“The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” Episode 4 Review!

SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER AHEAD!

At last I’m beginning to understand why The Falcon And The Winter Soldier waited so long to give us any insight into the series’ main villains, the Flag-Smashers, and their sympathetic ideologies. It’s apparent now that the writers felt they had to wait until just after the end of episode three, when the Flag-Smashers commit one completely uncharacteristic, irredeemably brutal act of violence, bombing a storehouse full of innocent people. Up until that point, they had only occasionally had to resort to violence, always against corporations rather than humans: in fact, their mission to smuggle vaccines, food, and other resources into refugee camps around Europe seemed fairly noble, and was just getting really interesting.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
John Walker | theguardian.com

And then comes that one act of horrible violence: all it takes to permanently stamp the Flag-Smashers with the “villain” label and cast their nobility into question. Only three people die in the ensuing cataclysm (a number I actually find shockingly low, given how much of the building was on flames last we saw it), but it’s three too many. And, given how the series only now allows the Flag-Smashers a chance to tell their side of the story, it was clearly taken as a preventive measure by the writers to make sure they can’t fully win our empathy, much less our trust, and so by extension neither can their message…which, incidentally, is fervently anti-capitalist and anti-nationalist.

The Falcon And The Winter Soldier reduces what could have been a significantly more complex conversation between a genuinely empathetic Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and a status-quo-upending Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman) into a clear-cut moral debate about violence that side-skirts (and distracts from) any meaningful discussion about the Flag-Smashers’ agenda entirely, where Sam can only go so far as to say “I agree with your fight. I just can’t get with the way you’re fightin’ it,” because that’s as far as he can go without endorsing the murder of innocent civilians. The Flag-Smashers could have presented the writers an opportunity to tackle a sensitive but timely topic, but they shied away from the conversation instead.

It doesn’t even feel authentic for Sam’s character, who deserved the emotional growth that could have come from having the chance to feel more morally conflicted about the Flag-Smashers’ war on injustices much like the ones Sam and his sister Sarah (Adepero Oduye) have been fighting for a long time on the show. But with the Flag-Smashers now murdering people left and right, and “Captain America” himself, John Walker (Wyatt Russell) also a very high-profile murderer after the events of this episode, it looks like Sam is being positioned to rise like a falcon between the two opposing forces and their ideologies by the end of the series…which makes me fear the ultimate moral of the story will be to meet your enemies half-way and compromise.

All that being said, the eventual meeting between Sam and Karli is still a powerful scene, taking place at a gloomy funeral service in Riga, Latvia, for Mama Donya, Karli’s mother-figure and the matriarch of her community. There’s a subtle yet impactful beat as the scene opens, where Karli, delivering a speech to the onlookers with a small child nestled in the crook of her arm, suddenly catches sight of Sam watching from the mezzanine – and immediately passes the child in her arms to another character, the implication being that she fears she’s about to be shot dead by a sniper’s bullet, and won’t use the infant as a human shield.

If The Falcon And The Winter Soldier won’t make her truly sympathetic, it would at least be worthwhile to examine this aspect of the character, her surprising duality, in greater depth: if for no other reason than that Kellyman is a brilliant actress, and it’s frankly a little insulting that her character keeps being called “a kid” in the show, as if Kellyman’s not in her early twenties, and Karli Morgenthau is somehow not responsible for her own actions. I hate having to classify her as a villain, but I’m not gonna sit here and deny that she was the one who planted the car-bomb. What makes her so interesting is her ability to switch from gentle to fearsome in an instant, and the responsibility she takes for that, much like another character on this show.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Falcon and the Winter Soldier | indianexpress.com

But Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) actually keeps his cool this week, being content to lean back and enjoy the show as Ayo (Florence Kasumba) and her small team of Dora Milaje warriors from Wakanda arrive looking for Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl, a fan-favorite thanks to his awkward dance on last week’s episode). After giving Bucky eight hours to hand over Zemo, the Dora Milaje go for the kill: taking on everybody at once in a melee battle, including John Walker and his partner, Lemar Hoskins (Cle Bennett). The result is the best action sequence not just in this episode, but in the series thus far, although I feel like budgetary constraints probably prevented the Dora Milaje from using their electric spears the way they were intended.

Even apart from their fighting skills, the Dora Milaje are developed as characters, with Ayo and Bucky sharing an intense flashback scene set six years prior to the events of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, while Bucky was living in Wakanda – though, again, budget constraints necessitate that the scene be set somewhere in the forest surrounding Wakanda. Technically, there’s a good reason for this: Ayo is testing Bucky’s resistance to his HYDRA programming, and wants him as far from the city and its people as possible. Bucky is ultimately able to suppress the Winter Soldier programming, but we later learn that Shuri designed his new vibranium arm to be much easier to remove in battle, leaving Bucky bewildered when Ayo does just that.

John Walker, on the other hand, escapes with all his limbs intact but one seriously bruised ego – lamenting to Hoskins that he can’t keep up with any of his enemies physically…which probably explains why he, unlike Steve Rogers, carries a handgun as part of his gear. Walker isn’t the Cap that America needs, but his weapon of choice makes him the Cap that America would predictably end up being saddled with anyway: a vainglorious, gun-toting, white guy who publicly murders an unarmed Flag-Smasher at the end of the episode, quite likely beheading the man based on the way the shot is framed, and then having the audacity to lift the blood-stained shield and stare unapologetically into the cameras capturing every moment of his rampage. Yikes.

And by that point in the episode, John Walker has also finally recovered one of the vials of Super-Soldier Serum stolen by Karli Morgenthau from Madripoor, and used it to juice himself up with a physical boost that puts him on par with the Flag-Smashers. This is a John Walker who’s at the peak of his career and celebrity, who should and very easily could have left the Flag-Smashers alone at that point and gone his own way. Instead, he recklessly attacks Morgenthau’s hide-out, and she, presuming both him and Lamar Hoskins to have used the Serum, throws Hoskins into a stone pillar, breaking his back and killing him instantly. It’s shockingly graphic, but what comes next, with Walker using the shield as a murder weapon, is just as horrific.

The episode leaves on a weird kind of cliffhanger: John Walker’s next move is obviously going to be extremely important, but Sam and Bucky don’t really have a clear objective now – they’ve been reluctant to confront Walker, but now might be the moment things change, and they’re forced to do so to save not only the world, but Steve Rogers’ legacy. Meanwhile, Zemo has completely disappeared, after evading capture by the Dora Milaje and pursuing Morgenthau himself, leading to a gunfight which breaks off when Zemo discovers several vials of Morgenthau’s Serum and crushes them one-by-one under his heel, in an attempt to end the line of Super-Soldiers permanently. Say what you will about him, but at least he’s consistent in his motives.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Sharon Carter…aka the Power Broker? | cinemablend.com

And then there’s Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), who, in just a few scenes, is looking more and more like the Power Broker behind the creation of the new strain of Serum. She somehow has access to satellites that are able to pinpoint John Walker (who had just taken the Serum, perhaps suggesting that Sharon’s tech is able to detect the chemical compound), and these satellites act as her “eyes in the sky” – wording eerily similar to the tagline “The Power Broker Is Watching” that we see graffitied on buildings in Madripoor and in the closing credits. My only question is what Sharon would be doing with the Serum, since she doesn’t seem to have a clear motive just yet: stealing valuable art is risky, but does it require an army of superhuman warriors?

I do feel as though the biggest enemy to The Falcon And The Winter Soldier is, unfortunately, a lack of time to properly explore all of its many subplots and storylines, but we have two episodes left in which the series can hopefully regain some footing, while remaining entertaining and action-packed. Right now, it’s just downsized its powerful thematic punch to a light swat, a result of too many different ideas pulling focus from Sam Wilson’s mission to regain the shield and become Captain America…which should be the central thrust of the narrative, and right now feels like it’s going to have to be forced into the finale as an afterthought.

Episode Rating: 6.5/10

“The Falcon And The Winter Soldier” Episode 3 Review!

SPOILERS FOR THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER AHEAD!

It’s no coincidence that the best and by far the most outrageously entertaining episode of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier yet happens to also be the longest, at fifty-three minutes: still not quite an hour, but close, so close. And those additional few minutes make all the difference, allowing ever major plot beat (and reader, there are several) the space they need to breathe while making the slower character moments feel more organic and earned…resulting in several characters finally realizing their full potential.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Baron Zemo | denofgeek.com

This is the first episode of either The Falcon And The Winter Soldier or WandaVision that I’ve watched where I haven’t felt rushed for time, constantly checking the progress bar at the bottom of the screen to try and frantically calculate how much of the remaining runtime is actual story, and how much is credits. But whereas WandaVision sometimes felt like it needed more of the former to counterbalance the length of the latter, The Falcon And The Winter Soldier is perfectly balanced…as all things should be (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist).

If it’s story and substance you seek, you will not be disappointed this week: everything involving the escape of Helmut Zemo (Daniel Brühl) is gotten out of the way in the first few minutes, freeing up the rest of the episode to take us to the Indonesian pirate kingdom of Madripoor, for some awesome fight scenes, a tense reunion with Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), and a few major developments in the Super-Soldier Serum storyline, before returning to Eastern Europe for a confrontation with the Flag-Smashers – which gets delayed to next week, but only because another entity intervenes at the last minute that demands our immediate attention, and gives us the kind of surprise cliffhanger ending that should please many fans.

But it’s Zemo who made it into the top three trends on Twitter this morning, and who serves as the best entry point into the breakdown – or should I say, Baron Zemo, since the criminal mastermind is revealed to have been a descendant of Sokovian royalty before the brutal deaths of his entire family and the destruction of his homeland in the aftermath of Age Of Ultron: which I suppose I should have guessed, given how many trips around the world he was able to take while spending money on hotels, large weaponry, and elaborate disguises. What’s a private plane, a collection of vintage cars, and a creepily devoted elderly butler (who’s just been waiting at the airfield for his master’s return for over five years, I guess?) compared to all that?

The only thing that confuses me slightly is why Zemo just happened to have his iconic comic-accurate purple face-mask just lying in the backseat of one of his old and unused cars. A popular theory suggested he might design it to resemble Thanos, to mock the surviving Avengers with the memory of their greatest failure…but that’s clearly not the case, and in the MCU, in the absence of any better origin story for this singularly bizarre piece of brightly-colored headgear, I’m just gonna assume it’s a rich guy thing and roll with it. A weird family heirloom or some high-end fetish-wear, perhaps.

With Daniel Brühl turning in his most deviously charismatic and seductive performance as the villain to date, it doesn’t take long for Zemo to escape his maximum-security prison with help from Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan): but, crucially, on the latter’s terms. Zemo tries his little brainwashing game again, of course, but the code-words meant to activate Bucky’s Winter Soldier persona no longer work as well as they used to, although Zemo guesses that they still trigger some response from deep within Bucky – who grows more and more violent over the course of the episode, as if his HYDRA programming is overwhelming his senses with every moment he spends by the side of his one-time handler.

But, toxic influence on others aside, Zemo does appear to be genuine in his offer of assistance to the heroes, who need his help locating the origin of the new batch of Super-Soldier Serum being used to juice up the Flag-Smashers. True, the only reason he agrees to help them is to fulfil his own mission of wiping out superheroes, and there’s no question he still loathes the Avengers…but at the same time, he saves their lives at crucial moments; he doesn’t lead them astray in Madripoor, although he clearly relishes watching them both endure humiliations while maintaining the disguises he selected for them, such as forcing Bucky to fake an activation, or forcing Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to eat snake-meat; and five years in prison appear to have humanized him…in a creepy, “uncanny valley” sort of way: he dances at a nightclub in Madripoor in a scene terrifyingly reminiscent of Spider-Man 3, and voices his opinion on Marvin Gaye and the “African-American experience”, earning a questioning look from Sam. He’s doing the bare minimum, and from Zemo that’s…a lot.

But perhaps some of it comes down to the fact that, in Madripoor, even a villain as legendary as Zemo is out of his element. We only get to catch a fleeting glimpse of what life is like in the pirate kingdom’s flourishing criminal underworld, and already I can’t wait to go back, perhaps in Shang-Chi and Hawkeye. The city doesn’t boast many big cameos from Marvel Comics’ rogues gallery, mostly just references (for instance, Sam Wilson’s disguise as the “Smiling Tiger” is a nod to an obscure Marvel villain with Thunderbolts ties), but the big players are still out there. In this episode, we only get to visit the lair of a villain named Selby (Imelda Corcoran), who radiates that wealthy-British-white-woman-who-still-regards-Southeast-Asia-as-her-colony type of unsubtle racism.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Sam Wilson and Sharon Carter | theguardian.com

One of Madripoor’s less racist but no less morally gray residents is Sharon Carter, whose days of fighting for justice at S.H.I.E.L.D. and the CIA ended long ago. But despite her complaints with Sam and Bucky for leaving her to fend for herself after the events of Civil War, it’s clear that a few years on the run from authorities, operating a criminal enterprise in Madripoor’s fabulously wealthy Hightown district, have done wonders for Sharon’s character arc, finally giving her personality traits beyond “occasionally offers encouraging advice to male love interest (who is also her late great-aunt’s boyfriend)”. She’s now the semi-antagonistic, deeply cynical, three-dimensional character she might have been all along were it not for the Russo Brothers’ obvious disinterest in her potential beyond what she could offer Steve by silently backing him up in every argument.

The only thing about sticking her in a luxury penthouse apartment and giving her a side-hustle selling stolen artwork to the rich and famous is that it makes it ever so slightly difficult to relate to her apparent dissatisfaction with that cushy career path, and her desire to return to the US with a Presidential pardon: but The Falcon And The Winter Soldier already seems to have that figured out, implying that Sharon might not be entirely sympathetic, and that her plea for a pardon may hide an ulterior motive. Some fans think she could even be the mysterious “Power Broker” who commissioned the new Super-Soldier Serum.

But to my mind, the better bet is that John Walker (Wyatt Russell), the MCU’s new Captain America, is the Power Broker. We know from last week’s episode that Walker’s body was considered such an extraordinary natural phenomenon that he was studied by MIT. Episode three (and the behavior of the Flag-Smashers, who have all sampled the Serum at this point) revealed that this new variant of the Serum was designed to be, in its creator’s words, “subtle, optimized, perfect”, needing no “clunky machines” or “jacked-up bodies” to function – so even if Walker had taken it, he might have been able to hide that fact from MIT’s researchers.

The only wrinkle in this theory is that Walker clearly doesn’t have that kind of physical strength anymore: as evidenced in his fight with the Flag-Smashers. So perhaps this new variant of the Serum only works temporarily (which would explain the Flag-Smashers carrying it around with them at all times), or he could have been given an early, less effective, prototype by Dr. Wilfred Nagel (Olli Haaskivi), the new Serum’s inventor. Either way, the fact that Nagel designed his Serum using blood samples from Isaiah Bradley, the forgotten Black Super-Soldier, would makes this revelation particularly interesting from a thematic standpoint. And the only other thing we know about the Power Broker is that they’re hot on the trail of the Flag-Smashers, hunting for the stolen Serum…just like Walker, whose search for the anarchist organization is growing increasingly desperate and destructive, as he’s wielding the full weight of the shadowy organization known as the GRC (Global Repatriation Council) to find them.

Walker’s hunt seems intensely personal, from the way he threatens possible suspects to his use of Flag-Smasher Karli Morgenthau‘s (Erin Kellyman) first name. Why, unless Karli is in possession of the one piece of evidence that could forever tarnish Walker’s pristine reputation, potentially even lose him the Captain America gig?

With the mission to Madripoor cut short by Nagel’s death, Sam, Bucky, and Zemo return to Europe without Sharon to find the Flag-Smashers on their own and get to the bottom of the mystery. But in its closing minutes, Bucky suddenly veers off from the rest of the group, telling Sam to go on ahead without him – and while I was at first confused and concerned that this was just a plot device to separate the gang before a fight scene, it’s quickly revealed that Bucky is aware of someone else pursuing them. And even as I was getting ready for it to be some old acquaintance of his from HYDRA, the episode surprised me yet again, as the familiar Wakanda theme plays over the arrival of Ayo (Florence Kasumba), a Dora Milaje warrior.

Falcon And The Winter Soldier
Ayo | yahoo.com

Ayo appeared in Black Panther, where her most significant scene (one in which it was hinted that she was LGBTQ+ and attracted to General Okoye) was unfortunately cut – so it’s absolutely thrilling that she’ll get a proper chance to shine while representing Wakanda in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier. Her mission is to find and presumably kill Zemo, who caused the death of Wakanda’s King T’Chaka in Civil War, and her distinctive fighting style will add an exciting new element to the upcoming action scenes, particularly if she’s armed with her culture’s traditional weaponry. This was not a surprise I expected, but it’s the one I think we all needed – particularly since Ayo’s inclusion may begin to give us some insight into how the MCU will move forward with Wakandan storylines following the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman.

Zemo, Sharon, Ayo…with all the characters that The Falcon And The Winter Soldier has taken in just one episode and already completely revitalized, it’s extremely exciting to see how the series will continue to do the same for Sam and Bucky, our leads. And it’s once again abundantly clear that Disney+ really is the best place to do this for all the MCU’s supporting characters, who deserve the time and space that only a six-hour television series can provide.

Episode Rating: 9.5/10

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has (in)famously had a hard time establishing romantic relationships between its characters: even the few love stories that have helped to define the overarching story have sometimes gone through ups and downs, or simply collided headfirst with a brick wall and died (looking at you, Thor & Jane). And yet they keep trying to master the same old boy-meets-girl (or Norse-god-meets-girl, or boy-meets-alien, or computer-program-meets-girl) formula. That’s why, in celebration of Valentine’s Day, I’ve set myself a challenge: trying to find the ten most romantic, endearing, adorable couples in the MCU and ranking them.

Disclaimer: “ships” or non-canon pairings aren’t being considered on this list because that would be cheating – most MCU “ships” are at least ten times better than the majority of actual onscreen pairings. It’s simply not fair to compare.

10: Thor & Jane Foster.

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked! 1
hollywoodreporter.com

These two had something that looked like potential – I mean, if you squinted really hard. From the moment that Thor, the Norse God of Thunder and rightful heir to the throne of Asgard, crash-landed in the American Southwest, upsetting one of Jane Foster’s pseudo-scientific experiments, Marvel tried to convince audiences that a grand and glorious epic love-story for the ages was brewing – but all the magic (or “what your ancestors call magic”) words in the Marvel mythos couldn’t force Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman to look more than remotely disinterested in each other. And after Thor: The Dark World failed to turn up the heat, or really do anything at all, Portman had finally had enough: she quit the MCU, and Jane Foster was subsequently written out of the story. In Thor: Ragnarok, it was briefly mentioned that she broke up with the Thunder God offscreen – an uncomfortably awkward conclusion to what was supposed to be a cornerstone of Thor’s entire arc.

9: Stephen Strange & Christine Palmer.

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marvelcinematicuniverse.fandom.com

I’m actually tempted to move this couple ever so slightly further up the list, because while they’re not exactly memorable, they’re also probably not as bad and/or boring as you remembered. Dr. Stephen Strange, a snobbish, arrogant surgeon, wasn’t just the on-and-off boyfriend of Dr. Christine Palmer – he was also her work-partner, and it was mentioned (though never really elaborated on) that the two had even pioneered an important new surgical technique, making the couple basically equal. And after Strange’s run-in with karma, it was Palmer who tried to help him recover his strength and rebuild his life: their heated argument about Strange’s future is the most powerful scene in the Doctor Strange movie, and carries a lot of emotional weight. Unfortunately, Rachel McAdams’ character basically fades into the background after that, and apart from being privy to a battle on the astral plane and trying (unsuccessfully) to save the Ancient One’s life, she really has nothing more to do in the story. And she’s not returning for the sequel, so I guess that’s the end of that.

8: Peter Quill & Gamora.

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screencrush.com

I don’t really like either Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star-Lord, an interstellar pirate armed with braggadocio, semi-Celestial powers that have proved to be entirely inconsequential outside of his own movies, and an impressive playlist of golden oldies), or Gamora (a.k.a. The Most Dangerous Woman In The Galaxy, who never actually lived up to that title before her untimely death at the hands of male screenwriters who didn’t know what else to do with her her own father, Thanos): nonetheless, I have to admit they had a spark of chemistry in both Guardians Of The Galaxy movies – and their interactions in Avengers: Infinity War, during which Gamora nearly convinced Quill to kill her (long story), are pretty emotional. There was something there! It wasn’t much, maybe, but it also wasn’t not there – much to the dismay of Thor & Peter Quill shippers everywhere. But in the end, Quill failed (because doesn’t he always?), Gamora got tossed off a cliff, and here we are with nothing left of their relationship but a sad trail of bubbles.

7: Natasha Romanoff & Bruce Banner.

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thedigitalwise.com

I like Avengers: Age Of Ultron. I know it’s unpopular to say this, but it’s honestly the best Avengers movie – not only because it references the events of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., but also because it successfully balances almost all of the main characters while still being able to add a couple new ones to the mix. There’s a cohesive plot, the stakes are raised, and the Avengers get to interact with each other on a more personal, intimate level than ever before. And then there’s Natasha Romanoff’s random relationship with Bruce Banner – while it’s not a bad idea, and they make a cute couple, the basis for their coupling up is based on the problematic idea that they’re both “monsters”: Bruce, because he transforms into a giant green killing machine; Natasha, because she’s…infertile? The messaging is weird and kind of sexist, especially since it would have been way easier to make Natasha’s murderous past with the KGB the reason for her guilt and self-loathing. It’s a shame, because Natasha actually did have better interactions with Bruce than she ever had with her former love interest, Clint Barton, but for better or worse their story arc was completely abandoned in Avengers: Infinity War.

6: T’Challa & Nakia.

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popsugar.au

While there’s certainly an argument to be made that T’Challa, the catsuit-wearing guardian of the African nation of Wakanda, is slightly more low-key and subdued than many of his co-stars in Black Panther (let’s face it, he doesn’t have Okoye’s fiery energy, Killmonger’s smoldering charisma, or M’Baku’s macabre humor), there can be no denying that his relationship with Wakandan secret agent/humanitarian Nakia is super cute. The two are a power couple, with both characters having genuine hero moments – Nakia even briefly diverts the main focus of the film away from T’Challa, and considers becoming the Black Panther herself. By the end of the film, she’s also working around the world to help extend Wakandan aid to those in need. And when they’re onscreen together, they’re presented as a healthy, sturdy relationship that doesn’t have to rely on drama, troubling gender dynamics, or sarcastic banter to be interesting. They’re basically #CoupleGoals, and I love them.

5: Wanda Maximoff & The Vision.

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polygon.com

Ah, the tragic story of the computer program who became a man…once, for no apparent reason, and never did so again. The Vision, a sentient computer program outfitted with a cool new body (that, unfortunately for him, came along with the Mind Stone, one of the most coveted objects in the galaxy), didn’t really show any signs of attraction to the troubled witch, Wanda Maximoff, until Captain America: Civil War, but when their romance finally kicked into gear, and the two began to bond over spicy food, things got good – and then immediately got weird again, when Wanda blasted Vision through a floor, before suddenly…ending up on the run with him in Scotland? Where Vision was suddenly able to turn into a human man, but only did so once, for reasons that were never explained? Yeah, so there’s some serious gaps in what we actually know about their relationship, but at least it ended on a strong note, with Wanda having to brutally murder her lover in an attempt to destroy the Mind Stone before Thanos could get to it, only to watch Thanos use the Time Stone to reverse all her hard work, murder Vision again, and use the Stones to wipe out half the galaxy, including Wanda herself. If it’s any consolation, the upcoming WandaVision series on Disney+ will feature Wanda resurrecting her dead partner, only to have him presumably die once again when her entire reality inevitably comes crashing down around her. Cheerful, am I right?

4: Scott Lang & Hope Van Dyne.

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hollywoodreporter.com

Technically, there have been two canon MCU power couples that call themselves Ant-Man and The Wasp: Hope Van Dyne’s parents, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, and then Hope herself and her partner, reformed burglar/single father/world’s best grandma, Scott Lang. But the latter couple has the edge on its predecessor, mostly because Janet doesn’t actually show up until the end of the second Ant-Man film, and most of her flashbacks with Hank were cut out of the movie anyway. Scott and Hope share the spotlight (and the title-card) in Ant-Man And The Wasp, which focuses almost entirely on their relationship – and their exchanges of playful, witty banter, coupled with their fidelity and focus on family, make them one of the most endearing couples in the MCU.

3: Steve Rogers & Peggy Carter.

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themarysue.com

Specifically, their relationship in the first three Captain America films, before Avengers: Endgame happened. In the beginning, scrawny new recruit Steve Rogers and fast-talking, no-nonsense commanding officer Peggy Carter were actually quite a sweet pairing: they both had character arcs, and agency in their own stories. There was a quaint little 1940’s love story between them, but Peggy, by virtue of being in the military, wasn’t forced to play the damsel-in-distress or grieving-girlfriend-on-the-home-front roles: and in the post-war era, after Steve went down in the frigid Antarctic Ocean and was lost, she picked up her life and moved on, founding S.H.I.E.L.D. and starting a family. Her relationship with Steve after his resurrection from the ice was deeply emotional and interesting, and it was tragic when she passed away. But then to essentially reverse all the complexities of their post-The First Avenger relationship by having Steve go back in time and start all over with her, making her essentially a consolation prize for Steve after he failed to move on with his life, thus preventing her from moving on with hers? No, just no.

2: Tony Stark & Virginia “Pepper” Potts.

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appocalypse.co

They’re the MCU’s original duo: how could they not come in near the top of the list? Tony was a sarcastic, cynical mess of a human being; a war-profiteer who didn’t care one iota about the countless people killed daily by his weapons of mass destruction; Pepper was the very opposite, a cool, collected woman with savvy business skills and a friendly disposition. It’s a trope, and a tired one at that. But their relationship evolved into so much more than that – Tony became Iron Man, and Pepper took over as CEO of Stark Industries. They constructed the Avengers Tower in New York City. In the five years after Avengers: Infinity War, they got married and had a daughter. In Avengers: Endgame, where they even got to fight in battle alongside each other, their decade-long relationship came to an end with Tony Stark’s tragic death. In that final moment, as the former “Merchant of Death” gave up his life to save the world, Pepper stayed beside him and her face was the last thing he ever saw. I’m not crying: you’re crying.

1: Leopold Fitz & Jemma Simmons.

The Ten Most Romantic Couples In The MCU: Ranked! 10
cinemablend.com

Yes, I cheated! Fitz and Simmons, or “Fitzsimmons” as they’re more commonly known among the fandom, are not technically members of the MCU: they come from the Marvel TV division, where they made their debut on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and have endured through six grueling, torturous seasons of hardship, personal loss, tragedy and pure, wholesome romance. While they started out as the team’s two bumbling, socially-awkward scientists, it didn’t take long before the universe’s vendetta against them resulted in them standing up for S.H.I.E.L.D., and for each other, in incredible ways. Their tense, frantic struggle to figure their way out of an airtight box at the bottom of the ocean (long story) was one of the highlights of Season 1, as it showed just how powerful the two are as a team – so of course they were then split up. Jemma became an undercover spy, got eaten by a space monolith, was transported to another planet and had to survive on her own, fell in love with an astronaut who turned into an evil alien god, was possessed by the Kree, was possibly hinted to be bisexual (come on, we all know she had a thing for Daisy), and even met and defeated the demonic personification of her self-doubt: Leo lost his ability to communicate for a long period of time and became delusional, was possibly hinted to be bisexual (come on, we all know he had a thing for Mac), became a dashing secret agent, met his evil HYDRA doppelganger, fell in love with HYDRA’s cyborg overlord, and then got stuck in two different time-periods at once, which resulted in him dying but still being alive and yet somehow a space pirate in both timelines…it’s a wacky and confusing series, but their love for each other, which persists even against all odds, has always been at the heart of the story, and I would be lying if I didn’t say they’re the most romantic couple in what used to technically be part of (or at least adjacent to) the MCU.

So what do you think of my top ten, and would you have chosen differently? Did I leave your favorite couple off my list? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

“Avengers: Infinity Wars” Movie Review!

With Avengers: Endgame only a few days away, it makes sense to revisit the first part of the Infinity Saga – Avengers: Infinity Wars, one of the greatest movies of the past year and the beginning of the end of the current phase of the MCU. This movie is such a monolith of pop culture that it could be easy to overlook the fact that, first and foremost, it’s a film just like any other, and should be reviewed as such. So here’s my comprehensive and complete analysis of everything in Avengers: Infinity Wars that you need to remember before going into Avengers: Endgame, plus everything you need to know about Infinity Wars itself, as a film.

SPOILERS for Avengers: Infinity Wars ahead. Obviously.

So, in case, you’ve forgotten everything that happened (how could you?), we’ll start out with a brief summary of events: the film picks up where the 2017 film Thor: Ragnarok left off, with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) among the last survivors of an attack on their spaceship. It is soon revealed that the attackers are led by none other than the Mad Titan Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin), who is hunting for the six incredibly powerful Infinity Stones that have been scattered across the universe. Having already been armed with the Power Stone, Thanos is able to force Loki to divulge the location of his next target, the Space Stone – which, unsurprisingly, turns out to be in Loki’s possession. During the ensuing fight, The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) gets sent hurtling off into space, headed for earth, and Loki gets strangled by Thanos. The spaceship blows up (with Thor inside, still cradling his dead brother’s body), and Thanos and his minions go their separate ways, pursuing the other Stones.

This opening scene is fantastic: it sets the mood for the rest of the film (grim and tragic), and kills off two characters very quickly – Loki, and Thor’s best friend Heimdall (Idris Elba). It also sets up some important questions for Avengers: Endgame – (1) is Loki really dead? (2) What happened to two other characters, Valkyrie and Korg, who were on that spaceship before the attack? (3) Is this whole thing really Thor’s story?

These questions don’t have answers yet, but there are a number of good theories out there: (1) Loki was holding the Space Stone during the fight, so it’s possible he was able to use it to escape across the galaxy, leaving a clone of himself to die. (2) It has been confirmed that Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) escaped the attack, and that she will be returning for Avengers: Endgame – it’s still a mystery where she went, though, or what her purpose in Endgame could be. The fate of Korg (voiced by Taika Waititi) remains unknown. (3) This question has been asked a lot. Infinity Wars starts with Thor, and it ends with Thor (more on that later). The heroic Asgardian god doesn’t actually have very much to do throughout the film, but in Infinity Wars he was undeniably the only Avenger with a clear motive to stop Thanos. And it’s worth noting that Infinity Wars and Endgame are just two halves of one movie, according to the directors, Joe and Anthony Russo. If Thor was the protagonist in the first half, will that carry through into the second? I’d suspect not. While Thor is a crucial member of the team, Endgame truly belongs to Iron Man and Captain America. That’s my opinion, and you’ll see why in a minute.

But enough about Endgame! Back to Infinity Wars: so we follow the Hulk as he crashes through the earth’s atmosphere and rips a hole through the roof of the New York Sanctum, interrupting a conversation between Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wong (Benedict Wong) about deli food and metaphysics – the Hulk, however, has now turned back into his human self, Bruce Banner, and is babbling about Thanos. Strange and Banner decide to awkwardly interrupt an intimate moment between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). They themselves are then interrupted by Thanos’ minions landing in New York City, looking for the Time Stone, which just happens to be owned by Doctor Strange himself. This alien invasion also interrupts a certain school field-trip to MOMA, during which Peter Parker (Tom Holland) escapes out of a school-bus window and goes to help Tony Stark. Things don’t exactly turn out well, however, and Doctor Strange gets captured and sucked into a spaceship, where alien telepath Ebony Maw (voiced by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) attempts to perform surgery on him but is interrupted by Tony and Peter, who have crept aboard the spaceship. Using techniques learned from Aliens and a good amount of help from Doctor Strange’s magical cloak, the heroes manage to toss Ebony Maw out into the freezing depths of space, and hijack the ship.

And, of course, there are more hints about Endgame here too: most notably the fact that after Tony gets on the alien spaceship, he makes a call to Pepper – as the connection goes out, Pepper tells him either “I’m going to-,” or “I’m going too-“. The latter seems more likely when one takes into consideration that Gwyneth Paltrow posted a photo of herself from the Avengers: Endgame set wearing a superhero suit. Could we see Pepper suit up and fly off into space to follow Tony in Endgame, or is she going somewhere else? Or is it just a misdirection?

Now, obviously, we’ve still only discussed Thor and Tony Stark, and Infinity Wars wouldn’t be much of an Avengers film without Captain America, Black Widow and Hawkeye – which is exactly why Infinity Wars is not a proper Avengers film in my opinion. Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) get maybe five or six minutes of screentime each, while Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) doesn’t show up at all. Instead, we get a fast but admittedly impressive fight scene in Scotland as Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) defends her robot boyfriend Vision (Paul Bettany) from getting a certain Mind Stone ripped out of his forehead by Thanos’ minions, who interrupt them during a romantic moment – what is with all the interruptions in this movie? Nobody can finish a conversation without having magic doctors pop out of portals or aliens stab them through the chest! Thankfully, Captain America and Black Widow spend their five minutes of screentime rescuing Scarlet Witch and Vision and then ferrying them to the nation of Wakanda, where they hope the genius inventor Shuri (Letitia Wright) can separate the Mind Stone from Vision’s body by non-life threatening surgical methods.

By now, the plot is literally jumping everywhere in the universe. The Guardians of the Galaxy find Thor still alive, floating in space, and rescue him: he promptly steals their escape-pod and flies off with their captain, Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and their talking tree, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). Meanwhile, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) takes the remaining Guardians on a suicide mission to stop Thanos from getting his hands on the Reality Stone…which fails…massively. Thanos’ daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) tries to kill him, and then, in desperation, calls on Star-Lord to kill her – which also fails, massively. So the Reality Stone now belongs to Thanos, and so does Gamora, Thor is lost in space with a raccoon which he thinks is a rabbit, Tony and his crew are looking for Thanos, Thanos’ minions are hunting Vision, Scarlet Witch is having a crisis because Vision keeps telling her she needs to kill him, Black Widow and Bruce Banner have literally two lines of dialogue to address their entire romantic history, and those two lines are, respectively, “Bruce” and “Nat”. And meanwhile Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is getting a new metal arm that has absolutely no consequence on anything that happens later in the story, and – oh god, not flashbacks too!

(Actually, the flashback is one of the best scenes in the movie, as Gamora reminisces about her first encounter with Thanos. Young Gamora learns to balance a knife on her fingertip while her people are systematically slaughtered by firing squad in the background – beautiful, heart-wrenching stuff, and all complimented nicely by some beautiful music).

Eventually, the plots and subplots start to come together, after a rocky first act. Gamora agrees to lead Thanos to the Soul Stone, located on a desolate planet, where (surprise, surprise) the movie has time to reveal that Red Skull is still alive, even though he has absolutely no consequence on anything that happens later in the story. Though presumably there’ll be more time to deal with the effects of this reveal in Endgame, where we might see a final showdown between the Red Skull and his arch-nemesis Captain America. Thanos learns that the Soul Stone demands a sacrifice before it can be won: specifically, that which you most love. Thankfully, Thanos came to this planet with Gamora, the only person he ever truly loved! Thankfully there’s a giant cliff nearby that is just perfect for throwing people off of! Thankfully the so-called “fiercest woman in the galaxy” chooses this moment to resort to trying to ineffectively punch Thanos’ arm as he throws her off of the aforementioned cliff!

With four of six Infinity Stones now in his grasp, Thanos promptly heads to his ancient homeworld of Titan to go deal with Tony Stark and Doctor Strange, who by now have run into the other Guardians of the Galaxy. On earth, the nation of Wakanda comes under attack from Thanos’ minions while Shuri works frantically to try and get the Mind Stone out of Vision’s head. Meanwhile, Thor is skiing around a frozen star (okay, fine, he’s lighting the forges of Nidavellir or whatever, but it looked like skiing to me). And…Peter Dinklage is an awesome actor, but this movie is already overcrowded with characters – did we really need a giant Peter Dinklage manning the forges of Nidavellir and loading us down with boring exposition? The only interesting part about this sequence is the fact that there’s an Infinity Gauntlet up there in Nidavellir, which may or may not be important in Endgame.

But finally…we get to the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Thanos arrives on Titan and uses the full power of his own Infinity Gauntlet to wreak havoc on the planet. What follows is one of the best fight-scenes in any movie, ever: nanotech weaponry, a moon pulled from its orbit, Doctor Strange transforming into a Hindu deity, the robot assassin Nebula (Karen Gillan) crashing her own spaceship straight into Thanos – and all of it is in vain, because idiot Star-Lord goes and starts punching Thanos in the face while they have the Titan sedated. Seriously, Star-Lord?

After that, the rest of the movie is just tragedy after tragedy. Doctor Strange gives Thanos the Time Stone in exchange for Thanos sparing Tony Stark’s life. There’s apparently a reason for this: Doctor Strange looked into the future and saw only one outcome in which the Avengers win the Infinity War. But to win, Tony Stark has to live, and Thanos has to get the Time Stone.

And Thanos doesn’t waste a single moment before teleporting to Wakanda and going after Vision – whose operation has not been going well. The poor robot literally gets thrown out of a window, on a surgical table, down a cliff. And then (finally) Scarlet Witch puts an end to the whole thing by blasting him in the head and destroying the Mind Stone.

Good thing Thanos didn’t literally just receive the ability to turn back time!

As if having his surgery rudely interrupted by aliens and getting killed by his own girlfriend wasn’t enough, Vision then has to endure being brought back to life and killed again – as Thanos simply reaches into his forehead and plucks out the Mind Stone.

Nobody saves the day in this movie. Not Doctor Strange, who tells Tony sadly that it was “the only way”. Not Tony himself, who is still recovering from having a very large piece of metal shoved into his chest. Not even Thor, when he finally shows up in Wakanda wielding an incredibly ugly ax. Thanos gets what he wants: a fully-powered Infinity Gauntlet that allows him to wipe out half of all life with a snap of his fingers – which he does, without hesitation. The audience is forced to watch in horror as beloved characters turn into ash and disappear: Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Spider-man, Star-Lord (serves him right), Scarlet Witch, etc, etc. Who gave Marvel the right to do this?

Even worse, who gave Marvel the right to use such sloppy CGI on the Hulkbuster suit that Bruce Banner wears during the Battle of Wakanda? And for that matter, the Battle of Wakanda is filmed in such a boring fashion that it’s a crime all in itself: boring color palette and boring choreography make that fight scene one of the most forgettable in any recent Marvel film.

I’m not trying to look for fault in the film, of course. The film is quite good, overall. But the storyline is all over the place, and certain characters (ahem, Star-Lord) did not need anywhere near as much screentime as they got, while other characters (ahem, Captain America) got little to no screentime, when they should have been stars. Hopefully, everything will be resolved in the second half of this still very incomplete movie, which is only a few days away now. Half of the Marvel universe is currently dust, the villain has won and is relaxing on some paradise planet, and the Avengers are all split up across the galaxy.

Let’s hope Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) can do something about this problem when she arrives on earth…

Movie Rating: 9.5/10

X-Men Won’t Be Joining The MCU – Yet.

The moment Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, Marvel comic fans around the world had one question: how soon will we get a Marvel reboot of the X-Men and the Fantastic Four?

It’ll be a while.

Those were Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige’s exact words in a recent interview, where he explained that he has a plan for the next phase of the MCU, and, at present, it does not include the X-Men. Specifically, he has a five-year plan that starts in 2020, apparently, so it appears we might not get our next X-Men movie until around 2026. Dark Phoenix, the last relic of the Fox X-Men, suddenly has a lot more significance: it will be a long time before we ever see characters like Professor X, Magneto, Jean Grey, Cyclops and Storm onscreen again.

Or will it be?

You see, we might not be getting an X-Men film for a long time, but does that exclude the possibility of certain X-Men and mutants appearing in other, upcoming Marvel films, not as a team, but as individuals? After all, the Avengers weren’t introduced as a group – they got solo films first, that slowly built up to their first team-up movie. Why not do something similar with the X-Men: scatter them throughout Phase 4 of the MCU, separate and distinct from each other, and then, somewhere down the line, have them meet. There’s already a lot of possibilities, so let’s explore a few right now.

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screenrant.com

First up, there’s The Eternals. This is a rather mysterious movie, which hasn’t started filming yet, but it should come out in November of 2020, kicking off Feige’s five-year plan. The Eternals are a rather unusual group of characters, and their backstory is hugely convoluted and confusing, but basically it goes like this: thousands of years ago, space gods known as the Celestials came to Earth and started messing about with humankind – they did experiments on human DNA, and were able to create a race of godlike beings, the Eternals. However, their experiments are also responsible for the Mutants: the X-Men are descended from those early humans who were mutated by the Celestials. The Eternals could be an epic spanning thousands of years, according to Feige, which means it’s likely we’ll see those experiments on humankind. That lays the groundwork for mutants showing up later in the MCU.

Then we have Black Panther 2 – the sequel to the highly acclaimed, Best Picture-nominee Black Panther. But while it will undoubtedly feature the return of beloved characters like T’Challa, Shuri, Nakia and Okoye, the film will probably add some new characters to the mix. And there’s one character in particular who has always had an interesting connection to the country of Wakanda and the Black Panther. That would be Storm, a.k.a Ororo Munroe, one of the most notable mutants in the X-Men roster. In the comics, Storm met T’Challa when they were both teenagers, and the two had feelings for each other – though they were forced to part ways for a time, Storm returned to Wakanda eventually and married T’Challa, becoming Queen of Wakanda. Imagine if, in Black Panther 2, we see something like this: T’Challa could hear rumors of a mysterious witch living out beyond the borders of Wakanda, who can control the weather – in a mission to stop her, he could end up learning her tragic story, of how her parents were killed when a fighter jet crashed into their house in Cairo, how she became a street thief before being adopted by the priestesses living in the Serengeti to whom she is distantly related. Perhaps they could end up having romantic feelings (though in that case, what happens to Nakia?), but more likely the two merely become close friends, and Storm becomes a citizen of Wakanda. And what about this for a post-credits scene: Professor X himself shows up in Wakanda and asks her to come with him. That would be epic.

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Then we get to Captain Marvel. The spunky,  faster-than-light superheroine memorably portrayed by Oscar-winner Brie Larson is incredibly powerful, armed with the power of an Infinity Stone, and there seems to be nothing in the universe that can stop her. So what kind of villain can be crafted for a Captain Marvel sequel, what kind of villain can actually pose a threat to someone so empowered? You would need someone who could use similar power.

Enter Rogue, the young mutant who can absorb powers from other people. In the comics, she has actually done this to Captain Marvel – with disastrous results. She absorbed Danvers’ powers and used them to battle the Avengers (and even threw Carol Danvers off the Golden Gate Bridge). While things eventually went back to normal, this incident left both characters emotionally scarred. And it’s interesting that Rogue happens to hail from the state of Mississippi: just one state over, in Louisiana, lives Carol’s good friend Maria Rambeau, and it’s not unlikely that Carol will spend more time there, in the Deep South. She could encounter Rogue there in Captain Marvel 2, and the consequences could be vast.

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en.wikipedia.org

There you have three movies already that could feature Mutants in some way. They’re not the only ones: multiple X-Men, such as Colossus and Magik, come from Russia, which is presumably where the upcoming Black Widow movie will be set. Magik also has some interesting connections to Doctor Strange in the comics, and the Doctor is getting a sequel which should come out in 2021. A future Spider-man movie could be a great place to introduce Iceman. There’s a plethora of possibilities, and even if we don’t get the X-Men as a team within the next five years, I have no doubt we’ll start seeing set-up for the X-Men in the near future.

Also, don’t forget that while Kevin Feige said the X-Men won’t be getting a film for some time, he said nothing about the Fantastic Four. They might be an easier group to introduce a little sooner, and wouldn’t require as much build-up to their introduction.