Tag Archives: Marvel Cinematic Universe

All You Need to Know About Captain Marvel (And Some Stuff You Don’t) Before Her Movie

Captain Marvel

There’s a movie coming out in March 2019 that you may have heard about. Captain Marvel, starring Brie Larson as the titular superhero, is an origin story for the character prior to her appearance in the next Avengers movie (don’t take this as confirmation of her appearance, rather an educated guess based on the proximity of her movie to the reported release date of the as-yet untitled fourth Avengers movie). As the second high profile female led solo superhero movie, this is a film that has a lot of potential to bring in those previously unfamiliar with the character and the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself (more on this later). The first question to answer is a simple one…

Who is Captain Marvel?

That’s an interesting question, with no real easy answer. There have been numerous characters using that name over the past seventy years, one of whom was created by Fawcett Comics as a Superman analogue is now owned by DC. You may have seen a trailer for Shazam starring Zachary Levi, the current name the character has taken to avoid a lawsuit with Marvel Comics, who got the copyright for the term in the 1960s, despite the character predating Marvel’s first Captain Marvel.

That’s right. Marvel’s first Captain Marvel.

You see the character appearing in the movie isn’t the first, or second, person to wear the mantle. She’s the seventh. Yup. Carol Danvers has a lot more history than you would expect, but before we get to her, let’s take a look at the other six Captain Marvels from Marvel Comics (there is a very good chance that some of these will be included in the movie, even if just a wink and a nod).

Captain Marvel: Mar-Vell

First appearing in the 1960’s, Captain Marvel was created by, who else, Stan Lee and designed Gene Colan, taking advantage of the lapsed “Captain Marvel” trademark from the Fawcett/DC character. This Captain Marvel was from a fiction alien race called the Kree,  whose real name was Mar-Vell. The character became a member of the superhero teams the Defenders and the Avengers, before eventually succumbing to cancer in the 1980’s. Significantly, this is a death that has never been permanently undone (a rare occurrence in comics), though his ghost has made a few appearances. Mar-Vell briefly returned to life twice in the 2010’s sacrificing himself to save lives both times. Mar-Vell will be played by Jude Law in the 2019 movie.

Captain Marvel: Monica Rambeau

Debuting in 1982, Monica Rambeau is a former New Orleans police officer who, upon developing super powers in an accident, used the moniker to fight crime until ceding the name to her successor and took on the name Photon. As of this writing, she is still alive and goes by the name Spectrum.

Captain Marvel: Genis-Vell

Originally appearing in 1996 as Legacy, Genis-Vell is the son of the original Captain Marvel conceived through genetic engineering with DNA samples of Mar-Vell and his lover and artificially aged to maturity. Look, it’s comics. Not everything makes sense, but the Powers That Be probably wanted a biological link to the original character. Genis-Vell eventually turns insane and threatens to destroy the universe. He is currently dead, having been killed in 2006.

Captain Marvel: Phyla-Vell

Genis-Vell’s younger sister was created in 2004 in a very convoluted and confusing way (because it’s comics). She fights with her brother during his period of insanity, restoring his mind in the process. At some point she adopts the name Martyr and joins the Guardians of the Galaxy before sacrificing herself for them in 2010.

Captain Marvel: Khn’nr

A sleeper agent of an alien race, the Skrulls, who are the enemies of the Kree. He was brainwashed into believing he was Mar-Vell and subsequently dies shortly after he is introduced in in 2007. Not really worth including here.

Captain Marvel: Noh-Varr

First appearing in Marvel Boy #1 in 2000, we have Noh-Varr, another Kree soldier and crew member of the space craft The Marvel which is shot down and brought to Earth with only one survivor. Noh-Varr eventually joins a (secretly) evil team of Avengers where he takes on the Captain Marvel mantle in 2009. Upon discovering the true nature of the team he leaves and becomes The Protector.

Captain Marvel: Carol Danvers

Finally. Carol Danvers. The current Captain Marvel took up the mantle in 2012, but first appeared as a colleague of Mar-Vell in Marvel Super-Heroes #13, published in 1968. After her DNA was fused with Mar-Vell’s in an explosion, she became the first Ms. Marvel in 1977 after she developed superhuman strength, flight, stamina, durability and endurance. Carol Danvers has had a long history, often intertwined with the Avengers, the X-Men and sometimes Spider-Man. But it hasn’t been without its controversies; in  an issue of Avengers  dated 1980, she was kidnapped, brainwashed and married off to a villain, subsequently giving birth to his child. It was, and remains, a gross abuse of the character. In 1981, Chris Claremont took aim at those who allowed this to happen during Avengers Annual #10, and in a scathing sequence had Ms. Marvel rage at both her teammates and also the Marvel editorial that allowed the story to happen. And then he turned Carol Danvers into one of Marvel’s most powerful and interesting characters by telling some fantastic stories, taking the character to incredible heights. He also took her to some pretty devastating lows, such as when the X-Man Rogue stole her powers and memories (the memories were later restored by Professor X).

Carol Danvers became Binary in the early 80’s, when she was able to draw on the power of a cosmic phenomenon called a white hole (a reverse of a black hole) which in addition her Ms. Marvel power basically turned her into a godlike being (she was able to manipulate and absorb various types of energy and travel beyond light speed). Although it never happened, had she gone toe to toe with Superman at this time, I’d have put money on Carol Danvers. Her tenure as Binary lasted for around a decade, when the source of her powers was cut off, severely limiting her Binary abilities. With her cosmic powers gone, Danvers took up the name Warbird when her life would once again take a darker tale as she found solace in alcohol as the loss of her powers and memories caught up to her.

The early 2000’s saw an increased use of Carol Danvers as she featured prominently in several high profile crossover stories, leading the comic book commentary magazine Wizard to label her “[Marvel’s] premier heroine”. Which bring us to 2012, the year that Carol Danvers accepts the Captain Marvel name. In the past six years Captain Marvel has spent time grounded in New York City, has had adventures in space alone and as a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and currently serves as the commander of Alpha Flight, the team that protects Earth from all the nasties in space.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)

Oh boy. Where to start? There have been a lot of movies released under the Marvel Cinematic Universe brand (a complete and continuously updated list can be found here), and doubtless you have heard about one or two of them. But do you need to see any of them prior to seeing Captain Marvel? Well technically yes if you’re looking at things chronologically: Captain America: The First Avenger. But that’s honestly it if you want to know what happened before the movie. However, Captain Marvel does have a character that longtime viewers of the MCU will be familiar with; Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury, the future Director of the global peacekeeping entity SH.I.E.L.D., who has been involved in numerous movies thus far in the franchise. None of that is relevant for Captain Marvel, as Fury is still a young agent when he meets Carol Danvers, so while some will find it interesting to see where Fury began, where he ends won’t be a major plot point. That’s not to say the writers won’t throw in a wink to Fury’s future, however.


Comic Book Recommendations

I lied earlier. I have only one recommendation for you if you want to read some Captain Marvel: The Life Of Captain MarvelThe book is a retelling of her origin, and by all accounts is remarkably good.

How to Paint Characters the Marvel Studios Way! Celebrating the Marvel Studios Visual Development Team in April 2019

Black Panther. Thor. Captain America. You’ve seen them fight on the big screen—now, you can paint them yourself! While celebrating the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel invites fans of all ages to learn the tips and tricks of painting your favorite super heroes from the masters themselves…with a brand-new book called How to Paint Characters the Marvel Studios Way!

In this beautiful hardcover, you’ll discover insights from some of the industry’s leading concept artists. Ryan Meinerding, Charlie Wen, Andy Park, Jackson Sze, Rodney Fuentebella, Anthony Francisco and more of the artists behind The Marvel Studios Visual Development team will share their method behind creating iconic designs for all your favorite characters, from Captain America to Black Panther!

Within the stunning pages of this keepsake book, readers will learn these artists’ favorite tools of the trade, their tips for visual character development, their process of collaborating with filmmakers and other artists on the team, and the costume and props departments—and how it all comes together to create seamless film designs! Each five-ten page “character study” will take readers on a step-by-step journey through the artist’s approach to bringing a specific hero or villain to life. Not only will readers get a sense of how each artist works, from their tools to their process, they’ll also get to see how a character’s design was created—from blank page to a final approval!

Don’t miss How to Paint Characters the Marvel Studios Way, coming this spring!

How To Paint Characters the Marvel Studios Way is out April 17, 2019.

Funko Reveals Pop! Marvel Studios 10

To celebrate 10 amazing years of Marvel Studios films, Funko has created a series of ten gold chrome Marvel Pop! figures to commemorate the first decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

With so many memorable and iconic heroes, villains, and personalities in the MCU, we’ve chosen a select group of our favorite characters to re-issue in a spectacular gold chrome format.

Pop! Marvel Studios 10 will be available throughout the year.





Star Lord will be available at BoxLunch!

Movie Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

ant-man-and-the-wasp-posterThis is the palate cleanser we needed after the heaviness of Avengers: Infinity War, and like the first Ant-Man, guaranteed to leave you smiling ear to ear. However, as a film, and grading on the curve of what we expect from recent MCU movies, it falls a bit short of the recent genius of Black Panther or Thor: Ragnarok. 

But is that really fair? Do we judge the sorbet, pickled ginger, or simple fruit compared to the course before it? If you eat some apple slices after a particularly hearty main course, shouldn’t you just compare it to other apples? Ant-Man and the Wasp is a particularly good apple, even if it’s a lesser part of the feast of the MCU.

Our story centers back on Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) who, after the events of Captain America: Civil War, finds himself in the last few days of a two-year house arrest, during which time he has had no contact with Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) or Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). They are reunited after he has a vision of Janet (Michelle Pfieffer) whom Hank and Hope have been trying to rescue from the quantum realm, avoiding detection by the authorities with a truly “mobile” lab they can shrink to a rolling suitcase.

Unfortunately, their activities have also attracted the attention of Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) a former S.H.I.E.L.D. operative, who needs their tech to fix her condition which allows her to phase through solid matter, but is also extremely painful. They’re also being pursued by billionaire Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and FBI Agent Woo (Randall Park) and aided by Scott’s friends from the previous movie, led by Michael Pena. And we get a glimpse into Hank Pym’s past with the introduction of Dr. Bill Foster (Lawrence Fishburne) who previously used Pym’s technology to grow larger and become “Goliath.”

It’s a lot of characters. And most of the movie ends up being a giant game of keep-away with the lab/suitcase while our stars tell jokes and superhero wackiness ensues. While the first Ant-Man played like a generic heist film, this is more reminiscent of the specific sub-genre of a 60’s caper film which was as much about the romantic chemistry of the two leads as its plot.

Full of sight gags and visuals of little things turning big and vice versa, the film plays with its main conceit of being able to shrink and grow at will, sometimes almost to a fault. It also uses its setting of San Francisco to great effect. The film also depends on the audience being willing to accept a lot of super convenient plot turns to keep everything moving, including the biggest deus ex machina of the entire MCU to resolve its central conflict.

One of the biggest impressions we’re left with from this film is “women do it better.” Hope Van Dyne’s Wasp is infinitely better at her job than Scott is at being Ant-Man, and Ghost as an antagonist is infinitely better than Corey Stoll’s super-weak Yellowjacket in the last Ant-Man film.

The other important thing here [possible spoiler alert?] is the idea that this film exists without a singular villain, continuing Marvel’s recent spate of complex villains with an actual beef and moral weight to their arguments. While Ghost is certainly the antagonist, she is a person acting out of severe pain from her “powers” and more akin to a terminal patient looking to do anything to get palliative medical care. And Goggins, while always fun to watch in a villain role, really doesn’t do enough to qualify as a “villain” in the true sense– other than just being a greedy capitalist.

So this movie has a lot of heart, spectacular visuals, great jokes and performances from its supporting cast, and some nice character moments, but falls short of some of the spectacle, fun, and other recent MCU films.  But as a palate cleanser? It works really well.

Until [again, possible spoiler alert, but this is predictable] in the post credit scenes we see what happens in this corner of the universe when Thanos snaps his fingers. Then it leaves that ashy, sad taste in our mouth again. If you want to preserve the fun and good feelings this movie gives us, you may want to leave at the credits, just this one time.

This is a fun movie which should keep you smiling for almost the entirety of its runtime. While not as good as, say, Incredibles 2, it’s worthwhile just as some fun escapism from the heat and the stresses of summer 2018.

3.5 out of 5

Avengers Infinity War: A Conversational Inter-Review With A Casual Fan

Avengers Infinity WarContrary to what you might expect, my wife isn’t a huge comics fan and hasn’t seen every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But because she loved Black Panther (didn’t we all?) she wanted to see Avengers: Infinity War with me. I thought it would be interesting to see how the movie held up for somebody who doesn’t gobble up every possible aspect of the MCU within days of it being released. Can this movie be enjoyed by somebody who has only seen a handful (in no order: the first Captain America, Guardians 1 and 2, Thor 3, Ant Man and Black Panther) of the 18 previous movies? Let’s find out!


The burning question; did you enjoy it?

Yes! While I certainly went in blind, not knowing everything I felt I should about the characters and their previous story lines, I found it easy to follow along with  and quickly found myself intrigued by the storyline. I also found myself wanting to watch some of the previous films so I could get to know some of these folks better. Dr. Strange in particular caught my eye. Sorry Iron Man, but you will never get me on board. I don’t know what it is about RDJ that just doesn’t do it for me. But what I do know is that it’s hard to pick which Chris is the hottest of them all. Ok, well maybe not *that* hard… I see you there C. Hemi. But in all seriousness, I was so excited when Black Panther showed up. That was a film that truly grabbed my attention and going in I was most excited to see this character again. Avengers Infinity War certainly was action packed and a fun film that crosses so many familiar characters, that even a casual comic fan (whether I want to be or not, love ya babe) can quickly find themselves hanging of the edge of their seat. I would certainly recommend it.

Did you feel that there was enough of the characters you were unfamiliar with shown so that you got a sense of who they were? 

Yes and no. I couldn’t quite place all the new to me characters, but it didn’t take away from the other all story line. but as mentioned previously, some of the character intrigued me enough to want to get to know them more.

In comparison to the other films you have seen from the MCU, how did the movie compare? 

I think that for me I personally prefer some of the stand alone films more, such as Black Panther and Guardians because as a casual fan, it gives me more of their own stories, but I did like that I knew enough about some of the characters to be able to enjoy this film and get a good sense of how stories develop and cross over in the pages of so many comics.

Speaking of comics; did the movie encourage you to pick up a comic or two? 

Never say never, but it’s likely not my first medium of choice.  That said (as you well know) I do own a few comics of my own already :)

And finally, do you feel the need to see the next Avengers film after having seen Infinity War

Absolutely! I mean, that ending tho!!!!!


Stan Lee has said that any comic could be a person’s first, a view shared by at least one other publisher, and in the case of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the same can also be said. Do you need to watch everything to be able to enjoy the movie? No, not at all. But some familiarity will help you.

Now excuse me so I can continue guiding my wife deeper into the MCU…

Avengers: Infinity War Brings in $39 million from Thursday

Marvel StudiosAvengers: Infinity War is going to bring in a massive amount of money. The question is, how much? In Thursday night previews, the film delivered $39 million. That’s the fourth largest Thursday night preview ever and largest of any Marvel Cinematic Universe film. Captain America: Civil War earned $25 million, Black Panther earned $25.2 million, and Avengers: Age of Ultron earned $27.6 million.

The film has already opened internationally and in 43 markets it has earned an estimated $95 million. In Brazil the film earned a record $4.8 million, the largest opening ever in that market. In the UK the film had the largest MCU opening with $8.9 million. In Germany the film earned $3.2 million which was the highest superhero opening day of all-time in that market.

It is expect the film will be the third film in five months to open over $200 million domestically but there’s thoughts it might be able to topple Star Wars: The Force Awakens for the largest opening weekend ever. The studio expectations are for a $210+ million opening which means they’re confident the film will open higher than that.

The film is debuting in 4,470 locations which is the widest debut for a Marvel Cinematic Universe film ever. Iron Man 2 debuted in 4,380 locations.

Word of mouth will likely be the driver for the film and based on reaction Thursday, this is a film that will be boosted by excitement, positive word of mouth, fear of missing out, and repeated viewings.

The Avengers: Infinity War Death Pool

Preview screenings of Avengers: Infinity War are happening Tuesday, May 24, so spoilers are going to start seeping out about exactly who lives and dies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But because the only thing we love more than superheroes are lists and betting, here’s a full list of just how likely it is your favorite characters bite the dust in this week’s blockbuster. Start an office pool, impress your friends!

But, have no fear– let’s remember that even if someone dies, these are comic book movies. How many times have these characters died and been later reborn (in the comics, anyway?) Even in these films, several characters have apparently died and then reappeared. Add in the power of some Infinity Stones with the power to reshape reality (or, more likely, to bring back familiar characters recast with new actors in a few years time) means the actual safe money is that no one is dead forever.

Let’s start with the people who are probably safe:

∞ to 1

(get it? An Infinity War joke? I’ll see myself out. . .)

Spider-Man: He’s Marvel’s mascot, they just made the deal with Sony to make more movies together, they’re not going to kill him off now. And, he has announced sequel.
Ant Man: Normally, a guy like Scott Lang is Most Likely to Die in a giant crossover event (see: Avengers: Disassembled) BUT he has an announced sequel coming out in three months. All of Team Ant Man are safe.:
Groot: He already died, came back. Even Thanos can’t stop him. We are Groot.

1000 to 1

T’Challa, Shuri, Okoye, M’Baku: With Black Panther currently #3 in all-time US box office and still in theaters, nipping at the heels of Avatar, with an announced sequel, it’s incredibly unlikely Marvel would kill off their most popular characters. Also, we need Shuri around to take over as Iron Man when Tony Stark shuffles off this mortal coil.

100 to 1

Wong: Here’s where being a supporting character pays off. Dr. Strange is going to be a major target for Thanos since he has the Time Stone, but last we saw, only Wong really knows its background and lore. For being able to provide needed exposition, and as a faithful sidekick, he’s probably equally as safe as Peter Parker’s friend Ned.
Bruce Banner / The Hulk: Can you kill The Hulk? Like, really, can you? Even if Thanos and his army could, why would Marvel do this? If character deaths are a way to up the stakes, you still need some heavy hitters hanging around to eventually give Thanos his comeuppance. The Hulk seems most likely to be able to give him some smackdown.
Rocket Raccoon: If you’re joined at the hip with the aforementioned, nigh-unkillable Groot, and you’re endlessly popular with kids and adults alike, chances are pretty dang high you’ll make it to the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Also, your ability to make bombs and high-powered guns out of pretty much anything will come in handy in a climactic fight against Thanos.

50 to 1

Wanda Maximoff: Speaking of needing heavy hitters, Wanda’s powers are basically limitless, being powered by an Infinity Stone themselves. The Avengers are going to need a next generation, and if anyone is going to make it, this mainstay of the comics Avengers is a good bet. Plus, can you imagine what happens when they try to rip the Mind Stone from Vision’s head? Potentially apocalyptic is how I would characterize Scarlet Witch’s potential. She’s in it.
Mantis: Considering her connection to Ego, (therefore her ability to deal with Celestials) and the announced Guardians sequel, it’s likely she’ll make it through. Same rule as with Wong– it’s good to be a supporting character sometimes.
Sam Wilson / Bucky Barnes: I’m going to deal with these guys as one, because it’s the same reason. (Spoiler Alert!) I’m putting even money on Steve Rogers not making it to the sequel. When that happens, someone will need to take up the mantle of Captain America. Since both of them have done this in the comics, it’s fairly likely they’ll need to make it to the next movie. And with Bucky also being given the moniker “White Wolf,” expect him to maybe cameo in the next Black Panther movie, too.

25 to 1

Peter Quill: As leader of the Guardians and part Celestial, he’s both more hearty than most of our human characters AND the leader of his piece of the franchise. Star Lord will almost certainly make it to Guardians 3, and fans will have to celebrate all the music Tony Stark shares with Peter.  

Dr. Stephen Strange: He’s the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth, can wield an Infinity Stone,  and already faced off with Dormammu. Chances are good he’ll survive, but considering he does stand between Thanos and collecting all of the gems, he’s higher on the kill list than most.  

10 to 1

Natasha Romanoff: And here’s where I introduce my “Phase 1” rule. If you starred in a Marvel Phase 1 movie, you are probably dead. And the reason has more to do with capitalism and contracts than comics: Marvel Studios was initially so successful because their model was to sign relatively unknown stars to long-term contracts– stars who now command huge sums to star in your movies. And most of them have run out of runway to tell their stories. So, why is Black Widow not down with the rest of the boys? Well, unlike all of them, Natasha has not had a trilogy of movies about her despite being co-star in many of their sequels. Marvel should have given us a Black Widow movie years ago, but they can correct this now. Still, with no superpowers, going up against The Mad Titan is still a daunting prospect, but I bet she pulls through.

James Rhodes: Similar story to Black Widow– always a sidekick, never a main character. And just like her, there’s untapped potential. Also? Someone’s going to need to take over as Iron Man. While Shuri is my top choice, War Machine already knows his way around the rig. But, having just faced his own mortality recently, he seems likely to buy the farm in a fight with Thanos.

Gamora / Drax: If any of the original Guradians aren’t going to make it to the sequel, it’s these two. They both have serious business with Thanos and won’t rest until he’s dead. No matter how powerful they are, putting themselves in his path is bad news.

5 to 1

Vision: Thanos is coming for that Infinity Stone in his head. And from what was happening in the trailers, it looks like his minions are about to take it. That doesn’t look good for Vision, whose death, as mentioned before, would likely seriously unhinge Scarlet Witch.

Nebula: She’s even more angry at Thanos as her sister Gamora and five times as reckless. Nebula played a huge role in defeating Thanos in the Infinity Gauntlet comics. Let’s see if she can survive long enough to live up to that.

2 to 1

Heimdall: Asgardians are now an endangered species, and I doubt Heimdall would bend the knee to Thanos. Indeed, any aggressive move towards Thor or Loki would likely elicit a very aggressive response. Also, I’m hanging on to that fan theory that his all-seeing eyes tinged with orange are, in fact, powered by the Soul Stone.

Stan Lee: This is painful, but true– our Generalissimo is not going to be with us forever. It might not be bad to give him a proper send-off. Much in the same way Desmond Llewelyn said goodbye to the role of Q in the James Bond movies, it might be good to plan to wrap up Smilin’ Stan’s cameos. If this one doesn’t have some sense of finality to it, let’s hope he has already pre-filmed his parts for the rest of Marvel Phase 3. But if you have to go, it wouldn’t be a bad way to go out– with the culmination of ten years and 18 films.

Even money

(These guys are toast. Sorry.)

Clint Barton: “Why isn’t Hawkeye in any of the movie posters or trailers?” Because Hawkeye is always the guy who gets killed off in these movies. And since we were never going to get the Matt Fraction “My Life as a Weapon” movie with Jeremy Renner in the role, it’s best to say goodbye to him now. Also even money? He’s just plain not in the movie at all. He and his wife and kids moved to another farm and are gone. Either way, we’re not seeing much of Hawkeye in this movie.

The Collector: The only other person we know if actively trying to collect Infinity Stones who knows their value, Thanos will have to go through Tanaleer Tivan to get to The Reality Stone. My money’s on Thanos, and according to footage shown to audiences at Comic Con? The Collector wasn’t looking so hot.

Steve Rogers / Thor / Tony Stark: Sorry, Marvel’s Big Three are probably not appearing in the next movies. Again, blame capitalism and contracts, but I’m stocking up on tissues already, because even as much as I tell myself it’s going to happen, I’m not going to be ready.

Loki: Sorry, friends. He failed Thanos. Even giving him the Space Stone isn’t likely enough to get back in his good graces. If Thanos is smart, he’ll take The Tesseract, extract the Space Stone, and kill Loki where he stands. Leaving him alive will only lead to him eventually betraying you. He’s dead. I’m not going to be ready for this one, either.

There you have it. Disagree? Someone I missed? Let us know in the comments. One thing you can bet on 100% — Marvel is going to make bank at the box office, and you should bring tissues to the theater.

The Ultimate Guide to (Not) Watching the MCU Before Avengers: Infinity War

Over the past several weeks, so many friends have come to me and said, “So, which of the Marvel movies do I need to have seen before watching Avengers: Infinity War?” (which comes out April 24) My answer, invariably, has been “Uhm. . . all of them?”

I then realize most of my friends are nowhere near as obsessive as I am and haven’t been planning this for months. That’s completely fair. And, as was said quite well on Twitter by film writer Jason Bailey:

Well, the root word of “fan” is “fanatic,” right? So, forgive some of us our ridiculous indulgences. I’m the guy who, in preparation for The Last Jedi watched not only all of the Star Wars movies in chronological order, but also almost all of The Clone Wars and Rebels cartoon shows. I started before Thanksgiving.

But this is for everyone else, written with what you should watch, in what order, and what you need to know in Cliff’s Notes form to get ready.  Speaking of, here’s what you need to know, even if you don’t watch any of the movies: The Avengers, “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” are in shambles after a devastating difference of opinion split it into two factions led by Iron Man and Captain America. Meanwhile, an alien of phenomenal power named Thanos has been trying to collect six “Infinity Stones” to place into a gauntlet which would give him, basically, unlimited power. Each stone grants power over an element or concept: space, time, reality, power, mind, and soul. So far over the last decade and eighteen movies, five of the six have shown up.

So, first, figure out exactly how many movies you want to watch, and I’ll give you the right order to watch them in. I’ll start with the fewest movies, and end with two different ways to watch all of them.

NOTE: These are NOT judgments on the quality of the individual films. Indeed, the BEST film of the MCU (Captain America: The Winter Soldier — fight me) is only on the list of watching all or almost all of the films, while some of the lesser quality films (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: The Dark World) are featured frequently only because they explain the background of the Infinity Stones.

If you only watch ONE movie

  1. Captain America: Civil War

Wha? But that movie has, like nothing to do with Thanos and the Infinity Stones? Right?

Yes, but the MCU’s saving grace is that it has always been more about characters and less about the other trappings. And in a movie like Infinity War that aims to balance the stories of two dozen protagonists, it’s best that we know where the majority of them ended up. And it’s worth knowing the personal stakes for everyone. It doesn’t hurt that this is one of the best films of the series (I rated it my #1 film of 2015)

So that’s all fine and good, but what else do I need to know?

Remember that Thanos is trying to collect all six of these stones, so we can assume that is central to the plot. At the end of the 18 films, here are the last known confirmed locations of the Infinity Stones (and their colors):
The Space Stone – Blue – “The Tesseract” was in Odin’s Treasure Room, but presumably Loki nicked it before Asgard was destroyed in Thor: Ragnarok
The Reality Stone – Red – “The Aether” was last seen being delivered to Taneleer Tevan aka The Collector at the end of Thor: The Dark World
The Power Stone – Purple – “The Orb” was put in the Nova Corps’ vault on Xandar at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy
The Mind Stone – Yellow – Previously housed in Loki’s Scepter, the Mind Stone is now firmly set in the middle of Vision’s forehead, as last seen in Captain America: Civil War
The Time Stone – Green – Housed in “The Eye of Agamato,” this is presumably either in Stephen Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenich Village, New York City or around his neck, as seen in the end of Doctor Strange 
The Soul Stone 
– Orange – ???

Other characters? There are lots of people who weren’t involved in the Avengers Civil War. Where are they?
The Hulk, Thor, and Loki – Asgard got blowed up in Thor: Ragnarok. Last we saw the surviving Asgardian refugees, they were escaping in a spaceship, and in an after credits scene were confronted by Thanos’s ship. Eep.
The Guardians of the Galaxy – Gamora and Nebula were raised by Thanos. It was an abusive relationship, and they now oppose him. Starlord aka Peter Quill was raised on Earth but his father was an ancient celestial being that tried to murder all of them. This, however, gave him power to (briefly) wield the Power Stone. Drax the Destroyer’s main goal is now to kill Thanos, who ordered the death of his wife and daughter.

 

If you only watch THREE movies

It’s not unreasonable to watch a trilogy of movies. For people with limited time and attention, here are three to watch and why:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy – This film gives the best explanation of the Infinity Stones, shows us Thanos actively trying to collect them, and introduced the Guardians.
  2. Avengers: Age of Ultron – We see the power of the Mind Stone, and Thor explains more about them
  3. Captain America: Civil Warsee above

So what else do I need to know?
Three other Infinity Stones have shown up in various places: The Space Stone (in The Avengers and elsewhere), The Time Stone (in Doctor Strange), and The Reality Stone (in Thor: The Dark World). Also, Thor, Loki, and the Hulk were last seen in a spaceship that had just encountered Thanos’s ship. Eep. Also, in Guardians 2, Nebula and Gamora make up after bonding over the fact that Thanos would make them fight in mortal combat for his amusement and to make them better weapons.

 

If you only watch SIX movies

This is, in my opinion, the sweet spot. It gives you the locations of all of the Infinity Stones and sets up most of what’s going to happen next. Six movies may seem like a lot, but is it really any different than binge watching a favorite show? You may notice #6 is Black Panther rather than Thor: Ragnarok 

  1. The Avengers – The Space Stone, The Mind Stone, The Avengers first assemble, and a post credit teaser of Thanos
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy – The Power Stone, The Guardians. See above for more info
  3. Avengers: Age of Ultron – not the best movie, but the most about the Infinity Stones
  4. Captain America: Civil War – the best movie, but no Infinity Stones.
  5. Doctor Strange The Time Stone makes an appearance
  6. Black Panther – YES, go see Black Panther, again if you haven’t seen it yet. With a large portion of the action likely happening in Wakanda, you’d do yourself a big favor to check it out. Why see this instead of Thor: Ragnarok? For the same reason Cap: Civil War is on this list. Character over plot, and because Okoye, Shuri, and Wakanda’s fighting prowess isn’t in any other movie. We have several other movies with Thor and Hulk.

What are you missing? “The Aether” aka The Reality Stone was in Thor: The Dark World, and at the end of that movie, Odin decided it wasn’t smart to keep two Infinity Stones in the same place, so he gave it to Taneleer Tevan, The Collector, who you meet in Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s still holding on the Reality Stone as far as we know. Also, Hulk, Thor and Loki (and presumably the Space Stone) and what’s left of Asgard encounter Thanos at the end of Thor: Ragnarok. 

If you only watch ELEVEN movies

This is the most essentially complete you can get without watching all of the movies. This gives us the final locations of all of the Infinity Stones, all of our major characters, all appearances of Thanos, plus adds back in the best movie of the MCU, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (fight me).

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger
  2. The Avengers
  3. Thor: The Dark World
  4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy
  6. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  7. Captain America: Civil War
  8. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
  9. Doctor Strange
  10. Thor: Ragnarok
  11. Black Panther

What am I missing? Iron Man, Spider-Man, Ant Man, Ed Norton as The Hulk. I recognize for a lot of people these are their favorite parts. If so, sprinkle in your favorite bits where they fit, as a commitment to watch 11 movies, welp, you may as well make it a baker’s dozen, amirite? But watching all of these you will know everything you (likely) need before watching Avengers: Infinity War.

If you watch ALL of the MCU

There’s two ways to do this: chronological order by release date, or chronological order by where the majority of the events of the film happen (majority, as in, not counting opening flashbacks like in Ant Man or Guardians of the Galaxy). I prefer release date, just because I think the way things play out is a little more even. Chronologically, you get both of your Guardians of the Galaxy movies and the first two Iron Man movies back to back. A little separation is not a bad thing.

Release date order:

  1. Iron Man (2008)
  2. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
  3. Iron Man 2 (2010)
  4. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – First appearance of “The Tesseract” aka The Space Stone
  5. Thor (2011)
  6. The Avengers (2012) – Second appearance of The Tesseract, First appearance of The Mind Stone in Loki’s scepter, First appearance of Thanos
  7. Iron Man 3 (2013)
  8. Thor: The Dark World (2013) – First appearance of The Aether aka The Reality Stone, first appearance of Taneleer Tevan aka The Collector, who takes The Aether in an aftercredits scene and remarks “One down.”
  9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – First appearance of “The Orb” aka The Power Stone, explanation of the origin of The Infinity Stones by Taneleer Tevan, second appearance of Thanos
  11. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – Second appearance of The Mind Stone in Loki’s scepter, which provided the powers for Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, spawns Ultron and then ends up in Vision’s head, and Thor takes a bath and sees a vision about the Infinity Stones and the destruction of Asgard. Third appearance of Thanos, who, in an after credits scene, announces, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.”
  12. Ant Man (2015)
  13. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
  14. Doctor Strange (2016) – First appearance of The Eye of Agamato, which contains The Time Stone.
  15. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 (2017)
  16. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
  17. Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – Third appearance of The Tesseract, which it is implied Loki steals before Asgard is destroyed. Fourth appearance of Thanos, or at least his ship, as it encounters the refugee Asgardian ship in the after credits scene.
  18. Black Panther (2018)

Chronological order:

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger  – First appearance of “The Tesseract” aka The Space Stone
  2. Iron Man
  3. Iron Man 2 
  4. The Incredible Hulk
  5. Thor 
  6. The Avengers – Second appearance of The Tesseract, First appearance of The Mind Stone in Loki’s scepter, First appearance of Thanos
  7. Iron Man 3 
  8. Thor: The Dark World  – First appearance of The Aether aka The Reality Stone, first appearance of Taneleer Tevan aka The Collector, who takes The Aether in an aftercredits scene and remarks “One down.”
  9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier 
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy – First appearance of “The Orb” aka The Power Stone, explanation of the origin of The Infinity Stones by Taneleer Tevan, second appearance of Thanos
  11. Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 2 
  12. Avengers: Age of Ultron – Second appearance of The Mind Stone in Loki’s scepter, which provided the powers for Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, spawns Ultron and then ends up in Vision’s head, and Thor takes a bath and sees a vision about the Infinity Stones and the destruction of Asgard. Third appearance of Thanos, who, in an after credits scene, announces, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.”
  13. Ant Man 
  14. Captain America: Civil War
  15. Doctor Strange – First appearance of The Eye of Agamato, which contains The Time Stone.
  16. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  17. Thor: Ragnarok – Third appearance of The Tesseract, which it is implied Loki steals before Asgard is destroyed. Fourth appearance of Thanos, or at least his ship, as it encounters the refugee Asgardian ship in the after credits scene.
  18. Black Panther

Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok

Usually when films get around to their third, the quality dips… a lot, and we’re left with a shell of a franchise that tarnishes what’s come before. Thor: Ragnarok not only bucks that trend, but delivers a film that’s not only the best of the three Thor films released so far, but also one of the best in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Taika Waititi with a script by Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost, Thor: Ragnarok is a visual treat of a film that feels like a comic come to life in many ways. This shouldn’t be surprising as both Kyle and Yost have written comics themselves and have a long history in animated comic based franchises. Pearson was part of the team behind Agent Carter, a television series focused on a kick-ass female lead, which in itself makes some of the film not surprising.

With Odin deposed from the throne the evil Hela returns to take over Asgard and the Nine Realms. Thor is sidetracked as he’s sent to the world Sakaar where he’s forced into a gladiator role and comic book Spartacus. That latter part is a new take on comic writer Greg Pak’s “World War Hulk” storyline that saw the Hulk in a similar role. But, here the Hulk is a companion Thor must win over as we find out where he’s been all these years.

What’s immediately noticeable about the film, beyond it’s different visual tone, is the comedic sense of it all. Waititi is the director behind the hilarious shorts featuring Thor and a roommate and that same humor is here. It’s a dry sense of humor where quips are given back and forth and visual jokes are few and far apart. Chris Hemsworth in the title role plays off the humor well delivering it all with a seriousness that makes it all even more entertaining. But, that humor is also mixed with lots of action that’s well paced and keeps things flowing through the end battle. An action film with comedic elements or is it a comedic action film? That’s a hard one but the laughs were enough that I missed dialogue either because I was laughing or the audience was, making the film one you’ll need to see multiple times to get everything.

But, back to Waititi and the visuals. With an energy about it that feels like Blade Runner, Fifth Element, and bubblegum pop mixed together, the worlds are bright and visually stunning each in their own way. Sakaar is a mixed of colors which enhance each scene and brought into the design of every character. Watching the film I couldn’t help think this was Jack Kirby’s brilliance brought to the screen for us to enjoy. Warriors for the Grandmaster, played by Jeff Goldblum, look like the design of Kirby’s Celestials. The film is almost an homage to his brilliance, fitting for the year we celebrated his 100th birthday. All of it pops in the IMAX 3D I watched the film in.

The movie expands the cast too. Hemsworth is his usual entertaining self getting to up his comedic chops. Tom Hiddleston as Loki has his moments as well but generally plays the mischievous straight man to everyone else’s jokes. Mark Ruffalo, who is a newcomer to the Thor franchise, brings more interest to Bruce Banner and the Hulk, creating a neurotic man both lost and afraid of what might happen. But those newcomers are where things stand out. Idris Elba as Heimdall gets to step up and be a badass in the film, making me long for more Elba in the Marvel Universe. Goldblum brings a cosmic disco sense to it all in his Grandmaster making a villain fun. Karl Urban as Skurge is possibly the low point with just too little to do. But, Cate Blanchett as Hela and Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie are the two real highlights.

Blanchett delivers a villain role that is badass and tragic and very intimidating. She is Thor’s better in every way and this is the first villain in a Marvel film I felt this. She’s not defeated in some battle, she kills unknown amounts of people, and she does it with her own hands. Thompson too rocks as Valkyrie a bounty hunter who has a history with Asgard and Hela. Her initial badassness is confirmed later as the real battle begins and again we get a character who is every bit Thor’s equal. The two women being such highlights makes me think Pearson’s role with Agent Carter might have helped. Two commanding women are not something we generally see in a Marvel film, let alone two that are better than the male lead in so many ways. Hela whips Thors as and Valkyrie gets the better of him again and again. The tide feels like it’s turning a bit when it comes to female characters in comic adaptations with the addition of DC’s Wonder Woman who herself rocked the big screen this year.

The story itself is solid with few flaws and a finale that actually doesn’t disappoint. Third acts generally have been letdowns when it comes to comic films and this is the exception to the rule.

IMAX 3D just immersed me in the movie with moments actually causing me to feel like I was falling and moving too, a fun addition to it all.

Is the film a must see? Yes, on the big screen and preferably in IMAX 3D. Then you can see it again when you realize you’ve missed a lot from laughing and being entertained. One of the best Marvel releases yet and one of the best and most entertaining films released this year.

Overall Rating: 9.35

Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok

Thor_Ragnarok_SDCC_PosterThor’s outings in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been. . . uneven at best, to put it kindly. Indeed, Thor: The Dark World remains the unequivocal nadir of the MCU’s otherwise good track record. But given that and Avengers: Age of Ultron also being less than stellar — the last two times we saw our Asgardian hero — you might come in to this film with zero expectations.

Prepare to be blown away by one of the best movies in the MCU and certainly Thor’s best film appearance to date. 

Chris Hemsworth reprises his role as the Norse God of Thunder. Reunited with his presumed-dead brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), they track down their missing father Odin (Anthony Hopkins), who reveals a deep family secret — an older sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death who has her sights set on the Asgardian throne.

Various misadventures find Thor reunited with fellow Avenger The Hulk / Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), against whom he is pitted in gladiatorial combat reminiscent of the storyline in Planet Hulk. They must escape back to Asgard to take on Hela with the help of a recalcitrant Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who is probably the best part of the movie and given some of the most fun action pieces and one of the best character arcs of any person in the film.

But don’t be fooled into thinking most of this is a Planet Hulk movie. Its roots go far deeper than the relatively recent storyline. But if you take one part Planet Hulk, plus equal amounts Jack Kirby and Walt Simonson classic Thor, that’s the comics cocktail from which this springs.

The ringmaster for this particular circus is director Taika Waititi, who delivers something truly unexpected: different kind of Marvel movie. One of the most common complaints against the MCU is how similar / unoriginal / mass produced they feel. Thor: Ragnarok defies that claim with its humor, characters, visuals, and soundtrack.

This movie is funny. Of course, that should be of no surprise to those who know Waititi for his time working on Flight of the Conchords or his previous films What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. It’s a very specific humor which is undeniably Kiwi in its politeness, awkwardness, and wry sense of irony — and wholly different from Joss Whedon’s or James Gunn’s much broader humor in The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy films.

Waititi also brings along some familiar faces to those who know his other films, including Rachel House, who plays a lackey of Jeff Goldblum‘s The Grandmaster in Ragnarok, is very similar to the character she played in Wilderpeople. And Waititi himself shows up (as he is wont to do in his own films) as Korg, a rock-person gladiator who ends up with some of the funniest lines in the film.

Waititi’s work has always been good before, but he’s never been given this big of a canvas to paint on. Wilderpeople especially felt like they spent the majority of the movie’s budget on a climactic, over-the-top car chase full of explosions that would make Michael Bay blush. With the ability to really cut loose — and decades of Kirby and Simonson art to draw from — Waititi gives us some of the most astounding visuals of the MCU so far.

While not quite as mind-blowing as last year’s Doctor Strange, the visuals Waititi seems to be trying to give us a late 70’s/early 80’s psychedelic trip of a sci-fi movie, complete with a soundtrack by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh — heavy on the Devo and John Carpenter synth vibe. Oh, and a heaping helping of Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song in case you couldn’t get enough of it from the trailer. Waititi also borrows (steals?) visually from fellow Marvel director Sam Raimi in fun and unexpected ways and includes perhaps the most interesting nod to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory ever.

But a film always comes down to its characters and its themes. And this is where Thor: Ragnarok perhaps shines above many of its other MCU peers. Every character in this film goes on a journey. Their stories, interactions, and dialogue are incredibly well-woven together. Everything has a purpose and eventual payoff. It sits alongside its peer Logan this year for being so well-crafted from a storytelling perspective. One tiny complaint is that it gets a little too bogged down in its own exposition in the middle. It could stand to lose five or seven minutes, but not much more.

And at the end you ask yourself, “So what?”

One of the great joys of being able to analyze movies is to ask these questions. Is this just a cashgrab to get butts in seats, buy popcorn, and sell merchandising? There’s something unique in here, which requires going into very minor spoiler territory. Skip the next 5 paragraphs if you don’t want to know any more.

[Begin Minor Spoilers]

The title Thor: Ragnarok is instructive. Ragnarok — the Norse apocalypse — is the destruction of the world, and in the case of the film and the comics, of Asgard. But it often signifies a form of creative destruction or nihilism necessary for a new chapter.

Hela comes to Thor and Loki replacing their ideas of what Asgard was — a beautiful civilization that loves peace — with the true history that she once rode with Odin making war on the 9 Realms to capture their treasure and slay millions of innocents. Odin cast her out when he decided to switch brands from bloodthirsty warmonger to benevolent father-king, but he kept the gold and trinkets that made him powerful. But after a lifetime, Odin passes onto Thor the wisdom that Asgard is not a place– it’s people. You could just as easily insert for “Asgard” there the names America, Britain, Spain . . . New Zealand.

And so here we are in 2017. Maybe we’re looking at the world with fresh eyes, that the advances of “the West” are built on a bloody history of colonialism, slavery, and other forms of oppression. Perhaps we’re now seeing the chickens of our nationalism, jingoism, sexism, and quest for economic hegemony coming home to roost in the the rise of forces and ideals we long thought dead or outmoded. Perhaps Ragnarok — some creative nihilism — is what we need to wipe the vestiges of former power away to be replaced by a more pure, benevolent rule of law.

Or maybe it’s just a story about two brothers, one of whom has a magic hammer, and it gets smashed by their mean old sister, so they have to recruit a giant green monster to help beat her up. Could be that, too.

ONE OTHER THING (Is it a spoiler to reveal what isn’t in a movie?) If you’ve got your hopes up to see the final infinity stone, just tamp those expectations down. You do get a couple glances at the Tesseract (aka the Space Stone), but we already knew about that one anyway, right? Right. Just enjoy the movie without worrying about it moving that particular storyline forward.

But, of course, make sure you stay through the credits, because. . . well, you know the drill.

[End Spoilers]

It’s likely unfair to castigate the MCU for having movies that feel like they came off an assembly line. While it may have been true previously (again, looking at you, Thor: The Dark World and Avengers: Age of Ultron), it’s worth noting how unique the Marvel Phase 3 films have been:

Captain America: Civil War is a philosophical political thriller and ethical Rorschach test with action set-pieces. (I still don’t trust anyone who is totally Team Iron Man)
Doctor Strange is a psychedelic mystic Hero’s Journey where the real enemy is ego.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a family drama where a reluctant patriarch has to lose the last vestiges of his mother and father to become the father he needs to be — and where a raccoon cries at the end as he wonders whether or not there is a god.
Spider-Man: Homecoming is a John Hughes movie with superheroes.
Black Panther looks to be the most unique Marvel movie of all.

There is a theme running through all of these: the act of creative destruction. In all of these films, our characters have to give up something they love or thought defined them in order to take the next step in their hero’s journey.

Further, family looms large in Cap: Civil War, Guardians 2, and Spider-Man. Family is at the core of Thor: Ragnarok, as it’s essentially sibling rivalry writ large with intergalactic consequences. It’s almost like. . . they actually plan these things out and are trying to say something more broadly about the human condition.

Kudos, Marvel. And Kudos (or whatever the New Zealand equivalent) to Taika Waititi. You have created something unique that blends together some of the best parts of the history of the character of Thor, given us astounding visuals, great music, jokes to make us laugh, action to thrill us, and even some nuggets to ponder.

You’ve given us a film finally worthy of the God of Thunder. Go see this on the biggest, brightest screen you possibly can. And then hug your family and friends. Because even in an apocalypse, home is not just a place– it’s people.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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