On Black Widow and that Bro-tastic interview…

Avengers, Age of Ultron is almost upon us, and this means it is interview and promotion season for Marvel movie studios. Last Thursday, Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner (Captain America and Hawkeye respectively) were doing an interview as part of the scheduled media blitz, and then this happened:

Chris, dude, this wasn’t even half as funny as you are making it out to be. This should probably be a sobering reminder that the actors that portray some of your favorite heroes are most definitely not their characters. The clip above for example shows Evans and Renner sharing a definite “dudebro” moment and firmly placing their feet in their mouth. Definitely not cool.

And yes, I know it was “just a joke”. I also realize that they are not talking about Scarlet Johanson, that Black Widow is not a real person, and that a fictional character does not need her honor defended. This is not really the problem here. The problem is the culture which enabled this. Think about this: Evan and Renner were doing a promotional interview, end goal of which was to convince as many people to go and see their movie. And yet, within confines of that public appearance, during which it was their literal job to be on their best behavior, they felt comfortable making disparaging sexist jokes. Jokes that punch down at approximately half the viewing audience, and let the world know that dudes who play Captain America and Hawkeye think women who do not conform to the narrow behavioral scripts of sexual expression are “sluts” and “whores”.

It is the same culture that perpetuates the ridiculous double standards which were brilliantly highlighted in another promotional Avengers interview which took place only a day before the Evans and Renner fiasco:

It’s the same culture that facilitated Joss Whedon (a self described feminist) slipping up and inserting an off color proma nocta joke into an otherwise a fantastic scene in the upcoming movie without any push-back, or critique from the cast and crew:

You would think that at least one of the people involved in the movie would take Whedon aside and go “you know, while this is totally in character for Tony stark, do we really want to have rapey joke in our movie?”. But no one did, and for all we know this scene will be in the theatrical release. Because this is our status quo. This our normal.

I’m not trying to shit on Whedon here. In fact, I’m a big fan of his work. But he is only human, and he makes mistakes just like the rest of us. The problem is that when no one tells you about the mistakes you make, then you will keep making them. Which is why Joss, Evans and Renner all need various degrees of scolding, so that the franchise as a whole can improve. Because, god dammit, I need Captain Marvel to be good. This world deserves a female led super hero movie that is mind blowing. My niece deserves a kick-ass female super-hero role model with an actual costume and super powers, who is not anyone’s sidekick. But if we keep allowing the Marvel team to make these kind of goofs, then they are going to royally fuck it up come 2018.

It is true that Black Widow has been written as a sidekick character since she appeared in the MCU. That’s actually another valid criticism of the MCU which seems to push women into the background. It is also true that she has been portrayed as being overtly sexual. But, so what? Tony Stark has a reputation of a playboy and a ladies man an no one seems to hold it against him. In his case, it is seen either as one of his strengths, or at the very least as a lovable character quirk. I would argue that Black Window uses her sexuality in about the same way as, say, James Bond does: as a tool or a weapon. Both these characters are in approximately the same line of work, and both use their personal charm and sex-appeal to get the mission done. But only one gets shamed for it.

Perhaps, I was not paying much attention, but I don’t think I ever read her interactions with Hawkeye and Cap as overtly flirtatious. We knows that she cares for Hawkeye because they have worked in the past, and he is someone she grew to trust and rely on. In Winter Soldier she gets close to the Cap, but again, they’re not falling in love in that movie. They are learning to trust each other so that they can save the world. But shippers gonna ship, so I think the interview question was mostly precipitated by wishful thinking of the fans and the eagerness to see a love triangle emerge where one is definitely not needed at the moment.

But even if Natasha decided to flirt and/or sleep with every other member of the Avengers, would that make her less of a hero? Would it make her less of a woman? Come on guys, it’s 2015, time to let these sexist notions go.

Black Widow

Black Widow does not approve of your sexist bullshit.

For what it’s worth, Marvel acknowledges the interview was a disaster. Both Evans and Renner released public apologies. Evans sincerely regrets what he said, while Renner sincerely regrets some people did not get his “hilarious jokes”. So there’s that.

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Daredevil

I have spent an entire weekend binge watching Daredevil on Netflix and I have some thoughts about it. I will try not to include any major spoilers here, but I will talk about general story elements so it could be spoiler-ish if you really want to go into it “blind”. And yes, that was a tasteless pun. I apologize.

Daredevil

Daredevil Title Sequence

Firstly, thank god someone took another crack at this franchise. For a while there, I thought that Ben Affleck’s movie has tainted it beyond repair. The Netflix series is a much appreciated palette cleanser which hopefully will allow all of us to enjoy the adventures of the man without fear without cringing.

Secondly, I love that this series is part of the MCU and thus allowed to reference the events of The Avengers movies. It is a small thing, but it makes me happy when characters in a superhero story mention other costumed crime fighters. It is also worth mentioning that some of the plot threads in the series thus far might be tying into the upcoming Iron Fist also produced by Marvel/Netflix. The fact that everything in the MCU is interconnected, and only will become even more tightly intertwined in the upcoming years fills me with a nerdy glee. And of course it will be fun to watch young geeks who grew up on MCU have a complete meltdown when the Disney/Marvel decide to reboot the entire universe a decade from now. But that’s a topic for a whole other post.

I found the pacing of the series a bit odd. It works as a cohesive whole, and in retrospect I do appreciate the amount of effort put into making this into a dual origin story. We not only get to see how Matt Murdock became the Daredevil, but we also see the downfall of Wilson Fisk and his transformation into Kingpin. The fact that the series could take thirteen episodes before Murdock actually dons the iconic horned costume is probably a unique function of the Netflix production format. Netflix knows that people use their service to binge watch series, so they could hold back the costume, and the big revelations until the very end of the season.

When I was watching it, however I had my doubts. For a time I was worried that they are going to go the Arrow route and act like they are slightly ashamed of the source material. For the record, I only seen the first season of Arrow and while watching it, I was amazed how much effort the writers put into making sure that the words “green” and “arrow” would never be uttered without at least few buffer words in between. Nine episodes into the thing I was really worried that in this reality the man without fear will just be “The Man in Black Mask” whose nemesis is entrepreneur Wilson Fisk. Which, let’s face it, does not have the same ring as “Daredevil vs Kingpin”. Especially since this is MCU we are talking about: a shared universe in which costumed heroes already exist. When you’re part of MCU being afraid of colorful spandex tights seems silly.

Fortunately, my fears were unfounded and the slow ramp-up paid off in the satisfying finale. Granted, the mask might need some work… I honestly don’t know why the Marvel costume designers are still so reluctant to do faithful reproductions, and insist on sticking armor pads, belts and pouches on every outfit. I mean, Spiderman has been rocking spandex since he got his big break in the movies, and no one complains. As much as I hated the Ben Affleck movie, I think that costume was pretty OK, all things considered. But that’s just me.

The pacing issue is probably my biggest gripe with the series. I almost feel like they could have wrapped the entire arc around episode six or seven and then move onto something more interesting. But I guess they really wanted to have the status quo of the Daredevil universe established in the season finale, and so we got bunch of filler to pad out the episodes. It is the good kind of filler, mind you, full of character development and foreshadowing.

My other complaint would be that the story in general, seems a tad redundant. The city is drowning in crime, and one honest man decides save it against impossible odds. If it sounds familiar, it is probably because you have already seen it in the Dark Knight, Arrow and Gotham. Then again, this is the archetypical masked vigilante origins arc, and it does to a degree follow Frank Miller’s Man Without Fear series. There is a lot of interesting stuff in the Daredevil lore they could have tapped into, like the crazy ninja clans for example. They did touch upon some of that, and hints were dropped, but it was not necessarily a major focus of the Season. Perhaps they were afraid of diluting the main story arc with too much weird stuff at once. So I kinda understand why they chose to tell this particular story and not the other.

One thing that separates this series from all the other ones that I mentioned is the fact that when Matt Murdock takes a beating, it really does feel like he is getting hurt. The fight choreography is excellent in that it succeeds both at conveying the idea that Matt Murdock is an exceptionally skilled martial artist, but also every single fight feels like a brutal, bloody and painful slug fest. Most on-screen heroes will take a punch, or get their wind knocked out of them now and then. Matt Murdock gets bloodied and bruised every time he dons his suit. This makes what he does all the more dramatic, and his wins all the more earned. I especially enjoyed the corridor fight from one of the early episodes, which (I think) was a homage to the iconic fight scene in Old Boy.

I already mentioned that the series heavily focuses on Kingpin and Vincent D’Onofrio is doing an excellent job portraying him by threading the line between awkward and imposing. He is sufficiently different from the now iconic Michael Clarke Duncan incarnation (general consensus is that Duncan’s Kingpin was the only good thing about that film) to seem like a separate character rather than an off-brand knock-off. D’Onofrio’s kingpin actually seems more dangerous because of how unhinged and disturbed he is, compared to the calm and self-assured Duncan version. He reminds me of Penguin from Gotham in that he can be both relatable and repulsive at the same time.

Deborah Ann Woll does a commendable job in a supporting role as Karen Page, though I keep expecting her to sprout fangs at any minute. I think it will take quite a while before I stop seeing her as “Vampire Jessica”. But that’s probably because I just finished catching up on two last seasons of True Blood a few weeks ago. I had to keep reminding myself that her character can’t just rip people’s heads off at a whim. I do like that Karen is driven, has her own arc and turbulent past, instead of being stuck with a “love interest” or “plucky secretary” type role, although for a few episodes it almost seemed like they will go that way with her.

I also like Vondie Curtis-Hall as the grizzled investigative reporter. When he showed up, I thought he will end up trying to expose Daredevil and end up in a quasi antagonist role, but was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case.

That said, it is worth noting that in mere 13 episodes, the series managed to kill off a number of prominent characters. It seems to be one of those shows that is not afraid to take risks and re-shuffle the deck to keep viewers on their toes. Unfortunately it does not help that most of the actors that won’t be coming back for Seson 2 gave really strong performances thus far. Let’s hope that Daredevil did not hobble themselves by removing too many interesting allies and villains too early.

I enjoyed the series. I wouldn’t say it is the greatest thing I have ever watched, and it is not the best of what Netflix has to offer, but it is pretty damn decent and entertaining. But regardless of what any of us may think about the series, Daredevil is now officially part of the MCU and that’s undeniably a good thing. Every hero they add to the roster makes the shared universe more interesting. Once a hero is enshrined in the movie cannon, they will never really go away, even inf their solo endeavor fails completely. Even if the Netflix series is a bust (and I don’t think it will be) Marvel probably won’t write off the hero. They will re-cast him and toss him into an ensemble feature, and leave it to their top tier writers to figure out how to re-contextualize him into something more palatable. This is exactly what happened to The Hulk. His solo movie tanked, but Joss Whedon managed to figure out a way to make the fans love Bruce Banner and his mean, green alter ego all over again in Avengers. So the man without fear has now a Joss Whedon rescue clause going for him.

Are you watching the series? What do you think?

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Dragons of Tarkir

Last Saturday, I have participated in the Dragons of Tarkir launch event at a local comic book store. Last time I have played Magic the Gathering was in high school and I was not planning to get back into the game any time soon. Collectible card games are an insane money sink and I’m already spending way too much of my disposable income on tabletop miniatures and video games. Adding a CCG to list of my nerdy activities at this point would be foolhardy. But it happened.

Some friends of mine were going to the event, and were signing up for the tournament so I figured I might as well join in. Since it was more of a spur of the moment for me, I went in completely blind. My friends prepped for the event by reading card spoilers and trying to figure out useful synergies between cards. I just showed up and said “give me whatever color deck is on top of the pile”. So I ended up with a Silumgar box:

Dragons of Tarkir

Dragons of Tarkir Tournament Box

Silumgar combines black and blue cards, and uses a brand new mechanic known as “exploit” that has some interesting synergies across the entire card range. When you play a creature that has this rule, you sacrifice another creature and trigger the exploit effect. The black and blue cards also include a number of creatures have effects that trigger upon their death and plenty of spell cards that allow you to retrieve dead creatures from the graveyard (ie. your discard pile). So your deck is based on creatures that die all the time, but never stay dead, combined with removal and annoyance cards that are staples of black and blue colors (things that deplete enemy’s hand, steal their graveyard, clear all creatures from the board, etc..). I call it the “maximum asshole” deck, because if you play it right, the opponent will usually want to flip the table at the end of the game.

Granted, I wish I knew all of that before the tournament. The format was sealed deck, limited I believe. When I got my box, I had about 15 minutes to build a 40 card deck out of the contents of the box. As you can imagine, this might have been a lot less stressful if I actually did any research beforehand. But I did not, since I’m a dumb idiot, so I completely fumbled through my first few matches. Granted, my opponents were incredibly nice, and were happy to teach me as we played. I managed to learn enough to actually win my last match.

Most of the folks I went with were in the same boat as me: they were familiar with the game, but have not played it for over a decade. We figured that this event would be a good way for us to start fresh. We would all end up with starter decks with current generation cards, and none of us would have unfair advantage of having large collection of tricky, rare cards they have accumulated over the last twenty years or so.

After the tournament we all agreed to set up a spending limit to prevent rapid escalation. The idea was to make our friendly games fair and balanced. We did not want to feel compelled to out-spend each other in order to stay competitive within our group. It did not work that well…

I believe this Loading, Ready, Run episode is pretty much exactly what happened to us:

At this point we are all about $50 into the rabbit hole, and there are no signs of stopping. I already ordered one “fat pack” and I spent days browsing spoiler sites, and buying singles. So I guess I’m a Magic player now. May god have mercy on my soul.

I have to admit that the artwork on the cards is pretty amazing. I remember it always being pretty good, but these new editions are absolutely gorgeous. The Silumgar deck has a really striking, sinister flavor to it and I love it. It very much reminds me of the Middle Earth: The Lidless Eye flavor, and I mean that as a compliment. I have very fond memories of being evil in that game.

Do you play Magic? What kind of a deck? Any advice for a fledgeling black + blue player? Do you indulge in any other CCG? Tell me about it in the comments.

Posted in rpg and tabletop | Tagged , | 9 Comments