Avengers 2 vs. Marvel Studios – Franchise Future in Limbo

Team Focus discusses the fate of the Avengers franchise of movies as contract negotiations go awry, between actor demands and studio budgets. While most will agree that Robert Downey Jr can’t be replaced, especially following the box office sales of Iron Man 3, Marvel Studios may not be against replacing Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson and/or Scarlett Johannsen.

Can Marvel feasibly hold on to Downey Jr and the rest of the cast through Avengers 2 and a subsequent Avengers 3 movie? Team Focus discusses the possibilities in our latest Blast Off.

Listen to the podcast below:

iron man the avengers robert downey jr

Tune in weekly for more discussion by Subscribing to the Team Focus Blast Off on iTunes.

Be sure to Follow hosts Bags Hooper and Ernie Estrella on Twitter for more.

Movie Review: Iron Man 3 – When Comics Ignorance is Bliss

How does a studio follow up The Avengers? By going small, real, real small.


Don’t worry, there are plenty of sexy Iron Man suits and bombastic repulsor blasts to last a lifetime, but the scale of Iron Man 3 takes the ball from aliens and gods from Asgard to lands and problems much closer to home. IM3 takes place mainly in three locations, one of which is in rural Tennessee where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) retreats to after being flushed out of his Los Angeles oceanfront mansion by a terrorist who goes by the name of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). Stark befriends a boy (Harley Keener) who reminds him of himself and is able to work out some of his unresolved issues. There is also a near non-existent presence of S.H.I.E.L.D. and that should meet the approval of those who found the last Iron Man sequel to be too much of a prequel to The Avengers. Iron Man 3 when you strip away all of the toppings is a simple tale of revenge.

The latest Iron Man installment is directed by Shane Black, who Downey Jr. connected with on the stylish noir-comedy, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and like that film, Black unfolds the adventure with his lead character in a bad situation, reflecting on the moment in the past that put him in trouble. The slapstick tone is another a quality that’s been carried over from Kiss Kiss, and brought back to a degree from the first Iron Man. But instead of getting Stark connected with his armor, Black explores how much of the Iron Man persona is Tony Stark. Are they different, or are they one and the same? To do that, Black keeps Stark out of the armor for a large portion of the film. We’re not talking Superman II without-his-powers, or even watching Thor without his hammer. Just trust me when I say that it’s good to see him out of the suit because Downey Jr. is just as entertaining without it on. Stark has come back affected from his worm hole adventure in New York City with some serious post-traumatic stress disorder and a new vulnerability that will remind longtime readers of Stark’s battles with alcoholism.

Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) met Tony Stark back in 1999, back when he was still a weapons dealer and before he thought about using his engineering skills for pure good, but Stark wouldn’t give the unkempt scientist his time or his money. Fast Forward 15 years later, Killian is back with a program called Extremis that is able to tap the area of the human brain and give American troops regenerative properties and other incredible abilities. What does that have to do with the Mandarin? Well I don’t want to reveal much more, not right here anyway (more below).

Iron Man 3 is a thrill ride that kicks off the summer movie season in a big way, and it’s also best enjoyed by those who don’t have a lot of personal history with the Iron Man comics, or by those who understand that there are the comics and there are the films. Why would ignorance be bliss going into this movie? I know the referenced material too well and hold it too high in regards to see it cherry picked and watered down. Skip the next three paragraphs if you don’t want to be spoiled or want to have some of that knowledge going in. Just be careful as it may take away from your enjoyment of the film.

*** Comics Reader Spoiler Zone ***

Normally as a long time comics reader, one who is especially aware of the Iron Man lore that wealth of knowledge generally helps fill in some of the subtext or keeps you in on all of the subtle inside jokes. But it can also be a drawback, and here’s why it works a little against those walking in with 30-40 years worth of Iron Man stories in their head.

First is the Extremis storyline that’s used for gridwork of the Iron Man plot is a fantastic story in its own right. It’s a flawless blend of sci-fi and Tony Stark tech, written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Adi Granov and takes his armor to a new, exciting place. A more literal translation would have worked well, especially fusing the Extremis project with the evolution of Stark’s technology. This would–unfortunately for people like me–not be the case. You can tell that Extremis makes its way in, but is more of a reason to bring Aldrich into story. The story-long adventure of Stark and Maya (Rebecca Hall), a strong relationship in Stark’s recent comic life is pushed completely aside and Maya is treated instead like an afterthought, a simple conquest who started out ideal and was later corrupted by a large corporation.

And finally, the treatment of the Mandarin which is a nice bit of commentary on the “super villain” and terrorism. But the convention of using something as a symbolic distraction is something that’s become all too familiar in superhero stories. Ultimately the final treatment of the Mandarin doesn’t sit well with a long time reader because of the legacy that he brought to the pages of the comic is minimized in the film. How Marvel Studios passed on bringing the Mandarin and his mystical power rings to a spectacular reality but somehow was okay with Whiplash is beyond me. It does however explain that wacky accent Sir Ben Kingsley puts on, and it also addresses all of the rumors of is he or is he not playing the Mandarin.

*** End of Comics Reader Spoiler Zone ***

It’s difficult to look beyond those differences, but to judge the film solely on that would just sound like sour grapes on my part that the film wasn’t the personal love letter to Extremis and some of Stark’s supporting characters that I hoped it would be, but somehow I managed to enjoy the film nonetheless all the way through and after the credits rolled (wink, wink).

And yet I still found flaws. I’m tired of seeing Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle) treated like a constant punch line whenever he’s wearing the suit, and he’s again trivialized in the story’s biggest action sequence. While it’s nice to see the chemistry between Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow), her ultimate threat and resolution was poorly developed too. Will whoever lit the final action sequence please understand that we want to see all of the different armor and their iterations. The scene, which was spectacular, was too dark or too fast and a lot of the differences in the armors get lost. Some concepts, like Starks’ Avengers-related PTSD are great additions to the character but don’t go far enough.

These gripes are all in the details though. Iron Man 3 far exceeds Iron Man 2, picks up the ball from The Avengers in a focused character study, with an entire syllabus on Tony Stark. Black plays with the notion of who Stark is outside the suit in several creative ways but gives plenty of moments there to see him suit up, again and again, and unfortunately leaves us Stark-free until Avengers 2.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwenyth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, and Don Cheadle.
Directed by: Shane Black
Written by: Drew Pearce and Shane Black
Studio: Marvel Studios (with Paramount)
Release Date: May 3, 2013


7.5 / 10

Anticipated Summer Flick: The Wolverine

the wolverine hugh jackmanDespite the failure of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I’m still looking forward to seeing Hugh Jackman in his newest standalone mutie flick, The Wolverine.

Call me a dreamer, or maybe I’ve just watched Les Misérables one too many times, but I think Jackman can carry a solo Wolvie flick with the right script and director.

Watch the Trailer for The Wolverine below

Iron Man 3 still sits at the top of my list of comic book flicks to see this year, followed by Kick-Ass 2. As for The Wolverine and Man of Steel, I remain cautiously optimistic that these films won’t be G.I. Joe: Retaliation bad.

The Wolverine hits theaters on July 26, just in time for San Diego Comic Con.

Marvel Super Hero Squad Online celebrates 5 Million Heroes for 2 Year Anniversary

In just two years, Marvel Super Hero Squad Online, the family friendly social game, has registered over five million players.

The 2-year anniversary comes with some additional social treats, with an eye on Spidey. Gamers will be able to play as Bombastic Bagman, Venom, Spider-Man: Ends of the Earth and Spider-Man Noir. Players can collect Infinity Fractals, through daily competitions, in order to win Spider-Man Noir. Perhaps the Spidey treats will bolster interest in Marvel’s 2014 comic film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Jamie Foxx.

The game will introduced 20 new challenges that feature Loki, Green Goblin, and Doctor Doom. Players also have access to five additional levels of super hero power ups.

Watch the anniversary promo video below:

X-Men: Days of Future Past – Vintage Professor X Gears up for first Day of Shooting

Before James McAvoy became the X-Men’s titular leader, Professor X, in Bryan Singer’s rebooted mutie franchise, we had Patrick Stewart, the man who looked the character he played in the comic book.

Stewart will return in X-Men: Days of Future Past, a time-travel spin off to X-Men: First Class that will feature both Professor X’s side by side.

Director Bryan Singer tweeted the a picture of Stewart on set, stating: “Picture before picture. Tomorrow it begins.” It was a nice play on words, regarding both production and the theme of the movie.

Previously, the director showed off two variants on Professor X’s wheelchairs.

X-Men: Days of Future Past will premiere on July 18, 2014.

Deadpool fires it up with enough bazookas to make your eyes go BOING

Wild Comic Con promotions? Check. Deadpool-esque dialogue? Check. Lots of Guns, explosions and wackiness? Check. Check. Check.

If you don’t know the name Deadpool yet, you’ll know it by the end of 2013 – for better or worse. The latest Deadpool trailer has hit the street, and it’s one raucous, gun-toting bullet fest.

The dialogue and action seem to be on point. Now, let’s just hope the story can match up to the shooter festivities. The developers at High Moon Studios rocked our socks (and then some) with the Transformers: Fall of Cybertron story arc. If they can perform equally as well with the Deadpool license, we may have a new favorite studio for licensed games. And a reminder that licensed games – can be good – when done right.

By the way Marvel fanboys and true believers, Cable also shows up in this trailer. But he doesn’t talk so we’re still holding our breath.

We’ve Seen Spider-Man Already, Marc – Show us Electro & Rhino

Recently, Amazing Spider-Man 2 director, Marc Webb, tweeted the first poster art for the upcoming Spidey sequel.

Who cares?!

We’ve seen Spider-Man’s costume a thousand times before in four different movies. It changed modestly in The Amazing Spider-Man reboot with some contemporary modifications to Spidey’s eyes and footwear. However, there is only so much you can do with Spidey’s costume.

However, fans (are there any Amazing Spider-Man fans out there? Sadly, the movie never made it into Dark Knight Rises or The Avengers popularity territory) are really anxious to see what Django Unchained star Jamie Foxx looks like as Electro or Paul Giamatti as The Rhino.

Both villains were odd choices for a Spidey movie, but the franchise is trying its best to NOT rehash the Tobey Maguire trilogy. That means, the Osborne family’s Green Goblin legacy has yet to be explored (until movie 3 at least) and we probably won’t see Doctor Octopus, played superbly by Alfred Molina in Spider-Man 2.

While Foxx should be able to pull off a strong Electro, if he stays clear of a comical portrayal, Giamatti as an actor just doesn’t scream Rhino. He’s a great actor, sure, but the size, age and look seems off. We’ll probably see a lot of CG enhancements like we did with Tim Roth in Ed Norton’s The Incredible Hulk. Perhaps Giamatti will wow us as much as Mark Ruffalo did in The Avengers?

Here’s the full Spider-Man poster art, first shown on Comingsoon.net. Yup, that’s definitely Spidey. Now, show us the villains, Mr. Webb.

Blu-ray: Marvel’s The Avengers is THE superhero movie to own – for now

When I first saw The Avengers on the big screen I worried if it could be as large and as magnificent on the smaller screen. Few blockbuster films had achieved such success in creating a fun experience and the size of screen help sell audiences on the Marvel Universe gone wild. But believe me, true believers, if you have a tricked out home theater this is one of the essential blu-ray purchases you’ll make this year.

The Avengers accomplished Marvel Studios’ Phase I in spades. It collected all of these larger than life characters established in other films, and put them on a bigger stage against more unimaginable villains for the big screen. They used the solo films to develop these characters and then brought the all-star cast together to accomplish a few more goals–besides making gobs of money, that is: 1) To kick cinema ass. 2) Expand the horizons of the Marvel Film Universe and 3) Begin laying the foundation of Phase II, towards a second Avengers film that would be an ambitious achievement in franchise construction and comic book film history.

The Avengers didn’t let down the audience, it earned all of those multiple viewings, and it brought people out into the theaters in massive waves throughout the summer. Its success also cemented Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, and Mark Ruffalo in their superhero roles for the foreseeable future. Robert Downey Jr. is already a fixture amongst moviegoers. It also made us believe that The Hulk can work (in bites) on film, reaffirmed Joss Whedon as a god amongst the geeks and the mainstream, and it made sure that comic book movies are here to stay, for a long, long time.

EDITOR’S PICK: Joss Whedon Presents The Ultimate Superhero Experience

avengers loki

Technically this film is just short of being reference material, but it’s not so much the way the blu-ray was produced, it’s more the way it was shot. One major complaint I had with the film when seeing it in 3D at the theaters was that wearing glasses darkens the already muddy images making scenes like the battle in the woods, and the opening sequence of the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility collapsing almost impossible to view without squinting. Although that’s a trait in Whedon’s work, now that I think about it, several episodes of Angel were also extremely dark to the eye. That hasn’t improved on blu-ray, regardless if it’s in 2D or 3D. Still the film looks great in high definition where the scenes are considerably brighter. Skin tones are natural, filled with warmth, textures look accurate even when it’s made up of computer graphics and fans will wonder at all of the intricate details in costumes.

What will help give the blu-ray ample replay is the audio. Atmospheric sounds and LFE are given a big boost to suck you into your sofa. The final battle scene in New York will be playing in home theater demo rooms for the next year for sure, with its spatial movement of the Chitauri army populating the city. The Avengers has wonderful sound design throughout and there’s never a feeling that you’re not getting your money’s worth.

Special features aren’t as robust as some of the other solo Avengers films, in fact they’re a little on the underwhelming side but there’s a terrific Joss Whedon audio commentary that lays down a track full of anecdotes, dry wit, and technical information for all of the film school junkies. It doesn’t come with any pretention; it’s just straight talk, from one geek to all to the fanboys and fangirls. There’s no shortage of compliments from Whedon to his cast and crew so expect that going in.

Beyond the essential Whedon talk track, the Marvel One-Shot:Item 47 is the other standout supplement, taking a cue from Marvel Studios’ not-so-distant cousin, Pixar in trying to expand out some of the threads planted in the film. I hope they open each of the upcoming Marvel films with shorts. They give the audience a hors d’ oeurve to think about and push out the borders of the Marvel Film Universe and its far reaches.

In Item 47, Jesse Bradford and Lizzy Caplan play a Bonnie and Clyde-like couple doing bank heists with a Chitauri weapon that they’ve been able to work. It makes you buy into the world more and gives a taste of what ABC’s Joss Whedon-produced S.H.I.E.L.D. television show could be like. It’s also a good test to see if minor characters could work on a bigger scale. As I said above, there’s a lot of work to get to the end of Phase II, so every little bit counts, counting short films.

The rest of the disc is filled with the usual unimaginative EPK fluff including a gag reel, deleted and extended scenes, a Soundgarden music video, and two featurettes that skim the surface of what could’ve been.  The Avengers Initiative is a feature to try and bring a second screen experience where you can tap into the S.H.I.E.L.D. database and look up factoids while you’re watching the film. The accompanied DVD only has the two featurettes and Whedon’s commentary.

It’s hard not to feel like another, bigger release of this blu-ray with more bells and whistles is coming, maybe when Iron Man 3 is released in theaters. There’s also a giant, 10-disc box set that’s rumored to come down the line at some point. If Blu-Ray and DVD collectors feel like The Avengers was short-changed when it comes to extras, it’s because they were. But the film will still get dozens of spins in the player and in the end, that’s what counts the most. It’s got action, humor, fantasy, and an overflowing amount of awe-inspiring movie magic, the super hero film of the year is easily this year’s blu-ray to own, even if you have to purchase a better version of it again in the near future.

The Avengers [Blu-ray]

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hiddleston and Samuel Jackson
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Writer: Joss Whedon
Studio: Disney/Marvel Studios
Release Date: September 25, 2012

9 / 10

The Amazing Spider-Man: a gem overshadowed by The Avengers and The Dark Knight

Of the three major superhero movies that hit the cinema in 2012, The Amazing Spider-Man fell under the radar of most moviegoers. For most, the movie came too soon after the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man. Sullied by the cheese ball aftertaste of Spider-Man 3 – Spidey fans hung up their webbed intrigue in favor of The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises.

Their loss.

Introducing a new Peter Parker in Andrew Garfield and a reworked Spider-Man origin story helmed by (500) Days of Summer director Marc Webb, The Amazing Spider-Man presented an ostensibly better wall crawler tale than its predecessors. A darker world, better acting and chemistry between Garfield and his co-star Emma Stone (as Gwen Stacy) made this Spidey tale a delightful popcorn flick. Gone were the circus costumes of the Green Goblin and the emotionally bland scenes with Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. The new movie focused on real problems with grayed lines of good and evil. Rhys Ifans, as The Lizard / Dr. Curt Connors, wasn’t a canned villain. Instead, he was a father figure for Peter, driven by the desire to fix himself (he was physically missing his right forearm) and create a world of equals.

The movie began with a Peter Parker who wasn’t a one-dimensional nerd. As a child Peter was abandoned – without reason – by his parents and left in the care of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Instead of a cliché geek, Peter was more of a loner, which motivated his social awkwardness. The story pushed Spidey into the modern world, filled with technology. Peter doesn’t just have a lock on his bedroom door, but rather has a remote control lock. He doesn’t use webbing from his hands, but rather designs web cartridges that shoot super-strong webbing. These subtle changes gave us a smarter Peter, one that could rival his love interest Gwen.

While the movie does focus a lot on the relationship between Peter and Gwen, none of the scenes feel painful to watch. This stands in sharp contrast to the Maguire-Dunst relationship, which always brought a cringe. The relationship sequences blend in well with the action. Gwen truly fears for Peter’s safety and understands the danger of crime fighting because her father (Denis Leary, Rescue Me) is a police captain. The action scenes, several of which are done mostly in CG, still feel realistic and are filled with adrenaline.

Although CG was used for the lizard, rather than a costume, the special effects looked more realistic than the Green Goblin’s metal suit in the prior trilogy. Ifans as the broken Dr. Connors became the tragic villain.

There’s something especially poignant about watching the tail end of the film. With the New Jersey/New York coast battered from Hurricane Sandy, it’s great to watch a film that reminds us of the indomitable spirit of New York’s blue-collar class. The union workers who band together to join Spidey become the real heroes as well as the super-powerless police officers that are willing to risk their lives for the greater good. Unfortunately, if you are a New Yorker, you’ll notice several art direction problems with the subway stations and other key locales, which snap out of the film.

The Amazing Spider-Man Blu-ray release comes packed with an over abundance of bonus features. The second screen app gives your mind a chance to wander into Spidey’s world as you watch the movie in real time. “Rite of Passage” is a 90-minute documentary on the movie, broken down into several featurettes. The mini-doc starts with the decision to abandon Spider-Man 4 sometime into the fourth film’s development and instead choose to reboot the franchise.

Pre-Visualization Sequences and Image Progression reels show you how the film is taken from animatics and storyboards to the final picture. You’ll also get to see how the CG fight scenes were developed. The featurette on the Stunt Rehearsals is a little spotty. You’ll see the fight choreographers and stunt actors perform scenes like the lizard fights and the subway sequence, but there’s no narration or dialogue with the choreographers and stuntmen to walk you through what’s going on during the rehearsal.

The Amazing Spider-Man is an excellent reboot to a time-tested tale. Although we had three Spidey movies already in the past decade, this Spider-Man feels much more authentic thanks to Garfield and Stone. The consequences are bigger in this film and open the story up to a healthy ripple of story arcs throughout the next few Spidey flicks.

The Amazing Spider-Man [Blu-ray]

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Sally Field, Martin Sheen
Directed by: Marc Webb
Writers: James Vanderbilt
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: November 9, 2012

8 / 10

Marvel taking on ‘Dexter’ in new comic book series

Dexter may be coming to an end on Showtime next year, but it’s about to take off as a new comic book series.

Marvel is teaming up with Dexter creator and novelist Jeff Linsday to bring the serial-killer killer to life on comic pages. The new series, which will start with Dexter #1 next February, will be written in the same canon as Lindsay’s novels.

Lindsay stated via press release: “Marvel Comics has always been a place where I felt at home. It has been a very important part of my life, and has always been a wellspring of creative and relevant ideas. I feel like I’m coming home. It is a huge thrill for me to bring Dexter into this very special pantheon.”

The new series will be illustrated by Deadpool artist Dalibor Talajic. Check out the first issue’s cover art below.