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Is this the next big meme template?
Flerkens >> dogs.
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Recently, I’ve been posting some angry comments on Facebook about child abuse, which were in turn exacerbated by my viewing of Allen vs. Farrow on HBO. I’m not going to discuss any of that on a goofy blog like this. This shouldn’t be where you come for that sort of heavy conversation. (I won’t even discuss sports on this blog.) However, a Facebook friend made a related comment on a topic that’s very much a subject of this blog:
Stop celebrating MCU Yondu as an model father, he was a child abuser.
First, I don’t know of anyone that has celebrated him as a model father. Everyone whose comments I’ve heard or read is more than willing to acknowledge his faults, so that comment isn’t fair to any of us that discuss Yondu. However, it’s not even fair to the character of Yondu.
I’ve discussed in the context of Nebula why this is (sort of) an unfair criticism. TL;DR, in the real world, Nebula’s crimes shouldn’t and wouldn’t be swept away because she suddenly realized that she loved her sister. But this isn’t the real world; this is cinema. In cinema, sometimes the only way to get a story of redemption across to the average viewer is to do so through a kind of hyperbole. It won’t have the emotional impact intended unless you go from one extreme or the other. Tony Stark committed all sorts of computer crimes while testifying before Congress in Iron Man 2, and we all laughed about it because the corporate villain of the story was made to look like a fool. Darth Vader — the same guy that murdered younglings — was forgiven because he suddenly prioritized his repressed love for his son. Ryan Reynolds plays a pretty bad guy in Deadpool, but it’s okay because he’s funny and loves his wife. Loki tried to violently take over the Earth, then, against all odds, valiantly sacrificed his life to try to stop Thanos. There are countless examples of this, and not just in the fantasy genre, though I’m having trouble coming up with more meaningful, heartwarming stories of redemption than Vader, Yondu, and of course the best perhaps in cinematic history, Nebula. That’s probably because the fantasy genre allows you to go beyond the limits of logic with the horror and wonder it provides as the vehicle for that redemption.
Now, because we live in the real world, it’s certainly fair to use art to address these issues. I encourage it, especially with a topic like this that might otherwise be difficult to discuss (e.g., child abuse). Art is great for that sort of thing whether the filmmaker agrees with your point of view or not. Art is in the eye of the beholder.
My point is simply that context matters. The MCU is a fantasy world presented on film. The swing from villain to hero requires extreme circumstances in order for the audience to appreciate the redemption arc. That’s the context, and within that context, we can see that Yondu actually loved Peter and, in his own twisted way, tried to do right by him. We never saw him cause Peter physical harm, and in the end, he literally saved him from his irredeemable, biological father. So, maybe cut Yondu some slack. The real world needs more people that can shed their cognitive dissonance and admit when they’ve screwed up. In that (narrow) sense, Yondu is a role model.
Just don’t try this at home, parents.
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Sundays are now lazy days for me. Going forward, I’m just going to re-post other people’s work or just do something silly. Today, it’s both: One of the cutest scenes in the MCU.
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June 30 was the first ComicBook.com quarantine watch party in quite some time. As always, I made a few more Twitter connections through the conversations that came from it. These conversations inspired three posts for my blog. This is the second one that in some sense serves as a sequel to the first one.
I must admit that I’m a little out of my element. As I said in the prior Iron Man-related post, I don’t analyze these movies from the perspective of an expert in screenwriting. I focus on themes that are important to me. This post eventually strays into an analysis of moviemaking and human relationships, so I have far more questions than I have answers, and my affirmative claims are often mere speculation. My primary question is: What purpose to the larger story did Pepper’s naivete and/or stubbornness serve?
Here’s what I’m talking about:
In other words, there are several incidents throughout the MCU where Pepper makes the same mistake that many people make in the real world. She tries to interfere with a strong person doing what’s necessary because she doesn’t understand what strength of character is, or at least why it’s important. As shown in Shazam!, attitude is often far more important than actual ability, which is why even in the non-caveman, modern world, strength is an important feature. While Pepper is a hard worker, intelligent, and portrayed as strong in other ways, that’s not a realistic portrayal. She’s simply serving a plot, so the script has her acting both strong and weak at different points.
While we all have our strengths and weaknesses, this paradox is far more profound than that. She doesn’t get a simple reality that, again, I’ve seen a lot in the real world: Telling Tony not to act because it places him at risk is counterproductive. If he doesn’t act, the bad guys will win, and Tony will die anyway (along with many other people). This is absolutely maddening, and it happens during Paltrow’s entire tenure in the MCU. At the end of Iron Man 3, Tony temporarily gives up being Iron Man for her. Fortunately, real world economics prevail, and the screenwriters quickly send Tony back into the fray to save half the universe. But the point is that, if you’re weak, that’s fine, but don’t stand in the way of the strong. They have a job to do, and it’s generally saving your ass.
How Did the Relationship Work?
Sorry, but my writing gets a little choppy here because I’m suddenly shifting gears.
I’m light years from my area of expertise, but perhaps Stark latched onto a person with such a silly outlook because her motivation was seemingly unconditional love, and that’s what he was searching for. According to Captain America: Civil War, he lost that relationship for a while, but as soon as he could, he grabbed her and didn’t let go. As I speculated in the prior Iron Man-related post, that’s probably because Tony’s lack of a family was haunting him (as it often haunts me). Or maybe it’s far simpler: Opposites attract. Because it’s just a movie, they were able to write the script anyway they wanted, so the resulting relationship with Pepper worked even if it wouldn’t in the real world, which wouldn’t be so generous. (For the record, Civil War screenwriter Stephen McFeely stated that her presence would have calmed Tony, but he needed to remain dark and angry in order for the events to play out as they did.) Tony never got “fixed’ by anything we saw on screen; the script just pushed him in that direction leaving the details to our imagination (other than the unwitting therapy session with Bruce Banner in Iron Man 3). Figuring out why is merely speculation. As complex as some of these MCU characters are relative to other movie characters, they’re still not real. They’re just two-dimensional characters driven more by dramatic forces than by real, psychological or logical ones.
It appears that Pepper’s behavior always served to advance the plot. She could hold Tony back or push him forward as needed, but she usually held him back. When she did so, her thought processes were wildly illogical, and that grated on me.
I don’t want to hate Pepper Potts, but I do. There. I said it.
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June 30 was the first ComicBook.com quarantine watch party in quite some time. As always, I made a few more Twitter connections through the conversations that came from it. These conversations inspired three posts for my blog, this being the first one.
My posts aren’t about getting clicks. If no one read any of my posts, I wouldn’t really care. Writing them is more about catharsis than fame. Moreover, I’m no film student, psychologist, or sociologist, so I can’t break down the science of movie-making or human behavior. Instead, these posts are about analyzing the themes used within the movies due to my personal connection to their messages (accordingly, YMMV). As a result, my favorite posts have been about Nebula’s Redemption, my comparison of Shazam! and Guardians of the Galaxy, and others dealing with a particular theme. That theme is realizing and accepting that your idealized vision of family is complete nonsense, breaking away from those abusive relationships, and appreciating the family you didn’t realize was in front of you the whole time (though for me personally, the third has been elusive). Not everyone has these experiences, but it’s a recurring theme in superhero movies. I never considered that the first Iron Man movie implicitly raised issues related to this theme.
Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) father died, and then Tony disappeared for a while. This isn’t surprising considering how self-absorbed he is, but when he returned to Stark Industries, Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) must have served as a father-figure for him. Before I go forward, I want to mention . . .
Tony didn’t show as much respect for Obadiah as you would want to see from your own child, but Tony didn’t ever show much respect for any authority figure, so it’s still fair to assume Obadiah acted as an adoptive father to him. That is, Obadiah wasn’t merely a coworker, boss, or even family friend. Assuming that, it must have been absolutely devastating for Tony when he realized Obadiah had called for his removal from the company, and even worse, his death. That betrayal would hold back Tony’s growth, which became a slow burn throughout the Infinity War saga. It helps make Tony’s grief over Black Widow’s death as believable as that of any other character despite his never overtly expressing that grief or deep feelings for her. It wasn’t until the first Avengers that Tony showed a willingness to “lay down on a wire” for his allies, but his ego made sure that no one would forget that. Somehow, it was still about him . . . until he started to understand fatherhood in Captain America: Civil War.
Peter Parker and Morgan Stark
In Civil War, Tony latched onto Peter Parker/Spiderman. At first, he was looking for a little more firepower to take down Team Cap ®©TM℗SM, but by Infinity War it was clear he had a genuine emotional attachment to Peter.
By Avengers: Endgame, he was devastated because he “lost the kid,” but he got a second chance in that film. Tony’s life became about Pepper and their daughter, Morgan. He was reluctant to restore the Vanished because doing so threatened what he had finally found after a lifetime of searching, even if it meant giving up on his filial figure, Peter.
Tony’s progression from self-absorbed brat to the guy who’d “make the sacrifice play” was 22 movies long probably because of Obadiah more than anything else we saw, but Tony made it there, and that wound up saving half the universe.
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Unlike the other MCU films, the overarching storyline in Captain America: Civil War wasn’t the Avengers finding a way to come together, but rather the Avengers being torn apart. Behind the scenes, the Sokovia Accords were being written, and Secretary Ross was getting ready to confront the Avengers, but for the disassembly of the Avengers to occur, it had to come from within. The two factions were led by Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. Steve needed no outside help to make his stand; it’s what he does. Likewise, Tony is prone towards sacrificing liberty in favor of security, but in prior films, he insisted on being the one in control of that security. Something had to push him over the edge to where he’d be willing to surrender that control to the government that he so routinely dismissed.
Enter Miriam, played by acting veteran Alfre Woodard.
Jump to 0:55 for the scene in question.
Miriam tells the story of her son, Charlie Spencer, who had the city of Novi Grad, Sokovia dropped on him during the events of Age of Ultron. She blamed the Avengers for his death and laid a huge guilt trip on Tony Stark in that scene.
One of my pet peeves about superhero movies is the after saving the world, the unappreciative human race vilifies the heroes because of the collateral damage that occurs, ignoring that, in some cases, without the heroes the entire human race would be killed. That’s certainly a theme in Civil War, and it’s annoying as hell, but in Civil War those arguments were no more than a means to advance a more reasonable position. The United Nations truthfully understood that what the Avengers were doing was right, and that the consequences of those actions were often not the Avengers’ fault. They simply wanted international oversight to minimize those consequences.
But logic isn’t always the best motivator. Even the most stoic among us are emotional creatures. You can’t blame the Avengers for feeling bad about what happened. If a criminal held a gun to a loved-one’s head, and you felt you had to kill the criminal in order to save that person’s life, the world wouldn’t blame you, but you might still find it difficult to deal with having killed another human being. Maybe you could have disarmed the criminal, and if so overpowered him. Tony was facing the same emotional dilemma, and to make matters worse was the creator of the threat, Ultron. Even more, maybe Tony could have zigged when he zagged and saved some more lives.
Miriam appealed to that emotion, and in less than 2 minutes of screen time, set in motion the civil war between the Avengers.
Other posts in this series can be accessed by clicking here.
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I just finished watching Infinity War and Endgame again and have four more observations. Yeah, I talk about the MCU a lot, but I think it gets far too little credit for its writing and acting (especially Karen Gillan and Dave Bautista, who were both surprises to me).
As I’ve discussed in several prior posts, the MCU as a whole, like most individual movies, involved a lot of character growth. In the MCU, the common theme was developing a better sense of morality, but using familiar methods to achieve the evolved goals. For example, Tony was a self-absorbed arms dealer. As he evolved to a selfless peace-seeker, he still used the same methods. He used weapons to provide security, because that’s all he really knew. And near the end of Endgame, [spoiler alert] even the “self-absorbed” part came into play: “I am Iron Man.” Of course, as a friend pointed out on Facebook, at the time he was using the most powerful weapon in the universe.
Natasha and Clint
I don’t know if Natasha and Clint’s friendship is the best thing about the MCU, but it’s certainly near the top, and it’s an example of what makes the MCU fantastic. You couldn’t possibly build that relationship over the course of a single film, which means that their scene on Vormir couldn’t possibly have the emotional impact that it did if Infinity War/Endgame were a single film. The MCU is several independent films that collectively is greater than the sum of its parts.
After my 100th re-watch of Endgame, I’m certain that Bucky knew that Steve was going to live out his life in the past. I never really noticed that before now.
I hate cheese but still find it adorable that Tony’s daughter wanted cheeseburgers at the end of Endgame. The first thing Tony wanted after returning from captivity in Iron Man was a cheeseburger. I may have already mentioned this in a prior post, but there it is.
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I haven’t spent as much time on Disney+ as I was hoping, but last weekend I took the time to watch Thor: Ragnarök, Infinity War, and Endgame over the course of two days. For reasons that will become apparent, I really wish I had watched Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2 (”GotG2”) before Thor: Ragnarök, but I’m remedying that as I type this.
When I first saw these movies, I really enjoyed them (despite never being a comic book reader), but that was an honest, emotional reaction devoid of any intellectual analysis. I just liked them; it was that simple. However, upon second viewings, I have more time to think about them, and they’re getting better and better. There are a few specific scenes that represent what I find surprisingly good about these movies, all of which demonstrate character evolution, but one of which in a way that’s a bit backwards. I’m not an authority on any of these aspects of movie-making, so your mileage may vary. Perhaps wildly. Moreover, I’m a firm believer that art is in the eye of the beholder, so much of this is what I choose to infer from what I hear and see. The Russo brothers and the actors in question may also disagree with me.
Tony Stark’s Funeral
This one was easy for me. I always pay attention to how the music interacts with the movie.
Side note: The DC movies have taken some serious hits among nerd circles, but I imagine that if you pay attention to how that music interacts with those movies, you liked them more than you would otherwise. Music matters.
It was immediately apparent to me that the music in this scene was thematically very similar to the Captain America’s music when he went into the ice. I don’t remember hearing those themes in any other scenes in the MCU unless they related directly to Steve. In Endgame, Steve proved he was worthy to wield Mjolnir. That was his evolution, though according to the Russo’s he had reached that point by Age of Ultron. Stark made a similar jump. He started as a self-absorbed, spoiled brat. Not only did he change into someone we could consider “good” but also sought to make up for his past sins. It wasn’t enough for him not to place the world in danger personally; he wanted to eliminate any danger others created as well (e.g., seeking to place a protective shield around the world).
That said, old habits die hard (as you’ll also see in my second example). Tony never lost his edge, and he made a lot of mistakes because his methods didn’t evolve as quickly as his sensibilities. All he had to work with was his methods from a lifetime of preparing our country for war. Nevertheless, when all was said and done in Endgame, Tony finally completed his evolution. He made the sacrifice play, laid down on a wire, and let the other guy crawl over him. I thought it quite fitting that the music played at his funeral was originally from Steve’s sacrifice.
Tony and Nebula in Space
Gillan’s acting in these scenes was the best I saw in the entire MCU. Is she a better actor than Robert Downey, Jr.? I’m not qualified to say — that guy killed it throughout the entire MCU — but it doesn’t matter. She acted circles around him in these scenes, and I doubt many paid close attention to that. Downey’s mission in those scenes was relatively simple: Convey someone facing death while thinking about what was most important to him. Did he do a good job? Of course. He’s great, and by design, everyone was focused on both Downey as an actor and Stark as a character. These were as much RDJ’s movies and Stark’s stories as anyone else’s, but that means some of us (including me) missed Gillan’s brilliance the first time through. If you did, re-watch it focusing on her.
First, some context. Starting with GotG2, Nebula disclosed to Gamora that all she ever wanted was for them to have a normal, sisterly relationship. I choose to believe that Nebula didn’t realize that until she said it out loud. Later, she was given a quick lesson by Drax on what family means, and then she had to cooperate with former enemies to take down multiple threats. This was all new to her. Every relationship she had had to this point was familial and severely dysfunctional (more than any of us can imagine) or predator-to-prey. She was a horrible person doing horrible things in a social environment giving her no opportunity to even question her behavior, let alone escape it. Now that she was beginning to turn the corner, her next mission in Infinity War was, well, to murder her father. Sure, we can all sort of forgive that under the circumstances, but again, this must have been tough for her to process.
Moving forward to Endgame, it’s clear that Nebula is trying to deal with all these new feelings and philosophies. But now she’s stuck on a ship with Tony, and there’s even more to process. She’s making a friend, which is something she’s never had. The act of shaking hands was alien to her even though it’s a custom clearly not exclusive to Earth in the MCU. She’s playing a game, which is probably something she’s never done. After all, her instinct was to ignore the rules of the game. Win at all costs through aggression. When Tony asked her if it was fun, she had to think about whether it was. What’s “fun”? Again, that’s a foreign concept. Apparently, she figured out all of this, eventually taking the role of a caretaker, giving Tony the remaining food and making him as comfortable as possible while on his deathbed . . . chair. Whatever.
How much of this was intended by Gillan or the Russos? I don’t know, but again, this is what I choose to infer, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I hear this in her voice and see it in her face, and that’s my point. For her to convey so much, with so few lines (2 lines with 9 words and 3 grunts), in so few scenes, and burdened with so much toaster oven make up is simply remarkable. I could see even myself pulling off (poorly) a guy facing his impending death. As for what she did, I wouldn’t know where to start. Gems like this are hidden in plain sight throughout the MCU.
Drax and Mantis
In the scene in which Drax tells Mantis she’s “hideous,” he relays a memory of an outing with his daughter. Mantis makes an empathic connection with him and is overwhelmed by his grief, but the entire time, Drax’s face is deadpan. He’s barely showing his emotion. Drax very quickly picked up on human idiosyncrasies, including laughter, frustration, and anger, but this scene showed that the instincts of his species were still strong in him. It changes the way I interpret any of his scenes. He may not be expressing emotion, but I’m encouraged to infer them from the context, and they can be powerful. It allows me to make the movie my own. Again, art is in the eye of the beholder.
The actual reason I mention this scene, though, is so that I can say that Dave Bautista was the actor that impressed me the most. He’s no Al Pacino, but I didn’t expect him to be any good at all. Most pro wrestlers that jumped into acting have been far less than impressive — Dwayne Johnson is a notable exception — but he brought it in every single scene he shot. He was given great lines and made the most of them. “Why is Gamora?” was actually improvised. That’s all him.
These aren’t very detailed analyses, and these scenes only scratch the surface of the MCU’s magnificence. There were many other connections drawn with the music, there are plenty of actors that acted their asses off playing secondary characters, and there were several actors new to me that were surprisingly good. However, considering the length of my last few posts on copyright, I suspect you’re all happy with the relative brevity. Besides, my views aren’t to be taken too seriously. I’m not an actor or filmmaker, so what do I know?
I just know what I like.
When you watch them again, maybe you’ll see some things you didn’t see before. I have a lot more to watch.
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