On A Tangent

The ultimate site for a generation sidetracked by the fandom life


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Beginning In Media Res, Origin Fatigue, and Worldbuilding; or, Fantastic Ideas and How to Lose Them

This piece contains spoilers for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. 

This weekend, after some house cleaning and the chaos of Thanksgiving, my mom and I went to the movies. We both wanted to see Moana and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, so we settled on a double feature: Fantastic Beasts first, then dinner, and Moana for dessert.

Over dinner, we discussed the first movie. We both liked it, we agreed. We thought the visual effects were (pun intended) fantastic, the creatures were fascinating, and that Eddie Redmayne was a great choice for the lead.

But as we discussed, a thought occurred to me. I turned to my mom with a question.

“Did you understand who Grindelwald was?”

Her answer, of course, was no. My mom has seen the movies, but she never read the books. Though she might have remembered his brief appearance in the final films, he wasn’t really highlighted. For her, Grindelwald was just a name on a newspaper. The significance of his presence in the film was lost to her entirely. fb

Fantastic Beasts is a movie produced under strange, but increasingly common circumstances. Harry Potter is a global phenomenon — you’d be hard pressed to find someone of my generation who hasn’t read or at least watched it. It sparked films, LEGOs, theme parks, and the ever-expanding Pottermore, for those who just can’t get enough of the world. Fantastic Beasts is a product of that multimedia empire and ravenous fanbase, always clamoring for more — it’s a story already sketched out in vague lines for devoted fans who picked up the “textbook” on which it is based.

But the film fleshes that story out. And as a part of a multimedia franchise, it does so in a manner that assumes many things about what its audience knows about the setting. If Fantastic Beasts were merely a sequel, that might be okay. There is an expectation with sequels that you really only get the full picture if you’ve followed the series (although skilled writers should be able to ground you in the story regardless.)

But Fantastic Beasts isn’t a sequel, as such. It’s the beginning of a new series, one that, while related to Harry Potter tangentially, exists entirely on its own plot and characters. It is our entry into a world familiar, yet strange.

But if this is our entry point… boy, is it muddled.

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Marvel Monday: I am Iron Man… but is Iron Man the hero?

For our Marvel Monday column for the next two months, we will be reviewing all of the Marvel canon movies to prepare for our big review of The Avengers: Age of Ultron  on May 1. This week, Leah will be reviewing Iron Man 1, 2, and 3. Today, we question who the real hero of Marvel’s Phase one debut is with Leah’s review of Iron Man (2008).

Welcome to another edition of Marvel Monday! This week is all about Iron Man, as I attempt to play catch-up for the reviews I missed last month. Today, we dive right in with the first installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

About a year ago, I decided to go back and watch all of the Iron Man films in succession. To be honest, I’m not even sure I watched them in the right order the first time I saw them, so watching the full trilogy was quite an experience as I got the full progression of Tony’s character arc. But this week, I’ll be taking a little time to step back from the trilogy and evaluate the films individually.

Iron Man is an odd place to build the foundation for a superhero series, which may seem like a bit of a strange statement. Even non-comic fans are familiar enough with the tropes underlying Iron Man’s story: eccentric genius with ample time and more-than-ample funds decides to step up for the sake of justice.  Seems like the perfect place to enter the superhero-verse, right?  The fascinating thing about Tony Stark, however, is that he doesn’t step up just for the sake of injustice — he steps up to face injustice that he caused. We’re entering the Marvel universe at the ground-level, not with a hero who acts on moral principle without personal connection, but with a hero who is selfish, ignorant of the consequences of his actions, and has to be exposed violently to the “real world” to come out a better man.  In a way, however, this makes Tony the ideal candidate for the entry into a vaster universe — he is so fundamentally human that we cannot help but identify with him. His is a story that is not about heroism so much as about redemption.

Iron Man is essentially an exercise letting Tony Stark atone for his neglectful behavior. His “billionaire, playboy, philanthropist” shtick has gotten the better of him, and after an eye-opening kidnapping, he realizes that he has played a large — if somewhat unintentional — destructive role in hundreds, maybe thousands of lives. Consequently, the rest of the film is spent trying — and sometimes failing — to account for these oversights.  It’s not just a feat of unexpected brilliance that leads Tony to create the Iron Man suit. It’s the realization that his neglect has had a very real impact for people, and that the lives lost ought not to be passed off as just “collateral damage.”  Tony must work past selfish tendencies to understand that his neglect has costs.  He has to defeat the enemy he has essentially created — the embodiment of his own company in Obadiah Stane — to fix the wrongs of his past.

Which leads me to my second realization in rewatching this movie.  Tony Stark is a very specific kind of hero, because his path to heroism is essentially composed of backing down the path he’s already created by his extravagance and idleness and trying to clean up the mess. So then the question becomes: if Tony is the reactive hero, who is the proactive hero of this film?  That distinction, I believe, belongs to Pepper Potts.

One thing that quickly became apparent as I was watching was how critical Pepper is to the plot.  Aside from her general duties of essentially running Tony’s life, she is the proactive force that identifies the heart of the problem.  She takes the information about the weapons project from Obadiah Stane at great risk to herself. She brings SHIELD into the fray.  She’s also the one who actually acts to destroy the arc reactor, stopping Stane in the process of killing Tony.  Pepper is also, most notably, the one who preserves Tony’s original mini-arc reactor. Tony is more than ready to throw it out, but Pepper instead decides to have it preserved for him — a joking gesture at first, but one that proves to be a Chekhov’s gun.  Without her foresight, Tony would have been dead long before his climactic battle.  While Tony is certainly crucial to Stane’s end, that end is only facilitated by the diligent groundwork laid by Pepper.  Expect me to come back to this moment when we discuss Iron Man 3 on Friday — a film in which Pepper is undisguisedly the heroine.

So is it true that no hero exists in a vacuum, as I argued last week about Cap? Or is there something more that I’m missing that definitively makes Tony the hero of his own tale? We’ll discuss further with Iron Man 2 on Thursday!


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Fandom Friday: Forming, Storming and Performing with The Avengers

AvengersFor our Marvel Monday column for the next two months, we will be reviewing all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to prepare for our big review of The Avengers: Age of Ultron  on May 1. (This Marvel Monday is particularly special, because it falls on a Friday. Don’t get confused. It’s just a preview of what to expect on Friday May 1.)

Of all the Marvel movies of recent years, The Avengers (2012) is DEFINITELY my favorite. First of all, it was written and directed by Joss Whedon. What can you expect but a well-paced, deeply character-driven plotline from the king of Buffy, Angel and Firefly? Ensemble cast movies can go incredibly, horribly wrong in a variety of ways, especially big-budget super hero action flicks. It’s so easy to lose one or multiple members of the cast to formulaic or missing plot points in these types of film, but everyone has a believable (but succinct) plot device to drive themselves into the group. It’s a beautifully nuanced work of art. (Remember when I said that ultimately Thor was setting everything up for something else? Well, this is it!)

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Marvel Monday: How to Grow a Superhero

For our Marvel Monday column for the next two months, we will be reviewing all of the Marvel canon movies to prepare for our big review of The Avengers: Age of Ultron  on May 1. Today, we compile the recipe for how to make a superhero from scratch with Leah’s review of Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).

Since I am our site’s resident Agent Carter fangirl reviewer, it will likely come as a surprise to no one that her heroic counterpart, Captain America, is my favorite of the Avengers.  Consequently, rewatching his debut was a great deal of fun.  Which is not to say the film was perfect. I don’t believe Marvel had quite hit their stride yet with this film, though it was certainly a fun installment.  For one thing, CA didn’t have the cohesion of many of Marvel’s later films.  For a good majority of the film, Steve’s plot and the plot of Red Skull seemed largely disjointed, only coming together near the very end.  And I think the strength of many of Marvel’s films lies in that character-driven plot — we feel for the characters, so we become invested in their narrative.  Here, that investment was broken by the ambitions of Red Skull, which remain separate from Steve’s core conflicts for a large portion of the narrative. Avengers

But what we do see of Steve’s character is utterly fascinating, and this rewatch gave me a new perspective on the film, as well as a question that becomes central to the movie: is a hero born or made?

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Marvel Monday: Thor, Full of Sound and Fury

AvengersFor our Marvel Monday column for the next two months, we will be reviewing all of the Marvel canon movies to prepare for our big review of The Avengers: Age of Ultron  on May 1. Today, we get philosophical about the nature of heroes and aliens with Laney’s review of Thor (2011).

When it first came out in theaters, despite starring another of my all-time favorite leading ladies Natalie Portman, Thor just didn’t hold up to how much I enjoyed Iron Man and Iron Man 2. Did I enjoy it? Absolutely! Was it the best written plotline in the world? Well… to me, it felt a little rushed and a little contrived.

Rewatching it for our blog, however, and in light of the films that come after Thor, places the film in an entirely different light. Like a lightbulb going off, I have realized it is the pivotal plotline of the current Marvel continuity. Continue reading


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Announcement: Marvel Monday Schedule

So, as I’m sure you all know, Agent Carter has come to an end. (At least for now, fingers crossed.) I’ll be finishing up my reviews with this week’s Fandom Friday post, so be on the lookout for that.

In the meantime, however, Marvel Mondays will continue! How, you ask? What could possibly fill the void left by our favorite leading lady? Well, prepare yourselves: it’s gonna be big. Continue reading


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Fandom Friday: “You Killed My Father. Prepare to Die.”

When I was in 10th grade, I was dual-enrolled at the local community college, which meant one of my elective courses during the school day was left gloriously blank. Of course at the time, I was only 15 going on 16 (you know you just sang the Sound of Music in your head), which meant I could go absolutely no where until my dad collected me at the end of the day.

My best friend at the time, who for purposes of anonymity I will refer to as KC, was likewise dual-enrolled with a free period, and in a fit of extreme generosity, our very young and very likable geometry teacher let us camp in her room, which was her free period as well. Her room shared an office area with three other teachers/rooms and we were ecstatic to be encouraged by another teacher in the quad-pod to delve into her old VHS movie collections to bide our time. (Seriously, as an adult myself now, I glory at these teachers’ letting us into their private time when they had to deal with teenagers ALL DAY LONG. Where ever you are, wonderful teachers, I thank you!)

Best. Movie. Ever.

Best. Movie. Ever. (Leah’s note: Is this a kissing movie?)

First of all, as sheltered, bookish child, I had missed out on a lot of pop media in my day. KC, who was as pop-media savvy as I was naive, and I were quickly mowing through a variety of classic films, when the subject of The Princess Bride sprouted.

“What do you mean you’ve never seen The Princess Bride?!” KC exclaimed one day over popcorn and a movie, our feet propped up on the adjoining desks. The revelation was so overwhelming she actually stood up. “This is completely unacceptable. It’s my favorite movie ON THE PLANET. How in the world could you never have seen it?”   Continue reading