Monday, March 30, 2020

Power Rangers Binge List: Mighty Morphin

The nostalgia is strong for 90's kids and one of the popular franchises we grew up with was Power Rangers. Most people I talk to who watch the show still have love for the original Power Rangers, but WOW talk about filler. Other than a handful of story arcs, the first three seasons of Power Rangers nothing but filler.

Since you've probably got ample time at home right now and all of Power Rangers is in Netflix, here's a binge list of important episodes that you'll actually care about. No filler needed.

1. Day of the Dumpster (1 episode - about 20 min)
The one where they become Rangers. You know the story: Rita gets unleashed, so Zordon recruits the original five Power Rangers to take her on. They also get their zords here. If you're doing the binge, you can't leave this one out.

2. Green With Evil (5 episodes - about 1 hour 40 min)
After a few defeats, Rita makes her own Ranger: Tommy Oliver, the Green Ranger. We all know him. He ends up being a Power Rangers legend. But first we have the original evil Ranger.

3. The Green Candle (2 episodes - about 40 min)
One of the few smart moves that Rita ever pulls. She uses her magic to take away Tommy's Green Ranger powers.

4. Birds of a Feather (1 episode - about 20 min)
This one is more optional, but it features Jason using Tommy's power coin for the first time. So that's kind of cool.

5. Return of an Old Friend (2 episodes - about 40 min)
One of the few times in early Power Rangers that we see parents. Rita captures them and uses them as leverage to get the power coins. So Zordon has to bring Tommy back with temporary powers.

6. The Mutiny (3 episodes - about 1 hour)
Season 2 premiere--not that season 1 had a proper finale. Lord Zedd boots Rita out and the Rangers have to step up their game by getting new powers and new zords.

7. Green No More (2 episodes - about 40 min)
After his powers slowly dissipated, this story finishes off that arc. Tommy loses his powers again, never to be seen again (jk, obviously).

8. White Light (2 episodes - about 40 min)
So after Tommy takes off for a while without his powers, this story bring him back in as the famous White Ranger to keep the Rangers from being outmatched by Lord Zedd.

9. The Ninja Encounter (3 episodes - about 60 min)
After some behind-the-scenes drama created some rifts between actors and production team, three Rangers had to be replaced. But first we had to introduce their replacements, who would be recurring characters until officially becoming Power Rangers. 

10. The Power Transfer (2 episodes - about 40 min)
Following a few episodes of no-so-subtle absences from Zack, Trini, and Jason, they take off for Europe and their powers get transferred to Adam, Aisha, and Rocky.

11. The Wedding (3 episodes - about 1 hour)
Ever since Lord Zedd claimed the palace, Rita was a bit AWOL, so this story brought her back in and teamed her up with her new husband to take down the Rangers.

12. Ninja Quest (4 episodes - about 1 hour 20 min)
After getting their powers taken away and their zords destroyed, the Rangers get new ninja powers from Ninjor.

13. A Different Shade of Pink (3 episodes - about 1 hour)
Kimberly gets an offer to be coached by a famous gymnastics coach, so Kat (who just finished up her introductory story arc) takes over as the Pink Ranger.

14. Rangers in Reverse (1 episode - about 20 min)
As a pseudo-finale for Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, this episode features Master Vile turning the world back and the Rangers become kids again. This episode leads directly into the 10-episode mini-series Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers (just watch all 10 episodes of that),

Depending on how long the so-called quarantine continues, don't be surprised if I come back with a binge list for the rest of the Zordon era of Power Rangers.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Saluting Homer’s new corporate overlords

Any fan of Pixar is well aware that when you go see a Pixar movie in the theater, you’re going to start by watching a Pixar short. Pixar shorts are usually masterpieces in and of themselves. (See our reviews for the SparkShorts films Loop, Float, and Purl.) But Onward doesn’t have a Pixar short. Instead, Onward is preceded by a short called Playdate with Destiny, starring Maggie Simpson! It’s the first theatrical sign of Disney’s acquisition of Fox, and specifically of The Simpsons, which can be streamed on Disney+.

Playdate with Destiny is a cute film, and follows a lot of the best tropes of Pixar shorts: it’s largely silent, features very few characters, tells a tight story, and has a whole lotta heart. This is Maggie’s story, through and through, which makes it easy to have zero dialogue. Maggie meets and falls in love with Hudson, and the two share a whirlwind romance of sharing champagne and strawberries (which are really a water fountain and sand). When Maggie thinks that she will never see Hudson again, she takes drastic measures to find him as he leaves on a train. The two are about to share a kiss, but they trade pacifiers instead. Cute.

The short is adorable. It’s crisp and clean, well animated, and looks terrific. (Personally, I love the rough hand drawn Simpsons of 1989. I used to watch the original Simpsons shorts in between skits on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. Bonus trivia: Tracey Ullman voices the pawn shop owner in Onward.) Maggie's story is engaging and compelling in all the best Simpsons ways. The humor is a little lacking, though there are some clever bits when Maggie uses her imagination, and getting drunk on baby formula reminds me of my caffeine addiction caused by that most sinful of addictive drinks, Diet Dr. Pepper. Ultimately, The Simpsons is a great addition to the Disney family, and Playdate with Destiny shows a fresh and promising future for the classic comedy powerhouse, The Simpsons.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes

I started watching Disney XD’s Earth’s Mightiest Heroes not long after Disney Plus showed up with a plethora of Marvel cartoons from the past few decades. My brother had recommended this Avengers cartoon, so I figured I’d give it a shot. It was a slow start as the founding members of the team were established, but overall I wasn’t disappointed. Fifty-two episodes introduced dozens of beloved Marvel characters and covered lots of comic-inspired story arcs. So here are some of my highlights (in no particular order).

Masters of Evil: Throughout the series, a team of villains forms, first through the Breakout and then additional members join later on. On top of that, we also got the Serpent Society. This is something missing from the MCU. Other than Hydra, we don’t really have any villain teams in the films. Makes it more of a challenge when the villains band together too.

Black Widow arc: By the time Black Widow was introduced in Iron Man 2, she was already a hero. We’ve heard of her dark history but never seen it. Maybe we’ll see flashbacks of it in her solo movie, but it was nice to see a darker side to Natasha (even if it was all a cover for Fury’s mission).

Kang the Conqueror: I honestly didn’t know anything about Kang before this series, but now I love him as a villain. His story is complex and it spanned the show’s two seasons (appearing on and off). I would love to see Kang show up in the MCU. With Thanos gone, Kang could have a nice overarching plot in the upcoming phases of the movies.

Ultron: Obviously I knew the character from Age of Ultron, but Earth’s Mightiest Heroes gives him a stronger story. His movie gave him a few days’ worth of action, whereas the cartoon gave him a few episodes’ worth of story and a reprise in season 2. It actually made me wonder if Ultron could be resurrected in the movies someday. Maybe he uploaded himself into cyberspace before Vision finished him off?

Battle of Asgard: Unless it somehow happens in the Loki Disney Plus universe, this plot isn’t going to happen in the MCU, so it was cool to see it in the cartoon. In the Season 1 finale, the Avengers ended up in Asgard and ended up saving it from Loki and friends. This kind of off-world battle is something we’ve yet to see from the MCU Avengers.

Fantastic Four and Wolverine: While Fox had the movie rights for the Fantastic Four, X-Men and other related franchises, Disney was still able to use their characters in cartoon form. The Fantastic Four appeared multiple times to team up with the Avengers. Wolverine appeared with the New Avengers and Beast was in one of Fury’s photographs. Since some of our original MCU Avengers have moved on, it’s near impossible we’ll see the X-Men or Fantastic Four team up with them. But this made it possible, even if it wasn’t on the big screen.

Heroes for Hire: Another set of heroes that’ll likely never team up with the Avengers on the big screen are the Netflix Marvel heroes. There are rumors that Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and the others will be rebooted on Disney Plus, but for now we have what we have. There have always been rumors of the Defenders crossing over into the movies, but it’ll probably never happen. So for the moment, I’ll take the "Heroes for Hire" episode and the New Avengers team that brought Iron Fist and Luke Cage into the mix.

Secret Invasion: My brother had told me about this story arc in the past, so I was intrigued from the start. Spread out over the space of half a season, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes sets up the Skrull Invasion. So far in the MCU we’ve only seen good guy Skrulls. However, we could easily see some nasty Skrulls come up in our future. Either way, this story arc was just as interesting as my brother made it sound.

Quake and Mockingbird: Like the Fox-owned properties and the Netlfix heroes, I knew these characters, this time from Agents of SHIELD. Though part of the MCU, Daisy Johnson and Bobbi Morse are unlikely to crossover into the movies. So just like the other previously mentioned heroes, this made it a special moment when two of my favorite heroines appeared.

New Avengers: When the Avengers are out of commission, Tony recruits some allies to protect the Earth. The Thing, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, and War Machine banded together to pick up the slack. Because of already mentioned issues with Iron Fist and Luke Cage (and possible contract issues with Spider-Man) it’s unlikely we’ll ever get this exact line-up in the MCU, but maybe someday.

Overall, being a fan of the MCU, this series gave me a new love for some of these characters. It also showed me how much there is to look forward to in the MCU. They have such a wide array of characters to introduce and to get us to love. Heroes. Villains. There’s a lot to love and the MCU has only scratched the surface.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Lucy Pevensie: Don’t run from who you are

Coriakin: “Beware. You are all about to be Tested.” 

Nine years ago when Voyage of the Dawn Treader was released in theaters, I was a novice at all things Narnia. I had seen the movies, but that's it. At that same time, I was waiting to find out if I'd go back on my mission after coming home due to anxiety. I don't know about everyone in my situation, but it definitely tested me. It brought up all kinds of insecurities and self-worth stuff that I didn't know existed in my psyche.

When the crew of the Dawn Treader arrived on Coriakin's island, the magician foresaw the trials they'd face. Edmund’s had to do with pride and Caspian’s had to do with insecurities. And Lucy’s trial, like mine, was rooted in her self-worth.

From the first moments of the movie, Lucy compares herself to Susan at every turn. “Do you think I look anything like Susan?” “Have you found yourself a queen in those three years?” And then the mists of temptation show up in Coriakin’s house and she takes a page out of his spellbook.

“Make me she, whom I'd agree holds more beauty over me.”

During a rough night on the sea, Lucy uses the spell on the page and makes herself look like Susan. But not just in appearance. She ends up back in England and finds she’s wished Lucy away. She'd become Susan and they had never found Narnia. Fortunately it was just a dream, but Aslan used the moment to teach her.

Aslan: “You wished yourself away… You doubt your value. Don’t run from who you are.”

Every Sunday between my missions (and for years after), I couldn't stop from comparing myself to every 2-year RM in Elders Quorum. Every time a story started with "When I was on my mission..." I got resentful and sad. Years later, even having dealt with that heartache, I still play the comparison game everyday. This guy at the gym is stronger and fitter than me. This girl at work has better stats than me. This person in class is smarter than me. Somehow I believe that my life would be perfect if I were like them.

“You doubt your value.”

Story of my life right? But I wouldn’t be me if I were like this guy or that girl. As children of God, we have worth, no matter what we think. That’s why the Savior was willing to die for us all.

“God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

He wouldn’t have died for you if you were worthless. He wouldn’t have died for you if you weren’t important. But you are worth dying for… even if you don’t believe it yet.

Lucy got the message in the end. As I increase my faith and my understanding of the gospel, I trust that I’ll understand it in my heart someday too.

Gael: “When I grow up, I want to be just like you.”
Lucy: “When you grow up, you should be just like you.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

10 Best Disney Songs On Broadway (but not in the movies!)

A lot of questions pop up whenever Disney remakes a film. Questions like "Why did we need this? How are they going to portray the non-human characters? Hay is that Hermione?" but the question I keep having is "Why don't they use any of the music from the Broadway shows?!" An entire untapped world of Disney music is sitting around, needing to be heard by general audiences, and here are some of my favorites.

10: Watch What Happens (Newsies)

This is a perfect summary of women trying to break into the workplace at the turn of the century, as well as gives character to the female lead Katherine as she tries to tackle the big story of the Newsies protest. It's everything we think of when we think old time female reporter minus having to be saved by Superman.

9: Shadowlands (The Lion King)
Nala does not get her just due in The Lion King. She's an amazing lioness who left her family to find help, and while the Broadway show has many songs that were criminally left out, I think this one of Nala being blessed by the other lionesses is the best.

8: I Want the Good Times Back (The Little Mermaid)
Arguably one of the best villain songs of all time is Poor Unfortunate Souls by the iconic Ursula, but ever wonder where under the sea Ursula came from? Her entire backstory and relationship to Triton is explained in this jazzy song by the sea witch.

7: If I Can't Love Her (Beauty and the Beast)
Okay so Evermore wasn't bad from the live action film, but Beast gets an even more soulful song with this one on Broadway. With a reprisal later, this haunting melody makes us all remember why we loved the Beast.

6: Rhythm of the Tambourine (Hunchback of Notre Dame)
I will argue to the ends of the earth on behalf of Hunchback. I think it's the most underrated Disney film of all time and this soundtrack only takes it to the next level. Here is the quintessential moment where Frollo, Quasimodo and Phoebis all first see the mesmerizing Esmeralda. It's a fun song that you can't help but to shake your hips to.

5: Proud of Your Boy (Aladdin)
One of the best part of the Broadway musicals are the fleshing out of characters, even ones we didn't know we needed more of. Here we get an insight into Aladdin's heart, that not only is he a good person but he's just trying to do what's best despite his situation.

4: Practically Perfect (Mary Poppins)
This song doesn't add much to the story, but it does add a fantastic new song to the Mary Poppins universe by expounding on one of our favorite Mary Poppins phrases.

3: Home (Beauty and the Beast)
Belle gets to star here as she expresses her feelings about being trapped in Beast's castle and making the best out of her situation. Her reprise to this song comes when the Beast is dying and strengthens one of Disney's most beautiful moments.

2: Made of Stone (Hunchback of Notre Dame)
One of the major changes from the cartoon to the stage was that they dropped the irritating gargoyles and replaced them with statues of the Saints. Here the statues are trying to convince Quasimodo to not give up despite everything seeming hopeless.

1: He Lives In You (Lion King)
Lion King is at its heart the story of a child learning to cope with the loss of his father. He Lives In You and its reprise are Simba connecting to his father, no matter where he is, and never fails to bring a tear to the eye.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Moving Onward after the death of a loved one

Minor spoilers for Onward below.

About two-thirds of the way through Pixar’s new masterpiece, Onward (see our review here), Barley is sitting on a Cheeto boat and reveals to his brother that he has a memory of his late father that he’s not proud of. Barley takes off his beanie and gets vulnerable for a minute. He tells his brother how his father was really sick, and Barley was instructed to go say goodbye to his father before he died. But Barley saw a man who was hooked up to tubes and wires, he got scared, and he didn’t say goodbye. He couldn't. Barley explains that since that moment on, he has chosen to be brave for the rest of his life, to never be scared again.

This summer I lost one of my best friends, Mark Mazzarella, who was nicknamed “Cheese”. On July 8, Cheese received some bad news, I walked him to his car, and we had an emotional moment. But it was too difficult for me to say goodbye, so instead I just kind of put my hand on his shoulder and didn’t say anything. I couldn't get the words out. That night I called him to check on him. We talked for about a half hour. And then he took his own life while I was on the phone with him. 

What happened to Cheese was tragic and traumatizing. I’m in a better place than I was this summer, but I’m still not over the suicide or the fact that I didn’t really say goodbye to my best buddy. I don’t think I ever really will be. But I have been working on allowing that catastrophic experience to shape the rest of my life. Like Barley, I have vowed to be as fearless as I can. I have started to live my life boldly. I haven’t taken up D&D or magic or protesting the preservation of historical sites, but I have started reaching out to friends like I’ve never done before. I’ve started examining my testimony and listening to the ways that God speaks to me. I’ve vowed to be more authentic in my life. And this is all a direct result of the death of one of the closest friends I’ve ever had. 

Suicide is a terrible thing. If you’re feeling even the least bit suicidal, reach out to somebody -- anybody. Like they say in Dear Evan Hansen, “You can reach out your hand and someone will come running. You will be found.” But for those left behind after suicide, or the death of a loved one, or any kind of loss, it can seem like an impossible task to pick up and continue our quest for happiness. However, I have learned that there’s magic in the way a tragedy can bring about some positive change. Just like a manticore’s fire can make way for new growth, or the loss of a beloved Guinevere can create a new path for a seemingly impossible journey, so too the death of a dear friend can be the catalyst for personal growth. Death has the power to spur another person to be brave, to live outside their comfort zone, to become a better version of himself. Though we never forget the person that we loved and lost, we can let them become part of the fabric of our future as we work on self-improvement and we move Onward.

If you are having suicidal ideations or you don’t know where to turn, please call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. 

Friday, March 13, 2020

Pokemon Nicknames: Disney (Gen I)

I was never much of one for nicknaming my Pokemon when I was a kid, but in recent replays through Pokemon (especially since Pokemon Go came out) I’ve been finding little ways to make their names a little extra fun to look at, instead of just seeing “Pikachu” on my screen all the time. One of my favorites to do is Disney nicknames, just for the spread of names to use. Not all nicknames are equally awesome though (some are kind of just there… like my Virizion named Goofy). But there are some Disney nicknames that I’m a little too proud of. I’ve only included Generation I nicknames on this post, to avoid it getting too long, but look forward to more in the future.
Butterfree (or Beautifly) as Heimlich

Raticate (or Watchog) as Ratigan

Arbok as Jafar

Growlithe as Dug

Rapidash as Maximus

Gengar as Cheshire

Shiny Dragonite as Elliot

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Power Rangers: Who You Want to Be

(Guest post by David B)

It never ceases to amaze me where and when insights come. In this case, I found an opportunity to draw inspiration from Jason Scott of the 2017 Power Rangers.

I had the chance to spend some good time with my children while vacationing in Utah. While at our hotel room we decided to watch Power Rangers. In one part, Kim is explaining to Jason why she feels responsible for the team not being able to morph into their ranger forms. After explaining her situation and why she can't open up to the team, Jason explains, "You did an awful thing. It doesn't make you an awful person. Just be the person you want to be."

I feel like too often we let our actions define us. And why not? That is, after all, what most people remember. And what's easier to remember than the awful things we've done? Just like in a customer service experience, we will tell our friends and family about a bad experience right away but don't usually volunteer a positive one.

I know that I've done awful things. I have let those awful things weigh on my mind and let myself be convinced that I'm an awful person. However, just like Kim, I'm not an awful person. And just as Jason tells her, I can just be the person I want to be.

"Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
"And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
"And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!" (Alma 36: 18-20)

Alma chose who he wanted to be.

We're all guilty of making awful choices but the choice is mine as to who I want to be. And the choice is yours as to who you want to be.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Onward - Pixar's latest masterpiece

I knew I was going to be biased when I walked into Onward, since I'd already defended it on several internet forums and had a Barley dolly sitting at home waiting for me, but nonetheless I was still amazed at how much I truly enjoyed the film.

Onward then.

The Non-Spoiler Plot

Onward takes place in a magical Dungeons and Dragons-esque setting where elves, unicorns and the like used magic to coexist relatively peacefully. When technology came along, with its ease of use, the magic in the world slowly died out to be replaced with smart phones and planes. In this world we follow Ian and Barley,  played by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt respectively, two brothers who are given the magical ability to see their deceased dad for one day by way of magic. The spell goes awry and the brothers have to go on a quest to find the missing component of the spell that can allow them to see their dad again.

Ian and Barley, The Emotional Core

Ian is the younger brother of Onward, an awkward 16-year-old who seems to be afraid of everything including making friends. His opposite and brother, Barley, is a geek by way of Wayne's World and is confident in his life, despite being seen mainly as a screw up. Barley is obsessed with their world's version of D&D, Quests of Yore, which is not only a role-playing game but an historically accurate game making it a mix between D&D and Civil War reenactments. His passion usually lands him in trouble as he tries to convince the world that things were far better back when there was less indoor plumbing and more hocus pocus.

It's the brother's chemistry that makes the movie shine, much like Elsa and Anna from Frozen this film focuses less on getting one of the main characters married off and more on the relationship between siblings, a dynamic that is all but universally felt. The film's overall message is about reestablishing connection, whether it's with the brothers connecting to their dead father, Ian connecting with really anyone, or Barley trying to connect the world to its lost roots. Without giving too much away it's this theme of connection that accumulates in the film's emotional climax, which had my party in the theater all literally reaching for the tissues.

The Cyclops in the Room

It would be remiss to not mention the major controversy surrounding the film, being the first canonical LGBT character in Disney/Pixar's vast canon.

She's a cop cyclops that has about a 6 minute scene and in it she mentions offhandedly that she has a girlfriend. That's it.

As far as representation goes it's not bad, an applauded step, but for me the real representation star came in the form of Barley, the geeky, loud, over sized older brother (gee, I wonder what I see in him). In my representation post I mentioned how geeks are still usually portrayed as comic relief at best and degrading stereotypes at worst. Barley starts out as a stereotype, the over-obsessed loser with no direction but to play his games and bore everyone endlessly about his obsessions, but as the film progresses he's actually shown to be more of the one in the right. Barley doesn't go through a forced change where he has to put away his toys and rockin' denim vest to pursue a degree in engineering, his knowledge of the old world pays off more than once, and those he comes in contact with start to see that the magic inside of them is worth the effort to pursue, despite the technological wonders around them.

Onward is the film that needs to become Disney/Pixar's new tent pole franchise, essentially the Frozen for boys and geeks. If you've been wondering weather its worth it, stop right now, get your tickets and go as soon as you can because you will not be sorry for the experience you get.


Click here to also see Ryan's insights about grief, inspired by Onward.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Unpopular Opinions: MCU

I started off this week with a countdown on Facebook to Black Widow and the launch of MCU Phase 4. I feel it's only appropriate to pair that countdown with a reflection of sorts to the history of the MCU. Phases 1-3 had movies, shorts, Netflix, Hulu, and network shows. Now we're moving into an area consolidated to movies and Disney+. So as part of my reflections, here are a few of some unpopular opinions about the MCU thus far.

Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk weren’t so bad
They are two of the lesser loved MCU movies. They’re not fantastic blockbusters, but they aren’t as bad as people make them out to be. The big problem with Iron Man 2 is that they bit off more than they could chew (Black Widow’s introduction, Whiplash, Justin Hammer, etc.) but it didn’t make the movie bad. On the other hand, I think the big problem with The Incredible Hulk is how it kind of came out of nowhere and became irrelevant afterwards. It assumed you knew the backstory of The Hulk and it kind of just threw us in there. Also, especially since they re-cast Bruce Banner, the movie kind of became inconsequential. We’ve seen Ross since then, but the Abomination and Betty just disappeared (although the Abomination was mentioned in Agents of SHIELD).

Iron Fist was good
I think the biggest issue people have with Iron Fist is how it’s so different from the comic book character. So to be fair, I’ve never read the comics. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed Iron Fist. Danny Rand was a refreshingly chill character compared to Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage being so angsty. Also, as far as Season 2 is concerned, it was one of the shorter seasons of any Netflix MCU show, so I think that helped keep the pacing up. The 13-episode Netflix seasons made them feel like 13-hour long Marvel movies. And that got kind of exhausting. So even shaving off three hours made it more manageable.

Daredevil Season 1 wasn't so great
Before I watched Daredevil, I heard how great it was. But I was disappointed. Matt Murdock was cool and I liked Daredevil as a character and a concept. However, as the season went on, it felt drawn out. Like I said with Iron Fist, the 13-episode seasons often felt like a super long movie. I much preferred the shows where each episode felt like a self-contained story with an over-arching plot. In my opinion, Jessica Jones, Runaways, and even Cloak & Dagger did a better job at that.

Agents of SHIELD Season 1 was good
I've heard a lot of complaints over the years about Agents of SHIELD's bumpy start. As the series started in the post-Avengers/MCU Phase 2 era, they took some time figuring out their footing. Until the Winter Soldier tie-in episodes, the series didn't have an over-arching story per se. It kind of just seemed like an MCU cop show, where each episode was its own story. Maybe it's just because I had lower expectations that I liked it? I don't know. But it's still my favorite MCU TV show thus far, ever since I started binging seasons 1-2 during grave shifts.

Captain Marvel is good
I don't know what it was about Captain Marvel that got people up in arms last year, but I liked it. Granted, the 90s nostalgia helped, but it added a story into an era of the MCU that we'd never seen before. Also we got some backstory with Nick Fury and Phil Coulson (though I'm still kind of bitter that we didn't get as much Coulson as I wanted). Maybe the details of Fury's eye injury wasn't important, but it was a fun addition. In addition, the plot twist was unprecedented. Everything I'd read had the Skrulls as bad guys, so we were set up for the Kree to be the good guys. But we'd also only seen the Kree as the bad guys (in Guardians, in SHIELD, etc.) so I didn't know what to expect. All that made the experience more fun for me. Honestly, my biggest disappointment with Captain Marvel is that she didn't have a bigger role to play in Endgame, after all that buildup.

Black Widow isn't necessary
Don't get me wrong; I'm looking forward to seeing Black Widow. However, I'm skeptical about it. My worry is that the whole movie will be pure fan-service for the people who've wanted a female-led Avengers movie. Representation matters (as Joe explained this week), but it has to be done right. If Black Widow is done right, it'll be great. My fear is that it's just a cash-grab and it won't matter after it's done. We've had lots of standalone MCU movies over the years (Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, etc.), but none of them have been filler; they've all been relevant to the universe. But since Natasha is dead... how is her standalone movie going to relate to the future of the MCU? I'm skeptically optimistic, but mostly skeptical.