Thor: Love and Thunder (Spoilers)

“You’re over 1000 years old and you don’t seem to know who the hell you are”

This is the analysis of Thor made by Starlord in the opening scenes of Love and Thunder. It’s an astonishingly non-self-aware statement because, after 11 years, the MCU doesn’t seem to know who he is either. He is, at the very least, a character re-experiencing the same narrative for multiple films in a row. Thor is unsure what kind of man he is and must embark on a journey of self-discovery either by choice or by force. Being unsure of yourself can be a lifelong experience but Thor seems to revert to stage 1 after every adventure so that he can be easily molded into whatever kind of hero that specific narrative requires. This time, he’s a buffoon whose trauma and emotions are often the butt of the joke.

By contrast, Thor in the previous solo installment Ragnarok was often the one setting jokes up. Actor Chris Hemsworth has excellent comedic timing and it was on full display there but here, he’s more akin to the man we saw in Avengers: Endgame. You remember, he was funny because he was fat(!). Had this film taken him seriously it could have had more to say about toxic masculinity and how stereotypically “feminine” emotions aren’t societally accepted in men. Instead, the audience is invited to laugh at his pain, or at the very least to find the image of a grown man crying amusing. This tone isn’t just directed at Thor, it’s present throughout the entire movie, and this makes it near impossible to care about any of the characters.

One such character is Doctor Jane Foster who returns after being absent from the MCU for 9 years barring a minor Avengers: Endgame cameo. Actress Natalie Portman had previously declined to return to the role due to “creative differences” during the making of Thor: The Dark World (which is one of my favourite Hollywood reasons by the way. Like, was there a screaming match? Were you refusing to pay her as much as Chris? I need specifics). As a result, the announcement of her return was a major deal for fans, with the added excitement of seeing her take up the Mighty Thor mantle. In the comics, she uses the mystical powers of Mijolnir to combat her cancer before it becomes evident that the iconic hammer is hindering her healing as opposed to helping it. Given how serious this subject matter is, fans were unsure if it would make it into Love and Thunder but it did. If done right, this could have provided solid emotional grounding for the plot and characters as well as providing a new Thor for a new age but this isn’t what happened. Her cancer is treated with the same levity as everything else, although it’s never used as a punchline. To cap it off, she dies. Despite a long run in the comics and the popular fan perception that she would be taking over as Thor…she dies. This makes Thor very upset, which seems to be the only role that MCU Jane is destined to play. She makes it to Valhalla so if she happens to get resurrected later (a la the comics) then her death will be even less impactful in retrospect.

On the subject of being non-impactful, Love and Thunder‘s gay representation is abysmal. Director Taika Watiti and actress Tessa Thompson both claimed it would be “queer AF” whilst many reviews heralded it as being for “the she’s, they’s and gay’s” but this isn’t the case. The one canon gay character is the rock-being Korg who holds hands with a male of his species, which is their equivalent of intercourse, however it falls flat because Taika is (as far as we know) straight. This somehow isn’t the first time that a straight director has portrayed a gay character in the MCU either. Why wasn’t this effort being put into Valkyrie, who passes for straight so well that she might as well be locked in the closet? Making seductive eyes at a woman and using the term “girlfriend” isn’t queer representation, it’s every party girl after a couple of drinks. All of this accounts for less than a minute of screentime too, so those foreign markets that Disney loves so much can cut it without losing anything. The “she’s, they’s and gay’s” deserve better and have better (Jennifer’s Body, Heathers and Booksmart to name few).

As mentioned in the Spoiler-Free review, there’s still things to like. The designs of the costumes and sets (like Omnipotence City) are gorgeous, whilst the soundtrack is comprised of some of the greatest Rock and Roll anthems of all time. However, Love and Thunder‘s biggest asset is the drastically underused Gorr. Actor Christian Bale turns in a riveting performance, as he so often does, with this semi-tragic God butcher. He feels betrayed by these all powerful dieties, feeling that they serve only themselves and care not for their subjects, including Gorr’s recently deceased young daughter. He’s still willing to kidnap and threaten the lives of all the children in New Asgard though, which seems a bit odd for a recently bereaved parent. Of course, this is a Marvel film so these children are never actually going to die but Gorr feels like he would murder these children without hesitation if the age rating allowed it. He’s also delightfully manic, giving off what can best be described as Joker Vibes. The Dark Realm, where he resides, is amazing too with its monochrome pallette which is only filled with colour from the light of Mijolnir and Stormbreaker. Tragically, he’s only present for 20 minutes and dies at the end so this is likely the only time we will ever see him.

“Tragic” is an apt description for Love and Thunder as a whole. It has plenty of potential in its foundation with the option for major character progression and grand Galaxy-wide scale but it never goes down these routes. Instead, it spends two hours filling the screen with cringe-worthy humour and a large amount of flat shots which are broken up by action scenes and establishing shots. Had it chosen to commit to all the great aspects hidden within, it might have been a great send-off for Chris Hemsworth…although Hemsworth isn’t leaving. After 11 years playing Thor, which makes him the longest-standing Avenger, he’s sticking around for whatever comes next. Maybe it’s for the best because he deserves a better send-off than this.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Thor: Love and Thunder

Comedy and film journalism are vaguely similar concepts. Responses to both are based on objectivity and are there to entertain, so when it comes to reviews of comedy films it’s probably best to form your own opinion. You can certainly gauge what your reaction might be if you have a reviewer whose opinion you often share but their objectivity is not yours. The following piece is a reflection on how I felt about Love and Thunder (the good and the bad) which some may agree with and others may not. Regardless of that, here’s hoping it still entertains.

Thor: Love and Thunder follows the titular God as he embarks on a mission to stop Gorr the God Butcher from carrying out his murderous plan. He is assisted by old friends Valkyrie and Korg, as well as returning romantic interest Dr. Jane Foster who has gained the powers of Thor. Director Taika Watiti returns, having helmed the previous installment Thor: Ragnarok, but it feels like his best comedy was used there. When the running gag is a couple of screaming goats, it’s not a great sign. Regardless of the fact that it’s a dead meme from over a decade ago, it only works when it has shock value to it, which is lessened over its 5 or so uses.

The dialogue isn’t great either. When it isn’t spouting exposition, which it so often is, it’s one-liners with a snarky undertone. Very few lines in Love and Thunder feel genuine or grounded in these characters that have been around for so long. When it isn’t that, it’s the several voiceovers from Taika as Korg, which feel unnecessary. They seem to be there to set the tone as opposed to carrying the plot forward, but the tone is so in-your-face that a voiceover isn’t required.

There are things here that are likable. The film is visually gorgeous, from the cast to the locations. Every scene is bursting with colour, much like Ragnarok was,, which gives the film a more comic-book feel compared to the Earthier hues of other MCU installments. When the cinematography is allowed to fully display these locations crafted by the talented (and over-worked/underpaid) folks in VFX, it’s utterly gorgeous. Omnipotence City (home of the Gods) is caked in classical, golden architecture akin to Asgard. The shadow Realm (residence of Gorr) is totally devoid of colour but is still interesting with its barren landscape across a miniature planet.

Gorr the God Butcher is Love and Thunder‘s greatest strength. Christian Bale’s performance is occasionally comical but never loses that sinister edge and is best demonstrated when talking with the Asgardian children he’s kidnapped. None of these children are going to die because this is an MCU flick but there’s never any doubt that Gorr would take them all out. Unfortunately, he isn’t present for the majority of the film’s runtime, which brings us to the largest of the issues. Thor: Love and Thunder wastes its characters.

A big deal was made about the return of Natalie Portman as Dr. Jane Foster but her presence here seems to primarily be furthering Thors arc. His arc, as per usual, is about discovering what kind of person he is but the plot refuses to take his arc or character seriously. His fragility is often the butt of the joke and his trauma is dismissed with similar hilarity. Meanwhile, Valkyrie (who still isn’t gay enough) is here to primarily chaperone Jane, whilst Korg (who is somehow gayer) is here to spout one-liners and exposition. Then there are the Guardians of the Galaxy who feel like a hold-over from Avengers: Endgame that need to be gotten rid of before the real plot can progress. Nebula is still great though. Her lines are some of the film’s best.

Ultimately, Thor: Love and Thunder is damaged most by its lack of seriousness. If the film doesn’t care about the lore, characters, or stakes, then why should the audience? It’s one of the weakest entries in the MCU and no amount of classic rock songs on the soundtrack can hide that.

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Spoilers)

Wanda Maximoff is dead. Perhaps not literally but metaphorically. After 7 years of wasted potential, like most women in the MCU, this shouldn’t come as a shock, but it does. The TV Series Wandavision focused primarily on Wanda’s grief after killing her one true love, Vision, and allowed Elizabeth Olsen to demonstrate the full range of her acting capabilities. As a mother, she can be caring and full of warmth. As a wife, she can be loving and kind. As an adversary, she can be powerful and vengeful. With the series finale, Wanda finally fully embraced the title and powers of The Scarlett Witch, a big deal for the MCU who have thus far been legally unable to use that moniker. With the Darkhold in her possession and a fierce determination to steal alternate dimension variations of the children she manifested and lost out of magic, she seemed primed to cause havoc on a multiversal scale.

Multiverse of Madness sees this character development and raises you…possession. The Darkhold corrupts everything and everyone around it, leading to Wanda and The Scarlett Witch being treated as two separate entities. This could have been a fascinating dynamic, with Wanda’s non-child-murdering morals combatting. The Scarlet Witches hold over her body but this is not the route taken. The only time that the “real” Wanda makes an appearance is during a scene that takes place in her mind where she is buried under a mound of rubble and can only utter a single “help me” before being pulled back inside. This confirms that the entity known as The Scarlet Witch (a manifestation of the Darkhold) has full control which absolves Wanda of literally everything that occurs during the plot. Wanda isn’t evil or morally questionable like she was in Wandavision, she’s just an innocent victim. To further demonstrate this, The Scarlett Witch speaks with Elizabeth Olsen’s natural American accent instead of the Sokovian accent that she puts on for Wanda. It does mean that Olsen isn’t being held back by an accent that she has struggled to maintain in the past but it also acts as a constant reminder that there is no Wanda anymore.

To cap it all off, she sacrifices herself to destroy the temple where the original Darkhold spells are inscribed. Now, of course, this is the MCU so nobody is ever really dead. As the building collapses on top of her, we see a small poof of red smoke, seemingly to signify that she has teleported out of there. But if this is the case, then it’s not really a sacrifice so any emotion from that moment is lost. The worst-case scenario is that, somehow, the smoke wasn’t a teleport and she’s dead. But what are the chances of the MCU killing off a popular female character…?

The other major spoiler is handled much better. Having been a large part of the marketing (maybe too large a part), the presence of Marvel’s Illuminati comes as no surprise. What is surprising is the characters they chose and the actors who portray them. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo makes a welcome return as a variant of mainline Mordo. His warm charisma and underlying resentment for Strange serve as proof that mainline Mordo should finally make his return to the MCU. Haley Atwell’s Captain Carter is sure to excite fans, even if the trailer spoiled her presence, especially considering Peggy hasn’t been seen in live-action since 2016. Anson Mount reprising his role of Black Bolt from the unacclaimed Inhumans show is a welcome surprise for those who recognise him. Lashana Lynch returns as Maria Rambeau, taking up the mantle of Captain Marvel. The most divisive casting choice is John Krasinski as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic. It’s a casting that fans have been clamoring for, but his presence here seems to imply that he won’t be taking on the same role in the mainline MCU, which may be for the best. He’s fine in the role but his presence is fairly distracting and his uniform is the worst in the entire group. The final member of the Illuminati is proof that nobody is ever really finished playing their most popular character…it’s Sir Patrick Stewart as Professor Xavier. Here he’s portraying a live-action version of the character from the 1997 animated series. His entrance is even accompanied by a snippet of the animated show’s iconic theme, which may be pandering but is sure to provide a smile at the very least.

What may not provide a smile is what happens next. The Scarlett Witch arrives and annihilates the Illuminati. It’s a horrific scene to watch, purely because of the terrifying way in which she dismantles each member. The first sign that you’re about to witness a massacre like no other is when she removes Black Bolt’s mouth, meaning that when he screams (a scream with the power to destroy anything in its path), his head literally caves in. It doesn’t ease up from here with spaghettification and decapitation providing a manic display of her power. This is where the classic Raimi horror element really comes into its own. Using these characters like this may feel like a waste to some but it’s a heck of a perfect demonstration of what The Scarlett Witch is capable of.

The credits scenes are neat too. The first introduces actress Charlize Theron as Clea – daughter of Dormammu and possible love interest for Strange. Obviously, there are many big-name actors in the MCU, many of whom got there in part due to the MCU, but Theron is already a huge name. It feels like proof that the MCU is only getting bigger and that it isn’t slowing down anytime soon, which is a thought that may exhaust some. The second scene brings back one of the most entertaining cameos in the entire film – Bruce Campbell as Pizza Poppa. He provides a zany, early comic book movie energy that only Campbell could provide, and which should leave the audience smiling as they depart the cinema.

As discussed in the spoiler-free review, there is plenty to enjoy in Multiverse of Madness. The Raimi vibes really work but many of the decisions made by the creative team will be divisive, if not infuriating. It’s still worth watching for the little moments of gold…not that MCU fans have much of a choice. Missing one story may mean missing an important piece of context for future tales, so keep your eyes fixated.

If you’re lucky, you might get rewarded with a Bruce Campbell.

(My thanks to Nate at Natflix for checking this one out with me. Check his review HERE)

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Eternals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Road to No Way Home

It’s no secret that I was hesitant about Spider-Man: No Way Home. The third in the MCU’s trilogy of Spider-Man films seemed like it might be filled with nostalgia and very little else. This was the cap on an iteration of a character that I hadn’t been overly fond of in a franchise that has been known to rely heavily on connections to itself. I was hesitant.

Then I saw it and came to a conclusion that I did not expect – it was good. It wasn’t perfect, not the new “Best Spider-Man Film” as many fans claimed, but that over-reliance on nostalgia never manifested. Instead, there was a decent story, with the occasional flaw, which ultimately resulted in a solid origin story for the MCU’s Peter Parker.

However, it never occurred to me that this might be the case. I hoped, of course, but never let myself believe it and I made my hesitancy known. What follows is a collection of every single tweet I made in regards to No Way Home, both on my professional and private accounts. It is preserved here as a reminder, both for you and myself, that opinions can change. You never truly know what a movie or television show is going to give you until you see it for yourself.

(08/12/20) Do not drag the Raimi trilogy into the MCU. Stop.

(09/12/20) If Disneys Spider-Man 3 fails, people will cite that it’s because there were too many villains/characters. I would like to be the first to say, miles ahead of time, that this is incorrect.

(09/12/20) If they called it Spider-Man: No Place Like Home, I would die of embarrassment on Disney’s behalf. Be funny though.

(30/01/21) Listen. I like canon as much as the next nerd BUT I doubt that the MCU will make Agents of SHIELD and The Defenders and its associated shows canon. IF any characters make their way into the MCU, it’ll probably be as alternate versions of those characters. This also applies to the upcoming Spider-Man 3, Doctor Strange 2, and WandaVision because this will end up being a massive multiverse just NOT in the way that you think it will.

Please remember to manage your expectations

(24/02/21) Good morning to the MCU fans who thought we were getting a Spider-Man 3 title because Tom Holland was on a talk show last night.

(24/02/21) I would not at all be shocked if we only get a Spider-Man 3 title when WandaVision is over. Maybe even a “Wanda Will return in Spider-Man: Home Run” at the end of Episode 9

(24/02/21) Spider-Man: No Homo

(24/02/21) With the announcement of Spider-Man: No Way Home, I would like to tell you all that the FIRST Spider-Man 3 is good and that Marc Webb deserved to make Amazing Spider-Man 3. This should be the 3rd time we’re being entertained by a “Spider-Man 3

(17/04/21) My fave thing about Alfred Molina returning as Doc Ock is the use of de-aging in some scenes. So they’re almost definitely pulling the old “he’s been in the MCU all along, we just haven’t heard from him yet” bit. It’s kinda ridiculous and I’m kinda here for it

(1/05/21) Spider-Man: No Way Home is trending today and it will trend again tomorrow due to one of these 3 things. 1) The trailer doesn’t come out and people get upset. 2) It comes out and confirms the involvement of Maguire and/or Garfield and everybody loses their collective minds 3) It comes out and DOESN’T confirm their involvement prompting a backlash. REGARDLESS of the outcome, Disney is going to get free publicity for their movie so react however you want because it literally does not matter to them. (Personally don’t want them involved btw)

(31/05/21) When we do get a trailer for Disney’s Spider-Man it will ABSOLUTELY use at least their voices. The amount of hype it would produce would be unfathomable. I wouldn’t agree with this tactic but I’d understand it. Still don’t want them in the movie though.

(01/06/21) Spider-Man: No Way, Homo

(23/07/21) SPIDER-MAN TRENDING AGAIN?? They will release it when they release it.

(23/08/21) Waiting for the official release of the Spider-Man: NWH trailer like a good little nerd

(24/08/21) I will not let the No Way Home Trailer nostalgia-bait me. It is a lazy tactic to draw me in… I’m still gonna watch the movie though. Doc Ock looking fine.

(27/08/21) SURE SPIDER-MAN 3 ISN’T PERFECT BUT IT ISN’T THAT BAD. I DON’T WANT A SINGLE PERSON TO PRAISE NO WAY HOME BECAUSE “IT MADE MULTIPLE VILLAINS WORK”

(08/11/21) Me saying that I don’t trust spoilers and then being proven right is pure narcissistic joy.

(08/11/21) All Spider-Man: Now Way Home fans

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(9/11/21) Perhaps Sony is releasing images of Tom Holland on a bridge to remind you that this is a Tom Holland Spider-Man movie because SOME of you seem to have forgotten that.

(9/11/21) If not seeing Tobey and Andrew in NWH will “ruin” that movie for you, if you’re going to throw a hissy fit because “Sony lied” then do us all a favour and please keep that opinion to yourself.

(26/11/21) Hot MCU Spider-Man takes.

*Peter should have been an adult

*No Way Home feels like it was made as a reaction to Into The Spider-verse

*Making MJ a WOC was their best decision

*Villains are the main reason the films are good

*Venom doesn’t fit the MCU

(10/12/21) This might be a tad controversial but This Picture, TO ME, is emblematic of my main issue with NWH. Marvel is just using these characters because they can. So that they can rush a Sinister 6 film. They will just adapt the characters we love to fit their narrative.

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(13/12/21) 31st December. That’s the soonest I can see it. “Frustrated” doesn’t cover it.

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(15/12/21) Sometimes a small-scale story is OK. Not everything has to be bigger than the last. Yes, this is about No Way Home/ Dr. Who

(15/12/21) Saw Spider-Man: No Way Home spoilers and the WORST thing is that I kind of don’t care. It just confirms my hesitations about the film. Hoping I still have fun with it but full thoughts in a couple weeks I guess.

(22/12/21) Marvel having their whole NWH marketing campaign be about avoiding spoilers, only to start marketing the follow-up barely a week later is the most hypocritical, corporate BS I’ve ever seen.

(27/12/21) Keep thinking about how I will have seen No Way Home by the time the year ends. Absolutely wild. It’s been part of Conversation for like 2 years now and soon it’ll be over. And then it gets to consume my thoughts for another few months presumably. Pray for me.

(31/12/21) Spider-Man: No Way Home is good. Peter Parker faces off against multiversal foes in a story that is fun but held back by relying on the worldbuilding of other creators. It’s exciting to see these characters again in what is the best MCU Spidey movie but it also makes some bad choices.

Spoiler-Free Review: https://shakesqueer.home.blog/2022/01/08/spider-man-no-way-home-spoiler-free/

Spoiler-Filled Review: https://shakesqueer.home.blog/2022/01/09/spider-man-no-way-home-spoilers/

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Shang-Chi and the Legend of The Ten Rings

The MCU has tried its hand at many genres. There have been action, drama, comedy, fantasy, and adventure, but never before had it attempted martial arts. Despite being new to the MCU, it is not new to Marvel Studios, who had already attempted martial arts with the Netflix show Iron Fist, the first series of which received generally poor reviews. Critical and audience opinion was more favourable with the second series, where both the action and the pacing had improved. This did not prevent Netflix from cancelling the show and all other Marvel projects on the streaming service in 2018, however there is a continual interest from MCU Head Kevin Feige in reviving these projects as part of the MCU. The most interesting link between Shang-Chi and Iron Fist is not that it shares a genre, but that it almost shared an actress. Jessica Henwick, who portrayed Colleen Wing, was offered the role of Shang-Chi’s sister Xialing but turned it down in the hopes that one day she could return as Wing.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (often shortened to just Shang-Chi) follows the titular hero and his best friend Katy as they reunite with his sister Xialing and attempt to stop his father from opening a sacred gate in a mystical land that will unleash a horde of demons. The film handles its lore extraordinarily well, expositing it in a way that feels natural. Like The Lord of the Rings, it opens with narration but unlike The Lord of the Rings it is being given in-universe as a story to our hero at a much younger age. All of the lore is provided in-universe and it never feels clunky, forced, or complicated. It also never feels like it doesn’t fit within the parameters of the MCU, although that universe has been beyond absurd for quite some time now. It may have started out as a slightly more fantastical version of our own universe but it entered a realm all of its own years ago. Films like Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange pushed the MCU into a world of oddities and magic, with Avengers: Endgame changing it forever. As the film itself remarks, this is now a universe where half of the world’s population could vanish at any moment.

Both Katy and Shang-Chi are at a similar stage in their lives, although the ways in which they arrived at that point couldn’t be much more different. Katy bounces from job to job, never settling because she is trying to find the one thing that she is passionate about getting good at. When she arrives in the mystical village of La Pao, she discovers that she is a skilled archer. She is an entertaining character, even if she is too skilled for a novice and the role of archer in the MCU is already filled by a more likable character. She aptly provides comedy to Shang-Chi’s more serious life. He starts as Katy does, bouncing from job to job, but he does so because he is trying to hide from his dark past. His father, leader of the criminal organisation The Ten Rings, trained him to be a killer from childhood, which is a life he refuses to live. He’s a man in hiding, although he’s not doing a particularly good job of it, so it isn’t long before his father finds him and forces him to fight for his life.

Given that this is a martial arts film, the fights themselves are an important aspect to discuss. They are, by no means, close to the greatest fights ever choreographed, but they are still more entertaining than the majority of action setpieces elsewhere in the MCU. The issue is that they are still shot like action sequences. Classic martial arts films knew that the fighting was the main draw of the piece, so the camera often lingered on shots, allowing the mastery to be witnessed. There were very few, if any, alternate camera angles, which is something that Shang-Chi fails to take into account. The first fight sequence is the best by far because it takes place on a bus, which restricts the amount of space that can be used. More than this, it allows for the bus itself to become a part of the fight, with the standout moment being a camera pan along its length, in an homage to the Korean film Oldboy. Unfortunately, very little of this martial arts prowess is present in the final battle which, once again, comes down to fighting a big CGI creature. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but when it makes up the majority of conclusions in the MCU and the conflict between Shang-Chi and his father has already closed the emotional arc, it is a tad unnessecary.

The MCU connection is everpresent. This is an origin story but the universe in which it takes place has changed drastically since the origin stories of old. It can no longer focus primarily on itself, although considering how important the titular organisation has been, it was never going to. They first appeared in 2008’s Iron Man before seemingly playing a pivotal role in Iron Man 3 and, because the MCU hates having loose threads, the latter’s plot is fully explored. This is done through a small monologue from Shang-Chi’s father, as well as bringing back Sir Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery, in a move that I’m sure everybody loved. Having been imprisoned at the end of Iron Man 3, Trevor was broken out and brought before the real leader of The Ten Rings, who allowed him to survive as a sort of court jester. This escape was shown in the Marvel One-Shot All Hail the King, but that short is not necessary to understanding his presence here. Trevor acts as the comedic sidekick, despite that role already being filled by Katy, although he is probably just here to bring his story to a proper close. As mentioned, it is something the MCU often likes to do, although it is becoming more frequent by the year because so many loose threads were left in the franchise’s early days. You will often hear that there is a “Grand Plan” for the MCU but this plan is a lot vaguer than the company will ever admit. If a project does poorly then the plot is rarely ever addressed again, and if a film does particularly well then it is guaranteed a sequel or spin-off. Disney/Marvel are still a company, beholden to the opinions of the audience and the money they provide, even if they pretend not to be.

The MCU has a “Grand Plan” but the precisions of that plan are likely still to be mapped. I don’t think anybody was expecting to see The Abomination make his return in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Spider-Man: No Way Home (Spoilers)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

Spider-Man: No Way Home (Spoiler Free)

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

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

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

Excelsior!

Signed: Your friendly neighbourhood queer

The 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