Tag Archives: Marvel Studios

A Summer of Movies, and New Name Too!

Hello again everyone!  I took an extended break after the final season of Game of Thrones, but I have returned to Cinema Grandcanyonscope!  Oh wait, I got rid of that name six years ago because of its wordiness, among other things.  Anyway, I’m bringing back a modified version of it.  Welcome back to Cinema Canyonscope!

Now that I have gotten that particular piece of business out of the way, the summer movie season wraps up in, well, it has wrapped.  An odd thing: we now have a “summer” movie season that really begins in the middle of spring and, for all intents and purposes, ends the first weekend of August.  If we loosely define summer as the period between the  summer solstice and autumnal equinox…oh no, I’m losing you, aren’t I?  Absolutely nobody cares that the summer movie season starts around Easter now, do they?  Well, this is no way to welcome you all back, is it?

Here are some highlights from Summer 2019 in movies. By “highlights,” I mean the movies I actually saw in a theater.

Avengers: Endgame

Is anyone else concerned that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has run out of steam, or at the very least, is currently running on fumes?  Old Endgame, lost of old, play and lose and have done with losing!  That’s the wrong Endgame – or is it?

I enjoyed Endgame, but the film had a disposable quality that I can’t shake.  Part of that comes from too much familiarity with the main characters, and by that I mean decades of comic book backstory.  

The comics weave complex tales filled to the brim with alternate histories, resurrections, and some of the most gonzo storytelling this side of a Phish concert.  The key point here is that decades of comic book lore written and drawn by wildly creative individuals developed dozens of complex and interesting versions of the Marvel characters.

In contrast, the folks behind the MCU have cherry-picked the elements of these characters that work best for a wide audience. This makes the Avengers movies wildly successful, so from a business standpoint, it’s absolutely the right move.

However, as a comic book fan reared on the wild comics of the 80’s and 90’s, I can’t connect the main characters in the MCU because I already feel more connected to different, more complex versions of the same characters.

Spiderman: Far From Home

Case in point: I like the 90’s, thirty-something, broke, tired Spiderman a lot more than I enjoy Tom Holland’s portrayal of the character.  Holland acts well considering what he’s given, and, after all, a young actor like Holland just does what he is told to do, so it’s nothing against him.  The Spiderman I grew up reading about had an edge to him, and that, to me, made him much more relatable than a Spiderman who, let’s face it, is more Dick Grayson than Peter Parker.

Like Grayson, MCU Parker has a wealthy, somewhat misanthropic benefactor with tons of gadgets.  That alone ruins the central and defining aspect of the character.  Parker is supposed to be an everyman superhero.  I mean, c’mon, in every iteration of Parker except for the MCU version, he actively avoids fighting with the Avengers, or any group really.  Who are his closest hero allies?  Certainly not Iron Man or Captain America, but other grinders like Daredevil.

I have read countless hot takes on how refreshing the MCU Spiderman movies are for not killing off Uncle Ben.  While we certainly don’t need to see the gruesome murder of family members in every iteration of the character, the fact that it’s not even mentioned causes problems.  MCU Parker does not feel the same weight on his shoulders, he does not fully understand the great responsibility that goes with great power, and the attempt to ret-con that into his character in Far From Home does not work for me.

That said, it was a fun movie to watch.  See, I’m not all negative about it!


Which one of these is not like the other ones…let’s see…superhero movie….superhero movie….superhero movie…aw man!  Actually, never mind, in Rocketman, the hero is real!

The world knows present-day Sir Elton John as a pillar of his London community, a philanthropist, a family man, a model citizen in every respect.  The man has a “Sir” in front of his name and scored a Disney movie (well technically two Disney movies, but let’s not get into that)!  But it wasn’t always this way, it wasn’t always this way at all.

I’m not saying that Rocketman is a classic of modern cinema by any means. However, the true, if not entirely factual, story of Sir Elton’s triumph over addiction inspired me to revisit Sir Elton’s music. Watching the Avengers triumph over Thanos or watching Spiderman triumph over Mysterio inspired me to do absolutely nothing.

Overall, I enjoyed all three movies I saw in theaters this summer while I was watching them. Afterwards, the Marvel movies just didn’t resonate with me. I can’t blame super-hero fatigue entirely, although I am concerned for the MCU’s future. After all, as I mentioned above, isn’t Elton John a real-life superhero?

As Aristotle once wrote, spectacle ranks as the least important element of drama. With few exceptions (Iron Man (2008), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Black Panther (2018)), the MCU emphasizes special effects over character development. As the MCU moves on from characters in the “popular among comic fans but not well known to the general public” category to the “obscure even to comic book fans” category, character development will become more important than ever before.

In the meantime, to paraphrase Sir Elton’s best friend and go-to lyricist Bernie Taupin, you can’t keep me in your special effects penthouse, I’m going back to my character development plough.

(C) 2019 D.G. McCabe

2018: A Noisy Year, and Time for Changes

I’ve been writing the same, tired “Year in Review” article for a few years now. With the exception of one particularly creative dive into Boethius, admittedly a deep track reference if there ever was one, these write ups have been unremarkable and, I confess, lazy.

I’ve been doing this blog for almost seven years now. I don’t think our pop culture discourse has ever been noisier. It also, has never been less creative.

I read the same article about the same movie probably four or five times, every time. The assessment of film has become of an inescapable groupthink, which more often than not settles on analysis that is an inch deep and a mile wide. This problem isn’t unique to film, it’s in writing about television, sports, politics, basically all of journalism. We’re drawn to the hot take, the short article, the snarky humor, the bland repetitive analysis.

So what does this have to do with the state of popular culture in 2018? After all, 2018 was the year that brought us the best superhero movie (Black Panther), the best series finale of a television show (The Americans), Spike Lee’s return to form (Blackkklansman), and Steven Spielberg’s return to blockbusters (Ready Player One). The year’s biggest movie, globally, was the culmination of a massive series of films the likes of which we haven’t seen before (Avengers: Infinity War). These are real achievements, but something about them feels hollow. That isn’t right.

Film is about images. Roger Ebert understood this and repeated it often. What is lacking from the conversation is how those images make us feel. What they mean. In the moment, and more importantly, in the next moment.

Everything isn’t meant to be compared to everything else before it. With so many legacy movies, series, and filmmakers out there, we’ve been obsessed with just that – legacy. Legacy before the ink of history is even dry. This constant comparison makes art disposable. The art isn’t appreciated for what it is, but for how it measures up to other art. This, in case I’m not being clear, is a bad thing.

You could write about Blackkklansman and compare it to Lee’s earlier work, or you can talk about how Lee uses the film as a sledgehammer to shake the audience out of complacency. You could knock Spielberg as overly nostalgic, or you could point out how he uses nostalgia as a tool to reveal the humanity of an artificial world in Ready Player One. Black Panther is many things to many people, but instead of writing about what everyone is talking about, you can look deeper and see how and why Ryan Coogler’s best shot is when Killmonger walks into the throne-room. Ignore the noise – what does art mean to YOU? That is what I’m to endeavor to answer in the future.

That brings me to what’s changing on this page going forward:

1) I’m not writing traditional reviews anymore. See a movie or show, or don’t. I’m going to be writing about my impressions beyond simply answering whether art is good or bad.

2) Historical context needs time to develop. A new rule: a film or series needs to be at least five years old to have its influence discussed, ten to be understood, thirty to be fully appreciated.

3) I’m changing up the format a bit and working on a few other changes. It’s time.

4) I’ll still do Game of Thrones and maybe other Power Rankings, but I’ll be more thoughtful about a character or group’s story in the broader context.

5) I’m going to write about more random topics. I like to do that.

Thanks for sticking with this experiment that I started in 2012. I’ll do my best to continue making it worthwhile.

D.G. McCabe

December 21, 2018

(C) 2018

Black Panther (2018): T’Challa’s Character Arc

Instead of writing a traditional review of Black Panther, I’m going to dive right into some analysis.  Before I get into spoilers, here’s a link to the trailer for the movie:

A good amount of pixels have been spent praising Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Erik “Killmonger” Stevens in Black Panther.  Killmonger is one of the most interesting characters in any Marvel film, and Michael B. Jordan is one of the finest actors working today.  One of the things I like the most about Black Panther, however, is that the compelling antagonist doesn’t overshadow the protagonist like it does in numerous other superhero movies (e.g. The Dark Knight (2008); Spiderman: Homecoming (2017); Batman (1989); Superman II (1980)).  T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) journey is every bit as interesting as Killmonger’s.

On the surface, Wakanda is a utopia, but below the surface lies a troubling adherence to traditions that cause most of the problems in the movie.  To move forward, Wakanda needs a leader who will dispense with tradition when those traditions no longer make sense.  T’Challa becomes that leader by the end of the movie, but it takes some work to get there.

In Captain America: Civil War (2016), T’Challa dips his toes into breaking with tradition.  At the beginning of Civil War, he has already taken on the role of the Black Panther even though his father, T’Chaka (John Kani), is still alive.  He makes alliances with outsiders in Civil War, but notably, this is done to bring his father’s murderer to justice.  In other words, the alliances are meant to temporary at first.  The fact that T’Challa extends these relationships beyond their initial purpose shows that he has some flexibility as a character.

During the first part of Black Panther, we see T’Challa largely following in his father’s footsteps.  He performs in the same rituals as his father did, and fails to bring Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) to justice just like his father did before him.  This makes sense.  T’Challa has been raised to continue on a thousand-year old tradition.  Breaking with that tradition does not come easily to him.

What T’Challa learns, however, is that being flexible with tradition bears fruit, while following established protocol for no other reason than “this is how it’s done” leads to problems.  He spares M’Baku (Winston Duke) in trial by combat, which leads to an alliance later.  In contrast, when he fails to question whether trial by combat is such a great idea to begin with, he temporarily loses his throne to Killmonger.

The turning point for T’Challa is during his second visit to the ancestral plane.  While he is angry at his father for abandoning his nephew (Killmonger) on the streets of Oakland, when he tells the previous kings that they were “all wrong,” he isn’t doing so out of anger.  T’Challa realizes in that moment that following the old way, with its isolationism, trial by combat, and rejection of outsiders has failed in its essential purpose.  While these conventions were established to keep Wakanda safe, they have instead made it vulnerable.

Had Wakanda not kept the tradition of trial by combat alive, Killmonger would have not ascended to the throne.  If T’Chaka had just taken his nephew in as a child in the first place instead of rejecting him as an outsider, there would have been no Killmonger.  If Wakanda hadn’t kept itself isolated, and helped the peoples of the African diaspora throughout history, there would have not have been anyone like Killmonger.  T’Challa realizes all of this before the end of the movie, seeks to learn from the mistakes of the past, and plans to build a better future.

This is for the best.  An isolated Wakanda will do no one any good once Thanos comes around in May.

(c) 2018 D.G. McCabe



Avengers: Age of Ultron (Review)

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Directed by Joss Whedon, U.S. 2015

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is nothing if not an ambitious project.  Marvel Comic Books have decades of storylines and thousands of characters with hundreds of powers (there are quite a few duplicate powers in there).  Creating a true cinematic “universe” means spending a lot of time introducing new characters into new movies.

The best superhero film sequels typically spend very little time introducing new characters.  Both The Dark Knight (2008) and Spider-Man 2 (2002) take advantage of the fact that the origin story movie is over and throw us right into the action.  Other than the villains, there are no significant new characters in either movie.  For better or worse, a sequel to an Avengers movie has no such luxury.

Avengers: Age of Ultron  introduces a lot of new characters, and this bogs down the film a bit sometimes.  The more familiar you are with the Avengers comic books, the less the problem with knowing who all of these people are.  Of course this doesn’t help moviegoers who know the stories primarily from the movies.

Even so, Avengers: Age of Ultron is certainly in the top tier of franchise sequels.  It spends much needed time exploring the backgrounds of the characters from the first film (not all of the Avengers have the luxury of two or three stand-alone films to flesh out their characters), but does so in a way that doesn’t get in the way of the action.

Ultron (James Spader) himself is one of the better villains introduced in a comic book film.  In the Marvel Comic Book Universe, Ultron is the most dangerous primarily Earth-based supervillain (surpassed only by Galactus, Thanos, and the Phoenix Force overall), and the film’s portrayal certainly lives up to expectations there.  He is also hilarious at times, in a very dark and mad scientist sort of way.

Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t quite as good as its predecessor, but overall it’s a fine superhero film and a welcome addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

You might like Avengers: Age of Ultron if: You enjoyed the first movie, enjoy Marvel Comics and/or Marvel Studios films, and are looking for a solid, summer popcorn movie.

You might not like Avengers: Age of Ultron if: You find comic book movies annoying and/or confusing when they spend a lot of time introducing new characters.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe

Ranking the Marvel Studios Films So Far

In anticipation of this weekend’s release of the money-printing blockbuster “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” I thought it would be a good time to take a look back at the previous ten Marvel Studios productions and create a pointless ranking!  This should get us all through the next few hours until we see the new movie:

Not Ranked – Thor: The Dark World (2013)

I haven’t seen Thor: The Dark World, so I can’t rank it.  I’m sure I’ll watch it on basic cable someday, but the character of Thor has never been a big draw for me.  The comics I most enjoyed reading when I was growing up were the X-Men, Avengers, Captain America, Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Batman books.  Sure if a Thor book came in a package I would slog through it, but I never found his character particularly exciting.   Sorry Thor.

9. Iron Man 2 (2010)

Iron Man 2 isn’t a terrible film.  For a summer blockbuster it’s fairly average, and therefore suffers in comparison to Marvel’s other films.  The only thing that happens in it that’s so far relvant to any of the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) series is that it is the first appearance of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow.  It’s the least memorable, and least essential, film in the series.

8. Thor (2011)

I might be a little biased – as stated above – in my opinion of the characters and storylines of the Marvel Thor mythos.  That being said, the movie Thor was pretty disorganized and a bit of a mess as a film.  The Thor mythos is complicated, and trying to shove all of that exposition into one film made was problematic.  Still, it exceeded my admittedly low expectations.

7. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

Ed Norton made a great Bruce Banner, but I feel like he was wasted a bit in this film.  The problem was the Marvel decided to make a sequel to 2003’s poorly received “Hulk” instead of starting from scratch.  I would have rather seen Ed Norton as a younger, pre-accident Bruce Banner that dropping him in the middle of a story like they did.

6. Iron Man 3 (2013)

Tony Stark has problems.  Iron Man 2 scratched the surface of those problems, but the third film in the series does a better job of humanizing them.  Showcasing Stark’s issues here laid important groundwork for the direction the series seems to be heading with Friday’s Age of Ultron and the upcoming Captain America: Civil War.

5. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The MCU Series has done a better job of setting up Steve Rogers as a likeable character than his comic book series.  Rogers often comes across as a bit of a stiff in the comics, but the film version of the character gives him a great deal of depth and warmth.  The only reason that this one doesn’t get ranked higher is that I think it was a mistake eliminating the Red Skull as a threat so early.

4. Iron Man (2008)

Now we’re getting into semantics.  The top four films here could be ranked in any order and I would probably be okay with that.  Still, like any pointless ranking post, there must be winners and losers.  Iron Man is a fun, high quality film.  Since there are films that build on, and improve on, Iron Man in the MCU series, it has to be listed behind them.

3. The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers is a fine film and a landmark in serial film storytelling.  What it doesn’t, and can’t really, do is spend much time on the characters in the film.  It relies heavily on the characterizations established in the other MCU films, and for this practical creative decision, there are two films ranked ahead of it on our pointless, time-killing list.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

What sets Guardians of the Galaxy apart from the Avengers is that, for structural reasons, it has to spend a lot of time setting up its characters.  The story is pretty basic, even for comic book movie standards, but it does a better job of establishing a large group of characters than any other movie on the list.

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Winter Solider takes the characters established in the other MCU films and builds upon them, but it’s strength lies in its story.  The film deals with more complex themes than the other MCU films and is better structured than most of them.  It makes me look forward to the next Captain America film more than the Avengers made me look forward to this weekend’s release.

(c) 2015 D.G. McCabe