The End of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is dying. While the next few movies; Captain Marvel, the Avengers: Infinity War sequel and Spiderman: Far From Home will go on to be great financial hits. We are much closer to the end of the MCU than we are to the beginning. It was a great 10-year run, starting with Iron Man in 2008 with 20 films building towards the next Avengers movie where we see how the Avengers are able to defeat Thanos and restore the half of the universe he wiped out with a snap of his fingers. The problem is… where do they go from here?

The MCU has three basic problems:

  1. Its stars are aging out of their roles. Chris Evans has already announced he’s hanging up the shield and won’t be back as Captain America. Robert Downey has been retiring as Iron Man for years now but it looks like this will be his last shot. If you look at what Tony Stark looked like in the first Iron Man and then see a recent photo. It’s hard to picture him in the role for another 20 films. Same with Mark Ruffalo when playing Bruce Banner. It was just announced that Scarlett Johansson is finally getting a Black Widow movie but the clock is ticking on her as well. Part of what made the MCU work was the credibility of the actors in their roles. Chris Hemsworth looks like he could be Thor for real, but playing an immortal requires he not visibly age. That’s gonna be hard to pull off. While an occasional role in the MCU has seen an actor replaced, Col. Rhodes (War Machine) and the Red Skull. It’s the continuity of the actors and them growing into their roles that have helped make the whole MCU work and that’s coming to an end.
  2. Some of the best stories from the comics have been used up. Marvel Comics provided over 50 years of material to harvest and they have cherry-picked the best of those stories. Even though they generally didn’t do a great job with most of the villains (Loki and Thanos excepted). We’ve seen the majority of the best villains these heroes faced over the years and they killed several of them although, in the movies like the comics, anything is possible and they just might return. After Thanos, who makes a credible foe for the world’s greatest heroes to face? We haven’t seen Kang yet although time travel will allegedly be a feature in Avengers 4. We’ve seen Ego briefly come and go. The Skrulls and Kree will be a feature in Captain Marvel. There is still Secret Wars, but a major event like Infinity War which was the focus of attention for ten years will never be seen again. There is some hope with Disney gaining the rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four which they would have incorporated long ago if they could have. That brings the possibility or a better Dr. Doom and a Galactus that isn’t a cloud but still leaving one last problem.
  3. The MCU has depended too much on multiple characters. With the exception of maybe the original Iron Man and the first Captain America. Marvel has put multiple heroes in almost every film. Iron Man 2 gave us the Black Widow and hinted at War Machine. The first Thor gave us Hawkeye. The films kept adding more and more characters. Captain America: Civil War might as well have been an Avengers movie. Some of the best stories ever in the comics were based on a battle of the hero alone against whatever he faced. Daredevil fighting way outside his class against Dr. Doom, Thor alone vs. The Celestials. We likely will never see that type movie in the MCU because the powers that be will insist on added star power. With the two Infinity War films, what will Marvel do next, unless they recreate from the comics the wedding of Reed and Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four and all hell breaks loose? There is a precedent in movies of adding more and more characters until eventually, they jumped the shark, which is monster movies. What started as a few Frankenstein, Mummy, Dracula and Wolfman movies begat Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman and Frankenstein Meets Dracula. They led to House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, each featuring several monsters. The death of the age of monster movies was announced when we got Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, then they met The Mummy and finally The Invisible Man. After the next segment of Infinity War, there’s a good chance we’ll be a lot closer to Abbott and Costello than a new enemy that will captivate us as we enter the next phase of Marvel films.

The end of the MCU will not be immediate. After the next Avengers film breaks all records known to man. Spiderman: Far From Home will do well. Black Panther 2 won’t recapture the magic of the first film but may still reach a $Billion which isn’t chump change. Dr. Strange 2 will do well but not equal the first movie. There is still money to be made on superhero films, but not the kind of money to pay out $15 million to actors like some of the major stars are getting and Scarlett Johansson is alleged to be receiving for her announced Black Widow film. That doesn’t even include Robert Downey money which exceeds that amount. The MCU won’t die because they can no longer make movies the public will want to see. They won’t be able to afford to make the kind of films they’ve made the last decade when the worst they could expect was to break $600 million in sales.

I grew up reading the comics on which the MCU is based. Seeing these characters realistically portrayed in movies has been a dream come true. I’m going to enjoy the run while it lasts but despite the best-laid plans of Kevin Feige, et al. The end is near.

BlacKkKlansman: A Review (Spoilers)

There was probably a way to write a review of this movie without spoilers. I could write about Spike Lee’s craft as the director or Denzel Washington’s son (John David Washington) and his performance portraying Ron Stallworth, the black undercover detective who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. Those are stories worth telling but not what I deemed important after seeing the film.

It’s important to note the movie is based on a real-life story and the book “Black Klansman: A Memoir.” That doesn’t mean everything happens exactly as they did in real life and there are some notable differences. None that couldn’t have happened in real life and none that take away from the credibility of the film. No one should fail to learn from the facts of the film because of the existence of the fiction to create a marketable story.

The film begins with battlefield scenes from, “Gone With the Wind” where we see Scarlett O’Hara, scouring a battlefield littered with Confederate soldiers. We then switch to Alec Baldwin as Dr. Kennebrew Beauregard filming a white supremacist PSA and then to Ron Stallworth to the Colorado Springs police force where he aimed to be their first black detective. We see his interview with the Chief of Detectives and a recruitment agent, Mr. Turrentine played by Isiah Whitlock Jr. who indeed delivers his famous phrase from “The Wire.”

After being given a desk assignment where he retrieved files, he was given the assignment to infiltrate a speech by Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) to get a feel for the reaction of the local black community and potential for revolution. Kwame was invited by the local college Black Student Union whose President was Patrice Dumas, his fictional love interest played by Laura Harrier. The speech by Kwane (Corey Hawkins) was riveting and should be required watching or reading by today’s black youth.

Back at the police station, Detective Stallworth sees a newspaper advertisement for membership in the Klan and he impulsively calls, leading to him striking up a series of telephone relationships with Klan members including the Grand Wizard David Duke. In order to facilitate in-person meetings, he recruited Jewish officer Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) and they were able to infiltrate the Colorado Klan and foil an attempted terrorist attack.

I won’t reveal more of the plot except to say the point of the film is to make you consider how similar the country is today to that time in 1978 when the film was set. Racist attitudes have changed little except that racists have been more accepted and often have no need to worry about hoods and robes. The “secret empire” needs to be secret no longer. We hear a younger David Duke saying, “America First,” which sounds exactly like the statements uttered by right-wing politicians today. The racists of 1978 spoke of blacks and Jews when they thought no one was listening in the same manner as people do proudly (but mostly anonymously) today on the Internet.

The film ended with video clips from 2017 in Charlottesville as we watched crowds of Klan members and affiliated groups like Neo-Nazi’s and skinheads, uniting to display their hatred for others less white. The final scenes are of the Neo-Nazi driver that sped into a crowd, killing Heather Heyer, with Donald Trump saying some of the Klan members were, “very fine people.”

There are jokes in the movie but you won’t walk away laughing. You will recognize that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Some of the terms are changing; people act “racially” or exhibit “nationalism.” To some, the very definition of racism has changed to the point where nothing qualifies. When you see this movie, and you should. You’ll recognize racism for what it was then and is now a clear and present danger.

One final note, the Colorado Springs police department seemed more concerned about preventing cross-burning than eradicating the Klan. They eventually disbanded the intelligence team that had infiltrated the Klan, worried about what people might think rather than continue to do good. They ordered all evidence of the operation destroyed. Fortunately, the real Ron Stallworth saved his notes which turned into his book and ultimately this movie. Highly recommended.

Equalizer 2: A Review (No Spoilers)

While in another career, I once found myself working at a Michael Bolton concert. The music wasn’t for me but the 12,000 or so people in attendance obviously loved it. They sang along with the songs and you could hear them raving about him on the concourse. I saw the reviews the next day and his concert was thoroughly trashed by the reviewer. The same I think is true of Equalizer 2 which very much pleased the audience I attended with, yet the majority of reviews were generally critical.

I don’t know what the reviewers were expecting to see? Was there gratuitous violence? Yes! That was probably the point of the whole movie. Anyone that saw the first Equalizer movie, or even the original series starring Edward Woodward probably came to see Denzel Washington as Robert McCall kick ass and take names. No doubt happy to see the action start much earlier in the sequel than the original.

The story line was somewhat predictable and there was likely little shock as to who the main villain was. So what? If your goal was to get out of the house for a little escapism, you came to the right place.

Denzel looks quite fit for a man in his sixties (63) and is believable in the action scenes. There’s no Academy Award in his future for this film (he has two Oscars already) but this will make enough money that he might follow up his first ever sequel with a third in the series? If so, I’ll be right there. Leave the kids at home because the violence is a bit graphic, if that’s what you came to see, you’ll be quite satisfied. Denzel is reunited with director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and Academy Award winning actress Melissa Leo. Check it out!

SuperFly: A Review (Spoilers)

Blaxploitation: 1. The exploitation of Black people, especially with regard to stereotyped roles in movies. 2. An ethnic sub-genre of the exploitation film that emerged in the United States in the early 1970’s.

The original Super Fly was produced in 1972 on an estimated budget of $58,000. They got all their money’s worth as the film was one of the Top Ten grossing films of the year and Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack was nominated for two Grammy’s; Best Soundtrack and Best R & B Album. Super Fly came out on the heels of “Shaft” and “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.” It helped open the doors for more blaxploitation flicks including “Cleopatra Jones,” “Uptown Saturday Night,” and arguably “Enter The Dragon,” starring Bruce Lee. Whatever you think of the blaxploitation era, it created black stars and provided hundreds of jobs in the film industry. Some of the actors were able to crossover and become fixtures in mainstream Hollywood. It gave us soundtracks featuring Earth, Wind and Fire, Isaac Hayes, and Mayfield, all are classics still getting airplay. These films also helped perpetuate stereotypes that live on in America. Blaxploitation had a place and a purpose, many were glad to see it go.

SuperFly (2018) is an updated remake of the original film. Set in Atlanta instead of New York. We see many of the same characters who’s fate was predetermined when we first heard their names. When Freddy was first introduced, we all knew it was just a matter of time before he was killed, based on the original film and one of the hit’s from the first movie, “Freddie’s Dead.” The movie ambitiously attempted to duplicate the success of the original soundtrack with the 2018 version produced by Future and featuring Rick Ross along with Young Thug, Scar, Little Wayne and others. Ultimately, the music worked best when they used short clips from the original Curtis Mayfield soundtrack in critical scenes.

Regarding the film itself, there was some outstanding acting by star Trevor Jackson and the always captivating Michael K. Williams. The rest of the cast did what they could with the material, stereotypical as the roles were. Director X, with most of his experience doing music videos, did well with showing us the bling but the story itself was jumpy and the pacing uneven. One example was the aforementioned Freddie, who was literally not worthy of Priest’s (Trevor Jackson) attention but when he died we were meant to believe he was a critical figure in the film, beloved by all? If they wanted to make his death important, they needed to establish the character, which never happened.

My harshest criticism is about the need for the film itself. A question I’m still asking is, “Do black filmmakers have a responsibility to advance the culture in their work?” On one level the film is entertaining… if that was the only goal it worked. It glorifies drug dealers, strippers and guns with plenty of gratuitous nudity and violence. There is not a single character you could point to and wish your son or daughter followed their lead. Even Priest abandoned his code when faced with opportunity/danger, first going around his mentor to achieve his own goals and later selling him out when it became a him or me situation. One constant theme was that there truly is no honor among thieves.

I should have been part of the target audience for this movie; someone who’s seen and liked the original. Instead I worry about the message it was sending and what the producers had in mind? Maybe I’m just a hater for wanting more from the films we make and expecting us to get a little more than simply entertainment? We never saw the harm done in the community by the cocaine around which the film centered. Even the girl that accidentally got shot got paid $50K. The drug culture isn’t no harm no foul, would showing that have been too much to ask?

The ending leaves us set up for a possible sequel. Priest achieved his goal and got out of the game, taking a lot of money with him. Events at home could easily bring him back for another sequel, “Return of Super Fly.” I’m hoping Priest just stays gone.

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