Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

I feel conflicted. Part of me wants to loathe Star Wars: The Force Awakens, loathe what it represents. It feels like sheer, gratuitous lip-service to the original Star Wars films, an unneeded palate-cleanser after three prequels that, honestly, I didn’t think were nearly that awful. I want to rip this movie’s spine out with my bare hands, burn it, piss on its ashes and proclaim that it’s not the prophet we hold it to be and that its fans are sheep. But I can’t do that, as, aside from being really insensitive, it’s brilliantly-crafted and highly enjoyable.

Let me begin with a confession: I don’t hate the Star Wars Prequels. They’re not great movies, even the third one I can’t call more than decent, but they’re not the plague the internet has made them to be. Even the second one, which has become the franchise punching bag amongst Star Wars hipsters, is a serviceably bad movie. So when it was announced that J.J. Abrams, director behind the recent Star Trek reboots, would be returning to “franchise roots” following, I wanted to scream. “Good Lord,” I thought, “why do we always keep pretending that older is better?”

Finally, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has hit theatres. As expected, the reviews are stellar, despite the initial whining that “Disney was killing the franchise”. But I was skeptical. Excited to see another Star Wars movie, but also skeptical. I knew what this film was doing, and I wasn’t gonna be a sucker to hype. Still, I kept an open mind; after all, if it was getting stellar reviews, then clearly it was worthwhile.

(By the way, minor spoilers)

The movie begins with the traditional opening crawl. Luke Skywalker, the hero from the original films, has gone missing, and in his place a new order has arisen from the ashes of the empire, a Sith Lord has replaced Darth Vader and the rebellion, now the new republic, is at it once more. Amidst the conflict, a lone pilot, Poe Dameron, has retrieved the map to Luke’s location and hidden it with his droid, BB-88, for safe-keeping. He’s kidnapped by the order, but not before escaping with a rogue Stormtrooper and landing on Jakku, where we meet a smuggler named Rey. From here, it’s a race to find Luke and stop the new order, all the while meeting old faces that plan to take down the new Sith, Kylo Ren, once and for all.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens establishes almost immediately that it’s not the prequels: the sets are real, the effects are mostly practical and little to no mentions of Episodes I-III are present. This movie’s a “true” Star Wars movie, one aiming to please long-time fans. Unfortunately, it also means that new ideas are almost non-existent, preferring to ape the formula of the original films from a slightly different angle. The movie hits all the checkpoints, from the plans the big baddie wants for themselves, to the nobody who embarks on the hero’s journey, to the villain and the attempt at redemption.

And it’s obnoxious. I get it, people weren’t happy with the prequels and want to forget they exist. These new movies are doing that. But when your basic plot structure repeats Star Wars Ep. IV: A New Hope and parts of its sequel beat-for-beat, except with a new coat of paint, I can’t help but call it “lazy”. It doesn’t matter that the story of Star Wars itself isn’t original anyway, that’s no excuse for lack of inventiveness.

This is doubly annoying because the movie is 135-minutes of shameless lip-service. Every scene, right down to the carefully crafted dialogue, is such an homage that I can’t help but groan inside; yes, it’s nice to see characters X, Y and Z again. Yes, that one song from that one scene is a nice callback to that one song from that other scene. And yes, it was cool to see this movie’s update to The Death Star. But I don’t consider that clever. Homage is best when it’s subtle and doesn’t detract from change. That's why the Daniel Craig James Bonds were so appealing to me, why Abrams’s take on Star Trek in 2009 hooked me and why the new Ghostbusters movie looks so enticing.

I’m also mad because there isn’t a single nod to the prequels. Or, rather, there’s a single nod to the prequels. And it’s a throwaway line the movie feels isn’t important. I don’t understand why this movie’s so allergic to those films, especially when they introduced an important concept about the Sith. Considering how this movie’s supposed to “tie Star Wars together”, why isn’t it doing that? There are fans of the prequels watching this movie too, give them some credit!

The last complaint, ignoring any obvious conveniences, is John William’s score. Williams is my favourite film composer, and when I heard he’d be returning I was pumped; after all, he’d composed the previous films, and his work was excellent! Sadly, he’s criminally under-utilized, such that nothing that isn’t a rehash of previous tunes is inspired. And I’d be fine if it were a lesser composer, but this is John Williams!


Perhaps I’m being too critical. After all, Star Wars is a touchy franchise, and it’s clear its high points have influenced the action and science fiction genres. Add in that the original movies will be held fondly because of what they did, and it’s clear that a movie trying to get back old, disenfranchised fans will play to that. So I shouldn’t be too critical, since what works almost compensates for my frustrations. Almost.

One of the strengths is its collaborative effort. Unlike the prequels, which were almost exclusively driven by one person, Star Wars: The Force Awakens looks and feels like a team-effort. The effects are crafted with care, being a happy medium of practical and CGI, and the acting is the best the franchise has ever had. It also looks and feels like the worlds are lived in and grimy, something the cleaned-up prequels never boasted. And while it’s frustrating to see how much pandering is in this movie, most of it’s brilliantly-done.

Perhaps its biggest credit was making one of the most-predictable moments, which I won’t spoil, feel earned and shocking. Earned because it’s fitting, and shocking because of how well-executed it is. A predictable plot-point is only worthless if not done well, and this is definitely not that. So while you can call it from a mile away, you’re still not prepared for when it happens.

Not to mention, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is funny. Not every joke works, but most that do are effective because of their meta-references to older moments. Combine that with one of the best lightsaber fights in franchise history, and you’re left with an impressive end-result. Not fantastic, or even mind-blowing, but impressive. That alone warrants an admission ticket, personal gripes aside. I only hope the next movie actually does something different.

May the force be with you!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Franchise Fatigue, Do We Have It?

So the newest Star Wars movie is out, and guess what? It’s getting great reviews! Who knew? Certainly not the internet, who claims they did despite dreading the initial announcement. Regardless, this is a fresh start for a franchise on life-support, one we needed. But since it’s the beginning of long-running Star Wars films and TV shows, the former releasing once a year, we’ll have plenty of Star Wars to keep us company for a while.

This also raises a question: considering that Disney, the company who currently owns Star Wars, plans to keep the flow for many years, is it good or bad? After all, this is on-top of 3 Marvel movies a year and soon starting their run of Indiana Jones films. When is enough enough? Could we be at franchise overload? This is tough to discuss without addressing both sides of the debate, but here goes.

First, context: back in the early days of filmmaking, i.e. the early/mid 20th Century, franchises were hard to do and, therefore, infrequent. Filmmaking wasn’t as cheap and quick as now, relatively speaking, so not only were there fewer franchises, there were fewer films period. For the most part, franchised properties were either those serials shown to kids in theatres, or cheap, C-list properties that no one care about. The big budget films, on the other hand, remained largely solo efforts.

The situation started changing in the 80’s, when a new generation of talents, ones who’d grown up with film, took the reigns and made their mark in cinema. People like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Ivan Reitman, to name a few, were discovering new film techniques and making them profitable. Suddenly, the prospect of franchises wasn’t so shunned. No longer was the big name film one movie, it was now an entire series and highly profitable!

It had a catch: rather than shove out sequel after sequel, studios had to plan their franchises based on popularity. Movies weren’t guaranteed successes because they were good, the sales had to warrant it. Even then, it wasn’t immediate either. Filmmaking was still difficult to do, so there were several year gaps between big-name releases. Regardless, franchises were now profitable.

But then something happened: the 21st Century hit, filmmaking became easier thanks to digital processing, and now films weren’t needed to be hits. All that was necessary was efficient directing, editing and marketing and BAM! Instant success! And with the rise of blockbuster appeal, it was no longer as difficult to make a franchise. What used to take years could now be done quickly and efficiently with minimal effort or skill. Not to mention, it could be done frequently.

The result was multiple films back-to-back on the same property, leading to the complaint that there’s “franchise fatigue”. To an extent, I get it: turning film into a conveyer belt of cheap product is annoying and disturbing. Something like that shouldn’t turn into a dark underbelly of capitalism, it ruins what makes the medium special. On some level, this is a big problem.

But here’s where I put my foot down. For one, long-running franchise aren’t new. Before the mega-Blockbusters of the 80’s and 90’s, movie franchises still existed. They were merely cheap, schlocky, B-grade horror films and thrillers that no one cared about. Even before that, there were the action serials in the 20’s and 30’s before major releases. If film’ survived both, it’ll survive the franchise age.

Two, there’ll always be original, passionate work to balance everything out. In 2012, for example, we had Looper, which was brilliant. In 2010, there was Inception, which was also brilliant. Even this past year, we had Deus Ex. Will they dethrone franchising? No, but they're alternatives.

Three, the franchise age will eventually end. Maybe not now, but people will want different. Similar to how the crap-tastic Summer blockbusters of the late-90’s were phased out because we demanded change, so the the same will happen with franchises. It’s as Doug Walker, aka The Nostalgia Critic, once said, “People get bored fast”.

And four, I think we ignore the effort being put into these franchises. So The MCU is formulaic? At least it’s trying more than most Marvel movies from the early/mid 2000’s. So Star Wars is gonna milk itself silly? Would you rather a repeat of the prequels? Even Indiana Jones has a chance of new life!

I find we forget that franchising isn’t always bad; after all, Christopher Nolan, Sam Raimi and Bryan Singer were roped into the studio franchise system at one point, and their output under it is regarded as some of their best work respectively. Even George Lucas, whose most-notable work was Star Wars, had originally intended his brainchild to be a long-running franchise. Franchising can produce excellent results if done well, and the portfolio of The MCU and the new Star Wars films is indication. Does that mean this influx is fantastic? No, I prefer spaced out adventures. But it doesn’t automatically signal doom.

Additionally, I find people are more forgiving of franchised properties as long as there are good stories to tell. In the case of Marvel, you not only have over 50 years of material to draw from, but the characters are based on episodic comic adventures. They’re designed from the get-go to be constant, so it isn’t such a stretch. And Star Wars has such a rich lore that movie ideas can be pulled out left-right-and-centre, a fact made easier with the elimination of the Expanded Universe. These two examples not only thrive on franchising, they actually require it.

Essentially, this isn’t so much fatigue as annoyance. Annoyance with once-obscure properties now becoming mainstream, and the, what I feel, elated arrogance that accompanies it. Let’s face it, a lot of the complainers are merely whiners. Some of it’s legit, and I sympathize, but when two movies in a row can tell unique, compelling stories, well…isn’t that what counts? Isn’t the story what matters, not where it’s coming from? Or am I missing the mark, and have “drunk the kool-aid” of the franchise system? You be the judge.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Star Wars-The "Despecialized" Edition: A Frankenstein Project Like Never Before

In honour of the newest Star Wars movie, I’d like to make a shameful confession: I never got into the original Star Wars films. I tried, I watched the VHS tapes in high school, but I found them boring. Even ignoring the whole “special editions” issue, I’d found that, being born in 1990, the shock and awe of the films had taken its course once I’d sat down and watched them. Add in that the fandom is obnoxious, and they aren’t for me. Which is weird, since anyone who knows me knows that I was a dedicated Star Wars fan for a few years.

I bring this up because there’s one element that I do agree with fans on: the rereleases, and how they’ve ruined the franchise through their frequent edits and changes. It’s completely disrespectful to what made the movies special in the first place, as Star Wars may have been George Lucas’s brainchild, but it wasn’t only him that made the franchise. So many talented thespians, writers, directors, sound editors, special effects directors, lighting editors and other individuals lent their talents, and by changing these movies their voices are silenced. It doesn’t help that George Lucas claims the original negatives are “destroyed”, or that Disney, who now own the franchise, refuse to release the uncut originals on Blu-Ray.

However, what if I were to tell you that someone is trying to do that? Enter Petr Harmy, brainchild behind the ironically-titled “Despecialized Edition” of the original Star Wars films.

Hmm… (Courtesy of Petr Harmy himself.)

One of the biggest complaints I have with the Star Wars fanbase is its collective hive-mindedness. Even outside their frequent condescension towards the prequels and its fans, something I’ve already addressed, they frequently claim that the originals are some godsend from heaven and anyone who disagrees is wrong. It’s annoying because not only do I not agree, but it doesn’t compel me to care. Even when they claim “film integrity”, which I agree with, there’s never indication that it’s anything other than Gen X elitism (since, y’know, the original trilogy caught on with the Gen X crowd first.) As a Gen Y’er, this reeks of dickery.

Which is one of the reasons Petr Harmy’s project speaks to me. A Czech-born 90’s kid, Harmy didn’t grow up with the original films either. He was late to the game, perhaps even later than I was, and doesn’t have long-seeped ties to the franchise. He remembers watching the movies as a kid, but they weren’t the original releases. They were the Czech-subtitled, VHS remasters, making him, like me, someone who “lacks the authentic experience”. I instantly sympathize.

Outside of that, though, Harmy’s taken on a task that I feel is ambitious: remastering the original Star Wars movies in HD, except without edits. That’s right, he’s trying to make the authentic experience accessible to the public. That means no added scenes, no unnecessary redesigns, no added lines, no ugly CGI and, of course, the reinstitution of “Han shot first”. And while, admittedly, this idea isn’t new, Harmy’s taking a different approach. Unlike other fan-edits, Harmy’s using collaboration.

The collaboration is, like I said in the title, a literal Frankenstein’s monster of fan-edits and home releases since the 80’s. In addition, Harmy’s been forced to get creative and reconstruct certain details, like the shadows of sand-speeders, from scratch. The attention to detail is beyond impressive, and gives me hope in an end-result that’ll satisfy fans. I can only imagine how long this must’ve taken.

What’s also impressive is, like I said, the collaborative effort. Harmy’s mainly using official re-releases and his own artistic talents, but whenever he has to rely on someone else, it’s always been through requests and donations. I’ll forever gaff at how nerdy the Star Wars fandom is, but that doesn’t mean I don’t admire their commitment. Because it isn’t easy, and it’s not being done for self-gratification. Harmy states that he wants his younger brother to experience Star Wars as it was “originally intended”, and he’s doing this for him. I admire that, since so many past fan-edits were done, I find, out of arrogance or frustration with George Lucas.

Do I support this? Isn’t the answer obvious? As much as I never cared for the original films, it saddens me that George Lucas was unable to let go after Star Wars became loved by the public. You look at his IMDb page past the first Star Wars film, and you won’t see much that isn’t more Star Wars. He’s had producing credits on the Indiana Jones movies and the infamously-awful Howard the Duck, but between 1977 and 1999 Lucas only ever cared about Star Wars; in fact, his first directing job post Star Wars Ep. IV: A New Hope was Star Wars Ep. I: The Phantom Menace, a measly 22 years after the film that made him famous. You think about that.

Which makes me somewhat concerned for this film too. Unlike when Star Wars was under Lucas’s control, Disney isn’t as receptive to fan-projects and rights distribution. They’re incredibly protective of their IPs (they kept renewing the rights to Steamboat Willie so that they wouldn’t lose Mickey Mouse,) and now that they have Star Wars…well, this could be the same. Harmy might end up facing legal battles over this fan-edit should it go public, and while I dread the possibility of this happening, and I hope it doesn’t, it could end up being forcibly scrapped.

Still, I’ll remain optimistic. Like I said, I never experienced the original films in their original format, and, while not the biggest fan, there’s a chance that part of my disdain was teenage angst. If Harmy’s work thus far is indication, this could end up being awesome. I only hope it is.

May the force be with you!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Jessica Jones S1 Discussion

(Note: this conversation, save some formatting and grammar, remains unedited. It’s also long, so read at your own risk.)

Zachary: So, that Jessica Jones…she’s really something, isn’t she? That’s what I thought even as early as the trailer for the show. After all, Daredevil was great, and a massive step-up from the 2003 movie, but it still felt pretty standard “hero stops bad-guy” in spite of how disturbing and violent it really got. This show, however, was something else! And since I couldn’t do a simple review for it and give the show justice, I’ve decided to ask a close friend for help. Say hi!

Tom: Hi guys, nice to talk to you all about this show. Glad to be here.

Zachary: For the record, Tom is a long-time friend of mine from way back in Version 4 of ScrewAttack (y’know, that old site I never shut up about back in the day.) He’s also a bit of celebrity on that site, aren’t you?

Tom: "Celebrity" is kinda stretching it. I just post a bunch of stuff on the site and people seem to enjoy it. But I guess 1 or 2 people may know me. If that counts as a celebrity, so be it.

Zachary: g1 Features seems to argue otherwise.

Anyway, word of caution to those about to read this conversation: there’ll be some spoilers for both Daredevil and Jessica Jones, as well as a few for the MCU in general. If you haven’t seen either show, I recommend watching them first.

Tom: If you haven't seen either of those, what are you even doing here? Go watch them. Don't get spoiled. They're on Netflix. No excuse.

Zachary: One of my cousin’s friends openly told me she didn’t have the time to binge with her insurance job. Just a precaution.


Zachary: But that’s enough of that. It’s time to start with the basics. Tom, what’s this show about, for those who are still curious?

Tom: Ok, so Jessica Jones is Netflix's second show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but don't worry, besides some talk about the damage the end of The Avengers caused, it’s barely connected. Jessica Jones, based on Brian Michael Bendis' Alias comic (which is great, go check that out), follows the titular character. A former superheroine who after a tragic incident leaves the superhero-ing behind to become a private detective. However, when the person responsible for that event seems to have returned, it’s up to Jessica to find him and finally stop him. That's about as far as I can go without spoilers, and that description really does not do the show any justice, making it seem more doldrum than it is.

Zachary: Fair.

I’ll say this much: even if the show seems like standard “film noir” at first, keep with it. Even the first episode’s conclusion is pretty shocking.

Tom: The series combines plenty of things. Detective noir, superhero, and psychological horror are all part of the mix, and its works great together. There really is nothing like it on screen.

Zachary: Uh, maybe anime would give it a run for its money on that front, but anime in general does some weird stuff. As for Western dramas? Yeah, I guess.

Tom: Certainly nothing is done like it in terms of comic book adaptations, especially in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where Daredevil was already pushing plenty of boundaries, and Jessica Jones responded to that by pushing those boundaries of a cliff.

Zachary: It’s also interesting to note that Jessica herself isn’t your standard superhero. The typical image is that of either a goody-goody (Superman) or an asshole (Frank Miller’s Batman). Jessica Jones is neither of those: she cares, but she’s also lewd-mouthed, aggressive, an alcoholic, a trauma survivor and sassy. She really a hero by circumstance, not by choice.

Tom: Yeah, part of it is the trauma she underwent, though as we go through the show, we do get to see she's always been a bit of a smart-ass. Granted, a lot of the Marvel heroes are, but Jessica Jones mixes this with a good dose of cynicism as well, but it’s never annoying or immature. It does feel part of the character, and part of that also has to do with Krysten Ritter's performance, who's great in the role.

Zachary: I actually know someone who argues that she over-acts. I don’t quite think that.

Tom: Completely disagree. There are a few people in the show that over-act. One of them is David Tennant, but he does it to great disturbing effect, and the twin characters, who are both really, really annoying and are my one big complaint of the show. Can't even blame the actors, who were probably asked to act this way, but it doesn't feel natural compared to the world they inhabit.

Zachary: Interesting. We’ll get back to that later.

It’s also interesting to note that Melissa Rosenberg, the show’s headliner, stated once in an interview that she wanted to make Jessica a broken character. She wanted the audience to feel conflicting emotions about her, i.e. completely unsympathetic at times. I’d say it worked to that effect, as there were some moments where I thought, “Geez lady, what crawled up your butt?”

Tom: Well, she very much is a broken character in the comics as well, and when you go through the tragic event that she went through, you can't blame her for acting and feeling the way she does. You don't wish that on anyone.

Zachary: Indeed.

Can we take a moment to address the first elephant in the room? The fact that the show’s being praised for being dark and gritty has led several of its detractors to complain that Marvel fans hold the MCU to an unfair double-standard, especially in relation to something like Man of Steel.

Tom: I feel as long as it fits the character and world, I have no issue with the gritty tone. Man of Steel gets bombarded with the criticism for its gritty tone (which some people like) because many feel it doesn't fit a character like Superman. Jessica Jones and Daredevil, and yes, Batman and Suicide Squad, do fit that tone. I can see why it might be viewed as a double standard, but as long as the tone fits the character, I am completely ok with any of the companies doing it.

Zachary: Right. It’s like I said in my blog entry on how to do dark right (which you can find here): As long as you can build characters and a story that work with the aesthetic, go nuts.

Tom: Pretty much, and Jessica Jones does. The amount of sex in there is quite surprising, especially for a Marvel film. And while there's no nudity or genitalia, they go really, really far with it. The MCU Netflix stuff seems to have few rules. 1. No nudity, 2. No F-bombs, and 3. No Smoking.

Zachary: They actually lampshade the third rule, as an FYI.

But even outside of that, the gritty nature of the show gives range to the MCU. Considering that you’ve got a world where fantasy and light sci-fi co-exist with political thrillers and corporate espionage, it’s nice to see some hardened grit in there too. Makes the world feel more real.

Tom: While the movies do follow very different tones (just look at Captain America’s 1 and 2), I can understand people feeling like they're all mostly the same. It does feel weird that this show exists in the same universe as say, Rocket Raccoon, but as previously mentioned, the connection is very loose.

Zachary: I’m sure the MCU will reconcile that eventually.

Tom: Well, there’s a The Defenders mini-series coming up once Luke Cage and Iron Fist are done. Speaking of which, do you want to go into Luke Cage, since he's a pretty big part of this series and is getting his own soon?

Zachary: We’ll touch on that more in the characters segment. For now…what did you think of the opening? Much like Daredevil’s it’s an interesting blend of heavy-handed and subtly dark.

Tom: The pilot is incredible. One of the best television pilots I've seen in quite some time. Sets the tone perfectly, and is very unsettling. Perfectly shows the trauma Jessica is going through and her attempts to face them, as well as having one hell of a final scene.

Zachary: I meant the show’s opening. You know, with the opening credits?

Courtesy of channel Marvel Nederland.

Tom: Oh yeah, those are neat too. Love the ending shot where it shows it's her eye, and can't go wrong with a nice guitar riff.

Zachary: Yeah. Though, like I said, it’s a little on-the-nose. It’s interesting how, to contrast Daredevil’s opening showing everything in bloody wax, including a blind angel, Jessica Jones goes for noir-esque silhouettes that end in the blinking of her eye. It’s cool, but it feels a little forced.

Tom: Feels a bit pointless to criticize something so minor. It gets the point across that she's a private eye. Simple as that. I mean, I love Breaking Bad, but its opening credits is nothing but the periodic table, a guitar, and some bongos.

Zachary: Fair enough.

Let’s talk about that opening episode, since you already brought it up. I agree that it has the most-shocking end-twist, even though I kinda called it before it even happened. Still, what a way to cap THAT off!

Tom: As already mentioned, one of the best pilots I've seen to any TV show in some time.

Zachary: Indeed. One of my big complaints with Daredevil was that it was a little slow to start. (I wasn’t fully sold until about Episode 3.) Jessica Jones, on the other hand, got me right away with Jessica’s opening monologue about how adultery lands her big pay-checks.

Tom: It gets pretty straight to the point that this is a show not meant for kids, and that's great. The show almost immediately gets going, while Daredevil took its sweet time, building up Wilson Fisk as a major figure. Jessica Jones does something similar, but gets to show off its villain in bursts in the first episode (though he's never physically there) and kicking right off with the 2nd one, and showing off just what kind of a character he is.

Zachary: Yeah. I was initially bummed out that they got to its villain so early on, but it ended up working in its favour; after all, Daredevil was pretty much a game of chess between Daredevil and Fisk. Jessica Jones, on the other hand, is a game of cat and mouse between Jessica and Kilgrave, with the line often blurring. It’s an interesting switch in formula.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about Kilgrave, since we’ve already touched on Jessica.

Tom: Hoo-boy, Kilgrave. It almost feels unfair to compare him to the other MCU villains, because TV obviously lets you develop more cause you get to spend more time with these characters, but man, Kilgrave is terrifying. A man with absolutely no moral compass whatsoever. Someone who does whatever he wants and ends whomever he wants simply because he can. Mind control has been done for decades of storytelling, but Kilgrave should be the last person to have such a power, and David Tennant, probably best known for his Doctor Who stint, absolutely nails it.

Zachary: The big complaint people have had about the MCU is its lack of interesting villains. To-date, the movies only have Loki and The Winter Soldier, while Daredevil gave us Fisk. But with Jessica Jones out, we can now add Kilgrave to that relatively small list.

What I like about Kilgrave, similar to Fisk, is that we have time to get to know him because, well, TV. Unlike Fisk, however, Kilgrave isn’t so much sympathetic in his evil as he is likably despicable. Sure, there are moments where you feel bad for the guy, especially once you find out his back-story, but for the most part it’s pretty hard to care about someone who’s pretty much “abusive boyfriend” personified. And he’s played that way too by David Tennant, whom, save Dr. Who and the fourth Harry Potter movie (which I liked), hasn’t really had much exposure to the West until now.

Tom: David Tennant has done some stuff here and there, and he's especially big in the UK, but this is probably his biggest role besides Doctor Who (and maybe Broadchurch). He's different from Fisk in the fact that his evil never manages to become sympathetic. I mean, they try to do so by showing his childhood, but even with that supposed sympathy, he remains an awful sociopath with no qualms of his actions or human life besides his own. Tennant absolutely nails all of this.

Zachary: If I have one complaint about Kilgrave’s character, it’s that we get a “Midichlorians” type of explanation for how his powers work. They do find a clever work-around so that it doesn’t feel forced, but it still bugs me how many additional questions it raises from attempting to answer a question that, honestly, should’ve been left a mystery. Not every question needs an answer, that’s what people hated about the Midichlorians in the Star Wars Prequels. Right?

Tom: To be fair, the comic explained it that it was him emitting pheromones. I have no issue with it being revealed where his powers came from, if only so we get to know more about his past.

Zachary: Yeah, but it’s still kinda lame.

I’m also surprised how the show openly tackles the villain’s relation to the hero. In Daredevil, Fisk was kept at the top of the chain until the end. We got to see his empire crumble right under his feet, until he eventually was defeated. Kilgrave, however, keeps torturing Jessica out in the open, to the point where we’re reminded time and time again that he has to die. It’s a neat twist, and I like how it’s eventually resolved, but the fact that it keeps getting hammered in to draw out the tension gets a little frustrating. I mean, how many people have to keep dying before Kilgrave is defeated?

Tom: Yeah, it goes to show just how scary his mind control powers are. Even though Fisk killed quite a few people, you could tell he has somewhat of a conscience and the ability to love (hell, that's a big part of his character). Kilgrave has none of that, all to fuel a twisted fantasy that he and Jessica are made for one another.

Zachary: I guess, but it does come off as padding on occasion.

Speaking of which, I guess we should talk about the supporting cast. But before we do, it’s time for elephant in the room #2: the complaint that all the men in the show are side-characters or flat-out dicks. Yeah, because we TOTALLY don’t see the reverse all the time, right? God forbid a show have interesting women at front-stage, no?

Tom: Well there's Luke Cage, and he's about to have his own show, so maybe they should stop whining. I mean, yeah, the main characters (Jessica and Trish) are women. Big whoop!

Zachary: It’s especially important because the MCU has been accused of sexism in the past. The fact that, for example, there are so few superheroines is bad enough, but many of the side-characters aren’t given much to do either. It’s like the MCU recognizes that women need to be interesting, but doesn’t fully understand what that means. That, and there’s that line in Guardians of the Galaxy that’s…let’s say “questionable”.

This is why it’s so important to have a show like Jessica Jones, in other words.

Tom: Well they also have Agent Carter, Agents of SHIELD’s main cast is like 60% women, and we're still getting that Captain Marvel movie. So while it’s been a slow burn, they're getting there.

Zachary: I know, and this is how it happens. One step at a time.

Anyway, we’ll focus on a select few characters of prominence, then cover everyone else together. We’ve already touched on Jessica and Kilgrave, so let’s move to Jessica’s long-time best friend: Patricia (Trish) Walker.

Tom: Fun fact: In the comics, her best friend is Carol Danvers, AKA Ms. Marvel, AKA Captain Marvel, but anyway, Trish. She's cool, I like her. I wish she was more in it.

Zachary: I think she gets ample time in the show.

Interesting fact about me: when I first saw her face on the bus in Episode 1, I thought she was just gonna be another J. Jonah Jameson: a smarmy asshole with a grudge against Jessica. How wrong I was.

Tom: Another fun fact: in the comics, she eventually becomes her own superhero, Hellcat. We saw some glimpses of that with her training, but nothing like it in the show except close to the end. Season 2, maybe?

Zachary: Maybe. The show does tease a second season in-show, but we’ll get to that when we talk about Simpson.

I do like that Trish isn’t just another damsel in distress. She’s kinda Jessica’s Mary Jane/Gwen Stacy, but where as those two are side-characters who keep getting in trouble, Trish can clearly handle her own. She knows krav maga, she has mommy issues that are well-explored, she genuinely cares about Jessica and helps her out, she’s outspoken about Kilgrave on numerous occasions and she even gets to kick ass every-now-and-then. She’s pretty much the kind of side-character the MCU needs more often: someone who isn’t merely window dressing.

Tom: We got glimpses of that with Karen Page in Daredevil as well, who initially seemed to go that Damsel in distress route until that moment with Wesley, and suddenly the tables were turned.

Zachary: It was kinda late with Karen, but fair enough. That moment with Wesley was quite something!

Anyway, I guess we can move on to Hope. Of all the victims of Kilgrave in the show, she gets shat on the most. She doesn’t even get the closure she deserves, which is really heartbreaking when you consider that many women in real-life suffer her fate on a daily basis.

Tom: Yeah, the show seems to love destroying Hope. Like, absolutely nothing happening to her is in any way good, and then it ends with her killing herself to give Jessica the motivation to end Kilgrave. Pretty brutal stuff.

Zachary: I also find it interesting that her name is Hope. Quite ironic given her situation (unless, of course, she’s meant to inspire hope in Jessica. Possible symbolism?)

Tom: Probably. Not much to add. She's very much the victim in the show, and one of the ones most affected by what goes on in the show, besides Jessica herself, of course.

Zachary: Speaking of victims, there’s also Sergeant Simpson. If Hope is the victim who becomes unstable because of Kilgrave, then Simpson is the victim who was already unstable prior, but becomes even more so after.

Tom: Once you learn who Simpson is supposed to be from the comics, it’s quite.....interesting. The character is toned down quite a bit and made more realistic, but yeah, he starts out unstable already, and seems to be doing fine until something in him snaps. We'll probably see more of him in whatever next season comes. I honestly found him a bit dull until you learn who he's supposed to be comic-wise.

Zachary: If I have a complaint about Simpson, it’s that he feels like sequel-baiting in a way. It’s kinda like Daredevil’s mentor: the show is intentionally leaving his stuff open for the next season. I don’t like when the MCU does that sort of stuff (it was bad enough with all the Phase 3 set-up in The Avengers: Age of Ultron). If you want to set-up future MCU stuff, just have a post-season credits scene. That’s what they’re there for, right?

Tom: Well you can do that, since Netflix basically renews everything, and with TV, you have time to let stuff breathe and be there to tackle next season. It also seems that whatever program he's in also has to do with Jessica's powers. It’s not so much a Marvel thing as it is a TV thing.

Zachary: I guess, it’s just annoying.

Next there’s Luke Cage, Jessica’s love interest. His back-story involving his wife is really sad, even though it could’ve probably been resolved more efficiently if Jessica actually was open about her feelings (seriously, what is it with MCU TV characters and keeping unnecessary secrets?) I’m also annoyed that Cage and Jessica don’t hook up in the end. I know that not all relationships need to be romantic, but this one feels wrong NOT being romantic. Possible season 2 baiting…again?

Tom: Well Jessica is not someone who easily lets people into her life. Heck, she pushed away her foster sister/best friend for a very long time. Of course she's not gonna open up to Luke immediately, especially something like "oh BTW, killed your wife. Sorry about that". I mean, it's annoying she kept it a secret for so long, but that's not exactly an easy situation to be in. As for the romance, maybe we'll see more of that in the Luke Cage show, depending on where it takes place continuity wise. Gotta say, for as hard it must've been with casting, Mike Colter absolutely nails Luke Cage, and makes me look forward to when he is the main character.

Zachary: Yeah, he was very good. And maybe it’s just me and my aversion to secrets.

The rest of the cast is great too. I like how Malcolm eventually becomes Jessica’s secretary, a nice change of gender roles there, and how Hogarth is a lesbian struggling with marriage issues (again, also interesting). And I also like how they’re all, in some way, effected by Kilgrave. And I was really happy to see Claire again. That was a nice nod to Daredevil in a subtle way.

Tom: Fun fact: Hogarth is a gender swap. In fact, the character is best known as Danny Rand's lawyer. Danny Rand of course being Iron Fist, which is the last of the 4 shows being developed.

As for the other characters, most of them I liked. Malcolm goes through the most change, especially when he started as a stereotypical junkie. As for some of the other characters, like I mentioned before, I really didn't like the twins. It felt like they stepped into a completely different show, and it just didn't work.

Zachary: Really? They didn’t bother me too much. I was actually surprised that the female twin doesn’t stay a bitch for too long and actually has a role in the show, even if minor. Regardless, the show has a great cast, no?

Tom: Yeah, the cast is great. Props to Marvel that everyone is perfectly cast. And of course, it's always nice to see Carrie-Anne Moss in things.

Zachary: I guess this leads to the third elephant in the room, going off how we’d set it up earlier: is Jessica Jones feminist?

Tom: I'd say so, yeah. Almost unabashedly so. Certainly in the industry, and it tackles so many issues related to women that it would almost be weird if it wasn't feminist, be it about consent, physicality, etc.

Zachary: And let’s not forget, dysfunctional lesbianism.

I’d say so too. Which is nice, especially considering the genre. I also like how, unlike-say-Supergirl or Wonder Woman, it doesn’t rub it in your face either. It’s very subtle with its feminism, in other words, which is interesting given that Melissa Rosenberg got her big break writing the Twilight movies before this.

Tom: Well, it’s film, and she did the best with what she had. In TV, she’s probably best known for being one of the lead writers on Dexter, with the show taking a noticeable dip once she left.

Zachary: For our readers out there, I’ll say this: screenwriting is a weird business. You’d be amazed where some of the greatest in the business started off.

I guess the last thing we can touch on is the fight scenes. What’d you think of them? I thought they were okay, but they lacked (perhaps intentionally) the refined finesse of Daredevil and some of the films in the MCU.

Tom: They did lack the punch of Daredevil, if only that he is both a ninja and not necessarily a superhero in the sense that he can get quite hurt (and does so often). Jessica, and Luke as well, are both super-powered characters, making you feel less scared of their safety and impact, since you know they have the upper hand. There's nothing in this like Daredevil’s corridor fight, or the fight with Nobu. It’s serviceable for sure, but compared to Daredevil and other MCU stuff, not great. But, luckily, that's not really the point. It’s really more about the psychological battle, rather than one of strength.

Zachary: Right, which is why it was clever that they kept the harbour confrontation in the last episode kinda small in scope. A big brawl would’ve been a bad choice.

Tom: Agreed. Daredevil had a very bombastic ending. Jessica Jones was more scaled down, but nevertheless managed to have quite a bit of impact.

Zachary: Jessica’s final line to Kilgrave was awesome, by the way.

Overall, would you say that Jessica Jones is, or isn’t, worth watching, and why?

Tom: Regardless of how much you're tuned into the MCU (heck, I met someone who really liked this but never saw any of the films or Daredevil), or even how much you're into superheroes, yes. Absolutely. Know what you're getting into, cause this is as dark as Marvel will probably get in terms of live-action content. It’s filled with great performances, great set pieces, a really terrifying villain, makes for a fun watch, and more importantly, there's no other show quite like it. So yes, Jessica Jones is worth watching in my book.

Zachary: I agree. It’s got its problems, it drags on occasion and the fight scenes aren’t great, not to mention it teases a second season unnecessarily, but it’s about a close to a true representation of the themes it presents as it ever will.

Is it as good as Daredevil? Maybe not. That show was far tighter narratively, even if it did drag at times. But it’s more interesting and faster for sure, with plenty of solid thrills and freak-out moments that can only come from something like this. And while I doubt anything the MCU will ever do from now on will top seeing Iron Man fly around for the first time, or even watching the Avengers take on New York City, it’s nice to see that the MCU is still taking chances.

I give it a 4.5/5. You?

Tom: 4.5/5 sounds about right, yeah.

Zachary: Okay!

A big thanks to Tom for agreeing to talk about this show with me. Hopefully it’ll help those still on the fence to decide if Jessica Jones is worth their time (y’know, assuming the spoilers weren’t an issue.) Any closing statements, thoughts, plugs you want to make?

Tom: No problem. NOW GO AND FOLLOW MY STUFF ON G1 FEATURES! That's where I do most of my things.

Zachary: Indeed. Tom is still quite active on ScrewAttack under the name MadHero15. Go check out his podcast and movie blogs, where he chats with his close friends about upcoming and past releases. Also, join me next time (whenever that is) when I discuss something that’s, hopefully, much smaller.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

True "Grit"-How to Do "Dark" Storytelling Right

As of writing this, I’ve recently started Jessica Jones. Save for occasional issues with pacing, I’m really digging it, and I’d even put it in the same category of “Marvel/Netflix quality programming” as Daredevil. That said, man…this show is dark! Between the implications of rape, rampant alcoholism, PTSD and illicit sexuality, it’s pretty clear Marvel isn’t holding back with these shows. And that got me thinking: if they’re no more dark than other dark-yet-awful entertainment, then why am I enjoying these shows so much?

I’ve wanted to tackle this topic for a while now, even as early as when The Amazing Spider-Man first came out in 2012. Still, despite trying, nothing panned out. And that worried me, as I knew what to say…yet couldn’t say it. What was wrong? Was I going about it the wrong way? If that’s the case, perhaps I needed to rework my argument about how people view dark and gritty storytelling.

See, it’s no secret that the term “dark” gets thrown around casually without being understood. On one hand, there’s been a push to make challenging and serious entertainment over the last decade. It’s popped up in pretty much every medium, be it books, shows, movies or video games. Target fanbases are getting older, and, as such, desire to see their childhood icons grow up with them. The entertainment industry is trying to capitalize on that, with classic characters and franchises being reimagined into dark, brooding, serious versions of their once sweet, innocent selves.

On the other hand…a lot of it sucks. For as much as there’s been a push for "dark", there’s been an equal push in the other direction for these “bastardized” properties to be fun again. This isn’t always the case, the Nolan Batman films have gotten a pass, but it seems to almost contradict the initial push into darker territory. It’s a tug-of-war between mature and fun, and so many properties are caught in the crossfire. Where, and how, do you draw the line?

I’m no expert in storytelling (I can’t even finish the novel I’ve been working on for two years,) but here are my personal, humble suggestions for what separates “good” dark from “bad" dark:

First, concept. It could be anything, original or adaptation. Be sure you have something compelling to say: is it political? Societal? Psychological? Or are you trying to make a generalized statement? Remember, all good ideas come from a message about something, it’s how good storytelling works.

Second, format. Before you even attempt style, recognize what it is you’re saying, and how you want it to be said. Do you think a book is good? Perhaps a show? A movie? A video game? Think carefully, as-while sometimes you can get away with this-last-minute format changes can be harmful to your original idea.

Third, once you’ve chosen concept and format, THEN pick tone and aesthetic. The big issue with a lot of dark stories is that they skip Steps 1 and 2 and head straight to Step 3. That’s a guaranteed failure. A good story and format doesn’t serve an aesthetic, it’s always the reverse. That’s why Robocop worked in 1987, why Nolan’s Batman Trilogy was successful, and why both of The Amazing Spider-Man films failed: the former two used “dark” as a vehicle by which to tell their already thought-out stories, while the latter only utilized it because it felt it had to.

Fourth, actualize your world and inhabitants. It doesn’t matter how dark, your idea can’t work without good environments and characters. In the case of Robocop, one of its reasons for success was that its characters were interesting. We knew and related to the lead character, Alex Murphy, his eventual sidekick, Anne Lewis, everyone from OMNI Corp and every baddie that Robocop shot and killed. When Murphy got massacred, we cared. When Robocop defeated the antagonist, we cheered. In both cases, it's because the characters, and world itself, were compelling despite the aesthetic.

Another example is Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies; true, you can spend forever and a day deconstructing them, and many people have, but why do they hold up? Same reason as Robocop: because the world of Gotham City and the characters of Gotham City, including Batman, are well-realized. Remember, characters and settings drive aesthetic, never the reverse.

Fifth, imbue levity into your work. This can range from jokes, to emotional moments, to even character depth. When Rachel Dawes died in The Dark Knight, you felt it. Why? Because although her death was horrendously graphic, the audience had a connection to her through two movies. She wasn’t merely a pretty face, even if she did get into trouble a lot, she was also Bruce Wayne’s moral centre. And that she had an authentic relationship with Harvey Dent, another character whose end-fate was tragic, made her eventual loss that much worse.

Additionally, Nolan’s Batman movies had some solid jokes. Remember the line “Nice coat!” from Batman Begins? Remember when Selina Kyle faked a trauma episode in order to evade police in The Dark Knight Rises? And who could forget any line that came out of The Joker’s mouth in The Dark Knight? All of these worked because they were, you guessed it, funny.

Compare that to The Amazing Spider-Man films, and the difference is shocking. Where as Nolan imbued levity in his Batman films, in these movies there wasn’t much humour. And the jokes that existed? Well, they fell…flat. Like, almost instantly. Couple that with characters I didn’t care about, and even Gwen Stacy’s death, which was sad, couldn’t overcome the hollowness of the films.

Remember, “gritty” is a tool. It needs to work in-tandem with characters and world-building. Because if they aren’t, why bother? You might as well be another Man of Steel. And we all know how that turned out, right?

Sixth, passion. In other words, actually give a damn. This is why even the MCU’s darker entries work: they have passion. How much is debatable, but it’s clear people cared while crafting Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This is despite being dark and gritty.

And seventh…have fun. Passion is important, but that can easily go sour when disassociated from enjoyment. A story may be dark, but it can’t work if it isn’t entertaining. Robocop may be dark, but it’s also entertaining. Nolan’s Batman movies may be dark, but they’re also entertaining. Even Captain America: The Winter Soldier, dark as it may be, is entertaining. In contrast, The Amazing Spider-Man films are incredibly uninteresting, hence they fail.

Well, there you have it: my seven steps for making “dark” work. I know I mainly used film for this, but it can apply to anything. As for Jessica Jones? Well, I haven’t dropped it, so that says everything, right?

Friday, November 20, 2015

The ISIS Crisis

I don’t normally talk politics. Okay, that’s not true. All of my past pieces had some form of political edge, even if they didn’t seem that way. However, today I drop my usual, nerdy demeanour in favour of something world-pressing. Today, I talk ISIS.

Before I begin, I’d like to get two points out of the way: one, I’m a political conservative. But I’m not one of those far-right monsters you hear about on the news. I think PETA is scum, but I sympathize with vegetarianism. I think QAIA is hypocritical, yet I sympathize with the LGBT+ movement. And while Tumblr has made it nearly impossible, I respect and sympathize with feminists and minority groups. In short, I’m actually quite moderate and progressive.

Two, I recognize this is a complicated issue. As a Jew, it’s even harder because part of me wants to be more closed-off; after all, Hamas is a Muslim-based movement too, and they’re frequently brainwashing Palestinian youth into harming innocent Israelis. What’s worse, the world is ignoring that, instead romanticizing these children. Therefore, I should want to insist that Islam figure out its own damn problems…but I don't. I recognize that life is complicated and people are complicated, not to mention messy, frustrating and have plenty of real issues that take precedence over my own.

Now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to talk ISIS.

Let’s make this clear: I don’t think anyone would doubt that ISIS is evil. They are. I know it’s debated constantly in the media and political spheres, but it’s a given that ISIS is awful. The fact that they exist is awful. The fact that they’re comprised of Muslims murdering other Muslims is worse. And that we’re having this discussion at all is ridiculous.

The challenge is, therefore, strictly humanitarian: how do we help their victims, i.e. the Syrian refugees? I’m sure everyone who isn’t living under a rock knows this by now, but given how there’s still talk of “should we, or shouldn’t we?”, I’d assume it’s big enough that you’d be aware even if you don’t read the papers or watch TV. As a Canadian, I know, for a fact, that both Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper shared a common goal of bringing in Syrian refugees. How many and how it’d happen separates the two, but I digress.

The idea of bringing in Syrian refugees would seem like a no-brainer initially. They’re in need of help, and the Western world, which prides itself on diversity and freedom for all, would be a perfect place. We already bring in refugees from all over the world as is, so why not Syria? Syria seems like a pretty mundane part of The Middle East, and it’s not like we can’t afford it, so…why not bring them over? Is it possible that we’re a little Islamophobic? Judging by the way the topic is discussed, that last point shouldn’t be ruled out.

Here’s where it gets sticky: the West has…a “problem” with Islam. It stems back to 9/11, when members of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist group, the Taliban, hijacked American planes and crashed into The Pentagon and The World Trade Center. I need not explain how big a tragedy that was, the aftermath speaks for itself, but it alerted the world to a, perhaps extreme, fear of Islam. It doesn’t help that there have been several incidents of extremist terror since, but the point remains that the world hasn’t gotten over its distrust of Muslims.

So when the Muslim world actually needs our help, it made sense that we’d be hesitant. That isn’t to say it’s right, it’s not, but I can see why it’d be a sore topic. As a Jew, it’s an even sorer topic because of Israel. Believe me when I say that I know plenty of decent people, friends and family alike, who become aggressively vocal about their disdain for Islam whenever it’s brought up. I’d give examples, but I won’t disclose names.

What I will say is that it doesn’t excuse the hate. It might not be intentional, but the resentment shouldn’t get in the way of helping those in need. We have a moral obligation as human beings to help those in need. Yes, a MORAL obligation, as in MANDATORY. I don’t care what you think of Muslims, these are people in need of help. Turning a blind eye is stinginess.

It’s especially stingy for Jews because it reeks of hypocrisy. I remember having a conversation about this a while back with my family, and one of the first points I brought up was past history. I was certain, I argued, that at one point before WWII this same conversation was being had about Jews. “Should we help the Jews in Europe?” “Nah, they’ll slow us down! Besides, they have other Jews to help them. Let their own kind deal with them!”

Funny how history repeats itself, huh? If only there was a way of verifying-

Huh, fancy that! Take a good look: 31.2% Yes, 68.8% No. This isn’t a matter of “left VS right” either, this is a general census. That almost 69% of the people surveyed voted “No” is pretty shocking given how universities are the centre of progressivism. Also, keep in mind that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a Democrat. And when the SS St. Louis came in with Jews, he turned them down. So did Canada, which was embodied in the famous “None is too many!” line from the Minister of Immigration. We’re no different now than we were then, methinks.

I bring this up to prove to my fellow Jews that they have an obligation to help, but I think the West in general is equally guilty. If we’re so insistent that we’re “multicultural” and “progressive”, then why aren’t we helping the Syrians more? Does this mean the other Middle Eastern countries shouldn’t be pitching in? No. Does this mean that every refugee will be a saint? Again, no. But that doesn’t exempt us from helping.

Besides, I’d venture a guess that the Syrian refugees are equally worried about ISIS; after all, when your biggest threat is your brother, then why wouldn’t you be concerned? I know that if another Neturei Karta sprung up in Judaism I’d be terrified, and they were bad enough the first time! So why would it be any different for Muslims?

I get it, it’s hard to care. We’d much rather be ostriches and pretend nothing’s happening. Except it is, and it’s serious. So while the world is increasingly becoming violent, we have a choice: do we pretend everything’s okay, or do we realize it’s not and do something? Either way, the choice is ours. I simply hope we make a good one.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

In Defence of the MCU

Internet, it’s time we had a chat.

So Captain America: Civil War comes out in May of 2016. Who’s excited? I am! Not only do I consider Captain America: The Winter Soldier one of the MCU’s best, but it’s also one of the best superhero films ever. Plus, Captain America has been my favourite avenger since Phase 1, which definitely helps. And it’s the same directors as the last Captain America movie, the Russo brothers, so there’s a lot of promise. In short, it’d seem like everyone would be happy, right?

Never has this clip been more fitting. (Courtesy of YouTuber einraz’s channel.)

Yeah, there’s a group of people who aren’t happy with this movie’s existence. They aren’t happy with the MCU in general, honestly. They’re small, true, but vocal. And given how I still hear them despite my best attempts…it seems like they won’t go away. Perhaps it’s time I shed light on their complaints once-and-for-all.

But before we delve further, I should probably state that I hold nothing against those who have legit reason for not liking the MCU. Save Iron Man, I’m not really in-love with it either, considering its entries good-but-not-great on a good day and incredibly-mediocre on a bad day. This is, instead, directed at the obnoxiously-vocal group that openly loathes the MCU, the slime who keeps rubbing in how terrible or uninspired the movies are. I have no patience for that.

Anyway, let’s begin.

The first complaint is that the MCU’s one giant continuity. It makes it hard to enter in the middle, as you need to backtrack to get the full story. While I don’t deny there are some movies that are necessary, i.e. every Avengers entry, I think this is a bit of of an exaggeration. As of now, there are 12 movies in the MCU, soon to be 13, yet you’re not required to watch all of them. I can view all three Iron Man movies back-to-back and-save a few details-get a full story on its own: Iron Man is the origin, Iron Man 2 deals with the side-effects of the first movie’s climax and Iron Man 3 is about the stresses of living as Iron Man. Some movies, like Guardians of the Galaxy, are even designed to watch solo, so the claim is weak.

But let’s say continuity is a problem. Well, no one’s forcing you to watch everything. Ignoring plot details being constantly spoiled, even though this isn’t a new problem, if you don’t care about Thor…don’t watch his movies! It’s like long-running comics: I may not understand all the itty details, but that doesn’t mean I can’t read Issue #345 of superhero X and still not enjoy it solo. It’s possible.

Besides, continuity issues are nothing new. The Star Wars movies, past or present, I’d argue can’t be watched out of order, and those are classics. TV shows with long-running narratives are the same. And those old, pre-movie serials from the 20’s and 30’s (remember those?) were designed to get people to come back and watch them every week. Large, continuity-based, episodic franchises are nothing new, the MCU’s simply made them popular.

The next complaint is frequency. The issue is that MCU entries come out two-to-three times a year, making it overkill. I can sympathize with this a little more, especially since movies aren’t cheap, but really? Twice/three times a year isn’t that big an investment, especially not compared to the weekly allotments of Japanese TV shows or the long-running shows in the West. If I were to watch all MCU movies released in theatres in a given year, that’s still less than spending upwards of $90+ for an entire box set of Breaking Bad or Fullmetal Alchemist. Not to mention, it’s far more time-efficient too.

Really, the big question is as follows: do I spend $26-$39 a year on two or three movies that are roughly two hours, or close to $100 on an entire season of 30-60 minute episodes? I’d prefer the former, as I’m not only saving money, but time. I don’t have 30+ hours to frequently waste, let-alone $100 to blow in one pop, that’s ridiculous. MCU movies, in contrast, aren’t that hefty an investment, so they win out. And yes, the reason I bring this up at all, despite there being MCU TV shows now too, is because the MCU feels like serialized TV episodes in movie form.

Then we get to being too similar in identity. The claim is that the MCU is so obsessed with itself that every entry feels safe and similar. As far as feeling safe goes, welcome to my frustration with Disney movies. But even outside of that, what about them feels “safe”? I used to think that myself, but then Captain America: The Winter Soldier came out and told an ambitious story. It wasn’t some light, schlocky adventure like its predecessor, it was a serious espionage film! And it was really good!

Really, this also comes back to the issue of continuity. One of the side-effects of a shared universe is that everything has to fit together in some shape or form. Whether it’s via name-drops, references, or even team-ups, there has to be some sort of tie-in somewhere. And it’s intimidating to the uninitiated, that much is for certain! But, like I said earlier, no one’s forcing you to watch everything. You can skip entries if you’d like and miss relatively little, it’s possible.

As for feeling similar, this one I’ve never understood. I used to espouse it without thinking, but it doesn’t make sense: the MCU entries are too similar? The Iron Man movies, which are corporate espionage, are identical to the Thor movies, which are pretty much science-fantasy, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which is basically a spy thriller? I’m supposed to believe that?!

I think people forget that “shared universe” and “carbon copy” aren’t necessarily complimentary. For one, Marvel comic books, of which these films are based on, are part of a shared universe….and yet they feel different. Spider-Man isn’t the same as Daredevil, whom-in turn-isn’t the same as Thor. They share common foes and the occasional team-up, but no one confuses them as identical. They don’t even share the same powers! Spider-Man can stick to buildings and moves like a spider, while Daredevil’s a blind ninja and Thor’s a demigod. Saying they’re identical is be like saying Batman and Superman are identical: it’s ridiculous.

This complaint reeks of ignorance. I get that films should have their own identities. And I get that the MCU is a producer-driven franchise. But that doesn’t mean the individual films lack an identity, because that’s absurd! The fact that I was able to make the distinction between franchises is proof of that, and I’m not a comics person!

It also ties in with another complaint about how older superhero movies were “more interesting”. Uh…

It was either this, or a line from Avatar. Take your pick. (Via ALL YOUR CLIP ARE BELONG TO US.)

Yes, that video’s inclusion was mean. No, I don’t care. Because that’s historical revisionism, anti-MCU group! Older superhero movies weren’t “more interesting”; in fact, save the first two Spider-Man movies, the first two X-Men movies, both Hellboy films and Batman Begins, I’d argue that none of the superhero films from the early/mid 21st Century were really "good". To be strictly honest, most were downright awful, ranging from “crap” to “vomit” in identity. Movies like Daredevil were boring, while movies such as Hulk were a mess of bizarre…whatever that garbage was! (I haven’t seen it, but even looking at clips on YouTube leaves me scratching my head.)

Basically, I was unaware that varying shades of toilet droppings qualified as “interesting”; after all, I don’t pay attention to bodily waste. Besides, if “interesting” means “boring, badly-written and broodingly-flat imitations of Spider-Man and Batman”, then I’d love some of what you’re smoking! It’s not even me saying that, look at any feedback and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Even on a bad day, see Thor: The Dark World, the MCU is leagues ahead of those films in quality. If you don’t believe me, watch any MCU entry and one of those superhero films back-to-back.

I’m not sure what else to say: that I’m sorry you don’t like the direction the MCU is headed? That I’m sorry you’d rather routinely subject yourself to something awful, because it at least has stuff to talk about? Actually, I do have something to say about the latter: you’re insane. If you’re so interested in subjecting yourselves to tripe because “it turns you on”, then by all means grab a hot poker and shove up you rectum. You’ll need to be rushed to the hospital from third-degree burns, but you’ll get “the feels”.

Okay, that was mean. Basically, I’m fed up with the constant whining. Does this mean there aren’t real issues with the MCU worth complaining about? Of course not! The franchise is often too quippy for its own good, the emotional moments often feel rushed, the villains are usually really generic and anyone who isn’t white, male and straight is frequently sidelined for those who are. And let’s not forget, several entries, like Guardians of the Galaxy, have sexist undertones.

At the same time, the MCU is doing something earlier superheroes weren’t: showing that big-budget, continuity-based films can be clever and fun to watch. And it’s being eaten up by fans and moviegoers alike! Before the MCU, I had no clue who Ant-Man and Rocket Raccoon were, and I only had a mildly-passing interest in Captain America. But with the MCU’s success, I now look forward to their new movies! And yes, I acknowledge the fan-base’s annoyance and realize there are other, better films from various genres that are also worth watching. But if I’m excited for a talking rodent, a guy who controls insects with his mind and a super-soldier, well…can’t I enjoy that?

Something to think about.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Why Korrasami Sucks

Korrasami sucks, everyone.

Honestly, I was debating how to start this one off: do I go for the verbose “Korra and Asami is a terrible fan-ship”? Or do I keep it vague and say “this is why show-writers shouldn’t fan-ship their own characters”? Truthfully, I’d have probably been fine with both, but it’d have lacked punch. It wouldn’t stick out as much as if I were being blunt, especially since it wouldn’t express my real thoughts on the most fan-baiting aspect of a bad sequel to my favourite show.

Anyway, Avatar: The Legend of Korra…what can I say about it? It looks pretty, for one. The fight scenes, while nowhere on-par with Avatar: The Last Airbender, are really impressive and well-choreographed. The show has a brilliant, two-part back-story involving Avatar Wan in Book 2. And the music is fantastic. But the show itself? Let’s say that it went off the rails quickly, hit a lull and then climbed back into entertaining territory for its remaining two seasons. On the whole, however, it’s not good.

It’s not like I’m saying this to be a jerk. I respect the creators of the show, Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, immensely, and think they were wasted on it (not that they’re guiltless, but I’ll come back to that later). I also, like The Star Wars Prequels, still appreciate a variety of aspects about it, even if the whole doesn't work. Regardless, a turd is a turd, and given the greatness of its sister series…that’s disappointing. And nowhere is this more apparent than in its ending, which is pretty much fan-pairing come to life via lesbian pandering.

I have to stop any and all fans of Korrasami from freaking out by saying, “Calm down.” I recognize that art is subjective, and that, therefore, any attempts at romance in-show are too. I’m also not denying the creators’ right to have a lesbian romance between the protagonist and a side-character, that doesn’t bother me. I actually welcome it, as general entertainment, particularly in the West, is sorely lacking in strong, non-heterosexual representation. If you like this pairing, good for you! But I don’t. Why?

Because Korra and Asami don’t work as a couple.

In truth, romantic relationships were never a strong point of the franchise. Even Avatar: The Last Airbender, which I love, always seemed to falter there. True, Suki and Sokka was a great relationship that evolved naturally. But even then it had its share of groan-worthy moments (overprotective Sokka, anyone?) As for the rest? Jin and Zuko was nice, but it was too short, while Sokka and Yue was rushed. Aang and Katara I only bought as friends, and Zuko and Mai was unbearable. (I’m not kidding, you sit through some of their exchanges without cringing.)

That said, none of the primary, romantic relationships in Avatar: The Legend of Korra work. At all. Korra and Bolin having a belch-off in the Book 1 doesn’t qualify as a romantic relationship, especially since it’s quickly replaced by the abusive pairing of Korra and Mako. And even when the latter weren’t fighting…they had no romantic chemistry. Not even the inevitable romance between Asami and Mako felt natural. So when it came time for Korra and Asami to hook up, it didn’t do either of them any favours.

I’ve heard some defence for this sudden pairing from fans. They’ve argued that Korrasami was hinted at in the beginning of Book 4 while Korra was recuperating from her scars in the previous season. I don’t buy this; true, Korra only wrote letters to Asami, but is that romance? She could’ve been doing that for any number of in-character reasons. It’s like how people use a throwaway line in Perfect Blue to explain the twist at the film’s end: unless it specifically connects to the pay-off, it means nothing.

It’s especially meaningless because a good relationship needs time to develop. It doesn’t matter if it’s straight, gay, or anything in-between, relationships don’t materialize at the last second in a well-written story. I buy Korra and Asami as friends, perhaps even best friends, but lovers? Ignoring the show’s serious writing flaws, that’s pushing it. Especially because it’s the final shot, has no prior build-up and has been forcefully confirmed as canon by the show’s creators. Cool or not, it’s tacky.

There’s also the argument that the show was so heavily rushed by Nickelodeon executives that it lacked development time. That's sad to hear, but it's not a valid excuse. For one, anime shows, of which this is heavily influenced, are rushed constantly to meet weekly deadlines, yet many of them are classics. I don’t care how troubled production was, Nickelodeon only messed with budgets, deadlines and episode allotments. The stuff that matters, i.e. the writing and planning, wasn’t screwed with at all. Bryan and Mike knew they were dealing with a two-headed dragon, and yet they still came unprepared. Schedule conflicts are sympathetic, but they’re not an excuse for laziness.

This is especially important because fans have called it “ground-breaking” and “revolutionary”, when it’s not. Homosexual relationships, particularly lesbian relationships, have existed in anime for decades and were the modus operandi of Kunihiko Ikuhara’s work since inception. Even in the West, what about Steven Universe? Are we forgetting that there’s a lesbian relationship there that isn’t forced and actually fits the story?

Also, like Doug Walker said in his vlogs: if one of the two people in the Korrasami ship was a man, would anyone care? Or would it be decried as “lazy”? Why is lazy, ham-fisted fan-shipping in-show suddenly praiseworthy because it’s a lesbian relationship? Ignoring the amount of fan-porn that now exists, it’s really lazy because of how pandering it is. There’s really no other way of putting it.

I get it: it’s a big-name show that appeals to a wide demographic. Of course it’ll spark interest! And kudos for making the protagonist a lesbian, that’s a big risk! I simply don’t like its execution. I know that I’ll lose the respect of some fans for saying this, but it’s also a low-blow on the creators’ part. Bryan and Michael are better than this, and that they don’t realize it is embarrassing.

So yes, Korrasami sucks. The end.