A Tale of Two Starks - Avengers & Game of Thrones
This weekend featured two explosive events – the release of the Avengers Endgame and the world’s longest continuous battle scene in the Game of Thrones episode The Long Night. Both had their highs and lows. Much has been written about them and I’m here to add my two cents. Let's start with the small screen offering first.
The Game of Thrones
Three big talking points stood out to me in this episode.
Uber-Darkness - There’s one sure way to know you’ve got a cinematic quality production going on. The production tries to have some of the pivotal battles in the dark. How many times have we seen a poorly lit Enterprise go to into battle after taking huge damage early in the movie? The usually well-lit bridge and ship interiors (at least on television) are reduced to shadows and darkness. It seems like many of Iron Man’s climactic cinematic battles are fought at night. Even the medieval battle measuring stick - Helm’s Deep in the Lord of the Rings The Two Towers - is fought in the dark. It should’ve been predictable to see the Battle of Winterfell happening at night as well as the dead are led by the Night Kind. As the battle progressed, it was interesting to watch folks share online that you need to max out the brightness on your television to make sure you can see what is going on. As I get older, I find myself appreciating daytime battles – for no reason other than I appreciate being able to see what is going on. This episode was frustrating at times with the murky darkness. While it’s what we should’ve expected from the Night King, the darkness coupled with many action shots which the camera was too close to the action made parts of the fighting almost impossible to follow. This scene made me feel like a owe a debt of thanks to the Russo brothers for having their final stand against Thanos happen in the daylight.
Military Strategy – The military strategy employed by the defenders was challenging at best. While I’m not a military strategist, even a novice wouldn’t send out the Dothraki cavalry out into the darkness knowing that each one who dies will be galloping back quickly enough. There is a reason why cavalry attacks typically didn’t happen at night – and that’s against living foes. Even the flaming weapons won’t do much of anything practical to light the scene up. Rushing horses to run in the dark slowing their speed and making them easier victims for the dead makes zero sense. Later on in the episode, it became clear (with no reason why) that the once-very-vulnerable-to-fire dead seemed to be more resistant to fire than in past battles. My biggest issue with this Dothraki move was that it probably started as a writer or two talking about how cool it would be to watch the Dothraki lights go out one-by-one. To be fair, it was. It also made me wonder if Jon Snow should ever design another battle plan.
As a military novice, I’d have decided to strafe the front lines of the army of the dead with my dragons. One dragon banking in behind the other. Essentially, this strategy would be to “walk back” the dead army by burning them in a direction away from the fortress. If this strategy was effective, the Night King would have to bring his dragon into play, and the living would have two dragons to his one. The living would determine where and when the dead dragon would appear and take the initiative away from the Night King. On the other hand, it might also draw the White Walkers into the open if they tried to launch javelins at the living dragons. Either way, you’re engaging the heavy hitters of the dead army where the living want to do so by dictating when the dragon and/or White Walkers would fight.
As a person not in the entertainment industry, it makes one wonder how expensive it is to pay a military consultant to look over a manuscript prior to filming to help sand off the rough edges from a military perspective. It certainly would be a good bet to think it’s cheaper than filming a scene that makes little sense – but the allure of filming a cool scene in the mind’s eye of a few writers who possess the ability to sell a director on their vision is powerful.
Big Payoffs – The Night King and the White Walkers have been the catalyst for much of the story since the first fateful scene North of the Wall to begin the series. The Night King experienced an “empty death” in many ways, as we never found out why the Night King was attacking. Why did he invade at this time? He had 10,000 years to return. Why now? There are three episodes left and maybe there is another shoe to fall. Might we find out that death itself has been interrupted by the Night King’s passing. Might our heroes discover that there must be a Night King? Maybe a rule or a balance of power has to be maintained between the Lord of Light and Death. There are no real predictions here, but there is a hope that there is a payoff to the story of the Night King. Failure to give us motivation for him to engineer such carnage, even if in retrospect, will cheapen the series overall.
It’s also worth asking what the heck was Bran doing/warging underneath the Weirwood tree? He explained he’s been marked by the Night King and that mark means the Night King can find him no matter where he is. There’s no reason to think Warging could hide him from the Night King. Could he distract the Night King, who we know can sense his presence in the crows aloft in the night skies? Could Bran have been trying to warg into various dead to protect his allies from dying? That would certainly be a reason why despite the carnage, the actual deaths amongst main characters was quite low. The show has three more episodes and understanding what Bran was doing may reveal much. If we’re lucky it might even be tied in with the purpose of the Night King.
The Avengers Endgame
Three big talking points stood out to me in this movie.
Tony Stark – Who would’ve thought Stark would be an anchor for the Marvel Comic Universe (MCU). Folks tend to look at things as they are today and fail to remember where everything started. When Marvel began their movie universe with Iron Man, no one remembers that Iron Man was never, ever a big seller for Marvel Comics. Iron Man was consistently outsold by the X-Men, Spider Man, Fantastic Four, Hulk, and the Avengers (and all of those listed heroes’ affiliated titles). Tony Stark was a character known as a womanizing drunkard and the man portraying him, Robert Downey Jr. was considered an actor who’s substance abuse made him too risky to build a movie around – let alone a cinematic universe. Looking backwards with a decade of success, many fans consider the MCU’s success as a given from day one. Nothing could be further from the truth. The real individual Marvel fans should think about providing a dose of the Infinity Formula (a serum granting long life given to Nick Fury in World War II) would be Kevin Feige. Feige is the man who chose Downey Jr to play Iron Man. Feige has been the man with the golden touch, the Midas of movie producers. The guiding force behind the Marvel Cinematic Universes since 2007, not only has he led the studio to greatness, Feige has successfully sailed in the waters of Marvel’s acquisition by Disney and Disney’s acquisition of Fox. Now owning Fox, Marvel will finally be able to use characters from the Fantastic Four and X-Men in the MCU. Born in 1973, if Feige stays with the MCU for another 10 to 15 years, he may establish a standard of quality movies and profits that may never be approached again.
Choices - The Russo brothers were masterful in the decision to tell more than just a huge fight for the climax of 11 years of Marvel films. Their choice to make the finger snap have real implications and having folks return five years later makes the Marvel Universe have a lot of potential stories to tell. The everyday populace will have a whole new definition of complicated marital relationships to navigate. Imagine someone losing their wife and child. Three years later they marry another woman who has lost her own child and husband to the Snap as well. This couple then has a child together. How complicated will things get when the missing spouses and children reappear. Better have a vibrant court system.
Two character choices were also interesting. The less intelligent “Hulk Smash” Hulk has evolved into Professor Hulk. Now Banner runs the show. During the movie we see a totally different character that is totally comfortable in his green skin. At the same time, the Hulk no longer is the “strongest one there is” – the savage anger that made the Hulk a limitless machine of destruction is no longer there. We don’t see the Hulk try to even things up in a one-on-one battle with Thanos. This Professor Hulk is more defensive in nature but he can still tap into his immense strength when its used in a defensive manner. He demonstrated that by holding up the mountain of rubble that was the base in order to save his friends.
Meanwhile, Thor regressed back to a state where he found the Valkyrie in Thor Ragnarok. Thor went from King Thor who was able to force his way through an Infinity Gauntlet fueled blast to get to Thanos. He has fallen so far that he was dispatched by simple physical violence at the hands of Thanos. The sadness of many female Hemsworth fans was palatable when he revealed his abs early in the movie. That was a fantastic joke that almost no one saw coming. At times, it did get a bit reminiscent of a Saturday Night Live that has gone on too long, but here’s to wondering what company is going to pay big dollars to get a nod for providing exercise equipment for Star Lord and Thor to use to get back into shape. Dare we say Bowflex?
The End – Many have expressed disappointment over the decision of Captain America to live out his life with the love of his life. To begrudge him the right to do so seems unreasonable. What is hard to believe Is that during the 50s, 60s, and 70s, when there are no super heroes (at least yet), how hard would It be for Captain America to sit quietly on the sidelines when a hero is needed? I am not certain Steve Rogers could pull that off. If Chris Evans wasn’t ready to move on from the MCU, I’d think we could have a string of great super hero period pieces.
The evolution of Tony Stark from a one-dimensional quip machine to a hero who lays his life down for others was fantastic. And believable. As he leaned exhausted in the wreckage after executing his own Infinity Gauntlet Snap, the loud and excited movie theatre was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Downey has played the character wonderfully and the writers have also understood the character. All that showed in the moment that Stark died and all you could hear were isolated sobs. Super hero movies aren’t considered high art, neither are the comics that spawned them. This movie moved people in a way that is similar to being moved by a great painting or reading a legendary poem. Maybe it wasn’t high art, but this movie elicited strong emotions from its fan base. You cannot ask for much more than that.
If someone asked me, “Are you not entertained?” I’d quickly say, “Excelsior!”