Tag Archives: Are you even trying?

Dan Watched Inhumans and Wow But You Shouldn’t

Comic book TV is everywhere these days, and it’s happening all year. So I’ll hand out awards and rankings in June, but in the meantime, we’ll be reviewing shows one by one as they wrap up.

This instalment: what happens when the showrunner of Iron Fist doesn’t try so hard.

Short version: If you are watching Inhumans, then stop.

Premise

Behold, the Inhumans! Created centuries ago by the Kree (this is not specifically explained on the show), the Inhumans live on the far side of the moon, safe from the prying eyes of the humans below. Well, except for all of those Inhumans that lived in the secret village we saw in season two of Agents of SHIELD, who are never mentioned, and all of the new Inhumans that have been springing up in seasons three and four of Agents of SHIELD, who are begrudgingly acknowledged and a couple of whom even make appearances… but no mention of the government agency that worked so closely with them before ending up in space at the end of their last season.

So, like season two of Agent CarterInhumans continues the trend of other ABC shows being the only Marvel properties willing to very, very vaguely reference events on Agents of SHIELD. As little as they can get away with. Which… you know, Agents of SHIELD has been Marvel’s best TV show since Daredevil stopped trying halfway through season two, so maybe… whatever.

The Inhumans use a process called Terrigenesis to unlock their true selves, which sometimes just grants a power, sometimes causes a physical transformation (good or bad… just ask Eldrac, who got turned into a wall), and sometimes does diddly-squat, in which case welcome to the Moon Mines, you genetic failure.

The Inhumans are ruled over by Black Bolt (short for Blackagar Boltagon… not a joke) and his royal family. Black Bolt’s voice has incredible destructive power: speaking at a whisper hits like a cannon ball, and normal volume can obliterate a person. His wife, Queen Medusa (Serinda Swan, who in better days was Zatanna on Smallville, yes I just called Smallville better days, that’s where we are with this), has prehensile hair. I don’t know how to describe it to make it seem more dignified. Karnak (Ken Leung, of many things, one of which was Lost), one of the top warriors, can see and exploit the flaws in anything, and precisely plan any scenario in seconds. Gorgon… has hooves for feet and can stomp on things like super hard. Crystal is cute but boring. That is… she can, like… control the elements and whatnot, fire and air and… I mean she looks good in jean shorts but she basically adds nothing to this show except being the closest one to Lockjaw, the adorable giant teleporting bulldog.

And Maximus (Game of Thrones’ Ramsay Bolton, Iwan Rheon), Black Bolt’s brother, has no powers, but a serious lifelong case of throne envy. Which is where we find ourselves in the first episode.

They were really banking on us being on board with the apparent protagonists right from the top, because we open with Maximus staging a coup to seize the throne. The royal family retreats to Hawaii (sure), gets split up, and attempts to regroup so that they can retake their home from Maximus.

Maximus, by the way, won the support of the royal guard through his platform of “Maybe we shouldn’t take everyone who didn’t get powers in Terrigenesis and force them to work in the Moon Mines, maybe a rigid caste system based on genetic accident isn’t cool.” Black Bolt, therefore, is pro genetic-caste-system, which is problematic, but they compensate for Black Bolt being on the wrong side of history by ensuring that Maximus is the sleaziest sleeze in Sleazetown, dripping malice and creepiness every time he’s on screen.

Okay, let’s break this thing down.

Strengths

The big teleporting bulldog is pretty cute.

He’s a good boy who doesn’t get the pets he deserves.

And it’s short.

Weaknesses

Where. To. Start.

Every character is made the least interesting version of themselves possible, whether for budgetary reasons or just utter lack of vision from showrunner Scott Buck, who just a few months ago also failed to deliver an even slightly interesting take on Iron Fist. That he was given a second Marvel show demonstrates flawed leadership at Marvel’s TV branch, even if going from Netflix to network is the equivalent of being sent down to the minors. Right, the characters…

Medusa has super-strong prehensile hair, so of course that’s taken away from her immediately as Maximus shaves her down to a buzzcut. Sure her CG hair couldn’t have been cheap, and it looked bad, but the fact remains that they swiftly took away her most notable feature, and made it really rapey when they did it, and goddamn you guys that wasn’t cool. Karnak is a master strategist, so by the end of episode one, he walks off a cliff, I say again the master strategist walks off a cliff, and suffers a head injury that compromises his power. Black Bolt, king of Attilan, is overthrown inside of half an hour. Maximus, in the comics, is an insane genius, brilliant but untrustworthy, and here he’s just a power-mad douche incapable of thinking anything through. Eldrac is a person who got turned into a wall that can open portals and they barely even touch on that. Crystal… I don’t know much about comics-Crystal but she must have had more going on than looking cute in shorts. She couldn’t have less going on than she does here.

Look, every comic book show eventually does “Are they still a hero without their powers,” but a) it’s always a drag, and b) they don’t make it the whole first season. But this is just where our problems start.

Every single aspect of the show is punishingly bland at best. The dialogue is bad, the acting mediocre, the effects cheap, the characters uninteresting, and while Maximus is insufferably terrible it’s hard to ignore that fact that he seems to be right about everything. He doesn’t want to live under a genetic-lottery caste system and thinks maybe forcing 1400 people to live in cramped hiding on the moon isn’t the best call, and he’s right on both fronts. It takes 10,000 individuals to maintain genetic diversity. With 1400 people in Attlian it’s amazing that the Inhumans aren’t as inbred as an Austrian duke by now.

Sure, there’s apparently another reason they live in hiding, some larger danger hinted at repeatedly in the finale, hints almost assured to never be paid off, but it’s the Kree. They were hiding from the Kree, the aliens who created them, and in season two of Agents of SHIELD made it clear they thought that was a mistake worth erasing, that’s the deal, fuck you for making a show this bad and thinking you could lure us in to wanting a second season with such obvious cliffhanger-bait.

Medusa and Black Bolt keep wanting to give Maximus one more chance to turn things around despite him taking every opportunity to not be worth it. It gets old.

And it’s not a recent development, either. A flashback to Maximus and Blackagar’s youths shows young Blackagar moping about not wanting to be king, while his brother keeps shouting “I do! I’ll be king!” And when their father says no, it has to be the elder brother, Maximus literally says “But if he dies, I get to be king, right?” And Father-of-the-Millennium lets it slide. Sure, pal, nothing to worry about there.

The human scientist who teams up with Medusa is trying so hard to channel Arrow’s Felicity Smoak that I can only think of her as Faux-licity. Also she might be in love with Medusa. A more interesting show would have run with that.

My only theory is this. Head of Marvel Entertainment, Ike Perlmutter, has been desperate to introduce the Inhumans to the MCU as a replacement for the Fox-owned mutants (even though the Inhumans are terrible replacements for the X-Men, do not work as metaphors for oppressed minorities, and Fox’s The Gifted is proving why mutants do it better on a weekly basis). He tried to force Kevin Feige to make an Inhumans movie, only for Feige to break away from the rest of Marvel Entertainment and cancel the movie the second he didn’t have to report to Perlmutter anymore. So Ike made it into a TV series. Maybe, maybe Jeph Loeb, head of Marvel TV, knew that the only way they were going to shut Ike up about the damn Inhumans was to make the show, but make it Fant4stic bad so that the concept would lose appeal. And so they hired the Iron Fist guy to write it.

I mean that’s the only explanation that makes sense to me. They screened the pilot on IMAX. They read the script, saw the dailies, and then still felt comfortable putting the worst thing Marvel Studios has ever, ever done onto the largest screens possible and charged people money. I don’t see how that happens unless they are actively trying to fail.

High Point

…Um… “Make Way For… Medusa,” maybe? They finally managed to add a character I enjoyed, even if he’s one of the bad guys.

Low Point

“…And Finally: Black Bolt.” The season (and gods willing series) finale managed to be just as excruciatingly bland and pointless as the pilot while delivering a thoroughly unsatisfying conclusion (seriously, the final scene was entirely dull) and spending too much time setting up a second season that I cannot imagine anybody actually wants at this point.

MVP

Lockheed the giant dog, I guess.

Tips for next season

Fuck you. I shall think of this show as cancelled until ABC’s May upfronts confirm it as so, and then I will think of it no more.

Overall Grade: F

Like, it’s not even fun bad.

Gonna have to finish series five of Doctor Who just to wash that crap-fest out of my brain.

Dan Watches Iron Fist (So You Don’t Have To) Vol. 4

And at last, we enter endgame.

I’ll take back a brewing accusation about Davos: he is not the new Diamondback. The big problem with Diamondback in Luke Cage was that while Diamondback the arms dealer had been foreshadowed, Willis Stryker, Luke’s childhood best friend/secret half brother/Spectre-style architect of all of his pain, had not. This supposed key figure to Luke’s backstory leapt up to shout “It was me all along!” out of absolutely nowhere, and seized the third-act reins from better, more compelling villains.

And that ain’t Davos. First of all, Davos has been teased throughout the season. He’s a key character in Danny’s happier K’un-Lun memories. And second, he’s the culmination of something that’s been brewing since Danny’s duel with Gao’s quartet of assassins.

That being, the Iron Fist has abandoned his post.

Davos is here to represent the fact that Danny is supposed to be guarding the entrance to K’un-Lun. It’s a dull and unsatisfying job, since for 15 years at a time there’s no way in, so it’s a lot of standing next to a pile of rocks near a sort of convincing backdrop (the brief glimpses we get of K’un-Lun this episode tell a story about why the show has taken a tell-don’t-show approach to Danny’s time there), but that doesn’t change the fact that he knew what the job was, went after it, and when it wasn’t super-satisfying he ran away the second that became possible.

Davos, who also trained his whole life to be the Iron Fist, is absolutely justified in being pissed off that the guy who beat him to it has gone AWOL.

I mean, we’re not supposed to think he should go guard a pass, we’re supposed to think his greater destiny is protecting New York and maybe being best pals with Luke Cage, but they are not making a case for this so far. Danny Rand barely seems qualified to guard a 7-11 in a nice neighbourhood, let alone a city. Or even whatever the people who have Daredevil saying “I just want to make my city a better place” and then keep him squared away in a two-square kilometre neighbourhood think a city is.

Now Bakuto, he’s more of a Diamondback. We had a perfectly serviceable villain in Gao and her Hand faction, then in the third act Bakuto pops up with virtually no set-up and steals the whole A-plot. We get three whole episodes to try to wrap our heads around what this Hand faction is and what they want, and this was already confusing enough when the original Hand story in Daredevil still makes no sense at all.

If The Hand are going to be the villains in The Defenders, the writers had better be putting some work into figuring out what the hell they even are or why they do anything they do.

Plus, we can add to the list of stolen plot points. They stole “ruin Elektra” from Daredevil, stole “last second villain with no context” from Luke Cage, and “No, that was a different Hydra” from Agents of SHIELD. Seriously now. Steal a plot that worked if you must steal at all.

Episode 11

Episode eleven in a nutshell… after Claire patches up Danny and has words with Colleen about how The Hand were a bag of dicks during Daredevil so why does she think they’re so great, Danny and Davos meet up with Joy and Harold Meachum, who have a plan… since Gao and now Davos haved been laundering all their money through Rand Enterprises, Joy can steal everything back and shut all of their accounts. Their money gone, Bakuto will come looking for it, at which point Danny and Davos will off him.

Joy does not love this plan. Neither the murdering nor her father’s newfound enthusiasm for murdering. Joy would have been happier turning Bakuto over to the SEC and being done with it. But she goes along with the plan because her twice-resurrected father hasn’t been taking “No” very well.

Colleen chooses not to give up Danny’s location to Bakuto, which gets he scooped up by her Hand-loyalist students when she tries to get Danny some anti-biotics. Bakuto expresses disappointment in her choices and commands her students to steal all of her blood. For whatever it is The Hand does with all that blood they steal. Resurrect Elektra to be their secret weapon or whatever, who the hell knows. Colleen escapes just in time to run past Danny so that he can see her and blow the whole “Stake out the compound until Bakuto shows up” plan, because the episode wouldn’t be complete if Danny didn’t screw something up.

Here’s what’s interesting.

This is the first time that we’ve really looked at why Danny is so catastrophically flawed as a hero and as a person. Why he’s dangerously impulsive, quick to anger, and sometimes flies off the handle faster than Wilson Fisk if you interrupt his dinner date. Or for anyone who somehow didn’t watch Daredevil but is still reading this, faster than Donald Trump if you block his Muslim ban. Why every time he remembers his past he grips his head like he’s having a grand mal ice cream headache, something most people who aren’t Rain Man aren’t known for doing.

As Claire learns from Davos, the monks of K’un-Lun are trained to repress all emotion. To take any feelings (like, say, Davos’ anger over Danny being chosen over him as Iron Fist and then bolting) and bury them deep down. Maybe in the ancient times this seemed like a good idea, but… Danny was 10 years old when his plane crashed and he watched his parents die, only to be taken to a monastery where his life involved being beaten with sticks by his new guardians. Danny is sitting on a volcano of trauma and suppressed rage that the monks of K’un-Lun have not only not given him the tools to process, they’ve pushed him farther from processing than you could get with a map and a mission statement. No wonder he’s spent the last few episodes on the verge of a psychotic episode. No wonder he’s so fixated on “avenge my parents” that the idea now ends “by wiping The Hand from the Earth.”

It’s an interesting revelation, and it explains a few things. However, like Bakuto, it is staggeringly late to the party. Danny’s been screwing up too long and too often for this to turn the tide here, right before the end.

(You’d think learning to express and release his emotions is what lets him re-access and properly wield the Iron Fist. Nope. He just, I don’t know, tries harder or something.)

Episode 12

Right off the bat things feel repetitive. Like episode two, someone is strapped to a bed in the exact same mental hospital (with, according to last episode, the exact same doctor, who seems awfully blasé about his last patient punching through a wall and leaving) with a story too crazy to be believed. But this time it’s Ward (turnabout being fair play), and his extreme withdrawal from the synth-heroin manages to make “My father isn’t really dead” seem even crazier than “A literal dragon gave me super powers.”

(I mean it’s post-Avengers New York, super powers are probably way more common than fathers coming back to life, but the dragon part did not help.)

(And no I will not call it post-“Incident,” that is an awful name for the Battle of New York and you cannot convince me Americans would use it. The BBC, sure, but not New Yorkers.)

Bakuto recruits Ward to kill Harold and trap Danny, and we cut to Danny, Davos, and Colleen, who have the exact same “She’s Hand, we can’t trust her” conversation that’s been happening for two episodes, and frankly even the cast seem to be getting bored of it. The whole “Take Bakuto’s money to draw him out” plan falls apart immediately, but not simply because Danny spotted Colleen and lost focus. No, Bakuto was already springing Ward “Remember when I was the biggest asshole on this show” Meachum from the asylum by then. It’s simply that the good guys are bad at everything and the bad guys can magically appear anywhere and do anything they need to.

In other words I’m not super impressed with how the episode is starting. Ward tries to get Joy away from their father, but even without withdrawal symptoms, Ward is incapable of acting like a calm, rational, non-garbage person, so the murder-happy lich father seems like the winning side all the way until Ward pulls a gun. Which is when Bakuto shows up, like Ward arranged, but before Joy is clear, which wasn’t the deal.

Ward’s deal with Bakuto falls apart immediately, as anyone but Ward could have predicted, and soon Danny’s turning himself in to Bakuto to save Joy and Harold’s lives. You know, my second least favourite plot device from last season. The hostage scenes were a little tiresome, because Bakuto is not pulling off “smug” the way a Tom Hiddleston or Neal McDonough would, and that’s all he’s being given to play with, but Harold spending what he thought were his last moments telling Ward he’s a piece of shit and complete disappointment were satisfying. Fortunately, Colleen and Davos ain’t having with this “surrender to Bakuto” nonsense, and come for the rescue the second everyone’s out in the open. Also Danny managed three whole seconds of Iron Fisting, enough to escape handcuffs then go limp trying to hit Bakuto. Insert fail trumpet.

We now hit a kind of problematically stupid sequence. Colleen fights and defeats Bakuto in a suitably over-dramatic rain-soaked duel, then immediately jumps on board with Claire’s “killing is wrong” philosophy and wants to turn Bakuto over to the cops.

There’s a scene in one of the Assassin’s Creed games, where after your epic boss fight against your greatest enemy, the man who had half your family killed, then installed himself as Pope, Ezio Auditore suddenly decides that he’s done with killing (he’s not, he has two more games left). Which… I’m not saying I don’t see his point, but… you have to kill like a dozen guards just to get to this fight. They are all still dead. Maybe this isn’t the time to rethink killing. Maybe that was several dead bodies ago.

I bring this up because Bakuto had a half-dozen bodyguards, and most of them are dead now. Sure, most of that was Davos, but Colleen came at them with a sword, her hands are not clean.

Fortunately for anyone who’s sick of Bakuto’s smug face, Davos doesn’t pick up what Danny and Colleen are putting down, and manages to casually stroll 10 feet, pick up a sword or knife, and shove it into Davos’ heart before anyone thinks to object. Unfortunately, Davos wasn’t around five minutes ago when Bakuto was explaining that you have to take off his head to kill him for good as long as Hand resurrectionists are lurking around, so there’s a non-zero chance he’s back in season two.

Although that can only hurt us if we’re stupid enough to watch it, I guess.

What follows is a surprisingly well-done fight between Danny and Davos with a surprisingly well done emotional conclusion (“surprisingly” because they’ve been consistently screwing both of those things up), in which Danny, in victory, apologizes for leaving Davos without saying anything, which is what he believes Davos is really upset about. Hey, if they wanted to commit to “Davos loved Danny as more than a monk brother,” I’m good with that. But forgiveness isn’t coming, as Davos reminds Danny that the pass to K’un-Lun is unguarded, and that will have consequences.

But is it? That place is filled with people who can fight as well as these two and it is a narrow-ass path, I feel like they could manage this without the Iron Fist for however long it’s open every 15 years. But whatever.

But in any event… Bakuto and Gao are defeated, the Meachums are safe, Danny can Iron Fist again, he a Colleen do a kata to hip hop music which makes them more endearing as a couple than their sex scene… everything’s good, right? Roll credits, show’s over, see everyone again for The Defenders in a few months?

HA! We should be so fucking lucky.

No, Harold sicks the DEA on Danny, having pinned the whole Rand Enterprises drug trade on him. You know, the one that was in full force when Danny was presumed dead and not affiliated with the company.

Because God forbid this show actually commit to a main villain. I know the Meachums haven’t exactly always been on the side of the angels, but there are 53 minutes left in season one, it’s a little late in the game to be pulling this. God damn it.

Fine. Just… just end it, Iron Fist. Just end it. Let’s move on to…

Episode 13

In which a horrific yet bland mishmash of a season attempts a satisfactory conclusion, but doesn’t.

So we have two things happening at Rand Enterprises. Danny Rand is being accused of using his company to traffick heroin, despite having a cumulative, maybe, 18 minutes at said company between being given enough influence to do this and having it taken back for making too many socially conscious decisions. Which doesn’t mean he wasn’t peddling drugs, lots of criminals can put on a friendly public face, but how would he have had time to set this whole network up? And how do they explain it going back more than two weeks if Danny’s behind it? Meanwhile, Harold is trying to take back control, despite having been legally dead for 13 years, which means the second he swaggers into a board room he ought to be under arrest for fraud and tax evasion. And that’s before he announces his plan to have the company sell both Gao’s synthetic heroin and Bakuto’s cure for synthetic heroin addiction, which… if that’s still happening, how would anyone at the DEA still think Danny was responsible for it all?

Remember in Luke Cage, when Diamondback put on a hoodie, killed a cop, and ran off screaming “I’m Luke Cage! Luke Cage, argle bargle bargle, Luke CAAAAAGE!” and it was the laziest frame-job ever? Well it still is but this one is really close and requires massive incompetence at the DEA to pull off. I mean, did they investigate this anonymous tip-off even a little before storming Colleen’s dojo to arrest New York’s most noble businessman? You know how much work it took to get Wilson Fisk into jail? And he was actually committing crimes!

Jesus this is lame. And we haven’t made it to the opening credits.

Let’s recap… at first, our obvious villain was childhood bully and adult asshole Ward “Rooted for the snobs in Caddyshack” Meachum. Then it was Gao and her drug-peddling Hand troops. Then from out of absolutely nowhere came Bakuto and his other Hand troops, because The Hand almost made sense for a second there. And now, in the end, it’s Harold Meachum, who turns out to be the real killer of Danny’s parents.

It is impossible to get a grip on this narrative. Everyone has been a villain at one point or another except Danny and Claire. Everyone has been an ally at one point or another except Dared–

That was a close one.

Everyone but Claire has betrayed Danny, everyone has betrayed someone else for Danny. It’s like they pick their allegiance out of a hat at the start of each episode. And our one stable thing, our rock at the centre of this mess, is World’s Worst Superhero Danny Rand, who is still having psychotic breaks every time he even thinks about his origin story.

So our agonisingly slow last episode mainly deals with Danny, Colleen, Claire, and Ward taking on Harold while Joy decides she’s had enough of all of them. The obvious answer would be for Ward to turn Harold in for the above mentioned fraud and tax evasions, then helpfully point them to Harold’s safe when they subsequently conduct a legal search of his office and secret penthouse lair. But that’s not what we’re doing. Ward gets eyes on Harold, but gets clubbed for being on the wrong side, leaving Danny, Colleen, and Claire alone to break into Rand Enterprises…

…in order to find the evidence they need to clear Danny of the (mostly*) false charges against him…

*I mean he did assault some officers and resist arrest. That did happen.

…while Claire begins to be concerned that an unhinged Danny and ex-ninja death cult member Colleen might kill Harold in the process…

…sorry I can’t do it call Daredevil call Daredevil CALL DAREDEVIL WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, CLAIRE, THIS SHOW HAS RUINED YOU…

[deep breath]

Well if you thought that little break was bad imagine spending half an hour with “ice cream headache” Danny constantly flipping out about his parents. Anyway. Big fight, some cool Iron Fist tricks we hadn’t seen yet, Danny beats but refuses to kill Harold (I mean he impales him on a metal rod but we all know that’s not lethal for Harold at this point), so Ward does it. Turns out that in addition to being beheaded, Harold can be killed through the traditional 80s Movie Villain Death: falling a long way onto something pointy. Big happy ending?

Well, let’s see.

Davos meets with Joy, claiming that Danny destroys everything he touches, and it’s his fault Joy’s life has gone crazy, so they should kill him. She’s not opposed to the notion. Someone rational might point out that her father working with a ninja death cult to sell drugs probably had more to do with it, and that if anything her family has been destructive to hisbut that person is not at the meeting– well, they are, but it’s Gao, and she’s really just eavesdropping.

Ward has made a full 180 from where we came in, and asks Danny to run the company with him. Where has this halfway decent person been this whole time?

Danny begins to decide that maybe his purpose is fighting injustice out in the world, not guarding the path to K’un-Lun until he dies, which would put him on course to being Iron Fist the Less Terrible Superhero… but decides he should still go back and explain himself. He and Colleen make their way to the path… only to find dead Hand soldiers in front of a giant gap where K’un-Lun is supposed to be.

Danny immediately blames himself and begins a spiral into self-hatred, paving the way for a second season of Danny being utterly insufferable, and ensuring that nobody in The Defenders is “the fun one.”

Can we have one Defender not driven by sulky, broody guilt. Between the four of them, plus Flash and Green Arrow this season, it’s getting played out. That show is going to be moody, isn’t it…

It’s, at best, a very slightly more satisfying ending than Luke Cage.

So. Let’s sum up.

Iron Fist as a whole…

  • Danny Rand is an absolute failure as a protagonist. He’s hard to root for, he does zero things well, he’s impulsive, his entire supporting cast can’t stop pointing out how bad he is at this and they’re always right… frankly, even if Tumblr had had its way and they’d cast an Asian, all that would have happened is that Marvel’s first Asian live-action superhero would be their absolute worst superhero. Is that what you want, Asian community? Maybe. I don’t speak for you. None of you would be on board with that.
  • Their inability to pick a main villain makes for an extremely sloppy season arc. Is there even a season arc? Is there a through-line on this? There is no natural flow at all.
  • Bakuto not only came from nowhere, he added nothing to this show except compromising Colleen as a character. The Hand was confusing enough without the whole “multiple factions” angle. Every other plot point could have been done as well or better by Gao, Harold, Davos, or leaving it out completely.
  • Ward’s redemptive arc would have worked better if it had started earlier, because in episode 12 he was still a total putz.
  • Did Claire and Matt Murdock really leave things on such bad terms? I’m going to need a scene in Defenders where she at least tries to explain what Matt did that was so goddamn bad she’d rather fight The Hand herself than call him. A week ago, Claire Temple was the best part of the Defenders franchise. Now she’s a stubborn idiot too proud to call in assistance. I’ll say it again for the kids in the bleachers: if you don’t want Daredevil to show up, don’t create circumstances where it’s obvious that he should.
  • The Netflix model makes the above point worse. There are times on Flash and Arrow when “Call the other guy” seems like it would at least help fix everything, but at least both shows are happening at the same time: we can see what Oliver and Barry are busy with in their own cities. I have no Earthly idea what Matt Murdock’s been doing since season two that he couldn’t help out with Diamondback’s rampage or The Hand taking over Manhattan.
  • The fights were too bad for too long, and there is still a serious problem with lighting, or rather the lack thereof.
  • The Meachum family drama was dead air too often.
  • Everything that happens in season one depends on characters making the worst choices they can, or the villains having magic plot powers that lets them pull whatever they need to.
  • I’m not saying I needed an entire episode of flashbacks to Danny’s 15 years of training. Lordy did I ever not need or want that. But Danny entering a magic cave to fight a dragon to earn the Iron Fist? That you could have found time for. Maybe instead of a second entire episode of “No, you can’t be Danny, he died.” I don’t know what your budget went to that wasn’t that but come on.
  • Between the above point, the lackluster and infrequent action, and spending more time than necessary on boardroom… and I use this word loosely enough to offend its people… “intrigue,” it feels like the showrunners were entirely ill-suited to the concept.

There were fleeting moments where you could see a better show struggling to free itself from the bland tomb it’s sealed into, but then Danny would think about the plane crash and have another rage-headache and we’d be stuck back in this show.

So in short…

It’s bad.

It’s really quite bad.

You wrote a bad show, Scott Buck. Go to your room and think about what you did.

Dan Watches Iron Fist (So You Don’t Have To) Vol. 3

I have talked in the past about one of the primary divides between Marvel Netflix and the DCW/Flarrow-verse… the DCW-verse (post-Flash) embraces all things comic booky, like superpowers and time travel and alternate Earths and rampaging man-sharks. Meanwhile, Marvel Netflix runs as far from that as they can, working to be as grounded and realistic as shows about bulletproof black men or super-strong PIs fighting a mind-controlling psychopath can be. They’re so averse to seeming comic booky that their every Easter egg is delivered with a grimace from the characters, and people talk about “the incredible green guy” like they’ll get sued if they say “Hulk.”

In the past, I haven’t placed value judgements on either approach, understanding that superstrong hyperintelligent telepathic gorillas might not be everyone’s particular taste in whiskey. But in this case, I’m doing it.

If you don’t want your show to be too “comic booky,” maybe you shouldn’t be doing a show about a magic kung fu master fighting a ninja cult.

This is comic book Iron Fist.

He is a full-fledged superhero with a costume and, this is important, a mask. TV Iron Fist is that guy from college who got super into ultimate frisbee, smoked a ton of weed, did a semester abroad, and won’t stop talking about how it “changed his life.”

Arrow did the “I must save my company, but also I must save my city” plotline back in season two, but they did it better, as Oliver Queen actually cared enough about his company that it didn’t take him two episodes to find out they’d given him the boot, and had two identities he needed to juggle, one of which he tried to keep secret from his enemies. Danny Rand, meanwhile, strolls around his office building saying “Hey, anyone know anything about the evil ninja cult that’s using us to sell heroin?” and expecting to be taken seriously. He’s also meeting up with said evil ninjas, maskless, and saying “Hey there, I’m Danny Rand, yes, the one from the news, I’m also the Iron Fist, here to destroy you, and here’s my current address,” and then acting surprised that Madame Gao starts threatening his friends.

I know secret identities haven’t been Marvel Studios’ thing since Tony Stark ended his first movie by announcing his identity to the press. I know that they’re so averse to masks and secret identities and codenames as a concept that Sam Wilson has been in four movies but has been called “Falcon” exactly once. But it’s time they got over it. Danny Rand not even considering having a secret identity, then being upset that his friends are in danger because of him, just makes him look like an idiot.

You’re adapting comic books. Stop being ashamed of that and learn the tropes.

Anyway. On to the back six, which even on better shows have sometimes felt like a long road to the conclusion.

Episode Eight

Our second way in which not being comic-booky is actively making this show worse: on a better comic book show, Ward “donkey punches are too vanilla” Meachum would be riding an experimental rocket sled and hurling around pumpkin bombs by now. Instead, a ragged-looking Ward comes to his father’s penthouse with the necessary equipment to cover up his patricide, and when he finds Danny there, acts surprised that his father is apparently dead, and not only lets Danny take the blame (or rather, take the blame for his theory that The Hand did it), but says everything he can to make it worse and drive Danny away.

And while he does have a point that his life has become increasingly worse since Danny showed up, it is really just his lifetime of non-stop assholery coming back to bite him. But we can’t expect a man who, in the words of John Stewart, survives on an IV drip of angel blood and panda tears to be self-aware enough to see that.

But let’s stop piling on human red flag Ward for the time being, and start piling on walking bad choice Danny Rand. His approaches to every problem are the solutions of a child. He tries to push around Rand Enterprises with all the understanding of stock price and corporate procedures that a tenth-grade education and 15 years of kung fu training can provide. Selling medicine at cost? Not so terrible, no. Closing a chemical plant without firing anyone? I’m as liberal as they come, pro-environment and anti-corporate, but even I know that’s beyond impractical. It’s more of a childish, simplistic pipe dream than Arrow’s recent, laughably vague, “Common sense gun control that respects ownership and safety” cop-out non-answer.

And as for fighting The Hand… even Ward is poking holes in his strategy. Ward, who is spiralling into some sort of blend of Lady Macbeth and the dude from The Telltale Heart, sounds more together and responsible than Danny when he asks why Danny thought an international criminal empire could be brought down by taking out one drug lab, or in Ward’s words, “breaking a few test tubes.” Danny sees his point, but when he meets up with Colleen and Claire, his new plan isn’t better… go to China, find Gao, and… grab her or something. He hasn’t really figured out his endgame, and Claire is fast to call him on every stupid call he’s making. Still, she and Colleen both insist on going to China with him, despite his lacking even 12% of a plan.

Claire doesn’t call Daredevil. Claire will not call Daredevil. I’ll stop complaining about it, but just know that I remain very, very cross about it. How about this… every time I get angry about Claire not calling Daredevil, I’ll just post a picture of a corgi.

Feeling better already.

Before we cut to them on the flight, we check back in with the Meachum siblings. Ward wants to sign the severance agreement and be done with Rand Enterprises (presumably to focus on his ongoing nervous breakdown), Joy wants to fight to stay in control… or so she tells us in a speech that’s so ham-fisted it’s not allowed within ten miles of a synagogue. There’s… there aren’t words. That speech was written an hour before they shot and everyone involved said “Eh, it’s fine, just shoot the stupid thing.”

Away from the corporate filler plot with no compelling reason to exist, and onto the plane, where Danny understandably freaks out about turbulence. Claire questions Danny about his and Colleen’s relationship, sensing that last episode they looked deeply into each other’s eyes and thought “Eh, this might as well happen,” before having the kind of sex movie characters have to indicate their lives are in a rut. This devolves into an argument over the ethics of killing: Claire’s “murder is always wrong” vs Colleen’s “Be less naive, bitch.” Well, that’s the gist of it. One turbulence-induced panic attack/flashback later, the trio is in a part of China that looks just like industrial New York.

Joy and Ward– I don’t care I don’t care I DON’T CARE these two are dead air when Danny’s not around… okay. Deep breaths. That’s only mostly true. Like, 80%. Joy wants to blackmail the board, Ward almost tells her about how their father has been dead for way less time than she thinks, but one more Lady M blood vision and he runs off shouting hurtful, asshole things. Classic Ward exit.

In China, we get our best fight yet, thanks not to Danny but to his drunken-master opponent, a Hand guard who sounds like he’s in a revival of Oliver Twist. “Cor blimey, I’m a servant of The ‘And, innit?” But drunk as he may be, he gives Danny a good working over before Danny spontaneously goes into a rage and beats him half to death.

Seriously, Danny’s inept as a hero and unravelling as a person almost as fast as Ward. Our protagonist, ladies and gents.

In the end he swallows his “She killed my parents” rage and takes Gao prisoner, with no legal status to do so, no plan, the tactics of an unbalanced four-year-old, and a big, fat, “fuck you” waiting for him at Rand Enterprises. (He values that place so much he hasn’t even noticed they kicked him off the board yet.) This should go great. This will all be fine. Nevermind the fact that when the villain is captured this far before the end it always, always blows up in the hero’s face.

Flash and Harrison Wells had a similar kill/don’t kill argument about Grodd a few weeks back. It worked much better than this one. Maybe because Claire’s “Killing is wrong” argument falls slightly flat when you consider that the rest of The Defenders franchise is watering it down to “Killing is wrong… unless it’s Kilgrave. Or the head of The Hand. Or if it’s Elektra doing it next to you. Or if Frank Castle’s doing it to someone you either really hate, or someone who’s Asian. Or if it’s Frank Castle doing it as the star of his own show in a year or two.” Throw in The Avengers and it’s exceptions for… everyone. Just everyone. The Avengers kill constantly.

Basically, Claire advocating against killing the bad guy feels hollow when Marvel Studios decided “Nah, killing is fine” over five years ago, and only one out of four Defenders-based seasons has successfully argued otherwise. I don’t think Iron Fist sparing Gao is going to put the genie back in that bottle.

(Sure, Oliver Queen has dropped his share of bodies, but at least they started giving him crap about that almost right away. Hell, the fifth season is about the damage his murder-happy past is causing.)

Also, half-hearted points for connecting to the other Defenders this episode. The character choice not to even try to involve New York’s leading Hand-fighting vigilante remains breathtakingly stupid, but Claire has been reading and re-reading a letter that’s pretty clearly from Luke Cage, and it’s heavily implied that Joy got her blackmail material from Jessica Jones.

Episode Nine

Maybe now’s a good time to talk about what a failure Danny Rand has been as a hero and a protagonist. Or rather, elaborate. I know I just covered this but there’s more. The Hand have been quick to point out that the job of the Iron Fist is to defend K’un-Lun, which is easier to do when you’re actually in it. Danny fought to earn the position, then once he had it, abandoned his post to go back home. Sure, he is actually fighting K’un-Lun’s sworn enemy, but let’s not pretend he left the magical Brigadooning monastery to hunt The Hand down. He left for selfish reasons then just happened to trip over them in the process. That he is even vaguely fulfilling his duties as Iron Fist is merely blind, stinking, doodah luck.

And now we join him having renditioned Gao to New York with amazing ease (rich white guys aren’t known for being held up by customs, I guess), and tied her to a chair in Colleen’s dojo (which she meekly protests, “meekly protesting” being the sum total of her agency in this scene) so that he can interrogate her about his parents’ deaths. Gao, Colleen, and Claire all raise two very valid questions: 1) what exactly is his plan to make her talk, and 2) is there even a point. What will these answers accomplish. Danny does not have compelling answers to these questions, because that would involve Danny having had a single itty-bitty clue about anything he’s done so far. He doesn’t know how to make Gao talk (Claire suggests he steal truth serum from Rand HQ, because sure, they obviously have that lying around), he can’t tell us why this is so important right now, and when he bumps into Joy on the way he’s stunned to hear they’ve been ousted. He did precisely two things at Rand other than hunt evil ninjas, neither was popular, both were unprofitable, and yet he’s mystified as to how this happened.

He’s a giant bag of suck at this point. It’s episode nine. It’s past time for him to have done something, anything, to prove his worth as the central character of this show.

Moving along.

I’ve talked about Harold Meachum having “faked his death.” This is not 100% accurate. He did die, but made an arrangement to have The Hand bring him back, which is why he was under their thumb. I bring this up now because when The Hand resurrects you, afterwards you don’t die easily. As such, Harold is back among the living, but he ain’t quite right in the head. Sure he’s eager to make amends with Ward, but he’s also gotten a little crazier and murderier than we left him, as his faithful assistant Kyle finds out when he turns down on offer of fancy ice cream. Ward’s at his least dickish this episode (though still on the drugs), but Harold is becoming a problem. If this means Harold Meachum has a concrete role in the end of the season, I’m for it.

After Danny breaks into Rand HQ to steal drugs (again… our hero), things go pear-shaped at the dojo. Colleen’s been poisoned, Gao gets into just everyone’s heads, and some sort of military team breaks into the dojo to claim Gao. Guess The Hand is getting over ninjas. Danny, poisoned Colleen, and Claire fight off the soldiers, and Colleen’s sensei Bakuto shows up.

We’ve seen him once before. I didn’t mention him because he made very little impression. I can’t even remember what he and Colleen discussed. Turns out he knows more about Iron Fistery than Danny does. Guess Danny had a couple of lessons left when he decided to swan off and reclaim his company instead of doing his job.

So Danny happened to bump into someone in episode one whose sensei happens to be an expert in K’un-Lun and reveals this exactly when it’s most needed in episode nine. As coincidences go, this one is extremely weak from a narrative perspective. If Claire had called Matt Murdock–

Sorry.

–and Matt had called Stick and Stick had known enough about Iron Fisticuffs to help them from here, that makes sense, it builds the world, it gets us closer to Defenders. Colleen’s sensei, who we met precisely once, happening to be the exact expert they need? That’s lazy writing.

Anyway, Danny heals Colleen but is burnt out, barely able to stand, let alone Iron Fist. Claire is left alone…

I begin to get concerned how fast I’m burning through corgis.

…while Colleen and Bakuto drive off with Danny, and Bakuto’s people (who I guess he has?) take Gao.

And Ward gets arrested for having drugs in his car, right after meeting with the Triads to find out if his dad can be killed, and learning Harold will probably try to kill either Ward or Joy. Either Ward is right, and Harold planted actual heroin in the car, or the writers already forgot that the synthetic heroin is so chemically removed from the real stuff it’s not even illegal. Let’s be charitable and assume it’s the first thing. This paves the way for Harold to let Joy into his secret penthouse when she comes looking for answers. It is… an awkward reunion.

Also there’s a creepy guy stalking around Rand Enterprises and the dojo, clearly looking for Danny, who can make actually dangerous origami throwing stars out of tin foil. More on him next episode, but I want to flag something. We know he’s after Danny because he’s giving the side-eye to an issue of Forbes with Danny on the cover.

Danny has been back at Rand for a week and a half. And he has been in the office for maybe 12 minutes. When did he do a photoshoot for Forbes? At what point did Forbes decide this was worth a story, send a reporter to get said story, arrange a photoshoot with Danny, and make it to print? When he was hanging around Colleen’s dojo waiting for it to be dark enough to raid the pier? While he was recruiting the Triads to bust up a drug lab? Were they on the plane while he was extrodinarliy renditioning Gao? It makes no sense. Between this and Daredevil’s second season covering half a year despite only having three weeks of plot, tops, it’s like Marvel Netflix writers don’t know how time works on top of not knowing how big Manhattan is.

God damn this show is stupid.

Episode Ten

Double digits. Home stretch. I can make it. I can do this. Deep breaths.

I’ve often said that when your characters are complaining about your plot holes, that’s not a great sign. Keep that in mind when I say that Danny pointing out that Colleen didn’t mention Bakuto for like seven episodes doesn’t make up for we, the audience, being blindsided by his arrival.

And it gets worse.

Turns out that Bakuto is also part of The Hand, just a different branch than Gao (who I guess is also in a different branch than Daredevil’s Nobu?). And Colleen has known the whole time, acting as a sleeper agent working Danny (well, it’s unclear when that started, so the ridiculous coincidence complaint may hold up). So in episode ten, Colleen and Bakuto become the very worst parts of Daredevil (Elektra goes from badass female character to pawn with no agency torn between the male hero and the male villain) and Luke Cage (Diamondback, ie. sudden betrayal from a supposedly important character who literally just showed up out of nowhere with no context).

Come on, Iron Fist, if you’re going to steal from your siblings, steal the good stuff.

There’s a very half-hearted attempt to convince Danny that these are the good Hand soldiers, as opposed to the bad ones that Gao was leading (no mention of Nobu but I’m past expecting it). He doesn’t buy it, and we who’ve known them as an evil ninja death cult since Daredevil last year certainly don’t buy it. So it only exists to accelerate Colleen’s slide into simpering pawn, a fraction of what her character once was.

Danny gets some help escaping from the guy who was stalking him last episode, who bursts to his aid, saying (accurately) “You are the worst Iron Fist ever.” It turns out to be Danny’s best pal from K’un-Lun, Davos. He’s come up a couple of times in Danny’s stories, which keeps him from being a second full-on Diamondback. The second thing that could do that is having him not betray Danny but I think we all know that’s too much to ask. He tells a wounded Danny that since he’s made zero progress against The Hand, can’t summon the Iron Fist (because he’s angry and confused and whatnot and it’s messing with his Chi), and has left an exposed K’un-Lun defenceless (save for its population of exclusively warrior monks), he is a complete and utter failure. He’s 100% correct in this, and it’s hard to react the way I think they want me to, since Danny hasn’t done one thing vaguely competently in ten episodes, so I’m just happy he’s getting called out on it.

He’s bad at being the Iron Fist, he’s bad at being the protagonist of a TV show, he should not have either job. There are three episodes left to convince me otherwise. I am not optimistic.

Oh, right, also Harold kills the board member who hates Danny and the Meachums, and makes it look like suicide (despite the wound screaming “homicide” to me), letting Joy (somehow) talk the remaining board members into reinstating her and Ward… and accidentally Danny as well. Don’t think she intended that. Harold sneaks out of admitting his role in the board member’s death (she only asks if he “had him killed,” not “did you kill him”), and tells joy they’re gonna have to go after Bakuto. Sure, why not.

Frankly, this “rival Hand” business only makes it harder to get a grip on who The Hand are, what they want, and why they do anything they do. And given they’re being set up as the main villains of The Defenders, that’s a problem.

Final note… a video Bakuto has shows that the Iron Fist of 1948 knew to wear a mask. I guess Danny skipped that part of his training as well. God this sack of patchouli is an idiot. the trick isn’t going to be having Davos decide Danny shouldn’t be the Iron Fist, the trick is going to be finding literally any way to make us think he’s wrong.

Three more. How much worse can it get? Guess we’ll find out.

Dan Watches Iron Fist (So You Don’t Have To) Vol. 2

And we continue.

Episode Five

I’m not saying that “Long lost rich kid comes home, returns to his company, tries to mend their greedy corporate ways” can’t be a good show. I’m merely saying it is not the show we were promised. So when half of episode five is devoted to Joy dealing with a class action suit claiming their chemical plant causes cancer, I am already a little annoyed at you, Iron Fist.

After explaining to the opposing lawyer and grieving family members that even if their chemical plant did give all of those people cancer, they didn’t break the law… okay pause button. I’m no big-city lawyer, but in a civil suit, does that matter? OJ was sued, successfully, for wrongful death despite being acquitted of those murders. If a link can be found between the plant and cancer rates, isn’t that the ballgame? Does it matter if they operated within regulations? Does anyone know? I’m really asking.

Anyway. After responding to “Your plant gave my son cancer” with “Cool story, sucks to be you, brah,” Joy asks Ward if maybe they’re the baddies in this situation. Ward takes a break from blowing up orphanages and masturbating to the carnage– that is, refusing to care that Rand Enterprises may be involved in the distribution of synthetic heroin, to say “Nah, it’s just good business.”

Right, the synthetic heroin thing. We’re introduced to The Hand’s new designer drug as three lovely ladies with rollie-sample cases visit three crime lords with their new designer drug. That these drug peddlers are being presented in the exact manner as the stereotypical “hot lady pharmaceutical repyou’ve seen on TV is actually a little clever. They draw a direct parallel between opioid pushers and Big Pharma. Maybe a touch on the nose one episode after Danny drew a line in the sand about overcharging for pills but I’ll allow it.

Danny received a package of said faux-heroin from the Triads, as a way of explaining what The Hand’s up to. Now, flooding New York with synthetic, extra-addictive heroin certainly makes a ton more sense than whatever the Hell The Hand was up to in Daredevil, with their giant mystery hole and thinking Elektra was the key to ruling the world, but it doesn’t really sell them as this big, giant, global threat. All gangs sell drugs. Drugs are great money makers. They basically sell themselves. The Hand could be anyone at this point.

So Danny’s solution to discovering that The Hand is using his company to ship a synthetic heroin (or unbeknownst to him, but tipped to us, manufacture it) so chemically different that it’s not even illegal is to snitch on them to Ward.

I mean, one solution might have been to say “Can we tinker with the formula, make it less addictive and deadly, sell it legally and put real heroin out of business,” but Danny is still gamely trying to be in a kung fu action show, so he wants to put a stop to The Hand’s mundanely sinister scheme. He tries to explain it all to Ward, who either does not or will not follow what Danny’s trying to tell him. But then his story starts with hatchet-wielding Chinese gangsters and ends with talking about a magic dragon, so… might not be entirely on Ward that he didn’t believe Danny just then. Even in a post-Avengers world, if someone tells you that the Triads gave them heroin that proves an evil ninja cult is infiltrating your company because it has a symbol that looks like the magic dragon that made you a living weapon… your first thought is not going to be “I totes believe that and have no questions.” Yeah he was more of a dick about it than he needed to be, but that’s his defining trait.

Anyway, Danny blows off work (if that’s something you can do when you technically don’t have a job) to investigate, accidentally takes responsibility for all that cancer, then misses the board meeting where they discuss what to do about it, as he’s planned an elaborate lunch to try and talk Colleen into helping him stake out the pier, and just hangs out at her dojo until dark.

And in doing so, he meets Marvel Netflix MVP Claire Temple, who’s taking private lessons with Colleen.

Colleen seems to actively resent being part of Danny’s story. Which, sure, I get. Why would she want to be Iron Fist’s token Asian sidekick. (Also, the monks of K’un-Lun apparently taught Danny origami in addition to kung fu. The Asian representation on this show feels really… generic. Like, I’m not sure they see, comprehend, or care about differences between Japan, China, or even India.) And given that she’s repeatedly refused to take Danny’s money, him buying her building so that he can cover her rent by not charging it feels really pushy. But anyway. She gets talked into backing him up, and they eventually head to the pier for some dark sneaking around.

Before that, Joy has to back her brother’s “Don’t settle” play to the board, at the meeting Danny was supposed to be at. While she disagrees with him, and the Board have some great points, she says “Ward has never given us reason to doubt him.”

She says this not knowing that Ward has been ignoring his father’s commands, taking a bunch of pills and knocking them back with bourbon, and eyeing that heroin Danny left in his office. He’s a train wreck right now, which makes my next point even more relevant.

Danny’s not out to Iron Fist his way through the drug dealers (nope, I’m just gonna keep using it as a verb and we’re going to try to ignore its other potential meaning). He just wants to get proof of what they’re doing so that he can show it to Ward. His faith in Ward to do the right thing is, at this point, mystifying. Ward tormented him as a child, has done nothing but oppose him at every step as an adult, and almost certainly has “Kill Spider-Man’s girlfriend in front of him” somewhere in his bullet journal, but somehow Danny still thinks he’ll come around with enough evidence. Boy is he going to be disappointed when he finds out Rand Enterprises doesn’t just facilitate shipping, they manufacture this stuff.

Because there are no drugs in the crates. Just a hidden room where Danny finds the chemist who created the synthetic heroin, and his one guard, who provides our single, solitary action beat. He does put up a bit of a fight, but at this point one random flunky giving Iron Fist a run for his money just feels weird. The chemist gets stabbed in the chest in the process, and thus does Claire get full-on dragged into Danny’s mess, with an appropriate moment of “How do I keep meeting these people and getting into these things.”

And at that point we surpass the ending of Luke Cage for peak “Oh my god, just call Daredevil already.” When Claire didn’t call Daredevil to help Jessica Jones, that made sense. Because he wouldn’t have actually been any help. When she didn’t call Daredevil when Luke Cage needed both back-up and a lawyer, that was egregious. When she finds out that Danny is fighting The Hand, the ninja army that attacked her hospital and which Daredevil hates, and goes from “You’re just some rich kid, you can’t handle this” to “I trust that you and you alone, well, you and my self-defence instructor, are the only ones who can stop them” in about two minutes? That’s character-breaking bad right there. When Colleen said she’d fight with Danny, and he tried to object, Claire should have been saying “You two figure that out, I’m calling Daredevil. You know, the vigilante who fights The Hand a bunch. I have his number, he’s ten minutes from here, you know what, just gonna order him a Lyft.”

Maybe if he’d Iron Fisted something in front of her it would have made more sense, but he didn’t so it doesn’t. If you don’t want Iron Fist to meet Daredevil until The Defenders, don’t create situations where it’s the obvious answer.

But that’s not the worst part. Daredevil’s Madame Gao investigates the container Danny broke out of while the guard explains what happened.

“He punched through solid steel with his bare hands,” he says.

“His hands?” she asks. “Are you sure it wasn’t… his fists?”

The guard fails to say “Well, I literally just used the word ‘punched,’ so… can’t rule it out.”

That exchange is so bad that it would have felt more natural coming out of the bad guy from a Kickpuncher movie. Also, Madame Gao is back, and part of The Hand now, I guess, because Asians are interchangeable and all in gangs or ninja doomsday cults. Except Colleen. So far.

Episode Six

In which the Asian stereotypes flow strong. By which I mean we meet an Asian assassin who’s just katana-murdered a room full of Asian men and is now singing karaoke.

After some mysterious “Bowl with a stick in it” message goes out to him, a woman doing spider-science (let’s all just assume I complained about lack of Spider-Man references), and two chefs, we immediately are thrust back into being asked to care about Ward “glad the Beatles broke up” Meachum’s drug problems. Which, sorry, ain’t happening. Although I begin to suspect that Harold has not filled Ward in about all of The Hand dealings, because he seems genuinely unaware of the whole mess.

Iron Fist is becoming one of those Marvel properties that actually depends on being part of a larger universe to tell its story. Just as The Avengers needed Captain America: First Avenger to establish the Tesseract, so too does Iron Fist’s plot only make sense if you watched season two of Daredevil. All of his claims that he’s destined to fight The Hand, how he’s trained his whole life for this purpose, would feel pretty hollow if we didn’t already have some sense of who they are. Not a great sense, because their arc on Daredevil was basically word salad, but still, we know they’re more than just cutting edge opioid dealers.

Danny continues to blow off the corporate drama at Rand Enterprises, as The Hand has the chemist’s daughter as a hostage. I don’t have a huge problem with that as a plot. A slight problem, sure, because this got old when it was “Oliver blows off running Queen Consolidated to deal with Brother Blood/Slade Wilson,” but my main concern is we don’t get to blow it off too. At first Ward invites himself along on Danny’s search for the hostage, refusing to believe it’s even real and merely intending to drag Danny back to the office for a meeting about this whole “Blowing their defence against the cancer lawsuit” thing, but when they find the severed head of the guard from last week, it all gets way too real for Ward, and we end up doubling down on his drug problem. Again… I do not feel bad for him, given that his defence in the lawsuit is “Eh, so what if we did give your kid cancer, we didn’t break any laws.”

Danny receives and accepts a challenge from The Hand: beat their warriors, get the girl back, and they’ll leave his company. In theory. Which means there’s finally some actual fighting going on. Not much Iron Fisting, no, not until the very end, but he does get to take on the chefs in a blood circle he can’t leave without losing, the spider-lady on the set of a music video for an 80s power ballad, and the karaoke assassin in the Dimly Lit Room of Many Weapons.

Seriously, Marvel Netflix, let there be light already.

While Ward tries to get drugs and Colleen and Claire try to keep The Hand from reclaiming the chemist from Claire’s old hospital, Danny fights his way up the ladder while having a conversation with his old teacher. Who isn’t there. This should be the first, big “Danny Rand kicks asses and takes names” episode… well, that actually should have happened well before now, but anyway… between hallucinating his mentor and being constantly taunted for abandoning his duty to defend K’un-Lun, it kind of looks like he’s just unravelling. Gao breaks the terms of the duel, saying she’ll kill the hostage unless Danny withdraws, and as he helps the hostage out of the building, he keeps muttering to his imaginary friend about whether he should have just let her die. Which she does not find comforting.

So is he just crazy now? Is he being haunted by an imaginary disappointed sensei? This is not making him more likeable as a protagonist, and he already had work to do in that area.

“My honour forbids me” is not an easy notion to hang a relatable decision on. “I’m-a magic punch the bad guys so hard the next doomsday cult is gonna feel it” is much easier. Thankfully, they don’t dilly-dally around and went with the second choice. Mostly. This show hoards the Iron Fist effect like Legends of Tomorrow hoards Firestorm.

(They don’t use it often. That’s what that meant.)

Episode Seven

Stuff happened and junk, I guess?

We’ve reached the halfway point. This is where network shows might be coming back from hiatus and course-correcting if something wasn’t working at the beginning. Might. Not always. Gotham, if anything, over-committed to its flaws in the second half of season one. Netflix shows don’t have that option, since the whole show is released at once.

As it turns out, the halfway point of a Marvel Netflix show is when they start to hit pacing issues.

Iron Fist is no different. Which is problematic, because it already had pacing problems. As a result, this one was just, I dunno, there. It was on, things happened, a lot of them were hard to see because Marvel Netflix is allergic to lighting scenes properly. I didn’t like any of it, I didn’t hate any of it, it just… happened.

Frankly the opening of the episode sums it up, as Colleen patches Danny up from his duel against the Hand thugs, and they eventually have vanilla, passionless sex. They kiss a little, stop, stare at each other for a second, rinse, repeat… it’s generally dull and then it’s over.

What else… I literally just watched this one and it’s already evaporating from my mind… um… right. Danny tries to find out what the connection is between Madame Gao and his father, while also being pressured to apologize to the board for screwing up that cancer lawsuit. These things are complicated when Gao turns up in his office. Which is easy to do, because 1) he announces his real name to all of his enemies, wear a goddamn MASK, Danny, and 2) turns out she works downstairs on the 13th floor, where she runs The Hand’s drug trade, and has for some time. Danny steals an iPad with their entire distribution network, and takes it to Harold…

Blah blah asks the Hatchett Triad for help, yadda yadda worst lit scene so far, blabbity blabbity Gao has gotten the formula and taken it to the Chinese city the Rands were headed to when their plane crashed, big emotion or whatever, I just don’t… I can’t…

Other developments. Danny also tanks his apology, by instead calling Karen Page (who is somehow still a reporter despite spending months on a story and eventually turning in a junior high essay instead) and telling her that they were closing the cancer-causing plant but not firing anyone. The board doesn’t care for being stuck with this plan, despite his claims that it’s the right thing to do, and ousts Danny, Joy, and even Ward, who wasn’t even at that meeting. But maybe they noticed his massive drug problem. Or were looking for an excuse to get rid of him, since one look at his eyes and you know he’s thought about how to properly dismember a prostitute.

Which… fine. This may as well happen. It happened with both TV and comic book Oliver Queen: the story circles around “He’s going to lose the company” for so long that you just want it over with. Also… Danny wasn’t CEO. He had a Board seat as a courtesy, and used it to force some unprofitable moves, and the company’s run by the drug-dealing branch of a ninja doomsday cult, so they probably weren’t going to be on side with his more responsible vision.

Sad fact is the ninja doomsday cult part is largely superfluous from what we know about corporations.

Probable Holocaust denier and definite Jack the Ripper suspect Ward doesn’t know he’s fired yet, though. He was busy. See, at the top of the episode, his father had to kill some Hand thugs when they caught him conspiring with the Iron Fist, who he’d neglected to tell them he knew. So he called in Ward to help dispose of the bodies, which helped push a rapidly disintegrating Ward to the edge. And when Harold takes back all the money Ward’s been embezzling all these years, he snaps and kills his father.

And… sure. Why not. I’m honestly not sure where Harold’s plot was even supposed to be going. All of the Meachum stuff just feels like filler. And needing filler to pad out a man’s quest to bring down a ninja doomsday cult with his magic kung fu is not a great sign of your storytelling abilities, guys.

There’s six left. I think I can make it to the end. Probably. Won’t be easy, but I’ll give it a go. Maybe one of the plots will find second gear.

Dan Watches Iron Fist (So You Don’t Have To) Vol. 1

The key part of Marvel’s grand film and television strategy is “It’s all connected.” As we’ve discussed earlier, this at best doesn’t seem genuine and at worst feels like a ruse, but regardless, they work it hard. Watch Thor so you can fully understand Avengers. Watch Ant-Man because he’s going to be in Civil War. Please, for the love of Buddha and all his wacky nephews, please please watch Thor: Ragnarok, we promise it’s important for Infinity War.

This brings us to Iron Fist.

After two successful seasons of Daredevil, one knockout season of Jessica Jones, and one so-so but well-viewed season of Luke Cage, the last show Marvel Netflix needs to do before all of their heroes unite in The Defenders is Iron Fist. And they’re counting on you to believe that it’s important. But as you may have seen, the advance reviews suggest that Iron Fist is not only the worst show Marvel Netflix has produced, it’s the worst thing Marvel Studios has produced.

The reviews are right. They’re more right than you know.

But that’s okay. I’m here for you. I will take this bullet, and in the next few blogs, allow you to skip this turd pile and just watch Defenders.

Obviously there will be spoilers. The title should have made that clear.

Let’s begin.

Episode one

First off, can we talk about the fact that the phrase “Iron Fist,” not to mention the power of the Iron Fist, doesn’t appear in this episode? Because we should. We really, really should. By the credits of Daredevil’s first episode he’d beat the shit out of human traffickers. By the end of Jessica Jones’ first episode, Kilgrave had made his first move against Jessica. Even Luke Cage’s slow burn opening managed to showcase Luke’s strength and invulnerability by the end of the first hour. Iron Fist devotes its first hour to something a better show would have burned through in twenty minutes.

Scruffy, dirty, shoeless Danny Rand arrives at his family’s company, asking to see his father’s partner Harold Meachum.

Let’s talk about the “shoeless” part.

Danny, as we will learn, has made his way from the mystical kingdom of K’un-Lun back to some unknown but probably Tibetan part of Earth, fought in some underground fighting clubs, went to Morocco, where he acquired a fake Canadian passport in order to make his way into New York… and apparently he did all of that without shoes.

Why. How? He has a fucking iPod but no shoes? Sure, the second episode implies that it’s the iPod he had when his family’s place crashed 15 years ago, but come on. No 2002 iPod had a battery capable of lasting more than 18 months. Tell me that he has magical kung fu powers and I’ll buy it. Tell me he’s still using a 15-year-old iPod and you’ve lost me. But putting that aside, get some fucking shoes, Danny. The monks of K’un-Lun must have at least had slippers.

No, he lacks shoes for one reason and one reason only… so that the next thirty minutes of him trying to convince somebody, anybody, that he is, in fact, Danny Rand, heir to the Rand fortune, it’ll be believable that they assume he’s some crazy homeless guy.

Frankly they believe that longer than actually makes sense. Not in terms of the world as we know it, but in terms of the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe they would have us believe this is part of. Nobody is willing to entertain the notion that Danny Rand might not have died 15 years ago like they thought, but has returned. And it would be an impossible notion, save for Steve Fucking Rogers. One of the most famous people alive, who came back from the dead after a plane crash seventy years earlier.

But we’ll let that lie.

Literally all that happens in episode one is people refusing to believe that Danny is who he says he is. He meets with his childhood friends… well, one friend and one bully… Joy and Ward Meachum, the children of his father’s partner… only to be thrown out of the building. Twice. He tries to talk to Joy again, no help. He tries a third time, and she drugs him and sends him to a mental hospital. Sure, along the way he meets martial arts instructor Colleen Wing, and also has a homeless man literally Google the exposition for him (it’s actually worse than I made it sound), but that’s the jist of it.

They spend an entire hour on this. They get to “drugged and sent to an asylum” faster than “Oh by the way, here’s why the show’s called ‘Iron Fist.'”

Now what you should be asking, and what the strawman I’m about to use is asking, is “But are the fights good?” Well, no. There are exactly two fight sequences, which take up slightly less time than the opening scene of Daredevil and are nowhere near as impressive. I can name, easily, at least nine comic book TV series this season with better fight scenes than the first two episodes of Iron Fist*, a series whose opening credits promise martial arts. Frankly, the first big fight scene… and again, the first fight scene of Daredevil established its cred as the baddest-ass fight choreo around… the first big fight scene of Iron Fist looks like they filmed a rehearsal, given the lacklustre speed or energy devoted to it. It doesn’t just pale in comparison to other contemporary shows, it pales in comparison to Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, in which David Carradine’s close-up fight moves had to be shot in slow motion because he couldn’t do them at full speed.

So what we have in the first episode of Iron Fist, a show that should be defined by high-octane martial arts fight scenes, is two very half-assed fights, a villain delivered with all the subtlety of a brick through the window (if Ward Meachum spent his scenes tying women to railroad tracks it would be more nuanced), and a series of highly repetitive scenes in which people assume Danny is homeless and crazy.

Oh, right, also Harold Meachum faked his death and is running Danny’s company from behind the scenes. But he’s played by the most notable person in the cast, so… ah-doy, of course he’s not dead.

Arrow’s pilot isn’t perfect. It has a regrettable voice-over, Thea is whinier than she needs to be, and Ragman isn’t in it at all. But at least they got the “back from the dead” portion out of the way quickly.

*Agents of SHIELD. Arrow. Flash. Legends of Tomorrow. Supergirl. Preacher. Legion, even if they’re mostly telekinesis. Lucifer. Luke goddamn Cage, which is not known for compelling fight scenes.

Colleen Wing: Token Badass Female Character

Episode one introduces her, and lets her see Danny being vaguely skilled, but episode two tries to sell us on Colleen Wing as full on Badass Female Lead.

This has been a thing Marvel Netflix has tried to include for the last year and a half. Daredevil’s first season had two major female characters who tended to get taken hostage and/or need rescue, and since then they’ve tried to course correct. Jessica Jones was chock full of badass women, Daredevil’s second season had Elektra (although we talked last June about how they buggered that up), Luke Cage had Misty Knight (and we’ll talk this June about how they buggered that up), and thus does Iron Fist have Colleen Wing.

Problem is, as of episode four, she’s completely tacked on.

The first act of Iron Fist is devoted to Danny Rand’s return to his company. Which is stupid, it should be about Danny fighting evil ninjas, when will they get to that… sorry, that’s a digression, we’ll no doubt come back to that… anyway, Colleen plays a small role in this because, since Danny saw her putting up flyers for her self-defence classes, she’s one of the four people in New York he knows. She fights in an underground fight club, tries to teach her students self defence and ninja skills, but seems utterly superfluous to the rest of the plot. Maybe that’ll change down the road. But it doesn’t seem like it will.

Also, I don’t know if it’s the filming or the foley or what, but her fights don’t actually seem that impressive. She hits people and we’re asked to believe it’s hard, but they’re not selling it consistently.

Episode Two: Dumber than Episode One

People claim Danny needs a haircut to be taken seriously. This feels silly, since he has an immaculate perm. But this is just one of our problems.

Harold Meachum becomes us, the viewers, in episode two. As a psychiatrist asks Danny standard “I’m assuming you’re delusional” questions, Harold watches from a TV in his secret penthouse lair, shouting “You’re asking the wrong questions! Ask him where he’s been! Why did he come back?” These are the things we ourselves are wanting to know, things that would help us get a toehold on this show and a reason to care about its protagonist (other than Ward Meachum is such an unrepentant dick that you’ll cheer on anyone who makes his day unpleasant). But instead of answering those questions in any detail, we spend another 45 minutes on the “Nobody believes Danny” merry-go-round.

Danny spends episode two in a mental hospital. Joy Beachum drugged him and sent him there. While her brother Ward continues to be an utter asshole under the thumb of his presumed-dead father, Joy begins to realize that Danny is who he says he is. Not that this helps him. It doesn’t. Not this episode and not next episode. He calls Colleen for help, saying that the Meachums locked him up, which would seem crazy and unbelievable if it weren’t for the fact that almost immediately, Ward Meachum (under instruction from his father) shows up to buy her cooperation, offering her big money to lie about feeling threatened by Danny. Again, between openly bribing her to sign a false statement, and his perpetual expression screaming “I have to strangle a kitten to achieve orgasm,” Ward may as well be wearing a sign reading “I’m a Bad Guy.”

In the course of Danny’s so-called “therapy,” we learn a few details about what’s up with him. He trained with the monks of K’un-Lun. He’s the Iron Fist (the first time that’s been said out loud), though it’s vague as to what that means. And he’s the enemy of The Hand.

Yes, that’s right, the presumed Big Bad of Iron Fist is the worst part of Daredevil’s second season. But apparently they’re also the Big Bad of The Defenders, so we’re stuck with them for now.

Things we don’t know at this point but are curious about… why the hell did Harold Meachum fake his death? There is but a hint of an answer 37 minutes in, in what becomes the first interesting thing to happen in two episodes. How is it that Danny, who has been unbeatable in combat thus far, can’t or won’t escape a mental hospital? He claims the drugs he’s been given stop him from accessing the Iron Fist, but a) that turns out not to be true, b) he doesn’t act drugged, and c) he didn’t use it at all last episode and it didn’t hold him back. Why did Danny come back to New York, and why now? No hint. None at all. How did Danny clear immigration with no shoes? I mean, if he has a fake passport, he must have, right? And it’s a fake Canadian passport, they could have turned him away. But there’s no explanation there, either. The no-shoes thing was not thought through even a little.

Things we do cover in episode two: more disbelief and very gradual acceptance that he is who he says he is. Joy and Harold buy into it, and with Harold on board Ward has little option. Even his doctor buys that he’s Danny Rand, and not the made-up name on his fake Canadian passport, but he doesn’t believe the rest of the story. A psychiatrist working in, and believe me I wish I didn’t have to keep repeating this, the city where aliens invaded only to be fought off by the literal Norse god of thunder, doesn’t buy that Danny might have the powers he claims.

What can’t people believe after Asgard was proven to exist. By this point in the Marvel Universe they ask us to believe this takes place in, Thor is a celebrity, Captain America came back from the dead, a scientist can become a giant green rage monster, and Asgard is real. And that’s ignoring the mind-controlling Kilgrave who was all over the media a while back and the Inhuman outbreak that no property but Agents of SHIELD will acknowledge. I mean, if this show and Agents of SHIELD actually co-existed, they’d have to take claims of powers seriously, wouldn’t they? He could be an Inhuman and would need to be registered.

At the very end of the episode, despite his claims that the drugs block the Iron Fist, it finally comes into play as he finds himself under attack from three other patients Ward has paid to kill him. Finally, our big marquee fight, right? I mean, this is the point in Daredevil where we got the infamous single-take hallway fight. But no. Once he Iron Fists… I instantly regret using “Iron Fist” as a verb, it won’t happen again… his way out of his straight jacket, the hired thugs last about three seconds. Which, I mean… that’s appropriate, I guess. I did give Daredevil a hard time about the Hand ninjas not being any harder to fight than the biker gang, so really, these three shouldn’t actually pose any threat to him.

It’s just that we were promised martial arts action, and we are not getting it, and what we’re getting instead is slow, repetitive, and tiresome.

Anyhoo, the bargain-bin assassins lightly pummelled, Danny Iron Fists (it happened again, I’m sorry) his way through a wall and wanders into the night.

Episode Three

The beginning of episode three isn’t terrible. Some of Meachum’s goons show up at Colleen’s dojo, looking for Danny, and her refusal to even pretend to buy into their claims of being the good guys out for her protection are as close to endearing as any character has managed thus far.

Danny finally comes up with a strategy to regain his past life that isn’t “Ask for help from the two people with the most to lose.” I guess the whole “Drugged, woke up in a mental hospital under a false name” thing kind of hurt his trust in Joy. And his plan makes Iron Fist the most interconnected Marvel Netflix show yet: Daredevil’s been name-dropped, The Hand is back, and now he turns to Jessica Jones’ Jeri Hogarth, who apparently interned with Rand Enterprises when he was a kid. And he remembers enough about her that she’s the first person to take him at his word almost immediately. Maybe it’s because she sees an opportunity, given that she takes his case for free, but with the condition that her firm be Rand Enterprises’ new legal team from then on.

We are once again back to this being anything but a martial arts action series. Sure, Harold gets visited by spooky agents of The Hand, and sure, Colleen Wing goes to her student’s illegal fighting ring for cash, but Danny Rand, The Iron Fist, Defender of K’un-Lun, and enemy of The Hand is just attending depositions. The only action sequence he has involves trying to stop one Meachum security thug from burning down a room containing his childhood medical records, their best shot at proving he is who he says he is, given the lack of living relatives or fingerprints on record.

Which should be easy. It’s one guy. Thus far he’s fought off a half dozen security guards so effortlessly that he was only moving at rehearsal speed, taken out three thugs with three punches, and punched through a wall. But this one guy proves too difficult. Danny uses the Iron Fist precisely once, then seems to get tuckered out and fights without it, and boom go the records.

Which… shouldn’t that be proof against the Meachums? This hospital has security cameras, doesn’t it? Someone in Ward Meachum’s employ just committed arson in a hospital, and there are no consequences.

It’s all for nothing, though, because a clay bowl Danny made for Joy turns up with one of his fingerprints in it, and suddenly they have a case. Not the strongest case, perhaps, but by next episode none of this actually matters. Danny follows Ward from the deposition back to his father’s secret lair, only to have Ward try to throw him off the building. It’s faster and less thrilling than you think.

Episode Four

Harold Meachum is, in theory, the/a villain, but in the opening minutes, he became the most likeable character on the show. Danny’s doing fine, despite his tumble at the end of episode three, and Harold has brought him inside, where he swiftly puts an end to all of the “Is it really Danny” nonsense and tries to get the plot into first gear. He basically tells Ward to stop being a tool and settle the lawsuit, then fills Danny in on his connection (and thus Rand Corp’s) to The Hand. It seems that Harold may see Danny as a way to escape the gilded penthouse cage The Hand (possibly led by Madame Gao from Daredevil? Sounds like her, but since when was she in The Hand?) keeps him in.

And so we abruptly, but gratifyingly, enter our second act.

Episode four has a hallway fight that in no way measures up to Daredevil’s famous single-take hallway fight, and an elevator fight that in no way lives up to Winter Soldier. It’s the biggest action beat we’ve had so far, because he actually has to fight through multiple skilled opponents, but compared to any other hallway fight Marvel Netflix has done, it’s subpar. Even compared to Luke Cage just strolling through an entire gang. Minimal Iron Fisting (sorry, it just keeps happening), Danny’s still a little slow and somewhat basic in his moves, but it’s the best we’ve gotten.

It’s still an improvement where this show is concerned. Triads try to grab Joy, angered over Rand Corp trying to buy harbour property they covet, and Danny fights them off. He then confronts them at their headquarters, but the second he mentions that the pier was purchased for The Hand, the entire gang goes “Oh snap. Sorry, sorry, our bad, sorry, have the pier, didn’t know, no beef, man, no beef” and backs off.

I’m trying to decide if Danny describing his time in K’un-Lun is better or worse than devoting an episode to flashbacks about how it went like Daredevil or Luke Cage did. I’m leaning towards better. Origin flashbacks are not my favourite.

Colleen Wing remains basically in her own show, a show about wanting to follow the Bushido but also enjoying underground fighting to make rent. It’s not a terrible show, but it has almost no connection to anything else.

And The Hand appear to be selling drugs with a similar symbol to Danny’s giant chest tattoo. So maybe… maybe… we have a plot.

Next time we’ll see if this is going anywhere interesting, and I’ll probably have more complaints about Ward “definitely has negative opinions about food stamps” Meachum. Seriously, some of the villains this season are just one-dimensional “I hate minorities” moustache-twirlers, but Ward makes them all look as well developed as Wilson Fisk.

Corn Monkeys in the Mist: Trailers

And so do we return to a long-forgotten topic: my days as a projectionist. Because I thought I’d take some time and cover an aspect of the movie that most people love but few think about: the trailers. The coming attractions. The twenty minutes of stuff that happens before the actual movie starts.

As a reminder, my experiences come from the before times, from the long-ago, when movies were printed onto physical film which was run through a projector. These days most theatres, certainly most first-run theatres, are digital, so I speak to you now of forgotten arts and witchcraft. The current arts and witchcraft are largely unknown to me.

The Work

One of the chief tasks mid-week for a projectionist was actually building up the prints of the movies about to open. Movies would come in two to three cans of reels, each reel being about twenty minutes’ worth of film. Because in the old days, I’m talking like the 20s here, your light source would last twenty minutes, so that’s how much movie you could show before you switch projectors.

For more on that just watch Fight Club already.

So a movie would be anywhere from five (any cartoon or kid-targeted movie) to nine (Lord of the Rings) reels, with some as short as four and others as long as ten. These reels had to be spliced together and spun onto the projection platters so they were ready to go for Friday.

Like so.

Like so.

It’s a fair amount of work. But it’s not the whole process, because in addition to all of that, we had to build the trailer package.

An average film in my first run days had five coming attractions (one or two of which came from the same studio, were attached to the first reel, and had to be cut off), as many as nine corporate ads, and of course the bits of film saying “Coming soon” and “Feature presentation,” and in some cases “Dolby Digital.” Yes, sure, they’re all shorter than a twenty-minute reel, but the thing of it is, the actual time spinning the film onto the larger reel (from which it would be spun onto the platter) is the least amount of work in the whole process. There’s still the splicing, and if it’s a fresh, unused trailer, you had to frame and cut both ends. And if it came from Alliance (like any Lord of the Rings, for instance), you could bet that there was a bad splice (joining of film) between the studio logo and the actual trailer that if left in peace was going to throw the whole movie out of frame.

In short, prepping the trailer package could take as much time as the rest of the movie. Well, no, I’m not sure that’s true. But it took a while, is my point. Especially when a fresh batch of corporate trailers came in.

The urge to be lazy

So what I’m saying is that I get it. I get the urge to be lazy that would hit my various brethren in the projectionist union. You’ve got four movies opening this week, you need to build trailer packages for all of them, the studio just shipped out a fresh trailer for the new Star Wars movie, but they’re all uncut, so of course you’re going to have an urge to just grab the old, already cut teaser off the shelf and throw that on instead.

I understand. But it doesn’t mean I, in any way, ever approved.

See, there can be real problems just grabbing the old trailer. Most notably, the case of the Rollerball remake of 2002. Rollerball, for those who forgot that it ever existed (and who, honestly, could blame you) was supposed to come out in summer of 2001, but at some point after the release of the trailer, it was pushed back (for largely the same reasons that you’ve forgotten it existed), over and over, until finally getting released in February of 2002.

The problem is… when they’d settled on a release date, they sent out a new trailer, but… some of you have probably guessed where this is going… lazy projectionists decided to just grab the old one and throw it on instead. The old one with the Summer 2001 release date. Given that it was already fall of 2001, that just looks bad.

But that’s a rare, isolated case. Most movies only release trailers when they’re sure of when they’re coming out. The real problem is that you’re still short-changing the viewers.

Back then I was at my most sympathetic to the plight of a projectionist. I know very well how much work is involved in making these three prints of Minority Report, plus whatever else you had to deal with, and how little time you were being given. But I paid money to see this movie, and I care about trailers. I know there’s a new, proper trailer for Ang Lee’s Hulk out, so I don’t want to be stuck with the old teaser that’s just 45 seconds of Eric Bana staring in a mirror.

…Wow. To think there was a time in my life when seeing any amount of Ang Lee’s Hulk seemed a good idea. Such an innocent time.

Still, when someone’s desire to save themselves five or ten minutes means I don’t get to see the proper trailer on a proper screen, it was annoying. A let down.

And what really baffles me, right, is that it’s still happening. On digital films. With, I have to assume, digital trailers. Which would imply that it isn’t more work to have the more recent trailer on the movie, as it’s all just electronic files. Could even be pre-loaded by the studio, for all I know. So why, exactly, did Age of Ultron still have the five month old teaser for Star Wars instead of the… well… newer teaser?

Annoying is what it is.

Meanwhile, at the Moviedome

At the Moviedome it was a little faster. Three trailers, three corporate ads at most (including the ever-present anti-piracy spot, the third of which ran until I left because nobody ever told us we could stop running it), and the trailers we had were almost always pre-used. We weren’t even given a list of what to put on the movie, like a first-run theatre would get. The only rule was that the trailers had to be for movies of the same rating or lower than the movie they were on.

A simple rule. Prevents us from putting Texas Chainsaw Massacre trailers on Finding Nemo. But, then, it also prevents us from putting Texas Chainsaw Massacre on Jeepers Creepers or any other horror movie with minimal gore and no nudity.

There aren’t a lot of movies rated 18A. Horror movies, sometimes. American Pie sequels. We’d get one 18A every few months. So if we got an 18A movie in (say, Empire, which you also don’t remember), I made sure to throw every 18A trailer I could on it, and not, say, Treasure Planet, like one of my coworkers wanted to.

This… did result in one leettle hiccup, though. Such was my determination to use whatever 18A trailers I could whenever an 18A feature came a-calling that I gave no thought to the film’s target audience.

We were weeks away from opening Kill Bill vol. 2, The Punisher, and Man on Fire, all 18A-rated revenge movies. Obviously, I’d be able to advertise the other two on whichever opened first. But until then, I only had one 18A feature to run them on…

The Passion of the Christ.

Because, really, why wouldn’t a horde of Christians who’ve come to pretend it was anything other than religious-themed torture porn want to open the feature with a trilogy of ads for violent revenge movies? You’d be crazy to assume they wouldn’t.

So, yeah, kind of regret that one a little.

Anyhoo… see you Friday to talk about the penultimate episode of Writers Circle’s first season.

Should really get around to filming more of those.

Danny Writes Plays: Quest

“Then I know what I must do. It’s just… I’m afraid to do it.”
-Frodo Baggins

Been a while since the last time I did one of these, hasn’t it? Yeah, well, there’s a reason. Because the last time I talked about Quarter Century, and the play after that… I’ve been putting it off and putting it off, because to continue this series meant re-reading what some claim was the worst thing I ever wrote. And man but I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that. But there’s no point in doing this if I start holding back no, so here we are. Yesterday, I cracked open a script called Quest for the first time in nearly eight years.

Are you ready for your nostalgic look at past works to get real? Because today we’re talking about failure. Pure, unadulterated failure. Sure, I had bad things to say about Illuminati in Love, because who wouldn’t, and yes, I had to resort to a speed round to sum up everything that was bad about The Course of True Love and the Curse of the Jade Monkey (why is the title so god damned long), but here’s the thing… every script I’ve written about so far?

They all got staged.

Hell, some of them got staged twice. I not only decided Jade Monkey was worth a second go, I took it to a Fringe festival. But not this one. This one never made it past the first workshop, and frankly shouldn’t have made it that far, but my first-draft readers broke out the kid gloves and I learned of my folly too late.

Let’s get into it.

What’s it about?

“WE NEED YOU TO DO THE THING, AVERAGE GUY. ONLY YOU CAN DO THE THING.” -mentor figure, every goddamn movie
Lindsay Ellis

21st century con man Tobias Rose and his partner in crime Freddy Hale steal from the wrong people, and get dragged into the final struggle of a Tolkien-esque war between good and evil, one in which both sides have begun to fade as wonder and magic were worn away by science and reason.

PREMISE!

Almost TOO dignified this time around…

After stealing both the MacGuffin gem (it’s actual name, the Gem of Anarra, wasn’t less silly, so let’s call it what it was) and a fairy who’s been imprisoned in a PDA (remember those? They used to be a thing!), Tobias’ colleague and occasional lover Pauline is killed under mysterious circumstances, and when Tobias tries to find out who killed her and why, he ends up crossing paths with the trapped fairy’s friends: two sorcerers (Victor and Natasha), and the last of the elves (Ellianna), who are trying to stop the Adversary (basically Sauron from Lord of the Rings, and equally unseen) from regaining his lost power and drowning the world in a new style of dark magic, one fed not by wonder but by fear and cynicism.

While at first Tobias only cares about finding and killing Pauline’s murderer… well, that and getting enough money to pay off a debt to a mobster… Freddy’s nagging and a recurring hallucination of Pauline that acts as his conscience drive him to use his con artist skills to aid Ellianna and company. Also he thinks Ellianna is pretty cute, because why not at this point.

Also the bad guys are all orcs. Or rather, are all descended from orcs, but distantly enough that they’re basically just mob goons: strong and dumb.

So why’d that happen?

“Not with ten thousand men could you do this. It is folly.”
-Boromir

A few reasons. The fairy trapped in the palm pilot was from a dream I had. The fairy was stuck inside the PDA, but since I’d rescued her from her captors, she was willing to try and help me hook up with her friend the elf, but did advise this was a bad idea due to the elf’s baggage. For good or ill (mostly the latter), this all ended up in the play.

As to the rest… in late 2001 and early 2002, I could watch whatever I wanted at Westhills theatre for free. But there wasn’t much playing. So what I ended up doing was rewatching two movies over and over: Fellowship of the Ring and Ocean’s 11. As such, a sketch idea wormed its way into my mind: what if instead of Gandalf the Grey, the Fellowship of the Ring was led by Danny Ocean? While it soon became clear Ocean’s Fellowship wasn’t going to be worth writing down, I guess the notion got stuck in my head, and a few years of loving con man movies later… this happened.

How’d it turn out?

“You folded with a focus and intensity normally seen only in successes.”
-Ray Smuckles

Short answer is “not well.”

For a long time now, I’ve held this one up as a cautionary tale. At the workshop, it was generally agreed to be one of the worst things I’d done (and wasn’t that fun to hear in a group setting), but until then? I had no idea I’d gotten it that wrong.

But I see now. Time, distance, and practice have shown me why Quest failed so utterly.

For starters, it’s like 90% exposition. Ninety percent. That is not okay. Alright, that percentage is a rough estimate at best, but the fact is, people spend more time standing around talking about the premise and the world and what’s been happening than actually doing anything. For something that’s trying to blend Lord of the Rings Ocean’s 11, there is barely any action and staggeringly little charm.

And despite all this exposition, nothing is developed. Why are Tobias and Freddy so close partners? If Tobias is already willing to move on and flirt with Ellianna, how could Pauline’s death have affected him so deeply that he’s imagining her talking to him? We know what the Adversary’s plans are, but do the good guys have their own plan, or is “stopping the bad guy” really the sum of their ambition? I don’t know, and I wrote this bloody thing!

The “curse your sudden yet inevitable betrayal” moment happens during the traitor’s second scene. We have just met this person, how could we possibly have anything invested in whether or not they’re a traitor? In fact, it’s hard to get invested in anyone. They show up, have a stock set of characteristics (Victor’s sarcastic. Really reaching new heights there, Young Me), three of them have a token sad story from their past which end up just being more chunks of exposition in a story drowning in them… I don’t think a potential audience was ever given a concrete reason to care about Tobias, or have any investment at all in what he does. And since he’s driving the story, that is a problem.

The plot is surprisingly barren and moves way too fast. Thirty minutes after finding out magic is real, Tobias knows how to break a seemingly unbreakable curse, with no more explanation than a quick joke about “There’s always a cheap knock-off in Chinatown.”

Somebody at the workshop said “You need a comic relief character.” I said “I thought I had one.” Tells you how funny Freddy ended up.

Everything interesting happens offstage, and is described to the audience so we can quickly move to our next burst of exposition. The final con to defeat the Adversary and win the day is full of holes. Tobais is only the smartest person in the room because everyone else is so reliably stupid.

It is a failure on every level. The world building is sloppy, the characters are cobbled together and uninteresting, it’s a story about the end of the world yet doesn’t feel like it has any stakes, everything, everything, is told rather than shown… and I misused an apostrophe on page 13. It is an eternal reminder that no matter how much I’ve learned, no matter how much I grow, it is still possible to utterly and completely shit the bed.

And yet… and yet now that I’ve cracked it back open, I kind of want to save it.

Would you stage it again?

“You lost today, kid. But that doesn’t mean you have to like it.”
-Fedora, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Or in this case, “Would you allow it to see the light of day,” and the answer remains no, absolutely not, not like this. Like I said, I kind of want to save it, but there isn’t enough in this script that works to build a second draft. The fact is, when the first readers were trying to softball their responses, they were right: this story does not work as a stage play. There’s so much exposition, backstory on the world, its rules, and the characters that’s needed for it to make sense, but right now it’s all happening instead of actually developing the characters, the story, or the stakes. Right now everything interesting happens offstage because it all felt too hard to do in live theatre.

Maybe the story can work. Or at least elements of it. The ancient war of light and dark stuck in an era where magic is dying, a la Flight of Dragons or Carnivale, could have some legs. I might have to lose the elves and the orcs/orc descendents, though, not sure how well that played. Well, definitely the orcs. That did not work at all.

Tobias would need to have some actual charm. Ellianna would need a personality. Freddy’s comic relief would have to actually be funny. The haunted-by-imaginary-Pauline thing has to go, because the idea that anyone might see that as anything but a knock-off of Gaius Baltar from Battlestar Galactica was a pipe dream. But more than anything, to not be terrible, this story would need to have more room to breathe. Time to develop. Time to earn the audience’s interest. And a stage play ain’t gonna get it done. A novel, maybe. A TV series? Definitely.

Sadly, I have at least two other series I want to see exist in some form, and they’re both higher priorities.

One of which starts in a few weeks. For the curious.

One of which starts in a few weeks. For the curious.

Which means the notion of how this story could be told well will just have to lurk around the back of my head for a while. Which is how I got into this mess in the first place.

Repeated theme alert

  • Man and woman cannot be friends: Not sure if I should include this one, since Tobias and Ellianna were never what you’d call “friends,” but their end-of-play hook up is just SUPER tacked-on and brutally unearned.
  • Something something pop culture reference: The Pauline thing wasn’t actually stolen from Battlestar Galactica. It was stolen from Garth Ennis’ 1997 Unknown Soldier graphic novel miniseries, in which the lead character is thrown into a globe-trotting conspiracy centred around nigh-mythological black ops agent Codename Unknown Soldier because a pretty co-worker smiled at him, and was almost immediately killed. He then hallucinates her talking to him throughout the story. Not… not sure that makes it better.
  • Something something pop culture reference part two, Secret of the Ooze: Someone refers to the age of magic as being an age of “nobility and cruelty.” That’s an homage to a similar monologue that opens the first episode of Carnivale. “Before the beginning, after the great war between Heaven and Hell, God created the Earth and gave dominion over it to the crafty ape he called man. And to each generation was born a creature of light and a creature of darkness. And great armies clashed by night in the ancient war between good and evil. There was magic then, nobility, and unimaginable cruelty. And so it was until the day that a false sun exploded over Trinity, and man forever traded away wonder for reason.” That monologue shaped a lot of my vision for the world of this story, and the decline of magic.
  • “Let’s swap backstories for fifteen minutes like that’s not pacing Kryptonite!” This describes more of the script than it doesn’t.

Next time… from my worst first draft to my best, as I experiment with full-on farce.

Backlashing against backlash

At the risk of slipping into “cranky old man” mode here… what exactly is so great about cynicism? No, hang on, that isn’t even old man mode… my generation was defined by cynicial detachment not so long ago. We embraced it the way the 50s embraced mistaking patriarchy-driven nuclear families for values and morality. But I’m here today to tell you… it is getting out of hand.

We are cynical about everything now. A thing happens, and people across the internet jump up to stomp it down. And I don’t understand what the appeal is. What is so great and noble about responding to an idea with “That’s stupid” and nothing else? What is backlash actually accomplishing?

I put it to you that internet backlash accomplishes nothing. In fact, it’s about as far from accomplishing something as you can get without a warp drive and a time machine. Here’s some reasons why.

Backlashers aren’t contributing anything

Casefile number one: the Ice Bucket Challenge.

It was July when the ALS ice bucket challenge went viral. Dump a bucket of ice water over yourself to spread awareness of ALS and encourage donations. It was mid-August before I became aware of it, thanks to Stephen Amell of Arrow. And his co-stars, Colton Haynes and Emily Bett Rickards, stressed the need for donations on top of spreading these drenching videos. And like all things, it’s drawn its share of internet backlash. People accused this trend of just being the new internet meme, slagging it as hashtag-slacktivism. Just one problem with that label.

The challenge works.

Thanks to the ice bucket challenge, the ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million dollars in one month, five times what they raised in the entirety of 2012. It’s a viral campaign that achieved results, doing more for ALS awareness than naming the disease after Lou Gehrig.

If that’s “slacktivism,” what else is? Movember? The Ride For the Cure? Anything shy of picking up a test tube and trying to cure a disease yourself?

And even if it were, “slacktivism” actually can serve a purpose: it creates a sense of community. Check out this article, written by someone suffering from ALS, for a more insightful look, but the basic premise is that things like Movember or the ice bucket challenge make a person feel like they’re part of something greater when they donate or participate, something that merely giving money quietly and anonymously doesn’t do, and that generates momentum like nothing else.

Others point how few people actually die from ALS as compared to cancer or heart disease. Well, okay, sure, but the fact is that’s partly why the ice bucket challenge was necessary. Because ALS affects such a small percentage, it receives far less funding from governments, and pharmaceutical companies don’t take much interest because the profit margin would be too small. So they need something like this to gain awareness and raise funds, because however few people it affects, they all die, and right now we don’t know why and there is nothing we can do about it. The person dying from ALS doesn’t matter less than the person dying of heart disease, so don’t tell me that fighting this disease isn’t important.

And some say “But it wastes so much water! And hundreds of millions of people desperately need water!” Okay, point taken. Clean, drinkable water is our most precious resource, because we need it to live, there’s only so much of it, and we can’t replace it with something else, unlike oil, coal, or gold. But when it comes to wasting water in North America, the ice bucket challenge is barely, excuse the expression, a drop in the bucket. That fountain outside the Bellagio hotel, you know, the one in the middle of a freaking desert, wastes more water than ice buckets. We could and should do more to conserve water, and on that note, here’s how Matt Damon completed the ice bucket challenge while making a statement for his own charity, water.org.

Feel free to throw them some money if you’re opposed to the ice buckets.

And that’s ultimately my point about cynically discarding something like this because you spot a fault. What are you actually accomplishing? What is complaining about ice buckets doing to make the world better? Not a god damned thing. Blind cynicism is actually worse than slacktivism. At least slacktivism is encouraging people to do something. Trying to tear down causes for being too trendy, or too viral, or for not doing enough for what you define as the right things, is attempting to stop people from doing something good.

Don’t like the ice bucket challenge? Donate to water.org. Plant a Tree For Groot. Eat less meat. Volunteer at a shelter. Do something. But if all you’re doing is mocking a cause because you don’t buy into it, well, you’re just… this.

The cloud hears you. The cloud don't care.

The cloud hears you. The cloud don’t care.

Moving on.

Backlash hurts progress

Casefile number two: Solar roadways.

It boils down to this, if you choose not to click the link or watch the video: the inventors of solar roadways developed a plan to replace the asphalt that covers roads and parking lots with solar cells, that could be used to power cities. That’s the basics. They could also be fitted with LEDs, allowing them to light up in specific ways, such as adaptable, customizable traffic lanes or parking lot layouts or basketball courts or basically whatever.

The fact is, we need a solution to fossil fuels and we need it soon. Electric cars? Great start, except for the fact that the electricity that powers the cars currently comes primarily from coal. We need solar, we need wind, we need some sort of renewable energy that doesn’t change our climate and turn cities into smog-choked hellscapes like Beijing or LA. The solar roadways team thinks they’re onto something that can power and light up our cities, revolutionizing civic infrastructure, and they successfully raised over $2 million through crowdfunding.

But some people didn’t agree with solar roadways as the silver bullet to fix our energy future. And their complaints are actually fairly valid here.

  1. What about the light pollution? All those LEDs add up, especially on highways.
  2. Sure they’re designed to melt away snow, but what about the heavy snowfalls we get up here in Canada? Can it handle them?
  3. Who’s maintaining the solar panels on rural highways?
  4. How are we connecting these panels to the power grid? Wouldn’t conventional solar panels be easier?

Like I said. All of these are valid questions. But the problem is they were all held up as ways that solar roadways were doomed and shouldn’t be backed by Indiegogo patrons. But the way you find answers to these questions is to fund the project.

As a better writer than I once said, in the history of everything that works, there was a time when it didn’t. The light bulb, the telephone, the Tesla electric car, they all faced hurdles and challenges, and had prototypes that didn’t quite work. But with time, effort, and money, they got there. And maybe so can solar roadways. Or maybe they’ll be one more crowdsourced project that took a bunch of people’s money and didn’t do anything with it. But I hope not.

But that’s not really the point. The point is that no idea arrives fully formed. There’s early drafts and experiments and attempted solutions that don’t work out, and all of those have to happen, and most of them require money. So when people see this new idea and say “But they haven’t accounted for northern snowfall, so don’t support them,” that is harming progress. Don’t just tell me not to support that idea, point me to the idea that will work. Show me how to kickstart more solar farms, but until then, maybe let’s give the people trying to accomplish something a chance.

And you don’t want to be the guy who’s shown the future and screams “Burn the witch.” That is helping precisely nobody. In fact, maybe you should think about what your backlashing is saying about you…

It puts you on the wrong side of things

Now let’s really court some controversy. Casefile 3: Kony 2012.

Remember this? The group Invisible Children put out a video whose goal was to make everyone aware of Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony, and specifically his tactic of indoctrinating children as soldiers. The video went viral, kits were sold for people to spread anti-Kony stuff around their towns, and a huge “poster everything” event was planned, with the hope of wallpapering the western hemisphere with anti-Kony posters.

And then came the backlash.

Much like ALS above, out came the accusations of slacktivism, and this time they were well earned, since while the end goal of Invisible Children was, in principle, the arrest of Joseph Kony and an end to children being used as soldiers, the only tangible result that Invisible Children were able to create was awareness. Which is, at best, a good first step. Invisible Children never seemed to manage the second.

People picked at how Invisible Children spent its money (primarily travel and video equipment, which isn’t that weird for a company whose primary activity is travelling the world to champion a cause with videos). People said “But Kony isn’t even in Uganda anymore” in an attempt to dismiss the video’s entire message. Which had just two problems as a nitpick: a) the video said he wasn’t in Uganda anymore, and b) in exactly which country is it okay to commit atrocities with child soldiers?

And then the public face of the campaign went a little nuts and was caught masturbating in public and that was about that.

Sure, if the Kony 2012 campaign is remembered at all, it’ll be as a definitive example of slacktivism: shit-tons of awareness raised, nothing actually accomplished. But there was one thing about all the backlash that bothered me.

While they did take an incredibly, soul-crushingly complicated issue, specifically the political realities of post-colonial Africa that allow rebel warlords like Kony to exist, and try to make it far too simple (share this link to save the world!), Invisible Children’s goal was to end a horrifying practice, that being child soldiers. It was Invisible Children vs. Joseph Kony… and Kony didn’t end up as the bad guy. No, according to internet backlash, Invisible Children were the enemy because they weren’t doing enough.

My question is this. If it was child slavers vs. slacktivists, and internet cynics decided to take up arms against the slacktivists… are they not, in some way, picking the side of the child slavers?

No, think about it, nobody was saying “Invisible Children isn’t doing enough, so let’s take the awareness they raised and run with it,” they just said “Why are you spending so much money making videos” or started parody Kickstarters. They weren’t trying to solve the problem Invisible Children wasn’t able to solve themselves, they were just mocking Invisible Children for speaking up.

Kony’s still active, FYI. And the African Union is trying to catch him exactly as hard as they were before. So conrgrats on that, internet backlash. You and Invisible Children finally have something in common: neither one of you has done anything to stop child soldiers.

Ugh. This is getting heavy. Let’s end with something lighter.

It’s just mean

Casefile four…

You know who you are.

You know who you are.

The fact is that all of these internet backlashes, whether they’re sort of defending a war criminal or accidentally announcing “We do not care about people with ALS” are small potatoes. Even Occupy Wall Street will pale in comparison to the day they finally cast a new Iron Man.

You know I’m right. Nothing makes the internet explode more than casting news on geek-targeted movies. A day will come when Peter Capaldi steps down from Doctor Who or Daniel Craig films his last James Bond movie, and when that day comes, we will once more be drowned in Tumblr/Twitter posts decrying the TV/film industry as racists for not casting Idris Elba as the new Doctor/Bond, as well as posts from a much worse group screaming bloody murder over the mere suggestion of casting Idris Elba as the new Doctor/Bond. We saw the social justice crew go nuts over another white male (worse, an old white male) being cast as the 12th Doctor, we saw internet racists (who claim they’re not racists, they just care deeply about character canon) go berserk over black actors playing a Norse god in Thor and the Human Torch in next year’s Fantastic Four movie… and that’s not even what I’m talking about here.

I’m not calling out racism or misogyny or those who campaign against them. I’m instead calling out the nerd rage crowd, the ones who shouted that Heath Ledger could never be a good Joker, or that called Daniel Craig “James Bland,” or who now throw around the term “Batfleck” as a pejorative. Because putting aside the fact that these nay-sayers have been wrong far, far more than they’ve been right (have they ever been right?)…

It’s just mean.

Take Ben Affleck as Batman. Ben Affleck started strong, with an Oscar for writing and a string of action hits. Then he dated Jennifer Lopez, made a few bombs, and was damn near run off the planet because of it. So he pulled back, took some time off, and slowly worked his way back into Hollywood, starting as a director and ultimately returning to the Oscar victory podium as the director and producer of Oscar champ Argo. And for this, for this hard-fought return to respectability, he was rewarded. Warner Bros., the studio he won an Oscar for, gave him one of their most high-profile gigs: he was the next Batman.

And the internet reacted with all the grace and dignity of a prison riot.

Peter Capaldi has been a fan of Doctor Who longer than I’ve been alive. Longer than most current fans have been alive. He watched William Hartnell, the first Doctor, in the role when he was a kid. And now he gets to take on the role himself.

And the internet either shouted “Too old!” or acted like casting another white man was a return to Jim Crow days.

Ben and Peter, lest we forget, are real people with real feelings. Maybe Ben was excited to be trusted with this role. Maybe he was excited to get another spin as a superhero in a (hopefully, please gods let it be) better movie. Maybe Capaldi was thrilled to get a chance to fly the Tardis. And maybe they don’t need jerks on Twitter saying their casting is terrible news because one of them was in Gigli over a decade ago and the other isn’t diverse enough.

In conclusion. You won’t agree with every trend that hits Facebook. Not every viral campaign will speak to you, and some will downright annoy you, but maybe think it through before you decide to tear it down. Ask yourself: what am I actually accomplishing here? Is there a more productive way I could express my disagreement with this cause? Who else is on my side of this argument, and do any of them enslave children? And, most importantly, am I being a jerk? Or, to put it simply…

Seriously, though… go plant a tree for Groot. Before someone starts complaining about that one too.

Five Sins of Decent Videogame Movies

It’s a good time to be a geek. Hollywood never stopped looking for fantasy epics to adapt after Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter each managed to earn more money than physically exists, we’re living in a golden age of comic book movies, Game of Thrones gets nominated for Emmys, and there is a TV show about Green Arrow of all people that isn’t just “kind of watchable” like Smallville at its peak but legitimately good with flashes of greatness.

And then there’s videogames.

I’m not going to get into a thing over which side is winning, games that push the medium to grow and expand and find new ways to tell stories, or Battlefield of Duty knockoffs so generic you can’t tell one brown and gunmetal grey cover-based first person shooter from another. I’m instead going to talk about how Hollywood continues to make movies based on videogames, but also insists on not trying very hard.

It’s been over twenty years since the first major Hollywood movie based on a videogame, 1993’s Super Mario Bros., and despite that, to put it mildly, shaky start to genre, there’ve been 27 more released theatrically since then. But they haven’t gotten much better. In fact, thanks to some loopholes in German tax law, Uwe Boll was able to make several far, far worse.

We could argue back and forth for hours about why, exactly, video game movies seem unable to compete with their comic book brethren. Maybe it’s like horror movies, where the rate of return is narrow yet good enough that they don’t need to make it a great movie, just a profitable one. Maybe video games, unlike comic books, just don’t have the Joss Whedons and Christopher Nolans of the world champing at the bit to tell a story of quality in that universe. Or maybe there is just an intrinsic problem in taking an inherently interactive medium and attempting to adapt it to a medium far more passive. By way of a for instance, when I play Mass Effect, I am Commander Shepard. I decide who Commander Shepard is, what he or she does, how he or she feels, who he or she loves. Why would I want to exchange that for watching Chris Pine play a Commander Shepard I didn’t help shape making decisions I didn’t choose? Even for something as linear as Legend of Zelda, you lose something in the transition from interactive to passive.

But whatever the reason, videogame movies seem to go out of their way to make some of the stupidest choices available. Even the ones that avoid the obvious stuff, like “hiring Uwe Boll,” or “Being as terrible and as Super Mario Bros.” make stupid little choices that ensure video game movies stay stupid. Here’s some examples.

Resident Evil: just how many zombies are in that crate?

It has to be said: the Resident Evil series are the most successful videogame movies out there. We know this because they’ve managed five sequels, one of which is expected this year, none of which have gone directly to video. And they’ve managed this despite completely throwing out the basic plots of any of the games. Sure, every now and then Jill Valentine or Claire Redfield will turn up so fans of the games can say “Hey I know that person, awesome,” but in general the blend of lateral thinking and extreme violence that defined the game series has been replaced with the ongoing adventures of Milla Jovovich’s Alice, the genetically engineered superwoman out to defeat her former masters, the Umbrella Corporation.

And why not? Frankly the only surprise is that they haven’t made a game based around Alice yet. Maybe her style of combat is just too divorced from the engine they typically used to make the games. So that’s not the sin I’m here to complain about. I’m complaining about how one action beat led me to identify an annoying trope.

The third film, Resident Evil: Extinction, is set after the zombie plague has ended society. Umbrella is experimenting with a method of domesticating the zombies. However, while they do regain a modicum of intelligence, they also become hyper aggressive. So an Umbrella executive decides to bundle a group of these super zombies into a shipping crate and use them to ambush Alice and company. A standard sized shipping crate. Regular readers will be familiar with my usual complaints against what I call “infinite respawn,” in which the heroes are gradually overwhelmed buy an unending wave of generic bad guys. This can work if you have, say, a portal leading to sufficient numbers Chitauri to invade and occupy the entire planet, but not if you only have one shipping crate.

Sure enough, dozens upon dozens of zombies pour out of that crate. No matter how many team Alice kills, there are enough left over to wipe out half the main characters.  Just how many super zombies did they actually have? And how exactly did they stuff dozens of hyper aggressive extra strong living dead soldiers into one crate? One crate that, to hold all of them, must have been packed tighter than a Tokyo train at rush hour? Did they put the crate on its end and drop the zombies in through a trap door? Was there a bulldozer? How many staff died getting this crate filled?

You want a huge obstacle for the protagonist? Fine. You want the high body count that comes with horror films? Sure. Do that. But when I was watching this scene, I did not feel horror or even anxiety. I felt annoyed that they were still this many zombies no matter how many they picked off. That sort of physics bending just drags you out of the moment. Stop doing it.

Tomb Raider: worst artifact ever

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider wasn’t particularly well reviewed, and isn’t exactly the crown jewel of anyone’s DVD collection, but it remains one of the few actual success stories in videogame movies. And by “success stories” I mean it made a lot money. It was the highest grossing videogame movie until Prince of Persia, and it’s still the highest grossing if you adjust for inflation.

And at its center is the stupidest artifact you could ask for.

Lara wakes up one night as she’s heard a clock start ticking somewhere in her vast, vast mansion. She tracks it to a secret room under a staircase (must be a hell of a tick for her to have heard it while asleep on a different floor), and breaks it open to reveal an artifact. Which is a little stupid, but there’s more. She senses that it’s supposed to fit into something (like maybe a clock?), and learns that it’s the key to finding the fabled Triangle of Time, which was split into two pieces after it destroyed the city it was last used in. But it can be reunited during the planetary convergence that happens once every five thousand years or so. Which is different than all those other times the planets line up. Yes this is exactly what I was making fun of in course of true love in person the Jade Monkey. No I’m not sorry.

So Lara races against and sometimes works alongside the fabled Illuminati, and her friend/rival Alex West (tomb raider for the ladies) to find both pieces of the triangle. Why is the triangle split into two pieces and not three? Don’t worry; there’s an explanation and it’s stupid.

When both pieces are found and the Illuminati inevitably turns on Lara and Alex, the Illuminati leader attempts to reunite the two pieces which, it should be pointed out, have the jagged edge indicative of being smashed over a rock, not split into two modular pieces meant to be reunited. It does not work. Because it wouldn’t. It’s broken, you’re not getting it back together without super glue.

He turns to Lara, asking why they won’t reunite, and she throws a piece of the puzzle through a little space-time portal (I do not have space to explain why that’s a thing that happens), and as the pieces tumble out in slow motion, she grabs a single grain of sand, which is the missing piece of the triangle.

ARE YOU SHITTING ME.

First of all, who told her that was the key? I don’t recall any mention of two pieces and a grain of freaking sand that need to be reunited! And how did it not get lost? How did anyone come up with the plan “We’ll let them reunite the Triangle once every 5,000 years, but only if they figure out that they need to throw the compass through a magical time/space hole that splits it into its component parts and then grab a fucking grain of sand out of the air, which is the third piece?”

Nothing about this tomb raiding plot isn’t stupid. If you’re going to make it that weirdly hard to rejoin the Triangle, just leave it god damn broken.

Street Fighter: That UN asshole

There was so, so much wrong with this movie. While they fit in nearly everyone from the first three Street Fighter 2 games (there were a great many Street Fighter 2s before they gave in and made Street Fighter 3), only a handful of them actually resembled their counterparts from the game. Instead of focusing on Ryu, the most popular player character (from what I could tell) and the central character of any Japanese adaptation of the game (such as the far superior anime that hit video around the same time), they instead made Guile the main character. Presumably this was to give the plot, which centered around UN forces attempting to oppose General Bison and his terrorist army in the rogue nation of Shadaloo, a noble American protagonist. Which was not aided by casting a Belgian with the thickest accent possible.

But that’s not what I’m here to bitch about. You know what? Make Guile the lead. Guile from the games was actually out to stop end-boss M.Bison, while Ryu from the games just roams the globe looking for fights. Ryu from the game is an asshole and the people who played him at arcades I visited game zero shits about plot anyway. What I’m complaining about is the set-up to the most mocked and/or ironically beloved moment in the whole awful movie. Specifically, this speech.

Jump to the thirty second mark if you want to skip to my point. Jump to the 30 second mark and look at that asshole. “The security council has just voted. They’ve decided to negotiate.” Right. Okay. “What an asshole” speed round, go.

1. Of course the jerk who’s been riding Guile this whole movie picks the douchiest way he can think of to pronounce the word negotiate. “They’ve decided to nego-see-ate.” Dick.
2. Look how fucking smug he is about this. “Sure, he’s a terrorist who has killed thousands, including several of our own troops, but we’re knuckling under! Aren’t I the goddamn best, you Belgian gun-nut.” I guess “We do not negotiate with terrorists” hadn’t come into vogue yet.
3. Of course he’s British. Why wouldn’t the stick-in-the-mud trying to prevent good ol’ American gun-style justice be British. Unless you read a history book.
4.  Guile’s troops were literally minutes away from deploying, which should mean the council had already voted and the result was “Okay, go get him.” Armies don’t mobilize without a go-order, and when they get one, there’s typically little wait time and an understanding of “No take-backs.”
5. We’re over an hour into this movie and the action beats have been few and far between. There was no circumstance in which this preening frumunda stain strolling casually up to announce his intention to nego-see-ate with the ruthless terrorist was actually going to prevent the Guile/Bison showdown, or even delay it.
6. And how was that even necessary to motivate a rousing speech to the troops? President Whitmore managed to give a speech to the troops in Independence Day without needing anyone to saunter up and say “forget this desperate counter-attack against the genocidal aliens, we think we can talk this out after all.”
7. Was it impossible for action heroes in the 80s and 90s to head off to the climax without some blustering authority figure showing up to demand their badge and gun and say they’re off the case? Because that is all this moment accomplishes. We’re supposed to believe that Guile’s charge is made more badass because some dickless bureaucrat told him not to do it.

In summary, this useless blob of taint-flesh made man was the worst, most ham-handed “But you guys, fighting is bad” strawman this side of the celebrity caricatures in Team America. All the honest-to-god hard-working diplomats in the world should have filed a class action suit for defamation of character the second this ponce opened his mouth.

Prince of Persia: now 100% Persian-free

Prince of Persia: Sands of Time managed the twin tricks of being the highest-grossing videogame movie (domestically and without inflation) and being sort of okay, which is sadly high praise for the genre. It wasn’t a thoroughly faithful adaptation of the game, as it barely used the time-reversing dagger that’s the game’s primary hook, and had no sand-infected zombies for the heroes to battle, but we can let that slide. There’s still a roguish Persian prince, a princess charged with protecting the Sands of Time, and a scheming Vizier out to control them.

Except I remember them being a lot less white in the game.

Prince of Persia is set in what we now consider the Middle East, and was one of the few North American videogames to have an entirely POC cast. Look. I don’t want to have to explain why taking some of the few roles available to non-white actors and casting white folk in them is stupid and regressive, so I’ll not. Instead, here’s a list of actors who could have played Prince Dastan and Princess Tamina other than the very white Jake Gyllenhaal and the uber-British Gemma Arterton.

Oded Fehr (The Mummy, Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Extinction), Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, Immortals), Naveen Andrews (Lost), Aishwarya Rai (The Last Legion, Bride and Prejudice), Kal Penn (Harold and Kumar, House), Preity Zinta (just Bollywood movies but she’s awesome), Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, The Newsroom), Parminder Nagra (Bend it Like Beckham, ER, The Blacklist), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Heroes), Gal Gadot (The Fasts and the Furiosos, soon to be Wonder Woman).

There. And that’s just people from things I’ve watched (and Wonder Woman). And all but one of them are known to North American audiences. Would’ve been just that easy. If only major studios weren’t so convinced that white people are afraid of movies that don’t star white people.

Which I suppose would be easier if less white people were afraid of movies that don’t star white people.

Wing Commander: forgetting what kind of game they were adapting

The thing I remember most about the Wing Commander movie, other than being less interesting to watch than the Wing Commander full-video cut scenes, is that word had gotten out that it had the first trailer for Star Wars: Episode One, and when that wasn’t true, theaters actually had to put up disclaimers warning people. I guess people were demanding refunds, because without a Star Wars trailer there wasn’t anything worth the $10 ticket. Or whatever movies cost in 1998.

So, back then, I was powerfully fond of the Wing Commander games, even if my computer couldn’t reliably run the videos. Three and Four starred Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell, how can you go wrong with that? Well, some reviewers say “easily, as it turned out,” claiming the CGI in the cut scenes doesn’t hold up and that Hamill, McDowell, and Biff from Back to the Future aren’t exactly doing their best work, but all I know is that 15 years later I still recognize people as being from Wing Commander 4 when I see them in other, probably better paying projects.

But at the heart, this was a series based around outer space dogfights. Wing Commander the movie should have been Top Gun in space with cat aliens, but somehow they forgot about that, and instead made a submarine movie. They even had a scene where everyone on the cruiser had to stay quiet to avoid detection by the Kilrathi. Because, you know, sonar works exactly the same in the silent void of space as it does under water.

I do not remember a single decent dogfight in a movie that should have been 70% awesome space dogfights, but I remember that nonsense.

Hollywood is still determined to take some of that sweet, sweet gaming money and turn it into movie money. People are working on a new Tomb Raider (hopefully based on the new, more human Lara Croft), a new Mortal Kombat, an Assassin’s Creed movie set for next year, and possibly even a movie based on my beloved Mass Effect. I just hope even one of those screenwriters decides to put a little effort into the story. Because it would be a nice change of pace.

Are you even trying? Oscar edition

I love the Oscars. They’re my Superbowl, or Stanley Cup, or whatever big exciting sports event you prefer, and I’ve only missed them once in the last 27 years. I’ve been throwing Oscar parties for 14 years, with an annual betting pool I almost never win. And, on top of all that, I do my best to see all the best picture nominees before the ceremony. Since teaming with an even-more devoted friend, I haven’t missed a best picture nominee since 2008, when no power in the ‘verse could make me care enough to watch Atonement.

But they do not make it easy.

Every year the accusations of the Academy being out of touch with contemporary tastes fly, and every year the Academy does everything in its power to earn those complaints. Sure, now and then they’ll make a token attempt to seem “hip” or “with it,” like having Cirque du Soleil do a tribute to action sequences, or hiring someone with youth appeal to host and then immediately regretting it, but they’re still going to fill the nominee list with obscure art house movies that nobody saw.

Even after they hit a breaking point, and changed the best picture rules. They went from five nominees to up to ten, supposedly so they’d be able to sneak in some more popular films, but instead just nominate even more obscure movies nobody cares about.

Okay, fine, sometimes James Cameron slips a hit in.

And frankly, sometimes a movie makes the cut that just really shouldn’t have. A movie that makes one have to ask… Academy, are you even trying?

Examples, you ask? But of course.

2008: The Reader

2009 (the year they handed out trophies for 2008, in case you think I mistyped) was the breaking point. 2009 was the year the Academy had to stop and take stock. 2009 was the year that the North American (and, I assume, international) viewing public was pushed as far as they could by the obscurity of the nominees. And as such, 2009 was the year that the traditional “Oscar bump,” a surge in ticket sales that followed receiving a nomination, failed to materialize, at least not to the extent it typically had.

And the poster child for this? Not the bland, weirdly unambitious Curious Case of Benjamin Button (in which Brad Pitt ages backwards but nobody seems to care), but The Reader. Specifically, why nominate The Reader and not, say, The Dark Knight? One of the most highly reviewed movies of the year and a massive, massive hit. You’d think, said the populace, that a film that proved itself to be a favourite of critics and audiences alike on that scale would at least warrant a nomination. And some replied “Just because it made literally a billion dollars at the box office doesn’t mean it’s a best picture contender.”

APPARENTLY IT DOES.

But the real question, beyond “Why not the Dark Knight,” is “Why the fucking Reader?”

Why it didn’t deserve the nod: The Reader barely even knew what it was about. Was it about the Holocaust? Illiteracy? Injustice? Who knows. It’s all over the place.

Teenager Michael Berg has an affair with Hanna, an older woman (Kate Winslet), that supposedly affects every relationship he has for the rest of his life. Like, right away. He’s unable to connect with or commit to other women because of this three-month affair, due to… I don’t know. It’s not clear. Her only winning attribute seemed to be “Willing to have sex with him,” and while she may have been the first woman with that particular willingness she was not, by any stretch, unique.

But fine, she was his first great love and her disappearing at the end of the summer hurt him in a way that younger, blonder co-eds couldn’t cure. I’ll cede that for now. Ten years later, he sees her again… on trial for war crimes. She was part of a group of SS women that locked a bunch of Jewish prisoners in a burning church, and the other defendants are claiming she wrote out the orders and is therefore more responsible than they are. A claim which Michael knows to be untrue, because he knows her secret: she’s illiterate. She couldn’t possibly have written out the orders. She won’t admit it, because she’s been hiding her illiteracy her whole life (it’s the only reason she was even in the SS), and takes the fall. Michael, in shock over his love being a Nazi war criminal, remains silent and lets her go away.

And lets a group of other war criminals lie their way into reduced sentences. Let’s not forget that. In not defending Hanna he lets all the other defendants walk away. And that’s where I call bullshit. Either Hanna’s his one great love (again–they were together for three months when he was 17) that haunts him for the rest of his days, or she’s someone he cares so little for that he’ll let a gang of war criminals frame her and send her to prison for decades. Pick a side.

The plot makes no real sense. The characters’ motivations are fuzzy at best. On Rotten Tomatoes, it scored an anemic 61%, barely ahead of My Bloody Valentine 3D. But because it’s sort of about the Holocaust, sure, let’s make it a best picture nominee.

What should have replaced it: Even putting aside the Dark Knight, in 2008 we had the Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky’s heartbreaking story of a washed up pro-wrestler trying to find a purpose in life without the adoration of the crowds.

Not your thing? How about RocknRolla, Guy Ritchie’s urban crime masterpiece? After years of playing in the genre with Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, he was firing on all cylinders when he wrote and directed this complex story of criminals and would-be power-players all united by a purloined lucky painting.

No? How about Valkyrie, the true story of the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler? There’s an all star cast of British actors (and, yes, Tom Cruise, I know that’s a dealbreaker for some of you) playing the good Nazis. But no. Let’s nominate the movie about the guy who’s so conflicted about his country’s past he’s stuck in boring, pointless inaction rather than the movie about people who tried to do something.

2009: The Blind Side

A few big hits snuck into the nominees the year after Dark Knight was excluded. There’s Up, from Pixar… there’s Avatar, proving that the Oscars are a billion-dollar whore when it’s James Cameron making it rain… and there’s The Blind Side, in which Sandra Bullock plays a rich woman who takes in a homeless black youth in order to save him from gang life and insert him onto her alma mater’s football team. But mostly the first thing.

Why it didn’t deserve the nod: Maybe one day Hollywood will make an inspirational, Oscar nominated movie about a black person who accomplished something without the aid of a magical white person. It’s not The Help, and it’s not even 12 Years a Slave, but it’s most definitely not The Blind Side.

But I’m singling it out because it’s so aggressively empty. The movie does everything it can for the bulk of the running time to squash any conflict in the story. Michael is immediately accepted into his new home, there’s never a second thought, any resistance to him playing football for the college is quashed by Sandra Bullock’s southern sassiness, even the gang he used to run with is no match for her Kentucky-fried stubbornness… and then at the very end, it generates the most forced, unbelievable conflict it can to finally inject a little drama into the story. Too little, too late to save this tale of how rich white people can fix everything if they can be bothered to try.

What should have replaced it: I want to say Black Dynamite, the note-perfect parody of 70s blacksploitation films. I also want to say (500) Days of Summer, the amazing deconstruction of “manic pixie dream girl” love stories. But let’s talk A Single Man.

A Single Man is the story of a gay professor in the early 1960s, a time when it was even more difficult to live openly. His partner died in a car crash eight months earlier, and due to the times and his position, he can’t even grieve publicly. He can’t find solace in his best friend, for not even she believes that his one great love was a “real” relationship, and that he just hasn’t tried hard enough to like women (specifically, her). And so he set out to enjoy what he intends to be his last night on Earth.

It might not be as flashy as Milk, but it was an excellent examination of the subtler tragedies of being gay in a less tolerant time. Not that we’ve nailed tolerance today. Which if anything makes it even more worthwhile.

2010: …

Well I’m not a big fan of 127 Hours and had forgotten entirely about The Kids Are Alright, but I’ll give this year a pass. Nothing that was nominated really offended me. Not like the year after.

2011: The Tree of Life

Fuck this movie. Fuck this movie so hard.

Why it didn’t deserve the nod: Because it’s a two hour screensaver, that’s why! The story, if there even is a story, is incomprehensible. The characters have no depth because it’s impossible to learn anything about them when they’re just wandering around a series of images whose meaning is cloaked in bizarre and off-putting lurching camera work.

After opening with aged-up Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain receiving news that their son (I think?) is dead, and Sean Penn receiving the same news, we cut back to the origin of the universe. Followed by the time of the dinosaurs. Why? I still don’t know. How can this have added to the story when there basically isn’t any story to add to?

I don’t know what the point of this movie was. I hated all of it, every minute, every artistic choice. Nominating Tree of Life for best picture is like nominating the crazy guy screaming at traffic for a Tony.

I mean that was the weakest year for best picture nominees this century, but Jesus fuck.

What should have replaced it: The Muppets. Sure, it had no chance of being nominated for anything but best song (damn right it won that), but I’m saying the Muppets anyway. First of all, because the best picture nominees were a sorry lot that year. Midnight in Paris and The Descendants were good, and The Artist… sure had a neat gimmick, but after that there’s a big drop-off in quality. And second, because no movie in 2011 brought as much sheer, unadulterated joy as the magnificent return of Kermit and crew, and being a movie that fully and magnificently fun to watch has to be better than some piece of garbage that the Academy assumed was good because they didn’t understand it.

And it has Amy Adams. Awards folk love Amy Adams. Because Amy Adams is inherently lovable and nobody can be that out of touch.

2011 Bonus Round: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

2010 got let off the hook, so I have room to mention the second worst nominee from 2011, in which a young boy’s autism cures 9/11.

No, really. He wanders around New York being autistic and people magically get over 9/11, that is what happens. Oskar Schell’s father used to delight him with puzzles and mysteries, but when he’s killed on 9/11 Oskar decides there must be one great mystery left, and in seeking it out, he accidentally helps some other people with their problems. Not that he really cares about that. Or his mother, who is alive, also grieving, and trying to reach out to a son who couldn’t give a fuck about her from what I could tell. Instead, he works with the man who rents a room from his grandmother, who turns out to have (probably) been his grandfather.

It’s a load of wank that builds into basically nothing. Its attempts at emotional manipulation are so obvious they don’t even work. The only reason I can see for it being nominated at all is the 9/11 connection. And maybe the presence of Tom Hanks.

What should have replaced it: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a tense spy drama in which Gary Oldman (doing some of his best work, which is saying something) must figure out which of four British operatives is working for the Soviets. Or My Week With Marilyn, a truly charming movie about a PA who is assigned to keep an eye on Marilyn Monroe while she’s filming The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier, a famously doomed pairing. Or anything that doesn’t ask me to root for a kid who’s being unreasonable and unlikable because his father died a year earlier.

2012: Zero Dark Thirty

The nominees the following year weren’t nearly as bleak as the 2011 crowd. But the low point is probably the story of the ten-year search for Osama bin Laden, which makes you feel every minute of those ten years.

Why it didn’t deserve the nod: How do you make the search for the world’s most wanted terrorist so damned boring? Debate whether the film endorsed torture or revealed it didn’t provide good intel all you want, but once the torture sequence is done, we’re stuck with years upon years of nothing happening. Followed by a sequence in which bin Laden’s location is found… followed by about 15-20 minutes of the lead character (who, by the way, is a complete cipher, devoid of anything we as an audience can relate or connect to) being frustrated that months go by without action on her intel.

Months of the government doing nothing. Makes all the walking in the Lord of the Rings movies look like the battle of New York from The Avengers.

And when they finally do raid the house and kill bin Laden, it’s still boring. There’s no tension, no sense of danger. Say it’s because we know how the story ends if you like, but a quick trip to Wikipedia tells you how fellow nominee Argo ends and that one still had me on the edge of my seat.

What should have replaced it: Skyfall. Yeah, you heard me, Skyfall. An absolute triumph of a Bond movie, again beloved by critics and audiences, and the exact sort of thing they claimed they expanded the best picture category to include. Masterfully directed, tense and exciting in every way Zero Dark Thirty wasn’t, the pinnacle of its craft, with one of the best villain performances out there. The Oscars “honoured” the 50th Anniversary of James Bond with a montage and a performance of Goldfinger, but they should’ve given Skyfall a nomination.

And now we’re weeks away from the announcement of the best picture of 2013. The nominees aren’t quite as pathetic as 2011, with nothing as bad or undeserving as Tree of Life or Extremely Loud (they’d be hard pressed to screw up that hard again so soon), but there’s still a couple in there they could’ve skipped. But I’ll talk about that more soon, when I rank the nominees.