Monday, April 27, 2015

Riske Business: Adam and Patrick on the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Avengers: Age of Ultron

by Adam Riske
I like to talk to Patrick about the MCU as often as I get my eyes examined – once a year. Boom!

Adam: I've been re-watching every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie leading up to Avengers: Age of Ultron and, surprisingly, I find myself enjoying some of them more than I did the first time around. I'm watching most of them for just the second time (e.g. Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor). In some cases, I feel like I'm watching them for the first time since I remember so little about them, which leads me to think they are a bit ephemeral -- i.e. entertaining, but not particularly "for the ages."

What do you think the legacy will be of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in film history?

Patrick: I actually think they're going to have a pretty big place in film history, if for no other reason than because Marvel has attempted and pulled off something that's never really been done before and had tremendous success with it. Do I think the individual movies will stand out? Probably not ("I remember where I was when I first pirated Thor: The Dark World" - adults of the future). The sum will be remembered much more than the parts. Not only did Marvel help shape the modern day blockbuster, but also this stupid "shared universe" business that every other studio is scrambling to copy. If that catches on (everyone wants one/is planning one, but we have yet to see if any of those plans will see the light of day) it will be another big way that Marvel changed the shape of movies, if only for a while.

A lot of that is business stuff, though. The movies themselves, while often fun and entertaining, will have much less of a legacy (I think) than their model. But isn't that ok? Most pop entertainment tends to be, as you say, somewhat ephemeral.

Adam: Eh, I dunno. Not Park. Not Batman. Not Dom & Brian. I tend to agree with your point, though.

Patrick: There are those movies that break through, but a lot of blockbuster-type films are happy just to entertain for a few hours. I'm with you on stuff like The Incredible Hulk and Thor being pretty forgettable, but I think there are a few Marvel movies that stick out -- the first Iron Man, the second Captain America, at least an hour of The Avengers. When you compare that to the rest of blockbuster culture as a whole, they're probably at or above the average.

Adam: You’re right, yo. They are better than average as the sum of their parts.
Patrick: Why do you think you're enjoying more this time?

Adam: Because they really do work well when watched in succession with each other. It feels much more like one big movie that way. On their own, many of the Marvel movies have underwhelmed me but when watched together I can forgive a lot of their faults, such as the set-up of the Avengers in Phase One which now feel like they're leading to something as opposed to feeling like they are merely disrupting the movies that they are in. That was what I felt when I saw Iron Man 2 or Thor the first time around. Now “the big movie” is more important and not what is happening on a micro level in Iron Man 2 between Robert Downey Jr. and Mickey Rourke or Sam Rockwell. Remember when Mickey Rourke was in these? His comeback seems like a long time ago already.

I'm also admiring how well the actors in the Avengers group really took to their roles right from the beginning. Like Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark and Chris Hemsworth is Thor. There was not even a warm-up period. They just were perfectly cast and killed it right from the beginning.

Patrick: Marvel has been pretty great about their casting from the start. When they announced Chris Hemsworth, I was all "Who?" and then saw the movie and he's GREAT. I enjoy the first Thor enough, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't like it at all if not for his performance. Same goes for Chris Evans, who, because of the kinds of parts he had played prior to Captain America seemed miscast when he was first announced. Nope! He's the best. Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye is a bit of a dud, but I don't think he's had a part to play. Every indication is that that gets rectified in Age of Ultron, too.

Adam: Hemsworth is the best. I also appreciate how good Evans is as Captain America. His earnestness is the polar opposite of how he played Johnny Storm in those Fantastic Four movies and he was the best part of those debacles. It shows that he has some range. I’m curious about Renner; to me, he doesn’t seem to want to be there unlike the rest of the cast. He looks mildly embarrassed as Hawkeye I think. Speaking of casting, do you miss Edward Norton as Bruce Banner?

Patrick: I do and I don't miss Edward Norton. I liked him in the part and that movie is fine, but I really only wanted him to continue in the role to satisfy my own OCD. I felt like if Marvel is going to all this trouble to build continuity and create a shared universe, it was a weird move to replace one of the major players going into The Avengers. It sounded like it couldn't be avoided for behind-the-scenes reasons, but it still gives me anxiety because I'm irrevocably broken. I like Mark Ruffalo in the part too, though, and feel like he does weird and quiet and passive in a way that Edward Norton -- whose take on the Bruce Banner was a little jockish -- didn't.

Adam: I’m a fan of both actors, but when I see Edward Norton I think he’s going to turn into The Incredible Dick just as much as The Incredible Hulk. Figuratively, of course.
Better Rhodes? Terrence Howard or Don Cheadle? I'm team Howard all the way. Howard was great in the first Iron Man. He always seemed to me like an audience surrogate for those of us who were more impatient with Tony than in admiration of his prickish behavior. #CanYouJustGetToThePlaneOnTimeTony!!!??? Don Cheadle is a good actor but he gives me nothing as Rhodes. I feel like he’s phoning it in.

Patrick: I love Don Cheadle, but I'm definitely a fan of Rhodes 1.0. The relationship between him and Tony Stark in the first Iron Man is one the best things about the movie. He seems like a guy who genuinely wants to get into trouble.

Adam: It’s funny that we both like Howard but have such different reads on his performance. Huh. So, what are you looking forward to the most about Age of Ultron?

Patrick: Right now there's nothing specific about Age of Ultron I'm looking forward to.

Adam: Wah, Wah, Waaahhh!

Patrick: I'm excited to see it in theory because I like Marvel and I like these superheroes and these actors and I enjoyed the first movie and every other possible reason I could have to be excited to see it, but I'm not all that crazy excited. Mostly I think I'm curious to see where the series goes from here, as I know this is going to be at least a partial reset and set up the pieces for the next Phase. I'm also curious to see if Joss Whedon has ironed out some of the problems the first movie had; I want this to be Spider-Man 2 to his Spider-Man (the Sam Raimi ones, not that I really need to clarify).

How about you? As someone who has been lukewarm-to-pleased with this whole MCU, do you find yourself looking forward to Age of Ultron more than you were the original Avengers? And has there been a Marvel movie that you did a complete turnaround this time through?

Adam: I’m looking forward to Age of Ultron more than I was the original Avengers almost entirely due to these re-watches. I've become less jaded about Marvel and its effect on film culture in the years since the first Avengers movie and I'm more able to accept these movies on their own terms and not what they mean to cinema as a whole. I think the aspect I'm most looking forward to with Age of Ultron is that there is going to be a rift within the Avengers group (at least I think that's what's supposed to happen), the prospect of which I find interesting. Also, Elizabeth Olsen. Always Elizabeth Olsen.

As of this writing, I'm still making my way through re-watching the MCU movies (I'm on Iron Man 3 right now, which is the only one I think flat-out sucks – it’s like the type of movie you watch on Sunday at 5pm when you’re dreading work the next day) but I was surprised how much more I liked Thor than I did the first time around. I really embraced how goofy the whole thing is on this recent watch and I'm looking forward to re-watching the sequel because I remember liking that one more than the original. Oddly enough, I found the first Iron Man (after the cave stuff) and the first Captain America (which slows down for me after a brisk first half) to be the tougher ones to get through so far, which is nuts because I think they're probably the consensus choices for the best two MCU movies that led up to The Avengers. I have weird taste.

Patrick: Yeah you do. I haven't gone back and revisited Thor: The Dark World since seeing it in the theater, but I think I still like the original better because it does more for the character. For me, the character is that whole series.

Adam: Who is your favorite Avenger and why? I really dig Captain America for the aforementioned earnestness. I really respond to that in characters, which is probably why I love Dom Toretto more than most people. Black Widow is creeping up there too. She gets better as a character with each new movie she’s in.

Patrick: I think my favorite screen Avenger is Captain America because he's got the most to play against. He's the one who doesn't fit in to today's ironic, cynical world, and I love the way the movies and Evans' performance play him as a good man out of time without making him a boring square. I think he's the hardest sell to modern audiences, and to see just how successfully the teams behind these movies have translated him to the screen is really something.

Adam: Which of the upcoming slate of MCU movies are you most anticipating?

Patrick: Hard to say which MCU movie I'm most excited about. I'll say Avengers: Age of Ultron right now, just because it's the next one. If I'm being honest, it's probably the next Captain America -- but only, if the rumors are to be believed, if Spider-Man shows up. I don't love the "Civil War" storyline in the comics and, unlike you, I'm not particularly interested in there being a rift in The Avengers (I want everyone to get along all the time, just like I don't want movie couples to break up), but I can't wait to see how Marvel handles my all-time favorite superhero.

I'm also excited for AKA Jessica Jones on Netflix. I like what Marvel did with Daredevil, but I'm curious to see if it's just a fluke or if they really do have a handle on this 'street-level superhero' universe they're setting up. Plus, a female superhero! It's about fucking time. And no, Elektra, you don't count. Krysten Ritter has such an offbeat approach to every role that I feel like she's an inspired choice, mostly because I really can't imagine what that's going to look like. And that's interesting.

Adam: Krysten Ritter looks like Anne Hathaway had a baby with Halloween.
Patrick: Is there one you're really looking forward to? I mean, it's planned out through, like, 2020. I get tired just thinking about it.

Adam: In theory I'm really looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy 2, though I worry I'll be Chris Pratt'd out by that point. #He'sSexistAgainstBryceDinoHoward (shutup, Joss Whedon- - isn’t there like a director code where you’re not supposed to shit on other people’s movies like that?). The first one was so much fun and I'm a big dork for people being friends on screen so it hit a sweet spot for me. The only way to not like GotG, I'm convinced, is by seeing 30 prior days of movies straight in a movie theater. I also want to see what Marvel does with Spider-Man, but the Raimi Spider-Mans will always be my Spider-Mans.

Not being familiar with the comics, I'm going to have to wait on the announcements of the cast and directors for movies like Black Panther (though I know it stars Jackie Robinson), Captain Marvel and Inhumans to gauge how excited I am for those.

Am I crazy for wanting a stand-alone Black Widow movie? I think she could carry a movie on her own.

Patrick: Black Widow should have her own movie. They could do a really cool spy movie that would feel different than everything else they have right now. I suspect by the time they figure out that there's an audience for female superhero movies (post-Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman), Scarlett Johansson will have finished her contract and will be too expensive to get back.

Would you rather live in the universe of Cap 1 or Thor 1 (specifically Asgard)?

Patrick: Asgard. Rene Russo. Jaimie Alexander. Dutch angles. What's not to like?

Adam: Cap 1. Dames in uniform, get to be at the opening of '50s diners 10 years later, steroids for men with good hearts.

Would you rather go out to dinner with Nick Fury or Hawkeye?

Patrick: From what I hear, Hawkeye will be way cooler after Age of Ultron. Can I wait to give my answer?

Adam: I don't even need to wait until Age of Ultron. I would pick Hawkeye. I roll my eye every time Nick Fury shows up. I do not like that character.

Would you rather give Thanos the tesseract or join Hyrda?

Patrick: I want to be on a winning team. Hail Hydra!

Adam: I'd give Thanos the Tesseract because Hydra be Nazis, yo! Thanos be all "Muto Panacako!"

Would you rather Captain America wound up in 2 Fast 2 Furious or Dom Torretto in Thor? #PocketsAin'tEmptyCap

Patrick: 2Cap2CuriousAboutMiamiin2003

Adam: I would love either, so I'll pick Dom in Thor because I want him to make Loki say grace.

Would you rather spend 15 min in Iron Man's suit or become the Hulk for 15 minutes?

Patrick: Iron Man. I could never handle being the Hulk. I don't even like to take Tylenol PM.

Adam: Hulk. I'm bad with mechanics and suits. It took me two days to figure out how to set up my Roku and you just stick that into a TV and connect to your Wifi. I'd be dumb when it comes to Stark Industries tech. I'm sure of it.

Adam’s MCU Movie Rankings (from favorite to least favorite)

1) Guardians of the Galaxy
2) Captain America: First Avenger
3) Captain America: Winter Soldier
4) Thor: The Dark World
5) Iron Man
6) Thor
7) The Avengers
8) The Incredible Hulk
9) Iron Man 2
10) Iron Man 3

Patrick’s MCU Movie Rankings:

This is such a copout, but I don't know if I can rank the Marvel movies. My feelings change all the time. I know GotG, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the first Iron Man and the first Captain America all rank near the top. Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World and The Incredible Hulk are at the bottom. Iron Man 3 and The Avengers are somewhere in the middle. There! Ranked! YOU'RE WELCOME.


  1. I really enjoyed Ultron (it came out last week here in the old continent) but at times I couldn't help but see the machinations behind it all. Like the story doesn't move on its own, certain stuff happens because it needs to for the next eight movies and because the actors' contracts are a certain length. But I guess that feeling is just because I read all the news and internet rumours. I really shouldn't but I just can't help myself.

    I've really liked every Marvel movie (maybe with the exception of IM2), but then again I'm such a nerd for Marvel that I actually keep an up-to-date list detailing the correct order to watch each movie, one-shot, tv episode and tie-in comic to line up the continuity perfectly. So maybe I'm not looking at them from the same perspective that sane people are.

    1. Without going into spoilers, just curious, what's the correct order for continuity? I'm impressed that you're doing that.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. If you're watching just the movies, there's no need to see them in any other order than by release date. But it's different if you factor in the TV shows and one-shots.

      Some of the events in TIH, IM2 and Thor happen simultaneously, and the preferred order is:
      Iron Man 2
      One-Shot: A Funny Thing...
      The Incredible Hulk
      One-Shot: The Consultant

      Factoring in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Thor: TDW comes before AoS S1E8 and CA:TWS fits between S1E16 and S1E17. Ultron probably ties into this and next week's episodes, we'll see.

      I uploaded the up-to-date list here if anyone's interested.

  2. Adam: "Because they really do work well when watched in succession with each other. It feels much more like one big movie that way. On their own, many of the Marvel movies have underwhelmed me but when watched together I can forgive a lot of their faults, such as the set-up of the Avengers in Phase One which now feel like they're leading to something as opposed to feeling like they are merely disrupting the movies that they are in."

    This is why I think Marvel used the idea of story arcs found in modern television and then pushed it to film. Each movie is an episode. Some are good, some are bad but when you stand back and look at the season, it's supposed to come together as one.

    But when Avengers 2 and Ant Man open within weeks of one another, Phase 2 and 3 feel like they're blending together rather than reaching an epic ending for the second series.

    News of an extended cut of Avengers 2 coming to blu-ray makes sense since the film is 2 hrs and 15 minutes and the initial locked cut was 3 hours. From all accounts of friends overseas, the character of Ultron goes from an idea to an (spoilers) enemy in about 3 minutes of screen time. Too rushed.

    1. "This is why I think Marvel used the idea of story arcs found in modern television and then pushed it to film. Each movie is an episode."

      The AV Club made this very argument back when the first Avengers opened. :)

    2. Well, I'd say it's not so much a TV model for the movies as going back to the source and modeling the whole universe (movies, TV, shorts) after the comics.

      The characters all have their own solo comics but they can guest-spot on each other's books and then there are the big crossover events. There's limited series for the events (movies), ongoing comic books to tell long-running stories (TV shows), and one-shots for smaller stories (that's what they're calling the short films). You can read (watch) any one of them individually, but together they fit into a bigger whole.

  3. Fun chat guys - I'm about to embark down MCU Lane so quick question Adam: What order are you watching them? Release date? Chronologically?

    I'm somewhere slightly below Patrick on the excitement level - as much as I've enjoyed the MCU movies, Guardians of the Galaxy is the only one I felt anything close to excitement for and that's only because I'm Canadian and have an unnatural affinity for raccoons. The Avengers sat on my blu-ray shelf unwatched for over a year before I finally got to it - I dunno, they're great and all but never anything I get all jazzed up to see like, say, a new Fast and Furious (sorry 2012 Sol, that's your future) movie.

    A few more random thoughts:

    (a) Black Widow should have her own damn movie - I'm glad she was such a big part of Cap 2 but c'mon!

    (b) Krysten Ritter looks like Anne Hathaway had a baby with Halloween?! Amazing.

    (c) I should have said a couple more random thoughts.

    So will you guys actually brave the crowds to see AoU on opening night or do you wait a few days to let it cool down - me, the latter, but I don't mind being a little behind the Zeitgeist.

    1. Sup Sol! I'm watching them in order of release date.

  4. I would definitely rather be Iron Man over Hulk. Flight, energy blasts and regenerative properties FTW! But 15 minutes isn't much time.

  5. I know it's uncool to say, but I don't have any interest in a solo Black Widow movie - the character's just too ultra-competent and cucumber-cool, and any trace of angst about the "red in her ledger" bores me. I'd much rather watch Lady Sif go on an interplanetary adventure, or have Spider-Man just happen to be a girl in this timeline or something. Widow's fine in the ensemble, sure, but she intrigues me not at all.

    Ruffalo's an awesome actor and his performance in the first Avengers was interesting, but I loved how Norton looked haunted all the time, and I want to see more of Liv Tyler's character. And I'm Team Cheadle all the way; I loved how the second half of IM3 turned into a quasi-buddy Iron Men movie between the two of them, and how athletic and badass he was in that green polo shirt, whereas Howard was just too chill to picture joining in.

    1. I laughed out loud when I read "red in her ledger." I laugh every time I think about that phrase for some reason.

    2. ^ Then you might love my instinctive understanding of Taylor Swift's "Blank Space". It's a double entendre, right? She's saying she has a blank space on her social calendar where a man can fit... and also a blank space down south where a man can fit. That's totally what she means, right? I've had people give me weird looks over this, but I'm pretty sure Bill Shakespeare and Joss Whedon would agree. :P

  6. I don't quite have the time to watch 10 movies this week (a bod this good takes time, am I right ladies?........ladies?), but I have downloaded all the Avenger-centric podcasts that I listen to. What did Patrick and Doug think about the Avengers 3 years ago? Let's reminisce.

  7. I have a wierd apathy to the MCU. I enjoy most of those movies, and am usually excited to see them, but I literally never think about them, something you guys alluded to here. And as excited I was for the first AVENGERS, I have at best a lukewarm interest in ultron. I have plans to see it this weekend, but if I don't get to it I'll be fine with that. I'll go see it soon, but that's more of a function of not having shit to do. But I really could never get into a heated debate with some one who doesn't like these movies because I just don't like them enough to defend them. Really odd, conflicting feelings about movies that probably don't deserve the amount of thought I've put into this paragraph.

    1. And that's not to say that I somehow am above these movies, because I'm not. I enjoy them as much as the bext guy, they just aren't particularly deep movies. Outside of a few exceptional moments scattered throughout the movies, they really don't have much on their mind.

    2. I see where you're coming from. I think it speaks to what you are a "geek" about. I'm actually quite jealous of people who get crazy excited for Marvel because I want to share that experience. Then I realize, that I get to that level of excitement for something like Jurassic Park or Fast & Furious and I'm reminded that I am just a "geek" for a different thing.

  8. As a non-comics guy who's seen every MCU movie and TV episode to date, I admit to some enduring mystification as to just who these Ultron and Vision fellows are. Evil robots, I think? (I've avoided all the previews.) Going into the first Avengers, I already knew who pretty much all the characters were, and definitely the major ones, so I'll be going into this one kinda blind. This is... exciting, I think?

    1. All I know is that Vision is married to Jennifer Connelly :-)