Black Widow

*SPOILERS: Black Widow, Avengers: Endgame*

*CW: Abuse*

The discussions around, and ramifications of, Black Widow are more interesting than the film itself. The titular character was first introduced in 2010’s Iron Man 2 and appears in 7 films before her solo adventure in 2021. With each appearance, she existed to further the development of a main character, and served as eye candy for the audience. Tony Stark, Clint Barton, Bruce Banner, and Steve Rogers all progressed as individuals while Natasha Romanoff remained the badass good girl. Her backstory is kept deliberately mysterious but is hinted at in 2016’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, where it is used to torment her before subsequently being forgotten about until Black Widow. Her journey comes to a definitive close in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame where, after a decade of wasted potential, she sacrifices herself to save Clint. It was a divisive move but considering Clint is a more entertaining and likable character with a future in training the new Hawkeye, ultimately this was the right decision.

With a whole decade of appearances behind her, Natasha’s solo film was announced in 2018 with a release date of May 2020. When the global pandemic struck several months before this, the film was delayed until November 6th 2020, which had been the release date for The Eternals. When it became clear that the pandemic wasn’t going to end by then, the film was pushed back to May 7th 2021, and, finally, to July 9th 2021. Black Widow was released on the streaming service Disney+ the same day it hit cinemas, although it cost £20 on top of the £7.99 monthly subscription to view it. This version of the “Premier Access” model, with a simultaneous cinema and streaming release, existed for several months, affecting large films like Cruella and Jungle Cruise. However, this version of the film’s release had not been stipulated in Scarlett Johanssen’s contract and she sued the Walt Disney Company for breaching said contract, and for reportedly costing her $50million. At the time of writing, the case is ongoing.

The largest ramification was the knockback effect of delaying the film. Despite being completed by the time they were supposed to be (early 2021) both Shang Chi and the Ten Rings and The Eternals were delayed by over half a year to accommodate Black Widow. This doesn’t seem to have been because the film was so important it had to come out first, but that Disney wanted that cinema money. The film is a prequel with no world-shattering ramifications so it doesn’t really matter when it was released, yet it was delayed by a year which obliterated the original Phase 4 schedule. This is on top of the delays faced by the MCU Shows, which were attempting to finish filming during the pandemic. It isn’t helped by Black Widow’s placement in the MCU timeline. Despite coming out in 2021 and the current MCU being set in 2023, the film takes place in 2016. This means that the post credits scene is setting up events in universe 7 years in the future and 10 films away.

The context for all of this is currently being lived through, but for anybody in the future and watching the MCU for the very first time in chronological order, this is going to be an odd experience. Post credits scenes in the MCU usually feel like they’re attached to the wrong film, but this is by far the worst offence. This isn’t a small story beat leading into a larger story, it’s the reveal of Natasha’s death and Hawkeye’s supposed involvment. This is a major deal, unveiled too early, at a point where it doesn’t make sense.

Black Widow itself is an average MCU installment. On the run from SHIELD following the events of Civil War, Nat reconnects with her younger sister-figure Yelena who has remained a part of Russia’s Black Widow program. Togehter they break their father-figure Alexi out of prison and reunite with their mother-figure Melina to take down The Red Room where Widows are trained. The four of them had been undercover as an average American family in the early 1990s but had been out of contact since it ended, with each of them pretending like they didn’t become emotionally attached to each other. This is except for Yelena who was 3 when the mission started and has therefore never known any other family. Florence Pugh’s performance really carries the weight of that emotion and she shines in every scene she’s in. This is also true for David Harbour as Alexi – Russia’s answer to Captain America – who dreams to return to his glory days as The Red Guardian. The chemistry between these two actors is beautiful and provides one of the most heartwarming scenes in the entire MCU. Having finally reunited as a family, an argument breaks out with Nat saying that their mission together never really meant anything, which causes Yelena to storm off distraught, Alexi going to comfort her poorly before giving a rendition of her favourite childhood song, Don Mcleans American Pie. It is definitely off key but is filled with an abundance of regret for what he’s done and hope that things will be better.

It wouldn’t be a superhero film without a supervillain, and this time it’s the turn of Taskmaster. A popular character from the comics and hot off the heels of an appearance in PS4’s Spider-Man, he is able to mimic the fighting style of anyone he sees. The fight sequences in this film are intense and the ones with him are the most visually interesting, but he is not the true villain. He’s not even male. She is Antonia Dreykov, daughter of General Dreykov – head of The Red Room. Having nearly been killed by an explosion as a child, the General implanted a chip in her neck that saved her life, and… gave him total control over her. She is a victim of her father who is the most merciless and vile person in the MCU. His control over all Widows is safeguarded by his own personal pheremonal lock, which alters their brain chemistry meaning they can’t attack him even if they want to.

The theme of control runs deep through the film alongside mental abuse, emotional manipulation, bodily violation and human trafficking. It all works out in the end, but this is just a story. More needs to be done in the real world to combat all of these issues. Black Widow has several flaws like pacing, inconsistent accents, and occasssionally obvious green screens, but its biggest flaw is that it doesn’t spark enough of a conversation. The film’s opening plays out like a psychological horror, but never follows through on the genuine horrors it brings up. Abuse, in any shape, is more than just an aesthetic and deserves to carry more weight.

Seek help where you can and provide it where there isn’t any.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Captain America: Civil War

This feels like a franchise installment. That is to say that this feels like what franchise installments seem to have become: focussed on the future instead of the present. Civil War is nowhere near as much of a cluttered mess as Batman Vs Superman because the story and characters are compelling. However, the universe becomes heavy-handed in a way that it never has before within the MCU. This isn’t a case of there being too many characters—Avengers: Infinity War proves that there’s no such thing—but rather that there are too many introductions. New characters, new locations, returning characters, and returning plot threads all collide through an otherwise good, character-driven story.

On another mission to a foreign country, Wanda Maximoff accidentally destroys a portion of a building containing innocent civilians. As the latest in a long line of damage left behind by The Avengers, the US Government decides to step in, asking that they sign a document compiled by the United Nations. The Sokovia Accords (named after the city that The Avengers dropped from the sky in Avengers: Age of Ultron) would switch control of the team from themselves to the UN and, primarily, the US. This prompts a moral battle between Earth’s Mightiest Heroes which culminates in a straight-up fight, when Steve Rogers/Captain America commits an unsanctioned act. As this is happening, Sokovian Helmut Zemo is framing Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier for the murder of Wakanda’s King T’Chaka and unveiling a dark secret to destroy The Avengers’ friendship.

This is a lot to pack into two and a half hours, but it works because the characters are previously established and grounded in this universe. It is the members of The Avengers and the emotional conflict between them that is at the heart of this story. At the time, the advertising was very similar to Twilight, dividing people into “Team Cap” or “Team Iron Man”. How righteous are The Accords, and should they be signed? The film never gives an explicit answer, treating both sides as equally valid opinions. Cap’s argument is that the Government would use The Avengers for their own means and not in the best interest of the American people. He has lived experience in the area of ‘organisations doing what they think is best’ and has seen how poorly it can end. Meanwhile, Tony’s argument is that The Avengers have inadvertently killed too many people during their battles and that they should be held to account. His decision is fueled by pure guilt, and ignores that civilians would still be hurt if the team was under Government control. The film sits on the fence, trusting the audience to make up their own minds, but there is a correct answer… and it’s not signing The Accords.

This confrontation between Cap and Tony almost reaches an amenable end before Zemo strikes the final blow. Having lured them and Bucky to a secret base in the mountains where Winter Soldiers were trained, he reveals that Bucky murdered Tony’s parents. Their deaths had been unveiled as suspicious to the audience in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but now it is finally revealed to the characters along with the tragic truth. It’s a brilliant plan on Zemo’s part. He is, to date, the only person to defeat The Avengers, who will continue feeling ramifications until Avengers: Infinity War. He knew that emotional scars often cut as deep, if not deeper, than physical ones because he too has suffered. His family was killed when Sokovia fell and it drove him to revenge. When this mission is complete and he is at peace, he feels like his story can come to an end. Peace like this won’t be seen again until the ending moments of Infinity War, but this resonates more emotionally.

Whilst Civil War is telling its story, it is also setting up several others. The fictional African country of Wakanda has been mentioned before, but this is the first time that its people are present with the introduction of Prince T’Challa – The Black Panther. He’s cool and calculating but is overcome with vengeance when Bucky is framed for his father’s murder. This is an interesting element that deserves more time, but there simply isn’t enough to give to it. On top of this is the introduction of Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Aunt May to the MCU. This is the third iteration of these characters in 20 years, so the film assumes that the audience is familiar enough with them to drop them in here. While it’s true that Spider-Man is a popular character, nobody is familiar with this iteration. Audience awareness does not a character make.

This isn’t to say nothing of returning characters who are crossing over for the first time. Scott Lang/Ant-Man has been fleshed out by his own origin movie, but this is his first time with big players like Captain America. It’s clear that he is excited, but there’s barely any time spent on this. Then there is General Everett Ross, whose return here is a significant moment. Until this point, the MCU has felt like it is ignoring the existence of The Incredible Hulk, but including Ross puts that to an end. He is the first character from that film to make his way into the wider MCU, discounting The Hulk himself because he was re-cast. Finally, there is the return of Sharon Carter/Agent 13 from The Winter Soldier who is here to act as a love interest for Cap. She also provides information from SHIELD but her primary existence is as a love interest, which is gross considering she is the niece of Peggy Carter… who was Cap’s last love interest. 

Captain America: Civil War is an enjoyable action-adventure with impactful character moments but it is prevented from being great by setting up too many future stories. It’s an acceptable aspect when done generically and in smaller doses, but there is a limit to how much can be crammed into 2 and a half hours. It leaves this Captain America story feeling more like an Avengers one.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer


Discussions of an Ant-Man film date back to the late 1980s, when Stan Lee first attempted to get the project off of the ground. None of the major studios showed any interest in it, and all plans were shelved until the early 2000s. Writer/director Edgar Wright wrote a treatment with his conspirator Joe Cornish, which they pitched to Marvel Studios in 2003 – despite claims that he never intended to pitch the film to anyone. Over the next several years, the script was adapted so that it included original Ant-Man Hank Pym as well as the current iteration Scott Lang. Over the next decade, the script was revised between Wright’s work on The Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) and in late 2014 it finally entered production. However, in the months leading up to this—despite all the crew members being hired and ready to go—Wright left the project, citing creative differences. It was at this point that director Peyton Reed and writer Adam Mackay were brought in to finish the project. We may never know how Wright’s Ant-Man would have looked, but the film we got is, in my opinion, still one of the most entertaining movies in the MCU.

The plot follows cat-burglar Scott Lang as he pulls one last heist in the hopes of finding enough money to pay child support for his daughter Cassie, who he is not allowed to see otherwise. Instead, he finds himself in possession of the Ant-Man suit, and at the beck and call of its creator Hank Pym, as well as his daughter Hope. Hank’s former protégé, and Hope’s, current boss is Darren Cross, who has created his own weaponised shrinking suit, which he intends to sell to the highest bidder. Which happens to be Hydra. It’s up to our new trio, as well as a few crooks that Scott knows, to pull off a heist in order to stop him. As somebody with a soft spot for heist movies like the Ocean’s trilogy, I really appreciate that the heist isn’t the sole focus. The majority of the plot is spent preparing for it, but it’s here to serve to different purposes. The first of these is training Scott to use the suit, since he’s going to continue using it, and the second is kickstarting the plot and allowing our characters the opportunity to bond. The heist is more of a catalyst than the focus of the narrative, what really drives the plot forward is the relationship between the characters, although there are still several Marvel Moments to remind you that this is a blockbuster.

Scott Lang is an extremely likable and sympathetic character. He’s a father, down on his luck, who can’t get a regular job due to his status as an ex-convict. His crime? Taking money from a company who was underpaying their employees, so that the CEOs could get bigger payslips, and returning that money to the employees. He’s a modern day Robin Hood… but the legal system doesn’t see him that way. After serving his time he lies about being an ex-con to procure a job at Baskin Robbins, but is fired once they find out. This isn’t an MCU or film issue, this is a real thing that happens to real people. The American Justice System functions on behalf of prison companies who make the most money when their cells are full. Coupled with companies refusing to hire ex-cons, it’s no wonder that so many return to a life of crime. The primary goal of the justice system should be reformation, not punishment, and Scott Lang is an embodiment of that. He also happens to be a caring father, and is portrayed with all of the charismatic charm of Paul Rudd.

The other father in this story is Hank Pym, who retired from SHIELD after they attempted to replicate his shrinking formula, The Pym Particle. His wife Janet sacrifices herself on a top secret mission but hides this information from Hope, who grows to resent him for keeping this from her and telling her that Janet died in a plane crash. In attempting to shield her from the pain, he has denied her the chance to grieve properly. Their journey is one of reconciliation, as Hank realises that he was over-protective, and Hope understands why. To me, it’s one of the most beautiful relationships in the entire MCU.

I believe that these relationships, as well as a healthy amount of comedic action, were what Wright’s Ant-Man would have focussed on. Of course, we may never know for sure, but I have my suspicions about where Marvel may have stepped in. The first is anything connected to The Avengers, and the second is the villain. During Scott’s first mission, he must retrieve a gadget from one of Hank’s old warehouses, however things quickly go awry when he discovers that this warehouse is now home to The Avengers. This leads to a fight between Scott and Sam Wilson, who I suspect may have been the only hero available at the time. Meanwhile, Darren Cross is a decent villain with solid motivation, but at the beginning of the third act he becomes straight up evil. He’s selling his tech to Hydra, shooting Hank and holding Cassie hostage. This is supposedly due to his variation of the Pym Particle being unstable and altering his brain waves, but I wonder if the more likely reason might be a corporate one. I feel like these two scenarios lessen the impact of the film slightly by pulling you out of a character driven story and into an action blockbuster, which would be decent enough reason to leave a project.

For me, there are two factors that help Ant-Man stand out from most other MCU instalments. Firstly, this film is funny. Other films in the MCU have humour, but they would still be classed as action-adventure, whilst this is definitely a comedy. There are some particularly effective visual gags which make brilliant used of Pym’s shrinking and enlarging tech, specifically one featuring beloved children’s character Thomas the Tank Engine. The second is the wonderful score composed by Christophe Beck. The comparisons to James Bond are plentiful, so I will instead compare it to the work of Murray Gold whose music was instrumental in shaping the revived run of Doctor Who. He filled his music with the amount of energy and heart that was a core component of the show, and Beck’s score fills me with a similar sense of excitement, especially the Ant-Man theme itself which has all the whimsy of Rob Grainer’s original Doctor Who theme.

Ant-Man was released mere months after the tonally dark Avengers: Age of Ultron, and was exactly the kind of palette cleanser the fandom required. There were no long-lasting or even short-lasting ramifications aside from an Avengers connection and the introduction of the Quantum Realm, so it very nearly stands on its own. This isn’t the last origin story we’ll be seeing in the MCU, but I think it is the last one that feels like it doesn’t have any commitments, set-up or connections to the bigger picture. My opinion of it only continues to grow.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Avengers: Age of Ultron

The consensus in the MCU fandom seems to be that Age of Ultron is bad, and that it’s the weakest of all 4 current Avengers films. I disagree with this, but I have very mixed feelings about this particular installment which, I feel, is of a higher production quality than its predecessor. I disliked the television feel and rapid camera cuts in Avengers Assemble, and I am pleased to report that neither of these issues are present in Age of Ultron. Of the several issues in this film, cinematography isn’t one of them.

The plot follows The Avengers as they face off against Ultron – a synthezoid created by Tony Stark that has gone rogue and is attempting to end humanity. This sounds relatively simple but it’s primarily the glue that holds a hundred other plot threads together. Age of Ultron is all about setting up the future of the MCU, and introduces us to a variety of new characters. The Maximoff twins, Vision, Ulysses Klaw, and Hawkeye’s family all make their first appearances here, and they are all given a decent amount of set up. Since this is the majority of the plot, the easiest way for me to discuss Age of Ultron is to discuss all these elements: starting with Pietro and Wanda Maximoff. 

The Maximoff twins are technically the first mutants in the MCU, but you won’t hear them called that because the rights to use that term were with 20th Century Fox at the time. This meant that a work around had to be found, and I think it’s fairly clever. The twins received their powers after Hydra used the Infinity Stone in Loki’s sceptre to experiment on them, which led to them becoming known as “enhanced”. This experimentation comes after they survived the collapse of their house where they spent several days staring down an unexploded Stark missile. This gives them a solid reason to stand with Ultron, but because they are acting out of revenge instead of pure malice, they are still willing to side with the Avengers once they learn Ultron’s full plan. My biggest issue with Pietro has nothing to do with the character, and everything to do with how he is used. He is killed by a hailstorm of bullets whilst pushing Hawkeye and a child out of the line of fire, which is particularly ridiculous given he is the fastest man alive. It feels as if this only happens to provide Wanda with further trauma. Wanda herself is a very likable character, but much like Black Widow, she is unnecessarily put into tight costumes. Actress Elizabeth Olsen has been very open about how against this decision she was, especially considering the director told her she wouldn’t have to wear anything like that. There’s no denying that the oversexualistion of women is at its worst in the first two Avengers films, and the more I hear about it, the more I’m filled with rage. As we go through the MCU, Wanda is going to get—in my opinion—one of the best characterisations in this franchise, and she deserves it. Much of this will come to a head in Wandavision, details of which we will take into account when we get there.

The introduction of Vision is handled very well. The lead up to his creation/birth is filled with tension, because it has only been a few days since Tony attempted something similar and ended up with Ultron. Despite being born in the middle of a massive disagreement between Avengers and an oncoming battle with Ulton, Vision is extraordinarily calm. He knows that he might not be trusted, but the moment he picks up Mjolnir he unknowingly proves to everybody that he is one of the most trustworthy beings there is. It’s a simple act, which means nothing to him but everything to those around him. He also happens to be one of the most powerful beings on the planet, having been created with Vibranium and with an Infinity Stone embedded in his forehead. It also helps that his birth was kickstarted by the lightning of Thor himself, who has a barely-present subplot about the possible incoming destruction of Asgard.

Ulysses Klaw gets a similar understated demonstration of power. We know that he’s an arms dealer with a dangerous history, because even Tony Stark at the height of his capitalistic nature wasn’t willing to trade with him. When we meet Klaw, he is afraid of nothing (except cuttlefish) and intimidates the Maximoff twins who have been sent to threaten him. He isn’t even set back when Ultron rips one of his arms off, which shows his unflinching determination.

Now we come to Mrs. Barton and her two children. Their introduction got a lot of backlash from some people who felt it completely undermined the romantic relationship that Avengers Assemble set up between Clint and Natasha. I am of the same opinion, however I feel like this isn’t a bad thing, and I’d like to explain why. Firstly, it gives The Avengers a much needed safehouse, and shows how desperate they are for safety because Clint would not allow his two worlds to collide unless it was a last resort. It also shows how much he cares about the Avengers, because it would have been easy for him to run and hide. In terms of negating the romantic relationship between Clint and Nat, I think that their characters work better with a platonic relationship. It shows how truly close they are, and how much they trust each other, whilst demonstrating that mixed gender relationships don’t need to be romantic.

This doesn’t mean that Nat has no love interest, because heaven forbid she be allowed to exist for herself. Age of Ultron features a relationship between her and Bruce Banner, which I find difficult to sit through. I’m aware that the comics did it once, but Nat has had a relationship with pretty much everyone in the comics and putting any of these in an MCU film doesn’t make it inherently good. To me it reads like Nat is sleeping her way through the team, but worse than that, she uses her relationship with Banner to calm him down as the Hulk, which is ridiculously manipulative. However the worst part of their relationship comes with how the film compares these two characters, making them seem equally monstrous. Natasha was trained as an assassin in the Red Room, which removes the ability to have children as part of the graduation ceremony, and this is equated to The Hulk who is an uncontrollable, dangerous monster. Good to know that not being able to give birth makes you a monster. Good to know that the trauma Natasha faced makes her a terrible person incapable of redemption. Coupled with Tony’s earlier line about reinstating Prima Nocta on Asgard if he can lift Mjolnir, it paints a very clear picture of how the director feels about women.

Age of Ultron definitely has some of the worst moments in the MCU, in particular its treatment of women, but I still find the plot to be impressive. There’s no denying that the pacing is off, but considering the amount of plot threads and set-up present, it’s almost a miracle that the film is as comprehensible as it is. I think that comes down to Ultron, who leads The Avengers from scenario to scenario and whose portrayal by James Spader is highly entertaining to watch. This isn’t a sequel or a continuation, it’s a beginning. A heavily padded beginning, with plenty of action and character conflict to remain entertaining.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

At the time of its release in 2014, The Winter Soldier was the most devastating thing to happen in the lore of the MCU. The events within the plot would shape the cinematic universe going forward and add an extra layer to the films that came before it. Whilst this is a Captain America film, it is intrinsically tied to the larger story of the MCU, as all 3 Captain America films are. He was the very first Avenger and many heroes/villains have come from governments/organisations attempting to replicate the serum that courses through his blood. Aside from being one of the most important stories in this franchise, The Winter Soldier was also one of the most profitable, making around $700million on a budget of about $170million. By the time this film arrived, it was almost a given that any film in the MCU would make bank, and this continued to solidify that statement as fact.

The plot follows Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) as they find themselves on the run from SHIELD and a mysterious assassin known as The Winter Soldier. Along the way, they meet Sam Wilson (Falcon) and must face some harsh truths about the organisation they once thought to be safe. SHIELD has secretly been host to HYDRA agents and, in an attempt to expose the truth, both organisations must fall. The film wastes no time in establishing the stakes by killing SHIELD Director Nick Fury and having a STRIKE team attempt to kill Cap. Of course Fury survives (after all, no death is permanent except Uncle Ben) but for a solid chunk of the runtime none of the characters are aware of this. When his survival is finally revealed it doesn’t change the mission because there is too much at stake. It provides an excellent shift in dynamics between Fury and Cap, with Fury finally giving Cap his full trust and Cap finally feeling like he’s being trusted.

All of the relationships in The Winter Soldier are handled well, especially the friendship between Steve and Natasha, which is a core element of the plot and (thankfully) is never played as romantic. It’s clear that Nat has been shaken to her core by the revelations about SHIELD and is terrified that she is no longer the hero she thought she was. The faith that Steve places in her is clearly something that she experiences very rarely, and with her reciprocation, you get one of the best friendships in the MCU. Meanwhile, Sam is an excellent person to round out the trio. His military service and loss of a close friend gives him an instant connection with Steve, and he trusts Nat because Steve does. Sam is willing to take orders, but it’s clear that he won’t do so if it conflicts with his moral compass and, to top it off, he’s a super fun character.

The small spanner in the works, and one of many plot twists spoiled in the advertising, is the reveal that The Winter Soldier is Cap’s best friend Bucky Barnes, who supposedly died in 1945 after falling over a cliff from a moving train. It transpires that he fell into a river, which broke his fall, but he was picked up by Soviet Scientists and had his mind erased before being given a metal arm and getting cryogenically frozen between top secret missions. This is a traumatic experience for him once his memory begins to return, and the film never shies away from that. We are shown his mind being wiped and the rage of confusion as it grows inside him until he can’t bear it anymore. There are several tragic and sympathetic figures in the MCU, but I think that James Buchanan Barnes may be at the top of that list. 

The large spanner in the works, and a selling point for the film, is that HYDRA has embedded itself inside SHIELD. A couple of key players are shown to have been HYDRA all along such as Agent Casper Sitwell (from Thor) and Senator Stern (from Iron Man 2). The infiltration really does go all the way to the top, and there’s no knowing who can be trusted. To truly solve the problem, both organisations need to collapse, which will have a lasting impact going forward. Without SHIELD to protect them, The Avengers will finally be held accountable by the government, and will see their popularity start to falter. This is where the age of liability begins.

There’s so much happening in terms of the larger MCU continuity that I’d consider The Winter Soldier essential viewing in an MCU marathon. It marks a drastic change in circumstance and introduces characters, as well as destroying an organisation that has been ever present thus far. For once, in an Earth-based installment, there are no Infinity Stones, and they really aren’t needed because the stakes are big enough on their own. We won’t see ramifications this massive until Captain America: Civil War, and we won’t see a main Avenger in a non-ensemble film until Thor: Ragnarok. The main question that this film raises is where the other Avengers are, considering how devastating this event is, and you can keep wondering because it’s never explained. I suppose none of the other Avengers actually work for SHIELD, so they don’t need to step in, and they do eventually team up again to deal with the aftermath in Age of Ultron, but it might have been polite to check in. If this is my biggest issue with the film, I think that’s a pretty good sign.

This may be an MCU film, but it’s an espionage film through and through. It keeps the conflict focused on our main characters despite the conflict itself being massive. Each of our longtime characters get to progress their arc, and that includes Black Widow who gets to demonstrate that she’s a brutal spy with deep insecurities. I’m a little nostalgic for this era of the MCU, if I’m honest. It felt like there was more agreement back then.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Iron Man 3

*Dedicated to the underappreciated and underpaid Mental Health services around the world. You deserve better* TW: Panic Attacks *

From what I can recall, there are a vast number of people who don’t like Iron Man 3. However, as I researched opinions for this piece, I found that many of those who disliked it at the time had softened to it over the years. Personally, I’ve always thought that Iron Man 3 was good, and have defended it to friends who disagreed, although I’ve never had to put as much effort into defending this as I have Iron Man 2. I think the threequel is the best in the trilogy, and it would appear that this opinion has gained some traction within the fanbase lately. When it comes to “bad” MCU films, I think this is the one that people have come around on the most.

The plot follows Tony Stark as he struggles with PTSD and panic attacks after coming close to death during the Battle of New York whilst attempting to foil a terrorist leader known as The Mandarin, without the aide of his mechanical suits. The film focuses on the elements of Iron Man within Tony Stark , much like the Dark Knight trilogy focuses on the Batman within Bruce Wayne. I’ve seen this levied as a criticism of the film because “you can’t have an Iron Man movie without Iron Man” but that is literally the central theme. Captain America once asked what Stark would be if stripped of his toys and, as this film shows, he would still be a genius capable of holding his own in a fight, and whose sole aim is to protect people. The suits are simply an extension of him, and that only becomes more true the further into the timeline we get with his nano-suits.

I also feel like this film does an excellent job of handling his PTSD and panic attacks. Mental Health is something that the MCU has attempted to handle on several occasions, with mixed results, but I think that Iron Man 3 gets it right. As somebody with a history of panic attacks, I can assure you that they are terrifying to experience. You can attempt to find various triggers, but even then there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to avoid them. In my experience, there is no knowing how long they will last, and the best you can really hope for is that you don’t breathe too quickly and pass out. It’s no joke, and this film never plays it like one, which is greatly appreciated. They also do a decent job of demonstrating that children might not fully comprehend what is happening, and that they may inadvertently trigger an attack without knowing how. Let me reiterate that panic attacks suck, and if it’s happening to someone you know, the best thing you can do is provide whatever they need. They may want space, reassurance, fresh air, or silence, and it’s important that you give them that.

The second complaint I’ve seen is the one that the most people seemed to get hung up on. If, as a fan of Marvel, you were angry with Iron Man 3, then there is a good chance that it was their depiction of The Mandarin. Throughout the course of the film he has been committing terrorist attacks and hijacking the television airwaves to lecture President Ellis of the United States about the lessons he can learn from these attacks. As we enter the third act, it is revealed that The Mandarin is being portrayed by an actor named Trevor Slattery with the “real” Mandarin being Aldrich Killian-CEO of Advanced Idea Mechanics. It’s a hell of a plot twist that I don’t think many people saw coming, and I think that some felt like they had been lied to. I can understand the frustration, especially given Sir Ben Kingsley’s stellar performance, but it feels like a sign that the plot twist did what it was designed to. I also saw some saying it was disrespectful to the original comic book character and I can understand that too. Whitewashing is a very real issue in Hollywood and Marvel has played it’s part in that, but it seems to be something that they were aware of. Neither Slattery or Killian are really The Mandarin, it is simply a title that they stole. The co-writer for Iron Man 3-Drew Pearce- also wrote a Marvel One-Shot titled All Hail The King.

The short film takes place shortly after the events of Iron Man 3, with Slattery in prison for his crimes. Here he is interviewed by an amateur documentarian who is secretly a member of The 10 Rings, sent to break him out on behalf of the real Mandarin. It is often presumed that this short was created as a response to the backlash faced by Marvel for botching The Mandarin, but this isn’t really the case. Plans for this short were already being discussed during production of Iron Man 3, and only a few lines were altered due to backlash… though I have no idea which ones. It left open the door for The Mandarin to one day make his first appearance, and he will finally get that chance, 8 years later, in Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It’s genuinely exciting to me and I wouldn’t be upset or surprised if Trevor Slattery gets name dropped.

In terms of continuity, there’s more closure than there is set-up. Obviously, there is the return of The 10 Rings who made their first appearance 8 films ago in Iron Man. It’s worth noting that they aren’t really The 10 Rings, and are only appropriating their existence, but this group is a decent threat nonetheless. War Machine returns in a supporting role with a brand new paint job for his armour, and a new less-impressive name: the Iron Patriot. Neither of these remain going forward. There’s only one character cameo in this film, bar the end credits, which is Yensen from the original Iron Man in a flashback, and it’s genuinely lovely to see him again. Probably the biggest continuity introduction is the removal of the bomb shrapnel from Stark’s chest, which was a divisive decision as some felt like this should have happened sooner. Personally, I never had an issue with it because it marks a brand new chapter in his life and provides him with emotional closure. He may be present in practically every MCU film, but his trilogy is where most of the character progression takes place so it’s nice to put a little bow on it.

Iron Man 3 is all about closure. It’s the final instalment in the Iron Man trilogy, and the last time that we’ll see Tony Stark take on a threat without a team surrounding him. After this it’s mostly team-up ensemble movies and, whilst that isn’t inherently a bad thing, there’s something special about solo adventures. As solo adventures go, this may have the most heroic score which has been masterfully composed by Brian Taylor. Much like the theme from The Pirates of the Caribbean, I feel hyped listening to it, and I think that this hype is something Iron Man 3 provides. I’d list this as one of the most underrated films in the entire MCU alongside The Incredible Hulk and I’m glad that people are finally feeling the same.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

With the success of 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, it was only a matter of time before a sequel was greenlit and this was done before the film had even been released. It was a risk, but clearly one that the Studio Execs felt was going to pay off. It wouldn’t be until a year later (2015) that the sequel received its official title – Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 – which was a perfect fit with the story being told and the lived experience of main character Peter Quill. During the course of Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter (and by extension, us) is listening to a mixtape created for him by his mother Meredith titled The Awesome Mix before finally opening a long un-opened gift containing The Awesome Mix: Volume 2. Before media was released in “parts” (looking at you Quiet Place Part 2) it was released in “volumes” so not only does the title serve as a nod to Meredith but it also helps to immortalise an era of history.

The plot of Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 picks up a few months after the events of the original, with The Guardians on a mission for the Sovereign race, whom Rocket ends up betraying by stealing the very items they were hired to protect. Whilst on the run, the crew are saved by Peters long-lost father Ego, and his assistant Mantis, who take the crew – minus Rocket, Groot, and a captive Nebula – to his planet, where they learn some very dark secrets. Meanwhile, Rocket, Groot, and Nebula are taken prisoner by the Ravagers who have been hired to hunt them down by the Sovereigns, before a mutiny breaks out amongst the crew when Yondu refuses to deliver them. A friendship quickly forms between the former Ravager captain and Rocket, forming one of the 3 core relationships on which the film stands.

The emotional/familial throughlines here aren’t just confined to Yondu and Rocket, although I find theirs to be the most interesting. They are both snarky and aggressive characters who feel alone in the universe, despite having teams around them. Watching them cut through each others’ tough exterior to the emotional vulnerability beneath provides an explosive conflict different from any of the other relationships in this film. We witness the formation of a lifelong friendship where they feel like they can only be honest with each other, and seeing this friendship ended so quickly is truly heart breaking. Yondu is at the core of another relationship with Peter, where they have a father/son bond, although this is mainly explored through Peter’s new relationship with Ego. He can’t understand why his father would abandon his mother, but desperately feels the need to have him in his, life while Ego clearly abandoned her for for selfish reasons and hates himself for ever falling in love. They both want something that they feel they deserve, but neither is willing to give in to the others’ requests. Eventually, Peter learns that he has had a father figure in his life in the form of Yondu, who makes the ultimate sacrifice so that Peter can survive. This death is a massive gut punch, because Peter is losing a father and Rocket is losing a friend. Lastly is the relationship between the adopted daughters of Thanos: Nebula and Gamora, who were pitted against each other and tortured their entire lives. Those feelings finally come to a head, and they explore them the only way they know how… through violence. This is never depicted as abnormal, and feels like the way in which this family would resolve its issues because every family will deal with issues differently and that is okay. The original Guardians of the Galaxy had heart and writer/director James Gunn doubles down on it here.

The continuity of the larger MCU is more present here than in the previous instalment and, whilst rare, is incredibly important. Chronologically this is Marvel’s 10th film but it was released 15th which means that there were originally 4 Earth-based films between the volumes of Guardians of the Galaxy. It flows much better one after the other. Avengers Assemble introduces us to the dangers present in space, and it feels like the following films (Thor 2, Guardians 1 & 2) explore that theme. Possibly the largest piece of continuity comes in the form of the Stan Lee cameo, which is something that I have so far neglected to mention in any of my MCU reviews. He has had a cameo role in every single Marvel property which, by 2017, had led to a very popular fan theory. In the comics, there are a group of supernatural beings known as The Watchers, who simply exist to observe the universe, and it was theorised that Stan Lee was playing the role of a Watcher every single time he appeared. Word of the the theory reached Marvel and it appears that they were also a fan of the theory because, whilst he isn’t a Watcher, he is a Watcher informant, and is shown telling The Watchers of his adventures on Earth. He is specifically telling them of the time he was a FedEx delivery man, which isn’t a cameo we have yet seen chronologically as it appears in Captain America: Civil War. I suppose time works differently across the universe. The most important aspect of this role is the part it plays in immortalising the man himself, who clearly cared very deeply about the characters he had created and the fans who had helped make them a success, as an eternal being in the MCU. The second cameo comes curtesy of Howard the Duck, who was previously only glimpsed in the post-credits scene of the original Guardians of the Galaxy. There he was hidden away, almost ignorable, but here he is given an entire panning shot and line of dialogue as if to say “try ignoring this”. I spoke of his legacy in the previous review but that legacy is truly cemented here.

Whilst on the topic of post-credit scenes, I think Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 has the most of any MCU property:

The first shows Kraglin, Yondu’s 2nd favourite Ravager, as he attempts to master Yondu’s whistle-controlled arrow with a head fin. The character has not yet returned but I can’t wait to see how far he has come when he finally does.

The second shows a crew of Yondu’s old Ravager teammates, who had previously ousted him for breaking the Ravager Code, reuniting after his funeral. I doubt we’ll ever see them again but it’s almost comforting to know that their out there, fighting the fight that Yondu would have wanted them to.

The third shows that Groot has grown into a teenager which acts as a nice piece of fluff after a film with some fairly heavy themes.

The fourth shows the leader of the Sovereigns, Ayesha, creating an artificial being to destroy The Guardians once for all, who she calls Adam. This has since been confirmed by James Gunn to be Adam Warlock who, in the comics, became a member of The Guardians himself, and will presumably play a part in Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3, though this is still unconfirmed.

The fifth and final scene returns to Stan Lee, who is being abandoned by The Watchers although he states that he has so many stories left to tell. This hits a lot harder, having lost the legendary creator in 2018, and I can’t help but imagine the stories that will now go untold or the joy left un-given.

There remains one small Easter egg hidden inside the credits themselves, with the appearance of an as-yet-unintroduced character played by Jeff Goldblum. We will come to meet this man – The Grandmaster of Sakaar – in Thor: Ragnarok, which happened to be in production at the same time as Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2, and was released several months after. Given his role as an eternal being akin to Ego, this is a nice little nod and I’ll never turn down a surprise appearance by Goldblum, who always provides entertainment to any project he touches.

Personally, I prefer Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 over Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 1. I think that the emotional core is deeper, and I’m a bigger fan of the country-centric soundtrack, which opens with the ever wonderful Mr Blue Sky. The film resonates with me on an emotional level, but still manages to pack in plenty of action. The visuals are also stunning, from Ego’s Planet to the Hyper-Jumps to the display at Yondu’s funeral. The whole MCU falls under the action/adventure umbrella, but the moments when it shines the brightest are in the moments of character growth, which this film has in spades. I think this is one of the franchise’s crowning achievements, and I’m delighted that Disney finally re-hired James Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 3 after unjustly firing him.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Thor: The Dark World

Once again, we find ourselves at the “worst” film in the MCU. Much like Iron Man 2, this is the second film of what will later become a trilogy and much like The Incredible Hulk it has a very modest score on IMDB (6.9 to be precise). However some might say that unlike these films, Thor: The Dark World is kind of important to the mainline story of the MCU. Iron Man 2 focuses more on Tony Stark as a character and The Incredible Hulk is a film that some fans just flat out ignore. Not this film though. It’s the first time that we are introduced to an Infinity Stone that isn’t the Tesseract and it marks the second time that Loki has died as well as giving further backstory to the relationship between Asgard and the rest of the nine realms. It also holds Loki accountable for his previous actions but we’ll get to that.

Thor: The Dark World picks up shortly after Avengers Assemble, with Loki in Asgardian prison and Thor poised to be crowned king. However, after an attack by an ancient race called Dark Elves nearly brings them to their knees, Thor embarks on a mission with Loki to bring a ceasefire which reunites them with Jane Foster, Darcy Lewis and Erik Selvig. Our McGuffin for these proceedings, and the weapon that leader of the Dark Elves- Malekieth is after, is The Aether. Capable of plunging all 9 realms into eternal darkness, The Aether is the second of our 6 Infinity Stones. This is a term that we’re familiar with now but this is the first time we are hearing it in the MCU as well as the first time we get an explanation for what they are. Whilst the Tesseract has been present for many of the previous instalments in this franchise, this is the first time that we learn what it truly is and just how much power any of the 6 stones hold. Why exactly The Aether choses to kidnap Jane Foster and use her body as a vessel, I can’t tell. It would seem that contrived plot elements are present even in the world’s largest film franchise. (Watch them explain it away in Thor 4 as fate or something.)

Whilst this carries the plot forward, the true core of the story is the relationship between Thor and Loki. It’s clear that despite Loki’s drastic flaws, Thor still loves his brother even if he can’t trust him. Actors Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston (Thor and Loki respectively) bounce off each other with such ease that you never doubt the relationship of their characters. Both Thor and Loki are at their most emotionally distraught here having lost their mother, their father becoming ill, facing the potential destruction of their home and facing a possible exile upon their return. Absolutely everything is at stake here and this is only amplified for Thor once Loki dies (again). I seem to recall his eventual survival being a point of contention for some fans at the time and I’m fully aware that his death count has become a running gag at this point but there is a saying for times like this. Unless you see a character die, don’t be sure it happened. It’s why the series 4 finale of Sherlock was so upsetting to me and it’s why, when Loki meets his demise at the hands of Thanos, I would be inclined to believe it. Once again Thor is fighting for the people he cares about but now he is also fighting to honour those he has lost.

While we’re talking about people that Thor has lost, I want to talk about his mother Friga. This is a woman who refuses to give up on her adopted son – the murderer – and is willing to die for her other son’s girlfriend who she had only just met. Her character is one of the kindest and most humble in the entire MCU and her death is given all the respect it deserves. The way that all the sound mutes, allowing Thor’s screams of anguish to pierce through is one of the MCU’s most heartbreaking moments. It is followed by her funeral which is beautifully shot and stunningly scored. There’s no dialogue. just the looks of paint that you would expect during a time like this. I know that many consider Thor: The Dark World to be one of the worst films in the MCU but these 10 minutes are definitely some of the best that the franchise has to offer.

This brings us to what many consider to be the film’s weakest aspect-Malakieth. I really want to like him as a villain and to find him threatening but he feels like such a standard villain. Christopher Ecclestone is clearly giving his all in the role and I know how talented he is as a performer but there’s just so little for him to work with here. It often feels like the film’s real threat is The Aether and as villains go Malakieth pales in comparison to others that Thor has fought. The Sentinal from Thor was several stories tall, The Chitauri from Avengers Assemble had an army of thousands and even at the start of Thor: The Dark World we see him take down a stone giant with ease. Malekieth meanwhile is at his most powerful after he has been consumed by The Aether which results in a tornado. We later learn that this particular Infinity Stone can alter reality so this makes Malakieth seem even weaker in retrospect. It’s a fun final battle and makes great use of the portals between realms but Malakieth is set up as a much larger threat than he ends up being. For those of you keeping score by the way, this is the 4th time that the villain of the piece has died, which means there’s also sadly no way to expand the character.

The other issue that I’ve seen some people raise is that Darcy Lewis is annoying and, whilst this criticism is entirely subjective, I’m going to disagree. I personally find her to be absolutely delightful and the kind of person that I could become friends with but she also provides moments of levity in an otherwise dark story. To me, there seems to be a noticeable divide between those who like her and those who don’t. It seems to come down to age, gender and how much we are willing to just enjoy things. This general divide is present throughout the fanbase but it seems to be more prevalent when it comes to discussing the “lesser” films in the MCU. It’s something that I really feel should be discussed, although I won’t go in depth with it here. I feel like it is still worth bringing up as just a caveat in moments like this, even if only to possibly start the larger discussion.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a thousand times: every film is worth something. For Thor: The Dark World it’s the characters and the way that they interact as well as the sheer amount of lore it adds to the MCU. It’s where we first meet The Collector before he plays a slightly larger role in Guardians of the Galaxy and it gives us The Aether as well as the concept of Infinity Stones. If my theories are correct, it will also provide someimportant backstory for Jane Foster in Thor 4. I still don’t believe Thor: The Dark World is bad because even a “bad” MCU film is mediocre at worst. After this, there is one more of these “bad” instalments to get through and, I won’t lie, I’ll be glad to get it over with. I pour as much of myself and my love for cinema into these reviews as I can but when I have to write about a “bad” film like Iron Man 2 or Thor: The Dark World, I find it just a little more emotionally draining than usual. I just find negativity so exhausting, but these reviews are worth the effort. I could be the only person defending a film and I’d be ok with that.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Avengers Assemble

CONTENT WARNING: Joss Whedon, abuse.

If that isn’t for you, I’ve put a noticeable break between the JW section and the Avengers section

I like Avengers Assemble, and there is no denying the impact that it had on Popular Culture and the cinema industry as a whole. However there is a huge problem with this film that, by now, has become practically unavoidable. That problem is writer/director Joss Whedon. He rose to prominence in the late 1990s for his work on the hit TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and stayed relevant through his work on the follow-up series Angel as well as the short lived space-western Firefly, however, he has been famous more recently for his horrific actions. As I publish this, we are still feeling the aftermath of how poorly Warner Brothers handled the creation of the 2017 film Justice League, a major part of which was Joss Whedon’s behaviour on set. Cast members, primarily Ray Fisher, have detailed Whedon’s violent behaviour, racist beliefs, and misogyny. This isn’t even about how he butchered that film to a point beyond recognition, this is about how he treated the people that he was supposed to be looking out for and taking care of. Ray Fisher risked his entire career and was fired by Warner Brothers to tell us this, and his words were echoed by people who had previously worked for Whedon. A large portion of the cast of Buffy and Angel came forward with their stories to demonstrate that he has always been like this. He threatened to fire cast members for getting pregnant, pinned cast members against walls and threatened to destroy the career of anybody who thought that they knew the character they were playing better than him.

Over the past few months, I have seen people defend Whedon, stating that he has made some great shows and films with some going as far as to claim that this should excuse him. No. I don’t give a damn how good you think his work is, this kind of behaviour is unacceptable from anyone. It is not necessary to build a career, and it is not necessary to create a piece of media. This behaviour is atrocious, and he should be held accountable for it. I considered writing a separate piece about Whedon, but it is important to me that he is being held accountable in as many places as possible and in relation to the projects that have made him famous. I wrote in my review for Thor that every director has their own creative flair, which means that there is a lot of Joss Whedon in Avengers Assemble. Most notable is his misogyny, which comes across in the oversexualisation of Black Widow. It’s present from her very first scene, in which she does a great number of flips in a very revealing camo top, through to her jumpsuit that is never zipped up to cover her chest. Then there is the semi-love triangle between her, Hawkeye, and Bruce Banner which has zero ramifications on any of the 3 characters except for in Age of Ultron. Yes, she gets to close the portal, but this isn’t what saves the day because Iron Man has already destroyed the Chitauri fleet. It becomes more clear every time I watch this film that Black Widow is only here for one reason, and it isn’t the plot.

On top of Whedon being a terrible person, I happen to think he isn’t a great filmmaker either. Avengers Assemble feels less like a film and more like a 2 hour long episode of a TV programme. He changes the camera angle every few seconds, which means that we almost never get a lingering shot to appreciate the moments of good cinematography. I say “almost” because there are some noticeably good shots in here. Loki’s arrival, Thor’s arrival, the old man standing up to Loki, and Hulk punching the Space Whale are all gorgeous, but we are never given enough time to appreciate them. As a fan of pairing classical music with violence, the scene of Loki at the Gala is especially infuriating to me because it just needed less camera angles. On top of this, Avengers Assemble feels so small compared to the rest of the MCU, and most notably to Thor which preceded it. It feels like it was all shot on a soundstage, which isn’t a vibe that you want in a blockbuster. I know that this is all really negative, and that you were likely expecting a positive review because that’s kind of my whole deal, and I’m also a huge MCU nerd, however there are three things to note here. Firstly, I wouldn’t be so annoyed about the quality of the movie if I didn’t think there was good movie in here Secondly, I also wouldn’t be so annoyed if this film wasn’t as important important to me, other people, and the state of pop culture as it is. Thirdly, Joss Whedon is human trash. It is important that his drastic failings are noted when talking about one of his greatest achievements, because I am about to launch into the positive part of the review and I will not be accused of tolerating Joss Whedon. I will not give him a pass. He had his hand in creating a historical moment but I still think that he should never work again.

Avengers Assemble is the film from which all cinematic universes attempt to build themselves. Studios see a group of individuals with entire backstories fighting a great evil, and the $1.5billion it earned at the box office. However, that isn’t why this film works. It works because it builds on an already established mythos. This isn’t where the story begins, it’s more like a mini-boss fight in a video game. This isn’t Luke fighting Emperor Palpatine, it’s Luke destroying the first Death Star. It’s an important part of a much larger narrative, that teases the main villain in the post-credits scene. It baffles me that companies either don’t understand that, or think that they can create a universe without doing it. The thing about Avengers Assemble is that it was a risk, and it paid off, but if it hadn’t we’d still have that first phase of Marvel movies. Phase One of the MCU consists of 6 films, building characters and hoping to convince people that a shared universe could work – with Avengers Assemble being the proof of concept. Yes, there were shared universes before, like Universal Monsters in the 1920s, but none were as expensive and grand as this.

In terms of continuity, this one is essential. It marks the formation of the titular team as well as the first time that many of them have even met. It finally continues the story of Captain America after starting with him 6 films ago, demonstrates how serious Stark was about not making weapons again, and brings our Asgardian brothers back together after their previous fight. There are 3 significant characters worth talking about at this juncture: Bruce Banner, Carol Danvers, and Phil Coulson. Bruce looks totally different to the last time we saw him, due to the role being recast after Edward Norton elected not to return. It is reported that he didn’t want to tie himself to a franchise, which is fine because Mark Ruffalo suits the role beautifully with a perfect mix of anxiety and intellect. Meanwhile, Carol is noticeably absent due her character not being introduced into the MCU until 2019. However, should you require an in-universe explanation, there is one of those because you’ve got to fill those plot contrivances. The Chaitauri invasion of New York simply isn’t a Captain Marvel level threat, and I think the plot makes that clear. The Avengers are supposed to be the first line of defence in the event that Captain Marvel is not readily available because she’s on the other side of space. Lines of defence in descending order are The Military, SHIELD, The Avengers, Captain Marvel. Lastly, we come to poor Agent Phil Coulson who did not need to be murdered… but was anyway. It’s a real testament to actor Colin Gregg that his character became a fan favourite, remains one to this day, and was revived for the spin-off TV Show Agents of SHIELD. I know that many people consider the first 2 series of this show to be canon, but I don’t and I never have. They are immensely fun as headcanon or an Alternate Universe timeline, but the characters never cross over into the films, even as quick mentions. I know that at the time Kevin Fiege hoped to fold it all in, but that hasn’t happened. Of course as a Doctor Who fan, I find the concept of “canon” totally ridiculous, so believe what you will.

In terms of the continuing story of the MCU, Avengers Assemble starts many threads that will carry us forward. Perhaps the most prominent of these is the formation of the team itself. As the story continues, they will always at least mention a fellow member at least, if not giving them an actual appearance. The MCU used to focus on individual stories, but now that this shared universe is so vast, those have become rare. The Battle of New York is also going to have a massive impact on Tony Stark going forward as he begins to struggle with PTSD. This also isn’t the last time that we will see The Tesseract, which Thor takes back to Asgard to store in Odin’s vault. It will remain here for quite some time, while we are introduced to more characters and more Infinity Stones, which isn’t even a concept that has been introduced at this point. We will later learn that Loki’s sceptre is powered by a different Infinity Stone, despite this film stating that The Tesseract is powering it. This may be a retcon, but I can also provide a solid in-universe explanation/theory which I have as headcanon. As far as The Avengers are aware, this Cosmic Cube is the most powerful thing in the universe, and is the only thing that holds this much unlimited power. If they scanned Loki’s sceptre and found that it was powered by something with as much power as The Tesseract, then of course they are going to assume that The Tesseract is the source of that power.

So, at last we have come to the famous post-credits scene. It is quite the historical artefact. Thanos is more burgundy than purple, and is smaller than the next time we see him. This is 2 years before Guardians of the Galaxy where he is officially introduced with a redesign, and this scene is only a few minutes long so it makes sense that he looks the way he does. At the time, I had no idea who this guy was, and that was the general response of anybody who didn’t know the comic books. It was only upon my own research into the character that I discovered how much of a threat he was, and started to get excited for his inevitable attack. Another odd artefact is that this is one of the few films with a confirmed year in the in-universe timeline. There is a general timeline, which is a little vague, but they are all centred around this: The Battle of Ney York in 2012.

Battles will come and go for The Avengers, but this is the first and that makes it special. Even with its flaws, this film is important and I really wish that movie studios could take the right lessons from it. Avengers Assemble was the proof that Kevin Fiege’s experiment was going to work, that it would make money, as well as being a moment in cinematic history. It mostly works because of the films that preceded it, but without it we wouldn’t have gotten what came after. I love what this film represents, and I don’t think I’m done with it.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

The Incredible Hulk

The time has finally arrived to discuss the only solo Hulk film in the entire MCU, and why I think it is severely underrated.

The circumstances surrounding this film’s conception are absolutely fascinating to me, and I think are worth remembering. Having released the infamous Howard the Duck in 1986, Marvel Studios sold the rights to their arguably most prolific characters to stay afloat, including Spider-Man, and The X-Men. Our primary focus today is on Bruce Banner/The Hulk, who was purchased by Universal Studios for a seemingly undisclosed amount. Their plan was to launch into a solo Hulk venture as soon as possible, but the project promptly entered Development Hell, where it remained for a solid decade. In all that time the script went through various re-writes and producers, before it finally came to director Ang Lee in 2001.

2003’s Hulk featured Eric Banna as the titular character and details his origin story, along with the negative relationship he has with his father. The film also stars Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross and Sam Elliot as her father General Thaddeus Ross, with Nick Nolte portraying Bruce’s father David, who eventually becomes The Absorbing Man. Hulk was criticised for not providing enough action in its 140 minute runtime, and for the exceptionally flat CGI of The Hulk himself. This film ends with the Ross’ relationship frayed and Bruce on the run, but it’s where we go from here that interests me. Hulk isn’t essential viewing. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I watched it. But it is still semi-relevant to the MCU’s Incredible Hulk. This film acts as a pseudo-sequel to its predecessor, but without any of the same crew, or indeed any canonicity to the MCU. The Incredible Hulk follows General Ross as he continues to hunt down Bruce whilst remaining mildly estranged from his daughter which seems to follow on directly from Hulk. The opening credits montage even details some of the events of Hulk, although the method through which Bruce is exposed to Gamma Radiation is different. His father is never mentioned, the CGI is noticeably better, and the film doesn’t hold any of Ang Lee’s unique visual stylings, so you could easily not notice how sequel-y The Incredible Hulk is.

If you want a more complex introduction to these characters then Hulk is probably worth a watch, but Incredible Hulk manages to condense all that story down into the aforementioned opening credits montage and through the context within the film. Kevin Feige made it very clear that he wasn’t interested in telling the origin story of a character that the majority of people already knew, and I think he made the right call. It allows for more focus on the characters, including the villains. As events unfold, General Ross hires Royal Marine Emil Blonsky and injects him with a failed recreation of the Super Soldier Serum given to Steve Rogers during World War 2, which leads to him becoming a Hulk-like creature called The Abomination. The contrast between Blonsky and Bruce Banner is central to the plot, with Blonsky obsessed with holding an amount of power that Banner wishes he’d never been given (technically stolen). The film has been criticised for being slow in places, but I think that if any hero deserves a little time to have their psyche explored, it’s The Hulk.

Bruce Banner is a man with a terrific amount of intellect, who could be winning Nobel Prizes but is instead unable to be a part of society because he could become a genuine threat at any moment. Chronologically, this is the 5th film in the MCU, and so far we have had two superpowered individuals, and one billionaire, who can easily settle into normal lives should they choose to. They have control over their abilities, and weapons in the case of Stark, but Bruce Banner doesn’t. He doesn’t have a superpower, he has a curse, and the film does a brilliant job of displaying that. Occasionally the film verges on psychological thriller, although it remains an action film at its core. To me, The Hulk has always been one of the most interesting characters because of this. He isn’t just a green rage monster that smashes things, he is a man desperately trying to prevent himself from becoming so much of a threat that he has to be taken out.

The biggest complaint I’ve seen levied at The Incredible Hulk is that it isn’t relevant or important enough to be included in your MCU marathon because nothing really carries over. To be honest with you, it’s a narrative that I am sick of seeing. Just because it doesn’t have major ramifications in the wider universe doesn’t make it not-worthwhile. Stating that it isn’t worth watching because it doesn’t matter is reductive, and kills any genuine conversation that could be had about the film. Also, the claim that it doesn’t matter in the MCU is becoming less true by the day. General Thaddeus Ross would go on to reappear 8 years later in Captain America: Civil War as well as several subsequent appearances. If it turns out that Marvel is working towards a “Thunderbolts” movie like many have theorised, then he will suddenly become one of the franchise’s key players. Betty Ross doesn’t reappear, although she is mentioned, and the super-habit of going on the run and hiding in a cabin in the woods makes its debut here. Perhaps the most unavoidable, and most exciting, is that The Abomination is set to return in the upcoming She-Hulk television series which is a direct part of the MCU. However, we are still to see Dr Samuel Sterns again, who in the comics went on to become The Red Leader which is set up here.

I also want to talk about the appearance of Tony Stark during the climax of this film, because that is super important. Iron Man stands on its own as the very first film in the MCU, but it is not solely responsible for building that world. The first time this world is built upon is right here, during the final scene of The Incredible Hulk where Stark approaches Ross at a bar to inform him that SHIELD is putting a team together. If you want to create a movement, then that first person is important, but so is the first person who follows their lead. It gives a thing validity, and I refuse to just let The Incredible Hulk‘s place in history be forgotten about because it “isn’t that important to the larger story”. Once you’ve finished watching this film, then the Marvel One Shot The Consultant is a must watch. It provides a really important piece of context to that final scene, as well as giving us an answer to where exactly The Abomination ended up.

As you can probably tell, I have a massive soft spot for The Incredible Hulk, and I kind of struggle to understand why it has received the level of hate within this fanbase that it has. It wasn’t received poorly upon its release, has a 7.7 rating on IMDB, and is sitting with an audience score of 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, so clearly the film is at least average. I suspect that there is this real belief with some fans that any MCU film that is less than perfect is bad, although that is something I have noticed about fanbases in general, and I will just never subscribe to that way of thinking. I really hope that people revisit it in light of the She-Hulk series and that we can begin end this frankly toxic view that seems to be prevalent in some corners of film criticism. In my humble opinion, The Incredible Hulk has always been one of the finest pieces of underappreciated media and I look forward to re-visiting it soon.


Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer