“&” 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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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.

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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.

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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 – 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?