Tag Archives: superheroes

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.

The Suicide Squad

I remember liking Suicide Squad better than most people did, even if mostly by comparison to other DC movies on offer in the same continuity. And my just glanced-over review bears that memory out.

The Suicide Squad is kind of an oddly named sequel? It’s maybe slightly closer to reboot than sequel even though there is character continuity and it’s clearly still part of the DC Cinematic Universe. Basically, it feels like James Gunn came along while he was briefly persona non grata with Disney[1] and said hey, DC, you know what would make this movie better? Leaning into the comedy part and out of the grimdark part. And they listened!

There are a few things he did especially right. First: it is over the top. The plot is over the top, the violence is over the top, the character are all aware of these facts and embrace their ridiculous, hyper-violent, insane world for what it is. Second: it is funny. This is another thing the characters embrace. I don’t know how to explain exactly what I mean. It’s not like they’re trying to outfunny each other. But there’s an absurdity to everything that’s going on, and they lean into it instead of staying aloof from it[3]. Third: would be a giant spoiler to actually say, but trust me. Gunn understands the world in which he is operating, and I do not mean DC at large, I mean this series in particular, of which I hope to see more.

This is the new best DC movie, and their trendline has been so solid that I legitimately want to see whatever they make next. …I mean, as long as it’s not another Superman.

[1] For historical purposes: he got “canceled[2]” by right wing people who were tired of seeing their heroes be “canceled” for things they were doing in real time, so they dug up things Gunn had done years earlier, and Disney briefly listened to this and took it as the same kind of thing, instead of noticing that he had learned from the past and was no longer doing those sorts of things. Later, they got over it and there will be a third Guardians of the Galaxy movie after all. Still, I cannot hate the outcome of his personal digression.
[2] For additional historical purposes: canceled is when you did something wrong, and people called you out on it, and consequences ensued. Prior to a few years ago, the people calling you out part rarely happened, and consequences ensuing happened so rarely as to be basically never.
[3] Well, except for Amanda Waller as the orchestrator of the squad and its varied missions, who takes everything and herself just as seriously as she did last time. But even this is an important aspect of the story being told.

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!

 

Powers: Gods

This is the last book in the Powers series!

Okay, it actually isn’t, but at the same time, if you’re going to figure out a way to wrap up the apparently third run of your series before rebranding it as something slightly different, and your series started out as “What if cops had to investigate when superheroes get murdered, and also what if one of those cops used to be a superhero but lost his powers?”, then it stands to reason that you have to end bigger.

Bigger, in this case, is solving the murder of a god, Damocles. Which… okay, it felt a little cheap, and here’s why. If you’re going to have had Greek (in this case) gods hanging out throughout the history of the series, there in the background all along, then you can’t wait to mention it until one of them is going to be your plot device. You especially cannot have your commentary track TV show that everyone (or possibly no one) watches, Powers That Be, talk about said gods and whether people believe in them as gods or as fancier heroes or not at all, like it’s a whole big theological issue, and also never have mentioned them in the previous thirteen volumes of your ongoing series. It’s a problem!

BUT: if you can ignore all that, which I was able to do until the composition of this missive you see before you, they act as a good plot device to reveal a lot of closely held character secrets and catapult the series into its next phase, which I will no doubt discuss next time, whenever that may be.

Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

So, I did it! I got the Alamo Season Pass thingy, which this is not a commercial for, but one free movie a day is kind of great? I have to go twice a month to not lose money on the deal, and I want to go a lot more than that, although I think there’s a tiny human hoping to thwart my plans. …who will probably succeed. But for now, salad days[1]!

Upshot, on Thursday we saw Birds of Prey, a movie about which I have non-controversial opinions. To recap, I thought the Wonder Woman movie was great at being the first female-led superhero movie, but the actual film itself has not aged well for me outside that context. It’s perfectly cromulent as a superhero movie but no more than that. I thought Aquaman was shockingly good, better than it had any right to be, and therefore maybe a half-rank above “perfectly cromulent etc”? The rest of the modern DC movies are hot garbage at best, including Suicide Squad, except that Harley Quinn was revelatory in it.

All of that to say: Birds of Prey would fall on a tier maybe just above hot garbage, except for that fantabulous emancipation bit. As nearly as I can determine, Margot Robbie was born to play this role. (She seems to think so too, given her heavy involvement in getting the movie made.) This is basically Harley’s transition from the Joker’s emotionally manipulated girlfriend to chaotic good trending neutral antihero, and she’s hilarious every step of the way. Plus, the narration! I will keep watching her make these movies as long as she’s interested.

[1] I have no idea what that means. What it conveys, yes. What it means that results in conveying that: not a clue.

Powers: Z

Considering how close I am to the end of the published Powers series, you would think I would not have gone three and a half years since the last one I read. That’s just weird. Even more contrary to expectations (well, mine at least), that gap is not the problem I had with the book.

Powers: Z is… well, okay, they’re all about murders. But this is about the murder of the guy who killed Hitler at the end of World War II. Who you would think would be popular enough to have been mentioned by now, especially since apparently our immortal main character used to hang out with Z during and after the war. But okay, comics retcon all the time, and that would not have caused me to blink if the rest hadn’t been so confusing. Which I cannot really explain without massive spoilers, and I’ll just respond if someone asks instead of assuming they’re needed.

But my problems, at broad strokes, included a) my occasional inability to distinguish between the present and flashbacks to the 1950s, b) caused in part (probably) by those flashbacks not actually being very important from either a plot or (worse) a character development perspective. Other than the basic “look, these guys were mobsters in the 1950s, and the people in the modern day plot are also mobsters” parallelism, there just really wasn’t anything there. Finally, c) the fifth issue in the book ended with some really big dangling plot threads, whereupon the sixth issue covered a completely new murder with no apparent tie to or resolution of the prior story, all for the sake of a last second character-driven cliffhanger. Which I sound negative about, but I would not if I hadn’t ended up feeling so much like I didn’t get a complete story in the service of said cliffhanger that I actually spent some research time seeing if there was a missing issue or a misprint of my book or something. As far as I can tell: there was not.

But all the Amazon reviews of the book are very positive, so maybe it’s just me regardless? I have no idea.

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.

Justice League

You may recall that Wonder Woman was a solid movie, and that it gave me the impetus to watch the other DC movies I had skipped in the meantime, which, I mean, they were not abominations upon the face of the earth, but neither did they exactly inspire any more confidence in the DC train than the previews upon the basis of which I had originally decided not to bother.

Still, now that I’ve watched the whole series, might as well watch Justice League, right? And it was fine. Better than anything besides Wonder Woman, and it had some pretty sweet musical cues at key heroic moments, but… well, it’s like this. You know how DC missed the whole point of what Marvel was doing when they decided that one movie was enough of a lead in to their team-up movie?[1] By the same token, they missed the point exponentially moreso when their existential threat to the planet from space was introduced as the plot of an entire movie without ever having mentioned him before.

Plus, I mean, Steppenwolf? That’s a band.

But I still like the Flash, and like I said, it was mostly pretty good. It would just be better if I didn’t have ten years of Marvel to compare against, and if I weren’t snickering every time they mentioned the guy who is here to destroy Earth without also pointing out that he was born to be wild.

[1] And okay, technically that’s not how it went, they made like four movies total before Justice League. But Man of Steel[2] was just another Superman remake when it came out, and I honestly think it’s more coincidence than design that allowed Wonder Woman and Suicide Squad[3] to fall between Dawn of Justice and this one. Which ultimately means I’m shaping the facts to suit my narrative, but I’m not lying when I say it felt this way.
[2] Somehow, I didn’t review Man of Steel. That was an oversight.
[3] Also, let’s be honest, even though Suicide Squad is in the same continuity, it does not build toward anything here. It’s like a spin-off.

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.)