.E.L.D. research facility where it is being studied by Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard)  Loki escapes, destroying the facility in the process while turning Dr. Selvig, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and half a dozen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into his mind-controlled lackeys.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) decides to reactivate “The Avengers Initiative” to combat this threat.  He sends Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to India to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).  Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) heads to New York to bring in Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.).  When Loki is discovered to be in Germany, it seems like the perfect assignment for Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) to capture him but that plan goes wrong when Thor shows up, intending to capture his brother himself, recover the Tessaract and take them both back to Asgard. And he’s got an outrageously big hammer to back up his intentions.

Surprisingly, Loki allows himself to be taken captive and imprisoned on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier, the Helicarrier.  Fury attempts to talk this wildly diverse group into becoming a team while Banner and Stark try to find the Tesseract and the true depths of Loki’s scheming soon become obvious to all.  Divided and disheartened, The Avengers must learn how to work together as a team to save the world from Loki and the overwhelming onslaught of the Chitauri hordes pouring out of a interdimensional  portal above Stark Tower.

That’s the bare bones of the plot but there’s so much meat on the bones that it flat-out astonishes me how much Joss Whedon and his co-writer Zak Penn gets in there without the movie feeling rushed or over-bloated.  There are some great character moments aboard the Helicarrier and the scene of The Avengers bickering among themselves had me chuckling even though it’s a deadly serious scene.  But as a long-time Avengers fan, I’ve seen this scene played out in I don’t know how many issues of the comic book and it feels absolutely right in here.

We get astounding superhero battles such as Iron Man vs. Thor and Hulk vs. Thor while the actual alien attack on New York is jaw-dropping in its scale and level of sheer spectacle.  It’s also where we get to see The Avengers finally working together as a team and it’s one of the best moments in superhero movie history.

The acting is dead on-point with Mark Ruffalo being the stand-out.  I expected everyone else to be good as they’ve played these characters before and they know the tone they’re supposed to take.  But Mark Ruffalo comes in cold and nails Bruce Banner with an ease that is truly impressive.  He’s just as good as Eric Bana and Edward Norton and I could even see the progression in both The Hulk and Bruce Banner through Ruffalo’s performance.  They both have come a long way and Ruffalo as Banner reflects this.  Nothing he does invalidates or violates the Bana or Norton performances and actually builds on them.  And both Banner and The Hulk get some of the best lines/scenes in the movie.  Including the one between The Hulk and Loki that had the audience I saw the movie with laughing, cheering, clapping and high-fiving for at least five minutes.

Jeremy Renner makes for a far better Clint Barton than I thought he would be.  This incarnation of Hawkeye as well as The Black Widow are darker versions of the traditional characters but I didn’t mind.  These characters I’ve always admired and loved since they don’t have superpowers.  Even Captain America has the Super-Solider Formula going for him but Hawkeye and The Black Widow are superbly trained humans who through virtue of guts, heart and their outstanding skills prove why they’re worthy to be Avengers.

So should you see THE AVENGERS?  What a silly question. of course you have. As for me I’ve seen THE AVENGERS and it’s the Avengers movie I’ve been waiting since 1968 to see and it was worth the wait.

143 minutes

PG-13

 

Hulk Vs.

HULK VS.

2009

Marvel Animation/Lionsgate Home Entertainment

It’s taken me some time to finally get around to watching this one, I know.  Especially since it’s been around for so long.  I’ve been  prompted by the long-awaited “Avengers” movie which will be hitting theaters in a week to devoting time to watching the animated Marvel superhero movies I haven’t seen and re-watching the live action movies that I have.  I’m fairly familiar with the DC animated movies as I enjoy the stories and the animation much better than the Marvel animated movies that I have seen.  But as HULK VS. features two of my favorite Marvel superheroes going at it toe-to-toe, there was no way I couldn’t start with this one first.

HULK VS. THOR

Directed by Sam Liu

Produced by Frank Paur

Story by Craig Kyle and Frank Paur

Screenplay by Christopher Yost

 

Once a year in the fabled kingdom of Asgard, All-Father Odin lapses into the fabled Odinsleep for one week to regenerate his divine power.  During that week, every evil power in The Nine Worlds assaults Asgard, hoping to either destroy Odin or take his power.  But the faithful warriors of Asgard, led by Thor, the God of Thunder (Matthew Wolf) have always successfully protected Odin.

But this time, Loki, the God of Mischief (Graham McTavish) has what he thinks is a trick that will work.  He’s snatched Dr. Bruce Banner (Bryce Johnson) from Earth and brought him to Asgard.  With the aid of Amora The Enchantress (Kari Wahlgren) Loki magically separates The Hulk from Banner.  This enables Loki to gain full control over the man-monster and sends him on a rampage through Asgard.  Without Bruce Banner’s soul to provide some form of control over The Hulk, he’s now the very incarnation of pure rage and totally unstoppable.  Wave after wave of Asgard’s best warriors try to take down The Hulk and get the immortal piss walloped outta them.

And then we get to the moment we’ve been waiting for when Thor brings the thunder and lighting.  Not to mention his enchanted war hammer Mjolnir which he then proceeds to layeth the smackdown on the green varlet.  Let the ass-kicking commence.

While I liked HULK VS. THOR a lot more than HULK VS. WOLVERINE I didn’t like how Thor was portrayed as pretty much The Hulk’s punching bag in their fight.  There’s a scene about a minute, maybe a minute and a half long which it nothing but The Hulk pounding mercilessly on Thor.  Indeed, so badly is Thor beaten up that Hela, the daughter of Loki and the Asgardian goddess of death attempts to claim his soul. My own opinion is that Thor can beat just about anybody in The Marvel Universe and he certainly can beat The Hulk.  But hey, I didn’t write the story.  What I did like is how the story takes an unexpected twist when Loki kills Banner and as a result, The Hulk can’t be sent back to Earth since Banner’s soul now belongs to Hela.  This forces Thor and Loki to team up to recover Bruce Banner’s soul and reunite it with The Hulk before The Hulk destroys Asgard completely.

The animation isn’t anything to cheer about.  It’s of high quality, yes, but I’ve been spoiled by the DC animated features which are regularly spectacular.  But don’t get me wrong, now.  I’m recommending HULK VS. THOR.  It’s a solid, very well made straight-up superhero story that delighted me with its Old School 60’s/70’s Marvel vibe.  And I loved the final scene homage to the “Incredible Hulk” TV series.

HULK VS. WOLVERINE

Directed and Produced by Frank Paur

Screenplay by Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost

The Hulk is on a rampage in the wilds of Canada.  Apparently he’s destroyed a small town and Wolverine is brought in by Department H to stop him.  What puzzles Wolverine (Steven Blum) is the numerous spent shell casings and heavy scent of gunpowder still in the air.  Somebody spent a lot of bullets trying to stop The Hulk but failed.  There’s also an odd toxic smell that Wolverine believes he can use to track The Hulk.

Wolverine soon tracks down Bruce Banner (Bryce Johnson) and slaps him around as Wolverine detects the same toxic smell on him.  The slapping around results in making Bruce Banner mad and we all know what happens when he gets mad.  The adamantium claws come out.  Let the ass-kicking commence.

The situation becomes complicated when Team X, composed of Deadpool, Omega Red, Lady Deathstrike and Sabretooth show up.  They’ve been tracking The Hulk for weeks so as to capture him for Weapon X, the same project that created Wolverine by bonding adamantium to his skeleton.  It was actually Team X that destroyed the town fighting The Hulk and those were Deadpool’s bullet casings.   Both The Hulk and Wolverine are drugged and taken to the Weapon X facility where they will both have their memories erased and be used as living weapons.  It’s up to Wolverine to somehow escape, set The Hulk free and stay alive while Team X tries to kill or recapture the both of them.

HULK VS. WOLVERINE is pretty much a Wolverine story that guest-stars The Hulk.  Unlike HULK VS. THOR where The Hulk/Bruce Banner is an active character in the action of the story and it’s Bruce Banner’s choice that resolves the story’s conflict.  The villains in the story are Wolverine’s villains and the story stops cold at one point so that we can flashback to Wolverine’s origins.  And except for The Hulk, there’s no characters in the story I really care about or am interested in.  Wolverine has become the most overexposed and overrated character in comics in the last twenty years.  Deadpool I’ve never gotten the point of.  He’s supposed to be this utterly hilarious character but damned if I can see it.  As for Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike and Omega Red…meh.  Now that I’ve said all that, you may find it odd that I now say that “Wolverine: Origins” is one of my favorite superhero movies and I enjoyed both Wolverine and Deadpool in that one but that’s another review.

But it’s not all bad and considering it’s called HULK VS. WOLVERINE there’s no point in my BMW’ing about a movie that told me up front it’s just going to be a slugfest which is exactly what HULK VS. is from start to finish.  It’s made for longtime fans of these characters and it’s well worth a viewing on a Saturday afternoon.  HULK VS. THOR is 45 minutes long while HULK VS. WOLVERINE is 37 minutes long so it’s not going to take up half your day watching it.  The short run time of both stories means that there’s no filler scenes of unnecessary padding.  It’s straight action from start to finish.  Enjoy