Road to Infinity War – Black Panther, or, A New Hope

Oh dear God I’m done! I did it. This is the last one. Every freaking day for two and a half weeks. Wake up. Go to work. Come home. Bleed hot takes on every Marvel film onto the page! And at last, started with Iron Man and now I’m back here! Writing about Black Panther! Just like I did when it came out! Like two months ago! Anyway, I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.

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I’m mistaken. It has been more than two months since the last Marvel film. Maybe there aren’t enough superhero movies?

In many ways, Black Panther is the final piece of the puzzle that Thanos is going to punch the shit out of in, like, twelve hours. The final component of the status quo, clicked into place just before the whole thing is utterly upended, bringing together many of the themes from across Marvel’s third phase of films.

Hot on the heels of Thor: Ragnarok, which saw the God of Thunder ascend to a position he had adopted a healthy wariness of, Black Panther shows us just how well-placed that wariness is as T’Challa takes up the mantle of King of Wakanda and all the headaches that position entails. That T’Challa is in such a position of power at this point in the MCU is compelling because throughout Marvel’s phase three those in power, mentors, predecessors and the like, have continually let down our heroes, be it Odin or the Ancient One withholding secret histories from Thor and Doctor Strange, or Tony Stark just not listening to little old Peter. Even T’Challa is let down by his predecessors. But only T’Challa is given the opportunity to fully wield the same position of power that has let him down.

Luckily for Wakanda, T’Challa possesses a skillset that offers a glimpse of hope for the MCU in spite of the disillusionment so many of its heroes have faced of late after the likes of Civil War and Ragnarok. As Jack Donaghy would say of any Phil Collins fan, T’Challa’s “got two ears and a heart.”

He listens. In an era within the MCU when listening and discourse fail on a global scale, they thrive in T’Challa. At the climax of Civil War, when Cap and Tony are locked in conflict beyond words and reason, T’Challa actively makes the choice to step back and listen. Literally, physically he steps away from the situation, listens and in doing so is able to reassess and rise above the machinations in play.

We watch him learn this lesson in Civil War and we see him continue to heed this lesson in Black Panther, which benefits not only T’Challa and Wakanda, but the film itself, as well as its many excellent characters. Tasked with ruling, T’Challa listens. He listens to his sister, his mother, his spy, his general, his friend, his enemy. Part of the reason Black Panther is so spectacular is T’Challa, and thus the film itself, takes the time to listen to its characters, and hearing their thoughts, ideas and fears breathes life into them and their world.

Black Panther rightfully, tactfully avoids smothering itself in the shadow of Infinity War, but as an audience member in the real world, knowing Thanos looms ahead lent a potency to the events of the film because at a time when the Avengers have been so utterly disassembled, Black Panther gives the MCU hope in a hero who rises above ideological differences, who overcomes disillusionment, who first listens, then considers and then kicks ass. Black Panther’s placement just before Infinity War is a statement that perhaps Thanos will destroy the Avengers, but the recurring themes of antagonism that have dogged our heroes thus far will not.

For some thoughts on the worldbuilding in Black Panther you can dust off this old hot take from, like, 50 days ago:

February 26, 2018: A Different Kind of Worldbuilding, or, Black Panther

I’m done! I’m a champion!

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Road to Infinity War – Captain America: Civil War, or, When Keeping it Rational Goes Wrong

Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.

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KISS FIGHT.

With its 13th film the Marvel Cinematic Universe officially arrives at the point in which audiences can reasonably assume that the denizens of the MCU would be like “hey these super-folks are great I guess but they sure do knock stuff over a lot with alarming regularity and I guess maybe we should do something about that.” Captain America: Civil War delves into that sentiment without ever lapsing into navel-gazing, becoming the Empire Strikes Back of the Marvel Universe that Age of Ultron fell short of and, perhaps most notably, dividing the Avengers along philosophical lines that as of this writing have yet to be resolved.

That there is no clear answer to the problem of collateral damage in the MCU is a testament to the franchise’s characters, who bring perfectly rational ideologies into a world too vast and sprawling to rationalize. Tony and Cap’s conflict in Civil War is such an ideological standstill because, after a dozen previous films, it arises so organically, so reasonably. Tony is being Tony and we love Tony. Cap is being Cap and we love Cap. The only thing that’s changed is circumstance.

Since 2008 Tony’s heroism has always been bombastic and proactive. He’s never thought small and this isn’t the first time he’s forecasted a problem and sought out an inventive solution like a man possessed. He’s always been about the big picture and he’s always had the ego to believe, for better or worse, that he can and should change the world.

Inversely, Cap is a hero who has always been grounded in the here and now, defined by a call of duty to intervene in any situation in which he senses injustice. What is broken right now? What can be fixed right now? Cap’s concerns are the injustices he can see and hear, not those that others imagine and prognosticate.

These ideologies don’t necessarily have to conflict with one another, but Civil War’s Sokovia Accords all but ensure they do. The Accords present such a compelling source of conflict because they play to the thematic backbones of both heroes.

Tony’s character arc has always been a humbling. He was a hot shot who was taken down a notch and forced to reevaluate his entire life, and now, even as a hero, his ambitiousness often sees him flying too close to the sun, all too often reaping dire consequences for the world around him, as in Age of Ultron. If you’re Tony Stark and you have even an inkling of self-awareness, come Civil War you might realize you’ve got a track record of biting off more than you can chew to the detriment of humanity. Tony’s acquiescence to the Accords is a step in the right direction for the character, an admission of guilt, a surrendering of the ego to the idea that maybe Tony Stark doesn’t always know what’s best for the world.

But for Cap, agreeing to the Sokovia Accords would mean abandoning responsibility, signing up for an excuse to take the easy way out rather than doing what is right and standing up to injustice whenever and however he can. Even as a scrawny Brooklyn kid Cap has always been about doing everything in his power to stop bullies. If something bad is happening and Steve Rogers gets wind of it, he will always take it as his personal responsibility to intervene, whether it means stopping the Red Skull from world annihilation or confronting a heckler in a movie theater. For Cap, surrendering his agency to act against injustice is irresponsible, lazy even.

These ideologies ensure that Cap and Tony come into conflict, which is unfortunate because in other circumstances, having both a head in the clouds and boots on the ground could be an asset. The reasons Cap and Tony come to blows are the same reasons the Avengers need both of them. Hopefully circumstances will arise that shed light on that, for the sake of both our heroes. Like, I don’t know, maybe a purple-chinned glove-monster from space or some shit.

For more on Captain America: Civil War, specifically why the youth of today should be held responsible for coming up with hot takes on this shit rather than me:

May 20, 2016: Captain America: Civil War, or, What’s Your Policy on Late Work?

Road to Infinity War – Ant-Man, or, So Much More Than Just Perfect Timing

Oh I did it fam. In preparation for my viewing of Avengers: Infinity War on April 26th at 7PM, I went back and rewatched the previous 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from Iron Man to Black Panther. Every day leading up to Infinity War I’ll be posting a short piece on each film and my most recent hot takes on nearly a decade of the MCU. I’ll also be linking back to whatever old nonsense I wrote about the movies at the time, if applicable. And if that isn’t enough, check out my ranked listed of the MCU to date on my Letterboxd account here.

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Tried. So. Hard. To find the version of this poster that is just Michael Peña and Bobby Cannavale.

Ant-Man was instantly the perfect pallet cleanser after Avengers: Age of Ultron. Coming out so quickly after the second Avengers film I still wasn’t completely admitting my disappointment with that movie when I first saw this one. I didn’t know how to feel about Age of Ultron, but I instantly felt a fondness for Ant-Man. It’s charming and fun and it never once threatens to utterly collapse in on itself under its own weight, instead focusing in on likely the smallest (yeah, yeah) stakes we’ve seen in from the MCU.

Which is a good thing.

But rewatching Ant-Man, it’s so much more than just a welcome respite from the cacophony of its immediate predecessor. Ant-Man explodes with style and flavor. Quick pans. Brilliant montages. Cops and crooks with competing motivations. Christophe Beck’s sneaky, percussive score. Ant-Man commits to the heist genre in earnest, lending it the authenticity of a heist film that happens to have a superhero in it, rather than the artificiality of a superhero film that shoehorns in a few heist movie gimmicks.

Upon its initial release Ant-Man drew myriad comparisons to the first Iron Man film, allegations that it was the same cookie with different icing, traced from the same stencil with a different pen. Similar obligations were later lobbed at Doctor Strange, which I will similarly whine about when I write about that movie again in, like, two days. Such comparisons require an incredibly broad view of the films in question. I won’t bore you with a laundry list of discrepancies here, but, to my mind, the most compelling difference between the two films is the position in society from which its protagonists hail.

Where Tony Stark is a billionaire tasked with taking responsibility for his immense economic power, Scott Lang is a recently freed convict who can’t hold down a job at Baskin-Robbins. His is a new low for heroic status quos in the MCU, and one that begs some interesting questions about how morality and justice shift and distort with size and scope. When we meet Scott Lang he’s paid the penal price and continues to pay a societal price for crimes that come nowhere close to the collateral damage caused by Tony Stark’s misguided creation of a maniacal artificial intelligence. Scott Lang is certainly established as having a moral compass, but Ant-Man largely concerns him being forced into the position of a shrinking superhero because, justified or not, society will not let him live a normal life.

With that in mind, though I’d hoped to focus on just how good this film is in its own right, Ant-Man serves not only as the perfect follow-up to Age of Ultron, but also as an excellent thematic primer for Captain America: Civil War.

There’s some issues that keep Ant-Man in the middle of the pack for me, specifically its nonsense villain and the unbearable “protection clause” cop-out it levies against Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne (though that looks to be mended with the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp).

Ant-Man was one of the Marvel movies I was least looking forward to rewatching. I’ve never disliked the film, but I couldn’t get myself excited to watch it again. It was also one of the films that surprised me the most in just how much it exceeded by remembered notions of it. I may not have been looking forward to rewatching it, but once I popped it in I had an absolute blast. This is a really fun, entertaining movie that doesn’t get enough credit for its adept execution of style and the nuance of scale it lends to the franchise as a whole.

All of this is to say: Michael Peña, am I right? Michael. Peña.

For more Ant-Man ramblings, with admittedly less to say, from the time of the film’s initial release:

August 5, 2015: Perfect Timing, or, Ant-Man

Captain America: Civil War, or, What’s Your Policy on Late Work?

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Hawkeye, characteristically distracted.

I really, really liked Civil War.

Black Panther was dope as hell. Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers has inherited the mantle of Christopher Reeves’ Superman as the cinematic embodiment of a superhero. Tony Stark’s guilty conscious continues to pull the character along on a compelling trajectory. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo, co-writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and company manage to adeptly juggle a dozen plus different characters in a film that bounces between comedy and tragedy without giving the viewer whiplash.

I really, really liked Civil War. I just can’t for the life of me come up with anything insightful to write about it. It’s a roadblock I run into with pretty much every Marvel movie: they’re just too damn difficult to be pretentious about. I mean, the best I could come up with for Age of Ultron was that it was a comic book movie that was a lot like a comic book. Staggering, I know. Which is a bummer because now I can’t use that premise to write about Civil War.

What I can do, though, is come up with a vaguely insightful cop out for not writing anything vaguely insightful about Civil War. Which is to say that rather than do my homework I stared at it for an hour and eventually came up with a compelling excuse not to.

The Empire Strikes Back wasn’t defined by whatever the New York Times had to say about the film in 1980. It was defined over decades by the kids in the theater who saw it as eight-year-olds and again as eighteen-year-olds and again as thirty-year-olds on and on into adulthood, building an evolving relationship with a piece of cinema as they reencountered it at different stages in their life. It’s a relationship I have with Jurassic Park. When I was five it was cool dinosaurs eating people, but as I grew up it became a much funnier and much more intelligent movie.

The real insights into the Marvel Cinematic Universe are still years out. In two years kids who saw Iron Man when they were eight are going to be going to college. There’ll be adults that have grown up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not just one film or a trilogy that they continue to revisit, but new entries continually unfolding as they grew up. What a perspective. What does Civil War look like to them? Does it feel like the Empire Strikes Back? Does it ring with a greater emotional nuance? What are the brief, forgettable snippets that ring true to them? The quiet, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments that’ll be referenced in the sitcoms these MCU kids grow up to watch and write?

They’re the ones who should be writing about Civil War. They grew up with Cap and Iron Man, I was already basically a grown ass man when this nonsense started. I can only emotionally invest myself in a film so much because I’m a grown up with real life grown up problems and real life grown up brainwashed, robot-armed friends. Kids gotta go to the movies for that kind of thing. Much as I adored Civil War I can’t imagine it doesn’t register deeper and truer with fans who either have a childhood attachment to these characters or are currently in their childhood.

So I guess I do have something to say about Captain America: Civil War. That’s stream of consciousness for you.

Civil War is like a formal statement of fact that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to be, like, a whole thing. Something people have a lifelong relationship with. Something characters in indie films quip and banter about. Something mainstream audiences know minute trivia about. And it’s going to be very interesting to see how that all shakes out in years to come. Who’s the MCU’s Boba Fett? Who’s its Admiral Ackbar? What’s its Tuskan Raider cry or Jawa chirp?

Nobody really gives a shit about some sixty-year-old’s story about seeing Star Wars for the first time on the big screen at the age of twenty five. We care about the first time a five-year-old saw Star Wars, whether it was on the big screen in 1977 or on VHS in 1996. I saw Iron Man the summer before I started college on the back of a headrest on an airplane, but there are kids who saw Iron Man in theaters when they were six, and saw the Avengers assemble when they were ten and now their voices are cracking and Civil War is raging. The retrospective think piece they write about Civil War when they start a blog in college is the one that’ll really be worth reading.

So, you know, I shouldn’t have to write one.

Yeah, either that or “a dog ate my blogpost” or whatever.