May 302015
  May 30, 2015

Finally viewed Kingsman: The Secret Service.  With all the complaining and outcry, I was expecting so much more. If this is your idea of edgy, corrupt, pushing at the boundaries of taste and discourse, I’ve got a few hundred films that would kill you.

Not that it was bad. It was lightweight fun.  Most of that fun coming from Colin Firth. Whenever a scene featured him being a perfect gentleman, and then committing acts of the old ultra violence, things sailed along. A different script, that featured him as the lead would have made for a better film. Instead he was the mentor to a less interesting youth, so we had another of those learning-to-be-a-hero films.

I was surprised how much this stole from the superior Wanted, another spy/assassin film, also based on a less-than-mainstream comic. In both, a troubled son was recruited into the spy organization that his father had been in, and died in. In both cases, the son did not know what had happened to his father. Naturally, the training gives him self confidence. Other similarities fall into spoiler territory.

So, a mediocre film, with some nice moments, and a few poor decisions early in the creative process. (You hire Samuel L. Jackson and then think, “Hey, lets give him a lisp and make him weak and afraid of blood. That’s a good plan.”)  If the film had actually pushed the envelope, for good or ill, then it would at least have been memorable. Instead, it is just another action film.

May 302015
  May 30, 2015

With the Nebula Awards coming up in a week(ish), all things are science fiction. So, here is my list of the top 15 SF-related songs. Just so one or two groups/artists didn’t dominate, I’ve restricted it to one song per group. And I’ve given a little nudge to songs that truly show their love of SF. I’m pretty flexible on where songs ended up on this list–so just make a mix of all of them.

 

#15 Keeper Keep Us – Intergalactic Touring Band

The Intergalactic Touring Band was a concept album that barely appeared and then slipped into obscurity. I discovered it in the back bins of a record store in 1979, two years after its release. Half of the working rock musicians of the time seemed to pop up on the album, which told a vague story about a musical group flying about space in the distant future. The last track, Keeper Keep Us, was a religious hymn. Since the previous song had been about a planet where people leap into the fire so their burning bodies could give some warmth to those left behind, I think the Keeper isn’t doing his job.
(Edit: That song is no longer available to post, so I’ve replaced it with an earlier song, Star Ship Jingle a future ad used to persuade people to go into space.)

 

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May 262015
  May 26, 2015

tanithleeSince Eugie Foster​ can’t write this, I will.

Tanith Lee had a beautiful, poetic style of writing, one far too lacking in new–and old–writers. There was magic, not only in what she wrote about, but in how she wrote it. I enjoyed everything I read of her’s, and respected her skill, but like so many authors, I’ve only managed to read a small portion of her works.

For Eugie it was a different matter. She devoured Lee’s books. We have a bookcase just for Tanith Lee. “The Silver Metal Lover” sat out in our living room for the better part of a decade–I have no idea how many times Eugie read it, but it was many. There was always at least one Lee book laying on the bed side.

In the days before Amazon, whenever I would go on a business trip, I’d scour the local used bookstores looking for some worn paperback of Lee’s work–things available only in Britain. I remember paying $60 for a frayed book with an original price under a pound. When access to foreign books became more common, I lost my go-to place for Eugie gifts, as she bought up everything there was to be had.

Tanith Lee had a huge impact on Eugie. She was one of the main reasons Eugie became a writer (the others I’ll keep to myself). A note of encouragement from Lee meant the world to Eugie. I think they were of a kind.

Lee was always a figure in literature, but she never gained the renown that she deserved. She was one of the greats, not just of fantasy or of recent years–she was simply one of the greats. I fear we will not see her kind again.

(I waited on this till I found some confirmation.)

May 242015
  May 24, 2015

SupergirlThe pilot to the new DC Supergirl TV show was leaked to the web–some are saying on purpose from the producers–which gives me an early opportunity to review it.

Thirteen-year-old Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) is sent from dying Krypton to be the protector of her baby cousin, but her spaceship takes a side trip through the phantom zone and arrives on Earth years too late. The adult (and strangely distant–couldn’t he have called from time to time?) Superman places her in the care of the Danvers (geektastically cast Helen Slater and Dean Cain). Choosing to be normal, for no good reason, she ends up in sitcom land as the assistant to media mogul Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart, now with scary lips) till an airplane in trouble causes her to be true to herself, take to the air, and become a hero.

This is old fashioned superhero fluff. The script could have been written thirty years ago. Drop the surprisingly good FX, switch Jimmy Olsen back to being white, and lop off the nods to feminism, and the whole thing could have been made in the ’50s. That isn’t bad. If the newest thing  in superheros is whining and drudgery (the drab, self-indulgent, overly-serious Man of Steel comes to mind), then to quote from a better film, “people might just need a little old-fashioned.”

Like The Flash (that apparently will not be in the same universe), Supergirl is fun and stupid. People make major life choices just because, then, in the case of the title character, unmake them, make them again, unmake them, and make them one more time. A secret organization exists and there is not a single thing about it that makes sense. Don’t even think about the bullet proof clothing. So yes, stupid, but no more so than other DC projects, and it at least has a good time with its low IQ.

Melissa Benoist is heroic and loveable and pretty much everything you want in a Supergirl. The show rests on her shoulders and she carries it with ease. You can forgive a lot each time she looks so joyful at being able to be a hero and fly. The rest of the cast is better than most TV shows offer. Mehcad Brooks is the standout as James Olsen; it helps a lot that someone was clever enough to update the part from fumbling fool to calm sensei. Slater and Cain had only non-speaking cameos. I hope they are given something to do in the series. If not, it was a pleasant bit of casting.

Besides the dumbness-factor, the show’s main flaw is pacing; it’s too fast. A two hour film’s worth of material speeds by in 40 minutes. Slowing it down would have given it a bit of weight, and made the characters’ mood swings a bit more sensible. Still, better too fast than too slow.

Supergirl also nods to Disney animated films in its pounding message to “be yourself” and “just have confidence.” I’m pretty sure that just having confidence will not allow me to defeat a trained warrior with an ax. I don’t know who needs these messages, but for whoever does, here is my bit of helpful psychology: you shouldn’t have confidence since you are seriously lacking and I suggest you try to be someone else.

The action is much better than I expected, and better than in other similar shows, and the FX is film quality. Combine that with the general charm that’s laced through most every scene and Supergirl is worth a look.

May 212015
  May 21, 2015

The recent kerfuffle over Game of Thrones has brought up an unrelated oddity to me. I read posts and articles where the writers liked Sansa, worried about her agency and journey.

That threw me. Like her? I dislike Sansa. It never occurred to me that you are supposed to like her. Unless the books are wildly different, I find it hard to imagine that Martin intended that. (I did recognize that you were probably supposed to like Eddard Stark, who I despised and find his beheading to be one of the great moments of television). Sansa’s only positive trait is that she’s more fatalistic than her asinine older brother, and so, has not gotten a lot of people killed and tortured. Yes, I pretty much hate everyone named Stark in the show (cheers for the Red Wedding), except Arya, who I wouldn’t invite for tea.

Articles further used terms like “beloved” to describe the characters in GoTs. Beloved? These folks? They are all horrible. When one of the very best of them strangled his love to death because he felt hurt, we are setting the bar pretty low for humanity. Not that real humans have done so much better. Still, thinking of these people as beloved boggles the mind.  As for identifying with that–that’s frightening.

After all, for all I loath the Starks and their righteous way of getting everyone killed (or are they just supposed to be that stupid?), they are still rungs up the ladder from everyone named Baratheon, Bolton, and most everyone named Lannister. I’m sure there’s been polls: who’s the worst, Cersei, Joffrey, Tywin, Stannis, or Ramsey? (OK, these aren’t all equal up on the scum factor, but Pol Pot’s got nothing on these folks.), It’s not that the lesser characters are great either. Baelish, Theon, Brienne, Bronn—not a lot to recommend them.

Perhaps that’s why I stick with the show. Everyone has terrible things happen to them, and usually, they die. Since generally I figure the best outcome is that they die, I am not shocked or upset. Season 4 had a few particularly fine moments in that respect.

I only really like two people (and like them at a great distance): Daenerys and Tyrion. If they bite it, I’ll probably quit, but as he’s a semi-Richard III, and she’s a semi-Henry Tutor, I suspect they’ll be around for a while. Eugie was there with me, though she was losing interest in Tyrion. She read the books, but began to only read the chapters of worthwhile characters, which in the end, meant Daenery.

So, do you actually like some of these people…as people? If so, who?  And…why? For all that’s holy, why?

 

May 152015
  May 15, 2015

(Expanding on something Eugie wrote about and we used to talk about a lot)

People do not speak the same language. Sometimes it is obvious: English vs Japanese. Sometimes, it is less so. You might speak English, and I might speak English, but that doesn’t mean what we say means the same thing to the other person. I’ll skip most of the implications of that for now, and just focus on the fact that people seem not to understand this, and so, spend most of their time arguing (in the philosophical sense—if you don’t like that word, try “debating” or “discussing”) unrelated concepts while believing they are talking about the same thing. People don’t seem to understand that language is not an unchanging, basic entity. Two recent example of this in online political/social arguments have stood out for me.

The first in a discussion of racism. A woman who counts herself as a member of marginalized groups (both by gender and race, though some questioned if her subset of Caucasian was really marginalized) claimed that her statements could not be considered racist, because she could not be racist as a member of marginalized groups. Racism must have a social structural component. This was followed by many, many comments by others that attacked her simply saying she was a racist, so how could she say she wasn’t. What (almost) no one in this thread understood is that she had defined her term, so indeed, she was not a racist. She had defined the term “racism.” It didn’t matter what meaning they happened to have for the word “racism.” It is, after all, just a word, and she’d defined it. So their great argument with her was simply yelling at her that she was wrong and was a racist. They were not using the word the same way. In arguments, your terms should always be defined because in natural language, words have multiple, and vague meanings. She happened to take a definition held by many in marginalized groups, though not the most common definition in use in society at large.

The proper statement for those who disapprove of her behavior was to agree, she was not a racist by that definition. She was, however, prejudiced and discriminatory. Nothing in her definition disallowed that. (Better still to define “prejudice” and “discrimination.”)  For those people, the trick is not to allow their normal connotations of the word “racist” to come into play, but only those that apply to the denotation that is being used. So for many in this discussion, racism from an individual (as opposed to by society as a whole) is no longer an important moral concept. The important moral concepts were prejudice and discrimination—charges to which she had not adequately answered. I’m not stating who is correct in this case, simply that in this way, they’d be talking about the same thing, and not arguing about different concept with the same word.

The second case was more fun for me as it was so demonstrative of people’s inability to understand language, plus, I was in this discussion. Making it more vague, as the specifics do not matter, my “discussion” went like this:

Me: “In our current climate, that term is not good to use for that concept.”

Him: “How can you attack that concept. Only someone who is incapable of understanding would not admit to the existence of that concept.”

Me: “No, no, I am not attacking the concept. I know the concept exists. I’m saying we should use a different term for it”

Him: “There you go again you slime, claiming the concept doesn’t exist.”

Me: “I agree the concept exists. I just think we should use a different term.”

Him: “Who are you to attack the concept?!”

Me: “Again, I’m not attacking the concept. I agree the concept is important. We just should use a different term.”

Him: “How dare you attack the concept. Only your type would do that.”

Me: “No, really, I accept the concept. It is just ineffective in conversation to use that term for it. To better express that concept, we could use a different term.”

Him: “Hah. You reject the concept because it hurts your feelings. You are just like Brad Torgersen.”

It was hard not to laugh. He just couldn’t understand the difference between a concept and the word used to express that concept. He was unable to fathom this. OK, he was kind of belligerent (which means he’d double down before admitting he had made a mistake) and he isn’t the brightest bulb, but still, this is pretty basic stuff, and necessary if you actually want to talk with people. Less necessary if you want to talk at people.

Most internet arguments are just confusions of terms. Humans—surprising poor at communicating. It’s sad.

And funny.

May 132015
  May 13, 2015

hugologoI’ll probably ask this multiple times in the next few months, until I get an answer.

So, as should be clear to all by now (or will never be clear to those with a political agenda), the Hugos are worth very little this year. They will be forever the asterisks Hugo. In a previous post I suggested only four categories should be voted on, and even those will be tainted. But, there is a partial path to redemption: An Alternative Hugo Award. An Alt Hugo Award can stand in for the Hugo for 2015 (and maybe 2016 since it takes two years to change the nominating rules) in history, so that when someone looks back at the awards in twenty years, they’ll get a real picture of the state of SF/F.

It’s tricky, but not that tricky. Since the good people of WorldCon release the nominating numbers (so you can see who came in 6th, 7th, etc.), it is easy to extract all of the Pups’ slate nominees and come up with a list of what the Hugo Ballot should have been. Yes, there will be a few less than perfect categories where a Pup nominee would have made the ballot without their help (the video categories come to mind), but those are few and James Gunn will get by. Figuring how to do the actual voting is harder, but not impossible (and WorldCon also lists its members, so there are some options there). Kickstarter or some such should be able to raise the funds for trophies.

So, who is doing this? Someone has to. It is screaming out to be done. One group said they would, under the title The Mulligan Awards, but they caved under pressure from unhappy Pups. That means someone else has to pick this up. For numerous reasons, I’m not the guy. So who is? Point me to the info if I just haven’t seen it yet. Otherwise, maybe the person to do this is you, you who are reading this. You and your friends, or you and your convention or track, or you and your writers’ group, or you and your corporation.

Get this done. Create the True Hugo Awards for 2015. And send me a note. I want to know.

May 092015
  May 9, 2015

one-shots

The Marvel One-Shots were a fantastic idea in a long list of fantastic ideas from the Marvel Cinematic Universe team: shorts films that could tell smaller stories, expand on concepts from the features, introduce or flesh out characters, and fill in missing pieces. This brilliant idea was followed by a horrible one: stop making the One-shots. It isn’t clear why they cut them off after five when they paid such rich dividends. I would assume it was a financial matter, but it is difficult to imagine they couldn’t come up with the cash for a few more shorts.

The One-Shots were distributed on blu-rays of MCU films (not the ones that the shorts were related to–for example, Agent Carter, which flows straight from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, was on the Iron Man 3 blu-ray). Since the One-Shots were canceled, Marvel has produced other shorts and I’ll be including those in my rankings.

Like their larger cinematic cousins, the MCU One-Shots are never bad. Unlike them, they never really soar. But if you like The Avengers, you need to see them. (The videos are what I found online, so not in perfect shape.)

 

#7 WHIH Newsfront (2015/2016)

A newscast discusses the wrong-doings of Scott Lang and the collateral damage when the Avengers intervene.

Newsfront is a series of short videos (9 and counting) released online, each between 1 and 3 minutes, advertising upcoming features. Each is a news segment discussing some aspect of an upcoming film–either Ant Man or Civil War so far–within its fictional setting. Several discuss Scott Lang’s prison record while others focus on who should pay for all the property destruction when superheros get involved and if they should be under government control. Unlike the One-Shots, they do not add anything you couldn’t get from the films. And also unlike the One-Shots, they are skip-able. They would be unpleasant to watch if they weren’t so short, assuming you are not entertained by news commentators arguing.

 

#6 Team Thor (2016/2017)

Thor is hanging out in Australia during the events of Civil War.

Not officially Marvel One-Shots, the two Team Thor shorts are plotless jokes. The first has Thor unhappy that neither Tony nor Steve have contacted him to be part of their team during Civil War, as well as pointing out what a bad roommate Thor would be. The second doubles down on how bad he would be to live with.  Bruce Banner makes a cameo in the first. They are funny, dealing with the Geek-only question of why some of the Avengers were missing during Civil War. I doubt if Team Thor is intended to be canon.

 

#5 A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer (2011)

Agent Coulson stops for gas and snacks at a convenience store on his way to New Mexico (for the events in the film Thor) right before two robbers attempt to hold up the place.

Marvel realized that Coulson’s death in The Avengers would be more meaningful if we got to see a bit more of him, so two shorts were green lit. This is the bigger of the two, using most of the budget intended for both films. The idea is simple: show how cool Coulson is in a non-super setting. Running just over 4 minutes, there’s not a lot here, but it does a good job of expanding the character, giving the audience more reason to grieve later.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s… by eks-diel

 

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May 062015
  May 6, 2015

I ranked the MCU films, so I thought I’d dig a bit deeper. The quality of the villain can have as much to do with the quality of a film as the quality of the hero. Die Hard is often cited as an example of when a great villain makes a great movie. But for the MCU, that normal relationship doesn’t hold up. Except for a very few cases, the Marvel villains are weak. This isn’t a flaw; it is a feature. In a twisted way, this is what makes the MCU films work, because these are not action driven films, but character driven ones. The Iron Man films are not about how Iron Man solves a particular problem and defeats a villain; they are about Tony Stark. The Captain America films are about Steve Rogers. Strong villains can change that focus. A strong villain is all about the plot he creates for the hero to dwell in. And plot isn’t that important in the MCU. In only a couple cases dos the villain really matter. These movies shine because we know these characters, and we love them. Still, ranking villains is fun and I do not want to rank the heroes. So here’s my ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Villains, from weakest to strongest.

I’m only dealing with main villains, so no henchmen (except for one special case) or stooges. I had added in the Netflix series villains, but have since plucked those out as they were primarily hanging out at the bottom and just making the list longer while not really competing.  That leaves 24 villains (the Iron Man films double up, as does The Incredible Hulk and Cap 2, while two films share a villain).

 

Malekith#24 – Malekith (Christopher Eccleston)

Film: Thor: The Dark World
Fiendish Plot: To bring darkness to the universe…maybe metaphorically, maybe literally. Maybe just part of the universe. Honestly, not sure he’s thought it through.
Motivation: Feeling mopey

So, they spent money on an actor instead of buying a manikin and there’s no way to tell. Eccleston is invisible under his makeup. Since he was given a script that gave him nothing to do and no personality to play, he apparently just gave up. The greatest sin in art is to be boring, and Malekith is boring.

 

Ronan#23 – Ronan (Lee Pace)

Film: Guardians of the Galaxy
Fiendish Plot: To kill…people
Motivation: Angry. No reason, just angry.

So Malekith…oops, sorry, I meant Ronan, is unhappy about some stuff that’s given no importance in the film, and he wants to hurt a lot of people who don’t mean a whole lot to the audience. His method of expressing this is to stand and yell. If it wasn’t for the dance-off, he’d only have one expression. A shame as Lee Pace has a great deal of character, none of which shows here.

 

yellowjacket#22 – Darren Cross / Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll)

Film: Ant-Man
Fiendish Plot: To make money by selling shrinking technology to bad guys.
Motivation: A bit of an ego issue, but really he just wants money.

In case all the many, many Iron Man “industrialist” villains aren’t enough for you, here’s another one. Like those higher on this list, he’s businessman first, but scientist next. He just isnt’ a good enough scientist to do what he wants to do. If he’d spent a bit more time in the lab, maybe he wouldn’t have all these problems. Though his biggest problem is he doesn’t seem to understand what’s valuable. He desperately wants shrink-suit technology, for no reason other then selling it, then he ignores that he has ultimate assassin gun technology already. He could just sell that and stay clear of any Ant-Men. As Marvel villains go, he isn’t bad, but he’s drab, and too much like so many others.

 

Ross#21 – General Ross (William Hurt)

Film: The Incredible Hulk
Fiendish Plot: To kill the Hulk and make more super soldiers.
Motivation: The Hulk is a threat. Or Banner is a leftist. Or Banner dated his daughter. Or Super soldiers will save the US.

I always like William Hurt and he put more life into Ross than anyone else could have, but there’s so little to work with. Ross is an old cliché—the grumpy, right-wing general who yells a lot. He’s not interesting in the comics and he’s not interesting here.

 

erik-killmonger#20 – Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan)

Film: Black Panther
Fiendish Plot: To kill T’Challa and become king
Motivation: Revenge for how his father was treated mixed with random evil

The problem is that Killmonger isn’t really a character. He’s whatever is needed to set the tone. So sometimes he’s rational, sometimes he’s crazy, sometimes he’s trying for justice, sometimes he’s just an evil SOB. His background makes him a justified advisory for T’Challa, but that makes for a complicated film with lots of shades of gray, and MARVEL was already taking all the chances they wanted to with Black Panther,  so they simplified him so the kiddies wouldn’t have to wonder if maybe he ought to win. He could have been top notch, but he’s a disappointment.

 

Killian#19 – Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce)

Film: Iron Man 3
Fiendish Plot: To gain money and power by killing the president in the most awkward way imaginable, and soothing his ego.
Motivation: Tony was mean to him at a party (hey, it’s the Sad Puppies)

Iron Man gave us an industrialist out for money and power. Iron Man 2 gave us an industrialist out for money and power. So Iron Man 3 plays it wild, giving us an industrialist out for money and power. How original. Killian lacks the backstabbing paternalistic substance of Obadiah Stane. He lacks the comedy and cruelty formed from stupidity of Hammer. Instead he has… well… He dresses well. Killian is smarmy, but not in a good way. He’s mainly pathetic, but he does breath fire, which really is not a plus.

 

ghost-hannah-john-kamen#18 – Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen)

Film: Ant-Man and the Wasp
Fiendish Plot: Suck away the energy from Janet Van Dyne
Motivation: One part revenge to two parts making the pain go away

You can’t have a top villain when she’s in a movie that didn’t need a villain. She’s simply unnecessary. She could have been cut in favor of two or three extra scenes with the three leads. I suppose it would have been OK if she’d been a touch more interesting, but the script never seems to decide what to make of her. Is she sympathetic? Is she evil? For a moment I thought they had something when she acts gothic and weird after she’s captured Ant-Man, The Wasp, and Hank, but that was apparently her just goofing off (which doesn’t fit anything else we ever see of her).

 

thanos-gauntlet#17 – Thanos (Josh Brolin)

Film: Avengers: Infinity War
Fiendish Plot: Collect the Infinity stones so as to kill half the life in the universe
Motivation: To save the Universe from over population.

Thanos is the main character of Infinity War as we follow his story, giving him the opportunity to be one of the very best. Brolin does a nice job and there’s plenty of emotional beats but in the end he’s just OK. What drags him down is that he is both nonsensical and inconsistent. Marvel decided his motivation from the comic books (love of the incarnation of Death) was too…comic-booky, so they removed that to be replaced by wishy-washy fears of overpopulation. Love I’ll buy. Overpopulation is just stupid as he could solve the problem in so many other ways (more resources) while killing people doesn’t actually solve anything for more than a few years–and if he’d been developed well, I shouldn’t have been thinking that while watching. At least as problematic is his powers. Sometimes he seems just slightly stronger than an Avenger and at others he’s unstoppable. For all his back-story, we don’t get anything clear on what he can do. Here’s hoping Avengers 4 fixes him.

 

RazaIM#16 – Raza (Faran Tahir)

Film: Iron Man
Fiendish Plot: Acquire big weapons
Motivation: Terroristy motivation.

Raza is my lowest ranked villain who I still like. He is a one trick pony, a generic Arab terrorist, but he oozes menace and supplies what the film needs. As the primary villain, he’d have been wanting, but as a secondary who exists to prod Tony to become Iron Man, and as a red herring, he is adequate.

 

Kaecilius#15 – Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen)

Film: Doctor Strange
Fiendish Plot: Allow the demon Dormammu access to Earth and by so doing that, gain immortality
Motivation: Hatred of death due to losing both his wife and child.

Kaecilius is a solid villain, if not a particularly interesting one. Like many MCU bad guys, he doesn’t get enough screen time to become layered. He has a few nice speeches, he looks good fighting, and he displays significant malice. He feels like a threat. He serves his purpose, but he could have been replaced by another standard villain without changing anything. I’m not counting Dormammu on this list (in one way of looking at it, he’s the actual villain and Kaecilius is a henchman) as he is barely in the picture and really just takes the place of a weapon–he’s the equivalent of a gigantic nuclear bomb.

 

zemo#14 – Zemo (Daniel BrĂĽhl)

Film: Captain America: Civil War
Fiendish Plot: To set The Avengers against each other
Motivation: To avenge himself on The Avengers.

I liked everything about Zemo. There’s no downside to this sympathetic, violent killer, except, perhaps, that he doesn’t have any wild, standout quirks. But this is as high as I can put him on the list because he just doesn’t have enough screen time. He’s a good villian, but not an important one. Zemo instigates the problems, but the direct conflict doesn’t involve him, or even his minions. Note: Zemo has no minions.

 

ego#13 – Ego (Kurt Russell)

Film: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Fiendish Plot: To make all life himself
Motivation: It’s in his name: ego. Lots and lots of ego.

Ego is a really nasty guy. What works so well about him is he doesn’t act that way. He’s a jovial villain. He smiles and pats shoulders and really does want to spend a little time with his son. Kurt Russell can be quite charismatic and he turns that up to 11 for Ego. Still, Ego is not a top notch villain; he isn’t important enough. The film is about the development of the Guardians, and there are a lot of them. Ego doesn’t get enough time, thought, or focus to really thrill. He’s as good as any villain could be who’s forced to play 10th fiddle.

 

Abomination#12 – Emil Blonsky / The Abomination (Tim Roth)

Film: The Incredible Hulk
Fiendish Plot: To become a fearsome killing machine
Motivation: He’s old. And he likes to kill.

Tim Roth has personality to burn, which comes in handy since Emil Blonsky is not exactly a deep character. He apparently is very violent and would like to be more violent. That’s all he is. But as the monster he becomes, that’s all he needs to be.

 

Obadiah#11 – Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges)

Film: Iron Man
Fiendish Plot: Kill Tony and take his inventions to build better weapons
Motivation: Money and power

The personification of the coldness of the corporate world, Stane has just the right amount of fatherly charm to make him truly vile. He’s not a genius, and he knows it, but he’s smarter than most and he’s ruthless. I’ve seen this type of character too many times to be really excited by him, but he’s a good rendition of the type, particularly due to Jeff Bridges spot on performance.

 

Winter#10 – The Winter Soldier / Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan)

Film: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Fiendish Plot: To kill whoever he’s told to kill
Motivation: none

The Winter Soldier makes a great adversary for Captain America in the action scenes, and he’s got more of a back story than most villains from being Bucky in Captain America 1, but outside of the fights, he’s a robot. He doesn’t have his own motivation. He doesn’t want things or do things. There just isn’t much there. He becomes more of a character as a hero, but for what he was in Captain America 2, he ends up at #12.

 

Redskull#9 – Red Skull (Hugo Weaving)

Film: Captain America: The First Avenger
Fiendish Plot: To destroy major cities, allowing Hydra to take over the world.
Motivation: A belief in the inferiority of everyone else

You can’t dislike Hugo Weaving playing evil. Plus an Anti-Captain America is a good adversary for Cap. Unfortunately, there’s not much special about him. Take away the red head and he is a typical Nazi commander from about a hundred movies made in the ’40s and ’50s. Henchman Dr. Arnim Zola is more interesting and a lot more fun.

 

Alexander#8 – Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford)

Film: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Fiendish Plot: Use terror to convince people to give up their freedoms, and then shoot any potential opposition.
Motivation: To make a better world

Pierce is the political villain in a political thriller, and as Redford had played the hero in similar films, it was brilliant casting. What makes Pierce stand above nine others is that he’s not a typical comic book “bad guy.” He doesn’t want to hurt anyone, or damage the world, nor is he out for his own gain. He genuinely wants to help and is willing to do as much as any hero. It’s just he has a different view of how to help the world than The Avengers. Freedom leads to pain. People are not capable of leading themselves. And he wants what is best for them. He even got part of his philosophy from Nick Fury. True believers are always the most dangerous.

 

hammer#7 – Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell)

Film: Iron Man 2
Fiendish Plot: Get new weapons from Vanko to sell to the military
Motivation: Money is good

Justin Hammer is what Stark might have been, if he was not so brilliant and didn’t change his ways. Hammer is smarmy (but unlike Killian, in a good way), greedy, and powerful in the corporate world, but not powerful  enough. He’s the only purely comedic villain on this list, and he runs with it unapologetically. There are some great actors in the MCU that never connected with their characters (see the bottom of this list), but Rockwell inhabits Hammer with glee, and glee really is the word to use when discussing Hammer.

 

Ultron#6 – Ultron (James Spader)

Film: Avengers: Age of Ultron
Fiendish Plot: Wipe out humanity so that it can evolve…kinda.
Motivation: His programming to save the world, the blight of humanity, and daddy issues.

Ultron is a drab, predictable android in the comics and animated films/shows. He could have been that in the MCU film, but he isn’t. Whedon’s script, and the always twisted performance of Spader (voice) created a deranged robot with major issues, and those issues make him enjoyable. Ultron never feels like the world-threatening menace he no doubt was meant to be, but his psychological failings did make me think he was a specific threat, someone who could cause pain, misery, and death to a few of the characters I did care about, and that makes him a fine villain.

 

Vanko#5 – Ivan Vanko / Whiplash (Mickey Rourke)

Film: Iron Man 2
Fiendish Plot: Use arc technology to screw with Tony Stark in any way possible
Motivation: Revenge and hatred, not entirely without basis.

With drab and understated villains filling the MCU, it is nice to get one that goes full bizarre. Vanko has a truly unique look (tats, shiny teeth, questionable hygiene, and an epic hair style), a flashy if impractical weapon, and a love for his “bouuurd.” He also has what many of his colleagues lack: complexity and a touch of reality. He’s angry and hurt and mourning. Angry people do not yell all the time (Ronan, that’s for you). Mourning people do not stand still and mope (that’s you Malekith). They do sometimes act a bit odd, lashing out one moment, laughing the next, switching from in control to lost. They do what Vanko does. And since Vanko really only wants to hurt Tony Stark, the questionable nature of his plans isn’t a problem. He’s not trying to win. He just wants Stark to lose. I know this is where I’ll get the most disagreements. But read what I’ve written, then go watch Iron Man 2 again, and see if you warm to him.

 

hela#4 – Hela (Cate Blanchett)

Film: Thor: Ragnarok
Fiendish Plot: Conquer everything and kill anyone in her way. Less of a plot than a lifestyle
Motivation: Primarily she likes killing and conquering, but a bit of nostalgia and wanting to be noticed.

Sometimes you want a villain with nuance and layers and sometimes what you need is pure evil. Hela goes the pure evil route, with fabulous flamboyance. Her costume does half the heavy lifting, making her the best looking MCU villain by a significant margin. She’s a heavy metal album cover come to life. Like the film, Hela manages the strange feat of being epic while also being funny. She’s repeatedly hilarious, right before she murders an army or after she stabs out someone’s eye. Now that’s a balancing act.

 

KeatonlSpiderMan#3 – Adrian Toomes / Vulture (Michael Keaton)

Film: Spider-Man: Homecoming
Fiendish Plot: Use recovered high tech items to steal and create more high tech items to sell to criminals
Motivation: Take care of family and those he is responsible for, plus a bit of anger at those screwing the little man.

What allows Michael Keaton to create one of the best villains in the MCU is the same thing he used in one of the best superhero portrayals (that being Batman): his ability to layer two opposing character traits on top of each other. Keaton can appear to be an everyman while also coming off a bit deranged. And that works perfectly for Vulture. He’s just a guy, trying to get by and give his family a good life. But he’s been pushed and now as he embraces his new way of providing for them, he becomes dangerous. There’s something likable about him at the exact same moment there is something very scary. Toomes is relatable–for an older member of the audience, his life and problems are more understandable and feel more important than Peter Parkers. I wanted him to win even as I knew that wasn’t a good idea. Which puts him at #3.

 

Trevor#2 – The Mandarin / Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley)

Film: Iron Man 3
Fiendish Plot: To destroy Western civilization via terror, or to get some drugs
Motivation: Righteous indignation, or addiction.

The Mandarin, as introduced in Iron Man 3, is powerful and full of menace. An excellent way to start, but as the character is just an amalgamation of terrorist clichĂ©s, he gets boring very quickly. But then we’re thrown a twist, a twist despised by some comics purists (nothing is more boring than a comics purist), that makes The Mandarin something very different, and pulls the film out of its two acts of whining. The big twist shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Marvel was not going to have so racially problematic of a villain. Something was going to change. The change was Trevor, and he earns his spot at #2.  If The Mandarin’s ranking seems high compared to how I ranked his film, look where I placed the other villain of the piece.

 

Loki#1 – Loki (Tom Hiddleston)

Films: Thor, The Avengers
Fiendish Plot: To become king of Asgard, and then take over Earth and rule it as a god
Motivation: Family politics, ego, need to do something.

Loki not only wins as best MCU villain, he is one of the greatest film villains of all time. In Thor, he was the semi-sympathetic, thoughtful, but damaged one in a room full of idiots. In The Avengers, he was the sympathetic, thoughtful but damaged, witty, doomed, needy, lonely, cruel, overwhelmed, powerful, brave, egotistical one in a room full of…well, mainly idiots, but a few geniuses. Hiddleston balances these conflicting characteristic and creates a personality that’s more fun than any of the heroes. Since his villain turns, he’s appeared in several more films playing part hero, part villain and he’s continued to be one of the best things about the MCU.

 

May 042015
  May 4, 2015

Today’s list: The Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies, ranked in order from weakest to strongest (see also my ranking of MCU Villains and The Worst of Marvel). Normally I end up discussing some reasonably terrible films on the low end of a list, but that’s less true here. With the exception of last place, the lesser MCU films are better than most other superhero films, and all are generally fun flicks. For a change, this is a list of films worth seeing in a theater and owning.

(Updated once again, this time for Spider-Man: No Way Home)

So, time to start with the least of them.

 

25 – Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) 2.5 reels

Doctor Strange is extremely irresponsible with a spell which ends up ripping holes in the universe and allowing Spider-men and villains from other universes to enter this one. Peter Parker then one-ups Doctor Strange by making irresponsible and stupid decision after irresponsible and stupid decision, causing death and pain all around, including for himself.

Walking in, I figure my problem with the film would be all the fan service and nostalgia related to bringing back previous actors and characters from the non-MCU Spider-Man films, after all, I liked all those films less than MCU movies. But nope, that all worked well, really surprisingly well, and retroactively made those films, particularly The Amazing Spier-Man pair, better. The problems came with the MCU Peter Parker. They’ve always played him as naive, but they double-downed on that with a character who should be a bit more worldly as he is older, and it just made him into an annoying brat. He was more of a child when he should have been more of an adult. Now just because I didn’t like him didn’t mean I wanted to see him tortured, and this film really wants to torture him. The ending is painful and pointless. And then there’s the whole “Guess we can’t kill Uncle Ben… Who can we kill?” bit. This is still an MCU film, so there’s lots to like, but more than any other, there’s lots to annoy.

 

23/24 – Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame (2018/19) 2.5 reels

Thanos sets out to collect the six infinity stones which will allow him to carry out his plan to reduce the universe’s population. His quest brings him into conflict with The Avengers, The Guardians of the Galaxy, and just about everyone in the previous MCU films. When he succeeds, the remaining Avengers set out to undo his “snap.”

Avengers: Infinity War is not a movie. It’s half a movie. Endgame is its second half. With them both out now, I no longer have to dwell on the incomplete nature of the first, and instead look at how the whole works, and for an MCU film, it doesn’t work very well. Fan service rules, without properly building to those moments or giving them context. Jump editing leaves far too much missing and yet at times the pace is too slow. Characters shrug off their personalities and major traits from previous films just to give the moments the directors wanted, without integrating those moments into a coherent, flowing story. Infinity War/Endgame isn’t a bad film, but it is a disappointing one, where little is earned, and spectacle and “cool moments” take precedence over good storytelling and character development.

Finally, this franchise looks less like refreshing, exciting, fantasy pop art, and more like the giant ticking machine run by a mega-corporation that it is. Infinity War/Endgame cannot even masquerade as being made for art or to tell a story. It was made to make money. Sure, movies generally are, but it’s nice if that’s a little less obvious, or at least if there is some secondary motivation visible.

Its 2½-Reel rating is an indicator that if you wish to see it, you should see it at a theater, where all that spectacle can shine. If you miss the opportunity to see it on the big screen, think of it as a 2-Reel film, more comfortable sitting next to Justice League than its MCU brothers.

(Full review  of Infinity War here) (Full review of Endgame here)

 

Incredible Hulk22 – The Incredible Hulk (2008) 3,5 reels

Bruce Banner hides out from authorities as he tries to find a cure—a cure that will take him back into the life of Betty Ross, and put him into conflict with her obsessed father and a megalomaniac soldier.

Rebooting the green rage monster after Ang Lee’s miserable Hulk, Marvel decided to aim low, and they hit their target. Edward Norton never feels like a brilliant scientist, but does manage a likable and engaging blue-collar Banner. The relationships are simplistic, the motivations even simpler, but it’s all good fun with giant monster hitting giant monster. There’s enough story to keep me caring about who wins the battles, but not much more. It would be four years till Mark Ruffalo created the definitive Banner/Hulk when the part was recast for The Avengers. When Ruffalo isn’t around, this will do.

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May 032015
  May 3, 2015

Tired and not in the best of moods (OK, I’m never in the best of moods), so I put off seeing Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Without grand spectacle, I went for something of a more time wasting nature and something that didn’t cry out to be shared. I watched Mortdecai.

mortdecai_612x380_0What can I say about Mortdecai? It did not have Captain America in it, though I have no doubt that if he would have suddenly appeared, the film would have improved. Nor was there a Hulk; bringing in the Hulk would have made the plot more meaningful. There were no power beams, which I think was a mistake. Nor was there any magic, super speed, or mystical hammers. Any of these would have greatly aided Mortdecai.

What does it have? It has Johnny Depp doing a silly voice. Not, mind you, a funny voice, just a silly one. He also has a silly mustache. And silly teeth. And he makes silly faces. And jokes…ah, no, it doesn’t have those.

Might I suggest you give it a miss. I should have.