Welcome to the House of Crouse. Face front, true believer! Stan Lee is near the House of Crouse. If I stand on the roof I can almost see him. He’s at Fan Expo this weekend, so to celebrate I’m putting this quick chat up earlier than usual. Find out the practical reason behind his unusual habit of using alliteration to name characters like Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Matt Murdoch and Reed Richards and much more! C’mon in and sit a spell with one of the architects of modern pop culture.
Despite laying the foundation for the wildly popular Marvel Universe Stan Lee says he is no superhero specialist.
“I’m not an expert of any sort,” says the ninety-three-year-old on the line from his Los Angeles office. “I really try to think of stories that I myself would like to read. I try and think of characters that I myself would be interested in. In other words, I never try to write for a certain segment of the readership. I write for myself and I hope that I’m not that unusual. If I like it other people might also like it.”
When it came to naming his characters he had an unusual habit of using alliteration—think Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, Matt Murdoch and Reed Richards—for a very practical reason.
“It’s because I have a bad memory,” he says. “If I could remember one of the names like Spider-Man, if I could remember his first name was Peter then I knew his second name began with a P and it was easier for me to think of it. That is really the only reason. I have a terrible memory for names and by making the first and second letter the same if I thought of one name I had a clue as to what the other was.”
These days Lee, who will appear at Fan Expo in Toronto this weekend in what is being billed as his last-ever Canadian appearance, enjoys superstar status but is humble when asked about his legacy. “I didn’t go out of my way to be enduring,” he says.
In fact, when he began writing comic books over seventy years ago, “I was just hoping that somebody would buy them so I could keep my job and be able to pay the rent. In a million years I wouldn’t have thought I’d be travelling around the country, talking to people like you about the comics. It is incredible what has happened.
“I just hope that maybe I brought some enjoyment to people, and they enjoyed reading the stories.”
And they have. Bolstered by passionate fan—or True Believers as Lee calls them—support Lee’s work has endured in the form of movies, videogames, books and on hundreds of comment boards where aficionados pit superhero against superhero in epic make-believe battles and argue over who would emerge victorious. Lee, however, claims he doesn’t have a preferred character.
“People expect me to have a favourite,” he says, “so I always say Spider-Man because that’s what they expect. I’m really not good at favourites. I really love them all.”
So out of Spider-Man, Hulk, Professor X or any of the other three hundred or so characters he created, who does he most relate to?
“Of course I think of myself as being like Tony Stark because he’s glamorous and intelligent and handsome and all that,” he laughs. “But seriously I think there is a little bit of everybody in all these characters. I think that’s why them seem to be popular. I tried to give hem all hang-ups and weaknesses. None of them are really perfect. They are just like regular people, I hope.”
Richard and CP24 anchor Nneka Elliott have a look at the weekend’s big releases, “Deadpool” with Ryan Reynolds as The Merc with the Mouth, “Zoolander 2,” Ben Stiller’s fifteen years in the making sequel to his 2001 comedy cult hit and “How to Be Single,” Dakota Johnson’s sex and the city.
Richard and “Canada AM” host Marci Ien dissect the weekend’s big releases, “Deadpool” with Ryan Reynolds as The Merc with the Mouth, “Zoolander 2,” Ben Stiller’s fifteen years in the making sequel to his 2001 comedy cult hit and “How to Be Single,” Dakota Johnson’s sex and the city.
Look! Up on the screen! It’s Blade: Trinity. It’s The Proposal. It’s Ryan Reynolds!
Yes, it’s Ryan Reynolds, strange visitor from Vancouver who came to Hollywood with powers and abilities beyond those of mortal men. He speaks faster than a speeding bullet! He can leap tall scripts in a single bound! He’s more versatile than a roomful of Sexiest Men Alive!
I’ve paraphrased the famous opening of Superman, even though Reynolds has never played Superman in the movies. Careerwise, however, he has been a super man, leaping from genre to genre, piecing together an IMDB page so varied it’ll make your head spin.
This weekend brings us another exciting episode in the adventures of Ryan Reynolds.
In Deadpool he’s a former Special Forces operative subjected to an experimental treatment that gifts him with regenerative healing power and increased agility. Unfortunately it also leaves him filled with rage; thirsty for revenge against the doctor who changed his life. The character’s greatest superpower, according to Reynolds, “is annoying the s— out of people.”
It’s not the first time the 39- year-old actor has played someone with superpowers. It’s not even the first time he’s played Deadpool. That character debuted in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and he starred as Captain Excellent in Paper Man, the darkly heroic Hannibal King in Blade: Trinity as well as donning the super-tight tights of the Green Lantern.
When he isn’t battling crime, however, Reynolds has been more adventurous in his roles than people give him credit. Peppered throughout his major Hollywood successes like The Proposal have been roles like The Amityville Horror’s psychologically unstable father, Woman in Gold’s relentless lawyer, and the crackhead Gary in the thriller The Nines.
Successful or not, those movies showcased a performer looking to stretch his acting muscles (and not just display his prodigious ab muscles). Here are some other Reynold’s roles that show his super-versatility:
The Voices: Reynolds plays the wholesome-looking Jerry, an eager to please factory worker with a crush on the cute accountant upstairs. When she stands him up for a date it becomes apparent Jerry has serious problems. As bodies pile up he grapples with voices in his head that tell him to do terrible things. Kitschy, strange and decidedly off kilter, The Voices has funny moments but revolves around Reynolds’s winningly odd performance.
Buried: Reynolds is a civilian truck driver in Iraq, taken hostage, buried underground, who will be left to die unless a ransom is paid. The entire movie happens inside the four walls of a coffin with only Reynolds and a cell phone on display. Unable to rely on his usual comic timing and bulging muscles, Reynolds hits a career high, keeping the audience intrigued for most of the 90-minute running time.
The Change-Up: Starring Reynolds and Jason Bateman, this film is like several movies in one. It’s part gross-out comedy, part heart tugger and all switcheroo. The set-up is Freaky Friday simple; the two leads swap personalities but it works because Bateman adds a little hyper Van Wilder inflection to his speech and Reynolds drops his energy a few notches to match Bateman’s more laconic style. Both are likeable actors, with charm and charisma to burn.
Don’t expect the usual kid-friendly superhero fare from “Deadpool.” He’s part of the Marvel family, a distant cousin to Iron Man, The Hulk and Captain America, but he’s a superantihero, a weaponized bad attitude come-to-life with a chip on his shoulder and a raunchy quip on his lips.
Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson, a former Special Services operative who now spends his days as the “Patron Saint of the Pitiful,” a mercenary who takes care of life’s little problems for people who can’t take care of themselves. “I’m a bad guy who get paid to BLEEP worse guys,” he says. When he meets Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin) he finally feels like he has a shot at a normal—or at least normalish—life.
They’re a match made in heaven. “Ever had a cigarette put out on your skin?” she coos. “Where else do you put them out,” he says. In love, they have plans to get married until he is diagnosed with late stage liver, prostate and brain cancer. Grasping at straws he signs up for an experimental treatment that promises to cure his disease. Instead, he is subjected to round-the-clock torture by an evil doctor named Francis (Ed Skrein), who uses immense physical stress to trigger super power mutations in his patients.
The treatment leaves him disfigured, both physically—”You look like an avocado had sex with an older avocado,” says his best friend.—and mentally—the treatment “cell stomped my sanity,” he says.—but with accelerated healing powers and a sarcastic way with a word that earns him the nickname The Merc [mercenary] with the Mouth.
Estranged from Vanessa, who thinks he’s dead, he searches for Frances, the only person who can right the wrongs done to him and give him back his life. Decked out in red leather suit that resembles a Spider-Man ninja costume—Why is it red? “So bad guys can’t see me bleed.”–he adopts the alter ego Deadpool.
“Deadpool” is unlike any other origin story. It’s a snarky, violent, fourth-wall-breaking collision between “Van Wilder” and Marvel Comics. The opening credits–which scream the movie stars God’s Perfect Idiot, A Hot Girl, A British Villain, A CGI Character and features a Gratuitous Cameo–set the tone. This isn’t your grandfather’s superhero movie. With one bloody shot across the bow “Deadpool” makes the other Marvel movies look a little less Marvel-ous. No joke is too crass. No lines are left uncrossed. Where the last couple of Marvel superhero films have felt like odes to market research, “Deadpool” feels like an antidote to the repetition of recent superhero offerings. Politically incorrect and rowdy, it’s a down-and-dirty movie that has more in common with “The Toxic Avenger” than “Iron Man.”
This may be the role Reynolds has been waiting for. It mixes-and-matches his skill at dropping a one liner with his physical side and finally gives his bland leading man mien some edge. Self-effacing, he pokes fun at his other attempts at superhero notoriety. “Please don’t make this super suit green or animated,” says the former Green Lantern and suddenly we forgive his past transgressions.
“Deadpool” won’t be for everyone. It’s occasionally a little too rude and crude, bloody and bowed for it’s own good but at least it tries to do something a little different in the well-worn context of the superhero genre. It exists in a meta universe where Deadpool is aware he’s in a movie–“Whose BLEEP did I have to BLEEP to get my own movie?” he asks.–while another character suggests the name Deadpool “sounds like a franchise.” I hope so. Like them or not, superhero movies aren’t going anywhere soon but at least every now and again there may be a new “Deadpool” film to shake things up a bit.
It’s not a spoiler to let you know the Avengers save the world in The Age of Ultron. The spectacular six have rescued the planet before and, no doubt, will save it again in future. In superhero movies the globe is always on the eve of destruction.
The original movie, 2012’s The Avengers, saw the team protect the planet from Thor’s evil brother Loki while in Superman II the Man of Steel battles three Kryptonian criminals set to obliterate our orb. A baddie named M tries to wage world war in The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen and recently the Fantastic Four prevented a giant cosmic entity called Galactus from gobbling up the earth.
“I see a suit of armour around the world,” says Tony Stark in Age of Ultron. “Peace in our time, imagine that.”
The movies get bigger every time out and with thirty more superhero flicks scheduled for the five years—including Deadpool, Doctor Strange and Gambit—the mind reels at the ways villains might endanger our world. It sounds entertaining but haven’t we’ve already been there? Where do you go from the threat of total annihilation?
Diminishing returns in terms of audience reaction, that’s where. We all know The Avengers will pull out all the stops to save the earth. Buildings will crumble, trucks will go airborne and giant cracks will appear where city streets used to be but by the end credits you know everyone will emerge relatively unscathed, with the bad people vanquished and the good guys grinning from ear to ear. Viewers are left with CGI fatigue, but dammit a catastrophe was averted. Again.
But we’ve been there, done that. Why not freshen things up and turn back the hands of the doomsday clock a few minutes to create tension in the form of different kinds of situations? It sounds counter intuitive—bigger is always better, right?— but imagine Captain America going mano a mano with Kim Jong-un or Iron Man shrinking down to the size of a microbe to battle cancer from the inside à la Fantastic Voyage.
The real world is a very complicated place. Every day the news delivers more bad information than all the tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles combined. Stories of beheadings, terrorism and all manner of terrible behaviour flood the airwaves aching to be corrected by some sort of superhero. How great would it be to see warrior princess of the Amazons Wonder Woman unleash the Lasso of Truth on the Canadian Senate or weather maven Storm get all medieval on climate change?
An injection of real world issues might not make for big box office, but it certainly would infuse the movies with a sense of unpredictability—just like real life events. Real life is messy and volatile and that’s what keeps it interesting.
I understand one of the reasons we go to movies like The Avengers: Age of Ultron is to see things we’ll never witness in real life, but it’s hard not to agree with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) when he says, “We’re fighting an army of robots and I have a bow and arrow—it makes no sense!” These movies try to dazzle our eyes—and they do!— but bringing them down to earth, literally, might help us engage our brains as well.
A few years ago it looked like director Ang Lee had ruined The Incredible Hulk franchise. His version of the big green guy’s origin story, Hulk starring Eric Bana, started strong with a promising $62 million take on the opening weekend only to plunge to $18 million, and then to $8 million on the two subsequent weekends. Superheroes, especially ones as beloved as the Hulk are expected to rake in super bucks, so when Lee’s vision of the character fizzled it looked like Bruce Banner’s alter ego would be best remembered for the comic books and the cheesy but fun television series starring Bill Bixby.
Marvel, however, had different ideas. After a five year break they’ve brought him back, bigger and greener than ever and ready to do battle with Iron Man for supremacy of the summer’s box office.
The new one starts all over again as if Lee’s Hulk never existed. When we first see Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) he is living in South America, a fugitive from the US Army—namely General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) and mercenary Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth)—who desperately want to turn the Hulk technology into a weapon. Banner, meanwhile, is desperate to find a cure, or at least a way to control his angry outbreaks.
After a nasty one-on-one confrontation with the Hulk Blonsky volunteers his body to science, and is injected with Banner’s gamma ray formula. When the procedure transforms him into a power crazed giant fighting beast—“This is a whole new level of weird,” he says—it looks like the Hulk is the only one who can stop him. Add to that a Beauty and the Beast love story and you’ve got a story that is more or less true to its comic book origins.
The buzz on the internet for The Incredible Hulk was not good. Bloggers said Edward Norton as Bruce Banner was too slight, too much of an artiste; that the action in the trailer looked stilted and the hulking beast too cartoony. The buzz on the net was wrong; wrong like it was for Snakes on a Plane. The internet chatter pegging Snakes as a hit was off the mark and to paraphrase Mark Twain, “the internet reports of The Incredible Hulk as box office poison have been greatly exaggerated.”
It’s actually great fun; fast and furious with enough story to please the purists, enough action to entertain the eye and just enough humor to keep the actors from taking it all too seriously.
Norton (who also did an unaccredited rewrite on the script) acquits himself well in the lead role, bringing some dramatic weight to the character but never forgetting that this is a Saturday matinee kind of movie and also requires a light touch. There is an unexpected laugh out loud love scene and some nice in-jokes for the comic fans, but frankly, we like him better when he’s mad.
When he goes koo-koo bananas he turns into the nine-foot behemoth Hulk, and the transformation is pretty cool even if his arms and legs do look like giant pieces of boiled okra. The Hulk’s big action set pieces are what you’d expect—loud and frenetic adrenaline fueled special effect extravaganzas and quite effective.
The Incredible Hulk is a crowd-pleaser which should even play well to audiences unfamiliar with the big green guy, but will really thrill fanboys and gals with the revelation that this may be just one more step toward a multi-hero movie based on the popular comic The Avengers. That movie, featuring Captain America, Iron Man, Ant-Man and The Incredible Hulk is rumored to be set for a 2010 release, and would be, for comic book fans, a kind of Holy Grail of Superheroes.
Until then they’ll have to make due with just one superhero at a time, and for now, The Incredible Hulk will do just fine.