Defending The Incredible Hulk (2008) aka The Red Headed Step Child of the MCU

When it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as of this writing there has been fourteen films. The franchise came out the gate roaring with the very first Iron Man movie. But something the franchise seems to always brush aside unless absolutely necessary is the second film in the franchise. That would be The Incredible Hulk. Directed by Louis Letterier and starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk, the movie is very divisive. But I frankly love it and think it is one of the better MCU films. So it shouldn’t be treated so wishy washy.

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The story is very familiar to anyone who knows anything about the Hulk. Bruce Banner is on the run as he is being hunted by very morally dubious General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross. Banner worked with Ross on a project years ago that Banner believed was one thing but actually another. After testing it on himself, Banner became the Hulk and indirectly hurt Ross as well as Ross’ daughter, Betty who just happened to be involved with Banner. After a chain of events leads Ross learning Banner’s whereabouts, he enlists a special operative to help capture him. Enter: Emil Blonsky. An aged soldier who only knows how to fight and is uncomfortable with being older. This leads to Banner reuniting with Betty in an attempt to rid himself of the Hulk as Ross begins experimenting on Blonsky and turns him into another Hulk-like creature: The Abomination.

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The main theme in the film is really different from most superhero films. Banner does NOT want to be a hero. He was just a simple scientist wanting to make the world a better place through science before tragedy struck. When we meet him, he is willingly isolated. He has a beautiful neighbor who is obviously interested in him but he willingly chooses not to reciprocate. All he has for companionship is a stray dog and an internet buddy named Mr. Blue. The only thing he dreams of is ridding himself of the Hulk. The struggle for Banner to accept that he cannot get rid of the Hulk and just embrace it is a running theme that carries through the movie. The first time he turns into the Hulk is to protect himself from thugs, the second is because Ross wants to bring it out him and by the final time, Banner willingly throws himself out of a helicopter to stop his opposite. By the final shot of the movie, it ends with him intentionally triggering a transformation.

1200.jpgThe supporting cast are standouts. William Hurt as Thunderbolt Ross is the standout. Ross is always a complicated character in the comics and this carries into the movie. We see him as a General that commands respect and for reason. We also see a fanatic who is obsessed to an unhealthy degree with Banner/Hulk. It is clear that he loves his daughter but it is also clear that he will let his obsessions override his more empathetic feelings. Tim Roth as Blonsky is also one of the few standout villains in the MCU. Blonsky is just an old soldier who can’t accept that his body is failing him. It is mentioned that with his record that he can be a high ranking officer but he turns it down just so he can be in the fight. This self loathing and seeing the power of the Hulk also drives him into obsession and experimenting on himself to achieve said power. Liv Tyler as Betty Ross is a bit more of a mixed bag. She’s never been the strongest actress but she is serviceable as Betty Ross. She is much more actively involved in the origin of the Hulk and helping Banner embrace the Hulk side of himself.

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Louis Letterier is a solid director but you can tell that this film is plagued by behind the scenes drama. Edward Norton is notorious for being something of a control freak and difficult to work with. Though I do love Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, I still would have loved to see Norton return to the role. His Banner is soft and beaten down and Norton conveys that perfectly. When watching the blu-ray, there are many deleted scenes that give more character interactions. There is a particular one between Banner and Betty’s new boyfriend, therapist Doctor Samson. It is a relatively short scene so the only reason I can see it being cut is that it would be considered too “heady” for a summer blockbuster film. If this film was made after The Dark Knight, I think the scene would have been left in. There is also a longer scene between Ross and Blonsky that explains their frustration with the military complex focusing more on tech than people.

the-incredible-hulk-2008This film also has one of the best fight scenes in the MCU film. The climax is battle between the Hulk and Abomination in Harlem. It really is two brutes going at it and trashing the city while they’re at it. The standout bit is when Hulk crushes a car to form makeshift boxing gloves out of them to help even the odds between he and Abomination. This makes sense because Letterier is an action director so it would make sense that the action scenes are top notch. Especially when compared to the earlier Iron Man which were so choppy.

The Incredible Hulk is not a perfect film. There are some scenes with some odd editing which knocks the wind out from the scenes. There are also the earlier backstage issues that are kinda obvious. But does it deserve to be treated like it does in the MCU? No. There are many reasons why as the film was a minor success and the whole distribution rights to the Hulk are a mess. At first they tended to shy away from the film other than little references here and there. With the return of William Hurt as Ross in Captain America: Civil War, it seems that more things are being integrated. There are rumors that Liv Tyler will be returning as Betty Ross. But Marvel Studios should embrace this film more than it does. It is a far better film than Thor: The Dark World or Iron Man 2 which they proudly display.

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Celebrating Black Superheroes – Storm

I love the X-Men. My favorite X-Man is Wolverine. But if there was anyone to take that favorite spot, it would be Ororo Munroe aka Storm. The New York born but African raised “goddess” has the mutant ability to manipulate the weather which makes her one of the most powerful alive. She has been a member of the X-Men since her first appearance while also serving stints on The Avengers and Fantastic Four. Once was married to T’Challa thus making her the one time of Wakanda. Storm is one of the most popular and important female superheroes. 
I first became familiar with Storm through the 1990’s X-Men animated series. She was one of the main members of the tram and there was a lot of spotlight on her. We learn of her claustrophobia, which is smething I never heard of before watching the show. It also showed that she was second-in-command to Cyclops and was the de facto leader of the underground Morlocks. All these important plot points lifted straight from the comics. 

In the comics, Storm is one of the most intriguing X-Men. She has gone through various phases, such as the time she sported a mohawk and was punk rock, while always remaining a stalwart member. Even serving as the leader of the tram while stripped of her mutant abilities. When there are multiple teams of X-Men, you can expect Storm to be the leader of at least one of them. 

In other adaptations, Storm has seen better days. In the animated series after the 90’s version, Storm is somewhat shafted compared to other members. In film, Halle Berry’s portrayal left a lot to be desired as well as Alexandra Shipp. One gets the sense that Bryan Singer does not understand the importance of the character. But at least the character is always there and gets some spotlight. 

I knew the importance of the character when my sister who has no interest in superheroes knows the importance of the character. There are few black female superheroes in popular culture. So the character arguably sticks out for being a force to reckon with and not just meaning her powers. Storm will continue to be one of the most important and popular heroes in superhero fandoms. That is important and beautiful. 

Celebrating Black Superheroes – Black PantherĀ 

King T’Challa of Wakanda is also known as Black Panther. This is a man who wears many different hats. He is one of the smartest men in the world. Superhero. King. I first became familiar with the character sometime in the 90’s when he appeared on the Fantastic Four cartoon (voiced by Keith David). I then really became familiar with him during the early 2000’s and Christopher Priest’s seminal writing stint on the character. Priest chose an interesting route with the character as even though he was the main character, the book was told through another character’s perspective. Black Panther was reimagined as a calculating figure that not even the reader was supposed to know what he was thinking. This carried over into Geoff Johns’ stint writing The Avengers. Black Panther was treated with some unease from other Avengers particularly Iron Man due to the revelation that Panther only joined The Avengers to spy on them. However an attack on American soil from The Red Skull, a super Nazi, Black Panther is one of the few to oppose him. 
These stints showed the many sides of T’Challa. His science skills came to the forefront as he isnine to help develop a vaccine for Red Skull’s attack. How he is one of the greatest fighters in Marvel as the only way to develop a vaccine which was derived from Red Skull’s blood. His somewhat aloof and calculating demeanor proved useful when enemies would attack but it wasn’t appreciated by some of his comrades. But thay gave way to also show an honorable and loyal side to the people he has fought side by side for years. This no doubt stemmed from his Wakandan heritage. The kingdom known for its xenophobia which kept it safe for generations but led to mistrust within the world communities and finally came to a head with the dead of T’Challa’s father, T’Chaka. 

T’Challa is one of the most interesting characters in comics as he is a man pulled in a myriad of directions. Many people have compared him to Batman and while there are similarities, keen intellect and paranoia, that is a disservice to The King of Wakanda. There are few characters where you can say they are the King of one of the most advanced civilizations while also being one of the world’s greatest superheroes. That one moment can be making power plays with world leaders and then the next facing down Galactus. 

The popularity of the character has grown exponentially since the 2000’s. One of the main members of the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon and making his live action debut in Captain America: Civil War. His solo movie is set to debut in February 2018 and the character is expected to play a major part in Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel. The character also has his own solo series in the comics while being part of ensembles such as The Ultimates. 

It is a good time for The King of Wakanda. 

Thoughts About Avengers: Infinity War

As of the events of Captain America: Civil War, The Avengers are no more. At least not in the way that we’ve gotten to know them in three movies. Captain America and the heroes who stood by him are now fugitives. Iron Man is in charge of The Avengers now with only The Vision by his side. War Machine is crippled, though there is a strong possibility that he can probably still function a suit. Spider-Man is something of a question mark as even though Iron Man was very pro registering, he still enlisted a teenage hero who clearly did not register. Black Widow is in the wind. The Hulk and Thor are dealing with more important things in outer space. So where does that leave the heroes when Thanos inevitably comes? How do the Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming Captain Marvel fit into this?

There is no doubt that the heroes will reunite by the time of the sequel of Infinity War. But what about the events in Infinity War? We know that Thanos has finally gotten off of his chair and is about to get the Infintiy Stones. There are many more movies by the time Infinity War comes around so even though Thanos is not announced as appearing in any movies until Infinity War, there is no doubt in my mind that Thanos will appear before then. I mean it’s not too hard to get Josh Brolin, the actor who plays Thanos, to come in for a day or two to do motion capture for the character and just plug Thanos into a movie. But that’s something I’ve talked about lately. 

Avengers: Infinity War and its untitled sequel are going to be a masterclass in filmmaking. There are a lot of balls in the air and one mistake could mess up the whole thing. It not only has to acknowledge everything that has come before. It also has to set up the movies that come out after and in between its sequel. The Russo Brothers only had about a dozen characters to deal with in Captain America: Civil War. They have said they will be dealing with about four or five times more than that with these two films. One cannot envy their position. Maybe you do because this is something that is unprecedented and are breaking new ground. We will all know in May 2018.

Here’s a picture of Sean Gunn who does the motion capture for Rocket Racoon on the set. Check out the new logo

What Marvel Studios Can Learn From Lucasfilm Pt. 2

Disney owns two of the biggest franchise makers in Hollywood currently: Lucasfilm and Marvel Studios. I’ve already discussed what Marvel Studios can learn from Lucasfilm in integrating their various projects across mediums. It’s an open secret that there is a divide between the television and movie sides of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now with the release of Rogue One, it has become even more apparent that Marvel Studios is really not living up to its full potential of making a more cohesive universe.

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If you watched Rogue One, Forest Whitaker played Saw Gerrera who first appeared in The Clone Wars animated series and later Whitaker reprised the role in a guest spot on Star Wars Rebels. there was a cameo from Chopper, the resident droid from Star Wars Rebels. Along with that the Ghost, the ship used by the cast of the show was shown entering The Battle of Scarif. Finally, over the intercom, there was a mention of a General Syndulla who was later revealed to be Hera, one of the main characters on the show. Though these were all easter eggs, they did subtly confirm that the Star Wars universe was more than the movies.

When watching recent Marvel Cinematic Universe specifically Captain America: Civil War, you can see that there are many missed opportunities. During the briefing to the Avengers by Thunderbolt Ross, he specifically mentions the rise of vigilantism in the world. Though only showing the events of the Avengers and their actions. This was a missed opportunity as the filmmakers could have referenced events in Daredevil such as the main character being blamed for blowing up a few city blocks and Jessica Jones where she publicly executed someone with mind control abilities. You don’t even really need to show these characters but having characters acknowledge the events.
The one advantage that Lucasfilm seems to have over Marvel Studios to help keep things focused and integrated is the Star Wars Story Group led by Pablo Hidalgo. This group is supposed to help keep things tight and neat within the new canon established after Disney bought Lucasfilm. So that way there are no contradictions within its own canon as well as the added benefit of helping integrate all the various medias with one another. Marvel does not have this benefit and it is apparent from interviews from the showrunners and directors on the film, they hardly communicate with one another. It was frequently mentioned that Rebels showrunner Dave Filoni and Rogue One director Gareth Edward met with one another a number of times.

At this point, I doubt that the divide within the Marvel Cinematic Universe will ever close or at the very least become smaller. So while we may never get to see characters such as Daredevil and Captain America meeting one another, the movie and TV side are full of rich characters and storylines. But if the MCU ever gets a reboot, it would be the perfect opportunity to make things more cohesive. But until then, it is nice to see the people at Lucasfilm expand their universe with every possible tool available to them.

2017 Needs To Be The Year of Thanos

Thanos, The Mad Titan, is the current big bad of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We know that he is gathering the Infinity Stones. Their comics counterpart can be placed into ths Infinity Gauntlet and be used for complete domination of reality. It can be assumed that this is the goal of the movie version of Thanos as well. But that’s the thing…we know next to nothing about Thanos. I have already made my statements clear that I think Marvel Studios has tripped with their handling of the character. He has only made three appearances so far, his introduction in The Avengers, a small role in Guardians of the Galaxy where he was disrespected by an underling and the last in Avengers: Age of Ultron where he made a lackluster after credits appearance. 

Avengers: Infinity War is due to drop in 2018 so in 2017 Marvel Studios should really build up his threat. James Gunn, the writer/director of Guardians of the Galaxy and its sequel has said that Thanos will not be appearing in Vol. 2. He also made the same statements about its predecessor but weeks before the movie was released, it was announced Josh Brolin would be appearing in the movie as Thanos. It’s an open secret that the Guardians will be in Infinity War so something has to bring them to the conflict. Gamora and Nebula are both the daughters (kidnapped children) of Thanos and Drax has a personal vendetta against him. The Guardians also know where one of the Infinity Stones is stored at.

Thor: Ragnarok is probably the most important movie linking to Infinity War. At the end of Age of Ultron, Thor set out to figure out who was behind the gathering of the Infinity Stones. It is also widely believed that the final Stone, the Soul Stone, will play a role in the movie. Loki, currently masquerading as Odin, also has access to the Tesseract aka the Space Stone. Loki was also loaned the Mind Stone (it is still up in the air if he knew that info) in The Avengers to find the Tesseract but failed. So he might have to return a favor to be back in Thanos’ good graces. 

Thanos has not been announced for any of these movies. But as with his other appearances, they can be uncredited. Since Thanos is a motion capture character, it would not require a lot to get Josh Brolin in for a day or two to do the role. But it is time to see Thanos actually do something. The most action we have deen is him sitting in his chair and putting on a gauntlet. We have seen characters refer to him as the most powerful character in the universe but that has not been conveyed. Most of his underlings including both of his daughters have outright betrayed him. Ronan the Accuser outright dissed him and yet no retaliation.

One of the biggest criticisms towards the MCU is how the villains are one note. Marvel Studios can really build up the threat of Thanos before his big opening in Avengers: Infinity War. They don’t really have to be much. Just small cameos in Guardians Vol. 2 and Ragnarok to show he is coming for what he covets and is not messing around anymore. There would be something really unfortunate if the big bad for the MCU turned out to be a dud. 

Why It Was The Perfect Time for Ghost Rider to Leave Agents of SHIELD

I’m no fan of Agents of SHIELD. The show has always been mired with problems to hinder it from achieving excellence in my book. The first season always had to contend with the upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier which fundamentally changed the Marvel Cinematic Universe and SHIELD’s purpose in it. So there would be episodes where it looked like characters were meandering and not a lot was happening. Once that movie came out, the show did pick up steam and I enjoyed it from the reveal episode all the way to the season finale. Then the second season happened and I was once again disappointed and completely dropped the show from my viewing list. I kept my ear to the ground with the third season and would watch the occasional episode every now and then on Hulu but all the Inhumans stuff really dragged down the show for me.

So when Ghost Rider, the Robbie Reyes version, was announced for the fourth season, it made me curious. I knew from the get go that they would have to use tricks to actually not show Ghost Rider as it is an expensive effect and this is a network TV budget. So it made sense that it was the Robbie Reyes version as they could hide him behind a car. Plus you can assume that there was probably a mandate from the higher ups to not include the Johnny Blaze version.

So the first episode came on and we don’t really see the Ghost Rider until the end of the episode. Though we do get a sense of how powerful the character is from the get go. At first there was much in universe speculation that Ghost Rider was an Inhuman and that was going to annoy me to no end as it would seem like a cop out. But lo and behold, Ghost Rider is still rooted in the supernatural. Robbie Reyes brought a breath of fresh air as he was an outsider and no one knew what to make of him. You see that he was a flawed person as he became the Ghost Rider for noble reasons but it was still a demon possessing him and implied amplifying some of his more darker inhibitions.

But come the midseason finale, Ghost Rider is currently MIA. Seemingly trapped into another dimension but since this is a comic book based universe, we know that means nothing. Though Ghost Rider was a breath of fresh air, he had to go. The show is called Agents of SHIELD and he is not that. Then there is the whole real life expensive nature of the character. It would be hard to make him work for 22 episodes and there are only so many tricks the show can use not to show Ghost Rider being Ghost Rider. His popularity has shown a hunger for more Ghost Rider and probably best for his own show. Of course there is no doubt in my mind that he will appear again on Agents of SHIELD before the season is over. So now it’s just wait and see time.

Rogue One Aftermath: The Empire

Spoilers for Rogue One, Darth Vader, Tarkin, Catalyst 

So now that Rogue One has been released, this has been the movie that we have learned about the Galactic Empire. Of course ever since Disney has bought Lucasfilm and established a new canon, this should not be unexpected. In most of the media focusing on the time of the reign of the Empire, they have gone to great lengths to show the nuances of the Empire. Throughout the new canon, we see that the Empire is full of backstabbing and power plays and in fact is encouraged by Emperor Palpatine himself…implied to be a way of keeping people from usurping him.

Catalyst which is a direct prequel to Rogue One focuses on the relationship between Tarkin and Krennic. Krennic wants to be where Tarkin is in the ranks of the Empire. Tarkin is fully aware of this and the two arguably spend more time feuding with one another than their enemies in the book. In fact, Krennic starts a small war just to occupy Tarkin’s time. By the end of the novel, we see Krennic where he is at the beginning of Rogue One. A man desperate to reclaim what he believes is his (Galen Erso) all so that he can reclaim his glory and rise up in the ranks.

In Darth Vader, we learn that not even the Emperor’s best instrument of destruction is immune to this. That Palpatine has been grooming potential successors to Vader since Vader was born. This probably shouldn’t have been unexpected considering what we know of Palpatine but it’s how Vader reacts. Seeing this as a test to reclaim favor with the Emperor after the failure of the Death Star. 

So the Empire was doomed to fail from the start. The Sith have longed held the Rule of Two which is something that breeds deceitfulness and mistrust. So how can a government controlled by the leader of the Sith be any different. We see in the materials set after Return of the Jedi that the Empire collapses almost immediately because they’ve never really been forced to work together without their figureheads.