It all started just over a year ago at work, when I was having a conversation with a couple of people who are younger than I am. I can't remember how we got onto the topic, but essentially they concluded that, despite having watched such television programmes as Doctor Who, Star Trek and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century before they were born, I was not a geek because I had not seen any 21st Century Marvel films.
This upset me. I have always believed in the ideal of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination. In other words, anyone can be a member of the Geek community regardless of their social background, pin number, local parkrun location or shoe size. Being a Geek is inclusive to any and all, regardless of whether you enjoy Victorian Gothic, the Scientific Romance of Wells and Verne, the novels of authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, John Wyndham, Frank Herbert, JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and Terry Pratchett. Or a radio series by Douglas Adams and Jeff Wayne's musical version of The War of the Worlds. Or films such as Le Voyage dans la Lune, Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, King Kong or Yellow Submarine. Geekdom encompasses all.
I have always felt that anyone anywhere in the world can find their own way to become a Geek – it crosses all borders and boundaries. It doesn't matter if you like German Expressionism of the 1920s, surrealism, Japanese Studio Ghibli films, American B-movies of the 1950s, classic Harryhausen stop-motion animation, British children's fantasy serials of the 1980s, French cartoons like Ulysses 31. There really is something for everyone.
For science fiction isn't just about battles and spaceships and predictions of the future. It is simply asking 'what if?' and looking at the world we have lived in, live in now, may have lived in or may well live in but in a fresh new light. It isn't about the effects or the budgets and box office receipts, but the ideas.
Yet my view was outnumbered. I was left with an inescapable conclusion that the next generation of geeks, brought up in a world where they never lacked mobile phones or the internet and instead raised in a world with complete access to information and reviews about any artform imaginable, have a much narrower worldview. This seems confined by what has been really popular in cinemas lately.
Mind you, I'm more than happy to keep an open mind. After all, many of the characters have existed for over 50 years and in Captain America's case, 70 years. To still inspire people over all that time, they must be doing something right, and the filmmakers therefore have a wealth of back catalogue to use as inspiration. Especially as with the increase in budgets and with so much at stake, film companies are increasingly hiring talented actors, writers and directors to make these films and not just relying on special effects.
So I have decided that in order to regain my Geek credentials by watching all the Marvel films1 made since 1998, and writing about them. So over the last few months this year I have scoured the charity and second hand shops and accompanied my friend to the cinema in order to watch and review them. So far, I've seen almost half.
So what have I learned?
The first thing I discovered is that it is surprisingly difficult to watch a constant stream films about the world being in danger and only saved against the odds by a man gifted with superpowers before it becomes a tad repetitive. In many ways when Deadpool came out earlier this year, it was a bit of a relief to watch a film just about one man's simple quest for love and revenge, with nothing larger at stake.
Initial thoughts on the films seen so far? Boy, are there a lot of characters. Yes, in over 50 years' worth of comics there would be a number of established people, but it does make an easy way to judge a film; does each character in the film have a significant impact on the film or not?
Another way to judge the film is by the quality of the villains. Do they pose a real threat, and can I relate to it? In the first two Fantastic Four films there is a villain called Doctor Doom who kills a few people and wears a mask, and that is about it. In the second film there is a planet-eating cloud thing. Neither are terrifying. Sometimes having a far more human villain, such as Ian McKellan's Magneto who has a tragic backstory and understandable motives, has far more impact.
Of course a film's final impression is the grand finale. Sometimes these feel rather lacklustre. For instance in Blade the whole film is about how if the baddy gets hold of Blade's blood in a vampire temple while getting some people who'd prefer not to die to stand very still and await their death, everyone on Earth will turn into a vampire. The baddy achieves all this and eventually Blade manages to save the day long after the nick of time, without anyone having been turned into a vampire. Although to be fair, there were some stock shots of some dark clouds moving around a bit implying something bad might happen at some point.
The big concern, though, is that of diversity. I can't help but feel that superheroes, worryingly, are predominantly white, male Americans. There has been some progress; British actors are now able to play the heroes and not just be all the baddies.
Yet although no Marvel characters are from the Isle of Wight2, sadly they are almost certainly white. This is despite a positive progressive start, in which the first film in Marvel's post-1998 series was Blade, featuring a black vampire hunter. What does it say about society today that there seems to be more green and blue-skinned superheroes?3
There have been 40 Marvel films made since 1998. Looking purely at the title, how many Marvel film titles are male-focussed (which I define as being named after one or more male characters), how many are strictly gender neutral and how many are named after women? I had a look.
Only one in forty films is named after a woman and only three films to date are named after a non-Caucasian character.
There are twelve films named after multiple characters, the male-dominated X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers. Although it was a positive step that Halle Berry received the highest wage to appear in these films, her character of Storm was given comparatively little to do. There also doesn't seem to be as many superheroines as heroes. Only a quarter of the Fantastic Four is female, and as if that wasn't bad enough she disappears a lot of the time.
Of the Avengers, two are women; the first is Black Widow, and at first glance she appears a fairly decent role model. Yet a closer look reveals that she is flexible and gymnastic rather than empowered. We are also informed that she sacrificed her womb at a young age. This is almost as if the producers wanted us to think that she isn't really a 'whole' woman as she can't have babies, and this is the reason she is able to keep up with the men. The Scarlet Witch is the second Avenging woman, and she is described as being 'weird'. She changes sides during the Age of Ultron, which is just like a woman to change her mind. She is also seen to spend time confusing people, cowering and in Captain America: Civil War inadvertently makes a bad mistake. Aw bless, at least she is keen seems to be the underlying patronising message. I feel sorry for Natalie Portman who plays Thor's girlfriend Jane in the Marvel films. Natalie Portman played one of the few people without Jedi powers in the prequel Star Wars trilogy, had no powers in V for Vendetta and still has no powers in the Marvel films.
I've seen enough films and television dramas in my lifetime that have shown that women can be really good at screaming. I don't need to see any more, thank you. A film in which women scream a lot isn't original, and I don't see how it warrants such a big budget. I'd much rather watch films in which people have much more diverse roles, played by people of every conceivable background imaginable. The ideal of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination.
As well as more films set on the Isle of Wight, of course.