Tag Archives: MCU

316 – Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Listen on the players above, Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

A new day, a new entry in the MCU, and on this occasion we’re introduced to an entirely new set of characters and mythos: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings fills us in on the history of a young Chinese-American man and his dad’s magical jewellery. Like Doctor Strange and Black Panther, it’s a film whose connection to the wider MCU is light, establishing characters, a setting, and story elements that are certain to tie in to subsequent films, but free of the obligation to prioritise them at the expense of itself. And like Doctor Strange and Black Panther, that freedom works in its favour – it’s of a piece, interesting, pretty, and entertaining.

We discuss the film’s setting in a Chinese-American immigrant context, comparing it in particular to The Farewell and Crazy Rich Asians: all three films dramatise the cultural differences between the new and old country, and the ways in which the younger generation might face challenges in visiting or returning to their ancestral home. Indeed, Awkwafina appears in all three films, and, even in supporting roles, expresses this subject all by herself. We also think about the MCU’s use of the film to address its own past, a character from Iron Man 3 returning: Shang-Chi not only rejects the way the earlier film totally reconfigured him from the comics, but also addresses the Orientalism with which he has historically been associated.

And there’s more besides – Tony Leung’s beautiful, evocative performance of a character that nonetheless doesn’t quite work; the quality of the action, much of it a cut above what we typically expect from Marvel; and that classic Disney trick – if in doubt, animate a cute animal. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a promising start to the MCU’s next phase, and we look forward to finding out how its world will integrate down the line, but it’s worth seeing on its own terms.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

305 – Black Widow

Listen on the players above, Apple Podcasts, Audible, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Marvel’s triumphant return to our cinemas is… a film that fills in a plot hole nobody cared about for a character who not only should have had a standalone film long before now but who has since been killed off. To say that Black Widow feels like a kick in the teeth is an understatement, but still, the MCU is back with us and we see what it has to offer.

And what it presents us with is something much more earthbound than the spacefaring antics in which Marvel has increasingly indulged: a good old-fashioned Russian spy story, and a family reunion of sorts, Natasha Romanoff driven to reconnect with the other undercover Russian agents who formed her surrogate family as a child. We ask whether the theme of family is done justice here, especially the father’s part in its expression. And, among others, we ask questions of the action filmmaking, the lack of humour in heroes, Romanoff’s conceptualisation, how the women are filmed, and whether it’s necessary to eschew edginess in order to pursue a progressive politics.

Black Widow is a film we enjoyed, though on reflection, picking out the reasons why is harder than picking at its flaws – but it certainly hasn’t dampened our willingness to continue following Marvel’s movies.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

156 – Spider-Man: Far From Home

José returns from a week at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, just in time to see Venice crumble in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the latest injection of plot development to the Marvel series. It hits him in the gut and the film doesn’t recover, José seeing a lack of respect and intelligence that colours the entire experience for him. Mike, on the other hand, doesn’t particularly care for buildings, and finds a lot to like, including one of the more interesting villains Marvel has offered, one that self-referentially comments on image-making and the expanding chasm between what the public is shown and what is actually happening, and a setting – a school trip across Europe – that provides a way for the competing parts of Peter Parker’s life to interfere dramatically.

There’s much up for debate, our experiences differing severely. Two things we can agree on: it isn’t particularly well shot, and Tom Holland’s performance soars. Comme ci, comme ça, as they say in Europe.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

148 – Avengers: Endgame

A big one. The Marvel Cinematic Universe closes a chapter – kind of – with Endgame, a three-hour behemoth that concludes stories that have been told over 21 films in 11 years. It’s elegiac, both of its characters’ fates following the end of Infinity War, and of itself, offering a good deal of fan service to its vast, devoted audience, some members of which have grown up knowing nothing other than the MCU as the dominant mode of cinema. We take our time to discuss it in a two-part podcast.

The first part is, as usual, recorded upon our return from the cinema, the film still ringing in our ears. We saw it in a packed screening, the room filled with excited fans from whom the film elicited exactly the vocal and rich emotional responses that bring such occasions to life. Though three hours is a demanding duration by anyone’s standards, and could certainly be seen to speak to a certain self-importance, the film makes very good use of its time, particularly in the opening hour, in which we are given copious time to understand the ways in which the world has changed following Thanos’ fatal snap, and the remaining Avengers’ responses to it all. We discuss whether the Russo brothers, the film’s directors, offer much by way of creative visuals – to Mike, the film’s visual core is simply about scale, while José remarks that some of the compositions appealingly evoke comic book panels. Mike brings up the way the MCU overall has to some degree always been about competition between Iron Man and Captain America, and how Endgame concludes that both in the story and metatextually, giving Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans respectively their own emotional moments.

The second half, recorded three days later, largely builds on a roundtable article in the New York Times, in which five of their pop culture writers discuss both Endgame itself and the MCU’s impact on cinema culture over the last decade. It brings up a number of interesting subjects, particularly those that consider the MCU as a cinematic phenomenon rather than the specific content of the stories themselves.

So. It’s a big film and a big podcast to go with it. We found it worthwhile to take our time to think over some of the cultural issues the MCU raises, and as for arguing about this character or that scene, well, sometimes it’s fun to indulge.

The podcast can be listened to in the players above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.