Pit Stop After Infinity War, or, Fifty Outcomes

It’s out! It’s out! Infinity War is out! And I saw it! Twice! And now the bill has come due and I’ve got to live up to the fifty predictions I made for the film just before going into the theater opening night. I got basically everything and the stuff I didn’t correctly predict is absolutely there in the subtext, so without further adieu, enjoy how impressive I am!

 

 

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Thor and Black Panther “King High-Five”
I mean… maybe off-screen?

2. Ebony Maw is horrifying
This is a bit of a gimme, since he was a total creep with his creepy little “shush” finger in the trailer, but whatever punks, called it!

3. Cap and Doctor Strange “Steve High-Five”
This is a sore one as not only did Cap and Doc not “Steve High-Five,” I also failed to predict that Star-Lord and Spider-Man would “Peter High-Five” and on top of that Star-Lord and Spider-Man didn’t “Peter High-Five”

4. Cull Obsidian turns to camera and says “remember when my name was Black Dwarf? Anyway, where’s Supergiant?
Look all I’m saying is I didn’t understand a word that doofus said, so I’m probably wrong, but, I mean, you don’t know

5. Tony and Doctor Strange “Facial Hair High-Five” a.k.a. “kiss”
Okay I’m “wrong” in the sense that they didn’t actually kiss, but I’m right in the sense that they actually came really, really close

6. Lando shows up
I found this blockbuster both as thought-provoking and as infuriatingly Lando-less at The Last Jedi

7. Hela lives! #goddessofdeath #Avengers4
If I’m being real, this theory was based on Hela replacing the role of Death from Infinity Gauntlet in Infinity War, but if I’m being petty… juries still out suckers!

8. Surely someone makes fun of the name Proxima Midnight
Seemed like a dead-ringer and than no one in Thanos’ Black Order, or the Black Order itself, ever got name checked, aside from Ebony Maw getting the illustrious “half-name-drop”

9. That GD soul stone is in Wakanda whether they know it or not!
Swing and a miss!

10. By the time the movie starts Thanos has already murdered Glen Close and John C. Riley
“Blah, blah, blah Xandar, blah, blah, blah last week.” -Thor. Boom.

11. Tony quips. Cut to: Thanos making “Jim” face
Tempted as I am to try and claim “Jim” face just means a purple face, I can admit when I’m wrong

12. The real Hawkeye was the friends we made along the way
Prove me wrong.

13. Bucky is very unhappy with Cap’s beard and he’s not to keen on his facial hair either
Inconclusive

14. Bucky gets to work on a jealousy beard and starts growing out his facial hair too
Slightly less inconclusive, but he’s got stubble and he certainly had a moment with that racoon!

15. Tony and Pepper already divorced
Even though they didn’t say it’s their first wedding, I’ll own up to this one

16. Red Skull has something to do with something somehow
Alright come on, this one was pretty freaking impressive

17. Vision just gets totally #*%@ed over by the whole mind stone thing
I mean, obviously, but still

18. Groot experimenting with recreation drug use, or the implication of as much
Video game addiction is a thing! But I guess it’s not a drug…

19. The Guardians’ various space-gibberish languages revealed at last!
I’m just saying I did genuinely think this would be a thing

20. Rocket bullies the shit out of Thor
Who’da thunk?

21. Scarlett Witch? She’s just kind of there
Wouldn’t ya know it, the ol’ Witch arguably had more to do than ever before. Spooky!

22. No one invites Ant-Man to the war and when he confronts everyone about it they’re all like “oh you weren’t there? We thought you were just tiny” but they didn’t, they knew
I mean… half right.

23. Justin Hammer saves the day, again
Apparently we’ll have to wait until Avengers 4 to find out… all I’m saying is, Rockwell’s got that Best Supporting Actor Heat

24. Peter Parker still a virgin
Prove me wrong, I dare you

25. Some crafty backpedaling regarding the ol’ Aether
Not a word! Just go with it I guess?

26. Joke or jokes made at the expense of Bruce Banner’s penis
Seemed reasonable at the time

27. Nobody notices Black Widow changed her hair
Boom!

28. No explanation of Thanos’ hat provided
So what? He get’s the space stone and all the sudden he doesn’t need a hat anymore? So it’s, what? A space hat? Huh? Huh?

29. Banner Hulks out in the Hulkbuster armor and is like “Hulk bust!” or some shit
Nope!

30. We find out who bought Avengers tower and it’s just sort of whoever
Nada!

31. Anthony Mackie kills it
Briefly, but I’ll take it!

32. Someone calls Rhodie “Iron Pants,” then remembers he’s disabled, and feels like a dick
But somebody probably thought it

33. Gamora stabs someone or something to death
Thanks, reality stone. More like “BS” stone, amiright? #aether

34. Nebula and Bucky “Metal Arm High-Five”
I don’t think anyone ever high-fived in this whole god-forsaken movie

35. The Outriders are way creepier on film than in LEGO
Look, those LEGOs aren’t creep at all, so, right by default

36. Someone makes fun of Thanos’ chin right to his face
Huzzah!

37. Peter Quill’s Zune has transformed him into an insufferable hipster
Mark my words, they’re holding on to this for Guardians Vol. 3

38. Nobody says anything about the Agents of SHIELD TV show and nobody cares
I said predictions, not impressive predictions

39. Nobody says anything about any of the Netflix Marvel shows and some people care for a second but then they GTFOver it
Not an immortal weapon in sight!

40. Groot in Infinity War is a third Groot and the Baby Groot from Guardians Vol. 2 died off screen and if nothing in the movie explicitly contradicts this than I’m right
Called it!

41. Wong and Thanos go way back
I’m just thinking about prequel sitcom spin-offs here

42. An Avenger gets the gauntlet, but, like, in a bad way?
Not yet anyway…

43. Dinosaurs, surely somehow dinosaurs. Or at least a shark or dragon
Sorry, you did what with the time stone? Anything but bring dinosaurs back alive? Oh, oh okay, sure. Sure, real realistic. Oh brother

44. When Thanos finally gets out of his space chair he puts his hands on his knees and goes “ooooooooooph”
Definitely offscreen though

45. Loki not happy about Cap or Bucky’s beards and he’s not to keen on their facial hair either I’m here all week
Yeah, yeah… rule of threes though!

46. All the white Avengers constantly embarrass Rhodie and Falcon in Wakanda
I mean… didn’t they though? Just in a not funny way?

47. Thor is missing an eye and I’m pretty sure Rocket and Groot stole an eye from the Ravagers and I’m just saying this specific prediction is actually cool and good!
I mean, c’mon! Pretty, pretty, pretty impressive. Maybe not a Ravager, maybe. But c’mon. This should count for all 50

48. Nick Fury finds a way to creep out of a dark corridor even though everyone’s on, like, $&@#ing Pluto
Nope, he just creeps out of the dark and into our hearts and souls in this one

49. Someone acknowledges Mantis
Mantis actually had, like, stuff to do in this movie!

50. Thanos is at least 38
Inconclusive, but you sure as shit ain’t going to convince me he’s 37

 

Come back next year for, I don’t know, like 100 predictions for Avengers 4? Maybe some Ant-Man & the Wasps predictions in July? This is so much easier than baking hot takes.

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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.

blackpanther2

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!

Road to Infinity War – Doctor Strange, or, Started From the Bottom Now We’re Magic

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.

doctorstrange2

Look, if you get Michael Stuhlbarg, you give Michael Stuhlbarg top-billing. How Marvel survived such a faux pas the world may never know.

It’s easy enough to write off Doctor Strange as magic Iron Man. Both films are origin stories about rich pricks with facial hair getting taken down a peg. Fair enough. But the humbling of Stephen Strange is so much more expansive than that of Tony Stark.

In Iron Man, Tony Stark has to reckon with, essentially, living his life in the wrong direction. By the end of the film he’s the same dude with the same skills, he just harnesses them for a different cause. He’s still an inventor. He’s still a smartass. He still struggles with egomania. But he does it in the right direction. Stephen Strange, on the other hand, is forced to reckon with that sinister insecurity that has perhaps nagged each of us in our worst moments, that he is living his life wrong. That what he believes is wrong. That what he thinks is wrong. That his ironclad existence has been made of straw all along.

In the world-expanding, black light bonanza, Timothy Leary roller coaster sequence the Ancient One sends Strange on upon their initial meeting, we watch a man’s sense of self and understanding of the universe get utterly obliterated. His quest from there is not a simple reorienting or rebranding, it’s one of rebuilding from the bottom up.

The new world in which Strange rebuilds himself is a fascinating one of charming allies, intriguing villains and fantastic visual effects.

We aren’t in 1993 anymore. Jurassic Park is, like, 100 years old. CGI is a fact of blockbuster life and usually the only time its noteworthy is when Andy Serkis is involved or it totally sucks. But the effects in Doctor Strange not only serve as a narrative catalyst for Strange’s humbling and new pursuits, they create mesmerizing fabrics and textures for this previously unexplored corner of the MCU that go beyond the typical blockbuster fair of beams and lasers and crumbling superstructures.

Of course, those visual effects would be little more than an expertly-crafted distraction were it not for the film’s cast. Benedict Wong and Chiwetel Ejiofor in particular are two of the primary reasons I’m hoping to return to the world of Doctor Strange sooner rather than later. Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen are both on point as opposing forces of mystic power that have presumably encountered the same humbling Strange is in the midst of, but have since let their egos drip back into their beliefs and perceptions.

This is a film that tosses aside better actors than most could ever hope to get. Look, no discredit to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange, but having Oscar MVP Michael Stuhlbarg traipsing around the fringes of your movie is bound to coax a few daydreams out of me about what a Stuhlbarg Sorcerer Supreme might be like. Similarly, fellow dramatic powerhouse Rachel McAdams gets the Natalie Portman treatment. That said, I devoted much of my initial post on Doctor Strange to my displeasure with McAdams’ sidelining, but in rewatching the film I understand her character, Dr. Palmer, is not entirely squandered.

The good Dr. Palmer brings to the world is practical. She is a person who helps those in need that are right in front of her face. Real people, with real injuries. Dying, hurting, bleeding patients. Not the disembodied charts and stats Stephen Strange mulls over blessing with his presence. When we meet Strange his do-gooding amounts to little more than selfishness disguised as lofty innovation. Amongst the visually spectacular, physics-bending skills Strange picks up over the course of the film, he also learns what Palmer already practices – to put more stock in how you can benefit the world around you, rather than how it might benefit you.

Coming off of the unresolved philosophical divide of Civil War, Doctor Strange introduces an important, timely notion to the MCU, the idea that widening one’s perception and opening up to ideas that contradict or even dismantle your own can be an invaluable strength, rather than a haughty catalyst for conflict.

For some characteristic anti-establishment film criticism and general bemoaning of Rachel McAdams limited roll in the MCU (though, I mean, third-billing? That’s some agent):

November 8, 2016: Doctor Strange, or, Breaking Most of the Rules

Doctor Strange, or, Breaking Most of the Rules

doctorstrange

Pew pew!

Marvel’s 14th film, Doctor Strange, is all about flipping off the establishment.

After the titular Doctor Stephen Strange, the unlikeable Tony Stark of surgery, gets in a car accident that utterly destroys his hands, he scours the earth for a solution to his perpetually quaking fingers. His search brings him to the doorstep of The Ancient One and her sorcerer acolytes, who offer a solution to the limits of Strange’s body via the expansion of his mind, which it turns out, involves asking a lot of questions.

Nothing is sacred in the world of Doctor Strange. The culture of sorcery he immerses himself in is founded on questioning and redefining the rules of time and space in ways that leave the screen so cluttered with 70s prog rock special effects that it is legitimately impossible to take everything in.

But, like, in a cool way.

To The Ancient One and her ilk it seems the only certainty is the need to question anything deemed certain. Much to The Ancient One’s chagrin that rule doesn’t stop at her doorstep.

On his quest Doctor Strange is not only forced to question time and space, he’s forced to question authority and orthodoxy. He’s brought into a mystical microcosm that has torn apart the constraints of the larger world around it without ever taking too close a look at itself.

Intentionally or not Doctor Strange proves to be an incredibly appropriate superhero movie for November 2016. Its hero is ultimately tasked with never becoming stagnant. With never clinging to a worldview for the sake of towing the line. When his world as a surgeon is crushed around him he is presented with an alternative that shows him the flaws of his old life. But that alternative is not without flaws. Nor is the alternative to that alternative. Doctor Strange’s strongest attribute isn’t his newly-acquired understanding of the mystic arts or his newly-acquired ability to thinly veil his own jackassery, it’s his insistence on never taking any one sound bite from any one talking head at face value.

But despite the thematic through line of obliterating conventions and questioning dogma in spectacular 3D glory the film falls back on a particularly vexing trope I’d thought we’d moved past. The love interest for the sake of a love interest.

Rachel McAdams plays Dr. Christine Palmer, an ER physician who has a strained, romantic history with Stephen Strange. Rachel McAdams is great. She’s Rachel McAdams. True Detective Season 2. Spotlight. The script for Doctor Strange relegates her to what feels like a mark on some sort of blockbuster checklist you’d think the Sorcerer Supreme would have dismantled a thousand times over by now. This isn’t simply the case of an inexplicable kiss, à la Jurassic World or Civil War. It isn’t just the romance that feels artificial, it’s the entire character. Dr. Palmer has limited screen time and even more limited impact on the story overall. McAdams does as much as any performer could in the limited space the script gives her, but at best her character is written into the film as a benchmark audiences can use to tell Doctor Strange isn’t as big of a dick as he used to be. She ultimately feels like the girl shoehorned into a “boy” movie so that girlfriends will go too, a notion I’d hoped characters like Peggy Carter or Gamora or Black Widow had rendered obsolete. She isn’t given an arc or even afforded sufficient time to believably react to and acquaint herself with Strange’s new abilities (her introduction to and acceptance of Strange’s mystical powers is rushed to the point of feeling like an encounter with a new hair cut) and the movie suffers for it. That this is the capacity to which an actress of McAdam’s caliber joins the Marvel Cinematic Universe is upsetting, and a waste of talent. The debut of the new Wonder Woman trailer before the movie didn’t exactly lessen the blow.

Doctor Strange is a lot of fun. Its special effects are seriously next level. Its humor is on point. Its Mads is Mikkelsen. Strange’s consistent questioning of authority, establishments and institutions gives him, and his debut film, a unique and thought-provoking flavor. But an otherwise fun and exciting film is left with a few scuffs by the conventions it didn’t bother questioning. With any luck little kids will leave Doctor Strange with a healthy skepticism and a simulated LSD-trip hangover rather than antiquated ideas of gendered film.