MCU Phase 4 Discussion

I’m about 1/3 “CG slugfest” and 2/3 “hooting and hollering” on that ending.

Only 1/3 CGI slugfest is pretty good for Marvel, haha.

Moon Knight, not bad. I think it stumbles in some of the presentation, the CGI is a bit… mixed (though there’s moments they clearly prioritized that do look quite good), but the acting carries it through those hurdles. The pacing improved a lot in the last two or three episodes, too. Didn’t like this show overall more than Loki, but I do think it has the most satisfying conclusion to its story of any of the Disney+ MCU shows.

I don’t know how I feel about how it handles things like mental health, and I think Layla needed more screen time for this story to work for me entirely, but still.

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May Calamawy’s been doing great work all along but I was delighted how much they gave her to work with this episode. She’s clearly up for it. I bet this gets a S2 and hopefully that means more Layla.

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Yeah, I think that this was my favourite of the MCU shows so far - I’d agree that its Episode 1 isn’t as good as Loki’s… but its episodes 4 to 6 are better than Loki manages in my opinion [not least because Loki really lets down… well, the characterisation of Loki].

Plus, the post-credits sequence we’d all been waiting for I think from the start?

I dont understand why Mark/Stephen and Layla aren’t more concerned that they keep blacking out and awakening to scenes of carnage.

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I mean, Stephen was - this goes all the way back to Episode 1, where it’s clear in retrospect that at least half of Stephen’s returns from blackout are from Jake, not from Marc; it’s just that in Stephen’s case, once he found out about Marc he stopped considering if there were any more personalities in other than him and Marc in the system. And by the time it becomes relevant again - when Marc finds himself (apparently for the first time) coming back into control with a bloody knife in his hand - neither alter is on good terms with the other and they both suspect the other one of doing it. (Plus, they’re under a lot of time pressure at this point in the plot.) It’s only the last time we see a blackout that Marc and Stephen might actually consider what happened - but given that Stephen has spent the last few decades apparently happily blanking on the fact that his mother never returns his calls, I suspect we’re also supposed to believe that both alters have a bit of an unconscious block on actually admitting Jake exists.

Let me preface this by saying I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade or start an argument vis-à-vis quality, but I’m surprised by how warm the reception to Moon Knight is here. A couple of standout aspects aside - Oscar Isaac’s performances and the visual design (and voice work) of gods like Tawaret among them - I thought this was probably the weakest of the Disney+ MCU shows (… at least putting a pin in how the ‘redemption for US Agent’ finale to The Falcon and the Winter Soldier derailed that series).

My main issues were Ethan Hawke’s Harrow and the series length. For Harrow, I wondered for a while if Hawke was just not putting in much effort - whether he thought that doing Marvel was beneath him or for any other reason - but after seeing him as “Dr.” Harrow in the latter half of the series it becomes clear he or the production team have made a choice to portray the character as this detached, distant figure. I felt like a cult leader needed to be far more charismatic - especially knowing that Hawke can absolutely be that charismatic. I’d hoped he’d bring some aspect of his John Brown performance from The Good Lord Bird into play. Without a strong villain (until Ammit shows up, again with neat visual design) I found myself pretty detached from any storyline that wasn’t strictly about the Marc/Steven dynamic.

As for the series length, I’ve felt for a while now that these short seasons are really hurting Disney+ shows, both under the Marvel and Star Wars banners. A miniseries can absolutely work, but not when the individual episodes are paced like the series is going to be a 10 episode prestige show or even a 20-odd episode network television show. Moon Knight seems particularly badly affected, taking somewhat bigger swings than any of the other Marvel shows so far, but allowing them even less time to breathe. Wandavision caught a lot of flack for the finale pivoting away from the format of the first few episodes - but I still think overall it was a better balance even if the finale itself was rather weak (too much emphasis on the “CGI slugfest” discussed above!).

Despite all that, by the end I had warmed up to it, again especially around the dynamic between the different personalities. When Stephen seems lost in the Duat it’s actually affecting. But those bright spots weren’t enough to anchor the whole thing for me.

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I don’t disagree with a lot of your critique - the MCU shows are definitely generally too short (and usually this is one of the factors leading to their final episodes being disappointing as they suddenly rush to actually come to some kind of conclusion whilst ticking whatever boxes the overall MCU needs them to). Where I disagree is that I think that Moon Knight actually handles being a shorter series (and especially having a last episode wrap up) a bit better than most of the other shows.
(Potentially What If…? excepted, but it’s also an entirely different format - not just the animation, but also having apparently “stand-alone” stories up to the final that joins them together.)
WandaVision and TFaTWS particularly badly fumble their final episodes, and whilst Loki and Hawkeye do better, there’s still quite a lot of “oh, right, we also have to set this thing up” perceptible in the rushing around. I felt that Moon Knight, finally, actually gets the final episode - given the obvious limitations of the MCU “you have to have a fight sequence with CGI” formula - about right, assuming we’re going to actually get a second season.

(And I think Ethan Hawke’s performance is really a matter of taste - he’s explicitly trying to do the other kind of cult leader, the quiet, apparently unassuming one, in order to contrast both with the amount of Acting that Isaac is doing, and the actual horror of his aims.
I personally thought it worked well at that aim, but it’s definitely not a Big performance.)

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I do agree the last episode itself is not bad - within the limits the MCU has set for itself, and especially as regards to the rushed series lengths we’ve had, it manages to wrap things up a lot better than I expected going into it knowing there was only one episode left. I think it’s the middle portion of the show that suffers more, where it would have been great to have more time with pretty much everything leading up to the finale.

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I do agree that Harrow was a little undercooked even by Marvel’s pretty low standards. I didn’t mind it though if only because so much of the show’s cognitive real estate is occupied by everything Oscar Isaac is doing.

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Haven’t watched the last one yet, but I’ve loved Hawke’s Harrow. Feels like he’s channeling David Carradine’s ghost, and I’m definitely here for his brand of unshakable certainty in his clearly messed up beliefs. Definitely avoided the ‘villain who is better than the hero until they just do something inexplicable’ thing the MCU shows have been doing.

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Credit where it’s due, that’s a great point. Very tired of the “perfectly reasonable until they killed a bunch of civilians for no reason” villains we’ve had a few of.

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I enjoyed Moon Knight just fine, especially after being so down on it after the first episode. The fight scenes, especially in the finale were pretty fun, except for the aforementioned CG slugfest. Oscar Isaac did an incredible job. It was a fun show.

But I definitely had nitpicks. The pacing felt way off for me and I guess that’s because I didn’t know it was only 6 episodes going into it. Just felt very inconsistent in a way that a 10 episode run or something would have cleared up. We could have spent more time with Layla, the asylum/duat stuff could have been split better rather than feeling like we halted to a crawl and then slammed on the gas to get to the finale which also felt rushed until we got to the big fight. Also not sure how I feel about the ending. Harrow/Ammit definitely just killed like a substantial portion of the population of Cairo, right? And then Marc refuses to kill Harrow because that “form of justice” is just like Ammit’s. I know that the divide between Marc/Steven and Khonshu had been growing throughout the season, but it feels like a weirdly inconsistent thing to throw in there only so we can have yet another kill all the henchman, but let the leader live thing

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Just got out of a late showing of Dr. Strange (tomorrow’s gonna suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck). Some spoiler-free thoughts:

  • It’s great. Dr. Strange has always been the most visually inventive of the MCU movies and this is no different.
  • I don’t think you’ll need to have seen everything up to this point to follow along, but if you haven’t seen WandaVision or No Way Home yet and you’re planning on seeing this, you have some homework to do. Bonus points for What If?
  • It’s about as violent as a violent episode of Supernatural, so prepare and/or bring guests accordingly. Not really a movie for kids.
  • There’s an A+ musical cameo in this movie.

I too saw Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness last night. I think after No Way Home, I just can’t resist seeing these new Marvel movies opening night with a captive audience. It’s the best way to see them. On the whole I think I preferred No Way Home more, really for the obvious… There are ‘reveals’ in this movie which were kind of ‘meh’ to me. That said I was suprised at how simple the story is and how it does complete a lot of character arcs whilst flying around the multiverse. In the same way I wasn’t completely endeared towards say Captain America from the get go, I do feel more warmer towards Doctor Strange now. Up until now he kind of felt like magical Tony Stark doing a House accent. My main problem with the first movie was it wasn’t weird enough but I think the second movie is weird and does make him likable, maybe something more like an actual doctor who helps people.

As for the Raimi element. The movie feels at least ‘piloted’ by Sam Raimi rather than directed and I guess most of the story elements were locked up. Lots of whip pans, and kinetic free floating camera work. Lots of campy horror elements too. I would say there is a bit more gore, I mean people get PUT DOWN in this movie, it almost had shades of that scene from the end of the first episode of Invincible. Who better to guide us through the multiverse really? The obligatory Bruce Campbell cameo was great too.

More interestingly, as the MCU has gone on, you’ve seen a lot of movies piggyback off other genres. Now it seems to be piggybacking off actual directors and their house style. Maybe they’ll get Guillermo Del Toro to do the next one?

My only issue is that I’m not sure how they deal with Wanda/Scarlett Witch, they make some choices here. In some ways it’s pretty cool, taking a character we know and then twisting her but in other ways - it’s also very like that bit in Episode 3 when it goes ‘okay Anakin, your Darth Vader now, be evil’.

Without having seen the film, if that comparison with Anakin is literal, I’ll note that basically everyone who remembers the Darkhold’s depiction in Agents of SHIELD (and Runaways) has been expecting Wanda to go all evil now she’s using it - it’s depicted as being naturally corrupting to the mindset of anyone who uses it in all its appearances, even if the user starts out with the best of intentions.

Multiverse of Madness is going to be a tough one for me. It looks good, I think it lands the indulgence in a way that’s more charming than irritating, and the performances are all solid enough. While I have an enormous issue with how they’ve changed America Chavez’s backstory - taking her mothers who die heroically in the comic and having them die tragically in the film sucks; our nod to her being a lesbian is having a Love Is Love pin (which, since her mums are lesbians, would probably read more as her being an ally than queer if you don’t already know that); and she’s basically just a Macguffin in this story - I think Chavez was instantly quite endearing and probably my favorite of the introduced Young Avengers.

But Wanda… I feel like the film handled her story about as well as Black Widow in Age of Ultron. I know I am not the only person to compare the two, but the way Marvel connects motherhood and monstrosity and madness is… misogynistic. I’m not opposed to her being evil, honestly if she were evil in a less loaded way my criticism of the film would just be ‘pity that Strange hates to see a girlboss winning’. But instead, the juxtaposition of Strange and Wanda’s respective mental states feels gross. It’s a story we’ve seen in the comics, but it’s one that desperately needed to be reexamined and refreshed for 2022.

Like, it’s probably still in my Top 15 for the MCU. Or maybe top 20, if we have to include Venom + Morbius + Netflix MCU + the five previous Spider-Man films. But I don’t know if I’d ever watch it again.

Yeah I’ve been chewing on Doctor Strange and the MoM (PLEASE TELL ME THAT’S A COINCIDENCE NOW I CAN’T UNSEE IT Please please please. Ahem. Woof.)

Okay, but yeah that’s kinda it, right? It’s not as bad as Metroid: Other M, and in my book you don’t get kudos for pointing to the trope before doing it, but lauding/condemning the movie outright really doesn’t sit well with me. I want Wanda to be the hero. I want her to heal from her pain, not be consumed by it. I don’t care if “that’s what the Darkhold does”, because they could’ve just not given it to her at the end of WandaVision. But it seems like they wanted to tell this story, this way, and not correct the frustrating egregiousness of the comics.

I’ll front this by saying I don’t know much about Wanda from the comics. She might actually be a total monster, so the Darkhold stuff hits less. But the MCU Wanda has been one of the most-maligned characters of them all, so to feel like we could root for her, that she could be defined by more than her mistakes, by how people don’t understand her, and then to have that turned on me, well that’s what sucks for me.

I did hear an interesting take, a read that was basically that it revolves around a white woman in her 30s so desperate for this imagined idealized suburbia that she’s willing to literally drain the life from a latina girl to accomplish it. If that’s what they’re going for, I’m actually into that! That’s an interesting take and is worth the metatext. But why did it have to be Wanda? Does she deserve that? I feel like we deserve more heroic women who aren’t determined solely by trad gender roles. If it’s an aspect of her, fine and good. In WandaVision she was up to way more in Westview than just her husband/kids, even if they were extremely important to her.

Okay. So that’s one thought. On the other hand…

So I’ve been watching Atlanta as they come out, and I appreciate that there are times where characters (especially white characters) in the show aren’t rewarded simply for having good intentions. In the eyes of the show we’re meant to be grossed out by the behavior of a lot of people who think they’re doing the right thing, and that that’s enough. And so weirdly, there’s a part of me that appreciates the gall to do that to a character I deeply care about. Just because we want what’s best for Wanda doesn’t mean that she’s free from the system she participates in/is manipulated by.

It’s ballsy. I guess I’m just wondering why we can’t do that to the cishet dude heroes. Make one or more of them fall, then we can talk about Wanda. Seeing Wanda prevail and break free of the Darkhold while Strange gets corrupted by it? Now that is a Dr strange movie I’d watch.

Of course, they’d be like, firebombing every MCU superfan if they did that. Disney’s not that brave, so they take it out on Wanda instead. I’m still open to being convinced about the american-dream aspects of the message if that’s what they were going for, but right now it just feels maligned and unfair to the MCU interpretation of the character they chose as their fallguy.


Aside from that, I was okay with the movie. The stunt-casting felt like it dragged on too long, I was hoping for more multiverse-hopping, and I was impressed by the sheer amount of visceral gore. I don’t know how hard Raimi had to fight for it, but it was soooo worth it. I mean, the cloak of dead souls for zombie Strange? What even… It’s wild. Wilder that Disney let them do it. In another movie, this would probably just be considered edgy. But I feel like that’s a new record for gruesome onscreen death for the MCU?

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So I saw Dr Strange tonight and I thought it was fine. I didn’t love it or hate it but I think I’m just tired of these films at this point. I also wished it had more multiverse. For something selling itself as the multiverse movie, there’s very little multi other than the same CG stuff we saw in the trailer. The bits that felt very San Raimi we’re good. I especially enjoyed the first dream walking scene where other Wanda is first possessed. Overall, I had fun but I groaned out loud when a certain actor appeared in a cameo.

As for how Wanda is handled, it’s really hard for me to feel sympathetic at all for her character after Wandavision. I think if the town of Westview was entirely made up, it’d be one thing, but she brainwashed and enslaved an entire town with her powers. And yes, plenty of other characters have done just as disastrous/monstrous things and been redeemed, Tony Stark being the most obvious one. For whatever reason being overwritten and turned into a literal puppet for somebody to act out their suburban fantasy feels a lot grosser than the genocide of an entire town/country. And yes, they could have easily not written her that way, but it does feel like they’re just leaning way too heavily on the comics in that regard.

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So, having read more reviews and some spoilers, I have some sympathy for the people who are noting that Wanda’s particular ‘turn to evil’ in DSitMoM at least, is rooted in some of the same weirdly framed misogyny from Age of Ultron [which is interesting, given that I’d been assuming AoU’s issues were Whedon-related].

However, as Seboar notes, it’s incomplete to make this judgement without talking about how WandaVision already makes Wanda responsible for an act of evil [albeit initially unintentional on her part - but many of us commented at the time that the last two episodes really don’t show Wanda’s reaction in a good light when she does realise what’s happening, and she comes across as a bit of a Karma-houdini]. And here, we don’t even have the excuse that the Darkhold was corrupting her like in the film. Which isn’t to defend the movie - but more to note that the “weird writing around Wanda” seems to just creep in as Phase 4 starts, presumably because they decide they need a villainous Wanda like in the comics….

(I think the scriptwriters probably intended the fact that we meet an alternate Dr Strange who was also fully corrupted by the Darkhold to present the position that this isn’t just a Wanda-specific moral weakness and that anyone could go this way… but does it make it less effective if it’s an alternate version, not “our” version of the character.)

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