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Marvel Cinematic Universe Breakdown (Part 1)

marvel cinematic

Avengers: Infinity War is poised to take the entire world by storm this summer, so for our monthly Cinemaholics crossover episode, we’re revisiting and analyzing the first 11 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From Iron Man to Avengers: Age of Ultron, we discuss the hits and misses of the first two phases of the MCU and have a fun series of agreements and disagreements along the way…

Hosted by Sam Noland, Jason Read, and Anthony Battaglia. Featuring special guest Jack Muldoon!

Note: At the time of recording, we neglected to realize that Ant-Man technically counts as being part of Phase 2. We will discuss Ant-Man and address the mistake in next week’s episode!

Question for you: What do you believe is the most underrated MCU installment? Also, which Guardian of the Galaxy is your favorite? Comment below, email us at ataigpodcast@gmail.com, or follow us on Twitter @AnywayCast. All feedback is hugely appreciated!

Go on…Marvel Cinematic Universe Breakdown (Part 1)

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Which is Better? ‘The Avengers’ vs ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’

avengers vs age of ultron

Which is Better is a monthly editorial series where I dare to compare the best and worst of everything. This month: Is the first Avengers movie better than its 2015 sequel, or is it the other way around? 

Last year, my friends and I debated this for an episode of my podcast, Now Conspiring. But to be honest, the debate didn’t go anywhere because we all sort of agreed (for once). Now that enough time has passed to let the movie sink in properly, I’ve decided to revisit these two movies and decide for myself.

Granted, a lot of fans of both movies have been debating this since last spring, pointing out every flaw in each movie that could somehow tip their arguments. But it’s unclear whether or not the somewhat lukewarm reception to Age of Ultron was a result of superhero movie fatigue, Marvel fatigue, or something else that may not be a reflection of the movie’s true quality.

If we’re judging by box office, it’s even murkier. At first glance, it may seem that Avengers is better than its sequel because it pulled in $100 million more at the box office, which is a drop in the bucket compared to both movies making roughly $1.5 billion each.

avengers vs age of ultron

But aren’t sequels supposed to be bigger hits than the originals? You’d think that, but it’s actually more common to see diminishing returns depending on the franchise.

Sticking to Marvel superheroes, not a single Spider-Man movie has made as much money domestically as the first one, despite Spider-Man 2 being considered a huge improvement and one of the greatest superhero movies of all time.

Most regard Empire Strikes Back to be the best of the Star Wars films, yet it made $200 million less than A New Hope, not even adjusting for inflation. Let’s not even get started on Return of a Jedi actually failing to net a profit.

So the argument has to come down to the movies themselves, metrics aside. For this week’s Which is Better, I’ll break both movies down on a series of points crucial to what makes a superhero movie great.

Starting with,

BEST STORY

avengers vs age of ultron

Few will argue that The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron (AOU) are wildly different when it comes to plot execution. And for good reason.

Much of the beginning of Avengers centered around exposition that united all of our “mightiest heroes.” It was incredibly entertaining, of course, considering how new it felt to see these characters side by side in one movie.

But the plot was otherwise quite basic: The threat is established, the heroes are brought together to address it, a central action set piece gives them a reason to work together, and they save the day in one final battle. Pretty simple.

AOU had a lot more freedom to be complicated since a lot of that character-building exposition was done in the last film, and also because Avengers was such a monumental hit that the studio was confident people would remember what was going on in their cinematic universe.

So with AOU, we got three villains (sort of), tons of new side characters, and another world domination plot. And that was including many of the new characters introduced in the “Phase 2” of Marvel movies, Guardians of the Galaxy notwithstanding.

In AOU, Tony Stark’s creation was the established threat, but unlike Loki (who was also tied to a main character in a close way), Ultron was a complete unknown to the audience. He arrived on the scene quickly and drove the plot as soon as he showed up.

avengers vs age of ultron

The heroes were already together by this point, so the movie spent more time developing them as they worked to deal with the threat of Ultron. If we’re judging both movies by complexity and character arcs, than AOU surpasses the original in spades.

And that’s because the first Avengers is essentially a party, or a celebration of the fact that Marvel pulled off one of the greatest team-ups in cinematic history. But aside from some quips and other quick dialogue, the characters didn’t progress much from beginning to end. They just decided (again) to do what they’ve already done in their own respective movies: be heroes.

“Saving the day” wasn’t such a black and white solution in AOU, which I found very refreshing. Each Avenger had an agenda, and some sparks of disagreement and strife popped up between these characters, teasing the upcoming Civil War.

This worked because getting invested in characters is what made AOU feel more like a complete story compared to the first Avengers, which was more of a continuation of a running story that didn’t feel all that resolved by the end.

To be fair, AOU having a more complex plot also brought on a ton of narrative issues, many of them being the cause of Joss Whedon having to set up future movies with throwaway scenes that didn’t feel as cohesive. A good example is Thor’s mini-vacation to awaken his new powers, a side adventure that was given hardly any time to be built up or explained well. As I mentioned earlier, Ultron was also rushed as a villain, probably to give more time to the Wakanda references they had to include to set up Black Panther.

So AOU isn’t perfect, but I’d say the good certainly outweighs the bad. The darker tone wasn’t quite as dark as people hoped for, but there was a new sense of tension that actually got a payoff in the end with one of the first key deaths in these movies. And a lot of what doesn’t work that well in AOU is sort of indicative of the same problems existing in the original. We just didn’t harp on them as much back in 2012 because the novelty of the film was so, well, novel.

Both movies have great, enjoyable narratives, but I have to give this point to AOU for being bolder and containing a more dense story, flaws aside.

BEST CHARACTERS

avengers vs age of ultron

I’ll do this one fast. It’s a tie.

As I mentioned earlier, AOU was fantastic at giving us more insight into these characters, which gives it a huge advantage in this debate. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are notable exceptions that I give a pass due to the messiness surrounding the rights for those characters.

That said, Avengers pulled off something equally impressive by reintroducing the core team without spoon-feeding us tons of information about them we didn’t need to know. Marvel could have easily decided to treat us like we’re stupid and need a “Previously on” in order to remember who Thor and Captain America are.

To put it simply, both movies do a terrific job at showcasing great characters. The story elements behind these characters are certainly stronger in AOU, but we’ve already evaluated that in the previous section, so it’s a tie.

BEST VILLAIN

avengers vs age of ultron

Loki or Ultron? Oh, who am I kidding…

Everyone (I think) loves Loki. It’s been a running joke for some time that he’s pretty much the only “good” Marvel villain. And for the most part, I actually agree.

He was an effortless scene stealer, in no small part thanks to Tom Hiddleston’s wonderful take on the character. He captured the comic-book villain quite well, while also updating it perfectly for feature films. He was funny, arrogant, and even a little sympathetic. But despite this, he was incredibly threatening, despite not having any “raw” power.

We knew throughout Avengers that Loki wasn’t that strong of a guy. Yet he commanded a ton of presence and was taken incredibly seriously. Using him for the first movie was a perfect choice because he was the perfect villain to contrast the raw power of the Avengers, who were vastly more intimidating when it came to brute strength.

Yet he wasn’t even “smarter” compared to Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. There was just an unspoken mental advantage he was able to hold over the heroes just enough to provoke them into finally stopping him.

Ultron was an attempt to up the ante with a villain who could be strong enough to bring down the Avengers, but they went with giving him an advantage aside from brute strength again.  Not being that powerful himself, Ultron commanded a huge army and could tamper with their technology, even the Internet.

A problem that arose with this was when Scarlet Witch introduced yet another alternative to brute strength with her mind powers. But by the end of AOU, the Avengers do what they always need to do: save the day with their muscles…and lasers and hammers and what not.

An unstoppable villain that could have defeated all of the Avengers with brute strength would have strangely been more refreshing and a unique challenge for our heroes. It’s actually a bit ironic because I’m sure being different was what the writers intended to do. And while Ultron himself was sarcastic and entertaining, I found myself feeling almost nothing when he was discarded.

Best villain goes to The Avengers.

BEST ACTION

avengers vs age of ultron

I’m actually cheating a bit by saying “best action,” because I’m really talking about how these movies work overall as action films. So I’m judging how beautiful they are, set pieces, how the special effects aid the experience, and of course, fight choreography.

That criteria in mind, this is a pretty easy decision. While both films are extremely polished, AOU is the one that stands out when it comes to those moments that define a great action movie.

Like I mentioned earlier, AOU is just more dense. Avengers has three major action scenes, and all of them are incredibly one-note and completely one-upped by the sequel.

For example:

The Avengers starts with a series of minor confrontations between the Avengers themselves. This is done even better in AOU when they’re fighting Tony Stark’s suits after the party, as it’s a surprising action scene that gets the plot started on the right tone.

The second act of Avengers features Hulk on a rampage. AOU one-ups this in a huge way by unleashing Hulk on innocent people, forcing Tony Stark to don the built-up Hulkbuster armor and finally prove a worthy challenge to the overpowered character. This is, in my opinion, the best action scene in the MCU for a laundry list of reasons.

Finally, the original ends with a massive battle where the heroes are vastly outnumbered. And in the end, someone nearly dies. AOU one-ups this by actually killing off a character (albeit not someone as key to the franchise as Tony Stark).

Aside from all that, there’s just a lot more going on in AOU when it comes to the action. I don’t think it’s necessarily prettier, but I’d be hard pressed to find anything about the original that trumps it in this category.

Point goes to Avengers: Age of Ultron.

THE VERDICT

avengers vs age of ultron

Well, it looks like my answer is the same as it was a year ago. I consider Avengers: Age of Ultron to be better than The Avengers. It has a better plot, it maintains what we love about the characters in the original, and it has a more expansive, thrilling set of action scenes.

It wasn’t a landslide, obviously, and to be completely honest, The Avengers is still my favorite out of the two. The experience I had watching it was unlike any other I’ve had in the theater, and it’s filled to the brim with quotes and moments I’ll get nostalgic over for years to come. But I can’t say that I think it’s a better film, overall, even if it has just the right amount of Loki.

Agree? Disagree? Let’s talk about it in the comments. And let me know what you’d like to see compared in the next Which is Better. 

Thanks for reading this! You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter: @JonNegroni

My Top 10 Movies of 2015 (So Far)

Summer is about to kickoff, so I thought it would be fun to look back on the best films of Winter and Spring 2015. There are a few films I haven’t seen this year (yet) that may sway this list, and I’ll list them at the bottom.

I’ve made a stronger effort to watch more new movies this year, and it’s certainly paid off. For the first time in my life, I actually feel equipped to evaluate which movies are worth highlighting 6 months into the year. And we’ve gotten quite a few highlights. Starting with…

# 1 Mad Max: Fury Road

top 2015 movies

This shouldn’t surprise too many people. From its opening scene, George Miller had me hooked on his crazy, post-apocalyptic nightmare made reality.

With some of the best action scenes in years, combined with furious performances from Charlize Theron (get it?) and Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road has so far made the top of my list of must-watch films in 2015.

#2 Paddington

top 2015 movies

OK, this is certainly a departure from the #1 spot, and I’m sure many of you are rolling your eyes at the fact that I’m elevating this family friendly movie all the way to #2, but hear me out.

Paddington is a kid movie done right, amidst scores of cheap remakes and strange misfires disguised as high-level (I’m looking at you, Spongebob). Simply put, Paddington has the charm, wit, and effortless script that most movies this year have chosen to skip.

#3 Ex Machina

top 2015 movies

I usually hate feeling uncomfortable during a movie, especially when it has CGI Paul Walker involved (too soon?) But Ex Machina subverts what we expect in an eery movie about artificial intelligence without insulting our intelligence.
It’s not a horror movie. It’s not a thriller. And it’s certainly not just a commentary, if at all. The mystery of what makes this movie…what it is…only makes me love it even more.

#4 What We Do In The Shadows

top 2015 movies

Technically, this superb “mockumentary” about the lives of vampires living in New Zealand came out last year, but it’s wider release didn’t kick off until January. That means I get to share the delight of this monster movie homage with all of you who haven’t managed to see it yet. Seriously though, get on that.

#5 Kingsman: The Secret Service

top 2015 movies

Speaking of homages, I wasn’t too surprised to see that this James Bond action successor ended up being one of the most fun adventures of the year. Yes, even moreso than another certain superhero flick…
I can still remember the best moments of the film, including the controversial church scene that was shot in just one take (if you can believe that). While I’m not necessarily itching for a sequel, though it would be nice, Kingsman still reigns as one of the year’s most interesting escapes.

#6 Selma

top 2015 movies

History is my weak spot. Take me to any colonial town and tell me that guy is really a smith from 1776 and you have my money. But historical biopics from any era tend to rank low on my attention span. Why watch a movie about that bridge in Selma when I can just go there?
Well, it turns out, Selma does a brilliant job of revitalizing this subject matter with faithful storytelling, a chilling script, and yes, David Oyelowo. And that’s not even mentioning the soundtrack.

#7 Avengers: Age of Ultron

top 2015 movies

It’s not as groundbreaking as the first film, but it’s still groundbreaking. Leave it to Marvel. 2015 has not yet hit us with a lot of comic book movie adventures, as Fox has saved its movie for the summer and Sony is conspicuously absent.
But even without competition, Age of Ultron is a triumph of patient buildup, electric characters, and an excellent effects budget. It’s not the dark story many of us expected and hoped for, but it had plenty of memorable moments to make it standout, even if it is just a trailer for even more exciting events to come.

#8 While We’re Young

top 2015 movies

I’ll admit I’m easily charmed by Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts (despite finding Birdman a bit meh for her). So pairing these veterans with relative newcomers Adam Driver (of future Star Wars fame) and Amanda Seyfried (OK, not a newcomer, but still untested for the most part) was almost overkill.
Specifically, every scene combining these characters or a mixing and matching them was pulled off brilliantly, and it helps that the script had something pretty meaningful to say about my generation, your generation, and their generation.

#9 Unfriended

top 2015 movies

Do you believe in miracles? Unfriended was a made-for-tv movie destined for MTV reruns and live-tweets. But it ended up being transformed into a perfectly timed film that did something pretty novel and refreshing with the horror genre, while also preaching a sermon on cyber-bullying that didn’t come off as forced. Well, maybe a little.

#10 Tomorrowland

top 2015 movies

Yeah, I might get a little heat for this one. Though Tomorrowland certainly isn’t amazing overall, it happens to be one of the riskiest, gutsiest movies of the year. And a lackluster ending doesn’t do enough to eviscerate an inventive and entertaining first two acts.

Possibly great films I haven’t gotten around to yet:

I’d love to add to this list, but alas, there are just some 2015 films I haven’t had a chance to see for myself yet. Here are a few ranking high on my list of must-see:

  1. It Follows
  2. ‘71
  3. A Most Violent Year
  4. Still Alice
  5. Girlhood

I also want to point out my biggest disappointment of the year (so far): Chappie. Oh, what could have been.

If you something to add to this list, feel free to let me know in the comment discussions below. See you in another 6 months.

Thanks for reading! If you like this blog, you can subscribe for weekly updates by clicking the “Subscribe” button on the right sidebar. Or just follow me on Twitter for the latest updates – @JonNegroni

Avengers: Age of Ultron Review, Best Trailers For The Worst Movies

age of ultron review podcast

In this week’s episode of Now Conspiring, we’re joined by Reid Jones as we have a spoilery discussion about Marvel’s latest Avengers-related assembly. If you want to avoid spoilers, stop listening at the 8:25 mark of the podcast and then pick it up again at 34:44.

But Age of Ultron isn’t all we’re talking about this week. We also cover the new Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts film, While We’re Young for a quick review. We also cover the latest movie news, including the recent 21 Jump Street crossover, the AMC Star Wars marathon, and more.

Later in the show, we try to decide what the best trailer is for the worst movie. Don’t forget to add your suggestion to the comments!

Enjoy the show, and don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes and rate/review us if you like us! THANKS!

Question of the Week: Who is your favorite Avenger?

By the way, our Song of the Week this week is “Bad Dream” by The Mowgli’s. Be sure to check out their new album (same name as the song), which is in stores now.

Other music you heard in this episode:

  • “Something Personal” – Bright and Early
  • “Irreplaceable” – Beyoncé

Retronalysis: What You Missed About Ultron In ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’

OK, I’m sure not all of you missed this. If you caught it and feel offended, then…I don’t know, that’s something you need to work out on your own.

I’ve already reviewed the film in length, so if you haven’t seen Age of Ultron yet and want to avoid even mild spoilers, you can check out my spoiler-free review and come back here when you see the film for yourself. Long story short: it’s a good movie worthy of its place as an Avengers sequel.

While I enjoyed the film, I had a few complaints in regards to some of the character and narrative development. Specifically, I disliked how “rushed” the first act was in terms of establishing Ultron as a villain. When you watch the movie, you’ll notice that we sort of jump into this plot (which isn’t heavily related to the opening scenes) with Tony Stark suddenly revealing to Bruce Banner that they can create an artificial intelligence.

avengers age of ultron

After a brief montage (seriously, a montage), they succeed in using the gem inside Loki’s scepter to create an A.I., though they leave before realizing Ultron has been created. I’ll spare you the details on what happens next in case you haven’t seen the movie yet, but the short version is that Ultron as a villain is born over the course of about ten minutes.

I didn’t like this because I felt like such a crucial part of what makes Ultron, well, Ultron was glossed over for the sake of getting right to the action. A noble goal, but for a movie that’s 2.5 hours long, I would have preferred just a few more scenes to familiarize us with Ultron’s motivations. Honestly, though, this is all nitpicking, especially since the 3-hour long director’s cut will likely fill in the blanks in a more satisfying way.

Now on to what you may have missed. See, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ultron’s personality over the last few days. As a villain, he has a compelling spark to his tone and delivery that makes him seem more like a misguided anti-hero instead of an instrument of pure evil.

avengers age of ultron

I realized that this is explained in a very subtle way near the beginning of the movie. Ultron was essentially created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. They’re like his parents, and in an amazing way, Ultron inherited the best and worst traits of these parents.

Ultron is sarcastic, impatient, and brilliant. Much like Tony Stark. He’s also prone to violent outbursts, like Bruce Banner. Most of all, Ultron has a specific vision for the world (like his fathers) and has the strength and will to carry it out. The only problem seems to be something that is later fulfilled by a character I won’t spoil.

Obviously, this is intentional on the part of Joss Whedon and his team of writers. When crafting Ultron as a character, it must have seemed perfectly natural for them to borrow from established characters, so we would familiarize ourselves with Ultron quickly and immediately feel threatened by his claim on the world. The father-son dynamic is reflected several times in the movie later on, of course, as Tony banters with Ultron over the fact that he’s his maker.

avengers age of ultron

This film would have been so much better, in my opinion, if they had just given Ultron a little more room to breathe in this way, so more audience members could catch that he’s a product of this world created by the Avengers (not just the literal Avengers themselves). After all, facing themselves is a sizable threat that the Avengers would (and did) have to face, even though the movie sort of sidetracked in that regard.

Now, in case you were hoping for some easter eggs, I can at least give you a few morsels to chew on. I didn’t notice as much as some other Marvel fans, but I did catch something related to Tony Stark and J.A.R.V.I.S.

When Tony has to find another program to help him fight Ultron, we see him settle on “FRIDAY.” In the comics, Tony uses FRIDAY as his virtual personal assistant, and she is very similar to Ultron in that she’s like his child. Remember that Ultron wasn’t actually invented by Tony in the comics, so Marvel was clearly introducing FRIDAY as a subtle nod to the origin story they gave to Ultron.

avengers age of ultron

I’ll have to watch the movie again, but I’ve also heard that Jocasta’s name can be seen around the same time Tony grabs the FRIDAY program. I can’t confirm this yet, but that would be an interesting easter egg considering Jocasta was created by Ultron to serve as his robot girlfriend (though she later becomes an Avenger).

That’s all I have for you guys. Hope you enjoy (or enjoyed) Avengers: Age of Ultron. Again, if you want my full review on the movie or just want to know my thoughts on it, you can check that out here.  

Daredevil Review, Movies That Actually Deserve Remakes

daredevil review

Get ready for an action-packed episode of Now Conspiring. Maria, Adonis and I chat in length about the new Marvel/Netflix series, Daredevil, along with early impressions for Avengers: Age of Ultron (don’t worry, no spoilers). We covered a ton of info this week to keep you up to date with all things movie/television.

Late in the show, we had a fun thought experiment: which movies deserve to have remakes? If you don’t agree with our pick, be sure to sound your opinions in the comments!

Enjoy the show, and please rate and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes if you like us!

Question of the Week: Which movie or movie franchise do you think most deserves a remake/reboot?

Song of the Week: We actually featured an album this week. Mat Kearney’s “Just Kids” came out, and the featured song we start the show with is “One Heart.”

Other music you heard in this episode:

“The Avengers” — Alan Silvestri

“Heartbreak Dreamer” — Mat Kearney

“Teen Titans Theme” — Puffy Ami Yumi & Puffy AmiYumi

“Billion” — Mat Kearney

“Moving On” — Mat Kearney

“The Conversation” — Mat Kearney

“Los Angeles” — Mat Kearney

Chappie Review, New Avengers: Age of Ultron Trailer, Guardians of the Galaxy Theory

chappie review

Hey conspirers, this week things had to go a little differently for the show. Due to our busy schedules, the podcast crew was unable to get together, so I’ll be flying solo for today’s short, but hopefully sweet, episode.

You’ll notice right away the audio is a little awkward toward the beginning. Apologies…I wasn’t able to use a microphone, and other excuses happened (but it gets better).

As the title implies, I delve into a review for Chappie that tries to explain the bizarre polarization coming from critics for the movie. I have my own theories about that, so hopefully you can get the big picture. I also share my thoughts on the newest Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer you can view here in case you haven’t seen it yet for some weird reason.

I also talk about my recent Guardians of the Galaxy theory about how “Awesome Mix” tells a hidden story about Peter Quill’s dad. I don’t really talk about the theory as much as I talk about the unexpected reaction I got from it. Take from it what you will, I suppose.

Stick around for our Netflix Recommendation of the Week and Movie Releases, and if you’re up for it, please rate and subscribe to us on iTunes!

Song of the Week: “Mine” by Phoebe Taylor. Her music is as cool as her hair.

Question of the Week: Do you think it’s smart for D.C. to throw all of their big characters at us so quickly with Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice?

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