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The Beginning Matters Too: Rogue One

When you start writing a story, it’s always important to keep in mind what kind of story you’re trying to tell. Rogue One struggled with this, and as a writer myself, it’s hard not to sympathize. On the one hand they wanted to tell a standard Star Wars adventure story about Jyn Erso and the search for her father, but on the other was a war story about the rebels who stole the plans to the Death Star. They’re both good stories, unfortunately trying to tell both of them at the same time just ended up cluttering up the first act.

Jyn Erso’s story had some serious potential and I’m sad to think of what might have been. Seriously, both Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker gave some amazing performances, seeing both their characters more fully explored would have been a real treat. Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera in particular seemed like a fascinating character, and I wanted to know so much more about him, and his relationship with Jyn.

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He was on screen for two minutes, but Forest Whitaker made Saw Gerrera feel alive.

“Did you come here to kill me? There’s not much of me left.”

You can hear how tired and afraid Saw Gerrera is in that line, and it made me want to know so much more about him. How long had he been fighting the Empire? How many battles had he only just barely survived to result in so many cybernetic prosthetics? How many times had he been betrayed that he saw treachery around every corner and in the eyes of Jyn Erso, who had become as a surrogate daughter to him?

In many ways it would have been easier had anyone other than Forest Whitaker played the role, because then it would just be some random side character I didn’t care about. It was Forest’s performance that sold it. As it is, who knows, maybe Whitaker will get his own spin-off movie.

In the end though, not enough time was spent with either Galen Erso or Saw Gerrera to appreciably deepen Jyn Erso’s character. It’s a shame too, had this beginning been pursued more fully, it could have added a whole new dynamic to the finale. If I had one problem with the ending of Rogue One it was the confrontation between Jyn and Director Krennic.

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They could have added so much more humanity to this character.

What should have been a climactic moment in Jyn Erso’s character arc… just ended up feeling flat. Krennic doesn’t even recognize her, and when he does, he doesn’t even have anything interesting to say. Yet had Krennic’s backstory with Jyn been more fully explored, this confrontation could have been the emotional crown to Jyn’s storyline.

Krennic was obviously fond of both Galen, his wife, and his daughter. At one time they must have been friends, until Galen found his conscience and realized what he was doing. In one brief flashback scene we see Jyn watching her father with Krennic, and they seemed like good friends, which got me thinking. What if, instead of being two strangers, Krennic and Jyn knew each other when they faced off on the communications array?

Imagine if Krennic had been like a favorite uncle to Jyn as a child, and her an adopted niece to Krennic? Suddenly that final confrontation would have emotional teeth. Jyn would be filled with hate over her father’s enslavement by Krennic, Krennic would be furious at Jyn dismantling his life’s work… yet that love they once shared would still be there. That would give Krennic a reason to not immediately blast Jyn when he sees her, because he wouldn’t be seeing the fiery leader of the Rebellion’s strike force, but the little girl he adored.

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Now what? 

Still, could any of this gotten into the film without completely ruining the war story dynamic of the second and third acts? Yes, I believe any story can be told, but it would have been an incredible challenge and would have required more time to put into place.

As a result of the adventure story beginning, Rogue One ends up missing the first part of a good war story: the introduction to the characters. What was needed here was a beginning not unlike The Dirty Dozen, or even Inglourious Basterds, in which every character and their skillset is introduced. While Cassian’s entry successfully pulls that off, and is one of the best moments of the first act, everyone else is basically overlooked.

Had Rogue One cut the adventure story of Jyn Erso’s family, it would have gone a long way to making the beginning more structured. Yet at the same time, it would also have robbed us of Galen Erso and his sabotaging of the Death Star. As I said in my review, it was Mads Mikkelsen’s performance as Jyn’s father that gave the thermal exhaust port a new emotional weight. I can see the conundrum that the makers of Rogue One faced, and in the end I suspect they ran out of time to fix the problem properly and give both stories a chance to shine.

So yes, the beginning is a mess and there’s no getting around it now, but perhaps it did enough to the put the pieces in place for Rogue One‘s ending. Which as I already wrote, was one hell of an ending.

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And if you missed my original review, you can find it right here.
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All That Matters is the Ending: Rogue One

I loved Rogue OneLoved it. Yet even I must admit, I may have oversold it a bit when I tweeted after leaving the theater.

Okay, there might have been some slight exaggeration.

I loved it because Rogue One scratched an itch I’ve been suffering from since I first watched Star Wars when I was kid. In fact watching it felt like watching my own childhood imagination coming to life on the big screen. That’s why I was so blind to many of its flaws at first. This is also why I wait until subsequent viewings to write a review.

I understand now why so many people had a problem with The Force Awakens; large parts of it just didn’t seem sincere. It had been made, to an almost scientific degree, to appeal to a broad audience. The monster chase, the constant cameos, the almost shot-for-shot recreations of original Star Wars scenes… it added up to an experience that made it seem desperate for us to love it. Like the creators were sitting next to us, whispering “Isn’t this great? Isn’t this so Star Wars? Please like me,” the entire time we were watching. It was Star Wars though, and I was having fun, so I just nodded along.

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This may have been scientifically created be adorable, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it.

Rogue One was clearly made with a specific story in mind, and while it’s clear that certain shots were cut in later to force it closer to The Force Awakens, it’s still a story that rings of authenticity rather than sheer commercialism. More than that, this a prequel that actually does what it’s supposed to: make the original movies even more enjoyable. It fixes a flaw that’s long been made fun of in A New Hope and gives it a new sense of dramatic weight that it lacked before.

This isn’t like any Star Wars story that’s come before. If you go in expecting a fun adventure story like A New Hope or The Force Awakens, you will be disappointed. Though it’s tonally closer The Empire Strikes Back, it succeeds in being even darker. This is not a happy story, but it doesn’t make the mistake of being joyless either. There is a lot of fun to be had here, and you’ll burst out laughing at times, but there is sadness and loss here too. This is a new kind of  Star Wars story.

Rogue One is Star Wars’ very first war story.

[This concludes the Spoiler Free version of the review, don’t scroll past the picture of Darth Vader if you don’t want spoilers. Just trust me, you’ll want to see this one for yourself. If you’ve already seen it and want to know why it was awesome, or perhaps you didn’t like it and want to know why I did, keep on reading.]

 

Darth Vader

All That Matters is the Ending:

Rogue One

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This is going to be a new perspective for my All That Matters is the Ending series. All my previous entries have focused on bad endings that ruined otherwise good stories. This article is going to be about how a great ending saved a story from being terrible.

If my judgement of the movie had to rely solely on the beginning, I would say it was a worse film that Episode 1. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Rogue One‘s ending, and I’m going to cheat a little and include the second act, more than make up for the rocky start. Here’s how Rogue One‘s ending did everything a good ending is supposed to do.

3. The Characters Find Meaning (If Only at the End)

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The beginning of Rogue One is a mess, at one point jumping between like 8 different planets in the first ten minutes. The problem here is that Rogue One forgot it was telling a war story, and tried to start the film like a traditional Star Wars film by featuring the tragic story of Jyn Erso. The beginning of Rogue One demanded something more akin to the beginning of The Dirty Dozen or Inglourious Basterds, where all the main characters are given their own unique introduction. To be fair, they tried to provide this, it just… really didn’t work for most of the characters.

Cassian’s introduction is the only one where this works and I love the scene where he’s introduced, meeting a contact on a remote trading outpost. First of all, this scene made the Rebellion seem like an actual rebellion. Rebellions, or any martial conflict, rely on intelligence gathering, and Cassian’s meeting a contact served as the perfect introduction to not only the character, but the movie. Cassian being forced to kill his contact, and most likely friend as well, rather than allow him to be captured clearly marked Rogue One out as being a different kind of Star Wars story. A traditional adventure story in the vein of A New Hope or Return of the Jedi would have featured a gallant rescue.

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Diego Luna gave us a new kind of hero.

Unfortunately, the other characters don’t get the same treatment. That’s another article, and if you hated the beginning (or the entire movie), my next article will be your next stop. However the ending quickly does what the beginning failed to do.

I’m going to reach back into the mists of time and bring up my Mass Effect 3 review. When I complained that there was no sense of closure for the characters, some took that to mean that I simply didn’t want them to die, or that death wasn’t a proper resolution for a character. That’s not so, and Rogue One is the perfect example of the kind of resolution I had been hoping for in Mass Effect 3.

Rather than allowing them to die off camera in the horrific holocaust of post-Mass Effect 3 Earth, I wanted to see them go down fighting. Giving their all, even in the face of an unstoppable evil. That’s exactly what Rogue One gives its characters.

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To be honest, I don’t remember this character’s name, but I’ll sure as hell remember him.

Looking at this like a typical Star Wars story you would be completely justified in thinking these characters were all pretty shallow. However, if you look at it as war movie, you’ll see that each character gets about as much attention as they do in any war movie. I regard Saving Private Ryan as one of the finest movies ever made, but thinking back on the characters… I couldn’t name any of them besides the titular role. I sure as hell remember the Sniper though, and the translator, and Tom Hanks and his second in command.

That’s just how war stories are told, you don’t have time to get in depth with most of the characters without ruining the pacing, tone, or atmosphere.

Rogue One, like most great war movies, defines its characters by how they meet their end on the battlefield.

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When you think Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, this is the scene that came to mind right?

Whether it be K2’s valiant sacrifice at the vault to Donnie Yen’s calm walk across a burning battlefield, Rogue One nailed these characters and their final moments. Each character’s death also serves an important purpose to the battle itself, so rather than being death for its own sake, each character is fulfilling a purpose.

K2-S0 secures the vault to keep the imperials from pursuing Jyn and Cassian. Cassian buys time for Jyn to get to the relay. Donnie Yen’s character connects the landing pad to the communications array. The pilot connects the line to the shuttle and sends out the message to the rebels to bring down the shield. They’re all forging a link in a chain that ends with the Death Star plans being transmitted to the fleet overhead.

It’s that teamwork, that shared sacrifice to obtain their goal, that makes a great war film. Yet no only is Rogue One enjoyable in itself, it also makes the original Star Wars even better.

2. Rogue One makes A New Hope an Even Better Movie

Let’s all talk about that Thermal Exhaust Port shall we?

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You know the one I mean…

This has been a running joke since the day Star Wars premiered in 1977, and even though there was a great defense on why the Death Star needs an exhaust port, today it’s held up as the textbook example of lazy writing. Now though, after watching Rogue One, that thermal exhaust port takes on a whole new meaning.

Now it’s no longer the result of the Empire using subcontractors who cut corners, or whatever your favorite joke for the Thermal Exhaust Port is, it’s now a symbol of the Rebellion. It’s one man’s last act of defiance against an overpowering evil that had taken everything from him, even though he knew it would never redeem him of his crime of designing such a horrible weapon. It’s an impossible predicament to imagine, you know how to design a weapon of mass destruction:

Do you refuse to do it and be executed, knowing that they will go on without you?

Or do you agree to do it, and sabotage the weapon from the inside?

One the one hand, if you refuse you die knowing the blood of millions isn’t on your hands. Yet on the other, could you prevent those millions from dying?

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It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of situation.

This has been a story I’ve been fascinated with since my father introduced me to the Heisenberg Version [warning: a long, sometimes boring, but fascinating historical text in that link]. In short, the Heisenberg Version refers to how Heisenberg characterized his working on the atomic bomb for Nazi Germany. Heisenberg’s claim is that he was like Galen Erso, doing his best to convince Nazi High Command that the Atom Bomb was a physical impossibility. He went so far as to deliberately falsify the mathematical formulas he presented so as to dissuade his crazy boss Hitler from pursuing such a devastating weapon.

I have no idea if this story is true, other historians say that this was simply Heisenberg’s way of covering his ass or saving face for making the mistake that the atomic bomb couldn’t happen. I’m not a historian, I just pilfer history for good stories, and true or not, The Heisenberg Version is one hell of a story.

[I wish my dad had been around to see this film, he would have loved debating this point.]

Though speaking of tragically lost fathers…

Galen’s last words to his daughter, after being reunited only moments earlier, made me choke up.

“There was so much I wanted to tell you.” – Galen Erso, Rogue One

It’s such an old, tired line. Maybe it was because I lost my father not too long ago, but that line hit me right between the lungs. Mostly though, it was Mads Mikkelson’s amazing performance.

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If you knew Mads as Hannibal Lector, you won’t recognize him in Rogue One.

In fact all of the emotion that I now attach to that thermal exhaust port, is solely because of his delivering of only a handful of lines. I truly wish he’d been given a larger role because he owned that character, for those few moments he was Galen Erso. Yet, even as great as his performance was, he alone isn’t responsible for adding greatness. It is, as the title suggests, the ending that brings it home and not only brings new meaning to A New Hope but also redeems its atrocious first act.

1. The Ending Hits All the Right Emotional Notes

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Darth Vader, the faceless enforcer of the Empire, is back people!

I’ll let you in on a secret. Even though I loved my perfect Mass Effect 2 ending in which I save all my guys, my absolute favorite ending is the one where everyone dies. Dragon Age: Origins, sacrificing myself so that Alistair could be king (as terrible an idea as that sounded) was one of the high points. I’m a sucker for a good noble sacrifice, and Rogue One delivered them in spades.

I know some people probably rolled their eyes at each character’s heroic death, but I loved it, it’s exactly the kind of heroic death that Star Wars was made for. As dark as Star Wars sometimes gets, it’s still Star Wars and you don’t want to show disemboweled soldiers screaming for their mothers. So when I watched K2-S0 hold off an entire platoon of Stormtroopers, I wasn’t shaking my head about how unrealistic it is, I was smiling.

Repeating the whole staring at the grenade thing twice was a bit of misstep, I admit, but seeing Donnie Yen’s companion finally accept the Force to honor his friend hit me exactly where it should: the feels. And while my friend Hali wanted to see Jyn and Cassian kiss in their final moments, I thought it was fitting that these two simply hug as they faced their final moments together rather than force a romantic scene.

The heroic deaths do more than add resolution to the characters and their story however, it adds a new sense of dramatic weight to the A New Hope, and indeed, Star Wars as a whole.

One thing Star Wars movies have always been missing is a sense of loss. In A New Hope, only three fighters out of thirty make it back to base, but there’s no somber homecoming. Tonally, okay, that fits for A New Hope, but what about Return of the Jedi? Their had to be tens of thousands dead on the Rebellion’s side alone.

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Going off Wookiepedia, this ship alone has a crew of over 5000.

Now Return of the Jedi was originally supposed to have a more Pyrrhic victory feel at the end until George Lucas dumped a bunch of Ewoks in there for merchandising. Rogue One has the tone and feel that Return of the Jedi should have had. Yes we won, but look at the price we paid.

Even better, the “rebel spies” spoken of by Darth Vader are no longer a throwaway piece of exposition. They’re now the people who gave everything to make sure the Rebellion would survive, we can place names and faces to those spies.

Speaking of Darth Vader… guess who is back at the top of my favorite villain list!

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Vader is bringing sexy back!

Rogue One leaves behind the whining and whinging Anakin the prequels forced on us, and shows us why we loved Darth Vader. As groan inducing as the choking pun was earlier in the film, his bloody return to power on the Rebel ship more than made up for it. If you watched Stars Wars straight through from episodes 1-4, the very first time you see Darth Vader is when he impotently screams “NOOOOOO!” and thus it completely neuters his introduction in A New Hope. Now, sticking Rogue One into the lineup, his ominous arrival on the scene has some teeth to it again. Seeing Darth Vader back as the faceless enforcer of the Empire’s will makes this whole movie worth it.

This scene isn’t just useless fan service either, at least in my opinion. Darth Vader has never been one to get his hands dirty unnecessarily, but in this case he’s trying to keep the rebels from escaping with the plans. He doesn’t have time to let his visually challenged Stormtroopers try and slug their way through, this demands an efficiency only he and his  lightsaber can provide.

Then later, when the rebel corvette is at the mercy of his Star Destroyer, well then he can take his time and pick it apart as his leisure.

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“This is a consular ship!” “Trooper, didn’t we just watch them escape five minutes ago?” “Yes sir!” “That’s what I thought.”

I’ve read some pretty damning reviews of Rogue One, and I can see where they’re all coming from. In fact this review is so late because I was afraid of publishing so glowing of it, but try as I might, I just couldn’t bring myself to not like it. I am who I am, and I enjoy the stories I enjoy.

I loved this movieIf you didn’t, I get it, and I’ll be thoroughly savaging what went wrong with the beginning later for your amusement.

But I loved it, and if nothing else, I hope this explains why I did.

3 Things the Next Star Wars Movie Can’t Do

So I loved the new Star Wars. A lot of people didn’t, however. I understand why, and honestly I gave The Force Awakens a pass on several flaws simply because it was well-paced adventure story that recaptured the magic of Star Wars. That said, I am going to be expecting more from the second film in the new trilogy, because as popular as A New Hope was, it was The Empire Strikes Back that cemented Star Wars’ position as a cultural icon.

If the next movie wants to succeed, here’s three thing it can’t do.

(Note: Spoilers for The Force Awakens to follow, and this article is referring to Episode VIII not the Rogue One spin-off.)

3. Load the Movie with Cameos

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That armor is a neon sign screaming “BOSS FIGHT”… and yet we never actually get to see her in action.

I mentioned that the monster VS bounty hunter chase scene in The Force Awakens seemed completely out of place. Well I recently found out that one of the Bounty Hunter teams that shows up hunting Han Solo were from the cast of The Raid. That’s when I realized there are way too many cameos in this movie. I have no problem with a cameo so long as it blends seamlessly with the rest of the film, but most of the cameos in The Force Awakens don’t. There are seams. Big, ugly, rippable seams.

The Raid was a terrific movie, I loved it, but that doesn’t mean you can just throw the actors from that into Star Wars and somehow expect it to improve the film. If the scene had incorporated the actor’s amazing talents, like having the bounty hunters be incredibly good at close-quarters combat, then maybe it could have worked because at least then you could introduce them again in the next movie. As it is though, they show up, have like two lines of dialogue, and then run from the giant monsters. Then they report Han Solo has the droid to the First Order, but that information didn’t need to be conveyed because we later see spies at Maz’s tavern relay the same information. As it is, the scene only served to slow down the film.

However the prize for worst cameo is a tie, and it goes to these two:

These two appear as Admiral Statura and the stupidly named Snap Wexley. Now they’ve both worked with J.J. Abrams before, and they’re both good actors. But I felt they just didn’t fit into the scene they were shoehorned into.

I mean Admiral “IT’S A TRAP!” Ackbar was in the room, the most badass piece of calamari to ever escape a sushi restaurant, and they didn’t let him deliver the briefing? Instead they let these two do some technobabble that builds absolutely no excitement for the coming battle. Admiral Ackbar’s solemn voice added weight to the briefing about the second Death Star, something that would have been gladly received in the briefing for Starkiller.

Now I get it, it’s Star Wars. If J.J. Abrams was a personal friend of mine, I’d be begging him to give me a bit part in the new movie. Hell, if I had the necessary guile and insanity, I’d kidnap his family to be a small part of the next Star Wars movie. But as the director helming the new Star Wars, J.J. Abrams needs to say no to these people. He needs to let me murder his family rather than give me a role in the next movie.

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Or he could send Liam Neeson after me. I’m good with either scenario. (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Magali Bragard)

That said, I hope JB-007 makes another appearance.

2. Skip over the details

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I touched on the fact that The Force Awakens often glazes over the details, and how that was fine because it was a callback to the original movie. However if Disney wants to create the same incredible universe that the original universe did, they’re going to have to do what Empire did:  flesh out the mythos and lore of the universe. Honestly I don’t care if the next movie explains how the First Order built Starkiller base, and actually I hope they don’t because any explanation will probably sound stupid. I do, however, want to know more about the First Order, why there is (or rather was) a peace treaty between them and the Republic, and how much space they control.

The Empire Strikes Back conveys a ton of information about the Star Wars universe without ever having to stop to explain it in a long drawn out expositional conversation. The Executor Super Star Destroyer as Vader’s command ship, cements the technological superiority of the Empire over the Rebellion, as do their AT-AT walkers. The probe droids sent out at the beginning of the film give the audience a grasp of how vast the universe is, and the difficulty of locating the rebels. Admiral Ozzel tries to convince Vader that the base on Hoth might be pirates or smugglers, subconsciously letting the the audience know that this universe is teeming with life beyond just the Rebellion and the Empire.

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And some of that life is just ugly as sin.

Then of course there’s the bounty hunters, which introduced us to Boba Fett. He was hilariously inept as a bounty hunter, but the way he was introduced sold him as a capable and dangerous villain. The hierarchy of the Empire is also revealed, whereas in A New Hope it was kind of nebulous. In the original movie Darth Vader seemed subordinate to Grand Moff Tarkin. The Empire Strikes Back reveals him to be the highest ranking person, second only to the Emperor. And when the Emperor commands Vader to communicate with him, Vader immediately obeys; abandoning his dogged pursuit of the Millennium Falcon. Vader’s demeanor, and the Emperor’s dialogue about disturbances in the Force, reveal the Emperor to be a powerful enemy.

Point is, a lot of small details were sprinkled throughout the film, ultimately helping to cement Star Wars in the public consciousness and sparking people’s imagination. It’s that kind of detail that needs to be liberally sprinkled across the next movie. Let us learn through osmosis how this new universe works, how powerful the New Republic is compared to the First Order. What is Leia’s position in the Republic? Where did Snoke come from, and what are his abilities?

If the next movie keeps the details as nebulous and vague as The Force Awakens did, then   I can’t see them sustaining an interesting world in the long-term. Note: I’m not saying to go crazy like The Extended Universe eventually did. Just some background to flesh out this new universe.

 

1. Make it all about Skywalker(s)

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Now I know Luke’s lineage was a huge factor in the original trilogy, but if Disney wants to make Star Wars movies from here to eternity, it’s going to need to leave behind the whole ‘chosen lineage’ aspect behind. There’s a lot of speculation around Rey’s lineage, but I’m really, really hoping she doesn’t turn out to be a Skywalker.

Why?

Because it’s boring. It’s been done before, and nothing in the story requires her to be a Skywalker. If Rey ends up being yet another Skywalker, then basically we’re saying that the entire universe revolves around one family and that will kill Star Wars faster than a vengeful George Lucas reacquiring the rights. If it continues down that road, eventually Star Wars is going to end up looking like World War I, in that all the leaders are related to each other.

I’m not saying Luke can’t play a part, obviously. He needs to train Rey and I’m looking forward to seeing him actually do something in the next film. I’m not saying that the Skywalkers can’t still play important roles in the universe.

I’m just saying they can’t be the only thing holding the universe together.

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They’ve already killed off the one non-Skywalker character that affected the story, the last thing we need is more Skywalkers Skywalkering it up in here.

Yes, I admit it could be an incredibly poignant story if Rey ends up being a long lost sister or cousin to Kylo Ren. But at the same time, come on… we can craft an amazing story without having to rely on the family angle again. We really don’t need to go down this road again.

Captain America: Civil War

I’ve always enjoyed Captain America’s movies more than any other in the Marvel cinematic universe. While I also enjoy the other Marvel movies, aside from Thor which I’ve never been able to get into, the Captain America movies have been consistently top quality in my opinion. Of all the heroes, I find the Captain the most relatable and human member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Yet in spite of all that, I was afraid Captain America: Civil War would be disappointing. Mainly because I was afraid of three things happening:

  1. The Civil War would be sparked by something horribly contrived and be neatly resolved by the end.
  2. None of the heroes would actually be harmed in the movie.
  3. That it was going to be an Avengers-lite movie and Captain America’s role would become secondary in his own movie.

Fortunately though I was wrong on all fronts. The Sokovia Accords, and the incident that sparks its inception, seemed like a realistic reaction to superheroes (though you can argue whether that’s a good or bad thing in a series dedicated to superheroes.) There are consequences to the fights, and they escalate in a way that builds the narrative. And despite the huge lineup of heroes, the movie remains centered around Captain America.

In short, Captain America: Civil War continues the proud tradition of being the best films in the series and has an excellent narrative that will have interesting effects on future Marvel films. It’s a fun movie that takes a look a look at the human side of Marvel’s biggest superheroes.

[For the sake of simplicity I’m referring to all the characters by their superhero name, except for Bucky because I like that name better than Winter Soldier.]

Captain America: Civil War

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The beginning of Captain America: Civil War was the worst part of the movie, mostly because I had no idea what was going on. Captain America, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Falcon are tracking down a criminal attempting to steal a biological weapon. The problem being that I had no idea who this criminal was, though it was made obvious he had some history with the Captain. It’s the first noticeable sign of strain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was only a matter of time before the weight of carrying so many stories eventually began to show. I only found out who this criminal was (Brock Rumlow, AKA Crossbones) after searching IMDB for the purposes of this article, so now I remember he was the goon who tried to capture the Captain in the elevator at SHIELD headquarters in Winter Soldier. If you’re familiar with the comic books you’ll probably have an easier time recognizing him thanks to the crossbones on his uniform, but for those like me that only know superheroes through the film franchises, you’ll likely feel a bit lost as well.

Yet the fact I didn’t know who it was at the time didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the story, as this villain’s only real job in the narrative is to provide the inciting incident that sets off the story. When Crossbones realizes he’s lost he distracts Captain America by telling him about Bucky, the Winter Soldier, which throws off Captain America long enough for Crossbones to detonate an explosive vest he’s wearing. Fortunately the Scarlet Witch manages to contain the explosion with her telekinetic powers, saving Captain America. Unfortunately, she can’t contain the explosion long enough and as she’s trying to levitate Crossbones into the air, the vest explodes and takes out an entire floor of one of the nearby office buildings. Worse yet, the explosion kills missionaries from a highly reclusive nation called Wakanda, sparking international outrage as people blame the Avengers for their deaths.

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Though it really seems like they should be blaming the guy with the explosive vest instead. 

Alone this incident seems pretty minor, and it seems like a gross overreaction to what was clearly an accident. Then the Secretary of State, played by the ever persuasive William Hurt, presents a rather compelling argument: the Avengers have been indirectly responsible for several near world-ending catastrophes, violating the national sovereignty of several nations (including the United States) in the process. Now I’ve got to give Marvel props for pursuing this storyline, because it’s a risky move, and it’s already sparked a lot of debate among fans and critics.

Can Marvel superheroes exist in a world where they have to obey laws? A lot of the appeal of superheroes is their ability to act outside the law. I mean does anybody really want to see Iron Man don his superpowered tank/suit and then read criminals their Miranda rights and then wait six months for the trial to start so he can give testimony. No, we want to watch Iron Man carry a nuke through an inter-dimensional rift. So I can see why some people are concerned with this turn in the narrative, because it could easily backfire. However if Civil War is any indication, I think Marvel is in safe hands and I applaud the writers for confronting ideas that are usually taken for granted in superhero stories.

I love the story possibilities presented and Civil War took full advantage of them. Iron Man agrees with the Secretary of State and thinks the Avengers need to have some constraints and be held accountable to someone. Captain America believes that the Avengers need to remain independent or risk being used by the government for political purposes, or worse, being stopped from helping people because of politics. What I love about this conflict is that both sides have merit and both characters have their reasons for believing in their convictions. I was afraid Iron Man or Captain America would be shoehorned into being a bad guy, and that they’d be forced to act against their character in order for the narrative to work.

Fortunately the exact opposite is true, and both Iron Man and Captain America’s beliefs are all extensions of their characters and the events in previous Marvel movies.

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Turns out wiping out an entire city actually has consequences.

Ever since the The Avengers, Iron Man has been suffering from PTSD and while it was kind of addressed in Iron Man 3, it’s not a condition that can be cured by blowing up a bunch of Iron Man suits. More to the point, Iron Man wants someone to be accountable to because he doesn’t want to be in charge anymore. He’s the de facto leader of the Avengers, and that responsibility has been wearing him down. To be honest I didn’t like Age of Ultron, but I did like that Iron Man was confronted with his greatest fear: the death of his friends. He created Ultron, in part, so that he wouldn’t have to be the leader anymore and some larger entity could care for the safety of Earth. And when Ultron went rogue, Iron Man felt responsible for that too, crushing him beneath the psychological burden of guilt and fear. For all the power his Iron Man suit provides, his mind is still human.

Civil War, not content to sit on this previous character building, adds even more backstory by introducing us to Iron Man’s father. It shows us that Iron Man’s sarcastic rebelliousness against authority figures started with his attitude towards his father. His father died with the last words from his son being those of sarcastic indifference, a regret Iron Man holds to this day. So while Iron Man finds himself resenting authority figures, he’s also terrified of being without them.

With all this in mind it makes perfect sense that Iron Man, who once gave an Ayn Rand inspired speech in Iron Man 2, has come to see government oversight as the only way forward.

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Though I’m pretty sure this guy is going to turn evil at some point. 

Meanwhile Captain America has his own reasons for his conviction in maintaining the independence of the Avengers. He began his life as a soldier fighting in World War 2 against a nation that used its military to perform the most horrific atrocities mankind has ever seen. Then later in The Winter Soldier, he uncovered a secret Hydra conspiracy to take over SHIELD and that wasn’t even the worst part. The worst part was that the United States government signed off on using the Helicarriers to effectively implement martial law without anyone ever knowing it. So he’s seen bureaucracy corrupt and destroy nations, and doesn’t want to become the unwitting weapon of an evil conspiracy, or be prevented from helping people because of some deadlocked oversight committee.

Captain America has always been the epitome of the individualist spirit, the belief that even a single person can make a difference. A belief that’s further reinforced by the death of his old girlfriend, and her eulogy which reminds Captain America of why he fights.

Still, Civil War‘s pacing is dead on and the Avengers don’t simply dissolve into a brawl the moment the Sokovia accords are presented. Instead, Captain America agrees to back out gracefully and leave the others to sign the accords if they choose. At the signing of the accords though, a bomb is set off, killing the king of Wakanda and implicating Bucky in the ensuing investigation.

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Dude just can’t catch a break. 

Obviously Bucky has been framed but that knowledge doesn’t detract from the story because Civil War is wise enough to not present it as a mystery. Instead the writers at Marvel used it to set the stage and stakes of the ensuing battle.

Captain America breaks ranks, and a multitude of laws, in order to save Bucky from the police. During the fight they encounter Black Panther, who turns out to be T’Challa, the son of the assassinated Wakanda king. He appears with a suit made of the same material as Captain America’s shield, and while there’s a brief mention of how he got the suit, I’m honestly okay with Black Panther just showing up. At this point not every superhero needs their own movie dedicated to their origin story, and Black Panther’s desire for revenge is the perfect starting point for him. He slides effortlessly into the Marvel canon without derailing the pacing of Civil War.

After the fight Captain America, Falcon, Bucky, and Black Panther are taken into police custody. Once again, Captain America is given the chance to sign the accords, but this time it’s presented as an ultimatum: sign or go to jail. Which is exactly the wrong way to approach Captain America, since he’s one of those people who would go to jail for their convictions before sacrificing them.

While the Avengers argue over the Sokovia Accords, a man posing as a psychologist is brought in to evaluate Bucky. Using the keywords implanted into Bucky’s brain, the imposter learns the location of the laboratory where Bucky was created and escapes. Leaving Captain America and Bucky on the run again.

CivilWarBucky.jpg
Nope, not even one break.

With the Avengers split in two, both sides start to gather allies. Captain America and Falcon get their gear returned to them by Sharon Carter, the granddaughter of Captain America’s former girlfriend. I want to take a brief moment here and say that I found Captain America’s new romance with the granddaughter of his former girlfriend both awkwardly shoehorned in, and incredibly creepy in a Woody Allen kind of way. It felt completely unnecessary to the story since we never see the two together again, but it’s a minor bump and doesn’t take long to get back into the real story.

Hawkeye frees Scarlet Witch, who was being held in “protective” custody by Vision (you know, the worst unstoppable and overpowered hero to come out of Age of Ultron) while Iron Man recruits Spider-Man to the cause.

I’ve got to say I love this new Spider-Man, the actor absolutely nails the performance and best of all, Civil War doesn’t rehash the Spider-Man’s tragic backstory. I desperately hope the new Marvel-Sony Spider-Man (lots of hyphens) movie keeps this as his introduction, because do any of us really need to see Uncle Ben die again? We all know the story now.

Meanwhile Captain America recruits Ant-Man to his cause. I never saw the Ant-Man movie, because it sounded like an utterly ridiculous premise, but his performance in this movie alone makes me want to see that movie now.

With each side assembled, Captain America and Iron Man confront each other at an airport.

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I love how this scene was setup, because it perfectly reflected the character’s personalities in the fight. Iron Man is, let’s face it, arrogant and brash. So when he disables the helicopter Captain America is running towards, he lands with War Machine and begins sarcastically quipping about the people you meet at the airport. Iron Man or War Machine alone could beat Captain America, and together he doesn’t stand a chance.

I want to give Robert Downey Jr. a special mention here because his performance while he’s talking to Captain America is what really sells the emotion of this upcoming fight. You can see the stress etched on Iron Man’s face, and the desperation to end this gnawing at him as his sarcasm quickly gives way to anger and resentment. He almost looks on the verge of tears, at least it did in my opinion. Anyway, back to the fight.

Iron Man is so confident in his victory that he unveils his new Spider-Man ally, using him to take Captain America’s shield. Iron Man lays all his cards on the table because he’s certain he’s got a winning hand. Captain America though, is a soldier and a veteran of countless battles, battles where he was often outmanned and outgunned. So instead of arraying his team in a big clump like Iron Man, he splits them up tactically to take advantage of Iron Man’s artless strategy of brute force. Ant-Man is hiding on Captain America’s shield, since he knows that would be the first thing Iron Man would try to take. Hawkeye is positioned to provide cover and free Captain America from any constraints. And Bucky and Falcon locate the jet the Avengers use so they can hijack it.

Iron Man takes the bait and his entire team disperses hunting down the members of Captain America’s team.

captain-america-civil-war-concept-art-poster
Fortunately it’s not a straight up brawl like the concept art depicted.

I know I don’t usually mention anything other than the writing, but I really want to give credit to the fight choreographer(s) who put this scene together. It would have been easy to pull a Snyder and just use a bunch of explosions and punches to keep our eyes happy before moving onto the next scene. Civil War doesn’t do that though. Instead the fight ebbs and flows naturally, and everyone’s characters fight like you’d expect them to.

It’s also made clear from the onset that everyone on both sides is actively holding back, aside from Black Panther who is consumed by rage at this point. Iron Man intentionally misses with his missiles, using them only to distract Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch. Meanwhile, Spider-Man, being a kid, has never been in a real fight. I think the best part of this fight is when Bucky tries to punch Spider-Man, who blocks it and says “Dude, you have a metal arm? That’s awesome!” because the look on Bucky’s face is priceless.

Theoretically the super strong and agile Spider-Man should be able to mop the floor with Falcon or Bucky or even Captain America. But he’s a kid, who has never fought a battle in his life, and so he finds himself outmaneuvered by the more experienced fighters. Which is what I mean when I say the characters fight in a way that you’d expect them to.

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A quick wit is no match for experience.

Another great thing about this fight is how well it flows not only narratively, but in terms of tone. One of my biggest gripes about the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe is that tonally it’s all over the map, going from a serious life or death struggle in one moment to hilarious hijinks the next.

The battle at the airport starts out with a light tone with plenty of humor provided by Spider-Man and Ant-Man. But as the battle progresses, the heroes get tired and injured, and tempers begin to flare. Slowly the action ramps up as they begin holding back less and less. The final act of the battle turns exceptionally dark. Tired and frustrated as Captain America and Bucky make their escape in the Avenger’s jet, War Machine asks Vision to shoot out the engines on Falcon’s wing suit. Vision misses and instead destroys the Arc Generator in War Machine’s suit, causing him to go into a free fall.

War Machine hits the ground hard and it’s pretty clear he’s not getting back up anytime soon.

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A line has been crossed.

Even though it was caused by friendly fire from Vision, Iron Man blames Captain America for War Machine’s injuries who has ended up paralyzed from the waist down. There’s no coming back from this moment, even when the Avengers get back together, this baggage is going to follow them. The tension is palpable, and when Black Widow confronts Iron Man about backing down, he looks just about ready to hit her. Iron Man goes to a very dark place, and I’m not sure how he’s going to get out of it.

For a few moments there, after Iron Man finds out that Bucky was framed, it seemed like he might admit he was wrong and let bygones be bygones. At least until the imposter doctor, a member of Sokovian Intelligence whose family was killed, shows Bucky killing his mom and dad.

The fight that follows is unlike any of the other fights I’ve seen in Marvel films. It’s brutal. Almost savage. All restraint that once held them back is gone, and Iron Man, Bucky and Captain America are now actively trying to kill one another. You can feel the raw emotions behind their blows, and it’s easily the most outstanding fight scene in Marvel films history.

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Iron Man is eventually disabled, with Captain America holding himself back from taking a killing blow, and that’s how the movie ends. But the Civil War is far from resolved. That’s what excites me most about Captain America: Civil War, I have no idea how the Avengers come back from this. Bucky sends Iron Man a note at the end of the film promising to be there if needed, but Iron Man doesn’t seem entirely convinced. And I honestly hope it’s not that easy. To my eye the Avengers look irrevocably broken, and I’m excited to see how they resolve that.

The biggest mistake Marvel could make at this point is to resolve this in the first fifteen minutes of their next movie, as it would undermine all the terrific storytelling that was on display in this movie. I’m hoping, and judging by the Marvel’s release schedule I think I’m right, that healing the wounds the Avengers suffered in this movie will be slowly resolved over the course of several movies.

We’ll see what the future brings, but for now I’m incredibly hopeful going forward and I hope Marvel continues to produce quality movies like this. I recommend everyone see this movie if you’re a fan of any of the Marvel universe. It’s not going to make you cry, but it’s definitely an emotional rollercoaster that will make you feel the anger and frustration of both Iron Man and Captain America.

Because this is a Civil War.

 

Mad Max: Fury Road Review

So this is the first of my draft purgatory articles, I’ve decided to to write a brief introduction to each and give you some insight as to why I didn’t post it. I originally wrote this three months ago when I saw Mad Max in theaters, but then made the mistake of reading other people’s reviews of it and decided I wasn’t saying anything new, so what was the point? The point is, of course, that you can never have too many points of view on something. In honor of Mad Max: Fury Road’s Blu-ray release I decided to make this the first draft purgatory article to be released into the wild. 

Mad Max: Fury Road is another movie I judged by its cover, a mistake I keep making. I never saw the original Mad Max, and what I saw of the previews made it look like another mindless action movie that would emphasize big, mind-numbing CGI battles and over-the-top characters over story and character development. All of that on top of the fact it was a remake of an old movie, something that typically never ends well, and I was totally uninterested in seeing it. But again, just like Spec Ops: The Line, I heard nothing but good things about it.

So high an uncharacteristic bout of courage and confidence, I asked a girl out on a date and we went to see Mad Max. This probably wasn’t a good movie for a second date, because I never heard from her again, but who cares? This movie is awesome.

Mad Max: Fury Road

A Storytelling Review

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Mad Max is a remarkable movie, and it’s not just because it’s a feature-length car chase with some of the greatest physical effects in movie history. It also has some of the tightest writing I’ve ever seen; every single sentence serves the story, there’s not a single piece of superfluous dialogue in the entire thing. Where most modern movies feature long-winded exposition and constant smart-ass quips between characters, Mad Max manages to leave all of that behind and focus entirely on its story and characters. Max himself has so few lines that he could have been played by a plank of wood, but of course that would have robbed us of Tom Hardy’s incredible performance. He manages to convey so much emotion in so few words that if he doesn’t get an Oscar nod from this, then those awards will become even more worthless than I already think they are.

The story starts after the end of the world, after thermonuclear war has destroyed most of the planet. It takes the movie about five seconds to explain this and while I’m usually not a fan of narration in film, in this case it works. Tom Hardy’s growling, guttural voice gives you the impression of a man who so rarely uses his voice that it’s become rusted from neglect. It really immerses you in the world of Mad Max because Tom Hardy’s voice, more so than the words he’s saying, let the audience know that not only is the world decaying but so are the people in it.

The only thing rustier than the cars are the characters' souls.
The only thing rustier than the cars are the characters’ souls.

After a look at the horrifically brutal life of deprivation that plagues the people of The Citadel we’re introduced to Immortan Joe, the deified warlord and ruler of the Citadel. Immortan Joe’s speech to his people is a great example of how concise this script is and t reveals all the crucial information the audience needs to know in the span of maybe thirty seconds:

We learn that Immortan Joe controls the water supply, but that his society values gasoline (guzzoline) more highly than the most basic need humans need to survive, revealing that his society is self-destructive to the extreme. Finally it introduces Furiosa as the most trusted of Immortan Joe’s most trusted lieutenants. This is all further reinforced by the great visuals.

Whereas another, lesser movie might waste time showing her slowly gaining Immortan Joe’s trust and then pulling off a convoluted heist to save her sisters, Fury Road wisely skips all that noise and jumps right into the story. Furiosa hangs a left and drives out into the desert carrying with her Immortan Joe’s enslaved wives, and the chase scene to end all chase scenes begins.

This is basically a good overview of the whole movie.
This is basically a good overview of the whole movie.

So you might be wondering where Mad Max is and why I haven’t mentioned him yet. Well the reason is he’s been hanging around as a human blood-transfusion bag attached to one of the disease-ridden War Boys, Immortan’s fanatical soldiers. After getting chased through a hellish combination dust and electrical storm, Mad Max attempts to free himself from the shackles and tubes tying him to the knocked-out War Boy. This is one of the most important scenes in the film because it sets the tone for everything that follows. Max begins desperately trying to cut the shackles off of him, and it’s that desperation that sets the stakes of the story.

Max is afraid to die.

It’s such a basic fear, but think about how rarely you see this in stories. It reminds me of the scene from the horribly disappointing The Dark Knight Rises where the old prisoner explains to Batman that not fearing death is a weakness because a person will perform amazing feats to escape death. This applies to storytelling even more so, if you’re characters don’t possess the most basic fear that governs all life on Earth, then you’re going to lose a lot of the tension in the story. I think Marvel’s movies are the best example of this, where not only are most of the characters invincible god-creatures, but they also go out of their way to make sarcastic quips while in the middle of apocalyptic battles. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy Marvel movies, I do, but they just don’t carry the same emotional weight.

The stakes are further reinforced by Furiosa’s fear of getting caught and her desire to protect her sisters at any cost. Max attempts to hijack the tanker from Furiosa and she kicks his ass pretty hard, which you might expect from a woman with a mechanical claw-hand. Max only manages to win by holding Furiosa’s sisters hostage, again emphasizing the fact that all Max wants to do is escape to live another day. Unfortunately he can’t drive the tanker without Furiosa and so for the sake of mutual survival, they team up and form the best buddy-duo since Turner and Hooch.

Given how monosyllabic Max is, that's actually a brilliant analogy.
Though I think Hooch actually had more lines in his movie.

The evolving relationship between Max and Furiosa was the best part of the movie for me. I’m a sucker for good movies about friendships and that’s essentially what this movie was, a look at how two people came to trust and protect each other in the worst of circumstances. It was especially refreshing since it was a friendship between a man and a woman that didn’t try to shoehorn in a romantic relationship. There’s no sexual tension between the characters or playful banter, which keeps the story focused on the story and characters. The monosyllabic Max has only a handful of lines in the entire movie, but the power of Tom Hardy’s performance manages to convey all of Max’s emotions without him needing to say a word. Furiosa’s sisters get very little screen time as well, but the tightly written script ensures they all feel like real, breathing human beings.

Not a single one of them falls into a stereotypically “princess in the tower” trope, they all have their own distinct personalities and all of them have been traumatized by years of sexual slavery under Immortan Joe. Angharad, heavily pregnant with Joe’s child, manages to save Max by using herself as a human shield before falling off the truck. Immortan Joe crashes his truck in a failed effort to avoid her, which is what gives Max and the others a chance to escape. Yet despite having lost one of her sisters, when Capable finds Nux on the truck, she shows him mercy.

Nux was the crazed War Boy that Max had been attached to earlier in the film, he manages to sneak aboard the tanker with plans to assassinate Furiosa. Fortunately he’s a bit of an idiot and immediately gets knocked unconscious. Nux manages to steal quite a few scenes thanks to Nicholas Hoult playing the character with such humanity. This is a movie that could easily have written off the War Boys as mindless cannibal rapists like so many post-apocalyptic stories, but Mad Max: Fury Road took the braver path and actually characterized them.

Kind of like this.
He’s not crazy, he’s just got a zest for life!

In Nux’s conversations with Capable, the girl who rescues him, he reveals that he’s just a kid terrified of the cancer eating away at his body. He joined the War Boys for the same reason a lot of kids join gangs, he wanted a sense of belonging and safety. And he followed Immortan Joe’s cult because Joe promised him a place in Valhalla, where Nux could see his friends again when he died. He was scared and alone, and he wanted some semblance of safety and belonging in a fucked up world. Not surprisingly, when confronted by compassion and understanding, Nux leaves behind his twisted beliefs and helps Max and Furiosa in their escape.

Their escape takes them through a swampland, a desolate and rotting landscape, emerging on the other side having finally put some distance between them and Immortan Joe’s army. It’s here that Furiosa reunites with her old tribe, the awesomely named Vuvalini, and a half-dozen of the most badass women in the world. When Furiosa learns that the dead swampland they’d just passed through is actually the fabled Green Land that they’d been searching for, and that most of the friends and family she’d hoped to reunite with are dead, Charlize Theron gives us one of the most heart wrenching scenes in the movie. It’s like the polar opposite of Darth Vader’s “NOOOOOO!” scene from Episode 3, a primal shriek that conveys the pain and frustration that can only come from having suffered so much to find out the paradise you hoped to find had died long ago.

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Furiosa plans to take what fuel they can and drive off into the salt flats, a sun baked hellscape, hoping to find a new home on the other side. Max, however, has a bolder strategy: go back the way they came and take The Citadel from Immortan Joe. What follows is some of the best action I’ve ever seen in a movie, men throw themselves from speeding cars and use giant see-sawing poles to board the tanker. Many of the Vulvalini don’t survive the battle, unfortunately, but they all go down fighting the good fight.

At one point Furiosa takes a knife in the back and thanks to the stakes set by the movie, it’s clear that this is a life-threatening injury. Unlike tons of other action movies, Furiosa can’t just shrug off her injury, but that doesn’t mean she stops either. Bleeding out only encourages her to use her last vestiges of strength to do what she should have done years ago.

Remember me!? – Furiosa to Immortan Joe

Those are Furiosa’s words to Joe as she rips most of his face off. This is another brilliant example of both the script and the movie’s director George Miller showing instead of telling. We could have had a scene earlier in the movie where Furiosa confides in Max the horrors of her life and what Immortan might have done to her, but such a scene would have been unnecessary because all the information we need to know is already there.

Furiosa starts out terrified of Joe, she’s incredibly courageous in her bid to escape from Immortan, but actually fighting him was never part of her plan. By the end of the film Furiosa has had a chance to mourn for the home she lost so long ago and remember the proud people she came from, she’s remembered the little girl she used to be before Immortan Joe took her. So when Furiosa tells him to remember her, she’s telling him to remember the little girl he abducted from her family, the defiant girl who he tried to break and brainwash into becoming the leader of his armies. She wants him to know that nothing he ever did was enough to break her, and now nothing will save him from her.

Remember that you're not nearly as badass as you think you are.
Remember that you’re not nearly as badass as you think you are.

Furiosa returns to The Citadel and presents Immortan Joe’s body to the surviving War Boys, the people rise up and celebrate her victory, and Max disappears into the crowd.

It’s not a complicated story, but the greatest stories never are. Mad Max: Fury Road is elegant. That might seem like a strange word to use in an action movie featuring monster trucks, exploding spears and crazed killers but it absolutely fits. The script is astoundingly concise, the characters are incredible, the acting is sublime and the practical effects are simply amazing. It’s an action movie that subverts all the typical themes and tropes we associate with action movies; it’s filled with powerful female characters, it doesn’t promote hyper masculine ideals, and most importantly it’s not just a mindless vehicle for explosions. It’s about home, redemption, and humanity.

It’s a story everyone can relate to, and it’s a story you all owe it to yourselves to see.

50 Shades of Calm the Hell Down

I’m still working on my follow up articles to Planescape Torment, and I think you’ll all be pleased. But I’m also exhausted. Trying to describe all the different aspects of Planescape is like diving into the ocean. It’s so deep and vast, it’s a challenge to even know where to begin. So I took a brief break to dive into a thimble to clear my head.

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If this wasn’t a metaphor I’d have one hell of a circus act.

Let’s talk about Fifty Shades of Grey.

Is it Really That Bad?

Fifty Shades of Grey

If you’ve been alive and on the internet any time in the past year, you’ve no doubt heard of Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s sold 100 million copies and has been decried as the worst book ever written and a shameless smut peddling disgrace to literature. People have accused it of glorifying an abusive relationship, trying to recruit people into the BDSM lifestyle and trying to demonize the BDSM lifestyle. Kind of like that episode of Parks and Recreation where people object to Twilight as being both too Christian and not Christian enough. So with all this media attention I began to wonder:

Is it really that bad? 

Two weeks ago I began reading Fifty Shades in order to answer that question. And since I’m obviously not the target demographic for this novel, I asked my friend Hali to assist me.

Forget all that taking a bullet crap, a real friend is one who will read a bad book for you.
Forget all that taking a bullet crap, a real friend is one who will read a bad book for you.

What we both agreed was that the first fifty or so pages of this book are some of the worst stuff ever written. First of all the beginning is utter trash, it starts out with Anastasia (no really, that’s her name) getting ready to interview Mr. Grey. No getting to know who this girl is, no characterization at all. Which might be a good thing because the author clearly doesn’t know how to characterize. Or anything else about writing really.

Show don’t tell is a pretty important rule in good writing, but here’s how Mr. Grey is first introduced to us:

“…as an exceptional entrepreneur and major benefactor of our university…”

Come on, E. L. James, that’s just fucking lazy. There were so many different ways you could do this:

Mr Grey was worth 500 million dollars, was featured in Forbes’ 30 under 30 list, and the University’s library was named after him. 

Seriously, not that hard, lady.
Seriously, not that hard, lady.

See how easy that was? Details are the key to a good story, and Fifty Shades rarely gives you any kind of detail about characters, places or really any details outside of a sex scene. For instance it plays up Ana as a lover of “British Classics.”

How does the book tell you Ana is a lover of classic British authors? By telling you she loves classic British books. Not a single title or author is even mentioned, but the fact she loves British books is repeated over and over again.

“See!?” The book seems to say “She’s a nerdy girl! She likes books! She doesn’t know the name or author of these books, but she loves them!”

When the name Thomas Hardy is finally dropped we’re nearly halfway through the book, and it’s only mentioned so Mr. Grey can buy her expensive first editions of his books. What’s really galling about this is that E. L. James is British, she should have known at least one British author to mention. In fact, forget the fact she’s British, who the hell hasn’t heard of Dickens? He’s the epitome of the English Classic.

“Tell me more about how you want to dirty my name putting it in Fifty Shades of Grey.”
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Dickens…”

Of course when she does add detail they’re usually either straight up wrong or just bizarre.

For instance when Ana sets off to interview Mr. Grey:

“The roads are clear as I set off toward Portland and the I-5. It’s early and I don’t have to be in Seattle till 2.”

Well it’s good you don’t have to be in Seattle till 2 but you’re going the wrong way. 

Wrong Way

Portland is south of Vancouver, Seattle is North. Now even if I wasn’t a native of the area, if I’m writing about an area I don’t know about I at least do some research. That Google Map search took 10 seconds. Now maybe Ana was going to Portland to do some shopping or something, its like a 10 minute drive to get from one city to the other, but if that’s the case it’s never mentioned! 

Then there are the other bewildering details she adds, like Grey’s building being made of “Glass and Stone”. Glass okay, but stone? Is this building in Minas Tirith? Concrete, yes; steel, yes; but stone?

And then there’s the floor of Grey’s office, which is sandstone. As in it’s colored sandstone or it’s literally sandstone? We’ll never know because she doesn’t elaborate.

Falling on that would have left Ana with some seriously scrapped knees.
Falling on that would have left Ana with some seriously scrapped knees.

Then of course there’s the fact that everyone still talks like they’re in the author’s native land of England.

“He sounds quite taken with you!” Her friend Katherine says to her. Now I use verbal communication so infrequently that I’m pretty sure I’m a telepath, but that is a phrase I’ve never heard an American say. The dialogue is filled with people using British vernacular when they’re all supposedly home grown Americans. At one point Ana says that Mr. Grey “utters an oath.” Which is the fancy British tea-and-crumpets way of saying he swore.

All that said, once you get past the horrible opening third of the book, the rest of it isn’t so bad. I mean yes it is bad, but it’s interesting enough to keep reading and it’s by no means the worst thing I’ve ever read. And once you get into the mystery of why Grey is such a fucked up control freak, you do get genuinely interested in how he became that way.

But enough about all that, I know what all you perverts really want to know: the sex. Is the sex as weird and freaky as everyone is making it out to be?

No, not really. It was frankly a bit disappointing. It felt a lot like reading the reviews of Dragon Age: Inquisition, it was a lot of hype for a pretty mediocre title. Similarly, the build up and hype surrounding 50 Shades made me think it was going to be strange and/or hideous.  The reality…it was just another trashy romance novel with some kinky stuff thrown in.

In fact most of the sex scenes are just straight up “vanilla sex,” as Christian Grey would say. Their first encounter is entirely just plain old sex, and 19-year-old Virgin Ana has multiple orgasms on her first try because Christian Grey is just so good at sexing, you guys. He doesn’t have an Adonis-like physique for nothing! (No, really she literally describes him as an Adonis at one point.)

Adonis_Mazarin_Louvre_MR239_n3
For reference, this is a statue of Adonis and I look more like Adonis than the way Grey is described. Totally unrelated note: I’m single ladies!

The sex scenes are ridiculously common and incredibly ludicrous depictions of sex. My friend Hali, who has a PHD in Sexology (IE she has had sex) tells me that Ana having multiple orgasms her first few times having sex is a fantasy on par with a Unicorn eating ice cream from a Yeti. And they have sex so often that I’m pretty sure the friction alone would have left made both sets of genitals slough off and leaving them with Barbie Doll style amorphous mounds.

But that’s the fantasy that sells these books I suppose. Yet that’s about as shocking as these scenes get, just the sheer amount of sex.

The “infamous” tampon scene was one of the most disappointing in the whole book. Apparently people are pissed off that the movie didn’t include this scene. So after hearing so much about it, I thought Christian Grey would use the bloody tampon to write obscene words in her own blood. Or maybe, given this book’s origin as a Twilight fan-fiction piece, he’d start sucking on it like fucking Nosferatu.

You know what happens? Better brace yourself, cause this is gonna just blow you away.

He takes the tampon out…

And then he throws it in the toilet.

Then they have sex. That’s it. That’s the big, scary, taboo subject that the director was too afraid to show and people are pissed off at its absence. That’s nothing!

Breaking News: A dude still wants to have sex with his girlfriend even though she’s on her period, because like most dudes he’s a horndog who would have sex in a landfill if it came down to it. 

Is that supposed to be kinky or something? The fact that she’s on her period and he wants to have sex anyway is somehow…weird?

What!? A man sees a standard physiological process as normal, and doesn't give a shit? INSANITY!
What!? A man sees a standard physiological process as normal, and doesn’t give a shit? INSANITY!

Maybe this is getting into the too much information department, but I wouldn’t have a problem having sex with a girl on her period. Sure there’s gonna be some extra clean up, but holy shit you guys, grow up. We’re all a bunch of filth-beasts rubbing our filthiest parts together in a filthy display of filth because it feels good. If a little extra filth ruins it for you…well go back to being the obsessively compulsive germaphobe everyone hates.

I’d imagine that the girl would have a bigger issue than the guy when it came to sex during a period, because they’re going through all the cramps and hormone shifts.

I suppose that so many people saw this scene as “shocking” or “gross” indicates how archaic our views on female sexuality are, but otherwise there’s nothing special about this scene.

And England already pointed out that flaw in our society. Thanks England!
And England already pointed out that flaw in our society. Thanks England!

The other scenes include a hand spanking, a leather-pleated riding crop, and a belt. And other than the final scene with the belt, none of these scenes come close to pushing any boundaries or shocking me. And the belt scene was only interesting because of her emotional reaction to it, not any of the action itself. Those 100 million people who bought this thing must have lived really sheltered lives.

So the writing is bad, but isn’t the worst thing I’ve read. The sex scenes are tame and relatively uninteresting. The only thing left is the controversy of “Is this an abusive relationship?”

I’ve read a lot of articles on whether the relationship depicted is abusive, and most of them fall on the side of “yes.”

And I have to say I have no idea where they’re coming from, and I think some didn’t even read the book before coming to that conclusion. Most of them focus on the “Fuck Contract” as people have taken to calling it, but she never actually signs it and in fact most of the book is her thinking about it and negotiating with Christian over certain aspects.

Here’s how the CDC describes Domestic Violence.

“In case of abusive spouse, please promptly bash their heads in  and turn them in at the nearest CDC facility for disposal.”

I can tell you that NONE of those things happen in the book, and while I admittedly haven’t inflicted the movie version on myself yet, I can’t imagine they’d add anything to change my mind. Here’s how my friend Hali weighed in on the situation:

“I read a few commentary things before reading the book, and there was plenty of information claiming that Ana was being taken advantage of, or like the next question- she was in an abusive relationship / involved in a domestic violence situation. I really didn’t take that away from the actual book at all. Most of the time she stood up for herself and she wasn’t afraid to make fun of Christian or call him out on being a control freak. So I don’t think she had self-esteem issues. Maybe she didn’t think she was that great looking, but most girls are critical of their looks. Also, Christian was very upfront about what they would be doing and she always had a say in the sexual stuff as well as asking him for “more”.

So I don’t think the relationship could be considered abusive. There were no classic signs of abuse, like belittling or trying to isolate her from friends and family. If anything, he increased her confidence and encouraged her to visit family. Yeah, he was asking her to step way outside her comfort zone and try a relationship that probably wouldn’t end up being the normal boyfriend/girlfriend relationship that she had imagined, but he was being honest and open about what that meant.”

Exactly, in fact at one point Christian even tells Ana straight up front that she has all the power in their relationship. All of this controversy is just Much Ado About Nothin’.

By the way, Shakespeare had way freakier sex going on in his plays than Fifty Shades does.
By the way, Shakespeare had way freakier sex going on in his plays than Fifty Shades does.

None of that is to say I think this is a healthy relationship, to me it reminded me of a high school romance or Romeo and Juliette. They’re just so caught up in their emotions and, more importantly, hormones that they can’t just settle down and talk like rational adults. Every time they try to have a serious conversation about their relationship, it immediately devolves into sex. So yes, this relationship might result in a double suicide at some point, but not because it’s abusive.

They’re just idiots. 

So is Fifty Shades of Grey That Bad?

Verdict: No

Is it a literary masterpiece? Good god no.

Is it a good book? Ehhhh, not really, but it can be enjoyable in places.

Is it the worst book to ever exist? Not by a long shot.

Not as long as Ayn Rand's books still exist.
Not as long as Ayn Rand’s books still exist.

The only reason I think this book became so popular was because of the controversy surrounding it. And that controversy itself is so painfully shallow that there’s a no-diving sign over it.

Is it trying to recruit people into BDSM? If it is, it did a shit job because it made the whole thing look so fucking boring. Seriously there’s a good 3 or 4 pages dedicated to that stupid contract.

So really, everyone needs to calm the hell down about this book and movie. People enjoy trashy things like this, don’t judge them. Some of you reading this have probably seen all 7 SAW movies, and they’re utterly terrible on almost every level. I know a lot of my readers watch Walking Dead, and you KNOW you’ve seen some pretty bad writing there, don’t even try to deny it.

So everyone calm the hell down and concentrate on what’s really important.

WritersBlock
Like giving me money. Come on, give me your money! Please?

Gravity

Sorry for the long delay between posts, but this month has been absolutely crazy for my freelancing business. I complete one assignment only for three more to pop up, still that’s no excuse for ignoring all my readers, so my apologies. Fortunately last night I took some time to myself to relax and let my fingers relax, since my writer’s cramp has progressed into writer’s rigor mortis; I went to see Gravity, and it is without a doubt the greatest movie that’s come out this year. Once again I’ll be using my patented style of analysis to systematically ruin every surprise and character arc in the movie, so if you haven’t see this please don’t read any further. This is a great movie and really deserves to be seen. For those of you who have seen it, sit back and enjoy while I take the story apart piece by piece and show you why this movie is so damn good.

Gravity: A Storyteller’s Review

And don't stop reading!
And don’t stop reading!

Gravity takes place in an alternate universe where NASA is actually funded and we’re still actively exploring space, but other than that the movie is pretty grounded in reality. I’ve heard from some sciencey-type guys that the physics of Gravity are wrong, and that some of the scenes are unrealistic but then I never was any good at mathing so I still enjoyed it. If you have Phd in Physics then either turn off your bullshit sensors or avoid this movie, nerd! 

The plot of Gravity is deceptively simple, those wacky Russians decide to blow up a satellite but accidentally trigger a chain reaction that sends a giant wave of debris smashing into the Space Shuttle Explorer and sending Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) drifting aimlessly through the upper atmosphere. Well, not entirely aimlessly as Kowalski was field testing a new jetpack of sorts that allows him to maneuver through space and attempt to survive without any outside assistance. That’s the plot, and it’s a damn good plot filled with incredibly tense moments. Except for a short scene when Dr. Ryan is inside the International Space Station, the entire movie is devoid of all sound effects and watching space debris go ripping through the space shuttle, astronauts and space stations in the movie is even eerier when there’s no sound. It’s a good plot, but that’s not why it’s a good story.

The real meat of the story is in the underlying theme, the journey of the characters and the absolutely stunning visual symbolism.

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As that not-so-subtle visual metaphor probably makes abundantly clear, this movie’s core themes are about life, death and the journey in between. The imagery, and indeed the dialogue, is sometimes a bit heavy-handed but the message it’s carrying is so good that I didn’t really mind. I’m getting a head of myself, however.

After a nail biting opening sequence, Dr. Stone and Kowalski return to the now shattered hull of the Explorer to find there are no survivors on board. Nearly every Satellite in orbit has been wiped out, cutting the pair off from Houston but Kowalski tells Dr. Stone to keep talking just in case. Ostensibly this is because someone might be listening but unable to respond to them, but the real reason is so Sandra Bullock and Kowalski can continue talking without being too unrealistic (talking consumes a lot more oxygen than just breathing.) This is a great thing because it’s Dr. Stone and Kowalski’s relationship that really make the first part of the movie fantastic, and set the stage for the later character development of Dr. Stone. Why only Dr. Stone? Well because Kowalski isn’t going to stay with us.

Butterfingers.
Oh, butterfingers…he slipped.

Kowalski does what’s necessary: he sacrifices himself rather than doom both of them. This is a powerful scene for several reasons; first because Kowalski attitude towards death gives us a glimpse at Dr. Stone’s character arc, two because it preys on the primal fear of being alone, and three, it’s a symbolic representation of life and human relationships.

Kowalski’s attitude towards his own impending doom is one of calm acceptance rather than fear and when he starts floating away into the emptiness of space, he doesn’t waste time mourning for himself or sharing his regrets. He sits back and enjoys the view, enjoying the fact that he’s finally going to be beat Anatoly Solovyev’s record for longest space walk. He uses his final words to remark on how beautiful the sunrise is as it hits the Ganges River hundred of thousands miles down. George Clooney absolutely nails this performance, to the point where you’re almost envious that the guy gets to die in the void of space cold and alone.  Dr. Stone desperately tries to keep in contact with him, but eventually he drifts out of range and Dr. Stone is completely and utterly alone, everyone’s worst nightmare.

It was watching Dr. Stone desperately clutching at the tether that made this whole scene so powerful. Relationships are a lot like that, we’re all just attached by the flimsiest of tethers and sometimes it doesn’t take much for those tethers to slip, break or be let go, and when they’re gone it’s impossible not to feel that emptiness on the other side of the tether. More to the point, it’s also a great visual metaphor for life; delicate and so easy to lose. Kowalski let go of the tether, and his life, because he had to. His fate was sealed already, and hanging on would only have killed Dr. Stone as well. Some people though, let go of the tether of life because we just don’t want to hold on to it anymore. That’s the situation Dr. Stone finds herself in after she makes it to the ISS’s escape ship and finds out the engines are out of fuel. Frustrated and exhausted she turns off the ship’s life support systems and waits for death, until Kowalski reappears.

You can't keep a good Clooney down.
You can’t keep a good Clooney down.

His speech here is amazing and I can’t remember it word for word, but it boils down to this: life is hard and painful to get through sometimes, and sometimes it gets to the point where it feels like it would just be easier to curl up and let ourselves go. I’ve been in that situation several times before, back when I was depressed and even a couple times since when the walls seem to be closing in around me; when I was kicked out of college for instance, it sometimes seemed like ending it would have been the easier option. After all, I’d raised to believe that life without college is a life not worth living, by my parents, by my teachers and by society itself. Then I returned to my first true love, my writing and I found a new career that didn’t care if I’d been kicked out of college. That’s the beauty of life, there’s always another option and that’s what Kowalski reminds Dr. Stone of. The main engines are dead, but the soft-landing jets that deploy after re-entry are still functioning. There’s still a way to get home.

Of course Kowalski isn’t really there, it was just a dream brought on by low oxygen, but the idea is real. So she fires the jets and heads toward the Chinese space station Tiangong, hoping to find a functional escape vehicle there. she succeeds but finds Tiangong falling into the atmosphere. She finds a functional escape ship, and with the station burning up around her, begins preparations to launch. Then Sandra Bullock gives us her best performance of the movie, and a speech that’ll make you want to go out there and do something crazy.

Houston, in ten minutes I’ll either be home on earth with one hell of a story to tell or I’ll burn up in the atmosphere. Either way, no harm, no foul. Because one way or the other, it’s been a hell of a ride.

It was a ride I'll never forget.
It was a ride I’ll never forget.

Obviously I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of her statement and it brought manly tears to my eyes. She let go of her fear of death, and embraced life with every fiber of her being. She stopped worrying and let life take its course; she still does everything she can to survive, but there’s no more hopelessness and no more despair, just determination and confidence. Even after all the greatness this movie gave me, it’s the ending that really secures this movie as my favorite of the year.

After an admittedly unrealistic survival and reentry, Sandra Bullocks emerges from the ocean and takes her first unsure steps on Earth. Weak from long-term exposure to Zero Gravity, her first steps are awkward and unsure, and that’s what makes this ending amazing.

Hundreds of millions of years ago, some strange sea creature made this same journey. It stepped out of the primordial oceans to take its first steps on land and ushered in a new age. Obviously it didn’t see it that way, it was just evolving to take advantage of a new environment but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is some creature with only rudimentary leg-flaps and breathing with its half-developed lungs came onto land, and though all the odds were stacked against it, it survived. More followed, and soon there was man.

Gravity reminds us not only where we came from, and what life is all about, but also where we’re going. We emerged from the seas countless eons ago, and now we’re taking our first unsure steps into the depths of space. We may have landed on the moon fifty years ago, but make no mistake, we’re still in the infancy of space travel. We’re just like that half-formed sea creature, our bodies aren’t adapted to the environment of space and its an environment filled with dangers both known and unknown, but it’s crucial we take these steps. Even when tragedies like the destruction of Challenger and Columbia strike, we have to keep moving forward. Space exploration is the future of our species, and up there we don’t have nationalities, we’re mankind united.

We have to reach the stars because no matter what we find or what setbacks we suffer…

We’ll have one hell of a story to tell, and it’ll be a hell of a ride. 

heic0715a

World War Wales (I mean Z)

And if WordPress allowed subtitles, it would read:

Wales: Where Movies Go To Die

You might be wondering why I went to go see World War Z, as fans of my blog know that I’m not a huge zombie fan. I thought Telltale’s The Walking Dead was a great game with an amazing story, and I do enjoy the television series even though it has so many flaws, but over all I find the idea of zombies just worn out and boring at this point. That said, World War Z was a movie that promised to show me the part of the Zombie mythos that had always fascinated me: the fall of mankind. I think the fall of mankind to the undead onslaught is one of the most fascinating parts of the whole idea, and yet most Zombie related stories only start after this point. That’s why World War Z caught my eye. Plus it’s been a while since Brad Pitt did a bad movie, and I’d hoped that he would be able to bring new life to an otherwise stale genre.

Well, I’m sorry to say Brad Pitt’s golden run has officially been broken.

As well as several bank accounts.
As well as several hollywood bank accounts.

That’s not to say it’s Brad Pitt’s fault of course, he did an absolutely phenomenal job in this film and is added to my very short list of convincing actors in a zombie film. And in fact the first hour and a half of this film is actually really damn good and delivered everything I wanted from a zombie movie. Until the absolutely horrific ending comes around this was the story I’d been waiting for someone to tell me. It was a story about the frantic, blood-curdling end of mankind under a wave of undead monsters. This was a film that didn’t skimp on the graphics, and watching the undead swarming through the streets of New York city and scuttling over the walls of Jerusalem like army ants was pretty damn cool. I know zombie fans get can get into really bitter disputes over what constitutes a “zombie”, what with traditional Romero-style shamblers VS the “infected” style sprinters as in 28 Days Later, and if you’re a traditionalist you’re really not going to like the “zekes.” That said, I loved these zombies, they were like the infected in 28 Days Later taken to their furthest extreme. One of the hardest things I have to suspend my disbelief over in zombie films is the idea that the slow, stumbling Romero-zombies could ever conquer our advanced military equipment. With the speed and ferocity of these Zekes though, it was easy to not only believe that these creatures could overrun humanity, but you got to see it happen as well.

Now I know the PG-13 rating took a big bite out of the gore, but I actually felt this added to the movie. Since they couldn’t show blood, the usual scenes that slow down other zombie movies weren’t possible here without being ridiculous, and that forced the movie to keep up its frantic pace of destruction. There were no long, lingering shots of zombies feasting on the corpse of a human. Instead the ant-like Zekes were bringing down humans in the streets like lions taking down an antelope, and all while Brad Pitt kept you focused on the moment by narrowly staying one step ahead of them. Not that I mind a well-shot piece of gory death, but often times in zombie movies these scenes are there purely as shock value and add little to the overall story and drag down the pace of the movie.

The main reason I loved the first half of this movie though, is because it did things no other zombie movie ever has. We’ve never seen how the governments of the world react to a zombie uprising, or seen entire cities teeming with zombies and pouring through the streets like animals. Entire cities burning, or millions of zombies scaling the walls of a city. You really got a sense of scale that is lacking from most other zombie movies, when you hear people aboard the U.S. command ship saying things like “What do you mean we’ve lost Boston!?” and “Washington D.C. has gone dark, suspend evacuation.” or “How the hell should I know if Russia is still standing?” you get a clear picture of just how quickly the apocalypse happened. You get to hear the international scale of the crisis rather than it just being implied.

Please form an orderly line!
And you get to see zombies forming human ladders. So basically it’s awesome.

That’s not to say the early film is perfect. I felt some of the family stuff fell flat, but at the same time confining them to the safety of the ship allowed the film to maintain the frenetic pace that allowed for such amazing zombie battles. There was also a line from the previews that was mysteriously cut from the main film that went something like this: “Don’t make the mistake of thinking your family is exempt from the end of the human race.” Now this original line is great for setting up a compelling reason for Brad Pitt’s character to choose to go out on this mission, and it’s a great way to set the stakes of the story (if they weren’t already apparent). Why this line was cut from the film is beyond me, because it’s replaced by the U.S. military essentially blackmailing Brad Pitt to go on the mission, robbing his character of making the choice to go which could have allowed for some interesting drama and characterization. Why this wasn’t in the original film I have no idea, but these are all just minor nitpicks compared to my main complaint: the ending (again!)

So let me set the stage. Our hero and an Israeli soldier have just escaped from the fall of Jerusalem, and their plane has just crashed in Wales right alongside the plot, pacing and any hopes for a good ending. The plot goes from a smart, globe-trotting detective/survival story into a run-of-the-mill zombie trope and the frenetic pace comes to such a sudden stop that I’m thinking about suing the studio for whiplash. The entire last half of the movie feels like its from a different movie all together. The reason I liked the movie up until this point is because it was so different from your average zombie movie, and different is good. The whole “trapped in a claustrophobic building with an ethnically diverse group of survivors” trope was no where to be seen until that plane came crashing down into a Welsh forest. Then it suddenly became a very boring remake of Dawn of the Dead, only with a laboratory instead of a shopping mall.

And somehow, even less zombies.
And, somehow, less zombies.

The burning cities were replaced by a sterile, boring laboratory setting. The tens of  millions of rampaging Zekes were reduced to a mere handful wandering the halls. And a united world military battling the zombie apocalypse is replaced by three people with a crowbar, fire axe and pistol who only manage to kill a single Zeke between the three of them; making it less interesting than an average game of Left 4 Dead. I can’t even properly state just how out of place the entire last 45-50 minutes of this film feels, it’s something you have to experience (though I wouldn’t recommend it).

The height of the stupidity comes when Brad Pitt finds himself trapped inside a biological containment vault. He’s there trying to find some horrific disease to infect himself with that will “camouflage” him from the infected Zekes. (And there’s absolutely no context I can put that in that will make it sound less stupid.) So he’s sitting there waiting for the infection to kick in and there’s a Zeke right outside the door. Now that in itself isn’t a problem, but while the Zeke is standing there it keeps chattering its teeth. Obviously this was supposed to be a tense moment in the movie, but it isn’t, and here’s why:

For one, Brad Pitt is behind a impenetrable plastic wall, so the Zeke isn’t a threat to his character which completely deflates any tension in the scene.

Secondly, and most importantly, the Zeke looks like an emaciated chipmunk.

Let the uprising begin my brothers!
Let the uprising begin my brothers!

Every time the Zeke chattered its teeth the entire audience laughed. That’s not a joke or an exaggeration, an entire theater full of people laughed every time the damn thing moved its mouth, in what was supposed to be the tense conclusion of the film. That’s not a good thing, nor is it the worst part of the ending.

After he escapes the containment vault, and by escape I mean literally walks right by the Zekes completely annihilating any menace they might have otherwise had, the film just ends with a stupid montage. Not only do they abandon all of the subplots they established earlier in the film, such as the detective story of finding patient zero and taking care of his family, they abandon subplots they established only five minutes earlier.

When Brad Pitt realizes he’s trapped in the containment vault, he injects himself with a random vial in order to test his theory. After he does, one of the ethnically diverse group of survivors says “If he took anything from the right side of the container, he’s a dead man anyway.” So did Brad Pitt take anything from the right side? Which disease did he choose!?

“Shut up! It doesn’t matter! This crucial plot element is none of your business!” – The Movie

 Despite the plot establishing that only a fatal, but treatable, disease is necessary for the camouflage to work Brad Pitt walks off into the sunset without even a case of the sniffles to show for it. A montage that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rocky movie, complete with cheesy inspirational music, finishes off what could have been a terrific movie. Thanks to a series of convenient scene cuts: Brad Pitt returns to his family in Nova Scotia despite being on foot in Wales only minutes earlier, people all over the world inoculate themselves with horrible diseases that will probably kill them anyway, and mankind overcomes the Zombie threat. All while Brad Pitt gives a deadpan closing soliloquy about survival and fighting for your life, which is rendered completely meaningless when you see bulldozers shoveling huge mountains of dead Zekes into fire pits. Not only is this a terrible way to end a film, it also kills any hope of getting a good sequel since they’ve destroyed the Zekes as a credible threat.

I really wish I could recommend this movie, and if only the final few minutes of the movie were bad I probably would recommend it just because the city scenes are so impressive, but the final death throes of the movie takes nearly fifty minutes (and it’ll feel like three hours when you watch it). Like the Zeke Brad Pitt kills in the movie, the movie trips over a dead body and hits its head on the wall, and the next fifty minutes are watching it writhe around in agony before finally expiring with a pathetic whimper. This is a movie I really wanted to like, it’s just too bad it went so far out of its way to make me hate it.

Whoa! Slow the !@#$ down!

So I went to go see Legend of the Guardians back in September. It’s a CGI movie about a bunch of armored Owls, whats not to like right? Well I’ll tell you whats not too like.

Its too damn fast. This movie tore across the screen faster than Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier. This movie moved so fast that I thought that it was running from the slasher film that was showing next door. It wasn’t the fact that it was 90 minutes either, I’ve seen plenty of movies that have had a nicely paced plot fit into 90 minutes. Shrek was approximately 90 minutes and it was brilliantly done, with a beginning middle and end. Rather than feeling like a relaxed movie-goer, I felt like I was tied to the back of a speeding car face down…naked. Just scraping along the harsh pavement until the front of my body resembled one of those anatomy dummies you see in science labs, with the removable ribs and stuff. I was confused and bewildered at the visions that passed in front of my eyes, it was more like a hallucination than an actual movie. Disjointed and vague. And I finally realized the real problem was that this movie had no beginning or middle.

Legend of the Gaurdians was basically one huge ending. It had kind of a beginning…sort of…I think. It might have gotten lost in the franticly paced action scenes that dominate the movie. This movie grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go. And not in a good way, not “Oh my god, these characters are so compelling!” but more “I can’t breathe! HELP!” and my face turning blue. Legend of the Guardians suffocated me with so much information that I didn’t know which way was up! Remember in Transformers 2, where the action scenes were so busy and filled with explosions you couldn’t tell who the hell was even fighting anymore? Well Legend of the Guardians is kind of like that, it was almost as if it were a really creative metaphor about Michael Bay’s directing style.

Somewhere in that dust are the characters and story...maybe

The fight scenes themselves were actually beautifully done, and Michael Bay should watch the movie and see how to do a fight scene without completely disorienting the audience. Unfortunately the movie seems to be in such a rush to get there it neglects why the fight scenes are even happening, or why we should care. They allowed exactly less than a minute on character exposition for each of the 20 or so characters in this movie. And they all seemed like they would be interesting, had we had the chance to get to know them. Their lines are so brief and they get so little time I didn’t even know that this was an all-star cast until I saw the credits.

Geoffrey Rush

Hugo Weaving

And Hellen bloody Mirren.

With that kind of talent they should have given these people alot more than the two dozen or so lines I heard from them. And it wasn’t like these were cameo parts either, Geoffrey Rush portrayed Ezylryb (Good luck pronouncing that by the way) who was basically the guy who created the “Legend” in the Legend of the Guardians. He also becomes Sorens teacher, supposedly anyway; since that scene only takes up a whopping two minutes I can’t be sure.

I can understand wanting to keep it short for the kiddies, but this was just taking it to the extreme. This was the movie equivalent of hacking off a leg when all the patient had was a hangnail. It completely cripples the story, because without the necessary story exposition and characters there’s nothing there. It’s just a hallowed out shell, a vehicle for action scenes but without a driver inside. It all appears to happen for its own sake, mechanical and rehearsed, rather than a natural evolution of the story.

And you know what? I still really enjoyed the movie and I hope they will make a sequel, and do it properly this time. Because despite the brevity of the movie, I could still see that this was an epic world filled with fascinating characters and stories. I’m planning to read the Guardians of Ga’Hoole by Kathryn Lasky because, despite their being aimed toward kids, this movie did a great job of making me interested in the story. The movie unfortunately didn’t allow any exposition for the poor neglected story, but the fact I still found it fascinating despite barely knowing or understanding it, is definitely impressive on the part of Lasky’s world and probably of the directing of Zack Snyder (300, and Watchmen).

So who do I blame for all this? Who took what appeared to be a grand epic story filled with characters and majesty and reduced it into the movie equivalent of heavily cut crack cocaine?

The script “doctors”. The people that Hollywood hire to change scripts to make them more appealing to the audience, or rather what they imagine the audience wants (and are almost always wrong).

But this post has already gone on too long. I’ll gleefully tear apart these hacks that call themselves writers in my next post. And eventually update you all on how reading the actual books was.

Until next time.