Don’t! You tell me to smile!The Beastie Boys, “Intergalactic”
You stick around I’ll make it worth your while!
The last five years have not even been fooling around.
But in recent times of chaos and recurring despair, I found solace in Spider-Man and the Marvels (Captain and Ms.) on a regular basis. And not just in a junk-food-at-3-AM kind of way, but in a lump-in-the-throat, finding-the-will-to-go-on kind of way. Now, in late 2023, two new Marvel Universe releases are almost upon us: Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 for the PlayStation 5 on October 20, arguably the most-anticipated video game of the year. And on November 9, after several delays, Marvel Studios releases The Marvels, the Marvel movie about Captain Marvel, Captain Marvel, and Ms. Marvel. (Was that last sentence even real? Strangely, yes.)
There’s a pattern here, and it’s not just in Marvel Entertainment’s ever-shifting release schedule. The Spider-Men (Morales and Parker) and the Captains/Ms. Marvel (Danvers, Rambeau, Khan) are quantum entangled (see supplemental rant, below*) with each other as fictional characters, as well as with sensitive nerds like me. Let’s start in 2018.
2018: A difficult year personally, and it was the middle of the Trump years; we didn’t know what was about to happen. In September, Insomniac Games releases Marvel’s Spider-Man for the PS4. Besides telling an instant-classic superhero story, it’s one of those games where the traversal is as much fun as the encounters. Web-swinging across Manhattan simulated an exhilarating freedom of movement — two years before we gained new appreciation for “freedom of movement” as a whole concept (see “2020,” below). For those of us who love Spider-Man, it’s hard to overstate the scale of the wish-fulfillment. As one of our resident Spider-Writers put it:
Spider-Man: PS4 is a PERFECT Spider-Man movie. It has Peter at his most relatable and his most heroic. His life is at its worst — evictions! break ups! impossible choices! — and still he strives to be the best he can be.Preeti Chhibber, author of Spider-Man’s Bad Connection
In December, Into the Spider-Verse comes out. It’s unequivocally the best Spider-Man feature film. Spider-Verse wins an Oscar the following year; more importantly, it introduces the general public to Miles Morales, while inviting that audience to embrace an inclusive duality: a Black Puerto Rican kid is Spider-Man, and the original Spider-Man is still also Spider-Man. Really, it works.
2019: In March, I see Captain Marvel twice at the Alamo Brooklyn, because it’s excellent. A 1990s-karaoke-nostalgia buddy flick about found family, made with indie craftiness by Boden and Fleck. Popular critical response to Captain Marvel is… mixed? Maybe better to say it mirrors the Trump-era onslaught of social media nonsense. Disinformation trolls hate-tweet on Captain Marvel a lot; I gather the complaint is she’s the woman lead, there are feminist ideas in the story, she’s best friends with a Black woman? I seem to remember someone really couldn’t take the scene where Nick Fury is washing dishes?
Anyways, Captain Marvel kicks ass. Then in April, Avengers: Endgame debuts in theaters. For a certain kind of person, Endgame is the greatest thing that has ever happened. The Deus Ex Danvers arrival provides my favorite shot in the film (see bonus cinephile rant, below**). Seeing it with friends, in cosplay, together, breathing each other’s gasps and “wows.” It may not be the best Marvel movie, but it was the best time one could have at a movie.
2020: Respectful pause. Yeah, 2020. Then 2020 happened, which I’m confident for many of us was the You Had No Idea What Weird Was Year. As a generally lonely person, I learn a whole new kind of loneliness. T’Challa passes away, which we MCU fans can scarcely process but to add the grim qualifier, “not of COVID.” In November, we endure a fairly insane presidential election, and then a week later, Insomniac releases Spider-Man: Miles Morales. My tweet from that pandemic winter (I’m not linking to X-Twit these days):
#MilesMorales: hugs, talk indoors w/ your best highschool buddy, dinner w/ fam & friends, everyone’s brown & asian & multilingual, winter lights & xmas music in NYC, there isn’t a pandemic, it’s just a very emotional videogame opening, I’m crying inside + you get 2 B #SpiderMan.@dommah, 11/12/2020
…does that sound like a guy at the end of a rope? Maybe. At that point so many of us were so stuck inside, losing our minds and any sense of days and nights. For some of us, the Miles Morales game came like a streak of light, arrived just in time, holding us in the coldest and most isolated of Decembers.
2021: The situation is still real tricky, and then there was January 6. And then on January 15, Disney+ releases Wandavision. Amidst many things, the series introduces us to adult Monica Rambeau (we met her as a kid in Captain Marvel), played by Teyonah Parris. By comics lore, Monica becomes a new Captain Marvel, even though Carol Danvers is the MCU-anointed Captain Marvel, but again, por qué no los dos?
In September, Carol appears in a post-credit scene for Shang-Chi, the one which ends in a karaoke room. Shang-Chi is the first movie I’ve seen outside of home in 18 months (we rented a small private theater). In December, Spider-Man: No Way Home makes a zillion dollars as the world gradually opens up to familiar activities, like going to movie theaters. That ol’ De La Soul song bumps during the ending credits. Rest in peace, Trugoy.
2022: In ’22, we talk a lot about how ’20 and ’21 seemed about 100 years long. In June, the Disney+ series Ms. Marvel debuts, and it’s delightful (although real ones know that she shoulda had stretchy powers). Iman Vellani brings Kamala Khan to life, and I’m grateful. Now they are three.
2023, as in, “nobody likes you when you’re ‘23,” has been weird! Relatively, not AS weird, but still a humdinger. There’s a war or two going on in the world, and now another war. The writers and actors went on strike, asking better compensation for their labors. The USA gears up for another tumultuous election cycle. In June, Across the Spider-Verse came out, and okay, maaaaaybe there were like 16 too many Spider-Men in that one. But dude, this Friday, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 drops, and in a few weeks The Marvels drops, and I realize that pre-pandemic me was very much looking forward to those two things. The MCU releases since Endgame have been a mixed bag, but I’m genuinely giddy to see Nia DaCosta’s take on the superhero squad which is pointedly feminist and multicultural, two words so abused and misused in recent years that we ought to say them louder when they truly apply. Also, diverse. Not as in “
that’s a diverse superhero,” but a by-design diverse team.
At the moment, I know not if the new Spider-Man game will be as revelatory as the first two, or if The Marvels will rock as hard as Captain Marvel, right now they are un-quantifiable quantities in the locked box of the near future. It can’t hurt to hope.
Time is a factor, so it’s time that countsDe La Soul, “The Magic Number”
Count not the negative action of one
Speakers of soul say it’s time to shout
Three form the soul to a positive sum
*Supplemental MCU Rant: The Marvels’ plot has something to do with quantum entanglement, the “bizarre, counter-intuitive phenomenon that explains how two subatomic particles can be intimately linked to each other even if separated by billions of light-years of space,” (thank you, Space.com) which relates to how Carol, Kamala, and Monica’s superpowers and bodies link up over galactic distances. Y’know, like how Anne Hathaway describes true love in Interstellar. Furthermore, the Captains Marvel are all quantum-entangled with Spider-Man. I mean, I don’t “ship” as a fun hobby, but Carol and Peter have often had their eye on each other. Monica Rambeau’s first appearance was in Amazing Spider Man Annual #16, in 1982. And Kamala Khan basically IS Peter Parker for her generation, the spiritual successor to Marvel’s most beloved character (if you really wanna hear about why, feel free to @ dommah on one of the meta-places).
**Bonus Cinephile Rant About Endgame: On a cinematography level, I consider this closeup of Brie Larson to be #OnePerfectShot.
Why? Because we get facial expressiveness and physical action into the same frame. Larson is a great subject: great face, cool hairstyle, active eyes. The proportions of Thanos vs. normal-sized human create interesting lines of action: her eyeline goes slightly up, and the Infinity Gauntlet, foregrounded, is a huge obstacle. Thanos’ headbutt entering frame to hit her aura emphasizes the angular close-quarters conflict. The clouded sunset frames her head perfectly. Larson wordlessly channels the closeups on great action heroes in cinema, particularly the iconic women: Ripley, Clarice Starling, Sarah Connor, Anne Heche in Volcano. No, I digress, but I’m serious, you gotta revisit Volcano.