Tag Archives: MCU

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a completely full drive-in parking lot. Whether this is a factor of Covid, or the new Doctor Strange movie only having been out for a week, or both, or some other X-factor… Regardless, I’ve seen a lot of movies at drive-ins relative to my age[1], and some have been crowded, but never packed like this. Man that is a lot of people flashing a lot of headlights, individually, at various moments. But I guess not much more distracting that people getting up to pee or food deliveries or whatever.

I have no segue here, I just like to talk about the drive-in.

See, there’s this teen in need of help, and she occasionally runs into Doctor Strange, who while not the Sorcerer Supreme these days is nonetheless still in charge of the New York chapter house or whatever wizards call their sanctums, and he decides to help her, since that’s what you do in these movies. Then he finds himself traveling the multiverse and fighting demons and the Illuminati and a big bad and pretty much, well, everyone. Turns out the multiverse just isn’t a fan of this guy.

Was it good? It took until the final act for me to say to myself, my, this certainly is a Sam Raimi movie, isn’t it? Unlike I’m sure a lot of people, I did not say this with a heavy heart. Basically, this is a family drama and a second family drama mashed up together, and then turned into a fantasy horror movie, and I completely understand why that is not for everyone, but I kind of dig it, you know?

In retrospect, this may have been the most drive-in friendly movie Kevin Feige has ever signed off on.

What I did not like is how heavily dependent the movie is on watching all of the TV shows Marvel has been pushing out lately. Like, I’ve seen and remember Wandavision, but I feel like you shouldn’t have to? Which is a weird take for a guy reading 100% of Marvel[2], I know, but… you shouldn’t. Needing to watch dozens of movies to keep up is enough to ask. Wanda’s character arc barely makes sense with the TV show for backstory, though, so I’mma call foul there.

[1] Or at least I think I have? Maybe I’m fooling myself.
[2] Close enough, anyway

Spider-Man: No Way Home

I would be remiss if I did not first point out that in addition to being otherwise fun and sans commercials, the Alamo Drafthouse pre-show is especially useful for movies that require recaps[1], because they can tell you everything you need to know and with mostly a bare minimum of spoilers involved. Although, because reasons, the No Way Home pre-show had more spoilers by implication than most. Since previews for these are to some extent unavoidable, it had no spoilers that I didn’t already know about, but if you avoid better than me, this is harder to recommend. (Also, you may not have a local Alamo. For this, I can only offer my sincerest condolences.)

All of that to say, there’s a third Tom Holland Spider-Man movie. The last one, you might remember, ended on the second biggest bombshell in MCU history: Spider-Man is both accused (with documentary evidence!) of murder, and has been publicly identified as Peter Parker. Where do you really go from there? Well, if you’re a prospective high school senior trying to get into MIT, and you also know a wizard, you try to magic your way out of it. I mean hell, probably if you know a wizard, you do that whether the other things are true or not, right?

None of that is important, nor per se is the plot, although I enjoyed the plot a great deal and it retroactively made other movies I’ve seen before (but will not link to at this time) better than they were. What is important is that this is the best version of Spider-Man, the one who sees his great responsibility not as simply using his great powers to fight and stop bad guys, but as using his powers to help people. And sure, that involves fighting and stopping bad guys, frequently, especially when you live in a comic book world, but it’s not the most important way to do it. It’s barely an important way at all, to be honest.

I know everyone talks about whether Pete will be the next Iron Man, but… nah. As far as his heart and soul, he’s the next kid from Brooklyn Queens who is just here to step up because someone has to, sometimes. No offense to Sam Wilson.

[1] such as, say, anything put out by Marvel Studios these days

Eternals

Retroactive continuity is a tool honed to perfection in two art forms[1]: soap operas and superhero comic books. These forms share a lot else in common. They are a) both extremely long-form storytelling where b) the people writing today do not have a plan past the next ten or twelve episodes at the most, c) they both have cliques of characters that mostly hang out together but occasionally cross over with other cliques, and even more rarely all come together for some kind of huge event, and they both d) have dedicated, opinionated fanbases who have stuck around for decades but e) are written so that someone can drop in at practically any moment and be able to catch up.

A “retcon” is when a writer comes up with a story idea that does not match the established continuity of the previous stories, continuity that may be established over years or even decades, but then decides that the story idea is good enough to run with anyway, and comes up with a way to mesh their idea into the long-term continuity retroactively, so that this new continuity was always true, it’s just that the audience and often the characters weren’t aware of it.

Which brings me to Eternals, the (if I counted right) 26th movie released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (It is important to now note that this review will contain, and in fact for the eagle-eyed reader perhaps already does contain, mild spoilers. It’s not too late to stop. But it nearly is.) A movie which, early in the first act, reveals that for over 7000 years a group of cosmically-powered people called Eternals, at the behest of a group we’ve heard of before called Celestials (aka space gods like you might have seen out in space, at Knowhere or (possibly but probably not) Ego for example), were sent from the planet Olympia[2] to Earth to defend a barely established mankind from creepy mostly-made-of-tendrils monsters called Deviants, and that those Eternals have been here ever since. Yep, even then.

While that is not the only apparent retcon in the movie[3], it is the least spoilery one, and therefore I am at the end of my review, leaving only two details to add. First, the capsule plot of the movie is that, oops, the Deviants are back, so now the Eternals have to come out of the shadows they’ve been hiding in for at least the past fifteen years and who knows how much longer, to do their jobs once more. Second, to the extent that I am familiar with these characters, which is about half of them: yep, this was written by someone who understood the fundamental natures of the characters, and in particular the portrayal of Ikaris gives me hope that Mr. Fantastic will be done right someday.

[1] and almost certainly badly misused anywhere else. Not guaranteed to be, but it’s the safe way to bet.
[2] I think this is a little funny, but it’s hard to explain why.
[3] I have some opinions here.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I’m not here for the idea of making links to a bunch of previous movies, but some quick and uncertain mental math tells me that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings relies on four previous and mostly unconnected MCU movies[1] to explain its backstory. (Six if you care about the Blip.) None of these movies include Shang-Chi in a credited role, or even acknowledge his existence. And I mean… I’ve read within a small rounding error of 100% of 25 years’ worth of Marvel comics, so I’m obviously here for it, but that is noticeable weight of continuity to labor under, you know?

Anyway, the plot is the plot and yes I want to see it again, but nobody is interested in an MCU spoiler review, not even two weeks late like this one basically is. But between a pre-verbal child and Covid, it’s harder to get to the theater on time than it used to be, you know?

What I am interested in is the things that were cribbed from the comics, with which I have a more than passing familiarity[2]. Master of Kung Fu (as a comic) focused on two things. First, both in importance and chronology, a generation-later retelling of the old Fu Manchu stories with a lot of those characters still in play. Fu Manchu is as yellow-perily as ever, and the British spies who oppose him are likewise as clichedly British. Only, now he (Fu) has a daughter set up as his heir apparent[3], and a finely-honed, kung fu assassin trained son who has turned against him for being, y’know, evil and whatnot. And second, once the comic wasn’t all Fu all the time, it also focused on being a British spy agency story in which Shang-Chi traveled the world with James Bond’s nephew[4] doing superhero-adjacent spy stuff and living out a spy-girlfriend relationship with a Fleetwood Mac soundtrack.

The movie only focuses on the first of those, except obviously not using Fu Manchu and instead pulling in the so-called Mandarin and his ten rings, by way of the terrorist organization we’ve seen before, all the way back in the very first MCU movie. But then it also pulls in a lot of Iron Fist’s mythology, what with an extra-dimensional kung fu city that you can only get to every so many time intervals, unless you know secret ways; and also, their kung fu is magical wuxia kung fu. Sad to be the guy who played Danny Rand in the Netflix show, but zero percent sad to see the expert martial artist not be some random white dude.

My point, if indeed I had one, is that if you were going to cram a mildly problematic Iron Man villain named the Mandarin together with Marvel’s two martial arts characters, this is pretty much the best way to have done so. And furthermore, if you weren’t going to cram those together into one story but instead spread them out among three, well, probably you should cram them together instead.

[1] And a “Marvel One-Shot” that I’d seen before as a Blu-ray extra, which was released on Disney+ two weeks before Shang-Chi’s release date, to minimal fanfare.
[2] While that is a verified fresh statement, I honestly didn’t remember most of these things until the end of the movie. I spent like 2 hours saying to myself “I don’t remember Shang-Chi having a sister,” for example, until suddenly I was all “oh yeah” instead.
[3] Not that he intends to ever do anything so gauche or pedestrian as dying, but still: contingencies.
[4] Among others, but the more important point is that I’m serious about that.

Black Widow (2021)

I have only a handful of thoughts about Black Widow, I think because it’s been in a holding pattern for so very long. I know practically nothing about the next several movies, and I’ve known practically nothing about the onslaught of Marvel TV shows, but this one: it’s just been hovering in the atmosphere, out of sight but you knew it was there. It’s had to be there, somewhere, for just years now.

As imdb sparsely has it: “A film about Natasha Romanoff in her quests between the films Civil War and Infinity War.” And it is definitely that. It’s the best kind of retcon, where you can look at it from every angle, and it just fits.[1] It has a well-realized version of a villain that I would not have expected to work, it has a solid dynamic between every character, and it has… well, okay, the plot was fine, at best.

The thing is, the movie is not about its plot, and is instead about its characters. It’s a love letter to the Black Widow, in the midst of a film about what family means. There simply haven’t been many quiet, homey movies in this series, and maybe there should have been? I like about the comics that you always eventually get to see the characters on their days off, and this was like that, even though there were like two huge set piece fights and several more small set piece fights.

Not that you asked, but I also think I’ve talked myself into liking this better as a retcon than maybe I would have had it come out in sequence between other movies as indicated by its place in the timeline. It just works better retrospectively, I think?

And finally, in response to a lot of talk I’ve seen along the lines of “too little too late”: a) I will definitely not argue about too little. I think that Winter Soldier was always halfway about Natasha, and while I won’t defend her taking this long to get a movie, I do think her character got solid development over the course of this long series of movies. (Way more than, say, her non-powered counterpart Hawkeye.) But intent matters, and visibility matters, and she never got much. b) I will 100 percent argue about too late, though. In addition to my thoughts above that this maybe plays better here as a retcon in the first place, I also solidly reject the idea that it can be too late to care about something, or to do the right thing.

Very very lastly: IMAX is still pretty cool. People buying tickets adjacent to ours, however, is wildly uncomfortable. I think I’ll have to find emptier theaters or stricter policies, now that I’ve experienced that misery.

[1] Well. The coda that was designed solely as “and then she re-entered previously established canon” was about as forced as I made it sound just now. But otherwise!

 

Spider-Man: Far from Home

I saw the new Spider-Man movie over two weeks ago. You may consider primal scream therapy to be occurring during the paragraph break, because, seriously. I am consistently too busy when at work and too mentally drained when not at work to do almost anything thinky, and yet the further from the movie I get and the more other reactions I see, the harder the thinking part of a review becomes. It’s awesome[1].

So here’s the thing about Peter Parker. My formative experiences with the character (as opposed to Spider-Man, who was a sufficiently popular Marvel character that I was always baseline culturally aware of him) were in the Ultimate Series, where he was the glue that held everything together. Naturally, therefore, a movie that is positioning him for the same role in the MCU, as a result of massive spoilers from Endgame, is going to be my bread and butter.

Things that remain to be said:

  1. Far from Home is a title with very little nuance that I can detect. It’s straight up, Peter goes on a class trip to Europe, where some things that he was hoping to avoid if he wanted to keep his identity a secret occur. It feels like it should have been deeper than that?
  2. This movie does not explore the social and cultural ramifications of another massive spoiler from Endgame. It handwavily acknowledges them, and then ignores them. Which is good! That could be a very dark movie, and if I want to watch grim comics[2], that’s what DC is mostly doing.
  3. What the movie does instead is team up Spider-Man and Nick Fury and a new guy (unless you’ve heard of him elsewhere) against giant elemental creatures who want to devour the world and then move on to other dimensions, just like they did before now. Which is kind of big for a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but least he has the best AI acronym that has ever happened (E.D.I.T.H., and if you have somehow not seen this movie and can figure out the acronym, I’ll buy you a beer) to help him along the way.

It was good. It almost had me tricked on one plot point, which was impressive (but I cannot explain how of course). Another plot point was handled pretty clumsily, to the point where I’m not sure what they were going for, and the most obvious explanation equals truly bad writing. But my point is not that it was great, even by MCU standards. It was good, and it was consistently fun, and that’s the right tone of movie to follow the end of their ten year grand experiment.

[1] On the (haha) bright side, I have managed to spread a Fables graphic novel out over this whole period, and am zero books behind. ….but seriously, send help. This is a nightmare.
[2] But man would I watch a grim Marvel TV show about it. Which is what I thought Agents of SHIELD would do, but no, they had to go and prove complete divergence from the movies instead. Which is dumb and bad and wrong, and the writers are dumb and bad and wrong (or Kevin Feige is for forcing it on them), and grr, argh.

Avengers: Endgame

I went to see the fourth Avengers movie on Friday afternoon, right after work and thusly before it was feasible that my on-call duties this weekend would interfere. (As it turns out, it has been non-stop smooth sailing, but I had no way to guess that then.) Obviously I can’t talk about the movie, because, well, you know.

So, the tickets I wanted to buy were sold out before I knew they were on sale. Not literally sold out, but the useful seats were, I mean. So I’ll have to go a second time[1] to see the Alamo’s version. None of this is the point. The point is: after I couldn’t get the tickets I wanted, I sat around for a few weeks waiting for the problem to solve itself, and then ended up not being able to get out of my on-call this weekend as previously referenced. The first time I knew for sure what show I would be able to make was Friday earlier in the afternoon. BUT: there’s this theater a few miles away attached to a mall, only the mall has been closed for years and is in the process of being torn down. Nobody goes to this theater.

So, I was able to get tolerable seats about two hours in advance, and went to a 5:30 show. When we got to the parking lot, it was… well, it’s not a huge lot, most everything beyond the theater’s entrance to the mall is fenced off. Also, what lot there is has not been well taken care of. The upshot of all this is that there are a limited number of spaces, yes, but there are a much more limited number of spaces that have been repainted anytime since the mall died. The upshot of that is that all of the good spaces were already taken, at only 5pm, and man can people not park straight without lines. Some lanes got gradually narrower, eventually dwindling into nothing; some lanes were only a little crooked off into the distance but with one random car blocking half the lane for no good reason. It was a mess and a madhouse. At 5 in the afternoon on a Friday at a mostly dead theater.

Someone not me said that this is plausibly a once-in-a-lifetime (or maybe even a once-in-an-ever) event, where the 22nd film over the course of 11 years tells one complete story. From my anecdotal evidence above, there are a lot of people who know that, even if they don’t have the same words for how weird and rare and wonderful this is.

The big question, then, is will these people be satisfied? Man, I don’t know. I started to say more, but then I realized that it would be by my considerations hugely spoilerish, so I will drop a follow-up comment below the review. Which I haven’t actually done yet; this is just a story about the time I went to see Avengers: Endgame.

And now: my review.

They stuck the landing.

[1] don’t throw me in that briar patch

Captain Marvel

I’ve tried to stay away from reviews of Captain Marvel, much as I try to stay away from reviews of most movies before I see them, but a little moreso this time. There’s too much going on for me to not want my opinion to be unadulterated, and especially since I didn’t see it for nearly a week. That said, I saw a couple reviews, and sure enough, this will be somewhat in response to those.

The first review was effusively positive, putting this near or in the top tier of Marvel movies over the past 11 years. I do not find that I agree with this, from a structural perspective. The origin story was approximately by the numbers, and the fish out of water elements that would have made it unique were blunted by a ’90s greatest hits soundtrack that pulled me out of the story every ten minutes[1]. There were twists, some predictable and some not, there were cool fight scenes, there were cool character beats. I absolutely liked it, but on the whole, it was merely fine.

Except. That’s not perfectly true, because context does matter, and boy does this movie ever have context. It’s the first Marvel movie (and nearly the first superhero movie; I can only think of one recent example[2]) with a female character in the lead. The other review I saw was mostly[3] talking about Brie Larson’s flat affect and not very sexy outfit. I cannot decide whether it’s sadder that the affect comment is factually incorrect, in that she laughed and smiled and got sad and angry pretty regularly, or that this was complained about in a published review even though the script lampshaded a “you’d be pretty if you smiled more” scene, right at the beginning of the second act.

My point is this. Captain Marvel is a great movie and a great Marvel movie, not because of the plot or the acting or the effects, but because Carol Danvers is unapologetically powerful and (this is separate, trust me) unapologetically strong.That shouldn’t be enough to elevate a movie from fine to great, but until the proposition stops being a controversial one, it will be.

[1] It’s not even that I dislike ’90s music. It’s good! But it was presented as “look how ’90s this music is! Because we’re in the ’90s and this is a prequel. Set in the ’90s. Get it?!”
[2] Hmmm. There’s also Tank Girl and arguably Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It depends on how narrowly you proscribe the genre, I suppose. This is where years of Marvel comics reading is making me accidentally snobby, it seems.
[3] To be fair, which I’m somewhat disinclined to do, it may not have been mostly. It’s possible I got fed up and quit reading instead.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

If I think about Ant-Man and the Wasp outside the context of the comics in general and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in particular, it is an anodyne, albeit fun, heist movie sequel, which I have no idea if I would have bothered to watch. But there’s something to be said for a summer popcorn chase movie, and even if there weren’t, I do not think about these things outside their context very often. (Also, most heist / chase movies are not able to use a building[1] as the constantly stolen and restolen object, so that’s pretty cool. Thanks, Pym Particles!)

As a Marvel movie, it’s, yknow, also an anodyne heist movie. Better than Ant-Man, both in how it treated its heroes and its villains[2]. Solidly middle of the pack as a Marvel movie overall, and considering that I like these pretty well as a collective, middle of the pack is good news for me!

Also? Best blanket fort of all time. Including the one in Community.

[1] I’ve just realized that the internal physics of this pair of movies are irretrievably broken.
[2] While I’m not exactly classifying Hank Pym as a villain here, I do appreciate how his jerkish, just barely this side of bad guy, behavior actually ends up having consequences. (Though I could wish fewer of them were to his shrunk out of existence wife.)

Avengers: Infinity War

Man, I screwed the pooch. It’s been what, two weeks since I saw Infinity War? In the meantime, it has been discussed to death, both with and without spoilers. Which is sad because it means probably that I can say nothing new, and anyway the only novel thing I had to say in the first place is kind of a spoiler.

But, here we go nonetheless, since I pathologically can’t just not review the things, I can only feel guilty about not reviewing them.

They have been calling this new Avengers movie the most ambitious crossover in history, ten years and eighteen movies deep. That’s not entirely right, because the first few movies leading up to the first Avengers did not foretell this. Not really. But as far as ambition goes, I cannot disagree. For the number of characters involved, none of them was ignored or given short shrift. (Not wholly true, as some characters were literally ignored by not being in the movie, but if they were in the movie, I mean.)  And the pacing was great. In a world of modern action cinema where scenes cut every minute or two, this was divided into 10+ minute chapters focusing on the characters involved from start to resolution of a scenario (or at worst, start to nadir, with the next scene fully exploring resolution). It’s hard to remember that movies[1] used to work this way, instead of snippets of individual strands that only weave together at climax.

So, A++ for ambition and execution. I also liked the plot and most of the character beats, although I understand why some people did not. Basically, my point is: if you have invested in eighteen movies and a handful of optional TV series leading toward this movie, you should check it out. They stuck the landing.

Spoiler-esque observation as first comment.

[1] Again, action / genre movies. I understand that your snows falling on your cedars always kept to that path.