Lego Batman

This is just a quick review of the Lego Batman movie.

If you’re a fan of Batman, watch it.

Its story is just coherent enough that it manages to keep rolling along while delivering nonstop Batman fanservice.

Like the first Lego movie, it is painfully self-aware, and I really don’t think it’s going to stay a fresh and enjoyable approach into the Ninjago movie they had a trailer for, but if you got a kick out of narcissistic asshole Batman there, this manages to keep the funny coming.

Batman here is a grotesque, all of his worst qualities (particularly those from the 80s & 90s comic incarnations) are exaggerated and played for laughs but also to give a bit insight into just why Batman is so messed up. It ends up looking at a lot of the same themes as Dark Victory, just taking an incredibly gonzo approach to get there.

I don’t know how well it would work as an actual kids movie; there’s plenty of action and explosions and slapstick humor, but much of the comedy and entertainment value revolves around either Batman being a terrible person or Batman obscura in film, cartoons and comics. If you’re a Batman fan, it’s definitely worth a couple of bucks to see.

(Did anybody else think it was weird that they used Carrie Kelley’s character design for a Robin that was supposed to be Dick Grayson?!)

The Force Awakens to Put Me to Sleep

In all of the ongoing discussions as to whether or not Rey from the Force Awakens was a Mary Sue, I seem to have missed anyone warning me just how boring Episode 7 was.*

Keep in mind, I’m someone who loved Rogue One and has gone to bat for it a few times – it restored in me a love of Star Wars I haven’t really felt since playing TIE Fighter. That said, if I HAD seen The Force Awakens, I probably would’ve skipped out on Rogue One.

Absolutely nothing in The Force Awakens seemed to have any real weight, and everyone was just sleepwalking through their roles. Han and Chewie looked as if they couldn’t wait for it to be over and done with. With Carrie Fisher’s passing, seeing Leia show up as tired and old and barely relevant to the story is even more of a gut punch and should’ve undercut anyone’s excitement that ‘hurr hurr, she’s a general now, because women are important in sci-fi for a change!’

Despite how much he’d been hyped everywhere I’d seen in fandom, Poe felt about as relevant as Biggs did before all of his scenes were cut.

Finn’s affections for Rey can only be excused as thirst, cuz she treats him like crap through the whole movie. He’d’ve been much better as an “I seen some shit” vet who’d finally had enough. He needed a better “God is not here today, Priest” moment.

Rey was more annoying than I’d expected because I’d never heard Daisy Ridley speak before. Her character comes off as a whiny scold. I disliked her from the moment she bullied that random desert nomad guy into giving her BB-8 for no reason. We’re told over and over that she’s special, but we’re never told why. We’re told Chewie likes her, and since Chewie is Han’s morality pet and supposedly a good judge of character, we ought to like her, too.

Starkiller was just there to have another Death Star in the background. It barely felt relevant. I don’t even remember if the not-Rebels were concerned about figuring out how to destroy it; it kinda felt like “it’s all good, we’ve got this, done this twice already”, so there was no tension.

No, the big secret everyone was after was Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts, because the Star Wars universe is obviously just as full as people obsessing over the canon as real life.

And what’s up with Snoke? Emperor just happened to have an ugly darkside giant tucked away somewhere to pick up the reins? No! I’d’ve much rather seen a Hellenistic Empire split between ex-governors and former moffs playing and being played by the Rebel Alliance against one another. Yet Hux and Kylo Ren are the best the Imperial remnants have to offer.

I’ve seen complaints that the characters in Rogue One were flat because they didn’t get much onscreen development. I think it worked there, though, because Rogue One relied on Tropes – you knew enough about the characters because you understood their functioning role in the story: Pilot, Heavy Weaponry Guy, Kung-Fu Dude, so on and so forth. It’s black and white cowboy hats and Henry Fonda’s blue eyes. The Force Awakens had nothing. It had neither character exposition/development nor fictional tropes to rely upon in the absence of development. As terrible as they were, the prequels were a hundred times better at character development and storytelling than The Force Awakens, and that’s saying something!

On a final note, Captain Phasma was a hell of a wasted character. How great would it be to see a Star Wars movie where the dashing rebel pilot ends up stuck with ice queen stormtrooper captain lady?

“Take the helmet off.”
“No…”
“I said take it off!”
::pretty dame under the stormtrooper helmet::
“I can see why the Empire would want to hide a pretty face like that.”
“Sh-shut up!”::angry blushes:: “I’ll have you executed when we get back to the Star Destroyer!”
“IF we get back to the Star Destroyer…”
::giant space monsters show up that they have to fight together before they fall in love::

Anyway…

@corduroyalist summed it up quite well: I found force awakens a disjointed pointless movie with the trauma of watching Han Solo be a loser & then die.

 

Rogue One Review (With Spoilers)

Star Wars Rogue One did something I did not think was possible: it made me feel excited about Star Wars again. Like, “I want to go out and grab a Star Destroyer model to build after I finish my next Gundam” excited.

I actually enjoyed Rogue One more than the last four Star Wars movies I’ve watched, at let me tell you, I’ve skipped a couple.images

Okay, yeah, it was not really pulpy, and as dumb as it sounded when those sites said “this is the first Star Wars movie about war”, they kind of had a point. This was not the Star Wars of the original trilogy, or the plastic and cartoony prequels and their spin-offs – this was expanded universe Star Wars: the Star Wars of TIE Fighter, X-Wing, Rebel Assault, and Dark Forces. In fact, it dawned on me when the blind Force Monk showed up: Rogue One is “Some Guy’s Star Wars d6 RPG Campaign: The Movie”, and I mean that in the best way possible.

There are no super powered characters here – folks rolled their stats 3d6 in order, and the casting choices reflect this. One of the striking things about Rogue One is how rough everyone looks; I mean, it really says something when Forest Whitaker is not the ugliest dude in your movie. Unlike TFA with all of the pretty but bland people, Rogue One’s cast is, while not traditionally beautiful, striking. Jeffro mentioned Jyn Erso having a fish-face, and once someone points that out, you can’t not notice it. I don’t know how to say this in a way that doesn’t sound mean to Felicity Jones, but the huge eyes, trout-pout and buck-teeth that together give her a touch of the Innsmouth look, give Jyn Erso a really distinctive appearance that’s in stark contrast to Daisy Ridley’s more generic Hollywood features. Jyn’s not a sexy, ass-kicking conventionally attractive Mary Sue who can do anything better than everyone else; she’s a weird, awkward girl who tries really hard and doesn’t give up, and you end up liking her for it.

It was kind of awesome having a Spaniard playing the male lead; every time he spoke, I kept thinking “My name is Inigo Montoya; I am looking for the plans to the Death Star!” The chemistry between Cassian and Jyn was subtle, never ham-fisted, but there were plenty of little moments, little glances that made me smile. I’ll admit, I was moved as Inigo and fish-girl held hands and embraced, watching the mushroom cloud of destruction roll towards them.

The rest of the characters filled the party nicely, again harkening back to the movie’s strong tabletop feel: Pilot, Heavy Weapons Specialist, Guy-Who-Likes-to-Play-the-Robot, and Guy-Who-Wants-to-Play-Eastern-Martial-Artist-in-Every-Game-Regardless-of-Genre. Seriously, the Force Monk is something I’d only ever really seen back in the 90s at the FLGS with people playing d6 Star Wars. His character worked, though, and frankly is far more like what one expected of the Jedi and wanted to see than what the prequels gave us.

Rogue One handled Vader much better than I could’ve expected. We got to see Darth Vader’s castle from Leigh Brackett’s Empire script, which was neat. We also get enough bits to reinforce the impression from New Hope that Vader thinks the Death Star is a dumb idea and Tarkin is an idiot who’s going to screw everything up. When Vader actually fights, he looks cool – he’s not jumping around flying all over the place like the prequels, and he’s not using the Force to throw hunks of trash at people like Empire. Vader was well done.

There were a few really bad spots, but most are easily forgiven with an eye roll (the criminals from the cantina running into Jyn and Cassian in the alley, R2 and C3PO’s cameo). Tarkin was not one of them. They really needed to find a better way to include Tarkin than having a body double with a creepy Peter Cushing Gollum face CGed onto him. While CG has reached a point where it can create photorealistic faces, it has not reached a point where movements and expressions are not noticeably and horribly out of place. CGI-face Leia was weird, but thankfully only one scene. Speaking of Leia, having her at the battle and having her Corvette be an escape ship smacks of continuity snarl (the next cut of New Hope will have Vader saying “You expect me to believe you’re on a diplomatic mission?! I was on your ship at the Battle of Scarif not 20 minutes ago!”) Also, would’ve been nice to have some bit about the rebels evacuating Dantooine and moving their base to Yavin 4, but that’s not as bad as the somewhat rushed denouement that leads straight into New Hope.

I can’t remember which blogger I follow who said it first, but I would much rather watch more movies about the characters from Rogue One than any of those from the originals, prequels or new trilogy. Which is a shame, because like so many RPG stories, this one ended in a TPK. In a way, I’m sad, because while this movie made me excited for Star Wars again, I don’t know what else there is to look forward to. I really don’t care about Episode VIII, and I find the promises that subsequent stand-alone films will focus on Han Solo and Boba Fett less than intriguing.* Now, if they announced a Marek Steele movie, I’d be all about that. For now, though, I’ll just have to wait and wonder. And check out how cheaply I can find a decent Star Destroyer model…

*:One interesting tidbit was the hint that there was another jedi out there and that jedi was a woman (and therefore could not have been Obi Wan Actually the Main Villain of Star Wars Kenobi). This could be interesting or terrible. Given how most of the movies have treated Jedi, I’m leaning terrible, but Rogue One was good enough that I may cross my fingers.

Brief Addendum:

Why I liked it better than Empire:

  • Seriously, the Battle of Hoth was the only good part of Empire, and Rogue One had its Battle of Hoth as the climactic ending instead of the first act.
  • Empire’s pacing is a damn mess and its timeline makes next to no sense
  • Despite all the love for the romance between Han and Leia, it drips with a lot of bad cheese and still has a lot of cringe; Jyn and Cassian were nowhere near as cringy
  • Star Wars becoming terrible can be pinpointed to the moment when Darth Vader started to use the force to throw giant hunks of trash Luke. From that moment forward, the Force stopped being mystical and became about moving garbage by pressing down-to-forward + punch. Blind Force monk felt way more true to the mystical rather than mechanical concept of the Force

Why I liked it better than Jedi:

  • C’mon, bro, we all know Jedi was trash!
  • Just Kidding
  • (Not Kidding)

X-Men: Apocalypse

So, during all of the hoopla over how the billboard of Apocalypse choking Mystique was sexist, nobody was talking about what a terrible and boring movie X-Men Apocalypse was. All of the innumerable continuity snarls could have been forgiven if Singer had given us a movie worth watching, but this fell into the trap of so many failed B and C tier superhero movies, spending far too much time ‘building the team’ instead of showing the team doing anything. In this case, it’s worse, because both sides have to build their teams on screen and there’s neither character development nor action. And frankly, I’m surprised that there was not more outrage over the decision to make Storm an Arab street urchin instead of a Sub-Saharan tribal living-goddess.

I went into this expecting some awesome fights, cuz, c’mon! It’s Apocalypse! The main things I remember about him from when I was a kid was that he was 10 feet tall, could change size & shape, and pretty much wrecked the shit of anyone who tried to fight him. Instead of cool fights, we got endless ‘building the team’, leading up to one fight that, by the time it happened, I couldn’t bring myself to care about cuz I was so damned bored. It should not have been hard to make an awesome and exciting Apocalypse movie: Apocalypse wakes up with his 4 riders – he destroys a city, and the X-Men try to stop him and get stomped. The X-Men have to devise some way they can actually hurt him. Heck, maybe they could develop a version of “the cure” that can be administered by using Quicksilver as a human railgun. Xavier could be all “Oh, I don’t think this is a good idea, what if it falls into the wrong hands!”, Magneto all “Who are we to deprive anyone of their gifts, especially a god?” and Mystique all “Screw that noise, we really need to stop this guy at all costs”.

But nope, in the end, Apocalypse gets beaten by a fairly mundane, plan-free “by our powers combined” flash that teased at what will most assuredly and lamentably be a sequel featuring po-faced Jean Grey in another Dark Phoenix saga.

I think that X-Men Apocalypse is a tacit admission that all of the best X-Men stories happened 30ish years ago and the semi-historical grounding of the X-Men they were given following their 1975 relaunch that was once an asset is now a liability.

Don’t be fooled by the jive about X-Men’s relevance to historical struggles; during Civil Rights, X-Men was just another supers comic—that didn’t get added until much later. Just like how Magneto didn’t start out as a Holocaust Survivor; he was given that backstory to give him nuance and some justification for his horrible actions in the 80s.

A lot of X-Men’s cultural relevance was that which it took upon itself during the 70s and 80s, and it coasted on that during the 90s. But now that it’s reaching the mid 10s, stories about that group of oppressed mutant individuals (who were not oppressed during their run through the 60s) struggling with Civil Rights and the moral quandary of a troubled individual who survived the Holocaust and whose strawman may have a point can’t be told in the present day. The ancient and withered husks of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart fighting at the end of the world in Days of Future Past may have truly been the Last Hurrah of the X-Men of my childhood. Either the X-Men will be all old as dirt, immortal like Wolverine, or they will have to be completely new X-men, because retreading the same three decade patch of culture over and over again with the same characters just isn’t going to work anymore. And having the most recent X-Men movie, which can no longer be considered a prequel, as Days of Future Past obliterated the old continuity, take place in the 80s concedes that.

 

X-Men Apocalypse is a good sign that it is not only time to stop making X-Men movies for a while but that the entire X-Men franchise needs to be significantly rethought if it can’t be uncoupled from the time-period of its 70s relaunch through its 80s comic and 90s cartoon heydays. X-Men will have to undergo some very serious, soul-searching changes, rebooting their continuity, abandoning the false ties to 60s Civil Rights movement, and, perhaps most shocking of all, have a Magneto who doesn’t cling to the Holocaust as a justification for his evil deeds because he can’t; it’ll reach the point where he’ll either have to be a hundred years old or he wasn’t there.  X-Men is finally being crippled by the identity politics that had been its strength over the years since its relaunch – right before our eyes, we’re watching a franchise transition from speculative fiction to period fiction.

More Thoughts on Fantastic Beasts

I figured out last night why Anthony and I had such a disagreement on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, particularly in regards to who the protagonist should be: I went into Fantastic Beasts blind, not having read any reviews or articles, exposed myself to any spoilers, or even really seen any previews!

I spent a good chunk of the movie unsure as to whether or not Newt was a villain.

Here’s why:

The film starts with a montage of newspaper clips all “Villainous Villain Engages in Villainy!” The movie then takes us to a weird looking shifty guy who acts shifty. I spent the first 10 minutes of the film thinking “Is this the bad guy?”

The first thing Newt does is arrive in America with a suitcase, looking every which way like he’s worried he’s going to get caught, and lie to a customs inspector about what he has with him – he’s obviously smuggling something. He fidgets his way to a bank, sits down, makes highly conspicuous small-talk on the bench, and when he gets up, he’s left a silver egg behind. Newt spends the first 10 minutes of the movie looking like a freaking terrorist worried someone is going to notice he’s strapped with C4, and then, holy crap, he just left a monster egg in the middle of a crowded bank and this is a movie about the trouble caused by magic monsters getting loose (I know that much)!

On the other hand, the first things we find out about Jacob are that he’s trying to start a small business, family is important to him, and he is a World War One vet, which makes him a pretty damn big hero in my book.

While Jacob is obviously a solid dude, I literally spent the first quarter of the movie unsure what kind of person Newt was. If you look at the story on its own, in a vacuum divorced from back of book text, trailer clips showing middle-to-late scenes in the movie, and review buzz, Newt’s motives remain uncertain until the big reveal of his pocket-dimension menagerie. That comes roughly 45 minutes into the movie.

I spent the first 10 minutes thinking Newt was maybe a bad guy and the next 35 minutes wondering just what his angle was. I think in that context, I can be forgiven if I couldn’t peg him right away as the story’s protagonist when Kowalski was introduced right away as clearly a good and honest man.

So when the guy I knew from the start of the movie was a good guy disappears from most of the last act (Kowalski is gone for a seriously long time after he makes like’s gonna go with Queenie and do something big) and the guy who spent the first 45 minutes of the movie acting like he could plausibly be the villain, or is at least a Cyrano Jones, is the one who has the big showdown with the real bad guy, yeah, I was bummed.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them: Bigger Potential Makes for a Bigger Letdown

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them came so close to being a good movie that it hurt. It had so many things going for it, and all they needed to do was just fall into place to tell a story far better than any of the Harry Potters. But alas, it was not meant be! The refusal to take the last necessary steps into awesome territory and a final fifteen minutes that came crashing down around what had been built up, as though to telegraph just how badly I was about to be disappointed, managed to drag the whole thing into the rubbish bin. When I found myself thinking “Oh, my God, a pulpy story in the Harry Potter universe?!” I realized that there was no way I would not be disappointed, and no amount of finger crossing could save me.

Fantastic Beasts has a lot of stuff going for it, especially early on. In fact, up through the scene where they’re at the goblin speakeasy, I’m thinking “Man, this is fantastic!”

To begin with, FB starts essentially the same way as Mo-Sanshon!; an outsider crosses the path of a normal guy and drags him off on a wild adventure. Newt Scamander, a squirrely wizard with a menagerie of monsters enlists the help of the unwitting Jacob Kowalski to help him recover creatures that have escaped. Kowalski is the normal joe, everyman hero like the kind you’d see in the pulps – he was a part of the expeditionary forces in World War One, he’s a blue collar worker, and he has a dream of starting his own business.* Where these two cross paths is in the bank where Kowalski is trying to get a loan to open a bakery; at this point, we don’t know if Scamander is going to be a shifty villain or wild trickster, given the trouble he’s causing, but we know right away that Kowalski is someone we’re going to be rooting for!

Not only does it have the perfect pulp adventure setup, it’s got dames! Tina Goldstein is tough and no nonsense; she takes her job seriously and she’s capable – unfortunately, her compassion (and a bit of temper) had put her in a bad spot with her superiors and it’s shaken her confidence a bit. Her sister Queenie is smart and sexy, a powerful master of domestic arts (I know how this sounds, but watching her make dinner for Kowalski was absolutely one of the best scenes in the whole movie), and devilishly clever, but even though she can read people’s thoughts, she doesn’t resent men for thinking she’s a bombshell. She even falls for the normie every-joe!

The fact that Kowalski holds his own fairly well, a few bumbles aside, and isn’t reduced to a punching bag works out really strongly for a good chunk of the film. Unfortunately, the movie can’t fully embrace the fact that Jacob Kowalski is the real hero of the story. Wizards can do, get into, and get out of just about anything; Kowalski can’t, which is why the stakes for him as a mere mortal who’s won the heart of a gorgeous wizard dame are incredibly high and why he’s the one to root for. Unfortunately, when things reach their head with the uninteresting A-plot-that-feels-like-a-B-plot with whatshisname the evil wizard and the crazy orphan boy, Kowalski never gets his big-damn-hero moment that he desperately needs…that WE desperately need. Frankly, Scamander doesn’t get one either, and the whole unmasking of the bad guy as being some other bad guy felt incredibly anti-climactic. I didn’t care about the kid with the crazy chaotic magic powers or the guy trying to manipulate him; I cared about whether or not Kowalski would be able to break the no-normies-hooking-up-with-wizards taboo and if he’d get that bank loan!

Spoilers! There have been spoilers before, but I’m really going to spoil it now.

Even though the movie was starting to completely fall apart by the big wizard… conversation at the end, I’m thinking “Okay, there’s still a chance… there’s still a chance!” President Wizard Lady says ‘this is a disaster, we can’t wipe the memories of everyone in Manhattan’, and Scamander says ‘lol, yeah we can, cuz this thing I have’. Kowalski has to get wiped. There’s a teary scene as Kowalski steps into the rain where he’ll forget his big adventure and his love with Queenie. While Scamander gets pardoned and is allowed to go off back to England with his monsters and publish his book, the best he gets is an awkward derpy scene with Tina; we needed a moment of ‘Damnit all, New York is the publishing capital of the world, I’ll stay!’ with a big kiss on the docks. The final scene where Kowalski has his bakery with pastries shaped like the half-forgotten monster and a smiling Queenie shows up tries to bring things back around, but it’s nowhere near as good as we’d gotten to see him stand up to the President Wizard and say “I’ll have any dame I want, and I want her, and she wants me, and you wizards be damned if you’re gonna stop us!”

 

This movie came SO CLOSE to being what I wanted from a gonzo fantasy movie set in the Roaring 20s New York, and that’s what makes it hurt the worst. Frankly, the characters were far more likable than anyone else in the Potterverse. But one of the major problems the movie had was trying to work in a good versus evil conflict that just wasn’t nearly as interesting as the main good-guys and the host of cool, scary, and cute monsters. If they had completely excised the stupid and inane plot about Grindelwald pretending to be Graves and the kid who’d gone crazy supernova from being forced to hide his magic powers by a crazy magic hating orphanarium marm and just made it about tracking down a bunch of weird monsters that had escaped and undoing the damage they’d done, it would’ve been a much better story, because all of the parts of the movie focusing on the later were absolutely wonderful. Supposedly, there are going to be several more movies about Grindelwald, which sucks, because his storyline was the worst part of the movie that dragged the whole damn thing down. I don’t care about what the wizards do with boring generic evil wizard-guy, I wanted to see Scamander throw his British reserve to the wind and give Goldstein that hero’s kiss she obviously wanted and was literally crying because she knew she would not get.

*:Normal joes tended to be a lot more awesome back then; it’s a law of averages thing.