Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: May 2018

Wednesday

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May 2018

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Transgender Storytime: Being Someone’s First

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Note: This is post is not about sex. 

It can be easy to forget that for all the blame that transgender people receive for various problems in the world, there really aren’t very many of us relative to the rest of the population. This concept is compounded by the idea that there are plenty of places in the country where it isn’t exactly safe to be out of the closet, either as trans or as part of the broader LGBTQ community. There are in fact plenty of people who have never interacted with a transgender person.

As a panelist at the 2018 Con of Thrones in Dallas this past weekend, I learned that I was the first transgender person that a few of the audience had ever talked with. I know this because they told me, which is kind of a strange burden to place on an individual, as if their conduct or behavior speaks on behalf of their entire community. Other friends at the Con expressed shock that anyone would even say that to me at all, which reflects the unusual nature of the position that transgender people can find themselves in with regard to representation.

There is a certain question posed to women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, etc. to explain the concept of privilege by people who don’t have the perspective of knowing what it’s like to live without it. Variations of the phrase, “it’s not my job to explain sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.” exist to reflect the burden often placed on the oppressed to be expected to talk about this kind of stuff. Not every person who falls under any of those categories either wants to, or has the time to oblige every one of those requests. For the vast majority of us, it’s not our job.

It’s not really my job either, but I did publish a book called The Transgender Manifesto that sought in part to dissect the state of the national conversation surrounding LGBTQ people. In that sense, I am familiar with most of the boilerplate questions that are asked about transgender people and how to answer them. I don’t really mind being the first transgender person that others interact with. Often times, I actually enjoy the conversation.

The national conversation regarding LGBTQ topics in general has drastically improved over the course of my lifetime. You almost never hear people talk about whether being gay is a choice anymore, in part because society at large has finally accepted that it’s not. Straight people don’t really get points anymore for stating that fact, but the notion that it’s not talked about is kind of a big deal because it signals something we don’t see all that often: progress.

I talk a lot about how transgender equality is inevitable, as society finally comes to grips with the fact that we are human beings who exist. The question is really a matter of when, which is where the importance of visibility comes in. It’s far easier to rail against an abstract concept on Twitter than a living person. That’s why trolls rarely tend to be as hateful in person as they are online.

So for me, being someone’s first is an opportunity. The discussion rarely focuses on transgender issues too much, since that’s hardly the most interesting aspect of your average trans person’s life. It’s an unfair burden to place on a community as a whole, and I worry about the people who really don’t want to be asked these questions.

From a personal standpoint, as someone who spent their formative years never believing that a world that accepted transgender people would exist in my lifetime, I feel an obligation both to my younger self and the future generations to fight as hard as I can for transgender equality. If that means some cringe-worthy conversations, so be it. Those who came before us paved the way for the LGBTQ victories we enjoy today. It’s up to us to get the job done.

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Tuesday

29

May 2018

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Solo Plays It Safe with an Iconic Character Known for Taking Risks

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I often credit the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels for fostering my love of reading at an early age. While not exactly Faulkner-quality prose, the familiar characters allowed me to read narratively complex stories in elementary school. I’ll always be grateful to the EU for opening that door for me, even as I recognized that its end made sense from a logistical perspective as Star Wars looked to the future.

The balance of fan service has been a central pillar of the Disney era. Star Wars movies have never just been movies. These are films that carry deeper meanings to the millions of fans who have obsessed over them for decades. Future Star Wars installments will always be received not just on their own merits, but what fans wanted them to be.

Kylo Ren’s urging to “let the past die” in The Last Jedi carried the sense that it was speaking to the fanbase at large, reminding us all that this is just entertainment. If Solo: A Star Wars Story was viewed solely through the prism of an action movie, the reception would likely be much better. As a movie, it is very entertaining.

As a Star Wars movie, it’s safe. Too safe to star a character who once uttered the phrase, “never tell me the odds.” Han is a bold character. You wouldn’t necessarily pick up on that from Alden Ehrenreich’s performance. Harrison Ford’s presence will always linger no matter what, but Ehrenreich made the mistake of not giving the audience something else to chew on. He does an adequate job with a character where adequate would never be enough.

Donald Glover succeeds where Ehrenreich fails in his portrayal of Lando Calrissian, which keeps the essence of Billy Dee Williams’ iconic performance while adding a new layer to the character. His Lando is an affectionately faithful adaptation of the character that Glover still manages to make his own. I’d be very interested in a spinoff featuring the character, who has more depth than the rest of the cast combined, excluding Joonas Suotamo’s Chewbacca, who continues to excel as the emotional backbone of the franchise.

Solo suffers from too many callbacks, an issue that plagued A Force Awakens, especially in repeat viewings. I’m not sure how many fans really cared to see how Han would make the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs before the film came out, and I’m sure that number is smaller after its release. In this realm, Solo probably suffers from a bit of franchise fatigue, as TFA largely escaped criticism essentially functioning as a remake of A New Hope.

The novelty of new Star Wars movies has certainly worn off. Kylo Ren can tell us to give up the past, but Disney wants to have it both ways by constantly reminding us of earlier, better entries to the series. Solo is not a bad movie, but it exists as part of a franchise that has safe distance from the prequels. Entertaining isn’t going to be enough for plenty of people.

My past Star Wars related articles have grappled with the fandom dilemma. I’ll always see the franchise as that thing I obsessed over as a child. I’ve forged friendships based on a common love of obscure quotes from the original trilogies. I know that this thing belongs to Disney now. I’ll always see Star Wars as more than just a movie franchise, but it is no longer something I obsess about. I let Star Wars go. As a result, I left the theatre satisfied with two hours of an enjoyable narrative.

Solo never wanted to be more than a decent movie. Fans have come to expect something more from Star Wars. In a movie laced with callbacks and references, it’s hard to fault them for not letting go. Disney can tell us to forget the past, but it should take its own advice with future entries.

For more on Star Wars, here are my reviews of The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi, as well as an article lamenting the end of the Expanded Universe and one rethinking Luke Skywalker

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Wednesday

2

May 2018

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Five Issues for The MCU Until Avengers 4

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Note: This article is riddled with spoilers. Do NOT read it if you haven’t seen the movie and care about that kind of stuff. I’ve written a spoiler-free review, which you can read here. Otherwise, you can read my books until the time comes when you should return to my website to read this article. It’s long and I worked hard on it.

There are a lot of things to love about Infinity War, but narrative resolution is definitely not one of them. The movie has less of an ending and more of a year-long intermission. Until then, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has two movies and a couple tv shows planned until Thanos returns.

A year is a long time to wait for that to happen, especially when some of the dust bunnies have their own solo movies in the not so distant future. This article addresses the issues that will linger during the gap between Avengers installments. Some could have long-term ramifications, others may end up not mattering at all. Let’s take a look at what will be affected by the uncertain fates of half the MCU.

 

The Shared Timeline Has a Dust Problem

 

There are two MCU movies set to premiere before Avengers 4. We know 2019’s Captain Marvel is set in the 1990s, but from what we know Ant-Man and the Wasp takes place between the events of Civil War and Infinity War. It’s hardly a bold prediction to suggest that at least some of the film, presumably toward the end, will deal with the fallout of the finger snap of dust and why Ant-Man (and maybe Hawkeye) wasn’t in Wakanda helping to save the world.

From the trailers and what we know of MCU solo movies, it seems fairly safe to assume that much of Ant-Man and the Wasp will have nothing to do with Infinity War. They’re going to do their own thing. The tone of the trailer is fairly light-hearted, completely disconnected from the doom and gloom that Thanos brought. That makes sense considering the nature of the character, as well as star Paul Rudd, but it’s puzzling considering what just happened to Earth.

The trailer also introduces the Quantum Realm, which could very well factor into Avengers 4’s resolution. There may be a very good reason for why this movie needs to be sandwiched in-between Avengers entries, especially given Ant-Man’s absence from Infinity War. That doesn’t really change the fact that the MCU sort of looks like it’s trying to have it both ways. By setting Ant-Man and the Wasp before Infinity War, the film gets to be a fun caper while ostensibly putting forth the in-universe reason for why its characters didn’t show up in a movie that was presumably being filmed at the same time.

MCU movies move the ball forward, not backwards. ­Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t an origin story like Captain America: The First Avenger or Captain Marvel that has the luxury of being able to take a step back from the action to establish its hero. Imagine if Winter Soldier took place in-between the post-credit scene of First Avenger and the events of The Avengers. Inter-connectedness means that actions in one movie affect another. Getting around that by setting an installment in the very recent past feels like a bit of a cop-out.

 Marvel’s TV shows might exist as part of the overall continuity, but this really isn’t something that matters at all. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is really the only one out of the near dozen series that even tries to follow what the movies are doing. This is in spite of the fact that all five of the Netflix series take place in New York City, a location that features heavily into the films. The events of The Avengers are referenced several times, but the details of the attacks don’t ever factor into any of the series in any meaningful way.

I don’t mean to suggest this is a bad thing. Separation of Church and state is certainly warranted with the sheer amount of content. My only issue is that the events of Infinity War feel like the first really impossible thing to pretend doesn’t radically change everything. This isn’t a case of Spider-Man not showing up at a Daredevil fight that presumably takes place near his neighborhood, but one where the entire structure of the world is changed, at least temporarily.

Half the world is dust. How do Daredevil or Runaways not address this? I don’t think there’s an answer to that, but I also don’t think they actually will. What’s the point of a shared universe that doesn’t actually share the universe?

 

Hype for Future Movies

 

Marvel hasn’t said much about Phase Four. We know that there will be a Black Panther 2, a Spider-Man 2, and a Guardians of the Galaxy 3. It seems rather ridiculous to think that any of these movies will be made without their key players, including Gamora.

 We also know that there will be an Avengers 4 next year, which will presumably alter the events of Infinity War’s ending. Fans will head into that movie with a fair degree of certainty of this fact, which is an unusual position for an MCU movie to be in, as Marvel doesn’t tend to give much away in terms of plot. Trouble is, that’s a year away.

The Phase 4 movies will start production before that. We will know if T’Challa, Peter Parker, or Groot reappear in these movies. Marvel is good at keeping plenty of secrets, but those are pretty big ones to keep under wraps.

Is that good for enthusiasm? It might be impossible to say, as I imagine all three of those films will make a boatload of money, but there’s this thing hanging up in the air. I’m not sure why.

We don’t know who will die in Avengers 4, or who will stay dead, but we do know that Marvel is not going to make piles on money into dust by taking several of its hottest stars off the map. The fates of Iron Man and Captain America are up in the air largely because of the expected departures of Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. We don’t have that kind of uncertainty with Black Panther, Spider-Man, or Star-Lord, but for the next year we’re expected to pretend to. Hard to say that makes much sense.

 

Hype for Current Movies

 

What’s the difference between hype for current and future movies? Black Panther is still in theatres in many places. It hasn’t even been three months, but now it exists in a world where the fate of its star is currently in limbo. Peter Parker is in a similar position less than a year after the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming.

I don’t expect that we’ll live in a world where either of these characters stay dead forever, but we’re going to spend the next year with that question lingering in everyone’s head. That’s a pretty unusual position for two characters widely expected to be two of the main centerpieces for the MCU going forward. Considering Black Panther’s historic performance, I also don’t think it’s a particularly welcome distraction either.

While this a problem that seems likely to pertain solely to this year, it remains a deeply puzzling decision. Franchises are obviously affected by each entry, but fans typically don’t go from film to film with uncertainty surrounding the fate of the main character, especially in the superhero genre. The fact that it should barely even constitute uncertainty doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a weird feint.

T’Challa & Peter Parker have more wind at their sails than anyone in the MCU. This doesn’t help that at all. I’m not sure we’ve ever been in a position where a superhero died in a film while his previous movie was still airing in theatres. Future installments are always affected by their preceding entries. We’ve never seen this kind of thunder-stealing toward a movie that literally just came out.

 

Star-Lord Needs to Rehab His Image

 

This issue sort of falls into the same category of the first two, except in one key way. The uncertainty surrounding many of the MCU characters creates some marketing issues that the franchise will have to work around, but there will almost certainly be a point when these people do return to their franchises. There are millions and millions of fans out there who want them to.

Star-Lord is in a bit of a different position from the others in that he’s not only a pile of dust, but he’s also the reason we have piles of dust. The ending of Infinity War is entirely and solely his fault. Peter Quill’s temper tantrum may have destroyed the world.

As a result of that, any attempts to fix this mess that lead to subsequent casualties will also be his fault. That’ll matter more if any of the departing cast are permanently killed off in the effort to bring back the dust bunnies. Tony Stark may have his happy ending with Pepper denied because Quill needed to sock Thanos right before they defeated him anyway.

The Guardians of the Galaxy movies are pretty upbeat and fun, even when Rocket and Quill are mad at each other. These characters have great chemistry which endeared them to the audience. As of now, Rocket is the only one left.

I don’t think that’s going to last, as the Guardians’ cast dynamic is too perfect to continue without Gamora, Quill, Drax, and Groot. Their collective inability to follow basic plans was a major plot point of Infinity War, but Quill’s actions quite literally almost ruined everything. His image is going to be in need of some serious rehabilitation. The fate of his franchise pretty much depends on it.

A similar issue popped up in Age of Ultron, where Tony Stark’s actions almost got everyone killed. People did die, including a bunch of nameless Sokovians and the less interesting cinematic Quicksilver that isn’t played by Evan Peters, but Iron Man’s tinkering didn’t kill any beloved major characters. He also didn’t build Ultron as the other Avengers shouted at him that doing so would ruin the universe and get them all killed. Tony carried his guilt with him, which set the plot of Civil War in motion.

I don’t necessarily want a guilt-ridden Star-Lord, but that’s where we’re at. He did something very dumb. He needs to address that. Whatever gets them out of that mess shouldn’t let him off the hook.

Much has been made of Doctor Strange’s timeline and how there was only one out of millions of outcomes that had them beating Thanos. This should not excuse Quill’s actions. Free-will is still a thing that people care about. He needs to own up for his behavior. Anything else runs the risk of cheapening Guardians 3. Laughs without substance can’t carry a film, and heart that doesn’t feel remorse doesn’t make for a compelling protagonist. My big hope for Avengers 4 is that it thoroughly addresses this issue. I don’t want to hate Peter Quill, but that’s pretty much where we’re at.

 

Time Stone Ex Machina

 

There are deaths and then there are comic book deaths. Infinity War has deaths and then it has dust deaths. Some of those will be reversed. The Time Stone will almost certainly play a role in that.

That’s a dangerous can of worms to open. Other characters like Loki have returned, something that Infinity War mentioned a few times. Trouble is, when you stage one mass resurrection, you create the possibility that any resurrection can happen. Comic book readers are used to that, but these are still murky waters for the MCU to wade into.

Many speculative articles have emerged since Infinity War wondering which deaths will stick. The clear distinction between deaths and dust deaths present in the movie is complicated when you consider that the four “real” deaths (Loki, Heimdall, Vision, Gamora) could all conceivably return. One has already escaped death once before, one is Asgardian, one is an android, and the one is a main character in one of the MCU’s most valuable franchises moving forward.

These four are not necessarily in the same boat. Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba have stated that they have other things they want to do, and given their characters’ early deaths it seems far more likely that their characters will remain dead, though the fact that a Thor 4 looks way more likely than another Iron Man or Captain America film complicates this idea. Infinity War spent a lot of time talking about how the Vision could survive without the Mind Stone, laying down the groundwork for his return. Fans have speculated that Gamora is “trapped” in the Soul Stone, potentially setting up her return in either the next film or Guardians 3 (setting up a potential Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest dynamic if the latter film becomes a quest to get her back). None of these need to be permanent.

Trouble is, some of the cast will be leaving the franchise. It seems highly likely that Avengers 4 will see more deaths where the characters stay dead. The gravity of that runs the risk of being cheapened when there’s always the revival option lingering there. Even if the Stones are destroyed, the idea that something else could do the trick still remains. Comic books always find a way.

I don’t expect every departing character to die. The end of Tony Stark & Steve Rogers can be the end, for now. Leading a major franchise tends to eat up a lot of one’s time. I wouldn’t blame any of the original cast members for wanting time off, just as I suspect some of them will miss the limelight a few years down the road. Death, or retirement, doesn’t need to be the end of anything.

Marvel has been pretty good at protecting its solo films from the aura of “why doesn’t so and so show up to help?” that don’t necessarily have great narrative explanations. Infinity War has created some new issues for the MCU that its follow up will need to address. Fortunately, the company has a pretty flawless track record for pulling this stuff off. Big team-ups have big consequences, especially when there are so many valuable franchises to protect. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and then unhurt by the Time Stone.

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Tuesday

1

May 2018

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Avengers: Infinity War Sets the Stage for the Endgame

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Note: This review does not contain spoilers.

When I recently re-watched Avengers: Age of Ultron, I was surprised by the relative intimacy of its opening sequence. The amount of characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe had expanded rapidly in Phase Two, but the Avengers team that began that movie was exactly the same as the one that defended New York at the end of the first team-up. The larger cast didn’t seriously compete with the core group for screen time.

That changed in Phase Three. Captain America: Civil War often feels like an Avengers movie because it brought together the core group (minus Hulk & Thor), the Ultron additions (Scarlett Witch & Vision) the supporting casts of previous solo films (War Machine, Falcon, Bucky), along with Ant-Man, Spider-Man, and Black Panther, whose niches in the MCU are not as intrinsically linked to the Avengers as the first group, who were brought together by Nick Fury. Throw in Doctor Strange & The Guardians of the Galaxy and you wind up with the dynamic that Infinity War has to deal with.

It’s a balance that Ultron seemed pretty aware of, keeping War Machine and Falcon at an arm’s length until the end of the movie, even though both had skills that could’ve been valuable throughout the whole movie. Infinity War brings together basically every superhero from the MCU films, a juggling act that seems almost impossible to pull off within a single movie. Just as the Russo brothers pulled off Civil War’s large ambitions, Infinity War is a testament to their pacing prowess.

Infinity War is a very fun movie that rarely stops to take a breath. As the nineteenth installment of a franchise meant to be the culmination of every previous film, it manages to reward those who followed the Infinity Stones without ever punishing causal viewers for forgetting when they last saw an obscure character from an earlier entry. It gives the major players their fair share of screen time without wasting any scenes on superfluous interaction. The specific pair ups are clever, and the film has plenty of comedy to help offset the dire stakes at hand.

My only real point of contention with the movie lies with the handling of a certain character. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the issue brings to light the unique position that Infinity War finds itself in as a film meant to be the beginning of the end for many of the original Avengers. Characters make decisions ostensibly to keep the drama flowing to warrant another movie, but those actions have consequences that might not be limited to just the narrative. You’ve got to wonder how future movies will be impacted if the audience loses faith in one of the stars.

I would note that the movie does not spend much time wrapping up loose plot points from previous entries. It doesn’t have time to, but those viewers desperate for answers for lingering questions from entries like Civil War or Thor: Ragnarok are probably going to be disappointed. Essentially, if you’re one of those people who was bothered by Ragnarok’s unceremonious ending for the Warriors Three (not sure how many of these people there are out there, but I’ve seen a few on the internet), Infinity War will have more mundane things for you to be annoyed about. That’s not a terribly big concern, but not necessarily illegitimate from a narrative standpoint.

It is hard to write a review for a movie that will be officially concluded in a year’s time. I suspect most people know that going in, so I don’t see the point in knocking some late-inning plot twists that are already controversial. Infinity War seems to be a movie that will be judged by its legacy less than its immediate reception.

But for now, I had a good time. This was a movie with seemingly impossible expectations that offered a thrilling experience. There are lingering questions, particularly around the ending, that next year’s untitled Avengers movie will have to address. Infinity War set the stage for the finale of this era of the MCU quite well without crippling under the weight of its large cast of characters.

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The Transgender Manifesto