Sunday, May 31, 2015

7 Days in May | Tomorrowlands and Tesseracts

Tomorrowland (2015)

Brad Bird's latest film is getting mixed reviews and I understand why. It has great ideas and I love the way it encourages not only optimism, but doing something with optimism. Really it's about action more than it is about how much water there is in a glass. The problem with the world isn't cynicism; it's laziness. I can imagine a way that cynicism can also spur people to action, but Tomorrowland decidedly picks optimism and inspiration as the best way and I subscribe to that belief. If nothing else, I love the conversations that Tomorrowland is creating.

Not that its ideas are all that the movie has going for it. It has terrific actors and a few great set pieces. And there are moments when it's as affecting as I hoped for it to be. Not as many as I wanted, but some.

It does have some big problems though, and it's probably my least favorite Brad Bird film so far. There's no need for a human villain in a movie like this, but we get one and his motivations make no sense. And the community that gives the movie its name never quite lives up to its role as a source of encouragement. I don't think I want to spoil anything by saying more, but we can get into that in the comments if you want to.

Overall, Tomorrowland is trying to do more than it's capable of and that's disappointing. But I'm glad it tried.

Thor (2011)

The Marvel re-watch continues and watching them in chronological order I realized that the pre-Avengers films end the way they began: with the Norse gods. The earliest thing we see in one of these movies is the Red Skull's invading a Norse temple and stealing an artifact. The last thing we do before getting to The Avengers is explore the gods in more detail and see that artifact reenter the plot. It's a nice bookend.

I often hear Thor listed as people's least-favorite Marvel movie, but I love it. That undoubtedly has a lot to do with my dual crushes on Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman, but I'm also a sucker for the character arc that Thor goes through. It's very similar to the one Tony Stark experiences in Iron Man (and maybe that's why people don't go for it), but I'm not one to dismiss a story just because I've seen something similar. As long as both are done well, there's room for both. And Thor is done really well. It's main character may go through a similar journey to Tony Stark, but he does it surrounded by different people. His father, his friends, and especially his brother all make Thor a significantly different experience from Iron Man.

Or maybe it's just how dreamy Hemsworth and Portman are.

The Avengers (2012)

So the Tesseract makes another appearance as the focus of an adventure. In First Avenger, Hydra was primarily interested in it as an energy source and The Avengers reveals that that's what SHIELD wants it for, too. But of course - as we saw in First Avenger when Red Skull touched it - it also has the ability to open a hole in space.

One of my main reasons for doing this re-watch is to track the Infinity Stones through the series. As of The Avengers, they still haven't been mentioned by that name even though two of them actually appear in the movie. I'm trying to avoid talking too much about them before I get to the movies that reveal those details, but it's useful to track that the Tesseract and Loki's Scepter are powered by Stones.

The Tesseract obviously has power over space, so that one's easy to figure out. Loki's scepter, given to him by Thanos, is a little more difficult since it seems to have multiple abilities in The Avengers. In addition to their primary abilities, both the Tesseract and the Scepter simply give off enormous amounts of power. It's easy to focus on that as Hydra and SHIELD have been doing, so when Loki uses the Scepter, a lot of times he's just using it as a generator for destructive power. The Scepter's true purpose though is what he uses it for when he touches someone with it and takes over their mind.

That didn't become obvious to me until Age of Ultron, but I should point out that I have zero prior knowledge of the Infinity Stones and what they do. I've been aware that there was something called the Infinity Gauntlet and that Thanos wanted to control it, but I'm playing catch up on the details and doing that is a lot of what's fun to me about the Marvel movies. I'm enjoying watching this story unfold without a clear vision of where it's going.

There's so much more to talk about with these movies, but I feel like these capsule reviews aren't really the place. I kind of want to do a longer series at some point that tracks the individual characters and sees what makes them tick. Black Widow is especially a favorite, but there's a lot to say about all of them. One day.

Batman (1943)

Having finished the Captain America serial, I started the first Batman one. I've seen this one a few times and it's one of my favorites. It was one of the first serials I ever watched, come to think of it.

Filmed and released in the middle of the US' involvement in WWII, it has Batman working for the government and fighting fifth columnists in Gotham City. The bad guys are a bunch of disgraced and disgruntled industrialists led by a Japanese mastermind named Daka, who's working on behalf of his nation to undermine ours. And let me tell you, it's super racist. The characters, including the heroes, use every slur I've ever heard against the Japanese and several new ones. There's even a point where the narrator talks about how the "wise government" rounded up all the citizens of Gotham's Little Tokyo district and got them out of there, creating a ghost neighborhood.

Because the serial was created during wartime and is expressing anger towards an enemy nation (though in a very misplaced way, no doubt), I'm largely able to compartmentalize my feelings about that from my enjoyment of the mad science (it's filled with ray guns and mechanical zombies) and the portrayal of Golden Age Batman driving around in his normal sedan and trying to keep his fiance in the dark about his secret identity. It's weird and fun.

I also immensely enjoy the character of Captain Arnold, who sort of sits in for Commissioner Gordon. Gordon's not in the serial, so Arnold is the head cop and he has a cool attitude towards Batman. He's envious of Batman's ability to bring crooks in, but also cynically good-natured about it. If he can't have Batman on the force, he's content to just take credit for Batman's work. And he's very open about doing that. He's a delight and one of my favorite things about the serial every time I watch it.


snell said...

My best spoiler-free comment on Tommorowland is that it takes far too long and too many crises to get from point A to point B, and spends far, far too little time developing point B. Fun, well-directed, and I appreciated the firm anti-dystopia stance; but that script really needed a few more passes before filmimg...

Michael May said...

Totally. I was really looking forward to Point B, but it wasn't all that much once we got there.


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