So that new Robin Hood movie came out. The one that has been described as a second-rate Batman Begins. The one where knights carry riot shield and the Crusades play out like Zero Dark Thirty. That one. One thing that intrigued me about the new film was the use of Robin’s dual identity as Robin of Locksley to make the Batman parallels even clearer. I just have one question throughout this mess. Why are we expecting the rich to save us? Batman is a billionaire who plays dress up to beat up the poor and disenfranchised. Robin Hood robs from the rich and gives to the poor while remaining a feudal lord. Green Arrow … has a goatee? I’m sure we’ll get to Green Arrow. At least he jumped into politics, although looking at recent blondes millionaires in politics, maybe not so good. So, let’s talk about the myth of the benevolent billionaire.
So recently, I went back and watched Avengers: Age of Ultron. It might be a strange choice but I was doing some research. Anyway, there was something fascinating about rewatching the film as some kind of inkblot test for the MCU as a whole. After two films and three years of evolution for the Avengers and the MCU, what can Age of Ultron illuminate? It’s all a bit said and done about this film, one might think.
Now, here’s the obvious. There are a couple cracks in the form that resulted from the intense pressure of a follow-up to the pillar of the MCU to that point, The Avengers. There was conversation at the time centred around a few points of the film’s development. Whedon was bowing out after this film due to the pressure of an Avenger’s film. Studio mandates called for the cave scene or to lose the farmhouse. Finally, there was lots of disgruntlement with Natasha’s romance with Bruce. I’ll discuss all of these and offer a perspective based on how things feel on the other side of Phase 3 as it were.
So last week I had a look at the first Iron Man film. For me, the thing that surprised me the most about the first film of the MCU is how interesting it’s geopolitics were. 2008 seemed like an epoch ago in the grand scheme of history. It seems that our news focus has shifted from Afghanistan, the country in the first Iron Man, to Syria. Now instead let’s turn our focus to the second Iron Man film. Iron Man 2 is not so well liked amongst Marvel movies, but like most of them (bar the dour Incredible Hulk and Thor: The Dark World) it is supremely watchable. The cast work wonders in that regard. Downey is magnetic. Cheadle, Johansson, and Jackson give enjoyable performances in their role. Sam Rockwell is having too much fun as Justin Hammer. So, let’s look at the movements and the plot of Iron Man 2 and reflect on where we’ve been and what that means for our current moment in time.
So, with Infinity War coming out just last week I decided to rewatch most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. A look back at where the universe has been and where it is now. Now, when I rewatched these films I skipped 2008’s Incredible Hulk, which meant that my marathon began with the first two Iron Man films. An interesting beginning. I’ve never been Tony Stark’s biggest fan. I’m more of a Captain America guy. Looking back at the first Iron Man films is interesting because those films begin with Stark embroiled in the military-industrial complex. Now, Tony Stark may have transitioned away from that model into being a futurist, but his solo films are all about corporate power struggles and the next big weapon.
Look, I hypothetically like the idea of Batman. You’ve seen the title. Over the past decade, Batman has become the patron saint of white male internet geekiness. That’s why I feel I have to jump on the defensive. I like Batman, I do. Just, he’s boring right now. Batman has stagnated since he was re-invigorated for the mass audience by Burton. The Batman of Keaton is only marginally different from the Batman of Affleck, or even the Batman of Bale. For twenty-nine years, Batman has remained a brooding, black-clad, boring bastion of a male power fantasy.
You might have been following the news recently when there was talk of Valkyrie in Thor Ragnarok being bisexual. You, like me, might have seen the movie and thought ‘well, when it comes to representation, that was a whole lot of nothing’. Later interviews revealed that the scene had been cut for timing, or pacing, or such. However, it might have struck you about how often that we might hear about a character potentially being LGBT or such in a major blockbuster and then nothing comes of it. And why you may ask?
[Spoilers for Thor Ragnarok]
So, some weeks ago I was watching the latest offering in the Marvel Cinematic Universe about a superhero whose mythos and supporting cast are drawn from Norse mythology. Here’s the thing. I know most of the work of director Taika Waititi and eagerly awaited Thor Ragnarok purely because of the comedy stylings of its director meeting the solid structure powerhouse that is Marvel Studios. The film was loved for its humour and action. For my money, it’s not my favourite Taika Waititi film (What We Do in the Shadows) or my favourite Marvel movie (Captain America The First Avenger), but that’s a matter of personal taste and there’s certainly lots to love about the film. The thing I want to discuss in regards to Thor Ragnarok is a couple of scenes in particular. However, first, I have to talk about Hela.
So, at this point in history, we’re nine years in and sixteen films deep (seventeen as of Thor Ragnarok) with this Marvel Cinematic Universe thing. Next year will mark the ten-year anniversary of the MCU and the culmination of an arc that started in the first Avengers film. With the MCU officially being the biggest grossing film franchise of all time, the question might arise: how did they do it? It might seem obvious in retrospect that the MCU is the biggest franchise in the world but this has only been the state of the world for about five years. There are a few things I want to look at with this piece, all tying back to the central idea: The Marvel Experiment. What were the risks? How did they pay off? How did they not? Finally, what makes the whole universe tick? How does this monolith shake off the legitimate critiques of its world, i.e. lacklustre villains, same-y plots, and the like?
So, we’re about nine years into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with sixteen films under their belts. We’re about five years in from the Hollywood-shattering movie that was The Avengers. This will be the first year that three MCU films will be released in the same year. With Thor Ragnarok coming out later this year, and being directed by one of my favourite contemporary directors, I thought I’d look back at the first Thor film and uncover the thinking behind the film; how it works to its own goals and to the wider goals of the MCU.
The first Thor film was notably directed by Kenneth Branagh, which might seem like an odd choice. The dude known for mostly doing Shakespearean films decides to do a superhero film about Norse Gods. On the surface of it, it doesn’t make sense. However, there is method to Marvel’s madness.
This is not a piece I thought I’d be writing. Last year, following the festering pile of unmentionables that was Batman v Superman, I swore off DC films. I was convinced nothing was going to change that. If Warner Bros kept following BvS down the shithole, then there was nothing for me in the DCCU. However, a lot of people whose opinions I respect were praising Wonder Woman, and WW’s place as the first female superhero meant that her movie had an important place in the pantheon of superhero films. Also, tugging at the back of my mind was the thought that if this movie failed hard, studio execs would blame it on the female lead rather than the fact that it’s the fourth instalment in a franchise that occupies the same collective mental space as a tired horror franchise.
Since I’m writing this you probably gathered that I’ve now seen Wonder Woman. After seeing it, I figured my thoughts could be summed up in a single tweet. However, as I mulled over it during the night, I realised I have a little more to say than that. Not much more, but a little more. So, my initial tweet’s worth of comments would have been.
Wonder Woman was enjoyable. A good movie, not a great one. Amazing what happens when you have a director directing, and a screenwriter writing.