Eternals

I’ve often said that there are no bad movies in the MCU, with even the lesser-appreciated installments like Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World are more entertaining than the other poorly received films being tossed at us by the rest of Hollywood. Despite this, only one installment has ever been nominated for Best Picture at The Academy Awards – Black Panther. Arguably, this was less due to its quality and more due to it being the first mainstream superhero film led by people of color. Whether it deserved an award for that or if the awards mean as much as they used to are entirely different conversations, but the point remains that no superhero film has ever won Best Picture.

Enter director Chloe Zhao. Her drama Nomadland won Best Picture in 2021, after creating a lot of buzz on the Film Festival circuit, and she is a huge fan of Marvel the Eternals comics. So much so, that it was her who pitched the movie to Marvel Head Kevin Fiege, which was quickly given the green light. Oscar-nominated directors have directed MCU movies before (like Sir Kenneth Branagh with Thor and Joe Johnston with Captain America: The First Avenger) and Zhao wouldn’t win her award until after production on Eternals had wrapped, but she is still the first Oscar-Winning director in the MCU. So can her talent finally bring Best Picture to a superhero film? Can Eternals be the one to break that glass ceiling? Probably not… but why?

The plot centers on a group of supernatural beings, known as Eternals, who were sent to Earth to destroy supernatural monsters, known as Deviants. Their mission has long since ended, with each Eternal having gone their separate ways, but they must reunite when the Deviants return. The film has several issues, with one of the biggest being the pacing. In the span of 2 hours and 40 minutes, we are introduced to 9 brand new characters through both their past and present lives. Eternals is littered with flashbacks, which are either short and unnecessary (like with Phastos and the Atomic Bomb) or long and unnecessary (like with Sersie and Ikaris’ romance). These flashbacks provide a large amount of exposition which is already naturally deposited throughout the rest of the runtime, meaning that it becomes really tiring really quickly. Eternals even goes so far as having an opening text crawl which is, again, full of information we are about to learn anyway.

This opening crawl is part of a larger problem – the tone. Eternals feels like Oscar bait: a movie with complex themes and characters which practically screams self-importance, designed primarily to win Academy Awards. This aspect was only amplified by the marketing campaign which focused primarily on this film’s importance within the MCU. There’s certainly a conversation to be had about campaigns centered on hype and how it can ruin a film but, even without that, Eternals feels like it wants you to take it seriously. It’s not like other superhero movies. It is, as it happens, entirely correct to make such a statement… because other superhero movies are fun. Oddly enough, Eternals feels more like something that the ever-uncertain DC Company would put out. More specifically, it feels like a Justice League movie. There has often been an overlap in superpowers between the two companies, as after all, there are only so many powers to go around, but it’s really distracting here. Granted, it isn’t helped by DC releasing two Justice League films in the span of three years, but it certainly doesn’t help to casually refer to your Superman stand-in (Ikaris) as Superman.

This isn’t to say that Eternals isn’t noteworthy. The cast is predominantly made up of POC, and it also features a deaf character and a gay character, which is worth praising even if the characters themselves are not. The deaf character is in some kind of relationship with the resident narcissist-playing-God and the gay character is barely is given the passionate-kiss-for-if-I-die which is usually reserved for heterosexual romances, and which comes off as pandering. It doesn’t matter that there’s a gay character here if he’s barely utilised and if the plot is still primarily focussed on a straight relationship. It means even less when the straight couple gets a (passionless) sex scene before becoming a love triangle in a move so out of left field that it nearly knocked me out.

In all of this madness, there are a few saving graces. One is the relationship between Kingo and his valet, which is a delight to witness. Every time they are on screen they fill it with warmth and humour, to the extent that I was audibly annoyed when it became clear that they weren’t going to be present for the final battle. Then there’s the score, composed by Ramin Djawadi, which is grand and ethereal. It achieves the vibe that the rest of the film was going for, whilst providing the main theme for the characters which may be better than the one given to The Avengers. Much of the cinematography is equally grand. The semi-villain of Eternals is their creator Arashim, who is a Celestial (the closest thing in the MCU to God) and who is roughly the size of a solar system. His vast size and immeasurable weight are felt whenever he appears, which is no easy task. Some have claimed that Eternals looks better than every other MCU film, which I think is incorrect and downplays the cinematography in the rest of the MCU. Not each installment is brilliant the entire way through (looking at you Avengers Assemble) but each one has moments of gold.

Finally, we come to the inevitable moment in every MCU film – how it sets up future MCU projects. First is the introduction of Dane Whittman, who becomes the hero Black Knight in the comics, and is eventually greeted by the off-screen voice of the MCU’s Blade, long before his own film enters production. Not to sound straight, but in his brief screentime, Dane becomes one of the most charming, charismatic, likable characters in the MCU although it’s currently unclear what his future is. Then there is the introduction of Thanos’ brother Eros and his best friend Pip the Troll, portrayed by Harry Styles and Patton Oswalt respectively. There are plenty of things to discuss here: the introduction of trolls, the less than brilliant CG of said troll, why Eros looks like a human man, and where either of these characters will show up again. But the main point here is that Harry Styles (the best member of former boyband One Direction) is in the MCU. Sure, this might say more about me than anything else, but frankly, his presence is one of the best things about Eternals.

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

The Matrix Resurrections

You can’t be told what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself. These are some of the first words said to a fresh-faced Neo, by Morpheus, in 1999’s sci-fi phenomenon The Matrix. This is true both of the titular simulated world and the film centered around it. You can read the plot synopsis online, even read the script if you so wish, but you won’t truly know The Matrix unless you witness it firsthand. The themes, performances, sets, and soundtrack can be read about, looked at, and listened to but it is the culmination of all these aspects that makes The Matrix what it is. After a hiatus of almost 2 decades, it makes sense that The Matrix Resurrerections should be the same.

Set 60 years after Neo’s sacrifice in Matrix Revolutions, game developer Thomas Anderson (Neo’s simulation self) is having psychotic episodes brought about by memories suppressed by an AI known as The Analyst. Whilst working on a sequel to his Matrix videogame trilogy, he is freed from the simulation by a new cast of likable characters, before they attempt to rescue Trinity, whose memories are also being repressed. It’s a simple premise but the specifics of the plot are a tad more complex. As a whole, the film tackles the concept of legacy, in relation to both franchise creator Lana Wachowski and franchise owner Warner Brothers Studio. Watching Resurrections felt like watching an argument between the two, with Warner Brothers wanting a standard sequel and Lana wanting something that channels her emotions and experiences. Indeed, the film feels like a compromise between these two visions, like the film was going to go ahead without Lana and she channeled that frustration into the script.

So far, the film appears to be splitting audiences. Either the script is poor and the action is good or the script is good and the action is poor. Given how divisive both previous installments were, it’s almost comforting to see that Resurrections is too. “Comforting” is almost the perfect way to describe it. From the opening scene, which directly parallels the opening of the original Matrix, to the presence of Agent Smith, albeit in a different body. There’s a running theme of experiencing the same scenarios in a different body which feels like a much more obvious Trans allegory than the original trilogy. It’s clear how much of Lana’s own transition, especially in relation to her creation, is being explored here. As one of the most prolific directors of the early 2000s, her transition was never going to be a quiet affair and nobody will ever really understand how it affected her except for her. This author won’t speculate, but it can’t have been easy and I truly hope that she is happy not only with herself but with how Resurrections ended up.

The action is classic Matrix with a large amount of kung-fu and an equally large amount of gunfire. The violence is more weighted than in the previous two installments, due to Neo’s lack of practice and 60 years of taking the blue pill. It’s a miracle that his first fight with Smith doesn’t kill him, although he really cuts it close, only being saved by his new force powers. It’s a very cool power, and it’s great to see it finally making a debut after being considered for Reloaded, but it does feel like he’s found the one combo move that works and is continuously spamming it. Although, it does mean that Trinity gets to kick more ass than him this time around, which not only mirrors the original film but Lana as a person.

Where the film falters is in its pacing. The issue with seemingly having two films at play is that neither fully get the time they deserve. Many of the themes take a backseat for the majority of the action-packed third act and The Analyst, though an entertaining villain, lacks the looming presence of the original Smith. Even Smith, this time portrayed by Jonathan Groff, never takes up the amount of screentime that the character deserves. Although considering how little he feels like Weaving, many audience members may find this to be a relief.

It seems like the weakest elements in The Matrix Resurrections are ones controlled by the studio, although there’s every chance that that’s my bias showing. It’s also entirely plausible that this is how the film wants me to feel.

Is this film saying too much, or not enough?

Has Resurrections already decided your answer?

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Spider-Man: No Way Home (Spoilers)


Peter Parker is made to suffer. As a character, his relatability as the “everyman” of superheroes relies on his constant struggle. He’s trying to juggle school and/or work with personal relationships but a lot of the time, he’s barely succeeding. It’s the fact that he’s willing to keep trying, despite all odds, that makes him Spider-Man. This element of the character has been noticeably lacking from his MCU interpretation, with billionaire Tony Stark providing all he could ever need. With Starks demise at the end of Avengers: Endgame, Peter was finally experiencing the grief he needed, although it relied on caring about Stark. By contrast, Spider-Man: No Way Home beats Peter beyond the point of submission.

The film opens precisely where Far From Home ended, with Peters identity as Spidey revealed to the world. In an attempt to regain his private life, as well as those of his best friend Ned and girlfriend MJ, he turns to former Sorcerer Supreme Dr. Stephen Strange for help. After messing up a spell that would have made the world forget that Peter is Spider-Man, he is confronted by various villains from across the multiverse, whom he hopes to “cure” before sending home. Where this premise could easily have failed was in relying purely on the nostalgia of these characters, instead of writing them as fleshed-out characters. Luckily, this isn’t the case, save for a couple of villains who don’t get treated with the respect that they should. They are accompanied by various classic musical motifs, as well as some design changes which CGI can afford.

The largest issue is that the ramifications are never fully explored. Dr Strange is never explicitly clear about how the spell works and it’s never explained how events in this universe will affect other universes going forward. By the end, it’s not fully clear how Peter will function as a character moving forward, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This film strips him down to the bare essentials of the character and, for the first time in the MCU, Peter feels like he got the origin story that he should have had all along. Ironically, he now feels at home in this franchise.

With all of that said, there is so much more to unpack. There are returning villains, returning heroes, and more grief than Doc Ock can shake a tentacle at. From here on out, we are in full SPOILER territory so turn away now if you wish to remain in the dark.

For the most part, the villains are allowed to continue their characterisations from earlier projects without being adapted to fit the vibe of the MCU. Not only does it allow for the performances to be as good as they’ve always been but it makes them feel more otherworldly, as they should. Alfred Molina and Willem Defoe shine as Doc Ock and Green Goblin respectively whilst Jamie Foxx’s Electro is finally allowed to break free from the nerdy stereotype. The three of them are prime culprits in pushing the plot forward whilst going through their own miniature arcs. Once again, Doctor Otto Octavious is at the behest of his mechanical arms whilst Norman Osborne remains in battle with his alter-ego. Even Electro is figuring out whether or not he actually wants his powers. It’s these arcs, and the interactions between each villain, that make up the emotional core of the film, however the same cannot be said of The Lizard and Sandman. The latter reverts back to being evil seemingly on a whim whilst the former is the punchline to countless dinosaur jokes. This is especially upsetting given that Sandman had already been shafted in the theatrical version of Spider-Man 3 (The Editor’s Cut is much better). That particular installment of the Sam Raimi trilogy is especially prevalent here given the numerous claims that it was spoiled by having too many villains. This is a claim I’ve always refuted as the real issue is how those villains are used and in Now Way Home they almost all benefit the plot in a meaningful way. It’s possible that 5 villains is a bit much but getting 3 out of 5 right is no small feat.

With the appearance of previous villains and with the multiverse sucking in everybody who knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, it makes sense that some heroes should return too. After years of rumour, speculation, and leaked set photos, Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire return to the role of Peter Parker. Neither of them has lost a single beat and it’s evident that they’re both excited to be acting opposite each other. Their interactions with each other and with Tom Holland are the film’s highlights but their interactions with their respective villains provide the emotional core of the plot. Whether its Octavious asking his Spidey how he’s been or Electro being mildly upset that is Spidey is a white guy, these interactions are charged with years of emotional build-up.

Yes, No Way Home is an emotional rollercoaster, although if you’ve never fallen in love with Holland’s iteration of the Web Head, some of that may be lost. This doesn’t mean that the actors don’t sell every single scene they are in. It’s difficult not to feel for MCU Parker here. Having already ruined the lives of MJ and Ned by simply being friends with them, he makes matters worse by accidentally bringing a hoarde of dangerous villains to their universe. This ultimately leads to Green Goblin murdering Aunt May, which sends Peter into a vengeful rage where he nearly murders him. Finally, he resolves matters, but only by casting anthother spell which causes the world to forget that Peter Parker exists, including Ned and MJ. He is left with truely nothing as the film concludes but a clean slate is the best way forward for this character.

Finally, I would be remiss to not discuss the multiversal ramifications and implications. As the film opens, Peter is being charged with murder so the best course of action , as both May and MJ point out, is a lawyer. One is provided in the form of Matt Murdock, who may be better known by his alias Daredevil. The important aspect here is not his introduction to the MCU, rather that he is portrayed by Charlie Cox who portrayed him on the Netflix show Daredevil. This does not inheritly mean that this show is canon to the MCU, only that they have cast the same actor, but conversations around this topic are fun and exciting. But surely everything is canon in the multiverse? Well, yes but including all Marvel properties will lead to overcrowding, so I propose a solution.

It’s time to start using the term “MCM”, as in “Marvel Cinematic Multiverse”. This is not instead of the term MCU, rather it would sit alongside it, meaning that there is still one solid comprehensable timeline as well as a more general term. It would encapsulate films like the Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Ghost Rider duology as well as legacy television shows like Agents of SHIELD and Runaways. The MCU is canon to the MCM but the MCM does not have to be canon to the MCU.

Of course the notion of “canon” is an ongoing conversation, and one that I revel in. That will, perhaps, be the largest reprecussion from Spider-Man: No Way, although the film itself doesn’t seem to bothered by reprecussions. Rather, it never fully explains itself. What are the boundaries of either spell cast by Strange? With the villains cured, does this alter the timeline of their own universes? Why bring in Venom if you’re not going to use him? (I know it’s so they can have the symbiote, but that could have been introduced in-universe). Why didn’t Topher Grace’s Venom, Dane Dehann’s Hobgoblin or Peter’s alternate girlfriends come through? And, perhaps most importantly, what ever happened to the MCU’s Uncle Ben?

Hopefully, the answers to all these questions and more, lie waiting for us somewhere down the road.

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Spider-Man: No Way Home (Spoiler Free)

Peter Parker is made to suffer. As a character, his relatability as the “everyman” of superheroes relies on his constant struggle. He’s trying to juggle school and/or work with personal relationships but a lot of the time, he’s barely succeeding. It’s the fact that he’s willing to keep trying, despite all odds, that makes him Spider-Man. This element of the character has been noticeably lacking from his MCU interpretation, with billionaire Tony Stark providing all he could ever need. With Starks demise at the end of Avengers: Endgame, Peter was finally experiencing the grief he needed, although it relied on caring about Stark. By contrast, Spider-Man: No Way Home beats Peter beyond the point of submission.

The film opens precisely where Far From Home ended, with Peter’s identity as Spidey revealed to the world. In an attempt to regain his private life, as well as those of his best friend Ned and girlfriend MJ, he turns to former Sorcerer Supreme D.r Stephen Strange for help. After messing up a spell that would have made the world forget that Peter is Spider-Man, he is confronted by various villains from across the multiverse, whom he hopes to “cure” before sending home. Where this premise could easily have failed was in relying purely on the nostalgia of these characters, instead of writing them as fleshed-out characters. Luckily, this isn’t the case, save for a couple of villains who don’t get treated with the respect that they should. They are accompanied by various classic musical motifs, as well as some design changes which CGI can afford.

The largest issue is that the ramifications are never fully explored. Dr. Strange is never explicitly clear about how the spell works and it’s never explained how events in this universe will affect other universes going forward. By the end, it’s not fully clear how Peter will function as a character moving forward, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This film strips him down to the bare essentials of the character and, for the first time in the MCU, Peter feels like he got the origin story that he should have had all along. Ironically, he now feels at home in this franchise.

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

The Animatrix

Anime is a medium encompassing many types of productions. From the classic cyberpunk Akira to the whimsical and beautiful films of Studio Ghibli, it’s a difficult description to pin down. What is certain is that it was instrumental in inspiring the Wachowski sisters to create their iconic, cinema-changing action classic The Matrix. So it is perhaps no surprise that, when visiting Japan to promote the first installment of what has become a quadrilogy, they made contact with many of its greatest animation studios. From this was born The Animatrix, an anthology of short films which place within the world of The Matrix. From origin stories to depictions of life in the hellscape left behind by war come 9 stories that can be watched separately or back-to-back.

Final Flight of The Osiris is a beautiful tragedy of great importance. As the titular craft, Osiris is overcome by Sentinels, the crew attempt to survive long enough to deliver a package inside The Matrix. With fluid CG animation worthy of a PS3, the character emotions come across wonderfully. It also contains the classic, lovable Matrix score and colour palette, making it feel connected to the larger universe. The story itself is a prequel to Enter the Matrix – a 2003 videogame whose events run concurrently with Matrix Reloaded. It’s this kind of world-building and cross-media involvement that makes this franchise so special.

The Second Renaissance Parts 1 and 2 demonstrate that destruction only brings more destruction. The war between man and machine is presented almost like a documentary and, with stunning manga-esque animation, the machines are initially shown as defensive rather than viscous. They want to exist in partnership with humanity but humanity is unwilling to accept them and thus the machines are to be pitied. This changes with their vicious revenge after they are attacked by nuclear weapons and the sun is blocked out. They are unstoppable. No longer to be pitied as victims but feared as an inevitable reckoning. Gone is their romanticisation from Part 1, replaced with grisly deaths and utter despair. The machines were almost to be rooted for but Part 2 shows them as the emotionally devoid demons they became.

Kid’s Story focuses on a familiar and friendly face. The Kid from Matrix Revolutions previously lived in The Matrix as Micheal Popper who, after questioning his reality, is chased through his school by Agents before taking a literal leap of faith from atop the roof. He is not the first to see Neo as The Chosen one but he is the first, as far as we’re aware, to bet his life on that belief. But that isn’t what makes him special. He believes Neo is responsible for freeing him but, as the person who acted on that faith, he really saved himself.

Program demonstrates a remarkable test of self-will. Set within a training program with a Feudal Japan aesthetic, a young woman (whose name is Cis) is offered by a man she identifies as Duo to return to take the blue pill and return to The Matrix. The visuals of the program are stunning, using the aesthetic as a reason to soak itself with a red colour palette, but this story really shines with its moral quandary. Whether an individual takes the red or blue pill is a discussion as old as the franchise itself but so is whether they would return to their unknowing life after taking the red pill. The primary example is Cypher but Cis and Duo are equally compelling characters which is a remarkable achievement given their lack of screen-time.

World Record is a fascinating look at a rare case. Track athlete Dan Daris is attempting to beat his 8.99-second world record in the 100m sprint despite being informed that he could severely damage himself if he runs. Through sheer determination, Dan pushes himself beyond the edge of the simulation and out of The Matrix. It tends to be that people require help from an outside source to escape but exceptions like this make for some of the most intriguing stories. It is matched superbly by its fluid animation.

Beyond shows that the Matrix is not a perfect simulation. It may come across that way but anything built by code can glitch. This is the discovery made by a teenage girl searching for her cat at a derelict house. She is led by children who are amazed at the lack of gravity in the area and mainly use it as a safety barrier to jump from great heights. It perfectly demonstrates the different mindsets when encountering a peculiarity. The children accept it and build their games around it whilst the teen has her worldview shattered by it. This feels like a meta-commentary on the release of The Matrix which is either an action flick or a mindblowing experience.

A Detective Story is as cool as any detective story. This classic crime noir sees a Private Investigator hired to track down the mysterious hacker Trinity. It’s nostalgically old-school down to the Alice in Wonderland references and assumptions that Trinity is a man. It does a remarkable job of building lore in a short amount of time, showcasing how long The Agents have been hunting Trinity and what they’re willing to do to succeed. This is the closest any of these stories come to featuring one of the main Matrix characters but the lack of colour makes it stand out from the crowd.

Matriculated is a visual masterpiece. Rebels living above ground are capturing machines and attempting to teach them humanity through a Matrix of their own design. It demonstrates the best of human nature, the desire to help and to educate. It would be easy to destroy the machines while they are incapacitated as their ancestors did, but the rebels seek co-existence. Once inside their Matrix, the animation makes full use of CGI providing visuals akin to a stereotypical drug trip. This is the kind of exploration that a franchise like this is made for but as with many stories, this one ends in death.

What’s so wonderful about The Animatrix, aside from the visuals, sound, and storytelling, is that it isn’t required viewing to understand the Matrix films. Yet if you witness these tales, you will have a greater understanding of the universe as it’s presented in those films. Morpheus’ initial speech to Neo about the fall of mankind carries more weight, the beginning of Reloaded has a little more context and The Kid is a more endearing character (although not by much). The Matrix has always been an interesting world but The Animatrix fully realises all that it could be.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Spider-Man: Far Frome Home

Tony Stark is dead, long live Tony Stark. This is the general vibe of Spider-Man: Far From Home, which is odd given this is a Spider-Man story and not an Iron Man one. If its predecessor was fixated on the snarky billionaire, then this film is flat-out obsessed with him. It asks who the next Tony Stark is and if that person is Peter Parker, before answering it whilst chastising the audience for thinking it could be. This Stark-centric plot is only one of Far From Home‘s several egregious crimes.

The plot follows Peter, eight months after the events of Avengers: Endgame, as he joins his class on a European Summer field trip. He hopes to confess his love to MJ, before Nick Fury appears and demands that he help in fighting The Elementals. These creatures are each comprised of a single element (earth, air, fire, and water) and are being held back by new superhero Mysterio. Also known as Quentin Beck, Mysterio has come from an alternate Earth which was destroyed by these Elementals. It’s an interesting, engaging plot but it’s also entirely a lie. It transpires that Quentin is a disgruntled former Stark Industries employee from the same Earth as Peter, who is using drones to project images of Elementals with weapons for the very real damage.

Setting aside how similar his plan is to that of Syndrome from The Incredibles, Quentin is an interesting yet frustrating character. His motive makes sense and his charm makes him close to sympathetic but the film makes him more evil than is necessary. He is compelling as a response to the callousness of Tony Starks actions, but Marvel isn’t willing to commit to the notion of Stark’s callousness. Quentin has every right to hate Tony Stark, but instead of fully exploring that validity he is labeled as evil and is suddenly willing to commit child murder.

It’s a nice touch to have Quentin’s cronies be former Stark Industry employees and allows for a couple of much-appreciated cameos. The biggest of these is Peter Billingsly as William, who was first seen being yelled at by Obidiah Stane in Iron Man. The most impressive aspect of Mysterio is his illusions, which are rendered beautifully by the Special Effects team. The CGI in the MCU has improved steadily over the years and is at its peak here. It’s a treat for the eyes with imaginative imagery that contains a large menagerie of moving parts. It provides the creepiest scene in the MCU as well as bombarding Peter with that guilt he’s been sorely lacking.

The most infuriating aspect is how Mysterio was used in marketing. There is something to be said for not spoiling the film’s plot twist in the trailer, however, the plot twist isn’t that he’s from the same Earth, it’s that he’s evil. The multiverse aspect was a large part of the marketing and, as exciting as that concept is, it ultimately leads to disappointment when it turns out to be a fabrication. The following installment in the story Spider-Man: Far From Home (not yet released) is set to feature the multiverse for real but it’s a struggle to be properly excited because all of the “YAY MULTIVERSE” energy was already expended here.

This isn’t the final twist in the tale as the end-credits scene reveals that Nick Fury and Maria Hill have been Skrulls for the entire runtime of the film. Specifically, they were leaders of the Skrulls Talos and his wife Soren which led to speculation about how often these characters crossed roles. More interesting is the hint this gave towards the upcoming series based on the Secret Invasion storyline. In it, important characters from across the years are revealed to have been Skrulls the entire time. However, given that they are the villains of that piece it seems like the MCU series is destined to go in a different direction.

That’s the one thing Far From Home does particularly well, is tease the future. Peter will not be the next Tony, but that won’t stop him from slipping into using his tech with ease. Peter and MJ are now officially a couple which means she is about to be kidnapped… A LOT. Aunt May and Happy Hogan had a Summer fling which is destined to never be mentioned ever again, as it should be. Mysterio is supposedly dead, but the unmasking of Peter as Spider-Man that he prepared will ripple across Phase 4 of the MCU. JK Simmons returns as J. Jonah Jameson, which is a different iteration than the one from the Raimi films but is filled with that same joyful aggression.

Far From Home is the oddest thing. In some ways, it understands the character. He is constantly fighting a losing battle, putting all those around him at risk and trying to do his best for the neighbourhood. In other ways, it doesn’t understand him at all. He (and the plot) are obsessed with Stark, he is constantly letting his real identity slip and he is constantly either infantilised or made to make major life decisions. The film sits in this odd middle ground where it’s a good film, kept from greatness by its own mistakes. It’s far from great but it’s also far from awful.

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Avengers: Endgame

Just because a film is good, does not mean it is without major flaws. Equally, discussion of a great film can include criticisms. Avengers: Endgame is such a film, with the added disadvantage of being a Pop Culture Milestone. It serves as an ending to the MCU and must resolve many character arcs, but without seeming too final, as the MCU will continue afterward. It succeeds at the majority of these aspects, but the times it fails failures almost overcome the successes.

The story picks up 3 months after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, with the remaining Avengers unsure of Thanos’ location. With the return of Captain Marvel, along with the previously desolate Tony Stark and Nebula, there is finally a chance to find him. Thanos has retired to a planet he calls The Garden, where the Avengers take him off guard, cutting the Infinity Gauntlet and the hand it is still fitted to from his body. However it is too late, as he has already used the Stones to destroy the Stones, but this doesn’t stop Thor from decapitating him. This beheading is bittersweet vindication as it is what Thanos deserves, but it won’t bring anyone back to life. This is before the screen cuts to black and the words “5 years later” make their way onto the screen at a painstakingly slow pace. It almost seems to be allowing time for the audience to process what they have just witnessed and that the universe indeed has to live with the effects of The Snap for 5 years.

From here, we catch up with each of the remaining Avengers. Nat is still keeping an eye on the world, including Clint Barton who has taken to murdering gang members out of rage, whilst Steve Rogers is running a therapy group for survivors of The Snap. It is a small group that includes a cameo from Thanos creator Jim Starling and director Anthony Russo who is portraying a gay man. To call him the MCU’s first canonically gay character would technically be correct, albeit overly gracious. To have a nameless gay character who is only present for a moment, can be cut without affecting the plot, and is used as a director’s cameo, is not a win- it’s insulting. It is disappointing. Although, at this point in the franchise’s history, it is not surprising.

Ant-Man returns from the Quantum Realm and reunites with his now-grown daughter Cassie. Despite being away for 5 years, he experienced it as 5 hours, leading him to the theory that the Quantum Realm could be used as a time machine- a brilliant idea that requires a large brain. Thus, the crew head to Tony Stark’s cabin in the woods, where he resides with Pepper and their 5-year-old daughter Morgan. He still holds a grudge against Steve for the events of Captain America: Civil War because he is petty and resistant to change, so the crew seeks the help of Bruce Banner who has merged his mind with Hulk’s body to create what the credits lovingly refer to as Smart Hulk. Having this major character development occur off-screen after being wasted in Infinity War is a real kick in the teeth. The situation is only moderately acceptable due to Banner’s optimistic awkwardness.

Smart Hulk and Rocket Raccoon then travel to the small village of New Asgard in [Norway?] to recruit Thor who is living with Korg and Meik. He has grown ever more depressed and piled on weight which is Endgame’s first major stumble. Thor’s depression and, later, self-acceptance should be one of the strongest emotional arcs in the film, but it is used time and time again as the butt of jokes. It’s morally disgusting and made worse by Thor not being hugely obese. His weight is that of a not-eve-middle-aged man who drinks too much, and he’s nowhere near as rotund as his friend Volstagg. It also conflates weight gain with depression which is borderline dangerous. Depression can lead to weight gain (and/or loss), as well as alcohol abuse, but they are not synonymous. Equally, somebody can have issues with weight gain/loss and/or alcohol abuse without being depressed. Endgame never makes that distinction, as it’s too busy using them all as punchlines. If you are having any of these issues, please speak to a medical professional.

This is where Stark rejoins the team, having solved Time Travel by inverting a mobius strip and other such fake technical jargon. This is Endgame‘s other biggest issue… the time travel mechanics. Of course, the simple solution is alternate timelines but the Russo Brothers have stated in interviews that it is not. If this is the case, then there is no reasonable explanation for how any of it works, which the Russo brothers are aware of. They know that their time travel doesn’t make sense and they don’t care, which led me to 2 years of torment figuring out how this all fits together if not with alternate timelines. The answer is simple. The Russo brothers are liars. Presented next is the solution:

Since 2008, the MCU has taken place one solid timeline, which I’ll call Alpha. When the Avengers travel into the past, they do so simultaneously, and in taking the Infinity Stones, create one solid alternate timeline which I’ll dub Beta. This means that despite leaving from the Alpha timeline, they return on the Beta timeline. This is the timeline that they save, although unknowingly. When Cap jumps back to the moment they took the stones, he returns stability to the Alpha timeline. Upon jumping to 1945, he once again jumps onto the Beta timeline, where he lives out the rest of his life, leading to Old Cap on a bench (again) in the Beta timeline. The 2014 version of Thanos, who jumps through the time portal and emerges in the Beta Timeline is already from the Beta timeline. This does not mean that there are 2 sets of Avengers in the Beta universe as it’s safe to assume that the Beta Universe Avengers also jumped into a separate universe, creating an infinite cascade of Avengers replacing Avengers. This ultimately means that the MCU now takes place on the Beta timeline, not that it matters given what happens to the timeline in later projects, which makes the entire situation even more infuriating.

Meanwhile, in the plot, The Avengers are pulling off their time heist. Tony Stark, Steve Rogers Scott Lang, and Smart Hulk are in 2012 New York retrieving the Time, Mind, and Space Stones. Nebula and James Rhodes head to the planet Morag in 2014 to collect the Power Stone whilst Nat and Clint go to the planet Vormir that same year to get the Soul Stone. It is, in essence, Marvel’s Greatest Hits: A Walk Down Memory Lane, and Endgame has earned the right to do that. It’s mostly entertaining fluff, but the most interesting moments are in the brief character progressions.

After a blunder in 2012, which leads to that variation of Loki escaping by using the Space Stone, Steve and Tony jump to Steve Rogers’s old home, Camp Lehigh , in the 1940s. Here, Tony interacts with a younger version of his abusive, neglectful father on the eve of Tony’s birth. It’s a cute moment for anyone who likes these characters and can put aside what a terrible father Howard Stark was. It also includes a cameo from his butler Jarvis, portrayed by James D’arcy who played the role in TV Series Agent Carter. It’s not a confirmation that the show is canon but a lovely little easter egg.

Meanwhile, on Vormir, Clint and Nat are informed that one of them must be sacrificed in order to gain the Soul Stone. In an alternate version of this scene, they would have been attacked by Thanos’ Chitauri minions but that would have ruined this very pure character moment. The fate of the entire universe rests on their shoulders and their friendship. In the end, it’s Nat who bites the bullet, which is how it should be. Her underdeveloped character was no longer required, having completed her arc, and it means that Clint can return to being one of the MCU’s best dads. Some have wondered why Nebula didn’t inform them that a sacrifice would be required since it was information she was aware of and that’s presumably because that kind of information is best saved for the last moment. Had she informed the group earlier, nobody would have been willing to let anyone else take that leap.

With all of The Avengers back in 2023, minus Nat, the Infinity Stones are mounted onto a Stark Tech glove and Hulk snaps all of the dusted people back into existence, without erasing the events of the past 5 years. It’s a tense scene, filled to the brim with Hope, and it’s only fitting that Clint is the first to receive a call from his previously dusted wife. Finally, the nightmare is over. Then the audio cuts out and the camera pans to Thanos’ ship in the sky, which has followed them back through the time portal from 2014, beginning its missile barrage. From here on out, it is unabashed fanservice, as any prior issues with the film take a back seat and the ultimate battle finally begins.

As the first people to recover from the assault, Steve, Tony, and Thor take on Thanos, knowing that if they fail, not only will the universe once again be plunged into chaos but Thanos won’t allow humanity to survive. Despite being wasted for the majority of Endgame’s runtime, Thor is in his element with new Asgardian armour and plaits in his beard, to make his current appearance more regal. After a grueling, solid 10 minute brawl, it seems as if hope is once again lost. Stark has been tossed to the side and Thanos has Thor pinned against a rock. The mighty hammer Mjölnir rises from the ground, rushing past them into the hands of Steve Rogers in a payoff so grand, it’s sure to elicit screams from any Marvel fan. After a brief showdown, Thanos obliterates Steve’s shield but, despite deep wounds and almost non-existent energy, Steve still stands. It’s a beautiful moment that really demonstrates the heart of the character. Only in death does his mission to protect humanity end and it looks as if that end may be upon him. The frame looms large with the full might of Thanos’ army, who are sure to overwhelm Steve, and it seems as if this is to be Captain America’s last stand.

And then portals begin appearing. Through them appear all of the returned Avengers and whatever armies they could find. Finally, Cap announces for the Avengers to assemble, shivers run down my spine, and the battle begins again.

It’s honestly an unfair fight considering the Avengers have Wanda Maximoff, who single handedly comes close to killing Thanos until he orders the battleground to be flooded with missiles. You know, like a coward. Thus enters Captain Marvel, who is here to serve as the film’s Deus Ex Machina and to lead a shot of all the MCU’s female characters in what is one of the cringiest moments of all time. Marvel is clearly desperate to show how diverse they are, so as to not lose the female portion of their demographic, but one moment does not make up for 10 years of neglect, nor does it solidify any promises about a female-centric future. The Guardians of the Galaxy don’t even refer to Mantis by name.

Inevitably, the battle comes to an end when Tony uses the Infinity Stones to dust Thanos and his entire army, sacrificing himself in the process. It’s an apt ending for the character who once only thought of himself. His arc, which saw him learning to play well with others, comes to a natural conclusion. It also makes sense to end his story and the Infinity Saga at the same time, considering they started out that way. The Russo brothers have stated in interviews that they only killed off Tony Stark because they hate his character and, whilst hating the character is a valid opinion to hold, it is not a good enough reason to kill him. They lucked out on it being the ending the character seemed destined for. As for Steve Rogers, he returns the Stones and hops to 1945, to live out a life with Peggy Carter. It’s not a perfect end for the character but it’s not awful either. If he wanted to live a normal life, he could have found a nice girl and moved to the countryside, like Clint, but his heart has always belonged to Peggy. Until now he had thought a life with Peggy was impossible, but finally, the opportunity to have it is here so it makes sense that he would.

This may be the final film in the Infinity Saga but it is not the end of the MCU. There are small moments of set-up, like the female line-up, but the biggest indication of things to come is the passing of the shield. Having returned to [2025], and aged like a fine wine, Steve Rogers hands over his shield to Sam Wilson. There are those who would have liked Bucky to get it, but that shield has always represented America, so it should go to Sam. It would be a nice little nod to the comics to have it in Bucky’s hands but it is much more important that a group of often marginalised people see themselves represented on screen.

The biggest issue that Avengers: Endgame has is its production. Yes, production went smoothly before it was embroiled in a level of secrecy that would make the FBI blush. It’s not the secrets withheld from the audience that’s the issue, even if they went to ridiculous lengths to make it happen, but the secrets kept from the actors. Acting is a job that requires a large amount of skill and is at its best when every aspect of the performance is believable, which takes time to prepare for. So why the Russo brothers didn’t tell the cast that they were shooting Tony’s funeral until the moment before they began shooting the scene is beyond me. This isn’t the only scene where this happened but it is, by far, the most egregious. It robs the actors of any real preparation time and is disrespectful in the way it assumes that any of these actors would leak the information. The absurdity of “Leak Culture” is a conversation worth having. Why such great lengths are gone through to prevent leaks, how people ride the infamy by leaking fake information, and how much of these leaks are actually allowed by the studio, are all worth a separate article. It is a blight on Hollywood and in fandoms, that only gets worse by the year but is being exacerbated by the MCU specifically.

So is Avengers: Endgame the finale this story deserves? Not entirely. Its plot is middling and some character actions are questionable, but it still gives some of the MCU’s finest moments. The first 15 minutes and the final act are where this film shines and it is those moments that will be remembered in the years to come. No, Endgame isn’t perfect, but it does deserve to be remembered.

As does the man who created it all.

Thank you Stan.

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Dune (2021)

There are those who would call Frank Herbert’s lore-heavy sci-fi novel Dune “unfilmable” but after multiple movie adaptations, it feels like a different description should be found. Much can be said of the previous attempts such as the 2000 SyFy miniseries and the 1984 David Lynch motion picture, although such discussions are possibly best left to the fans. These adaptations are both undeniably large in scale and play into the inherent ridiculousness of the novel, but the latest by Denis Villeneuve only achieves one of these.

Set on the planet Arakis, Dune: Part One sees the House of Atreides taking over the production of the valuable Spice found on the planet from the vicious House of Harkonnen. Duke Leto Atreides seeks to make peace with the local inhabitants, known as Fremen, whose prolonged exposure to Spice has given them bright blue eyes. Plans change however when The Harkonnens return with a destructive vengeance, leaving only the Duke’s son, Paul, and wife, Jessica, to seek refuge with the Freman. This is an oversimplification of events due to the complexity of the worldbuilding present within the story. This is why it is supposedly “unfilmable” as there is simply so much to explain, but it is an aspect that Villeneuve achieves excellently. The background information is easily inserted via natural dialogue and informational tapes watched by Paul. Over 145 minutes, there is a vast amount of speaking but, given the political nature of the story and people involved, it feels natural. Occasionally this dialogue is delivered through well-choreographed fight sequences, of which there are several.

The action is impressive. Hand-to-hand combat feels personal especially with the holographic armour worn by the characters which allow for very close contact. Meanwhile, the assault by the Harkonnens is devastating to witness. Explosion after explosion makes the sheer might of the Harkonnens clear. At least that is when it’s visible. Dune: Part One is sapped of the majority of its saturation, save for the light of explosions and blinding sun. The sands are filled with a certain warmth but that distinct orange glow, present in other adaptations, is missing here. It is most notable during part of the final act, which is set at night and sees the two surviving Atreides trying to avoid a giant Sandworm. These 400-foot creatures are an icon of sci-fi and their threatening presence is felt throughout. So it is ultimately disappointing when their big reveal appears in a shot that might as well be in black and white.

The often frustrating experience of viewing this film is made more difficult by Hans Zimmer’s accompanying score, which is everpresent in the worst meaning of the word. It is a collection of choral voices and heavy dubstep which at times feels like an assault of the senses. It is loud to the point of uncomfortableness and is sometimes misplaced within the story. Sudden death is the kind of thing for which gentle music is generally reserved but here it’s the choir, which is a little distracting. The score takes itself very seriously and the same can be said of the plot. There is a real gravitas to Dune: Part One but it comes across as more self-absorbed than actually important. A film like The Lord of the Rings is equally large in scale but it is grounded by its humanity. It’s a big story about small folk, which allows itself to have fun with its setting. Dune is a large story about important people, but who aren’t larger than life. The David Lynch adaptation tells the same story but it’s having fun, especially with Baron Harkonnen. The Baron is grotesque, terrifying, and extraordinarily full of himself, taking glee in dishing out horrors. Villeneuve’s Barron gets the horror element down but nothing else.

Fundamentally Dune: Part One‘s biggest problem is how safe it is. The Baron’s role is cut down and we’re never allowed to see the true horrors of war, despite there being decapitations in the film. It is full of stellar performances, especially from Oscar Issac and Jason Momoa, but fails on the principle of Dune’s weirdness. This is a weird story, even by sci-fi standards, and as the story progresses it only gets weirder… but it’s difficult to see that story in the universe presented by Villeneuve. Former adaptations may have been flawed, but at least they had personality.

Until Next Time…

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Avengers: Infinity War

This was never just a movie. With a full decade of buildup over 18 installments, this was the end of Kevin Feige’s and Marvel Studios’ riskiest venture. The MCU was never guaranteed to be a success and it certainly wasn’t guaranteed to become the unstoppable pop culture behemoth it is today. Iron Man was a gamble, as were the following few films, but it was hoped that they could culminate in an outing for The Avengers – which it did in 2012. It was this installment which solidified the MCU and laid the groundwork for the next 6 years leading up to Avengers: Infinity War. It all comes to a close in the sequel, Avengers: Endgame, but for that film to work, it requires the context of Infinity War.

The hype surrounding Infinity War was huge. It was first announced in October 2014 to a crowd of ecstatic fans, although it was titled Infinity War Part 1, with the title for Endgame being Infinity War Part 2. The films would shoot back to back in 2017 but not before they were tentatively retitled again to Infinity War and Untitled Avengers Sequel. The title for Endgame ultimately wouldn’t be revealed until Infinity War had finished playing in cinemas so as to not spoil the final act of that movie. Secrecy was a major element surrounding both the production and the marketing. Infinity War was the beginning of the end for Marvel’s Infinity Saga and the studio were determined to ensure that everybody get to experience it for themselves. This secrecy even applied to the cast and crew who weren’t told how the film would end until they were about to shoot it. This kind of secrecy would play a much larger role in Endgame’s production, but that story will come soon enough. The marketing was coy, with the first trailer focussing less on the plot and more on this film’s place in the context of the MCU. It was full of hero shots, a sprinkling of fight scenes, and entirely fake shots. Altering shots in a trailer to conceal important plot points is understandable (see Thor’s eye in the Ragnarok trailer) but to insert entirely fake shots feels manipulative. The very last hero shot, of everyone running towards the camera, stands out above it all as the most heinous crime. This meant that, as the premiere approached, only the vague plot of “Avengers fight Thanos” was known and the film was all the better for it.

Infinity War was to be The Avenger’s greatest battle. The mad Titan Thanos was on a quest to collect all 6 Infinity Stones, which would make him the most powerful being in the known universe, and it would be up to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to stop him. The synopsis fails to mention Thanos’ ultimate goal, that being the destruction of half the life in the universe, and the number of separate plotlines contained within.

Wanda Maximoff and Vision are taking a break from The Avengers before the arrival of Thanos’ Guard sees them being dragged back in by Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, and Natasha Romanoff, who have been on the run since Captain America: Civil War. When Bruce Banner returns from Ragnarok’s Asgardian rescue vessel warning of Thanos, they all head to Wakanda to prepare for war. Meanwhile, after the destruction of the aforementioned Asgardian vessel, Thor is picked up by the Guardians of the Galaxy before taking Rocket Raccoon to Nidavellir to create a Titan-killing axe. The rest of the Guardians encounter Tony Stark, Peter Parker, and Dr. Stephen Strange, who have killed one of Thanos’ Guards and taken his ship, before the newly formed group head to Thanos’ homeworld Titan to fight him. Throughout all of this, Thanos is searching for the remaining Infinity Stones, having already retrieved the Power Stone from the planet Xandar and the Space Stone from the Asgaugrdians. This is a lot to pack into a 160minute runtime. There are 97 individual characters and every single one is given a fair amount of screentime but the film never feels bloated or oddly paced. The storylines never become convoluted or difficult to follow which is a real testament to the creative team. Whilst the title may say Avengers, and they are present, this is really Thanos’ movie. It is his mission that drives the plot forward and his emotions that ground it. He is completely in the wrong. That shouldn’t need to be stated, but an alarming number of people think his plan to wipe out the universe is reasonable. No. Incorrect. The issue is not “lack of resources” it is “lack of equal distribution of resources” but even if that were the issue, the solution would be to provide more resources.

The greatest strength Infinity War has, besides pacing and character, is its ending. It is the perfect culmination of all that has come before. With both sets of heroes struggling in their respective battles, which take up a large portion of the screentime, Thanos arrives on Earth for the Mind Stone which is embedded in Vision’s head. The footage slows, the music swells, the characters each make one last desperate rush towards him. However much of the focus is on Wanda, who is the only person capable of destroying the Stone, and Vision, who is dying in the process. It is their love and their loss that gives the scene so much weight, with actors Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany absolutely knocking it out of the park with their performances. As the scene goes on, Thanos swipes the Avengers away without a second thought (except Captain America who he seems impressed by), leading Wanda to singlehandedly destroy Vision and hold back Thanos. The scene is tense but that tension breaks the moment Vision dies. Until Thanos rewinds time and takes the Time Stone anyway in a soul crushing moment. All hope seems to return when Thor plows an axe into his chest but it immediately vanishes again when Thanos snaps his fingers. Thanos wins. The music cuts out and all that is left is the silent sound of sheer horror as many characters turn to dust. It’s a stunning ending, amplified by the uncertainty of what comes next, with the most tragic being the dusting of Spider-Man. The MCU’s iteration of the character has flaws but seeing a beloved childhood character turn to dust is a moment that stays long after the credits are over. All the other characters are exasperated and composed but Peter Parker is full of utter fear and it hurts to see a childhood icon like that.

Infinity War is defined by loss. Thanos lost his people, his right-hand man and his “daughter” Gamora. The Avengers lose their battles, the Stones and each other. Thor loses half of his already deplete people including Heimdall and Loki, with the film specifically taking time to inform the audience that there will be no resurecctions this time. The MCU has been lighthearted and childish at times but Infinity War is a tonally dark film. Loki’s death occurs 10 minutes in and sets that tone, which rarely leviates throughout. There are moments of humour within the plot, mainly through character interactions like Steve Rogers and Thor, but moments like Star-Lord trying to out bravado Thor are full of that classic MCU cringe. This is to say nothing of Bruce Banner being unable to summon The Hulk which is both cringeworthy and a complete waste of his character. The only uncertain aspect of the whole thing is Peter Dinklage as the giant dwarf Eitri, who runs Nidavellir. His story is tragic and sympathetic but it’s difficult to look past Dinklage doing a dodgy British accent.

Despite being the penultimate chapter, Infinity War still has a mid-credits scene which allows for a bit of extra storytelling. It sees both Former-Agent Maria Hill and Former-Director Nick Fury getting dusted, with a clever use of timing which almost allows Fury to drop an F bomb. In the moments before his devise, Fury sends a pager signal to Captain Marvel, although you’d only know that if you were aware a Captain Marvel film was on the way and what her logo looked like. A member of the audience I was in did not and it really helped to alleviate the tension, so shout out to that guy.

As a prelude to Endgame, Infinity War is outstanding. As a culmination of a decades-worth of work, it’s mostly brilliant. Some of the payoffs are a perfect example of the kind of long-term planning that the MCU eventually managed to get ahold of, especially the return of Red Skull. Had Infinity War been the final film in the franchise, it would have been emotionally devastating, and perhaps less divisive than Endgame. It doesn’t promise closure but it provides a hell of a powerful ending. It was inevitable that the MCU would continue but if this had been it, it would have stood the test of time as one of the greatest endings of all time.

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer