THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER’s macho problems

Here’s my question: Why is The Falcon and the Winter Soldier such an unpleasantly macho show?

To me, macho means an exaggerated manliness expressed in violence, put-downs, and other displays of dominance. Think Rambo, think Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham flexing and growling in each other’s faces, think (if you must) of frat bros doing keg stands or smashing cans on their chests, think of ads for trucks, think of a posture, a strut, an attitude — a capital-M Man trying to one-up another capital-M Man. Women are peripheral in macho stories, and if they appear at all, they can also be macho: think Gina Carano in everything she’s ever done.

The way I’m thinking about it, machismo is not necessarily toxic masculinity, though it’s surely related in ways it would take another essay to get into. Macho is the camp version of masculinity, which means sometimes it’s so exaggerated it’s funny. (e.g., The Rock flexing so hard he busts out of his arm cast.) But it also means that macho characters often have a “code” that requires them to protect those “weaker” than them (which is everyone). Machismo may not be completely corroding and perverting the way that toxic masculinity is; it’s just annoying. Don’t we have anything better to do than try to prove who’s a bigger man?

In Falcon and the Winter Soldier, I can see why John Walker, the new Captain America, would lean into his machismo; he’s got to prove himself up against a legend, he didn’t start the series with superpowers, so he needs a posture and a competition to prove he’s worthy of the shield. (He’s also a morally ambiguous character.) But he’s not the only one who feels over-machoed. Sam and Bucky posture and preen, punch and growl. Even Bucky’s therapist is a tough army gal, not here for your feelings, and when they meet up with old pal Sharon she’s been transformed into a cynical, brash mercenary. All added up, it feels like a nasty swamp of faux toughness, everyone trying to best each other at every opportunity, often punishingly so.

This attitude is epitomized in the couples therapy scene. The scene seems to have been conceived to pander to a slashfic-leaning audience. Imagine Sam and Bucky talking about their feelings face to face? Knee to groin, even??? And yet the scene as written and played reveals nothing about either of the characters except that they don’t want to be beaten or admit they have any flaws. More frustratingly, it doesn’t even make sense. Why are Sam and Bucky even in the room together? What questions is she trying to dig into, and why does she think this would help her actual patient, Bucky? What the hell does she care about their relationship? The only thing worse than being pandered to is being badly pandered to.

That scene, though, seems to hint at what the show was trying to do — and illustrates how it ultimately failed. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was given the assignment to explore the emotions of these two formerly supporting characters, jointly dealing with the loss of their mutual best friend, but it wound up totally incapable of coherently stringing together a scene about that central loss.

I am aware that you can’t talk about loss in the MCU without bringing up WandaVision, and there’s no way to get around the fact that Falcon may look even more macho in comparison to the MCU’s most feminized product yet. WandaVision is literally a show about wanting to be a mom in the suburbs instead of fighting the end of the world. Its (anti-)hero and main villain are women, and the conflict is all about overpowering people’s minds rather than beating up their bodies. It even (famously? infamously?) takes a stab at defining grief and love. It’s also inventive, visually distinct, clever, and coherent — all areas where Falcon and the Winter Soldier suffers in comparison.

Though the ratio of male-led MCU films to female-led projects is still pitifully low and most of those projects are basically action movies, I would not consider the MCU in general particularly macho. From Iron Man’s first appearance he pokes fun at the tough army men driving him around. He’s a salesman and showman, and gets into the punching and hitting business by accident. His eventual best friend is a mild-mannered science nerd (most of the time). He’s a mentor to another nerd, this one a self-effacing eager teen. Captain America has a macho bod but he maintains the careful, watchful goodness he had before his transformation. Thor knows he’s perfect so doesn’t have to prove himself against anyone else. Ant-Man is goofy, Doctor Strange is obsessive. The Guardians of the Galaxy aspire to being macho but they’re misfits who don’t fit the mold.

But Bucky and Sam continued to play the macho game throughout their series, and I’m left trying to figure out why. The two of them have always been sidekicks (or in Bucky’s case, a villain). Then they lost Cap. Without the hero/sidekick relationship, perhaps they must resort to macho posturing, jockeying for the main-hero spot. Maybe the show is trying to tell us something about them as characters, as unpleasant as it is to sit through.

Or maybe it’s less a conscious choice and more of an unexamined default setting. It’s possible that in the absence of coherent, perceptive writing, these attractive, charismatic actors are reverting to a posture of machismo. Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan have been handed an opportunity to prove themselves, too. They aren’t given enough to do, and what they are given is muddled and unclear. So they puff up their chests and try to fake their way through it.

So much of what made Sam and Bucky interesting characters in the films is driven out of the TV show. In the movies, Bucky’s soulfulness shone through even when he was a killing machine, and Sam’s sunny, relaxed attitude allowed Steve Rogers to take a breather from saving the world. The show thinks it’s continuing that soulfulness and light, but how can it, when the characters are so obsessed with who’s the bigger man?

In the show, Bucky’s best line is a tossed-off “I’m right-handed.” Stan’s best acting is the sudden, horrible shock on his face when Ayo releases his arm — a moment he is instantly beaten, his macho strength gone. None of his awkward therapy sessions or tortured confessions work as well as those tiny moments. Sam’s best scene is when he tries to talk Karli down, his empathy his only superpower. In that moment — and when he hangs out with his adorable nephews — he seems competent, purposeful. Contrast that with his incoherent speech to reporters at the end of the show, which drives home how little show has earned any of its sweeping statements.

While Bucky and Sam muddle around trying to win some ill-defined prize, Zemo hangs around in the background, a nerd in a leather duster. He’s the one major character who isn’t painted with the macho brush. He’s totally unconcerned with who holds the shield. He lets his money speak for itself, and his schemes play out while he watches, invested but also disinterested. When the other characters are busy beating each other up, he saunters coolly out of the room. And even though he’s one of the worst villains in the MCU, fans seemed to like having him in the show–anything to contrast the constant one-upmanship. In contrast, the show indulges its most egregiously macho moment late in the season, with the undeserved redemption of John Walker. The show allows him to wander back into the action at the end and fight for “good” with absolutely no repercussions for being a straight-up murderer. Just because he can punch and he’s temporarily on the right side of things! Palling around with him taints the other characters by association.

Despite all of this, I have a lot of affection for Sam and Bucky. I want better for these characters. Imagine if the show had allowed a little warmth for its characters to radiate through, even if it meant sacrificing their images as the toughest guys in the room.

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Oscars 2021!

Oscars 2021 are finally here, which means Oscars 2021 are also finally nearly over! It’s been a long spring and a long awards season and a weird distended eligibility period, which has given us Marisa, Sara, Jesse, and Jeremy plenty of time to watch all of the Oscar contenders, except those that we just couldn’t get to. Just like years past, we are focusing on who we want to win across the biggest categories, with some bonus predictions and plenty of classic Oscar carping about what movies and performances should have been recognized by the ol’ Academy bluehairs! Be sure to listen to us before placing any virtual bets in your office’s virtual Oscar pool! (Assuming your Oscars 2021 pool is mainly about which cinematography Jesse likes best or which major-category rule most enrages Marisa.)

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

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  • I don’t really know what Stitcher is, but we are also on Stitcher.
  • SportsAlcohol.com is a proud member of the Aha Radio Network. What is Aha? It’s kind of like Stitcher, but for your car.
  • You can download the mp3 of this episode directly here
  • Our most recent episode or two will sometimes be available on our Soundcloud
  • You can listen to the episode (and a bunch of great songs!) in the players below.

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Godzilla vs. Kong

After numerous pandemic-related delays, the Godzilla vs. Kong title bout is finally here. For basically as long as SportsAlcohol dot com has existed, we have been your go-to source for monster-movie expertise, especially as it pertains to King Kong and Godzilla. Whether that involves exhaustive Kong History, sharing valuable Godzilla information out in the wild, seeing the Kong on Broadway, cataloging opponents, or re-experiencing the 1998 Godzilla movie, we have been here for Godzilla, Kong, and now, of course, Godzilla vs. Kong, a new movie where the two giant monsters fight and fight and fight. With the invaluable input of our in-house monster expert Nathaniel, we got together to discuss the new movie, which some of us made sure to see twice in the span of half a day, just to give our analysis the extra kick (and punch, and bite) you need. Once you’ve watched Godzilla vs. Kong on HBO Max or, if you can do so safely, in movie theaters worldwide, come back here and listen in on the nerdy conversation you wish you were having at the 24-hour diner!

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

  • You can subscribe to our podcast using the rss feed.
  • I’m not sure why they allowed it, but we are on iTunes! If you enjoy what you hear, a positive comment and a rating would be great.
  • I don’t really know what Stitcher is, but we are also on Stitcher.
  • SportsAlcohol.com is a proud member of the Aha Radio Network. What is Aha? It’s kind of like Stitcher, but for your car.
  • You can download the mp3 of this episode directly here
  • Our most recent episode or two will sometimes be available on our Soundcloud
  • You can listen to the episode (and a bunch of great songs!) in the players below.

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Not long into Zack Snyder’s Justice League (A Zack Snyder Film), Marisa started taking notes, just feeling in her bones that this would be a podcast. She was right to suspect it; we’ve certainly covered our share of superhero movies on this site, including a recent overlong review, a ranking of DCEU movies, and an earlier podcast about the state of the superhero movie back in 2017. But not even flop superhero movies stay dead, as Zack Snyder’s Justice League is here to prove. For SportsAlcohol.com’s Zack Snyder’s Justice League Podcast, Marisa, Jesse, Rob, and Ben all watched Snyder’s four-hour epic and lived to talk about it, at a comparably brief two hours. We cover everything from Jack Kirby to graverobbing, from Joss Whedon quips to tortured food metaphors. So while you wait for a third, black-and-white version of Justice League to drop on HBO Max, enjoy our latest SnyderChat!

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

  • You can subscribe to our podcast using the rss feed.
  • I’m not sure why they allowed it, but we are on iTunes! If you enjoy what you hear, a positive comment and a rating would be great.
  • I don’t really know what Stitcher is, but we are also on Stitcher.
  • SportsAlcohol.com is a proud member of the Aha Radio Network. What is Aha? It’s kind of like Stitcher, but for your car.
  • You can download the mp3 of this episode directly here
  • Our most recent episode or two will sometimes be available on our Soundcloud
  • You can listen to the episode (and a bunch of great songs!) in the players below.

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: The Best Movies of 2020, Again

Back in September of 2020, we wondered whether maybe it was just time to call it on 2020 and move on to other things, so we did our best movies of 2020 podcast four months early. But as it turned out, life continued on planet Earth, and we were able to pull together a list of the year’s best movies at the appropriate time: Well into the following year. In the spirit of, oh, let’s just say an extended awards season, we also got together to discuss some of the movies from this list that we hadn’t already discussed before. So think of this podcast about the best movies of 2020 as a sequel to last summer’s episode, and a testament to the fact that movies really were one actually-good thing in 2020, even if nothing much else was.

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

  • You can subscribe to our podcast using the rss feed.
  • I’m not sure why they allowed it, but we are on iTunes! If you enjoy what you hear, a positive comment and a rating would be great.
  • I don’t really know what Stitcher is, but we are also on Stitcher.
  • SportsAlcohol.com is a proud member of the Aha Radio Network. What is Aha? It’s kind of like Stitcher, but for your car.
  • You can download the mp3 of this episode directly here
  • Our most recent episode or two will sometimes be available on our Soundcloud
  • You can listen to the episode (and a bunch of great songs!) in the players below.

Zack Snyder’s JUSTICE LEAGUE: A Big Slice of Hero Cake

I thought about structuring my review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the much-anticipated four-hour reclamation-through-supersizing of a misbegotten DCEU non-blockbuster, like a normal piece of film criticism. This would mean crafting a catchy lead, smooth transitions, drilling down into some finer details, and summing it all up to make a broader point about the film, the filmmaker, the genre, whatever. But this version of Justice League stubbornly resists traditional structure; it’s literally one of the longest feature films I’ve ever seen, and not even in service of telling a radically different story from the bastardized version that came out in 2017. Instead, it tells that story again, and at vastly greater length, and with no particular rhythm, discernible construction, or traditional momentum. It’s divided into six parts and an epilogue, and apart from the epilogue (which takes place some days or weeks after the events of the climax), there doesn’t seem to be a particular organizing principle. It’s not sorted by timeline, character, or any thematic unity I could detect (and detecting subtleties are rarely among the challenges this filmmaker poses). The parts are titled seemingly at random, perhaps so Zack Snyder, the architect of this monument to his half-baked ideas, can decide what they mean later. It turns out that Snyder’s ideal movie is an assembly cut with finished special effects.
Continue reading Zack Snyder’s JUSTICE LEAGUE: A Big Slice of Hero Cake

The 20 Best Movies of 2020

Back in the fall, we were so uncertainly about the prospects of discussing the best movies of 2020 in a timely fashion that we decided to call it early and do a best-movies-of-the-year podcast in September. Who knew when anything would get back to normal, if ever? As it turns out, we’re well into 2021 and things still haven’t gotten back to normal (and no amount of pushing the Oscars into April has changed that). But something that stayed the same, albeit in weird and different shapes, were movies, in that there were good movies all through 2020, and in a hell year–hell, a hell-year-plus–that’s still worth talking about. So here we are, talking about the best movies of 2020 again; this time in writing, though a podcast will soon follow, too. And if we (I, Jesse) didn’t get this up until March, well, we’re still having the conversation earlier than the Oscars. That’s gotta count for something, right? Maybe in a few months, you can even start to think about how you might see revivals of these movies out in the real world again. The best movies of 2020 are here for you well into 2021 and beyond! Herewith, Sara, Marisa, Jeremy, Jesse, and Nathaniel talk about their collective favorites.
Continue reading The 20 Best Movies of 2020

COMING 2 AMERICA Sells Itself Short

Sometimes, usually around the Super Bowl, an enterprising corporation will entice a famous actor to reprise a famous role for 30 or 60 seconds at a time. Whether it’s Jeff Bridges briefly returning to The Dude or Mike Myers and Dana Carvey doing one more Wayne’s World sketch, these reanimations can light up our nostalgia receptors with warm hit of recognition. They’re also commonplace enough to diminish with every passing year. The ads themselves may technically vary in cleverness, but most of them amount to a momentary spark, quickly dampened–whether by lame jokes, depressing shilling, or simply the cruel visibility of time’s passage. Coming 2 America, a 33-years-later sequel to one of Eddie Murphy’s better comedies, is like watching that type of Super Bowl ad for 105 minutes, give or take. Imagine how much dampening that involves.

Continue reading COMING 2 AMERICA Sells Itself Short

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Silence of the Lambs at 30

SportsAlcohol.com mainstay Sara has a Valentine’s Day tradition: Watch The Silence of the Lambs. Valentine’s Day does happen to be the movie’s anniversary–and in 2021, it turned 30 years young! So the SportsAlcohol crew decided to join in on the ritual (virtually, of course), rewatching Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-winning (and, yes, somewhat problematic) feminist serial-killer thriller and getting together to talk about that, plus the careers of both Demme and, uh, Lecter. So if you’ve ever wanted to listen to Sara, Jesse, Marisa, Ben, and Jeremy talk about Michael Mann, Brett Ratner, Matthew Modine, the Oscars, message movies, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and Thandie Newton in one packed episode, then SportsAlcohol.com has done it again! Happy Valentine’s Day to no one! Seriously, though, it’s a good episode.

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

  • You can subscribe to our podcast using the rss feed.
  • I’m not sure why they allowed it, but we are on iTunes! If you enjoy what you hear, a positive comment and a rating would be great.
  • I don’t really know what Stitcher is, but we are also on Stitcher.
  • SportsAlcohol.com is a proud member of the Aha Radio Network. What is Aha? It’s kind of like Stitcher, but for your car.
  • You can download the mp3 of this episode directly here
  • Our most recent episode or two will sometimes be available on our Soundcloud
  • You can listen to the episode (and a bunch of great songs!) in the players below.

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Best Music of 2020

Normally, we try to do some end-of-the-year music coverage timed to the period between the winding down of the calendar year and airing of the Grammy awards in February. This year, I have no fucking clue when the Grammys are even happening. I think they were pushed back? I assume Taylor Swift was nominated for a bunch of stuff? Anyway, the point is, this year in music was as weird as this year in everything else, which stymied any attempt to make a collective list of the best songs or albums. However, we did arrive at a few consensus favorites to discuss, so Marisa, Jesse, Rob, Sara, and Jeremy got together to talk about Phoebe Bridgers, Waxahatchee, Fiona Apple, HAIM, and some artists who aren’t white ladies! (But, honestly, not that many.) We also talked about how our listening habits changed, what old music we found ourselves digging into during quar, the stans who cyberbullied Jesse, and how Jeremy doesn’t know anything about the Beatles. It’s a lot. But it’s a fun conversation to accompany our excellent series of Track Marks song write-ups. Plus, we may not have an essay about the best song or record of the year, but we do have a playlist featuring selections from our collective and individual tastes! Check it out below!

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

  • You can subscribe to our podcast using the rss feed.
  • I’m not sure why they allowed it, but we are on iTunes! If you enjoy what you hear, a positive comment and a rating would be great.
  • I don’t really know what Stitcher is, but we are also on Stitcher.
  • SportsAlcohol.com is a proud member of the Aha Radio Network. What is Aha? It’s kind of like Stitcher, but for your car.
  • You can download the mp3 of this episode directly here
  • Our most recent episode or two will sometimes be available on our Soundcloud
  • You can listen to the episode (and a bunch of great songs!) in the players below.