Stop Saying Marvel Movies Are All the Same; You Look a Fool

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Lately, I’ve been minding my own business reading totally unrelated articles about the entertainment industry and media criticism when bam! Slapped in the face with a backhanded insult aimed at Marvel Studios. “They’re all the same,” reviewers opine with a wink and a smile. “Nothing happens in them; they can’t damage their franchise!” critics gleefully deduce, seemingly not paying attention to the films at all.

Let’s just dispense with the idea that all Marvel Studios films are the same and that nothing happens in them. It’s precisely the opposite of the truth and is such a willful misreading it smacks of elitist snobbery.

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Scales of Madness and Goodness in Marvel Cinematic Universe Scientists

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

science and madness in the mcu

There are some things I just can’t let go. Science and scientists in the MCU is definitely one of those things.

Science is a massive part of the MCU’s logistics so most of the stories involve good scientists battling bad ones. The more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that it was more like altruistic ones fighting mad ones. I already had a minor squee fest about this here. I decided to plot it all out. Possibly my favorite thing about visualizing this idea is that it makes clear that it’s impossible to be an Evil Scientist who is not also a Mad one in the MCU.

Parameters

Each character is graded on a scale of -2 to 2, with -2 being the baddest/maddest and 2 being the most heroic/altruistic. 0 is perfectly neutral on both scales. Here’s how I defined those categories:

  • Madness – Mad scientists use science to deliberately harm others, to gain power or financial advantage over others in a way that detrimentally monopolizes knowledge, experiment on themselves, or let their quest for knowledge devolve into monomania. Generally, consider whether the character is over-emotional or under-emotional and then how that causes them to use their scientific knowledge (see: this post.)
  • Goodness – The goodness metric takes into consideration whether characters intentionally and wantonly harm others, their underlying motivations, and how actively they engage in altruistic behavior. Additionally, “heroic” and “neutral” characters can slide on the scale depending on how closely they’re aligned with the protagonists.
  • Heroes/Neutrals/Villains – Heroes are main protagonists. Villains are main antagonists. Neutrals are characters who are unaligned or who switch from one to the other.

A few of these data points are fairly arbitrary. Helen Cho, for example, has about 30 seconds of screentime and no discernible character traits so I made all that up. The others I tried to hold up to the spectrum schemata as closely as possible. I was even diplomatic about it and made Simmons a little bit bad and Fitz a little bit mad! As for who is included and who isn’t, medical doctors I generally left off unless they had a research specialty or partook in experimental studies (Lincoln and Dr. Streiten don’t really, for example.) A few side characters are noted to have scientific training but don’t use it extensively for plot purposes (Bobbi, Callie from “SEEDS”). That said, if I’ve forgotten any scientists or you’d like to argue for someone’s inclusion  feel free to let me know!

(The inherent sanity of the author of this post is not up for debate.)

“That’s Almost Romantic!”: FitzSimmons, Romance, and the Observer Effect

Estimated Reading Time: 14 minutes

(This essay is #9 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD.)

I have a long-standing vendetta against romance. The majority of romances in visual-based media are absurd, offensive, unrealistic annoyances that utilize narrative shorthand in place of actual character development and thus never make sense as more than some kind of male fantasy sequence. Media is predominantly an extended make-believe of straight male wish fulfillment. As such, its rare that women are anything aside from hetero sex objects and queer romance is taboo or a punchline. Even romances that aren’t gross masculine indulgence are usually some tumorous plot point included to appease the “lady demographic.” The irony is inescapable: women are perceived as obsessed with romance, but most “romances” in mainstream media are included for male audiences.

Even when relationships are given space to develop, time to breathe, and are a reasonable progression for the characters involved, I still tend to feel generally indifferent towards them. Take, for example, Roslin and Adama on Battlestar Galactica. Their romantic arc is perfectly lovely. I don’t care about it at all. It takes some serious shit for me to fall for a relationship and after every foiled investment it gets that much harder to sway me.

Fitz and Simmons are my actual downfall. Not only are they positive representations of scientists with no superpowers and some fascinating gender politics—the nuances of their relationship feel like they were calculated to eviscerate me. What I used to say was “I have issues and these two stick their fingers right into every single one of them and wiggle them around.” That’s still accurate. Frankly, this did not come out of my brain very well, so I’m sure I’ll return to the topic in the future.

spoiler warning

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“I Am Every Bit the SHIELD Agent You Are”: Fitz, Simmons, and Gendered Expectation

Estimated Reading Time: 19 minutes

(This essay is #8 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD.)

By all rights, this should probably be three or four completely different essays. But they’re related, and interrelated. The first few are legit enough that I have research to back them up. The last few are just me kind of ranting. Here’s a brief outline of what you’re in for:

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“It’s Like Magic”: Science, Superpowers, and Narrative Utility in Cult TV

Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes

(This essay is #7 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD)

Genre cult television tends to have two character types: action heroes and brainy exposition characters. Oftentimes, the brainy characters develop some kind of physical or metaphysical power of their own because generating ways to keep them narratively relevant over time becomes difficult. In the MCU in particular, science is used by the majority of scientist heroes to level themselves up and give themselves superpowers. Yet Fitz and Simmons don’t use science as a personal enhancement, their intelligence is something like a superpower, keeping them relevant while still allowing them to remain mundane.

Additional Spoiler Warnings for: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly/Serenity, Supernatural, Angel

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FitzSimmons, Science, and Scientists in the MCU

Estimated Reading Time: 13 minutes

(This essay is #6 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD. The final four essays in this series can best be summarized as “Blubbering and Screams Interspersed With Big Words.”)

LET’S TALK ABOUT SCIENCE AND SCIENTISTS IN THE MCU, AKA MY LITERAL ACTUAL FAVORITE THING. Let me take you on a journey through the cultural historical traditions of scientists’ representations in the media, the necessity of carefully constructed science to the MCU, and how all this context helps me explain why Fitz and Simmons make me weak at the knees.

Please consider this more of an exuberant outline. I have so much research on this topic that I could literally fill a book with it and technically it covers the entire MCU.

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Agents of SHIELD’s New Kids

Estimated Reading Time: 13 minutes

(This essay is #5 of 9 in a series on Agents of SHIELD.)

With all the griping at the beginning of Agents of SHIELD about the underdeveloped original characters, the series learned its lesson and introduced three agents adapted from the comic book canon for season 2. All three are presented so effectively that I adored them instantly. This in contrast to the disaster of a first season where I still didn’t care for some of the characters by the end. Two things are in play here: the first is that Hunter, Mack, and Bobbi are fully developed when initially presented to us and even have their own history and business together separate from the main narrative. The second is that all three are introduced by treating our old friends kindly, helping, or saving them.

This is less an essay and more a collection of brief character analyses, but I love the new kids so much that they definitely qualify as one of the reasons I adore Agents of SHIELD on the whole. Trying to articulate just what I love about their personalities results in some nebulous commentary, so bear with me.

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