Screen Time [Multiverse Madness]: What If…? (Season One)


In September 1961, DC Comics published “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen thanks to the concept of the multiverse, an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to co-exist and interact. Marvel Comics would also adopt this concept and, to celebrate the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Raimi, 2022) this month, I’ve been both celebrating the Master of the Mystic Arts and exploring the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) equivalent of the multiverse every Sunday of May.


Air Date: 11 August 2021 to 6 October 2021
Network: Disney+
Stars: Hayley Atwell, Chadwick Boseman, Samuel L. Jackson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Ruffalo, Michael B. Jordan, Chris Hemsworth, Ross Marquand, and Jeffrey Wright

The Background:
As a big comic book fan, it’s been absolutely amazing seeing the MCU become a multimedia juggernaut and some of Marvel Comics’ most beloved characters and concepts come to life on screen. Although Marvel Studios dabbled in television ventures with the likes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 to 2020) and their Netflix shows, they really doubled down on TV productions for the MCU’s fourth phase to produce content for their parent company’s streaming service, Disney+. With MCU head honcho Kevin Feige behind them, the Disney+ shows aimed to maintain and expand the ongoing continuity of the MCU, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted that Marvel Studios would delve so deeply into the multiverse that we’d seen an adaptation of What If…? What If…? began life as a semi-consistent series of hypothetical, often light-hearted (or downright dark), stories that presented Marvel heroes and storylines with subtle (or major) changes. The Disney+ show followed this format and recontextualised the premise as an animated anthology series that would explore what the MCU would be like if characters or events had unfolded differently. The show’s animation was headed by Stephan Franck and sported a cel-shaded design that emphasised hyper-realism; as the MCU was officially exploring the concept of the multiverse, episodes could be part of the franchise’s overall canon and many recognisable faces, names, and voices returned to put a new spin on their iconic roles; however, although voice recording was able to continue remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, this production sadly marked the final performance of the late Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther. What If…? was received extremely well and the series was praised as a love-letter to the fans; despite some reservations about the format and presentation, reviews were primarily positive and spin-offs were quickly announced as either being in production or on the cards. Crucially, the multiversal scope of the series would be revisited in the live-action MCU films and characters and concepts from the show even seem set to cross over into the main MCU canon going forward.

The Plot:
From beyond the multiverse, the cosmic being known as Uatu the Watcher (Wright) observes as the events of the MCU unfold differently, resulting in Peggy Carter (Atwell) becoming Captain Carter, Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) becoming a force for evil, a zombie infection running rampant, and T’Challa (Boseman) becoming Star-Lord. However, when a version of Ultron (Marquand) acquires the Infinity Stones and threatens the entire multiverse, the Watcher must break his oath of non-interference to assemble a heroic force capable of fending off this threat.

The Review:
Because of the nature of the series, I think it’d be much better to look at each individual episode, what they do and how they work by themselves, and then talk about some overall themes and give my opinion on the entire concept down in the summary. The first season of What If…? is a nine-episode series of animated adventures that examine familiar characters and events in the MCU but change things about in subtle, or major, ways to create entirely new stories as part of the MCU multiverse. These alternate realities are observed by the enigmatic Watcher, a cosmic being bound only to observe and never directly interfere, and who acts as the narrator of the show. The Watcher’s opening narration explains the basics of the multiverse; as we were told in Avengers: Endgame (Russo and Russo, 2019), time and reality in the MCU is not a single, linear, fixed path. Instead, multiple timelines and alternate universes exist, with the deviations occurring from different decisions being made at key moments in time, however big or small. In this regard, time is less like a line and more like a river, with an infinite number of paths trailing off all over the place, and the Watcher acts as our impassive guide to this vast multiverse. The Watcher also serves as our narrator, quickly catching us up on the events preceding the episode and explaining when, where, and how each divergent timeline was created; however, he has taken a solemn vow to never interfere in the events he witnesses, no matter how gruesome or extreme they are.

Peggy takes Steve’s place and is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop Hydra’s interdimensional beast.

The series kicks off with “What If…Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?” (Andrews, 2021), essentially a retelling of Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011). Unlike in the original timeline, Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR) Agent Peggy Carter chooses to stay and watch on the ground as skinny, ill-bodied Private Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton) prepares to become a super soldier. However, when the Nazi sleeper agent attacks the experiment this time around, Peggy manages to keep him from escaping with a sample of the serum but Steve is wounded, so Peggy ignores the orders of her commanding officer, John Flynn (Bradley Whitford), and voluntarily becomes enhanced to the peak of human physical conditioning before the experiment is lost forever. Promoted to head of the SSR, Flynn is outraged at the result; disgusted that the super soldier serum was wasted on a woman, he refuses to allow Peggy to actively participate in the war, much less on the front line, out of sheer prejudice, much to her chagrin and fury. As before, Hydra figurehead Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull (Marquand) seeks to usurp Adolf Hitler and claim victory for himself with the mysterious and all-powerful Tesseract. Flynn, however, is unimpressed by the threat and unwilling to risk even one man, let alone an entire platoon, on recovering the cube; luckily, inventor Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) believes so strongly in the Tesseract’s threat that he furnishes Peggy with a striking Union Jack-style costume and a familiar Vibranium shield so that she can single-handedly recover the Tesseract from Schmidt’s Hydra colleague, Doctor Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), decimating an entire convoy of Hydra’s soldiers with efficiency and glee and earning herself an official promotion to “Captain Carter”. Although he lost his best shot at fighting alongside his friend, Sergeant James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Steve is fully supportive of Peggy’s newfound strength and abilities and only too glad to pilot Stark’s Tesseract-powered “Hydra Stomper” armour. However, following an action-packed montage, Steve is apparently lost during a familiar assault on an armoured train; though grief-stricken, Peggy forces information out of Zola and leads an all-out assault against the Red Skull’s fortress, where they find Steve alive but are too late to stop the Red Skull from opening a dimensional rift with the Tesseract. The tentacles of a gigantic, interdimensional, Lovecraftian creature breach the portal, killing Schmidt and threatening all life on Earth; Peggy and Steve fend off the beast as Stark tries to shut down the portal, but Captain Carter is forced to sacrifice herself to the unknown by physically forcing the creature through the rift. The story then skips ahead to find the Tesseract being reactivated, spitting Peggy and the remains of the beast’s tentacles out into a Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) facility where she meets Director Nick Fury (Jackson) and Agent Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and learns the bittersweet news that the Allied Forces won the war but she is now seventy years in the future, and thus forever cut off from her friends and loved ones.

T’Challa is a galaxy-renowned force for good who has a positive influence on even the Mad Titan himself!

While the first episode arguably played things a little safe, we really see the potential of a What If…? series with the second episode, “What If…T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?” (Andrews, 2021), which wildly deviates from the story of Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014). Young T’Challa (Maddix Robinson) longed to explore beyond Wakanda but was shielded from the chaotic outside world by his beloved and overprotective father, T’Chaka (John Kani), only to be abducted due to a mistake by Yondu Udonta’s (Michael Rooker) subordinates. Surprisingly, he was excited at embarking on adventures throughout the cosmos with the Ravagers and, while T’Challa doesn’t possess the Black Panther’s near-superhuman abilities, he sports all of Peter Quill’s (Brian T. Delaney) gadgets in addition to his Wakandan fighting prowess. His greatest assets, however, are his charisma, diplomacy, and reputation as a Robin Hood-type figure. Indeed, T’Challa is far more competent, notorious, and respected than his mainstream MCU counterpart; not only does Korath the Pursuer (Djimon Hounsou) know who he is, he views sparring with Star-Lord as the greatest honour and willingly joins his crew. T’Challa’s positive influence means the Ravagers put their skills towards helping others rather than for personal reward, thus sparing Drax the Destroyer’s (Fred Tatasciore) family and even convincing Thanos (Josh Brolin) that his destructive aspirations weren’t the answer to the galaxy’s problems! Touched by T’Challa’s mission to save others after the presumed destruction of Wakanda, Nebula (Karen Gillan), now a far less violent and far more beautiful woman, proposes a heist to steal the Embers of Genesis, a cosmic dust capable of ending galactic hunger, from Taneleer Tivan/The Collector (Benicio del Toro). While sneaking around the Collector’s museum, T’Challa finds a Wakandan spacecraft and is angered to find that Yondu lied to him about Wakanda in order to help him realise his true calling as an adventurer. The two reconcile in the best way possible: by teaming up to fight with this much more formidable version of the Collector, who is enhanced by weapons, technology, and items retrieved from some of the MCU’s most powerful and prominent individuals and races. Thanks to their teamwork, the Collector is disarmed and left at the mercy of his captives, and T’Challa forgives Yondu’s deception before reuniting with T’Chaka and his people in Wakanda, bringing his two families together in celebration over their mutual friend. Across the world, however, a greater threat awaits when Ego (Kurt Russell) comes looking for his son, here a mere Dairy Queen employee.

Pym is revealed as the culprit but, after taking him into custody, Loki usurps his threat and conquers the world!

“What If…the World Lost Its Mightiest Heroes?” (Andrews, 2021) takes us back to the middle of Iron Man 2 (Favreau, 2010) and Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow’s (Lake Bell) latest effort to recruit Tony Stark/Iron Man (Mick Wingert) to the Avengers Initiative. Fury is horrified when his attempt to stave off Stark’s palladium poisoning apparently has the unexpected side effect of killing the would-be Avenger; this tragedy is quickly followed by Thor Odinson (Hemsworth) being accidentally killed by Hawkeye’s errant arrow and the archer later being found dead while locked in an impenetrable S.H.I.E.L.D. cell. Fury suspects that his recruits are being targeted by an unknown party, and charges Natasha to escape Brock Rumlow’s (Frank Grillo) custody and make contact with Doctor Betty Ross (Stephanie Panisello). Though initially distrustful of Natasha due to her association with those who’ve hounded her friend, colleague, and former lover, Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Ruffalo), Betty is convinced to take a closer look at the injector used on Stark and theorises that a microscopic projectile fired from the needle killed the superhero. Hungry for blood after learning of Hawkeye’s death, Natasha agrees with Fury’s theory that their killer is targeting Avengers recruits; unfortunately, General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (Mike McGill) arrives looking to arrest Banner and sparks his transformation into the rampaging Hulk as in his solo film. However, the seemingly immortal Green Goliath also falls victim to the mysterious killer when he violently explodes from the inside out, and things escalate even further when Loki Laufeyson (Tom Hiddleston) arrives looking to avenge Thor’s death. Fury manages to buy himself one day to solve Thor’s murder on the promise of delivering the culprit to the God of Mischief and, when Natasha finds that a dead agent’s credentials were used to access S.H.I.E.L.D.’s database, she’s brutally beaten to death by an unseen assailant, and only able to tell Fury that all the deaths are relating to “hope”. This, however, is enough to piece together the perpetrator’s true identity: Doctor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who targeted Fury’s recruits in the guise of the size-altering Yellowjacket after his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), died while working for S.H.I.E.L.D. A broken, bitter, twisted old man, Pym blames Fury and has become a deranged killer due to his grief and anger. However, Pym and his tech are outmatched when Fury is revealed to be Loki in disguise but, after Pym is defeated and taken into Asgardian custody, Loki double-crosses Fury and declares himself ruler of humanity. To combat this threat, Fury gets back to work assembling his super team, starting with calling Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Alexandra Daniels) back to Earth and uncovering Captain America’s frozen body.

A grief-stricken Dr. Strange finds he cannot save his love no matter how many times he tries to alter the past.

The show shifts over to the world of magic and mysticism for “What If…Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead of His Hands?” (Andrews, 2021), which presents a world where Dr. Strange and Doctor Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) are still a couple in a loving relationship. Fully supportive and enamoured by Dr. Strange, Christine encourages his ego and his skills as a surgeon, but sadly her influence doesn’t extend to his driving skills. However, in this world, Dr. Strange is relatively unharmed from the car crash that took his MCU counterpart’s hands but is left grief-stricken when Christine dies as a result of his negligence. In a bid to fill the void in his life, and his heart, Strange travels the world and, once again, ends up studying the mystic arts at Kamar-Taj under the tutelage of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Like his mainstream counterpart, Strange becomes the Master of the Mystic Arts after the Ancient One’s death and successfully bargains with the Dread Dormammu (Cumberbatch), but remains preoccupied with the mistakes of his past and the promises offered by the Eye of Agamotto’s time-bending abilities. Haunted by memories of happier times with Christine, Strange ignores the warnings of the Ancient One and his manservant, Wong (Benedict Wong), and uses the Eye to place his current consciousness into the body of his past self. Unfortunately, the tragedy still occurs no matter how safely he drives, which route he takes, or even his refusal to go to the award speech as Christine dies again and again whether he’s there or what he does. Dr. Strange’s anguish at being unable to save Christine isn’t helped by the Ancient One’s explanation that her death cannot be averted as it would create a potentially universe-destroying time paradox (if Strange prevents her death, he won’t become a sorcerer and be able to go back and save her).

Strange Supreme saves Christine, but only briefly and at the cost everything that ever is or was in his reality.

Refusing to believe that Christine is fated to die, and angered at the Ancient One’s refusal to help him break this “absolute point” in time, Dr. Strange uses the Eye to flee from the confrontation and consult the ancient tomes of the Lost Library of Cagliostro. There, he meets O’Bengh (Ike Amadi) and learns that one can potentially gain the power he requires by absorbing magical beings; thus, Dr. Strange conjures a variety of demonic, Lovecraftian, and magical creatures (including gnomes, familiars, dragons, and even the octopus-like creature Captain Carter fought). When they won’t willingly share their power, he resolves to forcibly take it, and quickly becomes obsessed with gaining more and more magical power from these entities over the course of centauries to become “Strange Supreme”. As he does so, he grows increasingly monstrous and takes on more of their attributes, but is shocked to learn from O’Bengh that he’ll never be powerful enough to achieve his dreams due to the Ancient One using magic from the Dark Dimension to split him in two and create two concurrent timelines. His other half, who took Wong’s advice and moved on from Christine’s death, is charged by an echo of the Ancient One to oppose his dark doppelgänger before his ambition erases all of reality. When Strange Supreme’s attempts to coerce his other half into joining his cause are rejected, a magical battle ensues that spans multiple dimensions. Despite Wong’s protective spells and Strange’s efforts to talk down his dark half, Strange Supreme’s centauries of basking in the powers of countless magical beings makes him the superior and he’s ultimately able to absorb his missing half. Finally whole again, Strange Supreme succeeds in undoing Christine’s death but is transformed into a demonic being by the effort this requires; understandably, she is horrified by his nightmarish appearance, and he’s left helpless to stop the time paradox from devouring all of his reality. Desperate to preserve the world, he begs the Watcher for help but he refuses to get involved, despite wishing to punish Strange Supreme’s reckless arrogance, and the once Sorcerer Supreme is left alone, despondent, and remorseful in the tiniest pocket of reality with nothing but his grief and regret for company.

Banner is horrified to find the world, and many of its heroes, infected by a zombie virus.

One popular, recurring storyline in Marvel Comics in recent years has been the Marvel Zombies spin-off (Various, 2005 to present) that tells of a devastating zombie plague overwhelming the Marvel universe (and beyond). A version of this reality is explored in “What If…Zombies?!” (Andrews, 2021), which finds the Hulk crash-landing into the Sanctum Sanctorum as in Avengers: Infinity War (Russo and Russo, 2018) only to find it, and the streets of New York City, deserted. When Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Wong arrive to take care of Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary), Banner’s elation soon turns to horror when the three are revealed to be vicious, flesh-eating zombies who tear Thanos’s children to shreds, instantly infecting them in the process, and Banner is only saved from the same fate thanks to the timely intervention of Dr. Strange’s Cloak of Levitation, a swarm of ants commanded by Hope van Dyne/The Wasp, and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Hudson Thames). Spider-Man’s amusing orientation video shows that the MCU’s zombies largely confirm to the “rules” commonly associated with their kind; they’re decomposing corpses with a voracious hunger who turn others with a single bite and can only be killed by removing the head or destroying the brain. However, they’re not as mindless or shambling as traditional zombies; they’re intelligent enough to co-ordinate their attacks and utilise tech like the Iron Man armour and magic like the Sling Rings. In a change of pace, the Watcher reveals a definite origin for the zombie outbreak by relating how Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) became infected with the virus while stuck in the Quantum Realm; when she bit Hank Pym, he brought the virus back with him and the entire world was quickly overrun once the Avengers were turned.

The survivors narrowly escape Zombie Wanda, completely unaware of a greater threat waiting in Wakanda.

Banner joins up with the few uninfected survivors and learns from Okoye (Danai Gurira) of a possible cure at Camp Lehigh, New Jersey; the group travel to the Grand Central Station, where they’re attacked by zombified versions of Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Hawkeye, and Captain America. Although they lose Harold “Happy” Hogan (Jon Favreau), the group is able to get the train working and fend off the zombies thanks to Okoye and the Wasp. However, the train is attacked by Zombie Cap, who infects Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp) and forces Bucky to end his undead existence, retrieving his shield in the process, but Hope is also infected from a small cut she receives after disposing of Sharon. Although Peter tries to remain optimistic that she’ll be cured before she can turn, Hope sacrifices herself to atone for her part in causing the outbreak by carrying the group through a horde of zombies and dropping them off at Camp Lehigh. There, they find the zombies refuse to breach the camp thanks to the presence of the Mind Stone in the Vision’s (Paul Bettany) head; he and the severed head of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) reveal that the Mind Stone’s properties can reverse the zombie virus, and the group is excited to spread the cure throughout the world from Wakanda. However, Banner learns that they’re not the first to respond to the Vision’s beacon, and Bucky is horrified to find that the Vision has been feeding parts of other survivors (including T’Challa) to a zombified version of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) since she’s proven resistant to the Mind Stone and he’s been unable to kill her due to his love for her. When Wanda breaks free and proves uncontrollable due to her powers and hunger, the Vision rips the Mind Stone out of his head to atone for his actions and the group’s escape is covered by Bucky and the Hulk, who finally emerges from Banner’s psyche and is able to resist the zombie’s bite and hold back Wanda so the others can take off. The one-legged T’Challa, beheaded Lang, and shellshocked Peter console themselves with the knowledge that they’ll be able to save the world once they reach Wakanda, completely unaware that the nation has already succumbed to the infection and is under the rule of a zombified Thanos and his partially-completed Infinity Gauntlet!

Killmonger rescues Stark and becomes his most trusted confidante to kill his way to his birthright.

We then go back to where the MCU all started in “What If…Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?” (Andrews, 2021), which recreates the opening moments of Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) with one key difference: right as Tony Stark is about to be injured by one of his own missiles, he’s saved by N’Jadaka/Erik Stevens/Killmonger (Jordan), who fends off the Ten Rings soldiers looking to kidnap Stark and thus means that the genius, billionaire philanthropist never learns the humility or courage that led to him becoming Iron Man. Instead, he remains a conceited, arrogant, self-serving glory hound who believes that he needs to build bigger, better weapons to protect America’s interests. To that end, he drafts in Killmonger, who wastes no time in publicly outing Obadiah Stane (Kiff VandenHeuvel) as the man who bankrolled the Ten Rings’ attack on Stark, and Stark is so grateful to his saviour that he quickly promotes Killmonger to his new Chief Operations Officer, alienating Virginia “Pepper” Potts (Beth Hoyt) in the process. Killmonger swiftly becomes Stark’s closest friend and confidante and, together, they create robot drones, the “Liberators”, based on Killmonger’s fandom for anime. Killmonger pushes Stark to use Vibranium as a power source for the Liberators, and Stark sends in Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) to steal some from Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). However, the Black Panther attacks the meeting to recover stolen Vibranium, only for Killmonger to reveal his true intentions and kill T’Challa with one of Stark’s weapons. He chastises Rhodey for wearing the uniform of his oppressors and kills him with the Black Panther’s claw to make it seem like they killed each other; thanks to Just A Rather Very Intelligent System (J.A.R.V.I.S.; Bettany), however, Killmonger’s actions are revealed to Stark. Stark tries to avenge his friend’s murder using a Liberator, but Killmonger easily bests the drone and kills Stark with a Dora Milaje spear, which escalates the tensions between the United States and Wakanda into all-out war. General Ross assumes control of Stark’s assets and the Liberators are pushed into mass production; Killmonger then kills Klaue in order to deceive the Wakandans, then seizes control of the Liberators to lead his people in “defeating” the invading army. His victory and battle prowess wins over his uncle, T’Chaka, and earns him the mantle of the Black Panther; however, T’Challa’s astral warnings of Killmonger’s impending defeat are left a distinct possibility not only due to Ross’s obsession with continuing the war but also when Pepper and Shuri (Ozioma Akagha) agree to work together to expose Killmonger’s deception.

This Thor just wants to party, but his good time is spoiled by Captain Marvel and Jane blabbing to Frigga.

“What If…Thor Were an Only Child?” (Andrews, 2021) lightens things up a bit by retelling the events of Thor (Branagh, 2011); in this version of the story, in the absence of a brother to grow up alongside, Thor is little more than a lackadaisical, party-loving frat-boy who, despite still being worthy of Mjölnir, is far more interested in wasting time revelling with his friends than following his mother, Frigga’s (Josette Eales), instructions to behave or becoming a bore like his father, Odin Allfather (Anthony Hopkins). To avoid the all-seeing gaze of Heimdall (Idris Elba), Thor and his drinking buddies head the Midgard, the most backwater, insignificant world in all the Nine Realms, and invite guests from all over to join them in a massive, nonstop party. Tracking the cosmic disturbance and fearful of an alien invasion, Doctor Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) investigates and is both disturbed to find that Thor’s parties are so out of control that they can kill planets and won over by the Thunder God’s otherworldly charm. Jane and her intern, Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings), join the party, quickly being swept up in all the intergalactic chaos and merriment on display; Darcy even marries Howard the Duck (Seth Green), and Jane and Thor get matching tattoos, but soon wake up to massive hangovers and the arrival of S.H.I.E.L.D. Acting Director Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) is deeply concerned that Thor is leaving a trail of destruction as he takes his party on the road, and calls in Captain Marvel to assist with the perceived threat. Thor’s reunion with fellow party animal Prince Loki of Jotunheim is interrupted by Captain Marvel’s arrival; Thor brushes off her demands that he leaves, and a fight ensues that sees the two battle all across the globe. Despite Thor’s petulant, childish nature, the two are seemingly equally matched in terms of power and durability, but Carol’s forced to hold back her full power to avoid damaging the world or endangering lives. Since Jane disagrees with attacking or eliminating Thor since she’s so enamoured by him, she uses her tech to contact Heimdall and literally tells on Thor to Frigga. As Hill prepares an all-out nuclear strike against Thor, he’s terrified by Frigga’s impending arrival and begs his guests to help him clean up all evidence of their shenanigans. Despite Thor’s best, most frantic efforts to put right all the anarchy he and his friends had caused, she sees through his deception; however, rather than being mad at Jane for selling him out, he thanks her for teaching him a lesson in humility and asks her out…only for he, and the Watcher, to be stunned by the sudden appearance of an alternate version of Ultron!

This alternate version of Ultron is such a threat to the multiverse that the Watcher is forced to intervene.

This cliff-hanger is explained in the following episode, “What If…Ultron Won?” (Andrews, 2021), which presents a post-apocalyptic world where Black Widow and Hawkeye are the only Avengers left to oppose the all-powerful Ultron. In this world, Hawkeye not only sports his ridiculous mohawk and a mechanical right arm, but Ultron successfully fulfilled its goal to cause an extinction-level event by claiming the Vision’s body as its own, killing Iron Man, Cap, and Thor, and launching a worldwide nuclear attack that decimated humanity. When Thanos arrived looking to retrieve the Mind Stone, Ultron split him in two with one shot and claimed the Infinity Stones for itself, becoming a God-like being capable of laying waste to entire worlds and Realms with its endless supply of drones. Asgard, Ego, Xandar, and countless others all fall before Ultron’s power and even Captain Marvel is unable to oppose it; having eradicated the vast majority of life across the universe and ascended to a higher pane of existence, Ultron not only sees but also hears the Watcher. Although the Watcher previously considered intervening in Dr. Strange’s story, he held true to his vow of non-interference since he deals in a cosmic balance beyond the lives of mere mortals, even ones as powerful as the Master of the Mystic Arts. However, Ultron’s threat is so terrifying even to this cosmic observer that the Watcher is sorely tempted to assist Natasha and Clint in their efforts to coerce Zola’s artificial intelligence into helping them. The Watcher is pleased when their perseverance pays off but, although Zola is able to possess one of Ultron’s drones, he cannot shut down Ultron’s hive mind as Ultron is outside of the known universe, meaning Clint is forced to sacrifice himself so that Natasha and Zola can escape. The Watcher is aghast when Ultron not only does the impossible and breaches his cosmic observatory but is also able to match even the Watcher’s cosmic power. Their battle sees them literally smashing the dimensional barriers into numerous alternate realities and sees Ultron devour a whole universe and force the Watcher to flee. While Ultron prepares to lay waste to the entire multiverse, the Watcher is forced to turn to Strange Supreme for help in opposing Ultron’s threat.

The Guardians of the Multiverse join forces to end Ultron’s threat.

This story, and the entire show, comes to a head in the final episode, “What If…the Watcher Broke His Oath?” (Andrews, 2021), which sees the Watcher recruiting Captain Carter, T’Challa Star-Lord, Killmonger, Party Thor, and a previously unseen version of Gamora (Cynthia McWilliams) to join Strange Supreme as the Guardians of the Multiverse. He enlists each of them right as they’re in the middle of tying up loose ends from their respective episodes and emphasises that every one of them is needed to protect something even bigger than their individual lives or concerns. Captain Carter immediately recognises the gravity of the situation, while Strange Supreme sees this as his chance at true redemption, and, despite the odds, they all tentatively agree to work together to combat Ultron, steal his Soul Stone, and destroy it using Gamora’s “Infinity Crusher” device. While Strange Supreme struggles to contain the dark magics within his body, Gamora is troubled by Killmonger’s obsession with Ultron’s technology, and Thor accidentally attracts Ultron’s attention, but the group is thankfully shielded by Strange Supreme’s protection spell. Following Captain Carter’s lead, the Guardians are able to launch a co-ordinated attack that allows T’Challa to swipe the Soul Stone; when Ultron makes short work of Zombie Wanda and follows the Guardians to its home reality, it gets summarily pummelled by the Guardians’ repeated attacks and Strange Supreme’s ability to counteract both Ultron’s Time Stone and match its enlarged form with his monstrous magic. Although they’re stunned to find the Infinity Crusher ineffectual because it and the Infinity Stones are from different realities, Ultron’s threat is ended when Captain Carter helps Natasha avenge Clint and fire an arrow containing Zola’s consciousness into Ultron’s armour, erasing its sentience once and for all. In the aftermath, Killmonger claims Ultron’s armour and proposes using the Infinity Stones to “fix” their universes; when they refuse, he attempts to destroy them and they’re saved by a Zola-controlled Vision, who tries to take the Infinity Stones for himself. Before they can properly get into a potentially devastating battle over the gems, Strange Supreme freezes them in time and seals them within a pocket dimension, ending their threat once and for all. The Watcher trusts Strange Supreme with watching over the two, and returns everyone to their proper place and time; since Natasha’s world was left lifeless by Ultron, the Watcher sends her to help Nick Fury overthrow Loki, and then alters his vow of impassive observation to a pledge to protect the multiverse when needed.

The Summary:
At first, I wasn’t too sold on What If…?’s animation style; the slick, computerised cel-shaded look has never been a favourite of mine, but I was quickly won over by it due to how closely each character and episode mirrors their live-action counterparts. Everything from the recreation of certain shots, to the musical cues, to the costumes and likenesses perfectly emulates the source material each episode is based on, meaning we get the brown-hued colour scheme of World War Two for Captain Carter, the barrage of bizarre cosmic colours for Star-Lord, and the industrial, high-tech grey of Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. facilities. Although some notable names from the MCU didn’t return to lend their voices to their iconic characters, What If…? employs the services of some incredibly gifted soundalikes and even goes the extra mile in presenting a version of Bruce Banner that resembles both Edward Norton and Mark Ruffalo, which is fitting considering we encounter this character between his solo film and his first big MCU crossover. Animation also means that What If…? is theoretically able to do absolutely anything it desires, regardless of budget, and is limited only be the imagination of the animators; thus, while things are a little on the safe side with slightly different retelling of Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, and other MCU films, it’s not long before we’re seeing massive Lovecraftian creatures, a whole host of Marvel heroes interacting in ways we’ve not really seen before, an additional taste of the cosmic madness of the universe (and multiverse), and a wide variety of both horrifying and oddball concepts to really test the waters of what the MCU is capable of going forward.

Captain Carter and T’Challa Star-Lord are just as competent, if not more so, as their MCU counterparts.

I really liked that, despite their reversed roles, Peggy and Steve still have a mutual attraction based on mutual respect and their respective struggles; Peggy faces an uphill battle due to being a woman in a male-orientated world (and war) that constantly weighs her down even after she’s enhanced by the super soldier serum, and of course Steve has been overlooked and undervalued his entire life due to his gaunt frame and sickly nature. While everyone else is either incredulous due to her being a woman or impressed by her fighting prowess because she is a woman, and she must prove her worth through her deeds to win them over, Steve admires the person that she is and her fighting spirit; he’s the only one that doesn’t judge her for her gender and who doesn’t need convincing that she’s the right person for the job and is only too grateful to be an active combatant alongside her in the Hydra Stomper. Peggy is also quite different in the role; like Steve, she attacks it with a sense of duty and honour, but she also takes far more joy in her newfound abilities. There’s a sense that she’s finally able to let loose, that she’s been given the physical gifts to realise her full potential, and she literally dives head-first into making the most of that opportunity. T’Challa’s characterisation as a galaxy-wide force for good is a fitting tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman; unlike Peter Quill, T’Challa is a well-respected and competent space mercenary, and I loved the running gag that he’s somehow able to convince even the most maladjusted individuals to give up their villainous or tyrannical ways simply through presenting a convincing argument. Korath is only too willing to change sides simply out of his worship of Star-Lord, and his crew follow his lead into doing good deeds simply because he was such a positive influence on them. Unfortunately, he’s not able to have the same influence on the Collector, who’s not only blinded by his position in this universe, but also driven by his inherent greed and given a major power boost thanks to his artefacts. However, while threats still remain in this timeline, on the surface it seems to be a far more peaceful and united universe simply thanks to T’Challa’s positive influence on others.

What If…? isn’t afraid to get very dark and show twisted or corrupted versions of these popular characters.

Things take a turn to the dark side once the Avengers (especially Stark) start getting killed off; What If…? is a self-contained show within the larger MCU multiverse, meaning literally anything can happen to anyone, and seeing the franchise’s core six heroes be so brutally murdered really hammers that home. It also gives Hank Pym, someone introduced later into the MCU, a chance to be a more prominent player in this sandbox; seeing him active in the MCU’s first phase is a great way of fleshing out the world in a unique way, especially as he’s become a murdering psychopath. This is a Pym whose neuroses and paranoia have been pushed to breaking point, which deftly showcases just how much of a threat a guy with Pym’s intellect and technology can be to even the most superhuman individuals. Of course, the epitome of dark character turns is the tragic tale of Strange Supreme; it’s absolutely heart-breaking to see Dr. Strange left so desperate and despondent by Christine’s loss that he fell deeper and deeper to the darkness. His frustration and anguish at being unable to change the past see him become obsessed with gaining more and more power, to the point where he is fixated only on being reunited with his love. This makes him blind to all pleas, even those of his uncorrupted counterpart, and it isn’t until all of reality is about to be erased forever that he realises the error of his ways. Sadly, by then, it’s much too late for him to undo anything; Christine once again dies in his arms and everything that ever was is unravelled due to his time paradox; even the Watcher judges his heinous actions, and the once mighty Strange Supreme is left alone and repentant in the tiniest slither of reality. It’s a poignant and gut-wrenching take on the snarky, stubborn, and arrogant Sorcerer Supreme, one that shows just how dangerous a threat he could be if he lost his strong moral compass, and it’s a testament to the show that the character remained a tragic and relatable figure right up until the end rather than simply being a malevolent antagonist.

What If…? showed characters are their grimmest and worst and also at their most carefree.

Easily the darkest tale is the inclusion of zombies; never before has the MCU veered so closely towards traditional horror and I really appreciated the bleak, gory change of pace. It was fantastic seeing the MCU’s most powerful characters reduced to animalistic ghouls, forcing the few survivors to battle their lifelong friends and making painful sacrifices to ensure the safety of others against overwhelming odds. This was also a prime opportunity to show a new side to the Vision; him luring in survivors just to feed his love is a haunting glimpse at the darker side of his cold, calculating logic. We’ve seen such behaviour, this overpowering sense of denial, in zombie films before and, here, it served as a gruesome reminder of just how close to the brink this alternate reality is to total collapse. This continued in Killmonger’s welcome reappearance, with his alternate tale basically showing what could have happened if he had succeeded in his goals of reclaiming his Wakandan birthright; Killmonger was always one of the MCU’s more driven and dangerous antagonists and his episode showed just how truly vindictive and sadistic he really was. He had no qualms about deceiving or using anyone and any resource at his disposal, and even incited an all-out war just so that he could get himself into a position of trust and power, which serves as a stark reminder to just how ruthless a villain he really was. The party-loving version of Thor is the polar opposite; Party Thor cares little for battle or being a king and just wants to enjoy himself. He revels in being the centre of attention and throwing the biggest, most outrageous parties in all the Nine Realms and is lauded amongst his guests as being the wildest party animal around. Thor is a consummate free spirit and a friend to all; alien races, Gods, and recognisable beings from all across the cosmos cheer his name and share in his revelry, making for some of the most light-hearted and amusing moments in the entire series as Surtur (Clancy Brown) tries it on with Lady Liberty and Frost Giants deface Mount Rushmore. This episode also leads to one of the best fist fights in the series as Thor and Captain Marvel trade blows, but he delights in the fight as much as he does in enjoying himself with mead, and only the disapproval of his mother finally shakes Thor from his apathy and pushes him to make amends for his reckless merriment.

The Watcher is forced to take action for the first time in his long life in order to defend the multiverse.

Of course, things come to a suitably dramatic and action-packed conclusion with the final two episodes, which finally force the Watcher into action. Up until then, the watcher existed outside of the normal universe, powerful and cosmic enough to remain completely undetected, but Ultron’s sentience and force grows to such an extent that it’s able to sense the Watcher, breach his observatory, and begin a maniacal campaign to conquer and destroy the entire multiverse. Untold aeons of quietly observing the multiverse haven’t exactly dampened the Watcher’s power cosmic, but in the face to Ultron’s might, enhanced by the six Infinity Stones, the enigmatic onlooker is forced to do the one thing he has never done and ask for help, calling upon the characters he has been observing and asking them to intervene where he cannot. Seeing these wildly different versions of these characters interacting was a blast; they arguably got on the same page much faster than the regular Avengers (which is no doubt due to the short length of the episodes) and were able to launch a united attack on Ultron as a result. Indeed, Ultron kind of got a bit shafted in the last episode; it went from going toe-to-toe with a cosmic being to getting battered about by a handful of mortals and Godlings simply because the Guardians were able to keep the pressure on and keep Ultron from activating the Infinity Stones. Realistically, Ultron could’ve just “snapped” them all away, but then that wouldn’t be anywhere near as exhilarating for a final battle now, would it? Seeing Killmonger claim the gems and just the idea of what his twisted imagination would use them for was a cool moment, as was the idea that he might someday escape his trap to threaten the multiverse again, and just about the only issue I had with that last episode was the random inclusion of a Gamora when they could’ve maybe employed Zombie Wanda instead. Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed this series; the presentation, the humour, the fun twists on established characters, and the bizarre stories were all really fun and engaging and I can’t wait to see more from this as the MCU continues to expand into more and ore obscure concepts.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Did you enjoy What If…?? Which episode was your favourite, and which of the alternate characters did you like the most? Did you enjoy the Watcher’s inclusion and characterisation? What did you think to all the cameos and the animation style? Did you enjoy seeing Ultron as an all-powerful force and what did you think to its battle with the Watcher? Were you also disappointed that Gamora didn’t get her own episode? Are you a fan of the What If…? comics and, if so, which was your favourite? What other hypothetical scenarios would you like to see explored in a future season? Whatever your thoughts on What If…?, sign up to drop a comment down below and check back next Sunday for the final instalment of Multiverse Madness.

Back Issues [Avengers Day]: The Avengers #1


Having introduced comic readers to a whole host of colourful characters, in September of 1963 the legendary duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby brought together six of Earth’s mightiest heroes to form the Avengers. A super team like no other, with a constantly rotating roster, the Avengers has become the premier team of Marvel Comics and, thanks to the team and its individual members forming the backbone of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, have become an unbelievably popular and successful franchise in their own right.


Story Title: The Coming of the Avengers!
Published: September 1963
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby

The Background:
In 1960, DC Comics brought together their most popular and powerful characters to form the Justice League of America. Never ones to let the competition get a leg up on them, and having seen successful with the Fantastic Four and the debut of the X-Men in that very same month, Marvel Comics head honcho Martin Goodman asked Stan Lee to create a similar team of superheroes. Helpfully, Lee and a number of his most famous collaborators had already established a number of colourful characters to bring together: Tony Stark/Iron Man, Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Doctor Donald Blake/Thor Odinson, and Doctor Hank Pym/Ant-Man and Janet van Dyne/The Wasp.

Since their introduction, the Avengers have changed members and fought many cosmic threats.

Since the debut issue, the Avengers have been a consistent and influential presence in Marvel Comics; the roster constantly shifted and changed, with the Hulk leaving the team in the second issue and Lee memorably dusting off the long-retired character of Steve Rogers/Captain America in issue four. Since then, the team has expanded and changed many times, seen spin-offs and splinter groups, been disassembled and reassembled, and taken part in all manner of massive cosmic events in the decades since their introduction.

The Review:
“The Coming of the Avengers” begins with Thor’s brother, Loki Laufeyson, the God of Mischief, imprisoned on the “dreaded Isle of Silence” in the mythical realm of Asgard. This is, of course, back when Loki was a despicable, irredemable villain whose previous mad schemes for power and conquest were thwarted by his brother; consequently, Loki is incensed at being exiled to the barren wasteland by Odin Allfather and plots a devious scheme for revenge.

Loki burns with a desire to destroy Thor, not Blake, and sees the Hulk as his chance to do so!

Though his physical self is trapped, Loki is able to use his vast magical abilities to project his disembodied self across the length of he dimension-spanning Bifrost and down to Earth, the planet Thor loves so dearly. He spies in on Donald Blake but dismisses him as a lame and insignificant mortal; he is acutely aware that Blake and Thor are one and the same but desires victory over Thor, not his crippled mortal shell. After many long hours, Loki comes upon the Incredible Hulk and is instantly intrigued by the creature’s brute strength and disdain for humanity. Thanks to Loki’s manipulations, the Hulk is blamed by the media when a train almost derails (despite the fact that the Hulk went out of his way to keep the train on track after Loki’s tricked him into damaging the tracks). Concerned for the well-being of his friend, Rick Jones desperately attempts to contact the Fantastic Four for help but Loki intercepts the broadcast and successfully coerces Blake to transform into Thor.

Words almost can’t express how much I despise Janet’s characterisation in these early comics!

However, Rick’s broadcast is also intercepted by Ant-Man and the Wasp and Tony Stark, who eagerly leap into action to stop what they perceive to be one of the Hulk’s trademark rampages. Though he’s now decked out in his slightly more streamlined gold plated armour (which can also charge through solar power), Stark is still entirely reliant upon his iron plated chest device to keep him alive but, nevertheless, he’s eager to test the strength of his armour against the Hulk’s much-vaulted power. The Fantastic Four eventually pick up the transmission regardless of Loki’s interference but are unable to assist since they’re already busy on another case but Rick and his fellow “Teen Bridge” are star-struck when Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, and the Wasp all show up to answer their summons. This is probably as good a time as any to talk about how much I loathe Janet van Dyne, especially in her earlier appearances in the sixties and seventies! She’s such a ditzy, scatterbrained little tart; all she ever does is think about her hair, make-up, and appearance and constantly fawn over other men right in front of her partner/husband, Hank. Sure, Hank is generally much more focused on his work, the mission, or being professional and is largely neglectful and ignorant of Janet but that doesn’t excuse her God-awful characterisation. Similar to Susan Storm/Invisible Girl, Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, and many of Marvel’s supporting female characters at the time, Janet is constantly patronised and spoken down to by men but, unlike many of them, she actually deserves such harsh treatment since she’s more of a glorified model or brainless celebrity than a capable superheroine, much less an individual worthy of their respect since all she wants to do is drool over Thor’s muscles!

Sadly, this is the closest we get to a fight between Thor and the Hulk.

Anyway, having inadvertently brought together some of Earth’s mightiest heroes, Loki changes tactics and uses his powers to trick Thor into thinking the Hulk is right outside their door! Acting without thought or logic, Thor immediately heads out to battle the Green Goliath and immediately heads to Asgard when he realises that the “Hulk” is merely one of Loki’s visions…just as Loki planned all along! Meanwhile, the Hulk, now free from Loki’s control, has…disguised himself as Mechano the Mechanical Man and hidden himself away at a circus? Thanks to Ant-Man’s uncanny helmet, which allows him to control and communicate with ants, Pym is able to first locate the Hulk and then use countless numbers of ants to cause a cave-in beneath the beast’s feet. Unimpressed and irritated, the Hulk easily bursts free of the trap and reacts with anger when Ant-Man attempts first to calm him and then to trap him.

The Hulk outsmarts Iron Man (!) and lands a crippling blow to Stark’s armour.

As in his debut appearance, the Hulk is far more than the mindless, rampaging beast he is generally known as; he’s eloquent and intelligent, using words like “masquerade” and being smart enough to disguise himself as a circus performer and use weapons to blow the Wasp out of the air and render her helpless. The Hulk is kept from crushed the Wasp into a fine paste by the timely arrival of Iron Man; after Iron Man’s attempts to lure the Hulk into a trap fail, he gives chase but the Hulk is wily enough to allow Iron Man to pass harmless overheard so that he (as in the Hulk) can deliver a crippling blow to Stark’s “propulsion battery”.

Loki is apprehended but the battle between Iron Man and the Hulk continues to rage!

Over in Asgard, Odin grants Thor permission to travel to the Isle of Silence to confront Loki and he has to overcome numerous traps and hazards conjured by Loki’s black magic along the way. Thor perseveres and shatters Loki’s magical barrier using his enchanted hammer, Mjölnir, in his mission to “avenge” Loki’s foul deed. However, Thor is kept from attacking Loki first by the sudden arrival of a monstrous troll, a nature of the isle, and then by Loki’s deceitful illusions. Regardless, Thor triumphs again by summoning lightning to drive the creature away and then dispels Loki’s duplicates with an implausible twirling of his hammer. Though Thor has Loki in his grasp and intends to bring him to Earth to answer for his deception, there’s still the little problem of the Hulk to contend with; Iron Man, having repaired his battery, continues his pursuit of the Hulk to an automobile factory, where the Hulk is able to endure and outwit Iron Man’s attempts to subdue him.

Loki is defeated with ridiculous ease and a new super team is born!

Thor interrupts the battle and reveals that Loki was behind everything; Hulk’s desire to make Loki pay for framing him is momentarily avoided when Loki breaks free of Thor’s grasp and prepares to resume his battle with his hated brother…only for a hoard of ants to open a trapdoor beneath his feet and cause him to fall into an lead-lined chamber. With the threat ended, Ant-Man suggests that the six of them join forces as a team, which the others (including the Hulk, despite everything he went through during the issue) readily agree to and it is the Wasp who suggests the team’s name: The Avengers!

The Summary:
“The Coming of the Avengers!” is a breath of fresh air after the year I’ve had looking back at early origin stories and comic books; even compared to standalone stories of the time, it’s refreshing to not have the plot be endlessly bogged down with recaps of the characters’ origins and to not have every other piece of dialogue by a description of that character’s ability. Characters do still have an annoying tendency to monologue and describe what they’re doing as they’re doing it but it’s a far more action-packed issue than some other comics I’ve read this year, that’s for sure.

The brisk pace means some characters get more focus than others but there’s still time for cameos…

If you’re a newcomer to Marvel, this is obviously a bit of a disadvantage since you’d have no idea who any of these characters are; the only characters who really get any extended backstory and focus are Thor and Loki, which is only natural considering it is Loki who drives the main plot of the issue. However, we never see an appearance from the Hulk’ alter ego (Banner isn’t even mentioned in the issue), Ant-Man and the Wasp are never seen outside of their costumed identities, and the comic even has time to waste panels on a cameo by the Fantastic Four. The intention, however, is pretty clear: Rick’s first thought is to call the Fantastic Four since there are only a couple of superhero teams in existence at that time and the implication is that Loki is a threat worthy of the Fantastic Four’s involvement, which thus makes the Avengers appear just as capable and formidable by proxy. Not that the Avengers really need any help in that regard; each character has already had numerous chances to shine and show how capable they are in their solo issues but what better way to showcase that to its fullest than by pitting them against the Hulk, the most powerful mortal in Marvel Comics at the time?

For all his power and scheming, Loki is incredibly ineffectual and his plan massively backfires!

Iron Man, especially, is eager to pit his skills and augmented strength against the Hulk’s (who sadly never gets to tussle with Thor to see which of the two truly is mightier) and it’s certainly unique seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp futilely try to subdue the beast with traps and trickery. It’s not a perfect story by any means; I could talk for days about Janet’s characterisation and she basically does nothing except buzz around, pine after Thor, and name the team and Loki never thinks to use his powers to send the Hulk into a mindless rampage to help tip the balance in his favour. Indeed, though Loki’s powers are vast and have the potential to be extremely dangerous, he’s pretty ineffectual as Thor easily fights off his illusions, he’s anti-climatically defeated by Ant-Man and the Wasp (of all people), and all he succeeds in doing is uniting Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as a team. He might have had more success if he’d tried to manipulate them into fighting each other or used his powers to better effect but, as an excuse to bring together six of Marvel’s most formidable superheroes into a super team, “The Coming of the Avengers!” succeeds far more than it fails…it just needed to be a bit longer and have a bit more interaction between the characters.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

How do you feel about “The Coming of the Avengers!”? Do you feel it was an effective introduction to Marvel’s newest and greatest team or do you, perhaps, find it a little weak and light on content? Which of the original line-up is your favourite? What did you think to the Wasp’s characterisation and the treatment of females during this time? Which version of the team is your favourite or who would you like to see on an Avengers roster one day? Do you think the singular threat of Loki was suitable enough justification for bringing together these heroes or would you have preferred a bigger threat? How are you celebrating the debut of the Avengers today and what are some of your favourite Avengers storylines, characters, or adaptations? Feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on the Avengers in the comments below.

Talking Movies [National Superhero Day]: Avengers Assemble


In 1995, Marvel Comics created “National Superhero Day” and, in the process, provided comics and superhero fans the world over with a great excuse to celebrate their favourite characters and publications.


Talking Movies

Released: 4 May 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $220 million
Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Stellan Skarsgård, and Samuel L. Jackson

The Plot:
When Loki Laufeyson (Hiddleston) arrives on Earth wielding a mind-controlling spear and in search of the Tesseract, Nick Fury (Jackson), director of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) activates the “Avenger Initiative”. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans), Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Ruffalo), Thor Odinson (Hemsworth), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson), and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Renner) are called into service but, with such big egos and personalities among their ranks, these assembled heroes must find a way to co-exist before they can combat this otherworldly threat.

The Background:
The development of an Avengers film began in 2003 with an outrageous plan to release a series of solo films for each character before having them all meet up, similar to how the Avengers formed in the comics back in 1963 courtesy of Martin Goodman, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Dick Ayers. It was an unprecedented move, one which saw fledging studio Marvel Studios roll the dice on lower-tier heroes such as Iron Man and win big time with a slew of massively successful and popular superhero films, each one hinting towards a much larger, shared cinematic universe.

Like their comic counterparts, the Avengers assembled after a series of solo adventures.

When the time came for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to finally meet onscreen, Marvel Studios turned to Joss Whedon to rewrite the script and direct the film and included Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) and Iron Man 2 (ibid, 2010) director Jon Favreau as an executive producer. After some differences of opinion, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige chose to recast Edward Norton in the role of Banner/Hulk and easily the biggest superhero film of all time was officially underway. The Avengers (known as Avengers Assemble here in the United Kingdom) was an absolutely phenomenal success, making over $1.500 billion at the box office, receiving rave reviews, and kicking off the extraordinary blockbuster success we know of today as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

The Review:
Avengers Assemble was the first time we had ever seen superheroes come together in a big screen, big budget movie. Before the MCU, before Iron Man, superheroes always existed in isolated bubbles and never interacted and, as a big fan of the interconnected world of the comics (not just in Marvel but in DC Comics and pretty much ever comic publication), I was excited to see these characters come together onscreen for the first-time and will always lean towards an interconnected, shared continuity. It was a risky venture taking admittedly B to D-tier characters like Iron Man and Captain America and shaping a series of movies around them but Avengers Assemble totally justified that risk, allowing these volatile egos and characters to share the same screen and mixing fantasy, science-fiction, magic, and technology all together in one action-packed adventure.

Loki comes to invade Earth and realise his grandiose desires for power and servitude.

Loki’s threat is immediately established when he suddenly arrives on Earth and makes short work of Fury’s men and then uses his spear to take control of Professor Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) and Barton. Though only a singular villain, one whom Thor has been able to best in combat before, Loki is a significant threat to the world since he is, effectively, a God and he has the entire Chitauri army at his command. Before the Chitauri arrive, though, Loki is formidable enough to justify bringing in Iron Man (despite Fury’s earlier reservations) and Cap since Thor wasn’t supposed to be able to get back to Earth. When Thor does arrive, his mission to capture Loki and bring him back to Asgard is hampered by Earth politics (since Fury wants to hold Loki accountable for the death and destruction he’s already caused) and as a result Loki manages to manipulate the fledgling Avengers into bickering and fighting with each other rather than him, allowing him to take possession of the Tesseract and bring the Chitauri to Earth. While he avoids active, physical combat, Loki is a daunting opponent when he does engage in battle, able to go toe-to-toe with Thor (thanks, largely, to Thor holding back out of love for his brother), easily catching Hawkeye’s arrow, and tossing Stark out of a window with just one hand. His downfall comes not only through the unification of the Avengers but is spelt out by Stark, who monologues about how, win or lose, they would hunt down and hold Loki personally responsible to ensure that he never truly wins, and, of course, more explicitly through the sudden and hilarious beat down he receives at the hands of the Hulk.

It’s a rough experience for Cap, who has awoken to a world that has radically changed.

Essentially, the film is a significant chapter in Cap’s story; since Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011) ended with Cap being dethawed in the modern day, this was only the second time we had seen him in action; unfortunately, because of the nature of the film, Cap’s reintegration into society is largely glossed over and, rather than being dwelled upon, is replaced with Cap wishing to be given a mission, a focus, a reason to fight in the modern world. As a result, he unquestioningly follows Fury’s directions primarily out of instinct, duty, and a need to have a reason to go on in a world that has largely passed him by; he clashes with Stark’s rebellious attitude, believing that they should follow orders like soldiers, but is convinced enough to investigate further and is disgusted to find Fury in possession of Chitauri technology and with contingencies in place to combat the Avengers since they have the potential to be a threat to humanity. Cap is all business when in battle, instinctively taking command and exuding leadership even though he is the most out of touch and out of place of all the characters; his initial antagonism with Stark is eventually put aside to lead the team during the Chitauri invasion and Cap fights to the bitter end even when he is vastly overpowered by the alien forces, taking the most damage of any of his team mates (including the “weaker” members like Natasha and Barton).

Stark joins the team with his own agenda but eventually comes to respect and defer to his peers.

Stark is just as stubborn and snarky as ever; he’s clearly insulted by Agent Colson (Gregg) and Fury’s decision to relegate him to a “consulting” role in the Avengers Initiate despite his claims to not want to be part of the team and believes himself to be the only one smart and capable enough of combating Loki’s impending threat. He comes aboard with the program purely out of a selfish desire to lord himself over Fury and the other Avengers and to learn more of S.H.I.E.L.D.s secrets, using them to call Fury out on his hypocrisy, and constantly goading his team mates (particularly Banner) into being themselves and rejecting Fury’s orders and control. While the prevailing arc for the entire team is learning to work together, Stark personifies this as he is the most antagonistic and reluctant to work as a team; he’s the most affected by Coulson’s death due to him knowing the agent the best, his experiences witnessing death and suffering first-hand in Iron Man, and his inability to properly cope with death and loss. Coulson’s death galvanises Stark, turning his incredulity to vengeance and giving him the motivation to not only put aside his ego to work with the team but also acknowledge Cap’s superior leadership skills.

The naturally apprehensive Banner has attained a measure of tenuous control over the Hulk.

Banner appears very differently to where we left him in The Incredible Hulk (Leterrier, 2008); fearing the unpredictability and ferocious nature of the Hulk, he has stayed in hiding, suppressing the Hulk with some success, but is unable to deny his innate wish to help others in need with his scientific and medical expertise. Banner has managed to keep the Hulk at bay not only through a risky and unique technique (he’s “always angry”, indicating that he constantly keeps his emotions at a level where the Hulk is satiated but doesn’t actually emerge) and a vehement refusal to acknowledge or speak the Hulk’s name. Banner is convinced to help advise on Loki’s spear by Natasha’s beauty and simply her asking him nicely, rather than forcing him to comply, but, while he is clearly excited to be working with S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Tesseract and forms a fast, budding friendship with Stark (with Stark goading Banner and acting like an annoying brother to him), he quickly comes to realise that Fury’s intentions aren’t entirely noble and questions the validity and ability of a team that is little more than a “timebomb” of ego and emotions. When the Hulk is forcibly unleashed as part of Loki’s plan, he is unbridled rage and fury, lashing out at everything and everyone around him in a mindless rage since the transformation was against Banner’s will. Later, during the Battle of New York, Banner initiates the transformation willingly and the Hulk is much more…maybe not “docile” but let’s say willing to cooperate, taking Cap’s orders and specifically targeting to Chitauri threat while protecting and aiding his teammates. A measure of Banner’s influence and the Hulk’s intelligence is seen as the Hulk makes the effort to save Iron Man from his fatal fall and his dismissive grunt of “Puny God!” after beating the piss out of Loki.

Thor’s complex relationship with Loki is a pivotal plot point throughout the film.

Thor’s arrival on Earth comes out of nowhere and is quickly waved away with a brief line about “dark energy”; personally, I never liked this or understood why the filmmakers had the Bifrost be destroyed in Thor (Branagh, 2011) when they knew very well that Thor would be back in Avengers Assemble but it is what it is and Thor is there. Thor is handicapped by his emotions towards his brother; he is elated and heartbroken to see Loki alive after believing him dead and just wants his brother to abandon his crusade and come home. Loki, however, is too full of jealously, rage, and resentment and constantly taunts, defies, and dismisses his brother, who finds himself unable to simply wade in, muscles bulging, and retrieve Loki thanks to opposition from Iron Man, Cap, and Fury and the greater issue concerning the Tesseract. Thor offers knowledge of another world, another level of understanding, that is unique amongst his teammates and spends much of the film believing his brother still has good in him and wishing to return him home. After Loki kills Coulson before Thor’s eyes and tries to kill him with a trap intended for the Hulk, Thor reluctantly gears up and enters the fray, so determined to stop his brother’s mad schemes that he’s willing to fight alongside the Avengers and submit to Cap’s orders since he, like Cap, is a stranger in this world and still learning how to navigate modern, human society.

Natasha remains a mystery despite the showcase of her skills and hints towards her past.

Natasha is still relatively new in this film since audiences only saw a fraction of her true character and abilities in Iron Man 2 so it’s good that she gets a solo action scene at the start of the film to showcase her physical and manipulative abilities. We learn bits and pieces of her character and backstory through her interactions with Banner, Loki, and Barton but she remains very much a mystery even by the end of the film. This would, of course, continue over the years since Black Widow was one of the last of the original Avengers to get a solo film, meaning an air of mystery constantly surrounds her, but much of her arc is focused on her relationship with Barton (which is one of duty, gratitude, and mutual, platonic respect) and her commitment to Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. Like Cap, she follows orders unquestioningly but it also feels like she has her own agenda and reasons for going along with S.H.I.E.L.D.; while she, like Barton, is one of the weakest links in the Avengers, she’s still capable enough to hold her own against the Chitauri…for a time, at least.

Though he spends the majority of the film under Loki’s spell, Barton proves a formidable opponent.

Barton, who is only referred to as Hawkeye once in the film, spends most of the movie under Loki’s command (though this does harken back to his comic book beginnings as a villain); as a result, all we know about him is the few bits and pieces Natasha reveals about their relationship and their background. However, we do get to see him in action on more than one occasion; he’s a crack shot, almost to superhuman levels, and is able to bring down an entire Helicarrier with a single, well-placed arrow. He is an essential soldier in Loki’s army, offering him insight into Fury’s operation and resources, but is also able to provide the Avengers with key information regarding Loki after Natasha literally knocks some sense into him. He proves himself capable enough in the finale by providing much needed and peerless cover from a high vantage point, from which he is able to take out multiple Chitauri with a few well-aimed shots. He’s easily the least developed of all the characters thanks to the role he plays in the film but it works for the plot and means we’re left wanting to know more about him and his backstory.

Fury, the mastermind behind the Avengers, always as a contingency for every eventuality.

Fury plays a much larger role in this film than in the previous MCU movies since he’s a pivotal supporting character rather than a mere cameo; he believes that Loki represents a very real threat to humanity but also believes wholeheartedly in the concept of heroes and the ability of the Avengers Initiative to combat Loki’s threat. He opposes the World Security Council when they dismiss the Avengers as a legitimate solution and when they order a nuclear strike on New York which, along with his own brand of snark and dry wit, makes him a rebellious and layered character in his own right. However, he’s also a secretive and manipulative individual, constantly telling everyone only as much as they need to know and a handful of half-truths (as Stark says: “Fury’s secrets have secrets!”) and believes in having contingencies against any and all possible threats, both foreign and domestic. While he doesn’t fight alongside the Avengers in the final battle, he’s crucial to their formation and is a charismatic and alluring figurehead for their group. Sadly, this was as prominent as Fury would be for some time, with him quickly going back to being either a cameo or supporting character over the years, which is a shame as it’s always great to see Samuel L. Jackson in the role and interacting with these characters.

Coulson is the glue that connects the Avengers and his death galvanises the team into action.

Similarly, Coulson also gets much more screen time and development this time around; still acting as Fury’s go-to and the liaison between S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers, Coulson (whose first name is revealed to be “Phil” rather than just “Agent”) is the relatable man among Gods, the common thread that links all of these volatile personalities together. Initially, all they really have in common beyond their heroic tendencies is their relationship with Coulson, with Stark having the closest link to him and Coulson being especially in awe of Cap, his hero and idol, and Coulson’s death is both sudden and heartbreakingly brutal. It’s a fantastic moment that serves to galvanise and motivate the them and, as much as I’ve enjoyed some episodes and seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 to 2020), it did annoy me that his dramatic death was undone so soon after the film’s release. Thankfully, the MCU movies don’t acknowledge Coulson’s resurrection so his tragic death remains the principal motivating factor behind the coming together of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Considering the large cast of bombastic, unique characters and actors, Avengers Assemble is fantastically well paced; sure, Natasha and, especially, Barton don’t get anywhere near as much screen time or development as established guys like Cap or Stark but they get several character defining moments and character beats that help to keep them relevant and integral to the plot. The film isn’t full of non-stop action but it never feels slow or like it’s wasting time; any time there isn’t some kind of physical conflict, there’s a conflict of character, beliefs, or ideologies as each of the characters interacts with each other in different ways. The central conflict in the film is between the individual Avengers as much as it is with Loki as each one must learn how to interact and co-operate with the other, which leads to some friction between Rogers and Stark, disdain from the God-like Thor, and distrust from the understandably agitated Banner.

Loki’s influence exacerbates the tension within the fledgling team…

This all comes to a head in one of the film’s most intense moments where the fledgling Avengers argue over Fury’s manipulations, the threat each of them oppose, and their conflicting egos in a scene that is easily as powerful as any of the film’s fight scenes. Here, each character talks and argues over each other; lots of fingers are pointed, egos are bruised, and accusations are made thanks to the influence of Loki’s spear, which exacerbates their most negative aspects and fuels the distrust and tension between the group. It’s an amazingly realised scene, with lots of dynamic camera work on offer and allows the characters to vent their frustrations and concerns about each other, the mission, and the inevitable escalation of conflict that threatens Earth now that it has experienced otherworldly threats and, in it, these conflicting personalities actually grow stronger as a result of their brutal honesty.

Even when he’s clearly outmatched and in over his head, Cap continues to fight.

However, amidst this, there are also numerous amusing little moments that help to add to the film’s levity and develop each character: Rogers handing Fury a $10 bill after being awe-struck by the Helicarrier, Stark pointing out that one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents is playing Galaga (Namco, 1981), Thor’s humiliation regarding Loki’s actions and heritage, and Banner’s flashes of anger all help to make the characters real and relatable. One of the best examples of this is Cap’s confrontation with Loki in which he, despite being “out of time”, recognises Loki’s evil and potential threat and openly opposes him just as he did a similar dictator in World War Two and engages him in combat despite Loki’s clear physical advantage over him. Cap’s whole character is that he continues to fight no matter the odds and that is continuously seen in Avengers Assemble as, even when outclassed or outnumbered, he continues to get back up and go on with the fight until it’s done, one way or another, and fails to give in to intimidation from concepts beyond his time such as Gods, aliens, and advanced technology.

Seeing these colourful and volatile individuals interact is every fan’s dream come true!

Their interactions with each other are equally impressive, with the heroes just as likely to come to blows as they are to work together; this means we get to see these bright, colourful costumed characters fighting with each other as much as alongside each other. Iron Man fights with Thor, Cap joins in to make it a triple threat, Black Widow fights with Hawkeye, and Thor memorably goes toe-to-toe with the Hulk to set up a friendly rivalry that would be fantastically revisited in Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi, 2017). It’s a staple of superhero team-ups that the heroes simply must fight at least once and Avengers Assemble delivers on this in spades; we’ve watched each of these characters in their own films, or be involved in other MCU films, over the years so to see them match wits, trade blows, and fight together is a true fanboy’s delight.

The Chitauri are, admittedly, underwhelming antagonists but they serve their purpose.

The finale is little more than a battle against mindless, indistinguishable alien hoards who, conveniently, operate in a hive mind and are “easily” shut down by Stark tossing a nuclear weapon at their mothership. I honestly expected a version of the Masters of Evil for the first Avengers movie, with Loki joining forces with Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) outside of the Realms and then teaming up with Emil Blonsky/The Abomination (Tim Roth) and/or Samuel Sterns/The Leader (Tim Blake Nelson) once they reach Earth for a smaller scale, six on six style team vs. team movie and, in some ways, it is a bit disappointing that the Avengers only went up against one villain and an army of drones but it really works in the film since the entire point of the movie is to bring these volatile characters together. The actual antagonist could have be anyone or anything and it wouldn’t really matter but it being Loki works wonders thanks to Tom Hiddleston’s iconic performance; he’s truly a snake in the grass, a wily, manipulative, vindictive villain who is intelligent and cruel enough to match wits with each of the Avengers both physically and vocally and the only previous villain I could see being able to do anywhere hear as good a job would be Hugo Weaving.

The Avengers win the day but a greater, far more powerful threat looms in the background…

One issue I have though is that, as much as I loved the “Avengers Assemble!” scene we eventually got, I still don’t get why we couldn’t have heard that iconic cry during that awesome panning shot of the team standing back-to-back. I think we definitely could have heard this cry in each of the team-up films and appearances of the group and it wouldn’t have taken away from that impactful scene; if anything, it would have added to it since it would be a rallying cry for the reunited heroes. Still, the Battle for New York is amazing in its scope; the Chitauri may be interchangeable alien drones but they are relentless. The Avengers are able to combat them and easily defeat them but their numbers are legion and, apparently, inexhaustible and it isn’t long before they are overwhelmed even with the might of Thor and the Hulk. The Chitauri’s larger reinforcements and advanced weaponry and sheer numbers mean that it is simply a matter of time before the Avengers, for all their power, are overwhelmed and Loki is successful, meaning that the Avengers’ main concern is holding the line and keeping the invasion at bay while their team mates confront Loki and cut off the source of the invasion. All throughout the film, Loki converses with “The Other” (Alexis Denisof) and is clearly being given power and resources from an unseen third party, revealed at the very end of the film to be none other than Thanos (Damion Poitier). At the time, we could never have anticipated the extent to Thanos’s threat and importance to the MCU but the bringing together of cosmic characters like Asgardians and threats like the Chitauri and Thanos only hinted at how large and varied the MCU was destined to become.

The Summary:
Avengers Assemble is still one of the biggest and most entertaining movies in the MCU and, perhaps, ever made. Of all the movies in the MCU’s first phase, it’s easily my favourite and, for me, set the standard not just for subsequent MCU team-up movies but for every film in the MCU going forward. No longer were these characters going to exist in their own isolated bubble; they would interact with their fellow characters, reference the larger world we finally saw in all its glory, and be part of something much bigger and greater than a series of self-contained films.

Avengers Assemble is my favourite Phase 1 film and remains a top tier MCU movie.

For me, this is the greatest appeal of the MCU; before Iron Man, superhero films were always solo affairs and we never saw heroes interact with each other. Thanks to the MCU, all of that changed and, finally, the movies came to resemble the comics by having a shared universe that has a tight continuity and an actual tangible, long-term plan. The film is alive with character moments, an amusing dry wit, and action-packed sequences but, as thrilling as the bombastic fight scenes can be, it’s all the little interactions and interpersonal conflicts that really make this film so entertaining and appealing to me even to this day.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What are your thoughts on Avengers Assemble? How do you feel it holds up now that the MCU has become this massive, multimedia juggernaut? Were you disappointed that the film focused solely on the one villain and side-lined Hawkeye with a mind control sub-plot or were you satisfied with Hiddleston’s performance and the interpersonal conflicts between the characters? Which of the Avengers is your favourite and which of the comic’s characters are you excited to learn more about or see join the team? Which of the MCU movies, shows, or characters is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating National Superhero Day today? Whatever your thoughts, leave a comment below and be sure to stick around for more superhero and comic book content throughout the year.

Game Corner: Captain America and the Avengers (Arcade)

Released: 1991
Developer: Data East
Also Available For: Game Boy, Game Gear, Mega Drive, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

The Background:
First created in 1940 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Steve Rogers/Captain America was an icon of the Second World War, embodying America’s obsession with patriotism and pride by taking the fight directly to the Axis Forces. Superhero comics went on a bit of a decline after the war and Captain America wouldn’t return to prominence until 1964, when he was famously revived to join Marvel Comics’ all-star team, the Avengers. Since then, the character has been largely synonymous with Earth’s Mightiest Mortals, often acting as the team’s moral compass and leader. In 1991, both comics and arcades were undergoing something of a renaissance; Marvel published the influential Infinity Gauntlet (Starlin, et al, 1991) during this time and sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups like Final Fight (Capcom, 1989) and The Simpsons (Konami, 1991) were proving popular coin munchers. It is perhaps these factors that led to Data East developing a four-player beat-‘em-up game centred around Marvel’s popular super team, a game that is often forgotten because of genre-defining titles like X-Men (Konami, 1992) and a title I first played on the SEGA Mega Drive in all its inauspicious glory.

The Plot:
Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull has assembled an army of the world’s most dangerous supervillains in order to take over the world using a gigantic, Moon-based laser! Answering the call to action and adventure are Captain America, Tony Stark/Iron Man, Clint Barton/Hawkeye, and the Vision, collectively known as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers, are the only ones capable of putting a stop to the Red Skull’s nefarious plans for world domination! Avengers Assemble!!

Gameplay:
Captain America and the Avengers is a 2D, sidescrolling beat-‘em-up in which you, and another player if you have a friend, control one of the four Avengers and mindlessly pummel a bunch of robots, cyborgs, and iconic Marvel bad guys across five different stages (referred to as “Scenes”). No matter which character you choose to play as, the game pretty much plays exactly the same with only some minor aesthetic differences separating the characters.

Each Avenger has their own special attack but, otherwise, controls exactly the same.

Despite this, though, I found Cap the most enjoyable character to play as, with Iron Man a close second. The controls are as simple as you could want: you can beat down your enemies with some simple punches and kicks, charge through them with a dash attack, block by holding down the punch button, and perform two different jumping attacks depending on how high you’re jumping. You can also grab and throw enemies (and objects) and unleash a unique ranged attack by pressing down the attack and jump button simultaneously: Captain America hurls his mighty shield, Iron Man fires his repulsor rays, Hawkeye fires arrows, and Vision fires laser blasts from his forehead. I found there to be a bit of a delay in activating these special attacks, however, which can leave you vulnerable but at least they don’t drain your health.

Wasp and Namor will occasionally lend you a helping hand.

Speaking of which, your health is measured in hundreds; you begin each Scene/life with 100 health but can increase it by grabbed the rarely-seen small blue orbs or the power-ups dropped by other Avengers like Namor the Sub-Mariner and Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver. You can also increase your health, all the way up to “Max”, by entering coins to keep you alive and kicking, effectively sacrificing your pocket money and extra lives for more health. Thankfully, emulation means you don’t need to worry about wasting your hard-earned pocket money so you never have to worry about running out of lives or health.

Autoscrolling shooting sections help to add some variety to the gameplay.

Unlike a lot of arcade games, Captain America and the Avengers doesn’t feature a time limit; however, if you stand around idle for too long, an explosion randomly drains your health until you either die or get moving, which is a cruel but unique inclusion. It’s not all mindless right-to-left fighting, either; Scene 2, Scene 3, and Scene 5 feature autoscrolling shooting sections that take place in the skies of a wrecked city, deep underwater, and in the cold vastness of outer space. If you’re playing as Cap or Hawkeye, you’ll get to pilot a Sky-Cycle in the first of these stages, but for the others you’ll throw on some scuba gear and a rudimentary space suit. Either way, you must blast enemies with your ranged attack (which is now just a simple button press), avoiding their projectiles and holding down punch to block. These sections are only short but they held to mix things up a bit and, when it comes to sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups, variety is hard to find so it’s appreciated.

Graphics and Sound:
I remember Captain America and the Avengers looking very unimpressive on the Mega Drive, with small sprites in large areas and lacking a lot of the detail and quality of other games of the time. In that regard, the arcade game is better since the sprites are much bigger and more distinct and detailed but you’ll notice that they’re not as large, colourful, or intricate as those seen in games like X-Men, for example.

The game is colourful and varied but not as impressive as others in its genre.

Still, it does a decent enough job; the camera is zoomed out quite far compared to other beat-‘em-ups, though, giving you a much larger battlefield which would be a positive but, while areas can get swamped with enemies and do feature interactive elements (mainly barrels and other objects to throw or explode), they are quite empty and there’s little benefit to exploring or attacking your surroundings. You will find some interesting elements, though, such as enemies bursting out of windows and the background, an Avengers mural, burning cars, wrecked buildings, and both a sprawling city in the background and water rushing beneath you as you fly, with comic book sound effects punctuating the onscreen violence.

Comic book panels and hilariously mistranslated dialogue tell the game’s story.

As you might expect, comic book-like panels and text are used to convey the bulk of the story; each character is given a brief demonstration of their in-game abilities and a biography, which is a nice touch, and the game is peppered with some in-game cutscenes that feature dialogue between the Avengers and their enemies. These are some of the most ludicrous examples of mistranslation ever, which hilarious exchanges such as “Seeeeee my powerrr!”, “Where is the laser?”/“Ask the police!”, “You can’t escape!”/“You will be the one escaping!”, and “Why should it goes well!?” It’s cheesy and ridiculous in a “Welcome to die!!” kind of way that adds some unintentional entertainment value to the game, which also features a suitably heroic soundtrack; you’ll hear the main theme quite a bit, since it kicks in once bosses are close to defeat, and while it’s nothing special it’s very catchy and rousing and gives the game a stirring, stimulating gallant feel.

Enemies and Bosses:
For the most part, you’ll battle seemingly endless wave upon wave of robots or cybernetic enemies; the most common of these incessantly shoot at you with lasers, sometimes while jumping, while others carry shields or can grab and hold you with retractable arms. You’ll also battle enemies that hover in jetpacks, bigger, more muscle-bound variants that squeeze the life out of you with a bear hug, and hopping bug-like robots. Underwater, enemies will fire harpoons at you while you try to dodge mines and, in the air, they’ll circle around firing lasers in a simple formation. Most of these are destroyed in just a few hits, and both increase in number and become tougher to defeat as you progress, exploding upon defeat, making me believe them to be cyborgs and mechanical rather than flesh and blood.

In Scene 1, you’ll battle some minor Marvel foes after they rob a bank.

One thing Captain America and the Avengers does really well, though, is its expansive use of Marvel’s rouges gallery; in each Scene, you’ll have to contend with a main boss and a series of sub-bosses, many of whom will be recognisable to fans of the source material (and even the movies, to a degree). In Scene 1, you’ll have to contend with the duo of Arthur Parks/The Living Laser and Ulysses Klaw/Klaw mid-way through the stage as they cover David Cannon/Whirlwind’s escape following a bank robbery. Laser and Klaw are best faced with a partner since they hop around the screen, blasting lasers and projectiles at you, but, like all of the game’s sub-bosses and bosses, can be easily pummelled solo as well. When you do go toe-to-toe with Whirlwind, it’s dead easy to just wail away on him, with his only threat being his ability to transform into a literal whirlwind to dash about the screen and whip up nearby objects to rain them down on you.

After disposing of a Sentinel, you’ll battle the Grim Reaper, though neither the Wizard or the “Mech. Taco” are a threat.

Scene 2 sees you having to relentlessly blast away at a Hydra aircraft on your way to the wrecked city and a confrontation with the gigantic, screen-filling “Giant Robot” (clearly a Sentinel). The Sentinel is a slow, plodding sub-boss who tries to smack you out of the sky, fires lasers, and grabs you in its near-endless supply of robot hands. After blowing it to pieces, you’ll battle through the ruins of the city and into a confrontation with Eric Williams/The Grim Reaper, one of the game’s tougher bosses. Grim Reaper can block your projectile attack with his spinning scythe, rush across the screen with lightning speed to slash and strike you, hover in the air, and fires explosive projectiles as the fight progresses. In Scene 3, you’ll battle Bentley Wittman/The Wizard on the deck of a wrecked battleship; the Wizard favours diving punches, throwing discs, and quick-firing laser bolts but is, otherwise, a minor inconvenience at best. After exploring the depths of the ocean, you’ll encounter a giant mechanical octopus referred to as “Mech. Taco”; this is functionally the same fight as against the Sentinel, requiring you to avoid the Taco’s tentacles, swim beneath its lasers, and simply fire at it relentlessly until it explodes.

Even some of Marvel’s most recognisable villains end up being a bit of a pushover.

After emerging victorious, you’ll battle through a submarine and into a confrontation with the Mandarin; the Mandarin is a bit of a trickster, floating around the arena, rocketing into the air, firing at you with lasers, encasing you in ice, and even duplicating himself for double the threat. The Mandarin can command his duplicate to charge at you, send you flying with his floaty movements, and loves to bash you senseless when he gets up close. Like all the other bosses, though, he might have a lot of flair but he’s got a glass jaw and it’s easy to land a few combos and whittle his health down in seconds. Scene 4 sees you infiltrating the Red Skull’s Moon base, where you’ll have to contend with Cain Marko/Juggernaut (who is, ironically, actually smaller than the game’s bruiser enemies…). Juggy likes to roll around the arena in a ball, land big uppercuts, charge at you with a shoulder barge, and trying to cave your skull in with a big double axehandle smash. Oddly, the most difficult thing about fighting him isn’t his much-vaulted strength but actually his speed, since he cannot be damaged in his ball form and likes to speed around the arena like a whippet. After defeating Juggernaut, you’ll eventually battle Ultron, who fires electrical beams from his face, dashes across the screen in a fireball-like form, fires lasers blasts from his hands, pummels you with punches, and causes lasers to rain down across the arena once his health gets low. It’s not an especially difficult fight but, thanks to Ultron’s array of abilities and speedy, damage-dealing moves, it’s comparable to the ones against the Grim Reaper and the Mandarin in that it can be frustrating navigating through Ultron’s attacks but, once you get some hits in, he goes down as easily as any other boss.

Surprisingly, Crossbones is pretty tough, but the final confrontation with the Red Skull couldn’t be simpler.

Having destroyed the Red Skull’s giant laser in Scene 5, you’ll again battle two sub-bosses at once; in this case, “Control” (who is possibly supposed to be Basil Sandhurst/The Controller). This fight is made more troublesome by the buzzsaws that travel across the grid on the ground but is still easier than the first fight against the Living Laser and Klaw since Control just tries to grab you and land flying kicks. Once they’re dealt with, your penultimate boss is against Brock Rumlow/Crossbones, of all people. Not gonna lie but Crossbones is a bit disappointing as a penultimate boss in terms of his character and stature but he’s no pushover; Crossbones leaps, bounds, and tumbles across the arena leaving a shadow in his wake and raining explosive mines (which home in on you) down around you. He also pulls out a pistol to fire at you from a distance and isn’t afraid to either rush at you with his trusty knife or toss the blade your way in rapid succession. Because of his speed and relentless attacks, Crossbones is no pushover but you can tip the tide in your favour by throwing his explosives back at him. Once you corner the Red Skull (who is seen smoking a cigarette in his introduction idle animation!), you’ll go head-to-head with the Nazi superman in a good, old-fashioned slugfest. If you’re wondering where the cliché elevator stage is, it’s right here in this simple fight that turns out to be a trap! Once you drain the Red Skull’s health, he grows into a massive mechanical form and it’s revealed you’ve been fighting a decoy all along. The real Red Skull watches, safely protected within a glass tube, as you battle the formidable “Mech. Skull”, which boasts such devastating attacks as twin gatling guns, energy bolts, massive melee attacks, rockets, a big slam attack, and can summon whirlwinds to mess you up. Still, it’s a big, largely stationary target so it’s pretty simple to get close to it to avoid the majority of its attacks and just pummel away until it explodes, seemingly taking out the Red Skull with it and destroying the Red Skull’s entire Moon base in the process.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike most sidescrolling beat-‘em-ups, there aren’t many power-ups to be found in Captain America and the Avengers. Very rarely, in the autoscrolling stages, you’ll find small blue orbs to restore your health and there are a variety of objects to pick up and throw but there are none of the traditional health power-ups, invincibilities, or melee weapons to be found. At certain, predefined points in a lot of Scenes, another Avenger will make a brief cameo and toss out a big health-restoring power-up, which is a fun inclusion. In the autoscrolling sections, you can also pick up a “W” icon and gain the help of Janet van Dyne/Wasp, who encircles your character and can be shot forwards to deal additional damage for a limited time. It’s a shame that more of the other non-playable Avengers don’t aid you in the same way (though Namor does provide some brief assistance in Scene 3).

Additional Features:
It’s an old arcade beat-‘em-up so, of course, there’s really nothing else on offer here except for obtaining or beating the high score or playing alongside a friend. Apparently, some versions of the arcade cabinet supported four-player co-op, which seems like a missed opportunity, but I do know that the consoles versions included different difficulty settings and a “Training” mode that allows you to pit each playable character against each other in a pale imitation of games like Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991).

The Summary:
If you’re looking for a classic, sidescrolling arcade beat-‘em-up, you can do a lot better than Captain America and the Avengers. It’s a decent way to waste about half an hour or so and is big, colourful, mindless fun but there are far better arcade beat-‘em-ups out there, whether carrying the Marvel license or not. The game is fun with a second player and for the completely off-the-wall voice acting and dialogue but it’s very empty and basic, even for an early-nineties beat-‘em-up title. I will say, though, having previously owned the Mega Drive version, that the arcade version of the game is the superior of the two so I would recommend playing this version over any of the others…and then jump back into X-Men right after.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever played Captain America and the Avengers? If so, which version did you play and which do you feel was the superior iteration? Which of the four Avengers was your go-to character and which of the unplayable Avengers would you have liked to see made playable characters? What did you think to the game’s many sub-bosses and bosses and cheesy, terribly translated dialogue? Have you got a favourite arcade beat-‘em-up or Marvel videogame; if so, what is it? Either way, I’d love to hear your thoughts so drop a comment below.

Interplay: Killer Heroes

Interplay

Before I earned my PhD writing about adaptations of videogames, I studied towards a Master’s degree in the same subject only, for my Master’s dissertation, I wrote about adaptations of comic books and superheroes. As many of you are probably aware, movies based on the likes of DC Comics and Marvel Comics costume-clad crimefighters are a prevalent subgenre in cinema these days but, back then, the boom was still reaching its apex; Marvel’s The Avengers/Avengers Assemble (Whedon, 2012) was still a year or two away from changing the genre, and cinema, and The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008) had just been released. It was an exciting time not just for move lovers but also for comic book fans; superheroes and comics have long been the basis of movies, cartoons, videogames, toys, and other media and have always been ripe for adaptation but, in the last ten years especially, they have really emerged as a successfully subgenre of cinema to dominate box offices and, thanks to the interconnected movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), change the way movie studios approach not just comic book movies but movies in general.

However, as with all adaptations, we’ve seen some changes to the source material during the act of taking these beloved characters from the restrictive panels and plash pages of comic books and transferring them to the big screen. The first thing you learn when studying adaptations is the inevitability of this change yet even when knowing this, those who critique adaptations do so to test their faithfulness and equivalence to a source material that is, by comparison, awarded primacy and authority simply because it “came first” (Hutcheon, 2006: 16).  Similarly, Dicecco (2015: 164) observed that adaptation theorists are generally exhausted with the concept of “fidelity” and the subsequent rejection of fidelity as constructive analytical discourse has been described as essential to adaptation theory as it “does not make sense as a critical framework because literal reproduction, which may or may not even be a formal possibility, is actually a relatively uncommon motive for adapters” (ibid, referencing Hutcheon and Leitch). Indeed, the very act of discussing fidelity is to express personal disappointment when an adaptation “fails to capture what we see as the fundamental narrative, thematic, and aesthetic features of its literary source” (ibid, quoting Stam), none of which is generally viewed as constructive to adaptation theory.

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No matter how good or faithful the adaptation, changes are inevitable.

And yet, for those of us who are particularly close to the source material and heavily invested in it, it can be difficult to accept when a movie changes something fundamental about our beloved characters; from having Jack Napier/The Joker (Jack Nicholson) be responsible for killing Bruce Wayne/Batman’s (Michael Keaton) parents, to the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) being little more than a drunken actor playing us all for fools, to Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) being the idealistic protégé of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jnr), comic book fans often lament startling changes and, with the internet and social media giving them the perfect platform to vent their frustrations, are never shy about letting others know exactly how they feel when movies alter their favourite comic book characters.

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But perhaps the biggest and most enduring debate amongst the superhero fan community is the question of whether or not their favourite heroes should be depicted as killers. It seems like every other day my Twitter feed comes alive with people raging endlessly about whether Batman should kill, protesting that Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) snapped General Zod’s (Michael Shannon) neck in Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013), and generally raging endlessly whenever someone dares to suggest otherwise. Honestly, it gets very old and aggravating; it’s almost as annoying and insulting as when these same fans decry superhero costumes in movies and television shows (no matter how faithful the design is to the source material, they still find something to complain about). So I figured that I’d go back to my Master’s dissertation and throw my two pennies into the well; however, as this debate could honestly go on forever and contain numerous example, I’m going to try and limit it to a couple of choice franchises: Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Avengers, and Star Wars.

While Bale’s Batman refused to kill, Affleck’s had no such qualms.

When I wrote my Master’s dissertation, the first chapter was all about Batman; his origins, his code, his various intricacies and how these had been summarised, distilled, and changed by the adaptation process when the character was brought to life in movies. At the time, the Christopher Nolan films were at their peak and it was generally understood that Batman (Christian Bale) had one simple rule: he would not kill, no matter the circumstances. Fast-forward to sometime later, after the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (ibid, 2016) and I revisited this piece in an attempt to get it published in a journal. However, when I came back to it, my entire argument had changed; having seen the way Batman (Ben Affleck) was portrayed in Batman v Superman, and actually being perfectly fine with a Batman who killed, my original piece was suddenly completely contradicted and it is this contradiction that I want to tackle first and foremost. Personally, I feel Nolan’s movies hammered home Batman’s no-killing rule in a way that is massively exaggerated for the source material. Whenever the subject is raised, people inevitably point to examples from Batman’s earliest days of publication, back when he was little more than another gun-toting pulp vigilante in the spirit of the Shadow or the Phantom. The “Bat-Man” as originally depicted by Bob Kane and Bill Finger was very nonchalant about killing criminals; he would kick them into vats of chemicals, snap their necks, or hang them from the Batplane, all while spouting a cutting quip or dry comment.

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Whenever talk about Batman killing crops up, these same panels appear.

However, examples of Batman killing in comics are few and far between and he is seen far more often opposing the killing of others than he is executing criminals. This was a driving force in the Under the Hood (Winick, et al, 2004 to 2006) in which Jason Todd, freshly returned to life, laments the fact that Batman would prefer to let criminal, murdering scum like the Joker live rather than end their threat once and for all. this idea of Batman resisting the urge to kill because it would be “too easy” and would start him on a downward path of death and destruction has been explored numerous times in Batman comics and is of particular relevance in Nolan’s films. In Batman Begins (Nolan, 2005) Bruce Wayne is fully prepared to avenge the death of his parents by shooting the man who killed them, Joe Chill (Richard Brake) right in front of entire host of witnesses. When the opportunity is taken from him, he becomes disgusted at himself for taking up the same weapon that brought such pain and loss to his life and, in that moment, literally and figuratively rejects such instruments of death. Later, when told that he must execute a murder to graduate from the League of Shadows, Bruce’s resolve remains steadfast (emphasis mine):

BRUCE (refusing the sword offered to him)
No. I’m no executioner.

DUCARD:
Your compassion is a weakness your enemies will not share.

BRUCE:
That’s why it’s so important. It separates us from them.

DUCARD:
You want to fight criminals? This man is a murderer!

 BRUCE:
This man should be tried.

DUCARD:
By whom? Corrupt bureaucrats? Criminals mock society’s laws! You know this better than most!

It’s a great scene, and a great moment, in which Bruce outright refuses to follow the League’s gospel to the letter and, instead, chooses to take their teachings and bring criminals to justice rather than end their lives. However, when faced with the choice of killing the man, Bruce takes drastic action and causes a fire to start in the League’s temple and ends up fighting with “Ra’s al Ghul” (Ken Watanabe); the fire causes the temple to become structurally unstable and, as a result, “Ra’s” is crushed to death by falling timber and, shortly after, the temple is rocked by a series of explosions. While Bruce risks his life to save his friend and mentor, Ducard (Liam Neeson, later revealed to be the true Ra’s), how many members of the League perished because of Bruce’s actions?

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In Year One, Batman put himself at risk to save a falling criminal.

This scene is, structurally, reminiscent of a sequence in Batman: Year One (Miller, et al, 1987) in which a young, inexperience and exuberant Batman is so frightening that he causes a robber to almost tumble over a balcony and to his death. Despite the fact that Batman takes a great amount of punishment from the other criminals (he gets a television bashed over his head, and not one of our light-weight flatscreens!), Batman makes a concentrated, deliberate effort to save the man from falling. “Lucky,” he remarks afterwards, “lucky amateur”. However, despite all of this, Batman is faced with a choice at the conclusion of the movie: the Gotham monorail is out of control and heading right to Wayne Tower and cannot be stopped. It’s breaking apart around him and his only option is to escape and let the train crash, destroying Ra’s’ microwave emitter in the process and saving Gotham City. Yet, he’s not along: Ra’s is with him in this moment:

RA’S:
Have you finally learned to do what is necessary?

BATMAN:
I won’t kill you…but I don’t have to save you!

And, with that, Batman unfurls his cape and is flown clear of the train, and of danger, and Ra’s is left to accept his fate. So, explain to me how killing a man and letting a man die are two different things? Remember, Batman has an entire utility belt full of gadgets and gizmos, the most prominent of which is his gas-powered magnetic grapnel gun. Rather than gliding away, he could have swung them both to safety or, better yet, took Ra’s with him as he escaped but, instead, he let Ra’s die through his inaction. Had Ra’s made a move or a fatal error that Batman was powerless to stop, this debate wouldn’t exist; we saw something similar in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (Geda, 2000) where Batman (Kevin Conroy) was too injured to stop Tim Drake (Mathew Valencia) from killing the Joker (Mark Hamill) but he most like would have tried to interject had he been physically capable.

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Alfred encouraged Bruce not to give in to the Joker even if it meant more would die.

In The Dark Knight, Batman’s code against killing is so widely known that not only does he rasp it at criminals at any given opportunity, but Gotham’s criminal underworld is “wise to [his] act”. Spurred on by Batman’s “morals” and his “mode”, the Joker (Heath ledger) wages a reign of terror across Gotham in an attempt to have Batman unmask and expose himself as a fraud. Interestingly, it is Bruce’s loyal butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine), who tries to talk Bruce out of complying with the Joker’s demands:

BRUCE:
People are dying, Alfred. What would you have me do?

ALFRED:
Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it but that’s the point of Batman. He can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no-one else can make. The right choice.

This isn’t the first time Alfred has encouraged Bruce to accept that casualties are inevitable in his war on crime; in Batman Forever (Schumacher, 1995), Alfred (Michael Gough) actively encourages Bruce (Val Kilmer) to offer guidance to Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell) just as he encourages Grayson to follow his own path towards vigilantism: “One day, Robin will fly again” he tells the troubled youth and he not only not only is conveniently lax about keeping the secret entrance to the Batcave hidden from Grayson he also “[takes] the liberty” of creating an armoured Robin costume for his young master.

Bruce repeatedly tries to convince Dick not to kill Two-Face.

Batman Forever is an interesting example as, whether fans want to admit it or not, this movie is tangentially connected to the two prior Batman movies, both of which depicted Batman as fully capable of killing. By Forever, though, Bruce has become so lost in his crusade that’s actually forgotten a pivotal motivation behind becoming Batman in the first place: the vow to keep anyone from experienced what he had to as a child. When it becomes apparent that Grayson is fixated on tracking down and killing the man responsible for the death of his family, Harvey Dent/Two-Face/“Harvey Two-Face” (Tommy Lee Jones), it is Bruce, not Alfred, who tries to talk him out of it:

BRUCE:
So you’re willing to take a life.

DICK:
As long as it’s Two-Face.

BRUCE:
Then…it will happen this way. You make the kill. But your pain doesn’t die with Harvey, it grows and so you run out into the night to find another face. And another. And another. Until one terrible morning you wake up and realise that revenge has become your whole life…and you won’t know why.

Grayson, however, is unconvinced at the time and Bruce’s words don’t truly start to sink into him until much later in the film, when he’s suited up as Robin: “I can’t promise I won’t kill Harvey,” he says…and Batman accepts this, having completed his own character arc and learned that he can’t deter Grayson from his path, all he can do is help guide him. However, when he finally gets his hands on Two-Face, Robin stops short of killing him and, ironically, it is Batman who causes the villains demise, in that moment, the shot clearly lingers on Robin’s face as he gets the catharsis he so desperately desired from Two-Face’s death but is spared having to commit the act himself thanks to Batman.

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Dent died as a direct result of Batman tackling him off a building!

Batman’s willingness to get his hands dirty, to “plunge [his] hands into the filth” so that others can keep theirs clean, is a pivotal plot point of The Dark Knight Rises (Nolan, 2012). This film is a culmination of the idea that Batman, as a concept, is not a hero; he’s a legend, an icon, an inspiration to others. We saw this in The Dark Knight when Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) believed so strongly in the Batman that he lied to the press and said that he was Batman right as Bruce was about to out himself to stop the Joker’s killings. We saw Bruce do a similar thing in Batman Forever where he didn’t hesitate to stand up and shout his secret identity to the world when Two-Face threatened the circus but, whereas his cries were drowned out by screaming Gothamites in that film, Dent is arrested and publically believed to be Batman until he dies. And how did Dent die? Batman tackled him off a high ledge! Harvey fell and broke his neck on impact and, with their “White Knight” dead, Batman chose to take the fall for his crimes: “I killed those people. That’s what I can be […] Because I’m not a hero. Not like Dent”. Only Batman and Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) know the truth and this truth, and guilt, is what drives Gordon to become a shell of his former self in The Dark Knight Rises. The Dark Knight ends with the prospect of Batman being hounded by the Gotham police, who believe him a murderer, as well as the galvanised criminals of the city but, instead, Bruce simply retires from the role due to the physical and mental impact it has on his body.

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Batman’s got some nerve criticisng Batwoman considering some of the company he keeps.

When he finally returns to the cape and cowl, Batman picks up right where he left off, to his detriment. When he crosses paths with Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), he immediately discourages her from using guns or killing people; this is consistent with Batman’s methods in the comics where, despite referring to his crusade as a “war” and his protégés as “soldiers”, Batman constantly forbids members of his “family” from taking lethal action. This despite the fact that Batwoman, Kate Kane, is former military and has killed before, that Jason Todd/Red Hood regularly engages in gunplay and murder, that Batman’s own son, Damian Wayne/Robin, has killed before, and the fact that Alfred regularly patrols and defends the Batcave with either a shotgun or a musket! Furthermore, when Catwoman uses the cannons on his Bat-Pod to kill Bane (Tom Hardy), Wayne is still perfectly happy to retire from crimefighting with Selina by his side.

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This simple shot says more than words ever could about Bruce’s mindset.

So you’ll forgive me if seeing Ben Affleck mowing down criminals with machine gun fire and breaking them in two doesn’t offend my opinion of Batman. Of course, Batman films are often regarded as being especially important to comic book fans because they depict “a supposedly definitive representation” of Batman, belonging to a “multi-national conglomeration and the global audience” who buy tickets and merchandise, “rather than to the dedicated comic book readers” (Brooker, 2001: 293). Honestly, I think one of the issues hampering Batman v Superman and the film’s portrayal of Batman is the fact that Snyder’s directing style tends to be very loud and bombastic and on the nose but, when it comes to Batman, he is uncharacteristically subtle. I’ve mentioned this before but Batman’s entire motivation in this film can be explained in that one lingering shot of him first looking at the Batsuit with a mixture of disgust and conviction and then gazing in anguish at the Robin suit left on display. I fully believe that the visuals tell us more than words ever could in this scene, which clearly shows that this is a broken, desolate Bruce who, after twenty years (twenty years!) of being Batman, has become so jaded by his crusade that he has given up all hope: he now freely kills criminals or brands them with his symbol, ensuring they will die in prison:

ALFRED (handing Bruce a newspaper):
New rules?

BRUCE (barely glancing at the headline: “Bat Brand of Justice!”):
We’re criminals, Alfred. We’ve always been criminals. Nothing’s changed.

Sadly, Alfred (Jeremy Irons) then elaborates that things have changed…because of the arrival of Superman and alien beings on their world, rather than because of recent events in Bruce’s life. Yet, nevertheless, this is a Bruce so jaded and lost in his crusade for justice, that’s willing to pre-emptively kill Superman in order to actually affect real change in the world. Perhaps if the film had included a more explicit line of dialogue or explanation regarding Bruce’s state of mind rather than relying on the audience filling in the gaps through subtext, audiences would have reacted a little better to Affleck’s portrayal (or, at least, understood it better). While the eventual change in his perspective is quite jarring, Bruce spends the remainder of the film and the entirety of Justice League (Snyder/Whedon, 2017) trying to make amends for his actions. Indeed, in Justice League, Batman is so devoted to forming a superhero team and bringing Superman back to life that he’s willing to die to see this through. Superman’s sacrifice galvanises Bruce and he sees how far he has fallen and believes he has to atone for his sins; however, the team worked too well and saved him from not only death but himself as well.

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This issue is also referred to whenever the subject of Superman killing comes up…

Speaking of Superman, every other day I see the debate raging on Twitter that killing should, under no circumstances, ever be a part of Superman’s nature. No matter what the situation is, Superman, as the pinnacle of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” should always find another way to resolve the issue and never resort to killing.

Which, quite frankly, is utter rubbish.

If Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Meyer, 1982) taught us anything it’s that, sometimes, you’re in a no-win situation and there is no other way. To deny Superman, or any superhero, that kind of desperate situation is to deny us the chance to read interesting stories dealing with the fallout from that situation. If Superman always prevails and never has to address the fact that his actions may have fatal consequences, than surely that limits him as a character? In the comics, Superman has killed a few times, the same as Batman and other superheroes (even Spider-Man once accidentally killed a woman), but examples are far less prominent for the Man of Steel. One particular story that often gets brought up time and time again as an example of Superman killing is “The Price” (Byrne, et al, 1988), in which Superman is forced to execute some Kryptonian criminals with a chunk of deadly Kryptonite. This decision weighed heavily on Superman’s conscience for some time as he had taken an oath to never use his powers to kill and, as a result, tied into John Byrne’s over-arching goal of humanising Superman and making him more relatable to readers rather than him being some all-powerful, infallible demigod.

Never forget that Reeve’s Superman killed Zod as well.

Typically, though, Superman (like Batman and other superheroes) is generally depicted as killing one of the many parallel worlds that crop up in comics, with Superman generally becoming a merciless dictator once he starts down that path. In this story, though, one of the Kryptonians Superman killed in this story was none other than General Zod; of all the villains Superman has faced, Zod has perhaps met his ends at the hands of the Man of Steel more than any other. People forget that Superman (Christopher Reeve) threw Zod (Terrance Stamp) to his death after removing his Kryptonian powers, crushing his hand, and throwing him down a bottomless pit in Superman II (Lester, 1980). Sure, the Richard Donner Cut (Donner, 2006) showed that Superman was originally going to reverse time to restore Zod to life but, even if you consider this canon, he still killed Zod so how is this any better than what we see in Man of Steel?

Superman and Zod’s fight caused untold devastation and, surely, death in Metropolis.

In this revised origin story, Clark has finally discovered his true heritage and only just put on his Super-Suit for the first time when, all of a sudden, General Zod arrives and demands that he surrender to him. He’s not had a chance to properly reveal himself as Superman, much less use his powers in a fight, and he’s suddenly forced to battle against a group of dangerous, highly-trained Kryptonians who threaten his mother. How would you react in that situation? Would you calmly assess the situation and try to think of a way around the issue or would you attack head-first in an emotional attempt to save the woman who raised you? Obviously, the ensuing battles are quite devastating in their impact; Superman trashes most of downtown Smallville and never once during his subsequent fight with Zod does he try to direct the fight away from Metropolis. While this is mainly due to Zod blocking his path or forcing the fight to stay on ground level, there is that one sequence where the fight ends up in outer space and the two come crashing down right on top of Metropolis like an Earth-splitting meteor. This was easily Superman’s best opportunity to direct the fight away from the city but, again, this is a Superman who hasn’t been in action longer than a day and is overwhelmed by his emotions so of course his solution is to try and end the fight through brute force.

Sometimes, even the most righteous heroes have accidentally or indirectly killed.

Whether talking about Batman, Superman, or any other costumed hero, you have to factor in a degree of plausible realism; how likely is it that entire skyscrapers or cities would be evacuated when Doomsday comes crashing down into Metropolis? In the “Death of Superman” (Jurgens, et al, 1992 to 1993) story, Metropolis gets a great deal of advance warning before Doomsday rocks up, despite Superman’s best efforts to keep the creature from the city, and there are still countless civilians watching the fight and caught in the resulting destruction. We’ve also seen in comics before how, when dodging automatic gunfire, Batman has allowed others to be gunned down; is this not killing? By the logic of the internet, Batman should have taken those bullets and died right then and there rather than let someone die through his actions. As I briefly mentioned before, even Spider-Man has been guilty of this in the past; despite Peter Parker doing everything in his power to save lives, sometimes he fails to do so and, sometimes, his actions (or inactions) lead to yet more death and he is forced to deal with the consequences of that. Yet, apparently, according to some people, Superman doesn’t have to. In Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (2002 to 2004), Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) is guilty of causing at least two deaths that we know of, intending to kill two others, and directly responsible for at least one death.

Could Spidey have done more? Maybe…and he’s haunted by that knowledge for the rest of the films.

In Spider-Man, enraged at the death of his beloved Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson), Parker chases down the culprit, Dennis Carradine (Michael Papajohn), breaking his wrist and confronting him in a fit of anger. Peter demands answers from the murderer who, spooked by Peter’s enhanced strength and abilities, conveniently trips and falls to his death. Could Peter have saved him? Well…yes, of course he could have. He could have shot out his webbing and saved Carradine but, in the heat of the moment, he was powerless to stop the carjacker from falling to his death and, in the aftermath, vows to take his uncle’s words to heart and use his great powers responsible. And it works, for the most part, until he ends up locked in combat with Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe); beaten to a pulp by the chemically-enhanced madman, Peter is shaken when he discovers that the Green Goblin is the father of his best friend, Harry (James Franco) and, taking advantage of that distraction, the Goblin summons his rocket-powered glider to impale Spidey in the back, luckily, however, Peter’s spider-sense warns him of the danger and, acting purely on instinct, Peter flips out of the way and Norman is impaled by his own glider and dies. Should Peter have taken that fatal blow rather than saving himself? Could he have used his webs in mid-flip to knock the glider off course? Who can say, but the guilt of being directly responsible for Norman’s death haunts Peter throughout the next two movies.

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Spidey fully intended to kill Sandman in this fight.

I’ll cut Spidey some slack for the conclusion of Spider-Man 2 (ibid, 2004) as I don’t think anyone can really pin the death of Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) on Spidey but, still, you could make the argument that Spidey could have swung in and saved the misguided scientist from his death, no matter how willingly Otto went to meet his fate. In Spider-Man 3, however, Peter again lets his rage consume him when he discovers that Flint Marko/The Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) is actually the man responsible for the death of Uncle Ben. Fuelled by the symbiotic black suit, Peter obsessively monitors police radio frequencies and, as soon as he gets a lead on Sandman, tracks him down and washes him away with a jet of water. The liquid dissolves Sandman into a mushy mess as Spidey remarks: “Good riddance!” Clearly, in this moment, Spider-Man believes Sandman is dead and is glad to have killed him; he later admits to his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) that Spider-Man killed Marko and she is shocked:

            AUNT MAY (confused, shocked):
Spider-Man? I don’t understand…Spider-Man doesn’t kill people. What happened?

PARKER (clearly rattled):
I…uh…he was…I thought that…that you’d feel…he deserved it, didn’t he?

AUNT MAY:
I don’t think it’s for us to say whether a person deserves to live or die.

The revelation that Aunt May no longer wishes harm upon the man responsible for her husband’s death clearly knocks Peter for a loop and he questions his actions…but not enough to keep from tossing a pumpkin bomb right in Harry’s face when they fight later in the movie. Up until that point, the only person to survive such a blast was Spidey himself so, even if you want to make argument that Peter knew Harry’s enhanced strength would keep him from dying, he clearly set out to kill, or at least permanently maim, his childhood friend with that explosive.

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Aliens are, apparently, exempt from a superhero’s “no kill” rule.

Later still, having finally freed himself from the black suit’s corrupting influence, Peter prepares to kill once again; this time, his target is the alien symbiote itself, which he has contained within a bunch of vibrating bars. This is a common theme in superhero movies and comics where heroes like the Justice League and the Avengers are perfectly happy with killing sentient alien creatures; whether they’re part of an insect-like hive mind or mindless brutes, they’re still living creatures and the likes of Batman and Superman are more than happy to off them without a second’s hesitation. In this particular instance, though, Parker actually ends up killing Eddie Brock, Jnr (Topher Grace), who was so obsessed with the power and freedom offered by the symbiote that he leaps right into the blast and was summarily incinerated. Peter’s reaction? A look of shock, a scream of “EDDIE!!”, and he shrugs it off as just one of those things. The symbiote was a drug, after all, and Eddie couldn’t kick the habit and he paid for it. plus, to be fair, there was very little Peter could do to save Eddie in those final moments, certainly far less than he could have done to save Norman and Otto, and it’s obvious that he never intended for the bomb to kill Eddie but, still, a young man died as a direct result of Peter throwing that bomb.

Cap has a sizeable body count in the MCU thanks to his time as a soldier.

I mentioned the Avengers earlier so let’s go back to them real quick; while everyone cries and gets all stressed and upset when Batman launches a crate right in a goon’s face and smashes his skull open, no one bats an eyelid when the Avengers make killing a routine habit of their day-to-day lives. Obviously, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) gets a pass though, right? He was a soldier in the war and we clearly see him gunning down Nazis and Hydra agents in Captain America: The First Avenger (Johnston, 2011) like any good soldier would be expected to do. Steve even says: “I don’t want to kill anybody” (emphasis mine) in his debut movie but it’s war: of course he’s going to and he does and nobody questions it.

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Team Arrow killed all the time so why can’t Batwoman?

Yet Batman has the nerve to lecture Kate Kane about not using lethal force in DC Comics and Kate (Ruby Rose) even has a crisis of conscious when she kills in her self-titled television show (2020 to present)…which is doubly ridiculous when you consider that Oliver Queen/The Hood/The Arrow/Green Arrow (Stephen Amell) and his allies routinely went around killing criminals and goons in Arrow (2012 to 2020) and it was perfectly acceptable! Hell, it was even part of Ollie’s character arc as he swore off killing for a time but, when he returned to murdering bad guys, nobody questioned it so why is there this double standard when it comes to superheroes killing? Similarly, in Avengers Assemble, we clearly see Cap gunning down those under the influence of Loki (Tom Hiddleston); these men aren’t actually evil or deserving of death, they’re just under a magic spell, but Cap offs them anyway and never gets a lecture for it. similar, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark, who is so horrified and traumatised by his time as a prisoner of war and seeing his technology and weapons being used to kill American soldiers that he builds highly advanced suits of armour and flies halfway across the world to murder terrorists! The criminally under-rated and unfairly lambasted Iron Man 2 (Favreau, 2010) tries to explore the consequences of this but Tony simply laughs in the face of the American government…and is literally cheered for it!

Secretary Ross wants the Avengers to be put on a leash to control what they do, when, and where.

For that matter, all of the Avengers are publically lauded as heroes despite that fact that each and every one of them is a cold-blooded killer; Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is a former Russian spy with “red in her ledger” that she may never be able to erase no matter how much good she does, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) was sent to assassinate Romanoff and, while he made a “different call”, he’s clearly trusted enough to perform such an action, and even Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) was guilty of causing untold amounts of mayhem, destruction, and deaths when he was Edward Norton in his also-under-appreciated solo movie. Later in the MCU, Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) reacts with horror when he kills a man even though it was a clear case of self-defence. Strange’s position is unique within the MCU; as a Doctor, he’s more accustomed to saving lives than taking them so his perspective on the matter, and approach to superheroics, is naturally very different to that of his fellow costumed peers. The consequences of collateral damage and the Avengers’ actions are explored in Captain America: Civil War (The Russo Brothers, 2016); here, the Avengers are placed under scrutiny when their largely unilateral actions result in a lot of innocent deaths. Up until this point, they have operated with “unlimited power and no supervision” and the decision is passed that, going forward, they should answer to the United Nations before jetting off to fight super criminals and terrorists, a decision which divides the team. Captain America’s outlook is very black-and-white and fitting for a soldier; he understands and sympathises with the guilt and shame Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) feels following her actions but doesn’t believe that it should spell the end of the Avengers’ effectiveness as an independent team:

STEVE:
People died. That’s on me. This job…we try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn’t mean everybody but, if we can’t find a way to live with that, next time…maybe nobody gets saved.

For Tony, the resultant Sokovia Accords are a means to alleviate some of his guilt and to show to his estranged girlfriend, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), that he’s willing to step away from his role as Iron Man and hold himself accountable for his actions. Up until this movie, though, Tony’s view and methods reflected Cap’s more pragmatic view on the matter, as did the rest of the Avengers; they generally identify who the enemy is, engage them, and subdue them by any means necessary. In the course of their battles, which natural escalate, collateral damage is not just expected but all-but-inevitable; Cap understands this and, yet, even in the midst of city-wide destruction, will direct his team (and emergency and public services) to take the time to minimise civilian casualties wherever possible.

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Cap always prioritises saving lives whenever possble, no matter the circumstances.

As a result, Cap and the Avengers are never seen killing criminals indiscriminately and make every attempt possible to contain and reduce damage and casualties, but are not only willing to kill when necessary but accept that causalities are bound to happen. We see this when Cap goes to talk sense into James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and they end up having to fight off a riot squad; though he says he’s not going to kill anybody, Bucky, his head twisted by years of Hydra programming, is desperate to escape by any means necessary, is extremely aggressive towards his would-be-captors and Cap has to go out of his way to save them from serious harm and death. Cap recognises that these are the local authorities, not some Hydra goons, and therefore shouldn’t be killed or harmed at all, if possible, but has already showcased in the first Avengers movie that he’s used to seeing team-mates and innocents get caught in the crossfire during battle and has learned to compartmentalise that in such a way that allows him to continue function to save countless other lives whenever possible.

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Batman arrests Deadshot, kills random thugs, but lets the Joker live. It’s a bit inconsistent.

Let’s apply this to Ben Affleck’s Batman; despite popular believe, he isn’t some unhinged, murdering psychopath. He exists in a world where he’s perfectly happy to arrest the likes of Floyd Lawton/Deadshot (Will Smith) and where Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and the Joker (Jared Leto) remain alive and well; Batman v Superman implies that it’s only very, very recently that Batman has taken to taking more violent and extreme actions against criminals and he’s understandable a bit distracted by the oncoming battle against the forces of Apokolips but you have to believe that, if he wanted the Joker dead, he would be dead…but he’s not. Batman also doesn’t kill every criminal he crosses paths with; some are clearly only as maimed or injured as the countless goons Batman disables in the comics, while others are left completely unmolested. His methods are quite inconsistent but, for this Batman, the end goal is far bigger than just his city; in these movies, he’s concerned with the safety of the entire world and actually having a lasting impact outside of Gotham City. As a result, is approach seems to be one of sacrificing a few to save many, which isn’t a million miles away from Cap’s philosophy but, obviously, far more explicitly violent.

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Han wasn’t allow to shoot first but he could gun down countless Stormtroopers…

Finally, lets take a look at the characters of the Star Wars (1977 to present) movies. In Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (Lucas, 1977), we’re introduced to two characters who would become staples of the franchise: the innocent, wide-eyed farm boy Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who dreams of fighting space battles against the Galactic Empire and the rough-and-ready lovable rogue Han Solo (Harrison Ford), who wants little more than to be paid for his services. Famously, Lucas has butchered his original movie time and time again to alter the scene in which Han has a tense confrontation with Greedo (Paul Blake). Originally, Han blasted Greedo and killed him in a bad-ass moment that showed Han had no fucks to give but, feeling this made Han seem too cold-blooded, Lucas altered the scene again and again to have Han awkwardly “dodge” Greedo’s laser bolt and the two of them to shoot simultaneously. My question, as I’m sure many Star Wars fans also have, is…why? It seems completely redundant as, not long after this scene, both Han and Luke are blasting away at Stromtroopers without a care in the world. Is it somehow “better” because they’re being shot at? To me, it’s the same thing; killing is killing, the only question is how you can justify that killing and, in the case of Han murdering Greedo, he’s totally justified: Greedo confront Han with the specific intent on killing the smuggler so Han is simply defending himself by pre-emptively eliminating the immediate threat to his life.

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How many innocents died when Luke blew up that Death Star?

Plus, like, Han is a galaxy-weary smuggler who has been around a while; he carries a blaster and is expecting trouble everywhere he goes so of course he would have had to have killed before so why Lucas chose to meddle with this scene but thought it was perfectly okay for bright-eyed and eternally optimistic Luke Skywalker to start murdering Stromtroopers (most of whom are simply following orders) with reckless abandon is beyond me. Oh, and let’s not forget the fact that Luke destroyed the Death Star! We know the Rebellion has spies within the Empire; how many of those were onboard those space stations when they blew? How many innocent lives were snuffed out? How sure are we that everyone on those battle stations was pure evil? Half of the Rebellion is made up of defected Imperial soldiers, for God’s sake! Even Han was an Imperial once and he ended up becoming a pivotal member of the Rebellion so who’s to say that a significant number of those hundreds of thousands of people actually “deserved” to die?

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There are bound to be casualties in war, no matter what your super powers are.

Again, though, it’s war so I guess that makes it “okay”, right? The fact that Batman often refers to his cruse as a “war on crime” never seems to factor in since it’s assumed that, obviously, there are different “types” of war. War is war; if you declare war, you’re at war and, in any war, there are casualties. Batman, of all people, should understand that. But don’t misunderstand me: I’m clearly not saying that Batman and every superhero should go out there and kill every criminal indiscriminately. That’s obviously not the point I’m making. What I am saying, though, is that if we’re to believe that a man dresses like a bat or an archer or wields incredible powers and regularly engages in city-wide battles or highly dangerous fights against armed foes, death is an inevitability. It should be avoided at all costs, sure, but it’s going to happen even if it’s just because our spandex-clad hero jumps out of the way of incoming gunfire. Hell, this was even a theme in the universally-maligned Batman & Robin (Schumacher, 1997) for God’s sake:

ALFRED:
For what is “Batman” if not an effort to master the chaos that sweeps our world? An attempt to control death itself?

BRUCE (contemplating, clearly affected by this):
But I can’t. Can I?

ALFRED (resolutely):
None of us can.

So what is it that makes killing acceptable for some characters but not others? Is it literally because these characters haven’t been so closely associated with not killing as Batman has (thanks, again, to the Nolan movies) or because Superman, with all his powers, should be capable of more? Okay, well, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is an actual God and he kills people all the time during battle and when his back is against the wall so why shouldn’t Superman? Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) is obviously the better analogy as, like Thor, she’s this superpowered, God-like character from the pages of mythology and she kills so why is that okay but it’s not okay for Superman to snap a madman’s neck when he’s not only threatening to roast an innocent family alive but literally screaming about how he is genetically engineered to continue killing and causing as much destruction as it takes to resurrect Krypton? Of course, a lot of these examples are circumstantial; you could read an entire year’s worth of Batman comics and never see him kill, or through action or inaction allow someone to die, so it’s true that it’s hardly a normal, everyday occurrence for superheroes to kill (unless you’re talking about the likes of Spawn, Wolverine, or the Punisher, where it’s a given). Yet, it does still happen and, when adapting any character with as rich a history as the likes of Batman to the screen, writers and directors often tend to draw from the entirety of the character’s history, distilling their essence and reinterpreting the character in a way that hits all the familiar beats (and even introduces some new ones).

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Comics should never limit themselves in the stories they can tell.

Now, don’t get it twisted: I’m clearly not calling for these heroes to start killing their enemies indiscriminately but I’ve been a fan of all the superheroes and franchises I’ve talked about in this article for pretty much my entire life; I’ve seen Batman kill, abstain from killing, kill by coincidence, and lecture his fellow heroes on taking a strictly non-lethal approach and, yet, I am perfectly happy with either approach. Not minding (or even caring) when the likes of Batman kill doesn’t make me any “less” of a Batman fan; instead, it opens the door for deeper explorations of the character if you choose to look at the subtext of this approach and see what it does for the character. Personally, I am always open to the endless possibilities offered by comic books and their many adaptations and feel it is extremely short-sighted and limited to limit oneself to the types of stories they can tell. Use the pages to explore how killing this affects Superman and his faith in himself and his abilities; people always complain that Superman is too powerful to be relatable so any chance to humanise him and make us understand him better is an opportunity for a poignant tale without having him become some crazed dictator.  It’s the same for Batman; he’s always preaching and lecturing his protégés and extended family of vigilantes on the virtues of saving lives rather than taking them so what would it do to batman, to Bruce Wayne, if he were responsible for innocent lives being lost and caused a criminal to die? Would he quit, go on another voyage of self-discovery, change his tactics, go on a killing spree? Most stories tend to lean towards that latter and even the comics have basically said that, once Batman starts killing, he wouldn’t stop but…wouldn’t he? He didn’t kill every criminal in the Tim Burton or Snyder movies so is it really fated that he’d become a pseudo-Punisher once he took a life or could he, perhaps, have the strength of will to work through the knowledge that his crusade had led to someone losing their life and be a better, stronger character for it?

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I hesitate to ask you to leave your opinions on this matter as it’s a massively divisive can of worms, to say the least, but please do feel free to comment below on your opinions regarding this subject. Do you feel death is an inevitable part of a superheroes chosen career or do you think superheroes should be above that sort of thing? If so, why? Who is your favourite superhero? How would you feel if they took a life or, if your favourite superhero is already a killer, why do you feel it’s acceptable fort hem to kill but not others. Literally no opinion is “wrong” regarding this matter; it’s all a matter of interpretation so, whatever you think, leave a comment and, the next time you think about ranting about a superhero killing on twitter, stop and think about why it upsets you so much and maybe do a little research or dig a little deeper into the lore and the subtext before lynching those who disagree with your opinon.

10 FTW: Things I Hate About Movies

10FTW

So, when it comes to movies, I am surprisingly optimistic. This may be because I would never pay to see a movie if I wasn’t reasonably sure that I was going to enjoy it and because I stick to genres and franchises that I know I like, but I usually go into a film with certain expectations and, as long as those are met, I am generally satisfied. With that said, there are some things about movies that drive me mad…or, at least, annoy me. Tropes that I would like to see less or, if not phased out entirely, and I’m come up with ten of them to rant about right now.

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10 Lack of Opening Credits

I’m fairly certain I’m the only person who cares about these days, where everyone is all about cutting right to the action, and I do understand that but there’s something I find innately lazy and annoying about not even seeing the movie’s title appear onscreen at the start of a film.

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Just slap the credits over the opening scene and I’m happy…

We have to sit through grandiose logo sequences for movie studios, some that last about three minutes and sometimes watching up to five in quick succession, but we can’t just plaster the movie’s title on the screen? I believe the earliest I was exposed to this was in RoboCop 2 (Kershner, 1990) but it’s become especially noticeably in the works of Marvel Studios. I’m not expecting entire cast credits, as these can be admittedly annoying to sit through (though you can just place them over the opening scene, as in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2016) or the Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014; 2017) films), but just throw the movie’s title up there and help me out a bit!

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9 Pointless Post-Credit Scenes

I am a sucker for post-credit scenes; Marvel Studios have popularised this to the point where it’s now expected that every movie has some kind of pre-, mid-, or post-credits scene. Unfortunately, a lot of them aren’t really worth sitting through ten minutes of credits for. Marvel have become especially lazy with this in recent years; no longer to their post-credit scenes set up further events or hints of things to come and, instead, they’re usually just throwaway gags or scenes purposely made to troll us (I’m looking at you, Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts, 2017)!)

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Remember when Bruce Wayne got that e-mail? Neither does he!

These days, it seems like the pivotal, must-see scenes for Marvel movies now come before the credits rather than after them and the worst thing about a lot of these is that they are often used to hint at sequels that either never come or are fundamentally altered between movies; this is especially true of the DC Extended Universe but it also applies to the Dark Universe, which is seemingly dead in the water.

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8 Mismatching Title Fonts

Another thing that really bugs me is when movies use a specific title font for the posters, merchandise, and DVD covers but never actually use this font or logo in the film. Take Raiders of the Lost Ark (Spielberg, 1981), which has that awesome orange font for its logo but instead uses a simpler, less grandiose font in the film. What’s worse is that Spielberg used the Indiana Jones logo for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (ibid, 1984) but reverted back to the much less exciting font for the subsequent Indy films.

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Trust Green Lantern to do it the other way round!

While Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight (2005 to 2012) trilogy may not have had the most exciting title font ever, at least this was uniform across the film and merchandise. It seemed like Warner Brothers were employing this as the standard font for their DC movies…until Green Lantern (Campbell, 2011) ruined it by using the basic font on the posters and a far more exciting, comic-inspired font in the movie!

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7 Prequel Sequels

You know what really gets my arse up? Numbers in movies are sequential; you have the first movie, then the second, then the third and so forth so, when movies use a number in their title, a 2 should mean it’s the second movie and, therefore, a continuation of the first. But, instead, movies like to slap a 2, 3, or even a 4 on there when, in actual fact, it’s a prequel!

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Tell me this isn’t madness!

Tarzan 2 (Smith, 2005) and Insidious: Chapter 3 (Whannell, 2015) are perfect examples of this but, for a better example, take a look at the Scorpion King (2002 to 2018) franchises! The Scorpion King (Russell, 2002) is a spin-off of the Mummy (1999 to 2008) franchise, taking place before The Mummy (Sommers, 1999). Its sequel, The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior, despite having a 2 in its title, is actually a prequel with the subsequent three sequels all being sequels to The Scorpion King, resulting in the following viewing order:

The Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior
The Scorpion King
The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption (Reine, 2012)
The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power (Elliot, 2015)
The Scorpion King: Book of Souls (Paul, 2018)
The Mummy
The Mummy Returns (Sommers, 2001)
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Cohen, 2008)

6 Senseless CGI

I grew up in an age where special effects were constantly evolving, where complex camera techniques and detailed prosthetics were the order of the day. Consider the laborious effort that went into composting all of the matte paintings, models, and sets in Aliens (Cameron, 1986), a film that also employed fantastic suits, miniatures, and puppets that really made it seem as though there were hundreds of Xenomorphs out for Sigourney Weaver’s blood.

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Lucas doesn’t enjoy location shooting…

Nowadays, filmmakers just CGI the hell out of it and be done with it and, while this can result in some breathtaking movies and action scenes, often its an egregious use of a tool that should be used to enhance films rather than overwhelm them. Let’s talk, again, about George Lucas, one of the pioneers of practical effects, who used puppets, models, and complex filming techniques to craft his original Star Wars (1977 to 1983) trilogy. However, when it came time for him to produce the prequel trilogy (1999 to 2005), he used nothing but green screens, digitally adding almost every element of the films in after this actors stumbled through scenes with no frame of reference. Honestly, just because you can use CGI to create all the Clone Troopers doesn’t mean you should and, to me, it just seems unnecessarily lazy and an arrogant use of your time, budget, and resources.

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5 Panic Stations

I’m probably the only person who will admit to liking the Marc Webb/Andrew Garfield Amazing Spider-Man films (2012; 2014); I loved the suit in The Amazing Spider-Man, the slightly different take on Peter Parker’s origin, and that it looked like Sony were finally going to be setting up the Sinister Six…and then The Amazing Spider-Man 2 happened. Despite making $700 million worldwide against a nearly $300 million budget, reception of the film was mixed and, rather than finish the series off with a finale, Sony finally decided to cooperate with Marvel Studios and opted to bring Spider-Man into the MCU. However, rather than integrate the MCU with the Amazing films (as had been previously suggested), Marvel Studios opted to complete recast the character, bringing in Tom Holland.

Andrew who? There’s a new-new Spidey in town!

Now, I like Holland as Peter/Spidey, but his introduction in Captain America: Civil War (Russo Brothers, 2016) came just two years after Garfield’s last appearance. Considering The Amazing Spider-Man rebooted the franchise only five years after Spider-Man 3 (Raimi, 2007), that is a lot of reboots and changes to Spider-Man in a very short amount of time. Halloween (Green, 2018), Hellboy (Marshall, 2019), and Terminator: Dark Fate (Miller, 2019) are also guilty of this, falling back on rebooting, retconning, or straight-up ignoring previous movies and returning “to their roots”. The DCEU has also suffered from Warner Brothers panicking to the reactions to their darker, gritty comic book movies, which caused Justice League (Snyder/Whedon, 2017) to suffer from rewrites and drastic changes.

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4 The Wilhelm Scream

The Wilhelm Scream used to be cute, a fun little recurring gag in movies. Like the creator cameos (popularised in recent years by Stan Lee showing up in Marvel movies), this used to be a fun Easter Egg for knowing audiences. Now, though, I have come to really despise this over used sound effect. It has been done to death in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films alone but seems to crop in every movie you see these days and I am just so sick of hearing it; it really takes me out of the experience and just makes me grimace every time it gets snuck in there.

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3 Daft Movie Titles

Movie titles should be simple and striking; they should relate what’s going to happen and give the general gist of the movie. They should not be a chore to read or be indistinguishable from other film titles and, yet, we live in a world with films like The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer (Story, 2005), and Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Wyatt, 2011). Here’s some alternative titles just for those movies: Tomb of the Mummy, Fantastic 4: Doomsday, Rise of the Apes. As for Batman v Superman, I don’t think it ever should have had a title at all; it literally should have just been the Batman and Superman logos on top of each other, with the film referred to as Batman/Superman.

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There was a lost of “Rising” back then…

Let’s not forget such lazy titles as Solo: A Star Wars Story (Howard, 2018), The Wolverine (Mangold, 2013), and The Dark Knight Rises, all of which could have easily been called Smuggler’s Run, Wolverine: Ronin, and Knightfall. Don’t even get me started on all the movies we got with Rise of, Age of, and Dawn of in their titles not that long ago!

2 Repeating Past Mistakes

I’m looking at Spider-Man 3 for this one; by the time that movie came out, it was pretty well known that a lot of comic book fans weren’t too happy with the revelation that Jack Napier/the Joker (Jack Nicholson) was the man who gunned down Bruce Wayne’s (Michael Keaton) parents in Batman (Burton, 1989). Yet, Sam Raimi seemingly didn’t hesitate at all to do exactly the same thing when he fingered Flint Marko/Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church) as the gun man in his movie. And why? Just so there would be a “connection” between Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) and Sandman…despite the fact we already had a personal connection between Spidey and Harry Osborn/”New Goblin” (James Franco). It wasn’t the only mistake he made in that movie but it was one of the most baffling, especially considering all the controversy surrounding the Joker revelation.

“Like this…but yellow!”

We saw a similar situation when Green Lantern decided that Parallax (Clancy Brown) would be much more effective as a big ol’, CGI mess of a space cloud, something that worked out just as well for Galactus in 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Similarly, Justice League didn’t earn itself any favours by repeated the same “big fight against a CGI monstrosity” from both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad (Ayer, 2016), which were its direct predecessors and the subject of a lot of online backlash.

1 Ignoring Continuity

I touched on this earlier but there’s nothing I hate more than a film series or sequels completely ignoring their established continuity. The X-Men (Various, 2000 to present) series is the worst offender of this, throwing continuity out of the window with every entry and thinking it’s cute to poke fun at it in their Deadpool (Various, 2016; 2018) spin-offs.

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I would’ve liked to have seen more of this but, again, what do I know?

The Terminator (Various, 1984 to present) series is also just as bad with this, mainly because the film rights keep being passed between different studios and bodies, but it seems like every new Terminator movie disregards chunks of, if not the entirety of, their previous entries, making for a disjointed franchise that’s difficult to care about, with the upcoming Dark Fate looking like a mish-mash of its predecessors rather than something fresh and new. I get that, sometimes, aspects of films or entire movies/sequels aren’t received too well but I would much rather the screenwriters tried to address and move on from any problems rather than simply ignoring them or waving them away. If you’re just going to ignore what’s come before, make a remake or reboot and start completely fresh; otherwise, try something a little lazy than just ignoring entire movies.

How about you? What tropes of movies and cinema do you dislike? Let me know in the comments, or if you think I’m full of shit.

Talking Movies: Avengers: Endgame

Talking Movies
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Released: April 2019
Director: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Budget: $356 million
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, and Josh Brolin.

The Plot:
It’s been three weeks since Thanos (Brolin) acquired the six Infinity Stones and snapped his fingers and the Avengers are desperate to set the world right after watching their friends (and half of the world’s population) disintegrate from reality. When Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Gillan) return to Earth and Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Rudd) returns from being lost in the Quantum Realm, the Avengers must pull together every resource available in order to bring Thanos to justice.

The Background:
Avengers: Infinity War (Russo and Russo, 2018) saw the Marvel Cinematic Universe shaken to its very core when the heroes we have followed over the last eleven years failed to stop Thanos from accomplishing his goal of halving the universe’s population. Since then, it’s been a long (long!) year waiting to see how these cataclysmic events are dealt with and how the MCU moves forward; Marvel Studios has done an amazing job of limiting details and spoilers regarding this film, basically marketing Endgame entirely on the film’s first half hour or so. Now, it’s time for the culmination of the last eleven years of movies and stories to be told in the grandest fashion possible.

The Review:
As you may appreciate, it’s difficult to talk about Avengers: Endgame without spoiling the movie; even small details have been missing from the trailers and marketing, making the movie a rollercoaster of emotions to sit through. Avengers: Endgame opens with the spotlight on Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Renner), who is devastated when his wife and children vanish as a result of the snap, and Stark, who is on the brink of death having been left stranded in space with Nebula. Luckily, Stark and Nebula are rescued and reunited with the Avengers; Stark, however, is disillusioned and angry at Steve Rogers/Captain America (Evans) and refuses to accompany the remainder of the team in confronting Thanos.

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The Avengers are struggling to cope with the aftermath of the snap…

This sets the tone for Avengers: Endgame which is, by its very nature, a far more character-driven, sombre piece compared to the cosmic odyssey that was Infinity War; each of the protagonists is forced to deal with the heavy, life-changing consequences of their failure to stop Thanos: Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson) struggles to maintain order throughout the world, Barton is dealing out judgement to evil-doers left behind from the snap, Rogers is encouraging everyday citizens to find a way to move on, Stark has seemingly retired from the fight, and Thor (Hemsworth) is a shell of his former self as he struggles with his guilt at not delivering a killing blow to Thanos. Avengers: Endgame is as much about repairing the Avengers as it is about repairing the world and, through the tragedy, chaos, and insane plan they concoct to set things right, the team discover more about themselves, and each other, and find a way to stitch back together their former friendships and partnerships in pursuit of a common goal and the greater good. If massive superhero battles and cosmic, science-fiction fantasy are your thing, though, Avengers: Endgame has you covered at various key points throughout and in its climatic, dramatic moments. For a move that clocks in at just over three hours, there’s no wasted motion or time; when characters talk, it’s not to waste time or fill up space with exposition, it’s to move things forward and get things happening. Because of that, while it may not be as consistently big and loud as its predecessor, Avengers: Endgame is still an exciting, engaging, and emotionally-charged movie that never lets up for a second.

The Nitty-Gritty:
So, if you thought your favourite characters or some big-name faces got short-changed in Infinity War, Endgame shines the light squarely on those left behind and has big roles for the remaining protagonists. In this case, the film revolves closely around both Captain America and Ant-Man, with both playing key roles in Endgame’s events, while still repairing the fractured relationship between Rogers and Stark. First, though, I’ll address an elephant in the room: Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) rescues Stark and Nebula, presumably after being paged back to Earth at the end of Captain Marvel (Boden and Fleck, 2019). She then joins the remainder of the team (minus Stark, who is massively pissed off at Steve) in confronting Thanos. This fight goes about as well as I suspected it would as Thanos is easily taken off-guard, has his gauntlet arm cut off, and is quickly beheaded by Thor after revealing that he destroyed the Infinity Stones, leaving his actions unchangeable. After the five year time jump, Danvers leaves to help keep order on other worlds and doesn’t show up again until the finale where she goes toe-to-toe with Thanos but doesn’t deliver the final blow. This was interesting for me as I was expecting Captain Marvel to be integrated into the existing (and remaining) Avengers team but, instead, she is used very sparingly to keep the stakes and tensions high and, when she does show up, she turns the tide every time.

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There’s a sombre tone at work here…

Once Ant-Man returns, his knowledge of the Quantum Realm offers the Avengers the chance to travel through time and retrieve the Infinity Stones from key points in MCU history. Splitting into smaller teams for a “time heist”, the Avengers travel back to the finale of The Avengers/Avengers Assemble (Whedon, 2012), mid-way through Thor: The Dark World (Taylor, 2013), the opening of Guardians of the Galaxy (Gunn, 2014), and to Vormir to acquire the Stones and dodge their way through their history in true Back to the Future: Part II (Zemeckis, 1989) fashion. This allows for some now-dead characters to return and be retroactively slotted into previous events and forces Barton and Romanoff to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to earn the Soul Stone in a poignant, surprising moment that sees Romanoff sacrifice herself so that Barton can be reunited with his family. There are a number of other active plot threads at work during this as well: Thor, whose guilt at not having killed Thanos eventually leads him to letting himself go and becoming an overweight drunkard despite setting up a New Asgard for Korg (Taika Waititi), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and the surviving Asgardians. He reluctantly returns to the fight and takes up arms once more with more Strombreaker and Mjölnir by the finale and, after the snap is undone, leaves Valkyrie in command of the Asgardians to join the Guardians of the Galaxy. Conversely, Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) uses the five year gap to reconcile with the Hulk and the two to successfully merge into a Hulk/Banner hybrid similar to the Professor Hulk persona. During the time travel jaunt, Nebula is forced to revisit her notorious past when her past-self ends up discovering the Avengers plan and allow a past version of Thanos to appear in the present and decimate the Avengers compound. Luckily, this occurs soon after Hulk successfully wields the Infinity Gauntlet and restores all those lost in the snap.

Stark’s narrative forms one of the foundations of the film; devastated and angered at having lost to Thanos, he retires and fathers a child, Morgan (Lexi Rabe), with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and has no interest in losing the life he has gained during the five year gap. However, he rejoins the team and helps perfect time travel on the understanding that they don’t wipe Morgan from existence; his journey through time allows him to find closure with his father, reconcile with Rogers, and, ultimately, make the ultimate sacrifice when he uses the Infinity Gauntlet to erase Thanos and his armies in an emotionally poignant moment. While many speculated that Stark would die, it was still impactful to see him pass after effectively birthing the MCU all those years ago. As for Captain America, he retakes the shield and mantle and takes the fight directly to Thanos in the finale and gets two amazing, spine-tingly dramatic moments when he finally utters the “Avengers Assemble!” battle cry once all the restored heroes return and entire the battle (which, honestly, may have had more significance if he had said it in the previous films…) and proves himself worthy when Mjölnir flies into his hand for the fight against Thanos. After Tony’s sacrifice, Steve returns the Infinity Stones to their places in time to keep the timeline from being destroyed and opts to return to Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) to have a normal life, leaving the shield and Captain American mantle with Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

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The Summary:
Avengers: Endgame could have easily collapsed under its own narrative weight, the weight of expectation, and the high standards set by its predecessor and the MCU in general. Instead, with a poignant heart at its core, riveting action, and some genuinely moving moments amidst its big action set pieces, Avengers: Endgame is a fantastic endnote for the first ten/eleven years of Marvel movies.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

Talking Movies: Avengers: Infinity War

Talking Movies
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In case you missed it over the last ten years, there’s been this little thing called the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It all started with Iron Man (Favreau, 2008) but, after The Avengers/Avengers Assemble (Whedon, 2012), Marvel Studios really started ramping up their long-term planning and goals. Throughout most of their movies, their plots have either heavily featured or included, in some capacity, one of the six Infinity Stones, building the cosmic and multiversal scope of their franchise, or building towards the looming threat posed by Thanos (Josh Brolin). Infinity War picks up pretty much immediately after the end (and after credit scene) of Thor: Ragnarok (Waititi, 2017) in a confrontation that does not end too well for the few remaining survivors of Asgard. Thanos and his Black Order lay siege to the rescue craft to claim the Tesseract, which contains the Space Stone. Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) attempts to stop him, only to get resoundingly smashed up, so Heimdall (Idris Elba) shoots him away while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is powerless to stop Thanos’ actions. Hulk, reverting back to Bruce Banner, crash lands into the Sanctum Sanctorum and immediately sets about warning Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbath) and Wong (Benedict Wong) about the coming threat: Thanos knows that two Infinity Stones are on Earth and he will inevitably arrive to take them. Strange recruits Tony Stark (Robert Downey Junior) and, with banner, tries to impress on him the seriousness of this threat and how it dwarfs his issues with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans).

As if to emphasise that, Thanos’ heralds – Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary) and Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) – drop in on New York, springing Peter Parker (Tom Holland) into action, and attempt to take the Time Stone from Strange. Massively outmatched, Maw takes Strange and Strange, Spider-Man, and Iron Man pursue them into space. Meanwhile, Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) are attacked by Thanos’ other minions, Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) and Corvus Glaive (Michael James Shaw), saved by Captain America and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and taken to Wakanda so that T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and his people can attempt to separate Vision from his Mind Stone. At the same time, Thor literally bumps into the Guardians of the Galaxy and convinces Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) to accompany him to Nidavellir to forge a new hammer capable of killing Thanos while Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) attempt to intercept Thanos at Knowhere and stop him claiming the Reality Stone. That’s about where I’ll stop for spoilers for now; suffice it to say that, with all of the MCU’s heroes scattered across the universe, the stakes have never been higher as Thanos edges ever closer to claiming all of the Stones and becoming a living God. Right off the bat, Infinity War is all about spectacle, big stakes, and amazing effects. The entire MCU has been building up to this confrontation, establishing the world and its characters all along the way, so we jump immediately into it with no wasted time. if you’re not familiar with these characters then, maybe, you’ll struggle to get what’s going on but, honestly, by now you should know what you’re getting into.

The Russo Brothers once again do a really good effort of not just juggling multiple characters and jumping from location to location, but also with making every character sound legitimate. When we spend time with Thor and the Guardians, the writing edges more towards that fast-paced, witty, comedic dialogue; when on Earth, with Cap, it’s the intense, inspiration dialogue we’ve come to expect from the more grounded aspects of the MCU. The effects are, thankfully, absolutely top-notch from start to finish. The real showcase is, obviously, Thanos; for an all-CGI character, he really emotes extremely well and has a real weight and physicality to his presence. Thanos is, also, perhaps the MCU’s most layered, interesting, and nuanced villain in a very long time; perhaps ever and, definitely, since Loki (Tom Hiddleston). He has believable motivations and enjoys a large amount of screen time; literally, he is practically the main character of this film and it benefits from it. Not only that, he is also vulnerable, both physically and emotionally, and his power is massively impressive and only increases throughout, giving the narrative the sense that the heroes have already lost and are desperately clutching at straws to prevent things from getting worse or reaching their foregone conclusion. Ultimately, Avengers: Infinity War is everything a fan of superheroes, comic books, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe could hope for. There’s something for everyone and, for those whose favourites were missing or not showcased much, there’s future sequels and movies coming very soon to address this. No matter what happens next in the MCU, I guarantee that nothing will ever again be the same.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic


Recommended: Without a doubt; this is more than a movie, it is a cultural event.
Best moment: So many to choose from: the battle against Thanos on Titan, Thor’s forging of Strombreaker, the all-out war between the Earth heroes and Thanos’ forces…
Worst moment: Hulk and, surprisingly, Captain America got a bit shafted here, as did the Earth-bound stories. Something had to give, considering the multitude of characters and concurrent narratives, and I expect some characters to do more in the next one, though, but I was surprised to see that. On the flip side, the villain took centre stage and didn’t randomly vanish for half the movie.

…about “The Snap”

Spider-Man’s new Iron Spider suit (complete with retractable legs) is fantastic to look at and Thor’s new weapon (Stormbreaker) is a bad-ass addition to his repertoire; Iron Man also has a new suit, composed of nanotechnology. On the flip side, after Hulk’s initial fight with Thanos, he never returns to the fight despite what the trailers how. Instead, Banner is unable to coax the Hulk out for unknown reason (I assume because of the beating he took) and is forced to don the Hulkbuster armour to do his part. To be fair, we did get a lot of Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok but I feel we were denied seeing Hulk converse with other characters as he did in that movie; presumably, this plot threat will be resolved in the next Avengers movie. As for that movie…well, there’s going to be a lot to sort out, that’s for sure. As I mentioned above, a lot of this movie is more about patching holes than solving the primary issue; Thanos has already destroyed Xandar and claimed the Power Stone when the film opens, meaning he already technically has God-like powers. He kills all of the Asgardians, including Loki, with little effort so his power is already unopposed and grows significantly with each Stone he acquires, and he goes to any lengths to get them. after abducting Gamora and forcing her to reveal, and take him, to the locating of the Soul Stone, Thanos is presented (by the fucking Red Skull (Ross Marquand), finally resolving his fate after all this time!) with the choice: sacrifice Gamora and claim the Stone or be denied ultimate power. Ultimately, he throws her to her death; such is his commitment to bringing balance to overpopulation by wiping out half of the universe.

Last, in a penultimate battle of the remains of Titan, he faces Mantis, Iron Man, Star-Lord, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange as they enact a plan to take the Gauntlet from him. This fails and, when Stark is wounded, Strange gives up the Time Stone to spare his life. I’m not entirely sure what his motivation was (again, I assume that this will be resolved in the next film) but it basically means that Thanos is able to effortlessly turn back time and reconstruct Vision (after Wanda is forced to kill him),, rip out his Mind Stone, and kill him all over again. Thor, whose new hammer powers him back up to full-blown Asgardian (interesting, considering I thought half the point of Thor: Ragnarok was to establish that Thor doesn’t need a hammer/weapon to be the God of Thunder), then attempts to kill Thanos but opts for the chest and not the head so Thanos snaps his fingers and, just like that, half of the universe disintegrates into nothingness…including Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Black Panther, Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Wanda, Groot, Star-Lord, Mantis, Drax, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man in absolutely heart-breaking scenes. Thanos then retreats to a quiet little hut to recover and bask in the glory of his victory. After the credits, Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) also disintegrate, but not before Fury signals a distress call to Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). Considering the subject matter and the source material, it was absolutely the right call to allow Thanos to obtain ultimate power buts it really was quite the gut punch to see some of our most beloved heroes fall to ash before our eyes. Stark’s reaction was heartbreaking and the realisation on Cap’s face that they have lost was weighty and real; anticipation for the follow-up movie is at an all time high to see how the remaining heroes (by no coincidence the original Avengers line-up) scrape together their resources and try to avenge their comrades or reverse these events.