Category Archives: Marvel Musings

Marvel Musings: Malekith

Somehow starting with the villains who didn’t survive their movies ended up with me having to go through the weaker villains first. Well, I guess this is a good thing. After all, it would be a shame if Marvel routinely killed off the compelling villains while leaving the forgettable ones alone. Speaking of forgettable, remember Malekith?

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1. Character Establishing Moment

How well is the villain established in his first scene?

One should think that a scene which is paired with narration would at least establish the basics of the character, but it actually leaves more questions than answers. Why exactly was there  a war? Why does Malekith think that self-destruction is an acceptable reaction to a lost battle? Why are the other dark elves still follow him after that? I just don’t get it. 1 point.

2. Motivation

What is his motivation and how creative is it?

Honestly, if I could, I would give him zero points for this category. I have honestly no idea what Malekith actually wants aside from some vague spreading darkness over the world nonsense. Why? Even if I assume that Dark Elves don’t suffer sunlight partifularly well, there is apparently a whole empty world they could live on if they wanted to. 1 point.

3. Plan

What is his goal and does his way of reaching it make any sense?

Okay, he wants the aether for…something, convergence, something, reality (honestly, how is that related to spreading darkness?). And he can apparently sense where it is, so he needs to break into Asgard. In order to do so, he sends the Kursed in as some sort of living bomb so that he can open the shields – I guess. I am actually not sure if the Kursed is actually doing something aside from creating a distraction. Anyway, if Malekith can feel the aether and it following his call, why exactly is he then fooled by an illusion of Jane? After all, he has no idea how Jane even looks like or that the aether is in her. Shouldn’t he go straightforward to the aether instead of caring about the illusion of a random person? And after he has to leave Asgard without getting what he wanted, he is sulking around until Thor conveniently brings Jane to him. In short, not only do Malekith’s plans suck, they don’t even make much sense once you think about them. 1 point.

4. Success Rate

How successful is the villain overall? 

Well, he does manage to break into Asgard, but even then he doesn’t get what he actually wanted. I guess I should give him credit for actually getting his hands on the aether, but that doesn’t happen because of anything he did, it is Thor who decides that Jane’s live is more important than keeping the aether as far away from Malekith as possible. So…1 point.

5. Threat Level

How dangerous is the villain in general and to the hero in particular? 

Not dangerous at all. In fact, the Kursed is actually the dangerous one. He is the one who creates chaos in the dungeons, he is the one who kills Freya when Malekith fails to do so and he is the one who secures the aether and keeps Thor and Loki from immediately following Malekith. And even when Malekith has one of the most powerful things in the universe in his hand he is still defeated by a bunch of humans with tripods. The whole movie is a string of Malekith trying to do something and loosing. First against Bor, then when he tries to steal the aether the first time, loosing half of his face in the process and then again at the very end. He has to be one of the most ineffective and non-threatening villains ever. 1 point.

6. Foil Factor

How well does the villain figure into the story the movie is trying to tell?

Malekith feels more like a distraction. Partly because Loki’s story is way more interesting than whatever he is up to. But above all because Malekith doesn’t really have much of a relationship with any of the heroes, not even with Odin, since the Asgardian king he fought against was Bor. I guess he has a beef with Asguardians in general, but not even Thor is that concerned about him, he mostly cares about what the aether does to Jane. Even though Malekith is supposed to be the big bad of the movie with the world destroying plan, none of the conflicts seem to be directly related to him. Even Loki seems to feel that he has gotten his revenge for the death of his mother when he kills the Kursed and then blissfully leaves it to Thor to clean up the rest. There is just something wrong with a film when the big dimension hopping battle feels like an afterthought instead of the big event. So, you guessed it, 1 point.

 

7. Acting

How well does the actor sell the role?

I said it before: I really hate to lay into the performance of an actor. Especially in this case because selling this role is a nearly impossible task. The character is just badly written from start to finish. And the elfish doesn’t help. It is just harder to emphasis specific words when you are speaking in a made-up language and the audience is focussed on the subtitles anyway, and not on your performance. But I also think that there are moments in the movie in which a little bit scene chewing would have helped. In a role like this, you go big even at the risk of going down, but in this case the performance is extremely understated. It feels as if the actor is just there for a paycheck and deep down considers the role beneath him. So, 1 Point.

 

8.  Costume

Does the Costume fit the character and does it stand out in general?

I actually like the basic design of the dark elves. I am aware that some think that the alternative designs would have been a better pick, but I disagree. They are supposed to be elves, not some sort of power rangers. Thus said, I have a number of nit-picks with the designs they went with. For starters, those masks. I know they are supposed to look terrifying, but the movie is too bright and colourful for that to truly work. Those masks are perfect for a darker setting but since Swartalfheim is more greyish than actually dark they kind of blend into the environment. The other thing which bothers me is Malekith’s strange helmet. It seems to press the head down into the high collar of the costume. But this aside, at least I remember the costume and it fits the character, so I go for 3 points.

 

9.  Entertainment Factor

How strong is the emotional response?

Zero. But I can’t give out a zero, so 1 Point.

 

10. Memorable Moments

How many memorable scenes and lines has the character?

Honestly I can’t come up with a single memorable quote or moment. 1 Point.


Well, this was more a rant than a review. Sorry, but I think Marvel really dropped the ball with this one. 1,2 Stars, a result which will hopefully never be repeated.

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A Disney and Fox merger?

I usually don’t comment on Hollywood politics, but the rumour that Disney tried to acquire some of Fox’s assets has put the internet in a state of, well, that:

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And I honestly have the feeling that most of the discussion is either totally overblown “Disney takes over the world” talk, or full of unrealistic expectations. So maybe it is time for a huge step back and examine the situation rationally.

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Just follow my reasoning step by step.

Let’s first talk about the assets in question, because some talk about this as if Disney intends to buy the whole of Fox. That isn’t quite correct. They are interested in the movie studios and in part of the Television division. To clarify, they are interested in the part which is not News (*cough* propaganda *cough*) or sport related, instead they have their eye on the entertainment side of things. And this is not about having another studio lot, this is about the IPs connected to the studios and the Fox TV productions.

 

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So why is Disney interested?

This is only conjuncture, but let’s consider this from Disney’s perspective: When Disney initially made the distribution deal with Netflix, I fully expected that the deal would end up in a merger. Even when they announced that they would go ahead and start their own streaming service in 2019, I still thought that this might be a negotiation tactic, pressuring Netflix to sell for a lower price by threatening the company with serious competition. After all, Netflix doesn’t just own a streaming service in the US, it is the only one so far which has taken serious steps to be a world-wide provider. But now it looks like Disney will go ahead with building up a Netflix rival at least for the US market. And in order to do that, there is something Disney needs above everything else: Content.

Yes, Disney has a huge library of movies and TV shows, both animated and live action (don’t forget that Disney doesn’t just own the Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel, but also Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Disneynature and ABC, just to mention the most relevant ones). But at the end of the day, Disney is mostly known for family entertainment. A streaming service can’t succeed when it only appeals to one group, even if it is a particularly broad group. Disney needs more content for “grown ups”, and I am not necessarily talking about r-rated movies and TV shows, I am talking about genres which Disney only covers from time to time under its Touchstone label, like heavy drama, horror, dystopian science fiction aso. They also could use some classic movies. Disney is far from being one of the oldest studios out there and it started to produce live action movies fairly late.

Consequently there is a huge gap Disney has to fill, and the easiest and most substantial way to do it, is to acquire those rights through a huge buy-out. Under the other studios, there are two possible candidates for a buy-out like this, Sony and Fox, and while it seems like Sony is the easier option, due to the well-known financial troubles of the studio, Fox might actually be the better one. It has a larger and more diverse library which would match what Disney already owns perfectly, and it has some incentives to sell to a reasonable price.

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But why should Fox agree?

 

Fox is currently owned by Rupert Murdoch, who is well known for aggressive expansion. Selling anything seems to be counterintuitive. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Disney successfully brokered a deal, considering that it acquired what is now Freeform from Fox a few years ago.  In addition, there is currently a generation change going on in the Murdoch empire. The two sons are taking on more and more responsibilities, and their view on the future of the company might be somewhat different.

Let’s take a look at this aggressive expansion strategy: It has lead to Rupert Murdoch practically owning the British media and having considerable influence on public opinion in the US. I do wonder about the financial situation overall, though. Again, this is just conjuncture, but here are a few things one should consider: Murdoch trying to spread his influence over the European continent by buying Sky might have been a huge misstep. Sky is a pay-tv channel and was frankly a financial mess when Murdoch got his fingers on it. Then there are all the newspapers the company owns in the UK. I wonder how many of them are still creating a decent revenue now that more and more people are looking up the news on the internet. And finally there is Fox studios itself which overall hasn’t really done all that well in the last years either.

The Media is currently in a state of flux, due to the rise of the streaming services. The live viewing numbers for TV shows are constantly falling, because more and more people prefer to watch on their own time. The exceptions are sport events, news, live-shows, everything which looses relevance directly after airing. Soon every media company out there will have to decide if it wants to jump in with its own streaming service or if it wants to retool its programming accordingly. For Disney it makes totally sense to do the former, since it is a brand people recognize as a sign of quality. For the Murdoch group it might actually better to focus on its core business – which is the newsroom – and get rid of everything else. They have a vast library which would match Disney perfectly, but it is not vast enough that Fox could built a streaming service on it, the way Warner Bros, Disney or Universal could. Avoiding to the competition might be the better move, even if that means to give up some IPs which currently stand to make a lot of more money in the future. I say currently, because we have seen in the past how a studio can destroy an IP thoroughly (see Fantastic 4 as prime example). And Disney might actually do better than Fox with some of those IPs.

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Oh, which IP’s we are talking about?

 

That is the question. I’ll be frank here: rights issues at Fox are incredible complicated. With Disney it is usually fairly easy: Disney makes the movie, distributes said movie, gets the revenue and owns the rights to said movie. Sometimes there might be issues considering the property on which their movie is based, but since Disney has a tendency to go for either public domain properties or original stories, in most cases they are the sole owner of at the very least the particular incarnation of a character. There are some movies Disney released under their alternative labels which are co-productions, but as a thumb rule Disney is the owner of its own productions and distributes them worldwide. It took a few decades, but nowadays they are really good in keeping control over every aspect of their creations (sometimes too good – trying to trademark a foreign holiday was not cool, Disney).

With Fox it is a little bit more complicated. Take White Collar. White Collar is a television series which originally run on USA Network, which belongs to NBC. But it was produced by the Fox Television studios. Though they apparently don’t control any of the relevant rights. White Collar was syndicated in the US by Ion Media, while the distribution rights in other countries are an entirely different matter. I suspect in Germany, Disney has those rights, based on the channels on which White Collar was shown (currently Netflix and the Disney Channel).

Bottom line: regarding the TV shows, it is sometimes difficult to tell which ones are actually Fox properties, and even those which are might be caught up in some sort of distribution deal, which is lowering their worth for a prospective buyer. It is a little bit easier to figure out regarding the movies, but again, there are a number of co-productions or distribution only deals in the mix. In addition, Disney is already owning a number of Fox IP’s, acquired during the aforementioned deal to buy the Fox Family channel (which turned into ABC family which turned into Freeform). Which is the point at which I am pressing the alert bottom.

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DANGER! DANGER!

 

Remember Peter Pan and the Pirates? Nice little TV show you won’t see on DVD anytime soon, because it, along with a lot of other shows which originally run on Fox Family have vanished in the Disney vault. And of all those shows which ended up in there, it has the smallest chance to ever see the light of day again, because Disney has its own version of Peter Pan and wants it to be the ultimate one.

Naturally not all IP’s which were acquired back then ended up in the vault. The Power Rangers have found a home at Disney and the X-men, being a particular popular series, has gotten its dues, too. And, as I pointed out above, this is about having more content, so Disney starting its own streaming service might lead to some of those properties being pulled from the vault for additional content. But between all the assets Disney would purchase from Fox there might be IP’s Disney is simply not interested in or actually wants to bury because they are rivalling their favoured product.

And no matter what property, don’t expect a DVD set anytime soon. Disney doesn’t even manage to release their own productions properly, something has to be particularly successful for them to even consider that move. And even then you end up with some oddities. For example Disney released the first two season of The Tick on DVD, but from each season one episode is missing because Disney feared that the parodies in it would lead to them being sued by Marvel. The irony shouldn’t be lost on anyone.

Thus said, Disney is by far not the only company with a spotty record regarding the release of shows or a tendency to self-censorship. It might therefore be premature to sound the alarm. Having a all the rights which are relevant for one property under the control of one company has a number of advantages. To just mention the most obvious example (no, not Marvel): Fox owns the distribution rights to the first Star Wars movies. Disney purchasing those rights might lead to nifty collector boxes, maybe – just maybe – even containing the original version of the movies. The more rights Disney has, the more freedom the company has to use them.

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Disney is taking over the world!!!

 

Not quite. Disney would add to more of the media to its market share and this would certainly change the media landscape, but those changes are way more relevant on the TV than the movie side of things.

Oh, before someone brings up the story of Disney squeezing more and more money out of theatre owners: That is pretty much an unrelated matter. For one, this is nothing new, the smaller theatres in Germany have already stopped running the Disney blockbusters if they can help it. Just recently the German comedy movie Fack ju Göhte 3 placed on top of the German box office, ahead of Thor: Ragnarok. You can guess which movie the smaller theatres decided to run.

And two, what puts Disney into the position to raise the prizes is not the number of IPs they own, but the desire of the audience to see those movies. What they pull with the Star Wars or the Marvel movies would never work with a number of their lesser properties. Be assured though, that there is a breaking point in all this. After all theatre owners have to make their money somehow, meaning the ones who have to eventually pay for Disney’s additional revenue is the audience. In short, sooner or later the market will regulate itself. Or it won’t, but then it will be our own fault.

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So no reason to panic!

 

The truth is, even if Disney merged with Fox studios, it would still produce less movies every year than either Warner Bros. or Universal. In fact, Disney is pretty much the only studio small enough that it could buy Fox Studios without outright violating current anti-trust laws but also rich enough that it can afford the price-tag on a sale like this.

Television is another matter though. Not only would Disney double its presence, with those IPs Disney can easily run a streaming service containing only properties over which it has full ownership. Which is considerably cheaper than having to buy distribution rights. Netflix has started its own productions for exactly that reason, but it will take time to replace its library with them. Disney on the other hand can easily fill a streaming service with its properties, especially if it also has control over the Fox IPs. This would mean that Disney (and other studios which might follow) can easily undercut Netflix and perhaps even force it out of the market in the long run. After all, Netflix is known to have huge debts due to the various investments it made into infrastructure and TV-productions. In the end, this could be a bad thing if Netflix doesn’t manage to hold its ground, but also a good thing for the audience, because some healthy competition would have a positive impact on the fees and the effort made to produce compelling content.

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But what about those IP’s?

The biggest fear some people seem to have is that Disney takes over and then “ruin” franchises left and right with their family friendly approach. I honestly don’t get where this fear is coming from. We had those discussions in the past, when Disney took over Marvel and Lucasfilm. And what happened? Both companies thrived under Disney’s tutelage. Marvel Studios does better than ever since Disney removed it from the influence of Perlmutter, and Lucasfilm goes from one success to the next. Honestly, I never understood what Disney was supposed to ruin in terms of the Star Wars franchise anyway. After the Prequels, the Ewok movies, the Ewok animated series and the Star Wars Holyday special, there was nothing Disney could do to make it worse.

Precedence shows  that Disney is not in the habit of micromanaging its subsidiaries. Granted, a lot of Fox’s IPs are further removed from what Disney stands for than Marvel, Lucasfilm or Pixar. Especially the Alien Franchise, the Predator series and the whole McFarlan verse comes to mind. But remember what I said in the beginning about Disney’s motivations? This is about variety! Meaning that it isn’t actually in Disney’s interest to just ignore or sanitise the IPs in question.

In the end this is not a question of who owns what, it is a question of branding. All Disney has to do is to present the Fox properties in a way that clarifies to the audience that those are their own thing. Disney has done this in the past by releasing projects under the Touchstone label. Even the streaming service can be set up in a way that the general audience has a clear cut between the different Disney branches. The same way Netflix has a “Netflix originals” category in its streaming service, Disney could sort their movies not based on content, but based on brand.

And the same is true for the TV properties. The question is if Disney can set up an environment in which the creative minds can thrive and create even more content for their service under the Fox brand (or however it will be named under Disney). But again, this has rarely been Disney’s problem, unlike Fox they aren’t exactly known for excessive studio interference.

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What about the Marvel IP’s?

 

To all those who are either salivating or complaining about the prospect of Marvel studios getting the X-men and the Fantastic 4 rights back: Calm down. Keep in mind that even if this deal becomes reality, it won’t happen from one day to the other. It could take years to figure all this stuff out, and by this point the MCU might be at least in the midst of Phase 4 if not Phase 5, Deadpool will have had so many sequels that we might already be tired of the character and the X-men, well, who knows. Hell, there is a real possibility that the Fantastic 4 rights revert back before the merger happens.

On the other hand, this might be the perfect time to push the merger through because thanks to Trump anti-trust laws have never been as weak. Just to be on the safe side it would be better to act before a new administration cleans up house. So let’s assume that the deal happens within the next years. It stands to suspect that Disney would shuffle the Marvel rights over to Marvel studios. And I actually see only advantages in this.

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NO! This will be horrible!!!!!

 

Oh, I know the arguments against it: We will get less movies every year, Disney will never go r-rated, the X-men don’t fit into the MCU…. let’s take those apart.

For one, I take quality over quantity any day, and I think that the majority of the Marvel movies are vastly superior to the Fox output. Plus, Fox isn’t that fast in churning out those movies either. On average, they barely do one per year. They want to step their game up now, but who knows which projects will actually happen in the end. Plus, keeping the number of comic book movies per year reasonable will ensure that every project will get the attention from the audience it deserves.

Two, Disney has been gone R-rated in the past, as I pointed out above, this is more about the right branding than about what Disney would or wouldn’t do. In this case the question is more what Marvel Studios would do. And Marvel Studios has already gone R-rated with its TV shows. Now the question is if they would do it in the movies. A R-rated movies seems to be a terrible fit for the MCU but then, who says that everything Marvel studios does has to be part of it? As I said beforehand: All a question of branding.

Which brings me to the last point, that the X-men are a bad fit for the MCU. I agree. Marvel kind of got away with it in the Comics, but I don’t think that it will work in the MCU. Comic book continuity has always been fluid, but the MCU is way more beholden to what came beforehand. Putting a society in which Mutants are systematically hunted in the same setting in which the Avengers are considered heroes just doesn’t jive. Even if the MCU starts the franchise with a clean slate – as it should, the X-men are overdue for a reboot anyway – the Mutants are one element which are better off out of the MCU. But that doesn’t mean that Marvel Studios can’t run a second Franchise parallel to the MCU.

Hell, they could even make it a proper parallel world from the get go, starting with the premise “What if the Kree had never played around with human DNA, but instead the Mutants developed down the line, and the world feared those strange powers?” Think about it, Hydra would have never been created, Captain America or the Hulk would have never been a thing because nobody would play around with a supersoldier serum when there are already powered people one could draft running around. Thor might have never been send to Earth because Odin wouldn’t want to put him seriously at risk in such a hostile environment. And once this universe is properly established, they could do a dimension hopping crossover event. Or they could just leave the whole X-men verse as its own thing, with the difference that Marvel, unlike Fox, would actually make X-men movies instead of action movies which happen to feature mutants.

Plus, there are the Fantastic 4 and all the other properties involved. I think most fans agree that Marvel really should get those rights back. Above all, though, they will soon be desperately needed. Let’s look at the MCU again. The current line-up will mostly bow out with Infinity war. Which leaves Ant-man, the Wasp, Doctor Strange and Captain Marvel as the core of the next generation (just counting the characters which can headline a movie for sure). And then?

Well, Marvel can switch things a little bit up, for example by letting Bucky take over the mantle of Captain America, or by doing a team up movie involving supporting characters. They might finally do this Black Widow movie.  But they also need to introduce new characters, and in this area, they are slowly running out of options. There is Namor, provided that the Disney lawyers have managed to free him from legal limbo.  There is Blade, but I don’t see him fitting into the MCU at this point, especially not into the movies. There are various legacy and young characters, like Miss Marvel, Amadeus Cho aso which could build a version of the Young Avengers. And then there are some second tier characters and teams which might work the same way Guardians of the Galaxy did. But a lot of those are currently in the area of overlapping rights. Especially the whole British Pantheon of Marvel is fairly tightly connected to the X-men, and I have honestly no idea who is currently owning the rights to the Savage Lands.

Even if the MCU finishes eventually, Marvel can still really use those rights. Remember, this is a studio which exist for one reason alone, to produce comic book movies. They could branch out, I guess, but their safest option is a steady supply of new properties.

At the end of the day this is neither are reason to go all:

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Nor a reason to be all:

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Whatever will happen, won’t happen anytime soon, and the consequences will be partly good and partly bad – depending how much you care about Star Wars or Fox’s take on Marvel properties or any other IP. In the end we can just wait and see.

 

 


Marvel Musings: Aldrich Killian

Yep, we make a giant jump to Phase 2. That’s because the villains of Phase 1 actually have a pretty good survival rate overall. Well, there is Laufey, but he isn’t really the main villain of Thor, Loki is. So, Aldrich Killian, maybe the most controversial villain of the MCU. This should be interesting.

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1. Character Establishing Moment

How well is the villain established in his first scene?

Technically, the character is established twice, once in the past in interaction with Tony and then again in his scene with Pepper. The scene with Tony is nearly perfectly done. There is so much information in it which is not part of the dialogue. His disability, his awkward behaviour, those are all details which hint towards a history of rejection. But the second scene doesn’t work even half as well. For one it is confusing that after the character was introduced in relation with Tony, it suddenly hints prior interactions with Pepper instead. Yes, Killian might have met both of them at one point, but this feels immediately like too much of a coincidence. In addition, this version of the character is so generic. He feels more like a run of the mill slimy businessman. And yes, I know that this is the point, but that doesn’t change the fact that his reappearance is kind of boring, nifty brain graphic or not. I settle on 3 points overall.

2. Motivation

What is his motivation and how creative is it?

Some would say that it is revenge, but I don’t think that this is true. At no point in the movie does Killian indicate that he is interested in revenge. Initially he seems to be more interested in working with Tony, maybe even earn his respect. He only attacks Tony after Tony challenges him, and overall, none of his plans have anything to do with Tony other than that his mind might be able to solve the flaw in extremis.

So, what is it what Killian actually want? It is not fame, since he has learned to appreciate the anonymity. I think what he actually wants is power, the knowledge that he can form the world however he wants. Tony only plays into this as some sort of rival, someone Killian would enjoy to either beat or draw into his scheme one way or another. This isn’t the strongest motivation, but it is way more complex than just revenge. I would give it three or four points if not for the whole matter with Pepper slightly muddying his motivations which isn’t really that well fleshed out in the first place. If it were, the audience wouldn’t confuse it for revenge. So I can’t give him more than 2 points.

3. Plan

What is his goal and does his way of reaching it make any sense?

The issue with Killian’s plan is that there is always a next goal, but not an end goal. Let’s take this apart: In his attempt to reshape the world (and his own body) he conducts illegal experiments with extremis. When it turns out that extremis is instable he invents a terrorist to explain away the explosions. Clever. He then attacks Tony because Tony goaded him. At this point the matter becomes complicated, because a few scenes beforehand he wanted to work with Tony and a few scenes later Maya reveals that they need Tony’s ability to stabilize the extremis Killian himself has already used. Granted, Maya might not have told Killian this for some strange reason, but even then the attack on Tony seems to be an ego thing more than anything else. The next step seems to be to kill the president so that the vice president, who is one of Killian’s people, can assume power. Again, this makes sense, this will make it easier for him to conduct his experiments. But what happens after?

A number of aspects in Killian’s plan are very clever but his end goal is kind of hazy. Does he want to dominate the world from the shadows? Or is he some sort of misguided humanist? I don’t know, therefore I can’t give him more than 3 points for this category.

4. Success Rate

How successful is the villain overall? 

Let’s see…he manages to get the body he always wanted, terrifies the US, destroys Tony’s home and nearly kills him, he captured Tony, Pepper and Rhodey and he comes very close to actually killing the president,but the end, he doesn’t really get all that far in actually realizing his plan. Tony escapes before he can get what he wants from him and the president survives. Even the most basic aspect of his scheming, the extremis, has a major flaw he can’t solve on his own, so I give him only 2 points.

5. Threat Level

How dangerous is the villain in general and to the hero in particular? 

Very dangerous. A clever mind is always the best weapon, but Killian is also scrupulous, not caring one bit who gets caught in the crossfire of his experiments, and with the extremis in his body he is physically powerful, too. In the end, Tony is unable to defeat him, instead another extremis-powered person (Pepper) has to step in. In a way Killian defeats himself by giving Pepper the extremis, and by stepping out of the shadows because Tony goaded him. 4 points.

6. Foil Factor

How well does the villain figure into the story the movie is trying to tell?

I have to clarify something: I really like the mandarin twist. I think it is clever, and pointing out how eagerly we jump on any enemy which is represented to us is certainly something I can get behind. But I do think that the message gets a little bit muddled up right from the start. The big thing we are supposed to take away from the first scene is that Tony created his own demons. But, well, Tony didn’t exactly do anything wrong in that scene. Yes, sending Killian to the roof is kind of cruel, but consider Killian’s actions up to this point. For starters, just because Tony is rich and famous and happens to be in a semi-public place it doesn’t give Killian the right to demand his attention. He can ask for it, but Tony is in no obligation to listen to him. And Tony makes it perfectly clear that he has no interest to do so. But instead of taking the hint, Killian follows him into the elevator and is about to follow him to the floor, too. Killian was in a lot of ways twisted before he ever encountered Tony (Pepper even confirms this later on by indicating that there was always something off about Killian). And AIM is also something Killian founded beforehand.

In addition, if you tell the audience that the monsters of the movie are in this first scene, well, it makes it much harder to pull-off the mandarin twist. Thanks to this first scene I saw it coming from a mile away. There was a slight hope that Killian was around as additional distraction and that the actual villain of the piece would be Maya, because that at least would have been kind of interesting, but nope, it is the guy who has been walking around with a giant red arrow over him the entire time.

All in all Killian just keeps clashing with the themes of the movie and sometimes actively undercuts them. He is in a lot of ways the weakest part in the story, so he gets 1 point.

7. Acting

How well does the actor sell the role?

Well, I give him the transition between awkward and smooth Killian but otherwise I just don’t buy this guy as a threat.  And it really doesn’t help that Kingsley is cheerfully chewing the scenery which he stays entirely unremarkable. Which is kind of the point, but even when he drops the pretence he is still unable to keep up with the other actors on screen. 2 points.

8.  Costume

Does the Costume fit the character and does it stand out in general?

He is wearing…a business suit? I have actually no idea, I only remember him spitting fire. 1 point.

9.  Entertainment Factor

How strong is the emotional response?

Urgh…honestly, the only emotional response I felt was disappointment that this guy is the big villain in place of Maya. 1 point

10. Memorable Moments

How many memorable scenes and lines has the character?

I guess the scene with him on the roof with the fireworks in the background are kind of memorable. I guess I will be gracious and give him 2 points.


Well, this was all over the place in terms of ratings, but we end up with an average of 2,1 stars, which is kind of a shame. This concept could have been brilliant.


Marvel Musings: Ivan Vanko

One thing I have to clarify before discussing Whiplash: I don’t think that Ironman 2 has two villains. Justin Hammer is for me not a villain, he is an antagonist. Sure, a lot of the stuff he does is shady, especially when he frees Ivan Vanko from prison. But I don’t get the sense that he actually knows or cares that people were killed during this process. He isn’t the type who would plan something like this, he is the type who would order someone to fetch Vanko for him without caring how. He certainly lacks morals but overall, he is simply a dumb wannabe. That doesn’t mean that he can’t graduate from antagonist to outright villain in the future, but for now, I don’t think that the title really fits him. Ivan Vanko is another matter though. He certainly is a villain…but is he a good one? Let’s find out.

MV-Ivan-Vanko

 

1. Character Establishing Moment

How well is the villain established in his first scene?

Is he actually established at all? His first scene does too little and too much at the same time. It starts out with some guy dying and saying that “This should have been you” regarding Tony to someone else. We don’t get the backstory to this until the second half of the movie. And before we even get a sense for either of the characters we just got introduced to, the movie launches into a montage which has mostly the purpose to cover what Tony has done since Ironman 1. When Vanko has his second great entrance on the track later on we still know next to nothing about his character. It’s so butchered up, I can’t give it more than  1 Point.

 

2. Motivation

What is his motivation and how creative is it?

Revenge is a motivation which can either be very creative or boring depending on what someone wants revenge for. The idea of wanting revenge for someone else having a better live than yourself because of something which went down between your respective fathers could be very interesting, since it plays into the whole legacy theme of the movie. But the way it is explained is so convoluted, I am still not sure if Howard Stark actually did screw Vanko’s father over or not.  Considering how badly executed the idea is, I can’t give more than 2 Points.

 

3. Plan

What is his goal and does his way of reaching it make any sense?

When it comes to confusing plans, Vanko takes the cake. Let’s take this from the top: He attacks Tony at the racing track. I am not sure how he was able to predict that Tony would drive in the race, but okay, I roll with it, he might have simply waited for an opportunity to catch him, and that was the first one he got. After a fight in which he is keeps wielding his whips when he could have simply shoot Tony with arc reactor energy, he gets arrested. But then he claims that he still won because the world saw Ironman bleed. Wait, does this mean that he wanted Tony to survive, or did he want to kill him? And why going through all this effort when he already knows that Tony is dying? Granted, taking revenge in person is more satisfying, but what is the point of all this when he just ends up in prison? He can’t know that Justin Hammer will free him after all. And then we end up with the apparently on the fly created plan to attack Stark Expo. That makes a little bit more sense, because this way he attacks Tony’s legacy and not just his body – which actually might have been the idea from the get go. But Hammer is the one suggesting it to him, so perhaps not?  All in all his plan is a nonsensical convoluted mess. 1 point.

 

4. Success Rate

How successful is the villain overall? 

Well, he does manage to tarnish Ironman’s reputation to a certain degree, but all in all, he is a little bit like a dog behind a giant fence. For most of the movie he is just dicking around with Hammer, and when he finally attacks the Stark Expo, he looses. I can’t give him more than 2 Points in the end.

5. Threat Level

How dangerous is the villain in general and to the hero in particular? 

The most frustrating aspect about Vanko is that he could actually be extremely dangerous. He has the plans for the arc reactor, he is smart, he could easily sell his knowledge and attack Tony more indirectly. But no, he storms forward like a bull. Granted, there is still something dangerous about a bull, but in this case the physical presence is undermined by his questionable planning. Without Hammer getting involved, he might have spend the next years in prison. So I guess I’ll stick to 2 points.

 

6. Foil Factor

How well does the villain figure into the story the movie is trying to tell?

To be honest, I have the feeling that Vanko is only in the movie to provide action scenes. The actual core of the story is about Tony coming to terms with the fact that he is dying, as well as dealing with his complicated feeling towards his dead father. Vanko kind of plays into the latter, in a “sins of the father” context, but based on what we are told about the past, Howard’s actions were self-serving but not necessarily wrong. All in all the time spend on Vanko is more a distraction from Tony’s actual struggles than something which serves the plot. 1 point.

 

7. Acting

How well does the actor sell the role?

Urgh, I hate laying into an actor like this, but wtf was that? There is really nothing about this performance I like, especially not the habits the actor added to the character. I know that some people like the “Burd”, but while it is the most memorable thing about the performance, it is also nothing more than a really stupid quirk. I am inclined to give a little bit credit for at least ensuring that people remember the name of the villain, but that’s where I draw the line. I settle at 2 points.

 

8.  Costume

Does the Costume fit the character and does it stand out in general?

Let’s be frank here: The costume is stupid. Who the hell would take the arc reactor technology and then turn it into whips? But that is not even what bothers me the most about it, since comics tend to be silly at times. But if you want to smash a character into a wall repeatedly with a car, you better put said character into a protective gear to make it halfway believable that he would be able to walk away with no visible injuries later. I guess he has a second costume towards the end of the movie, but I can’t even remember what it looks like. 1 points

 

9.  Entertainment Factor

How strong is the emotional response?

The only reason why the scenes with Vanko aren’t boring is because he shares them with either Tony or Hammer, two character who are always entertaining, no matter what they do. Vanko on his own is as interesting as drying paint. It is saying something that his “burd” is more memorable than he is. 1 point.

 

10. Memorable Moments

How many memorable scenes and lines has the character?

Did I mention the “burd” already? Otherwise, he has quite an entrance on the track. Most of the other memorable scenes he is involved in are standing out because of Hammer’s lines, not because of him.  2 points


All in all, Ivan Vanko aka Whiplash is one of the weaker MCU villains. I think part of the problem is that he is acted like a Disney villain, even though this kind of villain doesn’t fit into the thoughtful movie Ironman 2 tries to be. But above all it feels like the writers really wanted to tell the story about Tony’s personal struggles and just threw in Whiplash because they needed some action scenes.

Average: 1,6 Points


Marvel Musings: Obadiah Stane

And it is the time of the year again in which I start to make up for all the months in which I neglected this blog…well, to be honest, I didn’t really neglect it. I prepared this little article series because I felt, I should do something special for Halloween this year. And what is a better topic for Halloween than villains? And in my opinion, the best way to study villains is taking a good look at the MCU villains.

No, that is not just because I really, really love the MCU. That’s part of it, but I also love Disney and animated movies and Harry Potter and a number of TV shows, all of which offer a number of villains to discuss. But what the MCU has but most franchises lack is variety. From the Disneyesque Supervillain which prances around in plain sight to the more grounded villains, from powerful to human, from layered to simple, from extremely well-written to a total failure, there is a little bit of everything. And it is certainly interesting to examine why certain villains work and others don’t even though they are all part of the same universe.

And once I settled on the MCU, something else occurred to me: This would be the perfect series in preparation to Infinity War. So I decided to start with it today, in honour of Halloween, and will then discuss another villain every two weeks until the movie is released. I will sort them roughly by release date of the movie or TV show in which they turned up, but I will for now skip the Hydra villains (because they should be discussed in connection to each other) and villains which are still alive. Then I will cover the Hydra villains and finally to the ones which are still around. I will have to revisit this series at one point anyway, but if I do it this way there might be a chance that I don’t have to rewrite too many of my old articles because of additional information. And don’t worry, since I prepared this series in advance, I might be able to post about something else in-between.

Since I wanted to keep my examination of the characters as fair as possible, I have come up with ten categories to judge them on, as well as a point system. For each category a villain can earn up to five points, but I’ll only give full points if I see no grounds for complain whatsoever. Four points is basically a “well done”, three points stands for “okay”, two points means “needs improvement” and one point “utter garbage”.  There will be no half points, I deliberately designed the scale as simple as possible to keep it comparable, and this way I can give it a proper average.

All this said, let’s take a closer look at Obadiah Stane, the villain from Ironman.MV1-Obadiah-Stane Continue reading


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.

Iron-Man-3-Fan-Made-Movie-Poster-iron-man-33843692-1200-1663

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

 

thor-2-poster-dark-world-chris-hemsworth

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?