Bandwagon Nerds’ Rey Ca$h writes about the Falcon and the Winter Soldier show and how race intersects the show, the comics, and real life.
I am a black man. I am also a comic book aficionado. Unfortunately, those two things often end up being mutually exclusive. I have long loved everything in the fantastical world of superheroes, gods, and aliens that companies like Marvel and DC have created, but for most of that time, I have been a spectator. Rarely have I been able to feel like a participant. Even though there are some amazing stories told about black heroes and black villains and black culture in general, most of these are few and far in between.
This brings me to the modern day of comics, and the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe. Marvel’s creation of the first multi-faceted, all inclusive, ever-extending movie franchise has not only changed how comics are imagined; they have changed how movies are imagined. Now, comic films are the biggest in the medium, and every major star in Hollywood clamors to be in one. In the MCU, they’ve been able to take linear storytelling to the next level, by having every film matter in the next. You may not need to watch EVERY movie, but there is a very visible plus if you do. And to understand the ENTIRE story being told, you do need to watch everything. Add this to creation of Disney+ and the revamping of Marvel’s Television department, and now you have a gamut of ways to tell the different stories once only found on the artistic pages found in a comic shop.
So, what does this have to do with race? Well, the current Marvel program of the moment is the powerful Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson AKA The Falcon and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barns AKA The Winter Soldier have moved from secondary acts to the marquee stars of their own global adventure. The show picks up about 6 months after the events of Avengers: Endgame, and the struggle of whether or not Sam should carry on the legendary mantle of Captain America, given to him by an old and retired Steve Rogers. Now in the movies, this is a big deal, seeing as how it’s been established that Captain America isn’t just America’s hero but the worlds. If you dig a big deeper, however, the comic story that this is referenced from shows that there is a much deeper issue.
In Captain America: Sam Wilson, the entire story of Sam being given the mantle and the shield revolves around how the United States government doesn’t think he’s worthy of it. And it has nothing to do with his credentials; it’s solely because he isn’t their choice. And that’s absolutely because he’s a black man. So many of the fights that Sam has as “Cap” are based on regular racial issues that most black people have dealt with. So much, that they picked their own Captain America to replace him – John Walker AKA US Agent. Now, Marvel has beautifully adapted this story to the live action screen. We’ve seen Sam be stopped in the middle of the street for arguing with Bucky, the very same Bucky who is world renowned as the greatest killer of the 20st century. It also shows him, the very same superhero who’s fought aliens, and androids, and wizards (the big three), but also can’t get a loan from the bank. For the first time in Marvel’s long, storied history of the MCU, we’re seeing the real lives of the superheroes and what they deal with when the capes and suits are off.
And then there’s the story of Isaiah Bradley. Isaiah is one of Marvel’s greatest and most controversial secrets. In Truth: Red, White, and Black, it’s revealed that Steve Rogers wasn’t the only American super soldier. The American government experimented on black soldiers, imitating the real-life Tuskegee experiment, and of 300 test subjects, only 5 survived. The main one of these five and the only one who stuck was Isaiah Bradley. He was used to fight covert missions for the US, ones likely to end in death. Only, he succeeded every time. The one time he was set to work with Steve Rogers, Steve couldn’t make it and Isaiah stole the Captain America uniform, only to save the day. Unfortunately, he was caught by German soldiers until he was saved by German revolutionaries. Once he returned to America, the country in which he’d done so much for, he was jailed for 30 years for stealing the Captain America suit. In jail, he was experimented and put in isolation until he developed Alzheimer’s.
Isaiah Bradley is inserted into Falcon and the Winter Soldier as a stark message to Sam – that this is bigger than him. The fact that it was Bucky who introduced the two, only knowing him from an encounter when he was Hydra-controlled and beaten by Isaiah, makes the story that much deeper. Isaiah did so much for his country and was not only forgotten about, but he was essentially whitewashed from history. It took his counterpart to point out who he was. And this is so much of the black experience in America. Isaiah represents so many black soldiers that have fought for this country and then come home only to be secondhand citizens. Sam’s anger after they leave Isaiah’s house in urban Baltimore is palpable. You should feel angry too that there was a black super soldier and nobody knew about it.
There has been the concern that race is being shoehorned into the MCU and this show for the purpose of being opportunistic. As we all know, race relations are at an all time high and there is a re-evaluation of sorts among entertainment. We are finally seeing more inclusive stories being written, directed, and produced by an ever-inclusive cast and crew. So, of course it’s natural to think that this story plays directly into that. But, if you’ve been privy to anything Marvel over the 13 years that it’s existed, you know that the only thing that matters is the story. And this story is integral to the growth and importance of both Sam and Bucky, as well as John Walker.
I’ve mentioned that the MCU is set up so that every movie leads into the next, and that the story is all encompassing. So, you can’t tell the story of John Walker without Sam Wilson, and you can’t tell the story of Sam Wilson without Steve Rogers, and you can’t tell the story of Steve Rogers without Bucky Barnes, etc. When we first saw Sam, he was running at the National Mall with Steve and ran group sessions for military personnel who just came home. Sam was a regular guy. Just because he happened to be a guy who was in the right place at the right time, he befriended Steve and joined into the fight. Sam is in every way a soldier, willing to jump in the fight whenever necessary. From that initial run, he ended up fighting a super soldier, the Avengers, and then the greatest army in the universe. His story had to be told in this way to show who he was. If you told the story of race with Sam from the very beginning, he never would’ve been able to establish who Falcon was; we’d be transfixed with Sam Wilson.
Also, race has been a major part of the MCU. To this day, the highest grossing non-Avengers movie is Black Panther, a movie about the most technologically advanced nation in the world being in Africa. In Black Panther, the newly crowned King T’Challa AKA Black Panther is faced with the threat of his long-lost cousin Erik Killmonger, who wants to take the crown and use Wakanda to liberate black people around the world. This brings up the significant conversation of isolationism, as Wakanda has been content historically to let the matters of the world happen outside of their borders, knowing that they can help. It also brings up the lesser talked about issue of the relationship of Black Americans and their relationship with our home continent. By the end of the movie, Wakanda decides to open it’s doors, which becomes important with the healing of Bucky’s brainwashing, the refuge of the Secret Avengers, and the Battle of Wakanda against Thanos and the Black Order.
I’d also like to point out that other black stories are being told, but they weren’t able to be told in the MCU because of contractual issues. The X-Men just had their rights reverted back to Marvel, so now Storm and Bishop can make their debut. Luke Cage and Misty Knight were a part of the Defenders-verse on Netflix, who’s rights should be back in Marvel’s proper hands. A Blade reboot is in the works with the uber-talented Mahershala Ali, which should be coming in 2022 or 2023. And you can’t forget about the existing and soon to debut MCU heroes, such as Monica Rambeau’s Spectrum, RiRi Williams’ Ironheart, Miles Morales’ Spider-Man, Eli Bradley (Isaiah’s grandson) AKA Patriot, and the godfather of black heroes in the MCU, the War Machine portrayed by Don Cheadle. All these heroes are set to have their own show or movie or be a major part of one coming up in the next phase.
Could this have been done sooner? Sure. Anything could be done in entertainment, so essentially, the stories could have been different. But would they have been told as well? Would they have been as financially successful? I don’t know. It’s telling that Marvel bet the farm on the MCU off the back of Robert Downey Jr., long thought as one of the most talented people in Hollywood but known more for his legal troubles than his acting career. Downey, a perfect match for Tony Stark, was a big name cheap enough to put the wheel in motion. And then they continued to build around major stars – Chris Evans, Chris Helmsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, and of course, Samuel L. Jackson. The sequence of stories in which Marvel has chosen is a genius web that they’ve woven to get from movie 1 to movie 23 and on.
Being a black comic fan hasn’t always been easy, but with productions like Black Panther and Falcon and the Winter Soldier, people like me are starting to finally be a participant in the story. I can see myself in T’Challa and Sam in ways that I never did in characters like Tony Stark or Steve Rogers. And this isn’t just a black superhero thing. Eternals is set to have the first openly LGBTQ+ character, just as Valkerie is set to be in Thor: Love and Thunder. The greatest living fighter in the MCU is coming to life as Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is coming out this year, with the long-awaited debut of the actual Mandarin. We just had Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel be the first MCU property fronted by a woman, and Black Widow set to be the second in July. More diversity is good because it allows for more stories to be told. And the more stories that are told only means more opportunities the company. The journey has been a long arduous one, but I’d rather spend my time enjoying what is than lamenting what could’ve been.
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Should streaming services do episodic television? That’s the question the Nerds try to answer this week on the Bandwagon. Patrick, Rey, Dave and PC tackle the pros and cons of a streaming service dropping entire seasons of their original programs versus dropping one episode at a time. Is there a “right” way to do it? The Bandwagon returns to the trailer park this week as tons of exciting trailers hit the nerdosphere this week! The guys continue their review of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier in an episode that was light on action, but loaded nonetheless. Finally with Wrestlemania in the rearview, the Nerds share their thoughts of Night One and their favorite Wrestlemania stories of all time.
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BWN Nerds’ Movie Review: Godzilla vs Kong (2021)
Big boy monster throw down of the year! The Nerds return with a current movie review, and this one should be interesting. Is Dave too forgiving? Is Patrick taking his role as the German judge too seriously? Find out where the overall ratings lands between these two!
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Nerd Review! Every week the Nerds give you their take on a different movie from the Nerdosphere. This week Dave and Patrick review the fourth installment of kaiju cinematic universe Godzilla vs. Kong!
The Flick: Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)
What’s it About: A researcher believes a hollow world beneath the Earth’s surface is the birthplace of the mighty Kaiju. He convinces and old friend to help him take the mighty Kong to find his birthplace even if it means incurring the wrath of the King of Kaiju Godzilla. The battle between the two alpha Kaiju could result in the end of all mankind.
Metacritic Score: 59
The Nerds’ Take on Godzilla vs Kong (2021):
Dave It is time for the Main Event of Legendary’s MosterVerse, the showdown we have been waiting for: Godzilla v. Kong. If you have been following along with our Nerd Reviews, then you knew this was coming. What you don’t know is whether we feel the climax to the series is worth your time or not. Well allow me to give you my take on that topic.
Plot wise, it has been some five years since Godzilla defeated Ghidorah and things have been relatively quiet and peaceful. Meanwhile, on Skull Island, Monarch has created a dome like structure to observe and try and control Kong. Kong has developed a relationship with a little girl, Jia, who seems to be the last surviving member of her clan. Jia has, for lack of a better term, been adopted by Dr. Ilene Andrews. Jia is deaf and she seems able to communicate with Kong through sign language.
Halfway across the globe, Apex Cybernetics is engaged in some sort of experimentation that attracts the attention of Godzilla, who shows up and annihilates their facility in Florida. Godzilla’s attack shatters humanity’s notion that he is their friend. Bernie Hayes is an employee of Apex, but he also hosts a Podcast focusing on conspiracy theories involving the Titans. He is soon joined by Madison Russell (from Godzilla: King of the Monsters) who is a fan of the Podcast, and her friend Josh as they start poking around the remains of the Apex site in Florida. We soon discover that Apex is looking for a massive power source that they believe is located in Hollow Earth. Hollow Earth is really more of an Earth within the Earth (Middle Earth, perhaps?) and the quandary is how to survive the trip to Hollow Earth. Nathan Lind is a Hollow Earth expert whose brother perished in a prior expedition to Hollow Earth due to a reverse gravitational effect. But Apex has developed vehicles that can survive the voyage. They just need Kong to lead them there.
In the process of transporting Kong to Antarctica, which has an entry point to Hollow Earth, Godzilla senses his old rival and attacks. Godzilla definitely gets the better of this battle, forcing the expeditionary force to transport Kong by air to Antarctica to avoid detection by Godzilla. Kong gets the group to Hollow Earth and it becomes clear there has been an ancient rivalry between Kong’s ancestors and Godzilla’s. Kong discovers an axe made out of portions of Godzilla’s ancestor’s skins. Back on the surface, Bernie, Madison, and Josh have been whisked away to Hong Kong and they discover what Apex is really up to….Mechagodzilla. Mechagodzilla can be telepathically controlled and it is Dr. Serizawa’s son who is pulling the strings, using the severed head of Ghidorah to do so. The problem is that to utilize Mechagodzilla to its full potential, they require more power, much more power to be exact. This is where the search for the Hollow Earth power source comes into play.
Mechagodzilla is activated and this attracts Godzilla. Godzilla also senses what Kong is doing in Hollow Earth and he sends a blast of atomic breath from Hong Kong to, in essence, the center of the Earth. Kong and the Hollow Earth expeditionary force follow the hole made by Godzilla to the surface. Everyone emerges in Hong Kong for a massive fight between Kong and Godzilla. Kong fares better this time around but is ultimately rendered near death by Godzilla. At about this time, Mechagodzilla is imbued with the power source from Hollow Earth and he also achieves sentience. This leads to the big brawl between Godzilla and Mechagodzilla and it is a mismatch in favor of Mechagodzilla…. until Kong is revived, evening the odds in an enormously predictable moment. Godzilla supercharges Kong’s ax with his atomic breath and the two Titans take down Mechagodzilla. Godzilla and Kong show each other a sign of respect and go their separate ways. Apparently, there can be two alpha Titans after all.
Let’s talk about the good stuff first: the monster fights. They are all fantastic. The battles between Kong and Godzilla feel as big as you would expect. They are titanic clashes in every sense of the word. Godzilla fans will have bragging rights after watching this movie because it is clear that Godzilla whups Kong’s ass on more than one occasion. Kong fans save face though by noting that without Kong, Mechagodzilla would surely have triumphed. As for Mechagodzilla, his appearance in the movie was not a secret and he did not disappoint. The clash between Godzilla and Mechagodzilla was done very well to show just how much more powerful Mechagodzilla was and why it took the combined might of Godzilla and Kong to turn the tide. If massive Kaiju action is your thing, then Godzilla vs Kong is definitely your movie.
Now for the bad: The people. Now, I know what Patrick is going to say. That the movie shifts the focus to the people too much and detracts attention from the monsters. I know he thinks the concept of humans using a defibrillator on Kong is absurd. I am OK with those points in a movie like this. The problem I have with the people is this: They don’t matter. Not at all! They are white noise in the purest sense of the word. 90% of the characters are wholly uninteresting and meaningless. They add little to the plot and just get in the way. So, to be real, Patrick and I are, to a certain extent, talking about different sides of the same coin. The exceptions to this involve Jia, who is quite important to the whole notion of establishing Kong as the “good guy”, and Bernie, who is a fun character and kind of represents a microcosm of conspiracy theorists that are quite common in the real world today. Bernie epitomizes the notion that just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t watching you. But, beyond those two, the characters are quite dull and just felt very pointless.
As far as this being the series finale, I greatly enjoyed the movie. The dynamic between Kong and Godzilla is interesting and keeps you engaged, regardless of whether you are rooting for one, the other, or both. There are some interesting concepts in the movie, specifically how Hollow Earth is different than you might expect and much more interesting, no matter how far-fetched the idea might be. Interestingly, this movie really showcases just how bad ass Godzilla is. I am not sure why it took three movies to get it right, but I digress. Then there is Kong, who ends up being a multi-layered creature that is shown even more heroically than he was in Kong: Skull Island. As for me, I always favored Kong over Godzilla and I left the movie feeling fine with the outcome of everything. If there is a downside it’s that it appears the MonsterVerse has come to an end, just when it was getting really good. That’s too bad. As for Godzilla vs Kong, the awesome action sequences and special effects vastly outweigh the issues involving the people. This is a very good final installment (we think) in this franchise. It is the best of the movies involving Godzilla. I still liked Kong: Skull Island more, but this was a close second.
Dave’s Rating: 4/5
Patrick: Here we are again covering the fourth film in the Warner Brothers/Legendary produced Kaiju Monster universe. And once again this film somehow finds a way to mess up a simple concept. If you recall, in my review of Godzilla King of the Monsters I said good kaiju movies minimize the involvement of human beings in the film and let the monsters take center stage. Unfortunately, the folks at Warner Brothers still have not quite grasped the concept here in its fourth Kaiju film. The result is an uneven film that shines when the monsters are on screen and leaves me tuning out when the focus shifts to the little primates.
In this fourth installment, we learn that Monster research organization Monarch I closely monitoring Kong. Going so far as to create an enclosure around Skull Island so that he is safe from Godzilla. This of course will not last because, well, humans. One human in particular, a man named Nathan Lind comes with the backing of a mysterious tech corporation called Apex to search for “Hollow Earth.” Hollow Earth is a world beneath the surface of our Earth that is believed to be the birthplace of all Kaiju. Lind visits his friend and Monarch researcher Ilene on Skull Island. Lind believes Kong is the key to finding this hidden world. Despite knowing, Godzilla will attempt to kill Kong, Ilene agrees to embark on the expedition. Of course, Godzilla attacks and we get the first of three rounds of monster battling that we paid for.
Unfortunately, to get to round two and three, the audience has to sit through overwrought dialogue and subplots all in an attempt to help the audience connect to the experience. It’s all really boring. You know why? PEOPLE DON’T WATCH KAIJU MOVIES FOR THE HUMANS. But, I digress. Naturally the tech corporation Apex is not on the up and up with Lind. Color me stunned, but Apex turns out to be the real enemy to both Kong and Godzilla. I haven’t even covered the conspiracy theory guy and his gang of teenagers trying to expose Apex from the inside. Again, no one cares because, read it aloud…NOBODY WATCHES KAIJU MOVIES FOR THE HUMANS.
But this isn’t the end of the dumb. The audience is treated to an ancient history between Kong’s ancestor and the other Kaiju where we see Kong find the ancient axe of his ancestors. Because a monkey wielding an axe is cool looking. Did I mention Kong can charge the thing up with Godzilla’s radioactive breath? AWESOME? How about the humans using a high tech battery as defibrillator to revive a dying Kong? Just dumb on top of dumb followed by more dumb. And humans. All of the humans.
The cast for Godzilla vs. Kong is quite the list of names. Alexander Skarsgard essentially fills the role of human protagonist Nathan Lind. Honestly, he is the only human character given anything to work with. Kyle Chandler is back in his role as researcher Mark Russell, but if you blink you miss him. Millie Bobby Brown is also back as Madison Russell, but horribly wasted in a sidekick sort of role to the previously mentioned conspiracy theorist. She is limited to trying to discover why Godzilla has started attacking human cities. Someone of her talent could have and should have been used better. There are tons of other folks in this movie, and yet I struggle to understand why we needed them all. All they do is distract from what the audience wants to see which is GODZILLA and KONG FIGHT.
Ok. So what’s good about this film? Well, the Kaiju. The special effects team outdid themselves crafting these battles. Kong and Godzilla’s bouts all feel epic. I was also impressed with how much more well lit some of the night scenes were. As Kong and Godzilla battle at night in a Chinese city, everything is well lit without appearing phony. The choreography of the battles are terrific, albeit a little silly at times. Again, radioactive monkey axe. But the joy of Godzilla vs Kong is in these epic clashes. I watched the movie on HBO Max, I can only imagine how amazing it would have appeared on an IMAX movie screen with Dolby sound shaking my eardrums.
I came into Godzilla vs. Kong with pretty low expectations. I want to stress that I loved, loved, loved the action sequences involving the Kaiju. Unfortunately, you have to sit through an inordinate amount of human exposition to get to those epic moments. That’s not to say the humans and their stories need to be gone entirely. The audience does need a guide and some context. But Godzilla v. Kong would have been so much stronger with a pared down human side of things and a focus on the monsters. It seems Warner Brothers and Legendary pictures still haven’t learned the key to Kaiju: it’ all about the monsters.
Patrick’s Rating: 2.24/5.0
Overall Nerds’ Rating on Godzilla vs Kong (2021): 3.12/5.0
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