Category Archives: Marvel Musings

Marvel Musings: The Ten Most Emotional Scenes of Phase 2

Yeah, the it took some time, but here is finally the ranking for Phase 2. Same rules as the last time: The scenes have to be emotional, but not necessarily tearjerkers. And I consider December 2015 as the end of Phase 2, so Agents of Shield fans, don’t be angry if a certain infamous scene from season 3 isn’t listed here, it aired more or less right after the cut-off date and will certainly get its due when Phase 3 is finished and I do lists for that one. Also, while this should be self-evident, there will be spoilers. Especially if you haven’t watched Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I will mention some very pivotal information here.

10. Age of Ultron: Quicksilver dies

Quicksilver didn’t have enough screen-time to be really broken up about his passing, but he was around just enough to feel his loss. Less for him, but on Wanda’s behalf. Her taking revenge on Ultron by literally ripping out his heart is a very gripping scene (pun totally intended). And then there is Clint’s guilt. When he puts Quicksilver’s body on the helicarrier and breaks down beside him, it just summons up all the exhaustion and the emptiness which one might feel after a fight like this, one in which you can only try to do damage control and rescue as many lives as possible but aren’t really able to stop a catastrophe from happening, into one single image.

9. Ant-Man: Anthony dies

This one mostly made the list because it is so unexpected. Making the audience care about the death of an ant of all things requires a lot of skill. I guess we can thank the CGI department for making the ants look cute and realistic at the same time, but also kudos to Paul Rudd’s acting abilities. The thing he is broke up about isn’t even there, and while there is too much going on to linger too long on Anthony’s fate, he puts all into the moment.

8. Jessica Jones, Season 1: Jessica shoots Luke

For some reason the interaction between Jessica and Luke often packs a more emotional punch than her interacting with Killgrave. I think because Killgrave is mostly creepy. Really creepy. The scenes with him make me shudder, but not exactly emotional. In addition Jessica keeps fighting against Killgrave in every single one of those scenes. But whenever she is with Luke, you can feel her emotional turmoil, her self-hatred and her guilt. The only other person which makes her open up that much is Trish and yes, Trish nearly dying and her being under the control of Killgrave were both choices I considered for this list, too. But the fact that in this case Jessica is forced to damage a loved one herself gives this scene an additional level of hurt.

7. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 1: Ward drops Jemma and Fitz into the ocean up to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 2: Ward shots Kara while Bobbi springs Ward’s trap

Yeah, I am cheating a little bit here, but I think the whole arc Ward had between those two episodes is an emotional rollercoaster. When Ward suddenly turned out to be Hydra, I think a lot people in the audience expected that there would either be some explanation or that he would become at least a sometimes ally eventually. It’s what most (arguably lesser) TV shows would have done. But not here. In season 1, Ward’s past was explored very thoroughly, showing what Garrett did to him, and yes, it was enough to make me feel for Ward. Until he dropped Fitzsimmons into the ocean, nearly killing them both and damaging Fitz permanently. But even then there was always the possibility that Ward would get a redemption arc or become some sort of frenemy. But him killing Kara believing her to be May closed this particular door once and for all. And I honestly don’t mind. Redemption arcs are so overdone and kind of predicable. Getting invested in a character and then realizing that the whole character was just an illusion is a way better source of drama. More or less every scene Ward and the team share in season 2 are pure emotional gold, especially whenever Fitz is confronted with Ward’s presence.

6. Daredevil, Season 1: Jack Murdock wins his fight

The second episode of Daredevil was easily my favourite of season one, less because of the famous hallway fight and more because of the backstory which was told in it. I really liked Jack Murdock, and when he has his one moment of success, my heart arched for him knowing what would most likely happen next. I don’t know if what he did was really worth it, if that was really the right way to secure Matt’s future. I am pretty sure that Matt would have preferred to grow up with his father still being around. But there is still something powerful about some sacrificing his live for someone else. And in a way it is the ambiguous nature of the sacrifice which made his victory such a bittersweet moment.

5. Thor, The Dark World: Loki’s reaction to Freya’s death

There isn’t really much I like about this movie, but the parts which I do like are so strong that they make up for a lot. Most of those parts are related to Loki, and what happens to him represents his self-destructive streak more than anything else. There he is in prison, hating the world (and himself), but there is one person left who is still ready to reach out to him and that is his mother. And then he inadvertently causes her death by pointing the Kursed the way out to the throne room out of petty revenge. The way he first pretends that he doesn’t care and then explodes in rage, destroying the cell and hurting himself while still trying to keep out the illusion is a perfect representation of Loki’s complicated character. And in a way truly heart-breaking.

4. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 3: Fitz rescues Jemma  from the Monolith

No matter what TV show or movie I watch, there is always the question of the stakes. I usually don’t expect any main characters to die (and yes that includes Game of Thrones, no matter what anyone says, some characters are safer than others), so I am the most invested when the characters are about to make decisions which I know will have far reaching consequences. When Fitz jumped after Jemma, I honestly wasn’t sure if he would manage to pull her back, and the show runners really milked this scene for all its worth. It’s an emotional nail-biter which still works on multiple watches.

3. Captain America, The Winter Soldier: Cap stops fighting against Bucky

One of the criticisms levelled again the MCU is the fact that the big action set-pieces often lack an emotional centre. This is certainly true for some of them, but not for The Winter Soldier. Between all the fireworks, there is so much going on. Fury confronting Pierce, Natasha deciding to step into the light and then electrocuting herself, but above all, there is the emotional dilemma Steve has to face. He doesn’t really want to fight Bucky, but he knows that he has to do so in order to protect million of innocent lives. Once he successfully inserted the chip, though, he is finally free of his obligation. I always wondered what was going on in Bucky’s head in this scene. To me it looks like he didn’t hit quite as hard as he could have because he was confused that his “mission” didn’t act the way the it was supposed to. In any case, though, I can’t watch this scene without my heart breaking for those two all over again.

2. Agent Carter, Season 1: Peggy talking the fall for Jarvis

This might be an odd choice, especially since there are various scenes centred around Peggy’s grief over Cap which really tug on my heart-strings. But this moment is emotionally so draining that I have actually trouble to watch it. For those who don’t watch the show, here is the set-up: Peggy has just managed to show herself as competent in the field when she is forced to deliberately make a stupid mistake to get Jarvis off the hook. The moment is crushing. Not only is she forced to apologize to the guy who keeps talking down to her, he humiliates her on top of it. And knowing that she is actually not as stupid as she pretends to be, but just tricked her co-workers again for the bigger goal, doesn’t make this better. It makes it worse, because she truly doesn’t deserve the scorn which is thrown her way.

1. Guardians of the Galaxy: We are Groot

There was not doubt for me from the get go that this scene would be the winner of the list. In a movie which already has a number of emotional scenes which would fill half of the list if not for the rules I set myself, this is the one which encompasses everything this movie is in three memorable words. The fact alone that I tear up over a racoon pleading with a tree is a testament how well constructed this scene is. And it is doubly sad now that it seems that the current Groot isn’t quite the same character as this past version of Groot. Which would make Groot the first main character who died for real in the MCU.


Marvel Musings: Do you know the score?

A couple of months ago Every Frame a Painting uploaded a vid about the Marvel scores. To be specific, it offered a theory why the Marvel themes are not memorable. I usually feel that the videos on this particularly channel are highly educating and interesting, but this one made me pause. I had a number of issues with the argumentation used. And I wasn’t the only one. This video followed a string of other ones, which examined the issue and the arguments. The end result was exactly the kind of discussion I would love to see more often on the internet, on topic, with a number of well articulated point of views which in turn made me consider some aspects I wouldn’t have thought about otherwise. And I naturally have my own opinion about the matter. But before I get to it, I’ll try to summarize the core points made in the various vids – I nevertheless encourage you to also watch them yourself. The first one, The Marvel Symphonic Universe, was uploaded on the 12.09.2016.

The arguments brought up here are:

  1. Marvel themes don’t cause an emotional response
  2. The music is too predictable and doesn’t challenge the expectations of the audience
  3. The dialogue distracts from the music.
  4. There is a trend in the industry believing that music in movies shouldn’t be notices.
  5. Producers encourage composers to imitate the temp music.

The arguments boils down to the Marvel scores being too safe – which is a common complain about different aspects of those movies in general, but let’s stick to the music for now.

Just three days later, on the 15.09.2016, the first rebuttal, A Theory of Film Music was uploaded by Dan Golding.

Golding agrees to the basic idea that the Marvel scores are forgettable, but disagrees partly when it comes to the reasons. This video points out that:

  1. The Star Wars Theme was actually created based on temp music.
  2. Temp tracks are not a modern phenomenon, but are as old as film music itself.
  3. Unoriginality is normal for film music.

and brings up the following points:

  1. The tracks used nowadays tend to be more recent.
  2. Hans Zimmer pioneered the use of digital music, which changed the process of creation.
  3. And lead to a tendency to use rhythms instead of melodies in movies

Dan Golding concludes that Marvel movies have a musical landscape but are different not in melody but through texture.

Just one day later Marvel Movies: The Thematic Continuity Issue added another thought to the discussion.

This video points out that

  1. the Marvel Cinematic Universe tends to change composers, which often use different scores in the different movies, thus not creating a thematic continuity in the music.
  2. The Avengers theme, which might be the most memorable of all of them, might have this status because Danny Elfman used Silvestri’s score in Age of Ultron, thus preserving the theme.

It concludes that the points made in the previous video essays are correct, but sees the lack of a thematic continuity within the scores of the MCU as the main reason for the inability of people to remember the scores.

Similar thoughts are voice in Why You (Actually) Don’t Remember Marvel Music, uploaded roughly one month later on the 19.10.2016.

This one is also a response to the first two videos, stating that both of them describe symptoms, but miss the point. In an argument similar but not quite identical to the one above, it points out that:

  1.  The theme music of Pirates of the Caribbean is an example for a very popular and well known score which is both temp music and made by Hans Zimmer (for the record, he was the producer, not the actual composer).
  2. Star Wars, Harry Potter and Pirates of the Caribbean are all franchises which have been around for way longer than the MCU, and which have used the same theme music not just in all of their respective movies, but also for connected media, theme park rides and above all the general marketing.

This video concludes that the key to a score being remembered is above all repetition, not quality, and adds that the Marvel movies actually have a number of great tunes, pointing to the Thor score and the Avengers theme.

The latter is also in the centre of the last, but perhaps best rebuttal, The Avengers Theme – a video response to “The Marvel Symphonic Universe”, which was uploaded by HelloLillyTV on the 15.11.2016.

HelloLillyTV points to the comment section of the first video essay and how many said that that they, unlike the people in the video, immediately remembered the Avengers theme. This rebuttal argues further that this particular theme neither plays in the background of the movie, nor is it devoid of emotion. Based on the concept of repetition with association, it points out that:

  1. The theme consists of two distinctive parts.
  2. It is used multiple times through the movie in very specific key moments.
  3. It is shown in association which large scale shots, connecting the music with the notion of “greatness” early on.
  4. And is then played during the most iconic moment of the whole MCU, when the Avengers unite for the first time.
  5. It is also part of Age of Ultron and therefore part of a thematic continuity

This video then draws attention to the fact that while certain themes are actually used multiple times and very effectively in the MCU, they are next to never used in the marketing. There is even a supplementary video to make this point.

So, where do I stand in this battle of sometimes conflicting and sometimes overlapping arguments? Let’s start with my thoughts concerning the first video.

I am a big admirer of Every Frame a Painting. I especially love the videos in which the staging and the camera work in movies are taken apart, since they really opened my eyes and made me realize what is possible to convey just on a visual level, what a difference something as simply as a movement in the background can make. Those videos made me more critical towards modern movie creation, including some issues with the MCU I didn’t notice beforehand. But this particular video essay is, in my honest opinion, one of the weaker ones, because it is very manipulative and bases the conclusion on the connection of two barely related issues.

From the very beginning this argument stands on very shaky grounds. A collection of random people being asked any question is always a little bit problematic when it comes to formulating a thesis. For starters, the group of people presented is way too small to be in any way representative, and as a viewer I am unable to judge if really every person who was asked actually made it into the video. I am giving Every Frame a Painting the benefit of the doubt here and assume that there wasn’t a person who did remember the theme but was cut out of the video to preserve the intended impression. But even then this is far from a remotely scientific group. In addition, I think it would have been interesting to play the Avengers theme to a number of people to test if they would have recognized it, or confused it with other themes.

Another aspect I noted about the essay are the scenes which were picked to make the argument. Instead of identifying the main themes of the movies and discuss how they are used, most of the scenes discussed are fairly random moments. I have to admit that I think the argumentation here is a little bit odd. Yes, playing a “funny” music for a funny scene is an expected choice, as is the high note for suspense. But that is kind of the point. Film music is to a certain degree codified, meaning we connect a certain kind of music to certain situations or feelings. The last rebuttal I linked, the one by HelloLillyTV, even gives a great example for this when it points out that the trailer for Age of Ultron feels more like the advertising for a horror movie. And this impression is nearly entirely based on the music alone. Age of Ultron does have a number of moments which are reminiscent of horror movies sprinkled through the more jokey and action-packed  scenes, but none of the more obvious ones made it into the trailer.

There is one “main score” which is briefly touched upon in the video essay by Every Frame a Painting, and that is Silvestri’s Triumphant Return. The complain here is that the useless narration hides the movie, followed by a demonstration how the scene would work without it. And yes, it works beautifully, thus proving that the score elevates the scene in question considerably. But the narration is actually not useless at all, it is needed to bring the whole audience on the same page. Let’s pretend that someone in the audience hasn’t seen The First Avenger, or doesn’t remember the movie all that well and is also not particularly informed about the comic book lore. Without the narration he would be able to gather that Steve is remembering his past in the military, but he had no idea what Bucky actually means to Steve. So when Bucky looses his mask later in the movie, said audience member would not gasp in surprise, he would ask “Who?”, confused about Steve’s strange reaction. But independent from the question if the narration is needed in this particular scene or not, the same score is used earlier in the movie, during the jogging scene, with no narration at all (unless you count “on your left”).

My point is that the MCU is too large to make a sweeping statement about it based on a few randomly picked scenes. You would at the very least need to look at the way one movie as a whole is scored, or how a specific score is used in different movies within the MCU to make at least some sort of judgement about it – and yes, that is my roundabout way of saying that I really like the argumentation of HelloLillyTV, which does the former with The Avengers and then the latter with the main theme of the respective movie. But more about that one later. Let’s examine first the statement that the Marvel scores don’t take risks, as well as the more general claims concerning the current trends in film music.

For starters, I don’t think that any of those trends are actually that current. As Dan Golding rightly points out, using temp music has been common since the very beginning of film making. What also has been around since the start is the need to find a balance between the different elements of a scene. Meaning, what the audience is supposed to notice in any given scene is not necessarily the music. Unless you watch a musical or something along the line of Fantasia, the most important element of a movie is usually the plot, and the music is, along with the visuals and the dialogue, only there to serve the story. Consequently it shouldn’t be the main feature in any given scene unless the director wants it to be.

Thus said, if music is used, it should enhance the scene in question. If you just can take out the music, like Every Frame a Painting did in the Ironman scene, and it doesn’t really make difference, than it might have been better to not use a score in the first place, since the focus should be on the dialogue anyway. The example from the Thor movie on the other hand is simply a matter of taste. Yes, you could have used a more attention seeking score to replace the more conventional one, but I actually wouldn’t have, because I feel that something too grand for the setting would have overwhelmed the scene. This feeling might, btw., be related to the fact that the score Every Frame a Painting added instead is, just like the Avengers theme, used for big fighting scenes and large spaces through the movie. So, yes, I am sure if I go through the whole MCU I will find a number of music choices which do nothing to enhance the scene, as well as a few I would personally disagree with. But I’ll skip the rant about the lack of Heavy Metal in Ironman 3 for now, and focus on the idea that the music choices in the MCU are too generic.

I mentioned before that Every Frame a Painting mixes two different issues. One is the question if the MCU has a theme people can hum on the spot, the other is the question if the themes of the MCU are particularly memorable. Those two questions aren’t necessarily related to each other, though, since a score doesn’t have to be hummable in order to be memorable. If someone would ask me what soundtrack I consider particularly remarkable, one of the ones I would point to is this one:


But I wouldn’t be able to hum this one if my life depended on it. And, to address the notion in Dan Golding’s response that the use of digital music is the reason why certain themes aren’t remembered that well, the theme doesn’t become more hummable if it is played by a full orchestra either.

What it nevertheless is, though, is unusual, remarkable and perfect in every way for the movie it which it is used.

This in mind, I am inclined to dismiss Dan Golding’s complain about the Hans Zimmer style of scoring movies. Yes, using rhythms instead of melodies is a bit of a trend in Hollywood, a trend which was born out of an unusual choice which then became mainstream. I am currently (mostly) sick of it, too, but I don’t think that either approach to movie scoring is in any way superior. And the MCU itself is a great example for it. Or, to be specific, the Captain America Franchise.

This piece is easily my favourite score in the whole MCU. It is a very compelling – and melodious – tune, and it is used to perfectly in The First Avenger. The moment I hear it I have immediately a bunch of associations, most of which originate from the scene above: Steve Rogers, practically back from the dead, having managed the impossible, finally accepted by his peers and superiors alike, the hero of the day. This is truly a triumphant return and it is no accident that this piece is used very briefly in The Avengers when Cap turns up in full costume, back in Germany and again standing up to yet another tyrant in yet another triumphant return. It is also no accident that it turns up again at the very beginning of The Winter Soldier.

Nothing about this scene is accidental, but especially not the way the theme rouses in connection with buildings and monuments which do stand for the American Ideal more than even the Lady Liberty. And Cap fits perfectly into this picture as yet another symbol of said ideals, but also of a time long gone by. It is a poignant choice that the theme plays again in the museum, in connection with a view on the past, which focusses more on the heroics of Captain America than the experiences of Steve Rogers. It is also quite deliberate, that the actual main theme of the movie is this one:

Take a Stand is more or less everything what Triumphant Return isn’t. It’s not a rousing, slowly swelling melody, but a fast staccato of rhythm building up to climax, which sounds as if someone just hit the table with his fist to make everyone present listen to him. And I love it. It is perfect for this movie exactly because it is so different. The contrast between the sepia-tinted world of pure heroism seen through a lens of nostalgia to our way more complicated, hectic and cynic reality is reflected in the way those two score pieces are used in the movie.

Which brings me to the idea that the MCU has an issue with thematic continuity in its scores. Well, this is kind of correct if one looks at the MCU as a whole, especially within the Ironman franchise, in which not only every movie has a different composer, but the third one doesn’t even fit remotely into what came beforehand. With the two Thor movies, it is kind of a shame that those soundtracks are different, but at least they are tonally in the same ballpark. Ironman 3 just switches to a different tone, bit without the narrative connection which make the change in The Winter Soldier so brilliant.

I admit, I would love it if each Superhero in the MCU had his or her own theme. The Captain America franchise does this to a certain degree. Aside from Triumphant Return and Take a Stand, the Winter Soldier theme is another one which sticks out, and carries over from The Winter Soldier to Civil War. But what Civil War lacks in my opinion is a clear theme for Ironman, which can play in contrast to Cap’s theme. But that is not the fault of Henry Jackman, he couldn’t use a theme like this because there was never one established for Ironman beforehand.

On the other hand, though, a rule like this might limit the composers too much. There are narrative but also stylistic reasons why Henry Jackman switched from Triumphant Return to Take a Stand. This choice doesn’t just reflect the change in the character, but is also a way better fit for a movie, which is not a wartime adventure put a political thriller. It would have been difficult to have the more patriotic tunes of The First Avengers present through the whole movie without undermining its themes. For similar reasons Jackman went for a less rhythmic and instead more epic score for Civil War, to reflect the tragic aspect of a larger than life conflict.

And no, it is not at all hypocritical of me to complain about the musical changes made for Ironman 3, while praising the ones in The Winter Soldier. I truly dislike the soundtrack for Ironman 3, and not because I think that the music chosen or the scores are in any way bad, but because I consider them a change which is not carried by the narrative. I feel that it is jarring.

At the end of the day, I don’t think that there is a thumb rule for the right way to score a whole universe. While a consistent musical line has a lot of merit, the decision what works and what doesn’t has to be made on a movie to movie base to a certain degree. Thus said, I am very pleased that Silvestri will score Infinity War, since switching composers isn’t exactly helpful in keeping a consistent tone.

But consistency or not, I don’t think that the use of specific themes within the movies is the deciding factor for it become ubiquitous. I agree with HelloLillyTV that marketing and advertising has a way bigger influence on which music pieces we connect to which movies – to a certain degree. While everything which is said in the video is correct, there simply are scores and songs which click with the audience better than others.

See, the trick with playing the score from Gladiator, which one of the videos used? Didn’t work on me. It didn’t work even though I have never even watched Gladiator, nor did I pay any attention to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise after movies two and three were such a giant let-down. I still like the first one and consider it the best pirate movie ever made, but overall, there wasn’t a lot of marketing which could push me into remembering that particular score more than other scores I listened to in the last years. I nevertheless noticed immediately that the score which was played to me was not quite the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, because I love that score. I have loved it from the moment I first listened to it. It was an instant ear worm for me. You could play other music pieces a hundred times to me or connect them to a very emotional moment, and they wouldn’t stick with me that way.

Another score I love even though it is not part of a particularly popular or successful franchise, but was used in exactly one critically not particularly respected movie is the one from The Man in the Iron Mask. And I am obviously not the only one who felt that way about this melody considering that Yagudin used this this score for the ice dancing performance which won him the Gold medal. A lot of people love this score and might even be able to hum it.

I don’t think that it is really possible to explain completely why some melodies connect with the majority of people while others doesn’t. The marketing is certainly not the only aspect one has to consider. For example there are a number of animated TV shows with themes which are repeated again and again and due to the repetition, people watching those shows will most likely at least recognize them. But I just need to do this:

“Duck Tales…wohooo….”

and a number of my readers will have this damned song stuck in their head yet again (and no, I am not sorry, I spend the last week trying to get the title song of Moana out of my head and I am really in the mood to share some of my suffering. Just be glad that I didn’t mention It’s a small world…ooops). There is really no obvious reasons why this particularly theme song has such an effect. It is not like Duck Tales had a longer run than other TV shows, or that the opening is particularly well animated. Some unique word combinations in the text certainly helped to create trigger words for the theme song, but otherwise, there simply is something about the tune which makes it memorable.

All this said, the marketing is certainly the best explanation why people don’t connect the MCU immediately with a particular theme. But it is also an observation which doesn’t really address the quality of the actual MCU soundtracks (though all videos which went for the repetition argument as explanation did praise specific scores in the MCU). Let’s disconnect the whole argument from the question why the MCU scores aren’t hummed on cue, and go back to the question if the MCU soundtracks are generic or not.

There is an underlying complain in those first two videos essays which does have some merit: That there might be a systemic problem with the way movies are scored. But I don’t think that the points brought up in those videos are new at all. As Golding rightly points out, temp music has always been used. Likewise, there have also been trends in film music. In any given time period it is possible to point to a number of movies which followed a specific trend, and to a number of movies which ignored said trend or set a new one. The main reason why film music is codified in the first place, why we associate certain tunes with certain emotions, is because we connect said tunes to certain kind of scenarios. And this connection is older than movies themselves, you’ll find the same kind musical cues in the opera or the ballet.

It is true, though, that digital music has changed the way movies are scored. But again – is that really a bad thing? Since the scores now can be changed more easily, the composers can bring in their ideas way earlier, instead of having to score the movie after it already has been finished. Every approach has, at the end of the day, its upside and downside.

But there is one thing one always has to consider when it comes to film music: Every movie is a collaborative effort. A musician who works on his next hit single or creates something for the stage has, at least theoretically, all the freedom in the world to realize whatever idea occurs to him. A musician who works for the movie industry is limited from the get go by the movie he is working for and might get limited even further when directors already have been influenced by temp music, want music in the background and not in the forefront, or aren’t really open to any new ideas from the get go, because they want to follow a trend instead of doing something experimental.

But those are all aspects and concerns for the movie industry in general, not just for the MCU. So, how much freedom do the composers in the MCU actually have? The fact that music themes often don’t carry over to the next movie actually points in the direction that they have a lot creative freedom. Seen as a whole, the MCU offers a rich collection of very different music pieces. Just listen to this collection (once you have an hour of free time):


Naturally not every soundtrack is necessarily on the same level, but overall, there is a lot of quality in the MCU. In addition, if there is a recently released movie which really shines when it comes to the use of music, it is Guardians of the Galaxy.

The most obvious counterargument to this statement is that Guardians of the Galaxy sticks out, because it uses songs which already were popular, and nobody remembers the score. Well, first of all, a lot of movies use already established songs and music pieces, but that doesn’t automatically make it a good use of said songs. In fact, using even good scores and songs can end up annoying and distracting for the audience, if they are used too on the nose (*cough* Suicide Squad *cough*). The songs in Guardians of the Galaxy work so well not because they were already popular beforehand, but because they have an important function in the story. They provide an emotional connection to the protagonist, serve as a constant reminder of his traumatic past, while simultaneously spreading a sense of fun and a little bit of nostalgia – meaning they deliberately trigger a sad memory and a happy emotion. But they are also only one half of the soundtrack and only take centre stage whenever there is a narrative opportunity to play a song in-universe. Otherwise the movie does rely on a score, which, yes, gets overshadowed, just like most of the songs which are used in the movie ore overshadowed by Hooked on a Feeling, which was used in the marketing. But it is nevertheless a score which takes the centre stage in the scenes more than ones. For example here:

And naturally here:

And let’s not forget this scene:

Did you notice how the movie switches from the song, which is played in-universe, to the score? I could write a whole essay about the way Guardians of the Galaxy is scored and take apart every single scene just to point out how much the music enhances the experience and often adds a second layer to a moment.

To summon up my thoughts:

  1. I don’t agree that there is necessarily a problem with the MCU scores in general, or that Marvel limits the creativity of their composers too much.
  2. I do think that more coherence and some sort of symphonic connection in the MCU movies (not the TV shows) would be a neat idea, especially if it leads to each hero having a specific theme. But I don’t think that it is absolutely necessary, it is just a personal preference.
  3. I nevertheless prefer it if Marvel sticks to the same composer within a franchise as much as possible, unless there are good reasons for a change.
  4. Using the scores, especially the Avengers theme more often in the marketing is a good idea, but this is an aspect which would improve the marketing of the MCU as a whole, not the quality of the movies themselves.


At the end of the day, the movies in the MCU are like every other movie: They do some things right, and some things which don’t quite work. Some of the scores are remarkable, some are forgettable and generic. Sometimes a scene is scored perfectly, and sometimes you wonder what exactly the composer was thinking or why there even is a score at all. If you ask me, the movies which have the best scores are The First Avenger, The Avengers, The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. The one movie which has a score which annoys me is Ironman 3 (and again, more in relation to the previous scores, on its own it is perfectly fine). Btw, the TV show with the best title sequence is in my opinion Jessica Jones, even though I don’t even like the melody (if you can call it melody) used, but it is one which really sticks out. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. deserves a lot of love for its scores, too (and a lot of hate for having the most annoyingly to write title), one which especially stuck out to me was the tune used in the Parting Shot scene (fans of the show will know immediately what I am talking about). And then there is naturally the exceptionally use of songs in Luke Cage.

I for my part look forward to what the MCU will deliver in the future, weather people are able to hum the Avengers theme or not.

Puh, I never thought that this would end up being such a beast of an article. But then, this seems to happen to me quite often when it comes to this particular blog. Anyway, I hope a few of you made it to the end. Feel free to share your own thoughts about this topic, I would be quite happy to continue the discussion or little bit. Or list your own favourite scores and/or soundtracks in the MCU.




Captain America Civil War and the Future of the MCU

I’ll hold this article back until the movie is out in the US, but I wanted to write down my thoughts while they are fairly fresh. I won’t do a review of the movie just yet, because, let’s face it, more or less everyone else is currently doing it. Instead I will talk about the repercussions of Civil War, what it means for Phase 3 and how I think Marvel should proceed in Phase 4. (In case this wasn’t clear, there will be spoilers from here onwards).

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Marvel Musings: The Five Most Emotional Scenes of Phase 1

To clarify this titles, this is not necessarily about the saddest moments, but about those scenes to which I have the greatest emotional response. The moments which made me sit up in my seat, bite my nails or, yes, break out in tears. The more of a roller coaster, the better. As usual, I tried to stick with one scene per movie though.

5. Iron Man 2: Tony watches the recordings of his father

It was surprisingly difficult to find a moment which really touched me on an emotional level in either The Incredible Hulk or Iron Man 2. The former movie does have a number of moments which should work for me, but don’t because I never managed to connect with the characters. And the latter movie is just not focussed enough to built up a scene properly and then linger on it as long as it should. This scene is the exception, though. I am usually not into daddy issues at all, because the trope is just used way too often. But I really liked how this movie portrayed the problems without spelling them out. There is Tony, who believes that his father never cared for him, and this old recording which reveals that Howard Stark was an alcoholic who struggled expressing his feelings and was pretty much a broken personality. In a way Howard is what Tony might become if he isn’t careful. I always wonder what else happened to turn the carefree Howard Stark we know from the Agent Carter era into this self-hating man. But seeing him loosing his control on camera just makes me so unbelievable sad, for him and for Tony, who never got to know Howard Stark before he was weighted down by regrets.

4. Thor: Loki confronts Odin

Thor is pretty much packed with dramatic scene. There is Thor trying to lift the hammer, Thor dying, Loki falling into the void, and yet, I ended up picking this scene, mostly because it is the most relevant of them all. Neither Thor nor Loki actually die and Thor gets his power back. But the knowledge that he is an ice giant and the self-loathing which comes with it, that will always be part of Loki’s character. And I can’t stop wishing that the revelation had been less traumatic.

3. The Avengers: Tony flies through the wormhole

 Again, there were a lot of moments to choose. I came close to picking the old man making his speech or Coulson’s death, but in the end, there was so much to love about this moment. There is the movie subverting an old trope by not allowing Tony to connect with Pepper in his “last moment”, there is Cap having to made the decision to close the worm hole and Black Widow having to follow the order and finally Hulk coming to an unexpected rescue. It is a rollercoaster of excitement.

2. Iron Man: Tony is found in the Desert

I always felt that Marvel could have ended Iron Man with Tony escaping from the cave and I would have been totally satisfied. I realize that the general audience would have been angry for not seeing Iron Man in action, but what makes the movie so good is in my eyes the first part, which shows Tony surviving against all odds. This passage turned a millionaire into an underdog the audience can root for. When he stumbles through the desert and suddenly Rhodey turns up, I feel the elation of the characters, and when Tony then breaks down crying, I want to reach through the screen and hug him, too.

1. Captain America, The First Avenger: Steve and Peggy’s Goodbye

This one won by a mile. The only question was if I should pick that one or the moment when Steve wakes up in the present. But then, those moments kind of belong together. Steve waking up in the future would be only half as effective, if we didn’t know what he left behind. His last interaction with Peggy, hinting at everything which could have been and got cut short by his sacrifice, that is what makes this moment. And I feel that heart-break all over again when his first reaction to the realisation that he is in the future is “I had a date.” I am not a fan of time travel, but if it means that Steve and Peggy at least get that dance, I would get behind it in a heartbeat, even though I intellectually know that Marvel should never go back on what they did to Steve and Peggy. It would cheapen the scene.


So, hopefully I’ll manage to cover Phase 2 over the weekend. If not, well, next Wednesday I’ll watch Civil war. I expect me to be all obsessed with it, judging by the reviews. Either that or I will be shattered because my expectations were too high.  In any case, it will delay me writing about anything else for a while.

Marvel Musings: The Ten Worst Decisions of Phase 2

Somehow this ended up more a long article than a top ten list. Most of the problems in Phase 2 are simply to complex to explain them in a few sentences. Overall, though this was surprisingly difficult, mostly because Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy are so good movies, that I would need to go very nit-picky to criticise them. Same with the first season of Agent Carter. But I finally found ten decisions which didn’t really work out in Phase 2:

10. Agent Carter, Season 1: The Marketing

It would be a lie to claim that the Marketing for the Marvel movies during the first two phases was particularly inspiring.


Don’t you think that you should have changed up the poses at least a little bit?



I am blue, not red. That is totally different!


It usually got its job done, but the floating heads, the questionable “woman leans into man” poses, the by the numbers trailers, would have failed to create any interest in a property which the audience isn’t already predisposed to care for. Which is why the marketing for Agent Carter turned out to be particularly problematic. Haley Atwell is awesome, but Captain America The First Avenger is a criminally underrated movie within the MCU, and there are always enough people who can’t imagine that the story centred around a love interest could be any good. Spoiler Alert: Those people were wrong. But it certainly didn’t help that Marvel used the worst tag-line ever in the trailer (“Sometime the right man for the job is a woman.”), and laid it on thick with the feminism theme.

Now, some will claim that this is a proper description of what the show is about (though I would argue that it is less about promoting feminism and more about acknowledging sexism, which isn’t exactly the same thing), but it nevertheless left the impression that the show is a kind of apology for not giving the fans the Black Widow movie they want so badly. Above all though it did nothing to convince the audience that this is more than a little side-dish which one might deign to taste if it is ever shown on Netflix. What it should have done is convincing the audience that this is an event, the first female lead Comic book show since the god-awful Birds of Prey, as well as an exploration of the past of the MCU, including Tony Starks roots.

But the marketing failed to create the appropriate hype. As a result, Agent Carter never got the love it deserved. Oh, the first season was critically highly acclaimed, and Peggy Carter herself became immediately an Icon. I am sure we will see her blue dress and red hat on Comic cons for years to come. But there is still a sizeable number of people, including MCU fans, who have never seen just one episode. Which is too bad. Because it is a show worth watching.

9. Daredevil, Season 1: Fisk defeating himself

I wasn’t exactly as enamoured of Wilson Fisk in the first season of Daredevil as a lot of other fans were. I certainly saw the potential in the character, but for me the one thing I really need of a villain is that he has to terrify me. But I was never sure who the true mastermind actually was, Wesley or Fisk. Fisk’s hold on Hell’s kitchen often seemed flimsy, mostly based on the power the other crime lords gave to him for some never explained reason. This impression was underlined by the fact that in the end, all the efforts to collect evidence against him seems to be pretty useless (especially since in the case of Karen, Ben and Foggy, the process often involves trying to find information either Daredevil has already uncovered or the audience already knows). The only thing which was needed all along was Fisk loosing his temper and wrecking his allies so that eventually the right person would flip on the syndicate. Hallelujah.

8. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 2: Side-lining Trip

Some fans would say that killing Trip was the big mistake of Season 2. I was actually largely okay with the decision in itself, though the fact that his death didn’t accomplish anything does rank a little bit. I also don’t think that it established a “dangerous pattern”, since the show is more or less an equal opportunity killer (the only ones safe seem to be the original six actors – their characters suffer in different ways) and the show runners could not know that Daredevil and Jessica Jones would both go ahead and kill the black older character in the show. My main issue with his death was that the character was barely present in the episodes beforehand anyway. Which is too bad. Him being the grandson of a Howling Commander could have allowed way more interesting angles than just him providing some nifty gadgets. And since we barely got to know him anyway, his passing didn’t cause much anguish in the end.

7. Jessica Jones, Season 1: Robyn

I am usually not into over-the-top violence. I am pretty much convinced that there are few stories which require going all graphic. Nevertheless  I liked the Netflix-shows we got so far. But both of them have some serious plotting problems which lead into disappointing third acts. In Jessica Jones, this is partly due to the fact that she has Killgrave under her control multiple times but decides not to kill him, and only one of those times Killgrave manages to escape through careful planning. That the third escape is the result of a giant coincidence doesn’t help at all. Ant this coincidence ties back to one particular character.

I know that Robyn isn’t meant to be endearing (she practically says it herself). I know that she is supposed to be annoying. I am not sure if her relationship to Ruben was supposed to be as off-putting creepy as it was, but I guess they did get the point across that caring too much for a person can just be as damaging as the opposite. But while I do understand the concept, I think the execution added a very dissonant element to the show. Especially Robyn is like fingernails on chalk board every time she turns up. That she is the one who frees Killgrave the third time Jessica has managed to capture him is just the spoiled cherry on a smelling top.

6. Ant-Man: Keeping Edgar Wright too long on the project

The movie we didn’t get tends to be the better one in our minds. So it is no surprise that a lot of people bemoan the fact that we never got Edgar Wright’s Ant-man. I am not sure if he was even the right man for the job in the first place, considering that what most people love about the Ant-man comic is usually the Wasp, and if there is one thing Edgar Wright doesn’t have, it’s a record of writing compelling female characters (or giving females any room in his movie at all).

But in a way this is a useless discussion. What we got, was a really good movie. Which could have been even better if it’s director hasn’t been forced to jump into the work of someone else, rewriting the script during production and rushing the movie out in an insane short time for a special effect heavy piece like this in order to meet the planned release date. In the end the vision of the two directors does clash in the movie. And the whole thing could have been avoided if Marvel hadn’t patiently waited for Wright to wrap up the other projects he was interested in, but had insisted on a reasonable schedule. Who knows, if they had done that we might have gotten the Wasp as one of the founding members of the Avengers. Maybe not. But the movie would have certainly been way more cohesive overall.

Watching this movie I have always the felling that Wright wanted to make a movie about the relationship between mentor and mentee (hence the villain being a former mentee of Hank Pym) while Peyton Reed wanted to discuss the relationship between fathers and daughters as well as transporting the idea that Superheroes don’t fight for the world, but to make said world a better place for the people they care about. The two ideas are kind of wrestling with each other for screen-time. And I think that could have been avoided if Marvel had not waited ages for Edgar Wright to finally get the project off the ground.

5. All movies and shows: Lack of diversity

I decided to put this one in the middle, because this is an important issue, it is also something Marvel is clearly working on. Plus, while I am an advocate for more diversity and a better portrayal of females in the media, the lack of the former is not necessarily impacting the quality of the movies in itself and the latter has been a problem for decades which won’t vanish from one day to another. Marvel has made baby steps in the right direction though.

We got two female lead TV-shows in Phase two, and more shows and movies with diverse characters are in the works. There is also Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which has an unusual high ratio of diverse characters for a network show, instead of the usual token characters. On the other hand though, there are places at which Marvel could have done better. For example the Netflix shows are overwhelmingly white and have this unfortunate habit to kill of the old, black character on top of it. With Daredevil this turns into a true problem, because the show is full of criminals of different ethnicities (and stereotypical behaviour), but we have yet to see a mayor Asian character on any Netflix show which wasn’t some sort of villain.

Now, Marvel had a good excuse in Phase 1 because they needed to establish the universe with the best-known characters they had, and those are all white males due to the time during which most of those stories were written. Marvel’s more diverse franchise, the X-Men, is sadly firmly under the control of Fox. But now that the Marvel brand alone is enough to get the attention of the audience, it is time to do better wherever possible.

4. Thor, The Dark World: Tying the story Back to Earth

One of the most common question which was asked during Phase 2 was “where are the other Avengers?”. If there is one franchise in which this shouldn’t have been an issue, it’s the Thor Franchise. I really don’t get it. There is this impressive alien world we haven’t explored at all. And yet, we keep going back to earth. Why so complicated? Why not starting the movie with the bifrost being repaired and Thor going back to earth, inviting Jane to Asgard? Not only would making her the eye of the audience have given her character a purpose, there would have also been no need for all the contrivances needed to tie her into the plot. When I was watching the movie, I am actually very invested in the world and in everything involving Loki. But whenever it cut back to earth I was immediately annoyed. I just hope that the third movie will stay as far away from earth as possible.

3. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Season 1: Rushing the Team Building

It is common wisdom that Marvel’s first attempt at television started utterly mediocre. But the opinions differ what actually went wrong. Was it the lack of actual comic book characters? Partly, since a lot of people had unrealistic expectations in this regard, but I think it is mostly that the characters which were presented to us were not properly fleshed out until the end of the first season. The writers just portrayed them in the broadest strokes possible and expected the audience to be invested in them.

I think most of the problems within the first season steamed from the second episode. So, we have this team, consisting of the two cocky scientists, the two mysterious specialists and the new kid on the block stepping into the world of spies. So far, so good. Perfect opportunity to allow the characters to get to know each other step by step, with the usual conflicts which happen when different personalities clash with each other. But nope, that takes too much time. Let’s throw the team into danger and declare them a team because they survived together so that we can get to the “fun” stuff. Problem: The fun stuff isn’t much fun if you don’t care for the characters involved in it. And you won’t care for the characters if you don’t know them.

The show rectified this problem towards the end of the season. It wasn’t even that complicated to make the first step. Just put all the characters into a lie detector, ask them some question and based on the different answers the audience gets a read on them. This fairly simple scene made me understand the characters more than anything which came beforehand.

The sad thing is that this mistake caused a lot of people to drop a show which is just getting better and better. At this stage I think it is as good as the Netflix shows – just in a very different way. It’s exactly the right mixture of drama and fun, but without going all melodramatic about it as most shows nowadays do. I never rued that I gave the show second chance.

2. Age of Ultron: Too many arcs

Okay, this will be a long explanation, ending into an equally long rant. But first, a question: What are the parts of Age of Ultron people normally like? Well, the party scene, the farm scene, the Hawkeye during the last battle, the final confrontation between Vision and Ultron. And what are the scenes which are usually disliked? The romance and the mystical bathing pool. What have the last two in common? They are an attempt of giving characters some sort of arc while setting up future movies. And they are not needed. At all.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed of characters having an arc – if it serves the overall story. When I watch an Avengers movie, I don’t do it because I expect some ground-breaking character development (that’s what the stand-alone movies are for), quite the opposite in fact. I watch it, because I want to see the characters I already know interact with each other, I want to know what they think of each other and how they react to each other quirks. The party scene works so well because it gives me exactly that, a measuring up between the different characters. The farm scene works so well, because it gives the characters some downtime to come to terms with their defeat – and then starts to drag because the romance rears its ugly head.

Yeah, I am one of those fans, who were fuming about this particular plot point in the movie. At this point common wisdom has apparently decided that those who had an issue with this were overreacting and/or obsessive feminists. But I frankly don’t care. I have some serious issues with the way Black Widow is portrayed in the movie, which all boil down to “for some reason Joss Whedon started to write her as a female character instead of simply a character”, but in the end, the whole romance doesn’t do Bruce Banner any favours either. The main issue with this arc is that it doesn’t really tie into the actual main arc of the movie. It is a distraction, which takes the viewer regularly out of the story. Sure, Hawkeye gets a lot of character development in this movie, but it all ties into the main arc. The romance doesn’t. It is just a useless filler. As is Thor’s hot tub myth machine.

Sure, both arcs have some kind of pay-off. The romance ends with Natasha forcing Bruce to Hulk out and Thor comes back with the conviction that yes, the Avengers really need to create Vision. In both cases, though, you could have had the same scenes with less complications. Bruce certainly doesn’t need a romance in order to make the decision “maybe I should leave the Avengers”. During this movie he first helps Tony to create a dangerous robot and then looses control of the Hulk to such a degree that he wrecks the city. He has already ample reason to believe that maybe he should stop being close to the Avengers. The whole scene with Black Widow forcing him to Hulk out, it could have happened without the romance and imho, it would have made the betrayal even worse if Natasha had done it not as his love interest, but as a member of the Avengers betraying his wishes for the greater good. In the end, the romance arc diminishes a potential powerful storyline involving betrayal within a close knit team.

And Thor? My only comment to this is: Why so complicated? Why does Thor need to go to Selvig in order to take a bath at some strange place in order to have a vision? Why can’t he simply visit Heimdall, who then tells him that yes, there are Infinity stones popping up left and right, and they now apparently deal with another one?

So, let’s imagine we had made this changes. No awkward flirting between an attractive woman and a guy who is nearly old enough to be her father and unable to have sex to boot. No mystic pool. Instead a lot of time to spend on the twins and their interaction with the Avengers. I for sure would have taken one talk between Natasha and Wanda over all the nonsense they did with her character in the movie.

1. Iron Man 3: The last twenty minutes

I have complained about this before, specifically about Tony getting rid of his arc reactor and why I consider this problematic. But that is only one of the numerous problems which pile up in the finale of Iron Man 3. There were some minor issues with the movie beforehand, but this is the point at which it falls apart. Tony’s army of robots turn up, begging the question why Tony didn’t bother to activate them when his house got attacked. Though most likely they wouldn’t have been useful anyway, considering how easily they get destroyed in the final battle. But the real insult is Tony healing Pepper in a short narration. No movie can get away with piling up conflict and problems and then solving them by basically saying “yeah, the main character took care of that”. No one. Not to mention that Tony being able to remove his arc reactor in an operation makes him look even more stupid in the second movie, in which he is dying because of it. Iron Man 3 is mostly an okay movie in my eyes. A little bit too ambitious for its own good, but I liked what it tried to do. The last 20 minutes make my blood boil, though. There is nothing redeemable about this hot mess.

Okay, this became quite a long article. I guess I will do something more fluffy and less wordy the next time around. Perhaps the most emotional scenes?

Marvel Musings: The Five Worst Decisions in Phase 1

So before I go back to gushing over the MCU, here are the aspects which I didn’t like about the movies. Note that I didn’t call this the “worst moments”. I could have done a list like this, too, but I asked myself: What are the things I would have improved, if I had a say, what are the decisions which had a negative impact during the whole movie? Thus said…I decided early on that The Incredible Hulk will not be placed on this list. The only way to rescue this one would have been to redo it from the scratch, with a different idea and a different cast. And yes, I know that some people really like this movie, but I feel that it is mostly incredible boring. This list will (just like the others) be highly subjective because what I hated, others might have loved. In fact, I am pretty sure that I will get a lot of disagreements on this one. Nevertheless, here it goes:

5. The First Avenger: Casting Hugo Weaving

I already hear the outcry. Hugo Weaving is after all very popular with a lot of nerds. I never really understood that because he is one of those actors which don’t impress me at all. I usually don’t mind him,  but his performance as Red Skull always felt very “off” to me. I couldn’t really figure it out until I read a couple of interviews with him and realized that he interpreted the role as stereotypical evil Nazi. But, well, that’s not how the Red Skull is written. Oh, he is a Nazi, no question there, but his character doesn’t stop there. Looking at the script and not the performance, he is basically the Evil Queen of Snow White, insanely jealous of Cap getting what he sees as his own right. At the same time, though, convinced of his own superiority. Him also being a Nazi is in a way the least interesting aspect of his personality (though it naturally informs it). It is perhaps unfair to blame Huga Weaving that none of this is truly reflected in his performance. It is, after all, partly the job of the director to ensure that the actor has a clear grasp on the character. Nevertheless, I feel that another actor with a different take on the role would have done a better job.

4.  The Avengers: Isolated Thor

 I give Whedon a lot of credit for the way he managed to balance all the Avengers, allowing them to interact with each other. With one notable exception: Outside of the fighting scenes, Thor is only kind of there. At no point he has a proper conversation with Tony or Cap or Bruce. I usually would have chalked this up to his screen time mostly being tied up with Loki, but then Age of Ultron rolled around and Thor is isolated yet again. And yes, I am aware that there were demands of the studio concerning the tie-ins, but even outside of this Thor is mostly there for comic relief, while everyone else has a proper arc. Which brought me to the conclusion that Whedon simply didn’t really know what to do with him. It will be interesting to see how the Russo Brothers will handle him in Infinity War.

3. Iron Man: Stane going crazy

Two thirds of Iron Man are really good. But in the last third the movie kind of goes off the rails. Or, to be precise, Stane does. Up to this point he is portrayed as this clever scheming business guy (not that I ever trusted him). But then he suddenly decides to pilot a suit and attack Tony for  – reasons? His motivation or plan stops making sense at this point, and the only reason for his actions seems to be that the movie needs some villain to fight in the last act.

2. Thor: Doctor Selvig

Yes, I know, Doctor Selvig is usually liked. And to be honest, I don’t mind the character in itself. In another movie, he would be an entertaining character. But in Thor (actually in every movie he turns up safe for The Avengers) he is a pointless addition and useless distraction. Just think about it, what would happen if Doctor Selvig were no present in Thor? Well, instead of Jane trying to convince him that Norse mythology might have a true core, we could have Darcy trying to convince Jane to broaden her view, making the interaction between both characters way richer. Instead of him convincing Coulson to let Thor go, we could have Jane helping him out. Instead of him having a highly sexist conversation with Thor (Jane’s love life is really none of his business, he isn’t her father, and even if he were, she is a grown woman. This condescending BS has to end!), we could have Thor and Jane talking about why Thor actually did to get expelled and her providing a different point of view on that matter, tying Thor’s redemption arc properly into their romance. There are a lot of reasons why Thor and Jane don’t really work as a pairing. One of the main reasons though is the fact that Selvig tends do things which Jane could do just as well, making her a less fleshed out character with less agency then she could be. (Not to mention that it is kind of insulting that the one female scientist main character in the MCU is also the only one, who needs a mentor to hold her hand).

1. Iron Man 2: The stupid bird!

Okay, that is not fair. The bird is only a symptom of what went wrong with the movie. But it is the element which annoys me the most. It is weak attempt to give the villain more background, but I don’t think that villains need a particularly fleshed out background. They only need a convincing motivation and a good plan. Whiplash has the former, but not the latter. His plan makes as much sense as him requesting the bird from Russia. If he really cares that much about the bird, why didn’t he ensure that it is properly cared for? Or is he just trolling Justin Hammer? Who, btw, is the sole reason Vanko even made it out of prison. Without this stroke of luck, he would have sit there, basking in the fact that he made a guy bleed who he knew was already dying anyway. Yay? I think that the script of Iron Man 2 could have worked with a couple of rewrites. But the first act should have been to scratch the bird. It’s a stupid running gag, which keeps reminding me that nothing in this movie makes sense (it is still a fun watch, though).

 Well, those are my thoughts on that matter. Which flaws bothered you the most? Next time I will cover Phase 2 and then we will go back to more positive thoughts.

Marvel Musings: The Best Action Scenes of Phase 2

I have to say that I felt that most of the action in Phase 1 was okay. Enjoyable, rarely boring, but action beats which I would feel compelled to watch over and over were rare. Phase 2 is another matter though. The action suddenly became, for the lack of a better word, creative. In Phase 1 I was entertained by the movies despite not being a big fan of action. In Phase 2 I started to specifically rewatch certain action scenes because I loved them so much. It’s not because I have suddenly discovered my interest in explosions, but because the movies started to offer more than that. Much more. So let’s take a look at the

Ten best action scenes:

10. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Season 3: Coulson’s Portal jump

This scene is simultaneous awesome and totally ridiculous. For the poor souls who have given up on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  too early: Hydra has opened a portal to another planet and sends a team through. Coulson, who is really out for blood in this episode, jumps out of a plane under fire and manages to hit the opening in the ground spot on, is catapulted into the air on the other side and ends up rolling down a ditch, hitting his head. After an episode which was incredible tense, it was the perfect ending point. A fist-pump combined with a big “oh sh….”.

9. Thor, The Dark World: Switching through the convergence

There isn’t really much which works for me in Thor the Dark World. But I have to give it to the writers: The idea for the final battle is very creative. Especially the part with Thor’s hammer having to take the scenic route in order to reach him again. If I would care more for all the people involved in it, this one would be way higher. As it is, it gets points for thinking out of the box.

8. Age of Ultron: Taking out Baron von Strucker’s base

As important as the Battle of Sokovia is, as an action beat it mostly left me cold. It felt too much like a repeat of The Avengers. The best moments are happening more in-between the actual action beats, like Thor distracting Ultron, Captain and Natasha deciding to fight until the last minute even if it means their death, Hawkeye talking to Wanda and especially Vision confronting Ultron. Iron Man vs the Hulk Buster was a little bit too long and self-indulgent for my taste. The very first battle, though, was close to perfect. The way the Avengers are fighting with each other shows from the very first moment how close the team has grown between movies. The call-back to The Avengers when Thor hits Cap’s, but this time around in order to take out the enemy, is perfect. As is the moment when Cap just grabs his bike and throws it into the attackers.

7. Ant-Man: Ant-man vs Falcon

One thing which is sometimes a problem in Marvel movies, is that the writers tend to pin fighters with similar abilities against each other. In two of three movies Tony is fighting a guy in a suit, Steve always goes up against another person with Super-serum perks, Gamora fights Nebula aso. It is therefore very refreshing to see two characters with a totally different set of abilities have a go at each other in a fairly detailed fight. Poor Falcon though. How do you deal with an enemy, you barely see coming? But if anything put across that Ant-man is not just a joke, than this moment.

6. Agent Carter, Season 1: Dotty scaling down the stairway

The fight scenes in Agent Carter don’t tend to be very fancy, mostly because Peggy’s style is very direct – meaning she tends to grab the next heavy object in order to smash it in someone face. Which is awesome because I am kind of tired of female fighters having to do those flips all the time. I have to admit though, the scene in which Dotty was scaling down the stairway in an acrobatic act was awesome!

5. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Season 2: The Sacrifice of the BUS

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. really ramped it up in the second season. There are countless great fight scenes for Bobbi, May and even Daisy gets her moment to shine. But the moment which stuck out to me the most was this one: The team intends to infiltrate a base. They do so by flying into the danger zone with a larger plane (the so called BUS) and a smaller plane on top. The BUS is destroyed and May flies the smaller plane to the ground, pretending to be part of the debris. It is not like the audience sees a lot of the fancy flying. This is still a TV show on budgets restrains, so it is shown exactly as much as needed so that the audience understands what is going on. But for some reason showing the characters in the plane makes the scene even more tense. The moment also works on an emotional level. The BUS was the main base of the team in the first season. In this episode the original six characters are on a mission together again – for one last time. The destruction of the BUS is a reminder that there will be no going back to the beginning. The team we got to know in the beginning is gone, and will never be again. But it got send off with a bang.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy: The Battle for Xandar

To ruin my geek cred for good: I am not a big Star wars fan. What bores me the most about this franchise (and Star Trek for that matter), is what most fans love the most:  The space battles. I usually don’t really get invested in a bunch of models or CGU ships firing BS laser at each other. It always looks the same, and it rarely feels real for me. But in Guardians of the Galaxy, I enjoyed every single action scene, including the space battles. I think mostly because it was so much more than just ships in some sort of vacuum firing at each other. That is especially evident in the battle of Xandar. The flying under the explosion, having to evade the attackers in order to reach the main ship and the blockade which is formed in the end in order to keep the Dark Aster from reaching the ground, every moment in this is so not what I have come to expect from a space battle. It helps that the fighting in the air is interrupted by scenes from the ground, and the battle within the ship. Not to mention the emotional moment when the Dark Aster finally crashes towards earth. I can watch this again, and again, and again.

3. Iron Man 3: Skydiving Stunt

I already hinted it when I wrote about phase 1, but most fighting scenes with Iron Man leave me pretty cold. He is always either walking through the crossfire or making those fancy flying moves, but in the end, it is always about shooting a tank missile in the right direction. But this scene is really tense. For one, it really feels like a situation in which Iron Man could fail. He might not be able to reach all the falling people in time, they might end up being too heavy for him, but he does it in the end. The scene is so well done, I am even able to forgive that it wasn’t him at all in the end.

2. Daredevil, Season 1: The Hallway fight

What else? This scene has become legendary. And for good reasons. This is the antithesis of fake CGI action. The set-up is actually fairly simply, one guy fighting his way through a group of gangsters. But the way it is shot, from the stark yellow light to the seemingly lack of cuts (there actually are some, but they are well-hidden) while the camera moves up and down the hallway, makes it stand out immediately. But the choreography is the icing of the cake. The way how Daredevil becomes visible more exhausted during the fight, how the goons fall down but trying to stand up again after a while, every detail in this just works. And that it is done on a Netflix budget makes it even more impressive.

1. Captain America, The Winter Soldier: The Elevator Scene

It is a good thing that I have a “one per movie or Season” rule, or this movie would have made up half of the list. Ever – single – action – scene in this one is awesome. And I was very close to picking the battle on the bridge, because of the emotional pay-off and the fancy knife-work in the hand-to-hand combat. It’s those details which make a scene like this special. But in the end, it is hard to beat out the elevator scene. First you have the tense built-up. The way more and more people enter the elevator, while Cap notices a number of small details which tell him that something is off, ramps up the expectation that something will happen. And then the fighting starts, with Cap having to take out a whole group of agents with fancy gadget trying to capture him. Similiar to the Hallway fight in Daredevil, this one is personal and intense. Though my favourite is the shot from above at the end, showing him standing between the bodies of the fallen enemies. It’s simply perfection from start to finish.

I have spend now so much time praising the MCU, I am starting to think that I should criticise it a little bit more. So the next two lists will be about my least favourite elements of the MCU.

Marvel Musings: The Best Action Scenes of Phase 1

Yeah, I decided to go for action first. I guess I should start with a small disclaimer: I am not the type of person who is satisfied with a lot of destruction and cool special effects. In fact, there is nothing worse for me than a movie which offers nothing but that. Nothing more boring than an action scene which goes on for too long – though too long is relative. Sometimes five minutes can be too long, sometimes I can still be entertained after half an hour if an action scene is well-made. So, don’t be too surprised if I don’t necessarily go for the big action scenes:

5. Hulk vs Abomination

The Incredible Hulk is not a movie which will ever get a lot of love from me. There are a number of issues I have with it, but not necessarily more I have with some of the other early Marvel offerings. But it is a monster movie. I think that monster movies are boring. Jurassic Park might be the one exception, and even that is not a movie I would be keen to watch again and again (yeah, I know, I am not a proper nerd). Thus said though, the final battle scene is pretty cool. I certainly take it over most of Iron Man flying around (with some exceptions, but that is a topic for phase 2).

4. Thor vs. SHIELD

I guess everyone else would pick one of the more big scale action scenes on Thor. But to me, this is the one I got the most invested in, simply because of narrative behind it. Sometimes a smaller scale delivers a better pay-off, and in this case the pay off is Thor trying to lift his hammer, while Clint Barton is ready to shoot him the moment Coulson gives an order. I guess I experienced the scene differently than die hard comic book fans. I didn’t realize what the cameo meant back then, I just thought that the remarks he made were funny. The whole set-up lamp-shaded something which has always bothered me in a lot of action movies. If there is a guy fighting through a bunch of goons in a more or less open room, why don’t you simply shoot him from afar? So they already won me over there. But when Thor finally reaches his hammer that was easily the first time I actually felt for him in this movie. (What? He was an annoying brat beforehand and strangely unbothered by being cast out).

3. Black Widow vs. goons

In a way, this is the opposite for Thor scene, because this is hand-to-hand combat in a location, in which a shot from afar isn’t that easy to take. And seeing Black Widow move smoothly through a bunch of goons, not pulling her punches in the slightest, is a welcome change from the usual Iron Man action, which is usually very low on direct confrontations. As much as everyone is harping about the inclusion of Black Widow into Iron Man, this was the scene which made it worth it. At least for me. (Could have done without the “sexy crouching pose” though)

2. Cap jumps over the explosion

The First Avenger is barely mentioned when it comes to action. I guess because most of the action scenes are either pretty simple  in the sense of them being more about Steve running through the streets, or they are part of the montage. The movie also rarely lingers on an action packed moment, unless it is for a money shot. But then, for someone like me, this is perfect. There is certainly no danger of an action scene in The First Avenger overstaying its welcome.But the moment which gets my attention every single time is Bucky and Steve trying to escape the burning facility. The fight shortly beforehand, when Cap confronts the Red Scull the first time is kind of pathetic. But the scene after? When Bucky first has to walk over the small make-shift bridge and then encourages Steve to jump? It’s very old school adventure movie suspense, but it works on me every single time.

1. Battle of New York

What else? This deserves the credit for the fact alone that it is a half an hour long action scene (at least) and yet, I was never bored by it. I think what I like the most about it is how it showcases the different abilities of the Avengers. After that scene nobody will ask why exactly Cap is the leader, he obviously has a tactical mind. Between Hulk taking out the giant alien ship, the group shot and “puny god” this action sequence is full of memorable moments. But what I like the most is that this battle is as much about protecting the people on the ground and limiting the damage on a very specific section of the city as it is about taking out the enemy. The camera often takes the perspective of the people on the ground, instead of taking in explosions from afar, like a lot of action movies do.

All in all, Marvel started pretty well, action-wise. In a way, each movie got a little bit better in this regard. Especially The Avengers. If there is one aspect in which the movie shines, it is the action. Especially in the way how every action-scene is about more than just action. Each of them also tells the audience something about the characters in question. I think you could watch just the action scenes of the movie, and you would nevertheless have a pretty good idea of the characters involved. That is the kind of writing which makes action work even for someone like me, who needs more than explosions to be satisfied.

Marvel Musings: The Most Defining Scenes of Phase 2

I have thought a long time where I should make the cut between Phase 2 and 3. It is easy with the movies, Phase 3 starts with Civil War. But the TV shows? Does the third season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. belong to Phase 2 or 3? I finally decided that everything which aired before 2016 is Phase 2 and everything after it Phase 3.  So, Phase 2 includes in my eyes Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, the first seasons of Agent Carter, Daredevil and Jessica Jones as well as Season 1, 2 and the first half of Season 3 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. But before I list the most defining scenes of this phase, I have a dishonourable mention:

Iron Man 3 : Tony throwing away his arc reactor

I already mentioned in my last article good and bad consequences. Tony being forced to live with the arc reactor in his chest was one a great consequence, a constant reminder of what his weapons can do. And Iron Man 3 just took it away! Forget the Mandarin, this is the true crime of this movie. Because if a consequence like this can just be reversed in a fast narration, what is the point of anything? Imho, this is the single worst decision which was ever made within the MCU.

But enough ranting, let’s talk about the good stuff. Here are the ten most defining moments of Phase 2 (be warned, there will be spoilers):

10. Ant-Man: Thomas the Tank Engine

The MCU spend Phase 2 with final fights which just got bigger. Iron Man suddenly had an army of robots as back-up, Thor was jumping through the convergence, Age of Ultron lifted a whole city into the air – it seemed like the only direction for the MCU was up. And then Ant-man came around and went small (pun intended). Pulling back from the big battles to more personal stakes gave the MCU the breathing room it needed. And nothing stands more for this approach than having a fight in the bedroom of a little girl, with Thomas the Tank Engine as special guest.

9. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3: Coulson “kills” Ward

Biggest mistake ever! Coulson had the change to destroy Hive once and for all. The only thing he had to do was to forget his revenge and haul Ward back through the portal, bringing him to justice instead. Now he has unleashed a monster on the world. The only thing this event isn’t higher on the list is because it will most likely not impact anything else but the show.

8. Agent Carter: Peggy walking down the street

Welcome in the past, with an image, which summoned up the theme of the first season perfectly. Peggy walking in the opposite direction of a crowd dressed in in a costume which instantly became eponymous  for her with its blue, white and red colour palette symbolically summons up the struggles of her life. Always on her own path, stepping to her own tune, paving the way for S.H.I.E.L.D. – and for the Avengers. After all, it was Nick Fury who brought them together.

7. Guardians of the Galaxy: Star-Lords Dance

Guardians of the Galaxy was not only the surprise hit of Phase 2, it was also the first step into the space-verse of the MCU. And nothing defines the movie and this corner of the universe as well as Peter Quill dancing his way to a hidden treasure, using alien vermin as microphone.

6: Daredevil: Matt takes out people smuggler

The Netflix shows opened up yet another corner of the MCU, one for the gritty street-level heroes. And the first scene set the tone for it. Bloody, brutal and a hero which walked away with a number of bruises, there was no doubt that this would be different from everything which came beforehand after this scene. The show gets bonus points for showing how the Battle of New York impacted the community.

5. Age of Ultron: The Battle of Sokovia

Maybe it should be higher, but I guess there will be more than one element which causes the Civil War. But at this point the battle already was referenced in Ant-man and impacted Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. with the now more negative view on heroes and gifted.

4. Thor, The Dark World: Loki replacing Odin

With any other villain, this would only be half as interesting. But Loki is one of the most unpredictable characters in the MCU. What is his plan? What happened to Odin? And why did he send Sif to Earth twice since he has taken the throne? All questions which will be hopefully answered in the next Thor-Movie.

3. Captain America, The Winter Soldier: Bucky is alive

Not exactly a big surprise for avid Comic book readers, but let me tell you, for the general audience this came pretty much out of the left field. “Who the hell is Bucky?” is one of the most memorable lines in the MCU. And it practically rewrote history. Did Bucky kill Kennedy? Howard Stark? What exactly did he do while he was under Hydra’s control? And what will happen now that he has broken through the conditioning? Not to mention that he will apparently cause the rift between Steve and Tony.  

2. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 : The Fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. / Ward is Hydra

Okay, it might be slightly cheating to give the show credit for something which happened in the movie (thus allowing me to put the other important twist in The Winter Soldier on the list), but those two events are too closely connected to each other to not consider them one. Plus, it is one thing to intellectually know that S.H.I.E.L.D. will never the same again, and another thing to see everything falling apart up close. When Ward turned out to be a traitor, nobody saw it coming, even though it made sense. And having Hydra back in the picture provided a string of compelling villains.

1. Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2: The Terrigen is released into the Ocean

It is kind of odd that THE big event in the MCU happened in the TV-show and not in the movies, but here we are. Even though the movies will most likely never officially acknowledge it, here is one of the main reasons why there is a sudden influx on super-powered people in the MCU. Supposedly Doctor Strange will be the last origin story, but we won’t need them anymore either way. There is no longer the need to make up strange accidents or experiments (though no doubt those will still happen), fishoil pills are now the to-go reason for Superpowers. Kind of goofy, but also very fitting. And a good preparation for the Inhumans movie, even though that one will most likely stand-alone, too.

Well, this was a little bit more difficult than the first list, mostly because some of the impact was difficult to gauge just yet. Next list will be easier. I will either go for best action or most emotional moment – feel free to tell me what you want to see first.

Marvel Musings: The Most Defining Scenes of Phase 1

I is always difficult to do Top Ten lists of an ongoing series, because as long as new content is added, it will always be subject to change. Thankfully the MCU has this handy little Phases. So I start with Phase 1. And I’ll use a handy tool to do so: Top Five lists. Yes, Top Five, not Top Ten. I’ll do Top Tens once I reach Phase 2, but since Phase 1 consists of exactly six movies (Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers), I think Top Five lists will provide exactly the right groundwork, especially since every movie is allowed to provide exactly one moment. And I am starting with the five most defining scenes of phase.

To clarify, with “most defining” I mean those scenes which define the movie in question, preferable scenes are both memorable, as well as having a big impact in the universe. And you might have guessed it: The incredible Hulk didn’t make the list. Of all the MCU movies, it is the one which can be skipped most easily. If not for General Ross turning up again in Civil War, I would claim that nothing in it carried actually over to later movies. But let’s see what the other movies have to offer.

The Five Most Defining Scenes of Phase 1:

5. Iron Man 2 / Tony watches the old recordings of his father

Now, the picture I connect the most with this movie is Tony sitting in the donut (yeah, that says more or less all about it). But the moment I think resonates the most within the universe is this one. Tony’s complicated relationship with his father was already hinted to in the first movie, but here the MCU opens a whole can of worms. But even more, it opens a door to the past. The MCU would feel way smaller if not for the sense that behind everything we see on screen, there is a rich history behind it. And Howard Stark is the first link to this history, being one of the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. I don’t think that they will address it in Civil War, but he is also one of the elements which split Steve and Tony apart. For Steve, Howard Stark is a friend, someone who fought by his side. For Tony, Howard Stark is the guy who always ignored him, and who gave him a legacy of death. In a way, he is the embodiment of the fact that every story has more than one angle.

4. Thor / Loki lets go

I could also simply say “Loki” because to this day, he is the biggest unsolved mystery in the MCU, and it all started with this moment. Sure, he spends the whole movie pulling off a convoluted plan in a desperate attempt to get attention from his (adoptive) father.

3. Captain America: The First Avenger / Steve wakes up in the future

Currently there is (again) this discussion going on which Avenger should die in the upcoming movie. I think that death is the most boring of all consequences. After all, if a character is death, his story is over, right? But what happens to Steve is one of the most compelling of all consequences. The world he knew has vanished and he has now to deal with a century with an entirely different outlook on war and heroics. And on him. But the MCU goes for extra-points by now only exploring what his sacrifice meant for him, it also examined what it meant for those who left behind. Especially Peggy and Howard.

2. The Avengers / The Group Shot

There is a reason why this group shot of the Avengers is constantly used by “Honest Trailers”. This was it, the moment all the work Marvel put in Phase 1 culminated into one memorable money shot – quite literally. Before the Avengers became the highest grossing Superhero ever, the very notion of a shared universe was considered to difficult to pull off. Now every studio is trying to built one of their own, with so far questionable success. We will see if any of the attempts pan out, but even if they do, The Avengers will always be the first, the trailblazer for the current age of Comic book movies.

1. Iron Man / “I am Iron-man”

It is hard to believe that there actually is something even more important than the Avengers changing movie making forever, but at least as far as the MCU is concerned, this is the moment which threw down the gauntlet. It says “no, we won’t do the whole secrecy thing”. It says “we’ll write our own rules”. It says “we love comic books, but we know that there are some clichés which have to die”. This scene set the tune for the MCU which is, despite all its craziness, still firmly connected to reality, in a sense that it asks the question: “If there really were superheroes pop up in our reality, how would we react?” And really, why should someone like Tony Stark hide his true identity? Being a rich genius, he is a walking target anyway. So why not be a flying one?