Marvel: Phase Two – Look to the Stars

Avengers Age of Ultron and the end of Marvel Phase 2

Jokerside’s second major look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe as it nears the end of Phase Two. Spoilers abound like Ultron drones – if you’re not up to speed with events on the small and large screens as of May 2015 then Code Green.

MARVEL’S PHASE TWO HAS REACHED ITS PEAK. IT’S NOT OVER, THE CURIOUS ANT MAN HAS THE HONOUR OF CLOSING THE PHASE LATER THIS YEAR. BUT THAT FILM WOULD HAVE TO PREPOSTEROUSLY EXCEED ITS DIMINUTIVE NAME TO REACH THE HEIGHTS OF GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY OR THE SECOND AVENGERS FILM. So let’s call Age of Ultron the peak – the one film that would not only buck the trend but also set off some mild warning bells should it fail to top the box office list this year. Sitting atop a phase that’s destin­ed to rake in considerably more than $4 billion, it’s clear that the Avengers fuelled Marvel machine is marching on, although not on the same tank tracks it used to.

All Change

What was extraordinary about Phase One was the dominance of military strength

At the half-way point of Phase Two, Jokerside took a sly glimpse at the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) at what was a significant turning point. Starting with the imperious Iron Man 3 (and only dropping slightly with a follow-up trip to Asgard) the newly imbued and properly Disneyfied Phase Two did exactly what it should: raise the game in every film and on every level. The MCU was expanding and consolidating with barely a glance back at the narrower scope of its 2008 beginnings. What was extraordinary about Phase One was the dominance of military strength, starting with Tony Stark’s life-changing trials in Afghanistan and culminating in the full reveal of SHIELD’s far-reaching machine. That build up overwhelmed the unfortunate Iron Man 2, but by the time the Avengers initiative had reached its fruition at the end of Phase One there was little doubt that we were watching the SHIELD show.

So it was only natural that SHIELD would spin off into an actual television show, and presumably why, in-spite of that small screen expansion, Phase Two set about ripping SHIELD up. With Stark going solo at the start of Phase Two, it was up to Captain America’s fight against the Winter Soldier to prove how much Phase One’s build-up could be forgotten. It was the right film for it, splintering SHIELD under the shield of a man who was never an easy fit into that organisation. That film proved monumental for the MCU, setting the agenda for the future of Marvel properties on the big and small screens.

Missing Mutants

Mutation was packed off to Fox

Beyond SHIELD’s fate, there was a giant mutant elephant standing in Stark Tower. A year ago Jokerside explored the clear agenda that Winter Soldier’s post-title sequence set out:

“The Winter Soldier’s biggest contribution may not be the dissolution of SHIELD but its clear design on the 21st century. Here was its own Iron Man 2 moment – after all, which Marvel film can risk standing still? In a scene a little too tell not show, the real pattern for future films was laid down. It’s a hook with a nicely sinister overtone, whether HYDRA succeeded or not (they couldn’t have wiped out all the potential…). Von Strucker’s closing cameo shows that the next century had been unlocked by their prophecy of potential. It was almost distracting to hear Stephen Strange get a mention, not that Cap blinked at it. If Strange already exists, he may well not be ‘active’ (met the Ancient One…) and yet still destined to become the Sorcerer Supreme. Similarly the twins look to dodge the mutant bullet. There are potentially no mutants in this Marvel universes, simply accelerated or expected ‘twists’ of potential.”

Marvel: Phase Two – One of our Tanks is Missing

Mutation had been packed off with the X-Men to Fox, with the two legendary Mutant members of the Avengers now a product of experimentation. And that meant the phase that properly launched into the universe (after Thor’s tentative first steps ) also had to take long hard looks at the human condition. Just two films later, Avengers: Age of Ultron would complete the set by destroying Hydra and unlocking two famous twins. Read more…

Marvel: Disney and the Age of Marvel

Disney Age of Marvel

The Walt Disney Company’s costly acquisition strategy looks increasingly shrewd as Avengers: Age of Ultron pushes the Marvel Cinematic Universe to being the world’s highest grossing film franchise.

First published by Molewood Consulting on 29th April 2015.

THE NUMBERS ARE IN AND QUITE UNLIKE THE EVENTS THAT OFTEN ASSEMBLE EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES, THEY’RE EMINENTLY PREDICTABLE. The latest installment in the unstoppable march of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU) looks set to break records all round. At home, highly aggressive estimates suggest Avengers: Age of Ultronmay make up to $230million and in actual terms is likely to smash $200.3 million taken by its 2012 predecessor in the United States. Opening across 44 international territories, it’s confirmed as setting a Hulk-like record of $200.2 million, despite alleged boycotts caused by rental fee disagreements in the German market.

Under the unrelenting march of Marvel’s new heroes, the UK showed the changing of the guard more than most. Ultron’s £20.18 million debut beat the opening set by James Bond with 2012’s Skyfall.

Not Just a Phase

Phase 2 will conclude this July

It’s safe to say that the second Avengers film has comfortably surpassed its estimated $280 million budget and is well on track to beat the $1.518 billion grossed by its predecessor. It also continues the phenomenal performance of the Marvel movies as their structured development process reaches the end of its second phase. Phase 2 will conclude this July with a new and lesser known Marvel IP Ant-Man. Even if that film matches the lowest grossing MCU film so far (2008’s Incredible Hulk took $263.4) Phase 2 will likely exceed $5.12 billion. Not bad, when you already have Phase 3 lined up…

Read more…

Mad Max: “The Long Road to Hollywood”

Mad Max Even further beyond the Thunderdome

As Mad Max roars back to the cinema, the second of Jokerside’s glimpses back at the original trilogy. As the gas ran out on the Road Warrior he reluctantly found himself in the middle of a highly influential, lean second film and then an extraordinary stab at Hollywood excess. (Like the man himself, a few mild Fury Road spoilers fade into the mix near the end). 

“Ruthless…
Savage…
Spectacular”

SO RAN A TAGLINE FOR MAX’S RETURN TO THE BIG SCREEN IN 1981. IN SO MANY WAYS THE FIRST FILM WAS PERFECTLY SELF-CONTAINED… BUT IT ALSO LEFT A WIDE OPEN ROAD IN FRONT OF THE ROAD WARRIOR. And George Miller, feted by a Hollywood that offered him the reigns to films like First Blood, couldn’t resist exploring that world with a higher budget. The first part of this retrospective looked at the essential Max Factor, those crucial bits of legend that feed through the entire franchise. It took an extra-long look at that opening 1979 film, an extraordinary piece of revenge with a proud place in the grand tradition of the Australian road movie. That first film could have gone anywhere, where it went was beyond expectations.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)

“Only One Man Can Make a Difference”

This is it, the film that all other Mad Max pictures need to live up to. It set the template from the middle of the trilogy, the leanest and most influential of three different visions… Remember we left him a broken man without hope? Now, he’s fully set, cold and survivalist. This is the cue that Fury Road picks up, rewriting the second instalment more than others. Like the James Bond comparison that keeps coming up, Max can lose his Interceptor twice in part two and four, just as Bond meets Blofeld twice in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. And if there’s any part of this diverse trilogy that Fury Road should mimic it’s the second one.

This is the film that makes the favourites list of directors like Fincher, Del Toro, Cameron and Rodriguez. A film that followed one of the greatest budget-to-box office success stories of all time, and somehow managed to extend the story, drama, depth, action and potential of the franchise. It had a budget 10 times the original, built the biggest film set Australia had ever seen and managed to film its script in order. Oh, and only gives its leading man 16 lines of dialogue.

Here Max comes into his own. Gibson cuts an iconic figure in the Frankensteined leather, cuts and mismatched clothing explained by the injuries that concluded the first film. Striking, solitary, threatening, stunning. It’s a deep, dark study of a man with heart-felt character touches. The film raises its game to match, allowing not just for broad sweeps of the desert outback, but the mass of converging vehicles the original couldn’t stretch to. Chasing, sparring and locking spoilers. It all creates a heady mix revolving round the impassive Max.

The Silent Type

“If you had contract it was with him – and he died with it”

The dark figure of Max has been condensed, and the film feels no pressure to recap the events that created him. Very few concessions are made to explain his actions and general self-serving, self-survivalist nature. But there are sparing and effective glimmers that play with it. One of those comes with a music box mechanism, much like one that was set to appear in Fury Road but seems to have ended up on the cutting room floor. Left alone, after watching quietly main villain The Humungus articulate his offers to the refinery outpost at the heart of the film, Max passes the mechanism to the Feral Child who had inflicted the most damage on the marauders though secret passageways. Resolute for much of the film, Max doesn’t show emotion at thee death around him, nor even at the loss of his Falcon later on. He’d equipped it with a booby trap, so would never have let him become too attached to even his precious wheels. But when he impassively considers this Feral Kid and passes him the mechanism he took earlier from a crashed gang member, he almost manages a smile – albeit a mirthless one. It’s superbly carried by Gibson, taking a firm grip of one of cinema’s great men of few words. But it’s also so much more. Set five years after the first film, the Feral child isn’t far off the age his own child would have been. And like Max, the child’s left without anyone – although lucky enough not to be saddled with the knowledge or tragedy of the previous world. And tellingly, this scene comes just after Feral Kid has inflicted the kind of emotional trauma on villain Wez that helped to create Max. So the tragic cycle of this world keeps turning.

Yes, it’s five years later and society has moved on, even if not up. But also, Max is far from the urban decay and loose infrastructure of the first film. In that time, deep in the outback The Humungus has amassed a gang of berserkers. A far more formidable crew than Max encountered half a decade before.

Read more…

Mad Max: “That other George Franchise” and its Essential Max Factors

Mad Max - The Essential Max Factor

Mad Max roars back to the cinema this week, with the kind of high-budget epic that’s far removed from its budget-constrained, gritty beginnings. Although if anything, Max madder than he ever.  Simultaneously complex, mysterious and furiously simple – a look back at the franchise built around a man’s mental collapse. First Up, a (spoiler-filled) look at the 1979 original and those essential Mad Max Factors.

“You don’t want to make Max mad,
Because when Max gets mad,
He gets even”

WHAT IS IT ABOUT GEORGES AND THEIR FRANCHISES? George Romero has his brilliant Dead trilogy, now of two parts after expand it in the last decade with a looser follow-up trilogy.  Then of course, main beard George Lucas saw the turn of the century as the perfect time to expand his original Star Wars trilogy. Being very kind, neither of those extensions matched the heights of the originals. So it’s left to one other George to right the record. And as Australian visionary George Miller heads back to his Mad Max franchise 30 years on, he’s certainly not running on empty.

All those original ‘George Trilogies’ ended between 1983 and 1985, and while Max’s return comes later, having escaped a great deal of production, it stands a good chance of writing a wrong. To fulfil the franchise’s potential as one of Hollywood’s major properties. Miller always had higher blockbuster ambitions for his main work, last seen limping slightly from Hollywood in 1985. Amassing awards for other films, from drama to animation, he’s certainly not lost the passion for his first cinematic son.

The Originals

Every film has a different flavour

So what of that original trilogy? It’s an incredibly varied work, released over six years but crossing 20 years of narrative chronology. It hardly sits unique in the genre of Australian road movie, but it’s surprisingly un-repetitive. Maybe it’s tracking the disintegration of humanity, maybe through time passed or distance made from an apocalypse. But really it’s about the destruction of one man. The first film took its time defining and then breaking a legend in waiting who would haunt the next two films like a ghost as the world found new ways to fall around him. If there’s redemption on offer he falls on it by mistake and never sees it to fruition.  It’s astonishing that the first film is dedicated to Max’s origin, but more so that once he’s created and voyages further into the dark heart of dystopia he’s resolutely fixed. It’s a study of a man who has everything taken away, and becomes a single stable point in a new world that’s often bustling either for hope, anarchy or a new capitalism. But it’s open to interpretation. He’s an anti-hero, but no longer either the good man he professes to be in the first part nor a villain, despite his clear homicidal criminality at the end of that same film. Perhaps not so much a good man than a broken man in waiting; a fragile personality that simply can’t accept change or loss.

Read more…

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