How AVENGERS ENDGAME Changes The MCU Forever

This contains spoilers for Avengers Endgame.

There is a delicate, unspoken balance that must exist in a superhero universe. For a superhero story to work, the world in which the superheroes live must resemble our own – with the exception that it has superheroes. The impacts of superheroes can be explored… to a point, after which the whole house of cards tumbles down.

The balance is precarious. Go too far in one direction and you find the audience asking why Tony Stark doesn’t solve the energy crisis or global warming, or why Shuri and the Wakandans don’t cure cancer. Yes, characters can go into space, but we can’t have a colony on the Moon. Go too far and the science fictional world of superheroes – a world one day in the future – becomes a world that is gradually unrecognizable, that is fully futuristic science fiction.

Avengers Endgame creates just such a world, and beyond simply ignoring it I don’t know how future films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will deal with it.

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AVENGERS ENDGAME: More Event Than Movie

This contains spoilers for Avengers Endgame.

When is a movie not movie? This isn’t some kind of riddle, but rather an attempt to figure out how to approach a film like Avengers Endgame, which feels not quite like a motion picture as we define them and more like an event. It’s an experience first and foremost, a movie second… and I wonder how much that matters. How much does it matter that the ending works more as fan service than as logic? How much does it matter that the movie completely betrays Steve Rogers’ character to get to a teary-eyed smile at the end?

Thinking about Endgame I find myself thinking about It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad World, the epic blockbuster comedy from Stanley Kramer. It’s stuffed to the gills with superstars, and it was originally bladder-shatteringly long (197 minutes! A comedy!). In terms of things like ‘plot’ and ‘structure’ it isn’t strong, but it makes up for all of that with the charm of Milton Berle and Buddy Hackett and Ethel Merman and Phil Silver. It features a stunning parade of cameos, including Jack Benny, ZaSu Pitts and Buster Keaton It’s not nuanced or subtle, and it’s hugeness and broadness is part of the point; it’s a big screen comedy released at a time when the movies were feeling TV nipping at their heels. 

It’s all really familiar. 

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CAPTAIN MARVEL Never Quite Takes Off

At some point in Captain Marvel it dawned on me: this movie is set in the 90s. Maybe it was when Carol Danvers stood in front of a wall plastered with posters for Smashing Pumpkins, Bush and PJ Harvey. Maybe it was when she wore a Nine Inch Nails shirt and Nick Fury told her the grunge look was good on her. Maybe it was when every song that played in the movie was a well-worn 90s track. Maybe it was when everybody sat around comically waiting for a CD-ROM to load. Maybe it was when Carol looked up info on Alta Vista. Maybe it was when the movie had a close-up of a record player playing Nevermind.

The movie’s brutal reliance on 90s references could be just an irritating tic, but I think it actually gets at the fundamental problem that lies under the surface of Captain Marvel – this is a movie more constructed than crafted, and those needle drops feel like part of the construction, a knowing attempt to get in on the ‘90s kid’ generation and their desire to have their own childhood chewed up and spit back into their faces. Big parts of this movie feel inorganic and airdropped in, and those big parts are especially frustrating because Captain Marvel is peppered with small moments of absolutely organic beauty and charm.

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An Era Ends: GAME OF THRONES and The MCU As The Last Giants

Entertainment history is going to look back at this time period as an era defined by longform serialized storytelling, with instalment-based stories conquering just about every narrative medium. Eventually this will end, not because serialized longform storytelling is bad but because all things fade away and change. Charles Dickens was telling stories in an environment like this one, just before the novel conquered all. And yet now the chapter has conquered the novel.

And yet when we look back at this period it’s going to be clear that there were two true standouts, two works that loom over all the others. Entertainment historians will argue about whether or not this period began with The Sopranos or with the interconnected nature of comic books, or with the endless storylines of soap operas, but I believe there will be a moment where it all peaked and that will be obvious. The two longform stories that dominate all others, and that define this very era, are Game of Thrones and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and neither will be replicable. Enjoy this moment while it lasts, because we’re at the summit.

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ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: Come On, Get Happy

We used to have record albums (the old man yelled at the cloud). LPs, they were called, for long play. When bands made LPs they did something called sequencing, which was putting their songs in a specific order intended to bring the listener for a journey. You weren’t supposed to skip around the LP, and there was no way to shuffle the songs, so you would drop the needle at the beginning and listen through until the end. It feels archaic today, the idea of sitting down and listening to an album in full (and getting up to flip it over in the middle!), so archaic that it has become retrohip, and even Hot Topic sells vinyl LPs. But I think that with the heyday of the LP and the heyday of albums behind us, we have also lost the heyday of sequencing.

Good sequencing would build over the course of an album side, getting up to a crescendo of intensity and pace, and then perhaps pulling it back for a sonic palate cleanser. Think about Rubber Soul, by The Beatles (UK version) – side one ends with Michelle, with its French cabaret feel, and side two opens with a blast of zany country as Ringo sings What Goes On. That creates the space needed for the band to go in a totally different direction with Girl, which has a Greek folk sound. By putting the Ringo country song in between these two European love songs The Beatles create an experience for us that transcends the individual songs.

In 2018 Marvel Studios has accomplished a major feat of cinematic sequencing. Opening the year with Black Panther they got us revved up, excited, triumphant. Then came Avengers: Infinity War, which ends on one of the all-time down notes (for post-Beneath the Planet of the Apes blockbusters, anyway). But that isn’t the finale – the album isn’t over – and so they’ve wisely programmed Ant-Man and the Wasp right afterwards, giving us a small breather, a little bit of space before leaping back into the fray next year.

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It’s Time To Stop Complaining About The Marvel Movies

Ten years. That should be long enough, right? Ten years should be long enough for everybody working in the world of film criticism (and those hopefuls filling Film Twitter with their hottest of takes) to get used to what Marvel Studios is doing with their Cinematic Universe, right? I mean, there are critics out there whose careers began well after Marvel started laying the groundwork for its universe, so it isn’t like they’re having to adjust to this stuff.

Fan Twitter got upset with Richard Brody’s dismissive New Yorker review of Infinity War (weirdly the review reads like he really liked the movie but doesn’t know how to cop to that fact). As always on Twitter people overreacted, but I think Brody’s review offers a good look at just how hollow the “these movies are ads for other movies” attitude is.

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AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR Heavy Spoiler Review

This contains complete spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War, and begins spoiling right from the first sentence.

There will likely be more from me about this movie in the days ahead, but I think that the structure and the form of the film make it hard to write about properly before the sequel is released.

This is your last chance to turn around.

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER Rereview

We’re 18 movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with another two to come this year. We’re 123 superhero films deep, according to BoxOfficeMojo (but they don’t have Abar, The First Black Superman on their list, so who knows how many other holes there are. But 123 sounds fine for the purposes of this rereview). And not one of those 18 MCU movies, and not one of those 123 superhero movies have a moment of pure, beautiful, inspiring, chest-tightening, hope-raising heroism as good as the one featured in Captain America: The First Avenger.

And get this: the moment happens before Steve Rogers even turns into Captain America.

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THOR Rereview

“How quaint.”

This is the thought that kept going through my head while revisiting Thor on this runup to Infinity War. Back in 2011 I hated this movie, thought it was just simply the worst of the worst and a huge, boring misstep for Marvel Studios. Today I look at it and see that it’s a movie developed in a world where comic book movies hadn’t yet entered their modern age, and the film has echoes of a landscape where David Hasselhoff played Nick Fury and where superheroes and their enemies usually had their final battle in a warehouse, or on docks, or on a bridge. Marvel knew how to make more grounded characters like Iron Man or more familiar characters like the Hulk work, but Asgardian gods? Space cities? Magic and high weirdness? They weren’t quite ready to commit just yet. Looking back from the post-Thor: Ragnarok vantage point how can we say anything but “How quaint”?

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