Timothy Reviews The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

Greetings, salutations and the assorted lyrics of Hello, Goodbye by the mop-headed foursome from Liverpool to you all. I am, once again, your inimitable host and master of ceremonies, Timothy the Talking Cat esquire, who shall be taking you on a journey into the foundational texts of modern scientifiction.

Today we examine Ursula Le Guin’s fascinating story of anarchism and physics, entitled “The Dispossessed”. You might think from the title that there will be spooky ghosts but no, there are no spooky ghosts and this was nearly as disappointing as discovering that my much-cherised vinyl LP of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells would no longer play. I asked Camofluaged Fellertron and he explained that we not only don’t own a record player but that we have never owned a record player. I used a pair of scissors to cut the LP down to a size that would fit into the CD player, only to discover that we don’t own one of those either. I’m no prehistoric Luddite, I’m up with advances in technology and I deduced that I could take a digital daguerreotype with one of my several telephones and then simply play the resulting file with my trusty copy of Winamp. Sadly my plan was foiled due to technical limitations which Calisthenics Frenchfries rather cruelly summed up as: “that was never a vinyl LP of Tubular Bells, it was just an old photo of Richard Branson from a Virgin Airways Inflight Magazine”. We live and learn.

I should also add, this isn’t a story about the bailiffs coming round to your palatial mansion and making you move out because you took out a third mortgage without telling anybody so you could buy a decommissioned Russian nuclear submarine. Oh how we all laughed about that afterwards as the doctor stitched up the claw wounds on the bailiff. Happy times and the caravan in the waste ground behind the pub is much comfier. Plans proceed afoot to scare away the new owners of Felapton Towers by pretending that the mansion is haunted. I’ve convinced the house poltergeist to dress up as a ghost to frighten them away. Straw Puppy says that this is an excellent idea and the eldritch monster from the hell-dimension that lives in the basement has agreed to help by wearing a sheet over its head and saying “boo”.

So what this book is actually about is a guy who is on a moon and then he is on a planet and then he is on a moon and then he is on a planet and then he is on a moon and then he is on a planet and then he is on a moon and then he is on a planet and then he is on a moon and then he is on a planet. Finally, he gets his act together and he is on the moon. “Woah!”, he says, “I was on a moon and then on a planet! I think I’ve got a new theory of physics now!” Everybody lives happily ever after. I think it is a bit like that book Laughter House Five by Urt Vonnegut where the main guy is just all over the place and is all like “So where is this laughter house then because I don’t see nobody laughing” or at least he should say that because there is a serious lack of jokes in that book. Maybe I shouldn’t have cut off the spine but I was going through a phase where I thought books were molluscs and could live in a shell. It was the height of the 70’s and catnip and wild parties were the norm and I had some strange ideas. A cat must sow his wild oats as they say but the seed catalogue was right out of “heirloom oat variety” and we sowed mustard seeds instead.

So I guess that was Falcon & the Winter Soldier then

The final episode of the Disney+ MCU show dropped and it perfectly encapsulated the show: it was sort of all right. Anthony Mackie dialled up the charisma and there was some exciting superhero action, the plot didn’t make a bit of sense and Sebastian Stan was moody and handsome. There was only a small amount of Baron Zemo who was the best and worst thing about the show but there was just enough in this episode to have to put a spoiler warning here. Which, I don’t think I did on the other posts, mainly because nothing felt like it mattered enough to be a spoiler.

Continue reading “So I guess that was Falcon & the Winter Soldier then”

Review: The Irregulars (Netflix)

I started watching this series a while back but just for reasons of life, work and commuting, I didn’t finish it quickly despite it being only eight episodes long. I’ll say upfront that I enjoyed it because the show has so many quirks and issues and aspects that may well put people off that in explaining it (or even just watching episode 1) I can imagine it putting people off.

From the title and the description of the show, you might expect it to be about the side-characters from the Sherlock Holmes stories known as the Baker Street Irregulars (the street kids that Holmes employs as informers) but with a supernatural twist. It really isn’t and that framing doesn’t do it many favours. Likewise, despite all the trappings, the show really isn’t set in Victorian London (departing from that setting in good ways, bad ways and lazy ways).

Put all that aside if those expectations will trip you up. It is a fantasy London and it’s not a specific year (you could pin it to 1870 for a specific historical reason but that way lies madness). It’s Victorian as a setting, not as a time period and hence Dickens-like in places and Sherlock Holmes adaptations in other places. It doesn’t have the technology aspect to call it SteamPunk but closer to that vibe than a period drama.

The good departure from historical accuracy is that it applies diverse casting to all characters at all levels of society. So the ethnic make-up of the casting reflects modern Britain including members of the gentry. The up side of that is the excellent casting of Royce Pierreson as Doctor Watson, who gets an interesting character arc, appearing initially as a cold and sinister figure in the lives of a set of older teenagers/young adult living rough in (not exactly) Victorian London.

The downside is that while the show (particularly in the earlier monster-of-the-week) episode tries to deal with questions of inequality, abuse of power and exploitation, it can’t really examine racism. For example, in the second episode where some very spooky thing is stealing children’s teeth the eventual target of the supernatural plot is the Duke of Winchester. The Duke, as a major landowner, did things that led to a family tragedy. The Duke in this case is played by Ghanaian actor, Patrice Naiambana (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0619628/?ref_=ttfc_fc_cl_t20 ) and that is clever and subversive casting but it means a few punches are pulled in a compelling story of supernatural revenge. It’s a trade-off and frankly, subverting expectations of race in a historical drama is a reasonable exchange in context for a story that could have been harder hitting in other ways. Not every story needs to examine racial-injustice.

More odd, given the setting, is the odd way that social class behaves in the show. It’s definitely there but it has a weird superficiality to it. Hard to describe without you watching it but again, it feels like a calculated effort to put the show into a Victorian setting but one where characters can move more easily between settings. The plot needs a rag-tag group of street kids to attend a gathering of an elite secret society at a country manor? Well, it will find a way round that and why not?

At this point, I can see I’m making it sound like a kind of sanitised, romantic or bowdlerised version of Victoriana. It really isn’t. It is often gory and brutal, uses frank language about sex and frequently genuinely spooky. It is pitched at teenagers but in the sense of more ‘mature’ content in some ways but still having the character of convention-breaking children’s television. Sort of Doctor Who-like but with more swearing.

So a fantasy, alternate-universe Victorian London that is stuck in a generic Victorian time period (e.g. flashbacks to 10 years early looks like the same time period) with two incidental characters that if they had not called them Holmes and Watson then you might think “these characters occupy a sort of Holmes and Watson space”. Accept that and it’s a fun show with a great cast and some really interesting ideas about grief and love gone awry.

By the end, I think the creators of the show mainly made good decisions about these choices. It packs a lot in and rather than try to make everything work, it simplifies the edges so that the show can be its own thing. Maybe…if they had cast an older Holmes and Watson and set it in Edwardian times or in 1900, that could have also been interesting. Oddly, a key character is Queen Victoria’s youngest son Leopold which places a very specific historical point into the show (hence why I said, the setting is 1870), although character-wise he could have just been a fictional aristocratic teenager who has been sequestered away because of ill health.

Spooky and charming.

Review: The Falcon & The Winter Soldier episode 5 (sort of)

I’m back on my intermittent review of the Disney+payallandeanfoster superhero series. Just like my coverage of it, this series is very inconsistent. Having said that, I liked this episode even though (no, maybe strike that and say ‘because’) it just went with some basic superhero beats and slowed down.

I’ve been very negative about the series, mainly because it keeps thinking about being something better and fumbling around. I’ve said many times about books, films, and other creative efforts, that I’m really forgiving of heroic failures — stories that try to do something and end up being not that good because they attempted to do something difficult. A lot of the time TF&TWS, sort of does the opposite. For example, we’ve had multiple superhero shows looking at historical US racism but this show keeps touching on it and shying away. This episode made much more of an effort, returning to Isaiah Bradley, the forgotten and horribly mistreated super-soldier who was treated as an experimental subject by the US government.

Yeah but…Bradley’s point about how no Black person should be willing to fight under the Stars & Stripes is stated but not examined. Sam is on the path to be the wielder of Cap’s mighty shield regardless and I get that (and yes, I want him to be the new Captain America) but the whole thing with Isaiah feels unresolved.

The superhero training montage is a cliche but fun and cute and exciting and what the heck, cliches can be fun and I liked it. Sam is very likeable and one thing this episode and the previous one has done well is to make it very believable that Sam is somebody who helps and counsels people (specifically military people coping with their experiences).

This episode sort of forgets the whole Karli-is-threatening-Sam’s-family thing but I’ll forgive that minor inconsistency. Putting Sam in the context of somebody with both a family and a community support network was great. Again, story wise the show is still wandering about a lot but fleshing out Sam as a character was done well here.

So is the show actually trying to do anything ambitious and failing? Maybe sort of and the odd closure aspect of this episode (were the previous four episodes come to a sort of end in this fifth one) points at what maybe the show’s intended ambiguity.

Who is the bad guy?

Not ‘who is a bad person’ but who is antagonist to Sam (and Bucky) as he heroes?

We have a few to choose from:

  • Baron Zemo: who got taken off the board by the Wakandans this episode. He’s Baron Zemo though and the show has spent a lot of effort turning the movie version into somebody closer to the comic book version.
  • The Power Broker: who is just a name currently but has that big behind-everything vibe.
  • Sharon Carter: maybe…at least we don’t know what she’s up to. I’m fairly sure this is a red-herring though. By default, she’s The Power Broker because this is the penultimate episode and we’ve run out of characters?
  • Karli Morgenthau: whose characterisation has been all over the place. This looks more intentional in this episode as the plot aligns her with a definite baddy and then shows us that the GRC is planning a ‘send them home’ plan for immigrants that is straight-up far-right/neo-nazi in character. It’s a “she’s gone too far!” v “oh, she’s got a point” moment.
  • The GRC: “let’s deport the foreigners” hmmm [not an actual quote]. I don’t trust this show enough for me to be 100% sure that they get that this makes the GRC absolutely the baddies, so I’m prepared to be disappointed.
  • Elaine from Seinfeld: I’m being very unfair to Julia Louis-Dreyfus who was disturbingly good as the mysterious Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. It was a brilliant cameo, to the extent that she was sort of unrecognisable not because she looked different but because the character was so different from her more famous roles in Seinfeld and VEEP.
  • John Walker: the poor guy is well into the spiral of villainy now, with his own after-credits scene as he makes his own shield.

The second two Captain America films pitched the character against unclear foes. In The Winter Soldier, it was both Bucky and the secret Hydra-element of SHIELD and in Civil War it was Tony Stark, Thaddeus Ross and Zemo. The films try to put Cap through an arc of him facing an ambiguous fight that moves towards revelations of moral clarity. It’s axiomatic that Cap has an almost infallible moral compass but messy reality and malice clouds the situation.

This series is attempting to do the same. That makes sense if we think of Captain America’s superpower being integrity. To that end, it is sort of getting there. We are learning about Sam Wilson as a person who has a lot of wisdom and moral insight. For drama, you place a superhero against villains and forces that place their superpowers at a disadvantage, either by matching the heroes power or by subverting it (or both, in the case of Superman versus Doomsday). Placing Cap in situations where he is being lied to about what the true circumstances are and where duty conflicts with morality makes for drama.

The problem is that for this to work, the writers also need an infallible moral compass. So we end up with messy nonsense e.g. the Sokovia Accords being fairly sensible or the GRC’s plans being so obviously bad that there really shouldn’t be much of a moral dilemma for Sam. Unlike laser vision or super-strength, moral integrity isn’t a super-power that can be simulated with CGI.

Anyway…I haven’t been bored by this series. It has had entertaining bits. When they let the Sam/Bucky partnership role along, it is entertaining. That was another nice bit of this slower episode.

Falcon, the Winter Soldier & the MCU’s Original Sin

I had an early impression of the Disney+ superhero show that it was very like the set of gritty Netflix Marvel shows from a few years ago (Daredevil, Jessica Jones etc). The latest episode (4) confirmed that feeling when the erzatz Captain America starts down a dark path.

Shakespeare’s modes of greatness (some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them) doesn’t quite map onto Marvel’s superhero origins. All of the heroes have to work to achieve greatness but the powers/abilities fall into two camps: born with them or acquired less than willingly (by accident, compulsion or force of circumstance). Setting out to get special powers is atypical.

Birth or circumstance is not guarantee of superhero status and both can be part of villain’s origin story. However, seeking is an almost guaranteed path to evil. The nearest current counter-example in the MCU Steven Strange, yet even there his motive was to repair the damage to his hands from a car accident.

In the Netflix MCU adjacent shows there were multiple cases of people setting out to gain superpowers whose hubris would lead them down a dark path. Marvel tells us that superheroes are great but perversely wanting to be a superhero is the worst thing.

I dislike the fact that Zemo in Falcon & the Winter Soldier has abandoned the version we had in Civil War, where he was a unique and effective character. However, the new Zemo is a personification of this underlying animosity towards wanting superpowers. It is kind of neat to have a Marvel plot device turned into a character but it does underline the pseudo-moral message behind both Karli and the new Captain America. Even the extent to which they both still have some scope for redemption comes from the fact that they were partly forced or pressurised into the circumstance that has made them only quasi-heroes.

It is a species of pseudo-ethics, there is no well thought through thesis behind the idea but rather an arbitrary way of dealing with why everybody can’t be superheroes.

I’ll write a fuller review of the series once it is complete and for the meantime just make stray comments.

Falcon & The Winter Soldier is probably bad actually

So I waited until episode three of Marvel’s new TV spin-off because the first two episodes weren’t compelling but they had some good points. In particular, episode 2 implied that the show might go to interesting places but kept sort of hesitating around them. For me, to get a sense of what the character of this show was would depend a lot on the choices the story makes in episode 3.

The bad news is that the third episode was the weakest episode yet.

If you are OK with a sort of brainless superhero-themed spy/action show, it’s still fine. There’s a decent cast and plenty of money behind the production, so it will provide some distraction for 40 minutes. It falls apart rapidly if you engage your brain. I have no issue with not engaging your brain when consuming media — I spent a satisfying time watching a magical ape fight a radioactive dragon monster on Friday with no complaints. However, I would like a bit more smarts in when an opportunity arises and episode 2 of F&tWS showed that the writers were aware of some opportunities. The show just glanced off the idea of Captain America as a symbol of the darker side of America and skimmed briefly on the racism behind Sam not being the next Captain. Maybe, the show will return to this idea and do something with it but…well, we’ll see but my expectations are low.

The cynical side of me, when hearing that Disney (who still haven’t paid Alan Dean Foster) announced the MCU TV shows thought that these might end up being IP checkboxes. You know, like those comic book episodes were a famous character has to interact with some back-catalogue hero or villain really just to keep the name in rotation. That’s not always a bad thing, after all Neil Gaiman grabbing DC’s Sandman character and running with it took a 1930’s Shadow knock-off and created something extra-ordinary. So the purely pecuniary motives of the corporation don’t always translate into bad entertainment from the artist. F&tWS isn’t Gaiman’s Sandman, it’s a lot more like when Marvel was trying to make the Inhumans a replacement for the X-men in its properties because it didn’t control the film rights (at the time) for all the X-universe characters.

So the two problems with episode 3:

  • Madripoor
  • Zemo

Let’s deal with Madripoor first. Madripoor is a cliche-city. It is Singapore-not-Singapore because it can’t be Singapore because Singapore it’s not a mess of cliches (or rather it is a mess of its own cliches and proud of them) nor is it Hong Kong (likewise) but some of both and a chunk of Bangkok and dash of KL and whole pile of Western fantasies. Pile up all the things that you might want in a fancy but piratical South East Asian city but then given it a new name so that it is marginally less terrible. Rather like Sokovia is the cliche city for Eastern Europe. Part of Marvel’s advantage over DC’s comics was to eschew this idea for American cities and put Peter Parker et al in New York rather than “Gotham” or “Metropolis”. These days fake cities feel fake and notably Marvel doesn’t do this for London, Paris, Moscow (or to complete the lyric) Munich (although maybe that would have been better for Munich?)

Madripoor was a bad idea. It was a lazy idea.

Zemo. I rewatched Captain America: Civil War recently and in so far as this F&tWS is a sequel to a movie it is a sequel to Civil War. One thing I really liked about the film is that it had a complex villain who defied audience expectations. Using the name of the comic book supervillain Baron Zemo, the Zemo of the film is a counterpoint to the evil Central/Eastern European supervillain (eg The Red Skull or Doctor Doom). Instead, Zemo is a security forces agent but with a simple motive: revenge for the death of his family in Sokovia. His only superpower is careful planning and an understanding of how to manipulate events. It’s a clever idea and one of the smartest parts of the film.

Of course, in making Zemo just an ordinary guy with a singular mission, Marvel threw away an existing comic book character. At the end of Civil War there was nowhere to go with the MCU Zemo. So episode 3 ends up being a narrative exercise in turning the complex, grounded character into Baron Zemo cliched baddy. After breaking him from prison, Zemo reveals that he is a rich aristocrat with a private jet and a big supervillain coat (and a mask). He’s campy fun but it is all kinds of sad and disappointing.

So two strikes and a so-so espionage plot this week.

If you want to read reviews of the other two episodes then Cora has a review of both episodes (http://corabuhlert.com/2021/03/22/marvels-new-world-order-some-thoughts-on-the-falcon-and-the-winter-soldier/ and http://corabuhlert.com/2021/03/29/the-falcon-and-the-winter-soldier-meet-the-star-sprangled-man/ ) and Font Folly has a review of episode 1 (https://fontfolly.net/2021/03/22/bucky-and-sam-try-to-find-their-place-in-the-new-world-order/ )

I Went to an Actual Cinema and Watched Godzilla v King Kong

Australia is not quite yet in a post-covid world. Firstly there was a recent minor outbreak in Queensland and also the vaccine roll-out has been slow and erratic. Having said all that, the Greater Sydney area is increasingly shifting to an even more relaxed attitude. A mask mandate for public transport was relaxed earlier in the week and government incentives are being offered to visit restaurants and theatres. Cinemas have been open for several months but with limited films being released internationally, they have taken to showing older films.

Through luck, geography, circumstances and a not-great-government being notably better than usual, Australia escaped the worst of the pandemic, although Sydney and Melbourne both had some major lockdowns after outbreaks. Is it safe though to go to the movies? Including yesterday, I’ve gone exactly twice since early in 2020. The last film I watched pre-pandemic was Knives Out, which was a positive way to quit my cinema habit. I went to see Wonder Woman 84 on Boxing Day, picking a small independent cinema in which everybody wore masks.

In Australia, yesterday was Good Friday and it’s one of the few public holidays when shops are closed. Cafes and cinemas are open though but as early autumn weather is mild and the school holidays are two weeks long and it’s a four day weekend, lots of people head off on holidays. While I’m willing to see risk visiting a cinema, I’m much less keen on visiting one of Sydney’s large, crowded shopping malls, even if community transmission is low to non-existent. So yesterday was a smart day to visit a big multiplex, because aside from the cinema and a few restaurants, the shopping mall it was in was closed.

It was a big cinema theatre and not very busy. I was the only person I noticed wearing a mask but I had about eight rows to myself. I figured that if I was going to watch a very big ape hit a very big lizard, I should do so in front of a very big screen and as close as possible. This was a wise choice.

Of all the US versions of Godzilla I’ve seen, this one was the most in tune with the Japanese Toho movies. I’ve seen many of the Japanese Godzilla films but only a fraction of the total and often I was drunk or half asleep (because it was late, not because the film was boring), so I won’t claim to be a Godzilla expert. The key for a true Godzilla movie is the plot shouldn’t matter but it should be crammed with weird ideas that flow easily across sci-fi and fantasy tropes. Godzilla v Kong delivers that in sufficient quantity.

Ostensibly, the film is a sequel to Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Kong: Skull Island but there’s no hard continuity here. The film expects you to know who the monsters are and that all the characters know who the monsters are without explanation and also that Godzilla is a city destroying ‘titan’ but is still basically on the side of goodness (with just a little bit of massive death toll). The only major character continuity between this film and its predecessors is Millie Bobbie Brown is in both. She’s now at high school in Florida, which puts her close to events when Godzilla surprises every one with an apparently unprovoked attack on a high-tech AI research facility. Meanwhile, a kooky podcasting conspiracy theorist has infiltrated the said high-tech AI research facility and has discovered things going on. Convinced that Godzilla must have been provoked somehow, Millie Bobby Brown’s character (who has a name but honestly, it doesn’t matter) teams up with her school friend Julian Dennison (the kid from Hunt for the Wilderpeople) to find the podcaster and discover the truth.

Meanwhile, the same high-tech AI company are involved in helping a researcher discover the secret of the Hollow Earth. Like I said, this is a film that just goes straight to the bargain bin of wacky ideas and is so pulpy that it thinks Edgar Rice Burroughs is cutting edge. Add in the conspiracy theorist podcaster and it feels more of a discordant note in our current age of Qanon, because all of the wacky ideas turn out to be true. The plan to get inside the Earth requires a titan to guide anti-gravity equipped futuristic space ships through a hole in Antarctica because…look, it doesn’t matter why. The only semi-tractable giant monster available for that task is King Kong, currently confined on Skull Island under the care of the giant-monster-looking-after agency Monarch and specifically being looked after by actress Rebecca Hall and her adopted daughter Kaylee Hottle, who is death and the last surviving member of the tribe of people who used to live on Skull Island (it’s skipped over very quickly but a natural disaster that was maybe in the last Godzilla film destroyed the island?). Are you with me? None of this is spoilers, the film rattles through this very quickly.

OK, where was I? The plan is to ship Kong to Antartica but they have to do that quietly because the rule is that big monsters have to fight each other because all the giant monsters are rivals (except Mothra I guess but Mothra doesn’t appear in this film – sorry Mothra fans). All of this (waves hands at the chunks of info-dump) is just a set-up so that Kong and Godzilla fight early on in the film. The cast, the screenwriters, the producers and everybody in the cinema know that the ONLY reason anybody has got out of bed to do this thing is to see Godzilla and King Kong punch each other. There is no subtext or if there is, King Kong punched it as well and then Godzilla blasted it with radioactive laser breath.

I won’t detail the ensuing plot twists, other than to say that Mecha-Godzilla turns up as well.

Visually, the film delivers and on the key metric of King Kong punching Godzilla, it also delivers. The rendition of the magical land where all the monsters come from that they call (capital case) Hollow Earth is wonderfully done. It is a topsy-turvy fantasy world in which gravity does weird things and absolutely wanted to applaud how it looked and was animated. If you are a Pellucidar fan or just love that whole lost world vibe, then I recommend seeing how a modern film can take that idea and update it in a nonsensically credible way.

We don’t get to stay there very long because, Godzilla attacks Hong Kong (1. not a typo 2. he was provoked) and burns a hole from Hong Kong down to the centre of the Earth, which King Kong then jumps down to get from the centre of the Earth to Hong Kong. I’ll re-iterate, they get King Kong to jump down a hole to get to Hong Kong.

Now, in the ensuing fight obviously millions of people would actually end up dead. Hong Kong is a very densely packed city, most people live in high-rises, and the surrounding hills are very steep and there is nowhere to easily flee to on foot. If you stop and think for even a moment about the number of people that would actually die in the kaiju-smackdown, it would be on a scale of one of the worst disasters ever. If you do spend time thinking about that, then you really can’t enjoy the film. Mind you, if you have come along to a Godzilla film and are not expecting to see a city smashed to bits, then you may not be familiar with the genre.

We’ll assume that Hong Kong’s kaiju-disaster preparedness is absolutely top notch and somehow, everybody gets away safely from the many, many tower blocks that get smashed. You either suspend disbelief on this point or walk away at the horror of the film. There’s not really a middle course. The film acts like it is mainly just property damage and people frightened, so we’ll go with that. SOMEHOW, very few people die except for some baddies.

The structure is very much a Godzilla film but of the two monsters, all the character sits with Kong. I found the monster design and however they animated him (I assume motion capture) to be excellent. Kong was full of personality and has a connection with Kaylee Hottle, which allows her to talk to him using sign language (I assume ASL). Kong is the central character and the film begins and ends with music-soaked visuals of Kong living in his home. Kong just wants to live a quiet life, hanging out in the forest and spending time with his friend. All his troubles just arrive from stupid people messing with him and rival kaiju getting all macho about who gets to be king of the monsters.

Anyway, the film has a happy ending. OK, it has a happy ending just so long as we assume that SOMEHOW millions of people didn’t die in Hong Kong, which they didn’t because otherwise that would be horrible and the film would be treating the deaths of millions flippantly, so everybody got out of those buildings just fine.

Elsewhere in the world, I believe you can watch the film via streaming services. A (minor) downside of the pandemic being less of an issue here is that Australians and Kiwis can only watch it at the movies.

I rewatched Avengers: Infinity War + Endgame as a TV show

I mentioned in my review of the Snyder Cut of Justice League that I had recently rewatched Marvel’s grand finale of the Avengers films. I did this partly because I enjoyed the films but also because I had a theory that having watched WandaVision would improve the films.

On the WandaVision thesis, I think I’m correct. The mini-series made both Wanda Maximoff and Vision more approachable characters and also made their relationship feel more real. That was important for Infinity War were their early scene in Edinburgh originally felt a bit disconnected (a sort of by the way these two characters are in a relationship but are either side of the break-up of the Avengers) whereas now the relationship is a given. Likewise, the final battle in Wakanda has added tension and tragedy as the heroes try to find a way to destroy the stone attached to Vision without killing Vision. The horrible circumstance where Wanda is forced to kill Vision, only for Thanos to reverse that and then kill Vision all over again has extra force, which (bouncing back) adds to WandaVision.

Which takes me to an obvious point about shared universes and DC’s struggles: common plot points between shared films are less important than shared characters that we like and care about. For DC their current best player is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, despite the first Suicide Squad film suffering from DC’s current movie curse and the sequel Birds of Prey being released in the worst possible year to release a movie (2020). Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman has had better films but less of an impact but still is the obvious second pillar on which DC can build a set of films with shared characters.

That people will keep watching rambling, inconsistent plots that feature characters they like is a fact soap operas have known for longer than I’ve been alive. Soap operas have maintained large ensemble casts with story lines that have had poorly established continuity but viewer investment in characters. Although I’ve not really got into DC’s “Arrowverse” TV shows, the success and popularity of these shows as a set of shared characters points to the basic formula of creating characters that people will follow.

Watching modern films as segmented TV shows using blocks of 20 to 40 minutes does little damage to many of them as dramatic experiences. The first Star Wars film by borrowing from older film serials, had a very segmented structure that has been repeated by the subsequent films. Likewise with the Marvel films, they typically have multiple smaller dramatic arcs with a few scenes that take the characters from one point to another with shifts from victory to defeat or vice versa. Infinity War groups set of heroes into different plot lines and has those plots interact. The tone and visual style shifts.

  • Thor’s cosmic setting
  • Captain America’s international Earth setting
  • Guardians of the Galaxy’s cosmic setting
  • Iron Man shifting from an Earth setting to a cosmic one

Other characters connect with one of these aside from Bruce Banner who move horizontally across them (starts with Thor, travels to Earth to warn Dr Strange and Stark, then re-joins Captain America).

Watching these various parts play out in smaller segments, works quite nicely for Infinity War. Of course, having already watched the film theatrically, I’m not actually wondering what will happen next when I stop at a roughly 40 minute mark. Even so, the beats of the film work out in a way that the initial issue confronting the focus characters has been partly resolved and some new issue or broader problem/objective has been introduced.

While Infinity War works as a TV-style mini-series, Avengers:Endgame is vastly improved. I enjoyed it as a film but mainly because I was invested in the characters and the time I’d spent funnelling too much money to the coffers of the Disney Corporation (who, let’s not forget, still haven’t paid Allen Dean Foster). However, it is a really odd film with quite distinct chunks and shifts in tone and even sub-genre.

The first act follow the immediate aftermath of Thanos murdering half the universe. With the intervention of Captain Marvel, what is left of the Avengers pull themselves together and set off to literally avenge… Only to find that the Infinity stones are gone and Thanos is no longer the threat he was. The huge defeat at the end of Infinity War never felt as subversive to the genre as it appeared because it was clearly not going to last, but this initial sequence in Endgame is more threatening to a superhero narrative. Thor kills Thanos but it is an utterly hollow victory and the heroes return to Earth even more defeated than they were previously.

The film/show shifts tone and pace to look at the world in the aftermath. Then, with the return of Ant Man shifts again with both the possibility of a solutions but also an emotional obstacle — both Stark and Banner/Hulk have found a degree of peace and even success in the new world. Another shift then into the semi-comic heist movie and unto the Captain America/Stark time-travel hi-jinks, Thor’s bittersweet return to Asgard and then into the darker sub-plots with War-Machine/Nebula and Black Widow/Hawkeye. There are entertaining bits and deeply flawed bits and as a single film, it is a dog’s breakfast but treated as episodes in a TV show, the shifts in tone feel less off.

The final two or three parts (depending on where you want your cliff-hangers) are the Avenger’s attempt to create their own Infinity Gauntlet and past-Thanos’s attempt to get it having used past-Nebula to infiltrate the Avengers. That’s all just following the natural gravity towards the humoungus fight scene and is the brainless superhero content we all signed up for.

Altogether, depending on where you take breaks, its 8 to 9 episodes long to watch both films as a single ‘season’ of a weird TV show.

Not a review of Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Yeah…ok. So two episodes in and I’m not bored. It’s just, I’m still not sure what to make of it.

Episode 2, without really doing any big dramatic twists, still managed to convey a very different sense of what is going on than episode 1. Now that could be because the show is a mess or it could be that it is really well plotted and doing a good job of revealing a complex world in layers.

Overall, this reminds me a lot of the Netflix gritty Marvel series but with tighter ties to the MCU and less punching. Decent cast, nice to see Erin Kellyman who was Enfys Ness in Star Wars: Solo but maybe her character is…Enfys Ness again?

So I’ll wait until next week and maybe review three episodes together and see what we have.