Sunday, May 6, 2012
The Ultimate Marvel Marathon
15 hours. Six movies, including the midnight premiere of The Avengers. Cody was there.
I've always loved comic books. On this blog, I've gone on about how my childhood was spent watching movies repeatedly, but haven't mentioned that there was usually a stack of comic books in close proximity while those viewings were happening. I spent a lot of time as a kid writing out my own movie ideas and scripts, but I probably spent an equal amount of time, maybe even more time, writing my own comic books. (I wrote the scripts for them, I didn't draw up the panels, I was never an artist. But I did often draw covers for the stories.) For as long as I can remember, my goal in life was to be a filmmaker and a comic book writer.
My favorite books and characters were from Marvel. I did, of course, pick up some DC books, an issue of Superman or Batman here and there, but I was never a regular reader of DC. The only times I had DC on my store pull list was when Superman was getting killed or Batman was being paralyzed.
I was a Marvel kid when it came to the books, but DC had the edge on movies. Tim Burton's Batman was released when I was 5 years old, and that series was huge throughout my childhood. I would often watch Richard Donner's Superman on cable or rented from the video store. There were some Marvel properties to watch - a low budget Spider-Man played by Nicholas Hammond, Dolph Lundgren as Punisher, a direct-to-video Captain America - but something was a bit off about them. I enjoyed them, but they weren't quite on the same production level as Superman and Batman's movies were. Even Mirage's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were better off. There were glimmers of hope that there might be more Marvel on movie screens soon, there were deals and rumors of deals. A Fantastic Four movie was being made (it never officially came out), James Cameron was going to follow up Terminator 2 by making Spider-Man (nope), there was always talk about the possibility of an X-Men movie happening, we might even get a Ghost Rider movie.
The wave of Marvel films started in 1998 with the release of an awesome movie for an obscure character (who I was very familiar with from the books I read), Blade. Two years later, the X-Men movie finally hit and it proved that this type of thing could really work, so they were off and running. The movies were reaching theatres about ten years after I had first heard they were happening, but for the most part I've felt that they were worth the wait.
As the superhero genre grew over the years, Marvel Studios stepped up as an independent production house. While many characters (Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Daredevil, etc.) remain licensed out to studios, Marvel themselves were able to collect the film rights for the characters they'd need to set into the motion the build-up to the biggest comic book event movie yet, this weekend's release of The Avengers.
I was extremely hyped for The Avengers, so when I heard that AMC theatres were having The Ultimate Marvel Marathon, showing all five of the solo movies building up to the midnight premiere of the team-up movie, I knew I had to be there and ordered a $40 ticket online, even though the nearest AMC was 90 miles away in Columbus.
I had some buyer's remorse a couple days later, when the AMC marathons were selling out and Cinemark announced that they were going to have a marathon as well. Tickets to Cinemark's marathon were $20, and since Cinemark is the chain I usually go to, I have the $3 refill drink cup and $3 refill popcorn bucket that last all year. The nearest Cinemark having the marathon was close to Cleveland, a cool place to see The Avengers at since it was partially filmed in the city, and unlike the AMC, I had been to this place before, back in December during the few days when Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol had been released only to theatres with huge screens. But I already had my $40 ticket for an unfamiliar place in Columbus, the deal was done. And once I took my seat, the fact that I had paid twice as much as I could have didn't hamper my enjoyment of the event at all.
It seems that I can rarely get a good night's sleep before this type of event and the night before this one I only managed five restless hours. Not the ideal preparation for spending an entire day in a dark theatre. I left my house around 9am and reached the AMC theatre at around 11am, at which time there was already a long line of people shuffling into the building. I joined the line, picked up my ticket with my Fandango code, was provided with a pass for the event on an AMC lanyard, a free Avengers comic book, and was directed to where the special Avengers-styled 3-D glasses were laid out. I grabbed the first pair closest to my hand - Iron Man.
That character kicked off the action when the first movie began at 11:30am -
IRON MAN (2008)
The film rights for Iron Man had bounced around Hollywood for years, from Universal to 20th Century Fox to New Line Cinema, with directors like Stuart Gordon and Nick Cassavetes being involved at different points and Tom Cruise being attached to play Tony Stark. Despite their efforts, it never got off the ground, and the rights came back to Marvel in 2005.
Developing the project in-house and bringing on Jon Favreau to direct and Robert Downey, Jr. to star, Marvel managed to turn Iron Man into one of the best comic book movies ever.
Casting RDJ as Tony Stark was a totally unexpected move at the time, there were people who doubted him, people who were unfamiliar with him or had forgotten how good of an actor he is since his career had taken such a hit through the late '90s due to his personal issues. It turned out to be perfect casting. I was never a big fan of Iron Man in the comics, I didn't like to see Tony Stark and his mustache turn up in things I was reading, but Downey makes the character very cool. His charisma is the arc reactor that powers the whole thing. He delivers an amazing performance and much of it seems improvised, like Favreau just got him on set and let him play.
Favreau's direction and the editing are great, and they got the story just right, from the origin of Iron Man in an Afghanistan cave (updated from the comic's Vietnam beginnings) in the first half, building to the climactic man-in-suit vs. man-in-suit battle between Iron Man and Iron Monger, a fight that reminds me of the ending of RoboCop 2 a bit.
The supporting cast is also strong, human - from Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark's assistant/love interest Pepper Potts to Jeff Bridges as the shady Obadiah Stane - and otherwise. Downey interacts with a robot arm in his work shop so well that he manages to turn it into a character itself, one he refers to as Dummy.
As awesome as the film is, I will admit that it doesn't have a lot of rewatchability for me. So much of the movie is just focused on Stark building, working on, perfecting the suit that it's not something I can sit through very often. But that's only an issue if I were attempting to watch it all the time. This was just the third time that I've seen it, and it works as something that I revisit once every couple years. With some time between viewings, I totally enjoy it.
There were hints that Avengers may on the horizon in this film, the presence of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson at the periphery, then an end credits scene that fans went crazy for. The plan may not have worked out if this film hadn't done well. Fortunately it did, and Downey and Favreau took a lesser known superhero and made him extremely popular.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)
I missed the first couple minutes of this movie because it started surprisingly soon after Iron Man ended, only about ten minutes had gone by. I think the projectionist jumped the gun, because twenty minutes into the movie, just when some Hulk action was about to happen, the movie stopped and restarted from the beginning. Seems that there was supposed to be a thirty minute wait. And I got to see those first couple minutes the second time they played.
The Hulk is, along with Captain America, the character I was most familiar with before these movies. I read a bunch of early Hulk stories when I was a kid, stories when he was just the big green brute who bounced from town to town causing havoc. I also read several issues of Peter David's run on the comic, when the Hulk had all the intelligence of his human alter ego Bruce Banner in his big green body and was able to hold conversations. And of course, I watched a lot of episodes of the '78 - '82 Incredible Hulk TV series, one of the better live action Marvel-related projects before the current wave.
I had also been in the theatre opening day in 2003 to see Ang Lee's Hulk, and I was one of seemingly few who liked that film.
Despite following just five years after Ang Lee's movie, this is not connected to that. The origin - thankfully told just through a few lines of dialogue and a title sequence montage - is different, involving an attempted revival of the Super Soldier program from World War II and Bruce Banner willingly testing gamma radiation on himself. All of the characters were recast so that Marvel could distance this film from the other - Edward Norton replaces Eric Bana, Liv Tyler is in and Jennifer Connelly is out, William Hurt is put in place of Sam Elliott... That last one is my biggest issue with this film. I have no beef with Hurt, it's just that you do not, ever, under any circumstances, recast a role played by Sam Elliott. I love that man and his mustache.
The only connection is the fact that Hulk '03 ended with Banner in South America and Incredible Hulk '08 begins with Banner in South America. And he still gets big and green when he gets too angry. Or excited.
The excited part plays into the scene that I most clearly remembered about this movie, a moment when Banner and his love Betty Ross are getting frisky in bed together and he has to call it off because his heart rate is rising too much and he's in danger of Hulking out.
This marathon was just my second time watching this movie, the previous time had been during opening weekend four years ago. I knew I had enjoyed it then, but I had forgotten how good it really is. It's a fun movie, it has cool action and it's very simple due to the more heavy psychological drama moments having been deleted, another way Marvel wanted to differentiate this from Ang Lee's take.
I knew the movie ended with the Hulk battling the monstrous Abomination, but I had totally forgotten how that came to be or that Tim Roth was even in this movie. He's the overzealous soldier tracking/fighting the Hulk, a character who becomes so obsessed with the Hulk's power that he willingly becomes the Abomination.
I did remember that another step was taken toward The Avengers with a cameo by RDJ's Tony Stark.
My sleep deprivation tried to mess with me briefly during The Incredible Hulk, I was nodding off during the scene with Banner in the lab of Tim Blake Nelson's character - not the movie's fault, Nelson is very entertaining in his role - but I fought through and regained consciousness.
IRON MAN 2 (2010)
Before Iron Man 2 began, I stopped by the concession stand and got a large drink and a large popcorn, which I could get free refills for later in the day.
It was a given going in that Iron Man 2 was going to be the low point of the marathon. I remembered from my viewing of it in 2010 that it hadn't lived up to its predecessor. I wasn't the only one who had thought that, and its reputation has gone downhill during the two years since. Downey has called it disappointing, and people online often talk about it like it was a total disaster.
Watching it this second time reminded me that negativity online is often highly exaggerated.
Downey's performance is still top-notch and he's again surrounded with a great supporting cast, whether returning members - Paltrow, Jon Favreau gets a bit more screen time as chauffeur Happy Hogan; recast - Don Cheadle is a good replacement for Terrence Howard as Stark's pal James Rhodes, who gets some man-in-suit action himself this time as War Machine; or new. Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke are awesome as the villains of the piece, Rockwell is very entertaining as Stark-wannabe Justin Hammer and Rourke is badass, his character an amalgamation of comic book baddies Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo. (Crimson Dynamo is one of the few Iron Man villains I know, from his appearance in the pages of the short-lived team book The Champions.) On a side note, Rourke has the weirdest looking fingernails I've ever seen.
The Avengers build-up is very obvious in this movie, and that may be its biggest problem. There's a heavy presence of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the second act. Coulson is still around, Scarlett Johansson's character is revealed to be the Black Widow (who was also one of The Champions), Nick Fury shows up and looks ridiculous being at a donut shop. The characters are cool, but some of these interactions drag the movie down, and to me the most awkward part of the movie comes out of it. Coulson is stationed at Stark's house with orders to not let him leave. A couple scenes later, Stark leaves with no problem, no explanation. After Stark returns home, Coulson is there and the explanation for why Stark was able to sneak out is that Coulson was busy "doing some stuff." If the movie isn't missing something then I'm missing something, I don't get how that made it into the finished film.
That kind of writing is not indicative of the entire script, which is actually decent and full of good, funny lines.
Iron Man 2 is not as great as the first movie, the action sequences don't feel like they're all they could be, but it's not the mess it's made out to be, and I enjoyed it more this time than I did two years ago.
The after credits scene is the least of the bunch, a quick moment that sets the stage for Thor. It's a scene that's repeated in Thor, but it plays a bit differently in that film.
With Thor and the second half of the marathon, we entered what I thought would be the real endurance portion of the event - three 3-D movies in a row. I like the occasional 3-D movie, but I didn't know how three in a row would go. And I almost always opt for 2-D screenings when a movie has been post-converted to 3-D, which all of these were. It worked out alright, but 3-D movies are a pain. A pain in my eyes for the contacts that I wear so I can put on the hard plastic glasses that cause a pain in my nose.
I've always been aware of Thor, but even though my father has a tattoo inspired by the character, I've never been all that familiar with him. The version of the character I knew best from my childhood wasn't even fully Thor, it was a guy named Eric Masterson who went on to be called Thunderstrike when Thor returned to being Thor.
The fantasy elements of Thor's story and setting, gods and other realms and magic and creatures, aren't very appealing to me personally.
Two of these movies have come out since this blog started, and I've only written about one of them. I liked Thor when I saw it, but I just didn't have enough to say about it to write it up in a Worth Mentioning article.
I liked it this second time, too. Kenneth Branagh did a fine job directing it and the cast is good. Kat Dennings is fun, I always like Natalie Portman, Australian actor Chris Hemsworth perfectly pulls off being the god of thunder.
The best stuff about the movie are the parts with a setting that isn't typically my kind of thing, the scenes in Asgard and other lands. The section of the film that's set in a small American town at times reminds me of the Masters of the Universe movie. Which I can't say is a bad thing, I loved that movie when I was a kid and watched it many times, but it's kind of funny.
With S.H.I.E.L.D. presence and a cameo by the character Hawkeye (who was in one of the first comics I ever read), Thor continues the Avengers momentum, and that film's main villain is also the villain of this film - Thor's adopted brother Loki, god of mischief, very well played by Tom Hiddleston. The end credits scene is directly related to the opening scene of The Avengers.
For the second time during the marathon, sleep deprivation tried to knock me out. My eyes closed during the early confrontation with the Frost Giants of Jotunheim. Oddly, I seem to recall that I almost nodded off during that scene the first time I saw the movie as well... But the sleepiness passed, and that was the last time any nods happened.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)
The audience was getting livelier as the show went on, and between Thor and Captain America a superhero fight even broke out in the theatre. Below the massive screen, teenage Thor was dodging Nerf arrows fired by female Hawkeye. With a loud thump, one of those arrows even accidentally smacked into that massive screen.
From what I saw, I think Captain America had the most representation of all the Avengers on peoples' clothing. Someone had even brought a Cap towel or blanket to spread out over a couple seats. That makes sense to me, because Captain America was the solo movie that I was most excited to see when its release was nearing.
This movie is the one of the bunch that I did write about last year. That Worth Mentioning article is one of the least viewed posts on the blog, so click the link if you'd like to read what my initial reaction to the film was last year.
My reaction to my second viewing of the film is much the same: I love this movie.
Chris Evans is a great Steve Rogers. I wasn't sure about his casting when it was first announced, but it turned out I should've trusted it completely.
I said last year that this may be my favorite of the solo Avengers movies, and I still feel that it might be. It's awesome and its competition for the top spot is the first Iron Man, and I think the deciding factor is that Cap has more rewatchability for me.
As the film's subtitle shows, they weren't being subtle about these movies being connected anymore. The end credits scene is a full-fledged teaser trailer for The Avengers, and the Tesseract device that Red Skull steals and uses to power his ships and weapons is an important part of the team-up film.
THE AVENGERS (2012)
Over the course of Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America, I made sure I finished my drink and popcorn so I could get my refills before the marathon was over. I went out to get the refills between Cap and the midnight start time for The Avengers, which didn't turn out to be the best idea. There were more midnight screenings of The Avengers happening in addition to the marathon screenings and the place was packed, a hundred or more people standing in several lines at the concession stand. There was confusion over whether people who were only getting refills could just walk up to the counter or split off into a separate line. I stood in what I was told was a refill line, then one of the workers told us that it wasn't really a line. Our line merged with another. I eventually got my refills, which I didn't intend to consume much of during The Avengers, I just didn't want to miss out on the free. This was Thursday night, that second bucket of popcorn lasted me until Saturday night.
But why am I going on about that when we've reached the main event?
The Avengers began and we all entered the cinematic heaven of Marvel true believers.
I'm not going to say that the movie is perfect, I could personally nitpick and question why some shots make it look cheap when it obviously isn't and talk about how the early scenes of Loki arriving on Earth and walking around among regular people made me think of Julian Sands in a Warlock sequel, but it doesn't matter. Any issues with the movie are completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of fangasm-inducing awesome moments.
I'm not a big Joss Whedon fan, his writing often doesn't jibe with me, I find his humor grating sometimes, but he did The Avengers right. In the wrong hands, a movie with this many characters to juggle could be a total clusterfluff, but this works and watching this movie was one of the most fun theatrical experiences I've had.
It was amazing to see these Marvel greats interacting on the screen, all being perfectly represented, all doing very cool things, all having their own standout moments. And I was very glad to see, as in every good first encounter in comics, the heroes fight each other before agreeing to team up.
As great and accessible as it is on its own, watching the movie at the end of the marathon made it even better. Having the characters and the events of their solo stories fresh in mind, it enhanced the moments that called back to the previous movies.
Throughout the day, the audience had been cheering, clapping, laughing in all the right places. Every cool act of heroism got an audible reaction. For The Avengers, those reactions were turned up to 11. The applause and laughter was so loud in reaction to some things that it even drowned out some of the punchlines. We had reached euphoria.
I had a great time at the marathon, these movies are very easy to sit through and are a lot of fun. Marvel has done a fantastic job with this project and I look forward to seeing what follows.
If there's a marathon when The Avengers 2 happens, I will absolutely be there. I think it would involve less movies. So far we know of Iron Man 3, Captain America 2, Thor 2, and The Avengers 2, and lately there's been rumblings that they might slip a Hulk sequel in there, due to the popularity of the character in The Avengers marketing and favorable reaction to Mark Ruffalo's performance. We'll see. I can't wait to see how it goes.
The marathon ended and I headed back home, still so pumped up that it was hard to believe that it was already the middle of the night. I didn't get back home until almost 5am.
The marathon was worth going to, The Avengers was worth the wait, and my preference of superhero characters and books is what it always has been, and now it goes for films as well -
Make mine Marvel!