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Daily Reads: The Downside to Marvel's Long-Range Plan, 'Bad Faith' Anti-Dissent Arguments and More

Criticwire By Max O'Connell | Criticwire August 6, 2014 at 9:36AM

Plus: When real life interrupts TV, and why Marvel should stop pretending to kill its heroes.
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'Boyhood'
'Boyhood'

Criticwire's Daily Reads brings today's essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. The Downside to Marvel's Long-Range Plan. "Guardians of the Galaxy" has earned mostly positive reviews, but even most of its most vocal supporters will admit that the film's Big Bad, Thanos, doesn't really do anything. His appearances in the Marvel movies since "The Avengers" are building to something bigger, but it leaves a black hole in the meantime that the series' lame secondary villains (Tom Hiddleston's Loki aside) haven't been able to fill, and it has the effect of making him seem useless in the meantime. Both Matt Singer of The Dissolve and Mike Ryan of ScreenCrush wrote about why Marvel's "we'll get to him eventually" plan is starting to vex. Fair warning: both feature spoilers for "Guardians." 

Ryan: Watching Thanos fail at obtaining an Infinity Stone has become as common as watching the Duke boys once again thwart Boss Hogg. And the thing is, it’s fun to watch the good guys win – and win, and win, and win, and win, and win, and win, and win, and win, and win – but now I’ve started to feel a legitimate amount of sympathy for Thanos. Would it kill the universe just to let the guy have one Stone? I mean, it has been ten movies. What would one Stone hurt? Perhaps this is why Edgar Wright left ‘Ant-Man’? Maybe his grand idea was for poor Thanos to finally get himself a Stone. “Sorry, Edgar, that’s just never going to happen. We have to let you go now for even suggesting such a thing.” Read more.

Singer: The character’s defenders say that his success rate is not what matters, because he’s supposed to fill the same role as the Emperor in the original Star Wars trilogy: a vaguely defined presence who gives marching orders to mid-level baddies like Darth Vader. But think of how much the Emperor accomplished (through Vader) in just his first film, "The Empire Strikes Back." He destroyed the Rebel base on the ice planet Hoth, lopped off Luke’s hand, and encased Han Solo in carbonite. That’s a damn good day’s work for a bad guy. The heroes aren’t entirely defeated, but they’re certainly left reeling. Read more.

2. Death to Fake Deaths in Marvel Movies. Speaking of Marvel, the studio has another patience-testing tactic: killing off its characters, only not really. It started with the death of Agent Coulson in "The Avengers," only for Clark Gregg's character to be resurrected for "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." The tactic has been repeated in every Marvel movie since, and it's getting to the point where it's hard to have any emotional investment in anyone in the series. Entertainment Weekly's James Hibberd delves into the problem.

In fact, I’m  not arguing for any character to be sent to the Marvel afterlife. I’m objecting to the studio using the same fake-out narrative trick, over and over. Its impact gets weaker every time, making the films feel less impactful than they would have otherwise. Marvel shouldn’t get to have its cake and kill it too. And yes, Comic Book Guy, you’re right—this plot device is very true to comics, where characters are repeatedly killed and resurrected. Some hardcore fans want the movies to follow the comic books, in which most heroes basically live forever. Yet Marvel movies need to function as wholly satisfying films in their own right. Read more.


3. When Life Interrupts TV. 
Jeff Jensen turned in a review for "The Strain" to Entertainment Weekly almost a month after the series premiered on July 13. His wife, who'd been battling brain cancer for years, took a turn for the worse days before the show was to play, and died a few days later. Jensen's father offered to lighten Jeff's workload during a hard time by offering to review the show for him, despite not having seen any of the show. While Jensen did eventually write his review, he chose to share his father's take as a post-script to the review, and it's both a funny and moving one.

First off, let’s establish that I have not even seen the show yet. Not any of the first four episodes that they sent to Jeff on DVD. I tend to be a judgmental old fart, and since I acknowledge that I’m a judgmental old fart, I’m allowed judgmental old fart opinions on things. So I thought it might be interesting to do a review of the press material that he got in the mail, then see how I feel after watching the actual show. I know it has probably been done before, but not by me. Read more.


4. Critical Dissent and "Bad Faith" Arguments. 
We recently covered why "Boyhood" needs more thoughtful dissenters and less unanimous praise, but Asher Gelzer-Govatos has another take on what's wrong with some of the talk about the film. Gelzer-Govatos covers how too many of the detractors dismiss the films fans as loving it only because it mirrors their experiences, a bad faith argument that doesn't take into consideration the women or people of color or conservatives who loved the film. But he also gets into what's wrong with the "Boyhood"-loving majority:

Equally disheartening in this whole debate, however, has been the response of certain members of the pro-"Boyhoodcamp, who have sprung from the woodwork to shout down dissenters. One of the writers mentioned in Adams’ article, Mark Judge, has been a special target of the pummeling. I read through Judge’s article and did not find it particularly convincing (it’s based around the whole “critics love it because it’s critic-bait” idea), but the level of vitriol directed his way from some critics on Twitter has been astounding. Ironically, they seem to be using the same tactics against him that he deployed against "Boyhood," singling him out for dismissal on the grounds of who he is(a conservative Catholic) and his personal commitments. Read more.


5. The Brilliant Nihilism of "The Leftovers." Even for modern television, Damon Lindelof's HBO series "The Leftovers" is pretty bleak going. But while some find it needlessly punishing, The Atlantic's Sophie Gilbert thinks there's something to its gloom. She argues that the show has a Nietzschean belief that God is dead, but that it's more about "what happens next."

The crux of the episode comes later, when, drunk on who knows how many dirty martinis, Nora starts yelling at the man next to her at the hotel bar who tries to talk to her about the nature of loss and moving on. "What's next?" she screeches. "What's fucking next? Nothing is next! Nothing!" As small talk with a smarmy stranger goes, it's definitely overkill, but as an encapsulation of the show's main premise, it's quite precise. The universe is empty and meaningless, devoid of lasting significance. All that's left is the present moment, and the acceptance of being content to be left among the living. It's no coincidence that Holy Wayne happens to quote from Ecclesiastes, the Bible's most existentialist book, when he finally draws Nora into his arms: "For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion." The abiding message of Ecclesiastes (oddly, for the Old Testament) is one of futility: life is short and will end in death, so all humans can do is take pleasure in simple things and appreciate its transience.

Read more.

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This article is related to: Boyhood, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Strain


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