“&” is for Cooperation, or, Ant-Man and the Wasp

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What’s he looking at over there? Wait. What’s she looking at up there? You’ll have to see the movie to find out!!!

More surprising to me than its lackluster box office haul was the feeling Solo: A Star Wars Story seemed to elicit in many reviewers that the film was “inessential.”

Huh?

Bro, they’re movies. They’re all inessential.

Yeah, yeah, I get it. Solo didn’t have star war and lightsabers and Skywalkers. Still, the idea that Solo is inherently lesser because of that is perplexing to me and I’ve yet to see it conveyed in any meaningful or convincing way.

With that in mind, I left Marvel Studios’ latest, Ant-Man and the Wasp, with the nagging feeling that the film had been… inessential. Like a regular pot.

But Ant-Man in the Wasp isn’t so much inessential as it is the direct follow up to Avengers: Infinity War, which is to say the galaxy spanning struggle of, like, twenty superheroes to stop a space warlord from committing universal genocide is followed up here less than three months later by a film that at one point involves seagulls. There’s a distinct sense of whiplash between the two films, one that is more jarring and less refreshing than the welcomed disparity between the cumbersome Avengers: Age of Ultron and the lean, original Ant-Man.

But scope aside, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a thematic follow up to Infinity War that proves itself, while still jarring, anything but inessential.

Infinity War finds its cast of heroes split across the universe, willingly or otherwise. It’s a film that sees a distinct lack of communication between its heavy hitters, even when they share the same geographic location. There are conflicting ideologies and strategies and motivations that muddy the waters of the Avengers’ common goal, and so while the heroes are not in open conflict as they are in Captain America: Civil War, they are lesser in their division, big or small, by choice or by circumstance.

So much of Ant-Man and the Wasp, down to its very title, is concerned with cooperation, with crossing aisles and uniting fronts. Here, crooks and physicists work together for a greater good, as do fallen-out old peers, the rich and poor, the brilliant and goofy. Human beings and ants.

Well, the ants seem like they might be straight-up slaves, but you know.

Ant-Man himself works alongside his ex-wife and her new husband to raise their daughter. The Wasp works aside her estranged father to search for her mother. This is a film about cooperation, about people helping and being helped. It paints a picture of an MCU in which hands, though sometimes more eagerly than others, are still extended in comradery. It’s not an Ant-Man movie. It’s not a Wasp movie. It’s all about that “and” baby.

Despite its great sense of humor and utterly badass antagonist, Ghost (played by Hannah John-Kamen), I’d be lying if I said Ant-Man and the Wasp made it any easier to wait for Avengers 4 next summer, but it’s thematic follow-up to that film has me chomping at the bit to concoct hot takes on the quadruple feature of what is shaping up to be a fascinating run of Marvel films; Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel and Avengers 4.

When the dust settles on phase three of the MCU after whatever fallout awaits us in Avengers 4 it’ll be very interesting to see just how essential this brief interlude becomes.

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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.

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.

infinitywar

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.

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!

Road to Infinity War – Thor: Ragnarok, or, The Bummer King

Holy crap I’m almost done! 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.

ragnarokthor

You will believe a Jeff can Goldblum.

Don’t get me wrong, this movie is amazing, but boy oh boy did it not require any of the Jacuzzi vision quest from Age of Ultron. Like, not even a little bit.

Anyway, spoilers ahead for Thor: Ragnarok.

Despite being a few hundred years old and a god and all that, Thor is one of the more dynamic characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a compelling arc that finally gets an equally compelling movie to match in Thor: Ragnarok.

When we met Thor in the original 2011 film he was ready to assume the throne of Asgard, eager to rule because damnit it was his birthright to rule, because it was simply what was supposed to happen. In his first cinematic outing, however, the God of Thunder falls prey to a Patented Marvel Humbling (PMH) and learns that even vaguely decent and worthy leadership requires more than lineage and demands more than a wink and a smile. He learns that the throne is more than a chair.

It is perhaps because of that daunting knowledge that when we return to Asgard in The Dark World Thor has no interest whatsoever in the throne he had once been so certain was his. In Dark World, as a far worthier prospect for kinghood than he was when we met him, Thor turns down the throne, maybe out of a newfound humility, maybe out of a newfound fear of ruling.

By the end of Ragnarok, however, Thor has come full circle, back to where we met him years ago, standing before the throne, surrounded by his people. But the golden palace is gone, as is the sparkling silver helm. There are no more feasts and cries of merriment, as all of that pomp and circumstance has been replaced by a sea of refugees and a leader who at last feels the true burden of what it is to rule.

As hilarious as Ragnarok is, it’s also a pretty cruel film. Though it concludes with Thor finally ascending the throne, it only does so after first utterly destroying Thor’s sense of home and then utterly destroying Thor’s actual home. Having finally attained a somber understanding of the responsibility of leadership, Thor is stripped of his understanding of the cultural entity he is tasked with shepherding.

Ragnarok’s uncertain ending echoes that of Captain America: Civil War, that unsure ground being one of many thematic through lines of Marvel’s third phase of films that run through the movie. The problematic and deceitful retelling of history by authority from in Doctor Strange, the protagonist faced with the harsh realities of their inherited privilege from Guardians Vol. 2, and the exploration of monarchy and colonialist antagonism that follow in Black Panther all play a part in Raganrok. One can’t help but wonder what sort of role these motifs might play in Infinity War.

Whatever fate may have in store for Thor, the character has finally truly gotten his due in Ragnarok and Chris Hemsworth has been able to take the God of Thunder on a philosophical and emotional journey few if any other MCU characters can match.

Anyway, I’m calling it: Hela lives!

#GoddessofDeath #Avengers4

Thor: Ragnarok = the God of Thunder’s first semester, freshman year of college? I think maybe:

November 17, 2017: Saved by the Bell: The Sakaar Years, or, Thor: Ragnarok

 

Road to Infinity War – Spider-Man: Homecoming, or, Marvel’s Joe the Plumber

We’re in the home stretch! 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.

spider-manhomecoming

PSA: When it comes to grammar, don’t lie down on the job! Remember kids, it’s “Spider-Man” with a hyphen.

Just shy of a decade after Tony Stark declared “I am Iron Man” Spider-Man: Homecoming takes a moment to explore, for the first time, the effects living amongst gods and monsters has on the everyday folk of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ant-Man gave us a smaller scale through the lens of thieves and scientific industrialists, but Homecoming shows us the MCU as seen by a high-schooler and a construction worker.

Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is unlike any previous cinematic iteration of the character in that he’s grown up and lives in a world of superheroes before becoming one himself. He lives in a world with a template for superheroics. His is a Spider-Man with preconceived notions of what Spider-Man should be, which proves to be just as stressful for a young dork as being the lone superhero in a regular-ass, pre-shared-universe Spider-Man movie. When he bemoans “I just feel like I should be doing more,” for instance, it’s hard not to see echoes of the same sort of sentiment that got Tony Stark into trouble in Age of Ultron.

Through Peter’s expectations of what he should be as a superhero we get some insight into what the Avengers mean to the Joe the Plumbers of the MCU who haven’t had a city dropped on them or otherwise been made into collateral damage. And it turns out, at least to Peter and his youthful ilk, that the likes of Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are just kind of grown-ups. They’re weird authority figures that are at once less than and more than human, who espouse hackneyed wisdom, who don’t really understand. After all, the youth of the MCU don’t get to watch the MCU, and so its heroes to them are more unattainable ideals than nuanced characters.

Unless of course you’re Michael Keaton’s Adrianne Toomes, in which case they’re deplorable demons of the highest order.

In Toomes we get a taste of a less enthusiastic, though not at all apathetic, perception of the Avengers. They are above the law. They are above reproach. They are above everyday struggle, above the sting of sweat in the eye, above working for an honest living.

Though they never share screentime, Toomes’ vilification of Tony Stark proves particularly potent. If Tony is reformed Big Pharma, Toomes is an opioid dealer, hocking a variation of the same product on a smaller scale to less affluent clientele. Though Stark has continuously attempted to salve the sins of his past as a weapons dealer, so far as we know Stark Industries hasn’t exactly thrown away all the money it made off of those nifty Jericho missiles. I mean, dude drives an Audi.

Inversely, we’re given a glimpse of Toomes’ more relatable wealth, nothing to thumb one’s nose at but a drop in the bucket compared to Tony Stark’s toys, just as the deeds that earned him his meager riches are infinitesimal compared to the global scale on which Stark hocked his wares. But Toomes is a villain. When he is an arms dealer he is a bad guy despite being motivated by the call to support his family, a far nobler pursuit than any that ever fueled Stark Industries’ profit margins.

Through Michael “Bird ‘Batman’ Man” Keaton’s Adrienne “The Vulture” Toomes we see that just as the Avengers can serves as symbols to aspire to, they can serve as something to hate.

Spider-Man: Homecoming gave us kids in detention and bodega owners and school gym teachers. It gave us a real, sustained look at the world outside our window within the MCU and I can only imagine that bonkers spectacle and stakes the franchise has to offer in Infinity War will be all the more affecting and nuanced for having taken this humble detour.

Did you know there were other Spider-Mans BEFORE this Spider-Man? For more:

July 25, 2017: That Parker Luck (Again (Again)), or, Spider-Man: Homecoming

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.

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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