Tag Archives: Marvel Cinematic Universe

iFeature | MARVEL STUDIOS 10 Years… Not Just a Phase (Part 1)

In the beginning, 10 years ago, it would have hardly been imaginable that a cinematic universe was in the making, now Marvel Studios has redefined the “blockbuster” and it all began something invincible, incredible and mighty!

The summer movie landscape was always the playground for Hollywood’s big-budget bonanzas! The studios figured it was the most operative and lucrative of opportunities to roll-out the popcorn fair, and it gave them the funds to drop big money into their prestigious Fall Movie releases, which were often star-power draws and dramas ready for awards season. It all started to drastically change when the studios started to see big box office returns from genre-faves like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and Bryan Singer’s X-Men.

Warner Bros. always had itself a cash cow with the Batman franchise, but when the studio decided to reboot the franchise and handed it over to visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan Batman Begins jumpstarted a whole new way to envision the superhero film. Marvel was starting to pick up on this as well, and although it saw an interesting swing handing Ang Lee Hulk in 2003, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films were really the path of least resistance for Marvel to take, especially if its plans to control how their properties got adapted to screen was to materialize.

When Kevin Feige the president of Marvel Studios inherited the reigns, Feige imagined something not unlike the popular pulp series books that Marvel Comics introduced and had been publishing for 80 years. He saw a universe of interconnected stories, stand-alone film franchise with characters that inhabited the same linear narrative and would potentially interact with one another, and when the time was right — the people, their stories and worlds would intersect into one — just like the superheroes that Stan Lee brought to life in the Marvel Universe of comics.

Marvel Studios IRON MAN

In 2008 Marvel Studios took its biggest gamble, and it paid off when it handed the reigns of Iron Man to director Jon Favreau. The largely untested filmmaker had certainly carved a niche for himself in comedies and starred in several of his own features, but Favreau had a very deep understanding of the technological wonder that is the character and was a natural fit to bring The Invincible Iron Man to the big screen. The story goes that Favreau called in several favors, including reaching out to Academy Award Winner Gwyneth Paltrow to appear in the film.

The director’s greatest advantage came from landing Robert Downey, Jr. to star as billionaire weapons manufacturer Tony Stark, who after getting kidnapped by terrorists who want him to build them super weapons instead constructs for himself a life-saving armor. Stark becomes the Iron Man and heralds in a new hit at the box office. Iron Man took in a gross of 585.2 million and inspires a new movement with the post-credits “stinger”. At the conclusion of his epic battle with Iron-Monger (Jeff Bridges), Stark is approached by a mysterious secret agent with a proposal.

Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury suggests to Stark that it’s the beginning of a New Age and that he’s recruiting a team to tackle the threats that will require some “avenging”. This stinger sent a seismic shift through Hollywood introducing the idea of “The Avengers Initiative” — and the Marvel Studio cinematic universe was born! Favreau and Feige had a plan, a bigger picture in mind, a narrative that would run a thread through several big-screen franchises, but lead to a larger scale adventure the realm of which audiences couldn’t imagine would ever make it to the big screen.

Marvel Studios THE INCREDIBLE HULK

Perhaps the unlikeliest follow-up to the success of Iron Man was the release of The Incredible Hulk especially given how recently the big Green Goliath had been adapted for the big screen. Ang Lee took a stab at the monster’s story five-years earlier with his near art house adaptation starring Eric Bana. Credits were not amused and that movies ending left a lot to be desired, but Marvel Studios plowed forward with a “reboot” with Louis Leterrier in the director’s chair and Edward Norton now filling the role of the gamma radiated Dr. Bruce Banner.

The film almost feels like a sequel to its predecessor, although it recasts all the major roles including Liv Tyler as Betty Ross and William Hurt as General Ross, who has made it his mission to hunt down the fugitive Banner who has proven most elusive. Banner has taken to moving all over the world in an endless and tireless quest to contain the beast within him; that proves precarious when Banner gets wind of a possible cure and resurfaces. Ross has also recruited the bloodthirsty Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth) — who becomes an Abomination!

The film was received with mixed reviews, but still made a dent with a take of 263.4 million in box-office; not Iron Man numbers but still proving lucrative by studio expectations. The film, in fact, did exactly perform as anticipated and served to set the ball rolling. The inclusion of a particularly important moment, at the end of the flick established Tony Stark (Downey, Jr.) in this world with an interest in Banner’s extra angry alter ego. This may not have set well with the movie’s star. It had been reported that Edward Norton clashed often with the film’s director and producers.

Norton had his own ideas about how the story should have progressed and was very vocal about his dissatisfaction with the final edit. The actor had been approached about continuing with the role, and it was also rumored that Robert Downey, Jr. was brought in to persuade the actor to stay on with the studio. It appeared that Marvel Studios would have other plans and the next time that the Hulk would appear on screen he would be embodied by a new actor that would make his mark and a smashing addition to the ensemble.

Marvel Studios Iron Man (2008) directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey, Jr., Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow is now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital Download.

Marvel Studios The Incredible Hulk (2008) directed by Louis Letterrier and starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth and William hurt is available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and Digital Download.

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iFeature | Marvel’s Cinematic Universe on AVENGERS Heading Towards the “ENDGAME”

The final curtain is about to drop on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and after “The Snap” heard around the universe, it’s anyone’s guess how it’ll all play out, but invariably MARVEL STUDIOS redefined the superhero movie!

All it may have taken was a single “Snap!” to tragically undercut the growing legacy of the Marvel Studios heroes, in Avengers: Infinity War the big bad that has loomed in the shadows, puppeteering events across a decade of blockbuster films, the Mad Titan Thanos (played by Josh Brolin) altered the course of the history by annihilating half of the entire galaxy’s population — and taking with him some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s newest stars including Black Panther, Doctor Strange and the newly integrated Spider-Man.

The third installment in the Avengers franchise, crushed under its heel any anticipated hope fans may have had of a new “phase” elaborating on an ever-expanding universe capturing the spirit of the Marvel Comics that many movie goers had been thrilled to see come to life, since the introduction of Robert Downey, Jr in 2008s Iron Man. Studio chief Kevin Feige envisioned a theatrical experience that replicated the serialized episodic world these characters had inhabited in their 2-D incarnations, fleshing them all out fully to properly transition to the big screen.

By the time all the main players converged onto widescreen for the Avengers team movies, the film just couldn’t get any better, the action more dynamic and the stakes always higher, but at its core the players remained rooted to the core of their origins — their creator Stan Lee had always believed in the premise that as extraordinary as the circumstances that were that made these individuals heroic, they were always as “real” as real could get — especially in the case of sharing hall space with a thunder god and a radioactively rage-filled hulk.

The Avengers (2012)
L to R: Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo)

A Marvel Indeed

When the titular heroes including Iron Man, Captain America and Thor (and arguably The Hulk) were corralled under one umbrella to be featured in the team film Avengers the studio blockbuster would immediately be altered forever! Successful franchise films had become regularly expected, especially with genre-inspired material like the X-Men or Spider-Man films, although by the time those features hit their third installments the narrative often felt stale, leading to the inevitable reboot. Kevin Feige imagined a longer, more linear experience and inspired a universal story arc.

Avengers bent that rule by landing all the separate or anticipatory franchise characters inside of a team roster. The first film released in 2012 introduced the “founding members”, its follow-up 2015s Avengers: Age of Ultron expanded upon the roster, and by the time we’d arrived at 2018s Avengers: Infinity War the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was recruited to take on the larger than life adversary. It was also necessary since the team was essentially disbanded.

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo Captain America: Civil War (2016) the third film in that franchise disassembled our core heroes, but introduced Black Panther, initiated the Ant-Man and gave us an amazing Spider-Man: Homecoming. The Avengers may have come to an impasse but movie audiences knew that the real war was infinitely on the horizon, and that when the stakes were raised to upwards of a cosmic scale, it would take all of our muscle to fight back — unfortunately we hadn’t factored in that the bad guy might win in the end!

The Next Phase

So perhaps now would be a good time to catch our breath before the next, and fourth film in the franchise hits theaters worldwide. Avengers: Endgame is not shying away from admittedly letting its audience know upfront — however this plays out, the title should be taken very seriously. Inevitably some of our favorite characters may live, and others might die, and still some others have to determinately crawl themselves back from where ever they may have found themselves after that fateful “Snap!”

Marvel Studios has proven in its premiere decade its dominance over the superhero film franchise, a formula that others have attempted to emulate with mixed results, but never as effortlessly as Marvel appeared to master the medium. With the theatrical experience marking a steadfast transition to the home, the Marvel catalog is now getting the 4K respect that it widely deserves. In the Ultra HD resolution that 4K offers the Avengers franchise especially has never looked or sounded so epic!

Picture quality is unmatched and this is most evident in the heavily CGI moments that often occur when the screen is inhabited by Hulk and an army of Ultron robots. 4K also enhances the environment that these actors exist in, turning their highly futuristic war rooms and battle sites, whether deep on the edges of the earth or on the streets of New York appear all the more textured and tangible. The cinematically profound depths of the audio bombardment is also something to behold! With all three of the current film’s available on 4K, this is the only way to assemble proper!

iReview | VENOM

Street journalist Eddie Brock has just stumbled upon an alien invasion of epic proportions in Sony Pictures VENOM based on the Marvel Comics anti-hero, though don’t expect an ever-loving web-slinger to make any appearances!

The year was 2007 and although there weren’t very many superhero franchise films saturating the summer blockbuster season, genre-films were starting to make significant strides winning audiences and luring fans into the multiplex. Though clearly there were signs that fatigue was starting to set in — no where was that more evident than in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man franchise and especially when it entered into its third installment. Spider-Man 3 didn’t enjoy the same critical appeal as its predecessors, neither did it ooze with charm.

In fact it oozed into obscurity and the critics pretty much tore it to shreds, inspiring Sony to immediately demand a “reboot”. Many cited that the film was particularly dense, having added too many extraneous characters — one in particular came at the demand of the studio. Hoping to send a more contemporary message, Sony requested that a modern villain be added to the line-up; particularly the studio requested that Venom be added into the mix. The black-clad alter-ego of Eddie Brock represented the antithesis of everything our hero stood for.

Unfortunately the character was largely lost in the melee that climaxed the film, but Sony held on to the property hopeful that one day they could resurrect the villain; holding most of the Spider-Man properties even as the web-slinger slipped through their grip (even after a pair of largely unpopular reboot attempts with a new Spidey under the hood). Now making good on their promise to steal some of Marvel Studio thunder, Sony unleashes Venon starring Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock, and the unwitting host of the titular anti-hero.

Enough Superheroes

The idea of Venom as a stand-alone franchise is obscure enough, and the fact that Sony plowed ahead with the feature without incorporating Spider-Man into the origin story is simply arrogant. The studio, of course, is banking on the conceit that audiences are willing to accept “alternate facts” when it comes to their genre fandom and comic book favorites. It’s worked for HBO and their hit series Game Of Thrones which has gotten tired of waiting for fantasy novelist George R. R. Martin to complete his saga and decidedly spun the narrative in its own direction.

The entire CW primetime line-up has been switching up, enhancing and taking major liberties with its adaptation of DC Comics properties for upwards of a decade now, so theater goers shouldn’t be too traumatized with the creative directions that screenwriters have taken with director Ruben Fleischer’s vision of the slick black insidiously predatory goo from space that instead of piggy-banking on Peter Parker ends up latching onto Brock (Hardy) who is still a street reporter chasing down political scandals and civil injustices on the streets of San Fransisco.

When Brock gets assigned to profile visionary industrialist Carlton Drake played by Riz Ahmed at his hyper-secret lab complex, he takes the opportunity to grill Drake on the accusations surrounding his firm — accusations that Drake’s team of scientist are exposing innocent people to dangerously unstable antigenes and using them as lab rats. Drake doesn’t take it kindly to the possible exposure and instead goes about shattering Brock’s credibility and firing his lawyer girlfriend, Anne Weying played by Michelle Williams, effectively ending his relationship!

Two Is Company!

Down and out, Brock has become a mere reflection of himself until another opportunity to expose Carlton Drake as a threat presents itself. Sneaking into his lab, Brock is exposed to an alien symbiote that attaches itself to him; most of Drake’s attempts to merge with the alien have proven unsuccessful, but in Brock’s case “Venom” takes to Brock very easily. The two soon form an uneasy alliance, as Venom begins to comfortably set into his new surroundings (Brock) and reveals to Eddie that Drake intends on bringing a symbiote invasion force to Earth!

Drake bonds with the murderously fowl “Riot” and exerts a plan to launch a shuttle into space to intercept that asteroid home of the symbiotes. If Riot is successful, the human race will effectively be wiped out and replaced by the predatorily merciless creatures. It’s up to Brock and Venom, with the help of Anne, to thwart Drake/Riot’s plan and save the planet! Venom nearly sacrifices itself to save his human host, and Eddie returns the favor. The two enter into a bargain to protect the innocent and only eat the bad guys, but only the really, really bad guys.

For most of Venom the audience gets to know Eddie Brock. The largely unlikable character from the comic has been reimagined to suit the star quality of Tom Hardy, who is largely charming in the role. It’s unfortunate though that Venom is anything but charming. The creature is crude and unappealing to look at; a CGI monstrosity that once it takes over the film becomes a monster movie, and that’s perhaps where it loses its thrust. With a new superhero adaptation taking to the big screen almost every season, these films have had to evolve to meet audience expectations.

An example of which is Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy which is a modern space opera, and a complete flip to the more grounded world of the Avengers. When Marvel continued to expand its brand it introduced the multiverses of the Marvel Comics with Doctor Strange and Ant-Man both features dramatically different in tone, one skewed toward the metaphysical, the other more science-fiction, but each providing a different tone and pushing the boundaries of the genre into all-new, all-different arenas — thereby bringing in new audiences.

With Venom Sony had an opportunity to make a significant departure and deliver something that would have been completely unexpected — taking advantage of the anti-hero’s darker tone and violent nature to make a genuine horror-monster movie. Venom eats most of his victims when it isn’t impaling them on its prehensile spikes, but most of that happens off screen during the action scenes. Drake’s ultra-secret science lab where he conducts his experiments of the symbiotes had most of the trappings of a chamber of horrors, but just suggest how lethal his intentions are.

Venom instead sticks to the tropes of its genre, doesn’t really change the beats established by its predecessors and ends with the CGI slugfest that has permeated most of the other superhero movies of late. With the exception of the credit stinger (which leaves some glimmer hope), Venom doesn’t really get as dangerous as you’d hoped it would be, and is simply as adaptive as the symbiote it portrays. Perhaps if Fleischer is inspired by the recent comments Tom Hardy made while promoting the film, he’ll re-edit a “director’s cut” and put some R-Rated content in!

Venom starring Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams; directed by Ruben Fleischer | Rated PG-13

Trailer | Marvel Studios CAPTAIN MARVEL

Carol Danvers may not be the most well known star (yet) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but her alter ego CAPTAIN MARVEL shines like a super nova in the first trailer heralding next summer’s first blockbuster!

It fell from outer space! And dropped right into the middle of a 1990’s Blockbuster! That’s literally how the new trailer of the much anticipated Marvel Studios Captain Marvel begins. The film’s heroine, Carol Danvers played by Brie Larson is headlining the first feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and introducing Captain Marvel to a new generation. The character herself has been around since the 1960 and earned her own title in the 1970s under her original superhero moniker Ms. Marvel.

Danvers, an Air Force pilot gains extraordinary abilities when she is exposed to alien technology, a Kree device (the Kree are first mentioned in the MCU in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1) that is instrumental in the film and comics origin of the character. Captain Marvel crashes onto the Earth and is met with scrutiny from a new ally, Nick Fury again portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson. Larson apparently sits well in the skin of one of Marvel Comics most powerful heroes, and certainly expects to garner as similar a success as the competition’s Wonder Woman.

In recent history the character of Carol Danvers, as Captain Marvel has been elevated to a level that matches her contemporaries like Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk and Spider-Man, and with Avengers: Infinity War having struck down many of these major players, will the arrival of Captain Marvel signify the new age of the Marvel Studios franchises? That certainly would appear to be the suggestion, but with a story that promises to span the cosmos and create a time-tripping backstory that could introduce the newest Avenger, it just looks cool!

Here is the trailer for Captain Marvel expected in theaters in March 2019.

iReview | ANT-MAN AND THE WASP

Marvel’s most astonishing pint-sized hero is back for another big screen adventure, but after battling on the side of the angels in the climatic Civil War Ant-Man and The Wasp must team-up — for the first time — to save the day!

In the annals of Marvel Comics creations, the characters of Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne are without a doubt instrumental in setting in motion the comics imprint’s modern era of superheroes. As two of the founding members of the Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the duo had a significant influence inspiring every generation that followed in their footsteps. When Marvel Studios announced that they would be adding the pair to their cinematic line-up, fans assumed that they would debut as part of the premiere team-up of Avengers. Not so.

As part of the next phase of the extended Marvel cinematic universe Ant-Man was introduced in his own big screen adventure, but it wouldn’t be Henry “Hank” Pym in the title role. Veteran Hollywood actor Michael Douglas was cast as the original hero first introduced in the classic Tales to Astonish #27 (Jan. 1962), but it would be comedic leading man Paul Rudd who would step into the super suit with the abilities to control his size and mass! Rudd was cast as Scott Lang, the second hero to assume the mantle of “Ant-Man” and introduced in Marvel Premiere #47, 1979.

In the comics, Lang a talented engineer was also a small-time crook who stole Hank Pym’s suit, but after proving himself to the scientist, Pym recognizes Scott’s potential and gives him the suit, so long as he uses it to fight crime. As the new Ant-Man, Scott Lang would become a hero in his own right often teaming up with Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and even joining the Avengers for a time. His daughter Cassie would eventually assume her own superhero persona and join the next generation of heroes inspired by the Avengers.

Hope Van Dyne (Lilly) is every bit the hero the world needs, and a capable force even at pint-size!

On the Big Screen

When the hero was realized for the big screen, his origin was similarly styled after his comic book introduction. Pym (Douglas) has learned that the technology he has developed and coveted over the years called “Pym particles” is being coopted by a former business partner. With the help of his daughter, Hope Van Dyne (played by Evangeline Lilly) the pair intended to recruit Lang to their cause to subvert the organization that is intending to weaponize his science and turn his life around as a superhero.

As the Ant-Man, Scott fought along with Captain America when the heroes confronted one another in the midst of a “Civil War”. At the end of that epic confrontation, Scott was sprung from prison and kept a close eye on by the FBI. Under house arrest there isn’t much that he can do, so he spends a lot of time with his daughter, Cassie, but when the fugitive Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne seek his help, Scott may lead the way to the mysterious whereabouts of Hank’s missing wife and partner, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer).

In Ant-Man and The Wasp Scott and Hope will team up once again under the directorial eye of Peyton Reed who proved uniquely capable at balancing the dramatic and comedic sides of the first feature which played like a classic caper film. The follow-up to the franchise doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but greatly enhances the mythology and solidly places Ant-Man and The Wasp rightfully in realm of the growing number of heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, most of which recently met their fate at the hands of the Mad Titan Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.

Ant-Man (Rudd) finds himself facing an enemy that’s out of phase with reality in “Ant-Man and The Wasp”.

Larger Size Action; Bigger Heart

The first Ant-Man is perhaps one of the best origin stories in the Marvel Studios pantheon; it was highly beneficial in helping to establish Scott Lang and the Ant-Man who had been largely eclipsed by the more iconic contemporaries including Thor, Hulk and the aforementioned Captain America. Even though the characters were both pioneering members among Earth’s Mightiest, both Ant-Man and The Wasp remained largely enigmatic second players. The success of Ant-Man changed all of that, and his appearance in Captain America: Civil War raised his profile.

In the premiere installment the villainous Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) plans on selling Pym’s tech to none other than Hydra, the clandestine organization that infiltrates S.H.I.E.L.D. — our heroes are able to stop Cross who adapts Pym’s suit advances it into the  “Yellowjacket”. Lang emerges a true contender nimbly battling his adversary and turning an army of ants into a formidable force to be reckoned with! Stoll’s Yellowjacket will undoubtedly emerge as one of the most frightening foes, and the pair’s epic confrontation in Cassie’s playroom one of the best yet!

The supporting cast returned to join Scott, Hope and Hank on their mission to rescue Janet from her exile to the Quantum Realm, but even as they race against time another threat the mysterious Ghost (the crazy fantastic Hannah John-Kamen) is also chasing after Pym’s technology. As a young girl, the Ghost was caught in an industry explosion that placed her “out of phase” rest the rest of the world. An associate of Hank’s, Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) promises to help, but it soon becomes evident that the government prefers to turn the Ghost into a secret agent.

One of the charms of the film is how heavily it relies on Marvel Comics mythology, and the elaboration of the backstory that sets up the covert missions of the original Ant-Man (Douglas) and The Wasp (Pfeiffer) with the introduction of Fishburne’s Bill Foster who also is best known to comic book fans as the size-changing hero Goliath. Rudd and Lilly have an onscreen chemistry that work on multiple levels, but establish both as inheritors of the next phase of Marvel’s cinematic narrative. No doubt that Pfeiffer’s Janet Van Dyne will also emerge as one of the best cast roles.

The final act of Ant-Man and The Wasp as our heroes work to save the day is a phenomenally choreographed piece with Hope’s Wasp fully integrating herself into her role as a hero and Lang still navigating the intricacies of the suit, but proving his heart is bigger than most, and that he is truly one of the Marvel Universe’s most larger than life superheroes! Let’s all hope that given what’s at stake after the conclusion of Infinity War and (SPOILER ALERT) the disappearance of most of the Ant-Man family, Scott emerges the hero we all know he is!

Ant-Man and The Wasp starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas directed by Peyton Reed is currently playing in theaters.