Everything You Need to Know About Marvel’s Phase 4 (Part 2)

May 2021- May 2022

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In October of 2016 I broke down the future of Marvel movies and my predictions for what then was Phase 3. I was right about some things, wrong about others. But now at Comic-Con 2019, Marvel Studios announced their Phase 4 slate of films and Disney+ shows (Disney’s new streaming service, coming November 12th). Unlike the Netflix-Marvel shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the Disney+ shows will tie into the movie universe, making all of our wallets bemoan. 

If you want to know all you have to look forward to for the next few years (Phase 4 will cover 2020 to 2022 with ten projects in all), then I’ve done the research so you don’t have to. This is part two of two, covering the two films and three Disney+ show that will take us from spring 2021 though to the fall, and then presumably Phase 5 will start in spring 2022. 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of MadnessImage result for phase 4 marvel logos

  • May 7, 2021
  • Directed by Scott Derrickson
  • Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange and Elizabeth Olson as Scarlet Witch

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness will come right off the heels of the Disney+ show WandaVision. Marvel Studios president Kevin Fiege has stated before that Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch practices the same magic as Doctor Strange, it’s just raw and untrained. With Elizabeth Olson set to co-star here, it’s presumable that Wanda may be Doctor Strange’s protege in his sequel- and maybe his villain, too.  

There is certainly precedent for this in the comics. Depending on the events of WandaVision, this movie could adapt Wanda’s two biggest comic book storylines. In the first storyline, Wanda has been driven mad from the loss of Vision (who you remember was recently killed by Thanos in Infinity War. Could all of WandaVision then just be an illusion, and in the movie Wanda is “woken up” from her dream and realizes Vision is truly gone?). Wanda is further driven mad by the loss of the two children she had created out of her magic. In her madness, she kills Scott Lang/Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange has to defeat her. The Avengers plan to get rid of Wanda for good, so her brother Pietro (played in the movies by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who died in Avengers: Age of Ultron) convinces her to create an alternative reality she can live in instead, where her family and other mutants are rulers. 

This became the comic book storyline House of M, which ends with Wanda, thinking that being a mutant has caused all of the pain in her life, whispers her infamous phrase, “No more mutants,” and turns all of the world’s mutants into regular humans. This storyline is now possible with Disney’s acquisition of Fox, which has up to this point had ownership of Marvel’s mutant characters (Wolverine, Jean Grey, Storm, etc.). This could be the entry point for mutants into the MCU. 

It’s been promised that this will be Marvel’s first “horror film,” so hopefully they will keep their word and go for as creepy and horror-y as a PG-13 MCU movie can get. Director Scott Derickson is a horror director after all (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister), and I trust if he is allowed to, he can truly elevate the material. 

There have been hints of a multiverse in the MCU before, but the title sure indicates that this could be our first full-fledged multiverse movie. A multiverse would allow for other Avengers to show up, including dead ones, so if RDJ or Chris Evans are wanting to come back, this could be their chance. Suddenly this feels a lot less like a Doctor Strange film and more like Avengers 4.5. 

Loki Show

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  • Spring 2021
  • Reportedly 6 episodes, each an hour long
  • Rick and Morty writer Michael Waldron will be showrunner. 
  • Starring Tom Hiddleston as Loki, and hopefully some other people

The show will pick up at the point in Endgame when Loki steals the tesseract. It will follow his time-hopping adventures as he faces various foes. The show will premiere ten years after Tom Hiddleson debuted as the character in 2011’s Thor, so I hope the show will give the actor new ways to keep the charismatic trickster fresh. 

WHAT IF …? Show

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  • Summer 2021
  • A giant roster of actors will reprise their roles from the movies in the show through voicework
  • Number of episodes unknown, although I’ve heard rumors of ten. 

Based on the comic book series of the same name, What If…? will show pivotal moments in the MCU and present hypothetical outcomes for if things had gone a bit differently, a How it Should Have Ended in a way. The animated series will have voice work done by all of the same actors from the movies. The only episode confirmed so far is one exploring what would have happened if Peggy Carter had become Captain American instead of Steve Rogers. Two other rumored episodes will cover what would have happened if Loki had gotten Mjolnir instead of Thor, and what if Killmonger had killed T’Challa and become the permanent king. The series will be narrated by Watcher Uatu, played by Jeffrey Wright. Watcher Uatu has not been introduced into the MCU before. 

Hawkeye Show

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-Fall 2021

-Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, presumably others 

In characteristic fashion, Hawkeye is last, here as the last Disney+ show of Phase 4. 

This series will be based on the acclaimed and fan-favorite comic book run by Matt Fraction and David Aja of the same name. This run focused on the relationship between Clint and his mentee, Kate Bishop, who takes up the Hawkeye mantle. In the comics Kate is a member of the Young Avengers team, so expect for Marvel to use her to introduce this team into the movies (or do it in a show, Defenders style). This show will probably show Clint handing over the bow and arrow over to Kate, and thus finally releasing Jeremy Renner from this franchise and into that sweet, sweet void

Thor: Love and Thunder

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  • November 5, 2021
  • Directed and written by Taika Waititi
  • Starring Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, and returning after a two-movie absence, Natalie Portman as Jane Foster/The Mighty Thor

Taika Waititi will return after directing Thor: Ragnarok to write and direct Thor’s fourth solo film. Thor will become the first of the original Avengers to get a fourth film, with the others being regulated to, at most, a trilogy. But despite the title, Thor: Love and Thunder looks to be a lot more about its supporting characters than just Thor. 

For starters, Natalie Portman will return after a long absence as Dr. Jane Foster. Jane was Thor’s love interest in the first two films, then unceremoniously dumped offscreen before the third. Portman tried to negotiate changes to Jane’s role for the second film, Thor: The Dark World, and wasn’t given any, and her lackluster enthusiasm for the series by that film was obvious. However, she’s now being given a much juicier role as she gets to help adapt the comic storyline of Mighty Thor. 

Jane Foster’s Mighty Thor storyline is this: Jane Foster has a terminal diagnosis of breast cancer. Thor has become unworthy, so he’s stripped of the Thor title (his actual name is Odinson, and Thor is a mantle, like Captain America or Black Widow, which can be given and taken on by others. Hopefully his unworthiness in the movie is not connected with his weight gain from Endgame). Anyways, Jane Foster takes up the mantle, saying that “there must always be a Thor.” She is deemed worthy enough to pick up Mjolnir. Whenever Jane uses Mjolnir though, it heightens her cancer, literally killing her as she saves others. Talk about sacrifice. As for Thor/Odinson himself, he’ll be rediscovering himself and learning how to be worthy again and finding his identity outside of being king of Asgard. 

I’m excited to see this storyline adapted, and Natalie Portman is a fantastic actress who will be able to handle the dramatic parts (and physical parts, easy to see if you saw her performance in Annihilation) but my main concern is Taika Waititi. I love his other work, but he spent most of Thor: Ragnarok erasing all the previous Thor movies and streamlining the character to be like all the other Marvel heroes, which I did not love. How are we supposed to root for Jane Foster when she’s been out of the movies for a while now, and her absence has been mined for a few jokes? 

There’s some great potential here to explore what it is like for a human to take the role previously held by a god, the difference between a man and a woman in the same role, and how Thor and Jane interact in their new roles, especially since they are no longer a couple (in the comics they don’t get back together). But will any of that be explored? I’m worried it won’t be.

The Thors aren’t the only characters in the movie, though. Tessa Thompson’s newly-appointed king of Asgard Valkyrie will return. Thompson said in the comic-con panel that since Valkyrie is the new king of Asgard, she’ll need a queen, confirming that she’ll finally be able to make Valkyrie bisexual as Thompson has been campaigning for since day 1. There is no confirmation on who this love interest will be. And since Waititi is scripting this time, expect Korg, his character, to have a larger role. 

Beyond Phase 4

Feige also confirmed at the San Diego Comic Con panel that the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, now back at Marvel because of the Disney acquisition of Fox, will be coming after Phase 4, although in what capacity is still unknown. The mic drop of the announcement though has to go to Mahershala Ali being announced as the star of a new Blade movie. No further information about that property is known yet. At the D-23 Expo last weekend it was also announced that Moon Knight, Miss Marvel, and She-Hulk (finally!) Disney+ shows are in development, Black Panther 2 will come out May 6, 2022 with Ryan Coogler returning to direct, and Kit Harrington has joined the cast of The Eternals. 

Much of my research for both of these articles came from Grace Randolph from Beyond The Trailer.

Everything You Need to Know About Marvel’s Phase 4 (Part 1)

May 2020- May 2021

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In October of 2016 I broke down the future of Marvel movies and my predictions for what then was Phase 3. I was right about some things, wrong about others. But now at Comic-Con 2019, Marvel Studios announced their Phase 4 slate of films and Disney+ shows (Disney’s new streaming service, coming November 12th). Unlike the Netflix-Marvel shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, the Disney+ shows will tie into the movie universe, making all of our wallets bemoan. 

If you want to know all you have to look forward to for the next few years in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, aka MCU (Phase 4 will cover 2020 to 2022 with ten projects in all), then I’ve done the research so you don’t have to. This is part one of two, covering the three films and two Disney+ show that will take us from May 2020 to early spring 2021. 

Black Widow

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  • May 1, 2020
  • Directed by Cate Shortland 
  • Starring Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Rachel Weisz as Melina, Florence Pugh as Yelena, David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov aka The Red Guardian, and O-T Fagbenle as Mason/The Taskmaster.

Black Widow’s first solo movie and the MCU’s second female solo film will be a prequel, one of the MCU’s only. It will cover Natasha’s past, including what happened in Budapest, and the Red Room/ Black Widow Program, which we got glimpses of in Avengers: Age of Ultron

It looks like Natasha will be facing off against several villains. O-T Fagbenle’s Taskmaster has the power to completely replicate anything he sees, so if he’s fighting Natasha, he would be able to do every move she does, like she’s looking in a mirror. This leaves plenty of room for exciting action sequences. It was also confirmed that there will be a romance between the two of them, which…. whatever. 

Rachel Weisz’s role is Melina, and in the comics, Melina is also known as “The Iron Maiden,” a fellow graduate of the red room program who never is able to match Natasha and is overcome with jealousy. Weisz said in the panel that Melina goes through scientific experimentation in this film, giving her advanced powers that will make her a formidable foe to Nat. 

David Harbor is playing The Red Guardian, who is best known for being the Soviet Union’s counterpart to Captain America. Since Nat has such a good relationship with Steve Rodgers Captain America, there could be a lot of potential here to see her play with a similar dynamic with someone who represents her home country. 

Florence Pugh rounds out the cast as Yelena, who in the comics was a fellow Black Widow. Some fans think Yelena might take over the Black Widow mantle and take Natasha’s place. She’s a prime antihero candidate, and could possibly take a surrogate daughter kind of role for Natasha. 

While I want to be supportive of this film, it feels like too little too late. Johansson has waited patiently for ten years in the MCU, and she certainly deserves this, but the character has been so maligned for the past few films, and frankly, nothing here screams “unique!” I think going back to her roots will take us to femme-fatale Black Widow, like we saw in Iron Man 2, and I think that’s the worse version of the character. I don’t want to go back to that Black Widow, and despite the much more female-centric lense this one will be framing her in with a female director and Johansson in a much more powerful creative control, I’m sick of hot Russian spy action (I saw a good chunk of Red Sparrow through other passenger’s TVs on an airplane). Natasha has, despite her malignment, become a much more interesting character as of late, and this just feels like a regression. But I’ll try to stay optimistic. Having a prequel set the stage for Phase 4 seems like an odd choice, but it does fit in with the overall pulpier and riskier tone this slate of movies promises.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Show

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  • Fall 2020 (unspecified date). Filming begins this October.
  • 6 hour-long episodes
  • Malcolm Spellman (Empire) is the showrunner and all episodes are directed by Karl Skolang (Vikings). 
  • Starring Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/The Falcon, Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barns/ The Winter Soldier, Daniel Brühl as Baron Zemo, and Emily VanCamp as Sharon Carter. 

The show picks up soon after the events of Endgame, and presumably will follow Sam Wilson taking up the mantle of Captain America, and Bucky, just, I don’t know, nagging him? I’m not a Bucky fan. Mackie is incredibly charismatic and he and Stan have good chemistry. It should be a fun romp and maybe be reminiscent of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It doesn’t seem to, like the other shows, tie directly into any upcoming movies. If it doesn’t feel necessary to watch in order to understand the movies, then this might not be compelling enough to get Marvel fans to subscribe to Disney+, in which case it seems like a poor choice to be the first Marvel show on the streaming service. 

The Eternals

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  • November 6, 2020
  • Directed by Chloe Zhao
  • Starring Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Lia Mchugh, Lauren Ridloff, and Don Lee. 

The Eternals is a relatively unknown property, but that hasn’t stopped Marvel from making bank before! This film’s biggest hurdle will be convincing moviegoers to be interested in something they’ve probably never heard about. Let me help Marvel out a bit then by giving you some backstory.

In the comics, the Celestials created the immortal race known as the Eternals. The celestials were briefly introduced into the MCU in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, where Ego (Kurt Russel), aka Peter Quill/Starlord’s father, was one of them. Think of them as similar to the Titans in Greek mythology, with the Eternals then being the pantheon of gods. 

In this film, the Eternals have been on Earth for thousands of years already, masquerading as humans. The movie will probably focus on the Eternals’ family-like dynamic and show them acting throughout history. 

All of the Eternals are immortal, have super strength, teleportation, telepathy, can fly, can shoot lasers from hands and eyes, and can make force fields. They’re powered by celestial energy, and if they run out of celestial energy, they become weakened. 

Salma Hayek will play Ajak, leader of the Eternals, and in the comics, Ajak is a man, making this a gender-bent role. Angelina Jolie will play Thena, who has ties to ancient Greece (get it, Thena, Athena?). Richard Madden will play Ikaris. Kumail Nanjiani is Kingo, a samurai swordsman turned Japanese superstar. Expect this to change, as Nanjiani is Pakistani. Brian Tyree Henry will play Phastos, an engineer and tech expert. Don Lee is playing Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is known for meddling in human affairs and could be an anti-hero or villain. 12-year-old Lia Mchugh is Sprite, another gender-bent character. As an eternal child, Sprite is a prankster inspired by Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Finally, Lauren Ridloff rounds out the cast as McCary, another gender-bent character. Ridloff is deaf and the character will become so too, making McCary the MCU’s first deaf superhero (Hawkeye is deaf in the comics but not in the MCU). 

I’m unsure as to how these immortal gods will change up the MCU as we’ve known up to this point, but at least we know Marvel’s penchant for star-studded casts won’t change!

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

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  • February 12, 2021
  • Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12– such a great film!!!!)
  • Starring Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, Tony Leung as the Mandarin, and Awkwafina in an unknown role. 

China is a huge box-office market, the second biggest in the world behind the U.S. Shang-Chi is not only Marvel’s first Asian superhero, but also the studio’s first real effort to please Asian audiences. So far, though, it looks like there may be some problems. 

Shang-Chi is the hero son of villain Fu Manchu, who in the comics was a horribly racist stereotype and has a rough history. So the rumor is that in the film Shang-Chi will be the son of Tony Leung’s Mandarin instead (the real Mandarin, not the one from Iron Man 3). This already sets up a great dynamic- a superhero son breaking away from his supervillain dad. But here’s the catch: Tony Leung is a Chinese legend and incredibly respected action hero, and he’s the villain. Meanwhile, his hero son moves to America, making him Chinese-American (and Simu Liu, the actor, is Chinese-Canadian, his family having moved from China to Canada). In other words, the Chinese person that moves to the west is the hero, while the one who stays in China is the villain. As there are already sensitivities in China about Chinese people moving to America for better lives and education, this casting would seem to further this divide. Along with Awkwafina, who is American, and the director, who is American, all of the major players in this movie except the actor playing the villain are from the West. 

It’s a strange decision to cast Simu Liu, an unknown, as the hero when Marvel could have cast an actor from China’s film industry, who might still be an unknown to American audiences but would help bridge this divide. However, Liu is a great choice in other respects. He used to be a stuntman, ensuring some great action sequences, and has a great underdog story. He began campaigning for the role in 2014, tweeting Marvel multiple times since then asking for more Asian representation and offering himself up for a role. Shang Chi is a master martial artist and is in-tuned with his chi and his body, and doesn’t have a ton of other definable powers. I’m looking forward to seeing what Liu will bring to the role and how he does with the dramatic parts. 

Also cast is Awkwafina, who is on a major hot streak right now following her roles in Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians with The Farewell. She could be playing Shang-Chi’s half-sister, Fah Lo Suee, or perhaps a love interest. 

The Ten Rings in the title refers to the terrorist group that kidnapped Tony Stark in the first Iron Man film, and have been alluded to in a few movies since. However, I expect this movie to move away from the terrorist angle and more into the “villainy” angle. The Ten Rings also refer to ten rings that the Mandarin wears, made out of alien tech and each having a different power. Sounds a little familiar… Infinity Stones, anyone? Despite some familiar tropes, I hope Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will break new ground for Marvel, not only in representation but also in storytelling and filmmaking. 

WandaVision Show

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  • Spring 2021
  • 6-8 episodes, the whole series will be 6 hours long. 
  • Jac Schaeffer will be showrunner. Schaeffer is the screenwriter for the Black Widow movie and will write the pilot for WandaVision
  • Starring Elizabeth Olson as Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff, Paul Bettany as Vision, and Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau

WandaVision will focus on the relationship between Wanda and Vision, which has been growing slowly throughout several movies but has a deep comic book history. In the comics, Wanda and Vision are a married couple, and Wanda creates for them out of her magic two children, Wiccan and Speed. Wiccan and Speed eventually join the Young Avengers team and are joined by Cassie Lang (Antman’s daughter, already introduced into the MCU) and Kate Bishop, who will be introduced in the Hawkeye miniseries. If the show introduces the two, we could be gearing up for a Young Avengers show or movie.

The biggest mystery in the show is the role of Monica Rambeau in all of it. Monica was introduced in Captain Marvel as the adorable daughter of Maria Rambeau (Carol’s best friend). Teyonah Parris will play her as an adult, who in the comics takes up the mantle of Captain Marvel. I can’t imagine she will be the same here though, so maybe she’s working for SHIELD? Or is doing some other kind of work that has her learning about/teaming up with Wanda and Vision? Or she could be her own fully-fledged hero, like she becomes in the comics under the name Photon.  

This show will take us straight to Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness in May of 2021 and to the final part of the Phase 4 slate, which I’ll be covering next week.

Double Feature: Dora and the Lost City of Gold + Blinded By the Light

Dora and the Lost City of Gold

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The main issue with the new live-action Dora film is that it has an identity crisis: is it a movie version of the show, or is it a meta-commentary of the show, updated for an older audience? 

The film chooses to do both, to its detriment. There will be scenes where characters say something like, “Silly Dora, maps don’t talk,” or will make fun of Dora for speaking to the audience. But in the next scene, Boots the Monkey will talk, or something else magical will happen. Making fun of the central concept of the show is disrespectful because it not only insults its audience but also because the show is very good at what it does and is quality children’s entertainment. The movie ends up aiming young, so the meta-commentary isn’t even clever enough for fourteen-year-old edgelords. So if it’s not for older audiences, and it’s disrespectful to the young kids who watch the show, who is it for? The film never answers this question. 

But on the positive side, Isabela Moner is charming as Dora, taking the role seriously but with a twinkle in her eye, and is able to sell most of the antics and jokes. Michael Pena and Eva Longoria are lovely as her parents, and I found it refreshing to have two (living) parents who are shown to be deeply loving and respected, and even when they need to be saved by Dora, they are never made the butt of the joke. 

The entire Latinx cast is game and most are good, although sometimes they struggle with nailing the inconsistent tone. Jeff Wahlberg as Diego is the weakest link, and because there are too many characters, his traits are made nearly interchangeable with the other classmates on Dora’s trip, and a bafflingly unnecessary and dull “romance” doesn’t do him any favors. 

There were times I was a little bored, which made the hour and a half feel like two, but the young girl next to me was loving it. When Dora asks the audience in a fourth-wall break, “can you say neurotoxicity?” the girl very solemnly said out loud, “I can’t say that.” That was enough to charm me, and this movie is almost as charming. 

 

Blinded By the Light

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Blinded By the Light’s trailers do this film a great disservice. Whether you’ve seen the trailer a couple dozen times like my family has, or just once, the impression you’re likely given is, “It’s a feel good movie.” And while that isn’t bad within itself, the feel-good genre is predictable and can be a little stale, and a Pakistani boy from Thatcher’s Britain realizing his artistic dreams because of Bruce Springsteen had plenty of opportunities to be that. 

But Blinded By the Light, directed by Bend It Like Beckham’s Gurinder Chadha and based on the book by Sarfraz Manzoor, is not that. Yes, it may make you feel good, but it’s got some other things to say. For one thing, while it’s certainly in-love with Bruce Springsteen, it’s much more of a love letter to any pop culture that we use to communicate to others. We’ve all been in a place where we are able to relate to someone simply through our shared interests. When we aren’t able to say something straight, we may say it in the language of our favorite movie or musician or book, and usually we do that because that piece of media spoke deeply to us first. 

The film also has something more thoughtful to say about following your dreams them, “screw your family and do it.” It, like The Farewell, wrestles with the complications that come with being at the crossroads of collective vs individualist cultures, and reveals truths about both. Then it interprets Springsteen’s work into something universal and complex enough to speak to both cultures. 

Something not touched upon in the trailers that is present in the movie is the racism faced by the Pakistani characters. This racism was true of the time period but also looks a lot like racism around the world today. Further, Blinded By the Light, albeit very loosely, questions what it is like to be a person in an oppressed minority group who uses pop culture to escape the daily pressures of such oppression, yet that exact pop culture is made by someone from the dominant group that oppresses you. However, despite all of the difficulties endured by the characters in this film, it also has moments of uplifting hope and humor and whimsy that reminds us of the holistic lives of the characters.

I walked away from Blinded By the Light with an appreciation for The Boss, a Springsteen in my step, and something to think about.

Family and Falsehoods: The Farewell

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In Lulu Wang’s film The Farewell, Billi (Awkwafina), a woman whose family moved to America from China when she was young, learns that her grandmother Nai-Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) has terminal cancer, and the whole family is going to China to say goodbye. The catch? The family is reuniting under the guise of a fake wedding, and Nai-Nai doesn’t know she has cancer. The family has decided not to tell her, per Chinese tradition. Billi goes and wrestles with returning to her home country and the grief that she must repress. 

The Farewell is a slow, contemplative film that is occasionally funny but mostly content with simply watching its characters. There is very little story, very little change within the characters, and no clear judgments on the central ethical question of whether it is wrong to lie to Nai-Nai about her condition.

Initially, this bothered me. My American sensibilities were frustrated with Billi’s lack of a character arc, the way the central problem isn’t “solved,” and how the film seems to emphasize all the wrong points. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to appreciate the film for what it is, which is two things: First, it is a film about grief, and grief is not something that is convenient, timely, concise, or narratively satisfying. Second, The Farewell is a movie less about its characters and more about its environment and sense of place. 

The first point. Billi is our protagonist in the loosest sense. We follow her around and she makes choices that change the course of the story, which makes her the main character. But she also doesn’t feel much like a protagonist because we don’t know much about her outside of her grief, and she doesn’t change (at least externally) over the course of the film. She is our point of view character, but less so as an individual and more so as a representative of her family. This, in and of itself, explores the theme of the American Individual vs. the Chinese Collective cultural mindset and, with that in mind, it is a less frustrating choice. 

Awkwafina does nice work here, but she doesn’t have a lot to do and doesn’t quite get across any indication that Billi has a rich inner life that we simply aren’t privy to. Because we know so little about Billi outside of her grief, it is hard to get a sense of her character or relate to her. But isn’t that the thing about grief? It can be so consuming that the grief feels like our whole identity and the only thing people can see in us. It is so overwhelming that our natural selves feel lost within it. Again, with that in mind, Billi’s character, and the film’s tone overall, is a less frustrating choice. 

What may have helped the film have higher stakes and have a more dynamic protagonist would have been to make Billi the one being coerced into the fake marriage. We would still have the outsider status and the central set-up, but there would have been more of a plot and more for Billi to proactively do than wander around the film and talk to various characters. 

But maybe that would have been too much like Crazy Rich Asians and too easy of a set-up. It would have also weakened the film’s focus on grief. And, after all, The Farewell is invested in its sense of place, and having wedding hijinks would distract from that. 

This sense of place, the atmosphere, is not only investigated in the physical environment of China, but also in the domestic settings. This film captures, scarily so, what it feels like to be at a family reunion. Maybe not for every family, but I had a family reunion about a month ago, and throughout the film I kept being reminded of it. The joy of the grandmother to have everyone under the same roof. The sitting around the table for hours. Various family members sneaking off to seek privacy and talk in hushed whispers. Taking pictures. Reading through old letters and visiting graves and collectively remembering those we’ve lost along the way. Looking around and wondering what it means that these people are tied into your DNA, yet you may know little to nothing about them. 

Ultimately, The Farewell is not interested in debating the ethics of such a lie. This is not a movie about mind-games and philosophical puzzles. It’s about presence, and it’s a clear reminder that every family, no matter cultural differences, is a family, and I think anyone will be able to see themselves in Billi’s family. So despite some small complaints, I think The Farewell is a beautiful film that is the perfect alternative to, say, Hobbs and Shaw, for your summer movie-watching.

Hobbs and Shaw ft. Clifton Raphael

IMG_4353.jpegFrom left to right: Hobbs, Idris Elba’s White Doppelgänger, and Shaw

I am excited to be joined for this review by my former six-time teacher, Clifton Raphael. Mr. Raphael teaches screenwriting and filmmaking and film studies at Jenks High School. He has 24 years of experience in TV broadcasting and an MFA in screenwriting and film studies from Hollins University. His students have won two $5,000 grand prizes in the C-Span StudentCam documentary competition (the only school to have repeat grand prize winners), a regional Emmy, and thousands of dollars in other C-SPAN, YoungArts and Scholastic Arts awards. His class also has the first high-school produced program on OETA (Oklahoma’s PBS affiliate). Mr. Raphael has been a judge for numerous film festivals and competitions, has been interviewed on C-SPAN, and sits on the Board of Directors at Circle Cinema. You can watch his students’ films here.

He has been a great influence in my life and has always championed my work with his brand of tough-love, sacrificial dedication, earnest support, and occasional mockery. It’s about time he got to be featured here. 

Full disclosure: Neither of us have seen any of The Fast and the Furious films, but we believe this makes us uniquely suited to reviewing its spinoff, Hobbs and Shaw. He, as a film connoisseur, and me, as someone who likes things that go vroom vroom. 

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Madeleine: Can you describe the events of this film in two sentences or less?

Clifton Raphael: Two guys learn to love each other in order to save the world. 

Perfect. But that’s only one sentence. 

Okay, so there’s a virus that could kill supposedly all the weakest people in the world, and there’s some benevolent force that wants this done. So Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) have to get together to find this woman, Shaw’s sister (played by Vanessa Kirby), and they have to get this virus that is implanted in her out and save her and save the world. 

Beautiful. 

It’s my understanding that you took a screenwriting class in high school. [He is, of course, referring to the class that Madeleine took with him.]

Why yes I did. 

And I understand there’s a thing called a character arc, where a character changes throughout the course of the story. How did these characters change? What character arcs did they go through in this movie?

Okay so first they didn’t like each other, right? ‘Cause Hobbs and Shaw have clashing egos and insecurities. 

Right. 

And then in the middle they don’t like each other, because they’re working together but they just… still, don’t, because of the previously mentioned issues. And then at the end, they still don’t really like each other and then in the last five minutes they realize that if they work together they can punch the living daylights out of the villain, and then the movie will end, so then they like each other. 

But then they sort of… don’t like each other. 

Right, they still don’t like each other. They like to neg one another. It’s their love language. 

What else did this movie do really well screenwriting wise?

You know it sets up a very clear “want” and “need.” The characters want to not need each other. 

But then they need to need each other!

Exactly! The film and screenplay also makes great use of character motivations that tie into the theme. Cause the theme is that tech- no, actually the first theme is family, because everyone needs a family. Second, the theme is that humans always beat technology. 

Yes, and actually I’m going to quote the movie. I wrote it down because [pulls out phone] it was such an amazing line [he says with the utmost sarcasm]. 

You were on your phone during the movie?!

Whoops, please don’t tell anyone.

That line is the thesis of the film. 

It’s delivered by the Rock. This is up there with Dorothy’s “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” and “Here’s looking at you, kid.” This will go into the immortal words of great lines.

And his Oscar reel. 

So he says, “You may believe in machines, but we believe in people.”

Boom!

Boom.

Idris Elba’s villain character lets go of his humanity for the pursuit of human evolution through technology, and Hobbs and Shaw use technology throughout the film but the thing is, underneath all of that technology, they’re still just guys who want to get down to their roots and just, [slams hands together] beat the living crap out of each other with their fists. 

That’s right. 

They don’t like the guns, they just use the guns, so that’s why they can say that.

 Let’s talk about Vanessa Kirby’s character. 

Right. What has she been in?

Mission Impossible franchise. And The Crown TV show. 

I was encouraged to see- and I think we’re seeing more and more of this in movies-  that she could hold her own with the men, in terms of the absolutely ridiculous things she was capable of doing. And it’s interesting to me, there’s this whole new trend of women in movies being in these positions of pulling off what would normally be considered “tough guy” roles or missions. So that’s pretty encouraging.

I agree that it is nice that she gets fight sequences and gets the same “cool” treatment as the guys. But what I really want to get to is the agency of her character. It looks like, from the surface, she has a big role. She’s in it a lot, and she has the main plot-

I see where you’re going with this, it’s that the guys still need to take care of her and save her because the woman has the virus injected into her.

Yes, but it’s more than that if you look at what she contributes to the film. Okay so first, she’s a Mcguffin. She literally has the MacGuffin virus in her. But there are only two scenes- I was keeping track- where she does something that advances the plot and changes the events of the film. In all of the other scenes, she either puts up a fight but the result is still the same as if she was, like, a lamp, or she contributes but they would have gotten to that place without her. Or, she’s literally picked up and carried to the next plot point. 

She doesn’t have the same level of narrative agency as the other leads, which is still a huge flaw if you’re really breaking the film down. I think that is something to consider because on the surface it looks like the movie is all, [does jazz hands] Oh yeah! Women! It’s important to interrogate these films that are so self-congratulatory about their “progress.”  I’m concerned that if we don’t, movies will keep barreling forward towards this faux-empowerment direction without any real substance, not changing the basic ingredients of these films in this genre. 

Yeah…baby steps? I don’t know. 

The fact that she’s in it is positive because she has cool fight sequences and she’s pulling her weight, but there’s a way to go, and I don’t want the film to pat itself on the back for, you know,  advancing that feminist agenda. 

[Contemplative silence is briefly kept]

You know, one of the criticisms of the latest Tarantino movie (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), and a criticism in his other movies too, is that some of his violence is so exaggerated that you end up laughing at it. So are you then diminishing the impact of violence by doing that? Now this film isn’t as explicitly violent. People get hit a lot but you don’t see them necessarily die.

That’s the thing. We know they die. In real life, they would die, so it sure does undercut the idea of “you believe in technology but we believe in people,” when from the first scene, which is to establish how cool they are, to the last scene, Hobbs and Shaw are absolutely brutalizing people. Everyone who’s not a main character is completely dehumanized, they are props. And you’re supposed to laugh and enjoy these guys completely destroying people and yet at the very end, switcheroo because Dwayne Johnson has a daughter and Jason Statham has a sister, which kinda dehumanizes them as props too. They use the shorthand of, “he has a daughter, he’s human,” so they have to put no effort into anything.

You’re right. But you know, this is a trope of these kinds of movies. I remember this very well from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, that the movie established very early on that Tom Cruise is divorced and he’s got a daughter he has to take care of. Movies always have something that is trying to humanize them-

To make these protagonists relatable to the audience.

Even though you don’t have to do that to me for a movie like this, because I already relate to the idea of running cars off bridges and pulling helicopters out of the sky with my bare hands, these are the things I do on a daily basis [both laugh]. But I can understand for most people you would need to have a humanizing moment. Yet it makes it so that it’s not the pulling helicopter out of the sky moments that are hard to believe; it’s the human moments that are hard to believe. 

I don’t like to think that blockbuster filmmaking is useless, or it doesn’t mean anything, because I think it taps into the cultural zeitgeist, and what people expect of themselves and media more than any other genre. I want there to be a redeeming quality to Hobbs and Shaw that reflects our society, or humanity, or Hollywood. Do you think there’s any of that there? A redeeming quality for why people should go see it?

I suppose redeeming quality is that whole, “I have stresses and problems in my life, but they aren’t the problems of having to face ten guys with really, really tough weapons and 18 cars coming at me, and ‘look out, the bridge is out!’”

Wait, you’re saying this is an exercise in gratitude? 

[Laughs] Gratitude? Well, that’s not what I meant, but that whole escapism thing and wanting to go to something mindless. But seriously, we’re Americans, do we really put our minds to things that much? Are we really overstressing ourselves with the intelligence needed for our regular lives? But still, I can understand the desire to see something mindless. I’m the first person to go see any new monster movie that comes out- and I’m not talking about horror, I’m talking about like Godzilla or like Kong: Skull Island– because I grew up fascinated by those monsters. And then I’m one of the first people disappointed, wondering why I went to go see it, yet I will see the very next one. 

Is there anything you would want to tell the makers of Fast and Furious that they should do differently?

Well, I would definitely go if Godzilla is in the next one. 

The most ambitious crossover event of all time! Is there another movie that you would recommend that is less taxing on the brain but smarter than this one that’s out right now?

I liked Booksmart, and Long Shot, that’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. Probably just those two. You?

I can’t just give that information away, people have to read my review to find out! So we’re giving Hobbs and Shaw a free pass?

I’m giving it a free pass.

Nooo, we’re just giving it a free pass. 

It’s true.

The low expectations have gotten to us.

But seriously what they could do differently? Just, cleverer stuff? But I think they’re wearing out on that.

There’s only so far a car can go. 

I don’t know if we can improve the franchise in this discussion. I guess we’ll have to do that after we see the next one!

The next one? There’s going to be a sequel to this review? 

There’s always a sequel. 

 

-Madeleine D.