I’ve recently been smacked around the head by an epiphany. After seeing Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 and squeeing like a squeezy dog-toy, I now understand what everyone’s banging on about when they say that superhero movies should be fun. Although I’ve got a lot of time for grittier versions (a la Man of Steel or Logan), a film that goes for your sense of humour is arguably more… enjoyable? Is that the word I’m looking for? Anyway, you leave the cinema content that all is well with the world and practically bouncing along the pavement. You also get many, many quotable memes out of it. As such, I’d peg it as the best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the original. Fight me.
This is thanks to its refusal to take things too seriously. Volume 2 is wonderfully irreverent, poking fun at itself while bringing back 80s nostalgia with a raised middle-finger. The film isn’t afraid to get weird either – and I mean properly weird. When it’s not using daft locations from the comics (including a living planet, of all things), it’s diving into well-worn tropes that are given a self-deprecating twist. There’s the obligatory ‘follow your heart’/realisation-of-great-power moment that’s shunted off kilter by a certain videogame character, and this is preceded by a ridiculous father-son game of catch mid-way through the story. Guardians knows that it’s silly, so everything’s very tongue-in-cheek. I suppose this is only fair when you’ve got a film starring sentient trees and a talking racoon.
Another bullseye is its strong character-development, of course. Karen Gillen’s Nebula benefits from this in particular, as does Michael Rooker’s brilliant Yondu (out-of-context quote of the day: ‘I’m Mary Poppins, y’all’). The main cast’s arcs aren’t quite so strong this time around, but they still get a thumbs-up as well. The only other MCU franchise that can match it in this regard is Captain America, or – and I know I’ll get stick for this – Iron Man.
Basically, Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 hits all the right notes: it’d love nothing more than for you to just enjoy yourself. Seriously, go see it.
Days of Future Past was a great send-off for the X-Men, all things considered: although we’d watched them be systematically murdered over its two-hour run-time, the final scene (which showed the team alive and well) ended their story on a satisfying note. After six films of heartache, they’d finally gotten their happy ending. However, Logan shows us that we spoke too soon. The X-Men are gone a mere six years later, mutants are dying out and the gruff but heroic Wolverine is a battered shell of his former self. Even Professor X is a husk of what he once was, stuffed out of sight in an overturned water-tower and babbling incomprehensible Shakespeare. It makes you wonder where everything went wrong.
Discussing that takes us into spoiler territory, so be warned – come back later if you’ve not yet seen the movie. The reveal is handled brilliantly, so I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you here.
Logan may not give us much to go on, but the scant information it does provide is nothing short of heartbreaking. We learn that several people (upwards of 600, in fact) were injured in an event the film calls the ‘Westchester incident’: as a news anchor points out after the climactic battle in a casino, the effects of this were eerily similar to those seen when Xavier has his seizures. More distressingly, seven mutants were killed in this disaster. Because Westchester is the location of Xavier’s famous school, the implication is clear.
The fact that Professor X’s illness left most of his students in danger is devastating, especially considering how many of them were children. Indeed, while most assume the mortalities were classic X-Men – and director James Mangold alludes to as much – it’s possible that some of those victims were children in the first place. It would certainly add more incentive for Wolverine to keep the truth from his ailing mentor. For a teacher whose pupils’ safety is their highest priority, this is more damaging than any supervillain could hope to be.
Either way, it’s a deeply tragic turn of events. The X-Men thought they’d escaped the end of days but it found them nonetheless. The horror of not knowing exactly what happened makes things infinitely worse, meanwhile: we’re left hanging when it comes to our favourite characters. Are the likes of Cyclops, Jean Grey and Storm still alive? We’ve got no idea. As Logan’s writer points out, those deaths may not even have been of characters we knew.
That said, we can do some reading between the lines here. Jean is almost certainly a casualty. As one of the most powerful mutants out there, I can’t imagine she’d drop off the radar. Her demise would also emotionally destroy Wolverine all over again, adding to the cynicism that oozes out of his every pore in this movie. He went through hell and back to change the X-Men’s past, so things still going wrong would utterly break him. It’s a similar argument where Storm and Beast are concerned. They’re much too influential not to leave a footprint on Logan’s world, yet there’s little sign of mutants beyond Wolverine’s friends or the children they’re trying to save.
The only hero I can see making it out alive is Kitty Pryde, mostly thanks to her ability to phase through matter. Could she be hurt if intangible? Who knows. I suppose the likes of Cyclops could have survived and faded into obscurity too because of his penchant for angst, but I say that mostly because I’d love to see a story that adapts recent comics where he’s a Magneto-like extremist.
I don’t suppose it matters. Life sucks anyway if you’re a mutant by the time we hit Logan, regardless of whether you were present for the Westchester incident or not. Disturbingly, the mutant race went out with a whimper rather than a bang this time: thanks to foodstuffs that attack mutant-genes in carriers, no more can be born. In a dark twist, the DNA of older mutants is also co-opted as for experiments like Laura. Judging by our protagonist’s desperation to reach the Canadian border, we should probably assume that it’s one of the few countries with any protection left for Wolverine’s kind. Things are truly grim.
That’s a recurring theme of the X-Men franchise since Days of Future Past – the more things change, the more they stay the same. We see this clearly in Logan. While the timeline’s been altered, the events of prior films seem to have happened in one way or another in spite of the change. Professor X references the Statue of Liberty from the original movie, Wolverine still has his X-Men Origins dog-tags and he’s held onto the samurai sword from The Wolverine. One of the only alterations is the revelation that Wolverine had a drug-problem, a virgin career in cage-fighting and a position as an assassin when he was found by Xavier in this new reality. It’s reminiscent of the Ultimate comics version of the character, a series where he was employed by Magneto to kill Professor X.
We’ll probably never see how things shook out, of course – it’s much more powerful it’s left to our imaginations. The upside, though? We’ll just have to watch it again and see if there’s anything we missed. What a shame.
Check back every Friday for a new blog celebrating the characters, worlds and craft of geeky pop-culture.
Comics have some truly cracking catchphrases. “It’s clobberin’ time” and “great Caesar’s ghost” immediately spring to mind. However, the ever-iconic Spider-Man quote “with great power comes great responsibility” outdoes them all. Despite being over 40 years old, it arguably remains the best-known of all superhero quotes. That resilience probably has something to do with the fact it’s true; influence and ability can do a lot of good, but they also have the potential to be abused. This is a danger history makes very clear.
Bearing that in mind, it’s no wonder magicians are so secretive within the world of Doctor Strange. They’re some of the strongest players on the field. Namely, no manner of high-tech suit can match the ability to manipulate time or hurl your opponent into another dimension. Even thunder-god and painfully well-built Thor would struggle when combating a sorcerer who can travel across space at will. Consequently, it’s a talent that must be rigorously monitored and/or protected from those who’d abuse it. The film’s villain and its finale demonstrate just how devastating a wizard gone bad can get.
That’s my response to the question of where these magic-users were in prior movies. Besides being kept busy with mystical threats (up to and including demonic monsters Captain America simply isn’t equipped to handle) the risks of such an ability can’t be sniffed at. They also explain why those like Stephen Strange wouldn’t want it to become common knowledge. While every Tom, Dick and Harry would want to use it for petty gain, shady characters abusing magic is a scarier proposition. When criminals and generally nasty pieces of work can manipulate the weather or summon demons, I dread to think what’d be left of anyone caught in the middle. What could the average shmuck do against that? It’s David vs Goliath, except Goliath can summon weapons from thin air or fire portable bombs from their fingertips. As an example, political assassination would be a breeze when you can just warp into your victim’s office.
Accordingly, Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One must have the last word on ‘strict’. We see this through her harsh entry requirements. There’s little indication of sorcerers operating outside her order either, so I’m guessing she’s got a monopoly on the market. Why is another matter, though. I can’t imagine hers is the only school of magic out there. Do they scoop up any would-be magicians before they can make a mess or stamp out rival organisations? It’s a question that’s never really answered, and the resulting speculation heightens her menace.
It opens a fascinating can of worms too. Because Merlin, wizards and classical monsters are part of Marvel’s comic canon, we’re left to wonder if they exist in the film universe as well. Were the Salem witches ‘real’, for instance? Is Bigfoot an actual thing? What about vampires and werewolves? The possibilities are endless, and that’s an exciting prospect for this series going forward. Considering how crowded the superhero market is right now, a fresh twist can only be a good thing.
Netflix’s Marvel shows put a bullet in the head of daydreams; they underline how becoming a paragon of truth, justice and the American way can’t possibly end well. You’re more likely to end up in a hospital ward than the front page.
Being beaten to a pulp would be the least of our worries, though. Keeping your secret identity that way is probably nigh-on impossible in the modern age. Perhaps Luke Cage has the right idea. The eponymous hero – currently living in Harlem – doesn’t bother hiding who he is. Biologically altered until practically nothing can hurt him, he’s an everyman who looks out for the average Joe. No masks are required when bullets bounce off your oh-so buff chest.
It’s probably for the best. Even if it can halt a 10mm slug, unbreakable skin can’t stop cameras. That’s a very real possibility nowadays. Appearing on CCTV is more of a certainty than a what-if thanks to recent surges in public surveillance. Although you could argue society’s better for it, the last few decades have seen us dragged into something of an Orwellian nightmare. Today’s world is one of scrutiny, electronic tracking, traceable e-commerce and phone tapping. According to the NY Daily News, cities such as New York boast around 17,000 CCTV cameras. In the meantime, London has ‘roughly half-million’ at its disposal. Good luck trying to avoid those when you need to pull on your cape and tights.
I appreciate that this is the equivalent of stamping on a child’s favourite toy, but the straightforward romance of twentieth century comic books is a thing of the past. From the medium’s golden age to its 1960s resurgance, closed-circuit cameras were a rarity. It wasn’t until 1968 that they started appearing on major US streets, so disappearing into an alleyway to change was still plausible. Now’s a very different story. As the UK reality series Hunted demonstrates, escaping detection is difficult when someone with time and a whole team of staff wants you found.
The programme’s elevator pitch is a stroke of genius; how long can a handful of average people last when they go on the run? Following both fugitives and pursuers, it’s terrifying to see how much info Big Brother has at its disposal. Unless you’re well-trained, obsessively paranoid or exceptionally lucky, you’re almost guaranteed to be tagged by someone’s surveillance system. Moreover, they’d track down most unsubtle disturbers of the peace – e.g. your average superhero – in ten seconds flat. The only characters I can see avoiding this are the likes of Superman, Spider-Man and Batman. One can travel or change at superspeed, another literally dons his costume on the side of skyscrapers and the last has enough cash to make suitably cool tech that’ll cover his tracks.
Unfortunately for them, security cameras aren’t the only way to keep track of someone. Besides email and browser history, the long arm of the law can track your buying habits as well. When you’ve got no powers to rely on and need down-to-earth gear keeping you safe it’s a disaster waiting to happen. Police can trace that kind of purchase if they’ve got a warrant to do so (and know what they’re looking for, of course).
Amazon’s therefore out of the question, leaving under-the-counter cash transactions or an outfit you’ve put together yourself. And if that’s the case, why are you in the superhero business anyway? You could make a killing selling cosplay costumes.
In essence, escaping the fuzz would be difficult should you take the law into your own hands. They’d have a lot of reason for wanting you found, good intentions or not; you’d be a vigilante who leaves assault and property damage in their wake. I dread to think what the legal ramifications of that could be. Just imagine a thug suing you for breaking his arm.
Not having a secret identity might save you a lot of hassle in this regard, but – as anyone who’s ever seen a superhero story knows – this won’t end well. You’ll make enemies, and if they know where to find you they’ll hold every card.
With that in mind, working with the authorities or receiving proper training isn’t the worst idea going. That’s the crux of Iron Man’s argument in Captain America: Civil War, and in a real-world context it doesn’t seem so unreasonable.
I wonder if Luke Cage’s decision to fly solo without protecting his identity will come back to bite him. Judging by his stablemates Daredevil and Jessica Jones, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion.
It didn’t matter that his name was in the title: I struggled to give two hoots about Captain America going into Civil War. It’s all Spider-Man’s fault. The character’s been dragged headfirst through one too many duff movies recently, so seeing him back on form (and integrated into Marvel’s Cinematic Universe) was nerd nirvana. Better yet, nobody felt the need to dredge up his origin again. He’s a kid who can stick to walls, shoot webbing and generally flout the laws of common sense . We get it.
Still – and I hate to admit it – diving right into the action does have one snag. It closes doors. Although I’m loathe to rehash old ground (nobody needs to see Uncle Ben bite the dust for a third time), starting later in Spidey’s career makes it tricky to explore some of his best material. There’s only so much you can do with the flashbacks I’m sure we’ll get during Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Back when he hit the stands in 1962, superheroes were flawless champions of a vanilla variety. By contrast, Spidey was flawed before and after gaining his powers. Rather than beginning as a crime-fighting do-gooder, Peter Parker stumbled on the idea by accident; in fact, he was more interested in making a quick buck. After winning the wrestling match we saw in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, Peter became an overnight celebrity. His stunts would sell out auditoriums and he was featured on TV talk-shows. Then Ben’s murder came knocking. Unsurprisingly, the fun was sucked out of stardom. Being Spider-Man wasn’t just a reminder of Peter’s biggest mistake. It personified the arrogance that’d caused his uncle’s death in the first place. The only reason he kept appearing on stage was to pay for the bills his family couldn’t afford, not to mention his Aunt May’s medical care.
Things got steadily worse from there. When an accident left him barred from performing again, Peter answered the call for photos of a wanted felon – Vulture, who’s due to make his debut in Homecoming – and ended up stopping him as a happy by-product. This became a regular occurrence with supervillains such as Sandman and Electro until the wise-cracking boy-scout we have today was born. It’s a shame we won’t get to see that on the big screen. At least, not all of it. For me, Peter’s reluctant heroism is a crucial part of what makes him stand out.
All the same, there’s evidence to suggest Spider-Man has already been through this trial by fire before we meet him in Civil War. A quick browse of the Marvel Cinematic Universe wiki would suggest he’s already causing a stir amongst journalists when Ant-Man takes place. Remember the reference to folk who can swing or cling to walls? Considering how soon after being bitten by the radioactive/genetically altered spider this must be, Peter’s clearly been showing off. In a world of thunder gods and green rage monsters, he’d have to if he wanted to get their attention. I love the idea of him making waves on a programme like America’s Got Talent. It modernises a classic comic arc and leaves room for the hero worship that made him so unpopular with media outlets (enter J. Jonah Jameson and The Daily Bugle. Dan Slott’s excellent Learning to Crawl explored this idea a couple of years ago. Inspired by Spidey’s exploits, another high-schooler followed Peter’s example and tried to play at superheroes. He then took things too far and became his idol’s first enemy.
Even if future films skip that plot, this version seems to take inspiration from another we didn’t see enough of in the last two iterations. Indeed, Peter seems every bit as hard-up for cash as his comic equivalent. Besides a cobbled-together 90s computer and his habit of raiding dumpsters for kit like a cheap-as-chips DVD player, his first concern when meeting Tony Stark was the money he could bring to the table. This suggests he and Aunt May aren’t so well off as her catwalk-worthy fashion sense and their swanky flat would suggest. Are they struggling to keep up with the rent now Ben’s gone? Could May be pulling extra shifts to compensate as with The Amazing Spider-Man 2? Perhaps this is why Peter’s concerned about her ‘freaking out’; the demands of her job might be stretching her too thin. If Marvel wanted to emulate the comics, this might even be chipping away at her health. If you want to go down the rabbit hole further still, maybe she’s got something like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome that makes working difficult for her. I know how much of a pain in the tush that can be.
Anyway, we’ll probably get answers as to what Spidey’s been up to next year when Homecoming comes out. But for now? I’ve got my fingers crossed it’ll explore this side of the character. It’s what makes him who he is in my eyes, and it’s also what makes him different. Not just from the competition; from prior versions as well.
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Budgets are a chastity band for the imagination. If you work in entertainment, money (or a lack of it) can put the kibosh on many great ideas. Deadpool’s the perfect illustration. Writer Rhett Reese told io9 that they ‘basically had Deadpool forget his guns as a means of getting around’ an expensive battle in the climax. Its script actually references this elephant in the room when he visits Xavier’s school; it’s pointed out that he only ever sees Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, almost as if ‘the studio couldn’t afford another X-Man’.
Aliens are a prime example of cost-cutting, too. Prosthetics are cheaper than CGI and animatronics, so they often aren’t much better than humans with a splash of makeup (like Star Trek’s Vulcans). This opens up a whole can of worms. If you ignore the practicality of moviemaking, the fact they’re a dead-ringer for us is distracting. Science suggests that we’re lucky to exist as it is, yet we still look indistinguishable from a civilisation which evolved light-years away. It’s a bit of a stretch.
DC’s Kryptonians and the Asgardians from Thor face that same problem, even if their appearance can be attributed to comics rather than a lack of funds. Strip away a lifespan which far outshines our own and you’re left with what is essentially a normal person. Why?
I appreciate that this is a pedantic argument. However, it lays the groundwork for some intriguing theories. One explanation would be convergent evolution. As explained by Science Daily, it’s ‘the process whereby organisms not closely related… independently evolve similar traits as a result of having to adapt to similar environments’. They point out that you can see evidence of this on our own planet; the flight of insects and birds is alike, despite having evolved in isolation. Seeing as most fictional aliens live on worlds that’re comparable to Earth, it’s logical they’d echo us.
It still doesn’t justify how we’re exactly the same, though. There would be differences, regardless of whether these seemed cosmetic. Luckily, a crackpot theory might do the rest. While it makes sense to be sceptical about claims that humanity resulted from alien intervention, such a conspiracy is plausible in the Marvel and DC universes. Both have history with interstellar travellers, raising the possibility of a common ancestor.
This is easy to explain within The Avengers mythos. During Guardians of the Galaxy, we see footage of those who crossed paths with the Infinity Stones. In one clip, armoured giants lay waste to all in their path – including some who are undeniably human. That genocide took place eons ago at the other end of space, meaning humanity’s history is far from straightforward. That’s especially true when you consider that these giants (known as Celestials) are supposed to have tampered with our ancestor’s DNA in the comics.
Alternatively, Thor: The Dark World lets us know that the humanoid Dark Elves were kicking about before our galaxy began. As with the Celestials, it’s implied they came from an older dimension which went on to form ours (modern thinking goes that a singularity from an imploding universe caused the Big Bang) Is it possible these proto-humans spread across the cosmos, mingling with our ancestors? That’d plug any missing links in the evolutionary tree, potentially making the Asgardians and Xandarian Empire (who arrest Chris Pratt’s Star Lord) offshoots of this precursor race as well. They don’t look like us; we look like them.
The same explanation could be levelled at Krypton from Man of Steel. As indicate by the surrounding ice, the crashed scout ship Superman finds has lain dormant on Earth for around 18,000 years. Because one of the pods is open and empty, it’s highly probable some of the ancient Kryptonians escaped. Funnily enough, 18,000 years ago is roughly when homo sapiens first appeared – a species whose direct predecessor we’re still uncertain of. The implication seems obvious.
This kind of revelation would upend everything we know about us. Just think of the impact such knowledge would have on religious communities; it contradicts the Bible more than evolution already has. Accordingly, faith in the world of Marvel and DC must be a sore, contentious topic.
This is why budgetary limitations can be a force for good; they demand that we think harder. As director J.J Abrams said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times, you realise ‘that the money you don’t get forces you to rethink something and challenges you to figure it out in a new way’.
SOURCES: Science Daily, io9, Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki, Wikipedia, The Los Angeles Times
It’s a bold move to list off deities who were apparently inspired by your villain, yet that’s precisely what X-Men: Apocalypse does. In a world where there’s outrage over a Captain America plot-twist or the all-female Ghostbusters reboot, I’m surprised that suggesting your antagonist was the inspiration for Yahweh (which is the Hebrew name for God) didn’t result in a degree of uproar.
Apocalypse also lets us in on a secret. It’s a commonly held belief within the franchise that mutants are a recent development, sped up by the coming of nuclear power. Colossus owes his steel skin to the Chernobyl disaster, for instance. Yet this film reveals that they’ve existed for longer than we thought. Apocalypse claims to have been there at the dawn of civilisation, which places his origin in or prior to the Sumerian era. For context, Sumer – known as ‘Shinar’ in the Bible – was a kingdom within Iraq that the Ancient History Encyclopaedia says is ‘generally considered the cradle’ of society. It existed from around 4,500BC, though the Sumerian people may have settled the land far earlier.
Despite being known as the first mutant, Apocalypse clearly wasn’t alone. As seen during the film’s prologue, he’s been accompanied by supernatural disciples (his ‘Four Horsemen’) since the time of the pyramids. If mutants existed during this era, they’re bound to have cropped up throughout history in the years since. Although we should bear in mind that this is a fantasy universe before getting carried away, there’s a wealth of ‘evidence’ for these individuals. Namely, religious figures from every age display what can only be described as superpowers. Can you see where I’m going with this? Should they have existed at all, it seems possible they were mutants in the X-Men’s world. That would certainly explain how Moses can part the ocean, the inexplicable life-span of Methuselah and why Jesus is able to heal the sick. It’s not out of character for 20th Century Fox to be so bold; the movie already suggests that Krishna, an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, is simply another name for the film’s villain.
This helps contextualise the fanaticism displayed by Magneto and his Brotherhood, not to mention Sebastian Shaw’s Hellfire Club from X-Men: First Class. Perhaps they believe they’re somehow favoured by God. If Christ was potentially ‘one of them’, how can their powers not be a sign of divine intervention? It’s suddenly understandable that they’d call themselves ‘homo superior’ (besides the ability to spew fire, anyway).
X-Men: Apocalypse is significant in other way – but there are mild SPOILERS here, so be warned. At the beginning of the movie, we’re introduced to the character via the latest in a long line of rituals. During the ceremony, Apocalypse’s consciousness travels from an aging body into another mutant. In doing so, he absorbs their abilities. However, this ‘Transference’ doesn’t seem to be powered solely by those gifts. Consider this; it can be carried out by normal, garden-variety humans without a whiff of the paranormal. That’s demonstrated by the chanting cultists who awaken him in the 1980s.
This is plausibly thanks to Apocalypse himself, yet I beg to differ; he’s been comatose for centuries, unaware and oblivious. It’s also possible they’re completing the process his Horsemen started eons ago, except that doesn’t make sense either. Those mutants are long dead, and their powers died with them. So what completes the procedure?
Taken at face value, magic is a likely candidate. The one who kicked things off was a witch, for want of a better word. Secondly, the words spoken by everyone involved bring to mind occult rites. That said, I’m leaning toward the idea of unknown technology. Bearing in mind the pyramid beneath which it must take place, gravity-defying gold, glowing hieroglyphs and Apocalypse’s sci-fi armour, it seems rather alien. And maybe that’s what it is.
Before you laugh this theory off, it’s worth pointing out that it’s very much in line with the source material. The comic book Apocalypse encountered extra-terrestrial ships many times in his youth, discovering them hiding in plain sight or crashed (there’s a whole plotline about a time-traveling baddie pretending to be a Pharaoh, but we won’t get into that). The latter even gives him his trademark outfit, forged from its machinery. If that’s the case in the movie, it’d clarify the origin – and never-explained importance – of his suit.
Moreover, it sheds light on other oddities. If Apocalypse came from a time of parchment and candles, how was he able to pull knowledge from a TV? It’s feasible that this isn’t the first piece of technology he’s encountered. If that’s the case, what were aliens doing on Earth in the first place? Once again, an answer lies within the comics. They created mutants in the books; an elder race called the Celestials fiddled about with humanity at the dawn of their existence, leading to the mutant genome.
Although it’s not necessary in the slightest, this gives a reason for the X-Men bending laws of reality by shooting laser beams from their eyes. The films have always toyed with science via evolution and DNA, but that doesn’t cover how mutants are able to teleport or become sexy blue shapeshifters.
The mystery then is ‘why’. It’s possible that later movies will take inspiration from Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, where the Inhuman race (who bear more than a passing resemblance to mutants) were made by the Kree to serve as soldiers in a coming war. This helpfully opens the door to the X-Men’s more outrageous space adventures, rumoured to be the franchise’s next port of call.
Whether that’s a good idea is another matter, of course. Judging by fans’ anger at the smallest of tweaks, such a monumental shift may not go down well.
Sources: Ancient History Encyclopaedia, Marvel Wikia, Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki, 25 Moments.com, Encyclopaedia Britannica