End Game is finally here, and with it what will surely be an infinite amount of Marvel discourse. This is likely the end of a very particular film era, and it’s worth commenting on and putting in a relevant context. Also, because I know this is what everyone really wants, some predictions and rankings.
End Game Predictions
The following people will die or stay dead:
After Nick Fury’s death, Blackwidow or maybe Maria Hill takes over as the head of Shield. Maybe Coulson comes back and does it, but probably not, that’d be too silly.
The following conspiracy theories will dominate the internet afterward:
Loki morphed into Bruce Banner or another character and is still alive
Thanos used the reality stone to convince the remaining Avengers that they had defeated him, but in reality his plan remains successful
Doctor Strange actually masterminded this whole thing to create unity among the Avengers
The following real life occurrences will come as a result of End Game:
Avengers: End Game will win Best Picture. It won’t win as many Oscars as Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, but it will get the ‘tribute’ Oscar in the same way.
The Marvel movies will continue to come out, but will be far smaller in scope, and make a lot less money.
This is a little dark, but I’m low-key worried we’ll get a repeat of what happened when the third Chris Nolan Batman movie was released.
Marvel Movie Rankings:
(#) - Rank
? - I’m not ranking Infinity War until End Game comes out
Iron Man (7)
The Incredible Hulk (20)
Iron Man 2 (13)
Captain America: The First Avenger (8)
Marvel's Avengers (1)
Iron Man 3 (17)
Thor: The Dark World (18)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (6)
Guardians of the Galaxy (12)
Avengers: Age of Ultron (11)
Captain America: Civil War (5)
Doctor Strange (19)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (15)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (3)
Thor: Ragnarok (4)
Black Panther (2)
Avengers: Infinity War (?)
Ant-Man and the Wasp (16)
Captain Marvel (9)
Avengers: End Game (?)
That’s right, the original Avengers is the best of the best, following closely by Black Panther and Homecoming, with The Incredible Hulk, and the insufferable Doctor Strange bringing up the rear. The real hot take is how middling Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. is, but then again my parents loved me so maybe that’s why I just don’t get it.
Alright you shameless Philistines, there’s your rankings, and predictions. Now you have to endure some critical analysis. Below is an essay I wrote for my SubStack, which you can subscribe to by going to DylanJamesHarper.substack.com and subscribe for all these essays for the low low fee of $5 a month OR for $30 for the whole YEAR (hell of a deal imo). My primary thesis of this essay series is that the entire Marvel series maps out perfectly the liberal reaction to the failure of Obama’s third way policies, and the rise of Trump.
In his essay The Analysis of Culture, Raymond Williams states that one of the primary categories of culture is “documentary,” in which “culture is the body of intellectual and imaginative work, in which, in a detailed way, human thought and experience are variously recorded” (Williams). Williams continues later in the essay to say that this category “is of great importance, because it can yield specific evidence about the whole organization within which it was expressed.” Working from this definition, we can simply say that the most dominate piece of cinematic culture over the last decade has been the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the analysis of the works contained within will illuminate the world and organizations within which they were created.
While hardly the most seminal work within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the initial film Iron Man is by far the most immediately influential. Beyond just its commercial and critical success, its themes and plot points set the table for the rest of the works within the MCU. One could go so far as to argue that the story of the film’s protagonist, Tony Stark, is repeated in almost every MCU film that follows. Analysis serves almost as a Rosetta Stone for the rest of the series, and the rest of these essays.
The goal of the following series of essays isn’t to provide a history or background of the MCU films, nor is it to sort out lore. The primary goal is to look into what these powerfully influential and successful works tell us about the cultural they were created in. The primary claim of all these essays is that the liberal cultural, economic, and political systems that have dominated the United States over the last three decades is passively scrutinized by the MCU films, culminating in the ultimate death (which may be metaphorical, as this was written prior to the release of the newest film in which I suspect Tony Stark will die, or else retire, experiencing the death of his career) of its seminal character.
The tone of the following essays won’t be so aggressively academic, and I won’t spend much time citing theory unless I think it’s really necessary to clarify or justify a point. More important than anything, the point here is to have fun critically looking at a hugely influential work, mocking it when its bad, appreciating it when its good, and using it to better understand the horrific hell world in which we’ve all found ourselves. With all that said, let’s dive in to the first official MCU film, Iron Man.
The first thing Iron Man wants you to know about its protagonist Tony Stark is that he’s a man. The opening scene of him riding along in a military convoy shows him drinking scotch, and talking about how many calendar models he’s slept with. He’s also meant to be funny, with most of his humor coming from biting sarcasm. It’s possible the writers felt like the various masculine signifiers were necessary to prevent Stark from being thought of as more of a Chandler Bing type character, who is sarcastic, goofy, even biting at times, but ultimately depicted as distinctly less masculine compared to many men around him.
If there was any doubt that gender was very much on the mind of the writers, they’re quick to poke fun at a female soldier, implying she’s overly masculine right before killing her and the rest of the military extras off so Tony can be kidnapped.
After the worst possible plot device in the history of storytelling, where the audience is shown an event and then jumps back in time for a low stakes expositional tour before returning to the actual story, which includes Stark, who is a weapons dealer, talking about protecting “America, and her interests around the globe,” we find Tony kidnapped, in a vaguely Middle Eastern cave, with vaguely Middle Eastern captors.
The writers, clearly worried about some minimal criticism for depicting brown Middle Easterners as terrorists, give a quick throw away line about how the not terrorists speak many languages (most of which are primarily spoken by brown people, take from that what you will), and so it’s totally not a Muslim thing. Chapo Trap House’s Matt Christman argues that this type of pseudo diversity is popular among mainstream screenwriters because they can count on the audience to presume any brown skinned not terrorists are Muslim and will be treated as such, even if various lines are thrown around so the writers can save face (CTH, 29).
During his time in the cave, Stark uses his weapons making prowess, inherited from his dad, to make the first Iron Man suit. He escapes in what is admittedly a pretty decent action scene, and heads back home where he claims his company is going to get out of the weapons business, and into the energy business. Weird identity politic moment with the multilingual terrorists aside, this is our first real taste of liberalism.
Modern liberalism is best defined as a long term attempt to rationalize capitalism’s dependence on the exploitation of the environment, labor, and most relevant here, imperialism. The United States must maintain a broad empire to function, just as Stark Industries must sell weapons to be made profitable. Iron Man solves this by giving Stark a renewable energy source that is basically unlimited renewable energy, but one completely divorced from the politics of solar, wind, or nuclear power. Stark Industries remains profitable simply because the writers allowed it to do so.
In a revealing episode of the popular NBC series Parks and Recreation, the protagonist, Leslie Knope, who has just fulfilled her dearest ambition and become a city council member, has to make a difficult decision to either keep a dog shelter open or fire her best friend. Instead of making the difficult but selfless decision to simply fire her friend and continue a vital and virtuous public service, the writers find her a third way, in which she can both save the dogs (there may have been other animals, I don’t remember), and her friend can keep her job. She, much like Tony Stark, never actually has to deal with the moral realities of the situation because the plot came along to bail her out.
Compare Iron Man’s ability to solve his problem via a technology that does not, and will never exist to the obsession among liberals with Elon Musk, the tech entrepreneur most famous for his Tesla brand of electric cars, his SpaceX program, and his line of water coffins for Thai children. The belief that his electric cars, which undeniably have less long term negative impacts on climate change compared to a gas car, but are themselves significantly less efficient than almost all forms of mass transit, will somehow end climate change are not born out by fact or reasoning, but by desire. Liberals want Musk to create a solution to many of the world’s problems because that means business as usual can continue on.
Eventually, to the film’s partial credit, this by Stark desire to maintain a vast personal fortune made off of a weapons empire without continuing to sell weapons, does come to a head. His business partner, who wouldn’t you know it arranged for Tony to be kidnapped in the first place, attempts again to assassinate Tony with a competing suit so the company can get back into the profitable weapons business. Of course, Tony, once again dawning the suit and the title of Iron Man, wins the final battle, and all is right with the world.
Tony Stark lives the liberal dream, and is depicted as the true and righteous hero. He can have his weapons money while working as an agent for peace. This movie was released at the height of Obama’s campaign and the year the Tesla was released (and lest you think these are coincidences, the sequel features a painting of Stark in the famous Obama Hope poster style, and Musk himself in a brief cameo role). The MCU starts out as an optimistic love letter to liberalism. Yes, the Bush years were tough, mistakes were made, but our guy is gonna get in there, and the powerful are working to fix our problems. It’s crucial to understand this starting point, because as the films press on, they are becoming increasingly disillusioned with liberalism, eventually, possibly metaphorically, deciding that the death of the liberal icon Tony Stark is the only means to achieve radical change.
Dylan James Harper is the Political Editor for CSUITEMUSIC.com
Read more from Dylan at http://www.dylanjamesharper.com
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official views of CSUITEMUSIC or its partners and collaborators.