Ranking the Marvel Cinematic Universe

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By Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I talk a lot about politics. Sometimes I talk about science, sometimes economics. But usually I stick to discussing topics that tend to be more serious.

That said, sometimes one needs to turn toward more light-hearted topics, at least as a way to prevent insanity. Donald Trump is the U.S. President. The planet is warming, and we aren’t doing nearly enough about it. There are wars all over the globe. We have no shortage of hatred and prejudice directed by almost every possible group of people at almost every other possible group of people. The world isn’t a hellscape everywhere, but we certainly have problems.

If I ignored these issues, I would be guilty of burying my head in the sand. However, since I don’t ignore them (in fact, sometimes I obsess over them), I feel like my sanity is best preserved by enjoying some escapism now and then. And that’s what leads me to the MCU.

I discovered comic books just as I stumbled awkwardly into my teen years. Superheroes in particular appealed to a small, nerdy, timid, unathletic kid. After spending a day in school feeling outcast, being picked on, and failing to be picked for any teams, going home and imagining myself as a physical marvel was a delightful way to occupy my thoughts. Comics were an amazing source of imaginative kindling, stoking the fires of my mind. Much of my fiction writing has centered around people with extraordinary abilities, certainly influenced by my love of comics from my youth. I happily consumed comic book-based movies along with comics (not to mention novels based on those comics), though comic book movies were almost always pretty bad when I was young. Even the best early examples of the genre – like the first two Christopher Reeve Superman films, and the first Michael Keaton Batman – were mostly just “good for a comic book movie,” rather than actually good movies.

Then came 2000, and the first X-Men movie. It was arguably the first example of a comic book-based film that could actually stand on its own as a solid film. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was generally thoughtful, reasonably complex, often witty, and well-acted. It was followed by a much-better sequel, as well as two very good Spider-Man films. DC got in on the action with an excellent reboot of Batman in 2005, and by then, comic book movies had been established as potentially legitimately good films. Well, sometimes. There was always Daredevil, and Elektra, and Catwoman, and Ghost Rider, and so on… But I digress.

Due to rather complex financial arrangements that other people have discussed in depth, Marvel Studios does not own the rights to make movies for many of its most popular characters. Spider-Man is now able to join the Marvel Studios team, but X-Men and the Fantastic Four currently belong to 20th Century Fox and Sony, respectively. But Marvel still had plenty to work with, and beginning in 2008, laid the seeds for a much larger cinematic universe. With the initial success of Iron Man that year, 17 total (mostly) interconnected films have been released, with three more coming out next year, and at least a dozen more planned. The Marvel Cinematic Universe also includes three network television series, six Netflix series, and a Hulu series, with more shows on the way. All of which work together to maintain the same continuity, and for the most part, do a reasonable job.

I dig the television shows, but they are all a different beast from the movies, and should probably be ranked separately, or even by individual season. As one might have guessed, ranking things like this is fun for me. It provides plenty of opportunity for discussion and debate, and allows me to talk about comics and the MCU, which is usually more fun than discussing Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Many sites have already compared and ranked the MCU films, and I will include links below to some of them. In the meantime, here is my highly-subjective list of the current 17 MCU films. Let readers be warned, spoilers lie ahead:

17.) Thor: The Dark World

I enjoyed the first Thor movie, although I had trouble really getting into its strange mix of magic and gods (aliens?). The sequel, which felt more like obligatory time-killing than a necessary continuation of a character arc, still has the hokey fantasy aspect I didn’t much enjoy, but now includes legitimate boredom. The first half is dull and dour and has a lame villain, wasting an excellent actor. The movie does pick up after it brings Loki into the mix, and the second half alone is almost enough to bring it up a spot or two.

Thor 2 isn’t a bad movie, but it is the only MCU film where I was seriously bored for more than a few minutes. If a movie about gods, superheroes, and magic hammers is made to be dull and unentertaining, then it has committed the most egregious sin possible for  a superhero flick.

Hits: Loki, some humor and action in the second half.

Misses: Slow first half, not enough Loki, boring villain.

16.) Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 may be the most polarizing of the MCU films. One of the below links actually puts it in at Number 1. Several others rank it near the bottom. To me, it was a series of entertaining segments, but poorly tied together, and beset by some really dumb points. Iron Man 3 didn’t have long periods of extended ennui like Thor 2, which kept Tony Stark ranked above the God of Thunder, but it was also kind of stupid in general.

I didn’t mind that Tony Stark spent so much time without the suit, and I actually enjoyed the sudden agency acquired by Pepper Potts near the end. Comic book movies have historically struggled with providing women with interesting roles where they drive the plot and action and don’t end up playing second fiddle. By her character’s definition, she is second fiddle, but the ending did a good job empowering her character.

Beyond that, the big reveal of the villain didn’t really work for me, even though I appreciate what writers Drew Pearce and Shane Black were going for. The powers provided by the Extremis virus were poorly-defined and kind of goofy. The movie itself was oddly paced, and shifted pace too frequently for me. I found it entertaining, but kind of a mess.

Hits: Good character work with Stark and the kid, Pepper saves the day!

Misses: Disjointed, messy, confusing. Poorly-handled twist with the villain.

15.) Iron Man 2

Six months or so after the events of Iron Man, billionaire inventor and industrialist Tony Stark is succumbing to alcohol abuse, and poor health from the arc reactor implanted in his chest, the US government is breathing down his neck regarding his rather cavalier attitude toward wielding advanced weapons technology, and a rival industrialist is attempting to undermine him and steal his secrets. And then a crazy Russian scientist shows up, and everything comes together, blows apart, and kind of becomes a mess for awhile.

I actually kind of like this movie, despite its low ranking on my list (and everyone else’s). I enjoyed the early stuff, with Tony enjoying his new life as a fully-out and public Iron Man, but internally collapsing from radiation poisoning and alcoholism. Yeah, the early fight with Rhodey was unnecessary, and the three villains of Congress, Justin Hammer, and Ivan Vanko are all a bit underwhelming, but the movie is filled with fun moments. The final showdown is pretty brief, and the first fight with Vanko on the racetrack is a bit silly. Scarlet Johansson’s first turn as the Black Widow is mostly wasted. And the secret to Tony’s cure is incredibly contrived. It really isn’t a good movie. But every time I’ve seen it, I end up feeling entertained. The action (when it happens) is fun to watch. And there really is some good character work there, with Tony’s gradual fall and sort-of rebirth. It’s not nearly as good as the movie that preceded it. And it feels like it’s sort of just sitting there, filling time until The Avengers. But I was never bored.

Oh, and special mention to Mickey Rourke, who turns in a bizarre, yet fun appearance as one of the villains. Yeah, his accent is goofy, and his motivations are strained. And it feels like Jon Favreau didn’t direct Rourke so much as just filmed him walking around, being himself. But that made for a scene-theft every time the camera was pointed his way.

Hits: Good character work (as always) by Robert Downey Jr. Fun action sequences.

Misses: Weak villains, underutilized Black Widow, goofy deus ex machina cure for Tony.

14.) Thor

Thor Odinson, the scion of the alien/godly/mystical realm of Asgard, pisses off his dad with his hubris and immaturity, and is forced to redeem himself without his magic hammer, lost among strangers on the primitive planet known as Earth. There, he gets involved with a human scientist, and has to save both his world and Earth from the machinations of his evil brother Loki. Following along so far? For some, they may already be skeptical. This is certainly “high concept.”

Thor is not a bad movie. It’s probably the first on this list that can qualify as at least “pretty good.” Maybe a B- or C+. It’s got some impressive and creative visuals, and the Asgard scenes contain a sense of vastness befitting a realm of demigods. The fish-out-of-water themes are played well (and often hilariously). It’s got impressive pedigree – directed by Kenneth Branagh and co-starring Anthony Hopkins as Odin! It also introduces the best MCU villain by far, Thor’s brother Loki.

It’s also undeniably one of the silliest concepts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And that’s saying something, considering it exists in a realm with talking raccoons, a ridiculous number of blue and green aliens, unfrozen supersoldiers, and sentient AI. Thor’s escapism is certainly fun, but as a fan of pure science fiction, it’s not quite my cup of tea. It blurs the line between sci-fi and fantasy, and does it competently, albeit a bit sloppily. The third act is a bit of a letdown, and the movie doesn’t flow as smoothly as some of the other entries on this list.

Chris Hemsworth is perfectly cast as the titular character, and Tom Hiddleston steals every scene as the devious Loki. The movie serves as a solid introduction for what will become mostly a supporting character in the franchise. Not perfect, but it’s the lowest ranked film on this list that I think of as “good.”

Hits: Gorgeous scenery, epic scope, solid humor, the best MCU villain, Anthony Hopkins.

Misses: A bit slow once on Earth, hokey concept, disappointing climax, feels like a chapter in a larger saga rather than a film standing well on its own.

13.) Thor: Ragnarok

Look, Marvel managed to make a (fairly) good Thor movie! The third installment in the franchise-within-a-franchise accomplishes this feat by being the first one to not just understand, but to fully embrace the fact that even for the science fiction/fantasy hybrid that it is – the Marvel take on Thor is a ridiculous concept.

Throughout the larger MCU continuity, particularly the television series Agents of SHIELD, there has been some effort made to establish that Thor and his fellow Asgardians aren’t really gods as much as they are super advanced aliens. Aliens that live for thousands of years, have physical (and sometimes mystical) abilities far beyond those of humans, and… yeah, frequently refer to themselves as gods.

It’s weird.

While nobody would argue that Ant Man or the Hulk are particularly grounded in reality, they have been long established as fitting within the rather loose rules and laws of the Marvel quasi-scientific canon. Thor and his ilk bend that quite a bit. However, Thor Ragnarok goes out of its way to acknowledge the absurdities in the character and his background, and finally let loose and have some fun with it.

Chris Hemsworth is a talented comic actor, and plays his role in a relaxed and wry manner – moreso than we’ve seen previously. As strange situation after strange situation is thrown his way, Thor takes everything in stride, accepting that he inhabits a weird universe.

The plot is straightforward, but well-executed. Thor’s father, Odin, seemingly dies while in quasi-exile on Earth. This – for somewhat strained reasons – causes Thor’s long-lost (maybe half?) sister to reappear. In the tradition of… well, every supervillain ever, Hela embarks on a mission of conquest – specifically back to Asgard. She kicks everyone’s ass, destroys Thor’s hammer, and in the ensuing fight, he finds himself eventually taken prisoner on a faraway world. Naturally, he runs into his old pal Bruce Banner, who has been stuck in his Hulk form for over a year now.

The team-up and eventual rematch are predictable, but fun. The final confrontation isn’t as excessive and bloated as some Marvel flicks, and there’s constant humor throughout… so much so that it almost reduces the impact of some of the more consequential aspects to the plot.

It’s got energy, it’s funny, it’s light – almost too light, but it has a heavy enough villain to keep it from turning into farce. It meanders a bit, especially toward the middle third, but it ends up a fairly satisfying entry into the series.

Hits: Seriously funny dialogue, a good primary villain, pretty epic action.

Misses: Still a silly concept, almost too reliant on comedy, script could be tighter.

12.) Doctor Strange

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Arrogant wealthy genius is injured, forced to become a superhero to survive, then gradually learns how to be a better person, all while mastering his new powers. Nope, this isn’t Iron Man. But the formula is pretty much the same.

The redemption story of the snarky genius thrown into adversity is familiar. If this entry had occurred earlier in the MCU, it may have appeared fresher. On the other hand, Doctor Strange introduces filmgoers to an entirely new aspect of the Marvel universe. Most of the characters introduced up to this point in the MCU had a certain scientific underpinning, far-fetched though they may have been. Doctor Strange largely dispenses with that and jumps into pure mysticism.

The acting is solid, the characters are reasonably interesting, the plot isn’t too convoluted (though some of the dialogue is), and while the finale does suffer from some of the standard bloat that most comic book films have, it also ends with a clever confrontation with the villain, who scores countless “victories,” before realizing he’s being outwitted by a lowly human.

There are some issues. Tilda Swinton’s character was originally a Fu Manchuesque “wise Asian” stereotype in the comics – and a more faithful rendition of the original character would have been problematic in its own right. Nonetheless, when we discuss issues of representation in media, and persistent issues of whitewashing that occur even today, it seems like a glaring problem to cast a Caucasian woman in the role of an Asian man. Of course, this is made maybe a little better (and a little worse) by the fact that Swinton absolutely nails the role, and steals the movie whenever she’s on screen. Insulation through skill.

That issue aside, it is a visually stunning film that almost demands to be seen on the largest possible screen. While quite CGI-heavy, it’s done in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or distracting. The plot is pretty familiar, but with new details. It’s a good movie, but not one that elevates over some of the other films in the franchise.

Hits: Jaw-dropping special effects, smoothly-executed plot, interesting concepts.

Misses: Glaring whitewashing issue, familiar plot, so-so villain.

11.) The Incredible Hulk

This one will probably cause the most disagreement among Marvel fans. I personally consider this one to be pretty underrated. If it hadn’t been released within a couple months of The Dark Knight and Iron Man, I believe it would have made more of an impact. It certainly isn’t as good as either movie, but the second attempt to portray the Hulk on the big screen gets most things right.

So, this film is unique in that it’s definitely part of the larger universe, but also includes a handful of nods to the painfully misunderstood Ang Lee-helmed Hulk. It’s not quite a sequel, but it’s not a pure reboot, either. And it’s a bit disconnected from the main bulk of the MCU films, although Tony Stark makes an appearance at the end, helping tie the first two films of the franchise together.

The story follows Bruce Banner (now played by Ed Norton), as he’s hiding from the US government in Brazil, and attempting to figure out a cure for his condition. The opening 20 minutes or so follows Bruce as he works in a factory, learns Portuguese, flirts with a coworker, clashes with other coworkers, learns jiu jitsu, and practices meditation. It’s a relatively low key opening that I think is quite effective in establishing who Bruce is and what he’s trying to accomplish. Quiet setups like this allow us to care more about the character (are you listening, Zack Snyder?)

Eventually, the military finds him (with a nifty foot chase through a favela), leading to the first Hulk-out of the movie (and Bruce’s first in months). He finds his way back to the States, with the military tracking him. He borderline stalks his ex, Betty (who is now dating Leonard Samson), and tries to meet with a fellow scientist Samuel Sterns for help with a cure. General Thaddeus Ross recruits a British-Russian military officer named Emil Blonsky, juices him with super-soldier serum, and sends him out to confront and capture Banner. All these names make for great fan service, and the actors mostly do them justice, particularly William Hurt as Ross, and Tim Blake Nelson in a slighty off-kilter performance as Dr. Sterns (or Mr. Blue). Liv Tyler comes across as being half-asleep portraying Betty, and doesn’t get much to do.

Blonsky is nearly killed, then ends up being treated with what transformed Banner, and becomes a dark, twisted version of the Hulk. The big final fight in Harlem of all places is done quite well, and finally gives a live-action version of the Hulk a truly worthy opponent.

I know this film is considered one of the lower points of the MCU, and even I can admit its not among the best, but I truly believe it’s underappreciated. Reasonably thoughtful dialogue, good acting from most of the cast, a solid look into the torture that Bruce goes through with his transformations, and a worthy (while admittedly undermotivated) villain. It’s not the tour de force that Iron Man turned out to be, but it really was quite good. The production was apparently troubled, and star Ed Norton feuded with Marvel before finally quitting the character, being replaced by one of the original contenders, Mark Ruffalo. Interestingly, the studio wanted David Duchovny in the title role, which would have been… interesting.

Hits: Good action, solid acting and pathos, well-paced

Misses: Betty is wasted, the movie feels shoehorned into the MCU

10.) Ant Man

Stop me if you heard this one. Roguish troublemaker gets in a jam, uses an advanced high-tech suit to get out of said jam, fights corporate takeover from the eventual main villain. Film ends with vastly-more-qualified sidekick gazing wistfully at high-tech suit, vowing to be part of the action next time. Nope, this isn’t Iron Man. Just like Doctor Strange wasn’t, either.

Along with Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange, Marvel seems to be using this movie as a way to test their limits. Yes, bigger name characters could anchor a film, but what about a relatively obscure Silver Age Avenger with the power to… get really small?

Sure, why not?

For the most part it works. Paul Rudd is charming and charismatic as Scott Lang, an ex-con lured into a job as Ant-Man, a superhero with a high-tech suit that enables rapid mass change. It was previously worn by Hank Pym, a billionaire industrialist wearily played by Michael Douglas. Evangeline Lilly is excellent as Pym’s daughter, who is tasked (rather thanklessly) with training Scott to become Ant Man, when she clearly (and quite reasonably) believes she would be better suited to that role. Corey Stoll is just okay as Darren Cross, basically playing the Jeff Bridges role from Iron Man, but without near the menace or gravitas. Michael Pena, T.I., and David Dastmalchian are Scott’s old burglary crew, meeting back up to help him out. Pena in particular provides much of the comic relief of the film. He occasionally nears cartoonishness, but doesn’t quite go that far most of the time. His contributions, along with a clever script and Mr. Rudd, help provide a more light-hearted tone than we have seen in most of these entries. As a result, the movie feels a bit less consequential, but Rudd, Lilly, and Douglas all do an admirable job keeping it grounded. Well, as grounded as a movie about shrinking superheroes can get.

Hits: Paul Rudd, fun set pieces, good sense of humor.

Misses: Fairly weak villain, feels almost too breezy.

9.) Captain America: The First Avenger

The first time I saw this movie, I enjoyed it, but left feeling a bit underwhelmed. However, after repeat viewing, especially after having seen Cap portrayed in four (kind of six) other MCU flicks, I think it looks better.

This is a fairly straight-forward origin story, and almost entirely takes place during World War II. Chris Evans is Steve Rogers, a small, frail kid from Brooklyn with a good heart and an unwavering code of honor and morals. He wants nothing more than to serve his country and fight the Nazis, to the point of lying to pass the physical exams. His best friend Bucky is already in the Army, and serving with distinction. Bucky is everything Steve wants to be; a big, athletic, charismatic ladies man. In his desperation to join, Steve agrees to an experimental procedure, in order to be able to enlist. Despite skepticism from military leaders, Steve’s selflessness and leadership potential make him the best choice to undergo a treatment to make him a “Super-Soldier.” Predictably, bad guys intervene, and disrupt the proceedings while Steve undergoes a transformation to make him the physical pinnacle of human potential. Steve’s transformation is successful, but the formula is lost, and since Steve is the only super soldier, he’s deemed kind of useless. So he spends a large chunk of the movie as a mascot for the Army, touring with the USO, and promoting war bonds as “Captain America,” a largely unfulfilling performance role.

That part of the movie is interesting to me. Turning Steve into the ultimate physical badass, then frustrating him by making him a figurehead at best helped demonstrate not just the importance of teamwork during war, but helped the character progress in a less-predictable way.

How does one make a basically ideal person interesting? Someone with completely honest and pure motives needs to have his ideals challenged, and to have his sense of duty blocked – by circumstance, or conflict, or both. And for the most part, Captain America does a good job of this.

Eventually, Steve gets his chance to see real action, where he naturally thrives, leading a group of veteran soldiers into battle in Europe, meeting (and then losing) Bucky, discovering the first man to undergo a less-successful version of his super-soldier treatment, and eventually sacrificing himself to save the day. There are clear tie-ins with the larger MCU, and a solid coda where Steve discovers that he’s still alive – but it’s now 2011.

When I first saw the movie, I thought there wasn’t enough development of his skills as a soldier and combatant, and we didn’t get to see enough action with Steve as Captain America. And even now, I do feel like that aspect was under-developed. But the more I consider how the Army utilized him, and how Steve’s moral compass was frustrated by his predicament, the more I found myself liking the choices made.

As an origin story, as a period piece, as a war movie, as a morality tale, the movie works. It’s not perfect, and its not deep, but its a good story with a good lead, and a very good supporting cast, particularly Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, who would go to her own (highly underrated) MCU series.

Hits: Great cast, good WWII atmosphere, works as both standalone film and a piece of a larger whole.

Misses: Villain is so-so (typical for MCU), not enough time spent as Cap

8.) Spider-Man: Homecoming

The second reboot of Spider-Man in just a decade, Spider-Man: Homecoming avoids some of the pitfalls suffered by the Andrew Garfield reboot by not rehashing the origin story we all know so well. In this film, Peter Parker is still a teenager, but he’s now part of a larger universe, and he’s already been in action for a while. At least for a few months, anyway. He’s young (obviously), impatient, and a bit reckless. Played with considerable likeability and amusing naivete by Tom Holland, Peter feels like he’s being held back by his superhero mentor and benefactor, Tony Stark. And he’s not wrong. The movie does a great job showing the frustration and impatience of a teenager with great power and a still-developing sense of responsibility.

Moreso than the prior Spider-Man films, this captures the lives of teenagers in a (mostly) realistic and often quite funny way. The classic Spider-Man problems of finding balance with his personal life, his school life, and his superhero life are done well, and Michael Keaton is terrific as a reasonably believable and sympathetic villain.

Spider-Man: Homecoming ties in well with the larger MCU, but is also clearly meant to stand on its own, existing just a bit separately from the bulk of the larger continuity. It’s fun, energetic, witty, and has an engaging cast. The pacing is a bit inconsistent, and there’s a feeling that a good ten minutes could be trimmed from the runtime. Overall, it’s a solid outing, and is probably now my second favorite Spider-Man film (after Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2).

Hits: Likable cast, good humor, one of the better villains

Misses: Could stand tighter pacing

7.) Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

I waffled on where to place the two Guardians films. They are both fun, action-oriented science fiction films with an underlying theme of family. I could very well change my mind the next time I see this one and place it above the original, but for now, GOTG2 goes here.

Despite being a big-budget blockbuster with massive space battles and huge setpieces, it almost feels like a smaller film. Mixed in with the action are long discussions of family and belonging. There’s quite a bit of good character development, and the chemistry developed in the first one continues to improve.

Guardians 2 isn’t paced quite as well as its predecessor, and I generally enjoyed the team origin story a little better than their continuing adventure, but this is a very solid film that actually improved upon the characterization of the first one. Kurt Russell’s Ego and Michael Rooker’s Yondu were served particularly well by the story.

Hits: Excellent character stuff, good dialogue, laudable commitment to themes of family

Misses: Inconsistent pacing, sometimes tries too hard to make us laugh

6.) The Avengers: Age of Ultron

There is a scene halfway through Age of Ultron where the movie slows down, and we are treated to an extended sequence on Hawkeye’s (Jeremy Renner) hidden farm, where the Avengers regroup and lick their wounds. It acts as a sudden departure in tone from where the movie had been, but the shift works. We get to see development from pretty much every character on the team, which in turn allows us to better appreciate and empathize with them. We become invested in their outcomes, because we are given a sense of who they are. So then later events, including death and major trauma, become more impactful. And that is the big difference between the MCU and Zack Snyder’s DCEU. Concentrating on the humanity of these demigods pays off later, rather than leaping from scene to scene, searching for the next iconic moment to film in slow motion.

There are plenty of excellent character moments scattered throughout the film, that not only help keep most members of the massive cast growing as characters, but also make us care what happens to them. Of course, the biggest trauma ends up happening to one of the least developed main characters. And that ties into the biggest problem with the film – too much is happening. There are too many characters, too many scenes, too much plot development shoehorned into one movie. Much of that is necessary, as the Avengers movies tend to be used as the payoff to all the development of the prior series (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and so on). Joss Whedon had a thankless job in many ways, trying to create a successful followup to one of the greatest superhero films ever, and trying to tie together a million plot threads and character arcs. It’s no surprise that making this movie basically broke him.

And despite all of that, to my eyes, this movie works. Despite the huge cast, most of the characters had plenty to do. The quieter moments were all pretty much perfect. The individual setpieces were often spectacular. And despite some critical complaints, I thought James Spader’s Ultron was a damn good villain. Yeah, his motivation could have been fleshed out a bit more, but he proved to be a challenge for our heroes, and was portrayed with both menace and humor.

Age of Ultron was a bit sloppier than the first Avengers, and bit overstuffed. But so much of it worked. Great character work abounded. And it was frequently a visual joy to watch.

Hits: Character development, action scenes, clever introduction to Vision

Misses: Too much going on to keep the plot moving smoothly

5.) Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy was an example of Marvel taking a risk, throwing an out-of-left-field idea out there and seeing if it would work. And by and large, it worked better than anyone could have expected. Officially based on a relatively obscure comic from the ’70s, Guardians is what happens when a studio tries to make an Avengers and Star Wars mash up, mixes in a great ’70s pop soundtrack, throws in far more humor than almost any other recent comic book adaptation, shakes it up, and sees what happens.

The main characters all receive compelling backstories, the action is exciting, and the plot moves along quite nicely. The dialogue suffers from a bit too much technobabble, and there are a few points where they seemed to try too hard to squeeze in a joke (or several). And in the recent Marvel tradition, the villains are rather underdeveloped. We know they want power, and one of them wants to kill her sister… but we aren’t really given much reason to care. But overall, this was not just a fun surprise – it was a shock to see such goofy, obscure source material work so well on the big screen. Guardians of the Galaxy showed what could happen when Marvel decided to take a risk. The swung for the fences, and hit the ball all the way to Xandar.

Hits: Great lead characters, spectacular visuals, great soundtrack

Misses: Yet another set of weak villains, Star Trek Voyager levels of expository technobabble

4.) Captain America: Civil War

Captain America: Civil War is officially the third Captain America movie, but it could arguably be considered the third Avengers movie, too. Loosely based on the “Civil War” plotline from the comics, it acts as a followup to basically every big event that occurred in the MCU up to that point. Consequences are a major theme of this film. Some science fiction and action movies have failed to demonstrate the effects of huge battles that lay waste to cities. In those films, collateral damage is often merely used as eye candy, not as a reason to discuss issues of control and fallibility.

In Civil War, the effects of the previous films is what gets the plot moving. A fight with a former SHIELD agent in Africa kills a building full of innocents. The US government (along with the UN), bring up the reasonable point that these massively powerful people are largely unregulated and unsupervised, and in several cases, untrained. Perhaps some supervision would be wise, they argue.

The film does a good job presenting the pro-superhero-regulation argument fairly and thoughtfully – but this movie is still about Captain America and why he thinks answering to the United Nations is bullshit.

Personally, I still think Iron Man has a better argument, but Cap is cooler… which is weird to say. But he is. And this whole movie – while presenting thoughtful moral dilemmas – is really about the airport scene. About 2/3 of the way through, a massive fight between every member of the Avengers (minus the two who could single-handedly turn the course of the fight) completely takes over the film. And what a battle it is. Every character gets something to do. There’s humor, pathos, and amazing action. It may feel a bit like fan fiction – but it’s really GOOD fan fiction.

Hits: One of the best movie fight scenes ever, a legitimate discussion of superhero collateral damage (you listening DC?)

Misses: There are a lot of characters here, and some are underdeveloped

3.) The Avengers

The Avengers was the culmination of what was known as “Phase One” of the MCU. Iron Man, Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America set it up, and The Avengers tied it all together.

And it was a near-masterpiece.

A mysterious… cube thing called the Tesseract is… well, not quite a Macguffin, but also not really the point. But it does help get the ball rolling as Thor’s asshole brother Loki agrees to steal it from Earth in exchange for an alien army that he’ll use to invade Earth.

Bear with me here, it still turns out great.

Nick Fury, director of SHIELD, puts together all of the most powerful people he can find into a team to fight Loki and his soon-to-arrive army. And that’s pretty much it. The final 40 minutes or so involve the invasion and the team finally putting their squabbles aside to repel it. Joss Whedon wrote and directed it, and it’s definitely the Buffy creator at the absolute peak of his powers. The dialogue is sharp and clever, and the plot manages to work despite a weak opening 20 minutes and a blue sky beam finale. It puts together the characters developed (rather unevenly) in prior installments in a way that makes sense.

And that final action sequence – yeah, it’s heavy on excessive collateral damage, it’s full of easily dispatched, disposable infantry, and again, it ends in a blue sky beam… but great dialogue, solid directing, and well-developed characters enable it all to work.

The Avengers could easily have been a mess, but instead, it’s one of the best superhero films ever made.

Hits: Action, humor, characterization, dialogue, Loki!

Misses: Tropey ending

2.) Iron Man

This is where it all began. Tony Stark snarked his way into the public imagination, and made the idea of a “cinematic universe” feasible. Everything that happened since only happened because this movie was both a critical and commercial success.

Robert Downey Jr is perfectly cast as Tony Stark, a youngish gazillionaire industrialist celebrity who is a Bill Gates with sex appeal merged with Howard Hughes, minus 90% of the emotional issues. He’s all wit and ego and brilliance. He happily parties, drinks, schmoozes with celebrities and the military, and, oh yes, builds weapons for that military. While demonstrating his newest toy in Afghanistan, Stark is captured by a fairly generic terrorist organization. He’s badly injured, and forced to recreate his new weapon for the group, while trying not to die in a cave.

The original comic had pretty much the same origin story, except it was in Vietnam. Updated times, same old story. Anyway, Tony decides to use his brilliant mind to do something different. He builds a suit of armor powered by a miniaturized fusion reactor (basically), and fights his way to freedom.

Seeing his weapons used by terrorists in bloody conflicts halfway around the world causes an epiphany. Tony decides to rebuild his suit of armor, this time sleeker and shinier, and uses it to do good – primarily by ridding the world of his weapons. At the same time, as the official head of his company, he has decided to change its focus away from weapons, which doesn’t sit too well with his number two man, a surprisingly menacing Jeff Bridges.

Bridges plays Obadiah Stane (I love these names), who figures out what Tony is doing with his spare time, and ends up stealing the reactor that’s keeping Tony alive from those wounds incurred back in Afghanistan. He builds his own suit of armor, and we get the inevitable final confrontation.

I’ve seen some rankings where Iron Man is acknowledged as the MCU OG, but then demoted, arguing it doesn’t hold up all that well anymore. I can’t get behind that. I think this flick is still one of the very best superhero films ever made. The dialogue is still sharp, the plot is well-executed, the villain is underrated, and Robert Downey Jr owns every inch of the screen for every second he’s on it. This film was released around the same time as The Dark Knight, and while it’s very different in tone and style, I think it’s just as well-made, and probably more entertaining.

Hits: RDJ, great villain, great character arc for Stark, well-written

Misses: Not much… maybe the terrorists come a bit too close to stereotype for comfort.

1.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Here we go. The number one movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Where “Captain America: The First Avenger was a period piece and war movie, “Winter Soldier” is a spy movie mixed with a heavy dose of political thriller. It’s smart, thoughtful, and exciting. It continues Steve Rogers’ character arc, and continues the feat the first installment pulled off – making a nearly ideal person interesting.

It’s been over a year since the events of The Avengers, and about three years since he became Unfrozen Super Soldier. Captain America is now an agent of SHIELD, commanding teams around the world, kicking ass, taking names, and slowly feeling more and more disillusioned with being a part of the modern national security state. He works with Natasha Romanoff, who is the Black Widow from Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. She develops well as a character here, both on her own merits, and in her friendship with Steve. She’s more jaded than he is, but her outlook is rubbing off on him. And she is clearly charmed by his honesty and decency. Also joining the team is Sam Wilson, a former paratrooper who has access to a winged jet pack that has all sorts of fancy toys on it… basically he’s Iron Man without the armor.

Then the plot gets going. SHIELD falls apart from within, while Cap tracks a mysterious operative with metal arm who seems to be as fast and strong as Cap himself. Nick Fury is apparently assassinated after a fun car chase through Washington DC. The coup within SHIELD is a long time coming, it seems, and Fury’s boss is behind it. Robert Redford is excellent as Alexander Pearce, a government bureaucrat who’s been a bad guy all along.

Eventually, Cap is able to connect the upheaval at SHIELD with the metal armed operative, who turns out to be his brainwashed best friend, Bucky. A slightly convoluted scheme involving a new kind of helicarrier is put into motion, and it’s tremendously exciting watching Steve, Natasha, and Sam work together to try to foil it. The movie moves right along, and doesn’t feel like there’s much fat on it, despite its 136 minute runtime. There are some rather convenient moments for our heroes, and the takeover of SHIELD was never set up by prior films, but otherwise, this is superbly crafted film. It’s serious, dark, and cynical, but with enough humor to keep it from becoming bleak.

Hits: Chris Evans is excellent, the action is fast, but filmed clearly – not too many Bourne-style quick cuts. Compelling villains, good chemistry between the leads, and a mature tone for a comic book movie.

Misses: Not much. The SHIELD collapse kind of came out of nowhere, and the Strucker reveal was a bit far-fetched, but otherwise, there was little wrong here.

So there you have it. Until Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War are released next year, this is it for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’ve included below links to several other rankings of the same universe, just as a point of comparison. I’m sure there will be many who don’t agree with me… indeed, my list varies from several of these others. But I know what I like, and I believe I’ve supported my positions.

Now, I suppose I should get back to the real world. Well, maybe after I watch Winter Soldier one more time…

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https://www.cnet.com/pictures/best-avengers-marvel-cinematic-universe-movies

http://collider.com/marvel-cinematic-universe-movies-ranked-from-worst-to-best/

https://consequenceofsound.net/2017/05/ranking-dissected-the-marvel-cinematic-universe

https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/entertainthis/2017/05/03/definitive-ranking-of-marvel-cinematic-universe-superhero-movies/101201016/

http://comicbook.com/marvel/2017/04/24/worst-to-best-ranking-the-marvel-cinematic-universe-movies/

http://www.cbr.com/all-15-mcu-films-ranked-from-worst-to-best/

http://www.slashfilm.com/marvel-cinematic-universe-ranked-2/

https://www.cnet.com/how-to/marvel-cinematic-universe-timeline-avengers/

http://www.thewrap.com/all-marvel-cinematic-universe-mcu-movies-ranked-worst-best/

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Them Too, Mr. President

If one wants to know why women often take years to come forward after being sexually harassed or assaulted, Exhibit A currently resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Washington D.C., 20500.

But let’s backtrack briefly.

There’s a social wave occurring in the United States right now. In the worlds of the famous – politics, entertainment, media – scores of women are publicly taking a stand. They’re telling their stories to the world, detailing the ways that men of power and privilege have harassed, insulted, threatened, intimidated, and assaulted them. And these stories are finally beginning to have consequences.

  • Bill Cosby’s career essentially ended when the accusations against him became widely known. Criminal proceedings started this year, though they have stalled for the time being.
  • Harvey Weinstein was fired from his own company, and has become a pariah in his industry. In addition, criminal investigations are now beginning.
  • James Toback will likely not be making any films ever again after literally hundreds of women accused him of sexual harassment and assault.
  • Louis CK had to step away from promotion of his new film. Support and work has dried up for him, after allegations of sexual harassment were publicly released.
  • Charlie Rose, Garrison Keillor, and Matt Lauer all lost their jobs.
  • Al Franken agreed to an ethics investigation into allegations about him from before he was a Senator. Subsequent allegations included incidents from after he was elected.

There are so many others. Prominent men in positions of influence and power are finding the ground underneath their pedestals of privilege crumbling.

There is, however, one glaring exception. Allegations against this particular man have been publicly known longer than most of the aforementioned. But for some reason, this specific man not only continued in the public sphere despite these allegations, he thrived.

I am, of course, referring to the current President of the United States, Donald Trump.

In fact, he became President AFTER video and audio evidence of him was released, cheerfully telling Billy Bush specifics about his crimes.

He literally bragged about committing sexual assault with impunity.

Yes, there was some immediate backlash, but it faded swiftly. After all, admitted sexual assault is bad, but a Democratic woman is much scarier – at least, to 63 million Americans.

Donald Trump hasn’t exactly faded out of the news since the infamous Access Hollywood tape was released. Obviously, becoming the most powerful non-Russian on Earth would guarantee that. But despite the turbulence of the Trump presidency, as well as a sudden cultural shift in favor of women pushing back against systemic misogyny – Trump’s own sexual misdeeds have largely faded from public memory.

They shouldn’t. Indeed, they can’t.

Not just for the individual women themselves, although their justice is paramount. However, also important is justice for women, period. If the American President is allowed to assault and harass more than a dozen women (at least), and face no retribution, no inquiry, no serious investigation, then injustice has been done to ALL women.

Donald Trump has a myriad of other issues right now, many of them unrelated to his treatment of women. And it’s possible he may find himself out of office early, and possibly even on trial – thanks to those issues. But even in that event, it would do a massive disservice to those he mistreated to forget about them, or they stories they’ve told.

I would like to provide a reminder that the current President of the United States has been accused of committing sexual crimes against the following women:

Jessica Leeds
Some time in the 1980s, while sitting next to Donald Trump on a flight, he groped her repeatedly, including reaching under her skirt, while she sat frozen in terror.

Jill Harth
In 1993, she alleged he cornered her in an empty room at Mar-a-Lago, and groped her, while trying to reach up her dress. This was after several months of repeated and declined advances by Trump.

Ivana Trump
While married to Donald, in 1989, Ivana told friends that Donald attacked her after he had a painful surgery on his scalp. He pulled hair out of her head and then raped her. Years later, she walked back the phrase “rape,” but she never denied the actual events (which clearly described rape) happened.

Kristin Anderson
In the early ’90s, at the China Club in New York, Trump sat next to Anderson – who was a stranger to him – and reached up her skirt, touching her genitals through her underwear. She and her friends left quickly after that. She and those same friends were able to identify the groper as Donald Trump.

Lisa Boyne
Boyne attended a dinner at a restaurant in the mid ’90s with Trump, several men, and a group of models. She said that Trump had the models walk around on the table above him, where he looked up their skirts and commented on what he saw. He also spent much of the time bragging about his sexual exploits directly to Boyne.

Temple Taggart
During rehearsals for the 1997 Miss USA pageant, Trump forced an unwanted kiss on Taggart’s lips, not once, but twice.

Mariah Billado
Billado was a contestant in the 1997 Miss Teen USA pageant. She and four other contestants all confirmed that Trump walked into their changing room while they were in various states of undress, including completely naked. The contestants aged between 15 and 19 that year, which meant he was invading the privacy of numerous minors.

Cathy Heller
In the mid ’90s, Heller said that during the one and only time she met Donald Trump, he immediately tried to kiss her on the lips without any warning. He then yelled at her as she twisted away.

Karena Virginia
In 1998, while waiting for a car outside of the US Open tennis tournament in New York, Trump approached her. He made objectifying comments about her appearance to the group of men he was with, then reached out and grabbed her breast. He smiled at her and asked, “Don’t you know who I am?”

Bridget Sullivan
Similar to the testimony of Mariah Billado at the Miss Teen USA pageant, Trump was accused of walking into the changing rooms at the Miss USA and possibly Miss Universe pageants as well. Sullivan, the former Miss New Hampshire attested to this. In addition, Trump himself had bragged about walking into the changing rooms with impunity. This has been recorded during interviews with Howard Stern.

Tasha Dixon
Former Miss Arizona Tasha Dixon also confirmed the stories of Trump walking into the changing rooms while contestants were in various states of undress.

Natasha Stoynoff
Stoynoff, a writer for People Magazine, alleged Trump attacked her in an empty room at Mar-a-Lago in December 2005, when she traveled there to conduct an interview with him. He forcibly kissed her, and stuck his tongue down her throat. A butler interrupted them, but later in the day, Trump told Stoynoff, “You know we’re going to have an affair, don’t you? Have you ever been to Peter Luger’s for steaks? I’ll take you. We’re going to have an affair, I’m telling you.”  Six witnesses later corroborated Stoynoff’s account of the incident.

Rachel Crooks
In 2005, Crooks worked as a receptionist at a company located in Trump Tower. One day, Trump approached her outside of an elevator. He shook her hand, but then refused to let go. He started kissing her cheeks, then kissed her on her mouth as she struggled to escape. She eventually ran back to her desk, badly shaken by the assault.

Mindy McGillivray
January 2003, at Mar-a-Lago, McGillivray was working as a photographers assistant. While standing in a group of people photographing Ray Charles, she felt someone grab her buttocks. She turned around to see Donald Trump standing there, smiling.

Jennifer Murphy
As a contestant on the Apprentice in 2005, Murphy interviewed for a job with Trump. At the end of the interview, Trump kissed her, uninvited, on the mouth. It should be noted, unlike the other accusers, Murphy has admitted she was “okay with it.”

Jessica Drake
In 2006, at a golf tournament, Trump grabbed Drake, along with two other women, and kissed each one on the mouth without permission. He then contacted Drake repeatedly after, offering $10,000 in exchange for sex – which she declined.

Ninni Laaksonen
The former Miss Finland was groped by Trump during a group photograph in 2006, outside of the building where the Late Show with David Letterman was filmed.

Summer Zervos
Zervos was a contestant on Trump’s reality game show The Apprentice in 2007. She has stated that on two occasions, he forcibly kissed her on the mouth while meeting her privately. And during the second incident, he groped her breast, and tried to coerce her into joining in him a bedroom. He reacted angrily when she spurned his advances.

Cassandra Searles
Searles contends that as a contestant in the 2013 Miss USA pageant, Trump groped her several times and asked her to go back to his hotel room. She declined his requests.

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These women do not personally benefit by coming forward and telling their stories. Even now, a year after most of these complaints came to light, there still is a frequent backlash against accusers. The claim that false accusations are common, and occur for money or publicity, ring hollow. This is true especially when one looks back at the last few months, and the waves of women stepping forward to tell the world what happened to them, at the hands of powerful and prominent men. These women are often suffering, reliving horrible experiences, all while being called liars by the men themselves, their lawyers, and their supporters. There is no glory here. Only pain. And maybe the hope that these revelations will eventually spark societal change. Already there’s been some evidence of that. But any major social shift is painful, and will likely involve further ugly backlash. People in positions of power and privilege tend to fight to maintain that privilege.

And nowhere does white male privilege put itself on full display more prominently than Donald Trump.

Go back through that list I wrote above. Read about these women. Follow the links I provided, and look at their stories. There are more detailed overviews of his crimes against women here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. And listen to what Trump has admitted during interviews. And of course, read what Trump himself has said:

Referring to Nancy O’Dell, he stated, “I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it. I did try and fuck her. She was married. And I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, “I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.” I took her out furniture—I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.

And in the same conversation, now about Arianne Zucker,  “I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.”

These comments, recorded during the infamous Access Hollywood tape, confirm many of the behaviors described by his accusers.

Donald Trump has shown himself, through his words and actions, to be a sexual predator. It seems like Americans are now beginning to give up on the idea of giving power men a pass on these behaviors. At least, they seem to be in the entertainment and media fields. Yet, in politics – partisanship may still be protecting them for a time longer. Al Franken and John Conyers have not yet resigned. Roy Moore is still even money to win his current Senate race. Bill Clinton still holds a position of respect in the Democratic Party. And… Donald Trump is still President.

We’ll know the societal shift toward supporting women over predators is taking universal hold when it starts to triumph over political power. Until then, I intend to remind people about these accusations as often as possible. Supporting Donald Trump means complicity his behavior. These are the same behaviors that have brought down Harvey Weinstein. Is loyalty to one person or one party worth the suffering of – at least – 19 women? When will it be enough for his supporters to turn away from him?
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A Well Regulated Debate

Bill_of_Rights_Pg1of1_AC

By 1st United States Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

So, a whole bunch of people died recently (again), and, once again, we can trace the basic root cause back to the easy availability of firearms in the United States. And, once again, American consistency rules the day, and we can count on an angry backlash from right-leaning pundits and politicians telling us not to talk about guns when they’re used to commit mass murder. Because we can’t have nice things, apparently.

One day I will actually finish my big firearm policy piece on my blog. Until then, I’m not necessarily interested in a big argument about the why right now. There will be plenty of time and energy for that debate in the future. I just want to point out that there is a clear correlation on the national level (and a slightly muddier correlation on the state level) that more guns equals more gun crime. Generally. I have no doubt there will be some who will want to argue and rage over that point. I’ll get to that soon enough. Don’t worry.

Right now, however, there’s another point I was thinking about. Many Americans, (particularly those elected officials nestled comfortably in the pockets of the firearms manufacturer lobby) will bring up the Second Amendment.

“Gun laws may or may not work, but we can’t have any, because something, something, the Second Amendment, freedom, something, something.”

The argument usually starts and ends there. The Constitution says we can have all the guns we want, so that’s that.

Indeed, for years, many Americans believed this. The Second Amendment is vaguely worded – some historians argue intentionally.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The history of the Second Amendment is long and surprisingly complex. Much of my eventual gun piece will focus on it. Suffice to say, the actual language of the amendment was subject to much debate, as was what the actual intent should be. Michael Waldman covers this beautifully in his book The Second Amendment: A Biography.

I’m not going to delve too much into the history here, except to note that compared to some of the other amendments, the second one actually hasn’t come up in court all that many times. One of the most significant cases that did warrant a Supreme Court hearing was the United States v. Miller in 1939. The decision in that case largely affirmed the notion that the militia aspect of the amendment was its linchpin. Meaning, the amendment itself didn’t actually guarantee individuals unfettered access to firearms. 

During the time the Bill of Rights were being hammered out, the hope was that a standing army would be unnecessary. In the event military action was needed, the citizen militia would be able to mobilize quickly. They would need to have access to firearms, ammunition, and proper training. It was thought to be important to codify that need as a right. But it was largely a collective right, as well as something of an administrative measure. Even at the close of the eighteenth century, many towns and cities had regulations and restrictions on firearms. It was not automatically assumed that there was a right for individuals to carry firearms in public. The Second Amendment was there more as a way to ensure national defense than anything else.

This was essentially the interpretation that was used in the Miller decision. While there were dissenting historians who argued in favor of the individual right to own guns, they did not dominate academic and judicial circles. Plenty of superb legal minds have sided with the militia view of the Second Amendment. Former Justices Warren Burger and John Paul Stevens have both weighed in quite eloquently on the topic.

Flash forward to 2008. District of Columbia v Heller was a constitutional challenge to firearms restrictions in Washington DC. In a massive interpretive shift, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled against the restriction. The majority opinion was written by Antonin Scalia, in what for him was something of a pet project. The historic Court interpretation of the 2nd Amendment was something that had perpetually vexed him, and with a 5-4 right-leaning majority, and a gun case that made it up to that level, he had his chance to push back against centuries of precedent. Thanks to his 64 page decision, the Supreme Court officially reversed course, and now, individual possession of firearms for protective purposes was constitutionally mandated.

There is  quite a bit to criticize regarding Scalia’s skills as a historian, which has always cast doubt on his preference for “originalism.” More than that, his claimed objectivity barely masked his ideological extremism. Remember, this is the guy who equated LGBT Americans with murderers and animal rapists. But regardless of any assessment of his knowledge or biases – his decision stands. So, now that Americans have a right to own firearms, what does that mean for gun regulation? Does that mean all laws should now be thrown out?

Well, let’s ask Scalia himself. Well, er, that might be tricky now, but we can consult the deciding document itself, because Justice Scalia took some time to address regulations and restrictions.

Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose:  For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

Right there, Scalia specifically lists four different types of restrictions that he – a believer in an individual right to own firearms – considers constitutionally sound. And there is an implication that other kinds of restrictions may pass muster under his revisionist interpretation of the Second Amendment. It’s also important to remind the zealous of his first sentence in the above paragraph:

Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited

In the same way that laws against threats and libel don’t violate the First Amendment, even rights enumerated in the United States Constitution have necessary limits. As libertarians love to say, “your right to swing your fist ends at my nose.” If a right impedes the rights of someone else, then it has reached its limit.

The Second Amendment is no different. While I have much to dispute with the late Justice Scalia, he and I both agree that in a working society, every right must have a stopping point. With firearms, that specific point is clearly a major sticking point in political and legal debate. But there is no doubt that a line can be drawn, and the right to own guns is not an absolute right.

If one believes that a legal restriction – say, the banning of automatic weapons – is in violation of the Constitution, then they can and should make a case supporting their argument. But as Justice Scalia wisely pointed out, that case is not certain to pass muster. By his own writing, limitations on types of guns, restrictions on how and where they can be carried, and restrictions like universal background checks would all still fit within a Constitutional framework.

As I stated earlier, I will eventually get in depth on gun culture and law in America. The United States faces unique challenges regarding weapons and crime that other advanced democratic societies don’t contend with. This deserves extended debate. But just like throwing around homicide rates in Chicago, hiding behind the Second Amendment doesn’t cut it when arguing against gun regulation. The architect of the modern pro-gun argument himself acknowledged the need for restrictions on firearms ownership. That leaves a lot of room to debate the details, but it also means the notion of restriction isn’t off the table.

Posted in Governance, Law Enforcement, Myths and misconceptions, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Me too

Over this past weekend, a post by the actor Alyssa Milano turned into a viral call to arms for those who have been victims of sexual abuse. The phrase “me too” has been used to refer to (primarily) women who also have suffered at the hands of others. Social media has been ablaze from posts of women who are speaking out about their stories of sexual harassment and violence.

Since it became a rallying cry for millions of people, there has been a backlash, some of it well-meaning. Mostly there have been those that criticized the lack of acknowledgment of men who have also been sexually harassed and abused.

Indeed, that is certainly a serious issue as well. And in 2017, there is a definite social stigma against men who speak out about having been victims of sexual assault. The original post itself (and subsequent hashtag) wasn’t specifically excluding men… but the fact that it has mostly been used by women should be understood as a further example of the ubiquitous nature of systemic sexism. Yes, men have suffered abuse – at the hands of other men, as well as women. However, for men, sexual abuse isn’t a near-universal concern in their day-to-day lives. Most men don’t fear walking down the street in their neighborhood. Most don’t worry that being alone in a room with a woman may lead to their assault. Equality is still a distant goal in how men and women treat each other.

That’s what I wanted to write about.

Today, on Facebook, I penned a brief diatribe that I wanted to repeat on my blog. This isn’t necessarily for women, except in the sense that I want the women who know me to understand that I have their backs. They have a friend. But I don’t say this looking for kudos. I just want the women in my life to know that their proclamations of “me too,” have impacted me as well. And even more importantly, I want to redirect it to the men I know… please listen to these women. And please don’t be afraid to speak out as well. Don’t be afraid to call out other men. And don’t be afraid to tell your stories.

Anyway, this is what I wrote:

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I know I’m a little late to this… I wasn’t completely sure how to word it.

But, me too.

Not in terms of being a victim of assault or harassment, but in that anyone who has said “me too,” has an ally in me.

It was sobering to see just how many “me toos” there were on Facebook this past weekend. There’s also something tragic in the idea so many people should have to bare their souls and publicly share personal tragedies in order to get others to take notice of such a pervasive problem. I hope that any man, especially straight white guys like me, noticed this and put some serious thought into what it means.

Men, this isn’t about having sisters or daughters or women friends. It shouldn’t be about a woman’s relation to you. It should be about fairness for 51% of humanity.

It’s important to note that a little more than half the human population, even now, in 2017, still routinely suffers from being victimized, assaulted, and treated as lesser human beings than their male peers.

And while every single group of person is capable of victimizing every other group (and certainly has), it’s a simple fact that women almost universally have been victims – in some way – of sexual violence or harassment, and that its usually a man’s fault.

I’m not anti-male here. This isn’t self-hatred. But I do want us dudes – especially straight white ones – to recognize the massive inequities that we benefit from, and work to change this. Whether or not one has a girl or woman in our lives, we should care about these inequities. We should be allies. We should call out abuse and make sure that it doesn’t happen around us.

We should be horrified that there were so many “me toos.” Guys, we need to do better. If you see harassment, cat calling, abuse, or any other terrible behavior directed at women – please don’t hesitate to speak out. I’m not necessarily saying start a fist fight. Definitely one should work within their means. But if you see something wrong, respond in some way. Don’t let sexism and abuse occur unchallenged.

The culture of misogyny will change when we force it to be no longer acceptable to treat women as lesser beings. And we men need to take responsibility for that.

Posted in Civil Rights, Quick post, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Chicago Nope

Two weeks ago, in Las Vegas, Stephen Paddock barricaded himself in his hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, and opened fire on a crowd of concert-goers below. He killed 58 people and wounded 489 more before ending his own life as police closed in.

This was the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. Well, since the last one. Just a year ago. Which was the deadliest since just 9 years earlier. And so on.

And once again, firearms laws immediately became a major point of national debate. Or, more accurately, people who have received money, support, and threats from the NRA tell the world that “it’s inappropriate to politicize” an inherently political situation. That talking about gun laws so soon after gun crime is in poor taste. Oh yeah, and guns don’t kill people, all regulations are in violation of the 2nd Amendment, regulation is a slippery slope, and easier access to guns helps people defend themselves. That last one is particularly interesting, since it sounds oh so reasonable to think that armed concert goers would have dropped their beers, taken careful aim 400 feet up, and dropped Paddock with perfect shots, calmly saving the day with their handguns amid the tumult.

Yeah, something like that.

Anyway, this is not going to be a comprehensive post. I’m not going to turn this into a giant anti-gun treatise. I have gradually been putting together my firearms magnum opus (even I’m wincing at that one) for the last three years. It’s a multi-layered history of guns in America, the origins and (later interpretations) of the 2nd Amendment, how laws and policy have affected crime in America, and a comparison of American gun laws with those of other countries. It’s a behemoth piece, and has taken forever to complete. Eventually, I will be done with it. Maybe even by early 2018. Hopefully. It should cover pretty much every major argument (that I can think of) revolving around gun ownership and gun use in America.

This little piece is not that. This is simply a discussion of a single talking point that pops up whenever pundits decide there’s a reason to talk about guns… which of course, requires slaughter on a mass scale to get people engaged.

Chicago.

“If gun control is so great, explain Chicago, hurr hurr!”

Chicago, Illinois, for those who haven’t been paying attention, has – very publicly – been suffering through a significant increase in gun violence over the last couple years. It’s the third-largest city in the country, and contains several pockets of very high crime, including murder. And it happens to be in a state with solid Democratic majorities throughout the state government (as well as in national representation), and relatively strict gun laws. So, the argument goes, gun control doesn’t work, because there are a lot of murders in Commie Chicago.

I’m addressing this particular talking point because it’s one of the more common ones, and a lot of people with reasonable positions on firearms policy struggle to respond to it.

It should first be pointed out that no thoughtful person has argued gun control is a panacea, and that while there is a fairly direct correlation between access to guns and gun crime, society is messy, and not every public policy results in clean, easy to parse outcomes.

So let’s talk about Chicago.

Chicago, Illinois has seen a big spike in gun violence over the last two years. However, so has most of the country. But that stat alone is an oversimplification.

Gun violence in the US has dropped significantly over the years. Even now, in 2017, gun violence in America (per capita) is near 1950 levels, and has been decreasing constantly since the peaks of the early (and late) 1980s. 2013 and 2014 represented the lowest national gun murder rates in more than half a century. Then came upticks in major cities around the nation. There had been spikes before, but this was the first time the national trend showed gun murder increases in consecutive years.

Certainly this is a bit worrisome, but at the same time, American cities are still far safer now than they were 30 years ago. Chicago is no exception to any of this. It’s seen a jump in crime, while still remaining near historically low levels. And among the 100 largest cities, Chicago’s overall gun murder rate is almost on par with the average of those cities. As bad as the violence has been made out to be (and it isn’t good, of course), it still isn’t particularly unique among major American cities.

So we’ve covered crime. We’ll now shift gears a bit and talk about gun laws. Around the world, it’s been a pretty direct formula – the harder it is for individuals to access firearms, the lower the rates are for death-by-firearm. This holds true for both murder and suicides.

It should be mentioned that exceptions do occur, and sample size matters. The effects of restrictive gun laws are more pronounced on the national level than on the state level. And they tend to be more pronounced on the state level than at the city level. Indeed, in the United States, city laws are subordinate to state laws, which are in turn subordinate to federal laws. So while some cities have passed fairly restrictive gun laws, many of those are overruled by less restrictive state and federal laws. Since the Heller decision by the Supreme Court in 2008, Chicago has had more than one firearm restriction overturned… but it should be noted that those local changes occurred before the recent crime surge.

Illinois itself is somewhat restrictive in its gun laws, but not the most restrictive in the nation. And it’s important to observe that it is surrounded by states with very permissive gun laws. There has been more than one study which has indicated significant percentages of guns in the state of Illinois, including guns used in crimes, were acquired in neighboring states. 60% of guns used in crimes in Chicago by gangs were purchased out of state, and more than 30% used in non-gang crimes were acquired elsewhere. These numbers alone more than cover the difference in crime between Chicago and several other large cities.

But wait, there’s more!

At the state level, in the last couple decades, several states have had the opportunity to observe the effects of changes in gun laws. Connecticut enacted new rules regarding background checks and licensing for gun ownership, and crime plummeted, well beyond the overall national trend. Meanwhile, Missouri relaxed its restrictions, and suffered a big spike, while other states were continuing to improve.

At the city level, yes, Chicago has relatively restrictive laws. However, New York and Los Angeles both make it harder to own a gun than Chicago, AND both have larger populations. And in both cases, homicide rates are substantially lower.

Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, and San Diego are all additional examples of minimal gun ownership and low gun crime, within cities.

New Orleans, Birmingham, St. Louis, and Richmond, are all examples of medium-to-large cities in pro-gun states that suffer higher gun murder rates than Chicago. And of course, going back to what I said earlier about outliers, there are plenty of examples of cities in more gun-friendly states with relatively low crime rates. As I mentioned earlier, the more local the scale, the more external factors have to be considered when searching for causation. It’s not the simplest formula by any means.

Heading back up to the state level, one can find plenty of studies that show on average, the more restrictive gun laws are within US states, the lower the rates of gun homicides and suicides. And again, there are outliers and exceptions. And at the national level, among wealthy industrialized nations, the evidence is even clearer that more guns equate to more gun crime. It’s when you get down to the local levels, where city laws are often overruled by those of the state, and where weapons are brought in from less restrictive places – that you see places like Chicago.

Yeah, Chicago has had a rough couple years. A lot of people have been senselessly slaughtered there, and it definitely needs to be tackled as soon as possible. But using Chicago’s current crime rate is a terrible argument against gun control.

Posted in Law Enforcement, Myths and misconceptions | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

False Equivalence

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EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST/GETTY IMAGES

I posted this on Facebook yesterday. After the riots and terror perpetrated by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend, a significant percentage of the right-leaning media bent over backward to shift focus, and claim that the Black Lives Matter movement is a moral equivalent to the racists and fascists that rioted in Charlottesville.

This post was a quick response to those reactions. I have lightly edited my original post for clarity:

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Black Lives Matter.

A movement. A philosophy. An idea.

Not really an organization, per se, in the way that the NAACP is.

It was originally formed in the wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin, and really started drawing national attention after the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Since then, BLM has become a national movement, and a scapegoat for white Americans still uncomfortable with facing the American legacy of white supremacy.

And that leads into my point here. What I’m talking about is false equivalence. Already, the pundits are spinning the events in Charlottesville this weekend. Specifically, Fox News, and some of the other major right-wing media.

Yeah, they say, white supremacists are bad, but they’re just like Black Lives Matter.

No.

A thousand times no.

BLM started because African Americans became sick and tired of being profiled and targeted by law enforcement, the legal system, the political system, and even by business interests. Black lives simply haven’t mattered to white Americans over the past few hundred years, particularly by white Americans in positions of power.

For the last freaking time, Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that other lives don’t. It means that black lives have been treated by American society as less valuable than white lives, and they’re not going to take that anymore.

It’s a movement. A philosophy. An idea.

What it is not is an equivalent to the white supremacists that committed acts of terror in Charlottesville. Those monsters preached supremacy, hatred, and violence. They flew the Confederate battle flag, and the Nazi swastika. They raged against equality. They equated the struggle for civil rights with violent action against white people. They are wrong in every possible way.

Nazis, the “alt-right,” the KKK, and Steve Bannon… these are not the white equivalent of Black Lives Matter. They aren’t fighting for civil rights or social justice. They’re fighting for superiority and dominance. These are the philosophical heirs to the people we beat in World War II and the American Civil War.

How dare anyone equate Black Lives Matter to these domestic terrorists!

The people who are part of the BLM movement are flawed and inconsistent. You know, human beings. But they are part of a movement who is standing up for an historically oppressed group of people. A movement whose relevance has become even more clear with the events of this past weekend. As long as there are thousands (likely millions) of angry white nationalists, determined to push back against the progress of people of color, women, and LGBT individuals… movements like BLM are necessary.

To everybody who is equating white supremacists with BLM… you’re full of shit

. You’re creating a false equivalence and fanning the flames of hatred. And even more than that, you are justifying the existence of movements like Black Lives Matter.

History will not be kind to those who claim neo-Nazis and BLM are two sides of the same coin.

Posted in Civil Rights, Media, Quick post, Rant, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Zero steps forward, and a bunch of steps back in Missouri

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Ah, Missouri. My home state. For years, the ultimate purple state, previously described as a “bellwether,” before we decided to color code our partisan leanings. Since the Tea Party revolution of 2010, Missouri has increasingly moved into solid red territory. Barack Obama narrowly lost the state in 2008 (by only 4,000 votes!), but lost it clearly in 2012, and Trump won it by double digits in 2016. Republicans have a huge majority in both houses of the legislature, and they just took back the governor’s mansion in the most recent election. Even before, when milquetoast Democrat Jay Nixon ran the state, all he was able to do was veto some of the most reactionary and irrational bills that arrived at his desk. He provided an important check on GOP inanity, but could do little else.

Now even those days are gone, and the Republicans run the state. The metropolitan areas of Kansas City, St Louis, and Columbia make up a near majority of the state population, and are solidly Democratic, but the Republicans enjoy disproportionate power and representation in the state capitol. They are seemingly on a mission to replicate most of their western neighbors’ mismanagement and transmogrify Missouri into East Kansas.

One such effort has been in the area of women’s rights, specifically their reproductive autonomy.

Senate Bill 5 is a bill advancing through the Missouri legislature, officially concerning restrictions and regulations on abortion. The bill had already been approved by the state Senate, and underwent some tweaks in the House.

There are several parts to this bill, but one aspect in particular has been troubling people who don’t hate women. Specifically, language in SB 5 allows employers to fire women who used birth control and who had received abortions. In addition, housing providers would be allowed to refuse housing to women for those same reasons. The language in the bill is designed to override a St. Louis city ordinance that prohibits employers and housing providers from using a woman’s personal body choices as a reason to discriminate against them.

Let me make this clear.

Punishing women for using birth control and for having made the decision to have an abortion is oppression. It’s state-sanctioned misogyny.

This is not hyperbole or partisan bias. A group of (mostly) men regulating what women are allowed to do with their own body is anti-woman, as well as targeted authoritarianism.

The flimsy justification used for this is a common one – “religious liberty.” But instead of the religious liberty guaranteed by the Constitution – where the government cannot make laws favoring one religion over any others – a different kind of religious liberty seems to be in mind. The freedom to use one’s religious beliefs as a justification to oppress or mistreat others is not one protected by the Constitution, but it appears to be what Missouri Republicans are thinking of with this bill. If a “Christian” knows a prospective tenant in their apartment building has an ortho tri-cyclen prescription for… well, any reason (hint, they aren’t always about birth control), then that landlord could turn her away, even if she has a good rental history and plenty of money. All in the name of “religious freedom.” Remember, this is the state that has legal anti-discrimination protections for people who consume alcohol. Legal protection for women is apparently where the line is drawn.

This bill represents the painful intersection of two enormous problems with Republican leadership in the state of Missouri, as well as nationwide.

One of them is the obsession so many (usually older) straight white cisgender conservative men have with the reproductive systems of women. The other is the hypocrisy of “small government conservatives” lauding the advantages of local control taking precedence over state control, except when it comes to red state governments and blue city governments. Then they can’t dictate how the cities are run fast enough.

With that second point, there has already been a surge of Republicans from rural and suburban Missouri finding themselves very concerned with the inner workings of Kansas City and St. Louis in the last few years. Both of those cities are now required to put their local earnings taxes up for votes every five years, and if repealed, would not be allowed to ever reinstate them. Both Kansas City and St. Louis have had attempts at passing higher minimum wages shot down by the state. Same with stricter gun laws. Republicans rail about federal and state overreach only when it affects their personal ideological beliefs. They have no problem sticking it to the citizens of Democratic-leaning cities, regardless of the harm their policies might cause.

These issues are not simply matters of ideological difference. The bodily autonomy of more than half of population should not be a liberal or conservative issue. Birth control is legal for women to use in the United States. Abortion is also legal (and constitutionally-protected). Allowing discrimination against women for exercising their legal rights (and controlling their own bodies), is unconstitutional and un-American. We need to be better than this. Women face enough challenges in American society as it is. Saddling them with more burdens in Missouri is disgusting and hateful.

Meanwhile, Republican hypocrisy toward notions of local control should be embarrassing to them. It won’t be, because making the base happy, and ensuring re-election, is more important than dignity and honesty.

SB 5 has not yet become law. And, if it does, it could very well be shot down by the courts, who have already ruled against similar laws. The federal government has already overridden these sorts of state laws, and can do so again. However, regardless of the final result, the fact that representatives of Missouri citizens believe it’s necessary to override city laws in order to trample of the rights of women is a travesty. Any member of the Missouri legislature who supports this, supports treating women as something less than men.

Please read this, and let your fellow Missourians know what’s happening in Jefferson City,

The actual wording of the bill can be found here:

http://www.senate.mo.gov/17info/BTS_Web/Bill.aspx?SessionType=S2&BillID=69407391

Posted in Civil Rights, Governance, Healthcare, Kansas City, Politics, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment