The Defenders are no more. Yesterday Netflix announced that The Punisher and Jessica Jones were cancelled, becoming the final casualties of the Marvel purge on Netflix. Whilst many may be quick to blame Disney’s upcoming streaming service for this as far as I know the Marvel/Netflix deal had nothing to do with Disney and it appears the shows were cancelled due to low viewing figures and lack of interest from even hardcore Marvel fans. So what happened? How did what promised to be the most exciting branch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe become no more?
Another year done and dusted- and what a year it’s been for nerdom. A new Doctor arrived, Thanos killed half the universe (SPOILER ALERT for the three people who don’t know), the Skeleton Detective got political and del Toro won his Oscar. 2019 promises to be huge, so without further ado it’s time to reveal what I am looking forward this year in terms of films, television shows and books. We are returning to Hawkins, visiting our favourite drunk reality jumping cynical genius once again, travelling to a galaxy far far away and the most underrated comic book hero of all time is getting a new coat of red. 2019 is going to be huge.
Black Panther is a phenomenon. This isn’t just a superhero film, this is a cultural statement, a message to the world, and easily one of Marvel’s best and most successful films. In just over a month, Infinity War comes out, and it’s a testament to Black Panther that the epic culmination of ten years that involves the Avengers battling Thanos is the one that must be better than the King of Wakanda. Ten years ago, Marvel probably wouldn’t dream of even getting nominated, but Black Panther’s unprecedented success has many people wondering if this is the year the barriers are truly shattered and Black Panther gets recognition from the Oscars. I’m not just talking technical, I’m talking Best Picture here. Could it happen? It’s actually more likely than usual. Let’s look at the case for-
What’s different this time?
The Academy has changed. When Christopher Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece The Dark Knight failed to get a Best Picture nomination despite being hailed as one of the best films of the 21st century, the Academy Awards expanded the Best Picture slot to ten. This has helped films such as District 9, Up, Toy Story 3, Mad Max Fury Road, The Martian, Arrival and Get Out to get nominated (all very worthy nominations for great films, may I add.) Whilst there were only nine films this year up for nominations (seriously, couldn’t they have nominated Logan or Blade Runner 2049?) the field is open for a superhero film. So why wasn’t The Winter Soldier, another acclaimed Marvel film, or Wonder Woman, another cultural milestone, or Logan, held up as the best superhero film since 2008, up for grabs? Let’s take a look at those in order-
Fellow MCU film The Winter Soldier has similarities to Black Panther- a more serious tone, relevant themes and a great and engaging plot. However, the issue lies with the franchising. In order to appreciate The Winter Soldier, you have to be aware of Captain America as a character and his arc in both his first film and The Avengers. The film has many supporting characters from the MCU film such as Nick Fury and Black Widow and the plot of the film revolves around events that tie into the wider universe. The film is unquestionably a franchise film, and the Academy don’t tend to go for sequels anyway. Black Panther on the other hand is a standalone film that requires no knowledge of the other Marvel films. Wakanda is a detailed world in and of itself and the film more than holds up as a singular superhero film. This is a key reason why I think it’ll be nominated.
OK, so what about the crown jewel of non-Nolan DC films? Why do I think Black Panther will get nominated over Wonder Woman? Make no mistake, Wonder Woman was a phenomenon as well and has just as much to say as Black Panther does about society both then and now, however there are two factors that Black Panther has over Wonder Woman. Firstly, as much as Wonder Woman is acclaimed, nearly everyone, myself included, agree that the third act where Ares reveals himself and the explosions begin is weaker than the outstanding first two acts. It’s not bad, but kinda cliche, especially when he starts to turn himself into a CGI demon. In contrast, Erik Killmonger is held up as the best part of Black Panther, and the third act does not stumble in the way Wonder Woman’s does. Another factor is the release of Justice League, which had Wonder Woman as a central character. I enjoyed the film, but it was hated by critics and failed at the box office, all the while Academy voters were preparing themselves to vote. Could the failure of Justice League have contributed to Wonder Woman’s Oscar snubs? More than likely. Infinity War is set to smash all box office records and will almost certainly receive acclaim, and even if Ant-Man 2 isn’t good (which I doubt it will be), that won’t affect Black Panther’s Oscar chances. I think fate is on Wakanda’s side.
This brings us to Logan, the only superhero film to ever be nominated for a screenplay award and one of this year’s major snubs. Yes, a writing award is great but the acting deserved recognition, especially from Patrick Stewart. With that aside, people have been saying that Logan’s inability to get a Best Picture award means Black Panther cannot get one. It’s true that Logan’s wildly different tone and themes from most superhero films made it a prime award nominee, and Black Panther is more in line with the Marvel films and is ostensibly a superhero film, whereas Logan is more of a character driven western, but Black Panther has one thing Logan doesn’t- it has the cultural impact. Logan was widely praised and adored but Black Panther is a phenomenon and has taken the world by storm. It is a hugely important films for many reasons and has something to say about the current state of world politics. It has outgrossed most Best Picture winners combined and has made a massive cultural and social impact. What do The Wizard of Oz, Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET and Return of the King have in common aside from being blockbusters? They were all massively successful films that became events, which were rewarded with Best Picture nominations. Do the Academy really want to miss out on what is likely to be the biggest cultural event of the year that is causing Infinity War to look small by comparison? It’ll certainly boost the viewing figures.
There’s precedent for films like Black Panther being nominated. It’s obviously political so there’s that going for it (although I would like to think it got nominated for its own merits and not just to score points) and has a lot to say about the world currently. The release date isn’t really an issue, as Oscar-bait is slowly dying and more interesting films are taking over. Just this year Get Out, a satirical horror film about race relations released in February won Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for three more including Best Picture. The Best Picture winner is a love story between a fish man and a mute woman and is ostensibly a fantasy film directed by Guillermo del Toro, who specialises in speculative fiction. There is a high chance that Black Panther can not only be nominated, but win. It all depends on what else comes out though, although I guarantee that none will have the cultural impact of Black Panther. Ryan Coogler and Kevin Feige have a winner here- and it’s here to stay. Logan broke the screenplay barrier, now it’s time for the King of Wakanda to take one for the team and ride the Oscar glory.
It’s only February, but Marvel have wasted no time in giving the world the first superhero film of the year, and it’s set a huge bar for the rest of the year. Considering Infinity War is next, you’d think Black Panther would mainly act as an excuse to set it up, but I was surprised at just how different and standalone this film was in relation to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, the awesome intro is there, Stan Lee has his usual hilarious one-liner and there are after credits scenes but for the most part Black Panther is the most unique and out there Marvel film. You’ll never see a blockbuster or superhero film like it. This movie serves as a massive statement to critics who complain about all superhero films being the same- I dare the superhero cynics to find another mainstream blockbuster film that features a mainly black cast which serves as a celebration of African culture whilst also dealing with Shakespearean ideals about loyalty, disillusionment, identity and colonialism, tackles modern day issues such as immigration and inequality, has an utterly unique, Oscar-worthy visual design and world building that presents a fully detailed country with its own laws and customs which also happens to be plain fun (Black Panther 2 won’t count). Until there’s another one, I’m going to assume those critics have no idea what they’re talking about.
As the film’s been out in most countries for about a week and it’s been released in America now, I will be spoiling the film, although not massively.
Continuing on from his awesome introduction and arc in Civil War, T’Challa/Black Panther/The coolest character in the MCU returns home to Wakanda to be crowed king. Things are not so easy though, as he soon gets involved in a global plot which revolves around vibranium smuggling, the return of Ulysses Klaw and a threat to the throne of Wakanda. Already the film sets itself apart from the rest of Marvel by having a relativity contained plot- after the awesome action scene in South Korea (Marvel really loves filming there) the rest of the film is set entirely in Wakanda and has very personal stakes. But the uniqueness doesn’t end there, as this is a very thematic and dramatic film a world away from the buddy comedy of Thor: Ragnarok. Through the different tribes of Wakanda, incredibly topical issues are raised that are very relevant for today’s world. T’Challa believes in Wakanda’s isolation as he does not want the resources of his country being taken away by foreign powers like the rest of Africa, but at the same time he rules the most technologically advanced nation on the planet and believes this to be the right way, leaving the rest of the world behind to face their own problems. W’Kabi fears that Wakanda’s involvement in world affairs will bring unneeded immigration and integration, which risks Wakanda being just another country and Killmonger believes that Wakanda should be the leaders of the world and that it is justified, seeing how Western cultures took over Africa during the 19th century and how black people have been treated even now. His motivations make absolute sense. I was very surprised as to how political this movie was, but it wasn’t done in a hamfisted or preachy manner. It enhanced the film and made it a lot more complex than the usual blockbuster.
Speaking of Killmonger, he’s probably the best villain Marvel has ever done. Like Loki, he is a very complex and interesting character who opposes the hero in a far more interesting manner than just being evil. His motivations make total sense, his actions are justified and he gets a complete character arc which is immensely satisfying to watch. There’s also the return of Ulyssess Klaw, who is great fun to watch. The film’s villains are all great and Marvel have definitely improved on this front. This bodes well for Thanos. A great villain is nothing without a great hero, but fortunately Black Panther is an awesome character. He commands the screen every second he is on screen and in his solo film he is perhaps even more well thought out than his amazing introduction in Civil War. He is a hero who doesn’t see himself as one and definetly doesn’t see himself as a superhero, yet his actions and character are all heroic. He’s become one of my favourite Marvel heroes as he isn’t afraid to make mistakes and even do things that antagonise others, as long as it’s in the service of his goals.
The world of Wakanda and the highly unique style this film has is simply amazing. The film combines futuristic technology with African culture, and it’s so interesting to watch. Marvel have successfully made politics interesting- albeit the politics of a fictional nation which seems a lot cooler and a lot more well run than most countries today. That’s kind of the point though, as fear of expanding and helping others is one of the main conflicts of the film. For all the wider themes at play, this is still a comic book film, and the action is amazing. The fighting is very intense and quite different from the usual Marvel action and it reminded me in places of a 12-rated Logan. The final battle is also awesome and the film is never boring, always offering up something new and interesting. The links to the wider MCU are very thin, with only Klaw, minor references to Civil War and a hilarious Martin Freeman as Everett Ross offering wider links to the universe. I appreciate this though, as being bogged down in references would have alienated casual audiences. The standalone nature gives Ryan Coogler to tell his own story and put a unique stamp on Marvel, which he has done immensely well. As much as I am looking forward to Infinity War, I am desperate for a Black Panther sequel to return to this unique world.
In conclusion, I highly reccomend Black Panther, even if you are not a huge superhero fan. It’s different enough to stand on its own and it has a lot to say about race, diversity and building relationships, very relevant in today’s world. It’s one of Marvel’s best films and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s at least a bit of recognition from next year’s Oscars for this film. Next up, it’s a film ten years in the making- Infinity War. April can’t come soon enough.
I love reading books, watching TV and films and reading comics. All of those have great characters, but some appeal to me more for various reasons. Here are some requirements for a character to have to tick all my boxes on the awesome-meter:
A cool hat
During Eurovision this year I commented on how I liked Australia and Austria’s hats. It seems I always have a thing for guys wearing fedoras and other brimmed hats. The Fourth Doctor wears one, Indiana Jones wears one and Skulduggery Pleasent wears one. There are other cool hats as well. The Seventh Doctor owns the Panama hat, Oddjob wields his bowler hat, Jack Sparrow has the pirate hat and Sherlock Holmes made the deerstalker an icon.
I don’t know what it is but something about hats appeal to me. I own a trilby and I always find a character with a brimmed hat to be cool. Maybe it’s because it makes their silhouette unique and it conceals their face. A character wearing a hat instantly makes them mysterious and meaning business.
Of course the most famous trench coat in British culture is the Tenth Doctor, but there are other cool trench coat wearing characters. Constantine, Hellboy, Gambit, Captain Jack and the Jedi all wear the awesome coat. I like trench coats because they are just so cool. The characters who wear them are basically saying “Yeah, I wear a coat indoors and outdoors”. It also helps that the coat’s length means they flow in the wind, so when the characters run, the coat flies with them. They just give the character a sense of style and makes them look big and imposing.
Witty one liners
This one applies to many characters I’ve already mentioned. I love characters who can look at any situation and think of something to say. James Bond is a fan of these after he kills someone (“Shocking”) and the Doctor can make these comments, especially the Fourth (“Hello can you help me I’m a spy”). Hawkeye is full of these in Age of Ultron, but I won’t discuss any further as I will review the film seeing how I’ve now seen it twice (Most people in the film have great one-liners). One-liners give a character a sense of fun and add a sense of snark and wit to them.
Superheroes wear capes, as does Darth Vadar and many other Star Wars characters. Like with big coats, capes give a sense of size and awe to the character. Batman wouldn’t look as cool without his cape and while superheroes can be cool without them (Wolverine, Spider-Man, Green Lantern), most of them look intimating with a cape in the background. In Darth Vader’s case, his long cloak gives him a presence, which he needs if he wants to rule the galaxy.
So those are four things which instantly make a character awesome to me. Of course their personality and what they do also helps but if a character wears a hat, dons a trench coat, wears a cape and has a quip for every occasion then they get my seal of approval.
Due to the huge amount of comic book movies being released, I thought I will write about comic books themselves. It’s obvious the films are hugely popular, but it’s important to remember their origins. I have a drawer full of Batman, X Men and Thor comics.
So here is my comic book guide for dummies. First, the two big companies:
Marvel: Otherwise known as the ones who make the movies. Marvel are more light hearted, with a bigger emphasis on massive events involving loads of characters. Famous for Spiderman, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Captain America, Thor (my favourite), Hulk, Iron Man and Daredevil. The characters are normally ordinary people imbued with powers and they are more science fiction based (Doctor Strange aside).
DC: Otherwise known as the ones who should be making lots of movies but aren’t, DC tell darker stories with more serious characters with a wider range of personalities. The story arcs are more personal to certain heroes. Famous for Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Green Arrow, Aquaman and Constantine. The heroes usually have personality problems and there is an emphasis on fantasy and magic, with technology also playing a part.
There are other comic companies but these are the two which everyone recognises and the ones where the most famous heroes come from. I’ve already discussed why they are so popular, so I’m going to talk about which company I prefer and why I like reading them.
I’m more of a Marvel person, but it’s funny because I find the DC characters more interesting. I much rather prefer Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter to Iron Man, Captain America and Hulk (though they are all cool). Similarly I prefer Batman to Spider-Man. However, the reason I prefer Marvel overall is not just because of the movies but because they feel more like a combined universe. I can read a Spider-Man comic and imagine that the X-Men exist, but while reading a Batman comic it is hard for me to imagine that Superman is somewhere (probably because Batman is so different to the other DC characters). So overall I think both are great, but I prefer Marvel, even though the DC universe is more interesting.
The main reason I like comics is because of the fact that it isn’t just words, but artwork and pictures as well. The stories are also really cool and the comic book universes are just so awesome! In one universe you have a guy dressed as a bat fighting clowns, people made of clay, mad scientists and an alien battling bald business men and a giant monster. The other universe has a guy dressed up as a spider fighting a man made of sand, alien symbiote and a scientist with four metal tentacles and a billionaire with an iron suit who fights warlords and a dragon. The extent a comic book can go with its characters is just brilliant. What other form of storytelling can have Asgardians, gamma mutated scientists, sorcerers and a WWII super powered soldier in the same story? And because it is a visual medium, it means that these characters can be instantly recognised.
And that’s why I like comic books. I read normal books as well but there is something about comics which appeal to me. It’s also good that there are movies which are being made from them, so there is always something for me to enjoy at the cinema.
This weekend I hope to watch X- Men: Days of Future Past, the third superhero movie released this year so far. The first was Captain America 2 (which was awesome) and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (which I haven’t seen). In August we’re getting Guardians of the Galaxy (squee!) and next year we’re getting Avengers: Age of Ultron (double squee!), Fantastic Four and Antman. Not to mention last year we got The Wolverine and Thor 2 (which were awesome) with the new Superman and Iron Man 3 (I want to see Iron Man, not really interested in Superman). This led me to think; why are superheroes so popular? In the past decade they have dominated cinema non-stop and don’t show any sign of stopping. So why do people dressed in leather and spandex provoke so much love?
Well perhaps it’s best to look at the origins of superheroes. Arguably legendary characters like Hercules were the first superheroes as he had super powers, but I’m talking about the pants-on-outside kind of superheroes even though a) hardly any heroes wear pants on the outside and, b) there is a Marvel hero called Hercules. The first superhero of the “classic” kind was the Phantom, who debuted in 1936 but the first iconic hero was the pants-on-outside guy himself: Superman, who appeared in 1938, followed by Batman in 1939. Superman was created as a character to stand up to the American way and was basically war propaganda until the 80’s when all comics got darker. Marvel’s answer to this was Captain America who appeared in 1941 and in his debut issue he did this on the front cover…
This is the first reason as to why I think superheroes became popular in the first place. In the first Captain America movie it showed a world where Captain America was a beacon of hope and he took part in many propaganda shows. This shows what an impact characters like Captain America and Superman had and were ways to tell people that America will defeat the war and inspire people to fight. There’s also the fact that in the 30’s and 40’s people hadn’t grown used to superheroes and these early heroes helped usher in others.
Another reason is that superheroes can be used to comment on society. Despite there being 5 X Men and 2 Wolverine movies, the X- Men were made in 1963 as a metaphor for the racism in America and the African-American civil rights movement. As mutants the X- Men were treated like monsters and the team’s main enemy Magneto (who is awesome) was a survivor of the Holocaust and had suffered discrimination like the mutants were going through.
Other characters also became metaphors for the real world, especially the Cold War. Iron Man and Hulk were created to comment on the threat of nuclear attack in the Cold War and one of Wonder Women’s enemies was called Egg Fu and was a Chinese Communist shaped like an egg. Don’t believe me?…
But what about Batman or Spider-Man? Well Batman is unique because he is the definition of a superhero without powers, as he was originally designed as a detective. Spider-Man is a teenager who turns into a superhero. People love Batman because he is so knowledgeable and strong without powers and people love Spider-Man as the majority of comic readers in the 60’s were teenagers and seeing a teenager becoming a superhero would have been very relatable.
So superheroes are used for symbols of hope, symbols of encouragement and symbols to make political statements. But what about now? Why do characters like the X-Men, Captain America and Superman continue to be popular. Some could say the X-Men movie in 2000 reinvigorated interest in the whole genre and, well, that’s kind of true. Let’s see…
5 X-Men movies + 2 Wolverine movies + 3 Spider- Man movies+ 2 Spider- Man reboot movies+ 3 Iron Man movies+ 2 Captain America movies+ 2 Thor movies+ 2 Hulk movies+ The Avengers+ 2 Superman movies+ 3 Batman movies+ 2 Fantastic Four movies+ 2 Hellboy movies+ 2 Ghost Rider movies+add whatever other superhero movies= A lot of spandex.
But if the X-Men movie wasn’t a success then superheroes wouldn’t have lasted and we certainly wouldn’t have the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Why are they still so endearing? I think it’s because the themes and ideas behind the superheroes still remain. Iron Man is still relevant because the threat of nuclear attack is still around. There are still racial problems around the world, making the X-Men still seem relevant. Children still look up to Spider-Man, Batman and Superman and the second Captain America movie dealt with the idea of a propaganda symbol like Captain America being stuck in a world with conspiracies and cover-ups, which is a concern in the real world. Superheroes are still relevant and they are still hugely popular. But is it becoming a problem with all of the movies coming out?
Well, that’s a post for another day…
UPDATE: Now I’ve seen Days of Future Past. So, review in one paragraph… go!
Days of Future Past (yes I know that title makes no sense) is set in the future where mutants are being hunted by giant robots. The surviving mutants send Wolverine back in time to the 70’s to change the future (it’s all I can reveal without spoiling). The movie is an incredibly well-made and action packed movie which is surprisingly dark and deep. It fixes the continuity flaws made by the other movies and shows some awesome new characters with interesting powers (the most awesome are Quicksilver and Blink. If you’ve seen the movie you know what I’m talking about). All the characters get at least one awesome moment, Magneto is still as awesome as ever and both the future and the past are incredibly detailed. It’s also funny and clever and manages to wrap up many story arcs. The villain is interesting as he isn’t the conventional villain and every action scene is spectacular. I recommend you see it but watch the X-Men trilogy and X-Men: First Class before you see Days of Future Past.