Editor’s Note: Welcome, once again, the lovely and talented Lori Janeski in another Novel Ninja guest post. This time, we present her debut fisk, as she decides to tackle the massive Social Fiction Warrior response to Avengers: Age of Ultron by targeting a particularly egregious essay.

I should add that Lori is Texan — and yes, even fisks are bigger in Texas. This one clocks in at over 13,000 words, enough for a good-sized novelette. Strap in, grab some popcorn, and warm up your mouse-using fingers, because you’ve got some scrolling ahead of you.


If you ever want to learn how to make a complete and total idiot of yourself in front of the whole internet, just read this essay I found: “Age of Robots: How Marvel Is Killing the Popcorn Movie.”  If you’re not into being an idiot, you can go ahead and read it for its entertainment potential, because it is so utterly ridiculous, and yet trying to be completely serious and intellectual and failing miserably, that it will make you either laugh your head off, or crawl under a rock and weep for humanity.  Maybe both.

Now, the author, Sady Doyle, is allowed to have any opinion she wants.  That’s part of life.  I don’t have to agree with her, and she doesn’t have to agree with me.  But when you’re being this stupid while pretending to be smart, those of us who are not stupid have to say something to make sure you aren’t successful in convincing people that you are smart.  To borrow a quote from one of my favorite TV shows, “I respect your right to free speech, but not your stupidity.”


Normally, I try very hard to disagree with the argument, not attack the person.  This article, however, is such a piece of trash that my politeness went right out the window.  Doyle is so far beyond stupid that she has reached the status of “contemptible,” and doesn’t deserve a polite, intellectual discussion about the merits, or lack thereof, of Age of Ultron.

If you don’t want to read an angry article about how stupid someone else is, complete with the occasional vulgarity, then don’t finish reading.  Go elsewhere now.  You have been warned, so there better not be any nasty comments on the blog or Facebook about how mean I am.

Oh, and if you can’t guess, there are spoilers ahead.  I know Matthew has a spoiler graphic somewhere around here . . . aha!

Spoiler Warning

There.  If you missed that, you deserve your spoilers.

Anyway, on to the fisk. this article is so chock-full of stupid, I will have to address each sentence individually. This means that the Asymmetrical Bullshit Principle applies here.  (How could it not?)


As usual for fiskings, the original is in italics, and my response is in bold.

Age of Robots: How Marvel Is Killing the Popcorn Movie

Wow, even the title is stupid.  Because really SMART people CAN judge an entire genre by a single installment.

Some time in the middle of Avengers: Age of Ultron, I came to terms with the fact that there will never be any more decent Marvel movies. In fact, there can’t be.

Really?  If that’s true, then there will NEVER be another decent installment in the Monster Hunter International series, because there can’t be.  Or, there will NEVER be another decent Dresden Files book, because there can’t be.  As we all know, the quality of all the sequels depends on the quality of all previous installments.  So, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two can’t be a decent movie, because Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was shallow and badly acted.  Uh-huh.  Right.

Some of what I have to say is going to read as genre snobbery.

Gee, thanks for warning us.

So let me get this out of the way: I fucking love stupid popcorn movies.

In the words of Captain America: 


They can be about superheroes, dinosaurs, aliens, a bus that can’t slow down; I’m not picky.

Well, we know THAT’s a lie, because remember what you said just a few sentences ago?  That there can’t be any more decent Marvel movies?  That’s a direct quote, sweetheart, and it proclaims very loudly that you are, in fact, picky.  You’re not starting out well.

Movies are unparalleled in their ability to portray scale. If you have a giant screen, huge speakers capable of blasting everyone with earth-shattering noise, and hundreds of people gathered together in the dark, you can —  and should  —  occasionally use those tools to provide pure, overwhelming spectacle.

So I don’t object to Marvel, or to Avengers: Age of Ultron, just because it’s not an artful, subtle little movie.

Except it is; you would know that if you had actually watched it.  More on this later.

That’s part of it: A pop-culture intake comprised of nothing but big spectacle is just as bad for you as an all-cheeseburger diet. But if I wanted to see something artful, I could have gone to watch Ex Machina or whatever that new David Cronenberg movie is supposed to be. I didn’t. I went to see Avengers on opening weekend.

I know you’re going to make a point eventually.  Maybe.  Hope springs eternal.

What I really dislike about Marvel is what they’re doing to stupid popcorn movies. This is a genre I care about, and they’re fucking it up.

And THERE it is.  The blanket statement that must be true in all cases, at all times.  She didn’t like ONE of the Marvel movies, so therefore the entire genre is tainted.  Age of Ultron must be a serious bad apple to spoil the whole bunch. 

And again, Captain America objects to your LANGUAGE.


A stupid popcorn movie by Joss Whedon has every reason to be a great experience. I’m no super-fan, and he’s done things that are pretty dreadful (if you’ve never seen In Your Eyes… look, do yourself a favor, don’t see In Your Eyes) but silly fun is his wheelhouse. Cabin in the Woods is hardly an intellectual little art-house film, yet when I saw it in theaters, my friend Kelly and I left the theater gasping and whooping with exhilaration, as if we’d just gotten off a roller coaster. For at least ten minutes after that movie ended, the only thing we could say to each other was “OH MY GOD.” It was pure, stupid adrenaline, and it was wonderful.

Oh, and that explains a lot.  You thought Cabin in the Woods was a GOOD movie?  All you could say about it was OH MY G_D?  Yeah, this makes me respect your opinion of movies so much more than I did at the beginning of your little rant-fest.

Moreover, Whedon has a remarkable gift for taking extremely silly subject matter just seriously enough to make you feel something.

Okay, fine.  I guess that’s true.  Color me shocked.

He’s not Christopher Nolan or Zach Snyder, thank God — no movie posters that look like Trent Reznor threw up in a clown car, no excruciating pseudo-realist interludes in which we have to sit there and contemplate the dark enormity of Batman’s feeeeeeelings — but he can balance an adult awareness of how silly comics are with real, emotionally resonant character work.

Uh-huh.  I thought you were objecting to there not being enough “feeeeeeelings” in Age of Ultron.  That it was all explosions and not enough subtlety, and was therefore ruining the genre.  Now, you used a lot of words to dance around that idea without actually coming out and saying so, but I think we can draw that conclusion.  So which is it?  Make up your mind, woman!  Either it’s too subtle, or it’s not subtle enough.  It can’t be both.

Age of Ultron is quite possibly the worst movie of Whedon’s career, and I can’t get over it.

There’s another one of those blanket statements.

I’ve been obsessed with this movie for a week now, poking through it in my mind, trying to figure out what went wrong. I mean, it’s just plain hacky, in ways I frankly have trouble comprehending: It’s riddled with cliches, shortcuts, set-ups without pay-offs, elements that seem, not like bad choices, but like actual mistakes.

Really?  I saw this movie, and I didn’t see anything like that.  So how is it hacky (whatever the hell THAT means)?  Where are the clichés?  Where did Whedon take a shortcut?  How did he not pay off his setup?  Where are his mistakes?  Do enlighten us.

Don’t get your hopes up, people.  She never does any of that.  And yet she is still talking.

The worst thing about it, I think, is that it’s not even honestly bad. Bad can be entertaining: Thor, for instance, is a very bad movie, yet Thor’s badness gave me the gift of laughter, thanks to a little wonder known as “Odinsleeping.” (“Wait. The guy’s Dad just keeled over and went into a coma. Now they’re saying he does this often?” “He goes into a coma so often that comas are named after him.”) Age of Ultron is just pervasively mediocre, not even interesting enough to be awful.

That’s what you got out of Thor?  It’s like you’re a seven-year-old with ADD — you can’t pay attention to the whole movie, and you get utterly obsessed with tiny little pieces, and use those to make blanket statements about the movie as a whole.  What happened to being able to say “well, I think that element of the story was mediocre and badly set up, but the rest was pretty fun”?  Next thing we know, she’ll be throwing out the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy because she didn’t like Arwen’s green dress at the end.

And by the way, the Odinsleep is something from the comics. I’ve never read them myself, but apparently Odin has to recharge his power every so often as a price for having so much of it. You’d have known that if you got off your high horse, admitted you might not know everything through infused knowledge, and bothered to look stuff up.

The reason for this, I would submit, is that Marvel has a palpable — and growing — contempt for its audience.

Are you serious?  I think you need to look up the definition of “contempt” and memorize it before making statements like that.  Marvel makes its money off of its audience, so they’re going to hold them in contempt and deliberately make them angry, because they actually don’t like money?  Sure, I believe that. 

And I really love how you stick those little “intellectual” phrases in your article, because it really does make you sound so much smarter.  And it uses so many MORE words.  Because eventually, with enough words, you might actually say something, like monkeys with typewriters eventually managing to write out the complete works of Shakespeare.


Lots of people have been parsing Marvel’s politics in recent weeks, but I’d submit this is beside the point in some ways: Marvel has been racist and Marvel has been sexist, but Marvel’s most profound failing is that it just plain doesn’t care about people.

Actually, if we’re talking about just the movies, and not the original comic books (as I have never read any of their comics, I can’t judge them either for story or content), I can’t think of a single instance of either racism or sexism anywhere in them.  So, what have you been watching? 

And again, Marvel doesn’t care about the people who put billions of dollars into their pockets?


Age of Ultron is the clearest demonstration yet of the problem. And you should care about this problem. Because it’s getting worse, and because you can’t get away.

Yeah, because Marvel FORCES people to go and see their movies.  It’s not as if you could say “I didn’t like that movie” and actually stay home from the theater and keep your money in your pocket and out of theirs.

I know Joss Whedon can make a good popcorn movie. In fact, I know he can make a good popcorn movie about the Avengers: That first movie is a stone-cold classic. Therefore, I’m disinclined to blame the badness of Age of Ultron on Joss Whedon.

Except you’ve already done exactly that.  You just said that it was the worst movie of his career.

If you’ve watched someone throw a ball fifty times, and then, the fifty-first time, he just drops the ball at his feet and stands there motionless, you don’t assume that he can’t throw. You assume something is wrong.

So, let me get this straight.  You don’t assume that he can’t throw.  But you’ve just spent a few hundred words saying that because he didn’t throw it this time, thanks to the interference of a third party, the ball will never be successfully thrown again..  How does that make sense?


When you look at the formal requirements imposed on Whedon’s script by Marvel, it’s clear that AoU actually couldn’t have been good —  that Marvel, not knowing or caring how good movies work, mandated that Whedon make a bad one.

Really?  You’re an expert on contracts between Whedon and Marvel, are you? 

And again, here you go with those blanket statements.  Marvel doesn’t know or care how good movies work?  Wouldn’t that mean that ALL of their movies are bad?  You just got done saying that The Avengers was a . . . oh, yes, a “stone cold classic.”  Make up your mind; it can’t be both.

Well, at least at this point she’s going to get into specifics about the story elements that are bad.  She’s going to give examples about all those bad things she saw in the movie.  We’re getting out of the blanket-statement fest, and into real objections which can be refuted.

Wait for it . . .

Yeah, we’re going to be waiting a long, long, LONG time.

1. Too many characters. This is standard Marvel strategy —  they go by the premise that all it takes to gratify their base is dropping a name that’s familiar from the comics, and so far, it’s paid off  —  but the never-ending quest to “improve” each movie by adding a sidekick, and another sidekick, and three villains this time, plus that other superhero you might know about if you read every Avengers comic from 1971 through 1973, has resulted in a movie with, by my count, fourteen central characters. The movie is only 141 minutes long; that might seem lengthy, but if you were to somehow divide it up so as to give each character an equal amount of uninterrupted focus, you’d only have around 10 minutes for each character. In practice, you get less than 10, because

This has so many things wrong with it I don’t know where to begin.  I’ve never read any Marvel comics, let alone any from 1971 to 1973, and I was never at a loss to explain who was who in this movie.  They are set up and explained sufficiently in the movie so that people like me who don’t read comic books aren’t utterly clueless about who just appeared on the screen. 

There were a lot of characters, yes, but that is not a bad thing.  Whedon does a wonderful job using all of them, but not equally.  Because they’re not supposed to be equal, you moron!  That’s why some are SUPPORTING characters instead of LEADING characters.  The characters aren’t judged by how much screen time they take up.  If that were the only criterion necessary for a good character, people should stop talking about Hannibal in Silence of the Lambs, because Anthony Hopkins is only in it for a grand total of twenty-four minutes and fifty-two seconds.  In a two-hour movie.  And he won a freaking Oscar for that short little performance, and is credited as the LEADING actor, not the SUPPORTING actor.


2. No matter what, Marvel’s structure mandates at least one fight scene every 20 minutes, and most of the time, those characters aren’t having in-depth discussions while they fight. This has to happen even though we almost always know how those fights will end, because

You’re going to see a comic book movie, you stupid woman!  What do you expect them to be doing?  Having a cup of tea and discussing how much they support saving the environment from villains like plastic grocery bags?  If you want to watch a movie like that, go for it.  Have fun.  But this is a SUPERHERO movie.  They are supposed to go around kicking bad-guy butt!  If you were expecting something else, you were watching the wrong movie.

And this installment wasn’t using long, ridiculous fight scenes.  Every one of them was part of the plot, was well-directed (with a good balance of live-action and CGI tactics), and didn’t last too long. 

I watched Man of Steel last night with my mother, and those fight scenes were terrible.  They were too long, completely over the top (New York — oh, wait, “Metropolis” — was obliterated when Superman had a fist-fight with General Zod.  They were knocking skyscrapers down left and right), and it went from a good dramatic moment to a long joke we wished would end.  So many things were destroyed that you couldn’t keep track, and you lost the emotional impact that it could have provided. 

Now THOSE are bad fight scenes.  Age of Ultron never did any of that.

3. The movie also has a pre-determined narrative, which we know because it’s the same narrative every Marvel movie adheres to, which is, roughly: There’s a thing and a bad guy and the bad guy steals the thing, so they fight. They lose one fight and then they lose another fight and then they win the last fight. The end.

Again, this is a problem?  We’re talking about a SUPERHERO movie, and yes, they have a lot of elements that they use repeatedly.  Just like a Jane Austen movie always has a love interest, a thwarted love interest, at least one gossiping woman, a less-than-admirable clergyman, and an utter cad to be avoided.

And you missed the whole point of the movie.  Yes, there was a stolen item (Loki’s staff), but that wasn’t the main story arc.  The point was that Ultron wanted to destroy the entire world with a makeshift meteor he was going to slam into the earth.  That’s not something we’ve seen before.  And what about Captain America: Winter Soldier?  Where was the stolen object there?  Uh, there wasn’t one.  The government bad guy was going to target his own citizens with flying superweapons, and he had to be stopped. 

Or what about all three of the Iron Man movies? Or the original Captain America? Or both Thors? What was stolen to kick off those plots? I guess Marvel has more than one “pre-determined narrative” after all.  Again:


4. We also need to end the movie in such a way that all of the characters with ongoing franchises can go back to those franchises, alive and more or less unchanged.

So, it’s bad form to NOT kill off your main characters now?  It’s not about letting them keep their franchises (although I’m sure that’s a good reason not to kill people off.  After all, these guys do want to make money); it’s about the emotional satisfaction of seeing the good guys WIN.  They fight, they have a hard time of it, but then they are successful. 

That is undermined if everyone is DEAD.  Like in 24.  A good show, but the only character to appear in every single season of 24 was Jack Bauer.  Most everyone else died.  Sometimes they were killed off for a good reason (as much as I hated it, killing David Palmer, Michelle Dessler, and Tony Almeida in Season 5 was good plot), but the rest of the time, it was a cheap way to get an emotional reaction out of the audience (like Jack killing Curtis in Season 6), and was a completely unreasonable plot line.  They’d have been better off killing Jack Bauer, just because it’s unlikely even in a fictional story that this one guy is the only one to live through all of these scenarios every single time (because, yes, even fiction has to make sense).

Real Life

And they’re unchanged?  Really?  What movie were you watching?  There are all kinds of character development in this movie.  Black Widow is probably the best (and no doubt most controversial) example.  She’s not just an assassin anymore.  She’s the good person who can kick butt for the right reasons AND help Bruce Banner when he’s in Hulk mode.  She’s “Auntie Nat” for Hawkeye’s kids (and if she was still “just” an assassin, those children would be afraid of her instead of running up to her and loving her as a member of their family). 

Captain America is getting used to living in the modern world (actually using bad language at the end of the movie, after chastising Tony Stark for cussing at the beginning.  Now THAT was funny.  And right, it was a SETUP that was PAID OFF, no matter how many times you try to say that Whedon didn’t do that).  He’s struggling with being alone and out of his time and society, while at the same time trying to be a leader and a hero. 

Tony Stark is another good example, because his narcissistic tendencies are competing with his desire to be a good guy.  That’s actually how the bad guys manipulate him into creating Ultron in the first place: he’s supposed to be the good guy, but he is also the smartest guy, which means that he has to be the one to save the day, no matter the cost.  He was played by Scarlet Witch’s bad dream in his head, and he didn’t even know it, because that is an ongoing struggle for him, ever since the Battle of New York and the PTSD he was going through in Iron Man 3.  And you’re trying to tell me that none of the characters change?

Facepalm Implied

5. So, once Marvel’s formula has deprived the movie of (a) time for the characters, (b) the potential for the story to unfold in a surprising way, and (c) meaningful consequences, we then get each character’s maximum 10 minutes of focus (which is now more like five or six) cut down even further, with ads for other Marvel products. In Age of Ultron, we lose several minutes of valuable time that could be spent developing our characters to visit Wakanda and establish Andy Serkis as a villain, not because he’s important to the plot  —  he’ll totally disappear after this one scene  —  but because there’s going to be a Black Panther movie. Thor has to be taken out of the action for a while so that his scientist friend can help him hallucinate the premise of Infinity War. Captain America gets a flashback that doesn’t relate to the plot, but does remind you that he used to date Peggy Carter, who you can catch every week on ABC’s own Agent Carter! Etcetera.

First of all, “et cetera” is two words, not one.  Go back to grade school grammar. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

Second, Age of Ultron has all of those elements you’re so quick to discount: time for the characters (see above), the story unfolding in a surprising way (I didn’t anticipate Jarvis getting killed, or him becoming The Vision, or Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch switching sides, or Hawkeye having a family hidden away on a farm, or Bruce getting tricked into going the Hulk in the middle of a city, or . . .), and lots of meaningful consequences (like the WHOLE WORLD ABOUT TO BE DESTROYED by an evil artificial intelligence created by one of the heroes who happened to be suffering from a hard case of bad-guy manipulation and good intentions; or maybe the characters having to deal with the ghosts of their past and the associated “meaningful consequences” in order to be effective heroes).  So, again, I’m not sure which movie you saw, but it wasn’t this one.

And Ulysses Klaw (played by Andy Serkis) was important to the plot.  Our heroes followed the clues, and were led to him, and guess who they found also there?  Oh, right, Ultron, the BBEG.  (Big Bad Evil Guy. It’s a technical term. No, really.)  But no, that’s not a vital part of the storyline. 

Thor “hallucinating the premise of Infinity War” was important to his character, because every one of them has to deal with the consequences of their past and figure out where to go in the future.  They ALL did that, but Thor, being a NORSE GOD, did it in a different way than the others (because in Marvel comics, the good guys aren’t all stamped from the same mold).  So what? 

And Captain America’s flashback wasn’t just a flashback — it was part of that mind manipulation that the bad guys were putting ALL of the characters through.  Yes, he was in love with Peggy Carter (who happens to have her own show), but the point was that he also has a tragic past that he has to deal with.  If he doesn’t, he will fail as a hero. 

So, all of that is a wonderful example of a writer being able to juggle multiple franchise plots and character backstories, and combine all of them into a seamless whole.  That is talent.

So, you completely missed the point.  All of them, actually.

With all these requirements eating up the screen time, there’s practically no room left to make a movie. There’s definitely no room to make a Joss Whedon movie, because Joss Whedon movies are about two things: Character development and dialogue. I don’t have a particular stake in whether Joss Whedon is a great feminist or not. (Again: please don’t watch In Your Eyes.) What I know he can do is people talking.

Oh, you mean like the “language!” humor that he wrote between Tony Stark and Captain America?  Or the humor in meeting Mrs. Hawkeye, when Black Widow told the Little Hawkeye baby bump that he was a “traitor”?  Or Tony Stark talking to the tractor on the farm as though it was a beautiful woman instead of a forty-year-old, busted-down John Deere?  Or the conversations between the heroes when they’re each trying to work out their problems, but keep bickering with each other instead of working together?  Or how Nick Fury has to whip them into shape with his usual biting sarcasm?  Or Quicksilver’s repeated line about “you didn’t see that coming”?  Or any one of Tony Stark’s conversations with Bruce Banner?  Or Hawkeye going on about the remodeling he’s going to do on the dining room in the middle of a fight (“because who eats in a dining room, anyway?”)?  Or the absolutely beautiful speech that The Vision makes to Ultron at the end, with a touch of humor about how he actually was born yesterday?  That dialogue? 

Joss Whedon can do “people talking,” and Age of Ultron proves it.  Again, what the hell movie were you watching?


Oh, that’s right.  Sorry, Cap. 

The reason the first Avengers was so much fun, despite its generic, weirdly evil climax in which the heroes prove their valor by slaughtering waves of faceless Stormtroopers with no names or histories or families or feelings,

Really?  You were complaining about having “too many characters,” and now you’re mad because the bad guys aren’t all three-dimensional speaking roles?  Sometimes, the superheroes have to have lots of bad guys to fight; they’re super, and most bad guys are not.  They have to make up for it in numbers.  Were you complaining that the orcs in Lord of the Rings were “waves of faceless Stormtroopers”?

was that it turned a mega-budget cross-over action movie into a hang-out comedy. The most important scenes in that movie are the ones in which the characters just sit around together, bickering, trading opinions, asking each other questions and scoring one-liners at each others’ expense. The Stormtroopers were obligatory action junk. The conversations  —  will these people like each other, and if so, why?  —  were the story.

You mean, they were obligatory action junk that moved the plot forward, right?  Superheroes have to have someone to fight, you idiot!  Otherwise, why are they superheroes?

But you did get one thing right.  (Imagine that.)  Yes, the dialogue was very important to the story.  It made the two-dimensional, almost childishly simple comic book people into three-dimensional adults who could have deeper, more meaningful backstories, more character development, higher stakes, and better conversations.

But that was present here, too.  Just look at the party scene at the beginning.  Rudy’s joke fell on deaf ears when he told it to Thor and Tony, but then got a laugh when he told it to the party girls (and his reaction was priceless).  How about the conversation that Bruce and Black Widow had, playing to all the clichés of a pretty girl in a bar, but doing it so well that it made the conversation better, instead of just reducing it to a bunch of meaningless platitudes? Captain America even tried to explain things to Bruce after that, who took a good three seconds to think of his objection: “wait, how close?” 

Then, the best part of that scene with tons and tons of character development happened when they were all trying to pick up Thor’s hammer.  It was funny, but also a great insight into them.  The only person who even budged it was Captain America — he’s as close to pure of heart as any of them can get (except Thor, who had to earn it, as we all saw in his first movie).  But you can see his humility as well, because he didn’t seem to notice it at all.  Then Black Widow declines to even try it, even though they want to encourage her to do so.  There’s some more humility, and it lets the audience know that she knows herself well enough to know that she is not worthy of it, and all the while hiding that humility and self-awareness behind the “I don’t need to posture” line. 

And Bruce Banner tried to lift the hammer, but not because he really wanted to.  He was joking around with his friends about being the Hulk, letting out a corny, fake roar like he was trying to change into the Hulk (which didn’t fool them for a second — they trust him to be under control).  That is a major shift in Banner’s character — he’s not ashamed of being the Hulk around these guys.  He’s so comfortable with himself and with them as his friends that he can actually joke about being a big green monster (yeah, boys, not even the Hulk can lift the hammer, so you’re definitely not able to.  Ha ha ha!)  It’s the kind of dialogue that speaks volumes, and uses very few words to do so.  (Or in this case, none at all.)  That is another aspect of Whedon’s rare talent. 

And you still think he did a bad job?  What movie were you watching?

That can’t happen here. Because there is no time to develop characters organically, because the characters all have to be rammed through the same thing-bad guy-lose-lose-win beats in tandem, because this has to be done in a way that allows for the maximum number of fight scenes (look for and then the good guy and the other good guy disagree so they fight to be deployed, too; it’s what Marvel does every time a plot gets too talky), and because even this has to be interrupted with ads, there’s simply no time for the movie to accomplish its goals with something as old-fashioned as a story.

You are too stupid for words, and I’ve already addressed this.  The characters DID develop.  The plot was more complex than “thing-bad guy-lose-lose-win.”  The fight scenes were useful, and not too thick.  There were no ads.  The story was there. 

And stories are NOT old-fashioned. They’re an essential and ever-present part of the human condition, and they can be either good or bad.  You can say that this one was bad, and that is your opinion.  You’re entitled to have one.   

Character arcs are crowded out, or so compressed that they’re barely legible. For example: One arc that’s pitched, and then never executed, is that Tony Stark is coming face to face with his own narcissism. Ultron is his karma, his shadow self, his punishment for believing he’s smart enough to save the world single-handedly. That’s interesting. That’s a solid character-based story. It does what good stories do: Zones in on a character’s biggest flaw, and dramatizes it, so that he can come to a profound realization about himself and his place in the world, and triumph by using what he’s learned.

Fine.  I’ll give you that one.  I already mentioned Tony and his narcissism above.  Ultron being his punishment is an interesting way of looking at it, but it works.  I will agree with this one thing, with a big caveat.  THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT THE STORY DID, YOU MORON!  That plot WAS executed!  What movie were you watching?

Yet if that’s what the movie is doing, why is the problem “I fucked up by building an overly powerful, self-aware robot” resolved with “I built an overly powerful, self-aware robot?” Symmetry is one thing: This is a story where the character does not meaningfully change. He doesn’t learn. He doesn’t grow. He just remembers to push the “NOT a genocidal monster” button on his robot-designing machine.

Again, the Captain disapproves.

CaptainAmerica language 2

Tony Stark messed up at the beginning when he created Ultron because he did it on his own, keeping secrets from his team, because he was being his usual narcissistic self, thanks to a little manipulation by the bad guys.  They took advantage of his biggest fault (which makes them smart, believable bad guys, by the way). 

And, if you had been watching the movie instead of making it up as you go along, you’d know that Tony did not build The Vision.  The body was built by Ultron, and most of his information was downloaded into that body before the heroes ever got their hands on it.  You can tell from the little “almost finished” status of the download meter on the case.  So, what happened?  Tony decided to fix his previous mistake.  That’s what heroes do, and the fact that Tony could admit that he messed up by the numbers the first time around constitutes CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, because narcissistic people have a hard time admitting that they’re wrong. 

But again, you weren’t paying attention, because the upload was interrupted by Captain America, Hawkeye, and the Russian Twins bursting in on Tony and trying to stop him.  Who finally pushed the button that created The Vision?  Oh, right.  That would be THOR, not Tony.


I mean, tell me: What was Captain America’s arc in Age of Ultron? Why does he need to be there, what’s his personal investment in the problem, and what does he learn about himself by solving that problem? Tell me how Thor grew or changed over the course of this movie. Tell me why Nick Fury or Maria Hill were essential to the story. When Maria Hill tells the story of Ultron to her grandchildren, how will she say these events changed her life? How will she say she felt about her friend Tony’s choice to build a genocide-bot? Did she feel anything? Or was she just, you know, there?

Yeah, because the story is all about how people FEEL, not about them beating the bad guys.

Not everyone is always ESSENTIAL to a story. That’s why there are supporting characters.  If everyone was a main character, you’d have utter and complete chaos.  It’s like football — you have a quarterback, a center, a few receivers, some running backs, and an offensive line.  If every one of those guys tried to be the all-star, get-all-the-attention-and-playing-time quarterback, we wouldn’t have football.  We’d have eleven guys running all over the field throwing footballs.

You asked; I’ll tell you.  The only question is whether or not you’ll actually listen.  Captain America has to be there because he’s the good guy, the so-pure-of-heart guy who can almost lift Thor’s hammer.  He is the leader, who keeps the others from tearing each other to pieces.  He doesn’t have to be the “main” character; he can just be a supporting character this time.  Thor is the same way — he can just support his friends in their fights, and save his own personal character-development-plot-arc for his own exclusive movie.  Nick Fury was essential because he moved the plot forward by giving the team vital information when they needed it, and a swift kick in the pants at the same time, so that the other MAIN characters can stop feeling sorry for themselves and go back to fighting bad guys.  Maria Hill was just a helper, and that’s okay, too.  People need helpers sometimes, even superheroes.

Character arcs aren’t negotiable.

I’m not sure what you’re trying to say, but I do know what you actually said, and it makes no sense.  If that were even remotely true, then all stories would be the same.  Because they’re not, you know, negotiable.  Which means they can’t change.  Go get a dictionary.

They’re not highbrow or pretentious or complicated.

So, all character stories are common, modest, and simple?  Sure.  I thought you were just complaining about these character arcs being too simple.  Make up your mind.  And again, get a dictionary. 


Character arcs are essential to the success of any story in any genre.


To understand why all this matters, look at the Hulk’s arc in the first Avengers, which many people consider to be the most successful part of that movie. I would argue that it’s actually the most successful element of any Marvel movie to date. In the first Avengers, the Hulk (1) hates being the Hulk, (2) encounters a situation that can only be resolved by becoming the Hulk, and (3) embraces being the Hulk. Simple, right? Stupid simple. Yet it landed like a ton of bricks in the theater, because that’s what stories are.

So, wait.  Did you like it or didn’t you?  You said that it was the most successful element of any Marvel movie to date (which is a preposterous claim to make; why not just say that you liked it?).  Then you say that it “landed like a ton of bricks in the theater.”  Now you need to get a dictionary of common phrases, because something that lands like a ton of bricks is not a success, and you just said that it was a success, and now you go on to say that it was a good thing because “that’s what stories are.”  Do you have a split personality or something?

Stories use cause and effect to dramatize a process whereby a person is forced to change.

Really?  Do tell me more.


Hulk’s arc, simple as it might be, was a cause-and-effect process that dramatized a universal human problem: You might not always like yourself, so you can identify with someone who doesn’t like himself, and therefore, you will experience catharsis when a story gives the both of you permission to love yourselves.

This is so absurd, the English language is insufficient to describe it.


 When he goes on that final rampage and slams Loki into the floor, that’s not just a cartoon causing some corporate-mandated violence: That’s you, loving your body despite being the “wrong” size, or making feminist points in a conversation without worrying that someone will call you a buzzkill, or being proud of your art despite the fact that it’s been rejected, or deciding that you can leave your abusive relationship because you are worthy of respect. Hulk smash inner self-loathing, and thereby becomes the most powerful force in the universe.

I can’t . . . I don’t . . . wait . . . what just happened? 


You’re really going to reduce the Hulk to an advertisement for self-confidence in body image?  Weren’t you just accusing Joss Whedon of “reducing” characters to something less than noble?  Or accusing Marvel of doing nothing but “advertising” their other products?

The Hulk is a scientist who was injured by radiation, and now turns into a large, rage-filled, green monster who will SMASH anything in his path.  So he has to learn to control his anger, something that lots of people can relate to.  He is successful at it, and keeps his cool (as Black Widow so eloquently said, despite your claims to the contrary, “he deliberately stays out of the fights, because he’ll know he’ll win”), even when it might be useful to be really angry (Black Widow has to push him into a crevice to get him to participate into that final fight, because he won’t let himself change into the Hulk). 

And out of all that character development, you’re making up some complete and total bullshit about body image?


Sorry, Cap, I couldn’t help it.  Sometimes a cuss word is the most appropriate way to describe something so patently absurd.

So finally, our hero, a suicidal man who has spent the whole movie telling himself he’s worthless and intrinsically inferior to other people,

Him being suicidal is CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT, you idiot!  And by the way, he didn’t spend the “whole movie” telling himself that he’s worthless.  I didn’t even remember that Bruce Banner was suicidal until Matthew reminded me of it just now.  It was ONE conversation in the movie, so where do you get that he’s been telling himself for two and a half hours that he’s “intrinsically inferior” to anyone?

encounters Loki, an arrogant, sneering, hyper-critical, hyper-verbal character  —  a character who mysteriously chooses that very moment to begin a monologue about how worthless the Avengers are, and how inferior they are to him —

What’s mysterious about it?  Yapping constantly about the inferiority of everyone else is part of his character, and we know this, because we’ve seen it before.  That’s what makes the sudden THWOMP so side-splittingly hilarious.

 and suddenly, Loki hits the floor. Hard. And every time Loki hits that floor, all over the world, the theater erupts with screams of joy.

It certainly does, but not for the reasons you think it does.

There is a release that goes beyond the rational or the personal, here: The noise of hundreds of strangers united for just one second in the realization that deep down, despite all the pain, despite all the shit they put themselves through, despite the endless cruelty that inner critical voice subjects them to, they don’t have to let it keep talking. Deep down, they are not ugly or stupid or unlovable or bad or worthless. Deep down, they are strong. They are heroes.

And here you go again, reducing a perfectly good plot, and a humorous movie moment to some stupid social commentary.  Because deep down, you belong to the reader-response school of literary criticism, where nothing has an objective reality, and everything is filtered through the individual lens of the person watching or reading it.  Because people don’t really go to see an Avengers movie to be entertained, to watch the good guys that we love kick the bad guys into next week, and save the world from an evil plot.  We go to see these movies because we need to know that deep down, we’re all heroes.

Yeah.  Sure.


Speaking of heroes, here’s Joseph Campbell: “Atonement consists in no more than the abandonment of that self-generated double monster  —  the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id).” When the superego’s judgment is no longer powerful enough to annihilate us (puny God) and the id is accepted by the ego without fear (I’m always angry), our wholeness is restored, our place in the cosmos is found, and we are free. It hits us so hard, all we can do is scream.

I can’t take much more of this sh — oh, sorry, Cap.  This utterly ridiculous tripe.

I’m just going to quote Matthew on this subject, because he’s talked about this before many times.  “Campbell tried to reduce everything to one single myth, and all of humanity to one single mind.”  So once again, uniqueness is bad.  Explain everything away using Freud, which only hack armchair psychologists (and hack movie critics) still do.

Or, as Chesterton put it:

The ignorant pronounce it Frood,
to cavil or applaud.
The well-informed pronounce it Froyd,
But I pronounce it Fraud.


Don’t let anyone tell you that silly popcorn movies don’t matter, or that they can’t be smart or beautiful or profound.

Ah, look, the straw man.  As far as I can tell, no one has made that assertion.  You just like to say that people have, so you have something to “refute” with all these words you keep spouting.

A silly popcorn movie can change your life.

A good one can, sure.  When the good guys beat the bad guys.


All it has to do is create characters with identifiable, human problems, and let them work out those problems over the course of the story. Stories are about change, and about people, because ultimately, they are about you, the person sitting in a dark theater, working out your baggage by projecting it onto CGI cartoons of overly handsome actors.

There you go again, with that reader-response criticism.  No, actually, it’s NOT about ME.  It’s about THE AVENGERS.  It says so, right in the title.  If it was about me, it would be called AGE OF FISKING: THE ENGLISH MAJOR WHO PUT THE BEATDOWN ON SOME INTERNET TROLL AND THEN CAME DOWN THE MOUNTAIN.

Here’s another way to put it: The extent to which a movie invests in character-based, character-driven storytelling is the extent to which it recognizes, appreciates, and honors the humanity of its audience.

Really?  I thought it was about telling a compelling, satisfying story.

So when Age of Ultron doesn’t invest  — when it goes by the assumption that the formula, and the formula alone, is enough to appease the popcorn-eaters —  it says something pretty bad.

Except it didn’t do that.  You’re making all this up so that you can have something to complain about.  Don’t you have a job, or anything better to do?

And now we can talk about the sexism.

Do, let’s.

My ultimate take on Joss Whedon’s “feminist” screenwriting is that it’s a byproduct of good writing, period.

Yeah, because good writing has to have something to do with the radical feminist agenda, all the time, even when the story is about superheroes.  Uh-huh.

The writer he most reminds me of is Charlie Kaufman: They’re both deeply personal writers, who clearly have a wide variety of sexual hang-ups,

And how the hell would you possibly know that?  And, more importantly, who the fuck cares?

Fury swearing

Right.  Sorry again.

and to the extent that these hang-ups center on women, they probably do affect their perceptions of real-life women in many ways. Plenty of women have noted that Whedon’s fixation on emotionally vulnerable, eighty-pound teenage girls is disturbing and off-putting, and I would tend to agree.

Where the hell did you get that notion?  I don’t recall seeing a single emotionally vulnerable, eighty-pound teenage girl anywhere in the whole movie.  Or in the original Avengers.  His female characters have all had good backstory, personality, and snappy one-liners.  So who the hell are you talking about?  Certainly not Buffy the Vampire Slayer, because she weighed much more than eighty pounds, and was most decidedly NOT emotionally vulnerable.

Cap, I’m officially fed up.  I’m going to apologize in advance for any other cuss words, because I won’t have time to apologize for each one individually.


Charlie Kaufman’s apparent belief that a sexually awakened, self-realized woman wouldn’t need him, and would therefore abandon him to a hostile universe, is also kind of weird and upsetting, or (at least) a good reason not to ask Charlie Kaufman out on a date. However, because Kaufman and Whedon are good writers, who understand why stories work, when they sit down to write a story, they feel the obligation to make all of the characters identifiably human, including the women. This is, sadly, so rare that their female characters are often more well-rounded and interesting than almost any other characters out there, including a lot of characters written by people with better sexual politics.

What do politics have to do with anything?  I thought you were talking about the story.  You got sidetracked there.  Why don’t you go back and start over.

But when the character-based screenwriting breaks down, so does the feminism.

Yeah, because all good female characters are feminists.


Black Widow is just as ill-served as every other character in that story, but because she’s a woman, it’s politically offensive as well as aesthetically offensive.

You’re the one reducing Black Widow to somebody’s political prop.  I am a woman, and I am offended, both politically and aesthetically, not at her character, but at your piece-of-shit interpretation of it.  The only reason I can think of for you emphasizing how “bad” a character she is in the movie is that you’re somehow insecure over yourself and you are projecting your own problems onto a perfectly good character.  See, that reader-response shit now returns to bite you right in the ass.

And by the way, how about an example of all this failed feminism in the movie?  None forthcoming?  Ah, that tells us something about you.  You didn’t watch the movie at all, did you?

Let’s take a moment to recognize that, given the paucity of time for character work in Age of Ultron, nearly all of the character development is done with shortcuts.

You’re so full of shit, your eyes are brown.

I’m talking real hack stuff, like “each character has a hallucination establishing his inner conflicts and backstory,”

Which was caused by one of the bad guys, in order to serve a very specific plot point.  That the bad guys were messing with the good guys, so that they could achieve their bad guy goals.

or “we know this character is old-fashioned because he doesn’t like swearing” (brought up so many times that I get the sense it was meant to pay off, in the same way the constant questions about Banner’s “secret” paid off last time —  was there a climactic F-bomb from Steve that got cut for the rating?)

The 1940s were different.  Captain America came from the 1940s and skipped ahead to today.  The script has to illustrate the differences somehow.  Would you prefer a five-minutes-of-screen-time lecture by Captain America on how he’s so out of his element?  No, I don’t think that would satisfy you, either.  I liked the humorous moment between Captain America and the very-worldly Tony Stark, because it was funny, and because it showed the difference between the two of them.  And yes, it was paid off, you moron, and if you’d have been watching the movie, you’d have seen it, because Captain America says “son of a bitch” right at the end, and gets called on it by Nick Fury (“you kiss your mother with that mouth?”).

or even “the circle of life is established by naming a baby after the dead guy.” (This, aside from giving me flashbacks to the infamously terrible ending of Harry Potter, is especially egregious because the baby’s mother never met the dead guy —  and, if she ever knew that the dead guy existed, which is highly debatable, she knew him as “that guy who’s trying to murder my husband.” She names her baby after someone she never met, on the premise that her husband once slightly got along with him for about two hours. Stirring!)

WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?  They were going to name the baby Natasha after “Auntie Nat,” but that got sabotaged by the poor kid turning out to be a boy instead of a girl.  So they switched it to Nathaniel, which is why Black Widow whispering “Traitor!” to the baby bump was so hilarious

You are off in your own little easily-offended world, talking about absolutely nothing.  The only reason I keep fisking you is to make sure that no one else believes a word you say.  That is my public service for the week.

Fisk it from orbit

Jokes get underlined by characters explaining them and noting that they were humorous.

Examples?  No?  I guess you’re just spewing more venom with nothing to back it up.

Some characters just walk into a room, announce their backstory, and leave. (“How are you, Sam?” “I AM HAPPY PURSUING OUR MISSING PERSONS CASE IN DC.”) Nothing ever really gets written, or earned, just vaguely outlined. It’s a whole script made of placeholders.

You are so full of it.  Falcon is one of those SUPPORTING characters, who doesn’t need to be in the action all the time.  A little nod to him is a good thing to have, so that we don’t forget about him, and acknowledge that he is doing something else in a different place, and we will come back to him in another movie later.  You seem to think that all characters in the Marvel universe have to be front-and-center all the time, and if they tried to do that, the resulting movie would be fifteen hours long.  Just accept the fact that not everyone can be the main character all the time in all movies.  They are giving each of the main characters their own, stand-alone movies.  You just have to wait.

But that would involve good sense and maturity.  Never mind.

But when you’re doing all your character work with shortcuts, and you have to write a shortcut for your female character, what do you come up with? She’s that one dude’s girlfriend, obviously, is a time-honored shortcut, used or teased by every Marvel writer who’s put Black Widow in a movie —  as a woman, she’s an Other, and a sexual object, and therefore must be deployed as a potential or actual sexual reward for a male viewpoint character, rather than being a viewpoint herself.

You have got to be kidding me.  Again, you’re projecting your own insecurity onto a perfectly good character.  Black Widow has depth.  She’s the assassin created by the Soviets to do their dirty work, who not only switched sides to be a good guy, but who also is trying to be more than an assassin.  We got that story about her in Winter Soldier (“if it was the other way around, and I had to save your life — be honest with me, now — would you trust me to do it?” “I would now.”), and now we get more of it in Age of Ultron.  She’s not just a killer; she’s the person who can talk the Hulk out of his rage and get him to change back.  She’s “Auntie Nat.”  Wait, I think I’m repeating myself.

And one more thing.  SHE’S NOT ACTUALLY BANNER’S GIRLFRIEND.  Because he RAN OFF BY HIMSELF at the end and left her behind. 

For the record, Black Widow has been in four Marvel movies as a MAIN character (Iron Man 2, Avengers, Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Age of Ultron, with a slight cameo in Captain America: The First Avenger).  And guess what, genius: she has been a main character’s girlfriend in exactly NONE of those movies.  In Age of Ultron, she’s contemplating — but not actually having — a relationship for the first time, and NOW she’s nothing more than a love interest? 


You’re going to set a record for the number of times you spew absolute nonsense.

But that’s the same problem you find with every woman in every Marvel movie (Gamora, Agent Carter, Pepper, whatever Natalie Portman’s name is supposed to be)

That would be Jane.  Because it’s so hard to remember, and even harder to use Google.

except for Maria Hill, who is clearly saving herself for her one true love, Exposition.

Because we’re all deeply concerned with who the female characters decide to sleep with. 

You’ve gone and reduced them to nothing more than sex objects, while accusing the writers who are making them three-dimensional, useful, admirable women of doing exactly that.  I am deeply offended by your hypocrisy and your shameless, disgusting, ideology trying to make these characters into something LESS than what they are.

If you want to deepen your female character past being a sexual object, in a movie that has no time or patience for anything resembling “depth,” what conflicts do you give her? Well, women have babies, right? Women want babies. Okay. She can’t have babies. She’s sad because she can’t have babies. There you go! Depth established!

I can’t believe you just said that.  You’ve reduced her to something two-dimensional again.  But that’s YOUR problem, not the script’s problem, not Joss Whedon’s problem, and not Marvel’s problem.  Yours and only yours.

I mean, it’s disgusting. Defining your female character’s motivation solely around the Betty Crocker axis of “wants boyfriend” and “wants babies” is 100% disgusting.

No, actually, you’re the one who’s disgusting.  Remember that reader-response criticism?  The only reason this is “disgusting” is because you seem to think it is.  Again, this is YOUR problem, not the story’s.  Black Widow is so much more than that one five-minute conversation in the movie.  But you can’t get past it, so you decide that it’s disgusting.  You’re the problem here.

But if you look around, all of this is disgusting, because all of the characters are exactly this vapid, because Whedon can’t get more than five or ten minutes to establish or complicate their motivations, because Marvel is mandating that he not waste screen time on things like the characters’ motivations when he could be shooting ads for their other movies, because Marvel doesn’t care about men, women, or anything except getting you to show up in a few years for the next installment of Avengers.

I can’t believe this.  Now I have to take a moment to pick apart a beautiful and moving scene that actually reduced me to tears in the movie theater, all because you are a radical, obsessive, ignorant, feminist hack. 

ThorSmash (1)

The conversation between Banner and Natasha is in a very specific place in the course of the movie.  They are standing in the middle of a happy, content household.  Their friend, Clint, has a wife and a bunch of kids, and lives in a secluded, beautiful farmhouse.  It’s so close to perfect, it’s positively idyllic — and that’s the point.  The two of them are looking around and thinking about “what if?” 

They probably wouldn’t have had this conversation in any other setting.  It’s because they’re standing there looking around at what their friend has (and, for another major character development moment, what Hawkeye trusted them enough to show them), and that is what makes them think about the might-have-beens in their own life.  That “future” that Banner and Natasha talk about and can’t have is right in their face during the conversation.  That brings what might have been a background issue, or even a complete non-issue, straight into the foreground.  That’s just part of human nature.  We all look around at what other people have — money, fame, family, power, you name it — and compare that to ourselves.  In this case, it just happened to be a family moment.  And a powerful one.

Banner says he can’t ever have kids.  That’s a tragic thing for anyone to admit, not because men are defined by their kids (yeah, you’ll complain about Black Widow being “defined” by a regret over not having children, but will completely ignore the same feeling in Banner?  Hypocrisy much?), but because that CHOICE was taken away from him.  He wasn’t regretting that fact because he just decided “I have a good career, and now I help the Avengers, so I decide not to have any kids;” he was regretting the fact that he CANNOT make that choice.  It has been made for him, because of the same radiation accident that turned him into the Hulk.

Natasha has the same problem, only much more tragic.  It’s not about not having babies, as you seem to think it is.  That’s you projecting again.  She’s looking around at the beautiful house and the happy family, and she knows that she CAN’T ever have those things.  Again, not because she just doesn’t want any kids.  She didn’t say “well, I have these skills and I can help people, and work with the Avengers, so I choose not to have any kids.”  She was FORCIBLY sterilized.

Let me say that again, for anyone who might not have heard.  This poor girl, probably eighteen years old or so, was FORCIBLY STERILIZED.  Against her will.  By people who wanted to use her for their own ends. Sound familiar?  Maybe a little bit related to the human trafficking problem that everyone likes to draw superficial attention to, but do nothing about? 


She was reduced to an object for her government to use, and that’s just another side of the same problem, that girls can be reduced to an object for many sick, sadistic men to use.  It’s not the scriptwriters “reducing” women to something.  Just the opposite.  Black Widow is the admirable character who might have been used and abused, but who takes control of her own life and makes it into something good.

Natasha’s sadness isn’t about not being able to have babies, at least not completely, the way you choose to think it is.  It’s about the even more horrible fact that that choice was taken away from her without her consent.  She tried to FAIL her final exam on purpose, just so that she wouldn’t have to go through the so-called “graduation ceremony.”  She was willing to give up everything she had been trained for, everything she had been preparing for, and risk the wrath of the Soviet Union coming down on her head (come on, do you really think they would just let someone they trained up as an assassin to just walk away?  Either they control her, or they kill her). 

You can tell all this from the flashbacks.  She might not ever have decided “I would like to meet a nice guy, get married, and have a bunch of kids.”  But that is the point: she could have made that choice for herself, but she was not given that opportunity.  Something she wanted (you can conclude she wanted it, because she tried to fail the exam rather than go through with it) was stolen from her.

In that dream, as she was being wheeled to the operating room, she passes by two little girls. They have no mouths. They can’t protest, they can’t communicate, they can’t speak their minds. 

Think about that symbolism.

I thought you so-called feminists were all about “women’s choice”?  What choice did she have?  None.  So, instead of talking about her as if she’s “defined” by wanting babies or not, why don’t you look at her character as a whole?  Someone who was forced into a certain kind of life, and is now trying to make a new one for herself, not because she’s someone’s girlfriend, or has kids, but because she wants to choose for herself what she can be.  She’s not going to allow anyone else to force her to be anything. 

She.  Can.  Choose.

Burst Bubble

And THAT is the whole point.  That’s why superhero stories are so very powerful.  It’s all about who chooses what.  Loki chose to be a villain.  He chose to destroy.  Tony Stark was a jackass playboy inventor, who chose to halt production on his main source of income (weapons) until he could make sure that they were being used by the right people for the right reasons.  Captain America was a skinny, unhealthy kid who wanted nothing more than to serve his country in a war that had to be won, even though he knew it might mean his own death.  He chose to serve.  Thor was another spoiled, selfish, shallow jackass who chose to change into a decent, humble, self-sacrificing man, willing to give up his own life to protect others.  If he wasn’t that selfless, he wouldn’t be able to lift the hammer (as hilariously illustrated by all the others trying to budge it and failing).  Secretary Pierce was a good, peace-loving man who chose to use his power to bring death and destruction, not peace.  Rumlow was his minion, who was convinced that might made right, and chose to turn traitor against Captain America and try to kill millions of innocent people. 

And on and on and on and on.

It’s not about babies.  It’s about choice.  It’s about freedom.  Banner and Natasha’s freedom (in that specific instance) was taken away from them.  Now, they choose to fight to protect the freedom of others in all instances.  It doesn’t get more “superhero” than that.

I never thought I’d be the kind of person who believed that a crime against feminism was less important than a crime against storytelling, but in this case, they’re so interconnected that it’s hard to tell the difference. When you can’t write, you can’t write women.

Does that apply to you as well?

There is no crime here against either storytelling or feminism.  This story is about so much more than the specific cases you’re getting so obsessed with.  Real freedom — the opportunity to do what you ought, not the right to do whatever you please — is what the Avengers work for.  That includes rights for everyone — men, women, kids, young, old, rich, poor, fat, thin, black, green, blue, white, or orange.


The ability to choose what is right, like the Avengers do over and over again.

There’s an alternate interpretation for that Hulk-slams-Loki scene in the first Avengers. I try, very hard, to believe it’s not the correct one. Because it’s an evil message, which cynics will tell you is at the heart of every comic book movie. It is: Punching is better than talking.

Oh, my word.  Will you never shut up?  All you’re doing is giving me more hydrogen to spray on the fire.  This doesn’t even have anything to do with your original topic, which was . . . wait, I have to go back and check . . . oh, yeah, that Age of Ultron is ruining movies.  Oh, well.  Time for another tangent.

The Hulk slamming Loki into the floor is not an evil message.  Punching a bully is not an evil thing to do.  Most of the time, talking is good, but when talking won’t work (yeah, Thor tried to talk Loki out of his evil plan at least once, I think more than that, during the movie, and it never worked), that’s when you bring out the Hulk.  The good guys have to use the force needed to stop the bad guy from doing more evil things, like laying waste to New York and all nine million people in it.


It happens in a lot of big, commercial movies, right? There’s a guy who talks a lot, thinks, plans, tries to get somewhere by thinking. In the end, that guy is evil, because thinking is bad.


There are TWO serious thinkers in the Avengers — Tony Stark, and Bruce Banner.  And they use their smarts, not just their muscles and missiles, to beat the bad guys.  That doesn’t even count Maria Hill and Dr. Cho, who support the Avengers though sheer competence rather than through punching things.  And you’re going to sit there and tell me that Marvel comics say that thinking is bad?

You’re the only one who thinks thinking is bad, because you don’t do much thinking at all, do you?

He has to be subdued by the heroic brute: The guy who’s just “normal,” who’s more like you, more pure, because instead of thinking and analyzing, he just feels and does. Loki thinks he can get somewhere with a monologue, but surprise! Giant biceps trump clever monologue, every time.

And here you go about the feels again.  I thought you were going to talk about the plot?

So there’s your other interpretation, the thing I think is at the core of Marvel’s contempt for people: Punching is better than talking. Doing is better than thinking. Instinct is better than intellect; big is better than smart. We don’t need to understand the Stormtroopers; we don’t need to talk to them. That’s thinking, which is boring. We just need to kill: They don’t have names or histories or families or feelings, and by slaughtering them, thousands of them, we prove that we can do.

Really, at this rate, I don’t think I’m going to make it to the end of this stupid blog post without having an aneurism.

First, what the hell are you talking about?  There are no Stormtroopers in Marvel movies or comics.  I thought you were using that as just a comparison earlier, but now you seem to think that the aliens they fight off in the original Avengers are just like people.  The way they were portrayed, they were more like giant ants from space.  Are you trying to tell people that killing fire ants with Amdro so that they don’t eat you alive in your backyard is just as evil as killing people?

And yes, in that case, DOING was much better than THINKING, because if the Avengers had sat around and thought about it too much longer, New York would have been utterly destroyed.

Talking doesn’t always work.  Sometimes, you need to punch the bully to keep him from terrorizing you.  Does that mean you reach for violence first?  Of course not, you idiot.  That would make you THE BAD GUY.  But the only thing that can stop Loki from obliterating New York is the Hulk smashing him into the concrete.

I’ll say it again, because you seemed to have missed it the first time: THOR TRIED TO TALK LOKI OUT OF DOING EVIL AND DESTROYING NEW YORK.  IT DIDN’T WORK.

That concludes the negotiations; time to HULK SMASH!


They used their brains to defeat Loki, but they had to use a significant amount of force, too, and there is nothing evil about that.  From your argument, you would have preferred for them to allow Loki to destroy New York and every person in it.  What about Loki slaughtering those thousands?  How is that better than the Avengers using their strength, cunning, and smarts to kill the aliens invading the earth?

The audience doesn’t need dialogue or character or psychological growth. The audience needs explosions, because they’re animals, and all they want is blood on the floor. The audience doesn’t need to be surprised or challenged with a new story. The audience wants the old story, because they’ve bought it ten times already, and at the end of the day, we just convinced these fucking yahoos to wait three years and pay us twenty dollars so we could tell them to come back in four years and pay us $40. Now you think they want personal growth? Give me a break. They’re barely even people.

How.  Dare.  You.

I like to see the good guys win.  That makes me an animal?  I want to see the bad guys defeated by the good guys.  That means I’m a “fucking yahoo”?  Those “old stories” are the timeless ones, the ones that stay with us, the ones that teach us how to be good.  That’s why Shakespeare is still relevant, even though he wrote those plays five hundred years ago.  The stories that are universal, that teach us lessons about how to live and how to fight for what we believe in are the “old stories,” where the good guys fight a hard fight, and win.  That is why they last.  That is why we watch them over and over again.


I mean: You pump this message out into the atmosphere, and then you’re surprised when the biggest fans are ready to send death threats to a director to save the Almighty Brand?

Excuse me, but it wasn’t fans of comic books that were sending death threats to Joss Whedon.  It was the feminists like you, who thought that Black Widow was supposed to be written as a sex object.  That’s on you, not on us.

Punching is better than talking, rage is better than understanding, conflicts are resolved by annihilating the other person without feeling bad about it: You just told them that. Over and over, and made them pay for the privilege of hearing it. You can’t possibly be surprised that they believe it’s true.

That wasn’t the message they put in the movie, and I’ve already explained why it isn’t.  If you continue to think that’s true, that’s your problem.

I thought you said you liked these movies?

It kills me that I am so bothered by this. I understand that these movies are power fantasies for nine-year-olds: At the end of the day, accepting that they’re stupid is probably smarter than wishing for them to be smart.

So, you’re saying that all nine-year-olds are stupid?  That’s a reasonable thing for an adult to think. 

They’re not power fantasies.  These movies don’t turn kids into bullies; they show kids how to be good and stand up to the bullies.  They show kids how to be brave, how to defeat the bad guys, and how to do that without becoming a bad guy.  I’ll ask you again: what the hell movie were you watching?  It sure as shit wasn’t this one.

But this is the epicenter of pop culture. Everyone is expected to share power fantasies with nine-year-olds now, and worse than that, to take them seriously; to make them into a lifestyle. The Marvel virus has already overtaken movies; now, it’s infiltrated a new host, TV, and is hollowing it out from within.

You said you LIKED these movies!  Now you’ve gone and changed your mind.  Again.

The aim is not one or two bad movies a year, it’s a total lifestyle regimen of bad pop culture: In order to keep up with the Avengers, you need to keep up with Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, and in order to keep up with those, you should probably be watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which will really help you keep up with Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, and Guardians of the Galaxy, and in order to make sure you’re on top of these nine essential movie franchises and able to make sense of their plots, you’ll need to keep a constant stream of Marvel product in your life, so make sure to tune in for Agent Carter, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and, of course, the forthcoming Hulu triumphs, Ant-Man’s One Weird Friend Gary and Guy Running Away From Explosion In Panel 17.

You are such a hypocrite.  What happened to you liking all of these things? For that matter, what happened to you complaining about how these characters don’t get enough screen time? 

Fans like to watch things that they like.  If you like Captain America, why not watch Thor, too?  It’s simple marketing, nothing more.  And besides, as I’ve already said at some length (like I said, the Asymmetrical Bullshit Principle applies here), these are the kind of stories that matter. 

Does that mean we all need to be watching all of them over and over and over again, all the time, at the expense of real life?  Of course not, stupid.  All things in moderation, including Marvel movies and TV shows.  Entertainment is not a bad thing, when kept in its proper place.  And if you like to be entertained by watching your favorite superheroes kick bad-guy butt, go for it.

The problems with Marvel’s storytelling will be the problems of narrative storytelling for the foreseeable future. Once this is over, we’ll be dealing with a generation raised on this stuff, who believes it’s how storytelling ought to work: Harry Potter came out when I was in high school. I’m in my thirties, and I still haven’t seen the end of the “serialized YA fantasy” onslaught. Something this big sticks around.

I guess that means you will go away eventually, I hope?

You haven’t yet said anything to convince me (or, hopefully, anyone else) that storytelling in this style is a bad thing.  So, if Joss Whedon sticks around and writes more movies about superheroes, I will count myself fortunate, and so will every amateur author who wants to learn more about writing witty dialogue, how to present deep character background instances in a short amount of time, how to get jokes across quickly and without being corny, and how to convey deep emotion in less than thirty words.

I love stupid popcorn movies. I do.

No, you don’t.  You just spent several thousand words telling us why they are stupid, evil, and a bad influence.  So, you’re either a liar or a hypocrite, pick one.  And stick with it this time.  All this flip-flopping is downright annoying.

Post is bad

I believe they can be emotionally resonant, mythic, that they can do the same thing all stories are meant to do —  speak to the soul; challenge us to be more and better than we were  — and can use big, fantastic elements to tell big, human truths.

And Age of Ultron did that quite well, no matter what you say about it.

I also believe that Marvel has no investment in doing so; that, even if they manage to grab a director who is capable of doing those things, the prioritization of the brand and the formula over individual creators will ultimately sabotage the attempt.

You’re talking nonsense again. 


Avengers: Age of Ultron wasn’t just bad. It was, to me, proof that Marvel movies, even at their best, can only be bad. And that they are going to get worse.

Again, you said you LIKED them!

The human mission has been lost: these are faceless Stormtrooper movies, unleashed in waves upon the presumed-to-be-faceless Stormtrooper audience.

Really?  You obviously weren’t watching the same movie.

Stories are an affirmation of our human value; they teach us what life means, make and keep us human. Marvel, by removing the human from its storytelling, may be bringing about the end of story altogether. Fuck Ultron: Marvel Comics has built the army of machines that might really end the world.

You didn’t like this movie, and you think that signals the end of the world? 


Stories ARE affirmations of our human value, especially superhero movies, where the characters sacrifice everything to save the lives of humans, even the lives of thousands or millions of strangers.  To make sure that they’re safe from invading aliens, or insane Norse deities who want to enslave them, or AIs that want to destroy the world.

Superheroes defend us.  They make us want to be them, not because they have super strength or speed or intelligence (although that is always fun to pretend), but because when we’re like them, we’re the ones who save people.  We’re the ones who defend freedom.  We’re the ones who make sure the bullies can’t beat the little guy up and take his lunch money.  That is something the world needs.  We need those superheroes, the same way we need characters like Marshall Dillon (Gunsmoke) and Cole Thornton (El Dorado), or The Magnificent Seven, or Agent Gibbs (NCIS) or Mr. Reese and Mr. Finch (Person of Interest), or the Regan family (Blue Bloods).  We need the characters we can admire for their larger-than-life courage, honor, strength, and compassion.  If they’re larger than life, we have a higher goal to aspire to, and that makes us work harder.  It makes us want to be like them, and we might succeed, just a little bit.

So you can take your pretend outrage and idealistic nonsense, and shove it where the sun don’t shine.  You go enjoy your message fic movies that teach everyone how to be sensitive, or how to fiddle while Rome burns, or the easiest way to turn your back on someone who needs help.


We’ll be over here with our popcorn and real movies, with real stories, and real values, and real heroes. You can stay home. 

Thor fisk