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!

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Road to Infinity War – Thor: The Dark World, or, Malekith in the Middle

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.

thedarkworld

Trust me, it says “The Dark World.”

Did you see that title? Come on, I am killing it with that title. Don’t even feel compelled to write anything else. But I will. Because I’m killing it.

Thor: The Dark World is something of a tease for what audiences would eventually get in Guardians of the Galaxy – unbridled, unapologetic space shenanigans. But much to its detriment, The Dark World is a movie firmly chained to Earth. It gets off of the ground in the middle act and just as it begins to truly soar it’s yanked back down by a cruel leash.

There’s a sense of trepidation to Dark World, as if it’s testing the waters on behalf of the entire MCU for the cosmic insanity to come, and doing so with a disproportionate amount of caution. I don’t know if it was a fear that audiences in 2013 were only willing to get so weird, or so sci-fi, or so fantastical, or if it was some misconception that they could only relate to stakes on Earth, but you can feel this movie holding itself back, reigning itself in, getting in its own way. I mean, in the immediate aftermath of The Avengers what better excuse for Thor not summoning his new friends than “because he is literally in outer space” could you possibly ask for?

And yet!

Dark World doesn’t take a lot of chances, which is particularly obvious after watching its immediately successors, The Winter Soldier and Guardians. So we’re left with a climax set in a drab London besieged by a nonsense MacGuffin (one which I am genuinely excited to see explained in Infinity War).

That said, I really, really dig this movie. And not just because it was the very first movie I went to alone and anything short of being laughed out of the theater and ridiculed by a pack of teen bullies would have constituted a good time at the cinema.

The chunk of this film in the middle that leaves the Earth behind and unleashes sheer imagination across Asgard is more than enough to endear The Dark World to me time and time again. The Star Trek meets Lord of the Ring aesthetic still boasts some of the most inspired design work the MCU has yet to offer, and there’s a marriage of practical and digital effects here that Dark World still doesn’t get enough credit for. The Dark Elves and their weaponry are a visual feast, and for as long as he is a force of antagonism in the film, Kurse is a sight to behold. The blending of sci-fi and fantasy pallets lend the best parts of Dark World a sense of otherworldly, swashbuckling adventure that I still find infectious.

Like I said, I really, really dig this movie. But it’s not Marvel’s best. I get that. Hemsworth, Hiddleston and Hopkins once again bring out the best in each other but the rest of the cast is given far less to chew on. It’s no surprise the MCU and Natalie Portman haven’t crossed paths again after her supreme talents were squandered yet again, and Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith is a bland, wasted use of actor and character alike. I mean, look, dude ain’t even mentioned on the back of the Blu-ray!

But when those creepy Dark Elves pour out of their knife spaceship and throw their reverse grenades and those golden space gladiators in a lavish thrown room?

C’mon.

This take isn’t all that much hotter than my first hot take, but, if you have any interest in me saying the exact same thing only as someone who doesn’t give a shit about Marvel movies:

November 13, 2013: More Like “The DORK World,” or, Just Kidding I Really Liked Thor 2

God I really just have been murdering it with titles for, like, years.

Road to Infinity War – Thor, or, You’re Not My Dad!

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.

thor

You will believe an angle can be Dutch!

Director Kenneth Branagh’s Thor is one of the smaller films in the MCU despite the vast scope of time and space it introduced to the franchise. Before Thor, the MCU was basically just scientists pushing the limits of technology, but with Marvel’s fourth film we got millennia-old gods living in a gold pipe organ in space, traveling around the cosmos via rainbow laser beam.

And yet, if you had to stage a community theater production of a Marvel film, Thor would be the one to go for.

The action here is nothing to thumb your nose at, and it is particularly big in the first act, but where Thor really excels is in its depiction of interfamilial conflict. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is a star from “go” and any time any combination of him, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor or Anthony Hopkins’ Odin share the screen there’s an undeniable sense of craft and gravitas.

Unfortunately we don’t get much of that during Thor’s humbling sojourn to New Mexico, but we do get a dope mud fight. Which you could totally do on a stage.

Natalie Portman isn’t exactly fully utilized as Jane Foster here, but her character feels like more than just checking a box next to “love interest.” Foster is the Stark or Banner of this film. She is the scientist pushing the limits of what is possible and Thor embodies just how much further there is to push.

Over the course of the first three Marvel films Stark and Banner are dogged by ever-present, antagonistic, militaristic authorities. By the time Iron Man 2 wraps up it’s pretty clear that even the shadiest government agency isn’t going to undo the likes of Iron Man or Hulk, but this film displays just how woefully inept and unequipped those antagonists, and by extension our protagonists, really are in the cosmic scheme of things. It sets up a new threshold of conflict that requires more than a robot suit and a green monster to quash.

Thor is the start of a true ramp-up to Avengers, expanding the possibilities of the franchise. It treads carefully. Perhaps too carefully. But when it takes us to Asgard and shows us the petty squabbles of gods in their giant space castle the intimate and the sprawling collide in compelling fashion.