Friday, July 5, 2019

Worth Mentioning - Whatever It Takes, True Believer

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody marvels through the decades.


Avengers: Endgame is a very tough movie for me to write about. Two and half months after my first viewing of it, I still have trouble putting together words to try to discuss it. This isn't for any negative reason, as this movie not only lived up to but exceeded every hope and expectation I had for it. It was worth every bit of building anticipation I felt for it ever since Avengers: Infinity War was released a year earlier, and it followed up on that film's shocking, tragic ending perfectly. But it's not just a direct follow-up to Infinity War, it wraps up the entire story Marvel Studios has been telling over the past eleven years, since the release of the first Iron Man in 2008. And it is a wonderful ending to that story.

As Endgame's release date drew near, I began to realize just how important this movie was to me as a fan. It's an epic, 181 minute blow-out ending to something I have been followed since I was twenty-four years old. A series that has brought superhero movies up to a level I had never before imagined they could reach. Now I'm thirty-five, and some of the loved ones I had been bringing along on this journey with me aren't around anymore to see its conclusion. What are the chances I'll ever get wrapped up in a film franchise the way I have been wrapped up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the last decade? This franchise got me so hooked because it has been telling an incredible story with, for the most part, characters I have at least been familiar with, if not an established fan of, since childhood. It brought the sort of stories I read about in comic books to the screen in a dazzling way, and I don't see anything else coming down the line that would tap into childhood nostalgia while impressing me with the storytelling like the MCU has.

I'm in awe of what directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely were able to accomplish with Endgame. The opening 20 minutes of the movie are devastating, showing heroes Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), War Machine (Don Cheadle), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and former villain Nebula (Karen Gillan) dealing with their failure to stop Thanos (Josh Brolin) from wiping out half of all life in the universe with a snap of his fingers at the end of Infinity War. With the help of Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), some of these heroes even seek out Thanos in an attempt to reverse what he has done. But they can't. And the filmmakers then made the jaw-dropping decision to jump ahead five years. Five years later, the world is still trying to deal with the loss of half the population. Friends, family, pets, just turned to ash. The movie drives home the emotion of all this loss.

Then Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) enters the picture, and the tone shifts. For a large portion of the remaining running time, it has exactly the tone I hoped it would - there's a sense of hope as the heroes embark on an adventure to set things right. Some of these heroes have changed a bit over the last five years, and the changes a couple of them have undergone brings some added fun.

Endgame is made even more of a celebration of the last eleven years of MCU movies through the fact that this adventure requires the characters to figure out time travel and then go jumping through scenes we've seen in previous films. We get to see some of them moving through the background of moments we've seen them live before, using the knowledge they have of their past selves' futures to navigate as they seek to collect the infinity stones Thanos used to wipe out life so they can return to the present to use those same stones to bring those lost lives back. Because of this, we get to return to moments like the alien invasion in the first Avengers movie, the Asgard scenes in Thor: The Dark World, and the title sequence of Guardians of the Galaxy, with a very funny nod to the elevator scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. If you have been following the MCU closely, all of this stuff is truly a delight.

There are complications and further loss, and one moment where a hero has to fight the past version of himself. There are touching scenes where characters get to interact with lost loved ones in the past. Thor gets to see his mother (Rene Russo), who was killed in The Dark World. Tony "Iron Man" Stark gets to share a moment with his father (John Slattery), who was killed more than thirty years before the 2023 present Tony is coming from - but their scene is set in 1970, so Tony's father has no idea he's speaking to his adult son. Captain America catches a glimpse of his true love Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), the woman he had a date with before he ended up frozen for sixty years at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger.

Avengers: Endgame tugged on my heartstrings many times over the course of its lengthy running time - a running time that feels just right for it. There were several scenes that had me on the edge of bursting into sobs; sometimes because of sad situations, sometimes because what I was witnessing was bringing me so much joy. The quest for the infinity stones brings the heroes back in contact with Thanos and his army, and there are moments in the final battle with those forces that had my heart pounding and tears in my eyes. There's one particular moment that I had been wanting to see for a long time, one that calls back to a scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

This isn't the end of the MCU, of course. There are a lot more movies ahead of us and while there are some actors we'll never see as their MCU characters again, we'll see more of others. But this was the end of this era, which is being referred to as The Infinity Saga. The Marvel Cinematic Universe will be different from here on out. I look forward to seeing how it will go, and I'm grateful for what we've gotten up to this point.

The Infinity Saga came to a heartbreaking, heartwarming, beautiful end. Maybe my feeling is right and there will never be another franchise that will connect with me the way The Infinity Saga did, and others have in the past, but regardless, I will always cherish these films and be thankful to Marvel for bringing so much entertainment to my life over the last eleven years.


In 1966, Marvel Comics characters made their animation debut in a cartoon called The Marvel Super Heroes, which focused on a different hero for each day of the week. Monday was Captain America day, Tuesday was for the Hulk, Iron Man was the focus on Wednesday, and Thor was appropriately given Thursday. Those four characters I'm quite familiar with. The Friday show, however, focused on a character I know very little about: Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, ruler of Atlantis. A character who is basically Marvel's version of Aquaman - or, I should say, Aquaman is DC's version of the Sub-Mariner, since Namor was introduced two years before Aquaman came along.

Namor's first appearance was in Marvel Comics #1, published in 1939, long before Marvel was even called Marvel. Marvel Comics #1 was published by Timely Comics. Later Timely became Atlas Comics, then Marvel finally became Marvel in 1961.

Born of a relationship between a human man and the princess of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, Namor is able to breathe on land and in the sea, but he requires water to maintain his strength, which is much greater than the average human's. He is able to communicate with sea creatures telepathically, and is even able to fly thanks to the wings on his ankles. The ankle wings are kind of silly, I can only imagine how funny that would look if they were ever to include that in a live action movie. Some fans are speculating that Marvel is gearing up to bring Namor into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in Avengers: Endgame there is mention of a disturbance in the ocean that could be some kind of Namor reference, but this doesn't seem like a good time for him to show up. With the Aquaman movie having just made over a billion dollars at the box office, some viewers would probably see Namor as an Aquaman knock-off, even though it was the other way around in comics history.

The Marvel Super Heroes aired long before I was born, and I had never watched the show before deciding to catch up on it recently. When I did decide to start watching the show, I figured I should start with the character I knew the least about. So I watched all thirteen episodes in the Namor part of the series.

This was an interesting sort of cartoon, because it was produced through a process called "xerography", which is basically an early version of the "motion comics" that have been released in recent years. Images were taken directly from the pages of Marvel comic books and then manipulated to become animated. So most of these episodes are direct adaptations of comic book stories. Some fans claim every story in the cartoon was lifted from the comics, and that may be, but there were a couple in the Namor run that I couldn't find any comic book source for. Due to the xerography, that means the cartoon contains stories that came straight from Stan Lee, and features artwork crafted by the likes of Jack Kirby, Adam Austin, and Gene Colan. That fact alone is enough to make The Marvel Super Heroes worth seeking out, as I found this to be a great way to look back at classic tales from the Silver Age of comics.

The Namor episodes seem to come primarily from the comic book series Tales to Astonish. The first episode digs into Namor's back story when he meets his human grandmother, and once he returns to Atlantis he has to deal with a constant barrage of threats. There are characters like the warlord Krang, the barbarian plunderer Attuma, and even Namor's own cousin Byrrah, who will do anything it takes to steal the throne from him, from invading Atlantis to taking control of an alien-created robot that fell into the sea. The exiled Zantor doesn't want to rule Atlantis, he wants to wipe the place out with a plague. Zantor also manages to send Namor back in time to encounter Emperor Nero (and the fire god Volcanus) in ancient Rome. There are aliens from the world of Argon who want to steal the world's water supply, and a siren who wants to make Namor her mate - and he's not into the idea, because he is dedicated to his beloved Dorma. An episode that deals with a Sacred Cube and Namor being transported to a sub-microscopic world brings to mind elements of the MCU movies.

Namor has a shaky relationship with humanity, and he has been known to wreak havoc in the surface world from time to time. People piss him off a couple times in this cartoon run, like when they come down to cause trouble in Atlantis while searching for a substance called gold condinium. Even worse is when Atlantis is struck by an earthquake inadvertently set off by a scientist named Hank Pym, who is drilling into the ocean to find the origin of life. Hank Pym was, of course, the original Ant-Man, but there is no Ant-Man action in his episode. This simplified telling of a Tales to Astonish story even removes Pym's wife Janet (a.k.a. The Wasp), who shared panels with him in the comic. She's just not present in the cartoon adaptation, and neither is the villain from the comic book story, the Puppet Master.

There's a similar job of editing around characters done in another episode in which Namor crosses paths with the Fantastic Four's greatest enemy, Doctor Doom. The episode is an adaptation of two Fantastic Four issues, Fantastic Four #6 and Fantastic Four Annual #3 - that annual being one of the most famous Fantastic Four stories, because it involved the wedding of two FF characters. The Fantastic Four aren't in this episode, though. Instead Namor's fellow Marvel Super Heroes stars Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor show up for some Avengers action, accompanied by Hawkeye, and the X-Men are present. But they're not called the X-Men. Here Professor X, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Angel, Beast, and Iceman are a group called the Allies for Peace.

I can't say I became a huge fan of Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner while watching this show, or even while reading the comics that it inspired me to go back and take a look through. He's a very stern sort of character, it feels like you should keep your distance, he doesn't draw you in. Since he has been known to go back and forth between being a hero and a villain, it probably is best to keep him at arm's length. His voice on The Marvel Super Heroes was provided by John Vernon, an actor who had over 200 credits to his name but is best remembered as Dean Vernon Wormer from National Lampoon's Animal House. So here you get Dean Wormer as a super-powered underwater King. Even though I didn't become enamored with Namor, I'm still interested in seeing more of the character. I would be very intrigued to see what an MCU version of him would be like, but again, I'm not sure of the timing.

Since I found the Namor episodes of The Marvel Super Heroes to be a fascinating look back at Marvel's early days, now I'm even more hyped to see the Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor episodes that are based on the early '60s comics.


In the 1950s, Marvel Comics precursor Atlas Comics unsuccessfully attempted to make a live action television series based on their character Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Since that idea fell through, thirty years went by without audiences seeing the company's characters in live action entertainment. The Captain America serial was released in 1944, and another character from the company didn't make it to the screen outside of cartoons until Marvel agreed to let Spider-Man appear on the kids' show The Electric Company.

Decades before sharing the screen with Batman in the Christopher Nolan films, Morgan Freeman shared the screen with Spider-Man in some of the short "Spidey Super Stories" segments that were shot for The Electric Company. The Electric Company was before my time, so I missed out on seeing any of these Spider-Man shorts until this year. It doesn't seem that all 29 of the segments that were produced for The Electric Company are readily available for viewing, but the majority of them are bouncing around out there.

If you do decide to check out the Spidey Super Stories segments as an adult, you have to go into them with the knowledge that these things were aiming at a very young audience. There's not much story to them and no members of Spidey's comic book rogues gallery made it to the show. Instead, Spidey is pitted against villains like thieves with goofy back stories, a yeti that's going around town sitting on people's cold treats, a guy who idolizes the Big Bad Wolf, a school prankster, a bandit who targets birthday parties, somebody who gives people measles, a human-bee hybrid, a living wall that disrupts a baseball game, etc. Spider-Man did encounter a villain called the Sandman in one of these segments, but it wasn't the character from the comic books. Perhaps the most notable villain was Count Dracula, played by Freeman, who is looking to bite someone in a movie theatre when Spider-Man runs into him.

The silly theme song says "no one knows who you are" about Spider-Man, and his secret identity is kept hidden in all of these segments. There is no Peter Parker here, Spidey is in costume at all times, even when he's at a ball game or on vacation. He doesn't speak out loud, either. When he has something to say, a word balloon appears by his head - often accompanied by the sound of a duck quack. Similarly, the segments saved money on action sequences by presenting them through comic book panels that look like they were freshly drawn on set with markers. When Spidey shoots his web, the web is animated as it heads toward its target, and is seen as a black net when it has captured a villain.

The main reasons to watch the Spidey Super Stories these days would be nostalgia, or due to an interest in studying the history of Marvel and their characters. The latter reason is why I checked it out. I would be curious to hear how children today would react to seeing these segments, as they're certainly not very impressive compared to the other live action superhero entertainment kids today have success to. Children have MCU movies to watch now. In the '70s they just had Spidey's appearances on The Electric Company.

During Spidey's time on The Electric Company, Marvel also published a Spidey Super Stories comic book series that was aimed at younger readers. There were about twice as many issues of this series as there were Spidey segments on The Electric Company, so they don't just cover what happened on the TV show. These simple, fluffy comics actually acknowledge the existence of Peter Parker and feature some of Spider-Man's most popular villains, while also including Electric Company characters like Jennifer of the Jungle, Paul the Gorilla, and Freeman's cool, hippie-ish character Easy Reader, who would say stuff on the show like, "Top to bottom, left to right, reading stuff is out of sight."

The comics had an Easy Reader stamp of approval on the cover, assuring children and parents that "This comic book is easy to read!"


Writer/director Larry Cohen's thriller The Ambulance isn't based on a Marvel Comics property, but in a way it sort of is a Marvel movie, complete with a cameo appearance by iconic Marvel writer/editor Stan Lee. Lee plays himself in scenes that are meant to take place in Marvel HQ, as the lead character in the film, Eric Roberts as Josh Baker, works there as an artist.

The film begins with Josh and a woman named Cheryl (Janine Turner) having a meet-cute moment that's disrupted when Cheryl collapses and needs an ambulance to be called. Josh wants to visit her later, but discovers it's tough to find her since he only knows her first name. His quest to find her is also hindered by the fact that she wasn't taken to one of the hospitals in the area. Instead she was taken to a secret medical bay run by a mysterious fellow known only as The Doctor, played by long-time The Young and the Restless cast member Eric Braeden. If you ever caught an episode of that show in the last thirty-nine years, you'll probably recognize him instantly.

The Doctor (who admits he likes to "touch human skin through a surgical glove") keeps unwilling people in his care so he can cure them of their diseases. For example, he intends to cure Cheryl of her diabetes. Eventually he does murder them, but he promises they'll be in perfect health before they die.

That promise, and The Doctor's glove confession, might tip you off to the fact that The Ambulance is actually, somewhat surprisingly, a really funny movie. Cohen packed the film with amusing lines and quirky characters, like James Earl Jones' gum-chomping police officer who says modern comic books scare him because they're "too bizarre, too weird", and legendary comedian Red Buttons as an elderly man who's inflicted with gas from eating Cajun food and becomes an ally of Josh's.

It doesn't take long for Josh to realize what's going on with the titular vehicle, and he rightfully becomes intensely paranoid as people around him keep getting abducted or outright murdered.

I had seen bits and pieces of The Ambulance on cable back in the day, and some of it stuck with me over the years. It's tough to forget the idea of, as Josh puts it, "a vehicle of mercy that's really a murder machine". It wasn't until recently that I actually watched the entire film in one sitting and realized just how good it is. It's a really fun, darkly comedic B-movie thriller. Marvel made the right decision when they chose to be involved with the making of it, as it was probably better publicity for them than the cinematic adaptations of Marvel comics that were being made at that time.

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