Avengers: Endgame is just around the corner. I am both giddy with joy and absolutely terrified for my beloved Marvel characters. My family and I already have tickets for opening night. I know the date of Easter this year only in relation to the release date of Endgame. And it's not just me: the whole country is stoked for this movie, even people who haven't been into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You can tell because this question keeps popping up all over social media:
"Which movies should I watch before Avengers: Endgame?"
It's...a really weird question. This isn't like Black Panther, which you can watch without ever seeing another Marvel movie and you'll still get what's going on without asking any questions. This is the sequel of sequels. The crowning jewel. The very last chapter of a story that's been going on for eleven goddamn years.
What movies should you watch before Avengers: Endgame? ALL OF THEM, YOU IDIOT.
This is like asking to jump into Game of Thrones by starting with the season eight opener this month. You'll have no context. You won't know any of the characters, their motivations, or backstories because we've already spent the last decade going through all that. How will you know about the horrible bromantic break-up between Tony Stark and Steve Rogers that they'll have to reconcile in Endgame if you haven't seen Civil War? How will you know about everything happening in Civil War unless you've seen Age of Ultron and The Winter Soldier? And let's not forget the Guardians of the Galaxy, considering one of their teammates is Thanos's daughter.
Now, I know with over twenty movies, it can be a little overwhelming for those new to the fandom. So here's this handy little chart that someone else made last year in preparation for Infinity War:
Since we've have a few new releases, I'm rewriting the list as follows:
Iron Man 2
Captain America: the First Avenger
Hulk (honestly, this one's kind of optional)
Iron Man 3
Thor: the Dark World
Captain America: the Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Guardians of the Galaxy 2
Avengers: Infinity War
Ant-Man and the Wasp
So there you go. Every MCU movie you need to see before Endgame comes out. You have three weeks. Enjoy!
DZA Marie's personal favorite romantic subplots in sci-fi and fantasy
Ah, early February. Living in Minnesota, I can see why Hallmark decided this was the prime time to start a romantic holiday: it's too cold outside to do anything other than snuggle with your significant other. (-50 degree windchill. Thanks, climate change.)
Now obviously, in the spirit of the holiday, the next couple of blog posts and this month's video will be relationship-oriented. However, I do not read romance novels. I read romance fanfiction, but in my movies and published novels I vastly prefer hard sci-fi and fantasy. Luckily (or unluckily, as this month's YouTube video will argue) you cannot open an SFF book or movie without there being at least a 95% chance of a romantic subplot popping up. And while most of them are very annoying and have no place in the story at all, some of them are downright adorable.
So, I have gathered a list of my personal favorite romantic subplots in the sci-fi, fantasy and superhero genres. They're not really in any particular order, and the biggest qualification is it has to make me go "Awwww" with a bare minimum of eye-rolling.
Nakia & T'Challa (Black Panther)
Most blockbuster movies with romantic subplots--especially superhero movies--tend to either ignore the woman's growth and character development, or make said growth and development all about the love and romance she bares for the hero.
This is not the case with Black Panther. Nakia is a fully fleshed-out badass who doesn't have so much of a narrative arc so much as the moral of, "Bitch, you should have listened to me from the start. Would've saved you a lot of trouble and Killmonger wouldn't have had a chance."
Also noteworthy is the fact that, at the time the movie starts, Nakia and T'Challa are exes. And while it's clear that T'Challa still has strong feelings for her, he does not whine and cry about it. They both act like adults, both respect each other, and they have a strong friendship that they then use to re-build their romance. (While they never go into it, I'm pretty sure the break-up came from clashing ideologies and world paths. Nakia wanted to go out and save the world, T'Challa wanted to hide behind his vibranium walls. That's not going to create a very stable relationship.)
Rapunzel & Eugene (Tangled)
Disney has several really good relationships, especially in recent years: Tiana and Prince Naveen, Kristophe and Anna, Mulan and Captain Shang...but my favorite is Rapunzel and Eugene (a.k.a. Flynn Rider). A lot of it has to do with Eugene's character development. Rapunzel manages to influence and change him into a better person, without going out of her way to "save" him. In fact, no romance starts until most of this change happens. At the same time, Eugene helps and encourages Rapunzel into taking charge of her own destiny.
Then there's the fact that Disney broke its own "married within three days of meeting each other" rule in order to clearly state that Eugene and Rapunzel didn't get married until years after the fact. Rushed marriages rarely work. Cinderella and Prince Charming probably got divorced three months after their wedding. But Rapunzel and Eugene? That's going to last forever.
Also, "You were my new dream." *cries*
Will Solace & Nico di Angelo (Percy Jackson series)
This relationship doesn't actually get started until the very, very end of The Blood of Olympus (book five in the Heroes of Olympus series), and we only see pieces of it in the first Trials of Apollo book. It's utterly adorable and one of the few romantic subplots that I really, really want to see more of.
This one gets points for being an LGBT relationship rather than the usual hetero stuff, without it being such a big freaking deal. We find out Nico is gay and had a crush on Percy in House of Hades, both of which he tried to ruthlessly squash down (the kid's from the 1930s, so it was definitely ones of those yikes moments for him). Blood of Olympus is him not only coming to terms with his sexuality, but also coming to terms with who he is as a person. You see, the son of Hades has had it in his head for a long time that nobody likes him, people are scared of him, everyone will be much happier if he just stays away, et cetera. But, by the end of Blood of Olympus, he's come to realize that while some people may be a little scared and even freaked out by him, nobody actually hates him. He can have friends. He can even have a boyfriend. And that's exactly what he gets.
Will Solace doesn't get nearly as much character development. He just kind of pops up and calls Nico out on all of his shit, and then enables bad behavior and rule-breaking when they start dating. So if there was one thing I'd change about this relationship, it'd be more insight into Will's frame of mind.
Edward & Winry (Fullmetal Alchemist)
(Please note: I'm going off of the manga and the anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Not the anime that's just Fullmetal Alchemist. Yes, they are very different.)
This one is kind of weird. Primarily because, while both characters admit to themselves that they have a crush on the other, they never get to the point where they're actually dating before the end of the story. But while we're not entirely sure how they would act in a romantic relationship with each other, we still get a pretty good idea. Edward would continue to be an obnoxious (short) badass, while Winry would call out his obnoxiousness, fix his metal limb when he breaks it, and also be badass.
One of my favorite moments between these two is during Winry's breakdown, when she meets Scar and realizes he was the one who killed her parents. Edward has to stop her from trying to kill him, largely because he knows that she'd never forgive herself for it, even if that execution is arguably well-earned. It's a moment that shows that these two have each other's backs and bring out the best in each other.
Tormund & Brienne (Game of Thrones)
Fun fact: the show's writers never intended for Tormund or Brienne to be interested in each other at all. This was purely the actors and how they interacted with each other without any dialogue in season six. The writers saw that and thought, "Welp, guess this is going to be a thing," and wrote it into season seven (and hopefully season eight!).
Tormund is obviously head-over-heels in love with Brienne. She, on the other hand, does not seem to return his affections at all. But I'm really hoping she'll change her mind, and here's why: Brienne has been scorned all her life because she's not beautiful, she's good with weapons, and she doesn't take anyone's shit. She's grown up in a society that idealizes the women who are pretty, demure, obedient, et cetera. Worse, she's learned that any time a man does show interest in her, he's just making fun of her, or (in the case of the books) trying to win a bet.
Tormund, on the other hand, did not grow up in that society. In wildling culture (for the most part), the women are encouraged to be big, strong fighters just like the men. No wonder Tormund fell in love at first sight: Brienne is a powerfully-built, amazing fighter who's smart. That is the ideal wildling bride. And hopefully, Brienne will realize that all of the aspects that make southern men hate her are exactly what draws Tormund to her and return his affections.
Aang & Katara (Avatar: the Last Airbender)
I am not going to get into the Zutara debate. We're sticking with canon here. (And frankly, I prefer Katara and Zuko as really good friends. He need more friends than girlfriends.)
All of ATLA's relationships (all of ATLA's everything) are really great: Suki and Sokka, Sokka and Yue, Zuko and Mai...but the one that the writers spent the most time on is, of course, Aang and Katara.
For a kids' show (well, "kids' show," just like Pixar is "kids' movies"), their relationship moves at glacial speed, even though it's obvious that Aang's harbored a crush on Katara since the first episode. And while Katara loves him as a friend, she seems pretty oblivious to the romantic side and doesn't seem to reciprocate for a long time. We get a little "did they kiss, they probably kissed" moment in season two, but they don't have a first actual kiss until the Day of Black Sun in season three. And how does Katara react?
She slaps the "pause" button like a whack-a-mole because they're in the middle of a war and she doesn't have time for this shit, a decision that Aang--after some minor protest--respects. He doesn't persistently nag her, or keep flirting with her, or spite-date someone else in the hopes that she'll get jealous. He gives her space to work things out, and doesn't make another move until she instigates.
Also, in the post-series comics, they call each other sweetie. And my parents call each other sweetie. It's just really cute.
Bob & Helen Parr (The Incredibles)
This relationship is so strong it can handle all of Bob's issues in two consecutive movies. First his overwhelming desire to relive the glory days of his superhero youth, and second his jealousy at Helen being able to do that before him. There's obviously a lot of character development that happens with him--and he would've gotten a divorce at the end of the first movie if there wasn't--but if their relationship and commitment to each other had been any weaker than it was, then they wouldn't have lasted.
Also, these movies get huge props for having the main romantic subplot center around a married couple that have been together for fifteen years. Most romances happen when the two characters are pining for each other and trying to start a relationship, or at the height of "maximum drama" (someone cheated, they just broke up, et cetera). While their relationship has to weather some storms, the relationship itself is not the storm, if that makes sense. There's the minor blip where Helen thinks Bob is cheating on her with Mirage, but for the most part, all the problems they face in The Incredibles and The Incredibles 2 stem from Bob's personal issues and bad guys trying to destroy the world. Which is a good thing, because everyone knows that beating up the villain of the week is great couples' therapy.
What's the best romantic subplot you've ever seen/read in a sci-fi/fantasy/superhero story? Let me know in the comments so I can check it out!
Thoughts on Netflix's new horror movie Bird Box
I finally got around to watching Bird Box last week. Alone. At night. In my windy apartment.
Word of advice: don't do that.
While there was a bit of type-casting going on, the acting was great, the script was amazing, and the movie itself was pretty cool. For those of you who don't know: Bird Box is a Netflix movie based off of a book of the same name. It's a post-apocalyptic monster story where, if you look directly at the creatures taking over our planet, you commit violent suicide. (So, trigger warning.)
One of the biggest complaints of this movie is that we never see the monsters themselves. Which is a stupid complaint, because that's the whole point of the movie. The creatures take the form of your worst fear, biggest regret, greatest source of grief, and enhances those feelings so much that you immediately commit suicide. That's the true horror of it: a formless, shapeshifting beast that only wants you dead.
Well. Most people dead.
There were some issues I had with this movie. Perks of having a B.A. in social justice: I have issues with every movie. And you get to hear about them. :)
One of Bird Box's problems is its treatment of people with severe mental health problems. The way mental health is (inaccurately, terribly) portrayed in horror movies deserves its own blog post, like this one, and this one. So I'm going to try to make this brief.
While most people in Bird Box die once they see the creatures, there is a small percentage who do not. Instead, they praise the creatures' beauty and force other people to look at them. And who else are these people but the criminally insane.
I get it. The creatures may be deadly, but once you learn how to navigate with a blindfold and ignore the fact that the creatures can mimic the voices of your dead loved ones, you're pretty much good to go. The movie needs another, more corporeal threat to endanger and kill off some of the characters. But if you're going to use people with severe mental health issues as your villain, then make at least one of them your protagonist. Show us a person with severe depression who's highly triggered by the mass suicides going on around them and needs to find some reason to keep going. Or someone with schizophrenia who regularly hallucinates and might have some insight in how to navigate the creatures' tricks.
There were some of the other horror movie tropes. While there was a refreshing lack of stupid horror movie mistakes, there was the fact that the only two people of color--both black men--end up getting killed. Er, killing themselves. Both in suitably self-sacrificing, badass moments. But let's face it: unless the movie is being directed by Jordan Peele, the black guys almost never make it to the end.
My final issue with Bird Box involves a big-ass spoiler. So if you haven't seen it and want to, then I am going to direct you to my newsletter signup, and my Patreon page. If you would like to see more blog posts, as well as YouTube videos on my channel and published works, then please consider becoming a patron. You'll also get access to exclusive content such as sneak peaks, giveaways, and surveys.
Okay, self-promo over. Spoiler ahead.
At the end of the movie, Malorie and her kids manage to get to sanctuary in the middle of the woods, at a building that turns out to have been a school for the blind.
This, obviously, makes sense, and I first thought it was pretty clever. Of course people who are physically, completely blind will have a natural advantage over creatures that require you to see them. In our sight-centered society, we often forget about these folks. So the fact that they got to play saviors was kind of cool.
But then I thought, Hold on. Why are we only hearing about these people now? This movie takes place over five years. You're telling me that the remnants of the U.S. military didn't think to recruit these guys to seek out survivors? Or that the ninety-year-old war veteran who lost her sight a few years ago isn't wandering around her home city making sure her idiot sighted neighbors have the food the water they need to survive? Or that there's a little blind boy foraging for food for his friends and family?
While a part of me is glad that the movie at least added the blind community in a positive way, it annoys me that people with disabilities only appear to serve the able-bodied people's stories. The only reason the school for the blind appeared in Bird Box at all is because Malorie needed somewhere to end her story. And I get that the whole movie is, ultimately, her story, but the fact is this happens with any movie that isn't exclusively about disability, with only a handful of exceptions. And that's just not right.
So, yeah. Bird Box is a great way to kill a couple of hours and a good horror movie. But in the grand scheme of things, it's nothing special, and nothing new.
Christina "DZA" Marie's Favorite Horror Movies of the 21st Century
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I don’t even get dressed up in a costume and bang on people’s doors anymore. No, I love this because I love horror. And candy. But mostly horror. And this time of year, you turn on the television at nine in the morning and at least five different channels have horror movies playing.
We’ve all heard of (and have hopefully seen) the classics: Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Shining, et cetera. And these are great. Nobody is denying the awesomeness that is the classic horror movies of the 1980s. But they tend to eclipse the modern horror movies of the 21st Century.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. The 21st Century sucks in terms of new, creative movies. Everything is either a remake or a sequel, or it’s all fake blood and pretty blondes with no actual substance.
Well sir (or ma’am), this list is for you. Because I decided to expel sequels and remakes from this list--which is a shame, because 2017’s It was incredible. These five movies were all made within the last decade, and all of them are new, creative, and downright terrifying.
Get Out is one of those insidious movies that gets under the skin and stays there long after you leave the theater. This is in part because the big theme is about race, and how seemingly nice white people still play in active role in oppressing black people. However, there are some real terror elements here. There’s hypnosis, brainwashing, liars and schemers.
One of the freakiest moments is during a party, where Chris (the guest of honor and the main character) leaves the room. Everyone is chatting and otherwise acting normal, until he goes upstairs. Then everyone stops talking and looks up, listening to him and following his moments. I literally shivered just remembering and writing this down.
The Cabin in the Woods
You know those comedies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland that make fun of horror movies? Cabin in the Woods does the same thing, and still scares the shit out of you. It’s the same guy who wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so there is strong comedic elements--especially with the “villains.” (I’m using quotations here because, in the end, you have to ask yourself if they are truly the bad guys.) But it’s still terrifying. The idea of every one of your movements being watched and manipulated by people who want you dead. The risen zombies who worship pain and therefore go out of their way to make every moment as agonizing as possible. The fact that any decision or possible outcome that happens is a shitty one because it’s just that big of a clusterfuck. This one will probably remain a favorite of mine for a long time.
A Quiet Place
Some people are skeptical when they find out a horror movie is rated PG-13. Not me. The Ring (another favorite of mine) is PG-13, relying on dread and suspense instead of blood and guts. A Quiet Place uses similar strategies, and it does it beautifully.
It’s a post-apocalyptic world where everyone has to make as little noise as possible to avoid being killed by these horrifyingly fast (alien?) monsters who operate on sound. So 95% of the dialogue in the movie is American Sign Language, which the characters probably already knew because the main protagonist (and the actress who plays her) is deaf. The movie deals with guilt, family, and how to survive a world overrun by terrifying monsters. A good time all around!
I literally couldn’t even watch this one. I kept ducking behind my hand and looking away from the screen as the characters entered dark rooms and got hunted by the ghost-lady. The main character’s mother spent her childhood in a mental health institution, where she met another, much more disturbed girl around her age who also had a rare skin disease that made her ultra-sensitive to light. An experiment gone wrong ended with that girl being dead, but not gone, as she continued to haunt and emotionally abuse her “friend” throughout her life.
There are some concerns about this movie being less-than-friendly to those with mental health problems, particularly depression, which is one of the conditions the mother suffers from. It’s not nearly as bad as, say, Halloween or The Roommate. But it’s enough to warrant a heads-up.
This is a movie that took a mildly ridiculous premise--a haunted mirror--and executed it to perfection. It also has a dual timeline: we see the main characters as children encountering the mirror for the first time as it drives their parents insane, while simultaneously watching those characters as adults try to destroy the mirror.
I love this movie because it’s smart. There are zero stupid horror movie mistakes, and the only (ultimately fatal) mistake made by the characters is that of pride, which is a legit character flaw. The kids did what any child could do in that crappy situation, and then proceeded to spend ten years researching the shit out of the mirror and coming up with a plan of how to destroy it. The acting is great, the writing is better, and the results are horrifying.
But wait, there’s more! If you want a list of all of my favorite horror movies, head over to my Favorite Movies page. I update it every time I hit the theaters.
Have a happy Halloween! :)
Monday Movie! Deadpool 2
While it has its flaws, Deadpool 2 is a good movie, and probably better than the first one. No, scratch that, it's definitely better than the first one, thanks to Domino and Cable.
Domino is a member of Deadpool's new team, the black woman with the pale birthmark whose power is supernatural good luck. She has some excellent fight scenes, is a total badass, and is actually helpful. She doesn't even need rescuing! Yet she still stinks of Strong Female Character syndrome, in that she's not a fully-fleshed character. We have no idea what her motivations are, how she got her powers, or what her goals in life are. Why did she sign up to join Deadpool's team? Why does she stick around when things turn sour? If it's just for money--we don't even know if Deadpool's paying her--then that needs to be said.
In fact, the writers missed a beautiful opportunity to give her a moment with Russell, a.k.a. Firefist, the fiery mutant Deadpool is trying to save from the time-traveling Winter Soldier knock-off Cable. She and Russell are from the same horrible orphanage that tortures young mutants because...I don't know. Jesus?
Anyway, Team Deadpool is trying to stop Russell from killing the headmaster of this orphanage, because if he does that Very Bad Things will happen, while also protecting him from Cable, who wants to put a bullet in his brain. It would then only seem natural that, once Deadpool finds out that Domino shares these origins with the boy he's trying to help, that he would at least ask her to help him talk Russell down.
No, of course not. That makes too much sense.
So the movie gets points for having Domino in the film. It loses points for underutilizing her.
Moving on to Cable. We all know Marvel has a bit of a villain problem, in that they're often extremely forgettable. Other than Thanos and Killmonger, no Marvel villain really sticks out.
Cable, on the other hand, is a lot more memorable than the likes of Vanko or Ronan. (I'll save you the trouble of googling those two: they're from Iron Man 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy, respectively.) Maybe it's because he's played by the same actor who nailed Thanos. Maybe it's because he's actually not really a bad guy, filled with nuance and layers. Either way, he's excellent.
My only issue with him is his stereotypical backstory. We've got a serious case of Women in the Refrigerator trope.
For a full analysis of what this trope is, how it originated, and why it's a problem, check out this YouTube video by Feminist Frequency. But for the quick and dirty definition, the Woman in the Fridge trope is when a female character is brutalized, raped, and/or murdered as a way to enhance the man's story arc. Usually it's the kick-off to a revenge story.
Perfect example: Cable.
Cable's wife and daughter are killed by an adult, supervillain Russell. It's the whole reason he goes back in time to kill Russell, thus setting our story into motion.
This trope is used not just once, but twice in this movie! For a franchise that loves to make fun of itself, even cracking a joke about lazy writing when Deadpool points out the limitations of Cable's time-travel abilities, this double-whammy fridge trope is left unchecked.
"But Christina!" you may wail, "If we don't kill off the women, how could we possibly motivate the men into being heroes and villains?"
Here's an idea: Cable points out that the future is a horrible, grim place, and we see a glimpse of this through the ruins of his home. What if instead of sacrificing his wife and daughter, the writers had Cable go back to try to save the future as a whole? You could then also replace the tragedy of the other woman's death with, say, a breakup, and voila! No more fridges.
As I said, despite its shortcomings, this was a good movie. It was funny, action-packed, and even managed a minor grapple of the issue of right-and-wrong. It's a worthy sequel, and a hopeful kick-off for another Deadpool or X-Force movie.
But if you're going to use already dried up tropes like SFCs and Women in the Fridge, at least make fun of yourself for that like you do for everything else.
Marvel's First Supervillain Movie
So. Infinity War. That happened.
Is anyone else still recovering from the shock?
It's not just that most characters we thought we going to die--like Steve Rogers and Tony Stark--ended up surviving. Or even that every character we thought would survive--Bucky Barnes, T'Challa, even freaking Peter Parker--ended up dying. It's the fact that the bad guy won.
Well, for now. There is still that unnamed Avengers film that comes out in 2019, after Ant-Man and Wasp and Captain Marvel. Because Spider-Man is getting another movie (also in 2019), and Black Panther is getting his sequel, it's safe to say that these two characters--and hopefully a few others--will somehow be resurrected.
Speaking of future movies, it will be interesting to see what Thanos's universe looks like in Ant-Man and Wasp and Captain Marvel. Half of the population up in smoke (including Nick Fury; no!), and the world's going to keep on chugging. At least until Tony Stark finally makes it back to Earth, (hopefully) has that final confrontation with Steve Rogers we were all waiting for in Infinity War, and rounds up the remaining Avengers to kick Thanos's ass properly.
But let's backtrack. Infinity War is a movie in the superhero genre. That gives the most screen time to the bad guy. That has the bad guy win. This is not a superhero movie. This is a supervillain movie. Thanos is the main character, even if he isn't the protagonist; you don't want him to win. But you can't help but empathize him. He's a crazy, genocidal maniac who thinks slaughtering half of the population is the only way to save the universe...and he kind of has the evidence to back it up. His planet was destroyed by overpopulation. He talks about Gamora's home planet, how after he was done killing millions of people no one went to bed hungry, and now "It's a paradise."
Too bad he never considered other alternatives to solving the problem, like terraforming other planets for the sole purpose of farming. Because his heart's (mostly) in the right place.
Monday Movie! A Wrinkle in Time
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!