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.

Angel: After The Fall Trade Post Volumes 1-4

angel after the fall volume 1As I said earlier this week, I was a big fan of Buffy. For whatever reason — most likely scheduling conflicts or a bit of a weak first season — that did not carry over to Angel. I loved the character’s twists and turns on Buffy and the intensely insane relationship with her, but I just never got into his solo show. Looking in from the outside, it seemed like the show moved so fast and added so much mythology and so many characters that it was difficult to jump into an episode later on down the line. I did catch the finale, which is good because that’s right where Angel: After The Fall picks up.

When I was at Wizard, I was the IDW contact (and actually am again these days for CBR), so I interviewed writer Brian Lynch a few times about his Spike and Angel comics for the company. He worked with Joss Whedon to figure out the beats and then got to work writing the comic along with artists like Franco Urru, Stephen Mooney and others to bring this story together about what happened after the evil Wolfram & Hart corporation sent LA to hell. Continue reading Angel: After The Fall Trade Post Volumes 1-4

Buffy Season 8 Trade Post: Volumes 1 Through 8 & Fray

buffy season 8 volume 1 the long way home

It’s vampire week here on UnitedMonkee! Let’s kick things off with one of their all-time biggest enemies, Buffy The Vampire Slayer! Like most of the internet, I loved the series (yes, even the first season). Even so, when Dark Horse first announced they were continuing the show’s adventures with Season 8, I was a bit skeptical, even though series creator Joss Whedon was acting as executive producer of the whole thing. See, back in the day, I bought a ton of Buffy comics from Dark Horse until I realized that they were just kind of filling in holes and playing with the mostly un-chronicled summers. Later on I picked up the Buffy Omnibus volumes and read in the intro that that was part of the whole deal because they didn’t want the comics to step on the toes of the show. As a reader, though, I got a bit bored reading about Season Three characters when Season Four was in full swing, but that’s old water under an old, far more crankier bridge.

The timing thing was obviously no longer an issue with the show being off the air. And, adding to the “good” column, Whedon would have an unlimited budget to work with and some of the best names in comics, TV and film like Brian K. Vaughan, Brad Meltzer, Georges Jeanty, Drew Goddard, Jane Espenson and Karl Moline.

Really, there was no chance I wasn’t going to start reading this book because I was working at Wizard at the time and free comics were everywhere. Like my fellow Buffy fans in the office, we got to reading and really enjoyed it. I might have been a little taken aback by the whole idea of this army of Slayers working around the world S.H.I.E.L.D.-style, but once I got used to it, I was all in. Continue reading Buffy Season 8 Trade Post: Volumes 1 Through 8 & Fray

Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. S1E2 “0-8-4”

agents of shield castAs it turned out, last week’s premiere of Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC was the kind of show where the bloom fell off the rose as the week went on. The more opinions we read and heard, the more we realized that the episode was a bit dull and probably wouldn’t have hooked nearly as large an audience as it did had it been presented as a completely original show. But, a generally likable cast and the intriguing tease of an O-8-4  were interesting enough to bring us back for me. As you can imagine, SPOILERS follow.

Continue reading Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. S1E2 “0-8-4”

Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. S1E1 “Pilot”

marvel's agents of shield castAs everyone knowns by now, Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. debuted on ABC last night at the 8:00 PM spot. We here at Explosions Are Rad don’t cover too much in the way of comic book news because plenty of other sites do it incredibly well, but there aren’t too many shows out there that fall into the action vein. We were stoked to see a new comic book-based show on the air and figured we’d give it a watch and then give you, gentle reader, a few paragraphs of our thoughts. SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Continue reading Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. S1E1 “Pilot”

For Your Home Viewing Pleasure: September 17, 2013

buffy complete seriesFirst and foremost, if you’re a fan of Joss Whedon’s Buffy: The Vampire Slayer or Angel and don’t already have all the seasons on DVD, Amazon’s Gold Box Deal today finds both complete sets on sale for $60 and $55 respectively.World War Z Blu-Ray

The biggest action release of the week also happens to be a zombie flick. The Brad Pitt global undead thriller World War Z hits home video today in a variety of formats.arrow season 1 blu

We here at Explosions Are Rad are big fans of The CW’s Arrow. If you missed out on the first season you can catch up now thanks to Arrow: The Complete First Season before the second season kicks off on October 9th.

Java Heat is a film that was not on our radar, but the idea of Mickey Rourke facing off against Twilight star Kellan Lutz sounds strangely intriguing.bruce in pursuit of the dragon a warrior's journey

Bruce Lee fans might want to check out Bruce Lee – A Warrior’s Journey/Pursuit Of The Dragon. Journey features previously lost footage from Lee’s last film The Game Of Death while Pursuit “follows the chronology” of The Big Boss, Fists Of Fury, The Way Of The Dragon and Enter The Dragon.

For some newer martial arts action, there’s Chow Yun-Fat’s latest film, The Last Tycoon, a period piece examining the story of real life Shanghai-based gangster Cheng Daqui.jackie chan beginnings

Another interesting martial arts double feature released today comes from Shout Factory and Timeless Media: Jackie Chan: Beginnings – Snake & Crane Arts of Shaolin / Magnificent Bodyguards. This double feature collects two of the six films he made in 1978 alone!

Sarah Michelle Gellar Open To The Idea Of A Buffy Flick

buffy cast

In news that surprises pretty much no one, Buffy The Vampire Slayer star Sarah Michelle Gellar would be interested in doing a film based on the cult Joss Whedon TV series. While talking to E! about her upcoming CBS sitcom The Crazy Ones with Robin Williams, they asked her about the idea of returning as the Sunnydale graduate on the big screen.

“Joss and I always talk about [a movie],” Gellar said. “But the thing with Buffy is that Buffy was a movie, and it ultimately didn’t work as a film. And I mean, we had such miles to overcome when we were trying to do a TV show based on a movie. And one of the reasons is that the story works better over time.”

She added, “If there was ever the right story, we would do it.” Of course, the world of Buffy has lived on in the form of a Whedon-run comic book series at Dark Horse and the creator himself is in high demand after making huge amounts of money for Marvel with The Avengers. Whedon’s got the juice, so if he wants to make it happen, now might be a good time to get the ball rolling. Would you like to see him go a completely new route or adapt one of the comic book stories?

Astonishing X-Men Trade Post: Volumes 1-4

astonishing x-men vol 1 gifted Astonishing X-Men (Marvel)
Written by Joss Whedon, drawn by John Cassaday
Collects Astonishing X-Men #1-6 (Vol. 1: Gifted), #7-12 (Vol. 2: Dangerous), #13-18 (Vol. 3: Torn), #19-24, Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1 (Vol. 4: Unstoppable)

Never let it be said that TJ Dietsch doesn’t re-evaluate his opinions. While talking to my pal, colleague and gigantic X-fan Brett White recently, I said something to the effect that I didn’t get all the hype around Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men. Of course, I understand that the creator of Buffy and Firefly has an enormous and rabid fan following, but the story didn’t blow me away when it was coming out. At the time, this book was incredibly late (24 issues took four years to complete), something I had no tolerance for as a lover of monthly comics (oh how times have changed). Also, there was part of me that was in the, “Of course people are going to like your book when you can cherry pick your cast and bring in one of the most popular artists in comics” camp. I was kind of a jerk back then.

But, after re-reading Ed Brubaker’s Rise & Fall Of The Shi’Ar Empire and Mike Carey’s Supernovas, I figured I should give Whedon’s X-Men another shot. I’m past a lot of the biases I used to hold and am always interested in reading something great. Plus, I was able to get all four from the same person in one Sequential Swap, so why not give them another read?

I’m glad I took some time to come back to this book because each trade has several key plot points that were pretty memorable. Even though I remembered they were coming, there was enough of a memory cloud around the proceedings that I could enjoy them again without knowing the exact blueprint of what was going on. Gifted picks up after Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men, a run I’ve tried to read a few times and got distracted by bad fill-in art to the point where I couldn’t go on (but would like another crack at). Whedon’s initial idea for this team — consisting of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Beast, Kitty Pryde and Wolverine — is that they’re getting back into more traditional costumes and going out to save the world like normal superheroes in an effort to show some people that mutants don’t need to be feared and hated.

Gifted, the first trade, sets all this up while also giving them a “mutant cure” to deal with and an alien named Ord to fight. The cure brings out different opinions from different mutants and leads to interesting dialog and conflicts (specifically between Wolverine and Beast). As you might expect, there’s a more sinister plan behind all that that leads into the rest of the series, but I don’t really need to get into spoilers here. Oh, we also see the return of Kitty Pryde’s deceased beau Colossus, something that surprised just about everybody at the time.

astonishing x-men vol 2 dangerous

Dangerous drops another bomb on the X-Men as well as the students at the Xavier Institute For Higher Learning: there’s more to the Danger Room than meets the eye. As it turns out, the Shi’Ar programming used to upgrade the systems years prior eventually gained sentience, but Charles Xavier needed to keep his students sharp and therefore suppressed it.  This eventually comes back to bite him in the butt when the programming — dubbed Danger — takes humanoid form and starts attacking the mutants.

This leads to an all-out battle the brings the previously absent Prof. X back into the fray to clean up one of his many mistakes. I don’t actually know why he wasn’t around and it’s never explained, but I guess he was dealing with the New X-Men fallout? Or Genosha? Or something? Anyway, they fight, Professor X explains why he did what he did and the team moves on.

Fun side story, this along with the revelation in Deadly Genesis that he sent an entire team of young mutants off to their deaths lead to a fun Wizard feature I wrote called something like “Professor X Is A Jerk” running down his incredibly long list of transgressions against the students he’s supposedly intent on keeping safe. If anyone has a scan of this feature, please drop me a line in the comments.

The second to last book in Whedon’s X-Men run does what I expected it to do from the very beginning: reveal Emma Frost’s true, evil nature. I knew from my limited experience that there was something of a love triangle involving her, Cyclops and Jean Grey before Jean died at the end of New X-Men (does a Jean Grey death even count as a spoiler anymore?), but Emma and Scott were together from the beginning of Astonishing and I didn’t trust her one bit and neither did Kitty.

Of course, this is played up for maximum effect as it appears as though Emma is using the X-Men’s greatest weaknesses against them in an effort to destroy the team. Wolverine gets reverted back to his little boy mentality, Beast is devolved into a wild cat and Cyclops loses his powers. All these moments are pretty intense, harrowing and also serve to teach the characters something about themselves (whether they’re paying attention or not).

astonishing x-men vol 3 torn

There’s not a lot of time to think on these lessons, though because the series’ other two main villains reappear as Ord and Danger decide that this is the perfect time for them to attack as well. You might expect a gigantly huge brawl between all these forces, and you do get a bit of that, but then Agent Brand swoops in with a S.W.O.R.D. ship, teleports them all aboard and heads off for Ord’s home planet, Breakworld. Oh and it was all Cassandra Nova’s fault that Emma went bad for a minute there.

Everything comes to a head in the final volume Unstoppable as the X-Men travel through space to face the Breakworld. We learned in the first volume that this race of warriors wants to destroy Earth because they believe a mutant (Colossus) will kill them all. Agent Brand wants to put a stop to the conflict between the two worlds and things move along from there with one character making not quite the ultimate sacrifice in the end, but close to it. I’ll get into spoilers later, but there’s an aspect of that ending I really enjoy and an aspect that falls flat for me.

So, what did I think of the run overall? I liked it, but don’t think it’s spectacular. The overarching elements don’t do a whole lot for me, but I did really enjoy the character stuff. Peter and Kitty’s relationship is fascinating to watch. Kitty’s distrust of Emma was easily relatable for me. Cyclops’ leadership realizations. Wolverine’s over-the-top teaching methods. These were all great, but at the end of the day, I just didn’t care about the big bads of this book. Sure, it sucked to be Danger, but it was super easy to call her weakness. Ord seemed like a real threat, but turned out to be kind of a joke. And the reveal of the whole prophecy thing was less “HOLY CRAP!” and more, “Oh, okay.” I liked what he did with Emma, but the end of that arc seemed really abrupt. I wonder if the lateness of the book and or scheduling problems had something to do with what felt to me like a rushed conclusion to the third story.

Speaking of conclusions, let’s dub this paragraph SPOILERY. The end of the whole series finds Kitty Pryde stuck in a giant bullet heading towards Earth. She’s somehow bonded with the projectile’s structure and can’t get out. But, she’s able to use her powers to phase the whole thing through the Earth, saving the day. But, she’s stuck in there, just traveling through space for the foreseeable future. This was a very nice emotional moment, but the very nature of this kind of story kind of undercuts it for me. I’ve become a bit jaded regarding Big Two Superhero Comics, but even when this final issue came out the first thing I thought was, “They’ll probably get her out a few months from now.” Had this been a creator owned comic or one of Whedon’s TV shows, that ending would have a lot more weight to it because it would mean more in the long run.

astonishing x-men vol 4 unstoppable

Overall, though, I’d recommend checking out Astonishing X-Men if you’re one of the few people who haven’t already. It’s got a lot of that Whedon charm that comes through in snappy dialog, but also presents itself in such a way that makes it easily accessible. My wife read the first two or three trades years back and didn’t seem to have any problems understanding what was going on. I probably had to explain the Legacy Virus and maybe Cassandra Nova to her, but otherwise it’s pretty accessible. And, even though I didn’t fawn over it, this is a really solid superhero story that utilizes humor, action and these characters’ shared history in a way that makes this uniquely an X-Men story. Sometimes you read books like this and they feel like they could be about anyone, especially if the writer has a very specific kind of voice that comes through. But in this case, this doesn’t feel like a Buffy story wearing X-Men costumes, it’s an X-Men story through and through which is probably why Whedon assimilated so many X-fans into his army of fans (assuming they weren’t already on board).

Halloween Scene: The Cabin In The Woods (2011)

Every now and then a horror flick comes along where the story behind the movie is almost as good as the movie itself. Usually there’s a lot of studio interference delaying the release of the movie like in the case of the wonderful Trick R Treat and sometimes its big names have a surprising time getting a movie distributed. In the case of Cabin In The Woods, it’s a little bit of both. The film was written by Drew Goddard and a guy named Joss Whedon of Cloverfield and Buffy The Vampire Slayer fame respectively with Goddard directing. You’ll also remember that Whedon went on to direct a little film called Avengers and both films happen to star a guy named Chris Hemsworth. Of course, that was all well after CITW had finished shooting. Even so, you’d think that a pair of beloved genre guys could get a movie out to the public. Well, Lionsgate shuttered it for whatever reason and then finally decided to release the thing last year to critical acclaim.

All of which brings me to watching the movie, which I honestly had pretty high expectations for. The trailers hinted pretty heavily that the Evil Dead-type set-up they were showing off was just the conceit and that there was a kind of Truman Show thing going on where people were monitoring these probably soon-to-be-dead teenagers. As it turned out, for me at least, this movie turned out to be more about finding out exactly what was going on and not so much the horror or teen character stuff.

It’s nearly impossible to talk about this flick without getting into SPOILER TERRITORY, so let’s do just that for a few paragraphs. We’re instantly introduced to characters played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford who clearly work for some kind of organization that manipulates college kids into some pretty horrific situations in a cabin, but we’re not exactly sure why. Here’s the deal (remember that SPOILER WARNING), the kids represent specific archetypes (the athlete, the fool, the whore, the scholar and the virgin) who need to be sacrificed in a certain order to appease old gods living beneath the surface of the world. We’re not told when this somewhat high-tech organization was put into place to fulfill these duties, but we do know that several other projects like this one exist all over the world.

To achieve their goal, the organization manipulates the quintet to the location and, using a series of drugs and other elements to mess with their heads, get them down to a crowded basement where they inadvertently chose the form of their destroyer. There’s apparently an entire Cube-like set-up of potential supernatural and mythical murderers to chose from (everything from redneck pain-loving zombies to regular zombies and killer unicorns to mermen). Two of our characters screw up the order, find their way into the facility and wind up unleashing every single monster before actively allowing the world to (seemingly) be destroyed by the old gods.

So, yeah, there’s a lot going on. I admit, I really like the story. Like I figured from the previous, it pays homage to the films that came before it, but also takes those tropes and actually does something new with them, which I really appreciate on a creative level. However I had some problems. First off, the stoner kid was just way too over the top. He was like every single stoner from every 90s movie all rolled into one, thrown into a bong and distilled into this annoying, Shaggy like kid who was pretty difficult to like for me. While the other characters’ weirdness was explained to an extent, his wasn’t and I found myself taken out of the movie by his cartoonishness. I was also as disappointed by the shoddy looking CGI as I was by keeping scenes that needed the heavy CGI in the film when they could have been changed to not even need CGI. My wife and I have been watching Once Upon A Time on Netflix and it’s a pretty good show, but the effects there can be pretty bad. Some of the CITW monsters looked almost as cheap and that really takes me out of a movie, especially one like this is that is doing a lot well. And it’s too bad because the redneck zombies looked amazing while the dragon or whatever looked silly. Cut the dragon out and use more costume effects and I think you’d have a much scarier experience here.

END SPOILERS. However, overall, I’d say I did really enjoy this movie. It goes places you won’t expect, does things that will surprise even the most jaded horror fan and has a certain amount of fun while doing so. At the end of the day, that passion is what I like to see on screen, even if it means some subpar special effects.

The Dark Knight Rises Versus The Avengers

One of the hallmarks of the geek community is comparing things we love and seeing how they stack up. Of course, the problem with doing this is that we wind up comparing things that don’t even match up. Back when The Dark Knight came out the big question was whether it was better than Iron Man and I thought it was incredibly annoying. It’s like comparing Die Hard to The Usual Suspects, they’re both somewhat dramatic action films, but that’s where the comparisons end. One’s a balls-out auctioner while the other is a really serious, more cerebral outing…with punching and costumes.

The same thing happened this year when people started comparing The Avengers to The Dark Knight Rises and I thought it was an equally foolish comparison. However, while watching Avengers for the second time at the drive-in last night I realized a few things about the two movies that made me like one over the other and, seeing as how this is the internet, I figured I’d share them with whoever will read them.

Right off the bat (heh, PUN!), Avengers is more fun and a more enjoyable watching experience. It’s the perfect movie to check out on a Saturday or Sunday. It also has a lot of great moments that made me geek out, but I realized something while watching Avengers again. The moments in that movie that I dug the most (Iron Man reflecting his blasts off of Cap’s shield, Hulk sucker punching Thor after a team up) were great moments that reminded me of ideas from comics, but those same kind of things in Dark Knight Rises reminded me of specific moments from Batman comics. This is obviously completely subjective, but I can’t separate those very personal moments of awesomeness form my childhood, so why not embrace them? It doesn’t discount anything from Avengers, but just gives DKR a leg up in my book.

I know a lot of people thought DKR was bleak and sad, but I actually found it really uplifting. The character of John Blake completely embodies the never-give-up attitude that’s kept humanity alive for all these centuries. That same attitude is something Batman had to rediscover and use to his advantage to save the city he loves. There’s some of that in Avengers, but I never really thought they’d be in trouble. That wasn’t going to happen, but with rumors swirling that Batman would die in this flick and Christopher Nolan being an incredibly ballsy filmmaker, there was a small part of me that thought it might happen and even that it should have happened. I left Avengers feeling pumped up and fueled by geek-love, but I actually felt good about humanity after watching Rises.

So, Dark Knight Rises has the leg up in my mind, but that doesn’t mean I like Avengers any less. They’re both hallmarks of filmmaking that should be appreciated by all kinds of audiences. It’s amazing the kind of things that can come from comic book source material.