Marvel Assembled

Marvel Assembled is a series of articles chronicling our journey with the many films based on the Marvel Universe of comics. With an initial intention to revisit all the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Assembled will stray off the beaten path and visit all Marvel-based movie properties.

Elektra

2005 | dir: Rob Bowman | 97 m

Just two short years after being introduced in Daredevil, Jennifer Garner’s Elektra gets the historical distinction of being the first female-led Marvel movies, but also (possibly) stands as a reason why we didn’t get any more female-driven Marvel movies until Captain Marvel nearly fourteen years later. It’s easy to put the blame on the lack of female superhero movies on the failure of Elektra, but I find it hard to believe there isn’t more going on here: when the MCU really got rolling, there’s no valid reason Black Widow didn’t receive her own starring vehicle and there were plenty of interesting female superheroes to pull out of the X-Men series. The fact is, female representation has always been a bit dismal in the comic book realm, and the race to get these adaptations to the big screen had studios picking the most historically identifiable and popular characters from Marvel’s stables, which unironically come from the 1960’s and are all alliteratively named white men.  

That being said, Garner did a decent job – considering the context of the film – in 2003’s Daredevil and the character of Elektra Natchios showed some promise before being sacrificed needlessly to further motivate Matt Murdock’s turmoil and double down on his need for revenge. So maybe an Elektra movie could travel back in time a bit to show us a bit of the story of this mysterious character and the trials she’s overcome to become the fighter she is today. Or, as it turns out, we could just pick up where we left off and just ignore her death for the most part. It’s entirely possible that I just missed a line of dialogue or hazy montage, but Wikipedia is informing me that Stick (a blind martial arts master who trained Daredevil) revived her then proceeded to train her (which I do remember). 

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Ghost Rider

2007 | dir: Mark Steven Johnson | 114 m

Without any kind of initial explanation, I have a soft spot in my memory for Ghost Rider and a hesitation to really say anything negative about the film, but damn, this movie is bad. While revisiting Nicolas Cage in the starring role of Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, I had an inkling that I would discover something new about the film, and if not new, then something to grasp onto that could elevate this film and redeem it. Unfortunately, it’s not the case: this might be worse off today than when I initially saw it over a decade ago.

A bit of personal context here: I am in no way familiar with Ghost Rider, his origin, cast of supporting characters or history. The Ghost Rider comics I bought in the early 90’s were purchased because of a killer cover done by Adam Kubert on an 1992 issue of Sprits of Vengeance (link here) where Venom is hanging upside down in the sewers, holding Ghost Rider’s flaming skull wrapped up in a chain. I probably went onto buy a dozen or so Ghost Rider comics, read them, bagged them into the collection, and ignorantly forget them moments later.

Ghost Rider is quite a visually striking character and that holds true in this film (for the most part). Wrapped in biker leathers, his skull ablaze in eternal flame and speeding forth on a badass motorcycle with flaming wheels, Ghost Rider is - at least on the visual scale - a fun character to watch. Johnny Blaze (in this film, at least) inadvertently signs a deal with the devil (really Mephistopheles here) that would cure his father’s cancer and in return, hand over Johnny’s soul. Of course, in true genie fashion, the deal comes true, but the devil ensures his father dies the very next day anyway. Johnny, now knowing how serious this is and understanding that the devil can take his loved ones at any time, just leaves, isolating himself for a couple of decades and leaving his sweetheart behind without answers.

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The New Mutants

 

 2020 | dir: Josh Boone | 94 m

It would be impossible to begin talking about The New Mutants without touching on the abhorrent delays and release schedule woes that the film underwent. Originally slated to be released in the spring of 2018, the movie would be pushed back until late summer of 2020, which feels unprecedented for a superhero film in our climate, but alas, here we are. You could blame a few things, including the Disney acquisition of Fox, higher priority films and of course the COVID pandemic, but behind all that would loom the quality of the film: surely, this entry in the Fox mutant pantheon was SO bad that releasing it could do more harm than good. The issue is that I could believe it: the last two films in the X-Men series were pretty awful, and I was ready for a reboot (although I’m not necessarily looking forward to a Disney/Marvel reboot, but that’s another topic). The New Mutants dropped a trailer, and I was heavily intrigued, but I still had no choice but to enter into the film with the lowest of expectations. 

Wouldn’t you know it: the film wasn’t bad.

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The Incredible Hulk

2008 | dir: Louis Leterrier | 112 m

Just a few short months passing after Marvel Studios unleashed the well-crafted Iron Man on an unsuspecting public in 2008, Universal would – with the involvement of Marvel Studios – drop another entry into a newly reimagined Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in the form of The Incredible Hulk. This was truly a turbelunt time for comic book films, as we faced a deluge of poorly executed adaptations and some experiments that left studios cautious about how to proceed, which is nowhere more apparently than in this Hulk film. Doing away with everything from Ang Lee’s Hulk in 2003, The Incredible Hulk was a reboot of sorts whose sole purpose seemed to be avoiding any kind of artistic depth while navigating the “safe passage” of mediocrity and tip-toeing around anything that Ang Lee had done before. As a film and comic book enthusiast, I was excited for another Hulk film, but incredibly wary of how the next iteration of the character was going to turn out on screen. To be fair, I loved the first Hulk film and my expectations were low for The Incredible Hulk, which would see a complete cast replacement and a shift in tone.  

As it happens, my expectations were on point: The Incredible Hulk is perfectly mediocre in every way. 

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Daredevil

2003 | dir: Mark Steven Johnson | 103 m

February 14, 2003: what better day to release a superhero film about a blind, masked vigilante upon the masses, and indeed, what better day for myself and two friends to line up an hour before the box office opens to secure our tickets? I swear, I didn’t have to blackmail them or anything, they just played along! While I’m sure there was some coercion involved, the fact of that matter is that there would be no pity party involved on this Valentine’s Day, and all that would remain is unabashed excitement for the latest Marvel superhero film. Well, from myself at least, probably not so much the other guys. Following hot on the heels of Spider-Man in 2002 and X-Men the year before, it’s easy to see how anyone with a familiarity with these characters would be excited for any of the Marvel films at this time: around the corner we were getting X2 and Hulk, all in one year! 

Unfortunately, that excitement was quickly dashed, as the three of us walked out of the theatre quietly, at which point a wall of denial had built itself within my head and yes, I had decided that I had enjoyed the film. Even revisiting the film now, I’m willing to brush aside many of the issues and come up for reasons why things didn’t work, but mostly, I would just focus on what did work. As I tried to take notes on this viewing, I gave up quickly and threw myself into despair as I came to terms that Daredevil just wasn’t very good. Are there worst Marvel films? Most definitely. 

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Iron Man

 2008 | dir: Jon Favreau | 126 m

What better way to start a new series of posts about Marvel movies than the film that launched an entire cinematic universe and arguably changed the landscape of the modern blockbuster. That film is 2008’s Iron Man, starring a pretty stellar cast led by Robert Downey Jr, Jeff Bridges, Gwyneth Paltrow and Terrance Howard all directed by Jon Favreau in one of the best superhero origin films we’ve ever seen. While you can credit the film for launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the film doesn’t focus on that future groundwork and is stronger for it. I can’t imagine that idea being anything but a dream at that point with just a tiny sprinkling of this universe building present in the movie (and of course the juicy post-credits scene). Instead, the film excels because it’s so tightly focused on giving us a grounded origin of an iconic, interesting character and utilizing the talented crew and actors to provide a film with broad appeal that executes blending together an incredible concoction of action, humour and drama.  

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