Doctor Strange – Formality at its Finest

God damn has it been a long time since I’ve written anything on here. I’ve been very busy with my new job at HiRez and classes and papers and whatnot. Fortunately, the semester is winding down, and I went out and saw this trippy-ass movie and figured “what the hell, I’ll write about it.”

So, Doctor Strange.

No, not that one.

There we go, the one that I’ve been putting in the production studio to scare the fuck out of Toliy.

I want to start out by saying that Doctor Strange is a lot of fun. Crazy effects, good production design, this film is an overall good popcorn flick, whitewashing notwithstanding. It’s a good movie to take a group of random friends to, especially if you guys are on drugs.

Unfortunately, that’s all there is to it. The film neglects every possible formal element for the sake of having fun, and does it in a way that makes you OK with it. That’s because telling this story is not the point of this film. The only point of this film is to set up the titular doctor for the next Avengers movie, and that’s annoying to me. For my comic books class we watched Captain America 1, and even that movie went out of its way to make sure Cap got his character development time. Doctor Strange runs through all the important narrative information to get to the fun stuff as soon as it can, because that’s all it’s got, because its one goal is to set up the next Avengers. And Civil War proved that you don’t even need to give characters their own movie to do that, so why fucking bother?

Except, that important narrative information is how we get invested in the character.

In fact, this entire film is self-defeating on that front because WE KNOW he’s going to win because WE KNOW there’s a million other Marvel films in the pipeline. I remember sitting in the theater when the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy 2 came on and everyone freaked out when they saw baby Groot and I was like “YOU KNEW HE WAS COMING BACK IN THE PREVIOUS MOVIE!!

I really don’t want to recommend Doctor Strange to you. I guess I can, but there’s no real reason for you to see it. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before and financially supporting this movie does nothing to benefit film as a whole. Save your money for Black Panther instead, so you can support nonwhite casting.


P.S.: I promise I have been working on other things. There’s been a lot to worry about. I’m starting to think about publishing comics via KickStarter instead of publishing them on the web, that way I can put a bigger proof-of-concept up there and you don’t have to be sitting on the edges of your seats waiting for updates from me.


Captain America Civil War: Marketing Masterpiece

I think around New Years last year I had a conversation with the twins, Scott and Storm, about how Marvel is in a bit of a paradoxical situation right now. On one hand, they can do nothing wrong; every movie they make is going to be called great. On the other hand, they can’t afford to make anything less than a great movie anymore, because that has become the standard.

In particular, after watching the trailer for Captain America Civil War, I wasn’t so much hyped about as I was wondering how the heck they were gonna make Cap a good guy in this. I know that it would’ve been really hard to adapt the comic book arc in a world where Goliath, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men don’t really exist, but the one trailer I watched made it seem to me like Cap was acting out of a personal desire to save his friend, which really goes against the themes that Avengers 2 set up of innocent civilians, which I assumed they did FOR Civil War because that’s what the fundamental conflict in the comic was.

I know all the good things that people are saying about this movie, but you clicked on the link on Facebook or Twitter or your WordPress Reader knowing what I say about movies, so I want you to stop before you scroll down and write a comment wishing death on me and all my relatives and think about this movie a bit. What does this movie do that is particularly interesting or unique?

The performances are decent, but this is what we expect from even mediocre movies. The action’s OK. Good for an American movie, but I’ve seen better.

Even the writing’s just about average for a Marvel movie. Joss Whedon quit because he was too stressed out, and he was the one who established the general tone for all the post-Avengers 1 movies. In fact, the writing was what I had a big problem with in this movie. True to my predictions, Captain America fails at being a good guy in this film.

I don’t know what happened. Maybe they spent too much time trying to justify Tony Stark’s support of government regulation (you always have to these days, otherwise you get accused of being paid off by Hilary) that they forgot to make Cap not seem like a stubborn asshole for wanting to not be held accountable for property damage and civilian casualties. After a chain of completely stupid and irrational decisions driven by personal friendships and with no consideration of the other people involved, Cap wins without having earned it. Wow, I thought Captain America was supposed to represent the American Dream, not Corporate America.

This felt more like an Iron Man movie than a Captain America one. He’s the one who gets the real character arc, except it doesn’t even pay off for him. The main conflict in this story felt mixed-up and scrambled, like it didn’t know what its priorities were.

Spider-Man and Black Panther are here, sure. Shoved in with no time for characterization besides some cultural appropriation on the latter’s part. ‘Sides, it’s not a surprise, they made sure to let us know that they would be here in every promotional material they could. All your favorite characters, going head-to-head! The fights are awesome! Never mind that the narrative that contextualizes it all has more holes in it than a Dutch dam made of Swiss cheese.

This film is not a masterpiece of filmmaking. It’s a masterpiece of marketing. The hype train was half the experience of being in the theater for it. You watched a trailer, and they spaced out the release of the next one for just long enough for you to Google who Black Panther was and join the internet debate on whether Spider-Man would be Miles Morales or Peter Parker. And they did a great job, enough that people are pretending this movie is better than it is.

Final recommendation: You saw it already, because you were riding the hype train way too hard. But it doesn’t stand up to a close analysis, and leaves a gross, buttery taste in your mouth. Maybe I should’ve passed on the popcorn.

Deadpool: Insubstantially Stylish

Usually when I write reviews, I compose pithy remarks in my head before watching the movie that I may or may not use for the review, based on whether it turns out to be good or not. I forgot to do this with this movie because I’ve been so busy, but maybe I have time to throw down a bunch of words on a page for you guys to read about why Deadpool was pretty OK WHOA SPOILERS

Yeah, I liked Deadpool. It looked surprisingly good, especially in the beginning framing device/action scene where everything is washed out and white-and-grey, and in the middle of this here is Ryan Reynolds in a bright red suit. The opening title sequence was creative enough for me to notice it and remember the lesson about title sequences in Narrative Film class, and the action was kickass.

Notably, the action sequences were brutally violent, like The Revenant, but they never lingered. Some fucked up shit would happen and then we’d move on. The camera didn’t circle around the guy that got pancaked against a highway sign for 15 goddamn minutes.

I guess the main problem I have with this movie is its inconsistence. I’m currently working on an article about this (BECAUSE of Deadpool), but 4th-wall humor is inherently self-destructive. It raises more questions than it can possibly answer. Suspension of disbelief is a fragile thing, and 4th-wall humor is like taking a sledgehammer to your mother’s china cabinet.

And that’s not to say that it doesn’t work in Deadpool, because it totally does. Where I have a problem is when this movie tries to get me to take its quiet drama scenes or “serious” action scenes seriously, because we have established that this film does not give a shit about anything, including its own continuity. I suppose you could make an argument for the whole before-and-after of Wade Wilson’s torture and all that, but in the context of a narrative where all the serious stuff is told in flashback, and also you clearly established in the goddamn opening credits that this movie is irreverent, that is no excuse.

Deadpool is distinctively and noticeably style over substance, but it doesn’t give a unicorn’s rainbow-farting asshole for substance and that’s fine. I can recommend this movie to you if you are the thick-skinned type, but maybe skip it if you get offended easily.

Ant-Man: Not Jumping The Shark

I think Marvel’s new strategy is to put all of their effort into the movies starring superheroes that nobody cares about.

Honestly, besides his name, I didn’t know that much about Iron Man before his movie came out. And not the name “Tony Stark” either, all I knew was “Iron Man.” And lo and behold, the Iron Man trilogy is a set of movies that rival the Dark Knight ones. Now we have Ant-Man, a movie that I was fulling expect to gleefully necropsy as “the one that jumped the shark,” and… I liked it. It was fun, clever, and, eh, pretty good.

Oh, I’ve got my quibbles, but overall I really liked it. It kept me engaged throughout the whole thing, with generally solid characters and plot. Perhaps the biggest thing I have to say about it is that it doesn’t feel like a Marvel superhero movie. Much like Ant-Man’s powers, this is a single thingy that functions in two opposite ways.

On one hand, it’s a compliment! Ant-Man is refreshingly different, at a point when the classic formula has gotten stale. Whereas the last couple standalone films have dealt with a global threat that makes you wonder why the Avengers don’t just call each other up, Ant-Man both explains and justifies this; Lang isn’t even part of the Avengers, and his boss-character is extremely hostile toward anyone with the last name Stark. Additionally, the main antagonist isn’t someone who seems like a threat to the world, and the impact analysis of the threat shows the danger in a far enough time frame that only Pym, who really understands what all is going on, is aware of the danger to the world at large.

On the other hand…

Ant-Man seems to struggle to fit into the Marvel world at large. It goes out of its way to bring other Marvel characters and bring the existing outside world into the film. I think those are the moments where it’s at its weakest, because it’s normally such a well-focused story that forcibly inserting the Avengers feels less like an interesting cameo and more like seeing an ex at a restaurant while you’re on a date and them coming over and talking to you.

And that’s a real shame, because Ant-Man on its own is surprisingly good. The Avengers-insertion segments are but insects, carrying away pieces of the delicious cake of this film at the movies-picnic. It’s a film that doesn’t build on the Avengers narrative at all, and that’s fine! But then it comes back on after everyone’s stood up and applauded and tries to sing another song, even though nobody is asking for an encore, smugly aware of its strengths and trying to use them to push its weaknesses. It’s like all the product placement in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, except the product being sold is Marvel’s own movies.

Ant-Man is a lot of fun. After quite a bit of stagnation, Marvel has recaptured my interest, at least temporarily. For those of you who are looking for a strong standalone flick, check it out. Those who are mostly interested in the overarching Avengers narrative, skip it; what it does contribute is very little, and not all that important so long as you know Ant-Man exists.

I meant to publish this yesterday but I forgot.

Avengers 2 and The Tarantino Conundrum

A while back I posted about Marvel movies and how they’re declining, and now I’ve seen Avengers 2. Let’s take a look at the movie and see how it ties to that old post.

First off, I want to say that Avengers 2 is damn good. The one thing that stood out the most for me was the characters, which I thought were brilliant. Not only did all of the characters act like human beings with real concerns and problems, but the film managed to give time to all of them, something that its predecessor did a less than stellar job of. I do have a nitpick, which you’ve probably heard already, but I’ll save it for now.

In particular, I thought the further progression of Tony Stark’s character was brilliantly done. We can clearly see some sort of movement from the asshole in Iron Man 1 and 2 to the more grounded and mature man we have in this film. The interplay between him and Cap is great, and the way all of the characters interact make this a movie that excels for this reason. Comic books have always had this problem with introducing characters for their form, rather than their function, and plopping down a bunch of new people just because they seem cool. Avengers 1 definitely felt at least a little like bringing a bunch of heroes together just for shits and giggles, and I’m impressed at how Avengers 2 manages to stop that cold.

I also thought it was kind of funny how Hawkeye’s internal conflict is basically what everyone was thinking when he was in the previous movie.

But nobody likes me when I’m talking about how things are good, so let’s do some dissection.

I did think the movie was funny. It excels in witty banter, which reminds me very much of Spider Man and then I cry a little bit. At the same time, I think a lot of that banter is out of place. Here we have a movie that deliberately shows us a lot of shots of civilians panicking and running away, and generally makes an effort to say “shit’s getting serious now.” The impact of that kind of falls flat when we have heroes spouting witticisms like it was bargain basement day at the Snark Shop.

You’ve heard how bullshit the Banner/Romanov shipping thing was, so I’ll just go ahead put it out there. I don’t like how it makes Romanov a satellite character to Banner as someone else for him to alienate with his grim lugubrious angst, I don’t like how it’s backtracking on how Banner is supposed to have control over the Hulk, established in the previous movie, just so that he can still have some character drama, and I don’t like how Romanov’s half of this deal is completely bullshitted into this movie so that it can work out between the two of them. It’s forcing the character to fit how you want to write the story, rather than allowing the story to unfold around the character, and if you do that your writing license should be revoked right here, right now.

And now it’s time for the big one. I bet you’re wondering why I called this post “The Tarantino Conundrum.” Much like Tarantino is all the time, I think that this film is too satisfied with itself. It reached a point beyond all other superhero films (except The Dark Knight, of course) and then… It gave up. Stopped. Curled up on the ground and went to sleep. Like Tarantino, it said “I’m great as I am” and didn’t bother fixing all the little problems I cited above. Guys, you’ve reached a plateau, and like Bruce Lee said, you can’t just stop, you have to keep going. Avengers as a franchise is in a great position right now. Instead of saving the best for Infinity War, you should be going as far as you absolutely can and then EXCEEDING THAT EVEN MORE with the next movie.

That being said, Age of Ultron is still worth your time. At the end of the day, all this stuff I’m saying is still minor in comparison to what the film does well. Go see it if you get the chance. Outside of the film itself, however, I do feel like Avengers 2 is still exacerbating the problems I highlighted in the previous Marvel-related post. We’ve reached a point at which anything that doesn’t contribute to the greater “all the Avengers” related narrative is boring and annoying because it doesn’t have anything to do with what we really want to see. In fact, I sat through the end credits and there wasn’t even anything special for me. Just a bit with Thanos after the splash credits, and we’ve seen Thanos like a couple times at this point. Fuck Thanos. Tease me somehow! Except you CAN’T because I’ve SEEN EVERYTHING ALREADY.

Side note, I did hear that they’re filming Infinity War entirely with IMAX cameras. The only reason I can think of for this is that someone found out they were getting fired after Infinity War and they want to drive the studio bankrupt as revenge.

In Other News:
Looking for a job in Wooster. All I can say on this topic is “bleh.”

I’ve been a bit lazy with writing. Once I have a job and my schedule is more set, I think I’m going to start laying out my day more with dedicated writing time for All The Clever Titles, Two Princes, and the Just Dungeons campaign for the boys in Atlanta next year.

Team Tidepool is deliberating on entering the Alienware Awesome Cup, I think. Been practicing my hammer-poke-game. Maybe I shouldn’t be revealing my strats on this blog.

Will work for work in Wooster,

What Happened to Marvel Movies?

I’m just going to go ahead and say something that will get my blog blacklisted by legions of Marvel fans: I’m sick of Marvel movies. It’s not that I think they’ve gotten bad. The excitement’s died down, that’s all. I also think that Marvel movies have lost their way.

First of all, I want it to be known that I think Marvel’s superhero movies are doing a lot of things right. They’re taking things in new directions. Most pre-Marvel superhero movies do an origin story, and then… They’re stuck. I’m going to use Sam Raimi’s Spider Man movies for this example. Yes, even the third one, because it TEACHES AN IMPORTANT LESSON.

See, the reason we see so many superhero origin stories is that they’re the only part of a superhero story that’s really set in stone. Superman came from Krypton. Batman has dead parents. Spiderman hit puberty. But because of the nature of comic book continuity, everything after that is eternal status quo, which is a problem when it comes to film, because you need some sort of arc.

Every origin story has a small, self-contained arc, which is why they usually encompass one movie per. Peter Parker learns that with great power comes great responsibility. Then, after the first movie, you need to present some new form of character development for the sequel… And then we run into problems, because the source material has nothing of the sort for you to go off of, at least, nothing that hasn’t been temporally reset in some sort of reboot or another. Sam Raimi was forced to slapdash together what he could, and that’s how we got this abomination.

This is something that Marvel is averting brilliantly, or at least trying to. Except for Iron Man 2, all of Tony Stark’s character development carries over pretty well to the next movie. I found his PTSD after the wormhole in Avengers to be a particularly excellent touch. Marvel is doing things like bringing in Winter Soldier and making an attempt to adapt the Civil War arc.

So, what’s wrong with Marvel movies? Why am I so sick of them?

Do you remember this little gem?

After watching that I sat in the theater with my jaw hanging until the usher forcibly removed me. I spent the next month shitting my pants over it with all my geeky friends at school and pondering the significance of it.

Now take a look at this:

Bleh. Boring. We know exactly what’s coming, so there’s no more fun to be had in wondering what those crazy geniuses at Marvel are going to do next. I’m not excited about Marvel movies anymore, instead, I’m wondering why the fuck Ant Man gets his own movie. They’ve put their whole hand down on the table. To put this in a narrative context, there’s no suspense. It’s like if there was a text screen at the beginning of Captain America 2 that said “Nick Fury gets shot in this movie, but don’t worry, he’s still alive at the end.” Which transitions nicely into my next point…

Quick, make a list of all the characters you’ve seen die in superhero movies. Now, cross off all the people who came back in some form or another. Who’s left? Uncle Ben, Ivan Vanko, and the other Uncle Ben from the rebooted Spider Man movies?

This Cracked video explains the death-in-Marvel-movies phenomenon better than I ever could, partially because I stole this argument from them. Thanks, Daniel. But, for those of you who can’t watch the video, basically, every time you kill a character and then bring them back, every bit of emotional weight that that death carries is lost. Here’s an example unmentioned in the video: Big Hero 6. Does Baemax sacrifice himself to save Hiro? No, not really, because there was no sacrifice. Nothing was lost. They just rebuilt him and kept on hero-ing. I would argue that Dan up there’s a bit behind, in fact. There’s not just no emotional impact because we figure those characters are still alive, but there’s not even any sense of danger anymore. None of the conflicts feel like “this is serious” fights, because all the characters will probably make it out alive anyway. It’s like reading One Piece.

What happened to you, Marvel? When Disney first bought you, you had their financial backing and continued to be fucking fantastic. Fantastic 4, as it were. But then Disney’s suits come in and start demanding more control, insisting on an eternal status quo in which they can continue to sell toys and t-shirts. I now direct a question towards Disney. Your founder once said “I don’t make movies to make money, I make money to make movies.” What happened to that?

In Other News:
They released the first Assassin’s Creed Chronicles yesterday.

Guys, this is exactly what I was talking about in the last post. The designers finally realized that a game needs to be fun. They made it like Mark of the Ninja, which the AAA meatheads are complaining about, but Mark of the Ninja was good. They toned down the sandbox and went for more structure. Instead of spending millions on a graphics engine to make sweat look a tad more sweaty, they went for graphics that look good. This is the first Assassin’s Creed game that I’ve been excited to play, ever. It’s also reasonably priced at $10 USD.

Started powering through Half-Life. We never finished it after the Hans n’ Albert video.

I also started writing a stand-up set. It’s about relationships and being a poor university student, so far. I don’t know when I’ll be able to perform it.

Finals are rapidly approaching. Best of luck on yours.