Tag Archives: marvel cinematic universe

‘Doctor Strange’ a worthy addition to MCU

Another origin story. Another weak villain. Another redemptive hero. Another shallow love interest. Another Stan Lee cameo. Another post-credits scene. More CGI action. In spite of the continuing weaknesses of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, “Doctor Strange” still manages to be a fun and enjoyable ride.

Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a cocky surgeon who crashes his car and irreparably damages bones in his hands. Searching for the ability to cure his ailment, he travels to a remote village across the world and meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who teaches him about the mystic arts and prepares him for a confrontation with a fallen student, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who seeks to bring an evil demon to Earth.

Cumberbatch is strong as Doctor Strange, blending a good mix of pompousness with vulnerability. Tilda Swinton is also a very good Ancient One. Rachel McAdams has a needless role as a trophy girlfriend for the doctor, but she isn’t as grating as Natalie Portman or Gwenyth Paltrow in similar roles. And Mads Mikkelsen is pretty pedestrian as another bad guy who wants to destroy the world, blah blah blah.

The true star of the film are its special effects, with its bending buildings and parallel dimensions and magic and demons. It makes the film a visual feast and helps smooth over the fact that the story itself is pretty bland.

But at least the environment is different. The MCU now has wizards and magic and some pretty crazy science behind its latest hero. While Captain America’s films are espionage dramas and “Iron Man” is modern action and “Guardians” is 1980s sci-fi, “Doctor Strange” is psychadelic new age fantasy. So while its story is familiar, at least Marvel puts that story into different genres.

The series that will never end

We now live in an era when TV and movie sagas really have no ending. Even when you look at a final film, listed as the last installment, hyped as the end of an era, fans start asking as soon as the credits roll, “Okay, when’s the next one?”

Sequels are endless. Great movies get sequels (X-Men: Apocalypse). Terrible movies get sequels (TMNT: Out of the Shadows, Ice Age: Collision Course). Movies that don’t need sequels get sequels (My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Magic Mike 2). Popular movies from ten years ago get sequels (Zoolander 2, Jurassic World). Unpopular movies from ten years ago get sequels (Bridget Jones’ Baby). Movie franchises are brought back from the dead (Independence Day: Resurgence, Ghostbusters (2016)). Everything gets a sequel.

And TV is not any different now either. TV shows long dormant are rebooted. Just look at recent attempts at rebooting “The X-Files”, “Gilmore Girls”, “Full House”, “Arrested Development”, “24”, and “Heroes” to name a few. Those shows all ended years ago, but here are they, back again. Thankfully, these shows really just seem to be one-offs as none of them have really caught on with the fire that they once did, but that hasn’t stopped studios from making them.

One just has to wonder, will anything ever end anymore? Let’s look at some of the seemingly never-ending properties and come up with an expiration date, starting from soonest to latest.

X-Men (End Date: 2017)

The current iteration of X-Men movies, spanning from 2000 to the present, have given us 9 films, ten with “Logan” next year. But with Hugh Jackman saying that “Logan” will be his last go with the character of Wolverine, time seems to be closing on the heyday of Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender. Now, having said that, there will be another “Deadpool” movie, but he doesn’t really fit into the X-Men mythos. And there will be more X-Men movies, but they will be rebooted with new casts and new characters. So take this one with a grain of salt.

PREDICTED ENDING: Wolverine and Charles Xavier have an emotional sendoff that culminates with Wolverine finding his humanity, completing his journey. The next film opens with an entirely new cast and a female Wolverine.

DCEU (End Date: 2022)

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Batman V. Superman was supposed to be the DC Extended Universe’s big, blockbuster hit. It did okay commercially and was pretty much a bomb critically. The same with “Suicide Squad.” Now “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League” will debut next year and that will be the true test for Warner Bros. If either or both of them bombs, it could spell the end for their hopes of taking on Disney’s MCU. They simply need to perform better. If next year is a dud, they may seriously have to reconsider their plans. Maybe this is just me being optimistic, but I see two more critical failures, two more box office mehs, and an early end to this colossal mistake.

PREDICTED ENDING: The entire Justice League takes on an army of aliens bent on destroying the Earth at all costs, probably with a giant blue laser that shoots into the sky, a gigantic hour-long fight ensues that levels a city, blah, blah, blah… There’s a teaser for a future film at the end of the credits that is never filmed.

Toy Story (End Date: 2025)

The “Toy Story” series should have ended with “Toy Store 3” in 2010. But now we have “Toy Story 4” coming in just about two years. Will there be anymore? I think there’ll be one more, but with Tom Hanks and Tim Allen certainly getting up there in years, that’s it. Without Woody and Buzz, I don’t think Disney makes anymore “Toy Story” films. But I’ve been wrong before.

PREDICTED ENDING: Buzz and Woody and the gang engage in a colorful journey through the scary world that tests their friendship and involves them coming to grips with maturation and inevitability. There are an equal number of tears as laughs.

Transformers (End Date: 2032)

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“Transformers” has made so much money and been so bad for so long that it may be tempting to think it is on the same level as the cockroach and the twinkie in terms of evolutionary survival. But fear not. “Transformers” is mortal. It can be slain. It just won’t be for a few years. It’s U.S. business is falling. It’s making less money. It’s really just made for the Chinese at this point. They will learn too, once the euphoria of the explosions has passed, they will sober up.

PREDICTED ENDING: Boom! Wham! Clink! PFFFFFHHH! Crash! Boom! Clank!

Fast and Furious (End Date: 2040)

There have now been eight “Fast and Furious” movies dating all the way back to 2001. With another two planned, the franchise is still a continuous moneymaker, despite the death of star Paul Walker. The appeal of fast cars, cool action and hot women won’t diminish anytime soon, so the franchise will probably continue to soldier on for the next few years, even as its stars leave. But as usually happens, when the big names go, quality suffers and the box office will slowly start to reflect that. Then they’ll try and reboot it later on with a whole new cast and some cameos by Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez, but that won’t work.

PREDICTED ENDING: Ummmm…. I don’t know. I’ve never seen one of these movies. Car races?

Harry Potter (End Date: 2052)

Harry Potter seemed to be finished. All the books had been translated into movies and the story was complete. But that was so five years ago. Fast forward to the present and we now have a whole set of theme parks based on the stories, a new play about Harry and his son, Albus, and a new five-picture series set in the 1920s. So the wizarding world is back in full force and it shows no signs of stopping. “Fantastic Beasts” is doing well enough at the box office so plans should continue on their current course. Of course, the thing driving all of this is J.K. Rowling. By 2052, she will be in her 80s. She won’t have written for a few years, but once she leaves us, one of her kids or family members will publish some jotted notes about something to make some cash and that will be the last story… well, turned into a six-part movie series anyway.

PREDICTED ENDING: Harry is now 128 years old. He’s dumped Ginny and now shacks up with Hermione because that is the only sensible thing to do. Voldemort is back… again. It’s his clone or something so they have to fight, but never fear; there’s some convenient magic that helps Harry defeat him despite the fact that he is a far inferior wizard to the dark lord. Voldemort just can’t catch a break.

MCU (End Date: 2061)

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe just keeps going and going and going. It is now a behemoth of Hollywood. Even obscure characters like Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy produce hits. The name itself brings people to the theaters because they know an MCU movie is fun and easy to digest. Steven Spielberg has said that the superhero movie is like the Western and that it will come and go like that genre. Perhaps he’s right. This end date signifies pretty much the length of the Western’s popularity.

PREDICTED ENDING:All 134 superheroes fight a giant CGI army led by a generic villain whose name you won’t remember. The heroes beforehand will fight amongst themselves and disagree about… something. They’ll unite and fight the big baddie and defeat him with the power of teamwork. The movie will literally have so much awesomeness that all the supernerds who watch it die from euphoria, ending the superhero craze once and for all.

Star Trek (End Date: 2072)

Star Trek has endured through TV shows and movies and next generations and reboots. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon. The only thing that will make Star Trek irrelevant is when humanity actually catches up to it, technology-wise and humanity-wise. Technology-wise is actually not that far off. Humanity-wise is still a ways away. Go figure.

PREDICTED ENDING: The Enterprise journeys to a distant planet where the crew must… zzzzzzzz. Whoops, sorry. They meet the Klingons and start a series of negotiations over…. zzzzzzz.

James Bond (End Date: 2104)

James Bond has had dozens of films, 6 actors play him (soon to be seven) and has become the top-grossing film series of all-time. Is there an end to his film series? I do see one, but not for a long, long time. I mean, eventually, society will start to decay as global warming, mass populations and nuclear holocaust take its toll. Perhaps humanity’s last breath before extinction will be the 124th James Bond film. He will still be very suave.

PREDICTED ENDING: I mean, it’s the same movie every time. There’s women and cars and spy stuff and weapons and gadgets and catchy songs and opening stunt sequences and headline villains and on and on. It ends exactly as it started.

Star Wars (End Date: Infinity)

Was there ever any doubt? For a franchise that lasted through the 70s and 80s, through an incoherent special edition, through three absolutely horrendous prequel films and now with a new heavyweight company bankrolling a film a year, “Star Wars” is bigger today than when it first premiered. I don’t think anything can kill this franchise. Not the Great Recession. Not plagues and wars. Not George Lucas. It will be around forever and ever. Even when the human race is gone, it will be around. Small microscopic life forms right now are soaking up its cultural relevance and fan fetish, and it is influencing the genetic makeup of its DNA so that when it reaches evolutionary maturation in a few thousand years, it will continue the series.

PREDICTED ENDING: Luke’s great-great-great grandchild is an orphan on a desert planet. There’s a dark force rising. He or she is called forth by a droid who needs his help and then he or she discovers that it is imbued with the Force. Wait… that’s not an ending. That’s just another beginning.

 

‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ a mediocre adventure

After the first Avengers (2012) film, expectations for the second outing by director and writer Joss Whedon were sky-high. There was no way anyone could fulfill such promises. And Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) does not. That does not detract from a fun movie-going experience, but the film suffers from an overabundance of character obligations and franchise building.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), eager to disband the Avengers and create a weapon that will truly save the world forever more, rashly builds the artificial intelligence system known as Ultron (voiced by James Spader). However, the design is flawed, and the now-sentient being seeks to destroy the world in order to save it from the scourge known as humanity. Fashioning himself a new metallic body and allying himself with newcomers Quicksilver (Aaron-Taylor Johnson) and Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), he begins on a quest to destroy the Avengers and complete his mission. Only Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Iron Man can stop him.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe will never rival Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005-2012) for artistic grandeur or the X-Men film’s sociological themes, but it does create very sympathetic, internally flawed characters that audiences latch onto. No one goes to a Marvel film for the plot. They go to see their favorite heroes like Iron Man, Thor, Hulk or Black Widow. It is the joy of watching those characters interact with each other and work through their dilemmas, both internally and externally, that brings people to the theater and then combining that with some great action scenes.

But in looking at the whole of the film, there are a great number of flaws. The character of Ultron feels rushed and more emphasis could have been given to him over the course of the story. Handling so many characters each with their own story arc proves to be problematic at times. You can’t really relate to them since so much is going on. No sooner do you start to have a Captain America scene then we are rushed to an Quicksilver scene. The film is too similar to the original Avengers movie and needed to go deeper into the characters rather than repeat the lessons of a previous adventure.

If watching a film by Godard is the equivalent of eating fine French cuisine, watching a Marvel film is the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet at a chain restaurant. It fills you up, tastes good, is very familiar and gives you a communal experience with friends and family. These films are not meant to be cinematic masterpieces, but high-concept escapism, and Age of Ultron delivers that. The formula needs to change for future adventures however, before things start to feel stale.