THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER: Early Impressions

After nearly a year of avoiding sickness, I called out for the second day in a row today, and not even for the same reason I called out yesterday: I woke up in the middle of the night with my eyes trying to force themselves out of my head, and that was it for sleep for the rest of the night; ibuprofen didn’t cut it at all. My son woke up as I was in the office submitting my absence and, damn near in tears, described the exact same symptoms I had, so he quickly got called out from school too and then both of us went back to bed.

I’m … fine now? Mostly? I guess? Sure, let’s go with that.

We watched the first episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier tonight, the super short tl;dr version is that I felt like this started off quite a bit stronger than WandaVision did, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

More details, with some minor spoilers (really, there’s nothing especially spoilable in this episode; I could describe it minute-by-minute and I think it’s still as enjoyable): the show starts off with a big set piece as the Falcon rescues an American soldier from a terrorist group that’s trying to take refuge in Libya; this sets up early that this show clearly has as much budget as they want, as it looks every bit as good as any of the movies have. Interestingly, the soldier he rescues is named Torres, which– okay, there might be a spoiler behind that link if you’ve never heard of the character, but he and Sam appear to be friends and he is Somebody in the comic books. Sam and Bucky’s stories don’t actually ever cross over in this episode; Bucky is busy being sad and dealing with PTSD and hanging out with elderly Asian men and being rude to dates, and Sam eventually ends up at his family home in Louisiana, where he attempts to help his sister get the family shrimpin’ business back on its feet and is summarily denied a business loan.

And this is kinda where things get interesting, because the banker blames the Blip as the reason he can’t give them the loan– the world’s population just suddenly increased by three or four billion people out of nowhere a couple of months ago, and none of them have anywhere to live, and it’s a whole giant fucking mess and the banks aren’t handing out loans right now. Plus, you two are, y’know … Black, and well we’re very sorry we can’t help you but oh look at this pile of plausible deniability over here! Isn’t that convenient?

So it looks like the show is headed in some interesting directions even before we get to anything explicitly superheroic; I have been open in believing that the Blip was the worst possible choice to resolve the story mess that Avengers: Infinity War left the MCU in, mostly because of the unbelievable number of unavoidable knock-on effects that it’s introduced. I’m still convinced that there’s no way they can take this seriously enough, especially when you consider that the Blip was literally across the entire universe, but at least they’re trying a little bit, and I’d like to see them dig into this. Bucky is getting some attention, too; Captain America’s man-out-of-time thing was mostly played for laughs when it was addressed at all, but the first thing we see of Bucky is his refusal to play along with his government-mandated therapist, which is very Silent Generation, and a few minutes later you find out that his only friend looks to be in his seventies or eighties.

(I still kinda want to know why he didn’t just go back to Wakanda, but maybe they’ll get to that, and his time there is mentioned during the therapy session.)

I wasn’t expecting this to turn out to be super character-driven, as these two are definitely among Marvel’s more militaristic characters, but so far I’ve really liked what I’ve seen. We’re only getting a total of six episodes, but they’re going to run longer than WandaVision’s did. I’m looking forward to them.

(Oh, one more thing, and just let this roll around in your head a bit: we get several close-ups on Captain America’s shield, the one he gave to Sam at the end of Endgame, throughout this show. That shield in the logo up there? That is not Captain America’s shield.)


I strongly suspect that this isn’t going to surprise anyone, but I have still not seen Alien of Steel, Angry Bat-Themed Ninja vs. Murder Alien or the original cut of Violence League, and I have no plans at all to subject myself to this “Snyder Cut” thing that just came out. If that’s your kind of thing, glory in yo’ spunk, as BB King used to say. I’m not going near it.

On Wandavision, again (spoiler-free)

I think the most depressing thing about the finale of WandaVision, available today on Disney+, is that I really don’t have a lot to say about it, and that’s not a cute way to lead into a 1500-word post. I thought the show started off slow, and not necessarily in a good way, and it ramped up quite a bit after that, steadily getting better until the penultimate episode …

… and then the finale kind of fell flat for me. I have been religiously avoiding spoilers all day today (and, again, this will be a spoiler-free review) and the real interesting thing is that having watched the episode I’m genuinely not sure it was worth the effort. Not that things don’t happen that could have been spoiled– there are some major character developments in the finale and throughout the series– they’re just, and I hope this makes some sense, not the kind of events that spoiling them could have harmed my enjoyment of the show. Ultimately, WandaVision ends up being a very character-driven series about the nature of loss and grief, and if that doesn’t sound like typical Marvel fare, well, it’s because it’s not— there’s a couple of big fights toward the end (if you see that as a spoiler, I can’t help you) and there are some important developments for the future of the MCU in general, but they’re not any of the developments that I thought I might see going into this series in general or this episode in particular.

Was it worth watching? Yes, definitely, and it’s great to see Marvel finally putting some energy into their female characters– Wanda herself, Agatha Harkness, Monica Rambeau and Doctor Darcy Lewis all have substantial roles, and as a lifelong fan of Rambeau in particular it’s great to see her finally on screen. Do I want more? Absolutely, but I’m going to get more, that much is clear, and it’s exciting. And the show deserves some credit for reinvigorating an interest in the MCU that had been seriously flagging after the dual disappointments of Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home. You could make an argument that that reinvigoration was inevitable, and you’d have a point, but the show still did it. I don’t know that it’s a reason for a Disney+ subscription all on its own, but I suspect that’s not a particularly relevant criticism, as anyone invested in Wanda Maximoff enough to consider getting a Disney+ subscription just to watch her show almost certainly already had one anyway. If all the stuff that they already have plus The Mandalorian wasn’t enough to convince you … hell, you’re probably not reading this in the first place.

So we’ve got a week off now, I think, and then straight into Falcon and the Winter Soldier, another show that I’m not hugely hyped about but I’m still watching anyway. There’s pretty much something Marvel happening damn near every week for the rest of the year; I just hope I don’t actually have to go into a movie theater to see Black Widow in May. I’ll have both my shots by then, but still. Stream it and overcharge me, guys, I’m good for it.

Hey, Disney, let’s make this happen

Saw Gerrera needs a Disney+ TV series.

That’s it, that’s the post.

I mean, I can elaborate a little bit, mostly by riffing on the idea that Gerrera is enough of an anti-Empire extremist that he’s considered a terrorist by the people who blew up the Death Star, and I find that to be endlessly fascinating, and I also could watch Forest Whitaker read a phone book. That said, Gerrera is old by the time Rogue One happens, and if they wanted to cast someone else in the role and set it in between the Clone Wars and A New Hope that would be fine too.

I am spoiled by Marvel; they’re giving shows to everybody they can think of and a lot of them sound great. My favorite characters are showing up all over the place. Star Wars is … not so much, just yet. I’ve given up on ever getting official confirmation that Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus were a couple even if I’m willing to die on the hill that says they were, but … just give Saw a damn show.

The end.

ON WANDAVISION: THE FIRST TWO EPISODES

…meh?

We watched the first two episodes of WandaVision last night. To be clear, this is all that’s been released so far, and I’m still not clear (and I’m not looking it up) how many episodes are planned for this season or what the release schedule is. The real short version of this post is that right now after two episodes I’m not sure why this show exists or what it’s for, and I’m kind of bewildered by the super-positive reception it seems to be receiving so far.

Minor spoilers, but if you’re familiar with the concept of the show there’s really not a lot to spoil.

The thing is, this is a Season 5 mystery, not a first-episode-of-the-series mystery. When last we saw these characters, Wanda was at the big fight at the end of Endgame and Vision was still dead, having had the Mind Stone ripped out of his head by Thanos before the Snap– and because he died before the Snap, as far as we know he stayed dead. Did Tony bring him back? Maybe, but we’ve not been shown that prior to now.

So I guess we’re supposed to be wondering why Vision isn’t dead any longer, and probably wondering why this series is, so far, mimicking crappy TV sitcoms from the fifties and sixties and abruptly bouncing into Technicolor at the end of the second episode to enter the seventies. There have been a couple of hints that something else is going on; the color red, and a weird dude in a beekeeper’s suit, and a couple of moments where Wanda sort of freaks out and takes control of what’s going on around her.

The problem is I don’t care. Here’s what I mean by a Season 5 mystery: if you watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, imagine that Dawn’s first episode was the series premiere. The viewers knew that something weird was going on from the jump, because we’d had several seasons to get used to Buffy and her family and we knew ferdamnsure that she didn’t have a little sister, and she’d never had a little sister, and so Dawn’s first appearance sparked curiosity. This, on the other hand, comes off to me as more of an okay, this is what we’re doing, I guess sort of thing, and the fact that they’re leaning so hard into the fifties and sixties tropes when those shows were bad is, at least to me, not a smart move. I spent all of both episodes waiting for the minute of footage where Something Untoward Happens, because of course this isn’t how things are supposed to be and can we move on to getting some answers, please, because the A-plot where Vision is having his boss over for dinner is insanely not interesting. Like, that sort of boring-ass plot worked in the 1950s, or at least I guess it did, but in 2021 it’s all wasted time, because there’s no earthly reason to care.

Is there something about Wanda’s personality or hobbies or something that makes reverting to old sitcoms make sense? Dunno; we don’t really know anything about her. I know, because I follow these sorts of things, that the actress calling herself Geraldine in the second episode is actually Monica Rambeau, who is low-key the main reason I’m watching the series in the first place– but that’s not in the episode at all. In a Season 5 mystery, we know that the dude playing Vision’s boss is actually Mr. Frumblegumph from his actual job and the neighbor lady who’s being so nice is actually the villain from Season 2, so we should keep a close eye on her, or whatever. This? If I hadn’t known that Monica Rambeau was in this show, noted the name of the actress playing her, and then seen that name in the credits, I’d have no reason to think anything at all about that side character.

I mean, I don’t hate it, don’t get me wrong, and I’ll watch more of it because 1) what the hell else do I have to do right now and 2) Monica Rambeau, but this wasn’t the home run to me that a lot of people seem to think it is, and I really don’t know where those folks are coming from. Hopefully a few more episodes in will have moved onto something real and not this contrived-ass mystery.


A quick moment, though, while I argue with something that I’ve, uh, not actually seen anyone say so far: one thing I do like about the show is that so far this program has been aping the 1950s and 1960s but there are Black and Asian people in the cast and they have not felt the need to be Historically Accurate and made all these white folks racist as hell. I feel like if I look hard enough I’m going to find someone complaining that “Geraldine” was just treated like another member of the cast when in the real 1950s show she’d be blah blah blah blah and I’m glad they decided to just ignore that.

#Review: Attack on Titan, Season 1

I have now watched the entire first season of this … show. This program. This anime. And while I’m neither in love with the program itself nor the format, there are some interesting things going on here.

The premise of Attack on Titan is that the human race, under assault of giant man-eating humanoids called Titans, has withdrawn behind three concentric walls that, for hundreds of years, have protected them from Titan attacks, but also prevented humanity from going anywhere outside the safety of their walls. In the very first episode, a Colossal Titan, one larger than any ever seen before, shows up and basically wrecks the outer wall, allowing the Titans inside. A full 20% of humanity perishes in the events that take place over the next several months, as the Titans have feasts and the humans try to fight back.

Good stuff:

  • This show does action really well. All of the Titan fights were really cool, and the Spider-Man-esque way the characters get around, via waist-mounted cable guns, never looks anything short of amazing.
  • The designs for the Titans are uniformly awesome. None of them look like any others, but they all really skate up to the uncanny valley and they are all really creepy. None of them move quite right, although some of them move much more strangely than others, and the way some of them have faces that would look perfectly normal on a banker or a grocer when they’re actually man-eating monsters is really something.
  • The actual story itself is pretty cool; I want to know more about these things and more about the world.

Bad stuff:

  • This may be a manga thing or an artifact of how Japanese translates into English– and I should point out that I watched about 80% of the season dubbed, not subtitled– but my God, the dialogue was terrible, and the melodrama off the charts. There was no set of circumstances perilous enough (or exciting enough) that they could not be interrupted for a lengthy philosophical conversation, even if the characters were, say, on horseback and fleeing from a giant, when you wouldn’t expect them to be able to talk. The voice acting in both languages has one volume: screaming. And any individual sentence would always be 20 times as long as it needed to be, with lots of recursive clauses. Even if this is how Japanese sounds to an English speaker when translated literally, you solve that problem by not translating it literally. If you’re going to do a dub, try and make the dialogue sound natural to an English speaker.(*)
  • Character design for the human characters could be better, especially since they tend to be wearing uniforms and thus dressed the same all the time. I had trouble differentiating between a lot of the characters.
  • The flashbacks. My God, the flashbacks. Again, nothing is too exciting that you can’t interrupt it with a five-minute flashback to people talking.
  • Pacing. The episodes are short, at about 22 minutes each, but there’s a couple of minutes of recap and credits at either end of that, so the actual episode length is maybe sixteen to eighteen minutes? I am not exaggerating when I say that most episodes are 14 minutes of talking about what is happening right in front of the characters and carping about philosophy and then four minutes of something actually happening, then a cliffhanger.

So, it sounds like I hated this, but the positive stuff is actually interesting enough to me that I’m probably still in for the second season– especially since the things that are crappy about it lend well to making fun of the show while watching it, which … is a way to enjoy TV, I suppose. I may try out a season of My Hero Academia before I go into S2 of Attack on Titan just to see what things are in common across the two shows and maybe recalibrate my expectations a little bit.

Also, my wife brought home the first two volumes of the manga from the library, and I read the first one, and the anime really does appear to be a scene-for-scene translation of the manga. I have not read the second volume yet and really am not feeling much of an itch to do it, so I think I’ll stick with the series for now.

(*) This may be a good time to remind people that my academic background is in Biblical Studies, and the Hebrew Bible in particular, so I have a lot of Opinions about how to translate things. My lack of facility with Japanese hurts me a bit, but I can go on for a while about this sort of thing.