Because the world we live in now is clearly a dream that I had when I was eleven years old, we’ve got another big summer of superhero movies ahead of us, starting with Friday’s Iron Man 3. Frankly, it’s all I want to talk about, so I’m presenting my early impressions of Iron Man, Superman, Wolverine, and Thor’s upcoming movies, along with recommended reading in case five movies with Tony Stark and six with Logan aren’t enough for you. (And it should not be!) Warning – I have a habit of getting emotional when I talk about Superman.
Iron Man 3 (May 3) – Honestly, you probably know the deal by now. This is Robert Downey Jr.’s fifth time playing Tony Stark, so either you’re on board already or you’ve pretty much committed to not watching movies about Iron Man. And while the early reviews are really good, this one will be just as interesting as a building block as it is a movie. This is the first installment in what Marvel calls “Phase Two” (Phase One started with the first Iron Man and ended with Avengers.), so I have to believe there’s going to be at least some world-building going on here. The first one introduced Nick Fury and the Avengers Initiative, and it seems likely that this one could have similar teases for Guardians of the Galaxy or Ant-Man, or maybe just a setup for Avengers 2.
In terms of the actual movie, it looks like we’ve got 40-some suits of armor, Stark on the run, a new look for Rhodey (as the Iron Patriot), and Pepper putting on some armor of her own. And three movies in, they finally got to the only Iron Man villain anybody knows – the Mandarin. In the comics, the Mandarin has ten magic rings, each with a different power. He’s also Chinese. Neither of those things appear to be true in the movie. Casting Sir Ben Kingsley seems odd at first, but this is one time when I’m OK with whitewashing. Here’s the thing – most portrayals of the Mandarin are crazy racist. Like most Marvel characters, Iron Man comes from a Cold War sensibility and most of his classic enemies are either communists or Asian guys. Or both. I mean, Mandarin used to be colored with actual yellow skin. (And then he was green on some cartoons, which is either worse or better, and I’m not sure which.) I’m totally cool with getting the Mandarin as far as possible from that. And besides, Chinese villains are not going to fly now, since that’s a lucrative market. (Red Dawn was altered in post-production to change the aggressor to North Korea.)
Recommended Reading – As I said, you probably know what you need to about Tony Stark at this point. I’m a big fan of his most recent series Invincible Iron Man that just wrapped, and Iron Man just relaunched. That’s a good starting point, if you can get past the porn-y art. For Pepper-Potts-in-armor action, there was a Rescue one-shot that I liked quite a bit. And against all odds, there’s a darn good Mandarin story – the Invincible Iron Man Annual from 2011. It addresses all the terrible stuff and redefines the character and it is fantastic.
Man of Steel (June 14) – I think in my years here, I’ve pretty firmly established myself as a Batman fan. He’s my favorite, but man, do I love Superman. As I admitted on “The Best and the Blorst” (a podcast you should listen to), sometimes I think about how great Superman is, and I cry a little. There is very little that hits me like a good Superman story, and I really, really want this reboot to be great. Director Zack Snyder is sometimes good, and sometimes he’s as dumb as a sack of hammers. But the story comes from Dark Knight guys David Goyer and Christopher Nolan which is a definite plus. (Also, EJ’s main pre-Community celebrity crush Amy Adams asLois Lane.) The cast is solid, and I think it’s good to get away from Luthor for a bit. He’s one of my all-time favorite characters, but there’s just such a turd in that particular pool. I think people need to know that a Superman movie isn’t going to be about shady real estate deals at this point.
The most recent trailer is pretty incredible, I think. Big weird Krypton scenes, badass Zod, and most importantly, Superman as an inspirational figure. That’s the stuff I love – a Superman who inspires people to be better than they are. A Superman who’s not just the most powerful, but also the best guy. A Superman who uses his powers to help people because he can’t bear the idea of anybody being hurt on his watch. I love that Superman, and the trailers definitely point to that. It is my natural inclination to worry about Superman. Batman will bounce back from a bad movie – it’ll be the movie’s fault. But if Superman flops again, it’s going to be evidence that Superman isn’t relevant. And if a guy who can do absolutely anything but chooses to put himself at risk to protect innocent life isn’t something that we want to see at the movies, than we’ve made a mistake. This really needs to be good. They owe it to Superman.
And yes, I’m willing to bet they try to set up a unified DC movie universe here. I sort of don’t care. I love the Justice League more than most of my relatives, but I’m not itching to see that movie. (Long story short – the DC Universe is more of a patchwork than Marvel, and it’s a lot harder to force them together in a way that makes sense.) I don’t need a reference to the Flash – I jut need this to be good.
Recommended Reading – I am weirdly fascinated with crazy-ass Silver Age stories with different colors of Kryptonite and Superman teaching his friends lessons and time-traveling back to Krypton every other week. But more pertinent to the movie might be Birthright, the update of Superman’s origin from 2000. That’s a book I thought was kind of unnecessary at the time, but it’s grown on me over the years and now I love it. And while writer Jeph Loeb is my archenemy after Heroes and Smallville, his Superman for All Seasons is a really good tale of young Clark Kent. And then there’s Grant Morrison, who’s also my favorite Batman writer. He wrote the first 18 issues of the Action Comics reboot featuring a rookie Superman. It was uneven, but the good stuff was fantastic. (Including a scathing critique of DC’s treatment of Superman’s creators. I still don’t know how DC published that.) He also wrote the 12-part All-Star Superman, and that’s my absolute favorite. If you have to pick one issue, go with #10 – it’s about a dying Superman trying to make sure that the world is going to be OK in his absence, and I actually can’t even talk about it without crying.
The Wolverine (July 26) – Logan’s back! And everybody involved would like you to forget 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Despite Hugh Jackman trying his best and a scene where Wolverine beats up a helicopter by punching it, the X-Men prequel was not good. This is at least partly due to the fact the movie includes both Gambit, the worst superhero, and will.i.am. Even if you ignore those points, it’s still pretty bad. Logan’s past is such a weird patchwork that trying to give it a narrative structure is a fool’s errand, and the whole thing has an air of “Ah, close enough.”
This year’s follow-up has a different director, a different writer, and ditches the “Origins” concept for a solo story of Wolverine going to Japan and fighting ninjas. Essentially, other than Wolverine himself, nothing carries over from his first solo movie. It looks pretty good, but I am biased because I like when Wolverine fights ninjas. I think this could really benefit from diminished expectations – the first movie was a disappointment, and the studio is doing more to promote the next X-Men movie (which is still in preproduction) than this imminent release. Still, it looks like a lot of fun – Wolverine in Japan is always a winning formula for me. Fingers crossed, I guess.
Recommended Reading – Once again, you probably know what’s up with Wolverine by now. The classic Wolverine-goes-to-Japan story can be found in the 1982 Wolverine miniseries by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. I loved this when I was in high school and probably haven’t read it since. I know my high school tastes were pretty dicey, so I suspect it might not hold up. Right now, I’m really enjoying Wolverine and the X-Men, an ongoing series with Logan as the headmaster of a school for young mutants. It’s lots of fun.
Thor: The Dark World (November 8) – This one’s not coming out until November, but I’m not going to do a “Superhero Movies of Autumn” article, so let’s start building anticipation now. I feel like the first movie got kind of overlooked, which is a crazy thing to say about a movie that was a hit. But Captain America and its more obvious Avengers setup came out right on the heels of Thor in 2011 and the non-Loki bits got overshadowed. (Of course, it turned out that Thor provided the villain, McGuffin, and supporting cast for Avengers.) But man, that movie was lots of fun. I mean, there’s a magical robot that blows things up with its face, and there’s no way that’s not awesome.
The sequel looks to be playing up the best parts of the first movie – Sif and the Warriors Three. (Zachary Levi is taking over in the role of Fandrall, by the way.) I love those characters, and I would rather see a Volstagg solo movie than anything Disney’s announced for the Star Wars franchise. Rather than the fish-out-of-water Thor on Earth of the first movie, this one is emphasizing big Asgardian battles with Dark Elves. And with Doctor Who’s Christopher Eccleston and LOST’s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in the cast, this trips all of my nerd buttons. I see no reason why it should have taken this long to put the Ninth Doctor and Mr. Eko together. But I also wouldn’t mind if the Natalie Portman scenes in the trailer are her only scenes in the whole of the movie. Thor did better than most superhero movies for having entertaining female characters, but none of those characters were played by Portman.
Recommended Reading – Much as I suggested last time I talked about an upcoming Thor movie, my top choices are Thor: The Mighty Avenger and Walt Simonson’s late 80s Thor run. Mighty Avenger is a fun and sweet take on a Thor who’s lost on Earth, and it plays up the relationship between Thor and a non-Natalie Portman Jane Foster. It’s great and I love it. And Simonson’s classic run is the high-water mark for the character. Marvel is apparently bringing it back into print, which is great. It’s a seminal take on the character, and one of my favorite runs of anything ever. I’m also really into the current series, Thor: God of Thunder which has Thor battling an invincible enemy during three different phases of his life. I don’t think it has much bearing on the movie, but I like what I like.
There are others, too. Kick-Ass 2 comes out on August 18, but I hate Kick-Ass. The movie is dumb as hell but has its moments. The comic is just witless ugliness, and I never even bothered reading the sequel that inspired the new movie. The movie might be fun, but there’s no recommended reading. The comic-inspired sequels Red 2 and 300: Even Three Hundred-er will be released on July 19 and August 2, respectively. But the first 300 followed the comic beginning to end so 302 doesn’t really have any source material, and the first Red had nothing to do with the comic in the first place. They don’t really count for our purposes here.
So that’s what I’m looking forward to this summer. You have just seen my entire to-do list.