Keira Knightley, the Fucking Pirate King

I did it for you, my lovely.

All of it. It was the only way I could ever inflict the Pirates sequels upon myself again (a person whom I hold in high regard) and so I bore the cost without flinching. Two hits of LSD; at least 150 micrograms of that dreaded lysergic acid.

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Not for the drug itself, or the high – which I mostly enjoyed with a beautiful sunrise and some youtube fractals – but for the long come down that comes after.

If you’ve done it, you know exactly what I’m talking about: suddenly bereft of the drugs you’ve been swimming in, your brain becomes a beached whale on the shores of some unfamiliar day; you feel like once-vivid play-dough that’s been all worn out and mixed together to form that bland, beige, non-color of broken dreams; it feels like you haven’t slept in a week and may never sleep again; you have nothing but time and nothing to feed it to.

I could not, obviously, recommend that anyone watch the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, much less the execrable sequels; but neither could I recommend that anyone watch them in any other state but this: mind like a wrung-out sponge and led like a fatted lamb to the slaughter. It was in this peculiar and particular state that I watched Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End as the five hour mindless marathon that God and Gore Verbinksi intended, and, fortified by this infantile helplessness I had inflicted upon it, my brain feasted.

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The Pirate King herself, and three other guys (one of whom is Geoffrey Rush so credit where credit is due).

What I discovered during the ordeal was something that I think might have been overlooked in the initial boom and bust of the franchise; that Elizabeth Swann (portrayed with a heartbreaking sincerity by Keira Knightley) is a fucking action hero superstar. A bona-fide kicker of asses and taker of names.

When At World’s End was first released, people were mostly talking about how Johnny Depp’s schtick was starting to wear thin (which, oh my god 2007, you had no idea), how bland and boring and butter-faced Orlando Bloom’s character was, and how they wished Geoffrey Rush could be the star of all these films. If anyone talked about Keira Knightley at all it was mainly to comment on how wrong she was for the material, or how out of place she seemed. But mostly she was just ignored; signal lost amid the static of too much plot stuffed into too little movie.

 

Now for the most part, the critical consensus is correct: Johnny Depp can fuck right off, Orlando Bloom plays a piece of driftwood for all we care, and Geoffrey Rush literally is a Pirate. He must be. What other role could he possibly play? (Note: apparently 63 other things, things that I won’t see because he’s not playing a fucking pirate, is he now?)

So in and amongst all these players and happenings, you could be forgiven for missing the trojan horse that is Elizabeth Swann, the Hero’s Journey. I honestly think this was something that was carefully considered (and maybe even sketched out on the back of a napkin at some Hollywood lunch), because it’s too calculated to have happened organically. Of course, what happened then is they took this kernel of an idea and slathered it in 7 hours of excess, before shoving it down the throat of summer consumption.

I mean, they put it right there in her name, Swann, because our lovely Elizabeth is the Ugly Duckling. Not in appearance obviously, because this is Hollywood and we still need to put asses in seats, but in every other way, Elizabeth Swann is a woman born into the wrong world and fighting for her true destiny. The opening scene of the first movie portrays this exquisitely: 10 year old Elizabeth, dressed up like a doll, with her hair perfectly curled singing ‘yo-ho, yo-ho, a Pirate’s life for me’. I mean, this is a real staring at the setting suns of Tatooine moment:

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We don’t know this right away because it’s literally the first thing in the movie, but the rest of the scene soon sets us straight. After her song is silenced by the superstitious Gibb and talk turns to pirates, her father shuts the conversation down, saying, “I’m concerned about the effect this subject will have upon my daughter.” To which our Elizabeth brightly replies, “Actually, I find it all fascinating.”

“Yes,” this loving, well-intentioned, but ultimately doomed man says. “That’s what concerns me.”

The rest of Curse of the Black Pearl is basically like Star Wars, more-or-less, give or take; with Jack Sparrow as Han Solo and Orlando Bloom’s character as Princess Leia. You gotta kinda squint at it, but it’s the whole thing about taking our hero from her false life and into the greater destiny that awaits her. Along the way she falls in love with a boy -as one does when you’re a saucy action star- but most importantly, the boy she chooses. The one who has always represented that other world to her. Honestly, aside from some plot-stuff he has to do because of the plot, Orlando Bloom is just a trophy for Elizabeth to lose and pine for, and then tuck under her arm at the movie’s end. Seriously, it doesn’t matter.

So that’s that for the movie I didn’t watch strung out on acid; and onto the ones that I did. Dead Man’s Chest also opens with Elizabeth (because she’s our secret protagonist), this time at her rained-on, broken-up wedding. To which you might be inclined to think oh, of course they have to water down the female character by making her pine for her lost wedding day, but fear not; the point of this is for our hero be motivated by love; not treasure or revenge or power or prestige – all these things will come her way in time, but at the beginning her motive must be pure. She is a hero and therefore she seeks true love, through which her destiny of adventure shall find her. And yes, you could quibble over her choice of Orlando Bloom, but it’s just something we’re going to have to deal with; who knows, maybe she fell in love with him as Legolas – certainly she wouldn’t be the first.

After that a Pirates of the Caribbean movie happens, so it can be a little hard to follow everything; what with the cartoonishly horrible racism and fucking Jack Sparrow acting like we’re not going to get waaaaaay sick of his shit in the decade to come. But threaded through all this, a golden thread through the labyrinth of shit, is Elizabeth Swann, who fucking straight up owns every single thing she comes across.

‘Oh, what’s that? Official pardons and letters of marque? I’ll steal those by pistol-point, thank you very much, and then disguise myself as a boy to stowaway on a ship and sail for Tortuga. Then I’ll be the one to make Jack’s magical compass work to point me in the direction of the titular Dead Man’s Chest, quietly saving the entire movie in the process.’

The best is at the end, however.

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That’s when she saves literally everyone by betraying Jack and chaining him to be devoured by the Kraken. And how does she effect this betrayal? Like a fucking boss is how; with guile and deception and a wicked-sexy goodbye kiss.

“I’m not sorry,” she says, even though it’s pretty obvious that she’s sorry. Heroes get to be sorry, after they’ve TCB’d the living shit out of everything on screen. Jack’s response to all this is one word, which he bestows with something near pride, as if knighting a squire or awarding a diploma: “Pirate.”

And yeah, that’s true; while she’s definitely a pirate now, it’s still telling that in the movie’s last scene, where they all resolve to fetch Jack back from ‘the weird and haunted shores’, Elizabeth is the only one to say ‘yes’ while those around her say ‘aye’ – her transformation is not yet complete, and she still has a foot in her old life.

At World’s End does not begin with Elizabeth.

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Instead, rather jarringly, we get a noose and the hanging of a 10 year old boy, along with an implied hundreds of other people who have been guilty-until-proven-innocent-accused of being Pirates. It’s a meandering and ultimately pointless prologue that only serves to pad the running time of this obnoxiously long film, as well as create a delightfully jarring dissonance between the Disney logo and the opening shot, pictured above.

When the real movie begins five minutes later, it is of course Elizabeth with whom we open, only now she looks like this:

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More-or-less. If you squint.

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We can see immediately the passage of time, from her carriage and the look in her eye, it’s apparent that this Elizabeth has undergone a bit more seasoning than when we left her last. Indeed, while undergoing a strip search moments later, we see that she’s concealing a personal arsenal: at least five pistols on her person, and a grenade for good measure. Looks like our little girl’s all grown up.

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Now, it should go without saying, but right around here is again where a Pirates of the Caribbean movie happens, with all the needless plotting, racist caricatures and relentlessly-redundant comic relief that such a movie implies. A lot of bloat, in other words. From Singapore to Davy Jones’s Locker to Shipwreck Cove to wherever we went after that (honestly you can blame the drugs, but I can’t properly recall). From sub-plots, to sub-sub-plots, to exposition and double-crosses, and triple-crosses, and that  meta-commentary cameo that’s as pointless as it is prolonged and of which the less is said the better… the film as a whole is an exhausting, meandering slog.

(And just to make sure it wasn’t my unique mental state tripping me up, I read a few of the reviews of the time and no, I was not expected to truly follow or care what was happening here with anybody. This is a bullshit movie by any measure.)

But like a diamond in the flaw, at it’s core this movie completes the arc of Elizabeth Swann, and it’s by following and investing in her journey that an enjoyable time can be salvaged from this clusterfuck. Because, dude, Elizabeth Swann is fucking amazing in this movie.

After saving Orlando Bloom in Singapore, the two finally catch a moment below decks while they’re all trapped in the Locker (no it doesn’t make any sense, no it doesn’t matter). This is our first indication that, below the surface, Elizabeth is still grieving Jack deeply. Thus far Orlando has jealously interpreted this as capital-L love, but now he knows it was in fact guilt. A deep, overriding guilt which I think speaks well of her overall heroism; she made the tough call and saved the lives of the group over that of a single man. It was the right call, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t regret it, and will literally go to the ends of the earth to make it right.

Already, all of our massive cast of ascended extras have their machinations and plots in motion; Jack, Calypso, Barbossa, Beckett. (Don’t worry about any names you don’t recognize or remember, it doesn’t matter.) Orlando Bloom’s character himself has a convoluted multi-movie motivation for all the shadiness he’s been up to. Through them all, however, Elizabeth’s purpose is the purest: as in the previous movie she wants to rescue a man that she loves from danger.

“If you make your choices alone, how can I trust you?” Orlando Bloom’s character asks, still thinking this movie trilogy is about him.

“You can’t,” says Elizabeth, like a Pirate, and then just walks off because she’s done with it. She has her own shit to deal with without worrying about the moody, bitter recluse her boyfriend has turned into in the past movie and a half.

Specifically, she has to cross a massive threshold in her own character development. The movie just blows right by it, but we’re not, because this is another one of those things that the writers either planned from the start like geniuses, or just fell backwards into like lucky assholes.

In the next scene Elizabeth sees the ghost of her father float by in a small boat; that’s how she learns she’s been orphaned, and that the last tie between her and her former life is now severed. From the opening scene of the franchise  (“I’m concerned about the effect this subject will have upon my daughter”), Governor Weatherby Swann has wanted a very different life for his daughter than was her destiny. And though obviously a loving and well-meaning and doting father, he still spent many years trying to force a square peg into a round hole; controlling the conversation, as it were.

Her only real doubts in the past movie and a half were early on in Dead Man’s Chest when her father urges her to work within the law and establishment, exhibiting a faith in the institutions that have now betrayed him to his death. More than just the death of her father then, this is the death of that entire world for her, and from here on out we see she goes full-pirate in response. With nothing to hold her back any longer, she’s now free to become her true self.

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Now, there is this bit of unpleasantness we need to deal with, wherein the Fu Manchu stereotype played by Chow Yun-Fat tries to rape Elizabeth Swann. I would love to blow right past this -as the movie itself does- but since it leads to actual super-important shit we’ll dive into it; hold our noses, and give it the serious side-eye it deserves.

Here’s the set-up: our crew have returned from Davy Jones’s Locker where they are double-crossed and captured by Sao Feng (said racist stereotype) who is one of the nine Pirate Lords. Sao Feng has been collaborating with the East India Company who are themselves trying to wipe out Piracy on the High Seas. On the deck of the ship, Feng defends this treachery by pointing out that Beckett and East India are kindof owning this whole thing, and he intends to be on the winning side. Barbossa says ‘but wait!, our side has Calypso, goddess of the sea in human form’, and you can see that from the looks he gives, that Feng thinks our Elizabeth is Calypso. He names her as his price to switch sides.

Elizabeth, like the hero she is, agrees to be Feng’s prisoner to gain freedom for her friends. Will’s not cool with it though. “Elizabeth,” he protests, “they’re pirates.”

“I have had more than enough experience dealing with pirates,” she informs him.

So now Elizabeth is prisoner aboard his flagship, the Empress, and has been given a pretty dope outfit:

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Sao Feng saunters in and after a bit of backstory on Calypso and some creepy blocking, we get this exchange of dialogue:

Feng: I offer only my desire.

Swann: And in return?

F: I would have your gifts, should you choose to give them.

S: And if I choose not?

F: Then I will take… your fury!

And then he sexually assaults her.

I’m going with the legal (and proper) definition here, that sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. In this case, Feng pushes Elizabeth back against the mast, grabs her head in both hands and violently kisses her. She bites his face and knocks him back. Then, as he steps forward to resume the assault (with Elizabeth standing her ground I would add) he is suddenly and unexpectedly shot in the face with a cannon.

Now, this is because the Empress is now under attack from Davy Jones’s Flying Dutchman because blah blah blah Pirates of the Caribbean, but the main upshot is that Sao Feng (believing this to be divine punishment) gives Elizabeth his Piece of Eight, tells her to represent him at the Brethren Court and makes her Captain. That’s right, Captain Swann motherfuckers. Shit just got real.

A tertiary side effect of this sudden turn of events is that we don’t have to go farther down that road of attempted rape in a Disney movie, nor examine the causes and consequences of historical rape, rape culture, or indeed consider Elizabeth’s feeling on the matter in the slightest.

So our newly minted Captain Swann is captured, and then escapes, and finally arrives dramatically at the Brethren Court having already mastered the subtle art of making an entrance:

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She brings the critical news that the East India Company knows where they are and are on their way. Her proposal – that they fight despite the odds – is literally laughed down; but in fairness, nobody’s plan receives unanimous support. Most want to hunker down, Barbossa wants to release Calypso, and Jack Sparrow comes down on the side of Elizabeth, but with the added proviso that they fight… to run away.

In the end they must elect a Pirate King to decide, an act that hasn’t happened since the first Brethren Court because Pirate Lords only ever vote for themselves, so every election ends in a tie. Not this time, though: Captain Sparrow casts his vote for Elizabeth, giving her a total of two votes to everyone else’s one, and Long Live the Pirate King. Elizabeth Swann has arrived at her destiny, completing the journey  begun when she was a little girl, dreaming of pirates and resisting the efforts of the world to make her into something she wasn’t. Now, she is.

“Prepare every vessel that floats. At dawn, we’re at war.”

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When the East India Fleet arrives the Pirates are ready and waiting for them, but it quickly turns out they are massively outnumbered. A parley is organized, at which Beckett gives the following proposal: They can fight and all of them can die, or they can surrender and only most of them will die.

Captain Swann, King of the Brethern Court dismisses this entirely. “You killed my father.”

“He chose his own fate.”

“And you have chosen yours,” she says, throwing it right back. “We will fight, and you will die.”

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She is such a badass, omg you guys. It’s a pity then, that Barbossa double-crosses her to exact his own plan of freeing Calypso because this plan backfires horribly; although it does lead directly into our finale rousing action sequence, so there’s that. After growing to the size of a building and then exploding into hermit crabs (it’s a weird sequence, I’m not gonna lie) the freed Calypso vanishes and a fell wind picks up.

The plan has failed (it was a pretty stupid plan) and Barbossa, scurvy knave that he is, wants to cut and run. “Revenge won’t bring your father back,” he says, “and it’s not something I’m willing to die for.”

And that’s when the Pirate King gives the Speech, which I will now quote in full, because it’s a perfectly fine example of the Token Hollywood Speech to Inspire One’s Troops in the Face of Insurmountable Odds:

Then, what shall we die for? You will listen to me! Listen! The Brethren will still be looking here, to us, to the Black Pearl, to lead. And what will they see? Frightened bilge rats aboard a derelict ship? No. No, they will see free men and freedom! And what the enemy will see is the flash of our cannons. They will hear the ring of our swords, and they will know what we can do. By the sweat of our brows and the strength of our backs, and the courage of our hearts. Gentlemen. Hoist the colors!

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On a scale of Braveheart to Independence Day, Elizabeth Swann holds her own; fuck it, actually, have a video and see for yourself, it’s only her moment of crowning glory after all:

So there you have it; from Governor’s daughter to Pirate King and General in just three overlong films. That’s the end and we can all go home now.

Except no, we can’t, because there’s still forty minutes left in this thing, a climactic battle between a massive Pirate fleet (everything that floats, remember) and an even massiver East India fleet and, wait:

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Why are the Flying Dutchman and the Black Pearl just sailing alone toward each other? That’s a whirlpool forming between them which is bad news that we’ll get to in a moment, but you can see the East India fleet bobbing along way in the background, as if both parties decided to fight the battle one ship at a time.

I don’t want to criticize King Elizabeth (whom I love) but this seems like a peculiar strategy; I would have sailed all my ships forward and fucking blown the Flying Dutchman to bits, and I’d be screaming like a maniac the whole time to put the fear of God in my enemy’s hearts. And it’s possible – likely even – that Her Majesty would have come around to this way of thinking. We’ll never know because that’s when the maelstrom happens and everything goes to shit. Elizabeth immediately turns to the most experienced Captain -Barbossa – and gives him the wheel, which I think is a bamf move all it’s own and just as praiseworthy as a rousing speech. Calculated decisions that put ego aside to serve the greater good is good leadership, says I.

So the ships are circling each other down the drain, there’s lashing wind and rain and spray, everyone’s screaming orders to fire, cannons blast, wood splinters, bodies fly.

At some point in this chaos, the crew of the Dutchman somehow manages to board the Pearl, so that our hero and her companions are now fighting on deck. Amidst the dance of choreographed swordplay, Orlando Bloom proposes that they get married, right there and then; quickly warming to the idea, Elizabeth drafts Captain Barbossa to perform the ceremony. They exchange vows amid a hail of swordblows, like Pirates. And then they kiss:

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Her Sword and her Trophy Husband

It’s a long, epic, camera-panning kiss and they’re honestly both lucky they weren’t killed right there. They aren’t though, and after a good deal more fighting, Elizabeth switches ships just in time to save Jack’s life as he fight Davey Jones. Because that’s our girl, and it’s all’s well that ends well except, wait, oh no, her new husband just got stabbed in the heart.

It works out though, for the most part;  I won’t bore you with the details, much. Suffice it to say that Orlando Bloom’s character becomes the new Captain of the Dutchman, just in time to switch sides and help blast the shit out of the Endeavor, which has also just sailed out on it’s lonesome despite having an entire armada at it’s command. It’s curious. Handy though, because this way Beckett gets blasted to shit also, and King Elizabeth gets vengeance for her slain father, wrapping up her business nicely. After the Endeavor explodes there’s an extended cheering sequence across all the Pirate ships, even though none of them took part in the battle. And the Armada just leaves? I guess? Like the vanishing Maelstrom and Calypso, it’s not even mentioned because this movie is fucking stupid. 

As a last bit of business, she and Orlando Bloom consummate their marriage before he fucks off for ten years as part of his undead contract as Captain of the Dutchman. There’s some brilliant, femdom erotica begging to be written about what must have been one day of near constant fucking, but Disney leaves it up to our imagination. It’s not hard to imagine though:

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And that truly is that. Whether by accident or design, the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy gave us a swashbuckling feminist icon, who would not be told her place, but instead blazes her own trail, carving her own path to the top to become – as Joseph Campbell would put it – Master of Two Worlds. She goes from almost being murdered by her corset in the first film to, well, all the myriad kick-ass things I described in excruciating detail above.

If these movies had been a little more focused, and a lot less in love with Jack’s shenanigans, and Will’s quest to save his father, and the antics of at least a half-dozen unnecessary comic-relief characters, it’s very possible these films would be remembered as modern classics, instead of being mostly forgotten.

They do have a darker legacy though, in the history of sequels and summer blockbusters. While far from the first of their kind, these things made such insane money despite their critical reception that Hollywood was now locked into this business model of bombastic, 3 hour-long, labyrinthian-plotted clusterfucks. Every Transformers sequel, or Batman V Superman owes it’s existence in part to the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean, and our movie landscape is the poorer for it.

As a strange epilogue to this overlong post, I’d like to point out an interesting confluence between art and life. In 2007, Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone at a now legendary keynote address. This was the unveiling of a product that would change the world and I’ve loaded it up at 20:20 so you can see for yourself:

“Let’s play Pirates of the Caribbean, the second one here – great movie by the way.”

Now, I love my iPhone but Steve Jobs has no idea what the fuck he is talking about here.

The End. 

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Star Trek: Into Apathy

So I didn’t finish this movie because I forgot to bring a sweater. Basically. The air conditioning was a little too cold and the movie a little too bad to stick it out. Basically.

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Image courtesy of someone’s hard work.

Basically, we have reached the fiftieth anniversary of this great franchise that has forever altered the cultural landscape with a mighty… shrug. Star Trek: Whatever, man.

Here’s what happens: We open with Kirk doing a diplomatic thing, which is cool; that’s a very Star Trek thing to do. Then the aliens (who look fierce and intimidating) turn out to be tiny and they attack him and it’s played for laughs. Whatever. Then, back at this stupidly futuristic Starbase that looks like it houses 500 million people, we find out that Kirk has put in for a Vice Admiral job and is recommending Spock for his replacement.

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Kirk frets about not living up to his father for the zillionth time.

A couple things: first, Vice Admiral, are you kidding me? What are you, 12? (Also, addendum to this point, but so far we the audience haven’t really seen Kirk do anything but fuck-up; it’s an open question if he’s even remotely competent as a Starship Captain,  and now he’s asking for a promotion?) Second, this is the laziest fucking arc you could think of for James Kirk – the whole ‘Kirk realizes his purpose is to be Captain of the Enterprise’ thing. Wth, guys. No one in the audience thinks this movie is going to end with Kirk parking himself behind a desk, satisfied that his career path is going pretty well, considering he was himself hired in a bar with kleenex up his nose.

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So this is basically a waste of time to try to inject some inner-conflict into the story, and I really have no idea why. When we open, they’re 3 years into the 5 year mission of the tv show – which incidentally ran only 3 seasons, so maybe a bit of a nod there. Movie-Kirk laments about how fucking bored they all are, which is weird because TV-Kirk had none of this angst; none of them did because they were literally having awesome space adventures every week. Whatever, man.

Then a refugee of a ship that crashed in crazy-space arrives at the starbase, asking for help, and since the Enterprise is the only ship shippy enough to survive crazy-space, they get the job. This is basically the beginning of the movie. I should mention that we also get our nods to Leonard Nimoy dying and Sulu being gay around this time, which are tastefully done. Spock and Uhura exchange a couple of lines that tell us they’ve broken up. Bones gets in a zinger.

Then the action, and this is basically where I check out, for reasons I’ll get to. But the Enterprise arrives at the planet in crazy-space and are attacked by a ship/swarm thing. It goes on forever. CG camera angles and ‘splosions as far as the eye can see. I don’t know why, but even with all the rapid-action editing at a million cuts a minute, this just seemed so much longer and draggier than the parts where they were establishing character and story – you know, all the stuff they couldn’t wait to blow past?

Somewhere in here, my friend Emily got nauseous (which is a thing that happens sometimes and why we couldn’t watch Gravity together) and left, and the battle continued on without her. We meet Krall and he’s looking for the thing from Kirk’s cold-open diplomacy – and, oh yeah, buddy, if you want to go retrieving an itty-bitty box from a starship, maybe you shouldn’t go attacking the warp nacelles and deflector dish all willy-nilly. The warp nacelles – as the name implies – are connected to the warp core, which is literally the most explosive thing in Star Trek. And as for the deflector dish, this is what happens to the USS Odyssey when it’s violently introduced to a Jem H’dar warship:

And then this:

So it was a bit of a risky move that could have jeopardized everything the villain wanted to accomplish, is all. It doesn’t, because movies, but whatever.

So the Enterprise crashes and the crew is separated. Emily has yet to come back from the bathroom and I grow increasingly worried, and also cold – man, the air-conditioning in that theater just would not shut up. So with the movie not really grabbing me, and my concern growing, I left the theater and that was it for me and this movie. I waited outside the girl’s bathroom for Emily and she was fine. Neither of us minded cutting out on the movie because, whatever.

Not knowing how it ends, it’s pretty obvious to see the broad strokes. The good guys will triumph, the bad guys will fail; that’s a given. But since it’s grittier or whatever, the villain probably dies. None of the crew die and Kirk declines the promotion, because the Kelvin timeline is insane enough to offer him one. Kirk and Spock spontaneously kiss, and then look into each others widening eyes as both come to the same conclusion…

Bam. Credits. Music. Lights. People waiting for an end credits scene that will never come. Ushers waiting for those people to leave so they can do their horrible, thankless jobs.

Happy Birthday Star Trek.

The Babylon Project, Part 1: Intro & the Gathering

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So, not a lot of people know this, but I was there at the dawning of the Third Age of Mankind. It began in the Earth Year 1993, with a visionary science-fiction television show born from the imagination of Joe Michael Straczynski. Babylon 5 was completely unlike anything else on TV at the time; which earned it a passionate cult fanbase on the one hand, and a near-constant battle against cancellation on the other. Indeed, the story behind Babylon 5 is almost as good as Babylon 5 itself, and maybe better, because it’s been awhile since I’ve actually seen this thing. That’s part of why we’re here, in this introductory post for my very own Babylon 5 rewatch: to see it with fresh eyes, and see what exactly the big deal was.

Because make no mistake, this show was a big deal for me. I think it’s safe to say that the likes of Breaking Bad, Lost, and Carnivale have supplanted it as my favorite show of all time, but it’s easily held a top 5 spot over the years, for sure. Because I was there, you see, at the dawning of the Third Age. I have vivid memories of running 30 blocks from work so as not to miss a crucial episode, and the catharsis of collapsing in front of the television set in a pool of sweat and triumph. I was a part of that passionate cult fanbase. The very first scrap of the Internet I ever saw was the Babylon 5 homepage, which took about 5 minutes to load and was worth every pixel. True story.

But although I was there, I wasn’t a fan from the beginning. Not even a bit. I saw the pilot episode with my father when it aired on TBS and I think I was so bored I just stared at the wall instead. Dad really liked it though, and over the years he acquired the series-in-progress on a bunch of bootleg VHS tapes passed along his circle of friends. These he played on pretty well a continuous loop and since we were sharing a one bedroom apartment, it was pretty well unavoidable. To me, Babylon 5 was something to be tolerated. And then one day I just… got it. It clicked. I remember the exact scene where I perked up and was like ‘wait, that happened?‘ and I’ll be sure to point it out when we get there. It was a real Road to Damascus conversion, and from then on I was hooked. 

But that was a long time ago. Babylon 5 may have pioneered long form storytelling, but we’re awash in it now. How does the series hold up in the rarified pop culture air of 2016? Will the story hold up in the face of corny humor and Stone Age computer graphics? Will the C-list actors detract from the performances of the B-list ones?  I can’t trust my memory, so there’s only one way to know for sure. We’re gonna watch the whole goddam thing. 

A few programming notes before we dive into this: the plan is to post these every Wednesday, and I will do my level best to adhere to that schedule. I’ll probably play it loose with the format until I find my stride, but for now I’m going to borrow the template from Leigh Butler’s excellent Wheel of Time reread, which is to say each episode will have a summary section followed by a commentary, and we’ll do two episodes a post. Except this one. The re-watch will also be spoiler free; at least, I’m determined to make it so. If that changes as the series picks up steam, I’ll be certain to throw up appropriate buffers and warnings and such. Aaaaaaaad, I think that’s it. To the post!

Babylon 5 : The Gathering

What Happens:

Listen, don’t worry about it. The Gathering is not on the test. You could have skipped it and not missed much, honestly. That being said, I’ll be brief: There’s a Space Station. In Space. Different alien species live there, ostensibly to build peace, except that the first thing that happens is an assassination attempt on the Vorlon ambassador. (Vorlon’s are mysterious, which will become relevant later.) Commander Jeffrey Sinclair is implicated in the assassination, but since he’s the series lead, we know he didn’t do it. The rest of the episode is a race against the clock as he tries both to clear his own name, as well as discover the identity of the actual assassin. Meanwhile Dr. I-can’t-remember-his-name-because-he’s-not-on-the-actual-show fights to save Ambassador Kosh’s life; battling not only the poison used, but also the red tape the mysterious Vorlons throw up to protect their secrets. Everything works out in the end though, and in the end the ambassadors and crew officially open Babylon 5: our last, best hope for peace.

 

Commentary:

For the record, there are two versions of this pilot movie: one which initially aired in 1993 (boring a 13 year old me half-to-death), and is nearly unwatchable and -blessedly- a second, directors cut released a few years later. Guess which one I picked this for this re-watch?

Director’s Cut aside, the Gathering  is still far from a masterpiece of the genre, but this version actually isn’t that bad. I was pleasantly surprised, and the friend who bravely agreed to do this re-watch with me didn’t hate it either. (Unless she was simply being polite? I’ll have to inquire.) Now, this show is so 90’s it practically bleeds Duran Duran, but it was part of the charm for me, and Devin -again- did not seem to hate it.I feel like judging the production design of a pilot episode isn’t quite fair, anyway. Though the show will never shake it’s inherent 90’s-ness, I’m pretty sure it won’t always look this… garish.

As the movie introduces a dizzying array of characters, each with their own motivations and backstories, we’re given a kaleidoscopic view of a lived-in universe. It’s baffling to the initiate for sure, but that’s where the simplicity of the assassination plot comes in handy. While the story does take little dips and detours along the way, hinting at the bigger picture, it always comes right back to the point; a story so basic I just summarized it in a paragraph. Watching it with the benefit of foreknowledge, I was deeply impressed by how dense the storytelling actually was, seeding future episodes and entire arcs with a few throw-off lines and one particularly excellent monologue from Jeffery Sinclair.

“I was squad team leader when the call came in. We all knew it was a suicide mission. The Minbari had broken through and were closing in. Every ship we had left was ordered to circle earth. We had to stop them. No matter what it cost. They came at us out of nowhere. We never had a chance. The sky was full of stars, and every star, an exploding ship. One of ours. My team was blown out of the sky in less than a minute.  I managed to take out a fighter before they hit my stabilizers. I was losing power, I’d lost my team, and I figured if I was going to die I’d take some of them with me. So I targeted one of their heavy cruisers, hit my afterburners, I was gonna ram them head on. The last thing I remember is… hurtling toward that cruiser, filling my screen, big. My god, so big. Then, something, passed in front of my eyes. I guess I blacked out from the acceleration. When I came to, 24 hours later, the cruiser was gone. I checked in. They told me the war was over. The Minbari had surrendered…”

This blog will have much and more to say about Michael O’Hare’s performance as Jeffrey Sinclair as we get deeper into the show, but for now, this piece of writing, and this delivery, is fantastic. It’s good to see that even in it’s infancy, Babylon 5 was showing flashes of the quality which my nostalgia recalls so strongly. This bodes well.

If nothing else, The Gathering has made me eager for this re-watch. Guys, it’s Babylon 5! We’re doing this!

Next week, we’ll wade deeper into politics and religion with Midnight on the Firing Line and Soul Hunter. And so it begins…

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I will bear witness and I will not flinch.

CW: rape, gang rape, underage rape, extortion, torture, suicide, ruined lives, spousal abuse and murder

We interrupt our usual programming (not that such a thing technically exists as yet) to bring you my broken fucking heart and some news of the world. It’s bad out there, folks. It was a rough week.

I’m not okay. I mean, I’m fine, technically. I’m a light-skinned male in an age that still overvalues such things, which means that I’m not really at risk of the various horrors I’m about to recount. This immunity brings me no comfort. It leaves me stranded on the sidelines, separated by my privilege from those I empathize with the most. My heart hurts so much and I just want to scream. I want to destroy the world, and I want to save it, and I can do neither. My hands are tied.

So let’s go first to Brazil, a country I admittedly know next to nothing about. Rio de Janeiro is there, and in one of the slums of that city, a 16 year old was drugged and gang-raped by 33 men. I saw the headline and it took everything in me to click through. I didn’t want to; I know the world is a horrible place, and it’s easier to talk about comic books and Star Wars and pretend this shit isn’t happening. But that would have been cowardly. The least I could do was bear witness to the horror, to absorb this latest atrocity to women and not flinch away from it. So I clicked. I read. I recoiled.

16 years old. 33 men. There are no words. I read about it on Thursday evening and it’s Sunday now and I still can’t get it out of my head, the brutality of it, the monstrosity of such a crime. 33 beasts wrapped in human skin, each consenting to strip a girl of her right to consent.

“I fell asleep and woke up in a different place with a man underneath me, another one on top and two others holding my hands and several people laughing at me.”

And as if this weren’t bad enough (and it most certainly is), the story gets considerably worse. Several of the men took pictures and video; proudly flaunting their crimes on social media, because Brazil is the fucking wild west or something, and they knew they had nothing to fear from sharing, except that maybe their hands would get sore from all the high-fives. Seriously, I have no idea what motivates someone to pose for a selfie with the bruised genitalia of their rape victim. It is so far removed from what I know that I can only speculate. Still, at least initially, their twisted and warped worldview appeared to bear out. As online outrage grew an investigation was launched, wherein the first questions the victim was asked were – and I shit you not – what she was wearing, and if she was in the habit of group sex.

One of the gang-rape suspects, Rai de Souza, 22, told a local newspaper that he had done nothing wrong: the girl was “so unconscious,” he said, but had consensual sex with him – and he didn’t film her, he just “watched and laughed” while his friends did.

I feel sick.

Now, obviously, Brazil is fucked. There was a lot more background in the stories I read, about a culture of toxic masculinity and machismo, a country where a woman is raped every 11 minutes. So it might be easy to, if not dismiss the story, at least take comfort that our society would never allow such a thing.

Tell that to Karen Perez of South Houston, Texas. Oh wait, you can’t, because she was raped and murdered by her boyfriend, who recorded the assault on his fucking phone. From the Washington Post story:

“You can clearly hear the defendant forcing the victim to have sex with him. He even calls her by name,” according to a probable cause statement read earlier this week in court. “You can hear the victim saying she does not want to do this.

“You can hear the defendant choking the victim. You can hear the victim stating, ‘I don’t want to die.’ ”

He raped her, he choked her to death, and recorded her dying cries. She was 15 years old.

Next up, yay! A story that doesn’t involve underage victims or rape. What a pleasant surprise. No, wait, oh. From the Toronto Sun:

Deputies discovered the bloodless body of Iana Kasian after breaking through a barricade to get into the couple’s West Hollywood apartment last week, prosecutors said.

Blake Leibel, born in Canada, tortured and mutilated his girlfriend who had recently given birth to their child, draining her body of blood. I can’t even imagine the scene; the terror, the agony, the grief and fear for her newborn – or maybe I just don’t want to.

The list goes on and on and on and on, far past the point of human endurance. I forgive you for not clicking those links. Each is the death of an innocent woman, each murdered by a man they’d been involved with; each a beast wrapped in human skin who felt entitled to something which they most certainly were not. And each grisly, unspeakable crime took place in the past week. It was a bad week for women. But it certainly wasn’t an atypical one.

None of these crimes, it should be noted, took place in Canada. Canada remains a bastion of freedom from sexual violence, he said, sarcastically.

Let’s go to the numbers: 472, 000 self-reported rapes in 2009 according to statistics Canada (the last year I was able to find numbers for). That breaks down to roughly 1, 300 a day, 53 an hour, or nearly a rape every minute in the True North Strong and Free. Just like that, Brazil looks positively enlightened. Depending on how fast or slow a reader you are, chances are good that – according to those statistics – at least one woman in Canada was raped while you were on this page. I say ‘woman’ because, really, that’s our best case scenario: those same stats lists the majority (307, 000) of those rapes as having happened to victims between the age of 15-24. I’m going to go out on a limb and say they happened disproportionately to Aboriginal women, even though I can’t back that up with anything other than sickening, gut-twisting instinct.

Numbers are useful in getting a big picture, but limiting in their own way; you can’t make out the faces, the individual tragedies that reverberate unseen but not unfelt across the social fabric. I feel a great disturbance in the Force, it’s called Rape Culture. It’s called Jian Gohmeshi. It’s called Amanda Todd. It’s called the Highway of Tears. It’s a monster that wears many faces, that bears many names, and it’s a number that is staggering in scope, thoroughly vile, and shameful, and damning in it’s implication: Four hundred and seventy-two thousand.

Truly, I have no idea what I’m trying to say here. I just don’t know. Rape is bad, and We have to stop this; to which you would say, as I would, I know, and I don’t know how. To any woman reading this post I would say nothing – I could say nothing – I’d be far too ashamed to even maintain eye contact. To men, to my brothers and fellow beneficiaries I would say: We are failing at Patriarchy, here. We are straight-up tanking this thing. If we can’t even protect our supposed inferiors from ourselves, then maybe we were never superior to begin with; maybe, just maybe, the entire culture of sexism we were born into and perpetuated is not only bullshit, but dangerous bullshit. When a 16 year old is gang-raped by 33 men, that’s not an anomaly, that’s the logical extension of a system that denies half of humanity its humanity. When a woman named Joanne has to go by JK Rowling just to sell books to boys, when studios won’t make a superhero movie with a female lead, when actors on a press junket will be asked about their character if they’re male or their costume if they’re female… it’s all the same shit. Different tributaries in a river of shit.

And if for whatever reason you’re not convinced that sexual violence exists at the beating, corrupted heart of our fucked up society, look no further than the depiction of oral sex in online porn, depending on whether a man or a woman is on the receiving end. With the latter it’s passive objectification, with the former, throat-gagging. That’s check and mate, my friend.

Women live in fear of violence in general, and fear of sexual violence specifically. My sister walks home with keys in hand, even though she knows she’s far likelier to be victimized by someone she knows. Still, better safe than sorry, right? To have it and not need it than to need it and not have it? That’s the world we live in. The air we breathe. The culture of Rape Culture.

I don’t know what to do about it, yet, beyond bearing witness and not flinching. I won’t pretend that everything’s okay when it isn’t, or that I’m somehow innocent in all this when I’m not. I’m a feminist now, but I wasn’t born that way. Then again, I wasn’t born a misogynist either, I just learned really well. And when I finally learned what I had learned, I rejected it entirely.

And I’m certainly not the only one, nor am I breaking new ground by stating the obvious in a lonely and anonymous blog. But to bring things back around: a teenager in Brazil –  who was just beginning her confusing and bewildering journey into adulthood – was drugged and raped by over 30 men who bragged about their crime. As with so, so many women who report, she was initially doubted and disbelieved by authorities. But the horror of it was too much this time; it could not be borne in silence and, this time, it galvanized a response. Heroic protests from feminist organizations, who are quite literally fighting behind enemy lines; thousands took to the streets all across the country.

Source: Jezebel

As a result of their efforts, the lead investigator has been removed (although remains in good standing in the department because cops will be cops) and a female officer installed. Now we have a real investigation and a couple of arrests, and, most importantly, protective custody for the victim. I’d be grasping at straws to claim this as any kind of victory, Pyrrhic or otherwise.

It’s not enough, not by far, but at least the girl is safe. For now. The only way she can truly remain so is by tearing down this worldwide system of power and privilege, and the only way to do that is by challenging it at every hideous turn.

So I guess that’s what I’m going to do.

The Great MCU Re-watch (Recap Edition)

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So that’s pretty much that.

For the record, I failed in my mission to re-watch and review every Marvel film before the release of Civil War; missed it by a little over a week. I’m not going to beat myself up too badly, however, because… well, why would I? Because like most people, I’m incapable of giving myself a break, quick to point out my shortcomings rather than my successes? Not this time. I did it, and if you’ve read, say, at least three of these, then thank you. We did it.

But before closing this particular chapter of this new blog, I wanted to revisit the MCU one more time and rank the films we’ve just gone through. My rating system was a little over the place (and indeed, I ditched it altogether with Ant-Man), so this should give a clearer idea of how these films stack up against each other. Sort of a Civil War, if you will. Subjective or not, this is a definitive ranking system, and if anyone disagrees with me then just know, this is a hill I’m prepared to die on.

 

13. The Incredible Hulk: No surprises here. I complained about this thing for the entire rewatch. I never shut up about it, the entire time. What’s particularly striking in retrospect is just how jarring this movie is in comparison to all that comes after. The only dim pleasant memory I have of this thing is Tim Roth. They brought back Genreal Ross for Civil War, I’d love it if they could bring him back for Infinity War.

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12. Thor: Fuck you and your dutch angles, Kenneth Branagh. Also, both Thor and Loki’s hair is too short in this movie. Looks stupid.

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11. Iron Man 2: Another one that lost a lot of value as time wore on. Even though I remember it clearly, I’m hard-pressed to pull anything memorable out of it. Also known as the one where Iron Man’s chest piece becomes a triangle instead of a circle.

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10. Ant-Man: After seeing this movie, I’m convinced that this concept, and this character, and this cast can do much better than they did here. There’s a lot to love in this movie, but it’s just not on par with most of what’s on offer in the MCU. I’m legitimately excited about the prospects of a sequel that can jettison the burdens of an origin story and a troubled production and hit the ground running.

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9: Thor: The Dark World: Honestly, this movie should be rated worse than both Ant-Man and Iron Man 2, but I have an intense weakness for Thor and Loki, and I couldn’t bear to bury both films in this franchise. That, and the world-bending, ‘fuck physics’ of the final fight make this a better film than it has any right to be. Also, spooky, spooky elves. I love them.

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8.: Guardians of the Galaxy: Not even James Gunn’s relentless hatred of women is enough to sink this film, but, in this reviewer’s opinion, it’s enough to keep it out of the upper echelons of what the MCU has given us. Though there were so many things I loved about it (the Space Opera tone, the Infinity Stone maguffin, that amazing, amazing soundtrack), in the end what we have here is damaged goods . The arc given to Peter Quill is probably one of the better ‘hero’s journey’ in a Marvel movie; it’s just unfortunate that so much of it comes at the expense of Gamora. I am guardedly optimistic for the sequel, even if the actual success of this movie makes me think James Gunn will simply double down on what he thinks worked in this film. Time will tell.

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7: Captain America: The First Avenger: Look at it this way: this is the only movie where Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter kiss. It should actually be rated higher for that but, origin story, and also, that weird pacing thing that happens by crashing the contents of two films into one.

6: Avengers: Age of Ultron: Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter do not kiss in this movie. Which is a shame, too, because it would have meant there was kindof a point to his dream sequence, which, so far as I can tell, there was not. Missed opportunity, Joss Wedon. Honestly, this entire film is a missed opportunity, and it remains one of the primary reasons why I subscribe to the notion of parallel universes.

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5: Iron Man 3: A terrific example of a character-driven story, and a wonderful opportunity for Robert Downey Jr. to remind us again why he’s the cornerstone of the entire MCU and entirely deserving of the dumptrucks full of money he receives for each film. Stick it to the man, Robbie. Yet another movie wherein Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter do not kiss, it gets a pass for having neither of those characters in the actual film, but then gets that pass revoked for not having Steve Rogers even mentioned in a movie where the President of the United States is threatened with assassination.

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4: Iron Man: Strictly speaking, Iron Man 3 is the better movie, but you gotta give credit where it’s due: this movie is OG. There are any number of things that could have gone wrong, that miraculously didn’t, and I am forever grateful. One thing that did go wrong however, was the casting of Terrence Howard, and having gotten really attached to Don Cheadle’s dry delivery as Rhodey, I look forward to the day where we can insert him into the film using computers and dark sorcery and correct this blight on an otherwise near-perfect film. Also, though we didn’t know it at the time, Jeff Bridges was giving us one of the more nuanced villains the MCU would ever produce, and that’s before you get into all the awesome conspiracy theories about him working for Hydra. And no, there is no kiss from Peggy and Steve in this movie (neither actor had been cast yet, and their movie didn’t exist), but I’m going to embed that gif again anyway:

3: The Avengers: I was there, when the portal opened and aliens rained down death and destruction on New York City, and by there I mean here, Ottawa, Ontario – Gloucester Silver City, to be precise. But lest you think my suffering any less than those at Ground Zero, I had to watch that thing in 3D because there was no other option for a midnight showing. I learned we were not alone in the universe while wearing stupid glasses over my glasses (I still have my over-priced, commemorative cup with Iron Man Cup topper, actually). Everything that goes wrong in Age of Ultron goes right here, and the Avengers would be the greatest superhero ensemble film ever, were it not for the inclusion of one other at the end of this list.

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2: Captain America: Winter Soldier: I’m getting pretty fucking tired of these movies not having Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter kissing, but at least this movie has the decency to put them in a scene together. And it’s a heart-breaking scene, that drives home the point to Steve Rogers just how much a ‘man out of time’ he truly is. It’s also worth noting how her character serves to remind him of his best, most Captain Americaest self. She convinces him to ditch the USO show and be a hero in the first movie, and in this one lays the seeds that will grow into his decision to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. along with Hydra when she says:

“The world has changed and none of us can go back. All we can do is our best, and sometimes the best we can do is start over.”

1: Captain America: Civil War: Without spoiling too much, I can tell you that Steve Rogers does indeed kiss Agent Carter in this movie, so I guess I can shut up about that now. Oh, wait, no.

But I will shut up about it, so that I can instead defend my position that Civil War is the best thing the MCU has yet produced. Is there a bit of recency bias at play here? Possibly. Meta-cognition isn’t my strongest suit, which is to say that I mainly just think my thoughts, rather than thinking about why I have them. But I will say this: Civil War is what you’d get if the Avengers and  Winter Soldier fell in love and had a baby. It’s got all the ensemble-juggling wizardry of the former, wedded to the intensely personal, real world feel of the latter. That alone would put it in the running for the best, but on top of that they give us a very good Spider-man, as well as introducing Black Panther – Marvel’s first black super-hero – and furthermore, giving him an arc. I could not be more excited for his solo film which comes out… well, not nearly soon enough, and that’s in part because Civil War has already given us his origin story. When we meet Prince T’Challa he’s dutiful and dignified, yes, but also impetuous and headstrong. But by the end of this film, having seen the destruction and manipulation wrought by Zemo, we see him emerge tempered and wise and merciful. A true King.

This movie also makes the Ant-Man film better in retrospect, and should effectively shut down anyone who doubted Marvel’s decision to part ways with Edgar Wright. Ant-Man is terrific here, and that’s in part because of the set-up done in the previous film, set-up that Wright was firmly opposed to ‘setting-up’.

And while we do have some set-up for future films here, most of what this movie is about is pay-off. Nothing comes at the expense of anything else either; the action scenes are thrilling, like actually edge of your seat, open-mouthed amazing, and the characters feel more real than ever. Characters have always been the strong suit of the MCU and that virtuosity is on display here. Tony Stark is the darkest we’ve ever seen (and that’s before the revelation that sends him over the edge), and he’s not alone: on the whole, this is a very dark film. Dark, but far from grim. There are moments of levity that don’t jar with the tone, but even more, there are heartfelt moments. Rather than detract from the spectacle, they inform it, buttressing  the action with real, human relationships, so that we’re always invested in what’s happening on the screen.

Since this is the creative team that will be responsible for the next Avengers movie, it’s safe to say we’re in safe hands. This movie is one hell of an audition.

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So that’s pretty much that. Thank-you again, if you’re reading this. I’ve got a long way to go as a writer, but this was a decent start, I think. And I’m such a fan of these movies, and of  these characters, that it was a fun and worthwhile exercise to sit down and figure out why.

And here’s why: since it’s announcement, the MCU has always been about possibility. These are people attempting something that’s never been done, and succeeding at it. There have been stumbles, oh god yes, but the MCU shakes it off, and lumbers forward. It’s its own sort of superhero, that way.

And now we are 13 films into this franchise, and that’s simply incredible. There’s just nothing else that compares to it. And although we still have representation issues, oh, god yes, at least that’s a conversation that gets had now. Phase three will give us our first film led by a black man, and our first by a woman. We’re getting there; slowly but surely, and in this sense, the MCU is proof that the Social Justice Warriors – of which I am one – are winning the culture war.

Excelsior. 

 

Honey, I shrunk the Superhero: Ant-Man

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You know what movie I’d really like to see? An in-depth documentary on the making of Ant-Man. Because the troubled production of this movie is, I think, a far more interesting story than the one the actual movie has to tell. Which is another way of saying that I don’t know how to fill up this review. I mean, it’s a Marvel movie; I’ve done 11 other versions of this. There’s good, there’s bad. We’ve been here before.

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So many times.

I think the baked-in problem with Ant-Man is this: we haven’t had an origin story since Captain America: First Avenger, and even that was a pretty decent twist on the usual formula. So Ant-man suffers from a disadvantage from the get-go; in a way, it can’t help but feel like a step backward. It’s not as good as Iron Man, but it’s a fair sight better than the Incredible Hulk, so let’s take comfort where and when we can: there will never be a Marvel movie as thoroughly unimpressive as the Incredible Hulk.

And there are a few telling differences here; twists, or wrinkles, or whatever, that keep this movie from feeling… well, not fresh – certainly not that – but less stale at least. Palatable.

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The fathers and daughters thing is… a thing, certainly, and I would never argue that it wasn’t. And this is the first time we’ve seen a passing of the mantle from one generation to another, and that’s pretty cool.

Also cool – groundbreaking, even – is the powers themselves, and it gives us a whole new set of visuals that we’ve never seen before. So screw the family thing, or the mentor thing, this is what really sets Ant-man apart and justifies it’s existence. This tiny, tiny dude:

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There are some legitimately great sequences in this movie, and the filmmaker embraces the weirdness of this concept in a way that is unabashedly joyful. I mean, Thomas the Tank Engine. I could leave it at that and this review would be complete.

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I won’t though, because there’s also the awesome homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey that happens as Scott falls through ‘the Quantum Realm’:

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This would be amazing in and of itself, just as a visual nod to my favorite movie ever, but the film uses this sequence both to set up a sequel (Janet Van Dyne was lost in the Quantum Realm, but not, I think, for much longer) and to remind us one more time what has truly motivated our hero for the entire film: his daughter, Peanut. I mean, Cassie. Whatever.

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This thing.

I don’t have any kids, but I’ve consumed enough media to understand that it’s a powerful motivating force. Also, if I just pretend that Scott Laing is doing all this for his cat then it  makes sense to me.

So if Iron Man is about guilt, and Captain America is about duty, and the Incredible Hulk is about nothing, then Ant-man, first and foremost, is about family. It’s smaller in scale, I guess you could say, and it turns out I may have liked this thing more than I thought I did; I’m really talking myself around about it.

So why am I so underwhelmed by this movie, then?

I think part of it is Judy Greer, who plays Scott’s ex, and who doesn’t have a name worth remembering. (Maggie! I just remembered.) I guess I never really understood what her problem was, or why she was so insistent that Scott pay child support as a condition to seeing his daughter who clearly adores him. I mean, let’s go to the numbers:

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Leaving aside that I can’t figure out how he arrived at his conclusion, let’s assume he’s done his math correctly and, holy shit! That’s over a year! That’s like sending the guy to prison after he just got out of prison. And let’s not forget that children are not static creatures, indeed, the entire point of them (from my limited understanding) is that they grow and change. A year is the equivalent of a geological age in life of a child, and, as Scott himself says, he’s already missed a lot.

“I had a lot of time to think about it, and I love her. So much. I’ve missed so much time and I want to be part of her life. What do I do?”

Judy Greer is unmoved by this, or at least, the script says she is, so we get this:

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Unmoved by this.

“Get an apartment. Get a job. Pay child support. Then we will talk about visitation, I promise.”

So she’s not even saying that he can see his kid if he jumps through these hoops, but rather that they’ll talk about it. A discussion will be had. Now, I don’t want to dismiss out of hand the notion of child support and single mothers and absentee fathers and all that. It’s important, and the reason there are laws in place is because enough people have been assholes about providing in the past, leading to a lot of stress and hardship on the part of those left holding the bag. Except that’s not the picture the movie paints for us, which is pretty much one of domestic bliss. We have a great house in what appears to be a nice neighborhood, and her new husband is a stock cop character in a movie. Stock cop characters do quite well, providing they survive whatever movie they’re in (and this one does). The point is, this is not someone who is in need of whatever limited financial support Scott can provide. And maybe it’s the principle of the thing, but if your principles require a little girl to be kept from her father, then guess what? You’re the problem. What Scott can provide is a father’s love, and there just has to be some intrinsic value in that.

There has to be, because that’s what this movie is about. Take the film’s other villain:

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Pay child support, Scott.

Corey Stoll plays Darren Cross, who was once the protege of Hank Pym; presumably until he showed up to work one day looking like Lex Luthor and Hank Pym was having none of it. Not that that’s what Cross took away from it, all he knew was that his mentor, his father-figure, abandoned him. The same goes for Hope (played by Evangeline Lily’s fantastic wig), who felt abandoned by her father after her mother’s ‘death’, and only the realization that her boss was Lex Luthor is enough to bring her back.

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I really cannot say enough good things about this wig.

So, a father’s love; very important. It is, after all, what allows Scott to save himself from the nothingness of the Quantum Realm, and that’s great for us, because I can’t wait for the next movie. One that is completely free of the miasma of dissent that clouds this one.

You know, the elephant in the room? It’s very hard to miss an elephant in a movie about ants, so this is the part where we talk about how Edgar Wright got chewed up and spat out by the monster the MCU has become.

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Galactus, technically owned by Fox.

Now Edgar Wright is either a genius – according the internet at large – or the guy who did Scott Pilgrim and is owed a debt of gratitude for it but we’ve mostly moved on – according to me. He was attached to Ant-Man in 2006, around the time they were developing Iron Man and only dreaming about the Avengers. Formative times, and it’s safe to say that no one realized just what a beast this would all become. So it seemed like no big deal to allow this talented, free-spirited genius his pet project, while they went off and worked on building the universe Ant-man would one day inhabit. But of course, Ant-Man wasn’t Edgar Wright’s only project at the time, he also gave us that Scott Pilgrim movie I was so fond of, as well The World’s End. And in that time the world changed. Superhero movies were now a billion dollar industry and ‘I’m sorry, you can’t just do whatever you want’, except that that had been the original deal, so…

 

That was how it came to pass then, that a little over a year before its release, Ant-Man found itself in search of a new director. Yikes. Somebody was quickly drafted who would toe the company line and his name was Peyton Reed, and thus the ship was righted and produced the all-around palatable superhero pablum that today we call Ant-Man.

Which I liked.

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A lot.

Apparently there were some last minute rewrites (as in, at least 2) but then this train was leaving the station, so there was just no time to iron out the awkwardness. You’re left with a weird frankensteinian-hybrid that is Wright’s basic premise, with some Paul Rudd comedy and a studio-mandated fight at the Avengers headquarters grafted on.

And I liked it.

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Mostly.

I could make the usual complaints about gender, – like how they fridged Hope’s mom and original Wasp,  Janet Van Dyne, or how Judy Greer was written to be an unreasonable shrew – but on the main those arguments have already been made, and by people smarter and more articulate than me. But I would like to ask a question, why does Hope’s suit have boobs on it? Was that neccessary?

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“Actually, I think I’ll just be Ant-Man, Dad. Scott can wear the ladysuit.”

Like, I get that it was originally made for his wife, and they were doubtlessly into some kinkiness – and I don’t judge! – but you’d think a father would modify the fetish wear just a tad before gifting it to his daughter. Evangeline Lily’s wig is just not that busty.

So that’s Ant Man, the final movie in PHASE TWO of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And even it’s inclusion there feels like an awkward afterthought; because obviously Age of Ultron should have been the capstone, just as the original Avengers closed out the first phase. But you can see why they didn’t want people thinking this movie was at all indicative of how Phase Three was going to go, so they just snuck it in there and washed their hands of it. Phase Two, complete.