You Should Be Watching Person of Interest

Person of Interest is a series whose greatness sneaks up on you. The first season is basic procedural fare with occasional standout moments and episodes. It’s something that’s great to put on in the background while you fold laundry or work out. Then something funny happens. You start finding yourself paying more attention to the series than your activity. By season three you’re focusing solely on the show and by season five you’re planning a night around the premiere with your sister who’s baked Person of Interest themed cupcakes.

 

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And they are delicious. So anyway, Person of Interest. Here’s the hook:

Harold Finch, a reclusive genius, has invented The Machine, an AI, to help the government stop terrorist threats. But since The Machine also sees threats to average people Finch has set it to send him information on those threats. Not much, just a social security number. That number relates to a person. OF INTEREST. That person might be a victim. They might be a perpetrator. Either way, Finch can’t save or stop them on his own.

I mean look at him, he’s Michael Emerson.

He recruits John Reese, an ex-super spy now roaming New York City as a homeless person to help him. Together they fight crime and save lives all while monitoring the ramifications of creating a fully functional artificial intelligence.

That’s where the greatness comes in. The Machine is very much alive, and while it follows through on its programming Finch is always aware that it could potentially do so much more. Even take over the world. As time goes on our heroes face off against simpler threats like crime lords and corrupt cops, but they also take on corporations and government organizations looking to unlock the full potential of artificial intelligence.

Suffice it to say, everything falls apart over time and the status quo is shattered. The worst thing a procedural can be is the same thing year after year. Person of Interest doesn’t have that problem. The series was created by Jonathon Nolan, Christopher Nolan’s brother and co-writer of The Dark Knight. He knows how to balance a procedural with a serialized story and, once they start bucking CBS procedural traditions near the end of season one, the show becomes the most compelling looks at technology on television.

Jim Caviezel aka JESUS plays Reese. A black hole of charisma who nonetheless grows on you thanks to his ability to kick so much ass.

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YES. REALLY.

Michael Emerson, who you may know as Ben Linus from Lost plays Finch. It’s a perfect marriage of actor and role as Finch is awkward, brilliant, and heartbreaking all at once.

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Taraji P. “Cookie” Henson plays Joss Carter. She’s a deeply layered cop trying to do the right thing, even as she hunts down our heroes, the vigilantes getting involved in crimes all over the city.

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Kevin Chapman, who I’ll admit I know from nothing else, plays Lionel Fusco. A corrupt cop going through a great redemptive arc.

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As time goes on, three more major additions to the cast arrive. The first is Amy Acker, of Angel fame, as Root. A psychopathic killer who perceives The Machine as God.

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The second is Bear. Who’s a good boy!

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The third is Sameen Shaw, played by Sarah Shahi. Shaw’s a current super spy who also has a mental disorder leaving her emotionally cold and without regard for her victims.

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They are worth waiting for.

Season Five, the final season, has already begun. It will be truncated at only 13 episodes airing multiple nights a week because we live in a sad world. Here’s the trailer for where we are now. You’re not meant to understand what’s happening, you’re meant to see how much better this trailer looks than the one for season one.

Without giving too much away, the team is up against the wall and the stakes have never been higher. Bake your cupcakes and strap in, because it’ll be a hell of a ride.

Person of Interest airs Mondays and Tuesdays on CBS at 10. Previous seasons can be streamed on Netflix.

-JP

PS, Do some pushup or other exercises during the first season. That’s what I did.

The Civil War Marathon Part IV – The Avengers: Age of Ultron

In celebration of this Friday’s release of Captain America: Civil War, I have put together a multi-night Marvel marathon. I have chosen the movies to focus on Steve Rogers, his relationship with Bucky, and his relationship with Tony Stark. The marathon is as follows:
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
There are no Iron Man stand alone films here because they give no insight into his present state that the Avengers films do not already give.

As I watch each film I will post entries on each in turn.

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I was alone for Age of Ultron. Life got in the way enough that even I couldn’t host and just had to watch the movie on my own during the day. Frankly it’s poetic, as I am one of the apparent few who loves the film warts and all. It doesn’t drag like its predecessor and you can see how much Director Joss Whedon’s skills have improved. This movie looks and feels different while being unmistakably an Avengers film, with all the quips and fun that entails.

We begin with the Avengers already assembled. The current crisis is directly connected to where The Winter Soldier left off, giving us a very comfortable transition. They’re taking out a Hydra base that appropriated Loki’s scepter from S.H.I.E.L.D. when it fell. Things seem pretty stable among the group as they work together to accomplish their mission. Even when the twins start to attack, The Avengers don’t falter under the pressure.

Then Tony has his vision.

All of the fears he thought he had moved past in Iron Man 3 bubble up to the surface. In that film he used his suits to shield himself from the world. Now he intends to shield the world from everything else.

Most of the team see Pietro and Wanda Maximoff as merely enemies, but Steve understands them and their perspective implicitly. As the Captain says, “What kind of monster would let a German scientist experiment on them in order to protect their country?” They’re a lot like him, which is why Steve is the first one to reach out to them later in the film.

In the meantime, The Avengers party. Steve invites all his friends, who mostly just so happen to be WWII vets (and Stan Lee). While talking to Sam Wilson he makes it clear that he hasn’t stopped looking for Bucky, and they won’t stop until they’ve found him.

Oh right, and then Steve almost moves Thor’s hammer. He could potentially be worthy, but he’s interrupted by that pesky Ultron.

Like pretty much everyone else, Steve does not take it well when Tony invents a “murder-bot”. However since Thor has decided to be the one filled with righteous fury, he has to be the voice of reason. He wants to make sure Tony knows he did a bad thing, but more importantly he wants to find and stop Ultron. Luckily¬† Howard Stark told him where Vibranium came from back in the day, so Steve and Tony know the significance of what Ulysses Klaue picked up in Wakanda.

There’s a lot to unpack in Steve’s nightmare vision. It’s disconcerting to say the least. He walks into a party wearing military dress. It’s a celebration of the end of WWII, and people are laughing and drinking while brutally injured. Then Peggy Carter asks Steve for that dance they never shared. Next thing he knows, the room is empty and we get a flash of the two of them sharing that dance. Is this what Steve always wanted? To be back then instead of here and now? Would he be comfortable celebrating after all that pain and death? Being a soldier is all he knows. Could he have survived a post-war climate? What is the significance of the empty ballroom? Is it because it’s impossible for him to attend this party? He missed it a long time ago.

I can’t definitively answer these questions. They’re not meant to be answered, they’re just meant to rattle him. And they do. When The Avengers arrive at the Barton house, Steve walks away from the front door in an homage to John Wayne in The Searchers. He can’t even connect to this kind of family life anymore.

After Thor leaves, Steve and Tony get to have a very honest conversation. It’s kind of like holding a mirror to their argument in The Avengers. They respect each other now, making the conversation much more friendly, but their core ideologies still put them at odds.

“Thor didn’t say where he was going for answers?”

“Sometimes my teammates don’t tell me things. I was kind of hoping Thor would be the exception.”

“Yeah, give him time. We don’t know what the Maximoff kid showed him.”

“I don’t know what she showed you. I just know it made you do something stupid. Earth’s mightiest heroes… pulled us apart like cotton candy.”

“Seems like you walked away all right.”

“Is that a problem?”

“I don’t trust a guy without a dark side. Call me old fashioned.”

“Well let’s just say you haven’t seen it yet.”

“Banner and I were doing research.”

“That would affect the team.”

“That would end the team! Isn’t that the mission? Isn’t that the ‘why’ we fight, so we can end the fight, so we get to go home?”

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“Every time somebody tries to win a war before it starts, innocent people die. Every time.”

Steve wins this argument, and not just because ripping a log apart with your bare hands is the perfect way to punctuate any point. Tony has been in the war business. He knows where the line is. An all encompassing defense system run by an artificial intelligence is potentially genocidally dangerous. Or has Tony not seen The Terminator?

It seems like Steve gets through to Tony, making him want to do whatever it takes to make up for his mistake, because from this point forward The Avengers start to rally. They get to Seoul and intercept Ultron’s creation of his new perfect body. Steve even encounters the Maximoff twins who have turned against Ultron after discovering his plans for global annihilation. And because Steve knows what really matters, he even makes sure Pietro saves people who may get hit as Wanda slows the train they’re on. However, then Wanda reminds Steve that “whatever it takes” means something just as dangerous in Tony’s eyes.

The Avengers fight over the creation of The Vision. There’s no way for Steve to know this thing could be trustworthy while Tony has to believe the piece of him within Jarvis can make the difference. Before things can go too far, Thor swoops in and takes matters into his own hands.

So yeah, that’s why Thor isn’t in Civil War.

The thing is, as soon as The Vision lifts Thor’s hammer Steve is on board. If this new thing is as worthy as Thor then he must be a friend. So they prep to finally take Ultron down, no longer playing catch up. Steve only has one addition to the plan. Save the people.

I cannot stress enough how much it means to me that the bulk of act three in this film involves evacuating a city. There are too many blockbusters that kill thousands for the sake of spectacle. This film finds spectacle in saving innocent lives, all while allowing The Avengers to fight an army of faceless minion robots.

The Avengers form up around Sokovia’s core switch and holds the line against Ultron. Tony makes it clear he and Steve are cool now. As Steve always said, they’ll face this great threat together. They destroy nearly every Ultron, but one manages to get to the core. Luckily they’ve evacuated the city by then, and Steve is the last to jump to safety on a S.H.I.E.L.D. life raft. Thor and Tony destroy the city and bing bang boom the Earth is saved.

Things are actually pretty happy in the aftermath of Ultron. Happy, but irrevocably changed. The Hulk has vanished and Thor is leaving to investigate the Infinity Stones. Meanwhile Clint is joining Tony in retirement. It seems Tony only suited up again to help with the Hydra problem, but now he’ll be returning to his post-Iron Man 3 status quo.

This leaves Steve and Natasha in charge of The New Avengers. Sam Wilson, James Rhodes, Wanda Maximoff, and The Vision. Unlike the other original members, Steve and Nat have nowhere to go except The Avengers. This is where they can be the most good to themselves and the people they care about.

There’s not much of a civil war in sight between Tony and Steve as we leave things here. It simmers under the surface sometimes. Their conversation on the wood block came dangerously close to the argument they had in the first Avengers, but neither of them want them now. Something has to give to get them there, and that something will most likely be Bucky. We can see how Ultron would push Tony towards supporting government oversight. If somebody had been looking over his shoulder, maybe he wouldn’t have been able to create Ultron. Or at least not in the way he did. Meanwhile, we can see how Steve can stand against it. They didn’t ask anyone for permission to get to Africa, or Korea, or Sokovia, and the planet is safe because they didn’t have to go through any bureaucracy to do what was right.

Which side is right? Well that’s the problem. They both kind of are.

-JP

PS, This was fun! I’m finding Tony and Steve’s relationship to be much meatier than Steve and Bucky’s. I am thoroughly excited for Civil War, obviously, and hope it lives up to the hype. However, this whole thing was also exhausting. Don’t expect me to do the same thing for Thor when his sequel comes around.

The Civil War Marathon Part III – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

 

In celebration of this Friday’s release of Captain America: Civil War, I have put together a multi-night Marvel marathon. I have chosen the movies to focus on Steve Rogers, his relationship with Bucky, and his relationship with Tony Stark. The marathon is as follows:
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
There are no Iron Man stand alone films here because they give no insight into his present state that the Avengers films do not already give.

As I watch each film I will post entries on each in turn.

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Surprisingly low attendance for The Winter Soldier straight out of the gate. Many people voiced interest in seeing this one, but considering the marathon is now taking place on week nights it is a bit harder for everybody to find the time. Still, the experience of watching this film is the polar opposite of The Avengers. The Winter Soldier remains an extremely kinetic and entertaining film that I wholly enjoy even on my umpteenth viewing. There’s a really good reason why the directing and writing teams on this one will be helming the next two Avengers movies.

It’s been a while for Steve Rogers since New York, and he’s now mostly transitioned to the present day. He has cooler hair, surfs the internet, and even makes a new Black friend. The only thing he is having trouble with now is our modern morals and security principals. The idea of having all powerful killing machines like the new Helicarriers floating above us is a horror to him. There’s an argument to be made that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Steve missed the Cold War, 9/11, and all of the following terror attacks. We no longer fight wars of nations, and that makes the world a much scarier place.

This film manages to find the best way to challenge Steve Rogers. It isn’t interesting for his enemy to simply be stronger than him, instead the conflict here is one of ideologies. More and more pushes up against Steve and he has to be the immovable object of good. He has to come out the other side uncompromised. Still the good man Doctor Erskine believed him to be.

That’s why, even after their disagreement, Steve is willing to help Nick Fury when he shows up in Steve’s apartment. Their whole relationship has been Nick using Steve in one way or another. He lied about Coulson’s playing cards. He lied about the Lumerian Star at the beginning of this movie. He sets up Agent 13 as a “nurse” next door. There’s no reason why Steve should want to help, and for all we know he is about to kick Fury out, but then Fury is shot right in front of him.

Steve goes into pursuit of the assassin, destroying every door he has ever met, and has his first confrontation with The Winter Soldier. It leaves a hell of an impression, as the man with a metal arm spins on a dime and catches Steve’s shield. It leaves Steve rattled as nobody has ever done that before. He is left standing there as this new enemy escapes into the night.

Steve doesn’t see The Winter Soldier again for a good chunk of the movie. In the meantime he learns the devastating information that Hydra really did survive WWII and is more powerful than ever as a powerful percentage of S.H.I.E.L.D. His enemies used his legacy to become even more powerful. Most men would break under that pressure, but Steve only becomes more motivated. He may not have defeated Hydra then, but he knows what they’re up to now and he intends to finish this.

Which is how we get to the fight sequence that closes out Act Two. It begins on the highway overpass, then falls to the ground beneath, and travels a few blocks before it ends. It’s also probably the best action sequence in the movie if not the whole MCU.

But nobody wants to read an action scene:

The whole film changes when Steve discovers that Bucky Barnes, his best friend from when he was growing up in depression era New York, is not only alive but somehow still young and The Winter Soldier. Bucky doesn’t remember Steve. His friend is alive, but he’s also lost.

When Steve joins up with Nick Fury, Maria Hill, and… director Joe Russo as the doctor? He struggles to regain his center. Bucky is alive. Bucky who was there for him when his mother died, when he was denied from the military, and even as a member of the Howling Commandos. Now he works for the enemy, only a remnant of his former self. If Hydra is what did this to Steve’s best friend, then Hydra has to be taken down. If Hydra is within S.H.I.E.L.D., then both have to be completely dismantled.

Sam lets Steve know that he might not be able to save Bucky, but Steve isn’t giving up yet. He gets his WWII suit from the Smithsonian, effectively shrugging off the “modern” rules and the meta aspect of the necessity of dark superhero movies. He does what he does best, grabbing a microphone and inspiring the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents to stand up against Hydra. Because he’s Captain America dammit, and these are “Captain’s orders”.

Everything comes to a head when Steve and Bucky meet once more in the final Helicarrier. As a viewer, you’re legitimately unsure how Steve will approach this. He tries to get through to his best friend, reminding him of the lives on the line. However once Bucky starts to attack, Steve fights to win. But he doesn’t fight to kill. In the end he puts Bucky in a wrestling hold, cutting off his air supply and knocking him out. He thinks it’s over and walks off to shut down the Helicarrier.

And that’s when Bucky shoots him. But he doesn’t shoot to kill.

Steve still gets the chip in place, but now he’s in a Helicarrier that’s being shot out of the sky along with two others. He could escape, but Bucky is trapped under some debris. Steve decides that Sam is wrong and goes to save his friend again. He could never let his best friend die like this.

Once free, Bucky attacks Steve yet again. Steve drops his shield and allows Bucky to beat on him again and again. The mission is over. All that matters now is bringing Bucky back. Just when Bucky is about to hit Steve one too many times, Steve parrots back what Bucky said after his mother’s funeral.

“I’m with you. To the end of the line.”

And Bucky stops. The phrase is familiar. Both men are thrown into the water by the Helicarrier’s destruction. Bucky drags Steve to shore, saving his life, and walks off into the distance to discover who he is. He doesn’t want to see Steve again until he knows for sure.

Steve pulls through to discover he’s changed the world yet again. S.H.I.E.L.D. is gone. Agent 13 has joined the CIA and Maria Hill will be a part of Stark Industries, meaning still an active member of the superhero game. Natasha tells off the government, reminding them that only people like the Avengers can take on the threats the world keeps facing.

So yeah, if they can’t remove you I guess they’ll figure out how they can control you. Civil War!

But what of Steve? He finishes with the same mission he had back in WWII when he went rouge in Europe. Stop Hydra and save Bucky. Only this time he’s got help. Sam Wilson and The Avengers.

-JP

PS, I cannot say enough about how much of an improvement every Captain America suit is in this film over the one in The Avengers. It’s just exceptional.

The Civil War Marathon Part II – The Avengers

In celebration of this Friday’s release of Captain America: Civil War, I have put together a multi-night Marvel marathon. I have chosen the movies to focus on Steve Rogers, his relationship with Bucky, and his relationship with Tony Stark. The marathon is as follows:
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
There are no Iron Man stand alone films here because they give no insight into his present state that the Avengers films do not already give.

As I watch each film I will post entries on each in turn.

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Attendance dropped dramatically for the second night of the marathon. While there were about twelve people at my house to see The First Avenger only four showed up for The Avengers and it’s easy to see why. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched the movie so many times over the past few years or maybe it’s because the novelty of getting the band together has worn off, but the emotion I felt over the majority of this viewing was boredom. It’s still fun by the time we get to the battle of New York in Act Three, but the journey there is very very long.

Coming in to this straight from Captain America, you find yourself thankful for the opening with S.H.I.E.L.D. since they were such a question mark at the end of The First Avenger. We start with the mysterious Nick Fury from Times Square and quickly get an idea what he’s about. He’s a government agent investigating the cube that Hydra used in WWII. The stakes are immediate, because we’ve just seen what that object is capable of. However when it opens, from the perspective of only seeing The First Avenger beforehand, the assumption is that the Red Skull is about to appear. Instead, Loki arrives and you are thrown into a state of confusion as more and more new players are introduced.

Finally, “we need soldiers” is uttered and the film arrives at Steve Rogers. He’s the only character that takes the time to show flashes from his previous film. He’s the man out of time. He’s secluded from the world for almost a year now. It appears that he trusts Nick Fury when the colonel arrives to ask for help, but other than that he appears to be in a dark and lonely place these days.

Immediately following Steve is the introduction of Tony Stark, which feels appropriate. In a world where you haven’t seen Iron Man or Iron Man 2 before, this sequence is fascinating. We’re underwater, and a robot or something sets a device on a pipe. This machine rises out of the water and flies into New York City. He speaks, very charismatic but with a great ego. We see a middle aged man with all manner of holograms around his head, most likely in the suit but you don’t know for sure yet. He flies toward a building that lights up bright with the word “STARK”. As in Howard Stark. Finally the suit comes off and Tony Stark is here. He has a glowing ring on his chest and a high tech suit of armor. He must be Howard Stark’s son, and he is possibly a greater genius than even his father.

But he’s also kind of a dick.

Steve learns about the legacy he’s left behind when he meets Agent Coulson. That even seventy years later he’s a hero to people. An icon of good from the golden age. He discovers how much of history came as a result of his mere existence. Iron Man is in a way the modern Captain America. He has sharper edges, darkness, and his powers are super technological instead of super biological. The Hulk came from an attempt to recreate the Super Soldier Serum gone wrong. In a way, that makes Steve feel responsible for Bruce’s condition. All of this came from him, even the god in possession of the cube was part of that object’s history.

Luckily Steve doesn’t have to dwell on all this, as he quickly flies to Germany to face Loki. It puts him in a good state of mind. Things were much more black and white in Germany, and they are once again here. But then ACDC plays and Iron Man arrives, and Steve is dragged back into the present.

What must that be like? To meet he son of an old friend, but that son is older than you ever knew your friend. The first thing Tony does is disrespect Steve, calling him old among other things. Tony never had a good relationship with his father and sees Steve as a relic of the past. It’s likely that as Tony grew up, Steve was the moral standard he was held to, and he resents the Captain for that. Meanwhile Steve doesn’t appreciate the attitude of the heir to his friend’s legacy. It’s not a very strong start to a friendship.

When Thor arrives their differences become even more clear. Tony dives in without so much as a plan, while Steve wants to understand the context of what is going on. Cooler heads (and Vibranium shields) prevail, but that certainly doesn’t help Steve and Tony grow closer together.

The first time Steve and Tony work together, they technically aren’t together at all. They approach the same problem with the skill sets of both of their times. S.H.I.E.L.D. is hiding something and both men intend to find out for sure. The difference is Tony wants to know what they are hiding and is using a virus to infiltrate their files. Steve, on the other hand, wants to be sure they aren’t hiding anything and sneaks into a storage space to find out. Both of them discover the ugly truth, that S.H.I.E.L.D. intends to base new weapons off of the ones Hydra used in WWII.

For once both men stand together against a common enemy, that is until their clashing ideologies (or maybe the influence of Loki’s scepter? Still unclear on that) puts them moments away from a fist fight. The scary thing is that their argument is fully based in truth.

“Big man in a suit of armor. Take that off and what are you?”

“Genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.”

“I know guys with none of that worth ten of you. I’ve seen the footage. The only thing you really fight for is yourself. You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play. To lay down on a wire and let the other guy crawl over you.”

“I think I would just cut the wire.”

“Always a way out. You know you may not be a threat but you better stop pretending to be a hero.”

“A hero? Like you? You’re a laboratory experiment Rogers. Everything special about you came out of a bottle.”

“Put on the suit. Let’s go a few rounds.”

Luckily another common enemy appears in time for both men to stand together and truly work together.as they repair the Helicarrier, every insult they threw at each other becomes a strength. Steve can’t make heads or tails of the power relays, but with Tony’s genius help he figures it out. Tony wouldn’t be able to survive the start up sequence if he didn’t have Steve, always trustworthy, there to slow down the propeller blades.

Then they suffer the same loss when Agent Coulson is murdered by Loki. Coulson was, in a way, Steve’s legacy. A man inspired by him to be a hero. Fury’s “old fashioned notion” of the Avengers is exactly what Steve was a part of in the Howling Commandos back in WWII. But as Tony states, they aren’t all soldiers, and he’s never taken a personal hit like this. All Steve knows is loss, and the chasm between these two men begins to close.

Finally The Avengers assemble in the Battle of New York. Steve’s arc has taken him so far from where he began. Where he was alone, now he has this group of people as powerful and as broken as he is. He takes command, as he is the Captain, and The Avengers fight the Chitauri army. As they fight as one the Avengers learn how they complement each other.

But the big moment comes when Tony intercepts a nuclear missile headed for New York and takes it through the portal to take out the Chitauri. Tony makes the sacrifice play, proving Steve wrong with his nobility, and nearly dies defeating their enemy. Of course he makes it in the end, but the two men share a deep respect once the dust settles. Their friendship is rightfully formed.

And then they go out for shawarma!

-JP

PS, see you tomorrow with my write-up on The Winter Soldier!

The Civil War Marathon Part I – Captain America: The First Avenger

In celebration of this Friday’s release of Captain America: Civil War, I have put together a multi-night Marvel marathon. I have chosen the movies to focus on Steve Rogers, his relationship with Bucky, and his relationship with Tony Stark. The marathon is as follows:
Captain America: The First Avenger
The Avengers
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
There are no Iron Man stand alone films here because they give no insight into his present state that the Avengers films do not already give.

As I watch each film I will post entries on each in turn.

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As I began my marathon I was surprised by the attendance for The First Avenger. A lot of people were very excited to see the original Captain America, a movie I wasn’t certain other people loved as much as I do.

Watching this film from the perspective of it being the first Marvel film you see, there’s a very different feeling in the opening scene. You don’t know that S.H.I.E.L.D. just found Captain America. Instead it’s a shadowy government operation that’s found some relic of the past. There’s a lot more mystery. Questions to be answered as we go back in time.

Surprisingly enough, the first scene in WWII that takes place in Norway is the only one where characters speak German. I have long had negative opinions on the Nazis all speaking and writing in English, but I came to a realization in recent years that makes me appreciate the film all the more. It wants to be a propaganda film. The whole thing is constructed to evoke the classic propaganda films from World War II, and that is why the Nazis are so cartoonish and the heroes are just so damn good.

Speaking of villains, they could not have cast a better Red Skull than Hugo Weaving. The man plays villain like no other and he chews the scenery the exact right amount here. Of course since he’s a big name they found a way to have Weaving’s real face on screen, at least for a good chunk of the movie. That being said, you can see even in his first scene, that there are little wrinkles on his skin just under his ear. Exactly where he will pull this mask off later.

Finally Steve Rogers arrives, and the effect of putting Chris Evans’s face onto a tiny skinny body is still uncanny. It’s disconcerting at first, but you quickly come to terms with it and even grow to love it. I would even say it holds up after the five years between the film’s release and now. Most of that comes from Evans himself and his great performance. Everything else falls away when he’s in this role and he just becomes Cap.

Finally Bucky arrives to help Steve out of an alley fight. What’s fascinating here is that in his original iteration, Bucky was Cap’s teen sidekick. They met after the super soldier serum, so Bucky always looked up to Steve. Instead here they made Steve and Bucky childhood friends and it only deepens their bond. They know each other as much as two people could, and they would do anything for each other. Even start a civil war.

Now I have to talk about Howard Stark. Coming at this character without knowing his son first, or even the version of him in Iron Man 2, really allows Dominic Cooper’s performance to shine. He isn’t the future father of Tony Stark, he’s the scientist trying to build flying cars in the 30s. This guy is capable of great things, and if he were around in modern day who knows what he would be capable of.

After this Steve loses track of Bucky in another attempt to enlist. He finally gets his wish, but he never gets to tell his best friend. Bucky has all ready shipped off to London.

Steve comes into contact again with Howard Stark at his Super Soldier serum trial, but the two are never properly introduced.

It’s only when Howard is flying Steve to save Bucky in Europe that they actually share words. Howard comes off cocky and Steve clocks him as a romantic rival over Peggy. So yeah, he’s a Stark.

There are many things worth noting when Steve saves Bucky. First of all, Doctor Zola is absolutely already turning Bucky into the Winter Soldier. But another thing is the sound all of the hydra weapons make. They sound like Iron Man’s repulsors. There’s a connecting line between what Howard Stark is studying now, and what his son will perfect.

It’s after this that Steve and Bucky share their most important scene. Bucky agrees to be a part of the Howling Commandos, not because he believes in Captain America, but because he believes in the Steve Rogers that existed before the super soldier. Essentially Bucky knew Steve before he was cool.

At the same time Howard and Steve cement their friendship. Howard assures Steve that there’s nothing going on between him and Peggy and they begin working together to fight the Natzis. We never get much more of a feel for what their friendship is like. They work together, but that’s about all we really see.

Then Bucky dies. And while everybody and their mother knows Bucky comes back, the grief on Steve’s face is real and resonant. He’s lost his best friend and for the first time we get a flash of darkness as he puts together a reckless plan to take down hydra once and for all.

I’ll admit, the third act of The First Avenger is not all that strong. The movie just kind of arrives there. The heroes win a lot with very low personal stakes. The Red Skull is the only major enemy by now, but even the stakes between he and Steve don’t feel grand enough. Finally Steve is fighting the autopilot on hydra plane, but the audience isn’t convinced the only solution is to fly it into the ocean. It’s a shame that the first act is so much stronger than the third.

But you cannot deny the excitement of seeing Steve run around modern day New York. We have spent so much time in a computer generated depression era, that the modern stuff feels like a breath of fresh air. Although Cap has lost everybody he’s ever known, and you don’t know if you can trust Nick Fury in this context, it’s a hell of an exciting cliffhanger.

So it’s a really great thing we don’t have to wait very long to watch The Avengers.