Five Lessons from Avengers: Endgame

It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) fans following the release of Avengers: Endgame, the 22nd film in MCU superhero expanse. Jubilant highs have been intermixed with shocking lows as the remaining Avengers attempted to undo the actions from Avengers: Infinity War of the Mad Titan Thanos. There have been goodbyes for iconic characters, the appointment of new leaders, and the establishment of new teams.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve seen the film a few times (six to be precise and maybe more soon), and every time that I’ve watched Avengers: Endgame, I’ve spotted something new. So here’s the first of five quirky lessons or observations (without giving too many spoilers) from Avengers: Endgame:

1.  Hawkeye Speaks Japanese

One character absent from Avengers: Infinity War was Clint Barton (Hawkeye). After his actions in violation of the Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War, Barton finds himself under house arrest, just like Scott Lang in Ant-Man and the Wasp. In the opening scenes of Avengers: Endgame we see Barton with his family on his farm. We catch a glimpse of the house arrest ankle bracelet as he teaches archery to his daughter Lila. Barton seems at peace as he enjoys spending time with his family. This serenity is destroyed in a matter of moments when Barton’s family are turned to dust by the Decimation (Thanos’ finger snap from Avengers: Infinity War). Barton doesn’t take the loss of his family well and assumes a new persona – Ronin. He goes on a worldwide rampage against organised crime as he takes on criminals in countries such as Mexico and Japan. We see Ronin in action in the latter as it takes out the Yakuza in Tokyo. During a fight with one of the Yakuza leaders, Barton speaks Japanese. Should we be surprised that a spy can speak multiple languages? Probably not.

2. The Creator of Thanos is in the Film

After the Avengers fail to stop Thanos from destroying the Infinity Stones there is a time-jump of five years. It’s the year 2023 and the Avengers are trying to move on. Steve Rogers runs a support group for people who lost friends and family in the snap. One member of the group is Joe Russo, one of the directors of Avengers: Endgame. Another member of the group is Jim Starlin, the comic book artist who created Thanos in the early 1970s. Nice cameo.

3. Steve Rogers is a Terrible Cook

While Steve Rogers runs a support group for people, Natasha Romanoff has seemingly taken charge of the Avengers and their allies. We see Natasha in a conference call with Okoye, Captain Marvel, Rocket, Nebula, and War Machine. She reminds her friends that everything that happens anywhere in the universe goes through her. War Machine is the last to terminate communication, but informs her that an incident in Mexico is more than likely the doing of Clint Barton. After War Machine hangs up, Natasha starts to cry at the thought of her dear friend Barton on a rampage around the world. At that moment, Steve Rogers enters the room and says, “I would offer to cook you dinner, but you seem pretty miserable already.” Despite coming out of the ice more than 10 years before it seems that Rogers has still to learn how to cook a decent meal. Still he must be better than the Vision in Captain America: Civil War!

4. Thor, Korg and Miek play Fortnite

Thanks to the quantum technology and Pym’s particles of Scott Lang and the genius of Tony Stark, the Avengers set in motion a plan to undo the Decimation. But they need a team, so the Hulk and Rocket head to New Asgard, which is located in Tønsberg in Norway, to convince Thor to join the cause. However, Thor has not dealt well with the events of Avengers: Infinity War as he has turned to alcohol and bad eating habits to get over his failure to stop Thanos in Wakanda. In addition to enjoying a few too many beers, Thor also enjoys playing Fortnite, the online video game, with his good buddies Korg and Miek. Interesting way to process his perceived failure to stop the Mad Titan. If he’s been playing Fortnite for five years, we’ve got to assume that he’s probably not bad at it.

5. No mention of X-Men: Days of Future Past

As the Avengers prepare to test their quantum-based time travel technology, a number of characters discuss the implications and rules of time travel. James Rhodes and Scott Lang list a whole bunch of time travel films such as Hot Tub Time Machine, Terminator, Wrinkle in Time, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. However, there’s no mention of the 2014 film X-Men: Days of Future Past, in which time travel plays a key role. Of course X-Men: Days of Future Past was produced 20th Century Fox and is not associated with the MCU. But it would have been cool if they had mentioned the X-Men film in the list. On the other hand, it’s likely that the X-Men will become part of the MCU in the near future following the acquisition of 20th Century Fox by Disney.

Within the MCU there must surely be superhero films. Perhaps the adventures of Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Nastasha Romanoff, and Thor have been made into films within the MCU. This was almost revealed in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2. In Marvel Comics, Simon Williams (better known as Wonder Man) is a retired superhero-turned actor. The actor Nathan Fillion (of Castle fame) had been cast as Simon Williams and was supposed to appear in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 on a number of film posters, one of which was for a film entitled “Tony Stark”. Perhaps in the future we will see Wonder Man make an appearance in the MCU, either as a famous actor or as a superhero.

_______________________________________________________________________

And that’s it, the first five quirky lessons or observations from Avengers: Endgame. Stay tuned for more!

Always think super!

BWF

Things aren’t the same after Avengers: Endgame

It’s just over two weeks since the release of Avengers: Endgame, the 22nd film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and the impact of the film has been extraordinary. To date I’ve seen the film FIVE (5) times, and I plan to see the film a couple of more times before it leaves cinemas. Four too many times for some, but for someone like me it’s only the beginning.

I’m more than aware that some people have yet to see the film, which is now the 2nd highest grossing film of all time, so there won’t be any spoilers here from me. I just couldn’t ruin the film for anyone who is waiting for the hype to die down and the theatres to be half empty before they decide to go watch the 182 minute superhero extravaganza.

All I’ll say right now is that the film is fun, exciting, emotional, and there are scenes that will leave you speechless. Of course, like most films these days, there are some things that could have been better, but for me they are minor. To others, these issues are major. In one or two weeks I’ll write a more extensive blog on the film.

Avengers: Endgame – Focused on breaking the box office!

In the build-up to the release of the film, my work on superheroes was featured in a number of publications in the Netherlands. First up my work was featured in an article in New Scientist, in part promoting a talk that I gave as part of the Imagine Film Festival on April 14th. Next, my work was featured in an article written by Nick Kivits for Dutch Men’s Health magazine. I’ve got to say that was very very cool! Finally, Coen van Zwol featured my work in an article with the NRC newspaper.

It’s always great to see articles about my work reach the national press. It’s another thing to see my superhero research make an impact. Of course I cannot take credit for all of the work as I’ve had the opportunity to work with some inspiring students and researchers at TU Delft and further afield.

I promise an in-depth blog about Avengers: Endgame in the near future. But unlike other publications online, this article is spoiler free.

Think super!

BWF

Superhero Scientist to speak at the Imagine Film Festival

Superhero Scientist Imagine Film Festival

Superhero Scientist Barry Fitzgerald at the Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam, April 2019

It’s been a while since I blogged due to a very busy travel schedule over the last few months as well as a lot of work-related tasks that needed to get done.

Perhaps the best way to reboot the blog for 2019 is highlight an upcoming talk that I’ll be giving in Amsterdam as part of the Imagine Film Festival.  Yes, on Sunday April 14th 2019, I’ll be speaking at the EYE Film Museum in Amsterdam. With so many superhero films due out over the coming weeks and months, it’s an exciting time to be a superhero fan, in particular one who dreams about having superpowers. For the Imagine Film Festival I’ll be covering many superpowers, superheroes, and a whole lot more.

You can check out my interview about my talk right here. Hope to see you in Amsterdam at the Imagine Film Festival.

Think super!

BWF

Avengers Infinity War is Coming

Barry Fitzgerald Avengers Infinity War Secrets of Superhero Science

At this very moment in time, I am sitting in my hotel in Seattle about to set out and explore the city. I arrived here yesterday afternoon after a two-day roadtrip from San Francisco via the beautiful coast of the state of Oregon. In the middle of my roadtrip the latest trailer for Avengers: Infinity War was released to much fanfare and appraisal. While some contend that too much has been revealed in the trailer, most people have been invigorated with enthusiasm for the upcoming film release.

Avengers: Infinity War will pit the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and Ant-Man (I hope) against the mad titan Thanos, who is hellbent on acquiring the Infinity stones so that he may “balance the universe”. To balance the universe he intends to wipe out half of all the inhabitants of the universe, which means half of planet Earth.

The trailer reveals a lot, including the last stand of the Avengers in Wakanda. In addition there is a nod towards potential deaths in the trailer, with Iron Man and Captain America both in one-on-one combat with Thanos near the end of the trailer.

However, both Ant-Man and Hawkeye are notably missing from the trailer. I have feeling that this is intentional. If not, then they play no major part in the film, which is a shame considering they are two great characters.

Nonetheless, Avengers: Infinity War is sure to be a big hit when it is released next month. The posters and the billboards are making their appearances in the US already and the excitement over the film is climbing towards fever pitch.

I plan to write further on Infinity War over the coming weeks, so stayed tuned for further thoughts and blog posts.

BWF

Awaiting the Superhero Extravaganza

It seems that 2017 is rocketing by with the end of January fast approaching. While many are still grappling with New Years resolutions and others planning their summer holidays, I find myself these days impatiently waiting for the start of the Superhero Cinematic Adventures for 2017.

While many will include the new Power Rangers film in their superhero list I’m limiting myself to the superhero films from Marvel and DC. This year all four film studios – Fox, Warner Bros., Sony and Disney – will be releasing at least one superhero adventure over the course of the year.

But before we get a chance to see Thor and the Hulk team up in Thor:Ragnarok or Batman recruit the Flash, Cyborg and Aquanman for the Justice League, the first film to kick-off the superhero extravaganza for 2017 will be Logan, which is released at the start of March. The film sees Hugh Jackman take on the role of Wolverine for one last time on the big screen (Naturally many, including me, are holding out hope that Ryan Reynolds can convince Jackman to return for a Deadpool-Wolverine crossover film in the future). Jackman is joined by Patrick Stewart who plays Professor Xavier. Set in the year 2029, the film follows the fortunes of Xavier and Jackman in a desolate future where mutants seem to have vanished, bar Wolverine and Professor X.

I must admit that I was a little disappointed with the first two Wolverine films and that Wolverine has had his best moments in the ensemble films, in particular X-Men:Days of Future Past. Fingers crossed that Logan delivers and that the fans will have a Wolverine cinematic adventure to truly appreciate.

As we close in on the first superhero film of the year I’m busy working on new materials for my 2017 workshops. I’ve got some exciting ideas already in place. I’ll keep you posted on these in the coming weeks and months.

BWF

Should We Really Fear Spider Webs at Halloween?

spider-web

(Image credit: Jean-Philippe Frimat)

In the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and his guide Sapito, played by Alfred Molina, enter a spooky cave searching for an ancient golden relic. A veil of cobwebs obstructs their path, which the pair easily brushes aside. Suddenly Sapito sees a number of tarantula spiders on Indy’s back. When Indy asks Sapito to turn around, Sapito’s back is covered with spiders. Sounds quite unpleasant for both of them!

For many, walking through a cobweb-coated tarantula-filled cave is the stuff of nightmares. Big or small, spiders strike fear in countless. The fact that a film was named after this fear, the 1990 film Arachnophobia starring Jeff Daniels, shows how commonplace the fear is. For some, just a glimpse of a spider web can prove enough to give them the “heebie-jeebies”.

Most spiders are harmless, with less than 30 species out of about 43,000 behind human fatalities. Their webs might look haunting in derelict houses or dark caves but they serve a greater purpose – the webs are used to trap unsuspecting prey. In this way, the spider is spared a potentially fruitless chase, but it requires considerable spider-patience.

Webs are made from spider silk that is produced from spinneret glands in the spider’s abdomen. Silk is a protein, just like the proteins we produce in our bodies such as collagen in skin and ligaments, and keratin in hair. Some spiders even eat their old web before building another. Waste not want not!

Incredibly spider silk is one of the toughest natural materials on the planet, tougher than Kevlar, the material generally used in bulletproof vests. Being tougher means that spider silk can stretch a lot more than Kevlar before it breaks. Although Indiana Jones and Sapito were easily able to stretch and break cobwebs in Raiders of the Lost Ark, they would struggle to break the webs if they were 0.5 metres thick.

The toughness of spider silk has motivated researchers to integrate spider silk with bulletproof technologies. But spiders are small, so setting up a factory to extract silk from millions of spiders sounds silly. Instead, researchers have turned to transgenesis. They isolated the gene behind spider silk production in golden silk orb-weavers, a species renowned for their very tough silk, and inserted it into the DNA of goats. When the herds of spider-goats were milked, filaments of silk were also found in the milk! Once extracted and treated, the silk can then be used to create bulletproof technology.

For example, Jalila Essaïdi, a bio-artist based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands has combined transgenic spider silk with human skin to create a hybrid skin that can stop slow moving bullets! Although the bulletproof skin can’t stop normal-speed bullets (just yet), this study shows that spider silk shouldn’t be feared. Spider silk could potentially save us. Further applications for spider silk could include indestructible fishing lines or parachute cables, and replacement knee ligaments! Imagine having spider silk knee ligaments!

So this Halloween, instead of fearing spiders and their seemingly haunting abodes, we all should embrace their amazing webs. Bulletproof hybrid skin and unbreakable spider silk ligaments could be the way of the future, and all thanks to the amazing properties of spider silk.

Finally, spare a thought for poor Alfred Molina. That tarantula-covered role in Raiders of the Lost Ark was his first major film. But just over two decades later, Molina was battling spiders once again. As Doctor Octopus, he was vanquished by Spider-Man in Spider-Man 2. Oh the irony! Is Alfred Molina’s career cursed by spiders?

Suicide Squad – A Team of Villains doing a Hero’s Job

suicide_squad

The Superhero film has evolved considerably since the early days of the simple “Good vs. Bad” storyline. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has broken new ground by incorporating differing plots or themes into the superhero genre. The Captain America trilogy is the exemplar for this. Captain America: The First Avenger is a war film set during World War II, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is effectively a spy film similar in style to a James Bond adventure and Captain America: Civil War introduces political themes and considers the effect of governmental controls on superheroes.

Other superhero films have considered the implications of superpowers on modern society, in particular the X-Men films. In X-Men (2000), Professor Xavier and his team of mutants are depicted as a group with good intentions as they seek to integrate with modern society in a seamless fashion. On the other hand, Magneto and his supporters wish to succeed the human race as they view mutants to be the next evolutionary step in our species. Magneto believes that mutant powers should rule the world while humanity suffers the consequences. Although this film appears to preserve the “Good vs. Bad” vibe, the film explores and shows the public’s attitude to mutants and their powers, whether they are Xavier’s followers or part of Magneto’s Brotherhood.

For many years the DC film universe has lagged behind the Marvel films (with the exception of the excellent Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy, the first two Batman films from 1989 and 1991 that were directed by Tim Burton and the original Superman film from 1978). However things might be about to change, and so much so that DC could be about to change the superhero film forever. The brand new DC film Suicide Squad is set for release in August 2016 and the plot of the film follows a group of villains who are hired by the government to complete incredibly dangerous secret missions for the government. In the comic books the reward for successfully completing the mission was a decrease in their prison sentence. If the villains perished on the mission they weren’t mourned and the government simply moved onto the next. “They’re bad guys” and the attitude of the government is that nobody would miss them.

Suicide Squaddirected by David Dyer, could be a serious game changer in the superhero-supervillain film genre. No film from the modern crop of superhero films puts the villains under such a powerful spotlight. Some of the villains have been imprisoned by the legendary Batman, the speedy Flash and other DC heroes, and you’re already familiar with one or two of the villains. The Joker, played by Jared Leto, was the main villain in Batman (1989) and The Dark Knight (2008) while Harley Quinn is a fan favourite villain and often a companion of the Joker. There are other villains that you might have heard of in the past. Deadshot, played by Will Smith, is a sharpshooter who never misses (sounds like Hawkeye with a gun), Captain Boomerang can throw trick boomerangs (like the trick-arrows of Hawkeye) and El Diablo can produce flames from his hands. The other characters add to the complexity of the Suicide Squad, with the abilities of each likely to prove crucial to the success of their missions.

The film will also include an appearance by Ben Affleck as Batman. Given that it was he that imprisoned many of the villains, it is perhaps unsurprising that he makes an appearance in the film. The reason for his exact presence  is not clear from the trailers so we’ll just have to wait and see why he shows up. Other heroes are rumoured to also appear in the film such as Barry Allen’s The Flash. However I don’t think you’ll be seeing Superman in the film. Remember he was “killed” at the end of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Following the disappointing performance of the aforementioned film at the box office, Warner Bros. and the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) will be keen that Suicide Squad is an unquestionable success.

But are you ready to root for the villains? Are you ready to support the evil-doers as they battle a threat to the world that is even more powerful than all of them put together? It’s almost time to support the villain. It’s almost time to cheer for the Suicide Squad.

BWF

X-Men: Apocalypse – A Glimpse into their Scientific Origins

After the commercial success of 2014’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, the failure of the Fantastic Four (FF) at the box office in the summer of 2015 led to an unwanted blotch on the Superhero Film resume of 20th Century Fox. Although the FF reboot had some worthwhile moments, the film and script for the large part were messy and incoherent and resulted in a very disappointing portrayal of this iconic team of superheroes.

The failure of FF therefore led to increased pressure on 20th Century Fox to deliver with one of their planned releases in 2016. Deadpool, which hit cinemas in February, was an undoubted success as Ryan Reynolds superbly portrayed Wade Wilson, the “Merc with a Mouth”, in a film that grossed more than $750 million worldwide. With their reputation restored, the next 20th Century Fox film on the conveyor belt is X-Men: Apocalypse, a film which introduces the first mutant – Apocalypse, otherwise known as En Sabah Nur.

Many are anticipating that X-Men: Apocalypse will surpass the success of X-Men: Days of Future Past and given the competition from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), it is imperative that Fox utilises their substantial X-Men stable of characters appropriately. With the introduction of Apocalypse, the film provides a well-timed opportunity to talk about the origins of the X-Men, their past and their possible future adventures.

The film introduces not only the first of a new species, Apocalypse, but will also address the significance of the X-Gene for the X-Men. In scientific terms the key to the power of the X-Men lies in the X-Gene in their DNA. Bryan Singer has already said that the film addresses the origin of “mutant-cy” and how the X-Men characters have the X-Gene in their DNA.

Many X-Men fans will have their own favourite power and aspire to get that power somehow in the future. There are many technological routes that you could follow. For example, you could build a device that allows you to control metal just like Magneto or invent something to dictate the weather like Storm. But what about using genetic-editing tools to edit our DNA so that we too could possess mutant powers in a biological fashion similar to the X-Men. One such genetic-editing tool that is receiving considerable attention at the moment is the CRISPR/Cas system, a genetic editing tool that can chop up DNA to either disrupt or stop genes, or even insert new genes or genetic code into DNA.

But there are many hurdles that need to be overcome before the CRISPR/Cas system can be applied to engineer the X-Men in laboratories around the world. Ethical, societal, financial, religious and political are just some of the hurdles that need to be cleared before we will actively seek to create the X-Men in laboratories around the world. And it will be a long long time before that will be even close to happening.

Until then we can of course turn towards developing technological devices that allow us to scale the mountain towards the summit of X-Men mutant powers. Maybe someone will one day invent a device that gives you the powers of Professor Charles Xavier, the leader of the X-Men, who can read minds, control people, control the powers of other mutants and freeze people in space and time. Some of you might have your fingers crossed for the invention of that device! Despite the fact that X-Men: Apocalypse is set in 1980s the film may provide key insight into the not-too-distant future. That is not only the X-Men’s future but also your super-future.

X-Men: Apocalypse is released in cinemas in Europe from 18th May 2016.

You can read about the science behind the powers of the X-Men, DNA and the CRISPR/Cas system in the book “Secrets of Superhero Science”. Further information for the book “Secrets of Superhero Science” are available at www.bwscience.com.

DNA

Secrets of Superhero Science in the Irish Times

Team Cap running

Last week saw two notable events in the World of Superheroes.

First the European premiere of “Captain America: Civil War” took place, the latest superhero film from Marvel Cinematic Studios and the 13th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). I’ve seen it and I’ll go to see it again. The story delicately integrates numerous superhero characters into a battle with ramifications for not only the superheroes but also for the world.

Second, and of greater significance for me, “Secrets of Superhero Science” was the subject of an in-depth article written by Dick Ahlstrom and published in the Irish Times Thursday Science Page on the 28th April 2016. The article excellently captures the essence of the book by discussing elements of the scientific content in the book and how it relates to superheroes such as Iron Man, Hawkeye and the X-Men, which are all the subject of chapters in the book.

I’ve never had national media coverage before and it was a thrill to see an article about my book in the Irish Times. I am immensely proud of this achievement and thank Dick Ahlstrom and the Irish Times for the article on the book and also publishing it in the same week as release of the “Captain America: Civil War”.

If you want to read more the article you can click here.

BWF

Captain America: Civil War – Prepare for Animal, Insect and Bird Superpowers

Small image of a hawk's eye (Image by Jean-Philippe Frimat)

The eye of a hawk (Image by Jean-Philippe Frimat).

With Captain America: Civil War about to hit cinemas this week, it’s an understatement to say that I’m very excited about its upcoming release. The film will be the 13th release from Marvel Cinematic Studios, and a film jam-packed with superheroes.

The film sees Iron Man and Captain America disagree about a series of accords or laws, known as the Sokovia accords, that are put in place to monitor superhero activity and police the use of their powers. Iron Man believes the accords, which were drawn up by the UN, must be obeyed while Captain America believes that following the accords will simply satisfy the agenda of politicians around the world. This disagreement leads to a fracture in the Avengers and sees friends facing off against friends in what will prove to be an unforgettable war.

Among the huge number of superheroes in Captain America: Civil War are Spider-Man, Ant-Man, the Falcon, Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Black Panther. As you can see each of these characters includes an animal, bird or insect reference in their superhero name. Wolverine, Sabretooth, Beast and Raven of the X-Men also include animals or birds in their names. So why were the comic book writers at Marvel infatuated with the idea of linking characters to animals, birds or insects?

The answer may be very simple. Many insects, animals and birds possess abilities that many people would simply like to have. In terms of birds, their most obvious ability we would like to mimic is flight.  Falcon, who is on Team Cap in Captain America: Civil War, is able to fly thanks to his winged-jet pack. On the other hand, Hawkeye may not fly but he does have impressive eyesight, synonymous with birds of prey such as hawks. Ant-Man and Spider-Man are named after insects because their powers are reminiscent of the abilities portrayed by ants and spiders respectively. Some ants can lift objects that have masses up to 5,000 times their own body mass, an ability that would be true super-strength in the human world. As Spider-Man, Peter Parker is able to scale walls and fire web at assailants – both of which are popularly associated with spiders of course. I’m sure many of you would love to be able to climb walls, buildings or mountains just like Spider-Man. Some of you might not like the idea of producing spider-silk from your wrists, however.

These animal-, insect- and bird-like powers have proved central to many of the superhero adventures to date and will do so in future superhero films. In Captain America: Civil War, these powers will be crucially important for the overall storyline and the intricate plot turns in the film. But if you were to have an animal-, insect- or bird-like ability which one would you want?

You can read about the powers of Hawkeye and Spider-Man in more detail in my new book “Secrets of Superhero Science”.

BWF