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.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Legend of Linkle

Let’s talk Linkle.

Nintendo recently had another Nintendo Direct. Okay, I guess that’s their shtick these days. But one of the big announcements was a female Link named “Linkle”. She was confirmed as a playable character in the WiiU game Hyrule Warriors, which I assume is a real-time hack-’n-slash video game (I haven’t played video games in years, so I’m behind on many current events.) It seems like no one’s happy with Linkle’s existence: on one hand, people are calling her “pandering to those evil feminists”, while on the other hand, she’s touted as a cheap attempt at the “Ms. Male Character”, complete with sexist design choices that cater to the male gaze. And where do I stand?

I dunno, I kinda like Linkle. I'll explain why:

I’m not the biggest Legend of Zelda fan. I’ve played a handful of entries, but I’ve only beaten two. And I’ve only fully enjoyed one of them, the same one that gets crapped on most by hardcore Zelda fans: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. It had its share of problems, but it also wasn’t a nightmare to beat, something every other entry was to some extent (especially The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, but I’ve harped on that one enough.) Essentially, the franchise’s biggest hook, its prioritizing with in-game puzzles, is something I’m bad at, hence not really caring for it.

In other words, give me Okami any day of the week.

I mention this because my relationship with the franchise isn’t committal. I respect and admire it, I think its games are well-made and aesthetically-pleasing, but it’s not for me. Therefore, I’m speaking on a detached level when I say that Linkle’s existence not only doesn’t bother me, but is pretty cool. And given how the franchise has long been in need of an overhaul, this looks to be a step in that direction. A late one, but one nonetheless.

Let’s analyze Linkle’s design, as I think doing that will help put any complaints people have to rest.

Firstly, the elephant in the room: Linkle is a gender-swapped Link. I get it, she’s a “Ms. Male Character” at first glance. For those unaware, the term was coined by feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian to describe characters that are re-skinned versions of their male counterparts. Ms. Pac-Man, for example, is Pac-Man with lipstick and a hair-bow. Toadette is Toad with hair braids. And now Linkle is Link with two crossbows. In other words, it’s a character whose sole identity begins and ends with not being her male equivalency.

Let me ask you something: what kind of identity does Link have? I know fans instantly point to his warrior persona and that he’s selfless and brave, but still. Link isn’t much of a character, he’s not really a character at all. Shigeru Miyamoto, Link’s creator, has openly implied that Link is more a blank slate avatar for the player to project onto. In other words, like Mario, Link is whomever you want him to be.

That’s fine, but it’s important to remember that Link is also male. He has a masculine voice, although it’s high-pitched, he wears masculine clothing, he’s the average height of a male and he has the physique of a male. He’s the stand-in for the typical, male gamer. Which, again, is fine, but he really only represents one gender. And given how girls now outrank men in gaming sales, that’s somewhat shortsighted.

So how do you rectify that? That’s a difficult question to answer. One possibility is to create a similar franchise where the playable character is a woman. Okay, not a bad start. But then you have the challenges of funding, backing, even wide-appeal for your game, in order to ensure its success. In a world fuelled by capitalism, one where money speaks, that won’t be easy. To paraphrase Lord of the Rings, one does not simply create a new franchise these days.

Okay, that’s off the table. Now what? The next possibility is to add a female character to an already-established franchise. This is more accessible because you already have a guaranteed fan-base. It’s been done before, as seen with characters like Elika from Prince of Persia. By introducing a new character into a pre-existing franchise, you’re increasing the odds of success.

However, this also raises a problem: how do you make the character appealing? That…I have no easy answer for. It varies from franchise to franchise, so what might work in game A, might not work in game B. But hey, that’s why I’m not a game designer.

In the case of Linkle, I think Nintendo did the best they could. Remember, Link is a blank-slate. He’s whomever you want him to be. Therefore, a gender-swapped Link isn’t a big deal. Because if Link is a blank-slate, then so is Linkle.

Now we have to look at Linkle’s design. One of the traps you can fall into with a female character is “male gaze”. This is when a character is over-sexualized not because it fits her, but because it’s meant to appeal to horny men. Fortunately, Linkle avoids that trap. Because Nintendo caters to the family-friendly demographic, Linkle has to dress conservatively. She wears boots, cargo pants, an undershirt that covers her shoulders, and a tunic that covers her undershirt and gloves. The only remotely-sexualized parts of her body, and even then it’s debatable, are her arms and legs. Even then, I’ve seen Orthodox Jewish girls with more visible skin, and they dress pretty modestly.

Basically, Linkle passes the test, as she’s nowhere near “male gaze”.

Then there’s the issue of her weapon(s) of choice. Link’s signature item is a sword, while Linkle…carries crossbows. The complaint is that Linkle’s weapon of choice is a default, female warrior weapon and, therefore, really lazy and uninspired; after all, why do boys get the cool weapons and girls the crappy ones? This is Katniss Everdeen redux…except that Katniss is really awesome and, therefore, the point is kinda moot. An interesting character isn’t defined by weapon of choice. Some of the best characters in fiction can’t even fight. Interest is defined by personality or intrigue, not weapons. So Linkle carrying crossbows isn’t a big deal.

And finally, there’s the fact that Linkle even exists, which bugs the crap out of paranoid, insecure men. To that I say…really? Linkle is in one Zelda game of how many? You’ve had Link for almost 30 years! Linkle being in one game isn’t the end of the world, especially since she’s optional. Grow up.

Actually, “grow up” is how I’d address that complaint anyway. Fantasy is so heavily dominated by men that a little changing up is welcome. Besides, remember how awesome Katniss Everdeen, Princess NausicaƤ and San are? They’re three of the many wonderful characters in fiction, and-surprise-they’re women. If Linkle’s appearance is indication, she’ll be another awesome girl warrior. Not to mention, I’m more concerned that Linkle will be the newest victim of internet fan-porn than I am that she’ll be awesome (trust me, it’ll happen sooner or later.)

So yeah, I’m in the “I like Linkle” camp…even though her name is silly. But whether or not you’re ready for her is up to you.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Why Spectre Fails as a Movie

Let’s be clear: James Bond isn’t my area of interest. I find the first few outings perfectly-competent, but incredibly-forgettable, thrillers that epitomize the 1960’s. Everything that follows is a roller-coaster of inconsistent, ranging from one shade of mediocre to another shade of mediocre, with a few dabbles of awful. The roller coaster ends with GoldenEye, which was fine, before kicking back into hyperdrive with three confusing, annoying and downright awful Brosnan-Bond films: Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day (the latter having seen twice, but can’t remember a single detail of.) It’s safe to say that Daniel Craig’s Bond outings, which longtime fans are split on, are the only entries that I care about, and even then only two: Casino Royale and Skyfall.

Nevertheless, I was excited when MGM Entertainment and Sony announced Spectre. After all, I adored Skyfall and was pumped to see where Bond was gonna go next. Would he fight a new threat in Mexico City, as the trailer suggested, or travel to Tokyo again for some R&R? If Sam Mendes was on the project…well, it was bound to be awesome, right?


Let’s get this out of the way: Spectre is enjoyable. It’s not great, but of the mediocre Bond entires, it’s the first to not be confusing, boring, annoying, or all three. Given how Quantum of Solace was all three combined, that says something (note to Hollywood: don’t assume that a man known for period-piece dramas will make a good action director.) It’s well-directed, shot beautifully, the music is great, it’s all-around entertaining. But it’s not good. And I think the reason is because of what it’s trying to be. I can’t explain why without ruining everything, so I’m going for a spoiler alert:

I’m not one to shy from enjoying fan-service films; after all, Star Trek into Darkness was fan-wanking with its villain being Khan, and while it lost itself in a poor recreation of a better movie…I liked it. It wasn’t fantastic, and Damon Lindelof is all-over the parts that weren’t ruined by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, but the drama was compelling, the last 30 minutes were engaging before the deus ex machina, and I thought the idea of knowing who and who not to trust was interesting. It’s a mess, but it’s fun and smart too.

Spectre, however, is pure fan-wanking. It didn’t have to be, there are interesting ideas behind it, but it is. And the underlying problem is its villain.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Cristoph Waltz. I don’t think he’s been in a lot of good movies outside of Tarantino, but he’s an incredibly-talented actor. He’s already won two Oscars by the age of 59, which is incredible given The Academy’s credentials for Oscar winners, and I’m sure he’ll continue to impress. However, he’s wasted in Spectre. The idea of having him play the villain isn’t bad, since he’s good at that, but every aspect about his character feels more like an an uninspired choice to play an old Bond villain that only fans of the franchise will actually give a damn about.

Wait, did I blow (see what I did there?) the twist too early? My bad.

Anyway, he starts out promising enough. We get an introduction in the SPECTRE organization, which is pretty much a conference room enveloped in shadow. That entire sequence is fantastic: everything from the shadows, to the suspense, right down to how the characters are introduced, is good stuff, and it leads to the assumption that something good might come of this. We see our first glimpse of Mr. Hinx (another wasted role in the film) as he kills a member of the organization, we hear Waltz’s character mention that Bond is in the room, and then we get one of the film’s best lines with SPECTRE’s security personnel telling Bond that he’s a dead man. (He doesn’t quite say it like that, however.) And then the film deviates for a while, only to return with Waltz’s official introduction halfway through the overly-padded story.

See, Waltz is the guy who orchestrated everything. And by “everything”, I mean “everything that’s happened in Craig’s Bond tenure”. He set-up the entire poker game in Casino Royale. He indirectly tortured Bond and Vesper for information, even getting Vesper to betray Bond so he could be shattered emotionally. He created Quantum as a puppet organization to lead Bond on a revenge spree. He even got the villain of Skyfall, Silva, to mess with Mi6, engage in confrontation at Bond’s childhood residence and kill M for giggles. And now, he’s infiltrated Mi6 through C, and he’s using wiretapping to make Bond a wreck in front of the newest Bond girl, Madeline Swann, before strapping him to a machine and lobotomizing him.

If this sounds ridiculous, you have good instincts. But what’s even worse is the underlying reason for why Waltz is doing this: he wants to mess with him. Remember the orphan thread from Skyfall, the one that sounded like it’d be a failure, but was actually the best part because of how it ended? Well, Spectre expands on that, with Bond being raised by a man who died in an avalanche when he was a teenager. The initial story was that the man’s son also died, but that turns out to be false when Waltz’s character’s revealed to be the one who orchestrated that too.

Why? Because he was jealous. He felt that, like the cuckoo bird, Bond supplanted his father’s love and left him to be eaten by predators. Being the paranoid little douchenozzle that he was, he made sure everything that’s happened in Bond’s life was payback. Believe me, it’s dumber and stupider than it sounds on paper, and even more ridiculous.

Oh, and he changed his named to Ernesto Blofeld. Because why not?

Now that I’ve gotten the big “WTF” twist out of the way, you’re probably wondering why this got approved. Was the franchise out of ideas? Was this a ploy to get long-time Bond fans, who were never that big on Craig’s tenure, to start caring again? Or was this an idea that sounded good in the writers’ minds, but not to everyone else? Either way, it’s dumb.

Bond blows up Blofeld’s facility with his watch, and he and Madeline make their way to back to London. After a brief goodbye, Bond returns to Mi6 headquarters and realizes that he’s been set up. He also discovers that Blofeld is still alive…which makes absolutely no sense. I don’t care if Bond movies stretch logic, we saw Blofeld die when Bond blew up his facility. Even if he survived the initial blast, we saw a wide-shot of everything go up into flames. Also, Blofeld, as well as all of his men, were taken out. Like Bond surviving his fall in Skyfall, the movie takes a leap in plausibility and leaves out crucial details to “keep the mystery alive”.

Two points of additional note must be made, both being pretty shameless. Firstly, when Bond shoots at Blofeld, his gun shots penetrate the visor separating them and make a SPECTRE logo from the cracks. How the image could be that precise is ridiculous, as Bond isn’t Vash the Stampede. And secondly, Blofeld’s scar on his face is eerily similar to that from the Connery era. Even if Blofeld survived that earlier explosion, how he could have a scar reminiscent of that earlier Blofeld doesn’t make sense without fan-pandering.

Anyway, Blofeld announces he’s holding Madeline captive in a nearby building that’s rigged to blow up. And then he runs off, obviously heading out to take down Mi6. Bond frees Madeline in time, goes on boat to shoot at Blofeld’s helicopter, and-through the magic of movie nonsense-succeeds at downing it atop London Bridge. I like that Bond doesn’t kill Blofeld, a nice change from formula, but at the same time this endeavour feels like it was over way too easily and quickly. Ironic, given how long this movie really is.

Spectre’s biggest problem is that it’s less a movie and more a nostalgia trip. Long-time fans will no doubt squeal at the return of SPECTRE and Blofeld, but everyone else? Meh. It’s not awful, and it’s certainly fun despite all its shortcomings, but when you have to resort to fan-pandering to tell a story…there’s a problem. John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, the three screenwriters, have written for James Bond since The World is Not Enough, and while they’ve done far more shameless, one review described Die Another Day as “Bond celebrating his 40th birthday by getting drunk and passing out in front of company”, that doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering from fatigue.

Bottom line: watch it once, but not again. 3/5.