11 years ago I was in Thousand Oaks, California visiting a friend for his birthday. We watched Iron Man (2008). I was a freshman in college living in Philadelphia, single, and had no idea what I was actually going to do after I graduated. This past weekend I saw Avengers: Endgame. Today I have a B.A., live in Taiwan, work a full time job, and I’m engaged to be married. So much has happened since Iron Man both for me personally and the world as a whole. Like the MCU itself, there have been ups and downs. Advancements have been made, new entities have come and gone, and people have evolved at a personal level. As I walked out of the theater with my fiancé, she jokingly said “so what do we do now?” In many ways this question is extremely appropriate. If we’re honest, the MCU has had such a huge impact on popular culture that it’s hard to imagine a world where the Avengers don’t play a role in it.
This post is not a review, as plainly stated in the title. There will be some comments that would be very appropriate to place in a review, but I refuse to formally endeavor to try to review Avengers: Endgame for two main reasons. First, such an endeavor would be damn near impossible without spoilers. Because of what this particular movie is, just about every scene spoils something. What this film is more than anything is a wrap up to 11 years of interconnected films. So basically everything that happens is a spoiler or Easter egg for someone. For instance, this movie finally tells us where the name Jarvis, Tony Stark’s first AI assistant voiced by Paul Bettany who later became Vision, came from. So trying to review it with any level of depth without spoiling it is like the Hulk trying to life Mjolnir. The second, and in my opinion more important reason, is that writing a review for Endgame is pointless.
My school of thinking has always been that reviews are for people who haven’t yet experienced something. The purpose of them is to help people decide if something is worth their time and money. Reviews are not for people who have already played or watched something to circle jerk about how much they liked or hated it. That’s not the purpose of reviews and ultimately why I often avoid the comments sections for main stream reviews. Because the people there usually have no business reading the review to begin with since they’ve already seen the movie or played the game. Based on this mode of thought, I find the entire idea of an Endgame review laughable. If you’ve spent the last 11 or so years watching a total of 21 other movies, not to mention multiple other TV shows on multiple platforms, possibly read comics about newly introduced characters such as a Black Nick Fury, and all the other MCU related things I could mention, is there even a chance that you aren’t going to go see Endgame? Could anyone actually convince you that it was so bad that you’re better off not seeing the culmination of the largest interconnected film franchise in the history of the world? No. The answer to that question is an emphatic and absolute no. If you’ve watched the other 21 movies, you will absolutely go see Endgame regardless of what any and all reviews say. And honestly if you haven’t seen the other 21 movies, then I wholeheartedly recommend that you don’t watch Endgame. You owe it to yourself, and to everyone who worked on that universe, not to spoil the experience of watching that particular movie until you’re fully prepared for it.
Honestly speaking, Endgame isn’t the best MCU movie. I don’t even think I’d put it in the top five. It has time travel in it. Sorry if you consider that a spoiler, but it seems fairly obvious that would have been the case after the events of Infinity War. It’s understood that pretty much any plot that relies on time travel to fix a problem isn’t going to be a top shelf plot. But that’s OK in the case Endgame. The truth is that it wasn’t meant to be the best MCU movie. This movie was meant to bookend the largest, most impressive, and most impactful interconnected film franchise the world has even known. It didn’t need to be the best MCU film. It simply had to be the most emotionally gratifying to the audience. And again, the audience in this case is only people who have watched 21 other related movies over the last 11 years. Those people will leave the theater satisfied. Not necessarily happy, but satisfied.
I never cried in a comic book movie before. I’ve cried in tons of other movies. More so the older I get. But of the more than 60 comic book movies I’ve seen over the course of my life, Avengers: Endgame was the only one I can remember crying in. And I didn’t just cry once. I cried three separate times from three separate emotions. The first time was when my favorite Avenger did something that everyone had been waiting to see happen at least once. I was overwhelmed with excitement, awe, and happiness to the point of tears. The second was in the climactic moment when probably the most epic reveal scene in the history of film we’ll ever see happened. I was overwhelmed not by the majesty of the moment or emptions of the scene. I was overwhelmed by the history that scene represented. In one moment, more than 10 years of my life came crashing down on me. In a single sequence I relived every instance that the MCU had affected in my life over the last decade. Every movie viewing. Every nerdy conversation. Every date. Every debate. Every fan theory. It hit me like a wave at that moment. And I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything like that moment ever again in my life. Maybe if I have a kid I’ll feel that way when he/she graduates college. Maybe . . . The third and final moment that made me cry was near the end of the film in a deep moment of sadness that by all rights needed to happen. I didn’t predict it but it was the right decision and was meant to make you cry.
The feelings I felt while watching Endgame were supposed to happen. Those tears weren’t a coincidence. They were the intention of the movie. Like I said, this wasn’t meant to be the greatest MCU film ever made. That’s what Infinity War was intended to be. This movie was meant to thank people like me for being a committed and diligent fan for 11 straight years. It’s like playing The Citadel DLC in Mass Effect 3. It didn’t fully make sense that all these characters were in this location at the same time. But it didn’t have to make sense. It was fan service to thank the players for five years of hardcore fandom and literally hundreds of hours of story focused gameplay. That’s what Endgame is. There are plenty of plot holes. I left the theater debating my fiancé about time travel paradoxes. There were questionable plot decisions. Like why were so few aliens involved in a plot following half of all life across the universe being destroyed? But none of that detracted from the intense feeling of satisfaction you get when you reach the end of the credits. You leave the theater with a sense of completion.
The franchise isn’t even over. They’ve already confirmed multiple TV shows, at least two of them were set up in Endgame. They’ve already said Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is for sure happening, showed footage of Spider-Man: Far From Home, and have teased a number of other movies as well. But honestly this was the bookend. This was the last MCU film you absolutely need to watch. I do not see the next phase of the MCU being able to recreate what was done with this first collection of 22 films. Especially considering the characters that are now obviously retired for one reason or another, what ultimately happens to the Infinity Stones, and the lack of an all-encompassing villain that can truly affect all characters within the universe simultaneously. I’ve been trying to figure out who the next Thanos could even be and all I could come up with was Galactus or the Celestial(s)/Eternals. But those characters don’t have a wide ranging effect on the universe as a whole all at the same time. There’s no snap risk. Galactus eats one planet at a time. That might be sad for those people, but it’s a drop in the bucket to the rest of the planets and their inhabitants at any given time. Celestials potentially have that level of threat. Like with how Ego tried to destroy all planets at the same time. But there was no long term build up to that plan and he was taken down by just eight characters, only three of which had anything close to actual super powers. So really I think for all intents and purposes, it ends with Endgame. Everything else will just be icing on an already fulfilling cake.
The movie had something for pretty much everyone. No matter who you Stan in the MCU, if your character wasn’t already killed in a previous movie, there was a moment where they were honored in some way during Endgame. Even the female characters had an epic moment of feminism which I know lots of sexists will complain about online, but really it was just a nod to the A-Force and I’m fairly certain that all serious comic book fans appreciated it for what it was. That’s the point of the movie. Every fan gets a nod to their character. I Stan Cap. I was happy. I even got my wish fulfilled to have it confirmed that he wouldn’t die a virgin.
The only question I have left is where do we go from here? Not just in terms of the MCU. I’ve already made those predictions in a previous blog post. I would actually be careful about reading that post if you haven’t seen the movie yet because many of them were half confirmed and/or half correct in Endgame so it unofficially contains spoilers. But I pose the question more generally. As a culture. As a planet. As nerds, where do we go from here? Let’s not pretend the DCEU has even the slightest chance of rivaling the MCU for quality, longevity, or impact. Lord of the Rings is done and has been for several years now. Star Wars ends this year, and honestly for many people it ended with The Last Jedi if not before. Harry Potter, which was semi-niche to begin with, has been death rattling since Deathly Hollows Part 2. X-Men has never really had the impact of other franchises because of its continuity issues. What do we do with our time now? What do we nerd over as a culture. We all have our individual fandoms, but there’s really nothing else that sort of brings “everyone” together around the world. Arguably we haven’t had WWIII yet because literally everyone wanted to see what would happen with Thanos. Now that’s gone. And while the ending was necessary, poetic, and beautiful, the world is a little less bright because of it.
It’s over guys. This was the finale. I don’t think we’ll ever see something as beautiful and impressive as the MCU Infinity War ever again. I’m thankful to have been a part of it in my own small way. I’m thankful that each of these actors, many of which were quite famous before Iron Man (2008), stayed with it the whole time. This whole endeavor was, in the words of Taneleer Tivan, “Magnificent! Magnificent! Magnificent!”
I wanted to end this post with a quote from Avengers: Endgame that really stood out to me. I think it sums up the entire MCU quite well and also should inspire all the people who did watch these movies from start to finish over the last 11 years. I can’t actually say who the quote is spoken by in the movie because that in and of itself would be a spoiler, so I’ll just leave the quote anonymously.
“Everyone fails at who they are supposed to be. The measure of a person, a hero, is how they succeed at being who they are.” –Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008 – 2019)
As promised, I did not include any real spoilers in my post. But there are a few things I wanted to say about Avengers: Endgame that are spoilers. Some of them are jokes. Some of them are questions. Some of them are just statements I felt needed to be voiced. I wanted to put these here because I didn’t want to publish an entirely separate post of these. I also wanted to get them out as quickly as possible so other people couldn’t steal my thunder by publishing these thoughts first. There’s nothing I hate more than having an original idea that someone else gets famous for. So if you have not seen Endgame yet, definitely stop reading now.
Sam Wilson: I’ve been waiting five years to say that line to you, Cap.
The unsung hero of Avengers: Endgame is the rat in storage unit 616.
Did the planets that had already been halved by Thanos before the snap get affected again by the snap in Infinity War or did he give them a pass?
What about the Extremis in Tony Stark’s DNA?
Can Hulk finally have sex?
So that’s the Loki who will be featured in the TV show?
That boy you didn’t recognize at Tony’s funeral was the kid from Iron Man 3.
Cap returned Mjolnir to Thor with the time machine.
When did Pepper get that suit?
How the hell did that entire spaceship go through the time portal with 1 tube of Pym Particles?
If they each only had enough Pym Particles for one jump roundtrip each, how did Nebula get back and then bring Thanos’ ship back when she gave the tube of particles to Thanos?
How is it that absolutely no one else knows how to make Pym Particles after all these years and no records of the formula were kept by Hank Pym?
I really hope Thor is in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and that it starts with an epic battle sequence that doesn’t have Thor in it and then after the title appears on screen Thor drops in and saves the day. Then in hand written letters “AS” is added to the title changing it to “Asguardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”.
Did Cap still live the hero life while married to Agent Carter or was he fully retired and living his best life for those 70+ years?
Edward Norton probably kicking himself right now.
The Ancient One said when you make a major change to the past you create a new branching reality that can only be removed from existence by reversing that change at the exact moment it was made. If Cap inserted himself into the timeline and married Agent Carter wouldn’t that have created a branching timeline? And if it did how did Cap end up on that bench at the end of the movie? Wouldn’t he have been in an alternate timeline and thus not been able to return to that same moment in time in that original reality?
If you read my post from last week then you know my predictions for Avengers: Endgame and some of the developments I believe we’ll see in the next one to two phases of the MCU. If you haven’t read that post, you definitely should, but for the purposes of this post all you need to know is that I believe Captain America will die in Endgame. I’m not going to delve into why and how again so if you want that explanation you’ll have to go read that other post. From here on out I won’t make reference to any information contained in that or any other post so you can read on comfortably.
I’m fine with Captain America dying in Endgame. In fact, I think it’s the right way to go for dramatic effect. The First Avenger gave up his life to save the world from the Red Skull and the first Infinity Stone to reach Earth, assuming we don’t count the Reality stone as having been placed on Earth in Thor: The Dark World. He was then resurrected to protect Earth again because of the threat of the same Infinity stone(s). (Technically two stones are featured in The Avengers.) It would be so poetic if he died dealing the killing blow to Thanos, ultimately saving the galaxy from the threat of the Infinity stones. So him dying is not just OK with me, but it’s the right decision.
Let us also remember that, as has been reported, Endgame will supposedly be Chris Evans’ last performance as Captain America. Of course these sorts of things are always intentionally vague and up in the air. And things change in the movie business, just like in comic books, all the time. But considering how long Evans has played the character, I tend to believe that he is tired and the writers are fine with letting him go permanently. So yes I do fully believe that this will be the last time we see Chris Evans carry the metaphorical shield. I of course say metaphorical because of the events of Captain America: Civil War.
Captain America dying is fine for me. But what isn’t fine is Captain America dying having never really lived. I’m of course being hyperbolic here, but my point is that to the best of our knowledge Steve Rogers is still a virgin. Before everyone gets their underoos in a bunch, let me clarify a few things. There’s nothing wrong with being a virgin by choice. There’s nothing wrong with waiting till you meet the right person, or till you’re married, or whatever else you may be waiting for. I’m not trying to make some sort of high minded political statement about sex politics in 2019. I’m saying specifically Captain America, the representation of American ideals, honor, and exceptionalism, dying a virgin after serving not just his country but his planet honorably and faithfully for more than 70 years, if you count the ice nap as a form of active service, and missing out on the person he was actually in love with, Agent Peggy Carter, dying a virgin doesn’t sit well with me.
To further clarify, Captain America choosing to remain a virgin isn’t a problem. But that’s not really what’s happened here. Steve Rogers, pre-transformation, says he has given up on trying to find a woman because they overlooked him due to his lacking physical appearance in a time period where shrimps just didn’t get any. He later says that he’s interested in women, but hasn’t found the right “dance partner” yet. He then goes on to tell Agent Carter that he is interested in her but loses out on the opportunity because he gets frozen. So it’s not really that Cap has chosen to remain a virgin. His circumstances have forced him to.
But what about the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron when he tells Tony Stark he’s not looking for that anymore, you might be asking. To clarify (using that phrase a lot today), he says he is done looking for a family and stability. At no point does he say he’s lost interest in women as potential love interests, either physical or emotional. Here’s that scene in case you don’t believe me.
*Skip to 01:05.
What we have here is a man who has served his time, paid his dues, and then some who, based on my prediction, will ultimately die in service. Call me old fashioned, but that man deserves to get the/a girl. That’s not to say that it has to be a girl for all parties in all scenarios. It just so happens that Cap has verbally identified himself to be a heterosexual male, so in his specific case it would be a girl. All that is to say that Cap deserves to get laid before his final watch is ended. (Look I made a Game of Thrones reference in a Marvel post!).
Let me be clear, I’m not calling for Marvel, currently owned by Disney, to toss a Captain America sex scene into Endgame, though I’m sure many viewers of whatever gender and sexuality wouldn’t mind. I’m not even saying he has to get laid during the events of Endgame. I just need them to clarify for me on screen, either verbally or visually, that at some point in his life Steve Rogers got it in. That’s all I want. It could be as simple as Cap gets an email from a snap survivor no one knows about and when asked about it he admits that there was one night in Wakanda, or whatever. I don’t actually care how it’s shown, done, or clarified. I just need to know definitively that Captain America doesn’t die a virgin.
I don’t care who the girl is. It could be any consenting, of age female from any time period, planet, species, realm, or dimension. It could even be that pre-Cap Steve Rogers lied to Agent Carter all those years ago and actually did get laid in high school once. It could be the girl on the news at the end of The Avengers. It could be Black Widow after The Winter Soldier because she decided she really did enjoy that kiss. It could be Nebula in a grief stricken bender after the snap. Hell, I’d even take an A’askvariian who came calling looking for Peter Quill and took a stop on Earth, because she knew he was Terran. It really doesn’t matter who it is. I just don’t want to see Captain America die a virgin.
If we go down the list we can assume that pretty much every other Avenger (notice I said Avenger and not character/hero) isn’t a virgin, except for possibly Wanda Maximoff who’s a little younger, but we know she’s at least working toward that with Vision if it hasn’t happened already. The only unconfirmed ones would be War Machine and Falcon, but we’ve been given clues to assume they have some background experience with women/sexual interest. Some examples would be how Falcon talks to Black Widow when he first sees her drive up in The Winter Solider and how War Machine impresses that group of women with his story at the party in Age of Ultron. And those aren’t even founding Avengers anyway.
Tony Stark (Iron Man) – Countless/Pepper Potts
Bruce Banner (Hulk) – Betty Ross pre-accident
Thor – Jane Foster
Clint Barton – Laura Barton
Natasha Romanoff – It’s implied that as part of her work she has had to seduce men and was sterilized by the KGB because of it.
Captain America – ??????
I find this disagreeable, depressing, and downright unfair. If there’s one person who’s earned a pity lay, it’s Captain America. While I’d never argue that any particular female character owes Cap a piece, I will absolutely argue that the MCU as a whole does. And it’s already been confirmed that there are plenty of women in this universe that would be more than happy to oblige. (Remembers Private Lorraine (Natalie Dormer) in The First Avenger.) So it’s not like I’m arguing “hey who’s gonna bang the talking raccoon?” Because that would be weird for some reason.
This is a comic book universe, so as is customary; let’s go back to the comics to justify my argument. It is canon that Cap has gotten down and dirty with at least a few women. He’s no Wolverine, but it has happened. Here’s a list of lovers I found that will have some surprising names on it for people who only know Captain America as played by Chris Evans. And no I don’t consider number 15 as an acceptable argument without some form of verbal confirmation. What makes The First Avenger so sad and impactful is the fact that Steve and Peggy never got to realize their romance past that kiss before he boards the plane.
I don’t think I’m asking too much of the MCU. In fact I’m not asking for anything that isn’t already comic book canon. I just need them to tell me that Captain America didn’t die the same lonely boy he started out as. Give me that and the most epic death scene imaginable and I’ll have no complaints no matter what happens in Endgame. Except for some bullshit time travel retcon storyline a la Days of Future Past. I would most likely complain about that.
If you don’t already know, there’s a new TV show that just came out called Titans. It’s a live action series based on the Teen Titans comic book series. Many more people today probably know this IP from one or both of the cartoons: Teen Titans and Teen Titans GO!. This new show is live action and like with the DC movies, appears to have a much darker tone than either of the cartoons. At the time of writing this, not a single episode has officially aired. By the time this is published, according to the release schedule, exactly one episode will have aired. And yet even though not a single member of the unaffiliated public has seen a single episode of the show, I can already say that there will be a Titans season 2. This is not my opinion. This is not a prediction. This is a reported fact by multiple credible sources that Titans has already been greenlighted for a second season.
I don’t want to talk about the show. In fact, I can’t talk about the show, because like everyone else, I haven’t seen it yet. What I want to talk about is the fact that a show that no normal consumers has ever seen, that has already gotten a ton of negative reception just from the trailers, is already guaranteed a second season. This is a big problem for me.
The public is supposed to shape the direction of entertainment. That’s how pretty much all capitalism is supposed to work. The market demands what it wants and companies produce what the market wants. In some ways it’s the purest form of Democracy. But more importantly, it keeps entertainment media companies in check. It’s a problem when companies can control what the public sees and experiences regardless of the public’s opinion on it. It’s a problem when the people say they want, or more importantly don’t want, something and companies make a profit while completely disregarding or even blatantly going against those demands. It’s a problem when companies are able to operate with no oversight and no repercussions regardless of how bad their decisions are. Let me be clear, I’m not saying Titans is a bad show and shouldn’t get a second season. As I’ve already stated, I haven’t seen it so I can’t make that judgement. But the fact that it’s already guaranteed a second season regardless of how the public feels about it is not a good thing. It indicates that our opinions and demands as consumers are meaningless.
In the American system of television, where shows go on for as long as they can retain value (viewership, high ratings, and advertising sponsorships), getting an additional season used to mean something. It meant a show was good enough for people to want an entire additional year (depending on how the seasons are broken up) of that show. It meant all the actors, producers, directors, and other staff members had earned their paychecks and were being given permission from the public to keep their jobs. Those additional seasons were proof of the value of that show. And the relationship between the studio and the public was symbiotic in nature. But if shows are just gonna get additional seasons regardless of whether or not the public likes them, how are we as consumers supposed to get the content we want?
You see the same thing happening with games and movies now too. They create franchises from the ground up without verifying that people even want the content. No one wants a Suicide Squad 2. The first one was terrible and the public doesn’t want a sequel. I’m glad James Gunn is writing the sequel if it has to happen. But the fact that it’s happening shows the studio’s complete disregard for the public’s opinion. Shitty games are getting sequels all the time now. Standalone games rarely exist anymore. Some studios have even publicly said that they won’t build them any longer. Destiny was bad. Everyone agreed it was bad. It had some good qualities, but ultimately the people were not happy. But they were already making Destiny 2 before the first raid dropped in 1. And that’s after they had already said there was a 10 year lifespan planned for the first game. This is a problem. They’re supposed to make the games the market wants. Not force the market to play subpar games due to a lack of options.
God of War is a perfect example of how the system is supposed to work. The original game on PS2 back in 2005 was made as a standalone game. No sequels were planned. There were no holes in the plot. It was just a solid game. And because it did so well both financially and critically, they made more of them. The game earned the privilege, not right, to become a full-fledged franchise. And then years after the conclusion of the franchise, demand was still so high that they made another game, which was also excellent and has absolutely earned the right to a sequel. Now I will say that clearly they planned a sequel in advance with the latest game, and I do take issue with that, but remember that we’re talking about game seven, not one. It’s fair at that point to create a story driven saga because you already have the existing market data to show demand. But if a new IP drops and the opening game is already assuming several sequels, that’s a problem.
This sort of project development is especially troublesome in how it allows entertainment production companies to control what the public views with no repercussions. I truly believe entertainers of all types have the right to create whatever type of content they want with whatever inserted messages and politics they want to present. That is the right of the creator. But at the same time, there are supposed to be risks incurred when doing that. The market rewards and/or punishes creators for the content they create. If a company wants to insert a political message or idea into their content and their market doesn’t care for it, that company is supposed to take that feedback and moderate the politics they present accordingly for their next work/installment. If that doesn’t happen, the consumer base will cease to buy their products and they will go out of business. That’s Democracy at work. But if companies no longer have to create at the mercy of their markets they can just say whatever they want. They can subliminally alter the views of large groups of people by presenting ideas with no repercussions. And sure that’s fine when that idea is something along the lines equal rights for minorities. But what happens when it’s something like anti-Muslim propaganda?
The ability for consumers to control and shape the kind of media that ultimately gets produced keeps media companies in check. Yes the check goes in both directions and often progressive ideas are stomped out as well, but I would argue the potential benefits of unchecked content creation are outweighed by the potential negative repercussions. So in my opinion it’s really problematic when movie studios come out of the gate with a new movie IP and state they’re already planning multiple sequels and spinoffs. Glances at The Mummy (2017). I don’t like hearing that a new show already has multiple seasons and other connected shows in the works before the first season has even aired. And while yes I understand that the MCU is probably the greatest multi-faceted entertainment media project/franchise ever created in the history of the world, I think it’s important to realize Marvel had already been making comics, cartoons, and video games for 69 years before Iron Man (2008) released. They had already earned their right to creative control and did their homework in terms of what kind of content to create and the messages that should be presented. And sure DC may be even older than Marvel, but they’ve shown multiple times that they don’t know how to make successful movies and TV shows that the public is happy with consistently. They keep making them, but the people keep being unhappy with what’s created a majority of the time. If anything, DC is the perfect example of why no company should ever consider itself above the opinions of consumers.
I hope Titans is good. From what I’ve seen of the trailers I doubt it will be, but genuinely don’t like seeing comic book related projects fail. I like seeing them succeed. But I cannot condone the idea that the public’s opinion on entertainment is irrelevant and that companies should just do whatever the hell they want because people will probably just watch anyway out of boredom. That sets a bad precedent which ultimately leads to mediocre or even bad content as well as subliminal messaging shaping the public’s views with no ability for us to push back.
I went to see Venom because I watch every Marvel and DC movie in theaters. The only one I’ve missed to date since seeing the original Blade (1998) is Fantastic Four (2015) and that was only because I was in the process of moving and literally did not have time to see the movie in theaters before it was removed. So I was always going to see Venom in theaters even though I had low expectations from the very first trailer. The things I’d heard about the movie since it released just a few days prior to me seeing it did not raise my hopes for the movie either. Now that I’ve seen it myself, I can say honestly that Venom is a bad movie. But it might be the best bad comic book movie I’ve ever seen.
There are two types of bad movies. There are those that are bad and shouldn’t have been made the way they were if at all. Suicide Squad (2016), The Spirit (2003), and Superman Returns (2006) are examples of this. They are not only bad movies in terms of plot and often film making conventions, but they also don’t even really entertain past surface level visuals. They simply aren’t even good enough for hate watching. But there’s another type of bad movie. Some movies are bad, but good. Maybe you’d even say they’re so bad that they’re good. R.I.P.D. (2013), Spider-Man 3 (2007), and Batman & Robin (1997) are all great examples of this type of movie. They aren’t good by any conventional stretch of the word. They’re riddled with questionable film making decisions, lackluster writing, often terrible acting, and sometimes dialog so bad that it becomes iconic. This is where I put Venom.
Let’s first remember the reasons why Venom was made and the space it exists in within the larger Marvel and comic book film landscape. Venom, the character, was originally created in 1988. It came to be after a stint as just “the Symbiote” merged with Peter Parker/Spider-Man. When Parker finally separated from it, the Symbiote found Eddie Brock and became Venom. Venom started out as an arch nemesis of Spider-Man and was only that for many years. Down the road he eventually became an anti-hero similar to Frank Castle/The Punisher but that was way later. Even today, most people still think of Venom, and his host Eddie Brock, as a Spider-Man villain. Many would even say the best Spider-Man villain. That’s the character in the world of comic books but that’s only kind of relevant in the real world of business. Venom was made because of an annoying longstanding contract agreement between Sony and Marvel (now owned by Disney). Sony has to make a new Spider-Man universe film every few years or the Spider-Man IP rights will automatically revert back to Marvel. This pretty much guarantees that Spider-Man themed films from Sony will keep being made rather frequently as long as they make money. And since the original Spider-Man (2002) they have. This is also the reason they rebooted the franchise and did The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) so soon after finishing the Tobey Maquire run. Sony literally had to churn out another Spider-Man movie of they would have lost the IP rights. And those rights matter. Not just for that film money but for everything. Toys based on the movies, cartoons, merchandising. Even the recently released Spider-Man game exclusive to PS4 from Insomniac Games falls under the purview of Sony’s contract with Marvel.
The main problem for Sony now is that they lost the Spider-Man in Spider-Man films. Because Disney really wanted Peter Parker to appear in the MCU, they paid a king’s ransom to get those film rights back “temporally”. But that didn’t actually change the terms of the original contract. This leaves Sony in a very peculiar place. They need to make Spider-Man movies without actually using Spider-Man. And let’s be clear that by without Spider-Man I mean specifically Peter Parker. They could easily put out movies about Miles Morales, Spider-Gwen, or any other Spider-Totem characters. But that’s easier said than done. Making a movie isn’t as simple as writing a script, hiring some actors, and buying a camera. It’s quite expensive and has to be deemed potentially profitable or it could destroy the IP and even the brand. And in the current climate it might not sound like such a great idea to Sony stockholders to put out a movie with a Black or female Spider-Man/Person. Especially when also having to compete with the MCU and the much loved Tom Holland as Peter Parker. And that’s just the stuff we know about. For all we know Disney contracted for control of Miles Morales and Gwen Stacey as well. There are references to Miles Morales in the MCU such as Donald Glover playing a character who is most likely his uncle in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).
When understanding all this background information, it becomes clearer why Sony decided to do something that literally no one asked for and made a movie with Venom as not only the main character but not a Spider-Man villain. And when I say not a Spider-Man villain I mean Spider-Man isn’t even mentioned in the movie. Given all that context, now let’s actually discuss how the movie was.
Venom is not a good movie, but it sure is an entertaining one. It’s cult film good. There are numerous problems with it, but I don’t for a second regret seeing it. My girlfriend, a diehard Marvel movie fan with a less than even casual background in general comic book lore knowledge, laughed for pretty much the entire duration of the movie. And really this might be the best space for Venom, and Sony Marvel films as a whole, to fill. They can’t compete with the MCU. They don’t have the planning, time, or access to characters that the MCU does. They don’t have the available casting choices that the MCU does because of so many roles already taken by phenomenal actors. So in a lot of ways it might actually make more since for Sony to intentionally try to fill the comic relief niche of comic book filmmaking. Because there’s almost no competition for that spot. It’s pretty much just Dead-Pool at this point. And with Disney’s inevitable absorption of the FOX Marvel universe/characters, that leaves pretty much no real competition for the comedy comic book movie throne. Disney isn’t going to let the MCU collapse in tone and style for one character and the brooding DC film universe simply isn’t playing for comedy, granted Shazam seems like they might be trying to break-in to that genre. My point is that in many ways it was logical for Sony to make the film they did with Venom than the film people think they actually wanted to see.
The acting is bad. Specifically Tom Hardy, who I am generally a fan of, gave a really cheesy performance. Think Nicolas Cage in Kick-Ass (2010). That’s not to say that Tom Hardy is a bad actor. More that his depiction of the character was very different from the Eddie Brock I expected. I’d say he came off a bit too geared towards a modern millennial audience. The Eddie Brock I’m used to is brooding, hot tempered, and narcissistic. This Eddie Brock was very whiny and seemed more like a victim of his circumstances than an active player. What I find interesting is that Hardy also voiced Venom, who is a wholly different character than Eddie Brock. His voice and demeanor are considerably altered. I spent the entire movie thinking Venom was being voiced by a different actor. That being said, this Venom is super campy. He’s essentially the douchebag frat boy to Eddie Brock’s whiny loser. The pairing makes for a hilarious on screen dynamic. I will say though that this Venom’s voice was clearly inspired by the 90’s Amazing Spider-Man cartoon. Some of the other actors in the movie gave stronger performances, but nothing to write home about. Riz Ahmed as Carlton Drake was the most noteworthy for me. He was exactly the way I would have wanted that villain to be. He truly believed in his cause and delivered his lines with authenticity and controlled passion.
The visual aspects of the film aren’t particularly good either. I took the time to go back and look at Venom in Spider-Man 3 and I have to say that it looks better. The symbiote forms, like the voices, come off super campy in Venom. They look like something from Spawn (1997). What I think it’s important to note is that this Venom is super authentic in how it recreates the source materials, both from the comics and 90’s cartoon, in terms of handling the transformation(s). They do it the way it was originally intended with the Symbiote taking over Brock’s body from behind and completely layering over him. That being said, it looks pretty cheesy in real life. It’s the Wolverine problem. Hugh Jackman would look odd actually running around in yellow spandex with that black blue/black mask and eye holes. Having the Venom suit engulf Brock looks odd in real life. The way they handled this in Spider-Man 3 was by going the werewolf route where Brock literally changes into a Symbiote merged form with actual fangs developing from his teeth. They also made it a point of not showing too many direct shots of his face during transformation. This is not authentic and it’s certainly not cool. But it does look better in live action. At the same time though it’s also quite limiting. Venom does some interesting scenes with Brock and Venom that could only work with them being two separate beings inhabiting the same body as opposed to one fully merged being. So I will give them that.
My bigger complaint about the way Venom looks is that he’s way too big. All the Symbiote human merged forms are too tall and too buff. Riz Ahmed goes from Edward Norton’s Bruce Banner to nearly the Hulk in seconds. That’s not authentic to the source material. The Symbiote makes people stronger, not buffer. Part of Eddie Brock’s development as a character is that he goes from being an average sized dude to a bulky muscle head because he wants to improve his physical prowess to be a more effective Venom. In this, Tom Hardy is a normal looking guy and Venom is huge. It might look more epic but if they’re trying to build a franchise, which they absolutely are according to the credits sequence, that aspect removed a key developmental plot point of Eddie Brock as a character. It also doesn’t help that the one time another character becomes Venom they don’t also get super bulky and muscular, so there’s a real lack of consistency there.
The effects are also noticeably low quality at times. I’ve seen a lot of action movies and I have to say that I rarely spot stunt doubles. In one particular motorcycle scene, I very clearly saw Tom Hardy’s stunt double. It was like that scene in Space Balls. Well maybe not that ridiculous but still quite noticeable. The CGI effects for the unmerged Symbiotes were quite good. They did a fine job of portraying them as living beings even though they were just undulating puddles of goo. Overall the visual quality of the film lands somewhere between Green Lantern (2011) and X2: X-Men United (2003), with the latter of course being the better looking film.
The sound quality, though less noteworthy, outside of voice acting, than in many other comic book films I’ve seen, was quite good. There wasn’t much noticeable in the way of music though. In fact, I can’t recall a single song from the movie other than in a specific scene that was specifically about the song and the end credits song by Eminem, which I’m sorry to say isn’t great. I do think the general lack of external sound was intentional though because sound plays an important role in the film plot wise as well as making sure you can hear the symbiotes talking to their hosts.
The writing is probably the most notable part of the movie as well as the hardest to judge. I spent the whole movie teetering back and forth between cringing and being generally impressed. I will say that I laughed pretty much the whole time though. But my laughter was mostly because the dialog is in your face and often terrible. It’s not authentically funny the way Tony Stark is in the MCU. It’s more like Seth Rogan in The Green Hornet (2011) where it’s bad dialog but it makes you laugh in the way Family Guy does. The dynamic between Eddie Brock and Venom is funny. It reminded me of Star Kid (1997) if the kid and the suit had both grown up to be depressed comedians. Even though the dialog wasn’t written particularly well, the relationship and how it develops between Brock and Venom is quite good. I liked the way they actually became friends and grew to understand each other. At first they’re at odds and both seem to be fighting for control but by the end they’re working together with a genuine desire to help each other. I also really liked that the dialog took the time to explain the symbiotic relationship between host and symbiote casually over time as opposed to just spelling it out in one explanatory conversation. At the same time, there are a lot of inconsistencies about what Venom actually knows from the start. Sometimes he asks questions as if he genuinely wants to learn about something he doesn’t know and other times it seems like he automatically has access to Brock’s knowledge because of their merger. A good example of this is how he magically knows how to drive a motorcycle like a badass presumably the first time he rides one.
To say the film is well written would be a gross misrepresentation of what it actually is. But I also wouldn’t say the writing is absolute trash like I would for The Spirit, which I genuinely hope you’ve never seen because it truly is that bad. What isn’t up for debate though is that the writing is entertaining. You laugh for the bulk of the movie. You care enough about the plot not to check out. Even though Venom is a selfish, immature monster that spends most of the movie complaining that he can’t eat people, you still sympathize with him by the end. Even though Eddie Brock, like Venom, puts his own desires and beliefs before those of everyone else, even to the detriment of both his job and his relationship, you still want to see him win in the end. Venom isn’t written to be a high minded quality film that’s going to change the way we view comic book movies. It’s simply a movie to watch and enjoy and it accomplishes that just fine.
Overall I’d say I enjoyed Venom. But I enjoyed it in the way I enjoy bad films like Zombeavers (2014) and The Pink Panther (2006). It’s not a film you watch to be impressed. It’s a film you watch when you just want to be entertained. And if Sony can maintain that tone through an entire franchise of sans Peter Parker Spider-Man films without them becoming stale and unfunny, then I think that’s OK.
Sadly it took me longer than I expected to finish Spider-Man (PS4) so my review didn’t get published until last week. So now this post, which I had actually starting planning a couple weeks ago, looks like an unoriginal idea in response to the recent Insomniac Games interview where they said “Spider-Man is the Iron Man of Marvel console games.” The idea behind this quote is that Spider-Man, with its 3.3 million units sold in the first three days of release, is only the start of what I guess I’ll call the MGU (Marvel Games Universe). Due to its success, we can now expect to see a whole host of, hopefully interconnected, games set in the same Marvel universe following some of our favorite heroes.
I like the idea of an MGU. I think it’s a wonderful idea that hasn’t been done well before. We have some franchises that connect several characters and games indirectly like Castlevania, Final Fantasy, and of course Super Mario. We also have countless franchises that connect many games together directly like Uncharted, God of War, and Yakuza. But what both of these types of games fail to do is connect multiple playable characters directly across several games while also allowing each game and character to stand alone in their own right. The only franchises I can think of that do both even relatively well are Devil May Cry and Metal Gear, and I don’t necessarily think either does it exceptionally well. Certainly not compared to how plots work in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).
I imagine such an endeavor being implemented in a big way, making use of multiple studios and quite possibly spanning to multiple platforms. But that’s not really what I want to talk about in this post. What I want to discuss is what else can be done by Insomniac Games with the Spider-Man map.
I was very impressed by the map/world in Spider-Man. I felt like it was a fairly well done recreation of New York that also integrates Marvel landmarks into it quite well. I did feel like it was smaller than ideal, but it was still quite the impressive, realistic, and highly interactive map. Some time ago, I wrote a post about how I thought it was extremely wasteful that game maps tend to get used only one time even if they have the potential for multiple projects. The original post focused on the map in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and how I thought it could easily be reused to make a completely unrelated pirate game, but I think the general concept of map reuse applies even more to that of Spider-Man.
Even without the idea of creating an MGU, I think the Spider-Man map can and should absolutely be reused for more Marvel games. Insomniac Games can make a great Marvel game. They’ve already proved that with Spider-Man. But there’s no reason the next Marvel game from them needs to take two plus years of development. Not because they should rush out more Marvel games, but because they already have a wealth of usable assets. They have a working New York City map complete with both Marvel and real world landmarks and a bustling, interactive population of NPCs. More specifically, they already have hideouts/bases of operation for multiple would be MGU characters, big and small.
The Spider-Man (PS4) Marvel themed map locations I’m aware of:
Nelson and Murdoc Law Office (Daredevil)
Alias Investigations (Jessica Jones)
Sanctum Sanctorum (Dr. Strange)
Embassy of Wakanda (Black Panther)
Rand Enterprises (Iron Fist)
E.A.R.T. Clinic (Cardiac)
Damage Control HQ (Iron Man)
Avenger’s Tower (Iron Man/Every Active Avenger)
This wealth of Marvel Easter Egg locations can be the staging area for countless other games set in New York. And with the Avenger’s Tower other characters not usually based in New York can visit the city for an adventure as well. Even Stan Lee appears in the game. So the question becomes why make an entirely new map for the next game when they can rightfully save the time and just change out the character and gameplay for a fraction of the development time and cost?
Let’s take Daredevil as a prime example. Hell’s Kitchen is a district on the map. Matt Murdock’s law office is already located in the game. Daredevil operates on the streets and rooftops of New York City. His main means of transportation is on foot mostly by climbing, hopping, and occasionally swinging from building to building. His fight style is mixed martial arts that’s fast paced, fluid, and a bit heavier than that of Spider-Man. He operates solely at night, which exists in Spider-Man, and even fights Kingpin, the first boss in Spider-Man. If they reuse this map, much of the game is already done. They would just have to change the character render(s), climbing, and fighting as far as gameplay. Most of the development would just need to go into writing a new story and altering the current enemies and bosses. Is that still a lot of work? Of course. Is it as much work as building an entirely new map from scratch including NPCs? Absolutely not.
Because of the interconnected nature of comics, this is a rare opportunity where it not only makes sense, but is the right decision within the canon of the world to reuse the same map to make multiple Marvel character games. The shorter development time also means lower production costs which allows for an opportunity to create games for more obscure characters that might not be able to get a game greenlit with a AAA budget. Take Jessica Jones for instance. The idea of putting in the same amount of time and resources as was used for Spider-Man to create a game for her is unrealistic. It wouldn’t sell as well and probably wouldn’t be action heavy enough to appeal to a wider gaming audience. But Spider-Man already has a working camera/photography system and a perfect map for a game starring her, so why not make one with recycled assets?
While not every Marvel character could have a game set in this map, there are a host of characters that it would work perfectly for. Even characters not normally based in New York could still work as visiting heroes staying at the Avenger’s Tower.
Some characters that could work well in the Spider-Man map:
Venom (if we want to go down that road)
All the other Spider-Totems
I don’t know what games are in the works or projected to be made in the MGU, but I think it would be a real waste to just throw out a perfectly good map just because we’ve already played a game on it. If implemented well, I would have no problem playing any number of different games featured on the same map. Especially if they were all connected via story and Easter Eggs. They could even have the games be interactive where if you’ve played one it affects things in other maps.
Let me be very clear on one key issue within this discussion. I’m fine with playing multiple games on the same map, but I expect those saved development costs to be transferred to me, the end user. Spider-Man cost me $80 (Deluxe Edition). If you read my review then you know that I felt that was too high for such a short game. Especially considering that Insomniac Games usually releases games in the $30 – $40 price bracket. So if they do start reusing that map to save time and money, which I believe they should, I would also expect to see lower release prices. Even more so if these Marvel games will continue to be in the 20 – 30 hour category for the platinum completion.
It’s a good map and it definitely has the potential to spawn a number of other great games. How did you feel about the map in Spider-Man? Would you like to see other games produced on it and how much would you be willing to pay for them?
Three days ago I saw Black Panther. It surprised me in many ways. It took me about a day to really mull over the film before I felt comfortable putting my thoughts about the film to text.
Let me start by saying that, like the title clearly states, this isn’t really a traditional film review. If you want to know whether or not you should go see the movie, that’s an easy question to answer. Yes, you should absolutely go see Black Panther. It’s a well-made film worthy of the Marvel name. It is not the best installment within the MCU ever made, nor is it the worst. I’d place it somewhere in the top half but I’d have to do a thorough ranking review before I could give it a specific placement within the Marvel hierarchy. It’s a beautiful, well written, excellently acted, great sounding movie and there is no reason any MCU fan shouldn’t see this film. And really, because of the way it was written, even if you’re not a committed MCU fan, this movie is still very good and very watchable. Similar to Ant-Man, the plot is very small and enclosed within the world of a specific character, in this case Black Panther and Wakanda, without really spilling into the rest of the MCU, save for the post credits sequence, which honestly gives you no information that the Avengers: Infinity War trailer hadn’t already given us. There are a total of two characters, not including T’Challa or any other Wakandans, with speaking roles that you’ve seen in past films plus one more in the after credits short. Both of these two have only been seen in one previous MCU film, don’t have special powers, and are of little consequence to the overall plot of the film, though they do have some important impacts on the events that take place. Even placing Black Panther on the MCU time line is very negotiable because of the way it was written. The only thing we know for absolute certainty is that it takes place after Captain America 3: Civil War, and with the inclusion of the after credits sequence, most likely but not necessarily before Avengers: Infinity War if we disregard the traditional notice at the very end that says “Black Panther will return in Avengers: Infinity War”.
From a neutral film-making/viewing standpoint, with no bias towards race or specific characters, I only had two minor complaints about the film. The first was that it felt short. Not under written, but short. This is strange because the film has a 135 minute runtime. I think most people would agree that when you leave a film wanting more and also don’t feel like the plot left unanswered holes that should have been addressed, it’s the mark of a good film. That’s exactly how I felt leaving Black Panther. The second, which I don’t actually believe has any real bearing on the film, is that the soundtrack was too limited. The trailers sold this film as if it was going to be the Black equivalent of Tron: Legacy (2010). As in, even if the movie sucks, which I’m not saying about either Black Panther or Tron: Legacy, you’ll still get a movie chock-full of amazing music from amazing music artists. In the case of Tron: Legacy that meant Daft Punk and they absolutely delivered on the music front. In Black Panther that means Kendrick Lamar among, or at least that’s what I was led to believe, a number of other music artists. That’s not what I got from Black Panther. Or if I did it was done in a very covert way and most of the music, which at many times I was actively listening for when viewing the film, was undercut too heavily by the movie’s sound effects. The only song I was genuinely moved by was the end credits song by Kendrick Lamar. And that’s mostly because the rest of the music just didn’t stand out to me during the movie. I don’t feel that the movie provided the audience bad music. In fact I’d say that what I actually heard was really good music. But it was few and far between as far as number of tracks that stood out. Which again, I only cared about and even noticed because of the way the film was packaged in the trailers and music, specifically “Black music”, was a big part of that marketing.
Though I don’t personally subscribe to the number based review system, because of how detrimental it is to both the overall image of films and because it prevents many people from taking the time to actually read reviews, I always play along because it’s a standard entertainment media review norm. I would rate this film an 8.4/10, which in my book is a very good score for a film, video game, or any other form of entertainment media. I would absolutely watch any movie scored a 7 or higher from someone with my level of experience reviewing entertainment media and my educational background (B.A. in Cinema Studies) so I don’t feel like my giving this movie an 8.4 should be considered a put off in any way. But I’m sure at least one person will take that score as low, not actually read the rest of my “review”, and move on with their day. But ultimately my point, which again is not the actual intention of this post which is far from being over, is that you should definitely go watch Black Panther from a purely film making and comic book movie viewing standpoint.
From here on out there will be a great many SPOILERS and an in depth analysis of the plot, or at least important portions of it so if you have not seen the movie and you actually care, you have been given fair warning.
I want to discuss Black Panther speaking/viewing specifically as an African American. So obviously we’re about to talk about the racial politics of the film both on and off screen. If you’re not prepared for that then you may want to stop reading now. You’ve been warned. That’s not to imply in any way that only African Americans or Black people should read and/or comment on the rest of this post. All people are invited to read and discuss the opinions laid out here and I hope you take the time to do so. I’m merely stating my perspective and inherent bias when viewing and discussing the film from a social/political standpoint.
The first thing I want to say is that the plot of Black Panther very much surprised me. I went in not exactly sure what I was going to get because no other live action Black Panther film has ever been made to the best of my knowledge. This meant that unless you watched the animated stuff, of which there are only a few options, at least one of which I find/found very stereotypical and offensive, or actively read (about) or at least researched the character then you really had no background information on him outside of what was shown in Captain America 3: Civil War. So I wasn’t sure if I was going to get a traditional origin story or a day in the life plot that assumes knowledge the viewer may or may not have. I was actually very happy with the way the film wrapped up the character’s (Black Panther not specifically T’Challa) origin myth very early and actively used that explanation throughout the film to inform the viewer about certain plot occurrences such as the involvement but ultimate lack of inclusion concerning the Jabari Tribe and their leader M’Baku, who is a reference to Man-Ape and the White Gorilla Cult. The one thing I can say for sure is that I went into the film expecting this to be a very straight forward good versus evil plot with a hero and villain and as the hero in this film is ethnically Black, and more specifically African, I of course expected the villain to be White.
Black Panther starts off by pretending to confirm my bias induced plot expectations. The first 30 – 40 minutes of the film make it come off as if this is going to be a movie about T’Challa, a Black African leading a country of exclusively Black people, fighting against Klaw (Ulysses Klaue), a literal Nazi who in at least one timeline was personally sent by Adolf Hitler to Wakanda to steal their secrets. In fact, early on in the film we’re told that 30 years prior to the modern day events of the film Klaw snuck into Wakanda, stole a ton of Vibranium, and killed several people including the parents of T’Challa’s best friend and the leader of possibly the strongest military tribe within Wakanda with the debatable exception of the Dora Milaje, the badass, super tall, bald personal security squad of the King of Wakanda. This is all set up early on in the film very well to lead the viewer to believe that they’re about to get a normal and mostly predictable Black person/people versus White person/people plot. And as a Black person living in 2018, I’ll be completely honest and say that I would have been completely ok with that. Is it interesting writing? No. Is it out of the box plot development? No. Do Black people both need and appreciate straight forward forms of entertainment like that right now? I think it’s fair to say yes. That’s not to say that all our entertainment should be that way or even most of it but as a race we definitely need those easy wins at least some of the time. But to my great surprise, Black Panther is not that film . . . and ultimately that’s a good thing but the reasons for that when viewed in the context of the world and industry outside of the film can be read in a number of different ways ranging anywhere from introspective to pessimistic and sinister.
Klaw, played by the great Andy Serkis, is setup as the epitome of evil and antithesis of Black people, literally referring to Wakandans, arguably the most technologically advanced society on the planet within the world of the film, as savages on multiple occasions knowing full well that they are the most technologically advanced society on the planet. The viewer is led to believe that he’s a powerfully troublesome villain with Mark Hamill Joker level psychopathy, a Heath Ledger Joker level strategic mind, and technologically advanced firepower. A big part of this character is due to the excellent, but ultimately short lived performance by Andy Serkis. Though as a Black person I’m not supposed to say it in reference to a film like this, he, yes a White man, gave the best performance in the movie. Granted his character was the only one that isn’t traditionally written as stoic and emotionally controlled within this particular story. And any experienced, socially aware Black film viewer knows exactly why that is. Black people are often presented as overly emotional, comedic, and illogical in their film characterizations so presenting the Wakandans as such not only would have broken canon, but also done a disservice to the image of Black people in cinema, which we should all be able to agree goes against the supposed intention of this particular film. Especially considering that two of the three credited writers for the script are Black. It’s for this reason that Klaw was able to stand out among the rest of the B characters in the movie.
After setting up this very black and white plot, the movie flipped and tossed my expectations out the window. I referred to Andy Serkis’ performance of Klaw as “short lived” because literally minutes after he escapes capture from both T’Challa and the CIA, with the help of two Black people mind you, he gets killed. And by killed I mean shot point blank, by a Black guy, from Oakland, in an almost gang style execution. It’s a very cathartic scene . . . after you’ve already seen the movie. The first time you watch this scene, you’re very surprised, but you don’t get to experience any of the emotional, social, and political overtones of the scene because of the sequence of events leading up to the killing and the person pulling the trigger. What you don’t know till the end of the movie is that Klaw’s executioner, Eric Stevens aka Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan, is a highly educated (I believe MIT), extremely well trained (US SPEC OPS), very socially and historically conscious, direct descendant of the Wakandan throne that had to live his entire life as a lower class African American orphan whose father was murdered by the previous Black Panther and King of Wakanda, who also happens to be his uncle. At this point in the film you also have pretty much zero knowledge of his motivations. All you really know is he’s Wakandan, he has murdered or assisted in the murder of several innocent people on screen, betrayed Klaw, who he was working for up until this moment, and literally in the same scene murdered his supposed girlfriend who also happens to be Black. So when you see this execution happen, you don’t get to experience all that cathartic goodness of seeing a well-educated African American/Wakandan Black man take down a murdering Nazi psychopath that very well may have murdered, not necessarily intentionally, members of his extended family in Wakanda three decades earlier. It’s made clear later in the film that this was all part of Killmonger’s grand scheme. His motivations are two fold because the only thing he seems to hate more than White racists and oppressors is Wakanda for their apathy towards other Black people suffering at the hands of White people around the world. So it was all intentional that he would use Wakanda’s greatest enemy to hurt them only to then turn around and betray him with a shot at point blank. And that’s really what makes this movie so interesting to watch for Black people. It’s a multi-layered web of social and political questions that occur in moral grey areas for the Black community.
This film is difficult to watch as a Black person because it externalizes a longstanding internal debate that pretty much all non-upper class African Americans and presumably many Black people around the world have been thinking about for centuries. Killmonger is not a villain. He’s an anti-hero. He just happens to cause problems for T’Challa and Wakandan tradition, which paints a negative picture of him in the eyes of Black Panther for much of the film. But it’s important to note that even T’Challa feels guilty about Killmonger for most of the movie. It doesn’t help that they are actually cousins that had grown up not knowing each other. By the end of the film it’s safe to say that T’Challa not only sympathizes with Killmonger but actually puts his ideals into practice in a peaceful manner. But we’ll get to that later. Killmonger is one half of this internal debate and T’Challa is the other. By the end of the film we’re asked what the right answer is/was but really it’s impossible to say for sure what the right answer is when you’re a Black person with even a high school level of knowledge about the history of Black peoples around the world and how they have been affected/treated by White peoples. I use the term peoples here rather than people because there is not one homogenous group of White people responsible for all the atrocities against Blacks throughout history nor is their one homogenous group of Black people that have incurred all the suffering of these atrocities directly.
Wakanda is a literal Black utopia. It’s an idealized realization of Afrofuturism, a term that I don’t personally like using, that places Black people in the best of circumstances. It’s a society that is 100% pure blooded Black with no history of slavery, internal prejudice, unfair class divides, poverty, or even drug trafficking and/or addiction. The key premise of this society is that it has always existed, always been ahead of not just the Black curve but the entire Earth curve, and has always remained hidden in plain sight. It’s a culture steeped in ancient tradition that they have adhered to into the modern times even while advancing technologically and socially. This is seen in the fact that they have technologies that make Iron Man look like a kid playing with LEGOs and their entire research and development structure is run by a girl of no more than 20 years old (portrayed by Letitia Wright who is actually 24 in real life). They have advanced well beyond the rest of the world in every facet of technology including but not limited to medicine, weapons development, stealth technology, transportation, clothing production, mining, and even animal husbandry (loved that rhino scene). It is the ideal society of just about every Black person. Even the ones doing well would like to live in Wakanda. The most important tenant of Wakandan tradition is non-involvement with the rest of the world. They do not interfere, they do not give aid, they do not conquer, and they do not wage war even though they are very good at it. Though they do have spies hidden all over the world, their position is that it’s all simply not their problem. They believe, and have pretty much always believed, that in order to preserve their society they must remain hidden and uninvolved with the rest of the world. Publically they present themselves as a third world farming nation with sovereign borders and a functioning monarchist government. They are often referred to as third world within the film and refuse all trade and aid from all countries. They pretty much want everyone to think they’re a poor nation of uneducated farmers that have so little value as a country both economically and in natural resources that no one would even take the time to try to invade, conquer, or even visit their lands.
The key reason for Wakanda’s seclusion is best expressed with a quote from T’Challa’s best friend W’Kabi, played by Daniel Kaluuya (the guy from Get Out). “If we let them in, they’ll bring their problems with them,” he says to T’Challa when asked his opinion about opening their borders and sharing their knowledge with the world. This is not a new idea. It’s not even an original one. We are currently dealing with this very debate right now in reference to Syrian refugees, illegal immigrants from South America, Muslim influence in the West, and a host of other immigration issues around the world. In general, many if not most people believe that foreign influence changes the way a country or culture works and often don’t see that as being a good thing. This is even more apparent when the country in question sees itself as being vastly superior to the country the immigrants come from. It’s the reason our President says things like “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?,” in reference to countries with predominantly Black and Latino populations and favors predominantly White countries like Norway. And if the supportive responses to his comments are any indication, he is clearly not alone in that opinion. This makes even more sense when we’re talking about a country like Wakanda where other people of any race could offer them literally zero benefits technologically, “steal” their technological advancements for their own countries, and in the case of White people, from a historical standpoint, would absolutely attempt to screw up their system of government and racial hierarchy. And many Black people agree with this position coming from the Wakandans. When I was watching the film, I didn’t feel angry or unsympathetic to their position. I understood it completely and had to really struggle over whether or not their position was acceptable. As a Christian, I was raised that when you can help people you should. But as an African American with a minor in history, I was/am very reluctant to support the idea of the Black utopia being ruined, and yes that is the correct word here, by outside influence, especially that of White people. Just look at something small like the history of gentrification in the United States to understand why an African American might feel this way. And let’s also remember that there are no actual laws saying any country has to help any other country fix their problems. Especially when we’re talking about a country with no actual treaties in place. Though Wakanda does appear at United Nations talks both in Black Panther and Captain America 3: Civil War, it’s never clearly stated that they’re even a member of the UN coalition. They have zero obligations to help struggling Black people in other countries or anyone for that matter. It would be nice, of course speaking as an African American, if Wakanda chose to help Black people around the world, because I would stand to gain in a such a scenario. But that’s a clear bias that clouds my objective judgement of the situation or would if it was actually happening and I was for whatever reason asked to give my opinion on the issue. And I feel the feelings I’ve expressed on this specific issue make sense to most people of all colors and are shared by many Black people.
Killmonger’s position is the exact opposite of T’Challa and most of, but not all of, Wakanda. He speaks as the lowest of the low African American. He was born and raised in Oakland until the age of, I believe, nine when his father was murdered, by the Wakandan King and contemporary Black Panther. His mother isn’t actually mentioned in the film but it’s assumed that she was already dead. His position, which is of course formed by his experiences and education, both of which are well expressed in the film, is that White people have and continue to mistreat and oppress Black people all over the world and Wakanda’s refusal to use their superior resources to help Black people throw off the chains of these White oppressors makes them complicit in the continued subjugation of all Black people. He is the physical manifestation of what Black people refer to as “The Revolution”. This is a half joking, half serious ideal that one day all Black people will collectively organize, rise up, and overthrow White oppression through the most extreme and historically relevant measures. Essentially imagine if tomorrow all Black people as a homogenized group picked up the same detailed history book, read all the ways that White people had hurt Black people in the past physically, emotionally, socially, and economically and then reapplied those same practices back towards White people en masse. So basically that means murder, enslavement, denial of education, denial of rights, physical abuse, and if we’re going to be completely honest with ourselves about how people actually behave one has to admit that there would be a large presence of rape and sexual abuse as well. That’s not to say that I’m personally advocating for any of that behavior, and to be clear I’m not. But it’s foolish to pretend like in this revolutionary scenario that Black people would magically apply their form of oppression with some sort of higher moral standing than literally every other application of oppression in any region in the history of the world. If it happened, it would the same way. The only difference would be that Black people would justify the behavior by referencing historical occurrences of the same behaviors in order to dilute the issue from being a serious problem. Killmonger’s position is that the only way to fix the world is to conquer it with Wakandan resources and advanced weaponry and then rule the world with an iron fist that places Black people on top and Whites at the bottom. He’s not seeking or advocating for peace. He’s arguing for revenge. But again, he feels justified in this positon because of his own personal experiences growing up as a lower class African American and because of his knowledge of history. And just like when thinking about Wakanda’s choice to remain uninvolved, Black people as a whole can definitely sympathize with Killmonger’s position. That’s not to say that all, or even most, Blacks support his position as the correct way to approach this issue. It’s just to be honest in saying that we fully understand and have no problem considering this position as one of multiple possible ways to fix our problems as a race.
This is why Black Panther is so hard to watch for Black people. It’s not a straight forward good and evil plot. Once Klaw dies, there’s no real villain. There are simply two opposing opinions, both of which are valid because they’re advocating to help/protect Black people. The only difference is which Black people fall under that umbrella of protection and what’s the best way to do that. And it’s important to note that even before Killmonger shows up, T’Challa and his girlfriend, and presumably the future queen of Wakanda, Nakia already felt an obligation to try to help Black people outside of Wakanda. They didn’t agree on how to do that, but they both agreed that because they could do something they needed to try to do something. So this film tasks the Black viewer with having to choose between preserving the Black utopia or possibly destroying it by trying to help Black people around the world. And it does this by creating a Black versus Black plot that pretty much removes White people from the equation because it’s never assumed that White people couldn’t easily be defeated. Just that war with them may or may not be the correct course of action. Even now I still can’t say with absolute certainty which side of the argument I would side with in a real life scenario. And I know that many people who aren’t Black will take offense to that statement. They will accuse me of supporting racism for not vehemently opposing Killmonger’s position, while totally ignoring the fact that they make the same decision every day by having voted for and continually supporting the current President and administration of the United States, advocating against public healthcare, and fighting to essentially cease all immigration, legal or otherwise if we’re really being honest, of non-Whites. It’s the exact same thing. The only difference is I’m discussing theoretical fantasy scenarios shown in a Disney movie (See what I did there?) and they’re literally advocating to destroy and/or ruin actual people’s lives every day. So no I don’t feel guilty about my fence sitting on this issue. And I can say that as a person who not only has many close White friends and colleagues, but also as someone whose father is a White immigrant to the United States. I of course did not get to benefit from that because of my complexion, but my mixed blood heritage does factor into my opinions on such issues, even though I have always, not always by choice, identified as Black.
Now ultimately the film climaxes with a split decision on the issue. Killmonger takes the throne and begins his plot for benevolent, for specifically Black people at the expense of Whites, world domination, after believing that he had killed T’Challa in ritual combat, as was his right as a member of the royal bloodline. T’Challa had actually lived and returns to retake the throne after an epic battle sequence and the death of his cousin, Killmonger, at his hands. And he takes no joy in that killing. He even tries to save Killmonger’s life, but he refuses help because he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison, stating that death is superior to bondage by referencing slaves that chose to jump off the slave ships in the Middle Passage rather than accept their lives as slaves. Also a very powerful scene. T’Challa’s response to this whole sequence of events and his deceased cousin’s worldview is to agree to tell the world about Wakandan technology and help improve life for Black people through peaceful aid and cultural diffusion. Now personally I didn’t like this ending because I felt like it was too soft because it’s a fence sitting position. But for a Disney film that exists as part of a much larger (and profitable), predominantly White franchise this ending absolutely made sense and I saw it coming a mile away once I knew for certain that T’Challa was going to get the throne back by the end of this movie. You can’t intentionally undercut your franchise target audience in order to make one really powerful film for a specific micro-audience within the market. That’s just bad business. I also think it’s fitting that like me, the two Black writers also were unable to make a hard decision in support of either side of the issue so they chose conclude the film on the fence as well.
I personally think Disney’s decision to greenlight this plot was more calculated than many others might read into it. I think it’s intentional that the film is ultimately a Black versus Black narrative rather than a Black versus White one. In the latter scenario Black people would obviously be the hero and by extension win because the movie is called Black Panther after all. It would be odd if the character’s debut standalone film ended with him losing. Not to mention it would be a PR nightmare. But at the same time making a film about an evil White man trying to destroy Black culture and people only to be defeated and presumably killed in the end would not sit well with the White target audience the MCU is geared towards. This movie had PR problems from certain groups before it was even released. There was even a campaign to destroy its IMDB score on opening day. And this is with the film as a Black versus Black conflict as the central focus. A White main villain would have brought racists out of the woodwork calling the film an anti-White SJW pandering film with pro-immigration undertones. Disney isn’t stupid. They know exactly what they’re doing. They may not be able to stop 100% of blatant racists from trying to destroy the film but they can and did definitely take steps to ensure that the bulk of White viewers would see the film as mostly innocuous from their point of view, which it is. And because of the film’s lack of direct ties to the other MCU heroes and films, people don’t even technically need to see the film to keep track of the rest of the MCU. White people can completely ignore it with little to no consequences. Or they can watch it and see a film about Black people fighting other Black people, ultimately confirming their racial bias about Black communities being violent, disorganized, and self-afflicting. It’s a genius tactic that will ultimately work very well in the grand scheme of things. Black people get a hero and movie for themselves and White people are left unaffected by it. Yet for those who do watch it, they still get Martin Freeman essentially playing the same slapstick sidekick he portrays in Sherlock as a bit of inclusionary comic relief. Plus the presence of not one but two credited Black writers makes it all seem benevolent and inclusionary rather than calculated.
It’s not as if Marvel/Disney doesn’t do traditional, straight forward good versus evil plots in the MCU. Iron Man 2, Thor 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 1, Captain America 1, Doctor Strange, and Avengers all have plots like this. It would have been very easy and justifiable to do it with Black Panther as well. The fact that they didn’t as the first film for the character says a lot, in my opinion. That’s why I truly believe that Black Panther was written the way it was intentionally and for PR reasons.
Ultimately Black Panther is an important film. It marks the first non-White featured hero in the MCU to get their own film as well as the first Black hero to get his own film since like Blade. And thankfully it doesn’t suck. But this was an easy film to get made and sell. Minorities of all colors have been waiting for a non-White focused MCU film since at least Iron Man 3. The film doesn’t directly attack White viewers either overtly or covertly. Whites and Blacks can both watch the film without changing their biases about Black people whether they’re racist viewers or not. What I’m truly curious about is what Black Panther 2, assuming there is one, will look like because eventually Black Panther will have to face a White main villain.