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A Challenge

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) by Joe Johnston

It was just after this movie came out that I think I realized the scope of the MCU for the first time. That there would always be more movies and more stories. And I was reluctant to enter into something that asked for a commitment. So this is one of the movies I skipped at the movies and it wasn’t really a hard choice. I mean, with Iron Man I was curious what Robert Downey Jr. still had in him; The Incredible Hulk I also did not see at the movies because I really didn’t care and didn’t know the movies would be connected. With Thor, there was my interest in mythic stories (I’m more of a Greek myth person, really, but I don’t mind the Norse Gods at all) and it was directed by Kenneth Branagh.

When I finally did watch Captain America, I did like it and also him but my initial reluctance may actually be linked to a bigger problem the first avenger faces worldwide.

What happens in the movie?

Skinny little Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) wants to fight in World War II but being skinny and little are only two problems that have recruitment bureaus rejecting him. Seeing his buddy Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) in his uniform doesn’t exactly boost Steve’s confidence but then a chance encounter with Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) lands Steve one of the top spots in a very special recruitment competition – one to make a supersoldier.

Suffice it to say, Steve wins that competition – not by being the best or strongest but by being compassionate and smart. He becomes a supersoldier but he remains the first and only one because Erskine is assassinated right after making Steve big and strong. The army loses interest in an experiment that can’t be continued and Steve is forced to help the war effort by selling war bonds. Until the day he learns that his friend Bucky has been captured and possibly killed by the enemy.

It’s strange looking at the concept of this film and realizing how many boxes it ticks with me. I don’t necessarily come from a superhero-loving background but the 1940s have a special place in my heart – movie-wise. I’m also interested in history, especially WWII. And who doesn’t love an underdog story?

Captain America, though? The hero’s title doesn’t really invite international audiences, does it? You don’t need to be anti-American to be little enthused about a hero that seems to embody America’s special brand of patriotism. The German distributor of Marvel films actually chose to drop the Captain America-part for the second and third movies, calling them The Return of the First Avenger and The First Avenger: Civil War respectively. This first outing of Captain America made around 370 million Dollars worldwide, only The Incredible Hulk made less. Successful? Yes, but not an instant hit.

Many of us probably only started liking Steve Rogers when he became part of the avengers. It’s a pity, though, because Captain America: The First Avenger is a great movie. Steve is instantly likable, even as he struggles with multiple illnesses that keep him on the short side. He wants to fight, he thinks he has no right to stay home when others lay down their lives. He’s a good guy and that’s what makes him the perfect candidate for the supersoldier program.

The likability of the character is an important factor, especially considering international audiences. But it also makes Steve a little bit bland. He operates in a politically divisive climate and the filmmakers were very aware to make Steve inoffensive. This is not about killing Nazis, really, it’s about modern audiences viewing a time in which it was not just okay but necessary to kill Nazis. Having a good guy kill people (and Captain America probably killed more people than any of the other Avengers) is problematic. And so Steve is a nice guy, a guy we trust in to do the right thing. To further us being okay with him killing Nazis, they made Hydra a faceless mass (yes, they went a step further by making the main antagonist literally faceless), they’re just people in black combat uniform with masks over their faces.

I guess all this explains why the first avenger is also the last to arrive on the scene, just before The Avengers is released. So much was build on how successful Iron Man was but it was also crucial that the other avengers did well. Making Steve inoffensive, making Hydra faceless, at the same time making The Howling Commandoes more diverse (with an Asian-American, a French, and a British soldier in their mix) than they were in the comics, and going as far as giving Steve a Britsh love interest in Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), everything was designed to appeal to a wide audience. Only, in Captain America, it shows more than in the other movies.

It’s still a great movie, underrated I think. I really like Steve Rogers but I LOVE Peggy Carter. Maybe it’s because, thanks to the tv show Agent Carter, I’ve spent more time with her than with Steve or any of the other avengers. It’s really a pity that she’s stuck in her time period and thus less accessible to the wider MCU stories. They put her in as often as they could and I’m glad for it. Agent Carter should’ve had a longer run, Peggy’s one of my faves.

A little sidenote: I’m glad, Captain America: The First Avenger didn’t have American actors attempt to speak German. It’s really difficult to understand them in most cases because their speech rhythm is usually off. Instead, they opted for the ‘German’ characters to have German accents in their English. Hugo Weaving does an especially good job at this. They probably did it for English-speaking audiences but as a German viewer, I’m ever so grateful.

Well, if you can make time and give this a rewatch I’m sure you won’t regret it. In light of what happened in Endgame, I think it’s nice to see how Steve and Peggy’s romance started (I like them together, of course, if I had a say in it I would’ve liked for Steve to be with Bucky and Peggy to be with Angie but as long as it has to be heteronormative…).

Next: The Avengers (where everything comes together)

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What’s Missing Here

Black Widow (2010) by Absolutely Nobody

Before I go on to talk about Thor, I wanna take this space to talk about a missed opportunity. Because between Iron Man and Thor, there should have been Black Widow. Ideally, an origin story but I think many of us would’ve even gone for whatever happened in Budapest with Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Barton (Jeremy Renner) – now we’ll never know.

And it still makes me mad, to be honest. The one thing, the DCEU did right (and better than MCU) was not to sideline their female hero. They were positive that Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) would sell and sell she did – in a movie that most people (me included) would consider their best so far.

I already talked about how little I liked Black Widow’s introduction in Iron Man 2 but the problem got bigger from there because Marvel chose to ignore it. I came to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a babe, I knew nothing about the characters and only by chance did I become a fan. What always irked me, however, was the treatment of the female heroes, how they were seemingly forgotten. I’m aware this doesn’t just apply to female heroes, it applies to anyone who’s not white and straight, but for me it was most striking with Black Widow because I didn’t recognize her as a hero.

This doesn’t often happen to me. I usually very clearly identify people’s rightful place within a narrative but when Romanoff came out of nowhere in the donut shop (in a black latex catsuit, no less) I was at a total loss what Tony’s (Robert Downey Jr.) assistant was doing there. I mean, I was kinda aware that Natalie Rushman was something else, maybe a corporate spy or something… but a hero…

All right, you may say that she’s not technically a hero with her background of being a double and triple spy. Or maybe you simply don’t think of her as a hero because ‘well, she works for S.H.I.E.L.D. and also they didn’t give her her own movie’ (I hope you read that in annoying internet troll fanboy voice). But that’s exactly the point. Marvel chose not to give her a movie, didn’t even think she needed one. And that was their mistake, not Black Widow’s.

She’s a hero and Marvel did her dirty. They’re trying now to remedy that fact with a kind of cinematical homage but too long they have ignored us telling them we wanted a Black Widow movie. In about two months, there will be a Black Widow movie and I’m going to watch it, too. But I do feel that at this point it’s bound to disappoint. Because almost ten years have passed from when they had the perfect opportunity to introduce us to Natasha Romanoff, ten years!

We saw her in Iron Man 2 and after taking out Hammer’s complete security team we were like: ‘WHO THAT?! WE WANT!’ But they did not give, instead they made her out to be some sort of personal bodyguard/spy to Nick Fury and eye-candy within the film. They basically assassinated her character before they even told us that she was an assassin.

This is one example of a bigger problem, though. Marvel has pushed female characters into a margin early on. We have the Pepper Potts-characters – love interests to the hero and in a way certainly reward to the hero. And then we have the Christina Everharts – secondary female characters who’re little more than eye-candy, can also be the comical relief or even the villain, I guess. And that’s basically it. They didn’t make space for a female hero. Maybe they thought along the line, maybe, there would be a Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), or a Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), but can you honestly tell me that they even planned to give any of them their own movie? Had DC not made Wonder Woman would there even be a Captain Marvel movie?

I think not, and that’s a problem. Yes, now they’re trying to remedy that fact. With a Black Widow movie, with an Eternals movie (where some of the male characters have been made female), with putting Wasp on the same level as Ant-Man. But it’s so late. Equal representation is not something you sit and wait on, and that goes for all types of humans. If you plan to open a universe, don’t sit on more than 50% of your characters… and I can’t believe I still have to spell that out in 2020!

Can you imagine the kind of stories we could’ve already had, had they put out an early Black Widow movie? And origin story for Black Widow – and have you read about her origin, holy shit! Or an extra-cool spy thriller! Or maybe both? She could’ve killed so many world leaders already! (That last one is my special brand of humor, deal with it!) The Maximofs could’ve had their own movie, Hope Van Dyne could’ve been the Wasp all along… missed opportunities.

If you think that all this is redundant, you’re welcome to your own opinion. But I think as long as this doesn’t change, and one female superhero movie doesn’t mean change – it’s more of a bandaid, really – it must be said. As much as I love Marvel movies, I hate that they dropped the ball on this.

So, Marvel, dear Marvel, give me more female heroes. Make so many movies about female heroes (and black heroes and brown heroes and queer heroes) that their numbers equal those of straight white heroes. Because everybody goes to the movies and everybody likes to see themselves represented (and might actually watch a movie with their special representation more than once).

Next: Thor (for real, this time)

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A Hero Emerges

Iron Man (2008) by Jon Favreau

It’s been almost twelve years since Iron Man graced the big screens with his inflated ego, his quips, and a new cool-nerd presence. You may wonder why I chose to write about him now that his story seems officially over within the Marvel Cinematic Universe that he launched.

Well, I’m in the process of going back, you see. To the beginning. When I didn’t feel compelled to watch all MCU movies at the theater, to when I didn’t even know about most of Marvel’s heroes and wasn’t really interested either way.

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You see, Iron Man and Marvel have changed my perception and understanding of superheroes in much the same way that Kenneth Branagh and Much Ado About Nothing changed my understanding of Shakespeare – in that they made it possible. Up until Iron Man, the most I’d seen of superheroes were Batman (who I don’t like as a character) and Superman (whose 80s movies are awfully dated and whose 90s show I can’t watch anymore because Dean Cain voted for Trump), so I’m not what you call target audience for any kind of superhero franchise. There’s the added difficulty that while I loved 90s superhero shows, they all had female protagonists (what a time to be alive to watch Xena: Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Star Trek: Voyager within the same week, that’s the most representation of female heroship I remember from when I was growing up!) and let’s face it: Marvel, as well as DC, still have to up their game on that front.

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And yet! And that’s why I’m here because Iron Man and his cohorts lured me in despite myself. I watched all the movies, plus Agent Carter, plus a lot of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., bloopers, WHIH Newsfront, what have you. I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard fan, just someone who enjoys – a lot. And before any questions come in as to my background: I’ve never read a single Marvel comic (I only own two DC comic books, both Wonder Woman), I only recently watched a Marvel animated series (The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes) on Netflix (and didn’t have time to finish it before they pulled it), and I enjoyed the Marvel superhero game on Facebook which is also long gone but gave me a view of the vast line-up of heroes and their superpowers. So, if you now think my opinion is not worth your time, so long, but if you’ll like to know what I’ve got to add to the subject, great to have you.

Back to Iron Man:

I had the perfect intro here that I had to revise because upon checking my collection of movie tickets (dating back to the earliest from 1993, I was serious about the nut part in movie nut), I found out that I did watch Iron Man at the theater. So the year is 2008, I’m studying North American Studies in Berlin (the one in Germany, yes) and I must have been shocked seeing Robert Downey Jr. in a trailer. So much so, that I went and watched Iron Man.

For those who don’t know what it’s about:

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is making good money selling weapons to the U.S. Military. However, as he finds out while being kidnapped in the Middle East, the military is not his only buyer. A group calling themselves the Ten Rings wants him to build his newest weapon, the Jericho, in a cave from parts of his other weapons. Instead, Tony Stark builds his first Iron Man suit and leaves captivity.

ironman3

Back home, he finds himself conflicted by what he’s seen and wants to shut down the weapons manufacturing part of his business. But that doesn’t go over well with his closest friend/adviser Obidiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) who’s been the one behind Tony’s kidnapping and wants to take over Stark Industries. Iron Man emerges, having to fight (not for the last time) his own creation.

Iron Man is a great origin story. It may not be entirely new (the rewatch invoked thoughts of Hamlet in me) but it’s still a fantastic watch and a great start into a new universe – multiverse even. Robert Downey Jr. carries this iconic character almost effortlessly, transforming into the character but also making him his own – it’s a perfect symbiosis that way. And he isn’t the only recognizable actor by a long shot: Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow, and even director Jon Favreau round out an ensemble that would make any movie proud – Paltrow and Favreau in recurring roles. The movie is perfectly paced, mixes storytelling with action with fun.

And this is really what drew me in – imagine knowing only Batman (and only loving him in that wacky 60s show) and then coming across Iron Man. Yes, they do have similar backstories, yes, they’re both super-rich and don’t have superhuman abilities. But similarities end there. Tony is nothing like Bruce and that is his strength because you don’t have to sit through another bleak version of Gotham City and see its strongest hero flagellate himself (metaphorically) over the deaths of his parents over and over again. Tony has a sense of humor where Bruce has only depression. I know that there are voices out there who think Marvel is overdoing its trademark quips at the disadvantage of earnest storytelling. But if DC movies are the alternative then, please Marvel, keep making inappropriate jokes.

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It’s astounding to read that Iron Man was never the biggest draw among Marvel’s comics because he’s become the biggest draw in the MCU and we’ll have to see how Marvel manages without him (if they will, who knows what’s gonna happen?).

There has been talk about how superhero movies are not great cinema or whatever another old white director-dude has shouted at a cloud lately (no, not a Scorsese fan here) – this is, of course, bull. For one, if you look at Iron Man alone, it’s positively Shakespearean (with the uncle-figure trying to kill the heir-apparent of the throne and such), for another: how dare you? Superheroes have been around almost as long as mobsters and have actually done the world some good, so there!

Iron Man is a very entertaining movie, you won’t even notice that two hours have gone by since sitting down (and don’t forget to watch the post-credits scene like I did last night). The MCU couldn’t have chosen a better character or actor to introduce us to their (lesser-known) stories. It didn’t necessarily get better from here (not right away) but it has done what few movies have done before – it launched a movie series where even the worst are still watchable.

Next: The Incredible Hulk (speaking of the worst…)

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Introduction

I blog – it’s what I like to do

I am currently involved in four blogs – one of them is almost over, as is the semester here in Tulane, New Orleans. Another one will end when I am back in Germany, so two left. And this is the one where you will find “movies ‘n’ stuff.”

I love the movies, I love going to a theater, smell the popcorn, drink my Cab yellow, and watch a movie. Any movie, really. Yes, I watch bad ones, too, and I will tell you about them, too. Let’s face it, our taste when it comes to the celluloid screen is not impeccable and sometimes we just happen to sit in a very BAD movie. It happens. Sometimes we sit in a good movie and then there are those in between and beyond.

I will try not to retell, I will try to criticize. I will try not to drool over my favorites, I will try not to break anything if I accidentily should walk into a Tom Cruise-movie (it would be more likely to be kidnapped into one of those than me accidentally walking into one, actually). But I will tell… the good, the bad, the rest.

I am a rather opinionated person and I am not necessarily nice but I also try to be polite and I hope you will grant me the same courtsy if you leave a comment. This said, enjoy the read.