setsuled: (Mouse Sailor)


The connexion between making money and survival, for you and your loved ones, as always been fertile ground for drama in stories set in the U.S. 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming dramatises the political struggle between a working class whose sense of morality has been warped by the money-making imperative and a new generation who is so accustomed to economic privilege that abdication of higher moral responsibility seems monstrous. Not all of the implications may have been intended but the film certainly has economic class in mind while presenting, in some ways, the best and most true to his comic roots Spider-Man brought to film: Tom Holland as an unmistakeably adolescent Peter Parker. In some ways, though, the character deviates quite a bit from his original comic book incarnation in order to make its argument on the economic landscape.

Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes, a.k.a. The Vulture, is the best villain to feature in an MCU film, largely because he's barely a villain. He's a salvage contractor who's muscled out of the job of picking up alien scrap from the first Avengers movie by the Department of Damage Control, a government department set up by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). This after he'd already spent money on the resources necessary to clean up the stuff so now he and his team have to get creative if they have any hope of bringing a paycheck home. This is the kind of problem Peter Parker would've been familiar with in his original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko incarnation--Peter was constantly worrying about bringing enough money home to support his aunt May and himself. And he certainly wasn't above using his new-found powers to make a buck--something we see in Sam Raimi's adaptation, though I don't remember seeing one of my favourite scenes from the comic, where our hero tries to cash a check made out to "Spider-Man".

No mention is made of May having serious financial woes in Homecoming and Peter seems to feel no pressure to make money. When Tony Stark mentions he can get Peter into a good school, the kid barely seems to notice. It's no wonder he seems to have no sympathy for the lengths Toomes goes to to support his family.

The fact that Peter isn't thoroughly irritating is one of the film's greatest achievements and it's accomplished with the same goal that makes the new Wonder Woman movie work so well--Peter really cares about helping people and he has what seems like a very honest humility.



He isn't a guy looking for a fight, he's a guy looking to help out, and if that involves fighting he's ready to do it. He's not above giving an old lady directions and he's deeply apologetic when he accidentally webs a guy trying to break into his own car. Like Wonder Woman, he's a welcome return to the original idea of Superman, the idea of a really powerful person who really is more interested in making life better for everyone than in stroking his own ego or getting revenge. Like Raimi's incarnation of the character, he's also really excited to be Spider-Man and do Spider-Man things, but he naturally sees this as something he doesn't keep to himself--when some guys on the street ask him to do a flip, he automatically does it. Later, when his friend tries to talk him into showing up as Spider-Man at a party to improve Peter Parker's reputation, he realises how stupid this is and seems like he would have avoided doing it if a crisis hadn't called him away anyway.

The character is also helped a lot by some lessons taken from Deadpool. In addition to giving the mask expressive eyes, the filmmakers also seem to have recognised that the character's awkwardness is a strength and here it makes even more sense when kid Spidey is a but a wisp of a lad.

I hope to whatever gods might be listening that no remake of Back to the Future goes forward but if someone were casting a new Marty McFly I could see Tom Holland being a very good fit. He has a real Michael J. Fox quality, handsome but with a sort of ungainly kittenishness. All this helps make the movie's underlying drama more interesting.

It's hard to believe this movie was wrapped before the election last year. Vulture almost seems like he's meant to be the working class Donald Trump voters while Peter is the Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama who failed to campaign for that working class demographic. On that note, the movie has an optimism in its conclusion I wish I could share in.
setsuled: (Frog Leaf)


A wealthy white American man with a van dyke, played by an actor who's also played Sherlock Holmes more than once, leads a fast paced life. His success has brought great hubris and then one day he's unexpectedly brought low, suffering permanent physical injury, but the path he takes to fix his body also helps to heal his spirit. Yes, I can only be talking about that well known Marvel superhero film. Doctor Strange from 2016.



So, yes, it's more than a little like Iron Man. Except Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) isn't quite as arrogant as Tony Stark, his injury isn't quite as bad, his road back doesn't seem like it was quite as difficult, and he never gets to kiss his love interest, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).



What does Disney have against romantic subplots? Maybe there's one in the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie but I don't really want to see it to find out. To be fair, romantic subplots used to feel superfluous, as in Tim Burton's first Batman, but they could also be really wonderful, as in Richard Donner's Superman and Tim Burton's second Batman movie. Romance can be fun, you know.



Anyway. Doctor Strange isn't exactly bad--I guess it can't be since it so rigidly adheres to formula. Strange's smarm became really annoying really fast. I know I was supposed to find it funny when he called Wong (Benedict Wong) "Beyonce". But I just wanted him to get on with being an adult already.



And, yes, that's a Chinese guy, so much for the supposed white washing in the movie. Quoting Wikipedia:

The character is depicted in the comics as Strange's Asian, "tea-making manservant", a racial stereotype that Derrickson did not want in the film, and so the character was not included in the film's script. After the non-Asian actress Tilda Swinton was cast as the other significant Asian character from the Doctor Strange comics, the Ancient One—which was also done to avoid the comics' racial stereotypes—Derrickson felt obligated to find a way to include Wong in the film. The character as he ultimately appears is "completely subverted as a character and reworked into something that didn’t fall into any of the stereotypes of the comics", which Derrickson was pleased gave an Asian character "a strong presence in the movie". Actor Wong was also pleased with the changes made to the character, and described him as "a drill sergeant to Kamar-Taj" rather than a manservant. He does not practice martial arts in the film, avoiding another racial stereotype. Derrickson added that Wong will have "a strong presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe" moving forward.

He does pick up a weapon, presumably to engage in a martial art of some kind, so this film was basically made by the Ku Klux Klan. Oh, well. But seriously, this movie was carefully measured and calculated at every stage to ensure you received the correct political balance in percentages designed to avoid any potential unpleasant suggestions or reminders of states of affairs based on practices resulting from institutionalised discrimination with roots going back to policies enforcing racism. Aren't you happy?



Tilda Swinton is really good as the Ancient One. I genuinely like the idea of a woman in the Obi-wan role for the male character but I wish there had been some resonance between the philosophy of her teaching and the manifestation of Strange's powers. The turning point for Strange is when she drops him on Mount Everest, forcing him to use his own powers to get back. I do like how all the magic looks like firework sparklers, it has a nicely tactile quality.



She tells him he has to defeat his ego to get back. But nothing about the scene actually shows how humility assists Strange in this task, nothing about his training actually makes him more humble. Magic in the film functions precisely like technology does in the other films, the little floating shield things are even rather like the floating computer interfaces.



The other major effect, of folding buildings, is taken right from Christopher Nolan's Inception. It didn't seem like anyone working on this film had a genuine desire to create a sense of magic. The astral projection stuff was kind of fun.



Strange is particularly annoying in the credits scene with Thor (Chris Hemsworth). I don't know why exactly his smugness is never as entertaining as Robert Downey Jr.'s as Tony Stark, maybe it's because there always seems to be a wounded quality to Downey Jr.'s performance, his arrogance consequently coming off as oddly vulnerable. But Benedict Cumberbatch is a good actor, maybe he'll do something better with the character in films from different writers and directors.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot, Mads Mikkelsen's in the movie. He's good but he never has much to do. He has the distinction of being the only character to make any comment on Strange's name being, er, strange. Chiwetel Ejiofor is unremarkable as Strange's sidekick and seems like he's being set up to become another unremarkable Marvel villain to be tossed onto the pile.

Twitter Sonnet #998

A gentle step intrudes but waits for thread.
A kinder sort of fog consoles the crowd.
It's nothing like a row of petals shed.
The creature's eye uncorks a bubble shroud.
Molasses stems unfurl in potted ships.
Canals continue west while captains east.
A mountain range may lick its rocky lips.
The yellow tops of trees report a feast.
Encouraged by the swimming moose we sank.
On paper pulled from candy heads we ate.
No gunner goes for paper glued to tank.
In distant schools the bees would count to eight.
Descending wisps have hardened clouds to hands.
On faulty disks all hues turn into bands.
setsuled: (Doctor Chess)


One thing's for sure, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies aren't among the many modern films that use a dull, blue and amber colour palette. In 2017's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, director James Gunn uses every colour in the rainbow, and then some, but manages to keep the riot of colour, characters, and effects in a tight enough bundle to make a very entertaining water balloon of enthusiastic post-modern affection.



My favourite parts of the film were the conversations between Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff). It seems the filmmakers sought to pair one big-hearted, simple-minded character with another, which doesn't seem like a concept that would have legs, yet their conversation about beauty was oddly thought provoking, despite the obvious joke in Drax's assertion that beautiful people can't trust anyone. Now the two seem to be on the path to a relationship in which physical repulsion is agreed on as a desirable concept. It's not exactly like Peter (Chris Pratt) compulsively talking about David Hasselhoff at the end of the film in order to mute some of the big emotional notes, but the landscape Mantis and Drax have created has something like the enthusiastically ironic appreciation for pop culture references that pervade much of the film in that there's a pursuit for earnest feeling through the destabilising of signifiers. I've been at university too long.



I was really jazzed to see Ben Browder's cameo. After seeing the first film, I noted how much it owes to the great Sci-Fi television series Browder starred, Farscape, in terms of tone. It seemed James Gunn was acknowledging the influence with this cameo, and I dig it. With Browder putting on that English accent, it seemed like Crichton posing as Peacekeeper.



When the first movie came out, I remember people commenting on how refreshing it was that Gamora (Zoe Saldana) didn't end up becoming Peter's love interest, which generally made me wonder if these people were watching the same movie I was. It seemed abundantly clear that they were intended to have an unspoken attraction, but I guess we needed this movie with Peter directly stating to Gamora than they shared an unspoken mutual attraction. This movie did a better job of having Gamora seem attracted to Peter, though--she can actually be seen checking him out early on. And is it really so strange? To quote John Cleese in Monty Python's Meaning of Life, what's wrong with a kiss? I've been disappointed by the lack of romance in the new Star Wars films and television series, I'm glad this apparently isn't something Disney's mandated for all its properties.



I still don't find Gamora all that interesting. Nebula (Karen Gillan) was a lot more fun and I enjoyed watching her try to sort her feelings out. It's a shame Gillan has to shave her head for these films, though, her hair is so fantastic. If Paul Goddard were the Farscape cameo the two could commiserate.

I read James Gunn made a point of making sure the movie passed the Bechdel Test many times. But he must have misunderstood the test, which requires that two or more named female characters have a conversation where they don't talk about a man. The Bechdel Test website can only find one brief instance in the film that passes and it's actually a conversation in which Peter, Drax, and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) take part.

Personally, I don't care if a movie passes the Bechdel test or not. As even proponents of the test have pointed out, there are many movies that don't pass while still having great female characters and many movies that do pass while lacking good female characters. But I'm a little intrigued that Gunn was so keen to pass the test but still managed to botch it almost completely. Oh, well. It happens to all of us.



The main plot of the film involves Peter's quest for a father figure with Kurt Russell's character, Ego, and Michael Rooker's Yondu being the contenders. The story explicitly involves creation and hierarchy. The movie begins with the crew doing a job for a race of beings who look down on everyone else for their belief in their own perfection, a concept which becomes a more serious concern for Peter later in the film. Again, this goes back to a digestion of the fundamental artistic motive of the film which celebrates a group of misfits and older movies and television series--like Farscape and Star Wars--that featured similar small groups butting heads with powerful beings and governments. One could look at Peter as Prince Hal choosing between the father figures King Henry IV and the morally weaker Falstaff. Though Yondu turns out to be a little too principled to be a genuine Falstaff. But the film is clearly happy to celebrate the fact that it's not the first to present a hero choosing between being a ruler or an ordinary mortal. Of course, no-one in this film is really an ordinary mortal, but still.

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