Spring Superheroes (Round Table Round Up)

Round Table Round Ups (we’re bringing them back, baby!) are longer and more free flowing conversations about multiple movies from the previous few months. This time Brian and Chris chatted… er, mostly about Endgame, but we get around to The Beach Bum a bit at the end too!

Christopher Maher: Welcome to a returning feature, round table round up where we talk for as long as we want and spoilers abound. We’re going to try to hit a few movies, but doubtlessly will start with Avengers: Endgame. I’m serious when I say I really loved the movie, but I see one serious flaw. As I pointed out in my Soul Stone article the only thing I care about is character logic, and there are a few ways I feel the film failed in this arena: Hulk, Black Widow, and Captain America. All three have big transformations. Hulk and Banner resolve their issues and merge. Black Widow becomes Avenger mission coordinator and dedicates her life (literally) to protecting the planet. Cap for the first time ever abdicates responsibility and goes to live life. These are all fine – I believe characterization can change, and should change, but my major issue is they all happen offscreen (Hulk and Widow in the five year jump, Cap in the last few mins) and don’t have a strong enough lead up in previous movies (though Hulk and Widow definitely are hinted at). Characters can go anywhere and become anyone, but the film has to lead us there convincingly, and I feel Endgame skimmed over that. Can anyone convince me otherwise? I’d love to be convinced otherwise.

Brian Russell: Well Chris, first I gotta say that I LOVED Avengers: Endgame. It really gave me everything I wanted, and then some. The films greatest achievement is in taking it’s time and making me feel real emotion.. I’ve seen it twice already, and it never dragged. I like it so much I’m going a third time to see it in IMAX with Sam this Sunday.

As for character logic, I really don’t agree about Hulk and Black Widow. Cap is a much bigger discussion, perhaps it’s own dueling blog post! We could have several movies giving us the details of what happened to these three over the five year mission … er, I mean time jump. No doubt, we all would rather have the filmmakers show us rather than get a two minute exposition recap. Yet, the Hulk/Banner restaurant scene is so fun and funny and charming, and super economical. This new personality makes total sense to me when you are talking about joining those two sides of the character together. As for Black Widow, what would we need to see? I think we get it all as we see her leading this new stripped down team. Totally bought it. I don’t need a movie showing the boring-ass journey of ending up coordinating from HQ.

CM: Oh, I without a doubt loved Professor Hulk, and of the three his feels most natural – he and Hulk are always in opposition, especially in Ragnarok, where Hulk took over, and Infinity War, where Hulk refused to take over. Still, there could have been a better moment of realizing he should accept Hulk. As for Black Widow, I’m not confused about how she got to where she is plot-wise, but instead emotionally. Tony Stark has a coherent emotional arch. In Infinity War Thanos is tied to Loki’s Avengers actions, meaning Thanos is to blame for Stark’s PTSD in Iron Man 3 and for his decision to create Ultron in Age of Ultron. It makes Thanos feel like a natural big bad for Iron Man, and I buy that he’s willing to give up everything to take this guy down. Reflecting on all of Widow’s movies, this feels like less of a natural dovetail for her. She’s always been about self-definition, about atoning for her past, about sticking it to shadowy deeds. I’m not sure this felt like a fitting conclusion given that.

BR: Hmmm … I still don’t really agree about Widow … to me she found a family, found her true calling, and her leadership role in the void following Infinity War seems to fit, a natural evolution out of the shadows and into this family, even one as broken as the Avengers at this point in their history. I actually feel this film does a remarkable job at creating emotionally true character beats, if not always full arcs. I felt connected to all of these heroes in a way I never have before. I have never been even close to shedding tears while watching a Marvel movie, but Endgame had me pulling out my handkerchief on at least a half dozen occasions.

On a totally different subject, something I am wondering what you guys think about the fact that three and a half billion people were dusted on Earth. The planet had five years to readjust to that vastly reduced population. Now we add all those people back in and it seems to me total chaos would break out. All the infrastructure would be old, broken or gone completely, especially in the form of teachers, public workers, manufacturing, equipment etc. The movie didn’t really deal with this … do we Think Spider-Man: Far From Home is going to acknowledge these issues, or will the MCU just pick up where it left off? All back to normal!

CM: Yes! I was pretty sure they were going to bring everyone back… but the way they brought everyone back sure leaves some questions. Half of Spider-Man’s (he is definitely the character I thought of as well) peers are now five years older than him, but also tremendously traumatized in a way he and the half who returned will never be? It feels like they should address it, but I’m betting we get a vague nod and then continue on. It raises another interesting point – Marvel movies have, as they progressed, become increasingly insular, about only themselves. I don’t think the Marvel movies ever had a lot to say about the world, but Iron Man used to deal with… the war in the Middle East? Senators? The President? The Secretary of State? They’re all gone now. There is no relationship between the heroes and the larger world. Which is fine, overall, except it changes the stakes for Endgame. They’re not fighting to save half of all life, because we’re not shown the effect of that lose. They’re fighting to save the twenty-odd friends they happened to lose.

BR: I rewatched The Avengers 2012 this week and there is a big emphasis on saving and protecting the the civilian population. By the battle of Upstate New York there appear to be no civilians in sight. While this fight is in so many ways better than almost all other Marvel battles (serious stakes, good use of character powers, the hot potato use of the new gauntlet, better look and style) it lacks any outside awareness at all. Only heroes are allowed here!

CM: I actually didn’t find the final fight much better than the average Marvel fight, though I agree the hot potatoing of new Gauntlet was pretty fun and added some cohesion and direction to what was, unfortunately, another big CGI army smash. The smaller moments worked, and the insanity of having everyone on screen was inherently exhilarating (Spider-Man slings onto a Pegasus!!), but still messier than I’d like it to be. Infinity War’s best fights are the small ones – New York and Titan. When Thanos fights individuals in this one too, it works (I love him ripping the power stone out of the gauntlet to punch Captain Marvel because he can’t beat her otherwise).

BR: What do you think of the emotion in the film? In addition to all the overt emotional beats … Rocket and Nebula hold hands, Cap leads a support group, Thor talks to his mother, etc … we have a general presentation not often seen in movies or TV: men cry, men hug, and Hawkeye and Black Widow have a genuine platonic love that never veers into weird romantic of sex territory. I love how this film portrays these intimate relationships.

CM: Overall, the film didn’t do anything for me emotionally. But I didn’t expect it to. You’re right that a lot of the relationships in the film are nice, and they do have a long history to pull on (after Ragnarok Thor is finally actually friends with one of the other Avengers instead of just a weird co-worker!). But it’s a reflection of how insular the films are that I have trouble feeling anything towards them (other than excitement). They’re mostly just plot momentum. They do get some ethos, occasionally, but I think that’s mainly due to a superb cast. The only thing that edged towards emotion was after the five year jump, but mostly I felt “this is well sold, I believe they’re sad,” not “I myself am sad.” Which, again, I’m not being down on the film for that. It’s not why I went, and if it meant something to other people, great! I just personally find it mostly empty, which it makes up for by being silly and fun and having a purple alien with a giant sword. I do have to note, briefly, that Thor’s trauma and weight gain are played for laughs, which people have (rightly) pointed out is a bad handling (not the idea that he’s reacting to the trauma that way, just that it’s played for laughs). There’s a lot of articles about it throughout the internet arguing both sides of it, so we don’t have to get into it here, but it’s too bad because I think Thor’s trauma in general was a smart move. A big “issue” with Infinity War was that most of the Avengers didn’t have a real personal reason to fight Thanos. Thor and Iron Man are both given really good ones over the course of the two movies.

BR: Well I guess we will have to agree to disagree (or perhaps you are a man without a heart because I cried at least a half dozen times!) Overall I loved this movie, and while no three-hour-wrap-up will ever be perfect this was pretty damn satisfying. I would even welcome a Blu-Ray special edition that comes into the 3.5 to 4 hour range with more character stuff, which were my absolute favorite parts of the film.

CM: Let’s briefly brush on some other films from the beginning of the year before wrapping this up. Sam and I have a running debate about The Beach Bum. Sam, I know you have a response to my article (I know because you wrote it then and I’m frankensteining it in now – like archival footage of Natalie Portman.)

Sam Russell: My two cents: I think the obvious unreality of what the main characters gets away with, the sheer ludicrousness of their sins and how easily they slip out of culpability is what makes it clear to me that these characters should be condemned, but the film doesn’t condemn them because, like you say he leaves it to the audience. I think it’s commenting on how the uber wealthy and those dubbed “creative genius’” get to skip paying for their sins.

But I also totally see your point, and the more I think about your “not quite satire” argument the more I think you’re probably correct. Especially if you go outside the film and read what Korine has to say about it. It’s hard to tell when he’s trolling and when he’s being sincere, but he says he made Spring Breakers because he’d never been on spring break and he wanted an excuse to have a crazy bonkers good time. And he also seems to have a real affection for Moondog and his whole philosophy. But I just can’t watch these movies and not see them as seering indictments, and maybe that’s just what I’m bringing to them, that I can’t unsee.

CM: Brian – do you come down in my camp or Sam’s on Beach Bum? Is it satire? And, more importantly, any particular front runners for favorite flick so far this year?

BR: Well, I LOVED The Beach Bum (which I saw twice in theaters,) and Korine’s intent aside, to me there is no way it can’t be satire. It fits every facet of pretty much any dictionary definition you can find. And I think Korine leaves it up to each viewer to make up their own mind and own judgement.

In other films, my fav’s so far this year include Long Shot, which honestly I didn’t expect to like but enjoyed immensely. And I totally bought Seth Rogan and Charlize Theron as a couple which I would have thought impossible.  I also watched the classic Escape from New York, which I saw on the big screen at the TCM Classic Film Festival in LA with 450 other humans and it was awesome. See it if you haven’t. A few othrs I really liked include Us, Minding the Gap and If Beale Street Could Talk. A couple of these are holdovers from last year that I got around to seeing before the Oscars. Blindspotting from last year wasn’t nominated, but it is a film dissecting race that every single white boy should see. It’s that good. I’m still annoyed that I never wrote about this one.

CM: There’s still time to write about Blindspotting! All the time in the world, in fact. John Carpenter is a favorite of mine, but I’ve actually never seen Escape from New York – it’s high on my list. Overall (I realized as I asked you the question) I’ve been a little underwhelmed with the films this year. There’s been a few I’ve liked, yes, but no instant classics (by this time last year I had already seen Thoroughbreds, which I knew immediately was going to stick with me). But… fingers crossed for the summer and fall! And I swear, this is the last time I write about this movie (for at least a while…)

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