I admit, I only kind of half pay attention to the new Star Wars and Marvel shows on Disney Plus. Both have so thoroughly over-saturated the market that there's just no excitement about either franchise anymore. A lot of the stories in Star Wars in particular feel like they're scraping the bottom of the barrel for any idea that some bean-counter feels is worth filming. Marvel at least has the advantage of progressing a continuous narrative forward, even if it's currently moving at a glacial pace. Star Wars is widely regarded as having shat the bed with the sequel trilogy (I still haven't bothered to watch Rise of Skywalker), so now it's completely fixated on just back-filling the details adjacent to the parts of the franchise that were actually good, while insisting that the same handful of characters have their hands in everything important that has ever happened in this universe. Anyway, sorry for the Star Wars tangent; I'm supposed to be talking about a Marvel show right now. I wonder how long it will be before Disney gets so desperate that they start crossing-over Marvel and Star Wars?

Anyway, the point is that I've been kind of "meh" about almost everything that Marvel has put out since Infinity War. So "meh" that I couldn't even be bothered to write reviews or impressions of most of it. So much of the content just feels like it's running in place from a narrative standpoint, or that it's just an elaborate setup and tease for bigger, more important future content. Just get to the Fantastic 4 and X-Men and Kang the Conqueror or Dr. Doom or whoever the next big bad Thanos-wannabe is going to be already!

Loki - Kang
Loki Episode 6, © Disney, Marvel.
WandaVision - witchcraft
WandaVision Episode 9, © Disney, Marvel.
Marvel's shows feel largely like teases for the good stuff that's still just over the horizon.

I went into She-Hulk expecting more of the same: a show that serves only to bridge the gap between Endgame and whatever is next, instead of really being a story in its own right. But after a couple episodes of only half watching, I found myself putting my laptop away and actually paying attention as we got further and further into the season. The reason is that She-Hulk doesn't feel like filler content; it feels like an actual TV show that exists for its own sake and is content to tell its own story.

Yeah, sure, it's still tied into what's going on in the broader Marvel universe. OG Hulk gets kid-napped by aliens and disappears for most of the series, which is definitely a tease for some bigger things happening out in the periphery. But while shows like Loki seemed to exist only to build some interest and intrigue about what's going to happen next, She-Hulk is just a show about Jennifer Walters coming to terms with her new, public identity as She-Hulk.

This leads to a more personal, intimate super hero story than I'm used to seeing from the never-ending parade of comic book movies that always have to have apocalyptic stakes. Yeah, sure, Spider-Man deals heavily with Peter Parker balancing his personal and social life with his hero duties, but the focus on teenage and high school drama isn't something that I relate to as much anymore. And yeah, both WandaVision and Loki get very personal, but neither of those allow us to see the heroes living their lives in real life. They both take place in highly exaggerated or outright fictional realities. So She-Hulk feels different. It's largely about Jennifer Walters' life now that she is a super hero. Not her life as a super hero; her normal, everyday life since becoming a super hero.

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If Infinity War was the Empire Strikes Back of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then Endgame was poised to be the MCU's Return of the Jedi. RotJ was a "good enough" capstone on a legendary film series, and that's pretty much where my expectations for Endgame sat. Endgame exceeded my expectations. It's far more than just a "good enough" sequel, though it's still not as good as Infinity War.

Endgame could very easily have just been a movie about all the heroes picking themselves back up after being knocked down in Infinity War, coming together, going after Thanos, and beating him up for two hours. Then they get the Infinity Gauntlet and snap all the dead heroes and people back into existence. No harm done, happy ending for everyone.

Not the case.

Several of my friends suspected that Thanos would remain the point-of-view character, and that he, himself, would be overcome with grief and regret over having killed Gamora. That Thanos would actually be the one to undo everything, redeeming himself in a way similar to Darth Vader. That didn't happen either. The point of view has shifted completely back to our heroes -- what's left of them.

Thanos' grief is not the subject of the movie, nor does he spend the movie gloating. Grief is, however, the overarching theme of Endgame, which handles the subject with maturity and nuance -- at least, up until its morally muddled ending (more on that later). The Marvel movies have always included themes of family, and the lengths one would go for family. Endgame explores how we deal with the loss of family, the grief and depression that comes with tragedy, the trauma and guilt of failing to protect those you care about. It's powerful stuff, and it pulls no punches.

The end credits went full-blown Star Trek VI.

And I totally cried when the movie went full-blown Star Trek VI with its end credits. It's too bad they didn't include the Stan Lee marvel logo that was included in Captain Marvel. This being the capstone MCU movie that everyone is going to see, I feel that tribute would have served this movie well. Or maybe put that tribute at the end of the movie, along with the other credits. Ah well.

 

It's hard to talk any more about this movie without going into spoiler territory. So I'm going to start with minor spoilers and work my way up to the more major ones. If you haven't seen the movie yet, then you can close this page now and know that I give it my fullest recommendation. Otherwise, feel free to read on, but know that things are going to get increasingly spoiler-y as I go on. Feel free to stop if you feel like you're about to read something you don't want to hear.

The remaining heroes must deal with the grief and guilt of having failed to stop Thanos.
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Movie audiences were all pleasantly surprised when the ensemble cast of Avengers all came together to make a pretty damned good movie. There was genuine anxiety regarding whether that movie could possibly successfully bring four movies' worth of superheroes together into a single movie, and manage to give everybody enough valuable screen time to make the whole thing work. Similarly, there was considerably anxiety regarding whether or not Marvel could double-down and pull off an ensemble of ensembles for the mega-crossover Infinity War. But at this point, I think we've all moved past any expectation that Marvel will screw up, and we all just assume that they're going to find a way to magically make it all work.

I had to wait a couple weeks to find out. I had planned to see the movie the Monday after release and have this review out two weeks ago, but fate conspired against that. Towards the end of the trailers, somebody pulled the fire alarm in the building, forcing the theater to evacuate. It was a false alarm, but by the time they let everyone back in, it was too late and the movie wouldn't be over in time to pick up the kids from KidsQuest before they closed for the night. Ah well. My girlfriend finally got sick of having to hush her students whenever they started talking about the movie, so she dragged me out to the theater earlier this week.

The sheer volume of characters, content, and punches here does make Infinity War one of the more unbalanced of Marvel's movies. It is after all, weaving a complex tapestry of superhero action, science fiction, and magical fantasy, and there's virtually no set-up or development for the characters. This movie is all climax all the time. It's probably the first Marvel movie that really requires that you have seen most of the lead-up material. There simply isn't enough time here to introduce who everyone is and what their deal is. If you haven't seen at least one film featuring each character, you'll likely be lost with regard to who they are. Guardians of the Galaxy, Civil War, and Ragnarok are pretty much essential prerequisite viewing. You can skip Ant Man though, as he's conspicuously absent from this particular compilation piece.

Infinity War is an ensemble of ensembles.

This movie would probably fail miserably if it were a typical super-hero movie focused around the heroes and their struggle (and failure) to beat the bad guy. Marvel knows well enough to not try to replicate The Empire Strikes Back. Instead, Infinity War is much more about the bad guy. Thanos is pretty much the main character here, and a great deal of time and effort is paid to trying to make him as relatable and understandable of a villain as possible. He is characterized with nuance, he's clever, he's ruthless, and he's consistent in his goals and ambition. Whether or not you sympathize with his point of view will, of course, depend on where you stand on the topic of universal genocide. Josh Brolin's Thanos does, however, have some pretty definitive swagger and charisma. His CG monstrosity has a lot of screen presence. It's too bad that the CG isn't always completely convincing though.

Because the bad guy is basically the main character (and protagonist), the entire narrative arc of the movie is almost the inverse of what you'd usually expect. The bad guys show up to create the dramatic stakes and sense of threat with aplomb, as expected. But instead of the rising action being a series of setbacks for the heroes with a climactic victory at the end, the heroes seem to come together and get everything mostly under control for the middle act of the movie, only to have it all go to shit when the climax arrives. Instead of the good guys losing in the end, the movie is framed as the bad guy wins in the end -- a subtle, but significant difference!

Thanos is the main character of this movie, and the dramatic and emotional arcs revolve around him.
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Thor Ragnarok poster

The Marvel movies have always been very light-hearted and fun, leaning heavily on humor and wit to keep the audience's attention during the slow dialogue bits. Thor: Ragnarok seems to take things to a new level though -- at least, outside of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Ragnarok comes off as almost a full-blown comedy. It's good. It works well. I just hope that this doesn't become a new de facto template for future Marvel movies, as it would eventually run itself very dry.

That being said, the Marvel films have definitely shown signs of growth after Avengers: Age of Ultron. The plot doesn't revolve around a magic MacGuffin, and it's not even really a revenge story. The bad guy just wants to conquer Asgard because she's an ambitious bitch who wants power. There's a little bit of a vengeance angle, as she's obviously mad at Odin and Asgard for imprisoning her. But Odin's dead before she even shows up, so she basically just shows up and says "kneel before me or be destroyed." Hela is kind of bland. I wish they'd done more with the Planet Hulk stuff instead -- maybe even making Hulk be the bad guy?

I also initially struggled to find any sort of core, unifying theme, and walked out of the movie not quite sure what it was supposed to have been about. The overarching theme seems to be that Thor doesn't need the hammer to be powerful, but isn't that just retreading the core lesson that he learned in the first movie? Besides, the whole "the power was in you all along" thing only comes up at one point mid-way through the movie, and then Anthony Hopkins' Odin shows up at the very end to just tell Thor that he doesn't need the hammer. It felt like a bit of a copout.

Ragnarok has no compunctions about shaking up the status quo.

But I don't think the Dumbo storyline is actually the point here. I think the point is the movie's fatalistic (yet still, somehow, upbeat) ending. Despite the tongue-in-cheek, comical tone, this movie does nothing if not completely disregard that status quo. True to the movie's namesake, the end of the world actually does happen this time around! Asgard (along with the Rainbow Bridge) is destroyed, Odin is dead, The Asgardian army has been massacred, Mjolnir is destroyed, Bruce Banner is [supposedly] irreversibly transformed into the Hulk, and so on...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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