Review: Black Panther

[Spoilers are avoided]

Interesting movies should offer lots of potential for disappointment and good, interesting movies create their own pitfalls and somehow avoid them. Black Panther had lots of capacity to be awful – the concept of a hidden kingdom in the centre of Africa was used in the original comics as the background for the character of the Black Panther but drew on the colonial era tropes from H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. While not the most negative view of Africa to appear in Western literature, it was still a perspective on the continent derived from the prejudices and privileges of European colonisation. A myth of hidden wealth that was there if only you could find it.

Those influences are still there in this film but re-appropriated. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is the new king of Wakanda and the titular Black Panther – a Wakandan who is also part of world affairs, while his country’s technological and economic advancement remains hidden. Rather than a process of discovery, we first see Wakanda through his eyes as he returns home to be crowned king. Wakanda from then one becomes a central character of the film – one of the most fully imagined fictional countries I think I’ve ever seen on screen. Aside from subverting or rejecting tropes about African nations, it also shows Wakanda as a country of multiple indigenous cultures and lifestyles. Across this clever mix of costumes and implied cultural traditions is an Afro-futurism and technological utopian in which people live both an urban and traditional pastoral existence cut off from the outside.

Both ethically and in terms of plot inevitability that isolation can’t continue and the tension of the idea in terms of Wakanda’s potential impact on the world drives the rest of the story forward. An exiled man of royal blood seeks a way home (Michael B Jordan) and a new purpose for Wakanda; an old enemy Ulysese Claw is intent on cynical destruction (a gleefully appalling Andy Serkis); the CIA has become curious about Wakanda after the events of Captain America: Civil War (in the form of Martin Freeman).

While not quite a simple male/female split, the conflict between Wakanda being forced to change by external forces versus it finding new paths of its own highlights the roles of key Wakandan characters. Shuri (Letitia Wright) T’Challa’s younger sister encapsulates Wakanda’s own technological modernism and a move away from tradition and ritual. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is an agent of Wakanda acting outside of the country (we first meet her on a mission to rescue girls captured by a militant group in an unnamed African country) who sees a role for Wakanda outside its borders. Okoye (Danai Gurira)  as head of the Wakandan all-female special forces and royal guard offers a more conservative, isolationist view. While their perspectives on Wakanda’s future are different, they are portrayed as people working together in the common interests of the nation. Difference versus conflict.

Of course, for plot reasons, conflict gets the upper hand.

The politics of Wakanda are not utopian. It has flaws and aspects of the story are inevitably reactionary – you really can’t have a film about a king trying to hold onto his throne when faced by a usurper without implying some sort of endorsement for monarchy as a system of government. Wakanda’s isolationism and refusal to act in other’s affairs also adds a complex layer to the nation as a character. Wakanda is itself a superhero and like all superheroes, we are left wondering why they only act when they do. Given Superman’s powers could he not have resolved a thousand world conflicts and given Wakanda’s technological and military advantages, could it not have done more? Where Black Panther rises above other superhero films is that it begins to make these questions overt and pertinent. Whether a superhero or a nation should act and when should they act if they have to power to do so? How to act without becoming a petty tyrant or hegemonic power?

You can worry about those issues or you can sit back and enjoy the stunning visuals or, best of all, you can do both. It’s a popcorn movie and a movie that sets up a series of questions about power (without resolving them). It has its own extended James Bond movie elements (form a Q-like briefing on gadgets to a showdown in a casino) and its own Ruritarian romance elements. Getting all that to work and also be a seamless piece with the rest of the Marvel movies is itself a remarkable accomplishment. That it is also a very entertaining film is what makes it really rather good.

Gorgeous, fun and riveting.


Jordan Peterson and Frozen

Sometimes you get presented things on a platter.

I haven’t talked much about the Canadian psychology professor who has been recently embraced by alt-right as a champion against the forces of college liberalism. I ignored the initial fuss because it was mainly framed in terms of an academic being a bit of a dick around the same time he has a book being released. That story is essentially the scrappy-doo marketing technique writ large.

However, my interest was renewed when I learnt that Peterson’s book was a pop-psychology ‘ self-help’ book. Oh! There’s a thing there – a big thing, like a marker or a flag or a big sign with a hand on it saying ‘This way to pseudoscientific claptrap as a precursor to modern political pathology.”

Also, he doesn’t like Frozen. Now, I know, we pretty much established yesterday LOTS of people don’t like Frozen but have a look at this post at John C Wright’s blog:

The video is an interview with Peterson about stories, archetypes. Peterson claims to be influenced by Jung but basically, his arguments are almost classic John C Wright style ones that confuse tropes with archetypes and confuse archetypes with cast iron laws and judge art by the extent to which they do or don’t follow an ‘analysis’. I can see why Wright likes Peterson but Peterson’s analysis is no stronger than Wrights.

Peterson is discussing some Disney movies (don’t roll your eyes too much at the praise for Beauty and the Beast and what that means for relationships) and he gets to the Lion King:

“some of the archetypal themes in it were put in consciously and so they are not as…they’e not…they’re more propagandistic in some sense.”

He continues with this theme with the prompting of the interviewer. Essentially he is trying to cobble together the ‘message fiction’ argument of the Sad Puppies but less coherently. He wants stories to have arcs and internal logic but not want them to be contrived. The Sad Pups wouldn’t put their argument that badly as they genuinely are writers who know that they have to actually use some craft to get a story to function.

He goes on:

“Frozen was a good example. Propagandistic right from the beginning. It was the right propaganda for the time but, but [interviewer interrupts – I know my niece loves it] No one will watch it in twenty years time.Whereas they’ll be watching Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast forever.”

I don’t have a conclusion here, I’m just gathering stuff here Lemony Snicket like in a giant bundle of a shape of something and calling it evidence.


Why (some of the)* Right Hates Elsa

I’ll start with the only place this post can start – which is where it needs to finish also:

How much does the right of Science Fiction & Fantasy hate this movie and this song in particular? A *lot*, more than perhaps you may have noticed. Sure, the new Star Wars movies have received more high profile attacks, and modern superhero comics have had there own troll-fest ‘gate’ but ‘Frozen’? Frozen has worked its way like a tiny shard of ice under the skin.

To wit:

“As I’ve told my children, Let It Go is an expression of pure Crowleyian evil “

“Do you remember hearing how Disney loved the song “Let It Go” so much that they created an entire movie to go around it? Did you ever ask yourself what it was they loved so much about it?…Disney is run by literal satanists preaching Alastair Crowley’s “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” to children.”

” Women and girls learning how to throw off all rules and inhibition is core to our new morality.  The song isn’t loved as a guilty pleasure;  it is loved as a bold moral declaration.  Stop trying to be a good girl and learn to worship yourself is a moral exhortation. ”

“The gay agenda to normalize homosexuality is woven into Disney’s movie Frozen not just as an underlying message – it is the movie.”

“So when it comes to Frozen: Elsa telling Anna that she couldn’t marry a man she just met is a funny observation of a trope that is kind of silly if you think about it.Having that man turn out to be a sociopath that tries to kill Elsa and steal the throne, because that trope was always secretly ‘problematic,’ is subversion and spits on Disney.”

“I am puzzled why the writers of Frozen wanted Hans to be the villain, for as best I can tell, they already had someone who would make the perfect villain… Elsa.”

“So how are things fixed? Does Elsa admit he’s right and strive to do better in the future? Does she vow never to cut loose like that again and learn to control herself?

No. She Loves Her Sister. And that’s it. Now she can control her powers. She never says that letting it go was a mistake.”

Note that THREE of that sample were from 2018 – this isn’t a short-lived attempt to gain attention by a cynical attack on something popular. No, indeed the Superversive articles, in particular, are by people heavily engaged with the plot of the film who seem to be trying to wrestle with what is wrong with it.

Crowley? Normalizing homosexuality? Wrong villains? Fatal plot flaws? This all from people who often claim that popularity and commercial success are the true marks of artistic quality. By that measure Frozen is high art – a Disney musical powerhouse at a time when Disney musicals were long past their peak. A film that launched a thousand lunch boxes.

The issue is not hard to diagnose. Frozen is mainly conventional Disney – in some ways even less than that. The plot is slight compared to other classic Disney films (e.g. the Lion King) and the songs (bar one) are unmemorable. Yet it does a few things and those things are interesting:

  • ‘Let It Go’ is a genuinely really good song, but it is also really well integrated into the story both emotionally, in its lyrics and in the character development of Elsa.
  • The story rejects romantic love as its central message and instead centres on the familial love of two sisters.

This being Disney, there really is zero implications about Elsa’s sexuality EXCEPT that at no point does she act out of desire for a romantic relationship with anybody of any gender. And with that we get to part of the multiple issues the right continue to have with the film.

  • Both Elsa and Anna reject a story line (and hence a role) of a princess finding the love of a prince. This element is strongest with Anna rather than Elsa. Anna does fall in love with a prince and while that helps drive the plot, this does not lead to the normal resolution because…
  • ..the prince is actually a shit bag. I’m surprised there are fewer rightwingers complaining that the film is ‘anti-man’. I guess because it is a reasonable point that at least some men are shitbags and it is a sibling’s duty to point that out.
  • Elsa overtly and very musically rejects not so much romantic love etc but ALL societal expectations of her and goes off and does her own thing. Now, the film’s ‘message’ is really quite reactionary in so far as it shows the CONSEQUENCE of this as throwing the whole kingdom into eternal winter but…
  • …instead of rejecting her descion to be independent, Elsa treats the whole eternal winter more as a technical problem to be solved.

Are the lyrics to ‘Let It Go’ amoral? Sure – the right ALMOST has a point there. Elsa, in frustration, rejects all of society so that she can act in anyway she likes. I mean, that does sound familiar – not so much ‘Crowley’ but the whole strain of ‘positive thinking’ self-help radical individualism that is peddled by multiple strands of the Alt-Right. The lyrics could *almost* be an anthem for some sections of the Alt-Right, except…

…except that it is a woman singing them and a woman rejecting not people expecting a basic level of decency & compassion but rather a mass of expectations that are literally crushing her ability to do what she is good at. And Elsa does ‘learn her lesson’ in this regard by realising that she SHOULD be allowed to be herself and make bridges and mountain top ice palaces but not at the expense of cutting herself off from her society and family.

Put another way – I think maybe ‘Let It Go’ struck a chord with these guys a bit. It caused a tiny twinge of recognition of their own feelings in a quite different character, to the extent that years later they still can’t (ahem) let it go. Yet, at the same time, the SAME message expressed their deepest fear – women following their own dreams for their own motives independent of societal expectations for the role of women.

To finish, here’s that song again but a version where Disney cut together all the multiple language versions:

*[I’ve had some concerned people on the right express concern for the sweeping headline. Not All Rightists hate Elsa and some find her quite charming 🙂 ]

Where Did Superversive’s Cloverfield Paradox Review Go?

I really, really, hope this a clever meta review of the film which features a space-station vanishing into a parallel universe… because the review of the film at Superversive is just a 404 page:

If that was intentional then I think they deserve a round of applause – even better if the review is actually appearing on some unrelated blog somewhere else.

A check of Google cache shows the review was there – it starts like this:

“Orbiting a planet on the brink of war, scientists test a device to solve an energy crisis, and end up face-to-face with a dark alternate reality.
The Cloverfield Paradox is a great science-fiction romp. I highly recommend it.
The critics’ response to The Cloverfield Paradox once again proves that ‘Critics Don’t Know Science Fiction’ or what’s good. The special effects are awesome. The suspense is great. The science referenced is deep (but don’t over-think it). The actors, although completely unknown to me, are terrific.

This third installment of the Cloverfield franchise is much more on par with the first.
The original Cloverfield was a great movie. The style (jerky camera footage) made me a bit nauseous when I watched it at first, but it made for a sense of realism that pulled me in as a participant rather than just a viewer. That feeling of not knowing what would happen next (or what the heck was really going on, for that matter) was what made it a great movie to me. Well, The Cloverfield Paradox does that again, only this time it’s in space! Spaaaaaaaace!

Now, I won’t compare it to the fail that was 10 Cloverfield Lane. That was just psycho-thriller garbage with aliens thrown into the mix. It was like Signs, but with John Goodman manifesting the crazy of the entire cast himself right after a screeching fight with Rosanne Barr. Swing away Dan!”

Which is fair enough. The effects were good and if you can avoid getting tangled in the ‘why?’ of it all, I can see how the film could be likable.

I did ask the Superversive twitter account why the review had vanished but they weren’t very communicative.

Review: Borne by Jeff Vandermeer

Rachael and Wix survive in the ruins of a city via scavenging and trading in biotech and drugs. Dominating the city is the ruins of the Company building – a source of horror and marvels and which hides secrets to Wix’s past. Nesting in that building is the former guard of the Company and now monstrous eminence – Mord a giant biotech bear with the capacity to levitate. Welcome to the very odd world of Borne.

The easiest point of comparison is with Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdam trilogy in that it bridges a surreal bio-engineered post-apocalyptic world with a more recognisable modern one. However, that is misleading. The bridge to the past is limited and mainly via Rachael’s unreliable memories of her former life. In some ways, this is more like a portal fantasy in which the biotechnology is the Clarkian sufficiently-advanced-technology indistinguishable from magic. That Rachael can remember a world more like ours gives a reason for her explanations of her universe – which has become purely the city.

That this is a nightmarishly surreal world in which life is magical in the bad sense of the word is underlined by the absurdity of Mord’s capacity for flight, Wix’s alcoholic fish and Wix’s territorial rival, the woman known only as ‘The Magician’.

Into this unstable wasteland of horrors comes Borne. Found as a kind of polyp stuck to the ragged hairs of Mord’s hide, Borne begins as a plant-like creature tended to by Rachael. Borne’s mysterious growth (things go in but nothing comes out) soon leads to sentience and communication.

The story takes us through Rachael and Borne’s relationship amid a growing territorial crisis in the city. With toxic bears (‘Mord proxies’) and bio-engineered feral children vying for territory and control and the Magician plotting against the bestial dominance of Mord, the story rolls forward with the sense of an unbalanced object on an unstable surface. Yet this is mixed with humour and charm as the innocent but dangerously powerful Borne learns more about his abilities and the world around him.

Borne (the book rather than the character) maintains that unsettling environment and paranoia about physical space that Vandermeer deployed so well in the Area X/Southern Reach trilogy. Yet this is a more accessible plot, with stronger closure and more things explained (not everything – the foxes for example or the place behind the silver wall). Also there is a weird reversal of likability compared with the Area X novels – even the horrific bear-monster Mord has a weird charm – the characters are all flawed and each in their own way murderous and manipulative but at the same time shown sympathetically as people just trying to get along in a world that is unfriendly, cruel and prone to senseless death.

Moving and clever and surreal in the core sense of the term, the novel manages to be many things at once while feeling like a consistent whole. Borne, as a character feels like a juvenile version of Philip K Dick’s Glimmung – an extraordinarily powerful being that can reshape itself almost infinitely and yet prone to childishness and petty behaviour. The power over life and death held by the now defunct Company, Wix’s & the Magician’s biotech manipulations, Borne’s growing powers or Mord’s apex predator death-from-the-sky suffuses the novel with a theological air. The ruined city is a training ground for flawed, inadequate gods.

Very readable and at turns both charming and horrific and meditative. Better, I think, than Area X/Southern Reach in that Vandermeer finds a better balance between resolution and what should remain unexplained. I really liked this and it deserves awards.



A Note for Chris Chupik

Dear Chris,

Absolutely you can quote what is said here over at Mad Genius – indeed I’d encourage it. However, you have a rather poor habit of misquoting people. For example, you quoted Aaron Pound as talking about Sad Puppies IN GENERAL:

Chris Chupik: “Speaking of Puppies, I saw over the comments at Cammy’s blog* Aaron Pound saying we Puppies lack “any real knowledge concerning the history of science fiction fandom in general and the Hugo Award specifically, and seems to have had an educational background that focused heavily on getting professional credentials rather than getting immersed in literature and history.”

Whereas what Aaron had actual said was:

BT was a bad choice to lead the Puppy campaign, in large part because he is apparently rather poorly read in genre fiction. or more accurately, his reading has been drawn from a fairly narrow range. He also lacked any real knowledge concerning the history of science fiction fandom in general and the Hugo Award specifically, and seems to have had an educational background that focused heavily on getting professional credentials rather than getting immersed in literature and history.

It was a comment specifically about Brad Torgersen not knowing what he was talking about.

Anyway, carry on the good work.

Love and kisses,

Camestros Still-Never-Been-to-Aberdeen Felapton 🙂