Quotes: The Templars, Who Were My Friends

The following story is related by Usamah Ibn Munqidh, a twelfth-century Muslim writer who lived during the time of the early Crusades, about his interactions with some of the Knights Templar who occupied Jerusalem in his day.

Whenever I visited Jerusalem I always entered the Aqsa Mosque, beside which stood a small mosque, which the Franks had converted into a church. When I used to enter the Aqsa Mosque, which was occupied by the Templars, who were my friends, the Templars would evacuate the little adjoining moseque so that I might pray in it.

One day I entered this mosque, repeated the first formula, “Allah is great,” and stood up in the act of praying. Then one of the Franks rushed to me, got hold of me and turned my face eastward, saying, ‘This is the way you should pray!’

The Templars came up to him and expelled him. They apologized to me, saying, ‘This is a stranger who has only recently arrived from the land of Franks and he has never before seen anyone praying except eastward.’

– Usamah Ibn Munqidh, Autobiography

 

Ibn Munqidh’s experience is certainly not typical of Christian-Muslim relations in the Crusade period, but it is a useful illustration of the kinds of friendly and respectful relationships that could be forged between individuals of different backgrounds, even in times of war.

From another point of view, it is useful to note that the Templars were effectively enforcing an anti-harassment policy on their own members. If a militant religious order in a war zone could do that, then there’s no excuse for modern fan conventions not doing the same.

Translation from Philip K. Hitti, An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000, 160.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

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Rating: Murdoch Mysteries, Season 9

Here’s our ratings for season 9 of the Canadian early-twentieth-century detective series Murdoch Mysteries:

  1. “Nolo Contendere” – 6.5
  2. “Marked Twain” – 4
  3. “Double Life” – 4
  4. “Barenaked Ladies” – 5
  5. “24 Hours ’til Doomsday” – 8.5
  6. “The Local Option” – 6
  7. “Summer of ’75” – 4
  8. “Pipe Dreamzzz” – 6
  9. “Raised on Robbery” – 8
  10. “The Big Chill” – 6
  11. “A Case of the Yips” – 4
  12. “Unlucky in Love” – 6.5
  13. “Colour Blinded” – 8
  14. “Wild Child” – 4
  15. “House of Industry” – 4.5
  16. “Bl**dy H*ll” – 7.5
  17. “From Buffalo with Love” – 4
  18. “Cometh the Archer” – 0

The average rating for this season is 5.4, which puts this season right about the middle with some seasons averaging higher and some lower.

There’s some cast shakeups and character development under way. Dr. Grace departs the series and her place as Dr. Ogden’s science sister is taken by Miss James, the first main character of color. We miss Dr. Grace, who was a favorite, but it’s nice to see the series continue to improve on acknowledging the diversity of turn-of-the-century Toronto. Constable Crabtree and Inspector Brackenried both get some good character development this season, as Crabtree’s romantic adventures drag him into some odd and dangerous places (“Nolo Contendere,” “From Buffalo with Love”) and Brackenried gets mixed up in a political scandal (“Bl**dy H*ll”).

Most of this season’s episodes rate in the 4-6 range, which is okay but not great. The season average is brought up, though, by a handful of better episodes, while only one really bad one drags it down. The bottom of the barrel comes at the end of the season with “Cometh the Archer,” a peculiar and tedious episode bringing back master criminal Eva Green and turning her into an unstable Murdoch fangirl. It’s a strange episode which seems to exist for little reason other than showing Dr. Ogden on a leather-clad, bow-wielding rampage of revenge—which is not a bad goal in itself, but it deserves a better treatment than this episode gives it.

Our highest-rated episode of the season, at 8.5, is “24 Hours ’til Doomsday,” a rollicking adventure with a steampunk edge about an ambitious experiment in rocketry. This episode brings back favorite returning characters James Pendrick and Terrence Myers, and ends with Myers taking an unexpected ride into the upper atmosphere. Two more episodes come in at 8, “Raised on Robbery,” a bank heist story which makes for a nice change of pace from the usual murders, and “Colour Blinded,” which gives Miss James some development and explores some of the complexities of race relations in early twentieth-century Canada.

Feel free to share your own favorites from season 9!

Image: Pendrick showing Murdoch his wingsuit design, from “24 Hours ’til Doomsday,” Murdoch Mysteries via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Visual Inspiration: Small Aqua-Blue-Brown Lizards

Now that summer is properly on the way here in the northern hemisphere, it’s time for summer critters. This aqua-blue-brown lizard, Anolis grahami, would make a lovely detail in speculative—or, indeed, in any kind of—story-telling.

Wikimedia jpokele Grahams anole Jamaica

In the real world, they’re endemic in Jamaica and an introduction to Bermuda. According to Wikipedia, occasionally you can see a pure turquoise blue lizard.

iNaturalist waynewg Grahams anole

Goodness, they’re incredible!

Found via Jon Suh on Twitter.

Images: Graham’s anole on Jamaica by jpockele via Wikimedia (CC BY-2.0). Graham’s anole on a piece of wood by Wayne Godbehere on iNaturalist (CC BY-NC).

The Visual Inspiration occasional feature pulls the unusual from our world to inspire design, story-telling, and worldbuilding. If stuff like this already exists, what else could we imagine?

Endgame, Time Travel, and Cinderella

Note: some spoilers for Avengers: Endgame ahead.

Avengers: Endgame is a time travel story, and like many a pop culture time travel story, it has led to head-scratching and nit-picking among fans about the precise mechanics. Are there now multiple universes? Can characters cross between them? Can you change the past or not? Is Evil Nebula actually dead? Did Old Man Steve live out his life with Peggy in another timeline, or has he been living in secret in our universe for the last seventy years?

Since time travel is not, as far as we know, actually possible, we can’t invoke real-world physics to resolve these problems. We have to work with the rules as established by the story. The trouble is that the story’s rules don’t seem consistent. This is a common problem with time travel stories—Endgame even takes a few pot shots at the temporal mechanics of earlier movies.

The fundamental problem with time travel stories is that it is almost impossible to construct a set of rules for time travel that are internally consistent but also allow for change. (Consider the classic paradox: can you go back in time and kill your younger self?) Yet change is what stories are about: if everything is the same at the end of the story as at the beginning, why tell it?

Some stories edge around this problem by making the story be about making sure that things happen as they should, like Back to the Future or Star Trek‘s “City on the Edge of Forever,” but even these stories start from a premise that the past can be changed, which leads to the same problems.

Time travel may be a new concept, but these sorts of internal contradictions have been part of storytelling forever. Consider the story of Cinderella. This fairy tale is so familiar to most of us that we don’t often think about what’s wrong with it. Let’s review:

Cinderella lives with her wicked stepmother and stepsisters who treat her like a servant. One day, Cinderella’s fairy godmother gives her a magical gift so that she can go to the prince’s ball: she changes Cinderella’s rags into a wonderful gown and glass slippers, and turns a pumpkin into a fancy coach and field mice into footmen so that she can arrive with a splash. There’s a catch, though: at the stroke of midnight, the spell will end and everything will turn back into what it was before. Cinderella is a hit at the ball and dances with the prince, who falls for her, but once the clock begins to strike midnight she suddenly runs for the door. She is in such a rush that she looses one of her glass slippers on the steps and can’t go back for it. The prince finds the glass slipper and, determined to find the lady he was dancing with, searches the kingdom for the maiden whose foot fits the slipper. He finds Cinderella, marries her, and they live happily ever after.

Do you see the problem?

Why didn’t the glass slipper change back to a ragged old shoe along with everything else?

The magic in the story is not internally consistent. Without the midnight expiration date, Cinderella has no reason to rush from the ball and leave a slipper behind so that the prince can find her, but if the slipper she leaves changes back like all the rest of her magic gear, the prince has no way to know that it’s hers and go looking for her. Even though we’re talking about magic, not time travel, Cinderella runs into the same internal contradictions that pop up in Back to the Future or Endgame.

Generations upon generations of children have grown up with this story, very few of them ever troubled by its inconsistencies. Now, you could argue that that’s because children don’t have well-developed logical faculties, but I prefer a simpler explanation: it doesn’t matter.

Folklore and fairy tales are the most economical form of storytelling. Oral tradition strips tales down to their most important elements, and the most important thing in a story is what happens to the characters. All that matters in the end is that Cinderella and her prince get their happily ever after. Everything else in the story exists to serve that purpose, and can be bent, broken, twisted, or turned however it needs to be in order to get there.

Magic exists in stories to serve the human narrative. Often, serving this purpose requires consistency, to present our heroes with challenges to overcome and rules that can’t be broken (but which a clever hero can circumvent or turn to their own advantage), but when it gets in the way of the story, magic just steps aside so that the thing that should happen can happen. The same applies to time travel (which is really just magic for a technological age).

So Steve and Peggy get to have their happily ever after, and, in the end, it doesn’t really matter how or why.

Image: Steve Rogers looking at Peggy Carter’s picture via Giphy

Story Time is an occasional feature all about stories and story-telling. Whether it’s on the page or on the screen, this is about how stories work and what makes us love the ones we love.

Space Mural Bookcase Wall

Melissa Ng and her husband hacked their IKEA bookcases with a space peel-and-stick wall mural. The results certainly have more than a bit wow factor:

IKEAhackers Melissa Ng Space Mural Bookcase Wall
Melissa Ng, via IKEAhackers.

So cool, isn’t it?

I wonder whether there is any fantasy-themed peel-and-stick wallpaper—I noticed myself daydreaming of scifi book shelves backed with space murals, fantasy shelves with amazing forests or creatures, history with vintage wood or brick or castles, etc.

Found via IKEAhackers.

In Making Stuff occasional feature, we share fun arts and crafts done by us and our fellow geeks and nerds.

Four Years of Co-Geeking

We’ve been keeping Co-Geeking going for four years now, and it’s still as much fun as when we started back in 2015. Here’s a quick look back at the past year.

 

Our favorite posts

Eppu:

My favorite post from the past year is not a major one, but it was delightful to write: the comparison of Dalaran cupola library in World of Warcraft to real-world libraries. I’m so used to libraries with regular ranks of shelves and perpendicular walkways that doing a search on rounded shapes made for a very nice departure.

Erik:

It may be self-serving of me, but my favorite post from the past year is still the preview of my book, Barbarians in the Greek and Roman World. That project was a big part of my life for several years. It took a lot of work and I can’t help being proud of the result.

 

Our favorite geeky thing that happened in the past year

Erik:

Battle for Azeroth. The latest expansion to World of Warcraft has had its ups and downs, but on the whole I’ve found it very enjoyable. Gorgeous landscape design, new and different gear for transmogging, and chatty turtle people have all enlivened my gaming time this past year.

Eppu:

Of the things I’ve talked about here, my favorite thing is the release of two Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero movies with women up and front: Ant-Man and the Wasp plus Captain Marvel. Mind you, both movies do have their problems, but they nevertheless have the most successful treatment of female characters Marvel has put out to date. (Outside of Black Panther, of course.)

Pandemic Breaking Out New Boardgame

Also, we were introduced to the cooperative board game Pandemic. If you haven’t tried it, it’s about a team of various scientists and experts (2 to 4 players, with 5 possible specialist roles) racing to find a cure to 4 virulent diseases that have broken out throughout the world. It’s challenging but fun. (And apprently there’s a computer version of Pandemic on Steam!)

 

We hope you’ll be with us for another year of Co-Geeking.

Image by Eppu Jensen

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The Ancient Underground City of Derinkuyu

The Derinkuyu (also known as Malakopi) underground city is situated in the historical area of Cappadocia, which is in Central Anatolia in modern-day Turkey. And it’s pretty astounding.

Apparently, underground cities were A Thing thereabouts: according to Wikipedia, there are over 200 of them. Looking at the landscape, it’s no wonder.

Flickr Anthony G Reyes Derinkuyu Pigeon Valley

Much of the rock is easily accessible, i.e., not covered by layers and layers of vegetation, and there are plenty of rock faces to carve into.

The first mentions of underground dwellings in Anatolia come from Xenophon’s Anabasis (c. 370 BCE), but they were probably built much earlier as places of refuge from attacks. Derinkuyu seems to have been in use for millenia: the last recorded use was at least as late as 1909.

According to a tourism site, there are about 600 entrances to the underground Derinkuyu, and some can be closed with a door resembling a mill stone.

Flickr Dan Merino Derinkuyu Stone Doorway

Underground City in Cappadocia

In addition to tunnels and rooms themselves, there are other notable features. There are stairs, ventilation shafts, wells, and storage areas with nooks and crannies of various shapes, including wine troughs.

Underground City in Cappadocia

Flickr Helen Cook Derinkuyu Wine Recepticles

Clearly some areas were left in quite rough shape.

Flickr jyl4032 Derinkuyu Unnamed View

Flickr Patrick Barry Derinkuyu Room w Woman

Others were carefully detailed. For example, there is a room with a barrel-vaulted ceiling.

Flickr Takehiko Ono Derinkuyu Vaulted Room

At its largest, Derinkuyu seems to have been able to house 20,000 people and their livestock and supplies.

Found via Ticia Verveer on Twitter.

Images: Cappadocia: Derinkuyu and Pigeon Valley 2015 by Anthony G. Reyes on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0). Stone doorway by Dan Merino on Flickr (CC NY-ND 2.0). Stairs down by David Welch on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0). Two levels with steps and corridors by David Welch on Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0). Wine recepticles by Helen Cook on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Unnamed view of rough corridor by jyl4032 on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0). Room with a woman for scale by Patrick Barry on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Vaulted room by Takehiko Ono on Flickr (CC BY-ND-NC 2.0).

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Building a Castle From the Ground Up

An unusual and ambitious project in experimental archaeology has been under way in France since 1997 and will soon reach completion: the construction of a castle entirely using the technology and techniques available in the thirteenth century.

Castle Guédelon is an attempt to recreate the work of medieval castle construction from the quarrying of stone and cutting of timber to the finishing of the completed structure. The construction materials come from local sources and are brought to the site using only the technology available in the thirteenth century where they are assembled according to plans for a typical small French castle of the period. Laborers on the site even wear recreations of period clothes for a fuller immersion in the historical realities of building.

A full fictional backstory has been created for this castle, conceiving it as the home of a local minor noble. Work is imagined to have begun in 1229, and this imaginary timeline helps guide the details of the plan and its construction. The project is expected to be complete in 2020 (or 1252, in the castle’s imaginary timeline).

The site is open to the public. Revenue from visitors helps finance the construction project. This is an extraordinary piece of experimental archaeology with the potential to provide valuable insights into the practical realities of large building projects in the pre-modern world.

Images: Towers and wall under construction, photograph by Christophe.Finot via Wikimedia. Great hall near completion, photograph by Paul Hermans via Wikimedia. Blacksmith at work, photograph by Francois de Dijon via Wikimedia.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Random Thoughts on Avengers: Endgame

It took us a while to get to see Avengers: Endgame a second time, but here we finally are. As usual, thoughts in no particular order. Spoiler warnings in effect.

 

Eppu’s random thoughts

What worked:

  • It was partly what I expected, but only partly. Mostly it was really not at all what I thought it would be. That’s great.
  • So many smaller Marvel characters we’ve glimpsed over the years got brief moments, if not a line or two.
  • A Stan Lee cameo for one more (last?) time.
  • The pacing was quite good; the movie did not feel three hours long. While Avengers: Infinity War felt stuffed to the gills, parts of A:E felt almost meditative. The slow lead down to the final fight (because of course there has to be a big final fight) was especially welcome. I might have wanted to see the post-snap world (not just USA) get more development, but what can you do—the movie is already so long.
  • Jeremy Renner got some very emotional stuff to perform, and he was especially great. Kudos.
  • So much of the dialogue is so funny, especially Ant-Man’s!
  • Captain America’s second elevator scene at the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters with H.Y.D.R.A. agents. Thih!
  • At the big final fight, it was great to see several characters—pun fully intended—running the gauntlet with the gauntlet. Teamwork!
  • The women of Marvel got to assemble, too (albeit in one token moment).
  • It was interesting that they kept Thor’s beer belly all the way to the end and specifically didn’t clean him up with Asgardian magic or whatever.

What I absolutely LOVED:

  • How BEAUTIFUL everything looked. I know new special effects have been developed along these 22 movies, and Marvel’s really got them down now. Also, the cinematographer Trent Opaloch did an awesome job again, and the special effects teams seemed to have had more time to work (compared to A:IW).
  • Tony Stark with his daughter—LOVED him in those scenes.
  • Captain America vs. Captain America. *snicker*
  • Professor Hulk’s tete-a-tete with the Ancient One remained verbal after the initial yoinking-out-of-physical-body.
  • Nat and Clint were clearly shown to be good friends, not romantic partners. Same for Nat and Cap.
  • Director Carter. 🙂
  • So many of the men cried at many different points in the story. Because men are not monsters.
  • When Clint came back alone from Vormir, there was literally no dialogue while the rest were trying to come to grips with Nat’s death. Amazing scene, amazing acting!
  • When Professor Hulk first attempted to undo the snap and the rest were wondering whether it worked, Scott Lang went to the window and looked at the birds, absolutely delighted. Great stuff.
  • All of the snap-ashed supers and super groups showing up to stand by Captain America’s side for the final fight. YIBAMBE!
  • Captain America wielding Mjölnir! Aaaaah! I knew he could!
  • Avengers: assemble!
  • Okoye and Shuri! And Pepper Potts in an Iron Suit!
  • Yes, Peter Parker, genuine hugs are really nice.
  • Sam as the new Captain America.
  • That the best, most touching moments weren’t about fisticuffs but people and the relationships between people. Supers are still people, at least in these stories, as are the rest of us.

What I thought wasn’t optimal:

  • The beginning of the movie could have included Captain Marvel’s arrival to the compound.
  • Considering how little time Nebula had in the previous movies, it was odd how much time she had in A:E.
  • As great as it was to see side characters pop up here and there, I miss Maria Hill; she was barely there. (Like Nick Fury, only at Tony’s funeral.) We didn’t see Luis from Ant-Man, either.
  • Hawkeye’s vigilante storyline felt like it was copypasted straight from comics. (I’ve no idea; haven’t read any of those.) As interesting as that might have been, it felt disconnected from everything else tonally and emotionally. I get that that the intent was to have Nat poetically give Clint a chance just like he gave her one, but the integration of the story should’ve been handled better.
  • For such an ensemble movie, it was oddly low in actual team stuff. The main focus and space were on Tony Stark, Captain America, and Thor. Too many moments on those three for an Avengers story, especially when they picked the dudes who already have their own franchises.
  • Speaking of Thor: satisfying hammer-axe action, disappointingly little thunder and lightning.
  • The time-travel plot gimmick felt exactly like that, a gimmick instead of A Rational Plot. Besides, how was Steve able to marry Peggy if doodling with time wasn’t supposed to work that way?
  • What’s this rubbish about barely having Black Panther there?
  • At Stark’s funeral, there was one young dude I didn’t recognize. Apparently he was the young kid from Iron Man 3. O-kay; he wasn’t well integrated at all.
  • Captain Marvel was MASSIVELY underused. What’s the point of having a star player and building up her impact in stingers and trailers if you’re going to bench her for most of the film? Absurd. (I did read a comment online saying that the basic edit of A:E was locked down before Captain Marvel even finished filming. If so, it still doesn’t justify the bad balancing act in the stingers and trailers.)
  • The same also applies to Thor, Doctor Strange, and Scarlet Witch. Doctor Strange had nothing plot-related to do in this film? Really?! You could perhaps argue that acquiring the beer belly might’ve affected Thor’s ability to control lightning; then again, he wasn’t affectected at all by losing an eye in Thor: Ragnarok, so not really. And what on earth was stopping Wanda from either mind controlling Thanos or snapping a bunch of capillaries in his brain!? Marvel really must get its act together and start actually using powerful characters, including the women, as long as they keep insisting on incorporating them into the MCU.
  • Peter Quill got what was coming to him—getting kneed into his privates—for touching someone out of the blue like that, but it didn’t feel satisfactory at all. He needs to have some sense written into him, but this wasn’t the way and I doubt he learned anything.
  • At the very end, Steve’s Old Man Beige(TM) jacket gave me the creeps. Where is it writ that Upon Attaining a Venerable Age, Men Must Wear Beige?!?

What I hated:

  • Thor’s PTSD was a plausible story arc, but done clumsily—too much focus (literally!) was placed on his beer belly, which was played for laughs.
  • Tony Stark may be great with his daughter, but otherwise he’s sill a jerk: asking Pepper a question, then interrupting her in the next breath; all of his needs and wants overriding hers. So, basically, the only time Tony thinks a woman is worthy of respectful treatment is when she’s literally sprung from his own DNA? FFS.
  • If Nebula knew, for her not to have told the Avengers what getting the soulstone requires was nigh on sadistic and not in line with the Nebula the movie spent its beginning establishing. If she merely suspected, it still isn’t in line with the new Nebula. At least she did mention Gamora died on Vormir.
  • You can argue back and forth whether it should’ve been Nat or Clint who got to sacrifice themselves. Since they went the way they did, the fact remains that the writers have now killed two characters for the soulstone, and both are women. It was tiresome already in A:IW (as we see so many dead women in American entertainment which MCU stories are part of—nothing is created in a vacuum). Now they’ve stepped it up (remember how both broken bodies were on display on screen?). The most spot-on comment on this I’ve seen: “’Vormir’ means ‘refrigerator’, right?” Or, in a longer take: “I don’t think anyone involved in making Infinity War understood how viscerally disturbing Gamora’s death was, especially for women in the audience—to be murdered by your abuser in what he claims to be proof of his love, and to have the universe itself validate that proof by giving him what he wants in exchange.” Disgusting.
  • Where was Natasha’s funeral? Why were the men allowed to wallow after losing people, but Pepper got, what, 15 seconds? This stinks of fridging: women die for men to Have Feels.
  • When the women of Marvel got to assemble (albeit in a way that felt forced), they were pretty much stopped there; not even 60 seconds. A:IW had a better all-women fight scene.

What questions I was left with:

  • Um, wasn’t the whole point with Laura and their kids that Clint explicitly wanted to keep ’em off S.H.I.E.L.D.’s radar? (It was mentioned in Avengers: Age of Ultron.) We see him wearing an ankle monitor, which means they’re exposed to at least one agency, possibly many. And he was fine with it??
  • What about phase 4??? Seems like whichever way you look, there’s a lot (a lot!) to explain after A:E, and that doesn’t sound like an easy task.

 

Erik’s random thoughts

My random thoughts come in two varieties: gripes and cheers.

The gripes:

  • This is a movie trying to do too much. It has too many characters to serve, too many plots to ravel up, too many nostalgia beats to hit, too much narrative debt to pay off. As with Infinity War before it, it is a tribute to the writers and directors that this movie works at all, but it still feels like twenty pounds of story in a ten-pound bag.
  • Given that the movie is overstuffed, it is no surprise that most of my problems with it concern the things it doesn’t have time for. It is perhaps unfair to complain that a movie with several dozen heroes doesn’t spend enough time with some of them, but there a few cases that feel particularly galling. Chief among those is Captain Marvel. After a movie and two stingers building up her potential as a game-changing hero, she barely appears in Endgame. Her most significant contribution to the plot is delivering Tony Stark back to Earth, after which she disappears for most of the rest of the runtime. The movie practically spends more time making excuses for Carol Danvers’s absence than it does explaining the central time heist.
  • The movie’s handling of women in general is pretty awful. They mostly appear as emotional supports to men or in roles so small as to be effectively meaningless. When the female heroes assemble in the midst of the final battle, all they really get to do is pose together before the general melee resumes. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had a problem with is female characters for the whole decade, yet the fact that the filmmakers evidently thought a quick photo-op in a three-hour movie was good enough is somehow even more enraging than the usual neglect.
  • In a similar vein, it is not nothing that this movie includes the first openly, explicitly gay character in the MCU, and the fact that he is taken seriously as a person, without comment or surprise—and by Captain America, no less—is unequivocally good. At the same time, an unnamed throwaway character in a scene that does not advance the plot and will be easy to edit out in less tolerant markets is about as close to nothing as you can get.
  • There is a reason why the original Avengers movie worked so brilliantly: not only did the movie as a whole have a clear narrative line, but all of the major characters had their own arcs. You could watch it as an Iron Man movie, a Captain America movie, a Hulk movie, a Thor movie, a Black Widow movie, even a Hawkeye movie, and it worked. If Avengers proved that there can be room for six main characters in a movie, Infinty War and Endgame have proved that there isn’t room for several dozen. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are the only characters who really have narrative throughlines in the movie. Thor and Bruce Banner each get a couple of good scenes, but not enough for a real story. Natasha and Clint have the suggestion of a story without really getting time to develop.
  • Another thing that made Avengers so successful is that, of all the movies Tony Stark has appeared in, Avengers is the one least dominated by his emotional issues. Endgame sadly falls right into line, devoting more screen time to Tony Stark’s feelings than to anything else.

The cheers:

  • While the whole of this movie may be less than the sum of its parts, some of those parts are pretty good. The scene between Nat and Clint on Vormir sticks out in my mind. For the two poor relations of the Avengers, it was a haunting, beautifully-acted performance that showed the depths of their friendship in a way that has only been hinted at before. I could not guess which of them was going to fall, but it was clear that it would be heartbreaking either way.
  • I appreciated that this movie took the time to show us a post-snap world, even if only in a fragmentary way.
  • A lovely, tiny detail of character development: Tony and Pepper’s daughter tells Tony “I love you 3,000.” When recording a message for her, he says: “I love you 3,000.” Not 3,001 or 4,000, but the same number. For once, he doesn’t feel the need to one-up someone.
  • The final battle is a gloriously overloaded superhero rampage. I usually like cinematic fights to have a clear narrative progression, but there is something to be said for the joy of sheer chaos.
  • Many of the callbacks to previous movies were ingeniously done, but I think my favorite is Falcon announcing the arrival of the un-snapped on the battlefield with: “On your left.”
  • Even though it was far too brief and inconsequential, the assembly of the Marvel women was glorious as long as it lasted, and it made the point that the MCU has lots of powerful female characters. Now they just need movies.
  • There were also nice moments sprinkled through the film of women doing things: Nat running the reduced Avengers, Okoye managing the Wakanda branch (and perhaps the whole African division?) of same, Carol Danvers punching through a spaceship (as she is wont to do), and Nebula reconnecting with a previous version of Gamora. They are not enough, but they are good for what they are.
  • On Nebula and Gamora: in one of the few exceptions to women acting primarily as emotional supports to men, the most important relationship that Gamora develops when brought back from the past is with Nebula, not Peter Quill. The movie in fact gives Nebula, a secondary character from a second-string franchise, a surprising amount of screen time and development. At the end of the movie, Gamora and Nebula’s sisterhood is poised to take over as the most important relationship among the Guardians of the Galaxy, while Thor is in position to replace Quill as leader. If this leads to Quill being sidelined from the group or developing as a character into something more than a petulant overgrown child, I support either change.
  • Steve gets to have a life with Peggy. I’ll let other people worry about the time-travel implications—it is the ending they both deserve, and I’m happy with it.
  • Also: we know that Peggy Carter went on to be someone important in S.H.I.E.L.D. (her office door says Director), while Steve Rogers was a national hero whose face had been all over the newsreels. If he wanted to stay out of history’s way in his life with Peggy, he’d have to keep out of the public eye. Conclusion: Peggy Carter was working a high-powered job in the 1950s while Steve Rogers was a stay-at-home husband. I support this idea, and I believe Captain America would support it, too.

Image: Avengers: Endgame poster via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Living Vicariously Through Social Media: The Clay Forest in Western Tibet

One of the best things about social media—like the Internet, too—is how many different phenomena you can witness if not first hand then at least in a secondary capacity; way more than would be possible in a regular human lifetime.

Case in point: the Clay Forest is a massive gorge like the Grand Canyon, except it’s located in Western Tibet. Apparently it wasn’t really accessible for Westerners until 2015.

Twitter UrsulaV Clay Forest Canyon
Ursula Vernon on Twitter

Author and illustrator Ursula Vernon posted this and a few other images from Tibet on her Twitter account. Thank you for sharing!

I’m slack-jawed and stunned. Phew!

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.