Tag Archives: Marvel

Marvel Musings: The Advantage of the MCU

I really can’t count how often I have seen articles or videos with the title “The Problem with the MCU” or read a critique which bemoaned at length how uniform the MCU movies supposedly are. It’s a notion I disagree on, but I also don’t really see the point in arguing against it. There are so many MCU movies, anyone can take a bunch of them and point to aspects which are similar in them, just like I can take The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy in order to point out the differences. It’s a circular argument which will lead to nowhere.

I also won’t deny that building an overreaching universe comes with some drawbacks, some of which I will address later. But I also think that it comes with a number of advantages which make the project worthwhile – and unique. But let’s first clear up the terminology.

What is the definition of a Cinematic Universe?

Some people would claim that Universals Monster Universe was the first of its kind. I disagree. Despite the name, what Universal actually invented wasn’t the concept of an universe, but the movie crossover. When Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man, there has been no built-up whatsoever to the moment. It is just another in a long string of monster movies which just happens to put together two monsters from different franchises.

Which brings me to the first thing which I feel might be the most important feature in an universe: Continuity. And with continuity I don’t just mean that what happens in one movie doesn’t contradict what happens in another movie, I mean  thematic threw line as well as constant character development.

I also think that the story has to follow more than one character. There are a number of franchises out there and some of them even manage to have a proper progression from movie to movie instead of rehashing the same story again and again. But if we stick to basically the same set of characters, it is not a universe, it is one ongoing story.

But sometimes franchises do branch out. What is pretty common, especially on TV, is the Spin-off. To mention a particular long running example: Jag spawned NCIS, which in turn has two additional Spin-Offs. But that doesn’t make it one big universe because other than the occasional cross-over episode, what happens in one show doesn’t influence what happens in the other show at all. They have continuity, but only in their own realm. A Spin-off can be the first step to a universe, but it doesn’t automatically create one.

To summon this up, what a movie universe needs is:

  1. Continuity
  2. The possibility of different characters and places being the focus of a story
  3. Events in one part of the universe influencing what happens elsewhere

And if you put it this way, the list of what can be considered a universe as opposed to a franchise is pretty short. You could argue that Star Trek is one since Deep Space 9 because that was the first time a Star Trek series intertwined with its predecessors on a fairly regular basis. DC’s animated shows and movies work like one, as does the Arrow-verse on CW (mostly). And then there are the Conjuring movies which some claim to be one, but, well, I am not into horror movies at all, so I can’t really judge it. It looks to me like a construct of sequels, prequels and spin-offs, but I might be wrong and there are more connections between the various movies then it seems to be.

Anyway, usually overreaching universes tend to exist in books and not in TV or movies. This is mostly for practical reasons. An author doesn’t have to worry about the availability of actors or budgets or ratings or any of the other factors which force TV and movie writers to keep their stories within specific parameters.

Though even book authors have a preference to stick with specific characters. There are exceptions – for example CJ Cherryh’s Alliance/Union universe is way more focussed on building a world seen from different perspectives than on telling the story of a specific group of characters – but a lot of written universe grow pretty much by accident. And yes, that includes the comic book universes.

I feel that the MCU is unique in structure and scale. It didn’t just come to be, it was planed. It didn’t start on TV but as a movie franchise. And it presents a world which feels bigger more lived in than anything I have seen before. And it is doubly impressive when you consider how it started.

A little bit of history

A lot of people have gotten into the habit of seeing Marvel as the big boy in town, especially since it merged with the oh so powerful Disney company. But we only have to go ten years back to see a very different picture. Then we see a new founded studio struggling to get its first movie off the ground. On the line is nothing less than the TV and movie rights for all Marvel characters the company still owns and the production itself has to fight every step on the way. First it struggles with finding a director ready to bet his reputation on this silly Superhero property with a very limited fanbase, then the shot starts with no finished script, something which could have gone very wrong if Marvel hadn’t bet on a very talented but during that time kind of washed up actor to not fall back into his drug addiction. This is the Hollywood equivalent of doing a tightrope walk over a fire pit during a storm and yet it somehow worked out. Though I am not sure if Marvel studio could have pulled off The Avengers as well as it did without Disney’s backing.

Since we are on topic, we are also in this habit to see Disney as the giant company which towers over everything. This is again a kind of screwed perception (or at least it will be until the Disney/Fox deal is fully implemented). Disney is really good in branding itself, but of the big six, Disney is the only studio which didn’t already belong to the Hollywood giants back in the golden era. If you compare Warner Bros. with Disney, Disney is pretty much the former underdog, the small independent studio which survived in a market place controlled by monopolies and managed to grow to a point that it is able to play with the big boys. Powerful enough that they could afford the purchase of Marvel, betting on the future success of the studio and offering considerable resources to allow the talent behind the MCU to realize its vision.

But what is truly important to remember here is that by the time Marvel studios released Ironman, Warner Bros. had done a number of comic book based movies already, had thrown around the idea for a Justice League movie for years and had already built an overreaching universe with its animated output. But it was Marvel Studios which decided to try its hand in making a group of B-List heroes the big event. They came from behind and are now so far ahead that I nearly feel sorry for Warner Bros. except that I am very aware that the studio had all the resources and the time to be out of the gate first.

But why didn’t they? Well, there are a couple of factors one has to consider.

A little Hollywood history

Honestly, one can’t completely blame studio executives for not believing that an overreaching universe could work in the movies. Because I am pretty sure that only 20 years ago, it wouldn’t have worked. One has to consider the accessibility of media in the past, and the viewing habits of the audience.

When movie theatres became a thing, serials were pretty common. As were shorts. A typical Saturday evening matinee in the 1920s and 1930s looked like this: At least one Serial, a cartoon, the weekly news, and two main movies (which had a length between 30 and 50 minutes back then). And the serials had a very specific purpose: To ensure that the audience would visit the theatre at least once a week. Granted, those serials couldn’t be too intricate, because if a viewer missed out a week or two he had still to be able to follow it. Most of the times the episodes were really formulaic, but ended on some sort of cliffhanger (often literally – that’s where the word originated) so that the audience was curious to see the solution the following week. And a particular popular and successful subject for those serials were Comic book characters. That Flash Gordon is still that well known today is due to his famous serial putting giving him enough exposure that once a while a new movie or TV show tries to revive the property, and characters like Batman and Captain America made their on-screen debut in serials.

The last serial aired in 1956, but at this point the viewing habits had already changed due to the rise of TV. To clarify something: The film industry survived this change just fine. Most movie theatres didn’t. And we are still in a process of consolidation due to more and more media veering away the attention of the audience, so don’t be surprised if there are less and less theatres around. But in the movie industry a new split happened. Serials and news were now reserved for TV, while the Hollywood movies went for the big epics. The importance was (and still is) that the movie offers something the audience wants to see it on a big screen and not on TV.

For some time, due to the audience not going to the theatre regularly anymore, sequels were usually expected to make less than the predecessor. After all, you couldn’t bet on everyone who watched the first part turning up for the second part and, let’s be honest here, few people would watch a sequel to something they haven’t seen. Consequently sequels were usually a quick cash grab: Throw them out there as fast as possible and hope that they retain enough of the original audience to make some safe money from them. But they weren’t seen as viable long-term investment until, well, until the rise of home video in the 1980s.

Due to people being able to buy the movie they liked, being able to watch it whenever they wanted and not whenever it happened to turn up on TV and, above all, share it with their friends, the likelihood of people who didn’t see a successful movie in theatre discovering it through other channels and then turning up for the sequel grew. Suddenly a sequel became a viable investment which could be used to groom an audience – provided the studio caught on. Let’s be honest, most of them didn’t and to this day still throw out hastily penned sequels with no care whatsoever until the audience gets tired of them and stops turning up. But there were more and more attempts to actually put some effort into the sequel in the hope to retain the audience.

And then the internet happened.

I know it is difficult to grasp for those who grew up having access to the world by mouse click, but the speed with which information currently flows is amazing. And it has thoroughly impacted the way we experience media. Until the 1990s TV shows were still pretty much a “it doesn’t matter if you miss an episode or two” affair, but nowadays a lot of TV shows, especially those written for streaming, feature a tightly written narrative. At the same time, movies have become more of a group experience. It is no longer just about being able to say “yes, I have seen this popular movie” at the water cooler or in the school yard, now there are long online discussions about movies. And while by far not everyone participates in those discussions, they can thoroughly influence the success of a movie. Forget Rotten Tomatoes, nothing kills a movie as fast as bad buzz – or, maybe worse, no buzz at all. And only in this world, in which media is easier accessible than ever, something like the MCU could even exist.

I often read comments of people (and yes, I know I am straw-manning a little bit here, but I need to make the point) who claim that TV shows belong on TV and not in the cinema, or that the tendency of the MCU to set up the next movie in each outing is an inherently bad thing because it destroys the movie experience. Well, newsflash, there is no fixed rule for how the movie experience should look like. It used to be black and white movies with a length around 20 minutes and, if you were lucky, an orchestra to fill the silence instead of a street organ. I tend to define a movie as something which has at least the length of an hour and consider everything less a feature or a short-film, but a viewer from the early 1920s would think me crazy for expecting a movie to be longer than an hour in the first place. And yes, serial storytelling not only belongs into the theatres, it was part of them from day one. It was just absent for a very long time.

This is not saying that there isn’t a bad way to set-up the next movie and a good way of doing it. But the process of setting something up for the future is itself a neutral feature of a movie. And if someone moans that he “wants to watch a movie which isn’t about the next one for a change”, my answer is: Then watch something else. Each year there are a number of stand-alone movies which are released. Complaining about the existence of movies which are part of something bigger is like, well, like me complaining about the existence of horror movies. Just because I don’t like most of them doesn’t mean that they don’t have merit or that I have any right to make a fuss about other people enjoying them.

Granted, the current obsession Hollywood has with the notion of overreaching universes is slightly annoying. But not because so many studios consider the option, but because most of them don’t do a particular good job with it. It is just another fad. Just like it was annoying when the Disney Renaissance lead to a string of movies copying the Disney Musical Formula, when Die Hard lead to a string of movies about cops or soldiers being trapped somewhere with a bunch of terrorists, when Independence Day lead to a string of movies about catastrophes and the destruction of landmarks, when Harry Potter lead to a bunch of progressively worse Young Adult book adaptations, and every single other time a successful movie lead to Hollywood chasing the latest trend. They will eventually learn. Maybe they have already, the enthusiasm for Universes seems to have dimmed considerably. Speaking of which….

What does the MCU right?

It is really not for a lack of trying by other studios that the MCU is still the only truly successful cinematic universe out there. A big factor is time. The MCU needed four years to make the move from a string of stand-alone movies which were hinting at something bigger to a proper universe. Those studios which followed the lead either tried to do the same in one or two movies, or they are still in the growing phase of their universe. Granted, they had six years, someone could have caught up at this point. But, as I pointed out already, this isn’t as easy as it looks. After all, you not only have to make a number of movies to reach this stage in the first place, they also have to be at the very least decent movies in order to keep the audience interested. And when was the last time any studio not named Disney managed to release even three movies in a row for the same franchise without at least one of them not being up to par?

On the other hand, most universes fail with their first or second release already. Usually due to a lack of patience. As I mentioned above, laying some ground-work for the next movie in the franchise is in itself not a bad thing. It becomes a problem, though, when the focus is so much on the next instalment that the current one feels incoherent and unfinished. Marvel had a misstep or two in that regard, but in general they learned early on to take it slowly. First the movie at hand, then the tie in, often as an end-credit tease. And, just in case you didn’t notice, a lot of those teasers from Phase 1 got reconned later on because plans changed and Marvel needed some time to find its footing. But it didn’t matter because they were never part of the main movie anyway.

Also, while the movies and the TV shows are connected and set in the same universe, they all work like a mosaic picture. Meaning that you can just watch the various franchises in the MCU isolated from each other if you chose to – but once you do you immediately get the feeling that you have the rest too, just for the additional information. Still there are people out there who stick to one franchise or one TV show and happily ignore everything else. This has the advantage that everything can become a point of entry to the MCU.

But outside of the marketing advantage, why even bother? Why not simply do standalone movies?

What is the actual merit of a cinematic universe?

Well, for one, is a way more accurate depiction of comic books on the big screen than stand alone movies are. At least regarding Marvel and DC, which both feature multipel universes in their respective comics. But it also offers some rare narrative options.

Let’s start with the obvious one: The writers have to spend way less time to set things up. Every stand alone movie has to use a considerable amount of its runtime to explain the world and introduce the characters. Consequently there are always a number of characters the audience doesn’t really get to know at all because they are simply not that important for the story. But in the MCU, this isn’t really that much of an issue. The various movies tend to spend some time in reintroducing the characters, but can keep it to the basics.

Let’s examine The Avengers as example. One of the major conflicts in the movie happens between Steve and Tony, Steve standing for old fashioned heroism, Tony being a product of a more hedonistic society. The audience really doesn’t need to watch any of the other movies to understand this concept. But if it has watched them, it also knows about the friendship between Howard and Steve and the complicated relationship between Howard and Tony. If it has also watched Agent Carter on top of this, it also has a deeper understanding why Howard was the way he was, how much losing Steve hit him and why he ended up praising him so much that Tony started to resent him.

Then there are the interactions between Thor and Loki. Again, just from watching The Avengers, one can easily gather the basics: That Loki is adopted, that he thinks that his family hates him and that he is on a giant power trip due to his insecurities. But if the audience has watched Thor it also knows how deep Loki’s self-hatred runs and how much of what he does is motivated by internalized racism.

This also works in the other direction. No, a scene in a later movie can’t retroactively make a scene in an earlier movie better, but it can add another layer to it. Knowing Odin’s history with Hela makes him punishing Thor that harshly when he turned out to be too ready for war more than just an angry reaction, but a response born out of deep seated fears. A lot details regarding Thanos and Loki haven’t been revealed yet, but they are bound to play a role in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War.

Granted, some might feel that the scene of Loki stabbing Coulson has lost its weight due to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but I would argue that while the shock effect might be lost knowing that he gets resurrected later on, he also becomes a more fleshed out character in the show. I for my part care more about Coulson getting stabbed now that I know him better than I did back when he was just the corky fanboy agent.

But the MCU allows more than just additional lawyers to the character. It also allows the writers to explore consequences in a way that even a TV show would struggle to do.

Again, let’s stick with the Battle of New York – which in itself is a direct consequence of Odin hiding the Tessaract on earth which was later used by Red Skull and eventually found by S.H.I.E.L.D. – and its aftermath. In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D we learn that a couple of first responders firefighter died because they contracted an alien virus. In Spider-man: Homecoming we learn that Adrian Toomes collected a bunch of alien tech and sold it on the black market after the government regulations screwed him over. And then there are the Netflix shows which spend a lot of time on the socio economic impact. Neighbourhoods which need to get rebuild. People who are angry because their loved ones died. White collar criminals who enrich themselves during rebuilding. A general feeling of insecurity spreading through the city.

Usually when we see the action piece in a block-buster, we only see the heroic aspect of it. We never get to see the fall-out. But in the MCU, we do. And due to all those perspectives being related to the same event, it allows for a way more layered storytelling on a much bigger scale than a stand alone movie or even a TV show is able to provide.

And then there is Captain America: Civil War. A movie like this can only exist in a wider universe. Unlike most Marvel movies this one does expect from the audience to have done its homework – meaning, having at least watched all Captain America and Avengers movie up to this point, but ideally also the Ironman movies and perhaps Ant-man. Some people would see this as a weakness, but it is also a strength. Otherwise it would be utterly impossible to have a fight involving twelve characters with the audience not only knowing what the two groups are fighting for, but also why every single fighter has picked the side their are on.

But maybe even more important, by knowing the backstory of Steve and Tony and knowing how they have developed in the previous movies, there is a sweet irony in their positions. Steve once started out as someone who believed in America, its ideals and its government. He now still believes in the ideals he used to fight far, but he no longer trusts in politics. Tony used to flip the finger at anyone who would try to tell him what to do, but after having made some particularly fateful decision – one of which lead to the destruction of a whole country – he now craves any kind of structure which might prevent him from repeating his mistakes.

Exactly this backstory is what makes their arguments in Civil War so poignant. They not only understand where the other is coming from, they have been in each others position at one point and therefore recognize the underlying dangers in them. And, it bears repeating, the only reason why Civil War works so well is because it is underpinned with years of storytelling and careful character development.

But what are the downsides?

Well, some people (yes, I am strawmanning again, bear with me) would claim it shackles creativity. I don’t quite agree. I think that it pushes creativity in certain directions due to the need to follow a cohesive body of work. Again, this is neither a downside nor an advantage, it is a neutral feature. No writer works in a vacuum, and sometimes having a starting point can actually encourage creativity and yield interesting ideas. Most writers like to bounce ideas off another. But some of them also really like to keep a certain degree of control over what they create.

So, I wouldn’t say that there are downsides to it, but a number of challenges. And sometimes the seams are quite visible. Take the Thor franchise. The first movie ended with Thor being cut-off from earth. But he was needed in The Avengers, so an excuse was made up why this was possible. And then the second movie has an overly clumsy explanation why Thor didn’t bother to even visit Jane between movies. And then this movie sets up yet another cliff-hanger with Loki having replaced Odin, only for this plot point being solved as fast as possible in the third film because obviously Taiko Waititi was more interested in doing Planet Hulk than delving into the set-up at hand. But at least he didn’t turn another movie into a giant plot-hole the way Shane Black did with Ironman 3.

So yes, the MCU isn’t perfect. And, as a general rule, I think the Marvel should really try to keep one franchise within in the hands of the same people as much as possible. One reason why the Captain America franchise works so well is because it has the same writing team from start to finish. Guardians of the Galaxy takes full advantage of the freedom a property set in space has, but it is also safe in the hands of James Gunn. I also have a good feeling about the future of Ant-man, which seems to become palette cleanser for the MCU, following the big block buster with a smaller scale – no pun intended – adventure.

So, to summon this up: While the MCU comes with certain challenges, it also provides a foundation on which new stories can be build. It allows the creation of a long-lasting narrative like a TV show does, but unlike a TV show it is not bound to work within specific parameters. The writers and directors can change genre at will, can go from a big story to a small story and they can explore the same event from as many perspectives at they want. And that makes the MCU an unique breeding ground for stories which simply can’t be told this way in a stand alone movie. At least until someone else managed to built a similar construct.

 

 

 

 

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Marvel Musings: Darren Cross

People who paid attention might have noticed that I skipped Ultron, even though he should be dead and is not a Hydra villain. The reason for this decision is that I am not quite sure if the Ultron arc is truly finished yet. Oh, he himself is, but I have a theory or two about the sceptre and how it influenced Ultron which may or may not be addressed in Infinity War. Plus, I would prefer to discuss Ultron back to back with a certain other AI in the MCU, which in turn I would prefer to cover after Hydra so, yeah, we will get back to him later. I know, I am disappointed too. I would rather take him apart than Yellowjacket. But then, I might be too harsh on him. Let’s see how well he scores.

MV7-Yellow-Jacket

 

1. Character Establishing Moment

How well is the villain established in his first scene?

The first time Darren Cross turns up is basically a giant exposition dump – but a really entertaining one. The undertones in his interaction with Hank Pym as well as his overall demeanour do establish him as a serious threat from the get go. Let’s appreciate for a moment what the audience learns in a comparative short scene: That Darren Cross has taken over Hank Pym’s company, that he used to be his protégée but turned against him, partly for lying about the existence of an Ant-man suit, that he managed to revive those old plans and create his own model and that him selling said suit would be a terrible thing for the world. Add to this small touches, like the name of company on the model having changed to “Cross” instead of “Pym”, and there is little to complain about regarding the scene. It is not the most memorable first entrance, but certainly an effective one. 4 Points.

 

2. Motivation

What is his motivation and how creative is it?

Daddy issues are a very common motivation in comic book stories and the MCU in general. Mentor issues are a little bit more rare, but in a way, there isn’t much of a difference, except that in the case of mentor issues, the person in question choose to look up to a specific person. Why did Darren Cross look up to Hank Pym? Because he always thought that the stories about the Ant-man were true? Or did he admire his other inventions? Maybe those questions aren’t that important, though. Still, answering them would add layers to his character. Instead his motivation is used to add complexity to Hank’s character. The notion that he shut out his mentee because he felt that he was too similar to Hank himself is fascinating. It tells us a lot about how Hank sees himself and hints at darker aspects within his personality. But Darren Cross is loosing out in this set up, so I go for 2 points.

 

3. Plan

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

The surface goal is to sell the Yellowjacket and make a lot of money in the process. The actual goal is to hurt Hank Pym by claiming everything which is important to him – his company, his technology and maybe even his daughter. This is why he invents Hank Pym to bear witness to his success, so that he can gloat and see his hurt. And in this context it even makes sense why he wants to sell the shrinking suit and not the laser pistol which turns people into goo. That wouldn’t be akin to claiming Hank’s legacy. What doesn’t make sense, though, is that he goes to Hank’s house to kill him shortly before the launch. Why? There is no reason for him to do this. Nor is there any reason to attack Cassie towards the end. Yes, the movie has hinted that wearing the suit would turn him crazy, but he is wearing it for the very first time. Scott has worn his for weeks and it totally fine. There is even a hint earlier in the movie that the suit is already driving him crazy, but how exactly is that supposed to work? Unless the experiments to built it already had an effect, but why is nobody else loosing his mind? All this is so muddled, I can’t give more than 2 points.

 

4. Success Rate

How successful is the villain overall? 

I guess he gets one brownie point for initially taking over Pym Tech and for capturing Scott briefly. But overall he is mostly successful in driving himself crazy. At the end of the movie he not only didn’t reach any of his goals, he inadvertently created a situation in which Hank is able to bond with his daughter again, which is pretty much the opposite of what he wanted. I give him 2 points.

 

5. Threat Level

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

Everything in Ant-man is a little bit smaller scaled (no pun intended) than usual. The danger the heroes have to deal with nevertheless nothing to underestimate. But it is also kind of abstract. I admit, I have a hard time to imagine how a world full of tiny spies would look like. On a more personal level, he feels very threatening though, and he seems to have all the power he needs to realize his plan. And once he goes crazy, he is certainly a threat towards Cassie. So I go for the middle ground with 3 points.

 

6. Foil Factor

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

Oh boy, this is hard to answer. The thing is that Ant-man feels as if two different visions are fighting with each other. I think that the movie was originally supposed to be about mentor relationships, and in this movie, Darren Cross would have been a great foil for Scott. But later on the themes shifted to father/daughter relationships. Which still works out great for Scott because this way his relationship to Cassie becomes pivotal, and naturally it leads to Hope becoming more important. But it also leaves Darren Cross kind of disconnected to the larger themes, and he is never even properly contrasted with Scott either. Usually when a Superhero defeats an evil version of themselves, they also symbolically defeat a negative or potentially dangerous aspect of their own personality. But there is nothing of Scott in Darren. Scott’s main problem is acting impulsive and blaming his failures on others. Darren is overly controlled and has obsessed for years over a particular invention instead of giving up on it. I wish I could be more gracious, but 1 point.

 

7. Acting

How well does the actor sell the role?

No complains there. He is menacing when he is supposed to be, generally creepy and finally believably unhinged. It’s not a performance for the ages, but a solid 4 points.

 

8.  Costume

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

It is pretty much impossible to not stand out in a yellow metal suit inspired by an insect. And I have to give Marvel a lot of props to make the suit look genuinely menacing instead of patently ridiculous. Even the extra-appendages look like they have some sort of purpose. On the other hand, though, it is not the kind of costume I would point to and say “yeah, that was a truly great one” either. So, I guess 4 points. Well done, but not outstanding.

 

9.  Entertainment Factor

How strong is the emotional response?

I am kind of neutral regarding him. In the scenes in which he is supposed to be creepy he does make me nervous, but in a very distant way. Him killing the sheep tickles my ire, but it also feels extremely manipulative. But it is not like he is boring me either, so I think 3 points are fair.

 

10. Memorable Moments

How many memorable scenes and lines has the character?

It is weird. On the one hand, I can’t think of a single memorable line Darren Cross utters. And yet, him turning some guy into yellow or experimenting on a cute sheep are hard to forget. And then there is the battle in the suitcase, him being trapped in the insect lamp and the gruesome way he (I assume) dies. Meaning he isn’t quite forgettable, but what is memorable about him is more the weird situations in which they put the character than necessarily his design or dialogue. I’ll go for the middle ground on this one. 3 Points.


With 2,8 points Yellowjacket scores higher than I expected. A lot here is rescued by the performance of the actor and a few memorable scenes and set-ups. Overall though the character suffers because the story the movie is focussing on has little to do with him.


Marvel Musings: Ego

I hope I didn’t spoil anything for anyone. But then, if you are interested in Marvel, you should have seen Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 at this point. And yes, I realize that I skipped a few movies, but for one this one belongs in the timeline directly after the first Guardians and two, I feel that it would be better to contrast this one directly with its predecessor. After all, one of the reasons I cut Ronan some slack is because the need to establish multiple heroes as well as doing a lot of world building is inherently more important than having a complex villain. But how does the franchise fare once the basics are established?

MV8-Ego

1. Character Establishing Moment

How well is the villain established in his first scene?

Ego is a supposed to be a surprise villain. As such, the rules for establishing him are a little bit different in that ideally he shouldn’t come off as particularly evil or threatening. Now, was I surprised that he turned out to be the big bad of the piece? No, not really. But there are a lot of things which did surprise me, above all how callous he was regarding Meredith and Peter. I really bought into the notion that the love between him and Meredith was mutual, and while I did expect him to have ulterior motives regarding Peter, I also thought that he saw a little bit more in him that just some human battery. So I would say, mission accomplished. They fooled me just enough that there was a shocking reveal in the end. 5 points for this one.

 

2. Motivation

What is his motivation and how creative is it?

Ego’s motivation is basically “ego”. His whole being is so centred around himself and his own needs that he simply doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process. If he were human we would call him an egomaniac or a narcissist. And since he has the power to do so, that means that he wants everything in the universe going his way – as soon as he has gotten rid of all the vermin crawling around on it. It is a logical motivation for a powerful being, but also a little bit run of the mill. So I’ll settle for 3 points.

 

3. Plan

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

He wants to reshape the universe but because he hasn’t enough power to do it on his own, he has spread his seed all over the galaxy in the hope that one of his offspring might share his power. Simultaneously he has left plants on all planet he has visit, so that he can activate them whenever he wants. So far, so good, his plan is easy to follow. I call fool though on the idea that someone is able to plant a particularly alien looking flower close to a populated area and it doesn’t get discovered in over 30 years – and on some planets those weird alien flowers have to have been around for even longer. I think I have to ding a point for this, and give him 4 points.

 

4. Success Rate

How successful is the villain overall? 

He is operating in secret for who knows how long and comes really close to actually reaching his goal. But naturally he doesn’t win in the end and if you consider that he could have gotten to Peter way earlier when Peter was still vulnerable if he had just fetched him himself or at least bothered to do his research when Yondu didn’t deliver Peter, you just have to dock a point from him. So, 4 points.

 

5. Threat Level

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

Ego is even more dangerous as Ronan. Being a celestial he is way, way more powerful than any of the heroes. If he hadn’t been so focussed on Peter during the fight, or if Mantis hadn’t decided to side with the Guardians of the Galaxy (and even she was only able to stall him, not to stop him), he could have easily crushed all of them. 5 points

 

6. Foil Factor

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

Guardians of the Galaxy is a very theme driven movie. It mostly examines toxic family dynamics, but also how we ourselves can destroy the relationships in our lives if our decisions are driven by, well, ego. Especially in the interaction between Peter and Rocket this theme takes centre stage, and it is very fitting that the Guardians of the Galaxy have to overcome “Ego” in their second movie in order to become the kind of unit they should be.  At the same time, though, Ego is the logical continuation from the first movie. Him being around answers the questions about Peter’s heritage and in a lot of way concludes the second step in Peter’s journey to come to terms with the trauma of his past. For a villain which works both in a narrative and a thematic sense I can’t give less than 5 points.

 

7. Acting

How well does the actor sell the role?

This is a hard one. I am tempted to give Kurt Russell full points for this one, because he is playing a great character and it is not easy to make a character that disgusting charismatic. And yet I do feel that he could be a little bit more intimidating towards the end. He is great playing the typical Kurt Russell character, not so much playing the crazy the maniac. So I’ll go for 4 points.

 

8.  Costume

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

I am using costume here in the widest sense, because technically the kind of “cool medieval chick” the human version of Ego is wearing is only a fraction of his actual costume. Considering that Ego’s actual form is the planet, I am taking his celestial/planet form into account. And that one is really impressive. Not only is the CGI practically flawless, the world itself has so many memorable elements, from the flying rainbow bubbles to the structure of the building with the fountain in front of it. Considering that they even throw in a shot in which the whole planet seems to have a face, I can’t give this one less than 5 points.

 

9.  Entertainment Factor

How strong is the emotional response?

I can say without any exaggeration that I have never ever hated a villain has much as Ego. And I don’t mean “hate” in the sense that I wanted something else in place of him, I mean it in the sense that I had the deep desire to jump into the movie screen and punch him into the ground. I am not sure what is worse, him callously admitting that he killed Meredith as if it is no big deal, or him destroying the Walkman, the last connection Peter had to his mother. And yet, there is still something fun and entertaining about Ego. There really shouldn’t be, considering that he is a sociopath hell bend on destroying the universe,  but he does have this rare magnificent bastard charm. 5 points.

10. Memorable Moments

How many memorable scenes and lines has the character?

As I already pointed out last time, Guardians of the Galaxy is a franchise full of memorable characters and moments. But Ego gets his fair share of them. From surfing through the air in an egg-shaped spaceship, to his interactions with Peter, there is little he does which isn’t memorable. Even all the exposition he is delivering is packaged in a memorable way. And then there are naturally his various transformations during the end fight. Plus, he is a living planet. How can I give him less than 5 points?


Ego is such a great villain, a 4,5 points average sounds like it is a little bit low. But it truly isn’t, not in my point system. It will be hard for any villain to beat this score.


Marvel Musings: Ronan the Accuser

Theoretically Ronan is a henchmen for Thanos in GotG, but since the story is about his goals and plans while Thanos just sits around in the background, he is the actual main villain of the piece. Plus, it would make no sense to discuss Thanos before even watching Infinity war. So, let’s focus on Ronan for now.

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1. Character Establishing Moment

How well is the villain established in his first scene?

Ronan’s introduction scene is a work of beauty. I just dig the dramatic set-up of him emerging from his ritual bath, being prepared by his aids in an elaborate ceremony. The monologue is a little bit much, but then, it is a good way to summon up his point as view for the audience immediately. And it is immediately punctuated with Ronan acting on his fanaticism by killing a prisoner – and letting his blood flood into his ritual bath. I think a lot of people just miss the implication that Ronan is literally bathing in the blood of his enemy to use it as foundation for his ritual makeup.  Trust Disney to get crap past the radar! Pointwise I am between 4 and 5, but since I only give 5 for perfection and the monologue is a little bit over the top, I’ll go for 4 point.

 

2. Motivation

What is his motivation and how creative is it?

Ronan is basically a fanatic terrorist, driven by the desire for revenge but also pure hatred for another culture. For a villain who is operating somewhere in space his motivations really hit close to home. Which makes judging the creativity aspect a little bit complicated. On the one hand, there is no denying that fanatic terrorists are dime to dozen as possible villains. On the other hand, they usually don’t turn up in space operas. The standard space villain is usually interested in power and conquering the galaxy, having a space terrorist is in a lot of ways a new approach. Which is why I settle for the middle ground with 3 points.

 

3. Plan

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

Ronan wants to destroy Xandar with the help of the power stone. It doesn’t get more straightforward than this. 5 points.

 

4. Success Rate

How successful is the villain overall? 

Let’s see, he kills the enemy, he manages to initially defeat the Guardians and take the stone from it, he does great damage to Xandar, destroying its whole fleet in the process and comes very, very close to destroying the whole planet. He looses a point though for allowing Gamora to manipulate him into sending her after the stone and then loosing the trail. He really needs better minions. Without Drax’s drunk call, he might have never caught up with them. So I settle for 4 points.

 

 

5. Threat Level

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

Despite Thanos calling Ronan a “pouty child”, there is not one point in the movie in which I don’t believe fully that Ronan isn’t just extremely dangerous, but also way more powerful than our group of heroes. Mostly because Ronan doesn’t even really care what the Guardians are up to. They don’t survive the first encounter with him because they outsmart Ronan, but because they are too insignificant in his mind to make sure that they – or at least Drax – are dead. When the finale battle starts, I don’t doubt for a second that they are going up against a nearly undefeatable opponent, and that the only reason they do it is because they have no choice if they don’t want to run away from Ronan wrecking havoc on the Galaxy for the rest of their lives. On pure power-level alone, Ronan is freaking terrifying, even before he has the stone. He swats Drax away as if he is a fly. And let’s not forget that he kills Groot as well as the whole Nova Corps fleet. 5 points.

 

6. Foil Factor

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

Thematically, not at all. The overreaching theme with the Guardians is that they are all people who were ripped out of their normal live by circumstances out of their control (or in Rocket’s case, never had a normal live to begin with). They are people who live at the fringe of society not necessarily by choice but because that was the hand which was dealt to them, but who have also stopped caring a long time ago. Ronan only exists to provide an opportunity for them to “give a shit” for once and do something more than survive. But honestly, it is kind of refreshing to have a villain who is not a reflection of the hero and who has totally different abilities. Also, I am kind of okay with the villain not really being the focus of the story. There is only one thing a villain really has to be and that is a believable threat. Which, as we just established, Ronan actually is. So while I doesn’t necessarily add to the story, he fulfils his role within it perfectly. 4 Points.

 

7. Acting

How well does the actor sell the role?

I know that a lot of people will disagree, but I dig this performance. It is naturally totally over the top, but exactly that makes it perfect for that particular setting. I especially love how serious Ronan takes himself while he prances around like a diva. This could easily look ridiculous, especially when an actor doesn’t really commit to the role or doesn’t take it serious enough. Here we have the perfect balance between hamming it up and still respecting the character itself. The result isn’t a performance for the ages, but I have trouble to imagine anyone else in this role. 4 Points.

 

8.  Costume

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

It’s a great costume. As I mentioned beforehand, I especially dig the ritual make up. The idea that Ronan permanently walks around coated in the blood of his victims is disgustingly awesome. And the costume which goes with it is appropriately dramatic. The only issue I have with it is the colour. Yes, I know, black always looks menacing, but it is also a little bit the easy way out and it kind of results in Ronan looking like a Darth Vader copy. A little bit dark green or blue would have done some good here. Still, the result is memorable enough, so 4 Points.

 

9.  Entertainment Factor

How strong is the emotional response?

Outside of the fear factor, not particularly strong. This is, I guess, the biggest weakness of Ronan as a villain. His status as a terrorist is kind of academic since he commits his most heinous acts off screen. Him killing Groot certainly causes an emotional response, but since this isn’t really a direct act and more something which happens as a result of his actions, this emotional response isn’t as connected to him as it should. On the other hand, I was kind of disappointed when he died because his overdramatic demeanour was kind of fun to see. I guess I go with the middle ground, 3 Points.

 

10. Memorable Moments

How many memorable scenes and lines has the character?

Well, there is the ritual bath scene, then the one in which he breaks with Thanos and finally the ending. His face when Peter starts to dance is just hilarious. In a movie full off strong characters is a little bit overshadowed at times, though. Plus, Peter, Rocket and Drax are hogging the best one-liners. But I think I can give him a solid 4 Points.


And this results in a 4 Star rating….and yes, I know that a lot of people will disagree with me on this one. Not everyone enjoys the more hammy villains, and his role is very understated in favour of fleshing out the heroes of the piece. But I think this was the right decision for this particular movie. And I think that is what counts in the end.


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.


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.

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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.