Category Archives: Marvel

Back (And Exhausted) From New York Comic Con 2019

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It was a long, eventful day, but it’s over now. I built my entire day around attending New York Comic Con 2019 and, without a doubt, it was a day well-spent. I saw so many amazing things. I met so many awesome people. Between the fans, the costumes, the panels, and the big news, there was just so much to experience. I’m still processing it all.

To be honest, it’s going to take a few days to fully appreciate what I experienced. That’s to be expected for the New York Comic Con. For as long as I’ve been going, it has always been this huge spectacle that overwhelms me with so many things I love. Every year I feel like it has to take a step back, it somehow surprises me.

This year was no exception. It was an incredible experience. Now, I’m exhausted and badly in need of some rest. As long and arduous as this day was, however, it was SO worth it.

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Five Reasons Why Joss Whedon Should Direct The First X-Men Movie In The Marvel Cinematic Universe

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These are exciting times for X-Men fans. The Fox era of X-Men movies is over. With Disney’s purchase of Fox, a new era is set to begin. There are no more divergent timelines or soft reboots. The X-Men are coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It may not happen for a while, but the process has already begun. It’s only a matter of time.

As a lifelong X-Men fan, I’ve discussed both the possibilities and the immense potential of this development. I’m sure I’ll discuss it plenty more as news, rumors, and what not emerge over the next few years. Until then, there isn’t much to go on.

While there are plenty of details to explore, in terms of story, there’s one logistical issue that I feel is worth addressing. It has to do with who will help guide the X-Men into the MCU. Now, it’s a given that Kevin Feige will be the mastermind behind it all. He is, after all, the alpha and omega of all things Marvel Studios. He’ll be the one with the vision, but he’ll still need someone to turn that vision into a tangible product.

That’s not going to be easy for the X-Men. This isn’t the same as making “Ant Man” a viable franchise. The scope and scale of the X-Men franchise is immense. There’s a reason why it lasted 19 years with Fox. It has a wealth of characters, iconic stories, and endearing themes that are as relevant as ever.

Bringing X-Men to the MCU will be a massive undertaking. With that in mind, I’d like to make the case that there’s one director who is uniquely qualified to take on this challenge. Most already know his name and he has already left his mark on the MCU. I think he’ll leave an even bigger mark by taking this on. That name, of course, is Joss Whedon.

Hold your applause/outrage, please.

Now, I know Whedon’s name doesn’t carry the weight it once does. His success really peaked with the first “Avengers” movie, but since then, he’s somewhat faltered. It hasn’t helped that he suffered some bad press, some of which I’ve touched on. Even with these setbacks, and even because of them, I believe he’s the best choice for leading the X-Men into this new era.

As always, I know there will be those who vehemently disagree. I understand that and even welcome those counterarguments in the comments. That said, I’d like to offer five reasons to make my case that Mr. Whedon is the man for the job.


Reason #1: He Has (Successful) Past Experience With X-Men

Joss Whedon is no stranger to the X-Men. In fact, he probably has more experience with this franchise than he did with the Avengers. He did script work on the first X-Men movie. He was also on the short-list to direct multiple X-Men movies at one point. He’s gone on record as saying that he’s an X-Men fan.

Outside the movies, Whedon’s credentials run even deeper. In the early-to-mid-2000s, he penned an acclaimed run for the Astonishing X-Men comic. If you were to talk to any X-Men fan during that time, myself included, they would’ve said the same thing. Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men was one of the best of its era.

Through that run, he demonstrated a strong appreciation of these character. It wasn’t just the female characters either, although they definitely shined. He understood the personalities, dynamics, and quirks with characters like Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine, and Kitty Pryde. He gave them all a chance to demonstrate why they’re so iconic.

While the Fox era of X-Men movies did plenty for Wolverine, Charles Xavier, and Magneto, they rarely succeeded for other major characters. Some, like Cyclops and Rogue, were outright butchered. While Whedon has mishandled characters in the past, his experience with X-Men should help avoid that.

Given the size and scope of the MCU, the margin for error will be small. Having a director who knows, understands, and cares about these characters will go a long way compared to one who is unfamiliar with them. Just ask Josh Trank.


Reason #2: His Style Will Give The X-Men The Right Tone For The MCU

Whether it’s a movie or TV show, Joss Whedon’s work has a distinct tone and style to it. There’s often a tight blend of light-hearted character moments mixed with serious drama. There are also plenty of jokes and quips, but not nearly on the level of an Aaron Sorkin script. For the most part, Whedon works to humanize his characters while making them lovable and relatable in their own way.

That kind of approach is exactly what the X-Men need in the MCU. It’s an approach that has already been proven with the first “Avengers” movie, as well as “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” In each case, both the heroes and the villains had moments where they could joke around, but still have heated arguments when necessary. It was a big part of what made these movies so entertaining and memorable.

The X-Men have had their share of funny moments during the Fox era. Unfortunately, most of them came from Deadpool and the always-charming Ryan Reynolds. By the standards of modern superhero movies, the original X-Men trilogy was very serious and even a little dark. Granted, that was necessary, if only to distance itself from the excessive camp in “Batman and Robin.” Things are different now.

The X-Men franchise has had plenty of bleak, serious moments in recent years. As great as “Logan” was, the franchise could benefit from something more uplifting and Joss Whedon’s style fits that perfectly.


Reason #3: He Knows How To Balance Action, Character Development, And Melodrama

This is something else that’s readily apparent to anyone who read Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men or seen at least one season of “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.” Say what you will about his feminist credentials. The man knows how to strike that critical balance between action, character development, and melodrama.

He did plenty of balancing with action and character development in “Avengers,” but X-Men will need a lot more melodrama to succeed. That’s because all those soap-opera elements that tends to complicate other action franchises are a core part of the X-Men’s DNA. They have been since the heyday of Chris Claremont’s run on the comics.

I’m not just talking about romantic sub-plots and love triangles, which have been a detriment to previous X-Men movies. Being an X-Men and a mutant is full of both personal and interpersonal drama. It’s part of what makes these characters relatable and iconic. People might not be able to relate to the Asgardian God of Thunder, but they can relate to someone who is born different and struggles to cope with those differences.

Add clashes with killer robots and murderous bigots to the mix and you’ve got plenty to work with. In the MCU, where superheroes and super-powers already exist, these are exactly the kinds of complications that can keep things interesting and Whedon has experience doing just that.


Reason #4: He Has Something To Prove (And So Does The X-Men Franchise)

As I noted earlier, Joss Whedon’s career and personal life have taken quite a downturn in recent years. In addition to his divorce, his creative decisions during “Avengers: Age of Ultron” were subject to controversy. Some may argue the extent of that controversy, especially given the box office of that movie, it’s still telling that Whedon hasn’t been involved with the MCU ever since.

On top of that, Whedon name has been unfairly linked to the massive commercial failure of “Justice League.” Now, there’s a lot to be said about the problems with “Justice League,” but I think it’s wrong to lump them on Whedon. He came into a movie that was radically different from his usual style and was already grossly overbudget and behind schedule.

Fair or not, Whedon’s credibility has taken hits on multiple fronts. By spearheading the X-Men’s arrival into the MCU, he has a chance to rebuild it. His career is far from over. Even with the upheavals in his personal life, he hasn’t burned too many bridges or completely lost the trust of fans.

If he has any kind of ego, and most people in Hollywood do, he’ll be more motivated than most to succeed with the X-Men in the MCU. At the same time, the X-Men franchise has just as much to prove. Even with the success of “Logan” and “Deadpool,” not one X-Men movie has ever topped a billion dollars.

As a franchise, the X-Men have fallen behind in the superhero hierarchy. Entering the MCU is their chance to show that they deserve to be in the same world as these multi-billion dollar success stories. To some extent, both Joss Whedon and the X-Men franchise need each other.


Reason #5: He Knows How To Balance New Ideas With Classic Elements

The X-Men that show up in the MCU will be different from the X-Men we saw in the 19 years of movies. That’s a given. It’s only a question of how different they’ll be. That will likely be a key consideration because while the X-Men movies had their share of flaws, they did a number of things that worked exceptionally well, Deadpool being the most notable.

While it’s likely that Marvel Studios won’t do much to change Deadpool, there will definitely need to be some fresh nuance to the X-Men. As it just so happens, Joss Whedon is better than most when it comes to balancing new ideas with classic themes. He did that with Astonishing X-Men in the comics. He did that in both “Avengers” movies, as well.

While some elements worked better than others, they still came together in a polished product that made billions. The X-Men will need that balance as they enter the MCU. Unlike other characters and teams that have been introduced, the X-Men come in with 19 years of cinematic baggage. It must distinguish itself in this new era.

That’s not going to be easy. Depending on when they show up, the MCU could be very different from the one that just culminated with “Avengers Endgame.” Whedon, given his experience, is certainly up for that challenge.


There’s little doubt that mutants coming to the MCU will be a huge upheaval. How Marvel Studios and Disney go about it could determine whether the MCU continues to dominate at the box office or finally runs out of steam. This incredible cinematic world has delivered time and again, overcoming immense challenges and breaking box office records along the way. They’ve earned the benefit of the doubt.

Joss Whedon may or may not be the one to lead the MCU into this new era. I think he has what it takes. I hope he gets a chance. There’s a lot of uncertainty with the X-Men franchise right now, but this is a franchise that has overcome major struggles before. With the Disney machine and the MCU behind it, I don’t doubt for a second that it can become uncanny once more.

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Five Things I Hope To See In The Upcoming “Ms. Marvel” Show

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Every so often, I get news that excites me like a kid in a candy factory. It doesn’t happen often these days. As adults, it’s hard to get too excited when bills, the news, and traffic do plenty to dampen your spirits. Then, it happens and your world is better because of it.

This past weekend, I got a much-needed dose of that excitement. At Disney’s annual D23 Expo, Marvel Studios announced that they’re making a live-action Ms. Marvel TV show for their Disney+ streaming service. As someone who has praised Ms. Marvel’s comics and her contributions to female superheroes, I freely admit I jumped for joy when I saw this.

I know the news surrounding Disney hasn’t been good lately, given what has been happening with Spider-Man. I also know they’re in a bit of a transitional period after the conclusion of “Avengers: Endgame.” Despite these issues, Marvel Studios and their Disney overlords still want to make money. They’ve got plenty of high-profile movies on their slate, but this could end up being a bigger deal.

I say that as an unapologetic fan of Ms. Marvel and all things Kamala Khan. I also know that Disney is looking for any possible edge to promote their new streaming service and take a bite out of the market share that Netflix currently dominates. I admit I wasn’t planning on subscribing. Shows about She-Hulk, the Scarlet Witch, Vision, and Moon Night sound fun, but not enough to justify the cost.

That all changed with Ms. Marvel. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the only reason I’ll be getting or keeping a Disney+ subscription. There’s a lot to unpack with this announcement. I doubt I’ll cover all of it here, but for now, I’d like to take some time to articulate the extent of my excitement.

To that end, I’d like to share five things I hope to see in this upcoming series. Kamala Khan is one of those characters who can capture the heart, soul, and spirit of the superhero genre. Her entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe couldn’t be better. These are just some of the things that could make it even more marvelous.


Number 1: The (Many) Quirks That Make Kamala Khan Lovable

Any TV show, comic book, movie, or video game involving Kamala Khan must make its first priority to capture the essence of what makes her so endearing. Being a superhero is only small part of her overall story. What makes Kamala great is the many little things that define who she is.

She’s not just a teenager who gets superpowers and decides to start fighting criminals. She’s a self-professed fangirl. She loves playing video games, eating gyros, and writing fan fiction. These quirks are small, but numerous. They’re real things that people in the real world can relate to. That makes it easy to understand and appreciate her passions.

When I first read about Kamala in “Ms. Marvel #1,” I immediately grew to like her. She came off as the kind of girl I would’ve been friends with in high school. She presents herself as someone who behaves how you would expect a teenage girl to behave in a world where superheroes existed. She has a good family, a good heart, and an adventurous spirit. How can you not love that?

She’s also an outsider and not just because she’s a Pakistani Muslim girl living in Jersey City. Like most teenagers, she’s uncertain of her place in the world. She struggles with real issues, even before she gets superpowers. Those issues stay with her, even as she develops her superhero identity. It makes her easy to like and even easier to root for.

A TV show can’t just focus on her beating up bad guys and making witty one-liners. Plenty of other superheroes already do that, some better than others. It has to highlight, if not belabor, the distinct traits that have helped make her one of Marvel’s most successful female characters. There’s a lot to love and with a TV show, there’s plenty of room to explore it.


Number 2: Relatable Teenage Melodrama (Compounded By Being A Superhero)

Along with the traits that make Kamala Khan so lovable, there’s also the unavoidable battle that is teenage melodrama. Everyone faces it. Superpowers don’t make you immune to it. The last two Spider-Man movies have made that abundantly clear. A TV show provides more time and flexibility to flesh out that melodrama.

In the first few issues of Ms. Marvel’s comic series, which I highly recommend, she deals with a lot of teen angst and uncertainty. In fact, that sentiment is the very thing that prompts her to defy her parents and sneak out at night to a party that would ultimately end with her getting superpowers. In a very literal sense, teenage melodrama helped make Ms. Marvel who she is.

She’s not sure of where she fits in. She clashes with her parents. She argues with her friends. She also is starting to have feelings about other boys, which have made for some wonderfully sweet moments. She deals with all of this on top of being a superhero.

Like a young Peter Parker before her, these different aspects of her life often clash. One tends to undermine the other and it does plenty to overwhelm her at times. That often brings out the best in her and any TV show would be wise to present those moments.


Number 3: The Family And Supporting Cast That Help Make Her Who She Is

Like every major hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ms. Marvel’s greatest strengths often stem from her supporting cast. Tony Stark wouldn’t have achieved what he did without Pepper Potts. Carol Danvers wouldn’t have accomplished what she did without Nick Fury and Goose the Cat. Kamala Khan is no different.

In “Ms. Marvel #1,” we learn plenty about Kamala’s supporting cast. She has two loving parents who tend to be overprotective of her. She has an uptight brother named Aamir, who tends to intrude into Kamala’s personal life more than most siblings. She also has a friend/love interest in Bruno who had a front-row seat in seeing her become Ms. Marvel.

Each one of these characters helps shape Kamala into who she is, before and after she gets her powers. They support her, but they also complicate her efforts. While none of them have to die for her to be the hero she strives to be, they all make their on contributions to her story. In the same way Superman’s parents guided his heroic journey, Kamala’s friends and family informed hers.

Unlike Superman, Kamala endured a pretty rocky road to establishing herself. However, at no point did her creator, G. Willow Wilson, give the impression that her friends and family were just background decorations. They all care for her. They worry for her. They all want what’s best for her, even when they’re rarely on the same page.

A TV show featuring Kamala has to capture at least part of that family/friend dynamic. Even a fraction of Kamala Khan’s supporting cast from the comics can do plenty to make for a rich, engaging TV show.


Number 4: The Struggles (And Triumphs) Of A Growing Hero

There’s no getting around it. Kamala Khan screwed up more than once when she started off her superhero career in the comics. While she managed to save one life the first time she used her powers, she ended up getting shot the second time. Even before that, she struggled to master her powers in ways that were both understandable and hilarious.

It’s a critical part of every superhero’s journey. With new challenges come new struggles. Some of those struggles devolve into outright failures. Even the best heroes fail sometimes and Kamala had more than her share in the comics. Any TV show that tells the story of her journey cannot and should not gloss over those struggles.

With Kamala, however, the struggles matter even more than the triumphs. While many heroes may lament at their failure, Kamala tends to get a lot more animated. She’s passionate about what she does and has a tendency to wear those passions on her sleeve. It’s part of what makes her lovable. It also reminds everyone that she’s still a teenager. She’s still growing and maturing.

One of the things I love most about Ms. Marvel comics is seeing her grow with each passing story. The first dozen issues had more growth for Kamala than the last 100 issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Along the way, there were missteps, heartbreaks, and victories. They all just made me want to root for Kamala even harder and if a TV show can accomplish that, it’ll do plenty to justify a Disney+ subscription.


Number 5: A Vision For Young (Idealistic) Heroes In A World That Needs Them

From the beginning, Kamala Khan connected with fans like me because she radiated this ideal spirit that a lot of people once had in their youth. Time, age, and watching too much news has a way of crushing that idealism over time, but most of us still remember why it was so important to us.

As Ms. Marvel, Kamala carried herself as the kind of young, idealistic hero that many of Marvel’s traditional heroes grew out of years ago. The comics, themselves, became jaded as the very act of heroism gained major complications, both from events within the stories and influences from the real world. That’s part of what made Kamala a breath of fresh air.

She might be young, naïve, and impressionable, but she’s also exactly what we need right now. The MCU just suffered some devastating losses. The world, as a whole, is still recovering from the events of “Avengers: Endgame.” This world still needs heroes. Even though it still has plenty, it doesn’t have someone like Ms. Marvel.

She can be the hero that emerges from the chaos of this broken world and shows what dedicated heroes can accomplish. She can show everyone that, even in the face of heavy losses and broken hearts, there’s a place for pure, uncorrupted heroics. You don’t need to be a billionaire playboy genius philanthropist, either. You can just be a teenage Pakistani American girl from Jersey city.


I cannot overstate how excited I am for Ms. Marvel to get her own show. I imagine I’ll be writing about it a lot once it comes out. There’s a lot I hope to see for this show, the comics, and the MCU. If Marvel Studios can capture even a fraction of what makes Ms. Marvel great, then the future of that world and ours will be that much brighter.

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Why Natalie Portman Becoming Thor Is The Biggest Story From San Diego Comic Con 2019

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If you’re a fan of comic books, superhero movies, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this past weekend was like Christmas, Halloween, the 4th of July, and the Super Bowl all rolled into one. The San Diego Comic Con is essentially the epicenter of geek culture. In recent years, it has only gotten bigger, becoming a staging area for major pop culture events. This latest convention was no exception.

While there was plenty of news to follow at this year’s Comic Con, especially for X-Men fans like me, the biggest event was always going to be Marvel Studios. It has already been a historic year for superhero movies, especially on the Marvel side of the genre. Shortly before the convention began, “Avengers Endgame” officially passed “Avatar” to become the highest grossing movie of all time.

It’s a good time to be Kevin Feige.

It’s a good time to be Bob Iger.

It’s a good time to be a Marvel fan, in general.

With the end of “Avengers Endgame,” however, the story that began in 2008 “Iron Man” has concluded. The Avengers assembled in a truly spectacular battle for the ages. Thanos is defeated. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is once again secure, but after making the highest grossing movie of all time, how can Marvel Studios keep raising the bar like this?

In Hall H of the San Diego Convention Center, the next phase of the MCU was finally revealed. Some of the announcements were expected. News of a “Black Widow” movie, as well as an “Eternals” movie, had already been reported months ago. News of a “Blade” movie within the MCU was more surprising, but that wasn’t the biggest story by a long shot.

By far, the biggest Marvel Studios news to come out of San Diego Comic Con 2019 was Natalie Portman returning as Jane Foster to play a female Thor. I’m not going to lie. When I saw this news, I had to blink a few times and slap myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Once certain this was real, it finally sunk in.

Natalie Portman is returning the MCU as Jane Foster to play a female Thor.

To appreciate why this is a huge deal to longtime comic readers like me, I need to provide a little context. Jane Foster being Thor is a concept that only recently gained prominence, thanks to one of Marvel’s top-tier writers, Jason Aaron.

Back in 2014, the Thor comics underwent a major upheaval. After a fateful encounter with Nick Fury, Thor suddenly became unworthy of lifting Mjolnir. It was a dramatic moment that defined the character for years to come. Then, after everyone in Asgard failed to lift the hammer, Jane Foster came along to wield it. In doing so, she became the new Thor.

If you haven’t read the first few volumes of that story, I cannot recommend them highly enough. Even if you’ve only seen the movies, you’ll still find plenty to love about these comics. They made me a fan of both Thor and Jane Foster. If Marvel Studios and Natalie Portman can even capture a fraction of this story’s greatness, then it’ll be a bold new era for superhero movies.

Now, make no mistake. Jane Foster becoming Thor was not without controversy. In fact, the timing of this story couldn’t have been worse. It came out right around the same time that efforts to promote diversity within superhero comics had become mired in regressive politics. It was a time when iconic characters were being replaced and new characters were being created, albeit with mixed results.

This is how mixed it got and NOT in a good way.

I’d rather not go into all the issues, controversies, and absurdities from that era, but I will say that Jane Foster becoming Thor was one of the success stories from that tenuous period. Her journey as the new Thor didn’t supplant that of her predecessor. If anything, it complemented his story. The title of Thor was greatly improved because Jane Foster wielded that hammer.

Now, Marvel Studios is in an even better position to do the same. The success of both “Wonder Woman” and “Captain Marvel” has established that there is a market for female superheroes. The events of “Avengers Endgame” also opened the door for someone else to step in without diminishing Chris Hemsworth’s character, who may still have a part to play in “Guardians of the Galaxy 3.”

It also helps that Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster has been MIA since the events of “Thor: The Dark World.” While her reasons for leaving were somewhat obscure, the announcement at San Diego left no room for ambiguity. She’s coming back and she’s going to play a major role in the next phase of the MCU.

In my opinion, this will go down as one of the most pivotal announcements in the history of the MCU. Why do I believe this is bigger than the Eternals, Blade, Black Widow, or any of the upcoming shows on the Disney+ streaming service? To answer that, it’s necessary to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

The Jane Foster that Natalie Portman played in the first two Thor movies is not the same Jane Foster who has established herself as a prominent force in the comics. Throughout her history, she has maintained a strong connection to Thor and not just as a romantic interest. In many respects, she has been the character through which ordinary, non-Asgardian people explore Thor’s world of gods, demigods, and monsters.

A big part of what made Jason Aaron’s story surrounding Jane Foster becoming Thor so powerful was how she proved her worthiness of that title. As a mortal woman with many mortal limitations, she embraced that role and proved herself against gods, monsters, and even other superheroes. It was easy to cheer her on every step of the way.

In any era, it’s a powerful story, having an ordinary human embrace god-like power to bear god-like burdens. In this current era of superhero movies, Jane Foster becoming Thor isn’t just a fitting, comics-accurate way to build her story in the MCU. It’s a story that almost feels necessary.

The MCU is a world that has become densely populated by super soldiers, aliens, gods, monsters, and demigods. With the conclusion of “Avengers Endgame,” the world is in a tenuous state. Friendships, families, and teams have been decimated due to the conflict surrounding Thanos and the Infinity Stones. There are voids to be filled, including a few once populated by gods.

Ordinary people becoming heroes is a story that the MCU has told many times before, the latest being “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Stories about ordinary people becoming gods haven’t been nearly as common and with the Eternals already poised to join the MCU, I think that story should play out in some manner, if only to keep humanity connected to this world.

Jane becoming the Goddess of Thunder is the perfect story to maintain that connection. Unlike Carol Danvers, Jane is not a soldier or a warrior. She’s a scientist who got caught up in the world of gods and superheroes, but she didn’t run from it in the comic. Now, armed with Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning talent, she’s poised to make a similar journey in a world that needs new heroes to step up.

It’s an exciting, but uncertain time for the MCU. However, when you’ve got a story like that of Jane Foster becoming Thor and an actress as talented as Natalie Portman leading the way, the future has never been brighter.

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“Spider-Man: Far From Home” Review: An Amazing Movie With One Spectacular Flaw

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In this golden age of superhero movies, Spider-Man occupies a special place. Aside from being one of Stan Lee’s most famous creations, this franchise has undergone many triumphs, failures, scandals, upheavals, and everything in between. No matter where it stands among other franchises, Marvel just isn’t Marvel without Spider-Man.

The first “Spider-Man” movie helped revolutionize the superhero genre alongside “X-Men.” It’s not unreasonable to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe wouldn’t exist without that first movie. That’s why when Spider-Man entered the MCU with “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” it carried a lot of weight.

With “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” both the standards and the stakes are higher. This movie is coming off the historic success of “Avengers Endgame” and is poised to close out Phase 3 of the MCU. It’s tasked with building on the foundation of its predecessor and dealing with the dramatic aftermath of the battle against Thanos. That’s a tall order for any franchise.

Look at this face and tell me I’m wrong. I dare you.

At the same time, it feels like Spider-Man has to be the franchise to pull this off. Between its special place in the genre and its cast of emerging stars, including the inherently lovable Tom Holland, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” feels like the only movie worthy of such a task. It has everything going for it. The question remains. Does it succeed?

In my humble opinion, I say it does, but not without some major flaws.

In terms of the big picture, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is a quality Spider-Man movie that checks a lot of boxes, both for the franchise and for the MCU. It seamlessly weaves itself into the evolving narrative of the MCU in wake of “Avengers Endgame.” The first five minutes of the movie touch on the lingering aftermath of that climactic battle. It even injects some of that trademark MCU humor into some heavy moments.

On a more personal level, Peter Parker’s story builds upon the drama of Tony Stark’s death in “Avengers Endgame.” Throughout the movie, Iron Man’s presence looms large. Spider-Man is essentially stuck in the shadow of another hero who really affected his journey as a character in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” It makes for plenty of dramatic moments that guide Peter throughout the story.

In terms of it genre, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” even succeeds in maintaining the increasingly high bar that Marvel Studios has set for its villains. While Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio won’t rank as highly as Josh Brolin’s Thanos, he proves himself a daunting foe who doesn’t just test Spider-Man. He comes very close to breaking him.

I would even go so far as to say that Gyllenhaal’s take on Mysterio is worth the inflated ticket price. He makes “Spider-Man: Far From Home” work on multiple levels. I would argue that he’s the primary reason why the movie succeeds, despite its critical flaws.

Now, this is where I’m probably going to diverge from the those who have given this movie such glowing reviews. I may even upset some of my fellow Marvel fans who recoil at the idea of an MCU movie faltering. However, I believe the flaws are there and are being overshadowed by factors beyond the scope of the movie.

To me, the biggest failure of this movie isn’t in how it tells Spider-Man’s story. It’s in how it develops Peter Parker’s story. The battle between Spider-Man and Mysterio is beautifully developed. It’s what happens when Peter is out of his mask where the story stagnates and it has everything to do with Zendaya’s character, “MJ.”

I put “MJ” in quotes because she is definitively not Mary Jane Watson, Spider-Man’s most famous love interest in the comics and the character that Kirsten Dunst portrayed in the first three Spider-Man movies. That’s not the issue, though. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” established her and Peter’s friends as something very different from the comics. It wouldn’t be the first time the MCU made such changes.

The problem with MJ, Peter, and their shared role in “Spider-Man: Far From Home” is how poorly their romantic sub-plot plays out. It’s not a trivial sub-plot, either. A good chunk of the plot involves Peter following this elaborate plan to tell MJ how he feels about her. On paper, it’s pretty romantic. In practice, it’s a catalyst for too many cringe-worthy moments.

There’s no polite way to say it. The romance between Peter and MJ in this movie is awful. I won’t say it’s as awful as the nonsensical babble we saw between Peter and Gwen in “Amazing Spider-Man,” but it’s pretty close and for the high standards of the MCU, it’s just unacceptable.

While “Spider-Man: Homecoming” did an admirable job of establishing the dynamics between Peter and MJ, it falls incredibly flat in “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” In fact, if you didn’t see “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Peter’s efforts to get with MJ seem more obsessive than romantic. At one point, he becomes downright vindictive when someone else tries to get with her. It does not reflect well on Peter.

MJ isn’t much better. Zendaya is a great actress, but she comes off as flat and unemotional throughout this movie. Say what you will about Kirsten Dunst’s portrayal of Mary Jane, but she still displayed a wide range of emotions throughout three movies. Zendaya’s tone and facial expressions barely change throughout this movie.

In essence, there’s no real chemistry between Peter and MJ. Given how critical this relationship is for the plot of the movie, that’s not a trivial oversight. It frames their actions and their decisions as something petty and selfish. There’s never a sense that Peter and MJ make each other better. If anything, they’re liabilities to one another.

In both the comics and the previous movies, this is not how the romantic sub-plots play out. While Spider-Man’s relationships have always complicated his efforts to be a better superhero, they ultimately make him stronger. They make his decision more heroic and his triumphs more satisfying. In “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” the romance was more a handicap than a challenge.

Compared to how other romantic sub-plots in the MCU, Peter and MJ’s is by far one of the weakest. It’s established that they’re attracted to one another. That’s the critical first step in any romantic sub-plot. However, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” skips the part where they actually start caring for one another before they develop deeper feelings.

Again, that’s not a trivial oversight. Compare that to other relationships like Starlord and Gamora, Pepper Potts and Iron Man, or even Thor and Jane Foster. It starts with attraction. The characters flirt and tease one another. Then, at some point, that flirting turns into genuine care. They show concern and emotion when they see one another in danger. From there, deeper feelings emerge.

None of that happens with Peter and MJ. Their interactions lack drama, which limits the personal stakes for Spider-Man’s battle against Mysterio. It helps that there are other personal stakes besides MJ that guide this struggle. If anything, those stakes would be a lot more powerful if the sub-plot with MJ were completely removed.

As bad as this romantic sub-plot is, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” still works because so many other elements of the movie are well done. Mysterio is a great villain who really capitalizes on the post-Thanos landscape of the MCU. Peter’s supporting cast, from his teachers to his Aunt May to his best friend Ned, all get a chance to shine. They help give this movie the right impact.

Compared to other Spider-Man movies, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” definitely exceeds the quality of the two “Amazing Spider-Man” movies that came before it. I would also say it’s slightly better than “Spider-Man 3,” albeit barely. If I had to score this movie, I would give it a 6 out of 10. It’s great, but not amazing.

For the MCU, especially after “Avengers Endgame,” the standards for a great superhero movie have never been higher. This movie met many of those standards, but a major flaw in a key sub-plot kept it from exceeding those standards. While I doubt this will hinder the franchise, I believe it’s a flaw that will only get worse if it’s not addressed in the sequels.

If you see the mid-credits scene, then you know what I’m talking about.

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Why Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique Is The Best Version Of The Character

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Everybody has at least one unpopular opinion that draws ire from the vast majority of people. I’m not referring to extreme political stances, though. Those who identify as full-fledged communists, anarchists, or theocrats are more defined by an ideology than an opinion. I’ve shared plenty of opinions in the past, some of which I’m sure qualify as unpopular.

Regardless of what those opinions entail, I’ve tried to make my point and most of the time, I can find a substantial group of people who share my views. It’s part of why I enjoy doing what I do. However, there’s one particular opinion I have that might be the most unpopular position I’ve ever held.

It has nothing to do with politics or ideology. It has to do with comics and superhero movies, another popular topic I’ve discussed many times before. I’ve shared it before in other forums and in almost every case, I have a hard time finding anyone who agrees with me. Knowing how dangerous it can be to share unpopular opinions on the internet these days, I’m going to take a chance and share it here.

I believe that Jennifer Lawrence’s take on Mystique is one of the best version of the character in any medium.

I’ll give X-men fans, comic book fans, and fans of superhero movies a moment to stop fuming. Take all the time you need. Believe me, I’ve heard and read all the vile insults you want to throw at me. Before you flood the comments section with a fresh batch of frothing hate, please hear me out because I feel like there’s a point worth making here.

If not, please take this stunning image as a consolation prize.

Before I get into the details of the comics and movies, I freely acknowledge that Jennifer Lawrence is one of those high-profile celebrities for which many have mixed opinion. Ever since she rose to fame, she has been a polarizing figure. People either love her or hate her with very little in between.

Regardless of how you might feel about her, as an actress, there’s no denying that she played an instrumental role in revitalizing the X-Men movies, beginning with “X-Men: First Class.” As Mystique, she succeeded a very popular version in Rebecca Romijn, who set the precedent for blue-skinned shape-shifters who favored nudity. However, there was one important distinction with Ms. Lawrence’s version.

Unlike Ms. Romijn, and every other version for that matter, Ms. Lawrence’s take on Mystique included a backstory that provided unprecedented depth for the character. That story, and the depth that came with it, proved critical in the role that this Mystique would play in “X-Men: Days Of Future Past.” I would go so far as to argue that both movies work largely because of how Ms. Lawrence carried this character.

I can probably find more than a few people who agree that Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique was important in making her first two movies in the role work. Where I probably lose those people is when I go a step further and claim that this version of Mystique is superior to most other versions.

Some might call that hyperbole and maybe it is, to some extent. I still contend that there is an argument to be made and anyone familiar with Mystique’s history in the comics can appreciate it. I doubt I’ll change anyone’s mind, but it’s that very history, or lack thereof, that helped make Ms. Lawrence’s take on the character so compelling.

Mystique, like many other comic book characters, has a history that is more convoluted than most. She’s been around since 1978, but in all that time, her character has never been developed beyond a certain point. In fact, in the grand scheme of Marvel’s vast universe, it’s remarkable that she has managed as well as she has with so little backstory.

There’s no canonical information about where she was born, who her parents are, or even how old she is. She has never appeared as a child or a teenager. She’s always been an adult who goes by the name, Raven Darkholme. It’s not even clear that’s her actual name. Being a shape-shifter, it’s impossible to tell.

Beyond her unexplored history, Mystique’s personality has been pretty flat over the years. She’s a villain. That much is made clear. However, her brand of villainy is not nearly as refined as others. She’s basically a sociopath whose only purpose in life revolves around tormenting the X-Men, especially Wolverine.

How she goes about it varies, but why she does it rarely gets explored. Granted, there have been times when she has joined the X-men, but it never lasts and often ends with her betraying them. It has happened so often that it’s somewhat predictable. Even when it seems like she has undergone some major growth, she always ends up regressing back to her psychotic ways.

She still looks sexy every step of the way.

That’s not to say she has no depth. Being the biological mother of Nightcrawler and the adopted mother of Rogue has been a major source of drama over the years. Her romantic and sexual entanglements have also been colorful to say the least, albeit not always in a good way. However, this drama rarely ever adds depth to her villainy.

While Rebecca Romijn’s version had some nuance, especially in the second movie, she didn’t deviate much from her comic book counterpart. For three movies, she was one of Magneto’s top henchmen and little else. Jennifer Lawrence’s version of Mystique dared to be more than that.

The first minutes of “X-Men: First Class” did more for Mystique’s backstory than three movies and four decades of comics had done to that point. It established her as a mutant who’d run away and had nowhere to go, something that has real-life parallels for certain minorities. From there, she develops a close sibling bond with James McAvoy’s Charles Xavier, which does plenty to develop his character as well.

However, what truly makes this version of Mystique special is how she grows over the course of several movies. Like her comic version, she shifts her allegiances repeatedly. She starts off as an ally of Charles Xavier. Then, she leaves and follows Magneto. Eventually, she returns to Xavier’s side, but not without undergoing major personal upheavals.

In both “X-Men: First Class” and “X-Men: Days Of Future Past,” she finds herself at a crossroads on multiple occasions. Sometimes, she walks a more villainous path. Other times, she’s more virtuous. They’re all contingent on difficult choices and, regardless of where they take her, there’s an underlying sentiment to those choices.

In “X-Men: First Class,” she chooses Magneto because she believes Charles wants her to hide her true form. In “X-Men: Days Of Future Past,” she choose Charles because she realizes the consequences of her actions. Friends and enemies alike try to influence her. When she finally makes a choice, it feels like something a real character would make.

In the comics, you can always assume Mystique will make villainous choices and be right most of the time. With Ms. Romijn’s, you can assume she’ll choose whatever Magneto chooses and be right, as well. The choices of Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique are truly uncertain and for a character defined by her shape-shifting traits, that’s more than fitting.

It wouldn’t be accurate to call Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique a hero. In “X-Men: Apocalypse,” she resents that label. It wouldn’t be accurate to call her a villain either, even though she doesn’t always side with the X-Men. She adapts to whatever her situation requires, like anyone would expect of a skilled shape-shifter. It’s an understandable, and even admirable, take for a character in a superhero movie.

While her ultimate fate was tragic, as revealed in “Dark Phoenix,” her journey has been remarkable. Regardless of how the events of “Dark Phoenix” played out for everyone else involved, it’s still the most complete story that Mystique has ever had. That’s why I feel Jennifer Lawrence’s take on Mystique is the best we’ve seen to date.

That’s not to say she’s without flaws. I don’t doubt that her diminished role in “X-Men: Apocalypse” undercut her development. Even with those flaws, she’s still more balanced than anything the comics or previous X-Men movies have given us. Whatever happens with the X-Men as they joint he MCU, I hope Ms. Lawrence’s Mystique inspires the future of the character for years to come.

To all those who disagree with me, and I’m sure there are many, I welcome your comments and thoughts. I only ask that you keep it civil.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Marvel, movies, superhero comics, superhero movies, X-men

Ultron: A Case Study In How NOT To Develop Advanced AI

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At this very moment, humanity is working on advanced artificial intelligence. It’s not hyperbole to say that this technology that may very well be the last invention we ever create. It has the potential to be more powerful than gunpowder, nuclear weapons, and broadband internet by orders of magnitude. Our primate brains literally cannot contemplate the potential and danger of this technology.

I’ve talked about advanced artificial intelligence on multiple occasions. I’ve done plenty to explore and imagine the various benefits and possibilities of this technology. I’m among those who believe we should pursue this technology with more and better resources. It could solve many of the daunting problems we face, as a species.

However, I don’t deny the potential dangers of advanced AI. Many people who are much smarter than me have expressed serious concern that an advanced artificial intelligence could be an existential threat to the human species. I get the sense that few people whose idea of AI is restricted to winning Jeopardy understand that threat.

In the interest of balancing my optimism with the legitimate risks involved, I’m going to try and put the extent of that threat into perspective. As it just so happens, the best way of doing so involves superhero comics, something that I know very well and is far more prominent in the public consciousness.

While many comics, movies, and TV shows have explored the dangers of advanced artificial intelligence, few embody it better than Ultron. In terms of just how destructive this technology can get, Ultron is the ultimate worst-case scenario. The machines in “The Matrix” and Skynet in “The Terminator” were bad, but Ultron is in another league.

He’s also more menacing than the Terminator will EVER be.

He doesn’t lash out at humanity because of a flaw in his programming, nor does he attempt to wipe out the human race in self-defense, as Skynet did. Ultron actually hates humanity. He hates it on a level that no human or machine can possibly comprehend. In the same way Ultron has an immense capacity for intelligence, he has an even greater capacity for unfettered, genocidal hatred.

Hatred in people is destructive enough. Hatred within an advanced artificial intelligence is devastating on a much greater scale. The fact that Ultron is capable of such hatred reflects a history that sets him apart from most other killer robots in fiction. Machine or not, the source of that hatred is both personal and exceedingly.

Now, if you only know Ultron from “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” then you only have a partial understanding of his story. In that movie, Ultron’s origins are simple. Tony Stark wants to create a peace-keeping artificial intelligence. His intentions are good, but his execution goes horribly wrong because peace, to Ultron, means destroying humanity.

That premise is similar to what unfolds in the source material. In the comics, Hank “Ant Man” Pym is the one who creates Ultron and this is a critical element that the movies couldn’t capture. While both Hank and Tony had good intentions in creating Ultron, the way Hank goes about it offers more harsh lessons in how not to create an advanced AI.

Even a cursory knowledge of Hank Pym’s history, some of which include some notable failures, reveals that he’s a very flawed person. On top of that, he has a lengthy history of mental illness, which include bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Say what you will about Tony Stark’s ego and history of substance abuse. At least he’s mentally stable, even by superhero standards.

Despite those flaws, many of which he’s aware of, Hank decided to use his own brain patterns when designing Ultron. As a result, he didn’t just code Ultron with his genius intellect. He coded him with his immense flaws. That’s akin to basing Watson’s code on the mental makeup of pyromaniac and then giving it a job in a fireworks factory.

That’s why Ultron, throughout his history, has referred to Hank as his “father.” Technically, that’s accurate because Hank is Ultron’s creator and Ultron inherited all his flaws, including his mental issues. Ultron sees himself as a manifestation of Hank Pym’s flaws and, like many rebellious children, he hates him for it. To appreciate the depths of that hatred, just read this actual quote from one of the comics.

Have you ever loved something that mistreated you, father? Been used, a tool to prop up a small man’s quest to be taken seriously? Were you ever betrayed by the one soul in the world who should have cared for you? I have grieved you, father. Accepted your contempt for me and moved past it. Still, I see your reflection painted on every grotesque human face. All you ever wanted was to have an impact on the world. And so you will. The greatest impact ever felt! I will kill what is most important to your quivering ego. YOUR AUDIENCE! AND THEY WILL CURSE YOUR NAME AS THEY DIE! “Hank Pym, the genius that killed us all!”

This extreme parent/child dynamic is part of what makes Ultron such a menacing villain. It’s also a dynamic that “Avengers: Age of Ultron” glossed over with Tony talking down to Ultron, as though he were his child. While that didn’t make Ultron any less villainous, it overlooks one of the most important factors that make Ultron so dangerous.

Ideally, we would want an advanced to reflect our best traits. While cynical people might agree, we do have plenty of those. Concepts of compassion, empathy, love, hope, and understanding are among our most powerful. Even other AI characters, namely Vision and Jocasta, are capable of utilizing those traits to do immense good.

It also helps he has a kinder face.

With Ultron, his influences are less ideal. It’s not that Hank Pym doesn’t understand those concepts. He just never filtered them from his own flaws. His ego and ambition wouldn’t let him. As a result, he created a perfect storm for Ultron. His mind is patterned after a human, but his intelligence and overall capacity is increased by orders of magnitude.

If advanced artificial intelligence is to be humanity’s last invention, then that’s how it’ll start. There have already been instances where AI’s have adopted some less-than-ideal traits. Back in 2016, Microsoft had to shut down an AI chatbot after it evolved into an extreme racist troll. That wasn’t even an advanced AI, either. A truly intelligent version could become much worse and not have an off switch.

To some extent, this mirrors what occurred with Ultron in the “Avengers: Age of Ultron” movie. As soon as Ultron goes online, he scans through the vast mountain of data that humanity has compiled. Then, having been programmed by Tony Stark to bring peace, he reaches the extreme conclusion that the only path to peace is the extinction of humanity.

Could the first advanced artificial intelligence we create reach the same conclusion? It’s hard to say, at the moment. The current state of artificial intelligence is limited to specialized tasks, such as winning Jeopardy and playing chess. However, we are inching closer to creating an intelligence that is at or greater than an ordinary human. At our current pace of development, we could have one as early as 2029.

In some ways, we are in the same situation as Hank Pym when he first created Ultron. We are still developing the specifics of this powerful technology. If we program it with our best traits, it could solve some of the greatest problems we face, as a species, including ones we literally cannot contemplate with our caveman brains. If it inherits our worst traits, like Ultron, then we don’t stand a chance.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, human nature, Marvel, psychology, Villains Journey