The MCU Is Still Doing Villains All Wrong

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At the end of Spider-Man: Homecoming, something monumentally crazy happened — Michael Keaton’s brilliantly portrayed Vulture lived. And not only did he live, he had a post-credits scene that teased the promise of more complicated Vulture dynamics for Pete to come.

Now, as comic nerds, this shouldn’t be such a monumental occasion to us. It happens all the time in our funny books. Good guy bests the bad guy, there’s a happy ending, and then — oh no! — the bad guy swears revenge. And then when the writers hit a wall on new ideas, they’ve got a deep bench of revenge-swearing baddies to pick from.

We are currently 463 Marvel movies in, and I’m not sure how they’ve missed the memo from the comics that they’re based on. Instead of wisely recycling, they’ve racked up quite a body count: from poor old Malekith of the Dark Elves, Ronan the Accuser, and the Abomination to Darren Cross, Obadiah Stane, and even the sweet-eyed Kaecilius.

You’ll notice that I’ve tossed the weakest of the bunch into a single bracket. We’ll get to Killmonger shortly. First, let’s focus on this random assortment of generic aliens and monsters, tech guys, and Mads Mikkelsen. I will be the first to admit that this motley crew is not the most memorable, and probably don’t need to be the hill this article will die on. And yet, this hill it shall be.

Villains Deserve Second and Third Chances


Malekith from Thor- Dark World
Malekith fell flat the first time, but he would’ve made a worthy longterm foe for Thor.

The promise of comic books means second and third chances for a character to land. Sure, Malekith and Ronan were lackluster the first time around, but they don’t have to be the next time. New filmmakers can come and breathe life into these characters. What if the Children of Thanos had been the heavy hitters of MCU past, instead of an additional new group of aliens I don’t know much about? The reveal of Squidward, Malekith, Ronan, and Abomination kneeling at the feet of Thanos and Hela would have been a pretty cool moment for audiences.

New movies mean new opportunities to give these characters new dimension, just like the heroes the movies are named for. Malekith in Thor: The Dark World is incredibly dull, but Malekith so desperate for revenge on Thor that he pledges his army to Thanos is an interesting new angle for him. I’m into it for the scene where Hela mocks his failure to destroy Asgard alone. Sometimes it just takes a change of scenery.

Returning villains also create a valuable shorthand for audiences and creators alike. Had the evil army in Avengers: Infinity War been a combined horde of Dark Elves and Chitauri, we wouldn’t have had to take that moment to adjust to an even newer generic CGI horde. Using CGI hordes we already have a connection to allows a moment of familiarity for the viewer, and an intense moment of recognition in our heroes.

It’s Time for the Turk Barrett Method


Turk Barrett Daredevil Marvel Netflix shows
The MCU needs a Turk Barrett or two.

The tech guys are equally useful to keep around. From Justin Hammer to Stane to Cross, their motivations are simple: Greed. These boys don’t always have to be the focus, but keeping them around and involved gives us a more fleshed out, living and breathing universe. Do you remember the arms dealer that wanted to steal Hank Pym’s lab in Antman and the Wasp? All respect to Walton Goggins, but no. No, you don’t. But if it had been Justin Hammer, and Sam Rockwell had danced his way into a restaurant for a meeting with Hope, the stakes go up just a little more. This is a villain with a little history and a little weight behind him.

These “not quite archnemesis” types are some of the most valuable characters a comic book universe can have. One of my favorite characters in the MCU? Turk, a D-lister at best. A nothing guy that’s just around to move drugs or sell a gun. He could have easily been 25 different faceless bad guys waiting to get punched by a Defender, but the writers saw a value in that 25 guys always being Turk. He’s a connective tissue to the Hell’s Kitchen corner of Marvel. Now, imagine Justin Hammer as the white collar Turk to the larger MCU, or Ronan as hired muscle who is happy to come after anyone in space that needs to get Accused (Accusor-ed?).

Top-Tier Threats Need Top-Tier Arcs


Hela destroying Thor's Hammer in Thor Ragnarok
Sometimes a performance is so good that it deserves to be revisited.

The archnemesis-level folks have a more clear and obvious value, and yet their toys have been cleared out of the sandbox. I’m talking hitters like Ultron, Hela, and Killmonger. Can you imagine if Magneto and Dr. Doom had been killed off in their first comic book appearances? Is there even an X-Men comic without decades of the evolution of Xavier and Magneto?

In losing these villains, we’ve robbed big-screen heroes of that same evolution. Ultron is a top-tier threat to the MCU, sure, but he’s also a constant reminder of the hubris of the Avengers that should never truly go away. I’m still waiting for him to show up in a Guardians of the Galaxy film to wipe out a solar system or three.

Hela may not have had a ton to do in Thor: Ragnarok but Cate Blanchett’s performance alone carried her into the upper echelon. And that’s the point of villains surviving: a performance like that deserves so much more. She deserves to be revisited and fleshed out. Blanchett’s god-powered homage to Eartha Kitt and Julie Newmar deserves to be an ongoing factor in Thor’s personal life and in the greater MCU.

Killmonger (and T’Challa) Deserved Better


Black Panther and Killmonger at Warrior Falls
T’Challa and Killmonger could’ve been the MCU’s Batman and Joker.

Which brings us to Killmonger. The MCU has always relied heavily on its villains being “mostly like the hero but slightly different.” It’s a frustrating trope that needs some creative attention, but they nailed it perfectly in one guy: Killmonger. He’s not just “Black Panther but evil.” He’s truly the opposite side of the same coin. He’s charismatic and tragic, and Michael B. Jordan’s performance gives you enough hope that he’s redeemable that you almost want to root for him.

All that to say that Killmonger is the MCU’s Magneto. The dance between Black Panther and Killmonger could, just like the Distinguished Competition’s bat and clown, go on forever. And while Killmonger’s end overlooking the country he had longed for his entire life was a beautiful close to that film, I argue that it was short-sighted, and that Black Panther doesn’t just need Killmonger to fight. None of these heroes just need these villains around to fight. Our heroes need Killmonger, Hela, and even the generic Darren Cross to grow and evolve.

I know a lot of folks are focusing on how undoing the snap is going to affect what our lineup of heroes is going to look like. I’m far more interested in how it changes our gallery of rogues. Marvel has the perfect chance to make like the comics and ignore death. Let’s hope they take it.

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‘Voltron’ Wasn’t Wrong to Kill Off Shiro’s Boyfriend

I’d been all in on Voltron: Legendary Defender since day one, being a fan of showrunners Joaquim Dos Santos & Lauren Montgomery’s previous work, specifically on series like Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Naturally, considering The Legend of Korra had ended with the two primary female characters venturing off into the spirit realm, hand in hand, gazing lovingly into one another’s eyes, many fans, including myself, had long expected Voltron to deliver in the LGBTQ representation department. What I did not see coming was that representation in the form of Voltron’s former leader.

A Long-Expected Pairing Turns Sour


Shiro looking at Adam Voltron Legendary Defender

I’ll never forget my also much-older-than-the-target-audience friend’s vice-like grip on my arm, as part way through the episode “A Little Adventure,” we realized we were watching a scene between Shiro and his boyfriend. Another friend’s teenage niece about leaped out of her chair in excitement as Montgomery confirmed that this beautiful, tan-skinned megane-kun (translation: glasses character), Adam, was indeed Shiro’s very serious partner.

Of course, fans were, understandably, upset when Adam returned in Season 7’s “The Last Stand, Part 2” only for the creators to kill him off just as quickly as he was introduced. Like many, I binged the rest of the season in disbelief, refusing to believe that had really happened. I was certain that, like Lance’s sister Veronica, Adam too would turn up in the underground resistance, leading a ragtag group of survivors just as he had led a fleet of Earth’s greatest pilots in the fight against the Galra. But he didn’t, and my heart broke along with Shiro’s when he returned home to find that Adam’s warning had come true: He wasn’t there when he got back, not because he had moved on, but because he had died defending the planet Shiro left behind.

More Than Canon Fodder


Adam in cockpit Voltron Legedary Defender
Yes, Adam’s death is painful, but my goodness is it real.

Yes, “bury your gays” — reducing queer characters to inevitable tragedy — is an unfortunate trope that exists in fiction. It’s easy to see why there was an outcry amongst fans claiming this when Adam, one of the only confirmed gay characters in the series, was immediately terminated. However, it’s important to look at the bigger picture here which is Adam’s death contextually made sense in Shiro’s story. He wasn’t “fridged” — killed off to create motivation for the hero, namely revenge — but rather died in the fight defending the Earth against the Galra, something Shiro has been doing since the very beginning of Voltron

Shiro is a leader and a soldier, and, ultimately, Adam died fighting for everything his partner believed in. Just because his love interest died, doesn’t mean that Shiro stopped being gay. If anything, it’s more unusual to have a queer fictional character who isn’t actively involved in a love story, which is one of the things that makes Voltron’s approach to LGBTQ representation unique.


Sad Shiro Voltron Legedary Defender
Adam’s death doesn’t change who Shiro is at his core.

Let me preface this by saying, I am no stranger to gay men in my animation — a whole subgenre of shōjo anime (anime for girls) exists that focuses on male/male love stories. However, these stories are frequently heavily fantasized, occasionally problematic, and always just that: love stories. This is not the case with Voltron, because Voltron is not a love story. So instead of having gay characters solely to participate in a whirlwind romance, it remains true to what it is, a story about war, loss, and finding the strength to carry on in spite of it, while also featuring characters who happen to be gay. They don’t get plot armor — they’re treated like everyone else — and more than a few of the “good guys,” besides the much-lamented Adam, have lost their lives in this intergalactic war.

“I Want to Be a Paladin Again”

Which brings me back to Shiro, the last character I expected to turn out to be gay, simply because, well, he falls pretty solidly into the “noble hero” archetype. (I also didn’t actually expect him to be alive at this point, given the untimely death of his namesake in GoLion, but that’s beside the point.) When we meet Shiro, he’s the most experienced member of the team: he’s not a student, but a teacher, a soldier, an expert pilot, and the figurehead that holds Team Voltron together. Yes, the Galra put him through the wringer after capturing him, but he doesn’t let that change him.


Shiro and Keith Voltron Legendary Defender

Take, for example, Shiro’s actions in the much-beloved tabletop roleplaying episode “Monsters & Mana.” Every time he dies, he “wants to be a paladin again.” That’s who he is, fundamentally. He’s not just a Paladin of Voltron, but a paladin in the Dungeons & Dragons sense of the word: a warrior committed to righteousness, who stands steadfast in the battle against evil. No matter what hardships he encounters, he always comes back to that.


Voltron Legendary Defender Monsters and Mana Shiro

Shiro serves as a role model for all the other Paladins, who look to him for guidance, and inspiration — the fact that he can still be that and also gay is incredibly refreshing, and absolutely in line with everything that makes Voltron: Legendary Defender an exceptionally good series. I’ve seen numerous tweets of young men expressing how important the character Hunk is to them. He’s one of the only chubby characters they’ve seen who doesn’t simply exist to be the butt of a fat joke, but rather is kind, smart, and, in many ways, the most sensible of all the Paladins. For me, it’s Allura, a woman struggling to find her place as a leader, who is a good person, but not without her prejudices, which she learns to overcome as she is made aware of them. (Plus, I also would have totally fallen for Lotor.)

In Queer Company


LGBTQ relationships in Adeventure Time and Steven Universe (9)
Both 'Adventure Time' and 'Steven Universe' have celebrated queer relationships.

Now, of course, we are fortunate enough to live in an era where queer characters are becoming something of a norm. Series like the aforementioned Legend of Korra and Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time both ended with scenes confirming romantic connections between two women. Steven Universe features numerous queer couples amongst the female-presenting gems. DreamWorks latest foray into the world of Netflix original animation, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, already features a lesbian couple.

Voltron is far from revolutionary, but it is significant in that, it presents a gay character, who is a major established character within the series, who was previously in a committed LGBTQ relationship, who faces no adversity regarding his sexuality. His sexuality is not an endgame, but simply part of a multi-faceted character.

Do I hope we might get more from Shiro’s relationship with Adam or perhaps another LGBTQ couple riding off into the metaphorical sunset when the series concludes in its 8th and final season on December 14? Of course, I do. But, at the end of the day, Voltron is a show that is, on the surface, aimed at roughly 8 to 12-year-old boys and meant to sell toys, with a very masculine, extremely good, responsible, and loving gay man at the center of it. And that is awesome.

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Next 3 Michael B. Jordan Movies: 'Just Mercy,' 'Wrong Answer,' 'A Bittersweet Life'

Michael B. Jordan first gained notice as a teenage drug dealer in David Simon's superb series The Wire way back in 2002. He stood out again on the small screen in both Friday Night Lights and Parenthood before his startling turn in Ryan Coogler's charged, true-life drama Fruitvale Station. That led to his sterling starring role as Adonis Johnson in Coogler's gritty and surprising sports film Creed.

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What Neil Armstrong Biopic First Man Gets Right and Wrong About the Moon Landing

There are two ways of talking about the historical accuracy of First Man, the Damien Chazelle biopic of Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong, starring Ryan Gosling: the easy way and the hard way. The hard way is to explore all of the things the movie got right — which is a very, very long list. The easy way is to discuss the things it got wrong, which you could count on one hand — literally.

It is one of the many triumphs of First Man that it tells an exceedingly complicated story of an exceedingly complicated man — a story populated by dozens of other important figures — and does so almost entirely without eliding or streamlining the truth, or worse, inventing things completely. A lot of the credit for that accuracy goes to the diligence of James R. Hansen, the author of the First Man biography, and Josh Singer, who adapted the book for the screen. It says something too that the few mistakes First Man does make are relatively small-bore stuff.

One of those blunders appears early, in the very first moments of the movie, during the scene of a harrowing flight Armstrong took in an X-15 rocket plane in 1961. The scene is true to what happened: Armstrong’s violent ride into the stratosphere, more than 20 miles above the ground, which took a nasty turn when he nearly couldn’t return to Earth as the plane began “ballooning,” or bouncing off the top of the atmosphere rather than slicing back into it. The scene is true too to the claustrophobic look of the X-15 cockpit. What isn’t so true is when we look out the window at the wispy carpet of clouds just below Armstrong’s wings — a lovely enough scene, except that at 120,000 feet, Armstrong was at about twice the altitude at which even the highest clouds form. Minor glitch, surely, except that coming in the film’s opening act, it doesn’t inspire confidence.

Read more: First Man Doesn’t Quite Live Up to Ryan Gosling’s Thoughtful Neil Armstrong Performance

The good news is you have to wait a long time to have your confidence shaken even a little again. That happens during the flight of Gemini 8 — Armstrong’s first trip into space, and nearly his last, as the spacecraft spun wildly out of control. This time the problem was in the cockpit, which was rendered with exacting accuracy except for the fact that someone on-set really needed to give it a quick scrub-down first.

All of America’s early spacecraft — Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, the lunar module — were single-use ships. They had never been flown before the day of launch, and would never be flown again. As a result, they all had a certain straight-from-the-showroom look to them. According to Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13, they even had something of a new-car smell. In the movie, however, Gemini 8’s interior has a Millennium Falcon feel, with grime and even a bit of rust on some of its switches. The same is true later when we see the interior of the lunar module in which Armstrong and crew-mate Buzz Aldrin flew down to the lunar surface.

“By the time we got back to Earth, the spacecraft did look pretty dirty,” says Al Worden, command module pilot of the Apollo 15 lunar mission, who was a consultant on the movie. No doubt, but not at the first moments the astronauts strapped in, and certainly not at all for Gemini 8, a mission that had to be aborted early and lasted less than eleven hours from liftoff to splashdown.

The movie strays from the truth too when Armstrong gets the news that he has been tapped to command Apollo 11, and, that if the mission goes as planned, he will become the first man on the moon. Gosling’s reaction — little more than a nod — was probably awfully close to how Armstrong took the news. But how he learned that news was wrong.

Apollo astronauts were assigned to their three-man crews sometimes years in advance. Indeed, in many cases they were on a three-plus-three flight rotation. If you flew on Apollo 8, you would serve as a back-up crew member on Apollo 11, and would return to the cockpit for Apollo 14. What no one knew at the point in the program in which the relevant scene in First Man takes place is exactly what the crews would do on their missions, since every flight was dependent on the success of the previous mission. For the two-plus years leading up to Apollo 11, the betting was that the first moon landing would not come until Apollo 12, 13 or even 14. It was only the surprise success of Apollo 8 — the first lunar orbit, which flew just eight months before Armstrong’s Apollo 11 — that accelerated the program.

Read more: Space Is Terrifying. Ryan Gosling and Damien Chazelle Prove It in First Man

Finally, poignantly, there is First Man’s tenderest scene, which takes place on the lunar surface, when Armstrong spends a few minutes alone at a formation called Little West Crater, something he did do in the brief two and a half hours he spent exploring the moon. (Significant spoilers follow.) The most shattering experience in Armstrong’s life, the one from which all of his later-life reserve may have flowed, was the death of his two-year-old daughter, from brain cancer, shortly before he applied to NASA’s astronaut program. In the scene following her death, we see Armstrong open his desk drawer and put away a tiny bracelet that spells out his daughter’s name, Karen, in lettered beads. On the moon, he opens his hand to reveal the bracelet and drops it into the crater, where it will rest forever.

There is no historical record that Armstrong did any such thing, but some signs suggest he did. Astronauts flew with what was known as a PPK, or personal preference kit, which contained any sentimental or otherwise non-regulation items they wanted to bring with them. Those items may have been personal, but the astronauts were required to file a manifest detailing precisely what their PPK contained. Armstrong’s has since gone missing.

“Hansen asked Armstrong for his PPK manifest and he said he lost it,” says Singer, “which was very unlike Neil, who was a pack rat.” Hansen then asked Armstrong’s sister, June, if he might have left something of Karen’s on the moon. Says Singer: “She teared up and said, ‘Oh, I dearly hope so.’”

Audiences could be forgiven for hoping so too. Perhaps the most important item on the long, long list of things First Man gets right is the privately borne pain Armstrong seemed to carry with him his entire life. It would be nice to think that if he found a way to honor that pain, all alone at a spot no human being had ever been before, it at last brought him some much-deserved relief.


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