Representation Chart: Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase 3

We all know that the representation of people of different genders and races is imbalanced in popular media, but sometimes putting it into visual form can help make the imbalance clear. Here’s a chart of the Phase 3 movies of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (Captain America: Civil War; Doctor Strange; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far from Home)

Characters included

(Characters are listed in the first movie in which they qualify for inclusion under the rules given below.)

  • Captain America: Civil War: Tony Stark / Iron Man, Steve Rogers / Captain America, Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier, Rumlow / Corssbones, Clint Barton / Hawkeye, Vision, Scott Lang / Ant-Man, Zemo, Thaddeus Ross, Everett Ross, Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow, Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch, Sharon Carter / Agent 13, Colonel Rhodes / War Machine, Sam Wilson / Falcon, King T’Chaka, T’Challa / Black Panther
  • Doctor Strange: Dr. Stephen Strange, Kaecilius, Dr. West, Dr. Christine Palmer, the Ancient One, Mordo, Wong
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Peter Quill / Star-Lord, Yondu, Stakar Ogord, Ego, Taserface, Kraglin, Nebula, Ayesha, Gamora, Mantis
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming: Peter Parker / Spider-Man, Adrian Toomes / Vulture, Happy Hogan, Flash, Mason, Mr. Delmar, Mr. Harrington, May Parker, Betty, Shocker, Abe, Coach Wilson, Michelle, Liz, Ned, Principal Morita
  • Thor: Ragnarok: Thor, Loki, Grandmaster, Skurge, Bruce Banner, Odin, Hela, Heimdall, Topaz
  • Black Panther: Ulysses Klaue, Killmonger, W’Kabi, Shuri, M’Baku, N’Jobu, Ramonda, Zuri, Nakia, Okoye
  • Avengers: Infinty War: Eitri
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp: Luis, Hank Pym, Sonny Burch, Kurt, Hope Van Dyne / Wasp, Cassie, Janet Van Dyne, Dave, Bill Foster, Ava / Ghost, Agent Woo, Uzman
  • Captain Marvel: Talos (as Keller), Yon-Rogg, Ronan, Agent Coulson, Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel, Wendy Lawson, Nick Fury, Korath, Att-Lass, Maria Rambeau, Monica Rambeau, Minn-Erva
  • Avengers: Endgame: Pepper Potts, Morgan
  • Spider-Man: Far from Home: Quentin Beck / Mysterio, William Riva, Maria Hill, Janice, Mr. Dell, Brad

Rules

In the interests of clarity, here’s the rules I’m following for who to include and where to place them:

  • I only count characters portrayed by an actor who appears in person on screen in more or less recognizable form (i.e. performances that are entirely CG, prosthetic, puppet, or voice do not count).
  • The judgment of which characters are significant enough to include is unavoidably subjective, but I generally include characters who have on-screen dialogue, who appear in more than one scene, and who are named on-screen (including nicknames, code names, etc.)
  • For human characters that can be reasonably clearly identified, I use the race and gender of the character.
  • For non-human characters or characters whose identity cannot be clearly determined, I use the race and gender of the actor.
  • I use four simplified categories for race and two for gender. Because human variety is much more complicated and diverse than this, there will inevitably be examples that don’t fit. I put such cases where they seem least inappropriate, or, if no existing option is adequate, give them their own separate categories.
  • “White” and “Black” are as conventionally defined in modern Western society. “Asian” means East, Central, or South Asian. “Indigenous” encompasses Native Americans, Polynesians, Indigenous Australians, and other indigenous peoples from around the world.
  • There are many ethnic and gender categories that are relevant to questions of representation that are not covered here. There are also other kinds of diversity that are equally important for representation that are not covered here. A schematic view like this can never be perfect, but it is a place to start.

Corrections and suggestions welcome.

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

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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.

Representation Chart: Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase 2

We all know that the representation of people of different genders and races is imbalanced in popular media, but sometimes putting it into visual form can help make the imbalance clear. Here’s a chart of the Phase 2 movies of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (Iron Man 3; Thor: The Dark World; Captain America: The Winter Soldier; Guardians of the Galaxy; Avengers: Age of Ultron; Ant-Man).

Characters included

  • Iron Man 3: Tony Stark / Iron Man, Aldrich Kilian, Happy Hogan, Trevor Slattery, President Ellis, Savin, Harley Keener, Vice President Rodriguez, Maya Hansen, Pepper Potts, Brandt, Colonel Rhodes / War Machine, Yinsen
  • Thor: The Dark World: Thor, Loki, Odin, Malekith, Fandral, Volstagg, Erik Selvig, Ian, Jane Foster, Sif, Frigga, Darcy Lewis, Heimdall, Korath, Algrim, Hogun
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier: Steve Rogers / Captain America, Alexander Pierce, Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier, Rumlow, Agent Sitwell, Arnim Zola, Rollins, American World Security Councilor, Senator Stern, Batroc, Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow, Maria Hill, Sharon Carter / Agent 13, Peggy Carter, British World Security Councilor, Nick Fury, Sam Wilson / Falcon, Indian World Security Councilor, Chinese World Security Councilor
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Peter Quill / Star-Lord, Ronan, Yondu Udonta, Dey, The Collector, Kraglin, Saal, Nebula, Nova Prime, Bereet, Carina, Gamora, Drax
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (new characters): Bruce Banner / Hulk, Clint Barton / Hawkeye, Pietro Maximoff / Quicksliver, Baron Strucker, Dr. List, Ulysses Klaue, Vision, Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch, Laura Barton, Dr. Helen Cho
  • Ant-Man: Scott Lang / Ant-Man, Hank Pym, Darren Cross / Yellowjacket, Paxton, Luis, Kurt, Mitchell Carson, Hope van Dyne, Cassie Lang, Maggie Lang, Dave, Gale

Rules

In the interests of clarity, here’s the rules I’m following for who to include and where to place them:

  • I only count characters portrayed by an actor who appears in person on screen in more or less recognizable form (i.e. performances that are entirely CG, prosthetic, puppet, or voice do not count).
  • The judgment of which characters are significant enough to include is unavoidably subjective, but I generally include characters who have on-screen dialogue, who appear in more than one scene, and who are named on-screen (including nicknames, code names, etc.)
  • For human characters that can be reasonably clearly identified, I use the race and gender of the character.
  • For non-human characters or characters whose identity cannot be clearly determined, I use the race and gender of the actor.
  • I use four simplified categories for race and two for gender. Because human variety is much more complicated and diverse than this, there will inevitably be examples that don’t fit. I put such cases where they seem least inappropriate, or, if no existing option is adequate, give them their own separate categories.
  • “White” and “Black” are as conventionally defined in modern Western society. “Asian” means East, Central, or South Asian. “Indigenous” encompasses Native Americans, Polynesians, Indigenous Australians, and other indigenous peoples from around the world.
  • There are many ethnic and gender categories that are relevant to questions of representation that are not covered here. There are also other kinds of diversity, including sexuality, language, disability, etc. that are equally important for representation that are not covered here. A schematic view like this can never be perfect, but it is a place to start.

Corrections and suggestions welcome.

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

Rating: Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase 2

We’re moving on with rewatching and rating the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s our take on the next crop:

  1. Iron Man 3 – 5
  2. Thor: The Dark World – 4.5
  3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – 8
  4. Guardians of the Galaxy – 3
  5. Avengers: Age of Ultron – 5.5
  6. Ant-Man – 7

The average rating for this phase is 5.5, which is solidly mediocre, and that pretty much sums of the movies of this period: solid, but mediocre.

After an experimental start in phase 1, Marvel had clearly worked out its superhero movie formula by phase 2, which is both the strength and the weakness of these movies. The hero is an ordinary guy (still almost entirely guys) who gets or discovers some awesome power, struggles to balance his responsibilities as a hero with his own desire for a simpler, more comfortable life, and ends up fighting the equal and opposite guy (still entirely guys), who wants to use his power for wealth and/or self-aggrandizement. Marvel’s formula is by no means a bad one. It consistently delivers watchable summer popcorn flicks, but in phase 2 we begin to see the limits of the formula. Movies that stick to the formula chug around in the middle of the range, while those that stretch their bounds sometimes excel and sometimes flop.

Iron Man 3 rates a 5, the lowest of the Iron Man movies, largely because Tony Stark’s character just doesn’t have any room to grow. Number 3 provides some good action and Tony-tinkering, but its emotional rhythms just feel like a retread of 1 and 2.

Thor: The Dark World gets a 4.5, a slight step up from the first Thor, which isn’t saying much. Christopher Eccleston’s wooden performance as the villain Malekith, who gets almost no interaction with any other characters to enliven his scenes, doesn’t help the murky plot. The lack of chemistry between Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster drags the movie down, although the perpetual spark between Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki brings it back up a bit.

The best movie of the phase is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, at 8. While we don’t like everything about this movie (I, for one, have never felt emotionally invested in the Steve-Bucky relationship), its pacing is crisp, the action is sharp-edged, and the emergence of the new Hydra represents a daring narrative choice for the MCU, which could have chosen to stay on safer ground.

The Winter Soldier is followed up by the worst movie of the lot, Guardians of the Galaxy, at 3. We know that our opinion of Guardians is not shared by many Marvel fans, but we find the movie tedious and most of its characters annoying. We’re not fond of stories in which a lone competent woman with a strong motivation has her narrative taken over by a self-centered man-child. We’re also not on board with a story whose emotional climax comes with that woman getting called a whore by another character out of the blue. Besides, all the crap we didn’t like when we were kids in the 80s is still crap we don’t like now.

Avengers: Age of Ultron muddles through with a 5.5. It is a movie filled with character moments that almost work, dialogue that almost means something, and narrative choices that almost make sense. A few excellent performances, like James Spader’s Ultron and Paul Bettany’s Vision help lift the rating, but they’re pulling against a lot of dead weight.

Ant-Man takes us out on a high note, at 7, with a zany tiny-sized heist that, like sucking on a good piece of candy, doesn’t really satisfy your hunger, but sure feels good while you’re doing it. The small scope of this movie (literally and narratively) is an asset, allowing the jokes to land and the characters to develop without too much worrying about the end of the world to get in the way.

Have a different favorite (or un-favorite)? Let us know!

Image: Screenshot from Captain America: The Winter Soldier via IMDb

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

Representation Chart: Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase 1

We all know that the representation of people of different genders and races is imbalanced in popular media, but sometimes putting it into visual form can help make the imbalance clear. Here’s a chart of the Phase 1 movies of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (Iron Man; The Incredible Hulk; Iron Man 2; Thor; Captain America: The First Avenger; Avengers).

Characters included

  • Iron Man: Tony Stark / Iron Man, Obedaiah Stane, Agent Coulson, Happy Hogan, Abu Bakaar, Pepper Potts, Christine Everhart, Colonel Rhodes, Nick Fury, Yinsen, Raza
  • The Incredible Hulk: Bruce Banner / Hulk, General Ross, Emil Blonsky, Leonard, Stanley, Samuel Sterns, Betty Ross, Major Sparr,
  • Iron Man 2 (new characters): Ivan Vanko, Senator Stern, Justin Hammer, Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
  • Thor (new characters): Thor, Loki, Odin, Erik Selvig, Volstag, Fandral, Agent Sitwell, Clint Barton / Haweye, Jane Foster, Darcy Lewis, Sif, Frigga, Heimdall, Hogun
  • Captain America: The First Avenger: Steve Rogers / Captain America, Bucky Barnes, Colonel Philips, Johann Schmidt / Red Skull, Howard Stark, Dr. Erskine, Dr. Zola, Dum Dum Dugan, James Falsworth, Jacques Dernier, Gilmore Hodge, Senator Brandt, Peggy Carter, Gabe Jones, Jim Morita
  • Avengers (new characters): American World Security Councilor, Russian World Security Councilor, Agent Hill, British World Security Councilor, Chinese World Security Councilor

Rules

In the interests of clarity, here’s the rules I’m following for who to include and where to place them:

  • I only count characters portrayed by an actor who appears in person on screen in more or less recognizable form (i.e. performances that are entirely CG, prosthetic, puppet, or voice do not count).
  • The judgment of which characters are significant enough to include is unavoidably subjective, but I generally include characters who have on-screen dialogue, who appear in more than one scene, and who are named on-screen (including nicknames, code names, etc.)
  • For human characters that can be reasonably clearly identified, I use the race and gender of the character.
  • For non-human characters or characters whose identity cannot be clearly determined, I use the race and gender of the actor.
  • I use four simplified categories for race and two for gender. Because human variety is much more complicated and diverse than this, there will inevitably be examples that don’t fit. I put such cases where they seem least inappropriate, or, if no existing option is adequate, give them their own separate categories.
  • “White” and “Black” are as conventionally defined in modern Western society. “Asian” means East, Central, or South Asian. “Indigenous” encompasses Native Americans, Polynesians, Indigenous Australians, and other indigenous peoples from around the world.
  • There are many ethnic and gender categories that are relevant to questions of representation that are not covered here. There are also other kinds of diversity, including sexuality, language, disability, etc. that are equally important for representation that are not covered here. A schematic view like this can never be perfect, but it is a place to start.

Corrections and suggestions welcome.

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

Rating: Marvel Cinematic Universe, Phase 1

We’ve taken a bit of a swerve in our rewatching and rating project. In between tv series, we’ve decided to take a run at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s our take on Phase 1:

  1. Iron Man – 7
  2. The Incredible Hulk – 2
  3. Iron Man 2 – 6
  4. Thor – 4
  5. Captain America: The First Avenger – 8
  6. The Avengers – 10

It’s a bit of a mixed bag. The overall average is 6.2, which is perfectly respectable, but the range is all over the place, from pretty bad to meh to awesome.

You can tell that Marvel was still figuring out how to make not only a new kind of superhero movie but a new kind of movie franchise. The early installations are stand-alone, fairly slow-paced, and self-contained. We can still remember how exciting it felt to have a minor character like Agent Coulson pop up in multiple movies that weren’t sequels. Nowadays we don’t even get out of bed for a Marvel movie that doesn’t have at least three tie-in characters and a place in the ongoing arc of the Phase.

The Incredible Hulk, the largely forgotten Marvel movie, is on the bottom of the heap at 2. Formulaic and uninspired, the story drags itself from one obligatory action scene to another. Having seen Mark Ruffalo’s take on Bruce Banner, Edward Norton feels flat and unsympathetic. So much backstory is assumed that this movie feels like a sequel to something we’ve never seen (it takes care not to step on Ang Lee’s previous Hulk movie without actually picking up on its story in any meaningful way). Although there are some bright spots in this movie, like the visually thrilling foot chase through a Brazilian favela, you can see why we haven’t gotten another stand-alone Hulk movie.

We’re lucky that Marvel hedged its bets on launching the MCU with two movies instead of just one. Iron Man delivers much of what The Incredible Hulk lacks. While the story is still relatively straightforward and follows a predictable Hollywood three-act structure, it is more competently handled and more subtly embellished than Hulk. We get to see Tony Stark tinker and iterate not only on his suit designs but on his ethics and sense of self, which is makes his character much more interesting to watch than Banner, who has no real character development in his own movie. Robert Downey Jr. sells the character of Tony Stark as a flawed genius grappling with the consequences of his own choices.

Iron Man 2 carries on the good work of the original without adding much to it and begins the unfortunate trend of Marvel movies whose plot is driven by Tony Stark’s emotional issues. Thor has some beautiful art design and fun character moments, but mostly ends up feeling like the product of too many compromises.

Captain America: The First Avenger delivers a solid origin story not only for its eponymous hero but for the whole Marvel universe as well. With an alternate-version World War II dominated by Hydra’s experiments with cosmic technology and an American super soldier, the ground is prepared for a modern world of superpeople. Chris Evans’s performance takes a character who could be flat and sanctimonious and makes him charming.

But it is The Avengers, at a full 10, that crowns Phase 1. Joss Whedon’s last great work before his descent into self-satisfied mediocrity, The Avengers is a superhero movie that takes not only the idea of superheroes but the idea of a superhero movie seriously. The characters have both emotional depth and clear motivations. Their conflicts arise not from plot contrivance but from conflicting world-views and emotional needs. And they smash alien monsters together real good.

Got a different take on Marvel’s first hexalogy? Let us know in the comments!

Image: Still from The Avengers via IMDb

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

Some Random Thoughts on Avengers: Infinity War

In no particular order. Spoiler warnings in effect.

Eppu’s random thoughts:

I went in knowing nothing for sure and having read only non-spoilery impression pieces and bits of barely-even news. A heads-up: half-baked musings to follow, plus at least one f-bomb.

  • You must know the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to follow the Avengers: Infinity War story—none of the characters or their histories are introduced. Which makes sense: the previous movies are all in their way leading to AIW, and there’s no way you could introduce everyone and still have enough time left for a new story. Good for fans, not so good for regular moviegoers.
  • Superhero stories aren’t fully my cup of tea, not like for instance Jane Austen is, but my inner nerd is very pleased to have such an unprecedented series of high-quality movies like this.
  • I knew AIW was going to be stuffed to the gills with details, dialog, and derring-do, and indeed it was. Yet, strangely, it felt like we were in a holding pattern throughout the movie. You can tell it’s just the first act of a two-parter.
  • I missed so many lines among the sound effects. How about some subtitling in the theaters, USA? They’re helpful for all sorts of people, not just the deaf and hard of hearing.
  • The death toll started climbing earlier and got higher than I thought, even before the ashing at the end.
  • The writers started pushing Vision and Wanda Maximoff together already in Civil War (which they also co-wrote) but I never could buy their relationship. It felt forced then, and it still feels forced in AIW.
  • My favorite scene is when Black Widow, Captain America, and Falcon turn up to help Scarlet Witch and Vision in Edinburgh. Such seamless teamwork—so awesome!
  • Another awesome thing: Spidey got a nano suit.
  • I know it’s not what the movie actually did, but there was so much of it that the fighting felt almost unending. On the other hand, they did a fairly good job balancing the multiple storylines / locations for such an overstuffed movie.
  • There’s still way too much Stark. Like Civil War, AIW‘s not supposed to be yet another Tony show but of course that’s what they’ve made it into. On the other hand, Iron Man and Doctor Strange worked pretty well together despite—or maybe due to?—both being rich entitled jerks. In a way, they almost canceled each other out.
  • Also, the annoying git otherwise known as Peter Quill was pleasantly diluted by the presence of so many other characters. That man-child needs to fucking grow up. (Unpopular opinion: the Guardians of the Galaxy movies barely made it to “Meh” and certainly didn’t rise beyond.)
  • AIW did some unusual character pairings that worked really well: Stark and Strange plus Thor and Rocket come immediately to mind. Rhodey and Sam had a few promising moments while handling air defence during the Wakandan fight, but it didn’t amount to much.
  • Sadly, pretty much all of the Black Panther characters felt tacked-on and not properly integrated. However, it was marvellous to be back in Wakanda. We barely saw Shuri, though, and that’s just plain wrong. (Imagine her and Peter Parker geeking about tech together!)
  • OMG, Nat and Okoye and Wanda teaming up! Give me a buddy movie for those three any day! And throw in Maria Hill, too, please!
  • Another great thing was the deliberate refusal to overuse the Hulk. Instead, they gave Banner a suit version of Veronica the Hulk-buster.
  • Others have noted this, too, but some of the special effects looked clunky and unfinished (especially next to the finished ones). Many of Proxima Midnight’s scenes were affected, for example. (Speaking of her—was anyone else reminded of demon hunters from WoW?)
  • Considering how much Doctor Strange did in his eponymous movie, he contributed seemingly little to the world’s defense. I suspect we’ll see a lot more of his magic in part 2; what shape that takes remains to be seen. Especially since so many popular characters were turned to ash (like Spider-Man who we know will return in a sequel of his own next year), we cannot but see a lot of un-ashing.
  • What ultimately turned me off reading super comics is what I call the escalation-squish cycle: the tendency to time and again up the stakes ridiculously high, kill or shelve multiple characters, destroy cities or planets or whatnot, and then undo everything with a gimmick of the month. There’s only so much of it that I can take. Unfortunately it seems MCU may be headed in that direction. I hope not.
  • Major grumble here: Whose stupid-ass idea was it at the this-really-is-the-end fight to have our heroes go at Thanos one at a time, in a stupid-ass single-file? They’re not that dumb. Stupid-ass, lazy railroading. *grumble!*
  • I knew beforehand that AIW would end with a cliffhanger. I guess I was expecting the ending to be a bit more explosive and not as quiet as it was.

In the end, AIW just wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. Here’s hoping part 2 will pick up the slack.

 

Erik’s random thoughts:

To a certain extent, it feels unfair to be critiquing Infinity War at this point, since we’ve only seen half the story. Still, my overall reaction is disappointment. There are some particular reasons for this feeling, which I’ll try to lay out here.

  • Most of the movie is spent watching characters flail around, trying to respond to a desperate situation and not accomplishing much. Even when it looks like one character or group of characters has taken a small step towards posing a meaningful challenge to Thanos, their gains are quickly nullified. While it’s true that some amount of failure is necessary for drama and there’s nothing interesting about watching heroes who only ever succeed, there’s nothing interesting about watching heroes who only ever fail, either.
  • A lot of the heroes’ failures feel unearned. Again, while it’s more common to complain about unearned successes, dramatically interesting failures need to be warranted by character and plot. Too much of the failure in Infinity War feels like it is driven by the writers’ desire to build up Thanos as a villain. It feels cheap.
  • Put these observations together with the fact that for there to be any MCU at all after part 2, much of what happened in part 1 will have to be undone, and a lot of the movie ends up feeling pointless. Why did we sit through all of this if none of it matters in the end?
  • Thanos is interesting as a villain. His motivating emotion is not anger or greed but sorrow and the desire to spare other people the anguish he and his planet went through. Still, we spent too much time listening to him monologue. In a movie already packed to overflowing with other characters, he took up too much air.
  • I never liked the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but the way the team was written in this movie, I could see their appeal. Except for Peter Quill. He is still just as much of an impulsive, self-centered man-child as ever and I cannot stand one second of him. (To be fair, world events in recent years have severely depleted my patience with impulsive, self-centered man-children.)
  • For a movie that had such serious problems with its overall story, many of the individual scenes were beautifully written and perfectly acted. At the small scale, this movie works like a charm; it’s at the large scale that it falls flat.

Image: Avengers: Infinity War screenshot via IMDb

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

The Black Widow Movie We Have

I know I’m not alone in wanting a Black Widow movie, but it seems pretty clear that we’re not getting one. Marvel films have been announced out to 2019 and there’s nothing in sight with our favorite red-headed assassin in the lead. So, since we’re not getting the Black widow movie we want, we will have to make do with the Black Widow movie we have. Here’s what we’ve got:

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