When I was young, I didn’t really know what good music was; I was raised in a house that veered from Glenn Miller to Toto to Steely Dan, and I remember having a cassette tape of 50s songs (I think it was when McDonald’s was doing their rock n’ roll promotion thing, it had Rock around the Clock, Wake up Little Suzie, Runaround Sue, Runaway, Great Balls of Fire, Summertime Blues, and a few other fifties standards) that I played until it broke, but I never really had any real conscious knowledge of music until I was a teenager and I found the Beatles. Or rather, they found me. The insanity of Beatlemania drove me both forwards and backwards; I read everything about the Beatles I could get my desperate hands on, and that included reading about their inspirations and the music they listened to, which was Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, the Everly Brothers, and so on. Music I was already familiar with in part, but I raged on like the good little addict and snatched up any and all music I could get my hands on (not easy in the days before youtube and mp3s, when I had to try to find tapes or the newfangled CDs not to mention the money required for such things).

Strangely enough, I veered toward what you could call the “black” side of the “Beatle Inspiration” line; I found most of Elvis’ music boring and to this day find little to admire–I don’t dislike him either as a person or a performer, but I simply do not get what all the fuss is about and find other singers to be much more talented; to me Little Richard could bounce Elvis out on his ass any day of the week, but I digress. The white side was fine, but bland (save the always wild Jerry Lee Lewis), but the black side was the stuff that honey and gold was made from. As much as I might dig Rock around the Clock, Summertime Blues, and Blue Suede Shoes, those songs don’t get you leaping around nearly as well as Tutti Frutti, or Roll Over Beethoven, Maybelline, or Johnny B Goode. They’re all great, but I gravitated to the mighty Chuck early on, him and Little Richard, and never looked back. I don’t care how many times I hear it, the classic Chuck opening riff will never leave my soul or my heart, and even though Chuck has left us physically, his mighty spirit and music will always be here with us. Never got to meet him or see him perform, but his song and voice is in my soul, so maybe on the flip side I’ll get to groove on up next to him and do a little duck walk across the stars.

Thoughts on Supernatural season 12 episode “First Blood”

It’s now been almost a week since the Winchesters were returned to us, both literally and figuratively, and the six weeks the boys were locked away from us were actual days we the fans have been separated from Show. Supernatural fans handle the hiatuses in a variety of ways: some see it as an opportunity for a rewatch, others as a sentence to Purgatory, others approach it with the calmness of Zen masters. The hiatus between seasons, appropriately called a hellatus, can be agonizing or merely frustrating, depending on the last image the viewer is left with. I would imagine those who were left hanging at the end of season three still have the twitches.

We learn that the boys are accused of trying to kill the President of the United States, something that gets them a one-way ticket to an off-the-grid pair of cells somewhere. As expected, they say absolutely nothing to the men that ask them questions, and refuse to even react in any way. They’re separated, put into solitary confinement by the “good cop” older Secret Service guy, who’s going to leave them alone until the solitary drives them insane enough to talk.

If you’re like me, you’re thinking “Dude, you have no idea who it is you’re dealing with.” And they don’t, just as Henriksen didn’t, just as Jody Mills didn’t at first, just as every authority figure through twelve seasons hasn’t had a clue. They think they know, in that authoritarian “I know everything worth knowing and you’re the one who doesn’t have a clue” way that puts the salsa in the dip when that authority inevitably gets shattered, when they find that they are in fact the ones who don’t have clue one. I’ve always admired Henriksen in season three, because when his world got turned inside out and he realized he wasn’t the big badass who’d seen everything, he didn’t try to cover it up with more macho shit, but dealt with it right out front. And I’m still sad that he was so quickly killed off because he would have made one hell of an ally. C’est la vie.

Then Sam and Dean are inexplicably found dead, both of them, lying in the morgue while the guys-without-a-clue try to figure out how and why. Then Sam and Dean come back to life, snag the doctor, and break out with an ease that still bothers me–if this is supposed to be some super-secret it-doesn’t-exist place, shouldn’t it be someplace you can’t just walk out of? (Yes, I am pragmatic enough to recognize that the show can’t afford to have them bust out of the place and find themselves on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean or on the moon or even on a ship a la the Stallone flick Escape Plan. It’s also possible that even though they are considered dangerous beyond belief, the Secret Service or NSA or whoever would still make a bumbling mistake and think that a maxi-cell security hold in the middle of Colorado would be sufficient.)

The bad guys realize they’ve escaped, and now we finally get to the reason for the title. The big mistake the supposed “authorities” made is not torturing Sam and Dean. Six weeks of solitary is no picnic, but they were fed, given time to sleep, we see Sam working out–these are not ragged prisoners making a feeble attempt at escape. These are the world’s most elite hunters turned loose with enough strength to put up one hell of a fight if you give them time.

The scenes that follow are magic for me (hey, laying my bias cards down all nice and pretty). Jensen and Jared look lean and intense, moving in sync in a way that sends shivers down my spine. We know that these are two men who have gone up against things so formidable and dangerous that even a squad of highly-trained soldiers is hardly a challenge. The soldiers don’t know that, and that’s the fun; the same gut-level thrill you get watching Stallone’s John Rambo take out a bunch of cops and weekend warriors in the film from which this episode takes its title is present here, watching Sam and Dean take out the soldiers one by one, without killing any of them, with an ease that shows just how far they’ve come.

They finish, informing the two heads that they’re the guys who saved the world, and leave, knowing they won’t be followed. The hints that have dropped throughout–mentions of ‘midnight’–finally drop when they reunite with Cas and Mary, who used the British Men of Letters’ help to find them. They made a deal with Billie the Reaper while imprisoned; she agrees to kill them and bring them back one last time, on the condition that she gets to take one of them for good.

That seems to be the crux of most of the criticism with this episode, and I can’t disagree. Two men who have endured decades (in Sam’s case, a century) in Hell, Purgatory, insane tortures of the kinds that should have snapped their sanity years ago, and six weeks in a cell breaks them? I would say this is a case of writers taking the easy way out and making do as best they can, since the show is not going to turn into a prison film, but it was done too sloppy here, with too many things that just don’t fit together. It’s slapping paint on a wall to try to cover a big hole. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, and I’m nothing if not pragmatic. However, it still doesn’t remove the fact that a deal for one of them to die permanently is not, even at this stage, something they would agree to so easily, not without exhausting ALL other options first, and you cannot tell me that in six weeks they couldn’t think of any other way to escape. But again, that would probably require extra scenes, extra time, and they’re clearly needing to get them out and on their way in this 42-minute segment, so you get what you get.

Then comes the dramatic moment when Mary steps forward to offer herself, putting a gun to her head while her horrified sons look on. Billie is ready to take the offer, when she is stabbed from behind by an angel blade. Yep, Cas takes out the reaper, saying that he won’t let any more Winchesters die. As much as I enjoyed seeing the end of a character who frankly was getting on my last nerve, the whole denouement was a little too melodramatic to me, a little too ham-handed and blatantly setting up future angst. I’m not going to complain too much–Sam and Dean free YAY, Mary alive YAY (although she might be cozying up to the British Men of Letters BOO), Cas killed Billie BIG YAY, but it wasn’t the best writing even from this season. So all in all a solid episode, lots of fan service, but with some issues that are just too big to be ignored entirely.

Dune

Hey, I never said this blog was going to be all new movies, now did I??

If you’re a child of the 80s like me, you probably remember a very strange David Lynch film based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune. Also, if you are me, your memories were very vague, consisting mainly of images of a gross fat guy in what looked like soiled pajamas floating in the air, an almost-naked Sting wearing only a blue stylized Speedo, and people going around in form-fitting suits with innertube-like bulges and glowing blue eyes.

Recently, as I have been slowly collecting the films with which I very much identify my youth, I purchased Dune after catching part of the film on YouTube. It wasn’t as bad as I remembered and certainly wasn’t as bad as the reviews I’d read (contemporary reviews, as the film is now viewed as fairly faithful to the novel). There’s a certain twisted quality to the film that makes it intriguing.

I won’t try to summarize the plot; Wikipedia is just fine for that. Besides which, the story is one that defies any easy summary. Herbert’s novels encompass so much that it resists an easy boil-down. However, the basic premise is this–in the year 10,191 (approx. eight thousand years from now), the Known Universe is ruled by a feudal empire; there is an Emperor, whose power is kept in tenuous balance by the Landsraad, which is a collective of the Great Houses, the CHOAM corporation, which controls all the business dealings of the universe, the Spacing Guild, which holds a monopoly on space travel; at the center of it all is a drug called melange–or, as those who share cat memes no doubt know well–the spice, which exists in only one place–a desert planet called Arrakis. The spice extends life and expands consciousness, and a poison called The Water of Life enables certain members of a sect called the Bene Gesserit to become Reverend Mothers and gain powers of genetic memory and Truthsaying.

That’s the setting; the plot itself concerns two feuding Houses (Atreides and Harkonnen) and the Emperor’s machinations to eliminate the Duke of House Atreides, who represents a threat to his power. It’s a huge scope, involving plots and betrayal a young man with a mysterious destiny, who is driven to revenge after his father is killed by their mortal enemy. He flees into the deep desert with his mother and meets the Fremen, a desert-dwelling people whose ferocity in battle presents him with an opportunity to get revenge on his enemies and eventually take control of the planet, and thus the universe.

With those elements, the movie is very faithful to the book; yes, Dylan McDermott isn’t a teenager and some of the visual elements are extremely bizarre, but the plotline is the same. There is some very good acting from some of the cast (including Patrick Stewart) and some total overacting, but overall it’s not bad.

Where the film strays are elements from the novel that would admittedly be very hard to get across in film, less so with today’s technology but insanely difficult back in 1984. One of the main themes in the novel is the fact that Paul Atreides has prescience, or visions of a myriad of future timelines. The element missing from the film (aside from a very brief mention that is never followed up on) is that Paul, while training the Fremen in the weirding way (which is presented in the film as some kind of device worn around the neck and something held in the hands that allows the user to destroy with sound, but in the novel is more like a martial art), can see a tremendous Jihad that will be released by his ascendency to the throne. Much of the novel is involved with Paul trying to find a way to avoid this jihad, but ultimately when he defeats the Emperor and kills the heir to House Harkonnen he knows that it is inevitable that the Jihad will be released by the people who hold him as their messiah. The Paul of the film is not conflicted by this vision and is more occupied with his revenge, and the film ends not with the unease of what will be unleashed, but with the neat ending of Paul bringing rain to Arrakis (which doesn’t happen in the novel).

This is overall the compromise that often happens when books are translated to film–they are different media with different tools for telling a story, and the length of a book versus the shorter run time of even a longer movie means that things have to be condensed, summarized, or sometimes left out entirely. When it comes to Dune, no matter the opinion on Lynch’s choices for visuals, he comes very very close, far closer than many other adaptations.

Mechanic: Resurrection

I am an unapologetic Jason Statham fan. He, along with Stallone, Schwarzeneggar, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and Jason Momoa are my guilty pleasures, where I will watch whatever they’re in just because they’re in it (with certain exceptions) and the fact that they’re in it makes it worth watching (or owning a copy) to me. Hey, I even watched In The Name of the King just to see Statham . . . and, you know, to see how shitty it really was. (Not quite as bad as I feared but still bad.)

I find Statham to be quite a good actor, actually, for someone who didn’t get into acting by intention. He carries himself well, has a way of expressing things quickly, with glances and movements that are subtle and almost too fast to see. He doesn’t have a great deal of range, but he plays straightforward characters very well, and if you need intensity, there’s no one better.

I haven’t seen all his films, but when one catches my eye I will check it out. I saw a trailer for Mechanic: Resurrection and I was interested (having seen the other Mechanic film and knowing his character didn’t really die). So I cued up my Amazon Instant Video and gave it a look see. Now, with my biases up-front, I have to structure this as a response to the question “Is this a good movie?”

That depends ENTIRELY on you, the viewer. If you enjoy quick, tight action sequences that have you holding your breath, then the answer is yes. If you like lush visuals and exotic locales, then yes. If you like quirky performances by Tommy Lee Jones, who’s just as ornery now as he was in Black Moon Rising, only with a little more “I don’t give a fuck,” then yes. If you enjoy watching Jason Statham running around in a wetsuit with a gun, best get the blu-ray STAT. But if you enjoy complex or even simple plotting, a consistent storyline, compelling characters and character chemistry, this is definitely not the movie for you.

Other reviews have used the word schizophrenic and that word is very apt for this film. It can’t decide what it wants to be or do, what message, what meaning it wants to get across, if anything. The basic plot is this: Statham is Bishop, an assassin who isn’t interested in working for anyone anymore, thanks. He’s just trying to live his life but someone named Crain is determined to hire him to kill, going so far as strongarming a woman (by threatening the children she works with) named Thorne (Jessica Alba, who does her best with what she has) into being rescued from an abusive man by Bishop, who would then fall in love with her, then she could be kidnapped and held hostage to force him to carry out assassinations. Bishop finds out about the plan but plays along since there is something at stake (the kids), and comes to actually like the woman who was sent to seduce him. She is kidnapped as planned and Crain gives Bishop his targets to eliminate. He kills two, then turns the tables on Crain and everything works out in the end, so the plot does have a beginning, middle, and end, but it never really comes together.

Thorne is never a strong enough motivation for Bishop on any level; you never get the sense that he’s doing anything more than going through the motions, which makes his very fierce movements as he carries out his work confusing–what is he fighting so hard for? Unlike Frank Martin in the Transporter series, who has very firm rules and, dare I say, values, Bishop is a blank. We don’t know who or what he fights for, who he loves, what he cares for other than the veneer of loving Thorne, which is pretty fake any way you slice it. And that pisses me off on multiple levels, because there is STUFF there that they put into the film–she’s a veteran who works with kids in Cambodia, where she found meaning in her life, so this is a passionate person who has a life and meaning, and all of that is just left to sit there, unexplored. It could have been explored, but apparently they needed more screen time to kill the warlord in the prison.

Which Bishop does, and then he moves to his next target, which I have to admit, I enjoyed on several levels. The target is Adrian Cook, a rich fuck who made money in sex trafficking, and in true disgustingly wealthy fashion, has a penthouse with a cantilevered swimming pool–i.e. a pool that juts out from a VERY tall building. Just a glass rectangle in midair, so you can swim and look down thirty stories. The way he does it is just smooth and very satisfying. Worth watching just for this. (For me, anyway.)

Then Bishop finally figures out that he’s been killing arms dealers, essentially knocking off Crain’s competition. So when he reaches the last one on the list, he decides to ally with him, fake his death, and take out Crain. Or something.

See, that’s what it’s supposed to have been, but the movie never really commits to any one course of action. It kind of meanders, hoping that just movement itself will add up to a conclusion. It’s kind of like writing a paper in college and realizing you have no idea how to bring it to a close.

Bishop moves through the film like a man who’s beaten the game eight hundred times already. The visuals are great, the fight scenes and stunts are awesome, and Tommy Lee Jones is adorable in his small part, so if that is enough for you, then yes please watch this movie because you WILL enjoy it. Otherwise, maybe just rewatch Transporter or the first Expendables and get a better bang for your buck.

Jake Is a Tool of Eywa and The Na’vi are not Weak

Okay, finally getting to my first Avatar entry.

It’s no secret given the title of this blog and the Na’vi words that I will likely be sprinkling throughout that I am a big fan of the movie Avatar. But, more specifically I’m far more a fan of the Na’vi people and of Pandora (or, more correctly, Ewya’eveng), but given that the film is the primary way one can experience Pandora, that keeps it high in my estimation. I despised most of the human characters in the film and was rooting for the Na’vi the whole time, and I don’t think I’ve ever cheered louder for the humans to die than I did in that film. Like with everything, the film is not without its flaws, and I don’t disagree with the criticisms. I won’t say that this is a perfect film or a superior one, but it is one that grabbed hold of my imagination and won’t let go, and it’s beyond just the incredible richness of an alien world and its people. But there is one criticism that I do disagree with in part, that of Jake Sully as the White Savior of Pandora.

The White Savior trope is a common one in films, where a white character comes to the aid of the “savage” people to protect them from other whites. It’s rooted in racism, in the belief that the only way tribal peoples can stand is if they have a white person to lead them or defend them. It’s a valid criticism and one of the many ways that subtle racism still perpetuates. Dances With Wolves manages to mostly sidestep this trap. Films like The Last Samurai can be viewed as playing into the White Savior trope, but I think in the case of it and Avatar, it’s not that simple, or rather that it’s not the entire story, and something is missed if it is labelled or dismissed so simply. Jake’s story is much more that of a bildungsroman (a coming-of-age story), or of a hero’s journey within or alongside some of the white savior tropes, but I feel that if you look closely at Jake’s character and the events surrounding his journey, it’s much less cut and dry.

The extended edition of the film (available on the deluxe editions in both DVD and blu-ray) makes the story a lot clearer, and the deleted scenes add extra dimension. The extended edition begins on Earth, showing a scene where Jake sees a man beating up his girlfriend in a bar, and he intervenes and is ultimately thrown out. His voiceover: “The strong prey on the weak. It’s just the way things are. And nobody does a damn thing. All I ever wanted in my sorry-ass life, was a single thing worth fighting for.”

That for me changes the whole flavor of the film. You have a man who is broken and lost, unsure where his life is going, who is just following an opportunity given to him when his twin brother is killed. He has no emotional stake in Pandora, does not know about the Na’vi at all, and is not looking to become the leader of anything. His interests at the outset are basic; it’s good pay, a change of scenery, an option for someone who has few. What the hell does he have to lose? But more than that, the bar scene also shows us a man who is tired of seeing the strong dominate the weak because they can, and that comes into play later.

If you take Avatar in a strictly allegorical sense, then the framework of the savior trope certainly fits. You have a technologically superior group of humans (whose leaders are all white) digging up a planet whose indigenous population is a neolithic tribal society whose technology is still at the bow and arrow stage. Culturally the Na’vi are very similar to various rainforest dwelling peoples on Earth, with a close connection to their world, with Eywa, their Great Mother, so basically it is the White European versus the Amazonian Tribesmen.

Part of the white savior trope is that the tribal or native peoples are shown to be incompetent to protect themselves. That is certainly not true of the Na’vi; when Jake arrives on Pandora relations have broken down, with the Na’vi forbidding the sawtute from certain areas. It’s at least implied that this ban is kept in effect. The film early on sets up the fact that the RDA intends to take the rich unobtanium deposits under Hometree whether the Na’vi like it or not. They can leave on their own, or be forced out. The humans have no interest in settling Pandora, only taking the minerals that have value to them, so there’s no plot about expansion of settlements, only the destruction of nature. Indeed, Pandora is set up right away by Colonel Quaritch as a hell-like, hostile place where “beyond that fence, every living that crawls, flies, or squats in the mud wants to kill you and eat your eyes for jujubes.”

It is into this context that Jake wheels himself in, getting his first information about Pandora through Quaritch’s safety briefing, where the Na’vi are described as “an indigenous species of humanoids.” (Quaritch, like many of the human characters in the film, pronounce it incorrectly as “nahvee.”) “They’re fond of arrows dipped in a neurotoxic venom that’ll stop your heart in one minute, and they have bones reinforced with naturally-occurring carbon fiber. They are very hard to kill.”

Before Jake (and we, the viewers) sees any Na’vi at all, they are set up by Quaritch as dangerous, part of the Pandora that wants to do nothing more than kill. Norm, quizzed on his Na’vi by Grace, clearly knows a lot more, but we don’t get to see any of it. The first Na’vi that the viewers see are all avatars “driven” by the human characters Grace, Norm, and Jake (along with others who are never named) but when they venture out into the forest wearing human clothing, it’s clear they are not Na’vi. The film sets up a clear distinction beyond just the physical (the avatars have five fingers and toes, unlike the Na’vi, who have four fingers on each hand and prehensile first toes, almost like thumbs on their feet; also, the neural queues on an avatar body are connected at the base of the skull; the Na’vi queues emerge from the top of the back of the skull); the human-driven avatars dress like humans in clothes and shoes and stick out in the jungle like the aliens they are.

When Jake is separated from the others by a palulukan attack (note: I tend to use the Na’vi terms for Pandoran wildlife because the human terms annoy me), we get our first look at a real Na’vi. But before Neytiri swoops in and saves Jake from a nantang attack, we see her on a branch above him, ready to shoot him with an arrow before the appearance of an ‘atokirina stops her. We learn later that these are seeds of the Sacred Tree, “very pure spirits” and a sure sign from Eywa.

Jake comes in as the intermediary, and in this sense he serves the narrative the same way Harry Potter does in the books and films. When he goes to Hogwarts for the first time, Harry knows nothing about the wizarding world, and as he learns, we do too. Without Harry the wizarding world would have been incomprehensible to us Muggles without extensive exposition to explain, and the stories would not have been so immediately captivating. So too with Jake; he comes to Pandora an empty cup, as we are, and we learn about the Na’vi along with him.

The theme throughout the film (cemented much further if you have a chance to see some of the deleted footage that covers Jake’s Dream Hunt) is that Eywa chose Jake for a purpose, and I think that while the White Savior Chosen One trope does fit, it doesn’t settle as neatly if you look at the story from the point of view of the hidden character of Pandora—Eywa herself. The story certainly shows that there is some kind of interlacing energy or power at work on Pandora, a planet where beings can directly connect to each other as the Na’vi do with their neural queues. When Grace is dying, her last words to Jake are “I’m with her. She’s real.” So it’s necessary then to frame events as being Eywa’s will, either through her direct action or her nudging, and all of those things lead to one thing; the protection of the planet. So it can be argued that Jake is a tool used by Eywa to save herself, and considering the mentality we’ve already established with Jake, that he wanted something worth fighting for, he is a natural choice.

He’s also a natural choice for the same reason it makes sense for Katsumoto to take Algren as an ally in The Last Samurai. Algren knows how the new army will think and fight because he trained them. That’s the entire reason Katsumoto took Algren prisoner in the first place—to “know my enemy.” Likewise, as a Marine, Jake knows how the Sky People fight, he knows their technology, their tactics, weaknesses—information the Na’vi wouldn’t have without him. The Na’vi certainly do not need him to attack the Sky People; in another deleted scene, after the Tree of Voices is bulldozed to the ground (nearly taking Jake and Neytiri with it), the Omatikaya retaliate against the humans, and attack the site, destroying the bulldozers and several of the AMP suits (large mechanical suits that allow humans to move about) and killing several people on the ground.

The Na’vi are not helpless or backward, but all they are able to do is fight the only way they know how, and the power isn’t necessarily on the Sky People’s side; the Na’vi have greater numbers overall, and even though they do not have advanced weapons, the Na’vi are ten feet tall and ride proportionally-sized pa’li and fly on ikran that are as agile as the Sky People’s gunships. But as the climax shows, they are able to present a defense, but it’s not enough. Even with Jake leading them, it’s not enough. It’s only when Eywa takes direct action that the tide is turned, giving Jake—her tool—the ability to destroy the ship before they can bomb the Well of Souls, and to take down Quaritch’s ship.

It’s also interesting to note that despite Jake being the hero of the story, ultimately it is Neytiri who strikes the final blow; Jake is at Quaritch’s mercy when Neytiri’s arrows take him down, and it is also Neytiri who then saves Jake’s human body, having the presence of mind to leap into the link station and put the mask on Jake before the unfiltered Pandoran atmosphere kills him.

Jake is not an arrogant White Savior, nor is there any indication that he sees himself as such, even when he swoops down to the Tree of Souls as toruk makto. You can argue that the very fact that he does is proof, but I see it somewhat differently. Neytiri told him the story, and that all Na’vi know it. When he’s faced with the urgent need to be able to reach them, it’s something they will not be able to deny. He goes after toruk without any idea if it will even work, going on faith, on the need to do something to protect the people he’s come to love. And when he does, his only motivation is to help them, and to beg Eywa to help Grace. He comes to Tsu’tey humbly, acknowledging his leadership and status, and addresses the assembled Omatikaya only with Tsu’tey’s permission.

For me, Avatar is less “Pocahontas in Space” and less White Savior Protecting The Savages and more about someone finding his place, his home, finding love—finding, as he desired, “a single thing worth fighting for.”

When You Lose Your Sense of Play (Or Never Had It In The First Place)

Last night I was rewatching the Star Trek so-called “re-boot” film that came out in 2009. I say “so-called” because it isn’t really a re-boot. It’s an AU, and this is a critical distinction when it comes to opinions on this film series, which among Trekkers seems to be either love or hate, with little in-between.

The occasion for this viewing was my recent purchase of Star Trek Beyond, the third film in this new series. I neglected to watch this film when it was in theaters, to my regret, as it is one hell of a movie. I was not overly fond of the second film; despite having Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain, they made him Khan, which makes no sense, and the scene where Kirk dies (as a mirror to the iconic scene in Star Trek II) and enrages Spock to revenge, came off as forced and mawkish, something to be laughed at. I’m overjoyed to say that Beyond has redeemed it.

So last night I watched the first again, for probably the twentieth time. I wish it were more obvious to those who are determined to dislike the films that this is an AU, and what that means, but I realized that not everyone is familiar with the medium, or likes it. And that’s OKAY.

However, missing the whole point really isn’t. What I take issue with are the fans who whine incessantly that it’s not really Star Trek, it doesn’t follow the same series of events, this didn’t happen, that didn’t happen that way, blah blah blah whine whine whine.

When the Romulan ship Nerada appeared through the black hole and caused the destruction of the USS Kelvin, and George Kirk along with it, the events of that dimension (as I believe firmly that it is NOT the past of the Prime dimension that we’ve been watching for fifty years) were irrevocably changed, as it fundamentally changed the life of one of the people so instrumental in shaping its future. The characters say as much themselves in the movie later on, when Spock states that with the destruction of Vulcan, their destinies have changed.

That is the essence of the AU, the Alternate Universe. You take the familiar and change a certain event or events so that what comes after is also different, and the fascination can come with watching how those events unfold. Perhaps because I’ve been writing for over twenty years and have written a number of AUs, this appeals to me where it doesn’t for others. And that is also okay.

It does, however, make me sad, since in many cases it represents a lack of playfulness and creativity among a certain subset of fans, and I have noticed a direct correlation between those fans and the ones so virulently against any kind of change or addition to their Sacred Canon, and who see themselves as guardians and protectors of the only right way to view the fandoms they love. This alone was evidenced by the huge (and neckbeard-spearheaded) backlash against the new Ghostbusters film; those who viewed the original films as sacred and inviolable did their best to torpedo the film and harass at least one of the stars just for being in it, all before the film was even released. Most of them declared that it sucked without ever having seen it (a normally laughable bit of stupidity but less amusing when you see so much of it). Even when Dan Aykroyd (who came up with the original idea long before Ramis was involved as co-writer) came out in support of the film, there were fans who basically said he didn’t really know what Ghostbusters was REALLY about, and they were the ones who did.

That kind of delusional hubris is nearly impossible to overcome.

So that may be part of the problem with the new Star Trek films. Those too in love with the original series cannot comprehend anyone having a different vision, or wanting to play around with what-if ideas to see what happens. That kind of rigidity and close-mindedness is sadly human but disappointing nonetheless.

I’ll just keep enjoying the new adventures of Captain Kirk and crew and hope they keep playing.

Batman vs. Superman, or Why Marvel Does It Better

(I intended to start off this blog with a review of Avatar, which would have been fitting given the title and URL, but it needs more polishing and the following was more immediate. So here we go.)

I held off seeing this film after all the negativity and furor. I’m not a comic book reader so much of the minutiae escapes me, but I’m fairly familiar with the larger ideas. I’m a lifelong Superman fan but the Marvel films have been much more captivating and this movie pretty much proves why.

The Avengers started building slowly, through hints peppered through films starting with Iron Man in 2008. The Avengers wasn’t released until 2012. In between, Marvel sowed plot threads in the first Captain America film and the first Thor film, with teasers and tidbits in Iron Man 2 and The Hulk. That made The Avengers a denouement, a payoff for everyone who had seen the other films and had seen how the strands came together. With this film, you see how not to do the same thing. Instead of building up the Justice League bit by bit through multiple films, they try to cram the whole thing into one movie by way of a convoluted plot that doesn’t work.

I did like the beginning, with Bruce’s on-the-ground perspective while Sup and Zod throw down, which is not an angle you get to see that often. The effects were well-done and I was ready to believe Ben Affleck as an older, worn-down Bruce Wayne. But this never felt like a single film; it was more like watching disparate scenes that didn’t have any connection to each other–each one strong in itself, but not part of a larger cohesive whole. It was as if you had twenty different writers each write a scene and then try to put them together. No cohesive unity, no strong sense of where things were going, and actors clearly struggling to figure out just what they were supposed to be emoting about. Bruce’s dream/vision/hallucination of the future was confusing and didn’t help the story; there was a wonderful opportunity to really explore the conflicting ideas of Superman being more of a threat and Batman not really representing justice, or even an opportunity for a good quality storyline of Lex Luthor manipulating Batman into attacking and destroying Superman (or did he want Superman to kill Batman? Who knows?).

This is a movie full of lost opportunities and ham-handed writing; the dramatic moment when Batman is poised to kill Superman, all it takes is the name “Martha” to send Batman into a slo-mo dramatic flashback and make him come to his senses and suddenly ALL of his obsessive suspicions about and vendetta against Superman are gone. So he decides to save Martha Kent while Clark goes off to battle this Luthor/Kryptonian LoTR cave troll thing that Lex managed to make, because apparently it makes sense that he was just given access to Zod and the remnants of a ship and allowed to frolic all by himself to his heart’s content and NO ONE noticed. That’s hardly the weakest part of this film, but one of the most annoying–we know Lex is the villain, so the writers just have him do openly Villainy things that genius crimefighter Bruce Wayne misses because Superman Vendetta Blinders, I suppose.

Oh, and Wonder Woman is in this film, but why, I can’t say. Her only purpose seems to be to connect the other soon-to-be Justice League members to this mishmash of a film and hint at things that are coming. Protip, DC writers; you’re supposed to do that through teasers at the END of the film, not shove a character into a film to serve no purpose. If this were television, this would be dangerously close to a back door pilot. So in effect, DC watched Marvel for at least four years, saw how they carefully and patiently laid the groundwork for the Avengers, and then decided they didn’t want to put that much effort in and tried to do it all in one movie. Badly. The result is this.