Today's post is brought to you by Marvel's cinematic universe. I will be writing exclusively about past, present, and future movies based off comic books. If it looks too long and you lack interest in the subject, this might be a good one to skip. Having said that, if you are at all interested in the subject, I think I've actually done a stellar job with this column. Now, without further ado: I love superheroes. I love superhero stories. Nothing offers pure, enjoyable, escapist entertainment quite like a fantastical tale of good versus evil. Superhero stories, for the most part, are just stories. They aren't out to change your life. They don't take themselves too seriously. They are just meant to be simple entertainment; and there's something to be said about that. I approach this subject as a watered-down, modern-day comic book nerd who isn't keen on reading actual comic books. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Spiderman and the X-Men. I'd watch their cartoons every weekend. If something made me miss their cartoons (my sister's nonstop involvement in every sport ever conceived of and/or my involvement in Boy Scouts) I'd complain and moan and generally try to find a way out of it (I never made it past Cub Scout mostly for this reason). I quite vividly remember playing videogames with my cousins and being so thrilled that I was Wolverine. That excitement never really changed. I have a high-level knowledge of the publication history and different story arcs of the superheroes I'm a fan of, but I've never actually sat down to try to read them. One could spend (waste) an entire lifetime reading all the books across the different series or different instantiations of the same series that exist. I don't have time for that. I have other things in my life - but I still appreciate a good superhero story. So, being as though I'm a bit of a film buff anyway, I've really reduced it down to watching and appreciating superhero movies. And let me tell you, I'm a fan. "Super Hero" is a trademark co-owned by DC and Marvel comics. They are to superheros stories what Coke and Pepsi are to soft drinks. You can find find members of each class that aren't owned or produced by one of the two big companies... but they aren't nearly as culturally significant as the ones that are. Shasta and Hellboy will never be as important as Diet Coke and Batman. Between the two biggest brands in comic books there exist hundreds and hundreds of superheroes - but not all are created equal. When it comes to movies, DC really only has Superman and Batman to work with. Batman has been done several times over during my lifetime (Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale). The most recent trilogy, much to Christopher Nolan's credit, was fantastic. There hasn't yet been a good Superman movie made since I've been alive (here's to hoping "Man of Steel" changes that). Every other character they have doesn't make for good movies (see the Green Lantern for evidence of that). That's pretty much it for DC. They are important, but not my favorite. Marvel Comics is responsible for Spiderman, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Wolverine and the rest of the X-Men, and many more (Blade, Ghost Rider, and the Punisher come to mind). Their characters, for the most part, exist within a single, cohesive "Marvel" universe, full of individual stories. This transitions over to film well. With the exception of Dare Devil, Elektra, and that one Hulk with Eric Bana, their movies have been almost unanimously good. Sometime in late 2007 or early 2008 I was reading about the upcoming Iron Man movie when I stumbled across the master plan that later became known as The Avengers, phase one. The notion of several movies that each tell their own story with their own characters being linked together to create a single, larger storyline blew my mind. Doing this, the movies become much more like the comic books off which they are based. They tell individual stories that contribute to a bigger picture. Similarly, earlier this month I heard that the upcoming X-Men: Days of Future Past is a bridge between the X-Men movies of the 2000's and 2011's "First Class". Actors from both franchises are set to reprise their roles to establish a clear overall storyline. All is not perfect, though. Marvel has sold off rights to their characters to various studios to stay afloat throughout the past 20 years. Spiderman belongs to Sony. The Fantastic Four and the X-Men belong to Fox. Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, and the rest of the Avengers have belonged to Universal, Paramount, and most recently, Disney. Unfortunately this creates three siloed universes for character sets that were built and designed to go together. Spiderman and Wolverine (along with several other X-Men, actually) have both been popular members of the Avengers comic books at various points in time. Extremely unfortunately, this is unlikely to ever happen in the current films. Instead, we will have Sony continually turning out Spiderman movies where Spiderman exists in a world all by himself. Fox will realize their goal of uniting the X-Men universe - and, if rumors are true, introduce a rebooted Fantastic Four into that same universe (that is, the Fantastic Four would be aware of the existence of the X-Men and the two could franchises would be open to interweaving). Lastly, Disney will continue doing their thing with The Avengers.... That thing they are doing, by the way, is nothing short of the most interesting thing I've ever seen in cinematic history. The Avengers was huge. The project was a grand, moonshot-type idea. The implementation was, in my opinion, nearly flawless. The Hulk and Iron Man's friend James Rhodes have both been played by different actors depending upon which movie you are watching... but other than that, retention has been perfect. Beyond the fantastic retention and forethought in contract writing, each of the origin movies were really good. Their climax, 2012's "The Avengers" was awesome... but it was just phase one. Phase two has already begun. Iron Man 3 is coming out in a little over a week. It introduces Iron Man's arch-nemesis, "the Mandarin" for the first time and it will handle the whole "how do you have a superhero movie after the Avengers?" thing. Next will be Thor: The Dark World, which released its initial trailer the other day. It is set to take place NOT on earth (which was the often-cited low point of the first Thor) and will star all its original actors. Beyond that, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is currently filming. Details on this movie are limited, other than we know it will take place in modern-day and include Scarlette Johansson starring again as the Black Widow. Lastly, A new dimension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be unveiled. "Guardians of the Galaxy" will introduce a supplemental hero team (which, admittedly, I know very little about) to the canon* story. It is set to release on my 26th birthday and will likely include Thanos, the mysterious evil character who smiles at the end of 2012's "The Avengers". This all will culminate in The Avengers 2 (insert subtitle here) in which the Avengers will likely face off with Thanos in a story that involves the all-powerful Infinity Gauntlet. I'm going to include one brief tidbit about Thanos right before my Top 5. The Avengers 2 will be released in 105 weeks (but who's counting?). * Canon - in this context canon is an adjective that essentially means "fits with the rest of the timeline or story, part of the same universe". Then we begin phase three. Phase three will reportedly introduce at least two new characters from the vault of former members of the Avengers - Ant Man and Dr. Strange. The Ant Man movie will be the first out of the gate, and that's all anyone knows for right now about phase three. It seems logical that it would include at least a Hulk movie (he has no solo movie in phase two) if not new movies from other, previously established Avengers characters. It also seems logical that it would all end with The Avengers 3. Personally, I hope to see Marvel and Disney live out this vision and make it through three Avengers movies without losing their gusto or the actors that play their heroes. Cinematic history has already been made with the first Avengers movie - but if they manage to pull together a supertrilogy (I just coined that term, you heard it here first) they will have completed a feat that will likely NEVER be surpassed or repeated in Hollywood. If they can keep up the quality and integrity of the canon storyline, keep the original actors on board, and keep things cohesive, I think we will all have a very pleasant next 6 or 7 years. If Sony decided to collaborate, or sell off Spiderman so he could join the party... and if Fox did something similar with their characters, I... I just... I don't have words for how cool that would be. My interesting tidbit about Thanos - Thanos is motivated by an unrequited love for the physical manifestation of Death. You see, the Marvel Universe in some instances offers up its own mythologies. Death is personified as a woman-like being of some sort that oversees all existence (along with other entities, such as "Eternity"). Thanos loves her and wishes to honor her or win her over by sending her as many people as he can. THIS IS WHY, at the end of "The Avengers" when the mysterious Other tells Thanos attacking Earth is tantamount to courting Death, Thanos smiles. He smiles because he wishes to do exactly that, literally court with lady Death. Hopefully that made you appreciate the geniusness of The Avengers a little bit more.
Top 5: My Favorite Marvel Movies
5. The new reboot of Spiderman
4. The Hulk (it's a bit of a guilty pleasure, most people would disagree here - but I think it's awesome)
3. X-Men: First Class (tough choice within the X-Men franchise)
2. Iron Man 1
1. The Avengers, obviously
“Humans... They are not the cowering wretches we were promised. They stand. They are unruly, and therefore cannot be ruled. To challenge them is to court death"
- The Other -