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.

Avengers 1963

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently unearthed my disc of Avengers comics. I lucked out a few years ago and was given this by a former colleague, but never really dug into it and looked around. Today I decided to try and get past my Silver Age bias (I generally think the stories are childish, overwritten and boring) and just dive right in. The discs are broken up by decade and then year so you can just click through and read spread scans of each comic in chronological order. The Avengers first came together in late 1963, so this will be the easiest entry in this series as there were only two issues and then the addition of 1999’s Avengers #1.5 written by Roger Stern and drawn by Bruce Timm. Of course, the first two issues were written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby. 

I will say for the most part that my bias has been at least partly correct. The stories are very over written and childish, but that’s because they were written for kids, so I can’t really hold that against them. I’m not a huge fan of Lee’s writing, but you can’t deny the man’s ability to whip up crazy ass ideas at the drop of the hat. #1 not only has Ant-Man, Wasp, Thor, Hulk and Iron Man coming together thanks to Loki altering a teen radio club transmission, but also Hulk running away and joining the circus under the guise of a robot. Wha? The robot really got me as it comes out of nowhere, but it made me smile, so mission accomplished.

Issue #1.5 is really fun as you don’t get to see Timm draw much and especially not Marvel characters. He does a sick job of combining his own familiar style with Kirby’s (especially those squared-off fingers I love so much). Plus, Doctor Doom is in it for Timm to play with. Lots of fun all around.

The second issue chronologically introduced Giant-Man into the Avengers (though Stern included him in #1.5). Instead of going up against an existing Marvel villain, the Avengers fought the Space Phantom impersonating each of them. I’ve encountered Space Phantom a time or two in my interactions with Marvel and I’ve always been fascinated by what it must be like for the people he impersonates being thrust into limbo. Heck, I’d like to write a mini story about the first guy SP sent there. Anyway, by the end of this issue, Hulk quits the team because he didn’t like how people talked about him when the Space Phantom took his place.

So, after just two real old school issues of Avengers, I’m hooked enough to keep going. I’m looking forward to actually reading the Captain America issue as well as his Kooky Quartet issues. The writing can be difficult to slog through, but anytime I notice the words are explaining the exact action being shown in the panel, I move onto the next one. A few side notes I want to mention. I love how boy-crazy the Wasp is in these issues and how over it Hank Pym is. That guy’s always been kind of a dick, hasn’t he? I also liked how Thor and Hulk argued about clothing as Thor doesn’t like Hulk walking around in purple shorts. Finally, I’m a little bummed out by Kirby’s art in these two issues. Mind you, it’s not bad, but the scripts don’t give him a lot to work with and the backgrounds are basic colors. But hey, dude was busy.  The closest we get to that crazy Kirby machinery that I know and love from books like OMAC and the Fourth World books. He’s only on the book full time until issue #8 and then does layouts for Don Heck to draw in #14-17, so I’m not sure if he’ll really get to let loose or not.

I already loved the Avengers as a team, so now I’m pretty excited to work my way through 40-odd years of their comics (though I do wish the West Coast Avengers were included just to be complete). I’m especially excited to read through the classic 70s and 80s stuff and then the really weird pre-Heroes Reborn stuff. I’m sure it won’t all be gravy, but them’s the breaks when it comes to comics.