Marvel Double Feature: Avengers Age Of Ultron & Ant-Man

avengers the age of ultronRight off the bat, I’ll admit that I did not actually watch Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Ant-Man as a true double feature. We probably watched the latter a month ago and just peeped the former yesterday. But, since I didn’t write about the Avengers sequel, it seemed liked a proper time.

I went into Joss Whedon’s Ultron with fairly low expectations. It seemed like a lot of the people I follow on Twitter and actually communicate with weren’t super into it. The general feeling I was picking up on seemed to be that, while it’s got all kinds of spectacle, it didn’t live up to the original.

And that was my experience as well, but then again, this is a different kind of blockbuster super hero movie. The original — which I love — seemed custom built to show that all of these series-leading, mega stars could come together, fight the bad guys and look good doing it. Meanwhile, this film seemed built with a different goal in mind: showing how said group (plus new members) can work together even when times are tough.

It’s also clearly a bigger piece of the Marvel Cinematic Universe puzzle leading up to Captain America: Civil War and the Infinity War movies. To me as a viewer, the first felt like it was worked into the bigger tale while this one was more obviously built to lead to something else. This is something I’m not usually a fan of in comics and even less so in comic films and it all just boils down to a feeling I get while watching.

And yet, I still found myself enjoying this darker take on team superheroics. Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Vision all make interesting additions to not just the team, but the universe at large. Plus, it’s not all dark. I could watch an entire TV series about the Avengers hanging out like they did at that party. I also just adore James Spader (as I mentioned here) so watching and listening to his take on the killer robot Ultron was a treat as he’s basically Blacklist‘s Raymond Reddington but crazy and a robot.

I think that the problem with this movie as related to the first one comes down to this fact: I don’t want to rewatch it a bunch. I probably could have sat through another showing of Whedon’s first Avengers film right after the first one and even stop flipping or pop in for a few minutes every time I see it on TV. I don’t see that happening here. In other words, it’s not nearly as fun as the first one, which it clearly wasn’t supposed to be, but it’s still a bummer.

ant-man posterAnt-Man is far from a bummer, though, which is great. I admit, my feelings towards these movies have been a bit tainted by elements from beyond the movies themselves. I’m not sure how I feel about every single film moving forward painting towards this gigantic epic that will end Phase Three. I love the inter-connectivity between these films, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want them all to be about this one big thing leading forward.

And then I watched Ant-Man and it felt like a nice step away from all that intergalactic craziness to just tell the story of a few people trying their best to not make the world a worse place. I love the approach of using this intelligent thief to wear a potentially fatal suit in an attempt to stop tech from ruining the world. It’s perfectly comic book-y, but also fits in so well with this universe and Paul Rudd just kills it. I also really enjoyed watching Michael Douglas who seemed to break the rule that every old dude in a Marvel Studios movie turns out to be bad. Oh, and how fun is Michael Pena? And how bad ass is Lilly? More of both of them please! Basically, everything came together to give me a beautiful mix of heist and hero that gets a major thumbs up from this guy.

However, all respect to director Peyton Reed who did a great job, but I still wish we would have been able to see Edgar Wright’s version of this film which we reported on all the way back in the days of Wizard and ToyFare. Yes I bet it would have been an amazing movie, but it more so bums me out that a relatively slow filmmaker like Wright spent ALL that time on a movie that just didn’t happen. He’s got such an amazing vision for what he makes that I want him to make all the movies he can and this felt like a major entanglement that resulted in a great vision for Ant-Man, but not a full-on Edgar Wright movie.

And, yes, I still remain a bit nervous about Marvel tying up too many of their films to Infinity War, but then I must remind myself that Guardians Of The Galaxy did a great job of incorporating some of that into its movie and this one basically skips over all of that. Back to what I was saying above, it feels like Ant-Man is its own thing that will get incorporated into the larger goings-on of the MCU instead of the other way around. I like that and as long as that’s the way these things go, I’ll keep enjoying them.

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Toy Commercial Tuesday: Iron Man & X-Men

This week’s TCT is a fun little double whammy thanks to YouTuber CraigLeeThomas. As you can see it starts off with an Iron Man spot followed by an X-Men one. I found this particular video because I couldn’t remember if there were actual X-Men toy commercials back in the 90s. I figured there must have been more than that first one I wrote about a while back, especially considering the cartoon was so popular and that Toy Biz line seemed like it was around forever, but couldn’t remember any specifics.

So, we kick off with that Iron Man commercial and, while I don’t remember seeing it, I definitely had all of those toys. Those were the glorious days you could get four figures for a $20, so I added a lot to my collection especially while visiting my grandma in Cleveland. I loved the snap on armors with all the different accessories, but also how the bad guys in this line each had a cool action feature. Oh, plus, MODOK toy, right?

Then you’ve got the X-Men commercial which featured that huge, rad Sentinel toy. I didn’t have him, but I’m sure I wanted it if and when I saw it. Gotta love all those destruction points for a variety of play options. As far as the action figures go, that was definitely my first Wolverine toy and I might have gotten Rogue later on down the line, but I gravitated towards other versions of Gambit, Beast and Cyclops.

Finally, while I find the commercial’s conceit that Rogue would be so easily captured and need saving is problematic, it’s kind of adorable hearing that boy do a Southern accent.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: The Avengers

Over the weekend, I introduced my daughter to a bunch of Avengers toys I was sent years ago as a way of hyping the toy tie-in line from Hasbro. Everything came in a super cool, locker-like box but the toys inside proved to be a lot more interesting three years later. My daughter’s just at the right age to actually play with the smaller scale figures and get a kick out of things like a Hulk mask and Iron Man repulsor ray. We’ve also got that shield-slinging Cap which is fun, but the real highlights are the 3 3/4 inch figures which have made their way with us on various outings.

Personal story aside, I forgot how crazy the rap was in these Avengers toy commercials. Wowzers.

Trade Post: Exiles Ultimate Collection Book 1 (Marvel)

exiles ultimate collection vol 1 Exiles Ultimate Collection Book 1 (Marvel)
Written by Judd Winick, drawn by Mike McKone & Jim Calafiore
Collects Exiles #1-19

Sometimes a book comes along and just fits so perfectly in your wheelhouse that you wonder why you haven’t already mainlined the whole thing already. Exiles is that book for me. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of the X-Men, but didn’t feel up to the challenge of diving into that incredibly dense continuity. I also love alternate world stories, so when Judd Winick — a writer I love — came along and combined the two in Exiles, I was on board. Well, not really because I didn’t read the book as it started coming out because I was graduating high school and heading into college at that point, but I was intrigued and kept it on my trade-watch radar. At this year’s New York Comic Con I scored the first, second, third and fifth volumes of the Exiles Ultimate Collection books for $5 each which was huge for me. I’m pretty excited about getting my hands on the two I’m missing, though maybe not the very last one which is all Chris Claremont. Still, I’ll have fun with the volumes I have (I hope) and see if I want to keep reading the rest.

The idea here is that a group of X-Men have been plucked from their alternate dimensions to work for an entity called the Time Broker who sends them on missions in other dimensions to help get the time stream back on track. If they fail, their own realities will suffer great changes that threaten their own lives. The great thing about this book is that it’s so completely in and of itself while also playing off of many of the themes and ideas presented in the main X-books as well as the Marvel Universe as a whole. Since Winick is working with a team of characters who “don’t matter” in the grand scheme of things at Marvel, he can do a lot more with them than you might expect. These first 19 issues are packed with character deaths, pregnancies, jokes, budding relationships, ridiculously difficult decisions, honest conversations and heaping helpings of ass kickery and explosions.

While building his own team, Winick also does a great job of building an interesting world within a world that explores all kinds of other worlds. There’s clearly a system at play with the Time Broker, but as the series progresses, we learn that the Exiles aren’t the only team of displaced heroes popping around dimensions. It’s one of the intriguing overarching elements that makes me want to keep reading all six volumes of the Ultimate Collection except for maybe that Claremont stuff.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is that Winick didn’t work in the typical six issue arc format. If a story needed one issue, he gave it one issue. If it needed three, it got three. This not only keeps the book moving at a good clip — something that’s much appreciated when reading nearly 20 issues of a comic in one collection — but also gives artists Mike McKone and Jim Calafiore the opportunity to do their own things with their own stories before trading off with one another. While McKone’s style is a lot smoother than Calafiore’s more angular one, they both excel at balancing the action scenes with the comedy gags Winick throws in via Morph, so they still feel like they’re working on the same coherent series.

This kind of book does something that not many Corporate Comics can: play with all the pieces of an existing universe and really have fun with it. By going the alternate universe route Winick was able to build his own team, while also creating a myriad of worlds worth their own miniseries’ in many cases. Since those worlds and these characters weren’t connected the main Marvel U, the stakes were much higher. Is Morph going to die in this issue? Are they going to actually save the world from Galactus? These are questions that not only get raised, but worried about because Winick didn’t have to play it safe. You feel pretty safe assuming those bad things won’t happen in a regular universe book, but pretty much anything can happen here.

Drive In Double Feature: Monsters University (2013) & Iron Man 3 (2013)

monsters university We’re pretty lucky to live in an area with not one, but three drive-in movie theaters that are less than an hour away. We usually go to the Warwick, but they’ve had some pretty strange pairings this year. I’m still not sure why they didn’t go with an Iron Man 3/Star Trek Into Darkness combo, but that’s neither here not there. As the parents of a 2-year-old without a regular babysitter, we’re pretty limited in our movie-going options, so we like to have at least one film that Lu will kinda-sorta like. So, when we saw that Hyde Park had Monsters University paired up with Iron Man 3, we figured it’d make for a pretty good outing.

Lu and I actually have never seen Monsters Inc., but we did both see the show at Disney World based on the film. Even so, I’d say we both enjoyed the experience. Lu loves pretty much anything that’s big and bright and I thought the movie was a fun, kid friendly version of the kinds of college flicks I’ve loved since I was a kid myself.

The film follows Mike (Billy Crystal), a young monster who wants to be a scarer who winds up getting in to the number one school for such things, Monsters University. There, the overachieving bookworm meets Sulley (the glorious John Goodman), another scaring student who’s the latest in a long line of scarers. The problem? Mike isn’t actually scary and Sulley relies too much on his family name. The two wind up in the same geeky fraternity which allows them to compete in the Scare Games. Thanks to a deal made with the dean (Helen Mirren!), if they win the Games, she will let them  back into the scare program. From there they have to join forces, become friends and learn to work together.

I like everything from Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds to PCU and Pitch Perfect, all of which either influenced or are somewhat similar to this movie, so it’s right there in my wheelhouse. Even though I haven’t seen the original, I didn’t feel lost when it came to this movie which was nice. I didn’t realize that one of the villains from the original was also in this one, but my wife told me about it on the way home, so I was in on the joke after the fact. I’d say this works extremely well as a stand alone film and a prequel because it does actually make me want to see how these characters act as adults. Time to move that flick to the top of the ol’ Netflix Queue!

iron man 3 Much as I wound up liking Monsters University, Iron Man 3 was the movie I was more excited about. Movies like this which are big on the geek radar can get a little tiresome to folks like myself who cover them on the interwebs. Even though I probably wrote a dozen or two stories about this film for Spinoff, I still enjoyed it and — more surprisingly — was still in the dark on a lot of the major plot points. It helped that I avoided every tweet and conversation about the film after it came out.

So, the story this time around is that Tony Stark’s going down a fairly dark path. He’s pretty disturbed after the events of The Avengers which saw him possibly destroy an entire world/army/dimension. He’s building all kinds of armors, but there’s a more physical threat gunning for him: The Mandarin. An international terrorist played by Ben Kingsley, the Mandarin has plenty of shady people working for him like Guy Pearce, but more importantly, his people have been imbued with Extremis, a techno-organic program that can rewrite a person’s DNA, making them a fire-breathing, superpowered menaces. They blow up Tony’s house which sends him out on his own without a suit to figure out what’s up with the Mandarin and spoilerific things ensue.

I’m not going to get into specific spoilers just yet, but I do want to talk about the ending of the film. Like I said, I went in relatively spoiler free, but I did figure that the extra armors Tony built would come into play during the film and boy do they. It’s so rad seeing Tony running around a giant structure, hopping in and out of different suits and fighting off bad guys. It’s the kind of thing that Joss Whedon did really well with the final battle scene in Avengers and something director Shane Black followed up on pretty well in this film.

Okay now it’s time to get into SPOILERS. Consider yourself WARNED. Man, I really liked what they did with the Mandarin in this movie even though the reveal feels a bit like the one used in Batman Begins with Ra’s al Ghul. In this case it helped that they got such a weighty actor and had him turn in first, a scary performance and second, a hilarious one. Going for the complete personality switch is what sets this apart and makes for a great moment. This was the element of the film I was most surprised hadn’t been spoiled for me yet. Then you’ve got the ending which certainly leaves Tony Stark in an interesting place in the Marvel Studios Universe. He’s still got that big brain of his, but he doesn’t have the ARC reactor which powers his suit. It’s the kind of move that would last for maybe a few years in the comics before something else would pop up and he’d have to, I don’t know, have his heart get blown up again or something. But, since we’re dealing with a film universe — even a shared  one — they get to play with the elements and the players a bit more. The real world side of things is that RDJ might not want to play Iron Man much longer — Tony Stark seems less taxing — and it might make sense within this new world to go a different route and have someone else fill in inside the suit. Of course, since the Extremis now exists in the movie-verse, it’s within reason that Tony will find himself in a situation where he needs to inject himself, this becoming Iron Man Version 2.0. There’s a lot of possibilities and it will be interesting to see where things go with the character from here.

As you can probably tell, I enjoyed the movie. It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely a fun viewing experience. I also really liked the kid who played Harley and think he needs to be in a kids-dealing-with-craziness movie like The Goonies. At this point, I’m a general fan of the Marvel Studios films. Avengers is rad, I dig the Iron Man flicks and Captain America, Thor was okay and I haven’t seen Incredible Hulk in a long time, but didn’t like it at the time. I’m curious about the Thor and Cap sequels, but am far more interested in Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man and the other flicks starring new characters. Let’s see what they can do with some new old characters.

Christmas Stories: 2012 Geek Ornaments From Hallmark

IMG_2185I actually snapped these pictures at our local Hallmark weeks ago, well before Thanksgiving, but forgot about them until now. Hopefully you’re all set on your Christmas shopping, but if not, the geek in your life will surely enjoy something from this line-up (assuming they’re still available, I really have no idea). Either way, I’d love to get my hands on the giant cardboard Darth Vader wearing red cloves and cape AND a Santa hat!

It seemed like there were a lot more available this year, which is pretty cool. I guess geeks like to go all out when decorating their Christmas tree. Of course, I know this. A few years back, we only had a tiny artificial tree that I decorated entirely with the superhero, movie and TV ornaments I’ve been given over the years. Speaking of superheroes, considering the huge summer they had at the box office, it comes as no surprise that they’re featured so heavily. You’ve got Spidey, Catwoman, Batman, Iron Man, Thor, Captain American, Green Lantern and of course Lion-O. That last one is the most exciting to me as it seems to come out of nowhere (especially because it’s in the classic style instead of the new-but-failed style of this year’s excellent remake). IMG_2184

Of course, you can’t have a giant cardboard Vader and not have a goodly offering of Star Wars ornaments. Looks like you’ve got your choice between a TIE Fighter, Hoth Han on Tauntaun, General Grievous, Darth Maul and a pair of Lego dudes. I have a longstanding love of Hoth Han, so I really should get my hands on that ornament.

I’m also a big fan of the movie and TV ornaments they make. I’m as much a product of the thousands of comics I’ve read as the hundreds of movies I’ve watched over and over again, so I’m just as, if not more excited by the Ghostbusters Stay Puft Marshamallow Man, ET with flowers and Caddyshack groundhog dressed like Rodney Dangerfield as I am about the superheroes. Looks like a pretty darn good crop of ornaments to me!

Casting Internets

I’m still insanely behind on my link reading, but I figured I’d get these particular ones from the past month or so out there for all to read…and to unload a bit.

My pal Rob Bricken left ToplessRobot.com for io9.com. I will definitely miss coming up with crazy lists and writing them for him. Onwards and upwards good sir!

Speaking of Topless Robot, I wrote a few lists for them recently. This one’s about the craziest mini-monsters in horror, this one’s about Green Lanterns we want to see on the delayed Green Lantern Animated Series and this one’s about evil monkeys.

Speaking of me writing stuff, in addition to my usual CBR duties covering Image and doing daily posts for Spinoff Online, I also launched a collecting column over on CBR called Toying Around, I’m pretty psyched about it, here’s the latest one.

While on the subject of things seen on CBR, I was really excited to hear about IDW reprinting Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents material. Everything that guy did should be in trade format if you ask me.

Would it be awesome to have Robert Plant’s level of talent where you just go over to a friend’s house and make a record without really meaning to? (via Rolling Stone)ironmenvs-hulkI would very much like to see Ulises Farinas draw all the comics, much like he draw all these Iron Man armors going up against the Hulk.

I know it’s well past the election, but I finally caught up on a few political pieces I really found interesting. First off, director Adam McKay’s HuffPo piece pointed out to everyone that, even though he wasn’t outright saying it, Romney’s politics are almost exactly the same as George W. Bush’s.

I also found Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone piece on the big/small government argument is essentially moot considering how huge Bush made the government when he was in power. When will people start actually listening to facts? tyler stout mondo reservoir dogsMan, Tyler Stout’s Reservoir Dogs poster for Mondo is pretty amazing.

The HMAD review of Don Coscarelli’s John Dies At The End makes me really excited about seeing that flick.

John Carpenter talked to Hero Complex about They Live! What an awesome movie.

One of my favorite parts of the year is when Tom and Lorenzo do commentary about the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Here’s part 1 and part 2. Fun stuff.

Elmore Leonard did the Proust Questionnaire over at Vanity Fair. That guy is so damn cool.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never actually read anything by Harlan Ellison, but I will read his new DC graphic novel with the amazing Paul Chadwick called 7 Against Chaos (via Blastr)

I liked this Hero Complex piece about Adventure Time, then again, I like pretty much anything having to do with that wonderfully weird show.

Some idiots want to secede my hometown of Toledo back to Michigan. What a great use of one’s time. (via The Detroit News)

I like the idea of a new Kurt Cobain documentary, though less so when I find out Courtney Love’s partially involved. I don’t trust that lady. (via Rolling Stone)

Ron Marz’s Shelf Life column over on CBR focused on his days at CrossGen which actually sound a lot like my days at Wizard: a lot of people from all over the place coming together and doing some great work. He wrote a second CG-centric post that I have yet to read, but am excited to.