Good Watch: The Jay and Silent Bob Reboot @ThatKevinSmith @JayMewes @ComicBook @RussBurlingame #QuarantineWatchParty #JayAndSilentBob #GoodWatch

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This past Monday was the Jay and Silent Bob double feature, quarantine watch party hosted by Russ Burlingame of ComicBook.com. We watched both Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back (which I’ve seen a handful of times) and the Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (which I had never seen). Because of how I write, I have to keep my posts short for them to remain coherent to nonlawyers, but this movie has so much good in it, I don’t know how to handle it.

In summary, this is a movie that didn’t need to be made except to repay the fans. There’s no respect given to the fourth wall, and the cameos from both the nerd and Kevin Smith movie universe were overwhelming. There was a point where Kevin Smith (for what seemed like the 100th time) broke the 4th wall and noted how he had successfully brought us to the third act with all of the characters exactly where they needed to be. I don’t know the science of filmmaking, but I doubt this movie was so we’ll structured. How could it be? It was less a movie and more of a series of “meta” fan service moments loosely strung together. Don’t misunderstand me, though. It absolutely worked for anyone who’s seen Kevin Smith’s movies and/or is a nerd in general.

My one complaint: I don’t remember seeing any references to Star Trek.

Unless you count this.

Shatner
The Shatner joins the ComicBook.com quarantine watch party, only to delete the tweet a few hours later.

But I get sole credit for that.

Still, I must admit that there were certainly good filmmaking moments in the movie. For example, I kept yelling at the Twitterverse that I wanted Jay to give his daughter a hug . . .

. . . and the movie delivered it at precisely the right moment.

But mainly I was yelling that I wanted to see this actor or that actor show up. Again, Mr. Smith delivered. One of many examples. . . .

In fact, there were several times that I unwittingly predicted the jokes that were coming, which I think speaks less to my deductive reasoning and more to how much Mr. Smith knows what we wanted from him.

I could go into far more detail (spoilers aren’t really a concern), but no one wins when I do that, so I’ll wrap it up.

If you’re a fan of Kevin Smith, comics, or anything nerdy, this will have to bring a smile to your face.

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Guilty Pleasure: Legion (the 2010 Movie) @Paul_Bettany @AdriannePalicki @Willaaaah @TheLucasBlack @Tyrese @KateWalsh @actordougjones #movie #GuiltyPleasure #QuarantineLife

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Legion has Rotten Tomatoes scores of 19 from the critics (who mean nothing to me) and 31 from the audience, which is even worse than Green Lantern. Go figure. Like Green Lantern, the cast was actually pretty good, mixing newcomers with established veterans, and a couple of up-and-coming stars. I’m sure a few of them wouldn’t appreciate me linking them here, but they did a good job with what they had.

I think there are two things that make me like this movie. First, as a mythology fan, I love it when mythology, religion, and legends are turned on their heads. It gives the stories a different take and thus isn’t a bland remake of the same story we’ve seen a million times. In this case, while not evil per se,  Gabriel is still the villain. Michael, on the other hand, is the protagonist even though he’s going against the Judeo-Christian-Islamic notion of god. That’s the big difference; there are others. Maybe some of the bad ratings are based on the fact that this offended people. Perhaps just a little bit?

Second, at the time I saw it, I was still playing Dungeons & Dragons and thought it could be the basis of a really interesting campaign. Unfortunately, I never got around to it. Food for thought for the gamer nerds.

It’s a guilty pleasure. So sue me.

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Guilty Pleasure: Green Lantern @VancityReynolds @TaikaWaititi #movie #GuiltyPleasure #QuarantineLife

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First off:

Yeah, I know. With Rotten Tomatoes scores of 26 from the critics (who mean nothing to me) and 45 from the audience, Green Lantern isn’t exactly well-loved, but if it were, it wouldn’t be a guilty pleasure. You chose to read this post. You’re committed to hearing me praise a movie you can’t stand.

Let’s start with the easy part: Ryan Reynolds is always great. You all love his sarcasm in Deadpool, and he delivers it here in spades. It’s a typical Ryan Reynolds performance, and if you can’t get behind that, you’re truly lost. As for the rest of the cast, I know of at least three Oscar winners (Tim Robbins, Geoffrey Rush, and Taika Watiti) and one nominee (Angela Bassett) in there. They didn’t win Oscars for this movie, but it’s a good cast.

Moving on, one of the dead horses I love to beat is that I’ve never really read comics, but there’s a method to that madness. I have an exceptional, long-term memory, and I read a few comics in childhood, so I have some idea of comics lore. However, I have no loyalty to their story lines. If Parallax is nothing like what he was in the comics, I wouldn’t know and don’t care. This isn’t a defense of Parallax — I thought he was rather goofy — but rather a means to help you understand why I hold the positions I do on this and other Guilty Pleasure posts. Ergo, many of the reasons you may have for hating this movie have no relevance to me.

Next, Sinestro. Whether we’re talking about the actor (Marc Strong) or the character, this movie was the set up for a sequel that would rival the Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan or Aliens. Whereas the first movie is always about the protagonists, the second movie is always about the villains. I know of no comic villains with a more tragic fall than Sinestro. He was made quite sympathetic and demonstrated a dedicated campaign against the fear to which he eventually succumbed. This made his fall from grace all the greater. Again, I don’t know many comic book back stories, but a second movie with Mark Strong playing Sinestro as the villain could have been incredible.

Then there’s Taika Waititi. He really sucked in this 🙂 , but considering who he’s become, this is a great look back at his beginnings. Sure, that’s not a reason to like the movie, but I consider it bonus points. He’s turned into something special and won an Oscar for his efforts elsewhere.

Finally, the music. Music is my favorite art form, and when I really like the music, it can often carry the movie. The music is overall rather weak in this movie, but there are a couple of pieces that are on one of my playlists. Here’s a short example that I thought captured the scene well:

The music starts at 0:54, but you may need the entire clip to appreciate my point.

All of this is enough for me to watch this movie occasionally despite some poor dialogue and overacting. I’m doing so as I write this.

In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil’s might
Beware my power–Green Lantern’s light!

If you’re interested, it’s streaming on HBO Now.  

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#Avengers: Age of #Ultron: The Flip Side of the #MCU Power Curve @JeremyRenner @lindacardellini

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In yesterday’s post, I voiced my only serious complaint about the MCU: The incoherent power curve. While that certainly annoys me, Avengers: Age of Ultron keeps me from forgetting that the least powerful original Avengers, Black Widow and Hawkeye, were certainly very important to the team. If the choice I was given was having a screwy power curve or eliminating them from the story, I’ll take the screwy power curve with a smile on my face every time.

Hawkeye

Hawkeye was instrumental in stopping Scarlet Witch from tearing the Avengers apart. He was the only one who avoided her powers, and he was the one to convince her, the person that would one day become the strongest Avenger, to join the team in a meaningful way. That was done with a speech rivaling any Captain America ever delivered. This was a believable effort on his part despite not requiring a superpower. Before that, however, he reinforced the message to the other Avengers of what they were fighting for by introducing them to his family. In fact, his non-hero wife, Laura, kept him from losing touch with his own importance. For a team that was falling apart at the seams, this was critical to the believability of the Avengers continuing to work well together.

Black Widow

I’ve written several times about how Black Widow is the glue of the Avengers. Except for Thor, she had significant, on-screen bonding moments with each of the original Avengers (as well as a few others) over the course of several films. This could explain her eventual inability to stick to one side in the Avengers’ “civil war.” With this movie, we saw the development of her most significant relationship, Bruce Banner, and the expansion of her most important one (from a story perspective), Hawkeye. I vaguely relate to Black Widow’s backstory, and how it shaped who she became, in a specific but personal way I won’t discuss; however, I think we can all agree that it’s compelling enough for her own movie. The story became a mission to rescue her, but not really. Far from the archetypical damsel in distress, she instead turned the situation around from the inside, leading the Avengers to Ultron. Without screwing with the power curve, Black Widow contributed in vital ways.

These two characters were as important to the Avengers as any of the others, and neither had a superpower.

Unrelated Note

In a cinematic universe filled with brilliant one-liners, one of my favorites comes from Age of Ultron.

“Oh, for God’s sake!”

James Spader is awesome.

Sometimes you must take the bad with the good. Black Widow and Hawkeye were really good.

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Why Captain America: The Winter Soldier Is My Favorite #MCU Movie @MarvelStudios #CaptainAmerica

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As you know, I love the MCU. Marvel Studios could have relied on the action and fantasy elements inherent to the source material to make a ton of money on crappy movies, but they didn’t. They spent a ton of money on special effects, but also on hiring highly talented writers, directors, and actors (some with Oscars under their belts) so that the movies had substance as well. No movie exemplifies that more than Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Like many MCU movies, it had the theme of establishing deep friendships that represented more than just coworkers or bar buddies. No, these friends were so close as to represent an adoptive family, replacing the biological families that Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanov, and Nick Fury lost, never knew, or never had. As wonderfully as it was executed, all of that is actually par for the course in the MCU. The Winter Soldier goes a step further.

Winter Soldier dealt with a political issue that is both timely and important: How do we strike the balance between security and liberty? Both are important. If we lax our security, we won’t have liberty for long, because nefarious forces from within and/or without will steal it. However, if security replaces liberty, then what kind of an existence are we actually fighting for? That’s why, when push comes to shove, liberty must win. In Winter Soldier, all of the good guys either fought for liberty or joined the fight after eventually realizing that they should have been all along. This decision shouldn’t be made naively, but those characters didn’t do that.

Okay, they sometimes did. The commitment to liberty was excessively idealistic, but this is a movie. Filmmakers must deal with extremes or risk losing the crowd. Many moviegoers aren’t observant enough to pick up key points being made unless they’re hit with it over the head, and a major theme is certainly a “key point.” This is why horrible characters that deserve the most serious punishment under the law can be forgiven and exalted by an audience simply because they’ve learned how to love a sibling. The movie world is different from the real world, and I’m sure you understand that. If not, movies must seem utterly ridiculous to you.

With that in mind, Winter Soldier dealt with an important and timely issue, came down on the right side of it (liberty) without being (too) naïve, and somehow managed to do that without pissing off members of any political party.

As a lawyer, how can I not get into that?

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Nebula’s Redemption #MCU #GotGVol2 #QuarantineWatchParty @karengillan @BrandonDavisBD @ComicBook @JamesGunn @prattprattpratt @zoesaldana @DaveBautista @PomKlementieff @seangunn @russburlingame @jumonsmapes

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Last night was the Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 quarantine watch party. The best story arc in the MCU was Nebula’s, and it really came together in this movie thanks to both the writing and acting. No one can topple Thor as my favorite character, but she comes in as a close second. Sure, I’ve beaten this point into the ground but done so across several blog and social media posts that even I, the author, can’t track. Now I’m going to put it all together in one place so I can just point people to this post. Note well that the creators themselves may disagree with my analysis here and there, but art is in the eyes of the beholder. Great art speaks to people regardless of their own biases and perspectives, and I’ve learned recently that many people agree with my analysis of both the actor and the character. I truly hope I do everyone justice in expressing that analysis. To that end, while I’ve been trying to improve my writing by shortening my posts, this one can’t be done quickly. There’s a lot to unpack, so grab a drink and some snacks; you’ll be here for a while.

Nebula’s Start

In GotG Volume 1, Nebula is a one-dimensional character. She’s an assassin crafted by a family with a far different dysfunction than any real human has experienced. Maybe you’ve experienced something as bad or worse, but unless your parent turned you into a cyborg because you didn’t murder well enough, you can’t truly relate. Every relationship Nebula has had is either severe familial dysfunction or predator-to-prey. She’s been trained to be nothing more than a killer; that’s all she is. She’s never laughed, never had a friend, and lacks the social context even to address her issues, let alone resolve them. The only emotions we’ve seen from her are anger and frustration (e.g., “Thanks, dad.”).

Nebula’s Journey

In GotG Volume 2, things slowly start to change. Gamora’s time as a Guardian has brought her along her own path of redemption, but she has no confidence in Nebula in that regard. Thus, the movie starts with Nebula feeling no love from her sister. However, when Peter, Drax, and Gamora are leaving with Ego and Mantis, there’s a moment where Nebula senses something inside herself. She gives a quick downward glance, accompanied by a brilliant musical choice making it clear that this scene was as much about Nebula as it was about any of the Guardians.

[C]obbled together by Buckingham at a time when certain people in the band weren’t even speaking to each other . . . “[t]he Chain” is a stark reminder that you’re forever tied to the people you love most, even while they’re betraying you. –Jillian Mapes

https://pitchfork.com/features/lists-and-guides/stevie-nicks-in-33-songs/

My interpretation is that Nebula doesn’t understand these feelings because she’s never had them before now, but they’re clearly triggered by Gamora leaving her and the recognition that if Gamora can have an adoptive family, so can she. Peter and Gamora were further along this path than Nebula, but they were all on the same journey (as was Rocket, but in a different way). Later, Nebula saves Rocket from execution for what she claims to be selfish reasons, but there’s clearly a change going on inside her. The 2014 Nebula wouldn’t have stopped the execution.

Skipping ahead to the planet of Ego, Nebula attacks Gamora. She’s genuinely angry, but not having to look Gamora in the eye is key to her ability to kill her sister. When the battle brings them face to face, she can’t do it. She yells out in frustration because all she knows is killing, and she suddenly can’t. She feels like she’s lost control of herself. Even at this point, my interpretation is that she doesn’t understand why.

 

And then there’s that moment when at last she gets it. She yells, “You were the one that wanted to win, and I just wanted a sister!” At 3:57, you see for a brief instant a relaxing of her eyes. I wish they had held the shot on her face for another second. She’s as surprised as Gamora. It’s at that point Nebula finally has a basic understanding of what she’s been feeling. She’s still Nebula, and there’s still plenty of road to travel, but you can’t address an issue until you first acknowledge it. She’s finally done that, and that’s why it’s one of my favorite lines in all of cinema.

There are a few more moments that help her along. She can’t understand how the Guardians can be friends because they always fight. Drax explains it to her.

Nebula: “…. You’re not friends.”
Drax: “You’re right. We’re family.”

This helps her understand that right and wrong, love and hate, etc. aren’t always defined strictly by actions, but also by intent. Sometimes right and wrong look the same but nevertheless are not. Soon after, she becomes a Guardian by joining their fight to save the universe. She’s not just doing so to help herself; she’s also helping her sister. She’s not just working alongside someone in a morbid contest to kill more victims; she’s learning the notion of truly bonding with others for a common goal. Cooperation rather than competition.

Nebula’s part in the movie ends with an awkward hug, and then Gamora pensively watching Nebula ride away in search of Thanos. On the one hand, it’s a sad moment, but on the other, it’s a moment of hope that’s going to be desperately needed in the MCU within the next couple of movies.

Infinity War

Nebula’s journey to date is longer than the other MCU characters, but it takes on a familiar form. Like most of the MCU characters, as Nebula evolves into a better version of herself, her methods don’t change. For example, Tony Stark is a self-absorbed, playboy and arms dealer, and then becomes a family-oriented peace-lover out to save the world. Either way, his methods are the same: Develop weaponry. It’s all he really knows, so we judge him more by his intent than by his methods (though he often makes mistakes worthy of judgment). Thor is similarly self-absorbed and deemed unworthy, but eventually joins the fight to save half the universe. How? By recklessly plunging into battle, preferring brute force over tactics. He’s still Thor. And do I really have to mention Ant-Man? As discussed in the prior section, Nebula’s still figuring out that the same actions can be considered good or evil based in large part on intent. Sure, some acts are inherently good or evil, but in the movie universe, even that idea can be relaxed for the sake of drama. We can also allow ourselves to forgive a movie character despite an unforgivable past (see, e.g., Darth Vader saying, “My bad,” and then becoming a Force ghost), which would never fly in the real world (where I’m sure you agree that she deserves that maximum penalty you feel the law may morally impose no matter how much she loves her sister). This is because filmmakers have to use these extremes in order to properly convey the message to the audience. Still, there are rules of engagement, which Tony will later explain to her.

Nebula’s first scene in Infinity War has Thanos torturing her. After freeing herself, we next see her on Titan joining the fight to stop Thanos. While wanting to do the right thing but still not appreciating the importance of intent, she must be very confused by her current mission, which is to assassinate her adoptive father. She experiencing the same two defining characteristics of the life she’s trying to leave behind: Family dysfunction and predator killing prey. But this battle helps break those bonds of confusion just a little bit more. She’s doing the right thing despite the nature of her actions.

When it becomes apparent that Thanos has executed the Snap, she appears to show a bit of remorse for the loss of life Thanos just caused. With Gamora already dead, one might not expect her to have anything more to lose, yet she still exhibits renewed sadness — not frustration or anger — about what had occurred. Is this genuine?

Endgame

This is where we see it all come together, with Guardians music playing. Ms. Gillan acts out the entirety of this journey in the following scene with two lines consisting of nine words in total, as well as three grunts. She uses body language and facial expressions buried in makeup. It’s not Klingon-like make up, but it still represents a barrier to conveying the message. However, even more difficult are the constraints placed upon her by the script. If Ms. Gillan — who I’ve read is a talented piano player — had suggested adding a moment to this scene in which she and Tony were singing and laughing while she was playing the piano, she would have been laughed off the set. Nebula doesn’t play the piano. She doesn’t laugh, and she doesn’t sing. She’s a stoic, distant, guarded cyborg who’s just learning emotions that we all take for granted. Ms. Gillan isn’t permitted to express those emotions fully but must somehow still convey them as they slowly rise to the surface.

And she does a masterful job of it. Here’s the scene:

The first thing we see is a paper football game. Nebula’s instinct is to cheat by blocking Tony’s attempt. To her, this is a competition, and that’s always meant win at all costs. Win for the sake of winning. Tony explains that, while they’re adversaries, she has to follow the rules of engagement. Again, this must be confusing for her, but she’s trying. In fact, she says, “I would like to try again,” which is 2/3 of the words she’s given in the scene. Consciously, she wants to continue to play, but subconsciously she wants to continue to learn.

When Nebula wins, Tony extends his hand as a showing of sportsmanship. He congratulated Nebula for beating him. Nebula understandably pauses. I imagine her thinking, “What’s going on here? Why is he congratulating me? No one’s ever done that before.” Well, of course not; everyone she’s ever beaten is dead. He still wants to be her friend despite just competing against her. “Wait. What’s a friend?” She’s clearly never had one. Then Tony asks whether she had fun. Again, she has to pause to process the question. “What’s ‘fun’? I’ve never had fun.” But she realizes she has had fun and answers in the affirmative. Remember, all of this is being done with little dialogue, obscuring makeup, and severe constraints on the character’s presentation.

But what happens next leaves little doubt that her transformation is genuine. Putting morality aside, the smart thing to do would be to kill Tony as quickly as possible (or at least as soon as he’s finished with his modifications to the ship). He’s in a weakened state due to his injuries, and as a fully biological person, he probably can’t last as long as Nebula without food, water, and perhaps oxygen. The sooner he dies, the less resources he burns in a futile effort to survive before seeing a rescue currently nowhere in sight. Not only does Nebula never consider killing him, but she actually takes steps to maximize his chances of survival, placing herself at greater risk. She provides medical treatment to his wounds and gives him the last bit of food. Even more profound, after Tony drifts off to sleep, Nebula picks him up off the floor and places him in a chair. If he’s destined to die, she wants him to die with dignity. Even if he’s going to die in his sleep, she wants him to be “comfortable.” And she shows genuine sorrow for what seems to be inevitable. All of this is for a guy she just met. Does this seem like something 2014 Nebula would do?

I’d like to write a lot more, but I’m sure you get the point. So, in the interests of finishing up this post, I’ll summarize the next 2 hours and 45 minutes of Endgame by saying it becomes even more obvious that Nebula’s transformation is genuine. During the rest of the film, she continues to display emotional development, seeming more and more “human” as she goes, and she’s legitimately trying to save everyone, not just herself. Her interactions with her 2014 version enforce that position. “You don’t have to do this . . . . You’ve seen what we become. . . . You can change.” Unfortunately, 2014 Nebula isn’t there yet. “He won’t let me.”

But you do see a tear running down 2014 Nebula’s cheek as she dies (blacked out of this clip). Seeing her future self could have been her start if there were only more time.

Gillan’s Acting

Sure, the writers had to do their part in setting this course for the character, and I applaud their work, but someone had to actually act it out despite a number of handicaps placed upon her. Ms. Gillan acted circles around Robert Downey Jr. in their shared scene, and I don’t think anyone noticed. The movies were more Mr. Downey’s than anyone else’s, so everyone was focused on him. Nebula’s importance in Endgame proves that the Russo brothers had faith in Ms. Gillan’s talent.

I agree. I feel that Ms. Gillan has the talent to win an Oscar one day. I have a modest track record for predicting such things (e.g., predicting Reese Witherspoon’s eventual Oscar based on her performances in two forgettable movies from the mid- to late-nineties). This comes not from personal talent, but rather from attending the theater since I was in elementary school. I can’t tell you how many now-famous actors I’ve seen perform at Arena Stage at a time when they were first cutting their teeth in the arts. I learned to look for that talent even when a bad script hides it. Whether Ms. Gillan ultimately wins an Oscar will rely on two factors beyond her acting: Being given the right part and script and being willing to go through the expensive campaign to essentially buy the award from the Academy. I cannot predict either of those, but she’s got one out of three already. That’s more than most of us (and dare I say, much of Hollywood) have.

No MCU character had a more significant, personal story arc than Nebula, and at times she was exceptionally well-acted. Am I wrong?

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Good Watch: Penny Dreadful. Well, maybe a mediocre watch. @WesleyStudi #showtime #pennydreadful #goodwatch

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My latest binge target is Penny Dreadful. It’s a three-season Showtime/Sky Atlantic series that’s currently on Netflix. The seasons are 8, 10, and 9 episodes, each just under 60 minutes long. The series accomplishes what Universal Studios has been unsuccessfully trying to do on the big screen for some time: A shared monster universe. It’s brought together the legends of vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein’s monster, Dorian Gray, and others.

Some of the actors are new to me, but the show is anchored by veteran actors Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett (playing an ultimately sympathetic Ethan), David Warner, and Eva Green. Joining them is an actor that’s new to me, Harry Treadway. I was happy with him as the redeemed villain, Narek, in Star Trek: Picard. Another actor with which I’m familiar that will join the cast in season 3 is Wes Studi, who’s strangely the only actor I’ve mentioned that’s on Twitter. I was happy with most of the other actors, who are all new to me (as far as I can remember).

I find the show weird, but considering the subject matter, how could it not be? It’s also not for children, and not just because of the horror content. One interesting thing about this show is that it brings all the different supernatural creatures into the story very quickly. That is, you don’t need to wait very long to see your first vampire if that’s why you’re tuning in. Paradoxically, however, there are times in the middle of season one where everything slows to a crawl. Season 1, episode 7 (“Possession”) felt like it was two hours long. I had to look at the time stamp to verify it was a regular-length episode. It doesn’t speed up from there. With almost two seasons (of three) complete, I still don’t know who “the master” is. Satan or something? I don’t know. I’m having trouble focusing at this point. In any case, get on with it!

While this is not what I’d consider top tier television, it’s reasonably enjoyable. However, the only reason I’ll finish it is because I’m a compulsive completionist. There are better things to watch. As always, YMMV.

If you’re into the horror genre, unrealistic redemption among estranged family members, and over-the-top British courtesy, you may enjoy it more than I.

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The Villains of Black Panther #MCU @Erik_Nowak @chadwickboseman @michaelb4jordan @andyserkis

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A fellow nerd, Erik, and I agree that the most interesting villains are the ones that believe they’re actually the good guys, but there’s something to be said for villains like Killmonger and Ulysses Claw in Black Panther.  These guys tap into comedy and evil simultaneously. They live every moment of their lives in danger, so they don’t react to danger as normal people do. They’ve always got a smile on their faces even as their shooting someone in the back, so they can believably throw out humorous lines (“I made it rain!”) as people are dying around them.

An example of how this trait plays out is when T’Challa seemingly returns from the dead. What’s Killmonger’s reaction? With a smirk on his face, he asks, “Whassup?!” Killmonger knows exactly what’s up. T’Challa has defied all odds and seeks revenge. But Killmonger just just doesn’t care. For him, it’s just another moment in his life of constant danger.

Of course, we already saw this with Ulysses Claw in Avengers: Age of Ultron. When faced with two threatening enemies who’s powers Claw understood, Claw faced it with a sick sense of humor and confidence. He kept his cool because there’s was nothing they could throw at him — not even Wanda with her mind games — that could possibly scare him any more than many of his life experiences have.

These are great villains too. I love it.

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Travelling through the #MCU: Phase 2 @GeorgesStPierre @realmichaelpena @kesseljunkie #IronMan #Thor #WinterSoldier #GotG #Avengers #AntMan

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In an earlier post, I pointed out a few things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (“MCU”) that I really enjoyed. Since that post, I’ve started to watch the entire MCU in movie-chronological order: Captain America, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, etc., and will continue through the entire MCU that’s on Disney+ or otherwise available to me. This probably excludes the Spider Man movies and the Incredible Hulk.

There’s been so much ink on these topics that it’s rather pointless to try to leave an impression. These will be short observations of the things that either I liked the most about them or suspect many people didn’t really notice. I’m going to avoid most of my major dislikes. There’s no sense in raining on anyone’s parade (including my own). In case you have the time, I found it fun watching these movies knowing where these characters wound up.

Iron Man 3

This was a weird superhero movie. I remember reading an article stating that Tony was in the Iron Man suit for only 15 (or whatever) out of 120 minutes of movie time. This never bothered me because I didn’t notice. This movie was about Tony Stark’s emotional issues, not Iron Man, and somehow it worked for me. Besides, one of the best action sequences in the MCU was the Mandarin’s attack on Tony’s home (10880 Malibu Pt., Malibu, CA 90625).

According to various sources, Chattanooga gets 2 inches of snow per year. According to Iron Man 3, it all comes on one night, and that happens to be the night Tony arrived. That’s a hell of a coincidence. 🙂

Holy crap! Iron Man 3 is a Christmas movie!

Thor: The Dark World

I know this is the bottom of the MCU barrel for many people, but as I’ve stated before, Thor is my favorite MCU character. There’s no way I’m going to hate a half-decent Thor movie. Loki’s stubborn insecurity, Frigga’s death (funeral music!), its impact on Loki, and Sif’s feelings for Thor are reflections of what exists in ourselves. Being able to connect with the characters is the heart of drama. This movie had a few such moments.

The stakes were high, with the entire universe at risk, and that was the opening needed to introduce the third infinity stone to the MCU. It also served as a reminder how powerful Thor is, though he clearly hasn’t reached his full potential yet.

Question #1: How would you like it if your car was sent to another world?
No need to answer.

Question #2: Malikith’s ship. How does that thing stay standing?
I know; I know. Drama.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This is easily my favorite MCU movie. It may have dragged at times, but it’s the only MCU film whose message is both important and relatable: liberty v. security. In my opinion the movie came down on the right side of that argument. Sure, we all want to be secure, but giving too much control to the government is inherently insecure. We all need to accept the fact that there’s only so much security we can have in the modern world. Life will always include risk, with the difference being who’s generating the risk. At some point more liberty becomes the only option.

George St. Pierre. MMA has taken over popular culture whether you realize it or not.

At one point, Nick Fury says, “Last time I trusted someone, I lost an eye.” The implication in context was that the loss of the eye sprang directly from that trust. So, is Captain Marvel responsible for his lost eye? I don’t think so. Captain Marvel didn’t know that the cat was really a Flerken, so it’s not as if she could’ve warned him. So, is the Flerken to blame? As far as I can tell, it’s not an intelligent creature, and trust wasn’t a part of the scene in which the Flerken scratched Fury, so that doesn’t work. The MCU is a complicated weave of plotlines and references, so I hardly blame them for messing up. I just wish they had worked trust into that scene, which would have been easy to do. They clearly just forgot.

I always wondered how, in Civil War, Steve knew that the Winter Soldier killed Stark’s parents. I never noticed that he learned that in Winter Soldier. It was a quick shot while the digital Arnim Zola was showing Steve Hydra’s manipulation of world affairs.

“Who’s this guy?”

Ezekiel 25:17.

The one thing I didn’t like: Steve’s list of things to do included an entry for Star Wars and Star Trek. Star Wars was crossed out, but Star Trek wasn’t, which means he watched Star Wars first. Bullshit. Star Trek should be at the top of your list. For anything. He received some bad intel on that one.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 1

Funny thing about the scene immediately following the title card. It shows a picture of space, and then you get text that indicates the current year of 26 years later. I did some quick math in my head from when the opening scene took place (1988) and realized we were seeing 2014, but there was a spaceship.  On my first viewing, because I had just seen a realistic opening scene from 1988, for just a moment, my brain farted and thought, “There aren’t spaceships in 2014.” In fairness to me, at the time I was suffering from a severe B12 deficiency.

This movie was the best one to watch looking backwards from Endgame. For example, on Morag, I kept looking for Nebula and War Machine in the background. 🙂

Great soundtrack, which matched the fact that this was a different sort of MCU movie than we’d seen to date.

“They got my dick message!”

A dance off to save the universe. 🙂

Dancing Baby Groot!

I guess I should admit this as well. I was very critical of Marvel for choosing the Guardians of the Galaxy for a movie. I had never heard of them, and movies need to appeal to more than just the base (i.e., comic book readers). I thought there was no way they were going to do well with an obscure and ridiculous group. A talking racoon? A tree that can say only “I am Groot”? But it wasn’t just good. It wasn’t just commercially successful. It was a great idea in the grand scheme of things. As I said, it was a different sort of MCU movie, and it represented a welcome break from all the heavy-handedness of the other movies. Despite being so comedic, it still introduced an infinity stone in the context of a severe threat to the galaxy. Mea culpa, and bravo, Marvel.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2

“You expect me to fight this interdimensional creature with a sword?”

[Proceeds to strike the killing blow against the interdimensional creature with a sword.]

I already discussed Nebula’s transformation and how it led to my favorite bit of acting in the entire MCU. That began near the end of this movie, but the movie sure didn’t start that way. (Actually, it begins rather subtly when Quill, Gamora, and Drax are boarding Ego’s ship.) This is why I infer what I do from Nebula’s admission at the end of GotG2.

As I’m watching this, I’m beginning to think that these are the best acted movies of the bunch. Really. Maybe it’s just because I like that it’s more comedic than the others.

I really relate to Drax. I need to learn to lie effectively, but in many cases, the thought of lying doesn’t even occur to me. Worst. Lawyer. Ever. I also really relate to the importance given to the family you choose.

Sovereign.png

“It’s not ripe.”

Rocket gets mad that Quill calls him a raccoon, but that’s so much more accurate than “fox,” “rat,” “rabbit,” or “triangle-faced monkey.” He shouldn’t be so offended.

Thor remains my favorite MCU character, so I’m good with the fact that we’ll see Love and Thunder before Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3, but I really want to see them both ASAP. Personally, I prefer movies where there’s a small set of primary characters. This is why I prefer Star Trek’s Original Series to all the others. That said, I think the Guardians series pulled off ensemble movies better than I’ve ever seen, in no small part because the characters believably showed more emotional and moral growth than any other characters in the MCU. That required sold writing and acting, and all parties delivered.

Good lord, the music!

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Why would an ordinary human try to fist-fight Thor? Just give up.

Is Sokovia an English-speaking nation? Google says no, so why is the Iron Legion telling everyone to leave in English.

“It was a good talk.”
“No, it wasn’t.”

I love that this was Hawkeye’s movie. The family was a great touch. Also, he had some great lines. For example,

“The city is flying and we’re fighting an army of robots. And I have a bow and arrow. Nothing makes sense.”

“Nobody would know. Nobody. ‘The last I saw him, Ultron was sitting on him. Uh… yeah, he’ll be missed. That quick little bastard. I miss him already…’”

I loved Vision’s “birth.” He was as confused as Ultron was at his own birth but got over it much faster. And of course, there’s also this.

VisionMjolnir.png

Some foreshadowing. Vision saves Wanda, and by Endgame, they’re romantically coupled. Despite how pissed Hawkeye was with the Scarlet Witch, those two characters formed a minor bond by the end of this movie. One of the final scenes in Endgame was Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye consoling each other. In the penultimate scene, Tony mentions building a farm for Pepper, which is what he does by Endgame. I love the connections. You can’t build such strong connections within the context of a single movie without it seeming rushed (see, e.g., Anakin and Padme’s relationship in Attack of the Clones).

There always must be a death in order to raise the stakes, but I wish Quicksilver had lived to be in other movies. Rumor has it that WandaVision will have Wanda bringing back the Vision. Maybe she’ll bring back Quicksilver as well.

Another favorite moment of mine from the MCU occurs in this movie. “Oh, for God’s sake!” James Spader stole this show.

“But if you put the hammer in an elevator….”
“Elevator’s not worthy.”

Ant-Man

This certainly cleansed the palate. Like both Guardians of the Galaxy volumes, this was the occasional higher-comedy movie that keeps things from getting too heavy-handed. Who better than Paul Rudd to play Scott Lang?

I’ve always loved Garrett Morris. I’m always happy to see him in a movie or TV show, even if it’s just a cameo.

Michael Pena should face a long jail sentence. He stole this movie.

At one point, Hank Pym criticizes the Avengers for “dropping a city out of the sky,” referencing the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. This is a familiar trope that I absolutely hate: Criticizing the good guys for not saving the world in the most convenient way possible. Anyone with an IQ over 40 knows that Ultron tried to drop a city out of the sky, not the Avengers. Ultron was a fairly competent enemy, so it was able to do a lot of damage before the Avengers could save the world. It makes no sense to blame the Avengers for that. (Maybe just Stark and Banner.)

Side Note

It’s easy to blow off the MCU as just a bunch of action movies or, even worse, superhero movies, but that’s enormously unfair. Marvel has done something remarkable, the likes of which I’ve never seen. It’s probably best to express my current thought by example, so consider Iron Man 2. Taken in isolation, it’s my least favorite Marvel movie. Also, Pepper Potts is my least favorite protagonist. Your mileage may vary; not the point. I nevertheless enjoyed Iron Man 2. It was important in the grand scheme of things, and it’s impossible for me to watch Tony and Pepper’s relationship start without gaining an appreciation for how much was lost near the end of Endgame. It’s all connected in a way that, as I said, I’ve never seen before. Moreover, any one of these films could stand on its own. You absolutely can’t say that with Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit Series, or Star Wars. Only the first Star Wars (A New Hope) could truly stand on its own, but even so, you’re still left wondering what happened to Vader? The bad guy shouldn’t survive unless there’s a sequel, right? Marvel did something incredible with the MCU, and I look forward to what’s next.

And then there’s those moments of acting and story that are remarkable, which makes it even better. I don’t understand Scorsese’s, Coppola’s, or @KesselJunkie’s 🙂 hate. It’s been a lot of fun re-watching these.

What’s Next?

Phase 3 is up (less Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2 and Captain Marvel, which have already been discussed).

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Spreading It Too Thinly #StarTrek #StarWars cc: @kesseljunkie @williamshatner @BWingFactory #nerd

Last night, my cousin John and I had our monthly (or so) outing at Buffalo Wing Factory. As always, we talk about all things both political and nerdical. Of all the things we discussed, there was one point made that was wholly mine, rather than a consensus between our two views. It’s not that John hadn’t heard the argument before and accepted it in the context of Star Trek, but I took it to a larger level.

For all it’s bells and whistles, all of the new iterations of Star Trek will never (apparently) have what the Original Series had: character development. At first, this seems like a ridiculous argument, but I’m serious. It’s not that TNG, DS9, and the rest don’t have character development; the problem is that they spread that development too thinly across too many characters.

The Triumverate of Nerd

TOS had three characters: Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Everyone else was secondary. Can any of the newer series or movies say that? No, they can’t. They’ve all moved from being about “the main characters” to being about “the ensemble,” and the result is that none of the characters mean anywhere’s near as much as the original three. As I’ve pointed out before, we know the year that O’Brien’s mother-in-law was born. That’s a bit crazy. If you’re filling in that level of detail about the most minor of characters, you’re not spending time on who matters most. Granted, TOS lasted less years than any of the other series, so inevitably we would have known more about the minor characters as future seasons were released, but it still would have been about the big three.

It’s Not Just Star Trek

I pointed out to John, a rabid Star Wars fan (seriously, check out his blog), that this isn’t just Star Trek. The original Star Wars trilogy was about Luke, Leia, and Han. Is Obi-Won Kenobi getting too important? Cut the bastard in half … or into thin air. Whatever. Same with Yoda. Bring them back as ghosts occasionally, but get them out of the action.

The Star Wars prequels became about the ensemble. While it should have been about Anakin, Obi-Won, and Padme, it wasn’t. Mace Windu, Yoda, and a freaking astromech droid were just as important. They got a ton of action independent of the main characters.

A Larger Trend

I haven’t done any serious math here, but this appears to be a larger trend, especially in light of the success of comic book movies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It allows screenwriters to tell a different set of good stories. It’s also no longer “progressive” to just stick a minority on screen, make her a secretary, tell everyone she’s good at math, and rarely let her speak words other than, “I’m frightened.” I can understand a need to continue our social evolution, but it has its drawbacks with respect to the development of characters with whom the audience can relate. If we had the Avengers but didn’t have the benefit of two Iron Man movies, a Captain America movie, a Thor movie, and two Hulk movies, you wouldn’t care as much for those characters as you did (unless you had decades of development through reading their comics, which I do not have).

And this is why Picard will never have shit on original Kirk. Get over it and get off my lawn, you rotten kids.

Of course, Zap’s better than both of those sissies put together.

P.S. Opening day for Star Trek into Darkness is my birthday. Great gift, though it would be better if Cumberbatch were playing Sybok.

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