Marvel Marathon: The Avengers and Phase 1 complete!

So I’m not really sure that Avengers really counts as a good new years movie, I know that some memeish individuals were considering playing Infinity War to time the ‘snap’ with midnight, but Avengers didn’t really contain anything like that.



I apologize for the longish post, but Avengers being the first longer movies, and of course the first superhero teamup AND one of my (potentially former more on that later) favourite MCU and general movies makes for a lot of fodder.

Probably the first thing that needs to be acknowledged is the franchise and success of the superhero team-up model. I don’t think its 100% accurate to say it hadn’t been done before, however it certainly hadn’t been done as successfully before. There are plenty of old-timey movies where Hulk and Thor team-up, or the X-men movies had attempted to have spin-offs, but Phase 1 MCU and the Avengers were the only highly planned and extremely overtly building to an ensemble outing that reached broad audiences. Avengers still sits as the 6th highest grossing movie worldwide, the only other superhero movie above it is Infinity War.

It’s hard to overstate the impact the success of Avengers had on movies since then. Obviously it paved the way for many many more MCU movies, but also spurred DC on to try the same thing (to ongoing mixed success) and even non-obvious franchises to be attempted (e.g. the ‘Dark Universe’ with that failed Mummy movie). So far nothing has really stuck like the MCU however.

Oddly however the film will spurred on what I will consider some more controversial aspects of the MCU success, I’ll save my opinions for the upcoming films but will mention that at the time of Avengers director Joss Whedon basically seemed like the God of comic book movies, and millions of fans were excited to see where he took the films. By the next Avengers Joss Whedon ‘broke’ and no longer worked with Marvel (and went on to ruin or perhaps attempt to salvage, its a little unclear: DC’s Justice League).

Anyway back to the actual film.

I still remember going to Avengers at the midnight screening. The atmosphere was amazing, everything about the film felt perfect, and I swear the audience cheered everytime Hulk did anything. I’ve seen the movie at least a dozen times, although I confess it had been a while and rewatching now I did have some changes in opinion.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie is still great, but some elements have aged well and others not so much. But let’s start with the positives.

The Hulk. There is much to be said about Ed Norton being dropped and Mark Ruffalo taking over as Bruce Banner. I don’t know what it is about Ruffalo but he captures the character brilliantly, a sort of mix of anxiety and bitterness but also adding an undertone of ‘come at me, see what happens’ which was missing from Norton’s portrayal.

But its not just the acting change, Whedon handles the character brilliantly. Hulk only appears twice in the film but both times are charged with energy and highlights of the movie. One of the problems with other Hulk films is no-one seems to take him seriously until he’s throwing them through a tree, in Avengers the other characters are visibly scared of Banner and terrified of Hulk. While some have criticized the Hulk’s apparently fast character development, (he appears on the helicarrier as out of control and then next appearance is totally under control) I think the movie does well establishing that Hulk is mostly under control bar some circumstances.

The film is not Hulk 2 however so I should mention some other aspects. Something that has always struck be about the film is the character intros are very solid, even though most of the characters had their own films to introduce them, enough time is spent showing them to audiences too. It takes a while for the team to get together, but its time well spent.

Finally, whatever critiques I might have there is no doubt Whedon knows his way around an action sequence. Something that Avengers did better than all its Phase 1 build-up movies is dynamic action that brings a sense of rising and falling tension throughout. Previous Marvel fight scenes tended to be fairly brief and flashy.

So how about parts of the film which weren’t quite as good as I remember?

Well I found some of the humour to either be a little dull upon rewatch, and in some cases the jokes were really one-offs, incredibly funny the first time round (and a few times after because you remember the joy of the first time) things like Thor’s “He’s adopted” line and Hulk sucker punching Thor were amazing the first time but don’t really have any rewatch value.

Also some of the dialogue in general was just incredibly cringey, the franchise still not quite settled into whether it was trying for movie realism or overblown fantasy styles.

Finally some of the sequences in Avengers felt a little drawn out, or pointless. The first chunk is basically a base evacuation / car chase between Loki, Agent Robin, and Fury and it kind doesn’t do anything, no-one is watching Avengers for a car chase between the non-heroes. And again when the helicarrier is attacked which is overall a reasonable good sequence, Cap’n America and Iron Man are relegated to ‘fixing’ the thing which while obviously important isn’t that great an excuse for screen time in a long film. It’s not that fun watching Captain American pull a lever and Iron Man push a giant fan around.

Ultimately the Avengers is a pretty important film, and one that I absolutely adored when it came out, I don’t think its too sad that its been supplanted by later films in the franchise (isn’t that really what you want?). It marks the beginning of Phase 2 in the MCU which I will be diving into next.

Happy new year!

Marvel Marathon: Cap’n America The First Avenger

I don’t really have too much to say about Captain America’s Phase 1 film. When I first saw it I felt the film seemed rushed, but on rewatch I suspect I just phased out during.



As many other reviewers already mentioned the film was going to be a struggle, Captain American being a pretty on the nose Stars and Stripes kind of hero, more held back by his do-gooder ways in a time when we prefer anti-or-at-least-flawed heroes. And on that front the film is pretty good, if anything it does a great job setting up Steve Rodgers for the perils of being a superhero in the modern world which I guess is pretty much what the film was meant to do.

But on it’s own I don’t really like it. The film feels plot heavy with almost zero character development other than Steve learning to talk to women. Tommy Lee-Jones is freakin hilarious which almost makes it worth it, but the film feels like the majority of the emotion exists in the beginning and the very end of the piece making it feel saggy middled – even the fight with Red Skull kinda just happened and then he gets zapped out of the scene without much ado.

Oddly the upcoming Cap’n America films are some of my favourite in the franchise, I think because they found ways to challenge Cap as a character not just external tensions.


Woohoo Avengers is up next, possibly my favourite installment, already seen it like 20 times, so could probably review it without even watching, but why would I want that?

Marvel Marathon: Thor

One of the weird pleasures of rewatching some of the MCU movies is that I haven’t actually rewatching many of them since they came out, it’s odd but satisfying to see how some of my own tastes have changed and also my own insights into storytelling too.

Thor is an odd one because I didn’t like it that much back 2011, I’m not sure what my problem was, perhaps I found it too cheesy or was too enamored with the idea of fully power superheroes and didn’t like to see Thor puttering around powerless.

Fast forward (heck time goes by so quick it may as well be fast forward anyway) to 2018 and I really liked rewatching Thor. Some of the jokes are my favourite in the whole MCU Series:

  • “You Dare Touch the Mighty Thor?”
  • “Another!”
  • “I need a horse” (we don’t have those, we have cats and dogs and birds) “Get me one large enough to ride”

The character progression and interplay between Thor, and Loki is brilliant too, while Hiddleston is perhaps a tad over-the-top at times its great to see a villain who is as conflicted and developing as much as the MC. Unlike in Iron Man where Obidiah Stane is presented as ambiguous but then revealed to be a complete evil guy, Loki is almost identical in basic plot progression but his motivations build, his actions in the story aren’t an overarching evil plan, its how he responds and changes to ongoing evils that become very evil.

The cool thing about Thor is that unlike the other ‘phase 1’ Marvel movies where they desperately try to make a fairly toned back ‘normal’ movie about superheroes to ease audiences in, Thor is highly fantastical and while Kenneth Branagh (who would have thought) does a great job drawing audiences in, he also doesn’t sky from epic set pieces.

I still need to rewatch Cap’n America, but Thor might be my favourite Phase one MCU


A Random Thought about “Show don’t Tell”

Just to prove that I am thinking about writing amidst blobbing out in front of Marvel Movies…

I had a random insight into Showing and Telling, probably a bit more helpful for planners or gardeners in the rewriting stage.

Once people have got their head around what Showing and Telling are, the majority of discussions revolve around when or when not to use either. As much as a text that doesn’t ‘show’ us what is happening is dry, a story cannot be devoid of ‘telling’ either. I’ve often used the rubric of if I want the reader to know something I tell them, when I want them to feel something I show them.

But my random insight I think refines this a little more – its the key plot points and changes in a character arc that ought to be shown. Essentially if you have a synopsis of your story – every element (e.g. the details that 100% need to be included within an absolutely paired down document summarizing your story) within that should be shown in the actual text as these are the vital organs of your story. Writing this down seems almost common-sensical, but I think this explains why some stories feel like they go off on tangents, or the scenes feel a little melodramatic rather than dramatic. Telling is fine for many reasons, such as setting a scene, or reminding a reader of certain points, however the crux of the drama is what needs to be shown lest the very core of the story doesn’t resonate with the reader.

Anyhow – that was my random thought – back to Marvel Movies


Marvel Marathon: The Incredible HULK



I didn’t really want to spend too much effort on this Marvel journey ranting and raving, but the truth is last night was the first time I’d actually sat and rewatched 2008’s The Incredible Hulk in its entirety. I confess most of my response is mild surprise I enjoyed this when it came out!

Much of the reviews at the time and in hindsight point out that this movie was largely an attempt to not be Ang Lee’s Hulk movie from earlier in the decade, and movie which is generally panned, although personally I feel at least contained some real heart.

The first problem I’ll raise with Incredible Hulk is performance wise, it just feels incredibly flat and reigned in. I actually love Norton as an actor, but in watching this film one just has this sense of of him taking the role far too seriously – if you contrast his performance with RDJ as iron man, who brought a sense of fun and energy to to the role, Norton comes across with an almost Office-esque level of ‘acting’ and it just comes off as cheesy. Liv Tyler as Betty Ross and Tim Roth (again awesome actors) seem to just grimace through their lines as if they aren’t too sure whats actually happening in each scene.

The second problem is a weird one that I notice in such films. An odd catch-22 between character motivation and audience. The problem with many Hulk stories is that typically Bruce and others don’t want to unleash the Hulk, yet as audiences that’s pretty much exactly what we want. It’s not the end of a story when a MC has an opposing goal to the audience, but it has to be played out carefully. The main motivation of Bruce in this film is to escape the military and cure his ‘condition’ which makes perfect logical sense but hurts the plot in two ways, its not what we want to see for the Hulk, and it’s incredibly predictable that circumstances will fall in a way that does release the Hulk but to save the day of course.

The third main problem is that ultimately the Hulk looks terrible. Again I remember watching this in 2008 and just being happy that the Hulk looked less like a helium balloon than in 2003, but in hindsight 2008’s Hulk looks slimy, creepy and too much like he stepped out of a video game (albeit Abomination looks worse, like they bought a Resident Evil monster over). While the action is fairly fluid there are clunky CGI moments that are just painful to watch.

Overall the movie presents as boring. The jokes are incredibly bad – I didn’t mind the Dadish “You won’t like me when I’m Hungry” line as Bruce is still learning Portuguese, however the other gags felt out of place in a script that took itself far too seriously, with lengthy montages of Bruce stumbling around over sad music. I think one of the problems with this film is they were trying to go with the “real” factor that they put a lot of effort into Iron Man, e.g. devoting a lot of time to Tony Stark developing Iron Man to allow for some suspension of disbelief, however ended up just making a rather dry movie about a giant green rage monster…

All I can say is thank goodness for Ruffalo and Avengers’ rehabilitation of the Hulk!


Marvel Marathon: I am Iron Man Too

As mentioned in the previous post, I accidentally skipped over the Incredible Hulk, so I’ll get back to that wee chestnut soon, however for now…


I would give a lot to have seen some of the internal planning of Marvel Studios at this juncture. Iron Man II sits very oddly in the history of MCU movies in that I feel that most, with hindsight, view the movie as pretty average. Crammed with many different threads and a pair of lackluster villains, the film feels more like Marvel finding their feet rather than what one would expect from a Marvel film today, and basically not a huge improvement on Iron Man one.

However in the context of being the 3rd MCU movie at all it doesn’t sit too badly, I think rewatching these films reminds me just how much the Marvel Universe really hinged on the success of the 1st Avengers film, and without it probably would have just been Iron Man and a bunch of spinoffs, which it kind of is building up to Avengers 1.

Something else that Iron Man 2 reminded me of is the oft-cited “villain problem” with Marvel Movies. I remember back when this one came out, ‘Hammer’ being irritating AF and time hasn’t softened this stance, the character feels like they basically gave him all the Tony Stark lines that weren’t funny enough, doesn’t have a motivation and ends up presenting more as a puppy dog that elicits sympathy than a villain. Whiplash at least offers some harshness and intimidation, but has a similar under-cooked feel the writers obviously hoped that his general smirking and leering counted as characterization. His character didn’t really bring anything to the table in terms of challenging Tony, other than being a threat and having a similar suit.

Anywho, time to jump back to 08 and The Incredible Hulk. This ought to be fun.

Marvel Marathon: I am Iron Man


So kicking off an MCU catchup now as one can’t help but notice that there is pretty much exactly 20 films to get through (not including Cap’n Marvel) until Endgame in April, and I can definitely see it taking some time to work through these beasts!

For one thing its still hard to really get my head around that Iron Man came out in 2008. Besides the actual film there is a surprising amount of “baggage” for want of a better word, in watching this film. For one thing one can’t help but do that weird hindsight thing where Iron Man is watched in the context of spawning another dozen Marvel movies (not to mention the series too) and influencing the movie scene for the next 10+ years (who knows how long superhero movies will dominate.)

Considering the above its actually quite weird to watch Iron Man again and basically experience a movie that is trying to convince audiences to embrace the idea of a superhero movie and the possibility of a Shared Universe. Compared to a modern MCU or even other comic book adaptation movies Iron Man is actually pretty boring, the majority of the film is devoted to not just origin story, but ‘setup’ of the character as a superhero. But one does have to consider where superhero movies were at in 2008… the somewhat massive Dark Knight came out at the same time as Iron Man and audiences where loving the Nolan trilogy, however equally the X-men and Spiderman trilogies had risen and fallen with bad 3rd movies.

Overall I think people were pretty anxious about comic book adaptations, audiences wanted them, but didn’t want to see characters get “ruined.”

Anywho, so all of this plays into why rewatching Iron Man feels kind of odd, tonally you can see the beginning of MCU signature styles, quippy humour and bombastic action yet in the original movie you can also see the creators playing it safe and somewhat broadly. To be honest Iron Man is tonally all over the place, the movie begins with Tony getting ambushing and the soldiers he’s just befriended getting brutally slaughtered, we then jump back in time for some character ‘development’ which is basically just several sequences to show what an Asshat Tony is to pretty much everyone. The whole sequence of Tony being captured, and his subsequent escape is fairly gritty and dark and well designed to show Tony’s change from asshat to hero, however throughout the rest of the movie everything feels somewhat uncomfortable, like the creators were still experimenting with the balance of humour and seriousness and they weren’t too sure what they could pull off or not. While there were some great punchlines, Iron Man actually feels more like an extended exercise in suspending audience disbelief with actually very small action sequence payoffs rather than an MCU movies.

Still one can’t ignore the positive side to this film, where is not for its success the MCU probably wouldn’t exists, or perhaps would exist as a niche thing, rather than the juggernaut the series is today. While there are the above mentions, the plot is pretty solid, RDJ is great as Iron Man, and despite some pretty cheesy moments and tropey process Iron Man continues to be a pretty solid film.

With some hilarity I note that I have set myself up to watch Iron Man II next, even though technically Incredible Hulk is next on the list – do we all just deny the existence of that movie?





2018: Reflection for the year

Probably the scariest thing about this post is looking back to my 2017 and wondering what the heck I’ve achieved since then!


I guess we’ll start with this blog, last year I spoke about lofty goals and how my productivity cycles tends to start with a bang and deflate after a few months. This year I have to say I can’t claim any banging process, but at the least I have plodding along, and continued to meet people and secure a few views consistently over the year. While there were definitely some big gaps in activity, there was no “hiatus” or absolute neglect compared to the later half of 2017.

In saying that however my online activity related to writing has plummeted. Its debatable whether that is a good or a bad thing, definitely a case of “real life” catching up a bit resulting in an overall drop in online activity, I haven’t spent much time on r/writing, and funnily enough in my 2017 reflection I noted my distraction by external topics whereas 2018 could be described as a fully absorption by issues right in front of my face!

I never intended this blog to be about my personal life but I figured a brief snapshot of the kinds of things that went on in 2018:

  • Son started Kindergarten
  • Death in my wife’s family
  • New job stepping into a management role
  • Father got remarried
  • Major breakup in extended family
  • (tried) to study in the background

And other stuff I’m sure, some of which I don’t even want to mention on a public forum and some which I’ve honestly forgotten in the fray. Now not all of the above are necessarily bad, such as getting a new job has been wonderful, but there is no doubt its been a head-trip. And my wee-mate starting kindy is not bad at all, but again there is no doubt its a bit step and requires a chunk of headspace.

So that’s partly why my online activity has taken a hit, and I confess my reading has too. Although this has also been an issue with having a strong focus on non-fiction at the moment, which isn’t great news for my Goodreads book challenge! Currently sitting at 15 books to read for the rest of the year. (totally doable but one might consider taking the philosophical approach)

As for writing its been fairly low output – much for the same reasons as everything else however I have continued to learn and in particular focus on learning about my weaknesses. At the moment my writing routine seems to be taking pot-shots at projects and then putting them away for long periods.

Although as always the best part of this journey is connecting with like-minded others. While there is a veritable tonne of things I’d like to get done, not only my own projects but supporting my wife more with hers – I still feel pretty blessed to be able to surround myself with other writers of good humour and company.

Long may it last.


Speaking of not getting things done that I should – my plan is to Marathon (over months I’d say) the MCU movies leading up to End Game. So sorry it won’t be writing related posts over the break 🙂

The Psychology of Genre: Horror


Writing about the psychology of Horror and why we’re attracted to the genre is proving quite a challenge. Despite being one of my favourite genres to read, write and watch its actually quite hard to work out why we as readers even like Horror.



After all, Horror kind of sits a little to the side of other genres, ironically perhaps as the creepy friend that no-one really ‘gets’. For one thing its a genre where unhappy endings are much more common and even sought or demanded! Also compared to the other topics we’ve talked about I feel like Horror doesn’t really have the same clear rules of other genres. I mean you typically have to scare the reader, or gross them out, or have some level of disturbia, but I’m not sure there is necessarily too many demands on exactly how that should be done.

Perhaps somewhat similar to Sci-Fi, Horror provides a set of tropes and styles that then get imposed on some other typically story, such as mystery, love story, or (Twisted) coming of age story.

So why do we like this genre?

I had to dive into the musings of a couple of Horror Heavy-weights: Neil Gaiman and Stephen King to try and make sense of it. They each have quite different takes on the subject, and King’s point that he thought we were all a little (or a lot) crazy and Horror provided a safe way to indulge that (admittedly King was more talking about gory horror films rather than books) whereas Gaiman thought that we enjoyed the thrill-ride, partially knowing that there was always safety in closing the book.

But it was actually a side point Gaiman made that struck me – the idea of fictional horrors providing a reprieve from the very real horrors of the world, while still touching on the feelings that the real horrors cause.

I think this resonates as one of my theories about Crime novels is that they create a sense of being in control of lawlessness which pleases us, whereas Horror kinda takes of the opposite tact – rather than making the reader feel in control of their fear, they throw them into a world of completely uncontrollable and senseless horror. Almost like providing a reader with a sense of “well being broke 24/7 might be bad but at least I’m not getting dragged into a hell-dimension”

It’s important to note that I don’t think this is the immediate experience for readers of Horror, My theory is its a little bit of a one-two punch.

The other element I only touched on – human nature is that we enjoy a bit of a thrill-ride one doesn’t have to look to far to see this, bungee jumping, sky-diving, theme-park rides. (as a side note despite my love of Horror fiction I’m not a fan of these real-world thrills). Despite being portrayed as a typically bad thing, fear does have its flip-side, adrenaline can be one helluva drug, when scared our minds and bodies tend to zap into focus – which especially in this modern age of flopping about on the couch in front of phones, TVs, and laptops (whoops) being thrown into a state of alertness can be quite pleasant!

(recall that psychology study where men were more likely to ask for a date from the experimenter if they’d just walked across a scary swing-bridge)

So the one-two punch I’m referring to is that the immediate experience of Horror while usually described as ‘fear’ quite a negative event, the reality is a sharpening of the senses and surge of a adrenaline. However once over, or between breaks in reading also an after-effect of a great sense of control or “Thank God” feeling as you sit back down and realize you’re not being haunted by a cadre of old-timey ghosts who died on your property between 50-100 years ago.

I think what stands out for me is how Horror’s attraction is perhaps a little different from other fiction – rather than looking for character resolution or dramatic tension, Horror fans are typically looking for the thrill-ride. This may explain why readers are more likely to tolerate a crass or cheesy horror compared to their tolerance for badly written romance, or crime novels (although I’m sure fans of any genre will gravitate that way).


Anywho – those are my thoughts for the most popular (fiction) genres out there. This brings about the end of my list – although I do plan on doing a summary and some thoughts on how understanding genre may help our writing.


Are there any genres that people want to hear about?

The Psychology of Genre: Sci-Fi

Potentially I’m being a little cheeky, separating the genres of Sci-Fi and Fantasy, however I’ve always felt a little annoyed that the two are lumped together – maybe I’m just defensive, but it feels like the two are linked more by a stereotype of ‘nerd-shit’ rather than actual similarities. Granted both Fantasy and Sci-Fi deal with fantastical elements and in some cases do have similarities in structure and probably do have a few common readers, but ultimately and I guess the point of this post is I feel the nature of the genres and the reasons for their popularity are different.


Different from my analysis of other genres I suspect Sci-Fi has an unusual double edged sword linked to its ilk, in that what might sometimes make Sci-Fi popular can at times cripple it. What I’m referring to here is people’s interest, if not obsession with the future.

Now I realize that not all Sci-Fi is set in the future, or intended to be any kind of prediction but I have no doubt that for readers of the genre there is always a component of “what-if?”. This perspective underlies Sci-Fi much more than other genres and I think will always mean there is an interest in the market.


I did say there was a double edge to this. When it comes to the future people are somewhat more temperamental, sometimes people feel positive about what is to come, and sometimes people feel outright gloomy and these perspectives influence the genre. For example my general feeling of 2018 is that people are not in fact feeling that great about the future, and interest in Sci-Fi seems to fall more into the Black Mirror, Handmaid’s Tale type focus. Of course equally in some cases when people are feeling negative, the last thing they need is fiction depicting more negativity.

What I’m trying to say is that the future-focus of Sci-Fi is probably one of the reasons Sci-Fi is a staple genre in fiction, however also a cause for some chaos for the popularity of the genre at any given time period.

My next point is a little tangential, in that I’m not sure its an explanation of why Sci-Fi is popular but more an observation that Sci-Fi is a little different from other genres. Fantasy, Romance, Thrillers all dictate a wide range of tropes and frameworks for a work of fiction, whereas Sci-Fi is really more about an over-arching setting, or aspect of the ‘setting. While Fantasy is kind of similar, in the sense that the genre Fantasy implies certain settings, Fantasy also implies certain other stories elements (e.g. longer works, larger casts of characters, world changing plots) which aren’t necessarily implied by Sci-Fi. For me if someone says ‘Sci-Fi’ it really tells surprisingly little other than the setting is “futuristic” not only are there so many official sub-genres to Sci-Fi than no-one feels comfortable cataloging them all with certainty, I feel that every other genre can be easily tucked into a Sci-Fi setting.

It is possible that this is part of the attraction, that not only is the technological or Sci-Fi elements of the setting are potentially infinite, but actually the tropes and genre of any individual story have a wide range of potential too. Again slight double edged sword where I think many a story falls over under the weight of “too much stuff” but that’s a blog for another day.

Finally I think the emergent popularity of Sci-Fi has something to do with a slightly different escapism experience. It’s not so much that I think people experience Sci-Fi with a slightly more powerful suspension of disbelief because things in Sci-Fi ‘might happen’ but rather I think Sci-Fi taps into a part of our brain which I mentioned earlier where oddly some fantasies are easier to sustain than others or are more satisfying. In the same way Crime Thrillers might tap into our desire to cure the world of chaotic crimes, Sci-Fi taps into our desire to see the world differently – but still very much be a familiar world. (not saying that all Sci-Fi deals with familiar worlds or believable differences).


So that’s my analysis of Sci-Fi!

Next we have a real challenge: Why is Horror the 5th most popular fiction genre?