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 MCU Collection

MCU: Prolouge

Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain Marvel

Iron Man

Iron Man 2

The Incredible Hulk

Thor

Avengers Assemble

Thor: The Dark World

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2

Iron Man 3

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Ant-Man

Captain America: Civil War

Black Widow

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Black Panther

Doctor Strange

Thor: Ragnarok

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Endgame

Eternals

Shang-Chi and the Legend of The Ten Rings

Thor: Love and Thunder (Spoiler Free) (Spoilers)

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man: No Way Home (Spoiler Free) (Spoilers)

Doctor strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Spoiler Free) (Spoilers)

Ed: How Endgame’s Ending Works

Ed: Growing up with the MCU

Ed: Road to No Way Home

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

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

Ant-Man and the Wasp

It’s amazing the difference a cohesive film production can make. 2015s Ant-Man went through several script rewrites and directors which resulted in an entertaining film that fell short of being truly great. Meanwhile, its sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp had one creative team throughout which resulted in one of the funniest, most heartfelt tales in the MCU. It takes all the aspects that made its predecessor good and refines them to amplify their greatness.

The film centers on former cat burglar Scott Lang, in the final days of his house arrest following the events of Captain America: Civil War, as he attempts to help Hank and Hope Pym without alerting the FBI or his family. As they build a machine capable of rescuing Hank’s wife Janet from the Quantum Realm, they must keep it out of the hands of black market dealer Sonny Burch and the mysterious Ava Starr/Ghost who can phase through objects.

The brilliance of the film’s title is that it refers to the two stories at play. The first is on the new Ant-Man, Scott, and his Wasp, Hope, as they learn to trust each other again so that they can fight side-by-side effectively. The second is on the original Ant-Man, Hank, and his Wasp, Janet, as they try desperately to reunite after 30 years apart. These relationships are the core of the story and are impactful even without the context of their previous appearances. Scott and Hope are clearly in love despite Hope’s pain at Scott’s betrayal whilst Hank and Janet clearly adore each other even when they aren’t on screen together. The highlight of these relationships, aside from their resolution, is when Hank, Hope, and Scott are pinpointing Janet’s location in the Quantum Realm. Janets consciousness inhabits Scott’s body and, for a brief moment, it allows her to interact with Hank and Hope. Actor Paul Rudd simply melts into this performance allowing the moment to come across as sincere whilst Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly give equally emotionally charged emotionally performances.

The final relationship that allows Ant-Man and the Wasp to stand out is that between Scott and his 10-year-old daughter Cassie. It was a highlight of Ant-Man and it’s just as impactful here. The screen lights up whenever they share a scene and Cassies desire to be a hero like her dad will pull at even the hardest of heartstrings. Their interactions are all bittersweet with the knowledge that this is the last time Scott will see her at this age. The gag about Scott being the World’s Greatest Grandma is equal parts funny and relatable. Actress Abby Ryder Fortson has really knocked this role out of the park so is definitely one to keep an eye on.

With a new film comes new characters and Ant-Man and the Wasp has some delights. FBI Agent Jimmy Woo is instantly likable with his childlike innocence and adorable interactions with Cassie which have rightfully made him a fan favourite. Sonny Burch is a slimy weasel in all the best ways with his easygoing personality and punchable demeanor. Ava Starr is an interesting villain with one of the more tragic backstories, making her actions understandable without being reasonable. Lastly, Janet is a superb addition to the cast. It’s always good to have more female role models and with her intelligence, as well as her warmth, she is certainly that. Ant-Man and the Wasp also sees the return of comedic trio Luis, Dave, and Kurt who could easily be annoying but are never given enough screentime to be so. Actor Michael Peña is marvelous at delivering Luis’ speedy monologues, which have become a highlight for this franchise.

The action scenes are some of the most creative that the MCU has to offer. The ability to shrink and grow makes both Ant-Man and the Wasp a formidle foe for enemies but it’s when that technology is used on objects that the fun really begins. There’s some superb use of shrinking when it comes to modes of transportation and living spaces with spledid use of expansion when it comes to Pez despensers. It also provides some excellent tension as the film nears its conclusion and it seems as if Scott’s luck evading the FBI has run out.

When it comes to post-credits scenes, those attached to Ant-Man and the Wasp are perfect. The first sees Scott becoming trapped in the Quantum Realm as the Pyms are turned to dust whilst the second shows several dead quiet locations. With this film being released in between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, the post-credits scenes make sense as well as bringing Scott’s timeline up to date. However, placing this film before Infinity War chronologically allows for the perfect lead-in. It serves as a spoiler for that films ending but, in doing so, paints The Avengers’ actions as pointless. In a world where the films were released chronologically, the Pyms are dusted and nobody knows why. For 6 months, the audience sits on this information until Infinity War comes out. This Thanos guy talks about eradicating half of the universe, leading to 3 hours of utter despair at the knowledge that this is what happened to the Pyms. It would have been utterly devastating but, as it is, Ant-Man and the Wasp is already a heartfelt and funny tale.

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Thor: Ragnarok

The MCU has an odd relationship with comedy. When it lands—as it did with Ant-Man—it makes for great entertainment, but when it doesn’t, as with much of Age of Ultron, it comes across as cringeworthy. Thor: Ragnarok manages to have a mixture of both, although it errs more on the side of cringe. To top it all off, the film itself comes across as one bad joke, with Avengers: Infinity War as the punchline.

After vanishing during Age of Ultron Thor is revealed to have been restoring order to the chaotic Nine Realms, which is an adventure that ends upon his return to Asgard. It is his hope that this will prevent Ragnarok- the end of days- but it arrives just the same, along with his sister the Goddess of Death Hela who kicks Thor and Loki halfway across the universe to the wasteland planet of Sakkar. after reuniting with Hulk and making friends with former Asgardian warrior Valkyrie, they escape The Grandmaster’s rule and return to Asgard for one final battle.

Hulk’s presence here may seem odd given his often strenuous relationship with Thor, but it is a matter of contracts. In the late 1990s, Marvel Studios sold the rights to a solo Hulk film to Universal, who promptly released Ang Lee’s Hulk in 2003 before striking a deal with Marvel to release 2008’s The Incredible Hulk as part of the fledgling MCU. The film received mixed reviews, and for that reason or another, there would not be another solo Hulk adventure. Instead, he was used in team-ups, as Marvel still had rights to use the character that way, which led to his appearance in further MCU projects. However, fans of the character clamored for more, specifically adaptations of the Planet Hulk and World War Hulk comic book storylines. The former of these sees Hulk exiled to the distant planet of Sakkar by the Illuminati where he becomes a gladiator and ultimately leads a revolution, whilst the latter deals with the ramifications of Hulk’s return to Earth. With the possibility of a solo Hulk film outwith their grasp, Marvel decided to incorporate Planet Hulk into a buddy movie with Thor. As the only Avenger to frequent other planets, Thor is a perfect match for this story which ultimately ends up being Planet Hulk focussed as opposed to Ragnarok focussed, though that isn’t a bad thing. It would be better if more of that time had been spent with Bruce Banner instead of Hulk, who acts as a comedic sidekick stunned into stupidity by his circumstances instead of an intrigued scientist with 7 PHDs.

A comedic sidekick can work well provided they are working off a less comedic partner. For instance, in Ant-Man, Scott Lang is the funny one reacting to the bizarre scenarios while Hank Pym is the more serious elderly gentleman. In Thor: Ragnarok, everyone is a comedic character. Arguably the least humourous is Valkyrie who often has her alcoholism used as a punchline. It’s quite juvenile, much like the majority of humour. Taika Watiti is an interesting director who can be hilarious, like in What We Do In The Shadows, but it doesn’t feel like he brought his A-Game for this. It feels like he took the Disney-sized paycheck to pay for his independent projects, which is clearly where his heart lies. Nowhere is this more apparent than with Korg.

The character of Korg made his first comic appearance in the Planet Hulk storyline where he was the leader of the rebellion with a tragic backstory. Here, he is portrayed by Taika Watiti, who feels like he improvised every single line resulting in a lot of cringe-worthy humour. Improvisation can be funny, like in Ghostbusters where improvised lines were only kept in if they were funnier than the already funny script. This worked because Ramis, Ackroyd, and Murray still had regular lines which carried the script forward. Korg on the other hand feels like every single line is improvised and none of them carry the plot forward. The character himself could be removed from the plot without affecting it since the revolution is kickstarted by Valkyrie and ultimately led by Loki. It’s unfortunate because Korg could be a fun and important character instead of what feels like a role written specifically for the director.

Perhaps the biggest flaws of Ragnarok‘s stem from the context that surrounds it. The first is Valkyrie, although this is only an issue for those who were present for the film’s initial release. Her actress Tessa Thompson and aforementioned director Taika Watiti both made a big deal about how Valkyrie was going to be the first openly gay character in the MCU, mourning the death of her girlfriend at the hands of Hela many decades ago. This scene was supposedly scripted but never filmed, although her death remains in the final version of the film as she takes a spear for Valkyrie. The other issue is Thor: Ragnarok‘s placing within the MCU. Thor has spent the entire plot desperately attempting to save his people, managing to save a great number of them by boarding them on an escape ship. He has made what will likely be his biggest achievement and lost an entire eye in the process. He can finally be happy. He is immediately greeted by Thanos’ ship because this film leads directly into Avengers: Infinity War. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the fault of the team but the fault of the corporation. Taika made the best film he could despite presumably being told it had to end this way. It makes this film feel like a joke at Thor’s (and Taika’s) expense.

With all that said, Thor: Ragnarok is still highly entertaining. When the performances aren’t bogged down by attempts at humour, they are heartfelt and emotional, particularly with Loki and Thor who are closing their arcs here. The casting of Jeff Goldblum as The Grandmaster can’t be ignored, nor should it be. He oozes his regular Goldblum charm throughout and the screen simply lights up whenever he appears. Cate Blanchett is brilliantly vicious as Hela who feels like a more intimidating version of Rita Repulsa from Power Ranger while Karl Urban as Skurge is a complex character with his own mini-arc. Then there’s the cinematography which is stellar. The Thor films have always been grand in scale, although the first film practically perfected it straight out of the gate. Here it is matched with vibrant colours which make each scene pop like an Andy Warhol painting. Capping it all off is the outstanding score which has a heavy synth base making the whole film feels like an epic 1980s adventure. This culminated in probably one of the best moments in the MCU where Thor, adorned with lightning, jumps onto the Bifrost bridge while The Immigrant Song plays.

Thor: Ragnarok is seemingly the best that could be done given constraints although it is let down by the juvenile humour that had mainly been confined to the first two Avengers films. It closes arcs brilliantly and entertains plenty but it deserved deep exploration. Both the Ragnarok and Planet Hulk storylines deserved their own exploration but as a mash-up, this is pretty good.

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Doctor Strange

Visual effects are like magic. Through them, anything is possible and the only limit is your imagination. They are also a form of art, and one of the most underappreciated ones at that. It allowed Superman to fly and Tatooine to explode but one of the best examples of imaginative visual effects at work is 2016’s Doctor Strange.

The story sees the life of Doctor Stephen Strange- famed neurosurgeon – thrown into turmoil by a car crash that all but destroys his hands. Though surgery can save them, they may never stop shaking, so Strange goes in search of a spiritual healer who can supposedly heal any physical injury and finds himself in the company of sorcerers. As The Ancient One, Mordo and Wong assist him in his magical education, their reality is threatened by dark sorcerer Kaecilius who draws power from The Dark Dimension on behalf of its ruler Dormammu.

Half the story is told through astounding visuals which allow for creative fight scenes. Reality bends to the sorcerers’ wills with folding buildings, moving roads, and splitting sidewalks. The very first scene is one such fight and perfectly demonstrates how powerful these people are as well as what they’re capable of, without the need for auditory exposition. These masterful feats occur within a space known as The Mirror Dimension, which is a perfect copy of our reality, layered over the top of ours, but never interacts with it. This makes Kaecilius all the more threatening when he is able to conjure these effects outside of The Mirror Dimension, in our reality.

On top of these technical marvels are the designs of the sorcery and The Dark Dimension. The magic itself appears in the air as a line of bright orange light that emits sparks like electricity. The lines form symbols that act as a physical barrier when required, in a very clever and very pretty piece of worldbuilding. Meanwhile, The Dark Dimension is worthy of its name, devoid of light, but not without colour. The darkness is comprised of rich, deep purples, blues, and greens which allow for a sombre but visually interesting space. This is to say nothing of The Astral Plane, where corporeal forms exist, which provides the wildest, most bizarre scene in the entire MCU.

There is a ridiculous amount of worldbuilding at work here, though it never bogs down the story. Magic is a brand new concept for the MCU so it requires establishing but it also lays the groundwork for time travel and alternate dimensions. Of course, alternate dimensions have already had their first mention within the MCU during Ant-Man but this is the first time that the concept of a Multiverse is floated. There are mentions of branched timelines and The Living Tribunal, which will both become extraordinarily relevant as the franchise progresses. Avengers: Endgame is only several films down the line so it makes sense to explore the bare bones of these ideas here. It matches the story well and, bar Ant-Man, there isn’t another instalment where these ideas would sit so comfortably. As a result, Doctor Strange finds itself to be one of the most important films in this franchise, although several angles such as the villainous Baron Mordo are still to pay off.

There’s a lot of discussions to be had surrounding elements of Doctor Strange. Benedict Cumberbatch’s American accent for Strange is befitting that character’s surname and Mads Mikkelsen’s performance as Kaecilius is terrific if not a smidge underutilised. However, the largest conversation to be had is around the casting of Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. Since conception, The Ancient One has been a Tibetan monk but to avoid falling into racial stereotypes it was decided that the role should be recast in the MCU as an androgynous Celt. It did not go down well, with accusations of whitewashing and China-pandering (since China is famously anti-Tibetan). These accusations are fair given Hollywood’s long line of whitewashed roles and The Ancient Ones’ non-racist portrayal in other media like the 2007 animated film Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme. The reasons given for recasting as still fair too, though it’s a decision that seems laced with cowardice to the extent that Kevin Feige would later state that it could have been handled better. With all that said, Tilda Swinton gives a powerful yet subdued performance which gives the character an air of mystery and a large amount of heart.

For once, the mid-credits scene aligns with a chronological viewing of the MCU. It sees Strange conversing with Thor who has come to New York with his brother Loki in search of their father Odin. This scene is ripped directly from Thor: Ragnarok and allows for a smooth transition between the two films. The post-credits scene is the aforementioned turning of Baron Mordo that, as of the time of this publication, is still to pay off.

Doctor Strange is a marvellous feat of visual effects work with mostly solid performances and a whimsically dark soundtrack. It’s an excellent blend of self-contained origin story and wider-universe worldbuilding that makes for entertaining viewing. It may be Strange, but isn’t that for the best?

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Black Panther

*Dedicated to Chadwick Boseman- a superhero on and off the screen*

Representation is important. Black Panther is above standard MCU fodder, but it’s important because it took a superhero of colour and made him, and his culture, the focus. The late Chadwick Boseman and his character became icons practically overnight and you don’t have to be a person of colour to see that. The most prolific examples came much later than the release of the film, upon the passing of Chadwick Boseman. Social media was flooded with images of children wearing his character’s costume and messages about how good people felt to be represented. A mural bearing Chadwick’s face was unveiled at DisneyWorld California and the Disney+ version of Black Panther added Chadwick to its opening logo roll – something that has only been done to honour the legendary Stan Lee. There’s certainly a discussion to be had surrounding Chadwick’s passing and how he kept his illness secret to carry on playing the role that meant so much to so many, but I’m not the person to have it with. All I can do is discuss why representation matters and dissect the technical aspects of a film.

As a member of the LGBT+ community living on an island, I felt alone when I first came out. I knew there were people like me but society said, through its lack of representation in media, that people like me would never have an easy life. We were players in other peoples stories, there to help them along and to die whenever they needed added trauma. We were never the focus, especially in major motion pictures, because we weren’t normal. This sentiment isn’t just true of the LGBT+ community but of every minority. To see yourself represented, and represented well, on the big screen to a worldwide audience is like being accepted by society. Of course, this isn’t really the case, minorities remain marginalised, but with an audience that large you become unavoidable. You become a public conversation. When Chadwick Boseman became Black Panther he wasn’t just another actor donning a suit, he was setting a precedent. I’m sure that if the film had failed, a large portion of blame would have been unjustly laid upon him, but thankfully it didn’t. To date, Black Panther is the highest grossing non-Avengers film in the MCU at $1.3 billion and, for what it did, it deserves every single penny and more.

The film itself is a delight. In the aftermath of his father’s death, Prince T’Challa of Wakanda is crowned the new king and title of Black Panther. However when he fails to capture known Vibranium thief, Ulysses Klaue, and a distant relative appears with the corpse of said thief, his position is challenged. The acting is superb across the board but particularly noticeable are Andy Serkis and Michael B Jordan as Klau and Killmonger respectively. It’s rare that Serkis is allowed a non-motion-capture-suit role and he revels in Klaue’s unflinching madness. He’s one of the most entertaining villains in the MCU and giving him such a sudden death does the character a real disservice, although it works wonders to demonstrate Killmongers ruthlessness. The son of the late king’s brother, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens/N’Jadaka is determined to gain power by any means necessary. Driven by a desire to free people of colour around the world, he is outraged that Wakanda hides itself and its technological advancements from the rest of humanity. Once returning to Wakanda, he rapidly dispatches T’Challa, takes the throne and begins preparations for his grand plan. Marvel have often struggled with compelling villains but that certainly is not the case here.

What they do struggle with is the CGI, although that’s not to say the CGI is bad. Instead, it is clearly incomplete in areas, specifically during the final battle between T’Challa and N’Jadaka. This is not a fault of the CG artists but of the time constraints placed on them by an industry that doesn’t value their work enough. It is infuriating to see, especially when better examples of their work are present elsewhere in the movie. This “time crunching” is an industry wide problem, but nothing is being done. Artists aren’t given better pay or more hours to complete a task. In the instances where they are given more time, they often aren’t paid for it. All this should have come to a head when, 6 months before release, the CG artists working on Sonic The Hedgehog re-animated the titular character from scratch, but it simply was not talked about enough. CG artists deserve better. This is part of why the criticism of “bad CGI” in movies is infuriating to me, especially with the MCU. The artists are doing the best they can with the time they have and given the time they have the CGI is pretty damn good. For every floating head, there’s an oversized rhino that doesn’t seem out of place. Andy Serkis has an entire arm digitally removed in many of his scenes and the occasional look at the end of his stump is a particularly nice touch.

The ramifications of this film will be felt, not just in reality, but in the MCU itself. Wakanda is no longer in hiding, granting N’Jadaka’s wish to share their knowledge with the world. The Black Panther and Dora Milaje will continue to fight alongside The Avengers, with the Dora Milaje even appearing on their own later down the line. Wakanda itself will host the final act of the brutal Infinity War. All of these things are important to the MCU but it’s the real world ramifications of Black Panther that really matter. It’s now been over a year since we lost Chadwick, but there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by where his loss hasn’t been felt.

The world needs more people like Chadwick.

‘Nuff Said.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Great power used to come with great responsibility. Now it seems to come with a safety net and a large amount of whining. Gone are the life lessons of the humble Uncle Ben and in their place is the arrogant bravado of Tony Stark. This makes sense for the Iron Man-centric MCU, and for this iteration of Spider-Man, but that does not mean it’s a good decision. What makes Spidey such a great character is his relatability, and unwillingness to give in when life is at its worst. He’s a superhero but he’s also juggling a career and a personal life. He barely scrapes by on rent, he has arguments with his girlfriend and he also loses those closest to him. Whether it’s Uncle Ben, Aunt May or Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man is plagued by loss but he doesn’t let the grief define him. Not everybody can be saved but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth trying.

Spider-Man: Homecoming picks up with 15 year old Peter Parker shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War as he awaits his next mission from Tony Stark. When disgruntled salvager Adrian Toomes begins selling alien-powered tech to criminals, Peter goes behind Tony’s back to deal with it himself. Whilst this iteration of the titular character is not perfect, he is a very decent mixture of Peter Parker and Spider-Man. Previously there was Tobey Maguire, a great Parker, and Andrew Garfield, an amazing Spidey, but they were each better at one aspect of the character than the other. Tom Holland manages to find a happy medium. His Parker is a lovable goofball and a genius but he lacks the understanding of basic concepts like how Hotel rooms work. His Spider-Man is quick witted and good in a fight but is driven by a determination to impress Stark instead of to help people. Holland is at his best when he is bouncing off of Jacob Batalon’s Ned Beatty. The screen lights up whenever the pair interact with a friendship that is clearly more than just acting. A particularly nice touch is the secret handshake that they have developed off-screen that they don’t even have to watch to know they’re doing it correctly.

A hero is only as good as the villain and Toomes’ Vulture is one of the best in the MCU. Micheal Keaton provides a chilling yet lovable performance as the character who, after appearing in the script for the unfinished Spider-Man 4, is enjoying a resurgence with another portrayal in PS4’s Spider-Man. Toomes is a working class man whose very secure job as a salvager was ripped away by the intervention of the Stark funded Department of Damage Control, which has led to a life of crime. In a lot of ways he is similar to Scott Lang/Ant-Man, but where the two differ is in their morals. Lang takes from the rich and gives to the poor while Toomes steals from the rich to make himself richer by selling to criminals. His motivations are understandable but it’s his actions that make him a villain.

The confrontations between him and Spidey are tense. The build up of their respectful relationship is handled masterfully and is elevated by Micheal Giacchino’s score. He always brings a vibrancy to his work, allowing the heroic moments to feel bombastic and the quieter moments to be somber. Having previously scored The Incredibles, and Mission Impossible III, Giacchino is no stranger to composing for heroes, and is himself a hero of the audio variety. His score is evocative of the 1980’s films it pays homage to and the orchestrated version of the classic Spider-Man theme brings chills.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a beautiful coming of age comedy when it’s allowed to be, but the necessity to tie into the larger MCU is inherently restrictive. Tony Stark is ever present, whether it’s in person, over the phone, through Happy Hogan, as a topic of conversation or as the motivation of the villain. He is literally holding Peter back by giving him a high tech suit with training protocols embedded into the system and then taking the suit away when Peter hacks through those protocols, but he is also holding the film back from being its own thing. Stark tells Peter that if he’s nothing without the suit then he shouldn’t have it, which is an act of hypocrisy so massive, it wouldn’t fit in The Grand Canyon. In actuality, it is Stark who is nothing without his suit – it just so happens that he is a billionaire so he can do whatever he wants regardless. He keeps Peter out of the loop on issues that he raises and, worst of all, he has the hots for Aunt May. The disrespect to Uncle Ben is astounding.

Part of the MCU connection is the buildup to events that are still to play out as I write this. Toomes survives, as does one of his henchmen with a scorpion tattoo, which is a clear nod to Marvel character The Scorpion and a set-up for The Sinister Six. This villainous team will make an appearance in Spider-Man: No Way Home although it seems like they have gone in a completely different route so hopefully this set-up will still lead somewhere. There’s also a reference to Thor’s magic belt Megingjörð, which has never made a physical appearance, and a gag about Happy carrying around an engagement ring for Tony and Pepper since 2008, which is a cute little meta moment. The most interesting aspect is where this film takes place in the larger MCU timeline because it isn’t entirely clear. Title cards state that the events of Homecoming take place 2 months after Civil War in 2016 and 8 years after the Battle of New York in 2012. The writers have since stated that audiences should ignore the “8 years later” title card but it’s a fun little peek behind the curtain of this supposedly well oiled machine that is the MCU.

Despite its several glaring flaws, Spider-Man: Homecoming is highly entertaining. The characters and story are compelling with a cracking soundtrack to boot but, much like Ant-Man, it is the requirement that it fit a larger narrative that lets it down. This is not something that is going to improve in future movies but that’s a discussion for another time.

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer