Unordered List

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

I saw John Wick recently, a movie I'd heartily recommend to any fan of the action genre. With inventive fight scenes and skillful cinematography, it was the definitive "badass man goes on a revenge killing spree" movie. Thankfully, this means we can now retire that trope forever. We're done. It's over. After its millionth retelling, this story can cede its spotlight to things like Mad Max: Fury Road, which displayed a far broader understanding of human nature.

[Also, before I go any further into this Very Serious Review: THROW ME IN THE TRASH, FURY ROAD IS AN EXPLODING MUTANT MASTERPIECE OF LIZARD-CHOMPING, FLAMING GUITAR-PLAYING GENIUS. I spent the first third having heart palpitations over Max's mask and blood tube, the second third thinking, "WHAT THE FUCK!? DUDES ON POLES WITH CHAINSAWS!?" and the final third having some kind of religious experience where I wanted to cry because Tom Hardy made a quizzical grunting noise or the Motorcycle Matriarchy had shown up to save the day, or simply because We Are Not Things, dammit!

And then I went home and read a metric fuckload of behind-the-scenes coverage, because this was a rare instance where that shit is legitimately interesting. Did you know they shot 480 hours of footage? And yet the editor, Margaret Sixel, pulled it all together into one of the most comprehensible and dynamic action narratives I've ever seen! Give that woman an Oscar.]

In every regard, Fury Road was made for me. It took my favourite genre (wildly over-stylized apocalyptic fantasy) and imbued it with emotional and political themes I understood on a personal level. For too long, I've had to watch Hollywood blockbusters with part of my brain switched off, attempting to ignore their obsession with cops and soldiers and steroid-inflated machismo. BUT NO LONGER, MY FRIENDS. No longer.

Obviously I do appreciate characters like Captain America and James Bond, but the fact is that they are not my heroes. What personal connection can I possibly have to Bruce Wayne? None, even as a power fantasy. Whereas with Fury Road, I can really feel this shit. It fulfills my desire to see women work together to protect each other, and for people to overthrow their destructive and abusive leaders. It works on a fundamental level because I know what it's like to live in a world ruined by centuries of pollution, controlled by a cruel patriarchal culture that disregards the souls and bodies of women.

You can hardly describe Fury Road as realistic, but its story felt real to me in every way that counts.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Age of Ultron: The Empire of Tony Stark

Previously: My reviews of The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier
"What the was up with that Black Widow scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron?"
My unspoilery review of Age of Ultron over at the Daily Dot.


When you write a negative review for a summer blockbuster, the response usually goes something like this: Why Do You Hate Fun? To get this out of the way, I'm not judging Age of Ultron from a tower of joyless snobbery. Rather, I think it failed in two pretty basic ways: As an "event" sequel to the Avengers franchise, and as a Joss Whedon movie.

I didn't have high expectations for Age of Ultron, but I generally trust Whedon to deliver an entertaining story with a solid emotional core. The Avengers still holds up as a fun, well-paced movie with an unusually engaging villain, making Age of Ultron all the more disappointing because it didn't live up to these three specific standards. It had all the big-budget action setpieces you'd expect, but overall it was incoherent and riddled with lazy storytelling and self-contradictory characterization. Even Whedon's trademark witty dialogue often fell flat for me, with too many jokes either interrupting the action or feeling like they'd been written for other characters.

Ultimately, I don't think Whedon had any interest in maintaining continuity within the franchise. To a certain extent this was fine, because Age of Ultron had to be accessible to a wider audience. They couldn't include detailed callbacks to earlier movies. But AoU didn't just sidestep recent installments in the franchise, it contradicted them. For example:
  • How did the team get together? AoU opens with the Avengers storming a castle to retrieve Loki's scepter, strongly implying that they've been based out of Stark Tower for some time. However, CA:TWS ends with Cap and Falcon going off to find Bucky (which admittedly gets a throwaway mention in AoU) and Natasha dropping her Black Widow identity to go travelling and "find herself." How did Natasha come to rejoin the Avengers, and when did her not-very-plausible romance with Bruce begin?
  • Tony Stark destroyed his Iron Man suits at the end of Iron Man 3. Obviously we all KNEW he'd go back to being Iron Man, but AoU doesn't mention how this happened. Instead we launch straight in with him using a private army of Iron Man drones to invade/protect Sokovia. Pepper Potts was offscreen throughout, which felt especially odd compared to Erik Selvig's pointless cameo.
  • Steve Rogers' characterization veered back to its Whedon state in The Avengers: stuffy and priggish, with no real impact on the plot. Bizarrely, Steve's "worst nightmare" hallucination was little more than a simplistic flashback to WWII, telling us nothing further about the character. Then there's the running joke where Steve (a frontline soldier who grew up in 1930s NYC), scolds Tony for cursing. In what universe does that make any sense, other than to fabricate some LOLs for the Robert Downey Jr quip machine?

While some of AoU's narrative flaws can be blamed on editorial demands from Marvel (ie, too many characters and overly long action sequences, or the needless Infinity Stone foreshadowing), the most glaring problems were often in areas where Joss Whedon usually excels. Let's start with our villain, Ultron.