Avengers 4 gets a trailer and a title

Marvel Studios’s fourth Avenger film got a teaser trailer and an announced title (Avengers: Endgame) today.

In the trailer, things look bleak for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. He’s traveling in outer space having run out of food and water and about to use up the last of his oxygen.

Meanwhile, Captain America (Chris Evans) moves to rally the surviving Marvel characters after Thanos had wiped out half of all living beings at the end of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War.

Avengers: Endgame wraps up story threads that began with the first Marvel-produced film, 2008’s Iron Man. Avengers: Infinity War had a global box office of $2.05 billion. We’ll see next spring whether the next installment draws the same kind of business. You can view the trailer below.

Avengers: Nothing exceeds like excess

Avengers: Infinity War poster

Avengers: Infinity War is too much of a good thing, even if you’re a fan of Marvel Studios films.

There are more fights, more action…more everything. (To quote a James Bond trailer from the 1960s.)

Well, not quite more everything. Not enough drama. What humor is present mostly works. But it gets overwhelmed by the action set pieces.

Avengers: Infinity War is the beginning of the end (or so we’ve been led to believe) for the first decade of the studio’s inter-connected movies.

The movie brings together not only the Avengers-related characters but also the Guardians of the Galaxy and Dr. Strange. They’re up against Thanos, a villain who wants to commit genocide on a cosmic scale.

The character has been teased for years but here he’s the main attraction. As a result, the movie changes scenes not only between Earth locales but ones in deep space.

Spoiler follows. 

Initially, this movie was announced the title was going to be Avengers: Infinity War Part I, with a 2019 film titled Avengers: Infinity War Part II. They would be filmed back to back.

Somewhere along the way we were told the  movies really would be different. So next year’s installment is simply known as Avengers 4 for the moment.

However, it would have been absolutely appropriate if Avengers: Infinity War ended with, “TO BE CONTINUED,” not unlike the original serialized Marvel Comics stories. But in the 1960s, you only had to wait a month to see how things turned out. Here, the audience will have to bide its time for a year.

That said, Avengers: Infinity War isn’t a lost cause. The likes of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America and many other cast members are pros. But the movie is more exhausting than thrilling. GRADE: C.

How Black Panther may be the future of Marvel films

Black Panther poster

UPDATE (Feb. 19): Black Panther’s U.S. box office for Friday-Sunday ended up at $201 million, Exhibitors Relations said on Twitter. 

ORIGINAL POST (Feb. 18): Black Panther, the newest Marvel Studios film, is being celebrated as a huge moment for black America. Examples include The New York Times Magazine (“a vivid re-imagination of something black Americans have cherished for centuries”) and The Guardian (“The film is already being regarded in the US as a positive force for social change”),

It may also be a sign of Marvel’s future.

Black Panther’s estimated Friday-Sunday U.S. box office is $192 million, according to Box Office Mojo.

That figure would be (unadjusted for inflation or higher ticket prices), the No. 2 U.S. opening for Marvel. Here are the other movies in Marvel’s top five (all of which eventually topped $1 billion at the worldwide box office):

Marvel’s The Avengers (2012): $207.4 million.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): $191.3 million.

Captain America: Civil War (2016): $179.1 million.

Iron Man 3 (2013): $174.1 million.

Of the Marvel top five, Black Panther (starring Chadwick Boseman) is the only one not to include Robert Downey Jr. playing Tony Stark/Iron Man.

It was 2008’s Iron Man where Marvel began making its own films, instead of licensing the rights to others. The movie became the building block upon which Marvel built is movie universe. Four years later, with Marvel’s The Avengers, the notion of a “shared universe” became big business.

Some have wondered whether Marvel could withstand Downey’s eventual departure. The actor turns 53 in April and it’s not the kind of thing you can keep doing forever. Other major Marvel actors such as Chris Evans (Captain America) and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) have reached the end of their contracts.

What’s more, the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War and an unnamed Avengers film in 2019 is intended as a kind of finale for Marvel films up to now. So, a decade after its first movie, Marvel Studios has reached a transition point.

Black Panther already is a popular and critical (a 97 percent “fresh” score on the Rotten Tomatoes website) success.

Beyond that, Black Panther shows that Marvel is capable of extending itself beyond its first decade of making movies. Black Panther seems destined to join Marvel’s billion-dollar club (it’s at $361 million globally as of this weekend). The movie also is broadening Marvel’s appeal. We’ll see what happens.

Civil War is like You Only Live Twice, the book and film

Spectacle phase of Captain America: Civil War

Spectacle phase of Captain America: Civil War

No real spoilers, but your mileage may vary.

To use a James Bond reference, imagine a movie that had both the sprawling spectacle of You Only Live Twice, the movie, plus the personal elements of Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice novel.

That’s what you get with Captain America: Civil War.

The film, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and scripted by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, goes through a progression:

–More or less standard super heroics with serious undertones.

–Expansion to a spectacle phase, fueled by the introduction of Spider-Man into the proceedings.

–A surprisingly personal climax, which ties up plot threads dating back to when Marvel started producing its own movies eight years ago.

With You Only Live Twice, there has been a half-century fan debate whether Fleming’s 1964 novel could actually be filmed versus a disappointment of fans of the novel there wasn’t an actual attempt.

Civil War walks a similar tightrope with style. Marvel is drawing upon multiple stories (but especially a 2006-2007 story line that crossed over various titles), rather than a single novel. So perhaps it’s not the fairest comparison.

Regardless, Civil War traverses that tightrope in style. Truth be told, the Spy Commander was wondering whether Marvel could maintain its momentum heading into its “Phase III.”

As it turns out, Civil War launches Phase III into new territory.

Civil War has the equivalent of two 007 pre-title sequences, one a short period piece, the other a more elaborate one set in the present day. In the latter, there have been some collateral casualties, spurring a move among United Nations members to rein in the Avengers, the team led by Cap (Chris Evans).

Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is in favor but Cap isn’t convinced.

So far, so good. Along the way, the audience meets a new character, T’Challa, the Black Panther, who becomes the ruler of the advanced African nation of Wakanda after his father his killed during a terrorist attack during a U.N. ceremony.

As a result, a big conflict breaks out, with the two heroes recruiting allies. It’s here where the latest Spider-Man (Tom Holland) makes an appearance and he immediately ramps things up. The scene where Tony Stark recruits a teenage Peter Parker is one of the highlights of the film.

The major fight, as impressive as it is, only sets up the climax, where we get into intense personal conflict (albeit with super heroics) delivered with a wallop.

One criticism of the movie (from Los Angeles Times and NPR reviewer Kenneth Turan) is that it’s harder for viewers who aren’t hard-core Marvel fans to get up to speed. Perhaps so.

Still, the Russo brothers get the audience’s attention from the beginning. By the end of the two-and-a-half hour movie, Marvel fans will be especially pleased but there’s something for everyone. To again use a 007 reference, it’s like seeing Thunderball or You Only Live Twice (or later film) as your first James Bond film. It’s easy enough to get up to speed.

One more thing: There are *two* scenes in the end titles. The first wraps up things from Civil War, the latter sets up a future Marvel production. The very last image of the end titles utilizes a page from the playbook of the early Bond films, something the 2011 Thor and Captain America movies did as well.

GRADE: A

REVIEW: The sequel that doesn’t seem like a sequel

Iron Man's Hulkbuster armor vs. the Hulk, a highlight of Avengers: Age of Ultron

Concept art of Iron Man’s Hulkbuster armor vs. the Hulk, a highlight of Avengers: Age of Ultron

Director Joss Whedon, in his farewell to Marvel movies, has come up with a rarity: a sequel that doesn’t seem like a sequel.

Avengers: Age of Ultron, while not a perfect film, achieves something unusual. It’s a sequel that’s more introspective (at least for a time) than the 2012 original Marvel’s The Avengers, that Whedon directed and co-wrote. There’s a substantial attempt at demonstrating what makes its main characters tick that’s deeper than what came before.

It’s rare these days where there’s a “written and directed by” credit, but that’s what Whedon has here. It’s even more rare in genre movies not to mention a studio (Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel) that isn’t known as a haven for “auteur” filmmakers.

Still, the movie is all that and more. Whedon successfully walks a tightrope. He successfully balances commercial concerns (the 2012 movie had worldwide ticket sales of $1.5 billion), throws more than a few bones to the hard-core Marvel Comics fan base (including Tony Stark’s “Hulkbuster” armor, a popular bit from late 1970s comic books) to giving his main actors plenty of material to work with.

Concerning the latter point, the introspection occurs relatively early in the movie, something even more surprising. The super hero group encounters a set of brother-sister twins, who’ve been experimented upon by the evil organization Hydra. Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) can mess with the minds of people.

Whedon uses that as a device to explore the personalities of his main cast (Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo and Jeremy Renner).

Tony Stark and Bruce Banner (Downey Jr. and Ruffalo) have been working on something they believe can result in good. As it turns out, they’ve crossed into Dr. Frankenstein territory (and Whedon provides a couple of references for those not familiar with that story). As a result, Ultron (James Spader) is born, a robot with artificial intelligence who decides humans should be exterminated.

Since 2008, Marvel Studios has been on an amazing run of movies that have been highly successful (and then some) at the box office. At the same time, those movies haven’t been paint-by-the-numbers. That’s especially true with Whedon’s second Avengers movie. He shakes things up (though not too much).

Whedon has indicated that after five-plus years of living with the Avengers he wants to movie on to developing projects featuring his own characters. That’s very understandable. Nevertheless, he has set a high bar for his successors.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo will helm a two-part Avengers movie due for release in 2018 and 2019. They’ve already directed one Captain America movie and are about to begin filming another featuring a Cap/Iron Man clash.

Yet, Whedon has demonstrated what can be accomplished in a genre film. Sam Mendes, director of the 007 film Skyfall and the currently filming SPECTRE, has been using Christopher Nolan’s Batman films as a guide to making James Bond movies. It’s too bad he didn’t get a chance check out Whedon’s work on the two Avengers movies as well.

Avengers: Age of Ultron has flaws. It’s a bit long and gets exhausting at times. For all that, it’s worth a look. GRADE: A-Minus.

Captain America and spies prove to be big box office

Captain America: The Winter Soldier's poster

Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s poster

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which mixed superheroes and spies, generated an estimated $96.2 million in U.S. ticket sales, according to the Box Office Mojo website.

The movie, starring Chris Evans as Cap, set a record for an April movie opening, according to The Wrap entertainment news site.

The film concerns Cap becoming increasingly wary of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Marvel Comics spy agency. The movie addresses various plot threads going back to 2008’s Iron Man, the first production from Marvel Studios. One of two epilogues in the end titles provides a teaser for next year’s sequel to 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers. A third Captain America movie has been scheduled for May 2016.

Meanwhile, the storyline of Captain America: The Winter Soldier will affect the ABC series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. USA Today has a story that details how in a story you can view BY CLICKING HERE. Both Marvel Studios and ABC are owned by Walt Disney Co.

Also, BusinessWeek has a story about Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios boss and producer of its movies. You can read it by CLICKING HERE.

REVIEW: Captain America in a 1970s spy movie

Captain America: The Winter Soldier's poster

Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s poster

Minor spoilers

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Marvel Studio’s take on a 1970s-style spy movie: dark and more than a little paranoid.

For the most part, it works. Put another way: It’s probably not a coincidence that Robert Redford, star of Three Days of The Condor, plays a prominent role in the film.

In this case, Redford has traded in his role of the semi-naïve lead (held down here by Chris Evans’s Cap) for the Max Von Sydow part.

For the uninitiated, 1970s spy movies had a much darker take the bulk of their 1960s counterparts, which tended to be escapist, led by the James Bond series produced by Eon Productions.

The ’70s were a time of real-life scandals involving the CIA and FBI and a U.S. president (Richard Nixon) forced to resign from office. Lest anybody miss this connection, the new Captain America film includes a long shot of SHIELD’s Washington headquarters where the Watergate apartments can be seen in the background.

To get a flavor of 1970s spy/political thrillers, consider this: Another of the era’s movies of note was 1974’s The Parallax View. It featured Warren Beatty as a reporter who investigates a conspiracy to assassinate political candidates. As a reviewer wrote at the time, Parallax is like having Cary Grant fall off Mount Rushmore at the end of 1959’s North By Northwest.

In translating ’70s style spy movies for the 21st century, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo offers a bit of something for everyone. For those who’ve watched the Marvel-produced films that began with 2008’s Iron Man, a lot of what you thought you knew has been turned on its head. But for newcomers, you don’t need to know all the background.

Suffice to say that Cap, the living legend of World War II (as he was billed during a 1960s comic book revival), has a lot of trouble figuring out who his friends and enemies are. Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury keeps things from him as does Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. Meanwhile, Redford’s Alexander Pierce hovers, much like Van Sydow did in 1975’s Condor movie.

Fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series particularly may appreciate the 2014 movie’s main plot. Without giving too much away (except for hard core U.N.C.L.E. fans), it’s as if the villain’s plot in the first episode of the dark fourth season had succeeded, except it occurred a long time ago.

Put yet another way: this Cap movie realizes the potential of the notion the Bond movies had with the villainous organization Quantum in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

The Russos clearly like shaky cam, but viewers can keep track of what’s going on. At 136 minutes, the movie is a trifle long, but generally satisfying, except for those who hate comic book-based movies under any circumstances.

Be warned: there are *two* epilogue scenes that take place during the end titles. The first is a teaser for 2015’s The Avengers 2. The other is a teaser for Cap 3, which currently is scheduled for May 2016, opposite Warner Bros.’s Superman-Batman movie.

If Cap 3 is as good as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Warner Bros. executives may want to reconsider that Superman-Batman release date. GRADE: B-Plus.