Monday, July 15, 2024

The MCU: What on Earth was That?

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Nearly seven months, thirteen movies (and Deadpool…), eight full seasons of television, and much progress on various crafting projects and laundry folding obligations later: I did it, I am now up to speed on the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Reflecting on the experience now, it’s very difficult for me to make any blanket statements. If someone were to ask me, “so, Julia, do you like the MCU? Are you a fan now?” I think I would wave my arms around in panic and change the topic. Probably to how much GoT sucks.

But, yeah, I guess I’m in this fandom now, with all the attendant mixture of squee and nerd rage that that inevitably implies. You know you’re truly a fan when you love and hate something at the same time, right? Even so, separating the good from the bad can be challenging too. So can keeping all these mildly interlocking canons straight.

The most obvious issue is the Universe’s sprawling nature, especially the disconnect between the films and the various television shows. And also the great tonal difference between the ABC and Netflix shows. Trying to really compare these two threads would be an exercise in frustration. So I won’t. Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Television Universe, two lanes.


As the films have gone on, especially into “Phase Two”, they’ve become intertwined to the extent that differentiating between the franchises has gotten a little silly.

The culmination of this was clearly the most recent Captain America movie (that is, Civil War) which is a Cap movie and not an Avengers movie because… reasons. These movies are all telling one story, the story of a group of people who exceptional abilities who team up to protect the world from various wacky threats. 

The High Point:

This is unoriginal, but Captain America: The Winter Soldier was easily the best of these movies. It had an good plot that still existed to service the characters and their relationships, rather than a bunch of cardboard cut-outs acting out a dumb plot, like some other of these movie.

Steve’s relationship with Natasha was interesting, subtle, and, best of all, not romantic. His life-long friendship with Bucky and his new friendship with Sam were both organic and fleshed out and humanized him wonderfully.

The Hydra reveal, for all the logical problems that are just inevitable when conspiracy theories happen, made the whole MCU better. (At least until season 3 of Agents of Shield, but I digress.) And it was actually quite an effective mystery for those few of us who went in unspoiled.  

The Low point:

Ugh, Iron Man 2. Barely watchable, not funny. They foregrounded the wrong antagonist, and Tony Stark was at his most insufferable.

If I never have to watch this movie again, it will be too soon.

Crowning Moment of Squee:

Peggy and I have similar feelings about Steve’s new look.

And we totally both liked him already before!

Top “Fuck Marvel” Moment:

Apart from the fact that there is no Black Widow movie being a “fuck Marvel” moment of its own, there’s no way for me to be okay with the way this character is obviously a very low priority for the franchise. The first three movies she was in (IM2, Avengers, and Winter Soldier) featured three entirely different characterizations. And then there was Age of Ultron in which… yeah, let’s not rehash that.

I Laughed: Hydra’s plot was foiled because a little boy took swimming lessons. Closely followed by NatPo’s science machine and squeaky rain boots.

I Cried: Dementia is ever harder to see when it’s Peggy Fucking Carter.

The thing I can’t help but notice from this breakdown is that the majority of these films are rather mediocre and forgettable. The Thor movies? Hulk? Ant-Man? Guardians of the Galaxy? I honestly barely remember seeing them.


The High Point:

Jessica Jones is just plain good television. You know, despite being on Netflix. I previously called it “perfect” and then several commenters very rightly pointing out some issues with race than made it… not perfect, but what it got right, it got very right.

Again, it was the characters that really made the story shine, and the way it was grim and dark without being nihilistic. The protagonist had an arc, the supporting characters were complex, and the antagonist was compelling.

What more can you ask from television?

The Low Point:

I think it’s a bit of a toss up between Ward cosplaying as Neo from the Matrix surrounded by guys cosplaying as the pig-men from “Daleks in Manhattan”, or Peggy’s love triangle of doom and heteronormativity.

It’s not fair to make me choose between the silly and the moderately offensive.

Crowning Moment of Squee:

Those Daredevil fight scenes, man.

I’m not the kind of person who usually notices fight scenes. Not unless they’re hilariously bad. But there were several moments throughout the two season where I sat up straight and just said; “O.M.G.”

And the wonderful thing is that there was no flash or tricks here. It was just good choreography and hard-working stunt performers.

Top “fuck Marvel” Moment:

That moment when Coulson’s girlfriend was murdered so that he’d have motivation to kill Ward.

It was a Sansa in Winterhell moment because, like, he didn’t already have enough motivation to kill Ward? You had to fridge a competent female character?

I Laughed: Magic Ninjas, people.

I Cried: Malcolm. Just Malcolm. I also did mourn the end of Nelson and Murdock quite sincerely.

So yes, a mixed bag. If I were to average it all out, it would be… okay. Not at all surprising for such a sprawling franchise. It runs to gamut from good fun (season 1 of Agent Carter), smart and exciting, (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) challenging (Jessica Jones), enjoyably stupid, (Thor: The Dark World), to disappointing, (season 2 of Agent Carter) to “get me out of here!” (Iron Man 2).    

So what about the future? Will I follow the MCU now that I’m not obligated to?

Yeah, I kind of have to anyway, don’t I? There are things I’m really looking forward to, like the second season of Jessica Jones; there are things I remain cautiously optimistic for, like the Black Panther movie, and there are things I will only watch because I do have a bit of a thing for completeness, like the Ant-Man sequel. (Who the hell asked for a sequel?)

I’m here to stay. For better or worse.

Images courtesy of Marvel Studios

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