This article was originally published April 15, 2019 at Townhall.com.
We are now just days away from the much-hyped Avengers: Endgame. Sold as the gargantuan 3-hour finale to the 22 Marvel films that have dotted the cinema landscape over the past 11 years, the stakes are high as fake scripts, and on the other also leaks of uncertain truth, secrecy, dramatization, public attention, and ticket pre-sales break anything ever seen not only for a Marvel movie but perhaps any movie in history.
It seems strange at first that the film that very well may become one of the, if not the, highest-grossing film in history originates from a comic book series. Not only a comic book series but one that has struggled in popular imagination over the decades compared to the seemingly more prevalent DC universe with classic American stories such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and more.
However the Marvel movies have been successful I believe not by chance or because of just their incredible cinematic production, intricately woven and redesigned stories, and star actors that not only fit their roles but truly live them. After all, if it didn’t seem like it was Tony Stark pretending to play Robert Downey Jr. or Captain America pretending to be Chris Evans then the Marvel movies may not carry the same dramatic weight and feeling of connection as they have.
Indeed studies have shown those feelings of empathy and really bonding with the world that the Marvel movies operate in is a major reason why large audiences have become so entranced by the films and the various television series that are part of it all too.
The Marvel universe and even Avengers: Endgame are extraordinarily complex, with countless plot points worthy of introspection and analysis. However I think a major reason why the Marvel series has been so successful and why Avengers: Endgame looks to be so ground-breaking is because of how the series’ stories provoke very current societal rumblings and thoughts concerning technological development, most especially artificial intelligence, space exploration, robotics, aeronautics, biotechnology, and more.
When the Marvel series was first written the idea of robots, space flight, AI, and advanced biotech were but fairy tales as the state of said technologies was still quite rudimentary throughout much of the mid to late 20thcentury. However that is no longer even remotely the case as every day we see developments from private space rockets launching into orbit to robots now comprising a large portion of world manufacturing. We see AI, even in still often simple but advancing forms, becoming a daily part of not only nearly every business’ function but also every person, as the past year’s social media data science debates have reminded us. The public excites with pleasure as we image a black hole for the first time.
When we see on-screen “Jarvis,” Tony’s AI system, or “Vision,” the android successor to Jarvis, it no longer seems so abstract and absurd but rather technologies we already have a taste of and many seek to strive to.The same is the case when we see now spacecraft flying around in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” or biotechnologies such as Captain America’s “Super Soldier” advancements or robotics such as Ultron or Tony Stark’s armored suits.
While Marvel connecting well with current technological trends pushing forward in society is a reason for Marvel’s success, conversely Marvel is also pushing societal thought, acceptance, and interest in such technologies. This is essential as we see how many people remain either ignorant, or afraid when informed, about the current extraordinarily advanced state of various technologies being tested and implemented in Silicon Valley, in large multinational corporations, and otherwise.
For example, the fatal accident of an AI-driven Uber in Arizona in early 2018 has stoked public fears about the technology significantly, even if the actual facts of the case show the technology itself was not completely at fault and it paled in comparison to the roughly 37,000 vehicle deaths per year in the U.S. or the roughly 1.3 million worldwide annually.
Our country and world are at an exciting place right now in terms of technology on multiple fronts, from biotechnology to robotics to aeronautical to software. These technologies have rapidly changed and benefit all of our lives in just the past few years and almost assuredly will continue to do so.
The success of Marvel and Avengers: Endgame is representative of our society’s grappling with these new technological revolutions. On the other hand, it is also pushing public query into these technologies in a positive way. And so, while “part of the journey is the end” and it may be so for many characters in Avengers: Endgame, the effect the Marvel movies past, present, and future will continue – to significant benefit to society’s technological interest, acceptance, support, and progress.
This article was originally published March 7, 2019 in The American Spectator.
The long cinematic drought since “Avengers: Infinity War,” with the brief comedic interloping of “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” has finally been broken with the much-hyped “Captain Marvel” starring Brie Larson, Samuel Jackson, Clark Gregg, Ben Mendelsohn, and others. After seeing it down in Richmond, Virginia on Thursday evening at one of its first showings to the public I believe viewers will find that their anticipation will be well-rewarded.
The film begins with action-packed confusion and seemingly a world gone as mad as that of which we briefly glimpse at the end of “Infinity War” and in the “Avengers: Endgame” trailer where half of all life in the universe has been wiped out. In this case the Kree, long an archenemy throughout much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from “Guardians of the Galaxy” to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” appear to be portrayed in a benevolent, heroic, and sympathetic light. We even see some characters whom, in this universe set back decades before the events of the current MCU, we know turn out bad – increasing the feeling of how surreal and foreboding the whole setting is.
As the story progress we see it does not become really any more straightforward than how it began and audiences are set up for a plot as constantly flipping and complex as the shape-shifting Skrulls themselves are. Just as one is never certain if a character in the movie is “real” or Skrull, so the plot itself has so many ups and downs and flips that it is hard to retain any conviction of who’s good or bad, or even what is truly happening, as further layers are peeled off.
The “Captain Marvel” trailer scene of her being flipped and held upside down in a kind of stasis chamber describes well how audiences may too feel after seeing the movie – but in a good way, as it creates a complex plot that in the end feels immensely insightful, rewarding, and well-woven.
The film also connects more deeply to the still uncertain events of “Avengers: Endgame” in a more direct way, at least based on the information we know now, than “Ant-Man and the Wasp” did. With “Avengers: Endgame” coming out soon in late April it seems “Captain Marvel” was well-timed in bringing us back in to the upcoming climatic showdown with Thanos.
With rumors that Captain Marvel and Brie Larson will now be a central part of the MCU going forward as seemingly many previously essential characters will be meeting their ends in “Avengers: Endgame,” we may be seeing much more of Larson and the story built out in “Captain Marvel” as the MCU begins its next stage.
On a broader note, the “Captain Marvel” film itself had caught some controversy before its release due to actress Brie Larson, who stars as Captain Marvel, being vocal about the changes she believes are needed in both the entertainment industry and the media world surrounding it. In many ways Larson is correct in the need for the entertainment world, as well as its ‘evaluators’ in the media, to be more open and accepting of and to people of all backgrounds, as for too long many in the sector have implicitly or even purposely shunned diversity in the mistaken belief that audiences would not accept it.
As box-office-breaking recent films such as “Black Panther,” “Wonder Woman,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” and now “Captain Marvel,” as the first MCU film starring a woman, repeatedly show, American audiences are not only accepting but particularly interested in films that reflect talent representative of and the experiences of all Americans rather than artificially pushing out any group. What Larson is saying and increasingly many others in Hollywood are echoing is that it’s not about ejecting anyone but rather bringing everyone in – as Larson herself said “[w]hat I’m looking for is to bring more seats up to the table. No one is getting their chair taken away…[t]here’s not less seats at the table, there’s just more seats at the table.”
Larson and “Captain Marvel” do a remarkable and excellent job in showing that the MCU can star women as not just a sideshow but a strong center and core. Undoubtedly this breaks barriers and inspires many, including not just women but of all backgrounds, who want to get a fair chance to be able to demonstrate their talent to audiences that similarly want such as well as even beyond the entertainment world.
As a film within itself, “Captain Marvel” does a great job in adding new flair and storytelling freshness to a MCU that is now 21 movies old in just roughly the past decade. But as “Captain Marvel” demonstrates well Marvel Studios and Disney do not intend to let audiences become bored. With “Avengers: Endgame” rumored to perhaps be up to three hours long that initially sounds like quite the challenge but if the skill and ability demonstrated by the MCU’s crafters in “Captain Marvel” is any indication then every minute likely will be savored.
This article was published July 8, 2018 in The American Spectator.
Last week I had the chance to watch “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” which is the 20thfilm in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The sequel to the 2015 “Ant-Man,” which grossed about $519.3 million worldwide, it again stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne, and Michael Douglas as Hank Pym as the characters go in search of Pym’s wife.
I found the film overall a hilarious and family-friendly performance that is much more in-line with some of the early Marvel films, which had a less serious element to them. The plot had some interesting twists and turns, as well as some complexity which all remained relatively contained within the movie.
There were some mentions of the events of “Captain America: Civil War” which set the catalyst for Scott Lang’s house arrest that is the original premise from which the movie starts. The ending also had some unresolved plot points which provide fuel for future sequels, yet it was, as mentioned, the kind of movie where you felt a sense of closure as you left the theater.
That comedic setting and somewhat sense of wrapping up stands in stark contrast to “Avengers: Infinity War,” which had just preceded “Ant-Man and the Wasp” by about two and a half months and is still the subject of immense public speculation and cultural attention.
With still about 9-months till the as-of-yet unnamed “Avengers 4” is released, the events of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” do little in particular to tie into all the theories about how that movie may proceed, particularly amidst persistent rumors of Ant-Man taking an important role in the film.
Though Ant-Man remains a relatively surface-level franchise compared to the bulk drivers of the Marvel film franchise, such as Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers, it still provides a new branch that the other films do not necessarily provide.
Indeed, given the dynamics of the film production industry, that the Ant-Man “series” appeals to an audience and interest the other Marvel movies may not is likely precisely why it was created and continued.
This is the kind of movie and series where one would not hesitate to bring one’s children to watch, as well as providing a light-hearted entertaining skit that requires little deep reflection afterwards.
For some fans, that kind of movie may not be appealing due to its seeming lack of introspection. As one personally who has great appreciation for how the Marvel movies all generally connect together to form a larger co-mingled “universe,” I’ll admit the Ant-Man series’ seeming isolation does not put it on the top of the list for my personal favorite Marvel films, which remains the “Thor” series.
Yet “Ant-Man and the Wasp” does an excellent job at clearly what it is intended to do, which is to provide a large serving of Marvel comedy spiced with a little drama and action. Peyton Reed, Kevin Feige, and Stephen Broussard did an excellent job with this spin-off and Rudd, Lilly, and Douglas all made excellent performances that showed you how comfortable they have become with their characters.
There are some plot twists and turns, as well as intellectual fascinations as will naturally happen when the movie revolves around the “quantum realm.” Supporting character roles played by Michael Peña, Randall Park, and, a favorite music artist of mine, T.I., were natural and incredibly comedic, both individually and as a collective chorus. The anti-hero role played by Hannah John-Kamen was clever, strong, and impactful.
While not one of the crown jewels of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as a sidebar “Ant-Man and the Wasp” nonetheless remains worth the ticket price and watch as a de-stressor as we lead up, with “Captain Marvel” still coming up in-between, to the undoubtedly world-hitting drama of “Avengers 4.”
This article was originally published July 2, 2018 in The American Spectator.
The Marvel movies have captured much of the public mind in recent years, scoring tens of billions of dollars at the box office and entertaining a wide array of audiences. However except for the occasional break such as “Deadpool,” as well as their recent cliffhanger and dark turns, they’ve largely followed a “happily-ever-after…till the next movie” model that plays to a positive optimism.
I recently had the chance to watch one of Marvel’s many derivative television series, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” produced by ABC and Marvel Television, which takes a completely different turn from the primary movies. It is much more gritty and “real,” as in incorporating more of the realities of the nature of military action even amid the science fiction premises.
At now over 110 episodes and 5 seasons, since its pilot in September 2013 its seasons have earned Nielsen ratings of between 3.5 to 8.5 million. Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen, it stars the Marvel-favorite Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet, Elizabeth Henstridge, Luke Mitchell, Brett Dalton, Henry Simmons, Ming-Na Wen, and many more.
One reason why the list of starring characters is difficult to fully list is because of the boldness of the series in doing something that the Marvel movies have often refrained from, namely “killing off” its heroes or other main characters.
Though the series’ premises are obviously science fiction, the series itself does not hesitate in engaging in far more realistic action sequences and storyline developments.
“Good” and “evil” characters do not engage as much in standard movie monologues, rather with the action and deaths happening quickly. Casualties happen, on both sides, with them sometimes as sudden and without prior sentiment as they would be on a battlefield.
There are few Star Wars “Luke vs. Stormtroopers” style “one hero against a battalion” scenes, rather with a far more sensible interplay of the factors involved in the tactical and strategic situations. Action series and choreographed fights are particularly impressive, especially because they embrace a greater element of realism than their standard movie counterparts.
The very nature of “good” and “evil” becomes completely confused as well, as a constant series of frequent betrayals, gray areas, tough decisions, and other complexities make it unclear who is outright “good” and “bad,” even with the series’ heroes.
While there are many action and science-fiction series out there, that Marvel has chosen to begun embracing this variant is a stunning switch in typical cinema and entertainment storylines for such a popular franchise of general interest.
When you take “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and contrast it to the movies, other fascinating and worthwhile deviations become apparent as well. The “realism” of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” stands in stark contrast to the nature of movies such as “Thor” whose very scenario describes the story of a large and accessible universe (literally) and “Gods” who act in it. The characters of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” feel small in comparison, just people trying to do their part amid enormous events and persons moving above their head.
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” remains intertwined with the Marvel movies themselves, such as greatly expanding upon the “Hydra” war storyline that begun in movies such as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” When events happen in the movies, they often have impacts on the television series too.
Yet beyond the extraordinary writing and production, the series also has sociocultural and political impact within itself. The series has been noted for the bold moves it has made in its truly diverse and empowered cast, yet also not pointing that out but rather accepting it as a seamless normal.
In a Hollywood that has often faced criticism over its unwillingness to explore diverse and empowered casts due to worries over audience reaction and market performance, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has shown that you can do it effectively, and profitably, without making it seem awkward or forced.
I greatly enjoyed watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and am excited to see where the series continues to develop, amid Marvel’s large current expanded universe of other successful television series such as “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” and more. I am also excited however for the impact Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will have on the broader entertainment production community and the push towards embracing all the talent our country has to offer.
This article was originally published May 29, 2018.
This past month the long-hyped “Avengers: Infinity War” hit theaters across the world, grossing over $1.85 billion and earning its place amongst the top-selling films of all times. The nineteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), directed by the Russo brothers and distributed by Disney, it was sold to the public as the culmination of the prior Marvel films’ story arcs.
As reports have demonstrated, it has left audiences as shocked as the suspense leading up to it led the public to believe they would be. With a 92% audience rating at movie-rating site Rotten Tomatoes, fans widely praised the smooth integration of many popular characters from past movies, the boldness of story arcs, and were floored by the ending.
The sequel will be coming out in April 2019, leaving viewers an entire year to wonder whatever possible more storylines and conclusions the Russo brothers may have in mind.
The Marvel movies take their inspiration from a comic book series that truly came into a recognizable form to its modern iteration in the 1960’s. Since then it has also spawned a variety of other entertainment products ranging from video games to television series to toy figures.
It was the unveiling of the Avengers movie series that truly brought the series to a broader mass audience, beginning with “Iron Man” in 2008 directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey Jr. as the eccentric billionaire tech-genius Tony Stark.
Since then, it seems like every year there has been a film or two expanding on the endless series of content packed into decades of tangled Marvel storytelling. From 2011’s “Thor” starring Chris Hemsworth, 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” to this year’s blockbuster “Black Panther,” every movie has steadily built up its own profitability, production mechanics, and public brand.
Few movie franchises have achieved what Marvel has done this past decade in consistently producing a series of memorable and high-grossing films. The only franchises that come even close are the eight “The Fast and the Furious” movies from 2001 to 2017, the eight “Harry Potter” films from 2011 to 2011, and the roughly 26 “James Bond” films from 1962 to 2015.
In the future it is doubtless that Marvel will continue producing live-action cinematic and television series, as their “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has also done very well since 2013.
While in the past the Marvel series, as all entertainment and creative stories, have faced a variety of rights issues over intellectual property, they’ve now consolidated enough to give Disney a powerful ability to continue to generate both entertainment content for both the general public and particular audiences for many years to come.
It initially seems strange that comic book stories could so captivate the imagination, attention, and money of so much of the public at large. This is particularly so when we’ve seen the movies from the “DC Comics” universe, such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and more, not perform as well in comparison, with occasional exceptions.
To compare, since DC films began being released in the 1970’s, in recent years mostly owned by Time Warner’s Warner Bros., the 33 films have brought in $9.6 billion in box office gross on a combined budget of $3.2 billion for a profit of roughly $6.4 billion.
In contrast, Marvel’s 19 films since 2008 have brought in $16.7 billion on a budget of $3.7 billion for a profit of roughly $13 billion.
We saw this most prominently in 2017’s “Justice League” movie, which acted in a similar way to the “Avengers” movie as a culmination film bringing together many characters. It only grossed $658 million on a budget of $300 million, compared to the 2012 “The Avengers” gross of $1.52 billion on a budget of $220 million, let alone this year’s “Infinity War.”
It is great for our country that we have such a fascinating and inspiring source of entertainment and thought from the Marvel and DC story universes. The film production studios have also done an incredible job in taking the content and making them into lasting modern works of art, using everything from increasingly advanced computer-generated imagery (CGI) to the best cast of actors and staff in the world.