Thursday, August 4, 2011


For a while, I was on top of my Marvel movie game. Or close enough, at least.

It started with X-Men at the turn of the century--saw it, loved it.

Blade II came out two years later. Hadn't seen the first one in 1998; wouldn't see the last one in 2004. Not a fan of vampires; hadn't even heard of the comic character to begin with. Optional. Didn't bother.

Then it was Spider-Man. Spidey was key. Saw it, loved it.

Took advantage of the opportunity to introduce myself to a popular character I knew nothing about with Daredevil. I remember virtually nothing about this film, if that's any indication. But I had seen it.

X2, on the other hand, stuck with me. Two films in a row doing awesome justice to my favorite Marvel series. Keep 'em coming.

Hulk was not so exciting. Hulk smoosh. I'm not terribly fond of the character, and in fact, I'm not even sure if I stayed awake through the whole thing or even watched this at all. I have no recollection whatsoever of what this movie is like. I just recall seeing the 2008 reboot and thinking, "Wow, I liked the 2003 film so much better."

The Punisher came along in 2004, but because it was about a character I'd never heard of and was clearly for grown-ups, I never gave it a second thought, nor Punisher: War Zone in 2008.

Enter Spider-Man 2. Enjoyed it even more than the first movie. Now we were ready to start seeing some continuity between the Marvel films, or so I hoped. Keep 'em coming.

Elektra was fun, but harmless. And so, the reign of toothless Marvel movies began. If it hadn't already. I hadn't seen Punisher and Blade, after all.

I liked Fantastic Four. The aspirations of its fantastic title were not fully realized, but I liked it. The film got me interested in the characters, even if the story left no lasting impact.

2006 brought along the oft-maligned X-Men: The Last Stand. I am a sucker for cool action sequences. I liked it. I thought the pacing was almost intolerably fast, a complaint I don't think I've ever had about a movie. Too much in too short a span of time: new characters; various plot points; action sequences begging for a cooldown period afterwards. A grand finale to a grand series shoehorned into barely enough time to set up the final conflict in the previous film, with an ending that hinted at a sequel anyhow. Like slamming your car into a tree at high speed and pretending you'll just stretch out the hood back to normal and continue driving as usual.

2007. Ghost Rider. Who? Why were we wasting time with these second-stringer (or third-stringer, as far as I knew) characters when we hadn't heard from half of the Avengers yet? I caught bits and pieces of the movie on TV--it had nothing to do with the Marvel universe I knew. And where was my Spider-Man 2 sequel?

Also 2007. Spider-Man 3. Oh, there it is. At last, a chance for some crossover continuity? Or at least an exploration of some fresh villains who were overdue for the spotlight? Well, no and yes. I was happy to meet Venom and Sandman, but it became apparent that the film was too overwhelmed by the incorporation of so many continuity threads from the comics to look beyond itself...or to the future, for that matter. The movie was fun, but it simultaneously introduced too much at once and left too little to work with for an easy sequel to happen. So much for that franchise.

Then we received Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. While I commend them for not naming the film Fantastic Four Two, I don't have much more praise to offer. It's not a bad movie, but it lacks any real oomph. Things happen, and Galactus and the Silver Surfer offer some interesting story possibilities, but the whole production felt like less like a feature film and more like a bunch of people getting together to have fun for themselves on a big budget, not unlike Star Trek: Nemesis.

I had come to accept that Marvel movies were just there anymore. No aspirations to anything greater than an hour and a half of passable entertainment. Iron Man rescued me in my hour of need. Repulsor-hands-down my favorite Marvel movie of them all, and possibly even my favorite of any comic book movie I'd seen. Action, humor, acting, great pacing, a compelling story, and continuity. There were hints that this movie was not alone in the universe. I was psyched for more, whatever more might be. Keep 'em coming.

Well, I got The Incredible Hulk next. The mindlessness and irrelevance of it all just didn't compare with the experience of its 2003 predecessor that I'm not even sure I saw.

I wasn't very hopeful about X-Men Origins: Wolverine--the fact that it was a prequel confirmed my suspicion that the X-Men series was dead, but had too many viable and perfectly cast actors aboard to give up on entirely. Once again, I found myself wondering what the point was--the action scenes were entertaining enough, but where was the series headed? An endless line of character-centric prequels building backstory for a sequel that would never happen? I never got the sense that a trip to Japan with Wolverine or a stroll down memory lane with Magneto would satisfy audience's curiosities so much as beg them to keep paying attention to a franchise that would take a very talented director and scriptwriter to properly revive.

2010 marked the return of my new favorite Marvel movie hero in Iron Man 2, which we already talked about pretty extensively. Allow me to stress once again the role continuity played in my enjoyment of the film: even if the Iron Man series hit a dead-end, so much groundwork had been lain for cameos, spinoffs, and further references to other characters and events that any Marvel movie wouldn't just hold its own, but contribute to the development of an unprecedented movie universe whose greater story could be just as interesting as that of any given film.

I then proceeded to miss Thor, X-Men: First Class, and Captain America.

Thor was never entirely my style. I'm not big into mythology, Norse or otherwise, and nothing about the characters, story, or movie itself was particularly appealing to me, other than the fact that it was all somehow connected to the other Marvel movies. I was willing to go to the theater if anybody offered (which they did, but of course I was unavailable), but I was also willing to wait for it to come to the small screen (which I never did). Ah, well. I skipped Blade and Punisher; I was sure it wouldn't hurt to skip this one.

My interest in the X-Men has declined a bit over the past few years, but not to the point where I expected to completely disregard X-Men: First Class. I heard it was fantastic. I didn't like the look of any of the actors or their costumes. Perhaps I was still thinking of Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Ian McKellan, or perhaps after Star Trek 2009 I was wary of another origin story with a completely new cast that certainly looked like a reboot barely four years after the series' last installment.

By the time I realized Captain America was in theaters, everyone and their sidekick had already seen the film, or was otherwise occupied. I had to settle for a Captain America-themed doughnut from Dunkin' Donuts, which I didn't even eat because it was jelly-filled. I can't stand jelly-filled.

Now I'm feeling disconnected from this universe I was growing to love. My only initial regret about missing Thor was that I'd probably missed out on a tag at the end related to a movie that would be more up my alley. I could write off X-Men: First Class as a vestige of the old X-Men movie series, or as an unrelated blip on the Marvel radar that surely wouldn't relate to the other films until the heroes were older. Captain America, though...Cap is the hero we've been missing from theaters for the past decade, and he's the pivotal character who ties past, present, and future together in the Marvel universe.

I got out to see Harry Potter; I can still get out to see Captain America. As for the others, this might be the impetus I need to get a card at a local library with a DVD collection. There's no way I'm letting a new Ghost Rider flick hit the theaters next year without watching the first one all the way through.

Oh, and Thor. Should probably see that one, too.

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