Archives for : Marvel Universe

On Altruism


Altruism: (noun) the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.

So Captain America: The Winter Soldier was frickin’ awesome.

I’ve already seen it twice and I plan to see it plenty more times. I’m so endlessly pleased with everything from the cinematography, to the fight choreography, to the chemistry between Steve and pretty much every single person in his life, and everything in between. I just adored it from start to finish.

However, sometime this week, my part-time mentor had a heated conversation on Facebook about why The Winter Soldier succeeded where Man of Steel (2013) failed. I didn’t participate and only saw it in passing, but it definitely got me thinking in terms of the writing.

First off, a disclaimer: I am one of the few people on the planet who doesn’t hate Man of Steel. That being said, I am also not quite a fan. I straddle the fence. Gun to my head, I’d give the movie 3 out of 5 stars—passable, mediocre, decent. The reason why is that Man of Steel did something that the other Superman films had not done yet: it took risks. Now, did those risks pay off? Ehhhhhh, kind of? In certain respects, the risks Man of Steel took paid off, like deciding to have Lois know Clark’s identity or showing Clark’s alienation and struggle to use his powers in non-selfish ways. The other risks, like Papa Kent being a selfish douche and dying for absolutely no reason or making Superman kill his first villain, no, I don’t think it pulled those dramatic changes off properly.

That’s what I want to chat about today: the differences between the attempted altruism in Man of Steel and the altruism that actually carried through in The Winter Soldier.

Mind you, it’s not my intent to compare the movies as a whole because they are two different entities—a reboot and a sequel with vastly different tones. Instead, let’s just focus on the super fellas themselves.

So in The Winter Soldier, Steve has begun to adjust to his surroundings. He is a great deal more cheerful than we saw him in the Avengers, where he was still in a bit of mourning for what he lost during his frozen slumber. He immediately bonds with Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie for President! Whoo hoo!) and has oodles of chemistry—both friendly and sexual, you ask me—with Natasha, all the while still having major issues with SHIELD. It’s for good reason, too, since the Battle of New York caused infinite amounts of fear and paranoia with the world powers.

What I think TWS did correctly was the internal struggle of Steve’s orders versus Steve’s gut feeling. Especially with the opening sequence where they told him to save the hostages, and it turns out it was Nick Fury manipulating him. Steve’s anger was completely justified. Nick Fury tends to be the ultimate “big picture” kind of leader, so he could sacrifice a few lives if it saved billions, but that’s the problem. Alexander Pierce had the same idea, but in horrendously huger numbers. Steve had a choice to make, and it was by far one of the most important of his life. What’s more is that this idea carried through with Bucky as well. Once he learned the Winter Soldier’s true identity, Cap had to make a choice. He could have believed what Sam said, that the Winter Soldier was beyond saving, but he didn’t. He chose to have faith in his past friendship, a decision that could have cost him his life, but he still did it. I think that is definitely “the belief or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others.”

Now let’s take a look at the Man of Steel. Clark grew up confused and angry after learning that he had powers beyond anyone’s imagination to comprehend. He was bullied, and wanted badly, like any normal kid, to get some payback, but he restrained himself. He also ran into cosmic a-holes as an adult—seriously, Clark is an angel for not killing that guy in the bar, I’d have shoved that mug of beer right up his ass Hancock-style—and managed not to act on his anger there either. However, one of my many issues with this version of Clark is that they never directly address what the comic books bring up: the idea that Clark is against capital punishment. I might have cited it before, but the story “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” by Joe Kelly, and later adapted into an awesome DC animated original film “Superman vs. the Elite” deals with the idea that Clark has the ability to stop a threat permanently, but chooses not to, and there are dire consequences for that decision.

If the film had perhaps started with Clark stopping small crimes here and there and resisting the urge to kill, then maybe Zod’s fate would have been easier to swallow, or perhaps more meaningful to the narrative. The film tried to give us an altruistic Superman, but because of Pa Kent’s negative behavior, the way he died, the way Clark constantly brooded over whether to trust the human race or not, it ended up shriveling up instead of flourishing. I could see the seeds trying to grow, but the joyless tone that Zack Snyder and David Goyer enforced on the movie prevented our Boy in Blue from his true Boy Scout nature.

I think Marvel has a better understanding of what makes our heroes the kind of people everyone can root for. They have darkness in their lives, and secrets, and flaws, but Marvel doesn’t let it swallow up their characters. There were plenty of hilarious lines (especially Nat and Steve and Steve and Sam) and heartwrenching dramatic scenes (I’m still crying about Steve and Peggy, hand me a tissue), but the overall effect is surprisingly hopeful. Even with SHIELD branded as terrorists and the world on the hunt for Nick Fury, the fact that Cap did the right thing in the end—choosing to try to save Bucky and trying to root out the Hydra from the good guys at the SHIELD HQ—is what made him an altruistic hero. We never really got that moment in the Man of Steel where Clark chose to believe in humanity. Sure, he protected it, but I didn’t feel his love and sacrifice for the people living alongside him. The only person he truly bonded with was Lois and you certainly felt his devotion to her, but not the human race.

Writing makes the difference between these two men, these two heroes. It’s perfectly possible to make a hero who has darkness in his life, but doesn’t let it define him. DC seems to not understand why The Dark Knight saga was successful and why Man of Steel couldn’t follow in its footsteps. Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are opposites in every way: one from humble beginnings, one from privilege; one with an optimistic view, one with a pessimistic view; one who operates using the fantastic, one who operates using the practical. The Dark Knight seemed like it had a dark view of the world, and it did, but oddly enough, Bruce had a better grasp of altruism than Clark did, and that is why the Man of Steel couldn’t reach its potential. Bruce believed in his city without flinching. He believed that the people in Gotham were not beyond saving and that if he gave them an ideal and a symbol to believe in, they could get better and rise to the occasion. Captain America did that too. But Clark never did that.

In the end, I think the positive reactions to Captain America: The Winter Soldier are directly a result of Marvel and the movie writers understanding of what makes our heroes true heroes. It’s not that they are perfect and powerful, it’s that they are just as screwed up as we are, but they put their own needs aside to help us. They fight for our freedom and they make it personal. Cap didn’t have to give that speech asking the members of SHIELD to disobey direct orders. He could have been cynical and just tried to stop everything on his own, but he didn’t. He trusted us. And that’s why we love him.

*salutes* Here’s to you, Cap’n. Now get in my bed.

On Thor and Loki

So your royal highness of nerdiness had the day off and returned to the theater for a second viewing of Thor: The Dark World. Yes, I loved it that much. And yes, I enjoyed just as much the second time as the first. However, this time around after I left the theaters, I got to thinking about our two main male characters. After all, the heart of the story pertaining to Thor has been about Loki ever since The Avengers (I argue that it’s more about Odin and Thor in the first film than Thor and Loki). As a writer, I want to take a second to analyze their dynamic just because I find it so interesting that while Thor is an awesome character and is played by an insanely gorgeous, talented Aussie, Loki is still the more popular character.

Naturally, massive spoilers ahead for Thor: The Dark World.

I mentioned in my review of Thor: The Dark World that I am not a Loki fangirl, and I rather dislike a large portion of that fanbase. I’d like to continue the thought and clarify what I mean when I say that. What I dislike is their blatant disregard for what Loki’s done in favor of defending his actions and chalking his downright evil actions to being ‘misunderstood.’ Loki is definitely misunderstood, but it’s by his own doing. That’s one of the best things about Thor: The Dark World. Loki tried to throw his weak argument in Thor’s face (“Who put me there?” “YOU KNOW DAMN WELL WHO DID!”), and Thor wasn’t having any of that nonsense. We did not get to see Loki and Thor grow up. Thus, there is no excuse for anyone to say that Odin was a “bad father” and that’s why Loki turned out the way he did. We have implications that Thor was favored because he’s handsome and strong, but it is quite clear that Thor, Frigga, and Odin cared for Loki as he grew up.

Odin handled this beautifully in the beginning of The Dark World by also smashing Loki’s dumb logic to bits. Loki tried to claim that his birthright was to be a king, and Odin put him in his place by explaining that he’d be dead if Odin hadn’t saved him that cold night in Jotunheim. Loki glossed over an entire childhood and adulthood life of being a prince of Asgard just because he felt he deserved to be king instead of Thor. Yes, he’s probably a bit mad in the head and yes, we all know what it’s like to be envious, but that does not excuse him from trying to exterminate the Frost Giants nor does it absolve him for his crime of coming to earth, killing dozens of people, and trying to enslave mankind. There. I said it. Come at me, bro. Er, gal. Whatever.

Having said all of that, now that I’ve seen Thor, The Avengers, and Thor: The Dark World, I think I finally understand Loki’s appeal. For the longest time, I didn’t get it. Seriously. Now, I got the appeal of Tom Hiddleston. I mean, Christ. He is literally the nicest man who ever lived. He’s insanely intelligent, well read, funny, charming, sweet, and dorky as all get out. He has an incredibly sexy voice. Plus, he’s British. He’s British, guys. Come on. How can you not fall in love with those big blue eyes? But Loki I never could grasp the concept of why an entire legion of panties fell before him after The Avengers. That is, until Thor: The Dark World. For me, I understand it now that Loki has had a full character arc. I feel that his arc was incomplete as of The Avengers, but now that his character has been fully explored, I can understand the somewhat twisted mentality that makes people, particularly girls, favor him over Thor.

First, I’ll explain how I came to this conclusion as a girl. As much as I hate 50 Shades of Grey, E. L. James did nail one concept when it comes to the fairer sex: we effing love bad boys. Granted, Loki is more a bad man than a bad boy, but go with me on this one. I of course do not speak for all women. I would never dare do such a thing. However, from my own experience, I do have a thing for naughty haughty fictional men. In real life, I opt for sweet, funny, nerdy guys, but in my fiction, I can’t help but love the jerks. I think Loki is more popular than Thor with the ladies because many of us have dull, unspectacular lives and it’s so much more fun to imagine what it would be like if you could have a roll in the hay with the god of mischief.

Loki is cruel and vain and unpredictable. He’s a sadist. He’s a self-destructive bastard. It would be literally impossible to come up with a scenario where he’d even think about sleeping with a human woman (sorry, ladies, nothing personal but don’t forget Loki is racist as in he thinks the entire human race is beneath him), but you can’t help yourself imagining that the hell that would be like. You probably wouldn’t survive the encounter, but it’d probably be worth it. Power is attractive. Corrupt power can be even more attractive. It’s the thrill of the forbidden, I suppose, and also the fleeting thought that maybe we could be the one to melt the ice. Not that we’d want Loki to change after being with us, but rather, we’d be the one girl that he’d show his softer side to at the end of the day. Er, that’s a bit of a mixed metaphor, but you get my point right? After The Dark World, to me, there is proof of something noble inside of Loki. He is still manipulative and treacherous and cruel, but we saw a flicker of something else inside him. That flicker is something a lot of girls can’t resist.

Second, I’ll explain how I came to this conclusion as a fan of great writing. Loki has evolved through these three films as much as Thor did, in my opinion. To me, he might have still had a chance for redemption in Thor, but by the time we hit Avengers, the Loki of the past was long gone. As charming as I find him on occasion, the guy came to earth to enslave us all. He killed people and enjoyed it. Sorry, but that’s inexcusable. They made a Hitler parallel on purpose, dammit. Loki deserved every single beating he got by the end of Avengers. However, The Dark World did me one better by having Loki skate between being a monster and being an intriguing yet dark character. I love the grey area when it pertains to the soul. I love that I’ve read things and watched things where good men do horrific things and bad men do noble things. Hell, it’s the subject of both of my upcoming novels. I love that Loki straddled the fence between good and evil in this film. I think he genuinely mourned the loss of his mother. I think he genuinely wanted to save Thor, even though he used it as a ploy to fake his own death. I think it’s fantastic that they decided to show us both sides of him and allowed us to choose which one we think he might be. That is the mark of a well written character. We know a lot about him, but just enough for him to still be mysterious and unpredictable.

Now, having said all of that, I still love Thor as much as Loki. My reasoning is that Thor and Loki are more than just hunky fictional bad asses. They represent two sides of a coin. Thor is courageous, self-sacrificing, kind, and responsible. Loki is selfish, reckless, conniving, and nefarious. Thor is the kind of man you want to spend the rest of your life with, the kind of man you want to have four hundred babies with, the kind of man who will honor and respect you until the end of your days because that’s what you deserve. Loki is the kind of man who you want to throw you over his shoulder, make off with you, do unspeakable things to you in the bedroom, and then go on about your life. Thor and Loki are complete opposites, but I think that’s why they resonate with us fangirls a little more than some of the other Avengers and their supporting casts. Don’t get me wrong—I would kill to come home to Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Clint Barton, or Bruce Banner—but while those wonderful characters have so much to offer us, I think Thor and Loki hit a soft spot with the female gender because of their interesting dynamic. It’s exactly why there have been so many hilarious posts on Tumblr comparing the duo to Tulio and Miguel from The Road to El Dorado. One is the sarcastic one with all the plans and the other is the total sweetheart. At the end of the day, who can resist that? Certainly not this fangirl.

Odin bless you for reading this rambling bunch of nonsense. Maybe I’m on my own for this one, but it’s still nice to live in a world where such excellent characters exist and continue to kick ass for our benefit. Marvel, ya done good. Keep it up. Excelsior.