Marvel Studios Won the Super Bowl

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If you’re like me, super bowl Sunday is less about football and more about catching the hot new movie trailers while the people who are there to actually, you know, watch the game get (rightfully) annoyed by your over enthusiasm for an advertisement over a game changing touchdown. Even with some ads getting released on the internet days before, they still save the biggest movie trailers for day of.

This year’s most exciting trailer was not for a movie, but Marvel’s ad for their three upcoming Disney+ series, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision and Loki. This is the first official footage released for these shows and they look absolutely glorious.

Spinning off from Avengers: Endgame, we start with some footage of Sam Wilson practicing throwing his newly inherited Captain America shield. Falcon and the Winter Soldier will supposedly trace Sam’s struggle to live up to the legacy of Steve Rogers. And it seems like Zemo (last seen in Captain America: Civil War) will return to make his transition a living hell. The shot of Bucky holding his gun to Zemo’s face hints at some great character drama ahead. Marvel is smart to launch a show with the intriguing spy-thriller tone of Captain America: Winter Soldier and the main delight will be the buddy-cop interactions between Sam and Bucky. The second this show was announced it just made perfect sense given the ball-busting relationship these two characters shared in Civil War. Who wouldn’t want to see an entire series of them kicking ass and trying to get along.

And then, quite possibly the most exciting reveal in this commercial, “Wanda, welcome home.” Given Wanda’s rich comic book history, WandaVision may be my most anticipated of the three series. Though they’ve utilized her short runtime well enough in the movies so far, if there’s any one character in the MCU deserving of her own series, its Wanda Maximoff. It seems as though the show will explore her reality-altering powers by having her create a little world within a sitcom show, where she will bring Vision back to life along with two newborn babies of their own. Wanda’s creating her own delusional reality, giving Legion a run for its money as “trippiest Marvel show.” The trailer flashes various sitcom-esque glimpses from a black and white, I Love Lucy aesthetic to a contemporary Modern Family kind of show. My favorite little treat from these quick glimpses: A blink-or-you’ll-miss-it shot appears of Wanda in her classic Scarlet Witch wardrobe from the comics.

Lastly, we get one shot from the Loki series. “I’m gonna burn this place to the ground.” Given that this show very recently began filming, it’s no surprise that this is all we get for now. This series will follow Loki after he escapes with the tesseract in that Avengers: Endgame scene. So this will play more like a “what if Loki escaped the Avengers’ clutches at the end of the first Avengers movie.” This series has great potential. There’s no question Tom Hiddleston can hold a lead part as this character. It’s a surprise it took this long to happen, really. And the recent news that Owen Wilson was cast in a supporting roll makes the comedic basis of this show all the more appealing.

The Ring (2002) [Horrific Hidden Meaning]

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Horrific Hidden Meaning is a series that explores how horror movies can provide a platform of discussion for the uncomfortable realities within society and the human psyche.

The year, 2002. The movie, The Ring. This moody, dread-filled story about a videotape that kills its viewer seven days after watching it scared up audiences and immensely influenced the horror genre with its massive popularity. Something about this spooky ghost tale hit audiences in all the right ways. Perhaps, in part because, at its core, The Ring hints at some mortifying personal truths that are even more revolting than the slimy, longhaired phantom that haunts its narrative.

The Ring follows Rachel (Naomi Watts) as she investigates her niece’s death by the cursed videotape. Once Rachel herself watches the tape, a race to reverse the inevitable ensues. At the heart of this plot lies Rachel’s son, Aidan (David Dorfman), who possess a small degree of mediumship. As a result, Aiden is a bit off-putting. His piercing baggy eyes and strangely precise form of speech convey just how left footed in comparison to other children he is.

When Rachel’s ex and Aidan’s father, Noah (Martin Henderson), enters the picture, it’s revealed that he abandoned Aidan and the responsibility of fatherhood. Living on the outskirt of his child’s life, Noah’s fear of raising Aiden got the better of him.

It’s here that the metaphor for the horror of a parent’s neglect toward their child takes form. This theme is brought to the extreme when it’s revealed that Samara (Daveigh Chase), the vengeful spirit behind the videotape, was murdered by her own mother. It turns out Samara, not unlike Aidan, had dark psychic abilities of her own. Unable to control her chaotic mind, Samara drove her parents mad with disturbing imagery until her mother killed her by throwing her down a deep, dark well.

Samara’s infertile mother wanted nothing more than to have a child. But when she adopted Samara, she resented the evil thing she got. Though transmitted through the prism of a ghost story, the true horror here is a parent’s resentment towered the anomalies their child can unexpectedly possess. Society expects a parent to love their child unconditionally, but what happens when displeasure or even animosity occurs in its place? With no outlet to express these unacceptable feelings to the world, much like Samara’s mother, madness can take over with disturbing results.

In addition to a conversation about paternal neglect, The Ring also features a delectable side of techno-horror. When exiled to a tiny barn loft by her father, Samara had nothing but a small television set to occupy her isolation. After her death, Samara’s choice to haunt the world through video is no coincidence. She extends the lack of affection she received from her father by making others feel the cold emptiness she experienced while sitting in front of her TV, cut off from any real human contact.

The thematic sentiment of detachment by way of technology persists throughout the movie. Samara’s father commits suicide by using all the electronics in his household to brutally electrocute himself after realizing there is no end to his daughter’s evil power. Noah is buried in his technology-heavy video journalism job in place of being a reliable father figure in his son’s life. The most striking visual assertions of this theme is when Rachel looks from her balcony to the windows of the apartments just across from hers. She observes multiple units, each exhibiting a lone individual watching television. Of course, the one that catches Rachel’s attention most is that of a child watching cartoons as a worn out, miserable looking single mother steps out for a smoke on her balcony. This brief moment is an apt way of showing both the boxed-in segregation as a result of automation, and Rachel’s inner reflection as a single mother.

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The movie portrays technology, specifically television as a way for people to escape rather than confront their essential human needs. At the climax of the movie, the spirit of Samara manipulates events to make a television set knock Rachel into the deep, dark well at the center of the story. This visual conveys the remote, desolate mentality technology can lay upon the human spirit, sending users down a hopeless pit.

Samara’s hand then grabs Rachel from the trench of the well, transmitting the moment of her death and allowing Rachel to understand Samara’s pain as a living person, experiencing her tragedy first-hand and in her shoes, rather than through images on a TV screen. This, in a sense, is a baptism for Rachel. She is now able to leave the well with an understanding of why Samara’s spirit lingers. With this, the movie conveys that knowledge by way of human contact is far more powerful than through the barrier of technology.

Rachel’s revelation is a turning point for Noah as well. Learning that Samara was a child who only wanted to be heard opens his eyes to his child who’s been left in a dark hole of his own without a father in his life.

Noah’s revelation, however, is short lived. Just when the movie takes a stance on human compassion as the ultimate deterrent to technological solitude, Samara’s spirit arrives with a vengeance and kills Noah. There was never an empathetic cure to Samara’s curse as Rachel comes to realize that the only way to avoid Samara’s wrath is by copying and showing her grim videotape to the next person. Here, the movie delivers its final nihilistic stance, that technological advancement is far more forward moving and expansive than human sentiment can ever be. In the end, just like Samara’s curse, technology will win, until its detached nature has fully consumed the world.

In the final scene, Rachel assists her son in making a copy of the videotape in order to lift the curse from him before his seven days are up. Little Aiden asks Rachel who they will show the tape to next. The last shot rests on the image of the well from the video. In a meta-sense, the audience viewing The Ring is next. In showing up to watch this escapist horror movie, the audience is themselves complicit in technology’s ever-evolving grasp on the collective human conscious, and aiding its expansion with their support.

About that Morbius Trailer…

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This week saw the long awaited (for some people maybe?) arrival of the Morbius trailer. In it, Jared Leto takes his second stab at bringing a comic book villain to life after his not-so-beloved roll as The Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad. This is Sony’s second movie featuring a solo take on a supporting Spider-Man character that started with 2018’s Venom. Even though Venom made all the money and then some, Sony is pretty brave to give a Spider-man villain with far less popularity or name-brand recognition than Venom his own movie. However, instead of gambling financial success based solely on the movie’s quality, they’ve opted to throw in a bunch of references and characters from the already successful Marvel Studios Spider-Man movies into the trailer as to ensure butts in seats.

I will be the first to admit that Morbius at the very least looks like it could be a fun time at the theater, and who am I kidding, I’ll be there opening weekend to see how it pans out. Jared Harris’, until the remedy is worse than the disease, line in response to Leto’s how far are we allowed to go? evokes chills and alludes to an intriguing theme that could be fun to explore in this context. The trailer itself is well edited and effective, using Beethoven just feels right for this classical, poetic narrative about a man who inadvertently turns himself into a living vampire while desperately searching for a cure to his crippling disease. And at the end of the day, I’m a sucker for anything from the horror or superhero genre, so this might as well be a delightful mix of chocolate and peanut butter to me.

My one nagging worry is the fact that these movies, weather Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios like it or not, will inevitably be connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity. We all rejoiced when Marvel Studios made a deal with Sony to make Spider-Man movies set in their Avengers universe, but now we are beginning to see the consequences to that deal with the devil. Since Sony owns the rights to all things associated with Spider-Man on the big screen, they are taking advantage of that ownership by referencing the narrative cliffhanger from last summer’s Spider-Man: Far From Home and bringing back Michael Keaton as The Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming. And that’s just in this trailer alone. Who knows how far the actual movie will extend these connections.

Why is this something to worry about? Because for twenty-two movies Marvel Studios created a universe with standards, one with Kevin Feige as lead chef, using his ingredients to evoke a taste and consistency throughout. A beautiful mosaic was created under this authorship. Now, there will be a completely separate studio, not at all in sync with the MCU’s standard of quality, making movies in that same universe, bringing an imbalance to the carefully crafted world established by a team with a better track record for understanding these characters and this world. This is like if the writers room at The Big Bang Theory, through some business means, inherited a few characters from Vince Gilligan and his writing team at Breaking Bad and integrated them into the story of their show. Sure, as a Breaking Bad fan, you could just ignore this inconsistency by choosing not to watch The Big Bang Theory, but the quality and legacy of Vince Gilligan’s hard work and world building would be forever affected.

And make no mistake, this is only the beginning, especially if Morbius is a financial success. By association, this will make Venom, a movie originally made to exist within its own vacuum, connected to the MCU’s continuity, as Morbius will no doubt eventually cross over with that character. Not to mention, Sony is reported to already be mapping out their plans to have Tom Holland’s Spider-Man crossover with Tom Hardy’s Venom. At this rate, how long would it be before Sony holds a gun to Marvel Studios’ Spider-Man privileges in demand of a Venom or Morbius roll in their next developing Spider-Man movie, or even their next big Avengers-level crossover. All of this would not seem as scary of a possibility though if it weren’t for Sony’s track record of shoving characters into their movie’s narratives purely for ancillary reasons. From their forced inclusion of the black suit and Venom in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 to shoving a bunch of useless subplots into The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in anticipation of building to an eventual Sinister Six spinoff movie. Those decisions were ultimately such a grand turnoff to audiences that Sony had no choice but to request a Marvel Studios bailout to help pull the Spider-Man franchise out of the hole they themselves dug it in.

All said, I’m not wholly against Sony making solo movies for Spider-Man’s supporting cast, I just wish they existed in their own separate continuity. At best, Venom was a silly but fun, B-level, action monster movie. It just doesn’t feel right adding it, along with Morbius, into the MCU canon. Though not highly probable, we can try to keep optimistic that Morbius will end up a solid entry that is worthy enough to stand alongside and add something of substance to the greater MCU. Maybe in this new decade, Sony will turn their past mistakes around and start taking these characters as seriously as Marvel Studios does. After all, they did produce Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and that movie hit all the right marks in all the right places. You’d just have to ignore the fact that Spider-Verse was brought to life by the remarkably talented writing duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, while Morbius’ writing credits go to the duo behind Gods of Egypt and Power Rangers. Gulp. Hold on to your butts.

Hellboy (2019): Blood Splatter, Absurdist Comedy and Inner Monsters

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Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008) are widely celebrated by fans of Mike Mignola’s comic book series as definitive film adaptations. Comparatively, director Neil Marshall’s 2019 reboot was not as critically embraced. Even so, Hellboy (2019) holds its own value as a rebuttal to del Toro’s more earnest vision by turning its speakers to ten and blaring a metal fueled, blood-soaked monster movie.

Experienced as a genre filmmaker, most notably from his horror masterpiece, The Descent (2005), Marshall accepted the reigns to Hellboy only after insisting it be a clean reboot with no ties to del Toro’s work. He was inspired by the gothic-horror art from the comics and wanted to bring his vision to life with a hard R rating, unlike the two previous PG-13 films. Casting David Harbour in the titular roll was the next essential ingredient in giving the franchise its brash makeover.

While the core plot draws mainly from The Wild Hunt storyline from the comics, Marshal chose not to tether himself to this one specific narrative by also stitching in various short stories from Mignola’s vast world. This allowed for a very kinetic tone, jumping from one eerie setting to the next. From the grotesque Baba Yaga’s disturbing child-torture lair to a comedic flashback where Hellboy investigates a baby’s kidnapping by fairy. Marshal truly captured the Paranormal Investigator side that had yet to be as fully realized on film. He also made use of an array of practical effects mixed with digital, thanks to academy award winning makeup artist Joel Harlow, granting the creatures a legitimately disturbing and unforgettable tangibility.

The introduction of our hero finds Hellboy investigating the disappearance of missing fellow B.P.R.D. agent and good friend, Esteban Ruiz (Mario de la Rosa), who has been transformed into a vampire. Here, the movie makes its first loud statement that it is not to be taken seriously by pitting Hellboy against Ruiz in a Mexican wrestling match. Hoping to save Ruiz, Hellboy’s brute strength gets his good friend gruesomely killed instead. This inciting incident leads Hellboy to contemplate the undeniable monster within himself.

Hellboy’s mentor and father figure, Professor Broom, keeps him tethered to his morality. But after a betrayal from allies in the Osiris Club and revelation of his destiny to bring about the apocalypse, Hellboy wonders if his humanity is even worth keeping. Enter the newly resurrected Nimue, The Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich), who extends her hand to Hellboy to embrace their destiny together as king and queen of the apocalypse.

The third act battle is what makes this movie an all-timer in extreme monster mayhem. At this point, the stage is set between hero and villain. The Blood Queen and Hellboy both represent the outcasts of society, the former choosing revenge on the world with a gnarly, skin boiling plague and the ladder reluctantly showing up to fight for those that reject him for his devilish lineage.

Here, Hellboy and reluctant ally, agent Ben Daimio, must embrace the inner monsters they hate and fear within themselves to take on The Blood Queen and her henchman, Gruagach. Daimio, after spending the bulk of the story untrusting of the feral beast lying dormant within Hellboy, reveals a suppressed animal of his own. His distain toward Hellboy, it turns out, was a projection of his own self-loathing. In a pivotal moment of combat between Hellboy and a hulking Gruagach, Daimio transforms into savage jaguar, turning the tide of the battle with glorious ferocity. A primal surge of superhero team-up time can be felt as Hellboy and Daimio battle Gruagach together.

Daimio is eventually knocked out of the fight and it is now Hellboy’s turn to embrace the monster within. Defeated and brought to a checkmate after The Blood Queen kills his father figure and moral compass, Professor Broom, right before his eyes, Hellboy is left with no choice but to accept his destiny as king of the apocalypse by wielding King Arthur’s sword (yes, that King Arthur) and becoming fully possessed as a brutish, raging demon. Metaphorically, this beast within that Hellboy dreads is the primal, egocentric animal at the base core of all rational human beings.

Once Hellboy bears the sword, he assumes an even more devilish form. His muscles and stature protruding, horns full length and the suppressed fire within now ignited outward, engulfing his skin. A flaming crown above his head adds a clever touch of self-superiority. At the same time, as if to reflect Hellboy’s abandonment of empathy toward the human race, hell literally arrives on earth as a bloodbath of havoc and destruction unfolds across London. People are squashed, torn and mutilated as demon hordes from hell make earth their playground.

Just in the knick of time, Alice, Hellboy’s trusty medium friend, manages to summon the spirit of Professor Broom, who appeals to Hellboy’s better nature within. Now equipped with both monstrous strength and a renewed moral worth, Hellboy beheads The Blood Queen and sends her straight to hell. The final scene features Alice, Daimio and Hellboy raiding an evil cult as a fully functioning strike unit. The most colorful and entertaining action sequence in the movie ensues, reflecting a sense of freedom from the inner monsters that no longer burden them.

 

Rejoice, For The Batman Has Begun Filming!

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Matt Reeve’s The Batman officially began filming this week and rarely has a comic book movie this early in development felt like an assured ace in the hole to me. There have been a plethora of live action Batman films through the ages, ranging from great to terrible, but none have yet to perfectly capture the character and his world in all facets.

Even the greatest of the bunch (imo), The Dark Knight, while so perfectly executing definitive film versions of the Joker, Harvey Dent and Gotham City, didn’t quite stick the landing in giving us a Bruce Wayne from the best of the comics medium. Not to say that Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan’s interpretation didn’t fit finely into the movie they made, just that they chose to give the character different layers than the character has most often had in the comics.

With Nolan’s vision, we find a Bruce Wayne who can see a better Gotham in the horizon and longs for the day he won’t have to be Batman anymore. His heart set on finally hanging up the bat-suit and retiring with the woman he loves, Rachel Dawes. Whereas in the comics, the battle is all that keeps Bruce going and his personal happiness is always tragically trumped by the vow he made to his parents to be the vengeance of the night. This was never so perfectly portrayed on-screen as in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, a 1993 animated adaptation. Here, after unexpectedly falling in love, Bruce begs to his parent’s grave to let him surrender Batman for his own happiness.

What specifically excites me about Reeves’ take being more faithful to the comic character than ever before is a quote he made back in January.

“It’s very much a point of view-driven, noir batman tale…It’s more Batman in his detective mode than we’ve seen in the films. The comics have a history of that. He’s supposed to be the world’s greatest detective, and that’s not necessarily been a part of what the movies have been.”

While not explicitly promising a Batman that is obsessively driven by his job, it’s the point of view noir tale that stands out to me. A noir tale almost always features a detective protagonist obsessed with his work. Not to mention that the noir genre has been the backbone of Batman’s most significant comic storylines. The Dark Knight had elements of this fiction, but it will be a delight to see an adaptation that goes all the way with it.

The promise of a detective story is also long overdue. One of the character’s greatest super powers in the comics is his insanely high level intelligence as a detective. His books were so often framed as a detective story where he must solve a crime in order to catch a criminal. It’s astonishing with so many live-action adaptations there has been so little use of this essential ingredient. Bruce Wayne not only shaped his body to peak human perfection, but his mind as well. This aspect can also convey just how obsessively the character throws himself into his job. Batman can’t be bothered with the complications of his life as Bruce Wayne while Riddler’s latest twisted riddle has him manically occupied.

Speaking of The Riddler, that brings me to the most exciting part of this movie’s development, the casting. And Paul Dano as The Riddler is one of the best in an all around amazing cast. Dano has been an underrated actor throughout his career, always on the outskirts popping up in an indie movie here and there to deliver a fascinating performance, his most memorable being in There Will Be Blood. I figured his screen time would skyrocket after standing toe to toe with Danniel Day Luis, but it seems rare to catch a glimpse of him now days. A role with this kind of notoriety is long overdue for this actor. The Riddler as a character is also overdue for this kind of exposure. The last live-action treatment The Riddler got was by way of Jim Carry in Batman: Forever and the character deserves so much more than that one-dimensional, cartoonish portrayal. The Riddler functions as a crazed reflection of Batman’s obsessive intellect and it looks as though we may finally be treated to that on screen.

But before going any deeper into the supporting cast, our new batman begs to be addressed. Robert Pattinson may be an unlikely candidate at first glance, it’s tough to shed the ‘guy from those Twilight movies’ image from the mainstream, but given his most recent film rolls, he has potential to be the most inspired version of Bruce Wayne yet. Good Time, High Life, The Lighthouse and The King are all movies that not only reveal Pattinson’s surprising range, but his ability to choose distinctive and risky parts within groundbreaking visionary movies. The fact that he’s hopping on board such a mainstream movie only adds value to the unique vision of Reeves’ interpretation. His casting reminds me so much of Heath Ledger’s as the Joker. With so many mixed responses to weather he can take on a character this big, I have a feeling we’re going to get something just as special as Ledger’s performance.

Colin Farrell as The Penguin is yet another fantastic choice for a character who hasn’t received as much live-action love, at least not since Danny Devito’s legendary performance. And this casting seems to hint at a more grounded version than ever before. Andy Serkis as our latest Alfred seems solid and leaves the door open for such a versatile actor to take the part in any direction he pleases. Will he deliver the traditional, caring father-figure, or can we be in for a more tough-as-rocks, hardened interpretation? Serkis is certainly capable of delivering either or. John Turturro feels like an obvious choice for Carmine Falcone, a character that requires a scene stealer like Turturro to convey a chilling amount of power and presence. Jeffrey Wright as Commissioner Gordon is a name most of us would never have thought of for the roll but makes so much sense and feels just right when you hear it. His ability to convey a weathered and jaded but morally centered spirit will match perfectly with Gordon. And then there’s Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman, an actor who has yet to fully prove herself in any groundbreaking roll, but amongst these supporting stars, it’s clear Reeves sees potential for her breakout in this classic part.

With a cast of villains this large, it seems more than likely that this movie will take inspiration from either of or both Batman: The Long Halloween or Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth. These two comic storylines feature a full roster of Batman’s rogues, the former spanning a year in Gotham and the ladder taking place in one night where the caped crusader is locked in the notorious nut-house with all the enemies he’s put away. This then begs the question, is there more casting news to come? Or have they kept some casting on the down low in order to withhold the element of surprise? The Joker and Two-Face seem to be the only A-list Bat-villains missing from the list. Could Joaquin Phoenix’s joker show up, or could yet another new interpretation make a debut in this movie?

All fanboy speculation aside, Matt Reeves captaining this ship seems to point in the direction of a genuinely quality film being produced. Batman as a character has had a rough go in the past several years with the morose, and frankly boring interpretation we were given through DC’s extended universe. Ben Affleck seems like he genuinely cared about the character, but the story and vision simply did not translate well. Batman is a character who has seen his live-action low points in the past and has just as often been revived from those ashes by a unique take from a visionary filmmaker. All signs point to this cycle repeating itself. Hot off the success of the Planet of the Apes franchise, Matt Reeves should be gearing up to blow us all away with a new era of Bat-fun.

 

 

Let’s talk about that Black Widow teaser trailer…

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This morning saw the drop of the new Black Widow trailer starring the Marvel Cinematic Universe veteran, Scarlett Johansson, who has been long overdue for her own solo outing. Seeing Natasha Romanov back on screen after biting the dust in last summer’s Avengers: Endgame may confuse some casual viewers of the MCU, but this movie has been reported to essentially be a flashback that fits squarely in between the timeline of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.

Widow’s last scene in Civil War features Tony Stark casting her out as a criminal after betraying the team. She walks out of that scene and into this movie, a fugitive on the run. We’ll track what exactly the former Russian spy got up to in between leaving Stark’s side and joining Captain America’s underground vigilante team. It’s not hard to imagine this movie ending with an appearance from Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers or Anthony Mackey’s Sam Wilson extending their hand to Widow, linking us directly to Infinity War. But many reports suggest an involvement for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, which makes sense given his oversight role at this point in the timeline with William Hurt’s Thunderbolt Ross (seen in the trailer).

Johansson first appeared as the character back in 2010’s Iron Man 2, and I must admit I was not fully convinced the character was a necessary part of the MCU at that point. She felt like a forced set up for The Avengers and didn’t bring much more to the table than a mysterious facade and a skilled fist to Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury. It wasn’t until 2012’s The Avengers that I was all in on the character. That movie introduces her on a mission that feels like a scene from her very own spy movie. Combine that with the interrogation scene between her and Loki where a complex backstory as a Russian assassin is revealed and you have enough potential material to last a trilogy. Ever since, Johansson brought a consistent quality to Black Widow’s subsequent appearances that always left me salivating for more.

It’s a shame it took this long for a Black Widow movie to get made, especially since its placement in the MCU continuity right after Civil War makes it feel as though it should have released after that movie. Yet on the brighter side, we can assume the knowledge of her eventual untimely death will add a certain weight that the filmmakers couldn’t utilize back then. After all, who says the MCU needs to maintain a linear continuity, with all the future upcoming movies and Disney + series, we’ll no doubt be doing some scene diving into untapped continuity territory, like the five year time jump that took place in Endgame for example.

On a more straight forward note, this trailer gives off a real Bourn Identity meets Marvel Studios vibe, and how does that not sound exciting? Florence Pugh, who really upped her notoriety with last summer’s emotionally intense Midsommer, plays supporting character Yelena Belova. Marvel Comics lore has Belova take up the mantle of Black Widow, so surly we’ll see much more of her in the future. Academy award winner, Rachel Weisz, makes her MCU debut as Melina Vostokoff, also known as the villainous Iron Maiden from the comics. Vostokoff’s role appears to be an ally in the trailer, so either this is a completely new interpretation or she’ll become an antagonist before the end. David Harbour makes his jump from Stranger Things to Marvel as the eccentric Red Guardian, the Soviet equivalent of Captain America. Harbour already looks like he’s having a blast with this role. And finally, the trailer gives a brief glimpse at the beloved comic book villain, Taskmaster, a deadly foe who has the ability to mimic the fighting style of anyone he studies. No actor has been officially announced as this adversary, so Marvel is surly keeping the details to this one close to their vest. One thing is for sure, we got a lot of theorizing to do in the long wait for Black Widow’s release date on May 1st, 2020.

Dangertainment Presents: In Defense of Halloween: Resurrection

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Let’s make one thing clear. The Halloween sequels, all of them, have never come close to measuring up to John Carpenter’s original 1978 horror masterpiece. But while fans of the groundbreaking original have allowed themselves to kick back and enjoy the majority of its sequels for what they are, Halloween: Resurrection is typically regarded as the most unwatchable of the bunch. Why? Because it features Busta Rhymes using skills he learned from watching old kung fu movies to bring the smack down on Michael Myers. Yep, turns out pure evil’s one weakness is badass rappers.

Obviously Resurrection is ‘bad’ from a perspective of film critique, but the movie certainly isn’t shy about being a schlocky slasher. In fact, it embraces its silliness and invites the audience along for the ride. Try not to look at Resurrection as a Halloween sequel meant to be taken seriously. Instead, try seeing it more like an absurdist-horror-comedy featuring everyone’s favorite masked killer. And really, why anyone interprets a movie featuring Busta Rhymes vs. Michael Myers as anything less will forever remain a mystery.

Now, you may be thinking, “Resurrection was a direct sequel to H20, a movie that finally brought back a standard of quality the franchise had lost, Resurrection killed the series with comedy just as it got back in tune with its roots, that’s unforgivable. “ This is a fair perspective, but H20’s function was never to rejuvenate the franchise for sequels to come, it was meant to end the series once and for all. That movie finishes with Laurie Strode finally confronting the monster she feels responsible for and lobbing his head off with an axe! With that definitive of an ending, the franchise should have been concluded, or at least shelved for a solid ten years before an inevitable reboot. But H20 was successful enough that the studio was going to make a sequel regardless. Michael Meyers returning after having his head chopped off his body was going to be laughable no matter what, so camp was the only worthwhile route to take. Now that we can accept the movie for what it is, let’s examine how Halloween: Resurrection is a good-time rollercoaster ride of comedy, horror and themes that, dare I say, were ahead of their time.

Resurrection opens on Laurie Strode, now a patient in a mental institution after Michael pulled a classic body switch maneuver, leading to Laurie getting committed for killing an innocent man. Just as you start wondering if this movie really expects you to take it seriously, Michael gloriously busts through a solid locked door as if it’s paper. A convoluted chase ensues and concludes with Michael’s knife in Laurie’s back as they both dangle from the side of the hospital building. “I’ll see you in hell,” Laurie proclaims after kissing Michael and then thrusting herself to the whopping two stories below. Aggressively over the top and unexpected, this moment is an all timer in horror-comedy

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Barring the opening prologue with Laurie, which almost feels like its own separate short story, Resurrection actually returns Michael to what he hadn’t been portrayed as since the first movie, a serial killer with no clear motive that gets off on killing teens, especially ones that wonder in or around his childhood home. That’s right, before Halloween 2018 made it cool, this movie (again, with exception to the prologue) dropped the “crazed sibling hunting down his bloodline” angle that had plagued the series since Halloween 2, and returned Michael to the mysterious murdering shape he was originally intended to be.

What originally made Michael Myers so terrifying is the notion that any ordinary human being can snap and commit such inhumane acts for no apparent logical reason. Michael’s six-year-old life shows no hint of being any different than your average middle class American child. Yet, he picks up a knife, puts on a mask and slaughters his older sister as casual as can be. This lack of rationale allows the audience to consider the darkness within themselves. It makes you wonder just how thin the line is between the sensible mind and the instinctive darkness kept buried in the deepest crevasses of the psyche. Despite all its silliness, Resurrection still shows a fundamental understanding of this crucial ingredient that many other Halloween sequels blatantly ignored.

The main narrative begins as a professor lectures to a class of exaggeratedly tired and disinterested Haddonfield college students,  “A figment of ourselves that even the collective unconscious deny. Inside all of us, there lurks a dark and malevolent figure…the shadow,” But one student stands out as particularly engaged, Sara Moyer, the latest ‘final girl’ of the series. Sara has a genuine curiosity and fascination with the shadow self. But her social introversion and timid nature tells that although she recognizes her darkness, she is weighed down by fear of its very existence. Yet, Sara’s ability to recognize her shadow self is what sets her apart from the supporting cast, who all revel in it. Also, she rides her moped through the school’s outer hallways. Edgy!

The plot gets moving when Sara and her two oddball friends are selected to participate in a viral event where they will join a handful of other contestants to spend Halloween night in Michael Myers’ childhood home. The mission: search for clues to what made the legendary serial killer snap so many years ago. Busta Rhymes plays the head producer of Dangertainment, Freddie Harris, who is cartoonishly eager to exploit the fears of his contestants. As he interviews the youngsters, it becomes quickly apparent that they are more interested in being on camera and being seen than they are in investigating the origins of pure evil. When they are each given small, point-of-view cameras to wear throughout the night, the contestants immediately begin sexualizing themselves and each other. Sara, however, is the outlier of the group. She is uncomfortable in front of the camera and particularly frightened about spending the night in the Myer’s home. Sara attempts to back out of the event, telling Freddie that she has no interest in being famous, but Freddie pep talks her back into the game, “What do you mean you don’t want to be famous, that’s the American dream…Fear motivates. Fear gives you the feeling of being alive.”

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While not exceptionally deep or subtle, there is pertinent satirical commentary on fame in modern culture happening here. And although this was no doubt a response to the rise of reality television sweeping the nation in 2002, it actually holds doubly relevant to the influence of social media today, where one must be seen at all times in order to be relevant. In Resurrection, the entire supporting cast of contestants is blind to the inevitable danger lurking around them. In any other situation, these students may have had their wits about them, but while the cameras are focused in, they are more than happy to engage their carnal desires to please an audience. One particularly interesting example of this is with the character, Donna. “I’m interested in how Michael Myers embodies the politics of violence embedded in pop mythology,” she claims while being interviewed early in the movie. Dona is clearly an intelligent, well-read young woman. Unlike the rest of the contestants and more like Sara, Donna seems to have a perceptive curiosity for the darkness that is Michael Myers’ psychology. She even rejects some (very creepy) flirtation from fellow contestant Jim in favor of the investigation as the night begins. But her integrity is only so strong, as she eventually gives in to her base sexual desire by getting intimate with Jim later in the night. And in fitting with the movie’s commentary on sensationalism for the camera, Donna, Jim and all the other young participants that abandon their decency for fame get a brutal killing from Michael himself.

Included within the bloody fun and satire, there is also a layer of meta, self-awareness in Resurrection. Much like Scream, the dominating horror series at the time, Resurrection playfully turns the camera on its audience. Since the dawn of the slasher subgenre, there have always been two opposing views on the depiction of graphic, on-screen violence. One prominent camp affirms that such alarming acts of cruelty desensitizes its audience and dangerously turns what should be interpreted as disturbing into commonplace entertainment. The opposing camp believes audiences can separate reality from fiction, that the depiction of violence provides a cathartic experience for the viewer, allowing them to experience the feeling of fear in a healthy, cleansing manner. In the movie, Sara represents the latter, while the rest of her supporting contestants represent the former.

These supporting characters are satirical representations of moviegoers who enjoy slashers solely for the sex and violence they feature. Every one of them is portrayed as one-dimensional, flesh-obsessed simpletons. “Come on Jen, one flash and you can light up a thousand computer screens,” one horny youngster, Bill, says to his co-contestant, Jen, in hope of getting her to bare it all for the camera. It’s no coincidence that Jen sits on the very chair that a naked Judith Myers was killed on in the opening moments of the original Halloween. The very idea that the Myers sister had been murdered in that room makes Bill oddly frisky, and Jen even more oddly okay with it. But these shallow characters mirror the allegedly shallow audience they represent, so their absurdity checks out. Later, as the group wonders where an already dead Bill has gone, Jen insists that he must be planning to pop out and scare her. “You watch,” she emphasizes while looking directly down the barrel of her attached camera. Jen is, on a deeper level, mocking the real life audience, pointing out that she exists only as an excuse to be terrorized and murdered for mass entertainment, nothing more. Like a ritual, we watch. She dies. We are satisfied.

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Yet, Sara’s existence as the main character defends the argument that horror can be interpreted as so much more than mere exploitation. She is empathetic and alert. She represents a horror audience that wants to feel the visceral effects of danger and see the projected main character fight their way to survival. This side of the horror audience coin is further expressed through the character, Deckard, who literally watches Sara’s on-screen fight for survival with an audience. Deckard is Sara’s cyber friend who Sara believes is her age but is secretly only a freshman in high school. At a house party, Deckard finds a computer room to watch the Dangertainment unfold. Throughout the night, more and more youngsters join Deckard to watch the live stream. Once the stabbing begins, Deckard is sure that the shocking violence is real, but everyone else in the room sees it only as a cheap trick. They laugh and mock the cheesy attempts at shock. But Deckard knows better, he can feel the reality of the situation and empathizes with the victims. At first, the eye rolling group of teens mock Deckard for his overreaction to the cheap thrills. But as the blood gets heavier and Sara’s panic becomes more engrossing, these kids start fathoming the reality of the situation. By the time the climax of the movie is reached, the entire group is fully absorbed in Sara’s fight for survival. They yell at the screen for Sara to escape Michael’s wrath, completely consumed and captivated by the visceral experience before them.

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This group of youngsters portrays both prominent camps of horror consumers: those that enjoy the sexual, gore-filled entertainment, and those that gain a sense of empathy and cathartic purge from the gripping experience. The fact that these kids change from one camp to the next through the course of the narrative promotes the idea that horror audiences are capable of utilizing both mindsets with their entertainment. The key ingredient being Sara, an endearing protagonist that viewers can identify with and root for.

Diving ever deeper into the meta, Busta Rhymes’ character, Freddie, can be interpreted as a satirical take on the stereotypical horror movie producer. Motivated only by the money and notoriety his program can bring, Freddie manipulates the set of the Myers’ home in any way necessary. Adding grisly props and even dressing up as Michael Myers to scare the contestants, Freddie’s dream of making it big in reality entertainment won’t be held back by petty principles like ethics and integrity. He embodies the kind of horror movie producer motivated by exploiting the genre. To this kind of filmmaker, sex and gore are the essential ingredients to win over an audience, leaving the heart of a likable protagonist and cerebral themes of human darkness as disposable seconds.

But rather than stay the unlikable goon, Freddie learns from his toxic greed once everybody involved in his project, with exception to Sara, ends up dead. This results in a hilariously entertaining climax where Sara and Freddie team up to pass through the gauntlet that is Michael Myers. Toward the end of the action packed showdown, Sara stands up against the darkness she fears most by attacking Myers with a chainsaw! An empowering moment for any respectable horror audience indeed. But just as Sara’s weapon fails her, Freddie busts through the door to end the shape once and for all. “Trick or treat, mother fucker!” Move over Freddy and Jason, the real clash of the early 2000s belongs to Michael and Busta.

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After Freddie gives Michael a stern genital electrocuting, he and Sara flee to safety, leaving the shape to burn in flames. Now, after confronting true evil, both survivors have faced their inner demon and made it out the other side. Sara peered into the eyes of the malevolent shadow figure she so greatly feared, while Freddie confronted the evil he so arrogantly exploited. When the media rushes the two with cameras, Freddie brings it all home, “Michael Myers is a killer shark…that gets his kicks off of killing everyone and everything he comes across.” He is no longer interested in exploiting the darkness after witnessing its devastating outcome. Also, as Michael is shuffled away on a stretcher, Freddie takes a moment to tell him he looks “like some chicken fried mother fucker.” Burn.

Halloween: Resurrection may not provide the most profound viewing experience you’ll ever have, but upon close examination, you may find its widely accepted position as worst Halloween movie in the franchise a bit harsh. As far as slashers go, it’s not trying to reinvent the wheel, it simply wants to have some good old fashion fun with a healthy side of satirical commentary on horror audiences and fame. And most importantly, it does so without sacrificing the essential elements that make Michael Myers the mysterious murdering machine that he is. That’s more than a lot of entries in the Halloween series can claim to say.

Better Call Saul: Season 4, Episode 3 Review

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Spoilers ahead…

This week’s episode opens with a scene that could easily have been in Breaking Bad. Watching people doing things is never more engaging than when this team of writers and filmmakers pulls it off. Tyrus and Victor sure as hell know how to set up a crime scene. That second shot to Nacho’s stomach was brutal as ever. And I imagine Gus is aware there is a possibility of Nacho dying as a result of such a wound. It’s a flip of the coin here if he’ll be able to use Nacho any further, but Gus is at his coldest when it comes to vengeance, and it’s a risk he’s happy to take. Not to mention, all is riding on that desert shootout looking as real as possible.

Nacho is out of the frying pan and in the fire now. It’s hard not to feel for him. Much like Jesse Pinkman, we’re watching a young man live out the brutal consequences in a business he never should have got himself involved in. Nacho is also the only character whose fate is completely up in the air. I’m eager as ever to see if, among a cast of characters sealed to a dark fate, Nacho can make it out of this show unscathed.

The effects crew pulled a remarkable job of making Nacho look as though he’s on the brink of death. And the camera work as the Salamanca cousins and Caldera (the veterinarian) try to fix Nacho up felt like a scene straight out of Requiem for a Dream. Nacho is helpless and probably wouldn’t mind the warm embrace of death at this point. Then we get the hilarious irony of Caldera telling Nacho, “this cartel shit is too hot for me.” Michael Mando’s ‘if you only knew’ reaction is priceless.

Gus, ever the master planner, knows Don Bolsa will fall right into his hand by instructing the use of a local supplier. It’s always a pleasure to watch Gus manipulate events. “But that’s forbidden.” Gus is playing the cartel like a fiddle. And this show is clever in reminding us that this particular chess move will lead directly to Walter White. As we found out in season four of Breaking Bad, Gale Boetticher convinces Gus to bring Walt into their business, inevitably signing both their death warrants. So, as Gus makes his way to meet with Gale, the camera shoots Giancarlo Esposito in a subtly similar way to his fateful walk to meet with Hector in Breaking Bad, just before Gus’ explosive death. I love how this show communicates a shift of fate like this purely through its memory striking visuals.

And if you thought I was going to just glide over Gale’s suitably geeky entrance into this show, don’t fret. David Costabile never ceases to amaze us with his impeccable memory skills, this time lent to singing ‘the elements’ with insane accuracy. When Gus enters the room, he smiles at Gale’s quirky number before making his presence known. Gus seems to genuinely like Gale. And he doesn’t have to persuade Gale into cooking meth for him. I couldn’t help but notice Gale’s similarities with Walter White here. Albeit, a much more eccentric version. Gale’s got an ego, putting down the poor quality of the inferior meth samples, he’s got a taste for the criminal underworld and wants to edge his way in to make his mark. He’s Walt, minus the Heisenberg.

This episode sees Jimmy meeting up with Mike for the first time this season. I’ve heard plenty complaints regarding Jimmy and Mike not interacting enough in this series, but the distance between the two characters makes sense in the grander scheme. You never get a sense in Breaking Bad that these two players have a particularly strong history with one another. Mike’s loyalties lie fully with Gus in in that show. He’s even willing to torture Saul for information on Jesse Pinkman in that not too distant future. It certainly wouldn’t make sense for the two to be overly buddy, buddy in Saul’s show. They’re on two separate paths. Anyway, it’s always nice seeing Mike in his favorite diner, getting served by his favorite waitress, Fran. Jimmy tries to convince Mike to hop on board the hummel heist, but Mike sees no rhyme or reason. And this older, wiser man can see that Jimmy must be covering his pain and loss through some unnecessary scam antics.

Jimmy ends up taking the alternate route to Ira, the future boss-man of Vamonos Pest. Saul mentions having done some past heist work with Ira in Breaking Bad, so this was a fitting and fun connection. It’s great that, despite the dark turn this show is taking, it still keeps one foot in the silly waters it was birthed from. It’s a delight to watch Jimmy bail Ira out of a botched heist plan. I just hope Mr. Neff’s wife can find a way to forgive his vacuum gift.

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The title of this episode, “Something Beautiful,” really applies to Jimmy and Kim this week. These two characters have been through the emotional ringer together and their relationship is taking a damaging toll. Jimmy is burying his anguish by focusing all his energy into ‘Slipping Jimmy,’ while Kim can no longer ignore hers. As she learns about the boundless road of work ahead of her with Mesa Verde’s expansion, she has a moment of internal panic. Is she really supposed to bury herself in work until she’s completely numb to her emotions? She can no longer ignore the pain and guilt harbored from Chuck’s demise.

The final scene between Jimmy and Kim is a prime example of what this show so expertly conveys – human nature in its most raw and truthful form. Rhea Seehorn and Bob Odenkirk are engaging as ever in this crushing moment. The stage is set when Jimmy learns of the five-grand kick to the nuts his brother left him with. You can see and hear his pained reaction. So, when Jimmy dives into the letter, he’s ready to interpret it as an even further sarcastic dig at his character, no matter what it actually says.

But to Kim and the audience’s surprise, the letter is actually a heartfelt confession from Chuck, laying out his most encouraging feelings towards his little brother. Jimmy gives the letter a meaningless, mundane read while Kim breaks down in tears. She can no longer hide her emotions, and it breaks her heart that Jimmy has turned so cold. An intensely emotional scene between two people who just can’t find a connection in their grief. That last shot of Jimmy with half his face divided in white representing the vacant, detached individual Chuck’s death is turning him to. Once Kim is out of his life, there will be no more Jimmy left, just a bare void of his former self. Kim senses this deterioration in Jimmy, clear as day, and it kills her.

Hawkeye: The Short End of the Arrow

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If you caught Deadpool 2 this summer, you may have noticed, among the many jokes and jabs, some not so subtle shade thrown at Clint Barton, A.K.A. Hawkeye. At one point, Wade Wilson says, “With this collar on, my superpower is just unbridled cancer. Give me a bow and arrow and I’m basically Hawkeye.” This was one of many hilarious digs at superhero culture throughout the movie. But it got me thinking, Hawkeye is the butt of almost every Avengers joke. And It’s not exactly hard to see why. He’s a dude with no powers, he’s just really good with his bow and arrow. It’s absolutely absurd.

But at the same time, what Marvel character doesn’t come off as goofy in their most basic description? Captain America, a guy dressed as the American flag, taking on armed mercenaries with his…metal shield? Iron Man, a guy dressed in what looks like a garbage can in his first appearance and then later upgrades it to a flying McDonald’s add? Even Black Widow brings nothing more than her looks and some skilled fighting to a battle. Yet this kind of nonsensical fun is part of the great allure and fantasy of superheroes. Take it too seriously and you’re going to have a bad time. But still, the first thing most people will point out when talking about the Avengers is, “The dude with the bow and arrow has got to go, it just makes no sense.”

Of course, most people taking these jabs know Hawkeye and the rest of the Avengers from the Marvel Cinematic Universe alone. Hawkeye from Marvel comics is an all together different animal. So, let’s deconstruct just why Clint Barton has worked as a character in the comics since the 1960’s, yet falls short in the modern age of Superhero cinema.

And of course, spoilers from Hawkeye’s comic book and film history.

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Let’s start by clarifying that there are two main versions of Clint Barton/Hawkeye in Marvel comics to draw reference; The 616 Universe and The Ultimate Universe.

The 616 universe, which is considered the primary Marvel universe, is where the character made his debut back in 1964. And his story continues in that same world to this very day. His first appearance was as an antagonist against Iron Man. But he wasn’t your run of the mill criminal. Clint Barton had grown up in the circus where he developed expert archer skills. When he sees Iron Man save a group of people in danger on Coney Island, Clint becomes jealous of the audience’s awe and attention for Iron Man’s heroics instead of his marksman show. From there, out of resentment, Clint gets to work on creating his own superhero persona, Hawkeye, equipped with a flashy purple suit and customized arrow tips. After a misunderstanding with the authorities, Clint is labeled a criminal, and even embraces that definition for a short time. That is, until he chooses to join The Avengers in hopes of clearing his name and earning a rank amongst Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

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Birthed during a rejuvenation period for Marvel, the Ultimate Universe was created in the year 2000 to explore a fresh, modern take of its classic characters. 2002 saw the introduction of The Ultimates, this universe’s version of The Avengers. The Ultimates were brought together by Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D., as an American superhero strike-force team assembled to combat the ever growing threat of super-villains. Here, Clint Barton is a former Olympic archer turned black ops agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who is often partnered up with ex-KGB agent, Natasha Romanov, AKA Black Widow. This should all sound familiar to any Avengers film fans, as most of these elements were utilized in the first 2012 movie. What may not sound as familiar though is that in this universe, Clint has a wife and three children who are all murdered in front of him after a betrayal by his friend and teammate, Black Widow. Soon after, Hawkeye gets his revenge on Widow by shooting an arrow between her eyes. Yep, things got dark.

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One of, if not, the best ingredients in Marvel’s cinematic universe are the stellar casting choices. From Robert Downey Jr. to Chris Evans, Marvel Studios owes much of its success to actors that seem born to play their rolls. Unfortunately, Hawkeye is an exception to this trend. And that is no knock at Jeremy Renner, he is a great actor in his own right, but Clint Barton is simply not a roll that fits him.

Renner first appears as Hawkeye with a quick cameo in Thor, but his true first outing as the character was in The Avengers. And it is here that I would argue Renner was not a poor casting choice in this specific movie. With an ensemble cast consisting of six comic book heroes, at least one would have to play second fiddle to the narrative. It was inevitable, and since Hawkeye was the one character that had no significant influence in the prior lead up movies, it was bound to be him. And this was fair. From a story perspective, writer/director Joss Whedon made the logical choice to draw from Marvel’s Ultimate Comics interpretation of the character. And Jeremy Renner was a solid choice for this version of Clint Barton. His acting responsibilities in The Avengers were straight forward; a skilled soldier of fortune manipulated into serving Loki. He was also used to build on and expand Black Widow’s arc, revealing two nuanced SHIELD agents with a complex backstory. Every scene Hawkeye was called for in The Avengers was hit well enough with Renner. It’s the character’s follow up appearance that doesn’t quite measure up.hawkeye-avengers

For Joss Whedon’s sequel, AvengersAge of Ultron, there was expectation for the filmmaker to expand upon Clint Barton. He was the necessary sacrifice of the first movie, but a sequel had every responsibility to double down on the golden archer. Whedon clearly felt this obligation and made a valiant effort to extend the character some justice. So he chose to dig even deeper into Barton’s ultimate universe interpretation and gave him a family. And with this, we were finally granted a clear notion of the character’s place on the team. He is, among a squad of broken and lonely individuals, the stable one of the group. He has every reason to retire and enjoy a quite life on a secluded farm with his family. Yet, Clint feels a parental-like obligation to look after his teammates. His pregnant wife insists that he retire, so Clint agrees to one last mission, a final battle against the antagonist of the film, Ultron. After barely making if out alive, and witnessing a fellow Avenger, Quicksilver, die on the battle field, Barton gives into his wife’s insistence and choses retirement from avenging at the end of the movie.

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But here’s the problem, the most engaging aspect of Clint’s family in the ultimate universe is that they get taken away from him. We are not directed to care about Hawkeye’s family so much as we are meant to care about the effect their death has on him. Just like any great Marvel character, his life is endowed with terrible tragedy. His best friend and teammate betrayed him and took away what he cherished most in life. This would drive any normal person insane, but Barton uses it as motivation for his place in the Ultimates. His drive to prove himself amongst Gods and warriors is engaging and human. There is never a sense that Hawkeye needs to prove himself among his more powerful peers in Ultron. He has their approval, but his wife’s apprehension over his career choice is where his conflict comes in. Compared to the compelling internal conflicts the other Avengers have to deal with, Clint’s comes off as the least engaging. Whedon attempted to make Hawkeye a unique character in the MCU by shaping a hero without a tragic or misunderstood backstory, but this unfortunately resulted in a flatter outcome than intended.

Cue Captain America: Civil War, where the age of the Russo Brothers had officially assumed the MCU. Whereas Joss Whedon looked to the Ultimate Universe for Hawkeye inspiration, directors Joe and Anthony Russo chose to go classic and draw from the 616 Barton for Civil War. For the first time on screen, we see the more whimsical, witty natured attributes Clint was originally known for. His involvement comes about halfway through the movie when Captain America calls Hawkeye out of retirement to join his side in the fight against Iron Man’s team. His first mission; save The Scarlet Witch from Vision’s entrapment. Script wise, this was a great way to get Barton involved again. His choice plays on what had been previously established in the Avengers movies. He is addicted to the thrill of being a soldier, even at the risk of leaving his family behind, so of course he would jump at the chance to abandon his retirement. Age of Ultron also established a sibling-like bond between Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch AKA Wanda Maximoff, so it makes sense that he would answer the call to save her. But his choice to help Cap’s team gets him locked up by the end of the movie. Civil War was undoubtably the best use of Hawkeye on screen yet, but is also a display of the miscasting of the character.

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As I already pointed out, Hawkeye is in full form in Civil War. He’s sarcastic and quippy just as the character was originally known for. But that version of Barton always came off as much younger to me. A daredevil, ready to stare death in the face, sporting nothing but a bow and arrow and a smug grin on his face, not an ounce of fear to show. These qualities naturally lend themselves to a young actor. The Renner version of Hawkeye seems to be at odds with its portrayal. On one hand he’s a weathered father and wise mentor to Wanda. On the other, he’s a soldier of fortune with a careless arrogance towards his fragile mortality. These are two apposing attributes. And it seems as though the former qualities were applied to the character by Whedon in Ultron to fit Jeremy Renner’s age, while the latter qualities were honed by the Russos to fit 616 Barton. Comics Barton is portrayed in his early to mid thirties at most, while Renner is in his mid to late forties. So, instead of downplaying Renner’s age, the MCU filmmakers embraced it. This was certainly the best option with what they had, but it forced an unnecessary dimension on Barton.

When it comes down to it, there are plenty of essential character attributes from 616 Hawkeye just waiting to be utilized for MCU Hawkeye. He’s a man with everything to prove. He was formerly a “villain” and has no power beyond raw skill. This results in an insecurity amongst his Avenging teammates. More specifically, the team leader, Captain America. If only because he wishes he had the power and authority Cap possesses. And in a backwards way, he wishes he could be Cap. Clint’s desire to be the best results in a real dramatic conflict amongst his teammates. He’s got some grit in the comics, some relatable human flaws, while his MCU counterpart comes off as vanilla in comparison. With the exception of Wanda, film Hawkeye feels removed from the rest of the team due to his familial duties. We are robbed of any dramatic conflict with his colleagues because he’s not a basket of internal problems like the rest of the Avengers are.

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Perhaps one of the best uses of 616 Hawkeye was in Matt Fraction and David Aja’s 22 issue comic book run that starred the marksman himself. Here we got a TV series-like saga of Clint’s day to day life outside his job as an Avenger, with amazing artwork that lent an Edgar Wright-esque fun, frantic energy to the story. But among the many great uses of Hawkeye and his supporting characters in this saga was the expert depiction of Clint’s arrows in action. The fun of Hawkeye’s arrow “powers” are the different tricks he keeps hidden at the very tip of each one. This makes for some extremely amusing and unexpected action sequences that you wouldn’t think a guy sporting only a bow and arrow could provide. From explosive arrows to bola arrows, there’s a lot of entertainment to be had with Clint’s improvisation in a battle.

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However, the cinematic universe has yet to pull off any legitimately memorable arrow moments for Barton. And that’s not to say some fun Hawkeye movie moments don’t exist, they just aren’t as memorable as most of the other hero’s spotlight moments. Who can forget Doctor Strange’s Groundhog Day time-loop, Peter Parker’s rubble escape, Thor discovering his Raiden-like lightning powers, Fury’s Hydra car chase, Hulk’s Loki smash? The list goes on, but a truly awe inspired Hawkeye scene just doesn’t come to mind. Ant-Man’s arrow ride in Civil War was a cool comic book team-up sequence, but that beat belongs to Ant-Man more than Clint. And It’s a shame that Barton is largely remembered for providing other hero’s their moments. Clint’s pep talk for Wanda in Age of Ultron is a lead up to her grand, slow motion display of power. But hey, If Captain America: Winter Soldier proves anything, it’s that any character can be retooled into an absolute badass. Many people forget that Cap had very little memorability in his first couple film outings, until Winter Soldier brought us some of the most memorable action scenes ever from a Marvel character. Unfortunately, four movies in and we’re still waiting for the golden archer to have a truly scene stealing moment.

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But, there is some hope for Hawkeye in the currently untitled Avengers 4 release next summer. The Russo brothers have confirmed that Hawkeye’s absence from this year’s Avengers: Infinity War will be made up for in a big bad way. Clint officially hung up his arrow after the events of Civil War by copping a deal with the government to stay with his family under house arrest, as apposed to being confined to a cell. So long as he keeps his superhero career in the past. Well, my theory is that the Russo brothers will finally pull the Ultimate Hawkeye storyline we all want. In fact, they seem to have already pulled it. The end of Infinity War concludes with half of the universe dying as a result to Thanos’ ‘snap.’ I’m betting that Hawkeye got the short end of the arrow here and lost his entire family. If Clint no longer has a family, he no longer has a reason to keep away from the old bow and arrow. With this, we could get a true film interpretation of the broken soldier that lost his family, just as he did in the Ultimate universe. This situation would be ripe with scene steeling potential. And Jeremy Renner would now have the chance to deliver a much grittier, guilt riddled version of Clint Barton. Not to mention, the character would be out for a certain mad Titan’s blood. Just imagine if Barton ends up as the Avenger who delivers the killing blow to Thanos with an arrow through the eye. This would certainly bring a long overdue mainstream respect for Hawkey that comic book fans have been waiting years for.

To be fair, at the end of the day, these movies only have a couple hours or so to give an ensemble of characters a satisfying arc. An improper interpretation of Hawkeye in a television series or standalone movie would be a much more noticeable issue. Marvel Studios has done a spectacular job with the bulk of its characters, so Hawkeye’s treatment thus far is but a minor quibble in the grand scheme. And due to the limitations of the medium, the Marvel films have at least delivered a good-enough interpretation of Hawkeye. But when it comes to a rich character like Clint Barton, there is always room for greatness.

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Better Call Saul: Season 4, Episode 2 Review

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Spoilers ahead…

Damn. Two episodes in and this season of Better Call Saul is already charging head first into the bleaker world of Breaking Bad. This was inevitable. We all know where this story ultimately leads. But if the final moments of this episode were not a resounding proclamation that the lighter tone of Saul has been left in the Albuquerque dust, I’m not sure what is.

For the most part, season three displayed Gus’ empathetic side. The hardworking, fair businessman bullied by the savage Hector and his crew. And for a bit, we forgot about the barbarous man that lies underneath. The one Gus lets lose only when absolutely necessary. Like when Walt needed a little persuading from a box cutter to Victor’s neck in Breaking Bad. This season, so far, has been adamant in reminding us of Gus’ dark, vengeful side that will inevitably lead to his own demise. “I decide what he deserves. No one else.” Hector himself created this vindictive attitude when he violently murdered Gus’ business partner so many years ago. Gus is now making Hector his own play-thing to torment for as long as possible. Intentionally keeping him alive, only to make his life a living hell. As the objective audience, our gift of foresight is its own kind of torment.

And when Gus teaches Nacho a lesson by slowly killing Arturo, it’s absolutely chilling. For a moment, we thought Nacho had won the scene. He put up a strong front and it paid off. Until that shot from the sky shows us a shadow creeping up. And like a shark in the water, Gus is about to strike. And boy, does he put Nacho in his place.

Nacho has transitioned into a considerable protagonist since the first season. He has essentially become the Jesse Pinkman of this show. A young man trapped in a chaotic business he no longer wants a part in. Michael Mando provides the perfect duality between sympathetic and intimidating. And one of his best displays of that binary is in this episode, between he and his father. A heartbreaking scene. Nacho’s father lays out his dirty money on the counter the exact same way Hector did for him last season. A strong visual statement. But Nacho must keep a professional front to show his father he is still in control. Mando’s subtle emotional slipping is on perfect display here.

This performance carries us to the hospital scene, which starts out as a playfully amusing bit where Hector’s silent and frightening nephews force Nacho and Arturo to talk to their comatose uncle. But we soon see the fear in Nacho’s eyes when he says to Tio, “You’re gonna get past this and be stronger than ever.” Nacho is forcing a put-on at a time when he knows Hector can soon wake up and be stronger than ever. Which would turn into an even worse scenario for Nacho and his father.

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Speaking of putting-on. Jimmy keeps himself on the job hunt fast track, but only to keep his mind occupied from confronting his guilt over Chuck’s death. Kim was ready to settle down with Jimmy after her car crash. But Jimmy’s own personal catastrophe leads to the opposite reaction for him. He is doubling down on keeping his mind from rest.

Jimmy is in full form in the interview scene. The most entertaining aspect of Saul Goodman is that he is a performer. And we love to watch him talk his way through any situation. We get to see Jimmy use this skill and we can be on board with it, because he is trying to keep himself on a straight path here. He’s a great salesman and we can root for him to talk his way into the job. But Jimmy kills his chances by turning down the opportunity. How can these people hire such a terrible person like himself? Jimmy’s guilt over Chuck’s death is buried deep, but still driving his choice here, manifesting in self-sabotage. Now the ugly side of Saul Goodman rears its head, the “fuck the system, out for himself” side, when he chooses to steal the hummel figurine. It will be interesting to see Mike’s reaction to this heist. I can’t imagine he’ll be on board.

Rhea Seehorn brought her A-game this week in that scene between Kim and Howard. Kim has harbored some hefty guilt over her and Jimmy’s character assassination of Chuck before his death. And now Chuck’s untimely passing has affected her relationship with Jimmy. Rhea Seehorn excellently conveys intense anger and conflicted emotion in this scene. We feel almost as shocked as Howard by the bite in her words. But I can’t help but agree with her accusations against Howard. The question is, did Howard simply not consider how selfish his actions were, or was he, on some level, trying to hurt Jimmy with his revelation from last episode? It’s this kind of complex character mystique that has solidified both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul as some of the best stories ever told on television.