Mephisto Confirmed! When Speculation Runs Amok

An interesting development over the enjoyment of recent offerings from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and other films and TV shows is the over-the-top speculation about future properties.

Mephisto confirmed! Mutants confirmed! Reed Richards confirmed! Hexagons! There are hexagons everywhere!These were just some of the wild speculations in the internet following trailer or episode releases. This was expressly true for WandaVision where YouTubers and bloggers ran every frame of film looking for Easter eggs and potential clues of upcoming shows and characters. This is also happening now with The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Godzilla vs. Kong and Zack Snyder’s Justice League. What is baffling with the last property is that it is futile to speculate since there are not any plans to continue Snyder’s vision of the DC Universe. But that is another story.

Sure, the speculation is certainly fun and adds to enjoyment of the TV show or film we are watching, but this has gone overboard to the point that it detracts from enjoying the film or TV show. Case in point, is the finale of WandaVision, which left many viewers feeling disappointed that their many theories and speculations did not pan out. It did not help that prior to the streaming of the last episode actors teased that there would be a surprise cameo that would be on the level of who appeared in the season finale of The Mandalorian. Well, no one showed up. All the specualtion about the demon Mephisto responsible for the show’s machinations did not hold up. The actors in the commericals during WandaVision were not Wanda’s parents. Reed Richards was not the engineer friend of Monica Rambeau. The few things that bore fruit were that the magical book the Darkhold did appear (and helped prove that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was not part of the MCU continuity), the white Vision was introduced, Monica Rambeau developed her superpowers and Wanda’s next door neighbor turned out to be the witch Agatha Harkness. While these revelations thrilled comic book collectors and speculators it disappointed some fans and those who spent a lot of money on Silver Surfer #3, which featured Mephisto’s first appearance.

Even though the final episode of WandaVision featured spectacular showdowns between Wanda and Agatha, and between the two Visions, many complained that the episode did not live up to their expectations. Never mind that a few of the speculations and rumors turned out to be accurate.

With The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, many viewers are convinced that mutants will appear since the locale Madripoor was featured in an episode. For those that do not know, Madripoor is a fictional country in the Marvel Comics where Wolverine lived for some time under the alias of Patch. Not only did no mutants appear but neither did Wolverine. Of course, this was to expected. A huge character like Wolverine would not make his MCU debut in a TV show. Just look at how Spider-Man was introduced into the MCU. He was prominently shown in the trailers for Captain America: Civil War, he did not pop up in some TV show.

The Falcon and The Winter Soldier also had its version of the cameo controversy when it was revealed that the fifth episode “Truth” would have a surprise cameo by a well-known, award-winning actor who would portray a major character never-before-seen in the MCU. Many viewers already knew better and tampered their expectations, with doubts such a person would appear. However, in “Truth” that person did appear and while it was a genuine surprise it still left many disappointed. No, it was not Wolverine or Mephisto but Countess Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, a spy in the Marvel Comics who worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. and was romantically involved with Nick Fury. She was played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who certainly fits the bill of being a well-known, award-winning actor. But this was not good enough except for comic book speculators who jacked up the prices of their copies of Strange Tales #159, which was where she was introduced. Still, these complainers could not enjoy the cameo appearance for what it was, which is a shame since it was one of the highlights of “Truth”, one of the series’ best episodes.

Now, that the trailer for the upcoming MCU film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is out, watch out for a fresh batch of speculations and rumors. Surely, somebody will spot hexagons or clues of mutants or even Mephisto himself. Here is the trailer to see for yourself.

It is always fun to speculate, theorize and go over episodes and films with a fine-tooth comb because it adds to the enjoyment. But it’s important to no go overboard because this will usually lead to disappointment. Sometimes, it is best to dampen expectations, avoid spoilers altogether and watch these films or TV shows with a fresh mind to enrich the viewing experience.

The Downfall Of Captain America

Before we get started, this post will contain huge spoilers for the most recent episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, titled “The Whole World is Watching”.

Anyone watching the latest Disney+ TV show about the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) knows that the United States government introduced a new Captain America to replace Steve Rogers (last seen as a feeble old man in Avengers: Endgame). This new soldier, John Walker (played by Wyatt Russell), was instantly disliked by the characters in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and viewers alike. The common complaint about John Walker as Captain America was that he not only did not look the part, but he looked so goofy with his ill-fitting helmet and undeserved swagger during his introduction. The memes and dismissals were quite brutal and over the top. Frankly, the poor soldier never had a chance.

To the show’s credit, John Walker was given a back story and he is not an evil person. In the interview he gave during his introduction during the show’s second episode “The Star Spangled Man”, he came off as a person who realized he had large shoes to fill and was trying his hardest. But that was impossible to do. After all, how can you top, let alone, compare to the legendary Steve Rogers? Still, he seemed respectful of the legacy and the honor given to him, plus he had the combat experience as a soldier to be a suitable replacement. But Sam Wilson/the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and James “Bucky” Barnes/the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) were outraged that Walker had the audacity to pick up the shield and mantle of Captain America. They and the audience felt he was not worthy. Howver, this outrage could be seen as guilt from Sam after he relinquished the shield to the government instead of replacing his friend as the new Captain America. With Bucky, he is furious because Sam gave up the shield easily and probably because he was not given the shield instead. Now, some pretender has the shield and the status of Captain America.

John Walker tried to work with Sam and Bucky, in fact, he and his partner and best friend, Lemar Hoskins/Battlestar (Clé Bennett), rescued the Falcon and the Winter Soldier later in the episode when they fought against a terrorist group called the Flag Smashers. But the duo didn’t want anything to do with the new Captain America and needlessly made him an antagonist.

Throughout the series, the new Captain America felt pressure to measure up. You could see this with subtle visual cues and the way he was treated by others, except Hoskins. What made things worse for Walker was that although he is a skilled soldier, he is not as skilled in fighting as the original Captain America. He began to feel inadequate and not up to the task. However, it was difficult to empathise with him because he displayed an arrogant swagger to the outside world. Also, he was reckless and impatient as his actions in the fourth episode escalated tense situations such as when Sam tried to negotiate with the Flag Smashers’ leader Karli Morgenthau (Erin Kellyman).

The ultimate humiliation came during the same episode where he was defeated in combat by the elite Wakandan soldiers, the Dora Milaje. He felt especially chastised when he commented that they did not even have super powers yet they defeated him handily.

This led to his conflict later in “The Whole World is Watching” when he came upon a vial of the Super Soldier serum that created the first Captain America and was given to members of the Flag Smashers. To his credit, Walker did not inject the serum, though he took the vial without telling anyone. He sought advice from Hoskins about the ethics of taking the serum and Hoskins opined that he himself would take it if given the chance.

In the last act of the episode as Walker, Hoskins, Sam and Bucky faced off against the Flag Smashers, it soon became clear that Walker had taken the Super Soldier serum thanks to his feats of increased strength. However, he was not as skilled or as polished as Steve Rogers, what was worse was that he lacked control. This lack of control would be exhibited in the shocking final moments of the episode.

During the final fight, Battlestar saved Captain America from being stabbed by Karli, but she accidently killed him in another example of someone who was inexperienced with having the Super Soldier serum. Enraged, Walker chased down the closest Flag Smasher he could find and brutally killed him by bludgeoning the terrrorist with his shield out in public. The last haunting image that closed the episode had a shaken and defiant Captain America standing tall with a bloody shield in front of shocked civilians, for the whole world to see.

This development echoed similar moments in the pages of the Captain America comic book during a famous arc called Captain America: The Captain, written by Mark Gruenwald, which ran from issues #332 through 350. In the arc, Steve Rogers abandoned the Captain America identity and John Walker took over but proved to be unhinged. This was best shown in issue #345 (“Surrender”) where after his parents were murdered by a group of domestic terrorist, an enraged Walker savagely killed the terrorists, then tried to talking to his deceased parents as if he saved them.

Seeing a similar moment in the live-action MCU is more shocking just for the visuals and its impact. This last image could be seen as a metaphor for how far the U.S. has fallen in the eyes of the world; something that is an uncomfortable reminder of fairly recent events not just in the MCU but in real life. The moment clearly proves that John Walker is not worthy to be Captain America, who should be held to a higher ideal, a greater standard. The original Captain America represented the best of humankind thanks to his nobility and compassion. These traits were why he was chosen to receive the serum back in World War II. It is doubtful that whoever chose Walker had this in mind.

Then again, it is hard to see him as this evil man. Even as he smashed his shield down repeatedly over his victim, one can’t help feeling grief over how he and the ideal of Captain America have fallen. Circumstances beyond his control, such as facing opponents who outmatched him or how he was repeatedly disrespected, influenced him to make these fateful decisions. If things had happened differently, if Bucky and Sam had given him a chance for example, then maybe his brutal actions could have been avoided.

No matter how The Falcon and the Winter Soldier concludes, or who ends up wielding the shield and the Captain America title, John Walker is an intriguing character who deserves to be showcased in future MCU productions, perhaps as the U.S.Agent to mirror the comic books.

The Last Hurrah For The Snyderverse

As much as fans of the DC films were thrilled over the release of the Snyder cut of Justice League on HBO Max, many others lamented over the news that it will be the last hurrah for the Snyderverse.

The so-called Snyderverse of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) has always had a rocky existence ever since the release of its first film, Man of Steel. Most of the films in the DCEU received mixed reception and box office results. After the original cut of Justice League did not perform well in theaters the film studio, Warner Bros., began to pull back on the concept of a shared cinematic universe.

At first, many thought this was a good idea as the films Shazam!, Aquaman, Birds of Prey (or the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) and Wonder Woman 1984 largely were standalone films without direct connections to the DCEU. However, that standalone nature also leads to problems such as the lack of continuity or coordination for other films. The best example of this is Wonder Woman 1984. In that film, which takes place well before the proper DCEU, you see the world undergoing massive events from the machinations of Maxwell Lord such as a third World War, huge walls appearing in the Middle East and mass deaths and destruction. Yet, even though these calamaties are undone, the collective memories of them still appeared to remain and was never referenced once in other films.

Then of course there is Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The way the film plays out contrasts severely with the original version of the film. In fact, Warner Bros. has come out and said Zack Snyder’s Justice League for better or worse is to be considered a “cul-de-sac”, a one-off or for a live-action Elseworlds. For non-DC fans that is an imprint of DC Comics that take place in alternate realities. That’s all well in good and Warner Bros. should continue pursuing more Elseworlds stories such as what they did with Joker and with next year’s The Batman. They should also pursue Justice League Mortal by George Miller or even Joss Whedon’s Justice League and give the director the chance to correct the fake upper lip travesty!

However, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was very well received and with the way it ended, the film left fans wanting more. Of course, it does not help that the ending of the film clearly set up future films and spinoffs. For Aquaman that is fine since his solo film did take place after Justice League, but for Superman. Well, Warner Bros. cannot get its act together and put out a proper Man of Steel sequel. Instead, they hired J.J. Abrams to reboot the character.

Now there are outcries not just for the DCEU but for the Snyderverse established in the new version of Justice League. People want to know what was going on with Batman’s Knightmare vision which featured him teamed up with the Joker. Was Lois Lane pregnant for certain? What is the future for Wonder Woman (her films take place in the past)? Snyder himself said he would love to continue these films but relations between him and Warner Bros. are not exactly great now.

Even if Warner Bros. relented and agreed to more films set in this alternate DCEU there are the logistical hurdles of reuniting the cast. Ray Fisher, who played Cyborg, one of the pivotal characters in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, has had a bad falling out with the film studio. Ben Affleck left the role of Batman after creative differences in the direction of the next Batman film. Instead we are getting another standalone Batman film that features the Caped Crusader as a younger man. And Warner Bros. and Superman actor, Henry Cavill, cannot seem to agree on a venue for him to return. So this is most likely the last hurrah for the Snyderverse. To transition away from the Snydervere an idea would be to have the Flash solo film use its rumored Flashpoint storyline to reboot the DCEU. It makes the most sense. Still it is nice to hope against hope that we have not seen the last of the Snyderverse.

Zack Snyder Presents His Idealized Vision Of Justice League

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the culmination of over three years of an internet campaign that started soon after the release of the much-maligned Justice League from 2017, a movie that I personally liked, but that was seen as not in tune with the previous two movies directed by Snyder that came before it, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Joss Whedon was brought on to finish and reshoot much of what Snyder had done after he left the project due to the death of his daughter. The rise of streaming services, in this case HBO Max has allowed this long-awaited version to be completed and finally see the light of day.

The basic plot points from the theatrical version of Justice League are the same here. Batman gathers together the Justice League by seeking out Aquaman, the Flash and Cyborg with the help of Wonder Woman, resurrecting Superman and confronting Steppenwolf. He is an alien attempting to steal ancient technology called the Mother Box, which is hidden throughout the world in three parts and if the parts are united he will be able to conquer Earth in the name of his master, Darkseid.

The differences between Zack Snyder’s Justice League and the theatrical Justice League are the fact that the Snyder cut is a much deeper experience with backstory added for each character, especially Cyborg whose relationship with his father is given center stage on many occasions, as well as The Flash rescuing his future love interest Iris West, and Aquaman speaking with his mentor Vulko, who was previously seen in the Aquaman standalone movie. We had glimpses of these backstories in the theatrical version, but with its studio-mandated two-hour running time, things had to move at a quicker pace. The extra time in the Snyder cut allows for more of these characters to be established which makes it an enjoyable experience, provided you have four hours to spare. The fact that this is meant to be seen at home is a big plus since you can stop and start at anytime. This is helpful due to the fact that the first two hours set everything up, which can make the film seem slow.

The action picks up at the halfway point in an underground tunnel battle, which shows the League fighting as a group for the first time. The fight scenes are more visceral in this version and are a highlight. This is also true for the other action scenes, such as Superman’s resurrection and battle with the other League members, and the final showdown with Steppenwolf. Speaking of which, the main villain has undergone a redesign and has a kind of flowing metal armor which is more interesting and menacing than his design in theatrical cut. Another highlight is the on-screen, live-action premiere of DC supervlillain Darkseid, who is shown in his home world directing Steppenwolf in his quest to unify three Mother Boxes to conquer Earth. This whole plot point is fleshed out in this extended version and explains Steppenwolf’s obsessive desire to acquire these artifacts and sets up Darkseid’s attempt to conquer all of existence. This is one of several other plots that are hinted at in the original version, such as Lex Luthor teaming up with Deathstroke to take on Batman, as well as the onscreen debut of Martian Manhunter, who warns Batman’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne, of Darkseid’s coming invasion. Lastly, some new scenes showcase the anticipated Knightmare sequence of a future world ruled by Darkseid and an evil Superman similar to the Injustice storyline. Here Batman is leading a resistance and allying with his nemesis the Joker, played by Jared Leto. This finally gives viewers these two versions of the iconic rivals interacting for the first time.

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WandaVision Brings Back The MCU With A Magical TV Twist

For too long (only about a year and a half but it felt like eternity), fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) were deprived of new content. But that ended when the Disney+ TV show WandaVision premiered last January and the series finale just streamed yesterday. By the time the finale, appropriately titled “The Series Finale”, streamed WandaVision became the latest water cooler show to talk about as many theories (most of which did not pan out) were discussed, and for good reason. Some spoilers will follow.

WandaVision stands out from the normal MCU fare by focusing more on character, plot twists and mystery. It still is an MCU offering but it took full advantage of its new television medium and tantalized viewers with questions and character studies with each episode. It also was quite unconventional as a TV show.

The series was an intriguing hybrid of MCU action and world building and a tribute to American sitcoms. We got to see the evolution of sitcoms from the 1950s to today with various episodes taking on a tone which was appropriate to the era it evoked. Starting with the first two episodes, WandaVision emulated 1950s shows like The Dick Van Dyck Show and I Love Lucy then the 1960s with I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched with a narrow television ratio, laugh tracks and black and white photography in the first two episodes. The following episodes were in color with changed lighting that evoked the bouncy and colorful TV world of the 1970s like The Brady Bunch; the schmaltzy and corny overlit family comedies in the 1980s as seen with Full House, Growing Pains or Family Ties; the more in-your-face and goofball vibe of Malcolm in the Middle from the 2000s; and contemporary comedies where characters talk to the fourth wall as in The Office and Modern Family. Each era/episode came with an opening title scene that fit perfectly for the era it evoked. 

It was a lot of fun to watch these episodes which brought back memories, although the earlier episodes could have actually been funny. This flaw was a turn off for some viewers but others were rewarded when the series expanded beyond the bizarre artificial world created by the superpowered Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen, who has never been better at this role) and we learned what was going on. 

WandaVision truly began to stand out when we began to get answers and the world opened up. Essentially, the series takes place in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame as Wanda is struggling through her grief over the loss of her lover, the android called Vision (Paul Bettany) and the events from the last two Avengers films. In her emotional pain, Wanda retreated to a fantasy world that inserted herself and a resurrected Vision in a sitcom world.

This draws the attention of the real world in the form of an agency called S.W.O.R.D., and people who investigate Wanda’s world. These included familiar MCU faces like scientist Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) and FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) and new faces such as Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) and S.W.O.R.D. director and all-around tool Tyler Heyward (Josh Stamberg). It is remarkable that this show was able to take minor and annoying MCU characters who detracted from their films and made them so endearing. Darcy and Jimmy have to return in one of the other Disney+ MCU shows. Meanwhile, Monica made a brilliant impression as the newest MCU hero, the future Photon/Spectrum and the episode that focused on her return to life during Avengers: Endgame provided a fullfilling look at what the impact the events of the Avengers films had on normal people. 

Events quickly elevated and intrigued us when Wanda’s deceased brother Pietro/Quicksilver (Evan Peters reprising his role, sort of, from the Fox X-Men films) turned up out of the blue. Meanwhile, tantalizing clues and Easter eggs engaged us to try to figure out what was going on in the show and its characters, namely Wanda and Vision’s nosy next-door neighbor Agnes (Kathryn Hahn), who showed a wide range of depth from comedy to villainy. 

However, the true stars of the show was of course Wanda and Vision. The actors reveled in their roles and ran audiences through the emotional gamut as their scenes ranged from goofball comedy to horrifying heartbreak. But the emotional pulls were genuine and did not feel forced (unlike many of the attempts at humor). Their story was the heart of WandaVision as the series grew darker and darker when she processed her grief.

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