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129. Avengers: Endgame – This Just In (#6)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Tony Black, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Joe and Anthony Russo’s Avengers: Endgame.

At time of recording, it was ranked 6th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Captain America – Civil War

Captain America: Civil War is, in some ways, a little too civil.

The third film in the series (following Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier) is produced to the highest professional standard. It is sleek and stylish, well-constructed and cleanly edited. It is always clear what is going on, no mean feat for a film with a cast this expansive. Character motivations are always entirely clear, even if there’s seldom any effort to explain why these characters have these motivations. It is a well-oiled, well-lubricated machine that hits all its marks and zips through its two-and-a-half hour runtime.

America, #!?> yeah...

America, #!?> yeah…

The biggest problem with Civil War is that it is a little too clean and professional, a little too mechanical and a little too impersonal. The film’s plot is anchored in some pretty heavy ideas about collateral damage and the responsibility that comes with unilateral intervention, but the script contorts awkwardly to ensure that things never get too heavy. “We’re still friends, right?” the Black Widow quips during her throwdown with Hawkeye, and Civil War is very careful to ensure that it doesn’t damage anything that cannot be replaced.

This is a perfectly reasonable approach to the film, given how many more films are leaning upon it, but it also feels a little forced. There are points at which Civil War bends itself into unnatural shapes to ensure that it can have its cake and eat it too.

He ain't heavy, he's my Rhodey...

He ain’t heavy, he’s my Rhodey…

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Non-Review Review: Avengers – Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a hot mess.

It is fun, witty and fast-moving. However, it is also disjointed, uneven and awkward. Age of Ultron is a big and bombastic summer blockbuster, but it feels like Marvel learned very little from The Avengers. Rather than simply taking what worked in the first film, it often seems like Age of Ultron doubles down on every part of its predecessor. There’s more action, there’s higher stakes, there’s bigger conflict, there’s more Tony, there’s even less of an idea what to do with Thor, there’s more continuity.

"Hey, at least I beat the Terminator prequel to cinemas, right?"

“Hey, at least I beat the Terminator prequel to cinemas, right?”

“More” seems to the be the word here. Age of Ultron is bigger than its predecessor in just about every way. The film boasts an ensemble so large that it threatens to collapse under its own weight – a fact perhaps wryly acknowledged by the genocidal robot’s evil plan at the climax. While it is nice to have more diversity in the cast – The Avengers are no longer a bunch of white guys and their token female colleague – it does seem like Age of Ultron strains and groans under all that Joss Whedon and Marvel heap upon it.

Bigger is not always better.

You know, "pull Thor's hammer" is probably not a family friendly party game...

You know, “pull Thor’s hammer” is probably not a family friendly party game…

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Mark Waid and Ron Garney’s Run on Captain America (Review/Retrospective)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Mark Waid and Ron Garney’s ten-issue run on Captain America is a bit of an oddity. The run follows an impressive ten-year stint by writer (and editor) Mark Gruenwald, but is situated right before Marvel’s attempt at a mid-nineties reboot with Heroes Reborn. As a result, the run feels like it is over before it begins, more of a blip on the radar than a bold new beginning for the character – indeed, it is very much a bold new beginning right before another bold new beginning.

Mark Waid is probably one of the most easily overlooked writers to work on Captain America. He has written over fifty issues featuring the character, but his work has been scattered across multiple volumes and divided by editorial decisions. His longest unbroken stint on the character is thirteen issues of the same comic book. It’s a very weird relationship to have with a character, and there’s a sense that Waid’s take on Captain America was never as developed as it might have been. It feels like scattered snapshots rather than an entire mosaic.

Funeral for a friend...

Funeral for a friend…

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Red Skull: Incarnate (Review/Retrospective)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Incarnate is something of a companion piece to Greg Pak’s Testament. Testament was a miniseries following the life of a young boy named Erik during the Holocaust. Of course, Erik would grow up to become the supervillain known as Magneto, but Pak was more fascinated in the history surrounding the character – his origins as a Holocaust survivor. The series was beautifully written and well received, prompting Marvel to hire Pak to produce a companion piece.

Incarnate is effectively the origin story of the Red Skull, Captain America’s arch-enemy and a character Pak himself describes in the afterword as “the Marvel Universe’s most evil villain.” Setting the story in late twenties and thirties Germany, Pak sets the character’s origins against the rise of Nazism and the decline of the Weimer Republic.

A slice of life...

A slice of life…

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Avengers: Endless Wartime by Warren Ellis, Mike McKone & Jason Keith (Review)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Warren Ellis is one of the great comic book writers. Ellis works in a bombastic larger-than-life style that is never too beholden to the current continuity of whatever company for which he is currently working and which remains accessible to just about anybody who might want to pick it. His Extremis remains the perfect introduction to Iron Man, while Ultimate Human is the most syner-tastic marketing tie-in ever written, its release coinciding with that of Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk.

At the same time, Ellis’ work-for-hire can occasionally feel a little reigned in, a little too relaxed and too casual – lacking the energy and enthusiasm of his stronger work. Sadly, Avengers: Endless Wartime is a book that never quite measures up to its potential. An original graphic novel written by Ellis and illustrated by Mike McKone, Endless Wartime has a wealth of clever ideas, but never manages to get too excited about any of them.

Some men just want to watch the world...

Some men just want to watch the world…

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Non-Review Review: Captain America – The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a delightfully pulpy adventure. In many respects, it feels like the movie that Captain America: The First Avenger really should have been, a celebration of its lead character’s versatility and a demonstration of how easily the comic book character can cross genres. Part of the beauty of The Winter Soldier is in the way that it feints. It weaves in directions that are a little surprising at times, and even avoids taking the path of least resistance when offered.

With an opening act that teases the age old debate about liberty and security (“this isn’t freedom,” Steve Rogers solemnly states, “this is fear”), the movie deftly steps sideways to avoid getting too bogged down in familiar political discourse. Much like Iron Man 3, there’s a charm in how The Winter Soldier evades any particularly probing political commentary, cleverly swerving out of the way of anything that could become ham-fisted or heavy-handed.

The Captain and the Widow...

The Captain and the Widow…

It tricks the audience into expecting a contemporary political thriller, only to become something a bit more unexpected – a strange hybrid of pulpy science-fiction, conspiratorial secret history and even seventies espionage thriller. It’s an exciting and engaging blend, one that never outstays its welcome. The only real problem is that it tries to do a bit too much and some of the smaller pieces get lost in the shuffle – which means the climax doesn’t resonate as well as it needs to.

Still, those are ultimately minor problems with a superior blockbuster.

Body of evidence...

Body of evidence…

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Fear Itself (Review/Retrospective)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Part of what is so remarkable about Fear Itself is how uncomfortably it fits into the “huge event” role that Marvel cast for it. Matt Fraction’s seven-issues-and-change epic crossover event is really just a Thor story arc that dips its toe in the waters of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America. Instead, Marvel cast it as this gigantic universe-altering mega-important miniseries with over 100 crossovers and tie-ins from all corners of the Marvel Universe.

Positioned to capitalise on the release of both Kenneth Branagh’s Thor and Joe Johnson’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Fear Itself seems like a story told in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like Brian Bendis’ Secret Invasion would undoubtedly have worked better as an arc of New Avengers than as a full-blown “nothing is ever the same again” epic, Fear Itself would have been a much stronger comic had it been allowed to play out on a smaller stage.

Hammer time!

Hammer time!

Still, despite the problems inherent in large-scale epic crossovers, Fear Itself works surprisingly well. Indeed, it it probably the strongest Marvel “mega-event” of the past decade if only because it is built on a strong ideological premise and develops some of the underlying themes and ideas of Fraction’s other Marvel work. Treated as a seven-issue story arc from Matt Fraction’s The Mighty Thor, it’s a fascinating climax of ideas that bubble away in the background of his run.

The choice to let Fraction craft Fear Itself, with assists from Ed Brubaker on the prologue and epilogue to the event, is inspired. Fraction is not the most consistent of comic book writers, but he is also incredibly wry and self-aware. There’s a sense of charming self-deprecating to Fear Itself, as Fraction allows the characters involved to reflect on the absurdity of it all without ever losing track of their humanity. Fear Itself might be far from perfect, but it is clever, fun and thoughtful. And those are endearing virtues.

Suit up!

Suit up!

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Captain America: Man Out of Time by Mark Waid and Jorge Molina (Review)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Captain America: Man Out of Time suffers under the weight of its nostalgia.

The past few years have been kind to fans of the star-spangled Avenger. Ed Brubaker enjoyed an extended run on the character that enjoys favourable comparisons to the best work by the best writers ever to work with Steve Rogers. A Captain America film finally saw theatrical release with Captain America: The First Avenger. So it made sense for Marvel to try to extend the brand in 2011, as that blockbuster was ready to hit cinemas and as the character’s stock was at an all-time high.

"It's okay, Cap. The First Avenger wasn't THAT bad..."

“It’s okay, Cap. The First Avenger wasn’t THAT bad…”

Mark Waid was a great choice to assist in this. Waid is a well-liked comic book writer with a long history at Marvel that includes two extended well-received runs on the character. Waid has written a number of genuine comic book classics, and he’s a writer who tends to handle nostalgia very well. So tasking Mark Waid with writing a comic book set in the early days of Captain America’s revival was a no-brainer. A five-issue miniseries about Captain America waking up in contemporary times written by Mark Waid? That should be a default slam dunk.

Unfortunately, there was a miscalculation somewhere. Man Out of Time feels sappy ans manipulative, with little new or interesting (or insightful) to offer about its temporally dislocated protagonist.

The man in the iron mask...

The man in the iron mask…

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Cullen Bunn’s Run on Captain America & … (Review)

This March, to celebrate the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we’ll be taking a look at some classic and not-so-classic Avengers comic books. Check back daily for the latest updates!

Following Ed Brubaker on a Captain America book was always going to be tough, even if Brubaker had simply been providing the story for his last couple of Captain America & Bucky issues. Indeed, Cullen Bunn took over for Brubaker on one of three on-going Captain America books; with Brubaker still writing Captain America and Winter Soldier. As such, Bunn is somewhat trapped. He can’t really continue Brubaker’s still-unfolding story, but he can’t strike out with his own bold direction like Rick Remender would on a relaunched Captain America.

So it’s no surprise that Bunn’s thirteen issue Captain America & … run feels fairly indistinct. It’s a competently-produced piece of comic book writing, but it doesn’t stand out in the way that it needs to, feeling neither weighty nor fun enough to make the book stand out from the crowd.

He always said Cap was a dinosaur...

He always said Cap was a dinosaur…

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