This is comic book movie that is as gloriously drawn as a printed comic and that is made for kids who take those comics seriously.
It’s really great.
This is comic book movie that is as gloriously drawn as a printed comic and that is made for kids who take those comics seriously.
It’s really great.
This movie has me thinking about some of the danger points in Marvel’s multi-textual narrative strategy. The first is that the component movies must absolutely work individually until there are enough of them to make the over-narrative visible. Marvel surmounted this challenge with seeming ease. The early Iron Man, Thor and Captain America movies were individual successes that elicited and encouraged attention to the narrative that wasn’t yet visible.
However, now that over-narrative has become primary. Individual movies are no longer viewed primarily as individual movies even if they are (and to Marvel’s credit they clearly are) made to be individual success. Instead, they are viewed—consumed actually—as steps on the way to the next episode of the over-narrative. And so in this later stage of the multi-textual enterprise, the second danger that emerges, is that these movies will be products of negative space, simply blocks filling in pieces, trifles.
Captain Marvel is a good movie. Brie Larson is great. I liked it a lot. I don’t really care about anything in it though, and very much feel like it exists to introduce me to and convince me to buy into the human god-figure who will fix the Infinity War problem. What I wonder is this: will I think differently and better of it after Endgame has come and gone and let it off the hook?
Two final thoughts. This movie reminds me of Green Lantern so much I looked up whether they shared cast or crew. (Despite the cultural consensus around that movie, this is, for me, a very good thing.) Also, the family here is lesbian. I take this as obvious, and yet, it is never stated or even really hinted in any direct way. This left me feeling a bit gay-baited by yet another not-gay gay film of the sort that seems to be very much the rage these days.
The darkness of this movie isn’t in the villain-protagonist’s victory. It isn’t in the deaths of major characters. It isn’t even in the obvious cynicism of those deaths as a set-up for the next film and their take-backs. It’s in the movie’s bleak view of love.
Thanos seizes the soul stone because he loves Gamora enough to make killing her a sacrifice. The heroes on Titan fail to defeat Thanos because Peter Quill loves Gamora so much that he lashes out over her murder rather than helping his teammates. Thanos can step back in time to pull the final stone from the Vision’s forehead because Wanda Maximoff loves him too much to risk his life by destroying it when she had the chance.
Love ruins everything in this movie and that fact runs contrary to a core tenant of the ideology of the action-adventure genre Marvel’s films sit nestled within: that in moments of danger, your love for a spouse, a child, or a buddy will give you strength enough to keep going, to do the impossible, to win.
Not this time.
If there had been even one more episode, I wouldn’t have finished. But I got to four in a binge and realized I was half done, so I gave it a shot.
The problem is that here the Marvel behemoth feels like it’s busily dragging a few of its many feet forward as it lurches toward the Infinity Wars extravaganza where it plans to (and wants us to know it will) emit a thunderous bellow. And I find that exhausting. As I’ve said before, this massive studio-as-story-world is fascinating from a film history perspective and I’m curious about the technical aspects of project development and coordination, but the films themselves often feel like a burden, something to keep tabs on lest you miss a set-up or fail to grasp a winking reference to what’s come before, but mostly they come across as just fastidious and stale.
Without being anti-genre, anti-superhero, anti-sci-fi or -fantasy, I’m tired of them and wish they’d stop tying up talent that I’d rather see doing other work.
(Or maybe this is a better way of thinking about it: in this film, we watch Thor’s iconic hammer be destroyed, watch Odin die and Thor become King of Asgard in his place (after killing Death herself), watch the complete destruction of Asgard and the migration of its survivor’s to Earth. We also bask in the happy-making fanboy scenes of Thor and Hulk engaged in a battle royale and of Jeff Goldblum in high form. And yet, all of this—every last bit of it—is really just set-up for the only 30 seconds of the film that matter: the post-credit encounter with the purple guy’s space ship as it heads to Earth. When your entire film experience is demoted to a footnote by an ad in the final moments of the film, you’ve wasted your time watching.)
Iron Fist was a comic character I loved when I was a kid even though he was marginal and even if I didn’t have many issues with him in them. The issue where he was killed (back when people died in comics and stayed dead) completely upset me. So I have some bias toward buy-in when it comes to the Netflix series.
Oddly though, I’m not feeling it, which means that, of the five seasons of television springing from Netflix’s and Marvel’s collaboration I’ve liked only Jessica Jones. That’s not a great record. (And I’ve really not liked Daredevil.)
I’m not done with (and not binging) Iron Fist though so maybe things will turn around. For now I just want to note for future reference that the thing that drives me crazy with the series so far is the sense that Danny Rand isn’t so much a character as he is a mash-up of various possiblities of how to imagine the character.
Contradictory responses and desires are one way to generate the illusion of depth and complexity. But here, the variations in character traits read as confusion because they so often manifest at moments when the shift enables a plot development. So Danny’s naive but menacing when he needs to be misunderstood enough to be confined to a mental hospital, but he’s controlled and cagey when he needs to suddenly have money and cultivate allies. And the difference between the two feel less like personae adopted by a complex character than alternative versions of the character, each appearing when necessary to advance the plot.
This interaction between plotting and character development makes sense, but I hadn’t thought of it so directly before watching the initial episodes of this show.
So maybe more to come about the series…
And this chatter just never stops. Over and over, characters spend whole episodes tied down in small rooms or living previous events through a flashback, and they spend that time talking peudo-philosophical claptrap to each other as if it meant something. Technically, it’s the noire-crime-vigilante equivalent of Geordi and Data explaining that maybe they could recalibrate the positronic emitter: it’s incidental genre-flavored business that moves you to the next plot point. Only here it is treated as the thing itself and goes on forever.
Worse most of these interminable monologues are delivered by either Charlie Cox, who I find near unwatchably dull, or by Jon Bernthal, who played my least favorite character on Walking Dead (a show in which I disliked everyone, so there was serious competition for the spot of “least favorite”).
Daredevil only ever lurches forward at moments when people are untied, let out of their rooms and things actually happen. In the final episodes, when the story has to be wrapped up in a rush, events pick up speed and life begins to gleam through the gloomy cracks. It’s even exciting. I just wish that it didn’t all feel like a quick push to get to the long list of “unresolved and soon to be revisited issues” of the final episode.
This show is trying something new and is figuring things out as it goes along. I also really like
Jessica Karen (a fave from True Blood). So I am willing to cut some slack. But I hope that it will get over this hump so that I won’t have to.
This show is a superhero version of Sleeping with the Enemy. It’s gut-wrenching, relentless and left me anxious enough that I had to watch episodes one by one, slowly over a span of weeks. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that I hated my way through most of the season.
And yet, I kept going back to the show because unlike Arrow, nearly every character in the series — and there are a lot of them — is authentic and compelling. (The notable exception is Simpson, a troubled white guy super-soldier cliché.) Unlike Daredevil, in which ethical posturing mostly reduces to a decidedly non-ethical preoccupation with self-definition and identity, Jessica Jones explores both the nature and the extent of the mutual obligations created when people share trauma. These constitute genuinely complex ethical stakes, and the story, despite remaining a superhero series, doesn’t pull away from them or dodge their implications.
By the end of the final episode, I’d come around: this is the best cinematic/televisual story Marvel has ever done, and I’m all in for the next season.
Unless you are Oedipus or David Copperfield, your story should probably jump to the interesting stuff right away rather than starting with your birth.
But then these characters do spend years inside isolated, steel grey research bunkers wearing headphones and typing on keyboards before spending years in isolated, steel grey military bunkers wearing headphones and typing on keyboards. Aside from a couple CGI powered Disney rides in a metal capsule they never really leave, they never go anywhere.
So maybe “I was born” is their story’s sweet fruit and not to be missed.
Marvel has been everywhere these past few years (and years and years) and have been hard at work importing a large-scale, intertextual, story world from their comic properties to the movies. In doing so, they’ve gone a long way toward recreating their segment of film production in the image of the comic book market.
I’m no specialist (there are researchers who are), but I see the comic-film market as governed by two narrative impulses. The first is an elaborate cross-film machine that builds toward event movies like the first Avengers, which arrived after years of individual films and post-credit teaser segments. The second is the production of episodic filler pieces that may technically contribute to the build up for the next event but essentially “feed the beast” by offering up the cinematic equivalent of a stand-alone comic story.
Ant-Man, with its stock story, is a product of this second impulse; Avengers: Age of Ultron, the first. Or more precisely, it seems designed to move the machine forward while shutting down the event that was the first film. This means dealign with certain problems I suspect are inherent in Marvel’s model of film production.
Comics and movies are deeply related in practice. Both present visual interpretations of scripts in media that rely on montage and a careful control of point-of-view. A film’s storyboards capture this relationship perfectly: created as a stage in film production, they look like comic books. Yet the two industries are very different too, and I have questions about how those differences play out in the long term.
Actors: Marvel’s success these past few years has rested upon the work of a few talented actors and/or stars. But this is no longer the Hollywood of the 30s, and these actors are not studio property. They are free to work elsewhere, and many of them clearly define success in ways that require they work outside of the realm of superhero films. How much juice can you squeeze from the Johansson-Ruffalo-Downey Jr. lemon, if someone like Chris Evans—a star whose entire career is based on performances in superhero films—condescends to the genre and is vocal about his intent to complete his contract with Marvel and do other things?
Directors: All of contemporary film culture lionizes the director as an artist, a creator. Not every director makes art, but today, that means that those who don’t have failed or are hacks. Marvel has, as with actors, benefited from the contributions of some very talented directors, but Marvel’s overall approach harkens back to a pre-Griffin production model in which the studio is the artist and the marketable name. The director is an employee, talented and respected, but taking direction. Which top-notch directors (and I’m not even talking auteurs here) will accept to work like this? Branagh is probably not coming back. Whedon’s clearly done. Directors make movies that pay in order to make the movies they want all the time, but I’m curious who will make Marvel’s movies in the coming years.
Narrative: How many years can a series of films drag out an single explicit story arc? TV and film have been exploring this limit for at least the past few decades. HBO’s programming like Deadwood and now The Game of Thrones are notable examples, but there are others. Film series that adapt books have been doing the same in cinema, although they have until recently been strongly episodic: think Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and The Hunger Games (and its imitators like Divergent and now The Maze Runner.)
Marvel is pushing things further by not directly adapting established books and by replacing a long-running series of films with a large-scale network of films. This is fascinating. Is there any other instance in the history of cinema of an entire studio’s production being devoted to the development of a single story-world?. But it’s also potentially exhausting. Who can (or will) keep up? I’m actually pretty bored with the post-credit teaser of Josh Brolin in purple-face trying to sound ominous and am lost regarding what he’s supposedly plotting. I think it had something to do with the ice-people in the first Thor movie way back in 2011?
The latest Avengers directly addresses the first and last of these concerns. The story both cleans out the stable of actors who are going elsewhere and introduces those who will fill the team in coming instalments. This last bit is, I presume, the first tease in the buildup for the next major event-movie in the cycle. The star power of those leaving and those arriving is shockingly different though. So I’m curious how that plays out.
All that said, a few things about the movie itself stuck out for me, so I want to note them.
Avengers is a war film. By that I mean, I’m surprised how heavily it draw on the conventions of the war film. How many of the earlier films did the same? They are certainly all obsessed with the military and militarism. (cf. thoughts about epic fantasy while reading Battle Cry of Freedom.)
Ultron is clearly a place-holder villain of the sort you see in one-off instalments in comics. Freed of the burden of surviving and becoming an On-going Threat To Our Very Existence®, he gets to have a wacky plan to kill everybody “wwhahahahahaha!” And I liked that. I also LOVED that when he is finally defeated, he is destroyed off-screen, a nice and oddly respectful touch that avoids glorying in his death.
This movie has so very many parts, all in the air at once, all needing to be juggled, and somehow Whedon holds it all together and it works. It was exhausting, but I’m very impressed by what he pulls off. With smart writing and clever direction.
This was the first film I watched in my blockbuster marathon.