Friday, March 5, 2021

Barbecue's Bonfire 3/5/2021: Moving Through the MCU Phase 1 and 2 at Light (of the Jedi) Speed Edition


   This has been a pretty exciting week! I got some cool stuff in the mail, preordered my Tweeterhead Skeletor bust, watched a ton of Marvel movies with my wife and daughter, finished Light of the Jedi, and got my first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Woohoo! You have to take joy in the small things and right now we're really excited that when my wife and I finally get to go see Black Widow our daughter will be able to join us as she's loving the marvel Cinematic Universe! Let's jump in to the happenings of this past week....

   Wanda Vision episode 8 gave us some answer and helped put the series into some context within the wider MCU while raising some more new questions. I enjoyed this "backtracking" episode where we get to see the pasts of Agatha and Wanda and how Wanda's experiences have brought her to this point. This episode completely strips away the sitcom fa├žade and straight up addresses the reality of Wanda's situation, going back to the death of her parents and continuing through her time as a Hydra experiment, her loss of Pietro after the events of Age of Ultron, and the loss of Vision after she returned from the Snap. Thus far, if there's another "big bad" to be revealed like many folks seem to believe I'm not seeing the evidence for it that their seemed to be previously. Agatha seems to be revealing that Wanda, whom she refers to as the Scarlet Witch, is far more powerful than we've ever realized. How much of the Hex is Wanda truly aware that she is creating? What's the deal with Vision in the Hex? Did Wanda somehow create him based on her powers which seem to have been enhanced/ awakened by her presence to the Mind Stone during her captivity with Hydra? We know that the physical body of Vision is still in possession of S.W.O.R.D., now reawakened with the energy Wanda deposited into the drone, so could there be two Visions now? I can't wait to get home and watch this one!

Of course, we're still going through the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies at breakneck speed with my daughter, so more of those after the break...

 Last week we left our MCU viewing off at 2010's Iron Man so last Friday night, after Wanda Vision, we picked up with 2011's
Thor. If you'd asked me prior to this rewatch what my least favorite MCU movies were Thor would definitely have shown up on the least. I remember enjoying the fish out of water elements of the movie and counting how many times a friend I went to see it with back in 2011 went to the bathroom during the film but not much else stuck out to me. Of course, going in to the movie I was most familiar with the character from Toy Fare's Twisted Mego Theater. After rewatching it I felt like this was one of the stronger Phase 1 films and I really enjoyed it. Asgard is brilliantly realized, there are some great battle scenes, and Chris Hemsworth manages to convey Thor with both power and humanity. He's got great comedic timing, too. I still don't care for the love story between Jane Foster and Thor (c'mon, Thor, Darcy is clearly where it's at) and it's the thing that brings down an otherwise very solid movie with Loki being one of the most memorable MCU villains. 

   Is 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger the best MCU Phase I movie? It's tough to live up to the spectacle that is The Avengers but darn if this movie doesn't try. With an incredible cast, many of whom continue to be significant in the MCU for years to come (haley Atwell and Bucky Barnes), excellent pacing, and the period action movie expertise of director Joe Johnston, Captain America fights it out as still one of the best MCU movies. It's fun, nostalgic, fast-paced, heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once. It's a shame that Hug Weaving never played the Red Skull again because he definitely could have been a major player in the MCU. Going back those early scenes with skinny Steve Rogers are definitely jarring because now I'm familiar with what Chris Evans actually looks like, but the storytelling and performances are still riveting. You can't help but always cheer for Captain America and while, yes, he's enhanced by the super solider serum, the movie makes clear that he was always a hero, even when he was just little guy. That scene of Steve jumping on the dummy grenade, believing it was real, still floors me every time. I would have loved another movie of just the exploits of Cap and the Howling Commandos.  

   Lots of superhero movies teased bigger and better things but almost always failed to deliver. 2012's The Avengers was the first time a studio actually managed to keep a promise to filmgoers delivering one of the greatest film spectacles of all time. Listen, I've always been a DC guy, but other than a few of the Batman films being better movies, the MCU is clearly the greatest superhero endeavor on screen. The Avengers manages to take the plot lines and characters from five previous films and organically bring them together while giving each character a chance to shine. It was unprecedented at the time, taking the comic book world feel of Iron Man 2 and fully delivering on it. There's not a weak performance in the group and seeing the characters interact with each other, many for the first time on screen, is just pure cinematic and comic book bliss. Going back and rewatching this I'm really impressed by Mark Ruffalo. He really stepped in and nicely added a completely different personality to the team. It's a fitting crown for Phase one that just narrowly edges out Captain America: The First Avenger for me as the best Phase I film. 

   I remember being incredibly disappointed by 2013's Iron Man 3 when I first saw it. The "swerve" of the identity of the Mandarin definitely didn't work for me and I just wasn't a fan of the Extremis plotline, finding Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian pretty underwhelming. Rewatching this one, I definitely appreciated it more, especially the characterization of Tony Stark, Pepper Potts, and James Rhodes. Those characters definitely cement what isn't a bad film but what feels like a very tonally inconsistent film. I know it's a superhero movie but it feels like it yo-yos back and forth between Tony being overpowered to being underpowered. I do like how the movie examines the events of The Avenger's through Tony's trauma/ PTSD but it seems odd to me that the solution is for Tony to give up his suits at the end. After knowing what's out there looking to destroy Earth is seems inconceivable that that was the decision he made. The Trevor Slattery/ Mandarin swerve is still pretty cheesy, though kind of funny upon a repeat viewing, especially knowing the real Mandarin is coming in Shang-Chi. 

   Last night we watched 2013's Thor: The Dark World which I didn't recall being a very memorable film (the only things that stood out to me were Kat Dennings and the mid-credits scene with the Collector where the Tesseract (Space Stone) and the Aether (Reality Stone) are referred to as Infinity Stones for the first time. Rewatching this one it's definitely not a bad movie (so far I wouldn't call anything the MCU has put out a bad movie) but it's a departure from what we've seen. It's not as fast paced or as charmingly comedic though it does have some excellent sets, costumes, and battle scenes. The relationship between Thor and Loki and their family dynamic really is the heart of the film despite the relationship between Thor and Jane Foster being presented as the main draw here. I just don't find any real chemistry between those two, though. Methinks Sif could have been better used to add more of a struggle to Thor's choice. Also, Malekith is definitely the most forgettable in the MCU thus far. Despite looking pretty cool he's just incredibly dull and his plot just doesn't feel like much of a threat. Christopher Eccleston is usually the center of attention in a scene but here it falls flat as he's just hidden away under makeup and evlish dialogue. 


 A couple of weeks ago my wife and I watched John Wick for the first time and one night this past week while my daughter was staying with my parents we watched John Wick: Chapter II. I think we both agree that Chapter 2 wasn't as good as the first film but the fight scenes were once again excellent (that's the reason you watch movies like this, right?) and the world building is intriguing. It's interesting how John lives in this world where assassins and such have so many rules and customs and even their own economy. The movie is clearly setting things up for the third installment, John Wick 3: Parabellum to go in a radically new direction, and I'm excited to see how that turns out. We've got that movie ready to go the next time the little one decides to stay with her grandparents again. 

   Just last night I finished Light of the Jedi, the first novel in the new Star Wars: The High Republic era. I really enjoyed it! It's both familiar (it feels like the world of the prequels at times) and yet also different enough to feel fresh. The era of the High Republic begins as a very idealistic period where the Republic is just starting to really connect with the Outer Rim worlds and the Jedi seem to be at their peak. Not all is well, though, as a mysterious disaster in Hyperspace sets off a chain reaction that threatens multiple worlds. Mix that in with a new enemy, the Nihil, a group of Outer Rim marauders who function like space Vikings, and you've got a crisis that tests the idealism of the Republic. I've enjoyed Charles Soule's Star Wars comics and I love his writing style. Despite introducing a whole book of new characters he does a good job of keeping the characters clear and memorable. Many people hated this project from the get go for some reason due to the infamous whiteboard from a brainstorming session but from my perspective as a Star Wars fan since 6th grade, the High Republic is pretty exciting. Being set 200 years or so before the Prequels it still feels "relevant" to what we know but it's far enough removed that things can change. the High Republic isn't beholden to any movies, either, so it's free to explore the characters and allow creativity to flow without running into any barriers. Most of the New Canon novels have lacked consequences because they've had to fit in with the media that was being pushed but the High Republic is more relaxed from those mandates. This one is well worth picking up. It's not really a standalone story with a true ending (it clearly is a beginning of a series) but it's still satisfying and a fun read. 

Last, but never least, let's look at the week's most popular reviews! It's interesting that all of the Star Wars: The Black Series figures fell off the charts this week. Maybe with not much new going on other than book releases (and no new Black Series releases at the moment) some fan interest has momentarily waned?

Roboto from Masters of the Universe Origins skyrocketed up to the top slot this week, so lots of fans are clearly saying "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto." I was actually a bit disappointed by this one due to the lack of gears in his chest and the way his torso is loose and wobbly but clearly folks are interested in checking him out. 

Missing in Action: Toylines that Didn't Make the Cut in 2020 is one of my annual end of the year lists. This one is always interesting, though sometimes heartbreaking, as I go over the toylines I loved from the previous year that seemed to have disappeared. This year's heartbreaker for me was Hasbro's Overwatch Ultimates. I loved that line! This is the third week it's on the list so maybe others are heartbroken, too!

Lords of Power from Masters of the Universe Origins was the 2020 PowerCon exclusive set based on the prototypes for the vintage MOTU line when the line was still going to be called Lords of Power. The set is on its eighth week on the list and while it was way, way too expensive, it's also pretty cool for fans who take interest in the development of MOTU. MOTU Origins looks like it's going to have a big year in 2021 and that very well may drive up demand for this set.

Drizzt & Guenhwyvar from Dungeons & Dragons: Forgotten Realms is a Hasbro Pulse exclusive that is still available for sale and I'm not sure if that's good or bad. usually Hasbro Pulse exclusives sell out in preorder status but Drizzt is still around. Did Hasbro actually make enough for everyone or are collectors just largely uninterested in what may end up being a one-off release? Drizzt is a good figure for sure, though Guenhwyvar is a bit of a disappointment. Lots of accessories, though, and the price is right for the set. 

Fisto & Cliff Climber from Masters of the Universe Mega Construx is back on the list after being off for a week or two. Mega Construx is putting out some cool MOTU product right now and if you're a fan you need to check it out. 

10 Members of the Vintage G.I. Joe Team Who Would be Awesome in G.I. Joe: The Classified Series is one of my top 10 lists. In this one I pic my favorite of the vintage Joe figures (just the G.I. Joe team, no Cobra yet) who aren't guaranteed A-listers that would translate well into the Classified Series. Who are your picks?

That's it for this week! 

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