Category: maev watchs Marvel

Regular

Daredevil, final episodes *spoilers*

1. I think the showrunners must have watched some Agents of Shield before writing this season of the show. Firstly because the season, taken as a whole, is far more cohesive and better paced than really any of the other Netflix shows, with none of the third act filler that has shown up in pretty much all of them. Agents of Shield has become an incredibly tightly paced show, with very little fat in narrative terms, as well as turning intriguingly political at the most unexpected moments. Which I mention, because I think what the show does with Fisk, and how he uses rumour, innuendo and money (mostly gained from dodgy New York real estate dealings) to manipulate public opinion and make the legal system effectively inoperable when it comes to him, is incredibly interesting (if unsubtle) and, for me at least, almost completely unexpected. And what makes it work is that, much like AoS or BSG at their best, the political analogies seem to spring entirely naturally from the dramatic arc, rather than being forced.

2. I became, no other word for it, laughably unsympathetic to Matt in the final four or five episodes. Like, to the moment where I was giggling and saying “not so fun now, when the boot is on the other foot, is it?” when he was complaining about Karen’s suicidal acts of self-sacrifice. I have never cheered anyone so much as when Karen told him to “shut up.”

3. Also – note to Matt. TWO of your girlfriends have now been caused intense distress by the thought of never being able to live up to your good opinion. Maybe take this as a sign?

4. He had surprisingly few questions about Karen murdering Wesley, I thought. (Or maybe we were supposed to think he was putting it all together and didn’t NEED to be told the circumstances, but still…)

5. As for Karen…Deborah Ann Woll is such a fabulous actress. The Daredevil writers team have been remarkably stingy with her dramatic material, very rarely giving her scenes she could sink her teeth into. But the scene between her and Fisk is probably the single most tense scene the show has ever had, and she dominates it effortlessly.

6. Also, man, Karen has had a tough life. Opportunity after opportunity ripped away from her, often (but not always) because she has been running away from herself for so long, so driven by horrible guilt, that she has compounded that first mistake (unintentionally). It’s no wonder Matt, Foggy and Frank are so important to her – much like Matt, she simply cannot face the thought of losing someone again. (A character note I liked is that losing Foggy would be every bit as devastating for her as losing Matt). That said, she desperately needs Marci, who is so lovely, to take out for cocktails, because good lord she has far too many melodramatic men in her life.

7. The swarm of bees sound effect they used for Bullseye got old fast.

8. I wish some of the initial writing for Ray Nadeem had been better thought out. How the show uses his story – as a counterpoint for Matt and Karen both – is really clever, but the building blocks of the story (his family, his debt etc) being so perfunctory means that, even when it all ties together, it’s not as satisfying as it could be. That said, I really liked the actor – hopefully he gets more work out of this.

9. It’s fitting for a show about a Catholic hero to have unbearable guilt be a driving force in the actions of at least half the characters!

10. The shot of all the mobile phones in the Bulletin after the attack was incredibly upsetting. That said…the single most unbelievable aspect of the story is that Frank Castle didn’t come in guns blazing as soon as that happened. I feel like – short of being physically tied down – nothing would have kept him out of that situation.

11. I am intrigued by the possibility of a fourth season with Vanessa as the Big Bad. Though I note the chief reason Fisk is a compelling villain and the Hand weren’t is that we know what he wants and why.

12. The Nelsons must be a very recent immigrant family – I saw boxes of Lyons tea in the background of the final scene. (My family were always Barry’s tea drinkers, but… still an impressive reference).

13. Karen has an impressive ability to do fancy twisty buns in her hair (which I envy).

14. Matt was remarkably touchy-feely with her in the final scene (the bit where he touches the back of her neck…)

Fandom ask for all things Marvel

Fandom ask for all things Marvel

my favorite female character

In the films, probably Black Widow – who should really be running the Avengers by now, as neither Cap or Iron Man can be trusted with the job. In the tv shows…there’s a lot more to choose from. Probably Daisy Johnson or Jessica Jones, but I could easily list a few more names.

my favorite male character

My favourite characters tend to be the ones who are more dynamic, because they make me think about them. As a result, while I find the MCU Cap extremely well constructed, I don’t find myself fascinated by him, and I remain irritated by the way Civil War framed his whole “it’s not fascism if I do it” position. As a result, while Peter Parker is definitely my favourite Avenger (I blame Infinity War), I’d say Tony Stark is far and away the most interesting Male character in the films. (I’d like this to be T’Challa – and he definitely has potential – but (and it’s no insult to Chadwick Boseman to say this) he was one of the less interesting aspects of his own film, so…).

In the tv shows, I would definitely go for Matt Murdock, though, as always, my patience for his giant bag of Catholic bullshit is limited. And for the love of god, keep him away from Elektra. I found that relationship less and less compelling the more time was spent on it, and part of that was the growing conviction that these characters should definitely not be together, and were probably only enabling each other’s worst tendencies. (Violence aside, Matt projected his need to ‘save’ people onto Elektra – irrespective of whether she wanted saving – and she seemed to have transferred her need for Stick’s approval onto Matt, and outsourcing self-respect is never a good move for anyone).

my favorite book/season/etc

I think the best achievements are probably either the Winter Soldier or the first Avengers film (there are so many moving parts to it, it’s a miracle it works – and Whedon’s treatment of Bruce Banner is a lot more surefooted than anything the character has had since. I think they’ve been coasting on Mark Ruffalo’s charm a lot). I’d like to say Black Panther – if only because the production design, with its cohesive vision of a prosperous, advanced, distinctly African future felt so revolutionary – but as film, I think it suffers from the characters being sketched in – very few of them are more than mouthpieces for political positions the film needs to have expressed, and I think that is a fundamental handicap. There’s a reason Killmonger almost walked away with the film, and it’s because he was one of the only characters who felt like a fully realised person (albeit a pretty terrible one).

my favorite episode (if its a tv show)

Episode: probably Agents of Shield…the one where Daisy and Simmons realise everyone else is an LMD. I can’t remember the name of it. But Simmons’ confrontation with Fitz – not to mention LMD Coulson’s with LMD May – was surprising emotional, as well as chilling, and Daisy doing her best Linda Hamilton was incredibly satisfying.

my favorite cast member

…I don’t know. I don’t really follow them in interviews. Maybe Chris Hemsworth, if only for having the guts to play the dumb blonde secretary in Ghostbusters.

my favorite ship

Peggy/Steve, by a country mile. It’s an interesting example of how actors don’t necessarily need to be on screen together to convey that they’re in love – both Peggy and Steve get moments when they’re completely alone that illustrate the depth of their feelings for one another. It also helps here, I think, that Peggy is far away the best drawn character of any of the love interests, many of whom are quite shallowly written – and Chris Evans having genuine chemistry with Hayley Atwell (even when she’s playing a ninety year old) also helps. (The scene in the Winter Soldier where she thinks she’s seeing him for the first time all over again breaks my hair every time).

I also root for Fitzsimmons in Agents of Shield, without necessarily finding their dynamic terribly interesting – it’s noteworthy that all their obstacles are external to the characters. And I think Matt and Karen in Daredevil have a lot of potential, if they ever manage to talk about their mutual fucked up baggage, because between the two of them, there is a lot of it.

a character I’d die defending

Okoye. Not that she’d need it mind you, but still. She is wonderful and glorious and filled me with joy every time she was on-screen. And her costume is fabulous. More please.

a character I just can’t sympathize with

I have very, very little patience for Loki and his giant bag of bullshit. Magneto’s “I have suffered greatly and will therefore commit genocide” scthick is one I lost sympathy for very quickly, and Loki has even less justification. The way the fandom excepts hurtful family dynamics as an excuse for mass murder always surprises me.

a character I grew to love

Spider-Man. I had never been a particular fan of the character – he was kind of fine, I guess, as far as I was concerned – but Tom Holland’s performance won me all the way over. There aren’t many actors who can pull off that quality of earnestness without becoming grating, so I think he deserves serious credit.

my anti otp

Steve and Sharon. Does anyone like them? The actors have little to no chemistry, Emily van Camp was given almost nothing to work with in her performance, and the sense of him using her as a replacement goldfish for Peggy is quite unappealing.

They also seem to have lost sight of one of Steve’s most attractive traits – how openly admiring and impressed he is by tough women. He knew perfectly well that Peggy was stronger than him in many ways, and was more attracted to her for that reasons. Having all of Sharon’s best moments happen entirely out of his view (and apparently without his knowledge) was a pretty poor choice.

Steve and Sharon I think is ninety percent a writing problem – it could be made to work if the director had made different choices, though having an actress who Chris Evans 1) had chemistry with, and 2) was closer in age – but Vision and Scarlett Witch bore me to tears. Chemistry can be a tricky thing to define, but Paul Bettant and Elizabeth Olson definitely do not have it.

Creating credible romantic relationships is not one of the Russo Brothers strengths.

Regular

Agents of Shield finale

I don’t usually bang on about Agents of Shield on here, because…while I enjoy the show, it doesn’t tend to excite the thinky-thoughts part of my brain. But just this once:

1). I think I’ve banged on before about Agents of Shield having masterful dramatic structure, but it really shows in this episode. The ‘original sin’ of AoS is Grant Ward’s betrayal of the theme, his undying loyalty to the man who brought him into Shield (well, Hydra of course, as it turns out) even in the face of clear proof that letting him go was the right thing to do. And five years later, Daisy Johnson is faced with the exact same choice – give up Coulson for the greater good. (A weakness of the show is that we never really saw WHY Daisy fell for Ward – aside from his being pretty – but I think the information we’ve learned since then makes it retrospectively more understandable. They really are VERY similar people).

Except, of course, Coulson, being a better person than Garrett, couldn’t countenance the idea of holding his life above Daisy’s for a minute – Garrett almost had Ward killed to ensure he got what he wanted, but Coulson gave up a chance at prolonging his life to ensure Daisy became the hero she was always meant to be. Knowing how easily it could have gone the other way gives that choice more weight.

One of the more adult aspects of AoS is that it’s never subscribed to the idea of there being Good People or Bad People, as though Goodness or Badness are independent qualities existing inside of someone, rather than contingent upon a person’s choices. The choices the characters make MATTER.

2). The dialogue however remains clunky as hell. No one in AoS talks like a human being – there’s always a slight sense of every line being written to Convey A Specific Piece of Information. (Coulson in particular falls victim to this for some reason).

3). Killing Fitz in the way they did (where it’s obvious he will be coming back, in at least some form) seems like the only option the show had. Because, realistically, once the crisis was over, there’s no possible way they could have allowed him to continue as part of Shield. Performing non-consensual brain surgery on a colleague is a real “You screw one goat” move – having turned on Daisy like that, there’s simply no way any of the characters could ever trust him again, not long-term. There is NO way to make that believeable, and doubly so because he seemed either unwilling or unable to understand the impact of his actions. Who’s to say that he wouldn’t feel completely justified in doing something equally heinous all over again the next time the world was at risk (which since he works for Shield, is something that happens with pretty regularly).

It’s something May said to Yo-yo, that none of the invincible three seemed to grasp – once you make ‘the hard choice,’ no matter what the reasons for it, people will inevitably see you differently – there’s a price to pay. (I must say though, Fitz’s dickishness on the matter I can kind of understand – he is suffering from an untreated mental illness – but Simmons baffles me. There’s something almost neurotic about it). Which is why I hope they don’t brush the magnitude of Fitz’s betrayal under the rug – it’s notable to me that he, Jemma and Yo-yo were all so certain they were right that they were willing to attack their colleagues without direct provocation. (Regarding Fitz, the Ward parallel is also useful here – Fitz’s willingness to let the whole world go to hell if he can save Jemma is not substantially different from Ward’s fanatical devotion to Daisy. Which isn’t to say that they are the same person or that their motives are the same, but that, just like May and Daisy in relation to Coulson, Fitzsimmons should be asking themselves some hard questions about their behaviour).

4). I don’t love that the moment Shield gets a female leader almost all her colleagues immediately start mutineering and undermining her at every turn, and they don’t get properly on board again until A Man is put in charge.

5). Saving the effects budget for the final episode was worth it – and I love that they used Chicago instead of New York or Los Angeles. (Partly, because I’ve been to Chicago, and it’s one of my favourite American cities). Daisy’s fight with Graviton was thrilling to watch if, sadly, too short. (I thought her final fight with Hive was probably more emotionally powerful, but man it felt good to see Daisy get an unequivocal WIN). And I have to say, the moment when Shield came to the rescue and the police officer’s response was “Thank God” felt really earned.

6). I am not touching the time travel shenanigans for one second. I’m just going to assume that, by breaking the loop, that means the future they went to no longer exists.

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Avengers: Infinity War

Here be spoilers.

(That said, these are more observations than anything, so it won’t be TOO spoilery).

1. Scripting this film must have been a complete nightmare – the number of elements that had to be balanced, the way the plots intertwine, the difficulty of paring it down to anything like a reasonable length – I’m picturing several writers having to support each other through minor nervous breakdowns. That the film is at all coherent is a real tribute to writing/editing skill.

2. A lot of problems could have been avoided if any of the characters had watched the second season of Buffy.

3. I really liked The Winter Soldier as a film, but as they’ve gone on I think the Russo brothers have lost some of the qualities that made that film appealing – especially in how they film the action scenes. There’s a kinetic, grounded quality in the Winter Soldier’s fight scenes that has kind of disappeared a bit.

4. I both love Captain America as a character and am consistently irritated by how the films frame him. In this case, the way he’s been made retrospectively right about Civil War – like, the Secretary of State being a DICK does not actually change the fact that Cap wants to operate his own private army without the oversight of any kind of government. Cap consistently placing himself on the opposite side from democratic government feels like a very strange position for the character to end up in.

5. Speaking of which, the way Steve’s perspective on the possibility of losing innocent lives yoyos between Age of Ulton, Civil War and Infinity War feels rather odd – like his opinion is dictated more by the needs of each film than solid characterisation. His position in Infinity War didn’t irritate me as much as Age of Ulton’s “if we can’t save everyone, we should just let the planet be destroyed” but still, someone should make him watch the Wrath of Khan over and over until he GETS it. (The way the film ends kind of makes this irrelevant, but how many Wakandans died so Cap wouldn’t have to make an uncomfortable decision).

6. The Russo brothers can not construct a credible romance to save their lives. There was the complete misfire of Cap and Sharon Carter in Civil War, and in this film a LOT of weight is put on the Vision-Scarlett Witch romance. They’re not helped by the casting, I must admit, because Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olson have no sexual chemistry that I can see (I wonder if it’s an age thing? Paul Bettany plays Vision as full of admiration for Wanda, but there’s no sense of authentic sexual desire – seventeen years is a big age gap, and I can buy him being uncomfortable with it). When you think of how affecting that plot line would have been with Cap and Peggy, or Tony and Pepper, it really snaps into focus just how unbuilt the romance between Vision and Wanda is. It is because it is, not because we’ve seen them fall in love, and that makes it hard to invest.

7. Spider-Man is now my favourite Avenger. I really was not expecting that, but he’s such a GOOD kid, bless him, such an adorable dork. It’s very easy to see why Tony cares about him, because he’s kind of Tony-but-better, stripped of all the fucked up coping mechanisms, and willing to face the consequences of actions at a much younger age than Tony was. Speaking to my point above, his final scenes with Tony were genuinely upsetting to watch, because their relationship is meaningful. Also, when Spider-Man referenced Aliens I found myself automatically thinking “nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”

8. I feel like I’ve never given Zoe Saldana enough credit for what she does as Gamora, but she was easily the stand-out performance for me. She has such soulful eyes, and it felt like she was filmed to take full advantage of them. The little girl who played Young Gamora was perfectly cast, as well, which was fortunate, because the kid had some heavy lifting to do.

9. For once, I wasn’t wondering what the TV heroes were doing. I can’t see Daredevil or Luke Cage being much help in this situation, or even Jessica Jones, since she’s never been taught to fight. Quake admittedly might have come in handy (particularly in the fight scene on Titan, because I think she could have really helped them take the gauntlet off) but…she has her own problems right now.

10. Outside of Game of Thrones (where it is a necessary evil), I wish people would stop making Peter Dinklage use that faux-English accent. It GRATES. (Game of Thrones I can forgive, because when casting Tyrion they were presumably looking at an unusually limited pool of actors, for a part that DEMANDS huge acting talent, so who cares if the accent is a bit slippy – but there’s no reason a Space-Dwarf or whatever he was supposed to be has to have an English accent to begin with, so just let him use his natural voice).

11. I always try to see these films as close to the release date as possible, and it was worth it for the audience reaction when Thor…arrived. They went MENTAL.

12. I thought the timeline issues between Civil War and Black Panther were confusing…Infinity War would HAVE to ripple out into the shows, and it’ll be interesting to see how they side-step that problem. It’s a lot harder to handwave than something like Civil War or Spider-Man. (I presume Agents of Shield has a plan for this, but I have less faith in the Netflix shows).

13. Regarding the credits scene, it’s very telling about Nick Fury as a person that his first question after a car accident is “Are they all right?”

14. Anthony Mackie has a very nice speaking voice. I can’t place it to a particular region of the US, but it did make me wonder if he’s ever done theatre work.

15. If the Avengers had just listened to Black Widow and Rhodes to begin with, they’d have been in much better shape going into this fight. In fact, I’m choosing to believe the government of the MCU is Veep-level incompetent, because that’s the only way I can buy them allowing the Civil War problem to metastitise in such a STUPID way.

16. Good lord this film was a sausage fest. I love Okoye and Black Widow and Gamora, but a few more female characters would not go amiss (I find Scarlett Witch an impressive achievement in dullness, given everything we know about her). At this point, the population MCU is so male-dominated (with the noble exceptions of Black Panther and Agents of Shield), that you have to wonder how the human population is sustaining itself – how can a population with such a distorted sex ratio survive?

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Jessica Jones, Season 2

Oh dear oh dear.

Prepare to be bored with questions of dramatic structure. Because the vast majority of problems in Jessica Jones are due to poor structure. (For comparison, Agents of Shield has masterful dramatic structure – though I’ll concede that the dialogue is often clunky).

On the most basic level, I think they were trying to create a mirror of the first season. Despite her desire never to kill again, Jessica ultimately takes that step out of a protective love for Trish. (The season gradually escalates events so that she is boxed into that decision – perhaps too much so, because my goodness, if EVER someone needed killing, Kilgrave did). Season 2 tries something similar with Trish, pushing her to the point where she kills Alissa out of love for Jessica.

However, it doesn’t fully work, for a couple of reasons, some of which may not be obvious.

Remember how I mentioned that one of the biggest problems in Daredevil/Defenders was the show never filling us in as to what Elektra WAS (well, she was the Black Sky, which was…’I one knows what)? There’s a similar problem in how they construct Alissa’s character.

At the start of the season (before we’ve met her), Alissa is extremely threatening – a mysterious, monstrous presence who methodically kills off all the leads in Jessica and Trish’s investigation, apparently stalking Whizzer for weeks on end.

Except, when we finally meet her, Alissa turns out to be basically the Hulk-but-more-murdery. Which is fine, as far as it goes, but doesn’t really square with what is implied by the episodes that go before. Alissa being driven to murder by emotional distress is all well and good, but nothing we are shown indicates that her rage can persist at that level of intensity for the weeks or months it would have taken to stalk Whizzer or track down Kozlov. She simply doesn’t seem capable of that level of calculation.

I mention this, because Alissa becomes a much less threatening character as the show goes on. The more time we spent with Kilgrave the more frightening he became – with Alissa the opposite is true. (If they’d suggested that someone was, for lack of better term, steering her – say Karl – the mismatch would be less jarring, but nothing of the kind is implied).

Jessica killing Kilgrave felt overdetermined – the audience was ready for her to do it at least two episodes before she did – whereas Trish’s decision feels at best undermotivated. Especially because Trish doesn’t see or hear anything to justify her going straight to murder.

There’s a fix for that – have her experiences with HER abusive mother lead her to the conclusion that Alissa simply won’t stop – but again, nothing of the kind is implied. In fact, Trish is mostly unconscious for the final three episodes, meaning we don’t get any hint of the throat process that leads to her killing Alissa, not even retrospectively.

I don’t think that decision is problematic, necessarily, though the show making Alissa such an equivocal threat undermines it quite considerably.

No, for me the big WTF Trish moments were 1) assaulting Malcolm and locking him in the car boot and 2) telling Jessica to kill her recently back from the dead mother.

The other problem with Alissa is that…well, to my mind, villains in superhero stories work best when they pose a Philosophical threat to the hero – thing of Fisk with Matt Murdoch or the Joker with Batman or even Ares with Wonder Woman. They threaten the hero’s core beliefs as well as their physical safety, because being a physical threat isn’t enough. (This is why – in theory – Batman vs Superman could have worked if the execution wasn’t terrible).

But Alissa doesn’t pose that kind of threat to Jessica in any way, though I think she was intended to – Jessica starts the season with a profound moral objection to killing, and nothing she experiences shifts her position in any way. I don’t mean that Jessica SHOULD become comfortable with killing, but that her beliefs should be tested – and they aren’t really at any point.

To be fair, it is suggested that unlike with Kilgrave, Jessica is seriously tempted to take on the role of moral nursemaid – but they don’t go anywhere particularly interesting with it, because Jessica waffles back and forth, without ever seeming to properly think about it.

In conclusion, Alissa’s character is poorly conceived, partly because the writers don’t entirely know what they want her to do, in dramatic terms, and because Trish and Jessica’s arcs revolve entirely around her character, it ends up undermining the whole show.

Other minor observations:

1. RIP Malcolm’s awesome hair. That loss HURT.

2. I really rate Janet McTeer as an actor, and it’s a shame she’s given such a misconstructed character to play. She can join Sigourney Weaver, Christoper Eccleston and Mads Mikklesen in the inadequately used by Marvel club.

3. Why didn’t Jessica call Luke? He is presumably around, and he would almost certainly have been helpful at numerous points. I also think he would have had some very strong opinions on the foolishness of Jessica going on the lamb with her mass-murdering mother. (Maybe that’s WHY he didn’t show up – unlike Malcolm or Trish, Luke cares about Jessica without projecting his personal issues all over her…in which case he might be able to make her listen to him).

4. Not to mention, Claire would have been able to help with that bulletwound…if Jessica had CALLED her.

5. I’m sad the Karen-Trish journalistic partnership of awesome never came to be…though, to be fair, the last thing Karen needs is to be kidnapped/threatened AGAIN (I think we’re at six times now, after the Punisher?)

6. Much like Harry Potter, Jessica’s natural “happy ending” is starting a family of her own, though who knows if that will ever happen.

7. Jeri appears to exist in an entirely different, though I admit reasonably interesting, show.

8. Jessica’s “sad” apartment makes ME sad, because London property prices are so insane, no one I know could afford to rent one even remotely like it.

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Black Panther

SPOILERS

When I went to see The Force Awakens and Rey started tossing a lightsaber round…it was like a need I didn’t know I had, a need I’d been carrying around for years, had finally been filled. I think it’s safe to assume Black Panther will be the same for a lot of people. Still, I have some…not criticisms exactly, but observations.

But first – the good:

1. The Dora Milaaje were just…damn. Every time Okoye had a fight scene I was nearly overwhelmed by all the sheer FUCKING AWESOME going on. Seriously, I could watch them fight for HOURS.

2. It’s nice to have a vision of the future (I know technically Black Panther is set in the present day, but the technology is futuristic, so…) that doesn’t look like it was designed by apple, that is vibrant and (pun not intended) bursting with colour, rather than purely sterile and white.

3. I was amused to see the “Museum of Great Britain” which (I’m reasonably certain) does not exist. I presume the British Museum (where such artefacts would be displayed) wouldn’t allow filming there, due to the film so brutally pointing out that all the exhibits are the product of colonial looting. (I was also amused that for the first time the Houses of Parliament doesn’t appear in the establishing shot of London, presumably because it’s under so much scaffolding).

4. Lupita’s hair. Actually everyone’s hair. And costumes. And I guess just the entire production design – this is a VERY good looking film, noteworthy because Marvel films (with one or two honourable exceptions) have been pretty bland visually.

5. Shuri was just plain adorable.

6. T’challa’s final speech sounded almost like a direct quotation of Jo Cox. I have no idea if that was intentional or not, but it was weirdly moving to hear an affirmation of shared humanity. We ARE one great tribe, and the sooner we all realise that the better off everyone will be. (International politics has taken such a depressing turn in the last few years that I think his speech ended up more powerful than it otherwise would have been).

The…not bad, but interesting:

7. The politics of Wakanda are fascinating. In fact, I think the politics are far more interesting than any of the characters, which is a shame. For instance, the film doesn’t really dig into WHY Wakanda is so isolationist, and when it began, which would be genuinely interesting to dig into. Going by the map, Wakanda seems to be fairly close to Uganda and DRC, which begs all kinds of questions – how did they maintain their isolationism when Idi Amin was in power, or when the war in Rwanda broke out? How have they dealt with having the constant nightmare of the Congo right on their doorstep? The history of modern Africa demonstrates that kind of instability is not easily contained. One would imagine that there were a lot of…wakandese(?) who would agree with Nakia that more should be done to help their neighbours. (I am not at all sure the total isolation the film implies was maintained is actually credible, mind you, given the massive destruction visited on Africa between say 1850-1930, but to their credit, Wakanda – in a mountain range somewhere in the Congo jungle – is in the right place for it to be plausible). (Note, I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to see a realistic film about the Belgian occupation of the Congo, as I like to sleep at night).

8. Following on from that point…it seems to me that Black Panther is really more a film about America, than it is about anything to do with Africa (which shouldn’t be a surprise – the clue is in the name). The whole question of how a superpower can responsibly operate, whether they should intervene on behalf of “the wretched of the earth” or look after their own people (and whether those things are actually mutually exclusive) is one of far more relevance to the US than anything at play in Africa politics. (African nations have intervened in each other’s politics when they’ve felt it necessary after all). The film also plays with ideas of pan-Africanism which feel far more relevant to the power of those ideas in America than in any modern African-state. I’m not saying that this is a BAD thing, by the way, just that it leapt out at me as I watched the film. Kilmonger’s entire motivation depends on the idea that black men are treated horribly in America – he is in many ways the most interesting character in the film – but I don’t know that the slave trade has the same totemic, original sin significance in Africa that it does in the US (because so many other awful things have happened in Africa since then). The film doesn’t really engage with the struggles of post-colonial states in any real way; it would be interesting to know how the idea of colonialism affects Wakanda’s isolationism, for instance – is the reason they don’t assert themselves more because they have seen the untrammelled damage technologically advanced nations can inflict when they want to? There’s an argument that it takes a country at least three generations to really recover from the legacy of colonialism, and at lot of African nations aren’t there yet.

The Bad

9. That is not an adequate use of Forrest Whittaker.

10. That is not an adequate use of Angela Bassett.

11. In general, the character-writing feels quite thin – the politics are more interesting than any of the actual characters involved (as you can tell, because I droned on about them for hours). Killmonger is far and a way the most interesting character in the film, but I felt the actors did a lot to make T’Challa and Okoye (in particular) deeper and more interesting characters than they were on the page. Chadwick Boseman has the charisma to pull it off, but it would have been nice of the writers to give him some more notes to play.

12. Battle-rhinos? THOSE ARE ENDANGERED, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

13. Trying to figure out where this fits in the Marvel timeline relative to Civil War makes my head hurt.

14. I have this complaint about the Thor films too – why does no one ever point out that these supposedly advanced societies haven’t managed to produce a DEMOCRACY? Does Marvel really want to imply that absolute monarchy is the best political system? Because I have problems with that, no matter who the king is.

15. I thought the UN had its big meetings in New York?

16. It seems odd to me that the film never mentions Ethiopia – the one African state that genuinely wasn’t colonised.

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Punisher, 10 Episodes In

More thoughts

1. Some day I’d like to ask the Marvel Netflix producers what professional, emotionally mature black men did to them that was so terrible.

More seriously, the racial politics – or rather, the calculated lack of racial politics – of this show are confounding. In some ways, it’s a fantastic study of white male entitlement, but it refuses to engage with the fact of that whiteness in a very noticeable way. The support group for veterans is predominantly made up of black men (and one woman), and yet, with the exception of Curtis, all the veterans we spend time with are white, male and ANGRY. I’m going to take a wild guess that the reason for this is that the armed forces in the States are disproportionately made up of minority groups (the military traditionally offering opportunities to people who are disadvantaged), though I’m willing to be corrected on this point.

But it kind of flags up the very…particular power fantasy that Frank Castle represents. Because if American racial politics are anything like I understand them to be, it’s impossible to imagine that a black Frank Castle could exist and be credible to the audience. The social structures that allow Frank to slip through society undetected only exist for white men.

And yet…Mohammed Ali is mentioned multiple times as a figure they admire, despite the fact that Ali’s outstanding trait, the trait that truly made him the Greatest, was MORAL courage – a trait which, needless to say, seems to be desperately lacking in all of these veterans.

2. As a side note, we end up with at least three former soldiers who display noticeably anti-social personality traits. Is it worth pointing out that any military worth its salt is going to do its utmost to weed those people out with extreme prejudice? The whole point of military training is to prepare people to carry out extreme violence ONLY in very specific situations. If anything, I would expect the military to attract people with more rigid or authoritarian mindsets, because those ways of thinking lend themselves to maintaining iron-clad distinctions. It’s a feature, in other words, not a bug. (It’s also why any professional soldier HATES fighting against a guerilla campaign, as those rely on blurring the very clear line between civilians and military that soldiers are trained to think of as uncrossable. Similarly, I saw a fascinating play about the development of the British nuclear bomb, which showed the British generals as absolutely opposed to it – because, by their very nature, nuclear weapons are anti-civilian, and therefore…sinful is the only word strong enough).

3. This really would be a far more interesting show if it wasn’t hemmed in by its comic book roots – by which I mean, if it didn’t need to keep Frank a hero. They attempt to convey a distinction between Frank and Lewis, because Frank only murders criminals and yet… Well, the rip-roaring rampage of revenge is too well established a story line in every culture to imagine it will ever go away, but Frank’s story relies on a very personal sense of justice. As in, the showrunners have to continually elide the idea of justice as a Societal virtue, in order to keep us on Frank’s side. Put it another way, we don’t try and convict criminals purely so they are punished, we try and convict criminals because the public act of doing so contributes to the cohesion of an entire society – not least, because societies that are notably unjust become ripe for revolution. Or, as hard as this can be to grasp, justice is not ABOUT the victim (though it can be essential if victims are ever to have any peace), it is about US, as a society, and what we will and will not tolerate. So, Frank may have his revenge – and I’ll even allow the fantasy that said revenge is always righteous, though that is extremely questionable – but longer-term, his actions are ultimately destructive because they deny society the chance to reckon with and publicly rebuke criminality.

4. Without wanting to seem like I have a type (tall, dark, handsome narcissists), I find Billy Russo the most interesting character on the show, especially his relationship with Madani. Not that I’m rooting for them exactly, but it takes extraordinary sang-froid to murder a woman’s partner and then comfort her about it. And what’s more interesting is…I think at least some of that is sincere – I think he may actually love her, albeit in an extremely stunted way. He went out of his way to avoid killing her in the shootout, after all, and not without personal risk to himself. It’s just that, because he has, at best, extremely maladapted attachment mechanisms, he approaches the entire relationship as though it’s a game which, if he wins, demonstrates his worth. (And, depending on his mood, winning can be sex or laughter or forcing her to cry) (in other words, fascinating though it is to watch, Madani should run like hell, because it is beyond fucked up). I also appreciate that Ben Barnes doesn’t tip his hand, so to speak, in any of their scenes together – you’re not wondering why she doesn’t suspect him.

4. I don’t know enough to comment in detail, but I find the class dynamics kind of fascinating. Frank’s ‘authentic’ basically middle-class identity is heavily contrasted with Billy’s fake upper class trappings (his elegant suits and expensive haircut) and actual lower-class background. I’m probably missing some of the class ‘markers’ but it’s clear a very particular form of masculinity is being held up as ideal here – men who read but don’t waste their time on fine wine, who develop highly technical skills but don’t waste their time on self-adornment (that’s left to their wives).

5. Politically, however, the show is all but completely incoherent, and dragging gun control into it doesn’t help much. I’d argue that it is an interesting…illustration of how pre-existing political narratives are rushed into place after a terrorist attack, but I don’t honestly think they do anything particularly interesting with it. On the most basic level, a show that exists in a fantasy world where a) Frank never misses and b) his victims are always deserving of terminal violence, doesn’t really have any business invoking the spectre of gun violence as it exists in the real world.

6. Not to mention that it brings up the interesting question of how Karen would appear to anyone normal – this is a woman who’s been kidnapped FIVE times now? (I may be missing some). It’s a miracle she’s not a paranoid shut-in at this point, but the idea that Karen wouldn’t realise that widespread access to weapons has facilitated the many times she’s been victimised is kind of an insult to the character’s intelligence.

7. Speaking of which, I’m weirdly charmed by the idea of Matt and Frank going for drinks and bonding over Karen’s tendency to always fling herself into the path of danger – doesn’t she have any other way to solve her problems? (If Daredevil season 3 actually engages with the idea that no, Karen doesn’t, she is rampantly self-destructive because she is hugely motivated by guilt, I would be delighted – because unlike some of Matt’s manpain, Karen’s guilt seems earned).

8. Madani’s hair is so STYLED – I keep getting distracted by how much work it must be.

9. The corrupt general was remarkably trusting, despite the fact that Billy was walking him into the most obvious murder room imaginable. How does someone that dumb get involved in a complex international criminal conspiracy?

10. Every time Karen’s journalism is read out loud it is LAUGHABLY bad – is it really so hard to replicate actual news copy?

11. Despite my many issues with the writing, I have to give the actors – Jon Bernthal in particular – they’re doing a fabulous job.

Regular

Punisher

Five episodes in, and some thoughts.

1. This show is probably the most blatant example of Truffaut Was Right I’ve ever seen. To its credit, the show at least attempts to critique the more extreme instances of toxic nationalism and masculinity, but it feels like that can’t help but be undercut by the mere fact that the audience is always going to want Frank to cut lose on some evil doers. The CIA director (or whatever he is) saying effectively that Americans deserve to be happy because they are Americans was chilling to me (and the rest of the world deserves what?), but I can’t tell how much the show wants me to question that assumption.

2. There was a thread early on that I found quite psychologically astute which seems to have fallen out of the story somewhat, which is that…often, it’s having had to DO terrible things which is the real cause of a person’s trauma. Being victimised is a terrible, unforgivable thing, but many people are eventually able to process it. But having to DO terrible things – having to kill people, having to torture them, having to leave people to die to save your own skin – often comes only at a huge psychological cost. There’s a reason soldiers have to be TRAINED to kill – humans actually have a pretty profound…handicap to enacting that kind of violence on each other, one that is socialised into us from infancy (I have a suspicion any highly social animal will have similar tendencies). Often the only reason people are able to nerve themselves to commit violence (particularly in the businesslike way that is required of soldiers – knowingly going out to kill someone who has not directly harmed you is not the same as an act of self-defence like Karen’s against Wesley) is through the belief that they are defending something, fighting for freedom or democracy or whatever high-minded ideal you feel like. To find out that that ideal is false somehow can pose a serious threat to a person’s sense of self, and the worse their actions have been, the more severe the threat is. (I am convinced that this psychological tendency played a huge part in causing the Irish Civil War, for instance – to have gone out and murdered people in the cause of the Republic was one thing…but to murder people, to have blood, often of people you knew, on your hands, all for the Republic…and then not get it, get only a miserable, dishonourable compromise, well I think that was unacceptable in way very few of the men who started the Civil War could put into words).

3. Frank is introduced reading Moby Dick. The subtlety, it slays me.

4. More to the point, Frank seems like a character who functions best when there is someone else in the story offering a…philosophical challenge. Partly because his entire character leans into a very American tendency towards suspicion of government as innately corrupted and flawed – one man against the system and so on and so forth – and, given the way those beliefs lend themselves to authoritarianism, they become very uncomfortable viewing if they aren’t challenged within the story. Note, Captain America’s political position in Civil War made me HIGHLY uncomfortable for exactly the same reason – that generalised suspicion of politics and politicians can so very easily morph into opposition to democracy itself – though I’d argue that Civil War offered at least some critique of Steve’s position, whereas the Punisher (so far, at least) hasn’t really, because if Frank’s morals/politics are subjected to sustained critique he becomes the villain and you break the show. (Daredevil was more interested in using the Punisher to point out the limits of Matt’s beliefs than the other way round, so this never really became a problem).

5. Ben Barnes is totally going to be the villain – he’s far too pretty for it to be otherwise.

6. It strikes me now that, as much as people complained about it at the time, Karen becoming a journalist makes complete sense for her arc. Because when Matt saves her in the first episode of Daredevil, he does it not by punching someone very hard (though that’s part of it), but by telling the world what was going on at Union Allied. He saved her through an act of journalism, in other words. While Karen’s past is still unclear, it seems likely that there was at least some measure of abuse in her family life – Matt saving her may well have been the first time anyone stepped in to help her since the death of her brother. Karen seems to be a deeply lonely person (something I think Matt responded to, being quite lonely himself), and it’s no wonder that it had a profound impact on her. She flat out TELLS Frank that the best way to solve his problems is to let the world know about them – she’s quoting Matt back to him, though I doubt she realises it.

7. I love that Karen still carries a gun in her handbag. She seems quite…withdrawn and subdued and…I don’t think hanging around Frank is going to help with that at all. She’s always tended to project her own psychological issues on to him (the same way Elektra did with Matt), and her need for him to move on is, at least partially, a need to know that moving on IS possible, that she won’t be stuck grieving Matt for the rest of her life. (Particularly important for Karen, I think, because it’s such a complex loss – she may have loved Matt, but he never really let her know him and then grew angry with her for failing to understand him. I would imagine there is a huge amount of anger underneath the grief that she hasn’t dealt with at all. Matt rejected her and hurt her and she can’t process any of that because of the pain of losing him).

8. More to the point, Frank’s inability to move past HIS grief seems fundamental to the character. He won’t ever get to a place where he has processed and accepted his grief, because if he did that he would cease to be the Punisher…and then the writers have broken him as a character and ended the show. So, even if Matt wasn’t going to return to the scene, I don’t think a happy romance is in Karen and Frank’s future. Which isn’t to say that there won’t be a kind of wistful ‘what might have been’ element to their relationship. (Not to mention that Frank’s feelings for Karen seem to be almost paternal from time to time, which would complicate things further).

9. The scene between Karen and Madani had some of the most ludicrously telegraphed sexual tension I’ve ever seen – who knows if it was intentional or not. It would be NICE if Marvel could remember that women can, at the least, be friends – lord knows Karen needs a girl friend, not to mention Misty. I’ve often argued that Agents of Shield is a very underrated show, and one aspect of it that beats all the Netflix shows (except Jessica Jones) is that it allows women (plural) to be important in the story, and for their relationships with EACH OTHER to drive the plot – as in, it’s IMPORTANT that Daisy loves Jemma, and May loves Daisy, because it drives their actions, whereas Karen, or Misty, or Claire are only allowed to be important in so far as their actions affect MEN. In fact, they are virtually never on screen with another woman – in that sense, even when there are multiple women in the cast, the Smurfette principle still holds, because there is rarely more than one woman in the same scene. (Again, for obvious reasons, Jessica Jones is an honourable exception to this).

10. I think Jon Bernthal is fantastic in the part, but to be entirely honest, I’m not totally sure I will keep going to the end. I feel like I can see the seams – all the ways the writers have to bend the story to keep Frank a viable hero – far too clearly. Recommendations?