April 2019 was a pretty earth-shaking month in pop culture terms. We had the first tangible fallout from the Disney/Fox merger and some really interesting developments in the Great Streaming Wars (the launch of the fantastic Criterion Channel, details on the upcoming Disney+), we had new blockbuster releases (Shazam!, Hellboy, Pet Sematary), and we had strong holdovers from March (Captain Marvel, Us). Even beyond all that, this month seemed to consistently mark the climax or conclusion of cultural behemoths known all over the world. Game of Thrones launched a final season that culminates the biggest television production in history. The announcement of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker gave us a glimpse at the film that will round out the Skywalker Saga. But for the moment, even those sort of seem like drops in the bucket compared to Avengers: Endgame.
The implications of such a convergence of influential entertainment raises interesting quandaries about the ways in which we as a society consume…oh, who am I kidding. We just saw Avengers: Endgame and internet etiquette dictates we lay down a few buffer paragraphs as a necessity, lest any spoilers be spoilt. But no one’s really here to discuss industry patterns — we’re here to discuss that badass part where SPOILER uses a massive SPOILER as a freakin’ SPOILER. So if you haven’t yet seen the blockbuster-to-end-all-blockbusters, then I highly recommend Robert Mueller’s heavily-redacted review of the film until you manage to get tickets for the next available Endgame screening 30 years from now.
Seriously, massive spoilers below. Good to go? Good. Let’s go.
Continue reading Avengers: Endgame (2019)
One of the things that soured Age of Ultron, the second Avengers outing, was all of the hard work apparent in the film. Pretty much every movie you watch is the result of hard work, of course, but in Ultron all of the moving and shaking afoot in the past and future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe severely impacted the present, i.e. the actual movie you’re watching right now. Excepting the occasional moment of levity (the Mjolnir party game) or well-drawn action scene (Hulk vs. Hulkbuster), it felt like hard work just to get to the end of Ultron as a viewer. Director Joss Whedon never struck the same natural flow he found in his original Avengers movie, and he seemingly left the MCU because he’d rather work from a place of inspiration than from a blueprint strategy designed to perpetuate a larger narrative. In our original review we posited this as no coincidence when the Avengers themselves begin referring to their superheroism with workplace terminology, to their “jobs,” to the “endgame;” Ultron even has an absent-husband subplot featuring Mrs. Hawkeye that seems a better fit in Death of a Salesman than a Marvel flick.
But Ultron‘s in the past, right? We’re here for the new one, Infinity War, featuring everyone who was in Ultron and everyone who’s had a solo Marvel outing since then, plus a few new characters, plus an occasional cameo from the MCU’s ever-expanding backlog. As such, the first order of business (more workplace terminology!) is to issue a SPOILER WARNING to anyone who has not yet seen Infinity War. Motion State assumes no liability in your reading past this paragraph!
Continue reading Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Sometimes drama is hard. Part of the reason why people are throwing around phrases like The Golden Age of Television is because great drama often implies a certain longevity, a depth not only of feeling but of space and time as well. Rust Cohle’s True Detective arc spans more than a decade, and we’re allowed insight into that arc for eight hours rather than for the limited runtime of a film. Walter White’s (d)evolution is likewise more effective for the time it takes building itself. In the coldest sense television allows what comic book chronology allows, simply more, and thus more of a compounding effect in the later hours or later seasons. True Detective and Breaking Bad are intense in their final sequences mostly due to brilliant writing, brilliant directing, brilliant acting — nothing replaces storytelling (preach!) — but partially due to what came before.
And yes: sometimes drama is easy. Fabricated drama isn’t hard to find. Heck, take Best Picture winner Argo, which climaxes with a harrowing scene at the airport where the heroes are really just standing in a room sweating as to whether they’re about to be let out of the country or not. Quick cuts are made to the drama, vehicles holding the bad guys hurtling along the tarmac. It’s all spiced up, and usually when you have to spice up your scene with cuts to action that simply happen faster and faster as the music plays faster and faster — well, maybe there’s another way to extract drama, a less easy way, an infinitely more effective way. Argo is hardly the worst example. The cringeworthiest one that leaps to mind is all the extraneous shit going down at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, because Spidey battling his enemy isn’t enough. And Spidey battling two enemies isn’t enough. And Spidey battling two enemies while a hospital full of people is in danger and a plane full of people is about to crash isn’t even enough, so throw Gwen Stacey in there. There we go: amazing.
Continue reading The Leftovers 1.10 – “The Prodigal Son Returns”
I have a kind of casual self-imposed policy of watching movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe only once. Sometimes this works out beautifully, as in the case of, say, Thor: The Dark World, which I’m not sure I could sit through again without fast-forwarding to the parts with Tom Hiddleston. Other times I have a temptation to go back and watch a previous entry, usually on the eve of a new entry like Avengers: Age of Ultron. This policy is in effect partly because a good chunk of the MCU films are like The Dark World — sloppy, boring, noncommittal — and a second viewing only highlights these qualities. What do I do, then, if I need me my Thor fix now? I go read a Thor comic.
The real experiment afoot here is one that will fail, but one I hope for anyway: if the longevity of the MCU is the thing the MCU-makers are actually striving for, rather than that rusty and outdated model of making one good movie after another, then can I find a way to emphasize that? Can I enjoy the good and forget the bad and then return to the whole thing as one whole thing, years later, and really feel that longevity in the good and the bad?
Continue reading Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
If anyone has shown a dedication to the long game in big-budget storytelling lately, it’s Marvel. The latest addition to the ever-expanding Cinematic Universe is the Netflix series Daredevil, chronicling the early days of lawyer Matt Murdock and his crimefighting alter-ego. In many ways Daredevil is the best thing to happen to the MCU in a long time. Not only is it far superior to Marvel’s other television ventures Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, but it often packs more of a punch — physically and emotionally — than the majority of the MCU films. The lack of cable television limitations or MPAA ratings means the show can be as dark as it needs to be. Most importantly, though, Daredevil shies away from the typical overblown grandiosity of many MCU ventures and opts instead for a very human drama.
It’s still a hero vs. villain thing we’re dealing with here, of course, but Daredevil is at its strongest when it plays away from that (striking the super– prefix from both hero and villain). Murdock gets his ass handed to him on a regular basis, Wilson Fisk is diabolical and yet relatable, and the street-level politics of the show are far more interesting than the end-of-the-universe Avengers stories. This is true of the comics, too, and as with live-action Daredevil it took a while to get the character right. There are a whole host of comic book influences for the Netflix series — primarily the Frank Miller tales The Man Without Fear and Born Again —which we’ll dive into now. Ye be warned: spoilers abound.
Continue reading Daredevil – Season 1