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I saw Age of Ultron Thursday night and I have thoughts. There’s the obvious nerd-out factor of the film, and it’s really cool and does a lot of things right (and, arguably, does indeed go smaller than the first Avengers), but those are
So let’s talk about how the movie portrays the idea of masculinity. Because it’s actually really interesting.
Age of Ultron, like The Avengers before it and probably every Marvel movie until I get my friggin’ Captain Marvel movie, is very male dominated. But that doesn’t stop it from portraying a variety of roles for the men to take on. Macho men being manly all the time this is not, rather the Avengers portray different shades of masculinity.
Bruce Banner may be the most obvious. His ‘alter-ego’ is inherently violent and destructive, a stark contrast to his more mild-mannered usual self. He’s a violent man who eschews violence. Here’s a man who would rather that problems not be solved by punching.
This serves as something of an antithesis to Thor, who delights in battle (and tries to comfort Bruce at one point by telling him how well he fought). That said, when Thor competes with Tony, it’s not over who’s the better fighter. Instead they’re boasting of the impressive accomplishments of their significant others. Implicit here is that these two who embody traditionally masculine traits (Thor’s the fighter, Tony is characteristically bawdy) are both with accomplished and important women, and both are okay with it. Being ‘manly’ doesn’t mean downplaying the accomplishments of others and sometimes it means deferring to that as the true measure by which they measure themselves.
It’s Steven Rogers, though, who as Captain America is in some regards the paragon of masculinity: he’s brave, physically fit, honorable, a leader, and so on. But at the same time he’s also humble, he hopes for the best in people, is willing to be vulnerable, and knows he can’t always do it alone. He’s a lot like Captain Awesome from Chuck, in that he embodies a sort of ideal masculinity, but without a lot of the toxicity that goes with it.
Which brings me to Hawkeye, who gets a vastly expanded role in this film. Not only do we get a deeper look into his inner life, but we also see his role as a part of the team. Clint is, not unlike his comics counterpart, effectively the most normal of the Avengers. More than that, though, he’s the one with the most normal and fulfilled personal life, making him also the most stable; the least ‘manly’ of the Avengers is also the one who’s got it the most together. Furthermore, within Age of Ultron he carries much of the film’s emotional weight; he may not be the hardest hitter but he is the heart. In many other stories this position is usually occupied by a woman, or the most feminine one if there are multiple (think Katara from Avatar and Kaylee from Firefly). Clint isn’t seen as less capable for it; he, like Raleigh in Pacific Rim, portrays a form of masculinity that’s supportive in nature.
The male action hero has been somewhat pigeonholed over the years. There’s an immense focus on the John McLane, John Matrix, and Indiana Jones type, that is the swaggering, self-reliant, gun toting, never backing down sort. Compare The Expendables, an ensemble cast of very traditionally manly action heroes, to Age of Ultron. The former are all cut from the same hyper-masculine cloth, whereas the male Avengers are more nuanced. None of them are seen as lesser for not being as much of a brawler as Thor or as brave as Captain America. Rather, the film acknowledges that masculinity comes in different forms and that’s perfectly okay.
Because I don't have the time yet to find the plans for an Iron Man gauntlet, I decided to do some digging.
Despite losing all my files, I managed to find some old Anim8or models that I'd emailed Motago so he could render something.
Then I decided to start small.
Folks. I have a PHYSICAL VERSION of a model I made OVER NINE YEARS AGO.
THIS IS THE FRIGGING FUTURE
It's, it's good. Makes a lot of really bold choices. Choices that I like for the most part. Lots of fun character beats.
And dude, it feels like a comic book. There are a lot of those really cool HOLY SNAP moments, which, y'know, is fun. 'cuz that's what you want in a comic book movie.
Also it's interesting to watch it as someone who now reads comics. Characterization works and there are some cool set ups too.
Man. Now to see it again sometime soon.
It's very much a dinky New York apartment (sixth floor walkup, no sink in the bathroom), but we figure it's got character (also: actual two bedroom, a living room [!]) and it's near our usual haunts (few minutes from some decent bars, not far from my favorite dollar pizza place, near Trader Joe's, near campus), so, yeah, it's a win.
Holy [censored] this is what growing up is. My name's on an apartment lease.
Move in day is June 1st, but move out day of my current place is May 20th... Figure that means couchsurfing/sleeping in NYU buildings. Should be fun.
Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out here in the States in a few days, which makes me realize that we now live in a time where time can be measured in Avengers movies. Which makes me think about three years ago when I was eagerly waiting for the first one to come out.
It’s important to look at just how sharply The Avengers affected the current blockbuster landscape. The idea of a bunch of characters from separate films coming together in one movie was a very novel idea, outside of maybe Alien vs Predator. Now, ever since The Avengers made approximately all the money, DC’s been working fast as they can to establish their pantheon of superheroes. Amazing Spider-Man 2 spent much of its time trying to set up as many plot points for there to be a variety of spin offs. There’s even been an attempt to revive Universal’s horror movies with the intention of having Dracula, et al team up. Ever since The Avengers proved that it works, there’s been a big push to establish these so-called shared universes.
Of course, that’s missing that one of the things that made The Avengers work was that it wasn’t rushed. Marvel Studios spent five movies and four years building up their characters and their world. By the time The Avengers came out, audiences were at the very least aware of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America through good old pop-cultural osmosis. That done, they still took time to set up each character — including lesser known characters like Black Widow.
Furthermore, Marvel Studios hired a writer/director with a reputation for being able to handle ensemble casts. Joss Whedon’s only other movie at the time, Serenity, was able to reestablish the crew of the titular ship for people who both had and hadn’t seen the show. He had a similar task in The Avengers: establish six heroes, their boss, a couple minor characters, and a villain while also weaving together a coherent plot. The Avengers worked, due in no small part to Whedon’s writing.
The other thing about the shared universe concept is that it’s different from your typical movie production. There are grand story arcs that each film has to navigate around and fit in alongside. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is being run more like a television show than a typical movie series. Kevin Feige, executive producer on all Marvel Studios films, is effectively the showrunner of the series. He’s come up with the big ideas and found writers and directors to do each ‘episode.’ Once again, getting Joss Whedon onboard for the first two Avengers films made sense, most of his experience has been within the constraints of television. The Dark World was directed by someone who’d worked on Game of Thrones, and the Russo brothers, who did The Winter Soldier, directed for Arrested Development and Community. It’s also the Russo brothers who’ll be directing Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, showing again Feige’s predisposition to those used to working in television. But this is still a novel form of filmmaking, and it’s one that Marvel’s making work.
I’m as excited to see Age of Ultron as I was to see The Avengers three years ago. Of course, I’m approaching this movie from a different perspective than I did the last year. And I don’t just mean someone who now actually reads comics, either. I’ve spent the greater part of the last three years at university studying storytelling and narrative. All this to say, I’m really impressed with how Marvel’s been handling their universe. It takes a lot of work and there are a host of missteps they could have taken.
So come Thursday evening I’ll be sitting in an IMAX theater in Kips Bay. I want the movie to be good, because I want to see Marvel keep expanding their movie world. That and I can’t wait for the Captain Marvel movie.
Every so often on this blog, I am liable to nerd the flip out. ‘cuz as a general rule, I like liking things. Also, I’m a huge nerd, and when what was basically the first thing I was a nerd about does something cool, I”m gonna be there. So let’s talk about The Force Awakens. Again. Though this time it’s less recapping and more analysis.
Based on the trailer, and also what was said at Celebration, it’s really sounding like Daisy Ridley’s character Rey is going to be the protagonist of The Force Awakens, which I’m obviously excited by. It also seems like they’re building her up along with John Boyega as Finn and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron as the ‘new’ Luke, Leia, and Han (or Anakin, Padme, and Obi Wan).
It’s cool, since one of the Holy Trilogy’s greatest strengths was its core characters. We knew Luke was our protagonist, and Han and Leia the deuteragonists. Luke had the biggest arc in each movie and was the most dynamic character while the other two had their own smaller ones and supported Luke’s along the way. There was a cohesion there that gave us a throughline through each film. So unlike Anakin, Obi Wan, and Padme who hardly ever had key moments together, the new one seems ready to establish this trinity of characters from the outset. Furthermore, one of the Prequels’ bigger narrative issues was the lack of a true protagonist. The character who should have had the biggest arc in the latter two — Anakin — ended up not doing much for big chunks of the film (while Obi Wan discovers a nascent rebellion, Anakin… falls in love with Padmé. While Obi Wan goes after a Separatist commander, Anakin… sits around on Coruscant). It’s hard to support a protagonist who’s not doing much.
To that, The Force Awakens, thus far is making an effort to pay tribute to the Holy Trilogy. Besides character archetypes and dynamic, they seem geared to do this through visuals too. Sometimes this means replicating shots — the Falcon’s dodge in the derelict ship’s engine is straight out of Jedi, and the droid BB-8 looking around the corner is a dead ringer for Leia’s introduction in A New Hope. Then you’ve got the with grand epic shots and a world that reeks of an unknown history (crashed Star Destroyer!). There’s even stuff similar to the Prequels; the shot of the Stormtroopers turning round is not at all unlike the end of Attack of the Clones. There’s a rich visual history woven into the look of the new film that makes it feel Star Wars.
There’s new to it too, though. The snap-zoom as the Falcon is pursued by TIE Fighters is a very Abram’s Star Trek shot (which in turn is arguably influenced by the visual work of Firefly). They’re also taking full advantage of how far special effects have come in the past few decades and giving us starfighters flying through atmosphere, which is what we’ve all always wanted but didn’t really know until we saw it happen.
Look, I’m excited for this movie. Star Wars has been a part of my life literally as long as I can remember (no lie, one of my earliest memories is me discussing the ending of Empire with another kid in the first house I lived in — so I’d have to have been four at the oldest). It’s hard for hype not build when we see a new movie coming out by a team that’s proving themselves more and more capable with each teaser. They’re taking something old and making it new (more diversity, taking advantage of technology) while remaining true to itself (visual style, character archetypes), making a new Star Wars that feels fresh.
On a more personal note, there’s this mix of wonder and craft that satisfies both the kid who saw The Phantom Menace for his eighth birthday and the twenty-three-year-old who spends his weekends ranting about superheroes, feminism, and video games.
Couple minutes later Dylan and I had it playing on the projector in the Gallatin lounge. Then they announced that they were about to show the teaser. One of the grad students turned off the lights in the room (because who cares if a couple people are studying, this is Star Wars).
Dude. Dude. Dude.
There were cheers. There was swearing (hey, that opening shot of the crashed Star Destroyer). And there was a lot of pure joy.
And Katie walked in a minute later and loudly said "Neeeeeerds."
This week's Essay, Not Rant is gonna be about it, because, duh, but gut reactions:
- [redacted] YES DAISY RIDLEY SEEMS TO BE THE MAIN CHARACTER
- And she looks like she can kick butt
- Stormtroopers. Dude
- The villain looks great
- I really want Gwendolyn Christie to be in the chrome Stormtrooper armor
- X-Wings in atmosphere
- Look at the mood of it! It's so uncynical
- HAN SOLO AND FRIGGIN' CHEWBACCA
Dude. Dude. Dude.
Lot to say. Action is impeccable. Dude.
Also really digging the very different tone; how it's gritty and dark, but not overbearingly so. It's doesn't feel washed in grimness, there's still pathos and joy and everything in between (even levity!), yet still able to bring the grit and the blood and the grime.
It also feels very New Yorky. I've a friend who lives in H–, uh, the Kitchen, and it's fun to see that part of Manhattan, albeit recovering from an alien attack and not gentrified.
So I'm stoked. To watch more of this series (dead god do I need more free time), but also for the rest of the Defenders. Man.
Also, Charlie Cox spoke in a friend of mine's class and is apparently a "real legit dude" so there's that too.
You know the story. Boy’s stuck in the doldrums of life. Girl shows up. Is quirky. Her quirkiness brings boy out of the normal world. They fall in love. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl has done her job. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a term to describe a female character archetype whose purpose is to bring a male character into a more interesting existence. Also they usually fall in love.
But this is a little broad. Is Wyldstyle from The LEGO Movie a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, then? For starters she’s Emmet’s love interest, should he be able win her away from Batman. Then her arrival brings Emmet out of normalcy into a life of adventure and she supports his transformation into the Chosen One. And she’s very different from anyone Emmet’s met, with her DJ-esque name, dyed hair, and rebellious nature. She seems to fit it to a T.
Thing is, Wyldstyle doesn’t only exist for Emmet. She has her own goal and arc. Wyldstyle wants to save the world, that Emmet is the Chosen one is more disappointment than cause for celebration. Over the course of the movie she learns to be vulnerable and to believe in herself.
Ramona, from Scott Pilgrim vs The World; however, is. Though a well-rounded character, her purpose in the plot is to be Scott’s prize and the catalyst for him to self-actualize (that is, realize that self-respect is necessary for love). Yes, she has baggage, but the movie doesn’t afford any runtime to developing it. And yes, she’s quirky: dyed hair, infinitely cooler than Scott, and is from New York. She’s that dream-girl who comes along and makes and makes the male character’s life better.
But Summer, from (500) Days of Summer, isn’t. Though Summer is someone a lot of people jump to when they think of this term (seeing as she’s quirky-ish and portrayed by Zooey Deschannel). The film, on the other hand, takes apart the notion of the dream girl. Tom expects Summer to ‘fix’ him and make his life better, but she doesn’t fit into who he expects her to be. Most notably, it’s only after they break up that Tom gets life together and gets out of his rut. Essentially, the movie breaks down the Manic Pixie Dream Girl fantasy, saying that someone else isn’t going to save you, you have to do it yourself.
I realize I’m using a lot of non-examples as a way of defining the term, but I owe that to my own unfamiliarity with a lot of the movies usually associated with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. So why even talk about it?
In the years since coining the term, Nathan Rabin has distanced himself from it. Way he saw it, the term had almost lost reason; it’d become a trope unto itself rather than a symptom of problematic portrayals of women. It became easy to just say that a character was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl rather than it fostering discussion.
Because the term isn’t a way to demean women or to pigeonhole them, rather it should make writers and viewers conscious of women existing solely in relation to men. Though archetypes can be good, sometimes, like damsels in distress, they not only become emblematic of lazy writing, but also perpetuates a less-than-healthy view of reality (especially given how prevalent this one can be). That’s why I love using (500) Days of Summer as an example here, since though Summer very much fits the archetype, the film shows the consequences of the mindset.
In any case, it’s time to write better characters. Give a character depth, depth beyond “being quirky,” and give her life.
grew up on a ship
at New York University
frequently found writing in a coffee shop, behind a camera, or mixing alcohol and video games