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THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER’s macho problems

Maggie is a for-real writer. We're kind of surprised that she would lend her name and her words to SportsAlcohol.com, but we're certainly not complaining. Her first novel, The Cost of All Things, can be ordered here.
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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: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

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!

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

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

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 SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Wonder Woman 1984

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

What now seems like a solid century ago, we held a discussion about the 2017 smash hit Wonder Woman in the context of the modern superhero movie. Now Wonder Woman is back on the big screen but mainly on a bunch of small ones as Wonder Woman 1984 premieres on HBO Max to the delight/consternation of viewers, fans, critics, and Twitter People everywhere. A SportsAlcohol.com nerd crew of Rob, Jon, Jesse, and Marisa wade through our own reactions as well as some popular (and sometimes baffling!) internet gripes to discuss the pros and cons of Wonder Woman 1984, a sequel that, depending on your mileage, we may have liked more than you?! Listen up and find out!

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The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: The New Mutants

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Well, after two and a half years of trailers, blown release dates, rumored but nonexistent reshoots, good buzz, bad buzz, and corporate acquisitions, the movie event of the pandemic is finally here: The New Mutants is out in theaters to accidentally close out the X-Men movie series. Improbably enough, four core members of the SportsAlcohol.com brain trust found a way to see this movie safely without press screenings or VOD. (Please don’t go out to even a semi-crowded movie theater to see The New Mutants or anything else; it’s playing at drive-ins, and some theaters are doing private auditorium rentals, if you are so moved.) So naturally, Jesse, Marisa, Nathaniel, and designated X-pert Rob had to get together to discuss this momentous, uh, footnote to X-Men movie history. Consider this the long-delayed sequel to our last X-Men movie episode! And consider it our last episode about the Fox era of X-Men on film… or is it?!?! Consider this your starting buzz for a Magik spinoff in 2022!

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The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Dark Phoenix and the X-Men Movies

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

It’s been almost 20 years since the first X-Men movie made the world safe for high-quality big-screen superheroes, and somehow the ensuing film series is only now winding down, with the release (and flop!) of Dark Phoenix, combination sequel, prequel, and remake that marks the final big team X-Men movie greenlit before Disney finalized its acquisition of Fox. While New Mutants and maybe another Deadpool remain on the docket at DisneyFox, it seems likely that the X-Men as a full-fledged franchise is going away for a while, likely to re-emerge as part of MCU Phase 7 or whatever. So this seemed like a good time for Rob, Sabrina, Nathaniel, Marisa, Jesse, and Jon to sit down and talk about all things XCU: Dark Phoenix, the series as a whole, the highlights and the failures, and, of course, Michael Fassbender’s beautiful face. It’s a lengthy but somehow also zippy discussion and we all wind up making fun of Beast at some point for some reason. Poor Beast. But long live the X-Men!

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Stories from the Antebellum Planet of the Apes

SportsAlcohol.com cofounder Nathaniel moved to Brooklyn, as you do. His hobbies include cutting up rhubarb and laying down. His favorite things are the band Moon Hooch and custard from Shake Shack. Old ladies love his hair.
Nathaniel

The last time a new Planet of the Apes movie hit theaters we took a look at the tie-in novel and short films that were meant to fill in a little of the story between the movies. With the release of War for the Planet of the Apes, we decided it was time to update that list and run through all of the stories that have been released in this iteration of the series. If you want to catch up on the current Apes timeline (or want to know which ones are worth checking out) before going out to see the new movie, this is the list for you. Continue reading Stories from the Antebellum Planet of the Apes

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Wonder Woman

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

We weren’t sure if we were going to do a Wonder Woman podcast because we cover so many comics-related movies so often, but then Wonder Woman came out and became a phenomenon and suddenly it seemed pretty lame to have podcasts on Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad and not the first of these DCU movies that everyone loves. Plus, we had a genuine superhero novice in the form of Sara, who never sees this stuff, so she and Marisa and Jesse and Nathaniel sat down to talk about our Wonder Woman experiences: How it’s different from other superhero movies, how it’s similar, and what it means to the larger audience that’s obviously connecting with it.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Soundtrack: I Still Feel the Same (Anti!)

Gripes
There are contrarians, there are iconoclasts, and then there is SportsAlcohol.com co-founder Marisa. A contraiclast? Her favorite Springsteen album came out this century, so she is basically a controversy machine.

Also, she is totally not a dude!
Marisa
Gripes

I know this is going to make me sound like a crotchety old lady who can’t lighten up and have fun, but we need to talk about the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 soundtrack. After the first movie blew up and its playlist hit the top of the Billboard charts, I ranted against the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 soundtrack. As time passed, I worried that, by calling the songs overdone and overplayed, I might have been missing the point. Maybe they were supposed to be like that? In college, when it would get nice out and everyone would sit outside on blankets on the lawn with tiny radios to play music, my friends and I started piecing together what we called The Generic Mix Tape, with those decade-agnostic tracks that transcend musical taste, like “Sweet Home Alabama” or “The Hurricane.” Maybe I’d overlooked some subtle nuance, and director James Gunn had been commenting on those kinds of songs with his Guardians needle drops.

Enter Vol. 2. Nope, I was right the first time. (Warning: The rest contains spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.)

Continue reading Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Soundtrack: I Still Feel the Same (Anti!)

The SportsAlcohol Podcast: Suicide Squad

Rob is one of the founders of SportsAlcohol.com. He is a recent first time home buyer and it's all he talks about. Said home is in his hometown in Upstate New York. He never moved away and works a job to pay for his mortgage and crippling chicken wing addiction. He is not what you would call a go-getter. This may explain the general tone of SportsAlcohol.com.
Rob

By the time you listen to this, The Suicide Squad movie will have set a box office record for August while receiving such bad reviews its fans are petitioning to shut down review aggregate site rottentomatoes.com. So is it any good? There’s actually a lot to break down here:

  • Studio meddling
  • Racism
  • Ike Barinholtz
  • Sexism
  • Soundtrack cues
  • The triumph of Margot Robbie
  • Unnecessary DC vs Marvel comparisons
  • The many lives of Jai Courtney’s career
  • How much worse Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was
  • Hollywood It Boy Joel Kinnaman
  • Method Acting
  • Ike Barinholtz again for good measure

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