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Tag Archives: Marvel
Not every main character has to be likable, or stay likable for that matter. Plenty of great works in all genres and mediums feature less-than-admirable individuals at their center. But even if the audience doesn’t like the protagonist, he or she still needs to be someone the viewer wants to spend time with. Especially in the early going, your lead has to be someone the audience wants to get to know better, that they want to see face whatever obstacles are in the offing, whether we’re rooting for them to leap over those obstacles or stumble.
That’s Iron Fist’s biggest problem out of the gate. Main character Danny Rand doesn’t do anything so terrible in the show’s first episode. His knocking out security guards and breaking into someone’s home (which, in fairness, used to be his home) is questionable, but fairly par for the course when it comes to superhero stories, especially those involving long-missing orphans (of which there are a surprising number). But after an hour with him — in an episode that runs 56 minutes and would have been better with half that — there’s no good reason to want to hang out with Danny for another twelve.
CAUTION: This article contains major spoilers for Doctor Strange.
There’s a recurring set of complaints about the “samey-ness” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The argument comes in several forms. One common strain posits that every Marvel movie simply follows a predetermined formula, involving some McGuffin (lately, an infinity stone), an undercooked villain, and an inevitable third act action sequence that sets everything right. Another contends that the MCU films lack distinct authorial voices and break down to a house-mandated style. And one recurring grouse, even among fans, focuses on the way Marvel Studios films are shot and lit and even color-corrected.
There’s a grain of truth to each of these critiques, but as I discussed with Robbie Dorman on the Serial Fanatacist Podcast, I find them all largely unavailing. For one thing, even the studio’s first set of films, released prior to the game-changing Avengers team up (Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger) have vastly different vibes and tell markedly different types of stories. From a Shakespearean-influenced high fantasy romp, to a 1940s throwback adventure, to a military-heavy fugitive narrative, to a more traditional hero’s origin story, the Marvel movies have come in different flavors from the very beginning.
What’s more, while there are common themes of redemption and certain recurring motifs common to many superhero films in the MCU, there’s also a focus on character that has served to distinguish Marvel’s films from one another independently of the antagonists or plot obstacles in a given film. As others have pointed out, Marvel Studios has found great success by focusing on the development of its heroes (and those close to them) making their personal journeys the driving force behind these films, rather than the newest set of villains or big plot development that have driven other franchises. And, over the course of fourteen movies, plenty of entries in the MCU series of films have subverted the tropes that the series’s critics accuse it of slavishly adhering to.
Doctor Strange acts as both a confirmation and a rebuke to these arguments. It features some of the MCU’s most dazzling visuals and breaks with some of the franchise’s biggest conventions. And yet, at the same time, it feels like a recapitulation of many of the same types of stories and beats that other Marvel Studios films have employed in the past.
What is it, to be a cheesy voiceover montage in the last moments of a season finale? Do you have to try to sum up an entire season’s worth of themes using vague doublespeak and an army of cliches? Will you narrate over clips of our heroes looking vaguely sad or frustrated in the vain hope of wringing some pathos out of this big hunk of corn pone? Must you include strange or cryptic teases for future seasons or series? Or can you just speak in platitudes about heroism and strength and hope that somewhere in that stew of hokum you stumble onto some mild profundity?
Before Anthony and Joe Russo were directing superhero movies, they worked on a little show called Community about a group of misfits at a community college. The series, oddly enough, had a surprising amount in common with The Avengers. Both were about seven people from different backgrounds who bounced off one another in interesting ways, carried their own unique psychological baggage, and who would still, now and then, come together and do amazing things.
One of the most remarkable things about Community was its mastery of tone. The series was pitched as a comedy, and true to that billing, it was a funny, creative, and occasionally off-the-wall show. And yet it could just as easily shift into something quiet and personal, something unremittingly dark, or even something difficult and complex that lacked the sorts of easy answers seemingly required of all network sitcoms. The Russo brothers brought the same incredible ability to mesh different tones and characters to Captain America: Civil War and translated it onto a much bigger stage without missing a beat.
Because Civil War is hilarious, action-packed, and all kinds of fun. It’s has tons of inventive sequences and fights big and small that are filled with humor and imagination. But at the same time, Civil War is, in its own way, a very dark film about fear, regret, anger, a deep divide and a personal loss. It touches on big ideas like moral responsibility, individual guilt for broader actions, and the dangers of power without boundaries. The film, however, grounds these ideas in its well-developed characters, intimate individual moments, and personal relationships. It’s a smorgasbord of different scenes and settings and moods that can make you laugh, gasp, and feel the tragedy of a given moment, without letting these varying tones clash. And that is one hell of an achievement.
Ahead of the release of Captain America: Civil War, Andrew Bloom and Allison Shoemaker rank every Marvel Cinematic Universe hero and villain–both in film and on T.V.–and decide who would win in a hypothetical fight between each good guy and bad guy.
Deadpool is at its best when it’s making fun of superhero movies. The film feels like a deliberate counter-reaction to the seriousness and prominence of comic book films in pop culture, and in that regard, it’s a wild success. When it fills the opening credits with descriptions of its actors rather than their actual names (e.g. “Moody Teen”, “British Villain”, etc.), features knowing winks to its star’s prior, emerald-tinged efforts as a cape, and plays “Angel of the Morning” behind its freeze-framed mayhem, it’s a statement of purpose, an indication from the very beginning that this is not going to be your average superhero flick and the movie is very much in on the joke.
At the same time, Deadpool is at its weakest when it capitulates to the sober, formulaic demands of its genre, when it hits the expected beats of your typical good guy origin story—a tragic past, a dull antagonist, and a lost love–even as it vociferously proclaims that its “hero” is anything but a good guy. The film does its best to throw in a comedic riff on these moments. Deadpool himself, a.k.a. Wade Wilson, has plenty of playful quips for the movie’s villain, Ajax (Ed Skrein), even as his rival slogs through the usual, perfunctory threat and intimidation routine. And Wilson’s ribald remarks permeate the sad-sack backstory and star-crossed romance that might otherwise hurt the film’s humorous tone.
To this end, the film makes a firm attempt to take some of the edge off of some of its more standard-issue elements—generic baddie Ajax and his wooden henchwoman Angel Dust (Gina Carano) chief among them. But at its core, Deadpool can’t completely run away from the typical superhero movie tropes it ends up employing, even as it’s trying to make fun of them. That drags down the proceedings in the moments where the otherwise off-the-wall film tries to be a little more solemn or conventional.
The concept of a backstory episode is something of a cliche. Take one of two characters; cut in some scenes from the past that inform scenes set in the present, and show the contrast between who a person is now who they were along the way to becoming that person. It’s a fairly standard exercise, especially in genre television. But it’s a recurring trope because it’s effective.
To the point, it’s nice to know where Peggy Carter comes from. Hers was definitely the better of the two parallel stories told in “Smoke and Mirrors”, where the show contrasted the ways in which Whitney Frost tried to be something different and was taught to be something more traditional, and the ways in which Peggy Carter tried to be something traditional and was taught to be–true to her nature–something different.
People change — some because they want to, some because they have to, and some because of factors beyond their control. It’s a fact of life. But people also have relationships with friends, family, and those closest to them. And as a person changes, so too must those relationships. But navigating how those relationships should evolve in the face of those changes can be extremely difficult, and the more drastic the change the harder it is to figure out. That’s the struggle for Melinda May in “Chaos Theory”.
But it’s also what makes her story, and her relationship with Dr. Andrew Garner compelling here. In Season 2′s “Melinda”, the show implied that May herself was so changed by her experiences in Bahrain that it led to the dissolution of her marriage. She was shaken by the events she witnessed, and these experiences made her a different person, putting a strain on her relationship with Dr. Garner.
Then, as this episode’s flashbacks to Hawaii show, May was finally able to move beyond her past and once again find common ground with the man she loves. The last scene in the episode puts too fine a point on it, but when Andrew takes her picture as she gazes off into the horizon, the implication is that May has finally made some kind of peace with who she is and who she wants to be. Then, right after May finds her equilibrium with the man she loves, he’s forced through his own change, by forces neither of them has any control of. And in “Chaos Theory” those nascent changes drive a new wedge between them. It’s tragic, and it’s not hard to understand why May feels like happiness is something meant to elude her.