The MCU and the Multiverse of Expectations

I’ve mostly been following along with the Marvel Cinematic Universe as they’ve plotted their course from Avengers: Endgame through Phase Four – otherwise known as the Disney+ era. Of the Phase Four properties, I have yet to watch:

  • Spider-Man: No Way Home – because honestly, this movie is impossible to find without buying the DVD/Bluray outright, which I’ll probably end up doing. I feel like I’ve absorbed most of the major spoilers through pop culture osmosis, however, so there’s that.
  • Thor: Love and Thunder – which, if you’ve been here recently, you know I was excited about. I still am. I just need to get to a theater.
  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – because it’s not out yet, but is definitively the best MCU trailer ever.
  • What If…? – because I wasn’t that interested or into the animation style.
  • There are also the upcoming She-Hulk and Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, neither of which strike a chord with me at this point.
  • I am also on episode 6 of Ms. Marvel – but I had to write this post instead of watching it!

Obviously, I haven’t watched everything, but from what I’ve and heard about Phase Four, I have some thoughts. Specifically, I have reservations about the wider story that Marvel seems to be building, or crucially, not building to this point.

Seriously, just watch that trailer if you haven’t yet. Or if you have.

Spoiler warning – From here on out, I will talk freely about Phases Four, Five, and Six (and previous phases) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

To me, Phase Four feels like a bunch of individual stories with very little connective tissue. There have been some very good origin stories (Shang-Chi) and some moderately good passing of various torches (Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Hawkeye). There are tons of really interesting new characters, such as Yelena, Oscar Isaac’s multiple personalities, Kamala Khan, alternate timeline Loki, Sylvie, and Shang-Chi. And I’ve had a lot of fun watching most of these people do superhero things.

What feels sorely missing is the feeling that we are actively building towards something bigger. Phase One was all origin stories for the first Avengers team that were independent of each other, but used specific characters, like Nick Fury or Coulson, to tie them together and build anticipation.

Now, I’m fully aware of the announcements Marvel just made for Phases Five and Six, respectively, telling us that we are building towards Avengers: Secret Wars and Avengers: The Kang Dynasty. Those are coming alongside a lot exciting titles over the next few years, but I’m not really interested in stories that haven’t come to the screen yet.

What I want to know is how all of the characters we have seen so far coexist in their world. How can they coexist without any overlap? Why was no one aware of what Wanda was up to for a few canonical years in isolation? How did two Egyptian gods coming to life over the Cairo skyline not elicit some response from Dr. Strange, or anyone else?

Who or what will be binding these characters together, aside from Kang the Conqueror as the eventual Big Bad and the Secret Invasion as the Big Crisis?

Marvel hasn’t tried to start planting these seeds yet, at least not with any consistency. Loki met a version of Kang. Dr. Strange (and Kamala?) have traveled the multiverse. Captain Marvel, Wong, and Hulk are interested in Shang-Chi’s Ten Rings. Nick Fury is still off-world. Hints have been dropped along the way, but it’s really not clear at this point how they’re all related. Will half of the superheroes be off fighting Kang while the others deal with the Secret Wars? Or will all of them come together in two gigantic team-ups?

I know the overall path because Marvel has told us, but not really because that’s what the storytelling has shown us. With Phase Four wrapping up this November, it feels like an assortment of stories, rather than the beginning of a new saga.

Those are my feelings on the MCU. What are yours? Have you enjoyed Phase Four?

Steve D

10 Things I Loved about THE BATMAN

I had the pleasure of seeing The Batman with a friend on Sunday. Not only was it my first theater experience in over two years, it was one hell of a movie. I loved it.

Coming into this movie with no expectations, I didn’t know what to expect, in a lot of ways. I’ve been lukewarm on the DC universe’s approach to its movies, never quite knowing what their goal is for a given movie, so I didn’t pay much attention to the press tour leading up to this release.

Having seen the film now, I can safely and excitedly say that The Batman is a great movie from beginning to end, and Robert Pattinson is a great Batman.

I’m going to run down my favorite things about this movie, without spoilers. If you watch (or have already seen) the trailer below, nothing on my list will be a surprise to you.

My 10 Favorite Things about THE BATMAN

I’m going to say this is in no particular order, except the order that these are flying off my fingertips.

  1. Robert Pattinson’s brooding Batman and Bruce Wayne. Without speaking to the movie’s plot, I will say that I loved Pattinson’s portrayal of the Dark Knight in this film. He was brooding and tortured and honestly intimidating. I don’t know that any previous live-action Batman has felt as menacing to me as this character.
  2. Bruce Wayne’s relationship with Alfred. I had no idea Andy Serkis was playing Alfred in this film, and he was amazing.
  3. Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon. He was smart and subtly charismatic in the way you expect a younger Jim Gordon to be.
  4. The gritty Gotham. This was one of the more unique Gotham settings we’ve gotten in a Batman film, at least recently. The setting felt more like a comic book version of Gotham while still being believable. It seemed like it could still be a real city without feeling generic.
  5. The interplay of the various villain characters. This is a hallmark of Batman films, where multiple villains are bound to show up in big power plays. One thing that stuck out to me was the surprisingly personal moments that a few of the villains share with our titular character. These were not bland archetypal evil-doers with outlandish schemes. These were people with goals and motivations and fears, and that really helped to sell the plot.
  6. Cat Woman. Zoe Kravitz’s Selena Kyle was dynamic, could hold her own, and had incredible chemistry with Robert Pattinson’s Batman. I’m all in on those two.
  7. The Bat-mobile and car chase. You saw a piece of this in the trailer above, where the person Batman is chasing is shown in an over-the-shoulder POV. This is used to great effect during a car chase scene that is perhaps the most visceral car chase I’ve ever watched.
  8. The music. Again, the trailer shows some of the movie’s hand here, but there are two famous songs that are used and melded with a riveting hook to incredible effect that never gets old throughout the film.
  9. The details. This is the type of movie that has a lot going on to direct the viewer’s attention — lighting, silhouettes of characters, colors, and emotional facial close-ups. But there’s also a lot going on in the background. There are no extras looking awkward in any scene in this movie. Even in random corners of the frame, the actors are making it feel like a live scene, rather than a staged frame.
  10. The tone. I think the gritty, dark films can too easily fall victim to trying too hard to be edgy. It’s not trying to shock the audience with unnecessary gore or brutality, and it doesn’t drown the viewer in a cynical worldview. The grittiness envelopes the characters and drives a lot of the suspense and foreboding, but it’s beside the point. There is a lot more to this story than its gritty tones.
  11. One more for good measure! The mystery. This film is framed as a noir detective story, and Batman makes a convincing problem-solver. This style of storytelling helps to drive the plot and much of the suspense leading up to the final sequence, when the hero’s journey is ultimately revealed.

Well, those are my brief thoughts about THE BATMAN. I’m thinking I might need to see this in theaters again, because I can’t stop thinking about it.

Have you seen it? What did you think?!

Steve D

Mini Movie Reviews #2: Deceit, Discovery, and Disney

Another week in quarantine, another crop of movies to talk about. Like last week, none of these movies are particularly new, but they once again show a weird range of genres.

Vice, 2018, streamed on Hulu

Christian Bale in Vice (2018)This movie, featuring Christian Bale as Vice President Dick Cheney both before and during his time in the White House, had intrigued me when it first came out, so it didn’t take long for Hulu to convince me to watch it.

Spoiler-free review

This film was really well done. Bale and Steve Carell (as Donald Rumsfeld) were incredible. I also found it funny in an incredibly cynical, laugh-as-the-world-burns kinda way. I always had the feeling that Cheney was the NeoCon mastermind behind the W. Bush administration. If Vice is even partially true, he was more of a shadow-president than I realized.

The Planets, 2019, streamed on Amazon Prime

The Planets (2019)This was a documentary series we found originally produced by the BBC. The US version was narrated by Zachary Quinto, of Star Trek fame, who was fantastic. It took us less than one episode to get hooked.

Spoiler-free review…?

There’s nothing really to spoil here. If you have even a passing interest in science, the universe, or why Pluto is not technically a planet, go watch this series.

Through six episodes, it tells the story of how the worlds in our solar system were formed. Simultaneously, it tells the story of all of the probes and rovers we have used over the decades to get this information. Cassini, Galileo, Voyager; the engineers, scientists, and others who participated in these exploration projects are interviewed throughout the series to discuss what they learned about each planet their spacecraft explored, and what new questions it rose.

Not only do they provide visually stunning computer-generated renderings of what each planet looks like, but they also provide actual footage of each mission, where available. I really can’t rave about this series enough. I want to watch it again.

Frozen II, 2019, rented on Amazon Prime

Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, and Jonathan Groff in Frozen II (2019)We had my son at home for the last two weeks in self-isolation, since there was a chance we had been exposed to COVID-19. All is well, but after working from home with a toddler for two-plus weeks, I cannot count the number of times I have heard the soundtracks of FrozenMoana, and The Lion King, in their entirety over that span.

Don’t get me wrong, all of that music is great, but it was a lot.

We decided to rent both Frozen movies on Amazon Prime last weekend, because I hadn’t seen either, and I felt like I already knew the gist of the stories from the music anyway.

Spoiler-free review

I genuinely enjoy Disney movies, so it’s not hard to convince me to watch one. The first Frozen was good. I can see why it was so popular with kids, and it definitely has some great messages, but nothing about it really jumped out aside from Kristen Bell’s and Idina Menzel’s vocals.

But guys… Frozen II is a great film. The story of how Elsa got her powers and what it means for her and the kingdom of Arendelle is compelling, the story is not quite so predictable as its predecessor, and the artwork is unbelievable. Every scene with rushing water or waves in this film is gorgeous.

Anna still gets her heroic moments while Elsa gets to show off some of her powers, and the other characters are interesting without bogging the movie down. I really enjoyed this, and I wish I had watched it again before our rental expired.

More Recommendations!

I’m really enjoying how many movies and series I’ve had the chance to watch recently. It’s one of my favorite things to do and just haven’t had much chance to do it in recent months. I’m looking forward to a new batch of movies over the coming weeks.

What have you been watching?

Steve D

Mini Movie Reviews #1: Medieval Action and Modern Music Dramedy

I’ve managed to watch a number of movies/documentaries over the last few weeks that I hadn’t seen before. None of them blew me away, but I have some thoughts, so I thought I’d touch on each one.

None of these are particularly new, so many of you may have seen them already, but they were new to me. I’ll share two today and two in the near future. And maybe I’ll have watched even more movies by then, too. Continue reading “Mini Movie Reviews #1: Medieval Action and Modern Music Dramedy”

10 Stories to Experience with My Kid

My son is eighteen months old now, and he loves listening to stories, turning the pages of books, listening to music, and watching cartoons. I’m not sure how much of any of it he understands, but it’s exciting to watch him experience those things.

A colleague recently told me how he was watching through all of the Star Wars movies with his eight-year-old daughters, hoping to bring them to the theater to see The Rise of Skywalker. He managed to catch it with them just last week, and he said their reactions and excitement in the theater was well worth it.

That got me thinking about the types of stories — movies, books, TV — I’m looking forward to sharing with my son. So here’s my top 10. Continue reading “10 Stories to Experience with My Kid”

#AmConsuming? A Rundown of My Multimedia Consumption

How perfect that I’m posting this on the first day of 2019. I’ve been brainstorming quite a bit recently about how to change up my blogging habits.

One way of doing that is to talk about the things that tend to keep me from writing: absorbing other peoples’ stories. Continue reading “#AmConsuming? A Rundown of My Multimedia Consumption”

Friday Publishing-Day: So Close Yet So Far

This has been a weird week in publishing world. From finicky software to minor non-errors, I’ve suddenly hit a number of hang-ups that probably aren’t a big deal.

It’s just been annoying. I know I’ll be able to iron out the kinks. Luckily, I’ve made progress in other areas this week. Continue reading “Friday Publishing-Day: So Close Yet So Far”

10 Thoughts from Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I thought about writing a full-fledged review of Star Wars: The Last Jedi after seeing it on Friday night, but I’ve had several days to mull it over and read some other articles about it.

Such as this one, explaining why, evidently, a lot of Star Wars fans hated the film: http://epicstream.com/features/Top-13-Reasons-Why-Some-Star-Wars-Fans-Hate-The-Last-Jedi

I think instead I’m just going to highlight what stuck out to me about the movie.

Sound good?

***Spoilers Abound***

Continue reading “10 Thoughts from Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

In Hindsight: A Delayed Review of X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men: Days of Future Past is the perfect bridge story between the early-2000’s X-Men movies of Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Hugh Jackman, and the younger core of James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence first introduced in 2011’s X-Men: First Class.

Unfortunately, it serves as little more than a bridge. Entertaining as it is, I found the movie’s plot highly predictable, a plodding build-up to an action-packed, but ultimately foreseen conclusion. Continue reading “In Hindsight: A Delayed Review of X-Men: Days of Future Past”

X-Men: Days of Future Past Revitalizes the Franchise

In 2014, it’s admittedly hard to get psyched for superhero movies the way I did in the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or even the early 2000’s when the X-Men franchise first hit theaters. When the last shot of X-Men 2 teased Jean Grey’s Phoenix or when Nick Fury surprised Tony Stark after the credits rolled on 2008’s Iron Man, the giddiness was palpable. Continue reading “X-Men: Days of Future Past Revitalizes the Franchise”