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.

The Best Marvel Cinematic Universe Plane Jump Scenes

A couple weeks ago Paramount launched a massive campaign for Mission: Impossible – Fallout centered around Tom Cruise’s willingness and ability to do his own stunt work. One of the key sequences featured in the campaign was his HALO jump, something that was used on the IMAX poster, was the subject of a number of featurettes and more.

Watching Cruise and the rest of the cast and crew endlessly talk about how he engaged in several jumps to get all the shots necessary for the film – efforts he was joined in by the requisite technical crew – got me thinking about other notable “jumping out of a perfectly good airplane” moments on film. Specifically, I started thinking about how that device has been one used a number of times in various entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

That’s a niche subset, of course, as plenty of other action/adventure movies have similar scenes. But Marvel Studios loves having its characters engage in a little skydiving, so here are four such moments from the first 10 years of the MCU.

Iron Man 2

Tony Stark doesn’t do subtle and that includes making an entrance at the revived Stark Expo. So when he wants to get everyone’s attention he jumps out the back of a cargo plane and flies down, dodging (mostly) the fireworks being set off below until he finally makes the super hero landing on stage amid a line of dancing girls in Iron Man outfits.

The scene is notable for a couple reasons. First, it shows how brash Stark has become in the years since outing himself as the hero. Second, the trailer shows Pepper Potts dramatically kissing the Iron Man helmet before throwing it out the back, sending Tony out to retrieve it. That’s not how it plays out in the film, though, as he just jumps with helmet on after a bit of flirtation with Pepper.

Captain America: Winter Soldier

By the time of The Winter Soldier, Cap has already established himself as a hero in the modern age and found a purpose through working with SHIELD. Joining a strike team that includes Black Widow to rescue a ship that’s been taken hostage by terrorists at sea, Cap of course leads from the front, diving – sans parachute – into the ocean to stealthily board the ship and prepare the way for the rest of the team.

There is, of course, the dialogue between two other team members about whether or not he was wearing a parachute when he jumped that establishes how tough Cap is. But it’s his exchange with Widow before jumping that really stands out for me as it helps establish *who* the character is. Talking about his love life, or lack thereof, is everyday workplace banter and it shows that Natasha is what might be called his “work wife.” The exchange displays how even extraordinary people sometimes have ordinary conversations and lives that have to be fit in and round their adventures.

The Incredible Hulk

With Abomination rampaging through Harlem, Bruce Banner has finally convinced the military that’s long been hunting and trying to control him that he can be useful. So they fly him toward the chaos. Still in human form, he intentionally falls out of the craft, assuming the adrenaline spike from doing so will trigger the transformation into the Hulk, something that doesn’t go quite as planned, but it all turns out alright in the end.

One of the main themes with the Hulk is that the change into the creature is often outside of Banner’s control. In the movie he’s spent years trying to keep it from happening and regretting when it does. Now he *wants* to change and can’t, something that will come up in later movies. It also sets the stage for Banner’s line in The Avengers about having tried to kill himself, only to have “the other guy” emerge and survive.

Black Panther

Over the course of the movie we see time and again what kind of man, king and hero T’Challa is. Right at the outset it’s established he’s not only conquered his fear but he’s done so in part thanks to his belief in the technology and skills of those around him. That’s why when he’s about to raid a convey of human traffickers he doesn’t hesitate to be spit out the bottom of the plane he’s in, falling (again without parachute) toward the ground still able to disperse other weapons and ultimately land where he needed to be.

What’s great about this is that, as I said, he’s completely confident in the way he’s leaving the aircraft, showing no fear and no concern about his fate. That winds up being in stark contrast to how he freezes when he comes face to face with his ex-girlfriend, who’s been undercover as a victim of the traffickers and who isn’t as grateful as he expected for the rescue.

What did I miss? Which one is your favorite?

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Two and Out: When Directors Abandon Trilogies Before They’re Over

These franchises and series have launched with big name directors who decided two movies was enough for them.

Over the last 20 years Hollywood has realigned itself around franchises that come with built in audience awareness of the intellectual property the movies are based on. Super heroes have lead this movement but also included are science-fiction and action series, many of which are reboots, remakes or reimaginings of older IP, trying to freshen up stale material for new audiences and wring maximum value from series that may have gone dormant decades ago and need a shot in the arm.

Often the pitch to the audience is that the studio has signed a well-known, “visionary” director to helm what otherwise might appear to be a soulless cash grab devoid of artistic merit. The idea is to attach some credibility to the endeavor, earning some cache among cinephiles who might dismiss or ignore it.

Because these are almost always designed to be series and not just one-off films, directors are often asked – or contractually obligated – to return for the sequel. There are quite a few instances, though, where after two installments a big-name director who attached the reputation they’d earned up to that point walks away for one reason or another, turning the reigns of the franchise over to someone else to close out or continue.

I’ll admit that these are, by and large, exceptions that prove the rule. There are countless instances where a single director has overseen every chapter in a trilogy. But almost all of those examples are stories the director had at least a significant hand in developing, usually about something personal or otherwise important or relevant to them. Only Alan Parker was going to tell The Barrytown Trilogy. Only Richard LInklater was going to make the Before Trilogy or Francis Ford Coppola the Godfather Trilogy.

Instead, the below examples represent cases where a well-known filmmaking talent has been brought in to provide a creative spark to help revitalize or launch a franchise, only to find they were indeed a director-for-hire all along, disposable because their name isn’t as important as the brands’ once things are back on track.

Star Trek

J.J. Abrams was brought on by Paramount to revitalize a Star Trek franchise that, despite a few TV shows here and there, had lain fallow on the big screen since 2002’s Nemesis, marking the last outing of “The Next Generation” characters. Abrams embraced the opportunity to bring his “Mystery Box” approach to the series, offering an interesting twist in the 2009 relaunch and a far less interesting one in 2013’s Into Darkness. His involvement in a third film was cut off when he was offered the chance to relaunch another franchise, Star Wars.

X-Men

2000’s original X-Men kicked off a new wave of super hero movies, saving the genre from the regrettable camp the Batman series had fallen into and offering a more mainstream approach than that taken in the Blade movies. As good as that first one was, 2002’s X-Men United was even better, offering more nuanced takes on the characters and setting up a third movie that promised some form of “Dark Phoenix” adaptation. Sadly that promise went unfulfilled when Singer was lured the chance to make Superman Returns, allowing Brett Ratner to nearly dismantle the franchise with a terrible third installment.

Iron Man

Among the reasons the first Iron Man movie was not universally expected to be a success (don’t let anyone who didn’t follow the press narrative of that time tell you different) was that Jon Favreau was not exactly a mortal lock as a director. He had a couple decent outings under his belt, but nothing on this scale. His light tough and ability to simply control and aim the explosion that is Robert Downey Jr. made it work enough that he returned to helm the sequel. When it came time for the third movie, though, he was too involved in other projects and so turned duties over to Shane Black, who essentially made a Shane Black movie featuring Iron Man, which isn’t a bad thing.

The Avengers

Many of us totally got why Joss Whedon was a good pick for the first team up of the Avengers. While some dismissed him as “the guy from ‘Buffy’,” those of us who had watched both “Firefly” and Serenity and who read his “Astonishing X-Men” run knew how well he could balance characters and create believable team dynamics. According to Whedon his experience on 2015’s Age of Ultron kind of broke him, though, and so he stepped aside and allowed the Russo Brothers, who had just directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier to much acclaim, to take the reigns.

Jurassic Park

It seems director Steven Spielberg just kind of exhausted his interest in directing stories of dinosaurs running amok after the first two Jurassic Park movies, diverting his attention instead to original projects. While he remained on as a producer, he turned directorial responsibilities over to Joe Johnston, a protege from the days of Indiana Jones. He turned in a third movie that has some silly moments (the talking velociraptor) but also features the same pop and sizzle he’d brought previously to The Rocketeer and would again display in Captain America: The First Avenger.

The Terminator

James Cameron couldn’t make another Terminator movie, at first because he was too invested in developing 1997’s Titanic and then 2008’s Avatar. Since then he’s been very busy not making further Avatar sequels while also finding time to criticize other people’s movies while a string of other directors tried to tackle this material. Cameron is returning to the series with a reboot/sequel now in production, but only as a producer.

Batman

It’s hard to describe just how much Warner Bros. openly and actively turned against director Tim Burton when Batman Returns didn’t turn out to be just as massive a hit as 1989’s first Batman movie. Returns looks and feels more like a Tim Burton movie, dealing with many of the same themes as his other films, but that didn’t translate into a plethora of cross-promotional and merchandising opportunities. While he reportedly was developing a third installment he was removed from the project in favor of Joel Schumacher, who took the series in a direction with more potential for colorful toy lines.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

The Winners and Losers in the Last 10 Years of Movie Marketing at San Diego Comic-Con (Part 1)

Later this week the entertainment press and countless fans will descend upon the San Diego Convention Center for this year’s installment of San Diego Comic-Con. The convention, which runs four days, is massive, taking up the entirety of the center with other stunts spilling out into the surrounding area.

This is the 48th year of the geek gathering and it’s long been a favorite target for movie studios looking to sell their upcoming movies to an audience with the potential to turn into a rabid fanbase. It’s not just science-fiction and fantasy movies that have been pitched here, though. Spy stories like Salt, comedies like Superbad and others have also been brought here in an attempt to get people talking and hopefully create a few movie ticket buyers.

Still, genre movies are the bread and butter of the event as they line up clearly with the interests of attendees who are more than happy to drop $250 on that ¼ scale resin bust of Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters. So we’re going to look back over the last 10 years at just a small snapshot of the movies that have had a significant presence at SDCC to see how they’ve fared. Here’s 2007 through 2011.

2007 – The Winner

iron man pic

Today the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the model every studio is trying replicate. The Mummy tried to establish a “shared universe” with its marketing, as did King Arthur and many other movies over the last few years. But in 2007 we were introduced to Robert Downey Jr. in advance of the first Iron Man movie, which went on to box office success and set the stage for the next 10 years (and more) of movies featuring Marvel’s cast of characters.

2007 – The Disappointment

Speed Racer should have been a hit. It was the first movie from the Wachowskis following their massive Matrix trilogy and, as an adaptation of a beloved cartoon, was pretty well positioned to do well with this crowd. While the initial buzz was pretty good, though, it never connected with a mass audience. The movie still has ardent fans and is occasionally rediscovered and given new appreciation, but it’s not a household name.

2008 – The Winner

twilight pic

Many people like me were skeptical the Twilight franchise could become a box office hit. Surely the success of the books was a fluke, right? Nope. The cast and crew of the first movie stopped by SDCC in 2008, a few months before the movie opened, and went on to become a hit. An important reminder here that it’s not just “fanboys” here, or at any other geek gathering, but a diverse audience that wants lots of stories, not just super-violent superheroes.

2008 – The Disappointment

Does The Watchmen count here if it ultimately made over $100m domestically? How about Keanu Reeves’ overly-heavy and boring The Day The Earth Stood Still remake? Or The Spirit, which confused and turned off audiences with its odd visual style? Honestly, these are just a few of the movies that tried to enlist the San Diego crowd but failed to launch. Rough year.

2009 – The Winner

avatar pic

Clearly, Avatar is the big boy in this crowd. Director James Cameron came out and showed off the movie’s incredible visuals, which connected on every level with those in attendance. Not just that, but those who got a first look went back home and turned everyone else they knew onto the movie, turning it into one of the biggest box-office success of all time.

2009 – The Disappointment

Disney pulled out all the stops to sell TRON: Legacy, a sequel to the 1982 sci-fi classic, including real-life deployments of Flynn’s Arcade at various events and an appearance at Comic-Con. It’s odd to call this a disappointment because it scored over $170m in ticket sales, but the overall reception to the movie was very mixed. The lack of a follow-up in the last eight years shows it wasn’t enough for someone to keep things going.

2010 – The Winner

the-avengers-2012

The first solo outings for both Captain America or Thor weren’t even out when Marvel went about as big as any studio had gone before or has gone since, bringing out the entire cast of The Avengers, which wouldn’t come out for two more years. Director Joss Whedon appeared on stage as well, as the audience was really introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the first time.

2010 – The Disappointment

Again, which one to pick? Scott Pilgrim Vs The World should have been the biggest movie of the decade based on buzz out of both SDCC and SXSW but didn’t catch on with audiences. Geek God Harrison Ford made his first San Diego appearance to promote Cowboys & Aliens but it wasn’t enough to get people talking about – or watching – that genre mashup. Seth Rogen didn’t make a convincing comic hero in The Green Hornet. And then there’s Green Lantern, which didn’t do badly but has become such a punchline it was used as a throwaway joke in Deadpool.

2011 – The Winner

amazing spider-man pic

The Amazing Spider-Man, with Andrew Garfield rebooting the Spider-Man franchise, is probably the biggest box-office success to come out of SDCC this year. It loses points for being rebooted just four years later, though, and I have to mention Attack the Block, a movie about aliens attacking a block of London flats and being repelled by the residents there. It didn’t light up the box-office but has an impeccable reputation among critics and introduced us to John Boyega, who the rest of the world discovered four years later when he starred in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

2011 – The Disappointment

Colin Farrell took over for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the remake of 1990’s Total Recall. Despite the brand recognition and the big names involved, including director Len Wiseman, the spark failed to ignite. The Adventures of Tin-Tin, which combined the geek muscle of Steven Spielberg, Edgar Wright, and Peter Jackson but which couldn’t sell its animated look to audiences, would also qualify here.