Review: Ant-Man

Ant-Man poster

Superheroes have been showing up on the big screen and TV for a few years now, so even if you don’t read comics you will recognise quite a few of the characters within the Marvel Universe. That said, I think many were sceptical about a superhero named ‘Ant-Man’ – I mean, it’s not the coolest superhero name in the world. But I think, after seeing this movie, Ant-Man will get a lot more love in the future. He’s funny, down to earth, and fights with everything he has to become a better father. What’s not to like? Add in the fact he’s engaging, relatable (he’s made some pretty big mistakes), and doesn’t take the whole superhero thing too seriously, and it’s all points in his favour.

So, Ant-Man – who is he? His name is Scott Lang, and in the movie he’s played by Paul Rudd, which probably helped in terms of getting people to the cinema, because Paul promises to bring the goods in terms of humour. Personally, I think it was an inspired choice, Scott Lang is hilarious in the comics, and this certainly reflected in the film. In this case, Rudd’s humour is definitely understated and, despite criticisms regarding a ‘dilution’ of his talents, I believe he hit the mark. The subtleties he brought to the role were what made it work, at least for me.

michael douglas

But, Rudd is not the only great casting choice. Michael Douglas plays Hank Pym, and he demanded attention from the very first scene. He’s utterly convincing, and adds a coolness factor all of his own. Dr. Henry (Hank) Pym is the original Ant-Man, and though you don’t need to know that to watch or even enjoy the movie, it’s worth pointing out.

In the comics Scott Lang stole the suit to save his daughter and Hank allowed him to keep it. The film puts a slightly different spin on the theme, but fundamentally they didn’t stray far from the origin story. It means there’s something for everyone, which Marvel excels at. For those not familiar with the comics, they are introduced to a unique superhero, and for fans of Ant-Man, the writers stayed true to who Scott Lang is.

Scott

He’s a former cat-burglar, an idealistic campaigner recently released from prison, and a man down on his luck. He’s divorced, is fighting for custody rights to see his daughter, and the only job he can get is at Baskin Robbins (even then he has to lie about his identity). Despite managing to get himself sucked in to Pym’s plot to protect his inventions and prevent the Pym Particles (formula which alters the size and mass of objects and living things) from being released into the world, Scott still manages to show a keen intelligence, and skills worth bringing to the table.

As for being part of the Marvel Universe; there are subtle references built in, if you’re looking for them, and an appearance from an Avenger. A scene which is particularly well done, and one of the highlights of the movie. There are other highlights, of course, and it might seem odd, but they are definitely the scenes with the ants. Yes, this is undeniably helped by the excellent special effects, but still, when you see what Scott and Hank get these little guys to do – it’s wonderful to watch.

flying ant

So, you have humour, including excellent comic timing, an engaging hero who performs miraculous feats (in human size and when he’s shrinks). Mix that in with an unconventional army, a superior cast, great special effects, and you have yourself an extremely entertaining film.

What did you think? Have you seen the movie? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Time Runs Out – the Conclusion of Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers (and the Marvel Comics Universe)

It was the spark that started the fire – a legend that grew in the telling.

At the beginning, it was an origin story. The rebuilding of the Avengers. The reconvening of the Illuminati. And with overtones reaching back to the beginning of the Marvel Universe.

The left is from Avengers - the right is from New Avengers. Also on http://comparativegeeks.tumblr.com/

The left is from Avengers – the right is from New Avengers.
Also on http://comparativegeeks.tumblr.com/

At the end, it’s the mirror of that story. The collapse of the Avengers. The Illuminati replaced by the Cabal. The end of the Marvel Universe.

Jonathan Hickman’s run writing Avengers and New Avengers has been a blast. I’ve blogged about it a good deal because it’s one of the main comics I have been following on a regular basis – although I have stepped down to reading it in the trade paperbacks/collected digital volumes. That said, I am here now because these two comics just released their last trade last week – the end of the four-trade, two-title saga called Time Runs Out, which led directly to the current Marvel Secret Wars and which ended the Marvel Comics Universe in a very real way.

Yes, it’s comics, it’ll probably come back. Still, for now, es ist kaput.

So how did we get there? Even if the why of the universe ending was corporate and marketing and business, the mechanism that got us there took about 100 comics. So what happened? Why did time run out?

A Quick Rundown of Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers

To make this a quick rundown, I am going to be sourcing things out to previous posts I have written. In these posts, I have a number of screencaps from the comics with some further explanation of things so it’s not just me I’m referring to, it’s the comics themselves.

At their heart, these were two parallel and competing stories. In Avengers, as in the image above, it’s a bit of a reboot/reforming of the Avengers team. A fresh start, a new beginning. With an expectation of greater threats: with a need for a bigger team. So an origin story of sorts there. Meanwhile, new “villains” (many of whom end up new Avengers), new problems, and new versions of “old” heroes – like a female Smasher and a new Hyperion. Meanwhile, with the larger backdrop of the villains and the big fight to come (Infinity, which I blogged in three parts), there is a larger narrative and origin story of the whole universe. Callbacks to a narrative of, essentially, the big bang.

In New Avengers, that story becomes one of universal death. Of the opposite of the big bang: a big collapse, with the whole universe collapsing at once. Which they get to see happening, multiple times: the entire multiverse (multiple universes) is collapsing, universe by universe dying. I included Mister Fantastic’s excellent explanation in my original review.

Thus, the dual character of life, and death, between the two stories, which I have found really cool, and which I talked about as one of the great themes in Hickman’s comics in generalContinue reading

Secret Wars (1984) – A Comic Classic Review

Cover to Secret Wars (1984) #1!

Cover to Secret Wars (1984) #1!

Alright, maybe I use the term “classic” loosely but it certainly counts as something if, 30 years later, it’s still floating around in the Marvel Comics consciousness. This was Marvel’s first big “event,” where heroes and villains from across their titles ended up together in the same place dealing with the same situation.

And it shows – there are a lot of moments with people introducing themselves and clearly meeting for the first time. By today in the comics, the X-Men have fought Avengers numerous times, and half of everyone has been a member of the Avengers, there have been team-ups, and other big events have happened… there’s a whole lot less of the characters not knowing each other!

So quick synopsis: what the heck was a “Secret War?” Well, a handful of Marvel heroes (like most of the Avengers and X-Men, Spider-Man, most of the Fantastic Four… oh, and Magneto) and villains (like Dr. Doom, Ultron, the Wrecking Crew, Absorbing Man, Doctor Octopus… oh, and Galactus) find themselves whisked away across the cosmos to separate space stations. Down below, they watch as a new planet is formed – formed with pieces of other planets, a patchwork planet that comes to be called “Battleworld.”

Oh yeah and a galaxy is destroyed. Don't worry - I think it gets better.

Oh yeah and a galaxy is destroyed. Don’t worry – I think it gets better.

Then, after showing off its power, a voice speaks to them all: battle to the death, and they will be rewarded with their greatest wish. To top off the show of power, Galactus – his greatest desire being to stop wanting to eat planets – just goes straight for the voice and the glowy spot in space that is its source (the Beyonder). And Galactus is struck down.

What follows is 12 issues (a year) of the villains selfishly – and then following Doom’s orders – working to win the battles, and the heroes not quite getting along to fully stop the baddies. There are civilians, alien technology, and all sorts of things on the different patchwork pieces of the planet. So each fight is different, with new stakes or toys at their disposal. Galactus tries to eat the planet, Doom comes up with a scheme and gets the Beyonder power and loses it… and yeah, end result, not too much happens.

Although for a while, Doom has a face again. Cover to Secret Wars #11

Although for a while, Doom has a face again. Cover to Secret Wars #11

Okay, there are a few results. Some of the people summoned sound like they were dead in the comics and come back. Some new heroes and villains are created. I would say the biggest result was really Spider-Man finding the Symbiote suit, which would come to be known as Venom…

Dat headline...

Dat headline…

This was Marvel just getting started with events. Part of the idea is that “relevant” things should happen, character resurrections or deaths, suit changes, stuff like that. Big stakes, and seeing how the characters deal with them. And then usually a big reset button to return almost everything to normal. Marvel would get better at this, and one of the best is probably still the Infinity Gauntlet for stand-alone all-powerful-villain events, or else the Age of Apocalypse for alternate-reality-creating impact.

The creation of Battleworld!

The creation of Battleworld!

So why am I talking about Secret Wars? Well, more than anything, because they’re returned to Secret Wars in the comics. The first Secret Wars was the result of a single, all-powerful Beyonder having a whim to be entertained. The current Secret Wars is so much bigger than that – it’s the result of every Beyonder working together. Instead of a Battleworld built out of a few scraps of planets, the new Battleworld is built out of the last scraps of the entire multiverse – of all of the Marvel alternate universes. It’s an event which is seemingly taking apart the entire Marvel Comics universe, with the idea that it will for real and true never be the same again.

So how did they get there? That’s a post for another day – so I’ll be back soon with Time Runs Out!

Images copyright Marvel, and captured from the Marvel Unlimited service.

Agents of SHIELD now that we’ve seen Agent Carter

Agent Carter took a week off last week, and I’m assuming it was for the State of the Union address. Since Agent Carter is running as a mid-season show for Agents of SHIELD, I thought I would take a mid-season break from the one show to talk about the other in relation to the former… well, whatever, they make sense to compare to one another, right?

There are lots of comparisons that came to mind about the content of the show in the early days, or even before Agent Carter aired. Different eras, relationships to movies, these sorts of things – and I blogged some of my thoughts on that early on. Now that there’s been a few episodes of Agent Carter, the differences seem really stark (pun intended?). So let me look at a few features that I think really stand out between the two, now that they are both officially on the air and part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

The Ensemble versus the Protagonist

It’s inherent in the name, I suppose, but Agents of SHIELD is not the story of one person, with no central hero. Sure, the original and ongoing draw to the show is Agent Phil Coulson, brought back from the dead to give us a known leader and a mystery plot – namely, how is he back from the dead?

But he is by no means the only character on the show, just the only known character. Around him he collected a group of agents, who fly the plane, fight the battles, solve the mysteries, hack the computers, solve the genomes (Gene’O’s?), and build the tech. It was not a small team, and they took a lot of time – as they probably needed to – introducing us to all of these agents (and new ones, over time). While Phil Coulson was ever-present, so were the rest of the team.

Agent Carter is much different from that. Sure, she’s not the only character running around, but she is the one we are focusing on. Her partner is not even a fellow agent, but a butler. And there are characters we are getting to know more about – especially Jarvis in the third episode – but not all of them.

For instance, she has some friends she has made outside of work, women who have also been neighbors or roommates. Well, one is dead and the others we might suspect of having nefarious intentions for their friendship – who can we trust? There are also her fellow SSR agents, but they exist to be contrasted with Peggy Carter, to be cliches and stereotypes and not all to be fleshed out and explored.

Sure, part of that is the 8-episode nature of the season: you can’t do it all in that time. But we have solid evidence that we aren’t going to get to know them all, as one of the agents was assassinated at the end of the third episode. That’s a number of friendlies killed in just three episodes – it’s a risky business being in that show! All we know is Agent Carter and Jarvis make it out at the end, everyone else is at risk!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Beyond Agent Coulson, the real draw for Agents of SHIELD is its connection to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. These got better over time. There was a ho-hum episode after Thor: The Dark World was out in theaters, with a vague connection to Asgard. Then there was a far better episode with the Lady Sif, and the Asgardian Lorelei. I think this sort of cameo was the sort of thing audiences may have been expecting or wanting more of in the show, and this episode at least showed that it could be done, and done well!

Then the ball dropped with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The SHIELD focus in the movie bled into the show, and the last few episodes of the first season, airing after the movie started playing in theaters, were really incredible, giving a payoff for a lot of the ensemble-cast character development that they had spent so much time on. I think by the end pretty much all of the cast got to be heroes and found their way into our hearts – or at least, more than they had been before.

Season 2 has more seriously delved into the mystery of the Once and Future Phil Coulson, his death and return. After Guardians of the Galaxy, audiences at least knew more about the aliens of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – even if the characters don’t know. So when it starts to turn out that maybe all these mysteries are alien in nature – and we might know who these aliens are and what they might be like! – it got pretty good. The mid-season break ended in some jaw-dropping turns of events, the implications of which have us wondering just how much this will all be a set-up for some of the upcoming Marvel movies – especially The Inhumans, who may need the most setup.

But here’s the thing: with all of that, I think it’s safe to say that Agents of SHIELD is best in the way that it relates to the larger universe. The events of the mid-season-2-finale were great and all, but the implications were better. The minutes of my wife Holly and I theorizing and guessing after the episode was done were a lot of fun, and worth keeping up with the show – but you can’t really say the show and its contents alone were what made us enjoy it so much.

Okay, that’s a lot about Agents of SHIELD. So let me keep my comment on Agent Carter here brief: it hasn’t been like that at all. The connections to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe have largely just been in the characters who come from it: Peggy Carter, Howard Stark, and Jarvis – known before just as a name and an A.I. named after him. There have been a lot of references to Captain America, largely just in the fact that Peggy and he were almost an item and now he’s gone. And that’s it – so the show is having to stand on its own, and not lean on the films for interest and intrigue.

So What Makes Good Television?

Oh man, what am I doing asking a big question like that? Well, I guess I mean that it is a show you can watch, and it’s good, and it entertains you. In and of itself. There are plenty of shows that people hang on to and watch for a variety of reasons – hoping it gets good again, wanting to know the answer to its mysteries, for love of an actor or actress or cast. If I were to try to define “good television” it would be something where it doesn’t have to rely on you “hanging on” – you just watch it and it’s good and stays there.

I think Agents of SHIELD has created a whole new category of reasons to hang on, because it really is an experiment in shared universe, between movies and film. Sure, there are shows based on movies, but generally as a re-telling – shows like Bates Motel or Fargo come to mind as recent examples. Sure, there are movies based on shows, both as re-tellings and often as end-notes, conclusions to the story or continuation. Star Trek movies seem like the best example of this. But Agents of SHIELD was a show set in the universe of the movies, not a re-telling, but a real-time continuation to keep you hyped and excited between movies.

As such, though, it does not stand on its own as “good television.” You can’t just pick up and watch an episode (or a season) of Agents of SHIELD and watch it and be like “hey that was all pretty great.” I don’t think that was ever going to be possible, but it’s an entirely new thing and as a fan, I am happy it exists and have enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s had rough patches and seemingly filler-episodes, but so have shows like Battlestar Galactica, which I followed all the way through its run.

By following an entirely different formula with Agent Carter, they have escaped that same new type of show that Agents of SHIELD belongs to. It’s a show following a movie (Captain America), but beyond that, it’s just a good, period-piece mystery show. It’s just good television. Not into comics? Not a problem, you can still get into Agent Carter. Okay, if you don’t like mystery shows or spy stuff like James Bond, maybe you won’t like Agent Carter. But no show is for everyone, right?

It’s a great mystery show so far, and if you haven’t been watching, there’s only 3 episodes to catch up on right now – out of only 8 this season! Not a lot to catch up on, so give it a chance! I’ll be back next Tuesday with my review of episode 4 – The Blitzkrieg Button!