random thoughts on: “hawkeye”

I’ve got some things to say about The Avenging Archer’s streaming series.

As has likely been previously stated on multiple occasions, I’m a long-standing old-school fan of Hawkeye, having made my comic-collecting bones with the original West Coast Avengers series.

So, despite never really loving Jeremy Renner’s take on the character in the MCU (outside of a handful of small moments), I was still excited when Marvel Studios announced Hawkeye would get a streaming series on Disney+. And I was even more excited when it came out Hailee Steinfeld would play Kate Bishop, who in the comics adopted the Hawkeye name when Clint Barton was killed during the “Avengers Disassembled” storyline.

As such I have a number of thoughts now that the series finale has aired. Spoilers after the all-time great cover art.

Still with me? OK, let’s dive in.

It’s a very enjoyable show. I still have my issues with Renner’s performance, especially since he spends half the show apologizing to someone, largely for things that were outside of his control. But Steinfeld’s exuberance, Florence Pugh’s return as Yelena Belova and more make up for it in a lot of ways. It’s a nice mash-up of elements from the Matt Fraction/David Aja Hawkeye comics series that essentially rebooted the character as well as the previous MCU films. There are plenty of surprises, lots of action and some great dialogue. And hey, we get to see Pizza Dog on screen, so it can’t be all bad.

Golden Retriever Pizza GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

My main issue with the show is that it is premised around Avengers: Endgame existing, which isn’t a great place to start.

Renner finally has someone to play off, which improves things dramatically. In the movies to date he’s usually relegated to group scenes, which means he gets lost in the clutter because he’s not as dynamic a personality as some of his costars. If the show had doubled down on putting Clint and Kate into something even more Running Scared-esque it would have been even better.

Hailee Steinfeld Hawkeye GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

On the topic of some supporting characters:

  • Knowing the comics history, I’m surprised we didn’t get a bigger payoff for Tony Dalton’s Jack Duquesne. As the series went on I imagined two or three different ways that could go but it just kind of fizzled out.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, thank the maker Linda Cardellini’s Laura Barton finally got some backstory and character development. The underuse of Cardellini to date has been criminally negligent, and if she is who I (and many others online) think she is, I couldn’t be happier.

Florence Pugh for the win in all of her scenes. Give me a six-part series of her and Steinfeld just talking about places to visit in New York City.

Excited Mac And Cheese GIF by Marvel Studios - Find & Share on GIPHY

We still haven’t seen Clint’s MCU origin story. Every other Avenger has had one, often in their own standalone movie. Even Natasha’s beginnings have been shown via flashback in a handful of movies. But we still don’t know how Clint got to the point where we meet him in Thor or The Avengers.

Now you can say that watching someone learn how to shoot an arrow really well isn’t that interesting, but in the comics his story is much more complex than that (and involves a character from the show). And without it we don’t know what his motivations are. Why did he join SHIELD? Where did he hone his skills?

The lack of backstory is one of the reasons I’ve never been fully on board with MCU Clint Barton. Comics Clint is not only a bit of a hothead but also kind of a flim-flam man, scamming himself out of as many situations as he shoots himself out of.

  • Avengers West Coast Epic Collection: How The West Was Won – Get the original mini-series, the start of the ongoing and more in a collection of stories that are as much about overcoming self-doubt and imposter syndrome as they are about super heroics. Roger Stern and Steve Engleheart write some fantastic comics here.
  • Avengers: Hawkeye – This edition collects Hawkeye’s first solo series, a mini from 1983, that includes the story of how he met the SHIELD agent known as Mockingbird and how he lost partial hearing, something that’s finally integrated into the on-screen character.
  • West Coast Avengers Vol. 1: Best Coast – Kelly Thompson’s 2018 WCA series is lots of fun, paying homage to the original while featuring the Kate/Clint dynamic that’s introduced by Fraction/Aja. Speaking of which…
  • Hawkeye by Fraction & Aja: The Saga of Barton and Bishop – This edition collects the whole of that series, which sets up much of what comes later and heavily influenced the style of the show.
  • Mockingbird Vol. 1: I Can Explain – You can’t understand Clint Barton without also understanding Bobbi Morse, so pick up Chelsea Cain’s excellent Mockingbird solo book while you’re at it.

Of course if you want to be a completist, don’t miss out on the additional volumes that come after what’s listed below. There are also a number of other great Hawkeye – either Clint or Kate – collections of other mini-series and solo outings, but the list here should give you a good starting point.

random thoughts on: tick…tick…boom!

A few things I thought about after watching the musical biopic on Netflix…

There are a lot of feelings I have about Tick…Tick…BOOM!, on Netflix now. In no particular order:

We need more entries in the “inspirational biopic” genre that aren’t about sports stars or company founders. Those are played out and serve largely to reinforce pursuits that are fine but are already emphasized by parents, teachers, guidance counselors. Let’s see more movies about musical theater lyricists, oddball artists, struggling actors and others with more artistic sensibilities.

Basically, we’re worn out STEM and sports as sources for these stories, so let’s give the arts and humanities – the kind who are bullied and tormented by kids in those other categories – crowd a turn.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched “Sunday” from the movie on YouTube. The piece is incredible in and of itself, a great Sondheim homage, but director Lin-Manuel Miranda’s decision to fill the movie version with some of the great performers of Broadway gives it exactly the emotional heft it deserves. And it’s ridiculous how smoothly Andrew Garfiled glides through the number.

Miranda’s directorial debut is remarkable self-assured, confident of where the camera is placed, where it’s pointing and what it’s capturing. It likely helps that this is in a genre he’s already familiar with, but film and theater are still very different. I’m going to assume his work on In The Heights and other recent movies helped him pick up some pointers and tricks to aid this transition.

Speaking of which, Miranda is really carving out a niche for himself of stories about writers who feel they’re running out of time.

The central tension of the story isn’t anything romantic or professional, it’s that Jonathan Larson knew how his story began and ended but needed to figure out an actual plot reason to get from Point A to Point B and this is the most relatable thing I’ve seen on film in like decades.

There’s a featurette where the cast talk about filming the “Boho Days” sequence where one says Garfield really explored the space and yeah, that’s clear. He moves around like someone who’s been choreography all his life.

On that note, I would have put my money on Tom Holland being the first on-screen Spider-Man to show up in a movie musical, but I’m not mad it was Garfield.

Paramountnetwork GIF by Lip Sync Battle - Find & Share on GIPHY

No wait, I’ve watched this video of Alexandra Shipp and Vanessa Hudgens performing “Come To Your Senses” more than “Sunday.”

random thoughts after rewatching the x-men movie series

[extreme stefon voice] This series has everything… [/extreme stefon voice]

Looking for something pleasant and familiar to watch in the background recently I decided to dive back in to the X-Men film franchise, beginning with the 2000 original and running through 2019’s Dark Phoenix but not including the Deadpool, Wolverine or New Mutants off-shoots.

Some of the movies like X-Men and X2: X-Men United I’d watched a number of times. Others, including The Last Stand and Dark Phoenix, I’d only seen once before. But watching all seven of the core franchise films was a fascinating experience, especially given how the primary narrative around many series these days is how planned and connected everything is.

the movies themselves

First let’s talk about the movies themselves and how they hold up.

X-Men: It’s a little surprising how creaky this movie feels over 20 years after it came out. There’s some good stuff in here, of course, but all the flaws that were apparent in 2000 (Halle Berry being given nothing to do, wooden performances from Paquin and others) are even more so today. Of course the Stewart/McKellan scenes are still great, and Joss Whedon’s script-doctoring saves more than a few scenes.

X-Men Wolverine GIF by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment - Find & Share on GIPHY

X2: X-Men United: Still a slick, impressive sequel that improves on almost every aspect of the original. Janssen is a standout for how much more assured her character is, and the addition of Nightcrawler and a couple other characters, especially Brian Cox as William Stryker, helps spread the action a bit and adds some depth to the universe. It also has an all-time great ending that’s completely undermined by the lackluster…

Ian Mckellan Magneto GIF by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment - Find & Share on GIPHY

X-Men: The Last Stand: It’s the worst of the original trilogy but, upon further review, not the worst of the overall series. That being said, it is simply bad in just about every respect, from Brett Ratner’s directing to Hugh Jackman being openly bored to how it abjectly fumbles the Phoenix storyline. Ratner is borderline amateurish and isn’t helped by a script that is a perfect example of how to jump from plot point to plot point without earning or validating each step. I mean…if you cut Kelsey Grammer reciting the St. Crispin’s Day speech while wearing blue fur and makeup, what kind of filmmaker even are you?

X-Men: First Class: The tightest of the seven movies by a fair margin, thanks in part to director Matthew Vaughn’s knack for pacing while also sprinkling in solid character moments. Yes, there’s a bit of fluff here and there and I still can’t tell you what the names of half the characters are because they’re so incidental, but it all keeps moving and it doesn’t matter. Where the previous movies had Stewart and McKellan the easy professionalism, this one has McAvoy and Fassbender offering more kinetic performances as Xavier and Magneto, setting the tone for the whole film.

First Class Students GIF by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment - Find & Share on GIPHY

X-Men: Days of Future Past: What even is the point of this movie? Upon rewatch I have to say it’s the worst of the series because of how convoluted and messy it is. Nothing makes any sense, none of the performances are coherent or mean anything. This all despite it introducing Evan Peters’ Quicksilver in one of the best sequences of the entire series. It’s particularly marked by Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence both already looking like they regret the contracts they signed.

GIF by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment - Find & Share on GIPHY

X-Men: Apocalypse: For whatever reason this entry held up slightly better than it has in the past, but it’s still all over the place and, for as long as it is, doesn’t amount to much. Aside from the fact it’s hard to take Apocalypse seriously when you see his leather pants wrinkle and stretch, the worst thing you can say about it is that it’s forgettable. Also, the very cool reveal of the X team in something akin to their classic uniforms at the end goes absolutely nowhere because the story then jumps another 10 years and they’re in their New X-Men costumes by the time you get to…

Olivia Munn Apocalypse GIF by X-Men Movies - Find & Share on GIPHY

X-Men: Dark Phoenix: Better on second viewing than it was initially but still there’s so much going on that defies belief or explanation:

  • It’s remarkable that, given the opportunity to not make the same mistake twice, writer Simon Kinberg does just that. I’m talking specifically about having the story involve Xavier intentionally putting a mental block in Jean Grey’s mind to keep her from accessing her full power. It was more than a little problematic in 2005’s Last Stand and it’s even more so in 2019.
  • Because of that, the storyline plays very much like “men are afraid of powerful women because as soon as they’re no longer under men’s control they will destroy the world.” Which was not the point of the original Dark Phoenix story. Even the animated series did a better job.
  • Jennifer Lawrence is so checked out it looks like she’s wearing a Party City Mystique costume. And that’s before she dies in the first act.

Dark Phoenix Ok GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

other random observations

It’s honestly remarkable that they made seven X-Men movies, three Wolverine movies, two Deadpool movies and one New Mutants movie and never once actually addressed the issue of civil rights, prejudice, racism or any of the other themes that were the whole damn point of the comic books.

The series really offers the full range of potential performance types, including but not limited to:

  • Casual Elegant (Stewart, McKellan)
  • Trying So Hard (Rose Byrne)
  • Bored Bored Bored (Hugh Jackman in Last Stand)
  • Totally Not Paying Attention (Evan Peters)
  • Scenery Chewing (Brian Cox in X2)
  • Mugging For the Camera Because You Die Offscreen (James Marsden, Last Stand)
  • Actively Plotting Your Agent’s Demise (Fassbender in Apocalypse)
  • Owning It (Kevin Bacon, First Class)

It’s even more the polar opposite of the MCU in so many ways than the DC films. In the MCU the characters are almost always in motion. By comparison in the X-Men movies characters spend large chunks of each movie standing stock still and engaging in mid-tempo dialogue.

Also, the MCU movies are almost all examples of characters over story. The plots are largely the same (especially for the solo origin stories) but that doesn’t matter because the characters are out in front. The X-Men movies are all story and the characters fall to the wayside, given little to do but endlessly explain to each other what the story is.

You do have to respect, though, how so much of the action and stunt work in the movies is done practically instead of through elaborate CGI, as is the cast in almost every other super hero film since 2002.

Frequently reminded of how there was an X-Men Origins: Magneto in development at one point.

How do you not get Emma Frost right? How?

I don’t know who to feel more sorry for, the actress who played Kitty Pryde in the first two movies and then got pushed out for Elliot Page, or Elliot Page who’s given nothing to do in Apocalypse but grunt in Hugh Jackman’s face?

Poor Olivia Munn.

Poor…well…every actor playing a female character because clearly no one involved was interested in the female characters.

By my count, the U.S. government goes back and forth from fear to acceptance to fear of the X-Men like five times and that’s just in the four First Class-era movies.

No, seriously, like 45% of each of the movies is the characters just standing in a line together.

Like everyone else, I’ve tried my best to make the timeline of all seven movies work but it can’t be done. It just can’t.

let’s see these avengers stories come to the mcu

I have some strong opinions on this subject.

With tickets finally going on sale for Black Widow, coming out July 9th, the wait is almost over and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to return to the big screen for the first time in two years. That extended period of time, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, is the longest fans have had to wait since the two years between Iron Man and Iron Man 2 (not counting The Incredible Hulk, which I’m not).

Of course the MCU has not been completely silent, with Disney+ series like “WandaVision”, “Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and most recently “Loki” not only trying to quench fan thirst for more stories in this universe but also doing varying amounts of heavy lifting to set up the direction of the MCU’s future.

And that future is about to arrive with a crashing wave, again thanks to consolidated release schedules in part necessitated by pandemic-related delays. Three more movies — Shang-Chi, Eternals and Spider-Man: No Way Home — will all come out before the end of 2021, with “What If…”, “Ms. Marvel” and “Hawkeye” series also coming to Disney+ in the next six months.

While it seems The Avengers, at least as the team has been traditionally defined, will be less of a priority for the MCU following the conclusion of the last set of films, this coming influx of series and movies has me thinking about a few of my favorite Avengers comics stories that haven’t yet been adapted but really need to be.

Secret War

Not only is this a great spy caper – something that would be welcome in the MCU instead of a constant barrage of bigger, more violent CGI battle sequences – but it uses a solid mix of characters that would bring together a number of elements of the universe. If the movie used the same team as Brian Michael Bendis’ 2004 mini-series, it would provide a great platform through which to bring together some of the disparate elements of Marvel’s multimedia approach prior to the launch of Disney+.

Specifically, the core team from the series could include:

From the Official MCU: Captain America, Black Widow and Spider-Man

Even though Cap is Steve Rogers in the comic, there’s no reason it couldn’t be Sam Wilson. Sony would, of course, have to be open to lending on Spidey one more time. And Widow’s involvement would depend on the setting of the story, unless there’s some big twist coming in her upcoming solo movie.

Also, the comics provided the transition from Nick Fury to Maria Hill as the head of SHIELD, so let’s make that happen.

From the Netflix and ABC Shows: Luke Cage, Daredevil and Quake

We’re still, if I haven’t lost count, in the period where Marvel Studios can’t do anything new with these characters. When that window closes (assuming it hasn’t already) it would be great to bring them back in the same incarnations we saw in the various Marvel Netflix series. The connections between those shows and the MCU was always tenuous to barely existent, but let’s just cut out the dithering and go all-in here.

Similarly, bringing Daisy Johnson/Quake into the fold after being introduced on “Agents of SHIELD” would make a lot of fans happy.

From Fox Properties

What Marvel Studios’ plans for the X-Men after the Disney/Fox merger haven’t been revealed yet, but Wolverine was part of the team in the comic series, so this story would be a good platform for introducing full-on mutants with a fan-favorite character.

“Death and Texas / The Day Death Died”

Let’s be honest and admit that if the MCU has failed in any significant way, it’s in not recognizing that the West Coast Avengers were *actually* the best comics Avengers team. To date, though, that team hasn’t been part of the world-building of the franchise, and we’re the poorer for it.

That being said, the crossover between the west and east coasters in West Coast Avengers Annual #2 and Avengers Annual #16 would make an amazing movie.

The story starts with the two teams playing a softball game, as they began doing in the previous years’ crossover. This time the game is interrupted by The Grandmaster, who forces two Avengers – one from each team – to fight each other. Then they must face off against deceased Avengers, adding even more emotion to the conflict.

Of course to really pull it off, the concept of the West Coast Avengers needs to be introduced, but that should happen anyway. The Grandmaster, as played by Jeff Goldblum, could appear as if he had survived the outcome of Thor: Ragnorak, and it would finally pay off the teasing of “Death herself” from the mid-credits sequence of 2012’s The Avengers.

Avengers Under Siege

Here’s an opportunity to bring some of the villains to the forefront. The story, originally published in 1986, has the Masters of Evil taking over Avengers Mansion, with the heroes dealing with the emotional toil of having their home invaded. It’s not only a very good hero story but also one that explores the idea that the heroes don’t win every time, albeit with lower stakes than something like Endgame.

It’s alright if you want to ignore Dr. Druid, but the rest of the team’s lineup at the time would allow for bringing Monica Rambeau’s Captain Marvel — introduced in the “WandaVision” series — into the fold and having Black Knight make an appearance, adding a fun mystical element to the universe.

(bonus: Both “Under Siege” and the Avengers/WCA crossover mentioned above are included in the Avengers: Under Siege Epic Collection trade, so definitely pick that up.)

Any other suggestions?

an appreciation of the best sequences in: sneakers

My voice is my passport…

A quote attributed to filmmaker Howard Hawks contains the assertion that the secret to a good movie is that it contains “three great scenes and no bad ones.”

By that measure, 1992’s Sneakers is not just a good movie but among the greatest of all time. To prove that point, here are five of the best sequences in the film, written and directed by Phil Alden Robinson and starring Robert Redford, Mary McConnell, Sidney Portier, Ben Kingsley, David Straitharn, Dan Ackroyd and River Phoenix.

Bishop becomes an honorary blind person

The back and forth between Redford and Straitharn here is remarkable as Bishop, with Whistler’s help, realizes he remembers more details than he originally thought.

Calling Mr. Abbott

It’s the countdown as well as the visuals of the connections being made that adds substantial tension to what in other movies would be a standard scene of the good guys trying to get more information from an unseen character.

Figuring out the black box

It’s not just the giddiness of a bunch of hackers figuring out a new toy, it’s that moment where Whistler’s glasses reflect a sudden flood of data indicating they’ve finally made the right connection.

Posit / Consequence / Result / Conclusion

The reunion of Bishop and Cosmo is the midpoint highlight, the moment the first half of the story has been building toward and it doesn’t disappoint, especially not since it finally gives Redford and Kingsley an opportunity to play off each other.

Breaking into the office

Redford doesn’t get enough credit for being an incredible comedic talent, but he is, and his side of the conversation about how to defeat an electric keypad on an office door proves that definitively.

Of course this is just a partial list. The movie is filled with top-notch 2-3 minute sequences filled with humor, tension and music, the latter composed by James Horner with appearances by Branford Marsalis. It starts with the opening flashback of a young Martin and Cosmo, thankfully made before studios discovered the technology to de-age actors.

You can find the movie on most rental services as well as HBO Max and, I presume, your local library.

Random Thoughts on Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Let the airing of grievances commence.

Well, it’s here, and it’s been long enough that most people who wanted to have likely already watched Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the official title for The Film Previously Known As The Snyder Cut.

As such, it’s time to finally share my random thoughts after watching the…film?…just to put it out there for discussion. So, in no particular order:

About the Movie Itself

This is exactly what I would have expected from a movie fans demanded. It plays like a collection of scenes the members of a message board wrote, with no cohesive material making them into a whole.

It’s easy to see most of what’s new compared to the theatrical version, but at no point is there an answer as to “why” things are different.

The one improvement over the theatrical version is Cyborg’s story actually has some sort of point, but even that is sketchy. Still, it’s better than it was.

It once more needs to be noted, especially since we just watched Wonder Woman 1984, how different the Amazons are clothed in this movie compared to Patty Jenkins’ films. The latter look like warriors, the former like the worst stereotype of female video game characters.

While Henry Cavill’s face in the theatrical cut was certainly disturbing, at least it gave us a Superman that occasionally smiled, something completely missing from Snyder’s previous movies.

The Martian Manhunter bits make zero sense.

The Martian Manhunter ending makes less than zero sense.

The Martian Manhunter bits mean Henry Lennix’s previous appearances as General Swanwick make zero sense. Zero.

Mera: “Your mother would have been responsible for following Steppenwolf to the surface, Arthur, but also let’s sit here and have a leisurely conversation about the burden of parental legacy while you stick your hand in the water like a four year old at a shopping mall fountain.”

Can anyone explain to me what the point of all those random supporting character introductions was? I mean, great, that’s Iris West, but it doesn’t go any further. Same with Mera. And Lois Lane. Oh, hey, I think I’m figuring out a connection.

At one point someone is asking Dr. Stone about an item that has gone missing from a high-security lab with multiple government contracts dealing with items of alien origin. Stone says “Oh yeah, we just kind of lost track of that.” and the investigator shrugs and moves on like this wouldn’t bring the entire operation to an immediate halt.

Steppenwolf and Darkseid are idiots. The former came to Earth, lost the Mother Boxes to a bunch of Atlanteans and Amazons in the Battle of Helm’s Deep and retreated. Then he comes back looking for the Mother Boxes and fights a bunch of Atlanteans and Amazons. When he calls Darkseid he’s like “Hey, I think this is the same place we lost that big battle eons ago…”

On a related note, Darkseid’s inclusion in this cut was a major selling point in the campaign and something folks were super-anxious about. But he’s barely in it, and the one moment that seems as if it might turn into a confrontation with the heroes instead becomes a staring contest.

Does every scene actually require a six-minute establishing shot?

Sure, taking out the Russian family that needs to escape from the battleground is an improvement, it also means there’s no context to the fight, but that’s par for the course.

I’m actually a bit surprised some of the jokes remained, assuming they had been Whedon’s contributions.

How much more objectivist nihilism could you fit into a single movie? None. None more.

The chapter titles are insulting and ludicrous, mostly because they imply the existence of an actual story, which is inaccurate.

Oh, you fridged Lois in the Knightmare epilogue in order to make Superman even more of an angry worldwide terror who apparently is hunting down his former friends and teammates? How original.

Four hours, $70 million dollars and not only are there

  • Scenes in the trailer that didn’t make the final version, including one that seemed to be the main point of one spot in particular, but also
  • Snyder’s already out there complaining about the rules WB put in place regarding what could or couldn’t be included and what additional scenes he shot despite those rules knowing they would be cut. So now there’s even more gristle for conspiracy-minded individuals to chew on.

About the Movement That Birthed It

Of course it took less than a week for “fans” to demand that Snyder now be restored as the captain of the DCEU. Even Neville Chamberlain would have known this appeasement wouldn’t work.

Along those same lines, I’m completely unsurprised by the renewal of the #RestoreTheAyerCut movement, seeking to restore some version of Suicide Squad that might be better than what hit theaters.

A black and white version? Who was asking for that?

If you’re wondering what this means for the future of film, it’s simple: Anything less than exactly what has dominated the fever dreams of angry trolls will not be tolerated. We’ve already seen that in various ways.

“Just let people enjoy things” only seems to be said regarding massive international IP releases and not about movies like Small Axe, Promising Young Woman or others.

It’s remarkable we got through the movie’s entire hype cycle without revisiting Ezra Miller’s filmed assault of a fan from 2020.

It’s Not Crime, It’s a Hustle

Gotta get paid, son, no matter who gets hurt.

John Mahoney gives an unmistakably great performance in Say Anything… even if the character he plays is someone the audience is ultimately asked to condemn. He may still evoke some amount of sympathy or empathy, but he pleads guilty to what in 1989 seemed like a horrible crime: Stealing from the elderly individuals he claimed to be caring for. While his motivations may have been something approaching honorable – wanting to provide the best for his daughter – they didn’t justify the actions he took in their service.

It’s hard, at least for many people like myself, to not think about that movie while watching Netflix’s recent I Care A Lot. Rosamund Pike plays Marla Grayson, a woman who has made a career of being appointed by family court judges as guardian to senior citizens she and a network of healthcare associates target in order to raid their estates. Grayson is running roughly the same scam James Court was 30+ years ago, but with more overt accomplices and in a way that’s almost impossible to revoke should a relative of one of her marks challenge the court order.

Stick The Landing Or GTFO

Aside from Pike’s blonde bob haircut, the thing that’s been noted most frequently about the film is that the story casts little to no judgement on Grayson’s actions. She’s not held accountable by the legal system she’s manipulated, there’s no justice as we would expect if her character were being investigated on an episode of “Law & Order”. Whether or not she falls victim to a more raw form of justice is vague thanks to some creative editing, but it seems as if she makes it away unscathed.

Criticism that Grayson didn’t face legal consequences for her immorality seemed to be based on the belief that stories need to be wrapped up nicely at the end and offer the audience a sense of ethical and moral closure. We want to make sure that societal norms are being upheld and communicated.

The lack of such consequences didn’t bother me much, but then again I’m the guy who feels the best ending to a modern movie can be found in No Country For Old Men, so it’s possible I’m a sociopath on this front. Others are currently debating whether or not the ending of “WandaVision” was both satisfying and legitimate, as if art can only be judged to be worthy if the final half hour lived up to expectations.

No Country For Old Men Film GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Why this movie in particular struck such a chord was perplexing to me until I read one of the essays in Jia Tolentino’s 2019 book Trick Mirror. In it she talks (and I’m paraphrasing *very* loosely here) about how over the last 20-odd years people have come to believe that everything is legitimate if it’s done in the pursuit of that all-alluring bling. All of life is a scam, the only way to make a living is to engage in some sort of hustle 24 hours a day etc.

They Believe In Nothing…

Such a worldview is disconcertingly nihilist, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t representative of reality to some extent. In an era where getting a full-time job with healthcare and a 401(k) is a pipe dream for many while becoming a TikTok influencer seems much more realistic and attainable, if it makes you a buck it’s condoned.

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Why should Grayson be held responsible for stealing from senior citizens, then? In fact, why should her doing so be viewed as a crime – or even something to disapprove of – at all? She’s found an angle and is working it, so let’s not judge her. Life is a zero-sum game, so anything I don’t actively work to take is something I don’t have and you might, so you’ll excuse me if I throw under this oncoming bus before you do the same to me.

That same attitude can be found in the real estate office location of Glengarry Glen Ross, where the salesmen engage in tactics they know to be unethical if not illegal because “only one thing matters; get them to sign on the line that is dotted.”

Even then, the story at least made an effort to present the actions of those men as wrong. They are somewhat conflicted about what they’re doing, even if they choose to put their moral compass in the drawer in order to keep the job they need.

Whether or not I Care A Lot writer/director J Blakeson wanted to portray an “anything goes in pursuit of a buck” ethos or simply wasn’t interested in showing how Grayson might get some form of comeuppance is unclear. That choice, whichever way it went, certainly shows how our artistic conscience has adapted over the last 30 years, from one where bad people by necessity must pay for their crimes to one where bad people are simply making different choices for their own reasons and it’s not our place to judge.

The Privelige Of The MCU’s Heroes

Marvel’s heroes are part of the problem.

There’s been a lot of good storytelling in the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the last 12 years. Black Panther, Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor: Ragnarok and others particular stand out from among the 20 movies as particularly enjoyable and well-told stories offering something new and creative in the superhero genre.

There’s also a problem with many of them that I never quite noticed until recently rewatching Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Now Winter Soldier is a movie I’ve watched and greatly enjoyed a few times before. It’s usually ranked among my favorites of the MCU for how it uses Marvel characters to tell an updated version of a late-70s paranoid political thriller. Chris Evans fully comes into the role of Cap in the film, Scarlett Johansson gives my favorite of her performances as Black Widow and you can never go wrong with Robert Redford gliding through every scene.

This last time through it, something stuck out at me, though. It’s a moment right at the end of the film, with Natasha Romanov testifying before Congress about how Hydra was able to infiltrate SHIELD for decades, coming within seconds of killing millions of citizens because it deemed them a potential future threat. Why, one individual asks, shouldn’t she and others who aided – albeit unwittingly – this massive conspiracy be put behind bars?

In response she says they won’t put her in jail because, despite the role they played previously, they’re the ones best qualified to fix the very problems they contributed to.

You’ll recognize this logic from every appointment of an oil industry executive to the EPA because “they have experience with this subject matter.” Or the committees making recommendations on reform in the financial sector that are staffed solely be executives from the biggest firms in that industry.

It’s not an uncommon sentiment in the MCU, either. In the first two Iron Man movies, Tony Stark’s entire philosophy is that despite the fact that his irresponsible business practices having put terrible weapons in the hands of terrible people, he should be trusted to clean up that mess. Not only that, but he embodies the conservative notion that the duties traditionally entrusted to government should instead be handed over to the wealthy elite. He resists any government oversight or accountability of Iron Man, asking instead he simply be trusted.

At the end of The Avengers, Nick Fury is asked if he knows where the various heroes are and how he’s planning on reassembling them if the world faces another day like no other. Not really, he says, simply hoping and believing they’ll be there when needed. That sentiment is picked up by Secretary Ross in Civil War, when he asks if anyone knows where Thor or Hulk are, rightfully pointing out he’d be in a heap of trouble if he lost a couple nuclear weapons.

While there are plenty of issues that can be taken with the story in Civil War, Ross’s point is not necessarily one of them. But in this case, Tony Stark’s conversion from “I privatized world peace” to “We need to be put in check” comes off less as realizing he and those like him are part of the problem than from, it seems, him wanting to pass the buck of accountability on to someone else.

That mindset is understandable from characters like Rhodes and Romanoff, who have both operated extensively within military structures and who feel comfortable there. Stark, though, has seen his high-flying adventuring go badly and would like to have someone else deal with it, thank you very much.

(Side note: Captain America might be expected to take a similar approach as Rhodes given his military background. His intransigence on the issue always seemed somewhat arbitrary, especially since it’s justified solely by saying they can be trusted to make the best decisions on their own. More than any other MCU character, Cap has had his belief in “the system” shaken, first finding out SHIELD was using Hydra weapons in The Avengers and then finding out SHIELD *is* Hydra in The Winter Soldier. If Civil War had grounded his stance in this experience it would be a lot more defensible.)

It’s equally understandable why Barton, Wilson and others would disagree, given they don’t come from such privileged backgrounds even if many of them were also military in some fashion. The opposing side is made up of those who have been in the muck a lot longer and worked to lift themselves out. Barton doesn’t have a super suit, he’s just *really* good at what he does. Wilson is like Rhodes in many ways, but doesn’t have the benefits of a long friendship with a playboy billionaire philanthropist aiding his way. Scott Lang, of course, is a criminal who operates outside the system. Wanda is an orphan who lost her brother.

When Romaoff says she and the other heroes are the ones most qualified to clean up the mess created by the fall of Hydra, she’s hinting at what’s to come in Civil War. She’s also mimicking the testimony of every executive in the wake of some crisis. Consider how little changed in the 10 year following the 2008 financial crisis, with many of those who were in charge then still in charge a decade later. This quote from a story on what some of those leaders said in a Congressional inquiry is indicative of that “those who created the problem should be trusted to clean it up” philosophy and sounds a lot like Romanoff’s rebuke:

The witnesses said they supported tighter oversight, but warned against going too far.

Right. Because you wouldn’t want to “go too far” in the wake of the complete collapse of the American housing market, one caused by banks and not homeowners. And you wouldn’t want to go too far in the wake of revelations that an international terrorist organization had compromised a global security force.

Those in power are loath to relinquish that power, especially when the opportunity comes along to be free from any negative repercussions that might happen while exercising that power. It’s unfortunate to see that kind of privilege on display in the MCU.

Expect Streaming and Premium VOD to Stick Around

Just like the rest of society, there may not be a return to what was once normal.

To hear studio executives tell it, they turned to Premium VOD and streaming during the Covid-19 quarantine only out of necessity. Movies like Trolls: World Tour, The High Note, Artemis Fowl and others were pulled from the theatrical schedule and released on home video platforms because the studios had no other available choices. Theater owners, as well as NATO, made various statements about how they would remember how studios have turned against them, but most of those statements seem to have faded in intensity over time.

During a virtual CineEurope presentation, more studio heads made more comments about how excited everyone was about theaters reopening, confident that audiences are itching to get out of the house and see movies on a *real* big screen again.

That belief seems to be rooted in the basic idea that not only are behaviors ripe for changing but that outlets for that changed behavior will be available. Neither may actually be the case.

One study from Google indicates that consumer habits that have been evolving over the years may have taken firmer hold during the Covid-19 shutdowns across the country, meaning people are less likely to venture out and about for their shopping and entertainment fixes. In some ways that may be tied to bigger shifts across society and within the economy, including the higher frequency of someone working from home, the newfound love of cooking for themselves and more.

Those shifts as they relate to streaming behavior are expected to be represented at this year’s Newfronts as media companies make their virtual presentations to advertisers, positioning those platforms as the place where people are and they need to be. Spending on streaming entertainment isn’t expected to fade anytime soon either. There may be some level of subscription fatigue happening, but that’s likely only because people dipped their toe in so many different pools during the early days of stay-at-home orders, taking advantage of free trials or deciding now was when they were finally going to watch “The Handmaid’s Tale” and then cancel Hulu after finishing it. So it may be that these behaviors have now become entrenched in many households.

Add to that the ever-changing landscape of the theatrical industry, one that is already working from a deficit in part because the issue of wearing masks has become one with all sorts of political implications and beliefs. Add to that the recent shift of both Tenet and Mulan to August and it’s clear the summer movie season has all but vanished. There may be a few titles that still come out in drive-in locations and the handful of theaters in states that have done a better job of containing outbreaks, but that’s it.

In short, there’s a great deal of uncertainty about what’s next for the public health crisis we’re in the midst of and what the retail response to that is going to be. Texas and Florida are reversing course and closing bars again, while other states like Illinois are doing alright and slowly reopening more and more businesses.

It won’t take much for premium VOD to become much more popular than it already is. Really it seems to come down to 1) Price, and 2) Selection. If Wonder Woman 1984 were available to rent day-and-date with theaters, it would be massive, especially if that rental were just $9.99. To date the titles have been kids films and mid-tier dramas, but a blockbuster at a reasonable price would be a game-changer, one that could potentially blow the market wide open. That price point would be a stark contrast to the cost of taking a family to the theater, including the sunk time in driving etc that goes with it.

Premium VOD may never land as big a fish as WW84 or Black Widow, but it’s very likely it becomes a regular part of studio’s release planning, especially for the kinds of titles that are felt to have only moderate potential for theatrical success. Even so, that price point will have to come down, especially on the kids titles where the value for parents is in repeat viewing.

It won’t be long given the continued issues around what businesses are or aren’t open and what the protocol is for visiting them before the behavior around staying at home and bringing the world there solidifies even more than it already has. Studios will have to adapt to that, as will the theater owners who have been avoiding this conversation for over a decade.

How to Create Character History In One Line

It’s not hard, just very difficult.

Here’s one of my favorite scenes, with one of my very favorite lines, in the last 30 years of film.

Specifically, it’s this exchange:

Reuben: Look, we all go way back and uh, I owe you from the thing with the guy in the place and I’ll never forget it.

Danny: That was our pleasure.

Rusty: I’d never been to Belize.

Look what’s happening there.

  1. It establishes history: Sure, we already get that the three guys know each other, but this cements that they’ve worked together before and trust each other.
  2. It’s vague enough to mean anything: Reuben never states who “the guy,” “the thing” or “the place” are so the audience can fill that in for themselves. We can imagine all sorts of scenarios.
  3. It was a big deal: Rusty dropping Belize in there makes it clear that whatever trouble Reuben was in, it took Danny and Rusty off their usual turf. And Belize is likely such a unknown to most people that it doesn’t immediately bring to mind any specific memories or images, again allowing for all sorts of situations to be imagined.
  4. It establishes a hierarchy: Danny and Rusty are there kissing the ring and looking for Reuben’s help, which puts him above them on the pecking order. But they hold a favor over him that they’re not overtly referencing even if they all know it’s hanging over the conversation. Still, Danny waves it off as being a non-factor, not anything Reuben feels should compel him to agree to their plan.

Danny and Rusty are, in some way, running a small con on their friend Reuben here, hoping that the chit they still hold comes into play in getting his agreement to join their scheme. But that’s not how they approach the situation, which allows for this masterclass in establishing character history to take place.

And it’s so subtle and well-done, all without needing to segway into a 15 minute flashback or long explanation of what happened in Belize. We don’t need to know what it was, we just need to know how it affects the characters and story we’re following now.

That kind of writing is a major reason the movie sizzles with as much energy as it does, because everything we need to know is on the screen, not waiting down some digression. It’s the kind of thing screenwriters, who too often feel the need to explain every little bit of barely relevant backstory and connection down to the tiniest detail, could stand to do more frequently.