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Some thoughts on the Marvel shows on Disney Plus

Have you watched the first two Marvel shows which have appeared on the Disney Plus streaming service? WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier were both released one episode per week but as of last Friday both runs are now complete. I wanted to talk about some things that bothered me about each show. Of course there will be spoilers for both shows so stop here if you don’t want to know.

First off, Falcon brought back two characters from the Captain America films (and the Avengers films) in a six episode story about teaming up to battle a young, female revolutionary named Karli. Karli is leading a group called the Flag Smashers and here you’ll have to put up with a description of what that’s about or the rest of this won’t make any sense.

If you’ve seen Avengers: Infinity War then you know that at one point the super-villain Thanos wiped out half the beings in the universe including half of the people on earth. And if you’ve seen Avengers: Endgame then you know the Avengers eventually undid what Thanos had done, bringing back several billion people a few years later.

But it turns out not everyone is happy about that for reasons that are described throughout the new show but which we don’t really see in any detail. The idea is that when half of humanity disappeared, everyone left alive gathered together to survive. National borders were erased and though it’s not completely clear, the impression is that millions of migrants moved to the U.S. and Europe and were greeted warmly and invited to pick an empty house and stay for good. And then years later all of the billions of people who’d disappeared came back and many of them were like hey, who is this person living in my house? 

Now a government entity called the Global Repatriation Council (GRC) is trying to manage some kind of mass relocation of people which amounts to trying to put things back to the way they were pre-Thanos.

Enter Karli and the Flag Smashers who think a world without borders and nations was a better one. And in order to stop the relocation from happening she starts by trying to help people who’ve been put in relocation camps but eventually creates a handful of super soldiers and starts committing terror attacks against GRC outposts. And the turn from noble anti-nationalist to pure villain caught the attention of some viewers:

It seems the writers want to follow the pattern set forth in the Black Panther movie in which the villain has a point, one which ultimately changes the hero’s mind. So in the case of Falcon, by the end of the show Karli is a murderous fanatic willing to die just to kill a few leaders, but at the same time the writers want to show us that Sam Wilson aka the Falcon, can relate to a lot of what she’s saying (apart from the murders).

And that’s where one of the clunkiest subplots in the show pops up. Sam and his sister are trying to restore an old fishing boat left to them by their parents. But it turns out that Sam Wilson is broke and there’s an entire scene where a local bank refuses to give him a loan. When it happens it seems sort of hard to believe. In the Marvel universe, Sam Wilson is one of the most famous men on the planet. He helped the Avengers save the universe. So it feels a bit contrived that he can’t get a moderate personal loan to repair his boat.

Later you find out why that subplot was included. Karli, the villain, is riffing on her problems with global capitalism and Sam says he really understands and agrees with her it’s a problem, because, hey, the bank wouldn’t give him and his sister a loan. Capitalism sucks.

The problem, as I’ve already suggested, is that I don’t believe Sam Wilson aka the Falcon, best friend to Captain America, would have trouble getting a loan. Literally half the world would feel some genuine gratitude to the Avengers for their continued existence. There must be a few bank presidents among them. Not to mention that being associated with the Avengers would be worth something to a bank purely in PR terms. The whole thing seemed like nonsense concocted just to create some anti-capitalist bonding between the hero and the villain.

And the really odd part is it wasn’t necessary. Why couldn’t they just stick to the issue of the return of 3 1/2 billion people and the positives and negatives of trying to return to the pre-Thanos norm? Wasn’t there enough meat on that bone without making the villain a socialist too? Ultimately, what’s wrong with Karli is she’s too willing to kill people (including Sam Wilson). Whatever else she believes, that’s the clear line that turns her from a crusader into a terrorist.

Sam Wilson does eventually get his boat fixed with the help of a bunch of neighbors eager to pitch in. Again I think it’s meant as a message about relying on the goodwill of the community but again, if the Avengers movies had happened in the real world, Sam Wilson would be able to call almost anyone in the phonebook and find people happy to help. In fact, given that he saved half the universe from an army of monsters, Sam could probably get loans on other planets if he wanted to.

There’s a similar moment when Sam almost gets arrested by a cop. It’s pretty cringey but at least in that scene the cop recognizes him and seems embarrassed. I’ve seen some suggest that Disney Plus lost viewers after that scene. I don’t know if it’s true but it did stand out like a partisan sore thumb.

Moving on to WandaVision, the basic idea for this story comes from a famous run of comics called the House of M in which the Scarlet Witch goes crazy with grief and ultimately changes the entire world. I tend to agree with others who’ve written about this that in this abbreviated and limited version of that story, the main problem is that Wanda spends most of the show turning an entire town of people into unwilling puppets and then somehow gets made out to be the victim. This is from IndieWire:

One of the biggest complaints made about the “WandaVision” series finale (aside from the fake-out casting of Evan Peters) is that it let Wanda/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) off the hook for tormenting the citizens of Westview, New Jersey. While Wanda may not have known the extent to which her sitcom spell disrupted the lives of the Westview population when she first cast it, Wanda’s negligence in holding the Westview population hostage rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way. Wanda is clearly capable of great evil, but the series didn’t hold her accountable for too long.

That seemed like a big miss for the morality of the entire show, unless of course the goal was to set up Wanda as a future villain. And maybe that’s the case. After all she ends the series studying the darkhold which is apparently a book full of very bad things. And there’s some talk that maybe she’ll end up creating future problems in the Marvel universe, maybe even finishing out the House of M story in some way that explains where all the mutants have been in the Marvel timeline. (They were owned by another company. Damn you, capitalism!)

I guess we’ll see but overall my impression is two well-made and well acted shows where some clunky writing created some really clunky moments that could have and should have been avoided. The irony of having one of the biggest entertainment conglomerates on the planet lecture all of us about capitalism should not be lost. They are literally hoping this drives up paid subscriptions.

All of that said, I’m still looking forward to the animated What If series. It was one of my favorite comics as a kid.