Did the cover Friday, doing the original now: from my personal favorite Beatles album, Abbey Road (which I would also argue is their best), “Come Together.”
The DC Extended Universe continues to shit the bed every time a movie isn’t directed by Patty Jenkins. An unholy mess of a movie stitched together from two directors with diametrically opposed sensibilities, wasting the first time Henry Cavill has actually played Superman. The great superhero movie rewatch is frustrated by 2017’s Justice League.
You would be hard-pressed to find two filmmakers who are less alike than Joss Whedon and Zack Snyder, so asking the former to reshoot and rewrite the latter is a notion fraught with peril, rather akin to asking Terry Pratchett to partially rewrite George R.R. Martin.
And you can so totally see the seams. One minute, it’s a dark, dank, deconstructionist film from someone who finds no joy in superheroes, the next it’s a quip-filled superhero story that takes quite a bit of joy in being about superheroes. Having them both in the same movie makes for an unsettling and peculiar viewing experience, because we get two distinct, incompatible tones.
I was born the same year we landed someone on the moon, the Mets won the World Series, and Woodstock happened—among other things, this means I turned fifty this year. This doesn’t make me feel old at all. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go to the window and shake my fist and tell those kids to get off my lawn.
Anyhow, I was raised by a roving pack of wild librarians, who trained me in their vile and depraved ways. A steady diet of Ursula K. Le Guin’sEarthsea trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Robert A. Heinlein’s YA fiction, and P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves & Wooster stories and novels doomed me to a life of crime. Or, rather, a life of science fiction, fantasy, and silliness. Either a career as a writer or decades of therapy was inevitable…..
Today is “Alien Day,” and in honor of that, Titan Books announced the details on three new Alien books, including revealing the cover of my novel Isolation, which is due out at the end of July. Ain’t it cool-looking?
There’s also info on the art book Alien: 40 Years and 40 Artists, featuring work by Dane Hallet, Sam Hudecki, Tanya Lapointe, Denis Villeneuve, Jordan Vogt-Robert, Terryl Whitlatch, and Jon Wilcox; and on Tim Waggoner’s novel Alien: Prototype, which features Zula Hendricks. Zula is a great character introduced in the Alien: Defiance comic miniseries, and currently also appearing in the Alien: Resistance comic. I got to write Zula a bit in Isolation, and I’m really looking forward to Tim’s book.
Today, the great superhero movie rewatch on Tor.com focuses on 2017’s Justice League, which was a bit of a mess, but it had a good soundtrack. I did Sigrid’s nifty cover of “Everybody Knows” from the top of the film last week, and over the credits (and also in the trailers), we got Gary Clark Jr. and Junkie XL’s equally nifty cover of the Beatles classic “Come Together.”
Star Trek: Discovery‘s second season has ended, and while it’s an improvement on the first, it also has many of the same problems. My take on the show’s sophomore outing, including the good, the bad, and the nostalgia, is up now on Tor.com.
Having said that, the only truly missed opportunity was not doing more with Culber’s response to Tyler beyond the abortive mess-hall fight. Just in general, Tyler is one part of the season that sticks out like a sore thumb. His romance with Burnham is lifeless—Shazad Latif and Sonequa Martin-Green have no chemistry whatsoever—and aside from that mess-hall scene, we get no sense of how the rest of the crew feels about Culber’s murderer being assigned to the ship. This is mostly accomplished by keeping him away from the rest of the crew—Tyler’s interactions are all with Pike (who wasn’t on the ship last year), Georgiou (who sees him being a murderer as a feature, not a bug), Leland (ditto), and L’Rell (who was the one who sent him to commit that murder in the first place). And Burnham, but they spend all their time making sodden goo-goo eyes at each other.
So there’s a new Marvel movie out today, as you might have heard……..
Often when this happens, I rank the previous ones, which gets harder and harder. I’m not going to bother with commentary this time, especially since I’ve been rewatching the MCU (and every other live-action movie based on a superhero comic) for Tor.com. I’m just gonna provide the rankings, along with a link to either the rewatch article (for Phase 1 and Phase 2 films) or my review on Patreon (some of the Phase 3 movies).
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- Iron Man
- Captain Marvel
- Black Panther
- Captain America: Civil War
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Doctor Strange
- Ant-Man & The Wasp
- Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2
- Thor: The Dark World
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Thor: Ragnarok
- Iron Man 2
- Iron Man 3
- The Incredible Hulk
The first three are pretty much interchangeable. Iron Man‘s solid at #4, but you could arrange #5-9 in pretty much any order and I wouldn’t argue, though I rate Thor slightly ahead of Black Panther only because the latter movie has pretty much the exact same plot as the former. #14-18 are also interchangeable and all share the same trait: flawed in many ways, and either much better (#14-15, 18) or worse (#16-17) than their reputation. #19-21 are also interchangeable, the dregs of the MCU.
With the imminent release of Avengers: Endgame, I thought I’d put the review I wrote of last year’s Avengers: Infinity War on 1 May 2018 on my Patreon. For just $1/month, you can read my movie reviews, of which there’s at least one per month.
First of all, as with my review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, this will be a spoiler-filled review. It’s kind of important for it to be so, as I really want to discuss the most spoilery elements of the film. Secondly, there’s a ton of stuff happening here, and trying to write a focused review on a movie that had so much in it is hard, so I’m just gonna do the bullet-point thing. The first few will not be spoilery, so consider the first few bullet points to be your SPOILER SPACE before the revealing stuff kicks in.
- As with Avengers, this manages the impressive balancing act of being the next Avengers movie, the next Captain America movie, the next Thor movie, the next Iron Man movie, the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie, the next Hulk movie, the next Dr. Strange movie, the next Spider-Man movie, and the next Black Panther movie all at the same time.
- The pacing in this movie is simply amazing. There are a ton of different threads happening at once, and at no point do you lose track of any of them, stay away from any of them too long, or get tired of one of them. Everything flows beautifully, and the Russo brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely did an amazing job of story structure and plot movement here. It didn’t feel like two hours and forty minutes at all.
- I was worried that the humor might overwhelm the seriousness of the situation, because A Marvel Movie Must Have Banter, but the banter we got was appropriate to the setting and generally worked—I’d say the only exception was Cap and Thor pausing to have a conversation in the middle of a fight, but these are two old comrades in arms reunited for the first time in a few years, and besides, how could Thor not comment on Cap growing a beard?
- Speaking of that, Banner being overwhelmed by all the changes since Age of Ultron was just a hilarious running gag. (“There’s an Ant-Man and a Spider-Man?”)
- As someone pointed out on Twitter, you had Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch standing there with Spider-Man and Star-Lord, two of the biggest smartasses in the MCU, and neither of the latter two makes a “no shit, Sherlocks” joke???????
- Okay, now we’re getting into SPOILER TERRITORY!!!! But this next paragraph is only minorly spoilery, but this is your chance to git while the gittin’s good. And before that, I’m just going to put this here for your viewing pleasure and added spoiler space:
- This is a link to the trailer for Ant-Man and the Wasp, which will sorta-kinda answer the question, “hey, where were Ant-Man and the Wasp during Infinity War, anyhow??????????”
- Now we’re in SERIOUS SPOILER TERRITORY!!!!! Okay, so, the entire sequence in Wakanda involved trained soldiers. The Black Panther is a king who has led battles before, and under him are Okoye and M’Baku who are kickass fighters and are trained in leading troops into battle. Later Thor shows up, and he’s led troops into battle for literally a millennium. On top of that, you’ve got a veteran S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who’s better at combat than most humans, and then you’ve got four more trained soldiers in Captain America, Bucky, War Machine, and Falcon. I mention all this only by way of saying, the military strategy should’ve been a bit stronger in that sequence. If you’re going to lower the shield, don’t do it before you’ve even started running toward it, wait till you get there. Better yet, don’t lower the shield, just weaken it so the bad guys think they’ve weakened it, and then they send more cannon fodder CGI monsters through to die. And in the end, when Thanos shows up, why is it that the various trained soldiers fight him like kung fu extras in a Bruce Lee movie, taking him one at a time instead of, say, doing the hit-and-run thing like they did on Titan? I mean, c’mon, when fucking Star-Lord has better fight strategy than Captain Rogers, Colonel Rhodes, Sergeant Barnes, and Sergeant Wilson, something’s gone horribly wrong.
- Speaking of that, the fight on Titan with Iron Man, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and the Guardians fighting Thanos was quite possibly the best superhero fight scene ever committed to cinema. Everyone used their powers intelligently and sensibly, and they used a smart hit-and-run strategy, never giving Thanos a chance to catch his breath. And if Star-Lord wasn’t such an emotionally immature thundering dumbass, they might have actually won.
- Having said all that, why did no one at any point consider just cutting Thanos’s arm off? I mean, c’mon, Bucky is right there with a missing arm to give you the hint! And Thor even has an axe now!
- Also, I’m now 100% invested in Rocket winding up with Bucky’s arm at the end of the next film.
- It’s always risky when you re-create a scene from the comics in cinema. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. As an example, the 2003 Daredevil re-created the Bullseye-Elektra fight from Daredevil #181, and it didn’t quite work. On the other hand, Captain America: Civil War re-created Captain America’s “no, you move” speech to Spider-Man from Amazing Spider-Man #537, and even though it was Sharon Carter quoting her great-aunt Peggy saying it, it was just as effective in that movie as it was in that comic book. I say all this because this movie did an amazing job of re-creating the forging of Stormbreaker from Thor #339. (I especially love that Stormbreaker’s haft is a bit of Groot.) Kudos also to casting Peter Dinklage as a dwarf, but then making him bigger than almost everyone else in the movie.
- Most of Thanos’s hench-thugs were faceless CGI nobodies, but huge amounts of credit must go to the great Carrie Coon as Proxima Midnight and especially to Tom Vaughn-Lawlor as Ebony Maw. They both managed to infuse significant menace into their characters and make them formidable foes in their own right.
- The movie had three great moments where you just punch the air and cry out, “Yes!” the way Thor did when the Hulk showed up in the arena in Thor: Ragnarok. The first was Cap stepping out of the shadows in Edinburgh to help Vision and the Scarlet Witch. At that moment, you know that the tide has turned in the fight and the bad guys are toast. The second was “WAKANDA FOREVER!” But the third and biggest—the one that made the entire audience I saw it with at a 10.45pm Monday night showing in a packed theatre in the Bronx break out into spontaneous applause—was Thor showing up in Wakanda with Groot and Rocket and kicking all the asses. Banner spoke for all of us when he grinned and cried out, “You’re screwed now!” The only thing missing was the Mighty Mouse..
- Not every character was well served—it’s just not possible with this big a cast—but everyone was in character and completely recognizable. This is worth mentioning in particular given the subject matter of this film. See, I never ever liked Thanos as a villain, mostly because Jim Starlin’s writing has always left me cold. I remember reading the various issues of Captain Marvel and a few other comics that introduced Thanos back in the day, all at least plotted by Starlin, and my biggest issue with all of them is that nobody sounded or acted like themselves. With the lone exception of Rick Jones, none of the characters had their right voice. And in general, I found Thanos to be a spectacularly uninteresting villain, a weak-tea version of Darkseid. I say all this because this movie makes me invested in Thanos as a character for the first time, ever. A lot of this is the gravitas that Josh Brolin’s voice and motion-captured facial expressions bring to the part. Thanos’s thing in the comics is that he’s in love with the personification of Death, which never worked for me in the comics, because (like Gamora in this movie) I never believed that Thanos as written and drawn could ever love anyone. But on Vormir, I totally bought that Thanos loved Gamora (nicely set up in the flashback to when he first took her in).
- I’m glad, at least, that they gave lip service to Natasha and Bruce’s relationship, and I’m glad that, even though their roles were small, both Wong and Heimdall played critical roles in the movie. (Honestly, Heimdall sending Hulk to Earth is pretty much what saves everyone’s asses.)
- One of my absolute favorite moments in this movie is Shuri totally owning Banner and Stark’s asses in science in just one sentence! The next movie had better have at least part of the solution coming from Stark, Shuri, and Banner science-ing the shit out of something, and ending with Stark about to offer Shuri an internship at Stark Enterprises, but before he can, she offers him one in Wakanda.
- I also adored the moment when Proxima was about to stomp on Scarlet Witch and then Natasha and Okoye back her up. (“She’s not alone!”) Can Danai Gurira please co-star in Black Widow?
- One of my favorite moments in the script sadly failed in execution, and that was the Red Skull being condemned to be a wraith on Vormir as his penance for trying to harness the stones in Captain America: The First Avenger. It didn’t work because Ross Marquand is definitely not Hugo Weaving, and you can kind of tell. He didn’t have any of the oomph that Weaving had.
- In retrospect, the trailers may have given away too much. Nothing major, but a lot of the movie’s best lines were in the trailers, as was one of the great superhero moments: Thanos trying to crush Cap, Cap resisting, and Thanos looking really confused at how this seemingly ordinary human was giving him so much literal push-back. It was a prototypical Captain America moment, right up there with Cap beating the crap out of Korvac in Avengers #177. But we already knew it was coming, because it was in the trailers.
- Also, I think the “YIBAMBE!” bit would’ve been more effective if they hadn’t built an entire trailer around it. Having said that, holy shit did I get goosebumps when T’Challa shouted, “Yibambe!” and all of fucking Wakanda shouted, “YIBAMBE!” back at him. Damn.
- Just in general, I love the notion that Wakanda is the place that defends the Earth. However, I gotta ask, where the hell were the battle rhinos? That’s your cavalry flank, man! They wouldn’t have had to worry about them going around the force field if they had the battle rhinos to cover their flank. (This goes back to the lack of military strategy problem.) People may be asking where Ant-Man, the Wasp, and Hawkeye were, but I wanna know where W’Kabi and the dang battle rhinos were…
- I’m glad the superhero cliché of the heroes meeting and fighting before realizing they were on the same side was there for the sake of history and tradition, but I’m also glad they didn’t spend too long on it. Also watching Star-Lord, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Spider-Man all trade barbs before figuring out that they’re both fighting Thanos was just hilarious. (“You know Thor???”)
- I’m of two minds about Spider-Man’s spider-arms shooting out of his back. My instinct is to hate it, and I honestly don’t like it in general—but I also completely accept that it’s something Stark would put in a Spidey suit. Let’s just hope that Peter rejects it the way he rejected the killer webbing in Spider-Man: Homecoming.
- After two terrible Hulk movies, they finally got Hulk right, but it’s all been in other people’s movies and crossover movies. But the arc the Hulk has gone on through Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: Ragnarok, and here has been superb, and I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing where it goes next. Mark Ruffalo has been just amazing, taking the Marvel character who had arguably the highest Q-rating among non-comics readers prior to the turn of the millennium (there’s a case for Spider-Man) and putting some wonderful new spins on him.
- Okay, time to talk about my two biggest issues with the movie. First of all, I hated the opening. It was like watching Alien 3 all over again. We spent all of Thor: Ragnarok watching Thor battle his way back to Asgard to try to save it, and at least succeeding in saving some of them—and then they’re wiped out in the first ten minutes of the next film. Bleah. (Having said that, while Heimdall is definitely all dead, I don’t believe for a microsecond that Loki’s really dead. I don’t even believe that the Loki who offered to be Thanos’s guide and then tried to stab him and then got strangled was real, but was one of his simulacrums.) I don’t like Asgard being fridged like this.
- And then we have the ending. In the moment, watching people crumble to ash was very effective. But it’s also so very obviously not permanent. And the reason why I know it’s not permanent? Because there are four movie series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that a) are only one or two movies old, b) have been huge successes, and c) will have more movies in their sequence because Disney is not going to decide not to make money anymore. For that reason, I don’t believe for even the tiniest nanosecond that Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Black Panther are really dead. And that leavens the tragedy a lot.
- Having said that, the tragedy was still there. That packed theatre I saw the movie in was all weeping and crying out, “NO!” when folks disintegrated. And Stark’s anguish at Parker disintegrating in his arms, ditto Okoye’s anguish at T’Challa’s dusting, were palpable—not to mention Rhodey looking for Falcon even as Sam falls apart. It was, as I said, very effective in the moment, and bravo to them for that. They also didn’t kill the characters who you figured might be toast because their contracts are running out: Cap, Thor, and Iron Man are still in one piece. Amusingly, they also dusted Falcon and Bucky, who are the two most likely people to take over the mantle of Captain America if Chris Evans really does bow out.
- The foreshadowing wasn’t exactly literary or subtle, but it didn’t need to be. It’s pretty obvious that Strange gave up the time stone in exchange for Stark’s life—after explicitly saying he’d prioritize protecting the stone over Stark’s or Parker’s lives—because the only one of the fourteen million-plus futures he saw where they won must have involved him giving up the stone and Stark being alive. And it seems only fitting that Stark be the center of the solution, since Stark has been the center of the entire MCU since Iron Man debuted ten years ago.
- Also, Marvel’s protestations that this isn’t really part one of two is bullshit. This is totally part one of two. And the next two movies Marvel is releasing are, in essence prequels—Ant-Man and the Wasp takes place prior to Infinity War, and Captain Marvel takes place twenty years ago. And it’s obvious that Captain Marvel is going to play a big role in the next movie (which her movie will presumably help set up), based on the post-credits scene with Nick Fury and Maria Hill getting dusted, but getting a message out to her anyhow. (The timing on that scene was way off, though. Hill’s talking about ships just showing up over Wakanda and then they get dusted. The battle didn’t happen anywhere near that fast…)
Ultimately, this is not the best Marvel movie. But it is a perfect culmination of ten years of movies, all of which were influenced by the infinity stones to some degree or other. The ARC reactor Stark built his armor around in Iron Man was inspired by his father’s exposure to the Tesseract. The Tesseract itself was critical to Captain America: The First Avenger and Avengers, both Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch’s powers and Vision’s very being were rooted in the stones in Avengers: Age of Ultron, other stones were critical to Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy, the time stone is crucial to Dr. Strange, and so on. This is a grand spectacle, a brilliant coming together of disparate-but-related plot threads, and also a fun romp.
Best of all, we’ve got a bunch of nifty characters whose adventures we’ve had fun following coming together. It’s not meant to stand on its own, but it does have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The fact that the end is the good guys losing and the bad guy winning (even getting to watch the sun rise like he wanted when it was over) doesn’t make it not an ending.
There is obviously a next part, though, because you know the heroes that are left aren’t done fighting by a damn sight.
I heard the 1977 goofy punk song, “Ça Plane Pour Moi” recently over the closing credits of an episode of Imposters, which Wrenn and I have been watching on Netflix. (Look for a review on Patreon in May some time.) I hadn’t heard it probably since it was a hit four decades ago, but now it’s totally stuck in my head. So now I share it with you, so there, nyah, nyah.
I will be on Hour of the Wolf late tonight from 1-3am (either the night of Wednesday the 24th or the morning of Thursday the 25th, depending on how you look at it), hosted by the mighty Jim Freund, on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York City, and streaming live on BAI’s web site, and possibly also on Facebook live.
I will be joined by Mimi Mondal for a lively chat about all kinds of nifty things. So listen in tonight at 1am!