While our nation fights the novel coronavirus for our health and physical well-being many Americans are also waging a daily battle in the financial markets as we see historic and unprecedented volatility. Many investors can only be left in a constantly shifting cycle of awe, confusion, and grief as one day the Dow Jones Industrial Average drops 1,000-2,000 points, jumps up similarly or the same, and so on and so forth. Monday saw perhaps the worst of that as the 10% rally from the Friday prior faded as the day closed the day down almost 3,000 points.
In some ways it seems the stock market is the last community space left open in the United States as of the moment for interaction and exchange as we see municipalities and states increasingly implement quarantines, large gathering bans, restaurant and business closures, curfews, and now even entire full lockdowns. Amid all this there has been increasing talk of adding in the stock market to that list of shuttered shops in the belief that it may be formulating the next crisis after coronavirus - the economic devastation to workers and businesses from the ripple effects of all this economic chaos.
Shutting down the stock market is an easy solution to a complex problem and is less a fix than a new, and perhaps more troublesome, set of problems. There is U.S. historical precedent for a stock market exchange shutdown for extreme market conditions, primarily as a means to restore confidence and cool panic selling, but those were largely in eras before modern financial markets were as technologically supported, finessed, and sophisticated as they are nowadays. Even during the Great Depression and the 2008 financial crisis the exchanges did not close despite the turbulent and violent volatility.
While many of those nearing retirement and retirees who rely on their individual retirement accounts or 401(k) accounts, and the financial securities in those accounts that seem to be experiencing an unexpected and unending wave of battering, to restrict the ability of those most reliant on the stock market to liquidate assets or pick up assets, for those who luckily prepared cash, would cause them more financial strain than if the markets were open but turbulent. Essentially it would be a freezing of assets for those most needing the income and also would leave them in the dark about the exact level of assets they really have and thus put a wrench in financial planning and security.
This lack of market information from shutting down the exchanges would extend to businesses too. The stock market is essentially a real-time, all-inclusive price discovery tool now made increasingly fast by the power of modern communications and algorithmic technology. While there may be some risks, such as accelerated news and panic based buying/selling, from everyone having a smartphone connected to their brokerage account and the proliferation of high-frequency traders nonetheless this still is the market readjusting itself constantly to price assets, companies, and economies.
A shutdown would also seriously disrupt the primary, but often forgotten, actual function of the stock market which is to raise equity capital for companies. Even amid turbulent market conditions that have caused many companies to cancel share buybacks to preserve liquidity and shelve IPOs due to indiscriminate selloffs when the market finally returns to a sense of calm, and perhaps sooner, companies may well need the ability to raise money through public markets rather than often erratic and uncertain private placements.
The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), through its President Stacy Cunningham, rightly said on Monday amid another selloff day that “[c]losing the markets would not change the underlying causes of the market decline, would remove transparency into investor sentiment, and reduce investors’ access to their money…[t]his would only further compound the current market anxiety.”
Cunningham is precisely right in that even as unpleasant as the current stock market moves may be for consumers, companies, and investors that it remaining open is still more beneficial than it being closed. The stock market’s volatility is the pricing system of the market in action and now in full bloom and testing it limits as each day new and significant news concerning everything from company revenues to economic growth gets priced in.
Among the endless men and women that have walked this Earth few weather the test of time in human memory. Theodore Roosevelt – President, Governor, soldier, explorer, American – stands out as one of that venerable pantheon even 101 years after his death on January 6, 1919.
Known as “The Colonel,” “Teddy”, “Bull Moose,” or “Mr. President,” Roosevelt continues to serve as a source of both policy and personal inspiration to statesman and citizen alike in modern America. Immortalized with Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln in Mount Rushmore, Roosevelt stands in public memory mostly in his lifelong philosophy of personal vigor and grit and immovable Americanism.
“It is not the critic who counts…[t]he credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena” said Roosevelt famously in a speech in Paris in 1910 and which to this day are the words that live on in dotting innumerable YouTube motivational videos. Roosevelt’s lived out that mantra famously as an asthma-stricken and poor-health child who went on to hunt in the Dakota Badlands, lead the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War, become an avid boxer, overcome personal tragedy, and even after his Presidency lead a treacherous and deadly expedition into the Amazon rainforest.
On the policy and political front Roosevelt still holds note through the strongest third-party performance in American history when he and his Progressive Party won 27.39% of the popular vote in 1912. Elevated from obscurity to the most powerful office in the country through the assassination of President William McKinley, he would go on to win the office again in his own right with a landslide electoral and popular victory in 1908 by one of the largest margins in American history to that point.
Roosevelt holds a coveted space to this day among historical political personalities, and across political lines, because of his extraordinary public and personal achievements. He came from wealth and privilege but was a fighter who was not just unafraid but liked to get dirty and rough. In this way he embodied the longstanding trope of the American spirit – wise but hardy, amicable but fierce, respectable but holding one’s ground. As a source of personal inspiration to people since, now, and future these attributes stand out.
On Americanism Roosevelt still holds particular relevance as well. Roosevelt was adamant in his public life that, despite all our individual differences in background, creed, origin, etc., that we are bound together by shared commitment to America’s civic principles and philosophy. Seeing in almost spiritual terms the “Great War” in Europe that would unite America’s melting pot in heretofore unseen ways, Roosevelt expertly pointed out the living truth of our unique American heritage – not by blood, not by origin, but by shared commitment to God-given republican self-government.
At his core, Roosevelt stands out in the beautiful fabric of American history as a patriot and true representation of the American soul. From his disposition to his politics he came to embody and articulate what the general American consensus could come together around. In what was a turbulent time for the country with new waves of immigrants arriving at the “Golden Door,” the Industrial Revolution transforming the nation from public square to home, and a world seemingly on the verge of tearing itself apart, Roosevelt brought out amidst that the core American values that were immutable and eternal.
For the modern American that lives in an age and world vastly different from that of Teddy’s on the social, political, and technological fronts, Roosevelt can continue to be a source of many of those same personal and political values. The ideal of a common American identity, of strength with restraint and vigor with humility, are just as relevant and powerful today as they were when the “Bull Moose” walked this Earth.
Hot chocolate, holiday parties, eggnog, and good cheer characterize this part of the year. It is a time when as a nation we engage in a season of festivities, enjoying the comforts of our loved ones, our friends, time off from work, and a nation at peace and rest.
Yet there are many who won’t be celebrating with their most cherished persons this holiday season. This past Thanksgiving a New York Times article titled “What Thanksgiving Looks Like in a War Zone” reminded us of the men and women of our military who are separated from their loved ones at this and many other times of the year.
November was officially declared National Veterans and Military Families Month in recognition of the sacrifices and separations our service members — and their families — make not only when deployed but nearly every day.
Many service members have shared their stories with me of these unique difficulties unparalleled in the civilian world they protect — service members missing the birth of their children, those who lived with their spouse for just a few months of years of marriage, who have seen relationships and marriages fall apart, all due to the sacrifices needed to protect our great nation.
A military family isn’t left with many options. The spouse and children can travel with the service member as they rotate around military bases every 1-2 years, uprooting themselves and their lives, careers, and communities. The family can also remain in one spot, building a life but living away from their service member family.
Dual military couples sometimes can find a good medium but even then the nature of the duty required can create strains. After all, daily military life even in a non-deployed requirement often requires long days, unexpected interruptions and activities, day-after-day field exercises, convoluted ability to plan things like family vacations, a legal inability to rebalance commitments, strict timeframes, and more.
When deployment comes these stresses increase multifold.
The service member is in an often inhospitable environment facing daily heavy strains, restricted comforts, and constantly anxiously on their toes even if not in combat arms. Their spouse, children, parents, friends, and relatives face the worry of not knowing each day if they will be soon receiving that fateful visit and call, joining the sacred rolls of Blue Star and Gold Star families, as well as having to try to provide and live their lives without their service member.
The 2018 Military Family Lifestyle Survey by Blue Star Families confirmed this with “Time away from family” ranking as the top concern of active duty service members and spouses. It ranked well above issues such as housing and benefits, both of which have been — rightly — the focus of much public attention.
It is reassuring that the American people and our elected representatives when confronted with these issues are tireless in trying their best to address them. In the most recent National Defense Authorization Act these measures included a large pay raise and various attempts to address housing, household goods, childcare, and other essential family support areas.
Yet amid all this service members and military families grit their teeth and take these sacrifices — amid countless other strains unique to military service — for the greater good for serving and protecting our nation. Perhaps the greatest resources for service members are other service members, as all who join this brotherhood and sisterhood experience the hard way the demands it requires.
This holiday season we should enjoy as much as we can the prosperity, security, and opportunity that those standing watch on the wall have given and provide us. At the same time it is worth giving a thought — and a prayer — for our nation’s military members and their families too who each and every day endure, fight, and win for the greatest country in the history of the world.
I recently embarked upon some OCONUS (Outside Continental United States) military leave in Japan.Among the items I brought in was a Bible for some spiritual solace in my travels — an act that for centuries in Japan would have gotten me perhaps the death penalty, let alone even setting foot in the nation outside of special port zones, under the 220-year “Sakoku” anti-foreigner and anti-Christian policies.
Japan is a nation that has seen immense change in recent times.
Just 75 years ago it was a determined U.S. enemy, striking us at Pearl Harbor, American troops fighting it island by island, and even it being the only nation for us to have used nuclear bombs on — to prevent millions of deaths from an invasion of mainland Japan given the savagery shown by the Japanese militarists. Nowadays it is a steadfast U.S. ally, enormous trading and cultural partner, and absolutely fundamental to our Asian security strategy.
At the same time Japan also rose from a devastated post-war ruin to briefly challenging the U.S. as the top world economy circa the late 1980s and early 1990s. The century prior it had gone from one of the world’s most modernization-resistant countries to embracing reforms and technology the quickest and most thoroughly of all the Asian nations.
Some of those trends have continued. One of the developments that became most apparent to me in Tokyo was how seamlessly integrated technology was into daily life everywhere and anywhere. Ubiquitous was the WiFi and high speed rail system, the self-opening doors and food ordering stations. Combined with the cleanliness, low level of crime, and a general sense of efficiency and order it was easy to see the high level of infrastructure and quality of life the Japanese have embraced.
It also was clear how strong the modern links between the U.S. and Japan are.
Besides the numerous U.S. military bases dotted across the country, I was amazed at the prevalence of American commercial brands and how it often seemed English was as common, if not more so, as Japanese was in signs and literature.
Modern Japan appears to be a pleasant nation that embraces the noble aspects of its history while having let go of the evil that led it in World War II to slaughter tens of millions of innocents — and causing 426,000 U.S. casualties in the Pacific Theater — in horrifying fashion everywhere from the Bataan Death March to the Rape of Nanking to the human shields of Okinawa civilians just less than a century ago.
Since U.S. Navy Commodore Matthew Perry “opened” Japan to the world in the 1850s, America has always had a role to play with this nation and region all the way across the world. It was America that put an end to the authoritarian oppression of Japan’s racist militarists, brought those responsible to justice in the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, and gave the nation the tenants of liberal democracy and human rights as America did with Germany too.
Japan has influenced the United States as well. Some key parts of our popular culture come from Japan in the form of video games, cuisine, and television shows and movies. Tourism and exchange between the U.S. and Japan is top among America’s partners.
Japan has come a long way over the centuries. It is a beautiful, advanced, and free nation — and in many ways that liberty and prosperity has been secured and protected, to this day, by the blood of the American servicemember.
Undoubtedly over the next decades Japan will continue to play a key role as America’s friend and partner for Asian and world security and peace as well as in trade and cultural exchange. I was honored to have had the chance to witness this fascinating, humble, and rich in culture and soul country myself.
It was one year ago I left the cushy confines of the Washington, D.C. political world and arrived at Fort Benning, Georgia, to begin service to my nation as a United States Army officer. While in D.C. I had worked on and in media spoke on a variety of national security and defense policy issues now I was going to firsthand partake in the gritty groundwork of securing our nation.
After a year swirling around bases and seeing the functioning of our armed forces firsthand, I’ve personally come to believe even more how technology is increasingly not only becoming an essential military driver but perhaps the most important one of our foreseeable security future.
War is no longer fought with grand armies facing off on some forsaken battlefield just as security is no longer in troop numbers or fortresses. In the latter half of the 20th century nuclear weaponry was seen as the holy grail of protecting a state’s existence, a technological ward against any and all due to its destructive capability.
The 21st century has rapidly shown how the cyberspace, hardware, artificial intelligence, and aeronautical realms are the fields on which military dominance and security can be achieved. Unmanned drones have permitted everything from surgical strikes deep in enemy territory to reconnaissance to reducing the need for frontal assaults at all. Cyberspace, due to the reliance of much of the world economy, society, and government operations on the Internet, is increasingly a “battlefield” in which coders, hackers, and more compete for superiority, resources, and control.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is at the forefront of immense frontier developments in artificial intelligence for automating vast tasks previously undertaken - and risked - by boots on the ground. Low Earth orbit - and beyond - are increasingly sensitive and a realm in which protection is needed due to the prevalence of satellites and other uses of space, as the recently revitalized U.S. Space Command and potential U.S. Space Force may address.
Just as how the development of firearms changed the strategies and demands of warfighting from those of armor-clad knights and spear-wielding infantry so do our modern security requirements significantly change how we need to prepare and adapt to properly protect the United States and its interests in this technology age.
"If Mark Zuckerberg decided that he wants to serve his county in the military, we could probably make him an E-4 at cyber command” said a former Pentagon personnel chief in 2016 of the Facebook CEO. “There was no way to have him come in with the stature his professional abilities demand” said him in a follow-up in 2018. That recently changed, as the military has begun potentially offering direct commissions even up to the rank of Colonel for those deemed especially at need for our country’s defense, particularly in the cyber and technological realm.
As the 21st century moves forward we are likely to see the move towards not just a technology-supplemented but technology-based military security strategy. A future of wars fought almost entirely by machines, controlled and overseen - or not in the case of self-automated ones - by military persons back at headquarters, is not entirely guaranteed. Yet, with current trends, it’s not too far off a possibility either.
A bigger question too is how our military and society will adapt too as these changes become increasingly prevalent and demanded. I saw firsthand in Washington, D.C. how concerned policymakers are over the increasing security implications of rapid technological developments, many of which are well outside the realm of government control but still with immense, dramatic impact.
The 20th century was the age of technology in the sense of human-controlled and operated machines. However the 21st century will be the one in which we see machines increasingly operating on their own, designed and programmed and set loose. The impact and effects remain uncertain and pending.
“...I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…”
It was approximately one year ago that I left my Washington, DC “swamp life” and commissioned into the United States Army as an active-duty officer. I joined a fraternal family - millions strong and centuries old - sworn to defend unto death the United States of America and the values of liberty we represent, cherish, and live out.
Trading the cocktail receptions and hobnobbing of D.C. media and policy life, which I had spent the better part of the last decade in, for trudging countless miles through the thick Georgia forest hours before dawn, clad in Army gear, was initially quite the shell shock. I realized how few of my former colleagues truly understood the task I - and so many others before, with, and after me - was now undertaking. On the whole dramatically less Americans have been serving in our nation’s armed forces in recent years and particularly so in our nation’s chief policymaking center.
I personally believe the United States Armed Forces stands at an exciting in its and our nation’s history. We are in an age where technology has taken utmost importance in warfighting, whether in the form of drones, the cyber domain, aeronautics and space, vehicles, production and support, and more. At the same time our nation is moving from the focus on counter-insurgency warfare of the past years back to great power rivalry, however this time in the settings and environs of the increasingly aging 21st century.
America has fought back countless enemies that threatened our and global security since the Revolutionary War. Our prevailing advantages have always been the strength of our will, the innovativeness of our minds, and the diversity of our perspectives. In those fundamentals we are no different now than we were back throughout the centuries, even if we must be constantly adapting to a changing military, technological, diplomatic, and social domestic and world landscape.
After a year in the military I’ve also gained even greater respect for those who served in our armed forces and make incredible sacrifices each and every day to defend all our economic, social, and cultural flourishing in the United States. These sacrifices come not only on the battlefield but, as I saw, with family life, free time, physical strain and injury, pay, freedom of travel, of settling down, and so much more.
At the same time there are numerous ways our servicemembers still are not getting the treatment they deserve. The military healthcare system, not even touching on the VA, continues to undertreat our servicemembers, many of whom’s ills are military-related, through long wait times, restrictive policies for seeing outside providers, poor treatment, convoluted bureaucracy, and more.
Military pay issues are a dime a dozen, with servicemembers often waiting many pay periods and struggling through mind-boggling layers of government to get the salary and benefits they deserve - with no compensation for that delay. And - and the same time our military fights for technological supremacy - our servicemembers are mired down in non-digital paper copies routing for everything from simple memorandums to leave/vacation requests.
Our servicemembers retain hardy souls and, as many well remember, are taught to “hunt for the good stuff” - to look on the bright side of things and remember the nation we are fighting for and that has our back. Indeed at a time of historic domestic polarization the military retains its status as the most trusted American institution. This trust is not without good reason - the United States Armed Forces remains a pillar of integrity and honor and of diversity and integration, standing above the partisan fray. It is up to my fellow servicemembers and I to each day re-earn and reinforce that solidarity and belief.
Each day in the United States Armed Forces is an honor and privilege. It is a feeling of being part of an unbroken line of guardians of freedom who have, through their sweat and blood, kept secure in the truest sense the United States of America and its people since our republic’s founding.
China has been in the news a lot lately as pro-democracy protests have erupted in Hong Kong and the Trump administration continues to engage in hardball trade negotiations with them and other countries.
China and its almost 1.4 billion people, as a country in contrast to its current state apparatus, is no greater belligerent inherently than any other nation. However, its Communist government — the People's Republic of China (PRC) — has become increasingly hostile in recent years and has laid out a difficult foreign policy dilemma for the United States in both the present and long-run.
As we grapple with the PRC and their wide variety of military, economic, and social policies and actions, and its increasingly oppositional stance to the United States, we should be exact and informed on what kind of opponent we are dealing with and to what degree.
In the PRC’s early years it was eminently hostile to the United States. The U.S.-backed Republic of China (ROC), our ally in World War II, had been forced by the PRC off the mainland onto the small island of Taiwan. The new PRC, led by Mao Zedong, quickly found itself on not just the verbal but military battlefield against the United States directly in the Korean War and indirectly through countless proxy conflicts across the globe.
That would change when President Richard Nixon “opened” the PRC and brought it as an uneasy partner into not the free world but an anti-Soviet alliance. Mao Zedong after all was a tyrant responsible for the slaughter, labor camp, and starvation deaths of tens of millions of persons under his control as well as the torture, imprisonment, and subjugation of countless more. This strange but increasingly close partnership would continue until the fall of the Soviet Union as the PRC had already seen a number of ideological, economic, foreign policy, and even military conflict with the USSR.
By the mid to late 1980s and early 1990s there was great optimism for the PRC. Deng Xiaoping, China’s new primary leader, led numerous reforms that increased economic freedom in China and spurred hope for political freedom as well. Those hopes were quashed in the blood of the Tiananmen Square massacres in 1989 but the dreams of liberty still remained.
The next two and a half decades actually saw enormous, optimistic, bold, and serious moves towards political freedoms in the PRC — a “Glasnost” of sorts — even under the boot of the Communist Party. Powered by the internet, countless billions in foreign investment and international corporate activity, major freedom of travel, a move towards “leadership by committee and consensus,” and increasing internal pro-U.S. sentiment, many began to refer to China as a capitalist country but, only in name, still Communist.
That unfortunately mostly reversed in dramatic fashion this past half decade. That receding is a demonstration of how sensitive liberty is without engrained checks and balances and how quickly it can revert to authoritarianism. The internet in the PRC has become a censored keyhole to the wider net and a tool for citizen monitoring. Foreign companies have faced an uncertain environment as perceived openings by the PRC have been shaky. Anti-U.S. activities have increased dramatically, as the PRC seeks to build out its own international network, often in cooperation with the Russian Federation, in rivalry to the U.S. and free world.
This has all created a difficult situation for the United States. The last few decades have seen enormous exchange and interconnection that is difficult to unravel and yet is increasingly posing serious security and economic challenges. It still is unclear whether the PRC should still be pushed towards opening with a detente policy or fought against with a containment policy.
Whatever the case, we are at a pivotal point for U.S.-China relations and what will undoubtedly be one of the most defining and challenging relationships of the 21st century. Our nation must remain clear eyed on what the PRC is and the complexity of its, and our, past, present, and future.
A billionaire businessman and political outsider ran for office against the establishments of both parties. He promised to bring jobs back to the United States, renegotiate trade agreements, and restore the American worker’s voice in government.
No, I am not talking about — in this case — President Donald J. Trump. I am talking about Ross Perot, who passed away on July 9 at the age of 89.
Looking back, Ross Perot’s 1992 campaign seems even more improbable. Besides the occasional policy and political activity that all persons of wealth and influence find themselves sometimes engaging in, he was a complete political novice. He had no campaign infrastructure and faced both a successful incumbent Republican President and a youthful and charismatic middle-of-the-road Democratic contender.
Yet he spoke to something that rang with the hearts and souls of millions and millions of Americans. His warpath against the then-proposed NAFTA spoke to citizens in middle America who were left confused, hurt, and hopeless as their factories had already began shuttering and manufacturing jobs fleeing for parts unknown.
He wanted to balance the federal budget, to fight special interests, give a voice to frustrated Americans, and shake up Washington in a fundamental way, as he described in his aptly-named August 1992 book “United We Stand: How We Can Take Back Our Country.” His call for electronic town halls, years before the invention of social media, inspired citizens to think about how they could participate directly in national public policy in a nation as large as the United States had become.
The American people soon took note. In April 1992 he polled 24% in Gallup against President Bush’s 44% and Governor Clinton’s 25%. Yet by May he had risen to 35% to Bush’s 35% and Clinton’s 25%. In June he actually led both, as he reached a high of 39% support to Bush’s 31% and Clinton’s 25%.
As Charles Krauthammer prophetically said in July 1992: “Perot represents no party. He does not even pretend to. Perot is a one-man-band… [he] signifies something larger, deeper…the growing obsolescence of the great institutions… technology makes it possible to bypass them.”
Yet popular support wasn’t enough. He faced the daunting legal task of — without a party — navigating the independent ballot access laws of over 50 states. Yet despite immeasurable hurdles — and fierce resistance from both the Democratic and Republican Parties — Perot became an option in every single state.
Even the “establishment” began wavering. He hired as bipartisan co-campaign managers Hamilton Jordan, who had managed President Jimmy Carter’s successful 1976 campaign and served as his White House Chief of Staff, and Ed Rollins, who had managed President Ronald Reagan’s successful 1984 campaign and served in the White House under him.
Perot’s campaign eventually floundered due to a series of gaffes from July 1992 onwards, him dropping out of the race on July 16th only to re-enter on October 1st, as well as a campaign that meandered in an uncertain direction as staff cycled through and priorities and emphasis was left unclear and uncertain. Yet despite all of that, any of which would be unthinkable in a major party campaign otherwise, he won over 18.9% of the popular vote in an election that saw voter turnout soar to reverse a decades-long decline.
While Perot would try again in 1996 nonetheless it was clear his moment had passed. He still achieved the highest non-major party vote since essentially our country’s founding, minus when a former “Bull Moose” President of unique character and personality tried in 1912. Movements have a spark and momentum. While it is unclear if he could have truly reasonably won in 1992, nonetheless his impact on American history was clear, lasting, and perhaps led to our political and civic history of recent and current years.
As former Texas Governor Rick Perry recently wrote, long after his campaign Perot remained true to looking out for struggling and forgotten Americans in many ways. Indeed that demonstrates how Perot — a Navy officer veteran and IBM salesperson who rose to entrepreneurial billionaire status — never forgot the people of this country he grew up with in East Texas.
His spirit was fundamentally American, whereby no matter our wealth, power, or fame we still look out for and care for our fellow person. He embodied that civic duty and lived out it out in a way few did and could, as he strove to be a crusader for those of his fellow countrymen he believed were being left behind.
Rest in peace, Ross — America will always remember you.
Packed concession lines. Rowdy children. A sense of buzz and excitement in the air like a festival. Several super fans dressed in costume. Here I was, at last, in the same place as countless others across the world – Avengers: Endgame opening night.
As the last trailers finished, a great silence came across the packed theater. A mix of anticipation and dread, as we began upon what has been advertised as the conclusion to Marvel Studios’ epic 22-film historic run over this past decade.
Leaving the theater 3-hours later, even though it felt far, far, shorter, I could only be in awe.
Avengers Endgame serves as a perfect conclusion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Undoubtedly there are more films to be made but the interconnected web that was built up, nurtured, and bloomed as the “Avengers” movies came to a beautiful end that feels both right and final.
Initial critics reactions to the film have described frequent teary moments during the movie and for those who have invested in the Marvel universe that will be almost inevitable, as the dreadful events of Avengers: Infinity War now settle into their universe-wide effects.
Endgame however is not “Infinity War 2.” It is its own film and that quickly makes itself felt and apparent. Infinity War, a magnificent achievement, was also the necessary connector to bring together the intertwining of all these different characters’ stories. Endgame therefore does not need to spend time on that setup and uses that opportunity to explore subtle themes in deeper ways that are only possible due to the intricate stories built up through the MCU movies of this past decade.
As viewers of Endgame will quickly come to see and the advertising of the film emphasized heavily, heroism and sacrifice are felt deeply in ways that the other MCU films touched upon. However Endgame is able to bring weight to these themes due to the deep stories that have been crafted over the series, allowing an introspective understanding of what it means to put others above oneself that not only hasn’t been seen before in the MCU but in much of the rest of cinematic history.
As I’ve implied, to fully appreciate Endgame one will need to have seen a good few of the prior movies and have invested in the story to a level deeper than say a viewer watching 2012’s Avengers or 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron needed to.
The flow of Endgame is constant and steady, with a swirling shift between suspense, humor, and action that revolves frequently enough to allow the audience to experience, rest, think, and then repeat.
The film’s exploration of the ideas of heroism and sacrifice are particularly worth noting. Many of the films characters have put themselves in harms way before and taken actions that could very well have been devastating or fatal, according to the rules of the MCU. However loss is undoubtedly also measured not only by the action itself taken but by what one is giving up in the process.
Our Marvel heroes – Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and more – have made America and the world dream and wonder for years with extraordinary cultural and philosophical impact. It feels like a deep moment in our collective spirit has passed with the conclusion of the MCU for all intents and purposes.
In many ways too the MCU had run its course, at least in its current fundamental form. There is only so much that can be built up in a connected story, even in a universe as complex and big as the one the MCU developed. Endgame found the right point to close it up and drive home the stories and ideas it had built up over so many years.
Nonetheless, the ideas and themes that the MCU inspired have made an impact on countless millions across the globe. Those beliefs in service, integrity, honor, sacrifice, hard work, brotherhood and sisterhood, family, friends, teamwork, and dedication to a higher calling are positive ideas the MCU has nurtured.
As time moves forward, undoubtedly the impact of the MCU – and Endgame’s incredible and necessary conclusion to it – will continue to be felt.
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.
Re-prints of some of my columns. NOTE: I ran a national weekly column from 2017 to 2018 printed/distributed by newspapers in dozens of states across the country. The 2017-2018 blogs in this section are re-prints of the national column.