Some Random Thoughts on Captain Marvel

In no particular order. Spoiler warnings in effect.

Erik’s random thoughts:

  • My overall impression of this movie is that it was good, but not great. And that’s fine. For Marvel’s first woman-led movie, the pressure is on to excel, and we would have loved it if this movie had measured up to some of the great Marvel triumphs like Avengers and Black Panther, but it’s also perfectly okay for this movie to just be perfectly okay. In a franchise where Tony Stark gets six or seven movies to learn not to be a total raging jerk all the time, there’s plenty of room for women to lead good, great, and even not-so-great movies.
  • As someone who doesn’t know the comic character, I was rather lost for the first hour or so until Carol Danvers’s history finally got explained. Some of the narrative choices made in the first half of the movie even seemed to deliberately push Carol’s confusion about her identity onto the audience. I expect to enjoy the movie more on a second or third viewing when I can focus on the characters and the action rather than trying to sort out who is who, where we are in the timeline, and which memories are reliable.
  • There are also some individual plot elements that would have benefited from taking a little more time to introduce and develop, like the background of the Pegasus project, Mar-Vel’s plans, “Vers’s” relationship with Yon-Rog, and the power-inhibiting neck disk. As it is, there are some moments in the film that don’t have the emotional weight they should because we lack an adequate set-up.
  • They’ve really nailed the de-aging technology. In the brief scenes they’ve done in previous movies it’s been very good, but still looked a little fake. Even Coulson in this movie looked just a bit digital, but young Nick Fury was absolutely convincing.
  • I loved the Carol Danvers / Nick Fury buddy cop road movie parts of this film. The two actors played beautifully off one another, and I could easily have had a full movie of Danvers’s and Fury’s road trip adventures.
  • And while we’re on the subject of Nick Fury, notice that he doesn’t make any fuss about helping with the washing up. That’s class.
  • Brie Larson is perfectly cast as Carol Danvers / Captain Marvel. She plays the character as tough, resourceful, and snarky without being overbearing, but also wounded and sometimes unsure of herself without undermining her own strength. By the end of the movie, we can totally believe that she is not only a super-powered hero who can blow up an invading spaceship by punching right through it, but also the kind of person whose response to an alien invasion would be to blow up their ship by punching right through it.
  • Monica is great, full of life and spirit in a believable way, and the relationship she has both with her mother Maria and her auntie Carol is beautiful to watch. It’s nice to see a movie quietly acknowledge that women can be loving mothers and aunties while also flying fighter jets, blowing up alien spaceships, and generally kicking ass. There is no reason why these things cannot be compatible.
  • Well, now we know how Fury lost his eye, and really, could it have happened in any better way?

 

Eppu’s random thoughts:

  • Going in, I had no idea what powers Captain Marvel has in the comics nor how she got them; everything I knew came from the trailers, but of course they don’t really explain anything. I confess I was curious how the heck was she able to fire photon blasts from her hands and fly. Aha—the Tesseract; a-okay.
  • The movie not only easily passed the Bechdel test, it chomped it up for breakfast. LOVED THAT. Just like in Black Panther, all the women were competent, complex, and clearly their own personas instead of cardboard cutouts or boob bimbos reciting lines.
  • Great acting all round, too. Brie Larson, Lashana Lynch, and Akira Akbar’s power trio was awesome! You could almost feel the history between the three. (And I really hope we get to see an older Monica Rambeau in MCU some day.) Annette Bening was wonderful despite her relatively short appearances, and Ben Mendelsohn was very impressive even through the latex mask. Jude Law I’ve never cared for, but he didn’t bother me in this.
  • While the pacing was ok, the plot felt overly complicated—and to be explicit, I’m not convinced it’s necessarily a bad thing. Then again, BP really has raised the stakes for MCU movies for me; stories are facing a steep uphill battle to get the gold star.
  • The movie sure had a lot on its plate. First it needed to introduce this new MCU character, give us some idea of who the Kree are, and outline the Skrull threat. Then we get glimpses into Danver’s previous life on Earth, the identities of Dr. Lawson / Mar-Vell plus Maria and Monica Rambeau, and the eventual regaining of Danver’s memories and relationship with the Rambeaus (but whether it was all memories or just most I’m still unsure about). Add to that not only the super-duper-short intro to S.H.I.E.L.D. and a more extensive one to Nick Fury, but also bringing Fury and Danvers together to chase leads, reversing the Skrull threat, adding the threat to Earth by Kree, the secret underneath the cute surface of Goose, Danvers discovering the extent of her abilities, and, finally, Danvers / Captain Marvel winning the day. Still, Captain Marvel didn’t feel quite as jam-packed as Avengers: Infinity War did.
  • Speaking of AIW, CM was clearly geared to directly feed into the upcoming Avengers: Endgame; the focus was on explaining how come this Captain Marvel character is the one Fury calls when shit really, truly hits the fan. Consequently, there wasn’t much room for showing how Carol Danvers came to be who she is, especially compared to the male heroes (say, Steve Rogers). It was interesting, though, to compare this origin story with that of the first few MCU origin stories / introductions (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America). I’m not the only one to compare Steve Rogers’s and Carol Danvers’s tenacity and their steadfastness in working towards their goals. Abigail Nussbaum put it best: “When she finally embraces what she is, she becomes unstoppable.” (As a side note, I thought the Carol Danvers character is quite good an example of the Finnish concept sisu. Steve Rogers is also in the right direction, but he didn’t have to time and again break through the glass ceiling women face.)
  • I loved how different a Fury we see, and can easily believe how this version could turn into the older one we were first introduced to—Samuel L. Jackson has great acting chops for sure. He didn’t just feel younger and less hardened than Director Fury, for the lack of a better word he felt lighter (more optimistic? more trusting? more naive? all of the above???).
  • Which reminds me: I almost cried out loud out of frustration towards the beginning when Fury and Coulson pursue Vers / the train in LA and they drove the wrong direction. That’s been done a gazillion times in action movies and I’ve had my fill of it. Fortunately it lasted only a few seconds. Phew.
  • Goose the cat being a Flerken able to swallow the Tesseract was a really interesting choice. Where did he end up living afterwards? And how long do they live to begin with?
  • Coulsooooon! Nice to see a glimpse of the young Coulson, too. (I’ve seen the first two seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with Coulson of course, but I just don’t find the series as satisfying as the movies.)
  • Ditto on Fury and dishes.
  • The canyon dogfight between Minn-Erva and Maria Rambeau was great. I was starting to be worried that Rambeau wasn’t going to be given any moments to shine in her own right (apart from being shown a great best friend and mother; i.e., only in relation to others). There were just two soldiers who happened to be women doing their jobs. Awesome.
  • Speaking of, Maria Rambeau got some of the best lines: “You call me ‘young lady’ again, I’ll shove my foot up somewhere it’s not supposed to be.”
  • Minor nitpicks include the crest on Vers’s helmet (looks stupid to me) and the unrealistically low amount of catcalling and/or harassment she gets at the train station looking for the Skrull runaway while wearing the Kree armor—then again, if LA residents are as focused on their own thing as NYC commuters are, it’s not that unrealistic after all. (Haven’t been to LA myself, so I don’t know.)
  • Best moments: “I’ve been fighting with one hand tied behind my back!” and “I have nothing to prove to you.” *pow!*
  • I’ll end with a note from a Forbes article by Scott Mendelson listing some of the film’s earnings: “Because the financial metrics, both in North America and overseas, clearly show that the future of the MCU is essentially everything except more white guys named Chris.” *harf!* 😀 You got that right.

 

Image: Brie Larson as Carol Danvers from Captain Marvel via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

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Some Random Thoughts on Aquaman

We were late to see Aquaman, but here, finally, are some random thoughts in no particular order.

Spoiler warning very much in effect!

IMDb Aquaman Comic-Con Poster

  • First of all: visually, it was a feast! In the theater while waiting for the movie to start, Erik mentioned he’d read somewhere someone say that Aquaman will change the way movies are expected to look for this generation the same way (I assume the original) Star Wars did for previous generations. I’d fully believe it: so many different effects and environments, all polished off to a regal shine (if you’ll pardon me for being corny for a bit). I’d also say this: while the SW prequels attempted to shower the audience with rich sets and visuals, they ultimately just didn’t reach the level of breathtaking; Aquaman (and Moana, Rogue One, and SW:XIII) actually succeeded.
  • The character Tom Curry (played by Temuera Morrison), the lighthouse keeper, looked Polynesian and sounded like a Kiwi. For a character who’s supposed to be a Mainer that was a bit of a whiplash. Then again, the world is more international these days than ever before.
  • Speaking of Maine and lighthouses, even I could tell there were too few trees in the “Maine” scenes. It looks like they were filmed in Newfoundland, so that would explain it. Other than that, the supposedly northern locations looked at least plausible—the rocky coast looks just right, in fact—so a plus for that. (I’m the kind of northener who happens to care whether my home is misrepresented or not.)
  • I’ve never read the comics, so I have no idea which plot elements came from where; I can’t comment from that point of view. (Literally, what I knew is Raj from The Big Bang Theory saying “Aquaman sucks!”) With that caveat, at first I was merely amused by the mixing of the Atlantean and Arthurian legends, but they kinda made it work. The antagonist’s father-son-tragedy-as-backstory was unfortunately tiresome, but at least it was given to black people, plus Yahya Abdul-Mateen II really rocked as Manta. (I’m so sick of seeing middle-aged white men wrangling with son guilt. Hey Leverage—I’m talking about you especially!)
  • The Tom-Atlanna romance was seemingly set up exatly like the dime-a-dozen action movies that have come before: man meets woman, she blows his mind with her awesomeness, they fall in love only to have him lose her In Order to Have Feelings(TM). Thankfully, Aquaman not only didn’t follow the trope through, it subverted parts of it: instead of dying, Queen Atlanna thoroughly wiped the deck with the team sent to bring her back to Atlantis (while he protected their child, Arthur, having correctly determined that her enhanced abilities would allow the family to survive—I just LOVE smart, self-confident, genuine, non-egotistical men). After the attack, Atlanna decided she’d better return voluntarily to protect Tom and Arthur, and subsequently was reported to have been sacrificed to a Verifiable Monster of the Deep, again making it look like the plot fridged her to give Tom the Official Permission to Wallow, but no—towards the end, we find out she not only survived, but carved a haven for herself and joined Princess Mera and Arthur in their quest for the super trident.
  • In the same vein, the Mera-Arthur romance was foreseeable and dull. At least the movie gave her the initiative unlike so many prior Hollywood stories.
  • Surprisingly, I didn’t mind Nicole Kidman as Atlanna.
  • Hairwise, surprisingly many characters kept their long hair loose even underwater. I would’ve thought it would be in the way too much, at least for the guards and other fighters. Mera’s hair was too red for my taste (The Little Mermaid, anyone?), but Vulko (played by Willem Dafoe) had quite a cute man bun/thing.
  • Overall, I felt that characters didn’t fare that well, unfortunately. Apart from Atlanna and Mera, I can’t remember any other women having more than a line, if that, except for the Fisherman Princess (and that’s really pushing it, too). Why is is that the only women being shown as active, rounded-out people instead of plot-relevant placeholders* are royalty? Not to forget the many mer-men who barely got defined as individuals. The creators clearly made a choice to focus on the story and visuals instead of characters. I’d rather see great characters AND great story, preferably with knock-out visuals, too; that’s why I love Black Panther so much.
  • I found the five underwater kingdoms that separated from the original Atlantean culture quite cliched, flat, and underdeveloped. Looks like developing the visuals took precedence indeed.
  • And wow—the Verifiable Monster of the Deep was monstrous!
  • And whatever else you might say, Aquaman really was epic. That said, some of the power poses approached ridiculous, but I suppose that happens easily when adapting superhero comics.
  • The final fight between Manta plus his goons and Mera plus Aquaman happened in a small seaside town in the Mediterranean, and it was inventive and not too predictable. However, we last see Manta plunging into the water from a cliff, bouncing off the rocks in the process. Now, one of my pet peeves is when a protagonist survives repeated and super violent hits, shakes, car crashes, what have you, because no matter how well a human body may be armored, your brain can still whiplash inside your skull, and that, as I understand, is really the life-threatening aspect of being hit too hard on the head. I thought that was it for Manta after his plunge and felt pleased Aquaman avoided yet another trope, but no—in a stinger, we see him drag himself to the shore. Argh!

Did you see Aquaman? What did you think?

Image: Aquaman Comic-Con poster via IMDb.

*) The delightful term plot-relevant placeholder is from a review by Liz Bourke—thank you!

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

A Male Protagonist Protags; A Female Protagonist Has Things Happen to Her

An article from August 2018 produced thinky-thoughts!

Oren Ashkenazi lists “Eight Absurdities We Force on Female Characters”. Among them is this gem:

“[S]torytellers also have to constantly remind the audience how hot their female characters are, right? At least that seems to be the case, based on how often authors emphasize their female leads’ looks. Of course, this dual need makes writing women much harder, since readers don’t typically appreciate their stories being interrupted with reminders about a character’s sexy bod.”

Because Men Are Strong, Women Are Pretty, right?!? Gah!

Instead of an exhausted and exasperated rant, here’s my contribution to join the Smurfette Principle, Dainty Combat, et al.

A male protagonist gets to protag; a female protagonist has things happen to her.

The male protagonist is at the center of the story. He gets to make key decisions, call the shots, lead teams (successfully), and propel the plot forward.

In contrast, a female protagonist reacts to what’s happening around and/or to her. In addition, all too often women’s story arcs are marked as of less importance or condemned outright. (Or branded as a “women’s genre”, often with a sneer, like romance.)

One of the first that I remember noticing on screen is J.J. Abrams’s Fringe. Anna Torv’s protagonist character Olivia Dunham, an FBI agent, started out by actively investigating potential paranormal phenomena, but in later seasons she was pushed aside in favor of the father-son drama and relationship wrangling between characters played by Joshua Jackson and (always excellent) John Noble. Egad—as if we don’t have enough!

And just the latest I’ve had the misfortune to see is the tv series Extant. Despite its gorgeous visuals, high production values, and Halle Berry as the lead, the writing keeps her guessing, defending herself against gaslighting, physically running, flailing, and emoting. Two episodes from the end I was done; I didn’t want to finish that crap.

(To be fair, I’ve also come across stories that dreadfully misrepresent men. As one example, I’ve had my fill—to the fracking brim!—of stories of damaged middle-aged alcoholics who are just trying to hang on.)

This post has been edited for clarity.

Story Time is an occasional feature all about stories and story-telling. Whether it’s on the page or on the screen, this is about how stories work and what makes us love the ones we love.

Some Random Thoughts on Ant-Man and the Wasp

In no particular order. Spoiler warnings in effect.

Erik’s random thoughts:

  • This was an excellent follow-up to the original Ant-Man, making the story deeper and more complex while keeping the wild fun caper tone.
  • As others have noted, it really should have been called The Wasp and Ant-Man. It’s Hope’s movie. Scott is the sidekick this time around, and that’s great.
  • Although Hope’s Wasp suit is form-fitting, it doesn’t overtly sexualize her in the way a lot of other Marvel women’s costumes do. The same goes for Ghost’s suit. I hope this is a sign of things to come.
  • Luis on truth serum (“It’s not truth serum”) may be the funniest thing to come out of the MCU yet.
  • In a media landscape oversaturated with father-son stories, it was a very welcome change to have a movie about fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, mothers and daughters, and found family, with nary a father-son story in sight.

 

Eppu’s random thoughts:

  • I found Ant-Man & the Wasp more enjoyable than Ant-Man (which I did like!) in many respects. The pacing felt more even, the villain slightly less corny, the cinematography as good or better, to mention a few.
  • AM&tW also felt more aware of itself in that it actively upended or joked about some conventions (e.g., some of the chase sequences, the long-running truth serum gag, even the name of Scott and Luis’ security company).
  • The antagonist setup was refreshingly different. Instead of one ham hock of a megalomaniac we’re treated to two forces grappling with Scott, Hope, and Hank: a woman trying to cope with years of pain and exploitation, plus a wannabe megalomaniac more in line with the usual cheesy MCU villain. Thankfully, the latter is used sparingly and isn’t allowed to lord it over everyone else.
  • The action sequences did so many funny and inventive things with size. I’ll also hazard a guess that the studio has improved their software since Ant-Man—at least to my untrained eye, the CGI looked smoother.
  • I loved how Cassie, Maggie, and Paxton’s family unit had—literally—embraced Scott. His cardboard fort / tunnel system treasure hunt with Cassie was so awesome! We tend not to see enough fathers enthusiastically play with their daughters on the big screen, let alone in superhero movies, so a big Thank You to the writing team for that.
  • I also loved the amount of screentime Hope got, and that there was no father-son story but a mother-daughter one and two father-daughter stories. You could even argue that Bill and Ava’s relationship amounted to an adoptive/adopted parent-child one (for the lack of a better term), or was moving in that direction by the end.
  • It was a funny flick, too. I sniggered all the way through.
  • Michael Peña’s Luis—oh, man! I don’t know how he can deliver the hyperspeed lines so fluently. He’s amazing! It was also nice to see how the ex-con gang worked together and that Dave and Kurt got a bit more development.
  • There’s one detail that stuck to my mind as a little too close to railroading: the countdown clock on Janet’s rescue window. Although, there’s plenty of Pym particle physics that’s merely handwaved aside, so it’s not like it’s alone in the MCU.
  • Finally, my two cents on the two stingers. The first one gave me the kind of genuine “Oh, shit” reaction that the end of Infinity War wasn’t able to. The second stinger felt cheaper, almost perfunctory.

Image: Ant-Man and the Wasp poster via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Some Random Thoughts on Avengers: Infinity War

In no particular order. Spoiler warnings in effect.

Eppu’s random thoughts:

I went in knowing nothing for sure and having read only non-spoilery impression pieces and bits of barely-even news. A heads-up: half-baked musings to follow, plus at least one f-bomb.

  • You must know the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to follow the Avengers: Infinity War story—none of the characters or their histories are introduced. Which makes sense: the previous movies are all in their way leading to AIW, and there’s no way you could introduce everyone and still have enough time left for a new story. Good for fans, not so good for regular moviegoers.
  • Superhero stories aren’t fully my cup of tea, not like for instance Jane Austen is, but my inner nerd is very pleased to have such an unprecedented series of high-quality movies like this.
  • I knew AIW was going to be stuffed to the gills with details, dialog, and derring-do, and indeed it was. Yet, strangely, it felt like we were in a holding pattern throughout the movie. You can tell it’s just the first act of a two-parter.
  • I missed so many lines among the sound effects. How about some subtitling in the theaters, USA? They’re helpful for all sorts of people, not just the deaf and hard of hearing.
  • The death toll started climbing earlier and got higher than I thought, even before the ashing at the end.
  • The writers started pushing Vision and Wanda Maximoff together already in Civil War (which they also co-wrote) but I never could buy their relationship. It felt forced then, and it still feels forced in AIW.
  • My favorite scene is when Black Widow, Captain America, and Falcon turn up to help Scarlet Witch and Vision in Edinburgh. Such seamless teamwork—so awesome!
  • Another awesome thing: Spidey got a nano suit.
  • I know it’s not what the movie actually did, but there was so much of it that the fighting felt almost unending. On the other hand, they did a fairly good job balancing the multiple storylines / locations for such an overstuffed movie.
  • There’s still way too much Stark. Like Civil War, AIW‘s not supposed to be yet another Tony show but of course that’s what they’ve made it into. On the other hand, Iron Man and Doctor Strange worked pretty well together despite—or maybe due to?—both being rich entitled jerks. In a way, they almost canceled each other out.
  • Also, the annoying git otherwise known as Peter Quill was pleasantly diluted by the presence of so many other characters. That man-child needs to fucking grow up. (Unpopular opinion: the Guardians of the Galaxy movies barely made it to “Meh” and certainly didn’t rise beyond.)
  • AIW did some unusual character pairings that worked really well: Stark and Strange plus Thor and Rocket come immediately to mind. Rhodey and Sam had a few promising moments while handling air defence during the Wakandan fight, but it didn’t amount to much.
  • Sadly, pretty much all of the Black Panther characters felt tacked-on and not properly integrated. However, it was marvellous to be back in Wakanda. We barely saw Shuri, though, and that’s just plain wrong. (Imagine her and Peter Parker geeking about tech together!)
  • OMG, Nat and Okoye and Wanda teaming up! Give me a buddy movie for those three any day! And throw in Maria Hill, too, please!
  • Another great thing was the deliberate refusal to overuse the Hulk. Instead, they gave Banner a suit version of Veronica the Hulk-buster.
  • Others have noted this, too, but some of the special effects looked clunky and unfinished (especially next to the finished ones). Many of Proxima Midnight’s scenes were affected, for example. (Speaking of her—was anyone else reminded of demon hunters from WoW?)
  • Considering how much Doctor Strange did in his eponymous movie, he contributed seemingly little to the world’s defense. I suspect we’ll see a lot more of his magic in part 2; what shape that takes remains to be seen. Especially since so many popular characters were turned to ash (like Spider-Man who we know will return in a sequel of his own next year), we cannot but see a lot of un-ashing.
  • What ultimately turned me off reading super comics is what I call the escalation-squish cycle: the tendency to time and again up the stakes ridiculously high, kill or shelve multiple characters, destroy cities or planets or whatnot, and then undo everything with a gimmick of the month. There’s only so much of it that I can take. Unfortunately it seems MCU may be headed in that direction. I hope not.
  • Major grumble here: Whose stupid-ass idea was it at the this-really-is-the-end fight to have our heroes go at Thanos one at a time, in a stupid-ass single-file? They’re not that dumb. Stupid-ass, lazy railroading. *grumble!*
  • I knew beforehand that AIW would end with a cliffhanger. I guess I was expecting the ending to be a bit more explosive and not as quiet as it was.

In the end, AIW just wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. Here’s hoping part 2 will pick up the slack.

 

Erik’s random thoughts:

To a certain extent, it feels unfair to be critiquing Infinity War at this point, since we’ve only seen half the story. Still, my overall reaction is disappointment. There are some particular reasons for this feeling, which I’ll try to lay out here.

  • Most of the movie is spent watching characters flail around, trying to respond to a desperate situation and not accomplishing much. Even when it looks like one character or group of characters has taken a small step towards posing a meaningful challenge to Thanos, their gains are quickly nullified. While it’s true that some amount of failure is necessary for drama and there’s nothing interesting about watching heroes who only ever succeed, there’s nothing interesting about watching heroes who only ever fail, either.
  • A lot of the heroes’ failures feel unearned. Again, while it’s more common to complain about unearned successes, dramatically interesting failures need to be warranted by character and plot. Too much of the failure in Infinity War feels like it is driven by the writers’ desire to build up Thanos as a villain. It feels cheap.
  • Put these observations together with the fact that for there to be any MCU at all after part 2, much of what happened in part 1 will have to be undone, and a lot of the movie ends up feeling pointless. Why did we sit through all of this if none of it matters in the end?
  • Thanos is interesting as a villain. His motivating emotion is not anger or greed but sorrow and the desire to spare other people the anguish he and his planet went through. Still, we spent too much time listening to him monologue. In a movie already packed to overflowing with other characters, he took up too much air.
  • I never liked the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, but the way the team was written in this movie, I could see their appeal. Except for Peter Quill. He is still just as much of an impulsive, self-centered man-child as ever and I cannot stand one second of him. (To be fair, world events in recent years have severely depleted my patience with impulsive, self-centered man-children.)
  • For a movie that had such serious problems with its overall story, many of the individual scenes were beautifully written and perfectly acted. At the small scale, this movie works like a charm; it’s at the large scale that it falls flat.

Image: Avengers: Infinity War screenshot via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Some Random Thoughts on Black Panther

In no particular order. Spoiler warnings in effect.

Erik’s random thoughts:

  • This is the movie that Thor was trying to be: a Shakespearean family drama about an exiled hero coming to terms with the destiny of his people and his father’s failures in the midst of a gorgeous futuristic city-state. (On a side note: does anyone actually remember the original Thor movie or have we collectively agreed that the franchise starts with number 3?)
  • I love the architecture of Wakanda. It looks like the product of thousands of years of African tradition with the highest of modern technology, just as it should.
  • Even for a fantasy of African exceptionalism, the story does not shy away from the bitter real history of imperialism, exploitation, slavery, and its modern-day consequences, and the movie is richer and stronger for it.
  • Shuri is awesome. Her combination of flippancy in the face of tradition, passion for technological tinkering, and powerful love for her family and home make her a delight to watch. I think she’s my favorite character in the whole movie, and that’s not an easy pick in this one.
  • Could we have T’Challa and Shuri take over the Tony Stark role in the Marvel Universe, please? I appreciate what Iron Man did to kickstart the MCU and hold the early installments together, but I’ve had enough of him now. I honestly don’t think I can handle one more movie about Tony Stark’s emotional issues. T’Challa can be the guy in the super suit who cracks wise while leading the fight and Shuri can be the tinkerer who keeps upgrading everybody’s gear.
  • Even in a franchise that includes a movie about waking up one morning to discover that literal Nazis have taken over the US government, Black Panther feels like the movie we most need in 2018: a meditation on the temptations of division, resentment, and revenge and the hard choice of embracing a flawed and fractured world with hope. As crucially as Black Panther contributes to the representation of black people in genre media—and by Bast it does—it has a lot to say outside the dialogue of race as well.
  • For the record: as a white man, I have no problem whatsoever identifying with the characters of this movie. I’m not talking about Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross, either—Zuri is my guy.

 

Eppu’s random thoughts:

Note: These thoughts are based on one viewing. I’m fully aware that some of them are just scratching the surface and that I need to see the move (at least!) a second time and mull things over properly.

  • If I had to use one word to describe Black Panther, on a meta level it would be confelicity: I am so, so, SO glad for those black people who are exited, overjoyed, and exhilarated over seeing a full cast of people that look like them acting with grace and agency, not minimized but celebrated! On a story level, I’d use equality.
  • I knew from reading non-spoiler reviews beforehand that the movie passes the Bechdel test, so I didn’t even bother tracking it. It was very nice not to have to care.
  • If it was nice not to have to care about whether the Bechdel test passes or not, it was outright GLORIOUS to see that WOMEN ARE PEOPLE in their own right, with their own interior lives, not just breasts and posteriors for men to ogle. And such a spread of different women, too, each doing their thing according to their interests and skills. Because that’s who we are, and what we do, and have done for millenia, and it’s damn time that the self-absorbed, able-bodied, white cis hetero men in Hollywood respected that. (Yes, I know that the Black Panther team behind the camera included many, many people of color, including women, but that’s not the default, is it.)
  • And of course it’s not just that women are people in their own right, but that there are so many diverse black women. Have you any idea what a disservice (to put it mildly) your typical Anglo-American fiction does to women of color, especially black women? I didn’t until I started paying attention. It’s atrocious and shameful.
  • Black Panther was visually beautiful. Beautiful! It was so beautiful my brain experienced a moment of “this looks wrong” when stepping out of the movie theater into the dim and snowless February evening in Massachusetts.
  • Also, the sets and costumes were breathtaking just like I thought. Everything looked like it was produced by a living culture, with layers of history and development alike.
  • OMG, the tech. Those dragonfly helicopters! Attack rhinos! I kinda want those 3d phone calls! No—scratch that. The maglev trains and über-advanced health care. Like now.
  • The opening sequence (T’Chaka voiceover telling a story to young T’Challa) and the end credit visuals I thought nodded back to the superhero fight statue end credits for Avengers: Age of Ultron. Yet neither ever lost sight of the fact that they were for and about Black Panther.
  • A superhero movie with a male lead confident and mature enough to listen to others ROCKS! (Hat tip to Justina Ireland for pointing out T’Challa’s ability to listen as a core personality trait.)
  • I liked Martin Freeman’s character Everett Ross in this movie. He started with “I know what I’m doing, piss off little people” claptrap. In Wakanda, however, he quickly—and without too much whining—realized how out of his depth he was and spent a good while looking and listening and learning. In the final battle, he redeemed himself to some extent in my eyes when he hopped back into the fighter jet holo-interface to destoy the final cargo plane after he’d discovered that the base he was sitting in was under attack and that there was less than a minute before the gunfire broke through. And never, ever was he written or played as a Mighty Whitey.
  • It was also good to see a thoroughly accomplished man (T’Challa) grapple with impostor syndrome (not ready to be King). We don’t see or hear much of that; mostly it’s women who are saddled with it in the public discussion.
  • I liked T’Challa’s relationship with the rest of his family members, but I LOVED every moment between him and Princess Shuri. They so clearly love and respect each other as equals—with different skill sets, sure, but equals nevertheless—plus jostle around like real-life siblings.
  • Finally, all of the acting was so good. I won’t miss Andy Serkis’s character. At. All! Props to Serkis, his incredible performance made the dude truly terrifying and disgusting, but I’d rather watch the competent and kind Africans, thank you.

Shuri and T'Challa gif

Images: Black Panther poster via IMDb. Shuri and T’Challa gif via media.riffsy.com.

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Some Random Thoughts on Thor: Ragnarok

In no particular order. Spoiler warnings in effect.

  • This is so much better than either of the previous Thor movies. Apparently goofy comedy smashfest is a better mode for space-Viking superhero movies than Shakespearean family drama is.
  • Chris Hemsworth’s performance in this movie is about halfway between his previous Thor performances and his performance in Ghostbusters. It works.
  • This wacky colorful space opera works for me so much better than the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. I seem to be in a minority position, but I hated Guardians of the Galaxy, both times, though not for the wacky colorful space opera parts. What I hated was the arrogant, incompetent male “heroes” and the misogyny-as-comedy. Without those things, I’m totally down for the wacky colorful space opera.
  • Cate Blanchett and Tessa Thompson both give brilliant performances. Maybe someday—hopefully someday soon—we can get a superhero movie with more than two leading roles for women.
  • Korg was amusing, and I can tell Taika Waititi had a blast playing him, but he really felt unnecessary most of the time. The same can be said for Doctor Strange (although, to be fair, the whole Doctor Strange movie franchise feels a bit unnecessary to me).
  • After the last few Marvel movies, we now have Captain America without his shield, Iron Man without a reactor in his chest, and Thor without his hammer. It’s going to be interesting to see how these characters develop without some of their iconic accouterments.
  • A fun romp with good jokes, exciting fights, and beautiful visuals is pretty much exactly what I needed right now, so thank you, Marvel!

 

Additional thoughts by Eppu

  • As a rule of thumb, I don’t care a whit whether the Marvel Cinematic Universe Thor matches the comic books Thor canon, or even Nordic mythology. There was fairly good consistency, story-wise. However, I’m not sure what to think of the decision to crank up the humor to eleven. I enjoyed the movie a lot, yes, but if memory serves, stylistically it deviates quite a bit from the two previous ones, and that seems to be deviating from the MCU convention. I’m still mulling it over.
  • The design for the trash planet Sakaar was refreshingly different. Colors!
  • Two plotholes stood out (or I missed the explanation because there were no subtitles): 1) Thor and Hulk inexplicably left their arena fight in the middle of action, and were all buddy-buddy afterwards. 2) The gladiators were railroaded to Asgard on their stolen spaceship. Um, I thought they started a revolution…? (If it’s a revolution, you stay; if not, it’s an escape.)
  • It was great to see so many women in the background, and two big speaking roles for women, but I want more. And not just girlfriends, or wives, or hookers, or fridged corpses. More women as people in their own right! More women speaking! More women! MORE WOMEN!

 

Recommended reading

Dan Taipua at The Spinoff reveals the Maori / New Zealander mentality hidden in T:R.

Emily Asher-Perrin’s writeup at Tor.com on all the three Thor movies is really good.

Taika Waititi: Paying It Forward on Thor: Ragnarok (found via Good Stuff Happened Today on Tumblr)

Image: Still from Thor: Ragnarok via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Some Random Thoughts on Logan

Random thoughts on Logan in no particular order. Spoilers ahead.

Logan Promo Poster Silhouetted Sunset

  • The movie was an interesting take on westerns. I know very little about that genre, but even I could thell the homage was there.
  • As expected, Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman were phenomenal.
  • It was very, very bleak, bleaker than I thought, and I went in expecting a certain amount of bleak.
  • The “Logan and his peeps” story was touching, but the “evil corporate types are evil” story I found cliched, boring, and corny. Those two facets of the plot didn’t really mesh well in my opinion. And speaking of evil corporate types: what’s with the mechanical hand attachments that so many of the evil army types sported? Their version of a goon uniform?? It was odd.
  • I was left wanting an explanation of what it was that Professor X did in Westchester that traumatized him so. (I may have missed it if it was there, since we didn’t see Logan subtitled.)
  • It was great to see something of the midwestern states (instead of the ever-present New York City, for example). For one thing, I had no idea Oklahoma City was so big.

Image via Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Random Thoughts on Kong: Skull Island

In no particular order. Spoiler warning in effect.

  • Kong: Skull Island is a much better movie than anything called Kong: Skull Island has any right to be. We went in with pretty low expectations and we were pleasantly surprised.
  • This movie is a fine demonstration of how important good acting is, even in a movie that is mostly about a giant ape smashing stuff. Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L. Jackson stand out, but the entire cast is solid. (After this movie and Avengers, I’m going to say yes to any movie that includes Hiddleston and Jackson squaring off.)
  • Kong very smartly avoids two of the major tropes for what happens when modern white westerners encounter native cultures. One is the Heart of Darkness / Apocalypse Now trope: the westerner goes out of control and loses his sense of humanity. The other is the Dances With Wolves / Avatar trope: the westerner “goes native” and becomes a better native than the natives. In Kong (despite the ways the movie plays with Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now), the newcomers and natives achieve mutual understanding and respect while still remaining who they are.
  • The movie is littered with the sorts of characters who always die in this kind of film: the nerdy sidekick who provides occasional comic relief; the soldier who keeps talking about how much he wants to go home; the crazy old man in the wilderness who has information vital for everyone’s survival. Two of these guys are even black. And they all survive to see the end credits.
  • It’s so nice that we have started to see movies that respect that men and women can go through difficult experiences and form close bonds of friendship without automatically becoming romantically attached.
  • It wasn’t a surprise when Deadpool used the post-credits scene for a meta joke, but when big action movies like this start doing it, that might be a sign that the post-credits scene is getting played out.

 

Additional randomness by Eppu

  • I agree—KSI is an exceptionally good monster movie.
  • I also noticed the presence of several competent black men who weren’t clones of each other and who didn’t die first. (About fricking time!) Now do the same for black women!
  • Speaking of women, it’s really rather pathetic that there are only two female characters with a major speaking role in this movie. Even more pathetic than that, we saw the photographer (played by Brie Larson, whose coat check girl in The Community is fantastic) shoot plenty of film throughout the story, but the biologist (Tian Jing, whom we first saw being awesome in The Great Wall) had hardly anything to do that showcased her expertise. Jing’s character didn’t get an arc, either. Boo.
  • Also seconding the merits of no forced romance.
  • KSI was also brutal, as it should, what with the predators the size of skyscrapers. I hesitate to say “refreshingly brutal” because I don’t find explicit gruesomeness appealing (like Game of Thrones, blech). On the other hand, I’m also quite fed up with sanitized movie violence (Warcraft: The Beginning was particularly ridiculous in this respect). I guess what I’m trying to say really is that, for my taste, KSI danced the line between making the stakes high and turning off the audience expertly.
  • It was nice that Kong got to stay on his island instead of being dragged off.
  • I saw several reviews that praised KSI‘s visuals. I was sceptical—how special can you make a war movie with a giant primate?—but, boy, was I wrong. It. Was. Beautiful. The directing and cinematography (as far as I can tell, being a complete civilian) were fresh and innovative.
  • KSI referred to historical events from the storytelling point of view effectively and efficiently, and the movie was really well styled and propped. The usage of archival film footage, photos, and other visuals was plentiful but not overwhelming, and the invented elements fit in seamlessly. Kudos. (And I don’t even like the 1960s-1970s style!)

Image: Kong: Skull Island poster via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.

Random Thoughts on Doctor Strange

161107strangeIn no particular order. Spoiler warning in effect.

  • Doctor Strange is a perfectly good movie, but not the great movie I hoped it might have been. This year, and this fall in particular, have been so lacking in entertaining movies, though, that I’ll happily take “perfectly good.”
  • In terms of narrative structure, character arcs, and facial hair, this was pretty much just Iron Man with magic instead of tech. Iron Man was great, and if anybody can both live up to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and at the same time make his version of the insufferable arrogant genius not feel like a poor copy, it’s Benedict Cumberbatch, but I still feel like I’ve seen this movie enough times already.
  • Speaking of insufferable arrogant geniuses, it’s been noted that Cumberbatch is already pretty adept at playing them. Which he is, but his Dr. Strange is, again, a distinctly different kind of insufferable arrogant genius from his Sherlock Holmes. Cumberbatch doesn’t just do insufferable arrogant genius well, he does it with specificity and nuance, which is what makes him such a great actor.
  • Speaking of great acting, Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One is a delight to watch: mysterious without being obscure, playful without being childish, dangerous without being menacing. She and Strange play off one another beautifully.
  • The erasure of Asian people from their own culture and history is a problem, one to which this movie has contributed. This and the above are both true; neither one negates the other.
  • Speaking of erasure, it’s really rather pathetic that there are only two female characters in this movie. One of them dies and a cape has more of an independent story than the other one. Marvel has seriously got to do better.
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor is playing his Serenity character in reverse.
  • The magic in this movie is a beautiful combination of movement and color. This is what magic should look like in film.

Image: Doctor Strange poster via IMDb

In the Seen on Screen occasional feature, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.