Stan Lee (1922 – 2018)

Stan Lee © Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail

The unstoppable force behind Marvel, the person responsible for putting the “hero” into “superhero”, transforming the erstwhile walking cardboards with ten commandments written on them into human (or godly) beings, full of foibles, insecurities and vices, but at the same time always striving to become better and to do better.

Lee as few others understood the human need for telling stories, for heroes, and for heroic journeys. He was the \co-creator of Spider-Man, the Mighty Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men, Doctor Strange, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, Black Panther, and Ant-Man – as well as many other superhero characters. He was also a tireless advocate of introducing comic superheroes to the wider public, and his efforts brought us the wonderful recent Marvel superhero movie onslaught, irrevocably changing the comics’ place and magnifying their significance in pop-culture.

Piotrek: I’ve re-watched the first Captain America today with my Dad and the usual Stan Lee cameo made me smile. How many more did they manage to prepare? Probably just Captain Marvel and the second Infinity War movie…

Ola: Apparently all 2019 Marvel movies will have Stan Lee cameo. It’s become such a feature of the Marvel movies that it’s difficult to imagine a movie without his appearance 😉 As John Romita put it in one of his interviews,

He’s a con man, but he did deliver.

He was one of the rare giants that transform their chosen field irrevocably – a facilitator, a face, an moving force behind the scenes, an impresario.  He led a full, adventurous life that brought us much joy and inspiration.

Thank you, sir, and farewell!

‘Nuff said.

Gateway drugs to genre fiction

Quite a big part of the enjoyment I get from genre fiction, books, movies and often even music, is when I discover the connections and inspiration. It’ a very rewarding experience, and the motivation behind my ongoing project to familiarise myself with the great classics of fantasy and s/f. It’s great, but it is also quite hermetic. It’s hard to discuss such things with the uninitiated. I find it easier to devise long term plans to hook my nieces on genre than to recommend something to a mature reader/viewer who might be open to some light genre.

Lets make make it purely technical, not about the importance of keeping an open mind and appreciating people with other hobbies, different cultural needs etc. 😉 It’s going to be strictly about the titles and techniques helpful to hook people on our stuff!

We’re also talking strictly adults here (and I mean mature readers, not necessarily readers over 18). Getting kids to enjoy genre is a different topic, something easier in my experience, and quite wonderful, but not what I want to explore today.

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Deadpool 2 (2018)

And… it’s another Marvel Movie Review (albeit the previous one was from a different studio). What can we say, they hit cinemas about as often as westerns used to in the olden times, and when we add various TV series…

But it’s ok, ’cause it’s freakin DEADPOOL!

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Deadpool 2, to be precise.

We attended a mini-marathon that featured both, and laughed pretty hard from the opening credits of Deadpool till the end of the last post-credits scene of Deadpool 2.

Piotrek: I’ll say again – Deadpool franchise is, for me, another proof superhero genre is mature enough to cover all the bases. We have your solid blockbusters, in the likes of Infinity War, light-hearted family comedies like Guardians, politically significant movies like Black Panther, really meaningful and moving Logan, and both Deadpools fill in the niche for smart, irreverent, fourth-wall breaking parodies. When we add TV, we have one of the best depictions of modern veterans in Punisher, very innovative Legion, and I’d even argue there are echoes of The Wire in Luke Cage.

Ola: …and Shaft 🙂

Piotrek: I have a feeling you really like Shaft. Maybe I should give it a second chance, I remember not being awed, but it was… about 20 years ago?

Ola: It’s not about this movie’s internal values as a piece of filmmaking – it’s about Shaft’s undeniable impact as a work of culture 😛 Majority of the new movies concerning African American, especially in the drama/thriller genre, consciously or subconsciously relate themselves to Shaft, because it was the first of such movies.

Piotrek: New Deadpool though… fun for everybody but the snobbiest critics! We’re so well entrenched the domination might last a while, and there are no significant threats on the horizon – although, to be honest, dinosaurs were certain of that too, right until the meteor hit.

Ola: It does seem the studios are exploiting this niche for all its worth. Your western analogy is very apt – movies based on comic books are similarly uniform in style and content, and as with westerns you can find magnificent movies right next to the epitomes of mediocrity. There was another movie genre in olden days that followed the same path of success and forgetfulness – movies based on the history and mythology of Roman Empire 😀 And there are some I wish I could unsee – like Jason and the Argonauts from 1963…

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Spoilers ahead, beware! I’d say, with this movie the statue of limitations is short, and everybody is going to see it anyway, so there’s no point in writing a spoiler-free review 😉

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We went our friend Rodzyn to see the new Avengers movie on the very first day it was being played in Poland. It certainly is a complex, carefully constructed story of epic proportions, aiming to be a climax of the entire theatrical MCU so far. Most of the heroes we’ve met meet to fight the ultimate threat – Thanos. He’s been looming on the horizon since The Avengers, and now stepped up to become THE villain.

So… did they succeed, is it the greatest team-up, the biggest foe, the most epic struggle and the most heart-wrenching story of the MCU?

Piotrek: It… well, it is, for me. Not the best MCU movie, but definitely the proper culmination (or at least the first part of…) of all the interweaving storylines. The scale is bigger than anything that happened before, and a chaotic disaster on the DC scale was a real risk – but it works! It works, because we had a decade to prepare and now it just click together nicely.

Ola: I’m not sure if this indeed is a culmination – or, to be more precise, a final one. The superheroes surely deal with the biggest and baddest foe to date, and it is the most epic struggle of the MCU as we know it. However, the heart-wrenching part is a definite exaggeration on your part, Piotrek ;). It’s a wonderfully made, cleverly written, visually arresting, truly funny and sometimes even quite emotionally gripping – money grab 🙂

Piotrek: Isn’t everything. But it’s quite a good one, as blockbusters go. And it’s more than just a sequence of fights and quips.

Rodzyn: It’s hard not to admire the weavers behind MCU mentioned by Piotrek . After all those years we get to the skilfully crafted final stage, one that avid viewer can enjoy immensely. But neither the decor of epic battlefields nor the sheer number of assembled heroes gave me the most joy. In my eyes the best part of MCU are the relations and dynamics between our protagonists, ‘family drama’ feel of supernatural gathering.

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Still worse than comics… Jessica Jones, Season Two

Piotrek: It’s been a month since Jessica Jones’ Second Season’s premiere and finally we sit down to cast our judgement 😉 I must admit the show did not induce particularly strong feelings in me this time, contrary to the first encounter. Not disappointment, but also not enthusiasm. After an awful Iron Fist and mediocre – at best – Defenders, we got thirteen watchable, but largely forgettable, episodes of superhero TV. As a new industry standard, it’s cool, but in comparison to, say, Marvel’s The Punisher, to stay within Netflix/Marvel universe, nothing special.
My main problem with Season One was that it did not show us Jessica doing the actual detective work, that the Killgrave was defeated largely by his fascination with our heroine, not her skills and efforts, and that the show was not as connected with other Netflix Marvels as it should have been, given its source material. No Murdock, Patsy as a poor substitute for Jessica’s true best friend – Carol Danvers AKA Captain Marvel… it was not bad TV, but not a great adaptation of one of the most interesting comics I’ve ever read.
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Ola: I’ve forced myself to watch the second season of Jessica Jones only for the purpose of this review :P. I actually think I preferred the first season, despite its vivid and undeniable inferiority to the comic books. The second season suffers from a bad case of an ideological bout of righteousness. Don’t get me wrong – I supported “#Me too” action, because I thought it was an unfortunately necessary, if overly heated and not always fair, debate. But hitching the JJ2 wagon to “#Me too” action seems, firstly, unnecessary, and secondly, in bad taste. The storylines of Alias, i.e. Jessica Jones comic books, can easily defend themselves. They don’t need additional repetitions or variations of the themes already covered, abundantly, I might add, in season one.

Marvel’s The Punisher (2017-present)

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Piotrek: And the winner of my personal favourite tv series of the year award is… Stranger Things, again. Punisher is a close second. It means a lot, considering in 2017 I’ve seen American Gods, Legion, Samurai Jack’s final season and discovered Rick and Morty. It was even better than this little beauty that sparked my hopes a few years back. I might go as far as to say Netflix might have saved its part of the MCU with this, although it is not a typical superhero show. And it’s not as linked together with Jessica Jones or Daredevil, Frank Castle wasn’t even part of The Defenders (and good for him 😉 ). It is a TV series based on a Marvel comic, part of the geek takeover of the pop-culture of our times, but mostly it is a great story about, and commentary on, the war on terror, military/society relations, and, most of all, individuals involved in all this.

Ola: Huh, for me it’s the other way round: Punisher just a hair breadth before Stranger Things, right up there with the first season of Daredevil among the very best MCU has to offer. Punisher is the comic-based TV series I’ve been waiting for: dark, gritty, realistic, tackling vital and controversial themes and topics in a way that is both respectful and immensely entertaining. It is closely linked with Daredevil, both in the overarching theme of violence as a means of justice, with DD and Punisher two sides of the same ethical coin, and in the supporting cast of characters – most notably Karen Page, who plays an important role in both series.

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