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So when I said last time I’d post Part Two “after Christmas,” I didn’t intend it to be literally after the entire Octave, but that’s how it shook out. Welcome back, and here’s wishing you all a joyous and blessed New Year!

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SPOILERS FOR ROGUE ONE AHEAD. (Also The Last Samurai, if you haven’t seen that.)

 

So, last week in Part One, I talked about some of the cool stuff they did in Rogue One. Mostly it boiled down to genre and tone, and how the movie opens the door for lots of different kinds of stories in the Star Wars milieu. I didn’t talk about all the nerdy Star Wars-y stuff, the Easter eggs for fans, or anything like that, because yeah that stuff is cool but not necessary to the story, and it’s all been pretty thoroughly canvassed elsewhere.

 

But if Rogue One is cool but not perfect, then: what are the raisins in this delicious Star Wars trail mix?

 

Let’s start with the biggest raisin of them all: (more…)

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Hi guys! I’m still alive! Life has been relentlessly lifing at me since my last, and as I said awhile back, the first thing to get dropped is blogging. I just saw Rogue One, though, and I am full of thoughts that I wanted to share.

So full of thoughts that I’m splitting this post into multiple parts. Part Two should be up after Christmas.

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SPOILERS AHEAD! SPOILERS AHEAD! Oh so many spoilers for all the Star Wars things. I’m going to talk about Rogue One and related Star Wars media under the assumption that we’ve all seen them. If you haven’t and want to remain unspoiled, TURN BACK NOW.

 

So, Rogue One was a pretty seriously mixed bag of a movie, like the trail mix you buy at the store because you like the little chunks of dark chocolate–but it also has horrid little bits of dessicated ex-fruit in it. At least there’s chocolate, though, right? Okay, maybe this metaphor is not working for me, but you get the idea. Lots of delicious stuff to love, but also some severe flaws that keep the film from greatness.

 

The following is in no particular order, but let’s start with the stuff they got right. (more…)

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Sorry about the clickbait-y title, guys; I couldn’t resist

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hit theatres this weekend, and love it or hate it, seems like everybody’s talking about it. Whether it’s Vox’s piece on Nineteen Things That Don’t Make Sense coming down on the Hate It side, or articles about the film’s impressive box office returns being used as evidence for Team Love It, everyone has an opinion.

And here’s the shocking bit. Are you ready?

Love it or hate it, that’s your opinion.

I have friends who adored it, who will probably go see it fifteen more times. I have friends who deplore it, who have written at length on why they think it is so terrible. I also have friends who haven’t seen it yet, or don’t plan to see it at all, who are indifferent, or who were genuinely unaware that this movie was happening. (Me, I don’t have an opinion; I haven’t seen it, and likely won’t until it hits Netflix.) But the thing is, whether you think it is the best thing since individually wrapped cheese slices (let’s face it, those things are amazing), or a big steaming pile of terribleness–

That’s okay.

It’s your opinion.

You can like what you like, or hate what you hate.

Think on the old Latin saying: De gustibus non est disputandum. Roughly, “Guys, we shouldn’t argue about matters of taste.”

It’s not just that you can like what you like, or hate what you hate: my opinion of a work of art (which BvS arguably is) in no way diminishes or counteracts your opinion, even if we disagree.

When it comes to matters of taste, we shouldn’t fight. Certainly I’m the last person who can throw stones; one of my favorite movies of all time features two hours of giant robots punching giant monsters, and I’ll happily argue its excellence to you if you have the time and patience for it, but if that’s not your cuppa, that’s cool too.

Opinions aren’t objective, no matter how pleasing to our egos it might be to pretend that we ourselves are the Final Arbiters of All Aesthetic Goodness (or whatever your yardstick is). Now, whether or not the thing you like is objectively good or terrible is a separate question, and one people smarter than me have been tackling for many and many a year, and outside the purview of this little blog post–but even if it is terrible (as many folk said about Pacific Rim, and are saying about BvS), it’s still okay to like it. Something in it feeds your soul, or fires your heart, or sparks your imagination. It’s downright cruel to try to take that away from a person.

So, guys, let’s not fight about matters of taste.

(Although, if you think Pacific Rim is terrible, you’re just wrong, and that’s a fact! XD )

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No, I haven’t seen it.

But I was reading a review, and it got me to thinking: the problem with all these “gritty” or “realistic” or what-have-you superhero movie adaptations is that they try to soft-shoe around the original material. “Look,” the filmmakers seem to be saying, “yeah, we know it’s based on a comic book (shudder), but it can still be A Serious Movie.” And they downplay all the elements that actually make the comic book awesome.

Take Doctor Doom.

Sideshow Collectibles' Dr Doom figure--look how cool this guy is!

Sideshow Collectibles’ Dr Doom statue–look how cool this guy is!

This guy is awesome, right? He’s a super genius ruler of his own small European country, a dictator, a scientist, he talks about himself in the third person, he does not at all care what you think for HE IS DOOM.

Awesome.

So why the heck would you downplay or straight-up remove all of that from your movie? You think maybe a European genius dictator named VICTOR VON DOOM is too goofy, audiences won’t buy it? Then why the heck are you making a movie with someone named Victor Von Doom in the first place? No, the only way to make a movie, a good movie, with a supervillain named Doctor Doom, is to thoroughly own it.

Own your premise. Don’t be ashamed. People who think comic book material is too goofy or low-brow or campy or cheesy or whatever are not going to go see Fantastic Four anyway, I promise. But you have to own it.

This is a thing in fantasy and sf publishing, too, this feeling that elves or lasers or time travel or whatever are inherently less serious than, I don’t know, whatever real life things people prefer to elves or lasers or time travel, so we have to downplay those elements, or say “but it’s really a metaphor for cancer!” or something. Why you would prefer real life to elves et al is a question I am not equipped to answer, but some people are embarrassed by fantastic (hehe) elements in their fiction.

But you can’t do that. If you’re telling a story about elves, or spaceships, or zombies, or a the ancient, bitter rivalry between the dragon kingdom and the unicorns (I would read that novel), you have got to own your premise, own it to the hilt. Don’t be embarrassed; shout it from the rooftops! Say, YES! MY MOVIE IS ABOUT GIANT ROBOTS PUNCHING MONSTERS IN THE FACE! And if you do that, with passion and verve, you may not have told a serious story (although you can sneak the serious stuff in there, I promise, Pacific Rim forever), the “realism” crowd isn’t going to love it (they weren’t going to anyway, it’s okay), but you will have made something AWESOME.

SO SAYS DOOM

SO SAYS DOOM

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Charlie Hunnam says he feels Pacific Rim sacrified character development for spectacle: but when you decide to focus your big budget kaiju movie on “character development” instead, you get Godzilla, a muddled mess of a monster movie featuring barely any monsters and, despite lots of screen time devoted to humans, barely any characters either.

 

Mr Hunnam, I think, is falling prey to a pretty common error, equating number of lines delivered with character development. Now, it is no secret that I think Pacific Rim is basically a perfect movie, divinely inspired, without significant flaw, and with a whole lot more than eleven measly minutes of bravura kaiju versus robot fisticuffs. But here’s the thing about film that people seem to forget: it’s a visual medium, with spoken dialogue and music where necessary to support the visuals. Practically all of PR‘s character development is visual, without a word being spoken. (I would argue that next in importance, at least in PR, is the score, and dialogue is actually the least important component, but I am getting myself distracted here.)

 

Character development. CHARACTER!

Character development. CHARACTER!

 

KAIJU-SIZED SPOILERS for Pacific Rim and Godzilla ahead.*

So then there’s Godzilla, which proves (in case there was doubt) that time spent does not equal depth. Godzilla spends loads of time with its characters, especially the military bomb disposal tech played with all the depth and range of a cardboard cutout by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. This is not Taylor-Johnson’s fault, but the material’s. There is simply nothing there for him to work with (and we know, from Avengers: Age of Ultron, that the man can act, if he’s given something to do). The rest of the excellent cast is equally wasted. Me, I would have liked a movie in which Ken Watanabe and Bryan Cranston’s scientist characters teamed up to do something awesome re: Godzilla, King of the Kaiju, but both of these men mostly grimace and scowl and mug, and at the end of the movie we know no more about them than we did at the beginning.

 

The audience learns more about Raleigh Beckett in the first few minutes of Pacific Rim than we learn about … sorry, I can’t remember Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character’s name … in the entire two-hour run time of Godzilla. I haven’t the time to do a full analysis (nor do you have time to read one, probably!), but much of this difference comes from the visuals: not only how the character talks, what he says, how he says it, but how he moves, his facial expressions, the lighting and the colors of the surrounding environment, how he is framed in relation to the other characters and to his environment.

 

In a written work, one of course has narration, and can show the character’s inner life through words. In a film, the visuals must do the job instead, with the support of the musical score to give the audience aural cues on what the character is feeling or what aspects of the story the audience should be focusing on right now.

 

The visual language of Godzilla is pretty de rigeur Serious Action Movie these days, down to the predictability of the shots used to try to convey the emotional beats.

 

 

It’s all pretty paint-by-numbers stuff; this viewer, who gets emotionally invested in cat food commercials, didn’t get much more than a vague lift when Soldier Boy is inevitably reunited with Nurse Wife and Cute Moppet. (I was relived that Gojira was okay, though. Three cheers for Gojira! … Hey, if they really do a Pacific Rim/Godzilla crossover, will the King of Kaiju team up with the Jaegers? Cause that would be rad.)

 

Compare and contrast with the end of Pacific Rim, which contains characters rejoicing, and gives a sense of the heroism and sacrifice necessary to earn their celebration. In Godzilla, almost no named characters die (and the one who does is so pointless, one wonders why he was in the film at all), and despite loving shots of wrecked cities, one never really feels there was a cost to all the mayhem. With two wordless shots–not of wreckage but of characters–PacRim brings home the feels.

 

 

Keep an eye on Marshall Hercules Hanson (at about 1:54 if you don’t want to watch the whole thing), whose brave boy did not come back from the final battle. We get two shots: of his son’s bulldog, and then of Herc’s face, and in those two shots, without any words being spoken, we understand Herc’s grief in the midst of the general rejoicing. See how everyone around him is cheering and hugging and smiling? His stillness, contrasting with all the movement around him, underscores the pain he carries, in spite of the victory.

 

Now, I’m not hating on Godzilla; it had a lot of good things going for it. The kaiju looked cool, a lot of the shots were well framed, and it had a heck of a cast. But I do think it proves without a doubt that how much time you spend with your characters is less important than how well you spend it.

That said, I still would have preferred about ten times as much Godzilla in the GODZILLA MOVIE

That said, I still would have preferred about ten times as much Godzilla in the GODZILLA MOVIE


 

*I know, one is two years old and the other a year, but still. I hadn’t seen Godzilla until yesterday.

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Age of Ultron spoilers ahead! Ye be warned!

 

 

 

Black-Widow-Age-of-Ultron-posterSo, in my unsorted Age of Ultron thoughts, you might notice I didn’t say anything about that scene.  You know the one.  That scene.

You know, the scene where Natasha Romanoff comes clean to Bruce Banner, the man she loves, about the horrors done to her in her past, and how because of those she feels unworthy, less than, inhuman–a monster.  That moving scene where she told him something about herself she had never confessed to anyone, that scene that broke my heart a little bit because the cold, merciless logic of her tormentor-teacher-brainwashers in taking from a young woman the ability to bear children, to live beyond the mission and live for someone outside herself, was indeed impeccable, and because the person so dreadfully damaged by this wrong done to her is Natasha, whom we’ve (or at least I’ve) grown to love throughout her journey from SHIELD agent to Avenger.  You know, that scene.

That scene where Scarlett Johannson and Mark Ruffalo gave beautiful, heart-felt performances, bringing more layers of depth and warmth and pain and humanity to their characters.  That beautifully lit, beautifully shot scene of quiet horror, the one that in the midst of a superhero movie about punching killer robots in the face nearly brought me to tears of pity and woe.  That one.

the-avengers-age-of-ultron-screenshot-scarlett-johansson-natasha-romanoff-bruce-bannerI didn’t realize that scene was not okay, that it wasn’t okay for me to like it and it wasn’t okay for Joss Whedon to have written it.  I didn’t realize that a female character expressing sorrow that she was tortured and forcibly sterilized was no longer okay, because … feminism? I’m really confused. Why is it not okay?

It reminds me of a writer’s blog I sailed past awhile back; the writer was talking about trying to figure out some new, fresh kind of motivation for a female character.  So not, because she’s in love, or because she wants to protect her children.  Something not stereotypical.  And I thought, “But … women fall in love.  Women want to protect their children, or to have children to protect in the first place.  And that’s okay.”

It’s okay.  It’s okay for a woman to want children.  That’s not anti-feminist.  It’s okay for a woman to have children.  Still not anti-feminist.  It is definitely okay for a woman to be sad that she can’t have children.  It is especially okay for a woman to be sad that she can’t have children if she was forcibly sterilized.  Guys, gals, advanced artificial intelligences, extragalactic visitors, it is even okay for a woman to be sad about all of the above if she is Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow, super spy par excellence.

You know what’s not okay? Dumping internet hatred on the writer who gave his female character these feelings, this background, this motivation.  If you must hate, and be outraged, and vilify someone, try the people in the real world who do torture young women, for real, mutilating them and destroying forever their chance at motherhood.  Hate those guys.

And don’t just hate.  Do something.  Because this world doesn’t have a Tony Stark to blow the bad guys up, or a Captain America to whack them with a shield, or a Thor to smite them with righteous lightnings, or even a Natasha Romanoff to scissor-kick them and flip them upside down while the frame goes all sideways.  It’s up to us.  We’re the only heroes we’ve got.

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SPOILER WARNING!  Lots and lots of spoilers.

WARNING: Lots and lots of spoilers.

So, Age of Ultron having made approximately a squillionty dollars this weekend, it’s fair to say people want to see it.  It’s got a lot of good stuff for the Marvel fan, loads of action, artsy camera angles, and wow the first half was a whole lot darker than I had anticipated, even knowing it’s a killer-AI story.  (Fortunately they front-loaded all the really dark stuff, leaving the second half free to be mainly about punching, shooting, smashing, and lightning-ing evil robots.)  The following is not a review, just a bunch of reaction thoughts.

Clint, you and Wanda are the sexy ones; show us your backsides.

Clint, you and Wanda are the sexy ones; show us your backsides.

Yes, Tony’s prima nocte joke was gross. But was it in character? Keep in mind that Tony until very recently was a womanizing cad, and old habits die hard. Plus he strikes me as the kind of guy who willingly sacrifices good taste for the funny, and if you’ve been drinking steadily all night with your buds, your standards for funny are going to be low. (Plus–not to wax all philosophical, but are we to outlaw all crassness and all … for lack of a better word … unattractive flaws in our flawed characters? Tony’s on a dark path, and it’s interesting that some commenters are willing to forgive a little bit of creating-a-killer-AI-that-almost-wipes-out-humanity but not a tasteless quip.)

Thor had more good character moments than in the previous team outing. The first time the team assembled (see what I did there?), it seemed like Whedon sympathized more than a little with Loki’s view of his adopted brother, and Thor’s only moments of humor were inadvertent. This time the future king of Asgard has a lot of lines that showcase the sly humor we haven’t seen from him since his first solo film. (Also a little bit of Hemsworth’s no doubt contractually obligated chiseled torso.)

I deeply appreciated that the team’s efforts during the final climactic battle were evenly split between Defeat Evil Robot Menace and Get Civilians to Safety. Especially after all the discussion about Man of Steel and its flagrant disregard for collateral damage, it was cool to see the issue explicitly addressed. Also, I don’t know about you guys, but when Hawkeye went back for the little kid, I was gripping the arms of my theatre chair thinking DON’T DIE CLINT/DON’T YOU DARE WHEDON.*

Of course, Whedon dared. That man has a pathological need to kill off characters. Is that somewhere in the DSM? I had been all ready, going in to the movie, to gripe about the MCU version of Quicksilver (I enjoyed the DoFP version, but I didn’t think Singer and his crew got Pietro right)–but I kind of fell in love with him, despite the dark roots and the weird sweater. He and Wanda made a great team, and their backstory is both poignant and horrifying on its own terms, and another marker on the road to Tony Stark: Evil Dictator.

But is Pietro really dead? I’m thinking of Barry Allen, aka The Flash, who not only runs amazingly fast but heals amazingly fast. Does Whedon’s recent griping about Marvel’s Hand of God returning other dead characters to life mean good things for fans of the silver-haired speedster? Fingers crossed, true believers!

So many hearts

So many hearts

Aaaaand … hands down my favorite part of the movie, the character I was most looking forward to seeing on the big screen, Paul Bettany’s absolutely note perfect VISION. I am in danger of falling into fangirl squeeing just thinking about him. The movie condensed a whole lot of rather complicated comics history into a nice compact little story, there, and Thor’s charging in and powering him up while everyone else bickered was just so take-charge-y and perfectly Thor, and then the business with the hammer! I am swooning, and little hearts are coming out of my eyes.

Might have some more coherent review-ish thoughts once I’ve slept/seen the movie again. I know bits of it frustrated me, and in parts I was actively bored, and I also know that I’m glad this is Mr Whedon’s last Marvel movie. Whether or not Age of Ultron succeeds as a story, or an action movie, it sure was full of robot-punching action, and it provides plenty of food for thought.

Ex-shell-sior!


*I know “Joss” is already a verb, as in, “Oh man, my pet fan theory totally got jossed by the new episodes,” but can “Whedon” but the new verb for gratuitously killing off characters? “You totally whedoned my favorite character, you unprintable swear!”

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