Tag Archives: Marvel Comics

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.
Maggie
Latest posts by Maggie (see all)

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 Podcast: Spider-Man: Homecoming

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

The last Spider-Man movie, Amazing Spider-Man 2, was the subject of SportsAlcohol.com’s very first podcast. Over three years later, we’re back with an ever-more-slightly-better-produced episode about the third cinematic reboot of Marvel’s flagship character this century. Topics covered:

  • Betty Brant
  • Dennis Miller
  • Women named Marisa
  • How bad we are at podcasts

Also, as mentioned in the podcast, check out Rob’s take on Betty Brant

SPOILER WARNING: This podcast assumes you’ve seen every movie every made with Spider-Man

How To Listen

We are now up to SIX (6) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

SportsAlcohol Podcast: Captain America: Civil War

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

Mother’s Day Weekend means that all the SportsAlcohol got together to watch and talk about Captain America: Civil War
Spoiler Warning: Lots of spoilers about this movie and the MCU in general

How To Listen

We are now up to SIX (6) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

Fantastic Four Achieves Peak Fox Marvel

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.

“Does it hurt?”

“Every time.”

That is an exchange from the first X-Men movie, which came out just over fifteen years ago. It’s a succinct example of why Bryan Singer’s film works so well, despite many superficial limitations. The question is posed by Rogue, a young mutant who has just met one of her own kind, the taciturn Wolverine. She’s asking about the metal claws that pop out through his skin, and Wolverine’s response, as played by Hugh Jackman, isn’t an emo lament. It’s plainspoken: sad but not whiny, and a little funny in its ruefulness. It conveys character through dialogue without exposition. Those handful of words (and the actors bringing them to life) say: Wolverine is a badass with metal claws, and every time he brandishes them, he feels a twinge of pain.
Continue reading Fantastic Four Achieves Peak Fox Marvel

The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: Avengers Age of Ultron

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.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is the latest megahit from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s full of fun stuff to nerd out about. Rob, Nathaniel, Jesse, and Marisa saw the movie together over the weekend and talked about their Avengers Age of Ultron experience, touching upon superhero special effects, character balancing, the qualities of a good robot villain, comic book origins, the future of nerdery, and frenzied suggestions for post-credit tags that should have been. The discussion has many spoilers for the film so it will probably be more fun if you see the movie before listening to it.

This also marks the one-year anniversary of our foray into podcasting, with an episode featuring the same four nerds who got into Amazing Spider-Man 2 this time last year. If you like our thoughts on Age of Ultron, check out our past year’s worth of podcasts on sci-fi movies, superheroes, rock and roll, TV shows we love and hate, and plenty more.

    We are up to five 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.
  • You can download the mp3 of this episode directly here.
  • You can listen in the player below.

Let’s Talk about X[-Men: Days of Future Past], Baby

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.

So: X-Men Days of Future Past came out. It got some good reviews and made some good money and generally re-affirmed the X-Men as a big franchise for Fox that nonetheless doesn’t have quite the same cross-demographic appeal as an Iron Man or Batman movie (it may, however, become the first X-Men movie to outgross a Spider-Man movie — then again, X-Men: The Last Stand may retroactively gain that title against Amazing Spider-Man 2, too).

In an ideal world, we’d have a post-movie podcast for you, but 2/5 of the SportsAlcohol.com founding editors have been afflicted with a variety of maladies over the past two weeks, and that’s not counting whatever other diseases may be circulating our upstate offices. Our healing factor is decidedly unWolverinelike and I can’t really hear out of my left ear at the moment so any podcast would be like forty percent me going WHAT?! (though if we had done a podcast after X-Men: The Last Stand, that number would have been more like 78%, for different reasons).

What we can offer is a little X-Men discussion forum, so please, by all means, respond to the prompts below or just talk about your unrelated X-Men experience. Spoilers likely abound.

Stray Comments:

–While the movies insist on making Wolverine a major character in most of their stories, this may be the first X-Men movie to really use Wolverine as part of the X-team and without working in his personal issues or feelings of ambiguity toward the idea of X-Men into the center of the story (though his personal issues do loom in the background).

–I think it’s probably safe to say the “Singer is OK but he can’t really direct action” stuff should be put to bed considering the portal-hopping sequence and the Quicksilver sequence. I would have been fine with putting it to bed after X2; on the other hand, I’m sure this will somehow be a chief objection to X-Men: Apocalypse in two years, assuming he gets to make that movie.

–It’s easy to imagine a version of this series that turns Xavier/Charles/Mystique into a Bad YA-style love triangle, so extra props for that being dramatically fertile material both here and in First Class.

–I’ve heard lots of talk of how this movie actually makes the credits stinger from The Wolverine make zero sense, but after talking it out, actually, I think it totally makes sense. When we join the future X-Men in DOFP, Wolverine is fully committed to fighting with them against the Sentinels. So when he’s approached by Professor X and Magneto two years after the events of The Wolverine, they’re recruiting him when the Sentinels are starting to become a threat. This does not explain how Xavier got his body back from where we left him post-credits in X-Men: The Last Stand, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m not saying there aren’t continuity hiccups here and there, but I think the Wolverine thing is actually solid.

Stray Questions:

–Is McAvoy now officially your favorite Professor X? Much love to Patrick Stewart, who I’m pretty sure was the original (and only?) oft-fan-cast actor to actually work out, but McAvoy does a lot of the heavy lifting in this new movie, acting-wise.

–Quicksilver: Everyone’s new favorite X-Man? I never read any comics with him. What’s he like in them and how might he be different in The Avengers 2, which somehow also has the rights to use him?

–By actually doing a time-travel story that changes whether previous movies have happened or not, did the X-Men series actually and possibly accidentally become the most comics-faithful movie series ever?

–Who do you want to see on the team in X-Men: Apocalypse? And what will be credit-teased in that movie? X-Men Origins: Gambit?

–There are now seven X-Men movies. Rank ’em out!

Why the X-Men Movies Are Better than the Marvel Cinematic Universe

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.

When Bryan Singer’s X-Men was released on July 14, 2000, it was the first big superhero movie of that summer. It was also the first big superhero movie of the year. It was also the first big superhero movie since Mystery Men, a superhero spoof based on a comic book hardly anyone had heard of, flopped a year earlier. The last superhero/comics movie to hit before X-Men was the first Blade movie in 1998. The summer before that, the major superhero movies were Batman & Robin, Spawn, and Steel, starring Shaquille O’Neal.

X-Men‘s unexpected status as the most financially successful superhero movie that did not feature Batman or Superman emboldened movie studios to produce additional superhero movies, no longer mortally afraid that they were making the next Steel. Likewise, the fact that X-Men took the X-Men seriously encouraged audiences to attend superhero movies, no longer mortally afraid that they would wind up seeing a movie starring Shaquille O’Neal or Spawn. Spider-Man followed in 2002, hitting even bigger; Daredevil, Hulk, Fantastic Four, a new Batman series, some more Superman, and two even bigger X-Men movies followed — all before Iron Man re-kickstarted the genre by establishing Marvel Studios in 2008.

I begin by establishing the lineage of Singer’s X-Men because given the deluge that followed, for a lot of people, that’s what it represents: the laying of respectable groundwork for what followed. To be sure, the series as a whole has its fans, and probably some of those fans think back fondly on the first movie. But with its middling special effects, abbreviated running time, lack of massive spectacle, and reputation as a movie exceeded both by its immediate sequel and many superhero adventures that followed, I think it’s safe to say that most fans of comic book movies would place that first movie (and likely most if not all of its sequels) somewhere below The Avengers, the Captain Americas, at least two of the Iron Mans, and one or two Thors, and maybe somewhere above Spider-Man 3, Elektra, or the various attempts to start a Hulk franchise on the Marvel Movie Continuum.

I think it’s also safe to say most fans of comic book movies are incorrect.

The subject of the most ardent fan and even critical approval these days — among movies based on Marvel Comics — are the ones that come directly from Marvel Studios. Here I should note that I like all of those movies, with the possible exception of The Incredible Hulk, which I would have a stronger opinion about if I could remember at all. I would even venture to say that I like Iron Man 2 far more than anyone you know, and that I was on board with Captain America even before Winter Soldier. But when The Avengers, a movie that very nearly made my Ten Best list for 2012, came out, one of my main thoughts about it was: Finally! A Marvel Studios movie that I like nearly as much as the best X-Men and Spider-Man movies!

Let me explain.
Continue reading Why the X-Men Movies Are Better than the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Top 10 Reasons Spider-Man 3 Is Better than The Amazing Spider-Man

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.

When Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man premiered in July 2012, the general reaction seemed to be: well, it’s better than Spider-Man 3, obviously. A few passionate defenders called Amazing a better, more faithful representation of the Peter Parker and Spidey of the comic books than the Sam Raimi take, but for the most part, the movie seems to have been met with something between an affectionate shrug and an encouraging smile. But at least it was better than Spider-Man 3. Obviously.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (for serious, you guys still aren’t going with The Spectacular Spider-Man for a sequel title?) opens this weekend to kick off the summer movie season, and while the early reviews seem a bit more mixed than its predecessor’s, it almost certainly won’t be treated with the same level of derision as Spider-Man 3. Obviously.

Now, I haven’t seen The Amazing Spider-Man 2 yet. There will be a SportsAlcohol.com editorial summit on Friday night to determine what the deal with this movie is. But I have seen The Amazing Spider-Man, and the thing about that movie is: it’s not as good as Spider-Man 3. Not nearly.

The thing about Spider-Man 3 is: it’s actually pretty good.

Not as good as Spider-Man and certainly not as good as Spider-Man 2. To be sure, Spider-Man 3 is the weakest of Raimi’s de facto trilogy, and has two major problems that feed into each other: overcrowding and retconning. Before we get to the good stuff, these problems should be addressed.

The supposed problem of villain overcrowding has been noted at least since Batman Returns in 1992, and indeed, the first series of Batman movies seemed to add bad guys indiscriminately for easy stakes-raising. But as Christopher Nolan’s Batman series has shown, multiple villains don’t have to mean jammed-up storylines: that trilogy managed to include Ra’s al Ghul, Talia al Ghul, the Joker, Two-Face, Scarecrow, Mr. Zsasz, Bane, Carmine Falcone, and Catwoman. Some had bigger roles than others, of course, but that’s pretty much the same number of villains that populate the Burton/Schumacher films.

Unfortunately, Spider-Man 3 adheres more to the Schumacher model of villains, only it’s applied to the entire cast. Apart from the introductions and transformations of Flint Marko (the Sandman) and Eddie Brock (Venom) and the revival of the Green Goblin in the guise of Harry Osborn, Spider-Man 3 adds Gwen Stacy (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and her police-captain father while continuing to utilize its beloved supporting characters (Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Curt Connors) and, if anything, upping the screentime afforded to Harry Osborn and Mary Jane Watson. The movie also serves its themes of internal conflict by having several main characters toggle back and forth between personalities, essentially piling on additional characters even when familiar ones are onscreen: Peter Parker bonds with an alien symbiote that brings out a dark side to his personality. Harry Osborn loses his memory (and thirst for vengeance against Peter/Spider-Man), then regains it. Mary Jane has a real flirtation with Harry, then is manipulated by him when he re-evils.

The movie has so little actual room for its characters that it ret-cons them into the earlier films whenever possible. Flint Marko turns out to be involved in the death of Peter’s Uncle Ben, just to give him some convenient incentive to seek symbiote-encouraged revenge. Less of a direct retcon but perhaps even more ridiculous, Bernard Houseman (John Paxton), the Osborn butler for the entire series, decides late in the film to come forward and tell Harry that his father was a murderous lunatic and that Parker did not kill him, and for some reason this and only this can convince Harry to renounce his evil ways (and for some reason Bernard did not see fit to share this information sooner).

Individually, most of the movie’s characters get a moment or three where they shine. Narratively, though, Spider-Man 3 is a mess. Both of the overcrowding and retconning stem from a script that seems unfinished at best; check out that patchwork bit where local news narrates Spider-Man’s big climactic fight with Venom and Sandman. There is also, as mentioned, some whiplash-inducing twists and reversals between Peter, Harry, and MJ in terms of who is wronging who and for what reason.

AND YET: Narrative is overrated sometimes. Spider-Man 3 is a lot of fun and far more good than bad. It came out a year after X-Men: The Last Stand, and for some reason that movie got a pass as a mild disappointment from a lot of fans, while Spider-Man 3 is still held up as something as a disaster. It’s not a disaster! It’s a pretty good movie with a pretty weak script! Surely you’ve heard of this practice before. It also takes Spider-Man to some new places, which is a lot more than I can say for The Amazing Spider-Man insisting that it’s taking a different approach while more or less remaking the first Raimi movie with a minimum or imagination. If we’re going to say that Marc Webb didn’t make a terrible Spider-Man movie, then we as a culture need to admit that Sam Raimi never made a terrible Spider-Man movie.

And so:

Ten Great Things about Spider-Man 3, In No Particular Order

Continue reading Top 10 Reasons Spider-Man 3 Is Better than The Amazing Spider-Man