Sunday, January 28, 2024

MCU Sunday #4: Thor


Preface: As promised last year, I plan to review every single currently available movie in what is known as the  Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) over the year 2024. These will appear in order of their release over that time period. This is the fourth installment. (Oh, and by the way, after I've exhausted all of the currently available MCU movies I will be rounding out the year with some of the other available movies made from the Marvel comics pantheon)

Notes: In each of the MCU installments you will be seeing references to two recurring events that occur in nearly every MCU movie.

Where is Stan Lee?: Stan Lee was the driving genius behind Marvel Comics.  He usually shows up in a cameo.  Sometimes these are so quick you gotta be sure you don't blink. Occasionally he gets a line  of dialogue.

And the Credits Roll: You should always stay in the theater for the credits when watching a MCU movie, because during the credits and at the end there is a teaser (or two) that is worth the wait.  Often they were a teaser for the next installment of the films.

MCU Sunday Part IV:

Casting got serious for Marvel Studios after Iron Man 2.  According to the previously mentioned book MCU (see previous entries), the studio wanted long term commitments because Robert Downey, Jr. had used his prestige from the hit title role to get a bigger payday in future entries. So the studio started looking at the bottom line and negotiating long term contracts, with an eye for future movies either with the individual as a solo in a superhero movie by himself (or herself) or as part of an entourage (ala the future Avengers series that was still forthcoming in the narrative.)

Thor had a who's who of possibilities to play the title role as the banished Asgardian.  Many of those would manage to go on to get different roles in the Marvel Comics Universe, but the one that stuck out to me when I read it was.... Daniel Craig.  Daniel Craig?  Yes, he had the physical wherewithal to play a superhero if his stunt work (assuming it is actually him doing some of it) in the James Bond movies.

But I honestly can't imagine him in the role.  Triple H (the wrestling star) was another. Never saw him do any acting other than in the ring during his wrestling career, so I can't say how he might have worked out.  Also, believe it or not, Chris Hemsworth's brother was being considered, and actually had made it farther in the initial casting process.  But the one that really intrigued me was Tom Hiddleston. 

Perhaps Hiddleston might have made a good Thor, but then we would have been deprived of what I consider to be the best and most well-fleshed out villain in the MCU, Loki.  Who, I ask you in all honesty, could have done Loki as well?

Of course, there were others. And like I said some of them came back to garner other roles in the MCU.  Like Chris Pratt, who eventually got to play his own Marvel character, Star Lord, in the Guardians of the Galaxy series.

I won't shy away from saying that Thor is close to the top of my favorite MCU movies, possibly even #1.  And Chris Hemsworth is one of the sexiest men alive.  That coming from a man who is firmly entrenched in his own heterosexuality.  But if I were a woman (or a gay man, for that matter), I would be dreaming about him.

The movie got a prestige director in the mix, that of Kenneth Branagh.  One of the things people said about the original comic book character was that he had a bit of Shakespearean feel to his dialogue, so who else but an accomplished Shakespearean actor and director would be better suited?

Thor (2011):

The initial opening sequence actually makes no sense until later in the movie. I think the pre-credit sequence is just a come-on, anyway, to pique the interest  of the audience, It involves what is the arrival of Thor on Earth after what turns out to be his banishment by Odin from Asgard. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her team which include her mentor, Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard), are on hand to observe Thor's descent to Earth.

The real meat of the  movie starts after the opening credits.  This opens in, as the title sequence says, Norway in the 10th century CE.  Odin (Anthony Hopkins)  and the hardened battle soldiers of Asgard are defending the Nine Realms from an attack by the Frost Giants of Jotunheim.  Earth is one of the Nine Realms, hence we are in Norway.  The Asgardians defend against the Frost Giants and regain possession of a mystical artifact called The Casket of Ancient Winters, which is the object that causes the contention between the Asgardians and the Frost Giants. A truce eventually is put in place with the Frost Giants and their leader Laufey.




Flash forward a thousand years. (The gods of Asgard, like all gods, are immortal, although they do age somewhat. Hence in the earlier sequence both Thor and Loki are children, but now are full fledged adults.) Odin is approaching the age when it is time to pass his kingship on to his heir.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is the firstborn and most obvious candidate.  However, Thor is a bit rash and combative and Odin has to remind him that the truce between Asgard and Jotunheim rests on his soldiers and he needs to keep his combative nature under control. (Good luck with that).




There is a new fly in the ointment however.  A group of Frost Giants invades the hallowed halls of Asgard,  attempting to take repossession of the artifact that Odin had claimed.  They are no match for the Asgardians however.  But as a result, Thor wants to take the fight to hem.  Odin forbids it.  But Daddy doesn't have as much control over his son as he may have once had.  

Thor and four others cross over the bridge to the enemy. (Five against an entire army?  They've got balls, I'll give them that.)  He is accompanied with Volstagg (Ray Stevenson), Hogun (Tadanobu Asano) and Fandral (Josh Dallas), along with Sif (Jaimie Alexander), a female warrior with some balls of her own. (In Norse mythology, even the women are badasses.)




Thor and crew are captured by Laufey, the leader of the Frost giants and it requires the intervention of Odin to save him.  As the result of his rash indiscretion, Odin casts Thor into the realm of Earth, without his powers. He also sends Mjolnir, Thor's hammer to Earth, which gets lodged into the Earth.




Thor is found by Jane Foster and taken to a local hospital.  Even without his power he is still a handful.  Meanwhile, the hammer is discovered by the Earthlings and an all-out effort is made, unsuccessfully, to dislodge it. (BTW, I don't know about the comic book legend, but according to Norse mythology on Thor himself could even touch that thing.  Anyone else would have been basically blasted to atoms, or something like it.)

Where is Stan Lee? Stan is one of several who are trying to get the hammer out of it's location.  He uses a pickup truck and a chain, but only ends up destroying his truck.

The reason that the Jotuns were able to get into Asgard is that there was a traitor among them. At least one, maybe more.  It turns out that Loki was not actually a son of Odin, but a baby Frost Giant that Odin had taken from a temple during that earlier war 100 years previous.  It explain why when every other Asgardian touched by a Frost Giant freezes up, but Loki remained unharmed.

As Loki confronts Odin, Odin has a lapse and basically falls into a coma. Loki uses the opportunity to make himself king of Asgard, in abence of Thor, who would be the rightful king if he were in Asgard.  But since Thor has been banished and Loki as king refuses to renounce his "father"'s decree, Thor remains banished.

Back on Earth, Jane helps Thor get to his hammer.  But Thor's confidence in being able  to retrieve it is shattered as even he is unable to budge it. Perhaps because when Odin cast it to the Earth he put a spell on it that only the most honorable and forthright person could remove it and Thor still has a ways to go to becoming man enough to get it. 

In the Bifrost, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has continued his evil ways, making a pact with Laufey (Colm Feore) to let in some of his soldiers to kill Odin while he is in his sleep. He also creates a Destroyer to send to Earth to kill Thor.

The interesting thing about this film is that, up until now, this has just been a standard drama.  There hasn't been much superhero action.  But when Thor sacrifices himself to save his friends from the Destroyer he has proven himself worthy of his hammer and it returns to him, reviving him in time for a final battle with his brother, But in the process, the bridge to Earth is destroyed and cuts him off from the Earth, and the woman he has grown to love.

And the Credits Roll: Erik Selvig meets up with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Fury shows Selvig an object that he claims has incredible power, if only he, Selvig, will start researching it. We are first introduced to the Tesseract, the object that will become, over the course of the next few movies, the center of the saga.

Thor, for me, marks the beginning of the Marvel saga, the previous 3 films notwithstanding.  It was the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie I actually got to see in the theater. And even having watched the first three later, it still remains one of the better movies.  I think the early part of the movie, the setup that ended up with Thor on Earth is one of the better opening sequences.

Well, folks, until the next time we meet, it's time to get on the road.  Drive safely. 


Saturday, January 27, 2024

On the Job Blogathon is Here

The On the Job Blogathon is here. 

OK, so if you're lucky Saturday and Sunday are not work days.  (At least, for me it's "lucky".)  But if this blogathon counts as "work", then I'm still golden. 

So raise your hands if you are happy to have a job.  Me, I am happy.  

And that's one of the themes of this blogathon.  Enjoyment in your chosen field.  In some cases, the job may not be fulfilling, in others the job may be the greatest thing in the world.

As you will see as you read these entries.  

So this post will be updated over the weekend, and when our entrants post their reviews you will see them added below.

And, by the way, it's not too late to add yours.  Just notify me or Rachel at Hamlette's Soliloquy and you can join the fun.

The Roster:

The Midnite Drive-In: Gung Ho (1986)

Realweegiemidget Reviews: The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1983):

Hamlette's Soliloquy: Support Your Local Sheriff (1969)

Silver Screenings: The Dentist (1932)

Hamlette's Soliloquy (again): Ten Favorite Movies about Writers

Taking Up Rooom: The Founder (2016)

The Maidens of Green Gables: Leverage: TV Series (2008-2012)

Friday, January 26, 2024

Culture Crash






This is my entry in the On The Job Blogathon hosted by Hamlette's Soliloquy and yours truly.




In the mid - to - late 80's Michael Keaton was one of the big names in Hollywood. A Michael Keaton film was guaranteed to have a big popular draw, (and most of the time, it actually did draw a crowd),  He started out as a standup comedian, and managed to parlay that into an early career as a bit player on TV,  He was a co-star on the short-lived The Mary Tyler Moore Hour as Kenny the page. 

His big break in film came as a co-star with Henry Winkler in Night Shift. that followed with starring roles in Mr. Mom and Johnny Dangerously. By the time Gung Ho hit the theaters he had just started to get his chops and following.

Gung Ho hit the theaters at a time when Ronald Reagan was in his second term in office as President.  The economy in the US had made great stride since the recession of the early 80's. But sales of American automobiles were being seriously challenged by the more economic cars being produced by Japan.

Whether or not the events in Gung Ho are realistic from an economic view of that time period, I couldn't say.  My recollection of that time period is limited to the transition from junior college to university, and many a drunken party. (I wasn't very responsible in those days, sad to say).

Gung Ho was a modest hit with audiences and almost assuredly cemented Michael Keaton as a star (although it would take 2 years before he had another real hit with Beetlejuice).  It made $36 million off of a $13 million investment.

Gung Ho (1986):

In the fictional town of Hadleyville, PA, times are rough.  The big money draw in town used to be the automobile factory, but it has been closed for 9 months, and most of the town is either on unemployment or closing up shops and leaving.  Note: I'm not sure how big this town actually is supposed to be.  I get the impression that it is a modest population, probably less than 100,000. Whether the town could or could not survive without a factory is questionable in my opinion.  But the fact remains that many are leaving for better shores.

Hunt Stevenson (Michael Keaton) is tasked with a job to try to entice the Japanese Assan Motors Company to reopen the plant, and goes to Tokyo to talk with the executives.  The first strains of the culture clash that will drive the movie are experienced when Hunt tries to find his way to the executive offices and gets lost. (as well as the experiences he has in living arrangements and finding food that appeals to him).




The meeting seems to not go well and Hunt thinks he has failed.  He returns to Hadleyville broken.  But it turns out that he made a good impression on the Japanese and they decide to open.  Kaz Kazihiro (Gedde Watanabe) is sent with an entourage to open the plant.  




But the culture clash that was Hunt's experience in Japan comes back full force for the Japanese when they arrive.  Fully expecting to run the plant on the Japanese model, they run into a conflict when their American employees throw up a resistance, expecting that things will be the "same as usual" from when it was an American run company.  The first obstacle: the Japanese apparently are not familiar with the labor union system.

The Japanese are only paying a partial hourly wage compared to what the union pay rate was before the plant closed down. (around $8 an hour compared to $11... imagine that today, boys and girls.) But with Hunt's help, the plant does get opened.  

But things don't go quite as smoothly.  The Japanese management has some different views of operation that the Americans are resistant to; like no radios on the line, no smoking (which raises up a red flag for me not because of a disdain for smoking, but because the factory surely has combustible materials in proximity)

One of the more vitriolic members of the American contingent is Buster (George Wendt). Buster is extremely adamant about things going his way, and highly resistant to the Japanese management just on the face of it. 




 In one scene, during an impromptu beer league softball game, Buster takes out his frustration by intentionally running into Saito (Sab Shimono).  Later, when he is demoted to janitor, he thinks it is because of his previous confrontation, although he is told it is because he has been performing subpar in his role at the factory.




Frustrations continue to mount, and Hunt, ever the promoter of himself as what others perceive him to be, tries to negotiate every situation so he looks good.  The big trouble comes midway through the film when Hunt negotiates a pact with Kaz; the plant will produce 15,000 cars in one month  to tie the record made in Japan for one month.  If they do, the management will concede raising the pay to pre shut-down rates, among other concessions.  But if they don't, no concessions will be made.

However, the American workers ask Hunt if they get partial concessions if they come close.  Because Hunt doesn't want to lose face with his compatriots he says yes, they will get something, but knowing that's not true, tries to convince them to go the full amount. This is the point where I started to dislike the American workers. They seem to want it all, but only want to pay for a part of it.  Kind of reminds me of stories I've heard of shoppers trying to use an expired coupon and insisting they still get the discount.



Anyway, the workers go forward, making a few concessions such as working on Sundays to get to the quota they think is their goal. (Only 13,000 as opposed to 15,000.) But when one of the Japanese management reveals to them the truth they conclude that the management is trying to renege on the deal and walk (strike).

Things are coming to a head.  Hunt finally has to reveal that he knew all along that there was no deal for partial completion.  With 1000 cars still to produce to reach the agreement, Hunt and Kaz go in to the factory to try to get the quota. Will the rest of the factory workers join them? I think you know what is going to happen since this is a feel good comedy not a depressing drama. But hold out for the final reel anyway, because the American spirit comes full force when the top dog Japanese guy shows up to inspect the output.

Gung Ho  is not Michael Keaton's best performance. It's only #37 out of 47 on the Tomatometer which ranks all of his movies. But it ranks about #5 on my list. (Beetlejuice, Batman, Night Shift, and Clean and Sober take the top 4 spots). As far as work films, it is one of the top 5 also. As much as I don't like George Wendt's character of Buster for most of the movie, I do think Wendt as an actor pulled off the character rather well.  The rest of the cast is pretty good too.  Don't miss seeing John Turturro, as one of the other American workers.  

If I had to recast the film, however, I think I would have found a better actress than Mimi Rogers as Hunt's love interest.  She is the only one who I found didn't bring much to the film.  Not sure who else might have been available at the time, nor do I know who else did a casting call for the role. But personally, I wish that it had been Andie McDowell in the role.




Well, folks, it's a work day tomorrow, so I gotta get the Plymouth back in the garage.  Drive safely.


Sunday, January 21, 2024

MCU Sunday #3: Iron Man 2



 Preface: As promised last year, I plan to review every single currently available movie in what is known as the  Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) over the year 2024. These will appear in order of their release over that time period. This is the third installment. (Oh, and by the way, after I've exhausted all of the currently available MCU movies I will be rounding out the year with some of the other available movies made from the Marvel comics pantheon.)

Notes: In each of the MCU installments you will be seeing references to two recurring events that occur in nearly every MCU movie.

Where is Stan Lee?: Stan Lee was the driving genius behind Marvel Comics.  He usually shows up in a cameo.  Sometimes these are so quick you gotta be sure you don't blink. Occasionally he gets a line  of dialogue.

And the Credits Roll: You should always stay in the theater for the credits when watching a MCU movie, because during the credits and at the end there is a teaser (or two) that is worth the wait.  Often they were a teaser for the next installment of the films.




 MCU Sunday Part III

The MCU didn't waste any time with a new installment of the Iron Man saga. Unfortunately in the process of casting some things had to change.  Trevor Howard, the original cast member who played  the role of Tony's friend and liaison in the military, Col. Rhodey Rhodes, was too expensive.  So the role was taken over by Don Cheadle.

But Cheadle manages to acquit himself as the replacement, still playing Rhodes. Not without some controversy. however. In replacing him, one of the producers supposedly made the unfortunate faux pas of suggesting it didn't really matter who played Rhodes. The rumor, not substantiated as near as I can tell by actual proof, was that he had said all black people look the same. (Note: I don't actually know if it's true that he actually said it, which is why I'm leaving this person's name off this blog entry).

Other than that, the rest of the cast came back for the second round.  What is interesting is some information I read in a previously mentioned book I am currently reading MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios. Apparently the powers that be behind the scenes made some exerted effort to ensure that most of the actors and actresses who signed on would commit to a long term deal, thus ensuring we wouldn't have a new actor taking over a familiar role due to contract negotiations or requests for beaucoup bigger salaries or any other such roadblocks.

That's why we could still see Downey as Iron Man over the course of the films, rather than, say, having him leave and be replaced by some other less appealing replacement. It would be the same for other actors as they stepped up to take on future roles. (Of course, heads up, in case you already didn't know (or didn't read the previous entry in this series on this blog), Edward Norton was replaced by Mark Ruffalo in future endeavors in the cycle as Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk).

The best parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films are that consistency.  I cannot see anyone pulling off the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man like Downey. It would have been a real shame to see him replaced mid-series.  Even if the next actor did play it as well I would have been looking for every nuance to point out and say "See! You should have stuck with Downey!" But that's not just me.  I'm not a fanboy, but the fanboys would have been just as critical.




Iron Man 2 (2010):

The movie starts out with a brief encapsulation of the end of the first Iron man movie by having a telecast video of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr) admitting that he is Iron Man. This news conference is broadcast into Russia  Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) and his father Anton (Eugene Lazarev) are watching, Before Anton dies he tells his son that it should have been him in that suit.  After Anton's death, Ivan begins work on his own suit.

Meanwhile, back in the US, Tony has launched a Stark Expo, a gala to present the future of Stark Industries.

Where is Stan Lee?: At the Stark Expo, Tony passes by a man whom he mistakes for Larry King. (It seems that Tony has a knack for this mistaken identity shtick. If you remember in the first film, Tony mistakes Stan for Hugh Hefner.  I wonder who he'll mistake him for in the next encounter... Arnold Schwarzenegger?)



Outside the Expo, Tony is given a subpoena to appear before the Senate.  At the appearance the senators try to make Tony turn over the technology in the interest of the people, but Tony refuses. As he tells the senators, not only is he Iron Man, but the suit is part and parcel of himself and the request would amount to making him a slave.




Tony becomes rather erratic (which is not entirely out of character anyway), and among other things, enters a car race at Monaco. During the race, however, Ivan appears in his modified suit and attempts to kill Stark.  He doesn't have it in for Iron Man himself, really.  He is exacting revenge for his family, in particular his father, whose destiny was sealed by Tony's father, Howard years ago.  But Ivan is defeated and arrested.



A rival to Stark Industries, in the person of   Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) uses his wherewithal to help Ivan escape from prison, Hammer has his own reasons for wanting Ivan free.  He intends to have Ivan create a suit of equal or better power than the one Tony has as Iron Man. Not entirely for his own purposes, although that does become a factor.  He really wants to sell the suit to the US military.

Back at home base Tony promotes Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) as CEO.  As such, he needs a new assistant.  Enter Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johannson). The reasoning behind Pepper's promotion may not be readily apparent at this point, but as it develops it appears that the Iron Man suit, while initially saving his life (see the first movie) , may actually be killing him.  The toxicity of the materials used to keep him alive are not the best solution. 

So, while Tony  works on a new power source for his own suit, Ivan has exceeded his commission and instead of a suit for a human has created drones that can replace humans in battle.  Hammer is not entirely pleased, but goes ahead with his presentation at his own Hammer Expo.  But Ivan has more than just exceeded his bounds; he has complete control over the drones and unleashes them.  Tony's friend, Rhodes, has his own suit (which eventually becomes War Machine), but Ivan initially even has control over that suit, too, and sends the drones and War Machine after Iron Man.




Meanwhile, Natalie has revealed herself to be Natasha Romanoff, a Russian agent, and she with the help of a couple of allies, eventually makes her way to Ivan's lab.  And in the process, also reveals herself to be a consummate hand to hand fighter. (And we get introduced to yet another future superhero, Black Widow). The scenes where Black Widow has to fight off the security forces at Hammer labs made me highly anticipatory for a one off featuring the character. 




The climatic battle between Ivan and Iron Man and War Machine (who is eventually given control back of his own suit is the stuff of the finale these movies bring, of course.  While not nearly as good as the first Iron Man, it's still exciting.

And the Credits Roll: As the movie ends, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg), who has been sent to New Mexico, comes upon a crater that is being investigated.  At the center of the crater is a hammer that is wedged into a rock. End movie.

The second Iron Man film does present some difficulties.  Given that he is in such dire straits in the middle of the movie, what with the impending death he is expecting from the stuff that is supposed to be keeping him alive, it may be pardonable that he seems to find solace in alcohol.  Personally I don't like the solution, being a recovering alcoholic myself.  Alcohol is never a solution. (But that's my high horse, so I'll leave it alone for now.)

Other than that one issue, I find no real fault in this second trip in to Tony's world.  And I do like the way that a couple of new future allies (War Machine and Black Widow) are introduced. Nothing, as yet, seems contrived, even though it was all mapped out as a story line before the whole thing got under way. Down the road to a future film, we did have to introduce some of the allies that would eventually form the super group of The Avengers.

Well, folks, time to fire up this old Plymouth and head home.  Fortunately I won't be trying to drive it in some race, so I'm safe from mishaps.  Drive safely.


Sunday, January 14, 2024

MCU Sunday #2: The Incredible Hulk





Preface: As promised last year, I am reviewing every single currently available movie in what is known as the  Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) over the year 2024. These will appear once a week, in order of their release over that time period. This is the second installment. (Oh, and by the way, after I've exhausted all of the currently available MCU movies I will be rounding out the year with some of the other available movies made from the Marvel comics pantheon)

Notes: In each of the MCU installments you will be seeing references to two recurring events that occur in nearly every MCU movie.

Where is Stan Lee?: Stan Lee was the driving genius behind Marvel Comics.  He usually shows up in a cameo.  Sometimes these are so quick you gotta be sure you don't blink. Occasionally he gets a line  of dialogue.

And the Credits Roll: You should always stay in the theater for the credits when watching a MCU movie, because during the credits and at the end there is a teaser (or two) that is worth the wait.  Often they were a teaser for the next installment of the films.

MCU Sunday Part II

The second movie that MCU put out was for one of the characters that was already familiar to the audiences. The Incredible Hulk  was first brought to the TV media audiences in the 1970's TV series The Incredible Hulk, featuring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. 

According to a book I am reading, MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios, the reason the TV series changed the name of the main character from Bruce Banner (as was his name in the comic book) to David Banner because the studios thought that "Bruce" made hims sound homosexual.  Not a very drastic thing really,and definitely not PC by today's standards but that was the mindset in the 70's.

The TV series lasted for 5 seasons (from 1978-1982) and even generated several made-for-TV movies.  There have also been some animated appearances of the Not-So-Jolly Green Giant.  Later, the first attempt at making the Hulk a cinematic hero came at the hands of Ang Lee. (Hulk (2003). Although that movie has a pretty good Rotten Tomatoes reception (6.2 out of 10), it wasn't one of my favorites. (See my review of that one, sometime later this year).

When Marvel Studios got it's hand in the actual production of this as it's second installment, they gave it a better turn. Edward Norton got the nod to star, although in later installments he would be replaced by Mark Ruffalo. (The story behind Norton's replacement seems to be that Norton was a difficult star to work with. There are others who say this story is not necessarily true.  I don't claim any knowledge of the truth however.)

Making the Hulk real, however, has not been so difficult, especially with the advent of CGI.  In the 70's you could coat a body builder like Lou Ferrigno in green paint and convince the viewing audience that Banner (Bill Bixby) had transformed to the big guy.  But the comic book Hulk was a lot bigger than the TV series could pull off.  

30 years later we have the benefit of computers to give us a Hulk whose size is more like the character from the comic book. It was also a lot easier to depict the amazing strength of the character.  Sure, Ferrigno could probably have pulled off most of the stunts he was performing in the TV series, but without help he would not have been able to do all the things the comic book character could do.

One thing you should know about this movie: If you are one of those people who generally come in after the opening credits, you will miss out, because the origin story is run (without the benefit of dialogue, admittedly) during the credits. (Not to worry, though.  It is encapsulated later in the movie.)

The Incredible Hulk (2008):

At the start of the film, we find Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), hiding out in Brazil.  He is on a quest to find a cure for his gamma radiation sickness.  He has gone over 150 days without incident. What that incidence is is not readily apparent at the outset, but it does have Bruce communicating, under the alias of "Mr. Green" (cute), with a mysterious "Mr. Blue" via the internet to find a cure.




Bruce receives a care package which has some flower that Mr. Blue suggests might help him. It is apparent by the communications that Mr. Blue is not fully cognizant as to the extent of Bruce's problem, because after Bruce tells him of the failure of the experiment Mr. Blue tells him he needs more data.

Bruce is working at the bottling plant of a soda company while in Brazil. There is an incident where he accidentally cuts himself and rushes to shut down production before his blood contaminates the production. But he misses one bottle which escapes and is sent along with the rest of the good batch to the USA.

Where is Stan Lee?: Stan Lee plays the unfortunate victim who comes across the contaminated bottle. He takes a sip and says "Wow!"




It is that incident in which the man comes down with gamma sickness that leads General Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt) to discover that Bruce is hiding out in Brazil.  Ross has been searching for Bruce for some time.  Wanting to capture Bruce, Ross sends in a crack team of commandos, led by Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth).




But Bruce figures out what is happening and goes on the run.  And in the process, the days without incident reverts to 1.  He turns into the Hulk and does some damage to Blonsky's team.  




Blonsky initially thinks that Bruce has an ally. But after conferring with the general after his failure, Blonsky is given the rundown.  Bruce was working on a project that the General, unbeknownst initially to Bruce, was to create a super soldier, based off original experiments circa WWII. (Although not stated in this movie, it is obviously a reference to the experiment that created Captain America, I think.) The General helps Blonsky become more prepared for his next encounter with Bruce by giving him some low level injections of the same formula that Bruce had.

Meanwhile, Bruce returns to America and hooks up with his girlfriend Dr. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), who just happens to be the General's daughter.  She helps him collect the data that he needs that was supposedly lost at the initial incident that created the Hulk.

But Bruce and Betty have been betrayed by Betty's current boyfriend and Banner is once again trapped as the General tries to recapture him.  Of course, in the guise of the Hulk, Banner once again proves  to be a formidable opponent.  Even an attack of a technologically advanced sound wave cannon fails to subdue him.  In the process of the battle the Hulk severely injures Blonsky. 

Eventually Bruce makes his way to the university where he meets the mysterious Mr. Blue who turns out to be Professor Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson) [who is dressed in a blue t-shirt... again, cute...] The professor tells him that he has developed an antidote for Bruce's condition, but that it may only be effective for one specific transformation.  The first attempt proves to be a success. But the professor reveals that he had previous test subjects using Bruce's blood samples. Bruce insists that the blood samples be destroyed.

Meanwhile Blonsky is on the hunt to find Bruce for another encounter.  This time it is a success. Bruce is captured and Blonsky forces the professor to inject what he got from Bruce into him.  The result is the anti-Hulk villain (finally) Abomination. (OK, so up to this point Blonsky was still somewhat a villain, as well as the General himself somewhat, but one really needs a super villain in these movies.) The Blonsky/Abomination doesn't  have the moral fiber that Bruce/Hulk has however and proceeds to do some serious havoc. Which causes Bruce to plead with the General to let him go so he can stop Abomination. And thus we get the ultimate battle. Destruction ensues.




And The Credits Roll: In this film, the teaser comes before the credits roll, actually.  Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr) approaches the General as he is getting drunk in a bar to tell him that a team is being put together. (A preview of the future which anticipates The Avengers.)

The Incredible Hulk  doesn't have quite the appeal in my opinion as the previous installment in the series. How much of that had to do with Edward Norton's  vision for the character (he was very involved in the shaping of this movie, part of the contract he had signed when he agreed to do it), I can't say.

This may be the reason why man say that if you are going to watch the MCU movies that it is OK just to skip over this one.  Being the completist that I am, I HAD to watch it.  But in retrospect I can say it won't deteriorate from the story line if you decide to jump to Iron Man 2 and leave this one on the shelf. The only thing you'll miss out on is the origin of the Hulk, and a fairly decent climatic battle.


Well folks, that's it for this session in the Marvel world.  Drive safely.




Sunday, January 7, 2024

MCU Sunday #1: Iron Man

Preface: As promised last year, I plan to review every single currently available movie in what is known as the  Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) over the year 2024. These will appear in order of their release over that time period. This is the first installment. (Oh, and by the way, after I've exhausted all of the currently available MCU movies I will be rounding out the year with some of the other available movies made from the Marvel comics pantheon)

Notes: In each of the MCU installments you will be seeing references to two recurring events that occur in nearly every MCU movie.

Where is Stan Lee?: Stan Lee was the driving genius behind Marvel Comics.  He usually shows up in a cameo.  Sometimes these are so quick you gotta be sure you don't blink. Occasionally he gets a line  of dialogue.

And the Credits Roll: You should always stay in the theater for the credits when watching a MCU movie, because during the credits and at the end there is a teaser (or two) that is worth the wait.  Often they were a teaser for the next installment of the films.

MCU Sunday: Part I:

I have to admit that I missed this first installment of the MCU movies in the theater. I'm not sure what the circumstances were that prevented it at this juncture.  I regularly went to superhero movies ever since the days I first started going to movies on my own back in the early 80's.  But Iron Man did not make my viewing list for films in 2008.  

As I stated in my post on this site last year (The Marvel-ous Past), I have always enjoyed superhero stuff, especially those done by Marvel Comics.  And I had seen all of the Tobey Maguire Spiderman movies as well as those of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.

I didn't really get into those movies that are now considered part of the "Marvel Comics Universe" and it's ensuing timeline and story line until The Incredible Hulk. And even then, I did not watch them all in the theater.  The reason for that was I was going through a particularly troublesome time in my life, with the onset of glaucoma discouraging me from going to the theater, as well as a brief period of unemployment.   

But I did manage to watch them all on the small screen.  Let me say this for the record.  Although they are still entertaining, nothing beats seeing all this stuff on a movie screen. (I used to go to a LOT of movies when I was younger, including comedies and straightforward dramas.  These days I only venture into theaters for movies that promise a bunch of explosions and special effects... like Marvel superhero movies)




Iron Man (2008):

So, the movie begins with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) in transit in a military convoy.  The convoy gets attacked by enemy fire and Tony is injured and the rest of the convoy apparently killed.

Fade to a few days prior.  Here we find that Tony is the head of a corporation whose main business is creating advanced weapons.  Tony is a pretty unlikable character at the beginning.  He is self-obsessed, egotistical and manipulative. And he also doesn't really give a rat's ass about responsibility, as evidenced by the fact that while he is being awarded a prestigious award, he is in the casino gambling and hitting on women.


 Flash forward . The next morning Tony is working on some project after having spent the night with a reporter.  His secretary/Jack-of-all-trades, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), tries to get him on his way to a meeting he has scheduled across the globe. Eventually she gets him on his way, although he is still not entirely focused on the task at hand.

Then we get back to the present.  Tony has been captured by a tribal rebel faction whose goal is to get a weapon from Tony that will match the one he has been supplying to their adversaries.  To this point he is forced, along with another captive, Yinsen (Shaun Toub), to create said weapon.  Although he is being monitored, Tony instead makes a suit that will incorporate various technologies that will eventually transform him into Iron Man.

After successively defeating the tribal faction with the help of his new suit, Tony returns to the States, where he has a press conference informing the world that Stark Industries is going to cease making weapons and focus on other activities, much to the chagrin of Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges), the former partner of Tony's father, and still de facto the second in command of Stark Industries.

Forthwith Tony has a change of heart and becomes involved in trying to change the world for the better. He has plans to give the company and his image a makeover.  He attends a charity event, where the reporter he had a liaison with prior to his capture informs him that someone delivered some of his company's weapons to the rebel faction he had been a prisoner of. They had used those weapons to attack the village of his co-conspirator, Yinsen, apparently as an act of revenge.

Where is Stan Lee?:  At the event Tony passes an older gentlemen who is standing with several attractive younger women, only his back showing to Tony.  Quite naturally, possibly, Tony mistakes the man for someone else, Hugh Hefner.

Tony uses his Iron Man suit to attack the rebels. But since only he knows that he is Iron Man at this point and even the US armed forces don't know he is on their side, several Air Force planes try to attack him.  In an effort to call them off, Tony has to reveal to his friend and military liaison Col. Rhodes (Terence Howard) of his true identity.

Eventually, Tony learns that his partner, Stane, was behind the abduction and that he, Stane, had intended that they kill Tony.  That having failed, Stane has to take things in his own hands.  Using Tony's technology, Stane creates his own Iron Man suit, which of course, leads to the final confrontation.

And the Credits Roll: Tony walks in to his laboratory where he encounters Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) waiting for him. "I am Iron Man.  You think you're the only superhero in the world?" he asks.  Tony is invited to join the Avenger Initiative.



Iron Man is a great start to the MCU series. For those of us who enjoy superhero movies, it represented a new turn in the presentation of the Marvel pantheon. One of the impetuses of the Marvel Comics company to form the MCU  was a frustration with how Hollywood had presented some of it's other franchise heroes. (Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, and the less than well-received Ang Lee version of The Incredible Hulk (Hulk).

Fantastic Press' Top 100 Comic Book Movies ranks this first Iron Man film as #6 in the pantheon of comic book movies.  Although the author suggests that the last part of the movie "degenerates slightly into rock'em sock'em robot territory".  (And just what. pray tell, is wrong with rock'em sock'em robots?)  It also says that the film adheres to it's "emotional core". (I will be coming back to 100 Comic Book Movies frequently during this series.  I highly recommend it,  It's very entertaining.)



 The old Plymouth is ready to roll.  Got to get out there and fight the good fight for truth, justice and... sorry, wrong superhero... but I got to fight for smething.  Maybe a good burger.

Drive safely, folks.