Written by Imran Mirza
The arrival of Disney+ in the UK has given me the opportunity to delve into something I’ve wanted to do for the past year – actually it’s been exactly a year as April 2019 saw the release of the MCU’s ‘Endgame’ which brought to conclusion a story that started in 2008 and was masterfully told over the course of 22 movies.
So existing in the midst of a quarantine and with an inexplicable refusal to get any sleep I figured let’s relive the magic of this ground-breaking experiment, chart the incredible journey of these characters and try to keep up with everyone who at one time or another was in possession of The Tesseract. With that said, spoiler-filled reviews start now…
I vividly remember the first time I heard that Marvel had set up a studio with the plan of releasing four standalone movies for Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America with the intention of bringing them together in a fifth ‘Avengers’ film. Now, I fully understand that Phase 1 was small fries compared to the scope of Phase 3 but it’s so important that people remember that nothing like Phase 1’s basic plan had ever been attempted before – characters from one film appearing in a completely different film was unimaginable back then. I mean, yes, Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy reprised their roles as Mortimer and Randolph Duke from ‘Trading Places’ (1983) appearing in a cameo in ‘Coming To America’ (1988) but, as cool as that was, probably wasn’t on the same level. (It was very cool though.)
The other thing I vividly remember was the announcement of Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark. Genius, I thought. Flawless casting. And that casting of an actor in a superhero role holds up against any since and there have certainly been some great ones but Downey’s Stark, for me, was the beating heart – or the beating Arc Reactor – of the MCU from this film going forward. ‘Iron Man’ has a strong reputation as being the catalyst for a successful MCU and while you may have strong memories of this being a good film – if it’s been some time since you last saw this – then I’d urge you to watch it again as it’s a great film that holds up against everything that came after it.
The arc that Tony’s character would go on to be defined by throughout his nine MCU appearances is established fairly early in his overall story – the desire to right his past wrongs, the desire to do all he can to protect those around him. And, yes, that desire in some ways slowly turns to obsession whereby some questionable decisions are made – namely his “suit of armour around the world” quest established in ‘Age of Ultron’ – but that’s what’s made Stark so compelling in that he wasn’t the goody-two-shoes hero; he retains the asshole-like characteristics that Stark begins the film with.
And now let’s talk about the suit. As films have progressed, we’ve seen the technology employed evolve at an incredible rate with the only limitations being that of Marvel’s imagination. From the lengthy time taken to put on/take off the armour in ‘Iron Man’ to the almost magical materialisation of it in ‘Infinity War’ has been an absolute joy to see develop over the years. It’s as though every film had to feature upgrades in some aspect be it the efficiency or the devastating arsenal at the suit’s disposal.
The final point that absolutely warrants a mention here is the fact that this movie also sparked the beginning of Marvel’s tradition and subsequent ownership of the post-credits scene – a trick I remember being distinctly unfamiliar with at the time so completely missed Nick Fury’s introduction upon my initial cinema screening of ‘Iron Man’. But these post-credits scenes have established themselves as such a staple of Marvel’s storytelling that in my mind, the most bizarre or rudest thing someone can do in the cinema is to leave as the credits start. I’m always overwhelmed with the desire to heckle people as they leave – but thankfully I never have.
Anyway, this is getting long and there’s another 21 movies to cover so I’ll wrap this up here even though there’s so much I didn’t get to talk about. We’ll be back fairly soon as we get to grips with ‘The Incredible Hulk’ in our next post.
Episode #13 of the Close Encounters of the 4th Kind podcast sees Tee-J, Imran and Dan assess how the entertainment industry has managed to adapt to a life of quarantine. We look at the worlds of music, film, TV, pro-wrestling and other sports to highlight some really innovative ways that have been employed to spread the universal smiles.
by Dan Collacott
One of the best things about straight to VHS films was the fact they often toyed with insane concepts that would usually only be reserved for video games. Arena is exactly that, it's like someone went 'what if Tekken was a movie' only Arena actually predated Tekken and is far more crap than that idea.
Arena tells the story of a futuristic fighting tournament where alien species dominate. Only this time lead Steve Armstrong (Paul Satterfield doing an amazing Christopher Reeve impersonation) is fired from his job as a cook and persuaded to become the first human in a thousand years to try and win (easy right?). The competition also uses some kind of equalising system that levels the fight for each participant, no matter what their physical/strength/limb to teeth ratio differences are (and yes despite this they still cheat like absolute bastards). Steve is assisted by mentor/manager/companion 'Shorty', a Bilbo Baggins-a-like who looks like he wandered from the shire onto the set of Arena, where some FX experts then attached two new but non working arms to his body without telling him.
Directed by B-Movie helmer Peter Manoogian, Arena has plenty of cliches and goofy acting plus a garish 80s wardrobe of horrendous outfits, featuring a lot of make up and clothes borrowed from starlight express, including lots of silver, gold, big perms, wide shoulders and shiny/sparkly things. Steve's initial fighting outfit is so weird and camp it looks like something from a very bad Eurovision pop video. Weirdly most of the creatures Steve fights are incredibly slow and cumbersome looking, one of them is even called Sloth and you can kind of see why.
There is a bit of romance between 'no nonsense' fighting promotor Quinn and Steve and the directors clearly spent most of the film trying to recreate the Cantina scene from Star Wars only with the budget and attire of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.'
Aesthetically watching this film made me feel like they had got extras and actual actors from Babylon 5 and every 80s B-Movie FX specialist to create some insanely weird creature FX on their coffee break (the film is alleged to have had a $10 million budget). In a world before CGI the physical effects are great despite this being a low ball B movie (ok maybe 'great' is an over statement but they sort of work). Released at a time when Rocky was absolutely huge, Arena is a true against all odds underdog story, where humanity gets its mojo back when it realises one of their own can win the biggest tournament there is.
Episode #12 of the Close Encounters of the 4th Kind podcast sees Imran and Dan jump into the conversation of posthumous album releases. With certain artists noted for their meticulous approach to their art, is it ok to listen to music from your favourite artist when they may not have given the *ok* for its release? We delve into examples across several genres of posthumous albums that may have worked brilliantly and some that haven't.
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