The Avengers: Age Of Awesome (I mean Ultron) and How Marvel Changed Storytelling

Avengers-age-of-Ultron-poster-the-avengers-age-of-ultron-37434941-1024-1453Welcome back! And today, we’re talking the about Avengers. And, for real, do I have to put the “spoiler alert” on this? Seriously? I gave you 2 ½ weeks—you know I was in the theater the day before it came out—okay, fine, I’m probably gonna fuck it up so if you haven’t seen it don’t click on blogs that talk about it. Got it? Good.

Waaaaaayyyy back in 2008, when the Honey Badger was in love with My Little Pony, not boys, Marvel, a fledgling comic book company, decided to get into the movie business to try and stave off bankruptcy. They didn’t have much–$50 million and a dream, the most popular superhero (who they didn’t have the rights to), and a crazy idea: bring the serialized, episodic storytelling approach of monthly comic books to the sliver screen. They made a gamble on a second-tier character and cast some unknown actor (Roberty Downey Jr—you might have heard of him but don’t go crashing IMDB to figure out who he is now). The gamble paid off and now, 7 years down the road, they’ve unleashed 11 movies (including the 3rd and 4th highest grossing of all time), branched into both primetime and streaming television, and changed the nature of cinematic storytelling.

And that’s the thing: Marvel changed storytelling onscreen. We’ll get there in a sec.

I’m not gonna do a review of the movie because there’s really too much and I want to talk about something else but let me hit just a few items:

  • “Please be a secret door, please be a secret door – Yay!”
  • Ultron’s birth captures the essence of the character immediately: “Where is your body? This is weird. Give me a second.” And then, “Why do you call him a sir?” In James Spader’s voice you get a unique take on the villain right off the bat. I’ll have to do a separate villain review—do you really think I wouldn’t? Come on, it’s me
  • Thor’s face when Cap moved the hammer. Priceless.
  • I mean, Hawkeye? For real? Yeah, Hawkeye.
  • Ultron ripping that dude’s arm off—“Ooohhh! I’m sure that’s gonna be okay.” He RIPPED HIS ARM OFF! I couldn’t stop laughing.
  • You know I’ve watched the lightsaber fight between Anakin and Obi-Wan in Episode III plenty of times. It’s visually stunning and has some pretty emotional overtones. But guys, tell me, does it get better than the Hulk vs. the Hulkbuster? “Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep!”
  • The Vision! Let me pause here: in Spider-Man 3, there is a really beautiful scene when the Sandman comes together for the first time. There’s no words, just a soaring score and we watch this sand-creature try to pull himself together to grab his daughter’s picture. It’s honestly the best scene in the film. The Vision’s origin is pretty similar in effect. I loved that scene, a violent birth, then peace, floating in that window looking at his reflection. Becoming himself
  • “Oh, for God’s sake!”
  • Nick Fury is a beast!

It’s that last one I want to talk about. Nick Fury is a beast. Nick Fury has been the audience proxy through the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (Guardians of the Galaxy excepted), walking us through the characters and providing connective tissue to a larger story. At the end of Iron Man, he actually tells Tony “Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe.” Fury recruited Tony Stark, sent Tony to get the Hulk, sent Coulson to debrief Thor, found Captain America, and manages Hawkeye and Black Widow. That’s 10 movies and 3 television shows connected through this one proxy, not only introducing us to the world but pushing the narrative forward.

Marvel isn’t the first to create a shared universe. Universal did it a long time ago with their monsters and the whole Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman and Abbott & Costello nonsense. The closest, and best, example of this is Star Trek—the 5-year mission of the starship Enterprise spawned 4 television shows and 9 movies across 3 different centuries and 2 different time continuities. Connection isn’t what makes Marvel unique.

It’s cohesion.

Marvel didn’t make a connected universe; they made a cohesive one. A single story, made up of multiple vantage points and points of view; one story that looks both past and present. You might think you’re watching the combined story about how Tony Stark as Iron Man and Bruce Banner/Hulk and Captain America and Thor and SHIELD got together over 5 movies to battle Loki and the Chitauri. You’re not. You’re watching Thanos trying to get the Infinity Stones and witnessing the repercussions of his machinations on Earth. You’re not watching Agent Carter breaking sexual stereotypes 60 years in the past; you’re watching the fall out of the pursuit of one of those Infinity Stones on Earth and the organizations that rose to fight for and against its use. You’re not just watching Matt Murdock whop on thugs in Hell’s Kitchen (though he beats the living shit outta people—for real, you see him beating them Russians in the hallway?), you’re watching the rise of a vigilante in the shadow of a city torn apart by the Avengers when they fought Loki and Chitauri, which we now know is really the repercussions of Thanos trying to get the Infinity Stones. You get all that?

Age of Ultron is really just the next chapter in the story. That’s the biggest complaint everyone has about this movie and they’re right. It is an advertisement for what’s coming. But it always has been. It’s just the 2-hour Friday night Law & Order crossover event. It doesn’t change the overall story but it does alter the narrative trajectory of our principal characters.

Marvel has been telling one story that traverses time and space and each episode uncovers another layer to that one story. By the time they’re finished with this one story, they will have released 21 films and 7 television shows. In 12 years. And they’ve made $8B in the process.

And they did it all through 2-minute button scenes after the credits began to roll.

That, my friends, is how you change storytelling.

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WHATCHOOTALKIN’ BOUT TUESDAY: Why I Hate 12!

Remember this? And if you do, your age is showing.

Since I’ve been giving you some weighty, Debbie Downer style posts since I got back, I figure it’s probably time for me to give you something a little lighter, a little more fun, a little more…me.

Y’all remember the Honey Badger, right? Cute kid, does what she wants to do—you remember her, doncha? The Honey Badger is 12 now (well, for the next 2 weeks). For me, 12 used to be cool. It was all Transformers and dirt bikes, Thundercats and–hey, wow, Tiffany is really growing up–and He-Man. It was just like that. You saw it, or her, while playing with your Matchbox cars. You certainly noticed at recess when certain girls stopped playing kickball. Hell, maybe you even tried to sneak away and catch a Skinemax movie late at night when you didn’t get that channel and the screen would be all squiggly, hoping to catch a boob (I know I am clearly dating myself). But that was it.

If you were a boy, that is.

As other fathers can attest, 12 is the WORST year to be the father of a daughter. All kinds of stuff happens at 12, shit that is NOT in the brochure (ladies, if your man is looking confused, help him out), shit that boys and men are WHOLLY unprepared for. I’m already having a tough time with the whole thing and, yesterday, this girl drops a bomb on me.

This chick is finally participating in her last band concert of the year and while I’m talking to her teacher (who I feel some kind of way about), I find out that this big ass kid I met last week is her “boyfriend” now. Sssskkkrrtttt! Hold up, what? You’re all of 12 and you think you’re dating now? Hard pass, home girl. For real, I met this kid last week (with his mom) and his lanky ass got out his mama’s van with a dirty little mustache that’s thicker than mine. I was like, “How old are you?” You know how your voice goes up 2 octaves when you’re upset? Yeah, that was my intro. And here he come with his deep ass, “Fourteen.” Yeah, I got your 14, kid. I also got a truck, a shovel and a pretty innocent face. Fuck around, kid. Fuck around.

Tomorrow, we’re gonna talk the Avengers: Age of Ultron. I actually have to write it tonight because my family is making me go see the new Poltergeist movie and I think I’ll be too traumatized to say anything…

I’m Not Scared of Girls – Why I’ll See the New Mad Max Movie

Son, we need to talk. We need to talk about Mad Max.

And I’m kinda disgusted I have to have this conversation at all.

Actually, we need to talk about the women in the new Mad Max movie. Seriously. There is actual outrage because the woman are strong in Fury Road’s post-apocalyptic dystopia where food, fuel and water are scarce and civilization has devolved into leather-dressed, awfully tanned men with face tattoos and scantily-clad woman doing deadly car chases in mutant death-machines across the Australian desert. Okay, it might be about more than that but the original Mad Max came out in 1979 (along with Superman: The Movie and Alien) and featured Mel Gibson before anybody knew who he was. I was 6. My memory is fuzzy. The only other thing I remember is the Tina Turner video for Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome and Tina with that snatch-back hairline.

Regardless of what I remember, there can’t be a whole lot listed in the above synopsis for outrage, can there? Really? But there is and the issues are coming from men having a problem with women in action movies.

See, here’s what happened:

I peruse a movies site called Screenrant because…well…because—don’t judge me. They have stuff I like. Today, I came across an article about the new Mad Max movie. The article talks about how George Miller, the creator of Mad Max and the writer/director of all the movies, consulted with Eve Ensler (writer of the Vagina Monologues) to make sure he created female characters that were more nuanced and well-developed than the stereotypical tropes of abuse victims we generally see. Better characters generally equal a better story. George Miller was trying to create a better story. Ensler called the resulting film (which has a 98% Fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.com) a “feminist action flick.” That went over incredibly well. Here’s a smattering of the comments that received:

ScreenRant Mad MaxAnd that’s only a few comments.

There’s more. ScreenCrush and WeHuntedTheMammoth  are also tracking this outrage from men needing to boycott the movie because Charlize Theron “barks orders at Mad Max” and she’s in front of him on the poster. For real.

Mad Max Poster

This is a real thing.

I thought about dismantling these arguments, about refuting the inherent ignorance in the idea of boycotting a movie because the women play a stronger role than what you expected on the poster. I thought about attacking the ridiculous notion that women can’t be leads in action movies or that some incredible injustice has been done to everyone with a penis because Charlize Theron is a badass. I thought about—dude, it’s Mad Max, not Citizen Kane. This isn’t a cinematic jewel, man, it’s Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron and sand and death. I thought about saying all kinds of things but it really isn’t worth my time and talent.

These are arguments without merit, foolish exhalations into ether. They are the cowardly diatribes of the fearful. You and I know there can be no bad end to treating everyone as equals. There can be no adverse affect to my daughter growing up to believe she is as worthy as any of her male counterparts. I cannot see the how encouraging my child to believe the she change the world or save it is a bad thing.

But these trolls do.

And they are trolls, certainly, but they’re trolls with platforms. See, that’s the problem: they’ve found a platform. Someone is listening to the commentary, feeding the trolls, perpetuating the nonsense. I read these arguments and assertions on Huffington Post and Yahoo News and ScreenRant and ScreenCrush. Law & Order did an episode highlighting the whole GamerGate thing where female gamers, game designers, and critics are being targeted with violence, death threats, privacy invasions, and threats of rape.

This is real. These are grown men—someone’s son or brother or uncle. This is someone’s father. A friend. A co-worker. A roommate. While this particular issue is about a movie, it’s part of a larger culture that makes boys threaten my 12-year-old on a schoolbus or call her all kinds of names in the classroom. It’s part of a larger problem that turns Usher’s I Don’t Mind into a top ten hit and makes boys believe it’s okay to execute a gang rape on a drunk girl on a public beach in broad daylight AND RECORD IT.

These aren’t men. These are boys. Boys scared of the dark and their shadows and girls. Scared of the very thing they berate. Remember in second grade and you’d hit the girl you liked and then run away? This is that, but much older, much more sinister, much more pervasive. These are boys desperately in need of ass whippings. These are boys in need of men to show them how to be men.

We gotta do better, you and I. Us and them. We gotta do better. We gotta be better.

Good talk.

Tears for Baltimore

I am pissed.

I’m supposed to be talking about the new Avengers movie (which I’ve seen 3 times already) or even that wack-ass Mayweather-Pacquaio fight (I REALLY want my $100 back) or even talking through Netflix’s amazing Daredevil show. But I can’t. There’s bigger fish to fry.

And pissed doesn’t even cover it. Pissed is when you step in dog shit or drop your $600 iPhone or when your kid forgets their clarinet after you’ve driven 20 minutes to school in a Florida torrential downpour and they don’t let you know until you just walk back in the door. That’s pissed. It’s an inconvenience. An unfortunate turn of events.

I am angry. And I’m angry at this:

If you don’t know, that’s Baltimore. At the time of this writing, the city of Baltimore is closing out a week of protests, riots, curfews and a full-blown state of emergency that saw 4000 National Guard troops brought in to quell the disturbance. Some 200 business were destroyed, community centers and local shelters burned, 486 arrests made, and more than 100 officers injured.

And a man is dead, his spine severed. Six police officers are charged with his death.

It’s easy to blame the victims in all of this. It’s easy to point fingers at those protesting and rioting, easy to question, “Why destroy your own community?” or call those involved “idiots” and “thugs”. It’s easy to sit on our computers and phones, healthily removed from the fray and tweet or craft memes that poke fun or share Huffington Post articles about the right and wrongness of it all. It’s easy when you’re not there, when you don’t have to be there, when you don’t actually have to get your hands dirty, and pretend to be enlightened and judgmental and then turn from coverage to watch the 2-hour finale of Grey’s Anatomy or rush out to the Thursday showing of the Avengers: Age of Ultron (I did—I am complicit as well).

It’s easy to be the rest of us.

But a Black man is dead—again. In a poor community—again. And police are to blame for his death—again.

It’s the “again” that bugs me and the ambivalence the rest of us can hold in the face of such a tragedy. That part is troublesome. We don’t care because we don’t have to. We don’t care that this is a community with more than 50% unemployment, nearly 10 times the national average. We don’t care that this community closed multiple rec and community centers, depriving its youth of positive outlets and activities. We don’t care that the Baltimore public school system has an active school-to-prison pipeline, accounting for 90% of Maryland’s juvenile justice system referrals.

We don’t care. And that’s the problem.

No one cares.

When the school systems or government agencies fail you; when your community organizations are unable or unwilling to provide the resources you need; when your federal government stands a whopping 45 minutes down the road and chooses to turn a blind eye; when generational poverty becomes the norm and you see opportunity after opportunity denied to you; when you continually see those who look like you become victims of those who are sworn to protect you—it only takes a little push to see that powerlessness and frustration spark into a violent outrage, a marching, yelling, screaming, looting, burning maelstrom of human emotion.

I’m angry that another Black man is dead. I’m angry that the police are complicit in the death of this man and we have to go through this stupid exercise, with bated breath, to see if justice will actually be done. I’m angry that people have found a CVS to matter more than Freddie Gray, more than the lives of the residents in Baltimore. I’m mad that the news only chooses to show Black rioters and protesters, that it has the audacity to call them idiots and thugs while glossing over the white rioters looting for the sake of looting. I’m angry that these same news organizations flash past the gang rape on the beaches of Florida over Spring Break or the fraternity members spitting on Wounded Veterans, but are perfectly comfortable calling people who look like me, who feel powerless like me, names. I’m angry that the mother who beat her child into making better choices, who chose to parent her kid on national television, is subject to character assassination on the O’Reilly Factor and is the target of a CPS investigation. I’m furious that fucking Facebook REALLY wants me to give to earthquake relief in Nepal but seems oblivious to the emergency on our own shores.

And I’m angry because a man is dead, the police are charged for his murder, and, now that the curfew is lifted and the National Guard is leaving, in a week, no one will care.