The Mauve Knight, or, Avengers: Infinity War

There aren’t any specific spoilers for Infinity War below, but if I hadn’t seen the film I wouldn’t read it. You can check out some of my pre-viewing predictions for the movie, which I’ll be returning to on Monday to grade for correctness in a separate post, here.

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CHIN ATTACK

Watching the 18 preceeding Marvel films before going into Avengers: Infinity War gave me an appreciation for the myriad character narratives that wind throughout the franchise, with huge developments often happening for characters in movies that don’t even bare their name. For instance, some of the most compelling moments in Iron Man’s development throughout the MCU have been in the likes of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Black Panther has a huge moment of clarity in Civil War. Black Widow has an arc all her own despite never having an eponymous film. You never know how consequential any given Marvel film will be for any given Marvel character, and so going into Infinity War I was very curious what it would contribute to some of these individual characters’ narratives, what this chapter would mean in the book of Iron Man, or Black Panther, or Captain America.

I was pretty surprised when the answer was, sort of, kind of, not a lot. That’s not a barometer for the quality of the film, mind you, and it isn’t to say that consequential things don’t happen, but there aren’t a dearth of defining character beats for our heroes. There are simply so many that no one Avenger has a particularly verbose arc. I thought there’d be more Cap. More T’Challa. More Tony. And despite loving the film, I found myself wondering who exactly it was about.

But that’s actually pretty obvious.

Avengers: Infinity War could have just as easily, and more aptly, been dubbed Thanos: Infinity War, because Josh Brolin’s Mad Titan is the protagonist of the film.

In The Last Jedi (don’t worry I promise I don’t have another hot take) Supreme Leader Snoke makes a comment to Kylo Ren bemoaning the existence of hope. Not hope in the Jedi, or hope in the Resistance. Just straight up hope. It’s an exchange that drives me bananas because it rings so flat and so dull, because it is such an utterly villainous sentiment, as if Snoke is going out of his way to be a villain. It’s a sentiment that makes it seem like Snoke is not only a villain to our heroes, but a villain to himself, as if he is primed and ready to unironically grab the mic and announced “well my name’s rappin’ Snoke and I’m here to say it’s fun to rap in an evil way.”

Thanos, inversely, is no such arch-villain. In fact he’s not entirely dissimilar to Tony Stark. Both operate under the assumption that they have been, as Loki would say, “burdened with glorious purpose.” They have lofty, conceptual ideas of morality and salvation and equally lofty, conceptual notions for achieving those ends. There are certainly parallels of egomaniacal do-goodery between Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet and Stark’s Ultron program.

Part of what makes Thanos’ pursuit so compelling, what makes him a perverse, distorted protagonist (not hero, mind you), is that it doesn’t seem like he even necessarily wants to be doing what he’s doing. He’s possessed by the notion that controlled destruction is the only way to save life from utter annihilation and that he, like a great cosmic martyr, will foot the bill of that heinous but necessary sin on his own soul for the good of life itself. He seeks to save life from itself at his own expense.

There is no time then, to plumb the depths of the likes of Tony and Steve and T’Challa once more, because if Thanos is the protagonist of Infinity War, the antagonist is the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it. Every one of the heroes in this movie has run deep in some previous film and thus, at least so far as the long term Marvel audience is concerned, they do not need to here. Here, in Thanos’ story, their purpose is to be short-sighted, to lack the will and purpose to make the sort of sacrifices the film’s true protagonist is prepared to demand of himself, to lack scope beyond themselves in space and time. They’re henchmen, the lot of them. Obstacles. And to see them relegated to as much before Thanos is frightening and distressing, all the more so because Thanos is our twisted protagonist.

How do you bring together twenty-something protagonists from six or so separate film series? You flip the script and dare them all to stop one protagonist from acquiring the dopest MacGuffin ever. If this were the last film in Marvel’s phase three I’d be unhappy, but as the penultimate chapter before much of the MCU’s inaugural class purportedly graduates, Infinity War upends the MCU in exciting ways with a villain whose six-year build up does not disappoint.

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Road to Infinity War – Guardians of the Galaxy, or, The Anti-Batman

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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You have no idea how shockingly difficult it is to find a decently sized version of the U.S. poster for any given Marvel movie.

It was Guardians! It’s always been Guardians! The movie that made mine Marvel. The one that finally coaxed me into taking that first sip of the Marvel Kool-Aid. Marvel’s third transcendent piece of filmmaking, but the first I recognized as such from day one.

In the summer of 2014, even at the eve of the Star Wars sequel era, all blockbusters, and particularly Marvel films, still shivered in the shadow of the Dark Knight Trilogy for me. Even walking out of Winter Soldier, a film I have since developed quite an affection for, I remember unsurprisingly writing it off as good, but not The Dark Knight. Guardians of the Galaxy is the movie that finally got it through to me: “hey dummy, Marvel isn’t in the Dark Knight business!”

In a lot of ways, with Guardians of the Galaxy Marvel made an anti-Batman, an equal and opposite force of inspired cinema.

In a sense, dope as he is, Batman is a dude from the upper echelons of society who was wronged and thus goes about imposing his will on the city beneath him. The Guardians are basically a bunch of misfit burnouts in detention tasked with saving their high school. They aren’t characters who come from a position of power like some of their MCU predecessors and they aren’t fueled by guilt or duty, righteousness or responsibility. They’re some punks who get an opportunity to do the right thing and begrudgingly take it.

That lack of pretense is emphasized by the film’s now-iconic soundtrack. Where the Dark Knight Trilogy has Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard going bananas on eardrums, Guardians cobbles together disparate songs from the radio of yore to an equally compelling but opposite effect. Where Zimmer and Howard’s spectacular scores engulf you and bolster those films’ imagery, underpinning a cinematic experience that towers over audiences, the Guardians soundtrack endears itself to the audience, coaxing your guard down and drawing you in closer. Additionally, ample credit has not been given to Tyler Bates’ score for the film, which proves particularly potent during some of the film’s quieter, more potent moments.

Of course you can’t talk about Guardians without discussing its humor. This film has moments of not only comedic relief, but straight-up comedy. Among the crazy visuals, catchy tunes and compelling story it was the comedy of Guardians I really found myself relishing, basking in the laughs on my way out of the theater. From the goofy opening dance number on Guardians declares itself willing and able to be unapologetically bright and colorful and hilarious. It doesn’t fail at achieving the operatic grandeur of The Dark Knight because it has no interest in being a grand opera.

For me, The Dark Knight ushered in a new level of engagement with movies. Guardians of the Galaxy is the movie that pried me free of the dogmas I’d picked up seeing The Dark Knight in theaters a dozen times. James Gunn’s film didn’t diminish my adoration of Christopher Nolan’s films, it expanded my appreciation for blockbusters at large, and all the flavors they can come in. I watch blockbuster films with a more thoughtful eye, and engage with the Marvel Cinematic Universe as intensely as I do, because of Guardians of the Galaxy.

For a stroll down memory lane to a time in which my computer screwed me over (thanks ASUS, kindly go to hell) and I wound up handwriting and drawing my blog posts and taking pictures of them on my phone to post:

August 4, 2014: Guerilla Blogging, or, Guardians of the Galaxy

Easy Ways and Hard Ways, or, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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Decisions, decisions.

It’s startling how easy it can be to slide into lives that have been built for us without considering the lives we can build for ourselves. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is heavily concerned with the temptation to walk into a prescribed life and the struggle between that temptation and the admittedly daunting, perhaps impossible pursuit of building a life that is entirely your own.

Vol. 2 finds the Guardians more or less gelling as a unit, working odd jobs across the titular galaxy when, in the span of an hour or so, some provoked customers put them in their sights and a space weirdo with a beard (Snake Plissken) shows up claiming to be Star Lord/Peter Quill’s father. What follows is a hilarious and exciting look at the multitude of easier lives the Guardians could be living and the lives they are living, be it by choice or circumstance.

Amongst the plethora of revelations regarding Star-Lord’s past is a tailor-made life ready for Quill to slip into like a cozy leather glove. He’s given the option to leave the trials and tribulations of a space outlaw behind for a life that would, if nothing else, require substantially less effort. But the promise of an easier life is also the promise of a life far less his own.

Rocket, having essentially chosen to build a life for himself by standing around like a jackass with the rest of the Guardians in the first film, finds himself struggling with the intricacies that entails, primarily the consideration of others’ thoughts, feelings and opinions. Rocket finds his life to be anything but the stock option for a mutilated, sentient raccoon, but rising above his circumstances has proven to be a balancing act between fulfillment and responsibility, and Rocket is very much still mulling over which carries more weight to him, because at the end of the day being part of a family can be harder than being a loner.

Gamora and her sister Nebula were not only presented with prescribed lives, they were crammed into them, and they both carry the scars to prove it. Drax had built a life that, by all indications, was his own before it was destroyed. All three characters find themselves tasked with starting anew and determining not only how much energy and heart to put into a second go, but which direction to go in.

And then there’s Baby Groot (Dominic “XXX” Toretto). Not just hilarious, not just adorable, Baby Groot is essentially a blank canvas, taking queues on how to live its (?) life from these various entities all struggling to determine how they will live their own lives. Baby Groot stands on the precipice of the journey the rest of the characters are already travailing to varying degrees of success.

Most interesting, however, is the conflicted story of Yondu. In Vol. 2 we learn that Yondu’s gang, The Ravagers, are something of a redheaded stepchild to the larger, proper Ravager horde, but due to decisions in Yondu’s past he and his gang were excommunicated in disgrace. Yondu then becomes the epitome of living life your way, and he’s suffered for it, perhaps deservedly so. But the same choices that make Yondu’s life utterly his own are the ones that have made his life difficult. His is not a lot the audience is likely to find themselves yearning for. He’s denied himself the life he could have lived had he conformed with The Ravagers, and in turn he’s endured hardship, but he may have also reaped rewards far greater than he ever could have otherwise. Yondu, and Michael Rooker’s excellent performance, is at once this film’s emotional and intellectual center, a sort of living thesis statement: pursuing a life off the beaten path can be as punishing as it can be fulfilling.

With that in mind it’s no coincidence that antagonism in Guardians Vol. 2 takes the shape of The Sovereign. They’re a species of fancy gold people who take pride in being genetically designed to fulfill specific sociological needs. Their lives are determined before they are even conceived. Theirs is an antagonism that exists in an echo chamber. It’s the evil of uniformity, and of justifying the righteousness of said uniformity with numbers and might.

If the evil here is conformity and complacency, then it is also no coincidence that the film is absolutely hilarious. What is humor but the upending of expectations? What is a quip but an off-color attack on the golden status quo? Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a tale in which the villainy of homogeny can only be thwarted by the heroism of being an utter smartass.

Guardians of the Galaxy gave us a cast of lovable misfits and outcasts. Vol. 2 explores why they are misfits and outcasts not just in their own societies but in their very souls. Ultimately, it suggests that maybe that decision to seek out a different life, to become a misfit in spite of the challenges living against the grain presents, is what makes these characters heroic.

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Bonus Episode 41.1, or, Wizard World Comic Con Richmond

It’s another bonus episode, this time detailing my exploits at Wizard World Comic Con in Richmond, which essentially amounted to a purgatory-esque line to meet Adam West and the hopeless search for a neon green, smart grip box cutter.

Guerrilla Blogging, or, Guardians of the Galaxy

A note to the reader: the Asus laptop I got just over a year ago crashed so hard it is inoperable. Understandable I know. After all it has been a full single year. Anyway, for the time being I’m limited to my cracked iPhone, so things are going to look a little different around here because I have no intention of texting and entire blog post. So, you know, this:

 

 

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Pony Tricks Comic Cast Bonus Episode 22.1, or, The Day After Free Comic Book Day 2014

It’s the day after Free Comic Book Day and, like, 10 years after the day Dark Souls was released. But here I am talking about Free Comic Book Day and playing Dark Souls. FUN FUN FUN. BONUS BONUS BONUS. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. ROCKET RACCOON. FUTURES END.

Pony Tricks Comic Cast Episode 14, or, Deadlines/You’re Welcome

You are so welcome you don’t even know it. The audio for Episode 14 has been lost. Which I discovered as I went to upload Episode 14. So now I’ve recorded this instead. Which I guess is now, for history and all of time, Episode 14. I’m still on to Matt Fraction’s sinister plan, and I’ve got a very important question for Dan Slott and Spider-Man.

This week: Aquaman, Fantastic Four, Guadrians of the Galaxy, Hawkeye, Superior Spider-Man, The Wake, The Walking Dead