Friendship is Smash!

It’s hard to pin down exactly why I like My Little Pony.

Could it be the characters? The setting? The plot? The overall cheery tone? The comedy?

More than likely, it’s a bit of everything. But more recently, I found another reason to love the show: The message.

I don’t just mean the friendship message, I mean something more than that.

Too many shows are about one person, one hero, saving the world. Perhaps assisted by a sidekick who does bugger all, and is only there to look up to our hero, and maybe help during some contrived plot point.

This is a staple of every action film in existence. It’s always about one person, and I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it. One person is the most useless thing in existence. If you want to make a real impact on the world, or save the world, you’re not going to do it alone.

It’s a fantasy. The idea that a solitary protagonist can save the day is just something we like, because we can latch onto it, and think; if Bruce Willis can do it, perhaps we could as well. After all, he’s not really an action star… or at least he wasn’t when he made Die Hard, he was a goddamn comedian. I would argue, he still is. But I digress.

A story that stars a team is much better, especially if the individual elements could manage to hold their own. Which is especially true of the ponies. We have Rarity using psychological warfare against the Diamond Dogs; Fluttershy shaming the cockatrice; and Applejack facing off against the Timberwolves. But bring them together, they wield the most powerful weapon in Equestria: The Elements of Harmony!

It reminds me of Left 4 Dead. A great game where you play a single survivor of the zombie apocalypse, who could probably take out a horde with a few swings of your katana. But you’ll eventually get overwhelmed, and will need the help of your friends to make it to the end!

Apparently Pacific Rim does the same thing. I haven’t seen it yet, but from what I hear, the film’s all about how it takes a team to save the world from giant rampaging Godzilla-sized monsters.

This formula works even better if it’s a ragtag group. All having different backgrounds, different personalities, and different points of view. Like in My Little Pony. A team of six different heroes, from all walks of life, and with very different backgrounds, and conflicting personalities, who come together to fight a great threat, and become great friends.

Which brings me so eloquently to Marvel’s The Avengers. It’s My Little Pony with duller tones.

The Avengers story actually started in 2008, as you probably already know, with Iron Man, a film about Iron Man.

I really like the first Iron Man film. It was a real character drama, showing the evolution of Tony Stark from myopic weapons tycoon; to virtuous, and ambitious philanthropist.

The story basically starts when the man himself is in Afghanistan giving a weapons demonstration. His convoy is attacked by militants, and he ends up getting a shitload of shrapnel in his chest that begins to migrate to his heart.

To prevent that from happening, a fellow physicist, similarly captured by the militants, implants an electromagnet in his chest, powered by a car battery. His captors demand he build weapons, and Stark complies.

His first task: Replace the goddamn car battery. He builds a miniature Arc Reactor, that gives off a phenomenal amount of energy to power the electromagnet. And out of necessity, builds a giant suit of armor with jet boots and repulsor rays powered by the reactor. He uses it to stage an escape, but his friend doesn’t make it, and with his dying breath, he demands Stark do something great with his life.

Eventually, Stark makes it back to America, and decides to shut down the weapons division of his company, since he spotted some of his own weapons in the hands of terrorists.

Meanwhile, he begins to build a new suit of armor, more efficient and powerful than the original. And even replaces the Arc Reactor, which he still requires, and will likely do so for the rest of his life.

The film covers the development of the Mark II, and Mark III suits, the man’s investigation into some secret weapons sales by his company, and his liberation of a few refugees from terrorists in a middle eastern country. Which is probably one of the film’s best sequences, just for the level of badass we get out of Tony Stark.

Eventually, we learn that his business partner, Kevin Flynn, a.k.a. Obadiah Stane, which is one of the most awkward names to pronounce in cinema, was behind it all. He’s been selling his company’s weapons to middle eastern terror cells. Which isn’t exactly legit.

Stark’s assistant, Pepper Potts, find evidence of Flynn’s duplicity. So, the man sneaks into Stark’s house, and uses a sonic paralyser, which I find to be a bit of a deus ex machina to be honest, to steal Stark’s Arc Reactor for a suit he himself has been developing.

Once the paralyser wears off, Stark finds himself slowly dying, and crawls all the way to his lab to find the original reactor, which his assistant put on a monument under glass, with the label “Proof That Tony Stark Has a Heart.” Which is not only sweet, it’s proof that Potts is smarter than Stark. Because he wanted to throw it away!

Anyway, Stark goes after Stane in one of his suits, since Stane also built a suit. They fight, Stark remaining the underdog for most of it, due to the fact that he’s running a more primitive reactor.

But eventually, due to Pepper’s help, Stark wins.

There are a few problems with this film, one of which is the character of Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes, played by Terrence Howard. I think him and Stark are supposed to be best friends or something, but there really isn’t much there. We never get a scene with the two of them just bonding. They only interact in the context of work. Stark invites Rhodes to work on a project that is ostensibly non-military, but Rhodes is pretty much all business and primarily concerned with the fact that Stark just dropped his weapons division.

A single scene with the two of them just having a beer, or any drink, just sharing stories and laughing, would have done wonders for these two.

Then there’s Pepper Potts. We get a bit of sexual tension between her and Stark, which I have mixed feelings about.

On one hand, can we ever see two characters of different genders just be fucking friends–I mean regular friends!? Does there always have to be a level of sexual tension!?

On the other hand, it does show a bit of growth for Stark’s character. Before, he spent all of his romance time in bed with random sluts. After he returns from his capture, he focuses all that romantic attention on one woman, the one he always depended on. So it kinda makes sense. It’s also nice to see it simply not pay off. They don’t get together, and in the final scene, Pepper smacks him down. I really like that.

Which brings me to the final scene. It’s the aftermath of the fight with Iron Monger (Stane’s comic book name), which tore up the streets of L.A. very publicly. They hold a press conference to deliver the cover story, and Stark discovers that most people find it ridiculous that Tony Stark would be Iron Man. So his pride takes over, and he comes out as Iron Man.

Which actually makes a lot of sense. Why do superheroes tend to have secret identities? So they can live inconspicuously among the general public. So their family and friends don’t become targets. So they can live a life of general peace out of the public eye.

But this is Tony Stark, he doesn’t live a normal life anyway. He’s already a major celebrity, like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, only more so, because he was also very public and flamboyant. So more like Richard Branson, only smarter.

So since being Iron Man wouldn’t make him that much more a target than being Tony Stark, and given the man’s personality, coming out as Iron Man makes a lot of sense. I really loved that.

The series continues with The Incredible Hulk, starring Edward Norton. An apt choice I must say.

I don’t know why, but unlike Iron Man, the first Hulk film isn’t an origin story.

Okay, it’s not really the first Hulk film. But it’s not a sequel to the 2003 film. It’s actually a reboot taking place in the same universe as Iron Man.

We skip over Hulk’s origins to five months later, where we see Bruce Banner working at a factory in Rio de Janeiro.

If you don’t know Hulk’s story, basically the man’s a super genius. But if his heart rate hits 200 bpm, he grows a shitload of muscle mass, becomes super strong, incredibly durable, and green. Also, his mind deteriorates, significantly. This poses a major problem.

Bruce is in constant contact with a man named “Mr. Blue,” who is helping him cure his Hulk-ism. But the two of them have reached a dead-end.

Meanwhile, through a creepy and slightly disturbing set of circumstances, the military, who’ve been tracking Banner for years, finally find him, and go in for the attack.

Banner spots them, and goes on the run, turning green in the process.

The story goes on for a bit with Banner heading back to his old hometown; meeting up with his ex-girlfriend; getting the crucial data from the experiment that turned him into the Hulk; going back on the run, with her; heading to New York City; meeting “Mr. Blue” who turns out to be a classic character from the comics; and finally receiving a Hulk-cure.

Meanwhile, the army continues to track them down, with the assistance of Emil Blonsky, an old vet from the Royal Marines. The General commanding the search offers to give Blonsky an injection that will improve his abilities, once the man offers to continue the search, after witnessing Banner’s transformation.

He ends up gaining a bunch of new abilities from the serum, increasing his strength, agility, and speed. He even gains some incredible super healing abilities, managing to recover after the Hulk shatters every bone in his body. Which I find ridiculous, but whatever.

Anyway, the army eventually tracks Banner down to New York, and they capture him, successfully. But Blonsky’s not done yet, he demands that “Mr. Blue” give him the Hulk’s powers. Which he can, and does.

But because he already had the super soldier serum, the resultant combination completely fucks up his physiology, more so than the Hulk.

He’s brown, bald, has some weird spines on his spine, a partially-exposed skeleton, and his dick falls off! It’s pretty significant. And as far as we can tell, he doesn’t turn back to normal, unlike the Hulk.

The General sees him wreaking havoc in New York, and Banner offers to go down. He jumps from the plane, and survives because the cure didn’t take.

Big fight scene before Hulk runs off to B.C. where we’re hinted to the idea that he’s learning to control his powers. Which sorta runs counter to what we see later, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

For now, we’re done with Hulk, because Tony Stark’s been off the radar for ten minutes, so now it’s time for Iron Man 2.

This film gets started pretty darn quickly. Which I find to be a bit of a problem.

It directly follows from the first film, as a dying old man learns of Stark’s identity.

After the man dies, his son, played by Mickey Rourke, pulls out a shitload of blueprints, and goes nuts, building an Arc Reactor, and some type of other thing.

Fast forward six months, Tony’s lost it.

He begins to live larger than life, and we learn it’s because he’s dying from palladium poisoning, caused by the palladium core of the Arc Reactor. Which doesn’t really make sense, since the damn thing isn’t connected to his blood stream. We’ll say it’s the radiation, not the palladium itself.

Meanwhile, the US Government is trying to convince Tony to turn over the Iron Man suit since keeping it in the hands of a private citizen is… well… um… er… something…? They just don’t like it! They claim it’s a weapon, which is a bit of a stretch. It might contain weapons, but it’s not really a weapon. It’s more akin to a jetpack.

What I find odd about this scene is how it ends with Senator Gary Shandling saying ‘fuck you’ to Stark during a very public government hearing.

No senator would do that. It would cost him votes from the crucial stick-up-their-ass demographic.

Anyway, Stark then heads of to Monaco, of all places, and decides to personally race his own Formula One race car.

Then Mickey Rourke walks onto the track, and uses energized whips to destroy some of the cars, and go after Stark.

Stark don’s his portable suit, and begins a pretty decent fight scene, with Stark using the man’s own whips against him.

Anyway, that’s Whiplash. Whom we find out is actually the son of Stark’s father’s partner.

He’s busted out of jail by Justin Hammer, the CEO of Stark’s biggest competitor. Hammer hires Whiplash to build Iron Man suits, which he agrees to, before mocking Hammer’s own attempts.

Fast forward a bit, we see Tony’s big birthday bash, which he believes will be his last. So he celebrates by donning the suit, and getting drunk.

Rhodes arrives, and is suddenly played by Don Cheadle. I just get annoyed when I see this, it’s fucking ridiculous. He looks nothing like Terrence Howard! It’s just as ridiculous as recasting a character played by Katie Holmes, with Maggie Gyllenhaal. Which only an idiot would do–oh wait!

So, Rhodes breaks into Stark’s lab, and dons one of his old prototype suits. Which begs the question: Where’d he get the Arc Reactor for that thing? I thought the only reactor was in Stark’s chest. I guess he kept a spare somewhere, which would make sense given the events of the first film.

Anyway, Rhodes challenges Stark, and Stark responds by saying this to the D.J.: “Gimmie a fat beat to beat my buddy’s ass to.”

And honestly, this is the best fight scene in the whole movie, because it’s an all out brawl, where the two of them go nuts on each other, and destroy Stark’s home. I really liked it.

It ends with Rhodes hitting Stark with the kitchen sink, and annexing the suit. He brings it to an Air Force base, where they weaponize the thing, throwing in all sorts of guns, and beefing up the armor, with Hammer’s help.

But Rhodes is smart, as he, and the block of wood/corpse from Revolution, grab the Arc Reactor before Hammer can get a good look at it. I like that little detail, as it demonstrates his continued loyalty to his best friend. The Arc Reactor is the real secret to the Iron Man technology.

Meanwhile, Stark’s still trying to deal with the palladium poisoning, and by ‘deal with’ I mean: wallow in resignation.

Then Shaft shows up, gives him a gives bollocking.

Meet Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D.. He shows Stark some of his father’s old work, so he can find a solution to the palladium problem. Stark begins to search for new element to replace the palladium, and finds out that his father already discovered it, and hid the diagram in the layout of one of his old theme parks.

Then, Stark builds a particle accelerator in his home, and uses it to make a brand new Arc Reactor.

But before he can finish testing the new reactor, he receives a call from Whiplash, whom Stark thought was dead. You see, when Hammer busted him out of jail, he also faked his death.

Stark installs the new reactor, and dons a new suit, before beelining to the Stark Expo, where Hammer is showing off his new line of robot soldiers, secretly designed and built by Whiplash, called Hammerdrones. He also presents the War Machine Armor, built from the stolen Iron Man suit, and worn by Rhodes.

Stark shows up, and it’s at this moment that Whiplash activates the drones, and a remote that was installed inside War Machine. Fight/chase ensues, and Pepper quickly gets to the bottom of things with the help of Black Widow, who was a blank slate for most of the film.

Black Widow is a spy with S.H.I.E.L.D., and had already infiltrated Stark Industries, but she really didn’t do much for this film. Until the end, where she breaks into Hammer’s factory, and reboots War Machine, breaking the remote control. Hey, think you could do that to the army of robot drones? Guess not.

Stark and Rhodes find themselves surrounded by robots. Thus begins a pretty epic fight, where the two of them face off against an army, before Whiplash himself arrives in a full-on suit of armor.

Honestly, I liked Whiplash’s harness from the beginning of the film. It was simple, and it worked. But, the fight scene with the armor was just overkill, and it basically sent the message that this was all that Iron Man would fight. Robots, and men in suits of armor. I liked the first fight with Whiplash because it was different. This was just the Iron Monger fight again, except shorter, and very underwhelming.

Though the ex-wife was hilarious.

Anyway, yeah, they beat Whiplash. His suit of armor, and all the robot drones self-destruct, and Iron Man and Pepper Potts start making out.

I honestly don’t think it was as good as the first film. While the villain in Iron Man 2 is, at least at first, more interesting, we actually have a lot less going on this time. For instance, there isn’t much in the way of character growth. Instead, we just see Tony solve a technical problem, as if that’s the same thing. And then he hooks up with Pepper.

This is also the point where the films start to get burdened with continuity. Which is the reason I generally don’t read superhero comics: I hate that shit.

You see, it all comes down to S.H.I.E.L.D., a government organization which stands for fuck you I’m not spelling it out.

In the comics, S.H.I.E.L.D. is tasked with monitoring extraordinary threats, and as a consequence, start getting involved with superheroes on a regular basis. The same is true here, and while they kept in the background for the first two film, at this point, they sort of become our main characters. They start to act as the thread that holds the franchise together.

I’ll admit, it’s nice to have all the films linked like this. I don’t have a problem with that. However, I don’t think it’s necessary to shout it from the rooftops. Look, all our movies are linked together! Don’t forget! This is all the same universe!

Honestly, the way I see it, that’s just pointless. They never really had to say any of that. It’s like this: Every other film about Marvel Superheroes could just as easily take place in the same universe. There’s no reason the Sam Rami Spider-Man films couldn’t share a continuity with the Fantastic Four films. There’s nothing stopping it. Just because there’re no continuity nods, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Same with Daredevil, Blade, Punisher, Kick-Ass; All these films could easily be in the same universe, but according to official word, they aren’t.

Though, S.H.I.E.L.D. does at least have a bigger purpose here, in this film. They give Stark all of his father’s old materials. Which he could have also found by looking through the old family vault.

The only real plus in this film is the addition of War Machine. Which is a role Don Cheadle owned. So recasting the role was probably a good idea.

Of course, that’s not the end of the Marvel film franchise. But the rest can wait for another time.

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