Road to Infinity War – Doctor Strange, or, Started From the Bottom Now We’re Magic

Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.

doctorstrange2

Look, if you get Michael Stuhlbarg, you give Michael Stuhlbarg top-billing. How Marvel survived such a faux pas the world may never know.

It’s easy enough to write off Doctor Strange as magic Iron Man. Both films are origin stories about rich pricks with facial hair getting taken down a peg. Fair enough. But the humbling of Stephen Strange is so much more expansive than that of Tony Stark.

In Iron Man, Tony Stark has to reckon with, essentially, living his life in the wrong direction. By the end of the film he’s the same dude with the same skills, he just harnesses them for a different cause. He’s still an inventor. He’s still a smartass. He still struggles with egomania. But he does it in the right direction. Stephen Strange, on the other hand, is forced to reckon with that sinister insecurity that has perhaps nagged each of us in our worst moments, that he is living his life wrong. That what he believes is wrong. That what he thinks is wrong. That his ironclad existence has been made of straw all along.

In the world-expanding, black light bonanza, Timothy Leary roller coaster sequence the Ancient One sends Strange on upon their initial meeting, we watch a man’s sense of self and understanding of the universe get utterly obliterated. His quest from there is not a simple reorienting or rebranding, it’s one of rebuilding from the bottom up.

The new world in which Strange rebuilds himself is a fascinating one of charming allies, intriguing villains and fantastic visual effects.

We aren’t in 1993 anymore. Jurassic Park is, like, 100 years old. CGI is a fact of blockbuster life and usually the only time its noteworthy is when Andy Serkis is involved or it totally sucks. But the effects in Doctor Strange not only serve as a narrative catalyst for Strange’s humbling and new pursuits, they create mesmerizing fabrics and textures for this previously unexplored corner of the MCU that go beyond the typical blockbuster fair of beams and lasers and crumbling superstructures.

Of course, those visual effects would be little more than an expertly-crafted distraction were it not for the film’s cast. Benedict Wong and Chiwetel Ejiofor in particular are two of the primary reasons I’m hoping to return to the world of Doctor Strange sooner rather than later. Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen are both on point as opposing forces of mystic power that have presumably encountered the same humbling Strange is in the midst of, but have since let their egos drip back into their beliefs and perceptions.

This is a film that tosses aside better actors than most could ever hope to get. Look, no discredit to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, but having Oscar MVP Michael Stuhlbarg traipsing around the fringes of your movie is bound to coax a few daydreams out of me about what a Stuhlbarg Sorcerer Supreme might be like. Similarly, fellow dramatic powerhouse Rachel McAdams gets the Natalie Portman treatment. That said, I devoted much of my initial post on Doctor Strange to my displeasure with McAdams’ sidelining, but in rewatching the film I understand her character, Dr. Palmer, is not entirely squandered.

The good Dr. Palmer brings to the world is practical. She is a person who helps those in need that are right in front of her face. Real people, with real injuries. Dying, hurting, bleeding patients. Not the disembodied charts and stats Stephen Strange mulls over blessing with his presence. When we meet Strange his do-gooding amounts to little more than selfishness disguised as lofty innovation. Amongst the visually spectacular, physics-bending skills Strange picks up over the course of the film, he also learns what Palmer already practices – to put more stock in how you can benefit the world around you, rather than how it might benefit you.

Coming off of the unresolved philosophical divide of Civil War, Doctor Strange introduces an important, timely notion to the MCU, the idea that widening one’s perception and opening up to ideas that contradict or even dismantle your own can be an invaluable strength, rather than a haughty catalyst for conflict.

For some characteristic anti-establishment film criticism and general bemoaning of Rachel McAdams limited roll in the MCU (though, I mean, third-billing? That’s some agent):

November 8, 2016: Doctor Strange, or, Breaking Most of the Rules

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Road to Infinity War – Captain America: Civil War, or, When Keeping it Rational Goes Wrong

Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.

civilwar2

KISS FIGHT.

With its 13th film the Marvel Cinematic Universe officially arrives at the point in which audiences can reasonably assume that the denizens of the MCU would be like “hey these super-folks are great I guess but they sure do knock stuff over a lot with alarming regularity and I guess maybe we should do something about that.” Captain America: Civil War delves into that sentiment without ever lapsing into navel-gazing, becoming the Empire Strikes Back of the Marvel Universe that Age of Ultron fell short of and, perhaps most notably, dividing the Avengers along philosophical lines that as of this writing have yet to be resolved.

That there is no clear answer to the problem of collateral damage in the MCU is a testament to the franchise’s characters, who bring perfectly rational ideologies into a world too vast and sprawling to rationalize. Tony and Cap’s conflict in Civil War is such an ideological standstill because, after a dozen previous films, it arises so organically, so reasonably. Tony is being Tony and we love Tony. Cap is being Cap and we love Cap. The only thing that’s changed is circumstance.

Since 2008 Tony’s heroism has always been bombastic and proactive. He’s never thought small and this isn’t the first time he’s forecasted a problem and sought out an inventive solution like a man possessed. He’s always been about the big picture and he’s always had the ego to believe, for better or worse, that he can and should change the world.

Inversely, Cap is a hero who has always been grounded in the here and now, defined by a call of duty to intervene in any situation in which he senses injustice. What is broken right now? What can be fixed right now? Cap’s concerns are the injustices he can see and hear, not those that others imagine and prognosticate.

These ideologies don’t necessarily have to conflict with one another, but Civil War’s Sokovia Accords all but ensure they do. The Accords present such a compelling source of conflict because they play to the thematic backbones of both heroes.

Tony’s character arc has always been a humbling. He was a hot shot who was taken down a notch and forced to reevaluate his entire life, and now, even as a hero, his ambitiousness often sees him flying too close to the sun, all too often reaping dire consequences for the world around him, as in Age of Ultron. If you’re Tony Stark and you have even an inkling of self-awareness, come Civil War you might realize you’ve got a track record of biting off more than you can chew to the detriment of humanity. Tony’s acquiescence to the Accords is a step in the right direction for the character, an admission of guilt, a surrendering of the ego to the idea that maybe Tony Stark doesn’t always know what’s best for the world.

But for Cap, agreeing to the Sokovia Accords would mean abandoning responsibility, signing up for an excuse to take the easy way out rather than doing what is right and standing up to injustice whenever and however he can. Even as a scrawny Brooklyn kid Cap has always been about doing everything in his power to stop bullies. If something bad is happening and Steve Rogers gets wind of it, he will always take it as his personal responsibility to intervene, whether it means stopping the Red Skull from world annihilation or confronting a heckler in a movie theater. For Cap, surrendering his agency to act against injustice is irresponsible, lazy even.

These ideologies ensure that Cap and Tony come into conflict, which is unfortunate because in other circumstances, having both a head in the clouds and boots on the ground could be an asset. The reasons Cap and Tony come to blows are the same reasons the Avengers need both of them. Hopefully circumstances will arise that shed light on that, for the sake of both our heroes. Like, I don’t know, maybe a purple-chinned glove-monster from space or some shit.

For more on Captain America: Civil War, specifically why the youth of today should be held responsible for coming up with hot takes on this shit rather than me:

May 20, 2016: Captain America: Civil War, or, What’s Your Policy on Late Work?

Road to Infinity War – Ant-Man, or, So Much More Than Just Perfect Timing

Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.

ant-man

Tried. So. Hard. To find the version of this poster that is just Michael Peña and Bobby Cannavale.

Ant-Man was instantly the perfect pallet cleanser after Avengers: Age of Ultron. Coming out so quickly after the second Avengers film I still wasn’t completely admitting my disappointment with that movie when I first saw this one. I didn’t know how to feel about Age of Ultron, but I instantly felt a fondness for Ant-Man. It’s charming and fun and it never once threatens to utterly collapse in on itself under its own weight, instead focusing in on likely the smallest (yeah, yeah) stakes we’ve seen in from the MCU.

Which is a good thing.

But rewatching Ant-Man, it’s so much more than just a welcome respite from the cacophony of its immediate predecessor. Ant-Man explodes with style and flavor. Quick pans. Brilliant montages. Cops and crooks with competing motivations. Christophe Beck’s sneaky, percussive score. Ant-Man commits to the heist genre in earnest, lending it the authenticity of a heist film that happens to have a superhero in it, rather than the artificiality of a superhero film that shoehorns in a few heist movie gimmicks.

Upon its initial release Ant-Man drew myriad comparisons to the first Iron Man film, allegations that it was the same cookie with different icing, traced from the same stencil with a different pen. Similar obligations were later lobbed at Doctor Strange, which I will similarly whine about when I write about that movie again in, like, two days. Such comparisons require an incredibly broad view of the films in question. I won’t bore you with a laundry list of discrepancies here, but, to my mind, the most compelling difference between the two films is the position in society from which its protagonists hail.

Where Tony Stark is a billionaire tasked with taking responsibility for his immense economic power, Scott Lang is a recently freed convict who can’t hold down a job at Baskin-Robbins. His is a new low for heroic status quos in the MCU, and one that begs some interesting questions about how morality and justice shift and distort with size and scope. When we meet Scott Lang he’s paid the penal price and continues to pay a societal price for crimes that come nowhere close to the collateral damage caused by Tony Stark’s misguided creation of a maniacal artificial intelligence. Scott Lang is certainly established as having a moral compass, but Ant-Man largely concerns him being forced into the position of a shrinking superhero because, justified or not, society will not let him live a normal life.

With that in mind, though I’d hoped to focus on just how good this film is in its own right, Ant-Man serves not only as the perfect follow-up to Age of Ultron, but also as an excellent thematic primer for Captain America: Civil War.

There’s some issues that keep Ant-Man in the middle of the pack for me, specifically its nonsense villain and the unbearable “protection clause” cop-out it levies against Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne (though that looks to be mended with the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp).

Ant-Man was one of the Marvel movies I was least looking forward to rewatching. I’ve never disliked the film, but I couldn’t get myself excited to watch it again. It was also one of the films that surprised me the most in just how much it exceeded by remembered notions of it. I may not have been looking forward to rewatching it, but once I popped it in I had an absolute blast. This is a really fun, entertaining movie that doesn’t get enough credit for its adept execution of style and the nuance of scale it lends to the franchise as a whole.

All of this is to say: Michael Peña, am I right? Michael. Peña.

For more Ant-Man ramblings, with admittedly less to say, from the time of the film’s initial release:

August 5, 2015: Perfect Timing, or, Ant-Man

Road to Infinity War – Avengers: Age of Ultron, or, The Selfless Marvel

Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.

ageofultron

Whoa! Look at all the stuff!

After the first Avengers film and the conclusion of phase one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe the concept of the shared movie universe seemed like a proven, cut-and-dry formula: small, enjoyable-enough “solo” movies with charming characters that slowly pave the way for a climactic collision of costumes rewarding audiences for biding their time through Avengers hanging out by themselves and not avenging. For better and worse that all kind of falls apart with Age of Ultron and Marvel’s second phase.

Like Iron Man 2 before it, Age of Ultron serves as a sort of sign post for a point of no return, an alarm for when certain storytelling strategies have been worn out. In this case, Age of Ultron represents the last time Marvel could get by on quips and costumes alone. There’s certainly joy to be had from Joss Whedon’s sassy one-liners and the reunion of our heroes is undoubtedly action-packed, but this isn’t a direct sequel to The Avengers, this is a film that has to contend with the more organic humor of Guardians of the Galaxy and the more physical action of The Winter Soldier and ultimately comes up short on both accounts.

As it turned out, those enjoyable-enough solo movies could be astonishing, and those climactic collisions of costumes could be utterly unrewarding.

Age of Ultron feels like a response to Avengers and not much else. Where the first Avengers film built directly off of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America, nothing about Age of Ultron feels like a natural progression from Marvel’s second phase of films, be it narratively or stylistically. There are the compelling seeds of a story here, James Spader’s Ultron is quirky and menacing in his own strange way and the events of this film present compelling and integral moments in the grand story arc of Tony Stark, but whatever Whedon’s initial vision for his follow-up to Avengers was, it gets muddied in translation by what feel like corporate mandates.

This is the least self-contained film in the Marvel Universe due in large part to its seeming lack of concern with itself. Age of Ultron introduces a slew of new characters, goes legitimately all over the world and sets up threads for three or four future MCU installments, but it doesn’t allot much of its running time to just be itself. It’s a very selfless movie that way, and it suffers for it, coming off like a film without an identity of its own.

Because so much of this movie is so expository, most of the characters wind up being short changed, leading to an Avengers outing that feels like less than the sum of its parts. At times Age of Ultron feels like a party that’s being thrown in order to disguise doing chores. The party being an Avengers movie. The chores being tedious and, in retrospect, entirely unnecessary setup for the MCU’s future. There are some great sequences in this movie and some genuinely funny moments, but it certainly hit the brakes on the exciting momentum the MCU had been building since The Winter Soldier.

And now for a look back at the morning after I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron, a point in which I am both not yet prepared to admit my disappointment with this movie and compelled by a sense of duty to write something about this movie:

May 1, 2015: Avengers: Age of Ultron, or, Marvel’s Big Comic Book Movie

Road to Infinity War – Guardians of the Galaxy, or, The Anti-Batman

Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.

guardiansofthegalaxy

You have no idea how shockingly difficult it is to find a decently sized version of the U.S. poster for any given Marvel movie.

It was Guardians! It’s always been Guardians! The movie that made mine Marvel. The one that finally coaxed me into taking that first sip of the Marvel Kool-Aid. Marvel’s third transcendent piece of filmmaking, but the first I recognized as such from day one.

In the summer of 2014, even at the eve of the Star Wars sequel era, all blockbusters, and particularly Marvel films, still shivered in the shadow of the Dark Knight Trilogy for me. Even walking out of Winter Soldier, a film I have since developed quite an affection for, I remember unsurprisingly writing it off as good, but not The Dark Knight. Guardians of the Galaxy is the movie that finally got it through to me: “hey dummy, Marvel isn’t in the Dark Knight business!”

In a lot of ways, with Guardians of the Galaxy Marvel made an anti-Batman, an equal and opposite force of inspired cinema.

In a sense, dope as he is, Batman is a dude from the upper echelons of society who was wronged and thus goes about imposing his will on the city beneath him. The Guardians are basically a bunch of misfit burnouts in detention tasked with saving their high school. They aren’t characters who come from a position of power like some of their MCU predecessors and they aren’t fueled by guilt or duty, righteousness or responsibility. They’re some punks who get an opportunity to do the right thing and begrudgingly take it.

That lack of pretense is emphasized by the film’s now-iconic soundtrack. Where the Dark Knight Trilogy has Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard going bananas on eardrums, Guardians cobbles together disparate songs from the radio of yore to an equally compelling but opposite effect. Where Zimmer and Howard’s spectacular scores engulf you and bolster those films’ imagery, underpinning a cinematic experience that towers over audiences, the Guardians soundtrack endears itself to the audience, coaxing your guard down and drawing you in closer. Additionally, ample credit has not been given to Tyler Bates’ score for the film, which proves particularly potent during some of the film’s quieter, more potent moments.

Of course you can’t talk about Guardians without discussing its humor. This film has moments of not only comedic relief, but straight-up comedy. Among the crazy visuals, catchy tunes and compelling story it was the comedy of Guardians I really found myself relishing, basking in the laughs on my way out of the theater. From the goofy opening dance number on Guardians declares itself willing and able to be unapologetically bright and colorful and hilarious. It doesn’t fail at achieving the operatic grandeur of The Dark Knight because it has no interest in being a grand opera.

For me, The Dark Knight ushered in a new level of engagement with movies. Guardians of the Galaxy is the movie that pried me free of the dogmas I’d picked up seeing The Dark Knight in theaters a dozen times. James Gunn’s film didn’t diminish my adoration of Christopher Nolan’s films, it expanded my appreciation for blockbusters at large, and all the flavors they can come in. I watch blockbuster films with a more thoughtful eye, and engage with the Marvel Cinematic Universe as intensely as I do, because of Guardians of the Galaxy.

For a stroll down memory lane to a time in which my computer screwed me over (thanks ASUS, kindly go to hell) and I wound up handwriting and drawing my blog posts and taking pictures of them on my phone to post:

August 4, 2014: Guerilla Blogging, or, Guardians of the Galaxy

Road to Infinity War – Captain America: The Winter Soldier, or, The Mack Attack Begins

Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.

wintersoldier

Avengers Assemble? March 26? This isn’t American at all!!!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, for my money, is the second truly great Marvel film. It takes the character-over-costume mentality its heavyweight predecessor The Avengers exceled at and runs with it, offering an entry in the MCU that is as compelling in its own right as it is to the mythos of the franchise as a whole. It’s also the first instance of a now tried-and-true Marvel method of steeping its films in the language of another sub-genre to spectacular effect. The Winter Soldier was a new high watermark for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it didn’t even need Robert Downey Jr.

The Avengers succeeded not only by competently bringing together previously disparate superheroes, but by doing so while still emphasizing them as compelling characters rather than just flashy costumes to be smashed together like so many action figures. The Winter Soldier continues in that same vein, fleshing out returning characters and endearing audiences to new ones with the utmost tact.

Here Nick Fury is finally more than an authoritative figurehead. Here Black Widow is given the nuance and respect the character deserves, with nary a creepy cinematic impulse in sight. Here we are introduced to a truly unsung MVP of the MCU, the Mack Attack himself: Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson. Here we get Robert Redford in a superhero movie. Here we get a villain that is straight up menacing. Here we see Chris Evans’ Captain America become the beating heart of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This film boasts great performances all around and despite entirely changing up its supporting cast, once again the Captain America franchise managed to have the best supporting troupe of any Marvel movie up to that point. But, without taking anything away from those performances, so much of the achievement in characterization in The Winter Soldier can be attributed to the dialogue in Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely’s script. Joss Whedon’s quip-heavy Avengers films are endearing and clever but aren’t above prioritizing witticisms for the sake of witticisms. While there is humor in The Winter Soldier, quips even, they never feel like they’re running the show, as if they’re being steered into.

The more dramatic dialogue in the movie is no different. When Samuel L. Jackson monologues away in an elevator it never feels written or recited, it feels like something Nick Fury would say. When Steve Rogers airs his concerns with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s schemes I believe they’re Captain America’s concerns, not a screenwriter’s thinly-veiled soapbox.

And on top of these excellent performances and that adept writing, The Winter Soldier boasts some truly first-rate action. Cap’s opening assault on a cargo ship plays like a confident statement of purpose, a declaration that the action to come will have a sense of true physicality and gravity. You feel the punches and the falls and the hurried steps. The film’s spectacular climax isn’t two CGI models flying around a MacGuffin, its two dudes beating the shit out of each other on a kick-ass set.

The Avengers proved the concept of a shared cinematic universe could pay off. That it could work. The Winter Soldier proved that it could thrive, that it could continue onward and upward without relying on the delayed gratification of passable solo outings between The Avengers’ triennial reunions. The Winter Soldier is the first film that proved the Marvel Cinematic Universe was sustainable and could have merit on a film by film basis, and while it still wasn’t the movie that made mine Marvel, revisiting it four years later it absolutely blew me away.

For my thoughts on The Winter Soldier upon it’s arrival in 2014:

April 14, 2014: Patriotism vs. Heroism, or, I Read Way to Much Into Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Perhaps more interesting, however, is this golden oldie from four days later in which I ponder the age old question… IS THE WINTER SOLDIER RACIST!?!?!?!

April 18, 2014: Food For Thought, or, Race in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Road to Infinity War – Thor: The Dark World, or, Malekith in the Middle

Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.

thedarkworld

Trust me, it says “The Dark World.”

Did you see that title? Come on, I am killing it with that title. Don’t even feel compelled to write anything else. But I will. Because I’m killing it.

Thor: The Dark World is something of a tease for what audiences would eventually get in Guardians of the Galaxy – unbridled, unapologetic space shenanigans. But much to its detriment, The Dark World is a movie firmly chained to Earth. It gets off of the ground in the middle act and just as it begins to truly soar it’s yanked back down by a cruel leash.

There’s a sense of trepidation to Dark World, as if it’s testing the waters on behalf of the entire MCU for the cosmic insanity to come, and doing so with a disproportionate amount of caution. I don’t know if it was a fear that audiences in 2013 were only willing to get so weird, or so sci-fi, or so fantastical, or if it was some misconception that they could only relate to stakes on Earth, but you can feel this movie holding itself back, reigning itself in, getting in its own way. I mean, in the immediate aftermath of The Avengers what better excuse for Thor not summoning his new friends than “because he is literally in outer space” could you possibly ask for?

And yet!

Dark World doesn’t take a lot of chances, which is particularly obvious after watching its immediately successors, The Winter Soldier and Guardians. So we’re left with a climax set in a drab London besieged by a nonsense MacGuffin (one which I am genuinely excited to see explained in Infinity War).

That said, I really, really dig this movie. And not just because it was the very first movie I went to alone and anything short of being laughed out of the theater and ridiculed by a pack of teen bullies would have constituted a good time at the cinema.

The chunk of this film in the middle that leaves the Earth behind and unleashes sheer imagination across Asgard is more than enough to endear The Dark World to me time and time again. The Star Trek meets Lord of the Ring aesthetic still boasts some of the most inspired design work the MCU has yet to offer, and there’s a marriage of practical and digital effects here that Dark World still doesn’t get enough credit for. The Dark Elves and their weaponry are a visual feast, and for as long as he is a force of antagonism in the film, Kurse is a sight to behold. The blending of sci-fi and fantasy pallets lend the best parts of Dark World a sense of otherworldly, swashbuckling adventure that I still find infectious.

Like I said, I really, really dig this movie. But it’s not Marvel’s best. I get that. Hemsworth, Hiddleston and Hopkins once again bring out the best in each other but the rest of the cast is given far less to chew on. It’s no surprise the MCU and Natalie Portman haven’t crossed paths again after her supreme talents were squandered yet again, and Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith is a bland, wasted use of actor and character alike. I mean, look, dude ain’t even mentioned on the back of the Blu-ray!

But when those creepy Dark Elves pour out of their knife spaceship and throw their reverse grenades and those golden space gladiators in a lavish thrown room?

C’mon.

This take isn’t all that much hotter than my first hot take, but, if you have any interest in me saying the exact same thing only as someone who doesn’t give a shit about Marvel movies:

November 13, 2013: More Like “The DORK World,” or, Just Kidding I Really Liked Thor 2

God I really just have been murdering it with titles for, like, years.