28 May 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week Three! Friends Peas Parties

As we round Memorial Day weekend there are a handful of songs that are still hot, but shuffling around. Or I at least only like three or four pop songs right now. They'll get pop accolades as long as I'm running this show, baby! Most of the rest of this list is just talking about songs I wanted to talk about. Crank those speakers up, baby!

Hot Jam of the Week: "Ring the Alarm" by The Black Eyed Peas

So, this song is clearly terrible and comes off more as a desperate attempt to capitalize on Kendrick Lamar or Childish Gambino-level racial awareness than anything else. The Black Eyed Peas aren't a politically conscious band - they're a party band. This is like the most ingenuous song ever. Also they couldn't even get Fergie. This band is all about Fergie, literally the only point to listening to them. As you can tell, I really really hate the Black Eyed Peas. Except for "Imma Be," weirdly enough. Anyway, they won the Summer Jam back in 2009, but you will never hear this song again.

"Welcome to the Party" by Diplo, French Montana, & Lil' Pump

Can you picture a bigger piece of shit collabo? In honor of Deadpool 2 (2018) we include this track, although we probably should have thrown in Celine Dion. That's a remarkably good soundtrack, for that song and this, which totally sound like songs that weren't created solely for this movie. Of course, dubstep is for pussies, but this is a fun track that could actually earn some Summer Jam Thumping creds if it catches on mainstream. Tho some of it feels kind of 2014, right?

"Rosanna" by Weezer

Weezer hasn't been on this list...maybe ever, but it's great to hear some new music from them, especially one that rocks as hard as this. It also has a classic tune to it and while I'd be pretty surprised if it catches on and gains momentum this summer, it's fun this week.

"Meant to Be" by Bebe Rexha ft. Florida Georgia Line

"Meant to Be" returns again and just...won't...die. This track was everywhere again this week and really hasn't peaked listenability for me, and apparently the country, either. Good for Bebe who is also pretty likable and deserves to have a track like this to distinguish herself from the thousands of other blonde starlets crooning for their supper these days.

"Friends" by Marshmello & Anne Marie

I really like this Marshmello character. Reminds me of the weird dancing robot from those old LMFAO videos. Anne Marie is clearly trying a little too hard and into some hardcore mugging for the camera, but I suppose that's what you have to do to stand out these days. This track is actually pretty old and took a while to grow on me, but it's starting to take off. It could contend in June.

"This is America" by Childish Gambino

His Lando is the best part of the #1 movie in the country and this track is still killing it, as the #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100. It hasn't gotten much radio play, and it's kind of an awkward song to jam out to, but it's still the topic of much discussion and a surprising amount of memes who don't really understand what this track is about at all.

"No Tears Left to Cry" by Ariana Grande

I get these next too songs mixed up, both N - negative tracks. Anyway, I'm still in the middle of considering if this is a mournful sorrowful jam or an upbeat resilient jam. It's somewhere in the middle, and the way Ariana bounces between ballad and snippy is great. And she snagged Pete Davidson this week! Pete is definitely DEFINITELY batting up.

"Never Be The Same" by Camila Cabello

The clear winner this week, this jam was everywhere, and has now moved up each week this summer. Can Camilla win the Summer like she basically won the Fall and Winter? It's certainly possible, although generally tracks that peak in May don't have much legs. If this extends into June with some high numbers it's certainly possible. It's conceivably one of the lyrically shallower jams this week, but that's fine. Camila can work her pipes enough to make up for it.

Next week...

Camila's former gang, Fifth Harmony dropped a new jam this week, but it's shit. There was also new jams from Christina and Demi, and a J.Lo / DJ Khalid / Cardi B track that's also all shit. I was tempted to include Cardi B's "Be Careful," which finally got a music video this week, but it's not totally that hot anymore, tho still my favourite Cardi jam. And Drake. Drake's still around. All these folks may jump into the Winners List one of these weeks. Stay tuned, True Believers!

25 May 2018

Red Cup: A Star Wars Story

That joke's been done, actually by legitimate corporate interests now, but there's nothing that can top it.

Let's start this preview out right - I've been disinterested in Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) since it was announced. And I'm this guy. I don't want to sit here and just rag on corporations making money, because that's like getting angry at a dog for having fur. But it is worthwhile to explore a little bit of the disconnect here.

Maybe Chewie can do more than eat Porgs this time
Tracing it back to its earliest origin, there were a lot of dumb ideas bandied about with Disney's Star Wars acquisition and the early concept that they're going to churn out these movies forever. I'm a little iconoclastic in saying that not all Star Wars, even the originals were necessarily holy precious works of art, but they've doubtlessly influenced a lot more people than most works of art, which is in itself significant to acknowledge. While an expansive storytelling empire is not new to Star Wars at all, making a shitload of crappy to forgettable movies is.

So therein lies the first difference we need to get past and understand. Are Yoda and Boba Fett prequels really a disservice to the brand than if they were in comic or book form? Star Wars' Expanded Universe (now Legends) obsessively explored just about every nook and cranny of these characters lives and filled out lore from thousands of years in the past (first story taking place in 25,793 BBY apparently) to about 130 years or so after the original movies take place. That's a solid span of history to explore.

And that's the first reason I sort of didn't care about seeing young Yoda or young Han Solo - like, it's never fun to flesh out characters with mysterious backgrounds. We already know everything about their characters that we need to, elucidating every off-handed comment is a trite exercise. In a way similar to how Rogue One (2016) seemed to spin an entire movie out of an inconsistency made in a jokey space adventure from the 70s, Solo also will apparently deal with rectifying Harrison Ford's infamous Kessel Run line where he measures distance, not time by bragging in how few parsecs it took him. This is the only reason I know what a parsec is.

But it's also not necessary. It's not getting at why these films were popular - the relatable characters in a mere pocket of an extensive and lived-in universe. Instead it's obsessive in a redundant nerd kind of way. Of course, that's surely not the only inspiration for these films and it's kind of reductive for me to say so - because in fact, a movie about young Ponda Baba could be amazing. The point I think, is that Baba: A Star Wars Story can still go anywhere. We can guess what we're getting with Solo. Imperial Academy drop-out. Sabacc. Falcon. Chewie. Kessel Run. Maybe dumping some cargo for Jabba. With Rogue One, even though it was somewhat derivative and ultimately kind of a mess, we got a look into the lives and ideology of some people in this universe we'd never seen before. The first hump to get over with Solo is the fact it already feels repetitive.

There are also production troubles, but I don't really care about that. Every movie ever has production troubles and reshoots. I do think that a Ron Howard movie is far less interesting than a Phil Lord and Chris Miller movie, but I'd never say Ron was a poor director. Plus we did get this out of it. Either way, though, it does kind of reek of meddling in order to create a safer product, which isn't altogether awful, but for sure a whole lot less interesting. And less interesting filmmaking sucks. Well, most of the time.

This is all very superficial stuff, though. There's got to be something else preventing me from liking this thing. Maybe it was the trailer that was so full of predictable shit that Red Letter Media predicted it to a dime. It's this crux of pandering where even edginess (maybe the more apt word is "quippiness?") is predictable. As I sit and reflect on the Disney Star Wars with a few years and films now under our belt, it's also safe to say that there is something that just feels continuously disappointing.

The Force Awakens (2015) was a true event, which was really cool to experience. But to a ridiculous fault it felt like it was made out of fear of upsetting a virulent nerdy fanbase. Rogue One felt so good while watching it but when you sit down and examine it, nothing makes sense until the admittedly brilliant last act. And I loved The Last Jedi (2017), which switched things back so far from The Force Awakens that it was met with equal vitriol. There's no pleasing us. We all have our own little Star Wars head canon now and it's extremely difficult to make anything we perceive as good.

Of course, most people just like Han Solo. That's not really accurate actually - most people like Harrison Ford. I'm not sure a Solo movie can work without him and Alden Ehrenreich never felt like the right fit. I mean, his biggest role so far, in the Coen Bros' Hail, Caesar! (2016) landed so well precisely because he's a terrible, miscast, uncharismatic actor. The total opposite of Harrison Ford. There are two issues with this assumption - 1) concluding that that's a bad thing or he NEEDS to emulate Harrison Ford (see the first sentence of this paragraph as to why I think this is important) and 2) That's an awful harsh judgment to make without seeing the movie. Of course, that's also the vibe I get going in which makes me feel like it's not worth my time to see this thing.

And maybe I am just getting a little jaded and a film needs to really strike the right chord for me to get off my ass and see it in theaters these days. There are not many traditional tentpoles I'm interested in this summer. It's rough. I'm clearly not the only one who feels this way, since no one apparently goes to the movies or watches television anymore.

So pumped for the prequel movie to explain...whatever
the hell that thing to the left is
I do think that while saturation doesn't necessarily devalues the Star Wars brand any more than extended comics and novels did, the effect that we can now pick and choose makes things a little more precise. I'm not into Solo, and that's fine, the next one will come along. I super wasn't into Dark Empire II but definitely into the Thrawn Trilogy. Joruus C'Baoth = the Original Daddy. Maybe that's perfectly fine.

It's kind of like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018). I was super into Jurassic World (2015) and gave it a great review, but this new film doesn't appear to be pushing the franchise in any interesting direction. Neither is Solo, which I think is probably the biggest drag. Screw everything I said about Ehrenreich or fatigue or nerd anger or market saturation. Why would you see this film other than the fact that it's about Han Solo? What are you going to gain from it? What story are they even telling and why is it important? Ultimately the best I can come up with is that I want to see Donald "This is America" Glover as Lando, but I'm confident in YouTubing "Solo - all Lando Scenes" in three months. There's just no other compelling reason. Tarzan and Lone Ranger movies aren't inherently bad, but they can't gain seats just from name recognition. It's a total lack of freshness that's incredibly disappointing.

What do you think? Do you agree?

23 May 2018

First Impressions: Deadpool Dos

For no fault of its own, Deadpool 2 (2018) is actually dropping at a weird crossroads in cinematic history. What's the last great comedy you can remember? I mean, truly deserving, game-changing comedy? Like...22 Jump Street (2014)? Or maybe it's Deadpool (2016). Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016). But that made no money nor cultural impact.

2017 was really rough. Girls Trip (2017) gets the title without much competition and literally nothing else is memorable. Despite a lot of effort, we haven't seen much of anything in 2018. We have Game Night (2018) and Blockers (2018), but can we really talk about any of these films with the same breath as The Hangover (2009) or Bridesmaids (2011), or going back, a Billy Madison (1995) or Zoolander (2001)? No, we cannot.

So, it would appear that we're in a rough patch of comedy. The numbers and percentage of box office gross supports this as even promising stars like Melissa McCarthy and Amy Schumer have headlined pretty awful bombs in the past month. It seems difficult for anyone to truly breakout and make a run of high-concept mainstream comedy films these days. Sandler is trying on Netflix, but they're all pretty bad and more importantly, wholly outside of the cultural conversation.

Into all this we get the curveball of Deadpool 2, which IS the mainstream R-rated comedy that we seem to be so desperately lacking. The pessimists would lament that even our comedy films these days have to be name recognition superhero movies that only work if we also really understand the cultural context of other superhero movies. It's like literally our only world is superhero films.

The optimist would say, who cares, it's funny. It's also surprisingly well-written. I always like to talk free from the burden of SPOILERS, so SPOILERS abound all through the following article. There are a lot of shocking moments, although considering most are either undone by the end of the film or simply happen in the first ten minutes, it's tougher to really spoil anything. Instead, there are plenty of jokes and cameos here that really deserve a first-time, unabashed viewing. So, if you're into that, go see it and come back. The Internet will still exist in the next two hours.

Welcome back! With a movie like this there are going to be obvious comparisons to the first installment, and in general comedy sequels have a difficult time re-creating magic. I talked about this way back with Anchorman 2 (2013, which I still think SURPASSES the original. I said it). In essence, comedy only works when you present this cognitive dissonance, a combination of surprise, recognition, the unexpected, and familiarity - all these seemingly competing ideas combine with timing and context to provide a vast array of possible scenarios that elicit a chuckle. Sequels, or doing the same thing over again, is inherently contrasting to the surprise, or cleverness necessary for comedy to work.

Maybe it's fair to Deadpool 2's success then that superhero sequels are generally better, because there is no need to be bogged down with an origin story or character introductions. Superheros generally work better when we just accept that they're ridiculous and we know we're here to just watch a bunch of costumed idiots slam up against each other anyway.

Sometimes, though, the only point is an origin story. This is also why many villains are doppelgangers of the hero - they work to both stay in the same world and create a counterpoint to the hero. That is, when examining the hero's origin and his or her choices, it enhances the theme to show the wrong path. Sometimes that works really well (Black Panther [2018]), other times it comes off contrived (Ant-Man [2015], Iron Man [2008], Doctor Strange [2016]). The best superhero films find a way to make their villain the inverse of the hero. The Dark Knight (2008) was so good in part because its villain both fit into the world and universe, added to the film's themes, and also provided a perfect counterpoint to the hero. Spider-Man 2 (2004) featured its villain as a spiritual counterpoint to the hero (Doc Ock, like Peter Parker, was dedicated to science, but in a fulfilling relationship with balanced responsibilities, victim of a scientific accident but without moral guidance, and powers that emulated Spider-Man's without being a direct copy - wall crawling, stretchy mid-range combat, strength, and agility. I could still write a whole Spider-Man 2 post). This is a really long tangent, but also circles back to Deadpool 2 because its villain introduction revitalizes the film.

See, I don't think 2 is as good as Pool in terms of jokes. It doesn't have that unbelievable kick to the dick that the first one did, not does it really exist in as perfect of a realm between our world and Deadpool's, where Hugh Jackman, Ryan Reynolds, and 20th Century Fox are all things that Deadpool somehow knows about. There is some of that this time around, but we get the schtick. How many movies full of Hugh Jackman jokes can we really have? It's all kind of one note. Deadpool might be better served to check in on the development of superheros ten or twenty years down the line rather than right now. Sure we get some updated Logan (2017), Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), and Infinity War (2018) jokes, and they all land when you understand context, but that's not really sustainable. Instead it's more meta recognition that's become the only lens for understanding films. Fucking Ready Player One (2018) again.

Where the movie succeeds, though, is the long winding path through character interactions, where everything everyone does has a motive, a causal relationship, and consequences. It's actually amazing. Cable, the main villain turns into an ally. Firefist, an ally turns into the main villain. The fucking Juggernaut! Sorry, I just got excited for that song, which is perfect in every perfect way. Cable is a brilliant counterpart to Deadpool (and has been for nearly thirty years now), because he's the total opposite personality - dark and serious, but they also both really love guns. You can see that in the final battle (naturally, Deadpool has to comment on it) when their fighting is so in sync and they become best friends.

Likewise, Firefist is a great kid sidekick (nice to see The Hunt for the Wilderpeople [2016]'s Julian Dennison again - no Taikia Watiti THOR: Ragnarok [2017] reference? Maybe even that was too deep). Both he and Deadpool learn across the movie about themselves - Deadpool not to be so much of a dick to everyone around him, and when he's able to overcome this and reach Firefist (shades of the Rainmaker in Looper [2012] here. See, I can make references, too) and prevent his dark descent, it's a truly cathartic moment. The fact that that moment is undercut with jokes is less distracting than in some Marvel movies because we're not really meant to take the whole movie seriously.

The only time this really doesn't work is the opening, where yeah, Morena Baccarin's Vanessa dies. Celine Dion's "Ashes" (which is actually an original song, done so well you could swear it's a kitschy 90s ballad and one of her old hits - totally should win an Academy Award) comes in and there's a doofy James Bond-style opening, which doesn't feel right. Again, the film is aware of this, and the opening credits agree with our jaw-dropped feelings. Seriously, "Directed by One of the Guys Who Killed John Wick's Dog" is spot-on. In addition to this being an unfortunate 2018 fridge-stuffing incident it seemed painfully clear that a Deadpool movie doesn't know what to do with a girlfriend. Vanessa was gone for most of the original before becoming a damsel in distress. While it is the best way to put Deadpool down this depressed, suicidal path, since this was the only thing he really cared about, and greatly fuels his desire for death which becomes a major theme as he is able to accept this and repair himself and his relationships to others, it left a sour taste in my mouth.

To some extent Deadpool 2 does the same as its predecessor, where it will do something lazy or tonally off, then point it out in an attempt to wink at us and let us know they're in on the joke. This film actually does a better job of rising above still proceeding with the tropes as Deadpool did, which really still followed beat-by-beat a superhero film while winking at us. There's quite a bit more to this film derived from its complex character interactions, genuinely engaging action scenes, and again the facts that the jokes work enough that everything is smoothed over. Still, things like "Here's a CGI fight!" followed by a big CGI fight is more surface-level pandering than digging in and solving a trope in a unique way. It's still better at this point that having a mindless crappy CGI scuffle, but it also leaves me wondering if we can ever again have sincerity in our films. I had this idea when watching Blood Fest - horror films are so victim to tropes these days that their only way out is to expressly call them out.

There's a lot else this movie does really well. The assembling of X-Force and summarily dismissal of nearly the entire crew is hilarious, if not a total rip-off of MacGruber (2010). I've really reached a point where no reference can get by me. It's still an impressive cast of Terry Crews, Bill Skarsgard, and Brad Pitt, and their deaths are also both clever in a Final Destination-sort of way, foreshadowed by the high wind advisory (which Deadpool's irreverent personality dismisses), which is made funnier because it's the kind of innocuous comment you wouldn't take seriously, even when it's brought up again. It ALSO adds to Zazie Beetz' Domino character in both seeing her unique luck abilities and personality on screen. There is a lot going on here, and it's one of the reasons this movie works so well at the intersection of action, plot, character, and comedy. Beetz is also fantastic here.

We should probably talk about the ending. Apparently even Ryan Reynolds thought it was cheating a little. So yeah, this movie is all about Deadpool learning to cope with his inability to save the love of his life while simultaneously being literally incapable of dying. At the end he's finally granted death, but Vanessa sends him back because he needs to learn to accept others into his life and not just her. In thirty seconds during the end credits, though, he goes back in time and saves her. This actually undoes the entire movie, and seems like a tacked on, hokey ending. I mean, even Conker's Bad Fur Day knew how to employ this the right way to hit you in the gut. Again, my obscure references are on point.

Excising Ryan Reynolds of his personal demons from X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and Green Lantern (2011) are also inspired. I mean, we have Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool shooting Ryan Reynolds in the head and MY head exploded. Yet, not a single reference to Blade: Trinity (2004). I mean...Thundercunt. There was a subtle moment earlier actually, where the current Deadpool does what the earlier Deadpool was most famous for - deflecting bullets with katanas. Here of course, he's riddled with bullets anyway, which shows his real superpower. Was I also the only one who really wanted a Two Guys and a Girl reference. Maybe through Traylor Howard some work, she ain't doing shit anymore.

As I reflect on this post, it's amazing I haven't dwelt more on X-Men lore. It was great to see the fore First Class mutants super briefly, and the idea that we never see them in a Deadpool movie because they're actively avoiding Deadpool is kind of amazing. It's also an interesting concept to re-tool Juggernaut away from this (which listen, The Last Stand [2006] is rough, but Vinnie Jones is alright), and make him more comic accurate, which also got me thinking that between him and Colossus, these characters really are finally standing on their own, totally separate from the need to even have a recognizable actor play the role. Or frankly, even an unrecognizable actor (Juggernaut is credited as himself, although the voice is actually Ryan Reynolds). One day everything will be CGI and we won't have any actors at all. Cool beans.

What did you think? Are you down with the pool? What do you think about the intersection of comedy, meta, superheroes, and Two Girls, A Girl, and a Pizza Place? Leave a comment below

21 May 2018

Summer Jam 2018 Week 2! Girls and Boys

Welcome, loyal pop audiophiles to the second week of summer - and boy has it been a cold, dumb, rainy one so far. We've got lots more jams along with more of the same crap from last week. Truly this is an age to behold! Let's just dive in.

Hot Jam of the Week: "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" by the Backstreet Boys

Yeah, so this is the first new BSB song in like twenty years, I had to let it drop here. Although they really aren't Backstreet Boys anymore, more like Backstreet Men. It's amazing, I would never listen to a group called Backstreet Men. That's not right. I'm kind of blown away by how un-notable this track is, they seemed totally comfortable to settle on the most generic song ever instead of anything that acknowledges a legacy or comeback. Also, are they still like, trying to chase girls and sing about having their hearts broken? You're 40, bro.

"Girls" by Rita Ora ft. Cardi B, Bebe Rexha, and Charli XCX

This is a little known fact, but this is actually the exact opposite of boys. Of course, Charli XCX already covered that. I do dig how this jam features every hot female artist of the moment and they come together pretty well. The track is fun enough if not exactly revolutionary or groundbreaking or anything. I'm down.

"The Middle" by Zedd, Maren Morris, Grey

This is another song that I can never remember either the name of or the slew of artists involved. It's actually remarkably restrained for a big EDM pop ballad with a really confident beat drop. It's also incredibly old, and we're still seeing it ride its big wave but it ought to die down pretty soon.

"Nice for What" by Drake

This song returns, under the radar again, but it's actually got a nice beat and flow to it. Do you think that Drake has crossed a boundary from rap into pop yet? It's totally plausible. This jam is actually better than I've given it credit for in the sense that it's really listenable and engaging, but I also don't necessarily think this will become an immortal track that we always think about in tandem with 2018.

"Chun-Li" by Nicki Minaj

I had "Barbie Tingz" last week, although this is definitely a better song. Nicki performed on SNL this week and this track has also been around for a while. It's kind of grown on me lately, and although there seems to be an artificially generated feud between her and Cardi, by all means they appear to be friendly. Although this film is hella assertive towards her rap dominance. I don't totally get why she's into Street Fighter, and there is some awkward appropriation here that doesn't make sense, but the beat is hot.

"Never Be the Same" by Camila Cabello

The hardest challenge every week is remembering how many "L's" are in both Camila and Cabello. This track is still just taking off and I think could have some legs, although may not ever reach #1. I get the feeling it's a perennial runner-up kind of song rather than one that truly captures some zeitgeist. It will probably inch up here or there, but I've definitely got my ears on it for now.

"This is America" by Childish Gambino

This was a tough call to not be #1, but I also feel like it's dropped a little bit, at least in its novelty. It's still dominating a lot of pop conversation, but the bigger question now is if it can last sonically. Even though it IS a very listenable song, it's hard to divorce that from the political implications. Like, would you play this at a wedding? Is it even comfortable to dance to? I mean, that distracting minstrelsy is the whole point. It's designed to make you uncomfortable. Can it still be a hot jam that way? Well, until it truly dies down, we'll list it pretty high.

"No Tears Left to Cry" by Ariana Grande

For some reason it took me a while to put it together that this song was about the Manchester concert massacre last year. That certainly adds a bit of weight to this jam in addition to it being a fantastic song from every level from Ariana's vocal prowress to the juicy beat. It was kind of every where this week, including this fantastic and surprisingly good-sounding Nintendo Labo performance.

Next week...

There was a shitload of new music that dropped this week, from Meghan Trainor to The Weeknd. It was all pretty shitty, though. I think the top three jams here will last for a bit, at least until something hotter drops sometime in June. What are you listening to this Summer?

18 May 2018

The Deadpool 2

That'd be fun, right? Clint Eastwood.

Oh, Ryan Reynolds.

Since I'm a living, breathing asshole, I was a big fan of Deadpool (2016). I was never super super into his character, not only because the 90s Deadpool is totally a man without time (about as cultural influential as The Last Action Hero [1993], and come to think of it, the exact same thing), and not really that kid-friendly anyway. It takes a build-up of cultural understanding to see why Deadpool is even funny and on top of that you need to appreciate both a lot of X-Men / Comic Book / Hugh Jackman lore AND both extreme violence and hard-R rated comedy.

It's like a Gift from Cable
You'd think that'd be a lot, but Deadpool is the #1 X-Men movie of all time. By like $130 million. Throw in inflation, whatever, it's still on top. It hit that perfect nexus of meta-commentary on the superhero genre, a starved year for good comedy, and a sarcastic, reflexive cultural kick to the ass that is appealing to an evermore jaded youth population. I made the mistake of going to a Sunday afternoon 4:20 showing of Deadpool in an isolated college town. That theater was packed and they were INTO it.

And good for Ryan Reynolds. We had been trying to make Ryan Reynolds happen for decades now. The irony is that this movie worked in part because it had free reign to make fun of both the X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) Deadpool and Green Lantern (2011). In that way, the movie puts its arm around you and says, "Hey, we know this whole thing has sucked and is kind of stupid, but WE'RE here to have fun." Ironically, this helped the film connect with audiences.

It's also a damned shame that Fox's X-Men, who were JUST cresting the really weird and bold wave with Deadpool, Logan (2017), and The New Mutants (2019) is now all Disney. Somehow they still crank out shitty X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)-kind of flicks, and in the insane world we know live in, X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) is a February release and Deadpool 2 gets mid-May. What the hell is going on.

Anyway, a sequel was a given, and here we are with Deadpool 2. Domino and Cable are welcome additions, even if it's weird to see Josh Brolin in his second huge comic book role in four weeks. #JonahHex2. It helps Deadpool because it's adding more from his comic book canon, which is plenty welcome after nerd audiences were screwed over for years, not so much in changed source material, but in the sense that producers seemed kind of ashamed of the pulpy source material. Cable's seriousness has always been a great contrast to Deadpool's cheekiness, especially since they still both like killing a lot.

With all our Donald Glover talk, we should talk about
fellow Atlanta star Zazie Beetz and how that cast
is now just taking over all movies.
Where's LaKeith Stanfield in The Incredibles 2
Deadpool 2 faces the difficulty that all comedy sequels face. They've already shot their wad on the high concept, riffed on every obvious facet of that premise, and in this case, exhausted the anticipation of seeing a proper Deadpool adaptation on the big screen. This film has the added difficulty of no longer being an underdog. The budget is far higher, the director changed, and the entire cultural conversation around the character is far more overblown. All these aspects contributed to the grimy feel of the original. Deadpool is a flexible enough character to acknowledge these changes, with plenty of room for fourth-wall breaking, but that's also difficult to sustain for an entire film.

The major issue with Deadpool was that although it commented on and made fun of many superhero tropes, it structurally didn't actually diverge that much from a superhero movie. I felt the same way with 22 Jump Street (2014), which seemed to constantly announce that it knew what tropes it was making fun of, but didn't actually shift any of those tropes to create a new narrative in a meaningful way. This is the issue with making meta movies that only exist as regurgitation making fun of pop culture. And yeah, both these films ARE really funny, and they get a pass because the jokes land more often than they should, but the core concept of inviting us behind the curtain falls flat.

Deadpool succeeds in its irreverent tone, effortless attempts at cool confidence, and the charisma of Ryan Reynolds. I am interested to see what a Deadpool 2 does with some pressure - will they double down on the things that made it ridiculous or pull back? It's still a breathtakingly rare exercise in blockbuster filmmaking. The amount of R-rated action superhero comedies are...well, Deadpool. That's it.

Now, how can Deadpool fit in with the main Marvel Cinematic Universe now that they're all under one house...he does have a storied history with Thanos... At any rate, I'd expect Deadpool 2 to unseat Infinity War (2018) this week, but it's in a tough spot between that and Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018). I think those nerds overlap. Right? It's still oblique possible that Solo bombs, although to be honest, the mainstream public who either doesn't know about the behind the scenes turmoil or doesn't care won't really be affected. I'm getting ahead of myself. The point is, normally these would be very different audiences, but that may not even be the case anymore.

What are you seeing this weekend?

14 May 2018

Summer Jam 2018 WEEK 1!! America!

Are you ready, folks?

Seriously - are you ready for this?!

Once again we bring you what is by far the least popular column around here - the Summer Jam Countdown. We have officially declared this past week the first week of Summer, and we'll go all the way until Labor Day counting down the hottest tracks in Donald Glover's America. This is somehow our ninth year doing this crap. We've got seventeen weeks to see who will be crowned true Summer Royalty.

You may ask yourself, "Why?" Why should we care who has the hottest summer song? Well, summer's the best, that's why. We engrave in stone whoever's track can be THE memorable jam of 2018 and forever be indebted to their pop greatness. Let's dive in:

Hot Jam of the Week: "Barbie Tingz" by Nicki Minaj

This song is awful. But boobs. It seems like Nicki is having trouble finding her voice after being a few years removed from her peak popularity. I don't think this song is all that popular or even has much of a chance at gaining ground this summer. Boobs.

"Nice for What" by Drake

The #1 song in the country according to the Billboard Hot 100, which is more untrustworthy than ever, considering that Post Malone somehow has eight songs in the top 25. I haven't even heard of 80% of these. Drake sometimes flirts with greatness, and this song is alright, but not something I think will change anybody's life. "God's Plan" was better, but this has a nice rhythm.

"Look Alive" by BlocBoy JB & Drake

Does Drake feel like he's really popular right now? No, right? This is a song I've heard a bunch but couldn't really place. That feeling seems to have taken over a lot of pop music right now. We'll get into more of this as we go, but it's as if anyone could have written these songs and they're all interchangeable. Whats that you say? Pop has always been like that? That's definitely true.

"Meant to Be" by Bebe Rexha ft. Florida Georgia Line

This song is basically a dinosaur. So old. But at the end of its pop lifetime it's still a significant jam and I def hummed along to it this week. Rexha is a decently underrated pop artist, it's as if she tries really hard but nobody cares about her. That's only because she's one of those interchangeable artists with no voice of her own. This song stands out enough as a crossover hit, and even I like it, which is crazy, because I typically can't deal with country music on any level.

"The Middle" by Zedd, Maren Morris, Grey

Zedd is that EDM guy, right? I remember "Clarity" with him and Foxes. I must sound so old. Almost as old as that Bebe Rexha song. This is nice track, though, but I haven't been able to place the voice for weeks. I suppose that's because it's Maren Morris. Or Grey. What the hell. This is totally factory-produced assembly-line music, but the irony is...does it matter? I tap my feet. Isn't that the goal. Are we spiritually or substantially lessened because of this kind of mindless ephemeral pop? These are bigger questions than a cheeky countdown column should handle. I'm telling you - one of our least popular pieces ever.

"No Tears Left to Cry" by Ariana Grande

I love how secretly popular Ariana Grande is. Like, we don't really talk about her in the same conversation as a Britney or a Rihanna yet, but that totally ignores the fact that she's #14 on Twitter and a video as random as "No Tears Left to Cry" has 146 million views in three weeks. The track itself does a nice job bouncing between pop and ballad and really shows off how great of a singer Grande actually is. This jam is fresh enough to do some damage and may be around this summer.

"Never Be the Same" by Camila Cabello

It's hard to even remember her role in Fifth Harmony, which I'm sure is music to Camila's ears. This is another jam that's been in my ear for weeks until I realized it was Cabello's follow-up to "Havana" which is still popular enough it could be here on its own. The beat's kind of whack, but like "No Tears Left to Cry," it finds nimble ground between innocuous jam and power ballad, which is all on Cabello's voice. It's got room for legs these next few weeks.

"This is America" by Childish Gambino

I first saw this and thought automatically, "Cool, that's my Hot Jam!" No. No no no, this is THE jam. It's just starting to get wary radio play, but there's no video this year that's caused more a stir or been such a sudden political, cultural, and musical movement. Let's just embed it too:

More qualified people than I have written about the symbolism, and at any rate I think it's pretty straight forward, which makes the video even more powerful. Sonically and structurally it's amazing and contradictory and thematically solid and concise. You've got to hand it to Donald Glover for already having the best week of anyone this year - coming off a recent SNL hosting while also starring in the critically acclaimed TV show Atlanta, having this video, and uhh...a little thing called Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) dropping in a few weeks. If that wasn't enough he also did some writing on Black Panther (2018). If that wasn't enough enough, you've got to remember he's voicing Simba in next year's Lion King re-make, which if you're counting, makes him a contributor to Disney's three main assets right now - Star Wars, Marvel, and live action remakes of their own animated films. How they let him churn out "This is America" which is totally off Disney brand is beyond me, but I'm damned glad he found time to effortlessly drop this for us all.

Next week...

I'm curious when "This is America" may burn out, but I have a feeling it's just starting its run. As you can tell from the rest of the crap this week there's not much going on in pop music right now. Unless a Cardi B song can gain some traction (we really just missed the "Be Careful" wave), it's a rough spot. Stay tuned, loyal reader / listeners, for we have sixteen more of these to get through!

13 May 2018

Marvel WARS: Civil to Infinity

That's kind of a big war stretch, isn't it? A Civil War to an Infinity War. Anyway, I got to thinking far too hard about this the other day, but while I dug Infinity War (2018) a lot, in addition to it rubbing away a bit of what THOR: Ragnarok (2017) was about, it certainly steamrolled a lot of the core ideas behind Captain America: CIVIL WAR (2016). Some spoilers I guess here for Infinity War, and those other movies, too. When do we reach a point where we no longer need a spoiler warning? Like ten years?

The best way to do this is to split all the characters up. I want to do an exercise in tracking the ideology of each character in CIVIL WAR and how they change up through Infinity War, which means we won't really bother with Thor or Hulk or Shuri. Let's explore the backgrounds and reasoning each character had for siding the way they did, then what caused them to switch, because everybody switched. Team by team is easiest.


Tony Stark

In many ways this whole exercise has been a long drawn out character study over the course of eight movies. Marvel doesn't get enough credit for that. Stark begins as a fiercely privatized individual, who uses government contracts to become wealthy but is moreover a fan of limited intrusion into private property. It's really not until his experience in The Avengers (2012) where he truly realizes that there is a bigger world (and universe) around him and he can't be a lone gunman jackass anymore.

This continues through Iron Man 3 (2013) and Age of Ultron (2015) where he's continually haunted by guilt over mistakes he made out of either assholerly or his own hubris. I've kind of gotten into this before. Somehow eight years ago. This keeps building until by CIVIL WAR he's fully into government supervision and supports the Sokovia Accords. As the original superhero in this world (at least release-date-wise), he's had enough adventures to understand that his actions have consequences. Here's the best essay on that.

As he moves through Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) he also gains this mentor role, and it's fitting that Infinity War separates him from just about everyone he was in contact with during CIVIL WAR. It puts him in this difficult position where he doesn't have too many friends back on earth, but he continues his mentorship of Spider-Man, which leads to some real heart-breaking moments as Parker crumbles into dust. At the same time, he may be the best equipped to come back and defeat Thanos, both intellectually and tactically. This would be the ultimate redemption from his years of guilt and could possibly put a button on all that CIVIL WAR bad blood.


On the Peter Parker note, Spider-Man is on Tony's side not for any real political reason, but moreover because Stark recruited him, arguably without saying much about what they were even fighting about. This makes his role a little less interesting than the decisive nature of his flip-flopping and tide-turning in the comics, because Peter by his nature tends to be a street-level hero with big-time powers. That's part of what has made Spider-Man so appealing over the years.

His character on its own from what we see in Homecoming would likely more side with Cap if he was a little more mature and knew the stakes. It's clear he believes in his own independent, personal judgment and has issue taking orders from authority. There's a big gap in logic from the fact that Stark would ostensibly require him to sign the Accords, requiring him to submit to government authority while Stark continually tries to limit his involvement and abilities.

By Infinity War not much has changed, and it's notable that out of every character, Parker joins in the fray not because of any personal connection or mandated duty, but because he senses danger and knew it was the right thing to do. This is why we cry at the end, guys. In terms of ideology, he's largely undeveloped, and this makes him a nice character to cheer for.

War Machine

James Rhodes' desire to follow Stark here is a given - they're best buds, but it also makes a lot of sense with his character. He's always been duty-bound and loyal to his government. Perhaps more than any other character he represents the interests of the United States and already was that government agent that Stark refused to be in Iron Man 2 (2010). This...is actually the entire point of Iron Man 2. See how these movies build on each other? Shared universes are not just about throwing in Easter Eggs, it's about building a set of conflicting and interacting ideologies.

It's one of the biggest leaps, then, in Infinity War when Rhodes seems to abandon his duty to the Secretary of Defense Thaddeus Ross (when are we going to get a William Hurt-starring Red Hulk movie?). He does seem to side pretty quick with Cap, although that could be in part because his crippling injury in CIVIL WAR came from the friendly fire of Vision. It's possible that he became disillusioned with their petty strife and exhausted with their internal conflict. Generally the Marvel films are set in real time, which means they've had two years of being on the run. It's important to remember that he was a pretty core part of the team by Age of Ultron, and part of the new team by the end of the film. Considering that by Infinity War he's the only one left taking government orders, we can surmise his further disillusion.

I'd also hypothesize that since Vision's mind gem created the beam that crippled him, Rhodes knows firsthand the danger these stones possess. His sense of duty protecting others from having the same fat as him becomes a stronger motivation than his duty of taking government orders.

But anyway - one thing the MCU seems to run with is that an incredible amount of stuff happens in between these films that we don't see. We tend to land plop in the middle of adventures these characters have without much to fill us in in between. Infinity War clearly doesn't have time to jump into Rhodes' ideological shift, but it would be interesting to see a little more. He's also clearly bros with Falcon, and if you were hanging out with this man blonde white boys all day, I don't know how you couldn't be.


Speaking of not knowing what the hell is happening between films, what the hell, Vision? Him and Scarlet Witch shacking up together has always been a thing in the comics, but it comes off weird here, not only because Paul Bettany is 46 and Elizabeth Olsen is 29, but because we have hardly any indication at all in any previous movies that this was a thing. Also...android! Does he have a dick? Did Ultron build him a dick? Originally the body was built for Ultron to jump into - this means that Ultron built himself a dick. These are not good thoughts.

Vision's position comes from logic. He's always been about working together and ironically, even though he is a feeling-less android, his creation was very much a group effort by Jarvis, Tony, Bruce, Ultron, and Dr. Helen Cho. And Thor, I guess. He seems very deferential, and one who has no reason to doubt that a consortium of powers deciding the fate of the world would be worse than one man's judgment.

His defection between CIVIL WAR and Infinity War isn't really given a clear ideological background. I do think one thing is telling from the point I just made, however. The last shot of him in CIVIL WAR is him looking pensive, and playing with some chess pieces. Alone. Scarlet Witch is locked up. His side has mostly disbanded. He perhaps went through something similar to Rhodes, where he felt bad for his friends, especially with the guilt of his crippling his teammate. This may have landed a little harder if he had hurt, say Falcon or somebody, but it's clear that he did some android-soul searching and set out to find Wanda.

By Infinity War everyone seems to be turned around to Vision. Protecting him is Cap's number one priority and even when his crew defends him and Wanda from the Black Order in London, it's clear that they've been on the run together for a while. It seems as if personal stakes became more important than logical ideology, which again, makes perfect sense for a robot to have.

Black Widow

It's hard to remember that Black Widow actually pre-dates Thor and Captain America in the MCU. 2010, baby! She's been in six movies, somehow none of her own. While she debuted in an Iron Man film, she made her way more into the Captain America cadre. While her background as a shifty government spy who knows firsthand that institutions are not to be trusted, she surprises everyone by siding with Tony Stark. Even Tony is taken aback.

That clip has most of her rationale - but it comes from her background as a shifty, duplicitous spy whose main goal is survival. She sees this less in ideological terms than being realistic to their situation. To Natasha, this isn't a fight they can win and running from the government won't let them do anything. She's more trying to come out of this on top rather than directly siding with Tony's theories or guilt.

This is also why she defects at the end of the film. There's a slight indication that she may have been playing both sides the whole time or was a mole in Tony's side. She actually doesn't do all that much during the airport battle. She has a fun fight with Hawkeye here, is knocked around by Scarlet Witch, then doesn't show up again until she stops Black Panther here. This confirms with her natural renegade ideology, and by Infinity War, its clear she's been on the run with Team Cap since the end of CIVIL WAR.

Black Panther

T'Challa's motivation mostly comes from the fact that the Sokovia Accords helps him in the immediate aftermath of his father's assassination by who he thinks is Bucky Barnes. We'll get to Cap in a second, but as much as Cap is more personally motivated by protecting his friend, T'Challa is more personally motivated by capturing him.

That said, T'Challa is a government entity, being the King of Wakanda (technically at this stage still the Prince, since he didn't have any waterfall fights yet), and judging from Black Panther (2018), clearly relies on governmental systems to make the right decision. This of course also leads to one of the more difficult themes of Black Panther with Killmonger - where that system of tradition fails according to Wakanda's place in the world, when trust between the government and its people breaks down, and even questioning succession when the wrong King succeeds. T'Challa in CIVIL WAR is pre-all of this, and it makes a lot of sense he sides with Tony, even if it's more out of convenience than any personal affiliation.

By the end his personal vengeance subsides in part because he sees how much it had consumed Zemo, and how much it is currently consuming both Cap and Tony. His political ideology still aligns with Stark, but he extends an olive branch to other men that he sees have suffered. It's perhaps the biggest stretch that he takes in Bucky and Cap, more out of story convenience than anything else, because that tie is a vital link in Infinity War.


Captain America

As Tony basically switched from being pro-individual, he was drawn in to the government mostly because of his increased role as an influencer in this new age of superheros, Cap went in the other direction. It's important to note that most of the basis for his anti-government stance here comes from The Winter Soldier (2014), where it was revealed that the organization he had trusted and worked for, S.H.I.E.L.D., was in actuality covertly run by his greatest enemy, HYDRA. This makes him cautious to thrown down his independence and work for another organization again, even if it's the United Nations.

Could the United Nations secretly be a HYDRA organization? Well, this is comic books, so anything is possible. This core belief that his personal judgment is best, as arrogant as it might be (he's called out for this), is something that the film also ends up aligning with. In a cinematic sense, not only is this Cap's movie, but he's a guy we can use as a proxy for ourselves, meaning that we'd like to think that our own judgment in his situation would also be crystal clear. It's an ego movie on the part of the audience. It's what made me personally align with Cap, although there are many out there who aligned with Stark. It's clear that by Infinity War, most, if not every character has ideologically moved towards Cap's side (not like Stark went to get approval from the UN before engaging Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian), and it seems like only Stark won't admit he was wrong for personal reasons, but everyone else seems tired of taking UN orders and defects.

It's notable that Cap isn't actually entirely unreasonable. He comes very close to signing the Accords until he learns that Wanda is basically being kept prisoner as a human weapon of mass destruction. This is the final straw, the line that he can't cross. By the film's end when Cap's team is captured because the law has now deemed them criminals, it's clear that the strain of an outside force arbitrarily deciding who the bad guys are has taken its toll, and may explain why most of Tony's side ends up defecting.


Bucky is the crux of this film, and Cap's allegiance to him serves as a specific example of where the Accords fail. That it's an extremely personal reason for Cap only makes the story juicier. Bucky's position isn't based totally on ideology - he's almost more a MacGuffin, forced into this role from everyone else trying to capture him, used as a scapegoat for the Accords than anything else.

You've got to think that his personal ideology would align with his buddy Steve Rogers, though. He has every right to be distrustful of governments and agendas, as he was a popsicle tool for Moscow for the better part of seventy years. Even if he can't quite trust his own judgment yet, it's clear he'd be in favor of making his own decisions again.

This doesn't really change at all by the time Infinity War rolls around. He stands out as hanging out in Wakanda this whole time recuperating rather than parading around the world doing who knows what with Cap's team.


Sam Wilson, like the other black friend, James Rhodes, is really just going along with his white buddy's side. Like Rhodes, he's an army guy who you'd think would have more trust in the government and support the Accords. He went through the same crap as the rest of the Cap gang in Winter Soldier, though, and grew that same distrust of authority figures with shady agendas.

Now, I say all that, but Black Widow was there for Winter Soldier, too. I think Sam above everything else is loyal to Cap and ends up having this partnership with Bucky as well. Anthony Mackie has said that it's more about Sam being a blue collar guy who admires Cap's worth ethic more than Tony's billions.

That is the more accurate thoroughfare to Cap's team - they tend to be the more down to earth, gritty street-level heroes without extravagant powers. They're blue collar guys who think they know best and don't want no government telling them what to do. By Infinity War the Falcon's attitude hasn't changed and he's happy to continue doing his part alongside the remnants of Cap's team.


In that same article that quoted Anthony Mackie, Jeremy Renner said that Clint didn't really care and sided with Cap because he was the first to call and wanted to get home to his family quick. This doesn't really make any sense - Tony's side is clearly the safer side to be on and would have more family security. Tony even says so directly to Clint when he's behind bars at the end.

Instead, when Clint first sees the rest of the gang after rescuing Wanda from the compound, he implies that Cap is "doing him a favor," possibly meaning that he's sick of sitting on his ass watching is dumbass, bad-aiming kids grow up. He also says he owes a debt to Wanda, meaning he still wants to pay her back for her brother's sacrifice to save his life in Age of Ultron. Thus, secretly, Wanda is a crucial component for both Cap and Hawkeye's involvement in this fight.

Going back to the blue collar street tough part of the crew - Clint has always been on the edge, despite being a seemingly loyal S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. He's not really around much (like...in ALL OF Infinity War), but he's a character who's a little cutthroat but also loyal. We can learn the most about his stance as he chides Tony from a prison cell, angry that "the Futurist" acts like he knows what's best for everyone. It's clear Clint also trusts his personal independent judgment, especially for the sake of his family, and plays the spy game of mistrust and intrigue perhaps better than anyone.

Scarlet Witch

It actually took me until writing this to realize how pivotal a role Wanda has in this movie. She's far from just another solider. Her role stopping Crossbones' bomb from erupting on the street, but still detonating in the upper floors of a building sets the movie in motion, and perhaps more than any of the "street level" fighter heroes, her position as a being of immense power who is still learning how to use it, drives the Sokovia Accords. Her status as a dangerous immigrant also drives Hawkeye and Cap to distrust the government's interment of her. Finally, it's clear that by Infinity War she has also convinced Vision to give up a posh chess-playing compound life to tap dat ass.

Wanda's ideology, like Bucky, is therefore created more out of necessity than choice. She doesn't have the luxury to sit around and discuss what powerful government agencies will do with her. There's also a bit of hypocrisy in Vision when he basically says that the Avengers would act independently and protect her the same way Cap soon goes to protect Bucky. Her back is against the wall this whole movie.

In Infinity War she shines even more, proving herself in combat and characters even comment that she's underused. Like most of Cap's side, her ideology, especially as someone on the run and being hunted, is more drawn out rather than solved. But it's always hard to remember that she has power over the mind stone in part because she was created by the mind stone, being used by Baron Strucker in Age of Ultron. Damn that's an at-the-time unimportant footnote.


Finally, Scott Lang. Here we need to recall that he was recruited based on the Falcon's recommendation to take down the Russian HYDRA super soldiers in Siberia, not actually to join in the fight. See, it's always tough to remember the actual supervillain plot going on in CIVIL WAR, in part because that whole plot is actually a ruse to enable the real plot - Cap and Iron Man duking it out. Lang doesn't really have a dog in this fight, you can tell from how awkward he is and how he is just meeting everyone for the first time.

Still, you definitely need to think he'd be anti-government supervision considering that he's a career criminal who would rather duck from authority than submit to it. He is the other Avengers family man, though, and like Hawkeye gets a convenient excuse to sit out Infinity War.

What do you think? Did I get most of these right? Do you think Infinity War paving over most of the conflict in CIVIL WAR is kind of malarkey? Also, re-watching CIVIL WAR, damn this movie is sweet. There are many many subtle beats in keeping track of each character that totally reward thoughtful viewings.

08 May 2018

First Impressions: Infinity War

What'd I say? Raw emotional honesty? I'd like to push what this blog can do, but for now, let's just talk about Infinity War (2018).

Do I need to summarize the plot? You saw it, right? Actually, it's only sold about 50 million tickets so far, so chances are you didn't see it. Honestly, who is the person who went to the theater this weekend to catch Bad Samaritan (2018)? SPOILERS for this movie have been awfully precious and before I tell you that Dumbledore dies while gang-banging Drax and Carrie Fisher. I mean, what a Saturnalia.

Saturnalia was the first holiday I thought of for that joke.

We're definitely talking SPOILERS, though, because for this movie everything can be a spoiler, I know I wanted no details at all going into it, and I think I was rewarded, and after some careful thought, the only major theme here is Death and facing Death, so naturally the movie gets pretty ruined by any discussion of itself. We'll get into that more in a second, but let's start with some general cultural context:

Ahh - remember this fun scene
The great irony with crossover movies is that they're simultaneously sensational, but also very transparent in their effort to be sensational, which leaves the feeling kind of hokey. It's this idea, where you can tell the marketing is exasperated and fake. Where Infinity War succeeds, and I mean, really really succeeds is how little it cares about this. It wears its forced interactions and ultimate marketing ploy on its sleeve while moving so damn fast that we don't even have time to realize how hollow everything is.

Therein lies further irony. Is the art really hollow if it can disguise itself that well? Is that insidious or actually, frankly more difficult to pull off than a banal simple indie entry? I give this film a lot of credit for never once feeling its two-hour and thirty-six minute runtime. At the same time, however, this isn't actually even a movie anymore. It would make no sense without (most of) the previous 18 movies in this series. Infinity War does not and cannot exist in a vacuum. This is a brand. A cog. Perhaps just a piece of marketing. It requires incredible gumption to pull off, because it has an immense reliance on general populations being pretty familiar with all of the forty some-odd characters who make appearances here.

Could you see this without seeing anything else? I'm curious about our cultural osmosis. Even if you never saw any other film, do people know who Iron Man and Captain America are through just omnipresent commercials and billboards and Dr. Pepper cans? Do we get the general vibe? I kind of reflect on The Fast and the Furious movies. The first one I saw in theaters may have literally been Fast Five (2011), but in that ten years I had seen so many on TV, learned the general characters, heard from friends that I felt like I hadn't missed a beat.

Honestly, future filmmakers need to study this movie to understand peak efficiency. There is no bullshit here. There are a handful of moments that slow down and give some great character moments, but more than anything this movie knows how and when to move forward, when to care about development, when to trust the audience to put pieces together themselves, and when to cram an explainer line in somewhere. It has continued this idea of relying on the ridiculousness of its premise to just let other insane comic book elements pass by the wayside. Like, how does the Black Order keep showing up where the Stones are? Who cares, it doesn't matter. Isn't it nutty and fantastic for Iron Man to be on another planet, meeting and fighting weirdos? Let's quickly move on, we know the Guaridans. There's time for development, but then this movie wisely leans on the past ten years of development.

My first impression was that this film relies on plot over story. And there's so much plot. There are so many events that happen one after another without much in terms of an actual story, or at least a relatively simple actual story. In its own way, this is also what makes this movie work. There are so many characters off doing their own disconnected things, but they all actually tie into a remarkably simple idea - Thanos is acquiring the all-powerful MacGuffins from every other Marvel Movie, and the heroes need to stop him in a variety of ways. This structure shouldn't work, but it does. If your content is good, if it's distracting and iconic, it doesn't really matter what your structure is.

Some of this felt like checking off boxes on how these characters could run into each other, but it's all basically plausible. The Guardians check out a distress signal in Space - it's Asgard blowed up. Doc Strange seeks out Tony, Tony mentions Cap, Cap mentions Wakanda. It's a little forced, but the thrill of seeing all these disparate characters interact masks everything else. Seeing amazing team-ups of people we know would be friends, like Bucky and Rocket or Strange and Tony or Thor and Groot is fantastic. Besides its excess of plot, the best way to describe the feeling of watching this film is like watching your college friends meet your high school friends. Worlds are colliding! My favorite moment ever may be seeing Tony Stark left with Nebula at the end. That's the most amazing random team-up ever. I hope they hook up.

Instead of log-jamming the film, it wisely disperses all its characters all doing their own thing across the Universe, working towards one goal - stop Thanos. At that point we ought to chat Thanos, because he's the other element that unifies this film. He's the main character - the constant threat who is given plenty of his own moments, even if they somewhat come off as unearned, particularly his emotional connection with Gamora that's the crux of the film.

Thanos does a few important things. First, his goal drives the only major theme of the movie - death and how we deal with it. He also wins and therefore has a complete arc, which means that this is only a two-parter cliffhanger if you think he isn't the main character. He succeeds at his own goals, at great personal sacrifice.

Before we sink into that - because this film, as we noted before, cannot exist on its own merits and owes as much to its future as its past when examining it, let's quickly talk about Thanos' plan. He wants to balance out the Universe by killing half of it. In the comics this was to appease his crush on a personification Death itself. Here it's about overpopulation or some garbage It's kind of weak without the added insanity, but the Russos felt like adding personifications of eternal elements was one step they weren't ready for. I don't think you needed to actually have Lady Death as a purple-hooded Grim Reaper chick, but that general Death worship would have worked fine on its own instead of a kind of hokey and baseless reason for wiping out half the Universe.

We'll talk about stakes more in a second, but this film does do a wonderful job of setting up Thanos as the ultimate bad guy right at the beginning. It is actually kind of shitty that within the first thirty seconds Infinity War undoes the entire point of THOR: Ragnarok (2017) as Thanos obliterates the remnants of Asgard. All that "Asgard is a people, not a place" refugee message is wiped out. While this undermines his own movie, this does give Thor perhaps the most motivation to defeat Thanos, and it's fitting that he eventually comes the closest.

And that scene with Rocket is the best scene in any movie Thor has been in - or that Rocket's been in for that matter. You feel his loss so intensely. Ragnarok's tone never sat well with me for how deep and heavy its content was - Thor is still funnier here than he was in early Avengers films, but that tone is a little more relevant to how much he's lost in his life.

The intro is relatively simple. It's basically just The Worf Effect as Thanos quickly dispatches Hulk, who then remains scared for the rest of the film. I'd also be curious to see how this is rectified, but it's a nice convenient way to get Banner to shine in a way he often doesn't. What's more important is that this shows how brutal this movie is - there's no safety net. We might think that Hulk is the Avengers' ace that could at least go toe to toe with the big bad purple dude - Loki's "We have a Hulk" is a masterful callback, but then all expectations are subverted as he gets his ass kicked. We're immediately at a loss. It was crucial to get that fight out of the way and set up over two hours of realizing we're all boned.

It almost feels like a conspiracy theory that Marvel churned out dumb, disposable villains for ten years only so that Thanos can come in and be a really credible threat. His stakes are real, personal, and important on a Universal scale. It's as if there was this endless parade of doppelgangers and moustache-twirlers so Thanos looked better. Also I like the theory that Thanos made his move once the Ancient One, Odin, and Ego were dead.

Anyway - Death.

The big thing to note is that because of so much public outside knowledge we know that Death isn't permanent. Not only have characters continuously re-appeared in the MCU before (Bucky, Loki, Red Skull IN THIS VERY MOVIE - totally forced an unnecessary by the way), but we know there are Strange, Spidey, and Black Panther flicks coming down the pipeline. Like with most things, Film Crit Hulk sums this up the best when he says that as soon as we saw Black Panther turn to ash, we could call Marvel's bluff. That's the exact moment when we knew this was BS. We could buy most of these other characters dying, maybe permanently. If anyone is not going anywhere anytime soon, it's T'Challa, whose franchise by himself is the only one to make on its own money to nearly equal the Avengers crossover events.

There are plenty of ways around this - we have literal reality and time-controlling stones at play, along with plenty of theories, from the Ant-Man's quantum realm jumping in to the fray to the possibility that everyone's simply locked in the Soul Stone. That makes it feel like some earlier deaths like Heimdall, Loki, and Gamora could be permanent (unless of course that vision at the end is within the Soul Stone, where Gamora's soul is contained as well - at which point Guardians Vol. 3 (2020) comes out like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) trying to find their main character's soul in purgatory.

When we look at this, it's then hard to really feel the emotion this movie wants us to. There's this sideways glance we give our screens like "Okay, guys, whatever." We expected at least Cap and Iron Man deaths - the old guys who have been here forever and want out. Iron Man even still had a huge role in this film, and his one on one with Thanos was amazing. His nano-tech tech summon ability was a little stretch, it reminded me of DC's Cyborg or Metallo (see - I like DC, too). Anyway, the point is, that's a fine place to die, but if we look at his arc, it required a little more.

Ever since Iron Man 3 (2013), everything he's done has been driven by guilt. He needs Doctor Strange to sacrifice the Time Stone for his life (more on that in a bit), and then more importantly, needs to see Peter Parker die in his arms to seal this five-year arc of failing to protect the people he loves despite how advanced his tech becomes. It's hubris drawn out across five movies past his own trilogy ended, mostly because they make money, but it should also make his ending sacrifice (presumably) in next year's sequel to be more potent. Or maybe instead he will find some catharsis. We'll see.

In this way, the stakes become less about character deaths than how other characters deal with loss. We know there's more Spider-Man movies. That doesn't take away from Peter Parker terrified face turning into ash in Tony's arms. For their whole relationship Tony has tried to put limits on him, but he's proven Tony wrong. Finally, it's too late and Tony can do nothing to save him. We see this with Cap and Bucky, Rocket and Groot as Rocket loses his best friend again, this time knowing he won't grow back from a twig.

I don't totally get the idea that with no threat of death there's no stakes. We don't watch movies this way. When we're watching Die Hard (1988), we know it's not suddenly going to feature Ghost John McClane. Stakes are about challenges - we pretty much know that our characters are going to live. When they don't we get like, R.I.P.D. (2013) or something. Or when a character is nigh invulnerable like Superman, or to go the Ryan Reynolds route again, Deadpool - it's about setting up personal challenges for that character to face that don't have to do with dying.

So with Infinity War, it's less of "Will they'll be back?" than "How will they come back?" How will the surviving heroes deal with the death of their friends, unthinkable odds, a severe blow to motivation. How can they still be heroes when their main opponent has both the power and motivation to indiscriminately murder half the universe? Another way of thinking of this is that even though we know these new core characters are coming back, the characters in the movie don't know that.

Now, this is obviously me defending the film a little bit and making excuses, but the other side is easy. Its "this sucks." And maybe it does, that's fair, but doesn't require much thinking about what these films actually mean. Also, it's somewhat important to remember that not every audience member has that cultural context or obsesses over release dates. The guy I saw it with didn't even recognize the Captain Marvel symbol at the end. It's continuously crazy for me to remember that I'm always the nerdiest guy in the theater. I'm the one who shouts out "Adam Warlock!" at the end of Guardians Vol 2 (2017). My curse. My blessing.

For kids, especially this is a traumatic moment. And uhh...we should kind of remember that these movies should probably be reserved for little kids. Angry, over-analyzing adult nerds ruin these for everyone. FOR EVERYONE.

However, we are truly at a point where culture and corporations collide. We know more that these characters are returning because it would be financially irresponsible for Disney to keep them dead than anything else. That's our MAIN reason for feeling emotionally cheated at the end of this film. That's totally insane in its own way.

Tony's gettin upset!
As for the other characters, it was great to see Gamora as a huge lynchpin for this movie. She has her own role in the Guardians films, but hasn't really been the star until now. The other Guardians are all spot-on doing their things, and I love that as soon as we here "Rubberband Man" we know they're coming up. It's pitch-perfect stuff. The Captain America crew gets less screentime than I thought they would, and even though much of the latter third or so is set in Wakanda, the Black Panther crew definitely feels along for the ride rather than dealing with the ramifications of an alien invasion on their home turf (c'mon - they didn't even want to share with the White Gorillas a few months ago).

Despite this, Cap sums up what might be the film's thesis - the concept of a trading lives. Even though he says they don't trade lives, that happens for literally every stone Thanos gets, except the Power Stone, which we don't see. Loki trades the Space Stone for Thor's life, even though he's killed immediately after. Peter Quill attempts to mercy kill Gamora after Thanos acquires the Reality Stone, but Thanos prevents him. Thanos then sacrifices Gamora to acquire the Soul Stone. Strange trades the Time Stone for Tony's life. Finally, Scarlet Witch attempts to destroy the Mind Stone (killing Vision in the process), but Thanos reverses time and takes it himself, killing Vision. Thus, every stone is actually a life trade.

It's fitting that goody two-shoes Captain America's ideology proves the best direct counter to Thanos' philosophy. Cap is always about finding another way, the irony being that of course he just fights, because war is actually all he knows. I'd be curious to see this develop a little more.

As a side note, one other thing I did really enjoy was how clever the stones were. Movies aren't really clever anymore. Thanos uses each stone once he gets them, fully expanding his powers. He tricks his enemies and it's important how sequentially he acquires everything. Power and Space facilitate everything else. Reality more helps him cover his own tracks, but the Time stone is crucial to him getting the Mind Stone. Some of this is surely contrived, but it's damned fun to watch, and that's also what this movie is all about. And despite being all about death, this movie is also actually really funny. It's wonderful.

There are problems here for sure, and it's hard to find something really true that Infinity War is saying beyond a giant corporate promotion, but it's also so good and fun that we ignore that. We're all sheep I guess. For all this studio's talk about finality, it's also very clear that that's just extended a year, and even at that point we're not seeing any finality ever.
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