Category Archives: movies

The “Dark Phoenix” Delay: The Possible Reasons (And A Best Case Scenarios)

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It has been a week of roller coaster emotions for X-men fans. I feel like one of those fans who has ridden that ride one too many times and thrown up more than I care to admit. While our collective stomachs settle, it’s worth talking about what happened.

This week started with excitement and elation. The first trailer for “X-men: Dark Phoenix,” or just “Dark Phoenix” as it’s officially called now, finally dropped. As someone who has been eagerly awaiting this movie and written more than a few pieces about it, this moment was the biggest thrill I got since I first saw the “Avengers: Infinity War” trailer.

Then, just a few days later, Deadline dropped some frustrating news. The release date for “Dark Phoenix” is being pushed back for the second time to June 7, 2019. Originally, it was supposed to come out in November 2018, but it was delayed for entirely understandable reasons.

This movie boasts a cast of big names who are busy with major projects. Sophie Turner, the fiery woman tasked with bringing Jean Grey and the Phoenix Saga to life, was busy shooting the last season of “Game of Thrones.” Since you can only do so much with CGI and body doubles, the movie had to be pushed back to February 2019 to accommodate her schedule and that of the other stars.

I was okay with this. In fact, I thought it would be perfect. Now, “Dark Phoenix” was set to come out in mid-February, which has become a hot slot for movies in recent years. The massive success of “Deadpool” and “Black Panther” proved that this can be a viable slot for a major blockbuster.

On top of that, the Phoenix Saga is very much a love story. If “Dark Phoenix” could capture even a fraction of the heart that Chris Claremont’s original story did in the comics, then this movie could’ve gone onto be a true Valentine’s Day classic. Being both an X-men fan and a romance fan, I couldn’t have been happier with this situation.

Now, it seems, that ideal scenario is no longer happening. I’ve got nothing against a June release date. Historically, that’s when most major X-men films come out, going all the way back to the days of the first “X-men” movie. At the same time, though, this news has me worried, but not necessarily for the content of the movie.

As I’ve noted before, “Dark Phoenix” has a bit of a branding problem that it doesn’t deserve. Unlike other Marvel movies, this movie is assumed to be awful for the simple reason that it isn’t in the MCU, the gold standard for all superhero movies. A good chunk of the comments for the trailer are people whining that this movie doesn’t have Kevin Feige’s magic touch, among other things.

Never mind the fact that this movie is actively trying to undo the mistakes that were made in “X-men: The Last Stand.” Never mind the fact that the trailer already revealed that it’s doing the exact opposite of what its predecessor did, from embracing the cosmic elements of the Phoenix Force to giving Cyclops a major role. It’s still getting crap because it’s not in the MCU.

This latest delay is only going to give those people even more excuses to whine about it. It doesn’t matter if that whining has no basis in truth. They can claim that this is another sign that this movie is awful and, no matter how great it ends up being, they’ll cling to that notion until their dying breath.

I’m not going to try and convince those people that “Dark Phoenix” will be good or that this delay has a perfectly reasonable explanation. I don’t have any connections in Hollywood and I’m not a mind-reader on the level of Charles Xavier. I’m still hoping we’ll get some explanation in the coming days, but I doubt anyone will believe it.

Half the comments in the comments section will say, “Cancel the damn movie and give it to Feige!” They say this as though the people who work at Fox and Disney don’t like money and can just throw away a movie that costs $200 million. This isn’t Roger Corman’s dirt cheapFantastic Four” movie. This is a movie with major star power that can definitely turn a profit.

It even has the potential to be very good. Director/Producer, Simon Kinberg, has made it very clear that he’s trying to get back to the source material of the Phoenix Saga. Even so, people are still whining about it because his name isn’t Kevin Feige.

I’m still very excited for this movie, but I think this is the worst move Fox could’ve made. They’re just feeding the perception that this movie will be awful and even if it’s objectively good, those perceptions will sink this movie. Even if it makes a lot of money, it’ll be branded as that movie that was so bad that it got delayed twice.

It leads me to wonder why Fox made this decision and why their soon-to-be overlords at Disney let it happen. At the moment, I can only come up with three scenarios. One is the best possible case. The other is the worst possible case. The third is probably the most likely. Again, I claim no inside knowledge. This is just me speculating on what could be at work, based on what little information we can get from Google.


Worst Case Scenario: Fox Has No Faith In This Movie, But Has Faith In “Alita: Battle Angel”

Lost in the whining about what the trailer did or didn’t have, there’s another detail to the delay of “Dark Phoenix” that’s worth mentioning. Its previous release date, February 14, 2019, is now the release date of another Fox movie, “Alita: Battle Angel.”

This $200 million spectacle has James Cameron’s name attached to it so you know it carries weight. Its former release date also happened to be in the middle of December, which is packed with some heavy competition from multiple studios. As a movie that has also been delayed before, “Alita: Battle Angel” is a potential franchise that Fox wants to succeed.

Again, look no further than “Deadpool” and “Black Panther” to see how a franchise can blossom in February. The fact that Fox delayed “Dark Phoenix” implies that they think “Alita: Battle Angel” has more potential. Given how the X-men franchise has made $5.7 billion worldwide, that’s a pretty big downgrade.

Dark Phoenix” coming out in June means that Fox is just willing to dump the movie in the middle of crowded summer box office that will already be burnt out by “Avengers 4” and “Captain Marvel.” On top of that, it has “Toy Story 4” and “The Secret Life of Pets 2” as competition. Since the X-men are heading to the MCU anyway, they’re just throwing it away and hoping to scrap what little profit they can.

That’s the worst case scenario. Once a studio gives up on a movie, it really shows. Josh Trank’s “Fantastic Four” is proof of that and no movie, especially not “Dark Phoenix,” deserves that.


Best Case Scenario: The Delay Is Intended To Set The Stage For The X-men’s MCU Debut

This is probably the only reason I and even the most ardent detractors of the movie will accept. If it turns out that the reason for this delay is to set up a teaser for the X-men’s arrival into the MCU, then I would totally be okay with that. In fact, that would probably bump up the box office for this movie in a big way.

While I doubt this is likely, it’s worth pointing out that June 2019 is exactly 18 months after Disney and Fox announced they were merging in December 2017. At the time, it was said outright that the merger would take 18 months to complete. For all we know, the day “Dark Phoenix” premiers is the day the X-men are officially under Disney’s domain.

That means they could use this extra time to tac on a few scenes to connect “Dark Phoenix” with the MCU. Given the universe-shattering events of “Avengers: Infinity War,” it’s not that crazy an idea. Trust me, if fans saw a hint of Thanos’ finger snap at the end of the movie, their jaws would hit the floor and they would throw all the money in their wallets at Disney as thanks.

Now, this is unlikely for a very good reason. As far as we know, Fox and Disney still haven’t completed their merge. That means that legally speaking, Disney still can’t mention mutants in their movies. However, seeing as how Feige got his start at Fox, it’s not inconceivable that he would try to pull something like this.

If Fox could do this and move “Alita: Battle Angel” out of a crowded holiday season, then that’s just icing on the cake.


Most Likely Scenario: It’s Just A Mundane Marketing Decision

This is the most boring, but likely scenario. At the end of the day, it all comes back to marketing. Delaying “Dark Phoenix” had nothing to do with agendas, Disney conspiracies, or production issues. It was all about marketing.

Unlike the previous two scenarios, this one has some actual merit. In the same Deadline article, there’s this quote.

“Summer is not only a better date, but again, it gives the film a better shot to have a bigger opening in China. Why? The trailer clocked 44 million views in first 24 hours of release online this week out of China. Also, premium screens previously reserved for Gambit will be in play and provide an even bigger upside for the film.”

It makes a bland bit of sense. The long-delayed “Gambit” movie was slated for a June 7, 2019 release and that movie hasn’t even started production. On top of that, it’s not as close to other major Disney/Marvel movies. February 14, 2019 is just a few weeks before “Captain Marvel” drops and “Dark Phoenix” could end up undercutting it, which is not what Disney wants.

In addition, if launching the movie in summer means a bigger opening in an overseas market, which has become a big deal in the movie business, it’s just more practical in the long run. That still won’t stop people determined to hate this movie from finding an excuse to hate it. Those people aren’t the millions of Chinese movie-goers this movie is now aiming for.

I’m still hoping we’ll get a more complete explanation from someone like Simon Kinberg or Sophie Turner very soon. In the end, though, I doubt it will matter. It certainly doesn’t matter to me. I’m very excited about this movie. I’m determined to see it. If it’s as good as I hope, then I’ll gladly praise it. I just worry that too many people have already made up their mind and won’t stop looking for excuses.

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

The Dark Phoenix Trailer: What’s There, What’s Missing, And What’s Uncanny

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It’s finally here! It was subject to delays, bogus leaks, and misinformation about the extent of reshoots. None of that matters now because it’s really here. The trailer for “X-men: Dark Phoenix” has finally arrived in all its fiery glory.

Before I write another word, let’s all just take a moment to watch it again and appreciate the promise of a movie that may actually do justice to the Phoenix Saga.

I’ll give everyone a minute to process it again. Whether you loved it or hated it, there’s no way around it. This movie is coming, despite the rumors that claimed otherwise. On February 14, 2019, this movie is coming out and I hope to be among the first to see it. That had been my intention since the movie was announced, but this just gave me more incentive.

For the next several days, there will be plenty of talk about the reaction to this trailer. I already have a pretty good feeling of how it’ll play out. X-men fans, like, me who were deeply disappointed by how this story was handled in “X-men: The Last Stand” will be elated. Those who just want the X-men to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe will whine about how this movie is a waste of time.

In between it all, there will be trolls and assholes who will find an excuse to hate the trailer and this movie, but that’s to be expected of any movie these days. There’s no helping those people. Instead, I’d rather focus on what we can and cannot glean from this trailer.

It goes heavy on the drama, which is perfectly appropriate for any movie involving the Phoenix Saga. It also answers some questions about the details of the story while posing a few others. I won’t break down every frame, but here are a few key insights that should get X-men fans like myself very excited.


What’s There

In short, there’s a lot. In fact, I would go so far as to say this trailer had more elements of the original Phoenix Saga from the comics than the entity of “X-men: The Last Stand.” Most importantly, this trailer established that the story of Jean Grey becoming Dark Phoenix will not be relegated to a side-plot.

That’s something I belabored last year when I listed several critical ways to avoid screwing up this movie. In fact, it was near the top of the list. One of the many mistakes “X-men: The Last Stand” made was trying to squeeze the most iconic X-men story ever written into several other plots involving completely unrelated themes. That’s just one of the many reasons it turned out so poorly.

This trailer starts and ends with Jean Grey’s struggle against the emerging darkness. That’s not just key for the basics of any Phoenix Saga. It makes clear that the main plot of this movie will focus on her and give Sophie Turner plenty of opportunities to show off her fiery persona. That, alone, is very promising for those hoping for a competent movie about this iconic X-men story.

In addition, the trailer offered hints that this movie will actually develop the Cyclops/Jean relationship that’s so critical to the emotional weight of the Phoenix Saga. That was another massive mistake in “X-men: The Last Stand.” A big part of why this story is so powerful is because it’s fueled by a love story between two characters trying to overcome obstacles of cosmic proportions.

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Those are two critical factors in ensuring that this movie has the necessary elements to make a Dark Phoenix movie work. The trailer also hints at a few other details that aren’t related to the main Phoenix story, but nicely connect with other moments from the recent movies.

The most ominous scene, in my opinion, was the brief shot of Beast and Mystique. If you saw the “Rogue Cut” of “Days of Futures Past,” you saw that these two have had some romantic undertones that began way back in “X-men First Class.” From the looks of it, something happens to Mystique that sends Beast over the edge. That could also be what pushes Jean further down the path of the Dark Phoenix.

It’s hard to say what this means, but the shots of a funeral do not bode well for Jennifer Lawrence’s character. The fact that Beast is siding with Magneto later on in the trailer hints that he does not agree with how Xavier is handling Jean’s situation. Considering how Beast helped defeat Magneto in “Days of Futures Past,” that would be a major shift, but one that could add even more weight to the story.

There are so many hints and clues as to how the story will play out, but I’d rather not speculate too much. This trailer does manage to avoid excessive spoilers, but it’ll be interesting to see what else will be revealed as the release date draws near.


What’s NOT There

There’s not a lot, but I don’t deny that this trailer did have some glaring omissions. The biggest one, in my opinion, has to do with Jessica Chastain’s still-unnamed character. The only thing we know about her is that she plays the main villain of the story. While some took that to mean she would be playing the alien queen, Lilandra Neramani, that has since been debunked.

On her IMDB page, her character is only named Smith. That could mean any number of things. She could play a shape-shifting Skrull, who have clashed with the X-men many times in the comics. She could play Deathbird, an alien hunter with close ties to Lilandra’s alien race, the Shi’ar. She could be someone else entirely. We really don’t know.

Other than Chastain’s character, we don’t see much of Storm, Quicksilver, or Nightcrawler. They’re clearly present, but they don’t get to say or do much. That’s to be expected, though. This is a Dark Phoenix movie, after all. The focus should be on Jean Grey, Charles Xavier, and Cyclops.

That said, the other glaring omission in the trailer has to do with the Phoenix Force itself. While we do get some signs, we don’t get anything like the fiery display Jean showed at the end of “X-men Apocalypse.” We also don’t get any signs of the more cosmic elements of the Phoenix. While there are a few shots that hint of a scene in space, it’s only a tiny part at most.

That’s to be expected, though. This movie just finished up reshoots so I imagine the effects aren’t fully polished yet. There’s plenty of time between now and February to make it look as beautiful and stunning as a Dark Phoenix movie should. Perhaps a second trailer will reveal more. It worked for “Venom” and it can definitely work for this.


What’s Uncanny

More than anything else, this trailer showed that Simon Kinberg, Fox, and everyone else who got crap from what happened in “X-men: The Last Stand” is making a concerted effort to right the wrongs of the past. Kinberg has said in the past that he did not like how things played out in that movie. I’m all for giving him a chance to do so.

This trailer doesn’t prove he managed to fix everything. However, it does offer hope that this time will be different. This time, the Phoenix Saga won’t be a sub-plot. The story won’t be radically changed to make it all about Wolverine. It’s going to genuinely try to tell this iconic X-men story in the most complete way possible.

As much as I hated the first attempt, I’m more than willing to give this one a chance and then some. I know as well as everyone else that this will be the last X-men movie of the era that began back in 2000. It has already been confirmed that Kevin Feige, the architect of the MCU, is going to take control of the X-men’s cinematic future after the Disney/Fox merger.

Some are already looking forward to a completely rebooted X-men movie, complete with a new Wolverine who isn’t played by Hugh Jackman and a new line of stories that’ll give the X-men a chance to participate in the global juggernaut that is MCU. I’m excited for that too. However, that makes it all the more important that “X-men: Dark Phoenix” be the best, most uncanny movie it can possibly be.

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Filed under movies, superhero comics, superhero movies, X-men

A Quick Note About The “Captain Marvel” Trailer

It’s a simple note. Can we all just take a moment to admire how awesome the Captain Marvel trailer is? That is all.

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September 18, 2018 · 8:37 pm

The (Distant) Future Of Marvel, Disney, And Entertainment

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I like to talk about the future. I don’t claim to have any special insight, but I suspect I give it more thought than most. I also believe I tend to think farther into the future than most. Whether it’s contemplating the future of how we’ll organize our society or how our sex lives will evolve, I try to contemplate possibilities beyond the next iPhone upgrade.

One aspect of the distant future that concerns me has to do with boredom, namely how it may become a much larger problem and how we’ll go about alleviating it. I’ve done plenty to argue that boredom can be a dangerous force, from creating immortal super-villains to subverting the very concept of Hell. If our future is to be stable, prosperous, and fun, we’ll need some form of entertainment.

With that critical goal in mind, I’d like to speculate on a potential brand of future entertainment that ties directly with the industry that we know today. Specifically, I’d like to imagine how big entertainment companies like Disney will continue to function in world where advanced artificial intelligence, brain implants, and near-universal access to the internet is a thing.

I feel the time is right to think about such things because just last week, Disney radically altered the entertainment industry by purchasing Fox. Beyond just getting the X-men and Fantastic Four rights back for Marvel, Disney bought a massive library of intellectual property that is potentially worth billions. Being a successful business with shareholders, and all, they’re going to want to make billions more.

How exactly are they going to go about that, though? That’s a question worth asking because the answer for the near future is probably not going to work for the distant future. Sure, Disney will probably rake in plenty of profits at the box office, just as they’ve done with Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars. However, the movie and toy industry can only go so far.

While box office revenue is up, actual ticket sales are way down. More people are opting to stream their content directly, bypassing pay TV and theaters entirely. The same is true for print media, including comic books. Even toy sales are in decline. This is not good for a company like Disney, which has built its empire on media and merchandise.

That’s not to say things are dire. Disney has been around for almost 100 years. In that time, it has adapted through plenty of upheavals. If it’s going to survive another 100 years, though, it’ll have to adapt to a radically different landscape. Buying Fox is likely part of that process. Disney has already made clear that it plans to start a streaming service to compete with Netflix and Amazon.

That’s a good start, but a streaming service is probably not going to be enough, especially in a future where people live longer, work less, and can share more than just text messages with one another. If Disney wants to continue being at the forefront of entertainment, it’ll have to innovate in ways that leverage future technology in new ways.

After the purchase of Fox, though, Disney may actually be in the best possible position compared to every other entertainment company that exists today. That’s because, unlike its competitors, it has a wealth of intellectual property that it owns outright. From Micky Mouse to Marvel heroes, the library of Disney-owned characters is truly staggering.

In the past, this gave Disney the ability to make or license movies, toys, and games for billions. In the future, those mediums won’t be nearly as profitable, but not because those things will fall out of style. I believe that for Disney to make more billions, it’ll utilize its intellectual property in a very different way, one that will likely require an entirely new approach to entertainment.

Think, for a moment, about the current experience you get from a movie theater, a TV show, or even a life show. You sit in a seat and you just watch. You take in the sights and sounds. If done right, it creates a spectacle that you enjoy. However, the fact that the spectacle only utilizes major senses is somewhat limiting.

What if, instead, you weren’t just an audience member sitting in a seat? What if it actually felt like you were there? What if you felt like you were standing next to Captain America as he battled the Red Skull? What if you felt like you were there when Micky Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy all broke out into a joyous musical number?

I’m not just talking about better animation or virtual reality. I’m talking about a form of entertainment that makes your brain actually feel as though you’re experiencing something. It’s not quite like the holodeck on “Star Trek.” It’s more like plugging into “The Matrix,” but for reasons other than learning Kung Fu or having existential breakdowns.

Unlike “The Matrix,” though, you wouldn’t be the catalyst for the story. That’s something Disney would take care of, providing only the world and the vast array of sensations that come with it. Instead of paying for a movie ticket, you pay for an experience that lets you interact or feel part of a story involving Iron Man, Micky, or Buzz Lightyear.

That will likely be the most valuable resource of future entertainment, powerful experiences that give customers the rush and fulfillment of being there. Instead of going to a theater or theme park, they would just plug something into their brains, possibly through an implant like the ones Elon Musk is developing with Neuralink. From there, the experience will be directly streamed right into their brain.

It may sound invasive, but we already share so much of ourselves online, from what we had for lunch to the most intimate aspects of our personal lives. We’re already in the early stages of merging our technology. We already see our smartphones as integral parts of our lives. Why wouldn’t we do the same for brain implants?

Unlike a smartphone, a machine/brain interface can’t be dropped into the toilet or left behind by accident. That same interface won’t just augment the ability of our brains to access the entire wealth of human knowledge. They’ll allow us to directly stimulate the areas that forge our entire perception of the world around us.

This has huge implications, some more profound than others. For companies like Disney, though, that link will be critical with respect to maintaining its place as a dominant entertainment company. People already pay for powerful experience, be they movies, video games, or a full-body massage at a spa. Disney could simply cut out the middle-men while leveraging its vast library of intellectual property.

Sure, in the future, you could probably pay for fancy experiences like those offered in “Total Recall.” However, if you want an experience that allows you to be a Jedi, an Avenger, or a singing animal, you’ll have to go through Disney and they’ll be happy to sell you that experience for a price.

Every week, you’ll be able to select from a range of intense experiences the same way you navigate your Netflix queue. For some, you don’t need to leave your bed. You just plug a device into your brain and let it go from there. For others, maybe you travel to special venues that function like the holodecks in “Star Trek.” There, you could share the experience with others, making it a communal experience.

Disney would still likely need content-creators to craft those experiences. That means people like George Lucas and Kevin Feige will still have a job in this future. The particulars of those jobs would be very different, but the goal would be the same. They would create experiences and stories that people are willing to pay for.

As unpredictable as the future is, it’s still safe to assume that people are going to want entertainment. Wherever there’s a want, there will be a business willing to provide it. There will be competition. There will be billions, if not trillions, to be made in profits. Not every company around today will survive that competition. Disney, however, is already in the best possible position to thrive.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, media issues, movies, Sexy Future, War on Boredom

How The Idea Of “Toxic Fandom” Is Fundamentally Flawed

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The internet is a vast, wonderful place full of mesmerizing gifs, amazing stories, and the collective knowledge of our entire species. I would argue that the internet is one of humanity’s most important tools since the invention of fire. I strongly believe that is has done more good any other tool we’ve created.

I have a feeling that this rosy view of the internet is a minority opinion. These days, all the good the internet does tends to get lost in the stories that highlight its many dangers. I don’t deny that there are dangers there. The internet does have some dark places where hate, harassment, and outright depravity are on full display.

More and more, it seems, the internet is becoming an enabler of a new manifestation of popular culture. It’s called “toxic fandom” and it relies on the greatest strengths of the internet to bring out the absolute worst in people. It didn’t start with the heated fan reaction of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” but it certainly made it relevant.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. There are assholes on the internet. There are also assholes in real life. The internet doesn’t make them that way. It just gives them a platform to be an asshole on a larger scale. That’s an unfortunate side-effect of the internet, but one that tends to obscure a larger narrative.

That’s because, much like inane terms such as “toxic masculinity,” the idea of toxic fandom relies on a series of assumptions that only ever have a sliver of truth behind them. It builds around this idea of there’s this grand, over-arching effort by immature, angry young men who secretly wish they could sexually harass women with impunity. It’s not quite on the level of an Alex Jones type conspiracy, but it’s close.

There have always been overly-passionate fans. It existed long before the internet and would still exist if the internet disappeared tomorrow. “Toxic fandom,” and there’s a reason I’m putting it in quotes, is something very different.

This doesn’t involve obsession with a particular celebrity. It involves a particular type of media like a movie, a TV show, or a video game. In some respects, this sort of fandom is a byproduct of overwhelming success. When something like “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” comes along, it resonates with an audience on a profound level. That sort of impact can last a lifetime.

I can attest to the power of that impact through my love of comic books. I’ve even cited a few that I find deeply moving, both in good ways and in not-so-good ways. Most everybody has had an experience like that at some point in their life, whether it’s their reaction to seeing “Titanic” for the first time or the feeling they get after they binge-watch “Breaking Bad.”

The toxic part usually comes when the media they’ve come to love manifests in a way that’s not just disappointing. It undermines those powerful feelings they’ve come to associate with that media. The results can be very distressing and until recently, the only way to express that distress was to sulk quietly in a darkened room.

Then, the internet comes along and suddenly, fans have a way to voice their feelings, for better and for worse. They can even connect with fans who feel like they do so that they don’t feel alone. The human tendency to form groups is one of the most fundamental acts anyone can do as a member of a highly social species.

Now, there’s nothing inherently “toxic” about that behavior. It has only made the news because the passions/vitriol of fans is more visible, thanks to the internet. Just browse any comments section of any movie or show on IMDB. Chances are you’ll find a few people who claim that this thing they once loved has been ruined and will use every possible medium to voice their displeasure.

This is where the “toxic” aspects of fandom start to have real-world consequences. Most recently, Kelly Marie Tran became the face of those victimized by toxic fandoms. After her portrayal of Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” she became the most polarizing figure in the history of Star Wars since Jar Jar Binks.

The story surrounding Ms. Tran’s harassment, which was objectively horrible, became vindication for those who believed that the Star Wars fanbase had become a mess of angry, hate-filled fanboys. They didn’t like that something they loved was changing and becoming more diverse. As such, their criticisms don’t matter. They may as well be wounded storm troopers in a room full of angry wookies.

The problem with this assumption is the same problem we get when someone writes off facts as fake news or diversity efforts as a neo-Marxist conspiracy. It’s a simple, convenient excuse to ignore possible flaws and justify personal assumptions. It also conflates the inescapable truth that assholes exist in the world and there’s nothing we can do about it.

None of this is to imply that harassment is justified or that fans can be exceedingly unreasonable. By the same token, this doesn’t imply that studios don’t deserve criticism when they attempt to revamp a beloved franchise in a way that does not keep with the spirit of the original. It’s only when criticism gets lost in the outrage that the “toxic” behaviors become more prominent.

It’s within that outrage, though, where the true flaws in the “toxic fanbase” narrative really break down. To a large extent, the “toxicity” that many complain about aren’t a product of unhealthy attitudes. They’re a manifestation of an inherent flaw in the relationship between fans and those who produce the iconic media they love.

To illustrate that flaw, think back to a recent controversy involving a “toxic fanbase.” Before the reaction “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” became the poster child for this issue, the all-female “Ghostbusters” remake was the most prominent example. It earned a lot of hatred for reasons that I’d rather not scrutinize.

With that hatred in mind, imagine a long-time Ghostbusters fan seeking to express their dismay. They decide to write a kind, detailed, and thoughtful letter to the studio, the director, and anyone else involved detailing their dismay and their criticisms. They may even cite specific examples on what they felt was wrong with the movie.

Chances are this sort of thoughtful, well-worded message would get deleted, ignored, or just plain lost in the digital landscape. Even if the head of Sony studios read it and agreed with every point made, they wouldn’t respond. They wouldn’t do anything ot change it. That would just be too inconvenient and it would look bad publicly.

From the perspective of the fan writing the letter, though, it sends the message that their sentiment doesn’t matter. Their passion for the media doesn’t matter. They might as well not even exist in the eyes of the producers. The only way for them to even acknowledge their existance is to be louder, angrier, and even a little meaner. Even if the reponse is negative, it at least acknowledges their existence.

It’s not the same as trolling. Trolls just want upset people for the fun of it. Fans voicing their displeasure are more sincere in the sense that they believe they’re protecting something they love. Whether or not that’s misguided is debatable. Some, namely those who harass and make threats, are more misguided than others. However, they only ever make up a very small percentage of fans.

In the end, that’s the most important perspective to have when it comes to fandom. Those who are the loudest tend to be the most obnoxious, but they’re loud because they feel like they have to be. The internet just gives them a way to be heard, which is something most fans haven’t had before.

That’s still not an excuse for being an asshole, but it’s also not an excuse for using those same assholes to call an entire fanbase toxic. It overlooks and undermines the genuine and sincere love people have of these cultural icons. As as a result, when someone feels like their love is being ignored, that’s when toxic hate often finds a way to fill that void.

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Reflecting On The Balanced (But Bland) Romance In “Ant Man And The Wasp”

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Whenever I go into a Marvel movie these days, I often wonder whether this will be the movie that finally derails the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s unprecedented winning streak. Whenever I to go to see any other kind of superhero movie, I just wonder whether or not it’ll fail miserably. For some, the extent of that failure can be pretty egregious.

It says something about the brand that Kevin Feige and Disney have created when the quality of a movie is assumed by the audience. Ever since the first “Iron Man,” the MCU has found ways to raise the bar, match it, raise it again, and make billions in the process. The brand is so strong that it can turn obscure comics involving talking raccoons into a global phenomenon.

It’s for that reason I wasn’t at all surprised when Feige and our Disney overlords turned “Ant Man” into another successful franchise. Granted, he’s not nearly on the same level as Iron Man or Captain America, but he doesn’t have to be. The fact his first movie made over $500 million is proof that even obscure characters can play a part in the MCU’s winning streak.

For the most part, I thought “Ant Man” was a decent movie. It was fun, but not on the same level as “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Thor: Ragnarok.” However, what really got me excited for the inevitable sequel was the promise of a more meaningful romantic sub-plot between Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne.

When I heard that the title of the sequel was “Ant Man and the Wasp,” I grew even more hopeful. The first movie did a lot to establish the connection between Scott and Hope. Unlike the other romantic connections that have emerged in the MCU, this one had the potential to become something more than just a standard plot device.

It’s an understated, but emerging issue in the MCU. When it comes to romance, Marvel movies have a frustrating tendency to only go so far. Sure, it has romantic moments between Captain America and Peggy Carter, Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, and Black Panther and Nakia. However, those moments rarely go beyond moving the plot forward.

With Ant Man and Wasp, there’s an opportunity to inject a more refined level of romance into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Beyond just giving characters added motivation, this is a relationship that can function more like a partnership rather than a plot catalyst. A good romance, after all, is an exercise in developing quality partnerships.

This is what I was hoping to see with “Ant Man and the Wasp” in addition to Paul Rudd finding new ways to be hilarious. Being a self-professed lover of romance, I wanted to see this romantic evolution happen on-screen and within the context of a larger story. Looking back on it, I might have been hoping for too much.

That’s not to say my hopes were dashed for this movie. I’ll gladly go on record as saying that “Ant Man and the Wasp” is a solid movie that improves on its predecessor. At the same time, though, I felt this movie was a missed opportunity to give the MCU an element that it has been sorely lacking for a while now.

Ever since Thor’s relationship with Jane Foster was unceremoniously cast aside after “Thor: The Dark World,” Marvel movies have been doing the bare minimum when it comes to romance. I would argue that has been part of a larger trend within superhero movie not involving Deadpool.

From the beginning, “Ant Man and the Wasp” sets itself apart by having Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne operate as an equal partnership. They both have plenty of moments where they show off their skill. Hope gets to show off early by really shining as Wasp. Scott contributes later on in ways that are both cunning and hilarious.

In my opinion, the most important achievement of this movie is establishing how complementary Hope and Scott are as a duo. On their own, they show they’re plenty capable. However, they can only achieve what they want when they work together. That, in essence, is the foundation of any meaningful romance.

Unfortunately, “Ant Man and the Wasp” doesn’t do much to build on that foundation. There are a few romantic moments, but they’re very small and usually involve puppy love glances. There aren’t any instances where Hope and Scott get that intimate. They work together and they work well, but it’s exceedingly basic.

There’s never an impression that their relationship deserves to be elevated above a relationship like Thor and Jane. Even though Hope and Scott is a lot more balanced in terms of how they function together, it’s not necessarily the kind of love story that will strike an emotional chord.

They work well together and they’re attracted to one another. Their romance is basically not that different than a typical office romance. In many respects, their relationship is overshadowed by the one between Hank Pym and his missing wife, Janet. That ends up being a more compelling love story, which is saying a lot given the complications of their relationship in the comics.

Even that romantic element is relatively basic, though. Much of the conflict revolves around Ant Man and Wasp’s efforts to save Janet from the quantum realm, where she’s been trapped for years. It creates plenty of family-driven drama, which certainly has its appeal. In terms of overall drama, though, it only goes so far.

Outside those romantic elements, “Ant Man and the Wasp” does everything it needs to in order to maintain the brand of the MCU. It’s coherent, concise, and entertaining. The movie relies heavily on the comedic elements, which fits perfectly for a character who rides around on ants.

Ant Man is not Black Panther, Captain America, or Thor. Wasp is not Black Widow, Gamora, or Peggy Carter. They don’t try to be more than who they are. They stick to the core of their character. In an era where superheroes try too hard to be like Batman, this counts as an accomplishment.

In this same era, there’s a similar effort to develop more balanced female characters who aren’t Wonder Woman. Wasp definitely counts as progress in that effort. She can hold her own, kick ass, and complement those around her, whether that’s Scott Lang or Hank Pym. She’s still no Wonder Woman, but Marvel may be saving that effort for “Captain Marvel.”

In terms of the villain in this movie, “Ant Man and the Wasp” manages to get by with Ghost. While there is some intrigue with her character, she does little to make herself memorable. Compared to Erik Killmonger, who stole the show in “Black Panther,” Ghost was more an obstacle than a villain. She still got the job done and did so with personality.

Overall, if I had to score “Ant Man and the Wasp,” I would give it a 7 out of 10. It’s an all-around solid movie that’s fun, entertaining, and satisfying. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air after the grim circumstances surrounding “Avengers: Infinity War,” at least until the post-credits scene. However, the romance lover in me still feels that it left much of its potential untapped.

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Profiles In Noble Masculinity: Robocop

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Even in an era where masculinity has gained way too many negative connotations, there’s plenty of room for men who distinguish themselves in respectable, honorable ways. There are countless male characters in popular culture who attempt to set themselves apart. Sometimes, it brings out the worst in men. Sometimes, it brings out the best.

I’ve made a concerted effort to focus on the best aspects of masculinity. To date, I’ve profiled two characters, Joel from “The Last of Us” and Hank Hill from “King of the Hill.” I’ve cited both characters as examples of noble masculinity. It manifests in different forms, but it helps bring a unique strength to their characters.

They have a wide range of traits, some of which aren’t distinctly masculine. When those manly characteristics do emerge, though, they don’t just reveal the greater subtleties in who they are. They demonstrate just how powerful masculinity can be when it’s channeled. In that spirit, I’d like to highlight another character who channels that kind of masculinity in a way that’s compelling, memorable, and full of memorable one-liners.

That character’s name is Alex J. Murphy of the Detroit Police Department, but most know him as Robocop. He’s not just a cop who got caught up in a greedy corporation’s agenda. He’s not just a man in a machine carrying out the duties of a cop. When you take in the entirety of Robocop’s story, including the Jesus connotations, you find a character whose masculinity shines even in the R-rated violence that is Detroit.

Now, before I go any further, I want to establish that the version of “Robocop” I’m citing here is the original 1987 version played by Peter Weller. This profile will not draw from the 2014 “Robocop” played by Joel Kinnaman. I’m not saying that version of the character is without merit. I enjoyed that movie. However, it did not come close to demonstrating the level of noble masculinity that the original conveyed.

On the surface, the original “Robocop” wasn’t that groundbreaking for its time. Stories about urban decay and dystopian cities were already popular thanks to movies like “The Terminator” and “Blade Runner.” In terms of substance, though, “Robocop” achieved something profound in terms of crafting a memorable male character.

The core of Alex Murphy’s character, even before he became Robocop, is that he’s a good, honorable man in a city that doesn’t have many of them. This version of Detroit, which is sadly very similar to the real-world version, is full of deviant criminals and corrupt business types. The very company that creates Robocop, Omni Consumer Products, is full of ruthless individuals who see crime only as a hindrance to profits.

A man like Alex Murphy is a precious rarity in that world. As such, it doesn’t take long for it to get snuffed out. On Murphy’s first day on the job, he’s callously killed by a gang of sociopath criminals led by Clarence Boddicker. All that innate nobility and idealism Murphy had was literally shot to death within the first twenty minutes of the movie.

However, that was not the end of Alex Murphy’s story. It was only the beginning. When he’s turned into Robocop by OCP, who see him only as a means to further their business plan, the extent of the noble masculinity he portrays only grows. The fact it does so while he cleans up Detroit’s rampant crime is a nice bonus as well.

From the moment he awakens as Robocop, we see what looks to be only a shell of a man. In fact, OCP goes out of their way to remove as much of the man as possible, not bothering to salvage his hand or anything below the neck. The only part of Alex Murphy they keep is his brain and part of his face.

It’s a total deconstruction of a man, ripping away the very flesh that makes him masculine and yes, that includes his genitals. To OCP, he’s a machine who just happens to run on human parts. They try to filter out the humanity in hopes of creating an obedient commodity that they can then mass produce, market, and utilize for profit.

It’s dehumanization to an extreme, more so than what characters like Wolverine endured. For a brief while, it looks like OCP succeeds. Initially, Robocop carries himself like a machine, confronting Detroit’s worst criminals with an efficiency that wasn’t possible as Alex Murphy. He could’ve become a perfect example of reducing all men to machines, devoid of emotion and focused only on a task at hand.

Then, the story takes a more human turn and Robocop suddenly becomes more man than machine. Despite everything OCP took from him, including his body and his free will, Alex Murphy still emerged. Even after everything that made him a man was deconstructed, literally in some cases, he fought to regain control.

In the process, we get to see Robocop learn about the man he used to be. We see glimpses of his life as a father and a husband. We find out just how good a man he was to his wife and his son. It contrasts heavily to the ruthless criminals and callous business people that affect much of the story. That’s critical in terms of establishing Robocop as someone who conveys a heroic brand of masculinity.

From the outside perspective of the audience, Alex Murphy’s home life seems mundane and even a little corny. However, when put into the context of a crime-ridden urban dystopia, it becomes instrumental in elevating Robocop’s sense of duty. They make his prime directives more than just base programming. By adding Murphy’s humanity into the mix, they gain greater meaning.

It’s an inherently masculine trait, protecting those who cannot otherwise protect themselves. Murphy already embodied that trait because he was a cop and a family man. However, he could only accomplish so much on his own, as his fatal encounter with Boddicker proved.

By becoming Robocop, that role is elevated because technically speaking, he’s better equipped than any man has ever been. He’s got a human mind, but he has a robot body, complete with bullet-proof skin and the ability to shoot with inhuman accuracy. Instead of stripping him of his masculinity and his humanity, becoming a robot actually enhanced it.

That, more than anything, is what elevates Robocop’s noble masculinity to another level. An act that should’ve utterly dehumanized him ended up making his humanity even stronger. It had to be in order to overcome OCP’s control and uncover the plot to exploit him as just another product. The fact that OCP tries and fails in the sequel to recreate him further reinforces just how unique Robocop is.

Through that journey from utter masculine deconstruction to total reaffirmation of his identity, the line between Robocop and Alex Murphy blurs. The line between carrying out noble acts and following basic programming blurs as well. In the end, Robocop isn’t just a machine following a program. He’s a man inside a machine, doing the same job he did as a man, but with much better weapons and more memorable catch phrases.

Robocop” is hailed as a classic for many reasons. Robocop, as a character, continues to be an icon, despite sub-par sequels and a failed reboot. I think a big part of that appeal comes directly from how the first movie managed to portray the best traits of masculinity within a setting where the worst often thrived.

Even in a contemporary context, beyond the current state of Detroit, Robocop conveys a powerful message that men and women alike can appreciate. You can put a good man in the worst situation, destroying and deconstructing him at every level. That same man will find a way to re-emerge and do what needs to be done.

It’s a testament to the strength of manhood and our willingness to protect innocents in an unjust world. Robocop combines the spirit of a man with the power of a machine. One need not subvert the other. In fact, one can supplement the other and, dead or alive, the criminal element of any gender doesn’t stand a chance.

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